April 22, 2013
What Was That You Asked? by Sheryl Eberly
The sun had set over the city and the evening lights brightened. Outside, traffic sped by the restaurant. Inside, candles flickered and conversations hummed just a decibel below the mood music. The talk at our table was on business and political affairs. Interesting stuff to be sure. It went on for a while – well articulated opinions interlaced with up-to-the minute facts supported by fascinating stories about public figures punctuated by polite laughter.
Then came questions that quickened my pulse and piqued deeper interest: Well, enough about business and politics. Tell us about your personal lives. What are you up to these days?
Up until then, conversation had been informative. Now it was becoming more interesting. Up until then, it connected with my thinking. Now my feelings responded to a sparkling invitation to engage. I felt myself coming alive.
Had the one who asked the question developed a strategy to draw in everyone at the table? Had he asked himself what topics others would find interesting? Was his goal to leave the evening with everyone feeling warm, not just those who were big talkers? Certainly he’d had awareness; this kind of graciousness doesn’t just happen.
The thing is: Conversation is sacred ground. Susan Scott asserts in her book, Fierce Conversations: The conversation is the relationship.
Until we figure out what will engage the heart of the other in conversation, our relationships will stay perfunctory. Until we become truly others-centered when we’re inclined to gab, we’ll miss the essence of friendship and community.
This is true in business and it’s true in our private lives.
Information and opinions alone don’t touch the heart, and if we are to build strong relationships, we’ll want to explore more topics. This doesn’t have to be complicated. We don’t have to pry. All we need to do is become practiced and comfortable with asking questions about the experiences of others, and then truly listen.
Our dinner was finished. Polite laughter had turned into probably-too-loud mutual delight. We had learned about our common agrarian heritage and current love of books and publishing, about ups and downs with children and family, and even about future dreams. All because someone had paid kind attention to how the conversation developed.
December 20, 2012
Alignment by Sheryl Eberly
There’s a thriller movie coming out within days – Zero Dark Thirty. It’s the story of Osama Bin Laden’s capture, and takes the viewer into the culture of the CIA, depicting events in the months and years leading up to the ultimate event. We meet personalities inside that clandestine organization. We get to know a bit about a culture mainly hidden from the eyes of those of us without security clearances.
According to movie reviews, one of the people we’ll meet is a woman credited with pushing the idea that the courier network would lead to the target. She’s a bit of a hero. Well, that’s an understatement, at least in how she appears to view herself.
The Washington Post (12/11/12) talked to her colleagues about her. Here’s what was learned:
The operative, who remains undercover, was passed over for a promotion that many in the CIA thought would be impossible to withhold from someone who played such a key role in one of the most successful operations in agency history.
She has sparred with CIA colleagues over credit for the bin Laden mission. After being given a prestigious award for her work, she sent an e-mail to dozens of other recipients saying they didn’t deserve to share her accolades, current and former officials said. Colleagues said the on-screen depiction captures the woman’s dedication and combative temperament.
“She’s not Miss Congeniality, but that’s not going to find Osama bin Laden,” said a former CIA associate, who added that the attention from filmmakers sent waves of envy through the agency’s ranks.
“The agency is a funny place, very insular,” the former official said. “It’s like middle-schoolers with clearances.”
This spring, she was among a handful of employees given the agency’s Distinguished Intelligence Medal, its highest honor except for those recognizing people who have come under direct fire. But when dozens of others were given lesser awards, the female officer lashed out.
“She hit ‘reply all’ ” to an e-mail announcement of the awards, a second former CIA official said. The thrust of her message, the former official said, was: “You guys tried to obstruct me. You fought me. Only I deserve the award.”
What an organizational culture! Not only do the combative, middle-schoolers succeed (if we are to believe the reports), but there appears to be little compunction against speaking ill against a co-worker to the press.
You may be thinking that’s par for the course in Washington DC. Maybe it is.
But look at this first. It’s the social contract of another beltway organization. Its employees make a commitment to each other that sets expectations for how they behave and treat each other.
