Authenticity and Mindfulness Practice Cleanses Tech Leader’s Behavior

In teaching leadership skills and coaching Tech leaders, I notice that like most of us, they have recurring habits of thought that do not serve them well. Our minds run on automatic pilot most of the time. We are extremely habit-driven pattern generating machines.

Mindfulness Meditation in the business world helps Managers and other Leaders clear their minds of stress and distorted thinking.

Mindfulness Meditation in the business world helps Managers and other Leaders clear their minds of stress and distorted thinking.

We often don’t notice our most troublesome patterns because the very “software” that is watching for patterns is the same “software” that has set up the filters for what to watch for. Our minds often jump to premature and distorted beliefs and those beliefs fall prey to confirmation bias—  we tend to see what we expect to see and ignore what we don’t want to see. Because of this we don’t realize that our own ego minds are self-justifying systems, and we don’t recognize that we are not synonymous with our ego minds.

For example, Dave is a project manager who had some unwanted mindless habits. He wanted to do a great job, so he often said “Yes” to projects and tasks that were more than he could manage, and he found himself overwhelmed and frustrated. Then his mind jumped automatically to blaming others for his stressful circumstances. “Other people are just not as conscientious about their work as I am,” he told himself and his boss. He felt resentful of coworkers whom he saw as lazy and rebellious, and his blaming attitude did not endear him to his team.

The problem wasn’t with Dave’s external situation, although he thought it was; other people had managed his team before him and had not had these difficulties. The problem was that Dave was blind to his own mind’s natural tendency to look outside itself for others to blame for the stress that he had brought upon himself. Fortunately, Dave became aware of this pattern and was able to alter it when we introduced him to mindfulness practice at work.

Mindfulness practice entails meditation, ego observation, and change skills. These tools have taken off in the business world of late because they help executives and leaders better deal with stressful, constantly changing situations as well as clean up the “software” of the human organism, so that they create fewer cognitive biases and projective mistakes. We can use mindfulness to help us do this.

In order to change ourselves and our situations for the better, we need to align our mental models of the world with the truth about the way the world actually works. Seeing reality can be difficult; our confirmation bias runs so quickly and automatically that we are practically unaware of our automatic interpretations. Like putting on your shoes in the morning, you don’t think about it, you just do it, and that is where the trouble starts. But we can never change what we have not fully recognized. We have to admit where we are now in order to get to where we want to go next.

Mindfulness meditation creates a real opportunity for deep and lasting change by helping us dig deeply into the distortions and lies our minds are constantly telling us. By learning some basic tools of self-observation and meditative “following the breath,” practitioners begin to step back from their old way of thinking, becoming more true to themselves and more flexible in their choices of how they respond to situations. As a bonus, they become more authentically aligned with who they really are down deep inside. This is supportive of ethical behavior as well as long-term happiness.

The Business of Mindfulness is Booming in Business

The Business of Mindfulness is Booming in Business

I began working with Dave by getting him to journal about the situation with his coworkers as he saw it. Then I invited him to recognize the difference between his felt sense of who he was in this stressful situation and the “observer” consciousness that was aware of that “felt sense” of himself. By identifying with the observer instead of his ego, Dave was able to get some distance from his automatic negative emotional reactions. It was only then that he realized that he had been blaming his team, although his own lack of effective communication, combined with his unspoken expectations, was resulting in their confusion. On top of that, he could suddenly see that they were afraid to ask for clarification because he had often replied to their questions in a frustrated tone.

By practicing mindfulness, Dave became much calmer and learned to observe the processes of his mind, and he recognized that his behavior was not the totality of who he was. He became aware of  how automatically his habits of mind ran away from what he was trying to will himself to do. This was the first step in  strengthening his real will, and he recognized how he could interact more positively and successfully with his team.

We all hold onto patterns of thought, emotions, and behavior that don’t actually serve us. If you would like to learn to work day-to-day from your deep authentic self instead of having to constantly manage all of the ego masks/roles you play; if you are are tired of the stress; if you are ready to try being real, then you are ready to learn Authentic Leadership Skills. Give me a call. Let’s talk. 512-507-5464

 

 

 

What It Really Takes to Be a Leader

As a leadership coach, trainer, and specialists I am always surprised at how easy it can be to improve performance in most teams.  That is perhaps because so many people in business are not engaged.  Industry consensus is that the main reason for that is poor leadership.  Managers do not really understand leadership.  I guess that this is even more true among the technical and engineering teams that I work with, since so many of their managers rose from engineering ranks and probably didn’t set out to be people leaders.

