leadership

5 Things Irma is Teaching Me About Self-Awareness

By the time you read these words, Hurricane Irma will have put her stamp on my home state of Florida. We are currently preparing for the worst while hoping and praying for the best.  I thought it might be fun to put myself to a test. I talk with my coaching clients all the time about the leadership skill of self-awareness. So here are some things I noticed about myself as we prepare for this monster storm. 

Our first experience with one of these spinning giants was last year. Matthew went whirling past and the winds were about 80mph, but the storm stayed far enough off the east coast of Florida that in Orlando, where we live, property damage was minimal. Since so much devastation was predicted, and we only lost power for an hour or two, my thoughts were completely biased with bad information. Even as I saw the destruction of Harvey on the news, my thought was we won’t ever see a storm like that. 

My thoughts have changed. As I write this post, I am realizing how faulty my thinking actually has been. Only God knows what Irma will bring with her or even where she will go, as I write to you on this Thursday morning, about 3 days prior to the storm's impact.

I will be honest with you, I really didn’t think much about this storm until yesterday (Wednesday) when I got a text from my brother asking if we were prepared and what our plans are for the storm. We were in the middle of enjoying a relaxing Labor Day weekend with our boys in Columbus Ohio and spending quality time with our granddaughter.

In that moment, I turned to my wife, Kim and said, “Did you know there was a storm coming?” Up until this point, I was completely unaware that Irma was even in existence. How could I have possibly missed news of this magnitude? I knew that my granddaughter was cute, but I had no idea that enjoying my time with her so much had disconnected me from the rest of the world.

Point One About Self-Awareness: Pay Attention

By definition, it is incredibly difficult to know something that you are not aware of. Most of us just cruise through our day focused on our own agenda and the tasks that we have to complete that day. We just don’t take the time to see how we are showing up when we go about doing what we do. 

In order to be more self-aware of what is going on around you, it is imperative that you stop what you are doing and observe how you are doing it. When you are in a meeting with someone and they are not doing what you want them to do. Take notice of how you are talking to them. What is the tone of your voice like? Can you feel the emotion and then describe the feeling? The more aware of how you are showing up, the more control you will have over the choices you can make in how you show up.

Back to the story….

So my wife Kim pulls up the weather app on her iPad and sure enough, there is a Category 5 Hurricane in the Atlantic and all of the spaghetti maps show that Florida is in the bulls-eye of the storm. 

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"What do you think we should do?” Kim asked. 

Point Two About Self-Awareness: Stay Humble

When Kim asked the question, I had no idea what we should do…but I felt like she was looking to me for an answer. She needed some reassurance from me that I had an idea of what would be best for us as this crisis came upon us. 

While I actually didn’t know what to do, my knee jerk reaction was to do something. My wife was looking for me to answer her safety and security needs. At that particular time, she had me in a position of large-and-in-charge. The feeling can be overwhelming and dangerous. 

 In the moment it didn’t really matter to me what I said, I just felt like I needed to say something in response to her, like she needed some definitive expert knowledge from me on how to predict what a category 5 hurricane was going to do and how I should respond to it five days in advance of the event.  I had this overwhelming feeling of power come over me and that a decision was needed from me at the moment.  Very strange! 

Back to the story...

What I did was resist the temptation to be “all knowing expert” and said, “I don’t know, let's talk not about what we should do, but what we could do.”

Point Three About Self-Awareness:  Create Options

So we made a list of options. Action steps that could be taken some 5 days ahead of the crisis. I think the most important thing about creating options is to make sure you are using what is called divergent thinking. Most of us like to think in a convergent style: our preference is to focus in on a solution of what needs to be done at the moment. Leaders who are self-aware can resist being seen as the “all knowing” and practice thinking in a divergent manner. These leaders can start with the problem instead of focusing on what they see as the solution. If you start by focusing on the problem, then you can create options on how to solve the problem. If you focus on the solution, you might miss the core of the problem that you are solving.

Back to the story...

