Develop Your Leadership

Give ‘Em A Reason To Be Curious

Laser Focus

 

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men and women to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

 

Confession time. Once upon a time, I was a manager. In my first big management role, I was responsible for the NZ operations of a global recruitment company. At the relatively young age of 30, inexperienced and over-confident, I threw myself into the job. And with scant mentoring support in place to guide me, I soon burned out. Big time.

The next few months were a mess, as I tried to make sense of my future. Confidence through the floor, I knew I didn’t want to go back into management, but I didn’t know what I wanted. My wheels were spinning. Frustration reigned!

Looking for guidance, I began to have a few coffees with people. One particular fellow suggested I didn’t need a coffee, I needed a lightning bolt. Cutting through my restless confusion, he asked me a simple question: “How can you make it easier for other first-time managers to succeed?”  Boom! The flame that had died was re-ignited. That question was the catalyst I needed. It focused me on something that meant a huge deal to me personally. For the next ten years, I relentlessly pursued that question, building a highly successful business around it.

My story is an example of purpose igniting curiosity. When we take a big question and link it to a meaningful purpose, we get an energy boost that kicks us into focused, productive action.

 

Only if we know why we are doing something, can we master the great challenges of our time.

Jakob Futorjanski, co-founder and CEO of NeuroNation

 

You know it from your own experience, right? When your work is purposeful, you’re way more satisfied. When you work for a purpose-driven organisation, it doesn’t feel as much like hard work. When you’re pursuing a question that has deep meaning for you, you’re more likely to come up with elegantly simple solutions to complex problems.

Purpose empowers curiosity. When your curiosity is driven by a sense that ‘this is really important to me’, then you’re more likely to sustain and pursue it, even when the going gets tough. As the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “He who knows why can ensure any how.”

A couple of posts ago, we looked at the different pathways to unleashing curiosity. Here’s the idea:

Leading Curiosity 2x2.005Purpose is smack-bang in the middle. It’s your core ingredient to make curiosity come alive.

  • Purpose makes it safer to be curious because it dials up the energy to overcome fear. As I’ve written about before, when you cultivate a sense of conviction, you build the foundation for courageous action
  • Purpose helps curiosity become more focused by giving all that restless energy a direction to go (just like in my story)
  • Purpose enables curiosity to be more known because it lights up glimpses of potential through the fog.

 

How To Grow Curiosity With Purpose

Great leadership enables people to navigate uncertainty. People thrive in uncertainty when they pursue their questions through deliberate, purposeful experiments. One of the most important things you can do is to help people find and maintain a sense of purpose in their work that gives them a) a question to pursue, and b) a way to pursue it.

In my Change Makers programme, each participant has a core task to discern their ‘big question’. Their big question focuses their restless change-making energy towards something meaningful and motivating over the long-term. Some examples of participants’ big questions include:

  • How can we make workplaces more human?
  • What opportunities does the rise of AI present in my industry, and how can we tap them?
  • What if people took complete responsibility for the situations they found themselves in?
  • How can I contribute to developing the next generation of leaders?

You can see that they’re not small questions, right? The very scale of these questions taps curiosity and asks people to consider new possibilities.

A big question:

  • is meaningful and relevant to people’s real work
  • is hard to answer (you can’t just Google it)
  • engages the heart, not just the head (it generates excitement)
  • ignites curiosity (more questions come from the big question)
  • focuses attention
  • creates movement and action

So, frame a big question for your people to explore. Ask people what big questions they would love to tackle at work. And watch the energy rise.

To unleash curiosity, there is no better lever than purpose.

 

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Unleashing Curiosity

In my last post, we looked at three levels of curious cultures, from ”anaemic’ to electric’. Now let’s begin to have a look at what it takes to move towards, and sustain, a truly electric culture of curiosity.

I reckon a key tension that people face at work is the tension between the need to deliver and the need to discover. The need to deliver on promises and obligations, and the need to discover new ways of doing things. Both are important, yet they can pull us in opposing directions.leading-curiosity-2x2-002.jpeg

Faced with this dilemma, most people will reduce the tension by choosing to operate at the ‘deliver’ end. That’s where tangible results live, and what you’ll be most recognised and rewarded for.  Meet your KPI’s, and you’ll be OK.  You’ll be safe. And you’ll probably be bored senseless after awhile.

Others like being right down at the ‘discover’ end, where it’s all about ideas and nothing about implementation. You might find these folks in the hallowed halls of academia, or perhaps they’re that frustrating ‘ideas person’ you work with that never seems to deliver on anything.

Usually, we find ourselves somewhere in between. Well, you can only walk a tightrope when there’s some tension in it. So you might as well learn to work with the tension. Let’s have a play with that idea:

First, what if we bent that line ninety degrees? And then threw a few labels in?

