Choose Your Focus

Here is a simple but very effective tool that David Rock shares in his must read book 'Quiet Leadership'.

The Choose Your Focus model has five different ways we can think about or communicate about any project.  The model helps us to recognize which angle we are thinking from and then allows us to choose another way to think, or allows everyone in the conversation to be talking from the same angle.  This simple model is helpful in any conversation or meeting.

  1. Vision: Vision thinking is about the "why" or "what."  It is the big picture of what is your goal or what are you trying to achieve.
  2. Planning: Planning thinking is about how you are going to get there.
  3. Detail: Once you know where you are going and how to get there, then comes the detail of doing thinking.
  4. Problem: Problem thinking is the territory of events going wrong.  The focus on problems.
  5. Drama: Is the place where things have fallen apart and all that is left is emotional charge.

As David Rock suggests, I have used this by putting it up during a meeting so that everyone can see it.  Then with each agenda item stating which level we are talking at.  It is easy for people to get lost in detail, but if they know it is a vision or planning conversation, the detail can wait.  This is very helpful for having everyone thinking and communicating at the same level.

As David Rock wisely says "Quiet leaders are highly disciplined  in their conversations.  They are diligently focused on ensuring every conversation is as productive as possible every step of the way, and if it's not, they do something about this.  They know that it's important to get the process of any conversation right before getting into any of the content of a dialogue".

Question: Where could you use this 'Choose Your Focus' tool in a conversation or meeting this week?

The Decision Tree

Recently I was reading 'Fierce Conversations' by Susan Scott and came across this helpful analogy she calls the 'Decision Tree'.  I have used this while coaching others to help them process what kind of decision they are grappling with.  This model gives clarity to employees about where they have the authority to make decisions and take action.  It also provides a path for growth and professional development, and personal accountability. 

The Decision Tree:-

  1. Leaf Decisions - Make the decision.  Act on it.  Do not report the action you took.
  2. Branch Decisions - Make the decision.  Act on it.  Report the action you took daily, weekly or monthly.
  3. Trunk Decisions - Make the decision.  Report your decision before you take action.
  4. Root Decisions - Make the decision jointly, with input from many people.  These are the decisions that, if poorly made and implemented, could cause major harm to the organization.

This picture of a tree is useful tool in helping your team understand which decisions lie within their authority. Are you staff clear on which decisions are within their authority and which to report or seek input? 

Pictures are a great way for us to learn!

The WIGWAM Cycle

When it comes to developing a product or service, we seldom get it exactly right the first time.  In ' The Personal MBA' written by Josh Kaufman, he suggests the use of an Iteration Cycle to make things better over time.  Changes and revisions bring the project one step closer to what you are trying to accomplish.

He lists these six major steps which he calls the WIGWAM method:

  1. Watch - What's happening?  What's working and what's not?
  2. Ideate - What could you improve?  What are your options?
  3. Guess - Based on what you've learned so far, which of your ideas do you think will make the biggest impact?
  4. Which? - Decide which change to make.
  5. Act - Actually make this change.
  6. Measure - What happened?  Should you keep the change or go back to how things were before the iteration?

Once you have completed the cycle, measure the results of the change and decide whether or not to keep them.  You can then repeat the process by going back to the beginning and starting the WIGWAM cycle again.

I like this very simple but practical cycle for making improvements in what our business is offering.  How could this apply to what you are currently developing or seeking to improve?

The Stories We Tell Ourselves...

Last week I sat and listened to two friends narrate a story.  An incident had happened related to a project that is very dear to their hearts.  I listened as they took one event and told themselves a detailed story about why this had happened, to the point that the person involved (a friend) had become a villain.  We all do it!  We look at a situation where we have incomplete information and we tell ourselves a story about the other persons motivation, intent and character.  Unfortunately we tend to tell ourselves ugly stories!  In turn we then move ourselves to the moral high ground.

The book Crucial Accountability* has a very helpful chapter on challenging the stories we tell ourselves.  Since most of the stories we tell ourselves happen in our minds, this is where we need to change our approach.  The book suggests that we ask ourselves questions such as:-

  • Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do that?
  • What other sources of influence are acting on this person? (e.g. structural, social?)
  • What's causing this person to do that?
  • What am I missing?
  • What, if anything, am I pretending not to notice about my role in the problem?

The approach we need to take is one of curiosity, to hold the issue lightly with a curious mind that seeks to find out more information.  We need to replace our anger and judging with curiosity. 

If the person involved has caused us problems in the past then we are naturally even quicker to jump to ugly conclusions.  A tainted history means we are more likely to assume the worst.  But we need to work on our own thoughts and feelings before we utter a word.  In order to go into a crucial conversation well we need to first get our head right.  We establish a hostile climate for interaction the moment we we feel morally superior or have the other person judged as guilty. 

Brene Brown in her book Rising Strong also talks about this idea of being curious and listening to the stories we tell ourselves.  Both of these books provide insightful and practical approaches which have helped me to monitor the stories in my own mind.  When something happens which I don't understand, I try not to jump to conclusions, but rather peg it on an imaginary clothes line in my mind, until more information is available to provide a full explanation. 

Let's fight our natural tendency to assume the worst of others and replace it with genuine curiosity.

*Crucial Accountability by Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan and Switzler

Leadership is Personal

'Great institutions are not managed; they are led.  They are not administered; they are driven to ever-increasing levels of accomplishment by individuals who are passionate about winning'.

'Personal leadership is about visibility - with all members of the institution.  Great CEOs roll up their sleeves and tackle problems personally.  They don't hide behind staff.  They never simply preside over the work of others.  They are visible every day with customers, suppliers and business partners.'

'Personal leadership is about communication, openness, and a willingness to speak often and honestly,and with respect for the intelligence of the reader or listener.  Leaders don't hide behind corporate double-speak.  They don't leave to others the delivery of bad news. They treat every employee as someone who deserves to understand what's going on in the enterprise.'

'Most of all, personal leadership is about passion.  All great business executives - CEOs and their subordinates - have passion and show it, live it and love it.'

'The passion exhibited by true leaders is not a substitute for good thinking or good people or good execution.  Rather, it is the electricity that courses through a well made machine that makes it run, makes it hum, makes it want to run harder and better.'

Some great quotes and food for thought written by Louis V Gerstner, Jr, in 'Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?'