The Transformational Power of Alignment

Alignment

“We don’t talk with each other.”  “The leaders each have their own fiefdom.” “Our stock price is tanking and we are fighting each other.” “We have too many priorities.”  “Nothing is being done well.” “What are we trying to do?”

It is not uncommon to find leaders each operating with their own assumptions in an effort to create success. However, given their different backgrounds and experiences each focuses on what he or she deems is most important.  Often energy is wasted and the price of misalignment is high. It is costly for the leaders and even more so for those reporting to them.

I assume you have experienced the frustration, decreased energy and commitment drain when you have worked in a system where you believe the leaders are misaligned, not listening and the direction is unclear.  On the other hand, there is increased creativity and innovation and success seems to flow when there is open-mindedness and alignment.

What can you do? I suggest three steps:

  • Schedule a transformational retreat
  • Collect perspectives
  • Engage in dialogue for alignment
  1.     Schedule a transformational retreat

Devoting time for dialogue and connection is useful when a team or an organization is newly formed.  It is great to define expectations and agreements and support a positive beginning. When changes are going to be introduced, it is helpful to ensure that leaders are on the same page and speaking the same language. A merger, reorganization or a new leader or a significant change, each create uncertainty and the need for alignment and dialogue.  While it can be challenging to find a date, it is useful to announce the intention to create a positive environment for dialogue and alignment.

  1.     Collect perspectives

As part of my work facilitating a leadership team retreat I speak with each member of the team and other key stakeholders before we all meet. It is amazing how different the perspectives are on what is happening and what should be done. Each person is seeing the environment and the situation from their vantage point. The marketing person shares her concern about how the competition is gaining market share and poaching key people and emphasizes the need to invest in facilities and promotion. The finance person talks about market share and the need to reduce expenses. The technology leader believes that the company can be transformed by investing in new processes.  The business line heads may hope to acquire other businesses or grow their business.

Often each person also complains about what others are doing or not doing and what the leader should do.  Each believes that he or she is right. And it is clear that they don’t all see the whole situation.

Most of the time the leaders are busy with their function or business lines and have not had the space or support to genuinely step back and assess the best direction for the enterprise given changing conditions.  The value of a retreat is that all the views can be put on the table in an open atmosphere. Leaders can collectively step back from their own day-to-day challenges and look at the larger picture together. In the process, they get to know one another more and learn skills.

As a team and executive coach, I use the interviews before the retreat as an opportunity to coach and challenge leaders to try new behaviors and explore other perspectives.

  1.     Engage in dialogue for alignment

With the support of a facilitator/coach the various views can be surfaced and explored in the context of developing a shared strategy.  Engaging in open-minded dialogue strengthens the team by enhancing trust.

I like to jumpstart retreats by sharing the multiple perspectives regarding the business and how the team is working. I share that it is natural that participants have different perspectives and encourage the group not to make each other wrong. Participants want the organization to succeed and need to see that they rise and fall together in the same boat.  By sharing the findings from interviews upfront, people know that the issues are on the table and they can get to work to clarify their vision and priorities. I also work with teams to clarify their criteria for decision- making and what they will postpone or not do. This can be one of the most challenging conversations. In addition to aligning on the strategy and priorities, the team focuses on being open-minded and how to engage in positive and productive conversations.  Participants listen and give empathy to one another. They experience a new way of interacting and co-creating agreements. I teach participants the OASIS Conversations process that supports them in being open-minded and curious and creating understanding and agreements. Participants agree on the kind of culture they will inspire together.

The transformational experience is unforgettable. When people come together to work on a shared goal and support one another, it is exciting and worthwhile. Leaders realize that they can achieve goals and make a difference together.

When team members leave a meeting aligned on their vision, strategy, priorities, processes and values they are prepared to lead together. They agree on structures and practices to ensure sustainable success. The alignment is palpably experienced by others and can be communicated across the organization.

How aligned is your team and are they engaged in open-minded conversations?

How to create alignment 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.

Embodied Decision Making

 

Stop_Decisions“I don’t know what direction to pursue.” “Should I change jobs or start a business or stay with my current role?” “Should we have a baby?” “Should I apply?” “Should I say yes?” Often coaching clients are stressed over important decisions and even less important ones. We have so many choices and each has consequences.  When we say yes to one road we are losing out on the other. Sometimes we do have to make a choice rather than try to do it all.

