5 Actions For Speaking Truth to Power

Every leader needs a voice who will speak truth and help them see things that are not obvious. Henry Kissinger is famous for saying that one of the most difficult things for a young leader to do is to “speak truth to power;” to go up the power gradient with information that is contrary to what the hierarchical, authoritative, and referent, position believes to be true. We have all been there at points and felt the emotion of that moment. There is inherent organizational danger in communicating things to a leader that they are not seeing in the moment:

  • You could be rejected which leads to embarrassment

  • You could be dismissed which leads to self-doubt

  • You could be humiliated which leads to isolation

  • You could be discounted which leads to demoralization

The young leader has information that someone in a decision-making position needs to hear, and is frozen in the moment by these potentially negative outcomes.

The other side of the proposition is, all things being equal, there is a huge upside in communicating to a leader what they are not seeing in the moment:

  • You could be celebrated for the input

  • You could be included in the decision-making process

  • You could be honored for your courage

  • You could be valued for your contribution

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Whether a part of reality or a figment of our imagination as a young leader “speaking truth to power” can seem overwhelming. This is the risk tension that the young leader faces. Some of the mediators that go into the “speak truth to power" equation are:

  • Culture of the organization-What is the level of freedom that truly exists for information sharing?

  • Young leaders' personal-risk tolerance-Where do they fall on a spectrum between “wary” and “adventurous”?

  • Receptivity of the leader to feedback-What is the historical behavior elicited when contrary opinions have been shared?

RECEPTIVITY OF THE LEADER

I think we can all pretty easily agree that the young leader when faced with a decision to speak truth to power, has a burden that can feel like wearing a shirt made of lead.

However, as more senior leaders in organizations, how much of the burden falls on us to create an atmosphere where much of the risk is mediated for a young leader? How much of the responsibility is ours to create the environment in which others feel a freedom to be able to share?

I argue that much of the speaking-truth-to-power-dichotomy rests not in the hands of the deliverer but the receiver. And yet the senior leader is the one who often times has the most to lose by missing key information that was never brought to them. In the fast-paced, get it done now, microwave culture that organizations exist in today many of us cave into our survival reptilian brain that tells us to do whatever we can to survive.

Many times these environmental and personal factors are not acting in our favor. As leaders, we have to put effort into creating a persona and a culture so that the voice we need to be able to hear in our organization comes through.

5 ACTIONS YOU CAN WORK ON TODAY

Here are my top 5 tips for leaders who want to improve their chances of hearing all the information they need to hear to be able to make an informed decision:

  • Slow down your cadence-Most of the leadership mistakes I have made were because my world was moving fast and I did not slow down to see more possibilities. The faster I went, the more convinced I became that I was right, and the further away I got from the truth. Take a deep breath, count to 10, silently sing a familiar tune very slowly (I like; “Row, row, row, your boat), pray, do whatever you need to do to slow your reality down.

  • Become curious-The practice is to suspend your need to be right or heard and to work really hard to understand the other person's position. Before you jump to conclusion or shoot them down because of what you know that they don’t, spend some time to really discern the message they are bringing to you.

  • Always say thank you-So before it feels like I am your mom or kindergarten teacher, just hear me out. You would be surprised at how often I observe leaders in interactions where they turn and walk away without expressing gratitude. I don’t think it is an intent to be mean or degrading, the pressure of the moment takes the brain to the next thing rather than finishing the relationship with the current interaction. Researchers at USC found that simple acts of gratitude provide benefits ranging from feelings of reward and satisfaction to just helping people to hold on to their humanity.

  • Spend time reflecting- At the end of your day take the time to review the day. Play back the interactions you had with others. Resist the temptation to become defensive and ask yourself questions like:  I wonder what they were really trying to ask me?  Why did I feel such a strong need to defend myself?  Why did I feel such a strong need to exert power in the moment?  What unintended consequences could the action I took cause?

  • Do the inner work of developing your soul- The psychology data says you are as intelligent right now as you will ever be. Your personality is fully formed, so you know if you are extroverted or introverted. You have most of the skill you will ever need. So what is your next step in development? Do you need to work on developing the soul of your leadership?

HOMEWORK:

Pick one of the 5 Actions above and work on it every day for a week. For example, in every personal interaction and every email you send, say “thank you." Work on making your attitude heartfelt and not rote. If you try any of these let me know how they go for you, I would love to hear.

How to Maintain Emotional Balance When Things Go Bad

In every organization, there are sometimes big changes and it can be hard to maintain emotional balance through each situation.You may be thinking, “Sure, it is easy to use the tools you mention when things are going well, but what happens when things go bad?” Just because there are changes that may affect your position, it does NOT require that it affects your emotions in a negative way.

Several situations could be categorized as difficult for leaders to work through: downsizing, merging, restructuring, relocating, new leadership, project failure, ethical and moral failure, just to name a few. Basically, any situation involving a change that does not give you a positive feeling. These situations don't have to be awful, but they encompass any kind of change that takes you out of your normal routine, which can make them difficult.

When there has been a breakdown in your company, it doesn’t feel good. Tensions are high and people are on edge emotionally. Realizing the emotion exists and not allowing the negativity to drag you down is the skill. This is emotional resilience. Bad things are going to happen.

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How can you as a leader work on your own resilience to be able to lead others to see a brighter day ahead?

The first step in being a resilient leader in times of tension and complexity is to be aware of and manage your emotion. In an issue of Leadership Quarterly, Laura Little, Janaki Gooty, and Michelle Williams take on the topic of "the role of leader emotional management." The authors studied 163 leaders and their followers and concluded that when followers perceive that the leader was managing emotion, focusing on meeting expectations, and creating a future, followers felt better about the leadership being provided. Conversely, when followers perceive that leaders modulate or suppress their emotion, there is a lack of leadership and job satisfaction on the part of the follower.

What can you do as a leader to create better leadership in times of tension and complexity? How can you focus on meeting expectations while creating hope and a future for your followers when times are tough?

Here is a simple acronym that can help you stay in CHECK during difficult situations:

Consider the Situation

Take note of what's going on and how it is affecting you, your relationships, and your team. Can you describe the situation clearly and objectively, then identify the emotion it brings up and why? Are your emotions creating false expectations that need to be managed?

Hear from Others

Who are two or three people you trust that can speak into the situation? Identify individuals inside and outside of what's going on that can help you think and act productively as you figure out what to do. Don't spend too much time doing this, or else you become subject to the opinions of too many people and fall into a pit of gossip and negativity, which brings us to our “E."

Eliminate Negativity

This is easier said than done but necessary. Pessimism indicates that there's absolutely no hope or no solution to what's going on, and that's just simply not true. Whether it's coming from yourself or from others, be sure that what you are hearing and thinking will be constructive and productive. Martin Seligman, past president of the American Psychological Association tells us we need to develop a “positive explanatory style." This is not “The Power of Positive Thinking” we all have heard about. It is much deeper than this. Seligman says, “What you think when you fail is crucial.“ How you explain things to yourself when they don’t go your way is the difference between helplessness and being energized.

Create a Plan - Organize and Carry Out

You've thought about it and talked about it, now it's time to decide what you will do about it. Start with the outcome you hope to have and work backward, documenting the steps you need to take to reach that outcome. The key here is to describe what success looks like to you before you implement the plan.

Keep Your Head Up - Stay Consistent, Present, and Motivated

We know it's not going to be easy, but no matter what happens you have the ability to take a deep breath, stay positive, and keep going. What are some things you can do to remove yourself from what's going on, clear your head, and rejuvenate yourself to stay in the game?

HOMEWORK

Think about this acronym and how you can apply to a difficult situation you are facing. Write CHECK on a note and stick it somewhere you can see it as a reminder of this process. When you see it, think about how you can apply it to the things causing tension for you and your organization.

Is it Too Late to Restart My Goals for the Year?

How are you doing with the goals you set earlier in the year? Have you accomplished them or have you gotten off track? It’s not uncommon for people to not want to review their goals, especially if they know they have not made the progress they hoped for. The feeling of discouragement can become overwhelming when we see a lack of progress and know we aren't where we had hoped to be by now when the goal was originally set.

In January, you set your goals for the new year. Let's say you wanted to exercise three days a week for an hour. This goal is like getting on an airplane. You are all buckled in your seat and ready for take-off. You know the goal. It is written down and you feel comfortable with where you are going.

The plane starts down the runway, shakes, and surges as it gains speed. All of a sudden, it is February. You likely have taken a couple of steps toward goal attainment. You are gaining speed and you can feel the inertia of the plane starting to lift off. In regard to your goal, maybe you called around to see what gym would best fit your needs. You went out and bought new exercise clothes and maybe some shoes. The feeling and speed of the change feels good.

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Then comes March. The plane reaches 30,000 feet, the seatbelt sign comes off, and the plane levels out, and the exercise doldrums set in. You no longer feel the rush of take-off. You no longer can sense the speed of the plane. This is when goal attainment becomes difficult. When it feels like you are not making any progress at all.

