January 18, 2018

Archives for May 2013

Is it a mistake to focus when you don’t know what works?

Signposts pointing in all different directionsFocus, focus, focus—the key to having an impact, making progress, gaining traction.

But what if you don’t really know what works, or don’t know yet?

If you’re doing something new, you’re very unlikely to get it right first time. If you had enough knowledge to hit the target at the first attempt then it probably wasn’t such a new thing you were doing.

If your idea or product or service hasn’t engaged a market or an audience before then it’s unlikely you really know what they want, not least because they probably don’t know yet either. Only when they see something that makes some kind of connection will they realise what their true need is.

So maybe you do need to keep things more open than conventional wisdom would suggest. That’ll cost more and take more effort than just following one option, but not as much as focusing on the wrong thing—the one it turns out nobody actually wants.

The gradual narrowing of options toward a truly effective focus is an art in itself, and a welcome development when it comes.

To mangle Albert Einstein’s words… Everything needs to be as focused as possible, but no more focused than that.

What’s your experience?

The things we don’t like may be the very things we need to learn

Executives listening to a presentationSometimes we react strongly against something someone else says. Or we see other people being surprisingly critical and dismissive of what seems pretty innocuous but useful information.

The very strength of the reaction might be telling us something.

We tend to push away what we need. As a teacher of mine said, “Those who are most different from us have the greatest gift for us.”

Just because the team doesn’t like something (or someone), doesn’t mean they don’t need the input. In fact, it might be the exact opposite. The strength of the reaction could be showing it’s exactly what they need. If there wasn’t some adverse reaction then the contribution wasn’t challenging enough.

It could be that stronger the reaction, the more right something is (and we can infer that we are on the right track).

And if we are initially uncomfortable or even aghast at something, it might exactly what we need.

Are you mindful of this?

What is the opposite of “quiet?”

Group in discussion at a computerIt’s often said that someone is “quiet’, meaning that either they aren’t saying much in the moment, or don’t say much in general. At least, that’s what it appears to mean.

In the first instance, the implication is that their “state” is different from normal, either because of some unrelated happening or because of some response to the present circumstances. In the second instance, the person is seen as relatively unengaged on an on-going basis.

So some observers, at least, expect a different behaviour.

But what is the opposite of “quiet?”

That perhaps isn’t so obvious.

Literally, the opposite is “loud,” but that’s not what me mean surely.

What about “vocal?” Is that closer?

Or is it that we hope for the person to be more engaged in what is going on? The jargon word for that might be “associated.”

We want people to be engaged in our stories, our dramas, our conversations, our ideas, and our lives.

But maybe they don’t want to be.

What’s the opposite of “quiet” in your map of the world?

And what makes you “quiet?”

How do you get someone to listen?

Four people speaking in front of a laptopIt was an informal meeting in a hotel bar with 4 or 5 people present. I’d been asked to say a bit about this myself. This from someone I’d met only a few hours previously. Nothing very unusual about that. What was unusual was the way my short potted history was interrupted by comments, not to say criticism, from the other party. Let’s say my patience was tested, and eventually found slightly wanting.

The thing is…

How do you handle such situations?

Eventually, the other person’s turn to tell their story came, after we’d picked up the pieces, and it might have been tempting to return with interest the earlier challenging.

Instead, I managed to listen intently without interjection (I was tired, which helped), wondering all the while if the contrast was apparent.

The question is…

Does deep listening encourage a speaker to go on and on, or do they “get” that they are being honoured with attention and soon it will be time to return the favour.

In other words, does modelling “deep listening”—an apparently passive activity—encourage the same behaviour in others, whom one might rather imagine would just take advantage of the opportunity to talk all the more?

I find it does. People realise they are called to a higher standard of dialogue.

What’s your experience?

How do you get someone to listen?

How do you reach the problem person?

Three people in a meetingIt’s so often the way, isn’t it? Somebody you’re in touch with really sees the change you can help them make in their business.

The trouble is…

The person who most needs to change is someone else in the organisation, quite probably somebody very senior, perhaps the boss. They’re the business’s greatest strength but also it’s greatest weakness, simply because they have so much influence and everything they do is greatly amplified for good or for bad.

(OK, that’s assuming we’re already being the change we want to see and so on.

How do you help your contact successfully suggest a meeting with you to begin the process of change? How do you help them see what they need to see? How do you get started?

