More Questions for Managers

Do your days feel like one meeting after another … and another? And have you noticed how often people get bogged down in the same issues you talked about the last time you got together? And asked yourself “why are we going over the same ground again and again?”

 

Staying on track and positive
Somewhere between the positive intentions people start with and consensus on the best path forward, it’s easy to be sucked into an unproductive swamp that drains energy and time. 

 

It’s probably true that ‘he who asks the questions controls the conversation.’  Though it seems equally true that ‘if people get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about their answers.’

 

Keeping your feet dry
Asking the wrong questions can lead everyone into a quagmire of justification and finger pointing. We’ve all been there. So how can you keep meetings positive and focused on the outcome?

 

When you hear yourself asking a ‘why question’ like …
“Why did you do it this way?”
“Why didn’t they ask for help?”
“Why can’t marketing follow instructions?”
“Why don’t you _____?”
STOP!!

While those questions may explain how you got where you are, they also cause people to dig in and defend their positions, rather than finding a path forward.

Replace ‘why’ with ‘how’ or ‘what’ questions.
“How did you decide that?”
“How is that working for you?”
“What led you to that conclusion?”

You can soften any question by inserting “I’m curious,” “I’m wondering” or “Do you mind if I ask” as in “Do you mind if I ask how you decided to …?”

Answering a question with a question
What if you’re the target of a ‘why’ question?
Neutralize or redirect ‘why’ questions with a question of your own.
Ask:
“How does answering that move us forward?” or
“Is this where we want to put our energy and attention?”

Searching for common ground
The more you challenge the validity of someones position, the more they will defend it. So use your questions as a ladder to something you can both agree on. Work on details only after you have identified a higher purpose, or a shared value.

First, acknowledge the other person’s position by pacing. Repeat back their words, beliefs and emotions.
“I sense you feel very strongly about ____________.”
“You believe that ___________.”
“So it’s important for you that we ________”

Then shift the focus from the specifics of a situation to a bigger picture of what they want to achieve. The value or purpose behind their position will generally be a more inclusive outcome.

“How is that important for you?”
“What is important for you about that?”
“What will this do for you?”
“What is your intention?”
“How does that move us towards our outcome to ____?”

 

When you’re in a swamp stop digging
If you find yourself sinking, you can cut your losses with questions like these.

“What do we have to do to make things more the way we want them to be?”
“Is there anything we can do about _____ right now?”
“If so, what is the first step we will take?”

“If not, how can we accept/make peace with what we cannot change?”
“If we have to go through this anyway, what can we learn/get out of it?”
“What are we willing to stop doing/give up in order to get ____ more the way we want it?”

Remember the power of expectations
If people think a solution is unreachable, their efforts will reflect it!
Create positive expectations using ‘so far’ and ‘yet.’

As in ‘we haven’t figured it out yet’ or ‘so far we haven’t found the solution.’

Heads up – memory is imperfect
People do forget, delete or distort information. And sometimes the players change. So it’s a good idea to keep a record of commitments to close the gap. Use a flip chart and record rshared information and commitments. 

“We can _____ if you _____ by this date.”
Keep the chart visible and current with the dates commitments were actually met and use when players change and/or delete or distort the facts.

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Strategic Intelligence – Motivating and Partnering

Five core elements
For Michael MacCoby, ‘strategic intelligence’ requires foresight, systems thinking, visioning, motivating and partnering. (See the first three under Strategic Intelligence And Visionary Leadership.)

You might think of visioning as the pivotal element. Visioning combines foresight and systems thinking into a holistic view of the position you’re aiming for within the market place.  And then uses the last two elements, motivating and partnering, to make the vision happen.

Motivating
Engaging your team.  The ability to sell the Vision by understanding what combination of reasons, rewards, relationships and responsibilities will motivate the different people on your team. And …

  • Hiring people with the competence and values needed to achieve the vision.
  • Understanding what customers and other stakeholders value.

Partnering
Forming strategic alliances with those who share your values.

  • Building relationships inside and outside the organization, to further your own and others’ goals.
  • Requires trust, responsiveness, and a willingness to hear hard truths from partners.

