Welcome All!

If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Book review: Our Iceberg is Melting – Changing and succeeding under any conditions

Authors: John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber, 2005

An eight step model that is explained through a fable about an emperor penguin colony in Antarctica and how they deal with problems and change. I recommend reading and passing on this book. It’s fun, easy, informative, and thought provoking. What character or style do I identify with? How do I/do we try and bring about change? and more.  

The eight-step model to change is divided into four sections. I will briefly mention the sections and steps. For the real meat you’ll have to read the book, like many leaders and complete groups of employees have done.

Set the stage

Step 1
Reduce complacency and increase the sense of urgency. Help others see the need for change and the importance of acting immediately.

Step 2
Pull together a team to guide the needed change. Make sure it is a powerful group, one with leadership skills, credibility, communications ability, authority, analytical skills and a sense of urgency.

Decide what to do

Step 3
Create a vision of a new future, a change vision and strategy. Clarify how the future will be different from the past, and how you can make that future a reality.

Make it happen

Step 4
Communicate the new vision in many different ways and repeatedly – communicate for understanding and buy-in. Make sure as many others as possible understand and accept the vision and the strategy.

Step 5
Empower others to act. Remove as many barriers as possible so that those who want to make the vision a reality can do so.

Step 6
Produce short-term wins. Create some invisible, unambiguous successes as soon as possible.

Step 7
Don’t let up. Press harder and faster after the first successes. Be relentless with initiating change after change until the vision is reality.

Make it Stick

Step 8
Create a new culture. Hold on the new ways of behaving and make sure they succeed until they become strong enough to replace old traditions.

This is a very brief description of Kotter’s eight step model, but it provides you with the main idea on his model for bringing about change. Also highlighted in this book: The role of thinking and feeling:

Thinking differently can help change behavior and lead to better results.
-       Collect data, analyze it.
-       Present the information logically to change people’s thinking.
-       Changed thinking, in turn, can change behavior.

Feeling differently can change behavior more and lead to even better results.
-       Create surprising, compelling, and if possible visual experiences.
-       The experiences change how people feel about a situation.  
-       A change in feelings can lead to a significant change in behavior.

The question you may ask yourself after reading the book or this summary: “What is my ‘iceberg’ and how can I use what I discover in this story?”.

Friday, May 20, 2011

How are you doing as a leader?

Many leaders succeed by working hard and smart. They also succeed through stumbling, falling, getting up, and learning a lot in the process. They grow, they are hungry for more impact, and they develop themselves into an even better leader. But only up to a certain point and then many seem to stop learning, growing, asking feedback, and challenging their beliefs and practices. They have reached a certain level, status, and reputation (and let’s not forget power!) and they seem comfortable with their being and their results. Great, you might think, and for sure, the feeling is good and it’s wonderful to enjoy what you have planted and nurtured. You might think: “This is what it’s all about. I have reached my objective”.

But feeling comfortable with where you’re at is not the same as remaining competent in an ever changing world with a fast paced business environment, rapidly emerging markets, technological tornados, and political and economic shifts in countries and regions. The question is not “Am I still doing good enough?” The question is: “How can I continuously be aware and improve myself, my leadership, my company, and this world and stay ahead or at least on top of developments?”

When you write a book, one day it will be finished, ready for your readers to buy and read it. When you cook a meal, at some point it will be on the table for you and your guests to enjoy. When you teach a class, at the end of the lesson your students start processing what you handed them. But when you lead yourself and others, you’re in a process, you’re in a fluent state. Almost like a stream of water, always on the move, always flexible, always changing whatever it touches, no matter how little or how slow. 

There are numerous books, lectures, and programs on becoming a better leader and they cover many valuable traits and skills. Let me just emphasize two areas that too often go underemphasized:

1.    Awareness
I refer to awareness of yourself: your style, preferences, values, purpose, and blind spots. I refer to awareness of your challenges, of your ego strength, and of your drives and motivations. I refer to awareness of where you stand on the many polarities that leadership brings to your every day job. And of course I refer to a strong awareness of your environment, including customers, competitors, and everyone and everything you can learn from. Reflection, contemplation, being present in the here-and-now, and feedback are your tools for continuous awareness. Use them wisely.

