For Coordinated Action – String the Route

For Coordinated Action – String the Route

I am a ready-fire-aim kind-of a woman. I know where I am going. I always have a large-scale plan. It drives my action. But it lives in my head and I figure out the route on the fly. I always get to where I am going, but sometimes the journey is longer than I hoped.

It is like this “10 mile” three-day backpacking trip we did with our nine and seven-year-old kids, and 4-month-old dog. We had a plan – cover 10 miles over three days. This is not a lot for us. Two miles the first day. Four miles the second. Then another four miles the third. Only we pieced together the estimated route from two different hikes. We bought maps of course. But failed to look at them and “string” the route before we left.

On day two, after a lot of elevation and about 4 miles of walking we should be close, but we were in the middle of nowhere. I turned to Neil and mouthed, “How much farther?” He shrugged and pulled out the maps. We found about where we were, then put the compass string on the map to measure the twists and turns of the trail. We had about five miles to go.

“Five miles!” We were nearly out of water – no more streams along the ridge trail we were on. We had snacks enough for a 10-mile hike total – not a 10-mile day. Our kids had never hiked 10 miles in a day. And the poor baby dog was so tired – probably wondering what the heck are these people thinking!

This was a ready-fire-aim experience. We had everything we needed – we just had to conserve water and manage our snacks. We made it. The kids and dog were amazing. Heck, we found wild strawberries along the route! The lake we slept at that night was such a reward. An advance plan would have been nice, but knowing the hike was 19 miles – almost double our distance – we might not have gone. Our coordinated effort – bringing a map, looking at it, managing our snacks and water, foraging, having all we needed on our backs, and having practiced roughing it for nearly 30 years – allowed us to realize our goal.

All around the world groups of people are building amazing futures out of the rubble of the past – they are taking mistakes made by some and using it as fuel for a new way. The coordinated effort is happening. Women, people of color, people of all genders, and humble men, are on the fore front of the movement. Yet, to fuel our efforts, and feel camaraderie on the journey, we must name the plan and string the route.

Stringing the route looks like this:

  • Have a final goal in mind: A safe and just world, where people find their place, and can significantly contribute in right relationship with all things. This is mine. Yours may be different, yet have similar qualities at heart.
  • Talk to your kids about the world you hope to see – read books, watch movies, share articles, and attend events that speak of this goal.
  • Talk to your friends and family about this world. Ask them their opinions of a world like this. What are their ideas?
  • Recognize disparity when it happens. Speak about it. Work to change it.
  • Examine and understand your actions. Work to be kind, understanding, and able to hold the line.
  • Notice others that are working toward a similar goal. Acknowledge them. Show gratitude for their commitment.
  • Practice what you need to build this world: skillful conflict, discerning what to put energy toward, listening, and coordinated action. Help others build these skills.

These are some of the things I practice daily, weekly, and over my lifetime on my way to the more beautiful world my heart knows is possible. What do you practice?

Everyone has their own way of doing things – this is the beauty of individuality. The big change that is happening is through coordinated effort. You are already contributing – take a minute to acknowledge yourself.

Now, flesh out your plan – not an idea – but a robust plan, and then talk with others. Discover how very similar we are at heart, even if our approach is slightly different.

This coordinated effort is happening all over the world. If the news won’t tell this story, we can tell it at coffee shops, on the phone, through text messages, at dinner parties, in schools, churches, and everywhere we go.

When we plan, converse, and practice, we make our dreams possible.

We do not need to be in the same room – or even country – to arrive at the same place. We simply need to recognize our efforts – we are enough, build the skills, train our children, and speak what we hope to see into reality. Naysayers beware.

If you need help figuring out your plan – invite perspective. We love helping others define and build skills for the journey.

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Foundations in Leadership Development: Part Four

Foundations in Leadership Development: Part Four

Deconstructive Feedback

Why is feedback so hard?

“This is the best tool yet.” said my client.

As a people pleaser, I wondered, “Why didn’t I just give them the feedback formula to start?” Then I realized, to deliver stellar feedback you must first practice three foundational skills.

Feedback in its best form is a conversation. For a conversation to happen, we must have an open mind, listen to understand, and be able to digest both our inner experience and understand what might be at play for another.

Otherwise, we are two people monologuing about our perspectives on life and never intersecting, being impacted by the other, or transforming the way we see the world.

Most of us enter feedback with a goal to give someone advice, information, or an assessment of a behavior. One person in a position of power – I know/have something you do not. Even if it is just an opinion or an idea about their blind spot – not many people liked to be surprised. This makes the relationship off balance at the start and people get defensive. They are already one down.

When we are feeling picked on, called out, or surprised, response patterns get triggered in our body. We then revert to our habits of thought, mood, and action. When we react, our brain goes on autopilot. Effectively cutting off access to our pre-frontal cortex – the place where we make logical decisions and take thoughtful action. We close our mind. This is a terrible place to begin a learning process.

