My Boss Doesn’t Listen to Me

You probably consider yourself to be an excellent employee, student, contributor or active participant in your life but there still may be one area you’ve overlooked.my boss doesn't listen to me

Listening is an art that starts with you.  It’s ironic but actually true. Be a good listener first; they will follow.  I know sounds counter-intuitive but if you just shut up and listen…I mean really listen… you will end up with followers.  So you want to lead by example; listen by example.

So you’re in the staff meeting and have a brilliant idea on how to address the revenue short fall.   Or your boss is unloading on you about the operations manager from the plant in Detroit.  You probably want to stand on the conference table and get everyone’s attention- bad idea.  Frequently it is just best to bite your tongue and do nothing.  We’ve all worked with the “someone” who constantly interrupts, who has to have the last word, who just can’t let a topic, an argument or really anything go.  Don’t be that person.  Be the listener and they will follow.

Here are the 6 steps to being a better and active listener:

1. Seek first to understand.  If you focus on understanding (instead of your rebuttal), you will be much more engaged with what is being said.  As David Rock writes in “Quiet Leadership”, listen for potential.  Ask questions to expand on your boss’ ideas.  Help her gain insight. She’ll appreciate the space to develop ideas.  I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to vent, merely vent about a work situation and my husband jumped to give me advice. I just wanted someone to vent to; someone to understand.

2. Don’t drift.  If you are thinking about your grocery list or if you forgot to record American Idol – You.Are.Not.Engaged.In.Listening.  Turn off your cell notifications. Put your technology away.   Be in the moment and just listen.  And if you find yourself drifting; ask a clarifying question.  Apologize and say you were preoccupied for a moment and get back into the listening mode.

3. Let there be silence.  It’s amazing how we all feel obligated to fill space up with the sound of our voice.  Let there be an awkward silence.  There is power in silence and more importantly time to reflect and understand (refer to #1).  In fact, those who prefer introversion will appreciate the time to reflect.  Don’t drive the bus over someone’s time to reflect; be comfortable with the silence.

4. Reflect.  Ask questions to expound on your boss’ ideas.  Seek clarity.  Is there something you don’t understand?  Do you really understand the rationale? “So what I hear you saying is that we need to make some difficult cuts and you’re not completely sure where to make them.   How much time do we have to make the decision?”  Reflecting keeps you in the present.

5. Check assumptions.  It is amazing how quickly our mind works and how our internal dialogue will immediately jump to the worst-case scenario.  Like “yeah…this idea will never work.  Last time we did this it was an epic fail”…meanwhile we are smiling and nodding.  Or we immediately discount someone’s ideas, “Nah, tequila shots for lunch is a horrible idea.” Yes, this is a bad idea, just don’t say it and shut down the idea machine.  “tequila shots…OK, what else….” Check your assumptions to stop your inner dictator from running its mouth; and killing the idea before it ever gets launched.

6. Don’t interrupt.  If you are interrupting, you are not listening.  You just put your agenda first.  You just shut the other person down and basically said…”my idea is way better than yours so shut up”.   Your boss’ idea, your partner’s idea, your child’s idea….are all the best ideas, because they own it.  They will see it through. Your idea? Not so much.  Interrupting stops your boss from finding insight.

Full disclosure.  I’ve been working on this for years and it’s not easy.  It won’t happen overnight but if you keep this at the forefront with every interaction you have, you will improve and others, including your boss, will start to follow.

52 Weeks of Showing Up

This is it.  I have been blogging weekly for one solid year.  Woo hoo! I have to say that when I started this, I wasn’t sure it I could do it.  As my husband can tell you, I am not a quitter.  In fact, I’ve been described as tenacious (on more than one occasion) but I was very uncertain when I started this blog, 52 weeks ago.  The biggest lesson I have learned is, that I just need to show up. Showing up does not mean being “perfect”.  It means putting one foot in front of the other; even when you are tired.  It means writing when only 5 people have subscribed.  It’s when you would much rather sleep in or surf Facebook.  Trust – Just show up.

As Seth Godin says ,”Don’t just start. Continue. Ship. Repeat.”  I thought the hardest step was starting.  I have found out that repeat is the hardest step.  It’s so easy to say, “Well, maybe this should be a bi-weekly blog, maybe monthly…maybe quarterly”.  We’ve all been there.  The goal, finish line starts to slide or fade.  Excuses flood your brain.  The Inner Dictator takes over and tells you that your stuff is just no good anyway.  Trust me; you can win the battle if you just show up.

