leadership dot #3228: audible

During a recent session I was facilitating, the discussion went in a different direction than I was expecting. Since I was presenting remotely via my laptop, I was able to quickly pull up a relevant visual I had not planned to use, and tie the conversation back to the point I was attempting to make.

My ability to call an audible during the workshop reminded me of my early training days where we used overhead transparencies. I have always missed the flexibility that overheads provided — the ability to rearrange the order in the moment, to skip slides without fanfare, to have a large repertoire of options from which to choose. PowerPoint and its cousins lock me into an order that makes sense going in, but doesn’t always feel right as the presentation evolves.

My takeaway from remote teaching is that when I’m back in-person, I’m going to have my key documents at-the-ready in the cloud so that I can access them should the situation warrant. It may interrupt the flow or cause a momentary delay, but in the end I believe learning is worth the wait. Don’t become so focused on the presentation mechanics that you fail to prioritize the content.

leadership dot #3220: prompts

As people prepare to return to the office, some reacclimating will be required. Colleagues have been apart for months and during that time new team members may have been added. Don’t discount the value of time spent on relationship-building.

Knowing your colleagues often makes work more enjoyable and provides a sense of belonging. People are more likely to go the extra mile for those they know and to give others the benefit of the doubt. Those relationships also create psychological safety, allowing vulnerability and trust to be present which, in turn, can foster creativity and a healthier culture.

Building relationships is much deeper than just breaking the ice, and helping your team know something about each other beyond job titles is a worthwhile investment of time. These 30 prompts can help facilitate those initial conversations. Even if your staff “knows” each other, I’ll venture that you’ll learn even more by using one or two of these questions to open your meetings.

leadership dot #3194: diagram

Miro.com is an online whiteboard application that allows users to electronically simulate sticky-notes and diagrams in a collaborative fashion. What impressed me though wasn’t the technology itself, but the plethora of templates that it offers. There are literally hundreds of formats to visually represent information, including everything from PEST to SOAR, SWAT, SMART, and SIPOC just to name a few.

Miro templates — or their low-tech physical whiteboard equivalent — are used in research, agile workflows, projects, strategy, planning, mind maps, storyboarding, measurements, concepting, meetings, and design. Scrolling through the pages and pages of template options made me realize that knowing which format to use to visually share information is a key communication decision in itself.

Whether you use the software or not, it’s worth your time to look at the site to expand your visual toolbox. Knowing your options could make all the difference in your ability to communicate effectively.

leadership dot #3168: swirl

At first glance, these circles all seem intertwined but a closer look reveals that they do not intersect. (Really!)

It’s akin to how stress manifests itself in your mind. We often think that all of our pressures are related and, especially in the wee hours of the morning, issues swirl around as if in an infinity loop. But if you put your thoughts on paper, it often reveals distinctions that allow you to see the concerns separately. The circles are not one massive entanglement, rather individual rings that you can address one at a time.

The next time you feel that life is out of control, come back and look at this picture. Maybe the magnitude of your stress is exacerbated by the power of illusion.

Picture posted on Facebook by Richard Prior and others, February 8, 2021

leadership dot #3161: code

If you’re looking for a quick way to expand your creativity, find yourself a few friends or colleagues and play Codenames. It’s a game where you provide one-word clues that link a set of words together – allowing your partner to guess your words without guessing those of your opponent. It’s harder than it seems but forces you to use your imagination and to consider dual meanings of words. Does “march” refer to the calendar or a military formation? Is “strike” a reference to bowling or the picket line? Would “draft” mean an initial stab at writing or a chilly breeze?

Games such as Codenames allow you to see different perspectives in a light-hearted setting. Oftentimes, partners are on one wavelength while the opposing team furrows their brow as if they can’t comprehend how we were able to guess correctly with those clues. Other times, the clue seems so obvious to the giver but is obtuse for the receiver.

Codenames is good practice not only in creativity but in empathy as people realize that communication has different meanings to different people. People may not hear you if you tried to convey this message in a heated context or around a topic that engenders passion, but you may be able to make the point after a game night or two.

leadership dot #3146: pros and cons

A facilitation tool that can help move groups to shared understanding involves everyone initially listing all the pros of an argument (written on a whiteboard or flipcharts for people to see), and when the entries are exhausted, then listing all the cons. Many times when the complete lists are placed side-by-side, people are able to form more objective conclusions and are able to become detached from the emotions surrounding the issues.

