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Bully, Wimp, or Neither?

Un-Game Principle: If you can’t make distinctions, you cannot act powerfully on behalf of your intention to be a visionary leader, an effective manager or an effective communicator.

A CEO client of mine called me to prepare for a “difficult” conversation with his team. He and they had participated in a workshop I designed for them on the hidden drivers of performance excellence. The hidden drivers had included a segment on conversations that produce effective action. We routinely engage in those conversations, but often do so unconsciously and therefore ineffectively. The CEO and his team had learned the linguistic distinctions of requests, promises, assertions, declarations, and assessments as well as the language moves that are the glue that hold a conversation for action together: making requests, promises, and offers; accepting or declining a request; making a counter-offer; revoking a promise; committing to commit later, distinguishing grounded assessments from ungrounded ones, and so on.

In giving the team their workshop evaluation to complete, I had set it up as yet another learning instrument to deepen the skills and the distinctions they had learned. They had accepted my request to return the evaluation by a certain date (They could have declined or counter-offered, but they didn’t.).

The date of the fulfillment of the promise came and went. Half of the team broke their promise. My client was irritated with these team members and wanted coaching for the ensuing conversation he would have with his team.

I asked him what he wanted to achieve in the conversation and what role he envisioned for himself . . . judge or coach. He wanted to be in the space of ‘coach.’ He has a self-acknowledged history of alternating between coming down hard on his team and of letting things go that he wishes he hadn’t let go. Being ‘coach’ with his team aligns with his intentions to be an effective manager and a visionary leader.

With some good coaching questions, my client became clearer on the pitfalls of judging although judging was like a second skin to him. “Isn’t that my job?” he thought.

It  IS part of his job. However, judging people’s behavior and their emotional intelligence  is different from judging their technical skill, for example their ability and role in designing a new product. Technical skills are measurable; the achievement of a goal verifiable. No slippery slope in this domain.

Judging others’ actions, however, usually sets everyone up to lose. Justification and rationalization abound, and one quickly can enter a quagmire from which it is difficult to emerge. It’s best to stick to the facts, namely that which is verifiable: the broken promise.

The CEO as ‘coach’ wants to change his corporate culture to a learning culture. With the ‘judge’ he takes a step backwards from his deeply desired goal. His team will defer to him on any judgment even if someone respectfully disagrees (perhaps, someone will, but s/he is not yet likely to persevere; the learning culture is still fragile).

The team loses because a judging environment is neither safe nor challenging for learning anything except self-protection. It’s hard to ask questions, offer a new understanding, be confused, and think out loud in an environment where one is judged by another, especially a judge with greater positional power than yourself.

With a clear perspective of ‘coach’, the CEO can assume that he doesn’t know everything. Ah, what a relief! In fact, all he has to know is to ask good questions and then listen and clarify what he heard. Perhaps the evaluations were sent but not received, and there were no broken promises at all.

Let’s assume there was in fact a broken promise. The CEO doesn’t have to judge the “reasons why the evaluations were not done ” as valid or invalid. It happened. Period. Now what can be learned from this? Anything else will merely distract.

There’s a saying that guides me: “In life, you either have the results you want or all the reasons why not.” The promise some of the team members broke did not seriously affect the business outcomes in the short run. They presented an opportunity to learn to produce effective action, the learning of which will affect business outcomes in the long run.

In the space of ‘coach’, the CEO can get into an inquiring mode whose purpose is shared understanding. He can ask the team members what they could have done to avert breaking a promise (this would deepen the learnings from the workshop). He could ask about the effects of broken promises, and what’s necessary to clean them up. He could ask what they could have done differently. And what they will do in a future, similar situation. He could ask them whether they’d like to make a new promise, and what that would be. He could help them link it to their own clients who sometimes irritate them with broken promises. What is it like to see that they engage in the same behaviors they complain about in their clients? Might this make them more compassionate and better in dealing with their clients? The list goes on.