Here are some tips to help keep you on track:

1.  Preparation.  If you want to run a marathon, put your running shoes by your bed the night before.  If you want to cook at home more, make a shopping list for the week.  If you want to write a weekly blog, have a list of ideas to pick and choose from and make sure you are reading or listening or scanning the environment for ideas for that list.  If you only wait for inspiration, you’ll be waiting a long time.  Preparation is critical to showing up.

2. Routine.  I block off 30 minutes every Tuesday and Thursday morning to write.  I can set my watch by devoted runners in my neighborhood.  “Oh, there’s Mike and his friends on a Sunday morning; must be 9 AM. Or  –  It’s six o’clock, I better see what I’m making for dinner from the pile of recipes I selected on Saturday.”  If you have a routine, your body and mind are on auto pilot.  You don’t even think about it (and there is no time for the Inner Dictator to protest).  Once you have established the routine; it’s so much easier to show up for yourself.

3. Messy.  Embrace some messiness.  It won’t be perfect.  So just get over it.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  I’m not enthralled with every post I wrote, but overall, I am proud of the blog.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  I am amazed that often, that the least “inspired” post gets tons of feedback.  And the one I thought was a masterpiece, barely gets noticed.  Sometimes, I think the post that is most from the heart has the best “legs” and the post that has been “primped, preened and edited to death” is ho-hum.  Let it be messy; don’t be your own judge.  Others will.

4. Neighbors.  As in, quit worrying about your neighbors, and what they might say.  As Eleanor Roosevelt said “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”  Worrying about acceptance will grip you with fear.  Maybe only one person reads the post, and no one else does.  That’s fine.  I remember being shocked when I realized about two months ago that my site had been clicked on from 46 different countries.  46!  Global.  I had no idea.  Who knew I had so many “neighbors”.

5. End in mind.  My best writing is when I am talking to someone.  An ex boss, a client, a friend or my child; when I’m trying to inspire them to action.  When I was training for a 10k, last year, I had the race in mind every day.  When I’m planning for a dinner party; it’s the same thing.  Imagine success.  Breath it.  Embody it.  Be it. Keep the end in mind and you cannot fail.

6. Yes.  Try to say yes to things that support your goals.  Someone asks you to be on the panel of a Success Panel; say Yes.  Invites you to a Peer-to Peer group an hour’s drive away; say Yes.  Asks you to teach a Leadership class; say Yes. As Hunter S. Thompson said “Half of life is just showing up”.  It might be a hassle.  It might even be scary.  It might stretch your comfort zone.  You can’t get there unless you say Yes .

I couldn’t have shown up this last year without an audience.  I thank all of you; from those who have read one or two posts to my ardent weekly readers.  I appreciate all the feedback whether from my local Rotary club or from the middle of the Pacific via cyberspace.

What do you need to be showing up for?

The Engagement Wizard

I think so many businesses, in today’s economy, figure employees “should be happy they have a job.” The truth is that, according to Inc. magazine, 70% of your employees are job hunting. They might smile and nod and laugh at your jokes, and at night they are on CareerBuilder and asking for recommendations on LinkedIn.  Their resumes are up to date and they are ready to jump ship at the first sign of a decent paying job. They aren’t just looking for more money; they want a place that encourages engagement.  As Dan Pink espouses in his book Drive, “autonomy, mastery and purpose” are the ingredients for the Engagement Wizard. Engagement Wizard

The Engagement Wizard is the secret to holding onto those employees who are phoning it in while they search for greener, autonomous pastures. It is far better to employ some engagement tactics to hold onto your veteran employees than to search out a perceived better fit. I realize that some folks are too far gone to turn around and they are the poison in the kool-aid.  Employing a few tactics to create engagement for those who are salvageable, is well worth the effort when you figure that turnover can cost you anywhere from 50 to 200 % of the positions salary (and the replacements likely to cost you 10 to 20% more that the incumbent anyway).

So what are the techniques of the Engagement Wizard? Here are a few:

1. Thumb.  Quit keeping your employees tightly under your thumb.  It’s time to loosen the reigns.  As Dan Pink said at a recent conference, no one ever said “my favorite boss was the guy who breathed down my neck”.  People leave bosses.  If you are dictating an employee’s every movement and deed and watching the clock to make sure they are constantly at the grind stone, your employee will not be engaged. Loosen up your thumbs.

2. Don’t prescribe.  You should not view yourself as the doctor who is prescribing all the answers.  As Liz Wiseman said in her book “Multipliers”, you want to shift from being the Tyrant who has all the answers to the Liberator who is listening.  Listen; don’t talk.  This encourages the autonomy that Dan Pink prescribes.  If your employee is thinking for themselves, they are happier.  If you don’t believe me, tell your partner how to make the bed.  See how that goes over; and if they ever make the bed again.  Don’t prescribe.

