Steven's Own Words

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...
The Hula Hoop: A Tell-Tale Of Great Teams

The Hula Hoop: A Tell-Tale Of Great Teams

Try this with your teams. Divide into groups of 6-8. Starting with two people facing each other around a hula hoop, have them stick out their pointer fingers with the rest of their fingers wrapped in a fist, holding their hands about chest high. Then have a 3rd person rest the hula hoop on top of those 4 out-pointed fingers. Now, at this stage I must point out that there are only two rules: First, under no circumstance, no matter how creatively you try, are you allowed to grab the hula hoop in any way. It must simply rest upon the tops of your fingers using no other force than gravity. And second: all people involved must maintain contact with the hula hoop at all times. Once a person loses contact with the hoop, once their fingers are no longer touching it, the team must go back to the beginning. Objective: Together move the hula hoop: raise it up to your head, down to your knees, then to your chest, and repeat, remembering rule number 1 & 2. Now, with only two people, this is quite simple. You lift it up, lower it down, lift it again, and no one loses contact. Easy Peasy. Now add a third person and see what you find, then a fourth, a fifth and so on — until all eight are around and in contact with the hoop. What do you notice as you add people? With three people, it’s still pretty easy to stay connected, isn’t it? What happens when you add the 4th person? It’s a lot trickier! That hula hoop starts to...
Some People Wouldn’t Even Open It. Seriously.

Some People Wouldn’t Even Open It. Seriously.

Imagine for moment that within your hands you hold the most beautifully wrapped gift you’ve ever seen. It’s about the size of a large iPad box.  The paper so beautiful, it’s almost a crime to tear it; the ribbon so elegantly tied it looks more like art then gift wrapping; the tag, clearly addressed to you, is written in a glorious, almost otherworldly font with swirls and swoops and glittery ink and flawless penmanship so stunning it makes your name seem magical.  Could any content inside hold up to such presentation? As you reach to untie the bow, you notice something you hadn’t before. In fact, you might even swear is wasn’t there at all until you made your decision to open it, but there it was. Clear as day: a second tag.  Equally as beautiful, it simply says: “Congratulations!” And you can’t prove it, but you’d even swear you hear a faint explosion of applause. “What the heck?!” you think, as you ponder this Harry-Potter-like gift that seems to undergo metamorphosis as you interact with it. It’s not until you fully open it and read the letter inside, a parchment that seems simultaneously old-as-time and something from a future not yet realized, that it all begins to make scary, heart palpitating sense. It almost glows, and you can see the words popping off the page as you read them, as if they are trying to jump into you with every syllable: Congratulations on your act of courage! As you are beginning to grasp, this is a gift of enormous magnitude and unpredictability. With it you can change your world, or you can let it frighten you into...
Sailing The America’s Cup

Sailing The America’s Cup

There are boats — little, tiny dinghies — that can be easily managed by one person. You don’t need, and often don’t have room for, more than one, or maybe two, people. But those ships can’t travel very far in the open sea. They can’t maintain much speed. They have their uses, of course, but if you have a loftier goal, say sailing around the world, or competing in the America’s Cup, well, in the immortal words of Chief Martin Brody (JAWS): You’re gonna need a bigger boat. If you’ve ever watched the America’s Cup, you’ve seen the boats I’m talking about. They’re enormous, and they certainly can’t be sailed single-handedly. It takes a team, and during the race it becomes imperative that everyone communicates effectively and works together. In a lot of jobs, it’s easy to think you’re operating a dinghy; independent, autonomous, not really needing anyone, and as long as you play by the rules, as long as you achieve your objective, who really cares how you got there? Who cares which method you used — if you’re operating alone? But if you’re on a team, you are never operating alone. You’ve got to have solidarity. You’re not on a dinghy, you’re in the America’s Cup, and if you want optimum performance, you’ve got to work together. You have to maintain the same methodology. Everything you can do together, you’ll end up doing better if you keep that solidarity. But this means you might not get your way. And isn’t that a good thing? If you’re on a team, it shouldn’t matter what your way is. What...
My Goal Is For Your Team To Stop Working Together.

My Goal Is For Your Team To Stop Working Together.

Imagine walking into your team meeting and written on the board is the day’s objective: By the end of the day, we will no longer be working together. How would you feel entering into that meeting?   Excited Nervous Confused Angry Curious Cautious… I’ve gotten all those reactions and more when I start with that objective, but here’s the point:   Last week we touched on genuine, vulnerability based trust.  Real trust where we can own our truth; courageous trust where we can respectfully call each other out. What do you imagine the byproduct of that kind of trust to be? Results? Yes, absolutely.  But even more important than that, it moves a team from working together, to playing together. Consider music: If you engage with an instrument, what do you say? Do you say, “I work the guitar”?  No, you say you play the guitar, the piano, the french horn. Is it work to learn it? Yes, but the work comes in your commitment to the cause, your dedication to the practice, and yet, even during those times of “work,” you are still “Playing the instrument,” yes? Now put a band together. Do you ever say, “Hey! Meet my bandmates, we work together?” No. You say “Hey, meet my bandmates, we play together.”  When they’re in synch, truly honest with one another, they laugh at their mistakes, start over, practice and play. And when they really begin to gel, man, do they “jam!” They’ll riff, improvise, jump back and forth — and through it all, they’ll make amazing music. Whether reading the score of composed music or letting loose and going...

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