Is “Why?” Really Just A Crooked Letter?

Feb 14

It was a chilly fall day and a familiar scene was playing at the town soccer fields. A dad and his young son were walking back to the car after the match. The son was peppering his dad with question after question. Every well-crafted answer the dad gave was met with a single question: Why? At one point it was clear that the dad reached the limit of his patience, and in one last attempt to end the series of why questions he said, “Because ‘Y’ is a crooked letter.”

With a puzzled look on his face, his son smiled and replied: “Why?”

The point in sharing this story is to emphasize that as adults we’ve become so jaded, self-focused, and frustrated with those who ask us “Why?”— even when it comes from our children.

When did inquisitiveness, curiosity, and asking Why become defiance, or a challenge to our thinking, ideas, and who we are?

Is it that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing the Why as extraneous — a waste of time when just doing seems more imperative and expedient? Is it that as adults we don’t believe that why leads to something better and only serves to drag us down a rabbit hole of excuses?

I don’t think our world is not a better place because we don’t ask “Why?”. A life without knowing why keeps us focused in the moment and doing things by rote. It disconnects us from our own sense of purpose and that of those around us. Without knowing why, we fail to see context, solve problems, and fall prey to our natural biases and assumptions. As each day passes, we lose the capacity to dream, to sway others to act without bias and to ask, “Why not?”.

But it isn’t too late for us all to reconnect to our personal Why? — that wonder and curiosity that leads us to better understand the context of the world around us, the potential of what could be and why we are an integral part of all of it. Embodying curiosity in action generates the energy, enthusiasm, and connection to our internal guidance systems that infuses our passion with a purpose, spurs novel thinking, disruption of what is, and sends us in new directions. Isn’t it time to start bringing asking “Why?” back into favor?

Here’s what you need to know to discover your Why and start asking others about theirs:

Embrace A New Paradigm: Knowing Your Why Is A Requisite

We all have a personal brand—that spider’s web of beliefs, principles, values, and knowledge that is the glue that makes us uniquely us. Knowing your Why starts with focusing on a few key things:

Writing A Statement Of Your Why – A phrase that captures the crux of the commitment, principles, values, and set of beliefs that lead you to do what you do.

  • Start by writing the story of how you arrived where you are and how you plan to get where you’re going.
  • Look for the common values, themes, and strengths in the story of your life: why you were empowered to take action, why they influenced your thoughts and behaviors, which experiences did you impact and which experiences impacted you, and how are you different and unique? What created your map of the world? How did your beliefs translate into the action that came to be the way of your life? Ask yourself “Why?” if you didn’t do something you know wanted to.
  • Identify the core values that you want others to connect with you, and write a personal credo that expresses that in a clear and concise way.
  • Be inquisitive and reach out to key stakeholders—those who know you best and are impacted by your actions. Ask them to define what they think your Why is? This is a good check to see if you need to do more alignment.

Focus On Living Your Why – Let your Why infuse everything you do. It should become the source of your purpose and passion—after all, it is the authentic you. Rely on it as a powerbase to spur thinking, cut through extraneous details, and rouse you to action. The Why of your life forms the internal guidance system that supports your decision-making and goal attainment.

Share Your Why, Ask Others Why, Answer Why Questions At Every Opening

Make it your unwritten rule to share your Why, ask others theirs, and ask and answer Why questions at every opening. Here’s how this fosters the transparency that others need to have so they can know you on an authentic level:

Sharing Your Why – Gives others the information that they need to understand and gives witness to your consistent adherence to your core values and principles. This dovetails with their ability to trust and find you to be authentic. Sharing your Why at every opening is at the heart of the loyalty people bestow on you. It is through that loyalty and trust that you can influence, lead, and align varied Whys to impact the larger world.

Ask Others Why – Asking someone else their Why is the first step in knowing the crux of what lies at the heart of their personal brand. Understanding the purpose, principles, values, and set of beliefs that lead them to do what they do helps you tap into what stirs their passions, rouses them to act, and helps you sway them to act with you. Asking someone about their why supports you as you test what you believe about them to be true, discard assumptions, take the emotional temperature of the other person, and build genuine rapport and trust.

Answer Why Questions – A willingness to answer why questions shows your innate sense of curiosity, that you embrace listening, that you don’t respond reflexively, that there is no judgment, and you’re open to testing your thoughts and assumptions. Being open to explaining why means that you are willing to share the Why you believe the way you do, and encourages others to do likewise. Why in action spurs the creative thinking that leads to novel ideas, new directions, and keeps things rooted and connected to more than just what serves the immediate need.

Why is the crux of what guides our lives, and it delineates who we are from each other. It shapes the clarity of our mindset and is the powerbase from which we build the impact and inspiration needed to call others to action and live to the utmost of their potential. Why may just be three letters, but its power to unite people on a common journey or to do the unimaginable for the mutual benefit of all is not to be underestimated.

My Why is to help others (including myself) make a difference, no matter how minor it might seem, and to fill their heart and mind with a sense of gratitude and their life with an enduring purpose.

I’d love to know your Why. Please share it with me in the comments below.


