Sunday, March 20, 2016

Chapter 6: Inspiring Others to Find Their Voice: The Leadership Challenge

Beginning with The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, leadership development is at the essential core of all of Dr. Stephen R. Covey's books.  He takes us step by step through self-mastery, then interpersonal effectiveness and self-renewal, and every last word of it is about leadership.  In Chapter 6 of The 8th Habit he provides a definition: 

"Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves."  

In my leadership studies, that is new and different - and it merits some parsing.

We all operate every day in an organizational context, sharing goals with others at work or at home. Our whole lives are therefore facilitated (or not) by leadership. Because all organizations are comprised of human beings, understand the nature of humans is critical to effective work within them. Efficiency is out. The whole person (body, mind, heart and spirit) paradigm is in.  To influence others effectively we need more character than technique. It's not about psyche-up slogans and rah-rah. It's about principles: integrity, respect, fairness, etc. It takes effort and will to embody those things - but we must if we are to develop ourselves as leaders and unleash the potential of our organizations.

Dr. Covey relates common chronic problems experienced in organizations to the four human endowments: 
  1. Spirit - Low trust.
  2. Mind - No shared vision or common value system
  3. Body - No alignment
  4. Heart- Disempowered people 
Any of these underlying conditions can become acute problems that threaten entire enterprises and make the people in it unhappy and unable to accomplish group goals. Short-term fixes might temporarily resolve the crisis du jour but effective long-term solutions must address the spirits, heads, hearts and bodies of the people involved.
Those looking for a leadership solution in organizations must decide to embrace the 8th habit and inspire others to find their voice. They must adopt the "four roles of leadership":
  1. Model trustworthiness,
  2. Find a path to a shared vision
  3. Ensure alignment around goals, and 
  4. Empower individuals. 
 Here is a little table I created to help myself get this picture together.
Human Endowment
Chronic Organizational Issue
Acute Symptoms
Leadership Role
Low Trust
Back-biting, In-fighting, Victimism, Defensiveness, Not Sharing Information
Modeling (Trustworthiness)
No Shared Vision or Values
Ambiguity, Hidden Agendas, Political Games, Chaos
Interdepartmental Rivalry, Co-Dependency, Clear Hypocrisies, Resolvable Misalignments
Apathy, Moonlighting, Daydreaming, Boredom, Escapism, Anger, Fear

Of course, none of us can develop our leadership potential until we develop ourselves individually. One can't model trustworthiness, for example, with a poorly-formed conscience. Knowledge of how to do this, together with the correct attitude and ongoing skill building is the essence of what it means to adopt a habit. And a habit, to Covey, is something one earns first through study and then through application of principles. There are no quick fixes.  That's why I am spending a year working my way through this book and associated others.  I'm learning something new everyday.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Book Review: The Marshmallow Test

The Marshmallow Test: Why Self-Control Is the Engine of SuccessThe Marshmallow Test: Why Self-Control Is the Engine of Success by Walter Mischel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Imagine yourself at four years old. You are in a mostly empty room with a nice lady who is talking to you about this and that. On the table in front of you is a tasty-looking marshmallow on a plate. Suddenly the lady says "Oh my goodness, I need to leave the room for a few minutes. While I am away, if you would like to eat that marshmallow, you may. But - if you wait until I come back, I will bring another one and and then you can have two." With that she is gone... and you are alone with that marshmallow and your own thoughts and feelings.

What would you do?

Scientists first began testing preschoolers this way back in the 1960s, studying the human capacity to delay gratification. How long could the average kid hold out? What strategies are employed by those who are able to wait longer? What other characteristics did those who ate the single marshmallow right away have in common? Some kids were tested with cookies and others with toys, but the idea is the same: What has to be at play before someone can sacrifice a current pleasure for something even better in the future?

Dr. Mischel is one of the creators of the marshmallow test and also designed a great deal of follow up research over the ensuing years. This book-length report, written for a lay audience, summarizes the key findings of a fascinating career of exploration into the human capacity for will power: its biological and psychological underpinnings, its ramifications, and - best of all - how to grow and sustain it. It's a wonderful book, recommended for parents of 4 year olds and for any adult interested in learning and growing.

It turns out that 30 years after their original tests, those who were able to wait the longest before eating that marshmallow are slimmer, more successful professionally, have more stable relationships, and have bigger 401(k)s. The ability to distract oneself from temptation, visualize a future state, and/or overcome "hot" impulses with "cool" reasoning cuts across many areas of life throughout life. Very, very interesting.

While it is true that developing good mental habits is easier done in childhood than in later life, the good news here is that even those getting up in years can learn to delay immediate gratification in order to gain future benefits. Disputing automatic negative thinking, proactively developing optimism, and learning distraction techniques all work. There is no quick fix for someone with a natural propensity to indulge immediate desires, but it can be done. We can rewire the neural pathways, trim down our waistlines, put more in savings, and trust in a happy future.

Had Dr. Mischel's body of research findings remained in academic journals it would still have been significant, but his ability to present it in this highly-readable format makes it immensely important. He's keen that the words "Marshmallow Test" enter the vernacular as a sort of biologic starting point, rather than a predestination. Fortunately, his how-to sections are thoughtful and compelling. I'm very glad I read this one during my Sweet 16 year of transition and transformation. Watch for a summary in the next few weeks.

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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Book Review: The Power of Full Engagement

The Power of Full EngagementThe Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I confess I've never really paid much attention to whether or not I am oscillating properly, or taken responsibility for my own linearity, but I will now. In fact, it would be crazy not to. The subtitle here says it all: Managing Energy, Not Time, is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. I can't add more hours to the day, but I can pay attention to the ebb and flow of my energy and take steps to build it, maintain it, and spend it wisely.

This one ended up in my reading pile this year because Stephen R. Covey mentioned it in The 8th Habit, and I can see why he did. These guys, who started out as trainers for elite athletes, speak of energy in terms of the four aspects of a whole self, so important in Covey's paradigm. Physical energy we know about, though often neglect. Mental, Emotional and Spiritual Energy also matter. All four sources of energy are built and restored the same way: push past current limits, relax and recover, repeat. Not rocket science... just good sense.

Full explanation behind the relationship of energy to full engagement is given, together with instruction in their training program. Personally, I love the idea of rituals and have successfully employed this strategy a great deal over the years. When we commit to a certain regular behavior or pattern of behaviors, we reduce the amount of energy needed to decide what to do. No dithering, no excuses.If I am looking to gain physical energy for example, a regular morning run might be the thing. For emotional energy, a daily practice of journaling might be in order. The key is to make the decision, game plan for what you want to work on, implement, adjust and hold yourself accountable. The authors have a blank personal development plan in the appendix, along with a sample.

I have to say that I truly expect all of this to be a lot easier once the transition to Florida is complete later this year. Certainly it will be easier to exercise every day, eat well, surround myself with uplifting friends, etc. That's an excuse, of course, so I will keep doing what I can now and plan to increase the program as I go. Since the idea of being fully engaged is a little bit scary at the moment, it seems wise to start by building up spiritual muscle, which these authors recommend anyway, saying "Change is powered from the top down." This book is an excellent contribution to my year of transition and transformation, and truth to tell it would help just about anyone I know. Highly recommended.

A three-page summary, written by me, is available for free download, here.

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