Their Own Role In Their Story

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(Image Courtesy of soulseeds.com)

During the final session of a five-part series with leaders, we asked them to create an intentional leadership plan and present it to the rest of the group. Each leader tackled the greatest challenge before them in the next year, and described how they were going to make progress.

This can be an intimidating group. They are the top in their field. They have accomplished a lot. They are all viewed by each other as very successful.

Many outlined how knowing themselves helped lay the foundation for this project. Some had slides and handouts. Others simply stood up and talked. All were open about their own weaknesses.

It was the weaknesses that resonated with me the most. These leaders were pretty hard on themselves. At times, the group would interrupt the presenter, just to encourage them and remind them how incredible they really were, despite those weaknesses.

I was having a conversation with one of them afterwards.

“It’s funny, we see others strengths, and our own weaknesses filtered through some insecurity.”

They replied with something that stuck with me.

“Totally, though I was surprised at some people’s inability to see their own role in their story, including me.”

Their own role in their story. It is so easy to see others as strong, courageous, determined and successful, while discounting yourself.

We see their strengths, but know our weaknesses.

We see their success, but see our failures.

We hear their words, but hear our inner voice.

Where have you discounted your own role in your story? Where have you focused on your weaknesses, while forgetting the strengths?

You have an important role to play in your story and your life.

If you could only see yourself the way we see you. You’d be surprised at how strong and courageous you really look.

Internal Customers

Customer Service Word CloudA few weeks ago, I was teaching a customer service class. One of the exercises split the group into small teams and they were asked to identify all of their customers. The lists grew, and the flip charts filled.

As I walked from group to group, I began to notice something. All of the lists were outwardly focused. I stayed quiet, but kept walking around the room. The lists continued and so did the focus outside of their organization.

Focusing on the outside customer is not a bad thing. We all need the customers outside of our organization. However, once the teams got up to present their lists to the rest of the room, they realized that there was an entire customer base they had missed. They missed their internal customers.

The teams went back to their lists. The lists rapidly grew and so did the realization. These various organizations or departments didn’t exist by themselves. Each team had an array of departments, individuals, or people that they provide customer service within their own operation. Some realized that a majority of their work is providing service to internal customers.

One team in particular had an interesting observation.

“We wonder if our continued focus outside, and essentially ignoring our internal customers, is a major reason why our external customers are not completely satisfied.”

That observation hit home with all of the teams. As we set customer service goals later in the session, each team began with goals to increase their internal customers’ satisfaction first, before tackling the other customers.

As I drove home from this session, I began to make my list of internal customers. The list included my co-workers, other departments, my wife, my kids, my family, and my friends. As I set goals for my external customer’s satisfaction, I also wrote down a few goals for my internal customers.

We all have internal customers. Do we focus on them? Spend a few minutes today making a list of your internal customers. A little focus internally may be just what we need to be better externally.

Jumping to Offense

Cliff Sign

(Image Courtesy of http://www.aroundtheworldl.com)

The other day during a conversation with someone close, I noticed something about our interaction. It was a simple conversation, nothing too deep or seemingly important, but a pattern revealed itself.

The pattern was simple: I jump to offense.

Let me explain. This means that my mind appears to be on a quest to find a way to be offended at what someone else is saying. By quest, I mean that my mind considers this its highest priority and will devote both time, energy, and resources to ensure the quest’s success.

Here are a few examples:

“It is getting kind of late for sending out Christmas Cards”

My Jump: So are you saying that I should have sent these out?

“It would be nice to do more interactive things at the next holiday with everyone”

My Jump: So they expect me to plan this then be responsible for meeting everyone’s idea of what is fun?

“We need to make sure we are attentive to the bottom line”

My Jump: So they are saying that I am overspending?

There are risks in jumping to offense, just like the risk of jumping off a cliff. It is dangerous and there is unseen peril just beyond the lip. Luckily I am beginning to notice this pattern as it occurs (or shortly afterwards).