Give It To Me Straight: Getting People To Tell You The Truth

Feb 01

As a leader, each and every day you’re besieged with irreconcilable demands from those you work with and for. And although you have sway over the direction of your business, you rarely have access to the much-needed objective and ongoing feedback about your ideas, plans, and performance. Perhaps you’re not that worried about it, but here is why you should be.

Failing to seek out and encourage those you lead to share the unvarnished truth and actionable feedback about how best you can boost your performance and lead better can have dire consequences for you and your long-term success.

The longer you delay asking, the less likely it will be that you’ll get the type of candid perspective and opinion you need to keep you from making critical errors in judgment. You can’t become an effective leader by trial and error, but conversely, you certainly can become a terrible one.

So why are so many leaders afraid to ask those they lead to give it to them straight?

The answer is really two‐fold. As a leader they haven’t learned how to or don’t want to open themselves up to being vulnerable in this way with their team. They haven’t invested in building the trust that encourages people around them to tell them the truth without fearing negative repercussions—especially when what is being said will contradict them or be negative about their performance as a leader.  Realizing your success as a leader goes through and depends on those who work for you is the first step in getting those you lead to tell you what you might not want to hear.

Here’s How You Make Give It To Me Straight The Rule Of The Day

Make sure you’re the one who shakes up the status quo and takes the active role in asking for feedback about how you’re doing on a recurring basis. Follow these simple guidelines:

  • Call Out The Fear – Recognize there is a degree of fear and risk when someone is willing to be candid with you. As the leader, it is your obligation to take the first step toward making the situation a relaxed one for the other person. Enable them to speak openly by calling out the fear and acknowledging it. Let them know that you appreciate and understand that it is difficult to share feedback with a boss—especially if it is negative in nature. Tell them you want to know no matter what because if you don’t have a realistic picture of what you’re doing well and not doing well, then you don’t improve as a leader.
  • Make It A No Repercussion Zone – Make it clear there are never any repercussions for sharing feedback that helps learning or growth, even if it is different than what you think or believe. Be consistent and apply this beyond these feedback conversations to meetings and all matters.
  • Have A Go-To Question – Have a go-to question that you can easily call upon to break the ice and start the conversation flowing like, “What is it that I can do to become a more effective leader for our team?”
  • Speak To More Than One Person – Make sure you ask more than one person the same question separately and outside of a formal conversation. Reiterate that you want them to give it to you straight. You don’t have to ask everyone every time—just make sure that you reach out to everyone over the course of a few months.
  • Read Between The Lines – Listen for what is being said and perhaps not being said. Follow up and get clear by asking for specifics and asking for examples and use open ended questions to solicit more input.
  • Get A Concrete Step You Can Take And Implement – Ask them for one future-focused suggestion that if you implemented today would improve your performance.
  • Share What You’re Going To Do – Look for areas in which to agree, and say so when you find them. Let them know what you’ve chosen from what they said to implement.
  • Reward The Sharing – With “thank you”—as a leader, remember that any time someone shares his or her insight with you it is a gift.
  • Make Asking For Feedback Your MO – Ask for their input often and in all things that impact the work and performance of the team. Especially follow up on how you’re doing with the suggestions you implemented from your conversation with them. It doesn’t just have to be in formal ways. Ask for quick feedback on ideas also. The key here is consistency.

The people who work for us shouldn’t be the only ones desperately seeking more frequent and actionable feedback—as their leader, you should shake up the dynamic and be the first one to ask for future-focused suggestions, opinions, and perspectives on everything ranging from business matters to how you can boost your performance as their leader.

Let me know how you’re planning to ask those you lead how you’re doing.


The Choice Is Yours, And It’s Simple: You Need Great People Skills

Jan 17

A take-no-prisoners brashness with respect to people when it comes to leadership doesn’t go as far as it used to—you know this as a leader as well as I do, and if you don’t then you really need to read this post.

As a leader, you’ve focused on unabashedly pursuing the technical skills that sustain the setting of a vision, creating the strategy, and driving bottom-line results. However, you know that a myopic focus on the technical aspects of leadership and being high maintenance isn’t going to be enough to keep from being replaced, let alone excel, in today’s highly competitive and ever-shifting business world.

As a leader, you have to be unswerving in your pursuit of what distinguishes you from the rest of the pack.

Distinguishing yourself from the pack isn’t something that you can do on your own as a leader—success goes through the people that you’re interdependent with and work for. And the next part is what is really scary for you—you know that working with people can be really difficult and challenging. Sadly, many talented and industrious leaders have learned the hard way that they are expendable when they become high maintenance and toxic. No longer does high performing results producing leadership overshadow and excuse a gap in your people skills.

Leaders need to heed the wake up call, and—don’t shoot me for saying this—learn what they resent having to learn. But without learning it they won’t succeed – the people skills that will make possible their ability to excel as a leader.

As the founder of an executive coaching firm, I’m often asked, “Why is it that some of the most intelligent, creative, and trailblazing leaders never add acquiring mind-blowing people skills to their leadership development itinerary?”

