Tag Archives | Leadership

Power Is Not a Dirty Word


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It was one of those crystalizing moments, when lots of swirling puzzle pieces suddenly come together and the picture makes sense.

I was listening to an interview about Power and Leadership with Linda Kohanov, founder of EponaQuest and author of a new book, “The Power of the Herd.” I had read her first book, “The Tao of Equus,” last year, and was looking forward to the interview.

I wasn’t disappointed. “The Power of the Herd” presents a new view of Power and Leadership. Kohanov described how this evolved as a result of her work with a rescued stallion who had been abused:

“The most surprising thing to me was that I discovered that kindness, sympathy and understanding weren’t enough to heal the wounds of that level of misused power, that I had to become powerful myself. And yet I had to become powerful in a different way than the kind of Domininance/Submission power that abused him to begin with. And I really wasn’t sure what that was.” Healing With Horse Telesummit 2013

Kohanov went on to describe the journey she embarked on to discover – and embody – the power needed to heal that stallion, and what she learned. I was struck by three key ideas:

  • Predatory vs. Non-Predatory Power
  • The Importance of Boundaries
  • The Role of Nurturing and Companionship

These came together with other teachings to give me a new understanding of leadership, and of power.

The Puzzle Pieces

That’s the background. Here’s where the pieces of the puzzle began to fall together.

PREDATORY vs. NON-PREDATORY POWER

Over time, through research, observation and first-hand work with horses, Kohanov developed a model of what she calls “Predatory Power” vs. “Non-Predatory Power.” While horses are “prey” animals, they are herd animals and leaders of the herd certainly exert power over the other members. Language is important, though, and the term “prey” conjures images of quivering victims. This is not what she observed, so she chose the term “non-predatory” power.

What’s the difference, you ask?

Predatory Power: Leaders nourish themselves at the expense of the others.
Non-Predatory Power: Individual and group needs are met.

Predatory Power: Leaders value territory over relationships.
Non-Predatory Power: Leaders value relationships over territory.

Predatory Power: Leaders value Goals over Process – “The end justifies the means.”
Non-Predatory Power: Leaders value Process over Goals – The end does not justify the means.

While Kohanov developed this model as a result of working with horses, she works with people as well, and there are of course parallels to human leadership. She went on to talk about classic “dominance” leadership, and I was reminded of something Mark Rashid, a well-known horse trainer and author, teaches.

In his book, “Horses Never Lie,” Rashid describes two types of leaders he has observed in herds – often within the same herd: “Dominant” leaders verses “passive” leaders. Dominant leaders are the “alpha horses” that rule the herd: They eat first, drink first, and spend a lot of time reminding the others who is boss. But the other type of leader, rather than constantly asserting its dominance, seems to be chosen by the others. Why are they chosen? As prey animals, horses need to conserve energy so that they have it when they need to escape.

“Primarily they conserve energy in a herd situation by willingly following a leader that they know won’t cause them unnecessary stress or aggravation. In the herds that I had a chance to work with, it was evident that seldom, if ever, was the chosen leader the alpha horse. Rather, it was a horse that had proven its leadership qualities in a quiet and consistent manner from one day to the next. In other words, it was a horse that led by example, not by force.” (Horses Never Lie, Skyhorse Publishing, ©2000, p. 38.)

He proposed that it made sense to him, in working with horses, to be the kind of leader they would want to follow, rather than having to constantly force them to follow him.

That sounds great, except… language is important.

I was impressed with Rashid’s ideas, and I translated them not only to my own work with horses but to people, too: I kept thinking about my own experiences with “dominant” or “alpha” human leaders vs. leaders who lead by example. But again, language is important, and calling them “passive leaders” was a stumbling block for me. Apparently I wasn’t alone; in his new book, “Life Lessons from a Ranch Horse,” Rashid admits that created “quite a stir…After all, how can one be passive and still be a leader?

Well, Kohanov’s language and examples helped this to make more sense. If I go back and substitute “non-predatory” for “passive” all my resistance goes away.

But wait, it gets better!

VULNERABILITY AND BOUNDARIES

Kohanov went on to talk about how predatory leaders prey on their followers’ vulnerabilities, whereas non-predatory leaders protect their followers, honor boundaries and make it safe for members to be vulnerable in the group. Non-predatory leaders, she said, shield the weak, and members can show vulnerability in groups.

Here I was reminded of Brene Brown’s TED talk about vulnerability. I was also reminded of something my friend Vicki Dello Joio teaches:

“Boundaries remove barriers.”

