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May 2011

LEADERSHIP LENSES

I was requested by clients to post some of most leadership-relevant pieces from The Global Consultant Blog (which is being re-jigged as part of the upcoming new Sensei website). Here are three very different pieces there are particularly relevant and important.

JUDGED BY WHAT?

I’m astonished by the number of people who bristle when you challenge them. Even if you challenge them on observable behavior (i.e. not letting others complete their sentences, or pecking at their “Crackberry” during a critical presentation, or being habitually late armed with a newly varnished excuse each time), they act as if you’ve launched an existential attack on the very basis of their being or worth.

Here is an anomaly. We believe we know what we’re capable of. So rather than being judged on what we do, we expect people to give us a break on the basis of what we’re capable of. The average person will not oblige. Life is short; they’ll extrapolate from their present experience of you. That’s the impetus to get the job done today, to get your act together now, to do what you say and finish what you start. Despite that, you will have blinkers and issues — we all do. Great leaders will see past the mists of your limitations and the storm clouds in your emotional weather systems and glimpse your larger abilities and perhaps even your positive intent. They will then challenge you to step up to the first and better exemplify the second. They will customize how they engage you, reinforce you and enroll you accordingly. When you experience such a leader or team…hallelujah! But if you need such a leader or team to come through…your life will be one of perennial disappointment and vexation.

Most of us judge others on the impact they have on us. Whether they intended it or not seems not to matter. “It hurt!” And if you didn’t know it would hurt me…well you should have! Or so is the implication inherent in our bruised outrage. On the other hand if we have a negative impact on someone else, and we know it’s not what we intended, we feel a sense of injustice if the other person judges us on impact rather than intent. Of course they often don’t know our intent, but damn it, they should! Or again, so is the implication as we nurse our bitterness. Always become a student of impact, and explore intent. Defer reactions until you’re on the other side of that exploration.

So, should we be judged by actions or by potential? Should we be judged by impact or intent? Both.

We must drive our actions and build confidence in ourselves and others by reaching for our potential, “failing forward” if we must.

We must be sensitive to impact and taper communication to the receiver, rather than exalting the sender (us). At the same time, we must drive the real intent forward if it really matters. We can’t let volatility of impact have us withdraw…that’s just a form of manipulation. Similarly we must make ourselves easy to engage…less prickles and more hospitality for collaboration.

Let’s ask to be judged by who we are today, and coached towards who we can become. Let’s own our impact, but share our intent. Let’s share impact on us, and be open to understanding the best intent of the other person. As we do, we improve our accountability and our capacity, both for performance and building productive relationships with others.

BEWARE OF ‘FACTS’

I’ve always urged that consultants are at their best when they help clients interrogate assumptions posing as facts. The almost “holy” question is, “How do you really know that?” Assumptions lead us often into a cul-de-sac of our own paradigms.

The other danger is what is called “research”. All of us can skew “statistics” in infinite ways. There is the Yogi Berra story I love about stats. Someone asks whether the pizza should be cut in four or eight slices. Comes the reply, “You better cut it into four, I don’t think I can eat eight.” That in turn brings the old saw to mind, “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”

Today there has been a report released, blazing across news channels about how a new study links sugary soft drinks to an up to 87% increase in the risk of pancreatic cancer. Wow! Well, that is, until you read the small print of the study.

Some news channels segued from this to panning diet drinks and saying they were “poison.” They may well be, but not on the basis of this study, which only speaks of sugary soft drinks. The same study confesses that fruit juice has virtually the same amount of sugar, but doesn’t have these alleged effects.

Let me say right out, I think the fact that sugary sodas have a host of health ills is probably not controversial. So my taking on the “spin” being given to this study is NOT a defense of soft drinks. It’s an expose of our tending to state definitive conclusions based on ambiguous, if not gossamer facts.

This study, which was conducted in Singapore, tracked 60,000 individuals over about 14 years. Of these 60,000, 140 developed pancreatic cancer. Of those 140, 30 they say consumed sugary sodas on a regular, weekly basis. The balance, 110 who developed the illness, did not consume sugary sodas. So how is this being advertised as a “finding”? How can these numbers not more persuasively argue for a chance connection at best? The researchers also refer to 4 past studies that found no link between such drinks and pancreatic cancer!

Yet the headlines proclaim, “Sugary sodas linked to pancreatic cancer.” What ineffable twaddle! Or, certainly so, on the basis of the facts actually cited in the study. Now excess sugar intake can precipitate the onset of diabetes, which is a risk factor for pancreatic cancer. I get that link and rationale…which though is a sidebar to this study, and wasn’t anything particularly studied here.

The takeaway? Beware of grandiose sweeping conclusions, from scant, inconclusive facts. Consultants be the voice of bracing balance. We can’t solve what we don’t understand. While everyone runs around drowning in data, be enough of a contrarian, enough of a healthy skeptic, to make sure that what glitters in that instance is really gold, not brass.

