My business is change facilitation and my sport is rowing. I’ve learned a lot about both from cox’ns who provide the inspiration for this 4th in a series of four posts about change leadership using social business initiatives as an example.
The first 3 posts were about:
- Shifting the vantage point through willingness, not willfulness.
- Releasing the fairy tale and attendant story-lines identified with what’s non-integral and non-sustainable.
- Creating the conditions in which innovation and productive friction can take place by embracing different perspectives and individual lenses on the new direction.
This post is about execution and action which require one of the most important parts of a race or practice that the cox calls: the settle. A lot of business leaders get this wrong. They launch a new project with a racing start and push everyone to hold that pace indefinitely. But its the settle that results in purposeful attention, high quality and finding the optimal rhythm together. Just like in the racing shell.
Like cox’ns, business leaders facilitate the shift from urgent desire to unity and trust, through giving the right feedback at the right time. Doing so requires a multi-dimensional awareness, what you and your team sense, feel, believe and embody..not just what you know or want.
The settle can’t be confused with settling for less because its a moment by moment refusal to be less, especially when it hurts. It must be understood as the collective action that creates shared responsibility for aligning with the desired results. In social business, those desired results are some form of creating natural influence in your communities and networks and with your audience.
If you lead like a cox’n, that natural influence could show up as gold.
When my granddaughters Sam and Em were little they loved to play “Mrs Meanie” with me. I’d pretend to be the mean school teacher who would not allow freedom, fun, laughter or any frivolity. Of course this would send the girls into paroxysms of giggle fits at which point I’d pretend to go into conniptions and chase them all over the place with threats of dire punishments as they’d yell “ha ha Mrs Meanie!”. It was pure silliness that when on literally for years. The minute I’d walk into the house they’d beg “Nano, do Mrs Meanie pleeeeeeze!”
I think of that character often lately with respect to professional service providers and their client relationships. This accelerated change environment that includes rapid technology and business model innovation, increasingly compressed project time frames and downward pressure on fee structures, beautifully lends itself to the emergence of the consultant version of Mrs. Meanie. The challenge is making it as desirable for clients as it was for the kids.
Clients sometimes need it for the following reason: they don’t know what they don’t know. If that’s the case there’s no straight and clear path from their problem to your solution. Its more like a jungle of unconscious and hidden assumptions and expectations.
Some solo psf’s deal with the jungle by ignoring and denying it. Why? Because they want the work. Others deal with it by trying to manage it with lengthy contracts and processes. There’s even a large body of content addressing “firing the client”. These methods are about setting boundaries and not surprisingly, have a high likelihood of failure because every boundary is a battle line to cross. In the old ways of work boundary protection was built into fees. Forget about that in the new ways of work.
So how can you decrease the likelihood of project breakdown and failure? Through the discipline of rigor (the “R” in DRIVE).
Simply stated, through every step of the project, in real time, you honestly express and inquire about the contradictions and internal conflicts you’re hearing, observing and sensing. These aren’t judgments or things you fix, unless of course you ask permission and the client is willing. They are, however, as much of the truth and rationale for the project as are the desire and need for the project.
Clearly, facilitative skills and your own self-awareness will support your rigor discipline. Clients can react very negatively to your shining a light on what they don’t know they don’t know. Remember that argument, hubris and defensiveness from you will only strengthen the boundary lines of protection. Conversely, your consistency, non-judgment and acceptance create a space for both your clients’ and your own growth and development as well as create the cornerstone of your solo professional “Meanie Manifesto”.
One of the challenges for the brain-storming session facilitator is finding the balance between giving everyone an opportunity to participate while directing the flow and the process.
People with problems, who feel passionate about their unmet needs, may not be ready to articulate an idea or solution but have a strong desire to be heard. So they tell their story in detail and understandably, resent being interrupted. However, most detail and back-story falls outside the session’s purpose and can result in resentment from the group if too much time gets used up in the telling.
Facilitators can handle this typical scenario by making a brief, simple and friendly upfront agreement with the group, requesting that people:
- present an idea or solution to a problem, or…
- present a problem and ask the group for solutions or ideas
Asking for a show of hands as agreement to the process works great. At the closing, thanking the group for their behavioral change provides acknowledgment and reinforcement.
Its unlikely that everyone will change. Some people may fall back into their habit of providing more data and detail than is needed or desired. In those cases, its probably better for the overall dynamic to let it go because anything more than a gentle and friendly reminder could have a negative impact on the individual and on the energy in the room.
Notice your own feelings. If there’s frustration in you, remind yourself that perfectionism and over-reliance on process are creativity and spontaneity killers. You can improvise and make adjustments to the content and the schedule on the fly. Those are small trade-offs for creating an atmosphere of inclusiveness, trust and respect.
Remember the old saying “its a woman’s prerogative to change her mind”? Its everyone’s now.
Responding to massive and constant change means more decision making. One of the problems that I’m seeing and experiencing is an increase in conflict and loss of trust because people are changing their minds a lot. From my perspective, these problems are less about the reasons why and more about the inauthentic communication.
Why are people who take ownership of the right (and choice) to change their mind, and who communicate that simply and authentically, so rare? Because the ego hates it. The ego’s job is to blame, spin, cover-up, defend, and project.
This means countless opportunities to differentiate yourself in your personal, social, professional and business decision-making interactions. So how do you rise to the challenge?
You can take radical responsibility for changing your mind about your decisions by owning your feelings. Because to deny them means you’re overtly, or more likely subtly, projecting them out onto the world and onto the people you’re affecting. At the least, they’ll resist you. At the worst, they’ll never trust you again.
If you’re on the receiving end of a poorly communicated decision change, don’t allow yourself to get hooked on the angry, defensive or frustrated feelings that arise. Instead of resisting, or running away, stay with it, and keep on staying with it. What you’re doing is building self-trust chops, the foundation of all trust.
To anticipate credit, recognition or increase in status from practicing radical self-trust is to totally miss the point. You’re changing the energy of the world. You know it. The world knows it. That is it.