Tag Archives: action plan

Leadership Lessons from Story Time

Kindergarten

From the title of Robert Fulghum’s best-selling book of life stories is as applicable today as when he published it in 1988.  And, you can learn a lot about leadership by participating in a number of summer activities that you might feel are “just for kids” like Story Time at the local library.

It has been a number of years since I last attended Story Time.  And, now that summer is here and I have the opportunity, I have begun to take my grandson to Story Time.  The format hasn’t really changed all that much – there is a gathering, a brief outline of what is going to happen, a song, a story, a song, another story, and an activity.  (Sounds pretty much like that standing weekly meeting, except that they aren’t as much fun, because we don’t get play along with the song, and the activities, well…..)

So, let’s look at the leadership opportunities that are present:

The Gathering – While it is one thing to “wrangle” 20 to 25 kids under the age of six plus their tag along adult into a seated position and ready to listen, it is another to bring together a team of professionals, right?  Not so much.  In fact, I sometimes think it is easier to deal with the children.  They want to be there.  They are expecting certain things.  They are anticipating positive outcomes.  The adults, well…..

So, what is the lesson?  When pulling together a meeting, a training session, a presentation, etc., we have to include the hook, some predictability, and a desired outcome.  Sure, you won’t always be able to have grab everyone and some of these are “have to be there, because” type meetings.  But, you don’t have to allow them to be painful, boring, or last longer than they need to.  Posting of agendas is necessary. A stated purpose is necessary.

And, you have to allow for the gathering to occur.  You can’t rush it.  And, it this may be the most important part of the event.  These interactions are what make your teams cohesive.  The real work of an organization is usually done in the hallways, the break room, and in those few minutes at the beginning and end of meetings.  This is where the innovation occurs.  It is where work gets streamlined.

The Outline – OK, even if the agenda was posted. At Story Time, even though it follows the same pattern every week, the outline for the next hour is repeated.  Why?  Because, there may be a new child, a new parent, or someone who is not yet familiar with the routine.  In the business world, the attendees may not have read their email, you might have a guest, you might have an observer, or they just need the outline to get them focused on the task at hand.  Humans like patterns.  We need patterns.  The repeating of the outline helps us grasp that focus that we need to be productive.

The Song, the Story, the Song and the Story – The purpose of the first song at story time (and it usually the same one from week to week) is the initial grabber.  It gets the participants involved.  These are the standing agenda items: the safety moment, review of last week’s sales, etc.  All the attendees know what is about to happen, but they are watch for anything new or how the new individuals are going to react.  And, it allows you to slide into the flow of the event.  Then there is the story.  It is new information, we are actively listening.  We are applying the information.  All are key things for adults as well as for the children.

This is followed but round two.  But, this time the song is different.  We have to be more engaged.  We are applying something new.  But, it is bringing us all together and bring the focus back to the group.  This is where the buy-in occurs at the business meeting.  It is followed by another story.  For the business meeting, this is where the connections with the organization’s mission occur.  The why.

The Activity – During Story Time, this is where the children get to participate and really do.  The activity is usually related to the stories that were presented.  So, connections are made.  New things are tried.  And, learning is masked as something fun.  For professionals, the activity usually means discussions of the work, the goals, the plans, etc.  There are the normal workflows that must occur.  And, how the information presented will be applied.  The only difference – we don’t get to see it as fun or play.  (Sometimes, you need a bit of play to keep the creative juices flowing.)

Thus, Story Time is a learning experience.  There are lessons to be learned.  There are observations to be made.  You might want to take a bit of time to be “outside of the concrete, steel, glass box” and take a trip to Story Time, it may be more beneficial than that leadership symposium.

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Gaining Wisdom through Reflection

Confucius

Wisdom.  It is one of the many words that are used to describe leadership.  Yet, it is typically not something that we as leaders have innately.  Wisdom is something that coalesces from a variety of other aspects of a leader’s education.  Wisdom is derived from book knowledge, observation, experience, and reflection.  Wisdom is as not simple as the abridged definition “the quality or state of being knowledgeable with just judgement.”

As leaders, the easy part of gaining wisdom comes from the many hours of learning our technical craft.  We spend hours gaining the technical skills of our chosen professions: going to class, taking training courses, reading the current literature, etc.  We also have honed our skills of observation: watching other leaders, learning individuals, understanding group dynamics, etc.  But, have we become wise?

