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saying no just isn’t easy

December 12, 2014

With a full calendar and hardly a minute to spare many of us are in danger of being overwhelmed by the amount of work we have taken on. We all know that the quickest way to create some space and take a breath is to just say “no”. From William Ury’s best seller “The Power of a Positive No” to the advice of well-meaning friends we are told that we shouldn’t be afraid to say no. But many people are.

Saying no isn’t easy.

Dealing with our emotional response to thought of saying no is one thing, dealing with how other people react to being told no is a completely different thing all together. We want to be seen as being more than just competent. We want to earn the trust of our colleagues and we need to get the work done. So we say yes with the consequences that the important but not urgent works slips further behind, we rush to produce work of a quality below what we are capable of and we fear we will burn out if this continues much longer.

One of the things I have said yes to recently and I am glad I did was the opportunity to spend some time with a group of female leaders and get to the heart of why we often struggle to say no and what action we can take to make it easier.

It was a great session with a lot of nodding going on as I shared the framework provided by Silvan Tomkins to understand and identify our emotional reactions to saying no and being told no. Not surprising as it is truly intuitive. It is the stuff that you didn’t know you knew!

I took the opportunity to capture the content from that session and create a 30 minute on-line, video based program. It was (and still is) very much a learning experience for me but I satisfied with the result. I am currently making the course available for free and I wanted to let you all be some of the first to experience it. Problem is that at the time of writing it has been live for just 48 hours on Udemy.com and there are already 480 students enrolled! My apologies about that, I just didn’t expect it to be so popular.

I would like you to take the course for free as a thank you for supporting my blog just follow this link: Saying no just isn’t easy

I would love you to check out the content and leave me a review. Let me know what you thought was valuable and what you think I could do to improve the course or add new content. And feel free to share the link with your friends. I have plans for many more courses so I am keen to learn as much as I can from this first one.

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If you would like me to come and share with you and your team the insights that come from the experiential learning environments that I create, make me an offer via the Contact Me page.

If you enjoyed reading this or my other posts and you would like to read more, you can subscribe and receive them via email simply by putting your email address into the Email Subscription box just on the right of my blog home page. You will receive a confirmation email (which some systems will think is spam so keep an eye on your junk mail) that you need to acknowledge to complete the subscription process.

After you have subscribed, send this post on to your friends. Go on. You know at least one person who should read this post and three more who could use a bit of shaking up… seriously. Do it now. You read this far so send it on! I promise they won’t judge you or think less of you if you do.

 

looking a bit backwards – Part 5 – means not ends

December 11, 2014

This is the 5th in my looking backwards series examining what corporations have forgotten in the last 50 years. It is based on a document I found from 1968 entitled GUIDING PRINCIPLES AND OBJECTIVES IN EMPLOYEE RELATIONS. The earlier piece on the value of credit and criticism can be read here

In this day of e-mail, text, iMessage, MSMessenger, Yammer, Facebook, Twitter and intranets you would think organisations would have communication covered. Employees should be better informed about what is going on in their organisation than at any other time in history. It is clearly not the case as I have lost count of the number of times I have asked the people I meet what they have got coming up in the next few months only to have them tell me:

  • that they do not know,
  • that they do not know what role they will be in or who they will be reporting to,
  • that they do not know if they will have a job, or worse
  • that they do not know because their position has been made redundant.

As an occasional series I tend to forget that I have the wisdom of my 1968 Corporation to draw on to provide some perspective. Today I am looking at the last three elements of the first section entitled INDIVIDUAL RECOGNITION which sets out management’s responsibilities in ensuring that each person, whatever their job, has the opportunity to develop their talents and receive recognition for their successful efforts.

Means not ends

You can see the consequences of forgetting these three principles playing out in many places around the world at the moment but for me it is showing up most clearly here in my home State. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you work for Government or for a private corporation at the moment – both seem to have chosen to ignore them.

One of the worst examples that I have heard of is a team of Government employees having spent weeks wondering what the future holds for them  being told on Thursday to attend a mandatory Friday 9 am meeting. It was common knowledge that the meeting was being called to tell them they were no longer needed.  Assembled anxiously as a group it was left to a senior manager to announce to them that there was nothing to announce and they should go back to work.

A mandatory meeting to announce there is nothing to announce!

The particularly vigorous media criticism of Government job cuts the night before may or may not be the reason for the announcement that there was nothing to announce, but the result was a group of employees who were expected to continue working productively knowing that they were not being kept informed of their personal status or of the circumstances which affect them or their group. I know of similar meetings in the private sector that have followed the same script.

