Leadership Excellence

It’s an ironic part of the year. While we hustle and bustle from one social activity to the next, many of our social interactions will feel rushed. The volume, the pressure, the accelerated pace. What longs to be a time of connection can quickly devolve into a series of rushed non-connections.

Classic wisdom is that if we desire stronger relationships, we need to spend more time with folks. If you don’t have more time to spend, use language that accelerates connection. This works best in person. It will work equally well on the phone or in writing.

People with rich vocabularies, success guru Tony Robbins suggests in his book “Giant Steps,” have a multihued palette of colors with which to paint their life’s experience.

Agreed. And the colors in your palette don’t need to be high-falutin’. Here are my top 5 verbal cues that I know will strengthen any business relationship we’re in – and all others, as well. They may come in handy in this period of harried social contact:

1. “I was touched by …”

Most of us, even if we’re a little gruff on the outside, have a keen desire to impact folks. The deepest impact occurs when we touch someone’s heart. This simple phrase indicates to the other person that s/he has, indeed, via an action or a gesture, had that sort of impact on us. Powerful.

2. “You really helped me …”

It feels good to know that something we have done, no matter how small it may have seemed to us, has been of help to someone. It feels even better to hear this acknowledged. Whenever possible, let someone know that something they said or did, even if it was routine behavior for them, was helpful to you. “Help” is a crucial relationship word.

3. “I never looked at it this way before …”

Especially in a conversation that may have had its rough patches, acknowledge that the other person had a positive impact on you. Made you think of new possibilities, had you question hidden assumptions, forced you to reach beyond easy answers. This phrase celebrates the positive aspects of a potentially uncomfortable conversation.

4. “I don’t agree with …”

You may wonder, hey, how is disagreeing with someone a relationship-builder? Folks who have strong relationships with others are not afraid to disagree. They don’t waste time dancing around a moment of disagreement. They state their disagreement “in neutral.” No raised voice, no elevated emotion, no drama. Just a fact. The moment a disagreement is stated, the conversation can shift toward new ideas and fresh solutions. How liberating!

5. “I know we can come up with something better …”

Even as we discard a present state that we believe isn’t working, we look to the future with unwavering optimism in our ability to deliver. The word “we” is a potent non-blame word. The affirmation of my faith in the “we” is a sublime relationship-shaper. Couple it with the verb “can,” and it is sure to melt at least a modicum of doubt and resistance.

There are folks with whom it is tough to build relationships, I know. But even a tough nut tends to crack when approached with a relationship-enhancing cue.

The most common objection I hear to the just-listed cues: This is simply not how I talk. That, of course, is the point. Would you say this when you start to learn a foreign language? Of course not. Consider these cues part of your new and enhanced vocabulary. Toss the objections. Expand your palette. And accelerate connection.

 

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It’s like I’m standing under a waterfall, I said to her. The water just keeps coming and coming. For a moment it’s thrilling. Then I find myself gasping for air. Like I can’t breathe. And then I just want to get away.

We’re not talking about waterfalls, of course. We’re talking about this person’s communication style.

Her words, indeed, keep coming and coming. With passion. With enthusiasm. With ferocious commitment to a vision and a specific plan of action.

Wonderful. And I want to run.

Not because of the vision, because of the waterfall.

Let’s switch for a moment from execution to intent. It’s a very corporate word but I like it. To align. I long to align you with my vision, my ideas, our plan. I want to bring you along and onboard.

The toughest part of having a conversation about a decision that has already been made? You are 3 steps ahead of those you speak with. You have had time to align. They haven’t.

Waterfalling never gets us to alignment. Waterfalling is a narcissistic act of communication. Waterfall me, and I will either shut down to protect myself, or I will run.

Want to align others? Give them room to breathe. To think. To absorb.

Not under a waterfall.

