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Archive for March, 2009

This morning I read a post by Jenny Flintoft in which she offers a great exercise for reflecting on what our heroes can teach us about our aspirations for ourselves. When doing Jenny’s exercise I immediately put Ada Mazza, my mother-in-law, on my list. Now I know a mother-in-law may seem like a rather unusual choice for a hero, but that would only because you don’t know mine.

Why Are Some Heroes “Hidden”?

If you asked her who the head of the family is she would unequivocally say, Sandy, her husband. He is the oldest living man in a family of Sicilian descent. He has clearly provided so much for the family on many levels so this is not to diminish his role in any way. Yet when we think of heroes, or leaders for that matter, we often think of the person who is out front “leading the charge” or the people with the “highest level” positions of authority.

The people who don’t necessarily show up on our radar are those who choose to stay in the background. Yet they lead and inspire us just the same. We sometimes call them the unsung heroes. I call them “hidden” because you would not see them from a surface level view. They are far too busy making everything else work and, in Ada’s case, everyone else’s life work.

More often that not they do not want to be in the spotlight. Yet they are heroes nonetheless and they provide a tremendous amount of leadership.

An Example of What Our Hidden Heroes Provide?

In Ada’s case she sets the tone for every family gathering and every happening. There is no drama around her, only love and gratitude for what we have. She is the most genuinely and consistently positive person I know. She has a level of energy that defies her years and a brightness of spirit that makes you feel instantly welcomed and known. Perhaps that is because she is truly grateful for every little thing in her life.

For the last 2 years she has been the caregiver to her husband who is now in the last stages of cancer. Every time I am alone with him he remarks on how amazing she is and how lucky he is to have her. She does not waver in her positive attitude and gratitude for every last minute she has and whatever help anyone can offer no matter how small.

At one point the only thing they could do together was watch football games. She went out and got “Football for Dummies” so she could enjoy the games with him. This is just one very small example of the way she thinks and approaches life. She is always at work on how to make the best of every situation and how to make every interaction the best for others. She is even now hard at work on a project to honor Sandy’s father by telling his story as an immigrant to this country.

Do you see that as leadership? I certainly do. She continually sets the example for us all through her words and actions.

Today I want to express my love, admiration and appreciation for Ada, my “hidden” hero. For even just one moment I hope that she can appreciate herself for being the leader that she is in our family.

Who is one of your hidden heroes? I’d love to hear about them. And make sure you tell them, too!

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How Well Do You Listen?

Whether your immediate answer to this question is “I am a great listener”, “I am a terrible listener” or somewhere in between, asking yourself this question can actually help you improve your ability to listen. Why? Because the moment you ask yourself “how well do I listen?” you are aware. With awareness you will naturally begin to observe yourself. And it is only when we are aware enough to observe our behavior and thought process in anything that we can make a choice to do it better.

Yet the ultimate test of how well we listen has nothing to do with us and our experience at all. The true test of effective listening is whether the person who is speaking actually feels heard and valued for what they said. Heard means that we actually got what the person intended to communicate, not what we think we heard them say. Valued is about leaving a speaker feeling like they matter. Great listeners know it is not just about the words. Listening is all about creating relationship.

So if you want to know how well you are doing, try asking the people you are communicating with on a regular basis for feedback. Start by letting people know you want to get better at listening. Here are a few suggested questions to get you started in a feedback conversation:

1. When we talk do you feel like I actually hear and understand what you are saying?
2. What do I do that has you know I am listening and actually heard you? What do I do that leads you to believe I am not really listening?
3. What have you been saying that you don’t think I have been able to hear?

Don’t let these questions limit you though. Create questions of your own. But do take the time to ask questions and listen closely to the answers. Remember that your intent is to learn. There is no need to defend yourself. None of us are perfect at listening. If someone triggers one of your hot buttons you just learned something important about where you can go to work. It also means they trust you enough to tell you like it is which is a really good sign about the strength of your relationship.

Listening fully is one of the greatest gifts we can give to another person. It also happens to improve our relationships and our results! So have fun reaping the rewards of your heightened awareness this week. You never know what you might hear that can make a difference for the future.

