Welcome All!

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

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Something to develop in yourself and in others

Assuming that you know when the time is right, it is very useful and powerful to share and not hold back your questions. Questions about the way business is done, questions when you have doubts about what your are asked to do, questions regarding habits and routines. This may be challenging on both sides of the questioning, however, the possible new ideas and perspectives, can generate discussions and thought processes on a deeper level and from a different perspective.

2.Forward thinking
With the questioning comes the suggestions and the problem-solving, even when others don’t see a problem that needs solving. You can make it a habit to construct and suggest new methods of approaching challenges and ways of improving processes as well as opportunities that others can’t even imagine yet.

3.Offering help to others and being the one others go to
More than ‘just’ being a team player, people who gladly and abundantly help others become more successful. They add tremendous value to the organization and to their own development. Make sure you are known as the person to be asked for help even if you’re not an expert in what they are struggling with. Sometimes active listening, sharp questioning, and directing the person in the right direction will do the job. You can be the one others on the team go to for guidance and advice. This way you’ll be noticed in the most acceptable way possible. Of course you want to make it a conscious and consistent effort to notice and acknowledge other people’s contributions.  

Three simple things to develop in yourself and in others – which one is first on your list? 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Insights from Neuroscience Applied to Effectiveness

Early this morning, Mary Casey and Shannon Robinson, both advanced certified NeuroBusiness coaches and founders of BrainSkills@Work, were presenting some of their insights at St. Catherine’s University in St. Paul as part of a seminar series on Leadership which I’m attending.

This is by no means a complete summary of their insightful and engaging seminar. I am merely presenting some of the highlights from their talk and adding my implications for increasing your effectiveness.

There is, obviously, so much more to say about the different parts of your brain and how they function, how they collaborate, and how they sometimes don’t. I love the specifics and the details, however, this is a blog on leadership, change management, and personal development, not on neuroscience. So I’ll let you consult the many great experts and books if you want to dive deeper into the neuroscience. I am just a very interested lay person sharing what was discussed this morning.

à Your brain is wired to be on the defensive – Whether you realize it or not, it appears that you spend much of your time scanning for threats. Makes sense from an evolutionary, survival point of view, and this almost constant scanning for threats results in:
-       Increased negativity and defensiveness
-       Increased confidence that your story is right
-       Perceptual narrowing – the brain wants to focus in, which is preventing you from seeing the bigger picture.

Implication for increasing your effectiveness
Be conscious about looking for the positive, developing a true interest in the other person’s story, listening and asking questions rather than just defending your own point of view, questioning yourself and your assumptions, and putting your energy in getting out of your story and stepping into the bigger picture. 

à According to the speakers, the two main goals of the brain are not problem solving or conscious thought as many people believe it to be, but speed and efficiency. Again, from an evolutionary standpoint it certainly makes sense. Speed and efficiency can collide with problem solving, for which you need at least conscious thought.

Implication for increasing your effectiveness
Push your problem solving hat to the forefront, use whatever model appeals to you to really look at the problem, look at it from as many perspectives as you can imagine, seek to understand it, seek to understand others who are involved, and only then seek to be understood and to resolve – this one is in honor of the late Stephen Covey.

à Your brain has only a limited amount of what is known as “units of attention” and when you’ve used them, they’re gone for the day, and, on difficult days, leave you hanging mid morning with that challenging discussion and the crisis meeting still in front of you. But little or no units of attention left.

Implication for increasing your effectiveness
Find out what you focus your attention on, which can differ greatly of course depending on your day, your mood etc. How often do you switch tasks and move from writing that proposal to another text message coming in? It might feel good, the variation that is a result of switching, but you lose a lot of units of attention merely through task switching. So whenever you still have challenging or complicated tasks ahead of you, keep task-switching limited and be mindful what you focus on: is it something positive or something negative, is it something important or not, is it something that rejuvenates you quickly, is it something that contributes facing the challenge etc?

à Related to expectation management, there is expectation deception, for better or for worse. Shannon and Mary shared an experiment in which an eye-sight test was used to prove that, depending on your own expectations, you literally perform better or worse. A group of people had to do an eye-sight test with the usual letters going from large on the top line to small on the bottom line. When these same people were shown these letters switched around, starting with the small and difficult to read letters first and then moving to the large letters on the bottom line, they performed significantly and consistently better on the small letters.

Implication for increasing your effectiveness
Same letters, same eyes, different expectations. You are probably already convinced that students learn more and better when teachers and parents have high expectations of them. The above experiment shows it isn’t just a motivational and support issue, but also a matter of expectation and beliefs of the subject himself: You are wired (trained) to ‘know’ that you read the top lines better, that you read the top lines well. Even if your eyes ‘normally’ have difficulty with those lines, if you expect to do well, you will do well, suggests this experiment. Your brain performs differently when you expect success. Substitute lines for any challenge you face, and instill powerful expectation beliefs in you. I’m not saying you can conquer the world, but increasing your effectiveness will do too, right!

Note: Persuasive and persistent as beliefs can be, about 50% of the people in the above experiment refused to believe that they did better when reading the reverse-rows list. Now how often does it happen that you, or someone you know, tightly hangs on to their beliefs despite evidence of the opposite?

à We all create stories about our past, present, and future lives, but do you realize that your perception can be locked in your story? You literally see different things than your rival, for example, and you will likely interpret and evaluate differently too, all this to benefit the story that you created, belief in, and want to hang on to, sometimes no matter what.