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And then, we mapped the essence of the barriers into those boxes?

Leading Curiosity 2x2.004

In other words:

  • If there’s too much emphasis on deliver, it makes it unsafe to discover
  • If there’s too much focus on discover, people can get unfocused, and less productive than they need to be.
  • If people aren’t delivering OR discovering, it’s a big ‘unknown‘, because we have no idea what they’re capable of.
  • And in the top right, let’s call that unleashed, because when you combine delivery and discovery directed towards productive curiosity, you’re unleashing something mighty powerful.

 

With a map like this, we’d be able to break the challenge down more easily, right? We’d be able to map our people across this matrix. We’d begin to have a better idea of how we could help our people unleash their curiosity.

 

“Fear is always triggered by creativity because creativity asks you to enter into the realms of uncertain outcome.”

Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

What does it take?

I’ve found that organisations with the most electric cultures, where curiosity is truly unleashed, deliberately focus on creating these three conditions:
  1. Permission: people feel they’re able to be openly curious
  2. Progress: people can put their curiosity into action, and see different results
  3. Purpose: people have a sense of why curiosity matters around here.

Just like a fire needs oxygen, heat, and fuel to burn, so too does curiosity need all three of these elements to light up.

If you mapped those three P’s to our matrix, it’d look something like this. Each P drives people towards unleashing their curiosity:

leading-curiosity-2x2-005-e1523570782138.jpeg

In essence:

  • When curiosity is unsafe, make it safer for people by giving them explicit permission.
  • When curiosity is unfocused, make it easier for people to apply their curiosity towards productive outcomes by helping them take action on it
  • And at all times with all people, give curiosity purpose by helping people to understand why it’s so important.

A quick self-check:

  • Which parts of the matrix do your people fall into?
  • Which of the three P’s of Permission, Progress and Purpose do you think you’re strongest at as a leader?
  • Which one of the three P’s could you dial up a little more?

In the next post, we’ll dive into each of the three P’s and look at what you can do to bring them to life.

 

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Cultivating Curiosity

 

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How do you cultivate more curiosity at work?

As curiosity trends toward becoming a highly valued commodity, I’ve been curious about what it takes to be more than a word on a wall in the organisational values chart. So, with my curious hat on, I set about seeking some answers:

  • A few weeks ago, I polled my brains trust (aka my LinkedIn network) and asked them “what do you think the main barriers are to curiosity at work?”
  • A couple of weeks ago, I ran a workshop on leading curiosity with about 50 leaders from a diverse range of organisations where we explored what it takes to create more curious cultures.
  • And of course, I read my brains out trying to get a sense of what it takes to make curiosity happen at work, and why it matters.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. Curiosity is the driving force behind creativity and innovation. If we want learning, and if we want to create change, we need to start by cultivating a sense of curiosity about a possible different and better future. That’s why it matters. The Merck Group has done some really useful research into what happens when you cultivate curiosity. In essence, the more curiosity, the more ideas, and the more chance of breakthroughs happening.
  2. Curiosity is what happens when there’s a perceived gap between what we think we know and what we think we could know. As humans, we naturally want to fill that gap. So to grow curiosity, we need to create that gap in the first place. In other words, pique interest, then encourage exploration.
  3. There are some big barriers to making curiosity happen.  Let’s have a look at what my crew on LinkedIn said. I’ve summarised the comments into four categories:

 

Barriers to Curiosity v2

 

Quite the list, right? Plenty of barriers to kill curiosity in its tracks.

Research by the Right Question Institute suggests that curiosity peaks in early childhood and then declines as we enter the formal school system. A young child asks 300 questions a day. By adulthood, the number is down to virtually none.

With this list, you can see why. If your organisation’s current culture has any of these elements in spades, you’ll be hard-pressed to cultivate a thriving culture of curiosity anytime soon.

So, how to cultivate curiosity? What does it take? I’ve dug up and shaped up a few ideas that will help answer those questions. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be exploring what it takes to cultivate a culture of curiosity, and sharing my thoughts here.

Interest piqued? Curious about what else people said? You can check out the LinkedIn conversation here. Feel free to add your thoughts!

 

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Make Change Easier With A Stakeholder Map.

Want to make change happen with less effort and more impact? Do a stakeg map. Here’s how:

Step 1. Map Who. 

To start with, you’ll need an idea of the change you want to make happen. With this in mind, work out who your most important stakeholders are. Who are the ones who have something at stake and need to be involved in making the change happen? Put their names down on a piece of paper in ‘mind map’ style, along with yourself in the middle.

Put a star next to the ‘critical few’. These are the ones who really matter. The ones you know that if you don’t get them across the line, your plans are dead in the water.

