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When Is Facilitation Really Facilitation?

July 27th, 2012

Recently I was asked to facilitate a discussion with a group of individuals around a specific topic. The facilitated small group discussion was a breakout session within a larger meeting. In order to decide whether or not to accept the request, I asked a variety of questions about purpose, design, format, my role, etc. The more questions I asked the more I became aware that the person requesting my services didn’t really understand what he meant by facilitation. It was not clear to him whether the small groups were to make decisions or just to share individual perspectives. He didn’t really know how the small group discussion was supposed to fit into the larger meeting. About all he knew was that they needed “facilitators” for the time they had scheduled for the small groups.

As I interacted with the individual, I was reminded of the four core values of facilitation that Roger Schwarz shares in his book, The Skilled Facilitator. For several years I have studied and tried to practice those values when working with groups and I find them to be very valuable to the effectiveness of my work (when I get it right). Those values provide for me the guidance to know what to ask and to begin understanding when others have a different perspective of the group process.

The four values are: valid information, free and informed choice, internal commitment, and compassion. These values have helped me understand that for many being a facilitator means to be in front of the group and keep the group involved for a scheduled period of time. For some it means to be a host for the event. And for others it means directing what the group should do and how it should do it.

By actually studying (and I’m constantly learning how important these values are to the group process) and applying these values to the groups with which I interact, I have discovered that some leaders misunderstand group process and facilitation. For them the group process is to get compliance to their predetermined idea or outcome. They know they should have group discussion, but they don’t expect that discussion to result in any anything different than what they have already decided.

When the group leader subscribes to these four values the leader understands that the result may be different from his or her perspective, and that is okay. The leader who understands these values will “facilitate” the group to make certain all of the relevant information is being shared; and shared in a way that all group members understand the other perspectives and the reasoning behind those different perspectives.

When the group members feel free to share all the relevant information they are more comfortable making decisions that define the objectives and the methods for achieving those objectives. The group members don’t feel manipulated or coerced because the decisions are based on the shared valid information.

Making free and informed decisions results in the group members feeling personally responsible for the decisions. The group members own the decisions and are committed to acting on those decisions. The group members are not waiting to be rewarded for their compliance to the decisions.

To facilitate a group from the approach just described requires the leader to function with compassion for others. The facilitative leader temporarily suspends judgment and works to appreciate all other group members for what they bring to the table.

So as I continued to ask questions of the individual requesting my facilitative skills, I reflected upon these four values and used them to determine that the individual really didn’t know what they wanted and I shifted my questions. I now had the information I needed to know that I did not want to facilitate the group as I was being asked to do. So I began to ask if there was any chance to have input into the workshop design in order to better engage the participants and really utilize the ideas of the participants.

The individual was very excited to discuss these options which led to a redesign of the event and more opportunity for participant input into the outcomes of the workshop. It was a real win-win-win.

So the next time you are asked to facilitate an event, you might consider the four values to help you determine what kind of facilitation they are asking you to provide. Until next time, keep looking for those opportunities to use your facilitation skills and know when facilitation is really facilitation.

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Distress- Just a Function of Life?

July 13th, 2012

Things just seem to be spinning out of control. Things are moving so fast I just can’t keep up. It’s crazy around here these days. It’s a zoo and the animals are in charge. Sound familiar? Statements like these seem to pop up in conversations on a routine basis these days. I find myself in conversations where these sentiments are shared at work, at home, in the community, and even at the latest basketball game I attended. What is happening?

As I listen and share in these conversations, for I too experience some of these same feelings, I hear undertones of frustration and distress. I personally experience frustration and distress. But isn’t that just the way life is and the way it has always been? No doubt this is the case. However, I do experience two things in my own life that are very different today than twenty-five or thirty years ago. The speed of change and the expectations that things happen instantaneously is different. And secondly, as a result of this speed of change and the instant access to information, the ability to stay informed and to effectively communicate with others has decreased. I find people are so geared-up and trying to accomplish so many different things, that there is no time for effective communication and real understanding. While I have more access to more information, I find myself overloaded, uninformed and out of touch with things. We appear to be running from meeting to meeting and event to event, while continuously plugged into one or more electronic gadgets. Thus, we experience constant distress.

