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Leadership Begins with a Background of Relatedness

Insights From Kevin | January 14, 2019 

Each of us who occupies a leadership role wants to be an effective leader. We want to take actions that are meaningful, inspire others to action, and to fulfill on a vision for the future. That’s our job. However, direct action often doesn’t happen without having a few things in place first. To move a team, a company, or even a person for that matter, the leader has to establish a relationship with that person or group in which their constituents have a stake in the matter. More than ever, and especially today, “giving orders” does not work, except in rare circumstances which we’ll address later. We have found that what is most effective in developing this background of relatedness is having a relationship with a person or group that develops and fosters affinity, respect, admiration, and being connected. It is a leader’s job to establish this background of relatedness. 

What is a background of relatedness? It’s the first step in moving something to action in a process we call “enrollment”. It begins with establishing a relationship in which two parties discover mutually shared goals or commitments. This can be anything from ‘we both have kids attending the same school, so we want to support the school’, to ‘we both are working on a research and development project in a biotech company to create a cure for a disease’. 

Here is a simple example ~ Imagine that you arrive at an airport. You go outside to get a taxi. And as you’re standing there waiting, you’re next to someone also waiting and you begin to “chit chat” about this, that, and the other thing. And in the moment, you both discover that there are no taxis. One of you asks the other, “Where are you going?” “Midtown”. “Oh, I’m going to midtown too, would you like to share a cab?” “That would be great!”, and off you go together.

What allowed for the collaborative conversation was what had happened right before. It began as “casual banter”, the friendly exchange that took place that set the stage for discovering they were both going to the same place and both parties had the same goal and predicament. They discovered how they could solve the problem by solving it together. This simple example illustrates how a background of relatedness works. 

One of the challenges a leader has is getting people on board or getting them to buy into a vision and to execute the strategy. This is a common and typical challenge for most leaders ~ how to articulate it. What do you say? How do you say it? And what medium do you use to be effective in getting people on board? I have asked over 10,000 professionals what they consider the worst method for communication and their unanimous response, “It’s email!” Yet I still see many leaders trying to get their people to implement difficult and complex strategies by sending out emails, essentially giving instructions. THIS NEVER WORKS ~ EVER.

Why? Because people fundamentally don’t like being told what to do and therefore, they resist it. One exception is in the military where the rules of the game are very different, as is the background of relatedness. Yet you would be surprised at how often people try to get away with it. Getting people on board requires a bit of a courtship, cultivating the conversation so that they see the sense of it and the value of what it is you’re going to ask them to do. It starts with a background of relatedness. 

When a leader is initiating a new project the first step is gathering a key group of people to take them through a set of steps toward fulfillment. For this to be successful, that conversation must be grounded in a strong background of relatedness. Before asking for anything, a thoughtful leader starts by recognizing and appreciating several things about their team. This creates a certain relatedness. The leader might begin by thanking people for coming to the meeting, recognizing recent hard work and success, as well as validating and highlighting recent wins. 

It could go like this ~ “Good morning everybody. Thank you for being here. I know we’re really busy trying to get third quarter results in and I want to appreciate how hard everybody has been working. Be clear, that’s paying off with some exceptional results, particularly this quarter. I can’t thank you enough.”

Once the stage is set by establishing a background of relatedness, and not until then, one can introduce what’s next – including asking people to get on board for the next phase of work or strategic initiative. At that point they can initiate a sense of urgency, but not until they have established that in “the listening” of their people. In our work we refer to that as the background of relatedness and it is the key ingredient in a set of conversations that lead to breakthrough results.

Kevin Cullen is President of Leadera Consulting Group, specializing in producing breakthrough business results. If you want more on this conversation or the firm, contact us at Leadera Consulting Group.

Kevin Cullen: kcullen@leaderacg.com, cc: acook@leaderacg.com

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Will What’s Next Make a Difference

Insights From Kevin | November 15, 2017  

I’ll bet if you’re like me you try to get the important things done first. They seem important because there’s usually a benefit for getting them done or some kind of pain for not getting them done. So, in one sense they occur like they have to be done. However, we often don’t relate to things on our plate with any sense of urgency. In fact, we often procrastinate particularly about the things we don’t want to confront. 

Being effective at producing results is directly correlated to the speed with which we move things into action and get them complete. It has been said that power is defined by the rate at which you translate intention into reality. A person’s power is a function of being able to produce results with velocity. To do that, the task has to exist in time. Here’s something I’ve learned that I have burned into my DNA and it has changed everything: “if it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t exist and it’s not going to happen.

