The Power Of Finding Your Genius

There’s a joke about a salesman who is driving along the highway and sees a sign, “Talking Dog for Sale.” He rings the bell and the owner tells him the dog is in the back yard. He goes into the back yard and sees a mutt sitting there.

“You talk?” he asks.

“Yep,” the mutt replies.

“So, what’s your story?”

The mutt looks up and says, “When I discovered this gift I was pretty young and wanted to help the government. So I told the CIA about my unique talent and in no time they had me jetting from country to country, sitting in rooms with spies and world leaders, because no one figured a dog would be eavesdropping. I was one of their most valuable spies eight years running.

“But the jetting around really tired me out, and I knew I wasn’t getting any younger and I wanted to settle down. So I signed up for a job at the airport to do some undercover security work, mostly wandering near suspicious characters and listening in. I uncovered some incredible dealings there and was awarded a batch of medals. Had a wife, a mess of puppies, and now I’m just retired.”

The salesman is amazed and asks the farmer what he wants for the dog. The farmer says, “Ten dollars.”

The guy says he’ll buy him, but asks the owner, “This dog is amazing. He’s worth a fortune. Why on earth are you selling him for only $10?”

The owner replies, “Because he’s a liar.”

Everyone is talented, original, and has something to offer the workplace where they are employed. The problem is that most people treat themselves and their employees like this old farmer treats his talking dog. We are so focused on the weakness and fixated on fixing that weakness that we completely miss the talents and the strengths and wonder why our employee engagement scores are so low.

The poet William Blake said, “He who knows not his own genius has none.” Leadership is, in large part, helping people discover – and unleash – their genius. Fit people; don’t fix people.

Here are five ways to tap into the genius in yourself and others:

  1. Look for people’s strengths: What you focus on is what grows. Start asking three simple questions of every one of your employees. Start to have the conversations. Give some feedback. Listen.
  • What are your strengths?
  • What do you do better here than anyone else?
  • What is unique about you?
  1. Invest in a formal inventory to discover your strengths and help others discover theirs. The best inventory I have found is: gallupstrengthscenter.com‎
  2. Track your energy. What energizes you? What depletes you? What fills you up? What’s working for you? What’s not? Today, it’s not about time management; it’s about energy management. Your energy level is a great indicator of how aligned you are to your genius.
  3. Delegate your weakness – at least whenever possible. Chances are, there is somebody in your organization that is good at what you aren’t. Talk it up. Discuss where you can pass on your weakness to somebody who has it as a strength.
  4. Let go of perfection. It’s unrealistic to expect that a hundred percent of your job be in your area of genius. What’s important is that at least a percentage of what you do is what you are great at. This is where the inspiration and the engagement lie. Keep working toward increasing the circle of strength and the time your employees spend there, and watch how engagement and productivity start to substantially increase.

LEADERSHIP IN UNCERTAIN TIMES

Many of my clients are directly or indirectly affected by the downturn in the oil and gas industry. The oil patch has its cycles – just as we do in our lives. We all go through personal and economic ups and downs. During these uncertain times, I have observed what good leaders do to reduce anxiety and fear and make employees feel loyal and positive about themselves and their organization. I trust that some of these strategies will be helpful to you – both personally and organizationally.

1) Maintain health habits. In times of stress and uncertainty, you may not have time for rest, exercise, renewal or connections with good friends, but these are the times when such habits are needed most. During tough economic cycles, it is easy to conclude that you don’t have the money for celebrations, leadership development, or attention to people. However, this is when it is important to keep your personal and organizational health habits in tact, regardless of the external uncertainty.

2) Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. If you have ever had a loved one taken to hospital by ambulance, you know how crucial it is to be informed about what is happening. When things around us are uncertain and people feel vulnerable and overwhelmed, getting information is critical. They worry about cutbacks and layoffs. Tell people what is happening in your company, team or department. Even if you don’t know, tell people that you don’t know. Be open and honest. Open the lines of communication by listening for concerns and responding to these concerns as much as you are able.

