The Neglected Leadership Art Of Vision Casting

One of the traps that I see many managers fall into is the belief that people don’t change. Often they fall into this when they feel they’ve tried everything to motivate and engage their team without success. A cynical attitude sets in followed by a commensurate reduction in expectation. The next step is a decrease in productivity, and the downward spiral begins.

But people do change. Even if the specific evidence around us says otherwise. Subjectively you may tell yourself that people don’t change but science tells us that they do. As a matter of fact the very definition of life is the ability to change. Anything that isn’t changing is dead (a lesson for business).

The science behind motivation shows that people will change when they’ve been motivated properly. The problem is that we often use extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivators because they’re easier to apply.

We’re at a place in our business history where leadership and management are experiencing diminishing returns on their extrinsic investments. Incremental pay raises and fringe benefits aren’t producing the commensurate increase in productivity that we were looking for. And it’s getting harder and harder to retain great talent. Many employees aren’t that interested in more external rewards if it means just doing more of the same work.

Something or someone needs to tap a nerve in the worker that will generate an internal vibe that motivates them intrinsically. This can be done. This must be done if we’re ever going to turn the tide of waning employee engagement.

The good news is that it’s possible, but only if we commit to giving our teams a greater vision. For too long we’ve had our head down and plowed, only looking up to check the bottom line. It’s time to lift our heads to see the big picture, to inspire our teams with the whole vision.

We’re growing as a nation of workers. We’re seeking new motivations for doing what we spend most of our waking hours doing. We want to use all of our skills and talents. We’re looking deeper into the purpose of our work and trying to find meaning.

This is a challenge for leadership and management because it demands that they dig deeper, too. Seeking intrinsic motivators means we have to find ways to inspire our teams to do great work. It may mean some reorganization within the team. It may mean some fine-tuning of our structure. It probably requires deeper understanding and communication on both ends. It certainly means casting a larger more inspiring vision.

Navigating The Personalities

Multi-ethnic group of university students smiling in a classroom

I’ve been doing a lot of personality profile training these days within my leadership communications workshops. That one component of the workshop seems to add the most value to the leaders I train. Lightbulbs go on all day long as we apply the understanding of the various personality types to the teams we’re leading.

The beauty of this training is that you don’t have to have a doctorate in Psychology to derive benefit. A basic understanding of the four gross classifications of personality are enough to facilitate better team communications and productivity.

The first lightbulb that I often see going on is the understanding that we are all unique individuals but at the same time highly programed by our personality. That’s the dichotomy within the human animal. The second bulb to go on is the revelation that Sally doesn’t often follow our lead because she doesn’t speak our language so we need to learn hers (the very essence of leadership).

When this lightbulb burns within the training group the energy in the room becomes palpable. Leaders see at a much more personal level that they need to work at bringing down communication barriers if their team is going to engage and reach the desired objective.

The era of “command and control” is closing, with most leaders today acknowledging that leading the “whole worker” is much more effective. We aren’t “personal” or “professional.” We’re one whole being: each sphere influencing the other. A proper understanding of our team member’s personality (and our own) will facilitate healthier and more productive work relationships, which will in turn produce a more effective and engaged team.

Leadership Essential For The Road Ahead

There’s no doubt that things in the business world are changing. Relative to leadership, the age of command and control is waning, and a new age of authentic leadership is rising. The skillset for this new age is different from the old one. Many leaders are sensing it and making adjustments to their leadership style.

Why is this happening? The age of command and control was born out of the industrial and information ages. People (read: workers) were largely seen as machines (human capital) to be moved around and manipulated. But people aren’t cattle and we’re learning that if we want to increase productivity with our teams, we are going to need to lead the whole worker (#wholeworker), taking into consideration their thoughts, feelings, and contributions.

This transition has caught many leaders off guard. Many are learning the hard way that the old leadership skillset is not as effective on the new 21st century worker.

Chief among the resources needed in this new skillset is the practice of empathy. Empathic leadership is required if we are going to engage workers and increase productivity. But many leaders, especially those entrenched in command and control, are in need of some training in order to inculcate and employ this skill.

There are actually three types of empathy that a leader needs to employ in the guidance of their team’s activities: cognitive, emotional, and empathic concern.

Cognitive empathy is the skill of understanding how another thinks. It’s the understanding of their mental model. Awareness of their personality type is one way we train for cognitive empathy. Cognitive empathy helps us relate to teammates in ways they understand, typically using their vocabulary.

