January 27, 2012
W. Edwards Deming is quoted as saying, “Experience by itself teaches nothing.” In a fast-paced world where we are bombarded with more and more stimuli and we are called upon to carry out multiple tasks, this is truer now than ever before. Our lives are filled with more and varied experiences which, by themselves, leave us with nothing more than information. Sometimes we get to the end of our very busy days and the most we have made of it was, “I was run off my feet all day,” and we let go the opportunity to reflect on what it all meant to us and our lives. Are we doing what makes us happy? Are we spending our lives doing something meaningful to us? Are our lives enriched by the myriad of interactions and relationships we hold? Are we making a difference? If we were asked, we could probably recall the things that happen to us daily, but it is not sufficient to merely recollect if these experiences are to have enormous value to us. In our working lives, which are becoming more unpredictable and and revolve less around the carrying out of rote routine tasks, we are exposed to a veritable banquet of new experiences and interactions. Within these experiences lie the building blocks of our transformation.
To build on a previous article, while we certainly need to be open to new information and experiences, we need to do something purposeful with them. Often in my work, I have cause to reflect on the value of reflection. Just as every story has a beginning, a middle and an end, so do life’s little episodes. There is a beginning phase, called the ‘warm up’, the middle phase, where the action occurs, and then there is the last phase, in which meaning is made of the experiences in the action phase. This last phase is where the reflection happens. Reflection is essential in order for the significance of the action to be realised. All too often, we get to the end of the action phase and we hurriedly move on to the next thing. It’s all do, do, do.
I often liken it to digesting. If it weren’t for our digestive system, we would find ourselves either unable to take in any more food or passing food straight through our bodies without the benefit of extracting the nutrients that we need to build and grow. A banquet table filled with food has no significance to us until we take the food into our bodies and let our enzymes go to work. Only when this has occurred and our cells are making use of the nutrients is the food of any real use to us. Experience is much the same; only when we have digested it and made conscious meaning of it does it provide us with sustenance and the building blocks for growth.
One of the most skilled experiential trainers I have ever had the privilege to work with, John Bergman, once said, “I provide people with experiences. I know they’ve had one because I can watch them having it. What I don’t know is what they’ve learnt from it. The reflection afterwards is the most important bit.” Thankfully, I read more people writing about the importance of transfer of learning in the workplace. Whether you are running a training course, carrying out some one-to-one coaching, facilitating a business simulation with a bunch of senior execs or teaching people to apply social media in their work, it behoves you to facilitate and guide some reflection on what you have been asking people to learn. Real learning is integrated into who we are as people. Otherwise, it’s not learnt. Unless we digest and make meaning of something new, it will pass right through us. It’s not an added extra; it’s an integral part of the learning process.
In setting up a learning programme with a new client, I have sometimes been asked, “What will the ‘take home’ be?” If I’m honest, I would say, “I don’t know.” I could tell you what my agenda will be. I could tell you what exercises I will get people to do. I could tell you what I’d like people to learn. I could tell you that I have a great experiential process that will show sales staff the way to providing better customer experiences. However, I think we are well past the time when we can assume that just because someone has sat in a training room that they will have learnt what the trainer or their boss or the HR Manager wants them to learn. Certainly, businesses require people to learn things that will assist them to excel at their jobs and, certainly, businesses want this elusive thing called ROI and certainly, businesses want to spend their L&D budgets on something purposeful that will provide benefits to the people and the business. That said, spending L&D money is no guarantee of learning or development unless the learning programme (whether that’s a series of coaching sessions or an e-learning programme or leadership development programme) has reflection and integration built in to the programme. So what’s the take home? That can depend entirely on how much reflection and integration I ask of people in the session. If there is none, I’m leaving the ‘take home’ to chance; perhaps some of the people are already good at reflecting and meaning-making, perhaps some of them are not.
Developing the role of Astute Reflector, however, is not only applicable in the context of formal learning; far from it. More of what we need to absorb and integrate comes from our daily experiences and interactions at work than from ‘formal’ learning situations. Bringing the learning into work is more than a zeitgeist catch-phrase; it’s about how you view everything that you do, everything that happens to you, every conversation you have. Is your working day just a series of things to ‘get through’ or are you making the most of your daily experiences, pleasant and not so pleasant, as learning fodder? Do you get to the end of a busy week with a sense of indigestion because you haven’t processed and made meaning of the week’s events? We need to shift our thinking so we see that everything that goes on at work is about learning. There are some compelling benefits that can come to us from developing the role of Astute Reflector in our lives.
