Monday, April 28, 2008

What's Not Being Said

Understanding the processes that an organization uses to make decisions is important to understanding why a group makes the decisions that it does. I have found that many organizations don't make full decisions because of their thinking processes and because of their group dynamics. For me, one of the first steps in understanding a group's dynamics is to obverse their interactions in group meetings over an extended period of time.

Watching a group interact tells volumes. Besides the verbal interplay, there is so much to notice. Who sits where? Do they sit in the same spot every time? Where does x sit in relation to the Boss? to their arch rival? What is the tone of the speech? the body language? Who is not really listening but doing a myriad of other things like talking to their neighbor, passing notes, answering email? Who only talks to the Boss? Who is virtually invisible and why?

After I have watched a group for four or five meetings, I ask myself this question, looking closely and carefully at the group for the answer: what are the unspoken beliefs and assumptions in this discussion right now? If I can connect what is being said to someone's unspoken root beliefs and assumptions, then I can start to help solve problems. Not until I identify the unspoken beliefs and assumptions can I begin to influence the group's thinking in a way that will be effective.

Sometimes after applying concentrated effort to hearing what is not being said, the realizations become so loud in my conscious that I have to remember that everyone else can't hear them screaming.

Ever noticed how a group really has the same meeting, different topic all the type? Who says what, what is decided, and the how are almost predictable. In large part, this is because nothing is happening in the group to change perspectives, root assumptions, and beliefs. The group is not learning or thinking together. There is no real collaboration. The decisions this kind of group will make are perfunctory. Nothing interesting, nothing new.

What's not being said in your meetings?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Well, Would They?

Another question that comes up early when I am working with a new client is simple, and it causes consternation. I figure that is, in part, what I am getting paid for - to cause consternation. Here's the question: would they hire you for your job today? The charge is to be brutally honest and to give this question long, hard consideration.

I like this question because it links two really important analytical areas - you/your current skill set and the current job needs. The job is the mission of the organization, but what are the specifics of those abstract words today, at this point in time in the life of the organization?

Were we eyeball to eyeball discussing this question, here is what I would like to know, and what would be good for you to hear yourself articulate out loud:
Who hires and fires you?
As steward of your organization's mission, what needs to be done at this point in time?
Given all that you have done, what needs to be done next?
What skills does that require?
Do you have the skills and vision it takes to accomplish that?

What happens a lot of the time is that a board hires a CEO to run a mission-driven organization at a certain point in time. Current Needs joined with Best Available Applicant. After three, four, or five years, the CEO gets those original needs met. Part of the CEO's responsibilities are to keep the board informed and appraised. She has done that. What happens next is that there is a big implicit organizational what next? Two of three years of doing the same old thing, solving those original needs follow. Once this drifting starts to show up in the numbers, people take note and wonder, seems like CEO is doing so great anymore.

Part of the CEO's responsibilities is to see the organization's future. Also, he must help the board learn about the changing internal and external business environment. To do this, you must constantly be surveying the current business environment for changes and developments and ask how does this impact us? What does this new information change? What needs does this create? Most of the boards that I have served on or observed spend most of their time understanding what has been done (the past) or is planning to be done soon (the soon to be past). Few boards, being lead and directed by their CEO, survey the future and address their relevance and sustainability as a business entity. Organizations need to spend more time thinking generatively about the future. Generative thinking is imagining the future and generating ideas, questions, concerns that can then inform more of today's daily management. A real easy way to ask this is to consider how are we going to fit into the future? Look at your kids and what they say and do and love. That is the future. Bring what you see into the boardroom discussions.

A constant pulse on the changing demands of the marketplace also provides another road map, one for the CEO. Seeing what needs to be done for the future, the CEO can effectively ask am I the person to lead us there? Do I have the skills? If I don't, how quickly can I get them? What would a person applying for my job today bring that I don't have? To be relevant, you have to keep your skills current. If the board or your department head were replacing you today, would they pick your set of skills and knowledge and experience as the Best Available Applicant? Well, would they?

This has been your ten-minute reality check.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

No Whining Zone

Each of us needs a sign like this, if not literally posted, then symbolically branded on the periphery of the psychological space in which we live and work. Why? Because there is work to do, a mission to be implemented, and we do not need to waste time on whether you feel like it. I am an advocate of using emotions and intuition to inform and motivate all that we do. But, whining is a smokescreen, not a true or authentic emotion. Whining says there are emotions hiding that need to be addressed and I don't have the insight, or the courage, or the skills to bring them up. Whining is passive-aggressive. Also, (because I am forever hopeful) whining can be an unconscious, mindless bad habit. Either way, whining impends forward movement.

If you are encountering whining at work, stop and address it head on. Ask directly for the whiner or the eye-roller or the arms-crossed nay-sayer to explain their resistance, their beliefs and assumptions that the task at hand has rubbed against.

If you can't get past the whining, nothing will be authentically embraced and sincerely implemented.

Friday, April 25, 2008


Leading for Sustainability

When I meet for the first time with a client, one of the first questions that I ask is where do you want this organization to be in ten years? Inevitably I get a long pause and quizzical look in return. I have come to know the jarring nature of this question through that look. Despite grand strategic planning initiatives and master plans, many have trouble articulating their future as an organization. Few can paint the specific picture of their future with words and details. I think my simple question invites these connected insights - the future is determined by the now and I stay so busy in the now that I don't spend much time imagining the future. As leader of an organization, you must let sustaining the endeavors of your business for the future be your guiding purpose. You must take time to discuss and name what the vision of that future is in detail. This is the heart of sustainability discussions.

