Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Art of Asking Questions


Today I’m featuring a guest post from Guy Parsons and Allan Milham, co-authors of Out of the Question: How Curious Leaders Win, an important book for leaders who want to take their skills to a higher level. This article is an excerpt from Chapter 3.

We all know that communication is made up of the words we use, our tonality, and our body language. A big part of asking artful questions is to consider what is beyond the words.

Tonality

As the saying goes, “It isn’t what you say, but how you say it.” This difference can make or break a conversation. The tone you want to strike is one that makes your audience feel you’re coming at the conversation from the same side of the desk. It’s a we orientation versus a me and a you. It’s a solution-based system versus a problem-based process. It’s inviting and non-threatening. People, particularly millennials, are listening for the invitation to be a part of the conversation. When you’re stressed, the right words might come out, but the invitation should be, for example, “What do you think we can do to get from here to there?” You should avoid, “What are you young to do to get this done?”

Inflection

Years ago, Allan worked for TMI North American, an international consulting firm focused on creating compelling service cultures. One of the examples in their service program described how a shift of inflection or an emphasis on one word in a sentence can totally change the context. Often, the quality of the inflection in our tone of voice has a significant impact on the listener.

Body Language

What your body is saying may or may not be in line with your words. Staying calm and keeping eye contact will help you invite people into the conversation. Otherwise, people sense a disconnection. This is elementary to the human condition. When someone looks at you the wrong way, you think, “Gosh, what did I do?”
Obviously, fists on tables indicate declarations even if there are questions being asked. But turned-up and outstretched palms – either one or both – invite people into the discussion. An arm waved in a soft, open arc indicates, “I’m with you and we’re exploring.” Arms that are held in, or even worse, folded, indicate the speaker is closed. Some people are born frowners; others are natural smilers. We all need to take responsibility for how we posture when we’re in this kind of situation.

Context

The context is about what’s happening right here and now; it’s also about putting yourself in other people’s shoes and understanding how they’re affecting by what’s happening. You can ask a question, and it will mean one thing in an environment where things are going well, and something else entirely if things have gone poorly. This difference has to do with your audience’s frame of mind. Are your listeners in a positive mode or a worried mode? Obviously, asking, “How are things going?’ to a group of people who just experienced a 20% layoff is quite different from presenting the same question to a group who just exceeded its sales goals for the quarter.

This arena is where empathy, trust, and intent become important. If a leader can be empathetic, that will come across positively. On the other hand, if the person you’re talking to doesn’t trust you, it’s very hard to get the conversation going in the right direction. Many professional coaches suggest starting off a conversation by assuming positive intent. If you come in with positive intentions, the conversation will move ahead very differently and much more rapidly than if you assume negative intent.

Do you naturally assume positive or negative intent when you approach a situation?

*****
Guy Parsons is the Founder and Managing Principal of Value Stream Solutions (VSS).  

Allan Milham’s work as a professional leadership and performance coach over the past 16 years has centered on using powerful questions. For Guy, 20+ years of delights and frustrations consulting with firms attempting to make operational and cultural transformations sparked an evolution in his relationship with his professional coach, Allan, and was the inspiration for Out of the Question: How Curious Leaders Win. Their book has sparked a new mindset and a practical approach to thriving in the competitive and evolving landscape that today’s leaders face.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Two Things the Most Effective Leaders Do

Have you ever had a boss who asked you such a profound question that it stopped you in your tracks and caused you to think differently about who you are and what you’re doing?

I have.

But unfortunately, there are very few leaders who have this kind of impact. Most are eager to dispense advice and offer solutions instead of ask questions that cause others to think through a problem and come up with their own answer.

In their outstanding book, Out of the Question, authors Guy Parsons and Allan Milham make the distinction between KNOWER leaders and LEARNER leaders.

I love those terms because they accurately describe two very different styles of leadership.

Leaders who come from a Knower position feel the need to have all the answers and be perceived as the expert. Their egos are front and center because they’re concerned about being right. As a result, they’re often closed to new ideas and feel threatened by alternative explanations or solutions.

