Thursday, December 30, 2010

Active Listening - Do You Hear What I Hear?

Stephen Covey’s 5th habit in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People  is “Seek to Understand, Then to be Understood”  Active listening is the means to that end.  It’s a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding , builds trust and credibility, and interdependency between parties. Yet its one of those skills that is so frequently ignored and infrequently practiced. We think we are listening by being quiet. But true listening is much deeper and more active.  Active listening focuses entirely on the person speaking.
Active listening is especially helpful in times of conflict.  Typically in those times both parties are seeking to win the argument and are often paying even less attention to understanding what the other is saying. With the increased emotional context at hand, conflicts can quickly spiral out of control and relationships and resolution suffer.

Three Steps to Active Listening:
1. Listen for Accuracy:How many times have you been “listening” when really you’ve just been waiting for the other person to stop talking so you can start and assert your opinion, experience, feeling or rebuttal?  The first step of real listening is to focus on the speaker and to reflect back and summarize the content of what you’ve heard.. “It sounds like what you said is that you want the contract to go through or you won’t work on the project?  Is that correct?"  Summarize and repeat the content just the way they said it.  You don’t have to agree or respond at this point, just repeat for accuracy.  Reflection is the first step to understanding.

2. Listen for Empathy:The second step is to listen for the emotions behind the words.  Listening for resonance comes before listening for resolution.  In otherwords, you don’t have to agree with the emotional context of the message or provide your view just yet.  Here you are validating the individual’s feelings and trying to understand the situation from their perspective.  You merely need to understand what the emotion is and empathize with the sender.  Tune in to what’s underneath the message by watching body language, tonality and sentiment.  If its doubt, fear, anxiety, confusion, joy or any of the many other feelings,  name and validate it..  “It sounds like you’re frustrated with the process and I can understand why.”  Empathy makes the sender feel understood and valued.  This is one of the greatest gifts in a relationship.

3. Listening for Mutual Creativity & Relationship:After working through steps one and two, a new alliance should be forged between the two parties.  This deep listening can really help break through barriers to spark creativity and collaboration.  Building a sense of trust and openness is accomplished through steps one and two. 
There are two questions to ask yourself as you are listening: What does this person want?  How can I help this person get what he or she wants?  By understanding the needs of the other, you can now better judge what actions will have a positive or negative impact and begin dialoguing about the path forward.  It is here where the two parties start to brainstorm ideas and solutions.

Benefits of Active Listening
There are many benefits to active listening.  Listenting attentively to others builds relationship and positive outcomes.  It also avoids misunderanding as you seek to truly understand another.   It creates an air of openness and trust which breeds further sharing and understanding.  It can help resolve conflict and find mutually acceptable solutions quicker and with less strain on the team.  And it keeps both parties positive and healthy in their interactions with themselves and each other. (The oppositive of this is unhealthy communication, blaming, lashing out and shutting down – all which stifle creativity and momentum forward).

Listening in total support of another is the greatest gift a leader can give.

Leadership Quote:
"I only wish I could find an institute that teaches people how to listen.  Business people need to listen at least as much as they need to talk.  Too many people fail to realize that real communication goes in both directions."   Lee Iacocca, Former CEO Chrysler Corporation

Leadership Lesson:
1.      What techniques do you need to work on to practice active listening?
2.      What relationship is suffering now as a result of your inability to listen?  What do you need to do to repair this relationship?
3.      Do you find that you patronize or preach to others?
4.      Do you find you like to dominate the conversation by quickly jumping in with your view point?  Cutting off others? Telling others they are wrong in their thinking?
5.      What are you active listening strengths? Summarizing, encouraging, validating, reflecting, emotional labeling, intuitive listening?  What are your weaknesses?
6.      Do you evaluate the conversation by judging or quickly agreeing or disagreeing with the message?
7.      Do you quickly go into advisor mode – giving counsel, advice or trying to solve the problem? 
8.   What can you do this week and with whom to practice actively listening?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Servant Leadership

I was recently introduced to the concept of Servant Leadership. As someone who is motivated by serving and caring for others, you can imagine my excitement when I learned about this organizational philosophy. The phrase “Servant Leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970s. In that essay, he said:
"The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature."
The 1984 Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu shares his thoughts on the quality of the greatest world leaders - servant leaders who serve others.

