I'm So Over Passion!

I have written before on the subject of clichés in our business lives, especially in our worlds of managing and leading.  Where is that point where good intention crosses over to a state of repetitive mindlessness, of the adoption of meaningless tropes without thought, of dressing oneself in the mantle of faux intellectual respectability without really thinking through the situation?

For example, one of the most overworked words in claiming engagement in an activity, task, job is ‘passion’.  How many times have you heard someone say “I’m passionate about my work/job/people/etc.”?  (Now that I’ve mentioned it, I’ll bet you start to hear it all over the place in the next few days.)  Don’t get me wrong, some people are very much in love with their work and the people they work with – but they probably aren’t the people who you will hear use the phrase.  They just go about their work with interest, commitment and an abiding desire to do the best that they can.  But there are others who claim ‘passion’ as the cornerstone of their existence – it’s just the latest buzzword and I’ll bet there will be another that comes along before we get much older.

I remember a book from the mid 1990’s called “Fad Surfing in the Boardroom” by Eileen Shapiro, and the title says it all.  However, what was especially notable about the title for me was the sub-title that read: “Reclaiming the courage to manage in the age of instant answers.”  Without any further information, I’m sure you can make a pretty good guess on the subject matter.

Too often, I hear and see people gravitating to the latest ‘big idea’.  These people seem to be saying that, if it sounds good, "put it in my kitbag and suddenly I’m a genius!"  Now, in a lot of (if not, most) cases, the attraction to the new concepts is genuine, but we should never be afraid to critically appraise these concepts, words and phrases before adopting, or modifying, them as a part of our manager/leader tool kit.

I was recently talking with a colleague about a challenging personal situation with a manager who I have known for a long time and who is also a friend.  This well-meaning colleague is known to adopt a pretty blunt approach to most situations and immediately reminded me of her latest discovery – “you just have to have the ‘tough conversation’”, she said.  Despite my attempts to describe the situation in terms of the long-standing friendship, the advice continued around having to have that tough conversation.

While I understand the need to be open and up-front at an intellectual level, I made the judgement that, in this instance, there were other things that were more important.  Having that tough conversation might have assuaged the text-book disciples out there but I was not prepared to put our long association at risk.  Sometimes, it is best to accept that we are less than perfect and just move on.

My point here is that, in this situation, not having the tough conversation is the more sensible approach.  Sometimes, I think that common sense is the missing ingredient from many management and leadership texts and models.  As Shapiro says: “... trying to force real people and organizations into preset theories is not an advisable way to manage.  Far preferable is to try to understand the realities and nuances of your particular situation, and then adapt the theories accordingly.”


The Great Battle: Take Care!

I was recently working with an experienced manager, let’s call her Sam, who had a reputation for hard work, ambition, and a strong belief in herself as a senior leader in the organisation. Sam was a participant in a program with many of her peers but the Sam that turned up wasn’t the same person that they had come to know.  Full of questions, rather than answers, deeply introspective, and obviously very present during the program, her colleagues saw a side of Sam that they had never witnessed during their daily interactions and ‘busy-ness’.  Sam questioned her ability to add real value to those around her, but she was determined to explore the potential that could exist in putting others before herself - in her becoming the servant-leader.

One of the enduring privileges in the work that myself and my CED colleagues do, is that of working with the program participant or coachee who presents themselves in search of an answer.  In many cases, they are presenting their most vulnerable self because they know that, in doing so, they will reap a real return on the investment that they are making.  Such instances provide regular reminders to us that we are merely facilitators of learning and exploration and that, in the end - it is all about the learner. 

Speaking from my own experience, I am humbled by the degree to which some learners expose themselves in exploring and exploiting their potential, and they are a joy to serve.  Quite often, they are risking a reputation that they have developed over many years as a subject matter expert.  To make a statement that they don’t have all the answers, and that they are willing to present their vulnerable self, takes courage and is testament to their strength and authenticity.

