Welcome All!

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

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Obvious and hidden distractors

You probably know what distracts your from your present task, or so you think. You likely realize that your unfinished projects, this dreaded report, another confrontation with teen behavior, concerns about your elderly parents, and that long procrastinated feedback to your direct report is distracting you from the conversation at hand.

So far so good, but do you realize that the more lethal distractions are the ones you are little aware off and that you mistakenly belief to not suffer from – not you! We like to think we’re objective and logical when we judge people and when we make decisions. We like to think we’re capable of seeking out, taking in, and correctly evaluating all the necessary information.

Harsh truth: Reality is different, very different! Your and my judgments and decisions are influenced by a wide variety of cognitive biases. By that I mean a wide variety of errors in thinking that occur when you seek out, process, and interpret information. This often serves a positive purpose: simplifying all the information that needs to be processed. However, this process of simplification can go awry. If it does, it will blind you for information and interpretations that could be valid and useful but that you are not considering. Cognitive biases are caused by different dynamics, such as social pressure including colleagues applying office politics, or by individual motivations and preferences, by emotions that originate in previous experiences, and by mental shortcuts that help you be more efficient and reach decisions more quickly – something we psychologists call adaptive purpose. So it’s not all bad, you simply need to know, recognize, admit and course correct your biases to prevent them from operating as hidden distractors that control you.

Below you find some examples of cognitive biases that we all suffer from:

1. Confirmation Bias – Your ideas are often based on paying attention to the information that upholds your existing ideas while ignoring input that challenges these pre-existing beliefs. You basically favor information that confirms you and your existing beliefs.

2. The halo effect – Your overall impression of a person influences how you feel and think about their character. Your overall impression of a person ("She is fast") impacts your evaluations of that person's specific traits ("She must also be smart").

3. The self-serving bias – This is your tendency to take personal credit for success which you attribute to your traits and talents (this boosts your confidence) while blaming your failures on outside sources that are beyond your control, thereby protecting your self-esteem. Makes you feel a lot better I’m sure, but it’s not always reflecting reality. If you deliver a project within budget and on time you love to attribute this to your organizational and technical talents. When you have to negotiate for more time and money for a  project it is tempting to blame unforeseen variables such as illness of a team member and crazy client demands.

4. Functional fixedness – A type of cognitive bias that involves your tendency to see objects as only working in a particular way. For example, you might view a thumbtack as something that can only be used to hold paper to a corkboard. But what other uses might the item have? In many cases, functional fixedness can prevent you from seeing the full range of uses that an object might have. It can also impair your ability to think of novel solutions to problems.

How to deal with cognitive biases? Use the Triple A Formula:
Awareness, Acknowledgment, Adjustment

Monday, November 10, 2014

We are all lousy listeners …

… even though we know that

Listening builds trust
Listening expands your mind
Listening is a show of respect
Listening adds perspective
Listening breaks down resistance
Listening provides you with feedback
Listening conveys that you are interested
Listening creates buy-in and support
Listening turns you into a well-informed person
Listening helps you understand, remember, interpret and evaluate
Listening expresses that you care about others’ opinions and concerns

But only when it’s real listening, to what is being said and to what is being left unsaid – only then.

But only when it’s active listening, with the right kind of questions – only then.

My advise to you: Listen. With your heart and your head, while being fully aware and present, in the here and now. It’s one of the hardest things to do.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Recipient’s Perspective

Many leaders are at a loss about how to best support and engage employees during a change process. Responses to my recent webinars and talks about the topic support this trend. As most of us know, one of the primary reasons why some 70% of change efforts fail is because leaders do not consider change from a recipient's perspective. Seems basic, seems obvious, but apparently it isn’t.

William Bridges in his book Managing Transitions highlights how the transition stage distresses employees most. According to Bridges it’s the process of letting go of the old and embracing the unknown that is tough on people. If you think about your own transition periods in life I’m sure you can relate.

Another expert in the field is Ken Blanchard, who uses a six-step change model. He talks about common reactions people have when they are asked to change and how leaders inadvertently get it wrong. His six categories of concerns are:

1. Information Concerns: What is the change? Why is it needed?
2. Personal Concerns: How will the change impact me? Will I win, will I lose?
3. Implementation Concerns: What do I do first? How do I manage all the details?
4. Impact Concerns: Is the effort worth it? Is the change making a difference?
5. Collaboration Concerns: Who else should be involved? How do we spread the
6. Refinement Concerns: How can we make the change even better?

The third change management expert I wish to mention is my Dutch fellowman Guido Cuyvers (Integrale Organisatieverandering, 2003). Cuyvers categorized many of the questions employees ask themselves when confronted with a change. I trust that these questions help you consider change from the recipient's perspective. I trust they’ll help you guide and support your people through the change process more effectively.

Personal questions:
-       Can I handle this?
-       Does this imply I’m not doing a good enough job now?
-       I have everything under control right now, will I in the future?
-       How much extra time and energy will this take?
-       Where and when will I see the return on this investment?
-       What actual support can I expect?
-       Do I need additional knowledge and training?
-       Do I have a voice in any of this?

