In my last post, I began to explore radical transparency from a the example of a client organisation. To lead transparently generates trust. This kind of leadership shows up before people with integrity.
Lead transparently and you generate trust.
However, a lot of so-called leaders baulk at precisely this invitation to transparency. It is a vulnerable place, and for some, it is far too uncomfortable, dangerous even. They would instead hide; hide in their boardrooms, or behind closed doors; hiding behind unnecessary secrecy, behind the obfuscation of corporate jargon, using information as a weapon rather than for engagement. Or they often pretend, hiding behind a mask. They fear the real them being seen.
The problem is that we are not as stupid as these leaders think. We see through the masks. Eventually. We look for integrity and are disappointed to find hypocrisy. We see through the veil of secrecy for brave leaders, and instead, we see fear.
The shelf life of these less-than vulnerable leaders is short. Soon the game’s up. We see you. We see you for who you are.
By contrast, the alternative is attractive. The warts-and-all leader has experienced shame and dealt with it. They are comfortable with their imperfections. They have a robust "take me or leave me" attitude. They risk vulnerability and show us their true selves. Now, that is leadership that builds trust.
I’ve experienced both kinds. The secretive or pretentious leaders have betrayed my trust more than once and hurt me. So it takes me a while now to trust a leader.
But those authentic leaders I know (and they do exist) can call on me, and I’ll do what I can for them.
I love them, warts and all.
I was talking with one of my clients the other day, and as I asked how he was doing, he replied with an ironic smile, “Never enough time, Patrick.”
"Never enough time." This cliché rolls off the tongue too quickly when we describe the state of overwhelm.
But what we say matters. What we say can often condition our thinking, our mindset, even our self-image. We need to be careful. Clichés can become the furniture of our thinking.
What we say matters. It can condition our minds. Our clichés become the furniture of our thinking.
Is the problem really not enough time?
Let’s reframe this. Look at it as a supply and demand problem. We have 24 hours in a day. Nothing will change that. Supply is fixed.
Which one of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?
Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 6:27)
Of course, we could race through that 24 hours faster. We could cover more ground. We call that productivity. Sure, we could do that. And probably we could remove a lot of pauses along the way. But we are likely to get diminishing returns the harder we work. Also, in a state of chronic urgency, we can make sacrifices we later regret; that is, if we live that long.
No, fundamentally it is a demand problem. We find ourselves accepting too many commitments into our day, our week, our month, our lives. We over-commit. We don’t want to make choices about our purpose, our priority. We don't want to place boundaries around our time.
What about reducing that demand?
Well, that would take courage. That would mean making some choices, saying some powerful no’s to people we want to please. It would mean admitting that we have been more driven than free.
It’s easier to keep saying, “I never have enough time” and hope that things will get better.
Meanwhile, some of us are finding freedom in our daily lives. We make hard choices. We are prepared to say no to people we would otherwise like to please.
And we find it’s worth it.
This scene will be familiar to you.
I was invited to facilitate a strategic workshop. I was told fairly early on, “We have 32 strategic objectives we need to meet.”
“OK,” I replied. “Which one is the most important?”
You can probably guess my client’s reply…
“They all are.”
Now, what’s wrong with this picture?
If you are inclined to say, “Nothing, that’s just the way business has to be in these complicated days,” then I would ask you to stop and think for a moment. Too many of our organisations are like the proverbial donkey who is stalled into inaction because of two competing piles of hay.
The more we learn about the human brain, the more we learn how awesome is its capacity, but also how limited its ability is to consciously focus on things in the foreground of our awareness. Neuroscientists put the number of items we can concurrently focus upon to be as low as four.
Neuroscientists say we can only focus on four things concurrently consciously.
So we have a dilemma. There are all these targets our organisations set us to meet, but we can only focus on a few.
Recently, as part of the current release of our Leading Yourself Workshop, I released a book review of Gary Keller’s The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results. And one of the passages in the book is where Keller explained that the word Priority entered into the English language in the 14th Century. It came from the Latin word prior meaning first. What surprised me was that it was only made plural in the 20th Century: priorities. Think about that. To previous generations, to talk about priorities would have been madness.
In the English language the word "priority" was always singular until the 20th Century. I think this is significant.
I suspect the human brain, and a team, and a project, and even an organisation works better with a priority than it does with priorities. Priorities (plural) begin to generate confusion, internal competition for attention and erode focus.
What if we were to budget to one priority in any given moment?
OK, complex organisations do have a number of matters to achieve, but budgeting to one priority begins to make us dig deeper. We begin to see the dependencies between different objectives, where some enable others. For example, here is an Outcome Relationship Model of an Olympics Legacy development.
