In our strategic leadership workshops, we often hear from people some version of “But so and so won’t let me …” or “I’ve complained many times about our company’s … ” or “Our organization is so messed up that …” to which we sometimes say (kindly of course that “Whining is not a strategy.” If you are whining or looking at what is wrong, you cannot see opportunities and will not develop your skills. If, for example, you don’t think you are being provided with enough clarity about your job, instead of continuing to complain about or ask, over and over again, for clarity, ask yourself what you could learn about dealing with ambiguity. That will definitely lead to your next opportunity to learn and grow which is indeed a better strategy than whining!
In today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) work environment, the potential for pain can be high despite the best intentions of good leaders and the actions of misguided or unprepared leaders. Stuff happens, it’s not addressed and people start to carry around a heavy load of pain and frustration.
For me the way through that is an inner journey of forgiveness which sets us free and is completely in our control. Forgiveness is a choice to recognize that those who have hurt us are human, they make mistakes, and that hanging onto our anger and sense of “what’s fair” just keeps us stuck.
Reconciliation, while powerful, is a nice to have but because it involves communication between people is messy and complicated. Often it’s simply not possible because one party isn’t willing to do so. And if you reconcile without forgiveness you live in anticipation of the next “hurt”, an uneasy and fragile space to occupy.
Waiting for an I’m sorry or for someone to hold the offender accountable, or to reconcile with someone who’s not willing or able sucks the life out of us. Forgiveness, while indeed challenging, breathes life into us.
And it is a choice we can make at any time.
When it comes to building or rebuilding trust, there comes a point when someone needs to have the courage to go first, let down their guard and defense mechanisms and be vulnerable. Revealing what is REALLY happening for us creates the opening for trust to be built.
We often get asked “why should I go first?” Because if you don’t, your world becomes smaller and smaller and the one who suffers is you.
Learning to manage anxiety in the presence of silence is another insight from the work of Weisbord and Janoff. As they suggest, “We are mindful that each time we break the silence, we deprive someone of a chance to make a valuable observation.” Waiting even 10 seconds will seem like an eternity, but it allows people to experience whatever is happening and come up with insights about what’s next.
I am a big fan of Weisbord and Janoff, creators of Future Search, and learned much about facilitation when I took their training. Their new book Lead More, Control Less applies their years of experience to leadership, and offers great insights.
One of their concepts is how to handle one’s anxiety when leading meetings. Often we try to rush to solution or tell people what to think. Stating the obvious signals you’ve heard people and actually eases your own anxiety. It also eases anxiety for others. State the obvious and pause. In my experience someone will come up with the next step for the meeting.
I have had the honour of working with many talented leaders who are so people oriented that they drive themselves crazy trying to ensure people are happy. These leaders often have to make tough decisions, though, and it’s not possible for everyone to be happy all the time.
Even though intellectually I think most of these leaders know this, they still keep thinking that if they had done something different, people would be happy.
They won’t be – there is no one right way. That’s the reality of work and life – there is pain at times. Helping everyone accept this might just start to ease people’s suffering.
But more to the point, those of us who have done wine touring know that friendly, warm and passionate tasting room hosts contribute to the “winery effect,” wines that taste fabulous and those you absolutely must buy. When you get home and open those wines, sometimes they are still fabulous and sometimes they are good but not as great as you remember.
The reverse is also true; we have visited a favorite winery, been greeted by a tired and uninterested person and been uninspired by wines we have loved in the past. Vintage aside, who is pouring your wine and what they are doing to make it a great tasting experience makes a huge difference.
This type of customer service cannot be taught; a set of steps to follow does not a good experience make. This type of service must be discovered and is unique to each person.
It occurs to me that the same is true of leadership. As leaders we create experiences and have an effect on others that is way beyond “doing the right things” and all about the discovery of our unique passion as a leader.
What’s your winery effect?
The team had just spent an incredible few days, working hard to understand each other, letting go of past misunderstandings, and setting an inspiring vision and ideal of themselves that had them jazzed about what they could accomplish. I was excited as well, but I had witnessed this energy before only to return for a follow up session and discover the progress wasn’t quite as expected.
So what happens to some teams? They get stuck in the “actuality” of daily organizational life and instead of learning from things that don’t go according to plan, they look for who or what to blame and get stuck there. This judgement (which can also include judging themselves) leads to feeling stuck at best and bad communication, morale, and illness at worst. Judging is a pretty human reaction.
Our other option is to choose learning, where we first take a moment to breathe, then accept the human condition, and bring some curiosity, compassion and humor to the situation. This doesn’t mean we accept bad behaviour or sub par performance. It just means we accept human frailty, that we all make mistakes, and bring a more open energy to learning our way forward.
As an ex-English teacher, I am a huge fan of stories and storytelling. In fact, the name of our company, Calliope Learning, comes from Greek mythology. Callope was the muse of epic poetry, those big grand sweeping, usually tragic stories 🙂
And so combining my love of stories with my recent love of visuals produces something exciting for me. I was very pleased to sit in on Deborah LeFrank’s Visual Life Stories session held at the Victoria Executive Centre last Thursday. Deborah’s talk and actual examples of visual life stories was inspiring and energizing. I love how she is using this process not only to help individuals capture their life story, but also to help organizations tell their story. To me, this is a powerful way of capturing your culture and brand, and helping your customers connect to it. Can you imagine how we would engage people if our annual reports were a visual story?