We can write a list of pros and cons for each choice and even then the ideal solution is not apparent. Sometimes we are trying to make a decision using our analytical skills without listening to what our body is revealing.

We each have a set of unique values of what is important to us. When we are honoring these values we generally feel at ease and choices are smoother.  For example, a client was deciding if he should take a job offer. We reviewed what was most important to him. These included time with family, a challenge, financial security and critically important was space for creativity to address big issues without being second-guessed. When he has this freedom, he feels most respected, alive and on top of his game. He immediately felt assured in his choice after visiting how the options satisfied his values. He knew not just intellectually, but he felt his body relax and felt at ease with his decision.  Before checking-in he was not comfortable with the choices.

Sometimes we need a longer time to listen to our body and get a “felt-sense” of what course we will choose. A client was questioning whether to have a child. The challenge was that each time she thought of having a child, she immediately thought of reasons not to.  In this case, I asked her to experiment with imagining having a child for a week and notice her reactions and then she spent a week imagining not having a baby. She became aware of concerns and also excitement about the possibilities. Sometimes we need to give ourselves permission to try on different options and pay attention to what we notice or sense. She eventually decided to have a child and most importantly, her head/analytical and body and intuition were congruent with the decision.

Trust the clues your body is giving you when you have reservations about a decision and then respectfully listen and learn. You may practice this more easily for simple decisions like what to order in a restaurant. You can build the muscle of listening to make embodied decisions.

Having the intention and practicing to listen within is a key competency of emotional intelligence.  Make it your intention to pause and check-in with yourself. What do you sense?

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”—Aristotle

Contact us at any time.

We’re in this Together: Begin a Conversation

Juggling

Our task is to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.   —Albert Einstein

It’s not hard to notice that we are becoming more and more polarized and engaging in less conversations as we experience more disruption. We are plagued by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.  No doubt, globalization, technological changes, diversity (including four generations in the workplace), political and environmental developments and the rapid speed of change is creating fear and worry for many. 

Neuroscience research is showing that we are reacting to changes and that our emotions of fear and distrust are contagious. The lack of trust and worry pervades communities, workplaces and homes. It is easy to blame others. There is a need for respect and hopefulness. The challenge is that we all perceive respect differently and we need dialogue to understand what people need to feel safe, valued and creative.

There are solutions available. If we adapt an open mindset and have the skills and courage to engage in conversations we can collectively create solutions that will benefit all.

When working with an organization, managers and others can easily focus on what they perceive is wrong with their peers and resort to conflict and resistance. However, when an environment is created for listening, empathy and understanding the team embraces their common goals and are able to work collectively together for a larger vision. I believe that we can each be leaders by noticing our reactions and shifting to being open and looking for creative possibilities. I think of this as creating an oasis-like environment where we are appreciative of what is working and what is possible.

Organizations and individuals generally want many of the same things. However, without real conversations it is easy to assume negative intent of others. Instead, when choosing to assume positive intent and being open to listen, transformation is possible. None of us can see the whole picture or have all the answers.  We need each other and we are in this together.

Conservatives want to conserve what is working and good in a system and progressives want to make things work and be effective. There is common ground. However, when people become fundamental and assume that only their way is right, there is little room for understanding and effectiveness. And so much energy is wasted that could have been devoted to bettering the system for all.

You may wonder, “What can I do? I am just one person.”  However, we can each contribute to a better workplace, community or family.  We can choose to be open to others who may appear to have different perspectives. We can engage in conversations and simple acts of kindness. Take the step of listening and supporting another person today.

For example, we can choose to engage with someone from a different group who may look or seem different. A manager can be open to someone he or she rarely engages with. People with different philosophies can speak with one another about what is working and what is possible.  If we each choose to take small steps we will feel less polarized and see more potential. We will feel like we are doing something constructive rather than feeling out of control and helpless. Many of us engaging in open-minded conversations with a commitment for positive action for the benefit of all will make a difference.

This can be a time of opportunity. Notice your emotions, breathe, focus on possibilities. Engage with someone who has a different perspective. Listen and expect new options to emerge.

Advocate for Open-Minded Conversations at all Levels

 

Open-Minded_Conversations

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”—Helen Keller

A leader told me that he was excited about a big new initiative for his company. The board supported the new direction, which he believed would result in increased market share and exponential success for the company. He asked me to facilitate a team retreat to work on implementation.

