Tag Archives: Leadership

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

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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.

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What happens now?

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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?

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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.

Lessons learned – from unusual places

As a blogger, instructor, and just a generally curious person; I do a lot of reading from a variety of sources.  One of my favorites is from a public relations (PR) source (yes, you never know when those PR skills are going to come in handy).   Throughout my career, I have been involved in PR efforts more than I ever thought I would. It is truly one of those things they never taught you in school type of revelations.

So, today when I ran across this blog – “Clients are the best teachers: 3 lessons learned”, I clicked and read.  The three lessons were:

The time to act is now.

My company comes first, yours second.

When in doubt, trust your gut.

The writer of the blog was coming from the perspective of a PR consulting firm.  But, the examples that the author uses really hit home with me.  And, with a slight tweak, are three very valuable leadership lessons.

The Time to Act is Now – Or, Make a Decision and Follow-through

My grandfather always said make the decision or someone will make if for you, even if you have to flip a coin.  You have to act, if you don’t someone will act for you and it may not be in your best interest.  Procrastination is a means of not making the decision.  Procrastination or failure to act puts you behind and you are loosing ground to your competitors.  You are not making progress toward your goals.  You are essentially stuck or “dead”.

My company comes first, yours second – My Goals have Priority over Yours

In the consulting world, yes your clients company comes first; you are just a consultant.  But, this is not just in the Company/Client relationship.  Think about yourself as “You, Inc.” to use the phrase from Fast Track Magazine.  The goals of the company or even your boss have priority over yours.  And, these may not fit with your sense of how to do business or your priorities.  This may mean you have to take drastic steps like changing jobs within the organization or outside the organization.  But, the sooner you learn this valuable lesson the better prepared you are for a conflict at some point.

When in doubt, trust your gut – No modification needed.

A lot of times we intuitively know what the best course of action is.  Trust your gut.  There are a variety of reasons why that course of action is correct and you may or may not be able to articulate them at the instant you have that feeling but they are there.  Stand up for your belief.

As you can see – leadership lessons come from everywhere.  To be an effective leader we have to be constantly learning.  And, borrowing or learning from someone else’s lesson is better than making a similar mistake on your own.

Remembering & Acknowledging – Essential Skills

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On this Memorial Day, it is fitting to highlight two very important skills of the leader – remembering and acknowledging.  The two images above – may not be immediately recognizable – one is the flag above the Pearl Harbor Memorial taken on a December Day and the other is the reflection of the Washington Monument on the Vietnam Memorial.  Both Memorials are in remembrance of those who gave the ultimate price for our freedoms.

Yet, as leaders; we sometimes get to busy to make those essential acknowledgements.  We don’t remember those who have come before.  We need to recognize those individuals.  We need to thank them.  The names on these memorials – tell only a part of the story.  Behind each name, there are those whose lives they touched – parents, family, children, teachers, friends, …  They too were impacted by the events that took place.

So, take time today and reflect.  Is there someone that you should be acknowledging?

Mistakes, Failures, and the “Bad Things” that Happen

We all make them.  We all have the “oops” moment.  We all have that inner voice that says “that was the wrong way to have handled that.”  As no one is perfect.  Mistakes, miscues, errors, failures, and other perceived bad things happen.  Yet, one of your best skills and ultimately your success uses these “uh oh” moments to learn and adapt.  And, your “uh oh” may turnout to be the best thing that ever happened.

It is said that the only things that are guaranteed in life are death and taxes.  I would like to add – that one will make mistakes.  In fact there are cultures, like the Navaho, that say if the “perfect rug is ever woven, the world will come to an end.”  Thus, mistakes are taken as signs and are even built in to the weave.  Sometimes, failures turn out to be bigger successes than what was trying to be achieved in the first place – take for example the Post-It (TM) and Teflon (TM) – these were experiments gone bad.

Yet, we seem to still focus on the “dark cloud” view of mistakes and not the “silver lining.”  These errors are how we learn and grow.  I have always said – that you learn much more from your errors, failures, and mistakes than you ever could by just succeeding.  As parents and teachers – while it is hard to do – you have to let the “learner” make mistakes (provided they don’t get into serious trouble). If you don’t – how will they ever truly learn.

We are now living in a Society – that tries to remove the “bad things.” It tries to abolish failure – everyone has to succeed.  This is such a great dis-service to creating strong individuals.

Think about it.  Pick one of your personal achievements.  Didn’t you have to overcome some adversity?  Didn’t you make an error, or misstep along the way?  Was there someone who said – there is no way you can do that – and you had to prove them wrong?  Did it take time?  My guess is that you would have to say yes to most of the questions above for it to make your list of achievements.

As leaders our job is to guide.  In order to make tomorrow’s leaders we have to let individuals make errors – again provided that they do not result in total catastrophe.  We can’t remove the consequences of errors either.

If we remove the consequences of the error – we have removed the learning as well.  Individuals have to learn how to accept their own mistakes, own them and learn from them.  This is what helps us grow.

The ultimate trick is to find the balance between learning, finding the “silver lining” and benefiting from the error and not creating a catastrophe.  By understanding our own mistakes – we can learn from others – without necessarily making the same mistake (this helps in the preventing of the catastrophe).  As leaders – knowing what “safe” mistakes are is essential.  For example – making an error in a presentation to the work group is one thing – making that same error in a presentation to stockholders is another matter.

We as individuals have to become comfortable with admitting our mistakes.  We have to work to put things “right”.  We have to make amends.  Hiding our errors is hurtful – not only to us and our organizations but may be a catastrophe down the road.  Our “uh ohs” need to come out in the open – so that everyone can learn from them.  When we can laugh about them down the road – we know that we have learned and have found that “silver lining”.