The Voice for Insightful Leadership with Shelley Row, P.E.

Your Search for communication

Is your life hectic? It seems that everyone I talk with laments their frenzied life. Have you ever considered that your customer or client is also frenzied? You can add to their frenzy with uncertainty or create an oasis of calm certainty through proactive communication. Proactive communication is a simple technique that will set you apart because of the calming response of the customer’s brain to certainty.

Before we examine further, understand that uncertainty activates a threat response in the brain. Certainty activates a reward response in the brain. If your customer is stressed, that reward response will feel like a breath of fresh air in an otherwise hectic day. They will remember that good feeling. Wouldn’t it be nice for you to be the source of that feeling for your client? That’s why you want to master proactive communication.

Proactive communication is simply providing useful information to your client in advance of their needing it. Proactive communication gives them certainty about a meeting, a delivery, a job, a deliverable or whatever it is that you provide to them.  Take Krissia, for example.

My life is particularly hectic and stressful right now. I plan to sell the house my late husband and I shared for 17 years (he bought this house in 1981). Preparing the house to be on the market has been both stressful and emotional. It feels like a sea of uncertainty and I don’t need more.

To prep the house for the market, I’m having it deep cleaned. The first person I contacted agreed to the cleaning date and scheduled a time to stop by to assess the house.  She didn’t show or call. Talk about uncertainty.  That’s when Krissia was recommended. After looking at the house, we scheduled the cleaning day. Before I had a chance to worry if she still planned to show up, I received a text from her confirming the date, the arrival time of her crew and the duration of the work. She was ON IT. Yes, it’s simply good customer service but, it feels like more than that. I never felt a flicker of uncertainty. My brain never went into threat response. Her simple and short text was proactive communication that gave me certainty. The same happened with Oscar whose crew cleaned the yard and with Chuck whose company washed the windows. Each proactively communicated with me so I never worried.

It seems so simple and yet…it’s not. I see companies all the time who add to the client’s stress by creating uncertainty.

How well do you and your organization provide proactive communication?

  • Do you confirm meetings in advance (with the location, agenda and objective)?
  • Do you confirm your arrival time for a lunch meeting?
  • Do you confirm the delivery date for the report you’re writing?
  • Do you provide progress reports? (Once upon a time, I worked for a demanding boss who constantly phoned and emailed for project information. We began providing him a short email every Friday with the status of all the projects of interest to him. We gave him certainty. The calls and emails stopped.)
  • Do you confirm order delivery for products or services you provide?
  • Do you confirm late delivery of the order, report, or service? Proactive communication is even more essential when it’s bad news. The customer may not like the news, but your proactive communication demonstrates that you are on top of the situation, that you are monitoring status and that you are interested enough to let them know. All of that is certainty.

Whether Krissia, Oscar or Chuck, none of them knew my world was spinning wildly out of control. In the midst of my whirlwind, their simple proactive communication provided certainty. Certainty activated my reward circuit and provided calm. And I will buy calm from them again. That’s what proactive communication does.

What does proactive communication look like in your organization and how well are you providing it? It could be the very thing to your client needs to feel certain that they like working with you.

We were climbing out of the Denver International Airport on an overcast day with bumps typical of Denver.  I was flying from a speaking engagement in Keystone to another one in Atlanta and was engrossed in my work when…POP! Flash!  The noise and bright light came from the left wing. The response from passengers was immediate.

“Did you hear that?” “What was it?” “Did you see that flash?” Someone said, “Lightening hit the plane!” Lightening hit the plane? That can’t be good.  From across the plane nervous chatter erupted. Worried thoughts flooded my mind as I thought, “Be calm. Your brain won’t function correctly unless you’re calm.” Easier said than done.  And I thought, we need for the pilot to tell us what’s going on. As minutes passed (fewer than it seemed) I wondered, why isn’t the pilot talking to us? We were left in the dark.

Soon (but not soon enough), the pilot came on the speaker.  Lightening had indeed hit the plane, but, not to worry, the plane is fine.  And with that, he was gone. It took time for the nervous energy to settle, during which I couldn’t focus on my work.

