Steven's Own Words

How to Develop Workplace Skills that Aid in Leadership

Leadership is not a title, it’s a behavior. So if you want to be a leader, what skills should you be developing? We all think of the basics: confidence, delegation, people skills, communication — all good, of course. Often, however, the most important leadership skill isn’t typically thought of as “leadership” at all, because it’s not about “knowing.” What is the most important skill? It’s Insatiable Curiosity.  Yes, it’s a skill because it can be practiced and improved, and frankly, most people suck at it. Most of us are like the tootsie pop owl and lose our patience way too quickly to maintain any real curiosity. Leadership is not about having all the answers, it’s about asking better questions. How many times have you experienced a bad leader making it clear: “I’m the boss, I’m going to tell you what to do, you will accomplish the things I want you to achieve toward my vision,” even if their “answers” are anything but effective?  Leadership is about empowering your team to achieve quality work that empowers and, at some level, excites them. To do that you must lead to the gap between where your team is, and what they are capable of becoming. How? Maintain an insatiable curiosity. This allows you to stay connected and informed about how your team is doing, who the members of your team are, what they’re curious about, how they would do things, where their interests lie, and what they see as obstacles, challenges and problems. Those things may seem intellectually obvious, but it’s not so obvious in practice. Too many leaders don’t feel they have the time to ask questions, especially if they think they have the answer. And...

The Right Kind of Conflict

Imagine for a moment your team walking away actually feeling excited about having had a conflict. Or, better yet, there’s a contentious issue on the agenda — and people show up early, excited to tackle the problem. Fantasy, you say? No one likes conflict, you say? It’s no wonder. Relationship expert John Gottman says 69% of all conflict is unsolvable, so maybe you’re right. And if you are, how could anyone walk into a conflict enthusiastic if they only have a 1 in 3 chance of finding a solution? So that’s the question, isn’t it? How do we lead people in such a way that when they go home at night (or when they walk away from that team Zoom call), they are thrilled to be able to tell their spouse/partner/roommate: “We had this huge conflict! Huge debate! And it was the best. Day. Ever!  “Wow!” says their partner. “So you won, huh?” “Hell no! In the end, my idea sucked. But it helped lead to the solution — and I had as much airtime and validity as everyone else. I mean, we really talked, AND we really listened. And yeah, things got a little heated at times, because we’re passionate about making the right decision, but no one ever took it personally. No one attacked anyone personally. It was amazing!”   Imagine if that was the conversation, instead of the bad days we keep rehashing. “My boss doesn’t listen to me; my peers laugh at me; I was so angry… so humiliated… so _____”   Which version does your leadership style allow those you lead to tell with their lives?  In reality, it’s not whether we...

You Control the Pace

Clients in law enforcement and the health industries provide me weekly reminders that business is anything but usual. Old ways simply don’t work, new ways aren’t yet established, and everything feels like it’s changing by the minute. Beyond the everyday mechanics of business, this new world order is playing havoc with the very thing at the core of leadership: relationships. In the midst of everything else, some important and maybe difficult conversations are needed, and being avoided, because of the circumstances. Or worse, old habits are being unleashed, with some leaders saying we don’t have time for niceties and fragility — we’re responding to a crisis! Of course, that’s total crap. Look, inside all of us is, well, all of us: our good parts and our bad, our kindness and our short temper, our love and our disdain, our hopes and our fears, our truth and our lies…it’s all there, each equally as available for the taking as any other. The question is: which do you choose? Let’s face it. For many, these are fast-paced and frantic times. We feel like everything is a rapid decision, needing urgency and quick action. It’s not. It’s simply not. Every decision isn’t life and death, and if we treat each as such, we sustain a pace of chaos, an emotional level of disorientation, that can’t be sustained. As leaders, we control at least some of the pace. We can give permission to breathe, to take a deep breath, to pause, and to ask for input and insight. Amy Cuddy has a wonderful TED talk entitled: “Your body language may shape who you are.” She recommends that...

The Call to Lead, The Courage to Yield

“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” “Be the hero you’ve been waiting for.” “Find the courage within!” “Be the change you wish to see in the world…” How many ways have we heard that sentiment expressed? And what can that possibly mean at times like this? We are housebound and socially distant; wrapped up in an experience we haven’t even begun to fully grasp. We look eagerly to our “leaders,” hoping for solutions, feeling helpless, and for some, hopeless, and for most, powerless, as we isolate and protect. But how we respond now — how we, how you and I and our communities, respond — matters now more than ever. It’s not uncommon for COVID-type experiences to cause bitterness, fear, and a desire to isolate and protect, to turn inward with bitterness instead of outward with compassion. Let us not do that now or especially when this is over. We see the devastation, and these are unprecedented times for sure, with unpredictable outcomes. We all see the fear, the isolation, the illness and the dying. But still — still — let us not fall into bitterness and fear. Let us learn from this how we have also come together.   Let us remember that we belong to one another. Let us remember the health and wellness of each of us depends upon all of us. What if…? What if COVID is the event that finally gets through to us, and from it we take compassion back into the world and realize that we are globally in this together? In our companies and organizations, in our communities and families, we are...
What Your Team Most Needs Now