3) Be creative. While uncertain and unstable times may not lead to your highest levels of productivity, chaos is a time to be creative. When Vince Deberry, Executive Director of the University of Oklahoma Center For Public Management, was threatened by layoffs and downsizing a few years ago, he asked his staff, “Do we want to be frozen by fear or do we want to be proactive in shaping our future?” They brainstormed ways to be more effective. Many of the departments were asked to come up with ideas to be more efficient. Leaders were assembled and resurrected solutions that years earlier were irrelevant, but now helped save the organization without having to lay people off. In the process of transparency, openness, and innovation, the organization actually took steps toward building trust that remains today. The uncertainty was seized as an opportunity to build a community. Today they have a thriving organizational culture of trust, collaboration, and innovation.

4)   Take care of your people. Use times of uncertainty to invest in relationships and cultivate trust. Make deposits in the trust accounts of the people who depend on you and upon whom you depend. Real wealth lies not inside of your infrastructure, but inside of your people. Take care of people. It doesn’t cost any money to care about each other. Hard times remind us to go back to the basics.

5)   Distinguish between what you can and can’t control. Three simple rules can help keep your sanity and serenity when facing any challenge: 1) change the changeable; 2) accept the unchangeable; and 3) remove yourself from the unacceptable. You might find it helpful to make two lists: first, list everything that is outside of your control and second, write everything that is within your sphere of influence. Then let go of everything in the first list and get to work on what you can change. Finally, remove yourself from any situations or relationships that are compromising your values. When you learn to do this, you will not only make a significant positive impact on the people who depend on you, you will also sleep better at night.

6)   Keep your character in tact. It’s not the fierceness of the storm that determines whether we break, but rather the strength of the roots that lie below the surface. Character is the courage to meet the demands of reality. It means facing the truth – with your family, your employees, and your creditors and resisting the human tendency to withdraw and escape. Don Campbell, a rancher from Meadowlake Saskatchewan, taught me years ago, “When your wealth is lost, something is lost; when your health is lost, a great deal is lost; when your character is lost, everything is lost.”

7)   Take time for reflection and learning. Times of change and chaos are good times for creative thinking and exploring new ways to lead your business and your life. Get some coaching. Step back and set goals, clarify what matters most in your life, and develop new strategies. Just as we must resist the tendency to withdraw in the face of crisis, we must resist the inclination to stop learning. The philosopher, Eric Hoffer, wrote, “In times of change learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”

8)    Maintain perspective. Whenever I think of hard times I think of my grandfather, who raised ten kids in a 900 square foot shack on a farm during the Depression. Besides growing sugar beets, Bill Stewart worked three jobs off the farm to support his family. My mother told me that once all they had to eat was potatoes for months. Grandpa’s family reminds me of the old adage, “I used to complain about having no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.” Maintaining perspective also means realizing that you are more than your job, and that your job fits into a wider life context. After being laid off, a client of a colleague stoically maintained, “I’m only unemployed between 9 and 5.”

9)   Find a new source of security: The “3 F’s”. When your outer world is disrupted, it is good to remember the “3 F’s of security: Faith, Family, and Friends. Faith is about finding a spiritual strength that is personal to you. Within your circle of family and friends you can find people who care about the person you are, independent of your successes and failures and will help you see the world with a new perspective. Faith, family, and friends are very precious. Living without them is like trying to survive a Canadian winter without a coat.

With spring upon us, make time to relax, open your heart, and pause to reflect: What matters most? What is truly important? How can you stay present to the wonders and beauty that surround you at this moment?

Seven Ways To Enlarge The Lives Of Others – The Work Of The Best Leaders

“Believe in your heart of hearts that your fundamental purpose, your reason for being, is to enlarge the lives of others. As you enlarge the lives of others, your life will be enlarged. And all the other things we have been taught to concentrate on will take care of themselves.”   – Pete Thigpen, Former President, Levi Strauss

Not long ago, I had the privilege of touring the plant of a client who hired me to help improve the culture of his organization. As we wandered around, the CEO introduced me to everyone we came across – in the halls, the offices, the labs, and on the shop floors. But he didn’t just know everyone’s name and title. He made a point, whenever possible and appropriate, of making a brief – and positive – comment about everyone. When he introduced me to the janitor, the caretaker’s eyes widened and brightened as the CEO told me how he puts pride into everything he does and that he’ll be greatly missed when he retires next month after more than a quarter century of service. Every employee smiled as they were introduced and the CEO said something positive about the unique contribution they individually made to the well-being of this company. This CEO understands a fundamental responsibility of leaders: to enlarge the lives of every one of their employees.

