Monday, March 25, 2019

Seven Subconscious Habits That Sabotage Your Ability to Listen – And Lead

Guest post from Fred Halstead:

Years ago, I complied with my wife’s request to have my hearing checked. She told me time and again that she felt that I did not consistently hear her. I was surprised and somewhat reluctant, but decided to go to an ENT. Everything checked out and the doctor told me my hearing was fine. As you may have guessed, I realized it wasn’t my hearing that was defective – it was my listening. That event accelerated my interest in making listening a hallmark for me, not only as a coach, but in all aspects of my life. As I focused more on listening, I encouraged my clients to become better listeners and noted these positive changes:

·         - Increased self confidence

·         - Decreased frustration with subordinate misunderstandings

·         - Increased respect with subordinates as well as their direct reports

·         - Substantial increases in performance and effectiveness

·         - Greater efficiency, despite additional listening time with subordinates

As an executive coach for the past 15 years, I have observed how a change in a leader’s leadership style can rapidly transform a company culture. Like a cascading waterfall, direct reports quickly emulate the leader’s changes, and cultural transformation follows organically. Becoming a highly skilled listener is one of the most important tools in achieving remarkable transformation. A critical part of becoming a better listener is understanding and then overcoming these seven habits.

·      A conscious or subconscious lack of respect of others. The act of fully listening to another person is an act of respect. When we do not truly listen, we are disrespecting the person talking. Our disrespect may not even be intentional, but it is disrespect never the less. Just recognizing this fact may inspire you to be in the present and truly listen.

Action Tip: Prior to meeting with a person or persons, think about what is your purpose/motivation for listening. I could be to show respect, to learn, to inspire or to…

·         The natural desire to talk. The fact is, for just about everyone, it is more natural to talk than to listen. We want to tell others what we think, what we did, and what we know. Therefore, be honest with yourself how true this is for you, and give yourself a break in understanding that focused and active listening requires discipline.

Action Tip: For the next month, consider putting your curiosity into overdrive! Ask insightful questions and observe the effect this has on you.

·         Judging others. Assessing one’s thoughts and actions is a critical part of leading people and helping them achieve the desired result. Judgment, as in judging another person’s value, beliefs, intelligence, personality, or background, however inhibits listening. When assessment turns into judgment, amongst other implications, it becomes so much harder to really hear and to gain any benefit from what they are saying. 

Action Tip: Ask yourself: What could motivate me to reduce or eliminate the temptation to judge others while listening to them?

·         Preconceptions and biases. One source of judgment is preconceived ideas about a person. This bias stems from something you believe, such as, “Every time I talk with him, he always has the same point of view.” “I just know he is not very smart, so it is so hard to listen to him. What will I get out of it?” As amazing as it might seem, you will learn something new when you leave your bias behind and sprinkle in some thoughtful questions with a dose of curiosity. 

Action Tip: Consider: What will I gain if I abandon my bias when listening? Be more aware of preconceptions that impede your ability to listen.

·         Ego. We all have a need to appear to be smart. Maybe even to “be the smartest one in the room.” My observation is the less we worry about appearing smart and the more we listen and ask great questions, the smarter we actually appear to be! And, others develop an even greater respect for us. Another observation is leaders known for their big egos are normally those who have the deepest doubts about themselves. If you are a great listener, it is hard also to be known as the person with the big ego.

Action Tip: Be aware when you are trying to demonstrate your intelligence. Try asking questions to learn more about what others know. Prepare to be surprised by the value of others’ thoughts.

·         Multitasking. In my Skills That Inspire Incredible Results (STIIR) program, this habit always garners a strong response. “I have so much to do I have to multitask” can be heard spoken from the audience. Our ability to think comes from our prefrontal cortex lobe where information processes serially – where each new piece of information processes individually. Our brains cannot take in multiple bits of information simultaneously. Most of us can process information very rapidly, but not simultaneously. Simply put, we are most effective when put all of our focus on one thing at a time.