- Do the right thing – always.
- Actively listen and communicate with openness, honesty, respect and clarity.
- Collaborate with each other as business partners.
- Treat one another with respect and fairness.
- Recognize contributions of others.
And that’s just the beginning. The actual contract includes much more.
Now here’s the point of all this:
We’re looking at two very different beltway cultures. Employees who are successful in one, are not likely to be successful in the other. Each culture reflects what leadership promotes and allows. And for employees to be successful and integrated, they must align with the culture.
As a leader, when you look at your organization’s culture, what kind of people will align with it? Are you creating a culture in which success will go to middle-schoolers or mature human beings?
August 20, 2012
When It's All Uphill by Sheryl Eberly
I pulled a muscle recently and am dealing with nagging pain as I wait for the specialists to figure out what the solution is. Pain brings limits, and I’ve begun to get annoyed with the limits. I’ve also had to reflect on how unattractive and ineffective it would be to settle into a habit of being annoyed.
Leaders experience “pulled muscles” of many kinds, and they have bad days. They might even have bad stretches – periods of time when they feel beleaguered due to challenges at work or at home. Confidence runs low and hope is faint. Things just aren’t working, frustration sets in, and the leader wonders if he or she has what it takes to lead.
Have you been there? Do you recognize any of these states of mind or moods? Is there ambivalence about how you should behave as a leader when you’re going through a bad stretch?
And what are your options if you’re in the middle of one?
You have a range of choices, don’t you? You might go to work and dutifully put on your best game face, attempting to be your normal self. Or you can tell it like it is, letting your mood infect your entire workplace. Or maybe you choose to pull back, either calling in sick or going to work and keeping your mouth and door shut, leaving your employees confused over what the chill is all about.
But these choices seem extreme, don’t they? There have to be alternatives to complete denial and potentially unprofessional conduct. Certainly you’ve come up with better practices.
Here are 6 Good Practices I’ve identified as I talk with leaders:
- Ask someone for help. There’s no need to be a lone ranger. Develop trusted peers and regularly tell them about your reality. Ask them for their observations about you and your situation. They can help you find an alternative path.
- Know your feelings won’t last forever. Emotions go up and down. As sure as you’re down today, you’ll be feeling better tomorrow. Don’t give too much credence to good or bad feelings.
- Isolate your problem. Don’t broad-brush your world. Just because one project didn’t work out, doesn’t mean your whole strategic plan is wrong.
- Think about what you’re thinking about. You can choose a better attitude. Optimists believe when good things happen, a pattern is developing, and when bad things happen it’s out of the ordinary and probably is now behind us. A pessimist believes the opposite. Figure out which one you are and choose the one you want to be.
- Be quiet. For at least 15 minutes a day, sit in a quiet place by yourself and be still. Let all your negative thoughts go for a bit. Just breathe deeply and stay quiet. Repeat tomorrow.
- Develop in a new domain. If your work is mainly cerebral, take a golf lesson or learn how to cook. If it’s hands on, join a book club. You get the picture: develop a different side of yourself. It can be wonderfully liberating to be a beginner at something.
Help me add to the list! Certainly you have ideas to share. Write and tell us how you manage to be the kind of leader you want to be when the going gets tough. And if you can advise on pulled muscles, that’s welcome too.
April 20, 2012
Power Packs Project - the New Summer Program by Sheryl Eberly
In celebration of North Group’s 15th Anniversary we’re supporting Power Packs Project. This community organization provides food-insecure families with weekend food and education on how to cook low-cost healthy meals. Each Thursday, Lancaster County kids take home from school a simple recipe and the ingredients to make it. Power Packs’ goal is to assure that they return to school on Mondays, well-fed and ready to learn. Read more about Power Packs here.
Here’s what we’re doing:
Helping Power Packs fund a Summer Program. Approximately 100 families will be served by this as Power Packs partners with local community groups that connect with kids in the summer.