When was the last time you sat with a friend or co-worker or family member and just talked about whatever was on your or their minds? When was the last time you were able to really focus on what the other person was saying and not have in the back of your mind the next meeting you must get to or the commitment you have made to another person? And what is the end result of all this rushing and lack of communication?

The impact I see is a significant increase in distress in people and a lot of misunderstanding, resulting in conflict between and among individuals. I see additional work created to resolve the misunderstandings and conflict, which takes time away from doing the work needed to serve the customer. I see an increase in emotional and physical health issues impacting the workplace, families, and friends.

While I don’t believe distress is new today, I do find that not having a release or chance to get away from the distress to be different. I believe that individuals are hungry for this release. Unfortunately, many turn to artificial means to escape the distress; drugs, alcohol, sex, food, excessive computer engagement. Whatever the escape, the use/misuse of these solutions and the resulting consequences many times just adds to the distress we experience. (Just this morning I said I needed to take a break and find some “comfort food”. Then I sat at my computer and ate my “comfort food” while I continued to do my work, not taking a break at all.)

So how do we know when we need to take that break and renew ourselves? If you are experiencing any of the following examples of distress indicators, you might want to reflect upon what this means to your work, family, friends, or life and develop a distress reduction plan. Examples of just a few indicators of distress include; fatigue and chronic exhaustion, frequent and prolonged colds, sleep disturbances, sudden weight gain or loss, extreme mood and behavioral changes, emotional distancing, depression, intellectualization, increased interpersonal conflicts, boredom, cynicism, and many more.

If you find this posting somewhat disturbing or you find that you are experiencing several of the distress indicators, perhaps you might want to visit with someone about this feeling. Contact a friend who you can count on to be honest and straight with you or contact your organizational human resource professional or the employee assistance program or a member of the faith community. Or take a day away from everything and go for a long walk or sit on a hill side and just reflect upon the beauty around you. There are many ways to take a break from the demands of the day and get renewed. Select one and practice it on a regular basis.

Until the next time, pay close attention to your stress level and be (response able) to take charge of reducing the distress within your life.

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Relationships; Just How Important Are They?

June 29th, 2012

At a recent summit a presenter said, “As with everything, it all boils down to the relationships we develop with others”. This caused me to think about all the times I hear this being said. Being in education, I hear it a lot. I hear people claim that the key to success in any endeavor depends on the relationships one develops.

So what does this mean? I started exploring this further and discovered some helpful information in a book on leadership and coaching; Coaching For Leadership edited by Marshall Goldsmith, Laurance Lyons and Alyssa Freas. If our success is highly dependent on our relationships, perhaps we should spend some time exploring how to build and maintain these relationships. The following highlights from this resource have provided me with some very helpful insights into my relationships at work.

In the Chapter titled When Leaders Are Coaches in Coaching For Leadership, the chapter authors, James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, state that the number one success factor among the variables for success in the top three jobs in large organizations was identified as “relationships with subordinates”. This was taken from research done at the Center for Creative Leadership. The authors go on to say “the best leaders are caring leaders”.

So how do leaders demonstrate that they are caring? The authors identify three essentials that contribute to these relationships; 1. The leaders set clear standards, 2. The leaders expect the best, and 3. The leaders set the example. Obviously, the leaders have a clear understanding of what they want the relationship to be and to be able to articulate that with standards like goals and values.

The values provide for us the direction and principles that we can use to guide us throughout our life. They provide the grounding we need to establish a committed relationship. The goals provide us a way to measure our commitment to that relationship. As a human being, I’m only going to commitment myself to something that provides meaning to me personally.

To create important relationships effective leaders have high expectations for everyone involved, for both the leader and the followers. These expectations are what develop the relationship into more than a superficial relationship. The expectations cause the individuals involved to be engaged and have a sense of commitment to the relationship.

And thirdly, effective leaders set the example for what they expect of the relationship. When the leaders invest in the development of the relationship the followers know that this relationship is important and one that is critical to the long term. By living the characteristics and values expected of the relationship, the leader is providing credibility for those involved in the relationship. In other words, a behavior critical to developing relationships is people doing what they say they will do.

When these three essentials are followed it becomes apparent that the individual/leader cares about the others involved. Without these essentials and the caring they demonstrate, it will be very difficult to create the kinds of relationships that result in people being committed to the long term.