In other words, the CEO could have a very rich learning conversation whose message is very different from the message the ‘judge’ would have sent. The ‘judge’ could easily have fallen into the “I’m right/You’re wrong” trap, which can quickly lead to acting the bully or the wimp. He could deftly back away from the trap. He could simply decide and practice being ‘coach’ and take a giant leap toward creating the learning culture that would make his life so much easier, so much more engaging, and so much more rewarding.

Whose Voice Should We Listen to as if Our Life Depended on It?

red telephoneUn-Game Principle: To meet the complexity of modern times, access to how and what we think is key to developing our more complex problem-solving mind.

Recently someone told me “You write with conviction and consistent, accessible wisdom about living a large life. Please make your voice more widely heard,” she urged, steadfastly insisting I make it an intention to write a recurring column in Oprah magazine.

The compliment was energizing. Who doesn’t respond to “I see you and like what I see a whole lot.”? It got me to thinking what makes a voice worth listening to for people who recognize, however dimly, that maybe, just maybe, we 21st century Americans are mostly in over our heads when it comes to meeting the challenges put before us by 21st century modern life. What makes a voice worth listening to among the clamoring of never-resting voices now trying relentlessly to get a foothold on our fragile attention?

The question might lead us to smart phones for answers. “What?” you ask with a slight edge in your voice. But think about it. Smart phones capture our imagination. They surface and fill a need we never even knew we had. The smart phone is all about us, and without it most of us could hardly imagine life anymore. The innocent-looking device keeps us endlessly engaged, instantly connected to what we care about, and unquestioningly committed to learning. “What all can this sucker do?” we wonder. And as we find answers to our questions, we discover a wider world that even our wildest dreams hadn’t been able to contain…up until now. It’s irresistible.

A voice worthy of being listened to will have many of the offerings of the smart phone. It’s  a voice that can lead you to the most incredible place on the face of the planet— your inner world, a world you do not know once and for all! How could you not be fascinated with the evolving you? Are you willing to pay as much attention to your inner world as to the wide outer world the smart phone offers you?

The voice you will listen to will capture your imagination with the fierce urgency of ‘now.’ You will instinctively conclude it has something you want, something that will enrich your life. The voice, ripe with promise and possibility, will keep you engaged because, contrary to conventional wisdom, you long to learn.

What do we long to learn in this era of tumultuous change? I suggest we long to learn how to have the roots to ground our life and the wings to fly it. If we are not consumed by the necessity of surviving, we are consciously or unconsciously on the lookout for friendly, compassionate support for this awe-inspiring task.

The voice we will passionately engage with, then, is one we trust will help liberate us from limits we presently cannot imagine extending all on our own. We want partners on our journey into the larger future that lies beyond the limits we may not, as of yet, have identified as the limits of our present thinking. It’s too hard to do this alone.

Yes, hard. And that could make learning about ourselves less attractive than learning the wide world of smart phone magic (I’m probably not up to the challenge of making “getting beyond the limits of our present thinking” accessible and irresistible, compliment of the admirer of my writing not-withstanding.). Still, I invite you to read on.

The greatest learning challenge we have in the midst of the technological revolution and its fallout is to achieve the mental complexity that would be sufficient to the complex demands of our time. Fernando Flores, (responsible for seeding the Newfield Network, the first ontological coaching program in the US. www.newfieldnetwork.com) addressed this challenge almost 25 years ago. He said:

“We live in an extraordinary time. Our thinking styles are severing us from our families, our religions, our ideologies, and nature. We are caught up in a pace of social and technological change that makes our work, businesses, and education sources of anxiety and unfulfillment. At the same time, thinking about our thinking and observing our observations can bring us a new world in which work becomes a place for innovation, and in which peace, wisdom, friendship, companionship, and community can exist. Let us design this work together.”

Clearly, Fernando Flores was prescient in inviting us into the possibility and the need to develop a higher complexity of mind. If we pretend to hover over American life in 2014, few would counter the assertion “Most of us are in over our heads.” Fernando’s assertion is more relevant than ever.

