Your Strengths are a Powerful Ally

As some may know, May 4th is considered an unofficial holiday by Star Wars fans, who celebrate the classic movie franchise, books and culture.  The date was chosen for the easy pun to the well-known movie phrase “May the Force be with you” – “May the fourth be with you.”  As a fan myself, I pay tribute, by following the wise advise of Jedi Master Yoda, who said to his young apprentice, Luke Skywalker, “Always pass on what you have learned.”

Superhero opening suit

I recently completed a strengths-based assessment, and although the results of my top five strengths weren’t overly surprising, I did still learn a few things about my strengths, the strengths of my team and how I can leverage my strengths and my team’s strengths in order to help me achieve my goals.

  • Those who know me are aware that I’m not the most social person by nature.  However, developing my sociable skills could help me connect better with those I work with or want to influence.  When discussing our strengths amongst our team, I learned that at least one of our team members has four out of their top five strengths in the relationship area.
    Tip: Find your Jedi Master.  Find someone who excels in the strength areas that you want to develop for yourself and become their apprentice.  Observe their behavior, ask them questions and for honest feedback.
  • Some of my own personal strengths include such areas as achiever, consistency and discipline.  These strengths help me to be successful in my current role.  However, I realized these strengths don’t have to define me and I can chose to develop other strengths in order to support other areas of interest.
    Tip: Find opportunities to practice the ways of the Force in an environment where it is safe to fail.  Practicing a non-strength of yours will seem unnatural at first.  I shared recent examples of this in my two previous blogs. In an effort to try something completely outside my introverted comfort level, I decided to smile throughout an entire grocery buying experience as a way to be more approachable, while noticing the feelings within myself and the reactions that I was getting from other people.  The other experiment I performed was at a party, where I arrived with the intention of learning as much as I could, from as many people as I could, just by asking lots of questions and listening.  Again, I did this to practice being more sociable in order to develop those skills that aren’t natural strength areas of mine.  I performed both of these experiments in a relatively safe environment, where any consequences were either minimal or non-existent.

While these are just a few of the things I learned after evaluating the results of my strengths-based assessment, I conclude this blog with my last thought, conveyed through another wise quote from Jedi Master Yoda, “Much to learn I still have.” … “This is just the beginning!”

 

 

Listening, with the Intent to Learn

Back in February, I wrote about the topic of smiling and my grocery shopping experiment, which resulted in many positive reactions from others, including myself.  I’m reading a few books right now around the topics of Social Intelligence and Human Connectedness.  As a result of reading these books and the positive outcomes of my smiling experiment, I decided to test what I’ve learned so far, by conducting another social experiment during a party I attended a few weeks ago.Dog Listening

The party I attended was the 40th birthday party of one of my wife’s friends.  I didn’t know anyone at this party, except for the birthday girl.  In addition to celebrating the event with the guest of honor, I also made it a priority to learn as much as I could from as many people as I could that were in attendance.  I started by always having a smile on my face, being approachable with an open body position, introducing myself (and my wife), while asking a simple, yet non-threatening question about how they know the birthday girl.  Throughout our conversation, I did my best to ask lots of questions with the intention of learning as much as I could about each person. At the end of the night, my introverted self was exhausted.  I won’t go into detail about the interesting facts that  people shared with me about themselves, but I believe my social experiment was a success, due to how much fun I had, how much I learned about others (and how much they were willing to share), how many people I spoke with and how much positive reaction I received from those I interacted with.

In reflection, I used many of the coaching techniques that we typically use with our clients, when we are trying to learn about them or a situation they may have. 

I paid conscious attention to all that was being communicated to me.  I provided a receptive environment, listened with the intent of being influenced, and was present.

I listened for: significant content, the heart of the matter, the communication style and preferences of the other person, and what the person already knows.

In addition, I practiced my nonverbal and active listening skills.

For those familiar with the Blanchard’s Coaching Essentials® for Leaders program, what I described above is the “Listen to Learn” portion of the L.I.T.E. model.

What I learned from my little social experiment is that these coaching techniques really work and made for a more entertaining and fulfilling night than if I decided not to use them with the intention to learn about others.

In the comments section below, please share your experiences in using these coaching techniques and the reactions you received from others.  Thanks!

The Power of Observational Feedback

By Linda Miller, MCC

When you think about giving feedback, what’s your first response?  Mine is, “Do I HAVE to??”  Making observational feedback can help. Observational feedback is information that’s shared without a request for change. It’s just an observation. For example, “You seemed quieter than usual in the meeting this morning. Hope everything is ok.”  Or, “Your energy level is different, and it looks like you’re enjoying the new project.”Monkeys

Observational feedback gives information that may not be otherwise recognized by the person receiving it.  It can confirm something that’s going on or point out something new. The best observational feedback is non-judgmental and timely. It’s a data point.  Our hypothesis is that if we increase the positive and observational feedback, it will decrease the need for feedback asking for a behavior request or change.