Mindset

To have an open mind, means to go into a feedback conversation with the intention to learn and be curious, not tell or teach. This takes an examination of our mindset. The first foundational leadership skill.

If we enter the conversation to learn, our affect is different than if we enter to tell. We can guise telling as offering and helping, but we all know the difference. Intention lives in the body. It is felt.

When I have some advice for my daughter, she knows it before I even open my mouth. When I give advice to a friend, I can tell when it goes over the line from helpful to pedantic. Therefore, understanding the difference between a telling mindset – and how that happens in our body – and a learning mindset – and how that happens in our body – is vital to our success.

Try it now. Pretend you are going to tell someone about something they were doing right or wrong. Give them a piece of advice. How do you shape yourself? What do you tell yourself?

Now, pretend you are entering a conversation to learn. To be curious about what you don’t know about someone. How do you shape yourself now? What is the story in your mind?

These two states feel different. I am softer when I am curious. Closed off when I am telling. Other people can feel this. We all have a part of our brain that knows how to interpret actions without words. The work of Paul Eakman and others has shown that most facial expressions are universal. We can communicate sadness, anger, fear, or happiness without ever speaking. We can also communicate telling versus curious.

Listening

To give quality feedback, we must know how to listen. Listening to reply is very different than listening to understand. When we listen to understand we are naturally curious. We ask genuine questions that inquire about another.

When we listen to reply, we have the answer in our head and ask questions that validate our assumptions. This is a great recipe for helping people become defensive.

If a person perceives you are unaware or disrespectful of their perspective, they will actively avoid, resist, or undermine anything you suggest. They get defensive and are not receptive to feedback.

If we want people to be receptive to feedback, to remain open and curious – the best state for feedback to be beneficial – we must listen to understand. This is the second foundational skill of leadership.

Feelings

It is helpful to listen and have an open mind. Yet, this is not all. If we go into a feedback conversation feeling nervous, people will know. Many of us have likely heard the phrase – name it to tame it. This means that if we understand what we are feeling, the feelings become easier to work with and overcome.

With any feedback situation, there are two or more people involved. The most productive feedback conversations feel vulnerable – for all people. This means that feelings – on both sides of the fence – abound. We are vulnerable – open to influence. This is a precious state, a gift from one person to another. It is something to be reverent of and prepared for.

Feelings stem from sensations and stir the part of our brain associated with connection and safety. If vulnerable is not a common state for us, we become unconsciously alert. We feel overwhelmed as our thoughts, emotions, desires become jumbled, mushy, and indistinguishable from each other.

Most work places value our strategic and tactical mind. It is hard to switch from tactical to vulnerable. These states differ widely in how we shape our selves. To easily switch from armor on, to armor off, we must practice.

To understand our feelings, it is helpful to sort through the mush – Is it this person that we fear? Are we afraid of the feedback we might receive? Does the topic make us uncomfortable? Or something else?

To sort out the mush we use a tool called the Mush Separator. This the third leadership foundation. It helps us create space between stimulus – “they failed to get me what I need and my stomach is in knots because my boss is upset” – and response – “You blew it.” and then we walk away.

In this space we separate our thoughts, from our feelings, and our intention. The mush separator is a valuable tool to use in conversation throughout the feedback process. As you will see in the model.

Deconstructive Feedback Long Form

People always ask, especially those in the construction field – why deconstructive? Before offering feedback, we must take apart how we feel, the intention we have, the purpose we are coming in with, and understand our mindset, be open to listening and know our feelings. Then, in our conversation with the other person, we must also do this. We deconstruct the experiences that led to the feedback. Then we can decide if we even need to offer the feedback at all.

Deconstructive feedback model

The other day my daughter, who is preparing for a big project at school, was struggling with how to go about doing something. She dropped the ball on a call that she was supposed to make. I knew she had planned to call a potential mentor on Thursday night. It was Friday and I had not heard how the call went. I asked her about it. She looked surprised, almost covered it up with a story – I could tell by the pause, and then told me she forgot. Instead of launching into constructive feedback about how she should make a list, or destructive feedback, “I can’t believe you dropped the ball. How will you ever get a mentor with that approach?” I paused and thought, “What would best serve her right now?”

Before I respond, I had to understand my purpose. My purpose is to serve, not teach or belittle. What would best serve her is a learning conversation. A deconstruction of how she got to this uncomfortable feeling of forgetting in the first place. And, to help her find her way out. Purpose is the first task for both the short and the long form of feedback.

Before you shorten the feedback, it is best to make sure you understand the whole model, how it all works, and practice it a few times. Then you can begin to use the shorter form to offer feedback real time.

