In today’s video I talk about how to set yourself up for success as a leader.
Expectations or Assumptions?
The first advice I want to give you is to move from expectations to assumptions. Success is when we meet expectations, failure is when we fail expectations, that’s fairly straightforward and I’m assuming you know that. One thing that many people don’t realize is how much of a difference it makes, whether you hold an expectation, or whether you hold an assumption. If I am meeting you and I’m expecting you to be on time and you are not, you are wrong. If I assume you to be on time and you’re not, I am wrong. Dealing with me being wrong is something that is my responsibility, it’s something that I can deal with. You being wrong is a much bigger problem and it’s a problem I don’t want to have. I don’t want to take responsibility for dealing with that, especially if the simple difference between you being wrong and me being wrong is just me making an assumption versus me making an expectation.
Assumptions and Agreements
The bad thing about assumptions is they’re barely known to ourselves and they’re usually not known to the other. To be successful with your assumptions, you need to share them. This is one of the first leadership principles that I teach in my classes, it’s that we need to move from assumptions to agreements. We need to have conversations about how we assume the future to be, how we assume our collaboration to be, how we assume our relationships to be and we need to move towards agreements. Leadership agreements are one of the most fundamental tools that you will need to employ to set yourself up for success.
But what does a leadership agreement look like? Well, there are lots of answers to the simple question “How can we make each other look good?”. That’s a phrase from improv theatre, where things fail, things happen, surprises come along all the time. It’s just like real life and day-to-day leadership, right? The first and foremost agreement that we need to make is to set ourselves up to look good, set ourselves up to be successful and to help each other become successful. As leaders, we get paid to make people more successful than they would be without our leadership. That’s a simple truth about why leaders exist. I am successful if my people are successful. I am successful when my boss is successful.
Therefore go around and talk to the people who report to you, the people you’re leading with, your peers, people you’re delivering to, who deliver stuff to you, upstream and downstream in terms of workflow, go to your boss… You may start with any of these relationships today. Just have a conversation about how can we make each other look good? How can we support each other? How can I contribute to your success?
What kind of leader do you need me to be tomorrow?
Especially when we talk about agile organizations, where we’re working with teams who are supposed to improve and change the way they work and collaborate, increase the way in which they are autonomous, increase the ways in which they take responsibility instead of just doing what they’re told. I need to change my leadership. I want to be proactive about it. I don’t want them to run into a glass ceiling and then complain about, “Yeah, Olaf. Sorry, but we couldn’t do that, because…” I want to go to them and say “Okay, with your regular cadence of improvement, with the things you have decided in your last retrospective, what kind of leader do you need me to be in the next month, in the next week? What kind of leader do you need me to be tomorrow?”
If you’re daring, you can take things a step further and ask for feedback with the question: ”What’s the hardest thing about working with me? What’s making working with me the hardest? That’s the thing I’m committing to changing as best as I can and as soon as I can.“ Make regular improvement part of your work.
Dee Hock, the founder of Visa, wrote a book about the founding of Visa and the birth of that organisation. The book is called “Birth of the Chaordic Age”. He muses about how managers should spend and invest their time and capacity. His advice is very simple and very straightforward. There’s lots of wisdom like that in the book. He says, “Spend half of your time on managing yourself.” Half of your time. Seriously. I think that’s really, really good advice and it’s a really hard stretch for most of us who are already 100% busy with managing whatever needs managing, right?
Spend half of your time on yourself, one-third of your time managing your boss, one-quarter of your time for the people on your level, your peers, suppliers, customers, people who deliver things to you, people you deliver things to, people you have commitments with and also any influencers like regulators, legislation, any peer who influences the system you are working for and you are managing in. Some of you might wonder “What about the people below you? What about the people who report to you? Don’t they need management? Isn’t that why you are their manager?”
He says, very simply, “You hire smart people and tell them to do the very same.” You let your people manage you.
My application of that advice is having these leadership conversations, having conversations with your directs on what kind of leadership they need, what kind of support they need, where you can step out of the way and where you need to support them.
