“You can’t do that. It’s not in the plan.”
How many times have you heard that line spoken at work?
Business plans, contingency plans, succession plans, project plans and the planning that goes into them are all good—until they aren’t.
Plans bring order and continuity. They can also be obstacles to innovation, inclusion, and creativity.
Think about the colleague who has a detailed plan for everything and refuses to deviate from it, no matter how compelling new information may be. Think about the company that fails to recognize the institutional bias that’s been embedded in its long-time succession and promotion plans.
It’s easy to come up with new ideas; the hard part is letting go of what worked for you two years ago, but will soon be out of date. ~Roger von Oech
A few years ago, I served on the inaugural steering committee for a new community conference intent on becoming an annual event. The first conference was a roaring success; the second even better. The third not so much.
One of original steering committee members who had stayed the course shared her diagnosis as to why the third event was unsuccessful. “The plan had worked well, so we relied on it too much. Because we stuck to the plan, we missed out on including some excellent panelists and speakers. No one wanted to step outside the lines and do something different.”
Ever been in that spot?
Through social conditioning, training, preference, or the desire for convenience, people fall into one of two mental traps about planning and get stuck in their thinking.
One camp frets that chaos will result if there’s inadequate planning and control. The other believes too much planning and control will stifle creativity. The concerns of both camps are valid.
If both concerns are valid, then what’s the problem?
The problem is either/or thinking—accepting the notion that planning is either about control or chaos.
Planning for and achieving successful outcomes require both chaos and control, both disorder and boundaries.
These paradoxes are equally important but essentially different management requirements according to the late management consultant Peter Drucker. Regardless of how contradictory dealing with both disorder and boundaries sounds, they’re interdependent. Like it or not, both are necessary for success. Either/or doesn’t work.
The Wright brother flew right through the smoke screen of impossibility. ~Charles Kettering
The natural tension between the disorder that improvisors thrive on and the boundaries that control freaks adore can be managed provided people are willing to be curious and flexible.
3 ways to find the sweet spot for planning
Doing three things aids us in keeping curiosity, flexibility, and success front and center as we first create and then execute our plans.
1) Have a general game plan.
Know what you want to accomplish. Have a timeline. Define roles, responsibilities, and measures of success. Think about what could go wrong and how to deal with problems. Identify resources and stakeholders. Be willing to flex or scrap it all and re-invent when circumstances shift.
2) Get comfortable being slightly uncomfortable.
Recognize that always sticking to the plan provides a false sense of security that obscures new opportunities. Learn to be flexible with “how” the “what” of the plan is implemented. Be willing to challenge the end goal. Embrace and reward purposeful discomfort. Be willing to be vulnerable and sometimes not be certain of the next step.
3) Leave room for serendipity.
Whether that interaction with an unintended outcome or moment of “aha!” realization is engineered by an app or a spontaneous stroke of fate, be open and receptive to the mad genius possibilities it presents. Don’t let existing plans become a straitjacket. Roll with the punches.
Serendipity. Look for something, find something else, and realize that what you’ve found is more suited to your needs than what you thought you were looking for. ~Lawrence Block
Finding the sweet spot between too much and “just right” planning takes time and patience, but it can be done.
Have how you learned to manage the tension between chaos and control?
Image credit before quote added: Pixabay
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Wouldn’t it be lovely if humility smelled like warm chocolate chip cookies so we could easily find ours when we lost it?
A small group of us were sharing comeuppance stories—times when we’d gotten too big for our britches and had taken a big fall from grace.
Betsy’s fall was the most dramatic. She’d been off-the-charts successful in her marketing job for a cosmetics company. Another company recruited her for their CMO job, complete with huge salary, signing bonus, and jaw-dropping perks. Betsy enjoyed her amazing perks for only five months. The CEO who’d recruited her fired her, saying Betsy was overly self-righteous, too self-important, and unnecessarily scornful of employees who weren’t executives.
“Go. Now. Be gone,” said the CEO as she made a sweeping away gesture with her hand. “I want you out of here immediately.”
