Building stomach for the journey of tough decisions

A colleague and I did an online course on adaptive leadership this fall.  The course was free (through +Acumen) and supported by generous excerpts from a book called The Practice of Adaptive Leadership.

The general idea is that we need to adapt our leadership to situations and the course guides you through exercises which would help you probe particular areas which might require your adaptive skills.  The work of the course is to separate technical challenges from ones that are more complex and need emotional commitment and engagement.

Some of the  readings that resonated with me were on the execution of tough decisions.

“Tough decisions require that you put your heart into them, nourish the possibilities and then make a commitment to a course of action. If you are struggling with a decision then it is likely that all the options have merit.  Outcomes are usually significantly influenced by factors beyond your control and imagination.  And most decisions are iterative.  You can make a move, take the risk and if things are going well, continue, and if not, take corrective action.  See if you can lighten the load on your decisions and even make better choices because tough does not necessarily mean important – stakes may not be as high as you imagine them to be (versus medical judgements which are high stakes).  Maybe you are just making the next move on the dance floor. Think of a past tough decision and take heart in knowing that you survived whatever decision you made. And if you need to give yourself permission to fail, prepare the ground for your constituents.  Enlist them in giving it a shot – language is crucial – not that you can be counted on to pull this off but rather, perhaps that you are trying something to push the envelope.”

 

And on building stomach for the journey:

“Building resilience is similar to training for a marathon.  You need to start somewhere…In an organizational context, this can kind of training can take the form of staying in a difficult conversation longer than you normally would etc.[…] To further build your stomach for the adaptive leadership journey keep reminding yourself of your purpose.  Runners look forward, not down.  Saying focused on the goal ahead will keep you from being preoccupied or overwhelmed by the number of steps necessary to get there. ”

“Leading adaptive change will almost certainly test the limits of your patience. […] Impatience can hurt you in numerous ways.  Your raise a question and don’t get an immediate response.  So you jump right in and keep pounding on the question.  Each time you pound, you send the message that you are the only person responsible for that question. You own it.  And the more you pound away, the less willing people are to share ownership of the question themselves.  And if they do not feel any ownership of the question they will have less investment in whatever the resolution turns out to be.”

“You can find patience by tapping into your ability to feel compassion for others involved in the change effort.  Compassion comes from understanding other people’s dilemmas, being aware of how much you are asking of them.  Your awareness of their potential losses will calm you down and give you patience as you travel a journey that may be more difficult for them than for you.”

If you want to take on a patience building exercise:  Recall situations in the past when you have experienced great patience and think about what enabled you to do that.  Perhaps you were patient as your child learned something and you could remember yourself how hard it was for you to learn these skills.   Or you believed that most people survive difficult journeys and mastered needed skills so you had optimism that fuelled your patience.

7 Habits Of Parents Who Leave The Office At 5 P.M. Guilt-Free

I am not a parent but I’ll quibble with the title of this article anyway.  It hits all the right notes for trying to achieve a reasonable balance between work and the rest of your life but having worked in busy environments, when things are on fire, you won’t likely be leaving guilt free no matter what. Ever.  But can you make leaving at a reasonable time a practice?  You bet.  Does it get easier the more you stand your ground?  Yes, (if only slightly) in my experience.  I am not sure that you are ever going to feel less guilty at what isn’t getting done (by you) but with time, you can realize how important it is to attend to life outside of work.

The top regrets of the dying are worth a visit in conjunction with this article.  They include: working too hard, failing to stay in touch with friends and, in top spot, not having the courage to live a life true to oneself, not the life others expected of us.

But on to the strategies to get out of the office in the first place

1) Begin the day with your end in mind (including a firm motivation to get out the door).

2) Be clear on your values and then schedule your time to reflect these values.

3) Tell people when you have to leave

4) Do your most important work first

5) Start meetings before 4pm

6) Give yourself transition time

7) Realize that work will still be there tomorrow. 

Source: 7 Habits Of Parents Who Leave The Office At 5 P.M. Guilt-Free

The (possibly) greatest enemy of transformative leaders?

From an online course which I am following:

Perfectionism is the enemy of transformative leaders.  No great leader spends three hours perfecting an email. Perfectionism is absolutely seductive and must be kept at bay.

