Journey to Mastery – What’s in a name? #wordsmatter

I like the word Mastery. The definition (Merriam-Webster) = possession or display of great skill or technique. I love watching Mastery at work, whether it’s a Zamboni driver at an ice rink, a teacher managing a learning space, or an engineer sharing a process created for producing great parts. True Mastery energizes me because of the energy coming from the master.

I like the word so much I named my proven process for individual development Journey to Mastery. Here is why and how.

Mastery: George Leonard wrote a book called Mastery in 1991. I give a copy to every career planning client as the ultimate guide to finding success and fulfillment in life. When a friend challenged me on this book vs a few other more popular books on this topic, I shared my rule – I don’t recommend books where the author’s picture is on the cover. Mastery is work, and while it requires inspiration, it requires a whole lot of perspiration – so I look for people who are going to help create inner strength for the journey.

Journey: This word evokes a trip from one place to another. The special part of this journey is that we don’t know exactly where it ends, but we know what a journey takes: movement, ability to react to change, and endurance.

I outline the basic steps in my publication – Own It! 5 Tips for Managing Your Career and Performance.  This time of year is a good time to return to Step 5.5 – the check-in on your progress and resetting your direction/goals for the coming year. Mastery is not about wandering, and Step 5.5 helps reset the purpose of your journey.

Another great quote from Leonard also reminds us that the Journey to Mastery is inclusive; we just need to focus on reminding ALL people, especially those that need some extra help/support because they don’t believe it is for them.

It’s available to anyone who is willing to get on the path and stay on it – regardless of age, sex, or previous experience.

How are you doing on your Journey to Mastery? How are you promoting it and supporting it in your own organization?

2017 is a great year to start.

Wondering HOW to start?

My gift to you: An outline of my proven process, Journey to Mastery – and it comes without a picture of me. 🙂

4 Books to Improve Leadership Conversations

4 Books to Improve Leadership Conversations

It is very common for leaders to have difficulty connecting with their people. But effective people-centered leadership relies upon effective conversations.

There are resources that can help; here are my top 4 book recommendations to help improve these leadership conversations, specifically the one-to-one, for you or someone you know.

I also have a library of free resources and templates to help get you started.

Johari Window and Leadership Development – 4 Ways to Increase Self Awareness

Every time I share the Johari Window with a group of leaders, I am amazed at the impact it has on their view of the conversations they have with their team.

Then I think of the group of 24 leaders that I took through a four-day leadership development program last summer; at the end, 13 of those leaders committed to focus on asking more powerful questions. I need to stop being surprised because the leaders I meet want to be people-centered leaders, they just don’t know how.

I believe most leaders want to be people-centered leaders, and when given the tools and some feedback (to indicate their effectiveness in doing it) they opt to become more effective listeners. The Johari Window is a great lens for leaders to think about their interactions and for people to see what their leaders are trying to accomplish. At the core of an honest conversation is clarity around both the actions we are taking and the intentions of those actions, which is fertile ground for feedback and developing our self-awareness and ability to lead.

Here are the 4 tips I have added to help leaders see the key activities that develop their self-awareness:

  1. Experience – The best way to learn about leadership and work on how you balance telling, asking, and listening is to do it. If you are intentional about it, you will learn a lot about yourself, and your team will help you get better.
  2. Personality Inventories – These provide a great lens into your BLIND SPOTS and help you formalize how you talk about your own strengths and weaknesses. I focus on transition points, so I use the Birkman Method assessment because of the language it presents around needs and stress behaviors. This provides great feedback for things the leader can share (revealing the HIDDEN) and things they did not see (BLIND SPOT).
  3. 360 Feedback – Sometimes this is just asking people some key questions routinely or finding an outside resource to do a survey of key people. The whole intent is to bring things into the open, by confirming something the leader already thought was in the OPEN area, or revealing a BLIND SPOT.
  4. Coaching – This is the most common way for executive leaders to create an individualized development plan and work on the personal change necessary to make it happen. Coaches provide perspective, access to additional resources/learning, and ask the questions that allow for self-reflection, personal growth, and focused action.

Here is a handout that includes 4 additional introspective tips for moving things into the OPEN area.

Use the Johari Window as a lens to help you ask more powerful questions of yourself and your team. That is what is at the core of people-centered leadership.