The long form starts with purpose. Just like my daughter, “Why are you giving this person feedback? What needle are you trying to help move? Why is it important to move the needle?” This is the pre-work we need to do BEFORE you begin the feedback conversation. We must be clear that the feedback we deliver is not a secret way to get back at a person or throw them off their game. It is inherently important to the success of the endeavor to offer this feedback. This may take some time if you are not in the practice of stating/understanding your purpose.

The next step is naming the observed action. If you have practiced the mush separator you will know what this is. What action did the person take that a video camera or a microphone would pick up? For my daughter, it was inaction, NOT calling her potential mentor.

Then we move to the perceived intention. This is always stated in the positive. For now, here are your only six options. My perception of your intention was to:

  1. be in choice, do it yourself, or be spontaneous;
  2. be understood for the intention beneath the behaviors;
  3. make a difference or contribute;
  4. be connected to a collective purpose;
  5. want things to be efficient, feasible, workable;
  6. be recognized or acknowledged for effort.

My daughter likely forgot. If I say this to her, she will instantly get defensive. As we stated above, this is not a good place to learn or have a conversation. To respect her, I state the positive intention. This is tough for many people, as we are taught through experience that feedback is/feels negative. If we do not recognize the underlying positive intention, we will begin to erode the relationship. So, with my daughter, I started with, “I believe your intention is to handle this yourself.”

Then we move to impact. The impact on me is, “I worry that you might burn bridges if you say you will call someone and then do not.”

With impact, we must be very careful we do not unleash our judgments or feedback in this space. If triggered or unconscious of my purpose I might say, “You probably burned that bridge.” Or “Now what are you going to do, you have to apologize.” Though these could both be true, she will begin to see me as a threat to her and actively undermine, resist, or avoid me. This would not help me/us achieve my/our purpose.

We must rehearse before we begin. We must practice the mush separator and understand ourselves before we begin to engage with another. This makes feedback productive instead of destructive.

The next step is conversation. I let her talk first and respond to what I said. The Mush Separator can be used here. We create space for them to share while we actively listen. Then, we paraphrase for understanding.

“I was supposed to call on Thursday after my after-school sports. But when I got home from a full day of school and sports, I was tired and hungry. So, I ate and read my book. Then, I did chores, had dinner, finished my homework, and went bed.”

I paraphrased plus and said, “You had a big day and were tired. It is unlike you to forget to do things that are important to you. This is a new task for you. And it seems like you don’t have a good practice for remembering to do it yet. Did I get that right?”

“Yeah.”

Until they say yes to the question of “Did I get it right?” you can go nowhere. If I didn’t get it right, she might have said, “No, I wanted to ….” Then she would reveal more of the story. We would keep this pattern going until she said, “Yes, You got it.” Only after the yes can you offer the feedback.

Many times, at this point in the feedback model, I say, “Wow, I had no idea all that was behind your action.” This results in me NOT offering the feedback. The conversation created an understanding so deep the feedback became irrelevant. They likely already knew what I was going to tell them and the conversation allowed them to come to the conclusion on their own. Making it even more likely they will follow through than if I had given them the feedback.

If you find there is still more to say, the last step is feedback. In my story, once again, I didn’t need to offer feedback. I needed to help her learn how to manage her time. She is only 13. So, I said, “This is important. I don’t want you to miss out on this mentor that you really like. How can I help you remember?”

This led to a conversation about what was the best day to have energy for calls, where could she write it down to help remember, what were some mnemonic ways for her to remember, and how I could help her.

Yes, this feedback model takes time. But isn’t it worth the time to build the relationship now, so that in the future, we can use the short from.

Deconstructive Feedback Short Form

With the short form, we still must be aware of our purpose. We still must shape our mindset – curious. Have been practicing active listening. And know ourselves through walking through the Mush Separator.deconstructive feedback short form

Here is how it will look:

Today is the day you said you would call your mentor. I think you are waiting until they are done with dinner and bedtime (making it workable for them). I am worried you might forget. Do you have a plan?”

Since we had the first conversation, she knows I am on her side. She understands my purpose is to serve and help so she can be successful. She can answer with a, “Thanks for the reminder, I almost forgot.” or “Yes, I am waiting until after her kid goes to bed.”

A long conversation to build relationship and save time in the future is worth it to me to be able to have these short conversations in the moment. As the facilitator at the Great Conversations course at Seattle Children’s Hospital once said, “100 one-minute conversations are better than one 100-minute conversation.” The conversation becomes a practice, not a long moment in time. It becomes a tool to use in conversation for the child or the grown-up at work, at home, or in the community.

The Deconstructive Feedback Model is the fourth foundational skill of leadership. By now you are probably recognizing that reading and practicing are not the same thing. Print out the model, create a mnemonic, and practice. May you be successful.

If you need help understanding your purpose, getting out of the practice of offering negative intentions – we all do it, or are uncertain about how you feel – invite perspective. We love the work we do.

