Posts Tagged ‘change’
Spring has sprung early this year. From the rescheduling of the Cherry Blossom Festival in DC, to the record setting pollen counts in Atlanta, no one can argue that Mother Nature decided to exit her Winter hibernation a bit sooner than usual this time around.
And with Spring comes a few rituals that we’ve come to embrace over the years: the Easter Egg hunt on the White House grounds, the Spring practices of college and pro football teams, longer days and shorter nights, and all the other outdoor activities that we associate with warmer temperatures.
My question for you, however, relates to the indoor activities of your workplace. We can certainly engage in physical Spring cleaning activities: throwing away outdated files, rearranging some of our furniture, and scouring our office surfaces with pine-scented cleaners. But what about the internal opportunity we have to start something new and fresh? What can we commit to doing differently to become even more effective in our work? How do we break from those habits, behaviors, and activities that are not serving us well?
Here are five simple steps you can use to begin the Spring Cleaning of your psyche.
- Take an honest look at what you’re doing. This one is simple enough. For one week, track all of your activities. If you’re the person who says, “There aren’t enough hours in a day,” or you frequently tout your multi-tasking skills, ask yourself why. Why do some people get a lot more done, while not seeming to work as hard as you? The key here, as with all of these steps, is to be honest.
- Take an honest look at what you’re not doing. Every time you choose to do something, you’re intentionally choosing not to do something else. This one can be difficult for people to understand. If you’re a leader with an “open door” policy, you’re also choosing not to give yourself some needed down time. If you’re constantly responding to email and other distractions, you’re also choosing not to give your brain time and space to focus on the other, perhaps more important, tasks at hand. Only you know what the true cost is of what you choose to do.
- Engage in scenario planning with yourself. After you’ve taken some time to examine where you’re spending your time and energy, play a few what ifs. What if you closed your door from 8-9, and then 4-5 every day? You’ve taken time to focus, plan your day, or plan your tomorrow. What if you responded to emails less frequently? Again, only you know if a strategy like this will work for you and in your environment.
- Choose one thing to do differently. The great thing about scenario planning is during the planning phase, all of the results are hypothetical. You don’t know how things are going to play out. Only once you begin doing something different (or differently) can you see the actual results on your workload.
- Practice. You may have heard that it takes 21 days of doing something differently to become habit. While that’s a convenient rule of thumb, the actual time it takes for a new behavior to become internalized may take more or less time, depending on how long you’ve been doing it in the first place.
Spring is a great time to take stock, recalibrate, and try something new. If we’re not afraid to examine what we’re doing, we may be surprised at what we can do.
In my last blog post I offered a leadership move I call EKG that combines three key practices – empathy, kindness and gratitude – as a way to devote more attention to the human side of change in your organization. These practices are effective at any time, but they have the potential for even greater impact when an organization, and the people in it, experience change. I appreciated the emails that readers sent me offering examples of how they had demonstrated the first practice, empathy, with great success. See? You’re changing the world already! Time to add on the next practice: kindness.
“Kindness is free.” – Tom Peters
Some of the words that people use to describe kindness are grace, benevolence, generosity and compassion. Tom Peters also provides some examples of the power of kindness within healthcare, an environment that is all about demonstrating care and concern for others. You can read more about it here: http://www.tompeters.com/dispatches/011942.php. There are few work environments that are more closely linked to the importance of demonstrating caring and kindness, given the literal impact it can have on someone else’s well-being. In fact, stop and think a moment about your team and your colleagues in general. Given these common descriptors, would you describe these people as kind? If so, what are some examples of the things you see them doing and saying that make you think that about them? When you think of these things, notice how you feel physically. My hunch is that you feel a little less on edge just by thinking about these people and the way their kindness shows up each day.
Now, as a leader, turn this question toward yourself. Do you think your team and your colleagues would describe you as kind? If not, it may be that you’re not showing this side of yourself and your leadership style enough. It is common for busy leaders to get so engaged in the ‘real’ work they are called to do that they overlook opportunities to intentionally demonstrate care and kindness to the people around them. This doesn’t mean they are uncaring. In today’s fast-paced world, it likely just means they are busy. A busy calendar is no excuse, however. Leaders have to find a way to prioritize the human side of their ‘real’ work in order to foster engagement across their team and their organization overall.