Servant

Leadership always starts with followership.  As the song says, “We all gotta serve somebody.”  So there is always a tradeoff between serving yourself and serving others.  To do this well requires a host of skills.

First of all knowing your own values.  Then connecting with a vision you feel contributes in the world so that you can align your personal values with that vision.

This means you need the communication and questioning skills to elicit and understand exactly what those you serve want so that you can use that as guidance to align your own goals with theirs.  This is one of the top areas where most people fail.  Can you define what those you serve want to see, hear, and even feel that will let them know you are successfully helping them?  For that matter have they even defined it?

Many bosses treat your services much like art, they know it when they see it, but they couldn’t tell you exactly what makes it it is bad or good.

To be a leader you have to know how you and those you serve will define success.

Another key skill of leadership is the ability to negotiate commitments.  To be successful with those you serve you need detailed specifications for your agreements.  Otherwise you will get to the end and find you have built the wrong widget or delivered the wrong service.

You also need to be able to create a vision for the delivery of some products or services that your boss or customer wants and is willing to pay for.  This means that you must always define what you want in relationship and reciprocity to others.

Then you have to generate and communicate a meaningful sounding vision to those people you enroll to help you deliver on your commitments.   You have to help them understand what is required and sometimes even how they must go about providing it to you.  You negotiate agreements and commitment from the people you enroll so that you can assess whether they can and will deliver and to make sure that they do so in a timely manner and with an acceptable level of quality.

These negotiation and assessment skills will make or break you your success.

Leadership comes down to a set of learnable personal and interpersonal skills.

  • Relationship skills to get to know people, establish rapport and trust, and build alliances with others so that you can communicate accurately and work together smoothly
  • Questioning skills to discover and specify reciprocal needs and desires
  • Alignment skills to bring your work in line with what is desired
  • Visioning skills so that your work is useful, makes a difference, and feels worthwhile to you and your bosses. and enroll others to help you deliver on your vision
  • Negotiation skills to establish measurable commitments
  • Management skills to keep the work on track while your people make it a reality
  • Assessment and communication skills to provide appropriate feedback to steer the work and make sure that your people deliver on their commitments so that you can deliver on your own.
  • You encourage your people and reinforce desirable results to strengthen relationships and increase engagement among your team members.

To do this well you organize, plan, and execute a series of personal habits that support achieving those goals you have negotiated.  In this way you deliver on the commitments you make and therefore build trust with those that you serve.  It is a whole lot more than simply being able to articulate a worthwhile vision and enroll others in that vision.

You can learn about these key success habits but to make them your own you need to practice and drill these skills until they become automatic.

That is what I am thinking about today.  I would like to know more about what you think of these ideas.  Drop me a note or leave me a comment.

What Makes Work Worthwhile to You?

What makes work worthwhile?  What about life?

Those moments where everything seems to be fulfilling your life purpose are some times called “Flow States.”  You may have notice how sometimes everything seems to be going your way.  At those moments “you” are dead.  The ego “I” ceases to exist when totally absorbed in the flow of now, with enough challenge that it is not worrying about anything else.  If this focus also happens to move us toward fulfilling our life’s values then something special happens.

Leader'sArrow

To live on the edge of the wave, that razor-thin line where everything you do matters, and everything you think is in service to what you do, and your heart is completely open so that your feelings are as sensitive as possible to what you are trying to accomplish.  This is where the ego I disappears.  Death while physically alive.

I find this a worthy practice.   My clients have been having a discussion about ways to support that fine line and live there more of the time.

It takes more than conscious awareness, though this is necessary.  It takes love and groundedness as well.

Think what could it mean to be in the middle of a technical project fully alive and living with the conscious question, “How can I be in the living cycle of love at this very moment?”  This is a high human aspiration indeed.  What could it possible have to do with solving technical or team or project problems?  This is the sort of question that makes us more than just an animal or an automaton machine.  The living cycle of love requires that we know where that longing is in our body and to tend to it consciously.

It probably doesn’t require that  we work in any particular profession.  Could be computers, or training, or projects, or coaching, construction, accounting, whatever.

When we live our work lives It seems that it is all meaningless and empty, and perhaps it is.  But all that we do can be of consequence.   That is why if work is to have meaning it is important that we learn to create the meaning for ourselves.

