Make Change Happen

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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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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What are your Brules?

Railway Lines

Photo: Pexels.com

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

 

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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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Step into the Leadership Vacuum

I’ve been working with a senior leadership team of late that has, shall we say, quite a forceful executive at its head. Having been in the role just over 18 months, he’s been instrumental in reshaping the direction of the organisation and lifting its performance. Things are tracking well, morale is lifting across the board, and the future looks bright.

Leadership Vacuum 1 (1)

Until, of course, the shit hits the fan.

Recently, the team held an offsite meeting for a day to discuss critical issues and make decisions about their priorities over the coming months and years. It was all progressing smoothly until said executive took a phone call which saw him leave the room for 30 minutes.

What unfolded during that time was interesting. Can you guess what happened?

Leadership Vacuum 2 (1)

Yep. The group went into paralysis. No-one around the table wanted to progress the discussion without their leader in the room. The general sentiment was “we can’t do anything else until he’s back.” So, people went to their phones and checked emails, or had off-topic sideline discussions.

I pointed out what I was noticing in the room. I asked, “What could leadership look like when he’s not here?” The group struggled to provide a coherent answer. Then someone pointed out that their leader was going on three weeks’ leave in a month’s time. Hmm. Opportunity or threat?

I see this dynamic at play time and time again. Deep down, we all seek a leader to provide stability and make our decisions for us. To take the blame when things go wrong. To save us from having to expose ourselves to risk. Walt Whitman wrote his poem ‘O Captain My Captain!’ after the death of Abraham Lincoln, lamenting the loss of stability and direction that his president had provided him and the nation during deeply troubled times. When the single point of leadership is lost, we are all lost. A vacuum remains.

Too much of a good thing can make us lazy. We can forget that we too must play a part in the dynamic of making something successful or failing. We can hand over leadership responsibility to another, and we wait to be told what to do.

In a group, a leadership vacuum can represent an opportunity for someone else to step in. And, more powerfully, it’s an opportunity to reshape the group’s definition of leadership. What does individual leadership responsibility look like when we are together? How will we work collectively work to provide the leadership that’s needed? It’s not easy. It’s a more sophisticated way of operating that future-proofs the organisation from single points of failure.

It asks you, and your colleagues, to speak up and speak out. It asks you to reach out and inquire into others’ views. It asks you to invite potential messiness, confusion and disagreement where once there was polite silence and passive agreement. Don’t just move on to the next item. Go beyond the threshold. Get deep into the conversation. Make it rich, alive.

Here are some tips for making that happen:

Will this group go that way? That remains to be seen. I really hope so.

The more important questions are: where are you allowing a leadership vacuum to be?And what will you do about that?

Leadership Vacuum 3 (1)

 

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Photo: Pexels.com

 

Courage is a Practice

When people face something big and scary, they’ll often say “I need to muster up the courage to tackle that.”

Courage Pic by E (1)

Illustration:  Elizabeth Scott

Kind of like courage is something that’s scattered around the place in small bits, and they just need to gather up all of those small bits and create a big courage ball. Then they’ll be OK, and they can lean into the big thing and do what it takes.

Kind of like courage is something you need to draw on only occasionally. Like this:

Baseline Courage Graph 1

The rest of the time you just cruise.

You wish. Life doesn’t work like that.

What if you viewed courage as a daily practice? Like going to the gym? Where you focus on building up your courage muscles so you can be ready to use them anytime something scary comes across your radar. Like this:

Baseline Courage Graph 2

Daily living offers us heaps of opportunities to be courageous:

  • Saying ‘no’ when you usually would say ‘yes’ (and vice-versa)
  • Letting go of the need to control things so tightly
  • Approaching the person that makes you nervous
  • Speaking up and speaking out
  • Making a decision even when you don’t have all the information
  • Letting someone know bad news
  • Challenging your story about what you believe life is all about

When these types of challenges are thrown at us, we often let them go through to the keeper. If we do take them up, they can feel like hard work, and we shake in our boots. All because we haven’t developed our courage muscles enough.

Develop your courage muscles through daily practice, and when the big gnarly ones come along, you’ll be ready. The big decisions won’t feel so big anymore.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “do one thing every day that scares you.” She was on about what I’m on about.

So, what will it be today?

For more on building courage, check out a couple of my other posts:

 

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