Foundations in Leadership Development: Part Three

Foundations in Leadership Development: Part Three

The Mush Separator – Build Trust through Conversation

If you interact with people, this skill is a must. Following this process builds trust.

As a parent, it can help you be clear about what you are seeing or feeling – positive or negative – leading to a more productive and connected conversation and action with your child/ren.

As a business leader, it can help you name what is important in the conversation to produce more clarity and results from every conversation.

As a community leader, you can identify more easily the common needs or desires of all members leading to more cohesive group decisions.

The Mush Separator deepens connection. It strengthens relationships. That is why it is a foundational skill. A must for all people, especially people who desire sustainable change.

In the last foundations of leadership development, we leveraged the skillset of active listening. When we seek to understand another before we respond, we can connect with another person.

Through understanding another’s perspective, we see the interpersonal gap in action – that the way you see the world is different than the way I see it. To seek to understand we must believe – mindset, our first foundation – that connecting with the other person is more valuable than having the answer, being right, or winning. We can still do those things, but with the mindset that other people’s perspective is important, we can bring others along, instead of isolate or disconnect.

To be a leader who builds strong cultures, these tools are essential. The Mush Separator gives you a way to put them seamlessly into action.

The Mush Separator is a conversational practice for leading. At its core it is a self-awareness tool. A way to decipher and speak about your own experience. It can also be used to deeply understand the why behind another person’s actions or responses by using the tool as a paraphrasing guide. This leads to deeper understanding and a connection that builds cohesive relationships. This is a practice to get to the heart of the matter – building trust through conversation.

Self-awareness

Self-awareness is the foundational skill of developing Emotional Intelligence. There are many ways to practice. Examining our mindset is one. Seeking to understand is another. Meditation – interrupting our hard-wired automatic pattern of stimulus and response through training our attention – is an additional way.

Self-awareness is the abilty to recognize the self as separate from the environment. Because of the way our brain is patterned, it is impossible to see ourselves objectively until we are taught how, and we practice. Until then, we see “our” story as “THE” story. This limits our understanding of another’s perspective. We literally cannot comprehend it.

To survive, we develop ways of making sense of the world – our subjective experience. We build this from birth. It helps us know ourselves. Yet, there comes a time when the limits of our subjective experience become a liability to leading. Self-awareness helps us see ourselves and our subjective experience more clearly.

Self-awareness is also uncomfortable. As we become aware, we realize all the ways we were blind before. We begin to understand that our way of interacting may have unintentionally harmed people.

I liken this to when I had young children and would yell at them. I would see the fear in their eyes. Horrified, I tried to stop, but the automatic pattern I had built up to yell when overwhelmed took over. I had to meditate, practice something new, and literally rewire my brain to stop this pattern. I still yell, but I catch myself more quickly and work in the moment to repair the broken trust.

Self-awareness for me caused discomfort and defensiveness. I knew I was being disruptive, but still could not stop it. This part sucked.

As very few of us have been explicitly taught how to have a productive dialogue, or deal with our overwhelming feelings, revealing anything other than our thoughts and then taking action can feel extremely vulnerable. The Mush Separator provides a transferable tool to learn about the self and then use what you learn in conversation to build trust between people.

Basic Needs

After food, water, and shelter on Maslow’s hierarchy, humans have three basic needs to thrive: safety, connection, and dignity. Though beyond the scope of this article (see my science of somatics article), these basic needs drive our behavior.

All biological systems desire to move toward health. We just might not have been taught how.

Sometimes our early family systems are anything but healthy. Yet we implicitly learn how to be in the world through their example. They teach us how to treat others and our self. They teach us how to get results in conversation or relationship. And they teach us what trust is, even if real trust is not present.

We then bring these skills and definitions to all the subsequent systems in our lives. So, do the other people we interact with. The Mush Separator levels the playing field by providing a way to understand, interact with, and resolve intra- and inter-personal disruptions.

The Mush

Let me take you through a scene. A man named James, about 32 years old, is at work at his computer in his office cubicle. He is listening to music via headphones. A woman named Kristie, about the same age, approaches him on his left, holding a green folder and a cup of coffee. She leans over. Her face is about 8” from his face. She looks at James and says, “Hey.” She keeps looking at him for about 3 seconds until he takes his earphones out.

James replies in a drawn out, “What?”

Kristie, “You didn’t do these.” Showing him papers from her folder.

James looks back at his computer, points to his computer, and says, “Yeah, I’m really busy right now.” He begins typing.

Kristie, “I gave them to you a week ago.”

James still typing says, “I’ve been really busy for the last week actually.”

Another man named Rob, also around the same age, arrives. He too has a cup of coffee. He takes a sip and then leans down so his face is about 8” from James right side.

Kristie says to Rob, “He didn’t do these.”

Rob says looking at James and then his computer, “What do you mean you didn’t do these?”

James looks at Rob. “I’ve had a lot on my shoulders, on my plate, the last week.” And looks back at his computer.