Being the senior consciousness is only half of the equation, the masculine or active half.  The other half is the reciprocity of ever-changing feedback cycle of love.  The sacred witness is one side, the cycle of loving compassion is the other.   Both are required to live a meaningful life, to make work really worthwhile.

 

We need rituals.  Little practices of the mind and body that serve our success.  We need rituals for grounding, rituals for evoking the cycle of love, and rituals for evoking consciousness.

Grounding is coming back to self connected to reality and to highest and best spirit and has to do with finding the stable place within the moving center of the body.

Consciousness is of the mind and the willingness to be at the witness awareness on the cutting edge of the now with presence.

Loving compassion and the cycle of love is holding each other, and one’s self, as sacred manifestations of the life force and tending to us with high expectations and positivity so as to encourage expansion.

What does all of this have to do with leading?  With technical projects?  What does all of this have to do with making meaning from your work or work from your life’s purpose?  I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

The 5 most common misunderstandings (Part 4)

In a survey of communication problems across 34 Engineering and IT projects the following five categories accounted for practically all of the communication breakdowns and confusions that affected project delivery schedules or costs.   Do any of these sound familiar from your experience?

  • Assurances Problems
  • Meanings of Goals Poorly Defined
  • Hidden Information
  • Micro Management / Under Feedback
  • Why don’t they care like I do?

In the previous post in this series we learned a couple of questions that help you explore and possibly challenge rules and standards that may keep your work from being a productive as it should be.   Of course, there are often good reasons for rules.  And standards are the heart and foundation for great leadership.  But you must understand them with perfect clarity to make sure your team is really doing the right thing for the right reasons.

In this post, we tackle another of the most common leadership problems that people making the transition from individual contributor to leader so often make — over-management and under-management.  It is important to use the right approach at the right time.

The quality of the results your team will produce depends upon the quality of your communication, both your communications with others and your communication within yourself.  If you miscommunicate with others it will obviously create problems.  But if you miscommunicate with yourself these mistakes can be even harder to recognize.

The most common form of miscommunication with yourself occurs when you confuse the “what” of a project with the “how.”

Let me explain.  To accomplish any goal, a team needs to understand both what they are trying to achieve and how to perform the activities that will create those results.  Taking various resources from some “current state” at the beginning of the process to the “desired goal state” at the end of the process constitutes a set of procedures for transforming resources into a finished work-product.

Engineering leaders often assume that it is obvious to their junior team members how to best accomplish this transformation.  But it may not be obvious to the rookie team member.

The opposite assumption is is perhaps even more dangerous.

New leaders commonly make the mistake of assuming that their team members do not know how to create the appropriate transformation in the most efficient manner.  The manager may think, “I know how to do this, it would be easier if I just did the work myself.”  But that would be a mistake because a leader is no longer being paid for his or her individual performance, rather his leadership role calls for him to coordinate other people’s  efforts.  If a manager did all the work herself, she could never accomplish everything her team should be able to accomplish.

But presuming to tell your people how to do their work is insulting, disempowering, and demotivating if they already know how to accomplish those tasks in a way that produces at at least the minimally acceptable level of quality in a reasonable amount of time, with an acceptable level of materials and at an acceptable level of waste.   So managers must walk a fine balance between telling a subordinate too much about how to do their work and not explaining to them in enough detail exactly what will constitute acceptable accomplishment of work-product requirements.

Number 2:  What vs How      

Engineering, Science, and IT project leaders do not always recognize when it is appropriate to define the process, the “how things should be done,” that will move the project from current state to desired state versus when to only define the target work-product or goal, the “what should be done.”

This issue creates communication problems either by the team not getting enough feedback on a regular enough basis, or conversely, by the leader tending to overly micromanage their staff which generates hard feelings that create ego issues that disrupt clean communication across the team.

Recommended Solutions:  Leaders must assess the capability and maturity of their team members by chunking the project into very small sub-tasks that are less critical, and then assigning these with early deadlines to see how well staff can handle them.

This also provides the advantage that team members get to practice working together quickly and repeatedly on pieces that are typically not yet on the critical path.  This is one foundation of the latest iterative development approaches like Scrum and Agile project strategies in software development.   But they are generally applicable to many types of engineering projects.  To use this strategy effectively, you will have to build in ramp-up time to make this happen, which means you must be able to negotiate these time requirements with your customers and management.

