One of the most common problems facing organizations, teams, and leaders today is a lack of clarity. Clarity is a critical component of success. We all want it, even crave it, but it often seems elusive.
What is the clarity conundrum? The constant state of change and ever-present chaos in the world today is unprecedented. We are constantly navigating not one world, but multiple worlds simultaneously with the political, societal, social and technological changes that are happening at a more rapid pace than at any time in history. Leaders are forced to make daily decisions in a high-stakes environment that is often entangled with competing needs and priorities where there is not one obvious answer. These decisions have the potential to define their company and determine their ultimate success. We identify these decisions, inflection points or daily puzzles as clarity conundrums. They take many different forms in companies and in the lives of the leader. Clarity conundrums include the need for a new vision/direction, repositioning, a growth imperative, and they often result from a merger, a new leader, an acquisition, a safety issue, crisis, or hitting a plateau or reaching critical juncture point in the organization. What they all have in common is that they require clarity, as a process, to successfully navigate the necessary transition to the desired future state.
“Clarity isn’t an arrival point, a vista, or a destination.” -Brad Deutser
Why do you advocate thinking inside the box? I love it, and it’s counterintuitive from all the advice commonly shared. For much of my early career, I was prized as an out of the box thinker. Clients could rely on me to produce ideas and solutions that were fundamentally different and way outside the mainstream. I was wildly creative – but that creativity did not always align with the desired results. About two decades ago, I began to rethink the box paradigm, and using client results and research began to validate that “inside the box” is actually where real creativity, innovation and performance are birthed. Interestingly, in our early research, we challenged people to define their box. Most people simply accepted the metaphor without assigning definition to it. When we uncovered the parameters of the box and put clear definition to each side, including the top and bottom, we were able to fundamentally change the trajectory of business for our clients and the connectivity of the workforce to the organization and its leadership. Inside the box thinking allows leaders to have a clearly defined organization and direction, and employees to have something that they can understand and belong to. It is a game changer.
I’m a big believer in managing to strengths, and your book provides a set of tools for doing this effectively. What’s a quick definition of an attribute? How is that different from a skill?
An attribute is an inherent, instinctive trait. Think of it like the wiring of a person’s internal microchip. Attributes determine our perceptions of the world and the way we behave toward it.
It’s not surprising that people can sometimes confuse attributes with skills. Here’s the key: skills are learned and practiced rather than instinctive.
For example, a person with a high Relational attribute exhibits an innate sensitivity to other people and their feelings. This person can’t help but feel sad when others are sad, happy when others are happy, etc. That’s not a skill; it’s a natural attribute.
Now let’s say that this same person wants to really leverage her Relational attribute, so she decides to practice some related skills. She might choose to hone her effective listening skills, to help her tune into other people for even more profound insight.
In this way, skills can enhance our strongest attributes. But they’ll never replace those innate characteristics.
“Skills enhance our strongest attributes.” – Bill Munn
You talk about 3 forces that fuel some negative biases. Let’s focus on #1: the myth of well-roundedness. It seems that this appears everywhere. Why is this one damaging to professional growth?
The myth of well-roundedness pervades our world today—this idea that we’re somehow supposed to be good at everything. What a damaging theory! That’s not how we’re built.
Just look at the most successful people—those you know, those in the public eye, those who have defined history. They’re full of flaws and failures, and they’re full of greatness. Do they become successful by trying to become well rounded? No. They focus on what they’re great at, so they are great.
“Successful living requires prioritizing.” –Bill Munn
The fact is, successful living requires prioritizing. If we were immortal, we could waste years trying to get a little better at our challenge attributes. But we have limited time. And if we focus on optimizing our power-alley attributes, we’ll see a much higher return on investment for the effort expended. Our teams and companies benefit much more from this approach—not to mention our own careers (and personal lives).
Think of it this way: An eagle could probably improve its swim stroke a bit, to become a more “well rounded” creature. But with that same effort, think what it could do for its flight speed and soaring height. So when was the last time you saw an eagle working on its backstroke?
“Don’t become a wandering generality. Be a meaningful specific.” –Zig Ziglar
Never! I love that example. Would you share an example or two of an attribute from the inventory?