The answer is straightforward: they’re far more adept at leveraging all the tangible aspects of running their businesses and have developed a shortsightedness when it comes to doing something they’re less skilled at: the difficult and challenging work of having to learn great people skills. And if you don’t believe me, just ask their families.

I’d like to share with you some surefire steps that will help you know if you’re ready to change, and then how to go about it.

Go From Thinking You Might To Knowing You Will

Having standout people skills seems like something leaders should have had on their leadership itinerary to develop early on, but unfortunately many don’t. Being aware of the need to make a change and actually being ready for change are two completely different things. Taking this journey begins when you first start contemplating doing so, and it ends when you discover what you’ll lose if you don’t make the change. If you have any question about your people skills and where they need to be, start asking yourself some hard questions like these: What’s at risk if you don’t get better? What has not being better already cost you, and what has been standing in your way? Ask the people around you what you can do better with respect to how you interact with them. I’m sure your colleagues, employees, and your family will appreciate having the opportunity to share their thoughts with you.

Know What It Will Take To Close The Gap

Now that you’ve gotten some insight into the skills you need to work on, you have to grab the bull by the horns and make a candid appraisal of where your people skills (EQ) stand today. There are various self-assessments, tools, and books that can support and guide you through the process of taking stock of your EQ skills. As the gaps emerge, you’ll learn exactly what you need to do and how much work it is going to take to get you where you need to be. Understanding what you value, how you’re wired, and how you apply what you know is vital to figuring out how to integrate your people skills and technical skills into your leadership operating system. When you have all the information you need, it’s time to turn thought into action. You can create checklists with specific behaviors based on the skills you need to acquire and invite trusted friends, mentors, colleagues, and employees into the process first by sharing the skills that you want to acquire and then by asking them for suggestions on how to go about doing it. These people will be able to further support you if you ask them to share in-the-moment feedback about how you’re doing against what you said you wanted to do, and offer actionable suggestions for improving that will make possible your taking a step closer and closing the gap.

If You Want To Fast-Track The Process, Hire An Executive Coach

Starting this process on your own isn’t out of the question. However, letting go of and replacing the behaviors that are holding you back, figuring out what works best for you, and getting exceptional results can be challenging to accomplish alone. Having someone in your corner—a strategic partner and sounding board—makes it easier and faster. Choosing to work with an executive coach gives you someone working side by side with you whose sole focus is you and what you need to do to improve your skills. Be mindful, however, that coaching isn’t a magic bullet or a short cut. It won’t absolve you of doing the difficult stuff that it takes to get better with your people skills. But it will certainly help fast-track the process as you work with someone whose expertise and guidance you can leverage so that you stop spinning your wheels and get really focused on what behaviors you need to target, learn, and stop that will have the most impact and bring about your success.

As you can see, it doesn’t require drastic measures to affect a change—all it takes are readiness, commitment, self-control, and following through on your part. Are you willing to add getting better at your people skills to your leadership development itinerary? I can assure you that making this type of investment in yourself will pay dividends well beyond the office.


It’s Time To Move Forward: Are You Prepared For 2017?

Jan 04

The new year has barely begun, and the future-focused leaders I coach have been scouting their competition, analyzing the trends, and understanding what unique opportunities the data offers for their own improvement. This process didn’t just start for them as the calendar turned to January 1st—for most of them it began in 2016. Getting a handle on the pace at which the fabric of the business world will continue to evolve in 2017 was critical to how they finished 2016—strong leaders prepared to hit the ground running. Understanding upcoming growth opportunities and trends gave them a distinct advantage as they fine-tuned the strategic plans that they’ll now use to guide them as they hope to navigate 2017 successfully.

The mainstay of the business world continues to be the disruption of the status quo, and the pace will only accelerate in the upcoming year.

In 2017, we’ll see more Millennials stepping into leadership roles, it will be the first full year that Generation Z has been in the workplace, and technology will make how we work vastly different, changing how we communicate, relate, and work with each other. The challenge for those in leadership roles at every level is how to inspire, energize, and enthuse those on your team to be the best people, citizens, and employees while still driving results that keep your organization innovative and profitable.

Here are some of the trends you might want to implement in 2017 that will enable you to do just that:

Create An Employee Experience Mindset And Culture

This is a disruptive and different approach to inspiring loyalty and providing good job opportunities for highly accomplished candidates and employees. Inspiring loyalty and providing good jobs that engage, enthuse, and inspire the most accomplished employees and candidates starts when you create employee experiences that emphasize purpose over paycheck and development over perks as part of your organization and team culture. This type of employee experience mindset and culture gives the people who work for you the opportunity to be emotionally and developmentally connected to the work they are doing. Everyone wants to do something in life that fulfills a larger purpose, and for the new generation their job isn’t just a job—it’s about their purpose and their why.

It’s All About Coaching And Development In Real Time

The people who work for you aren’t asking for fancy offices, free food, huge bonuses, or unlimited lattes. Nor do they want the old style command-and-control leaders of the past or feedback on an annual review. They’re looking for leaders who value them for what they contribute, expect them to perform, and will reward performance over tenure. They also expect their leaders to be coaches and to communicate with them on a constant and frequent basis about how best to develop their strengths and guide them toward a plan for achieving their goals.

