Breaking the Bubble

Breaking the Bubble

I, Brocken Inaglory [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I, Brocken Inaglory [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

One of the great things about being a leader is we get to guide others down a path to achieving some really important goals and share in the success. If we’re really lucky, we get to pick our own team and can surround ourselves with high-quality talent who shares our vision. We can choose people who think like we do, have similar experiences and backgrounds to our own, and approach problems from a similar perspective. This can be a great thing to enhance team cohesiveness and unity, and let’s be honest, it’s nice when people agree with us and support our ideas. But it can come with a disadvantage as well. Surrounding ourselves with like minded people can narrow the scope of ideas presented on the team and potentially throw out an optimum solution to a problem without it being considered fully.

There have even been several high profile government and corporate scandals in the last few years where one of the root causes was “groupthink” and a reluctance to put forward or entertain alternate viewpoints. While I don’t think most leaders are headed down a road to ruin, I do think we can all benefit from opening the aperture on what we’re doing and making sure we aren’t “living in a bubble”.

Some things you can do to “Break the Bubble”:

  1. Engage in active listening. Really listen to what your team is saying. Are there dissenting opinions? Don’t let team members (or yourself) shoot down dissent without taking some time to think it through.
  2. Encourage critical thinking. Ask tough questions; think about potential outcomes and impacts. Challenge your team to do the same.
  3. Seek out alternate perspectives. If everyone on your team is in agreement, make your pitch to someone who’s not on your team to get a fresh look at it. Someone who isn’t so close to the solution may be able to ask some insightful questions or highlight a risk area you hadn’t seen.
  4. Ask the quiet guy in the back of the room what he thinks. Some people aren’t always as outgoing as the rest. They often have good ideas and just need a little push to share them. Some well thought out insights from someone who has been listening to what everyone else has been saying can sometimes break a problem wide open!

Ultimately, you’re the boss and decisions rest with you. Just because sought out some alternative perspectives doesn’t mean you have to follow them. Use the ideas you think are valuable and make sure to give credit where credit is due. Great things come from expanding your worldview, so “break the bubble” and see what else is out there!

Honest Self-Assessment

By ESO (http://www.eso.org/public/images/potw1307a/) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By ESO (http://www.eso.org/public/images/potw1307a/) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Evaluating ourselves is never easy to do, but it’s a critical part of being a leader. As times, technology and situations change and as people come and go from your team it is essential to ask yourself if you’re being successful at meeting your objectives or even if you could do them just a little bit better.

Several years ago I got a very valuable piece of feedback from my boss (If you’re keeping score at home, it’s the same boss from “You Can Lead, But Can you Follow?”). He told me my approach to persuading others was like hitting them in the head with a two by four. I had always known that I was pretty direct and often prided myself on being a “straight shooter” so I didn’t take that as a negative, and my boss didn’t mean it as a criticism, just some honest feedback. About a year later I was working on a project that required building consensus among some other organizations and getting a final approval from a relatively high level decision maker. I was having a hard time building that consensus and couldn’t understand why, as I had mountains of data that supported my team’s position. As the days dragged on with no progress I finally had to ask myself the question “Why isn’t my approach working?” Just asking the question opened the door for me to really evaluate the situation.  As I delved into the problem, I realized the senior leadership concerns were not about the data but were more along the lines of “is it worth the strategic and political risk to head down this path?” I realized I needed to build their trust that my team had the skills to assess and successfully manage those risks as they came up.  I remembered the boss’ comments from the year before and realized that there were areas I could improve upon in developing professional relationships. For the project to succeed I had to find a way to relate to the other principals in a way that built trust and confidence in the people on my team, not our understanding of the facts.

Honest self-assessment is extremely difficult but is the key to any true personal development. It does not need to be negative; in fact, it should come from a place of objectivity as opposed to trying to portray yourself in a positive or negative light. In my situation above, self-assessment was forced on me as I was hitting a brick wall trying to get the mission accomplished, but ideally we should all engage in self-reflection periodically to determine our strengths and areas for improvement as part of continuous personal development.

There are all kinds of opportunities for self-assessment. It can be as simple as comparing your performance to the goals given to you by your organization or that you set yourself. Did you meet them? Exceed them? Fall short in some areas but succeed in others? Make some notes on your self-evaluation and compare them to the feedback you’re getting from your boss or your team.

Look for the root causes of why you either met your goals or fell short. Don’t settle for the easy answer, look for alternate explanations. Once you think you’ve found the cause, dig deeper. Keep asking “why?”. Once you’ve fully assessed the root causes, are any of them areas requiring personal development?

Finally, there is a difference between second guessing your decisions and honest self-assessment.  This kind of self-evaluation is best done with a clear head and looking towards the future, so don’t dwell on the results of past decisions, focus on what your goals are and how you can best achieve them. It’s all about improvement!

Time is Precious

By aussiegall from sydney, Australia (Dr Who  Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By aussiegall from sydney, Australia (Dr Who Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I was having lunch with a friend I worked with a few years back. He was talking about a professional education course he was working on but was having trouble between work and family finding the time to complete the reading assignments. My advice was to carve out an hour a day, three or four days a week to get it done, even if he had to lock himself in the bathroom to do it. He laughed and said he’d give that a try.  Managing time is challenging for most of us, but it’s extremely important that we make time for the things we believe are important and try to spend as little time as possible on the things that are necessary, but not moving us closer to achieving our strategic goals.

This idea extends to our workplaces as well, starting with the boss. If you’re like most of us, your boss’ time is limited, especially the time you get to spend with him discussing your projects. Show up organized; tell him your goal for the meeting right off the bat, and try not to make him make decisions that you are capable of making on your own. If your boss likes to make the decisions, be prepared with options for him, make your recommendations and express your preferences as the one who has to execute the work.  Show that you value his time and he’ll probably be willing to delegate more authority for these kinds of decisions to you in the future. If you’re lucky enough to be the boss, this one is easy for you, but now your challenge is to develop this behavior in your team.

It’s also just as important to respect your follower’s time. Reduce busy work and administrative tasks to the bare minimum. Make sure meetings are productive and have an agenda. Keep meetings on task; don’t let side issues creep in. Delegate decisions and action appropriate to their level of responsibility and skill so that you don’t have to micromanage. You want to be able to focus on end results and where you want to take your team.

Finally, and most importantly, you have to respect your own time. Build your schedule to spend your time on the items that are the highest priority to you. Like many concepts related to leadership, this is simple to talk about, but often difficult in practice. In any endeavor where we need to interact with other people, we have to live with constraints. One of the ways I work with schedule constraints is by placing key strategic tasks that are very important to me outside of the regular work day. I review my notes every evening after dinner before I get involved in anything else. I don’t always do anything about them, but I always review them.  I would prefer to do it right as I get into the office every morning, but I never know what is going to happen and most days something gets in the way, so I moved it to a time I knew would work.

Time is precious. Respect other’s time, but just as importantly, respect you own.

What tools do you use to manage and protect your time?