Posts Tagged ‘Board Development’
Posted February 18th, 2012 by The Steve Alexander Group
In the communications world, we’re constantly looking for those anecdotes and stories that help others learn about the importance and challenges of communicating to our audiences. One recently occurred with a little friend of mine (‘little’ meaning 10 years old!) in trying to help her solve a problem. It helped underscore the importance of using language that has meaning to the receiver, and of making sure our communications are audience-focused.
She called me, as a family friend, from her mom’s mobile phone to tell me they were having trouble with their new television and video-streaming reception (not that I’m an expert by any stretch, however, I’m a practiced tinkerer and have some talent in unexpected areas beyond my day job!). It seemed like nothing was working. Because they had one of those full-service, one-provider arrangements, I asked if the house phone worked. She didn’t know (and rarely uses it), so I asked her to pick up the phone and listen for the dial-tone. Her response was startling!
“What’s a dial-tone?”
At first I thought she was teasing me (something she learned from me and at which she is now well-practiced). I repeated my question, and asked if she could hear the dial-tone on the house phone. For context, this is someone with an iPad, iPod and notebook computer, and who uses her mom’s mobile phone for voice communication. Once she knows your eddress, you’re a regular in her ‘Contacts’ list, and are sure to be updated on her life activities via email, texts, etc.
I was a bit taken aback and started to describe what a dial-tone was when I realized she was of a generation that had no real experience with the concept, and that I’d lost my ‘audience’ because I was unable to speak in a language and with words, symbols and substance that she understood. In my inability to explain and attempt to grasp for comparisons, this thought came to me: How often do we communicate in a language, at a time, with an emotion or intent that makes complete sense to us, but leaves our audiences, our listeners, totally disconnected (pardon the pun!)?
We act based on what WE think WE know, rather than taking the time to understand what our audiences/listeners know and need. It’s a focal point of a lot of the professional coaching I do as well. Often my counsel (when clients present a challenge in communicating with someone) is to slow down, think about the person they are communicating to, and ask them to apply the old ‘put yourself in their chair’ exercise. For example, what is that person thinking? What experiences do they bring to the conversation? What are their needs, wants, desires; fears, apprehensions, anxieties? Apply the “Seek first to understand, rather than to be understood” lesson. In other words, focus on your audience.
When we train speakers, it’s the same advice. Ask, why are folks sitting in their chairs listening to me? Why are they there? What do they want? (Rather than the classic speaker’s mistake of asking: What do I want to tell them?)
This little 10-year old is pretty sharp, and eventually I was able to help her with her problem. It made me aware that a mobile-phone generation may NEVER hear a dial-tone, and that word, like so many others, illustrates the need for changing language, symbols and substance as we communicate to others who may have a different perspective, background, culture, history, etc. than we do. We need to understand what others need and want from the communication, presentation, meeting, or other interaction they’re having with us, and help understand their ‘language,’ and where they are coming from in the midst of their challenge, or solution-seeking.
And remember, we may be speaking ‘dial-tone,’ and they may be speaking ‘mobile phone,’ and we both may lose out on making an important connection!
Posted October 30th, 2011 by The Steve Alexander Group
It’s a shame that phrase has become so trivialized and impugned because of the circumstances under which it became part of our modern-day vernacular. Otherwise, it could truly serve as a plea for sanity at a time when dialogue between reasonably intelligent, well-intentioned people has veered off into a world of unbelievable disrespect. I’m not the first to comment about the condition of today’s public discourse, and I won’t be the last. Hopefully, however, with some easy-to-apply tips, we all might challenge ourselves to a higher standard.
I was recently asked by a reporter to comment on a situation involving a community planning group and the level of apparent dysfunction they’ve reached, including personal insults, name-calling, nasty emails and the like. The article, “Political infighting plagues Alpine panel,” appeared in The San Diego Union-Tribune and explains the kinds of behaviors that often occur in today’s public arena, whether it’s an advisory group, governmental body, in blog posts in response to news stories, etc.
I recently read somewhere that much of what has happened is that, due to the growth of electronic communications, we’ve learned to treat ‘people’ represented at the end of those communication venues as if they were themselves machines. Unfeeling, unconscious, unaffected machines. Thus, an email isn’t to a person. It’s the pounding away on a keyboard, with all the anger, frustration, ill-will and worse that gets conjured up inside us at times. Were folks sitting in the same room, face-to-face, it might just temper the words we use and the sometimes strength of emotion we use to convey them.
