Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Are You Self-Motivated, Going-Through-the-Motions, or Tuned-Out? by Michelle Kunz

In an article on engagement (“Engage me or enrage me”, Management Issues, 26 Sep 2006), Max McKeown describes three possible types of students and the three possible types of employees they may become: self-motivated, going-through-the-motions or tuned-out. These types develop as a result of the education system failing to fully engage a student, followed by their employment experience failing to fully engage them. This post does not intend to address the issues of the education system nor describe the three types and how to diagnose them. The reason I bring this to your attention is that as a leader, you are going to have these types on your team. And you, yourself, are also most likely one of these types.

In a series of separate articles Management Issues addresses a host of topics related to employee engagement. Among them is the article “The keys to employee engagement” (February 2007) in which a UK poll of 100,000 employees suggests that managers who lead by example, listen to their employees and engage in life long learning are most likely to engage employees. Let me paint this a little more clearly for those of you who may be feeling lost. The self-motivated employees are your smallest problem. If you have any hope of engaging the going-through-the-motion and the tuned-out types, you are going to have to step up to the plate and engage yourself first.

Leading by example

If we are to lead by example, we must first take an honest, no-holds-barred look at ourselves and see where we stand. If it is possible that our employees fall into one of three categories (self-motivated, going-through-the-motions, or tuned-out), then we must assess ourselves and see where we fall as well. To lead others, we must be able to lead ourselves. We must be able to walk the talk. This is because there is no leadership without trust. Trust requires vulnerability. And vulnerability requires that we can readily and freely admit our strengths AND our weaknesses. What we know and what we don’t. Where we are confident and where we need help. How can we expect our team to do what we ourselves are unwilling to do?

Leadership is an ongoing study in self growth. There is no way you can lead from a going-through-the-motions or a tuned-out position. We must get to a place of self motivation. This is sometimes simply a matter of hard work and discipline. Just when you think you’ve conquered your last experience with boredom and apathy, a day comes when the work facing you for the next eight hours seems less aligned with your internal fire and vision than you had hoped. The true test of self motivation arrives at that moment in the shape of: What do you do under those circumstances?

There are thousands of books written to tell you how to keep positive thoughts going, how to write out your goals and keep them in front of you to inspire you, how to prioritize and organize your time and tasks. And there are some people for whom those systems work very, very well. But what about those for whom the systems occasionally or perhaps even often don’t work? Is this an indication that they are less self-motivated? By definition, I argue that this means that in fact, no, they are not less self-motivated. For the first group, it is the goal, the positive thoughts, the system which is keeping them going — and as long as that works, they should keep doing it! But what if you are struggling to get motivated by goals, positive thoughts and systems?

Tapping into your values and principles

Some people are strongly motivated by a set of deeply held inner values and core principles by which their entire worlds are organized. When a project or even a small chore or task aligns with those values, they experience a sense of urgency and excitement which carries them through the action required. It doesn’t feel like work at all, and the time flies. If a given project or task does not seem to align with those core values, it is extremely difficult to see the point in doing it. It feels like a waste of time, and the time drags by.

The truth is, all of us have these core values and principles. We simply are not always aware of what they are. We have never stopped to give it any thought. If I were to ask you to define and rank your top five values, you might have a very difficult time coming up with a list. You might easily come up with twenty values you think should have equal importance, or you might struggle to come up with three. Either experience is simply an indication that you have not had the opportunity to think in these terms before.

As a powerful leader, it is essential to know clearly and without hesitation what your defining values are. When you have clarified this for yourself, you will become aware of which activities align with your values and which do not. And several options will become available to you. You can delegate a certain task to someone else who might have better alignment with the task; you can re-frame the task; or you can simply say no and seek tasks which are in better alignment with your values.

Furthermore, once you have clarity around values and principles, any set of goals, positive thoughts and external systems will have more value for you because you will ensure that whatever you are working with, it aligns with some deeper meaning. This creates a powerful synergy within you that allows the outer stuff (the goals, ideas, etc.) to have much more purpose. You will experience greater buy-in to your own plans.

Listening deeply to those we lead

Whether it is our children, someone we serve as a volunteer, or our employees, learning to listen deeply is essential in mastering the art of engaging others. The key is to listen to clues as to what the other person’s values and core principles might be. As we have seen, it is here that the essential ingredients — the keys — lie to true motivation.

For example, if someone is struggling with a particular task, we can ask empowering questions. What about the task is challenging? If the answer is anything other than skill related, this is a sign that something is out of alignment for the other person. Resistance in any form is a sign of misalignment. Sometimes we need to dig a little deeper to uncover assumptions or limiting beliefs that are simply in the way of alignment occurring. This can be true if the person we are working with believes that the task isn’t important, that no one cares about their project, that perceptions exist about their role in the company and so on. Our job at that point is to remove the assumptions and limiting beliefs so the person can become realigned with their task.

If the person we are working with begins to talk about not feeling connected to the bigger project or company picture, this is an indication of a larger type of misalignment which may or may not be able to be adjusted. Helping the person articulate their inner values at this point can be very helpful. Questions such as: What are the most important things to you in your life? What do you value the most in life? asked in a safe, confidential context can help the individual and you come to a greater understanding of what kind of work really motivates them. If you can then find a way to connect the work required of them to their motivations, you can help realign them to the task at hand. If not, it is sometimes better for all people involved if the person moves on to something else they are better suited for.

Life long learning

There are many types of learning, and it is easiest to focus on the external acquisition of additional skills. As leaders, who we are is often more important than what we know. To fully maximize our potential in being we need to become skilled in the area of self awareness. Self awareness is a life long process. It is not a course you take on a weekend where you receive a certificate and then you’re done. Of all the learning we can do to become more powerful leaders, self awareness is among the most important. When we seek to lead by example, how else can we truly accomplish that without a deep understanding of what it is we do and why? This applies everywhere — how we listen, how we talk, how we organize our tasks, how we approach problems, how we interact with others — and why. Self awareness does not require years of therapy (in the absence of psychological distress), but it does require an ongoing willingness to look inward and ask questions.

Many of us would prefer to not look within. We are afraid of what we will see and the implications. We’ll have to change everything, and we know that is impossible, so we feel like failures before we ever begin. That approach is filled with assumptions and limiting beliefs. A more curious and gentle approach might serve us better. We aren’t looking to deconstruct every relationship we ever had. We’re looking to get to know ourselves better. What am I really like? What makes my creative and energetic juices flow? What do I like and don’t like? If there were no other people or institutions in the world (i.e., no pressure), what would I choose for this or that? Why am I not choosing that now? If I could have any resource I needed within 24 hours, what would I choose to do within the next 48?

The answers to these questions shed a great deal of light on who we are now and who we might become. Powerful leaders look for potential within as well as without and they know that like the old song “let peace begin with me”, motivation, engagement, excitement, inspiration, all that is good in leadership begins with one person: me.

Are you self-motivated, going-through-the-motions or tuned-out? Regardless of were you are now, you have the ability to make a big shift into the type you choose to be. Choose powerful leadership. Choose leading by example, deep listening and life long learning.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Death by Waiting by Michelle Kunz

In the October 9, 2007 print edition of the "Wall Street Journal" Jared Sandberg's "Cubicle Culture" column addressed an issue we can all relate to: the fatal effects of waiting on creativity, motivation, morale and productivity. Sandberg observes that no matter how many technological advances we develop to eliminate waiting, there are always built in enforcers of the status quo. Email, for example, can send our messages immediately, but we have no control over whether the person receiving will actually respond.

