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Leaders: Get Out of Your Own Box

Nowadays ‘thinking outside the box’ is cliché. We’ve heard it so much we have either forgotten what the idea was really about or written it off.

The problem is that psychologists tell us we all have these personal paradigms that drive our reaction and interaction with culture and society. The older we get, the more “Set in our ways” we become. This is the perfect example of operating from within a very narrow box.

In front of a large audience one day, I asked two volunteers to step on stage. I had arranged two large shipping boxes, something as large as the crates that refrigerators come in. The two volunteers were to step inside each box (doors had been cut to ease the access). Then I asked them to proceed with talking to one another as though they had just met, introducing themselves to one another and talking like this was a networking event.

They couldn’t do it very well. They were talking over each other, interrupting, missing words and phrases from the other person. Clearly their communication was suffering. With little to no connection, their meeting was turning out to be a disaster.

They were then told to exit the box; step outside and face each other. Now resume the effort. Well, of course, things improved quickly.

This was a graphic display of the problems with operating from inside our personal paradigms. Whatever bias, value structure, prejudice, or judgment you have against the world, staying inside your box will prohibit you from adequately connecting with others.

By staying inside those boxes we filter everything being heard and received. Often that filtering corrupts the message or the intent of the sender.

As you meet a new person, strive to understand their “box” first. Forget your bad ideas and limited scope. Hear them genuinely and seek first to understand (a la Steven Covey). You just cannot build a high trust relationship without it. This fits for hiring managers, sales leads, new friends, and other personal relationships.

Give yourself a test. Try this for just one full week. Make a concerted effort to unfilter everything you receive from those around you. Don’t jump to any assumptions or conclusions. If you’ve already ‘tagged’ a person, give them the grace to erase that tag. See and hear them for what they might really be saying.

See the amazing things that can happen. Post back here and let me know what you find.

If you would like to explore more ideas for growing your own leadership influence, click the link below to schedule a short, but free call.

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Are you really a “people person”?

When was the last time you heard someone say “I am a people person”? Candidates for various management jobs often describe themselves as a people person. What is that exactly?

I have a friend who is an HR professional. He tells me the response they use is “Oh good. If you are a people person, we can pay you five people a week. Will that be OK?”

But seriously folks. Most of us know where that concept came from. Originally when someone said they were a “people person” it meant they could deal with others in a positive way. It also likely meant they liked doing it. It was supposed to indicate a sincerity for interaction, the ability to relate, a consensus builder. Do you think people really do that anymore?

I fear the truth is we have lost some of the drive, desire, and ability to truly relate with people. Of course some of us are really good at it. But I don’t see where we teach that anymore. Instead, it seems young people are being encouraged to get better with computers and automated interfaces, but they do not get the same encouragement when faced with facing a live specimen.

When have you heard about training for one on one communication? What about simple social graces like waiting outside a conference room right before the meeting starts. Instead of making small talk, faces are buried on smart phones or tablets. Leaders can build more rapport with their team in those short moments outside the meeting than they do inside the meeting once the official discussion has started.

Social media is not really that social at all.

One indication: A recent Pew Research survey of adults in the U.S. found that 71% use Facebook at least occasionally, and 45% of Facebook users check the site several times a day.

That sounds like people are becoming more sociable. But some people think the opposite is happening. The problem, they say, is that we spend so much time maintaining superficial connections online that we aren’t dedicating enough time or effort to cultivating deeper real-life relationships. Too much chatter, too little real conversation.

Others counter that online social networks supplement face-to-face sociability, they don’t replace it. These people argue that we can expand our social horizons online, deepening our connections to the world around us, and at the same time take advantage of technology to make our closest relationships even closer.

Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, says technology is distracting us from our real-world relationships. Keith N. Hampton, who holds the Professorship in Communication and Public Policy at Rutgers University’s School of Communication and Information, argues that technology is enriching those relationships and the rest of our social lives.

Let’s rally together and do something different. If you struggle with making new friends, try baby steps first. Try simply saying hello to someone at the grocery store. Wave to a neighbor you haven’t spoken to in a while.

A second issue is the difference between connecting and communicating. While we may have hundreds of Facebook friends—people we never would have met otherwise, with whom we can share many new things—do they really provide the kind of human interaction that is so essential to our emotional health?