THE FEELING IS NOT REAL

The interesting thing to me is the lie our emotions give us in this context. While the positive “dopamine” feeling of starting something new may be gone, the important thing to realize is that the plane is still going 450 miles an hour, even though you can’t feel it. You are still moving. You are still experiencing progress. Even though Q2 is gone and we have said goodbye to May, June, and July YOU are still flying. Realize your plane is in the air. You have not crashed. YOU HAVE NOT FAILED!

Instead of assuming that you're way off track and that you've already failed, step back and look at your goal objectively. Think about when you set the goal, were they SMART goals? Most likely you've heard this acronym, and even used them when setting goals, but it is a helpful tool to check up on your goals or even get back on track.

  • Was it Specific? When getting specific with your goal, consider why and how you want to achieve it and not merely the definition of your goal. Perhaps you want to work on developing young leaders. Your why might be because your want to prepare them for more responsibility in the future and your how will be through professional development workshops or one-on-one mentoring sessions.

  • Was it Measurable? Are you able to see where you are right now and where you'll end up? If you are not able to track the progress of obtaining the goal along the way, you'll have a hard time seeing if you succeeded in the end or stay motivated along the way.

  • Was it Achievable and Realistic? The A and R in our acronym go hand in hand. When you figure out your goal, how to do it, and its deadline, you have to think about the parameters and circumstances that will make it possible. At this point, something may have come up in the last 6 months that have changed your circumstance and deterred your goal. That's okay. Life happens. Instead of seeing it as a failure or no longer attainable, just think about what changes need to be made to your goal, the plan, or the timeline. Don't be tempted to start from scratch, instead, make less work for yourself by simply re-evaluating and tweaking what's already in progress and steer it back on track.

  • Was it Time-bound? Some of you may have set goals that you've already completed. Others might feel the pressure of the time ticking away. Use the time as positive pressure to get the work done, not to stress you out. If you feel constrained, give yourself a break and allow yourself more time. If it's a project with a deadline, reach out to your team or manager and see how you can work together to get it completed. Also, consider how you are using your time and what could be distracting you from focusing on your goal. What do you need to implement personally to give yourself time and focus to achieve this goal?

Most importantly, remember the why behind your goal and the reasons that motivated you to set the goal in the first place. Visualize what it will look like for you and your team when that goal is accomplished. Grab a coach or mentor and share with them your SMART goal. Listen to any advice they have for you.

Be encouraged by the progress you have made so far. Keep yourself in the air and land that goal safely on the ground.

The Cost of Paying Attention

Recently, a client who received feedback from his organization, said that he needed to become more self-aware of the impact of his behavior on others.

When I probed for what behavior seemed out of line, he told me that he had been rewarded his entire career for being a critical thinker and deliberate in decision-making. The organization needed to undergo changes to be more responsive in the marketplace and his caution was now being viewed as inflexibility. The feedback he was receiving from the organization was that he needed to be more self-aware of his inability to see things in other ways. He told me, “I need to pay attention to when I am being overly cautious and evaluate if I really am being inflexible or if my caution is warranted."

Paying attention. An interesting phrase…

Paying attention, as it relates to being self-aware, implies that there is a cost involved. When you sharpen your focus on something, you will inherently need to give something up in exchange.  In the example above, if my client is to be self-aware and pay attention to a behavior to elicit change, he will have to give up something in exchange for the attention he is going to give the new behavior.

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Here is a simple example, if I go to the grocery store to pick up a banana, a transaction takes place. I give the clerk something of value to me, in this case, money, before receiving the product I desire more than the money I possess, the banana. Pretty simple.

When leaders are told they need to be self-aware of their actions or behaviors, it seems to get a bit more complicated than buying a banana. The process of becoming a self-aware leader requires that we give something up in order to draw attention to what we desire to change or better understand. This change in behavior must have more value to us than what we need to give up in order to obtain it.

When purchasing a banana, I know what I need to give up to own the fruit. In the same way, if I need to pay attention in order to become more self-aware of what is seen as inflexibility. For example, what must I give up in order to obtain this behavior change? To pay attention to this kind of behavior change will require humility to even get the process started. You have to recognize that you desire the banana more than you desire money and be willing to give up one in exchange for the other.

What does it take for you to humble yourself as a leader?

In this context, to be humble is really about having a clear perspective of your place in the context of your situation.  My client had to get to a point where he could be objective when situations arose. It is quite probable that because he had been rewarded (or at least had the feeling of such reward) in the past for his display of caution, that he installed it as a permanent successful behavior. After all, who does not like a positive feeling?

His first step in becoming self-aware had already occurred. He recognized the spectrum of behavior he was trying to distinguish. He had described the poles as being deliberate on one end and inflexible on the other. He gave up the freedom to just behave as he had been rewarded. He had to pay, in this case, his normal feeling of being cautious to precipitate a desired change or even recognize the spectrum that he was asked to change along.

Now he must understand the strength of his deliberateness and the weakness of his inflexibility.

Let me illustrate:

To stay in shape, I like to jog. I started having some knee pain. Once a week I work out with a personal trainer for 30 minutes, so I was telling him about the pain I was having in my knee. One of his thoughts was that I had some muscle imbalance, meaning one of the muscles in my leg had become stronger than another. The tension, caused by one muscle being stronger than another, caused a pulling at the joint and, therefore, the pain.

According to my trainer, this weakness causes an imbalance and puts stress on other muscles to become stronger and overcompensate for the weakness.  According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine there are many reasons that one muscle might be stronger than another, such as past trauma, repetitive movements, lack of core strength, poor training technique, emotional duress, and poor posture. He said, “Scott, you have to pay attention to strengthening all your muscle groups so that you don’t have knee pain."

There it was again, pay attention. What was I going to have to give up in order to relieve the pain? The same is true for my client, and for you.

What do you need to give up when you are working with those who follow your leadership so that you “pay attention” to them? If you are trying to listen better to what your followers are telling you, what is the cost to you? What do you need to give up to become a better listener? Have you identified the cost that may be involved for the change to occur?

Feel free to comment on this question. I would love to know what you are thinking.

Are You Emotionally Agile?

Change is really hard!

I am experiencing this reality for myself and it is tough. Here is a bit of what change is looking like in my leadership development practice.

Let me start by writing that I am blessed beyond measure to work personally with many of you who read this post every week. You are so patient with me as I lament stories and try and apply good leadership theory to practice. I count it a real privilege to be invited into, what I consider to be, the sacred space of helping you develop into the leader you want to be.

This is a blessing I do not take lightly or for granted.

My Change Story

My leadership development work seems like it is changing. The feeling is palpable for me. For the last eight or nine years, I would say that 50% of my work has been in some aspect of training leaders in the area of emotional intelligence in live workshop formats. The other half of the work has been focused on one-on-one coaching to develop leaders using multi-rater feedback or as a thinking partner. For solo practitioners such as myself, this is a fairly common mix.

What has driven this 50/50 mix has been based primarily upon the work that my clients have had available. And as I have been in discussion with most of my clients around what 2019 is going to bring there is a lot of ambiguity, which is not at all comforting. For anyone! Not for me, nor for the clients that I serve.

This change is really hard. Any change that feels like you are losing something is what psychologists call Ambiguous Loss. According to Pauline Boss, author of Ambiguous Loss, “those confronted with such ambiguous loss fluctuate between hope and hopelessness. Suffered too long, these emotions can deaden feeling and make it impossible for people to move on with their lives.” However what I am experiencing in my own personal change is that all is not lost.

And I think this is true for most of us. We need to see the hope that change can bring.

Emotional Agility

So, as I have been thinking about these changes over the past few weeks a range of feelings have swept over me.

Being emotionally agile starts with recognition of this range.

Here is what I experienced:

1) Rejection. My first thought was to ignore or dismiss the change, to pretend it was not real and to just sit back and see what would happen. This idea of rejecting reality is like being frozen in time. If I do nothing and just sit here, then maybe things will go back to the way they were in the past.  

The emotional intelligence competency to pay attention to is Reality Testing. This emotional competency challenges us, as leaders, to remain objective by seeing things as they really are. This challenges leaders to recognize when emotions or personal bias can cause one to be less than objective.

As I have been thinking through my current situation, to reject the change is to not see it as really happening, I realized this first stage is not serving me as a leader at all.

Time to move on…

2) Understanding. This step in becoming emotionally agile is really about intellectualizing that the change is happening and trying to understand the reason behind all of the change dynamics. Folks who are in this phase of emotional agility thirst for information like a heat-seeking missile. The fallacy in this phase is that if I just have more information and understand the change better then it will all be ok. Those stuck in this phase may feel a sense of false security as they gain information, but are not doing anything with it. The information is intellectualized but the receiver of the change stays right where they are, not doing anything with the information they have learned.

The emotional intelligence competency to pay attention to is Problem Solving. This emotional competency challenges leaders to find solutions to problems where emotions are involved. Notice that the skill here is to find the solution, not to sit and think about the problem or to make sure you understand all of the inputs into the change progress. The capacity of problem solving is to understand how emotions impact decision making and then move toward a solution for the problem.

3) Moving. This step in becoming emotionally agile is about finding clarity in the change you are experiencing and trying something new. I think clarity is huge in this stage. It is so hard to move toward something that is not clear to you. The other day I went for a run in the rain and for the first few miles it was great. Then I hit such a downpour that I could not see even a few feet in front of me. I had to slow down to a walk because the path was not clear. The same becomes true for those of us who are ready to move to a new reality. We have to have some clarity of vision so that we feel safe moving forward.