Managing up is a hot topic right now. Everyone would like to get their supervisor, or better yet, the C Suite, on the same page as they are. There is the perception that if upper management would change, everything would improve. There are many assumptions buried in those perceptions, and whether they are accurate or not is not the topic for this particular post. Waiting for management to change, however, is. That falls under the topic of trying to control the outcome of someone else's behavior, overtly or covertly, and we can just let that go and move on to areas where we have more direct control.

As leaders we do have a great deal of control over how smoothly things flow within our direct spheres of influence. Most of this control lies in setting good examples, laying down clear operating guidelines, communicating expectations and following up with direct feedback which delivers specific information to the recipient on how they can adjust their actions to better serve the team. Let's look at each of these areas in greater detail as they relate to waiting.

Good examples

Time management is one of those terms often used and seldom understood. It might be helpful to review the Pareto Principle which states that 80% of effects comes from 20% of causes. Think about that. What that is saying is that 80% of your causes (or efforts) are practically wasted (producing only 20% of your effects, or outcomes). The purpose of a time management system ideally is to maximize your efforts so that you are in peak performance more often than 20% of the time. Before you can implement a calendar or task list, however, you first need to identify which activities actually produce your greatest results (the 80% of effects) and devise a strategy for maximizing your time spent in those activities. This may require delegating, saying no to or redefining other activities so you can maximize your efforts.

If you can't get your arms around this as a leader, it will be difficult to make the case for your team to do it. Here are some common areas where leaders lay down weak examples for teams to follow, wasting time and causing undue delays in the process:

  • Failing to stick to action-producing agendas for meetings
  • Attempting to get consensus on a topic when a clear decision is called for
  • Resisting setting up clear accountability guidelines so action is well supported
  • Allowing deadlines to slip without asking for accountability in ways that produce action
  • Overlooking the importance of clarity in all aspects of communication, inviting misunderstandings, mistakes and delays
  • Miscalculating the importance of accurate and timely cascading communication systems

Clear operating guidelines

Some of the bullet points above fall under this heading. One of the best ways a leader can help a team avoid playing the waiting game is to lay down clear operating procedures from the very beginning. This requires a clear construct of all aspects of the team's activities and responsibilities, both internally and interdepartmentally. The best way to get this picture will be to ask for input from your team. They know better than you what they do, how they do it and how long it takes. You probably know the why better than they do. And you can push back on the how and how long, perhaps even the what if something seems out of place. With this kind of dialogue and open debate, a very clear picture of overall team activity and responsibilities will begin to take shape. Everyone on the team needs to have this clear picture -- each member should clearly understand what everyone else does and why and have a good sense of the how and how long. This understanding eliminates unreasonable requests from one member to another, and sets reasonable expectations between team members.

Once you have the picture, continuing the dialogue to include what core procedures must be in place to keep the team at peak performance will elicit ideas you may not think of if you do this exercise alone. You'll have an organizational view, which is essential, but they will have priorities and preferences which will be no less vital to keeping the team motivated and happy. Working through these issues early on will ensure that everyone is on the same page and has buy-in. Clearly laying this out for your team will ensure that later on no time is wasted waiting for someone else to decide what should be happening at this point in the project.

Clear expectations

"Expectations" is not about levels of perfection. It's about goals and objectives and deadlines and accountability. What do you expect people to do, by when, and how will they let you know it has been accomplished? How should they let you know it is NOT going to be accomplished or that a problem has developed -- and by when? How much do you want to be kept in the loop along the way? Who is accountable to whom else on the team? How will that happen? How do they handle an accountability issue between teammates? If you have not laid out a very clear set of expectations around objectives, deadlines and accountability, you are asking your team to wait while you figure it out along the way. Furthermore, you are asking for a lot of wasted time while people deal with misunderstandings and ambiguity around the essential questions of Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. Do not ever be afraid to be too clear when answering those questions. And always ask people to tell you what they heard you say just in case you weren't as clear as you thought you were.

Direct feedback

So many people struggle with feedback. They take it personally. They fear the other person will take it personally. If the other person does take it personally, they take that personally. No wonder supervisors frequently dread the annual review process. Wouldn't we all rather just give out gold stars and call it a day?

Feedback in its simplest form is information about where you are in relation to where you said you wanted to be. You set an objective: A, and you set a deadline: B. On date B you look to see if you've accomplished A. If you have, great! You can talk about what happened, how you felt about it, what you learned, what happened that you expected, and what happened that you didn't. That's all part of extended feedback -- how you felt and what you learned. What gets difficult for most of us is when date B comes along and we didn't accomplish A.

So here are two cases: Case 1: we are close to getting A, but we're just not there yet. In this case, we assess the original goal and see if our date was unrealistic. Or perhaps something else happened -- Time management issues? Extenuating circumstances? It's all feedback. Case 2: We didn't accomplish A, but we did accomplish C. In this case, we can really get out of the box and ask some interesting questions. Was A necessary after all? Is C more useful in some way than A? Were we just goofing off and C is a complete waste of time? What kept us from doing A and what drew us to doing C? All of this is also feedback. And, of course, there are many other questions that the exact situation will ignite that will shed additional light on the subject.

The point is, without feedback, there will be no forward movement. The goal can be large or small, no matter. Along the way, we all need feedback so we can adjust course. That might mean carry on, or it might mean abandon ship. Either course is valid and important, but we won't know until we get feedback.

Waiting is a part of life. We will wait in traffic. We will be put on hold while making a doctor's appointment. And we will probably wait for a request from another department or from the powers that be above us. But within our own teams waiting can be minimized or at least be made meaningful by adopting principles and creating systems which support movement -- creating the freedom to move, supporting the ability to move, enforcing accountability for movement and always, always making sure we have solicited input from the beginning so we have clarity, understanding and most importantly -- ownership.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Am I in a Dysfunctional Job? by Michelle Kunz

Most likely you and everyone you know can think of someone who has worked or is currently working at a job they would be much happier leaving. They don't get along with their supervisor or they dislike the work itself. They end their day exhausted and irritable. It is fairly easy to understand why someone would choose to leave such a situation but the truth is many choose to stay. Why would someone continue working under such stressful conditions?

One of the September manifestos on the excellent website Change This is entitled "The Turnover Dilemma: A Question to Keep Employees." Author Matthew Kelly reviews the current belief set around why people leave their jobs and then offers a new idea:

If you asked most consultants in the field why employees voluntarily leave a job they would give you some or all of the following answers…
  • The employee’s relationship with his/her manager is dysfunctional.
  • The employee does not feel appreciated and valued.
  • The employee does not feel that his/her talents are being utilized. i.e. they feel like they have more to offer.
  • The employee has no way to measure his/her success or progress.
What most consultants will not tell you is that while these are all valid reasons, they are secondary to what is at the core of the turnover issue. The #1 reason people leave a job is not because they have a dysfunctional relationship with their manager or because they don’t feel appreciated. They leave because they cannot see the connection between the work they are doing today and the future they imagine for themselves.

If we take Kelly's position that it is a lack of connection to our dreams which causes us to leave, we can also reason that some people will choose to remain in a miserable situation because they believe that doing so will help them achieve a goal or dream. The other possibility is that we remain in dysfunctional situations because we are afraid of what we might lose if we leave. Let's look at these two possibilities and how a leader might handle each.