- The Summer Program has a budget of $6000 and Rotary of Lancaster kicked off the program with a gift of $2000. North Group is contributing $1500 toward reaching the goal. That leaves $2500 that is still needed.
- We're raising awareness of Power Packs and encouraging others to contribute to the $2500 still needed to close the gap for the Summer Program.
To give a financial gift, go here and download a form to include with your contribution. Please put your name on it and send it directly to Power Packs Project. (Because Power Packs provides food, we aren’t seeking food donations.)
Last week our firm took a tour of the food warehouse and then went to a school to see food being distributed. Join us here for a video tour. We’re more convinced than ever about the value of Power Packs’ mission.
Think there’s no hunger in our community? In 2004, Power Packs Project’s founder learned that 97% of children at Carter and MacRae Elementary School were eligible for the Free and Reduced Lunch Program and that many students regularly line up outside, regardless of weather, for breakfast before school. For some, this was their first meal since lunch the day before.
What do these kids do on weekends? Some go hungry and parents of others face the difficult decision to feed their children or pay rent. School nurses have reported that Mondays are the busiest in their offices, with children presenting secondary signs of hunger.
There is a real need here, and Power Packs Project provides a way to meet it. We welcome you to join us in providing kids help.
January 5, 2012
Feedback to Move Forward by Sheryl Eberly
Our family is gathered around the holiday table, college kids enjoying home-cooked goodness. The mood is light. I decide to toss out a question: Hey kids, what should my New Year’s resolutions be this year?
This is a different approach for me. Typically I come up with my own resolutions, starting the process by reflecting on the year gone by, thinking about what hasn’t worked as I’d hoped, tugging at my waistband to check for snugness, imagining an accomplishment that would bring a sense of pride. Next I write down my ideas and tuck away the list for later reference and accountability. Usually it’s a solitary process, at least in the formation stage. I don’t really know why this time I leap to place my planning for the year ahead in the hands of others.
But the kids are already prepared for my question. They don’t waste a minute in coming up with resolutions. You could relax a little bit, one asserts. Be less intense. Find better ways to handle the stresses of life.
Forget about trying to do things perfectly, one chimes in.
Not one suggests that I need to accomplish more or lose a couple of pounds. They don’t even take thirty seconds to decide what they want to tell me. I’m amazed, and tentatively grateful for the advice. I begin to see things differently. And I wonder what took me so long to ask for feedback.
Several years pass, and I reflect on the value of asking others for feedback.
Feedback is essential to growth – especially for personal growth and effectiveness with people. In feedback, leaders have a powerful tool to increase their self awareness and put a finger on what is really important to work on.
Conventional paths to growth – seminars and books, certifications and skills training – may add to a leader’s expertise, but they rarely add to the leader’s true effectiveness with people. Relating well to others – emotional intelligence is a term that is often used – requires a different kind of training. In fact, it may not require training at all; it requires awareness – self-awareness and social awareness. That’s where feedback comes in. It’s where co-workers and peers and friends assist with the training.
When is the last time you asked someone you work with: How am I doing these days? How do you experience me? What might I do to be a better manager? How can I improve as a leader?
As I discovered at the dinner table several years ago, asking for feedback, though it may feel risky, is illuminating and worthwhile. You might just get a new perspective on how other people see you – and it may be different from how you see yourself.
We welcome your comments at email@example.com.
September 20, 2011
On Listening by Sheryl Eberly
I can be a terrible listener, and I’m trying to understand why. I’ve discovered one thing that contributes to my challenge is there are often two voices contributing at once to conversations. The first voice belongs to the person who is speaking to me; the second is my own internal voice. It’s the voice of my thoughts. Often these two voices compete.
Here’s what I’ve observed: As I’m attempting to listen, the other person’s voice can sound as jumbled and spotty as a weak radio signal. Their lips are moving right there in front of me, and yet I’m not really hearing what they’re saying. This is because the voice of my own thoughts is coming through clearer to me, and more urgently. It can be demanding and certain. I’m listening more to the thought track in my head than to the other person.
