The Question That Helped Me Face Uncertainty

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Most of my work is done face-to-face. Or at least it used to be. When the pandemic broke out I soon realised that a profound and irreversible change in the events and training industry was going to take place. The urge to freak out was big:

  • How long will the confinement last?
  • How long until face-to-face events will be allowed?
  • How will I transfer my trainings online?
  • What equipment do I need?
  • How does this sh*t work???!!!

And then it happened. Early on in the lockdown, a friend of mine, Onu Igbokwe, referenced a book: Who Moved My Cheese, by Spencer Johnson. I had read the book years back but decided to listen to the audiobook. Life changing. It’s a must read. If you’ve already read it, and you’re facing uncertainty, then read again.

It’s a short book. A couple of hours is enough. But don’t be fooled by its length. The author says it took about 20 years to write it. Every word counts. What most changed my approach and behaviour was one simple question:

What would I do if I were not afraid?

The voice in your head might be saying: “But I am not afraid”. So here are other reactions to the uncertainty that comes with change:

  • worry, concern, unease
  • doubt, self-doubt, confusion, hesitation
  • agitation, stress, anxiety, nervousness
  • denial, refusal, complaining, intolerance, aversion

Fear has a funny way of disguising itself. If you’re feeling any of these, chances are there’s a degree of fear involved — the fear of failure. So here’s another way of putting the question:

What would you do if you could not fail?

After listening to the book things got better. I did a full-blown online training with Amazon, and was invited to impart shorter trainings and talks, as well as online coaching sessions. And next week I’ll be facilitating a two-day online “home-site” with King, the creators of Candy Crush.

Luck? Yes. Absolutely. So much luck. I also like to think Seneca is at least somewhat right when he says luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.

But even if the book or my behaviour had nothing to do with my work picking up, my experience nonetheless of these uncertain times has consequently been more tranquil. So thank you, Spencer, and thank you, Onu!

The Golden Rule is Making the World Worse

The Golden Rule — treat others as you would like others to treat you — is well intentioned in that it asks us to extend fairness and respect to others. But the outcomes are not necessarily good.

The problem is that it is based on a fundamentally flawed assumption.

The assumption that you want what I want, that fairness and respect mean for you what they mean for me. And this is rarely true. This is particularly relevant given the evils caused by the racism and the violence we’re seeing these days.

It is so easy to fall into the trap of assuming my way is the right way, and then to treat others as I think I should, without taking into account what they want. This is dangerous because it can make them feel disrespected and I might end up resenting the fact that they are being unappreciative of my efforts.

And we don’t have to go halfway across the world to make a difference. This applies to how we treat people at work, at home, on the streets, and in social media. Lest we come across as jerks, we want to be careful NOT to treat others like we would like them to treat us, unless we’re sure that is what they really want.

Never assume you know what others want. The alternative is to practice empathy.

The golden art of putting ourselves in their shoes to figure out how they would like to be treated. And we will probably be surprised by how much that can differ from what we expected to be appropriate.

If we are going to build a more fair, generous and compassionate world, we’re going to need a better rule. Here’s an iteration:

THE GOLDEN RULE 2.0

Treat others as THEY would like to be treated.

#BlackLivesMatter

Six Rookie Mistakes When Leading Remote Teams

When there’s a sea storm, captains are called upon to reassure their crew, so that together they keep the ship safe enough to move in the right direction. 

The Coronavirus storm has forced teams — without warning and without delay — to work from home in improvised office spaces, fighting to focus on work while juggling several other responsibilities and concerns at the same time.

If remote working poses a challenge in and of itself, all the more so in crisis conditions, where uncertainty and confusion make the load all the heavier.  

Since 2011, I’ve been helping organizations — in good and bad times — build teams, many of which with some or all their members working remotely, often in different time zones. 

Here are six mistakes you want to avoid (and six recommendations) when leading teams remotely, especially in crisis conditions.

Mistake #1: Believe it is (almost) business as usual

A new paradigm is emerging, as tends to happen in crisis. And with it, new challenges are thrown at your team. It would be a mistake not to stop and fully appreciate the nature of the challenges you and your team are now facing.

It’s a mistake to think this is only about keeping things going a bit longer before it’s over. It’s a new problem. Face it with your team.

RECOMMENDATION: Do a diagnosis

Imagine you are Dr. House. If the challenge you now face is an illness, what would you call it?

Mistake #2: To execute without a roadmap

In a crisis it is easy for teams to get disoriented, especially if they are forced in a rush to work remotely. You might have a sense of what comes next, but the team most likely has no f**king idea.

It is a mistake to ask teams to continue moving forward without a new road map that shows this is where we are, this is where we are going, and most importantly, this is why we’re going. I wonder what Nietzsche was thinking when he said: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” 😉

RECOMMENDATION: Give them context and relevance 

Explain to the team how their work fits in the larger picture, and why their contribution really matters.

Mistake #3: Fail to clarify new expectations

New problems require new behaviours. It it especially important that we define deliverables and ownership so that everyone knows who does what and who is responsible for making sure it gets done. 

RECOMMENDATION: Tell them what they CAN’T screw up

New problems require exploration, which can lead to failure. It is crucial you specify what bits you expect the team to do absolutely right, the bits where failure is not an option. 