Anytime I find myself with a waterfaller I’m reminded of the wisdom of the basics. How simple they are. How profound. These simple guidelines, honed in a previous career of coaching speakers, will immeasurably enhance the impact you have in any conversation. They will most definitely encourage alignment:

  • Mind Your Pace

    When we’re waterfalling we tend to spew and gush our words. This rapid delivery is usually fueled by a noble instinct. I am passionate about what I’m saying. I believe so very strongly in my cause. I am “fired up.” Fine. What you experience as passion I experience as an assault. Remember, you’re 3 steps ahead of me. Your firehose style quenches my desire to come onboard.

    Bear this in mind, as well: Waterfalling is easily interpreted as nervousness. As not being in command of a message. Waterfalling and rapid delivery are styles of junior leaders. And it makes it harder to align around your junior-ness, great intent notwithstanding. Do not wear your junior-ness on your sleeve. Mind your pace.

  • Pause frequently

    Your pause allows me to hear my own thoughts. Know my own reactions to what you just said. Yes, to absorb. If you want me to align I need time to absorb. Only when I begin to absorb do I have the energy to align. When you waterfall without pause I reach my absorption limit very, very quickly. Help me out, please. Pause a lot.

    Bear this in mind: The pause is not so you can overthink what you’re about to say next. That would be a narcissistic pause. Pause purely so I can breathe. That’s the altruistic pause. I thank you in advance.

  • Check for understanding

    Waterfallers speak from a sense of noble purpose or entitled authority. Anytime you and I speak – yes really, anytime, especially in a business conversation – what matters is that our communication lands. That it is heard. Hopefully understood. Waterfalling without knowing if a message has landed is a waste of time and energy. Ours and theirs.

    Let’s not waste either. Simple questions like Does this make sense? or How does this sit with you? or Is there anything I have missed? or May I clarify anything I have just said? indicate that we are interested in helping our message land. Alignment encouraged.

  • Invite responses

    I’m much more likely to align when I am given space to voice my doubts and concerns. Just speaking my thoughts out loud liberates them and sets them free. Your thoughtful response and the comments and clarifications of others will help me to make sense of what you’re proposing, even when it is non-negotiable.

    Alignment often happens in the act of “talking it through.” Under the spell of a waterfall I am condemned to silence. Voluntary silence sometimes creates the space I need to wrap myself around a new initiative. Forced silence rarely does.

So yes, the basics. Avoid the temptation to spew and gush. Mind your pace. Pause often. Check for understanding. Invite discourse.

Alignment is more likely when I am given room to breathe. So let me breathe. Better yet. Create the space so we can breathe together.

Alignment facilitated.

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I like to talk.

I have been known to over-talk.

It is what happens when I go to the dark side. I have a strong point of view and I will let you know. And darn it, sometimes you don’t respond. My unchecked instinct is to keep talking UNTIL YOU DO RESPOND! The more I talk, the more impassioned I tend to get, the more stone-faced you will become.

Not pretty.

Being habitually silent certainly does not work in a business meeting. We abdicate our ability to influence. We stifle our voice.

Also not pretty.

Choosing to shut up when we really long to talk is at times the most inspired choice. Silent not because we are afraid to talk. Silent because our silence will advance the conversation.

How do we know when it’s time to shut up? Here are 4 simple considerations.

1. Does it need to be said?

Whenever you have a compelling urge to speak, especially when you know that your conversation partners may have a strong reaction to what you will say, do a gut check. Ask yourself these 2 questions:

  • Does it need to be said?
  • Am I the one who needs to say it?

If your answer to both questions is an unequivocal YES, say it. If not – it may be time to shut up.

2. Has it already been said?

If someone else has already said it, I don’t need to say it again. If I have already said it, I don’t need to say it again. Trust that ONCE IS ENOUGH. Repeating the same old point again, no matter how passionate you are about it, is a surefire way of giving up your social influence.

When you speak because you wish to be an ally to the one who has already spoken, keep it brief. Because it may be time to shut up.

3. Can I say it succinctly?

Here are 2 little guidelines to gauge an optimal level of conversation-contribution:

  • If you’re telling a pertinent story, take all the time you want. Your story will live in the scintillating details.
  • If you wish to make a point, make it in 4 sentences or less. Short sentences, not long rambling ones.