In contrast, Learner leaders don’t pretend to have all the answers. They recognize that others have important insights and experiences to contribute, so these leaders ask questions from a place of humility that encourage openness and sharing. They have genuine curiosity and are eager to solicit input that builds a solution much greater than just one person’s thinking.

This seems like common sense, but if you were to follow around managers in a lot of workplaces, you’re likely to observe a lot more controlled, closed discussions than those that invite opinions and ideas.

QUESTIONS are the first key!

Questions can encourage others to participate or shut them down.

Questions can build engagement, commitment and momentum or deflate the most enthusiastic employee.

And it’s not just the words you say, it’s how you say them that elicits a positive or negative reaction from those you’re interacting with.

Whether you’re at work or at home, the questions you ask as a LEARNER communicate to others that you really want to hear what they have to say. The positive result is that they feel valued and appreciated. They’re more likely to feel safe in being honest, especially when they disagree with you or want to express concerns.

PAUSING is the second key!  

After someone approaches you…or after they’ve responded to a question…don’t be in a hurry to jump in. Be comfortable with giving them time and space to THINK.

They may need to process information they’ve just heard. And not everyone is quick to articulate their ideas. Their brains may be busy evaluating alternatives and pondering consequences.

Also, apply the PAUSE to your own response to a situation. Reacting instantly does not always lead to a positive result. Thinking about how you can create instead of react leads to a better, more thoughtful response.

Observe people interacting, and you’ll see that most people seem to have a low tolerance for silence. If there’s a slight pause in the conversation, they jump in to fill the space. And yet, these silences can be powerful for both parties.

If you’re interested in taking your leadership skills to a higher level, read this thought-provoking book and commit to being a LEARNER leader who makes excellent use of QUESTIONS and PAUSES.

“Ask yourself how often, when things don’t go according to plan, you pause to reflect and learn before charging forward.” - Guy Parsons and Allan Milham in Out of the Question


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What It Takes to Create a 25-Year Business Partnership


Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that I’ve had the same business partners - Denny Coates and Paula Schlauch - for more than 25 years.

But it’s true.

Meredith, Denny, Paula
Back in 1990, Denny and I started collaborating on consulting projects got clients around the topics of leadership development and teambuilding. As we worked together, we realized we had compatible values and goals. Paula joined us as VP of business operations, and we’ve been a tight team ever since.

But it didn’t just happen.

In fact, it seems that the kind of relationship we’ve built over the years is quite rare.

Recently I was talking with a friend who’d been burned by a new business partner. They’d started their company together, but just as positive momentum was building, the other guy decided to leave. No advance warning. No consideration for the impact his actions would have on my friend.

It got me to thinking how fortunate I am. The trust, mutual respect and love that Denny, Paula and I have developed over the years may not be unique, but it’s certainly not typical of business partnerships.

We’re each quite different, so we bring our own set of gifts and talents to the table. Over the years, we’ve come to appreciate and value these individual strengths. But for many, differences in style, approach and personality become sources of irritation…or worse.

It’s very easy to get annoyed, frustrated or even angry when the other person not only has a different point of view but openly opposes one of your ideas.

The three of us don’t always agree. In fact, we’ve had some very strong disagreements over the years.

But a key reason we’ve grown stronger as a team is because we’ve developed the communication skills to talk through those challenging moments.

Sometimes we have to remind each other to use the skills, but that’s OK. It’s part of the open, honest, direct approach to interacting that’s necessary to build relationships that last.

Which communication skills matter most for business partnerships to work?

These five are among the key skills we’ve applied on a regular basis with each other (as well as with other team members, our clients and our vendors). Denny and I used to teach these skills when we conducted training programs for our clients. We’ve spent a quarter of a century mastering them!

LISTENING 
This is at the core of all other communication skills. Yet so few of us do it well. We’re eager to tell our own story, share our opinion or repeat a point we’ve already made.