3. Learning.  One of the downfalls in the recent economy is the slashing of training budgets.  We keep the Sales and Marketing budget status quo, and cut the non-essential training and development budget.  This, especially for Millennials, is a bad idea.  Employees, who have a “Growth Mindset” as espoused by Carol Dweck, are constantly looking to learn new skills.  “The Investor” as written by Liz Wiseman is the leader who is investing in resources for their team.  Encourage learning so that your employees are gaining “Mastery”.

4. Monkeys.  Delegate the monkey (as in task, project or duty) and check up on their care and feeding.  Leaders need to delegate and give ownership to their team.  This is another trait of Wiseman’s “The Investor”.  You can’t develop Pink’s “Mastery” without letting go of the monkeys.  This doesn’t mean you aren’t responsible for checking in on the monkeys, however you shouldn’t be the one filling the water dish.  Delegate the monkeys.

5. Big Picture.  Does your team know the big picture?  Jon Gordon at a recent conference suggested handing out 3 X 5 cards to all your employees and asking what the purpose of the company was.  What would your team answer?  We all need to know the purpose of the organization for which we work.  It is much easier to align with an organization and be engaged when we know what the purpose it.  If you answer, “To make money”, your team is not engaged.  Make sure they know the Big Picture.

6. Non-Commissioned Work.  One of the best examples of how effective autonomy is to creating better outcomes was a study that Pink refers to in his book “Drive”.  They found that in a blind evaluation (they didn’t know which art work was commissioned versus non-commissioned) paintings that were commissioned (i.e. I want it to match my couch, I want flamingos and it needs to be 6 feet wide) were of less quality and creativeness as opposed to non-commissioned work.  So make sure your team has some time to just create instead of keeping them “in the box.”  It’s not practical to have all non-commissioned work all the time, however some time left to one’s own devices is critical to engagement.

Once you’ve found your magic wand, get out of the way.  You will be amazed at what folks can do if they are given the freedom to find their own path.   Find your Engagement Wizard and start waving the magic wand.

Falling on the Sword

I was recently at a Peer-to-Peer Human Resource group at Elinvar in Raleigh, NC.  They had an interesting speaker, Santo Costa, Esq., who spoke to the group about workplace integrity.  The surprising observation he made was that integrity in an organization can be determined by how a manager handles mistakes.  He brought up the example of General McChrystal  stepping down after comments some of his staff made to a New York Times reporter and contrasted that with Janet Reno saying she was “taking full responsibility” for the Waco Siege but went back to her office and kept her job.  I think any political example can be fraught with misinformation (press versus one party versus another party) but it does illustrate that the person who takes the bullet for his staff can dictate the culture of the organization.

Fall on the Sword
Fall on the Sword

In most organizations that I have worked in, if the leader isn’t willing to take the heat for his direct reports mistakes, there is inevitably a lack of trust.  If the leader is constantly throwing their reports under the bus for every error and misstep, it will be a culture of CYA squared (covering your butt).  If you want to build a culture of trust and integrity in work or your life, you’ll need to fall on the sword whether it’s for a direct report or your child or your spouse.

Here are some ideas on how to boost your integrity:

1. Consistent. Show up in your relationships in a consistent manner.  The ability to control one’s emotions is a basic tenet of Emotion Intelligence.  Being a hot head or moody, can put people in your life on edge.  “Hmmm.  I wonder if Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde is showing up for this budget meeting?”  Working towards authenticity involves people’s expectations being met in that they can be confident that you won’t overreact or fall off the deep end.  They know what to expect when you interact with them. Consistency is important to building trust.

2.  Humility.  Being humble in front of the team is important.  No one likes working for the leader who is constantly tooting their own horn.  The leader who does so is much less approachable. The humble leader makes sure their entire team gets credit for the project and makes sure the organization knows it. The humble leader is not trying to build their resume.  They are building everyone else’s resume.

3. Rationale.  Sharing the rationale with the folks around you builds integrity.  If you are looking at new software to make the transaction process easier, make sure the folks that will be impacted by the new software, understand the rationale.  There won’t be any buy-in if you don’t communicate the rationale.  More likely, there will be dissent and mistrust and folks might try to thwart the process.  Share the rationale.

