“$7 billion in undeveloped resources in BC’s Flathead Valley” was the caption under a photo in a recent issue of Business In Vancouver. Yes, and what are you implying?
The implication seems to be that we would be better off developing those resources but I’m not clear about the rationale for “better”. Yes, extracting those resources would generate jobs; and those jobs would be “good for the economy”; and people would be happy to have those jobs; and the government would have tax revenue from all that development, and the resources could be extracted and sold at a profit that will accrue to the shareholders of the companies involved in the extraction and sale of those resources, etc.
But would we be better off? What will we do when the caption reads, “No resources left in BC’s Flathead Valley.” Who is thinking ahead; what will we do then? Why don’t we do that now?
Will extracting those resources make for a more sustainable planet hurtling through space with us along for the ride? Will extracting those resources help us take care of the ride? Who is dying for lack of those resources being extracted? Even if we can answer that, what is the intended future impact of extracting them now? Is that a new benefit to the world? Regardless of our intentions, what is our best thinking about the real impact in the future?
How far ahead are you thinking? What are you not thinking about that risks sinking your organization later? What is the risk you haven’t considered? The risk of doing nothing – or doing anything just so you’re doing something?
Let’s hear some good examples of long-term thinking. Or, feel free to give us some examples of ridiculously short-term thinking.
Next post we’ll take a look at Sam Palmisano?, IBM’s CEO. He’s a guy who definitely thinks ahead.
Photo: Armstrong images; Nemiah Valley
The co-founders of an organization recently asked me to make an anniversary presentation and acknowledge their contribution with a gift of two of my images (I’m a reasonably accomplished amateur photographer).
After carefully selecting and fine-tuning the images, I had them printed and framed and took them to a large organization that ships packages all over the world and offers to get them to their destination on time (think brown).
I took the framed prints to them on a Monday. The presentation was on Saturday night. There were lots of delivery options: overnight, two days, three days, by ground, etc. They wrapped and boxed the framed prints and recommended their three-day option. That would schedule the prints to arrive on Thursday, leaving an extra day in case something unforeseen happened.
However, the prints did not arrive in three days. I called to find out where the package was and what would be done to get it delivered on time. After hearing, “Sorry, you’ll have to call this number,” I explained that on Saturday, I was standing up in front of 100 people to make a presentation of the contents of the package that they had in their possession. The first person I talked with at their call centre said there was nothing she could do. She might as well have said, “It sure sucks to be you. Too bad you chose to do business with us.” Her supervisor sounded more helpful, but he referred me to someone else, who asked me to call another location. It went on and on.
While listening to yet another employee tell me “We’ll see what we can do,” I imagined myself empty-handed in front of 100 people. I didn’t want the shipper “seeing” — I needed them to be “doing.” There is a world of difference between “seeing what you can do” and “doing what it takes.” From the beginning, seeing what you can do builds in an excuse. You absolve yourself from all responsibility for delivering on a commitment and from expecting that commitment to mean something. If you say “We’ll see what we can do” fast, you can pretend that it means something other than “I took a look and saw that I couldn’t do anything.”
Eventually, the manager at the depot in Dallas called me, got a description of the package — its size, color, weight, fragile stickers — and did what it took. He went out and searched through as many 18-wheeler trailers in his yard as it took to find the package, and delivered it personally to the front desk of the hotel at 8 p.m. on Friday night. Thanks for doing what it took.
Are you willing to “do what it takes” or are you just “seeing what you can do”? Which world are you living in?
Send us your examples of people who did what it took and we will highlight them here.
Photos: Armstrong images
An executive I know, who excels at accomplishment, recently told me: “I want to charge right into action but I’m forcing myself to just listen.” Since this guy is still developing his ability to develop others, his way of “just listening” is to try to suppress the urge to tell others what to do. Do you ever feel like you have to force yourself “just to listen”?
Suppression never works. It doesn’t free people to bring out their strengths. Development is a much better bet. What strength of yours, if you developed it to another level, would replace what you are trying to suppress? What capability, if developed, would displace a blind urge to act?
First, be intentional about what you listen for. Intention, plus attention and interest, shapes your listening. Think of the radio antenna in your car: although it receives everything broadcast in your area, you can choose which station you want to listen to. Therefore, rather than just listening, you can listen for an opportunity to appreciate your small accomplishments or good starts and those of others.
You can also listen for others’ strengths and their possible next steps, providing guidance and encouragement in that direction. For instance, if you have a natural gift in writing or editing, you might find it easy to create an engaging document without errors, while others consider the task a challenge and will miss their own mistakes. You can help others develop themselves in an area through conversations that help them see how to capitalize on their unique strengths. This would readily surround you with people capable of accomplishing more of the right things with ease.
