On a recent trip to Kaua'i, I had a chance to learn a lot about the water, survival and some great life lessons. (My last post had one of those - about assessment and evaluation.)
One great life lesson I learned was about water safety and how to react in a difficult and life threatening situation; how to survive being caught in a rip tide.
The first instinct we all have, when we are caught in a powerful force of nature that is dragging us away from shore and safety is to swim against it. We are in a battle to ensure our own survival - against an OVERPOWERING force of nature.
What I was told is that if you get caught in the rip tide, don’t swim against it! You want to swim parallel to it, until you reach the edge and can then you can get out. (See the picture above for clarification.)
The biggest mistake people do then when they get free of the rip tide, they start to head back to shore. The rip tide is still there, and if you go directly back you'll get caught in it again and dragged out to sea AGAIN. What you want to do is swim parallel to the shore for a while, then head back. This will allow you to get clear of the strong currents at the beginning of the rip tide that can pull you in again.
As I thought about that - I had to ask:
What issues do we all get caught in, and how do they lead us out to sea?
What do we do to get out of them?
Are we frantically swinging against a tide to try to save ourselves, or are we calmly accessing the danger and discovering tactics to overcome adversity?
And, does our plan work? Should we have swam parallel to the shore longer before we go back into the fray?
1. Identify the rip tide. What is it that is dragging you out to sea? Can you swim against it?
2. Use the shore. Identify your guiding principals, and use them to navigate your way out.
3. Access the danger. Spend time identifying how strong the force is that pulled you in. Then after getting distance, head back to the safety of the beach.
Be safe out there.
An article in Forbes magazine asked 'What is the #1 problem every leader has and isn't aware of?' Author Mike Myatt poses that it is problem solving - plain and simple.
When most leaders are asked to self evaluate their problem solving skills, they judge themselves as great fixers. The question is, what do they measure themselves against? In Kraig Kramers CEO Toolkit, he lays out simple tools to help leaders measure their organization. 12 over 12 moving monthly averages and other tools help to measure progress, so that you spend more time looking for why something happened rather than what to do to fix the issue. As everyone says, you can't fix what you don't measure.
Ask yourself: What skills do you employ? They can be simple tools like Kramers, or they can be more esoteric tools. I have even taught recent workshops using Benjamin Franklin's Moral and Prudential Algebra. Anything that helps you to look at both sides, start to consider options and weigh potential actions against each other is all you need. And there are a wealth of resources for leaders if they choose to employ them. It really comes down to what works for the individual.
So begin to identify your toolkit for problem solving.
In a recent report from USC, researchers discovered how being funny changes your brain.
They showed a cartoon from the New Yorker, and asked participants to create one funny caption, and one un-funny caption. Meanwhile, they performed MRI scans on them to record their brain activity.
“What we found is that the more experienced someone is at doing comedy, the more activation we saw in the temporal lobe,” said USC doctoral student Ori Amir, who led the study with Irving Biederman, professor of psychology and computer science. The temporal lobe receives sensory information and is the region of the brain key to comprehending speech and visual cognition. It’s also where abstract information, semantic information and remote associations meaningfully converge.
In contrast, the amateur comedians and non-comedians relied on their prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive functions like planning complex cognitive behavior and decision-making.
“The professional improv comedians let their free associations give them solutions,” Biederman said.
Many business leaders ask me what they can do to create more independent thinkers and problem solvers in their organizations. Now the answer is clear: Send them to an Improv Class! The more experience they get, the more they will rely on making new connections between items and creating innovative solutions.
For information about having an improv class for your organization, contact Andrew for details.
According to a recent article in Psychological Science, most people consider themselves great drivers;
"... across all experiments participants believed that they were exceptional drivers—but only according to their own definitions of good driving.
Even when participants were provided with clear definitions for good driving behavior from the National Safety Council, they rated their own individualized definitions as better. The discrepancy between self-ratings and the ratings of others only disappeared when participants were explicitly told to use the expert guidelines as the basis for rating driving behavior."
Since there is no 'standard' for what could be considered being a good driver, most individuals have created their own measurement tool. They decided that the way they drive (fast and texting, or slow and cautious) are the correct ways to drive.
The same can be said of leadership. Since there is no single definition of being a 'good leader', individuals have created their own measurement. For many years, Microsoft believed that the 'stack ranking' was the best way to manage people, even though it caused people to work against each other rather than collaborate. Which leader decided that idea was the best?
We all suffer from a form of confirmation bias, and being aware of our biases can help to bring an objective view to our work. One of the things we discuss in my workshops is focusing on what is different, rather than what is the same. By focusing at the anomalies, we can start to see what is happening in that moment, rather than what we have assumed. Those assumptions can lead us down the wrong path into believing what we are doing is the right action for our team.
So ask yourself: What kind of leader are you? Can you objectively look at what you are doing and re-evaluate your actions? Do you routinely self-examine your practices to stay up to date and current with your ever-changing team?