A few questions to ask yourself next time you communicate:
- How would I treat this person if they were my best friend?
- What can I say or do that would actually help in this situation?
- Is it possible I’m not seeing something that might give me a different perspective on the issue?
- What can I learn from someone who doesn’t think like me, doesn’t share my values, life experiences and world-view?
- If I let go of who’s right and who’s wrong, and instead focus on doing the right thing, how does that change my actions and words?
A few tips, many you’ve heard before, however, worth repeating:
1) Stop, take a deep breath (or three) before saying or doing anything. Just this pause alone will give you time to think, maybe even lower your blood pressure and act more kindly and thoughtfully.
2) Consider the difference between a reaction (quick, thoughtless, emotional, gives control and responsibility to the other person, blames, diminishes the likelihood of a resolution to conflicts, etc.) vs. a response (strategic, thoughtful, unemotional, seeks resolutions, puts you in control of your emotions and actions), and seek always a response to events and conflicts.
3) Take FULL responsibility for your part of the interaction and relationship (more on this in another post) instead of blaming or seeking change in the other person.
4) Remember, you are emailing, talking, blogging, tweeting, etc. a REAL HUMAN BEING, a person with feelings, albeit their world-view may be different than yours, they are of the same species, and like you, they mostly want to be heard, understood and appreciated for who they are.
5) Avoid the right/wrong paradigm (if they’re right, I must be wrong and vice versa), and instead, look for the nexus in your ideas; in the case of this story about Alpine, for example, what do we have in common in our love for our community, our vision for the next generation and what they’ll inherit from our hard work and dedication, etc.?
6) Remember, you can’t always be right. Sometimes you have to ask yourself if being right is more important than being happy and protecting your own serenity. After all, being at peace with what’s happening is within your power and it’s your decision, not someone else’s.
Granted, it’s not easy to be the first one to take the high road. However, with a new way of approaching our discourse, perhaps we’ll have healthier discussions, greater self-respect as well as respect for others. If it even nudges us slightly away from the aggressive tone we’ve adopted in our public discourse, won’t it have been worth it?
Interestingly, guess what the most common response is to my comments in this recent article from friends, colleagues and clients who read it! “Can’t you and those who do what you do descend upon Congress and get them to practice this stuff? They really need your help!” Well, we may not be able to do that. What each of us can do, however, is make an individual commitment, and since, as it’s said, ‘we elect the government we deserve,’ perhaps we can make a change in the discourse there, too. It can’t hurt to try.
Posted August 29th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
Just did another senior management training last week and the topic always comes up – what about email? How do we manage it, use it, control it, keep from getting buried by it and fix communications that get broken by it… the list of questions, comments and consternation goes on and on. The 29 August 2010 Sunday column, Corner Office by Adam Bryant, includes a comment about email (along with a number of other key insights Bryant’s weekly column provides) from Kasper Rorsted, the CEO at Henkel, a consumer and industrial products company, so I thought it was time to underscore some tips from an earlier post and make a point about email and the importance of face-to-face communications.
Email is NOT dialogue! It is not a substitute for honest, open, transparent communication. Email is two-way monologue, where one person gets to make their point, state their case, convey information, thoughts, feelings or whatever, without the benefit of the other person being present. Email is NOT a short-cut for communication. It is a form of communication, however, designed for one-way transmittal.
Remember: There is no substitute for direct, face-to-face communication, especially when an issue warrants it. For example, anything that affects your organization’s mission, vision, values, goals and deals with major strategies, decisions or compromises them requires direct, real-time communication. Personnel issues, challenges and coaching opportunities – set a meeting. Major problems with a product or service – set a meeting. Customer/member/client complaints – set a meeting.
Don’t let email get the best of you. It’s your job to manage it, rather than it managing you. Use it wisely as a tool for information transfer, not as a comprehensive communications program. There’s no substitute for getting up from your desk and making contact, or setting up time to communicate, face-to-face, with people! Use your email wisely so it’s not being misused by you or others.