Emotional empathy is the immediate felt sense of what’s going on in the teammate. It’s the human connection. It’s feeling what they feel. It’s relating to our teammate on an emotional level. This is a severe departure from command and control, which was not concerned with the concept of the whole worker. The hitch is that we’re people, not machines, and we need to lead the whole worker if we’re looking for better outcomes.

Empathic concern is the result of the leader taking into consideration the data gathered from the first two forms of empathy, and then taking action. It’s making the leadership move. It’s saying to yourself and your teammate, what can I do to help? What resources can I make available to you to release the stress, relieve the bottleneck, and remove the chokepoint?

If we’re going to make advances in team productivity through 2018 it’s going to be by moving toward a more authentic and empathic model of leadership. Employing these three forms of empathy is one of the ways to get there. Bringing our teams into greater engagement, professional satisfaction, and productivity is the goal of authentic leadership and the outcome of better leadership practices.

*I’m indebted to Daniel Goleman (Emotional Intelligence) for the delineation of the three forms of empathy.

Change: Five Steps to Personal Transformation

Change is often perceived as something that is hard to accomplish. That generalization is not too helpful. Some change is hard, some is easy. If I ask you to change the clothes you wear – that’s easy. If I ask you to stop smoking – that may seem hard. It’s important that we define change a little more specifically if we are going to make some effective adjustments in our life. Change actually happens on many different levels: the environmental level, the behavioral level, the capability level, the belief, and identity levels. Think of these levels as five concentric circles. Change happens most easily at the outermost circle, the environmental level, and demands a bit more effort as we move toward the core, identity level. Let’s take a look at the various levels and how you might make some changes in each to shake up your routine and get you out of that rut.

Change At The Environmental Level

The first and easiest level to make changes in is the environmental level. This is the external world that you’ve created around you. Yes, you’ve created this world! The clothes you wear, what you eat, where you hang and who you hang with, are all a part of your environment. Changing your environment is crucial to getting you out of that rut. Now remember, we’re taking some simple steps here. We want the first changes to be easy but effective in moving us out of our routine.

Simple things like adding some new clothes to your wardrobe can begin to break our habitual cycles. Think about changing the colors that your routinely wear. As simple as this suggestion sounds, you’ll be amazed at the effect the color and texture of clothes has on your mental state. Our clothes and the colors we wear are one of the ways our personality expresses itself. Is there another side of you that your clothes currently don’t express? If you’re addicted to somber colors try brightening it up a bit. Go to a store and try on items that you wouldn’t normally. Notice how they make you feel when you’re wearing them. Try different materials and textures as well. Not a hat person? Try one on and see how it makes you feel.

Another environmental change you can make is to go do something that you’ve never done before, gathering some new experiences. These don’t have to be expensive trips to some exotic locale. They could be as simple as stepping into a store that you’ve never been to before, or taking a different route home. You never know what will turn up. Shaking up your routine is what we are after in changing your environment.

Finally, a third and deeper environmental change concerns with whom you spend your time. Chances are if you’re feeling stuck in a rut you are not being motivated by your current relationships. If you’re in a rut I’m willing to bet that some of your friends are feeling the same thing too. Finding some new friends can be challenging, but remember we are taking small steps here. You’re not looking to scrap all your friends, just make a few new and different acquaintances. This dovetails well with gathering some new experiences. Once you put yourself in a different environment chances are you will meet some different people. Be bold and step out. Introduce yourself first! Most of our lives we convince ourselves that we are so different from everyone around us. This puts a wall up between us, and those who could be enriching our world.

Change at the environmental level is easy and effective in moving us out of the rut and into a more fulfilling life. But changing your environment alone will not bring the fulfillment that we’re looking for. For that we have to go a bit deeper. We have to change our behavior. Environmental change coupled with behavioral change is a powerful force that can propel us into the life we want to lead. From here we’ll dig a little deeper and work at effecting change at the behavioral level, getting closer to the core of who we are.

Change At The Behavioral Level

Any time we talk about behavior we have to talk about responsibility, because we are the agents of our behavior. As soon as we begin to analyze our behavior, the idea of taking responsibility for our life and actions appears. Yes, a series of events did happen (life), but it was our response or reaction to those events that brought us to where we are today. The day you stop playing the blame game and stop looking for an invite to a pity-party (a party that becomes a prison) is the day you break out into real freedom and take control of your life. We can’t control all the events that happen in our life, but we can control our response to them and thus the outcome those events will have on our life. Responsible people realize that they are “response able.” You are in fact able to choose the response you will have to the events happening around you.

