Leave the Squirrels Alone – Put Energy Where It Matters

Today at breakfast I watched the squirrels eat at my bird feeder.  Remember – I called it a bird feeder.  I grew up watching my Dad chase the squirrels away with every trap and method imaginable, so to this point in my life I saw the squirrel as an enemy.  Then I realized that 25 lbs of sunflower seeds was less than $10 . . . and that squirrels are just hungry.  Suddenly, the reason I had started this battle in the first place was fuzzy.  The only thing I could come up with was it was a matter of principle because I wanted to feed the birds.  So I decided to feed the squirrels and turn my energy to other things.

Seth Godin calls the part of our brain that takes over when we feel threatened the lizard brain.  More specifically, it is the amygdala or inner brain, and when it takes over the thought and reasoning parts are idled and fight/flight thinking dominates.  The resulting behaviors have been researched and identified by the Birkman Method as stress behaviors, and they are not normal or productive.  They happen when the lizard brain is in charge.

So what are the ‘squirrels’ you are battling?  In the business world I have seen operations square off with sales, engineering with design, quality with suppliers, finance with sales, and purchasing with just about everyone.  There are lots of battles going on, and in many the lizard brain is in charge.  Getting out of the lizard brain is one of those things that is simple, but difficult. Here are five steps to taking the control away:

  1. Step back and see the behaviors (yours and others) as lizard brain thinking.
  2. Ask the questions:  What is our common goal here?  What is the solution we are each offering?  Why are we so passionate about our solution?  (keep asking Why? until you get to the basic answer)
  3. Listen well and write the answers so everyone can see.
  4. Ask:  What solution best fits our common goal?
  5. Make a decision – and move on.

A grown man, in his pajamas, sneaking through the snow with a club to attack a squirrel is an image that reflects some lizard brain thinking.  What is a good image of your lizard brain taking over?  Identify it, remember it, and take the power away from it when it happens.

trU Tips 10 – Do virtual teams need leaders? Truths and challenges.

This posting is a monthly letter distributed to followers of The trU Group focused on exploring a leadership topic or answering a question from a reader.  To sign up to receive trU Tips as a monthly email click here.  My promise is to only use this mailing list to distribute trU Tips – so do not worry about getting many emails from me each month.

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What I’m hearing

A friend posed a question to me, “In this new virtual world, how does the role of the leader change?”

What it means

Leading people in situations where information and decisions flow around you as the leader is challenging.  It could be creating a blog or an on-line community within a tool like NING to bring people together around a common interest or goal (this is a team).  In these situations participation is voluntary.

Seth Godin writes about this in his book Tribes, and says “Great leaders create movements by inspiring the Tribe (i.e. Team) to communicate.”  Godin’s challenge to lead in a tribe is very similar to the servant leadership idea that has been around for a couple of decades.  While Godin is writing about a virtual community, it mirrors reasons Peter Drucker often shared that  promoted the value of leading in a not for profit situation as a development opportunity for any leader.  Leading in situations where people have to want to follow you because they don’t have to follow requires a leader to lead differently.

The bottom line is that all teams need leaders.   Whether virtual or face to face, teams need goals, guidelines, and overall accountability to be successful.  However, leading in a virtual situation will expose people who have to lead through control and direct authority.  They will be found out quickly and painfully because their lack of passion around enabling, giving, and listening. 

The on-line world is bringing back the servant leader model in another form.  The concept is that people will not follow or work as hard for leaders that do not possess the relational capacity to connect with their people.  Generation Y/Millennials entering the workforce make this skill even more critical for leaders.  If you are interested in exploring the connection read The Servant by James Hunter and Tribes by Seth Godin.  In leadership literature there are few new ideas, only new approaches. 

What you should do

Make a list of all your leaders (direct reports) and your future leaders (high potentials).  Identify 5-6 characteristics/skills you feel are important for leaders to possess at your organization.  If building positive relationships with staff at all levels is not on your list then add it.  Rate each person versus your leadership criteria using the terms: strength, skilled, weakness, or unsure.

Explore your data by asking yourself these three questions:

  • What skill jumps out?
  • Is anyone not showing strength in building positive relationships?
  • How would I be rated?

Looking for a partner to connect this information with your operational or strategic plans for your business?  Contact me.   Scott@thetrugroup.com