To Beat Defeat is Really Neat

The last couple of days I’ve been doing some redesign work on our department intranet site. Things were moving along pretty well until I encountered a problem. I knew what I wanted to do and felt confident I knew how to make it happen but, for whatever reason, it just wasn’t working.

I was puzzled and slightly frustrated since everything appeared to be done correctly. I had reviewed and analyzed all the little details of my work to see if I missed something. I couldn’t find anything. So I started experimenting with different settings that might have contributed to my problem. That didn’t work either. At this point, slight frustration turned into genuine frustration.

I picked the brain of my colleague in the office next door as he’s worked on a similar project. He couldn’t find anything out of place either and suggested I call our expert up in the I.T. department. But by this point, I was committed to figuring this one out. I refused to admit defeat!

After attempting every possible minor adjustment without success, I discarded ALL my work and decided to start over again from scratch. As far as I know, I did everything the same the second time around only this time, it worked! I threw my hands up in victory and danced around my office while laughing uncontrollably. (OK, so I may have exaggerated that a bit but I was obviously pretty pleased with myself.) Even though I can’t tell you exactly why it worked the second time but not the first, I did learn some new techniques and approaches throughout the problem-solving process.

The takeaway here is that there is a huge learning opportunity and an enormous level of satisfaction to be gained from solving a problem. And in order to solve a problem, you need to allow for the extra time involved. In this instance, I spent an extra two or three hours that I hadn’t originally planned for but the emotional return far outweighed the time investment. Had I escalated the issue to our I.T. department, the problem may have been solved a little quicker, though no guarantees, but I wouldn’t have the same emotional attachment to the outcome that I am currently experiencing. I’m still smiling!

What emotions do you experience when you solve a difficult problem? Do you learn best by doing? If not, what type of learner are you? And finally, leaders, are you allowing room for your people to problem solve?

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The Corporate Ladder: To Climb or Not To Climb

Last week I read a great post by Ted Coine over at the Switch And Shift blog that really resonated with me. The title of the post was, “You and Your People: Very Different Motivations.” In his post, Ted challenges the common leadership assumption that all employees want and need to continue their ascent up the corporate ladder.

“One of the worst problems we have is that we put ourselves in the shoes of others, rather than trying to understand what the world looks like to them from their shoes.”

In his post, Ted shares the story of a friend who is currently in an uncomfortable place of contentment in her current role. As she or anyone who has found themselves in this situation can attest, it is uncomfortable because you don’t want your being content to be misinterpreted as being unmotivated or disengaged. To avoid these dreaded labels, here are some tips to consider when explaining to your supervisor that, “All I really want is to do my job even better than I do now…”

  • Know Your Role, Grow Your Role. Understand and be able to explain how your role adds value to the organization. Additionally, continually look for ways to enhance and improve your role and be prepared to share those ideas.
  • Share How Your Vision and Values Align With Those of the Organization. Even if you’re not 100% totally aligned, sharing the commonalities can go a long ways toward helping your supervisor understand that you’re still on board with the program.
  • Request More Frequent Reviews/Check-Ins. Never say never…6 months or 6 years from now, you’re liable to change your mind and want to start climbing the ladder again. Whether that’s the case or not, requesting more frequent feedback helps demonstrate that you’re serious about continuing to excel in your current role, while also providing a forum to discuss future opportunities should they arise.
  • Help Them Get To Know You Better. Odds are your feelings of contentment are influenced heavily by what’s going on in your personal life. Allowing your supervisor to have some insight into that should help them understand why you feel the way you do.

Do you have any other tips? Have you ever had this conversation, either as employee or as manager? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Who Is My Audience?

I recently saw a well-known company’s new ad campaign for the first time. And while I thought it was creative and well-executed, I couldn’t help but think that it likely wouldn’t resonate with 75% of their target audience. And while that in itself is a big problem, a bigger problem came to mind…not only would the campaign likely not resonate with that large and substantial majority of their audience, but it might actually offend or push some of them away altogether.

