This weekend at an environmental summit in Portland, when asked how to get people to change their consumption habits and commit to stewarding the planet, His Holiness the Dalai Lama pulled a Jedi mind trick on a coliseum full of 11,000 people. (Call me slow, but that was the first time it really occurred to me who Yoda might have been modeled after.) [Read more →]
May 16, 2013 2 Comments
Q: What do you call a really big serving of mental sorbet?
A: Spring break. (And I’m taking one. Headed to Mexico for some paddle boarding; reconnect with you in a few weeks.)
If YOU need a good reason to take a break, check out the four examples in this nifty piece on the Fast Company blog highlighting John Cleese, the creativity of architects, Einstein, and the power of interruptions.
Photo credit: Leslie Bevan, Loreto, Mexico.
April 24, 2013 No Comments
Last night, I had dinner with a group that included mindfulness warriors Wendy Palmer and Pamela Weiss. Wendy coaches leaders at places like NASA, Old Navy and Twitter in embodied leadership, while Pam takes mindfulness into corporate environments like Genentech and Pixar. As we ordered our salads, I couldn’t help but be aware that 50+ years of meditation experience – literally tens of thousands of hours of mindful sitting – were at the table with me.
Wendy and Pam have the rare distinction of being among that elite (yet humble) group here in the Western world who have rigorously applied cutting-edge brain science, for years, to their own brains. What I loved most was the fact that there were no sweety-sweet voices or holy murmurs around this dinner table. These leaders of leaders are smart, piercing, kind and sassy. They play it real.￼
We talked about the paradox of bringing presence and mindful attention to today’s capitalist, Western, techo-driven world of work. On the one hand, the practices Wendy and Pam offer are precisely the best skillsets to support the social collaboration, keen self-awareness and ongoing learning that companies and their people need. Assessing one of Pam’s programs, for example, showed radical impact: Participants had three times the normal business impact, and a 50% improvement in communication, collaboration and conflict management. 98% of participants reported feeling more successful at work at at home, and 88% reported increased satisfaction and meaning at work. Return on investment was estimated to be $1.50-2.00 for every dollar invested.
On the other, everyone’s jonesing for a shortcut. Like, could you please give my team of 50 people the goods – 2500 years of accumulated wisdom and 50+ years of deep experience – in a 2-hour block?
Walking home after dinner, I saw the need for this bold work everywhere. Just in the last week…
- I heard executives talk about the tension in big meetings between leveraging the full (and costly) value of the brains around the table, versus the seductive “efficiency” of allowing each other to have laptops open, keep an eye on phones, and answer texts.
- I listened to a group of leaders wonder aloud how to pull themselves back off the ledge of their own reactivity when taking up infuriating behavior with staff – and getting that infuriating behavior right back, in the moment.
- I wondered myself: How do I cultivate the clarity – when days are full and there’s a lot coming my way – to say a timely yes to the things that matter most, and no to those that don’t?
So for all our sakes, let me offer this. If, like me, you just can’t make 50 years fit in your calendar this week, how about a few minutes? Here are three things to get you started.
1. Try these. In case you’re still wondering… the perils of multitasking: real or imagined?
(Multitasking not only doesn’t pay, it costs an estimate of $650 billion each year because employees spend a third of their time interrupting existing tasks they have to pick back up later – less effectively. Unless, that is, you’re a “super-tasker,” a member of that extremely small percentage of the population who can pay attention to two tasks at the same time. Like this guy to the left.)
2. Read this article by Nick Van Dam, Chief Learning Officer in global talent at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd, that spoke to me as a learner, a facilitator, and a leader. I’ve shamelessly excerpted his headlines, and if this is interesting to you, I strongly encourage reading the entire, easy-to-digest piece.
“Cognitive neuroscience will shape the future of corporate learning practices.”
- Nick Van Dam
- Learning is a physical process in which new knowledge is represented by new brain cell connections, which are facilitated by chemicals called growth factors.
- Specific exercise routines, optimal sleep structure, and silencing the mind can all enhance the availability of growth factors.