So the next time you hear someone say that it all depends on the relationships we are developing, think about these three essential for building strong relationships; 1. Set clear standards, 2. Expect the best, and 3. Set the example. Are you taking the time to practice these three essentials in your work world? If not, will you be able to fall back on your relationships when they are needed?

Until next time, remember that if success in your work is highly dependent on the relationships you build, then how important is relationship building to you?

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Experience + Reflection + Application = Learning

June 6th, 2012

Sometimes it appears that all we have to do is learn a concept and use the language to demonstrate that we “get it” and we are “performing it”. I know this is true for me. After all these years of studying people and the human interaction process, you would think that I “get it” and can “perform it”. And then in a very brief conversation I am quickly reminded, a lot lately, that I really don’t know how to “live it”.

If this doesn’t make sense, let me clarify. I have shared several times in these postings about the work of Roger Schwarz and the “Unilateral Control Model” and the “Mutual Learning Model”. I have shared examples of these two models and the outcomes from practicing each model.

And, if you are not careful, you might begin to think I have it all mastered. Well, let me quickly stop that line of thinking. I’m very much a learner in all of this; trying hard to improve my skills on a daily basis. However, the reality is I struggle to use these concepts and skills to help integrate this knowledge into my work and way of living.

Recently, this awareness has humbled me once again. I have been in a number of conversations with co-workers that have provided me the opportunity to practice and improve my skills and build on my strengths. Unfortunately, I have not lived up to my own expectations.

As I reflect upon these experiences, I can identify time and again where I wish I had said something or done something different. Of course I can easily identify a number of reasons for these shortcomings; I didn’t have the time to focus on the situation, I needed to look good and provide the answer, I was intimidated by people in positions of power, etc. The excuses and rationale can go on endlessly.

However, the truth is I failed to recognize that I too am human and have a lifetime of “Unilateral Control Model” under my belt. And, when stressed, I allow my ego to take over and function out of the model that I grew up with and live in every day of my life. I lose my sense of being mindful of my experience, of being present in the moment, and being authentic and vulnerable. In other words, I perform unconsciously, and fail to utilize what I know is a better way to perform.

The positive aspect of all of these experiences is the many opportunities I have for reflection and learning. I leave each and every experience with a renewed desire and commitment to learn more and do better at helping people learn instead of trying to “fix it” for them. And, to be fair to myself, I am getting better over time and with experience.

With that in mind, let me ask you to think about the outcomes of your interpersonal interactions and decide which of the following you would prefer for the consequences of those interactions;

  1. Misunderstanding, conflict, defensiveness, mistrust, reduced effectiveness, limited learning, reduced quality of work life, or
  2. Increased understanding, reduced conflict, reduced defensiveness, increased trust, increased learning, increased effectiveness, and increase quality of work life.

While I am making an assumption here, I’m guessing few would select the consequences listed in number one over number two.

If you selected the consequences in number two, then I encourage you to learn as much as you can about the Unilateral Control and Mutual Learning models and commit to practicing the skills that will help integrate your choice into your way of being. I suggest a couple of great resources for your study; The Skilled Facilitator by Roger Schwarz and The Skilled Facilitator Handbook by Roger Schwarz, Anne Davidson, Peg Carlson, Sue McKinney and other contributors.

Until next time, continue to fully experience situations, reflect upon the outcomes, and apply your learning to the next experience.

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Communication is Vital

June 1st, 2012

Over the past several weeks, I have had a variety of conversations with people about the significance of effective communications in the workplace. From workshop experiences to consulting interactions to just causal conversations, it appears people are very interested in understanding how communications works, why it turns bad so quickly, and what can be done to improve office communications. Individuals keep saying to me that poor communications prevents them from being able to effectively do the job they were hired to do.

During a recent lunch with a friend with whom I have co-facilitated a number of times, we began discussing this seemingly growing concern about communications. She too has seen this issue surfacing in almost all of her workshops. We began to share stories and resources that we use to address the concerns.

