Tag Archives: curiosity

Giving at the Office…A Leader’s Best Gifts

christmasgiftboxGot your Christmas shopping done yet? That’s a common question at this time of year and one that usually causes my eyes to roll up in my head because procrastination is my middle name. Actually my middle name is Mary but you know what I mean. Anyway, the Christmas shopping question tends to push my “get moving” button before I’m actually ready to er, get moving.

Nonetheless, once in gear, I manage to rise to the occasion long enough to consider things that might delight my loved ones and please my friends. After all, it is not the gift itself that is the reward. It is the happiness element that comes with it that makes gift -giving so much fun.

I like the idea of happiness being the real gift and I think it translates well too, when it comes to exchanging gifts at work. Of course, it is always a little more challenging to give meaningful gifts to people at work, but here are a few ideas to consider. They cost nothing. They can have lasting effects. And, to the best of my knowledge, they aren’t fattening.

The Gift of Attention

Give a few minutes of your undivided attention to each of the people you lead, each day.

That means spending the time listening, being curious about their interests, thoughts and opinions and suspending judgment long enough to learn something about them that you might otherwise miss.

The Gift of Inclusion

Take a little time to remind those you lead, why you come to work everyday. Give them the big picture (even if you’ve done it before) and show them how they fit into it as individuals. Yes, I know, it’s the old vision thing again. But, believe me, when people can see where they are going and that there is a place for them on the proverbial bus, that creates some happiness.

The Gift of Challenge

Consider those you lead and give each a challenge for the New Year that will allow them to stretch, grow, and learn more about themselves and what they can do.

I hazard to say that everyone likes a challenge. It gets the juices flowing and allows us to test our boundaries. Giving the gift of challenge suggests faith in each person’s capability and potential. And, its value is that much greater at times when the individual doubts or fears his or her own possibilities.

The Gift of Encouragement

Of course challenge on its own can become onerous if not accompanied by encouragement and the support that goes with it. So, with each gift of challenge, include whatever each person might need to accomplish it, including resources, education, training or a friendly ear. That will ensure, I think, the highest possible opportunity for success and resulting happiness.

The Gift of Truth

Find ways to convey to those you lead that you will always be straight with them no matter what the circumstances. And then make sure you follow through.

Leaders who are truthful, both in good times and bad also give the gift of useful information. Useful information allows people to make good decisions for themselves. Being Truthful with them acknowledges their capability to respond as adults. It is respectful. And, even if the news is not good, it gives them their best opportunity to work through it and find satisfying resolutions.

This of course is not an exhaustive list. They are only the gifts that first come to mind for me. What gifts do you have in mind for those you lead? Please feel free to add to the list!

 

Note: Originally published in December 2009

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Filed under Building Relationships, communication, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values

Encouraging Innovation & The Story of the 5 Monkeys

This post is from 2011.  No monkeying around here.

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I think we’ve all heard someone say it at one time or another.  Or, we may even have said it ourselves.  It goes something like this.  Someone asks the question, “why?” and the response is “Because that’s just the way it’s done.  We’ve always done it that way”

A statement like that can put the lid on things pretty quickly can’t it?  And often, those who are brave enough to explore further by asking, “Yes, but why has it always been done that way?” never receive a satisfactory answer because the truth is that nobody really knows why.

You’re nodding your head aren’t you?  I’m not surprised.  It is, after all, a fairly common occurrence especially in long established organizations.

It reminds me of the Story of the 5 monkeys.  If you aren’t familiar with the story here it is.

Of course, as human beings we like to think that we have evolved a little more than the monkeys in the story; that we are not so easily manipulated.  But, the story illustrates how we can fall into patterns of behaviour without really understanding why.  In organizations, we can also become so deeply entrenched in our way of doing things, attempts to effect change are often greeted with a metaphorical dousing of cold water almost every time.

I think we all know that in today’s economy, our ability to be flexible, creative and innovative is key to our present and future success. The question is, as leaders, how do we invite innovation and creative thinking into our workplaces?  Well, I’ve been having a bit of a think about that and I have some suggestions for your consideration, just to get you started.

Conduct a review of what you value

We tend to talk a lot about organizational values, sometimes without a second thought.  Taking the time to consider what we value and why we value it provides an opportunity to re-affirm organizational beliefs and also to challenge some that may no longer fit with our current reality.  Sometimes too, our actions and attitudes can get out of sync with what we say we value so looking in the mirror once in a while is not a bad idea.

