Listen Well

I follow several thought leaders and information sources, and there are only a couple I read >90% of the time.  Seth Godin is one.

His post today was very simple:  Two ways to listen

You can listen to what people say, sure.

But you will be far more effective if you listen to what people do.

I have been working with a career transition program called Shifting Gears, that helps mid/late career professionals make successful career transitions.  Many come because they have been out of work for >6 months.   One of the most important part of the program is captured by changing Seth’s words around a little.  I would say:

Others can listen to what you say, sure.

But the relationships you build will be defined by your actions.

Others are listening, and instead of worrying about how you are perceived, focus on how you live into the words you speak.

I remember one conversation in Shifting Gears that happened as our day began, and the individual was angry, frustrated, and seeing all the barriers (plus making a few up) between themselves and work.  Two hours later, they had moved past the barriers, and were optimistic and doing the work of finding work.  In listening to their actions, it became clear that they were developing  the capacity to get knocked down, and to get back up.  I saw them do this multiple times, and each time they came to apologize to me for being so stuck and negative – – I shared with them what I saw.

“Being stuck is part of any journey, and telling me about it is fine.  My job is to just listen sometimes.  What I respect and admire is that you made the choice not to stay there.  Keep doing that and you will be fine, and the world will get a gift when you are back working.”

Seth is right, and we will be far more effective as spouses, parents, professionals, friends, and leaders if we use that lens on ourselves before we use it on others.

Listen well.

 

The Gift of Our Time

Today a new trU Tips comes out, and the topic is mentoring.  One word that will be prominent in this edition is the word GIFT.

My work is in the space of development and transition (some call it personal growth), and in that space I get to have conversations with the leaders and followers – so I get to hear both perspectives.  As I think back on all these conversations, several themes emerge:

Leaders

  • Underestimate the value people put on getting time with them.
  • Fail to leverage their own network for support in self development / development of their team/themselves.

Followers

  • Make up reasons not to ask their leader for one on one time or help.
  • Look to their organization or leader to drive their personal development.

There will be many gifts given this holiday season, and I always encourage leaders to give the gift of time.  If there is a magazine you love or a book you get excited about sharing, why not make that a gift and include a couple of hours of your time to discuss it as they read it.  If you are looking for ideas, here are the books I share (my library) and a few tips for making a book a real gift by including your time.

The late Zig Ziglar, a champion for individual ownership/growth, was once asked by a leader after one of his talks, “What if I develop someone on my team and then they leave?”  His answer, “What if you don’t develop them at all and they stay?”

We do have choices, and the choices we make with our time tells others what we value.

Make your gifts matter.

 

Ingredient #1: Owning your development

The career conversation is a tricky one.  After all, the organization provides you a check for doing your job today, and talking about tomorrow is not often on the radar of the leader because they have lots to worry about.  I have a 30-30-40 philosophy on talent conversations (30 past, 30 present, and 40 future).  The 40 is there to pull us into the future of our business and our own career so we can be intentional about preparing for it.  The reality, while it is nice for organizations and leaders to support that conversation, it is ours to own.

I am preparing to have a conversation with a group at a conference around the topic of owning your career, and the first point is simply that – decide that it is yours.  The supporting point is without being angry that someone is not taking care of you.

Too often I see people approach ownership with a caveat.  I will own it . . . .

  • Caveat 1 –  . . . if I have to.
  • Caveat 2 –  . . . since my leader does not care.
  • Caveat 3 – . . . since we all know I am just a number to this company and my job could be gone tomorrow.
  • Caveat 4 – . . . but I am still angry about the last leader who failed to see my gifts and contributions in my last job.

A critical ingredient to successfully navigating personal change lies in our perspective.  After spending a year facilitating a career transitions program called Shifting Gears I have seen ownership with and without caveats.  When we bring in unfinished business (what William Bridges refers to as endings in his book Transitions) it sabotages the effort and will block that path to success.  When our endings/caveats are gone, the personal transformations are nothing short of amazing.  I love seeing those stories unfold.

So when you commit to owning your career, start by asking yourself these questions:

  • Why am I doing this? (5-10 bullets)
  • What are the things I expect to get out of it?
  • How do I feel about what I have to do?
  • What help do I need and from who?

Leverage a close friend to proof your answers for caveats / unfinished endings.

If you are a leader, it is not your job to do this work for your people, but it is your job to support it.  Support is often just about listening.

Perspective shifting resources

It is hard to shift our perspective on our own.  I recommend a few of books in my libraryLinchPin by Seth Godin, Mastery by George Leonard, or Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer are all books that help paint a picture of ownership that might help you make a healthy shift to ownership without baggage.

One video I have used in training to help people see the power of perspective is Celebrate What’s Right With The World by DeWitt Jones.  It does an amazing job of painting a picture of how perspective changes everything.  It is 20 minutes well spent.

 

4 Performance Words – What Seth said, and What I think

Seth Godin recently blogged about performance, and outlined four kinds:  Bad, Good, Remarkable, and Personal.  Here is the whole post.