As I think of my own staff, I realize that I often take them for granted. I give them work to do, put pressure on them to deliver on their accountabilities, and attempt to give them support to do their work. But do I actually make a conscious effort to enlarge their lives? We all get into our routines, our habits, our mundane patterns. In a world of incessant demands, it is easy to lose touch with the people around us and the real work of leadership.

Here are seven ways to enlarge the lives of others:

  1. Care. Enlarging the lives of people isn’t a technique. You can’t fake it. People will see right through you. We all get busy and forget to notice people. Your staff will forgive you for forgetting. What they won’t forgive you for is not caring. Enlarging the lives of people involves caring about people, not manipulating them. People are uplifted and better by being around people who care about them.
  2. Serve. Serving means having a commitment to people’s growth as much as finding the resources to help them get their job done. Serving means making the success of others more important than your own. Serving means making others look good and being willing to not take the credit. Great leaders know that you can’t necessarily make people happy, but you can help them take pride in themselves and their work – by seeing their worth, beyond what they may see in themselves.
  3. Make Time. Enlarging the lives of others takes time. Take time to learn names. But more than that, take time to learn about what matters to people you serve, the names of their family members, and the kind of things they do when they are away from work. Leadership is more than just wandering around. It’s tuning in. It’s paying attention. It’s being in touch. Carry a notepad and make a note of what’s important to the people on your team.
  4. Challenge. If you are going to enlarge the lives of others you have to push them beyond their comfort zone. You have to set a standard that stretches them. And you have to encourage them. “You can do this;” “I trust you;” and “I believe in you;” are enlarging statements. Then model the way. When was the last time you encouraged someone to go beyond what’s easy? When is the last time you did something for the first time?
  5. Accountability. Collin Powell, the former US Secretary of State, once said that “everyone on a team knows who is and who is not performing and they are looking to you as the leader to see what you are going to do about it.” You don’t enlarge the lives of people when you let them off the hook or hold back from having the difficult conversations. Set clear standards and hold people accountable. It enlarges the lives of everyone.
  6. Safety. Enlargement is about creating an environment where people can grow. Bruce Lipton, a cellular biologist, says that a cell has only two options in life: to grow or to protect. If the cell perceives its environment to be toxic it will go into protection mode. When it perceives its environment to be nourishing, it will enlarge. To enlarge the lives of others, you must create an environment that is physically and psychologically safe – safe to work without harm, safe to make mistakes without fear, safe to be honest without retribution, safe to be yourself without judgment.
  7. Appreciation. Appreciation is about acknowledging (both privately and publicly) effective, productive action. Appreciation is recognizing people when they take special care in a delivery, when they go out of their way to fix a glitch in a product, when they make a customer feel extra special, when they send the order out early, when they go the extra mile. Appreciation isn’t empty praise. Appreciation is genuine recognition when someone makes a difference. It’s about catching people doing things right rather than succumbing to the seemingly natural tendency to criticize. Say thank you. What you appreciate, appreciates.

When you are mindful and intentional about making these actions a habit, the lives of people around you will naturally enlarge. As you help people grow in this way, it will inevitably come back to you in the form of commitment, loyalty, and results. As you enlarge the lives of others, your life and your organization will be enlarged. And all the other things we have been taught to concentrate on really do seem to take care of themselves.

PEOPLE ARE WORTH IT – Connection As A Path To Leadership

Dad once looked down an assembly line of women employees and thought, “These are all like my own mom – they have kids, homes to take care of, people who need them.” It motivated him to work hard to give them a better life because he saw his mom in all of them. That’s how it all begins – with fundamental respect. – Bob Galvin, speaking of his father, founder of Motorola

Leadership is about connection. It’s not just a rational, analytic process. If you are going to influence people; if you are going to get past compliance to genuine engagement; and if you are committed to creating an environment that produces the results you need, you have to reach people’s heart. If you simply give your employee a job description or list of expectations that are required to do their work without a sincere interest in them as a person, you relegate your people to simple “task-doers,” rather than genuine contributors. In order to lead, people need to know you care. They need to know you have a vested interest in them as a person, a genuine commitment to their wellbeing that goes beyond what they do or what they achieve.