Task–oriented questions:
-       Will the new method, organization etc. be efficient?
-       Is the ratio investment-desired results a healthy one?
-       Do we have the knowledge and resources to make this change happen?
-       Is this the right pace or are we going too fast?
-       I don’t know how to prepare and organize all the needed activities.
-       Will everyone involved do his share?
-       What can I expect from colleagues and management?
-       How can we make changes based on our daily experience with clients?

With the ever increasing number of workplace changes, you better get the support part right, because without the motivation and commitment of your people, there is no hope for your change to succeed.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Crash Course in Critical Thinking

For anyone who thinks he’s in control or who likes to be in control, I’ve got bad news for you. Scientists believe to have shown that the brain runs largely on autopilot. Whether you like to hear this or not, if this is true, your brain acts first and asks questions later (if at all), often explaining behavior after the fact. I don’t like this, but I recognize it. I see it in the workplace and I see it in my own life. I don’t think this mechanism serves us well. It encourages the deadly sin of avoiding accountability, assigning blame to someone or something, and deceiving yourself into thinking that you are right. It keeps biases, misconceptions and self-deception untouched. Not a good thing.

Whether you and I believe the notion of a brain on autopilot or not, I still believe in the necessity and the power of critical thinking. Here’s why.

Think of your average workplace conversation or meeting. Have you ever witnessed people leave even more convinced of their own ideas than before the meeting? Have you ever been in a conversation that lasted and lasted, with few questions asked and those that were asked were the wrong kind of questions. Have you ever seen two people talk, thinking that they understood each other, thinking that they agreed on one and the same thing only to see them leave with two different interpretations of the main problem and of what to do next?

These situations are no exaggerations nor are they exceptions. They happen, and they are detrimental to quality thinking processes, quality discussions, and quality decision-making. They make the workplace more tense, inefficient, and ineffective, because they lack critical thinking. Not a good thing.

In it’s course Critical Thinking, the University of Hong Kong describes critical thinking as the ability to think clearly and rationally. This requires reflective and independent thinking. Reflective thinking happens when you scrutinize your own (or someone else’s) assumptions, thought patterns, and behaviors, as well as your fears, needs, distortions and biases. Independent thinking refers to thinking that is minimally affected by peer group pressure, social media, common belief, parental influence, or any other force from outside.

Not an easy task, even though most people who read this post may think that they’re just that: reflective, independent thinkers. Well, you’re likely not, or at least less than you think you are.

Particularly two aspects of critical thinking as defined at the University of Hong Kong attract my attention because I think most of us fail to do so:
1. Detect inconsistencies and common mistakes in our reasoning.
2. Reflect on the justification of our beliefs and values.

Critical thinking is mostly about evaluating your own thoughts, examining possible flaws, and detecting biases in your own approach. When was the last time you really practiced this? And how differently would your conflict with another manager, the tension during the performance review conversation, or the decision making during that team meeting have transpired?

How often do you consciously refute your cherished beliefs? How curious are you really? When was the last time you were eager to widen your perspective in a conflict with a co-worker? How easily do you doubt yourself and suspend your judgment about that one manager that everybody is gossiping about? I’m guessing not so often, not so much. It’s more likely that you’ve jumped to premature conclusions, that you’ve accepted your own assumptions blindly, and that you are only remotely (if at all) familiar with the practice of carefully and critically examining your preconceived notions.

So what to do now? Examples of questions that help you think critically in different stages of your thought process:
- Have I consulted a variety of sources?
- Do I have enough perspectives?
- Are my assumptions valid?
If so, why? If not, why not?

- What are they even based on?
- What am I not willing to see/look at?
- Which preconceived notions should I re-examine?
- Do I need to gather or investigate more facts and data?
- What do I need to do in order to remain alert and open-minded while implementing my ideas?

The above questions are one necessary step in many to become a mindful, reflective, critical thinker. Continually questioning how you are searching, choosing, interpreting, and judging information is essential to critical thinking and can help minimize group think and intolerance. It makes you a smarter thinker, employee, leader, and team member. It makes the world a better place, including the workplace!

So may I remind you to go hunt for inconsistencies and mistakes in your reasoning and to reflect on the justification of your beliefs?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Food for Leaders – whether in position or not.

How can u think outside the box if you don’t know what box you're in?

Do you see what others see when you look in the mirror?

How can you lead projects, how can you lead others, if you don't know how to lead yourself?

Do you have the courage to be imperfect, and show it?

What is it that you're holding on to (assumptions, behavior) that was once useful but not anymore?

Did you know that when you’re ‘stuck’, you’re still moving, but in a way that is not getting you anywhere positive?

Do you have enough control over your ego to also be a follower, not just someone who is being followed?

How often do you ask yourself: What if I am totally wrong?

How easily do you give credit for rights and take ownership for wrongs?

Do you realize that leadership starts with you, but it isn’t about you?

Austrian psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl
closes this post:

“When we are no longer able to change our situation,
we are challenged to change ourselves.”

(This post is inspired by today's LeaderSHIFT session "Leading You" in St. Paul - by the wise and courageous minds in the room. Thank You!)