Develop Your Leadership

Be An Explorer, Not A Tourist

I was in Bali in June last year, chasing some much-needed sun in the midst of the dark New Zealand winter. I took a surfboard with me, of course. Like about one million other people who had the same idea that I did.

I’d never surfed in Bali before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. When I arrived at the beach on that first day, the swell was up, and it looked pretty awesome. Except for one thing: there were around 100 other surfers in the water, spread across the break like ants that had discovered a honey-smothered piece of toast on the ground.

I sat on the beach, feeling heavy in my chest, wondering how I was going to have a good time out there. I’d almost resigned myself to paddling out and being surfer #101, when out of the corner of my eye, I spotted another sweet looking break about 400 metres down the beach. Except that this one had only two people on it. Curiosity piqued, I picked up my board, wandered as slyly as I could down the beach, and paddled out.

It was perfect. The three of us spent a couple of hours riding countless waves that we had all to ourselves, while just down the beach the hoards were all bunched together on top of each other, fighting for a spot in the lineup. We couldn’t believe it. We kept joking to each other “shhh, don’t talk too loud, they might see us!”

Afterward, I got to thinking that it’s all too easy to go with the herd. Especially when you find yourself in a new situation. You can think: “well, that’s what seems to be the go around here. These people must know what they’re doing, so I’ll do that too.”

It’s the Tourist mindset versus the Explorer mindset. The Tourist follows the crowd. The Explorer watches what the crowd is doing and then makes up their own mind about whether they want to follow the crowd or not. The Tourist’s agenda is to tick the box. The Explorer’s agenda is to discover. The Tourist’s main concern is to stay safe (“don’t get lost, Myrtle!”) while the Explorer’s main concern is to create an interesting experience.

We have both mindsets available to us all the time, of course. The tourist mindset is useful to help us scope things out. But if we want to forge new and better ways, it’s not enough.

I reckon our world has too many Tourists and not enough Explorers. It’s too easy to accept ‘what is’, even though ‘what is’ is clearly not working as well as it could be. Explorers find new ways, show them to others, and help other Tourists tap into their inner Explorer.

Where in your life are you being too much of a Tourist, when you could be more of an Explorer? What would happen if you chose to dial up your Explorer?

Here are three ways to tap your inner Explorer:

  1. Do one thing each day that scares you (thanks, Eleanor Roosevelt)
  2. Ask yourself “what’s the normal routine around here?” and do the opposite (e.g. if you usually have meetings where everyone sits down, make it a standing meeting. Call it an experiment).
  3. Hang out with other Explorers. They’re infectious.

Back to my surf session. Maybe there were rules that I didn’t know about. Maybe the first spot I went to was known as ‘the place’ to surf in the area, and that’s where the cool people go. Maybe the spot I ended up surfing at was full of taboos and stories about the bad things that will happen if you surf there. Who knows? What I know is that I had a great, memorable surf and I felt the better for it.

Sometimes you need to separate yourself from the herd.

 

Photo: Digby Scott

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Are you a Change Maker? The next intake of my Change Makers programme is on 4 May 2017. Learn more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Other…

Where my driveway ends at the footpath, there are two high walls on either side. So, when I drive my car out, I can’t see who might be walking along, or maybe flying past on their skateboard. So I deliberately slow down and gently nudge the front of my car out beyond the walls, so whoever might be coming can have time to adjust.

As I did this today, I realised that it’s a great metaphor for relationships. We can so often be focused on our own stuff that we forget others are dealing with their stuff too. To pay more attention to ‘the other’ as we go about our daily lives is a quality I think we can all develop. Otherwise, we might cause some unintended damage.

What’s your circuit breaker to be more mindful of ‘the other’?

 

Photo: Asphalt Heritage

 

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Are you a Change Maker? The next intake of my Change Makers programme is on 3 March 2017. Learn more.

 

How To Be Curious

The late novelist David Foster Wallace tells a wonderful story about ‘incuriosity’ in his commencement speech This Is Water:

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

We can all be blind, at times, to the world around us. We might think we know how stuff works, what drives our people, that we’ve got the solution to the problems. But do we really?