If you watch the television show Undercover Boss you see some examples of ‘extreme caring’ every week. I’m not saying that you need to start handing out big bonuses, college funds, or extra vacation days, as terrific as those gestures are. I’m talking about simple expressions of genuine kindness that leaders can do every day. The only cost to you is the time and intention it takes to pay a compliment, offer an encouraging word, or perform a small task for someone without being asked to do so. Here are two examples for you to consider.
A little encouragement goes a long way. One of the hardest types of change for organizations involves the implementation of new systems. People are attached to the previous system (even if it was found lacking) and they are often flat-out resistant to the new system for fear that they will no longer be able to do what they used to do. As hard as it is to experience this as a user of the system, who do you suppose could use some encouragement during a scenario like this? The designated project manager and/or the department that is sponsoring the change! It takes about five minutes to send an encouraging email that acknowledges the effort being made and maybe, just maybe, your appreciation for that effort. You’d be surprised at how a small gesture of kind acknowledgement can make a big difference in the way the other person feels about the project they’ve been asked to implement. As Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Individual kindness fosters corporate kindness. Sometimes it only takes one person to role model kindness in a way that inspires others to follow suit. We see this all the time when natural disasters hit or a neighbor’s house burns down. Someone starts a fundraising drive, or a potluck parade, or within faith communities, a prayer chain. The next thing you know, a virtual army of compassionate people are united in response to the initial event. The same thing happens in workplaces all the time when a colleague experiences a loss or a health crisis, but leaders don’t have to wait for a crisis in order to start a wave of kindness.
Take time to think about the individuals you work with each day. Drawing on the empathy that I talked about in my previous post, what do you notice about those around you? Do they seem energized and upbeat, or a little worn out? Has your team been working full-out toward an ambitious deadline? If your environment is experiencing change, you may notice people acting a little more stressed than usual just because they are trying to adapt at the same time that they are trying to act. One leader can make a difference at times like this by looking for ways to ease the burden on others. Bring in cupcakes or some other treat if that works for your office’s culture. Institute no-meeting days so people will have one entire workday that is theirs to use as they see fit. You might even implement no-email zones in the evenings and weekends as a way to intentionally acknowledge and honor your team’s personal time. This is an idea that comes from Tony Schwartz’s book, The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working, where he presents a compelling case about the four core needs that we frequently neglect in pursuit of performance. His book is full of practical ideas that leaders can use to demonstrate kindness and pay more attention to these core needs, resulting in greater performance outcomes over time, according to research.
The bottom line about kindness is that it is more than just a nice thing to extend to those around you. Kindness adds fuel to the important engine that drives organizational performance. Combined with empathy and gratitude – the next part of this EKG equation – kindness promotes goodwill at the same time that it fosters good work. What opportunity will you take to demonstrate kindness in the coming week? Write and tell me about it!
There are scores of helpful courses, articles and books by multiple firms on how to lead during times of change. (Full disclosure: the company I work for is one of those firms.) Many of these resources focus on strategy and tactics, while others focus more on the human emotions that leaders must also pay attention to. Thankfully, that human side of leadership and change seems to be gaining more attention. This is good news for the workplace, and quite possibly, the world as we know it. Change seems to be the rule more than the exception, which means we’d all be better off if we learned to deal with change – and each other – more effectively.
Suggesting that the world can be changed through a greater focus on the human side of organizational life may sound a tad grandiose. But when leaders pay as much attention during change to the emotional engine in their organization as they do to their strategy and execution plans, they can foster a spirit of well-being that kick-starts the change initiative and transcends the workplace. That is a win for all of us even if we don’t work in the same organization. Think about it: what type of post-workday conversation would you rather participate in? Would it be the one that is full of positive energy and optimism? Probably. Unfortunately, too many of these conversations go like this: “Well, you’ll never believe what they dropped on us at work today.” As a leader, the way you implement change in your organization can have a direct impact on the dinner table dialogue and the sense of well-being for everyone on your team. Research about the impact of positive psychology by thought leaders such as Dr. Martin Seligman bears this out. Check out his recent book, Flourish, to read more about this for yourself.
