Leadership Development Part 2 – Your Listening

leadership developmentLast week I started a 3 part series on leadership development. In it, I said that, “in developing your leadership effectiveness you really only have 3 areas to impact – your thinking, your listening and your speaking. In this post, I will examine the second piece, your listening.

This series was inspired by my recent work with Vistage Malaysia where I spoke to 15 different groups of executives in the Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia area over a two week period.

One of the key pieces we worked on in accelerating their leadership development was asking them to pay attention to and understand how they listen. This is something we work on with all of our clients, because we have found most have never realized that you can strongly influence another person’s experience and behavior simply by taking charge of the way you listen to them.

The way we worked on this was actually a fairly simple technique. In each session participants were asked to give their brains a particular assignment that set up how they would listen to their exercise partner’s sharing for 60 seconds. After a bit of practice, nearly all of the roughly 250 participants were able to cause a very positive or negative experience for their partners and all they did was listen. In addition they learned that they could pretty accurately hear and repeat the content, feelings, and intent in their partner’s story in just one minute through this practice.

So why is this valuable for leadership? How many of you have seen members of your team coming toward you and thought, “oh not now, I don’t have time for this” or something along those lines? The reality is that as a leader, people need your perspective, input, approval and more. You can have much more effective and efficient conversations with your team if you learn how to manage your listening.

Follow this simple pathway to create outcomes that are not just more of the same that you have been experiencing:

1)      Select someone with whom it would be valuable for you to have more productive conversations

2)      Take careful note of the thoughts in your Mental File Cabinet regarding having conversations with that person, e.g., “every time we interact we end up arguing”

3)      Consciously create and practice productively listening to that person. You do this by “brain priming” or setting up how you will approach the conversation with something like, “I’m curious about and interested in how they see the issues we address.”

4)      Engage in a conversation for a desired outcome

5)      Listen for their content, feelings  and intention

6)      Keep practicing choosing the design of your listening for that person/conversation

It’s always good to start these practices with a person or situation that is not your biggest challenge. Start small. Pick someone that you would like to improve things with, and that seems achievable. As you develop your skill you can graduate to more challenging people and situations.

photo credit: highersights via photopin cc

Leadership Development Part 1 – Your Thinking

leadership developmentIn developing your leadership effectiveness you really only have 3 areas to impact – your thinking, your listening and your speaking. Since your thoughts shape your speaking and listening, that is your key leverage point, so let’s start there.

Two recent events have reminded me of how completely our thoughts dominate and shape our experience and that, in turn, controls our leadership and relationship effectiveness. Before getting to the events let’s set some context. When delving into the arena of thoughts we like to talk about it by saying that each of us has what amounts to a Mental File Cabinet. Several characteristics of the ‘Mental File Cabinet” are:

1)    Filters: that color your world and are unique to you

2)    Storage: contents, essentially of memories and data, that are unique to you

3)    Filing: the contents stored have a system of cross-referencing and connection that is unique to you

4)    Retrieval: is selective, based on your filters, and is typically instant, automatic, and largely unexamined

The first recent event was an extended trip to Malaysia leading 14 workshops for Vistage groups of executives and two days of Vistage Chair workshops. The focus of that work involved examining how our thoughts set up our listening and speaking and that they are all we have as “tools” for growing our leadership and contributing to others’ growth and development. The second event was sharing by three clients who recently completed the Landmark Forum in which they are clearly seeing their lives and go-forward actions much differently.

From our perspective, it appears that the Landmark Forum has given these clients the ability to unpack their Mental File Cabinets, examine the unique contents and cross-references, and either discard or refile the contents in more productive ways. This offers them more opportunities to shape their thinking newly and thereby be able to alter their speaking and listening in more productive ways. They are able to rethink their “default actions” and redesign the bases of their relationships in a way that will set up new possibilities.

In working with the many wonderful folks in Malaysia, I used several of the “Essential Notions” from our book “Accelerate… including our “Productive Dialogue Zone” (also called the “Leadership Effectiveness Zone”) and our Leadership Choice Point model. We worked through applying those notions to real life situations to see how past frustrating outcomes might be altered with new thinking. We then practiced giving ourselves specific brain instructions to produce first unproductive and then unproductive listening. The objective was to notice how dramatically different the experience was for the person attempting to speak into that kind of listening. The results for both the speaker and listener were dramatic. The exercise is only effective, however, when the listener takes control of the way their Mental File Cabinet is organized, intervenes in the instant, automatic and heretofore unexamined ways they have been listening, and chooses their listening newly.