While this is a dramatic example, we leave our staff and teams in the dark all too often.  Something happens in the workplace – a new boss arrives, a big client leaves, technology melts down, there’s a personality conflict between key staff – that are the workplace equivalent of a lightning strike. The team is agitated and thinking is disrupted. Here are ways we leave our staff in the dark:

  • No feedback on performance
  • Limited information on company strategy
  • No context for where a small task fits into the bigger picture
  • No reassurance during leadership transitions or mergers

You see, uncertainty triggers the brain’s threat response. We imagine bad options before good ones. When the brain registers threat and unease, cognitive functioning is impaired and we lose productivity.

What can you do?

  • Communicate what you know even if it isn’t much. You don’t know anything…you REALLY don’t know anything about the situation at hand.  What’s the point of saying that?  For your staff, the difference is that you KNOW you don’t know anything; they don’t. Tell them what you don’t know and give regular updates. At the federal government, every four years the administration changed. Months passed before all the leadership was in place. During that time, staff were uneasy: What would the new boss be like? My leadership team reassured staff, “We don’t know who the new boss will be or when they will arrive. But we do know that we’re doing quality work. Let’s prepare now to bring the new boss up to speed when she arrives.”
  • Over-communicate. As leaders, we are exposed to information that others aren’t. We hear discussion; see emails and network with people that our staff don’t. Share what you can (without violating confidences or proprietary information) and more often than you think necessary. It will create trust, keep your staff at ease and performance at a higher level.
  • Give feedback even when you’re over-whelmed or don’t think it’s necessary. Managers tell me that they’re too busy to provide feedback. Staff, on the other hand, tell me that they are left in the dark not knowing if their work is good, bad or indifferent. Don’t be that manager who, like the pilot, provides scant information.  Put “give feedback” on your to-do list; set a goal to give feedback once a week.

Toward the end of the three-hour flight, the pilot returned with more information.  “Planes,” he explained, “are designed to dissipate the energy from a lightning strike. The pilot and I went through the checklist and all systems are working fine.”  Good to know. Wish I’d known sooner. A little knowledge would have calmed me and everyone else. And I would have been more productive because of it.

Photo copyright:  Igor Zhuravlov

 

 

Teresa wanted to see the big picture strategy before discussing specifics. Tom wanted general ideas with time to think before deciding. Paul wanted to give orders that were followed to the “T”.

To be successful, each of these bosses blog 100919required a unique approach. The approach that worked for one wouldn’t stand a chance with another. You can save time and frustration by giving serious consideration to the approach, topics and personal agendas of your boss. Here are five areas to study about your boss so that you can be more effective in your job. Let’s face it, a happy boss makes for happier days at work!

Communication style. Save yourself time and headaches by studying your boss’s communication style in advance and adapting your approach.

Their communication styles couldn’t have been more different. Teresa expected me to lay out the big picture, have a clear strategy and logical recommendations for next steps. I learned to be thoughtful, prepared and develop my recommended action plan. And it worked…with her. When I changed jobs, I used this same approach with Tom. It was a miserable failure. After a few flops, I learned the hard way, that he was a tactician who looked no farther than the next move and he needed time to think about each step. He needed to come up with the answer – not me. I learned to present general ideas, brainstorm briefly and walk out the door. In a day or two, he’d come back with his own thoughts about the situation and we’d move forward.

What’s your boss’s communication style:

StrategicTactical
Big picture thinkerWants all the details
Visual learnerAuditory learner
Wants the storyWants the data
Gets down to businessChats first
Quick decision-makerNeeds to ponder
Goal-focusedRelationship-focused

Power position. Your boss’s power position will be a motivator in his behavior and decision-making.

Mariana was a hard-charging Gen Xer intent on making a name for herself. She took uncommon risks on projects that, if successful, would garner attention within the organization and industry. John saw a succession of managers get fired from the position he now held. Not wishing to follow their lead, he was super-duper conservative in his decision-making. He kept a low profile, backed no risky projects, and shied away from controversy. He opted to stay in the middle of the road and to not rock the boat (to mix land and sea metaphors).

What’s your boss’s power position?

RetiringAspiring
On the way upOn the way out
Well-connected internallyIsolated internally
Risk tolerantRisk averse
Promoting him/herselfPromoting the organization
Political aspirationsNo political aspirations
Well-connected externallyIsolated externally

Personal interests. Every boss has personal interests or pet projects. These are areas that hold special passion and where they want to make an impact. It’s helpful to know their area of interest and why it’s an area of interest. Their “why” can range from an intellectual interest to a personal passion based on a traumatic event in their life (such as the death of a friend due to drunk driving).

