Sucker-punched: Why Watching for Blind Spots is Mission-Critical

Bright Spots:  the places in our world where success is being created, where things are working well, where we are getting things right.  Being aware of our Bright Spots, and paying attention to what works and why, helps us better learn how to map a path toward success in the future.

Blind Spots:  the places where our failures and foibles, liabilities and lost opportunities lurk.  Blind spots are the aspects of a situation we are unable to see or understand.

Question: Why would anyone want to learn about their Blind Spots?

Answer: So that you don’t get Sucker-Punched.

I have been sucker-punched by a Blind Spot and I lived to tell you about it.

Here is what I have to say:  It stinks.  (I could be more colorful.)  And it can really cost you.

Thankfully, there are a number of things you can do to learn the landscape of your Blind Spots.

I encourage you to practice these Blind Spot Banishing Skills, so that you don’t have to “learn from experience” (a nice euphemism for “I got Sucker-Punched”.)  How to see your Blind Spots:

Blind Spot Banishing Skill #1:  ASK

Be Curious.  Ask questions that are calibrated to help you discover the pitfalls and perils that lie just beyond your awareness.  Questions like,

Ø  “What am I missing that others are concerned about?”

Ø  “What are 3 different ways I could be looking at this situation, and what would you suggest I do differently based on those other points of view?”

Ø  “How might other people be interpreting my actions? What am I doing to contribute to these impressions?”

Blind Spot Banishing Skill #2:  IMAGINE

Think about the situation from the points of view of others who are impacted or involved.

Ø  What do they believe is true about what is happening?

Ø  What facts do they have?

Ø  How might they be interpreting those facts?

Ø  What experiences do they have that contribute to their different beliefs about the same events?

Blind Spot Banishing Skill #3:  RELATE

Build relationships with both confidantes and detractors.

We need all kinds of people to help us understand the way we come across.  I have learned some of my best lessons in life from people who were not the easiest for me to be around.

Ø  Create the conditions for people you disagree with or lack chemistry with to be honest with you about how you come across.  Their insights are a real gift.  Really!

Ø  Have candid conversations with confidantes as well.  A confidante is someone who can give you hard feedback, and you, for whatever reason, can hear them.  They will give you invaluable insight, particularly if you ask in an intentional, open way.  And because they “get” you,these people are often able to explain how to apply both their feedback, and the feedback you get from your detractors.

Blind-Spots are great until they cost us.  It is so easy and comfortable to be unaware of how we come across with what we say and do. However, moving through life blissfully unaware of a lurking liability is not the way for a leader to succeed in the long run.

So, stay open, be curious, invite new insights, and build relationships with people that are both easy and challenging for you to connect with.  When we show others we are open, curious and care about how we come across, you will find they are more willing to share with us that one piece of advice that might make all the difference between success and failure.

If you have a story to share about how you Banished a Blind Spot, I invite you to share it with me.  I would love to use it in an upcoming Lessons Learned the Hard Way series.  

You can email your story to me at jennifer@voltageleadership.com

Begin With The Bright Spots

When leaders and organizations begin to work with us, it is often because they have a problem they need to solve.  Something is wrong, and that wrong thing is consuming an awful lot of time.

That is where we come in:  through conversations, carefully crafted experiences that change the climate, and a creative approach to processes and people, we equip our clients to solve problems and do things with more purpose, passion and focus.

When we are asked to solve problems for organizations, the first question I ask is this:

What do you want?

This simple question, repeatedly asked, uncovers many things:

·        Resistance: “What do I want?  Let me tell you what I don’t want…” and out pours the                   frustration.

·        The absence of vision.  “I don’t know what I want.”

·        A change in focus, “When I started this it was so clear, now I am not really sure.”

Over time, the answer begins to shift, and what begins to emerge is vision.  Common purpose. Passionate commitment.  Energy.  The challenge then becomes harnessing and deploying that energy effectively.

Sometimes our question, “What do you want?” shows leaders where the broken places are:

·        “I don’t know what the end game is.  It isn’t clear to me what we are trying to accomplish in the big picture, so I don’t know what I want because I don’t know what will contribute.”

·        “What I want is to be able to do my job well and execute effectively the work we are charged to accomplish.”

·        “I want us all to be on the same page.”

Whatever “it” is, asking this simple question begins to reveal what is working and what isn’t in the organization.  It also uncovers something about the people in the room:  their current level of willingness and abilities begin to emerge. We have a place to start.

The place I like to begin any engagement is with the Bright Spots.

Ø  What is working?

Ø  What is going well?

Ø  Where is the strength and energy?

It is from this place that people can begin to see what is possible. What can be created.

When we begin a conversation from a place of strength and success, people are more able to tap into creative solutions to the issues and obstacles before them.  Success begins with a success mindset:  we map our way from here to there with the guideposts of what is working, where our strengths lie, and how we can solve the problems before us with the assets, learning and lessons we are gathering today.

A destination can begin to be charted.

To begin to map your next moves around the challenges that are arising in your organization start by asking:

Ø  What do we want?

Ø  What is working?

Ø  What is going well?

