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Years ago, I had the opportunity to attend an experiential training that was designed for individuals to get outside of themselves and to experience the power of a focused intention. Ten of us were given the assignment to create a Thanksgiving meal for a needy person or family out of nothing. “Out of nothing” meant that we could not spend our own money to provide the feast. We divided ourselves into groups and descended upon the public to accomplish this task. We had two hours to complete the assignment.
Some members of our group went to supermarkets in the area and explained our mission to store managers. Others just approached people on the street. The rest of us went door-to-door explaining our challenge and asking for donations of food.
Everyone was generous. The supermarkets offered up a turkey, potatoes, stuffing, rolls, pies, and anything else we wanted. On the street, people gave us cash donations to purchase what the stores didn’t provide. And in the neighborhoods, folks gave us a variety of can goods and other food stuffs that they had purchased for their own Thanksgiving celebration.
I had the opportunity to go with the group that went door-to-door. At one door a young mother came to the door with two small children. Because it was cold outside, she kindly invited us in to warm ourselves while we explained our mission. Excited at the prospect of participating, she took us to the kitchen to search for something that we could use.
When she opened her cupboard, there were only three cans to be found: a can of condensed milk, green beans, and some stew. We opted for the green beans. Being somewhat startled by the lack of food, I asked her why there was so little in the cupboard. She explained that she was recently divorced and that she was waiting for her alimony check that was supposed to come any day. I tried to talk her out of participating, but she wouldn’t hear of it.
She exclaimed, “There are certainly more people out there who are needier than me!” she exclaimed. We took the green beans and exited her home. Outside we all just looked at each other, and we knew who our needy family would be.
We met up with the rest of our group about a half hour later and explained what had happened. We made one last run to the grocery store to buy a few things that we needed and then returned to her home. When she answered the door bell, she asked, “Did you forget something?” Laughingly we said, “We just came by to bring you all of this.” At that moment the team members, who had been hiding in her bushes, burst upon the scene with armloads of food. She started crying and so did we. We filled all of her cupboards and the fridge and had about $400 dollars in cash that we gave her. We left her home filled with the spirit that warms the heart and increases a deeper love for humanity.
The word “thanksgiving” seems to encompass a number of different ideas. “Thanks” would suggest that either we feel thankful for those gifts, opportunities, or blessings that have come our way or that we express thanks to others for what they have given us. “Giving” seems to imply that either you are giving something to others or that others are giving something to you. The combination of both words implies that there is an expression or feeling of gratitude for what is given or that something is given as an expression of gratitude to us. In either case, there is an “outflow” that in turn is multiplied with a significantly increased inflow.
So What Can You Do?
I hope that you get that the operative word is “do.” Here are a number of questions that you might answer for yourself as you attempt to increase your own sense of gratitude in this thanksgiving season.
What do you have? Taking a quick inventory of your life and writing down all that is yours is a great way of seeing what often goes unseen. We all take things for granted, and we just don’t often take a moment in the frantic pace of our own lives to notice the things, the people, the situations, the opportunities, or the blessings that are ours. Sometimes even the greatest challenge you are currently experiencing is really a great learning opportunity in disguise. Notice what you usually don’t notice.
What are you doing or what will you do? Because conversation includes not only what we say, but also everything we do, you have an opportunity to do or say something. However, you need to decide what you want to do that might deliberately improve your results, relationships or respect. If you are not satisfied in any of the previously mentioned areas, your dissatisfaction is the key to your improved success. Be clear in your intent, decide what to do, make a plan, and then execute the plan.
Who needs your appreciation? Years ago when I went out of my way to thank my wife for something, she stopped, looked at me, and asked, “Are you sick?” That’s when I knew that I had to do a better job of going out of my way to express gratitude for all that she does. Certainly there are some people at work or others who may make a contribution to your life in some small way that you could recognize. Many people go unnoticed or unrecognized for the hard work that they do. You could take such people aside and express your appreciation for their contributions. Deliberately and specifically express your appreciation to and for others.
Do you want to make a difference? There are ample opportunities to do something for others that will make a difference. While away from home on a business trip, I sat alone in a restaurant eating dinner. When I finished eating, the waiter approached me and told me that someone in the dining room had paid for my meal. When I asked who had done such a kindness, he wryly refused to tell me. I was touched that someone would go out of their way to do something like that for someone they didn’t know. That experience made me look for opportunities to return the favor to someone else. Look for opportunities to make a difference.
