Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"Power is the Ability to Achieve Purpose"

Here in the Nation's capital, there will be a gathering on the downtown Mall this coming Sunday to celebrate the unveiling of the Martin Luther King Jr. statue. As we all know, Dr. King was an eloquent speaker whose many wise quotes are often repeated in speeches, sermons, power point slides...well, he is well quoted! One of his quotes that especially resonates with me is about power and how he framed it. My pastor observes (and I definitely agree with her!) that most of us recoil when we hear the word power because we have sometimes witnessed the wielding of it in less than admirable ways. However, Martin Luther King Jr. viewed power in a very different way. He believed that "power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose." As individuals, groups, or even organizations, we often forget to consider the purpose aspect of why we are doing what we are doing.

I was recently in Baltimore and observed a group of protesters across the street from my hotel. These groups have sprung up all over the United States and seem to be in it for the long haul. However, as I watched them from my hotel window, I wondered if their power was being diluted because of a lack of purpose other than to demonstrate their anger about the economy, or the lack of jobs, or maybe it's that government is too big, or that government is not see how confused I am about their purpose for protesting. They will probably align around a purpose sooner or later and then they may be able begin to mobilize others to help them achieve the social change they desire because others will understand the change chat. Otherwise, these groups may not be able to do little more than gain the occasional attention from the media when some of the groups' members become defiant and are put into jail.

In organizations, do we ask people to make a change without having identified the purpose? Or, as middle managers, do we fail to fully understand and appreciate the purpose because we had no say in the forthcoming change? And then shrug our shoulders and claim ignorance of purpose when asked by our staff, "why the change?"  Even if the impetus for the change comes from a higher level in the organization, it is our responsibility as managers to not only understand the purpose of the change but to facilitate it at our level and lower. This is where we stop being managers and start wearing our leader hats!

It has been my experience that many middle managers are often unaware of their power during an organizational change because they have not fully grasped the purpose of the change....all of the external political, social, and economic forces contributing to the change and the complex organizational cultural forces contributing to the resistance to the change...middle management being but one. As a matter of fact, middle managers can sometimes be the most significant bottleneck during organizational change because of their lack of ability to achieve purpose. Said another way, their lack of capability to assume power contributes to many change efforts going awry. So, if this is the case, what might organizations do ensure to "empower" their middle managers to lead during organizational change?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Adaptability: It's a Competence!

My ten year nephew was recently visiting us and of course, we had to do the museums. We are so lucky to have the Smithsonian museums here in Washington D.C. and regardless of the number of times I visit one of them, I always learn something new or a thought is triggered. Well, during our visit to the Natural History museum, Noah (my nephew) decided he wanted to watch the giant tarantula spider eat her weekly meal.  I am a little arachnophobic so watching a tarantula devour her prey is not my idea of having fun! So, I was walking around looking at some of the other insects and reading the inscriptions above their cages. One of the inscriptions above a cage of exotic insects caught my attention and triggered a thought. It basically was reminding us that the reason these insects had survived for hundreds of years was because they knew how to adapt to their environment. I probably would not have thought too much about this inscription if I had not recently seen the movie, Creation, and come across a quote by Charles Darwin…. “It is not the strongest of the species who survives nor the most intelligent but the ones most responsive to change.”  Not considered very strong or highly intelligent, these exotic little bugs had adapted to what was going on around them and had survived!

