Why We Must Learn to Be Uncomfortable

Be Bad First

Learn to Be Uncomfortable

One of the most important skills today is the ability to be comfortable with being a novice. The world is changing so fast that new skills and knowledge make all of us feel uncomfortable. Embracing our inner novice, being comfortable with being uncomfortable, and accepting being bad at something on the way to mastering it is the most important way to stay ahead.

 

“The ability to learn quickly is the most important skill to have.” –Erika Andersen

 

So argues Erika Andersen in her latest book, Be Bad First: Get Good at Things FAST to Stay Ready for the Future.

Erika Andersen is the founding partner of Proteus, a firm that focuses on leader readiness. She’s the author of three other books:  Leading So People Will FollowBeing Strategic, and Growing Great Employees. All of her books are full of actionable advice from her three decades of advising and coaching executives.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Erika about her research into being comfortable with being continuously uncomfortable.

 

Be Bad First 

What does it mean to be bad first? 

It means being willing to go back to being a novice – to being not-good at new things – over and over again. As we move through our lives, it becomes increasingly challenging to accept the need to “be bad first.” We come to rely on and identify with our expertise; we get used to being treated as knowledgeable and experienced. To have to go back to being a beginner in order to acquire new skills and knowledge – especially in the public setting of work, in full view of our employees, bosses, and sometimes our customers – can be scary, embarrassing and frustrating. I wrote Be Bad First because I’ve come to believe that in order to succeed in this ever-changing world, you must be able to learn new things continuously and well – and that requires, among other things, getting good at being bad first.

 

“I am still learning.” -Michelangelo

 

There’s a generational change from Boomers and Gen-X to Millennials that is also at play. How do different generations react to this concept? 

Generally, we’ve found it’s somewhat easier for younger folks to be bad first in the service of learning new skills. They tend to be still in the process of developing their expertise and are often therefore less “stuck” in what they already know. Also, most Millennials have grown up experiencing daily change in technology, communication, society, and business – for them, keeping up with ever-accelerating change has been the norm for their whole lives. However, many Millennials have a hard time with other aspects of new learning – especially Aspiration and Neutral Self-Awareness.

 

4 Mental Skills for Learning

 

1. Develop Aspiration

Let’s talk about your ANEW concept. A, for Aspiration, is the first step.

The model at the core of Be Bad First consists of four mental skills for learning that we call ANEW: Aspiration, Neutral Self-Awareness, Endless Curiosity, and Willingness to Be Bad First. Becoming adept at these skills will allow you to be a high-payoff learner, a master of mastery.

Aspiration means, quite simply, wanting something that you don’t now have. In terms of learning, aspiration is key because we only learn the things we want to learn. For instance, you can say over and over that you want to learn Spanish – but if you don’t make the required effort, it means you don’t really want to do it.

 

“Great learners unearth and then build their aspiration.” –Erika Andersen

 

I believe we often tell ourselves we want to do things because we worry that if we don’t actually want to, there’s nothing we can do about it. Fortunately, that’s not true. You can change your level of aspiration: you can make yourself want to do something. The secret is to identify benefits that are personally motivating to you of doing or learning that thing, and then envisioning a future where you’re reaping those benefits. (You may have noticed that you do this automatically when you do want to do something.)

So for example, if you decided to ramp up your aspiration to learn Spanish, you’d think about ways in which you might benefit from doing that – and perhaps the one that really resonates for you is that it would enable you to be a part of the team that’s expanding your company into the Chilean market. You imagine yourself in a couple of years, on that team, living in Santiago and building new business. If that’s personally exciting to you, I suspect you’ll suddenly find yourself taking real steps to improve your Spanish.

By the way, the problem many Millennials have with Aspiration is their belief that wanting or not wanting to do things is permanent and unchangeable – and they tend to reinforce their not-wanting by saying things like “No, I don’t want to – it’s just not me.” However, I’ve worked with Millennials for whom the idea that they can consciously change their level of “wanting” is hugely liberating, once they accept it.

 

 2. Cultivate Neutral Self-Awareness

N, Neutral Self-Awareness. That one grabbed my attention. I think all of us have witnessed someone who is completely unaware of something – thinking they have a strength when everyone else knows it is a weakness. What’s the best way to see yourself objectively? 

