August 29

How Can You Prevent Leaders from Being Deceived by Learning

In this article, you will learn how leaders can be deceived by learning. You will learn how to eradicate this deception. I will share two stories involving former Fortune 500 corporate leaders to illustrate how even successful leaders can be deceived by learning. Then you can assess how preventing this deception can benefit your company.

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” This is what a 63-year old middle manager said to me during his company’s leadership training session. He was responding to my question whether he could simply accept constructive feedback for what it was, helpful feedback. For him, receiving constructive feedback had always involved hour-long closed-door conversations where he and his supervisor would first raise their voices and engage in heated conversation. He took pride in noting they were always able to work through the constructive feedback. By his old dog response, he was letting me know that he was set in his ways. Then because he was open and interested in learning, he proceeded to accept constructive feedback from me without any resistance. He was no longer constrained by his past experiences.

What about you? Are you interested in learning something in this article you can immediately use to become a more effective leader? If you are interested, you will learn how to prevent leaders from being deceived by learning. 

Merriam Webster’s definition of learning includes “knowledge or skill acquired by instruction or study.” Dictionaries define words the way they are commonly used. Learning, like most words in the English language, is commonly used in more than one way. Yet acquiring knowledge is markedly different than acquiring skill. Leaders frequently confuse acquiring leadership knowledge as being sufficient where acquiring leadership skill is essential.

To prevent deception, communication theorist Paul Watzlawick defines learning in two different and distinct orders. First order learning is acquiring knowledge. It involves taking in, comprehending, and recalling information. Everyone has an abundance of experience with first order learning from school and multiple venues. To become an effective leader, first order learning is both essential and insufficient.

Second order learning is acquiring skill, elevating your ability to produce results. Second order learning is useful learning. It involves figuring out when to selectively apply first order learning to produce the intended result. To acquire leadership skills, second order learning includes utilizing how each person responds to your leadership action as feedback to further elevate your leadership skills. Second order learning is essential to effective leadership.

I was working with the leadership team of a company whose CEO was a former corporate leader in a Fortune 500 Company. This CEO hired me to develop the skills of his leadership team. He believed his extensive leadership training and experience at a Fortune 500 Company was all that he needed. I had to utilize every ounce of my persuasion skill to pull this CEO into the training. I knew his company would benefit by him learning how to empower people and effect work related change through one brief conversation. After working with them for three sessions, I conducted a mid-term assessment. I interviewed everyone who reported to the leadership team to assess the leadership team’s progress. I learned from every team member interviewed that this CEO had significantly elevated his leadership skills.

Learning is especially confusing because so much learning has involved acquiring knowledge. Effective leadership involves more than acquiring knowledge about various techniques. Let’s take for example the sandwich technique that is typically learned to give constructive feedback. It is not the sandwich technique or any other technique which makes a leader effective in giving constructive feedback. Constructive feedback is effective when the leader gives the feedback with the intent of being helpful to the receiver, and the receiver understands this intent before receiving the feedback. The sandwich technique is not needed when the person receiving the feedback understands the leader’s intent to be helpful and their confidence in the receiver’s ability to benefit from the feedback. Elevating the skill giving constructive feedback includes being attentive as to how each person responds to feedback, tailoring the leader’s approach accordingly, and then utilizing how that person responds as feedback to further elevate the leader’s skill. Leaders with elevated skill giving constructive feedback will reduce the need for involuntary terminations and the costs associated with training new hires.

I was leading a training session for another company. Their CEO was a former VP at a Fortune 500 Company. The session was about unleashing the power inherent in a corporate vision statement. This CEO shared with their team that they had never really gotten much value out of the Fortune 500 Company’s corporate vision statement. Their confidential comment is an indication that this leader had acquired knowledge about vision and not skill. When a leader has acquired skill in utilizing their corporate vision statement, then they will utilize it to inspire themselves and their team. The value is not in acquiring knowledge about vision; it is in elevating skill utilizing their corporate vision as a tool to empower people to achieve the vision or move closer to achieving it. With elevated skills, they and those whom they lead will experience these expected benefits: unleashed passion, commitment, creativity, and performance.