In preparation for the meeting, I spoke with participants to learn about their views about the new initiative and what was needed to proceed. It became clear that not everyone was on board and that it would be a challenge to gain support from the various roles. This is not an unusual finding. Often, the senior team has been so involved planning a new initiative that they fail to realize the process for creating alignment. It cannot occur by broadcasting the change and expecting people to joyfully make the change. We know that approximately 70% of change initiatives fail. A primary reason cited is resistance to change. In reality, it is because people have not engaged in real open-minded conversations. Often people see the problems with new initiatives and are genuinely concerned about the well-being of clients, staff and the organization. People see things that the senior leaders do not. Senior executives forget that they have a different perspective and have been living with the challenge for some time.

To create real change people need to understand and embrace the new way. It is important to have meaningful conversations around the current state and to agree on the urgency for transformation. This is best done in an open and safe environment where people can share their views and genuinely listen to one another. Ideally, key people and groups collectively understand why a shift is needed now and the implications of doing nothing. Given the disruptions in the marketplace the need for transformation becomes compelling.

With the need for transformation established and the benefit of open-minded listening to the various stakeholders, the group is ready to establish a shared vision that can be the leverage for upcoming changes.

When people feel respected and that they are heard and aligned with a direction, the implementation flows more smoothly. Those impacted by the change have energy for developing and implementing change because they are involved in the conversation.

I have been fortunate to facilitate many leadership retreats and stakeholder conversations and experience the sense of magic and energy when people do engage in open-minded conversations and create a direction together. It is palpable to see the energy released for transformational change. Organizations embark on new endeavors and relationships are enhanced and become more productive. People learn to “assume positive intent” and not to make people wrong for their views. During these times of disruption, no one can create a real impact alone. We need each other’s strengths and diverse perspectives.

I encourage you to advocate for open-minded conversations at all levels—among leadership teams, across units, with clients and between colleagues. I introduce the OASIS Conversation process in organizations to foster meaningful dialogue.

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 June 25. Find out more about the retreat here.

Transformational Team Conversations

Teams

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”—African Proverb

Two organizations merged and Maggie became the leader of a critical function. Some of the managers from the other organization who now worked under her mostly ignored her. While she asked to be kept up to date about team progress, she continued to learn about things that she felt she should have been made aware.  She felt disrespected and began to speak negatively about the long-time managers.

I was asked to facilitate a team dialogue session. As part of the process, I spoke with each of the leaders and their teams.  As I heard the different perspectives, I could see that team members were operating with very different assumptions based on their experiences and they were not aligned.  They disagreed on where resources should be focused and how things should be done.

When I spoke with the managers and others in the function, they shared that they felt the leader was disrespectful. Her negative comments were relayed to them and they felt she did not understand the business.

The sense of disrespect and disdain spread to those who reported to the leader and managers. The team atmosphere was negative and people felt unmotivated and uncertain about the future. The leader identified whom she felt should be let go.  At the same time, the managers were campaigning against the new leader.

While this dynamic persisted much was being asked of this function that was critical to the success of the entire organization.

A big challenge for this team, and many I coach, is that there were no real engaging conversations. At a retreat, I created a safe and positive environment to enable all involved to respectfully hear the varied perspectives. Naturally, given their different backgrounds and assumptions, team members were not aligned.  Once we showed people how to assume positive intent and be open and curious, they were able to view the multiple perspectives without making each other wrong and being defensive. They were able to understand the current situation and what was needed. By then shifting to what was possible, the team was able to create a shared compelling vision.  Alignment on a shared direction, goals and agreements made a tremendous difference. We identified synergies and designed a concrete plan with accountabilities for success.

In addition to creating an action plan to move forward, the team members felt more connected as a team and trust was enhanced.

The power of positive and open-minded conversations for any team cannot be overestimated. This team was able to move forward together and actually enjoy working together.  So much energy was saved and mobilized for positive results.

A retreat or team dialogue workshop offers the opportunity for impactful conversations that enable alignment around a shared vision, mutual understanding on roles and responsibilities, clarity around processes and appreciation of strengths and solid agreements. Transformational change involves meaningful conversations that result in shifted mindsets and new behaviors.