The basic strategy is that your most highly capable staff should be facilitated to define and review the target work-product deliverables, the “what,” in detail.  But rookie staff can benefit from defining both the end goal work-product, the “what,” as well as the process by which they will move from current state to desired state, the “how.”

Review cycle timing for work-products should be defined according to the capability maturity of the individual, not based upon a single standard for the whole team.  Otherwise junior staff will never get the feedback that they need to learn how to be their best.  Additionally, mature staff who are over managed will tend to begin to disengage from controlling their own efforts and provide only the minimal production and quality that they can get away with.

The guiding principle is to over manage beginners.  Then as they prove their capability and responsibility to manage themselves, move toward less management control and more autonomy.  It seems obvious, but many new leaders who come to management from technical, science, and engineering often don’t remember to differentiate between the how and the what of work tasks.

Next time, in the final installment of this series, we will look at how miscommunication can lead you to believe that everybody else around you doesn’t care as much as you do.  Why can’t people just be more committed, like you are?  Then wouldn’t everything work a lot better?

 

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The 5 most common misunderstandings (Part 3)

In a survey of communication problems across 34 Engineering and IT projects the following five categories accounted for practically all of the communication breakdowns and confusions that affected project delivery schedules or costs.   Do any of these sound familiar from your experience?

  • Assurances Problems
  • Meanings of Goals Poorly Defined
  • Hidden Information
  • Micro Management / Under Feedback
  • Why don’t they care like I do?

In the last post we learned about two questions that can help you get various stakeholders to shared consensus about goals.  If you have actually practiced them you probably are beginning to recognize how to improve the quality of information between team members, suppliers, and customers.

In this post we will dive deeper into hidden information and how people’s personal egos sometimes create issues that can spiral out of control.  Now we look at what happens when you don’t have the lay of all the land and are building your map from scratch.

Number 3.  Unclear Starting Point    

Sometimes people may be unclear or “in denial” about the “current state” they are starting from.  They don’t like to admit it, of course.  But it is not uncommon for teams that have been working together for some time to have topics they have tacitly agreed NOT to talk about.  Often this takes the form of, “If you won’t point out these vulnerabilities, I won’t mention your flaws.”

This means that during the analysis and requirements phase of any project, it is important to politely but firmly dig deep into the assumptions that are not necessarily being put on the table, while simultaneously being sensitive to the need for parties to save face.

Recommended Solutions:  Use deep rapport and observation skills to make sure people feel comfortable when asking questions about these ego sensitive topics.  Also, it can help to ask these questions in private or at least with sensitivity to who might lose face. This is crucial.  If you embarrass some team member it will be difficult to regain rapport, trust, and cooperation with them.

Listening for Universal  words like “Always” and “Never,”  and phrases that imply “...this is just the way we do (or always have done) it around here,” are easy cues that should be gently challenged.  Words like “can’t,” “don’t,” “must” and “have to” also are cues that imply rules or standards are at work that may not be explicitly in shared understanding.

Sensitively asking a question like,

  • I’m curious, what is the underlying intention behind that rule?” or
  • I’m confused, what would be the consequence if we decided we need to change that standard?,”

often provides an inroad to understanding the hidden agenda or missing data that tend to derail results at a later point in a project.

If you don’t already have great people skills in sensitive situations like these, you can learn more about Rapport and Observation Skills from Technical Leadership Skills course – Authentic Leadership Transition.

Also, notice that at the beginning of these two additional questions there are short phrases like “I’m curious,” and “I’m confused” that are placed there because they tend to make the question that follows sound softer.  In fact, we call these types of phrases, “softeners.”  You don’t want to come off as challenging the other person’s ego, so use these softener before questions so that you don’t sound like you are interrogating them.  Other softener phrases might include:  “I am wondering…” and “could you tell me please…”

If you will add these two questions to the two you learned last time and find a way to practice them you will be rewarded when the come naturally to you at the time that you most need them.

Next time, in Part 4 of this series, we will explore how the leadership errors of over and under managing often arises out of the communication problem of not distinguishing cleanly between “processes” and “things.”   Once you get the hang of applying this idea appropriately you will be able to fit your leadership style to match the needs of your staff and peers (and even management).

 

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The 5 most common misunderstandings (Part 2)

In a survey of communication problems across 34 Engineering and IT projects the following five categories accounted for practically all of the communication breakdowns and confusions that affected project delivery schedules or costs.   Do any of these sound familiar from your experience?