Several years ago, I invested 7 years launching and sustaining a collaborative initiative to create a county welfare system that empowers clients receiving public assistance to become financially self-sufficient. Included among 100 community volunteers were 30 business and community leaders and more than a dozen people receiving public assistance. These clients had caught the spark to help other clients become self-sufficient in addition to helping themselves. One of these volunteers became a catalyst uniting other volunteers receiving public assistance. They had received no training in how to utilize a vision as a leadership tool. Yet they envisioned families applying for food stamp benefits receiving food for their families so they would not go hungry while they were waiting to receive their food stamp benefits. They pictured these families being treated with dignity and respect because they would be served by others who had previously walked in their shoes. These volunteers launched, sustained, and staffed a food bank for five years. Most became financially self-sufficient while helping others. They were driven by their vision and experienced the expected benefits. Corporations, who have a corporate vision statement have not necessarily been driven by their corporate vision nor experienced the benefits even though their leaders have acquired knowledge about vision.

In conclusion, I have provided you a means to prevent leaders from being deceived by learning. To achieve this end, I have drawn a distinction between two orders of learning: acquiring knowledge and acquiring skill. I shared two stories involving former Fortune 500 corporate leaders to help you see how successful leaders can be deceived by learning. I invite you to assess how preventing leaders from being deceived by learning can benefit your organization.

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August 29

Effect Change in One, Brief Conversation

When I provided an introductory session for highly skilled Toastmaster Ant Blair, my goal was to earn the privilege of providing him a program that blends training on how to effect change in one, brief conversation with coaching. Ant was quite engaged during his training. I was feeling optimistic about the outcome. Then at the end of his session, something totally unexpected happened. Ant was the one to effect change in one, brief conversation.

In addition to being a highly skilled Toastmaster, Ant is the CEO of Welcome Corporation, a diversity and inclusion training and consulting company. Through Welcome, he helps the craft beer industry attract and retain a diverse community of drinkers of small independent craft beer. Ant also hosts a YouTube channel and podcast, #MoHeadYall, where he utilizes his expertise as a Cicerone certified master of beer styles and service to benefit all who enjoy craft beer. According to Ant, beer head brings out the flavor of a craft beer.

In this article, I will show you how to effect change in one, brief conversation. I will share the conclusion of this relevant story to illustrate how Ant effected change in me.

When leaders think of their role in effecting change, they do not typically envision themselves as capable of effecting change in one, brief conversation. What comes to leaders’ minds instead: “Change is hard.” “People do not like to change.” “People resist change.” Every leader knows people who have failed many times effecting change, starting a new habit such as an exercise program or a diet or stopping a bad habit such as smoking cigarettes or swearing. Most leaders know people who no longer even make New Year’s resolutions because they “know” they would fail. Few leaders know how to effect change in one, brief conversation.

I help leaders learn to examine change from 3 different levels. Level 1 change is behavioral change, developing a new habit or stopping an old habit. Leaders have significant experience attempting to effect behavioral change. They have experienced failures and challenges associated with effecting behavioral change. 

Level 2 change involves changing the way someone perceives a person, situation, or repetitive pattern. When someone perceives differently, they change their behavior accordingly. For example, at the age of 68, my father changed the way he perceived his retirement years. Then he got a psychology board game out of the attic that he invented in his 20s. He transformed that game into a program that utilized open ended questions, trained facilitators, and positive peer influence to help juvenile offenders and adult offenders learn to think, reason, and solve problems without violence. Between the ages of 70 and 80, my father with my mother by his side, traveled around the United States training facilitators. He touched thousands of peoples’ lives because he perceived his retirement included the opportunity to pursue his passion and purpose. My parents blended passion and purpose with traditional activities retired people typically love to do.

Level 3 change is owning perceiving as a creative act. When you own perceiving as a creative act, you can perceive any person, situation, or repetitive pattern at any moment in more than one way that fits reality, including an empowering way. When you own perceiving as a creative act, it is easy to help someone around you perceive differently and in an empowering way.

Now for the rest of my story. When Ant’s introductory session ended, he asked permission to give me constructive feedback. I agreed. He asked me if I knew I used the filler word “so” many times during my training. I had no idea I used that filler word even once. Then I listened to one of my LinkedIn videos. I was shocked to discover I used the same filler word six times in a two-minute video. Ant’s constructive feedback helped me perceive how becoming a Toastmaster would be beneficial to me and those whom I serve. He stimulated my thinking about what else I might learn in Toastmasters. I proceeded to join Ant’s Toastmasters club #2481. On June 24, 2019, I became Vice President of Public Relations for my club. This article is my first one that incorporates my new role with my work helping leaders elevate their skill to effect change in one, brief conversation. To quote Paul Harvey, “And now you know the rest of the story”.

