Openness is Contagious

Years ago, I provided team coaching to an executive team of a manufacturing company based in Wisconsin.  Our meetings were early mornings. I could predict the energy and openness of the team based on the score of the Green Bay Packer game the day before. If the team was winning, as it mostly did at the time, the leadership team members were more positive about creating new solutions and working together. If the team lost, we had to spend more time creating an open environment for the leadership team dialogue.

We all have experienced this phenomenon. A colleague shared that people seemed to have a skip in their walk and a friendly smile for one another in Charlottesville after UVA won the 2019 NCAA basketball championship.  It seemed like the whole town shared this positive optimism. Not only is it Virginia’s first championship but the victory is particularly sweet after their close loss last year. The coach and players claim that the loss brought them closer together to achieve this win.

We not only need to check in to ensure that we are open and that those we interact with feel safe and open but it is important to ensure that we work to support a positive and open environment. After the UVA win, colleagues in workplaces seemed more open and forgiving of one another when they were fighting about an issue the day before. Again, a very different experience in the workplace than when there was tension during a previous rally in the city.

An abundance of research emphasizes the importance of creating an environment of openness, safety and trust.

Ask, how open is the environment? What can I do to support openness?  Pay attention to the environment or context as much as the content or your words.

Listen to Connect Not Correct

Drawing by Ann Van Eron

What is he thinking? What a terrible idea! Does he see how he is going to hurt the staff and the company?” This is what Trish told me she was thinking as her boss shared a new idea that he thought would save money and address a big problem.

Trish had immediately told her boss why the idea would not work. She was surprised that he could not see the foolishness of his solution.  Unfortunately, Trish was not successful in influencing her boss to consider other options and in addition, their relationship soured.

What happened? Trish immediately identified what she believed was wrong with her manager’s idea and began arguing her point of view. She did what we all do often. We focus on correcting or rejecting an idea before we ensure that we are listening fully and connecting with the person speaking. We need to manage ourselves and make sure we understand that the other person is saying and also identify how they are feeling by providing empathy. For example, Trish could have said, “You are concerned about the problem and believe this solution will address the challenge and address the budget deficit too.”  Her boss would have felt heard and been more open to a conversation. Because he felt judged he became closed to a genuine conversation of exploring options and also became closed to Trish.

Notice your response when you hear ideas you don’t agree with (give yourself empathy) and stop and shift to being curious and open. Focus on listening more intently, share what you have heard, give empathy and be open to learning more.

Are You Willing for It to be Easy?

Many of us these days are overwhelmed. Organizations are going through multiple changes. The technology keeps requiring more learning even when its purpose is to make things go more smoothly and efficiently. We feel we have more and more things to do to keep up.

I recall working with a group trying to solve a challenge and someone asked, “What if it were easy?”  Everyone stopped. This option had not been considered. In fact, there was a simple solution and a lot of effort could be eliminated.

We are creatures of habit and it is hard to stop doing things that we think “should” be done.  When I ask teams to consider what to stop doing, there are often blank faces. Of course, sometimes people are worried about job security and other times we don’t consider other options. One team I worked with was able to reduce over 50 major projects the company was working on down to six. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief at the end of the meeting. The leadership team was aligned and had a process to monitor 6 initiatives. They had more confidence and increased market share after making it easier.

A small business owner was spending a lot of time and money trying to market the company’s offerings. They had multiple ways of marketing. When they considered how to make it easy, they realized that most of their work was coming from referrals. By focusing on communicating with a small number of people, they saved time and energy and had greater results. In fact, it became easy.

Ask yourself, “Am I willing for it to be easy?”  Then expect an easier option. Examine your current “should” and look for what you can reduce or change to make things easier.

What is Your Aspiration?

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Be the change you wish to see in the world. — Gandhi

Our language influences how we interpret and experience things. I purposely first ask people their aspirations rather than their goals or expectations.  A different part of the brain is activated when we are envisioning. We are more open and see more possibilities. Then, there is a place for clarifying goals and the next actions to move toward the aspiration.

Emotions are contagious and it is easy to feel anxious and want to rush to solutions. Often in conversations, we jump to solutions before fully listening. We push ourselves and others to commit to action for results. In fact, many of us seem wired for action and we certainly have been rewarded in the workplace for committing to action.  As a coach and team facilitator, I work to stay open and inspire people to dream of what is possible. By my questions and presence with clients, the space is set for such dreaming.

