I’ve had many conversations recently about whether we ever truly change from our inborn “set point.” While I really want to be an optimist and have worked hard at it and often get there, at my core I most often start with pessimism. My husband, as many of you know, starts at optimism. Could he become a pessimist if he really wanted to? Hmmm … probably not. Could he learn pessimism if there was a good reason to do so at times? Most likely. Our set points are just that. Set points but not final points. It all depends upon how important it is we learn to do something against our set point.
I have the honour of working with many talented leaders, and I am struck by how often I say in response to angst ridden questions of what to do about something related to their people, “Why don’t you ask them?” I think the skills of analysis, innovation, risk taking, and execution lead many individual contributors to get promoted to leadership positions and those same skills need to be tamed in order to lead a team. It can be a tough transition to put those skills in the background and bring forward collaboration, reflection, empowerment, and inquiry. I have learned much about this myself this past year in that regard!
When was the last time you were truly uncomfortable in your leading, learning, living? If it has been a while, perhaps it’s time to push yourself a bit more. Incremental learning happens all the time as we interact with others on a daily basis, but if we want to create something new and different in our lives and organizations, it requires some discomfort. And if you find yourself paralyzed by fear, remember that often happens when we stretch ourselves. Take a deep breath, remember it’s part of the process, return to some safer ground, and keep living through the discomfort.
Getting feedback is tough. Being a facilitator/trainer, I’ve had a ton of feedback, mainly through anonymous surveys, about the quality of the work I do. Trying to put those negative pieces of feedback into perspective takes commitment and courage. It’s much easier to spend time figuring out who gave the feedback, but in my experience, this is just a way to avoid learning.
I have just spent some time with my sister and her family and noticed just how timely and specific her feedback is with her children, whether it’s praise or corrective. Why do we lose this as we get older? Just think how many dysfunctional situations could be avoided in the workplace if our feedback lag wasn’t as wide as the Grand Canyon.
I love the work that IDEO does and their suggestion of “fail often to succeed sooner” as a necessary part of innovation. Really embracing the idea is tough, however. Kudos to everyone out there who actually keeps persisting in the face of failure.
We are preparing to debrief a group of leaders about their 360 results and I find the impact, intention concept a powerful one to help them make sense of feedback. We judge ourselves by our intent, but others judge us by the impact we have. Self-aware leaders practise curiosity to understand and close the resulting gap. Great leaders are clear about their intent and ensure their words and actions match that intent.
It’s seductive to slip into the role of “expert” and doing so is dangerous. Soon everyone, including you, frames you as your expertise. When this happens, people stop learning from one another. Resist the urge and remember you are more than your position. Remember to be human. This keeps us in touch and engaged with people.
When I ask people what they find inspiring in leaders, I often hear that they appreciate leaders who are authentic about what they need to learn, and quick to acknowledge the contributions of others. Jim Collins uses the metaphor of looking in the mirror to apportion responsibility and out the window to acknowledge the contributions of others.