We become better at learning from mistakes. When our Astute Reflector role is well-developed, we regularly stop and debrief, either by ourselves or with others, to examine what went well and what didn’t go so well. Once we have made this conscious, the chances of us repeating our mistakes begin to fall dramatically.
We distill the ingredients for success. Rather than leaving good performance to chance, becoming conscious of what works well also shows us the way to consistent excellence. This isn’t about finding the one or two things that work well and sticking to them, for ongoing reflection is the thing. However, we can improve our chances of future success if we have actually stopped to reflect.
We see patterns that were previously hidden. When we reflect, we connect the dots with other experiences in our lives. This begins to show up patterns. If you are a systems thinker, you will hold that everything is connected to everything else. Reflection illuminates those connections, from where we become more conscious of values, habits and attitudes which serve us well and those which don’t.
In his excellent article on mastering the art of self-reflection, Adam Chalker lists three kinds of reflection: reflection-on-action, reflection-in-action and critical self-reflection. I believe that all three of these are indispensable abilities of the role of Astute Reflector.
If we inculcate the practice of reflection-on-action, we habituate ourselves to asking questions such as:
- What was I trying to achieve?
- What did my actions and responses create: in myself, in others, in the wider system?
- What did I do well? What did I do too much of (that got in the way of excellence)? What did I do too little of?
- What does that remind me of (from the past)?
Growing the ability to reflect-in-action means that we become more able to notice ourselves while we are doing something and, if necessary, shift our attitudes or actions. It’s a bit like reading a map while we are on a journey, checking to see if we are heading where we want to go. If we wish to develop this habit, we can ask ourselves:
- What am I actually doing right now?
- How are people responding to me?
- How am I feeling right now?
- Am I heading in the right direction? If not, what change of course is required?
I’ve written before on the need to develop more critical self-reflection and self-awareness. This is taking a cold, hard look at ourselves and asking the challenging questions:
- What lies do I tell myself?
- What am I pretending not to see about myself?
- Am I doing something which truly brings meaning and joy to my life?
- How do I enact power? Is it personal potency or power over others?
- Do I like who I am?
Once again, these are not discretionary matters to consider only if we have the luxury of time; the role of Astute Reflector is core to the world of work today. Charles Darwin knew about the value of learning when he said, “It’s not the biggest, the brightest, or the best that will survive, but those who adapt the quickest.” Making it a habit to ask, “So what?” expands our awareness, helps us to fine tune our abilities and increases our sense of potency in the world. Best of all, it costs nothing to grow the role of Astute Reflector and maximise your day-to-day experiences. Cost of training programme that teaches you nothing new: $2000. Becoming more reflective and conscious: priceless.
August 9, 2011
As the old saying goes, if you have only a hammer, you see only nails. Frankly, I’d much rather have the plumber who opens his or her toolbag and has the whole range of tools necessary, rather than the one who brings only a hammer and uses it for everything. It’d be a pretty botched job if they did. Not only that, I’d much rather the plumber who not only has the full tool bag, but also that he or she is proficient at using all of them.
There is a parallel for personal capabilities. We are systems of ‘roles’, that is we have a whole myriad of capabilities at our disposal. They all interact and interconnect with each other. So when you are having a conversation with your staff about their performance, you use not only your ‘clear communicator’ role, but you also call on your ‘relationship manager’ role (you want to ensure that you have a good working relationship after the conversation), your ‘wise change agent’ role (you want to make sure you provide some coaching or mentoring if required) and your ‘lover of people’ role (you want to let your staff know what they are doing well and applaud them for the unique contribution they make to the business). Obvious, I know.
Rarely do we call on just one of our capabilities at any one time. Because we are interconnected systems of roles, it is therefore hard to justify simply ‘playing to your strengths’ and leaving the rest to good luck. I’ve seen many folks in senior positions do just that. Many people use what they’ve got and try to get by. They overuse a role or roles to mask what they haven’t got. Alternatively, they overuse a role at the expense of another which they have, but which is underdeveloped, so this becomes a default setting. Read my earlier post on personal glass ceilings, this is what I’m talking about.
A manager I know struggled to get two teams to work more closely together; not for the sake of it, but because their lack of cooperation was leading to poor outcomes, late delivery on deadlines and dissatisfied clients. She had superb relationship skills and would have endless conversations with each of them, trying to get them to collaborate more. She requested, she coaxed, she enticed, she pleaded. She tried to persuade, she tried to appeal to their better natures, she discussed. All of this was to little avail and she was beginning to feel like a nag. Want to know the thing that got them to work closer together? It wasn’t her communication or relationship skills, both of which she had in spades. It was her ‘big picture thinker’ role. When she set out the big picture of what was happening, each team got more interested in the other. They saw how interconnected they were and that if one fell down, the other followed. Rather than “Could you guys please fill out those client job sheets fully?” it was “When you guys fill out these forms fully, this team over here has a better picture of what they are required to do and won’t have to waste time coming back to you with endless questions and they also will also provide a finished product that is in line with the client’s needs, is on time and will get the client to come back for more.”
