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Successful people are adaptable. Research shows that in terms of the competencies one needs to be successful, adaptability is up there with self-confidence, emotional self-control, and inspirational leadership.
Yet, so many of us dedicate significant amounts of time and energy to planning. And then when our plans don’t work out (as so often happens) we dedicate significant amounts of emotion to being irritated, frustrated, bent out of shape, and placing blame.
So, on one hand we have the critical importance of being adaptable and on the other we have our natural tendency to be totally inflexible. This is a problem – a problem I know intimately.
Like most other important business lessons, I was reminded of the futility of planning at the hands of my children. On Friday morning, I went to my kids’ school to volunteer in the classroom. I had confirmed the date and time with the teacher days in advance. I had reviewed with her the materials I needed to bring and the treats I was going to share with the children. I looked over my papers the night before and set my alarm early the morning of. I arrived at school just as I had planned, excited about my morning with the children.
With smile wide, I ran smack into the other mom who had also volunteered to be in the classroom that morning. She had confirmed the date and time with the teacher days in advance. She had reviewed with the teacher the materials she needed to bring and the treats she was going to share with the children. She had looked over her papers the night before and set her alarm early the morning of. She arrived at school just as she had planned, excited about her morning with the children.
Then in an instant our well-orchestrated plans crumbled. There was a miscommunication. The teacher only needed one volunteer and now she had two. The other mom was superfluous. I was a duplicate. We were both very annoyed and disappointed. Our morning had been shattered. One of us would surely be sent home or left standing in the corner while the other performed the morning’s duties. While I can’t speak for her, I wasn’t just annoyed and disappointed, I was angry too.
Neither one of us was particularly adaptable in that movement and because of that neither one of us could figure out a solution. Luckily, the school receptionist, on the other hand, was a study in flexibility and with clear and unemotional thinking rearranged us so that two moms became better than one. She split the class up, sent me to one room with class A, sent the other mom to another room to class B and midway through the morning had us switch rooms so that we could spend time with the other class.
It was a lovely morning and the reshuffle worked out perfectly. I walked out of school thinking how the morning had turned out so much better than I could have planned.
And so often that is how life is. Plan A is average. It frequently doesn’t work out because life is messy and humans are imperfect and in the scheme of the cosmos we are just ants who have very little control over anything. The real shame isn’t that Plan A falls apart it’s that we waste time mourning it and don’t shift to Plan B. And, if we let it, in most cases, Plan B is better.
My daughter is brave. Not because she talks a big game, but because she takes courageous action. Last night she auditioned for a musical. She took the stage, sang for strangers, and attempted a dance she didn’t know (poor thing doesnt even take dance lessons). I wouldn’t have done what she did when I was 10 and I likely would not do it now. She is a wonder and an inspiration.
Most of us are cowards. We play it safe – speak up only when we know the answer, follow the rules, resort to the tried-and-true, elect the sure thing, follow the masses. We are terrified to do the thing that makes us vulnerable, singles us out, exposes us to risk. We avoid failure and shun embarrassment.
Playing it safe, is so…well, safe. It is predictable and gets moderate results. We avoid disaster, but we also avoid doing anything of real importance. Don’t pat yourself on the back for sitting on the sidelines, for being a critic. Anyone can do that!
Do something risky. That is how you change the world, that is how you innovate, that is how you matter. Do something courageous and then take your bow.
One. Saying, “I am sorry” is not the same thing as saying “I am wrong” or “I am at fault” or “I am to blame.” I am sorry that this thing happened or that my email made you feel this way is different than saying I did this thing and I am at fault or that my email was out or line or incorrect. When to take responsibility is and the benefits of this approach are topics for another post. The point here is simple – “I am sorry” is not an admission of guilt. So, maybe it is something you could say more often. Those three words make a big impact and go a long way towards connecting with more people (clients, managers, subordinates) having more of an impact.
Two. Trying to understand someone else’s point of view is different than agreeing with them. We engage in conversations with the wrong mindset. We listen for disagreement, check for accuracy, and look for windows to rebut. This approach doesn’t move us forward – it isn’t profitable and doesn’t lead to innovation. It is more effective to strap on your seatbelt and to make a mental declaration that you are in it for the long haul. Decide to be in the conversation until you can see the other persons point of view. Commit to understanding their perspective and to continuing the dialogue until you appreciate where they are coming from. Respond with “I really hear what you are saying.” This is not synonymous with “I agree with your approach.” You lose nothing and create the opportunity for connection and collaboration down the road.
