Turn Resolutions into Meaningful Goals

Peak Performance

Cornerstone Global Training & Performance Solutions: Peak Performance Digest

 

 

 

Men (and women) should pledge themselves to nothing;
for reflection makes a liar of their resolution. -Sophocles

 

Sophocles appears to have had a dim view of resolutions. Your own performance may attest to his observation…the commitment to join the gym in January that lasts until February, followed by months of guilt. Our good intentions give way to old habits more quickly than it took to eat that “just one more” Christmas treat!

A new year seems to be a perfect time for a fresh start. As we pin up a new calendar on the wall with no history of missed opportunity, 365 empty boxes that represent all that is possible, we optimistically say, “this year is going to be different.”

Resolving to improve ourselves and our circumstances is hardwired in to the human experience. But often the behaviors and beliefs that keep us back are deep-rooted and unconscious. That includes how we lead ourselves and others as well as how we manage our work.

So what do we do when we want to improve but are reluctant to make resolutions? Follow these three steps to create meaningful goals that have a higher chance of success than a simple “resolution.”

  1. Narrow your focus. When goals are fuzzy, or we have too many of them, they quickly become overwhelming. Make a list of what you want to improve or accomplish and prioritize it . Chose 1-2 to start with, and wait until you have momentum and some success before adding another goal.
  2. Gather information. Take some time to research and reflect. Chances are you have some knowledge of your areas of improvement or accomplishment, but could probably benefit from some expert knowledge.
  3. Do something! Waiting for perfect conditions tends to stall us before we even get started. Break your goals into manageable chunks and milestones and give yourself credit for small wins. Don’t get discouraged when you backslide on your mission – acknowledge it, retool, and get back at it!

What To Do When Your Organization’s Culture Sucks

You may be compelled to stay with your company because the pay is good, the work itself is rewarding, or your peers are like family. But the organization culture is mediocre, at best. What do you do when the organization’s culture sucks, but the reasons to stay outweigh the motivation to move on?

I’ve been in this scenario many times: managers who fail to walk the talk, inane policies that defy logic, and practices that thwart progress at every turn. But along the way I’ve learned some lessons about what it takes to survive – even thrive – a company culture that seems to get more wrong than right when it comes to empowering people to contribute to the organization’s success.

10 Traits of Sucky Cultures (in no particular order)

  1. Lack of leadership accountability
  2. Emphasis on maintaining the status quo
  3. Undefined processes
  4. No opportunity to participate in decisions
  5. One size fits all solutions
  6. Command and control management
  7. No support for professional development
  8. Unclear expectations & mixed messages
  9. Undervaluing in-house expertise & insights
  10. Thinking only about the bottom line

Create an Island of Health in a Sea of Bad Culture

So many quips and quotes come to mind as I think about advice for carving out a little slice of heaven in the midst of organizational Hades:

“If it’s going to be, it’s up to me.”

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

I’m sure you can picture a hallway in your organization filled with motivational posters collecting dust. They are artwork, at some level, but certainly not beacons of inspiration that the purchasers envisioned. There used to be a Successories store in every major mall in America, but the platitudes and pictures of teams high-fiving and individuals scaling summits were so far from reality that they subconsciously demotivated us.

So what do I do if I’m committed to my job but am in an environment that brings me down? How do I keep going when the organization is doing so much to stop me from progress? Here are five recommendations for creating your island of health in a sea of bad culture:

  1. Know what you can do – and know your limits. Understanding your boundaries will help you adjust your mindset and not become overwhelmed by all that could and should be fixed. You may have no authority or power to fix policies, but you may be able to put some order to your world that makes things easier to manage. At the same time, be aware of signs that workplace stress is taking a toll on your health. No matter the benefits/reasons for staying with the company, when your health takes a hit, it’s time to walk.
  1. Become a stealth influencer. It’s amazing what you can do when you go undercover to influence up and down the org chart. Covert operations allow you to make recommendations and suggest improvements subtly, little-by-little. You may also benefit from piloting tweaks to processes and practices, sharing your positive outcomes after the fact. True, you probably won’t get recognition for your brilliant ideas, but your workplace will be better, which is more important.
  1. Bring others with you. You don’t have to be stranded alone on that desert island – bring someone with you! Band together with others who are committed to their jobs and want to see the organization culture improve. Partnership alone can do wonders for your job satisfaction! And even if you can’t make a cultural breakthrough, having a colleague to commiserate with will get you through hard days. Commit to being a mutual encouragement to one another.
  1. Be a burr with a sense of humor. Identify a few things that are worth fighting for and be the burr under the saddle of those who are in positions to do something about it. This is probably the most challenging of the five recommendations, since it takes an ability to pester without being labeled a pest. You don’t want to lose your influence, but you don’t want the door slammed in your face either. The key here is to have a sense of humor. If you present every opportunity as an urgent crisis you’ll not be heard (like the boy who cried “wolf!”.
  1. Celebrate successes, however small. Yes, it may be a “party of one,” but do take the time to recognize when your efforts have been successful. Whether it’s a grin as you leave your boss’s office with a new inch of ground, or a more tangible celebration (like cake!), it is important to your psychological well-being and continued motivation to reward yourself when progress is made.

