Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Transparency, by Carol Orndorff

I often hear from people on the leadership team of one client that their boss (call him “Fred”) is not very “transparent” with them.  Lack of transparency is easy to complain about when people feel like they don’t know what’s going on or they’re concerned that they are being left “out of the loop.” People expect and even demand transparency of others, and yet as leaders we can easily overlook our own tendency to be vague or even unintelligible with the people who depend on our leadership.

Merriam Webster defines transparency as the quality or state of being transparent, and then goes on to define the root word as:
  1.  free from pretense or deceit:  frank
  2.  easily detected or seen through:  obvious
  3.  readily understood
  4.  characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices.

I’ve made it a practice to have Fred open all of our team sessions, welcoming his people and confirming his commitment to the work we are doing with his division.  Prior to any sessions we have, I meet with Fred to find out what he has been dealing with, and then coach him on what I think his team needs to hear from him.

On the one hand, Fred is quite pleased with the ways in which his team has stepped up and taken on leadership roles with their internal meetings and client presentations.  He likes to observe and watch from a distance.  On the other hand, he forgets that they look to him as their leader.  He has been traveling for most of the past two months, and the team wants to know what he has been working on and what feedback he has on their progress.

Said another way, Fred is often missing from the team, and it’s missing for Fred that he’s been missing.

After Fred and I talked about that, he made a powerful presentation to his team at the start of yesterday’s session.  He was very much himself, and at the same time a bit sheepish as he acknowledged his absence, appreciated the team’s accomplishments while he was away, and proposed areas for further development.

Observing the listening in the room, I saw that he doesn’t normally begin meetings this way.  After a period of wide-eyed silence, one team member looked down across the table and said somewhat shyly, “You are our leader, and we really do miss you, so thank you for that.”

Friday, May 26, 2017

Raising the Bar, by Ginny Brien

Having a big vision is a mixed blessing. For one thing, the bigger the vision, the more likely Integrity is on its way out.

Growing up, I heard a lot about "doing business on a handshake," which meant honorable people kept their word to each other even without a signed document.

It was understood that “forgetting about" the agreement cemented by that handshake—or waffling on it—would  damage one’s reputation in the community.

A promise does not exist in isolation. The issue of integrity is not a personal issue. There is always somebody else involved—or many somebodies.

My first thought when I'm not going to make a deadline is that I'm bad. It takes effort to set aside "showing how sorry I am," so I can remember the strategic purpose that my promise serves.

It also takes compassion (on the part of the person who made the promise and the person to whom something has been promised) to let go of blame, so we can focus clearly on what needs to happen now (if a promise has been revoked or broken) and what it's going to get back on track.

Developing ourselves as leaders requires scheduling time regularly to handle thinking as well as implementation. We're training each other to speak up as soon as we realize we're not going to get something complete by the time we promise it, and failure is part of the process. If we don't speak up until the day before something's due, it seriously hampers our ability to put corrections in place.

Constituting ourselves as leaders means pulling out all the stops to make sure what we promised -- whatever piece of the puzzle that is -- gets completed on time. That can mean rethinking priorities, deferring other actions, and asking for help. And almost always it involves getting over ourselves so that we have  something bigger at stake than our pride.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

It's Brain Science, Not Rocket Science, by Nancy Chek

"I am thinking about how I was great in high school Marching Band. I could play my instrument and do all kinds of tricks on the football field. But if I had to march today, I’d be more than rusty. I’d be petrified … in several meanings of that word!"
~ Kimberly Chatak-Nelson

Used by as a distinction

What does it mean to be “used by” something, when the something becomes so much a part of you that you don’t even have to think about it any more--the way Heidegger says you don’t use a language so much as the language uses you? 

You don’t think it; it thinks you.

Talking about this with our office manager, Kimberly, I said I’m completely “used by” not only English but English grammar as well. The correct usage for lie/lay, that/which, the “if clauses”--no thought necessary. It can’t have always been that way for me, but, at 73 years of age, I can’t remember when it was any other way.  French is another matter.

Kimberly said she remembers when motherhood was one of those somethings she was not “used by,” when she was terrified of making a mistake: “I was so intense you could have peeled me off a wall! I cried the first time I had to give Taylor meds, because the enormous responsibility was overwhelming.” Now, she says, she has motherhood “down pat.” 

She said that in high school she was so “used by” the distinction marching band that she could do all sorts of tricks on the football field at halftime without even worrying about missing a beat on her Glockenspiel.  And she also remembers when that was not the case, when trying to do two things at once when she couldn’t even count on knowing a flank left from a flank right was paralyzing.