Betsy said the CEO’s office had glass walls. So, while the CEO’s words were unheard by others, she saw everyone watching the dismissive gestures. And smiling.
It took Betsy five months to be able to say she was glad the humiliating experience had happened. Without it, she said, she would have remained too big for her britches, believing the myths about herself. She said she might have even become more unbearable.
“I got what I deserved. I let my success go to my head,” she said.
As do too many others.
Getting what we deserve
The endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one’s specialness, of how much more open and gifted and brilliant and knowing and misunderstood and humble one is. ~Anne Lamott
Not letting success steal our self-awareness is at the heart of staying humble. We control whether that happens or not. Either we let success go to our head and become self-important jerks, or we don’t.
Success isn’t some kind of a sentient being that inhabits our bodies, takes control of our mind, and miraculously makes us someone new.
Becoming successful or powerful or rich only shows what we really were all the time.
Hubris is an accessory we acquire.
If we were kind before being successful, we stay kind. If we were thoughtful, we stay thoughtful. If we were open-minded, we stay open-minded.
Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real. ~Thomas Merton
How could Betsy and the rest of us have stayed grounded enough so we didn’t have a comeuppance story to tell? A smorgasbord of choices and options exists. To make sure we don’t get too big for our britches, all we have to do is be self-aware.
If you’re looking for suggestions for how to avoid having a comeuppance story, here’s 31 ideas to get you started. Take a look and think about what could work for you.
31 things to do
- Practice gratitude
- Admit to being wrong, don’t double down
- Accept challenges with grace
- Adopt a beginner’s mindset
- Focus on the effort, not the outcome
- Ask for feedback and really listen to it
- Confront your prejudices
- Choose purpose over passion
- Be curious and ask questions
- Kill your pride
- Appreciate others
- Accept good enough
- Understand your weaknesses and faults
- Be gentle with the weaknesses and faults of others
- Keep your abilities in perspective
- Don’t fear failure
- Accept others as they are
- Don’t measure yourself by material possessions
- Practice self-compassion
- Live your values and do so with grace
- Let others live their values with grace, too
- See happiness as a by-product of purpose
- Give credit where it’s due
- Connect deeper than generalities
- Don’t evaluate others by their position or status
- Accept criticism as a gift
- Laugh at yourself
- Be mindful of the expectations you set for yourself and others
- Listen more, talk less
- Serve someone
Humility is a quiet gift we give ourselves and others.
Quiet anything easily gets lost or overlooked in today’s hurly-burly pace of life. But, as with most good and worthwhile things in life, we have to want quiet humility. Have to work at having it. Have to never lose sight of its importance.
Owning the responsibility to maintain our humility makes all the difference.
Image credit before quote added: Pixabay
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Whether he or she works as a CEO, a coach, or any job that requires motivating others, a great leader is at heart a good salesperson.
Because, if an organization’s leadership isn’t constantly persuading the rest of the team to buy into an idea or a philosophy, the team is likely to splinter, which means everyone starts moving in his or her own direction.
Selling and persuading is much more than simply barking orders, which, regardless of the circumstances, rarely gets the job done.
Leaders don’t always have formal authority or positional power to compel people to do what they want done. So, in many situations, they need to persuade, convince, and sell people on their ideas.
If a leader is to be a successful salesperson and influence others, he or she must first understand what their people are thinking. Then, the leader taps into whatever the person’s strongest emotion is at that time.
Ultimately, being an effective leader who can persuade and influence others is a matter of appealing to people’s heads, hearts, and hands.
Appealing to their head, heart, and hands
Here’s how a leader who’s a salesperson makes persuasion and influence work:
- The Head – This is an appeal to the intellect.
Leaders can persuade people through rational arguments that include market research, customer surveys, and case studies. They also should highlight the business benefits of ideas and how they will help employees. In some situations, it helps to explain the consequences of not changing. Explain what’s at stake and what they will lose out on if they don’t change.