Action Tip: As difficult as this might seem, try for one week to turn from the computer or whatever might distract you from listening and give your undivided attention and listening to the person who is talking to you. Notice how much it benefits you and the other person.

·         Shutting people off. The habit of disagreeing with a person and concluding that you will not learn anything useful from that person is common. We concentrate on the disagreement rather than the kernel of truth or the insight the other person may have to offer. When you shut people off, you may miss critical information or knowledge.

Action Tip: When you find yourself shutting another person off, instead become curious and listen for the kernel of truth or insight that the person may have for you.
I have observed that high-performing leaders who make a strong commitment to overcome these habits gain benefits far beyond the effort required. Try it; you will be amazed by the outcome.

Fred Halstead is the founder and principal of Halstead Executive Coaching, the author of Leadership Skills That Inspire Incredible Results, and creator of the performance-enhancing leadership program, Skills That Inspire Incredible Results (STIIR). He specializes in coaching highly successful CEOs and senior-level executives who are open to positive change and wish to increase their abilities as great leaders. Discover more leadership coaching resources at

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Hiring Is A Science and An Art

Guest post by Lisette Howlett:

When we think about leadership and leadership development we rarely think about hiring and recruitment.  Yet one of the most important contributions of a great leader is creating, and sustaining, the organisation for success both now and the future.  Hiring talent, for now and the future, is fundamental to this ambition.  Yet so often, hiring is seen as a painful activity which takes time away from more important matters.  Yet what can be more important than ensuring the organisation has the right people?

Hiring well is, in my opinion, both a science and an art.  The science part is more easily learned, albeit not frequently integral to leadership development and training.  It is concerned with understanding, and executing well, the elements of the hiring process.  Some aspects can be successfully delegated, including elements such as the sourcing of candidates, documenting, initial screening, referencing.  However, leaders need to play a role in the messaging and selection elements of hiring.  Leaders play a critical role shaping the message communicated to potential hires which must be congruent with the leader’s vision for the organisation, or department, and consistent with the experience of current employees.  Playing a part in the selection of the candidate requires leaders to be skilled in interviewing and judgement. Learning how to interview effectively to remove irrelevant bias and get to the truth of the candidate is a skill and it can be learned by someone committed to mastering it.  Making the right judgment is more of an art.  It can be honed through experience and great leaders need to invest time and effort in developing, testing and improving their judgement on a range of factors including hiring decisions.

Perhaps because there is a great deal of system and routine involved in hiring, or perhaps because leaders do not consider this a skill that will further their personal success, many leaders do not invest time and attention in becoming great recruiters.  I believe that they are missing a trick here which results in either missing out on some talent, or perhaps even worse, hiring less than brilliant people into their teams and organisations.

As a contribution to energising leaders to repositioning hiring excellence as one of their key leadership competencies, here are a few thoughts:

·       -   It takes courage and confidence to make a good hire.  To refuse to settle in terms of quality and fit, no matter how much pressure there is to fill the spot to get the work done.  To be willing to take on someone who might, one day, overtake you.  To take a well mitigated risk on hiring someone outside the mold, and more importantly to nurture, challenge and mentor them to be a success.
·       -   It takes vision to know what people, attitude, skills, behaviours, competencies will be needed in the future and to attract these people into the organisation and retain them thereafter.
·        -  It takes integrity to be honest with a potential hire about what is great about the organisation today and what needs to be worked on so that candidates can make an informed choice about joining the organisation and once in it will be able to affirm their decision and not feel that they were sold something that is not quite true.
     - It takes strong critical thinking to be able to evaluate the information presented to you by a candidate and to pull out the important elements and make a determination about suitability for the immediate role, fit with the organisation and future potential.
·        -  It requires decisive action to make a timely hiring decision and to act quickly so as to secure top talent who have many other options that they can pursue and will be attracted not just by the role and the leadership but also by their hiring experience.
·        -  It takes self-development orientation to accept that some attention will need to be given and time invested in perfecting the science and art of hiring.
·        -  It takes strong communication and the ability to inspire others to attract top talent to your organisation in what is increasingly a tough market for talent, particularly if you are up against higher profile organisations, or higher payers.
·         - It takes flexibility to be able to reshape roles and challenges to better meet the aspirations and talents of a potential hire.
·         - It requires managerial competence and empowerment to allow your leaders to hire without unnecessary interference and to trust in their judgement, coaching and not controlling to support great decisions.
·          -It takes good judgement to get it right when hiring.