Rob, “For who?”

James looking at Kristie and then back at Rob and leaning back in his chair a bit, “For various people around the office.”

Rob, “We needed those reports.”

Kristie, “A week ago.

Triggers

As you can imagine, James is probably triggered right now. Two people who rely on his work are crowding him and telling him he is a week late on work for them, when he is already busy with other work.

Situations that cause disruption to our patterns of thinking and being, and cause uncertainty in our approach or response, have the potential to trigger us.

A trigger response is a reaction in the physiological system to an experience that takes us out of our form of balance. Remember, everyone has different filters, so everyone will react differently to stimuli. Some people may get very quiet and stew internally. Others may be more expressive – raising their voice or becoming more animated. We all have patterns. If we work with people long enough, we notice their patterned response.

The Mush Separator is a tool to practice turning reactive action – which erodes trust, into effective action – that is trust building.

Separating the Mush

Mush happens when we react – we get triggered by an experience – then get flooded and overwhelmed. We lose choice in our response. Our thoughts, feelings and what we want become tangled and mushy.

We react with what we have practiced to date. Historical patterns of action that we learned in our early family system. These patterns were important in the past as they maintained our particular version of safety, connection, and dignity. These patterns may no longer be useful to us, may even cause harm, but we don’t know what else to practice.

When we get flooded and react, the prefrontal cortex – the zone of critical thinking and choice in our brain – literally goes offline for about 90 minutes. We can justify our response with data – usually blaming someone else for something – therefore we think we are thinking. But really, we are reacting.

Culturally, we have been taught to move from stimulus to response. We begin with thinking, “The reports aren’t done yet….” And then move to action, “You blew it. We needed those reports a week ago!” Before and in between these statements is a lot of information that can build trust in any system, and especially complex systems.

stimulus and response

The Mush Separator helps create space between stimulus and response, lets us digest our experience by separating our thoughts, emotions, motivations, and actions. It provides an alternate path to reactivity. Here is the model:

mush separator

With this model, we begin with sensory data: what did we see, hear, feel, or say that brought on our feeling of triggered. Sensory data is indisputable facts that a video camera or a microphone would pick up. Sensory data could also reference an internal sensation that an EKG machine might pick up or someone may notice like, “My heart rate went up.” Or “My hands became clammy.” Or “My face felt hot and red.” This is all data we pick up from our senses.

We then share our thoughts. In our conversations, we often start and end with this. It comes easy for us usually. At first, we will likely get thoughts confused – and as you will see in the example – with feelings.

There is a saying, feelings – have them before they have you. When we name our feelings, they become less strong. Yet we are rarely in a practice of knowing or naming our feelings. For practice, we start with four choices mad, sad, glad, or afraid. Eventually, after you practice for a while, you can graduate to using other feelings, but for now stick with these. It just makes the whole thing a lot easier – and a bit more risky as we cannot disguise the feeling of mad with annoyed or frustrated. We have to say mad, which can be disruptive to us and others.

The next step is to state our intention, motivation, desire, or hopes. This is usually our secret. And rarely shared. It can also be hard to decipher. And it is essential to the success of this skill. It helps us and others understand where we are coming from and why we are taking this particular action.

Lastly, we can move on to action. Usually this is what we wanted to say in the beginning, but after travelling though the mush separator, it may be softened as we begin to understand ourselves and others better.

Let’s walk through what the Mush Separator might look like for James:

Beginning with sensory data: “I was working and listening to music. Then you two show up about 8” from my face holding beverages and telling me I didn’t do some reports.”

Then we move to one of the three segments in the middle circle: thoughts, feelings, or intentions.

For James we will start with thoughts, “I have a lot going on. You never told me when or why they were needed. So, I focused on other things that had clear deadlines.”

Then to feelings, “I am mad…”

Back to thoughts, ‘…because I was interrupted and spoken to like this.”

Feelings, “And I’m sad…

Thoughts again, “… for being criticized for not doing something that was not clearly outlined.”

Now onto intentions, motivations, and desires, “My desire is to be supportive of all the people that ask for my help and to be given clear descriptions of expectations.”

Finally, to action, “Can you tell me what is going on the why I need to put this in front of other requests?”

mush separator james

As you can see, it got a bit mushy in there as feelings travel in groups. We are likely not purely sad or mad. We are probably both for different reasons. We are likely even glad – that they brought this to our attention, and maybe afraid – that we didn’t do our job.

Our underlying desire, motivation or intention is likely noble, but the presenting behavior to others can be perceived as sneaky or disrespectful. Therefore, sharing our intention is paramount – and also the hardest part of the model for most people – to helping others understand us.

To complete the loop, Rob and Kristie would walk us through their experiences as well. With the hope that all would feel heard, understood, and new guidelines would be put in place to mitigate future disrupted expectations.