What? I admit, the first time I heard Vicki say that it left me scratching my head. What’s the difference between a boundary and a barrier? How can a boundary remove a barrier? But what Kohanov said about vulnerability, and about boundaries, helped me to finally get it:

“When you’re setting a boundary, you’re simply claiming the space you need to feel safe and present and, as a consequence, more connected to the person you’re setting the boundary with.”

This makes it easier  – and safer – to be vulnerable as well. This is only possible in non-predatory power systems.

One more a-ha!

NURTURING AND COMPANIONSHIP

Kohanov also explained another aspect of herd behavior that caught my attention:

“There’s also another element to herd behavior that’s really important, which is acts of companionship and nurturing. They spend a large amount of time just being really quiet together, resting together, mutual grooming, grazing together, and all of those elements create this glue that begins to hold the herd together.”

This glue, this power, isn’t about fear, and it isn’t about territory. It’s about acts of companionship and nurturing.

But that’s not the a-ha.

Kohanov doesn’t claim that “dominant” leadership is always bad and that the “lead by example” leadership of “chosen” leaders is always good. Nor does she claim that successful herds are always supportive and nurturing.

As part of her research for the book, Kohanov studied various herding cultures, where humans live in close proximity with the herds they tend.

“What you find with Master Herders in traditional herding cultures is that they actually get to the point where they can use these various roles at will for specific purposes. So that a Master Herder knows when to act as Dominant, when to act as Leader, and when to act as Nurturing Companion.”

That requires consciousness or, as my friend Michael F. Broom teaches, conscious use of self. Conscious use of self isn’t only about recognizing one’s faults and getting out of one’s own way, but is about being conscious about what tools, or style, to use when.

Which brings me to something I teach (and my clients hear this a lot): We get to choose.

We get to choose not just our default mode, but we get to consciously choose which mode is right for the situation we’re in now.

A-ha.

Power is not a dirty word

Yes, there was a lot packed into that interview, so much that I had to listen to it several times. And when the pieces came together, this is what I saw:

  • It takes non-predatory power to set the boundaries that make members of a herd feel safe enough to allow themselves to be vulnerable.
  • Every member is responsible for setting and respecting boundaries; a member doesn’t have to be The Leader to set boundaries, but no member can be a (non-predatory) leader without setting boundaries.
  • Companionship and nurturing are also powerful and can bring and hold a herd (group) together.
  • There are, of course, various styles of leadership and different types of power, with different applications. No one type is ideal all of the time (our greatest strengths become our greatest weaknesses when taken to extreme). Dominance is necessary at times.
  • The real power is in knowing what type of power to employ when – and being able to do it.

Part of what was so interesting about all of this is that in almost every instance I could replace the word “herd” with “group,” “team” or “organization” – human herds. This all applies to human interactions as well as to equine interactions, and it has given me new insight into what many smart people are teaching about human interactions and leadership. (Funny how the horses keep giving me insight into other humans, and into myself. Even when we’re just talking about them.)

And whether it applies to horses and herds or to humans and organizations, Power is not a dirty word. Everything depends on the type of power that is being employed, and when.

A-ha.

Horses and Open Space


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I’ve recently been exposed first-hand (or should I say, “first-hoof?”) to Equine Guided Education (EGE) – working with horses in leadership development and coaching – through the work of The Flag Foundation for Horse/Human Partnership here in northern California.

It has been a moving, thought-provoking and powerful experience to work with the horses and their human partners.

On my most recent visit, I was struck by the parallels between working with the horses and the Four Principles of Open Space Technology.

Open Space?

Open Space Technology (OST) is a meeting or conference methodology that is, as Wikipedia so succinctly says, “most distinctive for its initial lack of an agenda, which sets the stage for the meeting’s participants to create the agenda for themselves.”

What I love about it is its fundamental assumption that the participants are the experts and that they bring the answers with them. This flies in the face of the traditional “banking method” of education (thank you, Paulo Freire) in which experts deposit information in the minds of the students.

The Four Principles

Here are the Four Principles of OST – as I apply them to Equine Guided Education:

  • “Whoever comes is the right people.” In this setting, one isn’t sure which horse or horses will decide to participate, but whoever comes is just right.
  • “Whatever happens is the only thing that could have.” As often happens when working with groups and even with individuals, I am often surprised and delighted by what happens – despite my best planning. The same thing is true here, and I am reminded to be honest about what I can control and what I can’t.
  • “Whenever it starts is the right time.” Creativity and Spirit – and the horses – don’t pay much attention to the clock.
  • “When it’s over, it’s over.” As Kimberly Carlisle, the foundation’s Executive Director said to me, “When the horses are done, they’re done.” They can have incredibly long attention spans if there is still work to be done (or fun to be had), but when it’s done, or the bonds of authenticity are broken, they’re done. I can learn a lot from them about not forcing things.