This is an interesting question.  Stop and take a moment to visualize a wise person.  What images come immediately to mind?  For some, it is a yogi or a guru sitting atop a mountain.  For some, it is an owl.  For others, it may be a specific person, but that person is generally older, and quiet.  We have a vision of what it takes to be wise or full of wisdom.  Yet, there is no manual or recipe or real guidance document. Sure, you can Google the question “how to become wise,” (and you will get 23,800,000 hits) but these are suggestions and starting points.  There is not a single recipe or set of steps that you can follow that will have you waking up tomorrow as a wise person.  Sure, you may be a bit wiser than you were today but it is never a completed project.  (It is probably a topic that can have some intellectuals researching for years.)

This doesn’t mean that we can’t become wise nor develop wisdom.  All it means is that wisdom comes from our willingness and openness to new experiences, new ideas, and listening to different points of view.  Wisdom is derived from our personal situations, our challenges, and the environment or circumstances that have occurred over time.  Even then, a leader may not become wise as there is still something missing.  The missing item is reflection.

One cannot learn from our experiences and environments without taking the time to reflect and ask questions about them.  How do we begin to listen to another point of view?  We ask questions.  We investigate.  We may still disagree, but we are actively learning how someone else approaches the same situation.  We learn to be active listeners.  Yet, do we listen to ourselves. Do we note our own conflicts? Do we ask ourselves questions?

We have to make time for the reflection.  And, we have to have some way of reflecting.  So, how can you as a leader begin to develop this habit of reflection?  Well, there is a technique that is widely used and for some of us it is something that is a bit of struggle – journaling.  Yes, remember that creative journal that your English composition teacher tried to get you to start?  It may be one method of helping you develop wisdom in your life.  Sure, you have heard of creative writers journaling, but the CEO of a Fortune 500 company?  You probably have even read excerpts from some journals from famous individuals in history like George Washington, or Thomas Jefferson.  But what about J.P. Morgan?  Sure you know that they kept “diaries” of appointments or notes – but did they journal?  We may or may not know.

Why start a journal?  The typical reasons for journaling include:

  • Journals help you articulate thoughts and ideas
  • Journals help you clear the mental clutter
  • Journals help you track your own personal growth
  • Journals promote creativity

You can do a quick search and find a host of other reasons.  But from a straight forward and simplistic perspective – journals allow you the time for reflection.  It is this reflection time that is the important aspect of developing wisdom.

How do you start and what should you write?  The first step is to pick a medium – computer, paper and pen, etc.  Personally, I am fond of the paper and pen method as for me, it is more personal. It is engaging. And, I am interacting with my thoughts.  (Now, I do use a smart pen which does allow me to store my journals electronically.)  But, I have used a number of different media over the years – including some of the new apps.  I have also found that I am much happier keeping everything in the same place, i.e. my daily appointments, to-do lists, and journal all in the same book.  It simplifies things for me and if I have an idea I don’t have to figure out which book to put it in.

What to write?  This is the personal part of the journal and may be highly dependent on the time of day when you chose to journal.  There are times that I journal in the morning as I am preparing for the day and my reflections may be about my goals for that day.  Or, if in the evening, they may be about something that I learned, noticed or was troubled by during the day.  I may reflect on a reading throughout the day, which is why I like my journal all in one.  I journal about new words, a line in a book, something I heard on the radio or something that I could have handled better.  It really doesn’t matter what you write, it is about taking the time to sit quietly and reflect.

Confucius said that the noblest way to learn wisdom is by reflection.  Margaret Wheatley reminds us that without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and fail to achieve anything useful.  The journal is a means of providing that bit of reflection that is needed to help us develop into the leaders we need to be.

What happens now?

20130518_134257_edited

If you look at the calendar and the milestones in people’s lives, May and June are months of major significance.  In the United States, graduations from high school and college are common events as well as the beginnings of marriages and new careers.  These events are culminations of long-term planning.  (Even if you didn’t realize it at the time.)  And, once the excitement of the celebration is over, you may be waking up feeling lost and adrift.

What happens now?  Some may be lucky enough to already, have another long-term goal or may be working on one.  For example, you just graduated and are planning on pursuing a higher degree; or are working, and now are turning to focus on that next big project or promotion.  But, for others, all of a sudden you achieved what you were after and then…….  Well, it is time to figure out what’s next.