The emotional intelligence competency to pay attention to here is Optimism. This emotional competency challenges leaders to keep a positive outlook on life. The main idea is to remain hopeful and resilient despite the occasional setbacks experienced during change. Optimism becomes critical because of the ambiguity during change. We are going to have setbacks that we didn’t experience in our old reality. For me, business just kept rolling in from my clients year after year. That is now changing, so I am going to have to change with it and there will be setbacks along the way. The goal is to remain optimistic for the future.

4) Integration. The final step in becoming emotionally agile is to make the change a part of you. To accept the change, revise your beliefs and assumptions that you make about how you will proceed moving forward. Difficult change really is not about the choices you have in front of you. It is more about your values and how you want them expressed in the new reality.

The emotional intelligence competency to pay attention to here is Self-Regard. The idea here is to keep your self-respect while understanding your strengths and weaknesses. As the change is happening, you are still the same gifted and talented person you were prior to the change. It is really fundamental to come to grips with the idea that while your circumstance has changed, your giftedness has not.

Homework

I have realized these four steps in my own life about becoming more emotionally agile. How about you? What is your experience? Could focusing on emotional intelligence help you or your organization become more agile with the change you are experiencing? If so drop me a line, I would love a chance to talk with you about your current change.

Emotional Agility

I ran an interesting experiment last week with a group. I was training them on being emotionally intelligent leaders. Before I tell you about the experiment, a little context might be in order.

The organization, a group of twenty folks, has been working while undergoing massive change. By massive, I mean not only the quantity of change processes going on at once but the entire cultural core of leadership requirements as well. For example, managers are being asked to shift from a “command and control” culture, where directives are pushed down the chain of command, to one of solving issues as they present by the people closest to the event.

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This type of change has as a reorganization component. Teams are being dissolved and new teams are forming that did not exist three months ago. People are being herded into unclear roles that have no guidelines or strategies for success.

This kind of change is hard on people. As humans, we naturally seek safety and comfort. Even if things are not ideal if we feel comfortable and safe and like the way we have it, why would we ever want to change?

It is like trying to get your parents to move into assisted living and out of the house they have been in for over forty years. Even though everyone knows it is best, they just feel better in their environment. Change from the known to the unknown can be deeply challenging.

Period.

So back to my training experiment.

When the group of twenty came in for the 9:00 AM program, the first question I asked them, is the question I ask every group at the beginning of a session, “What do you need to know about me to feel safe in your learning?”

I know the more safe people feel, the more likely they are to absorb content, listen, and hence hopefully learn something that benefits them as future leaders.

I received typical questions like, “Tell us your education and work background,” and, “Tell us where you are from.” Even from time to time people want to know about my family. Once I have built psychological trust, I usually ask them what they want to learn during our time together. Even though I have an agenda, I always want to know what they need. This helps me to empathize throughout the day and link my content to their needs.

The Experimental Question

The group of twenty are all sitting in pods of five people at four different sets of rectangular tables. I then ask the experimental question to the group stating, “I just got some information from senior management that they feel this group is not sitting in a position that is conducive to learning, and they would like them to learn as much as they can from the day.”

Silence. Seriously, like for ninety seconds. Then someone said, “So, are you asking us to move around?”

I said, “I am not asking you to do anything. Is there anything you would like to do with the information you received?”

Then someone said, “You are the expert, tell us how you want us to sit.”

I said, “Thank you for the compliment but that is not my job here. You received information and I need to know if you are going to do anything with it. If not, I will just move on.”

Finally, some discussion started.

“Maybe we should change seats.”

“I think we should sit in a ‘U’ shape.”

“Then we would have to move tables.”

“I am comfortable right here where I am. I like my seat and really don’t want to move.”

This went on for about three minutes and I interjected, “You all are spending a lot of time talking but what I am observing is no one is moving to meet the expectation.”

After about six minutes, or so, the group got up, moved tables and formed a ‘U’ shape. Once they got into position, I asked if this was more conducive to learning, and they came up with some good reasons as to why it might be.

Then I asked, “So, why did it take you so long to respond to the feedback you received?”

One of the group members sat back and said, “Okay, I see what you just did here. You put us in a place we were comfortable and settled in and then presented us with an opportunity to do better and we hesitated and dragged our feet. That is exactly what a lot of very talented people are doing here at our company. We all know we have to change, but even those who say they are excited about the change are experiencing some emotion around the loss of the way things used to be. So we are just sitting and talking about it without much movement.”

Emotional Agility

As we continued to debrief the experiment, and what was happening in the organization, the discussion quickly centered around the change events they were experiencing and their individual responses to those changes. They came up with many reasons for the change: new leadership, market dynamics, product changes, and cultural inefficiencies. All relevant reasons, and from my perspective, accurate.

My mission for the day then became clear, from an emotional intelligence perspective, to help them develop actions and responses to become emotional agile.

“No matter the circumstance, I am responsible for my reaction”, became the mantra of the group.

For example, when people get angry or upset they almost always blame the person, the object, or God for being responsible for the change. This group came to the realization that when they are faced with change, it is up to them to recognize the emotion, label it, and then ask what it is really telling them.

The reality is, life situations happen. It is not debating “if” change is going to happen but “when,” and the question becomes how are you going to respond.

This is emotional agility. How you choose to respond in your life when change is thrust upon you.

This is Too funny

So, I am sitting on an airplane flying home writing this post and the flight attendant has the snack box. The choices are: Belvita Breakfast Bar, Pretzels, Plane Cookies, and Fritos. Now I always, I mean always ask for, and get, Plane Cookies and Fritos.

The flight attendant says to me, “Which one?”

And I say, “I always get the Fritos and the Plane Cookies.”

He says, “I can give you one, which one would you like?”

My knee-jerk thought is, what a jerk! What is his problem? They always have extras of this stuff. Why is he being such a stickler? I want my snack and I want it my way!”

Then I realized I was not acting with much emotional agility.

So, I reread what I just wrote about being emotionally agile and decided to apply my thoughts to my own behavior.

I sat back and thought, he just wants to make sure everyone gets a snack. This is actually a pretty noble gesture on his part. What a nice guy. If I was sitting in the back I would appreciate getting to have a snack choice like the people up front.

The teacher is always a student.

Becoming Agile with Your Emotion

When change is thrust upon us as humans, we have a tendency to look for blame outside of ourselves for how the action has landed on us.

The central thought behind emotional agility is; no matter the circumstance, you are responsible for your reaction.

According to Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, "You cannot always choose what happens to you. But you can choose how you respond to what happens to you.”  

What emotion do you have to manage to be able to be open to think about something outside of yourself?

Can you catch yourself today having some change thrust upon you, and rather than justify with blame, seek contribution on how you can be responsible for your actions?

2 Additional Tips on How to Have a Productive Feedback Conversation

Last week we talked about a 1 Question Quiz on Productive Feedback. If you missed it, click HERE, but in summary, I asked you to consider the following three items in making your feedback conversation more productive.

  1. Become Biased for Action

  2. Consider the Relationship

  3. Appreciate what is Possible

What order do you think they should be in? I suggested Considering the Relationship as the first vital component to productive feedback. This week I want to break down the two additional tips.

Appreciate What is Possible

A conversation that includes possibility assumes a relationship. If someone is going to enter into considering a change by exploring what might be, they first have to be able to trust that you have their best interest in mind. This is a really important point. It is not a good idea to have an appreciative conversation with someone if they do not trust you. You may trust them implicitly, but if the feeling is not mutual then you do not have a relationship, so do not proceed.

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Possibility starts with curiosity. Perhaps asking something like, “What could they mean when they say you are direct?” or “How could you approach your work so others feel valued?” would spur your team member toward thinking about what is possible.

Possibility is all about giving the person who receives the feedback hope for the future. As the receiver of feedback, I need your optimism that this criticism is temporary and if I work on it I can overcome the challenge. It is very likely that the person receiving the feedback has been very successful using this behavior in the past. If you consider the story above, it is likely this person has been rewarded for her technical expertise and that working in teams might be very new for her. Showing her a way out of her dilemma is what possibility conversations are all about.

In the end, it is really critical for the person receiving the feedback to own what is possible. You, as the giver of feedback, are helping them get to the place where they can see what is possible and that they can own it. As the giver of feedback, you cannot become the owner of the possible. You have to possess a keen awareness if what the person comes up with as possible will close any gap that exists, but the person receiving the feedback is always the owner and in charge of the possibility dream.

Become Biased For Action

Ahh. We are finally here. Helping the person put the plan together that closes the gap between how they have been showing up and how they desire to show up.

First, it is really critical to stop and ask yourself how the relationship is going and if the person is owning the possibility for change. If not, you are not ready for creating action. Go back and find the issue in the first two steps and correct this before moving forward. According to James Flaherty, too many conversations break down here because of power gradients. People are more committed to change if they trust the supervisor and if they are included in what the change might look like.

This next step is where you will be helping the person take possible into reality. This step is important so you do not stop at dreaming about what might be. You have to help them put a plan into place around what will be.