The Law of What?

I shared this with Lisa Heft, who then introduced me to Eva Svensson (thank you, Lisa!), who is both an OST facilitator and EGE practitioner in Sweden (where EGE is known as HAE). Eva agreed and went on to add that OST’s one law, the “Law of Two Feet” (or more appropriately the “Law of Mobility”) also applies.

The Law of Mobility states that “If, during our time together, you find yourself in any situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, use your two feet and go to some more productive place.” That’s kind of revolutionary, isn’t it? The One Law not only places responsibility for learning on the participants, it also creates “bumblebees and butterflies” who float from one group to another, potentially pollinating as they go.

As Eva said, “If they (the horses) don’t think you are interesting enough, they take their hooves and walk away.”

And if they stay, you know it’s because they want to.

And Something Magical Happens…

Both OST and EGE have facilitators, and structure within which, well, magic can happen. How does that magic happen?

Like OST, EGE assumes the intelligence and the gifts that the participants bring with them – all of the participants. Including the horses. All of that intelligence and all of those gifts in one place  combine and recombine and have the potential to produce something totally unexpected: Insights. Collaboration. Connection.

How can you not love that?

Are you curious?


Would you like to learn more about The Flag Foundation for Horse/Human Partnership and Equine Guided Education? Visit http://www.theflagfoundation.org/.

Want to learn more about Open Space Technology? Visit http://www.openingspace.net/openSpaceTechnology.shtml

Want to explore having an experience with OST or EGE?
Email me at susan at susantblake.com.

Want to join the conversation? Leave a comment!

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Captains Curious: Curiosity, Transformation and Transformative Leadership


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Welcome to Captains Curious, a weekly series of guest posts on the subject of Curiosity. The newest contributing member is Raj Neogy! To learn about the other Captains Curious, please click here.

First, my story

Getting here was no easy task. It started in the womb, when my mother decided to abort me and changed her mind moments before the doctor arrived to perform the procedure. When I popped out, I was cyanotic – a blue baby. My heart was wired incorrectly and I was not getting any oxygen. So I was whisked off for my first invasive surgery. When I hit 6 months, I had my second surgery. And by the time I was 2, I had my third open heart surgery. Needless to say, safety was not something I understood well, if at all. Just to make this really clear – my heart stopped three times, for each surgery. And I was “revitalized” or, in essence, “reborn” thrice. At 35, I started noticing a pattern emerge: For me to feel alive, I needed to have near death experiences. When I had that awareness, I was rather stunned.

The story continues with my parents getting divorced at the tender age of 4. And my life falling apart at 7, when I moved in with my step-mother. For 11 years, I endured physical beatings, emotional torture and utter humiliation and cruelty. And then to top it all off, I came out at 19 and was promptly disowned. “Be straight or leave” is what my father said.

When I left, I immediately drowned myself in cheap beer and by the time I hit 27, I was only black-out drinking. Not recommended as a relationship-building skill!

I was what you called a “functional alcoholic.” I prefer the term “functional dysfunctionyte.” By the time I was 28, I was traveling around the world for business, making great amounts of money, meeting amazing people, teaching cutting-edge technology. And I was a serious mess. I was angry, reactive, defensive, impulsive, arrogant, and mean. What I didn’t know was that I was also tremendously sad, painfully hurting, severely traumatized and suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

All my initial forays into therapy were shameless expeditions of flirting until eventually the cutest one of them all called me on it. I, of course, blatantly denied it, left her office and never went back.

It was after pulling the plug on my second start-up, where I worked insane hours for three years and lost $100,000, that I crumbled. I didn’t know who I was anymore and completely fell apart. Suicidal and lost, I tumbled into an abyss of confusion. And eight months later, I lost my job, my wife and the house I lived in within a one week period. I now found myself homeless for the second time. And I couldn’t fake it any longer.

Two months prior, I had started an 18 month self-help program at NLP Marin. It was an amazing 18 months of peering into my life, and it laid the foundation for who I have become. It also taught me a list of core questions that have changed the way I engage with people.

I then got an MA in Transformative Leadership Development, as I wanted to do change work with individuals, teams and organizations. I took this program (offered at CIIS in San Francisco) so I could formally learn leadership skills and disseminate those learnings to others. What I realized a year after graduating was that I was really learning the skills to lead myself, to actually walk toward the talk, and where I continued the healing journey. Once I graduated, I entered a post-graduate depression which segued two months later into my psyche imploding, causing the last of my shell to fall away.