Mistake #4: Make it a one-way road

If feedback is important, now it is more than ever. It’s a rookie’s mistake to fail to create NEW channels for feedback. Unless you ask, you will not know the struggles and suggestions your team has. 

RECOMMENDATION: Tell them it’s NOT ok to stay stuck and silent

Send out questions before meetings, and ask everyone to come prepared to share.

Mistake #5:  Neglect positive feedback

Humans need feedback to grow, which makes giving feedback the gift of growth: constructive feedback gives us the path for growth, and positive feedback gives us the energy to grow.

In times of crisis, teams need tons of positive feedback — the energy — to get through challenges. Forgetting to give positive feedback is a silly mistake.  

RECOMMENDATION: Double down on positive feedback 

Give twice as much positive feedback and show twice as much appreciation. Start with positive feedback. End with positive feedback. Transition with positive feedback. And ask the whole team to give… POSITIVE FEEDBACK.  

Mistake #6: Undervalue repetition

The Romans believed that “repetitio est mater studiorum”, that repetition is the mother of learning. When working remotely, technical issues can make getting information across difficult.

Moreover, when remote work is being improvised moment by moment and under great uncertainty, tension is generated, which makes getting information across even more difficult. 

Hence the need to repeat, repeat, repeat.  

RECOMMENDATION: Sound like a broken record 

Say it at the beginning. Repeat in the middle. Ask them to say it. And say again at the end.

Protect your Wellbeing from the Coronavirus

Disclaimer: I am NOT a medical doctor and this is NOT medical advice. 

This post is about specific activities we can do to help us cope with the fear, uncertainty and undesired consequences of this crisis, especially for those of us confined to our homes. 

I am sharing a one-pager with activities we can practice in different areas of our lives. Regular practice will prove to keep us in the best possible condition to cope with this crisis.

I designed this for you to download

and use as a checklist or cheatsheet

to keep us in check during this time.

You will notice I use the term “emotional fitness”. Just like physical fitness is the condition that allows us to perform physical activities, such as sports, emotional fitness is the condition that allows us to use our emotional intelligence so as to live fully.

I feel most of this is easier understood than done, but I’d love to know your thoughts and questions.

Stay safe.

Protect your wellbeing in times of crisis and ensure a balanced lifestyle.

Feedback Part I: How to Make Stronger Statements

Humans need feedback to grow, which make giving feedback the gift of growth. While positive feedback gives us the energy to grow, constructive feedback — when done well — shows us the path for growth, that is, what we can improve and how.

This series focusses on how we can make our constructive feedback more effective.

Here in part I, I share three ways to make our statements stick when giving constructive criticism.

What techniques do you use to make your statements clearer?

Rage Against The Dying Of The Light

In this poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”, Welsh poet and writer, Dylan Thomas proclaims that the wise and good do not go gently into the good night of death.

Instead, they rage against the dying of the light, against the demise of what wisdom and good their words and deeds may have effected in the world.

Though good and wise leaders must die, as we all,
their light need not follow them into the good night.

It is now our journey to carry on their work and to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

It’s Always My Fault!

On Tuesday, a client and I met to discuss a session we’re going to do on relationship management. One of the topics was how the corporation’s managers sometimes can’t stand some of the people they work with. They feel it’s useless and case closed.

I love this topic, especially when it comes up in my seminars. It’s always interesting to see the look on participants’ faces when I present the commitment ratio of the relationship building system I created: 80% you; 20% the other person. What?!

Yep, that’s the look on their faces. You do 80% of the work and the other person does 20%. “That’s not fair!” — some might say. Relationship management at work is not about fairness (that comes later), it’s about effectiveness.

The ultimate challenge is not
how you relate to others. It’s how you deal with YOU!

Relationships need to function for everyone to get their jobs done. An 80/20 ratio assures your commitment produces functioning results that guarantee performance. “But it doesn’t make sense: the other person is the problem, not me!” — others object.

This reminds me of a story back in my university days. One late night, as I was making my way home, I saw a man literally banging his head against a street post. I kind of recognized him, so I walked up to him.

After a long monologue, I came to learn his tragic story. His wife had left with another man and took the children. His partner was no longer a partner. His business was crumbling. He was drinking… I almost felt sorry for him. But then I didn’t.

It’s a tough lesson: either you take on the responsibility
of being in charge of the events of your life or… you don’t.

When he finally asked if I wasn’t going to say anything, I asked: “You expected people would behave in a certain way, right?” What?! — was the look on his face. Then silence. Then a smile.

“That’s right”, he said. “I’ve blamed everyone around me for everything that has happened to me. That puts the power to lead my life in their hands, not in mine. To be in charge, I need to accept it’s my fault.”

That day, that man began to understand that it will always be up to him  to take charge of how relationships affect his life and how he will proceed. He understood that the outcomes of our relationships start with us.

Today, that man leads a fulfilling life — lots of challenges no doubt, but fulfilling. Today, he is an 80/20 man, committed to producing functioning results that guarantee performance. His approach is: regardless of what happens, it’s always my responsibility.

Could this work for you? I’m eager to see how the managers will respond!