When you don’t know, ASK . . .

question mark

I’ve been in so many situations I know nothing about. Working in several different industries I’ve had to ‘get smart, fast.’ How do I do it? By asking questions . . . and more importantly listening to the answers. Since I wasn’t really sure what would be valued at the Chick Tech Conference, I put together a control group of 10 women and I asked them what they would like to hear at a conference like this.

Then I listened.

Listening is something that you can never do deeply enough. Words are only a small portion of communication. So many factors go into the message. When I listen to a client, I start with secondary research. I read everything I can, starting with the website.

When I have a face to face meeting, I don’t report what I learned, I listen more. I ask open-ended questions (who, what when, where, why, tell me more . . . ) If I find a discrepancy between the secondary data and the conversation I’m having, I’ll listen more.

Several things might be going on . . . they might be creating something new and it hasn’t yet been documented. Or the person I’m speaking with has a more narrow view. I may have a broader vision of the topic based on my research. The person I’m speaking to may have a specialized view if they are a technician working in a specific role. I listen to them and I learn more.

 

prism

When I’m listening I often think of it as holding a prism up to the light. Each time I turn the prism a new brilliant color or luminous image will be revealed. Listen deeply to your audience as you gather requirements, create new technology, discover scientific solutions, build a new business or bring a product to market. Listen . . .

The Power of Mutual Respect

Unlock the Power of Potential with Mutual Respect

Click to Listen if you’d prefer not to read

I had a client meeting this week. The President of a middle market software firm called me to explore some possibilities of how we might look for a technological solution to solve a current challenge in the business.

Although we exchanged four phone calls, one email and had one live conversation, when I arrived for the meeting he was not in the building. He was called away to a client site.

The intention of the meeting was that he would invite several members of his team to have an exploratory dialogue about what the perceived challenges are and what the potential solutions might be. Unfortunately this was all in his head and had not been communicated to anyone else directly.

When I arrived, the Marketing Manager, who knew me from previous work was surprised to see me. I explained the situation and she said, “The President has talked about this for a while on different occasions. I know he has a vision around it.” We both agreed we didn’t know exactly what he was thinking but this was now becoming a priority. There’s tremendous power in this kind of mutual respect. We were able to advance with no clear direction. There was no anger about not knowing of the initiative. There was no disappointment of not being included in a potential meeting. There was no griping about the President following through on something before all agreed it was the right time. This mutual trust and respect was mobilizing.

Because I know the President pretty well, I knew he’d be very remorseful he forgot to reschedule our meeting in his haste to service a client. I trusted that he would be ok with me sharing our phone conversations with his Marketing Manager. She had a little time so  I shared what I thought the intention was and she shared what her previous experiences were of this potential opportunity. We agreed that we would explore ideas and just talk with no agenda of where the conversation might lead. We knew that there would be a follow up meeting after the President had time to inform the team that he was taking a first step in exploring some possibilities. We agreed, that our dialogue would further that mission.

Later that afternoon I received a sheepish, apologetic call from the President. We talked about how many demands we all face today and how we’re inundated with so much information it’s hard to keep up. He was thrilled we made good use of the time by have an initial dialogue. He and his Marketing Manager teased each other about their complimentary strengths and weaknesses.

I’ll be out next week to meet and explore possible solutions with a greater team to have a richer dialogue.

I can’t wait to work this company again. There’s nothing we can’t create together.

 

 

 

 

How Being a Strong Team Member Builds Leadership Skills

In 2003, I volunteered to work in a Catholic orphanage in Peru. Our team of motivated volunteers were eager to help. We were the second group of organized volunteers from the USA to go to the mission. The organization of the grass roots effort was somewhat messy but extremely enthusiastic and well-intended. The Priest there asked for donations to plant a tree. The volunteer group was appalled, we knew best, people needed medicine and clothes. We wanted our money to make a difference. We’d flown over here to help. We didn’t always have access to Padre Miguel. He was busy overseeing medical facilities, orphanages, job training efforts and putting out fires. People in poverty have issues with drugs, sickness, broken families and crime.

When I finally got a few minutes with him, I asked, “Padre Miguel, why do you want us to plant a tree when there’s so much need here?” He replied, “the children here in Pachacutec have never seen a tree. There’s no nature here. I want them to have the experience of seeing something green.pachacutec

I realized from this experience that by embracing your role and executing in the best way you know how you are serving the vision and the mission. I realized that leaders don’t always have the luxury to explain to every person why each request is made. When I am in a support role today, I do the best I can with what I am asked to do realizing that the solid execution of my work is an integral part of the whole.

If, over time, that trust is broken, we each have the capacity to decide whether or not we want to continue. If you decide that your work is meaningless, please make the decision to find an organization that will value your contribution where you are aligned with the vision and the mission.13 years later after my trip, I can see that Coprodeli is flourishing and growing. The organization has evolved greatly from where it was when I was there

  • Perhaps the money we provided to plant a tree provided hope and inspiration to carry on?tree-oak
  • Perhaps the feedback we provided as the second group of volunteers in a grass-roots effort helped to create more structure?
  • Perhaps the optimism and dedication of volunteers gave the families hope?
  • Perhaps by contributing where we didn’t understand how we were helping, we somehow helped move the organization forward?

