Steven's Own Words

What To Do When You’re Blindsided By Misinterpretation

What To Do When You’re Blindsided By Misinterpretation

Here’s a sentence you don’t hear very often: Turns out Nixon was right! Not about all things, of course — but when he said “I know you think you know exactly what you thought I meant to say. But what you fail to realize is what you heard was not what I meant at all.”  I think he nailed a core human truth to the wall. Recently, I was working with a client who facilitated a difficult policy shift between management and labor, and when all was said and done, both sides seemed like they had a clear understanding of the change. He felt he exhibited great leadership and facilitated a healthy dialogue and debate, and the outcome was effective. And it was — up and until the point it wasn’t.  Soon after this powerful demonstration of communication and collaboration, he learned that the two sides had significantly different interpretations of the conclusion. What his team proceeded to implement was not what management had intended — and now everyone was off track and, frankly, frustrated. What do they do now? What do we do when such a clear miscommunication throws off our team dynamics and objectives? First things first: ask the important question. “When was the last time you were all really, truly, on the same page about the topic?” I asked my client. He had to think about it for a moment, but soon he nodded. “I can name the exact moment,” he said confidently. “Excellent!” I said. “So now you know where to go back to!”  If you can name the moment of divergence, the last time you were all on the same page — and do so confidently...
How To Change Your Perspective In A Minute

How To Change Your Perspective In A Minute

Let’s face it: you can’t control the world, no matter how badly you want to. You often can’t even control your circumstances. But you can control your perspective. Well, in theory. Unfortunately, far too many of us fall into insanity doing the same thing from the same perspective over and over again expecting different results, no matter how much we know nothing will change. Why?  Because we see what we see. In psychology there’s a term for it: Availability Heuristics. They’re mental shortcuts that help us make decisions and process information quickly and easily. Most of the time these Availability Heuristics are awesome; they allow us to think on our feet, access risk, and filter choices. But sometimes, many times, they can also create ruts, cause us to see what we’ve always seen without questioning, challenging, or re-verifying that the conclusion is still accurate and in our best interest. So then what?! If it’s time to shift to a new perspective that achieves a better result because the old, dead-end views are causing more problems than they’re worth, try this: Use your house as a Perspectives-Incubator. First, name your issue. Let’s say you think your boss is getting in the way of your career growth. Clearly the dominant perspective is that your boss is an impediment, or at the very least, not on your side, yes? In fact, I bet you have plenty of evidence to support it. But that’s just one perspective, so let’s find a new one. To do so, quite literally, move to a different room in the house and ask, what would the perspective be from this room? Kitchen:  Kitchens are gathering places. Name me a...
Be Honest With Yourself — I Dare You!

Be Honest With Yourself — I Dare You!

When was the last time you truly looked at yourself in the mirror, both literally and metaphorically? The last time you took a long hard look at yourself, and acknowledged your truths? All of them: The good. The bad. The happy. The sad. The weird and the magnificent. I heard a morning DJ say today that he never looks at himself in the mirror — from the shower to the robe without passing a reflection — and he avoids looking at himself at all costs, looking at only his hair or his teeth as he grooms individual parts. Aside from the fact that this was way too much information to know about one’s morning DJ, I realized how often I have heard a version of that from clients. One woman was so unhappy with her weight she refused to look at herself in the mirror, or the eye. A high-powered business man so dissatisfied with his personal relationships couldn’t bring himself to talk about them with any depth or meaning, so he stuck to work for the longest time. Too many people don’t want to acknowledge their truth, fearing it’s more than they can bear, confident they wouldn’t like it if they saw it in all its glory, or named it with words. But what does this kind of honesty, this kind of acknowledgement with oneself, even look like? As weird as it sounds, it can look like standing naked in front of a mirror until you have the courage to truly look, and honestly see yourself (and here’s the catch) without judgement. It can look like witnessing a situation around you, and separating the circumstances and rationalizations — until you can see yourself for who you really...
Earning Tomorrow’s Eyes: When You’re Forced Into Early Retirement

