Perhaps the most important skill a leader can have is to engage in timely, appropriate, and ultimately successful conversations with others.
So often things get in the way. It might be that we are uncomfortable with the other person or the subject is something that we have been avoiding. Sometimes it is just our own reluctance or what we project to be the resistance of the other individual. And it could well be that we have spent so much time coming up with our own script and arguments prior to engaging in conversation that we forget the goal of any interaction is connecting with another.
Whether it’s a coaching moment, a periodic review, or a status check on a project, the best approach for a leader is to create a container of communication and trust with another. We achieve that by focusing our effort on understanding the person and working to appreciate their viewpoint. We can do that by forfeiting our innate desire to respond to the other person with our own perspective or argument.
In other words, the best approach is to have the planned outcome to be that of merely learning about the other. That intent helps us join with someone. Initially, the vehicle to achieve that is completely one-sided, with a commitment on our part of not using that time to present our own thoughts or opinions. It may seem counterintuitive, perhaps because it is not commonly used in today’s conversations. Read More…
The world of office work changed in March of 2020. The question is, did it change forever – and more precisely – for good? I have experienced a number of webinars and scanned more than a few articles in recent months that have declared the office as we know it as dead.
“It’s gone and will never return again,” is the gist of what I have heard.
I’ve been on the planet long enough to know that any declaration filled with such certainty is bound to be either wrong or only partially right, depending on your viewpoint.
To be sure, the workplaces we knew in early 2020 will likely not return as we knew them. But then again, the offices of 2010 never came back, did they? Nor did those of 2000, 1990, or 1980. Having the memory of the “ancient world” of offices pre-computer, I can tell you that none of us – including me – would recognize the world of typewriters, carbon paper, and even dictation machines that were part of the office years ago. A 200-baud fax machine was state-of-the-art back then!
To be sure, in spite of the tragedy and challenges of the past year, there have been great advances in science and in the technology of communication. The various video platforms we now routinely utilize have improved on bandwidth, fidelity, and functionality by leaps and bounds. And many of those who were reluctant to use such technologies have embraced them and now see them as essential tools of communication. So, to that degree, we have seen a significant shift in how we communicate – and that is a good thing. As one of my Boston Executive Coaches colleagues notes, “It serves a purpose in a time of need.” Read More…
When I served in an Army tank battalion we were taught marksmanship; first at stationary targets, and later, at moving ones. In the classroom, we learned that if the target was moving left or right you had to aim a bit ahead in the direction it was traveling in order to hit it. As we transitioned to ranges with actual moving targets, we had to compensate for vehicles that might be maneuvering at what then seemed like incredible speeds, sometimes as high as 30 mph.
The best marksmen and tank gunners were those who fired an appropriate distance ahead of the vehicle. We called it “Leading the Target.” The finest gunners would apply mental feedback loops to compensate for windage and smoke. Initially coached by experienced tank gunners, they asked themselves a hundred questions and later developed shortcuts for answering them. Today we call those shortcuts heuristics. Others call them intuition. Either way, all are based on gathering information and awareness about one’s environment and then making meaning of it.
Targeting and marksmanship are metaphors often associated with leadership and business. “Right on target,” “Straight-shooter,” or “Bull’s eye” are not uncommon terms thrown about in corporate settings. But “Leading the Target,” has often drawn blank stares from my colleagues. It shouldn’t. Business is moving at a speed considerably faster than 30 mph. And, unlike modern tanks with computers and predictive gun sighting technology, it still takes leaders and teams working together in an organization to effectively stay ahead of the speed of change. Leaders and teams, not unlike marksmen and tank gunners, must determine which organizational challenge or target to concentrate on and how to effectively “hit” it. Read More…
As a senior vice president, I used to sit around the table at corporate boardrooms and listen to varying opinions about the business. Some I agreed with – others I did not. When I experienced disagreement rising, I could feel my energy building towards argument and a need to somehow convince the other person about why I was right; the other wrong.
Such feelings are common. It happens to each of us at various times in our professional and personal experience. In coaching, we invite our clients to work towards “reaching others where they are,” which provides a means to bridge those gaps between humans.
Our journey bridging those gaps begins with the understanding of a concept called “Resistance.” Resistance is really a basic form of energy. It is effectively used by each of us to protect us from the unknown, which can include anything from fearing a roller coaster as a youngster to hearing a new idea in the corporate board room and quickly concluding that it might hinder our own efforts or even harm the company.
When we encounter an idea that is new to us, or that runs counter to what we “always” have done, we feel a resistance inside us. As a coach I invite clients to “lean into” that resistance with curiosity and appreciative inquiry, helping them build awareness about the issue or idea before moving to action. Read More…
I remember hearing a joke about a young man on a blind date. Over dinner, he spent hours providing his date with non-stop detail about his life, his thoughts, and his feelings.