Developer is our term for one who naturally encourages, teaches, and prioritizes other people’s growth and development. This person prefers working behind the scenes, rather than getting the spotlight for himself. Actually, Skip, Developers make great leadership bloggers—or coaches, teachers, mentors, etc. They’re also great leaders, because when people care about your growth, you want to follow them.
A Logician perceives the world in terms of cause, effect, and logic. She assumes that events flow rationally and that people do things for logical reasons. (As you can imagine, she’s an opposing attribute to the Relational we talked about earlier, who is so tuned into emotion and other “illogical” factors.) The Logician looks for data and analytics to describe situations and assumes that solutions lie in the facts.
How do I find out my own high and low attributes, my profile?
We actually use an array of tools to do this, including a questionnaire, assessment, and analysis exercises that you can do on your own or with a partner. The goal of all these tools is to help you define your own profile, which will consist of a few different categories:
Power-alley attributes: Your most natural traits, the attributes you basically exhibit no matter what – in fact, it would be extremely difficult (if not impossible) for you to avoid demonstrating these traits.
Functional attributes: These attributes (which we break down further into 3 functional levels) are like tools you keep in the garage rather than on your tool belt – they’re available to you, but it takes a bit of extra effort to access them.
Challenge attributes: These are the 1 or 2 attributes at the bottom of your list – the things that you just don’t do really well, no matter how hard you work at it.
When I’m working with others, knowing their attributes is as important as knowing my own. What’s the best way to do this (if I can’t have them take a test)?
This is where our tools for listening (and watching) for revelation become so valuable. Since our attributes are inherent and ingrained, we reveal them constantly in the things we do and say.
It’s analogous to a radio station constantly broadcasting. But to hear it, we have to tune in. Same with people. We constantly “broadcast” our attributes through our descriptions of events, our stories about people we liked or disliked, our reactions to outside stimuli – in short, through our response to life events.
Effective listening focuses on accurately tuning into the content of what the speaker says. That’s essential and always important. Listening for revelation, however, is an additional step that goes beyond content and unearths the speaker’s attributes.
First, you teach your team that the attributes they find so irritating in others are actually the very traits (and people) best positioned to help them better perform, grow, and develop.
Second, you emphasize that there are no “good” or “bad” attributes. Each attribute brings something important and valuable to the table. This perspective helps people become intrigued by others’ behaviors. Team members soon stop thinking in terms of who they “like” and start supporting one another in incredible ways.
That’s the big picture. There are also many nuts-and-bolts tools for applying this concept in building, balancing, and growing your teams—team attribute matrices, team-building ideas, hiring practices, etc.
What separates effective communicators from truly successful persuaders?
Since I read hundreds of books each year, I am always talking about them. Some books are quickly forgotten and others stay with you. And then there are a few books that are so extraordinary that they merit a second read and deserve a prominent place on your closest shelf. Not to impress, but to be there when you need to refer to an idea or refresh your mind.
“Every battle is won before it is fought.” -Sun Tzu
The book I’m talking about in this post is in that rare category. The author, Dr. Robert Cialdini, is best known for his groundbreaking work, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, which is a perennial bestseller. It’s so good that it’s become part of our collective thinking. From social media to sales to leadership techniques, it’s a classic.
You spent time infiltrating the training programs of numerous companies. What was the biggest surprise for you during this time?
You’re right. As a kind of secret agent, I once infiltrated the training programs of a broad range of professions dedicated to getting us to say yes. In these programs, advanced trainees were often allowed to accompany and observe an old pro who was conducting business. I always jumped at those opportunities because I wanted to see if I could register, not just what practitioners in general did to succeed, but what the best of them did. One such practice quickly surfaced that shook my assumptions. I’d expected that the aces of their professions would spend more time than the inferior performers developing the specifics of their requests—the clarity, logic, and desirable features of them. That’s not what I found.
Research: high achievers spend more time than others preparing before making a request.
The highest achievers spent more time crafting what they did and said before making a request. They set about their mission as skilled gardeners who know that even the finest seeds will not take root in poorly prepared ground. Much more than their less effective colleagues, they didn’t rely merely on the merits of an offer to get it accepted; they recognized that the psychological frame in which an appeal is first placed can carry equal or even greater weight. So, before sending their message, they arranged to make their audience sympathetic to it.
Surprising findings from Dr. Cialdini:
You are more likely to choose a French wine if you’ve just been exposed to French music.