Effective listening requires us to focus on what the other person is saying or not saying, pay attention to body language and other non-verbals, and make a concerted effort to “get” the message. It’s not easy, but it goes a long way towards building trust, commitment and mutual respect.

ENGAGING IN DIALOGUE
Are you willing to keep an open mind so you can understand the other person’s perspective? That’s what dialogue requires. We want to find out not just what they think about a topic or situation, but why they hold that opinion. And when both parties feel the freedom to do this, we learn from each other and often expand our own thinking.

GIVING CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK
It’s not always easy to be direct with someone about behaviors that are causing you problems. But if you come from a position of caring, open-mindedness, and respect, you’re more likely to convey the facts in a non-judgmental manner that opens a conversation.

RECEIVING CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK
And it’s natural to get defensive when you hear that you’re the one who’s created issues for others. Remember, it took courage for them to talk to you about your behavior. A calm, open attitude - where you invite them to tell you more - encourages a frank discussion about what’s happened and what you can do differently going forward.

RESOLVING CONFLICTS
When you and another person want opposing things – whether at home or at work – a serious conflict can arise. Now is the time to engage listening and creative thinking. Explore what each party wants or needs. Then brainstorm ways you can achieve those needs. Be willing to consider what would represent a “win” for everyone.

Now, these five skills don’t appear overnight. Just like a professional athlete, we have to PRACTICE often and have a COACH to encourage us and help us make corrections so we perform the skill better next time.

That’s what Denny, Paula and I have done with each other. And it’s worked for 25 years. Like a good marriage, we’ve gotten better with time.

Want to strengthen the important relationships in your business or personal life? And at the same time, support others who want to work on their own communication skills?

Check out this free series of 9 videos and an ebook that show you how

If you'll apply what you learn in these resources, I can promise that you'll have a better experience when you interact with others.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Just Hit Send – A Call to Action and Transformation

I have never read a book like Jody Vehr's before.

Just Hit Send has a riveting story line and reads like one of those novels you can’t put down.

But it’s so much more.

Jody's writing style immediately captured my mind, heart and spirit…and held me captive throughout the entire book. This is the true story of a woman who faced incredible challenges and prevailed despite her raging inner critic and ongoing self-doubts.

It’s also a beautiful love story, showing how strong and emotionally healthy a union can be when both people work on their own growth in advance of meeting each other.

I loved Jody’s willingness to be vulnerable with the reader. She doesn’t hesitate to describe her dismay, shock, and angst as she reveals the details of her life’s journey. I could identify with many of her limiting thoughts and false beliefs. I believe they are universal, but I’d never before experienced anyone capturing them in such an emotionally compelling way.

I’m a huge fan of Steve Hardison’s work (his 2-hour video on TBOLITNFL.com is profound) and Steve Chandler’s books (including the one she references in her book, Time Warrior), so it was an unexpected bonus to discover the ways each of these coaches contributed to her transformation. In fact, Jody’s retelling of her phone conversations with Steve Hardison is worth the price of the book alone because he demonstrates love and service in action.

This is a wonderfully written book that has deeply touched my life and forever changed how I see myself and the world. If you’re seeking a spiritual transformation in your own life, I highly recommend you grab a copy of this book, absorb the wisdom in its pages and start living anew.

This sentence from the book describes what happened for me:

“Whatever we find beautiful, inspiring and magnificent in another human being is simply our own soul saying hello to itself.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

How to Prepare High School Students for Life


Even though it’s been more than 40 years ago, I can still clearly remember the day my parents dropped me off to start my college career. I had no idea what to expect. They had brought all six of us kids up with a strong moral compass, but I know I wasn’t prepared for all the challenges and choices I’d face in that first year and throughout my college life.

I had to feel my way through the process, and I made a lot of mistakes along the way. A lot. 

If only I’d had a manual…

Dennis Trittin’s book, What I Wish I Knew at 18, IS that manual. It’s the perfect book to prepare young adults for life after high school.