I realize that I need to retrain my mind to see the warning sign on the edge of that cliff before I go off jumping. Picturing that warning sign helps, but also explaining to the person I am talking with if it begins to happen.

Here are a few tips for my fellow jumpers:

  1. Recognize your bent toward Jumping to Offense.
  2. Understand that Jumping to Offense is dangerous, for you and others.
  3. Slow down and listen, don’t respond right away.
  4. Ask clarifying questions, make sure you understand what the other person is saying.
  5. If you do jump, climb back up and reconcile with those around you.
  6. Repeat steps as needed.

Where are you Jumping to Offense? Take a few moments to think about where you could, as my grandmother always used to say, “look before you leap.”

P.S. I am going to print out this photo and put it where I can see it every day.

The Cost of Free

FreeRecently, someone was describing a difficult relationship. This is no ordinary difficult relationship, but one with someone who is deeply connected with this person.

They have a long history.

It has been difficult.

They still have to interact on a regular basis.

To make matters worse, the other person offers things for FREE. Since these things are typically valuable, there is an incentive to accept these FREE items or events.

As this person described the situations, conversations, or interactions leading up to these FREE offerings, something became abundantly clear.

These offers were anything but FREE.

The COST OF FREE was significant to this person, their family, and those close to them.

The COST OF FREE to this person was in the emotional stress and obligations that these FREE offerings came with after the fact. They became indebted to this other person.

The COST OF FREE to their family was the toll the stress had on their ability to connect with them during these difficult times, and the time away that the other person would eventually require as payment.

The COST OF FREE to those close was also in the form of stress, but also the inability to have the time to connect because they owed someone else their time, energy, and creativity.

I encouraged this person to calculate the COST OF FREE from now on and compare it to the value of what was being offered. Before this, they just saw the value of what was being offered and felt the obligation to say YES.

Now they can calculate the COST OF FREE and if that cost outweighs the offer, they can say NO.

Have you considered the COST OF FREE? Maybe it is time count the cost.

You may find a way to FREE yourself.

Unspoken Expectations: Hidden Frustrations

In life, work, home, or family we have expectations of others. Others have expectations of us. Some expectations are shared and we can choose to meet the expectation or not.

Your employer may expect you to show up to work on time. They inform you. You wake up early to meet that expectation. There are consequences for being late, and certain actions will be taken if needed.

Pretty clear expectation with appropriate ramifications.

Not all expectations are as clear.

There are Unspoken Expectations.

Unlike regular expectations, the unspoken version are not clear and you may not know that they exist. Not knowing doesn’t prevent being measured against this standard. In fact, the Unspoken Expectations are typically measured more stringently.

Why do we keep these expectations to ourselves?

Why don’t we tell that employee that we really want them to show initiative and take on a project to call their own?

Why don’t we say we really don’t want to eat out there? Or go visit those people? Or attend that event?

Why don’t we tell our boss that we need more concrete feedback, not a passing “You’re Awesome” as they rush past us in a distracted flurry?

Why don’t we say this his how we need to be treated?

As we measure other people against these expectations, our frustration builds. We are not getting what we think need or want from others, and we keep it hidden.

These Hidden Frustrations pile on each other and create distance and difficulty in our relationships and our organizations.

Something prevents us from speaking out these expectations, and the frustrations grow. These Hidden Frustrations damage our ability to lead, follow, or relate to those around us.

Once we know that we may holding others to Unspoken Expectations, two options appear.

1. If the expectation is that important, we need to move past our fear and have a conversation.

2. If our frustration is being caused by an unrealistic expectation, we may need to let that standard go.

Over the next few days, when you are feeling frustrated with others, take out a sheet of paper. Write down the expectations. Seeing those words and expectations will help determine which option to follow.