You are more inclined to buy inexpensive furniture if the website wallpaper is covered in pennies.
You will likely be more careful if you just viewed a picture of Rodin’s The Thinker.
You are more likely to feel someone is warmer if they have just handed you hot chocolate.
You are more likely to purchase a popular item if you start to watch a scary movie.
How Seating Arrangements Influence Your Perception
Let’s talk about our point of view. Even the subtle change of seating arrangements or the view of the camera changes everything. What are some implications of this finding?
Imagine you are in a café enjoying a cup of coffee and, at the table directly in front of you, a man and woman are deciding which movie to see that evening. After a few minutes they settle on one of the options and set off to the theater. As they leave, you notice that one of your friends had been sitting at the table behind them. Your friend sees you, joins you, and remarks on the couple’s movie conversation, saying, “It’s always just one person who drives the decision in those kinds of debates, isn’t it?” You laugh and nod because you noticed that, although he was trying to be nice, it was clearly the man of the couple who determined the movie choice. Your amusement disappears, though, when your friend continues, “She sounded sweet, but she just pushed until she got her way.”
Dr. Shelley Taylor, a social psychologist at UCLA, knows why you and your friend could have heard the same conversation but come to opposite judgments about who produced the end result. It was a small accident of seating arrangements: You were positioned to observe the exchange over the shoulder of the woman, making the man more visible and salient, while your friend had the reverse point of view. Taylor and her colleagues conducted a series of experiments in which observers watched and listened to conversations that had been carefully scripted so neither discussion partner contributed more than the other. Some observers watched from a perspective that allowed them to see the back of one or another discussant and the face of the second; other observers’ perspectives allowed them to see both faces equally (from the side). All the observers were then asked to judge who had more influence in the discussion over its tone, content, and direction. The outcomes were always the same: These ratings of responsibility corresponded with the visibility of the discussants’ faces. Whoever’s face was more visible was judged to be the more influential.
This means that, if we can get people to direct their visual attention to a person, product, or event, it will immediately seem more influential to them. People believe that, if they’ve paid special attention to an item, it must be influential enough to warrant that attention. But that’s not true because attention can be channeled to an item by factors unrelated to its significance, such as distinctive colors, which nonetheless increase observers’ estimation of the item’s significance.
Research: directing visual attention can influence perceptions.
I love the personal example you share about the geography of influence. When you wrote on campus, it was radically different than when you wrote at home. It immediately resonated with me, too, because I’ve seen styles change when writing at a courthouse, in a corporate office, or at home. Based on your research, to maximize effectiveness, what recommendations would you share?
When I began writing my first book for a general audience, I was on a leave of absence at a university other than my own. Of course, I filled my campus office there with my professional books, journals, articles, and files. In town, I’d leased an apartment and would try to work on the book from a desk there, too. But the environment around that desk was importantly different from that of my campus office–newspapers, magazines, tabletops, and television shows took the place of scientific publications, textbooks, filing cabinets, and conversations with colleagues.
Writing in those separate places produced an effect I didn’t anticipate and didn’t even notice: The work I’d done at home was miles better than what I’d done at the university because it was decidedly more appropriate for the general audience I’d envisioned. Surprised, I wondered how it could be that despite a clear grasp of my desired market, I couldn’t write for it properly while in my university office. Only in retrospect was the answer obvious. Anytime I lifted or turned my head, the sightlines from my on-campus desk brought me into contact with cues linked to an academic approach and its specialized vocabulary, grammar, and style of communication.
Research: what you say or do immediately before the appeal affects success.
It didn’t matter what I knew (somewhere in my head) about the traits and preferences of my intended readers. There were few cues in that environment to spur me to think routinely and automatically of those individuals as I wrote. From my desk at home, though, the cues were matched to the task. There, I could harmonize with my audience much more successfully. So here’s my recommendation for leaders: When writing for any particular audience—clients, colleagues, employees—put a photo of a typical member of the audience in the corner of your computer screen as you write. That photo will be an automatic, unconscious reminder of your audience and their communication styles, which will allow you to write in a way that is aligned with those styles. I do that regularly now, and it works for me.
Writing Tip: put a photo of a typical audience member on the corner of your screen.
