How to Get Your Team Focused on Solutions Rather Than Talking About the Problem

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Problems. There never seems to be a lack of them. And there is never any lack of people that want to obsess over them! And when I say obsess I really mean that they are stuck TALKING about the problem as they are not working on a solution.

If we are honest, we are all guilty of indulging in this behavior from time to time. We know it is not helpful and yet we still get sucked down the rabbit hole of negativity at LeaderShift One Day Intensivetimes. Recent brain research gives us some insight into why this is and what we can do about it.

Research on how the brain deals with positive and negative stimuli published in an article in Psychology Today  gives us some insight into why we get so stuck in the negative. It should come as no surprise that our brains are more impacted by the negative. What is surprising is that the ratio of positive to negative stimuli needs to be at least 5:1 in order to maintain a balance in our relationships. This may explain why leaders tend to try to overwhelm their teams with positive ‘how we can’ information when their team wants to talk about ‘why we can’t. Unfortunately all that positivity falls of deaf ears, and the team may eventually writes of the leader as disconnected from reality. And that leads us to Deadly Sin #4.

Leadership Deadly Sin #4: Allow People to Focus on Things They can Neither Control Nor Influence

There is a lot riding on whether you can get your team’s focus on solutions rather than problems. It will come as no surprise to you that your success as a leader is directly proportional to your ability to get your team to focus on what they can do, rather than on what they cannot. The question is HOW. In order to answer this question, we need to first look at a mental model of how problems interact with what we can control and what we can influence.

Your Circle of Control (COC):
Although we may try to control many different things in our lives, there are only two that we can exert complete control over; our thoughts and our actions. No matter how talented you are you cannot control your results, and you definitely cannot control another person. As a individual contributor you may have felt that you were in control of your results, but you really were not. You just were using your talents, skill and experience to create positive results. Once you become a leader you now are responsible for the results of others, but you have even less control because you are one step removed from the activity that creates results.

While you may not be able to control people, circumstances and results – you can influence them.

Your Circle of Influence (COI):A second larger concentric circle is your Circle of Influence. This circle encompasses people you have strong relationships with, some events that occur, and some circumstances you encounter. There are other people, events and circumstances that you have little or no influence over that would be outside your COI. While the Circle of Control is static (it does does change), the Circle of Influence is dynamic – it will grow or shrink depending on how you deal with Problems that come into your life.

Problems:
We define a Problem as a person, event or circumstance that you have some influence over. There are actually two parts to any problem. The first is the part that you have some control of influence over. The second part of the problem is the part that you have no control or influence over.

If you chose to focus and take action on the part of the Problem that you have some influence over, then you will feel empowered and you will experience growth in your capabilities and results. In addition, over time your Circle of Influence will grow; and people, events and circumstances that were previously outside of your Circle of Influence will now fall within your new Circle of Influence.

Unfortunately, many people choose to focus on the part of the Problem they have no influence over. This is initially very liberating, as blame for the problem can be assigned elsewhere. However, over time this focus will lead to a decrease in growth and eventual decay of an individual’s Circle of Influence.

How to Change Your Team’s Focus:

In order to shift a team member’s focus off the part of the Problem they have no influence over you must do something that is completely alien to most leaders. You have to agree with them and stop arguing with them. In other words, when they say “We can’t because … insert reason here” we would normally say “But you could do … insert solution here.” This amounts to an argument with your employee. It’s an argument it would appear you eventually win, because they may capitulate and appear to be committed. However you almost always will find that they do not change.

What if you tried this. Next time when a team member says “We can’t because … insert reason here” say “You are absolutely correct, that is why we can’t do it.”

Then stop. Don’t talk. It will absolutely pop their navel. They were expecting an argument but you a agreed with them. They don’t understand. And so they will be listening to what you say next.

The Magic Moment:

Now you have their attention say: “I have a different question for you though… What could you do that would positively impact the situation?”

Do you notice what happened? We moved from why they can’t – to what they could do. However, we did not ask them to do it – just to entertain the possibility. Now that you have them discussing what they could do you can engage in a conversation about can actually happen.

So next time you notice that your team is focused on ‘why they can’t’ do what needs to be done – don’t overpower them with positive solutions. Redirect their focus with a question like, “What part of this Problem do you have control or influence over? Once you identify the part of the Problem that they have some control or influence over, then coach the person to set goals and action steps in that area.

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How to Make Sure You Receive Feedback That Guarantees Results

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In the last blog post (How to Avoid the Most Common Error Leaders Make When Setting Goals) I recommended you set a goal that you were absolutely passionate about achieving, one that you most likely do not know how to achieve. I am also going to challenge you to write it down and post it somewhere where you will see it multiple times each day. If you do this, you will find that you will have one of three experiences as you review your goal:

  1. You will find yourself thinking about how to make it happen.
  2. You will ignore the goal because you cannot figure out how to make it happen.
  3. You will start hiding the goal because people keep asking you what it’s all about – and you are embarrassed because of #2.

Most people would not say they are ‘ignoring’ the goal. We just get very busy with all the urgent matters that we already DO know how to do. The end result is the same though – we lose focus on the important because we are preoccupied with the here and now.