2.    Humility:
You don’t know it all, you haven’t experienced it all, and yes you’re important but dependent on many others and possibly not as important as you might think you are. You can learn most from humbling experiences, you can learn most from stepping down from your throne, and you can learn most from people with opposing styles, beliefs, approaches, and fields of expertise. Go serve the poor and go walk that unfamiliar neighborhood. Go learn from nature, single parents, children and all other resources available. And above all, remain appreciative, listen, and put everything into perspective, including yourself and your accomplishments.

You’re never really done growing, learning, questioning, and evaluating yourself. How are you doing as a leader? I hope you’ll keep wondering curiously till the end of days.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Let’s Play

Play is often thought of as the domain of children and animals. Playing is good when you’re young, but in our fast-paced, rapidly developing, over-competitive world play is often considered a waste of time. In addition, many think it’s foolish to play and fool around. You just don’t do that.

Well, that’s a real waste of precious activity. Because play is crucial to our lives, our health, our liveliness, our resilience and innovation and so much more. And play is so much. It’s joking, rough-housing, playing sports, playing with the dog, board games, music, theater… You get the picture.

Inspired by Monday’s lecture on play at the University of Minnesota by Stuart Brown I am  happy to list some characteristics and benefits of play. For more reading I refer you to Brown’s book “Play – How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul”.  

Ingredient for creativity and innovation, tool to rejuvenate, and a way to let go and have fun.

Is a state of mind, rather than an activity. Sometimes running is play, sometimes it’s not, like when you’re afraid and running to escape, or when you’re running away angrily.

A great way to stumble upon new behaviors, thoughts, strategies, movements, or ways of being.

Frees you from established patterns.

Teaches you to make sound judgments.

Lets you learn about the environment and the rules of engagement with friend and foe.

Lets you imagine and experience situations you have never encountered before and learn from them.

Lets you create possibilities that have never existed but may in the future. You make new cognitive connections that find their way into your everyday life.

Creates an arena for social interaction and learning. It allows you to learn lessons and skills without being directly at risk.

Has you create imaginative new cognitive combinations and in creating those novel combinations you find what works.

Creates new neural connections and tests them.

As Stuart Brown states so clearly: “If we stop playing, we share the fate of all animals that grow out of play. Our behavior becomes fixed. We are not interested in new and different things. We find fewer opportunities to take pleasure in the world around us.

My family and I love to play, in many different ways. I hope you do too, and otherwise: you’re never too old to start something new.

The Questions We Ask Ourselves and Others

The importance and power of questions – I have written about this topic before on this blog.  I will not repeat myself. I merely state: Asking the right questions is in many situations more important than finding the right answers.
What kind of questions do you tend to ask yourself and others? Look at the examples below and contemplate on your questions and on what beliefs and what line of thinking they reflect.

Do you tend to ask …

Or do you tend to ask …

Why is this happening to me? à

What part did I play in getting where I am?

Who dropped the ball? à

How can I contribute to a solution?

Why don’t they get it? à

What else do we need to share, explain, hear?

Why do we have to go through all this change? à

How can I adapt to this ever changing world?

What’s wrong with these people? à

What can we do differently?

When is somebody going to train me? à

What can I do to develop myself?

When is department X finally going to fix this problem?

What can I do to solve this problem?

Which questions get you furthest? Which questions empower you? Which questions promote your creativity? Which questions inspire others? Which questions set you in motion and which ones present you with new perspectives?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ten Powerful Phrases for Positive People

by Rich de Vos, 2008

Underlying theme of this book: Inspire others to use their talents and fulfill their potential.

A positive frame of mind changes how you think, it changes you, and it enables you to lift up other people. De Vos suggests everyone should develop the habit of looking for good in others. He asserts that a simple line can change a person’s life. A powerful phrase like “I’m proud of you” or “I believe in you” can be world-changing lines for some people.