So, presuming you are a well-intended but busy leader, what steps can you take to devote more attention and intention to the human side of change within your organization? You can start with something I explain to my executive coaching clients as an EKG. No, this isn’t a medical procedure for your heart, but it does involve your heart and the hearts of those around you. EKG stands for empathy, kindness, and gratitude.
Think back to the last time a friend or family member approached you about some changes they were going through at work. Did they excitedly tell you about something their boss or company did during that time to show them how much they cared about him or her as a person? This is a simple yet underutilized aspect of leadership and human relations in general. Leaders promote well-being and engagement by demonstrating empathy. You might try a statement similar to this one with someone on your team who has stepped up to help during a time of change:
“I realize that the new system we’ve implemented is taking some extra time for everyone to get used to. I really appreciate the time you’re taking to learn the system and coach others on it. Your patient willingness to help has reduced the stress level for more than one of your colleagues! I know your effort reduces the time you’re able to spend on other projects you really enjoy though, and it also impacts your own personal time when you work late to catch up or help a colleague. What can I do to support you and give you some of your time back as we all continue to work through this change together?”
Of course, demonstrating empathy involves more than the right words offered at the right time. Leaders also need to listen deeply as their team members express what’s going on for them. They also need to follow through on whatever they offer by way of support. Not following through is one of the quickest ways to break trust – a vital part of the fuel in the emotional engine that chugs away in organizations every day.
When it comes to empathy, Daniel Goleman said it best in his book, Primal Leadership. He writes, “Empathetic people are superb at recognizing and meeting the needs of clients, customers, or subordinates. They seem approachable, wanting to hear what people have to say. They listen carefully, picking up on what people are truly concerned about, and respond on the mark. ”
Check back here in a few days for my next post about the next factor in an EKG: kindness. In the meantime, what opportunity will you take this week to demonstrate some empathy with those you lead? Please post a comment so we can all learn from you!
I often compare the emerging, new story of supervision and leadership to the loading of a huge new program on your computer. You know — the blue status bar creeps slowly across the screen, so you go get a cup of coffee rather than staring at it for a long time.
This new story loading onto the computers we call ourselves and our organizations is contrasted thus:
• Commitment versus compliance
• Initiative versus status quo
• Communication versus need-to-know
• Engagement versus apathy
• Listening versus just telling
• Connectedness versus fragmentation
• Spirit versus emotional void
• Caring versus not caring
• Excitement versus depression
• Winning versus just getting by
The blue status bar just lurched forward a bit with the news that the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is going to widen the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) out to all federal employees. It currently goes to about one-third.
(Caution: Descending into the survey results can result in a lot of time going by. The results are endlessly fascinating, and OPM has brilliantly made the data available in a way that can be sliced and diced across multiple dimensions, such as age, gender, supervisory status, HQ versus field, etc.)
OPM Director John Berry said the survey is becoming more important in how federal agencies address their challenges.
Now, let’s just stop here for a moment and have a pulse check.
One interesting thing that we run into from time to time in our work is supervisors’ and leaders’ reactions to hearing the concept that they are going to receive feedback from employees reporting to them. This is often in the form of the 360-degree assessment, an instrument that is rapidly growing.
There is simply no way to comprehend the sanity or utility of such an idea if you believe supervision and leadership are about control, command, only telling, using power to punish dissenters, and most of all, that the “people stuff” in work is irrelevant.
Sorry to tell you ladies and gentlemen, this mental model is much more common than many people think. Old habits die hard.
And so, here we are in 2012 with the federal government tripling the size of one of the most powerful surveys by which the workplace, supervisors and leaders are evaluated. It’s only been around 10 years, and now it’s being rolled out to all employees.
There is an expression command-and-control types use whenever employee perceptions, recommendations or even actions come into the mix. “The lunatics are running the asylum.”
This is a dark, depressing expression on several levels. It name-calls – a very primitive defense against uncomfortable things — and it compares work to an asylum. Some other expressions you have probably heard include, “When I want your opinion I’ll ask for it,” or “That’s not your area.”
I have often said that we are living in a fascinating time. The old story of leadership is slowly, agonizingly slowly, headed toward the door, mainly through the room called retirement. Showing up in its place, and championed by Generation Y, is an entirely new mental model around what leadership and supervision are.