This caused me to think of a recent e-mail that was sent to me by another co-worker. The e-mail quote was from an older resource by Carl Rogers. I want to share that quote because it relates so well to the discussions I have been experiencing. It goes like this;

„When I am at my best, as a group facilitator or as a therapist, I discover another characteristic. I find that when I am closest to my inner, intuitive self, when I am somehow in touch with the unknown in me, when perhaps I am in a slightly altered state of consciousness, then whatever I do seems to be full of healing. Then, simply my presence is releasing and helpful to the other. There is nothing I can do to force this experience, but when I can relax and be close to the transcendental core of me, then I may behave in strange and impulsive ways in the relationship, ways that I cannot justify rationally, which have nothing to do with my thought processes. But these strange behaviors turn out to be right, in some odd way: it seems that my inner spirit has reached out and touched the inner spirit of the other. Our relationship transcends itself and becomes a part of something larger. Profound growth and healing and energy are present.“ Carl Rogers, „A way of being“ 1980, p.129

This quote speaks to the need of really connecting with another to begin understanding that person. It also speaks to the need to be “present’ with the other person. I find this kind of connecting by being present with another individual to be missing in most work environments today. Instead, I find people so busy being busy that they are not even conscious that they are not communicating. Then, add to this lack of consciousness, the fact that we are relying so much on electronic methods of communicating to increase our ability to get more done, and I wonder how we even communicate at all. We do not structure our lives and our interactions in ways to enhance our communication, which seems to be so vital to the workplace and being effective in our jobs.

In my conversation with my co-facilitator friend, I shared the work of Roger Schwarz in his resource, The Skilled Facilitator. In that book, he describes some ground rules that I have found to be very helpful when facilitating groups. I have discovered in my own experience that when I work hard at practicing these grounds rules, I experience some of what Carl Rogers described in the quote above. I believe I have shared the ground rules before, but once again here are the ground rules that Roger Schwarz has identified for working with groups;

  1. Test assumptions and inferences
  2. Share all relevant information
  3. Use specific examples and agree on what important words mean
  4. Explain your reasoning and intent
  5. Focus on interests, not positions
  6. Combine advocacy and inquiry
  7. Jointly design next steps and ways to test disagreements
  8. Discuss undiscussable issues
  9. Use a decision-making rule that generates the degree of commitment needed

If communication is so vital to being productive in the workplace, then maybe we need to begin practicing these grounds rules when we interact with others. Perhaps then we will be present and experience the connection we need to effectively communicate with others.

Until next time, study these ground rules, read Schwarz’s book, and practice vital communications with others.

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Does Being in a Leadership Position = Leadership?

May 21st, 2012

At a recent social gathering the discussion turned to jobs and the workplace. Eventually the conversation focused on leadership and what constitutes effective leadership in the workplace. The group was composed of four individuals who work for private-for-profit companies, two individuals who work for public education, and one individual who works for higher education.

The not surprising aspect of this discussion was the agreement about two things. The first was an agreement on behaviors that result in effective leadership. The second was an agreement that just holding a leadership position in a company or an organization does not automatically result in effective leadership. It was clear that just because a person serves in a leadership position within the company or organization that person may not demonstrate the skills and behaviors that cause others to want to follow that “leader”. In fact, there was strong agreement that effective leadership may be rare with individuals who are in leadership positions and that effective leadership, many times, comes from others in the company and organization, regardless of the person’s position.

While this discussion was not even close to a scientific study or anything that would resemble an academic dialogue, it did cause me to reflect upon two questions. The first question is; what are the skills or behaviors that others recognized as necessary for effective leadership? And the second question is; why are so many individuals in leadership positions perceived as not demonstrating effective leadership skills and behaviors?

The first question was pretty simple to sort out. As I listened to the members of the group discuss the critical elements of effective leadership, I was quickly reminded of the work of James Kouzes and Barry Posner in their book, The Leadership Challenge. Much of the conversation reflected what I have learned in my own experience and has been identified in the book by the authors.

The most prominent aspect discussed was the issue that individuals in leadership positions do understand that they need to be able to show the way or provide a vision for the organization or the company. What they don’t understand, or at least fail to demonstrate, is that they need to be able to communicate that vision is such a way that the followers see it or “get it”. The discussion indicated that many individuals in leadership positions share their vision, but in such abstract and conceptual ways that their followers don’t really understand what the leader is intending. Many times this lack of shared vision does not lead to inspiration by the followers. Instead, it often leads to confusion or misunderstanding of what is intended, resulting in miscommunication, distrust, and uncertainty about what to do next.

Related to this is the inability of the positional leader to communicate the vision for their followers. Many times these individuals were described as being so focused on the clouds that they could not address the day-to-day operational aspects of the organization or the company. Some members of the group even described the positional leaders as being really distanced from the “real people”. When the positional leaders were asked for more clarification of the direction needed, the positional leaders would skirt the issue or, in the worst case, consider the questions non-supportive of the vision and become very defensive.

