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"Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless."
Mother Teresa

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Our friends at The McKinsey Quarterly (mckinseyquarterly.com) published a study this month called How Centered Leaders Achieve Extraordinary Results. It is a good read, and although the study has no surprsing results, once again we see the importance of knowing oneself, and especially one’s strengths when leading and connecting with people. (See also Covey, Buckingham & Coffman, Peters, Bock, Senge, Greenleaf, and a host of other leadership writers and researchers over the years)

One of the factors that the McKinsey report highlights is the idea of reframing “challenges constructively, emphasizing opportunities in change and uncertainty.” I was reminded of this important factor this weekend when my brother and his youngest son visited us. In conversation he told me of a line he’d heard; “the sh#& of your past, properly framed, becomes the fertilizer of your future!” (My apologies for the language, but it does make the point!)

All too often we find ourselves not going forward, not taking a risk because we fear a storm of feces from our boss, our colleagues, or even our own internal ‘gremlins.’ How wonderful to imagine the feces as mere fertilizer! Such reframing is challenging, but not impossible. Consistently asking yourself questions like the following will help you work on reframing; what am I learning here? what are some alternatives? if I’m moving too quickly, what slows but does not stop the initiative? what’s the opportunity, what’s the challenge? What do you think (not what your boss or colleague!)? 

Through the ages, the wisest amoung us have counselled us to look at the creativity of the world, the inherent possibilities, the life of opportunity within a context of reality and sometimes pain. As leaders, you and I are to model that persepctive, looking at the feces in our lives as fertilizer is a powerful reframing image for all of us.

In a coaching session this afternoon a client was concerned about the behaviour of another manager and in expressing frustration said, “does s/he not see how ‘stupid’ s/he’s being?” Now, from what the client has said in the past about this other person, I’m sure that neither of these people are ‘stupid’, and in fact my clinet did apologize for using that word. What might be occuring for both of them is a difference in EQ, that is emotional intelligence rather than IQ.

Now the study of EQ, popularized here in North America by Daniel Goleman, has lead to a number of interesting discoveries, one of which is outlined in a report of a study published in the September 2010 Harvard Business Review. (“When Emotional Reasoning Trumps IQ”) Here’s what they found:

“The area of the brain people tend to associate with strategic thought is the prefrontal cortex, known for its role in execuive function. It allows humans to engage in anticipation, pattern recongnition, probability assessment, risk appraisal and abstract thinking….However when we examined the best strategic performers in our sample, we found significantly less neural activity in the prefrontal cortext than in the areas associated with ‘gut’ responses, empathy, and emotional intelligence….In other words, the concsious executive function was downplayed, while regions associated with unconcious emotion operated more freely.”

In short, the best strateic performers in this study were the most adept at the competencies associated with emotional intelligence, including (from Goleman’s work), self awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. Yes, to be the best leaders we can be, we need to manage to a budget and introduce innovative and creative products and processes into our organizations, but vitally, we need also to know ourselves, manage ourselves, work with the feelings and the social networks in our organitions and manage conflict. None of us are ‘stupid.’ Some of miss vital information, be that concrete data, or emotional cues

Last week we explored how to spot a good idea, and as promised, here are some thoughts about the difference between a great idea and a good idea and how to spot a great idea.

First, we’ll define a great idea as a business idea that yeilds material or substantial success by however your company measures success. Or put another way, a great idea, makes a big positive difference for your customers, your employees, and your shareholders/members.

How do we spot a great idea, as opposed to a merely good idea? Well as considered last week, there will be a physical response around the table as people move closer in with anticipation, there will be a shift in volume as people get excited, and there will be action commitments from people around the idea. If it is a great idea, you’ll also likely see/hear:

1. Simplicity, so much so, that you may well think, ‘why didn’t we think of this before?’ For example, a colleague of mine at CUSource has introduced a Virtual Conference for Member Service Reps and Tellers. The very people who we all know are closest to the action, and yet are the least likely in a financial institution to be jetting off to conferences, are suddenly signing up in droves to participate on-line in break out sessions lead by experts from across the country. Why didn’t we think of that before?!
2. Utility (see also “Knowing a Winning Business Idea When You See One” from HBR, September/October 2000), that is, the idea will change the lives of your customers. There are big examples of such great ideas, iPhones, various surgical instruments, and sliced bread, to be only slightly facetious. The test might well be, once launched, will our customers be lost without this product/service if it went away? If the answer is yes, you’ve got a great idea. (Other such tests could be; is it fun?, does it enhance the customer’s image? Does it make life more convenient, simple, or productive?) A ‘yes’ to any of those questions may well mean a great idea.
3. Often vociferous resistance, from people who perceive the idea to be a threat.  Most new ideas will be resisted, but a great idea likely will threaten the status quo, and as the adage goes, ‘the only people who like change are wet babies,’ The initiation or launch of great ideas will result in loud wailing and ganshing of teeth most especially from entrenched leaders and silos within the organization. They may well nod politely in the meetings, but will speak privately with you, cautioning you about the direction. If it is a great idea, you’ll more than likely be having ‘quiet word’ meetings initiated by some of your most senior people, from all levels in the organization. Pay attention to their thinking, but be reminded, the status quo is what gives them power and authority, a great idea, may well be threatening that.

The great ideas in your organization are present right now, the key is to create an environment of trust, innovation and bold steps, and then pay attention to your people. How are they sitting and speaking in meetings? Are they committing to ideas? Are the ideas simple and useful? And is the resistance loud and passionate from the status quo? That is where the great ideas are most likely being nurtured.

