I wrote the original version of this in 2008. Since then, I have learned a lot about expectations and the importance of them to individual and organizational achievement. When I read the earlier version of what follows (before I edited and hopefully improved it), I thought it would be a great thing to post here for you to read, and more importantly, for you to think about. In it, I ask some pointed questions. They are pointed for a reason — I hope you ask them of yourself and listen to your answers …
Today I want to talk about two libraries we all have access to. One is obvious (it is coming later), and one might be more initially interesting to you. About a year ago, I had the chance to hear Emmitt Smith, the all-time leader rusher in NFL history, speak. Then, I got to meet him. I love getting the chance to listen and learn from people who have succeeded at high levels in any endeavor — there is always something to learn from them. Emmitt was no different — since his football career ended, he has built a very successful business.
One of the most common questions I get from leaders is how to communicate change more successfully. My answer is, in part, here for you today. It relates to the John Dewey quotation in this blog post, and that means you must think about more than the change itself. You have to think about the experience of change. The fact is that everyone has experienced much change, and all of that experience isn’t positive. Yet many leaders communicate change from the position of how great it is, and all those rainbows and roses aren’t selling when people are seeing change through their less rosy personal filter. So how do we connect better, creating the commonality and community Dewey speaks of?
I love words. They are at the foundation of our ability to communicate, and they are a significant part of my life, both spoken and as a writer. As a leadership consultant, trainer and coach, I spend much of my time trying to understand the words of others and use words effectively to help them see my perspective. Words are just as important in my role as a leader — and I would say the same is true for you. Given that, let me share an observation I’ve had about a specific word, and how instructive it might be (both specifically to this word and more broadly as a communicator) for you.
I was at my farm recently, and I was looking at the silo you see a picture of here. Erected in 1979, it was the “Cadillac” of structures of its type. Today, the entire silo business is nonexistent. The change is a story largely of the modern dairy (and to a lesser degree hog) farm. As the farms get larger and the organizations more complex, the silo can’t play a role. As big as they are (this one, 20 feet across and 60 feet tall), they just aren’t large enough. The silo business in agriculture is all but over. In the rest of the world, however, silos are alive and well in organizations everywhere. You know what I mean. There is the sales silo, the marketing silo, the manufacturing silo, the IT silo. There is also the first shift silo, the second shift silo and much more. Do I need to go on? What can we take from this situation — “real” silos losing favor, but organizational ones alive and well? Let’s see what we can see.
Questions are like diamonds — they are extremely valuable and can be used in many different ways. While we mostly think of diamonds in jewelry, most people think of questions as a way to gain understanding or solve problems. But like diamonds, which have many industrial and other non-jewelry uses, questions have many other uses too. I want to use the remainder of the space I have here to talk about some uses we haven’t discussed much yet this month.
I’ve long felt and taught that one of the best ways to learn better questioning skills was to watch great interviewers. In the past, I’ve often suggested Charlie Rose and Barbara Walters. Now Barbara’s mostly retired and Charlie’s gig has changed. Does that mean my advice has changed? Yes, a bit.
Last week in this space, I wrote about the importance of seeing opportunity in your team and what you can do to help your team see opportunities as well. I ended by telling you that the way to create that opportunity view was by creating a definiteness of purpose across all members of your team. Then I promised I would say more about how to create that is week. If I could give you just one suggestion it would be to: Discuss organizational whys.
Do you see “opportunity is nowhere?” Or do you see “opportunity is now here?” The letters are the same so both of them are “there” — and it depends on what you see as to what actions you might take next. You have the same situation as you survey your team today. What do you see? Do you see opportunity every way you look, or is there no opportunity in sight?
If you have read a lot of my posts here or on my other blog, you have seen me write about the fact that too much emphasis can be placed on goal setting. Not because setting goals isn’t important, but because too many people exert effort to set goals, then feel like the job is done. This is like going to the starting line of a race, crouching down in the blocks and getting ready to run, but feeling like you don’t need to run the race because your work is already done.