Tuesday, 28 July 2009

"Are You Willing To Be an Imperfectionist?"

Last week, I spent most of my time working on updating the ManageTrainLearn e-learning courses. (Coming soon to a website near you!)

When I say "most of the time", I mean that 20% of the time went like a dream and I updated 80% of the courses without a hitch. However, 80% of the time went on trying to resolve a handful of less than 20% of the courses.

(And if those aren't good examples of the 80-20 Pareto principle, I don't know what are.)

The reason why I spent so much time trying to fix a handful of courses that wouldn't play ball was that, when it comes to getting things right, I'm a perfectionist.

When other people see the big picture and what they're doing right, my brain slips into seeing all the little details and what I'm doing wrong.

I should know better.

If, like me, you have a strong perfectionist streak in your make-up, you'll have spent a lifetime agonising over the 20% of things that didn't work rather than the 80% that did.

Well, last week, in the middle of my frustrating battle with the DHTML and the file transfers, I had a eureka moment, triggered first by the excessive amount of time I was taking and secondly by a blog from my friend Scott Ginsberg.

Scott happened to be writing about the very thing I was resisting: imperfection.

And, in his own inimitable way, he was championing all the things that make perfectionists like me uncomfortable, but that we most need to learn.

Like showing your vulnerability; believing that people really want the real, honest and imperfect you; easing back on the need to see perfection in others; learning to live in shades of grey, rather than good-bad, right-wrong; and "walking the halls" with an attitude of confident uncertainty.

In short, Scott was saying that there really isn't anything wrong with imperfection. It's what makes you more human and it's what people identify with and buy into.

So, that's a good lesson learnt.

In future, I hope the lesson will come back to me whenever I find myself spending up to 80% of my time on up to 20% of my problems.

As U. S. Anderson said in "The Magic Of Your Mind", "When imperfectness enters a man's soul, he is able to show that he does not live in the world alone but with millions of others in whose hearts exists the same animating spirit."

Or, to quote Scott Ginsberg, "What would happen to your career if you were known as the biggest imperfectionist in your company?"

"Speaking With Good Purpose"

One of the really hard but powerful skills of communications is to speak with good purpose.

Speaking with good purpose means conversing with others in a way that is honest, straightforward, and with the aim of building better relationships.

Take for example the following phrase: "You're so sloppy. Your work area is such a mess."

This is likely to antagonise the person to whom it is directed who will most likely respond in the same manner (since behaviour breeds behaviour) or go on the defensive. Either way, your point will be defended or denied and the conversation, to say nothing of the relationship, will pretty quickly be over.

If, on the other hand, you worked out in advance that you really needed the other person to know how you felt and what you wanted them to do, you could phrase the same message in the following way which leaks no anger or put-down: "I find it really hard to share an office with you because we have such different ideas about organisation."

Now, you have the basis for a much better working arrangement.

Bobby DePorter, the president of Quantum Learning Network, says that there are many ways we can learn how to speak with good purpose. Here are 3...

1. a "No Tolerance to Gossip" policy, since gossip is exactly the opposite of speaking with good intent.
2. letting people know your intent when you speak. So, instead of the slightly sinister-sounding "Have you got a minute?", use visible communication and let them know what's on your mind, as in "Have you got a minute to talk about the Jones' contract...?"
3. avoiding shut-downs by turning the conversation from them to you. So, if someone is telling you about a problem they've got, don't "me-too" them ("Yeah, I know what you mean. The same thing happened to me...") and don't give them your solutions ("If I were you...").

Marshall Thurber, the real estate mogul, has a rule in his office: "If it doesn't serve, don't say it." When he finds anyone breaking this rule, with gossip, negativity, or not thinking before opening their mouth, the culprit has to put a $20 in the charity box.

The result is not only that people stop saying things that are hurtful, malicious, or just plain unnecessary. They stop thinking them too.

Monday, 13 July 2009

"No Problem!"

It seems to me that one of the differences between leaders and followers is their attitude to problems.

Most people approach a problem in one of three frames of mind:

1. They get uncomfortable and wish it would go away.
2. They feel they have to come up with a quick and correct answer.
3. They look for someone or something to blame.

As a result, most people worry about their problems until they can be resolved.

Leaders are different. They have trained themselves to look at problems in three opposite frames of mind:

1. They see them as normal and therefore not something to worry about.
2. They see them as opportunities to learn and move ahead. As Richard Bach puts it: "There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hand."
3. They see solutions as inevitable.

On our ManageTrainLearn Thinking Skills programmes, we teach our trainees that problems can always be resolved by two approaches: moving your thinking to a higher level and taking your time.

Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, says that seeing a situation as a "problem" is the result of ego-based thinking. In this kind of thinking, a problem arises when it threatens our image of ourselves as competent, capable, and confident.

By moving our thinking from ego-based to non ego, or spirit-based thinking, our problems dissolve into thin air. They become simply another "interesting" situation with lots of opportunities to explore, experiment, and have fun.

Taking our time is the second way to solve problems.

Tom Hicks, of business consultancy Connexus, says that people are born problem-solvers but don't realise it. Our fear of discomfort means we rush into a solution when it would be infinitely better to take our time.

By being patient, we allow ourselves to put the solution at the end of the process of enquiry and higher-level thinking. It also means being able to live with "life unresolved", not always a comfortable thing to do.

Hicks adds that a problem is like a curve in the road where we can't see the road ahead. When we take the bend quickly, we come a cropper. When we take it slowly, we make it easily.

The next time you face a problem which appears to knock you off-track and de-rail you, calm your thoughts and take your time.

And, bit by bit, you will become a leader of class.

PS Find out more about problem-solving techniques in our Thinking Skills programmes here.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

"Intelligent Disobedience"

I am sometimes asked to define the difference between old-style organisations that use control to get things done and new-style organisations that use empowerment.

And this week I discovered the answer: in empowered organisations, people can disobey and become heroes.

What prompted me to this conclusion was reading about how guide dogs for the blind are trained. If you've ever seen a guide dog working, you'll know how devoted they are to their owners and how well-trained they are.

However, on occasions, the guide dog will disobey, for example, when the owner believes it's OK to cross a road and the dog notices at the last moment an approaching speeding car. Then the dog knows that, whatever its training, its care and protection to its owner comes first and won't go.

Bruna Martinuzzi of Clarion Enterprises who gave me this insight calls this "intelligent disobedience".

In empowered organisations something similar happens when employees know that, whatever the rules and procedures say, sometimes you have to break the rules for the greater good.
Peter Grazier tells the story of going to his favourite baker's shop one day to buy something to eat.

His gaze fell on the most delicious-looking chocolate muffins and the shop assistant noticed too. However, Peter was on a diet and, resisting temptation, ordered the healthier option of oatcakes instead.

His gaze, however, returned to the muffins so the shop assistant asked if he'd like some. Peter hesitated for a moment and then said, No.

He paid for his oatcakes, set off home and thought back to how delicious those muffins would have been.

When he got home, Peter opened his bag, took out the oatcakes, and found that the shop assistant had inserted a free muffin with them.

That's empowerment and creating a customer for life. Even if it's disobedience.