So what’s the payoff of unpacking my Mental File Cabinet? No matter what pathway you find for yourself, the challenge is to intervene in the instant, automatic and largely unexamined way that your brain has collected and stored information and how it gives it back to you as you attempt to negotiate any new situation. The folks at Conversant call it “fast past matching” by which they mean that when confronted with new information, your brain will do a very fast and often sloppy internal Google search. As soon as it has identified a “match” learning stops. If you can learn to be more observant then you have more choice, which then provides you with more options for moving forward.

If you are truly committed to your development as a leader, then finding your path to managing your thoughts and your thinking processes is really critical.

Personal Excellence

Very happy to be part of the March edition of HR.com‘s epublication, “Personal Excellence.” Please see my article, “The Fallacy of Empowerment” on page. 14 by clicking here


personal excellence leadership development

Leadership: The Role of the CEO

CEO leadershipLeadership and the qualities of good leaders are often debated and there is no single definition on which everyone seems to agree. Let’s narrow the focus to the role of the CEO.

We really like our colleague Mary Marshall’s definition, “the role of the CEO is to grow the company and grow their people” – period. Related to that, she always counsels CEOs, “only do what you can only do.”

Whether you are a CEO or have another role, how willing and able are you to test your approach against Mary’s counsel?  I recently encountered a CEO who often says, “I’m great at delegation. In fact, if I were going to write a book, it would be about how to delegate.” Yet, as the leader of an 8-figure organization, she was spending time on a job description for an open position, getting it into an email, and building a page on the company web site about the position. Surely her Marketing and HR people could have taken those tasks on! This situation illustrates both pieces of what we are talking about:

  • The CEO was certainly not growing her people by doing these tasks rather than eliciting their expertise and responsibility for getting them done.
  • While her attention and time were focused on these tasks, she was not able to address much more strategic issues.
  • She was doing tasks that multiple people could do vs. things only she could do.

Many business owners, entrepreneurs and leaders struggle with being “control freaks.” If you have built an organization, at some point you probably had to do much of the work yourself. If you are successful with those early stages and the organization grows, it can be extremely difficult to shift your focus and your habits. The behaviors that gave you success in the early going become your own limitations and a constraint on your organization’s growth.

Before you dismiss this as something you would never do look back to the quote from the CEO in question about delegating. She sees herself as a master at delegation to the point where she believes she could write a book about it. What if you think you are great at delegation, empowerment, and developing leaders and it simply is not true or at best you are very limited at this point in your career?

If you are really willing to challenge your own self-assessment, get feedback from people who will be direct with you.  Ask them to tell you about how you are doing on the following:

  • Are you growing your company? How are you doing it?
  • Are you growing your people? What concrete steps are you taking to do this?
  • Are you doing what only you can do? This one might be the hardest to explore and others’ perspectives may surprise you.

Ask yourself:

  • Go through your daily, weekly and monthly tasks. Is it really true that you can’t give more of them away to your team?
  • What are you going to stop doing? No kidding.

Do this homework and your effectiveness and your team’s growth will follow!

Leading With Heart

leading with heartTraditionally, high value has been placed on splitting or compartmentalizing “personal life” and work. There has been pressure in the workplace to behave rationally, productively and with focus – day in and day out. The message has been to shut out personal circumstances, emotions, and life experiences and be task and accomplishment oriented. For leaders, the expectation has been to be driven and a driving force for others, relentlessly pushing the business and the team forward.

Within this framework there has been no room for emotions, emotional energy, and in some ways real humanity. This has been part of the gender divide in the work place – for many years women were considered too emotional to be leaders.

The fallacy in all of this is that all human beings experience emotions and emotional energy is a very powerful force. There are multiple consequences of being in denial of your own emotional circumstances:

  • If you can’t be with your own emotions, you can’t be with anybody else’s.
  • Denying, stuffing, repressing or suppressing emotions creates stress and takes a lot of energy. This means everything from undue emotional reactions to stressed out employees who wind up taking sick leave and filing stress claims.
  • If there are no methods or means within your own skill set or your organization’s culture to navigate emotions “below the water line,” there are a lot of issues and challenges that are festering and not addressed.