Earning Tomorrow’s Eyes: When You’re Forced Into Early Retirement

So, you’ve been forced into “early retirement,” eh? Well, my first piece of advice comes from the immortal words of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy”: Don’t Panic! It is distinctly likely that you are raging with one or more emotions: anger, frustration, sadness, disappointment, joy, worry, excitement, fear, anxiety, numbness, doubt — to name just a few. Whatever it is, start with genuine permission to feel it all, deep into your soul, all the way down to your toes. Let it serve you, inform you, empower you and relax you, because when you resist it, whatever the emotion is, it will cause you to tense up — question everything — judge yourself unfairly — and judge the person who “retired” you even more unfairly! Or worse, it will give away your power, create weakness, cloud your vision and fog your mind. And who the heck wants that!? Instead, feel it all. Give yourself enough space to truly separate. Remember, just because the power got shut down on the ginormous cruise ship of your life, the HMS Career, that doesn’t mean it stops right away — it still has serious emotional inertia pushing it in the same direction. You will continue to see things the way you’ve always seen them, thinking and feeling about them the way you’ve always thought and felt. It’s impossible to have a new, clear, and creative thought just yet, while stuck in the emotional thick of it. Give yourself time to separate from that momentum. Give the ship time to slow down so you can steer the HMS Career in a new direction. Oh, and Breath. Slowly.  Deliberately. William Bridges in his quintessential book Transitions calls...
Leading Without A Voice

Leading Without A Voice

Do you ever feel like you have one of those little gremlin voices in the back of your head, incessantly trying to convince you that you’re a fraud, that you don’t really know what you’re doing, that you’ve been lucky up to this point and one day — like that famous nightmare where you find yourself on stage, completely naked in front of an audience — you’re going to find yourself completely exposed and vulnerable? No? That’s just me then? Bummer! You know, if I’m not careful, that gremlin will start to steal my voice. Then what happens? As a professional speaker, that gremlin came to life a little while back. I was getting ready to do a full day retreat with an amazing team. I had been looking forward to leading this particular retreat for months, but to my dismay, the day before the event, I woke up without a physical voice. I don’t mean it was scratchy, I mean it was missing— although the gremlin voice was laughing loud and clear, repeating in that irritating sing-song tone: “I told you so, I told you so!”  Man, I hate that guy! To this day, I’m not sure what happened. I hadn’t been yelling and cheering at a concert for hours the night before. I didn’t have a cold. It didn’t hurt to swallow. Nothing. My voice was just…gone. And in just 24 short hours, I had to lead a full day-long retreat! I did everything I could think of to repair my poor vocal chords, but it did little to help. I got a whisper of a voice back, but I could only speak within a certain range, and...
When You Have To Lead People You Just Don’t Like

When You Have To Lead People You Just Don’t Like

Remember that unhappy employee we talked about last week?  Well, what happens when the leader catches on first and realizes they have an employee who just isn’t engaged? On the one hand I would take you straight back to last week’s article and see what you might be able to do differently. Ask yourself, how am I causing this behavior? Are there different perspectives to consider? Where am I disengaged and thus setting an unconscious standard that he/she might be emulating? On the other hand, they might just be a disengaged employee. And if they’re causing conflict among the team, and letting that employee go isn’t the prudent or best option, what do you do? A client of mine is currently in just this position. He’s mentoring a person who’s on a development track to branch out in the company. There are about 3 months to go in the program, then this person will have the opportunity to test out and sell himself into the next stage. The problem is, this employee is disengaged and fails to play by the rules of his current team. Knowing his mentorship is nearing the end, he has a bit of that ‘senioritis’ attitude, and doesn’t quite live up to his mentor’s expectations. My client, the mentor, is understandably frustrated. Many of you are likely thinking, why put up with it? Just fire him!  Fair enough, but if my client can stick with the program, he is 3 months away from a mid-five figure bonus from the company for mentoring, a job which he has done remarkably well and in which he has invested more than 18 months of...
What To Do When You’re Stuck In A Job You Hate