Invite Challenge

This seems like a simple thing to do but sometimes we can allow our egos to get in the way.  For example, if you are a new leader it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you must have all of the answers. You don’t.  And you won’t.

Allowing others to challenge our thinking does not demean the role of the leader.  Instead, it enhances the possibility of a fresher, more creative and progressive outcome and that kind of leadership places emphasis where it belongs, on the work and the people who do it.

Look at failure as part of the process

Nobody likes to fail.  The thing is there are lessons to be learned from it and while we don’t try new things with the idea of failing, sometimes we have to try, and fail, until we discover what works.  Whether we like it or not, clinging to the familiar or doing things the way we have always done them will eventually lead us to failure anyway.

Acknowledge and Reward Creative thinking

Organizations that value stability over innovation will tend to discourage what they consider to be interference with the way things are and discount the ideas of those who think outside the scope of conventional wisdom.

Finding ways to bring out fresh ideas, no matter how bizarre they may sound, and acknowledging those eager to put them forward, demonstrates a willingness to accept the necessity for ongoing change in a time when change is the only thing we can count on.

In today’s world those of us who value stability must learn to live in environments where the apple cart is constantly being upset. To me, this means we will not always be able to know the “why” of everything but we can also no longer afford to accept things because that’s the way we’ve always done them.

That’s what I think, anyway.  What do you think?

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Filed under Change Management, Leadership, Leadership Development, Organizational Effectiveness

Encouraging Innovation & The Story of the 5 Monkeys

I think we’ve all heard someone say it at one time or another.  Or, we may even have said it ourselves.  It goes something like this.  Someone asks the question, “why?” and the response is “Because that’s just the way it’s done.  We’ve always done it that way”

A statement like that can put the lid on things pretty quickly can’t it?  And often, those who are brave enough to explore further by asking, “Yes, but why has it always been done that way?” never receive a satisfactory answer because the truth is that nobody really knows why.

You’re nodding your head aren’t you?  I’m not surprised.  It is, after all, a fairly common occurrence especially in long established organizations.

It reminds me of the Story of the 5 monkeys.  If you aren’t familiar with the story here it is.

Of course, as human beings we like to think that we have evolved a little more than the monkeys in the story; that we are not so easily manipulated.  But, the story illustrates how we can fall into patterns of behaviour without really understanding why.  In organizations, we can also become so deeply entrenched in our way of doing things, attempts to effect change are often greeted with a metaphorical dousing of cold water almost every time.

I think we all know that in today’s economy, our ability to be flexible, creative and innovative is key to our present and future success. The question is, as leaders, how do we invite innovation and creative thinking into our workplaces?  Well, I’ve been having a bit of a think about that and I have some suggestions for your consideration, just to get you started.

Conduct a review of what you value

We tend to talk a lot about organizational values, sometimes without a second thought.  Taking the time to consider what we value and why we value it provides an opportunity to re-affirm organizational beliefs and also to challenge some that may no longer fit with our current reality.  Sometimes too, our actions and attitudes can get out of sync with what we say we value so looking in the mirror once in a while is not a bad idea.

Invite Challenge

This seems like a simple thing to do but sometimes we can allow our egos to get in the way.  For example, if you are a new leader it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you must have all of the answers. You don’t.  And you won’t.

Allowing others to challenge our thinking does not demean the role of the leader.  Instead, it enhances the possibility of a fresher, more creative and progressive outcome and that kind of leadership places emphasis where it belongs, on the work and the people who do it.

Look at failure as part of the process

Nobody likes to fail.  The thing is there are lessons to be learned from it and while we don’t try new things with the idea of failing, sometimes we have to try, and fail, until we discover what works.  Whether we like it or not, clinging to the familiar or doing things the way we have always done them will eventually lead us to failure anyway.

Acknowledge and Reward Creative thinking

Organizations that value stability over innovation will tend to discourage what they consider to be interference with the way things are and discount the ideas of those who think outside the scope of conventional wisdom.

Finding ways to bring out fresh ideas, no matter how bizarre they may sound, and acknowledging those eager to put them forward, demonstrates a willingness to accept the necessity for ongoing change in a time when change is the only thing we can count on.

In today’s world those of us who value stability must learn to live in environments where the apple cart is constantly being upset. To me, this means we will not always be able to know the “why” of everything but we can also no longer afford to accept things because that’s the way we’ve always done them.

What do you think?  How do you invite innovation and creative thinking into your workplace?  What else can we do to break habits that no longer work for us?

10 Comments

Filed under Change Management, Leadership, Leadership Values, Organizational Effectiveness

Leadership and Curiosity

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity.