Here are the options we came up with:

  1. Keep our current plan of flying home on Thursday. Once we got home:
    1. Stay home and ride the storm out.
    2. Drive to Atlanta and stay where I have a program to do next Wednesday
  2. Stay in Ohio with our son and daughter-in-law and get to spend more time with that granddaughter
  3. Rent a car and drive 6 hours to see my mom in Central Illinois
  4. Stay in Ohio for the weekend and then rent a car and drive to Atlanta next week

Point Four About Self-Awareness: Calm is better than anxious

As we discussed the pros and cons of each of our options I tried to maintain focus on staying calm. In the emotional intelligence courses I teach, we make a big point about how stimulated emotion can affect the decisions we make. While all of the options we had were viable, the decision became clear as we calmly talked through what we needed to do. It was very easy to let anxiety creep into the moment and over the course of our discussion I could palpably feel the tension. Then I would take a deep breath, stand up and walk around and try to get curious about our discussion. What I have noticed over the years is that anxiety wants to rush me into the decision, but I know I make the best decisions when I am calm and have a level head to think.

Point Five About Self-Awareness: Learning is as important as judgment

We decided to keep our current plans, and are at the moment 25,000 feet in the air somewhere over the state of Florida. We are going to ride this storm out. Our desire was to be there for our friends and neighbors and if we can lend a hand to those who need we want to do that. 

I will try and give you an update this week on what we learned about category 5 hurricanes.

Some of you are reading this and might have made a different decision. In fact, the police officer at the Columbus airport we were talking with before going through security encouraged us to evacuate. He gave us some solid reasons, but we have our reasons to stay and they are solid reasons. 

In leadership, I think it is important to be open to learning. Many of you get paid to make judgments and decisions and I really value this as part of your role. As a leader, people are looking to you for insight and wisdom to run your business. 

Leadership is also about learning. Rarely are two situations or contexts are ever the same. So many variables go into good decision-making. My hope is that you will pay attention, stay humble, create options, stay calm, and learn as you go.

See you on the other side of Irma.

Are You Interviewing for This Critical Attribute?

If you are a leader who has hiring responsibility or are interviewing for a new role yourself, here is something to keep at the top of your mind.

I saw an interesting article in the New York Times the other day claiming that for every career there is an opposite career, requiring completely opposite skills. For instance, if you are a kindergarten teacher, your opposite career is a physicist. Teaching kindergarten is all about developing young minds. Physics is about using logic, math, and reasoning to solve problems. Different skills are needed for these different kinds of work outcomes. Here you can see the top set of skills needed for these two careers side by side. 

The opposite job of a kindergarten teacher is a physicist.

Skills Kindergarten Teachers Use Most            Skills Physicist Use Most

  1. Coaching & developing others                      Physics
  2. Learning strategies                                         Mathematics
  3. Developing & building teams                        Number facility
  4. Training & teaching others                            Information ordering
  5. Philosophy & theology                                    Logical Reasoning
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I thought this was really interesting on a couple of fronts. First, it fascinates me that, thanks to the tax money you provide the US government, the Department of Labor actually keeps data on this kind of information. While I never want to be critical about things I don’t know much about, I do have to scratch my head and ask if my tax dollars could have gone into the free market rather than pay for what seems on the surface to be a useless analysis of data collected.

Once I got past my inner critic it was kind of fun to think about the differences between being a writer and a mobile home installer: creative communication skill versus spatial thinking and manual dexterity. 

While it is a bit of a “blinding glimpse of the obvious” that the work of a physicist (thanks, Big Bang Theory for cluing me into this one) is very different from that of a kindergarten teacher. What becomes interesting are the assumptions we make about what it takes to be successful in different organizational roles.

3 Components of workplace success

Raw Intellect. There is a well-established link, with little to no debate, between the importance of overall intelligence and success in the workplace. It goes without saying that for any job that exists in an organization a certain amount of intellect is required to be able to accomplish the tasks that the organization is paying for. If you teach kindergarten you may not need to be able to do advanced calculus or understand how statistics applies to quantum theory but you need to be able to master education philosophies and advanced learning strategies. 