4. Punches.  Don’t pull punches.  If there is bad news, craft the message and deliver it.  Don’t drag your feet.  Having information in limbo causes everyone to be in limbo.  The gossip mill will certainly get a tidbit of information and turn it into catastrophic conclusions in the blink of an eye.  Grab the tiger by the tail before it gets loose.  Don’t pull punches.

5. Private.  When someone makes a mistake, talk to them in private.  Figure out what went wrong; maintain their self esteem and move on to some solutions.  Don’t call someone on the carpet in front of the team.  The best practice for a leader is to critique in private.

6. Public.  When someone or the team gets something right, celebrate in public.  It’s so important to identify milestones in a project or when you finally attain the millionth customer that you celebrate.  Let everyone bath in the glory.  They will seek more of it. Others will want to be on your team.  Make sure you celebrate success in public.

7. Monkeys.  Once you have delegated a monkey (a task or project), don’t take the monkey back.  If you have assigned a monkey and the person has gotten off to a rocky start; don’t take the monkey back.  You want to check in on the monkey (make sure it’s being fed and scratched), just don’t take it back.  If people are unsure if they will keep the monkey they are much more likely to fail.  Keep the monkeys where they belong.

Building trust and creating an authentic relationship is a long process.  This cannot be created overnight.  Take responsibility for those that work for and with you.  There are times when you will need to fall on the sword but your team will be there to support you and you will create a culture of integrity.

Git ‘er done!

Have you ever –

  • Hemmed and hawed over a project?
  • Drug your feet on even starting?
  • Come up with 50 shoulda’s and kicked the can down the road?
  •  And down the road a little more?

Your lizard brain has taken over your prefrontal cortex with fear of failure and all you can do is hang out on facebook for hours or watch one more show on the Food Network.  Procrastination is gripping you and you can’t even see the first step, let alone the whole staircase.

I spent my Christmas vacation watching my son delay his college application process.  He spent hours on “Call of Duty” instead writing college essays.  This was a project he promised to start in August.  And suddenly it was December 28th and most of the deadlines were January 1st.  Now he was behind the eight ball and his sister and I (his editors) were not very empathetic.  Now with the pressure of the looming deadline, he had to git ‘er done!  He did get it done although it was painful for all of us.  Care for some ideas on getting over procrastination and moving projects to completion?

Here are some tips:

1. VacationZig Ziglar makes the case in his audio tapes called “How to Stay Motivated”, that we all seem to find time to get it all done on the day before vacation.  This really hit home with me.  Suddenly, you have your day scheduled out, know all your priorities, don’t waste a minute and are completely focused.  So, if you really want to take action, imagine that you are going on vacation and plan accordingly.

2. Three.  When the alarm goes off in the morning, plan three things you want to accomplish today.  Just three.  Not five.  Not ten.  Just three. (1) Go to the Y and work out. (2) Finish the financial aid submission.  (3) Finish 3 annual reviews.  There.  You have your day planned out.  As Stephen Covey would recommend, you have to schedule your “Big Rocks” (important non-urgent projects).  In doing so, the “gravel” (unimportant distractions i.e. facebook, twitter) will fall by the wayside.

3. Timer.  I do this for every blog post I write.  I give myself 30 minutes to write.  Anything.  Just write.  I don’t have to finish.  I just need to write.  After thirty minutes.  I’m done.  If I’m still inspired and on a roll, I keep going.  If not?  Go onto the next project.  I find this to be the best cure for procrastination.  It helps you side step perfection.  It doesn’t matter if it’s perfect.  You invested 30 minutes.  And you can invest another 30 minutes tomorrow.  At least you started.  Set a timer.

4. Appointment.  Many times we are collaborating with coworkers, team mates and bosses who are even better procrastinators than ourselves.  They create squishy deadlines or vague goals.  This can be like herding wet kittens.  Make a firm follow up date.  Make an appointment.  It might get moved.  But at least you are taking steps to keep the team or department on task.  Make an appointment to follow up and stay on task. eat an elephant one bit at a time 2

5. Chunks.  Big projects are really just a gathering of chunks.  How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time.  Break the project into chunks.  I can remember my daughter getting a book to study for the SAT’s.  It was a very thick book.  An overwhelming book.  I suggested that she take twenty pages a day.  We wrote on the calendar page numbers on each day.  We chopped up the elephant.  Chunks are much easier to digest.

6. Worst is first.  In “Eat that Frog” by Brian Tracy, he recommends starting with the worst task first (ergo eat that frog).  So if that happens to be exercise or reading an SAT prep book or writing annual reviews.  Go for it.  Forgo answering emails, chatting over coffee with your coworkers, or surfing pinterest.  Get out your fork and knife, and eat that frog.  The rest of the day will glide by with the worst of it behind you.  Tackle the worst first.