By beginning to bring awareness to your own assumptions about your abilities, you can then start to make an active change to continually improve on what you are capable of.
Don’t just assume you are a good leader. Be one.
About five weeks ago my wife and I rescued an eight-year old dog named Brodie.
He was transported up to Seattle from a high kill shelter in California, and had been in and out of shelters, foster care and trial stays with families for the last six months. When we met him, we knew we were in love. He has one crinkled ear, some extensive scarring on his head and other ear, is fairly deaf and as lovable as possible. Clearly he has had a tough life (or at least we imagine he has) and we are happy to provide him a forever home.
Since our other dog passed away over four years ago, we have been adjusting to having a dog again. Early morning wake up's for walks (6am?!?! Really?!?!?!) and changing schedules for feeding times have all been a welcome addition to our world.
I am reminded again of the lessons of leadership and shared responsibility from having a pet. When we walk in the morning (yes, at 6am, like clockwork) we practice walking next to each other, heeling when we need to, and not pulling my arm out of it's socket when a squirrel runs by. Sometimes he gets to choose the neighborhood route, which tends to put a little more pep in his step as he makes the decisions and I follow him. We travel the journey together, each day practicing the shared responsibility of the task at hand, even though we are both aware that I hold the end of the leash and am responsible for his care and well being. It is a give and take - and he provides for us the comfort and love that helps us to grow and be productive in our world, and we provide a home and care.
At work I have noticed more of my inclination to share the responsibility of the walk, rather than set out the route and demand we stay on it. As we feel which way will work for all of us, we then chart a direction knowing the goal and that we each can control and give input on how we get there. Even in those moments where we are having trouble lsitening (or deaf - like Brodie) we can still feel how the direction needs to change.
So be aware for yourself; What are the aspects of your journey where you can share the responsibility? How can you let others lead, so that they can have more pep in their step? What can you do to foster someone who needs fostering, and help them to share the responsibility of leadership?
And see how that changes your work for the better.
Just ask Brodie.
Click here to contact Andrew for more information on workshops and classes for Leadership Development,
When I was in graduate school, my teacher, Steve Pearson, used to say that each individual creates their own method of working. The idea is that there is no single way to learn; we each have to figure out what works for us, and then take that path. I never quite understood the power of this lesson until recently.
This week I have been facilitating a variety of workshops for various organizations: Valve Software, Amazon, Space Needle LLC, and a few others. On every workshop, when I introduce an exercise for the group, inevitably there are a few people who work to ‘solve’ the game. They look for how to accomplish the task, in order to move onto the next task. It is a linear, goal-oriented mindset that appears to value winning and accomplishment over knowledge and problem solving. What tends to confuse people is when I describe that there are no “right” or “wrong” ways to do the exercise; the point of the exercise is to ‘do it’ and have an experience that draws correlations to our everyday habits. The exercise is about bringing awareness, not solving a problem.
As a teacher, I understand that my job is to give people the tools to find their own way, and teach them not to do what I did, but to create their own way of working. Telling someone the Five Best Methods for Productivity might be easily digestible (and highly profitable), however it doesn’t create true productivity. When people hear these lessons, they might change for a week or two, but they will revert to the practiced habits of the past. I have found that when people discover their own five methods of being productive - meaning the five that work for them based on their own experiences - then they actually do make lasting changes.
As an actor, and an artist, this is what we learn from our acting teachers. We constantly practice to see what works for us now, in the stage of life where we are now, knowing that what worked last week (or even last night!) might not be correct for today. Another wise acting teacher once said that each performance of a play must be 10-15% different each night, as each day always presents a bit differently. We strive to find what is relevant for this moment, so we can be present in our work, and not trying to “solve” the play.
So – the next time you find yourself placing the same solution on an issue to “solve” the problem, ask yourself:
By staying present and focusing on the lesson, rather than rushing to get the gold star of accomplishment, you can create real productivity – one that works for you.
There is one thing that separates good actors from struggling actors: How well do you listen?
In my work I get to interact with actors at all levels. A struggling actor knows their lines, and is pre-planning how they will react when they hear their scene partner say something. They are scripting (even if the play is improvised) how the story will come out, and how they will listen. There is a need to control what happens, and what the audience sees, rather than actually listening and being affected by what someone is giving you. In fact, you can actually see them trying to listen, as if listening is something to show people you are doing it. You can visually see them planning how they will respond, rather than listening and reacting.
The same is true for managers. I have worked with many managers who have a "listening face" which they use to "show" people they are listening. When asked to share what they just heard, their retention and understanding of what was said to them is appallingly low. And just like with actors, employees can see when you are not listening to them. They can see when you're merely waiting for their mouth to move so you can speak. They can see when you have disengaged because you have already solved the problem you think they have (even if you are not sure what the problem actually is, or if there even is one!) They can see when you are not present.
This skill is hard to learn, and there are a variety of methods to help you be aware of how you listen and how you can improve. After a few of my exercises, I have had participants say "This was the first time I really was able to hear what someone said..." Imagine if all your staff felt that way, like they have been heard and appreciated.
