Do You See Details or Patterns?

When working on a team – or in a classroom – you’ve probably noticed that we all take in information differently and focus on different aspects. Your colleagues or fellow students might be focusing on the details or applying past experiences, but you, instead, see patterns and relationships among ideas and think about future implementation. Continue Reading

High School Leadership Class Gets Executive Training

As the graduating class at Bethesda Chevy Chase High School (BCC) is moving through its last year and students are getting ready to embark on their new journey to college, a communications skills and self-awareness program designed for leaders seems like a good start to an independent life. In the fall of 2015, Anne Collier, the founder of Arudia, an executive coaching and training firm, presented a Personality Type program to some of BCC’s juniors and seniors as part of an elective leadership class. Continue Reading

“Intellectual” Curiosity Didn’t Kill The Cat

Do you fear that asking too many questions is off-putting? Or that it somehow indicates that you aren’t smart or haven’t been paying attention? In many situations, in fact, if you ask questions that help you understand the other person or his or her vision, you might be on the way to building a better relationship.

Think about the kind of working environment you want to foster in your company. Do you want to encourage an open dialogue and debate? Do you want your junior staff to be open and share their views even when they disagree with yours? In this case, cultivate a culture of intellectual curiosity. By asking your junior staff what it is that they believe or why a particular solution will work better, you get access to so many opportunities!

First, you get an opportunity to learn new things and grow professionally (yes, we can learn something, even from people who are far less experienced, so, you know, don’t assume you’re always right.)

Second, you can build long-term relationships with your colleagues by becoming a mentor to them. Not only are such relationships a good way to make friends and grow, but they are also reciprocal in the long run.

Third, you promote a culture of an open dialogue in your company, which means hierarchy is less likely to influence the choice of the best strategy and your junior colleagues are more likely to bring their concerns to you – in many cases the concerns or points you might have overlooked.

So next time you are tempted to dismiss another’s opinion or to not try to get a better understanding of what they’re saying and thinking because you’re tempted to believe you’re right, think again. You might be doing yourself a disservice and losing opportunities.

Are You Communicating or Engaging?

Often, organizations and teams will say they have a communication problem. They do actually have a communication problem but because it’s a symptom of something else – or lack of something else – engagement.

Think about it: there’s plenty of communication in organizations via email and, sometimes, even in meetings. The communication is typically a one-directional monolog rather than a dialog. The people being communicated to typically aren’t encouraged to respond in a meaningful way. Sure, “they” ask for comments, but is there a meaningful dialog? Not always. So when the leadership wonders why the new program roll-out isn’t going smoothly, the answer is: it’s because the leadership has not had a meaningful dialog with the people who will actually be using the new system.

The solution? Talk to the people affected – those who will have to implement the change. They can anticipate challenges that the leadership might not see. If you’ve seen The Imitation Game, which is about Alan Turing’s and his team’s quest to crack the Nazi code during World War II, you may remember that the team cracked the code when, over a beer, one of the women who recorded intercepted German messages quipped that her German operator always signed off “Heil Hitler.” Just knowing those letters cracked the code! And, had Turing and his team not been chatting up the lovely women who recorded the messages, they may not have cracked the code.

In addition to talking with the people who are involved in a solving a problem, you want to set up a process so that their feedback and insight can be incorporated before the decision is made. Listen for what really is going on and what really matters as well as for what is said and what is not said. Be sure to listen for your colleagues’ concerns or needs regarding any proposed solution or a new system. Engagement means work together, not just “getting it done.”

Engaging Millennials

When people are truly engaged in their work, they’re committed, perform well and go the extra mile. One of the best techniques for engaging young people is coaching.  There are many myths and misperceptions about coaching. Is it the same as mentoring? Advising? Even therapy? The answer to all of these questions is “No.” Coaching is the process wherein the coach – you – asks insightful, open-ended questions to elicit another’s best thinking and engagement on a particular issue. Consider this: Millennials are smart and have their own perspective and problem-solving style.  Would you prefer to leverage them and their contributions rather than discount them for whatever it is that frustrates you? Human resources are not to be squandered. Do you want to get not just your money’s worth but develop their talent and leadership?

Presumably, the answer is “Yes, but how?” Use coaching skills.  Coaching engages and therefore empowers Millennials by fostering better understanding of the technical and business issues, forcing them to think creatively and ultimately develop their legal skills and judgment. Thus, rather than merely telling a Millennial what to do – and we all know how this can end poorly – you can can use coaching to ensure that Millennials understand why and how to approach a problem so that they can solve it. Wrestling with and figuring out related issues are essential to being engaged, inspired and excited about one’s work.

Here are some examples of questions you can use to elicit Millennials’ best thinking:

What is the problem you’re trying to solve?

What has worked for you in the past?

What have you seen others try?

If you couldn’t fail, what would you do next?

How can you break that option down into steps?

What do you need from me/the organization?

What resources do you need?

I want to be sure you get the support you need. When would you like to touch base next?

The upshot is that if you want engaged Millennials, you must engage Millennials! Invest time and treat them as valued members of your team. Also, it’s important to value their creativity in finding “another way.” Not only will you get a higher quality work product in a shorter period of time, but you’ll develop a generation of colleagues that you can rely on to take initiative and lead!