What To Do When You’re Stuck In A Job You Hate

A client came to me a while back with a conundrum: She hated her job, but was paralyzed to move because she’d quit a decent job to take this new one for all the right reasons. Now, a year into it, she wasn’t getting along with her boss, opportunities she was teased with have disappeared; she was stressed, unhappy, and overworked, and she desperately wanted to get out of there. Since she wasn’t independently wealthy and just working for fun, she, like most of us, didn’t have the option of simply quitting. At least, not until she found another job — so there she sat, stuck in a job she hated, overwhelmed and confused about how to escape, afraid of making another bad decision. Cut to about three or four weeks later: She’s still working there, happy, buying coffee for her boss before leaving our session and pretty much loving most every minute of it – a near 180 degree shift in a reality where nothing substantially changed. Well, nothing except for one thing: her perspective. You see, how we approach things, see things, chose to think about things, the language we use to describe and define our circumstances and situations all matter. A lot! She was a good employee who had completely valid complaints about her work environment. But the power of her perspective controlled her reality. So we shifted her perspective in a deep and functional way. The first thing we did was to recognize when and how these circumstances have shown up in her past; after all, the previous job couldn’t have been perfect, or this one wouldn’t have enticed her away. In that exploration we...
The Greatest Bosses Have This Peculiar Dichotomy

The Greatest Bosses Have This Peculiar Dichotomy

The greatest bosses seem to have a peculiar dichotomy that allows them and the teams they lead to thrive: They are at once both a rock and a chameleon. They are the Rock of their team. They are reliable, trustworthy, consistent, and unerringly confident in their vision. They stand firm in the confidence of knowing who they are, and they provide the foundation for their team to succeed and build upon. They are Chameleons for their team: they are masterful at genuinely adapting to their environment. Great bosses recognize that they set the tone and culture — which will hit different people, who all have different struggles, in different ways. The Chameleon nature allows them to meet people where they are, without compromising what is expected for the standard and the culture they have set. It’s connecting on a personal level with every member of their team; it’s getting on their level. It’s blending into the background so that your team shines, not you. A Chameleon. And a Rock. A chameleon, knowing when to be visible and when to fade into the background so your team shines — and a rock in a storm, having the ability during difficult times to take the brunt of the responsibility, standing strong against the elements and providing safety and confidence so that your people can experience how it’s done. Then, when it’s their turn, they too can be a great boss — Translation: A...
What Do You Do When Both Sides Are “Right”?

What Do You Do When Both Sides Are “Right”?

Recently, I was working with a group that was having severe conflict. A new director had been brought in, and some members of the team didn’t like the way he was doing things. They had a difficult time following his direction. The new director, for his part, has decades of experience and is a nationally recognized leader in his field, and he wanted them to respect his knowledge and authority. The hardest part about this particular conflict was that both sides were kind of right. They each had excellent points, and when you listened to one side, their perspective made perfect sense. That is, until you heard the other side of it. Then that side made perfect sense, too. And it’s not that neither side was willing to yield an inch, it’s that they both believed they’d already yielded enough, and to give up more would be detrimental. It’s gotten to the point where there has been talk considering disbanding the team altogether, which would be terrible. As leaders, this is where real leadership shows up. It’s easy to tell people what to do, and it’s easy to lead when your team simply respects your authority and follows along. But how do we address this when they don’t? How do we deal with a situation where both parties are kind of right — but neither party is willing to yield further? This particular problem felt, to me, like a microcosm of what’s happening in our world at large. Because a lot of the cultural discussion going on around us is decidedly not focused on collaboration or community — it’s focused on being right. If I can’t bend...
The Lesson Of The Hula Hoop

The Lesson Of The Hula Hoop

The Hula Hoop Lift is a profound lesson for teams in my workshops because it illustrates some vitally important points. First, it shows not only how easy it is for two people to stay in sync, but it demonstrates the illusion that could represent. Notice, when it’s just two people, one could be up and the other down — and yet it’s still easy to stay connected, even though they might be moving in opposite directions. This is particularly poignant if your team used to be two people and it seemed so easy back then. You might be saying things like, “When it was just the two of us, man, it was like we moved as one mind. We didn’t even have to say some things, we just knew. But now that there’s 6, 7, 8 of us, it’s gotten soooo complicated.”  And it has, for a million and one reasons. People move at different speeds Some are taller than others, setting a standard others physically can’t meet No one takes the lead The hoop is too small The team’s not talking… And the list goes on, but here’s the key: As you ask your team what they would need to make it work, they may call for things like a leader, or someone to count a beat, or maybe if their fingers were physically touching one another they could feel the other person’s movements and react accordingly. But the simple truth is the hula hoop is too light, and as you try to move the team forward, it’s very easy to lose people. Hence the lesson: If your...

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