There are plenty of articles and books, and consultants like myself who are available to assist leaders in creating positive workplace cultures, but if your executive team has yet to crack open any of Edgar Schein’s great works on designing culture perhaps the advice above will keep you engaged in the meantime. Or you might want to pick up a copy of one of these books and initiate a “lunch & learn” to talk about what might be done to create a great workplace culture!

By Edgar Schein:

The Corporate Culture Survival Guide, 2009

Organizational Culture and Leadership, 2010 ed.

By Others:

Diagnosing and Changing Organizational Culture (Cameron & Quinn), 2011

Organizational Traps: Leadership, Culture & Organizational Design (Argyris), 2012

(Order below from the CreativeGapMinding Bookstore):

      

PLEASE MIND THE GAP

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If you’ve ever been to London and traveled on the tube (underground subway) you’ve heard the phrase “please mind the gap between the train and the platform.”  It’s a reminder that there is either some separation or a step up or down that could trip you up and cause harm.

I chose this ubiquitous phrase as the theme for my blog on performance management (www.CreativeGapMinding.com) because it’s a fitting reminder that there is often a gap between what we are currently experiencing and what is possible, and that there are dangers to not minding these gaps.

KNOWING THE GAPS

Minding the gap means not just watching for the dangers, but preparing for them…minding them. Minding a gap means proactively keeping it before us and not haphazardly walking through the terrain of our workplaces.  Mindfulness is a choice to open our eyes to what’s happening around us – to take everything in consciously and with a determination to remove the blinders that so often keep us from the levels of success that are possible.

A gap is anything that could get in the way of achieving goals; missed opportunities, unrecognized threats, inefficiencies that create waste.

TOOLS FOR MINDING THE GAPS

There are countless tools that help identify gaps. Here’s a handful that I like to use…

1.   SWOT Analysis: The SWOT is a tried-and-true tool used around the globe. Even a cursory use of a SWOT can identify things that should be considered. The SWOT’s four quadrants: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, can lead to further exploration of gaps that exist, either in a positive sense (Strengths/Opportunities), or n a cautionary sense (Weaknesses/Threats).

2.   Five Why’s: Another simple tool is Five Why’s, which seeks to get to root causes of issues. Start with the surface symptom that reveals a missed opportunity or shortfall, then keep asking why that behavior or condition exists until you’ve discovered the source(s) of the gap.

3.   Root Cause of Success Analysis: We are used to looking for the root causes of problems, but rarely take time to consider the actions and decisions that lead to success. Take the fishbone (Ishikawa) diagram, and instead of starting with a problem statement, begin with an identified success. Identify all of the systemic factors (people, technology, policies, management, etc) that contributed to the success. You may identify gaps or opportunities that will take things to the next level.

4.   Appreciative Questioning/Future Search. Appreciative Inquiry and Future Search are similar tools that build on organizational strengths and successes and uses positive questions to imagine the desired future together. Getting representation from all stakeholder groups to contribute stories of when they have felt empowered and engaged in the organization unlocks a powerful dialogue that uncovers opportunities and addresses unseen gaps between stakeholder groups.

 

Become a gap-minder by focusing on the difference between today’s reality – those things that you know could be better – and what is possible. Many companies find themselves dinged up from their lack of minding the gaps, but paying attention to the risks and possibilities before you trip can mean higher levels of success and a more engaged and satisfied work culture.

   

Powers of Observation, Maybe Not So Elementary…But Essential!