That was when I realized that if we are committed to being lifelong learners, as we at Dorrier Underwood say we are, then messing up and marching the wrong way down the field is going to be part of that. We are going to look foolish and feel foolish from time to time. I can see that that is guaranteed. It’s part of the package. Otherwise, how can there be any opportunities for growth, for development, or for creating something new?

I once embarrassed myself at a butcher shop in the Rhone Valley by forgetting the phrase for “leg of lamb” and having to order “un jambe de baaaa” (much to the amusement of a couple of French housewives). You can bet that le gigot d’agneau became a permanent part of my vocabulary after that.

Since we support people in business to develop their capacity for resilience, for creativity and for meeting new problems powerfully head-on, part of our job is to demonstrate that the fear of looking foolish only holds us all back.

Just to offset the reference to Heidegger with a more down-home quote: The late great Jerry Garcia once said, “Impromptu improvisation depends on not being afraid to be wrong.”

Monday, April 10, 2017

If it Weren’t for Other People, I Could Get a Lot Done! by Laura Neff

It’s the irony, right? None of us can make our company’s vision or team goals come to life on our own, but it can so often seem that it’s all those other people who get in the way of doing our part.

Thanks to my colleague Gary, I recently had a revelation about dealing with that very thing.

It was lunchtime on the second day of a three-day program he and I were co-leading. As we drove to Jason’s Deli, we talked about where we should dig in deeper with participants and where things were going well and with whom.

And then Gary said, “Well, all that aside, how are you doing?”

As soon as he asked, I realized my body felt like dead weight and I could have taken a nap right then and there. “I’m tired,” I said, “which doesn’t make any sense, because I slept really well last night.”

There are some kinds of tired that don’t have anything to do with the physical mechanics of our body. They’re the kind brought on by mental/emotional “stuff.” As I let myself slow down and feel the fatigue in my internal system, I also realized how foggy my mind felt.

And out of nowhere, I found myself blurting, “I’m kind of ‘on it’ with Sue.” (Not her real name.)

When someone on our team says they’re “on it” about something or someone, we mean we’re triggered, or mentally/emotionally hooked, and it’s getting in the way of what we’re there to do and what’s possible.

Without missing a beat, Gary said, “Well, you just love on Sue. Just love her.”

Of course, he meant “love” in the sense of, “She’s human. Instead of allowing yourself to be hooked and have walls up, choose to lean in. Love her despite whatever it is she’s doing or not doing. Don’t let a little humanity get in the way of being fully committed to her growth in this program. Step past whatever’s got you, and get back out there with her.”

That was it. There wasn’t any big exploration of why I was on it with Sue, or any colluding about what it was that had me be on it with her. There was just the pointing: LOVE HER.

I could feel a part of me wanting to resist the coaching, wanting to dish about Sue and what she’d said and her reactions to things we were presenting. But the bigger part of me was curious about Gary’s blunt suggestion. So I exhaled a little, letting myself reconnect to the bigger picture of what we were up to.

And by golly, it worked.

Over lunch, I could feel my mood shift. By the time we got back to the program room, I had forgotten all about being tired. And while my being “on it” reared its head a time or two again over the remaining day and a half, I kept remembering Gary’s coaching: Just love her.  

In a world of instant fixes AND big goals for our businesses and lives, I can’t think of a better “shortcut” for getting things done with others.

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Caring as a Business Strategy, by Nancy Dorrier

Doug came out in the hall from the lunch buffet at the fancy hotel where we were leading a program and said, “I have to tell you something.”  He had tears in his eyes.  He had been tearing up already while leading this program for “Acme Manufacturing” executives.  Before we met the participants, we thought they were big-dogs, but then we found out they were people. We always tear up when we start loving people, finding they are no longer strangers.

“I need to tell you something. I want you to know that I have never been so taken care of:  lozenges, water, your getting the flip charts up on the wall, managing the hotel personnel. Susie wants to come talk theory on the breaks and instead of talking, you’re listening to what I need, leading from the back. I am so moved. I don’t have to be the only one watching out for my well-being. You have my back. I want all of our consultants to have this kind of support from the back of the room. I want you to write up how to do what you are doing. I want you to teach people how to look.”

I remembered Lila once saying, “I am a better program leader because of your being quiet, sitting there, tracking what is happening, being a kind of space.”

Mary, leading a retreat one weekend several years ago, said the same thing and started asking me what she should cover next as I was washing her grapes.

Happily and naturally.

I learned it from my mother. I learned it from watching her take care of my father and he her.  Looking at the whole of a party.  Seeing when someone’s water glass is empty.  Offering another serving.  Passing the bread on to the next person, not just saying no thank you and not passing it.  We were taught that basic attention to others when we were six years old.  Don’t just serve yourself first; serve the other first.  Don’t start eating until we are all served.  Hold the door.  Say yes ma’am and yes sir. And no thank you.  I am so glad to be here and so glad to meet you.  Thank you for inviting me.  We learned to say it whether we meant it or not.