Obviously, I doubt pushing existing or potential clients away is that company’s intent. However, it reminds us of a very important question we all need to ask at times…
“who is my audience?”

Whether you’re an organization unleashing a new ad campaign or a leader trying to influence a call to action, it’s important to know and understand your audience. You might have the greatest idea in the world but if you aren’t able to pitch it in a way that appeals to your audience, then it becomes a wasted effort.

Leadership is about influence. And in order to influence, you must be able to connect with your audience. Once you’ve identified your audience, consider their demographic profile to make sure you’re connecting on a relatable level. Try to identify potential problems with your approach up front so that you can correct ahead of time. If you think your message could possibly alienate or offend a portion of your audience, stop and adjust.

The next time you find your leadership influence isn’t influencing, stop and ask yourself, “who is my audience?”

Can you think of a time where your message wasn’t effective, or you got into trouble, because you weren’t in tune with your audience?

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Be Your Own Coach By Becoming A Journalist

In their book, Coaching in Organizations: Best Coaching Practices from The Ken Blanchard Companies, Madeleine Homan and Linda Miller define coaching as follows:

“Coaching is a deliberate process using focused conversations to create an environment for individual growth, purposeful action, and sustained improvement.”

To help initiate and guide these conversations, coaches use a series of targeted, thought-provoking questions. These questions are intended to assist the coaching client down a path of self-discovery and self-improvement. Therefore, one can conclude that great coaches ask great questions.

Even if you are already working with a coach, there will inevitably be moments in time (be it work or personal) where you will want or need to coach yourself. You may face an issue that requires immediate action and can’t wait for your next appointment with your coach. Or, perhaps you’re dealing with some smaller issues that you feel aren’t a good use of your time with your coach. Of course, those smaller issues that cause feelings of overwhelment have a way of quickly becoming larger issues if you let them fester over time.

If you are not a trained coach, just the thought of coaching yourself might cause you feelings of overwhelment. So, if you’re not a great coach who is trained to ask great questions, you need a simple framework to get you started. The one that I use was introduced to me while in journalism classes back in my grade school days.

The primary responsibility of a journalist is to capture and report the complete story. To make sure they achieve this, they rely on a basic concept most commonly referred to as The Five Ws (and one H). By adopting and implementing this simple concept you can set the context to begin coaching yourself through practically any situation.

  • Who? Who are the stakeholders? Who’s involvement is required? Who can I go to for help?
  • What?What problem am I attempting to solve? What else do I need to consider? What help do I need?
  • Where?Where is the issue unfolding? Where do I, and/or other stakeholders, need to be? Where can I go for help?
  • When?When does action need to take place? When do stakeholders need to be notified? When should I ask for help?
  • Why?Why is this an issue? Why are certain individuals involved? Why do I need help?
  • How?How did this issue arise? How will the issue be resolved? How will I reach out for help?

It is important to note that these are questions that cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no” response. This leads to deeper reflection and furthering the conversation. With this framework in place, you should be well positioned to coach yourself through your issue and/or better prepared to discuss the issue in further detail with your coach.

What other tips or tricks do you use to coach yourself when the need arises?

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Meet Your Brain

For my final post in the series on the books that have made the biggest impact on my coaching practice, I choose Your Brain at Work by David Rock.  It outlines the implications of all the recent research in neuroscience to the way we function at work – as employees, as bosses.  There are several terrific takeaways from it, notably, that the pre-frontal cortex – the front of the brain where complex calculations take place, decisions get made and self regulation gets handled – is easily exhausted.  It needs a great deal of rest and glucose.  Our ability to think clearly, make good decisions and manage ourselves erodes steadily over the course of the work day. 

David Rock also shares his model expressing what people need for their brain to be at its best, known as the SCARF Model:

Status – a clear sense of our own self worth and the acknowledgement of this perception in our environment is critical to our brains feeling good.

Certainty – we crave certainty the way we crave sugar or any other reward.  We will avoid uncertainty at all costs.

Autonomy – it is critical that we feel as much control over our environment as we are capable of managing; loss of control is interpreted by the brain as a serious threat.

