Creating a safe learning community

“What does respect mean to you?” by retrokatz is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I am teaching a leadership class at Temple for the first time. Since I agreed to teach the class, I have been vacillating between anxiety and excitement. It is definitely outside of my comfort zone and I have been worried about whether I am good enough. Since overcoming feelings of inadequacy and stretching has been at the heart of my leadership journey, I realize that I am not only the teacher, but this is an incredible opportunity for me to learn how to be a better leader.

The first class was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. After a quick summary of the structure of the class, I asked the entire class how we could create a safe learning community. Using the 1-2-4-All Liberating Structures, we established as a group how we would act and support each other on our growth journey. The list that the class created together was more comprehensive and better than the list that I would have created. They wanted to be able to be open and vulnerable and know that others would listen without judgment, as we practiced living the leadership principles that we would be learning.

Then we spent the rest of the class getting to know each other by telling our core stories. We arranged our chairs in a circle and each of us shared three core stories from our life and what we had learned from those experiences. 

Several people in the group got emotional, including me. We were sharing deeply about our struggles and our ability to overcome those struggles. We talked about health challenges, close relationships, death of loved ones, physical injuries and having to give up our identities of who we thought we were when unexpected challenges arrived. 

It was one of the most powerful experiences that I have ever had. There was so much wisdom and leadership in that room that had already been developed. I was reminded again that leadership is not about telling others what to do, but about creating an environment where the best ideas can surface and be shared.

At the end of the exercise, we talked about how differently we felt about the people in the room and the implications for leadership and life. As I was leaving the room, I realized that I don’t necessarily know the core stories of the people that I work with on a daily basis, and I am not sure how to do that in a safe and non-invasive way. 

I would love to hear about how you have created safe learning communities.

 

The Cost of Complaining

It seems so normal to sit around the office complaining about others. While it might feel great to blow off steam and get others to sympathize, few of us consider the incredible cost to ourselves, our colleagues and our organizations of indulging in this behavior. This week, I have been acutely aware of the impact of complaining as I indulged in complaining myself and witnessed the impact of other’s complaints on my team.

The cost in terms of time is enormous. While many of us may justify a rant about another department or colleague as troubleshooting or clearing the air, the truth is that most of the time we repeat our complaint to whoever will listen and far past the time when the offense occurred.

In addition to sapping time, complaining also saps energy and potential.

The more we complain, the less hopeful we feel about being able to change a situation. How often do we just shrug and say, that is just the way that Sam or Sally or that department is and there is nothing we can do to change the situation. As a leader, the repercussions of complaining are amplified based on the position you hold. But, independent of position of authority, chronic complaining can destroy teams and make work miserable for you and everyone around you.

The effect on the recipients of the complaining is even more deflating. When they inevitably hear about the complaints or feel the animosity from others, they lose energy, focus, and motivation. The tragedy is that many people don’t feel that their efforts are wanted or appreciated at work and so they invest their energy and passion where it will be appreciated. When we focus on the things we don’t like about someone, our animosity and frustration grow. We discount their strengths and talent and are not able to see their potential.

The following advice about complaining from Robert Biswas-Diener in “The Three Types of Complaining” is invaluable.

  • Avoid dampening your mood by complaining only rarely
  • Complain only in instances where you believe it will effect real and positive change
  • Consider whether affirmation or some other strategy will work instead of complaining
  • Limit your exposure to complaining by limiting your exposure to complainers

Energy is the most important asset that we have as individuals and organizations. How does complaining impact your energy? What strategies have you found that reduce complaining in yourself and your teams? A great article to read for ideas is “The Next Time You Want to Complain at Work, Do This Instead.”

Waking Up to the Power of Intention and Contribution

It has been over a year since I became the CIO at Temple University and it has been an incredible year of self-growth as well as positive change in the organization. The Wiser Way program that we created has a been a big part of the culture change to empower and develop leaders at all levels.