The voice of employees is about to get a lot louder.
Ed Frauenheim has written a tremendous blog on workforce.com that everyone who feels busy should read.
To be fair, he is actually summarizing work done by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer, who wrote in the January issue of the McKinsey Quarterly. But he does a nice job, and here is what he (and they) are saying:
Organizational life, work, pace and culture have stumbled into a condition that they call Strategic Attention Deficit Disorder (yes, SADD). It is characterized by leaders careening from one priority to another, always jumping to the next thing. In the process, they demoralize the workforce and “kill meaning” at work.
This only matters if you care about motivation and people feeling that what they do makes sense. If you don’t mind low morale and employee perceptions that work is meaningless, then you can disregard the piece.
Here’s the kicker: What seems to be driving at least some of this is one of the latest, recycled buzzwords of “agility.”
Who can argue with being agile? We all have to be this way – at times.
The problem is that it has become code for constantly shifting priorities that confuse employees, and who learn to see the pattern of “here today, gone tomorrow,” as the organization grasps for the next new thing. Maybe it will be operational excellence. Or customer-centricity. Or core competency.
Seriously, we can go back in the literature and pull these things out at any time – although it is best to wait until most of the organizational memory is erased around the initiative. (The one that still has not been dead long enough to remove the memories is TQM, and its key word: “empowerment.” When you use those terms with a government group, there is usually a groan, and this dates back to the 1980s.)
The desire for the silver bullet – that one, key linking piece that will forever resolve all the problems, anxieties, confusion and pain – will never go away, I suspect. It’s why a bazillion books have been written on leadership and organizations. Everyone is looking for The Answer.
It also speaks to how our brains work. We are hard-wired to notice what is bright and shiny, something exciting and new. We want to be sure we don’t miss the boat, or incur a threat. So we give a lot of air time to whatever is new, even while not really following through on what is already in place. So agile becomes fragile.
My friend Katherine McGraw calls the age in which we live “global speed-up.” I believe a symptom of the age is SADD, and wise leaders will recognize the problem and perhaps slow the ever-accelerating merry-go-round to ask some new questions.
One of those might be how to get the workforce really behind and supporting whatever the new initiative is. The answer? Engage them in the process. This creates a commitment that makes change efforts more likely to succeed.
Many people like to make New Year’s resolutions. That’s fine, and sometimes they actually keep them.
There are two things that are good to know about these things. First is that courtesy of neuroscience, we now understand much more about why it is better to gradually, progressively and steadily move toward change than to engage in a big bang on day one. *(It has to do with brain rewiring.) Second, you can make a resolution on any day of the year, particularly when you have learned something new. Don’t have to wait until the 31st.
So why only 11? Why not 12, or 10, or at least some round number? That’s because I invite you to submit your personal favorite — the one that is most powerful for you. And remember, the door does not swing shut at the end of the year; you can submit a resolution for change anytime you want!
Here are 11 good ones for supervisors, managers and leaders, from my seat.
1. I will take an extra minute to listen to people.
2. I will ask people for input on things that affect them.
3. I will become better at noticing what emotions I am experiencing – especially the negative ones – and instead of automatically, instinctively operating out of them, ask myself, “How do I want to show up? What would be best long-term?”
4. I will not read or type emails while employees are trying to talk with me.
5. I will ask employees the most motivating question: “What do you think?”
6. I will let my manager know what people are thinking and feeling, particularly during change, rather than sugar-coating or withholding.
7. I will make time to think strategically about what is happening at work, and carefully examine the need for reactive, tactical responses that seem to consume so much of every day.
8. I will work to understand things as employees understand them.
9. I will admit mistakes and share what I learned from those.
10. I will give feedback for only one reason – to help the employee do better next time.
11. I will examine my intentions in conversations, decisions and work.
You have probably felt at some points in your life that you were in a pattern, with the same things happening over and over. They may have been good or bad, but you felt the recurring theme.
This has been my life over the last two months. I’d like to identify what I’ve experienced, mainly because I believe it’s a sign of the times. I’ll explain at the end what leaders can do about this phenomenon – if they have the will.
I am accustomed to hearing the following story – we hear it at many client sites – but the consistency of it this autumn really struck me. It runs something like this:
• Our leadership doesn’t communicate with us.