Understand and Engage Millennials

Baby Boomers often complain that Millennials don’t want to fit into the system, aren’t dedicated to the organization, and “all expect a trophy.” Yes, it’s true, Millennials don’t necessarily buy into “the system” and instead push for a better way to live. At the same time, Millennials are eager to engage and be part of your team. But how, you ask?

Baby Boomers’ views were shaped by the fact that they’ve always had to, and in fact still expect to, compete to succeed because there are so many of them due to the post World War II baby boom. To them, there have to be and always will be winners and losers. Post World War II schools were over-crowded because of the Baby Boom, thus, competition coexisted with the need to fit into the system and share. To succeed, a Baby Boomer had to stand out from the crowd and that is their lens: you win by being both “competitive and ambitious.”

Many Millennials grew up with Baby Boomer parents they barely saw because the parents were working hard to stand out. These same Baby Boomer parents raised Millennials to “get a trophy for showing up” to be a team member. And, in college, Millennials’ sense of team was reinforced by a bias towards group projects and consequent group grades. Rather than compete against each other, Millennials compete with each other so that the team would win. Baby Boomers somehow forget that the Millennial team had to win for there to be any individual trophies.

Let’s not forget that many Millennials entered the job market when there were very few jobs. Hence the Millennial focus on “there has to be a better way” to work, structure life so as to enjoy it, and to succeed by their own definition of success as well as the desire for flexibility to accommodate that “better way.” Face it, can anyone credibly dispute Millennials’ skepticism of the “system” being there to protect and support them (or us) in the long term?

All this leads some Baby Boomers to view Millennials as disinterested in working hard, narcissistic, or entitled. There are a number of ironies here, not the least of which is that Baby Boomers raised Millennals. Another irony is that Baby Boomers complain and ask each other how to engage Millennials rather than focusing their efforts on asking and engaging Millennials. Gallup Poll research and common sense both confirm that when people are truly engaged in their work, they are committed, perform well, and go the extra mile. So next time you are challenged when working with Millennials, instead of complaining about Millenials’ approach to work, consider the benefits to their creative, team spirit and use your coaching skills and ask focused, open-ended questions to engage and develop both their confidence and ownership of their work!

In the Present Age – Stay Engaged!

Working adults spend the biggest part of their waking hours at work. Therefore, promoting workers’ well-being and supporting their progress is essential if we want them to be happy, engaged, and, well, more productive!  The Gallup Organization reports that 17.5 percent of U.S. employees were actively disengaged and 51 percent were not fully engaged in 2014.

As Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer note in this article, when people of any age are unhappy with their supervisors or apathetic about their organizations they are detached from what they do. The employees’ low job satisfaction often foreshadows poorer performance, for example they’ll have fewer new ideas or they’ll produce less and of lower quality. So employee engagement can make a big difference in a company’s survival!

The inner life of workers has a great impact on their creativity, productivity and commitment. Of course, an employee’s personal life plays a big role in his or her overall happiness, which is why it’s important for managers to be sensitive to personal needs and offer support as appropriate. However, being happy in their workplace and with their workload is just as important. In order to be happy, employees need a sufficient “flow” – those moments when they are so engaged in their work that they lose track of time – as well as a sense of support from their professional environment and their colleagues. The work should be challenging so that they’re stretching and growing professionally, but not so difficult that they have little or no chance to succeed.

Managers play a big role in ensuring their employees are happily engaged. Those managers who communicate with presence and intention are more likely to meet their employees’ needs, mostly because they are more engaged in the process of listening. For example, managers who ask open-ended questions, which start with “why”, “what”, “how,” rather than close-ended questions, which can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no,” have a better chance of understanding their colleagues’ needs and, therefore, a better chance of meeting those needs!

The difference between just having a conversation and actively engaging also lies in the “question mindset”. Are you asking open-ended questions that are problem-focused or solution-focused?

Problem-Focused Questions

Solution-Focused Questions

What’s the problem?

What are the root causes?

Who is to blame?

What have you tried that hasn’t worked?

Why haven’t you been able to fix the problem yet?

What would you like to see (and make) happen?

Can you recall a time when the solution was present, at least in part? What made that possible?

What are some small steps you could take towards success?

What have you learned?  How can you further apply your learning?

Obviously, it’s not enough to just ask good questions. It’s just as important to actively listen for the answers. Some people need time to think before answering the question, so it’s worth pausing to give your colleague some time. Extraverts have difficulty not “filling the space,” which is why pausing is an especially valuable habit for them. It allows others to think, participate and, finally, take ownership of the strategy and success. Remember, if you’re talking most of the time, most of the ideas will be yours and others won’t feel as empowered, engaged, or responsible for outcomes.

Listening for essence has three elements: core content (facts, not judgments!), core values (concerns, desires and needs) and vision (goals as distinguished from strategy). So active listening means listening for what is said and what is not said, the intensity of expression, feelings and tone as well as underlying beliefs.  Engaging your colleagues means you allow them to respond and listen for what’s really important to them.