Procrastination can be debilitating.  Try just one or two of these suggestions.  You’d be surprised how starting a habit or two can change what you can accomplish.  Let’s reduce the frog and elephant population (no animals were harmed in this post) and git ‘er done!

Listen up

I recently read Daniel Pink‘s book “To Sell is Human.”  His premise is that everyone is selling; that we are all trying to move people.  So teachers are trying to get students to do their homework.  Doctors are trying to get people to take their medicine.  We are all trying to move someone to do something.  The most interesting chapter was on improvising and a company called “Performance of a Lifetime” created by Cathy Salit. In this class executives are taught how to improvise which involves an intense amount of listening.  If you think about it, we can’t improvise without listening.  We can’t move people without listening.  We can’t sell without listening. images 6

My son and I share a love of listening to stories.  One of the things I look forward to on a long car trip with him is that he is always game to listen to Story Corps, Radio Lab or The Moth podcasts.  These are all documentary type radio shows where people share their stories.  They can be deeply personal, a guy recounting how he met his fiancé who later died in 9-11, or a story about how some people see more colors than others (could it be me?) or mad cap drug induced adventures in Morocco.  The thing is, if you aren’t good at listening, you will miss the meaning of the story.  And it takes practice.

So what could you be missing?  Here are some tips into how to improve your listening skills:

1.  Pause. Daniel Pink and Michael Segovia, an outstanding MBTI instructor, both recommend that you pause. Dan Pink recommends 5 seconds and Michael recommends 10 seconds. In Michael’s case, every time he asks a group of participants if they have any questions, he would count to 10 in his head.  This seems like an eternity. But for those people who prefer introversion, they need that time to reflect. Dan, on the other hand, pauses at the end of someone else talking.  It lets you reflect on what they said. Pause, digest and truly listen.

2. Eye to eye. If you are physically in the room with someone, make eye contact.  Hold their gaze when they are talking.  Be in the moment. If they are on the phone, cut all the technology. Don’t be reading emails, texts, messages, Facebook updates or playing Soduko. Imagine them being in front of you and making eye contact. Can’t you always tell when you are speaking to someone over the phone and they are distracted? We all can. Tune in and turn off the clatter!

3. Understand.   Stephen Covey said “Seek first to understand and not to respond.” If you’re busy planning your response (re: argument, counter point, brilliant repartee) you are not listening.  Ask questions that help you understand their point of view.  “What do you think your boss meant by that comment?” “How is your relationship with your Mother?” “I can see you feel hurt, what do you want to do about it?” Do a deep dive into their story. Don’t give advice. Just seek to understand.

4. Mirror. In one of the exercises that Dan Pink did in Cathy Salit’s class was to mirror someone else’s movements.  Now this type of mimicry would be over the top in real life, and cause a fist fight between my brothers and I when we were kids in the back seat of our Country Squire station wagon.  But subtly copying someone else’s stance can create some symbiosis. They lean back in the chair, you lean back. They lean in, you lean in.  This creates a sense of connection. Mirror others to build confidence.

5. Generosity. Listening is about being generous. Selfless. As a great facilitator from Inscape Publishing once said “It’s all about them.” As in your audience.  It’s time to hang up your one-ups-manship.  Your friend is talking about their trip to Hawaii? There’s no point in butting in to talk about your honeymoon in Maui.  Your co-worker just finished a year long project? Now is not the time for a diatribe on the messy project you are in the middle of that just got delayed….again.  Your spouse had a horrible day yesterday? Now is not the time to bring up the Honey Do List. Give them the gift of being the center of your attention. Completely with no strings attached.  Be generous.

6. Yes, and.  One of the exercises from Cathy Salit’s workshop is something I have experience in one of my classes while earning my Masters.  In the class, we had to plan a fictitious class reunion.  First, we were instructed to say “Yes, but.” When that played out, the energy in the room diminished.  None of the ideas had any traction. Everyone was a wet blanket suffocating inspiration.  In the next round, we were instructed to say “Yes, and.” One word changed, and we all had possibilities. We were intently listening to everyone’s ideas and building on them. Next thing you know we were holding the reunion in Rio with limos, samba lessons and caipirinhas.  Try it. It’s inspiring.

Listening is a way to be present and take in the person, loved one or group interaction around you.  It can be a gift to yourself and others to just show up and “be there”. One of the most effective ways to do that is to LISTEN.