Engage your team in open-minded dialogue to create a positive and productive climate with unparalleled results. You won’t believe the difference.

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 June 25th. Register for the workshop hereWe are also offering an information about the retreat to be offered on June 12th. Register for the webinar here.

What’s Your Narrative?

Narrative

“With awareness, we can make conscious choices, instead of letting our habitual thoughts and patterns run the show.”—Tamara Levitt

I often feel like I have a bird on my shoulder commenting on how things are progressing.  Do you also? Most of us have that inner voice speaking to us all day. It is noting what is wrong and what may go wrong and even what is working—sometimes.  Often, we think that voice is us. I know that I experience suffering when I repeatedly hear things like, “You are not getting enough done.” Or “Things are not going the way they should.”

While we tend to identify with these voices, they are actually habitual patterns that we have learned though our life experiences and conditioning. I find with executive coaching clients and myself that we can become so used to these voices that we think they are the truth and we don’t see or even look for other perspectives. However, when we step back, we can begin to notice patterns that may not be serving us. It did serve me to tell myself that I am not getting enough done when I was a student with a heavy load. The voice served me and kept me focused. In fact, most of our habitual patterns did serve us at some point and may not be as valuable at this point.  

By being kind to ourselves and self-compassionate, we can notice and explore the value of our habitual patterns. We can begin to experiment with new narratives.

Rather than feel like a victim and complain, one client noticed her pattern and began to trust that her teen was learning and growing in a challenging situation and expected him to succeed.   This shift in narrative helped her to refrain from constant yelling and did indeed give her son space to thrive.

A client noted his worry about a colleague’s productivity. His instinct was to see what is wrong first. This was a learned habit that has helped him to pay attention to details and require others to do so too. However, his habitual pattern of expecting the worse did not endear him to his colleague.

He worked to change his internal narrative. He practiced noticing when he was being negative and to then look for what the person was doing well. This simple shift of noticing and looking for what he appreciates changed his relationship with his colleague and himself.  

Like any habit, it is simple but not easy to make such shifts. However, with intention and practice, my client changed his narrative and changed the way he internally felt. In addition, his relationship with his team benefited since emotions are contagious.  

Notice a predominant narrative and reflect on how the habitual pattern may be serving you. If it is not, begin to shift your internal conversation and experiment with a new narrative.

Contact us at any time.

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?

Untitled_Artwork

“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?

Contact us at any time.

Illuminate Possibility

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“We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize.”—Thich Nhat Hanh

“I’m so stressed, I will never get it all done.”  “We are never going to make our numbers.” “We have not gotten enough support.” “Why is the plane delayed again?” “You let me down.”

It is our nature to complain and see what is missing.  We have a negativity bias where we tend to see what is not working.  This served humans during the cave days when a more optimistic view could result in being eaten.  Most of us are not in such danger these days. However, Rick Hansen says that negativity is like Velcro, while positivity is like Teflon and easily slips away.  

We know that our mindset influences how we perceive the world and that influences our behavior which impacts others. We can each take responsibility to positively influence our workplaces, families and communities by our open mindset. We can be negative and create a draining environment or we can lead others to see what is possible by our example.

New research in the fields of positive psychology and neuroscience, cited by Michelle Gielan in her book Broadcasting Happiness, shows that shifts in how we reflect and communicate with others can have significant effects on business outcomes.  For example, studies show that positivity and optimism have resulted in “31 percent higher productivity, 25 percent greater performance ratings, 37 percent higher sales and 23 percent lower levels of stress.”

It takes effort to build the habit of appreciating what is working and seeing possibilities.  On a recent family trip it was easy to hear complaints about being tired, the disruptive weather, late planes and the packed schedule.  Yet, when I could notice my own tendency toward negativity and shift to the positivebeing  grateful we were together and appreciating the opportunity we had to fly and that we could be flexiblethis small shift made the trip more positive for me and thus for my family.

I am not saying it is easy to make these shifts and like any habit, it takes practice to build the muscle of noticing our instinct and shifting to our desired behavior.  Yet, the second-hand effect of being positive and seeing possibilities makes the effort worthwhile.

Work to notice negativity in yourself and others and develop the habit of noticing and radiating possibilities.

Contact us at any time at Potentials.com.

Are You Open to Being Influenced?

Influence

“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?

Contact us any time.