Commitment to action is what both parties are ultimately after. It is key to keep the plan simple and in the form of a few measurable items. These simple things have to be in the form of behaviors that are observable and not values or character traits. For example, in the story above, the person receiving feedback could ask more questions about why people on the team do things a certain way and then validate that the idea is a good one. This is both behavioral and actionable. Saying that the person needs to become more humble in working with teammates, while potentially true, is not helpful as humility is a character trait and needs to have behavioral actions put with it so that the person can act upon the plan.

Reflection

So, as I had this conversation with my old friend about productive feedback conversations (Read the conversation here) the phone grew silent on the other end.

“You still there?” I asked.

“Yes, I am just reflecting on these three elements and where I am getting this all wrong.”

"You are giving yourself some feedback,” I said.

“Maybe so”, was his reply. “I am thinking I need to go back to the beginning and consider where the relationships with everyone on my team are really at. Do they trust me enough for me to even provide them with feedback? It doesn’t matter that the organization declares me the supervisor, I am only going to get necessary change if they buy into me.”

Spoken like a true leader.

Out of the three tips to consider, where do you see your greatest potential for growth?

Would you be willing to give ME some feedback? If so, I have a few questions I would like to ask you.

 
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Take This 1 Question Quiz on How to Have a Productive Feedback Conversation

An old colleague called me the other day. He was having some trouble getting someone on his team to accept some feedback he was giving.

“I keep telling her that she needs to stop and build relationships with folks on the team. She is just so direct and to the point that no one wants to work with her. She is technically the most skilled person on the team but she doesn’t realize that it is ok if others do things differently. It is at the point that no one wants to work with her on anything. One person even told me,’She needs to approach her work with an attitude that everyone is doing their best and that we all have good intention. Sure she is really smart, but what good is that if no one wants to be around her.’”

My friend then said to me, “I even did the old feedback sandwich technique, where I give her a positive comment, and then give her the criticism, and followed this by what a good person she is.”

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Ever been in a space like this? Where you are trying to give someone feedback but it is like you are talking to a wall. Or maybe the person seems open and friendly but you cannot move the conversation past your relationship.  

Or...

Maybe you had someone try some technique on you like the CrapFeedback Sandwich where they build you up to tear you down and then try and save the day with some meaningless positivism that is more therapeutic for them than it is for you?

“Ok, just stop,” I told my friend. “Let’s talk about productive feedback and how really to have a productive conversation.”

Take This 1 Question Quiz on Productive Feedback

Here are three things to consider to make your feedback conversation more productive.

  1. Become Biased for Action

  2. Consider the Relationship

  3. Appreciate what is Possible

Now put them in the proper order for effective feedback.

Did you find that you had an “aha” moment as you tried to figure out the order? Reflect on your thoughts for a moment.

Perhaps you find yourself saying that feedback is all about being Biased for Action. After all, the reason you are giving the person feedback is so that they can have the information they need to make the changes that others see are needed. You are not having a feedback conversation for your own health or to just hear yourself talk (although it does seem that way sometimes to some people).

According to James Flaherty who writes on effective coaching conversations these three conversations all need to happen if someone is going to change a behavior, but the order they happen in is critical. For example, if you do not have a firm enough foundational relationship, getting a person to act on feedback is futile. You could pay them all the compliments you can think of but when the criticism comes, they go immediately into a protective defensive posture.

From the list of three things to consider for productive feedback, let’s consider the most important of these three which is the relationship.

Consider the Relationship

In order for any feedback to resonate with the receiver, the relationship with the provider of the feedback is critical. Good interpersonal relationships have some core elements to them which are often taken for granted.

  • First, they are mutual. This means that both parties derive satisfaction from being together. This relationship cannot be forced. Even if we do not get to choose who we have on our team, or the boss we work for, we have to freely decide of our own will that we are going to be in the relationship.

  • Second, the reason the relationship exists is due to some foundational core commitments. The commitments we make to each other are critical because all relationships are going to have ambiguity and misunderstanding and without solid core commitments it is hard to maintain a relationship.

  • Third, the relationship must contain trust and compassion. For feedback to be absorbed by the receiver trust must be present. For trust to flourish compassion must be present. Having compassion means you are with me in my suffering. That you understand me and will not abandon me when I am down.

Next week we’ll dissect the remaining two factors that play a big role in productive feedback: Becoming Biased for Action and Appreciating what’s Possible. But until then, how do you think Considering the Relationship affects productive feedback? I’d love to hear your comments below.

4 Additional Considerations for Giving and Receiving Tough Feedback

Last week we talked about a case study between Toni and Mia. Toni had some tough feedback for Mia and unfortunately, their conversation did not go well. Click here if you missed the blog post, but in summary, the one thing to remember in giving and receiving feedback is recognizing who is in the power seat during the conversation.

To add to our dialogue, here are 4 Additional Considerations for Giving and Receiving Tough Feedback.

  1. Expect Defensiveness - People are people and when we feel attacked one of our natural responses is to defend ourselves. We do this by justifying our actions, discounting the process, and questioning the procedures.

    • If you find yourself on either side of the feedback process. Recognize when you are being defensive and say, “I am feeling a bit defensive right now and that is not how I want to be perceived. Can we reconvene tomorrow so I am more open to what you are saying?”

  2. The Speaking Reveals the Speaker - Those providing feedback are in the hot seat. Even if you are just playing the role of the reporter who is bringing objective facts to the conversation, you are choosing the subset of facts you think matter most.

    • When you are receiving feedback, assume positive intent from the giver. Assume they have information that is going to be helpful for you to perform better.

  3. The Rule of 3 Conversations - Anytime we are delivering feedback there are 3 conversations happening. First, the conversation between the speaker and the listener; second, the conversation the listener is having with herself, and third, the conversation the speaker is having with herself. The job of the speaker is to understand the conversation that the listener is having with herself.

    • As the listener, your job is to comprehend what is being said. The quieter you can make the conversation within yourself will enable you to appreciate and receive what is being communicated.

  4. It’s All About The Relationship - Never, ever underestimate the power of relationship.  As the giver of feedback, the more mutually satisfying the relationship, the better your feedback will land. This is not just about having common interests but has to do with the level of shared commitments you make to each other. The only way to do this is to spend both quality and quantity of time together. The stronger the mutual commitments that people have the better the relationships. I have noticed in my coaching work that many people do not have anyone to call and share struggles with when they feel like they are in emotional confusion. There is no substitute for genuine time and compassion to strengthen relationships.

    • As the receiver of feedback, you have to take the relationship where it is at the moment, so here are some tips for you to absorb the feedback:

      • Stay present and attentive in the conversation. Resist the temptation to explain “why” you did something.

      • Find commonality in what is being said. It is critical to find something in the feedback you can own and act on.

      • Don’t shoot the messenger. Refrain from becoming judgmental of the person who is giving you feedback. Focus on the content of the message and not who is saying it.

Reflect on the Case

Go back over the case study from last week (read here) and see where you think Mia and Toni could have gotten a better outcome by applying these 5 total suggestions (from this week and last week’s blog) to their feedback conversation.

Better yet, why not study these 5 items before you go into your next feedback session.

I would love to hear from you as to how these 5 items resonate with you. Drop me an email at scott@drscottlivingston.com and I would be happy to connect.

Would you be willing to give ME some feedback? If so, I have a few questions I would like to ask you.

 
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The One Thing To Remember in Giving and Receiving Feedback

I think one of the most difficult things to do in organizational life is to receive tough feedback.

Most of us go into our jobs wanting to be seen at best as a top performer and at the very least a valuable contributor to the organization.

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So when someone sits you down to give you some feedback, how you receive this message can make a big difference as to the perception others will have of you.

Organizations spend lots of money on teaching managers and leaders how to give good feedback. Most “giving feedback” models include some type of framework that mandates at least 3 steps: (1) Provide context for the situation, (2) Give an assessment of a behavior, and (3) Declare the results of that behavior. The goal then is to enter into a conversation about what the person could do differently in that situation to get a different outcome. While there are probably some improvements to be made, the model in my estimation is directionally correct. It gets a conversation started, and is an attempt to help someone improve.

At the same time, there are some assumptions that get made inside of any feedback model that need to be addressed.

Case Study: Toni and Mia

Let’s consider a situation where Toni is Mia’s supervisor.  

Mia has been part of Toni’s team for about 8 months so Mia has had adequate time to observe how Toni is integrating her into the team. Mia has noticed that Toni is a bit more relationally distant from her than other members of the team, but she shrugs this off since Mia is still the newest team member.

Mia really loves the company and wishes she could say the same about working for Toni. She cannot pinpoint why she feels this way, but Toni seems to treat her differently from other team members. For example, Toni will often get into detailed conversations with other team members about hobbies or things going on in their personal lives, but everything with Mia seems to be about her projects at work. Flat out, Toni just spends more time with other members of the team. Maybe it is just a quantity of time thing, but the perception to Mia is that Toni just knows them better. One thing that Mia would say about herself is that she loves her work and others have even commented to her they wished they could care as deeply about their projects as Mia does.

