A colleague and I were at a publishing conference. We were attending a session on how to be a more effective writer.
“Schedule time every week for serendipity,” advised one of the session panelists. “If you schedule time for serendipity, you’ll make it happen. If you don’t, it won’t; and your skills won’t improve.”
“Did she say to schedule serendipity?” I whispered to my colleague.
How ridiculous, I thought even though I’ve been the beneficiary of accidently tripping into discoveries. Despite my past good fortune, the speaker’s counsel troubled me. From my perspective, there was absolutely no way to schedule a fortunate accidental discovery—serendipity just happened. Right?
Curious about maybe having missed a nuance in the definition of serendipity, I did some research. I hadn’t missed anything.
Author Horace Walpole invented the word serendipity in 1754. A Persian fairy tale, The Princes of Serendip, had been his inspiration. In the fairy tale, three princes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.”
That confirmed my belief the speaker had it all wrong. Sadly, I mocked her advice on several occasions.
Shame on me.
And for that, I got my comeuppance.
I was doing online research about dogmatism for my book. I’d just read the definition of dogmatism, a viewpoint or system of ideas based on insufficiently examined premises, when the aha zap happened.
My reaction to the speaker’s words about scheduling serendipity leapt into mind.
Ewww. It hurt to see it and to say it, but I’d been dogmatic. I’d been that person; the narrow-minded one I criticize when I see people acting the same way I had.
I’d blindly accepted as fact that my belief that it was impossible to schedule serendipity without examining her meaning. I had heard her words, interpreted them with my dogmatic filters, and outright rejected her position.
Shame on me again. Her advice wasn’t wrong, it was flat out brilliant.
In a time-starved world where there’s a plan and time slot for everything, it’s pure genius to leave time open for spontaneity. Time to think, daydream, be. Time for accidental discoveries to happen.
Of course, you can’t will the eureka moment to happen in those moments. However, making time to reflect increases the odds of creativity, inspiration, and innovation happening.
That’s what the speaker had meant. She was telling us to avoid the tunnel vision that comes from having an over-packed schedule and too much to do. She was telling us to make room for unpredictability and possibility.
*big sigh* How could I have been so dogmatic, so obtuse, so blind?
Psychologist Daniel Kahneman has an answer for us.
He says it’s incredibly difficult for us to see our own biases. We can easily point to them in other people, but not so much for ourselves.
Fortunately for me, a research aha moment rescued me from my blindness.
I both love and abhor my personal teachable moments. Love them because new paths are revealed, abhor them because I need them in the first place.
Perhaps I’d better start scheduling them in my calendar.
Image credit before quote added: Pixabay
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The thought that popped into my mind was unexpected.
All I had to do to resolve my problems with the plant that continued to vex me was to toss it into the compost bin. No longer would I have to deal with the spindly, frustrating thing that wilted in the sun, refused to grow in the shade, and sent out shoots that withered and died.
While that was a fast solution, it didn’t feel right.
What held me back from pitching the plant was the memory of the beautiful flower it bore the day I received it. I imagined a glorious mass of those blossoms spilling over the side of its container. That was a sight that would make me, and others, smile.
Thinking of not giving up on the possibility of having those incredible blossoms prompted me think of David, a long ago boss.
David had enticed me to move across six states to take a new job with a new company, working for him. Hubby and I had packed up all our worldly goods and moved 1,227 miles to a place with “new” everything.
I wasn’t effective right away. Given all the newness, I needed a couple of months to find my footing and flourish in my job, so it was a good thing David didn’t give up on me. As he told me later, “I knew you’d find your way. You just needed a little time.”
David was a rare breed of leader—the nurturing kind.
Not nurturing in the sense of cosseting, indulging, or over-protecting. Rather, David supported and encouraged his team on one hand and pushed us relentlessly toward rigorous goals on the other.
He had that paradoxical both/and leadership thing nailed. He excelled in giving people the space to grow, experiment with new processes, gain new skills, and build capacity. He demanded results but also gain us room to fail and learn.
He inspired us to better ourselves so we could better the company.
The main reason for leading is to help other people win. ~Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner
7 opposites wise and effective leaders manage
They delegate and guide.
They empower employees who have the right skills to do the right work at the right time. They check in periodically to assure all is well, answer questions, or remove barriers.
They hold people accountable and create freedom.
Having the latitiude to create, take risks, and disrupt the status quo is a precious gift. However, this gift comes with strings: responsibility and accountability. These leaders know, and teach others, that they must deal with the consequences, intended and otherwise, and see things through. There’s no walking away when the going gets tough or pointing the finger of blame at someone else.