The Rescuer Trap
In later videos continuing this, we will talk about one specific trap. That’s the “rescuer trap”. Those of you who are familiar with Steven Karpman’s Drama Triangle might know the rescuer role. The rescuer trap is particularly luring for leaders and that’s deserving its own video.
Write a Leadership Journal
We’ll be talking about writing a leadership diary or a leadership journal. You’ll be keeping a journal of what you’re doing day to day, so you have something to reflect on. Reflecting on and improving one‘s leadership is really hard because leadership is ephemeral. It goes away as soon as we’ve done it and then there’s the next thing to do. So paying attention over time to what I’ve done, what happened and how I can use that information to actually improve in the long term, that needs conscious practice and we will cover that in one of the next videos.
Thank you! Get in touch!
Thank you very much. I want to publish regular advice, conversations, coachings and inspirations around leadership, around leading better relationships in this world, meeting the challenges of this world in a better way, developing ourselves in a better way and generally advancing humanity, advancing our planet, advancing how we treat it. There are so many causes right now that need attention. There are so many topics that need thinking about and that need solving. I want to contribute to that.
I’m curious about what you want to have happen. I’m curious about questions. I’m curious about topics. I’m curious to be connected to people you want me to talk to, or people who want to talk to me. If you have a great conversation in mind that you want to have with me, we can record it and publish it. That’s exactly what I’m looking for. Just let me know. Comments or emails, you’ll find me. I’m blessed with a unique name, so let me know what you want to have happen on this channel. I’d love it if you would subscribe and like it. Thank you very much.
Welcome, it’s an amazing morning in Austin, Texas and afternoon in Berlin, Germany. And I’m here with my friend, Christopher Avery. A friend and mentor and a guide into leadership and responsibility. I want to continue the thing that I’ve started a while ago, a series of video conversations, which I call Leadership Nuggets. Since so much of my work and so much of my inspiration about leadership has come from you, it’s a great chance to start these conversations with you. And I look forward to having even more conversations with you because I know that it’s not going to be done in one.
So how did this whole responsibility and leadership thing start for you? I do not actually know if your focus on responsibility and your curiosity and discovery of the responsibility process started from a leadership perspective or if you started with responsibility and then discovered that it was a “great leadership gift” as your big leadership program is called.
So how did that come about?
Yeah, thank you, Olaf. Here we are in our kitchens doing Leadership Nuggets, which makes me want to go over there and get something that I can pop in my mouth. So let’s see if we can deliver some tasty treats here.
All right, so how did it all start? I mean, one of my signature stories and the reason I know so much about responsibility is that I spent so much of my life avoiding it. I’m one of those Americans that spent eight years getting a bachelor’s degree in speech, went to three different colleges, flunked out of my first one. So I was serious about taking life easy.
So what happened was that I finally woke up in my PhD program and became a serious scholar. So I looked at the career opportunities and for some reason, I did not want to be a tenure track professor, I thought that universities were probably the most politicized environments on the planet, so I’d rather work in corporate America. I was working in a little consulting firm, which is where I learned my consulting and training chops and I created a training for IBM. I had befriended a software manager who transitioned into being an education director after working for many years as a manager in software. I asked her, “What gives you knots in the stomach?” and she said, “I wish there was a way to teach software project leaders how to build teams.”
Now, Olaf, this is pre-PMI.
We’re talking 1990, this is when I had this conversation. So I went off and recruited a couple of my friends in adult learning and my brilliant professor friend who knew the sociology and psychology in group research like this. We started putting together just a simple three-day project team leadership workshop for project software leaders. And first of all, we knocked it out of the park and had a huge business. So that was the beginning of me being in business. I spun out of the consulting firm and started Partner Works, which is now The Responsibility Company.
I was looking for the one thing to typify everything about teamwork and collaboration. When you’re an expert in a body of knowledge, you realize that you have to figure out a way to get somebody else to get the essence of it without caring about all of their stuff the way you do. So I was trying to typify this huge body of knowledge down to a three-day training, down to a couple of nuggets.