Patti cared about motorcycles in transportation policy and safety. Jose cared about cyclists. In both cases, we always had a project of some sort that included motorcycles and/or cyclists. Felicia wanted to leave a legacy of safety advancements.

What are your boss’s personal interest areas and why?

Intellectual interestPersonal interest
Mild interestAvid interest
Focused on leaving a legacy in this areaNice to make an impact if feasible
Interest area is central to your missionInterest area is tangential to the mission
Easy to accommodate their interestIt’s a stretch to accommodate their interest

Personalities and background. Your boss’s background can provide clues to working effectively with her.

Mike was a southerner who came from a military background. Consequently, he was the epitome of a southern gentleman who valued respect, protocol and manners. Always soft-spoken and polite, he expected a calm, courteous exchange with gracious acceptance of his final decision. Yvonne was young and proud of her accomplishments. She was successful because she was well-connected. She knew everyone who mattered. In briefings, she wanted to know who would “win” and who would “lose” because of her decision. She needed to understand the political connections within and outside the organization.

What do you know about your boss’s personal history and career background? What experiences will have colored her perspective and how?

Rural upbringingUrban upbringing
Raised in the United StatesRaised outside the United States
Large familyOnly child
Prestigious educational backgroundOther educational background
Work experience in the private sectorWork experience in the public sector
Work experience in associationsWork experience in academia
Extensive leadership experienceLimited leadership experience

Their Headaches and frustrations. What keeps your boss up at night? What are her daily headaches? What phone call does he dread and who is it from?

Bill was the executive director of a professional association. Effective and efficient, his day went downhill when his Board Chair called to discuss “an issue.” To support him, we had to consider the Board’s reception to each topic in advance so that Bill didn’t get “the call.”

Joanne just wanted to stay under the radar – nothing controversial, nothing high profile – just let her do her work quietly without fanfare. She dreaded a call from anyone “up the chain.” She cringed when she was asked a tough question in a senior staff meeting. The trick to working with Joanne was to ensure that all potentially sticky issues were resolved before she engaged. We went forward only with projects where the wrinkles had been ironed out in advance.

John wanted it his way and he didn’t like anyone who got in his way. He didn’t want someone telling him that he couldn’t move forward as planned. He didn’t want to hear about roadblocks or setbacks. Our job was to demolish the roadblocks and find ways to achieve his goals no matter what.

How dialed in are you to your boss’s worries and concerns?

Issues with problematic staffIssues with a tough boss
Problems with internal stakeholdersProblems with external stakeholders
Financial concernsProcess concerns
Lacks trust from othersFeels like an outsider
Struggling to change the cultureStruggling to fit into the culture
Customer complaintsStaff complaints
Dropping salesStaff attrition
Technology disruptionManaging change

Assess your boss using these five areas. See if you can walk away with a deeper understanding of what makes her tick. Now, use that information to adapt your briefing style, the way you approach them for decisions, and the type of interaction you have with them. The more you can work from their perspective, the more effective you are likely to be and with the least amount of stress and frustration. Try it and let me know how it goes!

Imagine a Ferrari. It looks sleek and fast. Now imagine a Ferrari with a Ford Focus engine. It still looks sleek but its performance is impacted by the mechanics under the hood. It’s not so different for you. The influences “under your hood” dramatically impact your performance, your work style and communication style. Assessment tools give insight into your workplace behavior; however, they are less helpful for identifying other factors that exist under the hood particularly your stories and filters. Values also have a key influence on your behaviors and are linked to stories and filters. We aren’t going to work on values today, but you can refer back to my previous article to refresh your memory.

blog 092519.jpg

Today we dive under the hood to identify and learn about the impact of your filters and stories.

Filters. Filters are the screen through which you see the world. They come from your background and provide your context.  Filters color your perception and impact your decisions, judgements and connections. For example, I’m from a small farming town in Texas, the oldest daughter of a disciplinarian father and polite mother. We attended the Baptist Church every Sunday and always did our homework. Some of these filters showed up early in my engineering career when I worked for the Texas Department of Transportation. An engineer from New York State came to Texas to learn about our projects. As we drove from project to project together, I politely answered his questions, “Yes, sir…” “No, sir….” After a few exchanges, he grew agitated and said, “Why do you keep saying, ‘sir’?  Are you patronizing me?”  I was stunned. When viewed through my filters, I was being respectful by saying “sir” but viewed through his filters, I was patronizing.