Even if the point you wish to make is complex, don’t unload all of the complexity on me at once. Deliver complexity one message at a time. 4 sentences or less.

If you can’t break it down for me, it may be time to shut up

4. Can I generate deeper commitment?

The biggest reason to NOT shut up is when I am certain that my speaking has the potential to invoke a deeper commitment to a course of action. Deeper commitment is rarely stirred by sharing more data or passionately stating my point-of-view. Chances are others have already done so. Commitment is more likely invoked by a powerful image, a metaphor, a surprising gesture that stirs the soul.

Don’t have a metaphor handy? Can’t think of a surprising gesture? Silence may be your golden choice. More blabber rarely is.

When I first worked as a corporate trainer, back in the 90s, I was mentored by two very different colleagues. Margie was a diva. She could spin circles around a message and was frequently entertaining. Margie held her conversational space well. Devon was a master-distiller. He could convey a message in a sentence. The message was always essential. Simple and clear. Deep.

Devon knew when to shut up. And when he spoke, it mattered.

Devon was the brilliant one.

Habitual silence renders us impotent. Strategic silence accelerates our social influence.

Be the brilliant one. Know when to shut up.

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I’m in Paris about to fly to Belgrade, and I have love on my mind. Mind you, this is a business trip.

Jack Ma, the fearless founder of the Chinese internet empire Alibaba, spoke about the leaders of the future at this year’s Davos Economic Forum. I believe if a person wants to be successful, Ma said, they should have a high EQ. If you don’t want to lose quickly, you should have a high IQ. But if you want to be respected, you should have a high LQ. That is the Q of Love.

And then he added: Lots of men have high IQ, they have much, much smaller EQ, and a very, very tiny LQ.

Yes, L stands for Love.

I googled LQ the moment I heard Ma speak about it. I found nothing. Ma invented the term. Love it. The man knows.

At the Agile Humans Conference in Belgrade we will be talking about the notion of LQ. Here’s a little preview of the conversation.

We’re talking about the ability to feel love for others. Not think it, feel it. The ability to express this love and to receive love in return. The ability to create spaces where the love for a cause and the love for one another is tangibly experienced. An environment that implicitly and explicitly acknowledges love as the ultimate animating force.

Sound a little woo-woo to you? Here’s how a neuroscientist explains it.

Yuri Hassan is a professor at Princeton University. He conducts research about how two brains get into synch. He calls this process neural coupling. In his research, the key area of the brain that shows coupling is the insula, an area linked with conscious feeling states. In other words, neural coupling is much more likely to occur when you and I feel a shared emotion. Not a shared thought – a shared emotion. When my joy meets your joy, joy magnifies. When my love of others meets your love of others, a micro-moment of love is born. Micro-moments of love are not just a lucky accident – they’re intentionally created. And future business leaders know how to create them.

I just sold an international training and coaching firm that I owned for 14 years. Here’s something I always said to my INFLUENS team: We’re really good at what we do. There are other companies who do similar work to what we do, and they’re also really good at what they do. And then I would elaborate. Our clients hire us for a specific service, but what they really get is the gift of love. That’s why they bring us back.

Love wasn’t mentioned anywhere on our business website. It was our subtext. The secret sauce.

I learned about subtext in my first career. Many years ago, I was a professional acting coach in New York and trained actors at some of the big acting schools in the city. Any actor can learn the words of a script. Part of an actor’s homework is to fill in the reality of what goes on behind the words. Actors call this the subtext. The greater actors sometimes have more talent. They always have greater subtext.

Love is a sublime subtext. The clients at my firm loved us. Not just liked us, loved us.

There are two specific behaviors that I looked for in my team. These are behaviors that I try to embody myself.

We’re fun.

And we drill down.

We’re fun means we know how to be light and playful with another person. We take our work seriously but we do not take ourselves too seriously. We approach important things with a light touch. In a world where many people I know experience too much stress, too much pressure, and are victims of perfectionism, our willingness to have fun is a bold and generous gift. I consider my ability to be playful with another person a profound act of love.