If you want a deeper dive, here are two short videos (video 1 / video 2) that introduce the topic and give you tangible advice on what you can do now to be a more people-centered leader.

Owning Your Performance: Gremlin Training 101

The biggest thing getting in the way of performance for most of us is US.  It is why Tony Robbins is a multi-millonaire and countless other people make a living at getting us unstuck and doing our best work.

One book that I have always liked in this area is Taming the Gremlin:  A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Out of Your Own Way by Rick Carson.  When I read his book I quickly became aware of the stories that I am telling myself and it made a big difference in how I experienced life and others.  Recently I found a video of his where he summarizes much of what he says in his book.

Here is the link – Rick Carson – Gremlin Taming Part I

Many of you are in positions where people come to you with problems, and in many cases want an answer to fix it.  If you fix it, they will likely be back with the same question next time.  If you help THEM fix it, then the next time they come back it will probably be with a bigger problem because they have the confidence to handle the other ones.  Listen well and you will hear gremlins in their story.

Keep this video handy because it challenges us to examine our stories/assumptions that become our Gremlins.

 

How to win the Talent War – part 2

Nature abhors a vacuum.  When something is left empty of a critical piece for life something will fill it.

Take performance conversations with your people as an example:

  1. When we tell them nothing – they assume they are doing great.
  2. When we don’t explain why a leadership change happened – the  small talk around the office will create a reason.  It will become the truth, and everyone except the person involved in the change will likely hear it.
  3. When you wait two weeks to talk to someone about unproductive behavior it becomes more difficult because that action has already been filed away as ‘successful’ because the work is done and no feedback indicated it was not perfect.

A gift of leadership is creating a vacuum so something positive can happen:

  1. You share your biggest issue with your team and you create a vacuum by saying I do not know how to fix this, What do you think?
  2. You share a vision with your team that outlines dividing up Sales and Marketing when your growth exceeds $xM in sales in 12-18 months.  People begin to lay the foundation for processes that need to be in place to support that change and the current leader will start thinking about which role they will want to stay in.  People then will start to tell you who they think should be elevated to a leadership role.
  3. Monthly financials are shared, and in it you point out that a $100K gap exists in profitability that needs to be closed.  Anyone have any ideas?  Your top people will bring all the ideas you need.

In my book, People-Centered Performance, I hit this several different ways, and one is my observation that OBN leaders are afraid if they tell the truth, others will leave.  If you make a change. telling the person who received the role Why? is only part of the issue.  Telling the people who did not get the role Why Not? (which creates a vacuum – gap in performance) helps them understand what they need to work on to close the gap.  The right people will appreciate the honesty and work to get better or to shift to an area where they can be more successful and impactful.

Sometimes those conversations are hard, which is why many of your competitors (the other leaders wanting your talent) don’t do them well.  You position yourself to win the war by telling the truth in a way that creates a vacuum for people, and you follow-up to support those who want to fill it.

What vacuums are you creating today?

(for some examples of creating vacuums through performance conversations here are some templates for some of the most critical conversations leaders have with their people)

 

Powerful Question For Leaders – What is within your control?

What is within your control?

As I talked to the leader he explained a very complex situation that included a hierarchical leadership structure, a workforce that had to stay, and a customer that often spoke up in frustration.  I listened for ten minutes and then asked a single question – What is within your control?  The first response was all the things he did not control – so I repeated myself.  What is within your control?  The next response was the feelings that were created by the whole situation, so I repeated myself with a twist – What part of this situation do you control?  His final response was a list of a couple of things that mattered and a great conversation ensued.

Great conversations start with a question.  Many conversations with leaders start with challenges, frustrations, and sometimes just pleasantries.  It is when we get to the place where we name our place in an issue and what we see as our goal/ownership that the conversation becomes great.  What makes it great is that we demonstrate our trust in the person/relationship by sharing our absolute version of the truth – regardless of the risk.  What also makes it great is that we can openly disagree as part of the conversation by allowing space for others to offer their truth.

I believe trust is a gift, and when someone around me is willing to share something that could be used to hurt them or could cause conflict with a teammate my first move is to be grateful they are willing to share.  The next step is to identify what needs to be done with the idea.  As leaders, recognize there are three reasons behind a powerful statement:

  1. Just needs to be said. (We just need to listen).
  2. It raises and issue/problem that needs to be solved.
  3. It raises the thought of a potential issue/problem that needs to be explored.