A team of organisational development (OD) professionals was tasked with helping the senior leaders of their organisation to have better and more frequent ‘talent conversations’ with their people. The OD team, convinced of the value of this activity, spent months developing easy-to-use tools and frameworks to help the leaders. But they struggled to get any traction. It took another few months of trying to adapt the tools to make them even better, until someone asked: “wait a minute, do these leaders even want to have talent conversations?”

The answer was a resounding ‘no’. The OD team had assumed that the leaders were keen, but in fact, they were terrified. Not because they didn’t know how. But because they saw the conversations with these ambitious people as creating a threat to their own job security.

This is a case of not seeing the water you’re swimming in. When you’re so close to your own perceptions of how the world works, you can forget to ask the bigger questions that really matter. Knowledge overwhelms curiosity.

There’s a correlation between the amount of knowledge you think you have and the amount of curiosity you demonstrate. fMRI research suggests it looks like this:

curiousity-knowledge-model-1

When there’s a gap between what you think you know, and what you think could be known, you’re curious.

Let’s break it down a little more:

curiousity-knowledge-model-2

When you have no knowledge of something, there’s nothing to be curious about. Think of the young fish in the water. That’s ignorance.

When the old fish swims by, you start to get curious. What’s he talking about? That’s wonderance.

When you realise you’ve actually learned something new, when you ‘see the water’, you can apply that knowledge to your world. That’s confidence.

When you think you know everything, you think there’s nothing to be curious about. You know it all, right? That’s arrogance.

In a world that values answers, it’s tempting to rush towards the right-hand end. Ryan Holiday, the author of The Obstacle is the Way, says when your ego gets bigger than your ears, your curiosity starts to die.When people keep calling you superman, soon enough you start to believe you are.

The trick is to stay curious at all times. To stay in that place between wonderance and confidence. Know what you know, and be humble about it. In a world where yesterday’s solutions are less effective at solving today’s problems, those who can stay curious will help us create new ways forward.

Transportation expert Wanis Kabbaj is a good example. He’s been trying to solve the increasingly huge traffic problems that rapid urbanisation presents us with. He asked: “what if traffic flowed through our streets as smoothly and efficiently as blood flows through our veins?” By simply asking that question, and being in ‘wonderance’, he’s taken our thinking in a new direction that just might yield new solutions. Check out his TED talk on that here.

Fortunately, we aren’t fish. If we choose, we can see the water. We’re born with an innate sense of curiosity: that strong desire to know and learn. Unlike other living things, we’re wired to ask “why?”

Curiosity is one of the critical meta-skills for interesting times. When your tried-and-true methods don’t work like they used to, then it’s time to dial up your curiosity. If you want to reinvent how things happen in your world, your starting point is curiosity.

Here are six ways to upgrade your curiosity:

  1. Expand Your Mind: Read and listen outside of your usual bubble. Subscribe to podcasts that cover a wide range of subjects, like NPR’s TED Radio Hour. Go into a new agent and buy magazines that you wouldn’t usually read. Sign up to Blinkist to absorb 15-minute book summaries in written and audio format.
  2. Expand Your Experience: Get yourself out of your comfort zone. Walk a different way to work. Hang out with people who think differently to you. Visit a new country each year. Go test yourself.
  3. Ask Better Questions: Be like Wanis Kabbaj. Make your default questions “why?” and “what if?” Sound like your three-year-old self.
  4. Cultivate ‘Beginner’s Mind’: Learn something completely new. That could be a new language, a new skill, a new sport. I’ve written about that idea before.
  5. Notice others: (Discreetly) observe someone in a coffee shop or a meeting, and imagine what it might be like to be them.
  6. Notice yourself: Reflect daily on your experiences, and what you made of them. Even just five minutes of journaling a day can help hone your self-curiosity.

Curiosity is the driving force behind human development. More than ever, the world needs you to be curious. Where could that be true for you?

 

Photo: Curious Cows

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Are you a Change Maker? The next intake of my Change Makers programme is on 3 March 2017. Learn more.

Opportunity and Agency

Opportunity abounds. We just need to cultivate our own agency to attract it.