They dream and do.
They know that work can’t always be like a spreadsheet that contains the perfect formula that always tallies perfectly. Nurturing leaders make room, and time, for dreaming, for feeling, for connecting. They encourage creativity, imagination, fun, laughter, and sometimes a little silliness.
They champion and oppose.
Sometimes the right answer is yes, other times it’s no. Nurturing leaders don’t back away from saying no. They also have the backs of those on their team.
They celebrate success and allow failure.
Giving an employee permission to fail and then learn from failure is the one of greatest gifts a leader can grant. The lessons of success may be superficial, not so with failure. Failure brings alignment to our heads, hearts, and hands. It helps us see the value in leading with our hearts and managing with our heads.
They foster the individual and sustain the collective.
Some activities can be all about “I.” Some things must be about “we.” Nurturing leaders know when to flex between the team and the individual.
They pull back and push forward.
They understand that innovation is good; and so is honoring stability. Nurturing, thoughtful leaders find the sweet spot in allowing just the right level of disruption that keeps things current, fresh, and relevant without creating chaos.
Do those being served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous? ~Robert Greenleaf
Leadership is about managing opposites, things like delivering results and helping people connect. Connecting is about supporting. Supporting is about being brave enough as a leader to flex your nurturing muscle so others can flex theirs and learn to make a difference.
Image source before quote added: Pixabay
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When I was growing up, my mom told me I needed to be a good girl in life and doing that meant following a few simple rules. One of those rules was to never talk about myself or money. Never, ever. She said good girls just don’t do the self-promotion thing because talking about what you’ve accomplished is bragging and talking about money is impolite.
I listened to my mom, so do other women. 61% of women in a study said they would prefer to discuss the details of their own death than to talk about money.
In another study, 76% of executive women said it was difficult for them to draw attention to their accomplishments.
Brothers hear their moms say these things to their sisters but not to them, so they carry these socially approved notions—OK for boys to do it, not OK for girls—with them into the workplace.
Some women don’t ask for the raise or higher starting salary and receive neither. Other women do talk about their accomplishments and are branded as selfish, non-team players. Business women are caught in the crossfire between social conditioning, stereotypes, unconscious bias, and leadership norms.
One element of that nasty crossfire is the double standard—women who behave in a manner more expected of a man are criticized when men aren’t. Women should care for others and not themselves. That man understands his worth.
Another element is how people evaluate us is by our accomplishments, successes, abilities, and potential. If business women aren’t providing that narrative, people draw unflattering or incomplete conclusions about our abilities or fail to give us credit for them.
And yet another is a lack of critical thinking and curiosity. Paola Sapienza, professor Northwestern Kellogg School of Management, points out that “men tend to overstate how well they do relative to women. And the people who are making the decisions after hearing everyone speak tended to take most people’s statements at face value. You’d think that people would discount what men say somewhat and inflate what women say about themselves. But in reality, they didn’t do that.”
The bottom line impacts of all these elements?
- Bosses criticize women for playing against social expectations of being modest when they ask for a raise.
- Bosses bypass women for opportunities because it’s assumed they have no achievements because they haven’t talked about them.
Business women can circumvent the crossfire and begin to change social norms about women talking about their accomplishments by doing four things.
4 ways for women to bypass the barriers to effective self-promotion
First, women have to get right with their own reservations about talking about their accomplishments and give themselves permission to do so.
From all those years of “good girl” messaging, I thought talking about my achievements was bragging, and I didn’t want to be that icky person who was always talking up what they’ve done and how wonderful they are. I had to learn a couple of things before I could get past that line of thinking.
- Bragging and self-promotion are two totally different actions. One is a social turn-off; the other is a leadership skill.
- Bragging is “me-focused.” I landed the big account; I was the one who convinced the boss to change his mind, I did all the work on that project.
- Self-promotion is me-sharing-how-I-can-serve-you; it’s “we-focused,” and it’s a valuable leadership skill.
Second, women accept that talking about their successes and skills is a just another part of being an effective leader. It’s also a way for women to change the social norms that say women who talk about their performance are being immodest.
“Self-promotion is a skill that produces disproportionate rewards, and if skill at self-promotion remains disproportionately male, those rewards will as well.” ~Clay Shirky, NYU professor
Until people begin “discounting what men say and inflating what women say about themselves,” women telling their story isn’t optional; it’s mandatory.