It takes intention to listen for how people have developed. If you watch carefully and openly, you can notice when they are seeing things differently or when they are faking it. However, many people miss such opportunities. Some of them are so stuck with their image of “already knowing” who someone “is,” they wouldn’t notice if this person transformed from a caterpillar into a butterfly in front of their face. It astounds me how often I see this.
Start with your own strengths: pick one to develop. This could be anything from listening to collaboration. Stick with it for a month, then fine-tune how you can focus your intentional listening. That way, you will lead more people to fulfilling, sustainable accomplishment, the kind that creates the authentic engagement that so many organizations are struggling to find these days. Rather than suppressing yourself by “just listening”, you will boost your own power and make things easier for everyone.
Here’s the short version of the story. Find people who are very good at what they do but don’t worry that they won’t know what they actually do, how they do it or why they do it. Go ahead and ask them to describe it anyway. They will do their best to provide a plausible description and explanation. Then use this description and explanation — which may in fact be the opposite of what they actually do — as the basis for training others and in some cases paying others. Smart! Why didn’t I think of that!
It’s no wonder that despite all the latest and greatest ideas of the month, fads and apparent short cuts to success that things don’t improve or improve sustainably. It really does pay to get at what’s fundamental: fundamental strengths; the first principles of communication and what really fuels accomplishment.
Here’s the longer version:
In September 2007 , I wrote about some of the problems when organizations try to describe leadership competencies — one the favorite corporate flavors of the month that unfortunately still isn’t past its “best before” date.
I must apologize for misleading you. It is way, way worse than I thought at the time. Now I’m definitely a little late getting to this but I just finished reading Blink by Malcolm Gladwell . His insights into the unconscious mind seriously undermine a fundamental basis on which competencies rest: consulting experts to determine what they do and how they do it.
Gladwell cites an example of Vic Braden, one of the world’s top tennis coaches. Braden, he says, hasn’t found a single pro tennis player in the world who is consistent in “knowing and explaining exactly what he does.” All the pros say that they use their wrist to roll their racquet over the ball. Amazingly, when you slow down the high speed action and examine it in minute detail — that is not what they do. A digitized analysis of Andre Agassi’s swing, for example, shows that he doesn’t move his wrist until long after the ball has been hit.
Now this is significant for a couple of reasons. First, when we’re talking with a pro about his or her tennis swing it is something physical — something that can be observed, recorded, slowed down and analyzed. And the analysis shows they don’t actually know what they are doing. They know the effect they create but they do not actually know what they are doing that creates that effect.
Now take something like leadership. Leadership does not happen on the outside, it happens on the inside. From the outside, leadership looks like any other human interaction. There is some talking, there is some listening and there is some silence. Sometimes the talking and listening is in big groups, sometimes small groups, sometime one on one. What’s the big deal? Talking and listening.
But what’s going on inside the leader: what is the leader thinking about; how are they thinking about it; why are they thinking about these things and not others? How do they determine who to talk with, who to talk with first, next, next? One at a time, in small groups or as a large group? How often — once certainly won’t be enough. How do they determine who to encourage and who to disrupt? When to take a hard line or when to take some more time? And all these considerations — plus many more — are just a thin slice in time and most of the choices occur on an unconscious level.
While the evidence of leadership shows up in what gets accomplished there is scant evidence available about how the leader orients to the world inside her and the world outside her. What is really going on — the myriad choices and decisions is completely invisible to the high speed cameras that could actually tell us whether she is rolling her wrist before or after the shot.
Not only is there no evidence available to the external observer; we do not even have reliable access to our own thinking. Gladwell describes an experiment by the psychologist Norman Maier in which the subjects needed to solve a problem by swinging a rope back and forth. There were three other solutions but swinging the ropes wasn’t obvious. None of the subjects discovered this solution on their own. At some point the experimenter would walk past one of the ropes in a way that created a very subtle movement in the rope. After that, most people suddenly came up with the solution of swinging one of the ropes. The most interesting part is that when they were asked how they came up with the solution only one person could say that they were helped by the subtle hint provided by the experimenter when he walked past the rope. Everyone else came up with some explanation — and some of them very elaborate explanations — that were not true!
So now we have an interesting situation. The experts we would want to rely on as our best examples to emulate are unreliable for describing what they do or how they do it. However, either because of the way our human brains work or the culture we live in; or perhaps some combination of both, we seem to be compelled to offer explanations. It’s just that those explanations cannot be relied on as true!
Disclaimer: Nothing here is intended to imply that you don’t already know this, should know this, should have already had an insight about this, should have already done something differently, or any variations on this theme. If it occurs this way, kindly disregard everything you may, or may have already, read here.
Stop shoulding on yourself! And while you’re at it, stop shoulding on others. I am amazed at how many people believe that it is important for them to hold on to a should. A manager says, “We shouldn’t be in the mess we’re in.” An executive says, “We should be making more progress.” A supervisor says; “They should be providing better service to us.”