We drill down – that means I have the courage to explore everything I do as deeply as possible. I don’t stay on the surface. I am willing to ask the difficult questions. I care enough to dig deep. This caring allows us to have the richest possible conversations. This caring also means I know when to let go. This caring is an act of love.

Be fun. Drill down. Combine the two, and you have mega-love in action.

I was talking with my friend Charlotte the other day. Charlotte lives in Geneva/Switzerland. I was really upset with a client of mine, she says to me. He didn’t show up for an appointment we had. And it’s the second time he’s done that. I told him how upset I was about his behavior. And then I said to him ‘It’s a good thing that I love you.’

I love this story. I love that Charlotte used the word “love.”

There’s a power in saying it.

These days I host virtual Mastermind Groups for successful business executives. In a Mastermind 7 leaders meet to challenge and uplift each other and bring out the very best in every person. We share tactics and resources and wisdom. We energize each other. We dare each other to play a bolder game. But at the very deepest level, a Mastermind is an extraordinary act of love.

Jack Ma is right. We need EQ, we need IQ, and we need a lot more LQ.

You may have taken some psychological assessments. They may have told you that you’re not that kind of a person. You may come from a country or where professional behavior is crisp and cool. Know what? Think of yourself as a global citizen. Dump the story of who you think you are.

Work is Love Made Visible. That’s a quote from the great Turkish poet Rumi.

Our world needs a little more love. It starts with how you and I engage with each other. Every single moment. Let’s choose a powerful subtext. Let’s create micro-moments of love, every single day.

Let’s do this already.

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You are receiving my weekly Energy Boost message on a Wednesday. Unusual, yes. So was my past week-end. I had the pleasure of facilitating a FLOW FORWARD retreat – it involved intimate conversations, collective masterminding, meditating on the beach, playing with horses, dancing and lots and lots of great food. 

Exuberant. Fun. And there was not a second to spare for writing my weekly message. Instead, I am happy to share with you a message I first posted in May 2014. Have a brilliant Wednesday. We’ll be back to our regular rhythm next week.

Warmly … Achim

Gwyneth Paltrow made a comment when she spoke of her divorce from Coldplay front-man David Martin.

She called it “conscious un-coupling.”

Nice idea. A little precious.

Paltrow was rightfully derided for her use of this phrase.

I think of a phone-chat I had last week with my friend Louise Mahler, a supremely charismatic leadership coach in Australia.

Louise and I are birds of a feather – we both help C-level business leaders to show up with more presence.

I talk a lot about handshakes these days, Louise says to me.

I hear the word handshake, and I think of greetings, of course. All sorts of greetings. Most specifically “conscious greetings.”

When it comes to greetings, conscious is good.

I was born in Germany, a culture that loves a handshake. Louise is married to a German fellow and understands the impact of a handshake, as well.

We abhor timid handshakes. Limp handshakes. Tentative ones. Rushed ones. A handshake, in one swift action, has the power to charge every moment that is about to unfold.

In a handshake I “feel” the other person. A vigorous handshake. A warm handshake. They say I am thrilled to receive your energy. Delighted to send you mine.

I long to connect.

That’s the handshake-message. Consider the handshake a metaphor for all that may transpire in any moment of greeting, actual handshake or not. Why not make every greeting a vigorous one? A warm one? Why not turn an obligatory social ritual into a conscious greeting?

I think of a comment made by the radiant Judith Jameson, the artistic director of the illustrious Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. When invited to share her insights about leadership, Jameson spoke, instead, about the greeting-moment.

One thing I cannot stand is when people say “Hi, how are you?” and they don’t wait to hear how I am. They’re just going through the motions. I say to people: “Keep it human. Keep it alive. Be real. Don’t turn into a robot.”(NY Times, 11/28/2009)

Jameson’s comments are a plea for conscious greetings. Not a literal handshake, but the delicious exchange of energy that occurs in a conscious one.

How differently every conversation will unfold. How unexpectedly our relationships will blossom. And it starts with a simple conscious greeting.

A conscious greeting is like a conscious handshake.