I believe the work we performed did help.  It’s evidenced in the growth, the expansion and the enhanced infrastructure of the organization we visited so long ago.

 

What do you think about Millennials?

 

This sometimes leading question can create a heated debate and lots of negative observations about this generation. Some of the things I’ve heard is “they’re spoiled, they are entitled, they have no work ethic, they need constant positive acknowledgement.” Those comments make me smile. Close your eyes and think about it. What generation couldn’t say that about the one that succeeds them? I guess these complaints mean that those that fall into Generation X and Baby Boomers are now officially old. BIG SMILE. The question is also U.S. Centric. Young people that fall into this age group are very different globally and, of course, stereotypes are never all-encompassing and are almost never fact-based.

When putting a team together especially in a situation where timeframes are tight, demands are high and failure is not an option, assembling the right team is a critical success factor. Some of the team members are at the company we’re working with already, some might be on our staff, some might be offshore and some may need to be recruited for a specific assignment. There will likely be several vendors. This complex, matrixed team will no doubt be very diverse consisting of several cultures, personal expectations, age groups and physical abilities. How do you align them to draw the best performance from each one individually, convince them to work as a team, while they are all so inherently different?

Communication is a high impact, low effort, low cost way to align the team. Unfortunately many of us are guilty of assuming that communication has taken place. We all speak, we all write, we understand what we mean. What’s wrong with everyone else? Why can’t they understand? Could it be because they’re young, they’re old, they’re not from here, or we don’t understand their education?team puzzle

When building a diverse team we’ll ask:

  • What can we count on you for?
  • Will you always be on time and prepared? Will you ask questions? Will you challenge in a way that doesn’t sabotage progress but thoughtfully facilitates progress? Are you respectful to those around you?
  • What will you contribute?
  • How do you handle conflict? What will you do when your opinion is not adhered to?
  • How do you handle ambiguity?
  • What do you do when you don’t know something?
  • How do you handle failure?

The answers to those questions are more important than the demographics people fall into.

“There is nothing either good or bad,

but thinking makes it so”, William Shakespeare

There are a lot of qualities about Millenials in the United States that I really appreciate. I like how they are living in really great neighborhoods with a lot of amenities vs. saddling themselves with mortgages they’ll likely never pay off. I like how young parents are willing to leave their children with family or trusted friends so they can continue to travel and learn and explore. They know what it’s like to be raised by a village. I’m inspired by the way they navigate complex relationships. They’ve either been raised in families of divorce and remarriage or are close to people who have. I am intrigued by the way they manage love relationships. A young couple I met was asked if they were serious, they’re reply was “we haven’t put a label on it”. Wow, this stretches my thinking! I admire the way they communicate openly. I am delighted with the creation of the new Holiday “Friendsgiving”

I must admit, I like the way Millenials are forging change. Don’t we all want flexibility? When was the last time someone appreciated you? When was the last time you heard ‘good job’? Do you think you can squeeze in a bike ride today or lunch at a really cool restaurant? If you can, do it.

And if no one has told you today . . . “Good job. I’m glad you’re here.”

The Art and Science of Communication

Raj Ramesh does a great job of explaining how capabilities work in business architecture. One capability where organizations and individuals sometimes inaccurately assume competence is Communication.

“The single greatest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

George Bernard Shaw

 

Effective communication is a high impact, low cost capability that can be an incredible competitive advantage creating efficient, agile execution and high trust environments aligned with strategic objectives.

We all think we are good communicators because we know what we mean as we attempt to convey our message. However, it is not the job of our audience to listen, it is our job to make them hear. Assuring our teams and affected audiences understand what we intend is the tough part. Inspiring them to take action can even be more difficult.

When I work on project teams I’ll ask participants if everyone is clear on objectives and responsibilities. I’ll hear “yes, we had a meeting.” ONE meeting? Expecting that one meeting will be enough when trying to influence a complex transformation is highly unlikely. Expecting that one meeting reached your audience in a way that will influence their comprehension and change behaviors is improbable.

In today’s environment we are inundated with communication impacting our ability to remember and retain detail.

In the Mad Men days of advertising a common statistic was, ‘you had to hear a message 7 times to understand it.’ Today, as we have so many causes requiring our attention, demanding action from us, messages need much more repetition.

We need to communicate in such a way that people will understand. We all have audio, visual and kinesthetic learning abilities. It’s important to reach audiences in all ways to ensure our message is understood.

A great course that helps individuals enhance their writing skills is given by PowerSuasion. PowerSuasion will evaluate five writing samples and creating a Writing Profile and a Writing Editing Guide. These tools will help writers understand where they are falling short in writing and give them a tool that will guide them in improving. When I took the assessment I submitted an article, a proposal, a presentation, an email and a letter for professional review. The consistent mistakes I made through the different channels were eye-opening. I also learned about my strengths in writing and became a more courageous writer. In addition I learned how to use each medium its fullest advantage.

If you’d like to increase the capability of Communication in your teams and your organization ensure the continuous learning about the discipline of Communication is an individual priority and an organizational priority.

 

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