Month: June 2011

Imaginary monsters are still scary

My 5-year old son is starting to become afraid of “monsters” in our house.  This has not been a problem until just a few days ago – but now he is reluctant to go anywhere in the house alone.   It culminated last night, when he wanted a specific book read to him before going to bed.  That book was located in our 3rd floor attic bedroom.  We were on the 2nd floor when the 5-year old requested this book.

“Ok. Go get it and I’ll read it to you” I said.

“I can’t” he said very quickly.

“Why not?  Do your legs not work?” I asked teasingly.

“I’m scared – I don’t like being alone” he replied seriously.

“But I’m right here and you just have to go up the stairs that are right over there” I said pointing to the stairs just 20 feet away.

“Can you come with me?”

“No – I’m right here and you’ll be fine.”

“But I need you to come with me.”

After 10-minutes of this back and forth conversation that included discussions on what type of monster it was, the fact that monsters were imaginary, and the fact that  he would be no more than 50 feet away from me at any point in his under 60-second journey and within easy calling distance, he was still firmly planted on the couch not willing to go get the book by himself.  I even tried my best motivation and psychology tactics to get him to go up by himself (incentives, peer pressure, challenge, etc..) – to no avail.  Then he said this most insightful statement:

“Just because its imaginary doesn’t mean that I’m still not scared.”

Wow…that’s when it hit me, I wouldn’t be able to rationally talk him into going upstairs to get the book.  No matter how many facts we agreed on.  No matter how well reasoned my arguments were.  No matter how simple the solution was.  He was going to still be scared.

I needed to respond to him on an emotional level.  I needed to make him “feel” safe.  I needed to hold his hand or walk halfway up the attic stairs or go up first and clear the attic of any monsters before he was ever going to go up in the attic alone.

Imaginary Monsters

And sometimes we and our employees are the same way.  We make up monsters.

We extrapolate all the bad things that could happen and they get blown out of proportion.  We understand all the rational discourse on why the company needs to change, but in our guts we are scared by that.  We get caught up in the emotion of how we feel about what somebody said to us and not about what they actually said or meant.  We spin our wheels in the mud worrying about not getting a project done instead of just working on it.

And no matter how rationale the argument is against this imaginary thing – we are still scared.  When people are scared – we don’t work well.  We don’t go up the stairs to get the book.  Instead we sit in our cubes and wait.  We spread rumors and try to get others to believe in our imaginary monsters too.  We worry and fret and stress.

Our brains trick us because we are not rational beings

We are emotional beings.  Our imaginary fears and worries are not going to dissipate with rational discourse or well reasoned arguments or even facts.  Sometimes the only way over it is to have someone figuratively hold our hand, or walk halfway up the stairs or go chase out all the monsters first.

Too often as leaders we miss this fact!

The Not So Shining Knight

As leaders we want to be the shining knight that comes in and vanquishes all the monsters.  So what do we do – we focus on the facts.  We layout well reasoned arguments.  We rationally explain away all the potential downfalls.

Our communications highlight all the great benefits of the new program – but don’t address the emotional side of things.  We discuss program rules and miss out on leading people through an example of what it is going to be like.  We provide all the facts on a new change initiative but don’t go out and show them how we have to change as well.

We don’t bring in the human side of things.

We need to get better at holding hands. We need to work on our empathy.  Communication, no matter how good, won’t solve all our problems.  As leaders, we need to lead.  We need to go up the stairs first.  We need to put skin in the game. We need to feel the pain too.

We can’t always talk people out of being scared – even when they are scared about imaginary monsters.  As a leader it is not about being right or getting the facts straight.  It is about emphasizing with what your team is going through and being there for them.  It means that we have to start thinking and acting with our more with our heart and less with our head.

That’s what makes great leaders.

Let us know what type of imaginary monsters you face…leave a comment.

Employee Motivation: Brain vs Heart

Is employee motivation centered in the brain or in the heart?

Is it a spreadsheet or a love song?

Rationale or emotional?

Do we need to show them the money or show them the love?

Which is more powerful – working together or competing?