Last week, I had the privilege of working with some very talented managers.  During one of the sessions, we asked the managers to give each other observational feedback. Here’s a response from one of the participants: “When we were giving observational feedback to each other, someone gave me some feedback that I always knew but finally heard.  I can’t wait to start applying everything that I have learned.”  That’s the power of observational feedback.  Try it. Notice what happens.

Smile!

I have often received feedback that I need to smile more.  This is not to say I’m not generally a happy person or that I’m angry all the time.  Rather, I am probably more serious of a person than I need to be which most of the time doesn’t allow me the opportunity to smile more.
Smile
On a weekend grocery shopping trip with my wife, I decided to see what it would be like to be constantly smiling as I pushed the cart through the aisles and checkout line.  I noticed a few things about myself and reactions from others.  By smiling more, I didn’t get as frustrated as I normally do with crowds or people who leave their carts in the middle of the aisle to go sample food.  Also, I found it took an incredible amount of concentration and energy to keep smiling throughout my grocery buying experience.

What I noticed from others is that they smiled back, were more polite and wanted to engage me in conversation.  My wife was also enjoying my little experiment.  She couldn’t stop smiling herself and laughing at the positive reactions I was getting from others.

What I realized from my experiment is the amount of energy and concentration it required to be fully present and focused on a task that felt unnatural to me.  However, the positive reaction I got from others far outweighed the effort on my part.

Whether coaching a client through this type of experience or encouraging yourself to try something that feels unnatural or awkward, I encourage you to go for it!  As a suggestion, during your next meal, try holding your fork in your opposite hand and see what reactions come up for you and others.

Please share your experiences and the reactions of others with us in the comment section below.  Thanks!

Make Your Thinking Visible

By Linda Miller, MCC

While teaching a coaching class this past week, a participant said, “This is what I’d like to say to my coaching partner, ‘I have feedback for you, and my intent is for your development, not to hurt you.’ But, how should I say it?”  My response was simple: I encouraged her to say it exactly like that!Lightbulb

When we put our intent into the statement, we make our thinking visible. In this case, it means sharing our motive.  Making our thinking visible is a powerful way of communicating.  I first learned of this concept many years ago from Kepner-Tregoe  where it is included in the 4 characteristics of world class organizations.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if others made their thinking visible to us? How many times do we try to guess what is meant or what the motive is?  How much miscommunication might be avoided if we make our thinking visible?

Here’s the challenge for all of us, me included:  Let’s be intentional to make our thinking visible for 24 hours and notice what happens!  I’ll accept that challenge, starting immediately.  How about you?

The Qualities of Great Leadership

As Nelson Mandela was laid to rest on Sunday, among the hills of his ancestral homeland, it made me think about what made Mandela the great leader that people spoke of.
Nelson Mandela
The people of South Africa said the following about their former leader:
“I’ve always seen Mandela as a father figure.”
“I’ve always admired his humanity, openness and forgiveness.”
“He taught us to love one another.”

I think the quotes above and my own belief is that a great leader isn’t just about what a person does, but also who they are as a person.

For me personally, some qualities of a great leader include: being of service to others, trustworthiness, dependability, compassion and love. 

I think many of these leadership qualities are also true of a great coach.

In conclusion, one of my favorite leadership quotes is by Nelson Mandela who says, “It is better to lead from behind and put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur.  You take the front line when there is danger.  Then, your people will appreciate your leadership.”

I am curious about your thoughts on Mandela or what you feel are qualities of a great coach or leader.  Please share your comments below so others may benefit from your wisdom.  Thanks!

Leadership and Learning

by Linda Miller, MCC

It’s hard to believe that JFK died 50 ago.  Because of the 50-year mark, there’s been lots of talk about him and his death recently.  He left quite a legacy, as we’re all aware.  Lead & Learn Pic

In preparing to lead a class on coaching around managing and leading, I found an interesting quote:

Leadership and learning are indispensible to one another. 
John F. Kennedy

How very true that is!  As leaders and managers, we need to remember that we learn, too. Learning is not just for the people we lead.  Reading the quote made me think about what I’ve learned, or re-learned, recently:

  1. We’re all leaders in one way or another – at home, in the workplace, in places of faith, in communities, with ourselves. Embracing ourselves as leaders is important.
  2. Leadership is about character and values and living out our values consistently. This builds trust and creates a safe environment for others to do and be their best.
  3. People watch everything that we do.  When our actions and words are aligned, we model congruency and inspire others to do the same.
  4. Each day is a day to be grateful – grateful for what we have, for those who around us, and for the gifts we’ve been given externally and internally.

The words of JFK have made me reflective and thankful, especially at this season, and ready for more learning….how about you?