What this means is that in order to engage people, you not only have to know yourself and have a high level of engagement in your own work, you also have to be engaged with the people you are attempting to engage. The first condition of leadership is connection.

Making a connection with employees begins by asking and sincerely seeking to understand the fundamental engagement question: “What do each of your employees need to be motivated?” Because every person is unique, it’s most likely that each employee will have a different answer to this question. If you don’t know the answer, then you are just guessing. And the risk of being wrong is too great. It’s much better to simply ask the question and set out to discover the answer.

Before he hires people, a leader in a long-term care organization asks the engagement question this way, “What are you passionate about? What would excite you to come to work here?” In his world, answers deal with interests in areas such as end of life challenges, dementia, HR/labor relations, and health and safety. He then asks: “How can we, as an organization, help you develop that passion?”

After listening to their response, he concludes with: “If we can help you develop that passion within your role, do you mind being a resource, coach, mentor, etc. for others in this organization?” Over many years, he has yet to have anyone say no. He then sets out to help them develop a plan that will grow their area of interest and contribute that talent to the organization. In this leader’s view of engagement, you have to give people a sense that they are needed and find a way to connect to their unique talents and passion. His motto to engage people (employees and residents alike) is to give them both a voice and a choice.

Even if you aren’t in a leadership position, ask three fundamental leadership questions in relation to anyone you serve (customers, clients, external stakeholders):

  • What are you doing to get to people’s heart?
  • What are you doing to make a connection to your employees, those you serve?
  • What are you doing to uncover your employees’ passion and talents?

In her book, “Kids Are Worth It,” Barbara Coloroso, the world-renowned parenting expert, says parents need to create a home environment that provides six critical life messages:

  • I believe in you.
  • I trust you.
  • I know you can handle life situations.
  • You are listened to.
  • You are cared for.
  • You are important to me.

It’s no different for employees. To be engaged, we all need to work – and live – in environments that support these fundamental messages.

What’s your way of connecting? What worked or did not work for you?

My Top Ten Most Influential Books

Years ago, Zig Ziglar inspired me to create a “Wall of Influence” of the twenty-five most influential people in my life. I’ve been working on creating this wall over the past several months and it’s inspiring to reflect on who is on my list. As I reflect on these people, I am filled with gratitude and humility.

Last week a client asked for a list of the top ten most influential books in my life. My list (in no particular order) is below. Okay, I’ve listed twelve of the books that that first come to mind. If nothing else, it leads to some good conversation. What would your list be?

  • Allan Savory, “Holistic Management”
  • Geoff Bellman, “The Consultant’s Calling: Bringing More Of Who You Are To What You Do”
  • Henry Cloud, “Integrity: The Courage To Meet The Demands Of Reality”
  • James Hillman, “The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling”
  • Joseph Campbell, “The Hero With A Thousand Faces”
  • Scott Peck, “The Road Less Traveled”
  • Parker Palmer, “The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life”
  • Robert Bly, “The Sibling Society”
  • Stephen R. Covey, “The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People”
  • Virginia Satir, “Peoplemaking”
  • Wayne Muller, “A Life Of Being, Having, and Doing Enough”
  • The Holy Bible

 

Are You Connecting?

The other day a flight attendant asked me if I was connecting. This is a good question to ask yourself every so often. “Are you connecting?”

Life depends on connections, and the quality of your life depends on the quality of your connections. Every system depends on connections. Circulatory systems, nervous systems, organizational systems, ecosystems, family systems. Connection is to relationship what breathing is to life. If you can’t make a connection, not much else matters.