How does one go about it?  Many of us know the usual goal setting steps (or do we?) and how to state a goal.  Zig Ziglar gave us seven; Bradley Foster gave us ten; and Wikihow gives us ten.  We are told our goals need to be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and have a timeframe.  But, the steps?  Let’s look at Zig Ziglar’s seven, because most of the versions are similar:

  • State the goal
  • Set a deadline
  • Identify the obstacles
  • Identify the people, groups and organizations that can assist
  • List the benefits of achieving the goal
  • List the skills needed to attain the goal
  • Develop a plan

Okay, but what is the goal?  What is the next step? How do I tell what my next goal should be?  What am I being called or driven to do?  It is this unknown that sets a person adrift.  Because once we are able to articulate what it is we are after or where we are headed; the usual goal setting wisdom and attributes help us.  And, it is the easy part: developing the long-term plan on how to achieve it.  The conventional wisdom does nothing for helping us assess what it is we want to achieve.

Determining the direction or the next personal goal requires self-awareness, introspection, and self-assessment.  One has to take some quiet time and think about what makes them happy; what they like to do; and if they could wave that magic wand what would be their perfect world.  One method may be to PREP: pause, re-assess, evaluate and prepare.  The pause step is the most critical, one needs to stop and think about those serious questions.  One needs to fuel the imagination, and one needs to picture what that future state may be.  This is a very difficult thing to do as we don’t necessarily like to look into ourselves, and finding the time to do this with all of our day-to-day pressures adds to the complexity.

Yet, it is essential because if we don’t, we will remain adrift or someone else will be making these crucial decisions for us.  This leaves us unfulfilled, and miserable.  It is critical that one steps aside and think about what is it that drives us, what is it that we want to achieve, and how do view my personal success?

How to get to this point?  We know that we need to be able to state the goal, picture it, and articulate it.  But, what methods or techniques do we use?  There are some tried and true ones:

  1. Where do you want to be in a year?
  2. Where do you want to be in three years?
  3. Where do you want to be in five years?

These are a bit stale because they are used as interview and annual review techniques; so we tend to give “pat” answers or the ones that the person asking the questions want to hear.  And, this still requires a person to have a longer term view.

Other questions may seem strange, yet can provide deeper insight;

  • What do you want your high school reunion summary to say?
  • Why should you be invited to speak at a graduation ceremony?
  • What words would you like to have on your headstone?
  • How do you want ___________ (your mother, your spouse, your colleagues, your friends) to describe you?
  • What things don’t you want to be said about you? (Sometimes it is easier to look at the negative than the positive.)
  • If you could choose one accomplishment, what would it be?

These questions will help you to paint a picture of that elusive long term goal.  Once, you have that the rest is just a paperwork exercise to outline the path.

Understanding Leadership – When to fish or cut bait?

MVC-019S

Fish or cut bait.  As leaders, we have probably used this phrase at some point.  And, we seem to have an inherent understanding about the concept that it is describing, even if we aren’t active in a fishing culture.  The four words succinctly describe a decision point where one has to assess the effectiveness of the current methodology or strategy versus the ultimate goal.  Or simply, put is this strategy or activity the most effective use of time and/or resources.

As leaders, we need to focus on what is the most productive use of our skills, knowledge and resources.  We have to make sure that the timing is appropriate, and that the right priorities are being met.  Unfortunately, the leader may be too close to the situation or may be in a situation where the day-to-day demands are such that they can’t see that they have reached a point where they are ineffective.  So, what is a leader to do when they find themselves in this situation?

Leaders need to PREP:

  • Pause – Stop for a bit to gather and observe.  What is the status quo?
  • Re-asses – After having gathered the information, one needs to look at the resources and priorities.
  • Evaluate – Here you have to look at the fit or “correctness” of the priorities, do the resources and priorities match?  Are the skill sets correct?
  • Prepare – Prepare a path to realign or to gain the appropriate resources that are needed.

As leaders, we forget how important it is to continually go through this cycle.  We tend to get bogged down in the day-to-day activities and firefighting.  We don’t take the time to work on the strategies or “tool sharpening” that we need to focus on, so that we can be more productive and efficient in the long run.  We don’t take the time now; so it will ultimately take less time.  We get stuck in the “have to do it this way now” to make it work mindset to meet the immediate need.

This ultimately puts us further behind and makes us more ineffective. It means that we continually hinder ourselves.  So, for the past three months, I have been practicing what I want to preach – building the skills and the resources, such that the day-to-day tasks require less time.  I have been searching for those new applications, resources, and ideas to make my daily work life more effective and productivity.  I have been PREPping for this new journey.

Now it is time to take the first step, down this new branch of the road.  Hopefully, you are willing to join me on this journey.

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.