In summary, great hiring requires all the attributes of great leadership and allows leaders to leave a legacy which is greater than themselves.

Lisette Howlett is author of The Right Hire:  Attract And Retain The Best People, a licensed Sandler Trainer located in London Central, and she has fifteen years of global change leadership and business development experience. Howlett is called upon by business owners of small and medium-sized companies for strategy and business development. Her experience includes financial services, technology, pharma/biotech, manufacturing, IT, media, recruitment and professional services.
For more information please visit

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Fundamentals of Tomorrow’s Leadership, the Basics with a Twist

Guest post from Fiona Murden:

In 1998 I graduated from business school feeling I knew all there was to know about leadership. I began work as a management consultant and much of what I’d learnt was very quickly thrown out of the window. The basics of behaviour tell us far more than the latest fad. I became obsessed with observing like a detective, working out what, why and how. In fact, I was so fascinated that I soon returned to university to complete an MSc in Business Psychology.

Since then I have profiled and coached leaders from across the world. I have lived their journeys with them and while I’ve not bourn the scars or failure (nor shared in the rewards of success!) in their entirety, I have assessed and predicted who would fail, who would succeed. I’ve worked hand in hand with leaders who have struggled and those who have flourished.

With this experience in tow I returned to those original learnings to re-assess their relevance. What I’ve found is that it really isn’t the latest cutting-edge idea that’s most relevant, rather the foundations taught as long ago as philosophers such as Lao Tzu in 600BC that have stood the test of time.

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

Whilst we may now add in ‘he or she’ into this quote today, people are people and as the human brain has evolved very little (if at all) over the centuries the fundamentals of good leadership have also remained largely unchanged. What threatened people then, will threaten today, what motivated then, will motivate today. What is however changing is the rate of change itself and the volume of data leaders and followers have to deal with. As a result, those critical aspects of good leadership become even more important. They act as an anchor from which to weather the storm of a turbulent world and the foundation from which to build on new knowledge.

Hence, I believe the fundamentals of good leadership are as true today as they ever were, but with a twist:

1.    Resilience. Leaders have always needed be resilient but what that means is changing. A generation ago resilience meant continuing no matter what: sleeping under the desk, not sleeping at all, skipping vacations, taking calls from a hospital bed. There’s still a badge of honour associated with carrying on in spite of pressure but this sort of behaviour was never sustainable (Arianna Huffington openly talks about this) and is arguably becoming even less so. As a leader of tomorrow there is a need for constant flex to your own physical and emotional needs, being hyper aware, understanding what energises and what drains, carefully managing of life and duties and giving permission for others to warn you when you become blindsided by stress creeping up on you.

2.    Curiosity for Agility. We have an increasing understanding of how ‘plastic’ our brain is, even into later age. Until recently we believed many aspects of our personality were fixed and were unconsciously encouraged to approached life accordingly. However, as a leader of tomorrow, understanding this plasticity means that it is never too late to change or grow, to seek out opportunities, to learn, to flex to a new way of working and to adapt to the changing world around you. Remaining open and curious allows you to embrace unpredictable situations rather than being thrown off track by them.

3.    Building High Performing Teams. All too often top teams are made up of high performing individuals working in silos which is then reflected down through the organisation. This approach massively limits the potential of the whole organisation, restricting the ability to flex and quickly respond to the demands of the fast-moving world. As a leader of tomorrow, it will become ever more critical to understand how to build and enable truly high performing teams that challenge ‘bricks and mortar’ organisation structures and ways of working. You will need this to allow for optimal agility and to fully leverage the collective capability of employees throughout the organisation.