Psychologists define social capital, or the benefit we derive from social interactions, in two ways: bonding and the more superficial bridging. Research shows that virtual-world friends provide mostly bridging social capital, while real-world friends provide bonding social capital.

Larry Rosen states

“For instance, in one study we found that while empathy can be dispensed in the virtual world, it is only one-sixth as effective in making the recipient feel socially supported compared with empathy proffered in the real world. A hug feels six times more supportive than an emoji.”

To be a true people person, the number of friends or connections on social media has nothing to do with the people you can influence with your day-to-day behavior. Can you add value? Can you emote empathy and support for someone in need of encouragement during a tough time? Are you genuine?

The next time a friend or co-worker expresses something personal, decide whether you are truly a people person. Or will you simply brush it aside so you can get back to posting on Twitter or Facebook.

Let’s try to be a real “people person”.

Leadership: Too Big to Do Right?

As a business writer it is just waaaayyy too easy to take a swipe at United Airlines right now. I’ll let the other writers do more of that. The situation we have all watched unfold at United is indicative of a host of leadership issues and the colossus that is a company the size of United.

Courtesy 123rf.com

During the financial crisis of 2008, we learned the phrase “too big to fail”. That reference included the big banks like Chase, Wells Fargo and Bank of America. It also included the likes of Ford and General Motors. The notion of too big to fail implied that the demise of one of those companies would have detrimental ripple effect on the whole economy of the U.S. and perhaps parts of the world.

It didn’t happen so we still don’t really know if the theory would be true. Too big to fail begs another question. Is there such a thing as too big to do right? With this I mean doing the right things on a consistent basis, day after day, regardless of schedules, circumstances, or prevailing winds of change.

A Clear Fail

United clearly failed. Others have done so too without the same level of scrutiny. I won’t bore you with that list; you can fill in your own names. You likely know some.

Too big to do right is a present force because, as a company grows, the span of control that can be exerted by a core team of leaders expands exponentially. When you grow beyond a single facility under one roof where a company team meeting can be held, you begin losing control.

As the leader, you have to rely upon layers of other managers who have been selected presumably for their alignment with the company’s vision and principles. Then you add the workforce. Not to be insensitive, but the idea of needing to put butts in the seats can often degrade your precious value system. Depending on the geography where your facility gets placed, you may not have the abundance of available workers to meet your definition of mission.

The “Good to Great” (courtesy of Jim Collins) references to getting the right people on the bus breaks down because there just aren’t enough of those people to be found. Deadlines approach, projects need to be completed, production schedules dictate warm bodies to finish the work, so compromises are made. Pretty soon, the workforce is not in step with leadership.

Legacy Creep

Then there is a legacy creep factor. Assuming a legacy of good performance, doing the right thing even exists for a company (as it once did with legacy Continental before the United merger), the long run impacts of continuing growth and expansion or merger can introduce wholesale influencers that derail the legacy success. The legacy by itself is just not strong enough to overcome the new circumstances.

Do the right things

I happen to know that there was a prevailing concern after the Continental United merger that the non-union teams from Texas were met with severe push back from the unionized crews in Chicago. I’m not making a statement one way or the other about unions, I am just saying it was a beast of a conflict that undermined all the things that Continental leadership tried to do at the time. Again, recall that Continental, a rising entity, bought United, a failing entity.

Company Culture

This brings me to my final point. Building a company culture is critical to the creation of a ‘do things right’ mantra. It is now, and will always be about the people. Not the process, not the procedures, and not even about the regulations. When we as leaders have to dumb down the execution of the purposes for which the company was founded, we risk the evolution into cases like United’s embarrassment.

The people we select to represent the company are the first and last frontier for successful execution of a company’s mission. It is a daunting task. The cultural differences that walk through our doors impact the ability to blend those cultures into a cohesive matrix for delivery of goods and services.

Look at recent articles emerging about work conditions at Amazon and even expressed concerns about the culture at Google. Big can get out of control.

Managing and coaching the workforce for accomplishment of common goals is no easy feat. One can argue it takes immensely strong leadership to do that.

At what point does a company get too big to do right? The mix and swirl of the people issues caused by the vast diversion of geography and socio-economic factors makes the possible combinations of factors working against you far greater than the things working for you. It’s a whale of a job.