I cannot afford to lose

When we are caught in the energy of "I must avoid _________" we fight a losing battle. This battle is in our minds, and this is why we cannot win. No matter how much we stockpile against the possibility of encountering that which we seek to avoid, we will never have quite enough. We can suddenly lose it all. Examples of things people frequently believe they cannot afford to lose:
  • Dignity
  • Self respect
  • Credibility
  • Popularity
  • Prestige
  • Status
  • Wealth
  • Authority

The reality is some of these are qualities that live within us and which cannot be lost without our permission and cooperation (dignity, self respect). Some are dependent on factors that may very well be out of our control (popularity, prestige, authority). Still others are combinations of external factors and internal qualities. Any time there are external factors, we do not have full control of the outcome. Any attempt to gain full control is wasted energy.

Grasping for control produces the opposite of the desired outcome. The more we strive to maintain our dignity on the outside, the greater the chance that we are losing it in the very act of striving. Dignity is a state of being, not a state of striving. Likewise, striving to control our level of popularity, an externally controlled factor, likely will decreased our actual popularity level because popularity is defined by others, not by how hard we try to be popular.

A powerful leader asks tough questions of him/herself and answers honestly. Am I striving or grasping for things I really have no control over? Am I tolerating a dysfunctional situation because I believe I have something to lose if I leave? More powerfully, do I believe I will lose something by honestly and constructively confronting the dysfunctions and doing my best to create a better environment for myself and others?

What would it be like to ask those same questions of your team members? What would you do with the answers? How can you help team members caught up in "I can't afford to lose" energy understand that this is an internal battle which can be reframed to help improve their situation?

I have a dream

Kelly asserts that having a dream engages us more strongly than any other single factor, including money or position. Consider the immigrant who works a back-breaking job for long hours every day because they dream of uniting their far-away family in their adopted country some day. Strategy, important as it is, is not nearly as engaging as dreaming.

What is your dream? If you choose to remain in a dysfunctional job because you are working to achieve your dream, the more powerfully and specifically you define that dream, the more engaged you will become with your work, in spite of the dysfunctions. As a result of this higher level of engagement, you will feel empowered to choose to address the reasons for the dysfunctions and work to resolve them. You will feel empowered to make more and better choices for yourself and for your team.

A powerful leader defines his/her dreams and keeps them easily accessible at all times. When faced with dysfunction on the job, the dream gives them the confidence and drive to address the issues at hand and find a healthier resolution. Moreover, a truly great leader inspires all those within their sphere of influence to nurture their own dreams, empowering them with the same confidence and drive to address issues and work toward resolution.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Integrity vs. Convenience by Michelle Kunz

Carmine Coyote's blog entry for September 21 asks a very important question: Can you display integrity only when it suits you? Inspired by Peter Vajda's article "Integrity at work – how do you stack up?" Carmine argues that striving for absolute integrity adds undue stress and guilt to already overwhelmed individuals who may find that under certain circumstances it makes sense to simply compromise their integrity in favor of simplifying a tense or demanding situation.

Peter Vajda states that integrity is "a lot like being pregnant. Either you're pregnant, or you aren't. There's no middle ground." Either we act with integrity or we don't. This is a tough position to take, and his quiz asks some very hard questions. I cannot pass with 100% perfection. The perfection word has tripped us up again. That and a lack of clarity around what is integrity.

What is integrity?

Integrity, according to Encarta, is "the quality of possessing and steadfastly adhering to high moral principles or professional standards." The second and third definitions are also helpful in extending our understanding: "the state of being complete or undivided" and "the state of being sound or undamaged." Taken together, one who acts with integrity not only possesses and steadfastly adheres to high moral principles or standards, but is also complete, undivided and undamaged. This state of being complete, undivided and undamaged is due to the fact that such an individual does not act in a way that divides them against themselves. They hold themselves in a state of deep respect and honor.

Whose standards?

The problems we experience with integrity begin when we fail to stop and ask ourselves whose standards we possess and expect ourselves to adhere to. It makes sense that whenever those standards are externally imposed we will at some point find ourselves in conflict with them and probably choose to ignore them. There may or may not be an external consequence for that choice, but most people will experience some sense of guilt or shame for going against principles they claim to honor but fail to actually follow in their real life actions.

A better choice is to take the time to define our own values and standards. When we narrow down our most important values to no more than five (it is almost impossible to focus on any more than about five) what we have left is a set of core defining principles around which all of our actions and attitudes can be compared. When we align our actions, attitudes and beliefs with these core principles, we are living in integrity. Because they are prinicples we defined, we see the direct correlation between living these values and an improvement in some area of our life, depending on what values we defined. Making choices becomes easier, saying no becomes easier, and guilt is manageable because when we say no to something external, we say yes to something internal.


A mid-level manager is working 60 hour weeks. His wife complains frequently that he is missing his son's soccer games and isn't home to engage with her. She questions his values around family. He experiences a great deal of shame and guilt because he thinks he ought to be a better husband and father, but he doesn't know how to balance the demands of his job with the demands of his family.

During a coaching session, we define his core values as Family, Financial Freedom, Authenticity, Integrity and Honesty. As we explore what these values mean to him, we uncover that he has deep concerns regarding paying his mortgage and a strong desire to earn a promotion which may be available to him in the next year so he can provide some additional discretionary income to his family. He has a strong commitment to providing for his family's financial future, and a desire to fulfill his wife's desire for nice things in their home.

On closer inspection, it turns out that his working long hours serves two of his five core values: Family and Financial Freedom. By working long and hard he has a better chance at getting that promotion, and therefore providing for his family's financial future and filling their immediate desires. He has not seen it in these terms before because on the surface it looks like his values have been in conflict. But the long hours are less about his career and more about his family. Where he is out of alignment most is in Authenticity and Honesty. He needs to have a discussion with his wife to express with authenticity and honesty how his working long hours serves those other two core values. This will put him into better integrity over all. With her feedback he can make adjustments if necessary as he gains a better understanding of his family's financial needs and desires.

At first glance, it may have looked as if the answer was "work fewer hours and spend more time with your family". Perhaps after receiving feedback from his wife the answer will be more along the lines of "work 55 hours and spend one hour per weekday playing with your son". The point here is that until you define your core values, you don't really know what the answer is. What appears to be the answer might be a lousy compromise that will make you feel guilty about something else. You end up trading guilt for guilt.

Relationships - Integrity = Lack of Trust

When people choose convenience based integrity, which means they adhere to high principles only when it is convenient, no one knows what to expect. Who defines when it is convenient? When is that definition made public? Typically that decision is made on the spur of the moment and under duress. Or in rebellion. Or in any number of other situations which are purely self serving. How can anyone count on you when your integrity changes without warning? Trust simply cannot exist under such conditions, and this is a requirement for powerful, engaging, dynamic leadership.

Trust requires reliability -- people have to know what to expect from you. Your commitment to your self-defined set of values makes you reliable. Your actions align themselves in a way that makes sense because they are defined by your values. Even if people do not agree with your values, they at least know what to expect, and this increases their ability to trust you.

What many people dislike about absolute integrity is that it requires absolute responsibility for our actions. When we find ourselves out of alignment, we cannot affix blame to outside circumstances or other people. We have only ourselves to look to for accountability. And this is a key difference.