‘You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.’ Sherlock Holmes -A Scandal in Bohemia

I was in line at Starbucks one morning and witnessed a team of Starbucks execs talking about the store. My guess is that it was a regional manager working with a couple of new store managers. The leader asked his colleagues “what do you see?” Over the next several minutes his colleagues identified several things that stood out as either positive or negative. One saw display racks that were in need of attention, another noticed the rapport of the drive-thru attendant. Over the course of about 5 minutes a whole list was generated.

I am a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes, and especially enjoy the BBC’s modern-day adaptations of familiar Holmes & Watson cases and the new CBS series Elementary. Although fictional, Sherlock Holmes makes me think. I wonder what clues are right in front of me that I miss for lack of keen observation. Short of carrying around a magnifying glass and a handy side-kick, what can I do to hone my powers of observation to solve perplexing riddles in my workplace?

Our powers of observation seem a bit rusty these days. With smartphones stuck in our palms we barely look up to see where we are going, much less what is really happening around us. We enter the workplace and often go straight to another screen. In meetings we multitask and doodle, missing the world of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors that could unleash piles of possibility.

We need to learn to look beyond the headline, below the surface, behind the curtain. We need to develop our powers of observation and become active participants in the world around us. We need to become performance sleuths, investigators of management mysteries, and hounds on the trail of opportunity.

Here are a few ideas to prime the pump of observation:

  1. Stop. When you enter a room or start on a task, pause for a minute and look around. What do you see? Who is there and what mood do you sense? What are the artifacts that define the space and set the tone? What clues, warnings, or heralds of hope are present in the room?
  2. Use your five senses. We initially take in information using the senses of taste, smell, sight, sound, and touch. Go through the senses and take note of things that come to mind. Maybe you can’t identify something for all five senses, but try. The process may unlock new ways of seeing things.
  3. Tap into intuition. Beyond our senses lies intuition, that internal feeling that is wrapped in emotion and potential. While our senses tell us what is, our intuition tells us what might be, what could be. As you observe your surroundings, relationships, and patterns of behavior, listen to your “sixth sense” that wants you to consider something more abstract.
  4. Look for patterns. As you go about your day, write down your routine. What habits are present? What do you do without thinking? What patterns exist in your interactions with others?
  5. Shift. Try doing something different and notice how you and those around you react. Is the shift embraced or resisted? Does it lead to further observations about how engrained behaviors and mindsets have led to particular outcomes?
  6. Ask Questions. Dig beneath the surface. Ask new questions – ones that haven’t been asked before. Think like a detective, but with a positive spin. Look for areas where things are better than expected and ask, “how did we get here? How did this great thing happen?”
  7. Lead others. As you gain experience in picking up clues, identifying limiting behaviors, and seeing new possibilities, teach others to do the same. See what happens when you start a meeting by asking everyone to identify what they see.

I secretly long to be like Sherlock Holmes, without the peculiarly irritating personality quirks. I want to solve cases that have perplexed and debilitated organizations. Professor Moriarty is Holmes’ nemesis – the equally smart mastermind who keeps the sleuth on his toes. Moriarty is the deviant to Holmes’ positive deviance. While not always personified, and typically not intentional, our workplaces are staffed with Moriarty’s and we must develop our powers of observation to expose and eradicate them.

Sherlock Holmes

Investment-Based Performance Improvement

I am a certified performance technologist (CPT). What in the world does that mean? According to the International Society for Performance Improvement, a CPT has proven the ability to apply the ten competencies of human performance improvement in a way that makes a positive performance difference to an organization. Don’t worry, this post is not going to be a shameless self-promotion. I want to focus on my approach to performance improvement and how I’ve shifted my focus from ambition to investment.

First, an overview of the competencies of human performance improvement (HPI):

The 10 Standards of Performance Technology, which are based on four principles and following a systematic process to improve performance, ensure that the Certified Performance Technologist has conducted his or her work in a manner that includes the following:

  • Focus on results and help clients focus on results.
  • Look at situations systemically taking into consideration the larger context including competing pressures, resource constraints, and anticipated change.
  • Add value in how you do the work and through the work itself.
  • Utilize partnerships or collaborate with clients and other experts as required.
  • Systematic assessment of the need or opportunity.
  • Systematic analysis of the work and workplace to identify the cause or factors that      limit performance.
  • Systematic design of the solution or specification of the requirements of the      solution.
  • Systematic development of all or some of the solution and its elements.
  • Systematic implementation of the solution.
  • Systematic evaluation of the process and the results.