The one thing that I noticed that nobody else was paying attention to was shared responsibility. When teams come together, not even when they gel, but when they just even start to come together and when they’re willing to invest in figuring out how they’re going to do this together, then what’s happened is they’ve already started to step up to something that’s bigger than themselves, bigger than their own job, bigger than their own accountability. And I don’t remember exactly when or where I realized this, but I went “Bingo, that’s it. I’m going to hang everything I do on shared responsibility and I’m going to go figure out what this stuff is.” In terms of human dynamics and human psychology, where does it come from? And how does it get there? And if somebody doesn’t have it, can you install it?
Can you download it somewhere?
Patch the operating system.
Yeah, absolutely. So that’s where my interest in responsibility really started, it started because of my interest in collaboration, teamwork, and partnering. Realizing that for any of that good collaboration, teamwork, partnering stuff to happen in corporations 30 years ago, you had to overcome all of this horrible structure that the corporation puts in place to keep you from teaming and collaborating.
All the departmentalization, the specialization, the individual roles and responsibilities and the individual performance and all of that. So that’s where it started. I was a new PhD and so I still had scholarship chops and I was very committed to being a coach consultant trainer. I was just in a search for understanding responsibility and that’s when I ran into the responsibility project that was producing what I now call, the responsibility process. And that was in 1991, I think, that I was introduced to that.
Is that it? Well, so back then it was called super-learning or accelerated learning, which is the version I learned. It was all taught with flip charts and the flip charts were hung up so you could refer to all the models. On one of the early flip charts, he wrote the word “lay blame”, then the word “justify”, then a middle line, and then the word “responsibility”. He just briefly explained that when things go wrong, humans naturally blame and tell stories and make excuses and justify. But all of that is below the line in terms of being ineffective and not owning your role in the world.
That’s being a victim. But above the line is the ability to respond. We all have a place in our mind where we can be creative and generative and we can overcome any problem.
Then they proceeded to throw us into a game and in the debrief of the game, I and everybody else were blaming the instructor and justifying the rules. And the instructor, he just went over and stood next to the flip chart.
That got inside of me in a big way and I said to myself, “I want that. I want to understand that. I want to integrate that into my being – big time.”
So I said to myself, “I am a big freaking crybaby. I’m smart, I’m ambitious, I’m intelligent and I spend all of this time blaming and justifying why I don’t have whatever I want.” And what if I could just spend a little less time in blame and justify and maybe I’d spend a little more time in that creative part of my mind, that part that’s connected and plugged in and tapping into my genius and my inspiration. What if I could transfer 1% from below the line to above the line every month, every three months? Grow it 4% utilization a year. Wow, that’d be pretty cool. So that was it, I was sold.
I already had my doctorate, I’d already seen tons of models of psychology, and this is the most brilliant model of normal psychology I’ve ever seen. So I bought it, hook, line and sinker, Olaf.
So that’s the origin story.
Beautiful. I have one follow up question and this might be a question for a second conversation. But it came to my mind when you started with team building and shared responsibility and one of the questions I get asked most by leaders is, or rather the hesitations that they utter, it’s not actually a question, it’s that it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work when multiple people take responsibility for something. Responsibility needs to be assigned to one person and then that person needs to be held accountable. You all know the metaphor of the single ring-able neck, which is so ingrained in the way that corporations are built, you mentioned that. It was definitely worse in the nineties, but I see a lot of that in organizations today.
A big part of my work is keeping startups from building all of these functions like they have 20 people and already 50 different job titles with vice presidents and whatnot. Where I go like “Why don’t you focus on building products and making and growing your organization? Instead of growing your job titles and growing your egos and growing the different ways in which you cut responsibility into pieces.” Is there a key gift that you could give to those leaders who believe that responsibility needs to be assigned to a single neck or nose or pair of eyes or heart, whatever it is. So that they can start believing that teams owning something are actually so much more effective and greater and much more fun.