Do I give United CEO a pass on this? Absolutely not. At this point, there are only two choices: new leadership or dispersion of the entity, to slim it back for effective control. I’m guessing shareholders will vote for new leadership, still hoping bigger is better. Or is it?

How Do I Find Personal Growth?

Personal Growth

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Every year, people spend a lot of time and money learning how to work their goals; setting goals, making goals stick, and achieving their goals. I think there’s a different, more meaningful question. What about setting your sights on growth?

When was the last time the question you asked yourself was not about setting goals to do more, but being more.

Personal Growth
Personal Growth

 

Have you maximized your full potential? Are you capped out? Guess what? Even if you genuinely believe you are performing at the max, I guarantee you there is another level out there. Whether the metric has to do with career, family, finances, business, faith, or any other domain we live in, there is always room for growth.

Whatever your habit and process may be for goal setting each year, try changing the context. Set sights for growth. You can still get a lot done in respect to the things that normally make the goals list, but change the focus on why you are doing these things.

Set your mind for growth. You can decide to grow personally, professionally, financially, spiritually, or most any other dimension of human existence. But please think about growth.

The first most common hindrance for growing is the fear of failure. What if I can’t do it? What if it doesn’t work out? What if I miss the mark?

Here’s the real truth. There are two kinds of fail.

TYPE A:You try. You fail. You learn from it. You try again. This isn’t really failure. This is Learning and Growing.

TYPE B:You try. You fail. You don’t learn from it. Or you learn the wrong lessons. THIS is Failure: Trying to make the unworkable work.

Cycle to reach Growth
Cycle to reach Growth

The hard part is this:When you’re in the thick of it, with muddy boots, a scratched up face and torn coat, it can be hard to tell if you’re Learning or Failing.

Here are some observations from my own experiences both Learning and Failing to help you do more of the former and less of the latter.

When you pride yourself based on who you associate with, you’re Failing.
When your pride flows from an Inner Knowing that you’re doing what you should do when you should do it, you’re Growing.

When you try to be the person other people expect you to be, you’re probably Failing.
When you slow down and figure out what you really want first, you’re Growing.

When you look for the Right Way to Succeed, you’re probably Failing.
When you study the principles to understand why things work when they do and don’t when they don’t, you’re Learning.

When you flit from one info product or teacher to another, and never really mastering what any of them can teach you, you’re Failing.
When you read, listen, and apply what you learned from one teacher before going on to another, you’re Growing.

When you worry that you are inadequate in some important way, you are Failing.
When you know that the mind game is to see how far you’ve come – and not how far you still need to go – then you’re Learning.

When you try to do it all yourself, you’re probably Failing.
When you surround yourself with people who are on the same path as you and you learn from each other and hold each other to a higher standard, you’re Growing.

When you believe the talking heads on TV, you’re probably Failing.
When you ignore them and believe those who have done what you want to be doing, you’re Learning.

When you think the problem is your spouse, you’re Failing.
When you realize you’re probably guilty of the same actions and more, you’re Learning.

When you take responsibility for things you can not control, you’re probably Failing.
When you take full responsibility for the things you can control, you’re Growing.

When you fear man and forget God, you’re Failing.
When you remember that you are here to serve God by helping your fellow man, you’re Growing.

When you hold others to a higher standard than you hold yourself you’re Failing.
When you hold yourself to a higher standard than you hold others, you’re Learning.

When you’re busy, busy, busy and not making time to think deeply about what you really, really want… you’re Failing.
When you regularly make time to reflect. To think. To ponder. To question…. you’re Learning.

I’ve made all these mistakes and more.

And the greatest gift is to become aware of them, so we can learn the lessons and keep on moving. Set your sights on ways to grow. Growth as a person, a mentor, a leader. We all have untapped capacity that can only be realized by stretching outside of our normal day-to-day habits and beliefs.

Go for it!

[reminder]Share ways you have recently pursued growth in your own life.[/reminder]

If you’d like to talk about this idea, just let me know some times that work for you. Click HERE

Disclaimer & Attribution: Portions of this text are attributed to Dov Gordon. Dov is a friend and fellow coach/teacher. Check out his blog too.

 
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