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Probably the most powerful skill that one can develop is that of reading people. For with it you can do so much. Whether you want to influence or persuade. Or whether you want to empathize with and connect. It all starts with reading the subtle tells that people give off.
Therefore, this skill is ESSENTIAL for people leadership! It allows managers to have the all important feedback loop for their communication. When used properly, this skill connects people as the employee feels seen and heard without having to raise their hand and speak.
Lately, I’ve been on the receiving end of this powerful skill. It’s a little alarming yet comforting to know that people care enough to notice you and are compassionate enough to offer a supportive ear.
According to Robert Greene’s The Laws of Human Nature, we’re all on a narcissism spectrum. To improve in this area, I highly suggest first shifting your mindset by tuning down the narcissism. Pay more attention to other people. Look them in the eye.
Until you’re able to pick up on queues, simply ask: “How do you feel about that?” “What’s on your mind?” You must then be prepared to lay down your defensiveness and humbly listen. I’d also recommend books like NLP For Dummies, Emotional Intelligence Mastery and Influence.
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Feelings and emotions get a bad rap, especially in the workplace. Many managers tacitly expect employees to set them aside and just do your job. You can hear it in the person who belittles emotions, says someone is too emotional. Or the manager is content to only deal in the realm of logic. This tends to lead to disengagement and frustration. People don’t feel comfortable bringing their whole self to work. Leaders must be willing to embrace the difficult path of engaging with emotion.
Origins of Armoring Up
From the time we entered this world we expressed our emotions as a means to survive. Our childhoods can be described as one big emotional minefield. In an attempt to protect themselves from unpredictable emotional explosions (from our parents, siblings, friends or situations) children develop a protective armor called the ego.
This armor (ego) envelops our psyche like James Cameron’s avatars. So much so that we identify with it. We assume that the critical voice in our head is our own when in fact it belongs to the ego. Inside the armored casing are the insecurities, fears, and doubts of a childhood version of ourselves that we seek to protect. In Robert Greene’s The Laws of Human Nature, he maintains that a child who was not emotionally attuned will grow into an adult incapable of handling their emotions let alone the emotions of others.
Avoiding the Discomfort
The inability to handle emotions becomes problematic when it comes to management. Emotions are to the Employee-Manager relationship as water is to a river. The problem occurs when managers would rather walk over an imaginary bridge called logic to avoid the turbulent waters below.
When another human is dependent on another as the authority figure for their survival, it is important that all lines of communication be utilized to help them achieve their goals. Not just the ones that are convenient or comfortable for the manager. Leaders must recognize that feelings, and their resulting emotions, play a significant role in employee perception and engagement.
Soft Skills are Vital
Whenever we assume a position of authority, it must be done with a great deal of humility. One that is able to put their ego and check and say “Look self, I don’t know everything. There are a lot of areas I need to improve in to be more and more effective. I am willing to endure the discomfort that always accompanies growth.”
To be truly effective as a manager of people, it also requires empathy. In her book “Dare to Lead”, Dr. Brene Brown beautifully describes empathy as seeing someone in a ditch. Then having the courage to get down in that ditch with them knowing that you can get back out. It’s about acknowledging and reflecting those feelings back to that individual. It isn’t just shouting down from the edge of the ditch “I’m so sorry for you -or- That sucks.”
Keys to Brave Leadership
Brown goes on to provide 7 points to B.R.A.V.I.N.G. the inevitable emotions that arise at work.
B = Boundaries – respecting yours and having my own
R = Reliability – being both reliable and authentic (real)
A = Accountability – I own my mistake, apologise, and make amends
V = Vault – what I share with you, you will hold in confidence (and I do the same with you!); no gossiping; respect confidentiality
I = Integrity – choosing courage over comfort; choosing what’s right over what’s fun, easy or fast; practising my values, not only just professing my values
N = Non-judgement & reciprocity – offering and asking for help. Not thinking less of myself for needing help, otherwise I’ll judge others for asking me for help
G = Generosity – believing the best in the other even when they disappoint me (vs. being a victim)
Emotions are part and parcel of human existence. No longer can employees be expected to negate their inherent feelings because the manager is ignorant of, incapable of or unwilling to effectively deal with them. Leaders must get comfortable with the discomfort of delving into the murky waters of difficult emotions. They must avoid taking the easy path of ignoring emotions. This is how they will develop the trust needed to foster courageous and safe work cultures.
