Friday, August 31, 2012

advice about getting advice

This past week I faced a decision that was none too easy for me - lots of variables and the situation seemed to only provide a lose-lose solution.  At least that's how I felt until I started getting advice from various people with whom I work.  Suddenly, I felt better about the decision making process, I had more options before me, and it soon became very clear what the decision should be.  I am forever grateful to those people who took the time to listen and give wise counsel and advice over this situation.  I was again reminded that it is important to seek advice from people when facing tough decisions - a no-duh in my book, but still good to be reminded.

So here are a few thoughts on (my personal advice) on asking for and getting advice:

  • be ready and willing to receive advice - don't ask for advice if your mind is already made up; be open to what people have to say and listen closely
  • ask the question, then shut up - seeking advice is not explaining why you are doing what you are doing - its listening to what others think about the issue and your role in the issue.  Learn to be quiet for a while and just listen
  • listen for the things that are not being said - in other words, ideas arise beyond what others are saying.  As one of my "advice givers" was talking with me the other day, I suddenly had the AHA moment when it all became clear, yet he had not said anything directly that led me to that decision
  • ask clarifying questions - the "why is that important" question and the "what do you mean by that" question are both critical to a deeper understanding of what the other person is saying to you
  • be clear about what type of advice you are seeking - this is important for yourself as well as the person who is giving the advice.  The paradox here is that you want to have a very clear question that is open ended for the responder to have space in which to think out loud
  • seek advice from a variety of people - don't just go to the most obvious people, or your good friends; seek advice from people whom you believe will be honest and yet caring for you and your situation.  I have to give kudos to my team who responded so beautifully and thoughtfully to my situation and made it so much more clearer to me
  • go find the person whom you may be least likely to take advice from - this is the hard one, because we do not naturally want to take advice from people like this.  I was blessed to have this person walk into my office on the day I most needed advice, and I took the risk to share my situation with him...and I am so glad I did
  • follow up with those who gave you the advice - let them know that you have made a decision and how their words helped in the process.  I have a few more people to visit on this score, but am looking forward to telling them how they were a big part of my decision making process
People in leadership positions often get there by giving advice...but once in that position, they only move forward (and move their organizations forward) by getting advice.  Be an advice getter - and it will be much easier to then be an advice giver.

Friday, August 24, 2012

the art of focus

Of all words people might use to describe me, the term "focused" would probably not be found among the top ten.  Whether it is my strengths of "learner" or "input" (or maybe even my WOO), my mind (and my energies) will often move from one idea to the next.  I have a note on my desk that is a constant reminder to "sleep on that idea."  For me, there are so many things to get many cool ideas to put into many opportunities awaiting me, I find it hard to focus.  And yet, I know the importance - and the power - of focus.

Lord knows I have tried to focus from time to time.  Whether it be following the concepts laid forth in a "how to organize your life" book (I really try to not watch email all day long); whether it be keeping track of how I spend my time during any given day (that was depressing); whether it be trying to keep a clean and clutter-free desk (I am getting better at that); or whether it be scheduling large blocks of time on my calendar to work on a specific project (it seems that people still tend to want to talk to me during those times)...all of these items can and should be done.  I think I have come to the conclusion that FOCUS may not be a science at all, but an art - something that one does because of who they are and how they think rather that what they do.  Let me explain...