Soft skills or real world skills?
Remember that MacCoby uses these terms – soft skills and real world skills – interchangeably. So you could be wondering why soft skills are so often left in the dust during uncertain or unstable times. Why so called hard skills are valued more than the ability to build relationships where trust and cooperation can flourish?
 

The missing link?
Studies by The Center for Creative Leadership found that leaders with soft skills were more able “to strike a balance between the bottom-line goals of the business and providing the support and direction that employees needed during periods of uncertainty.” 

And more, “Effective leaders seem better at blending the softer leadership skills – trust, empathy and genuine communication – with the tough skills needed to keep an organization afloat during difficult times.” More on the study

MacCoby reminds us that all of these skills can be acquired – either learned personally, or by forming a partnership with someone who will balance your own attributes and bring missing skills to the table.

In my own experience, many Innergize clients seek out coaching and attend NLP programs because they are looking for ways to strengthen those real world skills. 
 

More About …
Michael MacCoby is an anthropologist, psychotherapist, coach, consultant and author of several books including The Gamesmen, Why We Work and The Productive Narcissist. Over the years he has advised and studied CEOs at numerous organizations including SAS, Harmon Industries, AT&T, CP, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Asea Brown Boveri (ABB), Southwest Air, Volvo, Swedbank and The World Bank.

Strategic Intelligence And Visionary Leadership

An overview of Strategic Intelligence
The last post on visionary leadership introduced Michael MacCoby’s Strategic Intelligence and his five core elements: Foresight, Systems Thinking, Visioning, Motivating and Partnering. Here’s a brief overview of the first three.

Foresight
The ability to identify trends and opportunities – the winds of change – based on deep knowledge and intuition.

  • Trusting your unconscious to process and make meaning of the knowledge you’ve built up.
  • And then following through on those instincts. Creating value and capitalizing on ‘what doesn’t exist now, but will in the future.’

For example:

  • Henry Ford took the idea of a car – initially perceived as a toy for the rich – and saw the potential for universal ownership. If he could bring the price within reach of the average consumer. He realized his vision by using mass production to achieve an affordable price.

Foresight is having the ability to see ‘down the road and round the corner’ over time. And most visionary leaders have this critical element – it’s often why we call them visionary.

Who had the foresight here?
Did you know that audio cassette technology was developed by engineers at Philips Electronics? Or so the story goes … and for whatever reasons, the company decided the cassette technology wasn’t worth keeping. So they sold it to Sony!

One can only guess why
Perhaps their audio and home entertainment division was focused on high end, quality sound reproduction? Could Philips have passed the technology to another of their own divisions? Did their ‘portable products’ division exist at the time? 

Sony had the foresight in this story. Some would credit the cassette technology and the products developed around it  – from boom box to Walkmans™ – with making Sony a household name. And when you think about foresight, you might wonder if Sony’s leaders were seeing ‘down the street and around the corner’ quite literally!

Yet foresight is only one of the elements MacCoby believes are needed to sustain long term growth.  The real challenges come into play when the other elements are missing.

Systems Thinking

Standard business thinking tends deal with complexity by dividing things –dynamic systems – into parts for the purpose of making them easier to manage and control.

As an illustration, take the question “How do you eat an elephant?” And the classic answer “One bite at a time.” That’s one bit, or bite at a time thinking.

Systems thinkers look at integrated (whole) systems, seeing and evaluating inter-dependent parts by how well they serve the overall purpose of the system. Focusing on the relationships between the parts that make a system function well, or not so well.

Back to the elephant …
Systems thinkers would ask questions like:

  • What’s our purpose for eating the elephant?
  • What critical events led up to the elephant? 
  • What relationships can we see between those events and other behaviors overtime? And how did they affect each other to create the elephant? 
  • What/who else is going to be affected by how we eat the elephant?
  • What happens to everyone if we make changes to anything?

System Thinking ‘Tools’ provide processes and archetypes for scenerio planning, managing change, innovating and problem solving. And equally important, avoiding unintended consequences, or fixes that fail. More on Systems Thinking.
 

