Archive for November, 2010

Choose to ignore the voices of negativity

Posted in Leadership on November 17th, 2010 by kjr – 1 Comment

…which are pervasive

I want to share an account I heard many years ago from someone who later became an important leader in my life.

He told the story that as a young boy in a farming community in Northwestern Ohio, probably during the 1940s, he visited the local grain elevator. Looking up onto the counter, he saw 3 dishes, each with an egg broken into them. One of those eggs had a green yolk. Wide-eyed, he was looking at those eggs when the man behind the counter said: “We have learned we can change the color of the yolk in the egg, by what we feed the chicken”.

This account has remained with me for well over 25 years. I have found it has so many applications in work, leadership, and life.

What voices do we choose to hear?

Those voices feed us. We think about them, our thoughts become our attitude, our attitude becomes our behavior and our behavior becomes our reputation. The color of our “yolk” becomes a result of what we feed on.

Our lives are filled with the opportunity for negativity. Crimes, war, disasters, piracy, nuclear proliferation and more fill the news. The economy, layoffs, off-shoring, corruption, the global meltdown, deficits, trade imbalance, and lots more dominate today’s business discussions.

As an example, about 12-18 months ago I was at a local meeting of IT Executives. It was the middle of this current recession and the greater Hartford, CT area was filled with news about downsizing, layoffs, even local Fortune 500 companies who “may not make it”. But that evening one person made a comment that went almost unheard and certainly not remarked on. She told us there were currently over 800 IT job openings in the New Haven to Hartford corridor and the companies looking to hire those people were having difficulty finding them.

Quickly  we could say to ourselves, too low level for me, I don’t have the right skills, I’d probably have to make a long commute, I don’t know those industries, it must be a lot of travel….and on and on.

More often than not we hear all the reasons “can’t, shouldn’t, or are strange” when we propose new ideas, solutions, or ways of addressing some difficulty.

I will tell you that what I heard that evening was opportunity – 800 chances to negotiate new knowledge, new relationships, new skills.

We also must acknowledge that some of the loudest voices in our lives are the “voices in our head”. What is that self-talk saying to us?

The same man who told the story of the 3 eggs also quoted James Allen who in his book, As A Man Thinketh said:

You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.

Allen of course was paraphrasing the verse from the Old Testament:

‘For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he:’

Proverbs 23:7

If we lead others, others will key off what we communicate based on our thoughts, attitude, and behaviors, what we feed on impacts others – profoundly, perhaps.

We do not always choose the voices we hear, but we will always choose the voices we validate. Warren Bennis is his book On Becoming A Leader proposes that people want three things from those who lead them:  direction, trust, hope.

Allow me to go back to the foundation premise of this blog – Proactive Axioms. We must take personal responsibility to overcome the voices of negativity, even if they are in our own head, and establish truths for ourselves that become so ingrained in us that they are self-evident and need not be re-established over and over again. They become the filters of information.

Choice is key to listening, not to the despair, but to the hope and direction needed to survive and thrive in our labor, our community, and ourselves. This is more than looking at the glass half empty or full; it means self assessment and work.

Choosing  to ignore  all the voices of negativity around us takes discipline, integrity, and a willingness to not be accepted, even by those close to us at times.

It means being willing to question our own bias and background in order to see if our rationale is based on facts and truth, or fear and uncertainty.

It means searching for what is now being called “Level 5 leadership” -the foundation of which is humility.

It means doing the hard work to find opportunity in crisis, seeing another move instead of a brick wall, seeking common ground instead of conflict, and looking for truth and trust where it appears there is only intrigue and suspicion.

It is easy to listen to the voices of negativity, but don’t.

Core Book: The Art Of Possibility

Posted in Leadership, Life on November 12th, 2010 by kjr – 5 Comments

Learning about leadership is often taking metaphors and applying them to our own lives and situations. The Art Of Possibility, Transforming Professional and Personal Life is a book that provides a new metaphor for leadership.

Often we turn to war, politics, or worst of all perhaps, sports metaphors for seminal analogies about leadership. This book changes that.

Mr. Zander, is the founding conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, a teacher, and lecturer. Rosamund is an executive coach and family systems therapist. I find the way they weave their lessons from music and human dynamics throughout this book easy to read, grasp, and apply.

Here are some of their stories that stick with me:

  • the second chair violinist who observed the wrong hand position of the first chair musician and took over the performance without missing a beat (literally I think);
  • the idea of giving every student an “A” not as a feel good move too common in education today, but as a real possibility to live into, not an arbitrary standard to live up to;
  • the story of the Prime Minister who institutionalized Rule #6 in his cabinet.

Sorry, you’ll need to read the book to understand the lessons 🙂

I believe there is an important, and unsettling idea that the Zanders put forth in this book. From chapter one, Launching The Journey:

“Markets in free societies are rapidly replacing goverments and religious institutions of the highest authorities , and markets perform without values…”

I don’t like that statement, I hope it is incorrect, I fear that it is correct.

Yet, the wonderful thing about The Art of Possibility is just that, it speaks not to hopelessness, defeat, or dismay, it speaks to possibility and the root ability in people to overcome negativity.

Zander proposes that “ a true leader never doubts the capacity of those he is leading to realize whatever it is he is dreaming.

