Several years ago, I found myself walking on the Great Wall outside of Beijing. Beside me was a young man who was assigned to be my guide. It was a beautiful day beginning with a misty morning. I kept stopping and looking out over the wall. At one point as we stood and gazed over the misty mountains, I sensed that there was something much bigger happening, something much bigger that I was seeing. Indeed, there was.
As I gazed into the mist with my guide, I realized that coaching is a lot like standing with leaders or colleagues or direct reports as they look over the horizon. I couldn’t clearly see what was out there. Many times, neither can they. There’s often a mist that prevents us from seeing clearly. The “mist” may be the challenge of competing priorities, or the impact if an important decision is made, or the stories that people will make up once a difficult announcement occurs.
Standing there, looking into the mist, I was so glad to have my guide with me. He gave me information that helped us determine which fork of the Great Wall to take. He let me know how far we had come and what was ahead. At one point, he suggested that I slow down to avoid a particularly uneven section of the wall. Although I didn’t like that suggestion at all, I appreciated his honest feedback that my pace might need to change.
Throughout the day, we walked together, talking and discussing ideas and options. We covered a lot of ground. I learned about myself and about him and about the journey we were on.
At the end of the day, I realized it was a deeply satisfying journey, and the mist had cleared.
A few months ago I was walking through our house when my husband stopped me suddenly. He was pointing to a place I’d just walked past at least 5 times. In that place was a snake, curled into a tight circle. We live in Arizona. Snakes in the house are not a good thing. The fact that I’d stepped over it at several times was even more disturbing. It also made me wonder what else I step over all the time without noticing.
What DO we step over, without realizing it? Maybe it’s the impact of something we said, not realizing that it was unintentionally hurtful. Or, maybe it’s the part of our work that we really don’t like, not realizing that others notice when we don’t do it. Or, maybe it’s the insignificant meetings that we attend without paying attention, not realizing that our input is important for the business decisions that are being made.
OK, now I’m convicted! It’s time to pay attention to the things that I step over and start taking steps in a new direction. One step is to pay attention to the responses of others and to clean up messes. Another step is to take action on the things I don’t like to do, regularly. A third step is to be present (really present and focused) at meetings, and to contribute input when decisions are being made.
How about you? What steps can you take rather than stepping over something that could potentially bite you?
I think we’ve all heard about the TV show on hoarding. I haven’t seen it, but I have known a few people who are hoarders. What a mess, at so many levels. What challenges it causes, for so many people.
Recently, while facilitating a meeting, someone commented about a leader who seemed to be hoarding information. My ears perked up (not to imply that I hadn’t been listening before, of course). What a concept: hoarding information. What a mess, at so many levels. What challenges it causes, for so many people.
Then, I started to wonder if I hoard information. Yuck. I think I do.
I definitely have information in my computer that people might be able to use. Yes, we have sites where we can share information, but how often do I upload to them?
I definitely have information in my head that people might need. Yes, I’m willing to answer questions when asked, but am I proactive enough to be sharing in anticipation of what they’ll need?
I definitely have resources that would be useful to others. Yes, I’m willing to share when approached, but am I thinking about resources my team members might need before they ask?
What causes this hoarding of information? I came up with a number of possibilities, none of which are attractive. One possibility is fear. If I share, then others will know what I know, and they might be better than me. Another possibility is insecurity. If my team members meet some of the people who have been useful to me, then the team member might be liked more than me. Another possibility is lack of confidence. If I develop my people by sharing useful information as a way of developing my team, they may excel and be promoted ahead of me.
Get my drift? Not a pretty picture. What a mess, at so many levels. What challenges it causes, for so many people. Slap, slap. It’s time to get over myself, deal with the fear or whatever it is, and do what leaders are supposed to do: motivate, inspire, develop others, and definitely not hoard information. That means sharing as much information as I can, keeping people informed, and thinking about what’s best for them, not just about what’s best for me.
Toward the end of a recent coaching engagement with a client, I asked what he had gained from our time together. He was very kind with the things he shared, and then he finished with a comment that caused me to laugh out loud and to think deeply. He said, “Even though I don’t always like it, thank you for pushing me to drain my swamp rather than just letting me whack alligators.”