In my MBA class the other night, the students and I were looking at the forces and trends shaping the future of work and careers. The discussion naturally led to what the implications were for them, and how they might act or think differently as a result. Most believed that the trends, while unsettling and disruptive, also presented huge opportunities for how they could positively shape their careers in the years to come.

But, how to capitalise on these opportunities?

On the board, I drew a big circle:
opportunity-and-agency-1

This represents all the opportunities out there.

Then, I drew a smaller circle in the middle:
opportunity-and-agency-2

This represents your agency: your ability to act to attract and capitalise on opportunities.

It’s kind of like Covey’s Circle of Influence. But different.

The point being it is our agency that makes the difference to what opportunities we can see and capitalise on. The more agency you have, the more you can attract, create and act on opportunities.

How do you enhance your own agency?

  1. Understand yourself. Your strengths, talents, passions, drivers. Jim Collins’ Hedgehog Concept is a useful frame here. What are you passionate about? What strengths do you most enjoy using? Use those as a starting filter.
  2. Cultivate a diverse and thriving network to help you identify and shape new ways into opportunities.
  3. Take courageous action. And then do it again. And again.

I think the last point is the key. When I have built a strong sense of agency, it is simply because I have decided to do something. And done it.

And when I have had a strong sense of agency, life feels good. When my sense of agency is diminished, life is harder. To me, that makes it a concept worth paying attention to.

How about you?

 

Are you a Change Maker? The next intake of my Change Makers programme is on 15 December 2016. Learn more.

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A Map To Change

Most people find changing behaviours hard work. Our brain wiring is often set to drive a default pattern of behaviour, and unless we can get a good look at the wiring diagram, we’re going to be playing around in the dark.

Here’s a tool that my clients find really useful to help them change to become more of the person they want to be. If you’re trying to change, but are making less progress than you’d like, try this on for size. I call it the ‘Bigger Me’ tool.

Step 1:

Download and print off the bigger-me-template

It looks like this:

bigger-me

Step 2:

You’ll need some sort of development goal in mind. An idea of the sort of person you want to become. Maybe more influential. Maybe more patient with less competent people. Less dominating in meetings. More confident with senior management. Greater comfort with ambiguity. Pick something that’s important to you. At the top of the template, write down that goal, and the benefits of being that way.

Let’s use the example of ‘being less dominant in meetings’:

Development Map Template Top Shaded

Step 3:

Thinking about your development goal, ask yourself this question:

“If I was operating this way all of the time, what would a ‘fly on the wall’ see me doing?”

In box 1, write down what you’d actually see yourself doing. Be specific. “If I was actually being less dominant, a fly on the wall would see me:

  • Letting others finish their sentences
  • Asking more questions
  • Allowing more silence between my words
  • Giving the chairing role to someone else.”

Write your own answers in box 1.

Development Map Template 1 Shaded

Step 4:

In box 2, write down the mindset you want to have that will allow you to be this way. You could say “What would a ‘fly-in-the-mind’ see me thinking?

  • Everyone has something good to offer
  • What’s most important is for everyone to have their say
  • I’m curious as to where this might lead”.

 

Development Map Template 2 Shaded

Boxes 1 and 2 represent the “bigger you”: the behaviours and mindsets that reflect the more ‘grown-up’ version of you.

 

Step 5:

Now complete the same steps for the left hand side. Start with box 3. The behaviours you want to let go of, or at least ‘dial down’. What would a fly-on-the-wall typically seeing you doing now? In the example, we could have:

  • Talking over the top of people
  • Putting my point of view out there before others
  • Dissecting other’s points of view by finding the holes in their rationale
  • Chairing every meeting

 

Development Map Template 3 Shaded

 

Step 6:

Now complete box 4: the mindset that drives your current behaviour. Example:

  • If we don’t do it my way, it won’t work
  • If I let everyone have their say, I’ll lose control of where I want this to go
  • If I let everyone have their say, we’ll be here all day, and we don’t have time for that

 

Development Map Template 4 Shaded

 

Boxes 3 and 4 represent the ‘smaller you’ – the behaviours and mindsets that represent your current way of operating. Once you’ve completed the first four boxes, you’ll probably be feeling some tension between the smaller you and the bigger you . That’s deliberate and part of the exercise – without discomfort, we don’t change. Sit with it.