So what does it mean to lead with heart? Does it mean that every day needs to be full of the touchy-feely squishy stuff? Does it mean that you need to act as a therapist to your team and spend your days talking about their emotions? No, of course not. However, there are steps you can take that will create space for the power of emotions and, in turn, create very positive change:

  • Develop compassion as a value within yourself and your organization. Compassion is not sympathy or feeling sorry for each other. Allow yourself to see and acknowledge another’s circumstances, fears, worries, and concerns. This simple step will open the door to finding alternatives and positive solutions.
  • Recognize that connection to emotional energy varies greatly among people. Some people scan the world through the lens of emotional intelligence and it is one of their primary means of navigation. This is not, by definition, a bad thing. If you have team members who are on the more emotional end of the spectrum, instead of writing them off, use them as a bellwether for how your team is doing. If you are the one who is more tuned in to emotional energy, allow yourself to really face what you are seeing, hearing and feeling and mine that for valuable information and as a guide to action.
  • Make it safe for people to name where they are emotionally and also name the emotional impact of what might be happening in their workplace relationships. If people can simply say their truth and be heard, issues dissipate much more quickly than when they are ignored and fester.
  • Realize that your authentic willingness to listen does not mean you have to agree or fix it for another. Listening itself provides great value.

Consider what might happen if you expand your leadership and your organization’s culture to allow more heart. You might be surprised at the positive outcomes.

The Seahawks: It’s Not About Football…

seattle seahawks leadershipWell of course it IS about football – competition, pride, and all that goes with it. That’s the simple explanation, but it’s also about a phenomenon – within the sport and the local community.


Let’s consider it from a leadership perspective. Ask yourself what it takes to:

  • Assemble a group of very young 3rd to 7th round draft choices
  • Add in players who weren’t even drafted
  • Take this group without any “stars,” and turn them into a team that can win any professional football game
  • Then take them to the biggest football event there is and thrash the team with the best offense

That was the Seahawks team part of it, but the other huge piece of this is the community part of it, the fans known as, “the 12th man.” Ask yourself how in the world do you get support from the community that turns into an unprecedented phenomenon? Including getting a large corporation like Boeing to paint a new 747-8 with your logo and then fly it for 3-1/2 hours on its first serious test flight in a pattern that paints a giant 12 over the State of Washington? And 7,000 Microsoft employees to form a giant 12 on a local football field? And the Washington State Legislature to temporarily rename Mt. Rainier to Mt. Seattle Seahawks? Best of all, how do you get thousands of Washington residents to create every imaginable expression of support for the team and display it all everywhere?

The reality is – you can’t figure out a plan to make this happen, any more than you and your leadership team can “drive creativity down through your organization” or mandate passion. The kind of creativity, organic leadership, and intense sense of community that the team members and all of us in the Northwest simply call “Seahawk Nation” can only be unleashed.

The fact that Pete Carroll and his colleagues selected good young men who are also good football players and partners with their teammates was the foundation. Critical to this is that Pete created an atmosphere, context, paradigm, whatever label you’d like to use, that called forth the best from everyone involved. The interesting thing about this is that when you create an empowering context, it is not limited to only a select few. It’s catching. It causes outcomes that can’t be imagined let alone controlled.

Mix the creativity, passion, and leadership that a powerful context unleashes within a group of young players who spend time visiting hospitals and setting up foundations, (even though they may still be on the NFL’s starting pay), and the community falls in love – with the team and with each other. Before it’s over, strangers are treating each other like best friends. (The only other example I can think of that is similar is the behavior we experienced right after 9/11, when there was an outpouring of kindness and neighborliness, but this time, thankfully, we didn’t have a horrible event for motivation.)

The leadership methods the Seahawks used aren’t limited to sports. Think about your leadership. How can you and your team shift the way you work from top-down command-and-control to setting a powerful context inside of which innovation, creativity, and organic energy can percolate and unexpected results can spring forth.

Here are some tips from the Seahawks to get you started:

  • Quarterback Russell Wilson asked himself, “why not me,” when he thought about leading a team to the Super Bowl. He asked the team “why not us?” And that soon shifted from a question from a team leader, to a team mantra. What can your team mantra that expresses your vision be?
  • Pete Carroll repeated over and over to the team, “you gotta be all in!” This proved to be so powerful that it became a chant and tagline for the 12th man fans – “I’m in!”
  • Pete Carroll also emphasized, “the finish” meaning stay on purpose and don’t lose focus until it’s completely over. This is one of the reasons the Seahawks excelled at being a “second half team.” You won’t see the team get upended late in a game…they stay on it until it’s done!

The suggestion here is not to simply imitate the Seahawks. The suggestion is to really think about the principles of this style of leadership and take some time to discern how you can apply them to lead your organization to new and unexpected levels of success and community.

photo credit: architecturegeek via photopin cc

The Messiness of Life and Leadership

leadership and messinessAvoiding life’s essentially chaotic and messy nature seems to be a preoccupation of many leaders. The question is – why? Underneath it all the truth about this is something that none of us really wants to face or admit. The reality is if you are willing to be present to the messiness and take appropriate action based on the conditions in which you actually find yourself, you will be uncomfortable quite often and also probably experience feeling vulnerable.