The concept of FLOW (made popular by the research done by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) seems to me to be more of how one sees the world - the concept of doing what one loves and doing it in a manner that creates FLOW is a gift that an individual can bring about, a gift both to themselves and to the world.  When I am in the state of FLOW, not only am I doing good work but those around me are more capable of doing good work.  And like great art or music, so it is with FLOW- very difficult to describe but you know it when you see it.  We are drawn to focused people...we like being around focused people...we like ourselves when we are focused...and at the end of a day in which we have experienced being focused, we feel as if we have accomplished a great bit.  What does focus look and feel like?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • there is a heightened sense of awareness
  • there is a sense of completion
  • time seems to move at just the right pace
  • distractions seem to be minimized (thought in reality they may not be)
  • a sense of joy and peace surrounds you
  • stuff gets done
  • you are less angry at the world
  • you suddenly have more time for people
  • you see yourself as being able to take on any task that might come your way
  • there is both an exhilaration and an exhaustion - both of which create energy
So how does one get to this place?  How might one find themselves more often in a state of focus?  It takes time and takes knowing about certain skills that assist toward this takes using the tools that are around you to help create takes finding what you do well and using those talents in your day-to-day takes surrounding yourself with competent people who agree on takes you being incredibly competent in what you takes a certain amount of confidence that you can do this job - and do it takes an understanding of what is really important in your role, and what can be left to be done at a later date (or by other people) takes understanding who you are and what strengths you bring to the takes the ability to say NO to that which gets in the way of takes forgiving yourself when life throws you a curve ball...and it takes time to where being focused can move from the conscious incompetence to the unconscious competence.  And that's when focus becomes an art!

Friday, August 17, 2012 room at a time

This coming Tuesday, August 21, I will be presenting at Seton Cove, an organization that describes its mission as providing a welcoming place of solace and hospitality where people of any faith may nourish and foster their spiritual growth and journey towards wholeness.  When I was invited to be a part of their program for this fall, I was asked what I would like to speak on.  I am not sure whether it was because I was teaching on the topic at the time...or I had just left another miserable meeting, but I asked if I could address how to make meetings more meaningful - and through the process help people become more whole.  So I chose as my topic: Changing the World One Room at a Time: Designing Meeting that Make an Impact (shameless commercial here: there are still seats available...register here).

Please understand that there are many factors that go into making a good meeting run well, including an agenda sent early, arriving on time, having a well ventilated room, being sure to make action lists, and following up with good minutes.  While those are all wonderful "things to do" for having good meetings, there is also the "unwritten" rules that help to make the meeting meaningful and ripe for changing people's lives and the worlds in which they live.  Not wanting to spoil the essence of what I will be saying this coming Tuesday, here are but a few thoughts on this topic:

  • as the convener, have you considered the WHY of the meeting, and what you believe should be the one big thing that will arise from the ensuing conversation?
  • as the convener, have you thought about the room set-up, and taken the time to design the space for the bests possible interaction?
  • as the convener, are you entering the room really believing that everyone there is bringing their unique gift into the conversation? 
  • as a participant, are you entering the room emotionally ready to engage in deep conversation?
  • as a participant, are you ready and willing to share your unique gift with the group?
  • as a participant, have you considered what the un-named elephant in the room might be and carefully thought through how it might be named?
  • as convener or participant, are you willing to lay aside your own assumptions to truly listen to what others will be saying?
This short list is but a beginning of thoughts and ideas that, if considered prior to meetings, really can change the world:
  • when participants understand the WHY of the meeting, better solutions can be reached
  • when participants can interact at a deep level, they feel that their voice is important and will speak from their hearts and souls
  • when participants are allowed to use their gifts, they flourish in other aspects of their lives
  • when participants prepare themselves ahead of time (both emotionally and spiritually) they are more able to embrace the "other" in the room
  • when participants have considered the bumps that may lay ahead, and thought about how to speak toward them, people are treated in a more kind manner
  • when assumptions can be laid aside, listening takes place at a higher level and better solutions can be reached
Perhaps what I am most excited about in this session is that I get to speak to people's inner lives.  We all have to attend meetings, and for so many of them we leave feeling drained and frustrated.  I believe there is a better way...I believe that meetings should uplift and restore...I  believe that meetings are holy ground and should be treated as such...I believe that committees and teams, when functioning properly, deeply affect people's lives...and I believe that meetings can change the world - one room at a time.

For further reading on this topic, I invite you to explore the following resources:
  • Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block
  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
  • The Wisdom of Teams by Katzenbach & Smith
  • Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Community by Margaret Wheatley
  • The World Cafe: Shaping our Futures Through Conversations that Matter by Juanita Brown
  • Don't Just Do Something, Stand There: Ten Principles for Leading Meetings that Matter by Weisbord & Janoff