Waiting for an annual review to share what you’re thinking and to offer guidance isn’t going to cut it. Not coaching them and sharing feedback both about their strengths and constructive actionable criticism can lead to indifference, which results in their disengagement from their jobs and a lack of respect for you as their leader.

Bi-Directional Mentoring Becomes Key For A Widening Generation Gap And Blended Workforce

In 2017, five generations of people will be in the workforce. Generation Z will have finished their first full year working, more Millennials will be moving into leadership roles, and we will continue to see a rise in the number of freelancers working side-by-side with employees. This diversity in the workforce introduces different perspectives on work culture, widens the knowledge gaps, makes the workforce more global, and broadens an ever-increasing gap between older and younger workers. For those in leadership roles, it means laying out a roadmap that encourages esprit de corps and a sense of the collective vision and direction toward a shared set of goals. It means being able to diffuse strong personalities, differing agendas, and bridging generational gaps to bring about understanding so that differences bring about more connected relationships and those they lead grow stronger and more productive. But there’s more to it than just that. Great leaders build and embed within their teams a strong mentoring culture. Bi-directional mentoring means mentoring programs that aren’t based on age, title, specialty, or status, but rather skills and interests that can really help create an environment of cross-generational / functional skills, trust, and learning. By encouraging and making this type of mentoring a priority, you encourage those on your team to inspire, teach, and learn from each other, and understand the value of getting together to achieve something they cannot do alone.

As you begin thinking about how best to begin the new year, go back and look at what made you successful in the first place, and see what you might want to change. If you aren’t doing these things, consider how you could incorporate some of them into what you’re doing, and if you’re doing them see how you can expand and adjust them to make them more robust in the upcoming year. The great leaders I know are always making adjustments on the fly, and they don’t let failure or change derail them—they use it to move forward and fast track their success. It’s time for all of us to move forward.

Let me know what positive trends you see for 2017, and I’ll be happy to share them with everyone.


The Year’s End: Life Changing Connection For 2017

Dec 20

The Year's End - New BeginningOver the past few weeks I’ve been trying—without much success, I’ll admit—to come up with a novel way to start my end of year post. After numerous false starts, piles of crumpled sheets of paper filling the wastebasket—yes I still do handwrite my first draft—I decided to take a well-needed break and bolster my spirits by reading through my quote journal. And there to my surprise was the solution to my writer’s block. On one of the well-worn pages I’d written the following quote, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” –Seneca.

As the quote reverberated in my mind, I realized that a shift in my thinking was also taking place. Traditionally, I’d always viewed the end of the year as a concrete ending point and the start of a new year as a beginning. The more I thought about the quote, however, the more I realized that how I saw this was based on how I chose to define and describe it, and by extension I realized that much of the way in which we describe, define, and assign meaning to things in our lives is based solely on our perspective, beliefs about ourselves, and our choices at the time we decide what something means. In essence, the things in our lives only have the meaning and power they do because we impart it to them. It was then that it dawned on me there was a better way for all of us to begin 2017, and it certainly didn’t involve making another set of the same old tired resolutions that we all know will never work.

Every new beginning doesn’t have to start with a complete overhaul of the past—it just has to start with some other beginning’s end. Overcoming the inertia of what has become comfortable for us in 2016, and replacing it with what is less so in 2017, is a great place to start. Knowing where endings have to begin in order for new beginnings to emerge starts when you rethink what you have the capability to do, and contest the habits, rationalizations, and meanings that you’ve assigned to things that are keeping you stuck and not seeing the potential in yourself and in others.

I hope that you’re willing to begin to end something so that you find your new beginning in 2017. The beginning that sees you connect to your passions in new ways, build connections with others more deeply, and accept that all is possible—if you know how to connect what you’re capable of with what you pursue.

With perseverance, intention, and commitment, 2017 will be a great new beginning!


My Favorite Books Of 2016

Dec 14

My Favorite Books of 2016No one person is ever the same, and yet I’ve noticed that the amazing leaders I work with have all have one thing in common: they have a relentless passion for learning. Whether it’s reading books, newspapers, blogs, journals, or anything else they can get their hands on, they’re always seeking out information about how to acquire and enhance the tangible and intangible skills essential to becoming the kind of leader they want to become.

What is it that these leaders know about the importance of a great book?

They know that reading great books imparts a depth of knowledge, set of behaviors, emotional intelligence skills, and insights that enhance their value to the organizations they lead.

As a passionate reader myself, I can’t wait to get my hands on a new book. In fact, my Kindle wish list is now up to 25 titles just waiting for me to download them. Making time for reading something great doesn’t mean giving up hours—although I’ve definitely been know to get lost in a great book and finish it in one sitting—it just means setting it as an intention and making reading part of your plan each day. It can be as simple as listening to a chapter of a great book on the commute into work, waiting in line for breakfast, or reading just a chapter a day before bed.

Here are a few of the great books I’ve finished since my earlier list of books I’d recommend. See if there’s one here that just might give you the incentive to start your new reading habit.