The Feedback Process

As part of a routine organizational feedback process, Toni is tasked with gathering some feedback for each member of her team. For Mia, Toni will ask two or three team members what it is like to work with Mia. Simple, straightforward, open-ended, and as unbiased as possible on the part of Toni; just what is it like to work with Mia. Toni will then take her assessment of Mia’s performance and put it with the other feedback.

Once all of the data is collected Toni will develop one or two things that each person on her team could improve upon. The intention of the exercise is so that everyone is providing input and is able to make any behavioral course corrections if needed.

Toni’s Feedback for Mia

Toni’s challenge in preparing for her conversation with Mia became one of only focusing on two things. While she had some idea that Mia was struggling to integrate into the team she did not realize it was so evident to everyone else. Toni was grateful that the organization had a feedback model and even invested in a half-day of training to teach supervisors how to use it. She would need all that skill in her conversation with Mia.

The day came for the two to meet to discuss the feedback. Toni had decided on two talking points:

  1. Grandstanding- People on the team thought that Mia was not sensitive to other projects the team had and that hers, by far, was the most important.

  2. Constant Comparison-Toni had noticed in almost every conversation that Mia would compare how she was working on projects versus others on the team and this always came with how her way was better

Needless to say, when the two sat down the conversation did not go well. Even though Toni executed the feedback model with flawless accuracy she could tell Mia was both stunned by the feedback and hurt that people on the team actually felt this way. One of her comments to Toni was, “Who comes to work and tries to belittle others by doing these things. What is this 4th grade? Maybe folks around here are just a little too nice to each other and need to grow some thicker skin.” She finished the conversation with Toni by saying that the process needed to have a name change from Team Feedback to Shark Attack.

The one thing to remember in giving and receiving feedback

  1. Recognize who is in the Power Seat. Most would assume, because of the power gradient that exists in organizations that the manager, in this case, Toni, is in the power seat. But studies actually show that it is the receiver of the feedback who is in control. The receiver gets to decide what is heard, what is reflected upon, and what ultimately will be acted upon. You may be saying, well yes, but if Mia doesn’t change her behavior she will get fired. And yes, this might be true, Toni is merely a messenger and Mia has the power to decide what her actions will be.

As the receiver of the feedback, realize your power position. Be as open as you can to what is being said. Ask good clarifying questions so you have all the information you need to decide if you are going to make any changes or not.

Next week I will add 4 additional considerations to giving and receiving tough feedback. In the meantime, what do you think Mia and Toni could have done differently to get a better outcome? I’d love to hear your comments.

If Workload Is Not the Culprit For Stress...What Is?

A relatively new area to hit the leadership literature is the concept of job crafting. Many organizations are leaning more on the individual worker to “craft” their job by changing everything from accomplishing tasks, to strategizing important relationships, and mapping business goals. This idea of “job crafting” actually has been cited in leadership studies as being aspirational and motivational, allowing the individual to self-actualize and find meaning and purpose in work.

Job crafting has been cited as increasing work productivity, employee engagement, effective problem solving, and overall employee performance. Before I even knew it was called “job crafting” I always thought of it as “just do what you need to do to get the job done." Be responsible. Be accountable.

THE RESEARCH

An article in The Leadership Quarterly (the Bible of Leadership Studies) by Elizabeth Solberg and Sut Wong took on the question of what employees perceived as their ability to craft their job in the context of work overload.

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In English: If I have work overload, do I feel I can do what I need to do to get my job done?

Job crafting is often classified as a proactive behavior and reflects traits such as self-initiation to bring about any needed change. However, it turns out that job crafting is not necessarily anticipatory. Most scholars view job crafting as a behavioral response to one's current work situation. Rather than being future-oriented and strategic about what work we have, most of us will just react to the load we currently face. It really is the “tyranny of the moment” that is a key factor in our ability to be able to craft the job into what we need it to be.

THE FINDINGS

There are two important findings that come out of this study as it relates to job demand and role crafting. When employees are feeling the overload of work, their anticipation for a positive resolution and their leader’s need for structure are two very important factors.

As always in leadership studies, there is more than one variable that must be considered. When studying the leader one must also study the follower. When thinking about employee performance and work overload, the literature will support this idea.

THE EMPLOYEE

It is a good idea to ensure you have people on your team who can be proactive in adapting and initiate change in order to relieve the work overload.

The follower needs to have some skill or trait in their overall ability to be able to manage change. There is an accountability and expectation that rests on the shoulder of the follower that when work overload is occurring they can cope, manage, and make proactive changes.

Point taken. Followers need to be accountable.

THE LEADER

However, follower accountability is only half of the story. The other half of the story is how much control the leader exudes.

According to Dragoni and Kuenzi (2012), leaders engage in leadership behavior consistent with their own goal orientations, producing a work climate that influences their employees to adopt aligned goal perceptions. This research also shows that the more controlling the leader, the less willing the follower will be to exhibit autonomy and make changes that are needed to alleviate work overload.

THE LESSON

If team members in your organization are overworked and feeling stressed, maybe it isn’t the workload to blame. Maybe it isn’t all of the quarterly tasks. Perhaps it is your need to control as a leader. If our need for structure across all time and circumstance is consistent, then in times of heavy workload, your workload is going to increase even more. Why? Because in order to get things right, the followers are going to need you to think for them. If, as leaders, we want to feel less stress or have more time to think and create, then perhaps letting go of control might be just the gift to give yourself and those on your team.

What can you as a leader do to loosen your control reigns? What value would giving your team more autonomy have on the overall effectiveness of your team?

How Do You Define Trust?: Delegation Series #4

I hope you’ve enjoyed this Delegation Series. To wrap up, I’ve invited my Executive Assistant, Brandi, to explain how building trust in our work has enabled me to delegate things to her. Here’s Brandi...

I have had the honor of working alongside Scott for over three years now. At the beginning of our working relationship, Scott delegated to me tasks of a traditional Virtual Assistant, such as calendar management, travel coordination, copy-editing, and social media management. Although I still have involvement in some of these areas, my role within Scott’s company has evolved quite a bit, allowing me to partner with him in new ways that develop and grow his business.

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These days I spend the majority of my time overseeing the full administrative scope of Scott’s coaching and consulting practice: contracting, designing and distributing program materials, administering assessments, managing coaching engagements, invoicing, and much more. Additionally, I regularly have the opportunity to partner with Scott to help guide and manage special projects, external contractors, and various growth opportunities.

As Scott and I have developed our working relationship, one very key attribute has determined our success: trust.

Merriam-Webster defines trust as, “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.”

Scott and I define trust as:

  • Full access to work directly with his clients, knowing that I will treat them with the utmost respect, kindness, and care, to ensure the success of the program, coaching engagement, or consultation.

  • Confidence in my decision making, allowing me the freedom to select travel arrangements, schedule meetings, edit content, and make recommendations without questioning or hesitation.

  • Reliance on each other’s areas of expertise. Recently, while talking through a project we were about to pull the trigger on, Scott said, “I am hesitating, even though I know this is the right direction, but I just can’t visualize it.” Within seconds I was able to virtually share my computer screen, walk him through a demonstration of a similar project, and give him the visuals he needed to ensure confidence in moving forward.

With trust as the foundation, Scott and I have found a rhythm that allows each of us to work within our strengths. As a result, not only are we both happy in our roles, but Scott’s business is thriving, his clients are happy, and he is free to spend his days doing what only he can do (even if it means leaving the office an hour early to play some golf or spend time with his sweet granddaughter, Natalie).

So, how do you develop this kind of trust with your team?

Here are a few things that have helped us:

  • Prioritize regular communication. Scott and I meet first thing each Monday morning via video conference to catch up and talk about the week’s priorities.  

  • Be reliable. Scott and I have proven to each other that we will do what we say we will do. If we encounter delays or roadblocks, we communicate our concerns quickly.

  • Create an environment where it is safe to fail. In our very first meeting a few years ago Scott told me that on our team there is no blaming. When we fail, we are not interested in pointing fingers, we focus on making it right and learning so that the mistake is not repeated. I have heard Scott reiterate that to our team throughout the years and I believe this has significantly contributed to an environment of trust.

Trust is not something that develops overnight, but with the right person in the right place on your team, you will be amazed at what you can accomplish together as trust grows. If you are interested in exploring the idea of finding a new team member who can partner with you in similar ways, I encourage you to reach out to BELAY.

Moving toward Delegation Expertise: Delegation Series #3

Last week you heard from BELAY’s CEO, Bryan Miles, and how he helped me with my business. This week, I’ve invited one of my virtual assistants, Tannis Oliveri, to share how she empowers multiple clients toward delegation expertise. Here’s Tannis...

When a client begins an engagement with a Virtual Assistant (VA), they are typically overworked, stressed, and looking for a reprieve from the mundane tasks that weigh them down. Through the first few weeks of onboarding with a new client, I seek to learn their pain-points, what part of their day is the most productive, their personality type, and their communication style. This helps me get a broad view of their work and life. Once I determine their greatest needs I strategize how to take things off their plate which typically begins with delegation.

Depending on their professional journey, they may or may not have utilized Bryan Miles’ delegation matrix in order to identify tasks they want to get off their plate. In my experience, some clients, like Scott, have been the one-man-show in their business and need encouragement to continue handing things over. Regardless of where the client is on the road of delegation, here are some simple tips for moving toward delegation expertise.