Keep your hands off my stuff

Hands-Off-Mat-MT-2673Seth Godin wrote a recent post called “Possession Aggression.”  It’s a short post but basically he says that it’s hard to give something substantial away but it’s even harder to take something away from someone else.  The person, department or organization starts building their world around their stuff and it gets incorporated into how they view the world.  I actually think that this is where silos start getting erected.  Accounting handles those reports, lay off! Human Resources sets up the company picnic, hands off! Thanksgiving is always at Mom’s house, back off!

Why does it become a personal affront when we try to change?  Even if the organization, the department or the extended family would be much better off with a change in who handled the stuff.  After all, it is just dinner.  A report.  A picnic.  Suddenly paranoia sets in.  Didn’t they like the way “we” handled it.  Maybe we didn’t serve enough gravy.  They didn’t like the way the report looked.  The picnic was boring.  Turn off your dictator and get off the paranoia train;  easier said than done.  We all just want to keep our stuff and for everyone else to keep their paws off.

So here are some steps to letting go of our stuff:

1. Detach. Take a step back. Take a few slow deep breaths. And detach.  Get some perspective on the situation. Sometimes our emotions go on overload and we can’t seem to get off the paranoia train.  Get off at the next station.   Give yourself some space and silence.  When someone has just absconded with your favorite project, decided they would take over the retirement party or delegated making the apple pies to your cousin (even though everyone knows your apple pies are the best);  it’s important to take a step back and detach.

2. Reframe. Once your heart rate has returned to normal and you can gain a little clarity, reframe the issue.  Stand in their shoes.  Especially the cousin who may have never made pies before.  Did he ask to make the pies? Is this a stretch goal for him? Did he just finish a baking school course and wants to test out his skills?  We can get caught up in being the victim and lose our perspective. Put on a different pair of glasses and reframe.

3. Awfulizing. I just learned this word from Michael Segovia who is a tremendous Myers-Briggs facilitator for CPP.  I can fall victim to awfulizing.  I can turn my stubbed toe into an amputation in the blink of an eye. So if my boss’ door is closed all morning, I’ve gone to the mail room to get a box for all my personal effects because I must be getting fired today.  Try to stay focused on the facts.  My boss’ door is closed.  Stop. There are millions of doors that are closed. Chill. Out.

4. Check in.  Check in with whomever you believe to be the absconder of your stuff.  Find out their perspective.  “Hey Suzie, I just found out you’re responsible for Joe’s retirement party. Let me know if you need any help.” You might find out she didn’t even know. You might find out she’s terrified.  You might find out she’s excited by the challenge and would love your input.  You won’t know unless you check in.

5. Clutter check.  Most of our plates have been too full since…well…graduation.   We all hold on tightly to our stuff.  It’s time to check the clutter in our life.  So many of us feel that our value is measured by the amount of balls we can juggle in the air at once.  If we are in a circus, that is true.  In life, we are not.  Take an inventory of what is important and on track with your values.  Let the rest go.  Dump the stuff that is cluttering your mind and life.  And, most importantly, don’t take on new stuff that doesn’t align with your values.  So if there is a new project that someone “volentold” you for, that isn’t an absolute yes…it’s a no.  Stay away from new stuff that isn’t your passion. And you won’t be inadvertently taking someone else’s stuff.

6.  Examine fear. When you do the clutter check there is likely to be fear that bubbles up…rather grips you.  If you let go, how will they do it without me. Everyone is so dependent on you, that they can’t possibly do it on their own.   I can remember leaving one HR job for another some 15 years ago. I felt sure the place would fall apart without me. Employees wouldn’t get paid. Benefits would fall through the cracks. I would let people down. They were fine.  We all survived. The bad news is that we are dispensable. The good news is that we are dispensable. Let go of the fear.

Possession is 9/10th’s of the law. Perhaps this why we guard our stuff with such fervor.  It’s amazing how it can weigh us all down; whether literally with physical possessions or figuratively with obligations on our time.  It might be time to cull out the stuff that is holding you back.

Get out of the box

I just finished a book called “Leadership and Self Deception: Getting out of the Box” by the Arbinger Institute.  According to the book, “the box  is a metaphor for the experience of self-deception. In  the box,  we distort how we see ourselves, others, and even the world of work in order to justify what we haven’t done (or what we have done that we might regret).” When we are in the box, we are pointing our fingers at everyone else.  We rationalize outcomes looking to diminish our role in any failures. images 2

I am constantly in the box.  I’m pretty sure that I rarely have ventured out of the box.  If the bed isn’t made, it’s my husband’s fault.  I’m impatient because my son isn’t ready to leave, it’s my son’s fault.  I’m leaving work late because a coworker needs some advice, it’s my coworker’s fault.  It’s amazing.  I’m never at fault.  Geez.  I must be perfect. And quite the bulldozer as I roll over everyone in my life.

