Friday, July 27, 2012

Understanding Fact Based Conversations

Do you wish that workplace conversations could be more fact based? Are you frustrated with the poor quality of conversations that exist because people treat their assumptions (often unfounded assumptions) as if they are facts?

Understanding the complexities that underpin conversations can help you to have greater influence over them and to ultimately generate more Fact Based Conversations.

In the presentation below I explain how Fact Based Conversations work and how you can practice the skills to improve the quality of your conversations.

Fact Based Conversations from Organisations That Matter

Gary Ryan saves leaders time and helps them to identify effective strategies that lead to high performance and respect.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Jolly Highlights Lack of Truth to Power Within The AFL

Darren Jolly, Collingwood's number one ruckman has highlighted the lack of Truth to Power in the AFL in his most recent article Paying The Price For Simply Being Honest.

Jolly highlights that people need to be responsible for what they say, but the current restrictions on players and coaches means that they are briefed prior to interviews to ensure that they don't say anything that could upset the AFL.

This form of censurship doesn't mean that opinions contrary to those of the AFL don't exist. Clearly they do. Political correctness is not necessarily healthy for an organisation either. The recent collapse of the Hastie Group is evidence of that.

Why can't healthy debate be encouraged? What is the benefit of driving contrary opinions underground? In fact I'd argue that reducing healthy debate is more unhealthy for the AFL that the sanitised drivvle that most players and coaches share publicly because they 'can't' say what they really think.

It's time to support Darren Jolly and encourage the debate about being able to debate within the AFL to be started.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Leadership For Kids Highlights Lessons For Adults

Over the years I have had the good fortune to have been asked to provide some leadership development sessions for children. I usually work with adults and many of those adults are highly educated so we often go into quite complex areas when we facilitate leadership programs. Working with children therefore poses a considerable challenge. How do we distil quite complex information into an easily understood format for children?

The answer lies in having the capacity to understand leadership in such a way that it can be focussed into some simple concepts. Through some trial and error I have discovered some concepts that seem to work, with interesting feedback from the adults who have witnessed the programs.

Three key concepts have emerged as being the ones that children seem to be able to embrace:

1) Everyone is a leader
2) The Figure 8 of Leadership
3) Being responsible for your choices

1) Everyone is a leader
Over time I have found some interesting trends when working with children. When I have asked them to raise their hands if they believe that they are a leader or could be one in the future, virtually all the children raise their hand. When I then ask them, "Who are leaders?" they unanimously respond, "We are!".

What response do you think that I usually hear from adults?

Very few adults raise their hand to indicate that they think that they are a leader.

For children, the concept that everyone is a leader and they have to lead themselves seems relatively natural, yet for adults it seems (for many) quite foreign. When we facilitate leadership education for adults one of our key themes is that you can't lead others if you can't lead yourself. My experience has taught me that children understand this idea, so we adults have a responsibility to continue to help them understand this concept by re-enforcing that they are, in fact leaders. To do this, find them making positive choices and recognise them for it. The importance of choices is explained in the second lesson below.

2) The Figure 8 of Leadership

While my experience with adults is that it takes them a while to comprehend that leadership can be for bad reasons (equalling poor leadership) just as it can be for good reasons (equalling good leadership), children seem to understand this concept quite easily. This raises the important issue of self leadership, which feeds off the first concept above, that we are all leaders.

In simple terms self-leadership starts with choices. Some choices are good choices and lead to good behaviour, while other choices are poor choices and lead to poor behaviour. The good choices represent good leadership, and the poor choices represent poor leadership. On many levels this is quite simple. And it is! Children seem to understand it and can easily provide many examples of good choices and poor choices which result in good leadership or poor leadership.

The simple power of the model lies in the fact that children have the capacity to start making good choices even if they have made some poor ones. In other words, the start of good leadership is only a choice away. Clearly the reverse is also true; poor leadership is only a choice away as well. I recall a child in one session raising his hand and saying,

"I've been making lots of bad choices at school such as not listening to teachers and picking on other kids. I thought that I was a bad person and I didn't realise that I was a leader. But what you're saying is that I only have to start making good choices and I can be a good leader. I like that idea. I can do that."