Which begs the question, why does this keep happening?

My 1968 Corporation knew the answer was means not ends.

MEANS an agency, instrument, or method used to attain an end (or result): The telephone is a means of communication. There are several means of solving the problem.

I think the answer lies in section 1.7.  … systems, organisational structure and associated procedures should be put in place as a means of implementing the successful efforts of those by whom and for whom they were made rather than as ends in themselves. Casting this principle aside, many who see themselves as leaders today seem to believe that changes in organisational structure (making people redundant, changing reporting lines, shifting or embedding resources) is all that needs to happen. Once it is eventually announced and people have changed desks, changed their email footers and changed their roles then that is apparently the end. Change implemented.

Perhaps the worst example of this is the organisation that periodically ranks itself against others in their sector or industry and decides they have too many people. Positions are cut, contracts ended, people are hurt, lives are disrupted. There are no changes to systems as the organsiation longer has the people needed to develop or effectively implement those changes. It wouldn’t matter if they did because those employees who remain in the organisation have taken on up the slack and are too busy to help make those systems serve them. Few of the benefits of the new structure or system are realised beyond short-term cost savings, management sheet responsibility for this failure to poor project teams or, perversely, poor systems for project management.

A few contractors and part-timers are employed to help ease the load, then additional full-time positions are justified and before long it is suggested that the organisational structure needs to be reviewed. Someone thinks it is a good idea to benchmark against other similar organisations …. and so the vicious cycle continues.

Some days I do wonder if the leaders of our 1968 Corporation, who looked forward to the advances we would make in the 50 years since, would look at how we operate today and conclude that we are looking more than just a bit backward.

***

This is the 5th in my occasional series looking backwards to find a way forward series examining what corporations have forgotten in the last 50 years. The first piece in the series can be read here.

If you enjoyed reading this or my other posts you can subscribe and receive them via email simply by putting your email address into the Email Subscription box just on the right of my blog home page. You will receive a confirmation email (which some systems will think is spam so keep an eye on your junk mail) that you need to acknowledge to complete the subscription process.

After you have subscribed, send this post on to your friends. Go on. You know at least one person who should read this post… seriously. Do it now. You read this far so send it on.

don’t waste your life living in this moment

November 25, 2014

It is the thing to do right now. Be mindful! Be present in this moment! Look at all the good things you have right now and be grateful for them!

Dangerous advice.

It starts out harmless enough. Being present brings into your awareness just how wonderful this moment is. And this moment. Then comes the gratitude. “Life is actually pretty good…”

That is the sting in the tail. That is the point you should be very careful.

For many the next step is “Wouldn’t life be great if it could be like this all the time!”

Nobody wants to be present to the pain, to the suffering, to the parts of our lives that suck. We don’t feel like being grateful for those moments. We want them to pass as quickly as possible.

Living in the good moments becomes a trap when we start trying to make the current moment permanent. As soon as that happens you are living in the past and trying to recreate something that is forever gone. That is the moment when you begin wasting the rest of your life.

Don’t do it.

Be alive.

***

If you would like me to come and share with you and your team the insights that come from the experiential learning environments that I create, make me an offer via the Contact Me page.

If you enjoyed reading this or my other posts and you would like to read more, you can subscribe and receive them via email simply by putting your email address into the Email Subscription box just on the right of my blog home page. You will receive a confirmation email (which some systems will think is spam so keep an eye on your junk mail) that you need to acknowledge to complete the subscription process.

After you have subscribed, send this post on to your friends. Go on. You know at least one person who should read this post and three more who could use a bit of shaking up… seriously. Do it now. You read this far so send it on! I promise they won’t judge you or think less of you if you do.

 

they are wrong. Life is a dress rehearsal.

October 17, 2014

You are probably sick of them filling up your Facebook and Twitter feeds. Images of someone who has apparently just conquered some huge obstacle overlaid with the words “Life is not a dress rehearsal!”

They are wrong. Whoever created them clearly has no understanding of the rehearsal process. Or of life.

If we were to take them at their word it would require us to (literally) conceive of great dancers emerging into this world to be presented with their touring schedule across North America and Europe. Great guitarists picking up a ukulele and delivering virtuoso performances to their preschool class (introduced of course by the child born to be a local government representative and watched over by tiny toddler teachers and police officers keeping a watchful eye so that the one kid born a fully competent petty criminal doesn’t nick off with the milk and cookies).