What are your filters? Consider your background, family norms, your geographic area and more. All those factors color your perceptions and judgements. Without your awareness, they work from under the hood to sway your view of the work world.  Here are questions to aid you in identifying a few of your filters.

  • Are you from the big city, small town or countryside?
  • Are you the oldest, youngest, middle or only child?
  • What religious tradition were you raised in (if any)?
  • What educational background does your family have?
  • What cultural background were you surrounded by?
  • What hobbies were your family involved in – sailing, camping, music?
  • What hobbies are you passionate about?
  • What did your parents or family do for work?
  • What type of work did you do early in your life?
  • What was your family community involvement like?
  • What political philosophy you were surrounded by?
  • What other environmental factors color the context of your life?

How do these filters impact your world view, your perceptions of others and, possibly, even your decisions? Pay attention to notice their subtle – or sometimes not so subtle – influence.

Stories. Stories are our perceptions of “truths” we internalize from parents, family, teachers, friends or other influential people in our life. The stories stick in the brain and, sometimes when we aren’t even conscious of them, they sway your behavior. Here are a few of my stories:

  • Be nice
  • Work hard
  • Don’t interrupt
  • Play fair
  • Don’t impose
  • Do as you’re told

Stories are powerful influencers from under the hood. For example, I struggled to terminate an under-performing employee because “be nice” echoed in my head. Jumping into a high-energy conversation to express my idea was hindered by the “don’t interrupt” soundtrack. I couldn’t ask for help from a colleague for fear of “imposing. Stories like these get in my way until they are identified and  you develop the skill to consciously choose if, when or how they apply.

One of my coaching clients struggled to overcome his story when applying reflective listening skills. Reflective listening is when you reflect the content from another person to ensure that you understand correctly. You use a phrase such as, “What I hear you saying is….” This client had a strict upbringing by a mother who tolerated no backtalk at all. When he reflected a statement back to a colleague, it sounded like backtalk to his brain. His “no backtalk” story created a block to his communication skills until he diagnosed the story and neutralized its power.

Many stories sit just under the surface so don’t be surprised if they don’t quickly pop to mind. Here are some techniques to aid you in uncovering your stories. Let the questions sit with you and then observe your behaviors and thought processes. What stories or rules are at work under the hood?

  • What “truths” that you were taught by parents, teachers, family or other authority figures stuck with you?
  • What personal “rules” do you adhere to in everyday life?
  • What beliefs do you hold that put boundaries on your behavior?
  • What situations trip you up needlessly? Why? (An example: I couldn’t ask my neighbor to feed our cat while we were on vacation because I didn’t want to impose.)
  • In what situations do you hesitate for seemingly no good reason? Why?

What stories live inside your head? Some may immediately come to mind as mine did. Others take quiet observation and insightful questioning.

What are your filters and stories?  Take time to identify them. They work under your hood and impact your management decisions in unintended ways unless you are aware and actively managing them.

Share your filters and stories with Shelley here.

Can You See Your Humps? Your Strengths and Communication Styles? Keep Reading To Learn Here.

How do you behave at work? What work style and communication traits are associated with you? There’s an African proverb, “The camel never sees its own humps, but that of its brother is always before its eyes.” Others see your style. Do you?

Over the years, I’ve found that technically skilled people (like me – an engineer) do not often have an innate ability to be self-observant. We’re like the camel. We see the humps of those around us but not our own. As a manager, you need to know your work and communication style. Thankfully, there are tools like DNA Behavior, DISC, Strengthfinders, Enneagrams, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator that provide insights into your behavior. If you don’t naturally observe your behavior, these tools can be particularly helpful. Even if you are self-observant, these tools still offer aha-moments about yourself.

Today, let’s examine your strength and communication style.

Strengths.

What’s your go-to strength? Your strengths come naturally to you. So naturally, in fact, that you may not even notice them. When I work with coaching clients, we do exercises to identify strengths and I frequently hear, “Wow. I didn’t know that was a strength! I thought everybody could do that.” Your strength is hiding in plain sight, but it’s hiding. Let’s find it.