Here are the Ten Powerful Phrases by de Vos with a question from me to you at the end of each phrase:
1.    I’m wrong – This is generally the hardest of the phrases to say according to de Vos. It’s meaningless unless it comes from the heart, not your lips, so you need to accept the very human fact that you can be wrong. Even if that admission hurts, you need to realize it’s simply human nature and that everyone makes mistakes. De Vos states that anyone can have a profound impact on others when they admit they are wrong. In conclusion: Wrongs are inevitable and denying their existence only creates arrogance and strife. We are not perfect, nor are we intended to be. Now that’s a relief. My question to you: In what kind of situations or circumstances is it most difficult for you to admit you’re wrong?

2.    I’m sorry – This goes along with admitting that you’re wrong, they are companions. Most politicians, many leaders, many people in general are more geared towards using words that defend their position than saying “I’m sorry”. Defending positions, using words to cover up rather than to enlighten, blaming the other guy, and avoiding responsibility can all occur when you choose a negative course instead of making a decision to be positive. The ability to say “I’m sorry” shows that you are able to see the other’s point of view, that you want to maintain a relationship, and that your ego is not too big to apologize. My question to you: When was the last time you said “I’m sorry” in a meaningful situation and what made it hard or easy?

3.    You can do it – This line should be adopted as everyone’s philosophy de Vos asserts. Reinforce the lessons of faith, optimism, and hard work. You will never discover how far you can go if you don’t start “doing it”. Even if you do it and fail, you have the strength and the courage to know how far you did get so that you’re going to try again, or do it differently next time, or take on a new job with greater confidence, de Vos argues. He advocates thinking big! Too many never try to do anything because they are afraid. Afraid of failure, that someone might criticize them or laugh at them or that they don’t have enough training or expertise. My question to you: Do you create and use opportunities to reinforce your own and others confidence with “You can do it”? and if not, what’s lacking or what’s blocking you?

4.    I believe in you – Being a believer is being an achiever (Norman Vincent Peale’s book The Power of Positive Living). Why not you, why not now, de Vos challenges his readers. You can show people you believe in them when you support their endeavors or causes. The same goes for yourself: You never know what you can accomplish until you test your beliefs by trying. Try or cry. My question to you: Can you think of three easy ways to reinforce your belief in yourself?

5.    I’m proud of you – Humans have the need to be recognized and acknowledged by those who mean the most to them. We want to feel that others are proud of us. And its most powerful when verbalized in public de Vos asserts. My question to you: Do you use the opportunity to recognize others to its fullest?”

6.    Thank you – It’s an acknowledgement of the other person’s generosity, it’s a demonstration of your gratitude when you say “Thank you”. Just feeling thankful isn’t enough, verbalizing it makes it real for the receiver. The question is not to be or not be, but to thank and to be thankful. We are often too slow to give thanks and too quick to complain according to de Vos. I agree. And therefore my question to you: “How do you score on the scale of gratitude and thankfulness?”

7.    I need you – You’ve heard it before, there is no “I” in the word “Team”. We need people for anything we do and for anything we are. We all share a responsibility for encouraging each other by acknowledging everyone’s contributions at every opportunity. “I need you” is an important message for leaders to convey. It inspires, motivates, and strengthens the sense of belonging, so crucial to humans. My question to you: “Are you a team player, do you show your appreciation of everyone’s value and contribution? What improvements can you make in this area?”

8.    I trust you – Trust is a key quality of leadership, in business and in private life. Can others (employees, customers, children, students) trust what we say is true and that we live our lives on the right path? Trust is developed through experience and it’s essential in friendship. As de Vos states it: Trust means we deliver as promised. My question to you: “Do you know how people rate you on trust? Do you easily trust or mistrust people?” What do you do when you doubt whether you trust someone?”

9.    I respect you – de Vos asserts that you earn respect by showing respect, which makes respect reciprocal. The all too important and often dangerously present ego is part of the game here: When you enter a room, do you convey: “Hey, here I am”, or “Ah, there you are?”  De Vos advices to ask questions if you don’t know what to talk about. Showing interest in everyone we meet is the highest form of respect, provided it is true interest from the heart I’d like to add, and not some trick to gain respect, attention etc. De Vos closes his arguments for this powerful phrase with the statement that we also need to show respect for the personal decisions and feelings of others, even when (or: especially when) those decisions may be contrary to what we believe is in our best interest. My question to you: “How do you deal with people with opposing styles and approaches?” “Do you feel you are getting the respect you deserve and what factors are at play?”