You don’t have to be a world leader solving world problems to be a servant leader. Greenleaf was a retired AT&T executive. After leaving corporate he felt there was a void in the way institutions served customers, community and employees. He felt many leaders operated under an autocratic style of "listen to me and follow what I say." He felt this approach was self-serving, domineering and controlling.  However, his concept of servant leadership encourages those leading to think hard about how to respect, value, grow and motivate those reporting to them. Greenleaf felt that leaders and employees practicing servant leadership principles would create more joy, productivity and positive outcomes in their life and the lives of others. He also felt that these “serving organizations” would become stronger and better companies. And he felt communities at large would also benefit from serving leaders and organizations.

In a culture of servant leadership, the great leader is seen as servant first – serving others is intrinsic to his or her nature. The leader is seen as the steward of organizational resources. He or she is responsible for articulating the organizational goals and vision to the team while ensuring results are achieved in adherence to corporate values. In so doing, a servant leader’s focus becomes:

  • Serving the needs of those they lead. (As Tom Peters put it, the leader assumes the role of CHRO – Chief Hurdle Remover Officer)
  • Empowering employees to make decision for the benefit of the customer
  • Coaching and mentoring employees to facilitate self expression and personal growth
  • Listening and building a sense of community
  • Encouraging collaboration, openness, trust, foresight, and the ethical use of power
10 charactertics of a servant leader:
Commit to growth
Building Commitment

Leadership Quote:
“But of the best leaders, when the job is done, when the task is accomplished, the people will say~We have done it ourselves!” Lao Tzu, 684 BC

Leadership Lesson:
1. For whose benefit do you serve? Is it for self or for others?
2. Are those you are leading growing as persons?
3. Are those you are leading becoming healthier, wiser, freer, and more autonomous?
4. In what area of your leadership is your desire for title, money, advancement or personal interest getting in the way of those you serve?
5. Do you set clear boundaries and goals for your employees?
6. Do you realize that serving others isn’t about being “nice” – that it’s about real caring and growth and sometimes that means difficult choices, conversations, risk taking and boundary setting for others?
7. What have you done in the last 24 hours to be of service to your employees?
8. Of the 10 characteristics of a servant leader, which ones are your strengths? Which ones provide opportunities for growth?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Moses Leading Business Today

Note: This post was originally written as a leadership analysis for my blog "The Art of Social Media". While the post refers to a social business project, the lesson can be applied to any project.

I was recently reading the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt into the wilderness and had a profound “Ah Ha - that’s like leading social business transformation.” Now that may be a stretch and I certainly don’t profess that those of us doing this are godly, will be able to turn our Sharpies into serpents, or part and cross large bodies of water. But the part of leading change, confronting opposition, and staying committed for 40 years–that was the part that resonated with me.

To refresh your memory, Moses was the guy who was born in Israel, sent down river as a baby, was found and raised by the Egyptians. He lived with the aristocrats for years while the Israelites were slaves in the same country. One day Moses gets enraged with the way an Egyptian guard treats one of the Israelite slaves and kills the guard. Moses then flees leaving his lavish life to become a humble shepherd in the country. He gets a “call” one day from “his boss” that he should go back and free the slaves and lead them back to their promised land of Israel. He thinks it’s a prank call and doesn’t feel up to it or worthy. But eventually there is no denying that this is a real gig. All the appropriate tools, communications and visions are bestowed upon him. He graciously accepts the job offer. And so begins the journey.