Blame vs. Accountability

When you practice convenience integrity, you get an easy way out any time you need an excuse as to why you choose an action which does not align itself with your values. You simply blame it on the extenuating circumstances. "The boss required it." "I needed a break." The assumption is that you've done something wrong and you need to provide a reason why. When you practice absolute integrity, there is a better choice: accountability.

Accountability and responsibility are interchangeable. Blame, however, is not. Blame is always negative. Accountability and responsibility are neutral. This difference is crucial. When we look within to examine our behavior in a situation where our actions did not align with our values, we can give ourselves permission to be neutral. We can simply be in discovery mode. What were the circumstances? What were we thinking and feeling? What other values came into play? What other choices might we have made instead which would have better served our core values? What kept us from making those choices? What can we do differently next time?

This mode of discovery allows growth to occur. Convenience integrity does not allow for growth because of the convenience factor. It's like eating fast food: no work, little nutrition. The blame game encourages excuses rather than discovery, and we go nowhere. But we still feel guilt, even while we feel relief. Because we know that we have divided ourselves and we are now unreliable.
Powerful leaders know it requires courage and inner strength to live with integrity. They do not fool themselves into thinking it requires perfection. They realize the values they define are there as a guide for their actions, and they seek to choose those actions mindfully. When they make a mistake, they freely admit it, learn from their experience and adapt. This adaptive ability strengthens their alignment with their core values. As a result, they become more reliable and trustworthy, which encourages others to have greater confidence in their ability to lead.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Better Than Any Assigned Mentor by Michelle Kunz

Never take the advice of someone who has not had your kind of trouble.
-- Sidney J. Harris

Nothing is less sincere than our mode of asking and giving advice. He who asks seems to have a deference for the opinion of his friend, while he only aims to get approval of his own and make his friend responsible for his action. And he who gives advice repays the confidence supposed to be placed in him by a seemingly disinterested zeal, while he seldom means anything by his advice but his own interest or reputation.
-- Francois De La Rochefoucauld (1613 - 1680)

Mentoring For Success

Many success experts suggest finding a mentor as one way to assure success. Mentoring, as described by Jack Canfield, for example, in The Success Principles, is a fundamental aspect of "seeking out the clues of success." He dedicates an entire chapter to "Find a Wing to Climb Under." This chapter begins with instructions to find someone who has already accomplished what you wish to accomplish and seek their advice.

In the August 28 print edition of The Wall Street Journal Elizabeth Holmes wrote a column addressing the limitations of assigned mentor programs. In her article she cited examples of mismatched relationships, poorly run programs, ill defined objectives and lack of mentor commitment among the reasons why such programs might fail.

The trouble with many internal mentoring programs is they fail to make the essential match of determining what it is the mentee wishes to accomplish and who has already done it. In addition to other issues of personality matches and levels of desire for participation, this first test must be met in order for a mentoring relationship to exist. Many organizations simply match mentors and mentees at random. Other managers of internal programs believe they have met this objective based on shared experience and assumptions such as:
  • You must have the same goals as the person supervising you
  • Assigned mentor used to have your current position
  • Transitioned from same company
  • Transitioned from same discipline
  • Shared alma mater

Shared experiences might give you something to talk about, but they may have nothing to do with your professional objectives. Furthermore, if the company were to ask you to identify your objectives in the hope of better matching you to a potential mentor, it is highly unlikely you would feel free to share such information if it included plans to transition to another division or be promoted to CEO.

Companies offer mentoring programs with good intentions. Mentoring can be a path to success, as we have seen. In addition, new hires and new promotions often need additional help, and it would seem that a mentor relationship would make most sense for offering that help. This reflects a misunderstanding of the nature of a mentoring relationship, however, which is to show someone else how you accomplished what they would like to accomplish and guide them through the process. If we are looking simply to help a new hire or a new promotion, there are several non-mentor helping relationships which might be more useful. These include:
  • Buddy: show me where everything is and how it works and introduce me to key people
  • Supervisor: establish key position goals and objectives and walk me through the organizational structure
  • Guru: clue me in on organizational culture and other off-the-record information I can't find anywhere else

Any of these individuals might also make a great mentor. The key to finding a great mentor is first to understand what you want from them -- define your professional objective. A mentor is going to help you see what is possible within the organization and help set expectations of what you can achieve and how. They are going to take an interest in your professional development. In order for that to happen, this individual needs to be far enough ahead of you in the organization that they have perspective and experience.

A buddy can be a peer, and a guru can be anyone who has been there long enough to be in the know. Neither of these are necessarily someone far enough ahead to grant the necessary perspective to make a great mentor. Meanwhile a supervisor may find themselves with conflicting priorities or interests. What is in your best interest long term may be in direct conflict with what they need you to do right now.

Who's Who?

It takes time to identify someone who makes good mentor material. A quick read of who's who in the office line-up will not always reflect quality so much as altitude. How they got there is just as important as that they did. In addition, leadership styles matter. Someone who leads with "might makes right" or charisma will not be as good a mentor as someone who leads with a developmental leadership style. If you are new to the organization, ask around about leadership styles. People will likely have a lot of opinions they are happy to share.

Once you've identified a good candidate, the only thing left to do is make an appointment and ask. Most people are afraid to ask for what they want. The specific fears are too many to list, but they really are variations of the fear of rejection. We are afraid someone will say "no." That fear keeps us from asking someone out for a date, asking for that promotion, proposing a great idea, and finding a mentor who can show us the way to the very highest peaks of success. The truth is that if we do get a "no" we are no worse off than we were before except for our pride. If we can learn to manage our egos, we can learn to ask for anything and get much more than we currently have, just because we asked.

Successful people like to share what they have learned. And they want to be asked in a way that makes it seem appealing. Planning how to ask is an important part of the process which leads to a potential "yes." Developing a plan for the relationship in advance and showing how you plan to do the necessary work to make it a successful venture will certainly make a request much more attractive to a potential mentor.

Once you have found someone who will mentor you, the best way to keep that relationship vital is to follow through with what your mentor suggests. Wasting someone's time is never a good policy, and with mentors this is particularly true. Since you are ostensibly learning from what they have done, why would you not take their advice? Be very clear on this when you make the decision to enter into the relationship. If you are not prepared to act, do not bother making a proposal.

Alternatives to Assigned Mentoring

After reviewing how a successful mentoring relationship works, it is easy to see why many internal mentoring programs fail. In addition to the fatal flaw of the mismatch of desired to achieved success, without a personal request and commitment on the part of both parties, there is no buy-in. While the mentee may be desperate for help, the objectives may be unclear and help might be better sought through other sources.

If your organization offers assigned mentoring, there are alternatives, such as training and coaching, which provide different benefits but which might be more appropriate solutions for you and your team. Training brings a specific program of skills to the individual or group and, if applied throughout the organization, can offer a certain level of consistency. For new hires, this can be a great choice if getting them up and running is the challenge. You can even develop an internal training program which uniquely addresses your needs.

Coaching can also provide a foundation for consistency if it is designed to do so. In addition, coaching provides a confidential arena for the coachee to explore areas of concern and challenge combined with objective feedback and observation. In the coaching relationship a coachee can try out new skills without concern, explore possibilities, and develop action plans which are tailored to their needs and the needs of the organization. Unlike training, coaching is flexible and provides ongoing support and feedback in a real time environment. Unlike mentoring, coaching does not provide advice, but rather supports the coachee in discovering unique solutions to challenges.