A 'real' dress rehearsal

A ‘real’ dress rehearsal

The rehearsal process is an environment full of mistakes. I think of rehearsals as the process of finding all the ways not to say a line, all the ways that do not work, in the expectation that you will find some that do. And in all the best productions I have been in that process never ends. Dress rehearsal is the time for giving it your all under the additional pressure of knowing that tomorrow the audience for your what you have to offer will grow significantly larger.

Isn’t that what we hope for every day? That tomorrow we will have a slightly larger opportunity to make a difference in the world?

Dress rehearsal is a time when you become acutely aware that while it might you be out there under the lights you are completely dependent on the technician in the lighting box to bring them up and the stage crew to  ensure that everything else you need is there at the time you need it. Isn’t that the same as our ‘real’ lives. We can achieve very little without the support of others.

In dress rehearsals there are mistakes. There are always mistakes. And that is good because mistakes create a new space for improving our performance.

Forgotten lines and missed cues open the door to new ways of responding the provokes something altogether delightful that has never happened before.

I think you will find that even those who are at the peak of their performance, regardless of their field of endeavour, treat each performance as an opportunity to learn, an opportunity to improve.

So tell me again that life is not a dress rehearsal?

Every day we do the best we can in our given circumstances to ensure we have prepared as best we can – and yet we know that we could be better. We know that we will be nervous and that there is a chance that something will go wrong.

When our day is over we accept whatever feedback the audience has to offer, we take off our costume and we retreat back into our ‘other’ life knowing that tomorrow we will wake up and do it all again.

Each performance that you give is really just a dress rehearsal for the performance that will follow

So don’t believe what they tell you on Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr/Instagram/Pinterest….

Life is a dress rehearsal. Or at least it should be if you want to get the best out of the performance that is your life.

***

If you would like me to come and share with you and your team the insights that come from the experiential learning environments that I create, make me an offer via the Contact Me page.

If you enjoyed reading this or my other posts and you would like to read more, you can subscribe and receive them via email simply by putting your email address into the Email Subscription box just on the right of my blog home page. You will receive a confirmation email (which some systems will think is spam so keep an eye on your junk mail) that you need to acknowledge to complete the subscription process.

After you have subscribed, send this post on to your friends. Go on. You know at least one person who should read this post and three more who could use a bit of shaking up… seriously. Do it now. You read this far so send it on! I promise they won’t judge you or think less of you if you do.

 

it is like learning to ride a bike – we never forget, we rarely remember

October 2, 2014

There is always one.

The one in front and the one behind.

One who appears to be more skilled. One who is trying their best to keep up.

There are at least two in every neighborhood. Two kids on bikes. And a hill. (Because they are connected at a level that we cannot understand. Where there are kids and bikes they will find a hill and they will ride down it. Or they will make one.)

If you watch them ride down the hill you will see the ones. The one in front and the one behind.

The one who rides with confidence and the one who tries to look confident. One who is leading and one who is trying to follow.

I identify with that one. It didn’t seem to matter what the vehicle was – bike, skateboard or go-cart – I  recall always trying to keep up. (Perhaps it could be considered as an early demonstration of leading from behind?) That is why there was an instant feeling of empathy when I saw them riding down the street. My street, the street that like them, I grew up in and on. Two of them. Riding across the footpaths and driveways of my childhood. I remembered. Fear played a big part of it. And joy too? Avoiding fear is a source of joy and it may be in those early experiences that we set ourselves up for the patterns of our later life.

A lot will depend on those early successes. And the failures.

We may learn that fear can be overcome through practice, by mastery of whatever skills we need to ride down hill or up hill or swim or jump or run or lead.

We may learn that danger can be avoided and fear can be sidestepped by following after others who have made the path safe(r) for us, or by watching from the sidelines or from the safety of our home (“I think I can hear mum calling, I gotta go…”)

Both outcomes are sources of real joy for us. Both are effective and valid ways of reducing fear in a particular context. We rarely remember that when we grow up. We forget that we were all once kids holding too tightly to the handle bars.

We forget that the lessons we learnt then are lessons that we learnt well and they are the lessons that we never forget.

We ask others to move beyond their comfort zones, to ride a little bit faster, to head down a new track … and we are surprised when they step out to take a quick call from their mother or partner and then don’t return.

We wonder why life doesn’t present us with the same opportunities it seems to present to others – all the while letting others go on ahead to explore the new path, declining offers because we have something to do at home, or turning up late to the pivotal meeting because we had to take a call…

And we will both be happy in our own way. The one in front and the one behind. Because we have both found ways to deal with our fears. We both found ways to navigate down the hills and across the footpaths and driveways of our neighbourhoods.

Except that now we are not. And neither are they.