- Increasing knowledge of people is key to innovation.
- Active engagement is necessary for learning.
- All learning has an emotional base.
- Focused attention is fundamental to acquiring new knowledge.
- Deployment of short learning sessions will increase knowledge retention.
- Use it or lose it.
- Multitasking slows down learning.
- Enhancing brain performance capacity supports learning.
3. Take your brain to the gym. On my radar is the audio series by notables Jack Kornfield and Daniel Siegel, Mindfulness and the Brain: A Professional Training in the Science and Practice of Meditative Awareness (thanks to client collaborator Olya Kurkoski for bringing this to my attention). A fresh read is David Rock‘s article on the social neuroscience of collaborating with others. And for something completely different but entirely related, it doesn’t get better than this little handbook: Thich Nhat Hahn’s Peace Is Every Step.
Other resources you know about, small or big? Please share. We all need help on this one.
April 5, 2013 4 Comments
When I see something three times in three days I figure it will be useful to say something about it. What’s dropped by so often? No.
It started Friday. I was talking with a dear friend and colleague I lunch with regularly for peer coaching. (BTW, if you lead anything – including your own life – and you don’t have a practice buddy like this, run go get one now. Insanely valuable.) It quickly became obvious that my buddy and I were looking for counsel around the same thing. [Read more →]
March 28, 2013 2 Comments
It is not in my nature to be brief. Fortunately, I have a dear friend and colleague who does a much better job. After hearing me describe in detail a big, hairy change challenge my partner and I are taking on together, she grew silent.
“This isn’t a coaching conversation,” she said, “but two questions come to mind.”
- How do you need to be with each other?
- What can you count on from each other when the going gets tough?
Right now, I am going to evoke my inner Brief Person: If you are engaged in creating change with a team, colleague or someone else you care about, and the change really matters, and there are times it might not be easy and those times might be soon, give these questions a spin.
March 19, 2013 No Comments
Floating down Utah’s gorgeous Green River about 10 years ago, I learned something about listening that has stuck with me. Our boatman had brought his wife along on the trip with him; they were celebrating their 1st anniversary. She was standup-comic-calibre witty, and worked at Sundance. When I asked her what it was like to work with Robert Redford, she tilted her head and thought for a moment. Then she said, “He listens in meetings like nothing I’ve ever seen.” Redford starts every meeting, the boatman’s wife told us, with this:
“My goal in this conversation is to be changed by you. If I walk out with exactly the same perspectives I have now, we have both failed.”
I like this so much I put it at the top of a think tank framework (a group problem-solving format) that I give to clients who are helping each other come up with new solutions to tricky challenges.
I watched a group knock this out of the park last week. They were holding a think tank framework to help a colleague dig into an issue that was troubling her: How to redesign the incentive plan she had in place for staff.
Forty minutes later, she had a completely different understanding of the challenge getting in the way of her progress, a crystal-clear picture of the steps she needed to take, and 3 or 4 people ready to help her put vital pieces in place over the next few days… Even more powerful, she had a determination, conviction, and confidence that was 180 degrees from what she’d walked in with. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear she was even taller.
To understand how she and the group brought Redford’s principle to life requires a bit of a scenic turnout.
Scenic turnout number 1: Focusing your attention
Try this: look up from whatever screen you’re reading this on, and focus your attention on a far wall. Hone in on a point on the wall, and let your attention rest there for a moment. Now, bring your attention to book-reading distance, as if you are holding a book and focusing on its pages. Take your attention back to the far wall. To book distance. To the far wall. One more time, bring your attention back to book distance. Notice how fluently and specifically you’re able to move your attention from one place to the other. Book. Far wall. Book. Far wall.
OK, remember that experience.
Scenic turnout number 2: Where is your attention when you listen?