I then begin to think about organizations and the need to adapt to challenges if they are going to thrive in these rather tumultuous times. While unemployment is at its highest level since 1982, a Conference Board report released in January 2010 indicated that only 45 percent of people who are working and were surveyed said they were satisfied with their jobs. This number fell from more than 61 percent who said they were satisfied in 1987, the first year the survey was conducted. How does an organization survive less near thrive if the internal barometer of job satisfaction is contributing to a lack of energy, enthusiasm, or employee engagement….all needed to meet the external demands and increasing complexity in the 21st century environment? 
In their Navigating through Complexity: System Thinking Guide, Herasymowych and Senko (2002) use an evocative weather metaphor to describe how increasing environmental change and complexity are creating a storm that few organizations are able to navigate.  I agree with their observations that “as the storm gains momentum, it lashes out in unpredictable ways, leaving many complex problems in its wake. You may deal with the resulting problems by trying to control what you can, or by trying to nullify the effects by keeping your nose down to get your work done. You may notice that almost every tack you take works less and less well, making you feel less competent to be effective. As change accelerates, it creates even more complexity, thus eroding your sense of competency, until all you have left are feelings of anger, hopelessness, and despair.”  Is this “storm” contributing to the increasing dissatisfaction we are seeing in many workplaces? If so, what are leaders supposed to do?
Effective leadership at all levels in an organization is a key driver for meeting the demands of our time. However, leaders must first demonstrate adaptability in their personal approach to leading organizational change. In other words (and although the bugs probably would not agree), adaptability must be recognized as a competence!
Dr. Stephen J. Zaccaro, a professor of psychology at George Mason University, identified adaptability as consisting of three core elements or characteristics: cognitive flexibility, emotional flexibility, and dispositional flexibility. Subsequent research has identified specific behaviors tied to each of these elements and found that having just one of these characteristics is not sufficient for leader adaptability. Leaders must exhibit two of the three characteristics to be perceived as adaptable. So, let’s get a better understanding of each one.
Cognitive flexibility is the ability to use different thinking strategies and mental frameworks. Some of the leadership behaviors that would be exhibited during the “storm” include nimble and divergent thinking; having an interest in developing new connections and new approaches; being able to appreciate and leverage differences; and having a knack for recognizing patterns and making sense of these patterns. There is evidence that we can continue to develop this flexibility as we mature but it is also possible to “get stuck” or plateau at a certain developmental level where we really are unable to use different thinking strategies or mental frameworks to understand what is going on around us. In other words, we can actually be in “over our heads” if the demands are exceeding our ability to be more cognitively flexible.
Emotional flexibility is the ability to manage our own emotions and deal adeptly with others’ emotions. Some of the leadership behaviors include being able to recognize our own emotions, preferences and intuition and be  able to self-regulate; having an increased awareness of others’ feelings, needs and concerns and is able to support others during change; being adept at engaging emotionally to help others get on board; and having a knack for building relationships across the organization. Self-management is one of the core skills contributing to emotional intelligence. It is dependent on our self-awareness and very important in helping us to not become “emotionally hijacked” during challenging or demanding situations. Both self-awareness and self-management antecedent to our ability to pick up on emotions in other people and understand what is going on with them as well as build relationships.
