Steven's Own Words

Building Blocks & Primary Colors Aren’t The Goal

Building Blocks & Primary Colors Aren’t The Goal

Photo by Denise Johnson on Unsplash We are called as leaders, as people, as the species at the top of the food chain, to ask bigger questions. We’re called to move beyond the basic instinct of survival and self-preservation into something larger than ourselves. We’re called to recognize that discomfort and fear aren’t to be avoided, but embraced, because we know powerful growth and learning can come from both. The old Charlie Brown cartoon said, “The more I learn, the more I learn how much I have to learn.” Growth and learning have no conclusion — just better questions. I hate to break it to you, but our rise to leadership (most specifically of ourselves) isn’t about life getting easier. As a child,we learn simple shapes and simple colors — not as conclusions, but as building blocks. Similarly, as adults our understandings of faith, culture, or humanity aren’t conclusions either — but building blocks. We don’t teach primary colors in art school so that artists will limit themselves and paint only with red, blue and yellow, but because they can be combined in near endless combinations to create millions of colors. As people, we are called to the same curiosities and creations with one another. Your human color mixes with my human color, and together we form a new color that can’t exist without us. The more we blend, the more we explore, the more we paint, the more we understand that our human interactions aren’t about conclusions; it’s not about settling on answers of right and wrong. Rather, it’s about the ability to use our experiences to ask bigger and better questions. When mixing colors, it isn’t about what you take...
Creating an Atmosphere for Positive Criticism

Creating an Atmosphere for Positive Criticism

Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash “I am the first to admit when I’m wrong,” a company owner boldly and proudly exclaimed,  “I am even eager to admit when I am wrong.”  I laughed spontaneously, before I had a chance to control it, and then quickly apologized. “Yeah, but, come on,” I said, “you stack the deck to never lose or be wrong.”  At first he laughed with me, then it hit him. You could see his mind rolling through interactions with his team. “I really do, don’t I?” A lot of leaders do this with no malice or negative intent. They just set the rules, or ask the questions in such a way that technically they aren’t “wrong.” Of course, efficiency tools are a good thing — duh. And the one they’ve chosen is the “best” for the problem it solves, but when they take off the table the discussion of whether or not that particular problem is worth solving, then how do people respond? The decision is made. And team members get the message loud and clear: Don’t question, don’t disagree. The fact that this makes other, more important aspects of their job harder and doesn’t solve the most pressing issue facing the team becomes irrelevant, but hey, by the letter of the question, the boss isn’t wrong and doesn’t have to admit anything. If you are going to set the rules and foundation and then stand as judge and jury afterward, you will always be right!  Here’s the serious and very real question: Does the rest of your team have permission to say no or disagree? If your decision, while technically “right,” causes more problems than you can see, can your...
Delicious Meals And Superior Problem Solving

Delicious Meals And Superior Problem Solving

Photo by Tucker Good on UnsplashThe issue with solving big problems, say market share or racism, is we tend to think we need to solve them with one big fix. We often discount ideas when they aren’t the entire solution — more of an “all or nothing” approach. But problems are like a great meal — and no great meal is made up of a single component. Each is made up of lots of different ingredients and flavors. Heck, even water has two parts of H and one of O. And even if you like your steak “naked” as my dad likes to say, he still eats the meal with its classic side-kick of potatoes on which he likes to add salt and pepper.Like ingredients that aren’t the whole dish, or seemingly even part of the final flavor, solutions have many parts. In theater the saying goes: there are no small parts, only small actors. What if we looked at problem-solving that way?Take me, for instance; I don’t have the specific skills to help a company sell paper clips or harvest corn. I can discount my experience and say I have nothing I can add to help the productivity of these companies, but that would be dead wrong. I can be an incredible asset by helping them improve their reluctant leaders or repairing dysfunctional teams — both of which could destroy a company and have nothing to do with the sale of a product. I’m not everything. I am part. Sometimes I’m the whole Pesto Pasta and sometimes I’m just the Pesto, and sometimes, I’m just the basil in the Pesto. In either case, without me, you...
Everything You Want is on the Other Side of Fear