- The Heart – This is an appeal to emotions.
People only change their behavior when doing so makes them feel better. The leader needs to connect to people’s need for status, order, honor, security, and purpose. Engage their hearts by making employees feel they are part of something big and special.
- The Hands – This is persuasion through direct involvement.
Give employees something to experience viscerally, like the way salespeople let someone take a car for a test drive or how new restaurants offer a taste test. Demonstrations help people experience the value and benefits of a particular idea or innovation. Direct experience can alter how a person thinks and feels about a new initiative.
Leader as salesperson
Having the right mix of facts, emotional appeals, and involvement helps sell ideas and proposals. Once that’s done, the leader needs to close the deal by asking for people’s commitment to whatever is proposed.
Commitment is an act, not a word. ~Jean-Paul Sartre
In some cases, you may need to start small. Get people to commit first to taking baby steps. That’s progress.
Today’s contributor, Paul Thornton, is an author, trainer, speaker, and professor of Business Administration at Springfield Technical Community College in Springfield, Massachusetts.
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At one point in my career, I was a vice president in a Fortune 500 company that had $2 billion in annual revenues. I successfully managed a department of 150 people, consistently delivering projects ahead of schedule and under budget.
When asked by the CEO to describe me, can you guess what my boss said?
He said I was a “soft and round Aunt Polly.”
Wow, that stung.
I can’t deny that I’m a woman. That I’m blonde. And that I’m overweight.
But why would my boss describe me by my appearance and sex instead of my accomplishments?
Because I’ve hit the trifecta of stereotypes. Tilt, tilt, tilt for being a dumb, fat broad.
It’s 2019, and gender stereotypes still exist that make it challenging for business women to be seen as both a good leader and a good woman.
That really troubles me.
What about you?
Is that the kind of workplace culture we want for our children and grandchildren?
For the women and men who want their kids and grandkids to have a different experience, now’s the time to partner up for change.
Provided both sexes are willing to modify a few workplace practices, together we can change how leadership is defined and practiced. Together, we can put an end to the stereotypes that limit the potential and passion of too many.
9 ways to say good-bye to gender stereotypes
Here are nine actions you can take to bring equity and gender-balanced inclusiveness to your leadership practices.
1. Be mindful of gender stereotypes that influence your thinking about which sex is better suited for certain kinds of work.
Social conditioning nudges people to think about leadership in terms of masculine traits, a practice that puts women and feminine attributes at a disadvantage.
If you find yourself thinking that men make the better bosses because they’re good at taking charge and women the better assistants because they’re the best at taking care, stop. If you always ask the women in your meetings to take the notes or plan parties, stop. If you question the leadership potential of a kind-hearted man, stop. If you describe assertive women as shrill, stop.
Stereotypes push us to apply a specified set of expectations to a whole group of people, whether they apply or not. When we do that, we ignore individual attributes and deny people their potential.
2. Check for inconsistencies in how you select a man or a woman for a job or evaluate their promotion readiness.
Research tells us that women are judged on their past performance, men on their future potential. Why not evaluate all candidates on both their past performance and future potential?
3. Assure that all voices are heard equally in the meetings you conduct.
If the men keep interrupting the women, call them out. If the women remain silent, call them into the discussion. If anyone co-opts an idea that someone presented earlier, assure that proper attribution is given.
4. Monitor how you pay your people.
If you supervise others, look for—and correct—any wage disparities that exists between sexes, ethnicities, etc., holding the same positions.
5. Sponsor both women and men and be proactive about it.
For anyone who has the audacity to insinuate that an inappropriate relationship exists in a mixed sex sponsorship, call out their boorish and stereotypical thinking.
6. Let go of the incorrect myth that power always corrupts.
There are those who use the power of their position for personal gain, but don’t confuse power with the selfish person using it. Power reveals what a person already was.
7. Avoid the “parent” trap.
When a man becomes a parent, it’s assumed he’ll be more dedicated to his work because he has a family to support. When a woman becomes a parent, it’s assumed she’ll be less dedicated to her work because she has a family. Be on the lookout for these incorrect assumptions. Along the same lines, don’t penalize either moms or dads for using family leave time.