  • Templates, Templates, Templates: This has been the biggest area of success for my clients across the board. If I can remove the brainwork from a repeating task by creating templates, then it’s a win for everyone involved. Here are a few of my favorites:

    • Meeting + Travel Templates: This works best is in a task-management software where I list the overall details needed for meetings or travel arrangements (location, required attendees, etc). Rather than my client and I playing email-ping-pong with gathering the necessary details, my client is able to copy the template, type in the meeting or travel request information, and I take it from there. It is efficient and creates clear lines of communication.

    • Email Templates: Whether my client wants to touch base after submitting a proposal or reach out to a volunteer, a canned response gives them a track to run on. In creating the template I will include language such as, “I’ve CC'd my assistant, Tannis, on this email. Please respond to her with your availability.” In doing so my client (1) doesn’t have to remember to delegate the scheduling to me and (2) is training his team to come to me with calendar requests.

  • Gently pull things away: Expense reporting was a tremendous drain for one of my clients. When we first began our engagement he would manage all his receipts, even though I offered to do them. His response was, “It doesn’t take me much time. It’s no big deal.” But his calendar screamed how valuable his time really was. So, rather than waiting for him to upload the receipts each week, whenever an expense comes through his email, I take care of it right away. The small fragmented pieces of time are back in his control when he allows me to take the initiative.

  • Remind them of your skill-set: One of the things I’m known for (and actually enjoy doing) is taking messes and cleaning them up. Whether it’s an online storage that needs a complete overhaul, or a tangible folder that needs reorganizing, I encourage my clients to delegate that to me. When I first began with Scott his Dropbox was in desperate need of organization. Rather than Scott trying to clean it up, he handed it over to me and I whipped it into shape.

  • Ask lots of questions: Some clients have been doing a task for so long they don’t realize someone else can do it for them. During my weekly meetings with each client, I ask various open-ended questions that help them process through their tasks. This creates time and space for them to think through things and offload work that doesn’t belong on their plate.

As a Virtual Assistant, I feel I am an extension of my client. We are both working toward the same goals. When they become empowered to delegate, my clients find freedom and more time to spend on the work they love.

One Easy Way To Avoid Burnout as Leader: Delegation Series #2

Last week I kicked-off a series about Delegation. I shared my confession of being a control freak and how hiring a Virtual Assistant from BELAY changed they way I run my business. I’ve invited BELAY’s CEO, Bryan Miles, to share from his perspective, how he helped me with my business. Here's Bryan...

Throughout my years as a leader and more recently as CEO and Co-Founder of BELAY, I’ve learned many valuable leadership skills and principles. One leader who has helped our leaders and managers hone their leadership skills is Scott Livingston, one of our partners here at BELAY.

Scott is a business coach to highly successive leaders, helping them meet their goals and reach their potential in the workplace. Scott uses highly customized leadership development plans for his leadership training and executive coaching, with a focus on emotional intelligence in his training programs because it has proven to improve leader's execution and performance in their organizations.

As business leaders, we’ve each encountered times when seemingly endless tasks kept bogging us down, preventing us from growing our business. For instance, Scott spent long hours analyzing tests he conducted for leaders, processing assessments, proofing reports, scheduling meetings, and recording results. That is until he discovered the art of delegation.

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Scott and I have learned over the years why delegation is integral as a leader. Effective delegation allows leaders to focus on the things that only they can do -- casting vision, strategizing and serving as the stewards of their company’s mission. When entrepreneurs are bogged down in the day-to-day details of bookkeeping, data collection, and calendar management, they’re robbing their businesses of a truly invaluable asset: their leadership.

I am often asked this question when I mentor people: “I have so much that I need to do, I don’t have time to do anything else.” And then the question comes, “So, Bryan what should I do about this?” It’s pointless to discount things like better planning and prioritizing important over urgent work, but most of the leaders I work with are “hacked out” of productivity. Everything they are working on is important. So now what?

Delegation.

At BELAY, we’ve learned how powerful delegation can be for leaders. So much so, that we’ve designed a delegation matrix for leaders to prioritize tasks and see what you can start delegating today so you can finally get back to doing what you really love.

For Scott, one of the first things he began delegating was data analysis for all of the tests leaders took during his training courses. He gained hours back into his schedule each week. Hours he now spends doing what he does best: coaching highly successful leaders.

One of the first things I delegated were the routine, administrative tasks that were eating up my day (aka low pay off activities). I know, taking the first step toward delegation is a doozy. In fact, giving up those first few scraps of agency to someone else can be terrifying. That’s why I suggest starting small. Begin by delegating to a Virtual Assistant (VA) your scheduling, routine correspondences, calendar management, or travel arrangements, all time-consuming details that can be easily delegated to a VA with minimal amounts of panic and distress.

Delegation is essential for your business’s success for two reasons:

1) Your time is limited.

2) You aren’t always the best person for the job.

Effective leaders thrive on humility and are never afraid to say, “I can’t handle this,” or, “I don’t know.” Delegation allows leaders to leverage the expertise of others, and use their own time more effectively. A good leader worth following should never feel guilt when delegating … they should feel relief and see results.

If you want to start alleviating stress in your workday, we’ve designed the Delegation Matrix just for you. We use the Delegation Matrix to not only help leaders prioritize a task list and determine what can be delegated today, but also to help our employees become better stewards of their responsibilities.

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Here’s how to use it:

Quadrant 1 -  Write out the things you love and that only you can do (and keep doing those)

Quadrant 2 -  Write out the things you love but that you know others can do. This is the quadrant that you should lead, teach, coach, and develop others.

Quadrant 3 -  List the tasks that you know you shouldn’t be doing or find yourself procrastinate doing. Guess what - there are other people who actually love doing these things. If you hate doing stuff that you know you should do, it will show up later. This is typically outsourced areas like bookkeeping, legal work, admin details, project management, proofreading & etc.

Quadrant 4 -  This is everyone’s favorite part - list the things you REALLY shouldn’t be doing. DELEGATE the stuff you hate & others can do. You're wasting valuable time if you do stuff in this quadrant. Get rid of these items immediately.

Don’t you think it’s time for you to start doing what you do best? Start focusing on growing your business and leave the rest to your delegates. Download and start using the Delegation Matrix today. Or let me know how you delegate: @bryanmiles.

 

Confessions of a Certified Control Freak: Delegation Series #1

Confessions are really hard for me.

Important, but really hard.

Confessions for me come in two different ways. Both of them entail me acting in a way that is disruptive to others.

The first way is when something is brought to my attention and I have no idea that I did it. The second way my need to confess, well, I’ll describe it in the story below.

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The other day my wife and I were driving in downtown Columbus Ohio to meet our youngest son Greg, and his wife Sylvia, for lunch. Most of you already know where this story is headed by the mere fact that a man is driving in a location he is not necessarily familiar with, but here’s how the conversation went.

“Let me put the address in the GPS,” Kim said to me rather nonchalantly.  

“No, I don’t need it,” was my reply. Finished by, “I know where I am going.”(Which, I guess was said with a little, OK, a LOT a of tonal impression.)

“Really?” Kim said. ”You don’t have to use that tone with me.”

In a knee-jerk reaction, I said, “I am sorry,” thinking that what I had done would be immediately forgiven and forgotten.

But then…

Kim said, “For what?”  

Startled, I said, “What do you mean for what?”

“What are you sorry for?” she said, followed by a rather long period of silence.

Now you can see I am at an inflection point in the conversation. “My tone?” I must have said with a bit of guessing in my voice.

“Nice guess,” she said. “You don’t have to use that tone with me, I am just trying to help us get there on time.”

Time for my confession, “You’re right. It was not my intention to belittle you.”

“I know,” she stated. "But it was the impact it had on me.”

For sure, it was not my intention to belittle. But it was important for me to see this and then to verbalize and confess the error of my way. It is a bit cliché to say that confession is good for the soul, but in a meta-analysis of over 150 studies, the idea of self-disclosure has been found to be beneficial for the confessor. Scientists are just now starting to understand why this is so important.

The second type of confession is the type where I know I did something wrong without anyone bringing it to my attention. Usually this type of confession, I call Type 2, is something I have been thinking about for quite a long time. I have made a mistake and I know it. I have pondered over how much of the error I actually own and am responsible for. Then, after some contemplation, I make the decision that the responsibility is mine.

According to Meg Jay in her best selling book Supernormal, it is critical for humans to take our feelings and experiences and “put them into words.” Turns out, words for us become labels or categories, according to Jay. When we talk about our experiences, we are sorting them out. Organizing our thoughts into words and speaking them can take what has happened and make it understandable and even less upsetting for us.

My Confession

I have a Type 2 confession to share with you today.

Many of you know I work in my own Executive Coaching and Consulting practice. I have decided that at this point in my life, this type of work fits me. I really enjoy helping those I work with become happier and healthier in the organizations they serve. That is the bright side of me.

The dark side of me is I am a control freak.

There, I said it. It feels a little cathartic and freeing to write it down for all to see.