The context has changed so maybe it might be time for us to change too?

***

If you would like me to come and share with you and your team the insights that come from the experiential learning environments that I create, make me an offer via the Contact Me page.

If you enjoyed reading this or my other posts and you would like to read more, you can subscribe and receive them via email simply by putting your email address into the Email Subscription box just on the right of my blog home page. You will receive a confirmation email (which some systems will think is spam so keep an eye on your junk mail) that you need to acknowledge to complete the subscription process.

After you have subscribed, send this post on to your friends. Go on. You know at least one person who should read this post and three more who could use a bit of shaking up… seriously. Do it now. You read this far so send it on! I promise they won’t judge you or think less of you if you do.

are you working above your threshold of perception (or why wombats are not suited for apartment living)

September 5, 2014

It is my opinion that young wombats are not particularly suited to apartment living. While I am not a wombat expert I feel justified in making that declaration because there was a brief period in my life when I shared an apartment with a young wombat. It was not a particularly relaxed or peaceful period.

I suspect the wombat felt the same way.

The wombat was an orphan and my wife had responsibility for caring for her outside of business hours at the wildlife sanctuary. In between feeding and sleeping, young Minibus (she was somewhat tastelessly named after the vehicle that had made her an orphan) would be allowed to exercise herself in the lounge room. Her preferred mode of operation was to point herself in a particular direction and then charge off at high-speed until she hit something.

To me she always seemed surprised by the inevitable collision. And annoyed. She would try to bite whatever she had collided with as if she was blaming the wall or the lounge chair or my foot for getting in her way.

Adult wombats are big, powerful, determined and generally slow-moving. Their high-speed defensive charge probably works very well in their normal habitats which have fewer walls and chairs. I was left wondering if that with less to collide with the average wombat didn’t need to develop a lot skill in rapidly taking up information about their surrounding visual environments. Their ability to perceive their surroundings would be fine when they move slowly, but when their speed of movement exceeds their threshold of perception the risk of damage to them and their (apartment) environment increases dramatically.*

Try to image how fast you would be able to move if there was a delay between what is going on in your environment and when you were able to “see” it. Crossing a road would be incredibly dangerous. Lighting a gas BBQ would almost always result in burns. Correcting typos in documents would be infuriatingly slow.

Now think about your organisation? How fast is it trying to move? How quickly can it “see” changes in the environment as it moves? If you are finding that your team is running into walls that appear out of nowhere perhaps your speed of movement exceeds your threshold of perception? Instead of getting annoyed at the wall (or enduring self-imposed organisational paralysis out of fear of moving at all) perhaps you might like to consider some different responses:

  1. Slow down and pay more attention –  Paradoxically slowing down can improve your skill by initially making things harder for you. Think about riding a bike – it is only the highly skilled riders that have learned to ride very slowly or stand dynamically still.
  2. Introduce new ways of perceiving - Are there new ways of seeing the space you are operating in? Think about different mechanisms and measures that might be available to you to help detect rates of change in information. And remember that anything you think is static is just a special case where the rate of change is below your threshold of perception.
  3. Speed up your perception of your environment by reducing the waste in your processes - If you can remove the delays you can move faster and more effectively. Are there steps in your processes that no longer make sense because the external environment has changed? Were they developed for a business structure that no longer exists so there are gaps that slow the transfer of information?
  4. Change your environment - This wasn’t an option for our young wombat but you might want to consider if your way of being evolved to support you living in the bush might not be suitable now you are now living in an inner city apartment. Perhaps you need to make a move to get back to your earth moving roots?
  5. Accept that walls will appear - If you are hell-bent on going somewhere fast perhaps you need to develop features that will help you survive the inevitable collisions. Our young wombat had an impressively armoured skull (and pretty fearsome teeth) that mean she was not damaged by many things that she collided with. If you are thinking of adopting this approach just be mindful that there is always a risk of waking up an orphan.

***

If you would like me to come and share with you and your team the insights that come from the experiential learning environments that I create, make me an offer via the Contact Me page.

If you enjoyed reading this or my other posts and you would like to read more, you can subscribe and receive them via email simply by putting your email address into the Email Subscription box just on the right of my blog home page. You will receive a confirmation email (which some systems will think is spam so keep an eye on your junk mail) that you need to acknowledge to complete the subscription process.

After you have subscribed, send this post on to your friends. Go on. You know at least one person who should read this post and three more who could use a bit of shaking up… seriously. Do it now. You read this far so send it on! I promise they won’t judge you or think less of you if you do.