I was recently reminded of this subject while watching a TED video by Glennon Doyle Melton entitled “Lessons from the Mental Hospital.” She shares powerful personal life experiences and insights gained into vulnerability and avoidance and talks about the ways we try to avoid these experiences. She calls them “superhuman capes” which she defines as anything that protects your vulnerability. What sinks that challenge in even deeper is her declaration that your superhuman cape(s) define your addiction(s). (I blogged about this previously here.)

For her addictions were alcohol, drugs and bulimia. Perhaps you share one of those or you are a workaholic, higher education degree junkie, command and control freak, or…?? If you are really honest with yourself, what are your capes? (In the movie “What The Bleep Do We Know…” addiction is defined as anything we say we can’t change. I’ll bet you have at least one or two of those statements in your repertoire.)

Along this line I have heard other folks address Glennon’s insight. Renn Zaphiropoulos, a pioneer in the fields of engineering and physics, used to say “life is curly, don’t try to straighten it out.” One of my Vistage members declared during a discussion “Guys, stop it! Life is messy. Birth is messy. Death is messy. Stop trying to sanitize it!” Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability and shame looks at many dimensions of vulnerability and how we attempt to avoid it. David Whyte defines courage as “developing a friendship with the unknown” – a practice that will bring you face-to-face with vulnerability on a regular basis.

So what is the remedy? Take a scan of your life and see where you are comfortable being with the conditions, conversations, and behaviors that are going on right in front of your face and where you are not. Include those that are in front of you “virtually,” whether electronically or in your thoughts.  Next look at those instances where you run away, mentally or physically.  Notice where do you throw on your superhuman cape? Notice your avoidance conversations and behaviors. Do you change the subject? Do fight, flight, freeze or appease?

Practice being present, meaning staying with, your thoughts and behaviors.  Practice staying present even when it’s uncomfortable. Practice letting go of the meaning you are putting on the moment and just be there.

As Garth Brooks sings “I could have missed the pain but I would have missed the dance.”

What’s Good for the Goose…A Leadership Challenge

leadershipHow does a leader look out for the well-being of each individual in an organization and yet assure the success of the whole venture? It is often seemingly a nearly impossible challenge.

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander” is a very old English saying that basically says that what is good or fair for one person is good or fair for the other. While this may be excellent wisdom regarding individuals, it doesn’t always work well when viewing the individual versus the whole gaggle of geese. An extreme example is when a predator grabs one goose, the rest of the flock is able to escape to safety. Although it didn’t go well for the individual goose the flock was safe.

Turning to people in organizations and communities, the rights, wishes, and well-being of an individual are often in conflict with the rights, wishes and well-being of the larger group. In an apartment complex, for example, the rules and regulations often include limitations on pets. While one resident may want a large, tough dog for protection, other residents may be fearful of dogs, allergic, or object to having the pet nearby. The limits are set for the “quiet enjoyment” of the majority and some individuals will feel unfairly treated.

One of the primary fiduciary responsibilities of the executives running a company is to assure the financial viability of the firm over time. There are a vast number of pieces to that puzzle from sales and pricing decisions to manufacturing strategies, distribution systems, employee compensation and benefit plans and on and on. One certainty is always in the background and that is that “she’s-a-come-inhas got to be bigger thanshe’s-a-go-out” in the financial arena or no one has a job.

This often puts the executive in the difficult dilemma of having to lay off people who have been loyal and hardworking and who have families at home to care for. Even tougher, there are times when an individual is performing poorly and must be let go and they and their family happen to be really in need. While it is one of the most painful decisions an executive has to make, she or he must keep the good of the whole clearly in mind and not just the individual.

Such decisions are what a longtime colleague labels “wicked problems” or problems for which there is no easy or clearly right answer.

Schools constantly have to make choices about curriculum, class assignments, and allowable behavior. The goal is to produce the most value for the most students, given the resources available. That may mean that students who need special education or guidance don’t get all they need. While this involves painful choices, it does reflect the challenges of operating a school system as well as can be done for the majority of students.