So how well do you listen? Let us know what you learn and discover this week.

If you would like support please feel free to post your questions here or send your questions to susan@randomactsofleadership.com.

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A few weeks ago I was talking with a dentist about the challenges of running an office. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you work in a huge company or a small office, wherever there are people trying to work together there is inevitably an issue I will call “whose job is it?”. The even more personal version of this issue is “but that’s not my job”. It arises when something isn’t getting done that everyone knows needs to be done.

In my conversation with the dentist we talked about the basics like “whose job is it to take out the garbage?”. He asked, “how does such a simple and easy thing get so complicated?” I’ll suggest it gets complicated the minute we think it’s supposed to be someone else’s job.

So whose job is it to take out the garbage? How about the person who sees that the garbage can is full?

Defining our job descriptions can certainly be helpful, but I think we have gone overboard. Trying to identify all the tasks that define our jobs these days is virtually impossible. And all too often it gets in the way of getting the job at hand done. In the case of my friend the dentist the buck always stops with him anyway. Every job is his job as long as it doesn’t get done by someone else.

Where does the buck stop where you work? What might be possible if we all started to think like we owned the place?

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Much has been written about flow and being in the present moment. I have read a ton of it, searching for keys to experiencing more flow in my life and work. I can work so hard at times that I exhaust myself in the process. There have also been too many times in my life when I have worked like crazy and not been particularly satisfied with the outcome or the journey. Does this sound familiar? When I look around at my family, friends and clients I know I am not alone in those experiences. Of course we have all had times of flow as well. However, it can be challenging to find your way back once you get off track.

When Christine Comaford asked us, a group of highly motivated entrepreneurs, this question, I had one of those “aha” moments. It is such a simple yet potent question. It is a simple context for observing your experience in any given moment. What makes it potent is that it also gives us a very clear choice that we can make to shift our experience immediately.

Take a moment and think about these two words. I am not asking “what do they mean?”, but rather “what do they feel like?”.

While both words imply moving forward, each provokes a very distinct experience. If you have ever watched a world class dancer or athlete they make their execution of extraordinary skills seem effortless to us as the observer. They are not trying to get to the end of the performance or the game. They are focused on executing flawlessly in each and every moment. Runners are taught to relax into their stride rather than to push themselves to the finish line. It actually conserves precious energy. Champions, while their eye is in the prize, learn to stride in their execution. If you want to be a champion in whatever you do or even just enjoy the journey more I suggest you learn to stride more and strive less.

WHERE DID WE LEARN TO STRIVE?

In our society, particularly our business culture, there is a lot of attention on achievement. People are striving to be the best and to do their best. And there is certainly nothing wrong with either. Some of us even thrive on the adrenaline rush that often comes along with the drive to succeed. Yet the way we go about achieving anything can either fuel us or leave us exhausted and/or unsatisfied. We can spend too much time thinking and worrying about the future that we forget to be present in the only moment we have, right now. We can work really hard trying to do everything and go as fast as possible only to end up exhausted. We can get so caught up in all we have to do that we miss the moments in our lives that are truly the most precious. Perhaps the most surprising cost of all is that we can achieve extraordinary things and be left feeling unsatisfied, like it is somehow not enough or that we haven’t gotten “there” yet.

WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE TO STRIDE?

The simple answer is we know it when we feel it. So at best I can attempt to describe the feeling from my own point of view. Nonetheless I’ll give it a shot. I invite you to answer this question in your comments as well.

My first thought is that striding is like flow – that experience when everything just seems to be clicking. We lose track of time. It takes effort, yet feels effortless. We feel inspired and often make remarkable progress. And when we step away from what we are doing, we have this intense level of satisfaction knowing we just did some of our best work.

My second thought is that perhaps the difference between striving and striding can be the difference between working hard and working smart. Chances are if you are working at a frenetic pace, feeling pressured and stressed out you are striving.

SO LOOK AT YOUR LIFE RIGHT NOW: ARE YOU STRIDING OR STRIVING?