 

Step 7:

Come up with at least three things that can help you get into the “right” frame of mind and embody the “right” behaviours (sorry, the pun was there for the taking!) Example:

  • Read this map before every meeting
  • Write down three questions I could ask in the meeting
  • Ask someone else to chair the meeting
  • Do the ‘door framing’ exercise before every meeting

 

Development Map Template 5 Shaded

 

And here’s your completed map:

Development Map Template Example

 

Why does this work?

We’ve all heard the analogy of the iceberg: we only see 10% of what’s really going on (tip of the iceberg / the behaviour) and that the stuff under the waterline (our mindset) is 90% of the total picture. Our thinking drives our behaviour, so we need to map out our thinking, both current and desired, to change our behaviour.

The smaller me / bigger me tension is critical, as it provides the discomfort we all need to get us moving.

Writing down the benefits is another form of motivation to move towards the ‘bigger me’.

Tips for putting it into practice:

  • Print out your completed map and have it easily accessible. Ideally, keep it visible.
  • Give it to your coach, manager or a trusted colleague and ask them to hold you accountable
  • Do a different map for each behaviour you want to change.

 

 

Are you a Change Maker? The next intake of my Change Makers programme is on 15 December 2016. Learn more.

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How To Tip The System

Recently I was working with a group of about 20 people at a residential workshop. It was morning tea time and we were all gathered in a room relishing our caffeine top-ups.

As facilitator, it was my job to keep people on time. I considered how I’d let them all know when it was time for us to move back to the main room. I had a few options:

  1. Quietly walk through the group and tell each and every person individually that it was time to move.
  2. Stand up on a chair and holler to the whole group “it’s time to head back in!”
  3. Find an easier, simpler way to do it with minimal effort.

I experimented with the third way. This is what I did:

I walked to the back of the room, the furthest spot from the door. A couple of people were loitering there. I quietly let them know it was time to move back in to the workshop room. They started moving towards the door, through the crowd.

And what do you know? The rest of the people picked up on this slight shift, and within 30 seconds, everyone was moving back to the room. Job done. No sweat.

This is an example of what I call ‘tipping the system’. Seeing the group as a self-organising system, finding the points in the system that look like they will give you the most leverage for the least effort, and levering those to ‘tip it’.

Let’s look at the other options and their pros and cons.

Option 1: Tell everybody individually. Mechanical management. Inefficient. I would have ensured that everybody got the message, but it would have taken a long time. Meh.

Tip The System 1

Option 2: Stand on the chair. Hero leadership. Disempowering. It would have achieved the outcome, but it makes me the focal point. It sets up a subtle leader / follower dynamic where people can become reliant on me for telling them what to do. Double meh.

Tip The System 2

 

Option 3: Find the tipping points. The way I did it was through a systems lens. My role as ‘leader’ was to tip the system to effect the change I wanted to see. With as little effort as possible.

Tip The System 3

 

This is a micro-example from which the lessons can be applied to more macro situations. Large-scale change initiatives come to mind. Evolving team culture. Getting an idea to go viral.

It’s about seeing and working with the patterns. Similar to how the best surfers learn to read the patterns of the waves and currents, as I’ve written about before.

It’s also about not trying too hard. Here’s a great example of how to get a group of people to organise themselves in a certain way by providing just the merest of instructions:

 

Here are some guidelines for tipping your own system with more grace and less effort:

  1. Define the outcome you’d like to see.
  2. Notice the system that’s at play.
  3. Look for the leverage points.
  4. Lever those points.
  5. Get out of the way.
  6. Notice what happens.
  7. Repeat steps as required.

 

It’s worth noting that the points of leverage will often be a few key influential people. In my example above, the leverage points were the couple of ‘key influential people’ that were standing at the back of the room. Not because of any authority they carried, but simply because of where they were situated in the room.

The key is to adopt an experimental mindset. Be like a scientist. Treat it lightly and don’t force it. Be curious. You can learn more about this approach in my post ‘How To See’.

So, what outcomes are you trying to achieve? What is the nature of the system that’s at play? Where are the leverage points? Get experimenting, then get out of the way and notice what happens.