Curiosity

It’s taken me a long time to get to where I am now and the journey has been challenging, at times miserable and often downright difficult. But through it all, there was one element that kept me taking the next step: Curiosity.

When that life and death pattern came into my awareness at 35, I had profound curiosity as to why I kept manifesting that pattern, so I started asking myself questions about “the Why.” Mostly, I was curious about how I could get the pain to stop. It was unbearable, and all the coping mechanisms were falling to the wayside. I decided that if I wanted to heal and move through the pain, I had to get curious so that I could shift both my thinking patterns and behavioral patterns.

Transformation

So I held up a mirror, looked in it every day and started asking myself questions about me. “I wonder why that is…I wonder what is behind that…this just happened, what need of mine is not being met…what made her say that just now?” These questions, combined with my ferocious curiosity, afforded me the courage to continue to take each tiny step toward healing.

Transformative Leadership

In my quest for healing and all of the learnings that I have come across throughout the years, I noticed many patterns. Some of the patterns that we run unconsciously become outdated and are no longer useful. Some even become detrimental. How do we transform them? In the diagram below, I outline the path of the 7 Phases of Transformative Leadership, the first phase being Curiosity.

These phases have helped me untangle destructive patterns, unearth the roots of the patterns and allow me to choose something different.

Curiosity

Curiosity is the first of seven phases in Transformative Leadership. It’s the crowbar, the key to unlock a dead bolt, the hand gently reaching forward. Curiosity is the starting point and the entry way. Though it is the first phase in the diagram, curiosity is always welcome to visit any phase at any time. The 7 Phases of Transformative Leadership is not a linear process, but rather a fluid adventure in exploration. You may begin at a decision, act accordingly and have an unexpected result, sending you back to curiosity. You may have an awareness about something, which triggers a question, which results in more awareness which then results in yet another question.

Awareness

Think back to a time when you had one of those “Ah-ha!” moments. It could have been about yourself, your partner, your friend, your toddler, your coworker. The experience may have gone something like this: “Oh…when x happens, y person responds like this.” And then you make a decision: “Remember not to leave the food on the counter, otherwise the cat will eat it.”

Self-Reflect

This piece isn’t so much about wondering why the cat eats food left on the counter as about what’s going on with your 17 year old son who forgot to put the food away…and your reaction. It’s about looking at the reaction fully and seeing what the need is behind that reaction. Is the reaction to storm into his room and begin yelling about responsibility? Or is the reaction getting frustrated and cleaning up the mess yourself? If the reaction is on the spectrum of annoyed, angry, irritated, etc, it’s usually about a need that is not being met in some way.

Decide

This is the fork in the road, the pivotal moment, the point where you make a choice. You choose to explore your own set of feelings and not storm into his room. You choose to give yourself empathy and set aside some time to talk to him later when you’re calmer. Decisions are always about two choices: It’s about choosing one thing and not choosing another. When I choose to eat the salad for dinner, and not the pasta dish: I am choosing one thing and not the other. We always have choice, whether we choose to see it that way or not.

Act

Now that you’ve made your choice, it’s about aligning your intent (the choice you decided to choose) with impact (your behaviour). How are you behaving and how is your behaviour being received? Did you achieve the results you wanted? If not, why not? (Curiosity!) Did you have a real heart-to-heart with your son? Or are you noticing that while you may have wanted it to go one way, it actually went the opposite way – or another way entirely that wasn’t even on your radar?

Realign

When we drive a car for a period of time, we eventually wear out our tires. We make a choice about replacing tires and often get them realigned. Wheel alignment “provides safe, predictable vehicle control.” How different is this from humans? Sometimes we’re worn out from the week, jet-lagged, hungry, injured or feeling down. We may need to have a little extra care in realigning our intent with our impact.

Review

Ever filled out an evaluation after attending a training? What about after eating a meal at a restaurant? Or how about a 360 or employee evaluation? Maybe after watching a movie with friends and discussing it over chocolate cake? Taking inventory of an experience is important, especially when it relates back to us. When we know what is in our suitcase, we won’t be petrified going through customs. When we are either hiding something we don’t want others to see or we are just not sure what is packaged inside ourselves, it can be a scary thing to look inside.

So how can this help you?