There is an obvious benefit for getting things done and acting with priorities, so why don’t we approach things this way? There are three things that account for our tendency to put things off. The first is having no sense of urgency. Certainly, there are challenges that happen in life that we resolve with speed. However, usually those things often have some kind of consequence attached and the pain of not doing it occurs as greater than doing it ~ so we act. Absent the external consequence we often don’t act with a sense of urgency. Secondly, we fall in the trap of “someday”. You know those things that we’ll get to later. We put those things on the list of what there is “to do” and that keeps them in existence, but they exist only on the list ~ not as if they will actually get our attention for action. We don’t have time for those things now. We may never get to those things, in fact. And thirdly, complacency which stops us from taking any action. There are many situations in our lives to which we have become numb. We’ve learned to tolerate those things. We’ve developed an ability to live with those things ~ even those things that initially we would never tolerate. We have become complacent.  

There’s an interesting metaphor about a frog and a person. If you put a frog in a pot of boiling water it will jump out of that water immediately. But if you put a frog in a pot of cold water and then turn the burner on and slowly increase the flame to heat the water up the frog will boil to death. It will keep adjusting to the ever-slight increases in temperature which will eventually kill the frog. People are sometimes like those frogs. We will allow ourselves to adapt to and tolerate things that don’t work even when the consequences are dire.

Most people divide their tasks into two categories. One, what’s important, and two, what’s not important. Ideally, they go to work on the ones they’ve decided are important and pay less attention to the unimportant tasks. Consider the possibility that there is a third category. It’s a category that most of us don’t think about because it’s not “important”. We call that category “what makes a difference”. The items that fit in that third category may not even fit into important or not important. However, they are distinct and make a big difference.

Here’s an example ~ The other day I received a communication from one of our clients that was an internal document that she had cc’ed me on so that I was aware of what was going on in their company. It was about the company’s core values. She didn’t ask for any feedback about it. But after I read the document, I realized that there were things that I might be able to say about it that would make a difference. I asked her if she was interested in and willing to discuss the document. She responded immediately with an unquestionable “yes”. We had the conversation and I shared what I noticed about the document and how it landed for me I shared what I thought would make a difference in the document and made some suggestions on how to make it better. She loved what I suggested, and we produced a second version of the document which then led to a third version that she is very happy with. The day after our call she sent me a note thanking me for having the conversation and told me it was very valuable and had opened up her thinking to take action on something that would elevate that area or the organization to a new level. Clearly, my input came from that third category ~ the “what makes a difference category”. Maybe the “what makes a difference category” is the most important of all.

Kevin Cullen is President of Leadera Consulting Group, specializing in producing breakthrough business results. If you want more on this conversation or the firm, contact us at Leadera Consulting Group.

Kevin Cullen: kcullen@leaderacg.com, cc: acook@leaderacg.com

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Getting Out of Overwhelm

Insights From Kevin | April 23, 2019  

Overwhelm is something everyone deals with. There will always be many, many tasks for us to resolve. The list of tasks doesn’t get smaller, it grows and it’s infinite. And we all know that it’s not possible to get all of the tasks done. Sometimes we find ourselves with too much on our plates, and we begin to feel overwhelmed. In those moments we see no way of getting any of it done. When we become overwhelmed, we are ineffective. The feeling of overwhelm has its own inertia. It becomes larger than life, halting all action. It becomes a condition in which you never get anything done, and you’re upset about it. You are stuck. And while you’re busy being stuck you will surely fail. It’s like trying to move forward while running on a circular track.

You can handle and manage the demand on your capacity until you reach one more unit that puts you in a state of overwhelm. In the second diagram below the demand has exceeded your capacity ~ that’s when overwhelm takes over, and when you’re in a state of overwhelm you’re never going to get it all done.

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What does OVERWHELM look like? (All the squares represent your total capacity. “X” equals one unit of capacity)

Before that point your available capacity is manageable. When that one more item is added you hit the overload, overwhelm condition that puts you over the top and beyond your ability, your capacity, to manage the tasks at hand. The definition of overwhelm is: “bury or drown beneath a huge mass.”

How can you be powerful in the face of overwhelm? What are you doing to get out of that condition? American soldier Creighton Abrams first said, 

“How you eat an elephant is one bite at a time”.