Using Mush Separator makes a good leader a great leader. It helps weave relationships of understanding. It creates less opportunity for us to be reactive as we understand people better, and they understand us. This foundation builds strong and resilient cultures – whether in a business, family system, or community – that can withstand change and disruption with grace. Leaving the people or group feeling stronger than before.

If you need help discovering your intention, or separating your thoughts, invite perspective. We love wading through the mush with people.

Foundations in Building Strong Cultures

Diagnosing an Intervention – The Waterline Model

When problems arise – in an organization, family system, or community – people tend to look at an individual as the source of the challenge. They confront, question, or judge a person for their behavior, when there is usually more to the story than the person and their actions.

In 1970 edition of the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, Roger Harrison wrote about the Waterline Model. Harrison designed the model to assist people diagnosing where to intervene within an organizational system. Yet any, even the family system, can benefit from its structure.

In some way, every system is working to complete a task. In a family system, maybe it’s feed the kids or get them off to college. In corporate system, the task tend to be financial or product driven. In a community, the task could be the elevate the communication capabilities of all members.

Along the path, all systems run into challenges. Challenges are great way to build capacity individually and as a system, if we diagnose the right problem.

When we begin to look around for disruption to our task, we have been culturally trained to look for the individual who is causing trouble. Whether we learned this in our family system, “Who spilled the milk?” “It was Jamie.” Or in school, “Who threw that paper airplane?” “It was Chris.”

Though these people did spill the milk or throw the airplane, and we believe they are to blame, before we yell, criticize, or punish, Harrison suggests we snorkel before we deep dive.

waterline model new 2018

Balance

In any system, a certain amount of maintenance or attention to relationship is needed to balance the task. Our emotions, though greatly stifled in our current cultural paradigm, are an important part of how we feel satisfaction in the world. Emotions are often the first experience brushed aside in service of accomplishing something. “I feel confused, but we have to finish this task. I don’t want to ask again for clarity as I am afraid they will think I am dense (disruptive, annoying, and so on).”

This has mixed results. We might accomplish an outcome which is often rewarded. Yet, focusing only on task – which is tangible, logical, and gets noticed – creates a lot of water under the bridge.

In the above example, the spilled milk or the airplane, Jamie or Chris can get a consistent message that they are the problem. But who put the milk on table? Could it have been in a smaller container? And why was there time to create an airplane? The lesson might not be as engaging as we hoped. These observable behaviors give us clues that something more is at play.

Relationship mishaps, that in the moment could easily be resolved with a little interpersonal communication, intra-personal skill, and some courage to break patterns, often get pushed aside for when we have time. We miss out on relationship in service of getting things done. It is like saying, “I will sit by the fire and put my feet up when I have done _______ or have ______ number of dollars in the bank.”

Tending to purpose, relationship, and dynamics takes time, desire, and some skill. This is time that can be spent doing something we have been trained to do: accomplish a task.

Yet, when people spend time maintaining the relationship, along with accomplishing the task, the doing happens faster (after initial effort), is more satisfying (after safe and bold conversations), and produces results that leave a lasting impact on the bottom line. People are more connected and more satisfied. This weaves a web that builds strong cultures.

Dropping Below the Waterline

When things are going smoothly, we rarely recalibrate to purpose, clarify roles, or dissect group dynamics. When things go wrong, we look for the person responsible. Deep diving to the intra-personal – within one person – and scapegoating that person as the anchor of the problem. Think Jamie or Chris.

Though one person can be the problem, it is wise to check your line by returning the surface before you stay in the depths too long.

Purpose – Vision and Mission

Clarifying purpose is the place to start. If the vision and mission are clear, people all over the organization will be able to draw a line to how their work is contributing to that end. If people do not know the vision and mission, you may have people in your organization all operating under their own vision and mission and losing site of being a team and working toward a common purpose.

If there is no rememberable or recitable vision or mission, or if it is flat – has lost its motivating factor – it may be time to revitalize or renew the vision and mission. Even if the vision and mission still seems compelling, clarifying if all are on the same page is always a good place to start. It reminds us why we began this adventure and gives us firm connection from which we can swim into deeper water.

Roles and Goals

The next place to look is at roles and goals. Though this model begins at the top and moves down, it is not hierarchical. It does not have to begin with the boss. We believe leadership must happen in every role. Using the waterline model can help not only the leader of a system, but the members, diagnose where to intervene.

Roles and goals are guidelines for how this person/these people will meet the vision and mission. Occasionally, our individual vision of our role or goals differ from the organizations. At other times, people have piled tasks onto a role that make the water cloudy and prevent a person from doing what they are hired to do.

When there is a disruption in the task, and subsequently we feel confused or overworked, we revisit the division of roles in the system and how those roles help us achieve the vision and mission. We can then shift our expectations, the role and goals, or recommit.