Pretend that you are faced with a difficult work problem. It’s a dilemma. How do you approach it? When you get stuck, on which behavior do you consistently fall back? For example, when I’m perplexed by a problem I think, “Okay. Let’s take a step back and see the big picture. What’s the goal and the steps to reach the goal?” My ability to see the big picture and dissect the problem into core elements for action is a key strength for me. I thought everyone could do this but I was wrong. It’s my superpower. What’s yours?

What do you do when the going gets tough?  Do you:

  • Dive into the research
  • Gather all the details
  • Collaborate so that all are engaged
  • Start with the big picture
  • Create a step-by-step process
  • Seek to know the people involved
  • Network
  • Consider the personalities
  • Assess the office politics
  • Look for trends

Your natural approach to a tough situation likely reveals clues to a key strength. What is it for you?

Advanced consideration: Overused strengths.

For those of you who want more advanced consideration, take your strength to the next level. You should feel good knowing your strength as it is always available to you. That’s good news. However, you probably heard the saying, “If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” That’s the case with your strength. You will try to use it ALL THE TIME whether it fits or not. As I mentioned, my strength is being goal driven…every day. That’s been a formula for success most of the time but not all the time. I learned a hard lesson when a staff person came to me in tears thinking that I didn’t like her because I never spoke to her. I never spoke because I was wrapped up in prioritizing goals in my head each morning as I walked past her desk. I over-used my strength.

What about you? Are you a great collaborator but collaborate so much that you miss opportunities? Are you exceptional at managing office politics to the point that you can’t be candid? Are you skilled at gathering and analyzing data to the point of analysis paralysis?  Where have you over-used your strength?

Communication styles.

Your communication style is another “hump” or trait that is on display every day. What is your natural communication style? Here again, assessment tools (DNA Behavior and DISC, for example) give clues to your communication styles. Without self-awareness, you are likely to use this style whether it suits the situation or not because your natural style is the easiest for your brain to enact. In order to manage your approach, you first must be aware of it.   Consider a time when you were under pressure. How did you communicate to others or what type of communication worked best for you?

Are you:

  • Quick or cautious
  • Direct and candid or tactful and polite
  • Drawing visuals or writing words
  • Collaborative or in control
  • Quick to get to the point or prefer to chat first
  • Conceptual or data-driven
  • Considered or hasty
  • Speaking your mind or holding your tongue
  • Intense or restrained

Advanced consideration: Your communication style from other perspectives

You’ve considered your communication style but how does that style come across to peers and staff? They experience your communication style every day. It may not be what you think.

You think you’re being succinct, and they see it as brusque.  You think you’re being flexible, and they see it as wishy-washy. This is where 360 tools can bring compelling insight. Consider your last interaction. How would you describe your communication style? Now consider it from other’s perspective. How might they have perceived it differently? Is there someone you trust with whom you can ask – “How did that conversation come across?”

By examining your strengths and communication styles you move past the proverbial camel. You have a sense of your “humps” and that makes all the difference.

If you see the power in knowing yourself, you may be interested in my Mini-Coaching Program.  It uses a simplified self-assessment tool followed by an individual session with me. Clients walk away with a surprising amount of information about their strengths and communication style. As one client said, “The results…opened up new ways to see myself and position myself for future positions. The bottom-line impact is greater confidence and that’s critical.”

Click here to Contact Shelley for more information

Why doesn’t your Employee Development Program work?

Do you have:

  • Out-spoken staff with good ideas who alienate others?
  • Staff who don’t speak up because they want to avoid conflict?
  • Hastily-sent, sharply-worded emails that leave those on the receiving end seething?
  • People with differing styles who can’t see eye-to-eye?

Of course you do! Every work place has these situations and they waste time, stress staff and cost productivity. What are you doing about it? And, will what you’re doing last? Make your Employee Development Program work for your employees and you.

Consider your car. You wash and wax it so that the exterior is shiny and glossy. It looks great from the outside, but the carburetor doesn’t work. If the carburetor doesn’t work, neither does the car. The only way forward is to get under the hood and fix the real problem.

