Your Awareness Filters Determine Your Choices

Posted by on Jul 29, 2013 in Decision Making, Leadership, Mindfulness, Teams | 0 comments

Paying attention means seeing with as much clarity as possible, including seeing those filters through which you interpret the world and which determine what you tend to see and what you tend to miss.  You need to become more aware of what you don’t see.  Differences in culture, generations, training, family background, gender, etc. are all filters that determine what you notice and respond to. What age lady do you see in the drawing?  (Your experiences color how you take data and make sense of it.)  Hint:  there are two women of different ages, one looking down and one looking away. Context also determines how we filter information. Since it is physically impossible to pay active attention to all the stimuli around us, our brains are constantly choosing what’s important and what’s not important.  When my son was in an African game park doing research and sleeping in a tent, he paid careful attention when he heard grasses rustling outside.  I’m unlikely to notice grasses rustling outside the window of my office when I’m preparing a budget. Unfortunately, too many leaders allow their filters to blind them to important clues in their organization or in their marketplace.  That’s how Sony lost out to Apple and iTunes in the revolution of music distribution. Perspective also filters what we’re aware of.  Depending on where we’re standing, we see different sides of an issue.  If you stand on the beach to the left of the ball, you think it’s yellow.  If you stand on the beach to the right of the ball, you think it’s red.  Same in an organization; if I’m in sales, I’m aware of different issues than manufacturing.  Organization silos cause problems because of this filtering.  Cross-functional teams have problems when not aware of their distinct filters. My colleague and friend, CEO John Wipfler, JD, MBA said it well.  “In any one moment you are bombarded with multiple data points.  Our own awareness is a filter for what we allow in and what we do with it.  The more cleanly I take in information (without adding my biases) the more I open myself to my environment.” What filters are you looking through?  How do they differ from those of your colleagues?  Your customers?  Your vendors?     More on this in THE AWARENESS PARADIGM, A Story of Leadership Success Due out in...

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The Awareness Paradigm – Why Awareness Matters

Posted by on Jul 24, 2013 in Leadership, Mindfulness | 1 comment

My new book is called The Awareness Paradigm, A Story of Leadership Success because I see awareness as the meta-skill from which all other leadership skills develop. You can’t lead if you don’t know who you are or where you’re going, so at the core of leadership is your ability to see all that is going on in your environment (including yourself) and make some meaning from it.  Then you need the skills to inspire others to be willing and able to follow. You can train yourself to increase your capacity to notice more, so that your awareness becomes more sophisticated and discriminating, just as you can increase your ability to discern differences in wine, beer or chocolate.     Try an easy exercise.   Start by writing down everything you are aware of right now. Everything.  What’s going on inside you, what’s going on with others around you, what’s in your environment that you can see, touch, smell, feel, or hear, or recall.  That’s just global awareness – being present to what is around you. Then look over your list to notice how some of your statements are judgments. (The color of this room is ugly.) Some of your statements are just data. (This paint is chipping.)  Notice how some are external – the room is square, and some are internal – I’m hungry. Do the exercise again, and you’ll see things you missed the first time around.    Go deeper into detail, and larger into broader observations. You could do this exercise first thing when you arrive at your office, increasing your awareness of the challenges you’ll face or the people you’re scheduled to meet, or the options for how you’ll use your time.  Quickly you will discover that you are taking in far more subtlety and detail. Increasing what you notice, whether it is happening inside you (internal) or happening outside you in the environment or within another person (external) is a key leadership skill.  Using that knowledge to make more informed choices allows you to carry out the tasks of leadership more effectively:  developing a vision, executing on the vision, developing people, holding people accountable, achieving results. I was fascinated to pick up a magazine from my son’s college and see on the first page a reiteration of how important awareness is to leadership.  In an essay on leadership in the William & Mary Alumni Magazine, president W. Taylor Reveley, III observed that with constant change around us, all successful leaders and institutions are always “under construction,” in order to stay relevant.  He goes on to describe what leaders do that matters:   “It’s rare that anything out of the ordinary in an organization – political, academic, corporate, not for profit – actually gets done unless someone, a live human, a leader, cuts through the fog of competing priorities and ever-present uncertainties, identifies the key contemporary needs, and persuades people to move effectively to meet them. So leaders spot things that need to be done and ensure priorities...