Organizations often opt for internal assigned mentoring programs because there is a perception that training and coaching are more costly. However, when employees are left feeling lost and have no where to turn in spite of having an assigned mentor, what is the cost to the organization and to the employee? Worse, when an organization has offered a benefit which has no actual benefit, but instead lays hidden costs on both the mentor, who feels obligated to spend precious time with someone they have little professional interest in, and the mentee, for whom the relationship can be a burden in a situation where burdens are the precise reason for the relationship, what are the costs?

Ms. Holmes concludes her article with an anecdote from one employee whose best advice came from someone else's assigned "buddy." This was someone she felt comfortable going to for help and with whom she shared projects for feedback before presenting them to management. Is this not the essence of a mentor relationship: identify, choose and ask? Powerful leaders know the value of these actions in a mentoring relationship and they provide opportunities for their team members to engage in them as often as needed for their individual and mutual success.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Excellence is Giving by Michelle Kunz

Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 - 1882)

I have come to believe that giving and receiving are really the same.
Giving and receiving - not giving and taking.
-- Joyce Grenfell

Perfection is taking.
Excellence is giving.

In the second quote, Joyce Grenfell makes an important distinction between receiving and taking. This distinction also gets to the heart of the important difference between perfection and excellence for the purpose of our discussion.

Tracing our steps, perfectionism begins when we become vested in our being right. We become entrenched in the status quo, defending it hotly and building great arguments against change. We gradually come to fear all that change represents as we continue to find every excuse why our way is the best way. This fear leads to anger and frustration when others cannot or will not conform to our ideas about the way things ought to be. As we tighten our grip on our perceived sense of order, we drive others to anger and frustration as they feel our rigidity cutting off their creativity and individuality. Finally, we apply our version of right and wrong to challenges we face and mire ourselves in the tyranny of judgment.

Given the fear-oriented, rigid position of the perfectionist's view of the world, it is understandable that such a person might be tempted to adopt a "What's in it for me?" attitude toward challenge, including change, risk and sacrifice. Fear encourages us to see the possibility of loss and/or failure, and as a result, we grasp at everything we have now and what little we see might be available to us in the near future. We want to get and keep a tight hold, in case it all disappears, because this is what we fear most.

The dynamic created by a grasping orientation is essentially one of taking. We reach out and bring to us anything within our reach, whether it is right for us or not. We do this because we are collecting all we can against the possibility of ultimate loss and/or failure. This stockpiling of successes and material goods is an empty endeavor in the end because one can never fill the hole that fear creates deep within.

How are giving and receiving the same?

When we shift our orientation to one of excellence, which is grounded in a willingness to be wrong, gives us confidence to take risks, empowers us and others to be spontaneous, and looks for ways in which to accept what is in the current moment context, we free ourselves to see possibilities instead of failure. This freedom results in an openness to generosity -- in both directions. Rather than look for "What's in it for me?" we begin to shift to "What's in it for us?" or even the more empowering "What's in it for you?"

This openness allows us to not only give freely, but also to receive without suspicion or guilt. When we are stuck in a "What's in it for me?" mentality, it is easy to believe that everyone else is stuck there with us. When we move away to a more open, generous belief system, it doesn't matter. We take people as they are and appreciate whatever we find because we are looking for possibilities.

Why is giving important in building powerful leadership?

When we begin to give freely and actively seek the advantage for the other person, a marvelous thing happens. Powerful leadership begins to take root. To quote BNI's motto: "Givers Get." What do they get? It's hard to predict exactly, and true givers don't try to manipulate the outcome. Some of what might come back includes:

  • Trust -- people trust those who have their interests truly at the center of all they do
  • Admiration -- people admire those who commit their energies to advancing the common good
  • Respect -- people respect those who dedicate their time to helping others win
  • Wisdom -- when we listen deeply to what others need we learn more about ourselves and the world around us
  • Humility -- giving to others shines a mirror back on all that we have and helps us feel grateful
  • Authenticity -- giving deeply of ourselves removes the filters we keep in place when we withhold, requiring our true selves to come into focus
  • Integrity -- aligning our values with principles which do not change greatly simplifies the challenge of walking our talk

These are some of the qualities of a powerful leader. Truly great leaders aren't always made. Sometimes they simply are. Allowing that to take place can be a much bigger challenge than acquiring an impressive resume or the accoutrements of success. Great leaders know how to let go and allow their best selves to brilliantly shine.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Perfection is Judgment by Michelle Kunz

If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgment of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgment now. -- Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (121 AD - 180 AD)

Doubt yourself and you doubt everything you see. Judge yourself and you see judges everywhere. But if you listen to the sound of your own voice, you can rise above doubt and judgment. And you can see forever. -- Nancy Kerrigan

Perfection is judgment.
Excellence is acceptance.

I encourage you to read the quotes again. The power of this post lies in the depth of our understanding of where judgment begins. As indicated by our expert panel of two, judging starts within.

As in previous examples of how perfection can begin seemingly harmlessly and grow into a block, judgment appears to be desirable and even necessary. After all, we need to know the difference between mediocre and great or perhaps awful. How else can we do this without some degree of judgment? Perhaps if we more clearly define our terms we can choose not only a better word, but a better dynamic for making distinctions. For example, what is the difference between judging and discerning, and how is the energy different around these two words?

Dr. Ellen J. Langer, of Harvard University's Psychology Department, has done a great deal of research into the nature of mindfulness. In a recent keynote address, she delivered some of the startling results of her research:
  • Hotel housekeeping staff in a test group lost weight and showed measured improvements compared to the control group in areas such as cholesterol levels, heart and respiration rates and overall physical fitness. The experiment? Each group was asked to rate their current rate of physical activity and fitness levels (average rating: low). Then the test group engaged in discussions about how they spend their day. On discovery that they spend the majority of an eight hour work day in physical labor, they experienced an attitude shift about their activity levels. After several weeks, new measurements were taken, and the results were dramatic.
  • A variety of experiments report similar findings in situations where people are asked to describe a particular event or item with no further directions. When asked to describe a similar event or item, looking for subtle differences between the two, the ability of the subject to describe the second item increased dramatically. The theory? A context-driven task will produce far greater results than an arbitrary task. People need mindfulness to bring their full powers of attention and observation to the table.

What does mindfulness have to do with judgment?

Dr. Langer warns against the tyranny of evaluation. We all know what this means. Since grade school we have been sensitized and oriented to the results of a given task. How often did I hear in my teaching years, "What do I need to do to get an A in your class, Dr. Kunz?" How shocked they would be to hear me say now, "Show up and be mindful of and responsive to whatever takes place." What they don't understand is that a class dedicated to those principles might engage in the most lively debates on the subject at hand, increasing the possibility of a depth of knowledge unattainable through memorization of facts and figures most tests are aimed at capturing.

Judgment gone awry pushes us into a position of polarity. There is good and bad, right and wrong, my way or your way, up and down. We forget that in reality a vast number of possibilities exist along the way from left to right. They are infinite.

Judgment forces us to value results over process, and therefore we miss the infinite on the way from one pole to the other. We are either finished or not. If this is the way success if defined, we have missed great opportunities for insight, awareness and potential. We are stuck on the treadmill of grinding out activity and no longer value the experience gained along the path if we were to jump off and really walk somewhere.