Seems simple I know. But it was the quantum (tiniest) shift that made the quantum (biggest) shift, not only in terms of their outputs, but also in terms of inter-team relations (and the manager’s stress levels). She had tried and tried to use the capabilities she was good at, but when she extended herself in an area which was less developed, she got what she was after. No longer would she then have to rely on her hammer, she could use the right tool for the job. She wouldn’t have to just get by on her good relationship skills.
The point here is, there is a danger in resting on your laurels. You will limit your career, your sense of personal satisfaction and yourself if you decide that you’ve learnt enough or that you can just get by on what got you to where you are in your career. I know of one or two people who are a stone’s throw from nabbing a C-suite position, but have made a (probably unconscious) decision that professional development is just for their staff and not for themselves. ”I didn’t get where I am today by learning how to be a more consultative boss.” Fine.
Hope you enjoy the view as your staff member leafrogs you to become your CEO.
August 4, 2011
I’ve recently been taking part in a really interesting thread on LinkedIn about visionary leaders. The question is “Is visionary leadership teachable? Can you teach a leader how to see the bigger picture?” I bang on about how everything is learnable, everyone is teachable…blah, blah, blah. I do actually believe this is absolutely true. In my time, I have worked with senior executives, factory workers, the learning disabled, adolescents, traumatised people, mandated clients sent to me from the criminal justice system…. even engineers for goodness sakes, you name it. I’ve seen it happen. People learn. Oh, yes they do. People change. Indeed they do; sometimes in spite of themselves.
….there will always be factors which impinge on each individual leader’s ability to integrate this learning into their being. There will also be many ‘life’ factors which determine how easily a particular individual will learn and how adept a particular individual is at applying what they learn.
I’ll add that the ability to see a ‘bigger picture’ or to be ‘visionary’ is but one of many leader-capabilities that are required for a leader to excel. These include capabilities such as knowing the self, managing relationships, loving and valuing people, managing time and resources, inspiring and motivating people, coaching and mentoring. There are many, many fine leaders who possess many, many of these capabilities in spades; and watching them in action, and watching them make it look so easy, it would be easy to conclude that they were just born this way. All of these capabilities work in tandem with each other, because we humans are systems of interconnected roles within ourselves. That notwithstanding and even though it’s rather artificial, let’s, for argument’s sake, isolate this thing of being a ‘visionary leader’.
What does it mean to be one of these things? I quite like this description: “The visionary is both the “keeper of the flame” capable of holding focus through the entire creative process and one who can either lead the organization through the unknown to manifest the desired visions and/or create the space for creative spirit of members of the organization to freely unfold to manifest the desired vision.” (RYUC) I also like this link because it lays out some of the characteristics of a visionary leader: possesses a deep sense of personal purpose, strong social presence and superb communication skills, sensitivity to others, willingness to take risks. Wow.
While none of these things is innate, the experiences and relationships we have from the day we are born immediately begin to impact on us and serve as the classroom in which we learn these capabilities. It would be easy to conclude, when observing one of these excellent-leaders-who-make-it-look-so-easy that they were born that way. They were not. They learnt it.
If we take one of those characteristics of a visionary leader, let’s take strong social presence, there will be a difference between those who grew up in a family where they were applauded for being social and those who grew up in a family in which they were admonished when they spoke out. The latter may go on to learn what it takes to be socially skilled, perhaps via other life experiences and relationships or reading self-help books or going on a course, but they will speak it as if it was a second language.
I see a parallel with learning a language. Many, many moons ago, I used to teach a programme called “English for Teachers”. It was for teachers of English who wanted to extend their own knowledge and grasp of the language. They were all non-native speakers, though you would have struggled to tell with some of these folks; they even had an English accent. None of these people were raised speaking English, however they had developed a very high level of proficiency to the point that they were able to teach it to their own students back in their home countries extremely effectively. Some of them would even try to correct my English and therein lies a key difference: consciousness. Because they had to be more conscious about their use of this skill than I did, they were more awake to its use than I, as a native speaker, was. We natives can sometimes be a little lazy with our language, but it’s ours. It is so well integrated into our very core that we don’t have to be so conscious of how we use it as often as a non-native does. Same can go for leadership capabilities.
