Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Don't stop asking questions

One of my employees slipped into my cube white as a sheet

I glanced up.

He paused, took a breath, and from his back pocket pulled an 8-1/2 x 11 piece of paper. He unfolded it with shaking hands and it fluttered gently as he held it up so I could read it.

I recognized it. "Yes?" I said.

He swallowed and asked, "Have I done something wrong?"

I burst into laughter.

He had been summoned by the human resource department to a standard, mandatory training session. Because he is a new employee he had no idea it was a standard class. Because he is an employee who desires to inform himself and set something right had something been perceived incorrectly he came to me to get more informationeven if it meant that he had committed a wrong.

His strained expression telegraphed he didn't understand. I apologized for laughing and explained the training is an ongoing class we rotate all the new employees into. It's designed to raise awareness when our actions offend someone else and provide guidelines and words for someone who has been offended to communicate that effectively.

His shoulders relaxed and he stuffed the paper back in his pocket. I thanked him profusely for broaching the question. He admitted he'd lost a bit of sleep over it.

No matter where we are in our careers if a question arises that causes us to lose sleep, worry or stress-out, we need to have the guts to push ourselves forward and put the question on the table. Tomorrow I'll check in and ask what he learned in the sexual harassment awareness training.

What's holding you back from asking your question?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Mental Cruise Control

Most of our day is based on habits and patterns, a virtual cruise control of the mind. In some aspects this is good, it creates a known path we can travel, the ability to not be on full alert and tax our energies and awareness until we hit stroke-level. The ability to do more than one thing at a time. But.

But what do we miss when we're cruising? The ability to appreciate small kindnesses, to adapt to change, to engage in the true conversation and not the one we think we're having.

Take the cruise control off. Change one thing today, take a walk for your break, stop typing on the computer when you answer your desk phone, look the person in the eye who is speaking to you.

Pull the car out of cruise control on the way home. Take a different route. Go slower.

Take a breath.

Be fully present in the moment.

Tell me what you see.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Standing on separate thought continents

When I first became a supervisor every decision had to be made slowly, methodically as I thought through the options and the various outcomes. Today, I move a little faster, maybe too fast. Someone asked a question last week, and I answered before I truly understood what they actually meant. Then it took twice as long for us to get back to common ground.

We stood on separate thought continents.

I thought about that when I reviewed notes of a new product launch. I methodically plotted an introduction, anticipated the questions I'd be asked, and drafted the strategy to answer each one (and when).  Three sentences into my bullet points the interruptions erupted.

My audience had leapt ahead and not necessarily on the road I navigated.

What is it that makes us want to hurry so fast, make judgments on what we believe others intend, plan or why they take the actions they do? What would happen if we listened to understand? Or waited half a moment to see if, while listening, most of our own questions are answered?

As I reviewed the a rapid fire of questions I’d received and how I’d tried to escape them as if dodging bullets, I realized I don’t have to answer every question that  is lobbed at me. Had I dug a little deeper, sought to understand the creative process that had ignited their queries, maybe I would have learned more, learned something, learned anything.

Maybe I would have had some insight into their thought process.

Next time I’m caught in the crosshairs I’d like to seek a different kind of exchange. Ask: what would happen if we did that, what would happen if we didn’t? Part of our role as managers is to develop employees. I’ve always thought explaining the ‘why’ would support the idea of following.

Now I’m not so sure a leader needs followers as much as thoughtful participants who engage with us in meaningful conversations.

What’s the question you’d most like your manager to answer?