I've been asking friends this summer what they think the key issues are for leaders and their teams in generating productive engagement. John Anderson suggested that I look at Nicole Lipkin's What Keeps Leaders Up at Night. Her focus in on how the brain deals with the exercise of power by leaders.
She begins with a candid summary of the realities of being human:
Being human is a messy, quirky, complicated, frustrating, perplexing, and sometimes frightening experience. (xiii)
I love that summary. It's certainly been my experience. Probably yours, too.
Here's the greatest challenge this poses. Too many of us get stuck in the mess too often for too long. Our deeply-rooted neural pathways lead us to repeat patterns we have learned well in the past, regardless of the current situation. Lipkin's mantra in leading/managing ourselves and others in such working relationships is profound in its simplicity - "You can't change what's already happened, but you can change what you do next."
What you will probably do next is have a conversation, first with yourself, then with others. As we've written in earlier ezines, if the conversation with yourself is contentious, critical, or complaining, you will probably increase the messiness. If the conversation with yourself is curious, you've got a good chance of making this better.
You really are only one conversation away from making things better. The opportunity you enjoy, one conversation after another, is to change the sound and substance of the conversation that comes next.
Here are 3 keys to making that next conversation more engaging and productive.
Compose it to reflect your core values and passions
The most beneficial step here is to develop a short personal vision statement (5-10 words) that you know cold and can bring to mind/heart/gut quickly. Mine is "provoking SMARTer conversations that generate flourishing communities." Each of those words has deep meaning for me connected to my core values, to what I am most passionate about. When I am approaching a difficult conversation, I often imagine disastrous results. I can calm myself by taking a couple of minutes to focus on positive self-talk and design the substance and tone of the conversation to serve those values.
Initiate it with curiosity
Here are three conversation starters that I have found most constructive and beneficial:
What do you think would serve our purpose best?
What can you imagine doing that would have the most positive impact?
What options do you sense we have in achieving our goal?
Remember, opening a conversation with curiosity does not prevent you from presenting your views for consideration. It simply creates better space for a full consideration of all the possibilities the team can bring to the table. In the process of considering all those possibilities, new ones are likely to emerge.
Use it to build a positive alliance
Your intention in convening the conversation is crucial. Make it positive. Make it constructive. Make it about common purpose. You are seeking to make a constructive connection that will evolve into a positive alliance in bringing diverse strengths and abilities into the mix to deal with the mess.
You do have choices in convening and participating in the conversations that create your organization. You can set a negative tone that is messy, quirky, complicated, frustrating, perplexing, and frightening. Or you can set a positive tone that invites clarification, simplification, and moving forward in a safe manner.
My choice, and I'm still practicing this to continuously improve it, is for the latter.