Passion and Art: Why does it matter?

Passion – I am torn on this topic by people that come up to me for advice on starting their own business and realizing the independence they long for.  I have learned to listen closely for their why, and if they start with the outcome of entrepreneurism and not the work, they have it backwards.  I challenge those people (and myself) to keep the focus on the gifts you have and the work that excites you.  Seth Godin shifts our perspective on our gifts by challenging each of us to think of ourselves as Artists – and makes the comment Art is the intentional act of using your humanity to create change in another person.   He goes on to share that most artists can’t draw.

Hidden in the whole conversation of performance is passion.  Here are three things I have learned about passion of the artist:

  1. Passion is the hidden ingredient in performance:  In my book People-Centered Performance I share my belief that Performance = Talent + Passion + Work
  2. Passion does not have to reside in just the work, it could be the team, or the cause, or even the need to eat.
  3. Passion is without complaint, so if we can do the work with excitement and ownership, and without complaint, we are close.
  4. It is impossible to be an artist and not have passion.

A great summary of passion came from a recent book I read called The Boys in the Boat.  In it, the master shell builder George Pocock talks about his work and what drove his choices:

My ambition has always been to be the greatest shell buiilder in the world; and without false modesty I believe I have attained that goal.  If I were to sell the stock, I fear I would lose my incentive and become a wealthy man, but a second-rate artisan.  I prefer to remain a first-class artisan.

I like watching for passion in others, and instead of starting with a pen and paper to write your statement of passion, start by observing and talking to others.  There is energy in watching the artist work, and they can be found all around us.

Remember, most artists can’t draw, and most artists aren’t entrepreneurs.

What do I do?

I connect students to parents and grandparents.

What do you think the person who made that statement does as a chosen profession?

Lt. Col. Paul Scheidler has served our country for over 20 years, has served multiple deployments in the Middle East, and has been awarded the bronze star.  Oh, and he also happens to be an American History Teacher at Heartland High School in  Hartland, Michigan.  The DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) in Michigan recognized him as the 2015 Outstanding American History Teacher.

We have a choice each day to do our job or to make our work about our purpose, cause or passion.  It is always a choice.

It was a treat to be in the same room and feel the magnetic pull of the purpose that oozed out of Lt. Col./Mr. Scheidler.  I bet his students feel the same way.

Your job does not matter as much as the reason you do it.  What is your reason?  Just ask your teammates – I am sure they know.

Leadership and EGO: Words of Wisdom from Alan Mulally

Below is an excerpt from Eric Schurenberg’s column in the March 2015 edition of Inc. Magazine.  He is the editor.  I also think Inc. is the best source of leadership advice for entrepreneurial minded leaders.  Here is the full post.

. . . ideas alone don’t build companies.  Building takes leadership, and leadership takes continuous, counterintuitive, ego-minimizing work.  That was one lesson I took from a recent half-day meeting led by Alan Mulally, retired CEO of Ford and Boeing. . . . . “Keep reminding yourself,” he kept reminding the room, “it’s not about you.”  It’s about the plan.  The leader’s job is to ensure that the team has a compelling vision; to help everyone understand the strategy for realizing that vision; and to see that everyone is working together to implement the plan.  When teams truly need to mesh, it doesn’t matter whether you were once the world’s best coder or salesperson or idea man.  Your job is now facilitator.  Behavior matters. . . . what was allowed at Boeing and Ford: admitting problems and asking for help.  What was not: texting in meetings, finger-pointing, putdowns, or anything else that interfered with a sense of shared effort. “Working together works,” says Mulally.  “Smart people working together always works.”

In my second chapter of my book(People-Centered Performance) I talk about the OBN leader – the one who knows what they OUGHT to do, BUT they DON’T.  Mulally’s gives some practical advice for fighting the OBN trap.

Becoming Adaptable

Are you adaptable?