I happen to think that fairy godmothers everywhere are quite liberal with the gift of curiosity when we are born. Somehow though, along the way, so many of us wrap the gift up again and put it away in our inner attics, unwrapping it only on occasion.

I think we do that because, as we grow, we are taught that curiosity can be intrusive, impolite and get us into trouble. But, I’m coming around to think that it is one of the foundations of good leadership.

As a fundamental tool for exploration, curiosity is the springboard to developing our ability to ask good questions.  And, the skill of asking questions is one that all good leaders must have in their tool kit. To me, a good question is one that evokes deep thought, instigates change, inspires creativity, and/or clears the debris of confusion to make room for clarity.  It can come from no other place than our very human tendency to want to know. And, for many of us, it requires blowing off the cobwebs of our childhood “gift” and putting it to use.

So, if we haven’t invited our curiosity out to play lately, what might be getting in the way? How might we look at it differently? Here’s what I’ve come up with so far.  Feel free to participate won’t you?

We confuse curiosity with being “Nosy”

Many of us, as we grow, are schooled to mind our own business.  It is offensive to pry.  It is annoying when we ask too many questions.  And later, as adults, it is easy to see why we hesitate to ask when we want to know something.

To me, there is a great difference between being curious and being nosy.  It centers on our intent. Those who seek information with the intent is to use what they come to know for the purpose of passing judgment and gaining leverage over others are more likely to be considered nosy, or worse.

Alternately, those who seek information out of genuine interest do so with the intent to explore, discover and expand their knowledge. These people have a way of engaging others in the exploration too and making them feel valued rather than scrutinized. In other words, curiosity comes from a place of innocence and fascination where nosiness has a more unpleasant origin.

We come to believe that we need to have all the answers before we ask the questions

Some of us will choose not to act out of curiosity because we believe that, as leaders, we should always have the answers.  From this perspective we run risk of restricting the amount of useful information and ideas available to us. And, we rarely learn how to ask those really good questions.

Some time ago, Art Petty wrote a post called; Let Your Questions be their Guide. It is an excellent post that includes some questions that will encourage curiosity in others. If you are curious, I encourage you to check it out.

We are self conscious about how we might look if we ask a “dumb” question

Okay, so no one really likes it when we ask a question that makes us appear to others as being naïve or ignorant.  To some leaders, doing so means tarnishing their image or putting their capability as a leader into question.  And so, they simply stop asking and instead live in hope that someone else will ask the “dumb” question instead.  The trouble with that is that focusing on our own image does not get the job done.  And, it does not allow for the kind of exploration required to build and grow the organization to its full potential.

We have not made curiosity part of our culture

Simply put, if we do not make inquiry, exploration and discovery part of the fabric of the organization, we will resist flexing our curiosity muscles.  Leaders who want to create and encourage this kind of environment must do so by going first, showing others how it’s done and acknowledging those who follow their example.

So…what about you? What gets in the way of your curiosity? How do you, or would you, encourage others to flex their curiosity muscles? What good questions do you like to ask? What benefits have you experienced from inviting curiosity into your workplace? What do you think?

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Filed under building awareness, communication, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values

Leadership…and All That Jazz

Warren Bennis once said, ‘I used to think that running an organization was equivalent to conducting a symphony orchestra.  But I don’t think that’s quite it.  It’s more like jazz.  There is more improvisation”

I must confess that I really like the symphony orchestra metaphor, simply because it is, well, beautifully uncluttered. But, as much as I would like to think it possible for all things to be in harmony at all times, I know the reality to be a lot messier, or jazzier, metaphorically speaking.

In fact, it is perhaps the jazz of life, (that stuff that requires spontaneity and improvisation), which transforms the vanilla of a well-ordered enterprise into something spiced with possibility and potential for greatness.

So it is with leadership.

In leadership, there are times for following a well-planned strategy.  And, there are times when doing so isn’t going to work.  The landscape has a way of changing rapidly, often requiring leaders, as creative beings, to rely on instinct to successfully navigate unexpected challenges or opportunities and explore unknown places.

At those times, improvisation is a useful tool.  However, as with jazz, improvisation, on its own will not create a joyful noise. It must somehow find its way back to the primary melody no matter how far afield it may go.

In leadership, the primary melody lies in the organizational purpose.  And, how far afield we are willing to go from that is usually grounded in a number of principles emanating from considerations like:

How much we know

The more curious we are and the more we seek to learn about our immediate environment, our markets, our politics and our world, the better equipped we are to make spontaneous decisions that will serve our purpose, either now or in the future.