As they say on Game of Thrones, “Words are wind.” People say all sorts of things, but then do something different. People say all the right things and then do exactly what they say they don’t want to do. People who want to change their behavior revert to old habits and do the most comfortable thing when confronted with an opportunity to try a new approach.
They say they want to be less judgmental, but when given the opportunity to be empathetic they evaluate instead. They say they want to take a risk, but when presented with the chance to try something new, they opt for the safe road. People say they want to be more nurturing, kind, open-minded, hard-working, responsible, inspirational – the list goes on, but then chose to be distant, punitive, narrow-minded, efficient, non accountable, and route.
The next time you are confronted with a choice do what feels the most unnatural, makes you the most uncomfortable, and seems totally wrong. Whatever your gut tells you to do, do the other thing. That is how we change behavior. When we do something different, we get a different result. Don’t expect to to enhance your life (to have deeper relationships, reach greater levels of success, to leave a lasting and meaningful mark) by doing the same old thing time and time again.
Everyone talks about how competitive the marketplace is now. It is not enough to be technically good at what you do, to stay ahead you need something more. It is not enough to network, you must be on social media as well. It is not enough to provide good customer service, you need a marketing strategy to make the grade. Organizations are busy hiring consultants and coaches – they are focusing on mindfulness and mediation. The big players in our economy – Amazon, Apple, Google are using metric to measure the effectiveness of their teams and the ROI of their professional development efforts.
That is all well and good. Naturally, I believe strongly in the benefits of professional development programs and the efficacy of coaching. But really getting ahead, beating out the completion is easier than all of that. In many instances the good old-fashioned stuff is still best – making a phone call, maintaining eye contact, mastering the art of conversation, listening when someone is talking (hopefully you know by now that listening is a skill and is much different from simply being quiet).
I was at a dinner last night where 50% of the adults at the dinner table were on their phones. This is nothing new. We have all seen the viral internet pictures of groups of people staring at their screens and the news articles about how Millennials don’t know how to communicate. I am not the first one to notice this.
But seeing it for the umpteenth time brought it home and helped me connect the dots between how I am and why people respond to me, open up and look to me for guidance. Since I am good at relating with people I am often accused of reading minds. And usually I laugh it off. I take my ability of knowing what the person is thinking before they say it, finishing sentences, and understanding their feelings for granted. It comes easy to me. But when I think about it more critically it is clear that it’s not actually a talent, it is a skill. I do some pretty easy and obvious things when dealing with people who help me understand them and makes them feel understood, cared about and motivates them to work with me instead of the next guy.
I don’t multitask, I am laser focused on what they are saying (not drifting away with the thoughts of my own mind), I look into their eyes, I watch their body language. People know I am right there with them and that they are my first priority.
Am I special? Nope. Can you do these things too and get more clients, provide better customer service, boost profits and beat out your competition. Yep.
Will you do it? I don’t know the answer to that one, but I hope you do. It is much more cost-effective than spending money on initiatives that you really dont need.
I was coaching a client this week and he got emotional when talking about why he does the work that he does. He had forgotten why his work mattered to him. He had been phoning it in for a long time and getting back in touch with his reason for being moved him.
Just the session before we had discussed how he wasn’t happy and something was off. He was jumping from one responsibility to the next without fully diving in. He took whatever work was offered as long as the money was good. He was overwhelmed, spread too thin, and dropping the ball. I could see on his face that he was unraveled. I didn’t even know him that well and it was clear he wasn’t himself.
Between that painful session and the one we had this week he worked through some exercises that helped him get back in touch with some of his core values and his vision for himself. He then made critical choices about what to drop, what to walk away from and what to grasp more tightly. He got in touch with what mattered to him and saw that many of the projects he was working on, clients he was doing work for, and ways he was spending his time didn’t match up with what mattered to him and what he wanted. So he ditched all that stuff. He found his way again.
Unfortunately, too many professionals are in this same position. They have been on the hampster wheel so long that they have forgotten why they got into their career to begin with.
We schedule time to get our teeth cleaned, our cars serviced, and our hair cut, but when was the last time you sat down and mapped out the vision you have for yourself and whether the life you are living is in synch? Turning autopilot off and taking inventory instead is a worthwhile endeavor.