I realize that I do not always hold this same space with myself or my teenage daughter. My own worry about her succeeding can make me jump to proposed actions. “How is your studying going? What are you doing for your college applications?”  She does not feel my positive affirmation in these moments. In fact, I do have positive aspirations for her but my own worry and push for action can get in the way. I regret that I have missed opportunities with her the way leaders I coach have missed opportunities for connecting and envisioning with their teams.

When I worked with a leadership team that was experiencing challenges in the marketplace, I was able to share my excitement about what is possible for the organization and encourage them to dream of what they could co-create. They joined together to create a compelling vision and they also left with concrete priorities and actions.  Each leader agreed to carry the excitement and questions about what could be possible back to their teams. After a few days, the whole energy of the organization was lifted and new possibilities emerged. It is amazing to see the transformation when we are reflecting on our aspirations of what is possible rather than what is not going well and what we don’t want.

Be sure to give yourself space to reflect on what you most aspire and to connect with what brings you meaning. Then identify goals and next steps. Also, be an inspiration for others and engage them in dialogue about what is possible. This kind of conversation is needed more than ever these days when it is so easy for people to feel disheartened and out of control.

What is Your Urgent Need for Transformation?

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What’s wrong with these people?  Don’t they see the stock price is tanking? How do I get people to move? How do we turn this ship around? Will we make it?

Often leaders are frustrated when they sense that things are not moving fast enough or that there is not enough energy to create lasting change. How do they enhance the co-creation and action for results?

They often try to instill urgency by making staff changes. However, this can create more fear and uncertainty rather than engendering co-creation and collaboration. Other times, leaders resort to platitudes such as “the train is leaving, get on or off now.” Again, while these statements may promote short-term compliance, they do not seem to sustain commitment and action.

The challenge is that leaders generally are seeing things from a different perspective and need to engage in open-minded conversations with their teams.  A leader needs to clearly share the urgent need for transformation while understanding the needs of team members.

I have worked with many leaders who have been able to share their view and listen to the perspectives of their colleagues and then create shared meaning and a vision that inspires action for change. The value of taking some time for real conversation cannot be overestimated. Unfortunately, some feel they are too busy to engage in these essential and transformational conversations.

When all the voices are heard (initially through pre-meeting interviews) and a respectful and open environment is created, the urgency and focus emerges. An honest dialogue about the current situation and needs, without making people wrong, provides space to imagine what is possible. You can engage people to create a shared vision and a concrete plan for action. The powerful energy available when a shared sense of meaning is created is inspiring. The team can tap into a creative energy for change and then there is urgency and the excitement of working collectively for a shared goal. Rather than getting on the train, the team is forging a new path together with all the energy of experienced hikers and they bring along the rest of the organization. Mobilizing such energy is what makes being a leader and a part of an organization exciting.

After working with a leadership team to align around a shared vision the leader shared that a senior hire candidate indicated that he was excited to see the alignment of the senior team and wanted to join in the exciting venture. They had not been able to hire for the critical position before the team had engaged in open-minded dialogue and co-created a shared plan to urgently create changes in their business. Their energy and excitement after facilitated dialogue was contagious and extended throughout the organization. There is nothing like the power of engaged hearts and minds tapping into creativity. The results followed.

We love supporting leaders in deepening their ability to do this. It’s fun and rewarding for everyone. One way we support leaders with this is in working with them to create a Transformational Leadership Retreat. We’d love you to join us at our next seminar, in which we share the 6-question coaching model we use for leaders and their teams.

Creating urgency and powerful meaning is one of the topics we discuss in Use Your Next Leadership Retreat to Launch a Transformation: Learn the Process September 24 from 12 – 4:30 at the Catalyst Ranch in Chicago. Learn more here.

Jackie Sloane and Ann Van Eron are seasoned executive coaches, and work together with leaders to create transformational interventions and retreats for public sector, corporate, privately-held and not-for-profit entities.

The Power of Co-Creating

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The 3 C’s of modern creativity are Community, Crowdsourcing and Co-Creation.” —Jon Wilkin

“Don’t tell me what to do. I won’t listen.” As the mother of a teenager, I have learned first-hand how telling her what to do generally does not work well. I admit that I have continued to try the method.  Leaders I coach attest to the same experience. No one wants to be told what to do. If people do comply, they often fail to engage fully and bring their creativity and energy. We all know that to succeed in the current VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environment of disruption, we need engagement and commitment.