The answer is: I don’t know. All I know is from my personal experience and the countless stories I have heard from others with whom I have worked. Each person has moved through each of these phases at some point through their life trajectory, whether consciously or otherwise. The key is to create a heightened level of curiosity which allows for a greater sense of awareness. In becoming conscious of entering and exiting The 7 Phases of Transformative Leadership, you have a greater ability to make the choices that you truly want. You begin to align your intention with your impact much more accurately and you travel on path in which you experience freedom in ways you may not know yet.

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Raj Neogy, MA is a consultant, facilitator, and entrepreneur who offers training and consulting in topics such as transformative leadership, conscious business and breakthrough strategy. She has worked with over 500 corporations and organizations worldwide over the last 20 years, including Fortune 100 companies like Sony, Adobe, JVC, and amazon.com. She is the principal of Argien Consulting www.argien.com and founder of Queer Leadership: A Global Perspective.

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Would you like to submit a guest post on the subject of Curiosity? Send an email to susan {at} susanTblake {dot} com with the subject line: Captains Curious.

Three Business Terms I Promise Not to Use


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Call me a heretic, especially considering my line of work, but I’m about to share three terms that make my eyes roll back in my head:

Mission Critical

Critical Success Factors

Key Performance Indicators (and its evil acronym, “KPIs”)

Don’t get me wrong. The ideas behind these terms are valuable. But they are overused, and unfortunately (too often) used to impress people and protect sacred cows.

Mission Critical

What does it mean? It’s pretty self-explanatory: Something is critical to the success of your mission. Ah, but one should never use a word in its own definition. According to Wikipedia, it is “any factor of a system (equipment, process, procedure, software, etc.) whose failure will result in the failure of business operations.” The label lends an immediate air of importance to whatever it has been applied.

And, in my experience, it is too frequently used just to make something sound important; it is applied to things without any justification; and too often (in my humble opinion) organizations focus on projects and objectives that have been deemed Mission Critical without either articulating that Mission or involving their people with the Mission.

I recently was Followed on Twitter by an impressive leadership consultant and coach. I followed him back, but almost revoked it when I saw “mission-critical” in his web-page’s About section. I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt when I saw that his most recent blog post was about passion.

Critical Success Factors

Again, that’s a pretty self-explanatory term: Critical Success Factors are things (people, processes, accomplishments, etc.,) that are critical to the success of your Mission Critical thing. Or, as Wikipedia says, “Critical success factors are those few things that must go well to ensure success for a manager or an organization.”

Again, this is an important label. Pronouncing something a Critical Success Factor says that without this person, process, accomplishment, etc., our seriously important thing is Doomed to Failure.

The real danger is not the snooze-factor that comes from over-use of this term. The real danger is its dialogue-stopping, investigation-stopping power. This Critical Success Factor is too important to question. We must protect it because it is, well, critical.

Key Performance Indicators

This is a relatively innocuous term that, like the others, simply means what it says on the surface: A Key Performance Indicator is a measurement (item on a report) that tells us how we’re doing. Not only in general but, because it’s a Key Performance Indicator, it must be about one of our Mission Critical, Critical Success Factors.

Wikipedia differentiates between Critical Success Factors and Key Performance Indicators in this way: “Critical success factors are elements that are vital for a strategy to be successful” whereas “KPIs, on the other hand, are measures that quantify management objectives and enable the measurement of strategic performance.”

Here, too, there is a danger that comes with the aura of Super-Importance conferred by the term itself. This measurement is a Key Performance Indicator and so we must give special attention to collecting the data around it and make decisions based upon what it tells us. Too often, though, other important signposts are overlooked.

This term, like the first two, is too often used by managers and consultants alike to confer importance on not only the items under discussion but on themselves as well.

For example, I was once telling a colleague about a process I was planning to help a client identify the skills that had the biggest impact on team members’ ability to do their jobs and which of those skills should be focused on for training or coaching.

“Oh, you mean the KPI’s,” she said.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Well, you should say that, then,” she said. “Otherwise your clients won’t respect you.”

Seriously?

Common language can be valuable, and…

Having common language can be very valuable. I encourage everyone, however, to be curious the next time you hear or read one of these terms, and ask a lot of questions:

What IS our mission?

Are we all on the same page with that?

How do we know?

Is this “mission critical” process, achievement, or (fill in the blank) really vital to that mission?

How do we know?

What are the things (people, processes, attitudes, perceptions, accomplishments, etc.) that are vital to that mission?

Are they measurable? How?

How will we define success?

What have we overlooked?

These are just some examples. There are many more that can (and should) be asked, and the asking, the curiosity, is the important part.

Here is an exercise for you

The next time you hear the term “Mission Critical,” “Critical Success Factor” or “Key Performance Indicator,” see if you can find another way to say it. Then ask whether that term applies to the thing in question.