Subash Reddy Karra just finished the Wiser Way program and described the personal effect that the program has had on him in this way, “Before I was always focused on what kept me up at night. Now I am focused on what gets me up in the morning.” He also described how the first exercise of crafting a mission statement initially felt like a joke. That mission statement is now guiding his daily habits and improving  his life as he lives more intentionally.

I have had several meaningful interactions with Subash recently as he reached out to me to express gratitude for the effect that I have had on him personally. One of the new habits he has established as a result of the program was sending a personal gratitude letter at the end of each month. I was the lucky recipient of his letter this month. On Thanksgiving morning, he sent a beautiful letter that lifted me up so much. Here is an excerpt:

“Thank you for putting in place changes that are always empowering employees like me (professionally/personally) and stretching me to dream bigger things to accomplish that I could never have thought of in the past.

The work you do not only impacts CS employees but also Temple University and we can only hope that the impact you make creates a chain reaction in others to do the same. Thank you so much for letting me be part of that experience with you. If you ever need an example of people coming around to the power of intention and contribution, please count me as one more example.”

We continued the conversation during the final Wiser Way session. Subash talked about several changes that he made in his personal life as a result of the program. He returned to regular yoga practice and instituted planning rituals to establish personal and professional goals. He indicated how the flexible work policies that we established allowed him to make these foundational changes in his life. He described himself as moving from a zombie state to waking up.

As I listened to Subash relate his gratitude and the extent of his personal change, I was astonished. Subash has always been a valuable and productive leader on our team. The culture we are creating is unleashing more of his incredible potential and he is feeling so much more joy and energy.

Subash’s journey is inspiring to me and gives me the courage to continue my work of developing positive leaders and organizations. That is what gets me out of bed every morning!

I would love to hear your personal transformation stories. How have you applied the tools and concepts from the Wiser Way training?

 

Practicing Vulnerability as a Leader

Photo by Gerd Altmann

I saw Brené Brown speak at the Philadelphia Conference for Women and was truly inspired. Brené’s work has been very important to me personally and is an integral part of “A Wiser Way” leadership program that we have developed at Temple. The week before I saw Brené speak in person, I taught a couple of Wiser Way sessions that introduced Brene’s “Power of Vulnerability” TED talk. As part of each session, I shared a painful personal story. I was nervous about sharing my story, because I was afraid that I would get emotional and cry. That has happened in a couple of instances to me in a work setting before and I have been mortified because I have labeled it as unprofessional.

However, I was introducing the concept of vulnerability and how important that was in being a courageous leader to the group. I felt that it was important to practice what I was preaching. I also wanted to demonstrate what it looked like to step outside of your comfort zone and sharing a painful personal story was outside of mine.

So, I practiced over and over before the class until I was able to relate my story without crying when I was at home. However, when I shared my story with the group, I got emotional and cried a little. To be fair, this is genetic. I cry during all Hallmark commercials and Disney movies when a parent predictably dies.

The difference for me this time was that instead of feeling mortified for crying at work, I was okay with it. This allowed me to regain control of my emotions and continue with my story during the session. I had relabeled being authentic and vulnerable as being courageous rather than unprofessional.

That label made a huge difference in how I experienced that moment and how I felt after. I was relieved to have gotten through the presentation, but I wasn’t embarrassed or feeling overly exposed after the class. In fact, I felt supported as several people came up after class to thank me for sharing my story. And I felt very honored when many of the participants shared their personal stories with me.

Lyndsey Karp sent me this note after attending the session. “I’ve heard the Brené Brown video you shared before and been to a number of vulnerability workshops, but yours was especially impactful because of the personal story you shared. I personally struggle with vulnerability and it’s a difficult subject to cover especially in the workplace where it’s tempting to remain professional and closed off. Watching you share so openly was something I won’t soon forget. Your courage showed me that being open and honest with your peers doesn’t have to take away from your success as a woman in business. I’m determined to reach my goals in my career and learned from you that sometimes being vulnerable can actually help with that mission where I always worry it will hurt. I wanted to let you know that the experience resonated with me and to say thank you.”

