Self-Management

Chances are, you know about “managing UP.” The art of managing a mercurial, distracted, at times unavailable and often unpredictable boss. If you have worked in the corporate world long enough, you have likely taken a class on this essential leadership skill.

Hint: Know their priorities. Speak their language. Anticipate their needs. Be truthful and don’t BS them. Contract properly at the end of a meeting. Just a few of the essentials.

Chances are, as well, that no one in your class spoke about “appreciating UP.”

You appreciate the folks on your team. You do your best to express this appreciation. You may forget and you may not do it perfectly, but you know that it’s a good idea.

Chances are, you do little to explicitly appreciate your boss. It’s a potent influencing behavior, and yet, the senior executives I coach consistently don’t do it. Bosses rarely receive a word of praise or appreciation. From anyone. Yes, it’s lonely at the top, in more ways than one.

The reason for our lack of explicit boss-appreciation? Chances are, we cling rather tightly to a bunch of subliminal anti-appreciating-UP stories. These stories tend to run something like this:

1. I don’t want to waste their time.

My boss’ time is precious. I want to be prepared, get to the point, and show that I respect how busy s/he is.

Fact: Your boss is a human being with feelings, no matter how efficient her or his outer demeanor may be. The longing for appreciation is universal. Expressing appreciation is never a waste of time. Do not conflate being efficient with not expressing an important thought or feeling – which includes appreciation.

 2. I don’t want to sound like I’m sucking UP.

I’ve watched other people suck up to Senior Leaders and it just looks and sounds so totally obvious. I don’t ever want to become one of THOSE people!

Fact: Even when it looks like sucking up to you, chances are your boss appreciates hearing it. Dump the phrase “sucking up” and supplement it with the phrase “expressing genuine appreciation.” That’s what we’re talking about, after all. If your appreciation is heartfelt, your expression of this appreciation is an act of honest communication. Withholding the comment is an act over unnecessary filtering. You are choosing to be less authentic by not communicating an appreciative thought.

3. My boss is uncomfortable with overly personal chit-chat.

I don’t want to cross any personal boundaries with my boss or get into a conversation that becomes too private and which I will later regret.

Fact: Praising someone’s idea, expertise, or accomplishment is as safe as a professional conversation gets. It’s entirely about work. Your story about not getting too personal is likely about your discomfort in offering a personal remark to someone with high Position Power, not about that person’s discomfort in receiving such a remark from you.

Krista Tippett, the host of NPR’s consistently inspiring “On Being” radio program, chats with renowned British poet and organizational advisor David Whyte about leadership wisdom (Tippett, On Being, 4/7/2016). “Being a leader,” Whyte affirms, “means being visible, all the time. It means truly showing up and not simply going through the motions of showing up.”

Being visible, fully showing up, includes noticing our appreciative thoughts AND having the courage to express them. To anyone. It also suggests we appreciate UP, discomfort and all.

If someone who reports to you offers a compliment or thanks you for something well done, you appreciate it, don’t you? You remember the comment, right?

Act in kind. Express your appreciation, in every direction. That includes UP.

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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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slow down
Playfulness At Work

I jot this down on my birthday. Feels fitting.

Spent a few fine days last week with some of the amazing peeps I get to support. Every single one of them works in a high-pressure Fortune 500 culture. And every single one of them – as individual, as a leader – is actively claiming a lighter side.

Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold. A favorite quote from Joseph Chilton Pearce, author of the much-revered book “Magical Child.”

To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong. Another Pearce gem I cherish.

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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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The pressure is brutal. To know, to have answers, to offer fresh ideas.

Chances are, you have been hired for your job because you will offer insight and solutions. I love the moment when I know. When I have no doubt, when the next right action is crystal-clear. The moment when I don’t know, however, tends to yield the richer crop.

Because I want you to think I’m smart and knowledgeable, it is tempting to tell you I know even when I clearly don’t.

The pressure is tremendous.

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Zen

Cool when science catches up with what we already know.

My thought as I peruse an article by Sue Shellenbarger, my favorite Wall Street Journal columnist (It’s Not Copying, It’s Connecting, We’re Networking. WSJ 9/21/2016). Shellenbarger quotes one of my favorite neuroscientists, Uri Hasson of Princeton. Using MRIs to study how brains react to the signals exchanged between a speaker and listener, Hasson describes the process of neural coupling that occurs in such moments. Think of neural coupling as a powerful Bluetooth connection. Instant brain synching. And nonverbal cues measurably enhance the rate and quality of this coupling.

Wanna connect better, faster, more deeply? Get in sync.

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Tis the week after the political blow-up about the separation of families at the US/Mexican border. Public discourse got more heated than it had already been. Even if you tried to avoid the coverage, chances are you watched. And, pardon the gun metaphor – you got triggered. I got triggered. You bet I did. 

There’s having a reaction. There’s being triggered. 

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