Powerful Language

The terms “Mission Critical,” “Critical Success Factor” and “Key Performance Indicator” seem like powerful language, but they are not. At least, not the power I choose.

I choose powerful language that makes people sit up and say, “Yeah!” “I can’t wait to find out!” “I want to know! So we can build something important!”

Do the terms “Mission Critical,” “Critical Success Factor” and “Key Performance Indicator” do that for you?

If I’m talking with a client who manages an auto-body shop, or a salon, or a law firm, do you think he or she wants me to impress them with fancy words and jargon? No, I suspect not. So far they have responded enthusiastically to plain English.

My Promise

I promise never to use the terms “Mission Critical,” “Critical Success Factor,” or “Key Performance Indicator.” If I do, you have my permission snore very loudly. And then drive me crazy with questions.

What do you think? Please leave a comment!

Image: Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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How Willing Are You to Be Caught Learning?


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This fairly innocuous question came up recently in discussion, and I admit it went in one ear and out the other until later.

How willing are you to be caught learning?

Whether facilitating a discussion or process, managing a project, or leading others in whatever capacity, we I want to look good. We I want to be respected. We I want to keep control of the situation.

At the same time, we are human. We learn new things all the time, which is part of how we got where we are. We even (gasp) make mistakes – which is (hopefully) one of the ways we learn.

The fact that we learn, or even that we make mistakes, isn’t the issue here. (It’s actually a whole other issue.)

The issue is contained in the language of the question:

How willing are you to be caught learning?

Mm hmm. That’s different.

To be caught learning.

Just the language suggests that we’re being caught in the act of something wrong, that someone has seen us doing something we shouldn’t, that the expectation is that we don’t do that.

Caught red-handed. Caught in the act.

You’re supposed to be the expert.

You’re supposed to know what you’re doing.

We’re not paying you to learn at our expense.

And yet…

Leading, in whatever capacity, is a bit like parenting. Ideally we are modeling the behaviors we want people to learn and engage in. Instead of “Do as I say, not as I do,” the ideal is “Do as I do.”

Do we lose our authority when we are “caught” learning? Or do we strengthen and deepen it?

Much depends on the expectations of the group (and how we manage them), our own expectations, and the rules of engagement.

Much also depends on how we handle the situation:

Do we acknowledge the learning, even admitting to having been wrong? Or do we try to cover up the learning in some way?

Covering up the learning can be very dangerous, because it sends nefarious (and untrue) messages that I Am Never Wrong, I Have Nothing Else To Learn, It Isn’t Safe to admit to not being perfect or not knowing everything (so you shouldn’t admit it either), or There Are Different Rules For You And Me, and so on. It also raises the question in the minds of others, If You’re Not Being Honest About This, What Else Are You Not Being Honest About?

We can lose more credibility by being “caught” learning and being dishonest about it than by being honest about being wrong or learning something new.

So, is the solution to avoid being caught learning? Or to be transparent about learning and being willing to change our minds and directions?

I propose that the answer is to be visible and transparent about learning. This can be done without surrendering authority; in fact it can strengthen the respect people have for us and serve as a learning opportunity for all of us (even if it is a humbling one).

What do you think? What are your assumptions and expectations about leadership – your own or others’? What are the pressures that can make it difficult to effectively lead by example?

Please leave a comment below!


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Lost in Space


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I am a member of a group of Group Facilitators that meets once a month to share questions and ideas with each other. Members have a variety of styles and tools and specialize on various types of meetings and groups so, as you can imagine, the discussions are always lively and thought-provoking. I always learn something or come away with something to ponder.

Our last meeting was no exception. We covered a variety of topics which wove around and through each other, and I came away with a lot to think about.

A term I have heard used a lot in relation to facilitation is “holding space,” but the first time I heard it (when someone commented on my ability to “hold the space” for a group process) I had no clue what it meant. Over time I have begun to get my arms around it, but it has been a learning process.

At the last facilitators’ meeting, one of the things that kept coming up was this idea of “holding space.” Being a Word Geek, one of the things that struck me as we spoke about “holding space” was the similarity between the words “facilitate” and “facility.”

Yeah. One of those things that makes you say, “Hmmm.”

I think of a facility as a building in which something happens, and so as facilitators it makes sense that we become the facility – we hold the space or become the space – in which the discussion can occur. So I came home and looked up the words.

Wrongo!