Being vulnerable at work isn’t comfortable, but it has been empowering for me. As I have practiced being vulnerable and authentic, my confidence in my leadership ability and effectiveness have both increased. More importantly, it is creating a safe environment for others to practice being vulnerable, authentic, and creative. It is a lot of fun and very rewarding to work in that kind of space.

My challenge to you this week is to step out of your comfort zone and practice being vulnerable. I hope you will discover that being your authentic self is liberating and increases your effectiveness.

Nurturing the Courage to Lead

Some of the feedback that I have received from my team is that my leadership style is so different than what they were used to that they were unsure about how to act. Someone told me that his experience was that every time he raised his head to present an idea, it was like “whack a mole” and so he learned to just keep his head down.

That is a powerful and painful story!

So, when I came in and said that I expected everyone to be a leader, I can understand why people were skeptical and hesitant to act.

To give individuals the skills and confidence to be effective and courageous leaders and shift their stories and the culture, I worked with Eric Brunner and Towanda Record in our HR Professional Development team to co-create a “A Wiser Way” leadership seminar series. The seven sessions cover the following topics.

  • Aligning to Purpose
  • Rewriting Our Stories
  • Understanding Self and Others – DISC
  • Crucial Conversations
  • Why to Reality – Power of Habits
  • Storytelling/Improv
  • Now What?

The first cohort of participants just completed the training.

The training wasn’t mandatory and a few people dropped out or didn’t attend all the sessions. Around 70 of the original 85 people were in the final sessions and gave us very direct feedback about what they appreciated and what they wanted to see changed in the training.

The feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

The most vocal promoters of “A Wiser Way” are the participants who were the most skeptical coming into the training. The change and growth has been amazing to watch.

I sat back with great appreciation as one of the participants went on for several minutes when I asked her to explain what she got from the training to a visitor. She talked about how she had learned to have positive crucial conversations in a different way after decades of being in a leadership position and how it wasn’t hard and much more effective. She realized that she had been avoiding interaction with several peers. After the training, she had the skills, an empowering story, and the confidence to engage in a different way. She collaboratively engaged her peers and reported that she felt great about the interactions that she had been avoiding for months.

That is a powerful and energizing story!

“A Wiser Way” is an experiment and the culture is shifting already. We will give 150 more people the opportunity to go through the training by the end of this year. I am very interested to see what happens as more and more individuals shift their story from expecting to be whacked down to being courageous and confident leaders.

Taking Flight – A Fun and Memorable Way to Learn DISC

Picture used with permission – Taking Flight Learning

There has been so much energy and fun around the “Wiser Way” training this week. We took the DISC Styles assessment that was administered and presented by Take Flight Learning. The DISC is similar to the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator in that it helps a person understand themselves and others better.

The twist and the thing that made the training so much fun and memorable is that instead of being assigned a personality style letter that we would forget, we were each told if we were mostly like an Eagle, Parrot, Dove, or Owl.

Like birds were seated together at the same table for the class. As we came into the room, we were asked to find our assessment and the instructor, who did not know anyone in the training, would direct individuals to different tables to start looking for their name. She could usually tell what kind of bird someone was by how they came into the room!

The first exercise was hilarious as the different tables were asked to discuss how they would go about buying a TV. The reports from each table were like caricatures and everyone was laughing at the extreme differences in approaches. And, of course, we were all analyzing our spouses, kids, and co-workers to try to guess what kind of bird they might be.

The training was practical, interesting, and fun. It demonstrated clearly why we need diversity of styles on a team to be successful and how important it is to understand the style of others if we want to clearly communicate and effectively work with them. The energy and excitement carried out across campus as everyone was talking about what kind of birds they were. Several participants told me how much they loved the session.

For me, I was quite surprised that I was a Parrot, with Dove tendencies. The only other time, I have formally taken DISC training was early in my career and I tested as an Eagle then. When I did my MBA, we did a couple of exercises that were like DISC and were asked to self-select which groups we belonged in. I distinctly remember not being comfortable in any of the groups. Because I could most relate to the Eagle or dominant group, I would eventually place myself in that group. But I never put myself with the gregarious Parrots. After all, I am an introvert.