What about hiding your goal from others because you’re embarrassed? It is natural for human beings to only want to focus on goals they know how to achieve. In fact, most of us don’t like having questions that we do not have the answer to. We certainly do not want to bring attention to the fact that we do not know how to achieve our goals! However, it is been our experience that success in life is has more to do with asking the right questions than having all the right answers. In fact, you can almost always find the right answer once you have asked the right question!

The key is to know what questions to ask – and who to ask those questions to. And that brings us to Leadership Deadly Sin #2.

Deadly Sin #2: Solicit feedback from people just like you.

One of the consistent challenges we find with leaders is that when they set a goal, or experience a challenge that they are not sure how to resolve, they either do not ask for advice or they ask for advice from the wrong people.

You may ask: Why would a successful leader have a tendency not to want to ask for advice? Most people will go to great lengths to give the impression that they know what they are doing. In addition to this, there is the socially accepted vision of a leader being a strong individual who always seems to have all the answers. So the idea of admitting you don’t have all the answers flies in the face of all socially accepted norms of leadership. It is been our experience (and the research bears this out) that the most exceptional leaders are humble individuals that admit when they don’t have all the answers. (At the very least those are the types of leaders almost everyone would prefer to work with.)

Who should you seek advice from?

When leaders do seek out advice, they tend to seek it out from people who are just like them. Now, I do not mean that they only seek advice from other leaders. What I mean is that they tend to seek the advice from leaders who approach challenges much the way they do.

Lets consider the example of an “accountability” or “task” focused leader. Let’s also assume that this leader is struggling with the ‘engagement level’ of his employees. In many cases, the root cause of this challenge is that the leader is highly focused on holding employees accountable to reach their goals. What the leader may need to do is support her employees in the learning associated with the very behavior changes that would eventually drive results. It has been our experience that  an “accountability” focused leader will tend to seek advice from another leader who is also more accountability focused. Now, these two leaders will have a great conversation and will empathize with each other as to their people’s lack of engagement, but it is unlikely that either one will learn a lot from that conversation. In fact, what they will find is that their perspective has been validated by the other leader.

LeaderShift One Day IntensiveConversely, consider the example of a leader has a more “supportive” or “people-oriented” view. This type of leader has a tendency to empathize with the people they are seeking to lead. The most common complaint from this type of leader is that his employees seem to ignore his ‘requests’ for increases in performance, In many cases, the root cause of this challenge is that the leader is so busy ‘empathizing’ with his people that he is not holding them accountable for the required behavior change. It has been our experience that  a “supportive” leader will tend to seek advice from another leader who is also supportive. Now, these two leaders will have a great conversation and will empathize with each other as to their people’s lack of accountability, but it is unlikely that either one will learn a lot from a conversation. In fact, what they will find is that their perspective has been validated by the other leader.

Sound familiar?

Now, it does not take a rocket scientist to realize that the insight we require often resides with the people who have a different perspective than us. So why don’t we do it more often? Because when we ask someone for advice and they turn the ‘mirror of responsibility’ back on us, it makes us very uncomfortable. And so, we ignore them and seek the soft comfort of those who ‘understand’ the problem the way we see it.

As a leader, you need to seek out advice and input from people who are very different from you and  your leadership style. And these won’t be comfortable conversations. But they will drive you to look at things differently, change your perspective and you’ll learn from the  dialogue.

So how about you?

Do you have a tendency to seek advice from people who are just like you? Or do you actively pursue dialogue with people who  challenge your perspective of the situation?

Here’s your next assignment:

  1. Keep your goal posted where you’ll see it multiple times each day.
  2. As you interact with other leaders in your organization, start asking them what you could do differently to move your group in the direction of that goal.

And, if you ask for advice from the right people – get ready for some pain.

Next we will look at how to make sure the team we seek to lead is focused on the right things.
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How to Avoid the Most Common Error Leaders Make When Setting Goals

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It all starts with a goal. Either you are handed a goal by your manager, or you are asked to set one for your team. Set properly, the goal will establish a GAP between where you are and where you would like the team to be. In fact if there is no GAP there is no need for a leader. And that’s what you are – so how SHOULD leaders set goals?

It turns out that conventional wisdom flies in the face of recent brain science research.

What does the research say?

Modern brain research indicates that we evaluate a ‘status quo goal’ as more difficult to achieve than a ‘modest increase goal’. Yup. Thats right. Respondents were MORE negative about how hard it would be to keep things the same versus a modest increase. (Harvard Business Review  Nov 2018 – ‘Why You Should Stop Setting Easy Goals’)

But it gets even worse…

Not only did lower goals cause more negativity in respondents, when they were asked whether they would rather pursue the status quo goal – or the modest increase goal – they again chose the modest increase goal. And that finding held true across all different kinds of areas we set goals in.

So maybe we need to rethink HOW we set goals with our team. Lower goals are not actually more desirable or easier to get people to rally around. In fact, research has found that lower goals are less likely to be achieved. Now, before you fire off setting super stretch goals, know that those stretch goals rated the lowest of all three types of goals in terms of engagement and commitment.

So that brings us to Deadly Sin #1.