• Our leadership is not interested in our ideas.
• Our leadership sees our role as simply executors of their will.
• Our leadership regards different ideas as hostile and threatening.
• Our leadership knows morale and engagement are low, and either blames us or ignores the data.
• Our leadership manages by threat and fear instead of encouragement and reward.
It has truly been like being in the movie Groundhog Day. As I have listened to participants in leadership development sessions, I have felt as though I could finish their sentences. In every case, where I thought they were headed with their comments was correct.
Before addressing what to do about this, it is fair to raise the question of how in the world things got to this point.
Actually, things have been this way for a very long time, but as people hear new models of leadership – based on shared values, connection, communication, accountability (for everyone) and meaningful results (to name just a few attributes) – the contrast becomes more stark, more painful. One clear marker of this is Generation Y, which generally wants to have nothing to do with the tired, worn-out models of leadership – if you want to call it that – bulleted above.
There is a palpable yearning for a new way to work out there, and leadership in many organizations is tone-deaf to it.
So while it’s actually not that new, I believe it’s intensifying, for several reasons.
First, organizations everywhere are under attack. Government agencies, banks, the cable company, your local retailer . . . they are all operating under conditions that are very different from just 10 years ago. Competition, consumer expectations, technology, social change, and globalization are all shifting the landscape.
Most people, in most organizations, in unguarded moments will admit to feeling overwhelmed, under siege, pulled in a thousand directions, working harder and harder and harder . . . and they’re not sure why.
Certainly, the acceleration simply to increase shareholder return has left many employees feeling empty. Human beings are wired for meaning, and so just chasing more money can feel meaningless. Steve Jobs once famously said that Apple’s massive market capitalization was interesting, but it wasn’t really the point. Great products were the point – and what produced that market capitalization.
But beyond the factors in play mentioned above, here is what is really happening in organizations that is producing such a profound alienation.
In any historical movement, as a new model or theory or way of living/working/being arises, the old guard intensifies its insistence on the status quo as the only legitimate way of living/working/being. Sensing the questioning, criticism and potential for something new and untested and not well understood, the decision-makers redouble their efforts to “stay the course.” Just do more of whatever has been done.
This reaction is easy to understand. A new model of leadership that emphasizes transparency, openness, feedback that runs both ways, willingness to listen, empowerment (I apologize for using this word if you suffered through any of the TQM initiatives in the 1980’s. I know how painful it was to have hopes raised and then dashed as organizations realized the cost of what they thought they were buying), shared values and meaning are so fundamentally at odds with the mind-set of “Because I’m in charge, I set the rules.”
I am sorry to tell you that this mindset is much more common, and entrenched, and intensifying that you may want to believe. The assault is underway, and the rear-guard actions are obvious to see.
This manifested in one example of a besieged executive who had received massive negative feedback on his leadership style. His response? “I don’t care what they think, and I don’t want to hear what they have to say.” I am always in favor of this mindset in battle, or in an emergency, when there is no time to hold a focus group or ask people how they feel about how things are going.
But seriously, folks, if you are trying to run an organization where people give their best, are connected to the mission, to each other and to meaningful results that make a difference in others’ lives, I have to tell you, this refrain just doesn’t work. It gets you begrudging compliance from a demotivated and disengaged workforce that did not believe enough in its own talents to leave and find a better place to work. Talent walks.
(It is also interesting to explore the reactions of leadership to high and unwanted turnover. You can easily see how defensiveness and blind spots collude to explain away the exit interview data.)
The fact is, the values systems in place with old-style leadership and a new form of leadership are so fundamentally at odds that some people believe it will take the dying off of the current generation of leaders in order for a new mental model to take hold. This is explicitly stated as the case in Thomas Kuhn’s book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. There may be many leaders who can’t make the shift. That doesn’t mean it’s not important to try to engage them in a new way of working, but in practical terms some will get it, and others just aren’t ready, and won’t.
So what is to be done?