Why is excellence acceptance?

Acceptance sounds admittedly passive. Why should we adopt an attitude of acceptance when we wish to become powerful leaders?

Because we misunderstand the true meaning of the word. Again, referring to Encarta, it is the fifth definition which conveys a sense of passivity: "without protest." The first four definitions are more active: saying yes (as in accepting an invitation), the act of taking a gift, the willingness to believe that something is true, and finally, coming to terms with something.

Acceptance serves us better than judgment because it is related to mindfulness. When we are mindful, we are aware, context-oriented and responsive. The power of this state lies in our ability to accept situations, events, other people, and ourselves as they are in this very moment with an understanding of what we might do to effect change if we choose to do so. This is the future-oriented thinking of a great leader. Unlike judgment, whose polarity usually locks us into a position of looking at what is wrong, acceptance allows us to see things as they really are -- the truth --, respond without the need to control, embrace spontaneity from ourselves and others, including mistakes which result from risks taken, and look at how the future might be different based on the entire experience.

Great leaders know how to embrace the gestalt of their experience and those of their team members in such a way that all parties feel liberated and empowered to move forward in creative, bold, mindful new directions free from the tyranny of judgment.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Control vs. Spontaneity by Michelle Kunz

Analysis kills spontaneity. -- Henri-Frederic Amiel

The author of genius does keep till his last breath the spontaneity, the ready sensitiveness, of a child...the ability to respond freshly and quickly...to see traits and characteristics as though each were new-minted...instead of sorting them quickly into dusty categories and pigeon-holing them without wonder or surprise... -- Dorothea Brande

Perfection is control.
Excellence is spontaneous.

When we began this series we observed that many good intentions can be reshaped into obsession below the radar of our awareness, and control is another great example of this phenomenon. Some amount of control is often appropriate and perhaps even preferable, for example where highly emotional displays are concerned, but too much control can also lay the groundwork for apathy, boredom and at its worst, anger, frustration and rage.

In our last post we discussed how anger and frustration can be the natural result of the desire to be right, fueled by the resulting fear of making a mistake, which ultimately leads an individual to attempt to control aspects of life which cannot actually be controlled. This is one example of how control can be destructive.

Control can also result when an individual suffers from other types of fear (coupled with the resulting typical behavior):
  • Fear of intimacy (I will not allow myself to get too close)
  • Fear of embarrassment (I will control how others see me)
  • Fear of failure (I will control the outcome)
  • Fear of success (I will control the outcome)
  • Fear of losing control (I will exert more control)
  • Fear of intensity (I will shut my emotions off)
  • Fear of personal flaws (I will overwork or I will not try)
  • Fear of commitment -- to a person or a decision (I will procrastinate)

Control taken to these levels often becomes the overarching rule by which perfectionists run their lives, and although they may suspect something is out of balance, they may be unable to see where the inequity lies or make any moves to produce a change. Relationships suffer greatly, both personally and professionally, and overall effectiveness is compromised.

Why is excellence spontaneous?

For individuals who have relied on control to govern their fears, spontaneity at first glance seems like chaos. It is dangerous, inviting all varieties of unpredictability into a life where once ruled smooth uniformity and routine. Calm, cool and collected is traded for intensely emotional displays run amok. There are far too many variables involved to even consider, and the temptation is to shut the door and return to the familiar comfort of a highly controlled environment, whether internal, external or both.

However, let's examine the true nature of spontaneity and challenge these limiting beliefs.

According to Encarta, the first definition of spontaneous is: "arising from internal cause: resulting from internal or natural processes, with no apparent external influence." The definition most people associate with the word -- "unrestrained" -- is the third definition.

What would happen if we allowed our internal system of values and beliefs, our fundamental intelligence and creativity, to speak up and inspire us to say what's on our minds without concern for appearances, failure, negative feedback, rejection, pressure, politics, or any other perceived or real external influence?

A powerful leader knows how to be spontaneous and how to encourage it in others. It is in spontaneity that fresh ideas are born and problems solved. It is here that lively debate can occur, the lifeblood of a healthy, productive team. Why do we like brainstorming sessions? Because when done well, they are spontaneous, and fantastic schemes can be invented and explored without judgment.

Spontaneity is childlike but it is not childish. A powerful leader knows the difference and can confidently and adeptly nourish the former while keeping the latter at bay. Control has its place, but teams are hungry for spontaneity, and there is a wilderness of room available for exploration.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Excellence is Powerful by Michelle Kunz

Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power. -- Seneca (5 BC - 65 AD)

Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens. -- Epictetus (55 AD -135 AD)
Perfection is anger and frustration.
Excellence is powerful.

This article's opening quotes are purposefully taken from ancient times. The struggle of humans to be at peace with what is not within our direct control is timeless. It is comforting to consider that since people first formed societies we have been engaged in power struggles, and it is from these power struggles that perfectionism arises. Whether overt or deeply hidden, perhaps even subconscious, the struggle to gain and/or maintain power over another person or situation which is rightfully not within our power is at the root of almost every stress we have ever known.

Tracing our path from the need to be right at all costs to the fear this breeds within us, we can easily see how perfectionism gives rise to anger and frustration.

Self directed anger

Directed inwardly, perfection's unrealistic goals set us up for self-hatred and ongoing frustration as we continually fall short of our own expectations. No one else could possibly design a more rigid set of standards than we do for ourselves. In fact, for many people those very standards keep them in a state of paralysis as they realize on some level they cannot meet their own viciously high standards and thus procrastinate beginning to avoid failure later. A self defeating cycle is then put in play as anger and frustration set in as a result of the procrastination. As self esteem suffers, the disconnect between our potential and our reality widens, and anger and frustration increase.

Anger towards others

When another individual (or a group of individuals) is the focus of our perfectionist tendencies, anger and frustration build in both parties. We perceive latent potential and set goals and standards based on our desire for perfection. As leaders, we are aware of the risk of making a mistake, so we are heavily vested in getting it right and making sure everyone else does, too. We are motivated by fear more than openness, so our desire is to drive every person and every project to our level of comfort. When deadlines slip, mistakes are made or someone can't keep up, anger and frustration flare.

Anger towards us

Meanwhile, the individuals at whom these impossible standards are directed may feel managed rather than led. They may feel they have no voice in their project, no choice in their methods and processes, and are no more than a body going through the motions to produce an outcome. They are silent in meetings, or perhaps show their resentment through sarcasm or constant joking. Even worse, they may find ways to stall -- sabotaging the effort through passive-aggression because their anger and frustration has no vent.

Why is excellence powerful?

Excellence is powerful because excellence is willing to be wrong, learn, and get even better. Excellence takes appropriate risks in the face of fear. When a leader combines the willingness to be wrong with appropriate risk taking, a powerful energy begins to take shape in their way of thinking and doing. They are free to explore, express, share, learn, expand.

Control is limiting. Power, in the way we are discussing it, is freeing. A powerful leader knows how to build levels of trust in her team in such a way that open conflict is explored without humiliation, rancor or harm. When team members, from the lowest level to the highest, can engage in lively, free, open debate, new and creative ideas are discovered which otherwise would have lain stagnant beneath the rubble of anger and frustration created by the culture of control.