Deadly Sin #1: Set a goal you know how to achieve.

Now, I realize that to many of you that statement looks like a typo, however I can assure you that it is not. I also realize that volumes have been written on setting goals. The problem is that most of the articles and books on this subject are written by people who have never had the responsibility of making payroll, or having to figure out how to make a profit or a budget month after month. So, however well intentioned they may be, they often are only repeating the same tired old mantra about how to reach and achieve objectives that has been taught for years.

But let me start at the beginning with the difference between a goal and an ideal. What differentiates the two of them? Consultants (present company excluded of course) have earned vast fortunes working with leadership teams assisting them in writing their mission and vision. I realized some years back, when challenged by a client on the definitions of these terms, that even the consulting industry does not agree on what they mean. Well heck, that’s a problem in my books. So, rather than seeking the consensus definitions, I started to look at the clients that we had worked with, specifically the ones that had experienced the most rapid change in results and what they had in common.

Here is what we found: The most profound, rapid measurable change came when clients set goals that were completely illogical but that they were completely passionate about achieving.

But wait, aren’t goals supposed to be S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timed)? (Hmmm … I think I remember teaching that somewhere!) Well, yes they are, but our experience shows us that the time frame within which you set the goal is the key. For example, if you set a time frame that is quite short, say a week or even a month, you had better adhere to the S.M.A.R.T. criteria. However, as the time line stretches toward 3 months, or a year or two; you can afford to be a little less stringent on the ‘realistic’ criteria. This is because the more time you have, the more possibilities exist for learning to occur.

Now, obviously we do not want to be delusional. Your goal should be big enough to excite you and your team. The entire team should be passionate about it’s achievement. That means that it should mean something. Many teams wonder why they are pursuing numbers that mean nothing to them. After a while they stop engaging in the ‘game’ even if they give lip service to the goals that are handed down to them. If we are just going to push people to work harder and harder, then there is very likely not much in it for them.

While you should be passionate about your goal – it should also scare you a little… but it should not panic you. If it does not scare then you probably already know how to do it, or can see how you could achieve by working harder.

Do not fall into the delusional goal setting mode though. Though it may be exciting to dream of achieving these types of goals, if it is too unrealistic then your team they will not expend the marginal effort to pursue it.

So it seems there is sweet spot in goal setting. The goal has to be big enough that there is a win in it for you and the team, however it has to be reasonable enough (within the time frame allowed) where they believe it is possible to achieve it – even if they cannot see how to do it right now.

Next we will look at what to do now you have goal you are passionate about, but do not know how to achieve. Click here to go directly to this post…

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WHAT CAN YOUR ALARM CLOCK TEACH YOU ABOUT LEADERSHIP?

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What can you learn from your alarm clock about leadership? It turns out quite a bit.

This scene is played out in almost every household across the nation each morning:

The alarm clock goes off to alert you that it is time to get up. At that point there is a battle that takes place between the the rational side of you that wants to get up (and get a head start on the day) – and the emotional side that wants nothing more than just a few more minutes of sleep. I won’t ask you which one normally wins – or how many times the ‘snooze’ button gets slapped in your household. Suffice it to say that the fact that there is a snooze button tells us everything we need to know!

Enter the Clocky, an invention of an MIT student by the name of Gauri Nanda. As you can see, it is no ordinary alarm clock. Once set, it will go off at the prescribed time just like any other alarm clock. But that is where the similarities stop. Once the alarm goes off, the Clocky rolls off your bedside table and away from your reach. Imagine how hilarious it would be to watch someone chasing one of these around the room in attempt to silence it! But wait – what on earth does this have to do with leadership? Well, I’m glad you asked…

It turns out that the Clocky is a perfect analogy for what happens in human psychology whenever we are asked to do something that we rationally believe to be beneficial, but that is in conflict with our emotional side. The unavoidable conclusion is that when we say we need to ‘make up our mind about what we need to do’ – we really should say ‘we need to make up both our minds’ – the rational and the emotional. Unfortunately the rational side is typically overwhelmed by the sheer power of the emotional side. The emotional side of you is the part that is instinctive and feels both pain and pleasure – and it tends to be governed by HABIT. The rational side of you is what we would refer to as the intellectual or conscious mind. This is the part of you that thinks and (in theory) makes decisions. The crazy part of this is that all decisions made in the conscious mind must first pass thru the filter of the emotional mind before we can take action. In order for the conscious mind to win there needs to be a crisis that reinforces the need for change, or a lot of repetition (hence the prevalence of the snooze button).

So how do we use this knowledge to lead more effectively?

While we all know that it is relatively hard for us to change our own habits, we tend to underestimate the lock that our employees’ habits have on their behavior patterns. Because of this we tend to frame logical reasons to our employees why they should change. While I am not saying that we should throw logic aside – it is without a doubt an important and necessary element of any change initiative – I am saying that convincing the rational mind of the importance of a change is actually the easy part. The harder part of any change is getting a person to change their habits.

There is normally only one time of year that most people give any attention to changing their habits: New Years Eve. Although many people have given up on the fruitless ritual of the New Year’s Resolution, others cling to the dim hope that the new year will help them overwhelm the power of habit and they will indeed change for the better.