Honing this skill can affect your bottom line in multiple ways: increased engagement, improved customer satisfaction, innovative directions, happier and appreciative staff and family, etc. It's a simple skill that we often overlook in the wider scope of our work.
Find out how to increase your listening potential - email Andrew today.
Show and Tell: Leave it in Kindergarten
Show, don't tell. This concept is something you learn in theater. Show, don't tell. In other words, I don't want to hear your explanations, your reasons, or your justifications. What I want to see is you doing something.
As an audience member, I am not engaged by listening to you talk about an old lady doing tricks on roller skates. However, I would be intrigued to see the old lady on stage doing tricks on roller skates! That’s what I want.
Too often with Improv, people will talk about what they are doing: “I am going to get you a glass of water now…” “I am walking my dog now...” “I am stapling papers…” How many times have you heard someone at your office say "I am stapling papers now!" (and if you have, I would LOVE to know more content about that…)
As we do things normally in our world, we don’t talk about it. We just do it. We brush our teeth without exclaiming "I am brushing my teeth!” We drive a car without constantly saying, "I am driving now, I am still driving, look at me drive!”
The same is true for business. I sit in meetings often and hear people talk about what they plan to do. And a lot of the time, people feel like if they talked about it, then they actually DID something. But the truth is, TALK is NOT action.
So when you are confronted with people who describe what they will do, ask them "When? When will you do it?"
Don’t tell me you will do it. Show me you have done it. That is forward motion, rather than idle chatter.
When I speak to CEO's I get a lot of questions about reframing the idea of "Planning" and instead using the word "Preparing." I know that a 'Strategic Prepare' doesn't have quite the same ring as a 'Strategic Plan', and that is a shame. I do believe that the word 'Plan' sometimes sets people up for failure.
More often than not, plans have benchmarks that can fail: 'We will achieve goal X by this date.' When a company does not make those goals, the plan then becomes null and void, and people tend to say 'Well, this is no longer a useful plan....' This is why I encourage CEO's to use the idea of preparing rather than planning: If I prepare for the future, then whatever obstacles I encounter are a part of the next steps. There are no mistakes, and no reason to scrap the plan, just new information to add to the outcome.
One tool I have taught is in this process is the pre-mortem. It basically says that before any big action or implementation, you have a meeting to discuss its failure. The pretext is: It is now six months or one year in the future, and this has failed miserably. The question is: why? Why did it fail? What caused it to fail? What were the events leading up to its eventual demise? By looking at the possible reasons why something will fail, we can begin to be prepared for the issues that might affect its success. This can even go as far as life or death to some professions, as detailed in the book 'An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth" by Col. Chris Hadfield. The years of planning, and simulations of what could go wrong in space, help to prepare astronauts to be ready regardless of what does happens. It also trains them to be ready when unforeseen events take place - and to treat them these events the same way as in the simulations they encountered. The level of preparation for space travel is intense - and necessary. It is never a straight path, or one way of accomplishing a task, and any unforeseen event could possibly cause something catastrophic.
So the next time you are seeing out a plan for the future, ask yourself what you are doing to prepare for the unforeseen events that could derail you: things that can make you head in new directions, and help you stop being reactive to issues, and instead be proactive to managing your desired outcome.
Click here to contact Andrew for more information on his workshops and coaching.
I was recently in Langley out on Whitby Island in Washington. A beautiful area, and they had all of the Whale spotting that have happened in the last week. Multiple grey whales have been spotted along with a few orcas as well. While strolling through the Whale Visitor Center, they had a display on the brains of whales, and that whales and humans share in one trait for out brains structure: the presence of Spindle Cells. In fact, it appears that Whales have a concentration of spindle cells three times larger than humans do. In their display, they equated that feature to the understanding of music and emotional connection.
A little more research uncovered that Spindle Neurons are considered the 'air traffic controllers' for emotions. When a person hits a situation of extreme emotion (anger, mistakes, self judgement, danger) then the ancient parts of the brain fire up. They can flood the brain with feelings of fight or flight, and the spindle neurons take the information quickly out to the newer portions of the brain that deal with rational thinking and higher decision making processes. They help to understand self awareness and emotional connection.
In theater, we are trained to understand how a character in a play feels. We study what motivates their decisions to do something, and what tactics they take to achieve their objective. Even though the action a character does might not be anything remotely close to what we as a person would consider, we find ways to understand the motivations, desires and thought process of that character.
By continually practicing this craft, we build up that skill to help understand why someone does what they do. We may not agree with their actions, but we can see why the character is lead to make them. This process allows us to recognize the emotional stakes of others, and to see their point of view.
So if you are ever confused why and employee of yours does that they do, put yourself in their situation: What are their motives? What are the tactics they take to try to achieve their goals? What could be their objective? By understanding and building up our understanding of how someone else thinks, we can help to build our own emotional intelligence. We can develop our Emotional Intelligence.
And maybe someday, we'll figure out what whales are thinking.