P.S. Try adopting Henkel CEO Rorsted’s tip on deleting ALL email where you are only in the cc line. His point: being in the copy line is often only for someone’s ‘cover’ and if they want to connect with you, those emails should be To: you. Try it for a couple weeks and let me know if your email flow is more manageable, and if it helps make your communications more productive, valuable and meaningful.
Posted August 8th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
A common issue in my work with boards and chief executives is the challenge of micromanaging. It’s something that happens as well with parents, supervisors, co-workers, peers and others. What’s at the root of it all and how do we know when it’s happening? Truth be told, micromanagers are often aware of what they’re doing; like any addictive behavior, they just can’t seem to help themselves!
If you’re a micromanager, ask yourself what the underlying emotion is that drives the behavior. Using the ‘think, feel and do’ exercise from an earlier post, call a meeting with yourself. How we act is more a result of what we feel rather than what we think. If we’re ‘feeling’ frustrated, for example or overwhelmed and out of control, we’re more likely to ‘think’ we can ‘do’ something about the little things, and sometimes even the big ones, however, these are not often the important things.
So, we ‘manage’ the details instead of stepping back, recognizing what’s really going on…and most importantly, and letting go. Empowering, rather than managing, others.
We all have our tell-tale signs. I bet if you take that meeting with yourself, you’ll be able to write down a few of yours.
And if you’re the one being micromanaged, remember, it’s not about you! Work with your supervisor, board, spouse, parent and ask the more critical question: What is the result or outcome we need in this situation? Then, when you’ve created clarity about that, encourage the micromanager to empower you to come up with some acceptable solutions (not how you get there and myriad of details along the way!) and offer an agreeable timeline for delivering results.
Let me know how it goes next time you experiment with your new behavior!
Posted June 6th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
I was recently asked to attend and facilitate a small planning meeting. Before we got started, one of the attendees asked the question, “Why am I here?”I could tell it was not about the meaning of life nor was it rhetorical! It actually startled everyone, and I realized immediately not everyone was on the same page as the person who ‘called’ the meeting (in our business that’s commonly referred to as the ‘convener’).
Meetings are one of the biggest issues I hear folks in my world talk about, question and criticize. In fact, the word ‘meeting’ and the phrase ‘waste of time’ are often either synonymous or at least heard in the same sentence. Rarely do people seek my services because they have such great meetings and just want to make them even better. Usually, as part of the executive coaching, team-building process and overall improvement program, they want to know how to make their meetings work.
The question was one of the most direct ways I’d heard of asking that series of questions we should all ask when we’re planning to attend or, if it can’t be done prior, actually attending a meeting. Why am I here? What value do I add? What value will this meeting add to my work, what I need to produce for the company, how I support my peers, satisfy my customers, enhance my skills, etc.? Is this a meeting I need to be in face-to-face? Can the results be achieved in some other manner that’s less costly and time-consuming and more effective? What’s expected as a result of my attendance? What will I do differently, more of/less of, as a result of this meeting? You ever ask yourself these questions? Out loud? In front of your peers? Try it.
It’s the convener’s job (remember, that’s the person who calls the meeting) to be crystal clear about the meeting purpose: what key outcome(s) need to be achieved that warrant(s) those in attendance being there to achieve that purpose. The second job of the convener is to select the right participants. Who is, and why are they, necessary to achieve that purpose? This isn’t determined by title or even the job they hold in the organization. It’s more important to consider what ‘value add’ each participant will have to achieving that meeting purpose. Another key question for the convener is what exactly do we need to accomplish in the meeting, and how should the meeting be structured to accomplish that, in order to fulfill the meeting purpose? Finally, ask what materials and information participants need to have in advance and/or at the meeting to wisely use their time and produce the outcome. (This is guided by the proviso that a meeting should never be used to ‘read’ information to participants!)
If you’re a convener, don’t call your next meeting without answering these questions. If you’re a meeting participant, don’t be afraid to startle your colleagues and the convener with this critical question, “Why am I here?” If you want to be part of effective, high-energy, high-impact meetings, apply this simple question and encourage a business culture that supports it. Your company, co-workers, customers and you deserve it!
