Category Archives: Uncategorized

Are we in for a major disruption?

Just read an article by Steven Sinofsky (@stevesi) (Disruption’s Long, Slow, Complex Journey).  And serendipitously had just come across a number of “do you remember” posts – AOL, Blackberry, etc.  Add to this, the business news of the bidding for Yahoo! and the retail trends of the first part of the year, and you start to think that there is a major change coming.  But, the real question is what is it and what is it going to look like?

Here in the United States, we are seeing signs for a major disrupting event.  It could be in how we shop – the big box stores are consolidating, the name brand retailers are shrinking, and how we spend our money is changing.  It could be in how we travel – we are seeing an aversion to lines and there is a change in where we travel.  It could be in how we educate ourselves – the classroom is changing, how we fund education is changing, and our view of what is needed is changing.  We are seeing it all around us – political campaigns are not following the traditional rules, the television executives aren’t making the same types of orders, and how the “experts” to behave with more money in our pockets did not happen.

It is becoming more and more apparent that something is happening.  We just don’t know what it is and the “experts” can’t tell us. So, as leaders we must be able to be flexible and now may be the time to try that something new as it might just be the “next big thing.”

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Sometimes being quiet is a powerful tool.

IMG_1066_editedIt is said that there are Type A’s and Type B’s in the world.  The Type A’s are usually the ones out there in the front, the ones that are noticed and the ones that seem to drive themselves into the ground.  The Type B’s appear to be a bit more reserved, a bit more cautious, and a bit more relaxed.  But, as we all know this is a stereotype, while there may be some truth to the division, there is more crossover than people think.  It is the perceived Type B’s that may explode at some point and the Type A’s that get quiet that cause concern.  It t is when we step out of our typical mode of operation that we may be most effective as leaders.

Think for a minute, as a child if you had a boisterous parent or teacher, what was their behavior that most concerned you?  It was when they didn’t yell or were loud, it was when they were quiet.  Similarly, if there was a quite person in your class or group; when did you pay attention to them?  It was when they spoke up or yelled.  When someone steps outside of their normal behavior, people take notice.

The why, behind this is easily explained.  Our brains are designed to notice things that are out of place.  We notice differences.  We use patterns to help ourselves deal with the enormous amounts of information we are exposed to every day.  If it is a small change, like looking for a “p” in a series of “q’s,” we may not readily see it.  But, if it is a “t” in a series of “q’s,” most people will pick it out quickly.  Why? It is a big change from the surroundings or prior pattern.  This is the same with picking up the nuisances of human behavior.  We spot the big differences.

There is another side to this as well.  What happens when you change your perspective?  How do you see what is happening, if you sit back and watch how the meeting progresses versus jumping in and participating?  What happens when you go last instead of first?  How does this change your view of the situation?  How are you evaluating the information?  It turns out that this is as beneficial for you as well as those around you.

As leaders, we can use this to our advantage.  It is when, we step into these non-traditional routines where we can see what changes can be made.  We get more creative.  We step out of the rut and maybe see ways of accomplishing our goals that weren’t visible before.

So, just how do you accomplish this?  For starters, you have to be willing to be open, and you have to understand how you operate.  Then you can begin to reflect on how you might modify how you approach a situation.  For example, you might want to turn off the radio in your office while you work, or maybe take your work outside for a bit.  Or, you could start even simpler – just change the type of music you listen to while working.

How are you going to participate in that next meeting?  Develop a strategy or plan prior to going into the meeting.  Sure you may revert to your habitual behaviors, but you have created a new pathway to look at the meeting and gather information during the meeting.  Even a slight change has an impact.

Each of us is a bit of a chameleon.  And, understanding and using those chameleon tendencies can pay great dividends, in our understanding of others, in how we assess a problem or situation, and in how we develop solutions.  Yes, we need to play to our strengths, but we also have to keep polishing our strengths.  It is by building new paths to observation and interactions that we are going to be able to observe the strengths in others.  Life is a team sport, but we have to recognize the weaknesses in ourselves and the strengths in others for our goals to succeed.

