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

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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’ve been there: a dull presentation; a pointless meeting; a boring training program. And, maybe you’ve given a tedious presentation, presided over an unenthusiastic meeting or provided training when no one seemed engaged.  It doesn’t have to be that way and the fix is surprisingly easy. Here are four steps to creating engagement and retention in your audience.

  1. Purpose. In my experience, far too little time is spent clarifying purpose. For a meeting, what is the one action you want from the meeting or the participants?  For a presentation, what difference have you made for the audience one week or one month later?  For training, what difference have you made for the audience one year later? Maybe they leave with their perspective shifted in a meaningful way, or they behave differently, or they conduct their work in a new way. Whatever it is, the key to successful engagement is clarity on the outcome.
  2. Knowledge. Once you’re clear on the purpose, what knowledge does the participant need to achieve the purpose? They may require specific education, awareness of key facts or development of core skills. Identify the essential elements of learning they need to achieve the purpose.
  3. Application. Here’s the one big difference between what you did in the past and this new approach. For each element of knowledge from step 2, how can you help the participants (whether in a meeting, presentation or training) apply it in their work world? What questions can you ask to pique their interest? What discussion can you engage in that will cause them to think about application? When you present or run a meeting, it’s easy to think that you are the key person; however, the action is in the heads of the participants.  Your job is to get them to think. Learning happens in their heads when they apply the new idea to their world. Retention comes from application.
  4. Reflection. It seems counterintuitive but an excellent way to increase engagement and retention is to provide a few minutes of quiet time at the end of the presentation, meeting or training. Don’t misunderstand. This is not nap time or time to check emails. This is intentional time for the participant to think about their new understanding. Questions may include: What does this new knowledge mean to your work? What will you do differently? What new realization do you have about yourself or your world view? These questions make your content personal to them. When it’s personal to them, they care, and they remember.

The next time you have an important meeting, presentation or training, try these steps.  It is guaranteed to create engagement and retention because they do the thinking and that means they remember.

It was a dark, stormy night. Rain was falling in buckets as we drove to Houston to pick up my sister at the airport for the holidays. The white lane lines were scarcely visible. We had a general outline of the road but were stressed because of the limited visibility.  Suddenly, the road lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree. The lane lines were raised reflective markers and they glowed through the dark rain like beacons. The road was clearly visible.  There was no question that we were on our path and our relief was palpable.

Your plans for 2019 are like the road. Perhaps you set your goals and they are completely clear in your mind. But how well have you communicated those goals to staff?  Even if you see clearly, your staff may not. They may be generally on the right road but without clarity, they can feel the stress of uncertainty and that wastes energy and time. When your goals are crystal clear, your staff is relieved of that uncertainty and can focus on execution. It’s like having the road to their goals lit up with reflective markers.  How do you bring that goal clarity into your workplace?

  1. Set clear goals. Your staff wants to know that you, as the leader, know the direction of the organization. If you haven’t already, take the time to consider your 2019 goals. It’s like picking the route you’ll travel this year just as we picked the road to Houston. When you think about 2019, what course are you on? What are your goals for the year? What are the major activities you intend to accomplish? Write them down now.
  2. Metrics. How will you know that you achieved the goals? I like to ask clients, “What does success look like?” This question is a great way to crystalize your expectations. Success may look like a revenue target, or a target for new clients, or specific behaviors for customer service. Once you know what success looks like, what are the metrics? Maybe it’s financial or maybe it’s that staff manage client calls in an efficient, friendly way. For each goal, write down the metrics or behaviors you associate with your goals.
  3. Share with staff repeatedly. You need goal clarity and so do your staff. Don’t underestimate the difficulty of assisting staff to internalize the same goals. This is a key job for you! You must share the goals and share them again and again, to embed them in long-term memory. Once is not enough. Neither is printing them on a poster and thinking you’re done. Repeated, specific goals, with metrics, are the reflective markers along the way that reduce stress and provide clarity. It’s key for staff to know, really know, the expectations for them and the organization. Clarity eliminates wasted energy on speculation and allows all that energy to be directed into performance.
  4. Report progress. Progress reports demonstrate that you are serious about the goals. Visible reporting of progress reinforces the goal and creates more clarity. It reassures staff that they remain on the right road and that their way forward is still lit with bright lights.
  5. Celebrate success. Divide the goal into chunks and have mini-celebrations along the way. I recently read Chip and Dan Heath’s book, The Power of Moments. They note the success of dividing a big goal into chunks that can be rewarded along the way. The brain likes rewards for meaningful progress. Completion of interim steps encourages one to tackle the next step. What intermediate milestones can you celebrate?