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In Memory of my Mom – A Leader in Life

Posted by on Apr 19, 2013 in Leadership | 3 comments

My mother passed away on Monday at the age of 96. Although out of college she worked as a fashion illustrator and shoe designer, and for some years as a young widow she worked in the business world, it was in her life that she was a true leader. So in what way was Pearl a leader?  A leader makes a difference in people’s lives, acts as a role model, is ready to look outside themselves and their immediate world to have a wider vision, is willing and able to support the growth of others, continues  to learn and grow themselves, challenges traditional ways of doing things, and is able to be resilient in the face of risk and challenges.  That was my mom! My mother loved life.  She maintained her passion for living even when her vision, her hearing, her sense of touch and smell was failing.  She was a talented artist, and found ways of doing her art in spite of her challenges, having a successful solo exhibition just last year of paintings from the previous two years. She was resilient, surviving extremely difficult family events – the death of her young father in the flu epidemic, the sudden death of my father when she was a young mother with three children, the sudden death of my much younger stepfather when she was in the hospital herself four years ago.  She found ways to survive all of this and reinvent herself, thriving in a world that was constantly changing, even embracing the computer for email, internet, and digital artwork in the last decade.   When she finally decided a year ago to leave the home where she lived alone, she intentionally transitioned into assisted living with grace and generosity. She was spiritually curious and explored many faiths, while continuing active membership in her local church.  She was artistically experimental, studying and trying new styles from Picasso to Warhol.  She was open to new ideas of healing, and went on to become a Reiki teacher and host Reiki groups for the last ten years.   She said she wasn’t a good teacher because she skipped too many steps, (which was true) but it was in how she supported others that she truly taught us how to live. Heifitz and Linsky in their book Leadership on the Line said “To lead is to live dangerously because when leadership counts, when you lead people through difficult change, you challenge what people hold dear – their daily habits, tools, loyalties, and ways of thinking – with nothing more to offer perhaps than a possibility. “ Pearl decided she needed help and sought out Alcoholics Anonymous many years ago.  Through over three decades she’s been a role model of struggling and succeeding in difficult change, open about her problems.  She welcomed others to the journey and accepted people where they were, despite or perhaps because of their failings.  She continued in AA as a way of life, and found purpose and meaning in how...

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Introverts in an extrovert world?

Posted by on Apr 11, 2013 in Communication, Leadership, Meetings, Presentations, Self-awareness | 0 comments

The United States is one of the world’s most extrovert culture, and business is a place where it is particularly prized.  Do we lose something from that?  What if you’re an introvert in an organization where the extrovert behaviors are the benchmark? Some say that the single most important aspect of personality is where you sit on the spectrum of introversion/extroversion.  It influences career and spouse choices, how we communicate, make decisions, resolve conflict and show love.  It influences what kind of leader we become. Both ways of thinking and acting are necessary in the world and in any organization.  “A species in which everyone was General Patton would not succeed, any more than would a race in which everyone was Vincent Van Gogh,” says American educator, and musician Allen Shawn. As Leaders:  Studies on leaders and books like Good to Great have found that the charismatic, gregarious extroverted leader may not be the most successful.  Extrovert CEO’s had bigger salaries but not better corporate performance.  But those characteristics still get rated higher.  At Harvard Business School, the behaviors of extroverts are a component of the grade.  Why? Extrovert Ideal:  Susan Cain explains what she calls our value system of the Extrovert Ideal in her bestselling book Quiet  – “The omnipresent believe is that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight.  The archetypal extrovert prefers action to comtemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt.  He favors quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong.  She works well in teams and socializes in groups.” I worked with an extrovert who loved huge events with lots of people and favored conflict in meetings because he preferred the speed and energy of the conversations.   Characteristics of Introverts:  Introverts tend to be more thoughtful, and work more slowly and intentionally. They find it easier to concentrate and focus and be less likely to multi-task.  But they are NOT hermits.  Introverts can have strong social skills, be great listeners, and clear speakers.  Introverts tend to find presentations challenging and conflict difficult.  They often dislike small talk but enjoy deep conversations, and may prefer to express themselves in writing. They are not necessarily shy, either, which is an indicator of discomfort.  A shy person in a meeting may find it exceedingly uncomfortable to speak up; an introvert may just need time to listen and formulate their thoughts before speaking up.  The result of a smaller presence in the meeting may be the same, but it’s for entirely different reasons. We see ourselves as a nation of extroverts, yet studies show that one third to one half of Americans are introverts.  It may be easy to see how introverted scientists or artists might change the world – think of Einstein and his theory of relativity or Chopin’s nocturnes.  Are there introverts that have changed the world by taking a public leadership role?  Yes!  How about Rosa Parks or Eleanor Roosevelt or Gandhi whose influence came not in spite of but because...