What could you give?You have many things you could give to another person: your time, a smile, or a kind word cost nothing in terms of monetary terms. Offering support or encouragement to those who are struggling in some way will mean a lot to the person because it says, “I noticed” and, “I care enough to do or say something.” If you want to give a gift simply think about what a person might truly enjoy or appreciate. Be sincere and trust your heart in offering something that would be meaningful to them.
Are you ready to be uncomfortable?Getting outside of what is normally quite comfortable can be difficult for some people. Accept that you might feel awkward and don’t let your negative feelings or the thoughts that might arise keep you from doing something that will pay bigger returns. Stay committed and don’t let you, deter yourself.
With all the negativity that we hear or experience of religious intolerance, political unrest, poor business practices, racial indifference, or within our personal relationships, could we not do more to improve the human condition? We need to step up and do something to improve the quality of life we experience. Doing so, lifts others and ourselves. Although Thanksgiving is a US holiday, we could all express our thanks for that which others give us, and we could go out of our way to give something to others. I hope you will take the time this holiday season to do just that.View Comments
You talk about challenges and issues until you are blue in the face, but you still don’t get results. People promise they will do this or that, but they don’t. So you have a decision to make: “Do I bring up the tough issue, their lack of commitment, their poor performance—or not?”
We asked leaders why they avoid talking about what matters most. Their responses:
· “We hoped that he would improve on his own.” (Without corrective feedback this is highly unlikely.)
· “I feel awkward and uncomfortable talking about the issue, and I know she feels that way too.” (Classic conflict avoidance—any whiff of a possible negative emotional outburst sends people running for the hills.)
· “Her performance isn’t that big of a deal.” (This thinking is simply a justification for failing to take action about an individual who is not performing.)
· “I don’t want him to distrust me.” (In reality, failing to talk about an important issue creates more distrust: people generally are aware that their performance is substandard, so they are always waiting for the axe to fall.)
· “I don’t want to get in trouble with Legal.” (This reveals a failure to follow proper company protocols for handling poor performance. Perhaps this leader is afraid that the employee might retaliate by leveling false accusations that could damage his or her reputation or career.)
· “I don’t want to destroy the team’s morale.” (Everyone on a team knows who the weak link is. If the leader fails to address an individual’s lack of performance, there is an increase in frustration, drama, and ill-will from team members who must then pull more than their fair share of the workload.)
If you have found yourself thinking or speaking any of these statements, you need to acknowledge the thinking that is running your behavior.
Here are some things that you can do to overcome fake talk and get the type of results you are really hoping to achieve.
Think About Your Own Thoughts. Before you decide to address an individual’s poor performance, consider the clarity of your directions or expectations. Identify exactly what you want the individual to do and what specific results you expect the person to achieve. If you are unclear or vague about your expectations, the words you say will not help your cause. Be as specific as you can, or your directions may be misinterpreted by the listener. If you have not been getting the results you desire, begin by examining the clarity of your instructions.
Encourage Candor. Effective leaders know that when people feel comfortable sharing their concerns, learning and understanding will increase. Enhanced learning improves problem-solving and decision-making which impact the outcome of any endeavor. When work becomes hectic, leaders tend to become task-focused—they seek information, but don’t listen and attend to what people are really saying. In other words, a leader may say she or he wants honest input, but their behavior says otherwise. This disconnect has a damper effect on candor and open communication. Leaders need to walk their talk when it comes to encouraging candor about what is not working or why desired results are not achieved.
Ask Questions. Ask questions to see if you have been understood, to gain commitment, or to clarify your understanding. Ask questions to encourage your people to ask you questions. The way people answer your questions will you give insight into how they think and what they don’t know. Your improved ability to recognize what people are thinking will also help you to understand the power of your own delivery, which will allow you to make adjustments to how and what you communicate. If you can understand what keeps a person from performing as you desire, you can adapt your communication to help the person be more successful.
Listen and Attend. “She doesn’t listen,” is one of the most common complaints people identify about their leaders. We listen with our ears and attend with the rest of us. To attend, you must be completely present, hearing the words the person is saying and also recognizing the unspoken messages their nonverbals are sending. Even when a person is complaining or blaming, a wise leader can look past the negativity to find the positive value they are really expressing. If you listen and attend to what that person is saying, you might identify what is of value to them—and what they are not getting. You will gain insights about what can contribute to this person’s success.