Engagement has been tracked to be quite low in organizations for many years. The low scores contribute to a lack of innovation and reduced productivity and profits.

Real success requires a new way of thinking and behaving. We need to shift from telling and expecting compliance to actually co-creating at all levels.

Co-creation requires a mindset shift. We need to be open and realize that we don’t have all the answers. Who can these days? We need to be prepared to really listen and respect different perspectives and views. We need to co-create not only with our peers and team members, but we need to genuinely listen to customers and those in other organizations and industries. We need to be looking for common ground and synergies across boundaries.  One example is Regional Talent Innovation Networks where businesses, schools and other community organizations join together to educate workers and create a pipeline of workers to support their community. Those involved need to be open to different views to benefit the society. It takes an openness and skill to co-create.

Open-minded conversation skills will serve us in not only surviving but thriving in our current environment. We can expand our focus from “me” to “we”. How might our actions differ if we consider how to make things better for all?

The key to co-creating is our openness to our own thoughts and emotions and those of others.  When we are open and present in a conversation, neuro-research shows that we shift from a stressful/cortisol-infused type environment to a more positive/oxytocin infused energy that promotes seeing opportunity and possibility. Something we all need.

It is up to each of us to choose to see ourselves as co-creators and to engage in positive and productive conversations with our team members, clients, stakeholders and families to enhance possibilities.

A colleague and I are offering a workshop on how strategic use of a leadership retreat can launch transformational change for your department, business or organization and your career in Chicago on September 24. Sign up for the workshop here.

Risk a Conversation

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 “I believe we can change the world if we just start talking to one another again.”—Margaret Wheatley

“I am looking for another position.” A client told me that he planned to transfer or leave his job. I was surprised since he had seemed to be enjoying his work and his recent presentation to his company was positively received.

He was hurt and disappointed that his team members had not attended his company presentation. While some had wished him well and even said they looked forward to his presentation, they were not in the auditorium.  My client assumed that his colleagues did not, in fact, support him. He was sad, hurt and felt disrespected. He wanted to leave as soon as possible.

He was aware of the OASIS Conversation process and after a few weeks of suffering, and some encouragement, he decided to have a conversation with a team member about the event. After all, he had little to lose since he would be leaving anyway.

He began, “I was surprised that most of the team did not show up for my presentation. I assume people are not comfortable with my leadership and I am disappointed.” His colleague was dumbfounded. In fact, the opposite was the case. On the day of my client’s presentation, there had been a bit of a crisis with their program, and all of his team had banded together to address it. They had not told their leader since they knew of his big presentation in front of the company and they did not want to disturb him. His colleagues had stayed behind and handled the issue. They listened to his talk virtually or viewed the video. No one thought to tell my client about the crisis since it had been diverted.  

My client’s assumption that his team did not support him was absolutely wrong. He suffered for weeks and almost left his position. He was grateful that he had risked the conversation.

Notice your assumptions. What conversation can you risk engaging in?

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What is your Resilience Strategy?

Resilience

“She stood in the storm and when the wind did not blow her away, she adjusted her sails.”—Elizabeth Edwards

The head of Learning and Development of a large organization asked, “Are your other clients experiencing the same level of stress as our leaders?” Her organization, like most these days, is experiencing significant disruption. Most feel overwhelmed as they try to keep up with the current workload, create a new direction, and respond to changing market conditions and the introduction of new technology while supporting others.

Many leaders are stressed and overwhelmed. They are working long hours and don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. Some are opting to leave stressful environments. Others are building their resilience strategies and are positively influencing others.

We all face challenges and setbacks in the workplace and in other dimensions of our lives.  Resilience is our capacity to respond to these pressures and disappointments effectively.

It is important to reflect and reframe your mindset regarding the stressful time and to develop some habits that keep you present and grounded to see what needs to be done and what can be let go. (I find that often leaders fail to consider what not do.)

Each of my clients develops their own ritual or practice. For example, you can start your day visualizing positive and productive interactions rather than focusing on how hard things are. You can ground yourself by noticing your feet and taking some long deep breaths to feel centered. Then remind yourself that “things are working out”and if things don’t go exactly as you want, you will learn and make things work. It is useful to remember that life is a growth opportunity and that we learn the most when we face such challenges. You can also be grateful that you have a job, home, health etc.

It is also important to check in with yourself and make sure you are taking care of yourself. The basics are vital—getting enough sleep, eating nourishing food, moving and connecting with friends and engaging in real conversations. Giving and receiving empathy and being vulnerable creates community and lightens our load.