Often, when we get into a self-pity mode we start a cycle of negative thinking. We begin to make generalized negative statements about our self and about our behavior. The first thing to do is realize that you are not your behavior, and although you are responsible for your actions, you can admit that you may have made some poor choices, forgive yourself, and move on to some more positive behaviors. Take an inventory of the things you can do well and keep your mind focused on these. Stop limiting yourself by listing in your head what you “can’t” do. All of those “can’ts” are self-limiting beliefs. As a matter of fact, eliminate the word “can’t” from your vocabulary! Set your mind free of negative thinking and you will take a large step in your progress to moving out of that rut and breaking that routine.

One of the behavioral changes you can make is to schedule some regular new events into your week that get you going in the direction you want to go. Now don’t overdo it. I’m not talking about programming every waking hour, just a few throughout the week. Plan on hitting the gym twice a week. Commit to getting your banking done during your lunch-break every Thursday. Once we get some positive routines moving in our week, our life begins to take on new structure and meaning.

Remember to think of these levels of change as five concentric circles. Change happens most easily at the outermost circle, the environmental level, and demands a bit more effort as we move toward the core, the identity level. Let’s continue to move from the outermost level (environment) through the second level (behavior) to the third level (capability) were we deal with change regarding our capabilities or skills.

Change At The Capability Level

Capabilities or skills are the things that you can do, now. Everyone has a skillset that they have learned through training, education and experience. We often shortchange ourselves when it comes to listing the skills we have that can help us effect change in our life. Did you work in a pizza parlor? You probably took orders from customers, both face to face and on the phone, so you have customer-relations experience, as well as telephone sales experience. Were you in charge of the crew that night? Then you have managerial experience. My point, in using this simple example, is that we often don’t see all of the various skills that it took to accomplish a particular job. With that in mind there are a few exercises that we can do to help define our skills, take them to the next level, and acquire new ones.

What strengths do you have? What strengths would you like to have? Make a list for both of these categories. Jot down an action next to each one that will increase your capability in that area. If it’s a strength you already have, how can you improve it? If it’s a strength you’d like to have, how could you acquire it? What training would you need to be really good at it? You now have the beginnings of an action plan that will move you in the direction you want to go. Take the list of your current skills and rank them, with the strongest being number one. Look at the top three skills on that list. Are they things that you want to continue doing in the future? If not, rank the list of the skills that you would like to have and take a look at the top three. Would acquiring them move you in the direction you want to go? Is it possible to acquire those skills in the near future? What’s the first step that you have to take to acquire them?

Doing an honest inventory of your skills should give your spirit a boost and clarify your vision for the future. Remember, we often shortchange ourselves and don’t give ourselves credit for accomplishing what we have done in life. Quiet the “inner critic” and give yourself the credit you’re due for accomplishing what you have thus far. Chances are many of the choices you’ve made have shown some measure of courage, strength, and understanding.

Don’t let the “can’ts” that I mentioned previously get in your way at this level. Change at the capabilities level is essential to moving on in the world of work and the “can’ts” will stop you dead in your tracks, if you let them. We’ll deal with those more directly in the next concentric circle, the belief level.

Change At The Belief Level

Our belief system is what forms the world inside our head and determines how we react to the world around us. Beliefs are either empowering or disempowering. Because of this it is very important that we pay attention to the care and feeding of our beliefs. Most of our beliefs we get from others around us. Our parents, siblings, classmates, and coworkers help form our beliefs. Most importantly, we continue to modify them as time goes on.

We live in a world that is constantly trying to limit us. We are told repeatedly what we can and can’t do. Many of these limitations form beliefs in our mind about our capabilities. Society as a whole tries to get us to conform to a certain pattern and that pattern can be very limiting.

Do you ever find yourself wrapped up in some negative thought? This often generates depressive thinking. Negative thinking and self-doubt is so common. What we need are some strategies to help us out of our negative thinking and on to something a bit more positive. There are three steps we can take.

First, we need to become aware of just how deep the problem is. Many of us walk around all day long without realizing that we are constantly reciting some negative mantra in our head. These become self-limiting beliefs that dis-empower us. So, become aware of just what you are thinking during your day. Take note of the number of times and the kind of negative statements that you are making to yourself. Do you start in with it first thing in the morning? Does it only happen when you are around certain people, or doing certain things? Becoming aware of just how deep the problem is, is one third of the way toward changing this habit.