Everything You Want is on the Other Side of Fear

Photo by M.T ElGassier on Unsplash The Core Values Index teaches us that we drop into our negative conflict strategies out of fear. A lot of what we do, or more accurately don’t do, is rooted in fear. It is seemingly always the obstacle we have to overcome. I can hear some of you saying, “Hell, I don’t have to face my fears; I’ve gotten along just fine ignoring them.” Maybe you can ignore them. The only reason we have to face our fears is because they stand between where we are and where we want to be. Leaders don’t want to admit when they are afraid. Parents don’t want to show fear when they check under the bed for monsters. Husbands want to appear brave and tough when they investigate what goes bump in the night. Fear is perceived as weakness. It’s not. It can keep us safe, make us smart. And that’s a good thing. It can also hold us back, debilitate us or worse, cause us to miss opportunities and successes that are rightfully ours to experience. The first step to conquering fear is awareness. We have to admit to ourselves that we are afraid, and then we need to be clear and honest about what we are actually afraid of. Awareness. But we don’t really want to be aware, do we? As a species we tend to be like an ostrich, ducking away from fear, rather than acknowledging what stands in our way. We figure, if we don’t see it, it isn’t there. Lincoln said, “Better to remain silent and let people think you a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” I...
Brand Allegiance? Seriously? That’s What This is About?

Brand Allegiance? Seriously? That’s What This is About?

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash As every condemnation of the events of the past couple weeks comes across my screen, I feel more and more sad. More angry. More confused. More scared. Not scared like Black people are scared, of course, because I’m white and have little to truly fear. No; I’m sad because the condemnations are too often sanitized and shallow. They seem to just want to make a statement of acknowledgment but not to offend. And I get why, I’m the same; personally, I’m scared of going deeper, speaking what is in my heart and thereby saying something that hurts my business. I’m afraid of offending someone, and that their anger at me will somehow undermine my reputation — or they’ll somehow have a way of getting between me and potential clients. Pathetic. I know.   I’m not fearing for my safety or my life or my children, because even if my business fell completely apart, I’m white, educated, somewhat smart, and would likely find a job and be able to put food on the table. I almost sent this this week, but my marketing advisor advised caution, reminding me that I am posting as my brand, and warning that it therefore could come across performative or opportunistic. So I put it on my personal Facebook page rather than in my ‘branded’ newsletter. Funny, huh? I’m afraid of my truth losing me business, and she’s pointing out that it could be perceived as “riding a coat tail” of tragedy to get business, especially if it’s perceived as ‘off brand.’ But is it off brand? I’m a HUMAN Strategist™ for God’s sake. If this isn’t my brand, I’ve been doing...
Getting To Know Your Team One-On-One

Getting To Know Your Team One-On-One

Photo by Smartworks Coworking on Unsplash Guess what I’ve discovered? I have frequently misquoted Nelson Mandela as famously speaking this beautiful truth: “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” While he has spoken a similar phrase, this one was never actually said by Nelson Mandela — though the words still ring so true. The only way to speak to a person truly, to their heart, is to know their language. In Mandela’s version, “Because when you speak a language, English, well many people understand you, including Afrikaners. But when you speak Afrikaans, you know you go straight to their hearts,” he was speaking specifically about the language of Afrikaans and being able to eloquently connect with his oppressors through the emotions of their own language. But what I mean by language is something even more emotional: Speaking to someone in their own language means speaking in the way that they are most receptive to listening. This personal language can’t just be picked up through observation; it must be experienced to be understood. You must actually connect to someone. If you can’t connect, you can’t lead. Think about the coupling between the first engine and the first car of a train; the cars aren’t welded together. They are just connected by a “handshake,” as it were, and those cars could uncouple at any moment with a poor connection. As leaders we are not making clones, but connections, each between independent bodies. In conferences I have pairs of people interview each other for just one minute — literally 60...
Stretching your leadership muscles without angering management

Stretching your leadership muscles without angering management

Photo by Roland Samuel on Unsplash Even bosses we usually like can sometimes experience jealousy — or worse — and push back against anyone they think is overstepping their role or usurping their authority. What do you do in that situation? How can you work around a boss’s problematic behaviors? After all, this person holds a position of authority over you, even though their behavior may not manifest as actual “leadership.”  If that’s the case, remember: Leadership is a behavior, not a position, and it doesn’t have to come from your manager. What would it look like for you to take the lead? You are not going to change your bad manager, because people don’t typically change if they are afraid, or unaware that change would be beneficial. But you can connect with them; you can lead them with inspiration and possibility. Obviously, if your boss is feeling threatened, they are living in insecurity (unless you really are out to undermine and ‘get them,’ in which case the problem is you, not your boss). While there is no single simple answer, any solution begins first with the goal to understand rather than to be understood (thanks, Stephen Covey). Clearly there is something going on; maybe your boss is not getting something they need. Maybe their job is on the line. Perhaps they are jealous and simply feel they should be able to do what you’re doing but don’t know how. Take a step back and ask how you can help.  The other part of the answer lies in the CVI. I’ve written much about the CVI and teach programs on how to use it effectively if you want more detail, but know this: one...
You are Enough