8. Don’t confuse physical presence with true inclusion.
Just because there’s a woman or a minority on a team doesn’t mean there’s an inclusive, participative environment with meaningful engagement. Ask yourself some tough questions about whether your leadership practices are reflective of real participation or just window dressing presence.
9. Be willing to be vulnerable so your biases can be detected and managed.
While we all work hard to not be biased, we still are. Create mechanisms so that the presence of biases, gender and otherwise, can be safely and nonjudgmentally identified and eliminated.
Seeing someone else’s biases is much easier than seeing our own. That means using tact, grit, kindness, persistance, and grace are essential for achieving progress, openness, and inclusion.
Psychologists once believed that only bigoted people used stereotypes. Now the study of unconscious bias is revealing the unsettling truth: We all use stereotypes, all the time, without knowing it. We have met the enemy of equality, and the enemy is us. ~Annie Murphy Paul, journalist and author
As you head out to work tomorrow, remember the shining eyes and hopeful faces of your children. Build the kind of place where you would want them to work.
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A former boss was well-known for his flamboyant language and turns of speech. One of his favorite analogies was to compare a leader’s job in dealing with conflict with being the pooper scooper at the circus.
He’d tell us it was our job to clean up the messes people on our team made.
Even though we frequently rolled our eyes when the boss was on one of his circus rants, his point was a good one. Why? Because usually what we had to smooth over was some sort of conflict. Something that could have been avoided had the situation initially been handled more thoughtfully.
For lots of reason, conflict is a challenge. People struggle to deal with it.
There are those who see conflict as a life-or-death scourge to be stamped out.
Some see differences of thought, opinion, perspective, and experience as deficiencies because they generate conflict.
These are glass half-empty approaches.
Conflict, while often messy. actually presents us with opportunity.
Bernie Mayer, Professor of Dispute Resolution at Creighton University, is a leader in the field of conflict resolution. In his book, The Conflict Paradox, Mayer examines seven polarities we often encounter as we try to make sense of conflict. The polarities are:
- Competition and Cooperation
- Optimism and Realism
- Avoidance and Engagement
- Principle and Compromise
- Emotions and Logic
- Impartiality and Advocacy
- Autonomy and Community
As with all polarities, the elements in each pair are but one side of the same coin. While the elements may sound contradictory, both of them are necessary for success and survival over the long-term.
As a team leader, one must realize the paradox that surrounds conflict. The team needs to embrace conflict as a means of generating and evaluating ideas. While at the same time, it must shy away from it to prevent frustration or alienation. The biggest challenge for the team leader is figuring out how to balance these two factors. ~Erich Brockmann, professor
It’s natural to prefer one element over the other. When we encounter a person who prefers the other element, there’s the possibility for conflict since we’re now dealing with a clash of interests. I like competition; you like cooperation. You prefer principle; I prefer compromise
As leaders, it’s our job to help those on our team transcend finger-pointing and right versus wrong arguments. Everyone is right!
So that conflict helps us grow and find the best solution, our job is to:
- Steer conflict from dysfunctional to functional, from destructive to constructive, from disregard to respect—all in pursuit of healthy conflict that facilitates innovation and openness.
- Assist people in dealing with issues as well as helping them remember the lessons learned in childhood about sharing and handling disappointment because rarely do we get 100 percent of what we want.
- Acknowledge inequity and injustice, frame solutions that draw from both poles contributing to the conflict, and assist people to recognize there’s always a greater good that transcends individual wants and wishes.
- Weave connection and humanize the difference. “The other” has a name, a face, and feelings, too.
- Build an environment where it’s OK to disagree, but it’s not OK to fail to listen and learn, or label “the other” as being wrong.