Your Employee Development Program is the same. You realize there are performance, communication, and/or management issues. You bring in a trainer or a consultant to address the problem, and for a short time, the situation is better. Soon, however, everyone slips back into the same old patterns. A one-time intervention that addresses only the surface issues is like washing and waxing your car. It looks good in the short term but doesn’t get at the root cause. To do that, you must get under the hood, understand “what’s really going on,” and develop skills to manage the behaviors. And, like your car, you need a maintenance program that regularly monitors the old and new behaviors.

Most staff development programs deal with surface behaviors and don’t develop an understanding of the “real” issue. These programs feel good initially, but they don’t result in lasting change. In my experience working in and with organizations, lasting change requires these three criteria:

  1. Top leadership support.
  2. Get to the problem source.
  3. Provides support over time.

Leadership support. In my experience, there is no substitute for active support and engagement of top leadership. Lasting change requires lasting commitment that extends past the initial enthusiasm. The tone at the top matters. If the leader is half-hearted about organizational advancement, so too will be the staff. A lukewarm response from leadership is worse than no response. Once leadership support fizzles, the staff are left thinking, “It’s just a bunch of words. They never meant it anyway.” This is the breeding ground for cynicism.

Get to the problem source. Too many professional development programs seek to address complex issues of personality and behavior with superficial approaches. The more meaningful and long-lasting strategy getting dirty under the hood. Using neuroscience and specific types of self-assessments, we help each staff member understand the science behind their behavior preferences. They have the opportunity to sort out why some people bug them, and others don’t. That understanding opens new, more productive choices and promotes deeper understanding between co-workers. The result is better collaboration with more constructive and lasting behavior change.

Provide support over time. When it comes to professional development, one and done doesn’t cut it. The fact is, the human brain rarely retains and uses new information that it hears only once. Repetition and intentional application begin true behavior change. And I do mean…begin. It takes concerted effort over time to create new behaviors. That’s why the leader needs to be in it for the long haul. That said, providing support over time doesn’t have to be time consuming, expensive or exhausting. You want a drum beat of reminders for the staff. This can come through emails, video clips, webinars as well as repeated sessions for staff. Constant, relentless reminders embed new thought patterns and behaviors. These reminders over time may be the best money you spend because without long-term support, you wasted your time and money on a one-and-done program.

If you want a professional development program for your staff that makes a difference and provides a solid return-on-investment, be prepared to provide leadership support, select a program that “gets under the hood,” and invest over time. The payoff will be meaningful behavior change, easier communication and an ability to get the job done right the first time and in less time. Isn’t that worth it?

Contact Shelley now to find out what’s really going on with your staff!!

It started by mistake. As I pondered the topic for this newsletter, I picked up the kaleidoscope on my desk. It sits there to remind me to always see other perspectives. By mistake, I stared through the wrong end. Have you ever looked at the back end of a kaleidoscope? There is no swirl of color or dynamic image. Instead, you only see small fragments of colored bits.

The magic happens when those colored bits spin together into intricate designs. That’s when I realized that it’s the same for an insightful leader.  The colored bits are like their fundamental skills that swirl together to create deeper insights just as the kaleidoscope creates amazing images.

It’s those deeper insights that increase effectiveness and impact.

What then are the fundamental skills of an insightful leader? At the core, insightful leaders appreciate that leadership takes more than just data – it requires objective thinking and an appreciation of feelings – theirs and others. These leaders understand that they need basic skills to manage themselves and to understand other people – whether directing, inspiring, motivating or coaching. It’s not about being agreeable. It’s about being insightful.

After considering all that I learned through experience and through interviews with executives, here is a list of fundamental insightful leadership skills.

Try this Insightful Leader Quiz to assess your fundamental insight skills.

⧠      You understand the need to both think and feel at work.

⧠      You know your values.

⧠      You know and manage your biases.

⧠      You know and use your natural skills effectively.

⧠      You recognize when your natural skills get in the way.

⧠      You manage your blind spots.

⧠      You appreciate the value and limitations of data.

⧠      You listen for and manage both facts and feelings with others.

⧠      You wisely use email, phone or face to face communications

⧠      You know and manage your personal brand.

⧠      You use stories and visual language to connect with an audience.

⧠      You are aware of and manage triggering events for yourself and others.

⧠      You recognize and resolve your stuck stories.

⧠      You know when to decide and when to sleep on a big decision.