While we all, at some level, understand the importance of connection in our lives, what exactly does it mean to be connected? Like beauty, it’s hard to describe, but you know when it’s there. There’s a difference between communicating and being connected. “Everyone communicates,” writes the leadership guru John Maxwell, “but very few people connect.” Today, with all of the high-tech tools such as email, text messaging, Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter, we are certainly in better contact with each other, but are we better connected? High tech requires an equal high touch. With all this capacity to be in contact are we actually making contact? In this high tech, so-called “connected” world, do we feel more loved; more supported; or more at peace with others and ourselves? Do we live with a stronger sense of community? You can’t fully connect without looking a person in the eyes, hearing their voice, reaching their hearts, and knowing them as unique people with needs, values, and dreams. Technology is a great tool to stay connected; it’s not such a good tool to get connected.

Connections have a life of their own. You can actually stifle connections like you can a living organism, or you can breathe life into them.

Here are some conditions for connections to flourish:

  • Focus: Identify the ‘significant seven’ stakeholders in your personal and professional life. A stakeholder is a person who depends on you or upon whom you depend. You will have a list of ‘significant seven’ in both your personal and your professional life. Take an honest inventory of how connected you are with these people and how much personal investment is needed at this time. Don’t confuse peripheral relationships with significant relationships. Think about who will be with you at your deathbed.
  • Understanding: Your goal in connecting is understanding, not necessarily agreement. Connection isn’t the same as agreement. You can agree without connecting, just as you can connect without agreement. What are you doing to really listen to the people in your life? Empathy is a critically important aspect in connecting. To see a quick review of empathy take a few moments to look at a three minute video with the words of Brené Brown: www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw
  • Accountability: Take accountability for your own emotions, reactions, and needs – in all your relationships. See all blame as a waste of time.  Ownership breeds openness. Take a careful inventory of yourself: Are you a person who can be counted on? Do people experience you as accountable? Do you take 100% responsibility for your life? Have you stopped hiding behind such statements as, “They need to listen better”? No, they don’t have to listen better; you need to communicate better. Nobody but you cares about the reason you let someone down.
  • Disconnect: You have to disconnect to connect. Turn off your devices at times during the day. Leave your cell phone in a drawer when you are with the important people in your life. Disconnect to connect. Create time and space to be together without interruptions. I find it interesting that in our society, the value of pets – who cannot use technology yet are completely present -is increasing along with the value we place on technology.
  • Rituals: Regularly scheduled dates, breakfasts, teas, and uninterrupted, unstructured time to hang out and just be with the important people in your life all allow connections to grow. Don’t worry about making it “quality” time. Sometimes it’s quality; sometimes it isn’t. Just be sure it is time. Connection is a four-letter word: t-i-m-e. If you want to know how your connections are, look at what is scheduled in your planner.
  • Be Vulnerable: Develop a habit of sharing your challenges, your fears, your dreams, or your insecurities with the important people in your life. Connections strengthen with vulnerability by sharing what is going on in your life. Conversations are the path to connection. But remember, connection doesn’t have to be big or dramatic. It simply has to be consistent and honest.
  • Presence: Listen carefully as you feel with people. What are their dreams? What matters to them? Don’t just deal with people. Feel with people. Before you can touch a person’s heart, you have to know what’s in it. The best present you can ever give another person is to be present in the present.
  • Slow down: Slow down in order to focus on the people you meet. Practice walking through crowds slowly. Whether clients, customers, or colleagues, take a few minutes to stop and listen. Everyone has needs, values, and dreams, and people generally like to talk about themselves. Focus on being interested rather than being interesting. I learned from my daughter who taking a course in agriculture that the most valuable tool on a farm is a five-gallon pail. Turn it upside down, sit on it, and observe the animals.
  • Tune in. Listen for messages that people send without talking. Words aren’t the only way to connect. We communicate with our eyes, our body language, our unspoken messages. Practice tuning in by spending time in nature or with animals. Once again, you have to slow down to tune in.
  • Authenticity: Make time to reflect and connect with the voice inside of you. You can’t connect fully unless you have a good sense of self-worth that comes from being true to yourself – in the service of others. As you live in accord with your values, your self-respect grows, and connections with others strengthens. Connection with others begins with a connection to yourself.