Friday, September 28, 2012

Ange Postecoglou Highlights That Leaders Are Always Learning

One of my very best friends is Chris Maple, Head of Development at the Western Bulldogs who play in the Australian Football League (AFL). We regularly talk about leadership, learning and development.

During one of our recent chats, Chris shared that he had spent 90 minutes with Ange Potecoglou, Head Coach of the Melbourne Victory who play in the Australian A League (called 'soccer' in Australia, but known as 'football' everywhere else in the world).

Chris told me that he couldn't believe how much he learned from Ange in just 90 minutes. While the codes of their sporting professions may differ, it turns out that Ange learned a great deal from that visit too. In fact, in today's Age newspaper, Ange revealed that he constantly looks to other codes for learning, motivation and inspiration.

Ange and Chris' story highlights that true leaders never stop learning. They are prepared to look outside the boundaries of their own industries, learn what they can and then mould and adapt what they have learned to match their own circumstances.

How have you looked out of your own industry to continue your learning and development as a leader?

What lessons have you adopted from the 'outside' and brought them in to your organisation?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Monash Pharmacy Student Development in Action eBook

Throughout 2012 I have had the pleasure to work with student Ambassadors from Monash University's Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceautical Sciences.

The eBook provides evidence that Generations Y and Z do care about their community and displays the woderful passion of these students to make a positive difference to their community.

Please take a moment to view the output of their projects from start to finish.




Gary Ryan provides Student Development programs to several of Australia's leading universities.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Discover how to prepare powerful Questions That Matter®

Preparing powerful questions can be one of the most important practices that a leader can include in their repertoire of leadership skills. Powerful questions have the following four characteristics:
  • They are genuine, meaning that we are open to whatever answers are provided
  • They are thought provoking
  • They invite another’s contribution
  • They act as a call to create
It is relatively easy to identify whether or not a powerful question has been used because the five outcomes from powerful questions include:
  • New thinking
  • New solutions
  • New partnerships
  • New products and services
  • Action that would not have otherwise occurred
On the surface creating powerful questions may seem easy. My experience has taught me otherwise. Just like any skill, the ability to develop powerful questions takes time and effort. In programs where we teach people about the importance of developing their questioning skills, the participants often experience difficulty in generating questions. People often say, “I’m really good at answering questions, I’m just not very good at creating them!”

We encourage people to adopt a practice whereby any meeting that you are about to attend, you spend some time thinking about the types of questions that you could consider asking. When adopting this practice there are at least two levels of questions that should be considered. These are the ‘Big Picture’ or strategic questions, and the second level is the action or event level questions. Most people have a tendency toward the action questions which often create a cycle of problems, questions and actions that may not be connected with the strategic possibilities that may exist.

Developing your questioning skills will enable your to develop the capability to catalyse and conduct more Conversations That Matter®.

For example I recently conducted a program where a team of participants were helping another participant (Dan) to prepare a list of powerful questions for a meeting that he was about to conduct with a team member Judith, the following week. Dan was an experienced manager and had authorised leave for Judith who had been with the organisation for about four months and had just completed a training program for her role. Judith had proven herself to be highly competent in her short time with the organisation. Two other staff were to share Judith’s duties while she was on leave. Dan had asked Judith if she was happy to train the two people to do her work and she had agreed to do so.

Dan was happy that he’d been able to allow Judith to go on leave and was pleased that two other staff had been trained to do her work. However, on the first day that Judith was on leave he discovered that while the two staff had been ‘shown’ what to do, neither of them had actually been given the opportunity to ‘do’ the work in their ‘training’ and therefore had little idea about how to do Judith’s work.

As a participant in our program Dan was preparing his list of questions with the help of the rest of the participants in his group. Initially, the questions that the group generated included:
o Did you know that the two staff didn’t really know what to do when you were on leave?
o What did you expect would happen on the first day of your leave?
o Why didn’t you train them properly?

To me, these questions were very much at the action/event level because they are focused on the detail that is ‘right in front of our eyes’. In this example it was clear that the staff had not been trained properly because their performance was lower than expected. Action-event level questions are like zooming in on an issue with a video camera. The problem with starting at action-event level questions is that if you are looking at the wrong picture you will zoom in on the wrong details!

Such responses are quite normal from our program participants because, once again, most of us are used to answering questions rather than designing them. When I asked the group how they would have responded to the questions themselves if they had been Judith, the group (including Dan) reported that they would probably feel like they were being attacked. I then asked Dan if Judith was a specialist in the field of training. He said “No.”
Dan had a sudden ‘a-ha’ moment and then said, “...yet I expected Judith to know exactly how to train someone in her job. Just because she could do her job doesn’t mean that she’d be able or competent to train someone else to do it. I have assumed for years that people could train others to do their job. Some people probably can, but not everybody.”

I then asked, “What performance outcome does your organisation desire when staff are ‘back-filled’ while on leave?” This was a strategic question, a ‘Big Picture’ question. “The same level of performance.” was Dan’s answer. “What system has the organisation created to ensure that the performance outcome that you desire will occur?” I continued.

“Well, other than staff training other staff to back-fill them, there really isn’t one. And come to think of it, we regularly have performance issues when staff go on leave, which then leads us to be reluctant to approve leave in the first place.”

Strategic questions enable us to zoom out, to take in the whole picture and to see how the system is contributing to the issue, not just a single individual.

We then focused back on the questions that Dan was preparing for his meeting with Judith. When generating the questions a member of the group then said, “Maybe it isn’t a meeting between Dan and Judith that we should be preparing these questions for. Maybe it is a meeting with between Dan and the rest of the organisation’s leadership team?”.

