What keeps you up at night? A unique way to use this question

insomnia

We have all heard this question.  It is one of those What to ask a leader 101 questions.  Yesterday I heard this question used in a way that surprised me.

I saw retired Brigadier General David Hall speak.  He had many insights to share, but how he used this question was unique.  In his years of leading he developed the habit gathering his staff together at the end of each month to have a drink and some social time.  One of the things he would do during their time together was share the things that, as their leader, were keeping him up at night.  He would end with the request for help from anyone who had an idea or perspective that would make that worry go away. 

  • Shouldn’t people ask the leader this question?  Yes, but the military is not much different from business.  Sometimes people are scared or nervous to ask a leader a tough question.
  • Is it right for a leader to dump like that?  It is sharing what you are thinking and asking for help.  Dumping is this happening daily or weekly.

Not surprisingly, many of his problems went away over time. 

Why wait for a question like this to be asked first?

Developing Resilience – 4 Ways to Process Pain

Lifting a Mini car Above my head. Total weight...
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The top three most stressful events in life are:

  1. Death
  2. Divorce
  3. Job Loss

Right Management, an outplacement company and division of Manpower tells those experiencing #3 to do three things right away:

  1. Exercise
  2. Get a schedule
  3. Journal

When I share this with people trying to process a career shift or a plan #3 often stands out and evokes the question “Why?”.  The reason -pain needs to be processed to add to the tools/weapons that build resilience for future events.  Are you dealing with some event below the top 3 above.  Here are other ways to process pain/challenge:

  1. Executive coaching – A safe place to process, reset, and plan to move past it.
  2. Peer network – Few things are more comforting than knowing you are not alone in your challenges.  ALL managers and above NEED to develop this for themselves.  Don’t wait for your employer or HR team to do it for you.
  3. Read how others have done it – Like #2, finding a person with a good perspective can be comforting and will help you process things.
  4. Spouse/Best Friend – Having a ‘here is where I am’ discussion with someone who cares for and understands you is priceless.

Being alone with a challenge is not a good place to stay.  Go find a friend.

The Law of Leadership Transparency – 3 ways to apply it

 A business owner shared his survival story from the latest downturn.  When I asked him “What is different about your business now versus three years ago?” his answer made me step back.  He said “Now, my business comes before my people.”  He went on to explain when he hires he tells people up front that he is doing everything he can to keep them busy, but if the business drops off he will have to  send them home.  He also makes it clear that his best people, regardless of tenure, will be kept on as long as he can.

He learned the law of transparency, which is Be open and honest about things you want to face with someone if you expect/need them to help.  

Here are three ways to apply this law:

  • Performance discussion – If this does not feel like a conversation the law is not being applied.
  • Making a sacrifice to manage through a negative event – If people have to sacrifice then they need to know what is happening.
  • Recruiting – What is broken that this role needs to be fixed?  Say it and ask for the help before you offer the job.

Transparency can be taught, but it first has to be valued. 

Leaders who use it effectively are rewarded with trust and respect.

Leadership and . . . Valentine’s Day?

Tree decorated for Valentine's Day in San Dieg...
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In an informal poll of a half-dozen men over the last week I found that 100% of them were wishing this Hallmark holiday never existed.  Based on the line at Walgreen’s last night at 9pm, I can say the world feels a responsibility to buy something red, sweet or shiny for someone today.  Let me offer an alternative.

Valentine’s Day should be about emotionally connecting with someone you care about.

What if you put aside time on the couch, in front of a fire, or over a meal (in or out) and discussed these five questions:

  • What were the high points of our past year together?
  • What did we overcome?
  • What are the things facing us that have me worried?
  • What should we be doing more of and less of in the coming year? 
  • Why are you/this relationship so important to me?

Too often, both at work and at home, we don’t put enough value on giving our time and full focus. 

Most of my life is spent helping leaders connect with and influence the people around them.  As I look at this list it hits me that it would probably be a powerful conversation to have at work.

Sometimes I wonder if we think too much and don’t feel enough.

Lead? Yes. With Laughter? Absolutely! Here is one way . .

Superman
Image by Fonzie's cousin via Flickr

A friend of mine works in a startup focused on education.  Lots to do.  Lots of stress.  One of those jobs where it would be easy to never go home and never be done.

Then along came the movie Waiting for Superman.  The team went to see it, and as part of the event he challenged them to wear Superman capes around work all day for $20.  Their response?  Absolutely.  All day, out to lunch, AND to the movie.  They even made a cape for their leader.  There was lots of work and lots of laughter that day, and in the days following.

When is your Waiting for Superman moment? 

  • Is there a festival going on outside your office?  Go.
  • Have a yo-yo expert on your team?  How about a group lesson?
  • Is there a park nearby?  How about some frisbee golf for 45 minutes.

Its Friday – do something different.  Are you leading? Maybe.  Is there any laughter?  If you are really leading there should be.

