Strengths

How would you grow more – by taking what you’re good at, and getting better, or by taking what you’re bad at, and trying to get better? I may have given it away by that word “trying.” The truth is, we can grow from decent, to good, to excellent, to extraordinary in the things aligned with our strengths, but we will never get more than adequate in the things that are not.

I found the book Now, Discover Your Strengths years ago, but never took the strengths-finder test. I unearthed it recently, and have been re-reading it. I took the on-line test as well. According to the Clifton Strengths Finder, my top five strengths are Input, Empathy, Connectedness, Maximizer, and Communication. I’m not sure that Input and Maximizer are my top traits, but I would include Inclusiveness to the list, and maybe Relator.

Not surprisingly, my strengths all focus around connecting to other people. I feel what they feel, make them feel welcome, and find ways to talk to all sorts of people. It’s why I want to do LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® to help groups be more connected and understand each other better. It’s why I want to start a community focused on play and creativity and acceptance of oneself and others. I feel more alive, more focused, more creative, more joyful, and more worthwhile when I’m in relationship with another person.

This also explains why data entry is so deadly boring for me. I can muscle through some things that I need to do in isolation and that are boring, but after a while I can’t any more. Unless I can carry on a conversation with someone else also doing the boring work, I hate it.

I think our society is much more focused on “fixing” peoples’ weaknesses than on strengthening their strengths. When I was looking at schools for my 2e son, I found that public schools can help him in the places he’s behind, but can do nothing for the places he’s ahead. (It’s the nature of 2e kids to be asynchronous in their development, so he’s both ahead and behind.) You know what this would do to him? It would make him feel inadequate, stupid, unwanted, and broken. I have him at a school that focuses on strengths instead of weaknesses, and he feels smart, capable, wanted, and creative. He’s excited to learn, capable of finding ways to cope when he’s bored (mostly – he’s 11, after all), and wants to share what he knows with others. Would he feel all that if he were in an environment telling him that he should be able to write better by now, why doesn’t he know his times tables by heart, he can’t go out to recess until he focuses and finishes that assignment?

Likewise at work, will you get the best from your employees if you tell them they need to get better at the things that are difficult for them, and shame them for not doing better? It’s much more likely that they will be thrilled when you acknowledge them for the things they do well, and that they will be delighted to grow and thrive in those areas. You will get way more engagement, agreement, and productivity from people who get to work in their genius zones.

It seems like a lot of us don’t value the things we do well, because they come so easily to us. It’s like a thing can’t have any value if we don’t work hard to get it. Besides, if I can do it so easily, can’t everyone? We don’t seem to realize that no one else does it just like us, and that most people don’t do it at all.

It can be difficult to uncover what it is that we do well and easily, especially if we think it doesn’t matter or can’t be turned into a paying occupation. I took a class some years ago by the authors of Inside Job: 8 Secrets to Loving Your Work and Thriving and they said something very similar. They helped me figure out that play and creativity, and bringing people together, are things I do anyway, regardless of where I am, so if I can get paid for that it will be much easier than other jobs would be.

So today, I challenge you to notice something that you do easily and well. What do you do as easily as breathing? Look at your family and co-workers. What strengths do they have? Acknowledge someone for what they innately bring to the table. And help them play to their strengths.

What the Business World can Learn from the Black Panther

So many super hero movies make the bad guy very evil, and the good guy very good, so there’s no question of who you should root for. I thought the movie Black Panther (yes, there will be spoilers, so if you haven’t seen it yet, you might want to wait to read this) did a great job of making the bad guy very understandable.

I’m going to digress for a moment so no spoilers will show up in the beginning of this article. I was reading some Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends & Influence People, originally published in 1936) the other day, and his very first chapter is about how people we consider the bad guys consider themselves good guys. Apparently a then-famous bad guy called “Two Gun” Crowley shot a police officer for asking for his drivers license, but Crowley wrote in a letter “Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one – one that would do nobody any harm.” Carnegie’s point is that no one blames themselves, no one sees themselves as the bad guy. Crowley thought he was defending himself, even though to the rest of the world his actions looked reprehensible.

Likewise, Erik Killmonger in Black Panther believed he was doing the right thing. There is no question that there are Black people across the world being treated poorly. He believed that having better weapons would allow these oppressed people to rise up and destroy their oppressors, allowing them to be fully free. In fact, everyone loves a story of how the oppressed win freedom from the mean bullies in power – look at Star Wars. Everyone believes they are Luke Skywalker, no one thinks they are Darth Vader.