How did you do?  Are you comfortable that you have deep skill in a third, a half or more?

Perhaps this quiz struck you as overly introspective and self-focused. We’re more accustomed to thinking of leadership as vision setting, providing direction, establishing tone, managing change, influencing and motivating – all of which are outwardly focused. For sure, those are results of leadership like the beautiful, intricate images inside the kaleidoscope.  But, as with the kaleidoscope, you can’t achieve good leadership without fundamental skills (like the little bits inside the kaleidoscope). It’s the fundamental skills that you swirl together to create insightful leadership.

What fundamental skills do you most need to develop to be an insightful leader? Let me know and I’ll write more about these in future blogs.

I admit up front that I’m not good at recognizing the nuances of people. That’s why I want to share this tip with you. It helps me and it’s likely to be valuable to you, too.

My step-daughter, Linnea Miron, is the CEO of Real Wellness.  She and I talked about the challenges of truly understanding people – whether staff, clients, or partners – so that we more effectively work together. But the brain is designed to see the world from our perspective. It takes effort and energy to consider another’s viewpoint. She shared that her husband, Ricky Williams, when working with a client, uses a simple technique to coax his brain to shift perspective. With each person, he asks himself, “Who’s here?”

Think about the simple power in that question. Try it yourself. With each person you work with, divide “Who’s here?” into four parts.

    1. What do you know about their life at this moment? This question helps you become more resonate with and sensitive to the factors influencing their thinking and behavior. For example, tomorrow I’ll see my friend, Page, for the first time since she visited her son at college. Their visit is likely to have left her heart full. That’s a good place to start. Maybe the person you talk with has recently changed jobs, has a new (awful) boss, gotten a promotion, was out with a sick baby, is leading a high-profile project, has a daughter leaving for college, just lost her beloved pet. Take a moment to ask yourself, “Who’s here and what’s happening in his life right now.” It shows your interest and creates connection which generates trust.
    2. What do you know about their personality? This is a key question that, when brought into your consciousness pays off in a big way. Think about it. What do you know about his communication style? Her work styles or nature? Maybe he is a big picture thinker, or maybe he loves knowing the details. Maybe she has a healthy ego or struggles with self-esteem. Maybe he takes pride in his work, is highly sensitive, is the life-of-the-party, is practical, or is a deep thinker. The list goes on. Here’s the dilemma, your brain wants him or her to be like YOU! But they aren’t. The more you appreciate who’s really here, the more you are likely to adapt your style and align the jobs with their skills.
    3. What do you know about their interests? This one may be easier for you. What are his hobbies? How does she spend her time? Perhaps he has a New England Patriots poster in his office, or a photo of a sailboat. Is there a Food and Wine magazine in her bag? Knowing something about her interests can provide a foothold for an easy conversation starter. Who’s here and what does he enjoy?
    4. What do you know about their background? The more you know about a person’s background the better you understand the filters through which she sees the world. Awareness of background influences provides insight into reactions, interpretations and pre-conceived ideas. For example, growing up in a small Texas town surrounded by farms, I struggle to understand the pressures of city dwellers just as they may struggle to understand the tragedy of drought. Who’s here? What’s their background and how does it influence their behavior?

Try exploring the power in, “Who’s here?” It gets you out of the way so that you can truly see the person right in front of you for who they are. I’ll be curious to know how it works for you!

We were having dinner at a friend’s house and admiring his family memorabilia neatly arrayed in the bookshelves. There were the kid’s sailing trophies, family photos, delicate antique demitasse cups and a bright blue tube. A bright blue tube? “What’s that?” I asked. “Oh….it’s a kaleidoscope,” my friend replied. “Here, try it.” As I turned the tube, colors swirled and twirled. Each small movement altered the view and each view was as lovely as the other.

Why can’t we bring a kaleidoscopic view of the world into our workplace and into our leadership? When it comes to new perspectives, your brain works against you. It’s easier on the brain to see the world, to see a person or to see a decision as you’ve always seen it. But, with a little effort, other views – just as relevant – become visible. It’s as though you slightly turn the kaleidoscope.

Here are three areas where a kaleidoscopic world view is particularly valuable to your leadership and life.