The instructor indicated that most people don’t change drastically over time. So I talked with her after the class about my results. Most of my assessment rang true, but I was struck by some specific phrases. I know that earlier in my career, empathy and patience would not have shown up in a description of my style, but they did in this assessment. As I described my intense quest to find a better way to live and lead over the past ten years, she told me that there were many similarities between the parrot and the eagle and that it would be possible to change but would take a lot of effort. I can attest that it has taken a lot of effort as I have shifted to be others focused and that the journey has been amazing.

The challenge that I will give you all this week is the same one we gave to the Wiser Way participants. Write a letter of gratitude to someone who is a different kind of bird or has a different kind of style than you.

 

Aspiring to be Courageous

 

CC2.0 – Photo by BK – https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictoquotes/16650220071/in/photostream/

I have been on a quest to be an effective leader for decades. The journey has been one of intense learning that has been guided by many mentors, some of whom I have known personally and others that I have only known through their writing. Much of the learning has been through trial and error with lots of mistakes.

At different times in my life, I have operated as a climber, martyr, victim, and courageous leader.

Previously in my career, I was a climber. I drove projects, sold my ideas, and constantly tried to prove myself. While I got things done, I wasn’t very empathetic or tactful and I often overrode others. Through tenacity and hard work, I did get noticed and promoted. I was also under extreme stress and constantly worried about how I was being perceived.

At home, I used to be a martyr. I felt it was my job to make sure that nothing failed and I frantically raced around trying to cover all of the things that needed to get done and make everything perfect. I over-functioned for my family and felt exhausted and overwhelmed much of the time.

When my first marriage dissolved, I became a victim for a while and started my intense quest to figure out how to live and lead in a different way. It was during this time, that I was introduced to Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability that shifted my definition of courage and helped me clarify the kind of person and leader I want to be.

Now that I know what it feels like to be a courageous leader, I don’t want to live or lead in any other way. It is liberating and joyful when I am authentic and open and vulnerable. Even though I know this, it is still hard to be so open sometimes.

I put together a model that defines four patterns of thinking for “A Wiser Way” leadership training. The four quadrants in the model are separated by how self-focused we are, which could be labeled as ambition, and how focused we are on others, which could be labeled as service. The model was influenced by Kim Knapp’s Fear to Freedom model and Adam Grant’s book, Give and Take.

During the “A Wiser Way” training this week, I shared some of my personal stories, That was uncomfortable for me to do. I did it because I want to be a courageous leader. I am asking the Wiser Way participants to step out of their comfort zone and be vulnerable and wanted to lead by example.

My challenge to you this week is to draw on your courage and practice being open and authentic and vulnerable.

Reshaping Culture through Small Deliberate Decisions

CC2.0 – Photo by BK - https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictoquotes/29420915701
CC2.0 – Photo by BK – https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictoquotes/29420915701

Last week, we launched “A Wiser Way” leadership training program and almost 90 people started on the journey to create a learning culture that will fuel excellence and innovation. The objective of the leadership training is to develop self-managed leaders and teams who cultivate a sense of curiosity, foster a culture of positivity, build a collaborative environment, consistently execute, hold themselves and others accountable, and lead with integrity.

More than one person has talked to me about how the training was startling because it demonstrates so thoroughly how different my leadership style and expectations are than the previous leader. I don’t think I understood until I heard these comments how disorienting it has been for people to adjust to my very different expectations in how we will do our work and interact with each other.

The training is designed to help with that adjustment and give individuals skills and practice in becoming more autonomous. As we designed the program, we made small but important decisions to reinforce the objectives of the training,

The training is not required. Requiring the training would be top down and authoritarian, which is counter to the principle of self-management. So instead of mandating the training, I invited people to participate. I talked about how excited I was about the training and thanked everyone who signed up.

The training was offered to every team member, not just managers or “high potential” employees. This sends the message that leadership is not tied to position. We expect leaders at all levels and everyone contributes to building our culture and instilling excellence. It also clearly demonstrates that every person is worth the investment and we believe everyone is capable of learning and growing.

