Three questions on my mind today [new post]

It’s been over a month since I’ve shared a podcast episode or blog post. How are you doing? What questions are on your mind?

Here are three questions that I’ve been wrestling/playing with in different domains of my life:

Executive coaching. How can I support and challenge leaders to practice new conversations on the job?

For the past fifteen years, my work has been guided by a simple premise: all the leadership wisdom in the world matters little unless it shows up in how leaders speak and listen on the job.

How do you know you are a better leader? By shifting the conversations you have and quality of presence you bring to them.

The challenge is how to do this in organizations that devalue preparation, reflection, and feedback (three phases of what I call the “on-the-job practice cycle,” the fourth phase being action); with bosses who rarely had role models for this themselves; and in a culture that squeezes out the inner life.

It’s a big hairy challenge!

Here’s one experiment I’ve been inviting leaders to try:

  • Designate a specific meeting each day as a practice field. Mark it on your calendar.
  • Start that meeting by quickly grounding in the body.
  • Look for opportunities in that meeting to practice specific words, body movement, and breath.
  • Ask a trusted colleague to give you feedback shortly after the meeting about the specific actions you want them to observe. Ideally, ask them in advance so they are prepared.
  • Briefly reflect in writing after the meeting—or at the next brief break—about what happened and what you can learn from it.

What can I do to increase the frequency and quality of this practice? What visual, auditory or kinesthetic cues could help? Is there an iPhone app for this?

Organizational consulting. In working with an entire organization, where do my interventions have the greatest impact?

During my first ten professional years, I exclusively consulted. During the second ten years, I did mostly one-on-one executive coaching. The past few years have seen a mix of the two. I’ve worked with entire leadership teams, advised executives and HR about system-wide succession planning and leadership development, shadow coached teams in action, and simply hung around waiting for people to pull me over for a question or request.

I think of these less as services than as experiments in having impact.

Where is my time best spent—and who gets to decide this? How do I assess requests coming my way, and what guides me in making counteroffers and new offers? Since I have to make a living and like being respected, how do money and public identity play into all of this?

Public Calling. In the age of DJT (my abbreviation for the current U.S. president’s name), how might I redirect my energy toward a better global future?

I’ve made no secret of my opinion of the current President and the grave threat he brings each day he remains in office. A lot of my writing and podcasting has been devoted to this topic. And for years, I’ve felt dedicated to promoting clean energy, slowing global warming, and supporting community resilience. Yet with a few notable exceptions, these commitments have shown up more in my public voice than in my day-to-day client work, and my public participation itself has been sporadic and, by my assessment, of negligible impact.

So, looking at the next six months—and, beyond that, the next few years—what’s possible? How might these commitments find expression in my coaching and consulting? If I were to invest more time on my public voice, what forms might this take? How about a daily podcast devoted to high-quality interviews on topics of broad public interest (likely at the intersection of politics and leadership) to attract listeners and sponsors?

These are three questions on my mind today.

Next week: questions about three other domains: friendship, parenting, and presence

 

Stop Agreeing To Unclear Requests [New Post]

Unclear requests wreak havoc in organizations, families, friendships, and civic life.

This is particularly true when the one receiving the request blindly says “yes.”

What is an unclear request? It’s when you ask me to do something but are vague about what you want.

Scenario A: Omission of the “What.”

Imagine that you are the design manager for a team creating a new product for the home refrigerator. When attached to the fridge, it senses when the door isn’t closed all the way and emits a sound. When Henry Homeowner hears this sound, he knows to go back and find out what’s blocking the door.

I’m your lead designer, and we have a preliminary conversation about the product and what it will do. You close by saying to me, “Give me something by Thursday at 5pm.”

I think to myself, Hmm, I don’t really know what “something” means, but that’s what they pay me to do, and I don’t want to look stupid by asking a question. So I say, “You got it, boss.”

I work hard on this for three days, and on Thursday afternoon give you what you asked for. Ten minutes later, the phone rings. “That is not what I asked for” you say with audible frustration. I feel dejected and angry. What a waste of time!