Take time to identify what fortifies you and eases your stress and follow your resilience strategy.  Engage a friend to track your progress and learning. I wish you ease.

Contact us at any time.

Do Your Colleagues Know You Care?

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“Caring about the happiness of others, we find our own.”—Plato

A highly successful manager told me she was disappointed. She had devoted many years of long days and nights to her organization and felt like she was disposable and not cared for by her boss.  Another person told me that his boss said he could not save his job in a corporate downsizing. He did not feel valued and appreciated for his contribution. Another high achiever does not feel recognized for her extraordinary impact and feels her boss does not really know or care about her.

Unfortunately, these are not isolated events.  I hear complaints from people at all levels saying they don’t feel valued. This lack of genuine care results in frustration and disengagement.  You have heard the statistics by Gallop that employee engagement is less than 35%. They define engagement as “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to the work and workplace.”

So much energy is wasted when people don’t feel personally valued or cared about.  When we feel we are not valued or seen as an individual, we lose motivation and trust.  Managers can become so focused and pressured for results that it is easy to forget to demonstrate care for colleagues.  We can fail to show we care about family members and friends too.

Reflect on your past bosses.  How was it different for you when you knew your boss cared for you?  A colleague told me he is so much happier and more productive with his new boss who takes a personal interest in who he is and what he wants.  

When people know we care about them a sense of trust and safety evolves. When people know we care about them, we are better positioned to give them direct feedback and we are better positioned to create results together.

How can you demonstrate care?  First make the conscious decision to be caring. Visualize demonstrating care to each person on your team or in your family. It is likely to look different depending on individual styles and needs.  Ask your colleague or family member about how they are doing and show interest in their lives both in the workplace and outside. Be sure to give empathy and work to understand their perspectives. Be vulnerable yourself and share your perspective and share developments that are happening in the organization. Be candid and open yourself.  Take time to connect. 

Reflect on your colleagues and others. How are you showing you care?

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Are You Open to Being Influenced?

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“Let go of your attachment to being right, and suddenly your mind is more open. You’re able to benefit from the unique viewpoints of others, without being crippled by your own judgment.”—Ralph Marston

T., an executive coaching client, was clearly an expert in his field. He was recognized both inside and outside his organization as being very bright. The company valued his contribution and considered him a key player.  He received awards and recognition for his innovative ideas and programs.

T. was asked to work with an executive coach to round out his leadership style.  After I interviewed peers, colleagues and clients, it became clear that while T. had strong leadership skills and influenced how things were done and interpreted, he was not open to being influenced.

Many people complained that T. did not listen and always thought that he was “right.”  The challenge is that he felt he was the most knowledgeable person in the room or the team.  T. tended to cut people off and left people with the sense that he felt he was better than most.  He was able to use his quick wit and fast mind to his benefit most of the time. However, as he progressed in more senior roles, his overly confident style and lack of openness began to hurt him.

T. could not understand why so many people complained about him to HR. He felt justified in telling people that they did not have the answers needed.  The company struggled with how to keep his talent without his challenging style. These days, no matter how bright or capable an individual is, no one has all the answers.  We will only succeed by being open to new ideas and ways of doing things.

Fortunately, in this case, T. learned that effective leaders not only influence others, but are also open to being influenced. As he practiced listening more, giving empathy and reflecting what he heard, he developed an entirely new relationship with colleagues and clients. His new mindset of openness became contagious. People became more open to sharing their ideas as well as supporting his efforts.

T. had not thought about the power of being open-minded and listening to others.  When he practiced being open he became a much more effective leader and continued to be valuable and progress in his career.  The biggest surprise for him was the deeper connections and more trusting environment he fostered. To his delight, he and his team excelled at an even higher level than he dreamed possible.  Energy was shifted from complaining and stress to more positive avenues.

T. and his company were fortunate. I recall a similar experience where people advocated that a company keep a leader due to his knowledge and expertise.  People put up with his abrupt style. He was not open to feedback or input. People did not trust him and felt he was not open to other’s ideas. However, after a few years and after strong people left the organization because they did not want to work with him, he was finally asked to leave.  It was a loss for him and the organization. However, without the ability to listen and be open to others and create a trusting environment, this leader could not be effective.

Ask yourself, “Am I open to being influenced as much as I am focused on influencing?”  Envision a see-saw. How balanced is the ride?

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