The clear and present danger of the dilemma of being ‘in over our heads’ makes for soil in which advice-givers grow vigorously. But it’s not advice we need. There is no one way to live in a heterogeneous American society. Gone forever (it only existed in homogeneous cultures anyway) are the days where the source of order, vision, and direction could simply be ‘breathed in’ by being with the people in the community who had gone before us. It may be sobering, exciting, and frightening, but tasks like…

  1. setting limits
  2. regulating relationships
  3. facilitating personal development
  4. taking stands
  5. exercising executive leadership
  6. maintaining boundaries
  7. creating and preserving the roles we play

…all those task today necessitate that we find the authority and support within ourselves!

Don’t misunderstand. It doesn’t mean we can’t ever look to outside authority for good models to accomplish the tasks above. However, we do need to develop our capacity to author and design our life. Today’s greater complexity has catapulted us into near chaos from which the old order can’t rescue us.

Why a higher mind-complexity to live modern life is ours to develop might be illuminated through this analogy: the difference between driving a car with an automatic transmission versus a manual transmission. In the former the driver is not responsible for shifting gears. In the latter the driver must. As long as there are plenty of cars with automatic transmissions, it isn’t necessary to drive a stick shift. But for the level of life-complexity our mind needs to deal with, we can no longer count on the effectiveness of the automatic. Counter-intuitive as this sounds, we must know how to drive a stick shift. Someone who can drive a stick shift will be able to drive an automatic. The reverse, however, is not true. And what we surely would want to avoid at all cost is a driver skilled only in driving an automatic transmission behind the wheel of a stick shift school bus full of children!

A higher mind-complexity to live modern life is ours to develop.

One example where a higher complexity of mind is now necessary is hidden in the question “What should we be responsible for (not an issue at all in homogeneous closed societies where continuity is prized)?” Do we make erroneous claims of responsibilities? Do we take on those that aren’t ours, and do we assign to others responsibilities that aren’t theirs? Do we not revisit what responsibility means in the first place in a massively changed and changing world?

If we can’t sort out our responsibilities (If you’re experiencing unresolved inner and inter-personal conflict anywhere, it’s possible that an erroneous claim of responsibility is at cause.), we cannot meet the culture’s demand to be good communicators, both in intimate as well as public life, especially the world at work.

So the voice that will command our rapt attention is not the voice of any advice-giver. It is the voice, like Fernando Flores’ and Robert Kegan’s (In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life and www.mindsatwork.com ) that identifies the tasks our mind must be able to do and the supports it needs in order to accomplish those tasks. It’s as simple and as complex as that. And while this is an invitation, not advice (lest I contradict myself which, of course, I’ve done a time or three!), you might consider a competent mind-set coach to become more highly skilled in observing your thinking. More and more we are discovering that we can only change our life when we can change our mind.

Our life may even depend on it.

Ingrid Martine, MA, PCC, Coach and author of The Un-Game , Four-Play to Business as Unusual, a show, not tell tool for coaches, managers, and “will do” teams, works with organizations and individuals to empower them to move their lives from a 7 to 10 at work, home, and play.  For her FREE report, “Reap the Harvest of a Quiet Mind:  Empower Self, Empower Others”, or “Management Training for Business as Unusual”, visit:  http://www.yourleadersedge.com, or connect with Ingrid at:  www.Twitter.com/ingrid_martine and www.facebook.com/coachmartine.

Courageous Compassion Part 2: Standing for What’s Important to You

Un-Game Principle: Being willing to be courageous and compassionate can be a conscious choice even under circumstances people generally experience as very difficult.

CourageIn Part 1 of Courageous Compassion, courageous compassion was defined as ‘the ability to stay in caring relationship while simultaneously taking a stand that another’s behavior is unacceptable and you will confront it’. It focused on relationships where the parties would describe themselves as having equal positional power: colleagues, friends, husbands and wives, partners. There are also examples of what a courageously compassionate interchange might sound like. But what about courageous compassion in so called unequal relationships like you and your boss, for example? Or a parent or teacher and a child? What might a courageously compassionate interchange be like when there’s the experience of conflict for one or the other party?