The thing is, how you do a thing matters. Giving people freedom is an important goal. Doing it in a way that kills people is not ideal. Killmonger wants to fight partly because his father was killed when he was a child – but now he’s lost his humanity. He is fighting because his heart was broken, but he’s willing to kill his girlfriend, his allies, his cousin, anyone standing in the way of his goal. In fact, it looks like he would end up as a dictator, rather than providing people more freedom.

The thing is, Killmonger wasn’t entirely wrong. He was right that there are people who need help, that he could help. He was right that Wakanda was standing by and doing nothing, even though they had resources available to help.

What would have happened if T’Challa dug in his heels and said it’s my way or no way? There could have been a victory, but it would have been hollow. It would have been two strong forces fighting to see who was mightier, with many more dead, and with no heart, no humanity left. But that’s not how the story ended. Instead, the king realized there was validity to his opponent’s views, and there was a way to incorporate Killmonger’s desire to help his people with T’Challa’s desire to protect his people. This was a much more satisfactory ending, because the promise was that many more people would be helped without killing others, and in the end heart and humanity matter as ways to be in the world.

That brings me to business. You knew I was going to get here eventually, right? I see many people in business trying to defend their ideas, unwilling to admit that their opponents might have some good ideas too. What happens? People nurse grudges, like Erik Killmonger, until they are strong enough to fight back. Or, people work against the goals of their organizations, like Okoye was helping the women escape from their captors in the beginning of the movie. (According to Gallup, 17% of American workers are working against their employers’ interests.) And instead of coming up with the best ideas, people fight for their way until there’s no one left to fight.

T’Challa had to change what his father had done, and his father before him, for generations – he had to open Wakanda to the rest of the world. This was not a popular choice. But it allowed him to accommodate the desires of Okoye, and Killmonger, and others who felt Wakanda wasn’t doing enough to help other Black people around the world. He had to be willing to stand for his belief that leading with heart was as important as protecting the country his ancestors had founded and kept safe from the world – and he did it because he knew they were strong enough to protect themselves should anyone want to take over. It wasn’t only heart, and it wasn’t only muscle, it was a combination using the best of both.

Do you as a leader listen to your people? Do you listen to your heart? Do you always do what has always been done, or are you willing to hear new ways? Can you be flexible and humble enough to incorporate new ideas into your own? I see T’Challa as a hero, not for being able to fight and survive, but for being able to find a path that can give everyone what they really want – a way to help the people who need help while staying whole themselves.

I haven’t given myself a plug lately – if you need help listening to your people, please contact me. I can help you be a hero too, without bloodshed and without revolution. I don’t have a heart shaped herb, but I do have tools that can incorporate all of your peoples’ good ideas, which leads to happier, more productive people, and better ideas to bring into the world.

Insight

Johan Roos, one of the creators of LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®, summed up it’s essence as:

“Seeing the same in a different way and
creating entirely new insights,
in enjoyable ways”

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A lot of people are trying desperately to find ways to see the old in a new way. How are we going to come up with the Next Big Thing? We need to find a way to get new ideas that can make us successful.

But think about this – how fun are your meetings? Do you even get insights from them? How rewarding are brainstorming sessions? Are they something everyone dreads?

I believe that being too serious, too afraid, or too disengaged can make any meeting tank. New ideas flourish in a more lighthearted environment. Anything we can do to help our meetings be important but not dry is invaluable. The more serious we get, the more heavy lifting each idea needs to do, and the more likely we are to reject it. With levity, we can let ideas float around for a while to see what about them is valuable, and let multiple ideas bubble around until some of them coalesce into a plan.

This is one reason why bringing in something like LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® can be beneficial – it involves play, which makes it more fun and lighthearted than more serious approaches, but it still gets serious work done. At the end of a workshop, you may understand more than you did before, have ideas of what to do next, compassion for where others are, and a group pride in the work done, without having to slog through some terrible situation to gain group cohesion.

It only takes one person being disengaged to make others stop paying attention; it only takes one person being afraid to keep others from speaking up too; it only takes one person being too serious to keep the atmosphere heavy and uninviting. I’ve seen one person stop brainstorming in its tracks more than once. It takes everyone to make a meeting work.

What are you doing to make your meetings work? How do you keep the atmosphere light, inviting, open, and full of possibility? How do you keep people from shutting everyone else down? And how do you find new insight?