None of us are perfect. We will all make poor choices. Overall leadership is dependent upon the balance of our choices. Are they generally on the good half of the model, or the poor half? Over time we can consciously develop positive habits to enhance our good leadership through making good choices. Maybe this leadership stuff isn't so hard after all, which leads to the third and final concept.

3) Being responsible for your choices
Rather than blaming other people or circumstances for our choices, personal responsibility for our choices increases the probability that we will make good choices. Once again children seem to easily understand such a statement. Maybe they see the consequences of their choices more clearly than we adults do because they have so many adults around them monitoring their behaviour. Yet when we become adults often we stop getting that sort of feedback because of many complicated reasons. What if we adults were to actively seek out feedback on the choices that we are making and our resultant behaviours? Maybe such feedback would assist us in better leading ourselves. And we never know, the better we lead ourselves the more likely others may be to follow.

In summary, the key features of Leadership for Kids that may provide some lessons for adults include:
1) We are all leaders;
2) Our choices lie at the heart of effective leadership; and
3) Personal responsibility for our choices will enhance our capacity to lead ourselves and others.

How do these lessons apply to you?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Geelong's Behaviour Shows Integrity Despite Criticism

The recent criticism of the Geelong Football Club in the AFL for visiting Port Adelaide player Travis Boak is an example of the rampant hypocrisy prevalent in our community and business world.
Geelong has the right, as does any employer, to seek and recruit anyone it deems talented enough to help it be the most successful organisation that it can be. Travis Boak, as an employee or prospective employee also has the right, bounded by explicit rules within the AFL to discuss his future employment prospects with any organisation that may be worthy of his commitment.

Geelong was explicit about what it was doing. Boak's contract situation means that in 2013 he will either be playing with Port Adelaide or he will be playing somewhere else.

If you can, consider his position from an employee's perspective. He is talented and  he has a current rival organisation wanting to speak with him about moving across to them. There is nothing wrong with talking with that organisation. In fact doing so could re-enforce the very reasons why he might choose to stay with Port Adelaide.

People are very naive if they believe that rival clubs haven't spoken with soon-to-be out of contract players during a season in the past. I'll cite Gary Ablett and Tom Scully as two examples and you "...would have to be dreaming" (a quote from the Australian move The Castle) to believe that Travis Cloke's management hasn't been speaking with other clubs throughout this season. How could a decision about where he is going to play next year occur if they haven't?

Geelong should be commended for their integrity in being open and honest about what they were doing. Yet they got criticised for it. Some people have suggested that they were arrogant and under-handed. How could they be under handed when they were open and honest about what they were doing?

'Political correctness' doesn't necessarily help integrity. Would people honestly prefer that Geelong drove to Adelaide in the cover of night, spoke with Travis Boak and then publicly denied what they did?

Seriously, think about the values that such a view is projecting... Dishonesty. Is that what we really want? I don't think so.

It is time that more people stood up to protect honest behaviour. No doubt Port Adelaide does not want to lose Travis Boak. If it is an organisation that is worthy of his commitment, then he will stay. At least Port Adelaide knows what it is up against with Geelong being open about what it has been doing. But what about other clubs who may have spoken with Boak but have not been honest about what they have been doing (for the record I don't know if any other clubs have spoken with him)? How is that good for Port Adelaide?

The challenge with honesty is that sometimes we might not like the honesty we are hearing. That doesn't mean the honesty is wrong. It means that it triggers a fear in us, in this case the fear for some people that Travis Boak will move to another club. For others the fear that is triggered is the mere thought that, "This could happen to one of the stars in my club!". Folks it's happening anyway and we should be encouraging this type of behaviour to be above ground and not below ground.

Below ground behaviour doesn't support integrity, yet it is the criticism of organisations like Geelong that drives such behaviour underground because it is considered 'politically incorrect'. I, for one support Geelong with it's actions and for it's integrity in this situation.

Gary Ryan is a long time member of the Western Bulldogs and Richmond AFL clubs.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Russell Ackoff on "Beyond Continuous Improvement"

Over time I like to share insights on Systems Thinking and there is no one better than the late Russell Ackoff to learn from. He is humurous (his introduction is a classic) and has a way of explaining Systems Thinking that makes it accessible.