Dispositional flexibility (or personality-based flexibility) is the ability to remain optimistic and at the same time realistic. Adaptable leadership behaviors include being able to acknowledge a bad situation but also being able to visualize a preferred future; being genuinely and realistically optimistic about change and able to communicate that optimism to others; knowing our own tendencies and preferences related to change; and having a knack for rallying people to commit to and achieve goals. Many of us have probably not taken the time to examine and reflect how we react to change. We just know that we react! Some of us have a strong propensity for “mourning and groaning” while others pick up the baton and move smartly ahead with others following.
As we were hearing about hurricane Irene, many of my neighbors and I started getting ready so we would be able to weather the storm. We did not wait for the wind to start blowing or the rain to start falling! However, there were others up and down the Northeast coast who were dismissing the reports or hoping that the storm would make a detour at the last minute.  If you are a leader and you are already in the storm, you are probably just trying to keep the light house in view and hoping someone will be there to rescue the ship if it starts going down. As I said earlier, adaptability is a competence and the leadership behaviors associated with cognitive, emotional, and dispositional flexibility can be developed before the storm. What can you do to increase your adaptability?
First, you might want to get some feedback especially specific to your leadership performance during the last organizational or departmental “storm.” This feedback may come from a number of different sources including peers, direct reports, your boss, and even family members…anyone who may have come in contact with you as you were navigating the rough seas. Sometimes a 360 is useful but good coaches can also interview your circle of contacts and get some very useful feedback for you to use to identify areas for development and strategies to increase your adaptability. Next, identify challenging experiences where you can deliberately choose to practice different behaviors or develop new attitudes and perspectives. Changing a habit of thinking that has led to a certain behavior or behaviors can be a very uncomfortable and even exasperating experience. Therefore, having support in place is also very important. Support may be very individualized and comes in many forms including having a coach, mentors, and peers as well organizational structures, for example, formal leadership development program, peer coaching, learning circles or a community of practice. Feedback, challenge, and support may be thought of as the three-legged stool for helping to develop leader adaptability.
So, as I was staring at the bugs at the museum, I thought….a bug’s life is so much simpler than ours! It also occurred to me that these little insects had evolved over many, many years as they adapted to their environment.  I don’t know that as leaders we have the luxury of “many, many years” so I think gaining competence as an adaptive leader is an urgent challenge for most organizations. We will never go back to the “good ole days” when things were slower, life more predictable (at least we thought), and a command and control leadership style was acceptable. This is our new normal and as leaders we have to evolve to meet the demands. I agree with Robert Kegan (2009) who very astutely observes that “the challenge to change and improve is often misunderstood as a need to better ‘deal with’ or ‘cope with’ the greater complexity of the world. Coping and dealing involve adding new skills or widening our repertoire of responses. We are the same person we were before we learned to cope; we have simply added some new resources. We have learned, but we have not necessarily developed. Coping and dealing with are valuable skills, but they are actually insufficient for meeting today’s change challenges.”
If the bugs can develop new ways to meet their environmental challenges, surely we can do the same and not just survive, but thrive in our organizations! We may wander for a while but the wandering may be good for us as we explore, discover, reflect, and eventually move to a higher level of mental complexity better suited to meet the greater complexity of the world surrounding us. Remember, not all who wander are lost!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