Dan had another ‘a-ha’ moment. “You’re right! That’s exactly who we should be preparing this list of questions for. My focus was in the wrong spot. It was very easy to blame Judith, but actually those of us leading the organisation need to take responsibility for this issue. Under-performance when people have gone on leave has been a problem for years.”

For the first time Dan’s thinking on this issue had shifted. Nothing more than a shift in focus from creating answers to creating questions and a couple of strategic questions had enabled Dan to think differently.

Finally after generating a list of questions for the Leadership Team (including both Strategic and action-event level questions), Dan was asked by another group member what his intentions regarding meeting with Judith would be. He answered, “I’ll ask her about her holiday and fill her in about what’s been going on while she was away. I’m not going to focus on the training, not yet, anyway. I was blaming her but it wasn’t her fault. It was ‘our’ fault, including mine. When the time is right I’ll seek her input to the new system that we clearly need to create.”

In conclusion I asked Dan and his group how they would feel if they were Judith when she had the ‘new’ conversation that Dan now had planned to have with her. “Great! I’d feel like Dan actually cared about me and was interested in my holiday.”

Think about the different outcomes that the two potential conversations with Judith would most likely create. Which outcome do you think is more likely to enhance Judith’s engagement with the organisation, and which one do you think is more likely to reduce her engagement? Clearly the new conversation that Dan was planning to have with Judith is more likely to enhance Judith’s engagement with the organisation.

Preparing questions before meetings is a very powerful practice to include in your repertoire of leadership behaviours. Remember to prepare some strategic questions, and as soon as possible to introduce them to your conversation. A simple, yet effective action-event level question to be asked after discussing your strategic questions is, “What will we do next?”.

If you are trying this practice for the first time, please let us know how you go. In addition, please share the questions that you used that seemed to be effective in helping the people with whom you are working to shift their focus to a more strategic level.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Carry Your Happiness Forward

"Gary, there are a lot of elements in my life that I am very happy with right now, so I don't know that creating a plan for the future requires me to do anything. After all, I already have a lot of what I want in my life now.", a program participant said to me.

"Do you want to continue to have what you are happy with now in the future?" I asked.

"Yes", came the response.

"Did you have to do things to create the current level of satisfaction that you have in your life." I inquired.

"Absolutely!"

"Okay. So wouldn't it make sense that if you wanted to create a future that included many elements of your current life then you more likely to create that future by consciously putting strategies into action? This would ensure that you maintained those elements, rather than leaving them to chance." I followed.

"Yes, there is no doubt that I would be more likely to carry forward the elements of my life that I am happy with by consciously putting strategies into action to create that future. I can see that even though much of the future I desire is that same as I have now, I still need to be conscious in my efforts to continue to create that future.

"Spot on!" I responded.

This brief conversation highlights a misconception that many people have about creating the future they desire. Irrespective of whether you have current elements of your life with which you are happy, if you want to continue to have those elements in your life having conscious strategies that you can put into action will significantly increase the probability that those elements will continue to stay in your life. This is how you can carry your happiness forward.

Otherwise you are leaving it to chance. If you have elements in your life that you are happy with, why would you want to leave them to chance. Take relationships, for example. Lots of people are happy with their relationships but don't consciously put strategies into action to maintain and build on the strength of those relationships. Eventually, something goes wrong and the relationship breaks down even though the people involved never imagined that could happen. In many cases people will blame the other person for having 'changed'. Yet they could have planned to change together and/or plan to be able to sustain individual changes.

What are the elements in your life that you are currently happy with?

How are you planning to keep those elements in your life?

Gary Ryan facilitates the OTM Plan for Personal Success® program which has now had over 5,500 people complete variations of the program.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Use Books to Catalyse Conversations That Matter®

It was late 1996 and my boss presented me with a gift. It was a book. And it wasn't my birthday.

"Read this," he said. "I think it will help you to understand what we are trying to do here. Don't worry if it takes you a while to get through it. Let's touch base regularly to talk about how you're making sense of it."

He had previously given me a couple of relatively easy books to read and I had consumed them like a hungry tiger. So he 'knew' I was up to the task.

The book was The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge. It was a tough read and took me six months to get through it. True to his word, however, it was okay for me to take my time to get through it.

For me, taking time to 'make sense' of the book worked really well. Having the opportunity to talk through what I was reading and relate it to what was happening in the organisation was extremely powerful. It allowed me to truly understand from a practical perspective what the book was saying.

At the time my boss was very busy. As was I. But these conversations were invaluable. Both to my development and my capacity to contribute to what we were trying to achieve at the organisation.

Too often I hear leaders say that they have given books to their direct reports but they don't follow up on whether they have read anything. From my experience, it is the conversations that make this form of education invaluable.

If you have never used this developmental tactic, then start with short, simple books. As staff indicate their appreciation of this type of education introduce more complex books. But the most important aspect of this process is that you create conversations about the book and how the staff member is making sense of it. As much as possible your conversations should focus on your current and future work situation to provide a practical element for your conversations.

How have you used books to help educate your people, or what are your experiences of wise bosses using this tactic with you?

Gary Ryan works with successful senior and developing leaders who understand the true value of being challenged, tested and educated through focusing on real world issues,  challenges and problems.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Michelle Obama's Speech an Example of the Power of Story and Metaphor

Irrespective of your political persuasion I encourage you to watch Michelle Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention.

In particular I encourage you to note her use of story and metaphor to carry her message. I don't know whether she had support in constructing her speech (it is unlikely that she didn't have help) but on many levels that doesn't matter, it is her delivery that I encourage you to view.

Story and metaphor are extremely powerful in terms of conveying messages. Consider the fact that Michelle doesn't use any props throughout her speech. The entire 25 minutes is simply her constructed from her voice and using the power of tone, scanning, metaphor and story to carry her messages.