Visioning
Combining Foresight and Systems Thinking into a holistic vision that uniquely positions your organization in the marketplace. And making it happen in the real world by selling the vision to others, while you constantly re-vision and adapt to changing circumstances.
Here’s a simple example …

  • Henry Ford’s Vision of ‘one model, one colour, one size’ worked initially. Yet it was a vision that failed to grow and adapt! It stopped working as soon as the competition matched Ford’s mass production techniques … and then forged ahead to meet the market demand for colors and other options.

On the other hand …

  • Microsoft’s Vision evolved from ‛a computer in every home’ pre 1999, to ‛empowering people through software, anytime, anyplace’ and in 2002, ‛to enable people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential.’ So far, Microsoft continues testing, evolving and adapting new ideas.   

Up next …
Motivating and Partnering. 

Visionary Leadership – the missing link

What can a ‘psychoanalyst’ tell us …
About leadership, change and creating long term success? Quite a lot it seems, especially if the ‘psychoanalyst’ has over 30 years experience coaching and advising CEOs and their teams, for multi-nationals.

And if you knew the same qualities could multiply your own career success, would you be interested?

Why visionaries fail
Have you noticed how often ‛glory stories’ in the business media seem to precede a fall from grace, a dramatic slide in the fortunes of organizations and their leaders?

From his personal vantage point Michael MacCoby, PhD., identified five core skills that are …

  • practiced by leaders who drive innovation and change to create long term success,
  • and missing in others, namely the visionary leaders who crash and burn just as they seem to approach the pinnacle of achievement.

The missing link
MacCoby defines the missing link as Strategic Intelligence, a combination of Foresight, Systems Thinking, Visioning, Motivating and Partnering.

He believes many leaders and entrepreneurs master the hard intelligence skills of Foresight and Systems Thinking, the numbers and technology. Yet far fewer develop what MacCoby calls the ‘real world’ skills of Visioning, Motivating and Partnering.
 

‘Real world’ skills 
Curious about this finding, I began reflecting on why Innergize clients seek out coaching and attend NLP programs. It’s usually because they are looking for ways to strengthen those ‘real world’ skills. Interestingly, MacCoby uses the term ‘real world’ skills interchangeably with soft skills.

NLP together with Systems Thinking, provides a great set of tools for developing and strengthening Strategic Intelligence – for living, leading and thriving in a changing world.

Next up, a closer look at MacCoby’s Strategic Intelligence, element by element.

The Environment – News Mainstream Media Misses

Are you concerned about the environment?
For those of us fortunate enough to be living in a developed country, I admit this is a rhetorical question. Most of us are already modifiying our behaviour, making small yet consistent changes to benefit the planet. 

Perhaps the bigger question is …
“Are we being given all of the information available to base those changes on?”  Or have we as a society, been high-jacked by those with a political agenda who would willingly discount facts in favour of a moralistic ‘better way?’

Are we discarding facts in our rush to the moralistic high ground?
An interesting question to which there are many answers, many points of view. Here’s a blog tracking environmental changes you may never read or hear about in mainstream media, because they run against current politically correct doctrine. A source of scientific facts offering many perspectives on the issue.    Wattsupwiththat and ice

An interesting coincidence
Last spring, while coaching a sales team I had an opportunity to sit in on a meeting with Kiewit, a construction, engineering and mining services company, very active in northern Canada. 

In the course of the conversation, a project manager commented that an ice bridge used to transport supplies into remote areas north of Fort McMurry (not accessible over land in warm weather) had been fully operational in the previous winter – 2006/07 – for over 180 days. Far longer than in recent years. Based on my less than perfect memory, this made it “the longest in 10 years.” Anecdotal but interesting.

Wondering?
Why would content like this appear on a blog for communications, motivation and neuro-linguistics? That’s a good question. Human motivation, motives and the words people use to justify their actions and influence the behaviour of others, all very interesting …

20 Coaching Questions for Managers

So …. I tried to post a link to a September 15 Globe and Mail article entitled ‘Managing Change, Don’t Boss Them Coach Them.’  Thought a list it included of 25 general coaching questions could be useful. But when I tested the link, no joy! 