According to various definitions (thanks to TheFreeDictionary.com),

  • Facility means “Ease in moving, acting, or doing; something that facilitates an action or process; something created to serve a particular function.”
  • Facilitate means “to make easier, assist the progress of.
  • Facile means “easy to perform or achieve,” and comes from the Latin “facilis” (easy) which comes from “facere” (to do).

Maybe not so Wrongo

Good facilitators make a discussion easier, assist its progress and, as a noun, facilitators are the thing that makes it easier. The facility in which it can happen.

At last I understand the concept of “holding the space,” although I’ve been told I’ve been doing it for ages.

Exercise

Think about some of the meetings you have attended (or attend, or lead). Are they primarily vehicles for disseminating information and/or collecting status reports? Are they discussions, with people actively participating? What does the facilitator do differently in those situations? Is the facilitator the center of attention, or is the discussion itself the center of attention? Are they meetings people look forward to? Does the group achieve it’s goal(s)? Or is the group lost in space?

The next time you plan a meeting, consider the goals of the meeting and the type of facilitation that would best help the group achieve those goals. Contact me at susan {at} susantblake {dot} com for more information!

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Are You Curious About Your Customers?


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Lately I’ve been talking to a lot of people and listening to a lot of conversations about building and improving our businesses. A lot of great questions are coming up, and I have realized I am not alone in asking them:

  • What do my customers and prospects want?
  • Is that the same as what they need?
  • What can I do to help them?
  • If I build it, will they come?
  • How happy are they with what I’m already doing?

As I’ve written in other places, it’s so easy to think we know what people want, and it’s wicked tempting to believe people are happy and would never think of using anyone else. But do we really know for sure?

I’ve been hearing a lot of people asking these questions lately, which is very exciting. Some are acting on those questions, but I also see a lot of people not knowing how to take the next step. I hear people asking questions like:

  • But how do I get started?
  • What tool should I use?
  • Can a free tool really help me find out what I need to know?

I also hear people say:

  • I don’t know what to ask.
  • It’s too complicated to think about right now.
  • I don’t really have time to evaluate and choose a tool.
  • I’ll have to figure this out when I have more time.

The good news is, I’ve seen a lot of people put together short surveys and ask their customers what they are looking for so that they can provide products and services that will truly help them. I have also seen a few of these where the questions were asked in such a way that they may not have provided clear answers – and they may not have done everything possible to get people excited about buying a solution when it is provided.

The even better news is, there are resources available to help!

I have put together a short-but-sweet guide to surveying called “The Survey as Conversation.” It is designed to help you get your arms around “the W’s” of asking your customers important questions, and it also presents some important issues to consider when setting out to start a conversation with your customers. This guide is available for you to download here, and I am providing it at no cost because listening to your customers is so important.

Although “The Survey as Conversation” primarily addresses surveying your customers, “the W’s” apply whether you want to connect with your customers via a survey, live interviews, or focus groups. I really hope you will take a few minutes – it’s short! – to read it and then let me know what you think.

Because I know how busy you are, I also realize that you may be saying, “That’s fine, but I’m swamped and I don’t have time to develop a survey and figure out how to send it and and and…”

I can help with that, too. To make it even easier for you connect with your customers, I have put together three affordable consulting packages to help you through the process. They provide increasing levels of support aimed at meeting your unique needs.

Utilize my knowledge and resources for building, delivering and analyzing your customer survey so that you can focus on what you do best! Click here or on the Survey Consulting tab at the top of this page to see more about the sweet resources available to you. And if all you really need is to bounce some ideas off of someone, I’m available for that, too.

Remember, one of the best ways to become a trusted resource for your customers is to listen to them and then to act on what you hear.

  • Ask good questions
  • Listen to the answers
  • Act on what you hear
  • Show that you listened by providing what people asked for
  • Use their words in your communications

This doesn’t mean following the crowd and not being authentic. It does mean being willing to be curious, to learn, and to serve.

“A leader is someone who helps improve the lives of other people or improve the system they live under.” – Sam Houston*

This improvement is helped dramatically by not assuming we know what improvement is needed.

Are you ready?

Are you curious?

I invite you to start a conversation with you customers, clients, prospects, and stakeholders!

Click here to download my free (it’s that important!) e-book, “The Survey as Conversation.”

Click here to choose a package to help you get started!

*That quote is doubly appropriate this week, as I am driving to Texas with my sister. I’m curious to see what blog posts come out of that, aren’t you?

Are You a Leader, or a Follower? How About a Servant Leader?


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Leaders, Followers and Listening to What People Want

When is giving people what they want leadership, and when is it following-the-pack?