Relatedness – we will naturally find what we have in common to increase relatedness, we will move toward people with whom we can relate believing them to be like ourselves, and away from those to whom we cannot relate making them “other”.

Fairness – is as rewarding as food or sex, and when things are perceived as “unfair” it causes us to feel an intense sense of threat. 

 For more on The SCARF Model check out some of David’s YouTube videos.  The book is also a really fun read, and there is a lot more that what I can share here!

The E-Myth Revisited

As a fledgling coach with a private practice, back in the day when if you said you were a coach the inevitable question was “oh, what sport?” a book that made an earth shaking difference was the E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber.  If you are in business, thinking of starting a business or have a friend or loved one who is suffering in a business, this book is a must.  There are several brilliant ideas in this book including:

  1. If you have started a business, you are either a technician (that’s what I was as a coach, so is your friend who loved to knit and started a knitting shop), a manager (the guy who understands the processes and systems that a business must have to succeed – people who buy franchises are usually managers) or a visionary (the person who sees a gap in the market place – Don Fisher started The Gap because he couldn’t find a pair of jeans, Steve Jobs wanted computers to be friendly).  You might have a little of the other two but you are primarily one of these and if you are going to succeed you need to partner with others who have the other two or find a way to grow yourself enough to get the other two covered.  It is stunningly simple and true.  The crazy thing is that as I have moved out of the small business world into the corporate world, I find that the same holds true for leaders inside organizations who need to be “intrapraneurs”.
  2. As a business owner, you need to find a way to spend as much time working on your business as you spend working in your business.  Obvious?  Maybe, but in 1995 I didn’t know it.  Again, totally applicable to people in organizations.
  3. Anything that works in the business must be systemized and if possible automated.  You have to do this so if you get the flu and can’t make it in,  the whole house of cards doesn’t fall down.  You also have to do it so you can grow.  It was the compelling evidence for how important this is that made me start my own coaching company with coaches using my system to coach the audience I had mastered.  And finally, I have used this maxim again and again as a manager in a much larger machine and it has served me well.

Michael Gerber has many other books out and has an institute and all that, but for sheer straightforward simplicity for people who maybe don’t think of themselves as “business” people, this book is a bible.

Going With the Flow

Flow : The Psychology of Optimal Experience  by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi  (pronounced mee-high  chick-sent-mee-high, my friend David Rock told me that, and he is important because he wrote one of my top books The Brain at Work) is another book that stopped me in my tracks.  Published in 1990, my copy is old, much dog eared and underlined.  The author is more recently widely known as a pioneer in the Positive Psychology arena, and his early work outlined in Flow was required reading for coaches because it was solid research about what makes people feel good.  Absent real problems like psychological damage, war or pestilence, people were coming to coaches with the objective of optimizing their existence and more specifically, their time at work.  Csikszentmihalyi says that in his studies, when people reflected on their most positive experiences they seemed to share one if not all of these characteristics:

  1. “ the experience usually occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing.”
  2. we must be able to concentrate on what we are doing.”
  3. The task has “clear goals and
  4. Provide immediate feedback
  5. There is deep but effortless involvement that shuts out the noise of everyday life
  6. We are able to exercise a sense of control over our actions
  7. Self consciousness disappears, but sense of self emerges more strongly after the experience is over
  8. The sense of time passing is altered; minutes can seem like hours, or hours can feel like minutes.” (Harper, 1991, pg. 49)

Csikszentmihalyi’s theory was that to achieve flow we needed to maintain the balance between the level of challenge of the activity, and our skill level – if the challenge is too low, we become bored, if it is too high we become overly anxious.  Each individual needs to monitor their own challenge level to keep it optimal to stay engaged. 

This rang so true for me, and it was extremely useful in work with clients who were clearly bored, but judging themselves for it, thinking they had perfectly jobs and should be happy.  Not so!  To stay in Flow, it is critical to constantly be raising the bar.  This is not totally true for everyone all the time, but for some people, some of the time, the model is extremely useful.

For more information on Flow