In a world where continuous improvement is a maxim of most organisations, enjoy this short speech.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Systems Thinking - The story of stuff

If you would like to gain a quick understanding of how Systems Thinking works from a practical perspective, watch this short animated video hosted by Annie Leonard.
It explains why things are designed to be replaced relatively quickly, and what can be done (and is being done) to improve this situation.

What are your thoughts on the system as it is described here?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

You're not listening to me!

One of the greatest frustrations that you can experience in the workplace is the feeling that you aren't being listened to or understood.

Many of us will respond to this situation by getting louder and possibly even angry.

The interesting fact is that when we feel that we aren't being listened to or understood, most likely whoever we are speaking with feels exactly the same way!

Think about a time when someone indicated to you that they felt you weren't listening. Chances are that you felt exactly the same way.

"What do you mean I'm not listening! You haven't listened to a single word that I have said!"

There are five steps that you can follow to help you in such circumstances.

1. Recognise what is happening
To be able to do anything about this situation, first you have to recognise what is happening. The first sign will often be your own frustration or emotional response to not being 'heard'.

2. Stop and listen
The first step above is your signal to stop and listen. Nothing more, nothing less. Focus on trying to understand what they are saying. This is your challenge - to develop an understanding. You don't have to agree with them, just understand them.When the person finishes speaking move on to the next step. Remember. Just listen.

3. Say "Thank you"
This step can be very hard, but it is very powerful. When emotions are running high it can be difficult to control what you say, especially if the person you are speaking with has just given you a verbal barrage. No matter what is said to you, start with, "Thank you."

Feedback is like a gift, and just like some gifts that we receive are not about us (like the play station I gave my wife for her 30th birthday many years ago!) the important issue with gifts is that we know to say, "Thank you" when we receive them. This tip is very powerful when it comes to knowing what words we are going to use first when it is our turn to respond in a heated conversation.

4. Ask, "Is there anything more that you would like to tell me?"
This question highlights that you are focused on them and not yourself. It is an indicator that you are really trying to listen to them, which is exactly what you are trying to do. It is also very powerful when people just want to be heard.

5. In as short a number of words as possible, check your understanding with them
Once they have finished speaking in step 4 above, succinctly tell them what you understand their perspective to be. Do not include your perspective or try to defend your perspective. Your job is to let them know that you really do understand where they are coming from.

Upon telling them your understanding of their perspective, ask them to correct any misunderstandings that you may have presented.

These five steps are very powerful and address the core issue of being heard. Once people feel heard, the emotion element lowers and you can move into the more productive problem solving mode.

What is your experience of trying to put these five steps into action?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Beware - You Carry Your Brand Everywhere

When you are in business you carry your personal brand, and/or the brand of the organisation that employs you everywhere.

For some reason too many people are not self-aware enough to realise this fact of life.

On a recent two hour flight there were two gentleman sitting in the row in front of me. For two hours they talked loud enough for everyone in the three rows in front, behind and beside them to hear every word they said.

One of the gentlemen sold cars for Skoda. The other sold cars for VW.

Within minutes of greeting each other their stories, fully featuring regular expletives, highlighted how they regularly sold cars to people at prices that delivered them (the sellers) great rewards. Time again they shared stories that highlighted just how stupid people who buy cars from them are.

I don't know about you, but buying a car from people who think I'm stupid doesn't seem very attractive to me.

As I didn't hear which dealers these two gentleman worked at, it is easier to put a line through Skoda and VW, just in case I happened to meet one of these two salesman.

In effect it appeared that they were bragging to each other and were either unaware that 20 plus people could hear them, or they were quite happy with the fact.

With each 'story' I noticed other passengers rolling their eyes as if to say, "Enough already!"

Folks this type of behaviour is simply reflective of a lack of understanding regarding brand.

Without realising it, these two gentleman, story by story, were damaging the respective brands of Skoda and VW. Will that make it easier for them to sell cars? I doubt it.

What are you experiences of people damaging their organisation's brand?