Thursday, February 27, 2014

Mindful Influence: The DOs and DON'Ts of Getting What You Want

It’s easy to believe that agility – the ability to switch from one behavior to another –makes us better as leaders. This requires awareness of how behaviors are being received. This awareness comes from being mindful.  

Mindful is defined as aware, watchful, attentive, and careful. The mindful leader is continuously noticing how their behavior is being perceived and received (or not) which enables them to switch to more effective behaviors as needed.

The speed of making this course correction is important. It increases your chance of gaining the commitment or cooperation you need while decreasing the potential harm that ineffective leadership can have on relationships and the organization.

In most cases, ineffective leadership is a result of unintentional or unconscious behavior. This unconscious behavior is termed the shadow side in Jungian psychology. According to Jung, the shadow side of a behavior is an unconscious aspect, most often negative, that the conscious ego does not recognize.

Believe it or not, this can happen when we become so focused on the desired outcome that we fail to notice what is happening in the moment. Even if we do gain someone’s cooperation in the short term, slipping into the shadow side when we influence can do long-term damage to our personal effectiveness and to the organization, as it creates an atmosphere of distrust where people stop listening, and the potential for innovation or progress is diminished.

When we act unconsciously, we don’t always realize that we are being ineffective; much less that we are being harmful. To start this learning process, we are providing some examples that show the negative response that results from unconscious behavior contrasted with the positive responses that can result from more mindful influencing behavior.

Practiced unconsciously, Rationalizing can be perceived as dismissing. When the influencer lets data dominate feelings, people feel dismissed, unheard, and that the influencer values data more than people. This makes them withdraw and more likely to reject the influencer’s position.

Practiced mindfully, Rationalizing can be seen as inclusive. When the influencer listens and questions people about how they feel, people are more likely to engage, ask clarifying questions and make feelings known, remaining open to the influencer’s position.

Practiced unconsciously, Asserting can be perceived as bullying. When the influencer relies on authority more than commitment, this can be intimidating, making people feel defensive and more likely to take the positioning personally.

Practiced mindfully, Asserting can be seen as persuasive. When the influencer practices diplomacy and emphasizes clarity of position rather than authority, people remain objective and open to consider the positioning without personal bias.

Practiced unconsciously, Negotiating can be perceived as waffling. When the influencer lets the process dominate the solution, people can become unclear about what is open to compromise, discount the confusion of others, and make no attempts to clarify.

Practiced mindfully, Negotiating can be seen as synergistic. When the influencer is clear what is open to compromise and focused on win-win solutions, people respect the negotiation process (and the negotiator) and ask expansive questions.

Practiced unconsciously, Bridging can be perceived as manipulative. When the influencer lets control dominate collaboration, positions and interests can be obscured and cause people to become impatient, feel frustration and withdraw.

Practiced mindfully, Bridging can be seen as sincere. When the influencer is transparent about positions and interests, this encourages cooperation, making people more likely to listen and ask integrating questions.

Practiced unconsciously, Inspiring can be perceived as fantasizing. When the influencer lets imagination dominate useful outcomes, people feel cynicism and are more likely to dismiss the influencer.

Practiced mindfully, Inspiring can be seen as motivating. When the influencer uses tangible examples and tells relevant stories it builds trust, making people more likely to ask converging questions.

How mindful are you when you influence?
Have you ever slipped into the shadow side of influencing?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The 3 Things That Make Highly Effective Teams Click

When a sports team is working well together, it can feel like magic. We've all experienced it, either as a team member or as a fan. Fortunately, you do not have to be an Olympic coach to have the skills you need to build and lead high performing teams in your organization.

An important leadership competency for any size organization, the ability to build and lead high performing teams is especially critical in small-to-midsize businesses. Here, people must work closely together, wear many hats and work effectively across the organization to get tasks accomplished quickly enough to remain competitive.

An effective team builder and leader always does the following three things:
  • Promotes understanding of why a group of people need to be a team. The team needs to understand its shared goals and what each team member brings to the team that is relevant and crucial to its overall successes.
  • Ensures the team has adequate knowledge to accomplish its task. This includes information relevant to the team's goals and individual job competencies.
  • Facilitates effective interaction in such a way as to ensure good problem solving, decision making and coordination of effort.

Characteristics of Highly Effective Teams

To better understand how these leadership competencies create effective teams, let's examine some characteristics of highly effective teams.
  • An effective team understands the big picture. In an effective team, each team member understands the context of the team's work to the greatest degree possible. That includes understanding the relevance of his or her job and how it impacts the effectiveness of others and the overall team effort. Too often, people are asked to work on part of a task without being told how their role contributes to the desired end result, much less how their efforts are impacting the ability of others to do their work. Understanding the big picture promotes collaboration, increases commitment and improves quality.
  •  An effective team has common goals. Effective teams have agreed-upon goals that are simple, measurable and clearly relevant to the team's task. Each goal includes key measurable metrics (that are available to everyone on the team), which can be used to determine the team effectiveness and improvement. Understanding and working toward these common goals as a unit is crucial to the team's effectiveness.
  • An effective team works collaboratively, as a unit. In an effective team you'll notice a penchant for collaboration and a keen awareness of interdependency. Collaboration and a solid sense of interdependency in a team will defuse blaming behavior and stimulate opportunities for learning and improvement. Without this sense of interdependency in responsibility and reward, blaming behaviors can occur which will quickly erode team effectiveness.
Remember: a "willingness" to participate collaboratively as a team member does not guarantee the desired outcome. People thrown into a collaborative situation, especially those without experience operating in this mode, need assistance to guarantee success. Managers who are skeptical of team participation to begin with often throw their people into an unplanned, unstructured decision-making process, responding with "I told you so" as they watch their team flounder.

By contrast, managers who focus on promoting good understanding, ensuring adequate knowledge and facilitating effective interaction, will watch the transformation of their job from one that required constant supervision, firefighting, and oversight, to one that allows the leader to focus on serving the needs of the team and each individual team member.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Learning Olympics: Humans vs. Computers?

This year we should see a new computer chip based on the biological nervous system. It will enable computers to interpret information and react accordingly. In other words, it can learn. It will also bring a new era of artificial intelligence that can see, hear, listen and speak. This technology is not based on binary logic but on an explosion in neuroscience research - information about the human brain and how it works. Last year Google researchers were able to get a machine learning an algorithm, known as a neural network, to perform an identification task without supervision. The network scanned a database of 10 million images, and in doing so trained itself to recognize cats.

This explosion in brain science is being used to design artificial intelligence, but much less to enhance learning strategies and tactics in our leadership courses and classrooms. For example we know that stress and anxiety affect brain chemistry which in turn affects our capacity to expand our awareness vs. focus on immediate threats. Yet, we still see assessment models that present participants with right/wrong answers and simulations that are prized for the ability to catch people “doing it the wrong way”.

Twenty years ago research conducted at the Center for Creative Leadership identified the ability to learn from experience as a key competency for effective emerging leaders. Either from failure or success, these individuals adjusted their behavior to insure future success. What can neuroscience teach us about productive learning environments?

There’s a lot of ‘brain research’ being presented at training and development conferences – attempts to translate a popular press level understanding of this new science into learning strategies. Clearly, there’s a big interest in neuroscience and how to use it in training and development. Nearly every learning and development conference has a key note address on this topic. The challenge is to separate real science from pseudoscience. Some of the translations from neuroscience to learning strategies may appear to be intuitive, but some take big leaps and short cuts. Ask tough questions and discriminate between good science and pseudoscience. Be a good learner.

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