  • The Engaged Leader: A Strategy for Your Digital Transformation by Charlene Li
  • Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath
  • Designing Your Life: How to Build A Well-Lived Joyful Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans
  • Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities that Make Us Influential by John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut
  • Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi
  • Together Is Better by Simon Sinek
  • Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences by Nancy Duarte
  • The Happiness Track by Emma Seppala
  • The Ideal Team Player: How to Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues by Patrick Lencioni
  • Pre-suasion by Robert Cialdini

These are only a few of the books that I’ve read since my last list. For more of my favorites, and to read my interviews with leading authors, please take a look at Leadership Compound’s Resources by simply clicking here.


Let’s Change The Conversation

Nov 08

Let's Change the ConversationAre you still clinging to your predictable old and outdated feedback practices as a leader—those arbitrary timeframes and artificial exchanges that accompany performance reviews?

We all know there are kinks in the system. One of them is not delivering the timely and vital feedback that your people are desperately seeking. Your people want and need to know how they’re doing on the job more frequently than just at their annual review. And you struggle with the harsh reality that the status quo doesn’t cut it anymore, and you’re not all that sure how much you can really do to change it.

Instinctively you know you have to do something because lurking just below the surface are some dangers for you as a leader. You know that if you don’t take the initiative and step up to challenge the status quo, it will be quite costly in terms of your becoming a leader everyone respects as strong, trustworthy, candid, and highly competent.

Now I know exactly what you’re thinking—some days the enormity of the task and the uncertainty that goes along with providing timely feedback in an actionable way that recognizes contributions can be overwhelming. However, the downside of not doing so is much worse.

“How?” You Might Ask

Gone are the days of those stellar performers who will work just for the sake of a paycheck without seeing steady progress from one level to the next. Failing to deliver genuine feedback about a person’s performance—or not rewarding them for their contributions, results, and talents more frequently than an annual review—can cost you damage to your reputation and real impact to the bottom line.

The talented and motivated high performers will describe working for you as hopelessly boring and lackluster. Since they’ll feel as if they’re going nowhere, they’ll quietly bide their time until they can jump to a job that offers them the feedback that fuels their growth.

Trust me, recognizing and rewarding people for the work they do for you—and providing feedback in a timely and actionable way—doesn’t have to swamp your boat or leave you feeling uncertain about how you’ll actually get around to doing it.

So I’ll share my secret with you.

Being the kind of leader who gives authentic and actionable feedback is a process, and all you really need is a road map to get you where you need to be. Think of these things as your GPS for becoming the leader who separates real results from meaningless accolades, and gives genuine feedback on performance in real time.

Get Yourself So You’re Practiced At Giving Feedback

You’re the leader—so it all starts with you. You have to think and prepare long before that first feedback conversation. You need to be a model for both imparting and hearing the type of feedback that is impactful and helps other progress in their careers quickly based on their merit and ability. Increasing your own self-awareness is essential. Acquiring an appreciation for the feelings and thoughts of other people, recognizing your emotions, knowing why you feel the way you do, and recognizing the sway they have on those around you are some of the critical things you have to have on day one. Conveying your thoughts clearly, precisely, and explicitly while at the same time being sensitive to the needs of the other person, along with taking their temperature and perspective, is what will help you effectively guide the conversation to a productive outcome. Doing these things connects you with the other person and supports them as they see the feedback as the gift you intend it to be. My last tip—and probably the most important one—is to think before you speak, and by that I simply mean find your key point about every bit of why you are giving this feedback by asking yourself the following three questions:

  • Why am I sharing this? What’s my objective?
  • What is my key take on the topic? What’s my point of view?
  • Why does it matter to the person I’m trying to reach?

Field The Right Team In The First Place

Organizing and putting the right people on the field is critical to making certain that people are capable of what you’re asking them to do. Stack your teams with people who have the skills, are open to constructive feedback, and who can take a compliment with grace and dignity. This reduces the chance that you’ll have to deliver feedback to those who may react in an overly emotional or defensive way. Focus on making sure that all the people on the team have the resources they need to execute and make decisions, have a measure of autonomy and discretion, and are willing to challenge the status quo themselves. Encourage bi-directional feedback, let them know that you’ve got as much to learn from them as they do from you, and teach, as my kindergarten teacher used to say, sharing is caring.

Tackle Their Needs With As Much Focus As You Do The Bottom Line

Multitasking is a given when you’re a leader. And as much as you have to keep your eye on the bottom line, you have to tackle their needs with as much focus as you do the bottom line. Spending time with them means balancing priorities and making sure that the time you spend isn’t always about the nuts and bolts of what everyone is working on. There need to be moments when it’s just about them and what is going on in their lives—listening to them, learning from them, and sharing stories that have absolutely nothing to do with work. But what is the right mix of tasks versus personal connection time? You’ll have to see what works best in your workplace, and if you have to err on one side or the other, choose tackling the needs of the person before the business.

