Steven's Own Words

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...
Is Your Team THIS Courageous?

Is Your Team THIS Courageous?

In a recent workshop a team took a courageous step. They looked at each other and owned a common, though seldom named, reality. They like each other, that much was true. They enjoy their jobs and the company. But, when it comes down to a core truth — they don’t wholly trust each other. Yes, they are all good people. Yes, they get along fine. But they’re not “firing on all cylinders,” because they have yet to build an environment of genuine, vulnerable trust. The kind of trust where you can admit a mistake, or share confidently that you don’t know something; the kind of trust where you can safely call each other out; the kind of trust where you can step up to your commitments, knowing that everyone else on the team has your back. Not simply trust that their peers know how to do their job; that trust was wholly present. We’re talking real trust, the trust that was holding them back, because they kept finding themselves avoiding the real conversations they needed to have. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not mortally wounded; it’s not a horribly toxic workplace or anything close. And they’re still good people. But the reality is this is affecting them. It’s affecting their business. It’s holding them back from their best. And they knew it. Is your team courageous enough to own such a truth? It’s remarkable, actually, that they were able to recognize it. It’s amazing how many companies are so much happier ignoring the problem — as long as they aren’t nosediving, as long as it’s not a Level 10 disaster, they’re happy letting the ‘little’ problems stick around. It’s easier to be blissfully blind, to...
Leadership is Thankless

Leadership is Thankless

Leadership is about doing what is right, not what is easy, and it can quickly become a thankless job. Especially if people don’t agree with what we have to do in our role as leader. We may, in fact, harm someone by the choices we make. In fact, anything you do might hurt someone just as much as it helps someone else. So how do we know when we’re doing the right thing if a choice has collateral damage? Well, if you’re unsure, ask yourself this question: How am I treating people?   When your decisions and choices are singular, isolated, self-serving or serving a minimum few on the whole of the people you are responsible for, then you may need to put yourself in check. When you see people as tools to accomplish your goal, regardless of who gets hurt, when others become ‘expendable’ for a sake of your destination, it’s time to check yourself. There is a big difference between leading people and using people. But when you respect the people around you, when you recognize the risks for them as well as yourself and do your level best to mitigate that risk, when you can honestly say, “this choice is about US, not ME,” when you’re building up those that don’t have your level of power, influence or position, and seeking their input, make choices that include their benefit — that’s when you are likely making the right decision, even if, in the end, some get hurt. If you’re doing this for the thanks, for the acclaim, for the pat on the back about how great...
Accountability Is HARD.

Accountability Is HARD.

It’s a funny thing about being human: Looking backward is easy. Doing the same thing over and over is easy. Of course it is — you know exactly what you’re doing. You’ve figured out the rules, and you can coast without much stress. You can even live in the past, if you doggedly refuse to turn around and see the future. It’s the easy life to live, which is why so many people fall into its trap. Looking forward, however, choosing a different path, a different way to engage, a different idea — that’s where you’re suddenly exposed and vulnerable. You may not understand the rules for this new place, and you may step on a land mine or two along the way — and worse, people will witness your results. Some will laugh, judge and tell you all the reasons you “can’t” have/achieve/create/live the future you have in mind. And some people you will invite in courageously, knowing you can trust them, and more importantly, knowing you must trust them to hold you accountable to your choices. That’s when it gets tricky. Accountability is interesting; we need it to improve, and we all know we do, but we resist it. Even I resist it instinctively, even though I know it will help. No, it’s not that it merely helps; rather, it’s absolutely necessary in order to face forward, to grow, to improve, to achieve the goals we want to achieve — but that kind of vulnerability can be painful. Let me assure you, you’re not the only one who feels that way. Here’s the key: don’t let that...
Face Your Fears

Face Your Fears

So often we are held back more by our fear than pushed forward by our possibility or potential. We are bombarded with mantras and cliches for addressing this fear: “Feel the fear and do it anyway”  “Just do it”  “Get over it” “Push Through.” There’s a lot of basic, real truth in all of that, but it’s not the whole truth. The thing to remember is that most change or growth happens in stages, over time, and mostly definitely starts with something small — it still might be scary, but it’s doable, like holding a thought that you are worthy. Try that for a while, and at some point you’ll notice your fear has diminished enough to see the next step with a little more confidence to tackle the next hurdle — like asking that girl/boy on a date, or your boss for a raise, or that challenging prospect if they are ready to buy. To use another cliche, “The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.”  The problem for most of us is figuring out what that first step is, and many of us look too far down the road at what looks like a boulder in our way, rather than at our feet so that we can see that tiny pebble over which we can step over with ease. You can’t do everything to conquer your fears in one fell swoop, but you can do something. What is your something? What is your first step? You will feel fear. You will feel stress. But you can practice through it. Contact me today if you want a free coaching session...

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