What Are Your Tentacles?

Octopus

Recently, I wrote about ‘Brules’. Brules are the rules you invent that stop you from doing what you really want.

Something else that can hold you back is what I call ‘tentacles’. Tentacles are the things that just make it harder to get the good stuff done. They suck onto you, causing heaps of friction, and they slow you right down.

Tentacles burn time, attention and energy. They’re things like:

  • The to-ing and fro-ing of emails, or endless phone tag
  • The effort it takes to arrange meetings with the five people you need to contact to get something signed off
  • The to-do list you create for yourself at the end of a meeting, to be done sometime in the future.
  • The meetings you feel you need to attend but add no value to you or others.

I started thinking about tentacles as I’d been doing a ‘Hell Yeah’ Audit,  and was noticing that some of the work I’ve said ‘yes’ to in the past has felt so effortless. And some other work (thankfully not much) felt like it could have been a lot easier. I reckon that’s because that work had some tentacles on it. Way too many planning meetings, phone calls and email to get to where we needed to get to. Lack of clarity. Unclear priorities. Lurchy, messy, slow, frustrating. Blah.

When I do my best work, it doesn’t have tentacles on it. And I bet it’s the same for you. For example, over the past few months, I’ve been running a series of coaching conversations workshops for a client. Yesterday the client gave me feedback that I was very low maintenance to deal with, and that things just seemed to be on rails. I put that down to being explicitly clear at the outset about how things were going to run, automating the things that made sense to be automated, and nailing clear roles and responsibilities. Admin was minimised, and we were all focused on delivering the outcomes we wanted in the most effective way possible.

It was a joy to do the work. I was playing to my strengths, my client was happy, and participants got what they came for (and more). Nice.

Tentacles arise because of the choices we make. The choices we make arise from the way we think. Tentacles love a fuzzy mindset.

If you’re not clear about what you want, the way you can best add value, and what your boundaries are, the tentacles will inevitably find a way to suck on.

How To ‘Detentacle-ise’

Existing Tentacles: the ones that you already have to deal with.

  1. Audit. Do a ‘Hell Yeah Audit’. For the commitments that don’t make the ‘Hell Yeah’ grade, go to the next step.
  2. Prune: Your job here is to get rid of the tentacles as effectively as you can. Categorise them:
    1. Do: Some you might just need to do now, and be done with them. Make it fast. Move on.
    2. Delegate: Some tentacles rightly live with someone else. Have the conversations you need to have to hand them over.
    3. Renegotiate: Some tentacles might have some flex in them around their urgency or level of detail required. Ask the question.
    4. Dump: Some tentacles just don’t need any attention. Dump them.

(If you recognise these ‘D’s, you’ll know they’re derived from Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done work).

Incoming Tentacles: the ones that will suck on to you at the next opportunity.

  1. Think about what sort of tentacles might ensnare you. Decide what your priorities, boundaries and offers will be. Know what you will say and do when they rear their head. Remember, ‘No’ is not enough.
  2. Be vigilant for tentacles. If you’ve done your homework, you’ll spot them a mile off and be ready when they try to latch on.
  3. When a tentacle arises, get on the front foot. Make it clear how you’ll play. Do it in service of effective outcomes, and you’ll usually find the other party will agree.

Earlier this week, I had a client ask to book a planning meeting for an upcoming workshop I’ll be running in a couple of months. Rather than try to find a clear time, I suggested we do it immediately following an earlier workshop I’m running with her next week, while we’re in the same room together. She agreed immediately – it was the obvious and easiest solution. No tentacles there!

Tentacles slide off with a healthy, assertive dose of priorities and boundaries. Get clear on yours and get rid of those tentacles!

 

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No Is Not Enough

Want to get more traction with less friction? Here’s an idea that could be useful.

Let’s start with a couple of pretty common scenarios:

In a workshop this week, participants were discussing the challenge of making their next career move happen. I asked one of the participants what she thought she wanted in her next role. She automatically rattled off the things she didn’t want: a boss she didn’t connect with, a toxic culture, too many deliverables, messy politics, and having to deal with lawyers. When I pressed her on what she did want, she struggled for a coherent answer.

I’ve been working with an organisation that has what I’d call a ‘fire-fighting’ culture. The managers I dealt with seem to burn most of their energy on making short-term problems go away, rather than creating long-term, sustainable solutions. While they got a great adrenaline fix from being the ‘fixers’, they were generally exhausted (perhaps from the adrenaline addiction?) and reported that each year seemed more like last. Meanwhile, the organisation’s agenda was stalling.