As I reflected on this first question and found that I could at least identify answers, I began to experience the second question as it took focus in my mind. Why are some positional leaders not perceived as effective leaders by their followers? As I pondered this question and with few, if any, answers, I found myself thinking how did these individuals become leaders and why are they allowed to continue to lead? While the group discussion in no way provided me any possible answers, I do have my own unscientific and judgmental perspectives that continually nag me for solutions. If I can find the answers to these questions perhaps I can find the path to my next career.

Meanwhile, I find plenty to do to help individuals and organizations to understand the critical role that leadership plays in directing organizations into their future. The development and preparation of future leaders is essential to the success and sustainability of organizations. We need to be creating ways to identify potential leaders and providing opportunities to help them develop and demonstrate the skills and behaviors of effective leadership.

Until the next time, keep reflecting on the second question and look for possible answers that can help organizations and companies grow and enhance their work.

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What Do You Mean Communicate?

May 8th, 2012

Several times a day I hear people talking about failure in communications. Whether it is between individuals in a private conversation or between a supervisor and an employee or in a work group, there seems to be ample examples of this communication failure. And yet communications is at the heart of everything we do in life. As a leader or parent or spouse or friend, we all depend on the ability to communicate with each other in order to live together. So why aren’t we doing it better?

We have definitely enhanced the human ability to share information. Technology continues to amaze me with what can be done in this arena. However, these improvements have not always enhanced our ability to communicate.

Perhaps I better explain what I mean by communicate so that I don’t violate my own premise. I’ll start by stating what I believe communication is not. It is not having information, and lots of it. It is not the written word or the spoken word. It is not sharing my perspective in isolation of others’ perspectives. While communication includes all of this, it is far more than any one of these aspects alone.

Communication involves my sharing a perspective and meaning that you receive and understand as I originally intended it. And, once I am satisfied that you have received and understood my perspective and meaning, I am now ready to receive your perspective and meaning in a manner that I understand it as you intended it. This may appear to be very simple at first glance. However, my experience is that achieving communication, that understanding as intended, is the most difficult aspect of being human.

Recently I was in a conversation with someone who said something like the following. “I don’t understand why they didn’t do what they were told. I have told them at least five times what was expected. Are they so dense that they don’t get it or do they just not care? I don’t know how much more communication I need to provide.”

During the conversation with this person I learned that the so called communication was all done by e-mail with no person to person interaction. Almost instantly I had significant insight as to why there was no communication in this interaction of e-mails. One person was sending information to another, assuming or expecting the other person to understand the information and, therefore, the meaning of the information. The person receiving the message completed the task based on his or her understanding of that message. However, when the person sending the message saw the outcome of the task, it in no way represented the message as intended. So the person sent another message with the same results. This went on three more times until the person sending the message just gave up and took care of the task.

Nowhere in this exchange of information or e-mails was there ever an opportunity or attempt to check for understanding until the task was completed. At no time in the exchange did the person receiving the message ever attempt to check if his or her understanding of the message was as it was intended. As a result, there was a failure in the communication.

My conversation with this individual reminded me of one of my favorite statement, of which I do not know the source. “I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” I first ran across this statement early in my professional career as a counselor and trainer. It has always meant so much to me and sits on my desk today.

To really communicate requires hard work. It demands that we suspend our own agendas, become aware of our own filters, and know and recognize our own hot spots so that we can listen fully for the meaning that the other person intends. It requires us to check out our assumptions and inferences to see if we are correct or not. And it requires us to be clear and succinct when sending our own meaning.

It really is no surprise to me that we have so little communication, thus leading to difficulties and conflicts. I am more surprised when I experience real communication, the kind that says; you got it. You really understand me and now I want to understand you.

As you exchange information with others in the next few weeks, become keenly aware of your intent and how that intent is received or not. Become aware of the intent of others and work hard at achieving the message as it is intended. Then pay close attention to what happens when you are able to understand the intent of others and they maybe understand your intent.

Until next time, enjoy your communicating and not just sending information.