One way is to begin by seeking the problem person’s knowledge and input.

What works for you?

Are you in your vision?

Bridge across a gapBefore we can create something in reality, we must create it in our mind. So developing a personal vision is a vital step in achieving something that didn’t exist before.

How clear and detailed does our vision need to be? Clear and detailed enough that if it showed up, we’d recognise it. Without that clarity, it won’t have the necessary guiding effect on our actions. Without that clarity, we won’t notice the relevant opportunities that come our way; we won’t see that they fit; in fact, we won’t see them at all.

That’s all very important.

But here’s the key…

We need to place ourselves in our vision. We need to see where we fit in the end result, and in turn, the journey to get there. Otherwise we won’t truly step into the dream. We won’t connect it with our life. And we won’t take the actions we need to take to make the vision a reality.

It feels safer to see a future state that doesn’t include our role in it. But then we disconnect ourselves from the journey to get there. And so we don’t take the right actions. And our vision doesn’t become a reality.

It takes courage to see yourself in your vision, taking the lead you know you can take.

But that’s what you need to do (if you want to change anything anyway).

The skilful use of time

Calendar dates from monday to sundayIn relating to other people, time can be an ally, if we use it right.

It’s more usual just to react to what happens in the present, transacting back and forth, hoping to make progress in the direction we want to go in, all in the here and now. We want to solve it this instant.

But as Abraham Lincoln says in the film, “Time has a way of thickening things.”

Sometimes it’s better to plant some seeds, or to train the vine a little, than go for the harvest straight off.

Or to move on from a problem, think of how things can be different tomorrow, next week, or next year. Imagine them solved now, and look back to the present. How significant (or not) do the issues seem from that distance?

As Lao Tzu wrote in the Tao Te Ching 2,500 years ago, “This too shall pass”. Nothing, but nothing, lasts forever.

How do you use time in your relationships?

The unchanging nature of leadership

Admiral Horatio NelsonWe’re so accustomed to ever-present change and the need to lead ourselves and others through challenging times, we’re inclined to think leadership itself is a changing field. I am anyway, or I was.

Actually, of course, it’s really the one constant…

I mean leadership in the sense of contributing something to help shape the future, or more literally, “stepping ahead.”

The nature of leading is a timeless quality, resting partly on skill, partly on personal presence, and partly on inner belief and sense of purpose, and more besides—an art much more than a science, and so somewhat elusive.

Our individual knowledge of leadership, of course, changes as we learn and grow.

And yet the nature of leadership probably stays the same, and so a very worthwhile investment.

Sometimes people talk about different styles of leadership. I’m not so sure. I believe all of these styles (or most of them) are part of the range of the best leaders—the ones with the most flexibility. Ultimately leadership encompasses them all.

It’s not all about anything

Three senior managersIn our enthusiasm for an insight or an aspect of a situation that makes a critical difference, we’re inclined to think that’s the one thing that matters in the end.

Of course, it isn’t.

We say “It’s all about the…”

“It’s all about the relationships,” for example, or “It’s all about the money.”

Vital though that consideration may be, it’s highly unlikely to be the only essential factor. Chances are there are a whole lot of necessary but not sufficient conditions.

Sometimes we may choose the emphasis of the universal statement to make the point, but it helps to remember it’s only one of a number of vital ingredients for success.

It takes them all, and we need to elicit every one of them, not just the ones we see first.

How do you take “no” for an answer?

Man thinkingThere something about train fares…

We seem to have a remarkable ability to get worked up about relatively modest amounts of money when it comes to train fares. If our request for a reduced fare is turned down (for legitimate reasons, of course, though we don’t see it that way at the time), we sometimes don’t handle it very well. Our ego is hurt.

Recently I saw one ticket-less guy take it really badly. He ended up storming off and jumping over the exit barriers. Except he didn’t make it at the first attempt and fell back on the wrong side. The indignity of that prompted more abuse towards the railwayman who had offended. I can’t repeat here what he said, but you can probably guess: two words, not very original. At one level, it was hilariously funny…

Ok, so we wouldn’t do that.

But how well do we accept having a request turned down; being told “no”?

Sometimes we do indeed need to push harder.

Other times we do better to accept with good grace.

How do you take “no” for an answer, when really you’d be best to? How do you keep your ego in check? How do you stay cool when you need to?

Worth working on.