January 19, 2018

Archives for August 2013

How open is your thinking?

Executives listening to a presentationWe see it time and again… Some intriguing new information is rejected by the established order.

This story is told in all sorts of contexts. I’m sure you can think of many…

Something happens that suggests a radical approach to a familiar problem might lead to a solution, but too many have too much invested in the old paradigm to accept the new possibility. They would lose too much if they accepted the radical idea. So the problem remains unsolved.

As a former colleague was fond of saying, quoting Christian Morgenstern…

“In his (or her) considered view, what did not suit could not be true.”

So much, so frustrating, so disappointing…

But what if you’re the established order; the one invested in things the way they are; the one with something to lose in accepting the radical idea?

How open are you to that which doesn’t suit but might be true?

The trap of structure

Fork in a pathIf you already have the structure of something—a task, a project, an issue…

…it might not be the thing you most need to do. Maybe you should hand it off, or be done with it altogether.

We like when we know where we are and where we’re going; when we are clear on the structure we need. We can act on that.

We don’t like when we don’t know where we are or where we are going; when we don’t have a map. We feel uncertain and hesitant.

And so we tend to focus on those things where we have structure, but they may be the very things we should be moving on from in order to grow and develop.

Structure is great. Structure is comfortable. Structure might be a trap.

Should you be moving on from the structured to the unstructured? Should you be in uncharted territory?

What do you get when you blend leading and following?

Conductor and orchestraYou can only either lead or follow at any given time. So says conventional wisdom.

You have to choose: Follow for a while to build connection; then perhaps lead to achieve an outcome. The issue then is have you built enough connection for the influence you hope to achieve. (Of course, you might have enough authority just to lead all the time. Maybe.)

We might switch very quickly from leading to following and back again but still, at any given time, we’re doing one or the other but not both.

So says conventional wisdom. Recently, I realised this isn’t right.

The most influential people lead and follow at the same time, or so it seems to me. Somehow they both are influenced and influence simultaneously. And of course, it’s an unconscious process both for them and the other people involved.

The funny thing is…

We don’t have a word for that, not in English anyway—for that process of leading and following at the same time.

Back in 1933, Alfred Korzybski in his work on “General Semantics” said that the English language often has words for opposites but not the middle way. The language often gives us convenient single words for the extremes, but no words for “the great in-between” e.g. good or bad, happy or sad, right or wrong. So our language limits us by focusing our mental models on the extremes. This causes us all sorts of problems.

One of them is understanding the process of influence properly.

And we need to find alternatives.

So what lies between the extremes of leading of following?

What words are there for that great in-between?

What do you get when you blend leading and following?

Whatever that is is what we need.

A broad focus—oxymoron or enabling step?

Droplet of water in focusIt’s good to focus—in fact, essential if we want to be effective and get something done.


But sometimes we need to focus on the whole, not just a part.

And that’s often our problem. We narrow our vision to something we think we can work on; something we specialise in.

Unfortunately though…

It may only be by holding all the pieces together we see where the breakthroughs are. The system may only make sense when seen in the whole; when the fragmentary parts are integrated.

Focus doesn’t have to mean narrow. It can also mean clear.

And so it could be broad, and include the whole.

Of course, any “whole” is always part of something else, but that’s another story.

Do you want the good stuff?

Gold nuggetOf course you do, is your likely first reaction.

But do you? Do we?

Do we want the transformational insight? Do we want the bigger ideas? Do we want the deeper learning?

Do we want the good stuff?

Or would we rather increment forward from where are now, instead of stepping onto the path that leads to where we really want to be?

…both valid choices but with very different destinations.

When we come to help you…

Should we bring the good stuff? Or will it not be needed today?

Do you give yourself the leadership you need?

Man thinkingIt’s commonly said that a leader is best to give their team the leadership they need, rather than the leadership they want.

In other words…

The leader needs to be somewhat demanding at times. Otherwise, the team is inclined to be too comfortable and perform below its potential.

It follows, therefore…

That if you work for yourself; are your own boss; or even just have a great deal of autonomy…

You also need to give yourself the leadership you need, rather than the leadership you want.

You are your own leader after all. No one else is.

If you want to perform at your best, how demanding of yourself do you need to be?

And how do you make sure that happens?

One way is to get some help and make yourself accountable to someone else.

The person in front of you

Woman making an emphatic pointWe come up with all sorts of elaborate ways to engage with our world, but really whatever you are working on, however big or small, it almost always comes down to this…

…relating effectively to the person in front of you.

Even a group situation is a set of one-to-one relationships.

And so…

Person-to-person is really where the leverage is.

And the return on investment of learning effort, for that matter.

You’ve probably done the rest after all.

As Seth Godin so aptly put it recently…

“Organizations that do nothing but measure the numbers rarely create breakthroughs. Merely better numbers.”

This, of course, is why relationship skills are so worth working on, in my opinion, and why some key insights can make immediate and dramatic differences.

How much of your outcome is determined by your ability to relate to the person in front of you, do you think?

Action plus brand equals result

High Street sceneMaybe there’s something we’re missing…

It’s healthy to believe we can replicate others’ success in leading change, or in achieving business results.

We can, and the approach is a good one.

But there is something we need to remember…

There is a missing element…

And that is the esteem in which we (or our exemplar of success) are held by our market, our audience or our constituency – whatever the most appropriate collective word is for the people we intend to influence.

One word for that relationship between a business and its market, or a person and their following, or a change agent and their community is “brand” – a kind of label summing up the relationship. Brand is something we can develop, of course, but only over time.

If you think about it…

Brand really refers to something that exists in the audience, not in the business. And if you want to study a brand, you need to talk to the market.


When we take action in expectation of a result…

Members of our audience weigh our action in its own right, yes, but then they factor in their beliefs about us; how they perceive our standing and credibility; in other words, our brand. And then they decide: Yes or no.

Same action, different brand leads to different result.


What’s your sense of your brand?

How might it be affecting your results?

And how might you develop it differently for the future?

If your world is a mirror, what would you change?

Executives listening to a presentationIt’s a big step to believe that what we experience “out there” is a reflection of what we have “in here.” Such a big step, that the implications continue to dawn on us throughout our lives even after we’ve accepted the basic premise.

That’s how it has been for me anyway…

The extent to which what we experience in our environment is a manifestation of how we are ourselves, especially if we have some kind of leadership role, continues to be a marvel.

So how does this work?

It’s to do with the way our brains work as pattern recognisers, in conjunction with their largely unconscious nature. We notice matches “out there,” but don’t see that we are their source. Other people respond to our unconscious behaviour, but we think they are the cause.


We don’t at first own the reflection in the mirror that is our environment because we’re mistaken about the source. We don’t see our own patterns directly because they’re outside our conscious awareness.


If your environment is indeed showing you a reflection of yourself, what would you change?

What would you manifest differently out there in your business, by changing something in there in yourself?

You see…

That’s how it works, in my experience. And it’s an easy way to get something different to happen.

Justifying how we were yesterday

Senior businesswoman thinkingIt’s an easy trap to fall into. In fact, it’s not so much a trap as the normal course…

We act today to justify how we were yesterday. And we do the same tomorrow, and the next day and the next day…

I know I’ve done this—many times. We all do it, I think.

It’s just easier to keep repeating our patterns, especially when we interact with other people. We find it much less embarrassing than choosing something different; much more comfortable to reflect the past than be authentic in the present.


Much better to visualise the future we want and bring that into the present.

But being authentic in that way today might mean accepting we were mistaken yesterday.

Are you up for that?