In a practical guidebook, authors Karin Hurt and David Dye share solutions for managers who want both a meaningful work experience and results. Karin is the founder of Let’s Grow Leaders and David of Trailblaze, Inc. Both Karin and David are focused on helping leaders improve their productivity and effectiveness. Their new book, Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results—Without Losing Your Soul is chock full of advice for managers looking to take their game to a higher level.
After reading their new book, I asked them to share their research and experience.
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” –Helen Keller
You share a few different management styles and then discuss the “winning well manager.” What distinguishes this type of person? Is it possible for anyone to become that type of manager?
Used by permission.
Managers who win well bring confidence and humility in equal measure and focus on both results and relationships.
Where the other three manager types tend to focus on short-term goals, managers who win well have a longer time horizon. They build teams that will produce results today as well as next year.
Managers who win well build healthy professional relationships with their employees. They maintain high expectations for results in a supportive environment where people can grow and take healthy risks.
They master the art of productive meetings, delegation, and problem solving. They run meetings that people consider a good use of time. These managers practice steady, calm accountability along with celebration.
As a result, their employees tend to stick around (often until they get promoted), and there is a steady line of people wanting to work for them.
“If you’ve communicated something once, you haven’t communicated.” –Hurt/Dye
If a new manager takes over a team and sees that it is a low-energy environment where people barely get through the day, how does she turn them into an energetic, sustainable team?
We offer a lot of tools and techniques in our book, but it all starts with creating a genuine connection with your people. Start with building relationships and get to know them as human beings. Then help them see why the work they are doing is so meaningful and vital to the larger mission of the organization.
Building a foundation of real trust and genuine connection makes all the difference. Take time to understand and cultivate their intrinsic motivation.
Use Confidence Bursts to Build Momentum
How do the best managers set expectations in that perfect zone, setting a goal that’s not impossible, causing demotivation, but also not a layup, causing the team to stretch?
Winning Well managers do set aggressive goals but they also work to make those goals feel achievable. One of our favorite techniques is the use of “confidence bursts” or breaking down expectations by focusing on a single behavior during a finite period of time to build confidence and momentum.
The idea is to create a full-court press of the given behavior to prove what is possible at individual and organizational levels.
Build a temporary scaffold of support around employees with lots of extra attention, skill-building, fun, recognition, and celebration. The risk is low—it’s just one day and it doesn’t feel like a big commitment to change. Once people experience success with the behavior, their confidence improves, and the ceiling of what they perceive as possible moves a little higher.
Every time we’ve done this, the results have been head-turning and remarkable. The best part comes in the afterglow discussion: If you (and we) can make this much magic on this day, why not every day?
We find that a few sets of these intervals spaced one month apart can lead to remarkable and lasting results.
You’ll know the behavior has sunk in when the impact of these “burst days” begins to dwindle but the overall results stay high. The behaviors have become so frequent that the extrinsic motivation is no longer necessary. The value in the behaviors has become an intrinsic choice.
We’ve all seen managers struggle with either too much empathy (and thus accepting excuses or not removing a team member) or not enough empathy (cold, uncaring). What tactics have you seen work to coach in this area?
Last year, I was reading the dramatic account of a hard-charging executive who suffered a heart attack. The post was about the need for balance, but it was more than a wake-up call. What struck me about this post, however, was not the lessons he taught us from his painful experience, not the, “Oh, I hope this doesn’t happen to me” feeling we have when reading these posts, but the name of the hospital he went to. It was here in Dublin, Ohio!
“A leader’s job is to help people move to a position of improved performance.” –Figliuolo / Prince
That meant that one of the people who regularly shares my posts and vice versa lived in my town. Social media amazes me. A quickly dashed off email and the two of us found ourselves in Starbucks where I heard more about his compelling story. I’m still amazed at how Twitter and blogging create opportunities like this one.
“Great leaders think about talent management every day.”–Figliuolo/Prince
Let me introduce you to Mike Figliuolo. Mike is the founder of thoughtLEADERS, LLC, a leadership development firm. He is also the author of One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership. His latest book was just released and was co-written with Victor Prince, former COO of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and now a strategy consultant.
Mike and Victor have built a powerful framework designed to help leaders be more efficient and more effective at the same time. It starts with the recognition that we, as leaders, are often overworked and not as effective as we could be.
Where am I spending my time?
Am I treating each person the same when different approaches would create better results?
“Your leadership success hinges upon your ability to get people to perform well.” –Figliuolo/Prince