About a month after saving “8 things every person should do before 8 am” by Benjamin P. Hardy in my Pocket library, I finally listened to it this past Saturday. The title really should’ve been ‘Developing the confidence to change your life’ as that truly is what morning routines provide. The thick introduction was about the anxiety that fuels the innate human resistance to change.
In life, there’s no way you’re going to be able to control every situation. Striving to is a recipe for perpetual hopelessness and never-ending anxiety. Instead, focus on managing your reactions and response to those situations.
This article puts the morning routine in a new light. Morning routines hit two chords: personal responsibility and self-discipline. Both are vital to managing your reactions and responses to life’s situations. Conquer the morning, conquer your day.
What holds many back from getting the most out of life aren’t the seemingly automatic excuses. At the root of all excuses to goal achievement is FEAR. Morning routines attack the fear the only way you can – through consistent effort.
Picture yourself in a forest and that your dream is a giant sequoia that has to be chopped down. Most give up before ever taking on such a massive undertaking. Seemingly not realizing that there’s no ax in the world that can strike 1000 blows at once – it takes a sustained and deliberate effort. Your morning routine is a way to wield that ax each and every day. with each swing, a flywheel of momentum takes over and generates the confidence needed to overcome complacency and the inevitable failures.
This article wasn’t what I expected, but just what I needed at the moment. I’d been wrestling with how anxiety inhibits fear. I always think that God has a funny way of bringing you just what you need at the exact time that you’re ready for it.
Favorite Quote: “The only way to change is to stop explaining your life by your past and to start explaining your life based on your future.”
When I hear the familiar refrain “I don’t do resolutions. They never work.” I feel bad for that person. Through no fault of their own, they’d been burned having previously bought into the New Year’s Resolutions. If they were attempting to keep resolutions without tieing it to a specific goal, choosing a new identity, and making room for new habits then they didn’t stand a chance.
Tell me your PROBLEMS
It all starts with identifying and analyzing the PROBLEM. Think about your struggles, your aggravations, your aspirations, your bad habits, your performance gaps. Before you go making goals for every irritation, assess it’s change potential. Is there something:
harmful you’re doing that you should Eliminate?
that’s working that you should Keep?
about the problem that you just need to Accept?
you can Create to make the problem better?
From the Create and potentially the Eliminate section is where you’ll find potential goals.
What are your GOALS
Picture yourself in a department store. Your problem is the realization that you need to get on a higher floor. The GOAL is defining what reaching that “next level” looks like. Goals should be slightly out of reach. Your goal is not a task. For instance, taking the SAT is not a goal. Score 1300 on the SAT by Aug 2019 is a goal. Going to the gym 3x a week is not a goal (it’s a resolution). Lose 25 lbs by May 31st is a goal. Goals reflect the specific measurable results that signals that you’ve solved your initial problem.
What do you RESOLVE to do about it
With your goals identified, you must decide, commit, resolve to perform certain actions to get you to your goal. Back in the department store, resolutions are the escalator that will get you from your current level to that next level. Oh by the way, the escalator is going down instead of up. This is what most who say resolutions don’t work for them fail to realize – resolutions are new habits and habit change is HHAAAAARRRDDD. There are several things to consider when changing habits which I explain in Rethinking Resolutions. You first chose the identity of the person who’s at that next level, understand what motivates you and adjusting your environment to make the habit change easier.
The other key is understanding that resolutions ARE NOT one time tasks. They are daily/weekly commitments. There is a regular cadence to them that enable them to become habits. For example, going to the gym 3x a week is a resolution. Signing up for a gym membership is a task. Studying 1 hour a day for the GMAT is a resolution. Signing up for or taking the GMAT is a task.
The bottom line is that to get better, you’re going to have to do better. When you do better, you will eventuallybe better. Being better begins with understanding your Problem, formulating your Goals and committing to your Resolutions. All three are needed to produce the need habit change necessary to bring about that New You this New Year.
Nowadays it seems like the only folks who still love New Year’s Resolutions are fitness centers. Many fall into the following camps: I’ve tried many times and they just don’t work or I don’t believe in resolutions or better yet I choose to set goals instead of pointless resolutions.