In a world where we too often treat performance with labels like Right person/Right seat or A player / B player / C player – it is good to just use words that we all know.

Leading performance is about not walking by the work without letting people know what you see.  It is about getting their view of the work and what they see in others.  It about celebrating things being done, asking a few questions to plant seeds that might lead to a different view of the work, and challenging people to a different level of involvement and ownership.  Try these:

  • Where did you see passion in someone else’s work this week?  How can we celebrate that?
  • How did you personalize your work this week and who benefited from it?
  • What work do you have in front of you that has a chance to be remark-able in how you do it?  What will make it worthy of that label?

Of course you ask these questions, listen, and always revisit them.

Personally, I would drop Bad and Good in favor of Absent and Solid.

I like reading Seth – his thoughts are generally remark-able.

 

Process Trumps Solution – If relationships matter . . .

If relationships matter, then the process trumps the solution.

At a recent Family Business Alliance event in Grand Rapids, Michigan, family business expert Greg McCann shared this quote in the context of a story.  The story was of a older business owner who had just put together a plan for passing his business on to his wife and two sons after his death.  The plan assembled by his lawyer and accountants put one son in charge who was part of the business and desired the top job, and make the other two financially comfortable.  When McCann asked him when he was going to share the plan, his response was “when I die it will be part of my will.”  McCann’s only advice was simple – if you want this to work, they need to know about it now so that they can work out the details and any disagreements or problems can be addressed while you are here.  If relationships matter (this is a family, so this IS the goal), then process trumps the solution.

We can learn a lot in talent management and leadership about building relationships from family business.  I created a talent calendar with the single goal of defining the events (process) that produced the best opportunity to talk, listen, support, and problem solve throughout the year for a leader and a follower. While content is important, presence and process is the goal.

I am reminded of a study shared in the book SWAY by Ori and Ram Brafman.  A survey given to convicted felons about the judicial process and how fairly they were treated.  In the end, two factors emerged as significant on their perception of fairness.  As was expected, the inmates placed a lot of importance on the outcome, which was the sentence they received.  But almost equally weighted was how much time their lawyer spent with them.  Process matters.

If relationships matter, then open and honest dialogue during process of setting the goal is more important than the goal being set.  Talent management is about process and the relationships that happen when it is done well.

How to get better at delivering feedback? First, get better at receiving it.

I am in the process of reading/reviewing Jodi Glickman’s book Great On The Job – What To Say, How To Say It – The Secrets of Getting Ahead.  As I go through it I will share some thoughts that make me go Hmmmm . . .  This posting is based on one of those moments.

What is the secret to speaking what you feel about someones performance and having it end up in a place where the relationship is still intact (or stronger) and your thoughts are heard?

The first and only tip – Focus on how you request and receive feedback from others.

I read Jodi Glickman’s book Great on the Job, and one quote is stuck in my head.  It is under the chapter of Ask for Feedback and the heading of Say Thank You.  The quote is (p. 129):

The goal, however, is continuous improvement and learning, not just feeling good.  If you have a tough feedback session, remind yourself that the goal of the session is not to make you feel good.  The goal is to make you better at your job.

 

Talent management is about great conversations, and the definition of a conversation is a form of interactive, spontaneous communication between two or more people who are following rules of etiquette. (wikipedia)  We all need to hear what is going well, but we have to be able to hear what we can do better.  At the heart of this conversation is a lot of smaller conversations around –  How am I doing?  What is going well and where do I need to improve?

How can we use this as individuals?

First, recognize that giving feedback is a lost art for many leaders who are, themselves, caught in a spot where nobody is telling them what they are doing well (when is the last time you told your leader about something they did well?) and the list of to do’s is only getting longer.  So, our job as individuals is to ask for it well,  stay calm in the moment of receiving it, and respond by saying thank you without our faces getting red or our jaws tightening.  Then do something with it that creates momentum for you and the organization.

Second, put extra focus into defining your role/objectives and own the one on one time with your leader.  This makes talking about performance  easier.  Here is a template if you want an example of what that looks like.

Getting and giving good feedback is not easy, but it is pretty simple.  I wonder what would happen if both leaders and followers read this one chapter together and tried it for a couple of months.  My guess is some great conversations would happen.

What tips do you have for giving/getting good feedback?

The Hidden(and not so hidden) Impact Of A Question

A recent WSJ article highlighted the impact on the brain of being able to talk about ourselves.  Talking about ourselves (which we spend 40% of our conversations doing) triggers the same sensation of pleasure in the brain as food or money.  It is a great article – here is the link.

Talent management is about having great conversations.  Sure the processes (interview/selection, onboarding, performance, succession planning, one on ones, etc) are important, but the impact of being present in that time and having both parties open to sharing, questioning, and listening makes the biggest impact.  I like this article because it provides some science behind what we know – it is healthy for us if someone is there to listen.

So what to do with this?  Here are two ways to enable more listening as a leader and one as a follower:

For the leader:

  1. Make the one on one the responsibility of the your team member.  Their agenda (with imput from you) to cover what they need to and what they want to.  (Here is a link to a template and calendar for this)  There should be a time limit – but let them talk, and you listen.
  2. Make a habit to get groups of employees together monthly to celebrate something (birthdays, employment anniversaries, etc.) and listen.