Posted May 2nd, 2010 by Steve Alexander
A client and friend recently sent me a Harvard Business Review article, titled “The Acceleration Trap.” Important reading if you’re leading a company or organization and you’ve gotten caught up in the ‘more is more’ addiction and find yourself multi-tasking and using technology to ‘stay in touch’ at all times. The reason the concepts they highlight are so startling is that the authors have studied the impact all this 24/7 ‘in-touchness’ can and is having on the work environment. What we think is making us more productive is actually hampering our effectiveness… and there’s a big difference between being efficient (for example, staying in touch at all times with lightning speed response to e-mails, tweets, texts, etc.) versus being effective (actually achieving productive, meaningful, tangible, mission-driven results).
I facilitate a lot of medium to large meetings, retreats, team-building and training sessions, strategic planning events and other types of in-person meetings, including some with just one or two people. For years we’ve been applying some common-sense ground rules about the use of technology in those sessions, the importance of being ‘present’ to have effective interaction with peers and team members and how to productively engage with others in a way that creates meaningful outcomes. Technology, and its applications that try to keep us in touch with what’s happening ‘outside the room’ can actually be a big deterrent in those settings. With some playful and thought-initiating exercises and ground rules, we establish an important commitment from participants to connect with those in the room.
I’ve had more friends and colleagues admit their e-mail addictions recently than ever before. So, what can we do to make ourselves the master of the technology we have at our disposal rather than how it’s become/becoming our master? How do we avoid the pitfalls of multi-tasking and re-learn how to focus and regain effectiveness (and our sanity!) and how to be present in the moment?
Some simple tips: 1) Read the HBR article. It will get your attention if you’re responsible for your or others’ results and the achievement of goals and priorities. 2) Ask yourself, when you’re with someone else or in a group setting, how important is it really that I check the latest e-mail, news, tweet or some other external information source? How will that add value to who I am with and what I’m doing at this moment? 3) Learn to be present… in the moment, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, to ensure you are truly (intellectually and emotionally) connected to the person(s) with whom you’re supposed to be communicating and interacting. 4) Disconnect on purpose. Plan some times when you are completely off the technology grid. Use the time with family, friends, peers and colleagues. Or even invest in time to be alone. 5) Build a habit of shutting off your ‘connected devices’ when you’re in a meeting and invest instead in actively listening and engaging in the discussion. You were asked to be present because your presence matters. Make it matter intentionally. 6) When you find yourself getting caught up in the ‘acceleration trap’, ask yourself if doing more is the same as achieving more. Create and apply a litmus test that will guide you to determine if more and faster actually equals better.
Bottom line: It’s up to you to make time to take a break from the pace and impact that our technological connection has created. Stop to smell the roses. Just promise you won’t snap a picture of the roses on your iPhone and tweet it to your Facebook friends!
Posted April 18th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
When you’re responsible for a meeting, whether it’s a one-on-one or a group, in-person or by phone, teleconference, etc., try this effective technique for driving solid, measurable results from the time and effort you’ll spend with your meeting participant(s). The process can be used in a brainstorm session with others who are involved in designing and making the meeting successful, or you can do it on your own. The key element is to do it in writing until you’re crisp, clear and focused on the three outcomes from the following question.
“Thinking about the participants (again, this can be a meeting with one or more), what do I want him/her/them to think, feel and do as a result of this meeting?” Sounds simple enough, right? Now try it quickly with an upcoming meeting you’ve generated or one you’re planning.
First, what do I want them to think: Depending on your meeting, you should come up with “I” statements as to what the person(s) should be thinking about you, your fellow meeting planners, your proposal, project, etc. “I like this idea!” “I believe this will provide us what we need.” “I want to hear more.” “I like the thoughtfulness that’s gone into this proposal.” The more “thoughts” you generate that connect with the feelings you want to elicit and the action you want to lead to, the better.
Second, what do I want them to feel: People are often motivated by the feelings generated during an experience. Feelings are typically one-word statements like, “confidence,” “encouraged,” “excited,” “invested,” “respected,” “trust,” etc. You get the idea. Any time you follow a feeling by the word “that,” “like,” “as,” or similar words, you know you have a thought, not a feeling. Put those responses back in the first category.
Finally, what do I want them to do: Based on the thoughts and feelings you’ve created by your presentation, discussion, interaction, etc., you should end up with a crisp, concise, thoughtful and strategic “do” from this session. Homing in on this will help you build the discipline to use your and your audience’s time wisely, respectfully and productively. The length, format, venue, number of participants, etc. for the meeting don’t matter.
