Being our best selves

Dennis

We have a choice about where to aim the lens of our attention. We can relive past injustices, settle old grudges and nurse festering sores. We can imagine failure, build up its potential for destruction, calculate its odds. Or, we can imagine the generous outcomes we’re working on, feel gratitude for those that got us here and revel in the possibilities of what’s next. – Seth Godin

Feelings and attitudes are contagious and can quickly spread throughout a group or community.

Leaders’ feelings and attitudes are particularly infectious and are determined, in large part, by where they focus their attention.

For instance, school and classroom leaders who spread positive emotions and attitudes focus on:

• problem solving and growth instead of complaints,

• talking with people (integrity) instead of about them (gossip),

• efficacy instead of resignation to the status quo,

• gratitude and appreciation instead of negativity,

• strengths instead of deficits, and

• creating a desired future instead of lamenting and acquiescing to a future being created by others.

The list could go on…

To put it simply, leaders who spread positive energy consistently focus on being their best selves, both for their own benefit and for the benefit of those with whom they interact in their personal and professional lives.

What is missing from my list?

I will be taking a sabbatical over the next few months to refresh and renew. Best wishes for an enjoyable summer (or winter if you happen to be Down Under)!

Growth is optional

Dennis

A simple but profound truth: Change is mandatory.

Buddhists would say the cause is “impermanence,” and they would add that human suffering is caused by resisting it.

Scientists might say the reason is entropy, which my dictionary defines as “the degradation of the matter and energy in the universe.”

While change is inevitable, learning and growth are optional.

I am thinking about the kind of learning and growth that takes us to the edge of our comfort zone and a step or two beyond.

Some people seem to lean into such learning as if it is a part of their DNA.

Others may grow because a significant change in their personal or professional lives pushes them into it, even late in their careers or lives.

But for every person who steps up to the challenge of significant change there are others whose default settings seem to be denial and resistance.

Which begs the question: What are the internal or external conditions under which people stay the same or grow?

Commonly-cited reasons are “grit” or “resilience” or a “sense of efficacy” or a “growth orientation.”

But that doesn’t explain why some people have those qualities and others don’t.

What is your experience—what nudges you toward meaningful growth rather than entropy?

Promote inquiry by asking “why”

Dennis

“I talk a lot less than I used to. I still talk too much, and I work on this every single day. A mentor of mine once told me, “You stop at the first question. Keep asking ‘why,’ and then ask again, and then ask again, because you’re not going to get remotely close to the truth unless you keep asking questions.” He would literally say, “Ask ‘why’ six times.”” —Dottie Mattison: Talk Less, but Ask ‘Why’ More

A consistent theme in these essays over the past several years has been the importance of deep versus superficial understanding.

Pairing “exquisite listening” with the kind of inquiry suggested by Dottie Mattison is a powerful means of developing understanding of important problems and issues and of strengthening relationships.

Asking “why” five times (sometimes called “the 5 whys”) or six times, as Mattison’s mentor suggested, is a means of helping individuals and groups explore in deeper and richer ways their own beliefs, values, and understandings.

It is also a way to better understand the root causes of problems that may be only superficially understood.

When have you used the “5 whys” or other methods of deep inquiry and with what results?

Minimizing the negative effects of social media

Dennis

I don’t have social media on my phone. The more time you spend in the stream of other people’s thoughts, the more impossible it is for you to have your own. You need space for yourself. – Yancey Strickler, Head of Community, Kickstarter

I recently saw a news item about a U.S. cinema chain that is considering allowing texting at some of its showings because some of its patrons find it difficult to refrain from texting during movies.

Digital media can be a powerful tool for communicating, creating, and learning. It can connect us to important ideas and to people who add value to our lives and work although we may never meet them face to face.

But digital media can also distract us from more important tasks and cause our brains to lose their ability to focus and to do demanding cognitive tasks that require sustained attention.

And it can also distract others who have the misfortune of being nearby, say, while attending a movie.

What do you do to maximize the benefits of social media while minimizing the negative effects of these tools on your brain and on your personal and professional lives?