Wonderful question! The place to start, when trying to become more neutrally self-aware, is to note how you’re talking to yourself about yourself. Our self-awareness (or lack thereof) lives in our mental monologue. We’re continually commenting on ourselves internally: I’m great at that – I’m terrible at that – I used to be good at that, but I’ve lost the knack – I’m terrified of trying new things – I don’t mind making mistakes – I’m a slow learner – I’m the smartest guy in the room – I already know that…. You get the idea. Sadly, this internal commentary can often be dead wrong – and we tend to accept it without question because it’s happening inside our own head, most often beneath our conscious awareness. It’s like subliminal advertising!Be Bad First

So the way to become more self-aware is to recognize and question what you’re saying to yourself about yourself. For example, let’s say your boss tells you that you need to get better at delivering tough news to your employees. Perhaps your first thought is, What? I’m good at that. I may not be as direct as my boss would like, but at least I don’t make my folks feel bad.

Once you notice that you’re saying this to yourself, rather than just accepting it as true, ask yourself, Is that accurate? That has the effect of taking you “off automatic” and causing you to examine your beliefs about yourself more consciously. You might then realize that you don’t really know if your self-talk is accurate. So then you ask yourself, What facts do I have in this area? You might then remember that one person on your team has been consistently missing deadlines, and you’ve been “waiting for the right time to mention it” for months. Or that quite often when you think you’re being clear with employees about changes you want them to make in their behavior, they don’t seem to get the message. Now your self-talk about where you’re starting from in this area might shift to something like, I can see my boss’ point – I don’t seem to be very good at communicating difficult messages in a way that works.

And you notice, in this example, that as your self-talk becomes more accurate, you’re more neutrally self-aware, and better able to understand and accept what you need to learn.

(Many Millennials have a hard time with this because their parents have told them they’re great at everything, so their self-talk about their current strengths and weaknesses in areas of new learning is both woefully inaccurate and somewhat “stuck.” However, this same approach to recognizing and managing their self-talk is equally effective if they buy the core premise of needing to get more neutrally self-aware.)

 

“Accurate self-talk frees the brain to focus on learning.” –Erika Andersen

 

3. Have Endless Curiosity

How to Build A Culture Primed to Perform

Primed to Perform

How do you create a culture that is primed to perform?

What does science say about changing organizational culture?

Is there any tool that can help measure and track your culture over time?

 

Build A Culture Designed to Perform

Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor have just written a book, Primed to Perform: How to Build the Highest Performing Cultures Through the Science of Total Motivation, that answers these questions and more. It is written as a guidebook for those who know how important a strong culture is, but they don’t know what steps to take to create one. I recently spoke with Neel and Lindsay to learn more.

 

“Culture is what tells your people why they should work.” -Doshi/McGregor

 

The Magic of a Great Culture

Often people think of culture as something that is like art, but you say that the “magic behind great culture is actually an elegantly simple science.” Tell us more about your research.

We all know that culture is important. We’ve felt it. Some cultures are filled with fear and stress, while others inspire creativity and enthusiasm. What has eluded us, however, is why. Our research provides an “elegantly simple” answer: culture is what tells your people why they should work, and why they work is what determines how well they work.

Here’s the kicker though: not all “whys” are created equal, and too often, cultures are designed to motivate using the destructive “whys.”

Our answer is not only elegantly simple, but also empirically powerful. Using our total motivation framework, we’ve measured the motives of over 20,000 people at more than 50 major institutions. We’ve observed an incredibly strong relationship between their culture and performance metrics like sales and customer experience. In one study, employees with high levels of total motivation (or ToMo for short) generated 38% more in revenues than their low ToMo counterparts.

Culture is an entirely quantifiable and engineerable asset—and the most important one. ToMo gives leaders the tools to unlock the highest levels of performance in their people and company.

 

“Why you work determines how well you work.” -Doshi/McGregor

 

Why You Work Determines How Well You Work

What is total motivation? How does this drive performance?

Total motivation is simply the notion that why you work determines how well you work. The effectiveness of the “why” depends on its distance from the work. Let’s take a mid-level management consultant for example:

Play is when you work for enjoyment of the work itself. Play is the most powerful motivator: twice as potent as purpose and almost three times more than potential. Our fearless consultant might enjoy conceptual thinking and the process of breaking down big puzzles into digestible, actionable pieces.

Purpose is when the outcome or impact of the work is why you do it: maybe she values seeing how a new strategy improves a client’s well-being and helps his customers.

Potential is when the work enables a future outcome aligned to your personal goals: she might want to manage operations at a big company or a company of her own down the line, and this job will help her achieve that.

 

“Culture can’t be managed by chance.” -Doshi/McGregor

 

How To Create An Optimistic Workplace

Optimistic Workplace

Make Work Happy

Do you want to create an optimistic workplace?

How does a strong purpose help in difficult times?