  • Assurances Problems
  • Meanings of Goals Poorly Defined
  • Hidden Information
  • Micro Management / Under Feedback
  • Why don’t they care like I do?

In the last post we looked at the importance of getting clear about over promises up front.  It is so important to get in the habit of delivering on what you say you will deliver.

In this post we will look more deeply into Goals and the meanings people make up about them when they are poorly defined.  In each future post we will take on another of these five types of mistakes that create so much havoc.

Although they may sound common sense, mastering each of these will solve the majority of misconceptions, miscommunications, and costly problems that Engineering, Science and Technical Leaders must deal with.  There is no substitute for quality communication and shared understanding to accomplish and succeed where others fail.

Number 4:  Goal Definition Misperceived

Team members (customers and development, suppliers and production) don’t have a shared understanding for goal they are trying to accomplish or create.  It causes a lot of stress if you have rugby players on a soccer field and the customer thinks they paid for an American football game.

Recommended Solution:  The effectiveness of communication is proportional to how “grounded” in tangible, shared reality you can make it.  Models, mock ups, and prototypes help customers to visualize whether you have understood what they are requiring.   But many times the problem is created by talking abstractly about the future goal.

Listening for abstract and intangible descriptions and asking the questions to specify any fuzzy details can make a huge difference.  Try asking,

  • How specifically do we see that going?”  and
  • What specifically do you mean by…?

These two questions, and variants similar to them, are the ones that superior Engineers and their leaders seem to use a lot to drive down to the important details.

Practice intentionally over-using these for a week and you will begin to see the advantages in tangible clarity.

 

Next time we will look at how and why hidden agenda and people’s ability to fool themselves gets in the way of success, along with what you can do to deal with it.  Until then figure out how you are going to practice these seemingly simple questions each day.

 

 

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Where to Start When Your Leadership Stumbles

To Get Where You Want to Go, We Always Begin by Recognizing Where You Currently Are

 

One marketing division of an international pharmaceutical company that I worked with, “off-shored” the development and maintenance of their marketing relationship database to India.  The requirements were shared, but they were not tied to specific test plans.

When the multimillion dollar system was delivered, independent verification from the company’s distributors, who would be the users in the field, indicated that the system “worked as designed” but that the design was not practical or useable in their day-to-day operations.   The project was mothballed without final implementation.

Have you seen a project that turned into a learning opportunity  like this before?

Poor leadership is the most common reason for major business mistakes like this.  There is always a specific individual who is responsible for the Leadership of the team, so even little communication breakdowns point back to poor leadership skills.

Leadership comes down to standards, values, negotiation rituals, goals, and human beings.

 

YOUR PURPOSE AS A LEADER 
Your purpose as a leader is to coordinate the interactions and efforts of a group of people to achieve valuable results that the individual persons who make up that team could not achieve by themselves.

Each individual offers their unique skills.  But to create a synergistic effect that generates valuable results in an efficient manner requires your serious coordination.

You put the goals and standards you negotiate or dictate to your team in place to constrain team behaviors so that results are measurable and therefore manageable.

The rituals you establish with your team will determine your effectiveness as a unit in the larger organization.

The way you treat your people will determine whether your team will find their work meaningful, useful, and fulfilling, so that they will become delightfully engaged and give you more of their best.  Or whether they will obligingly provide only the minimum necessary to get by and reserve their best ideas and effort for after work.

 

PRAGMATIC SHORT EXERCISE FOR LEARNING
Consider taking five minutes right now to write down what you consider to be your team’s:

  • members
  • values
  • goals
  • standards of practice
  • key processes
  • key measurements

When you put these down on paper (or the computer), you will find that more details will come to you than if you only did this exercise mentally.   These emergent details are the “little devils” that you will want exorcise or negotiate with to resolve the issues you’re facing.

That is why a leader needs to take a step back and clarify his or her thinking on a regular basis.  It is the leader’s job to understand the overall  team scope, boundaries, and interfaces within the larger system that is your parent organization.  But your range of influence is primarily within the details of your teams specific processes and procedures.  As Marshal McLuhan said, Leaders must learn to

think globally, and act locally.”

Let me know what you are thinking in the comments discussion (see the green tag), or to engage me directly, give me a call.

Keith W Fail
512-507-5464