Leaders can avoid the fake talk that happens in the workplace. Begin by thinking about what specific outcomes you desire, and encourage people to be candid about the how and why of their tasks. Ask questions and listen to what people are telling you, and you will find your people will be more productive, efficient, and successful. This, after all, is what everyone wants.View Comments
In our leadership development training, we like to start out by asking people to list as many characteristics about their former leaders that they both abhorred and adored. This tends to start out as a fun exercise, but takes a more serious turn as people then start to look at themselves and their own leadership skills and behaviors.
1. Has a clear vision of how people’s work meets the leader’s expectations
2. Provides timely, clear, constructive feedback
3. Expresses appreciation and gives credit where credit is due
4. Actively listens and answers questions
5. Treats others with respect and kindness
6. Consistently fair in their treatment of others
7. Trains, develops, and grows their people
8. Willing to jump in and help out when things become difficult
9. Has an open door policy and is available
10. Supportive and protective of their people when things go wrong
Obviously, this list is not comprehensive. There are many great leadership traits we could add to the list.
One of the primary skills of strong leaders is excellent communication. Look closely at the list. How many of these items are directly related to good communication? Every item on the list above is impacted by one’s ability to communicate. Indeed, the definition of “conversation” encompasses not only what we say, but also everything we do and how we treat others.
In spite of some people’s best efforts to avoid it, conversations play a large part in a leader’s success. Leaders are often promoted because they possess a high degree of skill and expertise in a given area. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are good with people or know how to be an effective leader.
Here are a few questions you can ask yourself that can improve your leadership skills and help you get the results you want.
To help answer this question, you might ask yourself, “How do my people treat me?” For example, if you are warm and friendly, your people will probably be warm and friendly in return. On the other hand, if you are cold and blunt or if your demeanor is unpredictable, shifting between Mother Theresa and Attila the Hun for example, your people will likely go to great lengths to avoid you. Be approachable and consistent in dealing with others and they will reciprocate.
Don’t assume they know this even thought it may be obvious to you. Recent research indicates that somewhere between 70-95% of people do not know how what they do contributes to their organization’s success. If most individuals lack this understanding and you haven’t conveyed it to them, then you are missing the opportunity to increase their motivation and the likelihood that they will be as productive as they could be. Ask them if they know their impact on the organization’s success, listen to their response, and be prepared to fill in any holes.
I once had a woman in class who had worked for a major telecommunications company for 19 years tell me that in all that time, no one had ever told her, “thank you.” Unfortunately this example is not uncommon. People need to know they add value and make a difference to the organization, and they need to be acknowledged for their efforts. It takes so little effort to say, “I noticed you did ________ and the impact of that was _______. Thank you.” Leaders often don’t realize how doing this regularly can positively impact their organization, so they don’t. Good leaders do.
A number of years ago, I decided I needed to express more appreciation at home. I determined that I would try to say one positive thing to each member of my family each day. That evening, my wife fixed a wonderful meal. After we finished, I told her that I greatly appreciated her efforts that evening in making sure we had such a wonderful dinner. Stunned, she looked at me and said, “Are you sick or something?!” I knew right then that I was in trouble. Obviously this was something I wasn’t doing often enough! Look for opportunities to catch people doing the right thing, then tell them privately and specifically what they did well and the positive impact it made. Then thank them and walk away. You’ll make their day.
If you are not, take a look at yourself and review the clarity and specifics of the directions you are giving. If you are vague, then you are leaving the interpretation of your instructions up to your listener. If you didn’t get what you wanted and you were clear, the next step is to sit down with the individual and discuss why they got the results they did and what they could do next time to improve the outcome.
You can become an effective leader! As in anything else you do, awareness of what is working and what is not is the first step. Then make a plan of action to correct or improve what’s needed. Ask yourself what you adore and abhor in a leader and them ask yourself if what you are doing is worthy of adoration. Being deliberate about your leadership development will improve your results!View Comments
DialogueWORKS© helps clients to achieve results while helping organizations and individuals build a solid culture of respect and positive relationships.
Organizations don't perform, people do. Because of this, we believe in developing and maximizing the skills of individual contributors to improve the capacity of the enterprise. We help organizations put people back into the business of the business.