10.  I love you – This one encompasses all the previous phrases and speaks for itself, or not.
How about your messages to loved ones, friends, co-workers, customers? What phrases do you use? Do they empower you? Do they empower the people you are with? What can you do more off, what do you want to do less off? What do you want to keep and what do you want to throw out?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Old News, True Impact – The Power and Skill of Excellent Communication

Technology is great and computers advance our lives and businesses. Twitter, LinkedIn, Google, Facebook and other tools create and deliver valuable information, huge networks, instant access, and much more. But our computers cannot persuade, close deals, engage, enlist, inspire, persuade, recruit, manage, handle conflicts, lead employees nor retain customers. We need actual people to do any of the above. And we need excellent communicators to do any of the above successfully. Many polls show that one of the biggest complaints in businesses is poor communication with and from management. There is still, and I argue there will always be, great added value in direct human contact with someone with great communication skills.

Jack Welch, former CEO at General Electric, looked for especially one quality in future leaders:”Somebody who is comfortable talking to anyone – anybody in the world, in New Delhi, Moscow, Cairo, Beijing, anywhere” and solve problems, interest customers, and get deals done.

Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t just have a vision, he knew how to communicate it. The words, the passion behind his words, the messages he was bringing people. What would the impact have been if Martin Luther King Jr. had said “I have a plan”, rather than “I have a dream”? King knew what words to choose and how to back up his words with his passion for his cause. The impact was tremendous.

Adolf Hitler, no matter how much I detest and condemn his beliefs and his actions and no matter how much I get sickened by just the thought of his rule and its consequences, one of his powers was his ability to convey his message through his oral skills. Hitler was a gifted orator who captivated his audiences with his, often rehearsed, display of emotion. He became adapt at telling people what they wanted to hear. Hitler is said to have perfected the delivery of his message by rehearsing in front of mirrors and carefully choreographing his display of emotions. And many people bought it, shockingly enough. Needless to say all his skills were used to accomplish horrible, hideous goals with disastrous results.

Allow me one more example, a more positive one: Warren Buffett. Apart from (or related to) being a highly successful business man and one of the wealthiest people in the world Warren Buffett is a superb communicator who has mastered the great skill of explaining complicated business and economic issues in clear and easy-to-understand language while engaging and inspiring his audience. Many of his writings and talks are eagerly anticipated, and not just by investors. People love hearing him talk.

Whether you adhere to their political views or not, the speeches of Churchill, Obama, Gandhi to name only a few are world known and inspire people for many years to come. And much of this though not all is to be credited to their excellent communication skills.

I choose not to add to the many books, post, and articles that have already been written on communication skills. There are enough of them, and some are great resources. I instead choose to focus your attention on eight conditions for excellent communication. Without these prerequisites, no matter how many specific skills and techniques you practice, it will not result in excellent communication.

The eight conditions for excellent communication:

1.    Presence
Presence comes from within and begins with an inner state which leads to a series of external behaviors. Presence implies connecting with yourself and with your audiences. Presence requires being present in the here and now, reaching out and building relationships, expressing feelings and thoughts, and knowing and accepting yourself all while you’re communicating (and during your preparation).

2.    Passion
Without passion for your business, your work, your people, and life in general it will be hard to become an inspiring, energizing, engaging communicator. Passion refers to a very strong emotion about a cause, a topic, a person, or a thing. Passion is an intense emotion, a compelling feeling, its beyond enthusiasm. Passion is contagious and communicates what you stand for and how strongly you stand for it.

3.    Authenticity
Authenticity includes the ability to accept yourself, to be true (authentic) to yourself, and to reflect your values in your decisions and actions or better: in your ‘being’. Authenticity implies being self-knowing, not self-absorbed and it requires the courage to show yourself, and not only when you’re at your best.