We arrived in Houston safely and with less stress due to the clear, lighted path. You can provide your staff with a clear, well-lit path by identifying your goals and clearly articulating them … regularly. When you do, you reduce their uncertainty and stress so that they can focus on performance. And that makes for a great 2019!

brain and heartHoliday shopping. Holiday cooking. Holiday travel plans. Holiday decorating. Holiday visitors. Holiday hubbub. It’s easy to get lost in the holiday this-and-that. In the midst of the holiday bustle, I challenge you to also reflect and plan but in a different way. Instead of cataloging accomplishments, reflect first on what you accomplished, then on how it felt as you worked toward those accomplishments. You might discover insights that impact your 2019 goals and how you work toward them.

For example, as I reviewed my 2018 accomplishments and considered my 2019 goals, I mused at how (or if) infotuition applies here. You’re thinking, “Infotuition?” Infotuition is the integration of thinking and feeling in leadership and life. Infotuition leads me to realize that it matters both what you do and how you feel as you do it.

Try this. Identify the goals you accomplished in 2018 of which you are most proud. You may want to separate them into work, personal, community and your spiritual life. Now, consider how you felt as you worked toward these goals. Be honest. Notice what the answers tell you. Here’s what I discovered.

Shelley’s 2018 work accomplishments: earned my Certified Speaking Professional™ designation, was named an Inc. magazine as a top 100 leadership speaker, created the Insightful Leadership brand, produced a new demo video, and engaged new clients.

As I worked toward these goals I felt: Proud and pleased with the growth of the work but busy. Really, really busy. Stressed and frazzled on some days. Barely enough time to serve clients and contribute to my community service goals.

My take-away? While I’m proud of my accomplishments and want to accomplish more in 2019, I intend to approach it differently so that I create more space in the day to be creative and to devote some time to other interests, too.

Now it’s your turn. Go ahead….list your accomplishments. There’s a space here.

My accomplishments at work are:

How did I feel as I worked toward these goals? (Relaxed, exhilarated, inspired, peaceful, realistic, frantic, proud)

My accomplishments in my personal life are:

How did I feel as I worked toward these goals?

My accomplishments for my community are:

How did I feel as I worked toward these goals?

My accomplishments in my spiritual life are:

How did I feel as I worked toward these goals?

What did you discover? Are you over-extending in some areas at the expense of others? Is the price you pay for accomplishment too high? Infotuition teaches that it’s just as important to consider how you achieve your goals as what you achieve.

With this in mind, write your 2019 goals together with how you’d like to feel along the way (relaxed, exhilarated, inspired, peaceful, realistic, proud or rested). Let that clarity color the approach you take to your goals and guide the atmosphere with which you surround yourself. Now that’s infotuition!

Photo Copyright : Jan Hruby

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

 

attentionAs Thanksgiving approaches in a couple of weeks, let’s turn it upside down. Rather than giving thanks, let’s give those around us something to be thankful for.  Here’s the perfect gift – your attention.

A friend recently said to me, “The most precious gift you can give someone is your attention.” That idea stuck.  Today’s world is cluttered with demanding gadgets that insistently beep and buzz until attended to; pop-ups that relentlessly hog the screen and bully their way into the forefront.  Attention becomes a precious bit of energy that we pilfer away carelessly.

Here are three actions you can take to give others that precious gift of your attention.

  1. Your next meeting. In the next meeting you participate in or lead, walk in the door, sit down and put your phone conspicuously on the table face down and don’t touch it until you leave. As conversation unfolds, look each person in the eye and listen. Notice their reaction and the quality of the relationship that is generated by the simpe giving of your attention.
  2. Visitors in your office. You are knee-deep in emails when your co-worker walks in the door. Stop typing; remove your hands from the keyboard and turn to face your guest. For the next few minutes, give them your full attention. Perhaps you’ll find that you reach resolution quicker or you generate more interesting ideas together or, maybe, the person feels heard. That last one is indeed a precious gift.
  3. The others. This last one is my personal favorite.  As you go about your day, notice all the small interactions you have with the other people like Tim, the person taking your order at Panera; Joyce, the checker at the grocery store; or Juanita, the bank teller (all people I encountered today). Maybe for you it’s Julio who makes your coffee or Susie at the dry cleaners. Whoever it is, for each of them, pause, make eye contact, hold eye contact, smile and engage in momentary conversation. The exchange may not last a minute and yet it matters. These are people accustomed to being overlooked.  When you instead give attention to them, notice how they brighten–and all it cost you was a moment of attention.

And for me, I would like to thank you for reading. Through reading, you give me the gift of your attention. For that, I am most grateful. I hope you go and share the gift of your attention with others.

gut feelingMeet my brother-in-law, Jerry Trimble. Jerry has been flying helicopters his entire life.  His mom has a photo of him as a two-year-old sitting in a helicopter reaching for the stick. (He’s adorable. He would hate me saying that which makes it even more fun.) He’s flown all sizes of helicopters – big ones (like those that carry fire suppressant), middle-sized ones (like those for Life Flight) and small ones (for teaching a beginner). Today, he and my sister (who is also a pilot) run a helicopter flight business in Oregon. I had the opportunity to fly with Jerry last week. Flying is second nature to Jerry. He could fly in his sleep.  But, he doesn’t.  Instead, he walked through a lengthy checklist of startup procedures…twice. He knows that safety is no time to trust his gut or rely on habit.