It might be that they are in search of a direction that they should take with their career, or they might be seeking discovery, or confirmation, of a vague notion of their own authentic identity.  Sometimes they know they need an answer to an issue that they can't properly define - they just know that they have an unclear picture of themselves, or that there is something that is not quite right in their interactions with others.  The most poignant of circumstances involves the senior manager who is afraid to ask for help because, after all this time, they are supposed to know it all.  They think that to admit that they have doubts and questions of their own ability to lead and manage would put their hard earned position and reputation at risk.  On the contrary, the courageous ‘old hand’ who does put their hand up exhibits a strength and honesty that others will admire and respect.

Whenever I am fortunate enough to be working with these partners, I remind myself of the following: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."  The attribution of this quote is usually to Philo of Alexandria, but Plato and others also figure as possible sources.  The point is that in our roles as coaches, facilitators, mentors, leaders and managers, we should never forget that some of our charges are dealing with their own ‘great battle’, quite often at the risk of altered perceptions and reputations. 

As the learner, don’t risk the delusion of having ‘made it’ by remaining in your comfort zone.  You should realise that we are all imperfect but that a small percentage choose to move ahead – onward and upward – in search of their better self.  As facilitators, coaches and mentors, these colleagues demand our trust, respect and belief in them as individuals who are trying to move ahead and not stand still.  And as a regular reminder to the privileges of assisting others in their search, we should never forget to: be kind, for everyone we meet is fighting a great battle.

If you would like to join the CED tribe, you can sign up here for the CED newsletter where I will be discussing topics similar to this one in a little more depth.

All the best


People: A Kick In Your Assets

I have written previously on the importance of thinking clearly about the words that we use as managers and leaders, rather than simply, and indiscriminately, using the latest 'management-speak' as a means of inspiring and motivating others.

I am sure that you are all familiar with the statement that appears in many (if not most) annual reports - "Our people are our greatest/most important asset!"  A popular statement that sounds great and rolls off the tongue, but what are we really trying to say here?  If we are implying that our people are important, that they are precious, then "asset" might not be the most appropriate word.

Let's look at this from an accounting perspective.

Assets are purchased to assist in the output of a firm's goods and services.  As such, they tend to lose value according to the extent to which we have used the asset in our output.  Is this what we do with people?  Does their value depreciate, or appreciate, over time?  We also consume assets in the production of income and, in doing so, the asset is said to be 'expensed' or ‘written off’.  Is this really the way we should view our people, as something that is consumed or 'expensed'?

When we think about depreciation, for some assets we use the accelerated method where 100% of the asset's value is 'written off' quite quickly, perhaps even in its first 12 months.  If people are treated as an inanimate asset, wouldn't the fact that our people depreciate in value say more about us as managers and leaders and our focus (or lack thereof) on developing others and, in fact, adding value?

As an alternative perspective on people, maybe we should consider them as valuable investments, instead of assets.  Yes, it is true that investments are a particular form of asset, but shouldn't we consider our people as something special - as special investments - rather than as depreciable assets?  

As responsible managers and leaders, we should invest time, energy and other resources in the development and growth of our people.  Whether as individuals or organisations, we carefully select our investments, we monitor growth, and we pay attention to guarantee healthy returns.  Maybe this is how we should work with others, and think of appreciation, rather than depreciation.

We do not own 'our' people.  We are all working toward a common goal - we just occupy different desks, that's all.  While the words that we use might be debated, what should be beyond question is our intention, our authentic meaning, rather than words that simply sound good and which have cosmetic appeal, but which lack any considered thought.

If you would like to join the CED tribe, you can sign up here for the CED newsletter where I will be discussing topics similar to this one in a little more depth.

All the best


Buying Cars and Hiring People

Remember the last time you bought a new car?  How much time did you spend deciding what sort of car you might start looking at?  Maybe you hadn't decided, and it wasn't until you had been to a number of dealers that you settled on your new wheels.  Then there was the time involved in looking at various models, colours, engine sizes, accessories, etc.  Then, of course, you got down to 'doing the deal'.  Reaching an agreed price with one dealership and then going to each of the other dealers in your area to see if you could find a salesperson who was hungry enough to beat the first price you were given. 

Once you had agreed a price you then had to spend time arranging finance and filling out endless forms until the initial excitement of the new car was starting to wear off.  Finally, everything was settled, the car was delivered and you enjoyed your new vehicle as you visited friends and took those trips that you had been putting off.