The idea for writing it was inspired by Dennis’ experience when it came time to send his own son off to college. He realized there were many things he wanted his son to know, and he made a detailed list, which evolved into the expanded text that became this book. You can feel his heart and hard-earned wisdom on every page.

Dennis takes a holistic approach, covering all aspects of life—developing yourself into a person of character, dedicating yourself to learning in both school and work, building strong interpersonal skills so you’re effective with everyone important to you, and investing time to the spiritual dimension.

This is the kind of book you’ll want to give as a gift to high school students and graduates alike because it’s filled with a powerful combination of principles and practical applications. There’s excellent advice on choosing a satisfying career, whether it’s right out of high school or after a two- or four-year degree.

Dennis includes specific steps and tips for college students on their own for the first time, such as developing positive study habits and preparing for tests and exams. And there’s not a job-seeker in the world who couldn’t benefit from Dennis’ advice on setting yourself apart during an interview and establishing yourself as a star employee who gets rave performance reviews. These chapters in the book are pure gold!

Dennis understands his audience, recognizing the need for short reflection activities. He’s built in “Take Five” exercises, which help readers think about how they can apply the key points at the end of each section.

And throughout, he makes the concepts both memorable and useful through personal stories. This is a book that can positively impact young people’s lives…for the rest of their lives.

And if you’re an adult who works with groups of high school students – such as a teacher or guidance counselor - check out the Study Guide for What I Wish I Knew at 18 that Dennis wrote with Arlyn Lawrence. It’s an excellent companion to the book, with exercises and supplementary material that help students internalize the lessons from the book.

Friday, November 6, 2015

How to Achieve True Collaboration at Work


"Everyone carries with them at least one piece to someone else's puzzle." 
- Lawrence Kushner, American author (1943- )

Unfortunately, “collaboration” is not visible in many workplaces. Instead, there’s competition and jockeying for position. In places I’ve worked – either as an employee or as a consultant with clients – I faced politics and bureaucracy that undermined efforts to create a collaborative environment. And yet, this ideal IS possible to achieve.

In The Collaboration Breakthrough, authors Amy Pearl, Stephanie Phibbs and Diane Roesch provide a practical structure with detailed steps for establishing exactly this kind of culture.

I enjoyed the fable told in first person, with diverse characters I recognized from my own work experience. The authors stress the importance of approaching people differently, according to their style – so communication is easier. I liked that a balanced perspective was presented, focusing on what each manager’s strengths (and overuse of the strengths) look like in action and the best ways to speak to someone based on what’s important to them.

The model for achieving a collaboration breakthrough consists of 5 C’s:

CONFIDENCE – This is not about self-confidence but more about the trust and confidence you need to have in others.

CONVERSATIONS – Three types of conversations are described, with realistic sample scripts provided for each. I liked these examples because they helped me see what this sounds like when interacting in specific situations.

COMMITMENT – These 5 questions a powerful means for unlocking creativity, stimulating dialogue and coming up with solutions that everyone can support.

CLARITY – Clear, simple directions for writing a one-page Playbook (love the brevity!) that states the desired outcomes and what’s needed to reach them.

COURAGE – Ask a fundamental question, “What have I got to lose?” and then commit to action.

This framework is illustrated through the fable and then summarized by the authors in the last section of the book. The writing style is conversational and engaging to read. When I read a book like this, I’m looking for specific ideas I can apply to improve my business AND myself. I found both here.

I highly recommend this book if you’re looking for ways to have people work together more effectively to achieve the important goals of your organization.

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” 
- Henry Ford, American business leader (1863-1947)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Dramatically Improves Sales Productivity through Systematic Coaching

Many managers fail to engage in one activity that could make a huge difference in the performance of their team members: COACHING

I had the opportunity to discuss WHY this happens and HOW to become an effective coach in a recent interview with Andy Paul on his excellent podcast, Accelerate!


Andy’s show covers topics like sales, leadership, management, training and coaching. Andy’s own work is focused on sales managers and salespeople, and he's written two excellent books that should be on the shelves of anyone in sales: Zero Time Selling and Amp Up Your Sales.