This week, as you stroll down the office corridors, walk into the cafeteria, head for the lavatories, dash into a meeting, you will engage in many, many greetings.

What if more of these fleeting greetings had the feel of a vigorous handshake? A warm handshake?

Explore. And be surprised.

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Wanna stir me?

Wanna stir your colleagues, your clients, your team?

It’s the old logic-versus-emotion conversation.

Logic is a powerful form of energy. Emotion is the deeper one.

Here’s the little lie we tell ourselves. Logical folks like to be moved by logic. Emotional folks like to be moved by emotion.

Don’t believe that any more. Madison Avenue doesn’t. Madison Avenue caters to longing and desire.

They know what to stir.

Desire is the spark that ignites your beliefs and fuels your actions, Tom Asacker writes in his stirring book “The Business of Belief.” Desire is what moves you from thinking to doing.

I had the pleasure of attending TEDxKoenigsallee in Duesseldorf last Friday. First-ever TEDx event in that great city. Held at Nachtresidenz. Amazing venue, fired-up audience, 10 speakers. I had a terrific time. And yet – some of the talks stirred me, some didn’t. 

Logic will stir logic. I’m a brainy guy. But when your logic really TRULY stirs my logic, I get the goosebumps. I get that irresistible itch to begin, at once.

It drops down.

Go ahead, stimulate my brain. But here’s how you get to the deep stir:

  • Speak Longing

What are your deepest aspirations for yourself? For me? Our project? The team? Translate metrics language into longing language. It’s the language of our innermost desires. When you go there, you give me permission to go there, as well. Stirred.

  • Speak Vision

Beyond hitting targets and surpassing production goals, how will our shared future be a better place? Translate tactical performance language into the language of desire. My desire to belong. My desire to do good. My desire to help. My desire to create a better world. Take me there. That’s vision. Stirred.

  • Speak Emotion

When you speak about a project, speak with joy. With excitement. With anxiety. With exuberance. Speak the language of feeling. The sort of language that doesn’t show up in transactional emails anymore. Don’t fake this language. Don’t fake the feeling. Get the feeling first. Brim with it. Your language of feeling activates my desire to be moved. Stirred.

Here’s what you get when you stir me:

My devotion. My fervent desire to work with you.

We will start to soul-travel together.

Yes, it will go that deep.

The stir will show up in our Return-on-Investment. And we cannot think our way to it. The language of aspiration and desire will get us there.

Stirred.

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You may be too young to remember the K.D. Lang classic: Constant Craving.

Haunting, hypnotic song.

Lang is making a rare concert appearance in Ft. Lauderdale this week. I think of “craving” a lot last week while engaging with a Europolitan group of business leaders. Oliver, the super-insightful German Operations Manager of a global manufacturing firm, gives me a little linguistics lesson.

Neugierde” is the German translation for curiosity, Oliver reminds meIt is a typical German phrase, constructed by fusing two words into one. ‘New’ and ‘Craving.’ Craving the New.

Neugierde is curiosity amplified.

We can learn all sorts of skills and techniques, Oliver elaborates, but this is what any great conversation ultimately boils down to … Craving the new.

Powerful intention. Not mildly curious. Not politely interested. Not kinda, sorta intrigued. No. Boldly craving the new.

Francesca Gino is a Professor at Harvard Business School. Gino has been researching the business impacts of curiosity (The Business Case for Curiosity, HBR, September/October 2018). Her findings are not unexpected. And they are depressing.

While paying lip service to wanting inquisitive team members and colleagues, most leaders actively stifle curiosity because they fear it will increase risk and inefficiency. In a survey Gino conducted with over 3,000 employees in a range of firms and industries, only 24% reported feeling curious in their jobs on a regular basis. 70% said they face barriers to asking more questions at work.

Common-place corporate craving longs for “execute and shut up.” Curiosity is confused with creating efficiencies. Incremental change is glorified while true exploration is stifled. Exploration at its best means not settling for the first possible solution – and thus uncovering potentially more impactful and unexpected outcomes.