For most of the roles in our organizations, we don’t measure the minimum level of intellect is needed for job success on any kind of scale. We have some idea through education processes that if someone graduated from a school that has a  qualified welding program, most likely the person has the intellect to do the job. This is one reason that education matters so much, even if young people have no idea what they want to do after graduation, stay in school and get your degree you will just have more opportunities to choose from.

Skills and Talents. The second component for workplace success that gets the most scrutiny in interview processes are the behavior abilities the person displays. Back in my sales management days in the pharmaceutical industry, I spent many a day interviewing potential candidates trying to decipher if they had the skills needed to be successful on my team. We looked for people who could verbally articulate in a concise manner and who could solve problems on the spot. Paramount to sales success was the person's desire to learn complex ideas and then explain them simply. 

Behavior-based interviewing has become so popular over the years, focusing on a candidate's job experience gives some clue as to their ability to be able to perform similar task types in different roles. If a specialist in supply chain management knows how to use a pivot table then the use of this skill could be applied to any other role where pivot tables are important for job success.

And yet I can remember going through interviews with candidates from very good schools (had enough intellect) who had what seemed to have good transferable skills (in my case: sales experience) and think, “this person is not a good fit for my team." 

How is is that the person can be smart enough, and have the skills, but not be a good fit?

Emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is a set of emotional and social skills that people engage to know themselves better, have better relationships, and make better decisions.  Data from the World Economic Forum suggests that over one-third of the job skills that exist today will NOT be needed in the next ten years. And a new set of competencies that don't make the list today will end up on the list instead. 

In their book The EQ Edge, Steve Stein and Howard Book provide some examples of the emotional and social skills needed for different types of roles, including jobs like account executives and teachers and customer service professionals. For example, if you need to fill a customer facing role that includes sales and customer support components, you might know the type of education, skills, and talents you are looking for in a candidate, but do you know what emotional and social skills the person needs in order to increase their level of success?

Case study

Here is how I have been helping my clients think through these types of situations. Let’s use the above scenario as a case study. 

You have been hired as a consultant to help a client understand the types of candidates they need to hire for a new customer support role they are creating, which includes sales and customer service components.

Here are some steps you can use to think through the kind of people you might need to fill these roles:

Step 1. Define the Role-most of my clients have a good job description so this one is easy.

Step 2. Define what success looks like. How will your new hire know they are doing the job well?

Step 3. What kind of education level does the person need to have to be successful? Do they need an MBA from a top 10 school or a bachelors degree from any accredited institution?

Step 4. What are the skills and talents that the person has to have to meet the minimum level of success we are expecting?

For this role you might be looking for skills and talents like:

  1. Ability to collaborate and partner
  2. Self-motivation
  3. Creative problem-solving
  4. Result oriented
  5. Inspiring and influencing

Step 5. What are the emotional and social functioning abilities a person is going to need to align with the skills and talents they possess? We think about this as being the “how” they go about doing the skill.

                          Skill                                          Emotional Intelligence Ability

    1. Ability to collaborate and partner        Interpersonal relationships
    2. Self-motivation                                       Self-actualization
    3. Creative problem-solving                      Reality testing
    4. Result oriented                                       Optimism
    5. Inspiring and influencing                      Empathy

    Final Thought

    If you are a hiring manager or a candidate looking for your next role, you have probably spent a lot of time on considering education, skills, and talents, but have you spent enough time thinking through the impact that emotional intelligence plays in success?

    Quiz Yourself: Are You Using this Important Coaching Skill?

    I am blessed in my coaching practice to be able to work with a lot of coaches. Everything from students who are learning the craft to executive leaders who use coaching as a leadership tool. 

    I Have an Observation

    The skill of observation is underdeveloped.  Here is what I mean.

    This morning I am sitting having some quiet time of meditation and prayer.  As I was sitting in contemplation I noticed the breeze that was whisking through the trees in the conservation area behind my house at varying rates of force.  At times the leaves in the trees were hardly moving, and then, with no warning, the speed would increase to a gust force. After a minute or so the air would return to a more moderate flow.