So obviously, I haven’t perfected getting out of the box however  I am starting to realize steps to take to get there:

1. Wake up.  One of the things I realized is that I am so frequently gliding on auto pilot.  I’m not paying attention to my own thoughts and how “me” centric I can be.  The first step is I need to pay  attention to my view of the world and change the focus to others’  desires.  As Cher said in Moonstruck, “Snap out of it!”

2. Flip.  Change perspectives.  I’ve spent countless hours surfing bleachers as my son is a high school wrestler.  If you have never watched a match, the big take away is that in a matter of 2 seconds, who ever has the upper hand can change without notice.  Your son is on the bottom, down on points when suddenly,with 8 seconds to go, he flips his opponent and pins him for the win.  You can flip your perspective just as quickly.  What’s it like being on the receiving end of me?

3. Service. Be of service to others.  Be the giver.  Hold the door open.  Let the car in front of you merge in.  Put the kids to bed, even if it’s not your turn.  The way out of the box is to focus on the needs of others.  If I  start with service,  my focus is outside instead of inside. Live the Rotary International motto, “Service above Self.”

4.  Let go of reciprocity.   I think this is where I get hung up.  If I stay late to work on a report for my team, I expect something in return.  Maybe it’s a “thank you” or some quid pro quo on the project that I’m spearheading.  If I mow the lawn, isn’t my husband going to make dinner?  I need to let go of the prospect of reciprocity.  When I start looking for the pay back, I end up back in the box.  Suddenly the focus is on you again.  Let. It. Go.

5. People versus Objects.  The biggest take away from the book is that I have to see people as, well, people.  The minute I  start to see people as objects, I am  back in the box.  If you think about it, you can’t have a relationship with an object (at least not a healthy relationship).  Once you’ve turned your partner, your child, your colleague into an object, the relationship transactional.  A means to an end.  You are back in the box.

I am a work in progress.  I appreciate that the book acknowledges that everyone has this problem.  None of us are living outside the box all the time.  Gives me room for hope.  It gives us all room for hope.

Setting Expectations

Last week’s post was looking back over the past year to craft an annual performance review; perhaps even more critical than that is setting expectations for the coming year.  This may be for yourself (I’m finally going to pay off that credit card), for your assistant (he’s going to be an Excel ninja by May) or for your family (Disney in 2013 or bust!).  These can be called development plans, business plans, goals, intentions, metrics, departmental vision statements…it’s all pretty much the same thing.  We all need a plan. images 6

Your family isn’t going to get to Disney unless you’ve outlined a few things.  When can you go?  How are we going to get there?  How much do we want to spend?  How much can we afford to spend? What do we want to see when we get there?  All of this requires research, discussion, cooperation and planning.  Your family can’t decide today to go to Disney tomorrow.  It’s going to take a plan.  The same is true in getting your assistant to be an Excel ninja by May.

So how do we go about planning and setting expectations? Here are a few ideas:

1. Reflection.  Take some time to reflect.  This might sound crazy when you have technology and commitments fire hosing you all day.  It’s hard to make a plan if you don’t close the door, turn off your notifications, take a deep breath and reflect. The stage of your prefrontal cortex is so full of actors, it’s important to sweep the stage, send the actors to lunch and let your grey matter get some breathing room.

2. Storm.  Brainstorm some ideas.  Dump it all on paper. Disney. Sea World. Busch Gardens. Grand Canyon.  Las Vegas. The Moon.  There are no bad ideas.  You can eliminate ideas after the fact.  Afraid of heights? Grand Canyon. Allergic to fish? Sea World. You get the idea.  Dump first and then eliminate.  What about your direct report? Excel training, Powerpoint class, karate retreat, Outlook seminar.  Get a manageable list of options and then move on to the next step.

3. Collaborate.  Sit down with the family, the direct report or your partner.  Go over your list of ideas.  Get some feedback.  Ask for help.  Get on the same page.  If your spouse hates gambling, nix Vegas.  Your kids have been to Disney twice and want to try out their Spanish, add Cozumel to the list.  If your assistant really wants to try their hand at Access instead of Excel; on the list it goes.

4. Align.  Now we have to figure out what aligns with the family budget, the corporate mission or your long term plan.  If the corporate plan is to move to a different platform from Access, we may need to investigate other platforms.  If we really want to be able to purchase a new home this year and need to keep costs to a minimum, we may just want to drive to Miami, stay at a friends place and test our Spanish out on South Beach.  Make sure the expectations align with the long term goals.