We begin to see the real drivers of organisational success. Maybe some of these objectives or targets can be met, or more easily met if we were to focus on the one thing.
As an individual, if I invest time now in making this blog post a priority, in focusing upon it exclusively to everything else that clamours for my attention, it may help me meet some of my other objectives later.
Focus is inseparable from this kind of singular attention.
Focus is inseparable from singular attention.
Now, this is not to say that my priority may not change during the day; it does. Nor will my priority today be the same as tomorrow. Or next week. Or next year. Priority is the matter I should focus on now.
In my coaching about this, I recommend clients identify their MIT, their Most Important Task. This is the daily priority, the one thing they commit to achieving that day. The real value, though, is in the process of deciding that MIT. This is where we gain clarity and leverage over our day.
Some of the most influential people I know do more than empathise with me. Empathy is important. But when it comes down it, what truly separates world-class influencers from manipulators?
One of the most acutely painful moments in my life made me quite vulnerable. I approached a man who was a leader. Len was also a great talker. He was ready with opinions on most things.
When I told him my news, he did something unexpected.
He wept with me.
Len is no longer with us, but I remember him with great fondness and deep appreciation, not least for that moment. For me, it was a defining moment. His compassion transcended his talk, his opinions, his wisdom. At that moment, he showed me great leadership. At that moment, I realised I needed something other than counsel and direction: I needed someone to walk with me in my pain.
I read this quote recently from Seth Godin:
"Empathy is not sufficient. Compassion is more useful because it's possible to talk to someone who is experiencing something that you've never experienced."
We cannot always expect to have had an experience similar others. And we can never expect to have had another's experience exactly.
Like empathy, there are examples that corrupt the meaning of the word compassion. But I leave it out there for you today.
Empathy + Compassion. This combination truly separates the forensic manipulator from the servant leader.
One of the joys of being a parent and, in my case, a grandparent is that you can indulge in watching some really good kids' movies. And way up there in my top 10 is Despicable Me. We watched it again over the holidays. I love the movie, the storyline, and ... I love the title.
So I'm playing around with this title to make a point in this article. It's about the concept of Deliverable Me.
Perhaps the most clunky piece of jargon coming out of the project management profession has to be the word deliverable. There are far better alternatives: 'output,' 'product,' 'enabler,' and so on.
As the name implies, a deliverable is what the project delivers, either at the end or along the way. It reminds the project manager that it is not all about the activities, the activity network, the resource planning, and so on. These all contribute to the busyness of the project, and although perhaps necessary, these can become an obsession, even a distraction, from delivering the end product, and beyond that, the point of it all - the what the customer really wants.
'Deliverable' must be the clunkiest piece of jargon coming out of project management.
A few years ago I was working with a global publishing business. I ran a few project management and stakeholder engagement workshops. And then my client asked me if I could help by delivering a workshop for people to improve their personal work organisation. Overwhelm as we now call it, was rampant, and people's working lives too often seemed to border on chaos. Productivity was certainly not what it should have been.
I'd like to think the client invited me to think about this because my style of coaching project managers was plain-speaking, without too much jargon, and it helped people see the reason behind what they were asked to do on a project.
The most powerful productivity techniques were borrowed from project management.
So although I did not consider myself at that time to be any kind of productivity ninja, or time management guru, I accepted the invitation. I developed a one-day workshop called Organising Yourself More Effectively. OK, it's not the snappiest of titles, I agree, but it set out what I hoped was the goal of the workshop.
It turned out to be a resounding success. In fact, the responses I had from delegates were somewhat surprising in the way I seemed to have helped them gain traction in their working lives.
Seeing my life as a project, the 'Deliverable Me.'
But when I dug a little deeper into what tools they had found particularly helpful, they were mostly borrowed from my project management bag of tricks. That made me think: some of the tools we use on projects and programmes can also be very powerful for the individual, for treating my life as a project, where I see myself as 'Deliverable Me.'
Anyway, we have just opened the doors again, after nearly a year to our online version of that workshop. This time we call it Leading Yourself online. However, in this workshop we go beyond modest goals of improved personal organisation and increased productivity to something more profound: moving from the captivity of overwhelm to developing ourselves to become what I call positive outliers, people who are outstanding, positively so, people who consistently do their best work. If you are interested, check out my short Doing Your Best Work email series first.
I hope to see you there.
We plan, we organise ourselves, we budget, we set goals.
But sometimes life just gets in the way.
For much of what I write and teach around self-leadership and personal productivity, I use myself as the laboratory. This approach seems to me to be the way of integrity. As someone once claimed, “We eat our own dog food!” I understand that.