So I decided to offer some of my own not so general coaching questions instead, because I’m still thrashing around the subject I really want to talk about – jop fit or as Yoda would say, “job not-fit!” 

Activating here and now motivation

  1. What’s important to you about doing or not doing (fill in the task/action?)
  2. And if there were one thing more?
  3. What do you want to achieve, or avoid?
  4. How else might you achieve/avoid that (answer to previous question?)
  5. What unintended consequences could you be faced with by continuing (the current action?)

Separating facts from interpretation

  1. What are you/we assuming about the situation?
  2. How did you decide that? Or … 
  3. I’m wondering, what evidence do you have for believing that? 
  4. What can we see/hear/what facts support this?
  5. What else could be true?

Antidotes for impossibility and non-accountability stories 
Great for handling “I am” +  a negative like stressed, frustrated” and “I can’t ” usually followed by “because … ”

  1. How do you know? (‘How did you decide that?’ works well too.)
  2. What prevents you?
  3. What would happen if you could?
  4. Has there ever been a time when you did?
  5. What was different then?

Handling overwhelm

  1. How is this a problem for you? (Great for issues expressed in long, vague, convoluted and all encompassing statements.)
  2. What is the best way you have handled a situation like this in the past?
  3. What are the moments of choice?
  4. What is the first step you can take?
  5. And the next?

Alternatively …  have the person write a list of everything they feel they must do.  (Rarely will people come up with more than 20 items.) Next, ask them to rank the list with A, B, C, D in order of priority. Finally ask ‘which would make the biggest shift/improvement’ if they got stared on it immediately. More on coaching skills for managers.

Oh By The Way … Learning NLP

Why does it take so long?
So I was having lunch with a friend yesterday and he asked why the Innergize NLP Practitioner Certification was a full 12 days.  And that’s a $64,000 question.

After all, we live in an on-demand world. Information is available instantly on the web. Multi-tasking is a badge of honour and our attention spans shorten year by year. Or does it just seem that way to me?
 

How You’ll Learn NLP
 So … why 12 days?

  1. There is a lot of content, a lot of essential details that do make a difference. Digesting the information over many days means more nights to sleep on in. When you sleep, information you were exposed to during the day moves from short term memory into long term memory. (Well documented by research in accelerated learning.)
  2. I’ll be sharing NLP secrets with you, nuances usually only trainers know, because they are often the difference that makes the difference in challenging situations. Like succeeding with the people in your life who will want to challenge your new skills.
  3. You’ll learn NLP five ways, from 5 different perspectives. These are the keys to integrating NLP into your everyday behaviour, because it takes more that intellectual knowing to get results with NLP. After your first weekend with Innergize you will be using it. Even your friends will notice.

And here’s why
Perhaps you’ve read some books, listened to tapes, CDs, even taken a short workshop. Or you know someone who has. And noticed that some things work, make sense, others don’t. So what gives?

Five ways, 5 perspectives
To really use NLP I’ve found you need to experience it on five levels.

  1. You need to learn the content consciously. What you’re doing and how to layer in each element for maximum impact.
  2. Your unconscious mind needs the information too. In a format that is easily taken into your mental programming, in a way that respects you and your unique personality.  Now, you’re ready for experience.  You’ll practice the skills in small chunks layering in more and more pieces over time.
  3. You’ll learn by practicing the skills with a partner. Try them on and observe the effect, test your results and use feedback to adjust your technique.
  4. You’ll learn by experiencing the effect of the techniques, how it feels when they’re working and when they’re out of sync.  
  5. You’ll learn by observering others practice. You’ll see the effects, noticing what’s working from moment-by-moment. Bonus!! (Okay, I forgot one.)
  6. You’ll learn by sharing your experience and asking questions after each practice session.  What worked well, what needs fine tuning. Questions  about applying the techniques in situations in your own life.

And did I mention the coaching? Small class size means you’ll receive individual attention from the trainer.  Read all about the fall 2008 NLP Practitioner Training Certification Program.

Questions A Key To Better Listening?

