Sunday, June 26, 2011

the leadership dance: 'The Only One Who Really Likes Change...

the leadership dance: 'The Only One Who Really Likes Change...: " a wet baby.' Unk. Recently, I had occasion to talk about change as our organization prepares to experience a major change in many ..."

'The Only One Who Really Likes Change... a wet baby.' Unk.

Recently, I had occasion to talk about change as our organization prepares to experience a major change in many important processes. The reality is that even people who handle change well have something they don’t want anyone to mess with! It’s true in our organizations, but it’s just as true in our daily lives. And it is a rare person who goes through life able to stay flexible enough to keep trying new things as they go.

In a few days I turn 55 and the list of things I’ll never do does grow. I’ll never play a professional sport – not that such a goal was ever in my future, but it’s certainly not now. I’ll never get to ride on a supersonic jet that crosses the Atlantic Ocean and lands before it left. I don’t expect to reach the top of Mt. Everest. On the other hand, I have another list – the practice of yoga, teaching yoga, competing in national ballroom dance competitions, writing for people to read (this blog and my office’s bi-weekly newsletter to name two examples) – all things I’ve begun since I turned 40. None of these are really surprising as most flow from activities or kinds of activities I’ve done before and there wasn’t much resistance to overcome.

On the other hand, I’ve been sure for most of my life (54 years or so) that I’m not any more able to draw than, at 5”4’, I’m able to slam dunk a basketball. It didn’t matter that my husband, who can draw wonderfully has told me many times that if I would just take a class I could learn to draw. I knew better. Of course, you know the moral of the story. The picture at the top of this is something I’ve drawn. Now, I haven’t turned out to be an amazing prodigy, but who cares, I’m able to draw and I’m enjoying drawing.

There are so many ways our ideas about what we can and can’t do limit our ability to do those activities and many other things besides. One of the ways we can learn to handle change is to practice changing. One of the ways we can practice changing is to try new activities, stretch our ideas about what we can and can’t do, and in doing so, find out we can survive changes.

So what’s on your list of things you can’t do? Some may be realistic – no Olympic bobsledding for me. But some activities on the list may be there because you’re afraid of trying something new, or are unwilling to do something badly, or any other of the many reasons we’re sure that We. Can’t. Do It!

I suggest you actually write down your list of things you’ll never do and look at the list thoughtfully. You may have to admit that serving on the space shuttle may not be in your future. But you may also have to admit that there are items on the list that you just never tried. Try it – maybe you won’t be any good at it and you can say you were right. But maybe, just maybe, the worst will happen and you’ll have to admit your ideas were the only thing stopping you and you’ll actually learn a new skill!

Have fun,


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Flow - The Motivating Leader

Rereading Mihaly Csiksentmihalyi's work on flow made me wonder about the leader's role in creating flow experiences for the members of our organizations. This is much simplified but for the purposes of this quick note this definition will suffice: "Flow tends to occur when a person's skills are fully involved in overcoming a challenge that is just about manageable." If the challenges are too great for the person's skill, the person becomes anxious. If the challenges are too low, boredom can set it. This short definition has given me a great tool for analysis. If I'm feeling bored, then what do I need to do to challenge myself. If I'm feeling anxious in my work, what do I skills do I need to work onto be more able to handle the task at hand?

In the day-to-day reality of leadership, part of our task is to match skill sets with jobs that need to be done. I stayed at one university for eleven years, in part because my supervisor was able to find new things for me to do and to learn - in other words, she gave me challenges that were in reach but required me to be fully engaged in the work to do them well. Are you challenging the people you work with appropriately? If you are not, have you set up a culture that allows people to address it individually or ask for new opportunities or training as appropriate to the situation?

It's true that we can't really motivate others, but we can certainly demotivate them? We can also challenge and support them. What kind of leadership are you exercising? Is it more likely to produce anxiety, boredom or flow? What do you need to do to find the right level of challenge and skill for yourself and others? Again questions that only you can answer!

Good luck,


Quote from Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly (1997).