Ø  Where is the strength and energy?

With this inventory of what you have, you will be more aware of what and how to harness and deploy your best abilities and tools as you move toward your destination.

Mapping our successes and our desired outcomes builds something essential into the climate of our teams.  It builds trust and resilience.

The problems and pitfalls that lie before us are best solved with our collective creativity and a common resolve.  “What do you want?” is the place to begin.  It creates the space for the deeper, tougher, more challenging questions that follow.

What do you want?  What do you really want?

How can the choices and challenges before you lead you there?

“To Grow Patience”

 Pa·tience (pāSHənst) noun. the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset. Patience is a Virtue.

It was a great time, a week-long trip to the Midwest. We were out of town seeing family and friends. It was very relaxing to the point of distraction. As we drove to ORD, we mused about just what a great trip it had been.  I was heading home with an important early meeting the next day. Spouse had planned some extended time away to visit more family in Michigan. Time to Kiss & Fly. She went to her gate. I went to mine. It was Sunday and all was right with the world (so far).

About 30 minutes after wheels up, it occurred to me that the spouse had the car keys to the one car at the airport I was arriving at. My spouse also had the only set of house keys with us on the trip. Thought to myself, “Oh Gosh darn-it”, I am at a bit of a disadvantage here, (not in exactly those words but you get the idea).

I landed and attempted to call the spouse when the cell phone started continuously re-booting, for reasons I still cannot explain to this day. I had to habitually log in to get a call out in the one-minute window of time the “smart” phone would acknowledge my existence. Once again thought, “Well gosh darn-it here”

The good news? It wasn’t raining and there were options. Okay, got through to the Spouse and explained the predicament. The spouse was going to call the locksmith, from Michigan, on my behalf. Before I could explain that it wasn’t necessary, yep my phone re-booted.

Took the car service home - $75. Sat on the front porch, on my black roller bag, realizing the world was spinning around at 25,000 mph and really not caring much. We had about :90 minutes of daylight left.

My neighbor walked by and I used their cell phone to call my spouse to exchange mutual pleasantries. Then I called the locksmith. The locksmith, of course, could help me for a premium fee on Sunday late afternoon. Okay, it seemed like a solution was finally in sight. The locksmith arrives, the same one who installed the original locks on the house, with about 45 minutes of daylight left. Ah, how good that hot shower was going to feel!

He got there and said, “Hmm, I have never seen these before”. After about :30 minutes of “lock-smithing” he was not able to gain entrance. I thought, “Gee golly gosh, we have some really great locks on our house. Not even the locksmith can get past them”. Indeed, how truly fortunate we were!

So, slowing down, we (the locksmith and I) enjoyed a beautiful sunset all the while I contemplated which window to break to gain entrance. And it was a beautiful sunset! It was an amazingly beautiful celestial canopy, a unique tapestry of spectacular colors and hues, a veritable cornucopia of colors designed specifically for this time and this place. Even the lock-smith was impressed.

My phone rang, yep that same demon possessed phone that was about to put me over the edge. It was my spouse calling to exchange more mutual pleasantries and to remind me that it would be preferable not to break any windows. (What we used to call in the “old days” a real bulletin!). I reminded my spouse that we had both been up since o-dark hundred and that after such a long and rewarding day how much I was looking forward to that hot shower.

Then it occurred to me, Stop, Focus, Think and Study the windows. What? Study the windows. I thought “Well Gosh darn-it here”, we did have excellent Pella windows with great locking mechanisms, guaranteed to keep out whatever you don’t want in, (short of breaking the window). While the apologetic lock-smith looked on, I studied the windows. “Which one doesn’t belong here”?

And sure enough, they all pointed the same way except for one window. That window was over the kitchen sink. It as well off the ground, but being tall it was no problem for me to reach. All we had to do was to carefully loosen up the outside screen and Viola! I called my spouse from the landline inside the house and said to ignore any process servers headed in their direction as it was all a big misunderstanding.

Procedures are now in place to never replicate such a moving experience. To quote PJ O’Rourke, “have not had this much fun since seeing the entire Mexican air force wipe out into a liquid petroleum field.”

Morale of the story - To Grow Patience:

1. Slow down. If you have the tendency to rush around and try to hurry things up, want things done immediately and can't wait for things to take their natural course, STOP.

2. Practice delaying gratification. When you want to reach for that quick solution, stop and think about it first. You can save yourself some aggravation.

3. Practice thinking before you speak. At times we blurt out the first thought that comes into our heads without considering the consequences. If we're patient, pause and go over what we want to say, we can avoid hurting or offending others.

4. Make patience your goal for an entire day. Make a concerted effort to take your time and think about everything you do, be mindful and live in the moment. Developing patience is much like physical exercise because it requires persistence and effort.

Love the One You’re With

I am borrowing the song title from the Stephen Stills famous hit from 1970—here is the link in case you want to sing along with me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HH3ruuml-R4

I got the idea for the blog listening to an interview on NPR’s Marketplace recently. Host, Kai Ryssdal, asked Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, to discuss a recent mistake that he had made. Nadella paused and then said he sometimes gets distracted by shiny bright objects and forgets about the needs of his current customers. He gets excited about potential new products and forgets that these new features might impact the current customers who have been loyal to Microsoft. He went on to say that he has stopped short of making the mistake, but not before nearly forgetting about the current customers.