A powerful leader pursues excellence because it begins first with the leader. And a powerful leader knows that this is, after all, the only thing within her power to control.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Taking a Risk by Michelle Kunz

In life we don’t get what we want, we get in life what we are. If we want more we have to be able to be more, in order to be more you have to face rejection. -- Farrah Gray

To use fear as the friend it is, we must retrain and reprogram ourselves...We must persistently and convincingly tell ourselves that the fear is here--with its gift of energy and heightened awareness--so we can do our best and learn the most in the new situation. -- Peter McWilliams, Life 101

Perfection is fear.
Excellence is taking a risk.

This pair flows nicely from the first of the series. If perfection is committed to being right at all costs, fear is a natural result of striving to maintain that position.

There are many aspects of fear experienced by those in leadership positions:
  • Fear of failure is perhaps the most widespread. If I fail will I lose my job? The respect of others? Backing? Credibility?
  • Fear of the unknown freezes us in mindless repetitions of past-relevant contexts. If we change some things, won't we have to change everything? If it's already working well enough, why mess it up? Why should we go in this new direction?
  • Fear of success is a subtle yet powerful block which affects many who are amazingly creative and talented. If I am successful, how will that success change the other areas of my life? If I am as successful as I dream I could be, how will I possibly sustain that long term? If I am successful and then fail, how will I live with the embarrassment?
  • Fear of rejection is a huge motivating force (for inaction) for many people. If I try this and they don't like it, how will I deal with the rejection? If they reject me/my product, does that mean they don't like me? Why should I propose this new idea if it is going to be rejected anyway?
  • Fear of losing ________ can cripple the otherwise motivated. If I lose my job/relationship/savings/self-respect/______ how will I ever continue on?

In the coaching partnership we eventually have a conversation around fear of some kind. Inevitably the client shares the common experience that something inside, experienced as self talk, or someone else's voice (often a parent or other authority figure) talking, begins chattering in very negative language whenever fear is present. That chatter can take many forms, but usually is some variation of the following:

  • "Who do you think you are?"
  • "You can't do this."
  • "You aren't capable."
  • "You should know better."
  • "This will never work."
  • "You're going to fail/look foolish/lose everything."
  • "Who are you kidding? Everyone knows you're a fake."

Negative self talk is incredibly damaging and blocking. While it is often difficult to shut it up entirely, it is not difficult to change its influence. Furthermore, self talk can shed light on very important aspects of our self and what motivates us (to action or inaction). Through the coaching partnership, the client is able to very closely examine the nature of such self talk, acquire greater self awareness, and replace it with new, empowering talk that over time can turn negative energy totally around where fear is concerned.

Why take risks?

Risks are where all the creative ideas lie. Nothing invented, discovered or created has ever been attempted without some degree of risk. To court risk is to court possibilities and excitement. Risk is where the future lies.

So how does a leader encourage appropriate risk taking? By leading the way. Modeling is a strong teacher as well as motivator. When your team observes you taking risks, failing, and taking more risks informed by the previous attempts, they will feel safer doing the same.

The more freely you can discuss your failures and share your experiences around that, the more willing your team will be to openly confront their own failures. This is itself a risk. Admitting where we made the wrong choice, and how we felt about the results is a vulnerable position to take. Powerful leaders know how to make this the starting position. They share the experience of failure and reframe it as they shift the energy from the past (what happened and how they felt at the time) to the present (what we have learned and where this leaves us now) and, more importantly, the future (what we are going to do with that new information to allow us to take another more informed risk).

As we learn to be comfortable with risk, we move from being blocked by our fear to using our fear to ignite our creativity and passion. Our drive for excellence moves to the foreground and our ability to lead with engaged, empowered vision grows. People are drawn to our values of excellence, passion and engagement and we no longer experience fear in the old way, for we know that every failure teaches us something that brings us closer to blazing success.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Perfection vs Excellence, Part I: Willing to Be Wrong by Michelle Kunz

If I find 10,000 ways something won't work, I haven't failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward. -- Thomas A. Edison

If you're creative, if you can think independently, if you can articulate passion, if you can override the fear of being wrong, then your company needs you now more than it ever did. And now your company can no longer afford to pretend that isn't the case.
-- Hugh Macleod, How To Be Creative

As a recovering perfectionist I was given a list of distinctions between perfection and excellence about a year ago. After reading Slow Leadership's post on perfectionism, I thought it might be of value to my readers to explore the subtle differences brought to our awareness by the anonymous author in a series devoted to the topic.

Perfection is being right.
Excellence is willing to be wrong.

As in all things related to perfectionism, the idea starts out with the best of intentions. Isn't it good to be right? We have all been through the academic system, and being right guarantees high test scores, perhaps entrance to the college of your dreams, nailing that interview. Some situations absolutely depend upon being right; a heart surgeon cannot fool around with being wrong, nor can an airline pilot or anyone else in whose hands we place our lives.

But for most of us, being right or wrong is rarely a matter of life and death, and it is here that perfectionism can begin to take hold and place us into a rigidity death grip from which all our creativity and freshness is squeezed if we do not exercise a high level of self awareness. Whenever being right becomes the most important thing and life/death is not at stake, we are stuck.

In their book Too Perfect: When Being in Control Gets Out of Control, authors Allan Mallinger and Jeannette DeWyze discuss some of the problems with a preoccupation with being right:

  • difficulty in making even relatively simple choices (what if I don't get it right?)
  • relationship damage and erosion of trust (why can't you get it right?)
  • procrastination (I have to get it right, so I need to get ready first)
  • worry and stress (did I get it right?)
  • black and white thinking (there is only one way to get it right)
  • score keeping (you against me or me against myself or general scorekeeping)

And the list goes on.

Sadly, many leaders are extremely caught up in getting things right. And for good reason. There is a lot at stake. They have people to answer to above them, and people looking to them for answers below. In all directions there are people watching and the pressure feels tremendous. No wonder we so very badly want to get it right.

So where is the value in being willing to be wrong?

The value lies in giving up control over things we have no control over to begin with. Control is a mighty word. It sounds like something we all should have and want more of. But when we look realistically at what we have control over, the truth is rather uncomfortable. What we have control over is what we choose to do and what we choose to think about: how we choose to respond to our emotional state, how we choose to respond to others, what we choose to do with any given moment in our lives, and what thoughts we choose to spend time and energy on.

Everything else is out of our direct control. So when we make a decision (something we have control over) and things don't work out because the economy changed, the company did something differently than we had hoped, someone was out sick and we got behind schedule, someone quit, someone else didn't get their work in on time, we were out sick, or maybe someone gave us incorrect data, we end up with a wrong decision, but none of the reasons were within our control.

Yes, we may have to answer to all the people looking to us for answers. Great leaders learn the art of admitting they were wrong with humility, dignity and grace. They learn how to move the energy forward in spite of being wrong. They know that being wrong means a chance to learn something that moves you one step closer to true creative genius.

Which is much, much better than simply getting it right.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Credible Leadership by Michelle Kunz

As leaders we face the ongoing challenge of earning the right to be in the seat of leadership. It would be much more convenient if this were a one-shot deal, but even in tyranny that does not really exist. The tyrant must always be on the lookout for the would-be usurper and this requires a great deal of energy.

In fact, as exhausting as it sounds, it takes a great deal less energy to focus our attention on the positive aspects of earning the right to lead, as opposed to maintaining the might to lead. In earning the right to lead, there are a few key elements to incorporate into our leadership approach, and ultimately into our personality, and these will ensure that those we lead are willing to be led.