4.    Communicating Vision. The priority of this point is increasing exponentially with the ambiguity of the world around us. As humans we become emotionally and intellectually stifled in times of uncertainty. This results in employees feeling threatened and disengaged. As a leader of tomorrow, it will therefore be imperative to articulate the vision with clarity and passion, really connecting with the audience. This will allow people to feel a sense of unity, purpose and comfort that enables them to engage and perform at their optimum. As a leader it allows you to safely provide freedom to employees on how they work, empowering people to achieve in a way that is best suited to their own strengths, approach and personality.

The enabler of all of these is not only an increasing knowledge of behaviour and how best to leverage it, but also the presence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) working alongside that understanding. Many see AI as a threat but it’s also an amazing opportunity. A McKinsey article published in April 2018, for example says that AI ‘creates space and time to think by filtering the signal from the noise’. As a leader, letting algorithms work on the increasing volumes of data that you are expected to deal with, the aspects which are creating the constant flux and overload will mean that AI can ‘report back only what you need to know and when you need to know it.’ If used effectively both as a leader and employee, it could free up the brain from a huge amount of unnecessary processing and decision making. This will allow focus on the behavioural aspects for leaders who embrace AI to flourish in the landscape of tomorrow.

So, to be a great leader of tomorrow, don’t look to the latest fad or claim, return to the basics as your foundations to remaining agile, then leverage what the future world is offering. 

Fiona Murden is a Chartered Psychologist, Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, best-selling author and stimulating public speaker who has spent the past eighteen years working with leaders of multi-national companies. She is also founder and MD of Aroka Ltd which she has run globally for the past 11 years.  Aroka profiles senior leaders in the UK, USA, Europe and Asia Pacific to assess their fit, strengths and the risks in relation to the role that they are being hired for. Her speaking commitments take her into boardrooms as diverse as the Institute of Directors, the Cabinet Office, the Royal College of Surgeons, Lloyd’s of London, The City Women’s Network and Nomura.
Fiona’s book, Defining You was published worldwide in 2018. Defining You opens a window into the process of psychological profiling in business and presents a clear path to improving your effectiveness with immediate actions and tangible tips. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Impact of the CEO on Leadership Development

I'm going through and cleaning up some old posts and found this one from 2007.  I still find this one to be very true 12 years later.

A Genie (actually an HR Vice-president at a former company) once asked me, “Dan, if you could make a wish and only do one thing for leadership development, what would it be?”

You see, this was a company that was going through some tough belt-tightening, and we spent a lot of time making hard choices as to what to keep and what to cut. My initial reaction was I a thought it was sucker’s choice question. That is, of course you can’t develop leaders by doing just one thing, leadership development is a system, involving many interdependent variables. 

But I knew what she was getting at – she was trying to get me to prioritize, or perhaps to test my ability to think strategically. I thought about it for just a few seconds, and then, without thinking of the political consequences, blurted out, “get a new CEO?” 

Definitely the wrong answer, not what she was looking for at all. Very career limiting.

But you know, I still stand behind the answer. My experience has been that it always does seem to link back to the top banana’s belief and commitment to developing leaders. I once heard a CEO say, “You know, I don’t have time to teach people, and at this level, I shouldn't have to!” 

Well, at least he admitted it – better than phony lip service with all talk and no action. On the other hand, I worked with an executive named who was proud to say he spent 75% of his time developing leaders. I sat though a few talent review meetings with him, and he was dead serious about it. It was painful to witness his wrath when a business unit president showed up unprepared, or was not doing enough to weed out poor performers and develop high potentials. (these butt-kicking’s were all part of his 75%). 

Why does it matter so much? When a senior leader understands the strategic value of leadership development and the ROI, all else falls into place. There’s a cascading effect from role modeling, setting expectations, inspection, and ultimately, improved business performance. As a practitioner, you’re not spending time deciding what to cut or figuring out how to sell your new program, you’re hanging on to a tiger’s tail and trying to keep up. The expectations are sky high, and you better deliver, but I’ll take that deal any chance I can.