Prepare For Things To Go Off Track – And Know How To Get It Back On Track

In spite of our best efforts, there are times when we’ve got to deliver feedback that is going to be difficult for the other person to hear. If you’ve done the work in step one you’ll be well-prepared to do the heavy lifting required here. Timing is everything—when at all doable, schedule these feedback conversations for the end of the day so that when the conversation is done, the person doesn’t have to go back to their workspace and can leave the office to process and think outside of the gaze of their coworkers. How you start the conversation usually dictates how it ends, so affirm that you’re in this together. If you’ve established yourself as an honest broker acknowledging significant contributions as well as areas for growth, you’ll have a baseline of trust to leverage. Focus on the performance and how you’ll work together to choose strategies that will help them succeed. Diffuse emotional reactions by leaning in and listening. If the conversation gets out of hand, delay responding by calling for a break, and regroup when everyone has time to cool down before things spiral out of control.

Follow these steps, defy convention, and become the one leader everyone respects as being strong, trustworthy, candid, and highly competent. The journey is less challenging when you have a roadmap and your focus is firmly on the destination. Share with me the stories of how you broke away from your old feedback habits and what happened when you did.

Where Has All The Empathy Gone?

Oct 26

where has all the empathy goneWe appear to be living in a world that grows more adversarial every day—just take a look at social media, TV, politics, or your last contentious project meeting. We’ve become so fixated on what divides us that we walk around in a constant state of emotional hijack—bothered, stressed, angry, worried, and unwilling to lay down our shields for a moment to see a situation from another’s standpoint or tune in to what someone else might be thinking.

We are so frazzled that even the slightest difference opens a chasm wider than the Grand Canyon between people. Thoughtlessly, we defend entrenched positions and talk past each other in anticipation of an attack by the other person. Attacking, demeaning, and scoring points trumps listening for understanding, recognizing, and valuing another’s point of view. Our public and private dialogue swiftly descends into name-calling, insult hurling, table-flipping madness. Each side escalates in lockstep punches and counter punches, rapid-fire accusations fly, and no one can be heard since they are all shouting over each other. Nothing ever gets resolved.

In recent months, I’ve often found myself wondering: Where has all the empathy gone?

Regretfully, it appears that for the most part we’ve lost any semblance of our capacity to call upon this essential and powerful tool. If there is any expectation of reversing course, we must resist becoming antagonistic and combative, and respond with empathy rather than antipathy, despite the storm swirling around us.

Reconnecting with our capacity for empathy means first getting really clear about what it is and is not. Once we’re really clear on that, we can then pivot and spike our empathy EQ.

What Is Empathy And What It’s Not

Empathy is simply defined as, “The ability to be aware of, understand, and appreciate the feelings and thoughts of others. Empathy is tuning in to what, how, and why people feel and think the way they do and being able to emotionally read other people.”

What empathy isn’t can sometimes prove even more useful. Empathy has nothing to do with being agreeable, polite, or even nice to people. It isn’t about your impressions, feelings, or thoughts about the circumstances at the heart of the conversation—that would be sympathy. And it certainly isn’t about acquiescing or being in agreement with the other person.

These time-tested strategies are vital in grasping what another person’s perspective is, along with what they are thinking and feeling—particularly when it’s dramatically different from your own vantage point.

Remain Cool Amid The Fury

When pushed to our limits, we all can lose our cool, temper, and focus. It doesn’t take long to go from being mildly upset to being in an all-out rage, and we can cross the threshold without being aware that we were anywhere near it. Remaining cool amid the fury starts with:

  • Understanding Your Emotional Triggers – These hot buttons when pushed will trigger intense emotional responses in you. Have some preset responses that you’ve practiced and can call upon when confronted with a trigger to diffuse that stress and give you time to regroup.
  • Take Your Emotional Temperature Periodically – Recognize how you’re feeling physically, your internal self-talk, and your non-verbals (expressions, motions, and posture). Any changes that indicate you’re less focused and more agitated are your early warning signs that you’ve got to be more conscious and considered in what you’re saying and doing. Slow down the pace and start listening more than speaking until the heat dissipates or diffuses.

Being Neutral Isn’t The Goal

Neutrality might be prized in most situations—except when we are talking about empathy. Empathy is about anything but being neutral. In fact, it necessitates being absolutely focused on the subjective vantage point of the other person and how they experience the world. Seeing the world from another’s vantage point isn’t always easy. Getting it right means doing two things extremely well: listening and asking questions that unearth the information you need to see their model of the world.

  • Listening, as Mark Goulston says, like a PAL – with purpose and without an agenda gives you the information you need to work with. You’ll see how the other person sees and experiences the world and their circumstances. Done well, it influences your responses and supports you in being of service to the other person. The sense of connectedness from listening like a PAL diffuses the emotionality and tension that otherwise might exist.
  • Asking questions that go beyond the superficial details unearths what is truly driving the person’s actions and how they perceive the matter at hand. You can’t discern the complexity of what they are thinking any other way. Questions that move past the superficial facts and generate deeper levels of thinking on the part of the other person often lead to revelations that will help you respond in a more empathetic way.