4.    Courage
The courage to step up to people, to approach anyone anywhere, to approach anything anytime (or almost anytime) and actually enjoy it – looking at difficult situations as challenges you’d like to conquer. Communication courage refers to daring to be exposed, to be out there, to make mistakes (read: be human), to be judged, and to receive criticism on your communication and your style.   

5.    Curiosity
Without authentic curiosity about the world and people, your communication courage won’t be of much use. Great communicators should not be confused with great egos who love to talk. As Rich de Vos states in his book “Ten Powerful Phrases for Positive People” (2008): When you enter a room, do you convey: “Hey, here I am”, or “Ah, there you are?”. Are you focused on yourself or on the other? Another advantage of curiosity is that it provides you with many stories. Stories about the lives and businesses of others. It’s well known by now that we remember things better, including talks, when there is emotion attached to the talk. Stories are one of the most effective means for eliciting emotions.

6.    A Learning Mind
With this condition I refer to the willingness to make mistakes and learn from them, no matter how painful. I refer to your willingness (because ability is easy: it’s trainable) to reflect, to dissect, to elicit feedback from friends and foes about your communication your speaking style, and its effects on people. Of course this ‘learning mind’ is closely linked to courage.

7.    Humor.
As Victor Borge, Danish comedian, conductor, and pianist stated: “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people”. What is humor? There are different kinds of humor and it means different things to different people. Humor can be based on the mistakes and failings of others (or yourself), humor can be based on unexpected things that happen to us and on many other dynamics. Humor is dealing with whatever presents itself whether it be during a business meeting or a lunch lecture - Dealing with what presents itself in a relaxed and creative manner. To use humor you have to be able see things with different eyes and from different perspectives. Humor energizes employees, improves morale, reduces job stress, boosts creativity, and is one of the prerequisites for great communication. As George Bernard Shaw stated long ago: "If you’re going to tell people the truth, you’d better make them laugh. Otherwise, they’ll kill you."

8.    Perseverance
To excel at anything you have to be willing to practice, practice, and practice, with or without a communication coach. Invest in yourself, and if you fall, you pick yourself up and continue. Learn by doing and learn by watching others do. A great resource for excellent talks and amazing speakers is the TED Conference website at www.TED.com . But most of all: master by practicing and doing! 

In conclusion: What is a great idea if you can’t sell it? What is an inspiring vision if no one is listening? What is a strategy if no one is following out of lack of clear, inspiring, and motivating communication? As has been stated so often and so correctly: before people will buy any of your services or products they first have to buy you.

My question to you: can you walk into a room anytime anywhere and make things happen? Communication is impact. Communication is performance. Communication is achievement.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi, translated by Thomas Cleary

This post is not a summary nor a comprehensive review of the book. I merely highlight some of the beliefs and principles from the book, omitting more than I’m putting down in this post.

The Book of Five Rings is an important text on conflict and strategy from the Japanese warrior culture, written in 1643 by Miyamoto Musashi who was an undefeated dueler, a masterless samurai, and an independent teacher. He abandoned ordinary life to exemplify and hand on two essential elements of ancient martial and strategic traditions:

1.Keeping inwardly calm and clear even in the midst of violent chaos.
2. Not forgetting about the possibility of disorder in times of order.

Some of the beliefs and skills described in the book and that I perceive to be well worth reflecting on:
-       Learn to see and use the art of the advantage. For success and excellence: let the teacher be the needle, let the student be the thread, and practice unremittingly.
-       Matters on the mind of the master leaders: efficiency and smooth progress, prudence in all matters, recognizing true courage, recognizing different levels of morale, instilling confidence, and realizing what can and cannot be reasonably expected. What can you improve on?
-       Observe reflectively, with overall awareness of the large picture as well as precise attention to small details. How do you handle this polarity?
-       Rhythm is something that exists in everything. There are rhythms of rising to the office and rhythms of stepping down, there are rhythms of fulfillment and rhythms of disappointment. What rhythm are you in?
-       Harmony and disharmony in rhythm occur in every walk of life at any time. Your attitude guides your approach to whatever occurs. How is your attitude affecting your day?
-       Understand the harm and benefit in everything and become aware of what is not obvious. Are you open-minded and observant enough to see the non-obvious?
-       A specialty of martial arts: to see that which is far away closely and to see that which is nearby from a distance. How well do you climb into that helicopter?
-       Fixation is the way to death, fluidity is the way to life.
-       If you are in a deadlock it’s essential to change your approach, determine how to win by means of a very different tactic. Who have you consulted in times of challenge? People with similar or different beliefs and approaches?
-       There is infection in everything, not just in yawning. What are you infecting others with?
-       The opportunity of the moment, of now, of here. Are you fully present in the moment?
-       Concentrate on seizing the initiative and getting the jump on others.