You are Enough

Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash In trying times and ordinary times alike, it’s all too easy to go to extremes and miss what is right in front of our eyes. Face it: it’s easy to see the big stuff. The win, the loss, Recession, COVID-19, the big sale, a bad grade on a final…Beware. When we are trying to accomplish something — anything — the beginning stages are where it’s easy to recognize change, because starting from nothing you have nothing to lose. Any change is easy to spot. Think new house construction: the framing and shape seem to grow out of the ground overnight. Stick a row of 8ft 2×4’s straight up and they’re difficult to miss. As the home nears completion, progress slows down and change can be harder to see, especially from the outside where it can look like nothing is happening. All the work is being done on the inside, and is much less obvious. This isn’t only true for contractors; the later stages of personal accomplishment, or a company’s efforts to fight against the impacts of COVID-19, can feel the same — especially if the negative is outpacing the positive.   In psychology there is a term for this: Hedonic Adaptation.  It’s the tendency of a person to return to their “ordinary” stable level of happiness, regardless of how great or how bad something is. On the one hand, that’s good; pain doesn’t last as long as initially feared, but it also means the highs and euphoria of success doesn’t either. We are surprisingly quick to acclimate to our current situation, accept it as ordinary, and forget how far we really have...
Managing peers can be stressful. Remember the “F” Word.

Managing peers can be stressful. Remember the “F” Word.

Photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash Here’s a scenario: You are in a group of peers, no one is the defined leader, and someone needs to take charge. You’d like to step forward, but you don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. How can you show yourself as a leader? How can you show yourself as someone who can keep the team moving forward together, without being seen as a “power-grabber”? The secret? Invoke the “F” word. No, not that one, the other one: Facilitator. As a facilitator you can use the CVI to ask better questions and capitalize on everyone’s strengths. For instance, in the room you have each of these four archetypes — so invite them to play. The Innovator – These are the problem solvers; they love to come up with 101 different ways you can do things. So invite them to consider the options! What solutions do we have to solve our problem? Are there any perspectives that haven’t been considered? The Merchant – These are the “People People.” They’re masterful at visioning, building relationships and responding to conflicting truths. So ask them: are we taking all the people and perspectives into consideration? What are the realities, fears, concerns, hopes and expectations we want to be sure and consider? The Banker – These are your built-in Sgt. Friday’s, the “facts ma’am, just the facts” kind of people. They’re highly intellectual and knowledgeable, so engage them.  What do we know? What does the data tell us? What resources do we have that could solve this problem? Do we need to do more research? The Builder – These are the ones with enough faith in themselves that they know the right thing to do when they...
Delegation is Like Magic

Delegation is Like Magic

Photo by Almos Bechtold on Unsplash MAGIC! That’s how you get someone to do something you don’t want to do yourself. Not the abracadabra kalamazam stuff, but the art of magic stuff. Think about it. What makes magic work? Distraction, right? The magician gets you focused on one thing while something else is happening elsewhere. It might be right in front of our eyes, but no matter how hard we focus, we just can’t see it. And we like that! It feels good and entertaining, and we usually want more.  Too often when a leader is faced with a difficult challenge that requires delegating difficult or undesirable tasks, they tend to put all the focus on the task. “Sorry Bob, I know it’s a crappy task, but, man, I just need you to step up for the team…” While the words might be true, the odds of Bob’s response being enthusiastic, positive and engaged have everything to do with the work the magician has put into “practicing the trick.” If the magician fails to pay the price of rehearsal and repetition, they will fail to create the “illusion.” Therefore, magic isn’t the result of execution, it’s the result of practice.  What does that mean for leaders? No matter how well a leader asks a team member to step up to an undesirable task, the success and magic doesn’t live in that moment. It lives in the practice and rehearsal that came years before.  Last week we talked about insatiable curiosity.  As a leader, the more we engage with our team, understand them, get to know them, trust them to make decisions, allow them the bandwidth to work their way out of mistakes, celebrate their successes and build their strengths… the more practiced and effective we become at leading. Remember, management is about tasks, but leadership is about people.  By understanding the...

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