Over the last eleven weeks, my wife and I have been in transition, moving from Oxfordshire to Kent, about two hours’ driving distance from each other. We left our old place on 2nd August, a home we had lived in for more than 28 years, without regret, but with thanks for many happy memories.
However, the purchase of our new home fell through. Such is the way of things quite often in the English housing market.
We did not let this distress us, so we set about finding a new home, and so we did. Within a matter of 24 hours, we found one we liked very much, put an offer in, and it was accepted. However, it will not be until next week that we will finally move in.
That will make 11 weeks altogether. We were not dismayed. We are blessed with wonderful children and generous friends. So we have spent the late summer and early autumn moving from home to home.
One friend called us recently ‘Silver Sofa Surfers.’ I like that. We’ve been learning in this odyssey, learning about ourselves and others. For example, each new home we’ve moved into, we have found we had to adapt to their unique environment and constraints. It’s amazed us how different people’s kitchen storage and waste systems are, for example.
Not having a permanent residential address has created its problems as we engaged with some agencies. It seems that their systems cannot cater for our situation.
All the while I’ve attempted to publish articles on this site where and when I can. Finding places to work undistracted and uninterrupted was a challenge. In Leading Yourself online I explain ways high-performers order their private worlds, so I have sought to live this out, even on the move. I have continued to prioritize using my daily MIT technique. During this period I have calmed myself by reminding myself, “This is only temporary. When we move in October …”
Last week, though, uncertainty in our lives reached new levels. My wife’s back gave out putting her into the most extreme pain and immobilising her for several days. We canceled a short holiday we were about to take in Mallorca, visiting more remote members of our family. The flight we should have been on was with Monarch Airlines. Forty-five minutes after our scheduled take-off, Monarch Airlines ceased trading! Explaining all this to our travel insurers became very interesting.
So what am I learning in, what is for me, extreme uncertainty?
It’s at times like this that I am brought vividly to face reality that ‘life’ is lived with one’s body, soul, and spirit.
There is a verse in the Psalms that has come to mean a lot to me:
"My flesh and my heart may fail, but the Lord is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
We all need to accept that in extreme situations, even tried and trusted personal workflows will be interrupted and fail us. We need to dig deep.
We need to look into our spirit and find what is unchanging.
I’m fascinated, for example, by the concept of the fulcrum, in leading change. We all need to find the unchanging, the fixed, the certain. Everything else can change around us, but one thing needs to remain fixed.
We all need a fulcrum, an unchanging pivot point in a context of change.
Ultimately it comes down to what matters most. What is my one priority in this moment? That is always a valid and clarifying question. For me, I'm very clear on that right now. It is my wife.
'What is my priority in this moment?' is always a powerful and clarifying question.
I’m learning that I must trust God in navigating through these times. I cannot advise people with this methodology or that technique when they are in such circumstances, or worse, in extreme uncertainty. Ultimately it comes down to a matter of faith and meaning.
When it was first published, I read Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard by the Heath Brothers. It remains one of my favourite books on the whole subject of Change Management. One particular section has stayed with me. It centred around the story of a nationwide change that helped reduce child mortality through malnutrition in post-war Vietnam. It was the idea of bright spots, the 'positive deviants', as academics call them. These bright spots are individuals who show anomalous positive behaviour, who model and lead a positive change in others around them.
This resonated with so much of my research around the high-performers in programme and project management. These bright spots lead the way. The more I learned about these high performers, the more it encouraged me to challenge the status quo about what it means to lead a change well, particularly through project management. For example, they spend significantly more of their discretionary work time in moving towards people around the change than do the majority of project managers. I wrote about this in Practical People Engagement.
It also encouraged me that what makes these extraordinary performers so distinctive - their behaviours, their rituals and the thought processes they used - these were all within the reach of the rest of us. We could learn their approaches. And we could begin to get the same results.
Academics call them 'Positive Deviants', the Heath brothers 'Bright Spots', I call them 'Positive Outliers.'
I am now calling this group the Positive Outliers. These are the people who get extraordinary results. They are positive models in that they show in practice what is truly a superior way to work and lead change. They are also outliers in that their performance is, sadly, still not normal.
This led me on a journey that resulted in two books. First, Practical People Engagement: Leading Change through the Power of Relationships, what the majority mistakenly call stakeholder management, became an instant success. It was adopted by APMG International, a management accreditation body, as their core reference for their stakeholder engagement qualification.
The power of positive outliers led me on a journey that resulted in two books.