Scenario B: Omission of the “When.” 

Same product, people, and situation. But this time, you say, “Give me a 3D prototype with basic specs next week.”

When I hear this, I understand what will satisfy you and know that it’s urgent. So I shift my schedule around to allow me to get you the prototype by next Friday at noon, five hours before your deadline.

On Wednesday morning, you knock on my door. “Where’s the prototype?” you ask.

My throat tightens, and pressure mounts in my forehead. In a low apologetic voice, I reply, “I’m working on it.”

The frown on your face tells me that this isn’t the answer you were looking for. “I told you I needed it this week. We’re already halfway through the week.”

Oops.

Scenario C: Omission of the “What” and the “When.” 

Same product, people, and situation. This time, you say, “Give me something ASAP.”

Although I don’t know what will satisfy you or when you want it, I agree to the request.

What happens next: as the saying goes, I get my just dessert.

Who messed up? 

When it’s time for the team’s annual Broken Trust Awards, which one of us gets to walk away with a medal?

The answer, of course, is both. You receive the Fuzzy Duddy Award for making the unclear request. I get the Dummy Award for accepting it.

What can I do differently?

The obvious answer is to resent you for being so unclear. You’re the manager. You’re supposed to know what you’re talking about. Stop jerking me around!

Or, I can own up to my part of the situation. The next time you make an unclear request, I choose to do one of the following:

  • Ask for clarification. “I get what you’re looking for and want to make sure I understand when exactly you want it. You said ‘next week.’ When during the week did you have in mind?”
  • Propose something more specific. “OK, so you want something by Thursday at 5pm. I want to make sure that we are on the same page in terms of what you want. If I gave you a table of features and benefits, will this work for you, or did you have something else in mind?”
  • Promise to propose something more specific. “I’ve got the timeframe and understand that it may not be clear exactly what you’re looking for. What I’d like to do is take two hours and come back to you with a proposal for what I’ll have for you by Thursday at 5pm. Will this work for you?”

 

Leadership Coaches for Steady Hands on the Nuclear Codes [New Post]

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I won’t coach a leader with an untreated mental illness. They need to be in a different room with a different person.
It’s a basic standard in executive coaching.
I never thought I’d need to apply the same principle to voting for President. Every major party candidate in my lifetime has been relatively sane. I may disagree vociferously with their politics, but I don’t fear giving them access to the nuclear codes.
This year it’s different.
That’s why I’m choosing today to write to you today about national politics. It’s a topic I rarely bring up in my work with leaders because our success together depends on mutual trust. Talking politics can get in the way of that.
But the choice we face in this year’s Presidential election isn’t about liberal versus conservative, Democrat versus Republican, or even light versus dark.
It’s about sanity versus insanity. Having a balanced temperament versus constantly coming unhinged.
One candidate in this race has, at minimum, an untreated personality disorder. When he speaks for more than thirty seconds, I think to myself, “This man is not well.”
Do you know what I’m talking about?
I’m confident you do.
The other candidate is unmistakably sane. You may or may not love the thoughts in her head, but it’s clear that her head is on straight.
This difference matters. A lot.
For example, the President of the United States has access to many things that you and I don’t. One of those is the codes to launch nuclear missiles. These codes follow the President around everywhere he or she goes. When the President chooses to use these codes, big stuff happens.
Saying “big stuff”sounds funny but we all know it’s not a joke. That’s why we want the person with access to the nuclear codes to have steady hands and a sane mind.
It’s the bare minimum prerequisite for the office, more so even than relevant experience, knowledge of how government works, aligned worldviews, or basic competence.
Steady hands and a sane mind. This description applies to only one major party nominee in this race.
She happens to be a Democrat. And her opponent, the one whose mind is not well, is running in this race as a Republican. However, for once, those party distinctions don’t really matter to me. If he were running as a Democrat (which is not implausible given his current views on trade and past views on social issues), I’d vote for the Republican.
That’s why I’ve chosen today to speak up. And why I’m starting a group called Leadership Coaches for Steady Hands on the Nuclear Codes.
Yeah, I know, that’s a long name, but it’s a start, and it captures what we stand for:
  • People with expertise in leadership speaking up at an important moment in history
  • Naming the key distinction between the two major candidates
  • Applying it to a monumental power of the Presidency
  • Doing this in a way that emphasizes we are for something good rather than just against something dangerous

 
Stay tuned for more as this group takes shape.