    This is the skill of observation. Blocking out all other inputs and paying attention to this one thing, and then not making any judgment about it. Don’t turn it into a metaphor, or think about how to explain it. Just observe it and practice describing it.  

    This skill is harder to do than it is to read about, I can assure you. As leaders, we are constantly making cause and effect assumptions.  We become skilled at what is rewarded, making decisions or explaining things so that others can understand them.  All very important skills. I am not trying to say that your decision-making is not important, it for sure is. In fact, I often tell young leaders what they get paid to do is make judgments.  However, if we believe that quality inputs are critical to good judgment then perhaps observation trumps outcome.

    Give It A Try

    The next meeting you go to, or one-on-one interaction you have with a colleague, write down 10 things you observe from the interaction. Just make the observation and pay attention. Dial out all the distractions that might come your way and observe behavior. Notice things like tone of voice and inflection. Notice body language. Become aware of the “presence” the person exudes. 

    The better we become at the skill of observation, the better coaches we will be.  We will notice things such as hurt or pain in people. We will notice when they are not on their “A” game. We might notice the exuberant joy that is written all over their face. The better we are at observing, the more skilled we will be at connecting with others emotionally.

    Take a Quiz

    One of the reasons I like to use assessments in my practice is that they help me, as a coach, make observations.  Sure, the person gets great feedback around important competencies. For example, in the EQi 2.0 assessment that I use, leaders get feedback on stress management. According to Dr. Henry Thompson, author of The Stress Effect, emotional intelligence is critical in determining the likelihood of the success of a leader. 

    While the EQi 2.0 can give leaders feedback on competencies like stress management, often times it is the observation of the leader in the moment that can give the information that will allow the leader to make necessary judgments. If leaders don’t observe what their followers are feeling in the moment then they are more liable to react poorly. For example, an associate comes into your office and explains they have just made a mistake that could be costly in terms of dollars and customer satisfaction.  Are you able to manage your own emotion in the moment and observe what is going on with the person?  Are they anxious? Is there body language closed and distant?  Are they sweating? 

    So let's play this out. What happens if:

    A. You don't observe any of the associates “presence” in the moment

    B. You do observe the stress the associate is under

    Answer A: It is possible you will go right into fact-finding mode. Try to find out what happened, and then your natural next step is to go into problem-solving mode and to start giving orders you want the associate to execute with precision, clarity, and focus.

    What is the problem with Answer A?  It isn’t physically possible when stress has hi-jacked the associate for them to focus on anything. In fact, there is a really good chance that they will walk out of your office and not remember a thing you said.

    Answer B: You see the associate is stressed out, so you have them sit down. You go get them a bottle of water. You have them take a few deep breaths and perhaps you tell them a story that has a bit of self-deprecating humor. The goal here is to get the associate to relax so that you can trouble shoot and problem solve together.

    What is the real skill in Answer B? You took the time to observe the situation. You notice the wind in the trees. You know the end result you need to get to but you also know you need your associate to have a clear mind when you need information.

    Take Another Quiz

    For this quiz, you are going to need to think about a recent interaction that you have had with an associate where there was some stress or tension in the situation. Keep this interaction in mind as you take this quiz. Use the quiz and your memory to reconstruct the events. 

    This quiz is not meant at all to be diagnostic.  We are not trying to make you clinical psychologists. The purpose of this quiz is to help you dial in your skills of observation so that you notice more how your associates are showing up in your interactions.

    I hope you enjoy the quiz. If you know others who might like to work on the skill of observation, why not forward this to them.










    An Open Letter to my Friend at the Fairfield Inn, Clarksville Tennessee

    So, I am sitting eating breakfast this morning at a Fairfield Inn in Clarksville Tennessee with my lovely wife Kim. I am having my usual powdered eggs and overcooked bacon and Kim has chosen her much healthier granola and Chobani Greek Yogurt. The place is packed with people who have that look of road exhaustion even though they just woke up.