So what's a CEO to do? See "A CEO's Guide to Leadership Development".

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The IFB Leadership Model

Guest post from Yvette Bethel:

Within each organization exists an ecosystem that extends beyond its boundaries into the external environment. Some workplaces are more complex than others and without a strategy to shape their cultures the conditions within can be continuously affected by interacting internal and external dynamics. In any organization, leaders have a choice, they can concentrate on urgent short-term goals, or they can equip themselves with the relationship sensing and building skills they need to balance priority tensions.

Because we coexist in unpredictable and ambiguous local and global environments, longevity has been a more pronounced business imperative. One way to achieve it is to facilitate quality relationships that can sustainably and meaningfully connect team members and networks. At a macro level, leaders should also master the skills they need to balance their strategic priorities with the dynamism of their organizational ecosystem. By doing this, they can incrementally transform into an adaptive, responsive establishment.

When leaders aim for authentic balance, they must first become better at keeping their fingers on the pulse of the quality of team and network relationships while simultaneously strengthening them as they achieve corporate goals. Building balanced relationships through trust is at the heart of the IFB Model of leadership. So, the question is, how can leaders lead by using IFB principles?

1. Align with the core value of trust:
According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer “In a time marked by turbulence at home and abroad, trust in institutions in the United States crashed, posting the steepest, most dramatic general population decline the Trust Barometer has ever measured.”  With an outcome of this proportion, trust is an increasingly important brand essential. Therefore, once you assess your trust levels, if required you can establish a robust corrective plan because when low trust persists, internal and external stakeholders will undoubtedly detect it.

Trust building requires mastery of integrity, emotional intelligence, and your “we” disposition. Therefore, any organizational core values and policies that are counterproductive to these three trust qualities—like reward systems that stimulate competitive behaviours—should be challenged and actively addressed by IFB decision makers.

Your relationship strengthening solutions should ensure the core values of your organization are compatible with trust. This includes your formal core values and the ones that exist informally, being transmitted through peer pressure, action, or inaction.

2.    Strengthen Your Interconnective Infrastructure:
Strengthening your interconnective infrastructure involves building relationships with members of your team, your internal network of teams, informal relationship clusters, and relationships with people in your external networks. As a leaders, your vision of how you relate should include clarification of the quality of the relationship between your organization and the community it serves.

Each team or network is defined by the quality of its relationships as well as the rules of engagement imposed by policies, procedures, standards, and other less formal cultural norms.  When new members join your team, normative behaviours can shift if there is no accountability to sustainable cultural design. Therefore, as you lead, it’s important to remain attuned to your vision of your culture and interconnective infrastructure so you can take proactive, meaningful steps toward trust-based transformation.

3.  Facilitate Concurrent Flows:
The quality and purpose of relationships within your organization can directly affect a variety of critical flows that impact your results. (E.g. work flows, customer flow patterns, revenue streams, hiring, succession etc.) Unhealthy relationships can hide sub-optimal flow dynamics because personal loyalties or low trust can conceal low performance. Healthy relationships have the potential to build beneficial synergies.

It is important to note that low quality relationships can yield high performing results. In cases like this, performance is driven by tight controls, expressed or unspoken threats, and numerous colleagues in perpetual survival mode. Imagine the capacities leaders can unlock when trust, robust talent development strategies, satisfactory engagement levels, and creativity are prevailing themes.

There are a variety of intricately linked flows within ecosystems, each with their unique intrinsic and extrinsic drivers—like fear, ambition, purposefulness or engagement.  When employees are intrinsically motivated and mutual trust exists between leaders and their team members, policies may be less necessary for healthy flow. In compliance cultures, by their very nature policies are controls designed to limit error making and standardize quality. These tools can have an unobserved outcome of limiting learning opportunities and growth. While establishing policies can create a sense of safety, a well-trained, engaged, and proactive team with increasing capacities can feel even safer.