This is a message for leaders. Apart from the communication role others may play in trying to help leaders see new things in new ways (I call this the Vertical Channel of communication, in which information flows up and down), this is directly targeted at those frustrated with their organizations, wondering where the accountability is (we hear this one a lot), wondering why people seem disconnected from the work, puzzled by the turnover, and so on. Here is what you can do:
• Ask the most important question of all: “What do you think?” Give people a chance to explain their reality, their perceptions, their ideas. This is tremendously motivating, and shows you actually care about what they think.
• Get out of your office. We know that in a largely unconscious process, you fill up the day with meetings and commitments so that you have no free time – a problem in itself in terms of renewal and sustainability – and you then plead that you don’t have time to communicate with employees. Dr. Phil would ask, “So how’s that working for you?”
• Define, really, the mission and values. Don’t write something on posters to go up on the walls that will invite cynicism and eye-rolling. If you can’t cogently and succinctly describe the mission, the so-what? of the organization, you’re in trouble. The mission is what people work for after they can eat, have shelter, transportation and high-definition cable TV. Ditto with values. They have to be real. Pompous, artificial, self-serving values are deal-killers. No one can get behind a value such as “Take the customer for all they’re worth,” yet that is the operating model in many private-sector organizations.
• Let go of the 50-pound weights you take home on your shoulders every night. Again, in a largely unconscious process (by this I simply mean unthinking), many leaders feel it’s all on them. Since they’re the only ones who can do it, or do it the right way, it’s a big weight. What about an organization where the best ideas come forward freely, shared meaning-making occurs – where people address, “What makes the most sense?” — and people are made accountable for execution? The operative model today was described by Jim Collins as “The genius with a thousand helpers.”
There are many more ideas, but the real point is that the will, the desire have to be there. It is a profound shift of values and the most basic, fundamental assumptions and sense-making for many. If your mental model is “I’m in charge so I don’t really care,” then good luck, because you’re going to need it.
If, however, you are open to the possibility that there may be a better way to work, you can get on the road doing the four things above. It’s a noble quest, and a modest start. See where it leads.
Change can be fantastic. Really.
Late summer tends to bring on a time of change in people’s lives, and this summer is no exception in my neck of the woods.
Some of my friends are about to send their kids off to school for the first time. They are studying bus schedules and working up the courage to ask their boss for a more flexible work day so they can be with their kids at the beginning and the end of the school day. It is a natural request, yet one that feels hard for some people to make if they work in an office with a culture that seems to value long hours and ‘face time.’ It is easy to feel like an outlier if it isn’t common behavior in your office to decline in-person meetings after 3pm for the sake of personal commitments.
Other friends are preparing to send their kids off to school too – college. These friends are busy helping their kids to pick out dorm supplies; they are double checking their insurance policies to make sure their kids will be covered when away from home; they are lovingly planning the last family meal at home before the composition of their household changes forever. They are learning how to care for their kids in a whole new way through all of these steps. The ones who are married are also learning how to relate to their spouse in a new way, particularly if their college-bound kid is the last one to leave home. No more track meets to schedule dinner around or dry cleaning reminders to work in between car pool runs or soccer practice. There is suddenly more time for ‘real’ conversation again. That can feel fantastic…or scary…or at the very least, unfamiliar. Quite possibly, all of the above at different times.
Times of change present us with an opportunity to demonstrate some curiosity and adaptability. This takes some intention and practice for most people, however. Our brains are wired to appreciate routine. A change to our routine – even a small one – can feel like a threat to the brain, making it hard to adopt a perspective that is open to possibilities. And yet, our brains have a remarkable capacity for continuous learning. When you help your brain to learn to see changes as opportunities you build the capacity to adapt to change more successfully.
There are a few simple questions that I often ask my coaching clients to consider when they are working on their capacity to adapt to change. One question is: “What is one thing about this change that I might like?” This question helps to shift the perspective from a sense of what is being lost to the possibility that the change presents something that would be positive. Another is: “What is one thing I will be relieved to let go of as a result of this change?” I have found that this question is sometimes harder for coaching clients to answer right away, especially if their answer is tied to something they feel a strong sense of responsibility about (like caring for their kids every day). It can be easy for that sense of responsibility to become a sense of identity, making it even harder to let go in the face of change.