Performance improvement, when done with these standards in mind, can be a powerful tool in any organization.  Any time an individual or work group applies a systematic, intentional process to making things better, the results can be like compounding interest in a savings account, leading to great gains over time. The practice of performance technology is a focused effort to innovate solutions to systemic challenges.

Why Your Approach to Performance Improvement Matters

I want to contrast ambition-based performance improvement and investment-based performance improvement.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary gives three definitions for Ambition:

  1. an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power b: desire to achieve a particular end
  2. the object of ambition <her ambition is to start her own business>
  3. a desire for activity or exertion <felt sick and had no ambition>

All of these uses of the word ambition center around an individual trying to get his or her way. Ambition is self-promoting. The original usage applied to those going around town to solicit votes for election. So if I initiate a performance improvement effort from an ambitious mindset, I am first looking at my own rank, power, and ability to influence others to my way of thinking.

Investing, on the other hand, focuses on what I can give to another, making them the center of attention rather than myself. Here’s what Merriam-Webster provides as definitions for Invest:

  1. [Medieval Latin investire, from Latin, to clothe] a: to array in the symbols of office or honor b: to furnish with power or authority c: to grant someone control or authority over : vest
  2. to cover completely : envelop
  3. clothe, adorn
  4. [Middle French investir, from Old Italian investire, from Latin, to surround]: to surround with troops or ships so as to prevent escape or entry
  5. to endow with a quality : infuse

I like the picture that we get from the first usage above: to array in the symbols of office or honor. It ties to the idea of empowerment and equipping people with the tools and structures to succeed in their work. I am a strong believer in servant leadership, which fits perfectly with an investment-based performance improvement methodology.

Investment-based performance improvement has four distinct characteristics:

  1. Humility
  2. Humor
  3. Harmony
  4. Honor

These 4 H’s, when used in conjunction with the competencies of performance technology, create an environment where individuals work collectively for the good of the organization while building one another up.

Let’s take a look at each of the characteristics.

Humility.

We don’t talk much about humility in the workplace. Our western culture views humility as a weakness, something that gets in the way of ambition. Many view humility as unrealistic in the cut-throat world of the marketplace where it’s “eat or be eaten.” But humility is making a resurgence in the marketplace. Good guys (and gals) really can finish first.

Humility breaks down barriers of communication, disarms individuals from protecting their territory, and allows us to listen. When we are driven by ambition, we cannot hear what is being said because we are always looking to promote ourselves and our solutions. But with humility I can truly listen, truly desire to hear, and see where the insight emerges, even if it doesn’t originate with me.

Humor.

It may seem odd to make humor a characteristic of investing, but it makes such a big difference that it warrants an honored place as an essential element in working with others toward common goals. When I say humor, I am not talking about sarcasm, jokes, or laughing at the mistakes or shortcomings of others. Instead, humor as an investment gives us perspective. It is the ability to look at a ridiculous situation and see it as it is – a case of human reality at its finest and most sublime.

Many of us have lost our sense of humor in the workplace. We have become cynics or comics, but have no good humor that allows things to slide. We are quickly offended, proud of our fast retorts, and use humor to tear others down to make ourselves look better. But humor as an investment intentionally laughs at challenges, sees the irony and chooses to smile instead of lash out, and promotes light-heartedness over criticism or caustic remarks.

Harmony.

Harmony embraces diversity, especially cognitive diversity where we bring together different perspectives, unique insights, and approaches to situations that may be foreign to our own experience or preference. Harmony as a performance investment looks to blend ideas from multiple sources into one beautiful arrangement that is infinitely more than anyone single individual could accomplish.

To create a harmonious workplace requires that we look at each individual and learn to appreciate what they bring to the party. We have a tendency within our human nature to look for homogeneity – we immediately seek out those who are like us. It makes us feel comfortable, part of the group. But diversity is all around us, and we must promote harmony through building rapport with those who see things differently, looking for areas of agreement, but mostly striving to appreciate their point of view and working to integrate the best from all sources.

Honor.

The final characteristic of investment-based performance improvement is honor. Honor and harmony are kindred spirits, since honoring someone can lead to harmony. But I keep honor as a distinct characteristic because of its importance as a mindset toward other people. Honor has to do with “a showing of usually merited respect.” When we honor someone, we hold them in high regard. We see them as a person of value, worthy of investment.

In another sense of the word, we consider it an honor to work with certain people, or to be recognized by them. When it comes to investing in someone else, to make their ability to perform at their peak level, we should consider it an honor. That person may be on a different level in a corporate hierarchy, but if we choose to see it as a privilege to assist them in their success, our ambition takes a back seat.