This is a problem because much like every day is a new beginning, the New Year is a time when we can begin again on a grand scale. It’s a fitting milestone where we look back and assess where we’ve been so we can chart our new course for the new year and beyond.
This apathy toward resolutions perpetuates a general malaise of inaction, unaccountability, and unfulfillment. What if I told you that resolutions aren’t the problem, rather it’s have we’ve been taught to perceive them? Here are 5 steps to take to rethink resolutions.
Realize resolutions involve habits
Much of our daily decisions are habitual. Habits that we generally pay little attention to. Checking the phone when you wake up, our shower routine, the route we take to work, checking the phone while walking to/from meetings, and on and on and on. Since habits can be either positive or negative, it behooves us to pause and become more aware of the habits that aren’t serving us. This can be done by taking a week to perform a time audit. This will reveal just where and how you’re spending your time along with some possibly eye-opening negative habits. You can only improve a negative habit by replacing it with a positive habit. Simply put, a resolution is you saying “I am deciding to develop [insert positive habit here].” [Book recommendation: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg]
Choose Your Identity
A resolution is NOT a goal. A resolution is a decision to be the kind of person you want to become. It’s deciding each day to do the kind of things that that person would do. If you want to lose 70 lbs, your identity could be a healthy person who eats the right things. If you want to get your MBA, your identity could be a person who says no to nightly Netflix. This is powerful because you make most of these habitual decisions unconsciously. This technique uses the tremendous force of cognitive dissonance. By helping adjust those subconscious decisions to align with the identity you’ve chosen. Thus giving you a powerful ally in the face of the inevitable temptations. [Book recommendation: Atomic Habits by James Clear]
Focus on what you can control
When you punch in the destination (goal) into your GPS, no one expects to be teleported to their destination (at least not yet). To get there involves doing some actual work on your part (driving). Your main focus should only be on resolving to follow those steps and do the things that that type of person would do. Focus on the process involved in achieving that goal, not the goal itself. If when following that GPS, you were to take the wrong turn, what you do? Exactly! Sounds silly to think that you wouldn’t turn around or take the alternate route that still gets you to your destination, doesn’t it. Manage your expectations in this regard by removing the need to be perfect from Jan 1st to Dec 31st.
Recognize your motivations
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius says “To thine own self be true.” Couple that with Socrates saying, “Know thyself.” To ensure you’re not fighting a losing battle, you must be sure to understand how you respond to outer and inner expectations and act accordingly. You might need to do either of the following:
make sure that you’re accountable to other people (gym partner, walking club, etc).
ask and answer the question “Why do I want this goal?”
understand if the identity corresponding to the goal is the identity you seek (or was it just someone else’s)
This can be the difference between frustration and fulfillment. [Book recommendation: The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin]
Make it easier on yourself
Our environment has the biggest impact on our habits. If you’re trying to lose weight and the pantry is stocked with processed sugary foods, you’re going to have a problem. If you’re trying to get that degree and the remotes and game controllers out on the couch, you’re going to have a problem. Attaining a goal by following through on a resolution is difficult in an of itself. Why make it harder by leaving landmines in your path? Help your future self out by doing what you can to make your environment conducive to your resolutions. [Book recommendation: Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith]
Resolutions are not goals, they are not easy at first. They are however commitments you’re making to your future self, they do require work on your part and they are essential to attaining your goals. Remember, you’re not aiming for perfection, just a daily practice of deciding to be the type of person that performs that type of activity. By focusing on the process of becoming and not the outcome/goal, you will get much closer to and even attain many more goals.
The other day I saw an excerpt from an innovation conference that read “don’t innovate, imitate”. Instantly my Spidey sense went up when I heard “don’t innovate”. There is either a lack of understanding of what innovation is or someone wanting to be contrary knowing that that would make their message more memorable. The statement simply lacks the context that innovation happens on a spectrum.
Innovation exists on a spectrum with novelty on side and familiarity on the other. I believe true innovation comes by combining the proven with the novel. Take some of the more notable breakthrough innovations in recent history.