However, developing one’s listening and questioning abilities isn’t all that it takes to be more empathetic. Being able to express empathetically what you’ve heard involves not only listening and asking the types of questions that elicit informative responses, but also becoming adept at tuning in to emotions and feelings that accompany those words and thoughts.

Banish “I” From The Beginning Of Your Statements

Pretend that you don’t even know the word “I” can begin a statement where empathy is concerned. Beginning with “I” makes it all about you: your thoughts, your sentiments, and how you’re feeling along with your opinions, your perceptions, and your biases and judgments. Empathy is about acknowledging and recognizing the existence of another’s viewpoint without rendering judgment or trying to persuade them to consider an alternative perspective in the moment. The power of empathy lies in the building of a shared experience of their perspective, validating their right to hold it, and requiring no need on their part to defend it to you.

We all have a choice to make: to offset the tension and choose to be more empathetic and less divisive.

Are you willing to do what it takes to stand in someone else’s shoes, see the world with their eyes, and understand their perspective—even if you don’t agree with it or even if you find it outlandish? If so, share your past experiences or how you would attempt to do this below.

Give Less Advice And Listen More

Oct 19

Give Less Advice And Listen MoreIn the early 1970’s there were a series of commercials on TV that featured a “know-it-all” spokesman for a brand of wine called The Answer Grape. He had a very stately demeanor and would answer any question posed to him. Why is it that like the Answer Grape, we feel compelled to impart our advice to others, even when we’re not quite sure what to say?

Perhaps it’s because over a lifetime we’ve learned and believe that giving advice, sharing our viewpoint, and telling others exactly what they should do—even when we aren’t quite sure ourselves—demonstrates credibility, adds value, and builds trust. But does it really?

Of course sharing your ideas and giving advice can be valuable to others—I’m just suggesting that when it becomes our fallback response to every request, it can have unintended consequences for both the advice seeker and giver. When people unduly rely on you, it disempowers them and wears you down.

I’m not suggesting that you abandon sharing your ideas and giving advice completely. Instead, I’m suggesting that it not be your default position when the matter at hand doesn’t require a practical or more expedient answer. There is another alternative, and it is simple yet exceedingly powerful: to give less advice and listen more.

Listening more starts when you can:

Resist The Urge To Answer The First, Second, Or Even Third Time

Jonas Salk is quoted as saying, “What people think of as the moment of discovery is really the discovery of the question.” Instead of diving in with an answer, ask a question that will trigger a dialogue and uncover what the true question is. Then listen without an agenda to the answer and experience the power in that moment. Questions open the door for the other person to take time to actually think and sort things out for themselves. In all likelihood, answering your question is probably the first time they have heard themselves verbalize what they’ve been thinking aloud. Resist the urge to jump in after your first, second, or even third question. Keep asking questions that help both you and the other person focus on what the challenge is, what they need to resolve it, and what they can do, and when you’ve finally gotten to that point you can then ask them, “What do they need from you?” And then you listen again.

Don’t Disguise Advice As A Question

Preparation is key in asking questions that support dialogue rather than advice that masquerades as a question. Choose a few all-purpose, open-ended questions that you can pull out whenever you need them. They can be as simple as: “What’s on your mind?” or “Under the present circumstances, what might you find helpful?” And one of my favorites: “And what else?” Keep them handy at first until they become second nature to you.

Banish the following questions, which are really a wolf’s advice in sheep’s clothing: “Have you thought of…?”, “Did you consider…?”, ”And have you tried…?” Always opt for the questions that curb your desire to give advice and lead to more opportunities for the other person to go deeper and explore their thinking. Remember too that this isn’t an interrogation, so asking one question at a time is key. Complex multi-part questions qualify as more than one, so also avoid asking those.

Recap And Ask Them If This Was Helpful

When the time comes and the person has really had the chance to explore and talk about what’s on their mind, you now have a great opportunity to guide the conversation toward a natural conclusion that may or may not include sharing your viewpoint. Recapping the highlights of the conversation and asking the other person what they found most helpful to them is a good way to gauge where they are and if they still need something from you—namely advice or perspective. You can simply ask them, “What might you need from me so that you can take the next steps?” If they ask you for your thoughts, now is the time to share them, and because you’ve listened intently you can better craft your advice to meet their needs. Remember it should be in the form of future-focused advice and things that they can absolutely take action on themselves. You can close out by offering your support and willingness to be an accountability partner too.

Asking questions doesn’t make you unsure, lack confidence, or even lack expertise. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Empowering others to discover their expertise, talents, and solutions guides them towards self-reliance and builds momentum in a powerful and personal way. It creates an enduring cycle of discovery and learning that breaks through bottlenecks and motivates all involved. What are you going to do to listen more and give less advice?


The Network Effect

Oct 04

The Network EffectIf you’re like most people, you’ve gotten really adept at figuring out who the poisonous and exhausting people are in your life. And if you’re successful, you’ve become adept at quickly jettisoning them before they wreak the inevitable havoc that always comes. Figuring out whom to jettison is easy—what’s tough is acquiring a keen eye for spotting those people who will unquestionably give you a strategic leg up on the ladder of success. What’s so important about having a keen eye and being able to spot the people who can help you ascend the ladder of success more quickly?