I am reminded of a conversation I had with Greg Hartle who spent 18 months doing something I thought was crazy.  He started with $10 and a laptop and travelled around the US meeting people in transition and helping them.  He blogged about it, took odd jobs when he could, and spoke to groups about his journey (fyi – before his trip he almost died from kidney failure – so there was quite a story there).

One observation he made was that the key ability he saw as critical to the people he was meeting in career transitions was the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn.  For me, it was a simple, yet profound statement as I work with organizations and leaders in growth transitions.  Here are two thoughts . . .

1.  It does not mean abandon your values and beliefs.  Adaptable is ‘able to change or be Are you adaptable?  Success in business and in life means understanding and managing the changes that approach.  Transitions as leaders, parents, spouses, friends are full of moments where the current way of doing things/reacting will not work, and we have to ask ourselves – in order to fit or work better in some situation or for some purpose.’  If you have to work for an organization with a social focus – great!  If we are being asked to build a process around sales so others can do what we do and do it the same way and we resist – hmm?

2. It does mean that when we find ourselves stuck or frustrated, the first question we need to ask is “What about this situation frustrates me?”  At the core of our answer is the issue, and in my experience most often the issue is in our recognition of the change and how we will have to adapt to operate in the new normal.

One habit that helps this – When entering change conversations – once we process the issue and the end goal, to simply ask “To be successful, what do we need to: Keep doing? Start doing?  Stop doing?”

As a person – I go back to Greg’s observation – “Based on what challenges I face – What do I need to: Learn?  Unlearn? Relearn?”

 

The Smartest Person In The Room

Have you ever met the smartest person in the room?

Yesterday I had the opportunity to see Captain John Meier, the commanding officer of the Commanding Officer of the USS Gerald R. Ford.  He asked this question as he talked about steps he was taking to build the team that will launch this new aircraft carrier in 2016.  The one thing I will say about Captain Meier is that he spoke simply about leadership, and showed a deep understanding of the power of serving others first as a leader.  Another great thing is he was not selling a book, he was just taking time out of his busy day to tell his story.

How many of you walk into a room chanting “I am not the smartest person in this room . . . “?  I would never ask a leader to do that, and yet there are ways our actions can say it.

Captain Meier shared a couple of tips he had for living this mantra through your actions as a leader:

  • Always keep an open mind in problem solving sessions – challenge your team to bring/share solutions and just listen.
  • Make Learning a part of your day.

Imagine the power of spending time each day having someone on your team teach you something?  You implement Salesforce?  Ask someone to show you how to enter a new customer and then do 2 on your own with their help.  When we make a habit out of the two tips shared above we are demonstrating our intent to serve first as a leader.  It is never that easy, but it is always that simple.

Great conversations start with a question.  I spend time with leaders like Captain Meier because they ask great questions.

If you have never met the smartest person in the room you are not looking hard enough.

Ignorant vs Stupid vs Agile

Ignorance is defined (Merriam-Webster.com) as lack of knowledge, education, or awareness.  In contrast, the definition of stupid (Merriam-Webster.com) is having or showing a lack of ability to learn and understand things.  The fine line between being ignorant and stupid is the ability to learn.

Taking that one step further, in research done by Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger they identified one competency common to all people that became successful leaders – learning agility.  It is defined as the ability and willingness to learn from experience, and subsequently apply that learning to perform successfully under new or first-time conditions.  People with this quality fail, but don’t normally fail multiple times on the same issue and find a way to apply learning from the past to new situations so they can find success.

I also recognize that some lack the ability to learn certain things, and yet I have dozens of examples from clients who work with people with disabilities or special needs that have seen learning happen because they raised their expectations of those individuals and stopped treating them like the labels that had been put on them were permanent.

There is not test for learning agility, but there are some practices that allow people to share their capacity and willingness to learn.  You know my mantra – Great conversations start with a question.  When we have honest conversations that lead to thoughtful actions, the outcome is improved performance.  That is learning agility in action.   Here are some questions that test for it:

For yourself:

  • What do I want to learn this year?
  • What did I learn this past week / month / year?   Did I do it  the easy way (someone helped me) or the hard way?