How to change any habit:

Changing a habit is one of the hardest things you will ever do, however it does not have to be as laced with failure as it normally is. Here is a simple strategy that you can follow to help yourself or an employee increase the likelihood of success:

  1. Focus on the root cause of our frustration – which is likely a HABIT not a bunch of tasks that needs to be completed. For example, if you have a messy desk and it bothers you (I say this because it does not bother everyone!) – do not set a goal to clean your desk. It will only be messy again in no time. Instead focus on the HABIT that is generating the messy desk, likely that you tend to dump things on the desk rather than putting them away.
  2. Identify ONE habit that needs to change. This is of course not what we normally do – we normally get so frustrated that we identify a whole raft of changes that need to happen. This almost assures failure before we even start the process. Since most people struggle to change even one habit at a time we must find a way to focus them on that one change.
  3. Follow up relentlessly until either change occurs or you determine that the change will not occur. If you determine that this one habit cannot change and it is critically important to the success of the role, then it is immaterial if other habits change or not.
  4. Back out of the follow up cycle slowly ensuring that there is adequate positive reinforcement and then identify what needs to change next.

By following this strategy you can overwhelm the emotional mind with your consistency of follow up. In essence you have (for a short period of time) become a Clocky – a constant reminder of HOW the change needs to happen – but definitely NOT just a reminder that it has not yet happened.

Now let’s get started! What HABIT would help you be more successful? If you are unsure you might want to try attending our next Webinar “The 7 Deadly Sins Of Leadership & How to Avoid Them” and you will then have 7 to choose from!

Here’s to your success!

Andrew

We have found that most leaders are frustrated that they experience the same problems day after day. At the LeaderShift One Day Intensive we teach leaders a process that helps them create a Performance Acceleration Plan so that they radically accelerate their business results. To learn more click here or on the icon below.
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The Ultimate Coaching Question

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Some years ago I was teaching influencing skills to a group of sales professionals. As you can imagine, there was a diversity of experience, tenure and talent in the room. At one of the breaks, a senior salesperson approached me to let me know why he was less than interested in the subject we were covering. He explained that he was really just trying to make it to retirement. When I asked how many years he had ‘left’ until he retired, he replied ‘five’.

Before I share my response to him, I want to share that beyond knowing that he was a slightly below average performer, I had no specific knowledge of his situation. However, I did not need to. His attitude toward growth and change told me everything I needed to know about what the next 5 years held for him: A slow decline in his sales numbers and increasing frustration with higher expectations of the company.

He looked like a really nice guy. I wanted to help him avoid what I saw looming on the horizon and I knew he couldn’t see it. He was assuming the next 5 years would be just like the last 5. I knew it wasn’t. The pace of change continues to accelerate, and the only antidote to that acceleration is to learn and grow. Coasting into retirement for 5 years in most occupations is just not an option.

I also knew he wasn’t really interested in what I had to say. I had to get his attention.

So I looked him straight in the eye and said: “I don’t think you are going to make it.”

Now I had his attention. He wanted to know what I knew – was he being fired? “Of course not” I replied. That started a coaching interaction that continued over the next few months, and at the end of our time together he thanked me for the wake up call.

I am pretty sure that this salesperson’s manager knew what was happening with him – he just did not know how to engage him in away that would continue him in a pattern of positive growth. And not all individuals are as transparent about their intentions. Some individual’s motivations may be like a mystery to you.

I have heard leaders say that certain employees are just not motivated. That is of course not true. They just are not motivated to do what the leader wants them to do.

As a leader you will typically have 3 types of individuals on your team:

  1. The Engaged: These individuals are always looking to learn and grow. They have a great attitude and work ethic. You know who these people are. They are the ones you want to hire more of. They are ones you worry about losing to another job or opportunity.
  2. The Disengaged: These individuals are not interested in learning or growing. The typically do not have a great work ethic and tend to be a magnet that pulls people down. They are the ones that aren’t always poor performers, however they definitely pull the morale of the team down.
  3. The Uncertain: This tends to be the biggest group on any team. Some days they are engaged, and some days they are not. They seem to be very susceptible to what is happening around them, both to the circumstances they find themselves in, and the people they interact with.

As a general rule, it is the Uncertain that we must win over to being more engaged. They are the biggest group, so moving them to being more engaged is a huge win. Unfortunately, it is always easier to pull people down than lift them up, and therefore the Disengaged can have a lot of influence with this group.

How do you Know who wants to Grow?

Have you ever seen an employee that appeared to lack motivation and had mediocre performance, take off like a rocket when they were transferred, or were assigned to a new boss? Motivation is different for different people, and although it is true that motivation is an inside job, there are times when the work environment or some other issue the employee is dealing with can make them less than motivated.

Unfortunately this leads many managers to ask “Why can’t I find more motivated employees”? It’s a reasonable question, however it is a question that will not lead you to a productive answer.

A better question is “How do I motivate more of my team to be more engaged?”

I asked that question some years back and found what I consider to be the ultimate coaching question. We refer to this question with our clients as the Future Focus Question. Do not be deceived by it’s simplicity. Here it is:

“If we were sitting here 3 years from today, and you were telling me the story of those three years… What would need to happen both personally and professionally for you to be absolutely passionate about that story?”

