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Tag Archives: Communication

Yes, we’re all dumb – enough to make mistakes – and then we learn.  In a way, that is a part of the self-deprecating culture I miss about the military.  We are all very hard on ourselves, and while also served with an occasional dose of – ahem – “confidence” we also ridicule ourselves more often than anything else.  Well, ourselves and each other.  I have grown to realize there is a productive measure to that ridicule that improves individual, collective and team performance.

When a working team establishes a communication environment that allows for straight, sometimes brutal, but honest and even more often comical, communication – there is very little left unsaid.  Why is that helpful?  Because it ensures that all members of a team are voicing their observations when they thinks something is awry.  If you are doing something that can be done better, you’ll be told.  If your performance is good, but can be better – you’ll be told.  If someone disagrees with you – you’ll be told.  The guess work is taken out, and the perceived friction point can be addressed.  This reduces what I’ve been introduced to as “office politics”.  If we’ve learned anything in a democratic society, it’s that “politics” and “efficiency” often get in each other’s way.

Of course, there needs to be moderation.  No team should suddenly start verbally lashing out at each other (nor should they ever really be “lashing out”).  First, everyone has to believe that everyone else in the team is more concerned about the TEAM’s goals and objectives than any individual’s objectives.  Team-orientation over self-orientation is a topic of its own, and gets into the foundations of team building.  But that will be it for today – let’s keep it short.  How honest have you been with your team lately?

*You might have noticed the title was intentionally, incorrectly spelled as “were” instead of “we’re”.  It’s a play on words… making “dumb” only temporary, until enlightened.

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I like to be adventurous sometimes… and this is something that has come to mind and I’ve noticed in Global, Political and local context.  So I’d like to address it some, and briefly apply it to team building and entry-level leadership and manager roles.

Human people, as a mass, are control freaks.  We will always try to find blame for bad things on attributes which can be controlled, or that we at least perceive we can control.  It gives us peace of mind to think we can do something to prevent the recurrence of a mal-event.

It is much less likely for people in mass, to attribute mal-events to forces that are much more difficult to control, require a shift in thought in order to control, or are simply not controllable.  The only exceptions to this rule are those mal-events that are results of natural disasters.  Even then, there will be those that will try to rationalize that any negative effects of the natural disaster were preventable, or controllable, based on some aspect of human error.

We as people are horrible at differentiating what CAN be influenced, and what CANNOT be influenced.  I use the word “influence” intentionally.  No single thing can be controlled, but it can be influenced.  And often, people over-look the ability of influence.  The best influences are those that are never realized, yet effect the decisions and the results of events.

To this, I say – always seek out and diligently identify any contributing factors to an outcome, if you are looking to effect the outcome.  This works in micro and macro applications.  When managing a team and you notice a lack, or shift in performance or results, first identify all contributing factors (team members, member’s work environment, your implicit signals, members’ home environments, etc).  Then, analyze where you should focus your INFLUENCE (not “control”).

Well placed influence will always reap a higher return and more efficient results than emplacing “controls” or “exercising control”.  If you feel like you’ve lost “control” of your team – change your mindset.  Stop trying to control people and control the environment and start influencing people and harboring the environment.  The best part of influencing anyone or anything – effectively influencing forces you to listen, comprehend, and understand the subject of your intended influence.

How do you influence others?

It’s been too long since my last article, so I’ve decided to squeeze one in from my WP app for Android.  I’ve already mentioned my reading of, The Third Alternative, by Stephen Covey.  A big part in the 7 Habits, as well as the 3rd Alternative is “seeking you”.  There are always, at least, two involved in any conversation and it is imperative to truly understand what the concerns of the other person are.  Active listening is essential to obtain a true understanding of these concerns.  I’ve remembered a time where I didn’t realize I was using any particular method, but active listening produced relationship changing results.

In 2006, while deployed to Fallujah, Iraq, I noticed that one of my Marines and best friends, was acting out of sorts.  Something was bothering him and it was visible in his mannerisms, quality of work, and the look in his eyes that he couldn’t hide.  I knew I had to talk to him, but didn’t know what to use to get him to talk about what was going on.  I soon found, he didn’t need me to talk to him. He needed to talk to me…. I just needed to listen.

We sat down, and I tried to open the small talk. Dead end.  I asked questions trying to get something I could then ask follow on questions… Dead end.  Then I looked at him and said, “Charlie, what’s going on?”  He just looked at me, then looked away.  I insisted, “C’mon, what’s going on…here, home, outer space?  I know you have something going on inside and it’s killing me to see you deal with it on your own.  It’s just me and you here, What’s going on?”

He started talking. At first about random things that were frustrating, “why are we even here (Iraq)? I mean, c’mon Bert (my nick name), what are we really doing here?”  I responded, “Well, I don’t think that is what you really want the answer to…but it is clear what we are doing here seems insignificant compared to what you feel you should be dealing with.  Where do you feel like you need to be?”  He looked at me, his eyes welled up… I could tell he felt vulnerable, but he trusted me.  The tears came, and it all came out.  He was truly concerned about some concern-worthy issues back home.  My throat gets tight and my eyes still water remembering the occasion.