Of course this is a false dichotomy – it is both.  But which one is more important?  Which one would you pick if  you had to invest all your resources in just one?

Leave a comment and let us know what you think…

Dan Wilson’s Ground Rules For Collaboration: We Can All Learn From This!

Dan Wilson just wrote one of the most insightful blogs on what it takes to successfully collaborate with someone (Regarding Ground Rules For Collaboration).  As a singer/songwriter and major collaborator in writing music (he has co-written songs with Adele including “Someone Like You” (number 1 in Britain for 6 weeks), Josh Grobin, Keith Urban and the Dixie Chicks (for which he won a Grammy) Dan probably knows a thing or two about collaboration.

It is evident in this article.

He wrote this with creative people in mind (artists, writers, etc.) but it applies to all of us – in business, social, charity, government, etc…

Some of my favorite highlights:

  • “Audition every idea.”
  • “Don’t worry whether it’s been done before … Originality will take care of itself.”
  • “Three very powerful words in a collaboration: “How about this?” Four words to use after them: “Or, how about this?”
  • “‘No’ is a last resort”
I think Dan could make a career as a business consultant if he ever decided to quit the music business (NOTE: Dan if you’re reading this, please don’t quit the music business!!  You have too many fans out there who would miss you – me being one of them).

How using a 9-iron isn’t the answer to a 540 yard par 5 – just like incentives aren’t the only answer to employee motivation

The Approach

A few weeks ago a number of factors all convened so that I spent 5 days playing 99 holes of golf (see here).  It was fun, but I’m ok if I don’t hold a golf club in my hands for a little while.

Let’s preface by stating that I’m not an avid golfer nor am I a very good golfer.  I’m average.  I usually get out 3 to 4 times a year.  I can talk the talk, I do some things well, and others not so well.  One of the things that I was doing well during those five days was hitting my 9-iron.

And I was hitting it well.

On a pretty consistent basis I was hitting the ball between 140 and 170 yards with my 9-iron – and they were mostly straight (which is a big deal for me).  And once* I put one out there about 185 yards (*it was downhill and the wind was behind me).  Put this in perspective, according to Brent Kelly at About.com the average men’s 9-iron distance is between 95 and 135 yards.  You would need to move up to a 5-iron to reach the average distance I was getting with my nine.

Of course I was hitting most of my other clubs poorly.  I’d top my driver and it would bounce out 30 yards.  I’d slice my 3-iron into the trees.  I’d hit my five iron, but it would fade left and only go about 100 yards.  I’d totally duff my 3-wood.

So what did I do?

I ended up just playing with my 9-iron and putter.  Honestly.  It didn’t matter if it was a par 3 140 yard hole or if it was a monster 540 par 5 – I’d pull out my 9-iron and shoot.

And you know what…I played better than I usually do.  We used many of my shots in the scramble competition.  I won my head to head match.  Overall, I did pretty well using just my 9-iron.

Therein lies the problem…

I did pretty well for me – but I definitely wasn’t one of the top golfers playing.  Sure I did better than I usually do, but I know that using my 9-iron on a long par 5 is not the optimum solution.  Yes it improved my game – but I wasn’t going to be able to match the top golfers I was playing with if I only used two clubs.

I often see companies that use incentives like I use my 9-iron.  It becomes the only club in their bag.

Therein lies the problem. 

We find that we have some success with an incentive program/reward program/new initiative and we think, “hey, we’re doing pretty good here.”  Then we use the same thing again and again – regardless of the issue we are trying to address.  The problem is that using that approach, we will never be at the top of our game.  We will never be able to fully motivate and engage our employees.  We will get to the equivalent  of a 540 yard hole, which requires a creative new approach – and we pull out the “9-iron incentive” instead because, hey, “I can hit it 170 yards.”  But that probably won’t ever get you a par.  And it certainly won’t get you an eagle.

There are a number of clubs that we have to use to help drive motivation.  We need to engage people with challenging jobs, build great interpersonal connections, create a culture that people are proud of, make sure that people have opportunities to grow and excel.    But these are all harder to master, take longer to build, and have a higher probability of a major slice or hook – so we too often just fall back on the old faithful 9-iron incentive plan.