For the Follower:

  1. When your leader comes around or asks “Are their any questions?”, be ready to ask.  Here are two to keep around:  What is one thing that has been keeping you up at night lately?  What have you learned lately?

In the book Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam he makes the case that if someone is a smoker and a loner it will have a greater impact on their life expectancy if they kept smoking and found some friends.  It is healthy to be listened to, and we need to remember to return the favor.

3 Simple Habits To Help Strengthen Teams

Are there things about you that people do not know?  We all know the answer to that question – but is anything on that list that others need to know?  Maybe you love to problem solve.  Maybe you led a team of 20 people at one point in your career.  Maybe there is some part of the business you want to learn more about.  Maybe you get 150 emails a day and prefer phone calls.

Are there things about you that others see and you do not?

Several years ago a friend shared some feedback with me that we still laugh about. He told me that whenever he told a story, I usually followed up with a better one. I did not realize it – but watched myself for a few days and there it was – the proof.   It was funny, and I was unaware of it.   In JoHari Window language, it was a BLIND SPOT.Talent Management tool - JoHari Window

If you are not familiar with it, here is a link to a short YouTube video that explains it.

Talent management is about having great conversations.  When we talk, we develop relationships with the people around us, and at the core of those relationships is knowledge that we bring to every interaction.

Here are 3 tips to continually develop your team and teamwork.

TIP 1: As part of any team meeting spend 5 minutes asking/answering these questions:

  • This week – What are two wins?  What is keeping me up at night?

These questions are almost guaranteed to  keep a steady flow of HIDDEN items that will be valuable for the team to know.

TIP 2: When you have an off-site and you are looking for ways to get people sharing/laughing – have everyone answer the following questions for themselves and their teammates.  Next, go around the room and have others share first, seeing if they matched answers with the individual.

  • What is one thing I am really good at doing?
  • How do you know I am having a good day?
  • How do you know when I am stressed?
  • How do you know I am listening / not listening?

After this, watch the JoHari Window video and ask the questions:  What came out in our last discussion that could be considered HIDDEN? A BLIND SPOT?  What is the impact of having that information in the OPEN area for you?  For this team?  What is one way we can be more purposeful about these conversations?

TIP 3: I often use a tool called the Team Member Fact Sheet to get people talking.  Using it as a tool to get to know new teammates or test the knowledge of existing teams.

Talent management is about great conversations.  Go have one!

Social Media, Relationships, and Leadership

Relationships are built through connections.  Connections happen when we have great conversations – – over and over again.  The numbers I preach to leaders and followers alike are:

  • 5 to 1: The optimal number of positive to negative interactions in a marriage
  • 3 to 1: The optimal number of positive to negative interactions in a work relationship
  • 3:  If we have this many close friends at work we are 96% more likely to be extremely satisfied with our life
  • If I were a smoker and a loner – I will live longer if I keep smoking and find some friends

Then comes social media.  Recently I was wondering if some day I would read a headline that would turn my world/beliefs upside down.  Something like:

  • Facebook changing the way we build close friends
  • The Tweets/day  = Happiness number is known:  14
  • Top 5 social media tools for creating healthy marriages and friendships
  • Keep Smoking, but open a Facebook account

My gut tells me that ignoring social media at work and in my life, in general, is the wrong move.  I also believe the fundamental things I preach to leaders and followers about success in work, building healthy relationships, building strong teams, and building strong companies will not change.

Then I stumbled upon a great TED talk that took on the topic of social media from Sherry Turkle called Connected, but alone? . I think I will stick with what my gut tells me – even as I continue to use Foursquare.  fyi – I just became Mayor of my street and no one treats me differently. 🙂

EXTRA:  An idea for using this video with high potentials/leadership groups: Watch the video (18 minutes) and explore the following questions:

  • How do I personally use social media tools?  What benefits do they provide me?
  • How do some of the important people in my life use them?
  • What comments from the video stand out for me?  Agree?  Disagree?
  • How can I use this to become better – Leaders?  Teammates?  Friends?  (Make one commitment)

Friday Fun – The cumulative effect of Happy moments . . .

In his interview about happiness in HBR, Daniel Gilbert makes the following statement:  “…the frequency of your positive experiences is a much better predictor of your happiness than is the intensity of your positive experiences.”  It is not the big initiatives, but the cumulative effect of the little things we do at work and at home to generate smiles that makes the biggest difference.  While we are thankful for some research – Did we really need some PhD to tell us that?

So what can we do with this?

Every culture treats humor differently.  For example, I am not sure a That Was Easy button or a zany sound effects box would work in a bank.  What about comments about what people are wearing, or smiles received or handing a sucker to a customer with a smile?  Anything where we purposely create one of those moments that Gilbert talks about will make a difference.

Maybe a good Friday goal would be to generate 6 smiles in other people.

Here is my first try:  A great video about how making people smile caused a shift in their behavior.  It made me smile, and is just good clean fun.  Take a look.