I loved Doug in that moment.  For giving me the distinction of service that I was blind to.  I was just doing it.

A week later, at dinner, I told Gary and Laura that that was the best acknowledgement I could get-- not necessarily the thank you, but noting the difference service makes and distinguishing that it works, really works, for us to take care of people, to care for people. 

The Acme team went to Joe’s house for dinner and raised their glasses to each other. They stood up on the big coffee table and said who they were as leaders.

Joe went first and said, “Who I am as a leader is the possibility of trust, respect, service, learning and continuous improvement at Acme. I am responsible for the values of Acme being alive and well. Now I want to appreciate Anshu.”  Then he said 10 things he loved about her, and she grinned and blushed under her brown Indian skin.  Then, with a hand from Joe, Anshu got up on the coffee table and said “Who I am as a leader is a revolutionary who challenges the status quo,” and made a toast to another, who then got up. And it went on and on.

Joe’s wife turned to me and said, “I could do this all night.”

When people feel cared for, when they know someone has their back, it gives them the freedom to care--about their companies, about the people they work with, about people who don’t have to be strangers. 

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Podcast: Doug McVadon on "Integrity" as the Foundation for Leadership

Spend time with anyone from Dorrier Underwood and you're sure to hear the word integrity come up quickly. We believe integrity is central to empowered, inspiring leadership and are constantly on the lookout for where it might be missing, whether individually or collectively, so we can true ourselves up.

Dorrier Underwood president Doug McVadon recently had the opportunity to talk about it on The Sage Advice podcast with Ed Kless.

Listen in for an inspiring 10-minute conversation about the link between integrity and success:

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

How to Move Things Forward, by Doug McVadon

Forwarding the Action means empowering others to succinctly address the matter at hand so the next thing can happen.

Fundamentally, forwarding the action often means knowing when to shut up. That is a “big ask” of the average human being!

I was going over a Vision document with Gary and Nancy, so they could critique it, add to it, and help me take it to the next draft.

When they suggested I take out a part or say it a different way, I reflexively began explaining why I did it that way to begin with.

“Well, what I had been thinking was...”

“I know, I just thought when I wrote this that...”         

I forgot that the purpose of the conversation was not to uncover my motives for writing it the way I did. It was nearly impossible for me to simply shut up about that, and get clear on the new suggestion or addition.

How much more useful to ask more about their suggestions than to defend what I had already written! In spite of how deeply satisfying it is to say what I already know, justifying my thought process makes no difference. 

Forwarding the action requires me to stop voting, stop approving/ disapproving, so I can bring open attention to the matter at hand. Anything else keeps things stuck.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

What Initiative Looks Like - When It's Missing, by Ginny Brien

In·i·ti·a·tive, noun
  1. the ability to assess and initiate things independently.
  2. the power or opportunity to act or take charge before others do.

This week I got to distinguish initiative by observing its absence in myself.

The strategy team had a retreat scheduled for Thursday, and I marked my calendar “be available,” because Nancy told me they might want to pull me in sometime during the day. On Tuesday, I had a call scheduled with Doug, but before and after, I was thinking mostly about the big dog client interviews I’d promised to summarize this week, and was starting to worry about how much (or little) of them I’d understand, and thinking that I should have started on them earlier. I had a few marketing and sales calls with people on the team, and between the reorganization of the supply closets and the email transition, working at home seemed like a smart choice.

On Thursday morning, my phone rang at 9:00, just as I was settling in front of my computer to start my day. It was Nancy, asking, “Did you get my email?” and, “Can you come on the call?” But the real question was, "Why aren’t you already on the call, and why aren’t you prepared?"

We expect every person on our team to lead, from wherever they are, and I got to see several areas where I was content to “wait for orders” rather than bring my drive and intellect to the company. Here’s how my lack of leadership looked:

I didn’t check my work email or voicemail at the end of the day Wednesday. If I had, I would have read Nancy’s email, sent at 3:30, asking me to have documents ready to share with the strategy team at 9:00.

It didn’t occur to me to verify when the team might want my participation, or ask how to prepare, or spend time INVENTING how to prepare for the strategy meeting.

It did not occur to me to study the strategic documents we created at our company's December retreat: the "Picture of the Future," our brainstorm about client service excellence, or the list of immediate actions we aligned on. Yes, I captured the sales notes, but all the strategy we invested two days creating -- I treated those conversations like they were a “perk,” an exercise to give us an infusion of energy and attention. I definitely was not holding them like strategy that I am responsible for implementing and ensuring the success of.