4.    Balance Continuously:
When transforming your organization into one that operates on the principle of change as a constant, integral part of doing business, balancing activities must be ongoing. This means leaders should intentionally implement incremental transformative actions as well as larger change initiatives—both sequentially and simultaneously. At times decision-makers may consider the projected outcomes of change as ambiguous, and this is okay. Trial and error can work if you have the time, otherwise, you may have to take a calculated risk.

In organizations where leaders are proficient at balancing multiple tensions, they take time to identify priority, short and long-term pressures so they can develop and implement concrete solutions before these tensions become high risks. Mastering balancing skills requires consideration of strategic and cultural tensions so multiple sub-competencies are necessary, like: 1) Building your capacity to attune to and diagnose complex ecosystems; 2) Identifying tensions and the potential consequences and opportunities within them; and 3) Taking measured steps to balance priority tensions while implementing strategic initiatives.

Interconnectivity, Flow, and Balance are three dynamics that occur naturally within active organizations. The IFBSM Model can be used by leaders to strengthen relationship dynamics and by extension, improve performance, creativity and organizational growth. It does this by providing leaders with a powerful lens they can use to perceive new or vexing problems with new eyes. These insights facilitate evolving perspectives which can enrich your decisions and lay the foundation for sustainable success.

About the Author:

Yvette Bethel is CEO of Organizational Soul, an IFB Consulting and Leadership Development company. She is a Consultant, Trainer, Speaker, Coach, Author, and Simulation Producer. She created the proprietary IFB process for transforming organizations from the inside out. She is also a Preferred Partner at Six Seconds, the largest emotional intelligence network in the world. For more information you can contact Yvette at

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch & Dinner!

Guest post from Fardad Fateri:

There are thousands of business books and many of them are excellent so we knew from the outset writing yet another business book would get little to no attention. But we were passionate about our topic and we believed we had a great story to tell, a story that was grounded in academic research, a story that was lived by thousands of people over a ten year period and not formulated in an office at a university. We had a story that was anchored in research and tested in real life in an organization we led…that made our story unique. 

Igor Ansoff  is known as the father of strategic management. He is most known for the concept of environmental turbulence; the contingent strategic success paradigm, a concept that has been validated by numerous research studies; and real-time strategic management. Peter Drucker invented the concept known as management by objectives and self-control. He has been described by peers as "the founder of modern management".  Drucker believed organizational culture is the most powerful force in ensuring organization success and his phrase, “culture eats strategy for breakfast” is now used globally to demonstrate the power of organizational culture. 

Our curiosity about culture and strategy led to a few questions. What is the relationship between corporate culture and strategy? What is the importance of strategy versus the importance of culture in driving success in an organization? Do culture and strategy play different roles in the development of an organization at different times of an organization’s lifecycle? 

Strategy, at its most fundamental level, is rational, intuitive, logical, clear and simple. Every member of an organization should understand it and talk about. Without a simple, well-delineated strategy, a company will get lost. Organizational culture, on the other hand, is complex, dynamic, emotional, ever-changing, and fluid. Culture by its very nature is alive, diverse, people-focused, not easily quantifiable, and changes with the addition of any new member. Culture is an incredibly powerful influence in a company’s long-term success. No matter how fantastic a strategy really is, when compared against values and human beings, people always make the difference. No one will ever contest the notion that ultimately people are the true separators in any organization. Hence, we also believed the only way to win consistently, we had to focus mostly on values and organizational culture.

To test our belief that culture does indeed trump strategy, approximately ten years ago, we deliberately created a culture in our organization that actively promotes and encourages accountability, humility, vulnerability, fun, grit, ownership, empowerment, vigor, excellence, hard work, family, competitiveness, integrity, quality, honesty, superior customer experience and other values that together create the making of a great organizational culture. Our strategy was similar to many other organizations within the same space.  Our belief, however, was that our separator would be our culture as we knew with our culture we could execute relentlessly and produce peak performance.