The topics we covered in our time together apply to any leaders and individuals interested in their own development.

I invite you to listen to this interview and learn:

  • The difference between MANAGING and COACHING
  • Why some managers avoid the coaching role
  • How managers can become more effective coaches
  • 5 questions a manager can ask when an employee makes a mistake or a salesperson loses a sale
  • Why an attitude of SERVICE beats sales tactics in building a relationship
  • How to use listening to stand out

Friday, October 9, 2015

Create a Coaching Culture and Reinforce Training with Support Coaches

 
After people have attended an outstanding training program, there’s often an afterglow of good feelings for the instruction they received. They’re eager and motivated to use what they learned. The assumption is that if the training is excellent, and the learners buy into the content, they’ll apply the skills back on the job.

But this isn’t what really happens. 

All too often people revert back to what they’ve always done. After years of doing things the old way, their brains are literally wired for that behavior, while the new skills haven’t yet had a chance to do that. So even though learners agreed with the new way, in the busy workplace they failed to make a conscious, consistent effort to apply it and the old work habits kicked in. The skills they learned about didn’t “stick.” This is why so many people get discouraged and give up trying, and the money invested in learning and development doesn’t transfer to improved performance on the job.

A recent conversation I had with an executive at a fast-growing start-up reveals why this happens. He told me that in his 34 years as a manager with a Fortune 500 company, there had never once been follow-up after the training programs he attended. He said that most of the training didn’t stick…with him or anyone else.

It takes lots of repetition to rewire the brain for a new skill, and a long-term reinforcement process is needed for people to accomplish this. Training is the essential first step, but it can only be the beginning. For quite a while afterwards, people will need reminders, encouragement, feedback and accountability so they continue to apply what they learned. In other words, they need COACHING.

Think about professional athletes in individual sports like golf and tennis. They continuously invest in coaches who show them ways to take their game to the next level. Then they apply what they learn over and over, getting feedback during practice and analyzing how to improve the next time. This ongoing process takes time, but with coaching it results in improved performance.

Coaching is also a key reason why 12-step programs and Weight Watchers have been so successful for decades. To achieve their goals, participants need to make changes to ingrained lifestyle habits. The support of a sponsor and other caring individuals helps them stay on track as they adopt new behavior patterns.

If it’s such a critical component in the formation of lasting, positive habits, why don’t more organizations make coaching an integral part of the learning experience?

Some companies do bring in external coaches for their executives, but it’s just not economically feasible to supply professional coaches for every person who attends training.

And it’s not necessary. What’s needed are a few people who care about the success of the learner and are willing to offer support coaching: reminding, giving feedback, encouraging, holding accountable. These are commonsense helping behaviors you’d want employees to use with each other anyway.

Who could play this kind of support coaching role? Coworkers. Colleagues. Other participants in feedback and learning programs. Course instructors. The person’s manager.

To make your training programs “stick,” consider how you could enlist support coaches for participants in your learning and development programs, so they get the follow-up they need to ingrain the new skills and improve their performance.

CLICK HERE to access 9 Support Coaching videos and an ebook as my gift to you. Learn how you can empower managers and employees alike to be support coaches and create a coaching culture in your organization.




Monday, September 21, 2015

Strategies

Today I’m featuring a guest post from Henry Kimsey-House, co-author of a new, must-read book for every leader, Co-Active Leadership.

A few years ago, Karen and I went to a workshop down in Silicon Valley called “Slideology” put on by Duarte Creative Design. They have a simple and wonderful process for putting together a keynote presentation, or any other kind of presentation for that matter; it’s a compact “analog” system using sticky notes and story boards and it works pretty well at capturing and synthesizing your main ideas and mapping out your points and the emotional impacts you want to have.

I remember happily putting my post-its down in the boxes and building my story board up when it was time to break for lunch. Karen and I claimed a spot in the lunch area and settled down to our sandwich and chips when a guy came up to join us. He had hopped around Silicon Valley from tech giant to starting his own biz to tech giant to tech giant.