C'mon...not training again!

I was shopping a couple of days ago in a local grocery store. Since I am one of those people who very seldom goes to the grocery store with a list, it usually takes me longer because I  am trying to remember what I really need besides food for dinner. Anyway, as I was wandering from aisle to aisle, I heard an announcement calling all available individuals to the front to help with bagging. Shortly after this announcement, a second announcement was made calling individuals by name to report to the front to help with bagging. I smiled to myself and thought, so they did recognize that having baggers to support the cashiers was the appropriate intervention. Now, you are probably saying, why is she smiling about about this annoucement in a grocery store? And what is an intervention?
Well, this grocery store was my client once upon a time. You see, the CEO at headquarters wanted me to design a training workshop for the cashiers because the “mystery shopper” reports for the store reflected that the cashiers were not consistently asking customers seven required questions. I indicated that I could not design a workshop until I had collected some data to identify the learning needs. The mystery shopper data only reflected that the questions were not being consistently asked…not why.  So, I observed the cashiers, surveyed the cashiers, and had focus groups with the cashiers. And guess what? The cashiers knew the questions by heart but indicated that they did not always have enough time to ask the questions since they were also responsible for bagging the groceries. They were also very sensitive to the impact their bagging had on customer service….the lines got longer and the customers grew more inpatient. Their one request was to have help bagging when the lines were long and the store was busy.
 I thought…hmmm…this has nothing to do with training. The cashiers really want to ask the questions but wanted their customers to stand in line for as short a period of time as possible. They just wanted help with bagging the groceries when it was busy. They also thought having an opportunity to occasionally have meetings with management to make other improvement suggestions would really help resolve other issues but bagging was the red light right now.
So, I shared my findings with store management. They were surprised by the findings and proceeded to guessed it....a  training workshop. My response was…”training for what?”  The cashiers knew their job and they knew what would contribute to efficiently moving customers through the grocery line. The managers responded that baggers were not allowed. Subsequently, my second recommendation was that perhaps they needed to re-examine the “bagger” policy and ask the cashiers for more input when revising it. The third recommendation was to re-consider if the seven questions added value by making a difference in customer satisfaction or providing data for process improvement. My last recommendation was to meet with the cashiers. I never did design the training workshop.
Listening to the announcement as I was strolling through the aisles of the grocery store made me smile because I was happy that management had decided to change the bagger policy and obviously was being creative when the need for baggers arose. AND, the only question I was asked when I checked out my groceries was, “did you find everything you needed?”  Of course, because of my sloppy shopping habits, I had to answer, “Yes and then some.” But what’s the take home message here? This was a classic case of a request for the wrong intervention.
What is an intervention? Most of us think of it as a medical term meaning “any measure whose purpose is to improve health or alter the course of disease.” However, the term is increasingly being acknowledged by both consultants and their clients to refer to activities that facilitate change.  In their book, Organization Development: Behavioral Science Interventions for Organization Improvement, French and Bell define an organization development interventions as “sets of structured activities in which selected organizational target groups or individuals engage in a task or sequence of tasks with the goals of organizational improvement and individual development.” There are different categories of interventions including diagnostic activities such as surveys or focus groups, team building activities, strategic management activities, coaching and counseling activities, educational and training activities and the list goes on. Unfortunately, many organizations default to education and training as the intervention of choice regardless of the issue.
A common pitfall associated with requesting or designing an intervention is usually the lack of data or working from an assumption about what is needed. Consequently, the wrong intervention is requested or designed based on little more than a hunch. For example, the grocery store assumed that the cashiers did not know they had to ask the seven questions, or how to ask the questions, or what questions to ask because of the mystery shoppers’ observations.  The focus was on the questions not being asked not why. However, the cashiers knew exactly what questions to ask although did express some curiosity about why they were asking these questions when no one asked them what the customers were saying. They also knew that customers became frustrated and upset when made to stand in line while the bagging was being done by the cashier.
On the other hand, management thought the intervention of choice was training since the issue had to do with a lack of skill or knowledge concerning question asking. Right? Wrong! The issue had not been clearly defined. The data from “diagnostic activities” not only provided insight into the inconsistent cashier performance but led to a very different type of intervention other than a training workshop.
A word of cautionwhen considering what needs to be done! Choosing the wrong interventions or sequencing interventions in a haphazard way may contribute to confusion, frustration, and the real issue left unaddressed. It is important to take the time to gather the data, identify the real issue or issues, design an appropriate intervention or sequence of interventions which may include training, and evaluate for effectiveness. I always like to ask the question, “is this a technical problem or an adaptive challenge?” Sometimes, it’s a combination of both but each requires a different approach.
 Surprisingly, in the case of getting baggers to help the cashiers, it took a little while to make it happen because the grocery store headquarters was stuck on the idea of having a training workshop even after store management saw the light. Thank goodness store management was willing to experiment and try different approaches for getting the cashiers the support they needed. Hence my smile as I was wandering the aisles of a very busy but successful grocery store. It reminded me that not all who wander are lost….it just takes a little time to find the way.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Whoops! I almost got hooked when…..