  1. Establish trust. We hear about trust all the time, but how to earn it is both simple and not easy. To truly be trusted, we must be transparent. Transparency means that when people speak to us or otherwise interact with us, they need no guessing to understand our motivation, our desires, our fears and our current feeling state. As leaders, we can develop the ability to express all of that articulately and well, without being reactive or inappropriate. There is a genuine vulnerability which comes with transparency, and most leaders are not accustomed to feeling vulnerable -- isn't a leader INvulnerable? -- but if those we lead sense our vulnerability without sensing reactiveness, they will be more willing to trust us because of the honesty this requires. Honesty begets trust every time. Any sense of dishonesty -- even in the name of appearing strong when we are not -- will lead to the erosion of trust.
  2. Delegate effectively. Most of us need no reminders that delegation is a key component to successful leadership. We simply cannot do it all by ourselves, which is why we are leading to begin with -- there are others who are needed. But effective delegation is challenging. It is also empowering. For the person who is delegating, time is freed to pursue core genius tasks. For the person delegated to, a growth opportunity is presented. Effective delegation requires clear up-front communication regarding goals, time frame, accountability and consequences, both for achievement and for failure. When both parties are involved in laying out the groundwork there will be a higher sense of ownership and accountability. And then the leader needs to let go and let the process which has been laid out take its natural course. If a well thought out process has been defined, nothing more is required. If additional management seems necessary, examine the initial set-up to see where additional clarity might have prevented this energy drain.
  3. Achievement vs. avoiding failure. The differences between these two orientations are vast. Many leaders find themselves trapped by fear of failure. They have been promoted quickly and lack confidence, skills or experience. They have been promoted due to skill sets and lack people skills to lead teams effectively. They have achieved such a high position of leadership that they fear taking too many risks and are stuck in the trap of doing things the same way because it has always worked before. All of these (and plenty others) are leaders who are avoiding failure. The energy they exude is fear-based, negative, demanding, uncreative, blocked, backward looking and stale. Leaders who are achievement oriented are interested in what works, what works better, and what works best. They pursue excellence. They are willing to try new ideas, learn new skills (and try them out without experience -- to GAIN experience), and make mistakes. They know how to learn from their experiences and move forward. Achievement requires movement away from what is known and what is safe. It requires taking risks. Credible leaders examine their attitudes and processes for the old and stale and continually renew and refurbish.
  4. Incorporate mistakes into the plan. Once a leader has laid out a plan of action and the team has moved into the implementation phase, a lot of things are going to happen which were not a part of the plan. This is the nature of action. Ineffective leaders tend to return to the original plan and try to make things fit back to the original. This is past oriented thinking, filled with negative energy. It is exhausting and unproductive. Time is wasted while things are "fixed." Meanwhile new unexpected and unplanned events are occurring all the time. We're stuck! Credible, effective leaders realize in advance that this is inevitable and are flexible and creative enough to incorporate the unexpected into the plan in the current context and move forward with the new information and perspective. Context is constantly shifting as new information and time flows from the present moment into the past and forward into the future. Remaining current-context oriented keeps us resilient, responsive and creative. We are unstoppable!
  5. Cultivate humility. This connects us back to the beginning. Humility is an attitude of service. It is an awareness of all that we do not possess, all that we do not know, all that we cannot do. Without needing to descend all the way to self deprecation, humility can help keep us human, open and transparent, help maintain our sense of humor and perspective, and remind us that we are all equals, even though some of us lead. The teacher is the student and the student the teacher. The servant the master, and the master the servant. Humility draws people to us and allows them to see us for what we truly are. Our strengths become apparent, without the need for aggrandizement.

There are many books, websites, blogs, articles and papers written on how to be a great leader. Leaders who are great and not so great speak on this topic every day. There are certainly more than five qualities a leader can aspire to in gaining credibility. I offer these five as a starting point for sincere leadership -- a foundation from which authentic power can be truly shared by all and channeled by one in whom others have placed their confidence. The leader.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Making Business Sing by Michelle Kunz

I am by formal education a professionally trained opera singer, with a hard earned doctorate's initials after my name when I choose to add them. Transitioning to coaching was a natural extension of having spent many years teaching in studio, masterclass and classroom situations, but it wasn't until recently that I noticed a very powerful similarity between how an organization and an opera performance work (or not).

There are obvious metaphors to be drawn, and they are certainly worthy of discussion, but one I'd like to focus on in this first post is the primary relationship between conductor and principal artist (management and staff). Typically in a high level opera house, both conductor and artist are hired several years in advance of the actual performance, and often do not actually meet until the rehearsal period has commenced. In the interim, both have studied hard to know the score, the plot, the intricacies of musical phrasing, articulation, tempi and dynamics, and have developed ideas about how this opera is going to be sung.

These ideas, of course, are based on their point of view. The conductor is looking at the opera as a whole -- orchestra, chorus, small roles, secondary roles and principal roles. Solo arias as well as ensembles and even possibly ballets. The entire musical idea in its gestalt lies with the conductor, and with a well known opera, whether the performance will be stale or fresh depends on how well he or she can differentiate his ideas from others who have come before. At first rehearsals with both orchestra and singers (individuals and chorus), the conductor must establish an essential balance of authority and likability as well as possess the ability to communicate her unique ideas with utmost clarity to the musicians.

The singer, meanwhile, is looking at the opera as a whole as well, but is focusing more closely on his or her specific role in the overall picture. She must take into consideration her technical abilities, her temperament, her physical stamina, her musical preferences and abilities, her previous experiences with the piece, her understanding and development of the character and her relationship to the others in the opera, and any other physical, emotional, mental or intellectual limitations or strengths which will help or hinder a fantastic performance.

If the opera in question is popular, it is highly likely that both conductor and singer have performed this piece before, perhaps many times, with success (or failure) before meeting each other for the first time. They may have strongly held opinions about how it should go. And these opinions may not match at all.

So far do we see any similarities at all between management and staff?

Now comes the tricky part. On first meeting if the conductor does not manage to establish some truly great rapport with the singer, the likelihood of any new and fresh musical ideas coming out of the relationship between the two is pretty close to doomed. A singer has a lot to manage in the moment of a performance. To ask them to change anything they have already done with success in the past is asking a lot. It's risky. To ask that to happen when you don't like the conductor, or when you don't trust their judgment or their values, or their ability to hold it together when the going gets tough -- or just be there for you if you get a little shaky -- is asking too much.

I have personally witnessed conductors who totally abandon the stage during a performance. They don't know the opera, don't know the music, have no idea what the needs of the stage are, and are focused primarily on the pit. Is a train wreck in that situation such a shock?

On the other hand, I have also personally witnessed the will -- or carelessness -- of a singer ruin the hard work of rehearsal during a performance. They either forget to watch the conductor and get out of sync with everyone else, or they decide they want to change things without warning, and suddenly everything is a little off for a while. There is a moment of panic while the entire attention of the conductor is not so much on making music as on preventing disaster.

Any other similarities coming to mind?

And we haven't even brought in the effect this has on the ticket buying audience and long term subscribers -- the bottom line.

Establishing those foundations of trust and open and healthy communication are essential from the very beginning of any working relationship, and they must be nurtured and maintained until the fat lady sings to ensure ongoing success. Without this foundation, any performance is on very shaky ground. Whether you're on the stage or in the pit, this is not a good place to be.