Some leaders will be blessed by having already been to the classroom of life that has taught them a whole bunch of useful capabilities. Others will have been severely deprived of such opportunities and have to work really hard to learn them. I suspect that most will have gathered a fair amount of these skills already and just need to add some in. This last one is what I usually find. We most often work with people who are already good at the ‘achieving’, who can already master relationships, who are good at motivating others, but who are seeking to develop, say, more of that big picture thinking.
With effort and attention (both acts of will), they succeed. They become fluent over time. To paraphrase the TV ad, “It happens, but it doesn’t happen overnight.” And eventually, I suspect, they will even develop the accent so that nobody will know the difference.
May 23, 2011
Most of us have had moments in our working lives when we don’t live up to our own expectations.
*Think of the manager who is unnecessarily harsh in a performance appraisal when she intended to be encouraging and motivating.
*Think of how we prematurely reject new ideas from others when we intend to be inclusive and open to creativity.
*Think of how we escalate a conflict situation with a co-worker when we intend to reach resolution.
As Homer Simpson would say…. DOH! We take ourselves by surprise……and when we go away and reflect on our behaviour, we wish the floor would open up and swallow us or there was a rock to crawl under. For some time afterwards, we cringe whenever we think of it and berate ourselves saying, “What was I thinking? I can do better than that!” We certainly don’t entertain the possibility that there was anything good in what we did.
And yet, even in those very worst of working moments there is the seed of something good, if we take the time to find it. No matter how small: an intention; a positive attitude; a good opening line; a calm demeanour; there will be something that we already do well, and that we can build on as we learn how to get the whole performance we are looking for. I know what you are thinking: “What a bunch of new age, PC nonsense! It’s this sort of thinking that is sending the economy to the dogs!”
However, to fail to recognise strengths is akin to throwing the baby out with the bath water. It is demoralising, demotivating and just plain false to think we have to start right from the beginning again. As Dr. Max Clayton states, “…there tends to be an over-emphasis on the inadequacies of people….When people become aware of what is (good) in their functioning,…problematic areas of their life become easier to manage.”
Learning how to shift a behaviour or attitude in ourselves, therefore, is most effectively done using a strengths-based learning approach. A strengths–based approach to learning is simply one that builds on what you already can do: your current talents and capabilities are the spring board that takes you from good to great. Common sense you might say, and yet really, how common is it?
So why not focus on what is working, rather than on what is not?
At Quantum Shift, a strengths-based approach is inherent in the methodology we use. At the heart of the method is the premise that each of us has within us the role of the creative genius; the seed or potential to respond creatively and appropriately to any situation we experience. As we grow up, we use our creative genius to work out how we will respond to the challenges life brings and we develop a whole range or repertoire of other roles in support; and we continue to do this until the day we die. Our ability to respond well across many contexts and situations is dependent on the roles we have at our disposal; and because we develop our role repertoire directly by experience, this means every experience is a learning opportunity, a chance to grow our role repertoire.
Below is a simple method you can use to help you learn and build on the strengths you have already developed. This exercise is always easier if you can enlist someone to help you out. Bring to mind a recent interaction or conversation with another person at work, where you would like to have done it differently (or better). Re-enact this specific incident or moment with your ‘helper’, so they get to see and experience what occurred even if it is only from your perspective. Remember it is YOUR performance that is at the heart of matter, so what YOU did is the key to the situation.
FIRSTLY, ask the question: What did I do well? It is all too easy to go to what you did badly, but it is essential to start with what went well. This is where the other person is invaluable as they are more dispassionate and therefore more likely to see the good as well as the bad. List everything you can observe, no matter how small; you are building your self-awareness as you do this.
SECONDLY, ask: What did I do too much of? Sometimes we do things so well that they become habitual or overly comfortable default settings, and we over-use them, at the expense of other things that might get us the outcome we are looking for. There is nothing inherently ‘wrong’ in what we did, but we over-used it to the point that it got in the way of an ideal outcome.
THIRDLY, ask: What could I have done more of? What other things could I also have done in this moment that would have got the outcome I wanted? What resource within myself did I under-use?
Making this analysis is vital in order to develop a new behaviour or attitude. Reflecting in this way allows us to free up our creative genius and grow something new from what we already have and who we already are.
November 18, 2010
October 20, 2010
>When I think of leadership, I think of things like ability to empathise, ability to achieve win-win in conflict situations, ability to motivate and inspire, ability to delegate (which implies ability to ‘let go’ and trust others), ability to think and act strategically, being self-aware…..
September 8, 2010