I could have “gone after him” and talked at him, telling him how he needed to fix his attitude and step up his performance (typical Marine counseling session).  But I never was a fan of that approach, and I knew he didn’t need to hear anything from me… He needed to know someone wanted to hear from him.  When it comes to active listening and being an effective communicator and leader, I had a whole new door to communication opened for me.  Not to mention a deeper connection with one of my best friends.

Posted from my Droid RAZR

Regimental Combat Team 5 Memorial. February, 2007.

As I write this, I’ve spent nearly 9 years in one of the most highly acclaimed leadership producing organization in the world – The United States Marine Corps.  During that time I have been given numerous opportunities to observe leaders of varying personalities and deliveries.  I have also realized that leadership is EVERYWHERE, not only in the military, business, or parenting.  Leadership just happens, and it is as sure as gravity.  The quality of leadership, however, is quite susceptible to fluctuation.  There are often common traits amongst good and great leaders, and in my experience there are two that are the most important:  Good and great leaders are genuine and sincere.

While there is much to be said about learning from those who are successful and those who came before you; there is a fine line between emulating their founding qualities, and their specific actions.  Some great leaders are great speakers and charismatic, others are quiet and reserved.   Some prefer very structured algorithms and methods in which all things have a specific procedure, while others have a high tolerance of ambiguity and seem to take things as they come.  A person can be a great leader, or even a “level 5 leader” as John Maxwell or Jim Collins would describe them with ANY of the previously described personalities.  How? They are genuine and sincere.  Their actions reflect alignment between their personalities and their delivery as a leader.  One might argue that the leader must also produce results to be considered a successful leader, which is true… but a discussion for another time.

Lead others by being GREAT at being YOU!  Yes, YOU! Don’t be that great leader you read about.  He might be great because his natural strengths to speak and motivate people afforded him amazing leadership opportunities within the situations he was presented.  If you are not a naturally strong leader, trying to mimic him will be clear to anyone you step in front of.  Your followers will know you are not being you.  Be genuine, and show your genuine intentions and concerns for the goals you intend for you and your followers to obtain.  Don’t forget to communicate and deliver your genuine message in your OWN way.  In order for anyone who chooses to follow you, they have to see your delivery and the way you present yourself are aligned with you as a genuine person.  And yes, I did say “choose” to follow you, because just being in a position of leadership doesn’t mean your “followers” will follow you.

Communicate your genuine concerns by being SINCERE!  It doesn’t take a degree in communications to know if a person isn’t committed to what they are saying.  If a message is worth communicating, then it is worth paying due attention to who you are communicating to.  Show them it matters to you that they understand what you are trying to say.  You don’t even have to be a great speaker or communicator.  The receiving party will be able to tell if you are being sincere.  As Malcolm Gladwell points out in his book, “Blink”, all humans are able to read the international language of body language.  Some better than others, but if you are not sincere, your body language will tattle-tell on you… and your intended recipient will tune you out.  Repeated offenses of seeming insincere will tarnish your reputation and take away from any chances you have of being perceived as genuine.

Being genuine and sincere are two of the mandatory qualities of a leader that also translate into the qualities of just being a good person.  I have been guilty of being insincere, and it is something I actively work on.  For example, I am working on being a better active listener.  How sincere and genuinely concerned would you believe me to be if  I told you how much I care and that you can talk to me, but when you begin to talk to me you can tell I am thinking about other things, or you don’t have my full attention?  You are probably going to think I am incredibly inconsiderate, regardless of my personality.  Or even worse, if the person thinks highly of you, you may have just made them feel like their problem doesn’t matter – that they don’t matter.  EVERYONE you lead matters!  As a leader, your followers should never feel like they don’t matter.  Thankfully I have identified that area as something for me to improve on… and believe me, there is always something to improve.

As a leader, if nothing else, be genuine and sincere.  Don’t get me wrong, that is not all you have to do to be a successful leader by any means.  There are many books by incredibly smart and well-practiced professionals that can tell you more about being a leader.  As your proficiencies grow within your area of expertise, so will your credibility as a leader.  Don’t stop there! Continue to improve, not just yourself but those that follow you (that is an entirely additional blog…).

For those interested, I have provided a short list of books on leadership that I highly recommend (and yes I have read them).  You just may find some concepts and ideas in my blog to sound strangely familiar.  I have linked their Amazon.com listings if you click on the book title:

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Good to Great by Jim Collins (more about business but plenty of insights on leadership qualities)

Great by Choice by Jim Collins

Level 5 Leadership by John C. Maxwell

It’s Your Ship by Michael Abrashoff

…If you have read this far, humor me:  Reread all but the last paragraph, and replace the word “Leader” with “Husband/Father” and the word “Follower” with “Wife/Children/Family”.  Think about it… it’s funny how that works.

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