So how do we foster more Neugierde? If you’re a leader who hires folks, don’t hire for technical and social competence alone. Hire for curiosity. And in your every engagement with others, fiercely model inquisitiveness.

1.   Hire for Curiosity

A classic Google story that I love. In 2004 a huge anonymous billboard appeared on Highway 101, in the heart of Silicon Valley, posting a puzzle: “{first 10-digit prime found in consecutive digits of e}.com.” The answer, 7427466391.com led the curious online where they had another equation to solve. The handful who did so were invited to submit a resume to Google. Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO from 2001 to 2011, emphatically stated that we run this company on questions, not answers.

Yes, Google values curiosity. Google asks curiosity questions when interviewing a job candidate: Have you ever found yourself unable to stop learning something you’ve never encountered before? Why? What kept you persistent? The answer may reveal the degree to which an individual is intrinsically motivated to uncover new information and be surprised.

Fine Google questions. And great questions you and I can ask ourselves, as well. So, how curious are we really?

Other ways to hire for curiosity: Administer a well-validated curiosity assessment. Curiosity assessments tend to measure whether people explore things they don’t know, analyze data to uncover new ideas, read widely beyond their field, have diverse interests outside of work, and are excited by learning opportunities. Decide to make curiosity an explicitly stated norm.

2.   Model Inquisitiveness

If you want others to be curious, be curious yourself. Not merely in thought but in behavior.

It may seem obvious but yes, ask questions. Follow-up questions. And more follow-up questions. Show with each question that you have heard what was said. Heard the words. Understood the underlying meaning.

Mind your tone. Your questions are an expression of genuine interest, not an interrogation. They are an inquiry into best practices and new possibilities, not a quest to find fault of flaws. They spring from a sincere desire to open doors and expand the view.

Consider the filters that may prevent you from being inquisitive. Sometimes we may fear that we’ll be judged incompetent, indecisive or not intelligent if we ask too many questions. Time is precious, and we may worry that we’re wasting people’s time. The deepest barrier to inquisitiveness may be the belief that when we are more seasoned than others, we may have less to learn from them. Or the related belief that because we are the formal leader of a situation we should talk more.

Inquisitive questions are the hallmark of an easy authority. Full confidence. And a deep faith in a collaborative discovery process. Model them consistently. You will uncork everyone else’s curiosity.

This week, remember Neugierde.

Before you enter a meeting, before you answer a phone call, before you talk to anyone. Decide. Refresh the thought in your mind. Neugierde. Imagine the energy this super-charged intent will bring to every conversation you have. Intent is free. But we need to choose it.

And notice how your craving fires up every conversation you have.

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high energy conversation

Saturday afternoon. A South Florida rainstorm pounds my garden, and I lounge in the shelter of my home, flipping through the pages of the Wall Street Journal Magazine that just arrived. Settle on a story about two designers and their house in the foothills of the Atlas mountains in Morocco, half an hour from Marrakesh.

“Anti-Wow”

That’s how the owners describe the style of their home.

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CEO Time Management

I think of Michael E. Porter as “the Harvard strategy guy. “ Porter’s research since the 1980s has influenced how a generation of CEOs define strategy and make strategic decisions. So I was curious to stumble on an article by Porter and Nitin Nohria in the summer issue of Harvard Business Review about how CEOs manage their time (Porter & Nohria, How CEOs Manage Time, HBR, July/August 2018, p. 42)

Porter and time management. Really?

Then I thought to myself duh, of course. When there never is enough time, how we use time is strategic. It is game-changingly important.

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leadership

I was dazzled.

A couple of years ago, sitting in the glorious Berlin Philharmonie on a Sunday night, listening to the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra tear into Faure, Schoenberg, Ravel.

Dazzled most by rising-star-composer Matthias Pintscher who was conducting. Whew, this guy embodies music, I thought to myself.

Pintscher conducts with his entire body. The fire of his grand gestures. The grace of his gentle coaxing. The effortless dynamic between the two. The generous way Pintscher acknowledges his musicians during the ovation. The way he bows to the audience, hand on his heart. The vigor with which he enters from the wings.

Always from the core, as my trainer would say.

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