We’re All In This Together

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I was talking to my husband about what he wants in a team. He’s worked in a number of companies, with a number of different teams, and I was wondering what he’d say. The first thing he said was he wants team members who are professional – and one of the points he made was that professionals care more about the success of the project than they do about benefiting themselves.

I think this is an interesting, important, and often overlooked piece of working in teams. People often want their ideas to be implemented without any change, because they like their ideas and want to be The One With The Ideas. Or, they want recognition, or praise, or a promotion, for what they contribute, so they want their contributions to be separate and recognizable. This is human nature – there’s nothing wrong with it! The only problem comes when the desire for recognition or power comes before the good of the project.

Part of the benefit of working in teams is that a good idea can become better when many people share their perspectives. A good recipe blends the ingredients, and relies on all of them to make the food taste good, without any one standing out. If the rosemary says it won’t cooperate unless the sage withdraws its contribution, everyone loses. A good team with a supportive leader will recognize all the flavors, not just the ones that stand out, and the individuals will all feel like they contributed to something amazing, and larger than anything they could do alone.

I actually like to take this approach to life in general, not just work. We’re all in this life together. We could step on each other to try to get ahead, but then we end up with a lot of hurt and anger. Why not support each other along the way? Why not treat life like a project we are all trying to make better, without individual egos getting in the way? It feels good to help others, and it feels like a relief when others help us. There’s something very powerful about knowing that everyone on the team has each others’ backs.

The idea of having another person’s back is an interesting one. It makes me think about that moment in a meeting when you have to choose whether to speak up or not. Have you ever been in this situation: you talked with your friend at work about a new idea. Your friend spoke up in a meeting about the new idea, and the boss shot it down. What do you do? For most of us, the survival instinct says don’t challenge the alpha. It’s not worth it to align ourselves with a sinking ship. But then, will your friend trust you? If you still think it’s a good idea, will you say so? It takes courage to speak up when you know the boss is against the idea in order to back up your friend. Really, it’s also backing up yourself and your ideas, but it’s also threatening a sense of survival and safety.

This is why I help teams create safe spaces to speak up. I don’t want anyone to feel like they will get shot down for speaking up. I want to help groups decide together whether an idea is worth following without making anyone feel stupid, or unsafe, or unworthy. For the project to be the focus, not the worth of the humans who have the ideas.That’s one reason I use LEGO® bricks in my workshops – it puts the focus on the ideas as modeled in LEGO®, rather than on the person who built it. People aren’t trying to solve people any more.

What do you look for in your teams?

Constraints on Creativity

I got to be a substitute leader for Nora Scully’s Art Spark today. I asked people to build what gets in the way of creativity, and what supports creativity for them. These are some of the responses:

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What gets in the way of being creative is having too many thoughts in my head pulling me in too many unrelated directions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This is what I need to be creative – all the parts laid out in front of me, but with some clear space to work in. I need time and space available, but I also need to see all the options to figure out what can go with what.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is me in my DJ booth. I don’t really DJ, but I like to play music to set a mood or create a soundtrack for an event. I like to help people come together through music.

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I get my best work done when everyone is doing their part like a well-oiled machine, and I can rely on other parts getting done. So I can relax and focus on my part.

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What supports your creativity? What gets in your way?

Trust

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How would you characterize trust?

I led a workshop today in which we discussed what was needed to allow us to collaborate. The biggest model made was about trust.

As you can see in the picture, the wheels at the bottom are small, and the elephants they hold up are big. The whole thing is precarious. The elephants are both going the same way as long as trust holds, but if it falls apart the whole thing will collapse and the elephants will no longer be working together.

This sounds a lot like how trust works. Sometimes something real gets in the way of trusting – someone says something hurtful, or doesn’t do what they say they will do. Sometimes it’s all based on the stories in our heads – the something that is said is experienced as hurtful even though it’s intended to be positive; there was some misunderstanding around who was going to do what. Collaboration takes constant communication, which sometimes means revealing the hidden scripts in our heads that shape how we see the world.

I love these LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® workshops because you can get a wealth of meaning into a simple model. With a good story behind it, all the details mean something, and the model is a compelling and vivid explanation of something someone experienced or thought.

Has trust ever felt like two elephants balancing on tiny wheels to you? What happened? Did the elephants stay together, working in synch, or did they start pulling in opposite directions? How does your group keep trust together?

Vulnerable Post

Hi everyone, I want to share something somewhat vulnerable with you today.