Organizational culture had made all the difference. Our culture has allowed us to grow dramatically with quality and integrity—more than many similar organizations in the same economic sector—and to survive periods of turbulence and extreme difficulty. Because of our culture, we’re able to continuously learn, reinvent ourselves and to improve. While many of our competitors were shutting down, declaring bankruptcy, and dismantling, we continued to persist.

We knew we were perfectly imperfect. Though we face challenges, mistakes, and problems, we continue to learn, evolve, and improve every single day. Because of our culture, we share the same values and we operate as one organization committed to core values, to our thesis, and most importantly, to our customers.

Our conclusion was and still remains that culture does indeed eat strategy for lunch and dinner!

Fardad Fateri is CEO of International Education Corporation, one of the largest private postsecondary career education systems in North America. Dr. Fateri writes & speaks frequently on organizational culture & career education. He completed his education at University of California, and Harvard University. He is the author of  “ACulture Of Discipline: The Art, Discipline, and Practice of BreakthroughLeadership”.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Social Design for Modern Leaders

Guest post from Cheryl Heller:

Successful leaders are different today than in times past. They do not dictate change, they see and guide it. They don’t try to control, instead they successfully navigate in chaos. They don’t try to be the smartest person in the room, they create conditions in which everyone in their organization can be smart, creative and relevant.

These are the fundamental principles of social design, a new discipline with lessons for leaders in business, government, education and science.

Social design is the design of relationships; the creation of new social conditions intended to increase agency, creativity, equity, social justice, resilience, and connection to nature. The principles of social design are universal and inviolate. They are the beliefs that guide behavior, the reasoning that informs decisions, an internalized map for navigating uncertainty and determining direction through the unknown. Most of them create a tension with the traditional ways in which we’re used to working. Below are just two of the principles of social design with relevance to every modern leader.

Ideas Come from the Inside, Not the Top.
This first principle is foundational to all others, and it requires vigilance. As obvious as it sounds, it’s easy to forget, and often inconvenient. It’s comfortable and comforting to talk to people who already agree with us, and come from the same world we do. It’s easy to think we know best when we come with an outsider’s “objective” perspective, that allows us to see issues more clearly than those caught up in them. Or when we have spent a lifetime becoming expert in our field. We may have seen a hundred similar challenges before, and think we already know the audience well. Perhaps we simply consider ourselves particularly observant or creative. In the short term, it can seem more efficient to make decisions about what people need rather than taking the time to talk to them about it, particularly if they’re not fluent in the same language of culture, country or industry. Social design requires remembering that it’s simply not possible to understand what it’s like to be another person; to have their challenges, or know how to solve them, unless we ask.

This principle keeps us, and our work, alive and generative, even after years of practice. Staying curious about cultural dynamics and realities that are new to us, learning other ways to see, feel and know avoids the calcification of echo chambers where people who look and sound a lot like we do reinforce habitual ways of thinking. It’s an antidote to narrow expert status, an invitation to wisdom different from our own. And it’s exciting, because people who are not like us have ideas we’ve never imagined.

Questions are more important than answers.
There’s an art to framing the kinds of questions that lead to creative breakthroughs. The best are vague enough to leave spacious opportunity for ways to approach them, yet specific enough to provide traction for deep thinking. A common trap is framing a question with a predetermined answer hidden in it. For example, in “How can we create a platform that will tell our story?” the highest order need isn’t known. Why create a platform? To do what, to what end? What’s the point of the story? Questions with built-in answers limit options and shut down creative thinking instead of fostering it. If the highest order need is to connect people to each other or to information that will benefit them in a specific way, knowing that opens the door to think about a hundred ways people might be inspired to seek information, one of which may or may not be building a platform and telling a particular story.

Powerful questions demand thinking beyond the obvious and habitual. They prevent the repetition of what everyone trying to answer them already knows. They are irresistible and intriguing when they’re relevant, focusing a group’s attention on the unknown. They unite people in the process of looking for answers instead of competing to be heard, arguing for their own solution as the only right one. Great questions uncover untapped possibilities and discourage prescription. They are the unassailable evidence of our agency; literally, of the ability and freedom each of us has to question the status quo.