How do leaders set a positive leadership presence?

 

“The climate suffers when employees don’t believe their leader has their back.” –Shawn Murphy

 

My friend, author and speaker Shawn Murphy is the CEO & Founder of the leadership blog, Switch & Shift. His new book, The Optimistic Workplace, is a guide to creating and maintaining a powerful, positive, optimistic culture that creates results.

Previously, Shawn shared with us the powerful implications of positive, contagious emotions. I wanted to go deeper into the research for his new book, and so I asked Shawn to share more about the leadership insights he gained from decades of working with business leaders.

 

“Optimistic climates support employees’ exploration of purpose.” –Shawn Murphy

 

Find Your Purpose

I was fascinated by the research on eyeblinks. How does the eyeblink reflex relate to purpose?

Researchers used startle probes to measure the reflexive eyeblink caused by a stimulus, in the case of this research it was an image. The images ranged from positive, to neutral, to negative.

What researchers learned was the length of the eyeblink gave insight into the person’s emotional response to the pictures. The longer the eyeblink, the more unpleasant the response to the picture.

How this connects to purpose is that the researchers, Carol Ryff and team, found that those who had a clearer sense of purpose in life recovered faster from negative images. The research gets at a person’s resiliency. Purpose in life strengthens the core of our identity. The clearer our sense of purpose, the stronger our resiliency is; we can recover faster from negative stimulus in our life.

In a work context, we can summon our purpose to guide us through difficult times at work. It can also help us make better decisions, as purpose serves as a guide in decision making: Does this opportunity support my purpose?

 

“Resilience can be strengthened when a person has a sense of purpose.” –Shawn Murphy

 

Start Small to Cultivate Optimism

To cultivate optimism in the workplace, you say, “Start small,” and, “Forget about the ‘big bang.’” Most people who have a passion for culture want to jump right in with sweeping initiatives and major change. Why start small?

In my 20+ years as an organizational change management consultant and in leading change in my own company, I’ve learned that the big bang causes more confusion, comes across as rah-rah, and alienates people from what the change purpose and message is.

 

“Workplace optimism is the belief that good things will come from hard work.” –Shawn Murphy

 

So, rather go for broke, start small. Create a pocket of excellence. The change starts in a small group within the organization. The group is typically a supporter of the change. Let the small group experience success and gradually widen it to other pockets within the company.

Word of the success travels through networks of people. This approach organically builds support through achieved success and not through possible success. It’s the latter that is the focus of big bang change efforts. It’s what disillusions people about change efforts.

 

Research: You can transform the work experience by focusing on the best positive realities.

4 Secrets of Passionate Organizations

Performance Breakthrough

How to Create Performance Breakthroughs

 

How can your team reach its potential?

What if you could add a dose of passion to every member of your team?

How do you improve productivity and morale?

In his new book, Performance Breakthrough: The FOUR Secrets of Passionate Organizations, Mike Goldman reveals the four secrets for creating a more passionate organization. With 25 years of experience coaching organizations of all sizes, Mike Goldman has seen what works and what doesn’t. I recently spoke with Mike about how to create performance breakthroughs.

 

“The first step to a performance breakthrough is to accept that we are all different.”

 

Effective Techniques for Understanding

To treat others the way they want to be treated, we need to understand them. What techniques do you recommend to have someone listen and really understand someone in order to make secret one work?

I would recommend using three different techniques: asking, observing and assessing.

 

ASKING

Ask- Meet one-on-one with each team member to ask him or her about their values, motivations, and learning styles. Don’t come right out and ask, “What motivates you?” The answer you get won’t be very helpful since, chances are, your team member will just tell you what they think you’ll want to hear. You want to ask behavioral interviewing type questions like:

Think back to a time when you were incredibly motivated at work. What happened right before to make you feel that way?

Think of a time when you had to learn something new, and it just “clicked” for you. What method of learning did you use?

 

OBSERVING

Observe – Watch the individuals on your team during meetings, high-stress situations, and social situations and take note of their styles and reactions. Do they take the lead in meetings, or do they follow? Are they agreeable, or do they play devil’s advocate? Do they thrive under pressure, or wilt?

 

ASSESSING

Assess – Conduct behavioral and personality assessments: There are many good behavioral and personality assessments on the market, such as Innermetrix®, Profiles International®, DiSC®, etc. These assessments are typically very accurate and may give you and your employees important insight on their styles, talents, values, and motivations.

 

“Giving ownership enables people to reach their true potential.”