Oh, and a point of clarification.  Just the cape, not the super shirt and super tights.  That would not be funny. 🙂

Silence and Resilience

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People are often shocked when we review the results of their Birkman assessment and it identifies a need to recharge.  Those with opposite results are often surprised people need quiet time.  The really confused people work 15 hour days so they will be there when everyone leaves and they can have time to work without interruption.

  • In swimming they call it tapering.
  • In running it is called a recovery run.
  • In Europe it is called holiday.
  • In business it is too often called ‘something HR told me I have to do’.

Everyone needs time to step back and recover/reset their mind.

  • The serial decision maker needs to review which decisions they made that should have gone to their team.
  • The CFO needs to focus on a few items that the CEO graciously granted their request for more time, even if it only means an extra hour.
  • The super achiever needs to think when they smiled last – and realize they answered four calls from customers with abrupt, matter of fact responses.  At least one customer is offended.

Silence isn’t equal to doing nothing.  Silence in resilience is about cleaning the lists off the mental whiteboard and only putting one or two things back on for a short time so they get attention.

Training for resilience requires recovery at some point.

Get a Valentine’s Day Win

Cover of "For Men Only: A Straightforward...
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Each year billions of dollars are spent improving performance of individuals and teams at work.  It is important for everyone to learn and grow, and the pressure to perform is higher now than at any point in the last 20 years.

On Monday it is Valentine’s Day in America, so the performance pressure increases ten fold for anyone who is in a relationship.

Let me rescue you.  Especially you men.  My only caveat is that this advice is coming from someone who gave an amazing set of knives and a classic cookbook to his wife (then girlfriend) for their first Christmas. 

Just finished a book set by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn – One for men to better understand how women think (For Men Only) and one for women to better understand how men think (For Women Only).  Easy to read, <200 pages, entertaining, and amazingly accurate.  A worthwhile read and it will start some great conversations.  Include an IOU for a dinner/date night to talk about what you read and you are home free.

I just used those knives and cookbook tonight.  Why after 20 years am I still not vindicated? 🙂 

Development and growth is not just for work.

Communication – Always room for improvement. Right?

Nice elderly couple with ear muffs
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I keep wondering when I will get over the hump and never have to worry about my communication skills.  I thought I had kids figured out, then I had a teenager.  I thought I had marriage nailed down, then I started my business and my wife started working.  I am ready to admit that maybe I just need to keep working at it.

What about you?  Is there a person, a situation, or maybe a group that just has you scratching your head?  Here are a few resources that are staples in my library.

Communicating (listening) to yourself:

  • Career?  Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer
  • Job loss or another traumatic event?  Journal – It builds personal resilience by processing your experiences for the day/week.

Communication with spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend:  2 book series by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn – For Women Only and For Men Only

Communicating in Conflict: Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott

I am convinced that every year a standard part of any development plan should be one item around communicating more effectively with a certain person, group, or in a particular situation.  Imagine if we made a 5% improvement in this every year?

What resources for certain situations have you found helpful?  Please share your thoughts . . . .

Silence – Creating it

Snowy day.
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I have a weird tradition (at least according to my children) – I like to run in the middle of blizzards.  I have learned to love it because of the silence I experience.  Although I live in Michigan, sometimes it does not snow enough.

Most leaders I meet with display a real skill for driving action and results.  Through one of the assessments I use, the Birkman Method, some of those leaders realize they have internal needs for time to rejuvenate.  Silence helps them recover. 

Unfortunately, leaders don’t get rewarded for silence, only action and results.  The problem is without the former, focusing solely on the latter becomes a habit that can be destructive to ourselves and others.

Making a personal change requires focus and awareness, which requires some level of silence.  A mentor of mine, Doug Silsbee, teaches a technique that gives the body a moment of silence.  He calls it centering. Here is a link to his demonstration.  Our ability to adopt new ways of doing things or to deal with an unexpected event depends on our ability to center, to find silence.

If you don’t think you need it, at least allow others around you to create it. 

You do need it.  We all need it.

Silence – Why it is powerful

I like 6am in my house, because it is quiet.  The challenge with external quiet is that it makes any internal noise louder.

Silence is powerful. 

  • In an interview it tells the candidate that the question you asked is important enough to wait for an answer.
  • In a one on one with a team member it allows the leader to send the message what you have to say matters to me.
  • In a team discussion it allows the person who is hesitant to talk the time to muster up the courage to say something.

What people do with silence tells me a lot about who they are.  I once interviewed with someone who filled the 75 minute interview with 60 minutes of what they thought.  A warning sign . . . . but I still took the job.  Ended up reporting to this person 3 months later.  It did not end well.

Test your ability to create and use silence:

  • Turn off everything electronic for 60 minutes during a day.  What did the silence reveal for you?
  • Go into a meeting with your team armed with only questions.  What did your silence allow your team to reveal?
  • On your drive home today turn off your radio and phone.  How did you use the silence?

Leaders need to be creators of  silence for themselves and others.