Episode 50: Chris Chittenden on Real Accountability [The Amiel Show]

Think that accountability is just about the organizational structure–about who reports to whom?

Think again.

CCBW

Listen to the Podcast

This is a key message of Chris Chittenden, my guest this week on the podcast.

When you look at how work actually gets done, it lives in the conversations between people.

  • If you’re upset at someone for not carrying out a promise, consider this: did they make a promise in the first place?
  • If somebody asks you to do something, are you aware that a negotiation has just begun–even if that person is your boss?
  • Have you ever noticed that the reason breakdowns happen is that others see the world differently from you?

Chris is a master ontological coach based in Australia. I’ve admired his writings for years and enjoyed this opportunity to dig in and ask: what does true accountability look like?

I think you’ll find this interview to have immediate practical impact. Please share with your friends.

Highlights

  • 15:30 What’s missing in traditional leadership programs
  • 20:00 Accountability is about the interactions between people
  • 24:00 What kind of conversation are you in?
  • 29:00 Amiel’s confusion in high school about fuzzy promises
  • 32:00 The ways we respond to requests–most are unclear!
  • 39:30 Making effective offers in the workplace
  • 42:30 Why people give feedback
  • 46:30 Other people have different interests and interpretations from you!
  • 56:00 People send email requests with the assumption they’ve been accepted
  • 1:00:00 It’s also about managing risks
  • 1:04:00 Four ways you can respond to a request
  • 1:07:30 Managing promises is about creating points of choice
  • 1:13:30 How to create a proactive day

 

Tweet a Quote

“People send email requests assuming they’ve been accepted.”

–Chris Chittenden   Tweet this quote

“Promises underpin the relationships we have with others.”

–Chris Chittenden  Tweet this quote

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Episode 32: Turn Toward Others, A Jedi Leadership Trick [The Amiel Show]

In this 7 minute episode, I describe a simple and powerful method for increasing trust with others.

Learn how to improve relationships even while disagreeing with others.

And how to turn microscopic interactions into positive changes in your public identity.

Listen to the Podcast

Subscribe to the Show on iTunes (It’s Easy!)

  1. Sign into iTunes using your ID and password
  2. Search the iTunes store for “Amiel Show”
  3. Click on the Subscribe button. It’s in the upper left corner of the screen.

Give Me a Rating or Review on iTunes (It’s Also Easy!)

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READ: Episode 26: Help Me Understand, A Jedi Leadership Trick [The Amiel Show]

What to do when you stand someone up

It happens to the best of us.

Amiel looks at watch

You make a commitment to meet someone. Then an interruption happens in your world–a lengthy meeting, calendar mishap, traffic, or a mental mistake–so you don’t make it. And–now here is the key point–you don’t or can’t contact them in advance to say that you won’t be there.

We call this “standing someone up.”

If people were dogs, the person stood up would wait a few minutes, then look for a new bone to chew. If people were turtles, they’d withdraw their neck back into the shell. If we were bonobos, they’d find some nearby genitals to rub.

But people are human beings.

So the person you stood up is likely to have a very human and very predictable response. They’ll feel surprised (unless you always do this to them, which is another story entirely) and upset (unless they didn’t want to see you right now, which is still another tale). Then, depending on how they tend to interpret their experiences–which differs by gender, cultural background, and Enneagram type– they will experience some combination of anger, frustration, and hurt.

In short, most people who get stood up are not happy campers.

Like all broken promises, this moment can go one of several ways. If you flub it, the relationship can take a dip south. If you handle it skillfully, you can maintain or even build trust.