It’s counterintuitive to imagine that both parties to a conflict actually have the same responsibility, namely to take care of the other without losing sight of taking care of oneself. It’s easy to envision a good boss taking the leading caretaker role. After all, he or she has more positional power, and the stronger is supposed to protect the weaker. In the office scenario, the boss surely wants to keep the good employee. Turnover is expensive. Besides, he might really like and value Melinda even if she “winged” the meeting whose success hinged on her report.

Let’s say Gene (the boss) knows that his positional power gives him some perceived advantage in the interaction. He has the power to fire or make Melinda’s life miserable. Fear of loss of job might make Melinda compliant. But Gene is wise enough to know that what seems like an advantage can hide a potent disadvantage. Compliant people aren’t the best employees. He wants creative, motivated employees. This is an important value for him.

Gene’s care-taking will include a conscious decision to minimize the impact of his positional power and maximize the use of his personal power to drive the interaction. In personal power we all have the opportunity to be equal, be it in incompetence, minimal competence, or even virtuosity. The playing field is level, and Gene wants to play on that field as much as possible. On the field of positional power, a disadvantage is that his position dramatically enhances the chances of Melinda going “out of her rational mind” and into ancient instinctual survival responses of fighting, fleeing, or freezing.

Not good for business. Not good for a well-lived life outside the business context.

Gene is smart to NOT use the greater power of his position. It’s one of those examples that challenges the stubborn assumption “More is better.” In fact more is sometimes less, and most often, more is simply more and nothing else!

Let’s assume he’s stated his assessment of the quality of Melinda’s report. Here’s what he didn’t say. “This report is not of the quality I’ve come to expect of you. You were not prepared. If it happens again, I’ll have to take some drastic measures. We can’t afford mediocrity. It’s not who we are.” (The veiled threat and the lecture are a reminder of who’s got the power. As if Melinda needs a reminder!)

Gene, wanting to keep Melinda engaged and wanting to minimize defensiveness, could use his personal power and begin the conversation like this: “Let’s evaluate how the meeting went. How satisfied are you that we accomplished our objectives?” Then Gene and Melinda enumerate the objectives. “What was outstanding? Satisfactory? Missing?” A discussion and learning conversation ensue where Gene doesn’t censor his own input. “I had expected X. It looks like you didn’t have that expectation since it was absent from the report. Help me understand. Tell me your thought process. ” More conversation ensues. “What will you do and by when to provide X?” Gene and Melinda settle on an action that satisfies them both. Gene could also make a demand. But he can soften it by simply asking, “Will that work or do you need to make me a counter offer?” (if a counter offer is acceptable).

The interaction between Gene and Melinda has the ingredients of a courageous compassionate conversation that moves a project along and enhances their relationship.

Let’s switch to Melinda having a problem with Gene that she wants to talk to him about (OK, she doesn’t really want to. But she’s willing because it’s occupying most of her waking hours. By now she has horrible-ized whatever Gene did, didn’t, and will do.).

For many people it is simply unimaginable to consider confronting (standing in front of) a boss precisely because of the positional power difference. They can’t imagine what courageous compassion for him, her, and self would look like.

But it’s possible even under circumstances perceived as difficult.

First of all, Melinda would do well to remind herself that in the domain of personal power she and Gene are equals. As a matter of fact, it’s precisely confrontations like the one she’s dreading yet contemplating that will give her the practice she needs to increase her personal power. To acknowledge that and then to actually proceed are courageous acts.

Secondly, Melinda needs to consciously choose to be courageous. The act of conscious choosing comes from the best in ourselves, not from an emotion like fear. It is powerful and proactive in any interaction, but especially one in which the “confrontee” has more positional power than the “confronter.” Melinda needs to act on what she intellectually knows: She is not her fears. She has fears. And she can be bigger than her fears!

And finally Melinda can consciously choose to be compassionate with Gene, remembering that in the domain of personal power she and Gene are simply two human beings doing the best they can with the light by which they are able to see. Gene, too, is no stranger to the fight, flight, freeze response defending against imaginary tigers and lions, his greater positional power being no help to him at all.

And so Melinda decides to talk to Gene who calls her frequently on weekends for non-emergency situations. She privately assesses that Gene thinks he should have unlimited access to her at any time.