Confusion about roles and goals is common. Things move fast these days and people need to be nimble. Confusion tells us there is a break down in communication. When we intervene at this level of the waterline, we help alleviate individual power plays and hurt feelings, get people in the role that best serves them and the organization, and efficiently tick away at the task.

Group Dynamics

If roles and goals are clear, we move onto group dynamics. These are the norms of a group. Norms of behavior are consistently practiced – implicitly or explicitly – modes of interaction between people and within an organization. They define HOW interaction happens. They are comprised of how we include others, influence, make decisions, rely on each other – or not, how we give and receive feedback, and manage conflict.

Very few systems are explicit about their group dynamics. Most organizations do not make the connection between their implicit group dynamics and individual and organizational challenges. This is where we get into murky water. Implicit norms exist in every system. Healthy norms weave a strong culture. Unhealthy norms harm culture.

Group dynamics can be hard to diagnose. They require observation and curiosity. Then the application of explicit and healthy ways of managing the common mishaps of relationships.

To create healthy norms, teaching skills and practicing them is essential. Helping people learn how to listen effectively, give and receive feedback, and manage a difficult conversation are the foundations of healthy group dynamics.

When people have the same method for moving through an anxiety producing situation, they can feel safe and settle. They know the structure, and how they are supposed to be and what to do in the situation. They know the other person has the same structure. This makes a normally unpredictable situation, more predictable. People can relax and focus on the other person. They can let go of needing to protect and defend themselves.

To establish these practice takes time and consistent effort. It is much easier and quicker to blame a person and have them be the scapegoat. When they leave the organization we find relief, but then later recognize the problems still exist. We then deep dive again, trying to find another person to blame.

Sorting out messy, implicit group dynamics and making them clear and explicit takes longer than blaming one person. Yet, it sets the foundation for a level of interaction that far outperforms other systems, making it a place people want to work as it impacts their whole life in a positive way, not only their job.

Interpersonal and Intra-personal

Sometimes an organization has done their work. They understand the balance between task and maintenance, and have explicitly or implicitly created a system that feels safe and clear. This may be because the leader is clear or there are people who have been in the organization a long time, they know the ropes and things run smoothly.

But let’s say the organization is growing or people are leaving and there is an influx of new staff. These changes may cause churn even if the water is clear above. We might have become so practiced in our actions and norms that we don’t remember to teach them to new people. We may have had staff that just “got it” and the new people are from a different generation or culture.

We must then educate and mentor all people in the ways of the organization. Once people are explicitly engaged in reciprocal learning to blend their skills, views, and culture with the organizations, tasks will likely run smoothly.

Disruptions at this level occur between two people – interpersonal – or within one person – intra-personal. Interpersonally, two people can have different skillsets. They may come from different backgrounds and we must do some translating to help them talk with each other. They could also be two people with very different personal styles like introvert/extrovert in communication or compete/avoid in conflict. These styles can be worked through with active listening, focused time together, and with the help of a third party to paraphrase when the situation gets hot.

On the intra-personal level – where we normally deep dive to, maybe our individual vision has outgrown the organizations vision. We want the system to take certain steps that it is not ready to take. We may need to revisit our employment or create something new. Or we may be having disruptions in our family life or health that is impacting our ability to participate in the way we have learned. We could lack the technical skills. Or be unaware of the impact we are having on others.

In each of these situation, we need to inquire with individuals directly using our active listening skills to understand what they might be facing. Then, we can show compassion and focus our supportive attention on helping these individuals integrate (or not) into the organization.

Conclusion

The Waterline model helps take something confusing – diagnosing a complex system – and gives us a guide to help that system become healthy and efficiently productive. Using the waterline gives us a leg up professionally. It allows us to name patterns within organizations we may feel but not know how to speak about. It helps us get out of the cycle of blame and get into a productive and long lasting cycle of connection. It provides a time-tested structure to identify challenges and take good care of people in the process.

If you need more information, guidance, or support, invite perspective. We love to get into the water, murky or not, to help you achieve your vision.

 

Foundations of Leadership Development: Part One

The Beginning: Mindset and Skillset

To be a leader, we believe there is a foundational set of skills needed to navigate the complexities of  business, social, and cultural challenges in today’s world. These foundational skills allow a person to be a flexible leader. One who has access to the best of themselves and has the ability to bring out the best in others.

The best may not always be a smiling face. Occasionally you might need to get into an argument with another person to stand for your point of view. In this situation, it is good to know what is at stake for you and what your options are in managing conflict. These are skills you learn in our courses.

This foundational skillset will allow you to take appropriate action, behave in productive ways, and increase your strategic capabilities when dealing with common challenges that occur in any group.

Though to apply the skillset associated with conflict for example, you must also have a mindset that conflict is productive.

Mindset is a series of beliefs, mental models, and personal narratives you have about the way the world is or should be. If you have the mindset that conflict is scary, it is unlikely you will apply the skillset as you are habituated to avoiding conflict.