Now, in closing let me point you somewhere. As I was writing this blog this morning, I had the following blog entry, also from today’s post of a fellow blogger, pointed out to me. She’s looking at a new paradigm  and reaching for possibility, take a read:

Watermelon and a slice of life

Ask For Feedback

Posted in Leadership, Work on November 8th, 2010 by kjr – 4 Comments

About 10 years ago, I spent some time at the Center For Creative Leadership in Greensboro, NC. In preparing for their program, I was required to send 10 anonymous surveys on my leadership competencies to 10 people- evenly split between peers and subordinates. Additionally, my 2 bosses were asked to fill out the survey and identify themselves.

That experience provided some of the most multifaceted learning about myself that I had experienced to date.

Feedback is a gift, and like all presents, you can use and cherish it, store in an attic, or toss it. Your choice.

Are you looking to feel good? I hope not.

After that experience, not all of which was positive and left me “feeling good” for sure, I tried in every situation to gather feedback from those around me.

One of my bosses gave me a very positive review on the survey and he focused on what I did well and what strengths I brought to the organization. The other review was, in my view, harsh, critical, and focused on what was lacking in my contribution. He and I did not always get along well and I had to process this while my emotions were rebelling against what he was saying.

I went to the first boss and shared both surveys and asked, “Which one is right?” His response: “Both of us are”.

What you think about yourself isn’t the only point.

Frankly, our own assessment of how well we are doing as a leader, without the input of those we lead, is irrelevant. If we don’t ask for feedback from time to time,  I would assume that means we are either insensitive or fearful. Does it indicate that our egos are in our own way?

My boss was right, the feedback received which I felt was harsh and critical was valid – even if it was wrong. Why? Because it was how that other boss perceived who I was and what I was doing. If I wanted to change that perception, then I needed to internalize what he was saying, and adjust my style, or approach, or attitude. What he was saying was more important than what I believed about what he was saying.

What’s good feedback?

This blog, and even more so the associated presentation on the 15 Axioms, which I share with various business and leadership groups, is formed and continually shaped by the feedback I receive.

Before each presentation, I hand out a stack of 3” x 5” cards and I ask people to give me feedback on anything they would like, but specifically I would like their assessment on 3 things:

Message: What is it, in one or two sentences, you believe I am saying?

Presentation: The slides, my use of the room, response to questions.

Change: What do you think I should change to make this more effective?

The change in my approach, content, colors, grammar, stories, and even punctuation over the past 4 years since I have done this, is dramatic. When you invite someone to tell you what they really think and give them a framework on how to do that, you will be amazed at the quality of feedback you will get.

Let me give examples of incomplete, maybe even poor, but well-meaning feedback received prior to asking specifically what I wanted:

Nice job, thanks for coming today.

Good presentation, you put a lot into it.

Didn’t really get what you were trying to say.

Slides are bland, spice them up a bit.

What do you do with these statements? Either you feed your ego because you had two pats on the back, or beat yourself up because someone didn’t really like what you had to say. But changes to your message, presentation, or slides is not possible.

Here are examples of actual good feedback I received from the last 15 Axioms presentation I gave:

Enlarge the font on your headings.

Message: self reflection and considering your journey in life (he or she got it).

Nice mix of life and work stories – more stories would help.

Add more pictures, especially personal ones, they make it real.

Don’t uppercase prepositions, no semi colon on … use a comma.

Is that great or what? I will make changes immediately from this input.

Do you want to know?

When you are in a position of leadership, you exert some level of authority over people who “follow you”. It may be positional, such as when you are the employer or boss (or a parent). In these positions people don’t necessarily choose you to lead them, but they will choose how much of themselves they will give you.

It may be influential, as when you are the chairperson of a committee, or a leader in a volunteer organization, a church, or community arts council. It may be the fact that by reputation you are someone looked to for advice, counsel, information, or approval– such as a teacher, speaker, or author.

You are always in a place where people want your expressions about their work, life, ideas, or assessment of them as a person. Great or small, what you say and do impacts others.

Do you know what they think of your approach to influencing and leading them? If you say yes, how do you know? What do you do specifically to get that feedback without fear of reprisal or disapproval?

If you are thinking to yourself, “I have an open door policy, they can come in and tell me what they are thinking, and they know I won’t bite their heads off.”- then I would challenge you to find a way to validate that other than asking them directly. Use a third party, give out anonymous surveys, bring in an HR professional who can facilitate a session with you and your staff to let them tell you directly. But, find out if you want to know how to become a more effective, open and honest leader of others.

Do you really want to know?

I do!!

It’s time for me to ask for your feedback on this blog. Please feel free to offer anything you would like, but I would appreciate if you could answer three things for me:

1. Does the messages in these posts and the root 15 Axioms get you to think about your leadership in work and life? If so, why? Add any specifics you’d like to share.

2. Is this blog visually pleasing? Again, why?

3. What suggestion would you have for me to improve anything? -Message, visuals, or style.

You can leave feedback in the comments section. They will not publish automatically; I see them first. You can leave them anonymously; that is fine. You can ask for a response – please leave me your email – I won’t publish that. But please take a moment and let me know what you are thinking. I do want your feedback.

Thanks, Kevin