Let’s take this question a little bit at a time so that we can investigate just how powerful it is:

  1. In order for a person to answer this question there must be some level of trust with the person doing the asking. The question is a window into your personal and professional dreams. You will not share this information with someone that you are not sure you can trust. If they will not answer, you need to step back and build additional trust in the relationship.
  2. It is Future Focused. Too many of us get stuck reliving the past. If your best days are in your past then the future is not something to be excited about. Engaged employees are excited about what is coming next. Often it is our job as a leader to re-engage people in imagining a future they can be passionate about.
  3. It has a time frame fo 3 years. There is something magical about 3 years. It is long enough to be able to dream a little, but not so long to allow idealism. it is long enough to allow is to learn new things that will allow for greater achievements, but not long enough for us to waste time before getting started.
  4. We are asking the employee to imagine that this future has already occurred. Visualization is a powerful technique to start the mind envisioning paths to our goals.
  5. We are asking them to tell us what would make them passionate. Not happy. Not satisfied. Passionate. That is not a word that we use in business a lot. But passion is where all the juice in life is.
  6. We are asking about both sides of their life – both personally and professionally. the truth is that many employees may not see a lot of motivation in the work they do. In many cases their motivation to work is outside work. It may be their outside interests or their kids and spouse. In some cases they may wish to switch jobs. It doesn’t matter what it is. What matters is that you as their boss take an active interest in helping them achieve that future.

I had a leader one time ask me whether this approach might lead to people leaving his team?

The answer of course is that everyone leaves eventually. The question is,  do you want highly motivated employees for a shorter time or do you want disengaged employees for a longer time.

For more information on how to lead effectively and motivate thru mastering the art of leadership, register now for our complimentary webinar: The 7 Deadly Sins of Leadership (& How to Avoid Them)

How to Make Subjective Feedback Objective

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Some years ago an executive coaching client ‘George’ (not his real name) related to me a particularly difficult challenge he was facing. George was struggling because Sam (also not his real name – but you knew that didn’t you?) was failing in his role as a senior leader. When I asked George what the results were like in Sam’s group, he replied that they were exceeding plan. When I asked how that was possible, he replied that the role was so critical that he had been doing Sam’s job for him for some time.

George was faced with a problem: How do you deal with an underperforming leader when their objective results are strong – even if you know that they are not the reason those results are strong. In other words, your feedback is Subjective rather than Objective, and could be viewed as your opinion.

Even Objective Feedback has a Subjective Component:

In some cases you can show an employee that objective performance metrics are not where they need to be. That is not to say that they will always agree on their performance being the cause of the metric being less than desirable – but at least you have a solid starting point for the conversation. Note: For more information on handling these type of conversations see How to Avoid Defensiveness When Providing Feedback and Can You Really Get Someone to Change.

Even in the case of incontrovertible objective evidence, leaders are often unable, or unwilling, to see the connection between their operational results and their own leadership skills and/or behavior.

The Solution: You Have to Make Your Subjective Feedback Objective

Since so many of our coaching conversations revolve around subjective feedback, we created a process called Making the Subjective Objective™. Let’s use an example to show how it works:

One of your supervisors is having difficulty driving operational results. You can see that he is not engaging in effective coaching behaviors. Instead, he seems to take great pride in solving operational issues himself. This is lowering overall morale and engagement level in the team. Since he can only be in one place at a time, response times have extended and problems seem to pile up. This has caused him to complain about not being able to find skilled and hard working employees. You have tried to broach the subject of improving his coaching skills but he feels that he is already a pretty good coach.

Sound familiar?

In this case there is a mismatch between his perception of his skill level and what you believe his skill level to be. In other words – your feedback is subjective in nature.

Try Making the Subjective Objective

Ask the supervisor to rate their coaching skill from zero to ten. Note: We use zero because no one can confuse that with a good score.

If the supervisor gives himself rates anywhere from zero to eight, they are indicating that there is a possibility that they could improve. The challenge we fall into here is that we get hung up on the rating being correct – at least in our opinion. This desire for a correct score misses the point. What we want is for them to acknowledge there is a GAP between where they are and where they could be. So if they think they are a 7, and you think they are a 2; who cares? They have admitted that there is an opportunity for growth. So don’t get hung up

Once they have admitted there is a GAP and therefore there is an opportunity for growth – ask “What would a 10 look like?”

In some cases they may have some ideas of where they could improve. In other cases you may have to provide some ideas for them. In either case you have an opportunity to ask them to commit to those changes.

But what if they rate themselves a 9 or a 10?

This is the tougher scenario. Even a 9 is a 10 in disguise – they just did not want to seem arrogant. In this case, you have to have a candid conversation with them that you do not believe that their evaluation is correct. In some scenarios the person may never have worked for someone that has been willing to give them candid feedback, and while painful, your feedback could be a critical step in their career development. In other cases it may may a case of a lack of humility. And humility is one of the hardest traits to coach – and that will have to wait for another day!