If you are a skilled Toastmaster like Ant Blair, you can provide people around you with the additional benefits that result from your elevated public speaking and leadership skills. I am thankful to have Ant Blair as my friend and one of many Toastmaster mentors. If you are a leader or aspiring to become one, then I invite you to visit a Toastmaster club in your community to learn more about Toastmasters.

In conclusion, you can own perceiving as a creative act. You can perceive any person or situation in more than one way that fits reality. You can select a way that opens new possibilities for the future. You can then help someone around you change the way they perceive themselves or their situation. Through helping someone perceive differently, you can effect change in one, brief conversation. Ant helped me perceive Toastmasters differently and in a way that opens new possibilities for me and those whom I serve.

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August 29

How Does Knowledge Limit the Effectiveness of Leaders

Through my work with people from all walks of life, I find that most peoples’ knowledge unintentionally limits their effectiveness. Like limiting beliefs, knowledge unnecessarily constrains the results people achieve. While this is true in most disciplines, I will focus this article on how knowledge unintentionally limits the effectiveness of leaders. I will focus upon three common ways knowlege is limiting and will share stories as illustrations.

How does your knowledge unintentionally limit your effectiveness? What is the difference between you having knowledge and your knowledge having you? What is the relationship between leadership knowledge and leadership skill? 

According to Wikepedia “Leadership can be defined as one’s ability to get others to willingly follow.” Utilizing this definition of leadership, leadership is about influence, not power. Anyone can be a leader by influencing people around them to follow their lead. Leadership, influencing people, is a learned skill. It involves acquiring and applying knowledge selectively when useful to pull people in a common direction. 

Elevating leadership skills involves more than acquiring knowledge. It includes utilizing peoples’ response to a leader’s action as feedback about the effectiveness of that leader’s action in a continuous process improvement loop. Effective leadership includes owning that the actions of team members are always influenced by the leader’s preceding actions. If someone is not responding to a leader’s action in the way that leader intended, the leader can elect to change their action to achieve a different response whenever they deem doing so to be beneficial to their organization.  

Most people, including leaders, consider the knowledge they have acquired to provide them with accurate information. The more knowledge they acquire, the more comprehensive and complete their understanding is of the world, people, and their leadership role.  

One common mistake leaders make is confounding acquiring knowledge with elevating skill. Leaders are typically inundated with knowledge about leadership. They have learned from multiple sources including past experience. They have acquired knowledge about management techniques. They have not necessarily applied that useful knowledge in a continuous improvement process as a means to further elevate their leadership skill.  

For example, most leaders have learned the sandwich method as a technique to give a team member constructive feedback. The sandwich method is a well-known technique taught to leaders through multiple venues. In essence, the sandwich technique is to first give positive feedback to someone before giving them constructive feedback. Then give additional positive feedback. The established theory is that people are more likely to accept and benefit from constructive feedback and less likely to become defensive through utilizing this technique. While leaders have learned this technique and typically utilize this technique and others with some success, they may not consider giving constructive feedback to be a learned leadership skill that can be further elevated through a continuous process improvement loop.

In our Leaders Ignite Program, I help leaders learn ideas they can utilize to elevate their skill giving positive and constructive feedback. They then receive a daily call to action that can be done in 2 to 5 minutes to use the ideas learned to give someone around them feedback. They utilize how people respond to their action as feedback.

One of my clients is a life coach. He called me on the telephone two weeks after he had participated in his training session on feedback. He was empowered and excited by a text message he had just received from his client whom he had given constructive feedback to the evening before. In her text message she wrote “….I feel like I will be able to look back at your constructive feedback as a major turning point in my life.” Most leaders never elevate their skill to consistently achieve comparable results because they have been led to believe learning a few good techniques including how to work with different personality profiles is sufficient. 

Another problem is that leaders reference their personal experience utilizing knowledge about a leadership idea to draw their own conclusion as to the value of that idea. They believe they have acquired sufficient knowledge to make this assessment. Thought leaders providing conflicting information about leadership confound this problem. Let’s examine the benefits of a leader effectively utilizing a corporate vision as an example.