I was working with a new senior leadership team in a non-profit organization a few years ago. Susan, the new executive director (ED), had decided that she wanted to have a more collaborative relationship with her direct reports than her predecessor. She decided that having a senior leadership team to address some of the adaptive organizational challenges would be tremendously beneficial to her and the organization. Her predecessor’s decision making style had been more consultative. He would talk to his direct reports, get the information he needed to make a decision, and then make the decision. The majority of the direct reports in this organization started their career in this organization with this ED so really had no other reference for working with an executive director. As a matter of fact, they were the first to admit that they very comfortable with this style of problem solving and decision making since they “were able to tend to pressing issues in their functional areas.”
Susan decided to have a leadership team retreat to share her vision of the purpose of a senior leadership team and to begin the work of building a team increasing the trust among the members and improving their skills in problem solving and decision making together. Although most of senior leaders were clearly anxious about this new approach, they became increasingly receptive as they begin to see the potential of tapping into this collective intelligence to help address some serious issues. All except Mariam!
Mariam had been with the organization since she graduated from college and was very fond of the previous ED. She was not only anxious about having to accept new responsibilities as a member of the senior leadership team member but resented that the new ED was “changing things around here!” She wrote an email to me expressing her concerns about the competence of the new ED as a leader as well as some concerns about Susan’s character. When asked if she had expressed any of these concerns to the ED, she indicated the new ED would not listen. However, she had gone to the Chairman of the Board, whom she was good friends with and he had directed her to me to resolve the issue.
What issue? I was confused since the Board had hired the ED and she had only been in the organization three months but had received positive feedback from the Board during this short period. As I started thinking about Mariam….her anxiety about having to learn new skills and her reluctance to accept a different leadership style….I realized that is was not so much about Susan as it was about Mariam. Aha! Mariam wanted me to rescue her! I was being triangled!
So what does this mean? Triangulation is a concept originating from the study of dysfunctional family systems.  Simply put, think of Mariam as Person A located at one point of the isosceles triangle. Think about the Board Chairman as Person B, located at a second point of the triangle. And, think about me as Person C, located at the third point of the triangle and the two vectors of the triangle coming from Person A and Person B are pointing to me. Mariam and the Board member were attempting to address an issue that both were probably unaware of….Mariam’s anxiety and anger manifesting as a complaint about the competence and character of Susan. In her book, Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart, O’Neil points out that “when a stable interaction force field (whether it is a work team, a family, or an entire organization) encounters a challenge or disruption too large for its own resiliency, the people with it experience heightened anxiety.”  In this situation, Mariam’s anxiety had moved to a highly non-productive and unhealthy level. The Board member was trying to use me to stabilize her relationship with Mariam instead of dealing directly with Mariam’s accusation. Perhaps the Board member did not know how to deal with it or did not want to jeopardize the relationships with Mariam or the ED. Furthermore, Mariam was probably unconscious of how she was attempting to cope with her own anxiety. So, what did I do?
I could have easily gotten hooked into believing Mariam, sending her back to the Board member, or extending the triangle to another person in the organization, for example, HR. Instead, I decided to share with Mariam what I thought may be happening. In other words, I focused the attention away from the new ED and back onto Mariam and her coping (or lack of) with the recent changes in leadership and expectations. It took a couple of coaching conversations before Mariam began to acknowledge her own fear about being seen as an incompetent team member and not having the necessary skills for problem solving and decision making to confront some of the major challenges facing the organization. She finally agreed to go to Susan and make a request that the leadership team receive more training in team development skills and that time be allocated during team meetings to evaluate processes they were using during meetings. Mariam eventually became one of the team’s best facilitators and was often requested to facilitate “hard meetings” in other parts of the organization.
Now, you may be asking, “is this really a true story?” Well, I have changed the characters to shield the identities of real people. However let’s look at some alternatives to this story ending. In some organizations, Mariam may be asked to leave because of her “character assassination” of the new ED and lack of alignment with the team. In other organizations, the consultant may end up in collusion with Mariam and eventually fired because of the inability to provide effective consultation and coaching. And of course, we have this happy ending… Mariam self-correcting with some support… which probably occurs less frequently than I would like to admit.
Triangulation can contribute to an unrecognized and unhealthy pattern of behavior that undermines performance and working relationships.  The pattern has to first be recognized and then broken. As O’Neil points out, it takes both “backbone and heart.” However, all us are capable of starting with asking ourselves two simple but important questions…am I avoiding the real issue? Why? Sometimes we do need help answering these questions since we all have a blind side. Also we are definitely capable of moving into a defensive reasoning posture to protect ourselves….even if it is an imaginary threat. Some of us may be on the journey a little longer than others because of the learning curve. It takes time to think about our thinking and then decide to make a change in how we think. But remember, not all who wander are lost!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

How We Get in Our Own Way...