At some point, though, in a rare moment of introspection, he must have recognized that perhaps he had talked too much and had not asked questions or, for that matter, even stopped to think or listen. So, he quickly asked, “Well, that’s enough of me talking – tell me what you think of me!”
Few leaders suffer from such communication issues, but many fall into the trap of failing to take the time to listen, to be attentive, and to give space so that the other person or team members can feel themselves invited into the conversation.
Such leaders are thus limited in their ability to be attentive to others. In order to provide that opening, they need to stop for a moment, to allow the other person to collect their thoughts and formulate an answer. I call it “the power in pause.” Read More…
You’re a busy manager and it’s Sunday evening. You’re trying to get ready for the upcoming week. You log onto your work calendar and incredulously look at your Monday schedule wide-eyed. You are booked with continuous back-to-back meetings from 7 am until 6 pm!
“What happened?” you ask yourself. Then you remember that a dozen people have access to your calendar and, being the ultimate pleaser, you have agreed to every meeting request. Without realizing it, you have set yourself up. It looks as if you will have no down time at all during the day.
And you won’t have something else: The ability to mentally and physically prepare for each scheduled meeting. From one-on-ones to team sessions, you will jump from conference room to office and back again continuously. And at the end of the day, you will try to make meaning of it all.
“I’m just incredibly busy – and that’s the way it is,” some clients tell me. Others try to convince themselves – and me – that they are exceptionally good at multi-tasking, and besides, “I just facilitate the sessions and direct others – I don’t need to do the work that comes out of the meeting.” Read More…
You’ve made it into a leadership position. You are finally a manager! You take the new job seriously, knowing that the responsibilities include meeting strategic goals, managing budgets, and making presentations to senior management. Those challenges are daunting, but you feel well prepared, due to your background, education, and business experience.
And yet there is one area with which you are uncomfortable – the ability to give feedback to the women and men on your team!
While your formal education likely focused on balance sheets, corporate finance, and strategic planning, the idea of giving meaningful perceptions about professional growth to others was likely not formalized – and it was probably left to your own devices and experience.
Many clients with whom I have worked were not provided much in the way of meaningful, timely feedback or instructions on how to do it. For some, even if it was taught, such training was limited, and for most individuals, regrettably, it was a bit of an afterthought. Read More…
This philosophy informs the simplest and most profound outlook humans can hold in their hearts. It is a quote from one of the men I admired most in the world.
I often ask those around me how they feel about the times in which we live. Many point to the headlines and express various emotions, including a declining sense of confidence, a level of fear they have not had previously, or, sadly, a void in their own sense of hope. They struggle to find the armor of optimism that will allow them to gain perspective and realize that this world has always had enormous challenges and has inevitably overcome them.
Perhaps it is the endless nature of the news and social media cycle that weighs on everyone today. But many of the feelings we have originate within each of us, for it is we who do the work of convincing ourselves, allowing our perspectives to be overshadowed by emotions and the weight of “information” overload that currently exists in our society today.
But we have choice. And we can choose to lean into our own curiosity and regain critical thinking that will allow us to begin to see other possibilities in today’s world, helping us to understand that the totality of today’s issues, while daunting, are not insurmountable. We can once again allow hope to inform our journey in the process. Read More…
I learn from every client. One lesson in particular that comes to mind came from a young leader with whom I recently worked.
My client was extremely curious about how others saw her. She worked hard at becoming aware of her own well-developed sides and those she discerned might be less developed. She was a veritable sponge for learning!
Her growth as a leader was amazing, as she honed skills at dealing with others who might have different styles and perspectives, recognizing her own resistance to change and then setting judgment aside, using the lens of learning and appreciation for others. She worked hard in listening and in taking the time to pause. It was a remarkable journey to watch. Read More…
In everything from soldering circuit boards to dissipating the thermal energy created by computer server farms, the technological world appreciates the value of a “heat sink.” Without heat sinks, we would have far more component hiccups or even outright failures.
Heat sinks serve a vital purpose in dissipating energy and allowing a device to function.
But what happens when the leader becomes the metaphorical “heat sink,” taking in all or most of the heat and energy that is emanated from the crisis, the organization and the people with whom he or she is dealing?
Coaching women and men these past four months, I have found myself using this heat sink metaphor often – inviting the leaders who deal with the current crisis to think about the human emotion and “heat” that has been built up on their teams and themselves. Some of the calmest and most centered individuals I know today are now struggling as never before, with the weighty issues and unknowns facing their personal and professional world. And the “heat” from that often finds its way into a ready conduit – the leader himself. Some call it stress, others call it workload. My clients readily appreciate the metaphor of “heat.” Read More…