 

How to Avoid Defensiveness When Providing Feedback

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when feedback failsOne of the most difficult challenges we must deal with as leaders is the fact that some people would rather blame others for their results, rather than place at least part of the blame where it certainly belongs: with themselves. We even have a term for this: Defensiveness.

When I speak with leaders there is an almost universal agreement that this is one of the core challenges that they deal with on a daily basis.

Whether you are speaking with a family member, a peer, or an employee: we are providing feedback to help that person make progress. And yet often that ‘help’ is viewed negatively and discounted by the person we are seeking to assist. Too often they seem preoccupied with deflecting responsibility onto someone or something else.

The challenge that you must overcome when providing feedback to another person, is that your ideas (feedback) conflicts with the way they see the situation – even if they believe that you have their best interests in mind. Complicating matters, research shows that a majority of employees would actually trust a stranger more than their boss. Ouch – I know. I’m not saying that lack of trust is warranted or appropriate, however it could be true that your relationship with the person your are attempting to give feedback to is strained.

How the Brain Experiences Feedback

We tend to believe that since our feedback contains useful information, providing that information to another person it will accelerate their learning. Recent research shows that the opposite is true. There are at least two reasons for this:

The first reason for this is that we make a number of assumptions about the superiority of our understanding of the problem that the person is experiencing. We communicate this superiority through our lack of questions about how they see the problem. Whether or not you do understand their situation better than they do or not – that is not the issue. The issue is that you have cast yourself in a superior role and that is almost always going to cause a defensive reaction.

The second reason that feedback often does not accelerate learning is that when we are presented with a new idea – or at least one that conflicts with what we believe to be true, we have a choice to make. We can choose to learn from that idea or we can choose to attack that idea and defend what we know to be true.

But we cannot do both. At least not at the same time.

Now if we were to be honest, we would have to agree that it is hard to be open minded about ideas that conflict with what our experience has shown us to be true.  So our natural reaction is to defend our own perception of the ‘truth’.

When providing feedback to others, what we really want is for them to be open minded – in other words we want their mind to be open to the possibility that they could learn and that the idea may actually help them. Unfortunately, our process for getting them to change their minds is flawed.

Instead of opening their minds to the possibility that their understanding of what is happening is flawed, we instead encourage the very defensiveness that frustrates our ability to assist them in making a positive change. In other words, we try to argue people into changing their minds. Rarely does this work, so we up the ante and increase the volume and intensity of our dialogue. Even if this results in a temporary change in behavior – it is too often short lived, and the person reverts to their previous behavior pattern.

A Better Model For Feedback

So then how do we coach positive change in another person?

It is actually easier than you may think.

As a leader, we are often told to ‘walk the talk’ or ‘model that which we expect from others’.

Unfortunately, we tend to interpret this in the narrowest sense – we should arrive on time if we want others to do so, we should work hard if we want others too etc. While all of these habits are a great start – they are really just the price of admission to being able to ‘lead effectively’.

So what should we do?

The answer is to model the very behaviors we desire in those we seek to lead. So, if we want people to be in ‘learning’ mode rather than ‘defensive’ mode – we need to model that behavior ourselves.

Think of a time when you last experienced defensiveness from someone. Did you you model being in ‘learning’ mode? Or did you argue with them and attempt to convince them that your feedback would help them? Did you ask questions with a desire to understand their point of view, or did you ask questions with an eye to uncover where their logic was flawed?

The question is – are you in ‘learning’ mode when they you are interacting with the people you need to model the behavior for? That’s when it counts – they need to see you making an effort to learn (interpret this as understand) their perspective on a change you are seeking them to make.

Try this experiment next time you are faced with defensiveness from another person: Set aside the need to be right, and ask questions to understand their perspective. That does not mean they are right, and you should accept their answers as facts. However it does mean that you listen and really try to understand why they feel the way they do. You will find that the emotion in the dialogue decreases, they open up and you actually can have a conversation rather than an argument.

Consider this: When we are in ‘defensive’ mode we are almost always talking. When we are in ‘learning’ mode we are almost always listening. So, to model ‘learning’ behavior we must listen. Only then will you understand how the other person sees the issue.

So how about you: When you are seeking to change the behavior of another person do you do most of the talking – or most of the listening?

How Much Influence Do You Really Have?

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Asian Businesswoman Leading Meeting At Boardroom Table

Today’s organizations are increasing characterized by cross functional teams or a matrix structure. In this environment, leaders can rarely achieve their goals by relying on the individuals that are part of their own reporting group. In nearly every case, a leader’s ability to do their job and deliver on the promises they make is dependent on the cooperation of individuals that they have no authority over. Not to mention the fact that often we need to collaborate with vendors and partners outside the company we work for.

In fact, your formal title and the authority that comes with it will only take you so far in today’s workplace. Without question the most relevant skill to address this challenge is the skill of Influence.

At The Oxley Group define we define the amount of influence you have as the inverse of the amount of positional power required to get anything done. The challenge for most leaders is that it is very hard to assess the amount of influence you have with another person. That is at least unless you know how.