Next time you’re planning a meeting, even if it’s a stand-up five minutes, use this brief exercise wisely, complete it in advance and write it down. You’ll quickly find your meetings generating thoughtful results and engaging your participants respectfully and productively.
Posted February 26th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
If you’ve not yet read Jim Collins’ “Good to Great,” you’ve missed one of the best books ever for business lessons and insights you can apply to just about everything you do. Another easy order from half. com or amazon. com. One topic he discusses, when writing about how some companies achieve greatness and endure, and others not, is the Stockdale Paradox, named after his conversations with Admiral Stockdale, a prisoner-of-war from ’65 to ’73 during the Vietnam war. Collins used the results of that conversation to describe the paradox like this, “[the ability to] retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties. AND at the same time, Confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.”
Is there anyone for whom, in these challenging economic times, with public dialogue barraged by joblessness, recalls, scandals of various sorts, political fighting and finger-pointing and a general gloom that’s sustained itself for a significant time, who is not tempted to fall victim to that doom and gloom, and lose their way, as company or a leader? Just switch on the news. Any time. Any channel, regardless of your politics. You’ll find plenty of reason to forget the first part of the paradox.
What’s interesting, as Collins further explains from his discussion, is that the great companies followed this line of pragmatism (the combination of hope and faith that you will prevail while simultaneously confronting the facts, the reality in a “brutally” honest way). We could all use a dose of this pragmatism as we face budget challenges, staff reductions and re-organizations and in many instances re-analyzing where our industries should go and what they should become in the future. It doesn’t matter if you’re a non-profit, a worldwide service or product provider or elected leader entrusted with defining a path through the quagmire of challenges.
Next time you find yourself confronting a choice, remember the Stockdale Paradox. It’s a great concept to guide right thinking and right action. Especially if you expect to go from good to great. And to lead others there as well.
Posted February 24th, 2010 by Steve Alexander
The Steve Alexander Group celebrates its 10 year anniversary with the launch of its new Web site at alexanderpa.com. We welcome you to take a test drive to see what you think. If you like the experience, let us know. Your feedback about what works and what could be done better is part of our commitment to improvement. After all, the site is about you, our clients, colleagues and supporters, and the chance we’ve had to serve on behalf of the good work these many individuals and organizations do for their clients, customers and constituents.
And, of course, if our service lines, strategic partners and client testimonials inspire you to contact us, we’d love to have the opportunity to see if we can help you meet your challenges, contribute to your success and collaborate with you as you grow in the coming year.
We’ll also be offering tips, tidbits, advice and insights to challenge your thinking, and stretch yourself, your employees and your organization through our blog. We invite you to opt-in so you can keep abreast of the latest information, articles, resources and other opportunities that can benefit you.
So, thanks for taking the time to experience our new home. We look forward to continuing our work, and our commitment to the best professional services in an array of areas where we can provide value and collaborate in the coming years.
Posted December 14th, 2009 by The Steve Alexander Group
When was the last time you found yourself saying, “Gosh, I just can’t wait to get to work today so I can attend all my meetings!” Many view meetings as a waste of time and effort, a drain on really productive work, with no real, tangible return. Yet, for most of us, meetings are one of the most commonly used tools in the workplace. One tip for ensuring meetings are effective and produce results is the use of an agenda. And one way to be certain there is one, is to ask in advance, “When will the agenda for the meeting be available?”
If you attend a meeting and there’s no printed agenda, you can always ask for an informal one before the meeting gets started. “Before we begin the meeting, I’d just like to ask if we can review what we’re going to cover in the time we have, what the priority issues are, and what we need to accomplish?” Setting the tone for a productive experience begins with a clear statement of the purpose of the meeting, then an agenda, even if informal, to guide the discussion. This will keep attendees focused and will allow all participants, whether the meeting convener or not, to pull everyone back on topic with the suggestion that, when off-topic discussion occurs (and it invariably does!), “Perhaps we can put than on the agenda for a next meeting, since it seems we’re not on the agenda topic we agreed to at the beginning of the meeting.”
Once there’s an agenda in place, everyone can play a role in keeping the group focused. Try it next time and let us know how it works for you.
Return to Top