All legislation, all government, all society is formed upon the principle of mutual concession, politeness, comity, courtesy; upon these, everything is based. ~Henry Clay, 19th century lawyer and stateman
Sometimes the contents of the pooper scooper get heavy and smelly. However, that’s when we—if we want to call ourselves leaders—do our best, and most meaningful, work. Right?
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“Oh, come on. It’s just a little white lie. Why are you making such a big deal out of it?”
“Because it’s a lie, and it’s not so little.”
“Dude, you’re never going to get anywhere with that mindset. Sometimes you just have to stretch the truth. Everyone does it.”
Does everyone lie?
Well, kinda. Research about lies and truth doesn’t tell a reassuring story:
- Psychologist Robert Feldman has studied lying for more than a decade. His research isn’t reassuring—60% of people lie during a typical 10-minute conversation and that they average two to three lies during that short timeframe.
- USC psychologist Jerald Jellison determined that people are lied to about 200 times a day.
- A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that 25 percent of the time, people lied for someone else’s sake.
This (and other) research doesn’t square very well with a survey done by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge authors. They found that the most valued leadership quality is honesty. It led by a mile, signaling that integrity, truthfulness, and authenticity are hallmarks of character-based leaders.
To riff on an old AmEx tag line, honesty, integrity, and authenticiy are attributes no leader should leave home without.
Honesty consists of the unwillingness to lie to others; maturity, which is equally hard to attain, consists of the unwillingness to lie to oneself. ~Sydney J. Harris
If you’re a leader who sees value in truth and honesty, here’s seven things you can do to keep them front and center in leading yourself and others.
7 ways to keep truth front and center
1) Hold yourself and those on your team accountable for full truthfulness instead of what author Ralph Keyes calls “ledger-book” morality.
Ethics are judged on a sliding scale…If we add up truths and lies we’ve told and find more of the former than the latter, we classify ourselves honest…Conceding that his magazine soft-pedaled criticism of advertisers, one publisher concluded, ‘I guess you could say we’re 75 percent honest, which isn’t bad.’~Ralph Keyes
2) Encourage healthy debate and diversity of thought, opinion, and perspective. The most effective leaders encourage differing points of view and are careful not to position those who disagree as being wrong, a loser, or not likeable. They discourage groupthink and refrain from shooting the messenger.
The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.~Niels Bohr
3) Watch for opinions that masquerade as facts, and correct them when they get conflated.
4) Be transparent. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Hidden agendas serve no one well. Own up, not double down on, being wrong.
Leaders who are candid and predictable—they tell everyone the same thing and don’t continually revise their stories—signal to followers that the rules of the game aren’t changing and that decisions won’t be made arbitrarily. Given that assurance, followers become more willing to stick their necks out, make an extra effort, and put themselves on the line to help their leaders achieve goals. ~ James O’Toole and Warren Bennis
5) Make sharing the truth easy to do. Recognize and reward those who have the courage and candor to speak truthfully.
6) Welcome both/and polarities and manage the interdependent tensions that exist between them. Dr. Jean Lipman-Blumen says leaders must manage overlapping visions, mutual problems, and common goals and the diverse nature of individuals, groups, and organizations. Difference isn’t an untruth; it’s the new normal.
People with different lifestyles and different backgrounds challenge each other more. Diversity creates dissent, and you need that. Without it, you’re not going to get any deep inquiry or breakthroughs. ~ Paul Block, CEO of Merisant
7) Don’t give yourself a hall pass by believing your little lies are OK while those of others are unacceptable. Practice the South African philosophy of “ubuntu.”
[Ubuntu is] the essence of being human…it embraces hospitality, caring about others, being able to go the extra mile for the sake of others. We believe that a person is a person through another person, that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably with yours. When I dehumanize you, I inexorably dehumanize myself. The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms and therefore you seek to work for the common good because your humanity comes into its own in belonging. ~ Desmond Tutu, social rights activist
Untruths move from the fringe to the mainstream when we allow them to do so. It’s up to us whether or not we allow that to happen.
I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody. ~Lily Tomlin
Image before quote by Scott Webb from Pixabay
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