It’s uncomfortable to live with questions. and especially difficult to guide a diverse group of people to the quiet trust required to tolerate not having an answer long enough to find the right one. It causes anxiety. Individuals conditioned to either like or take control often can’t bear not knowing the next ten steps in advance. Western culture values fast solutions, quick fixes, instant expert opinions: the silver bullet.

The best negotiators are those who can endure the discomfort of not knowing which way a deal will go the longest. They have the “stomach” to walk away from opportunities that aren’t good enough, outlasting more delicate participants who “cave” in order to end the uncertainty. Living with questions works the same way: those who can attain a comfort level with, and even relish, the state of not knowing the answer instead of rushing to find one, come up with more creative and unexpected ideas.

Cheryl Heller is the founding chair of the first MFA program in Design for Social Innovation at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and is president of the design lab CommonWise. She is the recipient of the AIGA Medal for her contributions to the field of design and is a Rockefeller Bellagio Fellow. She is the author of The Intergalactic Design Guide: Harnessing the Creative Potential of Social Design.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Find Your Sweet Spot

Guest post from S. Chris Edmonds:

An architect had earned her degree, gained her license, and joined the AIA. She found a well-paying job and even became successful. But she didn’t love it; she didn’t feel she was serving others as well as she could.

A successful salesperson and sales team leader had a twenty-year, well-paid career, but she didn’t love her work. She couldn’t tolerate going through the motions anymore.

With so many years and so much invested in their careers, what could they do? The stories don’t end there.

For the architect, after fifteen years in the field, she quit. She went back to school to study to be a registered nurse. She earned her nursing degree and has found a great job. She loves what she’s doing. She feels she’s serving people beautifully. She’s found her sweet spot.

The salesperson applied at veterinary school. She was accepted and quit her sales job. She headed off to school this month. She’s so excited she can hardly stand it. She can’t wait to finish her doctoral program and serve animals (and their owners) in a veterinary hospital.

You may not be in a position to quit your job and go back to school for your “perfect,” inspiring job. But you may have a good idea of activities that could be a source of inspiration for you.

Are you doing what you’re great at? And what you love to do? Are you paid a living wage to do it?

Perhaps even more important to your sense of personal satisfaction and purpose– are you serving others well while you’re doing it?

I believe that’s the ultimate sweet spot for each of us. Yet sometimes we settle for less than all four of those important elements.

When we settle, we may limit our own joy – and limit our ability to contribute to our company, family, and community.

If we find a career doing something we’re good at and are paid fairly for, but aren’t doing what we love and aren’t serving others well, we’re not going to be happy in the long run. Nor are we likely able to be our best self in every moment.

If we find outlets – volunteering in your community, for example – that let us engage in activities we’re good at, love to do, and serve others well but get little compensation for, that’s a good thing! Activities like these may be a small portion of our week or month (several hours, maybe), but they feed our soul. We’re grateful for these inspiring hours.
What, though, if these inspiring, engaging activities don’t offset the many more hours you spend in an unfulfilling career? What then?

We can choose a different play, a different stage, and a different role – one that does fulfill us daily.

The path won’t be easy. But it may be worth the time, energy, and risks to find that inspiring sweet spot.

If your job isn’t in your sweet spot, engage in activities that nourish your soul and serve others well. Pay it forward – those you serve will be inspired by your actions.

What job or activities fall into your unique sweet spot? In what ways do you nourish your soul and serve others?

S. Chris Edmonds is a sought-after speaker, author, and executive consultant. After a 15-year career leading successful teams, Chris founded his consulting company, The Purposeful Culture Group, in 1990. Chris has also served as a senior consultant with The Ken Blanchard Companies since 1995. He is the author or co-author of seven books, including Amazon best sellers The Culture Engine and Leading at a Higher Level with Ken Blanchard. Learn from his blog posts, podcasts, assessments, research, and videos at Get free resources plus weekly updates from Chris by subscribing here