He asked us what we do and we told him we were into coaching, he asked “what like sports coaching?” and we steered him to the kind of coaching we do. We asked him what he does and he said he was a “strategist” for the company that he works in and that he was here to beef up his presentations and to make them more interesting and, dare I say it, entertaining. The more we talked the more interested he became in coaching and leadership and the more I began to muse on “Strategist”.

I started to realize that strategists and strategies fit into the same category that economists and economies fit into and that often things like budgets and plans fit into. They are all Fiction. I started to giggle a bit inside as I really started to realize that these folks who do these very “serious and real” things are really working from the same imagination that I work from when I create a design for a workshop or write a story or act in a play. They are imagining the future and putting it into graphs and charts and spreadsheets that look like they are real and that can create hope or despair, risk or safety, excitement or boredom depending on the strategy.

So if I am creating a strategy, which I am going to do later today, I must consider the following:

  • Who am I taking care of and what do I want people to think and feel now and when I reach the endgame? 
  • Do I try to do a “realistic” strategy or do I work on a “jump off the cliff” strategy? 
  • Do I go for a “simple” strategy or a “complex” one? 
  • What are the emotional elements that I am seeking when I create a strategy? 
  • Am I looking for elements that please me or others in the present or are they ones that I think will work in the future? Or somehow both? 
  • Am I looking for the strategy that will be “the easiest” for everyone concerned or am I looking for a strategy that my creative artist thinks is most likely to produce the desired impact and damn the costs and complexities? 

So many possibilities, all fiction, all completely made up and imagined.

We need to keep writing the story. We need to keep creating our universe AND we need to know that while we are busy making things up, making plans, creating strategies, developing budgets and economies, that the universe has its own story that it is making up too and that is going to guarantee many surprises to the story we are writing.

There will be many interesting twists and turns in the road that we made up being straight. We have to dance down that twisty road writing the new story as we dance and jump.

Henry Kimsey-House is the co-author of Co-Active Leadership and Co-Active Coaching. He is the co-founder of the Coaches Training Institute (CTI) where he currently serves as Lead Designer. Learn more about Henry's work or connect with him on Twitter: @henrykh


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Money: Do You Take It Too Seriously?

Steve Chandler’s Wealth Warrior has had a more profound impact on my attitude about money than anything else I’ve ever read.

I’ve now studied 7 of Steve’s books. They’re quick, easy reads because he uses a conversational style, and the chapters are short. But don’t be deceived by this simplicity. The points he makes are profound and potentially life-changing.

Steve tells stories about his own life that we can all relate to. He describes his flaws and perceived limitations so we can more easily recognize our own. He encourages us to challenge beliefs we cling to that have not served us – in fact, they’ve held us back.

His goal is to boldly serve those who follow his work. That means Steve’s not afraid to speak the truth, to rattle some cages. He wants to wake us up to what’s real, not our perception of what’s real. For example…

“A serious person is a wealth repellent.”

Wait, how can this be? Money is a very serious matter, right? If you don’t have enough of it, you can’t pay your bills. How can he possibly make this claim?

The incident he shared around this statement had a jarring effect on me. It opened my eyes for the first time in my life to the role that fun and playfulness can have when thinking about money.

Steve was about to enter a salary negotiation with his then-boss because he felt he was being paid far less than the value he was contributing to the company. He dreaded having the conversation because he was convinced the man was “an insecure, vicious miser” who would balk at his request. In his own mind, Steve felt justifiably worried about the man’s potential reaction.

Fortunately, he knew someone who understood the importance of having fun, a coach who did not see seriousness as a productive use of time or energy when it comes to producing wealth. Together they role-played exercises to prepare Steve for the meeting with his boss, and they were both laughing at the end of their time together. In fact, Steve reports that it was “one of the most fun encounters” in his life.

His dreaded meeting turned into a positive, friendly conversation where he received a very fair salary.