I successfully used this technique to reach a verdict with a jury that was near deadlock but once all the evidence in support of conviction was written out and all the rationale against it, enough people changed their vote to reach a majority decision. I’ve also seen its effectiveness with other groups when the discussion swirled around so many points that it was hard to weigh which argument was more compelling.

As a facilitator, you need to be vigilant to keep the listings singularly-focused (as there is great temptation to compile both lists simultaneously) but if successful you may find the solution that alluded you was there all along.

leadership dot #2968: folded

One of my favorite visuals to illustrate change is a piece of folded flip chart paper, folded in half six times until it is about the size of an index card. Then, when talking about how the change process works, you can unfold it, one fold at a time, until you get to the final reveal upon which you have written the word “WOW!”

Too many people have the misconception that change occurs only like the last time you unfold – from nothing to WOW — but in reality, it is the work done in those initial five steps that set it up to make an amazing result possible. Without this understanding, people are tempted to quit too early in the process, feeling that they have worked through four steps and have nothing to show for it. Even though what you have in the beginning does not resemble the final output, through the process of making incremental changes a transformation can occur.

Use this simple technique to remind your staff (and yourself) that change rarely happens all at once. You can use the language of “another step of unfolding” as a way to keep things in perspective and keep people motivated to press forward in order to achieve “wow” results.

From this…

to this!

leadership dot #2906: smell

Good trainers successfully vary the exercises and format of their workshops to address multiple learning styles and most have long used music as part of their repertoire as a way to shape the environment. But in a webinar I attended, the facilitator suggested a new tool I hadn’t considered: smell.

Specifically, she suggested utilizing oranges – not just in training, but for their calming presence overall. The smell of oranges reduces anxiety and peeling one makes great sense during a program on mindfulness or stress management.

Think of how you can activate the sense of smell in shaping your learning or work environment. For your next workshop, could you bring a wax-melter or diffuser just as you bring music? Could you regularly have fresh flowers as part of your home office set-up? What about a simple candle at the receptionist’s desk to emit a light scent that distinguishes the mood of your office when people enter? Or even the smell of freshly-brewed coffee, popping corn or fresh baked goods?

We have five senses but often overlook smell and touch. Add some new resources to your tool kit and begin to use scent with intentionality.

Webinar:  by Debi Grebenik of Alia, 5-28-20


leadership dot #2897: mouse and monster

One of the more challenging skills for new leaders to learn is how to be appropriately assertive. Many people suppress their own position or do not express their needs in order to avoid conflict, while some are at the other end of the spectrum and become demanding or domineering in their statements. Neither is helpful.

One technique to help people grasp the differences between assertive behavior, non-assertive behavior and aggressive behavior is through the use of a children’s book The Mouse, The Monster and Me. Whether you utilize the actual book or just adapt its lessons, the three distinctions help people consider which mask they are wearing into a given situation:

  • The Mouse mask – which you hide behind to subordinate your own position, feelings or wishes and demonstrate non-assertive behaviors
  • The Monster mask – that shows indifference to other people’s feelings or rights and comes across as too direct or self-enhancing
  • Me (mask-less being true to you) – in which you stand up for your own rights without violating the rights and feelings of others. It honestly, directly and appropriately expressing your needs and opinions.

If you introduce this language in your organization, the metaphor provides a shorthand to call someone out who is veering too far from their authentic center. A colleague or supervisor can simply say: “It sounds like you’re wearing your monster mask today,” and convey the message without further explanation or drama.

There is enough mask-wearing these days with COVID; you don’t need to add another layer. Think about what you are hiding behind in your communication and vow instead to consciously avoid being a monster or mouse.

The Mouse, The Monster and Me by Pat Palmer, 1977.

leadership dot #2871: fine

“How are you?” “Fine. How are you?”

How many times have we had that “conversation?” In reality, the exchange above is nothing more than a robotic response, programmed into our language without real meaning. And in these days of virtual communication, the phrase is even more hollow and trite.

Behavioral scientist Elizabeth Weingarten has a better solution – 20 of them actually, as opening lines for these unusual times that actually engage people in a conscious exchange. She offers 20 questions to ask instead of “How are you doing right now?” that will hopefully spur actual conversation instead of an empty “fine.”

Some examples include:

  • How are you taking care of yourself today?
  • What’s the easiest part about the quarantine?
  • What’s something you own that feels useful?
  • What’s something that you miss that surprises you?
  • What’s something that you don’t miss that surprises you?

Whether you use them on your Zoom conferences, phone calls with friends or across the dinner table, Weingarten’s questions are sure to evoke a response that is far better than “fine.” Try one out today!