Are you trusting your gut when you shouldn’t be?  Before we pursue that, let’s briefly look at your brain. Your brain is an amazing processor that takes in reams of information from your eyes, ears, nose, and touch. It quickly makes sense of it all because it takes shortcuts to simplify processing. Brain shortcuts come from repetitious activity that we know as a habit. The brain skips the energy-intensive processing and defaults to habit. That’s great…until it isn’t.

Do you know, as Jerry knows, when you can trust your gut and when you shouldn’t?

Safety: When your work involves safety procedures or you supervise people for whom safety is a concern. They and you need to take care that you don’t default to habit. Of course, you want to develop habits that are grounded in safety but don’t lose sight of the need to be conscious and respectful of safety. Like Jerry’s checklist, frequent reminders are key.

People: Have you ever met someone who you immediately liked? Or disliked? That’s because your brain took a shortcut. If it noted something familiar, it registers as “like.” If it picked up on something contrary to your values or preferences it registers “dislike.” Your brain quickly reached a conclusion – and it could be wrong. Watch for quick, gut judgments in personnel decisions. Your brain is taking a shortcut that may be more about your history than about the person in front of you. Your skill is to recognize and manage the brain shortcuts that create judgments.

Quick Decisions: Particularly for experienced managers who have “been there, done that,” you decide quickly based on history. Without realizing it, you think, “Yeah, I’ve seen this before.” But, maybe you have or maybe not. For decisions with far-reaching implications, it’s worth double checking the quick conclusion of your brain. Is the current situation really like the past? What are the differences? Is the future on the same trajectory as the past? Can you really rely on the brain shortcut (your experience)? Chances are, there are many situations where your experience can be relied upon for quick decisions, but if your industry or organization is changing rapidly, big decisions merit a second look.

I’m the first one to say that the gut brings valuable information to the table, and you need to skill to use it effectively. Consider your day. When is it okay to go with your gut for a quick reaction? When are you in situations where your brain shortcuts could lead you astray? Start now to develop the skill to tell the difference.

Do you have an example of when you challenged your gut reaction and were glad you did?

Copyright : Marek Uliasz

 

Taking the temperature of the room doesn’t mean too hot or too cold. It means taking the emotional temperature of the people in the room. Taking the emotional temperature gives you an edge to enhance productivity. Here’s an example.

It was an exhausting meeting, but we knew it would be exhausting. The strategic planning discussion would set the future direction and tone for the organization.

We started by taking the temperature in the room. “Before we begin, let’s check in. How do you feel as we start this strategic discussion?” Around the room we heard: “optimistic, guarded, enthusiastic, hopeful, anxious”.

We took the emotional temperature again at the end of the meeting. “As we wrap up the discussion, how do you feel about where our strategic discussion ended?” This time… “Satisfied, overwhelmed, encouraged, worried, energized.”

How is it helpful to take the emotional temperature?

All meetings and conversations have an emotional component. It’s the way we are designed as humans. We feel first and think second. The emotional state of the people in the room impacts the nature of their participation, the outcome of the discussion and future productivity. You can either gain intelligence about the emotional state in the room or find out about it (or not) outside of the room from hallway conversations. It’s best to know it in the moment so that you can manage more effectively. When possible, we like to be as dynamic and interesting as we can be when leading meetings, and I know many leaders that choose to make use of tools such as a Writey stickon whiteboard for their meetings. However, depending on the emotional state of everybody involved in the meeting, this is not always possible.

In a well-planned meeting, you thought through the purpose, you have an agenda and you manage the discussion. But, all meetings and conversations have an emotional undertone which we often overlook. Just as you would get facts on the table, it’s best to get emotional content on the table, too. It’s not hard to do. The simple question that I offered in my strategic planning meeting does the trick. Stating the emotional state of mind up front and at the end serves two functions.

For individuals. The emotional state of each participant is at work under the surface. That emotion colors participants’ decision-making, engagement level and their motivation during and after the discussion. When you ask them to voice their emotional state it brings the emotion into focus for them. When they state it out loud, it validates the feeling and lessens the impact. (Research shows that validation of feeling reduces the brain’s threat response.)

For leaders. As the meeting leader, when you take the emotional temperature at the beginning of a meeting, you gain critical information that allows you to more adeptly manage the meeting. When I hear someone say “enthusiastic,” I know to engage them so that their enthusiasm impacts others. When I hear, “concern,” I know to listen closely to understand more. At the end of the meeting, if I still hear “concern” or “overwhelm,” I know to follow up and learn more so that we are more likely to attain the objective.

Try taking the temperature before and after your next important meeting. Notice the additional information it gives you to more effectively manage the meeting. It’s a simple and powerful technique. Let me know how it goes!

Photo by Vladischern