This is one of my favorite Buddhist stories because the ending might be interpreted in many different ways.
One day, two Buddhist monks, one young and one elderly, were returning to their monastery in silence. It had been a long trip and each was tired and caught up in their thoughts. Listening to their thoughts, watching each step and witnessing everything, they came upon a rushing river. As they approached the river, they noticed there was no boatman to carry them across. There was a young woman also waiting for the boat man to cross the river. The two monks decided to cross the river since it would soon be dark.
On the bank, the young woman was hesitating and asked the younger of the two monks for help. He exclaimed, “Don't you see that I am a monk? I took a vow of chastity!”
“I require nothing from you that could impede your vow. I am only asking you to help me to cross the river,” replied the young woman. “I cannot help you,” responded the monk.
'It doesn't matter,” said the elderly monk. “Climb onto my back and we will cross together.”
Having reached the other side of the river, the elderly monk put down the young woman who, in return, thanked him graciously. She left his side and both monks continued their route in silence. Close to the monastery, the young monk could not stand it anymore and said to the elderly monk, “How could you carry that woman on your back. It's against our rules.  Someone else could have helped her across the river.”
"What woman?" the elderly monk inquired groggily.
"Don't you even remember? That woman you carried across the river," the young monk replied incredulously.
"Oh, her," laughed the sleepy monk. "I only carried her across the river. You have carried her all the way back to the monastery."
I am always thinking about “what am I still carrying around in my head?” that is getting in my way of achieving a goal or changing a certain behavior. Are there rules that I have made up or have inherited from some authority figure? Or, are there certain taboos enforced by a community that I associate with and I feel the need to conform? Maybe, I have made certain assumptions and not bothered to challenge myself? As a matter of fact, I don’t even recognize them for what they are…assumptions!
Unfortunately, all of us have some of the “young monk” in us. Consequently, by clinging to outdated rules, undermining habits of thinking, or unexamined beliefs, we are less effective as leaders or managers. Why? Because these rules, thinking habits, and beliefs directly influence our behaviors and may impact others in a negative way. For example, we can easily curb the enthusiasm for innovation or creative thinking of employees by responding to new ideas with “it's against our rules.”
We need to become more self-aware of our thinking habits and beliefs. Self-awareness is a key component our increasing our personal competence. It helps us to stay on the top of our typical reactions to specific situations, challenges, and people. Increasing our self-awareness is not about lying on the couch and pondering our unconscious or the deep, dark secrets of our childhood. Rather, “it comes from a straightforward and honest understanding of what makes us tick.” And what can we do to increase your self-awareness?
The most important first step is feedback. There are many strategies for getting feedback from peers, employees, supervisor and even our family. We need to decrease our blind side by increasing our knowledge about how our behavior impacts others. The second step is turning this feedback into a realistic plan for personal change. This includes identifying all the competing interests for not changing as well as what we stand to gain from the change. Many of us have a difficult time doing all of this work by our self so the third step is getting a coach to help with your journey. A coach can help us to with identify goals and actions for a personal change plan. Many organizations do not blink an eye about bringing in an organizational effectiveness consultant to help them with strategic and action planning as well as strategy implementation. The coach helps at the individual level.
As leaders, it is imperative that we don’t allow the “young monk” inside of us to sabotage our ability to positively influence others to help make changes.  However, we have to be willing and ready to make some personal changes and sometimes that is the hardest beginning of the change process. And remember, not all who wander are not lost!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Is the Banana Worth It?

