Monthly Archives: August 2011

The Meaning of “No”

 |  Change Leadership, Leadership

I had an interesting conversation the other day with an executive who is getting significant resistance when he presents his ideas for instituting change in his organization. Rather than focus on methods for leading change or overcoming resistance, I asked, “How do you interpret “No”? He looked at me puzzled for a minute and replied (as most of us would), “’No’ means ‘No’.”

I pressed on. “What if ‘no’ doesn’t mean ’no’?, I said. What if ‘no’ means ‘I don’t get what you’re talking about.’ or ‘What you’re proposing scares me.’ or ‘I don’t want to do that.’?”

There are three points I wanted him (and us) to reflect on. One, resistance isn’t necessarily a dead end to your idea. It simply means that you may need to rethink your strategy for securing buy-in and find another way to get it. If we stop to think about it, “no” doesn’t mean “no”; it means, “not this way.”

Two, using inquiry before advocacy is always a smart strategy for engaging others. As soon as we advocate for a position (or idea), the other person is voting – Do I agree or disagree? Using inquiry to open the conversation provides the opportunity to bring your option or idea into the conversation so that it meets with less resistance. You are inviting collaboration and that’s almost always a good idea.

Three, we can’t change others. If our tactic for securing buy-in isn’t working, complaining about it and being upset that we got shot down gets us nowhere. We need to change the only person we can – ourselves.

The final question we explored together was, “What shift to your relationship and communication strategy and/or your personal style will enable you to engage others and introduce your ideas in a way that reduces resistance and invites high acceptance and buy-in?” Some great ideas began to flow into our conversation. In the end it became clear that if my executive friend wants a different outcome, he can’t expect others to change. That’s up to him.

The Incredible Lightness of Leading

 |  Leadership

“Lighten up, Francis.” I love this line from Stripes (great movie, by the way). It is a constant reminder to me and to any leader that we run into trouble when we take ourselves too seriously. Most of us are not in roles where we are making life and death decisions. We are in business; we make and sell products, we sell and provide services. How is it that we become so worked up over things when something doesn’t go our way? Perhaps to be better leaders (and people), we need to “lighten up.”

I am not advocating being less than committed or serious about our work. I take my work very seriously. But, when we become overly serious about our work, we become closed down and certain, inflexible, and humorless. I know this is true for me. I think if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll acknowledge it’s true for you as well. These are not positive attributes that will serve us well as we work to drive our businesses forward and develop the capacity of the people around us to work with us in these endeavors.

As leaders, we are at our best when we are open and curious, when we approach our work with a sense of lightness. This mindset invites creativity, engagement, and collaboration. This mindset looks like flexibility, inquisitiveness, and a playful sense of humor as a way of being and leading. It allows us to become tolerant of uncertainty, which is vital for leaders; because in a world of constant change, certainty is an illusion and not our friend.

As things begin to ramp up, I challenge all of us to “lighten up.” What would it look like if we worked to drive our business forward and develop our people with a little more lightness? I think we’d be more inquisitive, more flexible, more comfortable with uncertainty, and more fun. Let’s try.

The Field

 |  Leadership

In Presence: Human Purpose and the Field of the Future, Peter Senge and his co-authors write:

“We’ve come to believe that the core capacity needed for accessing the field of the future is presence. We first thought of presence as being fully conscious and aware in the present moment. Then we began to appreciate presence as deep listening, of being open beyond one’s preconceptions and historical ways of making sense. We came to see the importance of letting go of old identities and the need to control and, as Salk said, making choices to serve the evolution of life. Ultimately, we came to see all these aspects of presence as leading to a state of “letting come,” of consciously participating in a larger field for change. When this happens, the field shifts, and the forces shaping a situation can shift from re-creating the past to manifesting or realizing an emerging future.” (2004)

I’ve spoken before about the path of leadership. There are no simple steps or directions on how to be a great leader. Leadership is a path. The path leads us to the field. The field is the place where we are present, non-reactive, attuned, and open to both letting go and, as Senge writes, “letting come.” When we are in the field, we are not concerned with the past, nor anxious about the future. When we are in the field, we are not being driven by fear or anxiety or frustration, anger, or sadness. When we are in the field, we are not relating to the world as victim, or hero, or villain, we are conscious and we are connected.

The field is where we as leaders need to be. I think our teams and our organizations will be extremely well served by our living and leading in the field. I think it is very difficult to enter and lead in the field and very easy for us to get pulled out of the field if and when we are in it. The starting point for walking the path of leadership is cultivating consciousness and awareness. Just this can take a lifetime. Indeed, cultivating consciousness and awareness requires a daily focus and practice.

Fear is something that can keep us from walking the path of leadership and entering the field – fear of change, fear of losing what we think we have, fear of confronting and owning our own reality. The question each of us has to answer is, “Do I choose to accept responsibility for my life and live and lead in the present, in the field, accepting what comes of the choices we make, or remain stuck in the past and afraid of the future?

As summer draws to a close and we begin gearing up for the next year of racing to accomplish and accumulate, I challenge us all to strive to cultivate consciousness and awareness. Sit for a few minutes each day. Reflect on what living and leading in the field might look like, feel like. Reflect on what might shift for us, for our teams, our families if we could be in the field more. What might the next year look like if we could begin to let go of our old identities, our need to control? What might the next year look like if we began to realize an emerging future from the field of real presence, the field of conscious leadership?