Implication for increasing your effectiveness
Make a conscious effort not to be too hooked up on your own story. Ask yourself: What if I’m wrong? What if there are more stories? Look for patterns and themes in your stories, they can guide you towards areas than need some work from your side. Even though perception is reality, your perception is your reality, and everyone has his own perception and reality, as valid as yours, and as tainted as yours.

à When the limbic region of your brain, which is part of your emotional nervous system, is working overtime, it is emotions that reign and you often see what Goleman calls ‘emotional hijack’. You will be in a high defense & protect mode with blaming and projecting outward as behavioral manifestations as well as, again, being absorbed in your own story and feeding on negative thought loops that can become very effective in self-reinforcement. In this situation you need your neo-cortex, your executive director or stage manager and only found in mammals, to get you in ‘neutral’, to get you to a state of conscious thought and of ‘thinking about your thinking’ and eventually focusing on shared interests and co-created outcomes.

Implication for increasing your effectiveness
When emotions reign, when you’re over-heated, take a step back before responding or deciding. You don’t expect your car to just happily and effectively drive on when it is overheated, right! There are many ways to cool down that I am sure you are aware off so I am not listing them here. When successful, chances are high you have much less difficulty seeing multiple perspectives, focusing on shared interests, seeing your own role and responsibility in it all, and seeing the bigger picture. Good luck to you!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Healthy Debate, Effective Meetings

Have you ever been part of a meeting that started late, that did not have a clear agenda, and that went on to discuss relatively irrelevant topics and avoiding the real issues? Have you ever been present at a meeting that did not allow for honest sharing of information and opinions, that droned on forever, where people were domineering the discussion, and that never seemed to get to the point? If your answer is no, I’d love to talk to you and your team.

Very likely your answer is a full-blown yes with a deep, frustrated groan.
Many different aspects make meetings effective, but it boils down to candid, healthy debate on topics that matter and that everyone prepared for and participates in. You have to plan, prepare, and effectively execute your meeting or you will lose time, energy, commitment, and revenue. It’s as simple as that. So if you don’t want this to happen, you want to avoid the following pitfalls:

-       Inviting people to the meeting who are not necessary for reaching the objective of the meeting. The next one, knowing what you want to accomplish, helps you determine who needs to be present.
-       Going into a meeting without considering what the desired outcome should be. Do you need to inform, discuss, generate, plan, decide? What is it that you want to accomplish? Everything that happens in your meeting should support your objective.
-       Starting late and allowing latecomers to disrupt and receive recaps, thereby allowing repetition and needlessly long discussions. Allowing reading time during the meeting is another mistake that is often made. Reading is part of preparation and should happen ahead of the meeting. Sounds too good to be true, right? But if you respectfully but promptly and consistently redirect people who want to read papers during the meeting, your meetings will be known for the ones you better prepare for.
-       Going into a meeting without a specific time management plan. To integrate some of the most common pitfalls: Without an objective, with the wrong or too many people, without a specific agenda, without a good clue on how long each item will take, and without the skills and courage to handle tensions constructively and to curb needless discussions, ego-tripping, and domineering behaviors you will be lost, for sure. You will be lost in time, and you will be lost in results.

In addition you want to note items that need further discussion and at the end of each agenda item, you want to quickly summarize what was said and get agreement on your summary. Don’t forget to agree on what needs follow-up by whom and by what date. At the end of the meeting, take time to debrief and evaluate the meeting's effectiveness based on how well you met the objective and what you want do differently and better during the next meeting.

My recap: An effective meeting needs structure, preparation, order, active participation, and candid and guided conversation.

I’ll leave you with some questions:

a.    Are your meetings compelling? Are important issues being discussed during meetings?
b.    Are your meetings focused? Do you know the objectives of the meeting and how to best reach them?
c.    Are your discussions time effective and do they result in conclusions and actions?
d.    Do you engage in unguarded and relevant debate? Do you honestly share thoughts and opinions, do you honestly and respectfully confront each other?
e.    Do you ever get out of line? Do you apologize if you get out of line?
f.     Do you really understand each other?
g.    Do you avoid gossiping about each other?
h.    Are you clear about possible next steps when leaving your meetings?

Just remember, effective meetings leave you energized and feeling that you've really accomplished something, together. Otherwise you might as well have done it all by yourself and saved others a lot of time and energy.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The power of an angle, the power of errors and biases

Not everything is always what it appears. Often it is not, even though we might be convinced it is. Too many times we look at situations from a limited number of perspectives, from only a few of the many available angles, and with many biases and errors. We neglect or dismiss certain viewpoints, we create realities that only we can see, and that’s what we often base our interpretations, conclusions and judgments on. Are you aware of the many biases and errors in perception and judgment that cloud your responses and decisions? Are you aware of the limitations of your personal perspectives?

I’ll mention a few of the many possible errors and biases that we are all subject to. Some examples of perception biases are seeing things according to the conventions of your profession while ignoring other views or overlooking and ignoring unexpected data as well as overestimating what you know and seeing patterns where they don’t exist. Biases referred to as comfort zone biases occur when people ignore information that is inconsistent with their current beliefs or when they keep doing the same things even if they don’t longer work well. Examples of motivational biases are the tendency of people to remember their decisions as being better than they were and the tendency to unconsciously distort judgments to look good and get ahead.

I could continue this list with all the possible errors and biases involved in groupthink and in other processes, but I think it’s clear: Understanding your likely perception and judgment biases and errors and seeing the bigger picture can totally change the narrative, it can change interpretations, and it can change responses and outcomes. The following half-minute video commercial of The Guardian provides a good illustration.