Critical Soft Skills

IMG_1081_editedAs leaders, we are always talking about the soft skills.  Saying things like – “the technical skills are your ticket to the event, but it is the soft skills that will determine whether or not you will get the job or the promotion.”  We espouse the term like everyone knows what these soft skills are.  Sure, we know that is usually means things like team work, problem solving, and communication.  But, think about those terms.  What are we saying?  We are saying something like the elements of salt water are the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, or the South China Sea.  These terms are so broad that there are volumes written on them.

So how do we as leaders counsel others including ourselves about the elements of these board topics so that we are highlighting the critical elements of these “soft skills”.  And, as the critical elements change; how do we get that across to our teams and mentees?  This is a crucial question because it is being able to recognize these changes and being able to articulate them that allows us as leaders to stay relevant.  It is what is going to make the difference between being current or stagnant.

Let’s take for example the topic of several news reports over the past weekend about a critical skill that the Millennials seem to be missing.  It seemed that no matter what news story you watched, they all discussed an aspect of communication.  It is not that the Millennials did not communicate, it was how they were communicating or not communicating.  There seemed to be a lack of direct person-to-person communication via telephone or face-to-face.  Sure, the Millennials would text, use Instagram, or some other social media tool, but these did not involve a direct person-to-person interaction with the non-verbal clues.  Employers are indicating; it is how these individuals are handling or not handling these direct interactions that were costing these individuals, either in terms of not landing jobs or in poor ratings on the job.

Telling a student or mentee or young professional that they need to improve their communication skills may or may not get the point across.  These individuals think that they are communicating and don’t understand what is missing.  We as leaders have to start really articulating what is missing in the soft skill.  In the example, what is missing is that these individuals haven’t had to learn or deal with nuisance or really understand how their bearing conveys just as much of a message as the words they use.

Add to this that some of these “soft skill” areas begin to tread into dangerous territory, the world of perceived discrimination.  For those of us that lived in a bit of a different time, where your superior came in and discussed your physical appearance without consequence; we now have to carefully handle these situations in such a manner as to not trip over a regulation or create a perceived negative environment.  This makes it a challenge in how we guide or mentor individuals to ensure that get the appropriate guidance.  Which is why, we as leaders have to spend the time to think about how to address some of these soft skill issues as well as create safe places and situations where these skills can be learned and practiced.

As soft skills are culturally disseminated, the first thing that we as leaders have to do is become models of the desired behavior.  We must demonstrate the professionalism we desire.  We need to be open to criticism ourselves. We need to encourage dialog.  And, we need to learn how really verbalize areas where the culture is changing and communicate how some actions are perceived by others.  We have to develop a new critical soft skill – dealing with sensitive issues in a sensitive manner.

Listening, Hearing and Understanding – What is the key element?

storm clouds forming
Is a storm coming or is this after the storm? Without all the observation, one does not know.

When asked to list essential leadership skills, there may be a variety of items listed.  However, listening is definitely one that most leaders would say is a skill that is not only essential, but is one that needs to be tended and cultivated.  If we are honest with ourselves, most of us would have to say that listening is a skill that needs improvement.

There are lots of factors that go into how we listen and there are different levels of listening.  For example; there is the aspect of just hearing (what are the words that are being said?).  Our brains are interesting things.  Have you ever noticed that there are times when someone says something to you and you only hear bits of the sentence?  Then you realize what was likely to have been said?  Our brains are very good at filling in patterns.  Our brains fill in the blank spots.  And, sometimes we fill in with the wrong word or even the wrong sentence.  When we are really working on listening; it is important that we don’t fill in the gaps for the speaker. One has to stop and make sure that we have heard what was said, not what we thought was said.

There is the aspect of tone, how the words are being conveyed.  As listeners, we have all experienced a misunderstanding of what was trying to be conveyed because of the tone of the words.  For example, someone makes a comment that was intended to be a joke but the listener assumed the comment was serious.  Or, a speaker sounds angry and conveys that as anger to the person within hearing, yet it really wasn’t anger, it was frustration.

While we are “listening;” we really tend to be multitasking.  We are assessing the information being conveyed.  We are evaluating and making judgments.  We are preparing our response, questions, or what we are going to say.  We are processing and planning.  We aren’t necessarily really attempting to understand the information that is being presented.

The definition of listening is from a leadership perspective is to pay attention, pay heed. Listening is,  therefore, is not just an auditory skill.  Truly listening means that you have to gather information to understand what is being conveyed. This means that we have to understand the tone and other cues that are being provided with the words.  It is the lack of cues in emails, texting, tweets, and other forms of social media that is getting all of into trouble.  Just how do you convey cues in 140 characters or in a 10-second sound bite?