In both situations, the people gave their attention to the stuff that is easiest to focus on (the problems) but the most distracting to making real change happen. In essence, they focused more on making problems go away, and less on creating what they truly wanted.

If we don’t like our job, we can rant and rave, blame the boss, and say “No, I don’t like the conditions, the stress, or the pay.” But it won’t get us anywhere in the long run.

If we don’t like the direction our organisation is heading in, we can rant and rave, blame the senior leadership, and say “No, that’s a crazy direction to be going in!” But it won’t get us anywhere in the long run.

If we don’t like things about the community we’re living in, we can rant and rave, blame the council, and say “No, that’s not what I want here. It should be better than this! Lift your game!” But, nope, it won’t get us anywhere in the long run.

In any of the above scenarios, you might feel better for a short while, but are you moving any closer to what you really want?

The problem with just saying ‘No’ is that we’re pushing away from what we don’t want. We stay stuck in a cyclical limbo pattern, with the problem disappearing for perhaps a little while, but inevitably reappearing some time, in some familiar form, very soon in the future.

There’s a saying in sport that ‘where you focus is where you go’. When I’m riding my mountain bike on a rocky trail, I find that I’m faster, and less likely to crash if I keep my focus on the trail ahead beyond the rocks. I focus on the scary rocks right in front of me, I tend to slow down, bounce over them, and lose my rhythm.

Naomi Klein’s latest book is called No Is Not Enough. It’s all about the rise of Trumpism and how to defeat the new shock politics. I’m not going to get into the themes of the book here, but I do think it’s worth highlighting the idea behind the title. Which is this:  if we want something to change, saying ‘No’ is not enough. We also need something else to say ‘Yes’ to. It’s not enough to know what you don’t want. You also need to know what you do want.

No Is Not Enough Pic.001

Unless we’ve defined what we do want, we get no real change. We need to create a compelling, pulling-towards force that leaves us no choice but to move towards it.

Robert Fritz, in his seminal book The Path of Least Resistance, says the hardest question in the world to answer is “what do I want?” It’s easier to say what we don’t want, but it’s a lot harder to decide on, and ask for, what we truly, deeply, desire.

Here’s a little exercise you can try. Think of a situation you’re less-than-satisfied with, and perhaps feeling a bit stuck in. Get a piece of paper and create two columns. On the left-hand side, write down everything you don’t like about it. Go on, make it a big catharsis. Now, on the right-hand side, write down the specifics of what you do actually want to have happen instead.

Now read down each column. Which one gives you more positive energy? My guess is the right-hand side. Choose one or two of those items, and put your efforts into making those happen.

My prediction? You’ll get more traction, less friction, and have a lot more fun in the process.

roger_screws_up

 

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It’s Bigger Than You

Shaun Tan The Red Tree Snail Shell

 

Whatever you’re working on now, it’s bigger than that.

Whatever your plans are for the next twelve months, it’s bigger than them.

Whatever your job title, your profession, your organisation, your industry.

It’s bigger than all of them.

The poet David Whyte says what you can plan is too small for you to live.

Your goals, your plans, your sense of belonging. It’s bigger than all of them.

So, what is it?

 

Artwork by Shaun Tan, from his book The Red Tree.

 

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What are your Brules?

Railway Lines

Rules. We live by them. We need them, actually. Otherwise, we’d be overloaded with decisions. Like having to think about which way to veer when we meet a car coming the other way on the road. Sticking to the left is a useful rule.

Some rules are not so useful. Some rules limit us too much, sometimes to the point where we feel like we have no choice, and we go on autopilot, blindly accepting that ‘that’s just the way things are’, as if we were a train, and the rules were rails.

Like the ‘rule’ that you need to have a permanent job to have a secure income. Like the ‘rule’ that you get four weeks holiday a year. Like the ‘rule’ that Christmas should always be spent with extended family.

All rules are invented. We can uninvent them too. Or rewrite them to suit our needs better.

A few years ago, we broke the Christmas rule. We’d traditionally gone by the ‘rule’ that we had to spend Christmas day with extended family, either hosting Christmas lunch or going to another family member’s place. That’s what you do, right? But in the lead up to the big day, we’d often feel unwanted stress. We’d sometimes look at each other and go “this is turning into a circus. That wasn’t what we wanted!”