 

FOCUS ON STRENGTHS

7 Disciplines of A Leader

Positive reinforcement word Discipline engrained in a rock

How to Help Your People, Team, and Organization Achieve

In the Seven Disciplines of a Leader, Jeff Wolf explores what leadership looks like when done right. Jeff has coached hundreds of leaders and offers his disciplines in order to benefit leaders at all levels of the organization.  I recently talked with Jeff about the leadership disciplines discussed in his book.

 

“Companies place the wrong leadership in the job 82 percent of the time.” –Forbes

 

How to Get Noticed

What advice do you give to someone who wants to stand out and get noticed as a leader in a large organization?

Learn what your company looks for in its leaders. See if there’s a competency model that identifies successful leaders’ strengths and characteristics. Study this model and be sure to practice the competencies. If no such model exists, seek out successful company leaders and talk with them to gain a better understanding of how they became successful.

You should also volunteer to lead small projects, which will provide useful leadership experiences and exposure. You’ll gain confidence and enhance the skill sets that are weak.

Always be curious. Seek new opportunities and experiences, and always be open to trying something out of your normal comfort zone.

I would encourage budding and aspiring leaders to create a plan, put it in writing, and then “work it.” Research proves that people who put their goals in writing are usually more successful.

Read as many books and attend as many training courses as possible, both within and outside of the company. Vary courses so you can experience a broad spectrum of leadership skills.

 

“A leader’s upbeat attitude is contagious and lifts morale.” -Jeff Wolf

 

There’s another important challenge to overcome: Learn the areas in which you must improve because we all have blind spots. We see some of our weaknesses, but it’s truly impossible to identify all of them.

It’s important for leaders to be positive and have a great attitude because they can either impart or sap energy. A leader’s upbeat attitude becomes contagious, lifting the morale of those around them. You can always teach skills, but you cannot always teach people how to be positive; they either have a great attitude or they don’t.

Be sure you are striving to work well with others and be aware how other people view you. When you stand up to speak in front of a group, do you exude confidence, present articulate, clear messages, and carry yourself well?

 

Coaching for Success

What is the most common reason someone calls you for coaching?

Coaching used to be thought of as a tool to help correct underperformance or, as I often call it, the “broken wing theory.” Today, coaching is used to support leaders, employees with high potential, and top producers in an effort to enhance individual capabilities.

We work in such a high-speed environment! Organizations are finally beginning to recognize the importance of helping leaders achieve critical business objectives in the shortest possible time, so they’re hiring me to speed personnel development.

I’m often brought into organizations to deal with a number of leadership issues. Providing feedback is one key area. As leaders move into greater levels of responsibility, they receive less—perhaps even no—feedback from others on their performance. The unfortunate consequence is stagnation. Critical leadership and interpersonal skills often reach certain levels, and the leader is given no opportunity to become an even better leader. Working one-on-one with an objective third-party coach offers these leaders a trusted advisor who can focus on behavioral changes that organizations are ill equipped to handle. Coaching develops extraordinary leaders. Extraordinary leaders produce extraordinary business results.

 

Have a Quick Impact as a New Leader

If you are a new manager, what are a few ways to have a quick impact?

Leadership is not rocket science. It comes down to living and leading by the golden rule: Do unto others as you want them to do unto you.1119003954

People make companies. As leaders, we often spend most of our time on strategy and improving bottom-line results, but what about our people? It’s our job, as leaders, to guide them, help them develop more skills, and increase productivity.

I think Walt Disney put it perfectly: “You can dream, create and design the most wonderful place in the world….but it takes people to make the dream a reality.”

For a quick impact, work to understand what your people want, not just what you want, and act accordingly. Ask your staff for their feedback with questions such as:

  • What can I do to make you happier here?
  • What do you find challenging about your work?
  • What’s energizing about your work?
  • How can I be a better leader for you to be successful?
  • What resources do you need that you currently don’t have?
  • What motivates you to work hard?
  • Do you feel appreciated and receive the praise and recognition you feel you deserve?

Often times a new leader’s first inclination is to become too friendly with people. After all, everyone wants to be liked. But by trying to become everyone’s friend, leaders run the risk of losing respect and influence. If your staff considers you to be one of the group, they may not respect your judgment on important issues.

Additionally, they may lose their motivation to achieve goals, fail to work hard, and assume deadlines are soft when they believe their “friend” will never reprimand them. That’s why leaders must avoid falling into the trap of becoming too friendly with their staff. The bottom line? You’re the boss—not a best friend! You cannot be objective and unbiased when staff members view you as a work pal.

 

“It takes people to make the dream a reality.” –Walt Disney

 

A Guide to Hiring Right