As leaders, we are supposed to be communicators. Which means that we not only have to convey the information, but we have to make sure that our listener is truly hearing what it is we are trying to convey.  We need to recognize when we aren’t listening and when our listeners aren’t listening.  We need to make sure that we aren’t just processing words and we understand the information and ideas that are trying to be conveyed.  We have to slow down and think about what is being conveyed, before we process, assess and respond.

A quick internet search will find a number of methods to improve listening.  There is the active listener method. There are the 5, 10 or 12 steps to becoming a better listener.  And, there are ways to practice, such as listening to audio books or summaries, working with a partner, and taking notes.  But, all of these require something more fundamental, the knowledge that most of us really don’t listen and that we have to be engaged in the process to listen.  Without this fundamental acknowledgment, you might as well be in a sound proof room.

Just How to Keep a New Year’s Resolution

All of the research says that less than 50% of individuals will keep their New Year’s Resolutions.  Why?  There are lots of reasons and they include:

* The resolution is unrealistic.

* There is no action plan as to how to achieve the goal.

* There are too many resolutions.

* There is no support system in place.

The list can go on, but you should be able to see a trend.  People set resolutions or goals without thinking about how they might achieve them.  In order for a resolution to hold, you must have a plan.  And, you have to work the plan.  So here are a three tips as to how you can be part of the group that not only sticks to your resolution – but actually achieves the underlying intent.

1) Write it down.  Yes, you have heard this one before.  Writing down your goals sets you toward achieving them.  Why?  By writing the goal down, you have had to formally articulate what the goal is.  This helps you to think about the nuisances of your goal. When you write the goal be specific, and draw a picture as to what it means.  Thus, it is no longer a vague “lose weight” but you make it concrete, “I will lose 10 pounds.”

2) Make it a daily habit.  According to Covey, it takes three weeks to make a habit.  So, think about what you can do on a daily or regular basis to help you stick to your resolution.  If your resolution is to lose weight, your daily habit might be to journal the foods you eat.  If your resolution is to read more, set 5 minutes a day to read that book on your bed side table.  The key is to make it a habit.

3) Figure out your support system.  This can be finding an accountability partner or even setting email reminders or posting notes on the refrigerator.  You may even have to develop a reward or a point system.  And, yes there may be even an App for that.  The key is to find to provide yourself with both accountability and a means to get you back on track if you falter.

With these three tips, you are likely to develop a positive habit and set yourself on a path to stick to that resolution.  My New Year’s Resolution?  Sticking to the plan that I developed for the goals that I set last year.

Story and the Art of Story Telling

If you read various leadership articles, you are likely to have found a number of items related to the “Art of Story Telling.” From a leadership perspective, the idea behind this is that people are more in tuned to messages conveyed via a story. If you want to provide a lesson or a concept – you can put it in a story, people will pay attention, and are more likely to retain the information and get what you are trying to convey.

But there is more to “Story.”  Story throughout all of history has been used to convey – historical events, to entertain, to perpetuate culture, to convey cultural morality, and to pass on family. In general – a culture is defined by its stories. If you think about the stories that are traditionally studied in school – Aesop’s Fables, Greek Myths, and Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. You can see how story has been used.

There are religious stories – the Old Testament Bible stories – Daniel in the Lion’s Den, Jonah and the Whale, and the Garden of Eden – as well as the New Testament Parables. In Native American culture – there are the Mother Earth stories. And, you can even follow certain themes throughout all cultures – there are common flood stories, and there is always a creation story.

Some stories have been preserved – the Bible, the Qur’an, and many epic poems (Beowulf, Gilgamesh, King Arthur, and others). But, many stories and possibly the most important ones are not usually written. These are the stories that hold families and/or clans together. The tales of how we as individuals are molded and taught. These stories are unique to the personal histories of each family.

For the last several years, my husband and I have noticed that our Society has lost the art of story telling – beyond the “Big Screen” and the television. Children don’t hear Mother Goose, Aesop’s Fables, or the traditional Bible stories unless a special effort is made to convey these through a lesson plan at school or Sunday School. We have seen that when the stories of the overall culture – the cultural fabric or quilt have disappeared – the quicker the disappearance of the family stories particularly the ones told from generation to generation. And, these are even more likely not to have been recorded.