Taxis + Ridesharing = Uber
Hotels + Couchsurfing = AirBnB
Cars + Electricity = Telsa
In order for something to catch on and become a true innovation, there needs to be a frame of reference. A point from which the customer can understand and relate to what it is and what problem it can solve. Without this frame of reference, you have things like the Segway or Microsoft’s tablet. Yeah, the iPad wasn’t the first tablet.
Let’s look at world famous “Ben & Jerry’s” ice cream brand. In their labs, they come up with a whole assortment of new flavors. Then they travel the world in search of unique flavor trends. These are combined with new ones to make up to 200 unique flavors.
Finally, they survey their users with two simple questions:
(1) how likely are you to buy?
(determines how familiar it is which closely tracks its commercial viability.)
(2) how unique is it?
(determines its novelty which differentiates it from other flavors.)
The true winners tend to have just the right combination of familiarity and novelty.
The “imitate” portion suggests a general discomfort with the inherent uncertainty of innovation. Granted, there is no uncertainty when imitating others. There is also no benefit in the market.
This is not to advocate an all or nothing approach. In some areas, you must steal shamelessly. Take Walmart founder Sam Walton who built his fledgling store on the insights gleaned from other grocers around the country.
However, to be innovative there should be some areas in which you are willing to separate yourself from the pack. Every once in a while you must be willing to be the one that’s benchmarked.
Like most things in life, innovation truly exists on a spectrum. One that goes from the familiar to the novel. Existing on either end spell disaster for your business. However, if you’re brave enough to go from imitation to inspiration, by improving upon the existing with some novelty, you can arrive at something beautiful – innovation.
The other day I saw an excerpt from an innovation conference that read “forget delighting the customer, make things effortless”. Oh, really?
The Goal of innovation
Innovation is using creativity to produce a delightful experience for which the customer will gladly pay. There is no innovation without a delightful experience. Don’t believe me? Just ask the inventor of Segway.
The goal of any business is and always will be delighting the customer. Full Stop. This initial statement seems as if there’s a confusion or confounding of the goal with the strategy.
Strategies for innovation
One way to do that is by making things effortless. You can also make things more personalized. You can also add more value (features). This is where the confounding comes in as the statement suggests that delighting the customer only happens when you make things feature laden. Which isn’t always the case at all.
The trick in delighting customers is focus: aim for the simplest possible thing that will delight buyers. Don‘t load products down with features that most people won‘t use and that make the product hard to operate.
The Effortless Apple
Apple has done the best over the past decade of delighting the by making things effortless. That was their strategy to delight the pants off their customers. In the words of the Gladiator standing in the arena, iPhone raised high in the air with his Apple watch on his wrist, “Are you not delighted?” By removing the keyboard and other buttons they’ve executed their effortless strategy perfectly and achieved their goal of customer delight. Don’t believe me, have you walked past an Apple Store lately?
To sum it all up, that statement would be stated as: To delight the customer, one way is to focus on making things effortless.
One is the goal, the other is the strategy. Don’t confuse the two.
At a recent dinner party, I overheard a young woman tell her cousin “I’m not creative.” For me, hearing that phrase is like nails on a chalkboard. Mind you, her cousin is a graphic designer and photographer. This young woman, who was obviously creative as her beautifully done hair and makeup would suggest, worked in skin aesthetics. Her job was to make people’s skin look better. Talk about a job where creativity matters.
After a few moments, it dawned on her that creativity isn’t like a light switch. Either you have it or you don’t. She soon came to realize that she was quite creative in her own right. Creativity is an important skill that we all have to some degree (whether we’re aware or would admit to it or not).
In the business world, a company exists to do one thing – solve problems. How well, how large and many varieties of problems a company can solve ultimately determines the company’s long-term viability and success. Creativity is what’s used to solve the most challenging problems. Therefore it is essential to business success.
“The hallmark of any exceptional career is the ability to devise innovative solutions for work challenges. Creative thinking skills are vital for your professional advancement.“? – Brian Tracy | Creativity and Problem Solving
Let’s focus on two ways creativity is applied in business: Problem Solving & Leadership.
Creativity in Problem-Solving
Thankfully, many of the problems a company faces are standard (80-90%). They fall comfortably within existing processes and procedures. For the rest, non-standard (10-20%), they require creativity as the solution isn’t contained in existing FAQs or SOPs.
