I joined the board of a great organization that cares for seniors and at my orientation they shared this story.
In building a new facility display cases were placed by each room. Filled with pictures and items for residents of adjacent rooms, they were meant as landmarks to make finding rooms easier. This practice had proven effective even with dimentia cases. They received a surprise. Employees and others observed a higher quality of care because these residents became people with an 80+ year history that was known to all those around them. In one case, it explained why a resident veteran who had been a POW tried to crawl out a window because of loud noises. Instead of medicating the resident they provided comfort.
History gives us context for current decisions we see people make.
When a friend acts irrational we know the history – and work through it.
What a stranger acts irrational we judge the action – and walk away or around it.
When we ask and listen it sends a powerful signal – we care.
Under stress, we too often forget to stop and listen to stories. We see ourselve as busy. Others see us as cold and uncaring.
One last story . . . I used this tool to kickoff a planning session for a leadership team. The next day the CEO called the HR leader and quietly asked for a list of names of all family members for each executive on his team.
Some things are important no matter how old we are. Knowing someone changes how we treat them – and how they treat us.
Seth Godin made the comment “Art is not in the eye of the beholder. It’s in the soul of the artist.” One thing I always see when talking with people about careers is their art. It is the heart of their story, and if I don’t see it I make them talk until it oozes out of them. It is there, it just needs to be named. Here are a few artists I have met recently:
The construction project manager who takes over a project that is behind schedule and over budget. The work – many hours and many difficult decisions. The Art – completed, on time and on budget.
The entrepreneur who is fanatical about taking care of the customer and giving back to the community. The work – two jobs through the first two years of being in business. The Art – twenty people, a just completed 100% growth year, and numerous awards recognizing the big heart of this small company.
The administrative assistant who sees the workplace as something to be organized. The work – anything to make sure meetings go smoothly, things get fixed, emergencies get handled, and nobody ever sees her sweat. The Art – an amazingly well run department where things just happen smoothly and finding things is easy and logical.
The administrative assistant who realizes everyone needs a friend at work – and a occassional kick in the pants. The work – always willing to listen and connect with people in the organization, even while getting her work done. The Art – some call her mom, some call her friend, I call her the pulse taker and doctor – in any case she is a cultural definer.
Final point, the art takes work. Funny thing, the artist does not see the work, just the art.
Today, look around at the artists and make sure they know you see their art. Challenge others to create some art. What art are you creating and sharing today?
Last night my youngest daughter delivered these faithful words at 2am – “Daddy, my tummy hurts.” I turned on the light and asked her “Tell me about the hurt?” Her response was pretty simple “I think I am going to get sick. I need to go to the bathroom.” My response “Go ahead.” I will spare you the details of the next 20 minutes, but I judge the endings of these things based on how much work I end up having to do. In this case, I was just needed for comfort. Whew.
As I think about that event today, I realized that my daughter is growing up. She got up when she felt bad, came to tell me, and with very little help from me other than a slight nudge, she took care of herself. We have raised a child that is showing signs of maturity and independence. It feels good.
One of the big challenges of leaders is growing individuals and teams that show that kind of independence. I have always been struck by all the different ways people have created to measure the effectiveness of a leader. Too often we depend on a test or a psychologist to measure how well individuals and teams are developing into independent thinkers.
Here is a simple one to measure how independent your team is today. Take a piece of paper and every time someone on your team comes to you with a need for help today make a mark. If they bring the answer or you are able to get them to provide their own answer, circle that mark. At the end of the day what does the sheet say about your leadership style and their ability to solve their own problems?
Your development plan – more marks with circles tomorrow because you ask what they think the answer is more often.
When they leave with their own answer, you are becoming a developer of people . . and a leader. Trust me, it will feel good.
Friday’s are great days. As you look out in your office everyone has expectations of the coming two days that will tell you a lot about where they are in life. Here are a few messages you might hear and what they actually are telling you that is significant to know about them:
“It will be great to get out of here” says – I have worked hard all week and it is a nice break.
“It will be great to get out of here” says – This place is killing me and any time away is like gold.
“I can’t wait to spend time with my family” says – I love work, but family time is important to me.
“It will be quiet, the kids are with my ex” – It will be alone time to either do what I love or miss being connected with the significant people in my life.
“Oh a little of this and a little of that. What are you doing?” says – Usually you don’t care what I do outside of work. So why ask now?
“Nothing” says – Usually you don’t care about what I do outside of work. So why ask now?
So what do you hear when you ask? If what they are actually saying is unclear, why not ask another question to allow them to share a little more.
Listening on Friday does commit you to ask again on Monday to see how the weekend turned out. Eventually the last #5 and #6 will go away.
What does your answer tell me about where you are? Is it the same place you want to be next Friday? Happy Friday.
Right Management, an outplacement company and division of Manpower tells those experiencing #3 to do three things right away:
Get a schedule
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:
Executive coaching – A safe place to process, reset, and plan to move past it.
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.
Read how others have done it – Like #2, finding a person with a good perspective can be comforting and will help you process things.
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.
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.
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.
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 . . . .
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.
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.
I have had several opportunities to lead and participate in group discussions at retreat weekends. When I lieten to people share at the end of the weekend the message of I was encouraged to hear that I was not the only one struggling with ___________always appears. People find comfort in knowing that what they are feeling is common to others. All too often leaders are told or tell themselves they have to act more like a superhero than a person. While it is true that leaders should not run around like Chicken Little every time something unexpected happens (people do look to leaders for inspiration in the form of strength), that is not the transparency that I am talking about. Transparency is about admitting we are surprised or stressed, and then getting back to the work of dealing with whatever knocked us off-balance.
Resilience is not about not being rattled, it is about how quickly we recover. Someone I look to as a great voice in this is Doug Silsbee. Doug tells the story of a martial arts master who was once asked why he never seemed to be knocked off-balance. The master replied that he was constantly being knocked off-balance, but he had learned through practice to return to center very quickly. For the master who looked impenetrable, being transparent was about being honest when asked. Imagine the impact on those who came to him to learn? The students left that day recognizing the importance of practice in their own quest for mastery.
With an economic world that is so interconnected, there will constantly be events that surprise us/our businesses and knock us off-balance. Learning to absorb those blows and get back to center is a skill that people/leaders at all levels need. This path to resiliency starts by being willing to admit that, no matter what people see, we get shaken like everyone else.