Sure. For me, helping a manager understand that teams can be more effective and more fun is maybe a little bit different than the difference between responsibility and delegation or accountability. If I’m trying to help an executive or a manager move into more effectiveness, I think I would help them differentiate responsibility as an internal dynamic of ownership or lack of ownership. From accountability or delegation or performance measurement as an external.
In my case, I work in a self-organized team, seven teammates, and the discipline that we have, and you know this from Scrum teams that you’ve worked with, is, we start with what we’re trying to get done and then move that down to prioritized goals and then we task it out. And the last thing we do is say, “Okay, now who is going to take what part?” We know who is doing what.
So the only thing that’s different there is instead of a manager assigning who’s doing what, we assign it for ourselves. So for me more gets done faster when a team takes ownership and has the execution conversation among themselves, rather than having some boss think that they know who should do what and assigning it.
You get more of what you’re an expert in, which is what I’m going to have a conversation about some time. So you get more of the invitation.
You get more of the person showing up because of the invitation rather than the assignment.
Yeah, that’s a beautiful idea for our next conversation, talking about the relationship between invitation and responsibility.
That’s a strong one. Thank you so much, this was interesting and new.
I’m really looking forward to the next conversation.
These are interesting times. A lot of what’s normal isn’t anymore. Many of us are overwhelmed. Many structures we are used to are not there anymore. How we spend our time and whom we spend it with has become radically different. And we didn’t get much time to pause, reflect, and adapt.
I’m a relationship person. I love. I hug. I listen. I empathise. I lead my relationships consciously. And I’m struggling.
When helping leaders improve, I focus on leading relationships. I’ve noticed how what they practice at work helps their private relationships, too. Now, relationships are under stress both at home and at work: we spend either a lot more or a lot less time with people than we are used to. Let’s learn from our struggling. Let’s use this irritating situation to our advantage, to improve our relationships at work, as well as at home.
I’m noticing how my relationship practice helps me in these interesting times. And I’m talking to lots and lots of people who struggle, who have questions. Some are worried, afraid. We need a space, to pause, to listen, to ask the burning questions.
How do we identify the chances and opportunities between the risks, and worries, and fears? How do we thrive from here? How do we flourish?
I’m offering a space for conversations. Starting today, March 25, at 4 pm Berlin time. Link to the Zoom meeting.
How might we lead our relationships in these times of Social Distancing?
I intend to host these conversations every day, from now on, while they are needed and possible.
Some interesting questions
Now that I’m faced with people I love 24 hours per day, and they get on my nerves, what do I do?
Now that I can’t see and feel people as I’m used to, what do I do?
Now that I don’t get to have random beneficial conversations with colleagues at the coffee machine or over lunch, now that I’m missing information and connection that’s essential for collaboration and well-being, what do I do?
Now that I have to sit in front of my computer all day, every day, to do my work, to have social interactions, what do I do?
Now that everything seems to be different, what would we like to have happen?
Who is this for?
Leaders of all kinds and roles.
People overwhelmed with the sudden changes in their day-to-day relationships.
Those of us who feel lonely in quarantine or during lock-down.
Anyone who wants to learn more about relationships.
Coaches who want to help but are distanced from clients who don’t come to the office anymore.
“You are Welcome” as an expression of invitation has been part of our deliberate practice for a while, and we’ve been thinking a lot about the difference it makes. What’s special about it?
“Thank you!” When we hear a passionate expression of gratitude, we reply, “you are welcome!” with a similar amount of passion. We appreciate gratitude with an invitation. We don’t believe that’s wrong 🙂
“I want you to know how important your welcome is to my sense of safety. I know whatever I bring is welcome. I have a high degree of confidence that I will not be attacked, rejected or belittled. That you are likely to see even more of my gold than I see. That you will hold a safe and confidential space for my mistakes, my weakness, my anger, sadness, fear and shame as well my authentic joy. That is an immeasurable gift. That is safety!”
– Scott Downs
We rarely dare to fully show up in our world. Often, we want to meet expectations, don’t feel worthy to fully disclose ourselves, or we simply do what everybody does and we’ve always done: We fit in. We can shift that with a fully whole-hearted welcome.