What Your Team Most Needs Now

COVID-19 is playing havoc with everyone’s lives and businesses — even my cats have had enough! They keep looking back and forth from me, to the door, back at me, and then back to the door, as if to say “Enough is enough, get ooooout!” It is their house, after all. My dog, on the other hand, is in heaven. He gets to sleep next to my wife as she works from home, and he’s getting an extra-long walk every day. That hasn’t happened since…ever! But enough about my pet’s needs; what does your team need? Now more than ever, they need transparency & connection. That doesn’t mean to blurt out every thought and fear that pops into your head — but it does mean to engage with them. It sounds obvious, but I’m hearing story after story of leaders not doing this. Let your team know what you are seriously thinking about, but — and I cannot stress this enough — engage with them before big decisions are made! Your team knows aspects of your business better than you do. Make no assumptions. Ask. They might have insights, solutions and ideas you never considered. Plus, they will feel valued and important, and therefore more engaged and flexible.   At times like these everyone fears for their jobs, safety and their livelihood. If you know you aren’t letting anyone go — tell them. They need that comfort. If you know there may be pay cuts — tell them that, too. But ask them for creative ideas to minimize the effect; give them a chance to personally prepare. In the absence...
COVID-19 Is Calling For Better Questions

COVID-19 Is Calling For Better Questions

I apologize. The unfortunate release of last week’s article on the hand-shake was humorous if not uncanny — and profoundly poorly timed. That’s what I get for scheduling ahead.    But this week, things are more serious and even less humorous as COVID-19 gains momentum and increases its impact on the world. We can’t know when or how this will all end, or what our businesses, communities, economy, health or civility will look like when it’s over — if “over” is ever even a reality. So the best we can do is recall Abraham Lincoln who said, “The best way to predict the future is to create the future.”    As a leader, let’s remember to also ask the different questions as well.    Yes, for those running businesses and organizations, questions of operations, cash flow, staff and resiliency are imperative — and they’re not the only questions to ask. What about:   If we can care this much during the crisis, how can we carry that compassion forward when it’s over?* Do we have an opportunity to rethink how we price and serve our markets to reduce the negative impacts of viral and economic pandemics?+ What have we learned about how quickly we impact the environment?^ What’s really important? What about “pre-corona” is no longer valid? Were we over-stretched, over-leveraged, or over-extended in a way that put us at unnecessary risk?   Despite how it feels, it’s not completely bad. I in no way want to dismiss the devastating impacts befalling all-too-many as family members fall ill and jobs simply disappear as businesses close for weeks, maybe months,...
What Handshakes Can Teach Us About Communication

What Handshakes Can Teach Us About Communication

When I ask my organizational clients what their greatest challenges are, one of the most common answers is communication — but that’s a 10,000 foot answer. What is the specific problem? Is communication poor, non-existent, incomplete, sometimes aggressive, wishy-washy…? What’s the problem? While there’s a hundred different ways in which communication can be a problem, one thing is consistent: bad communication destroys trust and causes people to pull back rather than reach out. How do you get that trust back…

What Is In Rumi’s Field Beyond Right-doing and Wrong-doing?

What Is In Rumi’s Field Beyond Right-doing and Wrong-doing?

I sent this wonderful Rumi translation in a previous blog and someone wrote back with a fascinating question: “I love that,” she wrote, “and I agree, but what do I do when I get to the field? I want to go, but I don’t know what to do when I get there.” I don’t pretend to be Rumi, but I have a guess. What I think we do is this: if we’re not worried about being right or changing another person’s mind, then there’s no reason for me to prove you’re wrong. So it doesn’t matter to me what you say; what matters is that you say it, and that I listen. That is the real objective in the field: Listening, Being Heard, Connection. Once you’ve found yourself in the field, your job is just to practice insatiable curiosity. If we’re only worried about connection, if that is our purpose — our objective — then we realize we do care for one another’s humanity, that we have something in common. It’s not about winning, therefore it’s not about losing, either; it’s about being. If I don’t intend to win, I’m not afraid of losing. If I’m not afraid of losing, then why not connect? Why not figure out what makes us similar, or at least what makes them, them? If we enter that field from that place of insatiable curiosity, and listen with hearts open, we’re bound to find ourselves with more meaningful relationships, with way less walls, and a great deal more compassion. Don’t you think…

Understanding Our Circle Of Influence

Understanding Our Circle Of Influence

 In the immortal words of Rodney King: Can we all just get along? It would be so easy if it weren’t for the many people with whom we just disagree. How do we influence or lead those folks — when we come from such different places? Are we supposed to be able to? Aren’t some of our differences irreconcilable? I know I have opinions that I’m not willing to budge on; I’m sure you do, too. There are a great number of topics I will NEVER be able to agree with everyone on…but does that mean there’s no hope…

Make Accountability Joyful

Make Accountability Joyful

Why is it that ‘accountability’ always has this negative connotation? It seems to always come with the subtext: You better do it right, or else…! The problem with that is it misses the most valuable part of accountability, which is follow-up and follow-through. It’s not about you better get this done or I’m going to HOLD YOU ACCOUNTABLE!” (cue ominous music and read: fail and you’re fired). It’s more about how do I support you, and help you follow through with getting this accomplished? That’s a much more positive angle, and ultimately it’s going to make way more of a difference. Too often in teams, we have meetings to discuss meetings to discuss meetings, but we leave those meetings unsure if we ever reached a final decision. Is everyone clear on what part is their responsibility, and what decision they’re responsible to make? It is mind-boggling how many meetings end with some people thinking a decision was made but unable to truly articulate it; and other people wondering what the hell just happened. In order to hold people accountable in a positive way, you want a way to follow up decisions, to-dos and actions. Be clear on what kind of follow through you want. Drill down into each step that needs to be taken, and by whom, and everyone’s expectations around each step. This isn’t so you can say or else. This is so that when we follow up in a week or two, it’s clear what’s being followed up on and the expectations around what is happening. It is amazing how often people think they do this, but...

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