The challenge is that leaders are too often wired for #2 and #3 happens by accident because we choose to ignore it vs just parking it in a place that allows further inquiry or conversation.  And #1 – that is in the Husband 101 class that we all need to keep retaking. 🙂

Listen differently today.  What do you hear?  What is your natural response to truth being expressed?

 

Empathy: 3 Things Leaders Can Do to Develop It

Seth Godin recently published a post on empathy – and it starts with the observation that Empathy doesn’t involve feeling sorry for someone. It is our honest answer to the question, “why did they do what they did?”  He goes on to share that if we really honest with ourselves, the answer to that question is rarely because they are stupid.

Simple advice, but in the world of business people doing the right things immediately impact our businesses, and often more importantly – when we get to go home at night or how much we can actually relax when we are on vacation.  Developing empathy is hard in these situations because we start in a frustrated place where the only questions on our mind are What were you thinking? or Why do I always have to fix this for you?.  These questions create fear and cause people to hide, and empathy does not reside in that place.

The thing is, empathy is a cornerstone for developing the talent in others, because when we do the work to see the things through their eyes helps to drive the conversation – What can we do together to close the performance gap that we both see?.  Asking and listening ultimately leads to the barriers others see that are getting in the way of the work.  Do you hear empathy in that statement?

Here are three things any leader can do to build empathy:

1.  Read – One thing I recommend for women and men is a book series call For Men Only/For Women Only by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn.  It was designed for couples to read about the perspective of the opposite sex, and I guarantee it will drive conversations and ah ha moments for both men and women.  Any book that gives you a perspective into a culture or person will create opportunities to develop empathy.  Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg was a book that did that for me this summer.

2. Do their job – In his book Rework, Jason Fried (founder of BaseCamp/37Signals) encourages entrepreneurs to do key jobs for 3 months before hiring people.  His reason is that it will give you an opportunity to know the work and challenges intimately so when you hire you find the right person and you know how to support them. Do you hear empathy in that statement?

3. Ask them – In my one-on-one templatesI share questions to help leaders start and end their time by listening.  Great conversations start with a question.  These questions are designed to hear someone else’s perspective on truth.  Remember, in performance situations the truth has multiple perspectives.

    • Recent successes and failures (to celebrate)?
    • What is energizing you right now?
    • What is frustrating you right now?
    • What is one thing that needs to be addressed by me? This organization?
    • How have I made your job harder in the last 30 days?

If we make the assumption that people want to tell the truth and we create a safe place to do that, empathy will happen when we really listen to the answer and learn how/when to act to support them.  Some things (many things) we cannot fix, but we can listen.

Listen . . . Lead.  Repeat often.

Good Question – Great Question

What if we asked more questions?

I am reading a book by Warren Berger called A More Beautiful Question.  In it he shares a study from the Right Question Institute tracking kids use of questions over time that identified a trend of students using questions less as reading and writing skills increased.  The use of questions peaks at around the age of 3, and by the age of 18 it is only used 1/3 as often as reading or writing.

From 2009 A Nation's Report Card.
From 2009 A Nation’s Report Card.

For parents, you are probably not surprised because you have lived through the WHY stage of three year olds and the grunting teenager.

This fascinates me, because I see this in adults as I work with leaders in their development and those that have gone through a career transition.  Too often EGO gets in the way of building the relationships needed to be successful in their next role.  One sign of EGO is the need to tell vs ask.  Think of that – I can read/write/Google (i.e. Figure it out) = EGO response to not knowing something.  As leaders, we battle our EGO overtaking us by leveraging the knowledge of our team to solve problems.  I believe one of the most important skills to battle EGO for adults/leaders is to learn is the ability to ask questions AND listen for the answer.  We do that by mastering the use of GREAT Questions over GOOD Questions.  Here are some examples:

GOOD Question:  Have you considered x and y as solutions?   GREAT Question:  What other solutions did you explore?

GOOD Question:  Why did this happen?   GREAT Question:  What has to happen next to make this problem go away?

GOOD Question:  How was your weekend?    GREAT Question:  What one word would you use to describe your weekend?  (What is the story behind that word?)