* If you want to get some real facts about wombats from people who know about them you might want to try sites like Wombania instead of relying on my musings based on a couple of days spent looking after one many, many years ago!

women need to practice leading before we can expect them to lead

July 18, 2014

“Do the thing and you will have the power.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Here is what I am thinking.

Women need to practise leading before we can expect them to lead. Men should practise leading before they can expect to lead.

Let me tell you why.

Research has shown that when considering a position description for a new role, women generally feel that before they can consider applying they need to know they have a demonstrated capability to meet almost 100% of the competencies of the role. Men on the other hand will apply if they believe they can meet around 60% of the competencies. From my (male) perspective that sounds about right but it goes further. If I looked at a position description and I knew I could already do 100% of the role I wouldn’t consider applying! I would see no opportunity for development and growth within the role.

Conversations I have had recently with people in senior roles support the research findings and the implications of that orientation are at the heart of why I think women are underrepresented in senior/ leadership roles.

Let’s start by accepting the hypothesis that women tend not to put themselves forward for roles that require capabilities that they feel they have not fully developed.  It would follow then that they would not get the opportunity to practise and develop those capabilities … which would mean others (usually men) would advance ahead of them, reinforcing an internal perception that they are not yet ready to take on those sort of roles. It is easy then to see how the cycle would continue. A self-deprecating spiral that sees organisations deprived of a significant amount of leadership talent.

To me the hypothesis holds and the consequences that follow are visible.

Many women, it seems, need the opportunity to practice before they feel they are capable of doing it for real. To address the imbalances in gender in senior leadership roles that means we need to provide opportunities for women to practise before we can expect them to step up and lead.

If those opportunities are not available we are setting them up for failure, asking them to ‘lean-in’ to something they fear they are unable to do. Throwing anybody in at the deep end of a pool and expecting them to swim when they have no chance to practise swimming is setting them up to drown – especially if they doubt their ability. Some do end up swimming but many end up fearing the water.

Many men, it seems, take a different approach. They walk around watching others in the pool while telling you how fast they will be able to swim if they get the new role. They dive in and thrash about and (just) manage to keep their head above water. Their technique is terrible and they spend a lot of time and organisational energy while they are learning how to do it better all the while setting a bad example for those who might be walking around the pool ready to follow them.

I believe neither approach delivers the leadership we need.

Thinking about the challenge of leadership in this way makes a solution clear:  Provide opportunities for meaningful practice for everyone before they dive in to a leadership role.

That is easier said than done in the leadership space so here are the four key attributes of leadership programs that you need to look for:

1. Ensure the target capability is actually being practised – I have to actually do it. As Emerson said, do the thing and you will have the power. Reading about how to do it isn’t the same. Reading about how other have done it isn’t the same. Discussing how others have succeeded or failed – not good enough. Watching a replay of the olympic final is very different to swimming it (or for that matter earning the right to swim it).
2. Ego involvement – I need to have skin in the game. If my ego is not involved then I am not going to learn and I am not going to engage. Delivering a presentation to a mirror is not the same as delivering it to the board. Swimming laps against the clock in your pool at home is not the same as racing others in front of a screaming crowd. Your leadership program needs to provide an opportunity to do it with and in front of others so that ego is involved.
3. Failure is mandatory – the program must create opportunities that provide safe ways for me to fail. If you do not fail you cannot learn and you will not grow as a leader. Any program that guarantees success will fail.
4. Real consequences but no damage – I must feel the pain. This is the part most development programs miss. If a two-hour session to discuss case studies is scheduled as part of a development program the main consequences are associated with my showing up or not to discuss them. If my attendance at the pool is all that is needed that will not drive me to develop the skills I need to swim well. But it has to be safe for me and for others in my organisation.

The best programs will create opportunities that do all four simultaneously. Allows participants to practise the target capability, in a way that they care about and that engages and involves their ego, with consequences attached to their failures that are real but result in no real world damage.

If you can do that then you can expect leaders of all genders will lead and lead well.

***

If you would like me to come and share with you and your team the insights that come from the experiential learning environments that I create, make me an offer via the Contact Me page.

If you enjoyed reading this or my other posts and you would like to read more, you can subscribe and receive them via email simply by putting your email address into the Email Subscription box just on the right of my blog home page. You will receive a confirmation email (which some systems will think is spam so keep an eye on your junk mail) that you need to acknowledge to complete the subscription process.

After you have subscribed, send this post on to your friends. Go on. You know at least one person who should read this post and three more who could use a bit of shaking up… seriously. Do it now. You read this far so send it on! I promise they won’t judge you or think less of you if you do.

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