For individuals:

In One-on-One:

  • What were recent successes and failures?
  • What do you need to learn faster?  What support do you need?

In Performance Conversation:

  • What did you do well this past year?
  • What could you do better?
  • What do you need to learn?

In the end, there is no difference to a leader from those who don’t have the ability and those who do not want to demonstrate the ability.  All organizations have these individuals, and hopefully do not have too many of them.  The latter reason is the most prevalent from my experience.

Sometimes I wonder if removing labels from our politically correct society soften feedback to the point that it is hard to hear.  Maybe we should use the words ignorant and stupid more to help people see their options more clearly.  People with learning agility will see the challenge in the direct feedback.  People without it will be offended – at least we would know who is who.

4 Words That Frame the Succession Conversation, 2 Tips to Reframe it

Great conversations start with a question.  A question I asked to a group recently during a keynote was What one word comes to mind when you think of succession planning?   The answers tell a pretty clear story – it is hard, it carries with it a message that we do it when we are old, and it is a future thing.

I agree with two of the issues highlighted:  It is challenging and it is future focused.

Succession_Wordsthatcometomind

The two pieces I would like to reframe for a more effective conversations are old and training.

  1. Old to Valued:  The #1 reason we do not do this – getting old is hard and minimizing people by not respecting their value will start a fight.  How many of us are at our best if we feel  we are no longer needed?  To have a different conversation, we must first reframe the conversation into key people/key roles.  People discussed in these conversation provide great value to the organization, and most would agree that the ongoing success of the organization is important.   Talking about valued people sends two messages:  You are important to our business and it is important that our business continues to be successful.  I am glad the age piece gets put on the table so it can be addressed directly.  Perception is reality, and this one will never go away as long as people are getting older and younger people are working with them and looking for opportunities.  We quiet this conversation when we make it safe to express changing life priorities and continue to focus on performance with development/support.
  2. Training to Development:  90% of development happens outside a classroom.  A message I share is most training returns nothing to the organization.  What this conversation provides for people is direction for development activities that will increase their capacity to lead in the future – both real skills/experiences for them and perceived capacity for the leaders that will be making decisions on their next move.  Capacity is the key word, and it is what your best people want.  Assignments that challenge them and show them they are valued.

A final pitch for One-on-Ones.  When we are continuing to have conversations with people and supporting them in their work it is like making deposits into a Trust account.  Each time we show people they matter and we care (by meeting with them, listening, and supporting) we build trust.  When we ask the question of someone 50+, what are your 1-2 year plans and 3-5 year plans we will need to draw on that trust to have an honest conversation.

Go build some trust, and go have some honest conversations, that lead to thoughtful actions and improved performance.

Tough Conversations

Is there someone in your work life that is causing you pain?

There are some great books out on having difficult conversations.  My two favorites:  Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott and Crucial Conversations by the Vital Smarts team.  When I script leadership development activities, this is the #2 learning must for any new/current leader.  It is that important and it gets easier, but it is never that easy.

If I were a leader every time I looked around the room and realized more than half my team is new in the last 12 months, I would make a group learning assignment to read/reread one of these books as a team.  It could also be a gift for a new team member, and if you do that remember my gift giving advice!

Let me add another voice to this topic, a TED talk by Ash Beckham.  It is not specific enough to outline the skills of having honest conversations with people, but it certainly speaks to the heart of the topic.  I found myself laughing as she shared her own transformation to having more honest conversations.  Her voice is not academic – instead it is very real and that makes her advice/story relevant and helpful.

She started by controlling her own narrative first.  It would be a great follow-up to a book study group because many of the themes of the above books are captured in her talk.

A big part of having tough conversations is showing up often enough – in a focused manner – with your people to have all the other conversations that constitute a relationship. Habits around One-on-Ones and team meetings are critical to making this skill even more relevant and EASIER.

What makes tough conversations tougher is when, as leaders, those are the only time we show up to connect with our people.