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Step 2. Map Your Connections

Draw lines between you and each person. Think about the quality of relationship (trust, openness of communication) you have with each of them. Give that relationship a rating between 1-10, with 10 being the highest.

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Step 3. Map Their Relationships

Think about what you know about the relationship each of your stakeholders has with the others. Where you know there is a relationship, draw a line between those people. Based on your best estimate, give each of those relationships a rating on a scale of 1-10.

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Step 4. Find The Leverage Points

When you find leverage points in a system, you can make changes happen much more easily. In the case of a stakeholder map, leverage points are certain people, or groups of people.

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In our example, Andy is a strong leverage point. I’ve identified Kelvin and Jane as critical stakeholders. While I have a pretty good relationship with Jane, I don’t have a strong relationship with Kelvin. But I have a strong relationship with Andy, who also happens to have a pretty strong relationship with Kelvin. So, I’m thinking that I could leverage this dynamic to get Andy to influence Kelvin. And given the relatively strong relationships between Andy, Jane and Kelvin, there’s further opportunity to leverage that too.

 

Does this all sound a little Machiavellian? Perhaps. And we know that relationships are the currency of change. So when you map out the dynamics at play, you can use them to your advantage. Sounds smart to me.

 

 

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You’re More Resourceful Than You Think

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You’re more resourceful than you think.

In my younger days, I was sent to work in Leeds in the UK by the global accounting firm I worked for. Coming from sunny Perth in Australia, it was quite the cultural and climate contrast! Never one to turn down an opportunity to explore a new environment, I set about learning as much as I could about this strange new land in the North of England.

To make it interesting, a mate and I hatched a plan. Every Friday after work, we’d take a backpack to the Leeds train station and jump on a random train, not knowing where it was heading to. Our goal was to have fate decide where we’d end up, and our challenge was to spend the weekend not paying for accommodation wherever we landed.

Over the weeks, fate took us to Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, York, Sheffield and a bunch of other less-heard-of places. Upon arriving, we’d head to a likely looking pub, and rely on our charm and Aussie accents to get to know a few of the locals, and hope that one thing would lead to another. Without fail, it did. We had some amazing experiences and made a whole heap of new friends, some of whom I’m still in contact with to this day.

Whenever I’ve told this story, I’ve noticed that many people respond by saying ‘I could never do that’. As the author, Richard Bach says “argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours.”

You’re more resourceful than you think.

I reckon there are two types of resourcefulness. Planned resourcefulness, and discovered resourcefulness.

Planned resourcefulness is where you write the script beforehand. You create the itinerary, you know what’s going to happen and when. It’s the safer option, but there’s less potential for growth, and it ends up being kind of boring after a while.

Discovered resourcefulness is where you put yourself in unfamiliar situations and discover what you are capable of. It’s the scarier option, it requires initiative, and it shows you what you’re capable of, which is usually a lot more than you think.

In this day and age, scripts are useful but they’re not enough. We need less of the scripted-at-the-desk approach and more of the sculpted-on-the-fly approach. We need less tourists and more explorers. We’re increasingly faced with situations where the old way doesn’t work like it used to. When things get complex and keep evolving in front of our eyes, we need the ability to adapt in real time.

More than 2000 years ago, the Stoic writer Epictetus wrote “How laughable it is to say ‘tell me what to do’! What advice could I possibly give? No, a far better request is ‘train my mind to adapt to any circumstance’…in this way, if circumstances take you off script…you won’t be desperate for a new prompting.” In other words, a trained mind is better than any script.

To train your mind to be better prepared to go off script, here are a few tips:

  1. Decide on the thing you most want to happen.
  2. Strip it back to first principles.
  3. Take the first step.

Decide on the thing you most want to happen.

On our jaunts around the North of England, we decided that the thing we most wanted to happen was that we could come back and stay ‘well, that was an adventure!’ That guided our actions and put things in perspective for us. So, when you’re preparing to give that next big presentation, first ask “what do I most want to have happen as a result of this presentation?” For example, it might be that you want the audience to leave saying ‘that was really interesting and it got me thinking’.

Strip it back to first principles.

First principles are those concepts that you can easily remember and draw on time and time again. Whenever I teach a new skill, I aim to help people deeply understand the first principles rather than the tool or script that might go with it. For example, when I teach coaching to managers, I’ll help them understand the principle of ‘meet their people where they’re at’ if they want to have any chance of a successful conversation. When you rely on first principles rather than detailed scripts, there’s less to remember and more room to move.

Take the first step.

No change happens without action. The poet David Whyte suggests we focus on just taking the first step, not the second or the third. As a result, movement happens, and we’re on our way.

You’re more resourceful than you think. What can you do today to prove that to yourself?

 

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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.

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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

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

 

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?

 

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