One year, we decided to do something quite different. Eleven days before Christmas, we went camping on a remote beach three hours drive away from home with two other families that were good friends of ours. We had the place to ourselves, the sun shone every day, and we were sleeping under the stars. The day before Christmas, we went into the local town, and bought locally caught crayfish, prawns and champagne. Christmas Day was spent just like the preceding eleven days, kicking back on the beach, hanging in the hammock, casually enjoying the fruits of our shopping trip the day before. We were so relaxed we were horizontal.

It was one of the best Christmas Days I’ve ever had (as a grown-up).

The next day, Boxing Day, we packed up. During the morning, the hoardes of holiday makers gradually seeped in and filled the surrounding area that had been completely empty the day before. By lunch, the place was teeming. With a quiet smugness, we drove against the flow of the streaming traffic, back to our ‘normal’ lives, completely revitalised.

Some rules are what Vishen Lakhiani, founder of Mindvalley, calls ‘Brules’, or ‘Bullshit Rules’. They’re the belief systems that are too rigid, outmoded, or just plain false. They’re ripe to be tested, rewritten or perhaps thrown out altogether.

We all have them, and so do our organisations.

What are your Brules?

What will you do with them?

Bonus activity: test your Brules with the Nine Dots challenge

 

Photo: Pexels.com

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Write It Down

 

Journal1 (1).jpg

One of my three notebooks.

 

Fresh ideas are powerful currency. New thinking can lead to renewed energy to tackle gnarly issues. Flashes of insight can spur new actions and new results. When you want to make change happen, your ideas are the starting point.

And, for most of us, life is super-busy. It flies by like your view from a rushing train. Ideas appear, and in the blink of an eye, they can quickly zoom out of view again, lost to us, as we fly ever onwards down the track.

The good thing is that we have this amazing technology available to us to help us capture those ideas as they emerge before they rush past and visit some other passenger further down the line. And that technology is cheap and easy to use. It’s called pen and paper.

If you write an idea down, the more likely you are able to do something with it.

There’s actually a bit of a debate about whether writing stuff down helps or not. Some research asserts that it helps us remember the important stuff. and it contributes strongly to our wellbeing. On the other hand, reaching as far back as Plato’s day, there’s a line of argument saying that note taking makes us lazy. I reckon it’s the wrong debate. Like all good practices, it’s about your intention behind the doing. Let’s look at that a bit more.

To my mind, there are two basic types of ‘writing down’. Taking notes, and creating ideas.

Taking notes (of a conversation, a lecture, or making a shopping list) is good for ‘storage’ purposes. It’s akin to taking a photo of an interesting slide you see at a conference, or grabbing an online article and adding it to Evernote. You’re grabbing the content, but you’re not really thinking too hard about it. You simply do it so you can retrieve it later. It gives your brain a break from having to remember everything and helps you stay organised.

The other purpose of writing down is to serve a creative process. Isaac Asimov said, “writing is simply thinking through my fingers.” The act of picking up a pen with the intention of “thinking through my fingers” forces your brain to work harder. You have to think about what you want to say or create. In that creative process, you bring into being something new.

My blogs are my creative ideas written down. I’ve had to think about what I want to say, and how I want to say it. The process of writing creates both the form and the substance of something new.

Leonardo Da Vinci is generally regarded as the epitome of what it means to be curious, and I suspect that was enhanced by his propensity to ‘write it down’. He carried a notebook with him everywhere and wrote down anything that moved him. For example, here’s one of one of his to-do lists that would put most of us to shame.

Here are a couple of ways I apply these ideas:

Notebooks: I carry three notebooks around with me: one for taking notes of client conversations, one for my daily to-do lists, and one for capturing and developing my own occasional flashes of brilliance and insight. I also have one in my car’s centre console, so when I’m listening to podcasts, I can write down ideas that grab me (when I’m stopped at the lights of course!) I’m always writing in some form or another.

Insights and Actions Log: In my workshops, I have participants use an ‘insights and actions’ log to capture relevant ideas as they arise. It’s simply an A4 piece of paper with a line drawn down the middle. The left-hand column is called ‘Insights’, and that’s for the ideas. The right-hand column is called ‘Actions’ and that’s for writing down what they are going to do with the ideas. Because an idea is more useful if you act on it in some way.

Ideas are everywhere. The trick is to capture them so you can use them.

Sound like a good idea? Great. Write it down.

 

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Ask Four Questions

 

Do you want feedback about you when you’re at your best? Are you wondering how you can make a difference to others in the most authentic way? Then read on.

Getting honest feedback helps you to grow your self-awareness, and better understand what you are all about.

Ask the following four questions to you get a sense of what people see as the best, most authentic ‘you’. Choose people who know you well, and you trust to give you honest, constructive feedback. Try to get feedback from at least five people.