Here’s what Melinda doesn’t do: she doesn’t sigh and silently acquiesce to all of Gene’s requests. She might begin by noticing her assessment. It’s only an assessment. There seems to be good evidence, but can she really be sure it’s what Gene really expects? Is he putting out a demand or just a request that she can accept or decline?

Melinda might open the conversation with “Gene, how important is this? This is my family time. Can we explore on Monday how I can help you accomplish X without cutting into my family time?” (Melinda is signaling she wants to help, would do so if it is really important, and intends to protect her private time).

Gene has an opportunity to see what may be a blind spot. Perhaps he does think he is entitled to Melinda’s time. Or he gets to consider just how important his request is to him. In any event, the conversation is off to a good start. The next move, if Gene sputters a version of “But, but…,” is for Melinda to hold her ground, quietly and firmly. “I’ll give you an hour (if she’s willing and able), but this has to be an exception rather than an expectation.” If Melinda can envision playing the long game, she knows it’s not sustainable to give up her private time and space. She will act with courageous compassion. Not just for Gene but for herself!

The truth is that confrontation in any relationship, be it among equals or those unequal in positional power, is risky. That’s what necessitates courage–the courage to be willing to lose something important. But the confrontation, expressed with courageous compassion also opens up the possibility to gain something profoundly important, namely to connect genuinely with another person and to experience the deep satisfaction of growing one’s personal power one interaction at a time. The ultimate prize is freedom to be what seems exceedingly difficult for most of us, namely to be ourselves! And the ability to stand for something…because if we don’t…chances are we’ll fall for anything!

Ingrid Martine, MA, PCC, Coach and author of The Un-Game , Four-Play to Business as Unusual, a show, not tell tool for coaches, managers, and “will do” teams, works with organizations and individuals to empower them to move their lives from a 7 to 10 at work, home, and play.  For her FREE report, “Reap the Harvest of a Quiet Mind:  Empower Self, Empower Others”, or “Management Training for Business as Unusual”, visit:  http://www.yourleadersedge.com, or connect with Ingrid at:  www.Twitter.com/ingrid_martine and www.facebook.com/coachmartine.

Empowerment: As Simple As ABC?

Un-Game Principle:  Things are neither as simple nor as complicated as they seem.

13-11-12 Empowement as simple as ABCIs empowerment simple? Yes and no. Empowerment may be simple, but not necessarily easy. And it may be complex, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.

Empowerment, the capacity to direct action on behalf of your cherished concerns, starts with A-ATTITUDE. If your eyes are glazing over, I understand. That assertion has been so overused that we close off all possibility that there’s more to learn about it. “We already know” may be the three most dangerous words in the English language.

The powerful secret to attitude is the deep understanding of our power to choose it. If we’re waiting for the sunny disposition to arise, we’re thrown into darkness.

But what kind of a choice is attitude?

To choose our attitude is to choose who we are willing to be…now…and now…and when tonight becomes…NOW. Moment by moment we have a choice as to who we’re willing to be.  It’s that simple. So why is it not easy? Probably more reasons than I can conjure up, but here’s an important one. We haven’t been taught the distinction “We have feelings. We aren’t them.” Successful people, of course, have learned this. What they may not have mastered yet is actually choosing who they’re willing to be even when they don’t want to be…generous, enthusiastic, supportive, etc.

Notice I said “willing” to be. We can choose attributes of contribution such as courageous, truthful, compassionate, clear, alert, focused, appreciative. We cannot guarantee that we will demonstrate them in action. All we CAN guarantee is to be willing.  We can choose, let’s say, three of the qualities of contribution for this upcoming tough meeting with an employee whose performance we must review. Then we can let those qualities guide our actions. Afterwards we can review our own actions to see how well or poorly we demonstrated them. If we have an attitude of continuous improvement, we’ll learn much from our own reflection. If we keep practicing en route to excellence (Perfection is impossible), we’ll be able to notice how well we’re doing right in the interaction itself, not just after it. Simple, huh? Not easy, right? But with the attitude “I am willing” even when I’m having an “I don’t wanna” fit (“Hey, I just want to kick Sam out the door!”), I will not fail. A winning attitude is mine.