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You Must Want To

April 23rd, 2012

During a recent workshop on handling difficult conversations, a participant made a statement that really stirred my passion. We were discussing some tools and strategies that can be used to help people obtain a better outcome when we are caught in the middle of a very difficult conversation. The participant said something about it still is dependent on the person wanting to improve the communication. In order for the difficult situation to turnout well for both parties, both parties must first want it to be better.

I know the workshop participants thought I was over-reacting, but this statement really is true from my experience and is at the crux of a lot of misunderstanding and conflict. In far too many situations, I have experienced at least one party who doesn’t really want to work things out for the betterment of both parties. And sometimes this is the case with both parties involved. So my immediate reaction was to reinforce this statement and proceed to explore what happens when one of the parties doesn’t want to work through the difficult situation or conversation.

The difficulty in many of these situations is that the individual who does not want to work to make things better is not even aware that this is the case. Many times these individuals will state emphatically that they are trying to work things out. However, their behavior is clearly headed in the other direction. In these cases, the individual has confused the spoken desire to work things out with the unspoken intent to get the outcome to be what they want it to be. In these situations the individual wants to have more tools to manipulate or convince the other party that the solution to the difficulty is what the person manipulating the situation really wants.

I find the work of Roger Schwartz to be very useful in these situations. In his book, The Skilled Facilitator, Dr. Schwartz describes two models that explain what is happening. The first model is the Unilateral Control Model and the second is the Mutual Learning Model. In the Unilateral Control Model the person is operating under the values and assumptions that the outcome is to achieve their goal or “to win” because this person really knows what’s best for everyone. A person operating under this model really believes that he or she is right and that she or he knows what is best in this situation. Therefore, the behavior demonstrated is to do whatever is needed to control the situation, with whatever tools are at their disposal, in order to win.  However, the consequences of this model include mistrust, misunderstanding, and defensiveness. And again many people operate out of this model without their being aware of it.

On the other hand, operating out of the Mutual Learning Model means the individual starts with the values that people make free and informed choices based on shared and valid information. An individual operating out of this model believes he or she has some of the needed information and the others involved have additional needed information.  Through the sharing of information and different ideas, everyone has the opportunity to learn more. Thus, the parties involved in a difficult situation may end up changing their perspectives, leading to new and fresh outcomes. Consequences of operating out of this model are increased understanding and trust with the reduced need for defensiveness.

So when the workshop participant stated “you really have to want to work things out”, he was describing the difference in operating from a Unilateral Control perspective versus a Mutual Learning perspective. And learning the tools and strategies from the workshop is only as good as your perspective. If you just want to get better at winning, then learning the tools will help you win; but at what costs? You will still experience distrust, misunderstanding, and conflict. You will not reduce your involvement in difficult situations. In fact, you will probably increase your involvement in difficult situations or conversations.

If your desire is to reduce your involvement in difficult situations, first checking out your perspective and becoming aware of your intent is critical. Then you can use the tools and strategies of the workshop to help you be better at building trust, increasing understanding and reducing conflict. When your perspective is congruent with the tools and strategies, you have a far better chance of achieving the desired outcome of reducing your involvement in difficult situations or conversations.

So the next time you find yourself in a difficult situation or conversation, do a quick assessment of your perspective and decide your intent. Make certain you are acting out of the right perspective as you interact with others.

Until next time, hopefully you find your involvement in difficult situations decreasing and, when being involved in a difficult situation is a must, be certain you want to handle it from the right perspective.

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Self-Awareness: The Essence of Effective Leadership

April 16th, 2012

What constitutes effective leadership? When I explore this question I quickly get overwhelmed with the literature on the topic. There are plenty of authors and resources on the topic of leadership.

Constant in a lot of what I read is the role that self-awareness plays in effective leadership. Being aware of ones strengths, weaknesses, style, personality, preferences, etc., has a significant impact on how leaders behave and interact with others. Being self-aware, a leader can consciously influence the situation and the potential climate of the group. On the other hand, not being self-aware could lead to unwanted or undesirable consequences.

Over the years, I have observed or experienced leaders who have demonstrated self-awareness and leaders who have demonstrated their lack of self-awareness. When I think of self-aware leaders, I am reminded of experiences when the leader may have known what was needed to accomplish a task, but chose to work with the group and draw out the expertise within the group members. I recall another time working on a task with a group when the group really did not have the needed expertise and the very knowledgeable leader knew when to step in and provide that expertise. Then once the group or team was on track, the leader stepped back and let the group own the task.