Government faces the same challenges. The current issue in Congress regarding extending unemployment benefits reflects the conflict between caring for those in need and the necessity to bring overall expenditures in line. My point is not to take sides or engage in the whole question of overall spending priorities, it is to illustrate that in nearly all arenas of leadership including government these types of choices exist 

The difficulty and unpleasantness of these “good for the group or good for the individual” decisions goes with the territory of leadership. A good leader faces the difficulty, analyzes as much as possible, makes the best decision given the facts at hand at the time, and then forgives themselves for inflicting consequences on those who may be hurt in the process.


It’s 2014! Dream Big!

To move into a New Year powerfully and to create the results you want there are some key steps to take. The first is creating an “elegant ending” to the past. Last week we posted about “letting go of 2013,” and included a free download of a worksheet to help you do itNow it’s time to move on to envisioning and documenting your 2014 “Yonder Star(s)” and creating plans for fulfillment.(Note: The first part of this post talks about how to effectively map out your personal goals. If you want to move straight into planning for your business check out the last paragraph of this post. We’ve got a Hot Wired Strategic Plan template for you as a free download.)

One way to help yourself succeed is to make your resolutions “public” to others. To put more wind in your sails, promise others that you will deliver! You can ask someone you trust to be a “committed listener.” This involves a commitment from them to listen to you as you talk about the status of your plans, your struggles and your successes. It does not involve them giving advice or telling you what to do next, (unless you make a specific request for it).

Another way to succeed is to hire a coach. Someone who is trained to support people in achieving their dreams and plans.

If you are a bit more experienced at this process, take a step up in rigor and create a set of goals for the different areas of your life. Categories you might include are:
1) Career/Financial
2) Well-Being or Health
3) Relationships
4) Spiritual
5) Personal
6) Wild Card

How bold are you willing to be setting your goals?
 If you are completely certain you can make the goals are you stretching yourself enough? Focus on designing the most catalytic, highly leveraged action steps you can. By “catalytic” we mean that your actions produce the intended results without your being used up in the process. By “highly leveraged,” we mean you produce very big results with minimal resources.

If you’ve been successful at this level of work and/or are ready to take on your first effort at a Strategic Plan for your company or affiliation, we suggest using what we call our “2130 Partners Hot Wired Strategic Plan.” We call it Hot Wired because it covers many of the levels and topics of an elaborate plan and yet you can produce a decent draft in a couple of hours. The next pass can then be developed to whatever level of detail you wish. The key, however, is to get the initial draft knocked out in as short a time as you can so that you shift your paradigm about goals and actions as you develop the more detailed plans. You can download the worksheet for our 2130 Partners Hot Wired plan by clicking here.

Ready for 2014? First You Will Need to Let Go of 2013

It’s the time of year when many of us conduct annual rituals that may include everything from strategic planning sessions for business to making New Year’s resolutions or setting Bold Goals for 2014 and beyond. We’ve found any such process to be much harder to do when we haven’t completed and let go of the past.  It’s very difficult, (impossible?), to really move forward when we are carting the past along with us. The process of letting go can include changing your attitude and perceptions about what the economy did to you, to digging very deep and letting go of some of the childhood stuff that shapes your life.

On the fun end of the spectrum, we have for many years put flip chart paper all over our walls when we have a New Year’s Eve party with a simple question on each, such as “What did I start and not complete?” or “What did I accomplish that I haven’t been acknowledged for?” or “What did I screw up that I didn’t get caught for?”  Guests write on the charts all evening with colored markers and sometimes get even more creative with a touch of artistic display as well.  On a number of occasions we have taken them all down at midnight and symbolically burned them.

On a business note, we do a similar exercise with our executive clients where we pass out a page with questions for them to fill out that explores accomplishments and failures in their businesses, practice of leadership, and lives. (We have a free download of this exercise sheet at the bottom of this blog post.)  One of my favorites is “What must I communicate to be complete with 2013 and to whom?”

A few of the highlights from these types of executive discussions include discoveries of attachments participants did not realize were holding them back, people around them who they had failed to acknowledge, and places where they were not leading by example.

We also know that for many folks the holidays can include a lot of upset, ranging form anxiety around gift giving and office party attendance to remembrances of lost loved ones or unhappy childhood experiences related to the holidays.  The latter is fertile ground for completion work.

Some of the comments we get about these exercises can be summed up as, “transition/transformation is a lot of work!”  If you are intending to be powerful in 2014, have big goals, and produce great results, we highly recommend you spend the next couple of weeks completing and letting go of 2013, (and earlier if you need to), in order to create fertile ground for your 2014 vision to come alive.

If you would like to try our exercise format we have included it here as a free download.

Wishing you a happy ending to your 2013 and a fabulous 2014!

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