I’m really excited about the work that I do. I get to help people be heard, show up fully, add creativity and innovation to their organizations, feel valued, and ultimately change the world. A one-degree shift in direction can take you miles and miles away from your original destination, so the shift from being quiet to speaking up can make a profound difference in a person’s life.

The reason I care so deeply whether people get heard or not is that I grew up not feeling heard and afraid to speak up. From birth, when I was put into an incubator (my twin brother and I were 5 weeks premature), I have been looking for a way to connect with people and not finding it. I found walls, not loving parents. So I stopped trying to connect.

In my growing up years, I tried very hard to be the person I thought my parents wanted me to be. It seemed to me that every time my insecurities or extra sensitivities got triggered, I was told to toughen up or brush it off. Every time my most tender parts got bruised, I felt like it was my fault for being this way and I’d better change. So I tried to become the person everyone seemed to think I should be. I stopped crying. I ate my feelings away. I tried so hard to be the person they seemed to want.

By the time I got to high school, the advice “just be yourself” was gibberish. I had no idea who I was, and I was pretty sure if the real me surfaced everyone would run away screaming. By college when I got a therapist, she said something about emotional connection and I said “what’s that?”.

The price for all this was pretty high. I was extremely depressed. I thought it was normal for teenagers to wake up not wanting to live in their own skin that day. Everyone said adolescence was tough – but apparently not everyone wanted to die. Thank all the powers that be that I found a good therapist before I acted on it!

When I entered the work world, I was in therapy, but I still didn’t know who I was, or how to speak up, or how to value my own opinions. I didn’t think my unformed and uncertain ideas could stand up to challenge or scrutiny, so I didn’t say them. Maybe I could have changed the course of my employers for the better, but I didn’t believe I was worth listening to.

I’m not there any more, but I remember what it was like. That is why I feel a bit vulnerable offering my services now. I would like to offer 15 free team engagement assessments before the end of the year. I am also looking for 15 places to do a free lunch-and-learn.

I care deeply about this work because how a person shows up can make a huge difference both in their own lives and in the trajectory of their business. I don’t do therapy, but I do help people think with their hands. I level the playing field so everyone has to think before speaking, and I make sure that everyone speaks. People leave feeling like their ideas and opinions were heard and integrated into the decisions that got made. Morale goes up. Engagement goes up.  Productivity goes up. Happiness goes up. People are more cooperative, more inclined to give extra effort to making their shared solution happen.

I don’t always like to admit how personal all this work is. Work should be business-like, right? But it’s deeply personal to me to get the quiet voices heard.

If you support my efforts to bring all voices to light, could you please forward this to anyone you know who is struggling with a team? Please help me find 15 teams to talk to for free about how well they are working together, and 15 businesses that want to have me give a free lunch-and-learn to help their teams grow. Before the end of the year we could change the world!

Listening With Your Eyes

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I came across this quote while looking for something else, and saved it because I like it so much. It’s so true – if you don’t want to hear what other people have to say, they will stop sharing their thoughts with you. Your team has so much skill, perspective, creativity, possibility, and innovation inside, but if you value being right more than being open, you will lose all of it.

A few months ago I referenced an article in the Harvard Business Review that talked about getting the CEO out of their bubble. No one likes giving the boss bad news, and so a boss that doesn’t seek out what’s going wrong will likely never learn about it.

That’s right. Not only do you need to listen, you need to actively seek out people to listen to. It’s a great first step to not tear the head off of anyone giving you news you don’t want to hear, or ideas that don’t fit with your ideas. Keeping an even temper ALWAYS can give people a little more trust and courage to approach you. But that’s not enough to really get a full view of what’s going on in your organization.

When I bring workshops using the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® methodology to an organization, one of the advantages is that people can store a lot of information in a single LEGO® model. It means they don’t have to store their story in their heads, because it’s backed up in the model, so people can listen more fully to others. Plus, there is something to look at while listening. This ‘listening with their eyes’ helps people understand what is being said, and remember it more fully. Being encouraged to ask questions of the model if there’s something that they don’t understand also helps keep people engaged and involved in what the other person means.

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People need safe space to meet face to face to be able to function well as a team.

The good news is you don’t need to have LEGO® bricks in the office to be able to listen with your eyes. Look around your organization. Do people look tense? Are all the shoulders up around the ears? Do people take time at lunch to eat and talk? How late to people have to stay to keep up with their work load? Listen to your organization. Do people sound impatient? Tired? Frustrated?