    The tables are so close together in this dining space that sardines would have been envious. Kim and I can’t carry on a conversation because of all the chatter around us. So as we sit and try to enjoy the meal that comes with the price of our room, we also become observant of the conversations around us.  Not evesdropping you understand, just unable to avoid the sound waves bouncing around the room.

    The first conversation is coming from a couple who seems to be traveling with the man's mother. The guy is a know-it-all. I mean, you know the type: has an uninformed opinion about everything. Mind you, we only sat at our table for about ten minutes, but this guy has commented on everything, including how bad a president Donald Trump has been versus the eight great years under "Barack." He actually just used the former President's first name. My first thought was how disrespectful we have become as Americans. How have our freedoms have been taken so for granted that respect is something only recognized when Aretha Franklin is singing?

    Mr. Know-it-all then goes on to solve the healthcare crisis by telling his mom, “I know exactly what we should do. We need to tax the rich and take away…. Hold on, Hold on," he says, "I have a call coming in." He presses a button on his smart watch and tells the person on the other end of the line they are at breakfast, then turns to his mom and starts telling her why his Google watch is better than her Apple watch when it comes to the phone app.

    I was actually beaming a bit nauseous just listening to this guy when I heard a little chirp from the table behind us.  A young family sat down and the mom was busy pouring milk over Cheerios when her little girl says, “Thank you, Mommy." I mean, my heart just melted like butter in a microwave. 

    Then it hit me. Each of these two scenarios had main characters. Each of the main characters had a choice as to how they are going to show up for breakfast. The little girl sure could have told her mom that the kind of milk she had wasn’t right or that she didn’t need anyone to pour her milk for her. There were probably dozens of responses the little girl could have made, but she chose to be thankful.

    To my know-it-all friend I just have to say: I don’t think that many people at the Fairfield Inn in Clarksville Tennessee care about your opinion. Even if you are 100% right about whatever it is you are pontificating on, your opinion just doesn’t matter that much.  

    Perhaps being a little bit more like the Cheerios girl would make this world more like the place we all really want it to be.

    Leader Challenge

    Leaders, I know you have opinions and I know you have problems to solve and decisions to make. 

    People are not doing things exactly as you think they need to be done. I know you would never say that you are the center of the universe, but sometimes, as leaders, we don’t we act like it.  It is all about our vision, our agenda, our goals, our, our, our.

    Maybe this week as leaders we spend less time on our own personal agenda and we become more appreciative of those who are on our teams and really make things happen for us in our organizations.

    How about this Memorial Day Weekend, instead of complaining that the Affordable Care Act isn’t that affordable for people anymore, or that your Facebook news feed just isn’t loading fast enough, just be thankful.

    Be thankful that:

    • You don’t have to work on Monday
    • You have a job and get to work on Monday
    • You have a family
    • You have friends
    • At some point in history a soldier cared enough to die for you so you could have a profile on Facebook.

    Just watch yourself today. Practice some self-awareness, and if you find yourself starting to complain, or pontificate about a subject, show some impulse control and turn your self-aggrandizement into gratitude.

    Perhaps we can all use the Memorial Day for its true purpose: to remember those who have died so that we can complain if we choose to. 

    Now, I don’t want to come off too heavy or seem like I am preaching. That really isn’t my intention. So, after you have really thought about your choice, and being thankful for all you have, then by all means do something frivolous.  Have a BBQ with your family, go play 18 holes, take your kids or grand kids to the park, or join me in watching the Greatest Spectacle in Racing…."Gentlemen start your engines."

    How to Use Child's Play to Find Giftedness in Your Leadership

    No matter what reason we were hired to coach, one topic that most of us in executive coaching will hear clients bring up is vocation.