 

 

 

Meta-Skills For Interesting Times

 

Robert Kennedy Intersting Times 2

“May you live in interesting times.
May you live in an interesting age.
May you live in exciting times.”

This phrase purportedly has it’s origins in China.  Over the past couple of hundred years, its popularity in the western world has tended to peak whenever the world goes into turmoil. I think it’s fair to say that we’re living through interesting times right now.

Some might say the changes and challenges we face in the world today are unprecedented. While that might be true, let’s not get too excited. Back in the day people were saying the same thing. They got through it.

And, if you think about it, the challenges YOU face in your life and times are unprecedented, at least for you. Assuming you’ve only been on the planet this one time, you’re writing your playbook as you go. That takes some doing.

Interesting times test us. They challenge our assumptions and boundaries, and ask us to invent new ways of seeing and living in the world. That goes for whether we are talking about individuals, organisations or whole societies. The work of leadership is to step up to those challenges and create a way through.

There are a few key skills that make the difference to whether we thrive or just merely survive during interesting times. Beyond the technical skills required for specific roles or situations, these are meta-skills that are fast becoming prized in organisations and communities the world over. Savvy companies, particularly in disrupted industries, are looking for, and appointing, leaders who embrace disruption, can connect across diverse demographics and cultures, and are exceptionally curious, open-minded, and courageous.

The World Economic Forum, The Institute for the Future, and futurists such as Bob Johansen have all researched and reported on the types of work skills required for 2020 and beyond. In synthesising their findings, the conclusion is that we need to shift from a world that values Conformity, Competencies and Certainty to one that embraces Curiosity, Connectedness and Courage.

Six C's model v2

 

These are the skills we need to cultivate in ourselves and the people who will help us to navigate these interesting times.

Courage

To act without being assured of success, without needing approval or permission, to experiment, innovate and try new approaches, be agile, and to challenge existing ideas and practices. For more on this, see my post “Do You Need Confidence, or Courage?”

Connection

The ability to seek out and connect meaningfully with a diverse range of people, apply social intelligence, serve others, and to collaborate effectively in a wide array of settings. The ability to deliberately cultivate an effective network  is an essential skill in interesting times.

Curiosity

The insatiable drive to ask questions, learn, unlearn, sit with ambiguity and ‘not knowing’, to step back, critique, and make sense of things objectively, to seek and find deeper meaning in the patterns, and see things from new and different perspectives, to have novel and adaptive thinking. Leonardo Da Vinci was a master of curiosity, which helped to make him one of the most creative people the world has ever known.

What would be the value in having more of these three C’s, both in your organisation and for yourself?

While aspiring to having more of these three C’s, we also need to transcend (but not throw out) another set of C’s:

Certainty

We are wired for certainty. In fact, our brains crave it. Certainty helps us make predictions more confidently, so we can operate in the world without having to use a huge amount of mental resources for each and every activity. In interesting times, the challenge is not to get rid of the need for certainty, but instead to learn to live in paradox: to create certainty while knowing that nothing is certain (besides death and taxes).

Competencies

For a most of the latter half of the 20th century and well into the current one, the default method of thinking about development has been through the lens of competencies i.e. the behaviours and skills you demonstrate. This approach overlooks the fact that our behaviours are guided by our mindsets – the way in which we think and see the world. If we want to thrive in interesting times, we need to move beyond upgrading competencies to also upgrading our thinking. This is known as vertical development. As Einstein said “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Conformity

Like certainty, conformity has its place. We need standards, norms and laws to keep things running smoothly. In interesting times, it is often these norms, and their underlying assumptions, that are being tested. Rather than uphold conformity for it’s own sake, the more useful approach is to get behind the reason for the rule, and explore its usefulness in the current context.

Making It Happen

To cultivate your own three C’s of Courage, Connection and Curiosity, start with these tips:

Three Actions for Building Your Three C's

What Next?

If you’re interested in cultivating more Courage, Connection and Curiosity in your organisation, please get in touch for an interesting conversation to see what we can do together.

And download my latest thinking on how to future-proof your organisation by developing the three C’s in your next generation of leaders: How To Play With Fire – Equip Your Next Generation of Leaders To Deal With Anything

 

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