The next step is to call it what it is, a negative thought. That’s all. It has no power within itself to do anything to you. It’s whether you choose to believe it or not that’s important. Is it true? If it’s true (and it rarely is) can we do something about it so that it will no longer be true? If it’s not true, we need to take the next step.

The third step is to replace it with a corresponding, specific positive thought. Negative thoughts are usually general in nature – thoughts like, “I’m no good.” “I could never do that.” and, “I always fail at whatever I do.” Words like always, never and ever are absolutes that usually make the negative statement false.

The key in the replacement process is to make the positive statement specific. This lodges in the brain better and longer than any general statement. So instead of replacing “I’m no good,” with “I’m good,” replace it with a specific like, “I’m really good at making new friends.” As long as the positive statement is true (we don’t want to lie to ourselves) this will attach itself to our thinking much more quickly than some other generalization.

Do this with each negative thought you identify throughout your day. Write down the corresponding, specific positive thought. If you do this for a week you will end up with a list of positive affirmations about who you are and what you are capable of. Say them to yourself out loud each morning, noon, and night. Within days of this practice these statements will become part of your belief system and get you acting on the changes you want to make.

You should be realizing that change is not too hard if we have a strategy with which to work. If we start to work at changes on the outermost and easiest levels we can see progress much more quickly. With that encouragement we can then move on to the deeper levels.

Change At The Identity Level

In this last phase of our strategy we are dealing with change at a very deep level: our identity. Change at this level takes effort. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible! We’ve seen changes take place on other levels: environment, capability, behavior, and belief. Identity is just one level deeper. Each of these levels takes us closer to our core being. There is one level deeper than our identity at which change can take place and that’s the spiritual level. But whether or not that level exists can be debated and so, is outside of the scope of this article.

Change at both the identity and spiritual levels are not just changes, they are transformations! If we are going to be transformed then we need to wrestle with some tough questions. Those questions include: Who am I? and what’s my purpose in life? Now although answering those questions may not lead us into any quick changes, they do begin to clarify our direction, and if our direction is clear then we can proceed down the road. Transformation happens as we proceed on that journey. Transformation takes action.

Realize that changing our identity is really just gaining an understanding of who we have always been from the start, and setting out on a course of action that facilitates becoming that person. Start by making a list of your character traits. List as many as you can. Then go to three people that know you well and ask them to give you a list of your character traits. Did you miss any on your own list? Did you list things that others didn’t mention? Ask yourself why. Dig deep and be honest with yourself.

There are three things that often get in the way of our expression of who we truly are. The first is our internal vision of our perfect self. This is an ideal that we would like to attain but usually don’t. This limits us by making us always feel inferior. We never live up to the ideal and so we’re always down. Realize that this process is normal and natural and give yourself a break. As long as you are diligently working on changing things in the other areas we’ve discussed, you are doing all that you can to express who you are, right now. As long as you are committed to a course of constant improvement you will move closer to this ideal. Finding flaws along the way is part of the process.

Another thing that clouds our identity is the limiting thoughts and beliefs that we hold about ourselves. We’ve dealt with this at the belief level. At this point you should have a pretty good handle on changing your thoughts and controlling your beliefs so that you are moving in a positive direction.

A third thing that clouds our true identity is dealing with feelings effectively. Life throws lots of punches at us and we don’t often bounce back into the same shape. We get deformed and often limp down the road. Search your heart for feelings that have been left unattended and seek to resolve those before moving ahead. Unresolved anger and not forgiving others can hold you back and influence your expression of who you are in a very negative way. Dealing with this facet of limitation could need the help of a trusted friend or professional counselor.

Working at transforming your identity requires time alone in reflection. Take some time each week to do this. Ask yourself, “What is my positive purpose in life?” Listen quietly and see what you hear. Write down any thoughts or images that come to mind. Are all of your efforts and actions directed at fulfilling that purpose? If not, what actions have been leading you away from your purpose? What actions have been a distraction? Work at minimizing these and you will gain clarity of purpose.

Change doesn’t have to be an impossible affair. If we approach it with a consistent strategy we can accomplish most changes on our own, and with a little help from others we can change most facets of our life to get us out of our routines and ruts. We are complex animals as human beings. But that complexity can be simplified if broken down into its component parts, analyzed and worked with consistent effort over time.