How much we are willing to risk

When it comes to risk, those who extend themselves too far, risk losing sight of their core purpose and those who don’t explore at all, risk missing opportunities for growth that go beyond their current expectations. Being clear about how much we are willing to risk can help us determine the extent to which we are willing to improvise.

How much we believe

If we have our organization’s core purpose etched on our brains and hearts, the likelihood is that we will also feel more at liberty to play with improvisation without fear of getting lost.

How much we imagine

Just as jazz music is highly interpretive, the extent to which we use our imagination in leadership often determines the kind of organizations we build and the ability of the people working in those organizations to improvise effectively.

In short, I think there is a vital role for improvisation in organizations. Our appetite for spontaneity will of course vary but if we are wise, we will allow room for it.  It could make the difference between mediocrity and excellence.

What do you think?

Oh, and just for fun, here is Oscar Peterson providing a fine example of what can happen when improvisation blends beautifully with the primary melody.

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Filed under Leadership Development, Leading Change, organizational Development

Leadership & The Value Of An Inquiring Mind

Remember when you were a kid and asked questions like bullets coming out of a gun?  Why is the sky blue? How come fish can breathe in the ocean? Why does the lady next door always wear that silly hat with the big red feather? Curiosity was something that once came naturally to us, something perhaps, that also came from a thirst for life and a need to explore.

Over time, many of us learned to be more discreet. We learned to mind our own business because it was polite.  And, along with all of that went a great deal of this natural drive to know about things and people.  In fact, as we grew, we came to understand that the world could be a pretty scary place and so we put aside much of our curiosity and sought safety instead.

But an inquiring mind is an invaluable leadership tool.

Often, when combined with courage, it fuels exploration, change, growth, challenge and any number of interesting possibilities.

It prompts us to ask bold questions.  Why do we do things this way instead of that? What does the future hold? How can we make what’s old, new again?  What don’t we know?

Seth Godin, speaks here about curiosity in this short film by Nic Askew.  He is eloquent…and curious

Watching this film, I realize that my own curiosity muscle, while healthy enough, is not as strong as I would like it to be.  And, the older I get the more I know that I don’t know very much at all. I’m going to work on it.  How about you?

What are you curious about?

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Patience.. Virtue And Discipline

Photo courtesy of f2b1610

Patience.  It isn’t often included in the list of primary attributes we look for in leaders and yet to me, it is an underpinning of good leadership.

Ben Franklin once said, “He that can have patience, can have what he will”

Note that he didn’t say, “can have what he will”…NOW.

In a world where technology demands speed, disciplining ourselves to be patient when things are not going quite fast enough, or well enough to suit us, is a challenge.  For bosses, it is a challenge worth pursuing.   Here’s why:

Patience allows for the development of late bloomers

Not everyone learns at the same rate.  Some, like the hare, are quick out of the gate and others, like the tortoise, are slower off the mark.  Each needs leadership to get to the finish line.  Patience requires us to steer the hare and reach back to encourage the tortoise.

If you are a leader with little patience for the development of those who take more time to learn and grow than you’d like, you could be missing something.  After all, Winston Churchill was a late bloomer

Patience allows us to suspend judgment long enough to make considered decisions

Often, when the pressure is on, we can make snap decisions that we later come to regret.   With a little patience, we can give ourselves the benefit of stopping to consider the impact of the decisions we make and whom we might be affecting by making them.  Ill-considered decisions usually result in having to take corrective action anyway.

Patience is a great stress buster

Getting to the place where we accept that sometimes we just have to wait can diffuse a lot of negative feeling.  If we are frequently impatient with those around us, we are likely also frequently frustrated and possibly angry too.  Managing our own expectations long enough to put matters into perspective and help those who need it can relieve a lot of tension on both sides.

So, if you buy that, the next question is, How do we develop patience?

To be truthful, I’m still working on that one but there are a couple of things that come to mind:

Learn to value the questions as much as the answers

There is a lot of benefit in curiosity and exploration. Patiently peeling away the layers of a problem through questioning does, I think, result in a richer and more rewarding outcome.

Know the “impatient” triggers and practice

To develop our level of patience, I think we need to focus on what makes us snap and the triggers that usually take us there.  Being conscious about what causes us to be impatient is a start.  The rest is about practicing in an equally conscious way to improve our tolerance levels.

This short video from John C Maxwell adds some more food for thought .

What is the value of patience to you?  How do you practice?  What benefits have you experienced by being patient? How are you developing your patience?

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Filed under Building Relationships, communication, Leading Teams, Learning