Sometimes merely asking how things are going is enough to get to meaningful information. But if you have had a history of killing the messenger, or if you rarely emerge from your lair, you may have to dig deeper to get to real information. Start asking questions about what you see, and really listen to the answers.

A quick note about listening: Not knowing things might make you uncomfortable. I hate it when someone points out a place I think I know things but I don’t. It makes me feel inadequate and stupid. Here’s the thing – you’re not supposed to know everything. That’s why you have people. So please take a deep breath, or whatever else calms you down, and allow the discomfort to wash through you and away. In the end, what you learn will be worth all of the icky feelings.

Hearing Every Voice

I care a lot about getting every voice heard. Sometimes people get talked over because they are introverted. However, it often goes along with social status. Straight white men are the most likely to be uninterrupted. If you are a woman, or gay, or a person of color, your chances at being heard go down.

I will be speaking about Hearing Women’s Voices in a Man’s World next week at the EBWN meeting. If you’re local, I’d love to have you come out and hear me in person!

   “Hearing Women’s Voices in a Man’s World”

You are invited to join us for lunch and a great presentation by keynote speaker, play professional Talia Dashow on Wednesday, August 2nd.

Have you ever been in a meeting where only the most powerful or extroverted (or male) people speak up? Businesses lose money when people don’t feel able to speak up – there’s higher turnover and lower efficiency. Talia helps teams make meetings a safe place to speak up so all employees are engaged, happy, and productive.

In her presentation, you will learn:

  1. Techniques to even the playing field so that every voice is heard in a meeting.
  2. The importance of hearing every voice in the group.
  3. How to create safe spaces for new voices to emerge.

Talia DashowOne of Talia’s methods in her presentations is using LEGO® bricks which are more interactive, engaging and memorable for groups.

A graduate of UC Berkeley, Talia has studied how people communicate for decades, starting with her own struggles to learn how to connect with people, and then observing how individuals and groups interact and work best together. She has received training in community mediation and in LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY and has combined that practical knowledge with her creativity and playfulness to help people “play well” with others.

Don’t miss this great presentation, beautiful golf course views, fabulous lunch, fun networking, and opportunities to learn and grow. Gentlemen are welcome.

 https://ebwn.org/hearing-womens-voices-in-a-mans-world/

 

The meeting runs 11:30-1:30 in Alameda, California. Let’s play with LEGO® bricks and talk about how to get every voice heard!

Blind Spots

What do you not know that you don’t know?

That’s one of those brain-twisters, sort of Dr. Seuss for psychology. How can you know what you don’t know you don’t know?

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Remember the Johari Window I mentioned on June 7? The people who created it did so to show that there are parts of ourselves we don’t know about. Some of them we can learn about from other people. Some of them will always be mysterious.

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Those blind spots can really hamper a leader. I referenced a “CEO Bubble” mentioned in the Harvard Business Review in my blog from April 12. It’s so very easy, and human, not to want to know about our own flaws, or the flaws in our organizations. Plus it’s very human not to want to upset our superiors. So we end up not knowing what we don’t know because we don’t ask and others don’t tell – and that can lead to failure.

Sometimes we luck out and someone has done a study about the places most likely to be a problem. That gives us the chance to start self-correcting before all our employees leave in a huff. In this case, Dale Carnegie did a multi-national survey of adults in businesses large and small to find out where the problems are.

I took a workshop by Dale Carnegie called Uncovering Leadership Blind Spots: Discovering the Pathway to Motivating Your Employees. What I found most interesting was that the blind spots most leaders face are around people skills. Employees want their leaders to care about their opinions, but they think their leaders don’t. Employees want their leaders to admit to mistakes, but they feel most of them throw others under the bus instead. Leaders aren’t falling short in marking plans or product development, they’re falling short in engaging their people and making them feel important and valued.

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Aha! Scientific data to back up what I already knew – people disengage when they don’t think anyone wants to listen. And if people don’t have a chance to speak up in their meetings, or if their ideas are dismissed, they will stop engaging, and then leave. Which costs the organization a lot of money. It’s good business sense to acknowledge your people, to listen to them, to respect their opinions. It’s even good business sense to admit to being wrong, should the occasion arise. (I joke with my family that I’m only wrong once a week, so if I was wrong yesterday I can’t possibly be wrong again today. I can’t figure out why they don’t believe me!)

How do you care about your people?