Then, last year I brought out my second solo book, Leading Yourself: Succeeding from the Inside Out. This deals with what business schools call personal mastery, how leaders begin with themselves, and build in certain personal practices that have a huge pay-off in their personal lives and their overall effectiveness as leaders.
Over the last couple of months I have been beta-testing an online workshop called Exploring People Engagement with a group of clients. As well as including a rich set of templates, this workshop covers a key subset of the APMG International Stakeholder Engagement qualification, helping people come to terms with some of the core concepts of influencing people. Some might go on to then take the full training and exam.
I launched at the beginning of this year the Leading Yourself online Workshop. I took a cohort of people through a three-month programme, with online resources and live video meet-ups. The effect was huge ... on all of us ... including on me. As the workshop came to a close, people said they wanted to keep the community going.
So I am creating the Positive Outlier Academy. I intend that the Academy will be initially:
As you can probably tell, I’m really excited about this.
I’m not quite ready to open the doors yet, but if you would like to know more and when the Academy will be open for business. In the meantime, take the Positive Outlier Assessment below.
In any act of creativity there is always a war going on. Many people attempting to create don’t get very far because they are unaware of this. Writers suffer from this war. In fact, all writers do.
This particular warfare is waged between the writer’s ears. It’s in the mind. It’s about which mental narratives she is tuning into at any given time. There are fundamentally two ‘voices’ that vie for the writer’s moment-by-moment belief in the act of writing: the Creator and the Critic. Commentators on this conflict use different labels. Some call them the right-brain and the left brain, or the Artist and the Judge.
But which of these voices is right? Which one should the writer listen to?
The war between the Creator and the Critic is between the writer's ears.
Well, usually they both are right to some degree, but they are best listened to at different times in the process of writing.
For example, the Critic is essential before a piece is shared in public. But the Critic is less useful when in the act of drafting for the first time. The Critic can prevent or interrupt a sense of flow. In fact, if the Critic is the dominant voice in the writer’s head, then it can cause writer’s block. It has I’m sure prevented many potentially good writers ever attempting to develop their skill in any significant way. At worst, the Critic can begin to shape the writer’s identity in a very negative, limiting way.
However, the other voice, the Creator comes into its own when it comes to the matter of getting something down as a draft. But left to their own, in extremes, they will burden the world with poor writing. They will create a lot of incoherent ‘noise’, with the skill of writing hardly developed at all.
How do should we bring each of these voices into play at different times? Well, I have a free email series called, “How to Write a Book.” Subscribe below and I will share with you by email different ways of bringing each voice into play at the right time.
At times we all feel somewhat overwhelmed by all the jobs piling up, whether in our email inbox, or in our own to-do lists. Many are overwhelmed all the time. It's as if our lives are being driven by that pesky list of demands. It feels like they are pushing us, each vying for first place in our attention and our efforts.
Well, it's time to stop being pushed by our work. Instead, try pulling your work through.
This week in our Leading Yourself online Workshop, we are going through a module called, From Push to Pull, where we explore the technique called Personal Kanban. Kanban boards originated in lean manufacturing as a powerful way for teams to improve their internal communication and performance. Then Kanban became a common tool used within Agile development teams, so much so that many now think Kanban originated with Agile.
Many now think Kanban boards originated with Agile.
A few years ago, I read Jim Benson and Torianne DeMaria Barry's Personal Kanban. I was hooked. I introduced it into my Organising Yourself Effectively workshop, and people loved it. It became one of the most popular tools that we covered. Stories came back of how clients had adopted it into their working lives. This was yet another example of people discovering the personal power of tools used more commonly in a project management context.
Personal Kanban became one of the most popular tools in my personal organisation workshop.
Here is one of the videos in the Workshop, using the online platform Trello to illustrate the personal kanban.
This isn't the first time I've written about Personal Kanban or Trello. A few months ago I posted a piece called, Tools that evolve with our work.
To become free, we need to think free, and not like victims.
As the above video shows, though, there is something quite powerful about the idea of choosing to pull work through, and not being pushed by it. To become free, we need to think free, and not like victims. Personal Kanban, simple though it is, can help us with that move to freedom in our daily work.
Do you use kanban for your personal organisation? If so, leave a comment below. If not, what do you used?
This year's first Leading Yourself online programme is going well, and we have just completed a module called, What's in Your Foreground? It's about the importance of priorities and their place in the skill of leading yourself, where you find them, and so on.
In this short video I explain one powerful technique called the MIT. I use it daily, and I find in one of my most powerful personal routines, boosting my focus and my productivity significantly.
It reminds me of this scene from the movie, City Slickers:
"What's the one thing?" "That's for you to figure out... the rest don't mean ...."
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