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Leaders are lifelong learners and many of us were voracious note-takers in college. We were taught planning was the key to success and we read our college texts cover to cover energized with new found knowledge we could use this to mastermind our success.
Experience has taught me differently.
Parents and students on the college search can tour a lot of campuses, complete the Free Application for Financial Aid, and purchase ACT study guides. But they can’t control the selection process. Leaders introducing a new product can study the competition, target the ideal customer, and roll out their campaign. But they can’t control the market.
The world is uncontrollable. Life happens.
Parents can’t make the admissions counselor at their student’s first choice college offer admission and a financial aid package to seal the deal any more than leaders can make consumers flock to their product.
As leaders, we like to control things, right? Well, stop trying to control outcomes (and people) and put your energy toward something you can control, your behavior.
Put your pencils down. Here are three behaviors within your control to get you started.
It’s difficult to persuade others to support your idea, coach a struggling employee towards improvement, or inspire a team to overcome internal communication challenges without story.
Preparing for a high-level review team, I had the arduous task of pulling data on all things workforce-related. In my desire to get move through this smartly, I submitted our info-rich, multi-colored, 10-page Excel log to address a question on recruitment activity. It was quickly returned to me with a phone call and a question, “Is this the story you want to tell?”
It wasn’t. Our recruitment success was the result of commitment and collaboration between human resources, education, clinical and non-clinical leadership and staff, and labor partners. We engage daily to improve our processes, address critical retention issues, plan joint recruitment activities, and develop both internal and community relationships. That was the story I told.
At the mention of story, titans like Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, and Walt Disney come to mind. Yes, they are skilled at telling their story, but they can’t tell yours.
Don’t pass up an opportunity to tell the story you want people to hear. Think about a time when your team project idea was not supported by the team. What story were you telling then and what story would you tell now?
A psychology professor left a handwritten message to me on my final paper, “It was a pleasure having you in class, Lisa. It’s unfortunate you did not speak up more often in class; you have experiences others could have learned from.”
“You waited until now to tell me?” was quickly followed by regret. I wanted to a do-over.
Do-overs don’t always come.
Real conversations can be awkward and uncomfortable. Telling people what you think they want to hear is a poor alternative to voicing your opinion and silence because you question the value of your perspective is worse. As entertaining as it may be to your fellow commuters, no one benefits from the second-chance conversations you have with yourself about what you could have or should have said on your drive home.
When you have something to say, ask, “Is what I am going to say move the conversation forward?” If the answer is yes, speak. If the answer is no, hold that thought. There is a time and a place for real conversation. There is no shame in hitting the pause button to listen further to the conversation and find an appropriate venue for your comments.
People can handle the truth if they understand it and have leaders who are straight with them. Think about a time when it was up to you to speak and you did not. How might the course of the conversation or your relationship with a member of the group have changed for the positive if you had?
It doesn’t take long in the driver’s seat to have an opportunity to see your best laid plans come apart before your eyes; what appears to be a great idea from the desk, quickly falls apart in execution without the engagement of others.
With this in mind, I enjoyed reading about a study of private back channels and team decision making. Citing past research, authors of the study noted groups that “encourage both expression and consideration of dissenting minority view points, regardless of their accuracy, tend to process information more thoroughly, are more creative, learn more during group deliberations, and make better decisions.”
Going through the mechanics of seeking feedback in a meeting you learned in a lecture or lesson is not the same as embracing thoughts, opinions, and perspectives different from your own.
Whether it’s at a real or virtual water cooler, critical conversation is happening and you need to listen to it. Think about a time you were quick to dismiss a difference of opinion. How could you have responded differently? Consider this, should you have not responded at all and simply listened?
Each morning, you step into a custom designed leadership learning lab where you can learn from your experiences. Put your affinity diagram, prioritization matrix, and project timelines aside and don’t miss the opportunity to make a real difference for yourself and for those around you.