When you think something should be different than the way it is, it inevitably leads to frustration because it is an argument with reality. And reality isn’t paying any attention to what you think should be happening. Your intentions and actions will have some influence on reality but frustration is the result of getting stuck in how you think it should be. The real power here is in seeing and acknowledging how things really are.
I’m not suggesting that you must be satisfied (or dissatisfied) with the way things are — the integrity underlying your frustration is your desire to make a difference to the way things are. Acknowledgement of “it is” is not the same as “I am willing to let things be as they are”. Whenever you are bringing your leadership to a situation you are intending a difference. It’s just that telling the truth about reality is a powerful starting point for causing the difference you intend. When you think things should already be different, you are arguing with the reality of the starting point. When you argue with reality the frustration grows exponentially and undermines everything you are intending to accomplish. You become part of the problem; not part of accomplishing what’s called for.
Should is not the same as an intention that leads to productive action. You may have an intention that things operate more smoothly than they are currently running. You may intend to accelerate the rate of progress on an important initiative; there may be some service standards that are not being met. Nothing about that however, says that they should already be any different than the way they are.
The impossible, and hidden, timing of already is the evil, nasty, suppressive, undermining part of entertaining the idea that your view trumps reality and therefore there is something wrong with reality. The truth is that things are the way they are; you are where you are, and you are either taking the action required to have the desired effect or you aren’t. Reality will tell you the truth about that.
It is important to note that I’m not saying that a fight with reality is wrong; or that you shouldn’t be arguing with reality. You are welcome to argue with reality. Just be satisfied with what that produces — not much beyond frustration. If on the other hand, you are willing to trust that reality will give you an accurate read out of what has and has not been accomplished so far — and then use that to inform what capability you might develop and what to try next — you will get something other than mere frustration. The choice is yours.
There is power in considering what to bring to the situation next, while simultaneously acknowledging that while your previous intention and/or actions may have seemed like they would accomplish what you intended, they didn’t — at least not yet. It’s also important to appreciate that you did what you could see to do. But now you can also see that for whatever reason it didn’t match whatever was required and therefore something else is needed. This appreciation frees up the energy once gobbled up by the frustration and allows you to freely assess what else is required.
Turning the adrenalin of frustration into adrenalin for new action isn’t an easy switch but is absolutely enlightening once realized. It promotes self-acceptance along with “reality-acceptance” and makes a powerful energy available to move forward rather than swirling in the quicksand of frustration. The energy drained by shoulding is mind boggling once you realize it.(1)
Some people still want to argue, “But, I have taken sufficient action to accomplish what was intended.” (With “they should be different” or “it should be different” in the background.) This is pure fantasy; this is the argument with reality. The action you have taken so far, in the current circumstances and with other people’s intentions and action, has led to the results you are seeing. No more; no less. Want different results? Figure out what that would take; develop your competence to a new level and know that life will give you an accurate read out.
It should, I should, you should, they should (or should have, or should have already) are all the same — each of them is an argument with reality. You may be more susceptible to one or the other, but make no mistake — they are all undermining.
Here is an example to illustrate this. In my work I frequently am on a plane flying to another city for a meeting or to work with a client. I’m actually on a plane right now as I write this. Anyone who has flown — or gone to the airport to pick someone up — knows that there is often a difference between when a plane is scheduled to depart and when it actually departs. Tonight for example, the plane was scheduled to depart at 7:20; it actually departed at 8:30.
By 7:30 you might say “it should have already” departed (but it hasn’t); or “I should have checked to see if it was on time” (but I didn’t); or said to the agent, “you should get us on another flight”, (but they didn’t); when you found out it was a maintenance issue, “they should maintain their planes better” or, “they should have an extra plane available, (but they don’t). In each case it should, I should, you should and they should are all arguing with reality — it doesn’t matter where you start, you end up in the same place.
Reality is that the plane will be departing late and you won’t really know exactly what time until it takes off. The only effective action is to consider what you will do about this. Make a phone call to alert anyone expecting your on-time arrival? Check with other airlines to see if they have an earlier flight? Charter a private jet? Stay an extra night?
One thing I know for sure is that getting frustrated that reality didn’t line up with my idea of an on-time departure was not going to increase my options or enhance my creativity and resourcefulness in thinking of alternatives. Opting for frustration would have made not a whit of difference to when the plane departed — it would just undermine my peace of mind, health and demeanor all the way home. If the frustration got that far it would also have poisoned the possibility of my wife and I enjoying each others’ company when I did get home.
Stop poisoning yourself and others with the frustration of shoulds and watch out for should’s cousin: If Only. “If only they had listened when we told them.” Trust reality to give you an accurate read out of where things are and start there. Take the action that will cause what you intend and develop your competence to take performance to the next level.
(1)Thanks to Andrea Eberle for her insight into shoulds.
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