     Although this experiment is attributed to Harry Harlow, a social psychologist, it is impossible to find the original research. But, since I am into metaphorical thinking, it suits my needs to use this metaphor to explain what is often seen in organizations when the question is asked “why are you doing this?”
     In this alleged research study, five monkeys were placed in a cage with stairs leading to a ripe banana. One monkey climbs the stairs to retrieve the banana, but hidden at the top of the stairs was a water spray which showered water over the monkey. So the monkey abandoned the attempt. Another monkey tried; it too was sprayed with water. Each monkey in turn tried, but each was doused and eventually gave up. The researchers turned off the water spray and removed one monkey from the cage, replacing it with a new one. The new monkey saw the banana and immediately tried to climb the stairs. However, to its horror, the other monkeys leapt up and stopped it.
     Over time the researchers removed and replaced all the original monkeys. However, every time a newcomer approached the stairs, the other monkeys stopped it from climbing up. None of the remaining monkeys had ever been sprayed, but still no monkey approached the stairs to reach the bananas. As far as they knew, that was the way it had always been done, and so the habit was formed.
     Of course, humans are so much more complex than our distant cousins but our behavior is sometimes just as predictable when it comes to problem solving in a group. And why is this? It is partially related to the influence of group culture on its members.. Edgar Schein offers a formal definition of group culture as “a pattern of shared basic assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.” In subgroups in organizations, the shared assumptions may be questioned by new comers as they are trying “get the banana”. However, because the old members in the group may not even remember why they are doing what they are doing, their response may be like the monkeys…they chastise the new member. After a while, the new member forms the same habits as the other group members and thus, the status quo is preserved.
     Preservation of the status quo is fine unless it interferes with how adaptive the group is to meeting challenges that are inferfering with progress toward new goals. If the same group of people always sit together in the cafeteria, no big deal! On the other hand, if this group fails to examine its own norm of denying group members the opportunity to share different perspectives or views during problem solving, this may be reinforcing a status quo that is not benefitting the group members or the organization. It is a lost opportunity for exploring new possibilities, learning, and innovative thinking.
     The surfacing and examination of assumptions supporting unacceptable behavior related to cultural conditioning is not for the weak or uncourageous. It requires some introspective  preparation including by asking yourself some hard questions like:
·       What difference will it make if I do challenge the status quo?
·       What are my intentions for challenging the status quo?
·       What outcomes do I expect?
·       What capabilities do I need to challenge the status quo?
·       Am I willing to change my behaviors if I expect a change to occur?
     The monkey and banana story is certainly a simplistic way of looking at rather complex human behaviors and change but it’s a great story to remember whenever we find our selves asking the question “why are we doing this?” and the response is something like “we have always done it like this!” Most of us know that just because we have always done soemthing in a certain way does not mean that it cannot be changed. However, we may first have to acknowledge how much do we really want to change or how much do we want the banana, what are we are willing to risk to get it, and do we have the courage to take the risks to get it. Somethimes we will get the banana on the first try and sometimes we will be sprayed with the water a number of times before we can grab it. Change is not easy but sometimes getting the banana is worth it!  Remember, not all who wander are lost!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Football Makes Me Humble

I was not much of a football fan until about five years ago. I can now admit that the reason I did not like the game is because I did not understand it. As a matter of fact, I oftentimes found myself being quite judgemental of folks who did enjoy the game. For example, my husband! And then one Sunday afternoon, I was sitting in the family room reading while my husband was watching a football game. Now, my husband is usually very under-animated but he was cheering and booing and talking to the caught my attention! I started asking questions about what certain players were doing and why they were doing  it. The next Sunday afternoon, I continued to ask questions. By the end of the season, I understood the game! But you might be asking, "how did football make you humble?".

It does not matter how many games I watch, I have to continue to ask questions because there is always something I do not understand. My mother, who is 88 and an avid football fan, may be the one who answers the question. My husband, who never played the game but knows it so well may be the one who answers the question. The kid down the street with a learning difference  may be the one who answers the question. In other words, I have to be willing to admit that I do not always understand what is going on as the players are running up and down the field and I have to turn to these other "experts" who I may not have considered. But, I have learned to ask questions to learn and get their diverse perspectives on the game.

Often we do not grasp what is going on in our organizations, communities or even our own families because we fail to ask questions of curiosity or understanding or get diverse perspectives from the various players in our life. You have to be willing to admit that you don't know and many of us, especially leaders, are not very good at admitting our ignorance especially if someone disagrees with us. Football has made me humble because I have had to admit that I do not know. But, with the humility has come learning and understanding ....what a gift. Not all who wander are lost!