The problem of being a control freak means I want to control everything in my business. I mean everything. So, I used to do sales, product design, product development, implementation, scheduling, finance, marketing, customer follow-up, customer communication, customer delight.  Think about all the different departments in your business. I do the same thing, just on a much smaller scale.

I was doing it all. And pretty effectively for a while. But, the problem was that with my controlling every single detail, my business was only growing so far.

My Freedom

I wanted to grow my business, but I still wanted to do the work I loved. The question for me was how could I do both?

A few years ago, I was listening to a podcast by Michael Hyatt. He was talking about his friend who had figured out a Delegation Matrix that offered freedom to entrepreneurs. His name was Bryan Miles and his company is BELAY.

Bryan started BELAY with his wife, Shannon. They wanted to take the stress and worry out of the lives of the entrepreneur, minister, and executive, so that they could focus on doing what they love. The brilliance of all of this is Bryan and Shannon figured out a way to do this virtually.

So, after listening to Michael Hyatt, I did some digging on virtual assistants and set up a meeting with Bryan.

Now, what happened next was not rocket science, but it did revolutionize the way I approach my life and my business.

Bryan and I had a half-hour call scheduled and I thought we would spend time in small talk and getting to know each other. WRONG!

Bryan said, “Scott it is nice to meet you. Tell me 3 things that you love to do in your business.”

I was a bit stunned. "Well I love to coach, I love to speak to groups, and I love to write my thoughts out.”

“Great!” he said. “Now what are 10 things you have to do to coach someone that you hate to do?”

It took me a couple of minutes to come up with the 10 things, but I did it.

“Great,” he said again. "Now, how long does it take you to do those things?”

“I don’t know, maybe 10 hours or so.”

“Great,” he said for the third time. “Now, what do you bill your clients out at an hourly rate”?

He had me.

I was spending way too much time doing what I didn’t like doing when I could have been what I loved to be doing.

All I had to do was give up control of what I hated.

Now, how hard is that?
 

This is the first in a four-part series on the topic of delegation. Next week, you'll have the opportunity to hear directly from Bryan Miles. In the meantime, if you are interested in learning more about Belay's services, click here.

What if I Don’t Want to Change?

What is it about change that makes it so difficult for people to process?

Is it the overall complexity that change brings? Or is it the level of comfort that existed prior to the precipitating change event?

One aspect that I have been thinking about recently is that our aversion may not be to the change itself but the awareness that the current reality exists in concert with the new reality.

If the answer is yes to both of the above this makes for a confusing environment.

Consider the following story as an example:

As a member of an organization, “Bob” has a job to do that he has been doing for approximately 24 months. He is competent at the craft and has built some good relationships with people on his team and with this customers. As a matter of fact, Bob’s supervisor rated him as exceeding expectations last year which is really quite rare for only being on the job for 2 years.

Then all of a sudden, the organization says it needs to change how it operates. They have to become a more Holistic Organization. This new structure isn’t really going to be structure at all! It is more of a self-managed, self-organizing network of people who are going to get everyone closer to the customer and to each other. Out with bureaucracy, and hierarchy, and consensus.

The consultant who gives the presentation to the company called it a “Teal” Organization. Bob had to research it and learned it was something called Spiral Dynamics which is a new consciousness for business. Teal Organizations are agile, lean, flexible and responsive to the environment. It all sounded great until Bob started to get a little anxious. Like how flexible? So flexible that he won’t be needed? Feelings of real anxiety started to sweep over him.

Teal organizations, since they distribute decision making to the lowest levels of the organization, require a level of trust, emotional intelligence, creativity, and intuition not previously required. There is a great sense of the work that is being done is for the good of, indeed the survival of the organization and that the individual interests of the contributors are taking a back seat.

As Bob contemplates his old paradigm he feels paralyzed between the drive to consensus that used to exist and making decisions for the good of the organization (which by the way, Bob remembers is what consensus was supposed to do).

He wants very much to succeed in this new world order, but not sure exactly how to do that.

Yes that was it. How was he supposed to come to work today and be inclusive with all his business partners and at the same time make decisions on his own?

He feels tremendous uncertainty in what his role is and a lot of ambiguity in how he’s supposed to do his job.

And then, his wife says that maybe they should not have bought their new house.

This did not help calm his thinking.

Personal Example

I know how our protagonist in the above scenario feels. I remember when I first got married, in fact, my wife Kim and I were on our honeymoon. Now, for any person marriage brings on a very significant change. On the morning of my wedding I woke up single, but by 1 pm that afternoon I was married. This was a new reality that I did not fully understand.

I was excited about the change. I anticipated with a positive anxiety the reality that was ahead. And unlike many who experience change in an organization, I was a willing participant who was choosing this destiny.

For our honeymoon, my bride and I set off on a Caribbean cruise. Seven fun-filled days just the two of us. On our first night at sea, we were walking to dinner. I was so excited to eat because the number one thing people told me about cruising was that the food is outstanding. Or, maybe it was the fact we had skipped lunch and I was famished. No matter, when I got to the dining room I turned around and Kim was nowhere to be found. Where could she be? So, I started retracing my steps and when I rounded the corner there she was…just standing…and waiting.

“Whats wrong?” I enquired. “Are you OK?”

“I am fine,” she said. Then she went on and delivered the truth that helped me realize my new reality. “You are married now, and I would really like to walk to dinner with you and not behind you.”

Ouch! What a change lesson that was for me.

My old paradigm of singleness was confronted with my new reality of being married. If I was going to be any good at this being married thing, then I had to understand what this new life was all about.

I am so thankful that I married a very patient woman. She has been at my side now for 34 years teaching me all about what it means to start something new.

The real key if you are experiencing dramatic change in your organization, or you are getting married, is to pay close attention to the relationships between people. For this new reality to be successful we have to replace our negative and anxious feelings with those of more positive outlook.

Being in the middle of change requires us to slow our thinking down and manage the anxieties we are experiencing.

Sure we will stumble at times, but let’s not forget that a step backward is not failure. It is just learning. No one, not even those leading the change in organizations know everything. We all need space to think and to understand what our new way forward looks like.

Do you have a case of “Yeah, But?”

The experience of being a grandparent is everything I thought it would be and more! My wife and I just finished a three-day “grandparents camp” with our little granddaughter and we had such a good time together. Our little bundle of joy has really made an impact on my life. She has changed me a lot.

However, there has been one change I did not expect.

My brother, who beat me to the grandparenting experience by about 18 months, kept telling me it was going to be the best experience of my life. He would send me videos of himself and his grandson playing on the floor together or reading stories. While there was a sense of joy, I have to admit it didn’t look like that much fun to me. I have not rolled on the ground with kids for a long time. Where was the intellectual stimulation going to come from?

How Wrong Can One Man Be

I was 100% wrong! I had no idea what I was talking about. My little granddaughter has totally changed my approach to life.

The most profound effect she’s had on me is the revelation that I need to continue to work on my listening skills. Here is an example:

 

“Grandpa let's take Carlos (my dog) for a walk.”

“Ok, let me finish the article I am working on and we will go.”

Yeah, But Carlos needs to go for a walk.”

 

Or Consider,

 

“Grandma, I want a snack.”

“Sweetie we will eat lunch pretty soon.”

Yeah, But I want a snack.”

 

Many times when change is not going our way, we as humans do not want to go deeper into the reason why. Since change brings on so much emotion, it is important for us to step back and realize the problem we are having with change could be that we are trying to use logic with an emotional issue.

For my wife and I, being grandparents means that we have had about 6 years since our youngest son left our home and our little grandbaby entered our world. When Greg left home he departed as an adult. We could have very adult-like, seemingly logical discussions with him.

What seems so obvious to me now never occurred to me in the moment. Why wouldn’t telling my granddaughter that we would have lunch pretty soon be good enough for her? Surely she has experienced lunch before and knows her hunger will be satiated when she finishes her meal. I mean by now she has probably had over 700 lunches in her life, surely that is enough repetition for her to know what lunch means…

Yeah, But...

I have experienced the case of “Yeah, But” in my coaching practice as well. I will be working with a client who knows they need to change a behavior, such as:

  • Becoming more assertive in meetings

  • Having more empathy for those they lead

  • Taking deep breaths and relaxing

  • Celebrating the success of others

  • Having more empathy for those they lead (It was worth listing it twice!)

 

As I work with them on these, and many other skills, I can often sense a,

Yeah, But...

It is there. It is not always obvious. Maybe not even articulated. But, as I sense the resistance from my client I can feel like I am up against a “Yeah, But.”

This is an indicator for me to slow down and try and understand the emotions my client is feeling. Yeah But means there is an emotional hurdle that needs to be jumped, and before I rush on with more logical thought, I need to slow down and help my client climb over the emotional barrier.

When we are working with people experiencing change, speaking logic during these times can be futile. Instead, we, as the leader, need to focus on helping our followers navigate change in a safe and trusting environment. It is during times of confidence and protection that Yeah But can be satisfied and the learning can resume.

Even if that learning means having a snack right before lunch.

Does Your Team Need This Lifeline?

A while back, after a much-needed vacation, I scheduled some time for writing and research. During this time, my interaction with my coaching and training clients was limited to text and phone conversations.