I have explored perfectionism in earlier posts and got new insight in this lecture today. For every perfectionist who spends time agonizing over work only to see it come back rife with feedback, a difficult feedback loop can ensue. Not: “Well that this the failure of perfectionism” But rather: “I should have worked even harder on that.” What is useful as a reminder is that perfectionism as a mindset is seductive and well viewed as a process addiction. Yet to indulge, you deprive the world of your work.

Essentialism – The disciplined pursuit of less

I enjoyed this recent book on how to focus on the most important things and ensure that our limited energy goes to the essential.  I am experimenting with a “mind map” software to show the connections between the concepts that I found resonated most for me.  Let me know what you think of this approach versus the usual narrative form.  (The magnifying glass can be used to increase text size on a portion of the doc).

Mindmap – Key points from Essentialism: The disciplined pursuit of less

 

Transitioning to meta-management

A piece with a lot of technical language (that I can’t entirely follow), that I think still has merit as it touches on a subject I’d like to see treated in greater depth – how to manage other managers.  In this case a specialist has moved up the ranks and is reflecting on when to wade into the fray of her roots as an engineer.  I like her prompts to ask herself: “What problems does my team need me to solve right now?”

“If I feel the itch to do engineering manager work, there have got to be good ways to do this that are absolutely not a) going to intrude on someone’s existing work, and b) not eliminating an opportunity for the manager who reports to you to learn.”

Source: Transitioning to meta-management

Six Questions You Should Ask Yourself When You Want To Quit

Is your job not right for you, or is it just a temporary rough patch? Have an honest conversation with yourself before you walk away.

Some good questions that could guide some useful reflection including:

  1. Are there more opportunities for growth?
  2. Would someone I respect stay?
  3. Am I taking criticism too seriously?

Source: Six Questions You Should Ask Yourself When You Want To Quit

Dealing with a venter or an over explainer? How to Listen When Your Communication Styles Don’t Match – Mark Goulston – Harvard Business Review

via How to Listen When Your Communication Styles Don’t Match – Mark Goulston – Harvard Business Review.

A very useful piece from the author of Just Listen – one of my favourite books for management reading of the past few years.  Some helpful strategies here on what to do when you are struggling to listen to a venter or an over-explainer.  Start from the premise that despite the lack of great communications skills, venters may have important things to tell you and that explainers may not be able to leave the belabouring space until they feel you have heard them.  For over-explainers in particular, they may be having trouble feeling heard in other parts of their life and the impatience of the listener may actually cause them to delve even deeper into over-explaining.

The advice is essentially the same for both: override your instinct to shut down and ensure that you stay present for their words.  The author even suggests that you focus on their left eye – which is connected to the right brain or the emotional brain.

Then when they are finished, say a variation of the following:

“I can see you’re really frustrated/had a lot to say. To make sure I don’t add to that,  and to make sure I don’t miss something, what was the most important thing I need to do in the long term, what’s the critical thing I need to do in the short term, and what do I need to get done ASAP?”

After they respond, say to them, “What you just said is way too important for me to have misunderstood a word, so I’m going to say it back to you to make sure I am on the same page with you. Here’s what I heard.” Then repeat exactly, word for word, what they said to you.  After you finish, say to them, “Did I get that right and if not, what did I miss?” Forcing them to listen to what you said they said, “because it was important,” will slow them down, will help you stay centered and in control, and will earn you their and your own respect.

Though this formula may not work for every setting, it’s a good starting off place – you clearly had something important to tell me, have I heard you?

Should authority figures hide their emotions?

 

(c) Rell DeShaw

An interesting exchange about expressing emotions generated as a result of our work.

The two examples are of a journalist breaking down during reports on the Paris attacks and a judge weeping during a trial.  We are all emotional beings and it is normal that we will be affected by our work.  That said, we may be in jobs where our expression of our own emotions about a situation might not be a helpful add-on to helping others understand what we are trying to convey.  As I’ve discussed before, if someone is enraged with you, a fear reaction can actually cause you to go temporarily deaf – you’ll miss most of what they’ve said (though you’ll get that they were really mad).

I’m more and more convinced that as I work with top notch professionals who are putting out their best every day, it’s enough to say “this didn’t quite hit the mark” to make your point in most cases.

I liked that the exchange in this article made it clear that though expressions of emotions can occur involuntarily or justifiably in  a work context the emotions don’t make the essential message any more true:

“…[W]hile a reporter’s emotions may pay testament to his humanity, they should not be mistaken for the path to a deeper truth.”