GOOD Question:  What do you want to share with the group before we start our meeting?       GREAT Question:  What is one personal best and one professional best you have to share with us?

My basic rule is to always start questions with What or How – that does not always make you perfect, but it makes you closer to perfect.  It is also important to be ready with – tell me a little more about that? or Tell me a little bit more about what options you considered?  Then listen.  The metric for you is to have a ratio of questions to statements of 5 to 1.

Hopefully you have already answered the question What if we asked more questions? 🙂

3 Questions that help create a culture that SUPPORTS performance

3 Questions that help create a culture that SUPPORTS performance

As a coach and consultant, performance conversations tend to start with emotions and adjectives.  One of the challenges in gaining clarity is to have a conversation that gets down to the root cause, and it also means talking to both the frustrated leader and the individual. Here are the questions I ask:

  1. Do they/you know what is expected of you at work?  What are they?
  2. Do they/you have the tools and resources to do your job well?  (see question 3 for how to deep dive on the specifics)
  3. If Yes to both 1 and 2, do you feel you/they GWC the role.  (G = Get It,  W = Want It, C = Capacity to do it)  *GWC is from a strategic planning tool I use called EOS

 

I don’t look at creating a performance focused culture, because my experience has shown me that leaders take this path by starting with accountability and expecting work to get done.  I have learned through Denison, a partner company I use for surveys, and my own experience that it is important to focus on creating a culture that supports performance.  It aligns with my own belief that individuals own their performance and development, and the organization owns support.

When we start with defining the target together and supporting the work to get there (frequent one on ones, asking what they need, following through, repeating often), more often than not it ends in a trusting relationship where the important things can get talked about.  Leaders, this is your work in SUPPORTING performance through the culture you create.

When people ask you what they can do to help, tell them.  Beware of asking for the extremes – no help (because you are frustrated, angry at someone, or your EGO is on overdrive) or having them do everything.  Sales is a great example because of the frequent ups and downs in a challenging market.  When you are missing sales numbers – role playing, prioritizing your leads, reviewing your pipeline are all great support activities.  Maybe even asking some people to make some calls for you or leverage relationships they have in some of your maybe companies.

Support is a two way street, it has to be offered and it has to be accepted.  The times we get in life when it has to be forced are the tough times.  Just ask an adult child who has arranged assisted living or nursing home care for a parent.  If the point is reached where a leader feels they need to force assistance in getting work done (what individuals often call micro-managing) it is probably time for you to leave.

I know it is never that easy, but it is that simple.  If that outcome is not what you want, then start back at the beginning and make a commitment to change your half of the conversation.

 

 

Relationships or Performance?

When relationships matter, process trumps outcome

As leaders, we are measured largely by outcomes.  Did the work get done?  Was the margin there?  Yet there is a process that helps us achieve those outcomes that does call into question what we believe is most important?

In my work with growing companies I have learned to ask the question “What is your funding source – debt/cash flow, private equity, or venture capital?”  I can usually feel the difference, but ask just to make sure. When speed and growth/returns are so critical (latter two), then generally outcome trumps process.

Your talent strategy should reflect your belief in what is most important in your business.  This is also not about a good and bad labeling exercise.  Those words tend to stop a conversation and start an argument.  I use effective and not-effective, because it forces us to remember the outcomes we wanted in the beginning.  If our goal is 30% EBITDA growth and a few leaders get burned out and leave, maybe that is okay.  Fast growing companies need to be great at bringing in leaders/personalities that will figure it out and be successful.  That needs to be there #1 focus.

You see, the other edge to this sword is building trust.  Peter Drucker once said “The existence of trust does not necessarily mean they like one another, it means they understand one another.”  As a leader, just be clear with your beliefs and lead accordingly.  Actions need to align with beliefs, so people can see consistency in your approach.  You also need to continue to ask yourself “Are the results in my business and my team are proving my methods effective or not effective?”

I love having this conversation with leaders, because is revealing and it matters.  It also helps people define their own path to increasing their own capacity to lead.  That is a process I can get excited about.

When relationships matter, process trumps outcome

**If you want to dive into this topic a little deeper, chapter 2 in my book outlines what I call the OBN (Ought But Not) Leader.  On Amazon.