January 21, 2018

Asking the right question

Group in discussion at computerThere’s no such thing as the right question, of course, but some enquiries contribute more to moving things on than others.

It’s worth thinking about…

What’s your intention when you ask a question – helping things along in the direction they need to go in for the benefit of everyone, or making a point to enhance your position?

Both have their place, I suppose.


It’s good to be clear about your aim.

And if it’s to move things on, there’s a skill in asking just the right question to pick things up where they are and carry them on to the next step.

How well do you do that?

Do you need the big roll-out?

Group of people listeningIt’s striking how some organizations think first of the scale required to roll something new out to the workforce at large—a daunting and expensive undertaking.

And yet often the same effect can be achieved with the leadership group attending thoroughly to their own change and growth.

So much cheaper and easier to organize and yet not the usual pattern.

The trouble with profiling

Informal meetingWell, one of the troubles with profiling…

In forming teams, it’s a good idea to bring together complementary skills and personality types. Diversity brings performance, though it may not be comfortable at first.

So we reach for the psychometric tests—how handy to be able to profile people and select them for roles in teams.

But there’s a problem…

Actually, probably several problems, but let’s focus on one…

Unless we’re very careful, the use of profiling strengthens the belief in team members that they don’t need to change; that they don’t need to develop their flexibility. After all, they’ve been told they’re an xyz, and perhaps even encouraged to play to their profile, to be an xyz to the full—to avoid flexibility, in fact.

In letting this situation persist, we make a fundamental error…

For a team to be successful, it needs to learn, and for a team to learn, it needs its members to be searching out their individual development, not staying in their boxes.

Otherwise one of the conditions for learning and growth in an organisation—personal mastery (responsibility for one’s own change)—isn’t present.

We’ve taken it away with our profiling.

The trouble with “gaming” the system

Three people in discussionThe meeting starts in the late afternoon—to prepare for the big one the following day. The purpose is to “spin” the numbers to get the outcome we want in the meeting tomorrow; to construct an argument based on the data to influence the other side; to get them to agree to the proposal that suits us best.

Just the stuff of a typical negotiation you may think. And I would agree with you.

But there’s something to be aware of….

If we and the other side are part of a larger enterprise—and so in a symbiotic relationship (and aren’t we always)—too much manipulating of the data means our shared model of how the enterprise works won’t be valid, that’s if we have a shared view at all.

Here’s the thing…

Without a shared and accurate model of how the bigger system is working, the enterprise—the collective team—won’t be able to learn, and it won’t respond effectively to changes in its environment. Without seeing things properly, it has no hope of any breakthrough, to paraphrase Joshua Cooper Ramo. One of the preconditions for organizational learning will be missing. In the long run that will hurt us all.

If you’re tempted to play games with the numbers—to “game” the system—just be aware that you’ll be sacrificing long-term viability for short-term gain.

How inspirational is a leader that “games” the system? Maybe to a degree, but only to a degree. The truly masterful might have no need.

Switching off dates on blog posts – good idea or bad idea?

Hands at a keyboardIt’s seems a clever idea – switching off the date stamp on your blog posts. That way you can tweet about them later and readers won’t realize they’re not new. Well, most of them won’t…

The audience respond appreciatively to this suggestion by a speaker at a conference, conjuring with the increased traffic they might generate by reusing their content more.

There’s a snag…

Tactics like this damage our authenticity. They sap away at our brand. We seem just that little bit less real and present. Not what we want.

Transparency matters. Withhold or manipulate information and you weaken your connection with other people, with your audience, with your market. The shutters come down that little bit. There are a lots of ways we do this if we’re not careful – lots of ways we undermine our own openness. I’d say go in the opposite direction and you’ll gain more. Be real and specific and you’ll draw people toward you.

Authenticity might rate higher than efficiency in your world. I’ve learned it does in mine.

How readily do you laugh at yourself?

Three smiling people(Occasioned by a certain politician failing to see the funny side of the routine humor dispensed on its cover by a well-known current affairs magazine.)

What do we do when someone attempts a joke at our expense? Fight back or just shrug it off? The choice we make says a lot about our maturity and affects how people perceive our presence.

If we protest at the kind of joke other targets regularly just ignore, we end up looking like we’re thin-skinned, can’t take a joke, and are overly precious about ourselves. Our complaining just makes fools of us. And we end up giving credence to trivia.

Better to just laugh it off, or ignore the humor altogether. Then we seem comfortable in our own skins, and so more influential, and the ones others follow.

Or even better, be the first to laugh at ourselves.

How do you make sure you rise above the cheap shots?

Do you solve a problem when you can?

Exhausted and frustrated woman at a computerIf you’re anything like me, your first reaction to the question might be ”Of course I solve a problem when I can.”

But do you?

Do you always make the choice to deal with an issue when you have the means to? Or do you sometimes leave the problem because actually it’s easier to be working against something, to have something to push on, or even something to blame.

If somehow—and I know this may be unlikely—you could eliminate all your problems and be free of them completely, would that be a comfortable place or an uncomfortable one? What would you do with your freedom then?

Do you sometimes avoid adopting a simple solution and continue looking for a more complex one that’s somehow more justifying?

I know I do.

But the path of personal mastery, wisdom, and growth means choosing to solve our problems when we can, and moving on.

Your “power to”, do you use it?

Woman reflectingWe all have power to achieve things or to be a certain way, possibly more than we’re comfortable admitting. As Marianne Williamson said, “it’s not our darkness but our light that most frightens us.”

This is quite a different thing from “power over” other people which might come to us through formal authority. “Power to” comes from our presence and indeed our personal mastery, our sense of purpose and our authenticity, our wisdom.

Abraham Maslow and others would say it’s our “power to” rather than our “power over” that counts in the end.

The more “power to” others perceive us to have, the more we will be able to help them. They will believe in us more than they will believe in the power of the problem they are trying to overcome. Denying our own “power to” and shrinking away from it doesn’t serve the people we might help.

Here’s the thing…

What do you choose?

Do you use your “power to” as a force for good, or do you hide from it a little (or a lot) and diminish what you can do for the world and for yourself.

It’s a choice.

How do you sit comfortably with your own power?

The head or the heart, where do you start?

Three people in a meeting, two shaking handsProgress on anything challenging typically needs a balance of head and heart perspectives; some emotional intelligence alongside the logic and rationale of the numbers and the processes. Neither on their own will be sufficient.

But where to start? Where to meet the other people involved?

With the head stuff, or the heart stuff?

With professional and business people brought up to “use their heads,” it often seems to make sense to meet them in that left-brain place that is so familiar, and then lead them to an emotional perspective once a level of trust is established.

With other individuals, less conditioned to be “professional”, beginning right from the heart might well work better. Or maybe that’s better in every case.

Does it depend on the context? The same individual in different circumstances might respond differently.

Perhaps the key is to connect with the person, one way or another, starting where they’re most comfortable, and then lead them to the other.

What do you think? Where do you begin—in your head or in your heart? It makes a difference.

Time to forgive yourself

Sun and treesForgiving others’ perceived wrongs is such a freeing thing to do, both for them and for us.

History shows that those that get the best results over time act as if other people are doing their best, even if they don’t seem to be doing as well as they could. There is a difference between learning to do better next time and raking over what’s done.

Even more liberating is to forgive ourselves…

We were doing our best back then; back when something happened we regret. It doesn’t serve other people, or even the “victims” of what we did wrong, to burden ourselves with the past.


Take the learning and forgive yourself. Now’s the time. You have all the permission you need.