Warning Signs

Here are a few warning signs that perhaps the your ‘influence’ muscle could use some work:

  1. You find your work is sometimes stalled because of your reliance on the response from individuals that do not report to you.
  2. It is hard to get people to return calls and emails.
  3. You are not invited to meetings where you perceive your input would have been helpful, or your would have desired your input to be heard.
  4. People rarely ask for your input.
  5. You rarely receive candid negative feedback – even when it is solicited.

Even the most capable leader needs to constantly monitor their current level of influence if they want to ensure maximum contribution and effectiveness.

The Influence Audit

In order to assess the amount of influence you have with the individuals that are critical to your success, perform the following audit:

  1. List the individuals that have the most impact on your ability to get work completed.
  2. Assign a score from ‘0’ to ’10’ to each contact based on how critical they are to your success.
  3. Assign a score from ‘0’ to ’10’ to each contact based on how much value they provide to you. Value includes support, timeliness, and accessibility. Do not assess your perception of their ‘skill’ as part of this equation.
  4. Now take each individual and assign a score from ‘0’ to ’10’ based on how much value you provide to them.

As you look at the scores you may see some immediate areas you need to address. Here are a few Challenges you may recognize in your scores:

Challenge #1: You have individuals that are critical to your success (question #2) however you rated them low on value they provide (question #3)

This a red flag that you may have an issue with Influence with these individuals. Consider how you can build your influence through the value you provide to them. Is the only time they hear from you when you need something? What skill do you have, or that you could develop, that you could proactively utilize to provide value to them. Have you spent time getting to know them as a person? Do you know what is important to them?

If you rated their value low and you suspect that they lack the skill for what you are asked them to do, that is a perfect opportunity to build influence by assisting them develop that skill. Remember that they may not be particularly trusting of you at first, and you may have to spend some time building trust before they feel able to open up about the challenges they are facing.

Challenge #2: You have individuals that are critical to your success and provide great value (question 2 & 3), however you rated the value you provide low (question #4)

The good news here is that you do not have a short term problem. The bad news is that you have a long term problem: this type situation is not sustainable. If you do not address this imbalance, you will eventually find that not only will your current relationships suffer, you will gain a reputation as a person that is a ‘user’. While I have never met a leader that feels they fit this term, I know of many leaders that other people would describe this way. The solution is simple: How can you start to provide value to others? Consider projects that are outside of your formal role that you do not have to be involved in. In this way your peers will start to view you as a contributor to the success of others, even when there is not a direct benefit to you.

At some point in very leader’s career there comes a point when your success will be less dependent on your personal skill and ability than it will be on the relationships that you have created that allow you to play at a higher level.

Bohemian Rhapsody – The Contrasting Personalities of Queen

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With box office sales reaching $142 million in the US and almost $600 million worldwide, the movie Bohemian Rhapsody has captured the hearts and minds of movie goers everywhere. Based on the story of the British rock band Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody chronicles the nascent band from its early days playing clubs to its rise into megastardom.

Comprised of four superstar musicians, the band was unquestionably led by frontman and vocal virtuoso Freddie Mercury. Much like The Beatles did a decade earlier, Queen leveraged the unique personalities of each member to create a sound that changed the music landscape forever.

With millions of musicians in the world, what made Queen so special? Authenticity, emotion and energy is what set Queen apart from everyone else. Whether it’s the euphonic harmonies of the song Bohemian Rhapsody or the unparalleled energy the band delivered during their live concert performances, Queen was the true embodiment of emotion and energy, with a side of style and class.

Creating the band’s sound
Queen is a study in how disparate styles can come together to create something bigger than the sum of its parts. In many ways, the differences in the band were showcased in how Freddie’s style contrasted with the other three band members.

Freddie was a showman who clearly envisioned the big picture, imagining a song from its conception to its stage delivery. Incorporating classical music training into his songwriting, Mercury challenged the status quo of the rock world by delivering a sound that possessed elements of ballads, rock and opera.

Brian May’s musical palate was as vast as his intellect, spanning from classic hard rock such as “Hammer to Fall” to the softest of ballads found in the beautiful melodies of “Love of My Life.” Drummer/vocalist Roger Taylor liked to inject a little humor into his writing as is shown in the song “I’m In Love With My Car.” Bassist John Deacon was a frequent songwriting contributor, penning some of the band’s bigger hits including “You’re My Best Friend” and the unmistakably bass-driven “Another One Bites the Dust.”

 

Challenging the status quo
Often rejected by record company execs for not being commercial enough, songs like Bohemian Rhapsody redefined what commercial became. At the time the song was recorded, there were no six minute radio hits, no opera parts in rock and certainly no music videos.

Queen wanted to break free from what was previously considered “radio acceptable,” fully believing there was a market for their new brand of rock. They rightfully believed that if the public had a chance to experience the music, they would enjoy it.

For a song “certain to fail” according to record company execs, Bohemian Rhapsody became the third most popular song in the history of the British charts based on sales, having reached the #1 spot in two separate decades (on its release and upon Mercury’s death) and charting on the Billboard Hot 100 in an unheard of three different decades (70s, 90s, 10s).

Collaboration is king
It’s safe to say that Queen left an indelible mark on the music world. The bigger question is what propelled Queen to produce music that became so long lasting and impactful? A strong argument can be made that the unique personalities of the band members is what created the greatness.