Moses heads back to Egypt and confronts the Pharaoh. When he arrives he respectfully asks “Let my people go”. To which Pharaoh scoffs at this humble mans request, mocks him and tightens the reins on the slaves. A plague hits the land (actually Moses’ boss calls this in as punishment). After the ordeal, Moses revisits Pharaoh and again respectfully asks, “Let my people go” and he is again met with opposition. This circle goes on for ten plagues and the screws get tighter on both sides - more serious plagues for the Egyptians met with stronger opposition, contempt and rebellion by Pharaoh. Finally though Pharaoh can no longer bear anymore and agrees to let the 600,000 Israelites free. As they depart,Pharaoh renigs and sends the army after Moses and the people. This is the part where Moses opens up the water and gets the people across to the wilderness safely while Pharaoh’s army is unable to get across and they lose.

They made it! They are free and have arrived. Well, not quite. They just got approval for the project and now the work begins. This is the part of the story where the real transformation is at work. This is the 40 years in the wilderness as the Israelites journey to the Promised Land. It was no cake walk. This is the part of the story where Moses really has to step up his game and keep reminding half a million people of the vision while he attends to their needs for 40 years! It is during this time when the people began to lose hope and patience. It is during this time when they complain about the change, complain about the journey and complain about Moses’ leadership. It is here in the story when Moses wants to quit. He wants to give his two week notice and call it a day. And it is here for me that the strongest nuggets of leadership wisdom reside which can be applied to social business transformation.

A Sense of Humility: First off, Moses didn’t chose the vision, the vision chose him. He was in a place and time and all systems pointed to him to lead this effort. He was most passionate and was given the right tools. But he was equally modest, respectful and patient. Pharaoh on the other hand had a “My Way or the Highway Attitude”. He led by complete and absolute power. He was arrogant, boastful, vain and defiant. He thought of himself as God and wanted others to see him the same way. I think the lesson is clear for me. It is important to evangelize the social business vision and instill inspiration in others but it is just as important to be respectful of where others are at in their acceptance or understanding of social business. Charlene Li defines open leadership as “having the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control…” (p.14). Social business will eventually become something those opposed or ignorant off will not be able to ignore – it will be too pervasive. Be humble and patient.

Leading through Opposition: While in the wilderness, the people start complaining and bemoaning about the hardships of the journey and its inconveniences. Moses continues to provide and be there at every turn. He uses those opportunities to show concern and care for others through this transformation and addresses the needs of others. For me, this means interacting with those with may show signs of struggle or resist the change. While change is inevitable, as Peter Drucker states in his book Management Challenges for the 21st Century, people despise change much like death and taxes – it is an unwelcome necessity that should be postponed as long as possible.

Delegate and Empower: At one point in the story, when the going gets tough in the desert, Moses wants to throw in the towel on the whole vision. He says “I can’t carry all these people by myself because the burden is too much for me.” But rather than throw in the towel, he’s instructed to find a group of Elders whom he can train and off load the work. For me, finding other leaders and evangelizers in the organization is vital. Not only does it take a load off the leader, it also starts to build pockets of acceptance and momentum deeper into the organization. Leadership is not a solitary position – leadership needs to be a shared responsibility. Empowering the masses increases operational efficiencies, fosters collaboration, maintains momentum and builds acceptance.

Resist the Temptation to Rush Ahead: Oh this one is tough for me. At the first sign of perceived resistance, I want to quickly close the wound with a short cut or keep to the status quo. In Moses’ wilderness, it didn’t seem like there was a lot of productivity happening towards the vision. But we know great transformations do happen in the wilderness. For social business transformation, the “wilderness” is that place of anxiety, confusion, conflict, complaining, bemoaning. Moving too fast jeapordizes the very pain that is needed to give birth to the transformation. Let the work takes its course and stay true to the goal.

Constant Sacrifice: A leader must continue to make sacrifices. Giving up one’s own rights to help lead the people means making sacrifices. Moses could of opted for the easy way out, been focused on his own advancement or title, or rewarded himself with self indulgence or self promotion. He did none of that. Leaders dedicate themselves to what is best and what is right for all and continue to make sacrifices to get there.