Investment-based performance improvement, using the 4 H’s as the philosophical starting point, sparks a positive change in the workplace. Whether a certified performance technologist, a supervisor working with a team of customer service reps, or vice president of national sales, you are making an investment in the lives of others. Ambition has its place, but when our ambition centers on our own power, glory, and advancement we quickly become blind to how investing in the performance of others raises all of us to a higher level. When you raise others up, you go a little higher yourself, but then you realize that isn’t really what it’s all about after all.

For more about Human Performance Technology and the Certified Performance Technologist designation, visit the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI). If you decide to join, make sure you list me as the one who referred you!

Tai Chi, Aikido and the Art of Managing Change

A Woman does tai chi.

A Woman does tai chi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the Temple of Heaven as our backdrop and surrounded by tourists and locals filing by on their way to the ancient attractions, our group learned a Tai Chi routine in the middle of a walkway with the buzz of the vast city around us. It was a surreal experience.

I was traveling with a group of university students who were in the China for a month to learn about Chinese business practices. The contrast between the chaotic setting of noisy, polluted and over-crowded Beijing and the tranquility of tai chi provides a fitting metaphor for organizational life.

If you’re not familiar with Tai Chi, the focus is on calmness and is a good way to manage stress. The Japanese version of Tai Chi is Aikido, which emphasizes redirecting of energy rather than attack. Aikido also adds in elements of Judo. The principles of Aikido include acknowledging what is coming toward you, accepting the current reality, and redirecting the energy away from bodily harm.  The benefits of both of these martial arts forms can be realized without the religious attachments associated with them.

I was certainly not a quick learner of Tai Chi, but appreciate the mental focus and athletic control it takes to master this beautiful art form. And I appreciate the metaphor that helps me better understand the possibility of peace in the midst of chaos, the ability to turn off the noise around me to focus on what I can do to manage my situation – to redirect my energy toward something useful.

The three principles of Aikido provide a positive framework from which to manage change, whether personal, organizational or cultural.

Acknowledge: We cannot live in denial. Change is all around us and often comes when it is least convenient, causing disruption to our current state. It is important to acknowledge that change is inevitable and to acknowledge that we seldom have much say in the changes that come at us.

Accept: We accept that the change is upon us. This is where choice comes into play. We can put up our defenses, bury our heads in the sand, or start swinging. We don’t accept the outcome of the change, but we accept that the change is taking place and that we have to decide our response. We accept responsibility for how we react. It is in these moments of choice that our character is shaped.

Redirect: In Aikido, the energy that is coming toward the attacked person is redirected, not resisted. As change comes toward us, we can either try to block it, or take it and redirect our thinking, our posture, and our practices toward something useful and positive. Redirecting doesn’t mean we stand by passively.  Instead, we look for ways to adjust, and by choosing this course we set a constructive tone for ourselves and those we influence.

Recommended Reading:

HBR's 10 Must Reads on Change Management (including featured article 'Leading Change,' by John P. Kotter)

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World Revised

In the Midwest? Join the Omaha Organization Development Network on Sept. 26th for a conference featuring Meg Wheatley. For more information, visit the Omaha OD Network site.

Here We Go Loopty Loop: Learning Through Introspection

Double-loop earning

Chris Argyris says, “People consistently act inconsistently, unaware of the contradiction between… the way they think they are acting and they way the really act.” This is the basis for Minding the Gap, my blog that strives to uncover what we say we want from the way we actually behave.

Evaluation is happening all around us in the workplace. We look for feedback on programs, conduct “lessons learned” meetings at the end of a project, and complete annual performance appraisals all in an attempt to determine if we are on track and identify what we can do better next time.

But when it comes to self-evaluation, looking within to see how we may have contributed to any missed opportunities, or even a complete derailment of a project, we suddenly get defensive. Argyris says this tendency is especially prevalent amid highly successful smart people. Success leads to an inability to objectively scrutinize where we may be in error. He says,

Because many professionals are almost always successful at what they do, they rarely experience failure. And because they have rarely failed, they have never learned how to learn from failure.

Argyris identifies two types of learning:

Single-loop: One-dimensional learning that provides a response based on the undesired action. For instance, a thermostat kicks in when the temperature falls below the desired (set) temperature.