  1. What’s the first thing you think of when you think of me?
  2. When have you seen me at my best?
  3. What do you think are my greatest strengths?
  4. What do you think are my greatest accomplishments?

I ask these questions to trusted colleagues, clients and friends every couple of years. I find the answers I get incredibly useful to calibrate my own self-perception and help me to make the most of my strengths.

You’ll notice that there are no questions about weaknesses or things you should do to improve. That’s not the point of this exercise. This is about identifying the best, most authentic you.

It’s useful to ask people to reply in an email, and then you can cut-and-paste the replies into a table. This may help you easily identify the patterns and themes across the answers.

You can use this template to help you capture and make sense of the answers you get.

Go well!

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Lead With Questions

Last week, I was reminded of the awesome, and underutilised power of leading with questions.

Questions Leverage.001

A colleague and I spent two days together with a group of up-and-coming leaders. They’re an energised, talented group, hungry to learn and to make an impact on their organisation. A joy to work with.

As facilitators, my colleague and I had a bunch of ideas for what we could have done with them over those two days.We had a run plan. There were certain leadership topics we thought we’d cover with them, and we had the content and activities ready to go.

And, we chose to lead things off with some questions. Questions that we thought would stimulate thinking, connection, and insight. So in the morning session of the first day, we kicked off with this slide:

Workshop Framing QuestionsNow, we thought these might take us an hour to discuss. We spent over two. The conversation was rich, unhurried and thought-provoking. You could feel the engagement in the room. The organisation had been going through a tough few months, and we soon realised that the group had a strong need to make sense of what was going on. If we’d tried to rush it and stick to the run plan, I think we’d have lost the group. Anything we’d tried to teach or tell them would have washed over them. They weren’t ready to engage with new content just yet.

We followed that first slide with this one:

Workshop Framing Questions 2

 

These questions caused a shift in focus from ‘out there’ (environment) to ‘in here’ (self). There was a quieter, more reflective mood in the room, with the conversation unearthing what was most important for people to work on in their leadership. Leading up to lunch, the group were grounded, oriented to the future, and ready to do work together.

After lunch, we framed the rest of our time together with this slide:

Workshop Framing Questions 4

From that point, we were away. Everything we did came back to that question. We covered lots of territory, including leadership culture, leadership networks, deep listening, uncovering assumptions, and influence. My colleague and I taught some stuff, but mostly the leaders learned from each other. By the end of our time together, this diverse group had a) real ownership for leading a range of organisational issues, and b) developed deep connection and support across the group to make it happen. The catalyst was a handful of deliberate, thought-provoking questions.

So what’s this all about?

I’ve noticed that most leaders (and trainers, for that matter) generally still live in a world of ‘tell’. The need to have the answers, be the expert, show the way. Setting the agenda and driving through the “stuff”. That’s fine in some contexts, like when the answers are obvious, or you can rely on what worked in the past to work in the future. But of course, that’s increasingly unlikely when you’re expected to lead in a world where old blueprints need to be thrown out and new approaches invented. As I’ve written about before, we need a more curious approach.

In this context, there’s huge power in letting go of the need to tell, and instead shifting to asking questions. This requires a reframing of what it means to be a leader. A move away from being ego-centric. A move to towards other-centric (whether ‘other’ be another person, group or the system you’re in).

Here are some ideas about how you can lead with questions:

  1. Determine your intent. What is it that you want to occur during the conversation, and afterwards? I find it useful to break it down into “Think, Feel, Do”. What do you want people to think about? What do you want them to feel? What would you love to see them do?” Your answers to these questions will shape everything that follows.
  2. Frame your role. Imagine two roles: Teller and Asker. Given your intent, what percentage of your time do you think you need to spend in each? Hint: allow more time for asking than you’re comfortable with.
  3. Decide on the questions. These, of course, will depend on your intent. I find powerful questions have the following in common:
  • You can’t possibly know the answer beforehand (so you have to be the “naive inquirer”)
  • They’re not easy to answer
  • They raise awareness
  • The provide a focal point
  • They generate possibility
  • They generate responsibility and ownership
  • They tend to start with ‘What’, ‘How’ or ‘Why’

Notice how the examples above have some or all of these elements.

So, here’s a challenge for you: over the next week, pay attention to how often you choose to lead with questions versus “telling”. Perhaps get yourself a ‘spotter’ to give you feedback on how you’re doing. When you ask a question where in the past you’d probably jump to giving an answer, notice what happens as a result.

 

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