5. Resources.  What’s available to make this happen?  Do you have an internal expert on Access?  Did your colleague just send their assistant to Access training last year?  Do some research on best practices.  If you want to increase customer satisfaction by year end, what do you measure now that you can use for a baseline for next year.  Or what can you create.  Is your car going to make it Miami?  Does your swimsuit still fit?  Sometimes the investment into a different, seemingly less expensive goal can out weigh the original goal.  Make sure you know the resources available.

6. Memorialize.  Put pen to paper.  Write down what you have agreed to and how you are going to measure success.  Need to have $2,000 saved by June for the trip in August.  Your assistant needs to select an Access class to take by March 15th and to complete it by June 15th.  Spell out what the plan is.  Make sure we all have a copy.  Writing it down creates a greater commitment.

7. Check points.  I frequently drive to Charlotte, NC.  I know that there is a rest area right outside of Greensboro which is about half way.  It’s my checkpoint.  My feedback.  Even if I don’t need the facilities, it’s a mental checkpoint of my progress.  When working on performance goals or planning the family trip, make sure you check in with each other to see how progress is.  Hotel reservations? Budget on track?  Class signed up for? Customer service scores going up?  Project started?  Don’t set up a plan and leave everyone in the dark.  Set up some check points.

Arriving at your final destination is what it’s all about.  If you want to get from Point A to Point B, you’re going to need a plan.  If you don’t have a business plan, or don’t have buy in from your assistant, or haven’t collaborated with your family, it’s likely to fall flat.  Don’t head out aimlessly, make sure you have planned your goal and communicated your expectations.

Pointing Fingers

I’d love to know how much time and energy gets wasted pointing fingers.  We seem to be constantly searching for Fault, who to blame – The fall guy. We feel so vindicated once that football coach is fired, that worthless sales guy is let go or your daughter finally drops that no good boyfriend. Now it will all be better. But it isn’t.  Pointing fingers can be….er, pointless.

I’m not trying to assert that root cause analysis isn’t important. It certainly has its place when figuring out what went wrong with a plane crash. I’m just saying it’s not very productive in everyday life.  If the stakes aren’t high, what is the point of all this finger pointing?  It creates camps of co-workers on one side or the other; it creates division.  The assumption mill goes crazy along with the gossip mill and, worst of all, the complaint mill.images

I recently joined a peer to peer group and one of the rules of engagement is to not ask “why”. Well that seemed a little unorthodox, my Human Resource filter is always looking for the “why” but what was astutely pointed out by our leader is that “why” is all about blame. We are in the group for solutions and that is all about “what, how and where”. Makes you think doesn’t it.

So how do we get off the blame train? Here are some ideas:

1. You. It starts with you. Forgive yourself.  Calm down your inner critic.  I’ve seen co-workers blame themselves and then beat themselves up for months. I’ve seen managers bring up the doofus they hired ten years ago and waited two years to fire. This is not going to instill confidence in yourself…or anybody else. Don’t live in blame mode.

2. Debrief with compassion.  The team should certainly review what went right and what went wrong at an event. Be careful not to attach anyone to the failures. “Well it was Joe’s decision to get the dancing Elephant, what an idiot!”  Don’t start driving the bus over anyone.  Learn from the failures and successes and move on. No corpses left behind. The team won’t be afraid of the debrief going forward.

3. Potential. Dr. David Rock advocates “listening for potential” in his book “Quiet Leadership”. It engages you as a listener. Instead of thinking for ways to respond or problem solve, you listen with the intent for the speaker to find their own potential. It’s so much more proactive.  It’s difficult to point the finger if you are looking for potential.

4. Stop judging. Half the time, people are pointing the finger because they want the spotlight off themselves. If they start judging others and their actions, they feel better. Put someone else down and then, by default, you raise yourself up. This may work for a while but eventually you will find yourself alone. No one hangs out with guy who is driving the bus over folks.

5. Commitment. There are going to be times when you hold your child accountable for failing grades, your assistant for the botched report or your dog for the “accident” on the carpet.  Keep it as confidential as possible, maintain their self esteem and show them confidence and commitment that we can move forward from here.

It’s easy to fall into finger pointing and this isn’t going to end anytime soon. Start in your corner of the world and see what effect it has on others. As Bob Marley said, “who are you to judge the life I live? I know I’m not perfect and I don’t live to be, but before you start pointing fingers make sure your hands are clean.”