Several years ago, I instigated and then sustained a community initiative to create a county welfare system that really works for everyone; one that empowers clients receiving public assistance to become financially self-sufficient. I acquired skill utilizing a vision through pursuing this vision for seven years. Community partners in this initiative included business leaders, social service leaders, government leaders, and community volunteers. The community volunteers included people receiving public assistance who were striving to become financially self-sufficient. One of these volunteers became a catalyst who united other volunteers receiving public assistance to pursue a related vision. They envisioned families applying for food stamp benefits receiving food for their families while they were waiting to receive their food stamp benefits. They would be treated with dignity and respect because they would be served by those who had previously walked in their shoes. These partners launched and sustained a food bank for five years. They staffed the food bank as volunteers. While they had received no training on vision, these volunteers demonstrated how their commitment to realize this vision yielded benefits including unleashing their passion, commitment, creativity, and performance. Fortunately, I had learned enough about vision as a leadership tool then to avoid killing their vision with my belief they did not know what they were doing. 

Any interested leader can learn how to utilize a vision to yield these same benefits for their organization. While this is a learned leadership skill, there are many successful leaders who have acquired knowledge about vision and never experienced these same benefits for their organization. For example, a former corporate leader in a Fortune 500 company once shared with me that they had never gotten much value out of their corporate vision statement. They had never experienced any of these benefits within their successful corporate experience.   

Another common mistake is applying knowledge to situations where other knowledge may be more useful. Jim Collins is a well-respected business professor, published author, and public speaker. He wrote a book titled Good to Great. In his book, Jim utilizes a bus metaphor to explain why so many companies who are striving to move their company from good to great fail to do so. He asserts with research to back up his assertion that the reason companies fail to move from good to great is because they have some of the wrong people on the bus and others in the wrong seat on the bus. Being on the bus is a metaphor for working for the company, and being in the right seat is a metaphor for being in the right position. I believe Jim’s book does not adequately focus upon the leadership skills that are essential to bringing the best out of the people on any given bus. Imagine for a moment how many people were thrown off of buses across the United States because leaders within their company had read Jim’s book. Of those thrown off of buses, how many could have been successful if their leader possessed elevated skills to unleash hidden potential in team members? 

I had a conversation with a leader who read Good to Great. He had also recently thrown someone off of the bus while he was reading Jim’s book. While Jim might agree that this termination was appropriate, there are costs to the company associated with hiring and training new workers. Leaders with elevated skills to unleash hidden potential in people can reduce these costs. There are also unintended consequences for people thrown off the bus that can be prevented. For example, other companies are hesitant to take a chance by hiring anyone who has been thrown off another bus, and those thrown off buses typically experience a loss of self-confidence from being terminated.

Because I happened to know the person who had been thrown off this bus, I reached out and offered to donate our Leaders Ignite Program. I believed I could help him learn how to unleash hidden potential in people around him. In the process of doing so, I knew he would unleash hidden potential within himself, including his potential as a leader. My services to him were part of my 8-hour monthly commitment to donate services to either not for profit organizations or people who are financially unable to purchase my services. Today he is thriving in a leadership position with far greater responsibilities than the one in which he failed to perform. His responsibilities include developing the potential of direct reports. He is also an emerging community leader. As a volunteer, he unleashes hidden potential within people who were previously stuck in a rut.

In conclusion, I have identified three ways in which knowledge limits leaders’ effectiveness. I have shared stories to help you understand how knowledge can unintentionally constrain results. I invite you to accept this call to action. Each day take action to utilize one helpful idea you have learned about leadership. Utilize how people respond to your action as feedback to further elevate your leadership skills. Accepting this call to action will help prevent your leadership knowledge from unintentionally limiting your effectiveness as a leader.

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October 13

Elevate Your Skill to Empower People by Owning Perceiving to Be a Creative Act

Perceiving is a creative act. When you own your creativity, you can perceive any person, situation, or repetitive pattern differently and in a way that opens new possibilities for the future. You can empower someone around you by helping them perceive a specific person or situation differently and in an empowering way. In this article, I will show you how viewing perceiving to be a creative act is more beneficial for you and people around you than viewing it as a passive one (simply seeing the world as it truly is). I will share different ways of perceiving people and situations and some of the benefits you and your company can experience from owning perceiving to be a creative act. I will also share a story.