On the flip side, I can recall being a part of a group where the leader needed to demonstrate to others that the leader was the person with the expertise. I recall how the members of the group, including me, felt about being involved in the group. I remember wondering why the leader didn’t just complete the task and not take up the valuable time of the other group members. While this leader verbalized the desire for group involvement, the leader, due to lack of self-awareness, did not know how or when to step back and engage the expertise of the other group members.

The importance of self-awareness in leadership development is really highlighted by the work of Daniel Goleman. Goleman states; “Emotional intelligence- the ability to manage ourselves and our relationships effectively- consists of four fundamental capabilities: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social skills.” Also James Kouzes and Barry Posner, co-authors of The Leadership Challenge, reinforce the importance of self-awareness. Their research indicates that self-awareness and self-management are absolutely essential to authentic leadership.

These two authors, Kouzes and Posner, caution organizations about hiring the most talented and the brightest individual when they do not possess first the personal and social skills needed to be an effective leader. And the first step to obtaining these personal and social skills is self-awareness; the essence of effective leadership.

If you want to be an effective leader, study and learn about your best leadership tool; yourself. Reflect upon the impact your interactions have on others. Listen to the feedback others offer on your behavior and style. Ask for candid feedback on your leadership. Take every opportunity to conduct assessments of your personality and style through the use of valid instruments. Working to understand and develop yourself will pay huge dividends when you are put into that leadership role.

Until next time, make the best of every opportunity to become self-aware.

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Leadership: It’s all in the Attitude

April 6th, 2012

“I did everything they told me to do and I did it well, but I still was asked to leave.” I heard this statement recently from an individual commenting about the past few years of work. This person was in a leadership role that had significant impact on others in an organization. And it is not the first time I have heard statements like this one.

So how can a person be doing the work asked of them and be doing it well and still lose their job? There must have been something beyond doing the work that was more of an issue for this leader; more than knowing how to do the “work” and being able to perform the “work” well. As I continued to interact with this individual, it became apparent there was a real misunderstanding of the “work” of this leadership role, resulting in a disconnection with the supervisor.

From the leader’s perspective the work was to get more production from his/her employees. To the leader this meant she/he needed to know the business of the organization better than all the other employees and be able to tell them what was needed to improve productivity. This meant being very knowledgeable and very directive, as any outstanding leader would be. It meant perceiving the role of the leader as the authority with the final say. It meant being “above “ the “subordinates”, requiring compliance to organizational policy and procedures, even if it meant the that the leader did not have to comply. After all, the leader had now joined the level of the organization in which he/she was no longer subject to the same expectations of the rest of the employees. The leader was now in a class at a higher level than the others.

This is an attitude that I see all too often in working with leaders and organizations. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting that all leaders demonstrate this attitude or have this perspective of leadership. I interact with many leaders from a variety of organizations and settings who understand that the attitude one demonstrates as a leader has a significant impact on the behavior of others. In fact, these leaders get it and understand that emotional intelligence (defined by Daniel Goleman as self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills) is more important than being the most knowledgeable about the business or exhibiting the best technical skills. This is pointed out in a Harvard Business Review article by Goleman (What Makes a Leader?, November-December 1998) where he states; “I have found, however, that the most effective leaders are alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence.” This does not mean these leaders don’t need knowledge of the organizational business and skills to be productive, because they do. It does mean that their effectiveness as a leader will be better determined by their level of emotional intelligence.

As I interacted more with the individual who made the opening statement, it became clearer to me that the attitude of the leader really does make the difference and this attitude has a whole lot to do with their level of emotional intelligence. This individual, while doing all the right things and using all the suggestions offered by his/her supervisor, was doing them with an attitude that said, “I’m really better than you because I’m your leader and I know best.” This individual was not aware of her/his attitude and could not demonstrate a level of empathy or relate in a way that indicated he/she understood. This is why she/he could do the right things and do them very well and still not be seen by others as an effective leader. This is why others were not ready to follow and work hard enhancing the productivity of the organization. This person’s attitude got in the way.

As you think about your role of a leader, reflect upon your own attitude. Are you aware of how you come across to others? Do you care about their life or work situation? Can you regulate your own desires and behaviors and communicate in a way to build effective working relationships?

Until next time, ask yourself. Is it time for an attitude check-up?

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