See personnel situations from several perspectives – A disgruntled employee complains to you about his co-worker who they “just can’t work with,” and the list of grievances starts. In that moment, their argument sounds reasonable and valid. But, when you ‘turn the kaleidoscope’, you can likely see opportunities for misunderstanding, miscommunication and differing opinions. There are at least two sides to every story. It’s best to, first, seek out other perspectives; second, help the employee see beyond their singular view, and perhaps facilitate a conversation that highlights varied views of the situation.

See options for big decisions –When faced with a big decision, the brain prefers familiar solutions because, for the brain, the familiar is a short cut that feels effortless. However, big decisions benefit from a kaleidoscopic view. Here’s a technique that I discovered in a Harvard Business Review. As you debate a big decision and your team comes up with the expected approach, ask, “Let’s pretend that this option is not available to us. If not this approach, then what could we do?” This is a simple and effective way to force a shifted perspective. It’s as though you turn the kaleidoscope. Plus, you can use the same question repeatedly until you have a range of options upon which to base the decision.

See that it’s not always personal – Whether it’s with family, friends or co-workers, situations inevitably arise where feelings get hurt or questions arise in your mind. An offhand comment makes you feel peeved and you think, “That was an insensitive remark.” Or, maybe you’re left out of a meeting and you wonder, “Did they leave me out on purpose? Is the boss trying to tell me something?” In those moments, turn the kaleidoscope to see another perspective. In my experience, these situations are almost always explained away when viewed from a different viewpoint. Before letting your mind run away with your first interpretation, shift your outlook to find a different interpretation – one that doesn’t have you at the center.

Kaleidoscopes remind us that there’s always another way to see the world. Even a small rotation shifts the image, shifts the interpretation, and shifts the options. As an insightful leader, you must see a variety of views. And maybe you’ll discover that, like the kaleidoscope, each view is beautiful in its own way.

You drive along admiring the fall colors when suddenly the check engine light comes on in your car. What does that mean? For most of us, the check engine light indicates that something is wrong inside the car. We best find out what it is.

You have an internal check engine light. It’s the nagging feeling you get when something isn’t sitting right. Do you diagnose your nagging feeling just as you diagnose your car?

You tape over it. At a recent keynote address, I asked the audience what they do when their car’s check engine light comes on.  A woman on the front row said, “I tape over it!”  When your check engine light comes on, do you tape over it, ignore or discount it? As with your car, ignoring it is unlikely to be a sound solution. The source of the nagging feeling is still there.

Much in our culture reinforces the misguided notion that feelings lack validity or are not worthy of notice. We may be embarrassed by them or simply not have the skill to notice. The nagging feeling typically arises because the situation is incongruent with your brain’s expectation. Maybe the situation (or person) flies in the face of your value system. That always sets off the check engine light. Maybe the person has a communication or work style approach that radically differs from yours and it feels uncomfortable.  Maybe your experience leads you to see the situation differently from your colleagues.

Incongruence increases stress, causes you to over-react, make a poor decision or create an upset with a colleague.  You can prevent those unhealthy outcomes if, like in your car, you notice it.

Notice the check engine light. You notice the light in your car and you know that you need to do something … soon. Unfortunately, many of us power through the day without attending to the emotion that bubbles under the surface. We shove it aside.

It’s time that we relearn how to notice the nagging feeling in the gut. The feeling brings information and wisdom to your situation. The best way to notice the feeling is to practice naming it. “I feel annoyed by that discussion.” “My boss frustrates me!” “Something doesn’t feel right about this decision.”

Give voice to the gut feeling. It’s like acknowledging the check engine light and the need to attend to your car. You need to attend to your inner wisdom.

Understand the problem. The best action is to dive under the hood of the car (for real or with a mechanic) to find the source of the alert. Maybe it’s an indication of a big problem or maybe it’s an easy fix. It’s the same for you. The wisest of us notices the check engine light and dives under the hood to understand the nagging feeling.

What is incongruent for you? Does their behavior fly in the face of your values? Does the decision you face challenge your assumptions? Does the person conduct their work differently from you? These are examples of incongruence in the brain. Your experience doesn’t square up with your expectations. When that happens, the check engine light goes off. It’s your job to understand why and decide if the reason is valid.

Your car may break down if you ignore the check engine light. Your health, life and leadership depend on noticing and resolving the nagging feeling inside. What’s your check engine light telling you?

Photo: Bwylezich