As I pondered his statement, it really made me think about how often we spend our time whacking alligators. If I’m honest, it’s fun to whack those alligators. I even brag about them to my friends and co-workers. But, what if….
What if the alligators are the small decisions and the swamp is the bigger decisions? We need to shift our focus to the bigger decisions, which make the smaller ones much easier.
What if the alligators represent the urgent decisions and the swamp represents the important? The urgent can consume all of our time. Shifting to the important is important!
What if we do indeed drain our swamps? What happens to the alligators? (That was my husband’s question when he reviewed this posting. I think it’s a very interesting one!)
There are so many things to think about with this metaphor. Thinking isn’t action, though, so it’s time for me to push myself to drain my swamp.
During spring training a few weeks ago, my husband and I were invited to a baseball game. Before the game, we met with the CEO of the team who gave us a tour of the facility. We also sat with him during the game (guess which row we sat in!?).
Sitting next to him during a few innings of the game, I asked several questions about how he spends his time as CEO. His answer was very insightful. Here’s what he said:
As CEO, he spends a large amount of time networking and entertaining.
He has great people working for him, and he’s in contact with them on a regular basis.
He constantly has his eye on the financials, especially accounts receivable. Even though they have a great CFO, he still watches the numbers all the time.
He is in close touch with HR because he insists that everyone is treated respectfully, and he wants to know that this is being maintained.
He said that from his experience, every organization has one area that is their most important area (for example, Nintendo is primarily a marketing company and baseball teams are primarily focused on recruiting). He believes it’s critical to know which area it is for each company. This area defines who they are. Then, the other functional areas must work well together, which is partly his responsibility.
I thought this last part was very interesting. I thought about our company. As you’re reading this, think about yours.
What’s your “most important area?”
How much agreement is there about this?
How do other departments function together, knowing that one is the most important?
Who’s making sure that all areas are working together?
Recently, I had the pleasure of working with an organization that has a very clear focus for 2011. The focus is on the “One Thing” that will make the biggest difference this year. As a company, each leader is identifying and sharing his/her “One Thing.” Each department head is also identifying the “One Thing” focus for the department. Each “One Thing” is aligned with the organization so everyone is rowing in the same direction.
I wonder what the difference might be if all teams and organizations knew their “One Thing.” And, if all the “One Things” were aligned….
This made me think about myself in 2011. What could I come up with that would be my “One Thing” as an overarching focus for the year. I wanted to incorporate business and personal, although the two normally are separate. As soon as I thought about it, my “One Thing” emerged. It’s having reserves in all areas of my life – reserves of time (which means I’m reorganizing how I set up my work and personal life), reserves of energy (which means I’m exercising differently as well as paying attention to eating and sleeping), and of course, reserves in the financial arena (no comment here!). My “One Thing” is already helping me to focus and be different at work and at home this year.
What about you? Whether at work, in your personal life, or both, what’s your “One Thing” that can help you order your life and ensure that all aspects of your life are “rowing in the same direction?”
I’ve had a very interesting 2 weeks in Ireland, just returning on Saturday. While there, Ireland announced its need for a financial bailout plan. Everyone was talking about it no matter where we were. In all forms of news, “Bailout” was the headline.
Photographer: Tina Phillips
During my first day back, a client made a very interesting comment that made me think about organizations, coaching and Ireland. He said that in his role, he did not have a pony in the race so he could advise his leadership team objectively and ask useful questions to make them think. What a novel idea! Having objective input. Being asked powerful questions to make us think! When do ever we get that?
Almost everywhere, people have something to lose or something to gain when decisions are made – they have ponies in the race. This means they aren’t objective in their advice and often in their questions. In Ireland, there wasn’t anyone without a pony. In organizations, it’s the same way. Most people aren’t objective.
I hope that coaching is different. I hope that coaching is a vehicle through which people can ask for and receive objective input and be asked powerful questions that challenge thinking, behaviors, attitudes. What could happen if we all had partners like that in our lives?