So what do you do?

  1. Calm and center yourself. It happens rarely, but when I stand someone up, I tend to feel shame because keeping promises is very important to me. It’s an instantaneous and habitual reaction. So I’ve learned it’s important for me to calm and center myself before I do anything else. Two Feet, Five Breaths or a similar practice works well.
  2. Get clear on what happened. What is the true reason why you weren’t able to make it? What is the real story behind why you didn’t give them a heads up? Get clear on what kept you from keeping your promise, because you’ll need this in a moment.
  3. Decide how you will contact them. The classic advice is to pick up the phone because this makes it personal and live. So this is a good default. However, we now have many ways of contacting people, so ask yourself: what medium will this person most appreciate? Also, if the goal now is to mend the relationship, maybe it’s time to question the conventional wisdom of calling someone when they’re upset. Does this really serve them and the relationship? Only if you are capable of staying cool when they express their upset. Otherwise, a text, email, or handwritten note that you can drop off that day might produce better results. What if you get their voice mail? This can be a blessing because you can can be real and personal without the other person having to respond right away.
  4. Apologize. A short and direct apology often works better than a long and indirect one. Here’s why: the reason you stood them up is rarely complicated. And if it is, there should be a simple way to sum it up. The longer you blather on, the more likely the other person is to question whether you (a) understood what happened and (b) are taking responsibility for it.
  5. Listen and acknowledge. Mending a broken promise isn’t a one-way act. The goal isn’t to speak until you’ve dissolved your guilt and then move on. The goal is to mend the broken promise. So if the other person expresses upset or tells you the impact on them, acknowledge their words. For this, repeating the words “I’m sorry” is less important than paraphrasing what you hear and telling them it makes total sense. For example, two decades ago I was helping run a gubernatorial race in Michigan. One day the candidate cancelled a meet-and-greet with thirty sharp young lawyers, veritable rising stars, at the top two law firms in the state. I was able to reach the three organizers by phone so they could cancel an hour in advance. So it wasn’t a pure example of standing someone up. Still, when I met the organizers for tea, they were furious. One explained that she had carefully reached out one-on-one to a dozen colleagues from both political parties to get them to come. She also put her reputation on the line by saying, “This guy’s for real.” So, when she had to look each person in the eye and say, “The event is cancelled,” she felt embarrassed. So she really let me have it. (The fact that I was also angry at the candidate for cancelling was irrelevant, and I don’t believe I mentioned it). The others were less angry but equally vocal. I spent over an hour listening, paraphrasing what I heard, and acknowledging that their experience was totally understandable. Boy, was that a challenge for me! This was two years before I started meditating, so it took every ounce of patience to stay grounded and centered. And the upshot? I never heard from the most angry lawyer again. However, one of the others became a regular volunteer for the campaign and the third invited me to a couple social gatherings.
  6. Make a new offer. This step is really important. You’ve broken a commitment, so it’s important to make a new one. An offer is a commitment to bring about a particular result by a specific time frame if the other person accepts. The offer could be as simple as rescheduling to a different date. In some cases, this is enough. However, you may want to offer something extra to further acknowledge the impact you have caused and “make it up” to the other person. If the meeting you missed was at your office or a neutral location, offer to go to them. If you were going to each pay your own way, offer to treat them. Or think of something else you could offer that they would value. And if you don’t know, ask. In fact, regardless of what you offer, you will be asking if they’d like to accept it. (“Will this work for you” or “How about it?”) So you might as well include an extra phrase that lets them tell you what they would value most. You say, “Would this work for you, or is there a better way I can make this up to you?” You don’t have to accept their counteroffer, but it’s nice to invite it.
  7. Fulfill the new promise. Do what you say you are going to do. To ensure this happens, remind yourself of the conditions that caused you to break the original promise, and change the conditions.

That’s my take. Anything you want to add that has worked (or bombed) for you? Shoot me an email at amiel at amielhandelsman.com.