I have tremendous respect for the excellent executive coaches I know, and the realm of listening is one of the places I just keep learning from them. So, from one of the first, extraordinary books that helped define the rules of the game, Co-Active Coaching:
- Level 1 – internal listening. When you are listening at Level 1, you’re hearing the other person’s words, but your attention is on your own reaction to them. If you had one of those super bright LED Mag lights, the light would be on you: your reactions, your feelings, your interpretations, and your conclusions about yourself and others. There is one question you’re asking and it is this: What does all this mean to me? You are not being as selfish as this description may sound; you may earnestly, honestly hope to help the person you’re listening to. But without realizing it, you are coming at this by focusing on your own perspectives, experiences, and advice.
- Level 2 – focused listening. Here, your attention is focused on the other person (versus on your own experience, or the world around you). That flashlight you’re holding? Its laser-focused light is now on them. You are exquisitely curious: You listen for their words, their expressions, the excitement or despair in their voice. You listen for their unique window on the world, what they care about. You notice not just what they say but how they are saying it, and even what they don’t say. None of your attention is on where the conversation will go next, or what you will say then. Your attention is wholly on them, moment-to-moment.
- Level 3 – global listening. If level 2 is a finely honed skill, then Level 3 is more of a state of being. The authors of Co-Active Coaching say that Level 3 awareness is sometimes described as environmental listening. You notice the temperature, the lightness and darkness, the energy level, the density–cool, lately present, tightly controlled? You are very open and your focus, while the other person is at the center of it, is soft and diffuse and sensitive. You are taking in both this wide range of social phenomena, and sensitive to the flow of your intuition in it.
Back to the think tank
So, back to our think tank, and the issue of the incentive plan to motivate staff.
Eight team members leaned forward intensely, listening – clearly at Level 2 – to their colleague. They allowed silence. They asked powerful questions of her. None of them knew more about the situation than she had told them… but their keenly focused awareness on her shifted the dynamic completely. In the places she herself was unclear, she grew visibly more so as she explored their questions. “Can’t you just tell me what it is I’m trying to do?” she asked the group at one point.
(And who among us hasn’t been there at some point!)
At a pivotal moment, when a normal human being would have been tempted to throw in the towel and thank the group for their efforts with a brave and well-intended smile, her colleagues persisted with one more question. Suddenly, she burst forth with unmistakable strength and clarity:
“What I really want,” she said fiercely, “is to…”
And with these words, everything changed. Suddenly, she was envisioning her organization’s potential, and burning to take it to the next level. She told the group that what she was not clear about was the exact tipping point she had to hit, to move from here to there. The group then dove in to take an advisory role, offering ways to figure that out to the dollar and the hour, how to evaluate which of her staff could really help take her there and who would stay steady as bread and butter, the emotional journey of risk and ambition she was likely to experience – and how to lead through that in a way that would work beautifully for her and her team.
What kind of strange magic is this? It’s this kind: The team’s strength to resist starting with Level 1 listening, and the leader’s willingness to be changed by what she heard from them and herself. Her team’s laser-focused Level 2 listening, the questions they asked and how they watched for her clarity, drew forth from her the core of what she wanted to create. Once she stood firmly and bravely in that, the group could start helping her in a different way: diving in with rich resources, advice, experiences, and recommendations. Then, and only then, would those truly serve her.
So who is it that’s changed?
You might think that Redford’s stated goal is primarily for the person speaking, like the business leader above. “My goal in this conversation is to be changed by you.” But I see it differently. She had to be willing to be changed, you betcha. But so did the people listening to her. They had to give her their best Level 2 focus and be willing to go wherever it took them.
Give it a shot. In your next conversation, toggle back and forth between focusing your awareness on your own inner experience, and on what’s alive in them. Book distance. Far wall. You. Them. See what happens. And notice how the way you listen impacts them.
Other good ways to practice being changed by what you hear? I’m all ears. Please post them!
Images courtesy amazon.com, RolexMagazine.com (Redford is pictured in All The President’s Men), ArmyProperty.com, and Attention-focusing exercise adapted from Dr. Dan Siegel’s mind-blowing book, Mindsight.