Leaders need to be aware of this dynamic when they announce changes in the workplace, too. There are usually many thoughts and emotions that go unspoken during times of change unless leaders make it a point to demonstrate their openness to hearing about what is on people’s hearts and minds. Left unspoken, these thoughts and emotions can fester into unproductive behaviors that show up as lower productivity, increased absences, and sometimes, outright sabotage of the mission. Leaders can do a lot to diminish the fears people may have during times of change by making it safe to surface difficult topics. This is also another way of building individual and organizational capacity for adapting to change.
Change is a constant in life, whether it happens at work or at home. Whether you are experiencing a big change right now or you are leading a change initiative where you work, take a few minutes to ask yourself the questions I have offered and notice what comes up for you. If you have been feeling resistant to the change you may be surprised at how quickly you can shift your perspective and your energy around it by practicing this exercise. If you could see your brain as you do this you would see it creating new thought patterns that will build your capacity to shift to a different perspective. Then, offer the questions to those you lead, and practice some active listening as they share their responses with you. Demonstrate that it is safe for them to bring up whatever concerns or ideas they may have about the change. This will help to lower the sense of threat that the brain experiences during change. Your ability to role model adaptability and openness just may provide your team with the perfect setting for their own possibilities to unfold.
One dismaying fact — and I would argue a growing trend with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator — is the series of misconceptions that regularly arise in its interpretation. This is mainly due to increasingly compressed timeframes in which the theory is taught.
I would like to do my part to lay to rest one of the myths, and I want to do that with a story, in order to help others understand what the MBTI really is.
You have probably heard someone complain that the MBTI “puts people in boxes.” The hypothesis of a preference is somehow seen as tagging someone with a label from which he or she cannot escape.
I know I’d be unhappy if that were the case, but it’s not. Type simply describes preferences we bring to life, work, relationships and situations. In fact, we have to use all the functions every day in order to survive, but some we prefer to others.
Type describes where you start, but it says nothing about where you wind up. In fact, one of the most important concepts in Type – Type development – is all about how you develop the less-preferred parts of the personality in order to be more well-rounded, adaptive and, as Carl Jung said, “individuated.”
I have always believed it is healthy to engage in activity that is the opposite of preference – that it is a good idea for introverts to work on speaking up more, for extraverts to take a little more time before speaking, and so on.
In my own Type – ENTP – I have a very clear preference for Intuition over Sensing. Intuition is about the big picture, patterns, concepts, themes and the future. Sensing is about the details, specifics, concrete facts, the knowable and more the immediate reality.
And now to the story.
I don’t remember exactly how it happened, or if it involved some arm twisting, cold beers, volunteer guilting or — in the way so many volunteer jobs work — a profound lack of understanding of what I was getting into, but I wound up in a role as something called “Clerk of Course” for my daughter’s summer swim team. Clerk of Course may sound like an official, even bureaucratic function involving a sharpened pencil and perhaps a banker’s lamp, but it’s not.
No, Clerk of Course is physically located right in the middle of the central nervous system of a meet. It includes mayhem, stress, elevated pulse rates and a never-ending fear of jacking up and delaying the running of a meet, at which point hundreds of over-ambitious, time-starved parents can hate you, let alone the swimmers who are inconvenienced.
The job of Clerk of Course each Saturday morning during the season is to get 272 excited swimmers to the right lane, at the right time, for the right race. Some of these swimmers are 8 years old and younger, meaning they suddenly realize they need to go to the bathroom right before a race, and want you to tell them it’s OK to do so.
If you think that’s bad, try corralling the 15-18 age group, the chief goal of which seems to be strutting, preening and occasional chest-beating (the boys) and quietly talking about each other and relationships (the girls). Both genders are more interested in what is on their iPods than anything an old guy wants to tell them about getting lined up. They have far more important things on their minds that actually checking in at the Clerk of Course, which is required under Northern Virginia Swim League rules, people. Please.
But one error, and the wrath of the NVSL (and remember, the parents) can befall the Clerk of Course, hence the stress mentioned above.
Now, all of my dear and wonderful colleagues will readily tell you that attention to details is not exactly my strong suit. They would probably tell you this while rolling their eyes, and they would probably say it in a more colorful and extreme fashion than I just wrote. There’s a good reason for this. For those of you who have studied Type, it is my Inferior Function, meaning it comes last in my own batting order for dealing with the world of Intuition, Thinking, Feeling, and then, dead last, Sensing.