Steve felt the difference in his body and mind between having a serious attitude versus a playful attitude about money.

What about you? Is money a very somber subject for you?

Wealth Warrior is about so much more than getting past the fear and anxiety many of us have around money. Study and apply Steve Chandler’s insights, and you’ll be astounded at the transformations you experience in your thoughts and in your life.

“Most of us imagine that money and love come from outside of us. But they absolutely do NOT. They come from inner wisdom and strength. Getting this wrong can cost us an entire life of happiness.” – Steve Chandler

Monday, July 13, 2015

Is Your Heart at Peace or at War with Others?


Do you have  an ongoing conflict with someone in your professional or personal life?

If the tension and differences have been going on for a while, you’ve probably made a substantial list of things about that person you’d like to change. Maybe it’s their attitude or their approach, or certain words and actions they use. If they would just start doing X or stop doing Y, then your life would be so much happier.

What if there were something YOU could do that would dramatically improve the situation?

A profound book, The Anatomy of Peace by The Arbinger Institute, has the potential for that kind of positive impact, if you’re willing to look within, recognize your role in the conflict and change your mindset.

This statement from the book summarizes one of the core concepts:
“No conflict can be solved so long as all parties are convinced they are right. Solution is possible only when at least one party begins to consider how he might be wrong…The deepest way in which we are right or wrong is in our way of being toward others.

Unlike many books about conflict that take a more academic, didactic approach, this one reads like an engaging novel, using fictitious characters in realistic situations to convey the key points and lessons. In this case, two facilitators at a treatment center lead a two-day workshop with parents whose teenage children have just been admitted.

Very likely, you’ll find it impossible to read this book without thinking about ways that you’ve contributed to difficult relationships you’ve had in your life - even if, up to this moment, you’ve held the firm belief that the other person was at fault.

You’ll learn about four common styles of justification—different types of “boxes” you can put yourself in when dealing with conflict. Within a given box, you have a particular set of feelings and a distinct way that you view Yourself, Others and the World.

For example, in the “Better-Than” box, you can feel impatient and disdainful as you view yourself as superior and virtuous while seeing others as inferior and irrelevant.

Each of the other boxes – I-Deserve, Need-to-Be-Seen-As, and Worse-Than – contain their own unique elements that prevent us from seeing the other as a person, where we care enough about them to want to help them succeed. Instead, we view them more as an object.

One of the facilitators relays a story about dropping some lettuce on the kitchen floor as he was making a sandwich. Instead of reaching down and picking it up, he kicked it under the counter with his toe. He later acknowledges that from his “Better-Than” box, he conveyed to his wife that he saw her “as just unimportant enough that she should be the one to have to worry about that kind of thing.”

He followed up with a question that all of us can consider when we commit our own version of this offense: “How would it be to live with someone who thought of you like that?”

Some of our behaviors are so ingrained – we are so firmly entrenched in our box – that we are blind to the impact that we have on others. The authors refer to this a having “a heart at war” where we feel the need to blame others (whether silently or verbally) while justifying our own attitudes and behaviors:
“When our hearts are at war, we tend to exaggerate others’ faults, that’s what we call horribilizing. We tend to exaggerate the differences between ourselves and those we are blaming…We also exaggerate the importance of anything that will justify us.”

The goal is to create a heart at peace, where we put a stop to violating our own sensibilities toward another person.

One of the best ways to make this shift and get outside the box is to invest time in answering a series of questions designed to help you relate differently to a specific person.

  • What are this person’s challenges, burdens and pains?
  • How am I adding to these?
  • In what other ways have I neglected or mistreated this person?
  • What could I do to HELP?

Answering these questions helps to break you free from your justifications and blame because you being to see the other as a person again.

And once you recognize what you need to do, then you have to take actions that build the relationship. It can take time to re-establish trust and respect. The effort will be worth it.

These same questions can be used to solve conflicts in larger groups – across families, communities and even nations.