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Questions and More Questions

'What do I do when I work for a difficult boss, an autocrat, someone who squelches my creative endeavors?' - or any other variation that says, 'sure this workshop you're presenting sounds great, but it won't work in my world.' It's the most difficult question I receive when I present a workshop like The Creative Leader, because the hard reality is that there are no easy solutions to this difficult situation.

There are solutions, but one-size does not fit all circumstances. Each case is individual to the organization, the boss and the person asking the question. Thinking about it brings me back to the portion of the Leadership Dance workshop where I remind people that taking a job or joining and organization does not mean you give up all of your rights and responsibilities. In the Leadership Dance, I remind people that on the dance floor, if a leader isn't paying attention and tries to lead the follower into a move that is too difficult or potentially harmful to anyone on the dance floor, the follower is under no obligation to follow. The same is true in an organization.

Yes, every job I've ever known of has parts that we'd rather not do and rules we have to follow that seemed specifically designed to stop our creative impulses. In every job I've ever had, there have been moments when I was asked to do something I thought was headed in the wrong direction. But I've also understood that when people 'sit' in a different part of the organizational chart than I do, they often have a different picture of what the best solution might be, they are often more aware of important issues than I am, and much as I've hated to admit it at times, they have often made better decisions than I would have. And yet, there are lines that have to be drawn. We don't give up our own responsibility for our health, safety, values and ethics when we go to work for someone. Sometimes that refusal may mean we have to leave the organization. The more we have invested in an organization or the bigger our personal obligations, the harder it is refuse to follow the lead, but that doesn't relieve us of our responsibilities for ethical action.

Thus the answer to that difficult question is that each of us has to make a personal determination about the benefits and challenges of our individual work situation. What can we change? What conversations can we have with our supervisor? What do we love about the job that outweighs the challenges? When it is so bad that it is time to look for another position, as difficult as that may be? Questions in answer to a question - frustrating I know. While a friend or mentor or colleague may be able to help us analyze the situation, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, there is only one person who can give the ultimate answer to the question - the person who asked it has the answer all along.

Best wishes,


Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Creative Leader Workshop

Last week, I mentioned being intrigued by comments from participants in the workshop entitled the Creative Leader. Before I can share the comment, I need to explain about one part of the workshop.

Over time I have learned that there are many ways to teach leadership concepts and I have used two of my favorite activities as extended metaphors to engage people in an exploration of different aspects of leadership. Leadership Dance and Leadership Yoga are two of the more popular results of this creative effort. Based on comments over the years, this way of using activities or hobbies that I enjoy strikes people as very unusual, as something they are not able to do. So The Creative Leader is one workshop designed to help people demystify this creative process.

The primary activity is simple. I ask everyone in the room to put their favorite hobby on a scrap of paper and hand it over to me. I shuffle them while they get organized into smaller groups of 5-7 people. Then each group draws one hobby from those in my hands. Once we're clear on what the hobby is, some are a bit obscure, I announce that their task is to design a leadership workshop based on that hobby and they have ten minutes to do so.

To the amazement of most participants, they are able to complete the assignment. Some hobbies work better for the topic of leadership than others. Some groups get more involved in their workshop than other groups. Some are very funny and clever whether or not they will actually work. A couple of ideas have been sheer genius! But everyone comes up with enough that with very little work they could develop a full-fledged workshop.

The comment I want to share is a variation on this theme. - 'I never would have thought we could come up with so many workable (clever, creative, useable) ideas so quickly.' It reminds me yet again, that so often it is our ideas about what we can and can't do that limit us. Much more so than money, or time, or The Rules. Our preconceived notions about how much time brainstorming takes keeps us from using small bits of time well. Our conception about our creative ability or the creative ability of others can mean we don't even try something different.

Next time you're stuck and need an idea for a workshop or a presentation or an article, pull out your favorite hobby, something you know well and apply it to the topic at hand. Maybe it will work perfectly, maybe it won't. But I can guarantee you, it will help you find a fresh way of looking at the topic. And that's an important leadership skill for all of us.

Best wishes,