The Driving Range

So I need to go out to the driving range and start working on my other clubs – maybe starting with the 8-iron and moving down the line**.  That is the only way that I will ever improve my game and become a “good” golfer. 

The only way a company will ever become really good at motivating its employees is to start developing their skills with other methods of engagement besides incentives.

We can look at the 4-Drive Model of Employee Motivation and know that we have to engage people in bonding, learning and defending as well as in acquiring.

Get out on the proverbial driving range and see what works for you.  Add a little more job rotation.  Change the goal setting system.  Maybe some more team building.  How about a more open and communicative culture.  It takes practice.  It takes time.  There will be a few shots that go in the water…but in the end, its what is required to become a scratch golfer or a great company!

(**Of course, I think I’ll take a few more weeks off from golf to fully recover…I mean 99 holes in 5 days is a lot!)

Let us know what your favorite club is – leave a comment!

Change Anything

I just got back from a presentation by Al Switzler, one of the authors of “Crucial Conversations”, “Crucial Confrontations”, and “Influencer” and now “Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success.” I have to say, I was impressed (and that usually doesn’t happen with presentations).

While I have not yet read the book, the information presented today was very thought provoking and more importantly, actionable. This is not always the case with business or personal help books. The concepts and ideas that Switzler discussed were real and I could see how they applied.

A few key ideas from the presentation:

“Lots of people do research about people, but almost nobody does research about you. You need to be come both the scientist and the subject.” Think about it, you are rarely the subject of a research experiment and even then you would probably be one of many. This idea is simple – look at your life with the eye of a researcher – what works for you, how do you behave in these situations, what motivates you? Then be the subject of your own experiments – try different things to see what makes a difference for you.

“Do you pass the commitment test. You need to be able to vividly and passionately articulate why you want to change. If you can’t do that, change will most likely not happen.” In other words, we need to make it real to ourselves both cognitively and emotionally. The words we use to explain why we need to change need to be “vivid” and we need to talk about them “passionately.”

“We often think of failure to change as a lack of willpower. It really has many more facets than that.” Switzler explains that they found six sources of influence that impact the likelihood that change will occur. These are:

  • Personal Motivation (i.e., our will – what we want and how badly we want it),
  •  Personal Ability (i.e., the tools and skills we have to acheive our desires),
  • Social Motivation (i.e., the influence that those close around us have on our behavior),
  • Social Ability (i.e., do those people close to us act as enablers of good or bad behavior),
  • Structural Motivation (i.e., the influence that structural factors play on our behavior),
  • Structural Ability (i.e., how well you control your environment to help you achieve your goals).

I am looking forward to reading the book and giving you an update when I’m done….

Today I’m Grateful For: NOT playing golf

I lived through the old expression “When it rains, it pours” over the past five days. I have played 18 holes of golf each day (Thursday – Monday) with an extra 9 holes thrown in on Saturday for good measure. It was one of those convergences that happens occasionally: golf on Thursday with some business partners, golf Friday through Sunday with 23 other guys up North at their annual golf outing, and golf on Monday at the annual Knicker Open charity event for the Boys and Girls Clubs of the TC..

Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t all bad…actually it was a lot of fun

However, my back and neck are very grateful that today (and for the foreseeable future) I am not going to be hitting any balls out on a golf course in this heat and humidity that we have.

FYI – you would think that  my game would improve after so much golf…but that was definitely not the case.  Also, I will tell you about my amazing use of a nine-iron in an upcoming post…

Today I’m Grateful For: t-ball

My five year old son has been with his grandparents at the cabin since last Thursday. He has been gone longer than expected since he was supposed to come home with us on Monday, but literally begged to stay up there and help Grandpa and Grandma do “projects” such as planting trees, painting, etc… (now if he only stays excited about doing these things when he gets to be a teenager – I can dream can’t I?). They were going to come home late tonight, but Q had t-ball at 6:15 PM – thus they are coming home early.

I am grateful that he is coming home early…only been a couple days, but I’ve missed him.

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