So . . . how much time did you spend researching, making decisions, and completing the deal?

Now . . . how much time did you spend hiring your last employee?

Many managers abrogate their responsibilities in this area to the recruitment section of their companies, or worse still, to an external recruitment agency who hasn't been briefed on their culture, the team that the new employee will be joining, clarifying expectations, and so on.

Now suppose that your new car is not performing as well as you expected.  You can get it serviced, add some extras, or simply trade it in.  Sure, you might lose a bit of money on the trade but, all in all, things generally work out in the end.

But what if the new employee doesn’t work out?  First, you or someone in your team will spend a lot of time inducting the new hire.  But soon you notice that they aren't settling in and that new level of productivity that you were hoping for just isn't happening.  If the new hire is a real misfit, there will be a 'collateral' effect on the team.  They are left to pick up the pieces and do the extra yards to cover the gap.  Meanwhile, you are still paying the new hire until you finally decide that things have to be brought to a head.  Now, you have to negotiate a settlement, exit the employee, and then go about the whole process again - and pay another recruitment fee!

It is at this point that you discover just how difficult it is to 'trade-in' your new employee.  Today's employment laws make it very difficult to move people on - and for very good reasons.  Those laws are there to protect everyone's rights and to ensure that responsibilities are maintained.

However, there comes a time when hard decisions have to be made and it is at this point that the hiring manager wishes that they had been more involved in the initial interviews and meetings with the recruitment group.

So, how much time did you spend buying your $50,000 car?  And and how much time did you spend hiring your $50,000 employee?

If you would like to join the CED tribe, you can sign up here for the CED newsletter where I will be discussing topics similar to this one in a little more depth.

All the best


Stop Using Your Brain Like Microsoft Office – Make Sense of Your Circles and Zones

I was working with a great group of people a couple of weeks ago and we were discussing the need for regular infusions of development, especially at the senior and executive levels.  How tired do our lives become when we stop those occasional shots of adrenalin and discovery?

When we stop exploring and experimenting, we return to our ‘circle of residual experiences’.  It’s subtly different to our ‘comfort zone’ which carries a connotation of laziness, or an unwillingness to extend ourselves, and beyond which we don’t want to explore because of the discomfort, change, or personal risk that such exploration might bring.

The ‘circle of residual experiences’ is where we reside most of the time, simply because we don’t have (or make) the time to reflect on the possibilities that lie beyond.  It’s our zone of first response and it’s where we find the solutions that have always worked for us in the past.  We can dip into this circle without a second thought because it has a history of successful application and execution.  

Such an approach may be likened to our usual experience with software that we might use at work.  Most of us, for example, use Microsoft Office - Word, Excel, PowerPoint.  But each time we upgrade to a new version, we simply rely on the experiences that we have had with that software in the past.  We use the product without thinking about exploring its enhanced potential - we remain within our circle of residual experiences, we rely on the solutions that have worked in the past.

I think we use our minds the same way that we use Word or Excel or PowerPoint.  We get by to the extent that the software enables us to use the basic functions but few of us explore its real potential.  How much of the potential of our mind, or intuition, or curiosity do we ever really use?  10%?  20%?  60%? …. More, less?  For most of us, our lives are so busy that we survive in our circle of residual experiences - it's where we know we can survive and get by in order to complete our days the way we always have  ….. over and over again.  

How exciting, interesting, fulfilling, rewarding might it be if we went beyond that tired circle to a place of conscious curiosity and inquisition?  That's where all the exciting, developing experiences occurred when we were growing up - remember?  That's where we really start to maximise the potential of our own internal intellectual and emotional software.  

Yes, it can be uncomfortable, and even a little bit scary, but learning how to swim or climb a tree or ride a bike never happened in our comfort zone or circle of residual experiences.  What's the worst that can happen?  We end up back in the circle but we now know how to access that place of conscious curiosity whenever we want.  It's a world full of potential with answers to questions like "what, where, when, how, why, who".  You can go there anytime and admission is free.  

Make some time to explore your place of conscious curiosity, and take your potential out for a spin - you'll love it.

If you would like to join the CED tribe, you can sign up here for the CED newsletter where I will be discussing topics similar to this one in a little more depth.

All the best