March 13, 2013 No Comments
I’ll start with a story well-worth repeating, from the early pages of Torbert’s book, Action Inquiry: The Secret of Timely and Transforming Leadership.
Meet Steve, an expert crew manager in the oil business, currently aboard a large derrick ship in the wintry North Sea. Steve has taken on a new project management challenge for an exacting boss, Cedrick, who has a reputation for being a bit standoffish and consistently beating project timelines. And one afternoon, he finds himself in a situation that may sound uncomfortably familiar. [Read more →]
March 6, 2013 2 Comments
Here’s one more “mental sorbet” post – a sampler of interesting reads on leadership, listening and change to refresh your brain.
Here’s an oldie, but a goodie, recently brought to my attention in a post by Canadian leadership blogger Tanveer Naseer. He cited the controversial Joshua Klein TED Talk on the adaptive power of crows to use vending machines to demonstrate our ability to adapt to change.
What might be most fascinating out of all of this is Joshua Klein himself, a professional hacker. Josh is intent on hacking into the future by breaking into a bunch of stuff in the present, and making it better. He breaks into everything from social systems to crows’ minds (he’s also a speaker and writer). Josh’s zest, and sense of play speak to me about gamification, a strategy I’ve been exploring with my buddies in the Fielding Graduate University School of Human and Organizational Development Program, and which is typified by creative gamer Jane McGonigal. But that’s another post.
More and more of us are using the language of theater and performance to talk about organizational change. I had a crackling conversation with sharp, wholehearted Cathy Salit of Performance of a Lifetime this morning. She and her team do kickass work on listening (see the chapter about her work in Dan Pink’s recent book, To Sell is Human). Cathy and I talked about a recent listening experience she’d facilitated, and then blogged about – and her thoughts on listening like an improviser changed how I approached a conversation a mere 30 minutes later. (Thank you, Cathy.)
I am still finding my blog legs, and Laura Huckabee-Jennings of Transcend Coaching in Huntsville, Alabama, is inspiring me with her consistency. Laura has a small but mighty following online and a motherload of blog posts on leadership as a way of life dating back to 2009. Way to keep at it.
About those videos on Tanveer’s Twitter Media Gallery? Appropos of mental sorbet, you have to watch this one.
February 27, 2013 No Comments
We are (still) interrupting this series on marrying speed and depth to bring you some more “mental sorbet.”
Hello Sports Fans. This week’s roundup of leadership reads starts off with a client find (thanks, Jeff Bresnahan!), blogger Eric Barker (pictured right). Barker is a quick and pithy wit who writes on his own blog, Barking Up the Wrong Tree, as well as for Wired. One of his archived posts there, November, 2011′s Lab notes #12: Leadership is full of interesting tidbits – like how the Beatles can improve your followership’s experience.
From the workplace communication file, news outlets like Forbes and Marketplace Tech have picked up on an Atlantic article by writers Jessica Bennett and Rachel Simmons, Kisses and Hugs in the Office. The piece explores the prevalence of writing “xo” as part of an email sign off, particularly by women, in business email correspondence.
In Diane Sawyer’s newsroom, staffers say, the anchor uses xo so frequently that its omission can spark panic. - Jessica Bennett and Rachel Simmons, Kisses and Hugs in the Office.
And lastly, thank you, @DrMayaAngelou, for this link to your Black History Month series that includes a conversation with Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2001, former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan (pictured left). Talk about leading through change: the man’s peacemaking work took him into the heart of some of the late 20th century’s most brutal conflicts, in Bosnia, Rwanda and throughout the Middle East. He’s recently authored the memoir Interventions: A Life in War and Peace. It looks like you can get the whole series on itunes, or check local listings for remaining broadcasts.
And if you check it out, it might do for you what it did for me: Put new product launches, sales communication efforts, strategic planning and the in-laws back in perspective. Happy reading.
February 21, 2013 No Comments
We interrupt this series on marrying speed and depth to bring you some more “mental sorbet.”
If you’re looking for some reading, check out these bite-sized posts from the last couple of weeks.
February 14, 2013 No Comments