The closer the problem can be solved to the customer is not only more efficient, but it leads to high customer satisfaction. This usually doesn’t mean just trying the first thing that comes to mind.
To apply creativity to problem-solving try some of these techniques:
Collaborate: Like examining all sides of a Rubix Cubes, gathering insight from multiple departments allows you to gain needed perspective.
Reframe: Often times what is requested isn’t the true need. Asking the right questions allows you to unlock latent needs that allow you to truly delight.
Analogize: Very seldom is any problem truly unique. Look to other industries for similar problems. Their solutions can spark insight for your challenge.
Hybridize: Endeavor to go beyond just generating lots of ideas and be willing to combine the best of the best when possible.
Creativity in Leadership
Many can wrap their heads around how important creativity is for problem-solving but have a harder time when it comes to leadership. Leadership is a force multiplier. It goes beyond just the leader’s ability to solve the problem.
Leadership is the ability to harness the collective problem-solving capabilities (creativity) of a team and focus the resulting energy on the achievement of a goal.
Simply telling your employee what to do requires no creativity. This doesn’t allow the employee to use creativity on the problem. Creativity helps the leader choose the right questions to ask. Thus helping their team come up with new insights on their own.
At the end of the day, a business boils down to being a series of seemingly never-ending problems. Employees don’t make their mark by solving standard problems. Rather they make it based on how they apply their creativity to non-standard problems. By honing your creativity you can have profound effects on your ability to solve big problems and scale your impact. By unleashing your creative forces in this way your problems won’t stand a chance.
In the fast-paced world of business where what have you done for me lately customers truly rule the school, it really is all about innovation. When you work in a compliance culture this realization doesn’t seem to be widely apparent. Like me, you might feel stifled in the motivation choking clutches of the status quo. Micro-managing managers, uninspiring work, and a fear-based compliance culture was my reality as well.
“To motivate employees who work beyond basic tasks, give them these three factors to increase performance and satisfaction: Autonomy — Our desire to be self-directed. It increases engagement over compliance. Mastery — The urge to get better skills. Purpose — The desire to do something that has meaning and is important.” – Dan Pink | “Drive“
If you’re like many employees and managers in the depths of compliance based cultures you’ve heard/said “I’m not in the C-suite so what’s the use? I can’t change anything.” or “I have an idea, but it’s likely to just get shot down.” Don’t worry, you’re not alone. There are many others just like you right you work. I believe change can begin at the grassroots. Sometimes it takes one brave soul willing to come out of the shadows and say “yes, and...why not?“
Hi, I’m Wayne Burrell. A proud husband and father of four princesses, I’m also a creative-junkie. Addicted to innovation and constantly on the look for my next fix. I’m a card-carrying creative (we all are). Nothing fires me up more than expressing myself through everything I do. I choose to see everything I do as art. There’s an art to my marriage, how I parent, how I communicate with co-workers, how I redesign processes on my 9-5, even how I fold my laundry and mow my lawn. In the words of Seth Godin, “We’re all artists.”
The workplace culture is to the worker as the proper environment is to the artist. For creativity to flourish on the job the culture has to be conducive to it. Employees must feel empowered to release their creativity and not only their compliance. Only then will the best ideas collide with other ideas in the refining process of true collaboration. I believe every culture can become a fertile garden of creativity where ideas can grow and innovation harvested.
In this blog, you’ll find out more about the core discipline that is creativity and the strategic approaches to developing it into innovation. Together we’ll explore four key strategic drivers: how culture influences work processes which influence the customer experience and finally how customer experience then translates to bottom line finances. We’ll also go over the #1 strategic mistake companies make in their prioritization of these strategic drivers. I will show you how Human Centered-Design methodologies (such as Design Thinking, LEAN Startup, Agile, Design Sprints and Blue Ocean) can be used to inspire creativity and aid in transforming your culture from one of compliance to one of empowerment.
I believe wholeheartedly in Mahatma Gandhi’s wise words and I’ll paraphrase them here: “Be the change you want to see in your company.” Your efforts alone are no match to break the inertia of the boulder that is your company culture’s status quo. Join this community of like-minded individuals for inspiration and the encouragement you’ll need to help you on innovation journey. Sign-up below and let’s stay in touch!