If you’re interested in building the strongest relationships possible with the people who matter to you, read and apply the powerful wisdom of this book.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Situational Leadership for Dummies

Today I'm featuring a guest post by Henna Inam, a colleague whose outstanding new book, Wired for Authenticity, is a must-read for leaders.

This past Sunday I got to spend a few hours as a “dumb blonde." It taught me some great lessons about authentic leadership. As an executive coach, I often work with clients to expand their leadership behaviors. As leaders we often get stuck within a narrow range of leadership behaviors. This can derail us because different situations call for different leadership behaviors.

You are naturally decisive and move fast but a business challenge you face requires you to slow down and build alignment. Or you are naturally good at collaborating with others but a business situation requires you to take a hard, unpopular stand. The most authentic leaders have access to a wide range of leadership behaviors because they have embraced all of who they are.  

Here’s what embracing my inner “dumb blonde” taught me about situational leadership and being more authentic as a leader.

The Dumb Blonde Experiment

This experiment was for a class I was taking to deepen my executive coaching skills. Each member of the class got assigned the task to play the opposite of their usual persona (how we show up in front of others). My classmates identified my persona as smart, driven, focused, efficient, and articulate. So I got assigned the task of being a “dumb blonde” (no offense intended for any blondes reading this).

Now, you’d think that for someone who had a 4.0 GPA in college and spent Saturday nights at the library with my “Principles of Corporate Finance” book, playing dumb blonde would be really tough. Not so. Being a dumb blonde significantly improved my ability to be a better executive coach.

Here’s how it worked. In the role-play, being a dumb blonde as a coach meant that:
  • I didn’t have to have all the answers. It created a great space for my clients to step up and have the answers.
  • I asked simple questions: “Wow, I don’t understand. Can you like say more?” This allowed for introspection from the client.
  • I gave up my own focus on getting the coaching objectives met and let the client drive according to their agenda. It created stronger accountability from the client.
  • I had more fun (I guess it’s true what they say about blondes having more fun!). I didn’t have to be so responsible. There was more laughing and relaxing and that is when creativity emerged. The client had more fun. Really!

The Big Surprise

The big surprise for me was that I didn’t have to take a class, read a book, or practice hours of new behaviors. I just had to step into my own inner dumb blonde.

You see, we have all kinds of skills and behaviors in our arsenal. We mostly don’t access them because we have a fixed identity (or persona) for ourselves in our mind. We are capable of so much more when we give ourselves permission to be someone different – perhaps a part of ourselves that we have written off or disliked for a long time. The right behaviors just emerge.

Three Steps to Practice This

So how do we as leaders access more of the parts of ourselves that we need to develop?

Step 1: Identify a specific work situation where you are stuck or not being as effective as you would like. Our natural instincts when we are faced with something that’s not working is to do more of what we’re already doing – instead of stepping back to do something different.

Step 2: Step back and evaluate your behaviors. Pick the behaviors you need to practice more of. For example:
  • If you need to be more assertive, find your inner Donald Trump.
  • If you need to be more compassionate, find your inner Mother Theresa.
  • If you need to be more daring, embrace your inner James Bond 007.
  • If you want to learn to put yourself first, find your inner “Diva”.
  • If you need to be more flexible, find your inner “beach bum”.
  • If you need to be more of a rebel, find your inner twerking Miley Cyrus.

Step 3: Practice a role play with a friend. Have fun with it.

It’s amazing what we learn about ourselves when we give ourselves permission to be a different character. For one, I discovered that the world didn’t end when I wasn’t in control. Imagine that! The exercise expanded the range of how I coach. It doesn’t mean that I am any less smart, committed and responsible. It just means that I don’t have to be that. I am more at choice.

Practicing behaviors we need “more of” help them be more accessible to us in business situations. As we embrace the parts of ourselves we have written off, we discover our true authenticity and inner power.

Henna Inam is the CEO of Transformational Leadership Inc., and author of Wired for Authenticity - now available on Amazon. Learn more about her work at transformleaders.tv or connect with her on Twitter @hennainam.