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ElizabethDishwasherWhether we are trying to lead change, sell a product, or come to a team decision, we encounter resistance. When we encounter resistance in an organization, we tend to get frustrated and blame those resisting our proposal, our pitch, our leadership, or our point of view. This is a natural human tendency. Sustainable leaders see resistance not as a place for blame, but as information. Moreover, without discovering what information we are receiving in the resistance, we will be unlikely to find a way forward.

Quick story:

My two-year-old helps me unload the dishwasher most mornings when we come downstairs. She pulls dishes out at random, and hands them to me. Before I get a chance to really get that dish or fork put away, she hands me another. I end up working as fast as I possibly can to keep her from breaking whatever is in the dishwasher.

After we are done, she insists on pushing the racks in (“Do-it. I-SELF!”), and closing the dishwasher door (“Coze-it, Daddy!”).

While I admire her growing agility, independence, and desire to spend time with me, my two-year old’s “help” is often more work for me. On several occasions recently, I have had to find something else for her to do, relocate her, or put either my wife or her siblings in charge to play with her while I finish. She is utterly confused when I tell her to stop helping me. In this way, I am giving her resistance. Of course, helping her understand how to help, helpfully, is the challenge of working with a two-year-old.

The problem is that we most often treat resistance from others as their obstinance, old-fashionedness, being blind, being stuck, or being deficient.

Where We See Resistance

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helpingupHealthy vulnerability is essential for sustainable leaders and organizations.

When we develop as leaders, we typically have to un-learn much of what got us to where we are in the first place, and replace it with a way of being that at least initially strikes us as uncomfortable and disconcerting. However, if we can hold that discomfort for what it is, we are likely to be sustainable for the long term.

How we get here

We spend most of our formative years in settings where we are rewarded for what we know, what we can do with confidence, and whom we can persuade. From those things, we are then rewarded again for being able to solve problems based on that knowledge, confidence, and persuasion.

Our first jobs, typically, take the same viewpoint: the manager hires us based on those things. We have a core body of knowledge that allows us to build from there, or to be able to train to do tasks that apply that knowledge over and over again.

This model works relatively well as long as we are working in a 1-to-1 relationship with our boss, receiving orders and executing on them. It starts to show strain when we move to a team setting, shows fault lines in a cross-disciplinary team setting, and crumbles once we begin to expect people to lead.

Why does this system crumble?

True leadership is the ability to see the potential in other people and systems and develop and empower that potential. (See Brown, 2018, p. 4.) This means that helping others solve their problems in a way that they can then solve them for themselves is the highest praise for a true leader.

The challenge is that most of us leaders are afraid to actually lead – because we are actually truly afraid. We are afraid that the empowerment of others and the development of their potential and the potential of the systems in which they operate, will cause us harm: we will no longer be needed, we will be surpassed, we will be left behind, we will be somehow harmed. Those fears are real. Many situations have validated these fears in many of us. We have seen those things in the past when others get rewarded for surpassing us in knowledge (even when that knowledge has come through violation of boundaries), confidence (even if it is just bravado), and persuasion (even if it is just manipulation).

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Zoom Normal

Professionals at every level of business are still grappling with how to effectively communicate over video calls. Nine months into the pandemic, some of the most common concerns we hear are:

  • When I give a presentation, I can’t tell if anyone is engaged.
  • I sometimes struggle to maintain my focus on others during virtual meetings.
  • I am worried the virtual environment is negatively affecting the quality of my client relationships.

 

It seems that Zoom will be in our lives for the foreseeable future so here are four tips to help you and your organization improve virtual meetings.

 

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Hare bolting across a fieldWe’ve spoken in several places already (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here) about the importance of being process oriented vs. outcome focused. We’ve seen why this is a good practice. Today, we’re going to take it one step further and argue that process orientation is not just a behavior, but a value for sustainable companies.

Behaviors and habits are not enough

Sustainable companies understand that most habits and behaviors change over time, and the ones that do not often have roots that go deeper than the present moment. Behaviors reflect the things we do; habits reflect the behaviors we do day-in, day-out.

Both habits and behaviors, though, tend to change when people experience stress.

Treating process orientation as a behavior, and the behaviors around process orientation as habits, will sustain most companies for a while. This is especially true about procedural matters and items that have significant risk compliance documentation.

But derailment of process orientation occurs outside these day-to-day work due to five challenges.

The Five Challenges

Anxiety.

When something happens that generates fear – especially a visceral or existential fear – our brains short-circuit our executive functioning to make things safe again. This built-in, evolution-optimized reaction prevents us from stepping out in traffic or jumping out of aircraft without a parachute; it also causes us to put our hands up when something comes flying at our faces. They give us the quick results we need without thinking to get us back to safety or prevent harm.

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creativekidengineersWe consultants are wired to be problem-solvers. See something not working right? Let’s find a way to fix it. See a workplace in conflict? Let’s find a way to resolve it. See the organizational duct tape starting to show? Build a structure to hold it together better.

It’s not just consultants, though: the strongest, most sustainable businesses (and nonprofits, let’s not forget them) see a problem, one real people experience, and provide a solution for their problem. Sometimes, that’s a technical problem (my home won’t heat); other times, it’s a “what if” that someone figures out (what if I could search for information on a handheld device that also makes phone calls?).

The problem-solution orientation drives so much of business that we consider it essential for building new businesses, new product lines, and new service offerings. Problem-Solution Fit comes as phase one of three as leaders develop new value propositions.

Nevertheless, problem-solution thinking does not address some of the most fundamental business questions we face. Business questions where defining the problem itself is the problem are called adaptive challenges, that require adaptive change. How do we work in problem-solution thinking if problem definition is itself the problem?

[See the definition of Adaptive Change here]

Moreover, problem-solution thinking tends to discount or dismiss the humanity (and sometimes even the personhood) of those involved in the situation. When we discover that the problem we are facing is a “people problem”, we often try to “fix” the people. This is especially true of the so-called “soft skills” problems: team alignment, listening, leadership, timeliness, engagement, and so on.

When we see people problems as the problem, and we apply problem-solution thinking there, we tend to view people as machines that need someone to tinker with them or repair some flaw, rather than as human beings who have real – and valid – motivations for doing what they do, and mindsets in which they operate. In short, we discount those things that make us human, and then wonder why our solutions don’t work.

By contrast, when we intentionally view people as creative, resourceful, and whole, we tend to approach others differently.

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