A final note of thanks… A few weekends ago I participated in a workshop called the Business Acceleration Intensive with Christine Comaford of Mighty Ventures. I want to thank Christine, Paul Keetch and the participants in BAI for sharing your wisdom, your inspiration and for your incredible support. Somehow I think I will be striding a lot more knowing I have all of you in my corner.

If you want to experience Christine’s coaching I suggest you go to http://www.AskChristine.com and register for her next free teleseminar. If you do I highly recommend you submit a question.

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While on the way to catch my plane in San Francisco yesterday I realized I left my cell phone behind. After a moment (or two) of panic I realized this could actually be an interesting experiment. It was.

Throughout the day I noticed I was more interested in and observant of all that was going on around me. I interacted with people more and wondered how many times I have bumped into someone and not even noticed. I wasn’t busy rushing off to a corner to sneak in a quick call or check messages. It was actually a lot more relaxing. I didn’t sit waiting in anticipation during the last few minutes of the flight to turn my phone on the minute the wheels of the plane touched down. Instead I had a great conversation with the person 2 seats over with whom I had barely talked to during the 4 hour flight.

There are More Things to Distract us Now Than Ever Before

While the cell phone can be an incredible tool it is also a terrible distraction. It’s a distraction that can even be deadly. They issue tickets for “driving while distracted”: a poor consolation for the person who got hit. The cell phone is just one of so many distractions we have to deal with throughout the day. Many of us have had to learn to manage an expectation of 24/7 responsiveness. The tools we have to meet that challenge may help make us more efficient, but I am not convinced it makes us more effective.

I would venture to say that we try to do a lot more things while distracted than ever before. The cost in our day to day lives of multi-tasking may not be at the level of life or death. Yet I would like you to consider that the cost could be life or death of another sort. It can cost us the motivation of the people who look to us for leadership slowly blowing out the flame of their passion. It can also cost us mutual trust and respect in our relationships with the people who we count on and who count on us. If you invest just a little more time thinking about this you will likely see many more costs to consider.

5 Signs of Leading While Distracted

Do you or did you ever…

1. Engage in a conversation you have no bandwidth for or interest in at the moment.

2. Listen to the conversation in your head instead of what the other person is saying including that little voice that keeps repeating “I hope they will be done soon”.

3. Get on a conference call and answer e-mails or twitter thinking that since people can’t see you, they won’t know and that it doesn’t really matter anyway.

4. Schedule a meeting and show up unprepared or fail to prepare for someone else’s meeting and show up anyway. (NOTE: A really good reason is not a “free pass”)

5. Allowing a conversation to be interrupted by an electronic device (telephone, computer, blackberry, i-phone, tweetdeck, etc.)

There is No “Good” Excuse for Not Giving Someone Your Full Attention

We can justify these and other distracted behaviors with “well everyone else does it” or “there just aren’t enough hours in a day” or “I’m trying my best”. Those reasons may get us off the hook in our own minds, but there is still a cost to the person/people on the other end. We have all done something like the things in this list. If you are like me you have done every one of them at one time or another. The point is not that we should feel bad about it. We can, however, be more awake so we can be 100% responsible for the impact our actions have on others.

If you are thinking, but I’m not the leader or I hate it when my boss does those things, think again. Anytime people are counting on you is an opportunity to lead, even if it is simply by example. Furthermore, the extent to which we allow others to get away with these behaviors with us harms both our relationship with them and with ourselves. Consider whether the message you are sending through your actions or inaction is one you really want to send.

What is the Solution?

The solution falls into the category of “simple but not always easy”. It is to make a conscious choice to give whomever you are interacting with your full attention. (Hint: The grocery store clerk is NOT less important than your boss in this regard.) It is a choice you have to keep making over and over and in countless situations every day. The hard part can be coming to terms with the cost. The good news is we can definitely get better at it with practice. The better news is we are likely to be grateful for all the things we discover that we have been missing out on.

Perhaps the most significant gift we can give another person in this fast paced world full of distraction is our full attention. It can be just for a moment, but it can make THE difference in whether that interaction has a positive or a negative impact on your relationships and even your results.

What could we all do to get better at giving the gift of our attention?

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