Double-loop: Reflective learning where people evaluate why something went wrong. It is a root cause analysis that includes introspection.

And others have gone on to identify a third loop, which Argyris was sceptical about:

Triple-loop: Described as “double loop learning about double loop learning,” this type of learning seeks to understand the learning process itself and about our beliefs and perceptions.

To be truly introspective, to discover why we may be contributing to a problem and admit our own mistakes, takes a huge dose of vulnerability and humility. This is why it is so difficult for successful people – they don’t want to look foolish. It’s much easier (safer) to analyze the external reasons for something going wrong than to ‘fess up to our contributions.

Argyris suggests the best place to start to develop double-loop learning is through simple case studies. Here’s what it might look like:

  1. Identify a persistent issue – a real problem that needs to be dealt with.
  2. In 1-2 paragraphs, describe the situation.
  3. Write out a script of how you might discuss the situation with other stakeholders (employees, co-workers, bosses, etc.).
  4. Write out any thoughts or feelings you will likely have about others’ responses.
  5. Now you’re ready to analyze the issue and include stakeholders in the discussion.

Some things that may be discussed are group dynamics, priorities, blind spots, roles & responsibilities, and other factors that sometimes limit our ability to objectively evaluate your own behavior and biases. Introspection is not always pleasant. We like the idea of being reflective, but only when we see our overly-optimistic view of ourselves. When our motivations, limits and contributions look ugly, we want to quickly gloss over them. Having a humble and teachable spirit, an ability to see the truth about who we are but not letting that truth overwhelm and discourage us, is the key to learning the way Argyris describes it.  

Suggested Reading:

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Be the Change

Gandhi during the Salt March, March 1930. Fran...

Gandhi during the Salt March, March 1930. Français : Gandhi pendant la Marche du Sel, mars 1930. मराठी: महात्मा गांधी दांडी यात्रेत. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am a quote-collector. I have a database of hundreds of quotes that I’ve collected over the years: everything from pithy statements about life, profound thoughts on leadership, and inspiring words that reflect truth in a compelling way. It amazes me how putting the right words in the right order make a message quotable. Some seem to have the gift of saying really insightful nuggets of wisdom in just the right way – our attention is aroused and we compelled to write the statement down…or more likely copy/paste.

Probably one of the most popular quotes of our age is

“be the change you wish to see in the world,”

spoken by Mahatma Gandhi. It’s a good one! They are deep words that call us to action – we can’t just wish change to happen, we have to put ourselves into it. And we know that Gandhi did just that, ultimately losing his life because of the changes he wished to bring about.

What is powerful about this quote is that we can apply it immediately in small ways within our own worlds, as well as in large ways by initiating or joining large-scale change efforts.

“Be the change” applies to the workplace, the family, the community, and the global stage.

  • I can be the change in my home – setting an example of healthy communication that can have a positive impact for generations to come. 
  • I can be the change in my workplace – instilling high ethical principles into my decision-making that build trust, collaboration, and progress.
  • I can be the change in my community – by getting involved in service projects and actively supporting associations that make a positive impact.
  • And on the global level, I can be the change by becoming a citizen of the world – someone who learns about other cultures and joins causes that raise people out of poverty and hopelessness.

Once you know your values and passions you can begin to look for opportunities. How can I be the change in my dysfunctional family? What new traditions can I create? What new ways of talking and behaving can I initiate to begin building the legacy I want to leave? Go through this same exercise for your workplace, church, places where you volunteer and places you read about. A great resource to help you with your values inventory is The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes & Posner.

Another quote that is humorous while at the same time profound is, “If nothing changes, nothing changes. Think about it!”

Why Would You Want to Be the Devil’s Advocate?

Imagine you’ve just pitched a great idea to your colleagues and boss. You’ve made great points, showed data to back up your recommendations, and are sure you’ve wowed the group with your amazing solution to the problem du jour. Then inevitably the colleague you knew would oppose whatever you present raises his hand and says, “I just want to be the devil’s advocate here. What about…?” You let out a controlled sigh and concentrate to hold your eyeballs in place so no one will see the eye roll you’re imagining in your mind.

So what’s the deal with this guy? Why always the devil’s advocate role for him? Does the devil really need an advocate? Maybe a more honest statement would be, “Now I’m going to criticize your idea because I don’t like it.” The devil’s advocate isn’t looking for ways to implement your idea; they’re looking for ways to prove why it doesn’t work.