I’ve had the opportunity to participate in a lot of wonderful conversations recently about developing products and services for customers. One of the issues that have come up repeatedly is the importance of finding out what your customers want so that you can give it to them. Otherwise one runs the risk of developing a product that seems like a great idea but that no one buys.

Seems like a No-Brainer, right? But it’s not. In the context of those conversations a very smart person made the statement that asking what people want and then giving it to them isn’t leadership, it’s following-the-pack.

That really made me stop and wonder: When is giving people what they want leadership, and when is it following-the-pack? When is asking what people want and then giving it to them good customer service, and when is it purely mercenary? Why don’t more people – and companies – ask what their customers want?

I’ll address the last question first.

Why don’t more people – and companies – ask?

It takes curiosity to pursue finding out what people want and whether or not they are happy. Why don’t more people – and companies – ask? Fear.

As I wrote about here and here, there are a variety of things that keep people from exercising curiosity. The big one is fear – fear of finding out we are wrong about our assumptions or beliefs, fear of finding out we’re on a different path than everyone else, fear of looking dumb. Fear of admitting we don’t know. Fear of having to change, because change usually involves the unknown and that feels like chaos.

Another Fear

Another fear is of becoming a follower rather than a leader, that creating a product just because everyone wants it is not being a leader but following the pack, pandering to the desires of others.

This goes back to our earlier questions: Can one really be a leader if one just gives people what they want? Which raises another question: Should someone conduct surveys just because it’s The Thing to Do?

Soliciting input and feedback should not be done just because everyone is doing it. That is just following the crowd. It is inauthentic, not writing your own story but acting out someone else’s story.

If, however, people you admire are surveying their customers to find out what they want so they can create products that will help them, you may emulate them. You can put your own stamp on it by creating your own conversations with your customers. And the best surveys are conversations.

But still, isn’t doing what your customers want really just “following the pack?”

Not necessarily. Much depends upon how one defines leadership, and upon the extent to which that definition includes a component of service.

Consider the idea of Servant Leadership. According to the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership,

“The phrase “Servant Leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970. 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.’ ”

There are Ten Aspects of Servant Leadership, which tend to give a person authority versus power:

  • Listening
  • Empathy
  • Healing
  • Awareness
  • Persuasion
  • Conceptualization
  • Foresight
  • Stewardship
  • Commitment to the growth of others
  • Building community

Although curiosity wasn’t listed as one of those ten characteristics, I submit that curiosity is an important component of several – especially Listening, Empathy and Awareness. In this context, exercising one’s curiosity and finding-out-what-people-want is an important part of leadership.

The best surveys are conversations. And a good conversation involves several of the characteristics listed above.

It is this service mentality that keeps finding-out-what-people-want and then giving it to them from being either “following the pack” or a purely mercenary endeavor. Moreover, an effective leader listens to identify what problems her or his people need to have solved, and then leads by teaching them honorable methods for solving them.

Should we always give people what they want?

We must compare what people want to what we are called and able to give. Are those in alignment? If not, we may still serve by referring people to someone who can give them what they want.

For example, one of my favorite parts of the movie “The Miracle on 34th Street” is where Santa Claus refers customers of Macy’s to other department stores if they ask for something Macy’s doesn’t carry. At first the management at Macy’s is horrified – until they realize that this honesty and willingness to be of service doesn’t lose customers, it makes them even more loyal.

It is also important to remember the importance of dialogue, and of authenticity. There is a difference between “tell me what to do” and “tell me what you want.” A responsible servant-leader engages in a conversation and does not just take orders. And when it comes to finding out what people want, remember that the best surveys are conversations.

A responsible servant-leader has to prioritize, and listening to the wants and needs of customers can help with that.

And sometimes a responsible leader has to say No. But it is possible to listen respectfully, weigh the options and then respectfully disagree and follow another path.

It is possible to ask people what they want and try to give it to them without just being an order taker. It is also possible to listen respectfully and yet follow another path. If you are committed to listening and building community, then the input and feedback you receive is part of a dialogue, a conversation. And in that context it is important to say, “Thank you for your advice/input, but I am going to do this instead – and here’s why.”

It all goes back to being willing to be curious.

It all goes back to being willing to be curious. Which means being willing to admit we don’t know, to being open to change – changing our minds, changing our methods, even to hearing a new calling and changing paths. And a Servant Leader who is curious can have very meaningful conversations with customers as he or she works to find out – and help them get – what they want.

“The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.” Woodrow Wilson

Are you curious? If so, stay tuned – there’s more to come about having meaningful conversations with customers. Meanwhile, please leave a comment and tell me what you think about this!

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