About 10 days into this period, I noticed something unusual.

I was starting to get a little down. Not an all-out depression, but I was noticing something declining in my overall mood. I felt like I was sinking. Nothing bad happened, really. In fact, I had just come off a very restful vacation and had plenty of work to accomplish.

Nonetheless, there it was; the feeling of not having enough connections that sustain love for my work.

A lifeline is defined as "a rope or line used for life-saving, typically one thrown to rescue someone in difficulties in water or one used by sailors to secure themselves to a boat." Things can happen to us in our lives that give us a similar feeling of sinking or being stuck. If we don’t have some help to secure us, we can begin to feel alone and hopeless.

From time to time, we all need a lifeline of care and compassion from others.

BASIC HUMAN PSYCHOLOGY

It is fairly common knowledge amongst psychologists that the feeling of isolation can be a key determinant for a wide range of human ailments, from depression all the way through to premature death.

The Wall Street Journal reported there are very few public health initiatives to combat loneliness, even though this state of being is riskier to “health and survival than cigarette smoking or obesity.” 

Loneliness a bigger health risk than smoking or being overweight?

If loneliness is a bigger health risk than cigarette smoking and obesity, then perhaps it is something we as leaders should pay closer attention to. Are there people in our sphere of influence that need a lifeline?

IMPACT ON LEADERSHIP

A very insightful study was published last October in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Researchers wanted to know the impacts and categories of social contact or lack thereof, that might predict clinical depression. In studying over 11 thousand people over the age of 50, the scientists found that only face-to-face interaction forestalled depression in older adults. Phone calls made a difference to people with a history of mood disorders but not to anyone else. Email and texts had no impact at all.

The lifeline that people need, according to this study, is face-to-face interaction

In the study, the frequency of gathering with friends and family—or not—was the key. What’s more, the researchers discovered the more in-person contact the less likely that depression would occur in the future. Participants who had minimal social contacts had the highest depressive symptom rate, while those who connected with people in person at least three times a week had the lowest. It would seem that the more people gather in person, the better off they are.

What could we as leaders do to become part of the solution?

Mayoclinic.org has some very simple steps for preventing depression. The 5 most relevant to our discussion are:

  • Control your stress

  • Increase your resilience

  • Boost your self-esteem

  • Reach out to family and friends (i.e.. grab a lifeline)

  • Get help fast

As leaders, we can be intentional with those under our influence. Here is how I would adapt the above list for leader-follower interactions.

  • Become attuned to what stress looks like for those on your team

  • Meet regularly with your team members at least every 1-2 weeks

  • Prioritize these meetings

  • Spend most of your time listening and asking questions, rather than being in "solve mode"

  • Meet in person, if at all possible. If not, use video chat like FaceTime or Zoom

  • Give them some assurances that you believe in them

  • Establish a culture that encourages learning from mistakes

  • Do spot check-ins in times of high stress

  • If a teammate seems down, ask about it early

  • Consider frequent mini-sabbaticals as a way to rejuvenate

How often are you connecting with those you lead? How intentional are you in making connections? Who on your team seems a little down and needs to know you believe in them? Your lifeline of care and compassion might be what is needed to help your team reach peak performance.

Stormy Transition? Here’s What to do in the Meantime

Last week we talked about stormy transitions and what the space between looks like before and after. Here’s the LINK if you missed it. This week I’m going to dive deeper in how to work through stormy transitions such as grief and loss.

A storm we can all identify with is living with loss. Let’s face it, loss is really hard. Most of us in the United States do not take enough time to grieve the loss of a loved one, let alone the loss of a job or significant relationship. Many of us are so performance-based that we get caught up in doing something rather than just being with our grief and loss. I am guilty of this myself. My battle cry is often, “Just do something and you will not notice all the pain!” But I am here to plead with you to not do this. If you are experiencing loss, take the time you need to replenish, revitalize, and heal yourself.

I have experienced both the loss of my father and the loss of a job that I really loved. I was fortunate to be able to walk through these times with some wise people who gave me what turned out to be excellent advice. They taught me how to just be, and to not focus on doing…anything.

Here are three things I did during my time of loss. In other words, here’s what to do in your meantime.

  1. Allow friends to minister to your soul. Loss often cuts us very deep, to the core of who we are as people. Loss can feel very lonely and isolating. Do not let it be a time when you set yourself apart from others.  Find friends who care about you and will listen to you. Friends who will let you take your time and heal as you need to experience it. Someone who will not try and solve, but just be there with you and listen.

  2. Journal your thoughts and feelings. Buy a nice leather journal and a pen that feels good to write with and take the time to put on paper what you are thinking and feeling at the time. There is no right or wrong and this is a judgment free zone. I also want to encourage you to find a friend and read your journal out loud. Explore the meanings and the feelings you are having. This will create a sense of purpose, belonging and compassion.

  3. Find a soft place to land. As you are in transition do some exploring. Play with some things that you have always wanted to try. For me I had always wanted to write a book, so I did. I self-published a book on coaching with emotional intelligence. It felt really good to be able to achieve a life goal during this transition. Soft places to land can make transitions both easier and less shocking on your system.

If you are in either a mini-transition or a full-on-life-altering-transition, please, take your time. Allow others to help. Do not go through the experience alone. You will be OK, in fact you may end up being much better off. You may get to accomplish something you only dreamed of.

Go ahead and climb in your cocoon. Sit in it and grow. Then come out and change the world.

I hope you enjoy the support. If you know of someone going through transition, why not send them the blog and encourage them to sign up. I would greatly appreciate it.

Are you in a Mini, Major, or Stormy Transition?

Many of the organizations I work with are going through major transitions right now. Some are growing and expanding while others are experiencing unprecedented contraction. The change seems to be showing up in a couple of very different ways.

Some folks are in mini-transition where they are gaining clarity around their life’s work; like an update of what has been happening in their lives over the past several years. These folks find themselves doing a new job, or on a new team, or maybe even relocating for an opportunity. It is a change they may or may not have been asking for, but alas they find themselves with some new opportunities ahead. While significant, and full of emotion, these mini-transitions keep the person on a similar life trajectory.

Then there are the life-impacting transitions where full-on change is happening in your life. Your circumstances are shifting entirely and rocking your entire world!

  • You have lost your job, through no fault of your own.

  • You have decided to retire and to give your talents to a local non-profit who really needs your leadership.

  • Your spouse has served you divorce papers after 25 years of marriage.

  • Or you experience the loss of a child.

Real loss. Devastating loss. The kind of loss that makes life seem like there is no way out.

Frederick Hudson writes, “…many people think of transitions [like this] as a penalty box, a place for losers, for quitters and weaklings-people who can’t take the heat, victims who thrive on self-pity and helplessness.” Many will seek to blame others; a bad boss, a spouse, or more likely God.

When you lose something you love, a job or a person it can seem like life itself is not worth living. Hudson writes, “the acceptance of an ending sounds like termination, humiliation, resignation, and defeat.”

However deep or devastating your transition, please take heart. However disorientating the change you are encountering, this experience is almost always a road to some kind of regenerative growth of you as a person and a discovery of some new and exciting you that is being created.

You really are a butterfly emerging from a cocoon…eventually.

But for now, it might feel like you are a caterpillar who just wants go into the basement, drink beer, and cry!

What to be aware of is how you are experiencing your transformation. Think of it as “The Meantime.”

The Meantime

When I was a kid, my mom used to talk a lot about the meantime. It was always mentioned as a time preparation as a transition was coming. It would go something like this:   

  • “Scott your father will be home in about an hour and in the MEANTIME you better get your room picked up.”  

  • “Scott you have basketball practice tomorrow morning and in the MEANTIME you better get your gym bag packed.”

  • “Eric (my brother) you have your piano lesson tonight, in the MEANTIME you better get practicing.”

As I reflect back when I was a kid the MEANTIME was always a time of storming. You see, I knew dad would be home in an hour, but a kid could play a lot of basketball in 60 minutes. Who in their right mind wants to stop playing ball and clean up there room?

The storm would begin to brew.

My mom would remind me. “You better get on it now. You can play ball when your room is done, but in the MEANTIME you better get moving."

After the second request to clean my room, she would invoke my middle name.

“Scott Robert!”

The pressure would rise with dad’s presence looming on the horizon. The stormy transition was fast approaching.  

We all experience stormy space in our meantime; the space that exists between “how nice it was before the transition” and “what it will be like when the transition is over.”

The question I have been asking myself a lot lately is, “When the meantime comes, how do I show up?”

Leaders, we need to be very aware of how we are showing up during times of transition. We need to ask ourselves what our behavior was like during the stormy transition. Are my actions those of a self-centered protectionist?

Am I becoming so focused on my own unfortunate circumstances that I am missing out on key relationships that could be a vehicle to restore my healing? Can I remain calm and have some clear thinking, vision, and self-introspection as events unfold around me?

Many of you are experiencing change and chaos going like never before. So, over the next several weeks I am going to write about going through these changes with skill and grace. Next week, I’m going to dive deeper in how to work through stormy transitions such as grief and loss.

I hope you enjoy the support. If you know of someone going through transition, why not send them the blog and encourage them to sign up. I would greatly appreciate it.