Everywhere we turn, we can find advice on how to be a better version of ourselves. A better leader, employee, spouse, parent or friend.
In order to improve anything, we must take action. Read this article. Attend this conference. Follow x steps to a better blah blah blah.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Sure, assuming we don’t already have a full plate. That we aren’t over-scheduled, overloaded and overwhelmed.
The Importance of Creating Time and Space
Last month, I attended Mass Conference for Women. Following the event, I was asked to participate in a panel, where several of us shared our experience.
At the end, we were asked to relate the most important take-away that we would bring back to our role, team or life.
My aha moment wasn’t at the conference itself. The sessions were interesting and provided good insight in a number of areas, but by themselves, they offered little value without two critical components: time and space.
I realized those were the true gifts the conference offered. Time away from my desk, team, and family was not enough. I also had to let go of my daily commitments long enough to actively listen and engage.
While we may be able to find time, it is only by creating space that we open ourselves to opportunity. If our heads are buzzing with a million and one things, there is no room left for new information.
Creating mental and physical distance for our commitments creates capacity for learning. For our aha moments.
Of all leadership responsibilities, developing our people is arguably more important than whatever the “job” is that we’re assigned.
As we progress in our careers, our views on development shift. Early on, it’s about building practical skills that can make us better in our current role, or prepare us for the next one.
It is only later that we can start to see that it’s not about those practical skills. It’s the cycle of learning and applying that matters.
I’ve been responsible for the development of a wide variety of people. From interns and individuals early in their careers, to those on the sunset who are approaching retirement.
Regardless of where they are in their journey, I have similar advice when asked about their development.
It’s not a class. Or a book. Or a mentor. While each of those may offer some amount of value, how many of us walk away from any specific development activity with more than one or two nuggets we can apply?
Instead, it’s a mindset. The earlier we develop it, the further we can go and the better positioned we are to take those nuggets and turn them into action.
We can learn anything, do anything, if we break through natural limits and fears that would otherwise hold us back. That prevent us from realizing our full abilities.
So what is the magic? They are nine secrets that are no secret and no magic. Just life lessons that we can master or let them master us.
In any communication, there is a risk of misinterpretation of the message between sender and receiver.
When we plan our communications, we intend to send message “X.” A recipient receives and translates our message with his or her own lens, history and perspective. The result may be that “Y” is what’s heard.
There is a reason for the expression “an image is worth 1,000 words.” If we want our message sent and received as we intend, images can make all the difference.
We’ve all seen them – those powerpoint presentations or infographics that make a message stick. Images that lessen the need to interpret what is being said, and create a mental image consistent with the sender’s intent.
For better or worse, leaders spend a lot of their time communicating – both sending and receiving. If that communication is limited to words, there is a risk of misinterpretation on both directions. Yet, the use of visual elements can accelerate alignment.
We’ve all done it – seen amazing powerpoint presentations or other images that we think “wow…I couldn’t do that.” Of course you can. We all can.
Following these steps, we can increase the “stickiness” of our messages through imagery.
The Hero’s Journey
Change Management is focused on transforming what is into what could be. This is very much aligned to the Hero’s journey of preparation, transformation and the return.
- Preparation – Readying for the transformation by obtaining necessary skills, resources, and direction.
- Transformation – Affect the change. Whether it is internal or external, slay the dragons and make the change the new normal.
- The Return – Share learnings to help others in their preparation to easy the journey.
When given a new assignment, we may not have much time to prepare. We may be expected to hit the ground running and immediately demonstrate value.
With no time to prepare, and an uncertain path ahead to the horizon, what can a change leader do to make forward progress?
Every Hero Needs a Mentor
In every hero story, there is a mentor that helps guide the way. In the work environment, there are likely several.
Reach out to people and create relationships. In every organization, there are people we can learn from, happy to help someone along their way. We just need to find them.
Study the past to know the future
Our brains have the amazing ability to predict the future. That’s right – we are our own crystal ball.
In order to survive our early experiences on this planet, our brains developed the ability to use past events to predict the future. We consider what we know, or trends we can perceive in past experience, to anticipate what will happen in future scenarios.
Predicting the future comes in quite handy. If we touch something hot once, we are unlikely to do it again, reducing the chance of being burned. In the past, it was knowledge of fight or flight scenarios that kept us alive as a species.
While many of our learnings have less dire results now than they would have a millennia ago, using the past to predict the future is both necessary and advantageous.
Predicting our individual futures
Our ability to predict outcomes based on historical experience is a double-edged sword. It can help us identify dangers to avoid, as well as opportunities to chase. However, for the process to work, we need the actual experience available to us.
We can be “told” about risks, dangers, or opportunities. However, until it becomes our experience, it is not real and part of our own predictions.
The Lessons that Stay with Us
Graduation time has come and gone again this year. Many friends and family members have returned from attending their children’s graduations from high school or college.
This is the time of year that reminds me to cherish my son’s childhood, as it will be over way too soon. It also reminds me of just how long it’s been since I was in school.
Thinking back to those college days, it’s difficult to recall many learnings that have remained true in the day-to-day of work and life.
I have one such lesson that has stuck with me since my freshman year in college.
I was in the middle of a year away from home for the first time, of discovering boyfriends and parties, of studying and learning what happens when you don’t. I walked away with one lesson that I continue to use and has remained true as my skills and leadership have evolved.
Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs
I remember the “a-ha” moment when Maslov was introduced in class. The idea that we have different types of needs, and that the foundational ones must be addressed before we can focused on advanced needs, resonated with me in a fundamental way.