There is so much more to the book. Go read it for yourself!

Our Inner Ape” by Frans de Waal – book review

A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are, 2005

As de Waal puts it himself: “This book explores the fascinating and frightening parallels between primate behavior and our own, with equal regard for the good, the bad, and the ugly”.
Written in a lively style full of amazing examples and clever thinking by writer Paul de Waal  this book challenges many long believed assumptions and adds the writers own sometimes almost revolutionary beliefs based on longtime, sharp observations of both the chimpanzee – the gruff looking ambitious, power hungry, animal with brutal character and anger-management issues and the bonobo, discovered in 1929 and described as an egalitarian, peace-loving proponent of a free-spirited lifestyle.   
Some of the beliefs that you can find in this book:

-       In almost all writings about human nature it is stated that we have selfish genes, that human goodness is a sham and that we act morally only to impress others. De Waal makes it plausible that we are born with impulses that draw us to others. Later in life this make us care about them – the birth of empathy.

-       When people commit genocide they are called ‘animals’, but when they give to the poor they are praised for being ‘humane’. Isn’t this too much credit for humans and too little for the animal world? More examples than expected for ‘giving’ behavior in animals.

-       The same capacity that makes us understand others also makes it possible to hurt them deliberately. Both sympathy and cruelty rely on the ability to understand how one’s own behavior affects others which de Waal believes to be present in more than just the human race. So much for that characteristic you might have thought to be unique to humans.

-       According to de Waal, because of 180 million years of mammalian evolution and lactation, females display more and earlier empathy than men do. Pay attention, females and males: A long term relationship with a woman however is the most effective way for a man to add years to his life. The flip side is autism, an empathy disorder that keeps us from connecting with others and which is four times more prevalent in males than in females.

-       On cooperation and competition in chimpanzees and other species: there can’t be joined hunting without joined pay-offs. You may ask yourself how this relates to your company and its departments and the degree to which your people experience joined pay-offs in their projects and work.

-       According to de Waal we rely more on what we feel than on what we think when solving moral dilemmas. Emotions trump rules. An interesting statement for everyone believing that thinking comes before feeling – a premise from the Rational Emotive Therapy (Cognitive Psychology).

-       De Waal is convinced that war is not an insuppressible urge but an option. When there are plenty of resources (space, food, water) there is no point in war.  Warfare is not in our DNA as a person, he states, but I know for sure that it is in the brain structure (or somewhere) of the ‘occasional’ dangerously sick individual.

-       Human morality is firmly anchored in the social emotions with empathy at its core asserts de Waal. Self-awareness affects how we deal with others. Without self-awareness no empathy. Emotions are our compass according to de Waal.

-       Understood and accepted by many different experts: We are social to the core with our need to belong and feel accepted. Translate this to your company and assess engagement and sense of belonging in your employees.

-       We are full of contradictions and the product of opposing forces like the need to think of our self interest and the need to get along. The duality of human nature – don’t we all experience this on a daily basis and in many areas. Without this duality no life I’d like to add.

-       One of the many questions and polarities that de Waal discusses concerns whether we are most characterized by love or by hate. What is most critical for survival: cooperation or competition. I dare to say it is both, in a well balanced manner.

I could continue for quite some time and I have to stress that this post is in no way representative of the content of de Waal’s book. I think it’s a fantastic piece of work with many examples like the one about nonhuman humanness, when on August 16¸1996 an 8 year old female gorilla called Binti Jua helped and comforted a 3 year old boy who had fallen into the gorilla area in the Chicago Zoo. A famous example that has ever since been used by many politicians in their speeches. If the topic interests you, check out the book your