You are OK
Our welcome is unconditional.We are all humans and connected. You’re part of the group, no matter what you did or how you feel. This is our invitation. You are welcome. You are welcome to forgive yourself, as we are ready to do it for you and for us as well.
“Come, come whoever you are, …even if you have broken your vows 10.000 times, …come again”
In the course of our lives, we all have felt excluded from a group and suffered in fear of losing connection, relationships and security. These fears prevent us still from connecting to the now and building relationships of trust. If we want to make a change and build spaces of trust in our lives and organisations, it is upon us to start.
Our welcome is an invitation for empathy for us and for others. We can choose whether we want to follow it. We are free to decide, how aware we would like to become about our repressed feelings. If so, they can show up and we can stay with them. Allowing them to be there, allows us to be fully present and authentic. Letting them go frees us, refreshes us and give us back the energy which had been blocked. We can start anew, opening up to the next person to say unconditionally “You are welcome”.
Love and Magic happens when we meet
This space of compassion invites loving ourselves anew. Children are authentic, emotional and empathetic to all creatures. But already early in our childhood we learned that loves comes with conditions. “If you are brave than your Mummy will love you and read a story for you in the evening”. We got to know a lot of expectations and are still trying to meet them. We learned to survive by being seen, acknowledged by our family and the outer world. In consequence we were ready to surpress feelings and splinter parts of ourselves to fit in. We do now the same to others by throwing expectations and judgements on them which we think is normal.
Magic comes in, through loving ourselves and others, accepting what is. If we manage, than a big burden is tumbling down, freeing us to feel, to connect and getting back into the flow of life.
We are able to feel love, joy and ease again.
“God did not ask us to like our neighbours. He just asked us to love them.”
– Martin Luther King
We don’t need to like how you’re showing up today. We welcome you, again and again. If you don’t feel you’re ok, we will accept it, as a choice. We will hold that possibility of a space of feeling ok, as long as you want it.
May I be well, may I be happy, may I be free from suffering. May you be well, may you be happy, may you be free from suffering. May we be well, may we be happy, may we be free from suffering. – Buddha
A good every day practice is the loving kindness meditation practice where we learn to have empathy with ourselves, our loved ones and the ones which we have difficulties with. We will feel more human and connected to others if we practice it regularly.
Life is encountering humans
“You are welcome!” sings the demi-god as he encounters Moana in the Disney movie of the same name.
We believe, that encounters are the main thing. The magic of encounter is what is being human. We are curious, open and fully present to what we encounter. We are looking forward to what’s emerging – what happens next? We are not sure what’s going to happen, we aim not to have any plan for the relationship, no goal, there’s room for surprise and magic.
Like everyone we might put people into boxes, but they are creative, loving boxes with interesting colours and patterns, and they are easy to get out of. Even when we have a judgement, we hold that lightly, we set that opinion aside and are curious for the human being that’s showing up.
So what makes our welcome special?
we are ready to be surprised. we see humans as they are … we make ourselves vulnerable and are ready for the other to let go of their masks and space suits. We are ready to greet the wonderful being that hides behind the apps and extensions …
we allow connection with yourself to happen..
we are social beings. We want to be in contact. Our space allows empathy, thankfulness, expressing of all emotions to show up and hold a space of trust to invite connection and healing.
Love and Magic will happen if we are ready to take what is offered. If we can give and receive. If we can accept and stay with our resistance. Humans are strong and weak, intellectual and emotional.. it is not about one or the other, it is about one as well as the other.
we are holding diversity, different approaches and perspectives allowing them to co-exist in order to invite creativity and surprisability…
we aim to be aware, to speak up when we notice something. we address it now, so that it doesn’t bother us later on.
we are aware – we are in different worlds, we will never fully understand each other. we can discover similarities, resonance, that ease our communication. We are always ready to start with a beginner’s mind and to forgive..
we are part of a bigger whole we are all human. We share the same emotions, the same humanity, the basic need to belong. We are one. Feeling welcome no matter what, is a key to be able to connect with yourself and others.