The unvarnished truth is you can’t succeed alone, despite what you read and see about highly accomplished and brilliant people.

A lone person struggling against all odds and surmounting all obstacles to become an overnight success might make a great movie script, yet in the real world it rarely if ever happens that way. The most talented people don’t take anything for granted, or leave anything to chance, when it comes to building the strategic network of connections, advisors, mentors, and influencers who will play an integral role in opening doors and paving the way for them as they ascend the ladder of success. The work of building a highly dedicated and specialized network begins long before the people you want to seek out are chosen and the relationships begin.

Here’s what it takes to become adept a spotting the people who will most assuredly quicken your rise on the ladder of success:

Focus On What You Need, Not What You Have

If you want the most influential advisors, mentors, and people in your corner, you need to focus on what you need, not what you have. This starts when you create your own personal balance sheet. Just like the balance sheet of any company tells the world about the general health of the company, so will your balance sheet reflect your general health and well-being as well as your strengths and gaps. It starts with you being able to objectively assess your assets and liabilities, your emotional intelligence, and your mindset and worldview. Here are a few quick ideas to get you started:

  • Create a personal avatar that includes how you like to learn new things, communicate with others, and overcome challenges. This will shine a spotlight on and enable you to prioritize your assets, identify your liabilities and what you want to accomplish.
  • Trace the milestones and markers: those moments in your life that include your victories, failures, and times where you had to take a step back and start again. When you have the list, ask yourself:* What would I tell myself today about something I should have done but didn’t do? What would I have needed then to be able to do this?* What do I believe about myself? Which of these are true, and which are false? Which might have been true but are no longer true and why?

Getting comfortable with and knowing precisely what you need lays the groundwork for building the rapport and trust that will drive your successful connection with the influencers who can help you succeed.

Get Specific

Now that you’ve spelled out who you are, it’s time to get serious about seeking out that core group of undeniably essential people upon whom you’ll rely as you march toward success. The cadre of resources upon whose counsel and wisdom you rely demands that you connect with others in a strategic and deliberate way. But it isn’t about collecting names and counting numbers. It starts with getting specific about and then reaching out to the people who can fill in your skill gaps, shine the light on your blind spots, and help you use your strengths in ways that you’ve not thought about before. Look for people who will thrust you into your discomfort zone and support you in tackling the things you dream for yourself. Getting specific means thinking about who you’d like to have in your posse. Begin by thinking about the traits, skills, and viewpoints you need to introduce into your life and figure out where those people are. Here are a few archetypes you might want to include in your circle:

  • The Sounding Board – Someone who listens to you and more significantly hears what is being said and what isn’t. Given what they hear, they willingly respond by being of service to you in the way you need their help—even if only to acknowledge what has been shared. These people are among the principal resources in your circle. They share in your biggest fears and grandest dreams. They give you unconditional support and enable you to talk through your biggest fears and move forward.
  • The Questioner – Someone who has a perspective 180 degrees from your own. They are willing to take you to the edge of your comfort zone and probably a good deal beyond it. They challenge your thinking, viewpoints, and entrenched ways of being. They help you explore new viewpoints and break through static thought patterns. It might not always be comfortable to be in their presence, yet they can help you in ways that accelerate your growth like no other person can.
  • The Elder / Mentor – Someone who has been there and done what you are trying to do. Someone who can become a strategic partner and show you all the potholes and short cuts that will help you have a smoother and more successful journey. They also help you connect with others and make introductions that help build your influence and credibility. Their wisdom inspires and ignites your passion and desire to succeed.
  • The Up and Comer – Someone whose star is ascending. They are highly innovative and in touch with where the world is headed. They may be in your industry or perhaps they are not, but they are the trendsetters and the ones at the head of the spear. They can help you with trends, technologies, and ideas that you’re not acquainted with or even at ease with.
  • The Peer – Someone who gets you, where you are right now. They understand what you face because they are right there along side you going through the same things. Together you help each other see the constructive aspects of what you are experiencing. They are trusted confidants and sympathetic friends.

This certainly isn’t a complete list—you don’t need to have all the answers as to who should be on your list at the start. You can learn and add more along the way.

Don’t Tempt Fate—Give As Much As You Get

Relationships are not one-way streets—they are reciprocal. Don’t tempt fate by being known as someone who only takes from the people around them—giving as much as you get from others is a key way to build your own influence. Find opportunities to reciprocate: join forces on mutually-defined goals and share thoughts and resources freely. This level of engagement builds rapport, solidifies connections, and heightens your presence. What you do communicates volumes to those who observe your deeds and endears you to others. Giving as much as you get creates the influential relationships that will help you catapult your success and leapfrog over your competition.

We know that bona fide success isn’t an overnight proposition, and without a doubt success isn’t achieved in isolation. With a keen eye, persistence, and a bit of flexibility, you’ll be able to form the type of relationships that will amplify your strengths and support you in ways that will drive your success exponentially.

How will you spot the people who can help you ascend the ladder of success more quickly? Please share you ideas with me.