What about you? Do you get distracted by the potential new customer and forget about the needs of your current customers? I know I have made this mistake. A couple of years ago, I landed some new customers that took me out of town a good bit, and made it hard for others to reach me for live meetings. The work with the new customers was lucrative, but were short term projects.  My current customers missed the extra touch that I normally gave them, and it was harder to renew work the next time around. If I had spent more time with my current customers, I might have gotten new work and I know I would have had greater loyalty if I had stayed connected. Thus, love the one you’re with! What are you doing to retain your top customers? Do they know how much you value them? What can you proactively do to amaze them?

 

I think this same concept can apply to our employees. It can be easy to look at our current team as good but not always great. We go to a conference and we meet someone and think they can be amazing for our team. This might be true, and I am not saying to not look for new talent. However, are you taking the time to truly develop your current team that is loyal to you? It is a lot easier to keep a team member that believes in your mission, understands your leadership, and is a cultural match. Instead of loving our current team members, we often covet other people. We tend to see the weaknesses of our team members and forget about their current strengths. I have one client that was loyal to his organization for years. He would receive feedback that he needed to be more direct. He would do this and then he would get feedback that he was too direct. He then would be told he was almost ready for a promotion and then they would bring someone in from the outside. He recently left and is a superstar in the new company. His old company called me and asked if I knew anyone like my coaching client because they said he was a superstar. If they had told him that while he was there and given him more positive feedback, he would never have looked for another role.

Take time this week to re-recruit one of the superstars on your team. Tell them why you love what they do for your organization. Call one of your customers and tell them why you enjoy working with them so much. Let me know how the conversation goes and in the meantime, “Love the One You’re With!”

Culture Shapers: How Leaders Define the Way Organizations Think, Speak and Act

Leaders both shape and define culture.

Leaders define culture by what they do, and shape culture by what they allow.

Therefore, every leader need to pay attention to in two distinct directions when setting and shaping culture:

1.      What are you saying and doing personally? What words do you use? What actions do you take? All of these are defining your culture.  

2.      What do you allow those in your organization to say and do? What behaviors do you tolerate? Which behaviors do you reward? The answers to these questions are shaping your culture.

The intersection of leading by example and maintaining strong accountability is what gives rise to and maintains strong culture.

Have you been a part of an organization with a great culture?

If not, I am sure you know someone who has, because when we are a part of a great culture, we tend to talk about it. The positive energy, creativity, and commitment generated within strong, successful cultures is contagious. There is a North Star inside the organization: a collective focus, a common pace, and a set of shared values that drive how people perform their work.

Have you been in an organization where the leader is striving to set a new culture, but some (or all!) of the people inside the organization are resisting that new culture?

This can be a terrible tale or a success story. A good leader can become frustrated and fail in the face of a powerful culture that wants to retain its norms. Leaders can mis-calculate when attempting to set or re-set culture, and lose the support of key stakeholders. And leaders can listen well, persevere through the tumult of change to navigate a team successfully through to a new, vibrant shared culture.

Sometimes cultures have trouble arising at all. I find that frequently this is because of either an absence of passion or the presence of fear, which leads to my final question:

Have you been in organizations where the leader is shaping a culture of fear?

What happens, typically, is this:  the leader’s positional power trumps the efforts of the rest of the organizational leaders to build a collaborative culture. Until sufficient collective courage is mustered to address the fear tactics with the leader, the leader’s culture of fear will prevail. Only when there is collective courage to name and attempt to co-create a new culture with the leader will the culture of fear dissipate. Most organizations tend not to be able to gather the collective energy to bring this type of request to the leader, so fear, and its limits on creativity and innovation, prevail during their tenure.

I find leaders who excel in shaping culture share some common skills:

1.      They listen. They are aware of the current reality of the organization, and then think about how to respond effectively to that reality.

2.      They know and show who they are. Their value system shows up in how they speak, act and organize their work and the organization’s work.  They infuse their work with that value system. It is who they are.

3.      They shape and communicate the values and culture of the organization. The demonstrate and co-create the culture by striving to equip every level of the organization to live the culture.

4.      These leaders help people learn how to be culture shapers, and hold others (and themselves) accountable for what they say and how they act.

5.      They course correct daily and publicly. They expect themselves and others to miss the mark, and have a process by which they renew their commitment to the shared organizational culture. They are willing to share their own learning and growth as they wrestle to bring their best selves to the table.

Culture hums when the leader and the organizations culture match.

·        Are you aware of the culture you are setting with your words and actions?

·        If you asked your direct reports what your organization’s culture is, could they tell you,               and show you evidence of that culture in both your behavior and theirs?

Leaders, we define culture by what we do, and we shape culture by what we allow.

Be curious about the impact of your words and actions today. Notice what kind of affect you are having on the organization and team you lead. And at the end of the day, do you like what you find?