Throwing the Javelin

London Olympics Athletics Women

(Image Courtesy of http://ydtalk.com)

Over the past few weeks I have been part of an experiment. A learning experiment. Seth Godin, one of the coolest people on the planet recently announced a new way of learning: Learning Together.

Beyond creative, the Krypton Community College (with its cool narwhal mascot) is an experience in learning with other people. The first class was centered on help to move past (or dance with) our fears, pick ourselves, and move projects forward. Part of an early assignment included interviewing people who brought something into the world and how fear played a role in the process.

The thought of asking pretty amazing and accomplished people about fear was scary in itself.

What if these folks didn’t really experience fear?

Maybe fear is just what the rest of us feel.

Was that what sets them apart in their success?

Maybe that is why I am not as successful.

I pressed on and scheduled an interview anyway (dancing with my own fear). When the questions moved away from the details of what this person had accomplished to how they felt and dealt with any fears that were part of the process, an amazing story emerged.

I learned that this person had to give a talk on a technical topic to hundreds of experts in this field. This person was not a technical expert on the subject at hand, but was part of trying to raise awareness, address challenges, offer solutions, and help increase funding for this issue.

Speaking to this crowd did bring fear (which surprised me because they are so confident). Fear of not being credible, or coming across in a way that would not acknowledge the depth of knowledge in the room and limit the receptivity to these new ideas.

So, they called their dad for advice.  I will let them tell the rest in their own words:

My dad’s stellar advice on how to handle presenting information to a group of providers who were twice my age and real experts in the issue was to start off my presentation by joking that I was actually going to teach them how to throw the javelin.

It worked like a charm. I started to get into the stance, told them I was intimidated by their knowledge and expertise and recognized they knew the field much better than I did. So, I said that I’d changed up my plan for the presentation and was teaching javelin instead since I was the expert in that.

They all laughed, and were super supportive when I actually got into the real presentation. I also felt way more comfortable. And, throughout our time together a number of them became great thought partners/mentors/teachers and took me under their wing.

I think acknowledging my fears, owning them, and accepting them really helped start our work off on the right foot, and rather than feeling skeptical the group wanted to help me and later felt more comfortable sharing their fears about the work we were doing.

Great advice for any of us wrestling with our next project, idea, task, or talk.

Acknowledge the fear.

Own the fear.

Accept the fear.

And begin by Throwing the Javelin.

The Optimism Zone

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(Image Courtesy of Real Balance Wellness)

Soccer, youth travel soccer to be specific, now fills most of our days. Practices fill the week. Games fill the weekend.

Each week we are surrounded by increased skills, increased playing ability, and an increased level of teamwork.

Each week something else has also increased: the negativity of the spectators.

Negativity creeps in, when something doesn’t go the right way. At first negativity is hard to notice, and it may begin as disappointment.

The collective “OH NO, TOO BAD” when a goal is missed, turns into “UGH.”

The “GOOD TRY” becomes “WHY DIDN’T YOU MAKE THAT PLAY.”

About a week ago, the negativity became so loud during the game that it made my emotional glass cloudy. For hours after that game, I had the kind of emotional hangover that lasted for more than a few hours.

At the next day’s game, we set up early and made a declaration:

“This area right here (pointing to the imaginary large circle surrounding our folding chairs) is a declared Optimism Zone. If you feel the need to be negative, you need to go someplace else.”

For the first few minutes of the game we had to remind others a few times.

“As a reminder, you are in the Optimism Zone, all statements and comments should reflect that, if not, you should find another area to sit.”

The game, the comments, and our experience improved dramatically. We were returning to positive comments, and encouraging remarks.

The original negativity comes partly from how much these parents, friends, and family care about the players and how much they want them to succeed, and to win.

What began as coaching, became tearing down. What began as cheering, became criticism. Once negativity becomes the dominant way to express emotions, it slowly becomes the only channel.

Our attitudes and emotional state are contagious.

Perhaps we could all use an Optimism Zone to recalibrate our interactions.