KARMA-FOSTERING LEADERSHIP LARGESSE

  1. Test your intelligence by challenging it, flexing it, extending it, giving it a novel work-out, or deploying it in an uncertain situation to create new and unanticipated value. The more you ask of your intelligence, the more it will give back.
  2. Give the best possible information you can to others. Be clear, complete, informative, incisive, and indicate what needs to be done. And always taper what you convey to what others need to know and perhaps want to understand, rather than gratuitously broadcasting your eloquence without purpose.
  3. Enjoy your eccentricities as well as those of others. We are a mass of eccentricities, they are the coordinates of our uniqueness. However as we revel in our own, let’s remember to also accept and enjoy those of others. None of us are ‘normal’, and the most abnormal things happen when we try to be.
  4. Provide some extra unexpected value to an external or internal customer. When they are positively surprised and ask why, you have a chance to let them know in what ways they are distinctively important to you and deeply valued.
  5. Volunteer at your child’s school. Make time, make a choice, make a difference. You will emerge with an expanded vision of life and the stakes involved in us adults being good life coaches, role models, and trustworthy friends.
  6. Whenever you read anything, a memo, a report, a book, a newspaper article, a love letter, remind yourself of the purpose for which you are reading. Then savor the reading and derive value from it accordingly. Pick the intensity of the reading, the mood, the ambience, and your quality of attention accordingly.
  7. Focus is the key to success — don’t do everything at once. You can ‘nibble’ at tasks that are peripheral, but really important work requires dedicated attention. Pick what matters most and commit your best energy to it. How long matters less than how well and how completely you immerse.
  8. Leaders often need to do strenuous mental work. We should revitalize by shifting tempo and activities. Regularly, as a real pattern interrupt, do something physically active that oxygenates the blood, allows you to sweat out stress and toxins, and gives you a glow of physical well being in the aftermath.
  9. Be open to improvising. So often we don’t know the answer, can’t imagine the right way forward, are ‘stuck’. So we do something, we adapt, we experiment, we take a chance, we stir the pot, we stimulate some reaction and stimulate a way forward.
  10. Wherever you go, whatever you’re doing, see if you can leave a bit more joy in your wake than you found when you arrived. As a way to do this, notice people. The person who pours your water, or checks your ticket at the cinema, or sells you fruit on the street, or wraps your purchase…really SEE them, notice them, acknowledge them. It’s not only good to do, it’s great training for our senses, our awareness, and perhaps our soul.
  11. Take a hand-delivered thank you note to someone you want to acknowledge at work. Take a hand-delivered “I love you” telegram to someone you really love outside of work. Find the words, find the occasion, honor the person.
  12. It’s easy to babble over what someone is saying, or to leap to conclusions, or to listen half-heartedly. Not everyone manages to convey the fullness of their message in the first two sentences. Listen to the whole answer, listen to the whole message. As you hear more, you can do more with it.
  13. Galileo once said to his colleagues that they should assume their own theories were wrong and seek to disprove them. Only when they could no longer disprove them, but had no choice left but to accept them, should they say they were correct. This dedication to truth, this openness to find out the way things are, this openness to test assumptions and dig deep into situations, is something we have to foster in ourselves and our teams.
  14. Make meals a celebration. ‘Breaking bread’ together is an act of kinship and fellowship. We need to invest such times with attentive appreciation, rather than lackluster complacency. We all have to bring the fun in us and with us.
  15. Occasionally, break a pattern. Get up earlier than usual and go for a morning run with friends. Go to bed a bit later that evening and listen to Beethoven’s Ninth with a glass (or bottle) of wine you haven’t tried before. Read a point of view that challenges yours. Order something totally different at a favorite restaurant. Sleep on the other side of the bed. Change your ‘look’ for a day. Positively acknowledge something good in a person who infuriates you usually. Volunteer a favor for your spouse. Do something different in other words…as we expand our paradigms, we expand ourselves.
  16. When you get home, let your posture, your actions, your willingness to relax, your openness to engage loved ones, convey that you have returned to a wonderful oasis, and to a remarkable opportunity to nurture and be nurtured…though sometimes to infuriate and be infuriated too if we’re honest! But take off your shoes, and take off your terminal seriousness and remove a few layers of your world weariness. Everyone has issues and problems. And you can help each other with them — but create a mood of community and connection first.
  17. Master a new skill, be it technological, artistic, business-related, interpersonal or otherwise. A new skill will require new thinking, fresh adaptation, necessary evolution. Not a bad collection of benefits to reel in from time to time!
  18. Become a connoisseur of language and communication. But also ensure your words reflect your real intent, and some of your compassion along with your intelligence. And the way to calibrate communication is always from the impact it has on others. Become a student of impact and you will invariably heighten your communication prowess.
  19. Make your work meaningful. Create a role to which you can fully give yourself — at least for some time. When you’ve found that, you can focus on truly growing rather than just artfully coping. If you don’t find it ready made, help to design and invent it in a way that produces value for your organization and team.
  20. You can’t change what you can’t face. First accept yourself as you are. That will give you the energy, the motivation and the necessary self-confidence to create compelling change. If daunted, start small, but keep moving. Each bit of progress fertilizes our self-belief.
  21. One way to enlarge your own perspective, find someone who sees things quite differently, and engage with them until you can begin to at least glimpse the world as they see it. Then return to your own view and expand and enhance it from there.
  22. Get to know your team. Use projects as a way to build up a leadership and team culture that exemplifies the way you want to interact overall. Projects are a way to deliver results; they are also labs for how we wish to interact, communicate, engage and behave.
  23. When it’s salad instead of steak, enjoy the health-giving benefits, the lightness, the wellness, the pleasure of flooding your body with needed vitamins and minerals. When it’s steak instead of salad, enjoy the voluptuous delight, and let your enjoyment foster your sense of well-being in a different way. Either way, and in fact in every possible way, expand your capacity for joy.
  24. Be astute, be attentive, be present. Hone your powers of observation so you aren’t easily hoodwinked by appearances or seduced down blind alleys. Remember the wisdom that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gave to his creation, Sherlock Holmes, “When you have eliminated what is impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” Let’s be observant enough to spot the nuggets of insight and opportunity that so often lie in front of us, awaiting our discovery.
  25. We have to create possibilities, not wallow in obstacles. Never argue for limitations, look for ways to re-imagine and re-invent. We have to be architects, not just mechanics. Our job is to enroll and align others to help us imagine and then create the future.

In short, let’s help create the Karma we wish to experience!