I related to myself as responsible for a “piece” of the action, but not the whole action. And now I wonder -- is it possible to be responsible for a piece of something without constituting myself responsible for the whole of it?  I don’t think so.

To be fully responsible for sales (or any other “piece” of our business) I have to think about and care about my actions affect the whole. Otherwise, I’m no more invested than a temporary employee -- I have no real skin in the game.

This is not acceptable to me.

I am newly curious about what setting time aside to THINK could do for my leadership and for the company. This fits in with some of practices I’m creating for myself in the new year.

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Thursday, December 15, 2016

drama. Drama. DRAMA!!!! by Gary Davis

We love drama. The TNT network knows this, Hollywood knows this, and the folks at barber shops and beauty shops all over America know it. Drama is fun, juicy, it just feels good, and when you are feeling put upon or wronged, it seems like a sweet elixir, but it's really snake oil. It makes us think we'll feel better, but usually leaves us still feeling upset, or even more upset.

And most drama, or at least the best drama, is just assessment and speculation. It is not the actual thing that is transpiring. It is the constellation of thoughts you have about the thing that happened, many of them fueled by the “being wronged-ness” of it all.

What is fact is that "she talked while you were talking." It's an interpretation that doing that was "rude," and further interpretation that "She is rude." And it is interpretation that "being rude is why she is ineffective," and it is interpretation that she's "ineffective." But it seems like I'm just describing the situation if I say, "Well you know how she is. You know how management thinks they're better than us." WHOA, how did this turn into a conversation about management?!

We think most of our talking is about “how it is” when almost all of our speaking reflects the noise in our heads.

For instance, last night I'm pumping gas and the young man in the car beside me leaves his car running with the stereo up on HIGH volume, and goes inside.

The noise in my head tells me that “He’s doing that to get me. He wants to control me. They all do that, probably mad about the election.”

When I stop to look, I can see that the noise is not "what's so," but it doesn't mean I don’t think it.

One way I try to interrupt the drama is to ask myself, "What am I committed to here?” From there, I'm more able to see what's really there. What's so" is we are both hearing his music. The rest, the reasons, the drama, all that was made up. 

I think about that, and when he returns, with his cornrows pulled out to the side and his new Timberline’s with no laces, I notice he is not smiling at me. I probably am not smiling either. At best I look indifferent, at worst annoyed.

I interrupt my automatic thoughts and smile broadly, “What are we listening to?”

He smiles back and says, "K Kamp, rapper out of Atlanta."

I asks if he's Jamaican, because I think I hear a reggae influence, and he happily tells me about K Kamp.

I get in the car and instead of giving my daughter a lesson in how to be racist by talking about how inconsiderate “they” are and blah blah blah, my daughter, who heard the whole thing said, “You are so crazy, Daddy.” Crazy because even she knows that it's normal to indulge in drama, and it takes something to stretch beyond the noise in our heads. 

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

What's All the Hoo-Ha? by Laura Neff

My 27 year old nephew is staying with us for a few days, in between one chapter of his life and the next. Last night, the house was quiet, and for the first time in a long time, we flowed into a conversation about Life that was simply exploration -- seeing, sharing, and wondering about things together.

We talked about the evolution of technology, about artificial intelligence and virtual reality and how they might affect humanity in the years to come. And somehow we started laughing about how all the hoo-ha, the running around and busyness human beings create, starts to seem like what gives meaning to our existence. When really, even though we’re the only self-aware beings on the planet, what we need is simple: we need to eat, be safe and sheltered, and be in community. We love the hoo-ha, but it’s easy to forget that it’s not actually Everything.

And then I told him about how, at work, we're re-designing a course we call "Advanced Mastery." Amidst all the hoo-ha, it offers an experience of touching the simple richness of life through presence, attention, arts and creativity, communion and communication with one another and ourselves. It struck that after spending nearly 30 years developing organizations to work well for the world and the people in it, we’re taking a stand that, in part, "mastery" of ourselves and our leadership goes back to our senses -- color, attention to the power of language, listening, and present-moment awareness. “Slowing down to go faster,” is how we sometimes put it. And he got it. This young man who has never set foot inside a corporate environment could really see that.

Then we talked about complexity, and how we, as a culture, are basically dying of stress. We wondered if part of that is because what our bodies and minds are made for is not all the hoo-ha, but to do things like stick seeds in the ground in a spot that’s open to the sky, water them as we’re able, and only “stress” about things like leaf-eating bugs and weather patterns. Simple, straight forward, clear.

Coming back to the simplicity of this moment -- color, poetry, words, music, what’s happening in your eyes when I look over there… I love that simplicity is essential for Mastery. It’s a homecoming to who we fundamentally are.

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