A lot of wisdom from the antiquities still apply today. If I get stuck, perhaps I can ask “What would Moses do?” Though I must fess up. If any locust show up during this transformation, I’m outta here.

Leadership Quote:
"Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained."
Marie Curie

Leadership Lesson:
1. What have I recently been called to do that is challenging me?
2. As a change agent, how do I react to opposition in my organization?
3. How can I apply similar patience and perservance like Moses?
4. How do I share leadership in my organization?
5. Do I resist temptations to move ahead quickly when uncomfortable? Do I understand that the conflict and anxiety is a necessary evil to get to the other side?
6. What sacrifices am I making to bring the vision to life?

Open Leadership

I just finished reading my advance copy of Open Leadership by Charlene Li (co author of Groundswell and Principal of Altimeter) - two thumbs up! It’s a must read for leaders navigating emerging technologies across organizational waters. The book is packed solid of one case study after another of insightful examples of social business innovation focused on fostering an open culture. It’s rich with checklists, thoughtful questionnaires and action plans to help leaders evaluate their readiness and develop plans to embrace a culture of openness.

In her book, scheduled to come out next week, Charlene defines open leadership as “having the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control while inspiring commitment from people to accomplish goals.”

I’ve been fascinated with the cultural shift required by organizations to fully embrace social business and how leading companies are transforming on the inside to embrace the outside. I’ve been equally fascinated with how business leaders still think social is just a marketing or public relations function. “So you are saying that in order to develop a social strategy, we have to change our culture? Are you crazy? I just want a Facebook and Twitter page. “ “Yes Yes! Let’s do social and let’s be open! Hmmm…. that means we have to change the way we lead? Forget it, let’s just put our ads up on YouTube.”

Five Rules of Open LeadershipThe degree of openness and cultural shift required by companies is determined by organizational and strategic goals. At the foundation though Li provides five rules for open leadership to help foster these new relationships.
1. Respect that your customers and employees have power
2. Share constantly to build trust
3. Nurture curiosity and humility
4. Hold openness accountable
5. Forgive failure

Charlene gives solid evidence and affirmation that “doing social” requires internal business transformation. As rule one asserts, power (or illusion thereof) is no longer an exclusivity of the boardroom. True power is in the hands of the customers and those closest to and engaging with the customer. It always has been. Social technologies though are shining a flood light on and calling attention to this dynamic like never before. Savvy digital customers who call a spade a spade will accept nothing but the truth. The speed of communication online is demanding internal efficiencies and quick access to information. Polished corporate messaging is not trusted online. All of which is challenging the old school hierarchical command and control style of leadership.

Being open, transparent and authentic doesn’t mean that companies mindlessly open up and share all knowledge and data irresponsibly – that would be foolish. Charlene encourages leaders to develop “sandbox covenants” – guidelines to structure process, policy and behavior. I often hear people talking about the risks of allowing employees to engage online and fears of openness. What if employees start chatting about our confidential information? What if they divulge our recipe for our secret sauce? What if, what if, what if? Charlene hit the nail on that head when she asks the reader, have you heard of any damaging business secrets being divulged by employees of those most engaging and open brands we all want to model?

Open Leadership. I can’t wait to see where companies are at a year from now. In my opinion, the front runners will be those who continue to innovate and embrace Charlene’s direction and the direction of business leaders and consultants who champion openness and cultural transformation. Stay tuned.
Leadership Quote:
"In all my public and private acts as your president, I expect to follow my instincts of openness and candor with full confidence that honesty is always the best policy in the end."
Gerald R. Ford

Leadership Lesson:
1. Where am I holding back information as a tactic for power? What information can I free up that might benefit others?
2. What am I afraid will happen if my employees are empowered? How can I overcome this fear?
3. Am I forgiving of others when they make a mistake?
4. Do I allow failure to happen as a lesson for improvement? Or do I create an environment of fear and reproach if mistakes are made?
5. Am I asking my employees for their candor on ways that I may improve as a leader to empower them?