One definition of “life” is “an entity that is changing.” If we take this definition literally that means that we are by very nature always changing if we are alive. Our culture, society and peers may tell us otherwise but these opinions don’t have to be the final authority on our lives. Choosing to change today is making a choice to become alive, adapting and impacting your environment for good.

Learning From Charlottesville

The events over the weekend in Charlottesville, VA, and our president’s response—besides the obvious and important racial issues it raises—shows how deep we are in the trough of declining emotional intelligence (EQ) today.

There’s no doubt that EQ is waning across America. The violence, lack of civility, and disregard for others is evidence of this. The question is, when will we realize that we are a people in need of help?

At the heart of EQ training is the concept of empathy. Empathy is the ability to feel what others are feeling. That only happens when we begin to listen and step into another’s shoes and see things from their point of view. We seem to have lost this capacity.

In the business world we seem to be more concerned with profits than any other business parameter. Layoffs, downsizing, and reduced benefits are de rigueur. Walking in the shoes of the employee has gotten lost.

Back in the eighties John Naisbitt wrote in his bestselling book, Megatrends, that as technology encroached on every facet of our lives we would need to offset this trend with a more deliberate human touch. He coined the term high tech—high touch. For every advancement in technology we need to make an equally deliberate advancement in our human connections.

Not surprisingly, many companies are realizing that an emotionally healthy employee is a productive employee. Companies like Aetna, Akamai, and Concur are leading the way in bringing the whole worker into the office. Providing for the various needs of workers (physical, emotional, and even spiritual) outside of their specific job function is bringing with it a commensurate increase in worker satisfaction, engagement, and, not surprisingly, profitability.

There are ways to get the job done that can benefit all in the employer-employee relationship. Thinking profit over all else is a 20th-century modality that, I believe, will look like an ancient artifact before long. Let’s wake up, learn, and seek the help we need to grow emotionally healthy people, companies, and societies.

Innovation: The Ultimate Game-changer

Recently I was asked to design some programs for a pharmaceutical-launch meeting. The client wanted the doctors participating to have a clear understanding of the new product’s key messages without resorting to the standard slide review type of training session that they have been subjected to so many times. Oh, and could I make it fun and creative.

The request was actually nothing new; several clients had asked the same thing in the past. But oftentimes, after presenting my ideas, the designs were perceived as too far out of the box to garner support from conservative marketing teams, and so we’d usually retreat back to the team’s comfort zone—standard slide review or speaker training sessions.

The difference this time was that the client was thrilled with the ideas I had presented and wanted to move forward with them for launch.

What I had suggested was to draw out the key messages by making the doctors hunt for them—forcing them to dig deeper into the data. This would be done by taking them through a series of games—yes, games—­in which we would challenge their knowledge of the data while at the same time reinforcing their understanding of the key messages covered in the scientific sessions.

What’s of interest to me here is not the games themselves, but the leap of faith that the client took to break out of the box and go with something new. Taking that leap is tough for many clients. I work in the very conservative world of the pharmaceutical universe; most people just want to stay in a safe orbit. The problem is that our times demand innovation—innovation in every industry.

I knew when I brought my communications career into the pharma space over 15 years ago that the standard speaker training session had a limited lifespan. Doctors, at some point, would be unwilling to sit in session after session of best practices in presentation skills. I mean how many times do you want to hear that you need to make some solid eye contact and project your voice to get your message across with impact. Don’t get me wrong­—these things are still necessary­­—as long as we’re using our bodies to communicate our message, we’ll need disciplined skills. But these times demand a different approach to communications training, one that’s not so “head on,” so pedantic.

Without motivation being reinforced no amount of behavioral skills training will be carried out to the field. We will forever be stuck in a loop, attempting to train behavior without affecting the root causes for that behavior, which are motivation and belief. But coming at the problem with a new approach, a back door approach if you will, has the potential to increase that motivation and thereby change the outcome in the field.

What I like about the games we played in these sessions is that they surreptitiously strengthen the motivation for speaking by drawing the speaker deeper into the key messages.  We all know that we communicate much more clearly and, more importantly, are more persuasive when we are motivated and inspired to communicate a particular message. Good training speaks to the root causes of our behavior and modifies it by offering a different motivation or inspiration. By coming through the back door of motivation and inspiration we arrive at our original objective: speakers who are well prepared to communicate our healthcare message. The exciting thing is that this is accomplished without ever once reminding them to make solid eye contact or project their voice.

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