We paired participants with peer coaches. As we assigned pairs, we deliberately chose individuals from different groups and at different levels in the organization. This reinforces the message of collaboration and gives a safe place to practice accountability with a peer. And again, it reinforces the belief that leadership is independent of organizational position and hierarchy.

We asked the group to set their own rules for the coaching cohorts. We introduced the GROW coaching model, which teaches the coach how to ask open-ended questions that allows the person they are coaching to set Goals, understand their current Reality, explore Options, and determine what they Will do. This model teaches self-management and the role of a manager or peer in encouraging self-management in others.

We chose to train a large group of people to create a common language and set of expectations. We will offer the training enough times to give every person who wants to take the training the opportunity to participate.

The feedback from the first session was incredibly positive. As we have designed and started to deliver the training, it has challenged me to be very intentional about small decisions and word choices. Something to think about this week is whether your small decisions and actions are supporting a culture of learning and excellence.

 

Spreading Freedom

I just finished my last week at the University of Michigan. As I contemplated what would be the most valuable thing that I could do as I was leaving, I decided to offer an intensive class that would cover concepts from the Fear to Freedom coaching that has been so impactful for me and many others who went through the program. The actual coaching program is six weeks long and that time commitment can limit the number of participants.

I had developed a one-hour class for a women’s conference at the request of a friend and taught two sessions that allowed me to refine the content. The responses from the conference participants were incredible. One of the women who attended told me it was life-changing and had fundamentally changed the way she thought of taking care of herself. She said that even her unconscious choices were now more aligned with who she wanted to be. That feedback gave me the confidence and motivation to teach the concepts more broadly. I had evidence that a one-hour investment could change someone’s life for the better.

I sent out the invitation broadly to IT professionals at the medical school, hospital, and across campus. The response was enthusiastic and we had to add an additional class to accommodate the demand. Since we wanted this to continue after I leave, April Jefferson, our culture coach, taught the classes with me.

We crammed a lot into an hour. After introducing the Fear to Freedom model, we brought in Brene Brown’s work about shame and suggested that much of our fear is about “not being enough”. We talked about Jim Loehr‘s research on the power of story and how we needed to increase our positive energy to change.

Then the real work began. We asked each participant to take seven minutes to write their current story about something they wanted to make substantial progress on in four weeks. They were instructed to write without filters. Brene Brown calls this the s*****y first draft. After the writing was finished, each participant rated their story from 0 to 10, with 0 being in complete fear and 10 being in complete freedom. We talked about what we observed and learned. Many people commented on how much they were in fear. I could relate. I used to live on the fear side. Now I visit, but have learned how to recognize that I am choosing fear and I do my best to move to freedom.

After talking about building shame resilience, we introduced the rules of writing a positive written intention and asked each person to take seven minutes to rewrite their story in past tense with the best outcome they can imagine. In every session, this was incredibly powerful. The shift in energy in the room is noticeable. The participants rated their new story on the fear to freedom scale. Almost everyone in the class moved toward freedom. Some participants described the new feeling of confidence that they could meet their challenge and were motivated to take concrete steps toward improvement.

The feedback from the class has been very positive. One incredibly talented and competent young professional told me that the timing and information were critical for her. She had always struggled with self-doubt and assumed she could “achieve” her way out of it. The class made her realize that many seemingly successful people struggle with those same feelings. She would offer evidence to the contrary when her colleagues expressed self-doubt but she wasn’t as generous with herself and kept perpetuating her own negative self story. She expressed how much the class meant to her. She and her friend were starting “The Gifts of Imperfection“ by Brene Brown to build their shame resistance and move toward freedom. This made me very happy.

My challenge for you this week is to choose something you want to change and write two stories; your current story and your new story as a positive written intention. I would love to hear about your experiences.

Here are the references from the class in case you want to read more.
Brene Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.
Brene Brown, Rising Strong
Jim Loehr, The Power of Story
Desmond and Mpho Tutu, The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World
Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell, Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life