    As clients go through some of the deep work that coaching often entails, they start to question the choices they have made that landed them in their current careers. When I ask leaders how they came to be in their current job I often hear things like:

    • It was my next logical step for promotion.
    • My boss thought it would be good for me to get experience in this area.
    • There was an opening, I interviewed, and here I am!
    • I always had an interest in ____________. (fill in the blank…science, math, the arts, dance, music)

    Because my role as a coach is to help people explore the choices they have made and the choices they see in front of them, I rarely offer advice about what clients should do. I am asked all the time, "If you were me, what would you do?" Most of the time I say, “I am not you. I have not had your experiences. I don’t have your skills. I don’t have your unique giftedness. So I can’t tell you what to do."

    About a month ago that exact scenario happened.  ”Scott, if you were me, what would you do?" was the question posed. I did my little duck-and-weave maneuver described above and helped the client think through options they saw in front of them, as well as presented some other options that may not have naturally occurred in the conversation, and all was well. This is how it usually goes. Then, the session ends and the client goes on to make decisions and from time to time they keep me posted along the way.

    As I finished my time with that client, I spent some time reflecting. This is something I do a lot after a coaching session. I like to think about things like:

    • What kind of energy did the client show up with?
    • What words did they use?
    • Where did the conversation lead?
    • What issues were brought to the surface?
    • Did we get closer to achieving whatever goal has been set?
    • What was my energy?
    • What words, stories, analogies did I use?
    • If I was the client, would I have valued the time I spent with me?

    While in this reflective mood I remembered the client asking what I would do if faced with their vocational choice. I thought a lot about what I said and the words I chose...and then the thought hit me: I wonder if the client understood what I meant by pointing out their unique giftedness? I am sure he understood that I meant that he had unique experiences and skills, but unique giftedness is a term many may be unfamiliar with. In fact, it is a term I use often and even I wasn’t sure I knew exactly what I meant!

    So I did what comes naturally to me, I started studying.

    Unique Giftedness

    As it turns out, the idea behind unique giftedness has been explored in some detail over the last decade or more by career counselors and those interested in vocation. Its genesis and thesis are derived from what is known as depth psychology. Clinical psychologists use depth psychology to explore the unconscious mind. By paying attention to things like dreams, slips-of-the-tongue, sarcastic humor, spontaneous humor, and meaningful coincidences, clinical psychologists are able to chart an exploration of the unconscious mind.

    Depth psychologists probe areas of the mind looking to help their patients unlock the unconscious or discover things that have been trampled over and subdued from the past. While most people thinking about vocation don’t need to explore any repressed memories, career counselors have starting using some depth psychology techniques to help those they work with explore their giftedness. It turns out that as we progress through life some of us may find ourselves in a job or career that has us scratching our heads wondering, “how in the world did I get here?"

    Using this vocational depth psychology approach, people are encouraged to explore career, not from their credentials, their job title, or any organizational function they are attached to, but instead explore vocation by asking the question “What are my leading gifts and abilities?”

    While there are several techniques I found for uncovering answers to this question, the one I found most intriguing is called The Childhood Autobiography. It is a simple exercise where you write your own biography of what it was like for you growing up as a kid. Then you search for things within your autobiography that point to what you really loved as a child. These first loves and interests are the sparks for your unique giftedness.

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    Childhood Autobiography

    I was really fascinated by this idea of childhood autobiography and how it could link me to unique giftedness, so I thought I would give it a try.

    Here are the questions I used to help me write mine, and here is a link to my childhood autobiography if you are interested. (it's only a page or so, but I did find it very informative in exploring my unique giftedness.

    • What are the earliest memories you have from your childhood?
    • How did you spend your time as a kid?
    • What kinds of things brought you pleasure?
    • Are there things you tried to avoid?
    • What kind of people did you really enjoy being around?
    • What kind of people annoyed you?

    My next step was to read through my childhood autobiography to see if I could pick up any unique giftedness.

    Any you know what… I did!

    I found out that my vocation really isn’t about skills, talents, or even intellect.  My big discovery was that it does not matter what vocation I choose if I am able to have fun and be curious. I could be happy and find fulfillment in many vocations.

    Homework

    Why not create your own Childhood Autobiography? You can use my questions above to explore this for yourself. If you do learn anything fun in this process, drop me a line. I would love to hear about any impact this little exercise had on you.