Monthly Archives: March 2010

On Embracing Change

 |  Change Management, Leadership

Today, President Obama signed into law a bill that reforms America’s health care system. Regardless of which side of the political spectrum you may occupy, this is significant change. We’ll leave the political debate to another time and place. I’d like to talk about change and our relationship to it.

Most of us would say that change is good. And, still most of us don’t like to change. We change constantly when we are younger without even thinking about it. We change physically, cognitively, emotionally, and psychologically as we age and learn. As we get older, we become settled and more and more resistant to change. We like things the way they are. We become comfortable. We know where everything is. This is a precarious mindset to maintain in today’s world. It is a dangerous mindset for leaders.

Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers said recently, “Change is great when it happens to somebody else. When it happens to us, it makes us uncomfortable. And yet, countries, companies or individuals who do not change will be left behind.” Truer words were never spoken. So what is Chambers saying? I believe he is calling us to be uncomfortable. If we want to be leaders in this new economy we need to look for ways to lead change and not react to it. We need to recapture the openness and curiosity of youth and be willing to be uncomfortable.

I hear many people I work with talk about wanting to find balance. Balance is easy when we are standing still. It is much more difficult when we are moving. In life and business today, we are almost never standing still; and if we are, that means someone is passing us by. I counter that we should not seek balance; we should seek to get better at the act of balancing while we keep moving forward. We don’t have the luxury of standing still.

I’m not advocating change for change’s sake. I am saying that we must always examine the status quo with open eyes and a willingness to push ourselves and others out of our comfort zones to produce positive change. The mindset that serves us best when it comes to change is the mindset of openness and curiosity. This is the mindset of ongoing learning. If we aren’t learning, we aren’t leading.

Leadership is not about having all the answers all the time. Leadership is about gathering the right people and harnessing the right resources to create positive change. When leaders do this, they are in no danger of being “left behind.” On the contrary, they are out in front, embracing change, managing the correlative anxiety of uncertainty, and dealing with their own discomfort in order to help others with theirs. There is an amount of discomfort associated with any change. If we are to lead, we must become comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Inquiry BEFORE Advocacy – A Winning Mindset for Leaders

 |  Leadership

Coaching is a great way to evoke and sustain disruptive positive change in the individual and the team and organization at the same time. The effect of great coaching is both linear and nonlinear as the person being coached has a new and more powerful impact with others in the organization.

A simple definition of coaching is to enable positive transformation. The leader as coach has conversations with teams and individuals to evoke and sustain disruptive positive change. That’s what matters! An important rule for leaders (whether you’re in coach mode or not) is Inquiry Before Advocacy. The leader as coach spends more time asking questions and less time telling someone what to do. It’s that simple.

There is always a time for advocating for ourself, our team, our position. Yet, leading with advocacy may actually get in the way of what we really want much of the time. When we advocate, we are telling someone what we would do or what she should do. Leading with advocacy results in two horrible situations taking hold in the team or organization. First, the leader becomes ‘solution provider’ and as such, people become dependent upon the leader to always provide the solution. When the leader isn’t around to provide the solution, activity grinds to a halt. You may like being the solution provider; but, is that in the best interest of the organization? Probably not. Second, and even worse, when we lead by advocating a solution we may be unwittingly communicating that we don’t believe the person could come up with the solution themselves (a disrespectful assumption) and creating or strengthening a belief in the person that they are not competent. Either way we are left with a very disempowered and disengaged person.

Leading with inquiry has two real benefits for the leader and the organization. First, inquiry invites curiosity. It is contagious. I asked a leader I coach to show up to meetings one day and only ask questions. The people with whom she works were used to her advocating positions and providing solutions, not asking questions. She reported the experience and results were amazing. Her intentional curiosity begat more inquiry from the others in those meetings. As a result the solutions they came to were richer and had more support from the team. The bigger pay off was for her brand. People were impressed with how she contributed to the process and invited others to fully participate through her questions. People are talking differently to her and about her.

Two simple rules to help you become a more effective leader/coach:
1. 80/20 – Coaching (and leading) is 80% listening/20% telling. Be curious. Ask questions. Help people find their own solutions.
2. To help with #1, Remember WAIT (Why Am I Talking?). There’s no chance you’ll learn anything new while you’re talking. So stop.