Leaders and One On Ones – Know your voice

I was timing at a swim meet this past weekend for kids between 8 and 13.  What do you think my primary role was?  Timing?  Actually – no.  My primary role was encouragement and support.  Making sure they were in the right order for the next race and telling them what they did well during that race.  It was easy, because my natural voice is to encourage.  I have known that for a while, and in order to be more effective at using that voice I have had to work on knowing when that voice is NOT the one that is needed at that moment.

Do you know your natural voice when faced with someone that is depending on you for some level of support so they can do their best?  This is one very important piece of leadership.

One important message I share in any leadership training I do is that part of the leadership job description is NOT mind reader.  There are several ways to help leaders get more skilled at this, but the easiest is to ask questions and listen well.

We can make our jobs as leaders easier in the One on One by doing two things:

  1. Asking some scripted questions so we can gauge how the other person is feeling.
  2. Use the question How can I support you? coupled with multiple choice answers of Coach me / Direct me / Not sure.

 

I continue to publish templates for people to use in establishing healthy and productive conversations with their people that result in thoughtful actions and lead to higher performance.  Here is the page of templates, and here is the newest version of the one on one form that incorporates the two tips I shared above.

By the end of my swim meet I had recorded times for every child who swam in my lane, experienced lots of smiles, and everyone started and finished the race they were supposed to be in.  My natural voice came in handy, but so did my directive voice (go!).

As a leader, learn your voice and help your people tell you when it needs to change.

3 Questions to Transform Your One on One

For at least the first half of 2014, my focus of posts will be around the one on one conversation and individual development.  Since I published the Talent Scorecard, I have become convinced that certain habits in leaders make the most difference – the one on one is a key habit, and I am going to focus providing resources for leaders and individuals to make these great conversations.

There are 3 keys to great one on ones:

1. The individual (not the leader) owns it (ie.  It is their time, not yours!)

2.  The leader never cancels without immediately rescheduling

3.  The leader focuses on: Alignment, Support, Feedback (giving and getting)

Let’s focus on Getting Feedback.  The three questions in the past I have shared that will help build a conversation around feedback for you as the leader are:  What should I KEEP doing?  What should I START doing?  What should I STOP doing?

The core focus of these questions are the basics of feedback 101 – Tell you what you are doing well and get feedback from your team on opportunities to be a better leader. Getting BETTER means– Being reminded what you are doing well, identify some opportunities to increase your effectiveness, and potentially identify actions/behaviors that are getting in your way of being an effective leader.

Sometimes these questions are not effective because they are so different.  Understand the spirit of the questions, and don’t be bound by the words if they do not sound like your voice.  Write your own.  Here are some alternatives, and the text in blue is the intent of the question:

  • What decisions/actions are people still wondering what the WHY was for that action?  (Are you an effective communicator?)
  • As we think about the next 3-6 months, what does the team need?  (What actions would make the most difference?  How effectively are you meeting their needs?)
  • We are doing some operational planning – What do you think should are top 3 priorities should be as a company?  As a team?  (Are you an effective communicator? How aligned is the team with your vision for what is important?  Do you have a vision?)
  • If we were going to pull the team together for a 30 minute update – What do you think they would want to hear about?  (Are you an effective communicator?)
  • What is one thing I did in the last 30 days that made your job harder?  (Do they trust you enough to tell you the truth?  What behaviors of yours are destructive?)

Remember, the goal is to make a safe environment by asking questions, listening thoughtfully (just asking clarifying questions), thanking them for being candid, and making sure to follow-up after you have thought through some things.  Pick one or two of these to ask – – and remember that you are listening for what you did that confused people and/or what do they need more clarity on?  Your questions to gain that clarity is:  Tell me a little more about that? and How could I/we have handled that differently?/What could we have done to get a different outcome?

Managing your talent/team is about having thoughtful conversations.  When we have thoughtful conversations, followed by meaningful actions, we get the higher performance that makes our organizations go forward.

What other habits or questions have you found that are most helpful in leading?