And it’s true. Everything we have to do can be broken down into manageable and finite units. Until you break the mass apart into these units you will never get anything done, because you will be buried in the mass of the story about what you can’t get done.

You either delegate some of the tasks or cancel them. What’s essential is to get things to a level that is confrontable. Overwhelm is a psychological phenomenon. It is not “real”. All that is are the tasks that you will do and the tasks you will not do. It’s our psychology that has us believing that we have to get all of the tasks done.

Once we prioritize the importance of each item, get each item into your calendar, in real time to deal with it. In fact, when you consider the whole list of things to do, you’re going to see something really interesting ~ there are things you are committed to doing, and there are things that you’re really not committed to doing. You may find some things you may want to get to at a later time, so create a way of keeping those things in existence. You’ll also find there are some things you really will never get to. Eliminate them. Keep in mind that life occurs in units of time ~ you have the capacity to fill only so many units of time.  You either have to stop doing one of the things you’re already doing or give away ~ outsource ~ some things. The question you need to ask yourself is, “Is it a good investment to outsource any given item?” If it is, and you find the right person to outsource to, you are left with time to work on the things that you should be working on, while experiencing relief knowing that the other things are being done by someone you trust. This then leaves you stress free, effective, confident, and productive.

Kevin Cullen is President of Leadera Consulting Group, specializing in producing breakthrough business results. If you want more on this conversation or the firm, contact us at Leadera Consulting Group.

Kevin Cullen: kcullen@leaderacg.com, cc: acook@leaderacg.com

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Mistakes Aren’t Bad

Nobody’s perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s part of life. While nobody likes making mistakes, they are not necessarily a bad thing. You may have discovered that one of the best things about mistakes is it is one of the best learning experiences you can have.

For the most part, we try to avoid making mistakes. Why?  Because when we fail, we experience pain. Pain is a remarkable driving force in our lives. According to the science of NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming), our brains are wired to focus 80% on avoiding pain and 20% on moving toward pleasure. We automatically approach the situations in our lives out of a fear of what could go wrong. Our background conversation and attention is on, “What’s the danger here?” And that leaves us trying to avoid making mistakes ~ avoiding the shame, the embarrassment of a mistake, and generally avoiding the pain. So, we attempt to strategize how not to make mistakes. But the truth is, it’s impossible to avoid making mistakes. Carl Jung said, “What we resist, persists.” And our observation is that the more you try to avoid making mistakes, the more likely you will make them. You might be better off doing your best and dealing with the mistakes when they happen.

There are some very famous, successful people in history who failed miserably many times over. Almost everyone can name the man that invented the light bulb. Thomas Edison was one of the most successful innovators in American history. He was the “Wizard of Menlo Park”, a larger-than-life hero who seemed almost magical for the way he snatched ideas from thin air.

Chances are, you haven’t heard of Edison’s botched ideas ~ he had many, many failures (estimated over 10,000 failed experiments). But Edison didn’t dwell on them. It’s been said, “Edison’s not a guy that looks back. Even for his biggest failures he didn’t spend a lot of time wringing his hands and saying, ‘Oh my God, we spent a fortune on that.’ He said, ‘We had fun spending it.’”

And Abraham Lincoln failed at many things before becoming President. In 1831 Lincoln failed in business; 1832 he was defeated for state legislator; 1833 he tried a new business and failed; 1835 his fiancée died; 1836 Lincoln had a nervous breakdown; 1843 he ran for Congress and failed and again in 1848; in 1855 he ran for Senate and failed; in 1856 he ran for Vice President and lost. Then in 1860 Lincoln was elected President of the United States. What matters is not how many times he failed, but how many times he never stopped trying.

In my business, in my clients’ businesses, the greatest learning happens from failures. At our firm we let our employees know that mistakes are not only tolerated, but that we encourage them ~ especially with new people who are trying to make a good impression. At the same time, we urge them to learn from their mistakes and not repeat the same ones. There are so many other possible mistakes to be made. There really is a lot of value in making mistakes. Though it’s painful to make a mistake, there is much more pain having not made a mistake. People will make mistakes. Trying to avoid them is the first mistake. Use the mistake to make a difference. And don’t repeat that mistake. Go ahead, make the next one instead.

Kevin Cullen is President of Leadera Consulting Group, specializing in producing breakthrough business results. If you want more on this conversation or the firm, contact us at Leadera Consulting Group.

Kevin Cullen: kcullen@leaderacg.com, cc: acook@leaderacg.com