I had a hard time getting my mom’s voice out of my head when it came to talking about myself. Then I learned about the smorgasbord of opportunities in which I could share my expertise and accomplishments and not come across as the braggart beating his chest.
Consider these avenues of action. You can:
- Write an article for the company newsletter or blog in which you share a story about a skill and a success it brought you and how others might benefit from doing the same.
- Teach a workshop to share a skill. Be a mentor.
- Send short emails or texts to the boss about a successful outcome, just want to let you know that blah-blah good happened.
- Speak up in meetings.
An important part of getting good with this skill is learning to take the praise when it’s offered and not attribute the positive outcomes to luck.
Third, women frame the story they tell about themselves to include both their performance and their potential.
- The business world evaluates men on potential, women on performance. Until there are enough women in senior positions to change that orientation, business women have to own closing the gap.
- Because most people don’t make the automatic leap we hope they will, we have to do it for them and say things like, with help from my talented team, I made our department the highest performing one in the company. I’d like the opportunity to do the same with the northeast division.
A study conducted by Catalyst, an international nonprofit focused on advancing women, found that women who consistently made their achievements known did better than women who didn’t.
This both/and approach is a way to bridge existing social expectations and ultimately change social norms. In interviews, meetings, and other venues, we bridge social bias by talking with grace about our past performance, future potential, and how the organization benefits by what we do.
Fourth, women support other women who are learning to get comfortable with self-promotion.
This support is crucial—it helps to make it OK for women to talk about themselves and their accomplishments and not feel like they are doing something wrong when they’re really doing something right.
This support can take lots of forms.
- It may mean gently reminding a male colleague how men receive accolades (and promotions and raises) when they talk about themselves, so let’s be fair and do the same for women.
- It may mean coaching a female colleague to get go of her fear and talk to her boss about her achievements while asking for a raise.
- It may mean asking a colleague to support us as we bravely apply for the job we really, really want, even if a few performance gaps exist.
Take the leap with knocking knees and courage
Despite what our moms may have taught us, we have to learn to be fearless and go for it because self-promotion matters.
So do we.
Image before quote credit: Pixabay
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As I think back over my career, what I find fascinating, puzzling, and sad is how few people I’ve worked for knew how to lead with their hearts and manage with their heads. I can count them on one hand. Those incomparable individuals pushed or encouraged me to learn, take risks, be kind, be curious, and to border my comfort zone with elastic, not concrete. These head and heart leaders made me better and enriched my life.
All my bosses shared a few talents. They were all good at planning, organizing, directing, giving orders, assigning work, and watching the numbers. A few were genius-like standouts in some of these areas of responsibility.
I followed all of my bosses, some because I had to. My paycheck or continued employment depended on it. With them, my head was absolutely in the game, my heart not so much. But then, there were those bosses I followed because I wanted to, inspired and motivated by what they did.
Getting the heart part of leadership right
What set that handful of head and heart leaders apart?
I respected their knowledge and was motivated by their vision. They showed us how the work we did fit into the big picture. They let us know we mattered. We knew we were more than a cog in the wheel or a means to an end.
I thrived in the space and time they gave us to grow. They taught me how to equally value results, the bottom line, connection, and relationships. They pushed for quantity but never at the expense of quality. They were role models for caring about tomorrow, the end of the quarter, and ten years from now. They asked us if we needed help and were having fun. They valued traditions and still encouraged us to be innovative and creative.
I soaked up their lessons on how to manage the opposing tensions workplaces are so full of, things like balancing bottom-up and top-down decision-making or knowing when to centralize or decentralize to maintain efficiency without sacrificing effectiveness.
I was engaged because they asked us what we thought, what we wanted, and they listened. They nurtured, demanded, praised, and corrected. They knew when to be rigid in enforcing the rules and when to flex them. They understood that “we” is more powerful than “me.” They found a way to bridge the simplicity and complexity of leveraging diversity of thought, opinion, and perspective.
I learned it was OK to be vulnerable, to care, and to have both confidence and humility. They showed us that admitting to being wrong and making mistakes came with the job because being popular for the wrong reasons isn’t important but being respected is. They served the greater good, not their ego. They always valued people, principles, and profits equally. They never surrendered mission to margin because ethics, honesty, integrity, and character mattered all the time.