The high cost of resignation

Dennis

Some people confuse current reality with how they want things to be. They not only don’t see the forest for the trees, but they fail to see the forest because they don’t think it should be there.

Other people are so overwhelmed by current reality that they become resigned to the status quo, believing nothing can be done to alter it.

I am reminded of that whenever I hear people talk about climate change.

Some people say that there is no climate change because science can’t be trusted. Deny.

Others say that there may be climate change, but humans have not caused it. Deny. Minimize.

Still others say that, yes, there is climate change, and, yes, it may be caused by humans, but it is too late to do anything about it. Resignation.

That’s a common pattern: Deny —> Minimize —> Resignation to the status quo.

There is another way, however, an approach that can be applied in our personal lives and work settings:

  • Conduct an honest and thorough assessment of current reality. (You can’t design a roadmap to a better future if you don’t know where the trip is beginning.)
  • Then create a vision of an alternative, desired future—the new reality you wish to create.
  • Engage in planning and in persistent, focused action to create that new reality.

How have denial, minimizing, and/or resignation manifested themselves in your work or personal life, and how have you countered those tendencies?

When questions are a barrier to inquiry

Dennis

One reason we ask questions is because we want information.

Another reason is to promote deeper exploration of a subject.

Some kinds of questions promote such exploration while others do not.

“Honest, open questions,” to borrow a phrase from Parker Palmer, invite inquiry. For example: “What are some things you might do to solve the problem you are having with your friend?”

Questions that clearly have “right answers” or are really disguised statements often thwart inquiry (“closed, directive questions”). For example: “Don’t you think you should call your friend to find out why he said that?”

Many of us have not had the opportunity to learn how to phrase honest, open questions – that is, questions that cause further inquiry and deepen relationships.

We may ask questions to steer the direction of the conversation rather than to truly seek to understand the views of others or to extend their thinking.

We may ask questions that narrow the focus of thinking rather than expand it.

Closed, directive questions often cause people to feel they are being manipulated, which breeds distrust and cynicism.

In addition, people whose habit it is to ask closed, directive questions often perceive honest, open questions through the lens of manipulation, suspecting ulterior motives and becoming defensive.

Good questions stimulate thinking on the part of both the person who asks and the person who answers. They deepen understanding and open up previously unexplored areas for conversation.

Individuals involved in such conversations feel like they have learned something about themselves, each other, and the subject at hand. In addition, they feel respected and understood.

Examine your questions. Do they promote honest inquiry or directly or indirectly tell people what to think and do?

In your experience, what types of questions deepen inquiry and improve relationships?

What’s wrong with advice?

Dennis

Wise men don’t need advice. Fools won’t take it. —Ben Franklin

While advice giving is widely practiced and can take many forms, it often has adverse effects for both the giver and receiver.

What could be wrong with advice giving? People often ask for it, and it’s clear that some people need it. And when we give it, we often feel helpful and even appreciated.

Advice giving can simply mean sharing a point of view. The advice giver explains how he or she thinks about a situation and the possible consequences of various courses of action. They then leave it up to recipients to make their own decisions.

But sometimes advice giving is a form of control that is expressed as a demand.

If you are not certain about the motives of the advice giver, try an experiment: Thank the advice giver and explain that you will take their advice under advisement. If they “should” you (“You should do that” or “You need to do that”) or get upset or angry, you are on the receiving end of a demand.

Both requesting and giving advice have their downsides:

Sometimes people ask for advice because doing what others advise is easier than figuring out what they want to do and accepting responsibility for the outcome.

Similarly, advice giving often generates dependency and passivity in the face of problems. The default response becomes, ”I will simply wait for others to tell me what to do.”

Advice giving is often one directional – from those with more power and status to those with less.

What to do instead of offering advice?

Support people in solving their own problems by helping them better understand the problem through “exquisite listening” and by assisting them in generating alternative solutions, setting goals, creating action plans, and monitoring progress.

If asked, offer your point of view, but let go of the outcome.

What is your experience with giving and receiving advice?


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