Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Life as a series of surrenders?

A teenager at an AA meeting once described life as a series of surrenders.  He was wise beyond his years...

We can barely control our bodily functions, and sometimes we can control what words come out of our mouths.  So little of what happens is under our control... if we cannot accept that fact we end up frustrated and/or angry much of the time.

Until we accept, or surrender to the fact that so much is out of our control we cannot embrace or change whatever is happening.  Once we accept that things are the way they are; that the people around us will do what they do, we have a chance to work with what is happening in order to make a change.

A good example of this is what Whole Foods Market seems to be doing with animal welfare standards, along with their work with the Marine Stewardship Council.  Whole Foods has been criticized for selling products from producers that may have questionable practices.  However I think that the company knows that they cannot change these industries from the outside.  In order to create positive change in the way animals are treated they have to create relationships with the people they would like to see change.  That means, in the short term, selling seafood and meat from producers that don't meet the standards the company would like to see.  However it is only through working with and developing a relationship with those producers that any future change can happen.

As leaders we certainly can't control the behavior of our team members.  Many people will try, through threats of a consequence, or simply commanding, however the fact is we cannot make anyone do anything.  What we can do is work to create trusting relationships with the people around us.  Once they know that we are working for their success (and they are working for their success), they will come to want to do what we ask them to do.  Even more, I've found that my team members will go beyond what needs to be done and find new ways to improve things simply because they want to be a part of a successful team; that is once they know that my goals for them match up with their goals for themselves.

I recently talked to my store team leader about trust.  His thought was that when he goes to lead a new team everyone starts out with an empty 'trust' account, and each person has to earn his trust.  I couldn't disagree more.  In order to be trusted we need to trust!  For my team members, I trust that each of them is doing the best they can with the tools they have (and having built relationships with them I know what each is capable of so I don't ask too much of them and put them in situations they cannot handle).  I trust that each of them wants to do a good job and be part of a successful team.  I trust that if any of them has a problem or issue they will feel comfortable talking to me about it.  I might not be able to fix it, or give them exactly what they want, and (I hope) they trust that they will at least be heard.

I should probably say that my definition of 'trustworthy' matches Andy Stanley's (I love his leadership podcast)... you are trustworthy as long as you are the first one to tell me about your mistakes.  In talking to my store team leader I said mistakes are not just ok... they are expected!  If you are not making mistakes then you are not taking any chances.  And if we are not taking chances and trying new things we cannot be moving forward.  We can't expect forward movement without making some waves!
Surrender to what is.  Stop fighting or resisting.  Only then can we affect change.

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Developing Our Listening Skills Part 2

We have goals while listening to our team members.  If we expect any sort of buy-in, or want them to get behind our goals they have to feel that we have heard them.  So, I guess I should add some things that we should avoid saying when someone is speaking...

Yeah, I hear you but (anything)
Yeah, we've tried that and it didn't work (whatever 'it' might be, and even if you have)
Shut up and listen!
Here's what you need to do...
I don't care... 
Yeah we all have problems
I don't like that idea
We can't do that
That won't work
Tell me about it...
That's just part of life/working here/anything
That's not what's happening
That's not how you feel
It's not OK to feel that way
Yes you can (when the speaker states that they cannot do something, even if you believe/know they can)
OK, but it doesn't matter...
That's not important
Cool story bro, tell it again...

In my experience, once one of my team members feels heard and understood, I can give constructive feedback, disagree, redirect them, and make suggestions about how they might act in the future, and THEY WILL LISTEN!

Some years ago while I was taking a class at the Pennsylvania Gestalt Center, Mariah Fenton Gladis told us to replace the word 'but' with the word 'and'.  She said that it doesn't matter to the listener what we say before the 'but'... the 'but' discounts everything you said before it.  The listener is not very likely to really 'hear' what we said before the 'but'.

When we use the word 'and' both things (what we said before 'and' and what we say after) can be true.

For instance:
You're a really good team member, but...
You're a really good team member, and...

I really respect your work, but...
I really respect your work, and...

Over the years I've found this to be great advice.  Using 'and' allows us to genuinely compliment someone AND say something constructive in a way that allows both to be heard.
Reflect on times when you were not heard.  How did you feel?  How did you feel towards the person you were talking to?  Do your best to hear and understand when you are listening.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Developing Our Listening skills

How important is listening in Leadership?  How important is the beat in music?  How important is light to seeing what you are doing?  It is indispensable!!

Some years ago, someone told me “no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care”.  Just the other day I heard someone on the radio repeat what their mother said to them... ‘you have 2 ears and 1 mouth; plan accordingly’.  I don’t know who first said either of those, and I’ve found this to be so true...  No one who works for you wants to hear what you have to say until they feel heard.

Listening is not, I’ll repeat, NOT simply sitting there while allowing the other person to finish speaking before you start speaking!  There is a purpose to listening.  Think back to the first days and months of a new relationship... remember how carefully you listened to that person?  Odds are you listened not only to understand the words they were saying, but also to understand how they felt about what they were saying.  You really wanted to know where they were coming from.

That same interest... that same energy needs to go into listening to the people who work for you!  As you listen you will most likely find your mind wandering to various things.  You will think about how to respond to what they are saying.  You may think about your commute to work that day; something going on at home; how your boss doesn’t listen to you; how your knees have been bothering you lately (you get the idea... your mind will do what your mind does!)  That’s normal.  The important thing is to bring your attention back to the person in front of you.  

No response you might give to anything they say will be as important as having them walk away knowing that their words and feelings were important to you...  That you really cared about what they had to say, and that you took the time to really understand them.

Give them  your full attention.  Redirect your attention when you mind wanders.  Let them know they have your full attention by putting down your phone, facing away from your computer screen, taking off your headset, facing them, and sitting upright.  We draw so many conclusions about people by watching how they address us with their bodies and their posture.... give them a clear signal they deserve and have your full attention!

If this is new to you, or if you are new to the team, you may have to take another step or two.  The people you are leading will not just assume that you care or understand them, even if you do everything I’ve mentioned above perfectly.  Restating what they said back to them can be an invaluable tool in getting people to know that you were listening.  “So what I heard you say was...” or repeating back the feelings that you heard them relaying like “that sounds really frustrating” or “I find myself getting angry when that happens to me” or “I have to say that I”m guilty of acting that way myself”... there are any number of ways to find out if you actually heard what they were trying to say.  

If you repeat it back incorrectly ask them to restate it, and really concentrate on getting it.  If they agree and go on, continue listening to better understand.

Actually listening to the people who work for you will pay off in so many ways.  They will feel better about working for you... someone who cares to understand them.  They will be much more likely to listen to you when you ask them to do something.  You might hear about them defending you to someone who says you don’t care or listen.

It’s relationship building, and you want to have as many tools in your toolbox as you can.  Listening is one of the tools that will get the most use, and will pay for itself many times over!

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