Character is the indelible mark that determines the only true value of all people and all their work. ~Orison Swett Marden, author and founder of SUCCESS magazine
Genuine leaders manage with their head and lead with their heart. They’re pros at the “science” part of the job, knowing the technical, operational, financial, regulatory, and process components of their job stone cold. But they don’t stop there. They ace the “art” of leadership—the people and character part. This heart focus is what sets them apart and makes them special.
I try every day to emulate their good head and heart practices by balancing logic and emotion, meaning and money, results and relationships, taking charge and taking care. I succeed some days, fail on others.
On the days in which I fail, I pick myself up (usually with a special someone’s good head and heart-balanced help) and pledge to do better tomorrow.
Image source before quote: Pixabay
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Have you ever given someone what you thought was helpful feedback only to be surprised by a less-than-positive reaction?
We’ve all been taught that feedback—both the giving and the receiving—is the breakfast of champions. Right? So, when we share that breakfast with someone and the sharing falls flat, it’s not uncommon to blame the recipient for being unwilling to hear the truth.
That very well may be true. Experts tell us that “people avoid feedback because they hate being criticized.” Psychologists say that negative news triggers the inbred flight or fight reaction.
However, how many of us have honestly examined our motives and methods to discover if we contributed to the poor reception that our feedback received?
Robert Sutton, an organizational psychologist at Stanford University, observes that “we’re remarkably incompetent at understanding how we affect other people.” To assess if our methods and motives played a role in blunting the effectiveness of our feedback, here’s five questions we can ask ourselves.
5 questions to ask to deliver helpful feedback
1) Did I make the feedback all about me?
Icky feedback: Your incessant whining about how bad things are around here annoys me.
Not icky feedback: I share your concerns about the quality of our workplace. I hope you’re aware of how people here look to you as an informal leader. If you could use that ability and work with people to make change, I’m betting you could make a positive difference around here.
Feedback really isn’t feedback if the message is all about us. Feedback is meant to help or praise the other person, so keeping the focus on them is an important element to keep in mind.
2) Did I do my homework before offering feedback?
I was in a personal development mastermind group. One of the ground rules was to write out our issue, identify the assistance we wanted, and share this information ahead of time. When my time to receive feedback rolled around, one participant said she hadn’t read my materials but still had some thoughts she wanted to share with me. Her input wasn’t helpful because it wasn’t applicable to my situation.
Feedback is a gift. We have to take the time to make ours the best possible gift by being grounded in the facts before we offer advice.
3) Did I expect the recipient to be grateful because I shared my expertise with them?
My off-point feedback provider was a tad miffed by my “thank you for sharing, but your input isn’t going to work for me” response. She doubled down and pointed out all the success she had had in doing what she was telling me to do.
We can’t expect our feedback to be well-received if we haven’t taken the time to gain familiarity with what the other person is experiencing.
Additionally, if our feedback is negative and/or unsolicited, it requires someone with high self-awareness and a degree of humility to respond with grace and openness. We have to remember that not everyone is at that level of personal development and must be willing to meet them where they are.
4) Did I provide enough information in my feedback?
Icky feedback: You were really rude to Jonelle in that meeting.
Not icky feedback: In yesterday’s staff meeting, I saw you roll your eyes several times when Jonelle was speaking. You also interrupted her three times. Because she’s the only woman on our team, wrong messages are being sent about her value to the team.
To minimize defensiveness and define specific performance to change, we have to make feedback meaningful and concrete. We do that by using facts and observable actions to explain the situation, the behaviors involved, and their impacts.
5) In sharing my feedback, might I have come across as dogmatic or self-righteous?
We live in polarizing times in which social norms about declaring the rightness of our position and the wrongness of another’s are wobbling. Feedback delivered without respect and civility does more harm than good.
Icky feedback: Stop talking so much about change. Tradition is a big deal around here, and you have to get onboard with that.
Not icky feedback: As I listened to what you just said about your proposed project being turned down, I sensed your frustration with how slow things are to change. Stability and consistency are important to the owners. They want to preserve their father’s legacy. That being said, change is necessary. If you could just show them how a little innovation can make that legacy better, I bet they’ll be more open to listen to your ideas.
True intuitive expertise is learned from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes. ~Daniel Kahneman, psychologist and winner, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.
There’s a balance of responsibility that exists in both giving and receiving feedback. If we’re genuinely interested in helping the recipient of our feedback, we take the time to be thoughtful about both what we say and how we say it. We have to take ourselves, our motivations, and our wants out of the way if we’re going to be an effective messenger in delivering that breakfast of champions.
Image credit before quote: Pixabay
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