This mindset has served you over the years. You have developed a competency, a skillset, around your mindset to avoid, deflect, or diffuse conflict. This skillset may be useful in many situations. Yet, as a leader in a complex world, you may need to expand your skillset to have more choices in how you manage conflict and shift your mindset to accepting conflict as a method of engagement to make the skillset possible.

Leadership

We believe “leadership is a process of social influence where one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task.”[1] Nowhere in this definition does it mention that you must have a certain role to be a leader.

In healthy systems, leaders are everywhere. They are not the oligarchical leaders who command and control. They are the flexible leaders mentioned above. The leaders who have choices in their mindset and skillset and use these choices to create the best outcomes from every situation – even if they are not faced with good choices.

As leaders, there are choices we make all day long to drive the business need. We also – whether we are conscious of it or not – make choices to drive the relationship needs. These choices can sometimes be at odds.

Be speedy but gather everyone’s opinion – means you may miss some perspectives, shorten some conversations, cut some corners in relationship to satisfy the goal of speed. Or the opposite – spend too much time mired in the relationship and neglect to finish on time.

These are called competing commitments. They can range from disturbingly complex to mindbogglingly simple. As a leader, we must become aware of and comfortable with this tension to successfully navigate any business.

Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset – Implicit Bias

To be a leader in the world, and socially influence others through balancing business and relationship needs, we must be influencable. A growth mindset is required.

A fixed mindset means we believe there is only one way to do something and if we cannot achieve it that way, it cannot be done. Failure is not an option.

A growth mindset allows for flexibility in the way something gets done. This promotes innovation, failure, and alternative ways of doing and being.

What each individual believes to be possible is shaped by their early lived experiences. We see the world through a particular lens. Everyone’s lens is unique to them, though they may contain similarities of experience, we can never have the same exact perspective – even if we are identical twins from the same family.

This shaping is called implicit bias. We all have one. A blind spot. Through having a growth mindset, we can learn about our lens. When our mindset is fixed, we are limited in what we learn about our self, others, or the world. This leads to a general sense of distrust of people and systems.

Because our response to any situation is based on our mindset, skillset, and implicit biases, we have limited capabilities. We can expand these capabilities, expand our lens, and decrease our bias through the practice of directing our attention.

Directing Our Attention – Commitment

When we direct our attention somewhere, energy follows. If I ask you to place your attention on your feet. You will likely feel something in your feet. This is the power of our attention.

Was there something happening in your feet all along or did you manifest that through your attention? The answer is both.

Most of us do not actively direct our attention anywhere other than to a task. We let the relationship aspects of our life move through our minds like wildfires. Burning, disrupting, and challenging our belief in our self, others, and the world. We have no way to understand how the fire got started nor contain the fire.

Commitment, goals, objectives are helpful ways of directing our attention, but focusing these goals on the relationship aspect of being a balanced leader is rarely done well. We must commit to not only the task, but the relationship as well.

Mastery

To grow as a leader, we often travel through some very uncomfortable stages when mastering certain concepts. First, we are unconsciously incompetent – we don’t even know we don’t know something.

Then we gain awareness and become consciously competent. This part is painful. As we expand the lens through which we see the world and subsequently reflect on our lives. When we do this, we see the times when we moved through the world unconscious. This can lead to regret and a strong desire to hide; coupled with a knowing that repair is possible through the new skills we are learning.

The next stage is consciously competent. This means we are actively directing our attention via our commitment to mastering a certain skill. We are open to learning from others. We are settled with making mistakes because we know where we are headed.

Eventually, depending on how much we practice, we achieve an unconscious competence. This is where we use the skills and have the mindset without needing to think very much about it. A lovely place to be. And we become more comfortable knowing that growth happens all throughout our lives. Which means sooner than we like we will be back at unconscious incompetence.

Practice

To grow into the leader we hope to become takes practice. We must name a growth state – a commitment. We must know why it is important to get there. We must know what it will look like when we arrive. And then we must practice. Which means occasionally failing.

This is where a supportive community comes into play. Whether this is a family system, a faith community, a workplace, or a neighborhood, if we practice in a place where others are also learning, we can catalyze something very few people ever get to feel – a growth culture.

When we are in a culture that encourages growth, we all exponentially boost our learning capability. Our neural networks work not only through practice of the skills our self and the shifting of our mindset. They also work limbically through our mirror neurons. If we are committed to something deeply important to our growth, and so are others in our community, together we build the neural capacity for collective growth.

We forward our ability through community. We become leaders with social influence not only with what we do and say, but also with simply who we are. Now this is powerful leadership.

This builds the body and mind of a leader who can stand in the face of disruption, make choices, build relationships, and achieve the tasks at hand.  This is the leader the world needs.

[1] Chemers, Martin M. An Integrative Theory of Leadership. 1997: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Marwah, NJ.