I suppose that this is a result of losing the extended family. In most cases, we don’t live down the street from Grandma anymore. Great Aunt Mary is in Arizona for the winter. Even brothers and sisters are removed by several states. Closely knit communities have seen the “kids” move to the cities because of they don’t want to farm or the mill has closed to get a job. We have lost the time around the kitchen table or the campfire where the stories flow. How did you get that scar on your knee? Why did we live in that particular house? How did Grandpa come to live in that town? Are being lost faster than your current cell phone goes out of date.

We are losing this trait so fast – that there are articles about it for leaders. There are courses in journal-ling. Our Society has to make an effort to revive something that has been a part of being human since language was invented. This is evidenced by the fact that Museums like the Smithsonian have programs where people come to put down their oral histories or a particular story about a topic or an event. We see organizations like the American Chemical Society collect particular personal stories about why they chose to be come chemists. These are efforts being made because we are losing a part of us. We are losing what brings us together and we can very possibly be losing ourselves. Our personal story is what makes us who we are, but it is the grounding, the enrichment of the stories of how our great grandparents, grandparents, parents, and families that really tell us so much more about why we are the way we are.

(Also published on SophicPursuits)

Transition & Re”creation”

According to the calendar, it is May.  And, May generally is a time of transition – end of a school year, graduations (high school or college), weddings may be in the air, and people are beginning to thing about a summer vacation or recreational activity.  For some the weather is finally starting to feel like the grip of winter is leaving and you can transition from indoor to outdoor activities.  So, there are lots of things that are vying for our attention. 

May is also a time where your leadership skills may be challenged, dusted off, or reach a new level.  Because May is a transitional month, you may have to rely on your personal skills to help you through the transition.  If you are graduating, you may be transitioning to a new job.  If you are in academia – you may be preparing for a sabbatical or a summer research push.  If you are industry, you may be thinking about summer field work, manpower issues, or interns.  You may also be facing personal life changes moving from a single person to a married one.  Transitions imply change – and successfully navigating change requires good leadership.

Even if you are not facing a significant transition – chances are there is someone close to you who is.  Thus, you may be called on to mentor that person.  Mentoring requires good leadership.

May then is a great time to think about your leadership in transition.  What are you specifically doing to improve your leadership skills?  What goals did you set for yourself at the beginning of the year?   How are you progressing on those goals?  Have you grown as a leader?  These are questions you may want to take a bit of time to think about.

On May 3 – I had a chance to sit in on a graduation ceremony at two year college, which led me to think about these questions.  And, I also began to think about how I personally could make an impact as a leader.  What actions – not just thoughts or words – could I do to bring about the change that I wanted to see?  In that graduation ceremony, I noted a number of things.  One was demographics – while there were some significant positives – the number of older students, the number of students in general and the support group present – the demographics were not what the should have been.  The group should have been even more diverse.  This means there is still work to do – and we as leaders need to do something – to see real change.

Second – was the concern that each and every individual there was facing a transition. Some where going straight to the workforce.  Some moving on to work on higher level degrees.  But, the fundamental question was – were they truly prepared?  As leaders, it is incumbent on us to help, encourage and mentor individuals through these significant transitions.  We have to be the role models, and the support groups.

Third – was the meaning of this transition. For some of the students, this was just a brief stepping stone or a mile marker.  But, for others it was a sign of achievement, sign of determination, a huge accomplishment.  I saw graduates that were the first in their families to ever receive a degree.  For one student, it took 14 years to get her Associates. She took one or two classes at a time – got her girls through their Bachelors before she finished her Associates.  She is a role model for the next generation.  Each story behind the graduate is different.  Each spark that drove that particular individual was different.  But each one had someone behind them that said – you can do it.  As leaders – we need to spread that spark a bit more.  We need to think about those little conversations that provide the encouragement.  You never know if it is the one thing that gets that individual over the hump and help them achieve.

Leadership is not just a hypothetical topic in a book.  It is not words on paper.  It is not a speech.   It is a push, a prod or an extra fifteen minutes.  It is a practice.  It is action.

So, as you plan your summer – think about what actions you as a leader can take to help the person next to you.