A couple of days ago I stumbled on some research about the use of questions. It seems 40% of all the questions people ask are really statements, and another 40% are actually judgments disguised as questions. (1)

I had to stop and think about that. On reflection, it makes sense, yet seeing the percentages in black and white was a little shocking. 

Those ‘don’t you think …’ questions
If 80% of our questions are just a way of stating the obvious or sliding in our own opinion, that means only 20% focus on hearing what the other person has to say! If you’d like to do a little research of your own, catch some of the interviews on cable news programs. Or listen to ….

Questions expose our intentions
They instantly give away whether we are in listening or telling mode. Stop for a minute and think of a conversation you had recently.  One that left you feeling the other person was holding back. Is it possible your questions discouraged their input? Accidentally implied you were not really ready to listen? Hum. Possible isn’t it?  
 

Listening requires content
Once you ask good questions you can begin really listening. Because good questions can uncover information people haven’t yet discover for themselves, they’ll need time to go inside and figure it out.  Time to pull up thoughts, feelings and perhaps even fears, about what really matters.  So after you ask, pause. Be willing to wait. It shows your intention is to listen.

And speaking of good questions … 
We weren’t, but it’s probably a good idea anyway.  As a general rule of thumb, good questions are how and what questions. Here are a few of my favorites.

  • What’s important to you about ….  ? Fill in the subject you’re discussing.  And then when they’ve finished telling you, asking with a meaningful look …‘if there were one thing more?’
  • You must have a good reason for saying that … do you mind if I ask what it is? Great for handling judgments and blanket objections.   
  • How is that working for you? Works well for those ‘we already have that covered’ occassions. Asking how sends people inside to evaluate.    

Let me know how these work for you, and if you have a sticky situation that needs a question, let me know that too.  Next, more ways to listen  

 

(1) William Isaacs of MIT, in Dialogue And The Art Of Thinking Together, 1999.

Why Non-verbal Communications Are Critical In Sales

Just finished writing a promotional article for Foran Financial Institute.  Foran provides excellent exam preparation courses for financial services professionals as well as hosting Innergize workshops on accelerated learning and communications.  The article happened to be on influencing motivation—techniques for sales and marketing.  And it reminded me how much we risk when we take take non-verbal communications for granted. 

Take a challenge
Ask your sales people to rate their skill with non-verbal communications.  Have them use a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is excellent and 1 is ‘you want me to rate what?’  I can almost guarantee you’ll get nothing lower than 7 as an answer.  It’s way too easy to over simplify, assuming that because we earn our living selling that means we must be excellent in all forms of communications.  

During workshops, sales people may even be tempted to brush off the practice exercises for non-verbals “because we already know that.” Yet, like everything else we choose to practice or not, there is a risk and a reward.  

The following insights on consumer behaviour while not new news, are worth considering if you’re working in sales.  And my belief is that we all sell whether we like it or not, products, services, or simply our ideas.

Grounded in Research
First, remember that decisions are based on feelings and then justified with rational conscious thought. And neuroscience suggests that up to 95% of our emotions, decisions and behaviour are a result of unconscious processing.

Three things you may not have considered

  1. When asked about product choices, if people don’t know consciously, they will make up salient, plausible and socially acceptable reasons for what they do. (1) In other words, customers will tell you what they think they should want, based on social influences. (A tendency that has led to some costly miss-takes in consumer research.)
  2. While features and benefits supply the rational reasons to justify a decision once it is made, the unconscious sensory elements of an experience have far greater influence (positive or negative) on emotions, buying decisions and loyalty. (1)
  3. Non-verbal cues and linguistic markers provide the most accurate information about what people want and intend to do, because they are largely unconscious.(2)

Unlocking unconscious communication 
Three skills worth learning:

  • How to dig deeper for the real reasons people will buy.
  • How to use specific process words and other non-verbal behaviour to communicate your value.  
  • How to read the critical non-verbal cues that reveal more than customers can or will tell you. 

Learn more about unlocking unconscious and non-verbal communications

(1) J. Le Doux, Center for Neural Science, NYU, 1998.
(2) J. Kagan, Harvard Mind: Brain: Behaviour Initiative, 2002