I want to stay alert to this and find ways to focus more on what the other person is saying.
Have you noticed this dynamic in your conversations? Here’s an example of how it can crop up – Imagine an office conversation between two co-workers who are discussing their roles in a project:
FIRST PERSON: I don’t think we should move forward with this project in the way you’re suggesting. What you’re asking will require skills I don’t think our team has. Plus we’re busy right now, and it’s not the time to try something new. I recommend moving forward at a different time and in a different way.
SECOND PERSON: Okay, we’ll find a way to get the project done.
(Internal thoughts, not spoken aloud): You’re selling the team short. You have no idea how much more productive we could all be. This project would benefit from our full engagement. I’ll find a way to convince you. It’ll just take some time. I have an idea about how this will play out, and you’ll come to see it my way I’m sure.
As the second person listens, he pays more attention to his own ideas and plans, and while he gives a brief assent to the ideas the other person expresses, internally he’s discounting their validity and starting to form his own rebuttal. How could he be a better listener? How can you and I deal with the same dynamics in our conversations?
Consider these approaches:
- Be aware of the two voices. Put your internal one on the back burner.
- Give the other person time to fully convey what they want to say. Ask questions to be sure you’re clear about their meaning.
- Paraphrase back to the other person what you’ve heard them saying. Ask them: Is that what you meant?
- Listen beyond the other person’s words. Is there emotion in their eyes or voice? When there is, they’re telling you something that’s important to them.
- Give value to the other person’s perspective.
- STAY aware of the two voices.
What have you discovered about how to be a more effective listener? We’d like to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
June 6, 2011
Self Leadership by Sheryl Eberly
I really shouldn’t be sitting here eating coconut sorbet as I write this post. I’d have exercised a whole lot more self discipline if I’d left it in the freezer case at Costco. But I didn’t. There it was, an enticing 12-pack of assorted exotic-fruit mini desserts, beckoning colorfully to me. I tucked it happily into my cart and brought it home.
I don’t always manage to do what I know I should do. Yet that is one of the foundational disciplines of a leader – the consistent, intentional practice of self leadership. It really isn't possible to lead others until we learn to lead ourselves well.
Self leadership has many facets. Here are a few ways to practice it:
Make and keep commitments to yourself. Stephen Covey says in his book, The 8th Habit, that when you do what you tell yourself you’ll do – exercise, stay on top of your work, get enough sleep, learn something new – you build a sense of personal integrity. The result is you can forget about yourself and be genuinely focused on and empathetic toward others. When you allow yourself to be ruled by whim and passion, your focus stays on yourself.
Identify what you value. These are your values. Dig deep and figure out what they are. Do you value hard work? Generosity? Humility? Service? When you’ve made a list, keep it close at hand and use your values as a filter for the choices you make. Ask yourself, does this action represent humility on my part? Will others experience me as generous if I choose this path? Strive to live in alignment with your values.
Find the courage to speak your truth. Don’t expect others to read your mind. Instead, practice speaking in productive ways. For example, rather than grumbling you may choose to express a request for how you would like things to be different. Recognize that some conversations may bring up emotion for you. That’s part of speaking your truth. See if you can find ways to engage in important conversations even when you are concerned about emotions.
Practice genuine curiosity about others. Let go of the idea that you must have everything figured out. Listen to the stories of others. Let go of your certainty about them. Ask them to tell you more. Expect to be surprised by the new insights you gain.
Incorporate a regular “pause” ritual into your life. This is your time to get centered. It’s an opportunity to replace the stresses of life with purpose and calm. Your ritual may have a spiritual focus. It may have a physical component. You might read and meditate. You might take a walk in nature or write your thoughts in a journal. Others won’t know about the ritual you choose, but most likely they’ll feel its impact on how you “show up” each day.
How have you chosen to lead yourself? Let us hear from you at email@example.com. And by the way, the mango and pineapple sorbet is as good as the coconut!