The B of empowerment is BELIEF.  What we believe is not so much a choice, but which one of our beliefs we empower is a choice. An un-accessed driver of excellence is the ability to focus. Focus on what? If we’re stuck in the belief mentioned in the opening, namely that we are our feelings, then we’re quickly thrown into darkness once again. Rather than treating feelings like the comings and goings of the relentless crawl on the bottom of our TV screen, many of us let them determine how we act. We let feelings determine what we focus on and how we execute what we focus on. However, having gotten our mind “right”, that is, let’s assume we have made our first choice…who we’re willing to be right now in this interaction… then we can notice how much sway our thoughts and feelings have over us and realize we have yet another choice. The choice is to focus on a belief that’s more interesting to us than the one that disables us. How about “I value my feelings, and I’m in charge of when I give them permission to determine my actions.”?

It’s a mistaken belief that we can replace one belief for another (a good reason to be very suspicious of our beliefs. Do you have to believe everything you think?!). Beliefs continue to populate our conscious and unconscious mind. You can, and probably will, again pull out the one which doesn’t empower you.  “Sam is a jerk.” The choice you have is not to resign yourself and let your feelings dominate the decision-making landscape. You can realize that focusing on an empowering belief “It’s my job as manager to develop my people. Sam is one of my people.” is not a one-shot deal. You may need to choose again and again until…yes, the time will come…it becomes easier and easier to stay with the empowering belief.

The ability to shift our focus is easy. Try it. Focus first on the words you’re reading right now. Are you doing it? Good. Now shift your focus to any place else in the room? Did you do it? See how easy that was? I hear a “Yes, but…” My answer to you is this: “Could you envision how shifting your focus to a belief that’s more interesting to you, given that you care about management and developing your people, is made easier through practice?

OK. Before you say to me…“Well, sometimes you don’t develop people, you fire them.”…and before I agree with you, let me speak to the C in the ABC of empowerment. The C is COMMITMENT.

Commitment is also driven by the choices outlined so far. In addition it’s driven by deeply-held values, and it behooves us to make those values visible so that we can consciously choose them to guide our choices and therefore our actions. Through the coaching model of the Academy for Coaching Excellence in which I am trained, I got such a tool. Contact me, and I’ll send it to you free of charge. Who are we longing to be in the world? To be an effective communicator? To be an effective manager, mentor, coach? To be a loving family member? A contributor to our community? What would behavior that’s guided by the longing to be an effective communicator and manager look like when you’re focusing on the difficult conversation with Sam?

Well, you’ve chosen your Attitude. You’re willing to be clear, truthful, and courageous. You’ve chosen a Belief you are willing to empower, and when your mind wanders, you’ll refocus it gently by saying to your willful mind: “Thanks for sharing, but I’m more interested in being an effective communicator and manager right now. This will automatically fuel your Commitment to see the conversation through. Simple, huh? But not easy. It may well be that Sam is not right for the job. Would a transfer to a position that’s more suited to his strengths be a win for your team and for Sam? Would letting him go be best? Or could a genuine inquiry into the behavior that’s causing friction reveal surprising facts that could lead to Sam’s development as an outstanding contributor? You’ll never know unless you demonstrate the ABC of empowerment in your own actions. It’s both simple and complex.  Like all the rich things in life we treasure.

Are you interested in a spontaneous role-playing of a conversation you are not yet empowered to have? I’ll do that with the first three people who contact me. We’ll go through the ABC of Empowerment together.

Ingrid Martine, MA, PCC, Coach and author of The UnGame , Four-Play to Business as Unusual, a show, not tell tool for coaches, managers, and will-do teams, works with organizations and individuals to empower them to move their lives from a 7 to 10 at work, home, and play.  For her FREE report, “Reap the Harvest of a Quiet Mind:  Empower Self, Empower Others”, or “Management Training for Business as Unusual”, visit:  http://www.yourleadersedge.com, or connect with Ingrid at:  www.Twitter.com/ingrid_martine and www.facebook.com/coachmartine.