Good morning from a brisk but sunny morining in Vancouver. There is a sense of fall around the corner. In conversations with colleagues and clients I hear stories of people getting ready for school and university, and there is a sense, in my neighbourhood anyway, of getting out and about for the last weeks of summer.

Working in a group coaching session yesterday, I had sent the group (as I often do) some questions to prepare for the work. Included was one question that seemed to hit home for the group; ‘what is the most fun you’ve ever had?’ The answers were wonderful and eclectic, and also had some common themes; the most fun was always with company, and was always doing something outside of the norm for the person.

This got me thinking about the relationship between fun and creativity. One of my favorite books of all time is “Orbiting the Giant Hairball” by Gordon MacKenzie (http://www.amazon.com/Orbiting-Giant-Hairball-Corporate-Surviving/dp/0670879835). In it, the late and missed MacKenzie, explores creativity and fun in the workplace and what we can do individually and collectively to foster and rekindle lost creativity. Much of what he says echoes the idea of stepping outside the norm and doing that with company. One of the pieces of the book that struck me in my most recent re-reading of it was a poem by the Sufi mystic Rumi (1207 – 1273), in the opening pages of the book. Read this, and think about your own creativity and the creativity of your team and organization; what’s holding you back?

Wean Yourself

Little by little wean yourself,
This is the jist of what I have to say.

From an embryo whose nourishment comes from the blood,
Move to an infant drinking milk,
To a child on solid food,
To a searcher after wisdom,
To a hunter of more invisible game.

Think of how it is to have a conversation with an embryo.
You might say “the world outside is vast and intricate,
There are wheatfields and mountain passes,
And orchards in bloom.

At night there are millions of galaxies and in sunlight,
The beauty of friends dancing at a wedding.”

You ask the embryo why he or she stays cooped up
in the dark with eyes closed.
                        Listen to the answer    

There is no “other world.”
I only know what I’ve experienced.
You must be hallucinating.

            Rumi

Good morning, and my apologies for not sending out a Leadership Notes last week. My mother-in-law died, and it was important to be with my wife and her family over the past week or so.

I must admit to being exhausted after the past number of days, and am reminded of a recent piece I read on line at Harvard Business Review. The piece, published on Labour Day, explored “emotional labour”, the hard work we leaders (and many others) do everyday managing our own emotions in order to support others, to move untried ideas forward when there is doubt, or keeping frustrations inside. The challenge is of course that while we may not be physically working very hard (lifting boxes or hammering nails), those of us in leadership positions are exhausting ourselves emotionally as we listen with empathy to the employee who has come in late for the third time this week, and all the while knowing that reaching across the desk to strangle them is not good management behaviour.

I have two suggestions for dealing with the chronic results of emotional labour like exhaustion and irritablity. One, find a confidante; someone who knows your business or your position, but is not inside the organization. And I want to stress, this is not to be your partner or spouse. S/he does not need to hear your complaints about your day everyday. Talk with this confidante about how you feel, and don’t necessarily worry about “fixing” things, simply vent. Secondly, find a way to physically release the emotions; watch a sad movie for example, or listen to music that moves you emotionally. Or watch a funny movie, or tell yourself a joke. (My wife and I found reciting limericks made us laugh out loud this week in preparing for situations where we needed to  keep our emotions in check.) I can also attest to the value of exercise; go for a run, or a walk and compete against yourself, or pay a team sport where you can safely engage with the ‘thrill of victory, or the agony of defeat.’ Such actions will not only help physically, they will help release the emotions.

More and more of our work requires emotional labour, finding ways of releasing the resulting pressure will ensure we are able to keep doing what we love that much better.

Returning from Toronto a week or so ago, I was watching the new documentary about the Rolling Stones recording Exile on Main Street. One of the most interesting moments was listening to the recording engineer, who spoke of how he would sit for hours, as the musicians would play around and riff on various ideas, and then he’d notice Keith Richards look directly at Charlie Watts on drums, and then Bill Wyman would move his base ot a particular angle, and that was ‘the moment’, the engineer would reach over and press the “record” button; something was brewing.

I’m curious about how do we spot good ideas? I think that the recording engineer offers a good insight, there is something physical that occurs when you and I see/hear a good idea, and a crucial competence for leaders is to spot those moments. Here are things to watch for in your team to help you spot a good idea:

1. There will be a shift in the physical responses of people. The late Canadian boradcasting and cable entrepreneur Ted Rogers spoke of watching the heads of the engineers, if a critial mass of engineers were nodding their heads, he would buy in. Watch too for people moving from leaning back in their chairs, hands behind their heads, and then moving forward in their chairs to speak; they’ve likely been imagining while they were leaning back.
2. There will be a shift in the volume of the conversation. Excited people will often speak more loudly and quickly. Pay attention to the volume and the speed of speech on the team.
3. Listen for action commitments; the best ideas will often have a champion, or even a few champions offering to take on various parts of the next steps in the development; they see the idea as something they want to be part of, and so offer their own commitment to the work.

If ideas don’t get these physical responses, especially if they are your ideas, they are more than likely not good ideas. Best to leave them be. If they are getting these physical responses, move them to the next step. Always remember though, even good ideas are sometimes not the best ideas. Even though Exile on Main Street was a ‘double album’ when it was released in 1972, the reissue in May of 2010 had 10 new tracks, based on recordings made at the time that didn’t make the cut. The engineer had pressed “record” at the time, but that didn’t mean the idea was destined to see the light of day. Part of our jobs as leaders is to spot the difference between a good idea and a great idea. More on that next week…