But here’s the real point: I knew the volunteer job would require me to develop my own Sensing and attention to details, and that’s actually why I took it. I knew it would stretch me.
And, in retrospect, I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.
Each Saturday during the swim season, I had to completely focus attention on each of those 272 names, making sure the right person got to the right lane, etc. An earthquake could have taken place, a helicopter could have made an emergency landing in the pool, the Obama motorcade could have driven by and I would have never noticed. Total focus.
After the initial panic and sense of being overwhelmed, which went on for 4 or 5 years, I actually started to get into the rhythm of the job, finding the best ways to make sure everything worked. In fact, I began to take pride in the mastery of the details, and the running of an error-free meet. After some time, it became clear to me it was like a ballet and a mosh pit, a seamless and rhythmic orchestrating of unruly, youthful crowds. It was a beautiful thing when each race ended and the next race was ready to take off. The time-challenged parents loved that.
Before all this took place, in the early morning when the pool was just starting to awaken, I would go to the staging area and clean it up, arrange the benches, make sure the ground was clear of any objects. It was a quiet, introverted devotion to details. To be honest, it was kind of a reverence, a caring about the details.
Type describes where you start, but not where you wind up. I may still struggle with some details at work, but doing this activity increased my confidence that I can flex to sensing when needed.
I did the gig for eight years, and with a daughter going to college now, it’s over. More than 10,000 swimmers later, my work there is done, and I will miss it terribly. It was a great opportunity, a lot of fun in between the moments of sheer terror, and I hope a service to all those wonderful kids.
You never know what Type development opportunities might open up for you.
It was a pleasant lunch. As usual in this business, the conversation was around leadership, organizations and culture.
The point was made for the umpteenth time in my life that the federal government often promotes people into supervisory positions who are very skilled technically, but not very good in managing people.
I invoked one of my favorite expressions from Dan Goleman, who quoted one person in such a position who said: “It finally hit me – I have to learn all-new skills.”
One of the diners said, “You know, in my life I’ve had to do that several times.”
It was a succinct, yet powerful statement. No one should overlook or underestimate its significance.
The power in this approach to work and life resides in the adaptability, resilience and change-readiness it is based on. It proves an openness, a yielding to the rhythms of life, and a proper location of subject and object. It is also a way to facilitate movement through the stages of adult development. (See Leadership Agility by Bill Joiner for an excellent treatment of this topic.)
It is a stance of behaviorally being able to let go of things that may have worked, even for decades. It means stepping into uncertainty, risk and even fear. What if it doesn’t work? What if you fail?
Yet the circumstances of our work and lives demand sometimes that we change, even when we may not want to, or like what the change represents. It is the difference between, as Viktor Frankl put it, asking what you want out of life versus asking what life wants from you.
There is no need to belabor the point on resistance to change. We see it frequently; much less often in ourselves, where it is so easy to get up each day and pretty much do what we did the day before – no matter that the context and demands of the environment have changed.
I offered that I have experienced more than a few leaders in workshops and coaching who have proclaimed as soon as we started: “I’ve been at this (insert number of) years, know what I’m doing and I’m not changing.” This is often accompanied by a folding of the arms. Resistance, even stubbornness, thinking that since you have a hammer, every problem must be a nail, rigidity – all these characterize the opposite.
Here are some examples of the kind of deep, personal change I’m talking about — which happen to be essential for leadership in most settings:
- Micromanaging versus granting autonomy
- Trusting versus not trusting (very hard if you’ve been burned)
- Learning to look for strengths instead of weaknesses
- Asking for feedback versus making it clear you are the only one who will give feedback to subordinates
- Admitting mistakes and weaknesses (and what you learned from them) versus “the need to be right”
- Thinking of the impact of your actions on others versus just executing tasks
- Seeing others’ resistance as information versus something that is wrong and to be shut down
Erik Erikson said that during the bulk of our working years, human beings experience either generativity or stagnation. Generativity is creating, giving back, yielding, accepting and living. Stagnation is not knowing what to do when your moves no longer work, when your program is out of gas. It is the state of being stuck.
Are there any all-new skills you need to learn? Hint: Look at the your chronic, recurring, patterned problems. Start there.