You have to imagine your future, clearly and boldly. You have to spend time as an organization, whether you are a school or a manufacturing company or a museum, talking about what you want everything about your facilities, your financial health, your programs/products, your workforce and culture, your mission, your relationships internally and externally, to be like. Then, you have to live into the dream. This visualization of the future that you would like to design toward is the critical step in managing your sustainability as an organization. And, it makes the purpose of every day and every decision more felt, more understood in context.

The vision provides the destination for the leader to target. Without that, what are your leading toward really? If you can't see it, smell it, hear it in your dreams, if it is not nitty-gritty, your leadership becomes more like a shot in the dark - a stab at an unspecificed, unknown, possibly not real target. I would even say the shot-in-the-dark leader is not really leading but rather, managing the status quo.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Met The Mindset Expert

I recently had the good fortune to spend two days with the mindset guru, Dr. Carol Dweck. Dr. Dweck gave two talks in Memphis, one to Memphis City School administrators and faculty, and the other, a public address at one of the independent schools that I work with. I arranged for her to come speak about how understanding mindsets will make each of us happier and more effective at whatever it is that we do, but especially for parents, students, and teachers.

Dr. Dweck is currently the Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. She studies the psychology of human potential. Her work bridges developmental psychology, social psychology, and personality psychology, and examines the processes people use to structure their self-concept and how self-concept guides behavior. In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dr. Dweck explains that there are two basic mindsets – a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. She explains how our mindset shapes our whole mental world and determines our potential for success. She shows how it is possible to change your mindset at any stage in life to achieve success and see things in a new way.

Basically, how you approach learning, growth, and challenge, with what belief system and attitude you apply yourself, will influence your outcome. If you accept that learning is about making mistakes and faltering and asking questions and struggling to match new information to what you already know, then you will learn more and you will learn easier. Conversely, if you are fixated on the outcome, on being the best, on getting attention for being the best, you will think twice about engaging in any situation that holds the risk of knocking you from your comfortable "I am the Best" pillar. These fixed mindset learners are actually de-motivated to learn because the outcome is uncertain and offers a great risk to their status and self-concept. This is often why those with great talent are washed up and passed by those with persistence and dogged determination, in effect those who learned how to learn. Those who have been taught to have an open mind, to question, to think, and to work hard without quitting in frustration. These are the kids that break through.

Dr. Dweck raises even deeper, more interesting, and exceptionally wide-reaching perspectives in her work in this question how do we develop our mindsets? She investigates what the factors are in our environment that lead us to embracing either a fixed or a growth mindset. The kicker is that it is parents, grandparents, and teachers that spend many hours praising outcome and not creating awareness of process that engendered children with a fixed mindset, afraid to take risks, afraid to challenge and investigate held beliefs, willing to cheat to maintain their status as "Best." She tells us that we have created a culture of unteachable athletes because we are unwilling to go through the process of developing talents. Much like Ed Hallowell writes about in his book The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness, parents, grandparents, and teachers act as if they can just staple self-esteem onto children you are so great, you are the smartest, you are the best. Children, both Dr. Dweck and Dr. Hallowell concur, interpret this praise as you love me because I am smart, great, and the best. So, if I am ever less than smart, great, and the best, you don't love me. Dr. Dweck calls this paradox the inverse power of praise. It is worth challenging our beliefs, motivations, and actions as parents, teachers, community members, if we want our children to become lifelong learners who embrace challenge and opportunity. Lifelong reflective learning in this current age of chronic change is critical, for us and for our children.

Friday, April 4, 2008

What Holds Me Back?

"Change alone is the only constant." -- Diogenes

Wow! Has there ever been a time when we feel this paradox so viscerally everyday? My answer, and I am not young and not old (just turned 46) is a resounding, "No"! There are daily demands on our time and talent in whatever is our domain of specialty. We are busy. Add to our busy lives, the learning curve that digital immigrants like me, are faced with as we strive to sync ourselves with the technological interfaces of today's hyper-connected world. I am great at email, googling, and word processing but these tools are dull and barely effective in the new Web 2.0 social media world. There are now truly global conversations going on about all kinds of things that matter. Impassioned and enlightened people can get connected with ease and begin to create awareness, work towards breakthroughs, and make a difference.

I ask myself often what keeps me from taking part in this phenom? I find this a valuable question to reflect upon, and I have spent hours thinking about it. It takes hours to think about a question like this because you have to bifurcate yourself and really become pushy with yourself. You have to be pushy to go behind the easy answers down to deep honesty.

The deep honesty for me is that I don't take part because I don't know how to take part. Getting to that belief has been a starting point for me because it led to more questions and I began to look for answers. Luckily I have found some.

The questions mounted: where does that come from? about what other things do I have a fixed mindset? how can I change that belief? A good starting place for me is Wikipedia - let's see what they say about mindsets.

A mindset is an assumption, or a subconscious decision. Therefore, it can be surfaced or brought into consciousness and re-considered. Then, because one's mindset is changed, one can do what was considered previously out of one's ability, range, or realm. I realize that if I change how I think about learning something new, or changing, I can actually change. I can begin to learn.

I have a fixed or staid mindset when it come to becoming a digital native. It's like a mental block or barrier. I am aware that I believe that I can't do it because I don't know how to do it and that there is some fear of learning involved. More questions will I make mistakes in the process of learning? will making mistake and missteps make me look stupid? is what I will learn worth all the time and effort? will I be good at it? I notice one question that I don't ask myself that it dons on me would be important will I enjoy learning about it? will I enjoy the end result even if I am not particularly good at it?

Changing that root belief or mindset is the key first step. Do that, and the learning can flow.