Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Where Are You On The Ask-Tell Spectrum?

The leader of the past knew how to tell, the leader of the future will know how to ask, wrote Peter Drucker.

Leaders, I’m telling you  – get asking now.   It will transform engagement, creativity and performance.  

With the complexity of issues facing society and the urgency of our sustainability agenda, you must move this muscle.

It is hugely encouraging when we see leaders transform through the simple and profound act of re-learning the skill of asking.   The difference it makes was clearly illustrated the other week on our leadership programme, when we started one cohort and finished another.  The new group was tasked with a discussion about future trends but was unable to progress beyond their own agenda.  The other group however, equipped with new awareness and skills in dialogue was able to execute a challenge in record time, with high engagement and satisfaction, through doing more enquiry than advocacy.

Leaders, you are sought for your answers, advice, opinions and wisdom.  We want to hear from you. We need to hear from you.   But if you are not aware, you can tip the balance and obstruct real discovery, learning and progress.  Halpern (2003) writing about clinical empathy, points outs that “doctors learn to suppress curiosity in order to take rapid, standardized histories”.   This gets in the way of doctors developing an empathetic relationship with their patients, something which is shown to lead to better patient outcomes.  We can all find ourselves doing something similar - perhaps using the excuse of time and task to squash our humanness to keep things manageable, rather than taking the more courageous step of opening up to real connection, understanding and change.

When we do connect with our innate curiosity and ability to ask questions,  transformation happens.  We open to another world, that of the other.  We see new perspectives, ideas, thoughts and possibilities. We no longer seek to control but seek to explore.    

We know it from our personal lives. At the dinner table, too much of the story teller, the expert or the talker becomes a monotonous meal instead of a delicious dinner conversation.   Asking and telling – it is part of the simple beauty of engaging with another and the interactive dance between human beings. 

Effective questioning as a result of deep listening and interest is also at the core of coaching: it helps raise the other’s self awareness and is fundamental to unleashing their potential.   Through powerful and pertinent questioning we draw out the other’s resourcefulness and sense of responsibility.  We help them generate their own options and solutions, instead of ‘clipping their wings’ or creating a sense of dependency by confining them to our answer or view of the world.  Such an approach drives at the heart of real dialogue and is crucial for partnership working and achieving sustainable development goals.

So what can you do right now?  As a first step, bring awareness to where you and your team are on the ask-tell spectrum.  Pay attention to where you default to under stress or time constraints,  and observe the energy and quality in your conversations.

And reconnect with your own childhood curiosity using the inspiration of Rudyard Kipling who, being well aware of the power and magnificence of questions, wrote in The Elephant’s Child (1902),

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

This is a revised version of a previous posting in April 2012.
Thanks to Gareth Hall for the cartoon
Halpern, J (2003) What is clinical empathy? , Journal of General Internal Medicine, Vol. 18,  670-674

Friday, April 22, 2016

Earth Day

Today is Earth Day.  But of course every day is earth day.  

Here is something to contemplate.

Activist and author Naomi Klein tells a story about the time she travelled to Australia at the request of Aboriginal elders. They wanted her to know about their struggle to prevent white people from dumping radioactive wastes on their land.

Her hosts brought her to their beloved wilderness, where they camped under the stars. They showed her "secret sources of fresh water, plants used for bush medicines, hidden eucalyptus-lined rivers where the kangaroos come to drink." 

After three days, Klein grew restless. When were they going to get down to business?

"Before you can fight," she was told, "you have to know what you are fighting for."

I retold this story to a company recently as part of a pitch for working with sustainability managers.  Suffice to say, it wasn’t appreciated.  “As a person I get it, but it is not appropriate in this context” we were told.

Nature is worth saving for its own sake.  If we as humans want to co-exist, we need to realise our connectivity with it.  We can so easily disconnect ourselves, particularly if we are sitting in an office feeling far removed.   It can bypass us that everything around us is born from the earth, that everything we do has an effect.  To ponder on the raw materials and production processes, that made this city, this chair, this cup of coffee, one can only be humbled and awed at the gifts of nature and the ingenuity of people, and be pained at the impact we have.

The path to sustainability or a more respectful co-existence with the earth, is a spectrum.  At one end, are the companies who adopt sustainable practices as a legal obligation.  For others, it is purely a profit-driven motive, a strategic approach for survival.  Along the continuum is recognition that there is shared value in a balance (good for business, good for society).  At best,  a systemic approach, one that recognises the interrelationship between economic, social and environmental elements, is taken.

We can only do this if individually, we become more conscious of our own actions, and our sense of belonging in the world around us.   This collective sense of interconnectedness will help our communities and companies make more earth responsible decisions.

There are numerous ways and experiences that we can draw on to nurture this.  Here is one...mindful walking.  As Thich Nhat Hanh said,  'Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.'


Naomi Klein story (tinyurl.com/5q84zh) as told in R. Brezny (2009) Pronoia is the Antitode of Paranoia, North Atlantic Books, page 76

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

What resources you?

I see my purpose as a coach and consultant to support others feel and be more resourceful.

So as a participant on a workshop recently, I appreciated that one of their opening questions to the group was... "What resources you"?

To reflect on that is resourcing in itself.  

We remind ourselves of what energises us, refuels and recharges us.  We actually feel better by remembering and definitely more so by actually doing that very thing.  

We have an innate wisdom to seek and do what resources us.  It’s called life.  And it’s deeply personal and particular to each of us. We notice in our bodies what and who brings us alive.  What helps us function effectively and make us feel good and whole.  What stops us from feeling depleted and fills us up when we do.  These buffer us to weather storms. They are the strategies we adopt to overcome difficulties.  They build our resilience and feed our soul.  In times of stress we can draw on them to offer immediate relief and perspective, but engage in them as part of our lives, out of sheer joy and love.    

The external act of resourcing enables us to access our internal resources. This is its real value. The more we are conscious of what we tap into, the more we can nurture that strength, that quality and integrate it into our daily being. For me, what a colleague referred to as ‘filling up the energy box’ is meditation and being in nature. Meditation helps me feel aware, balanced, at home with paradox.  This aids me in change and ambiguity.   So I give priority to meditating twice a day.  In a heated moment, it is enough to access those inner qualities by a pause and coming into presence.  Similarly being in nature is deeply resourcing for me.  It makes me feel more connected and free.   This helps me be centred and deal with complexity.  Even if I cannot be deep in mother nature, I can imagine it or reflect on the natural form of what is around me – which facilitates a sense of that same interconnectivity.   

Reflect on what resources you.   Fiercely protect that very thing and go easy on yourself when you can’t.  What you need is within you.

photo: own of my gorgeous sister Hannah, in Paradise.