What do you love?

What do you love?

Two steps toward leadership mastery.

This morning, as I was driving home from the eye doctor – grateful for their ability to help me have clear vision – I thought, “I love seeing the leaves on the trees.”

During my mental proclamation, my heart opened, and I realized – once again – that love comes in many forms.

Here is a little background. When I was eight, my Mom took me to the eye doctor for the first time because I was having trouble seeing the board at school. Turns out, I needed glasses. When I received the glasses and we stepped outside, I said, “Mommy, there are leaves on the trees!” She felt terrible for all those years that she had not noticed I couldn’t see. I felt amazing because suddenly I could see the world in a whole new way.

It seems for me, the eye doctor is a portal to heart opening. I am grateful everyday I put my glasses on and the world comes into high relief!

If you have never felt your heart open, or don’t know what I am talking about, or it seems like new-age bull$&#! – let me tell you, you are missing out!

Heart opening has the power to help us see the world in a whole new way.

An open heart feels almost painful for me. I feel tension over my chest – as if my heart were expanding and moving forward. Tears come easy when I have an open heart. Sometimes it feels painful to swallow. I can FEEL my chest in a whole new way.

Our ability to feel our heart open is all tied up in our brain, body, and emotions. When we can choose to open our heart, we have a secret power.

The secret power is the connection to our humanity – a deep empathy for all other beings through the ability to remove the armor around our heart.

Heart armoring happens. Our body, brain, and emotions work together to protect us from harm – emotional, physical, or psychological pain. When our heart is armored, it is hard for us to feel love and the humanity of other people.

To a degree, we have all armored our hearts. It is implicitly required to operate in the world. Yet, it is not mandatory.

Sometimes you may have felt your heart open unexpectedly when you see a commercial that is a “tearjerker” or a movie that stirs you or even something more personal.

Heart opening happens. The choice to open your heart is the key here. Do you know how? Once you know, you are no longer missing out.

Here are two steps toward an open heart:

  1. Gratitude. Be grateful. It is an awesome way to open your heart. Offer someone in your life heart-felt gratitude for the gifts they bring to your world. Even if it’s the post person. People impact you. Can you let them in through gratitude? If you can’t, let’s talk.
  2. Awareness. Get clear about what your chest area feels like in this moment. Now, try to soften it. Use your breath. Try taking seven deep breaths using no muscles. Simply inhale – this is a very difficult practice for most. Notice what muscles you use to breathe. The only muscle we need to use to breathe is the diaphragm – a thin, circular muscle that horizontally spans the base of your rib cage from front to back and side to side. Most people use their neck, shoulders, chest, and back muscles. This is part of how you armor. Notice it. Be grateful for the ways these muscles have protected your heart and offer them a break.

When we take time to learn the unique way our heart opens and can choose to open our hearts, we have a secret power. Practice opening your heart. You will be amazed at the results.

Being a great leader comes through choice. Being able to choose to open our heart is leadership mastery.

 

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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.

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.

 

Being a Professional is about Presence

The other day I was listening in on a call between my client and her teacher. This teacher was my teacher too a half decade ago. I was asked to be there by my client as another ear. In the event of an interpersonal gap, I would translate what each of them said in a language they could both understand.

There were times in the conversation when one or the other was talking where I became confused. My job is to use myself as a diagnostic tool within a system. When I feel confused, I check in with myself. Did I disassociate? Is this triggering an emotion or a memory in me? Am I feeling centered and connected to my role and my purpose? Am I still confused?

There were times when I was truly confused about their points. I would then actively listen by asking clarifying questions. Draw attention to the purpose of the call. Paraphrase what one said and ask if I got that right. Helping them deepen and clarify what it was they were trying to say.

At the end of the call, we evolved the issue, finding resolution in parts and creating a deeper understanding in others.

A few days later, I received an email from my teacher. He said that I was “very professional” on the call. I was “open-hearted, direct, and helped create openings” for the client.

I was pleased with the feedback, that was my experience as well. What struck me was the word professional.

Being a professional means many things. Wikipedia says a professional is someone with standards of education and training that prepare them for a particular activity which requires a specific set of knowledge and skills necessary to perform their role.

I define professional as someone who knows themselves – where they are going and how to get there. Can generate genuine curiosity for the path of others, where they learn about themselves or their profession through the process of relationship. And who have the ability to see the larger context at play in any situation.

On paper, I have been a professional for a long time. I learned knowledge and skills to apply to a particular activity. Yet, to be very good at my job, I had to BE-come a professional with my presence.

As a leadership coach and organizational development consultant, I help systems move toward health. Whether an internal system within an individual or a larger system of a family or organization.

All of these systems want to live in harmony with the world around it, like an untouched eco-system. Problem is sometimes even an untouched eco-system gets input from the world that a change needs to take place. Change is not usually something we enter into voluntarily, as most change creates chaos.  Because of this, we shy away. What helps is when there is someone to hold the chaos. That is my job. I am a professional chaos holder.

Holding chaos is a learned experience. Yet there are some skills, knowledge, and mindsets that make holding the chaos easier. I teach these.

We begin with an inquiry into self. Through this inquiry we find our place. Where we are starting from and where we want to go. From there we learn how to read the signals of the path and intervene with genuine curiosity. Then, we learn how to hold those view points and move toward our hoped for result.

Through these practices, we can voluntarily enter into a conversation with a system. We can take calculated risks to shift the holding pattern it is stuck in. This holding pattern can be within an individuals body or a larger system. Shifting this holding pattern allows the system to see and feel itself differently. This creates an opening to change that allows the system to move toward health.

Come learn how to BE a professional in any profession by understanding and using your presence. Invite perspective.

Meditation

Understanding the Body and the Mind

Objective:

  • Practice focusing the attention and observing the mind and the body.

Goal:

  • To have the power to choose where and on what we place our attention by observing and understanding the sensations of the body and their impact on the mind.
  • To understand the self – our foundational thought and sensation patterns – and our triggers more intimately to be in choice over what we respond to and how we respond.
  • Ultimately, to expand our capacity and awareness of the self, others, and the world around us.

Timeline:

  • Between 5 and 20 minutes.

Tasks:

  • Observe the breath by focusing attention on the rising and falling of the chest or belly, or the more advanced version of noticing the sensation of the in and out breath on the place below the nostrils and above the upper lip.

Instructions:

  • Find a comfortable place to sit where you can keep your back straight and relaxed.
  • A quite environment is preferable.
    • Many choose to meditate in the early morning before others have woken and begin to stir or at night for the same reasons.
    • Your car or your office can also work well.
  • Close your eyes.
    • This will help manage your attention from getting distracted by external stimuli.
    • It will help you focus on observing how distracting your internal world can be.
  • Notice what muscles you contract while breathing. Relax them. Notice when they become engaged. Again, relax them. You are moving toward effortless breathing.
  • You will notice your mind is “busy”. The goal is observation of the mind, not cessation of thought.
    • This is our brain at work. This is its job. You are to notice how you think, how your mind works.
    • You are to remain unattached to the thoughts. You are NOT to follow them. You will come up with some compelling and amazing ideas. DO NOT FOLLOW THEM. They will come back to you.
    • When you notice that you are thinking, label it by saying “Thinking.” Be gentle with yourself. And return to observing the sensation of the breath.
  • Stay in the practice for the entire time of your commitment.
  • If strong and overwhelming emotions arise and are destabilizing or hard to come back from, contact me or a trauma trained therapist.