When we take on this role, and we’ve all worn the badge in some meeting along the way, we shut down any meaningful dialogue and create sides. What motivates us to squash someone else’s idea? Fear of change? Envy and resentment because it wasn’t your idea?

Those who are naturally critical may think they’re doing the group a favor by challenging every suggestion, no matter how well thought out and viable. This cat-and-mouse game is seen as sport, but in reality more harm is done than good. The mouse rarely survives the claws of the cat.

What would happen if the devil’s advocate role was banned from our conference rooms? What if instead we started saying “yes, and…” when we hear a new idea.  With an attitude that says, “how can we make this work?” we can change the dialogue to something more productive and affirming. Instead of people being put on the defensive, fighting against the devil, we would encourage idea generation and look for ways to perfect the proposal or clarify points.

Does this sound too altruistic? Too soft? Are you wondering who is going to challenge all of the half-baked ideas pitched in meetings? Maybe your worry and need to challenge others’ ideas is an opportunity to evaluate your own motives.

Throwing away ideas too soon is like opening a package of flower seeds and then throwing them away because they’re not pretty.

Use the same energy you put into being the devil’s advocate into advocating the ideas of your colleagues. The positive transformation will empower you and others to make things possible, to uncover potential, and to co-create the future.

Assuring Constancy Amidst Constant Change

Ruth Graham writes,

“It is difficult to trust things that change. Trust is built on the assurance of constancy.”

It’s almost cliché to say that we live in times of constant change – we know more change than we do steadiness. Fourth generation (4G) mobile technology is being released and I didn’t even know there was such a thing as generations of technology! The iPod was launched in 2001 and is in its 6th generation, meaning that the technology is waaaayyyy better today than it was in 2001, right?

Besides technology, we see change everywhere around us. Egypt is in the midst of a chaotic change to its political system as individuals take to the streets demanding to be heard. Companies have had to react to economic changes, forcing some to shut their doors for good, others to lay off scores of workers, while others took the opportunity to reinvent themselves to survive and thrive rather than fall victim of the recession.

So what is a leader to do when followers are looking for an anchor when change is swirling around them? The simple answer is character.

The leader who forgets that people are looking for stability will soon find their followers stopped in their tracks, unable to move forward because uncertainty has paralyzed them.

This disengagement occurs when leaders put forward momentum before relationships and miss opportunities to assure stability of character despite uncertainty and shifting priorities within the organization. I worked for a company that had three CEOs in less than five years and a new one was just coming in the door when I was leaving. Each executive had his own agenda, which meant no one knew from one year to the next what was going to happen to their job. It didn’t help that this company has a reputation for regular layoffs, so the level of uncertainty was magnified and pandemonium reigned. People put in their time, but politics and turf wars prevented the organization from thriving.

But there were some managers who did especially well even in this tumultuous climate. Leaders were often in the same boat as their followers however, I witnessed a couple of outliers who managed to maintain the trust of their team even though the future was uncertain. These leaders demonstrated constancy of character in the following ways:

  1. Transparency. The leaders who were best at creating constancy amidst change were honest and open. They shared their own concerns and frustrations in a way that promoted dialogue without promising anything beyond what they could commit to. They didn’t pretend and they didn’t ignore the issues, but faced them plainly and honestly.
  2. Positivity. Those leaders who could keep a proper perspective helped their followers to do the same. Positivity in the middle of uncertainty is challenging, but I saw leaders who could communicate with a long-term vision and foster a sense of “everything is going to be alright” amongst their teams. They remind people that change can be good and that even if we don’t initially like the outcome we will adapt, learn, or find something that fits us better in the long run.
  3. Reliability. Leaders who avoided jumping on the bandwagon of rumor, second-guessing, and chasing scape-goats provide an anchor for followers, a positive example of reliability and duty that strengthens the group. The reliable leader listens well but doesn’t allow finger-pointing or back-stabbing. This sends a message that the leader can be trusted and a calm in the storm.

Assuring constancy amidst constant change is a critical skill for leaders to develop in our fast-paced world.

The first century Greek philosopher Epictetus, in The Art of Living, says, “To live a life of virtue, you have to become consistent, even when it isn’t convenient, comfortable, or easy.”

Virtuous leaders who develop the consistent character traits of transparency, positivity and reliability when it is inconvenient and difficult, find that they are boosted by the support of faithful followers. This mutual partnership can withstand constant change in circumstances because it runs deeper than the external chaos in which it operates.