Saturday, August 27, 2011

Narcissism, the Mirror thing again

I'm an "Old Guy" officially a Senior Citizen and a man of infinite opinion. That's as introduction to what's coming…a diatribe on what's wrong with America today. Let's harken back to those thrilling days of yesteryear when cowboys on white horses with white hats and teeth that sparkled rode in to solve all our problems. Usually to rescue the fair maiden.

Okay that's old movies and TV. It never was like that, but the fantasy attached to it lingers in our consciousness. It seems that I have this belief that I can find the answer to all I struggle with by getting the right answer. I am confusing entertainment with life. And it has taken me a long time to figure that out. Now we don't have that old hero model so much in front of us anymore, but we have one that seems to have replaced it. People in my age group and a little after grew up in this "Leave It To Beaver" world and we knew it wasn't our experience. I though it was the other kids who had those lives, but I have lived long enough to find out that isn't true. But it has been replaced with another. It's called New Age. The basis of this is "The Power Of Positive Thinking" which basically states that if I focus on the positive around me I will achieve positive results.

While this makes a certain amount of sense it fails by not including anyone else in my world, let alone that bigger world outside my direct contact. But of course there's no need to consider their thoughts or feelings because, after all I am just going for the positive. And that's good. Right? And as long as I remain positive and move in a positive direction for positive things then everyone will be happy. Right? And isn't that everyone's goal?

When I was younger I thought that everyone I liked believed and thought the same way I did. Well maybe they thought the same way, but they came up with surprisingly different conclusions than I did. This can mess with a young boy;s mind. Even a not so young boy. Everyone is subject to over generalization. Even me in this piece. But I know this about myself and I am constantly looking for and engaging with people of different approaches to situations than mine.

I know this doesn't make me a saint or anything like it. I hope what it does for me is keep me curious and teachable. It seems to me that so many of us have lots of education under our belts and think we know things that perhaps we don't. As I described above, we tend to think we know how others think or what's best for them. But the truth of that thinking is that it is just a defense against being found out.I don't want anyone to think I don't know. I have done this. And when I do, I have discovered I am a narcissist. I seem to have lots of company. Lots of people seem to have this behavior. As a professional coach I run into this all the time. People have a hard time seeing outside of themselves. This isn't some horrible dysfunction requiring institutionalization or anything like that. But it does require getting into it with other people. And ideally not just the people we are most intimate with. Our attitude about them is part of the problem. I want them to think I am the greatest. I want to be the man they want me to be. The trouble is I think that means perfect. If I'm actually perfect, how will they ever be able to be less than perfect with me. Which is what they know they are.

Hard as it is, I am ever on the lookout for the person in the mirror. When he looks too bright and shiny, I know the Narcissist is back and it's time for a reality check.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Look in the mirror

Robert Steven Kaplan of the Harvard Business School has just published a book titled "What to Ask the Person in the Mirror: Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential"

We need to be clear about a couple of things at the outset. One is that I have not read the book. Another is that I am not saying this is a bad book or that what is suggested here is behavior we at Paeon are opposed to. This is an effort to look at a model which comes from a different perspective.

The issue here is that Leadership has always been seen as a personal competency, which is fine. I need to be and act as a Leader in my own life. It is important to engage my values in my behavior.

Here at Paeon, we want to look at Leadership as a group competency. As we continue to mature and as the machines we create help us change our relationship to work, our jobs are increasingly joined to the jobs of others and we function as collaborators much more of our time than in the past. In a way we are cogs in a machine just like we have always been, but the functions we perform are much less individual and complete. Further the function I perform doesn't necessarily complete something to be handed off to another worker like it does on an assembly line. Our collaborations are often ore complex than that.

So the actual functions of leadership are as much about give and take, communication and trust than at any time in the past. We are often engaged in work that is completely out of our hands for the moment, but rely on us in the next. And our collaborators may need our input at any time, then our disconnection. This requires that our Leadership is more about sharing than directing, more asking than telling, more stepping back than getting in front.

Let's look at Mr. Kaplan's four questions as a point of departure here. The first is, "
Do I clearly articulate my vision and top priorities?" This is an excellent question in my opinion. It is also one that is best answered by others. When I ask these kinds of questions of myself, the deluded part of me gives me a BS answer. And, that is the very part of me I am trying to uncover with the question. So if I want the best results from the examination of me, I am well served to ask this question in company.

Mr. Kapla's second question is "Does the way I spend my time enable me to achieve my top priorities?" Now that I have examined my priorities and communication effectiveness in company, it seems they are the best people to help me understand if they see me using my time effectively in their eyes. And assuming these are the people I am working with, if there is a disagreement, who better to help me see the truth as it impacts others. It also allows them to get some insight into activities of mine that don't involve them or our mutual work directly. I think I want them to know I am not squandering my time at their expense, but spending it on other important activities. This is a perfect opportunity to check my actual priorities against the story I make up in my head to suit my agendas Both the conscious and the unconscious.

Question #3 is really two questions, " Do I give subordinates timely and direct feedback they can act on? Have I developed a succession roadmap?"
I don'tknow about anyone else, but I do not trust myself to answer this question honestly. Further, why wouldn't I want to ask the people I'm working with? Even if they're subordinates? If I couldn't ask them it would be because I don't trust them. If that's the case I need to ask myself how I can change that.

The last question for Mr. Kaplan is actually the best one for me to answer. And then check it out with my responses and my people. "Is my leadership style still effective, and does it reflect who I truly am?"

At this point I can readily ask myself if I am satisfied with the results of my Leadership? Are my goals and expectations being met? Are we making the progress I want us to make? When I ask myself how I am feeling about our work and the achievements that are happening, is the feeling Anger? Sadness? Fear? Joy? My answer is the answer I need to share with the team. And ask for their feedback. What do they see? How stisfied are they? What's next for them? What do they nee from me?

All these are worthy questions which will provide valuable answers if the team is willing to face them and learn their own truth.

Our judgement about Leadership and the practice in the workplace is there is too much emphasis on the individual and not enough on the team. The team isn't just for team meetings and beatings. The team is for everything, because the team is responsible. And probably quite capable. It can certainly always do things I can't do alone.

That's the Paeon view, how about you?