While no one will doubt that Mercury was the band’s driving force, every member of the band was a contributing songwriter. The future astrophysicist May was the yin to Mercury’s yang, with Mercury’s soft melodies being sonically balanced by May’s raging power chords. When it came to songwriting, they were very collaborative, with different members taking the lead at different times, creating unique, memorable songs that spanned the musical gamut. When the band performed live, however, the three members of the rhythm section were willing to take on more of a supporting role role so that Mercury’s star could shine the brightest.Queen-Performing

History has seen many bands crash and burn with a dominant personality in the mix. However, May, Taylor and Deacon understood that letting Mercury take the lead on stage – and often in the studio too (i.e. Bohemian Rhapsody) – brought out the best from the vocalist. The band’s epic performance at Live Aid, considered by many to be the quintessential rock performance of all time, showed that the bigger the stage, the better the band performed.

As self-assured as Mercury was, it was what the others contributed that made Queen the powerhouse they were. The commercial failure of Mercury’s solo album, made without the help of his trusted bandmates, confirmed this point. It proved that even the most creative minds have their limitations and often it takes another voice or idea to elevate something from good to great.

What motivated Queen?
Queen believed in pushing the limits and creating a new definition of what was considered to be mainstream. The band understood that with their supreme songwriting and performing capabilities, they could accomplish just about anything. Freddie had a commanding personality, wanting to be the center of attention at all times. The spotlight energized him. The others were smart enough to realize that Mercury was a bonafide star and that letting him shine was very much to the band’s benefit.

John Deacon seemed to avoid the spotlight, instead preferring to be the foundation on which the songs were built. Slow and steady, Deacon’s bass lines were the glue that held everything together. Roger Taylor was a showy drummer and a good vocalist in his own right. While the press would regularly gravitate toward Mercury during interviews, Taylor would frequently chime in to remind the eager press that Queen, in fact, consisted of four equal members.

While Mercury attracted attention with his showmanship and stage acrobatics, May attracted attention with his style and guitar virtuosity. With a precise attention to detail, May performed like a master craftsman, creating both a style and a sound that was unlike any that came before or after him.

Wanting to be unique, May and his father Harold built an unconventionally-shaped guitar that became known as the Red Special. It produced a thick, bright sound which instantaneously conveyed the Queen sound. Playing with a Sixpence instead of a guitar pick, May created his unique, ear-piercing squeal that a traditional plastic pick could never produce. To say May was detail-oriented in his approach would be quite the understatement; he was nothing short of a guitar maestro.

The show must go on
The members of Queen had an insatiable appetite for songwriting and performing. Attention to the finest details is what set this band apart from other acts of the time that were more consumed with sex, drugs and everything else that came with the rock and roll lifestyle.

Queen was a supergroup before the term was even coined. Understanding that, through collaboration, they could achieve virtually anything they wanted to, the individual members sacrificed a certain level of personal fame and fortune in exchange for a lasting legacy for the band as a whole. They were a band in the truest sense of the word.

Note: This article originally appeared on TTI Success Insights and was republished with permission.

The Foundation of High Performance Teamwork: Trust

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The Foundation of a High Performance Team: Trust
In our work with assisting teams move from groups if high performing individuals to high performance teams, we have have found that Trust is the foundation. When it is present then the other elements of a HPT can be developed, however when it is not then no matter how much you work you will never create a HPT.
The problem is that we all think we are trustworthy.
It’s true for you isn’t it? You are trustworthy. It’s those other people that are not. In fact, when we work with teams this is the lowest rated element in the HPT Assessment. How is that possible? One reason may be that although their are some universal truths about what we would all deem ‘untrustworthy’, ‘trust’ is not arrived at the same way for everyone. There are actually some words that will cause a person to NEVER trust you. The challenge is that those words are different depending who you are speaking to!
The good news is that there is a way of breaking the code. When working with a consistent team, you have the additional benefit of being able to observe people over time and determine what to do – especially when you perceive a relationship is going (or has gone) bad.
Breaking the code.
The first thing you must do to break the code is to recognize our own bias in the way that we judge others. That’s right. You’re biased. Not in an evil way – you just have a very specific way that you see the world. People that see the world much as you do will tend to get more of the benefit of the doubt from you, and those that do not – well you get the picture.
Understanding your own bias.
In order to understand your own bias, we need to take a quick test. Let’s say that someone you do not know very well is trying to convince you to trust them on a recommended course of action: Which of the following words would be cause you to raise your eyebrows and be less likely to move forward:
If they said:
  1. In my opinion…
  2. This is a sophisticated solution…
  3. We should play to win…
  4. This is a revolutionary way to proceed…
While none of the above may be very convincing to you, there are probably one or two that would turn you off more than the others. Those statements will be more likely used by individuals that you will have a bias against.
And the statements that you did not react as negatively to? These are the ways that we are more likely to utilize to attempt to convince others.
The bottom line is this: At a subconscious level do not trust people that use certain language patterns, and at the same time we utilize very specific language patterns when we trey to be persuasive.
In order to increase trust within a team, we need to be aware of the different ways that people interpret what we say. The good news is that this entire process is easy for a team to engage in.