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Nifty Free Visionary Thinking Tool for Business, Nonprofits and Individuals

Posted by on Mar 22, 2013 in Creativity, Leadership, Leadership Priorities, Presentations, Strategic Planning | 1 comment

You’ve got to take a look at this elegantly simple Business Model Canvas.  It could help you gain clarity whether you’re creating a whole new business, a new product or service, getting your non-profit to think more like a business, or even looking for a new job.  Use it to strategize and communicate to others. Here’s what it looks like but don’t underestimate it!                                   You can download it for free at businessmodelgeneration.com, along with enough of the supporting book to get you started.  I saw it in action when I was serving as a coach at a recent Start-Up Weekend, sponsored by the Cape Cod Chamber, where people are encouraged to create new businesses in just 54 hours.  Copies of the Business Model Canvas were provided to each group, many of whom had just met each other that weekend, and it was amazing what they accomplished. The Canvas itself is just a one page graphic tool to explore and test assumptions, covering the four main areas of a business:  customers, offer, infrastructure and financial viability.  There are actually nine blocks to complete:  Key activities, Key Partners, Key Resources, and Cost structure are on the left and make up the efficiency side of the model.  The right side blocks make up value and are Customer relationships, Customer segments, Value propositions, Channels, and Revenue streams. Watch the two minute video below for a clearer idea.  You’re encouraged to play with sticky notes so that nothing becomes set in stone too early.  It is meant to be an iterative process that allows you to work as an individual or team and explore different options in a simple but complete format. The companion book, Business Model Generation, was created by 470 practitioners from around the world.  There is a downloadable excerpt on the website that has plenty to help you understand each block or category and some interesting examples of how the tool can be widely used beyond the creation of a new business: The public sector is often challenged to implement private sector principles. I have used the Canvas to help a department view itself as a service- oriented business, establishing externalized as-is and to-be business models. It has created a whole new conversa- tion around describing and innovating the business. Mike Lachapelle, Canada I wish I had known the Canvas years ago! With a particular tough and complicated print-to-digital project within the publishing industry it would have been so helpful to show all project members in this visual way both the big picture, their (important) own roles in it and the inter-dependencies. Hours of explaining, arguing, and mis- understanding could have been saved. Jille Sol, Netherlands A close friend was looking for a new job. I used the Business Model Canvas in order to assess her personal business model. Her core competences and Value Proposition were outstanding but she failed to leverage her strategic partners...

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New Problem Solving Technique

Posted by on Feb 26, 2013 in Leadership, Problem Solving | 0 comments

“How do I get a new perspective on intractable problems when you’re not here?” a client asked me.  I suggested he try an idea I’d just read about.  Describe your problems with different words, namely, eliminate the verb “to be.” Why Eliminate To Be:  The theory is that our language and our words form our abstract concepts, and they contain hidden traps.   The verb “to be,” was identified as containing the most traps, and creating distortions of reality.  If I say my employee is lazy, it implies certainty and objectivity, but it’s really just my opinion. I read the concept in a slightly useful and somewhat funny book called Help! by Oliver Burkeman a curmudgeonly Brit.  The idea came from Alfred Korzybski who founded the philosophy of General Semantics made famous by his slogan, “The map is not the territory.”  He said we’d do well to avoid absolute terms. He suggested that we can never find absolute “truth” and would be better off not using words that implied certainty.   In the 1960’s David Bourland took up the cause and suggested we entirely eliminate “to be” from our language, and offered up a term for the new structure, called E-Prime.  Though it didn’t catch on, I found it a wonderful way to approach problem solving. Fact or Possibility:  Certainty brings with it emotional and behavioral consequences.  If I say ‘I am a failure,’ it feels permanent and I feel hopeless.  Restating it as ‘I have failed at this task,’ suddenly makes it temporary, situational, and something I can address.   The same with my problem.  Is it absolute or might it be something else? Let’s apply the idea to my (fictional) lazy employee.  In identifying the problem, I might restate it as ‘my employee appears lazy.’   How does that change anything, you ask? Trap of Assumptions:  Assumptions get in the way of problem solving and the verb to be turns assumptions into reality, fixing them in my mind as fact.  I no longer question them.  Suddenly, I find myself solving a problem that I may have mis-identified. If I say my employee is lazy and come to believe it, I may fire him.  However, if I say he appears lazy or acts as if a lazy person might act, I have not yet identified the problem.   Uses of New Wording:  In my restatement without the verb “to be” I’m not making a factual assumption.  I can look at the situation from a wider perspective.  What are the behaviors I’m actually seeing? Perhaps what I’m seeing is someone who doesn’t take initiative.  Then I could ask myself if I’ve been micromanaging and causing the problem. Maybe my employee works slowly.  I could examine whether they don’t understand the work and need more training.  Or perhaps they prize accuracy because they’ve been criticized for error.   You get the idea. Try it yourself.  Reword statements you make about yourself.  Reword problems you’re having with staff, or with customers.  Reword challenges your team faces....

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