Shifting out of your comfort zone is a choice. It is a choice to shift into the mindset of Exploration. To explore what is possible needs 3 elements, the explorer, a leader (often the explorer) and a team and to get all those elements active takes a specific set of lever.
- Activate the People (how are the individuals in your team experiencing their role and what would a 10 out of 10 experience look like ?)
- Activate Pull (Drive) (what is it we are creating and guard rails to get there)
- Activate Learning (Curiosity) (creating permission to mess up and not be perfect)
- Activate the Journey (Mind the Gap) (start from where you are at)
- Activate the System (don’t take the system head on, what is possible now ? Bad systems take out good people every time)
- Activate Leadership (to lead is to empower and enable and create spaces where others can shine)
- Activate Flow (understanding the patterns and anti-patterns that get work flowing)
How do you lead out of the comfort zone ?
The first lever is always the people. To accomplish anything needs people and people who are engaged and bringing their best selves and all their skills to play. It is always people before process. Process is important, because bad process will impact performance.
Our starting point as a team was a simple question, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how are you experiencing being a coach right now ?”
Simply put. Until we can see and talk about how we are experiencing work we can’t change it. When we can see it we can start to understand what can be changed and what can’t (right now). When we start to talk about this in a non-judgemental way the power comes back to the individual.
For more on this lever, hop onto the blog series and Lever 1 : Activate the Person
Any direction will do if you don’t know where you are going and high performance is about knowing what good looks like and then making a plan to get there. I have always found that life gets easier with a simple True North or North Star. Something that pulls people in a direction, something more of a horizon than a destination. At the heart of every team, what we are about is delivering more value with more ease and so using limited capacity to it’s best advantage. This is a simple true north that allows teams to escape specific ways of getting to ‘there’ and instead allows them to focus on making choices that have the best impact. This is how leaders open up the space for people to make choices and use their strengths in a way that is collaborative and enhances others.
Lever 3 is more about how you show up as a leader and I call it Mind the Jerk. I can also only really describe it by relating a story of how I managed to switch off the curiosity and enthusiasm of an individual by assuming I knew better and doing the whole, yes but this is who I think we should do it. 2 minutes destroyed 3 months of getting the team engaged and creating momentum. These ‘jerk’ moments are uncomfortable, but for a leader (or any team member), these are the moments that open the space up to allow imperfection, mistakes and learning. To explore, to learn, that fundamentally means to allow for things to go wrong, for ‘mistakes’ to happen.
When you mind the jerk, you Activate the Human and that is what really empowers people. Allowing them to be their whole selves without fear of judgement. And yes, my inner jerk still comes out and that is OK. It doesn’t do it quite so dramatically and for the most part I catch myself in mid jerk and just burst out laughing and move on.
Once you have the team engaged, then it is time to start to look at how you shift into action and activate the journey or to put it another way, Mind the Gap. It takes more than a direction and passionate, engaged people to create the magic that is a high performing team. You also need to know how to cross the gap from where you are now to where you are going. This sounds like a simple and obvious step. It isn’t! How do I know ? Two reasons. The first is a personal one, not being able to recognise and accept my ‘here’ almost cost me a world record. The second comes from listening to other people talk. I hear the word should a lot! Quite simply, should means that you are focusing on something that doesn’t exist right now and you can’t work with something that doesn’t yet exist. You can only work with where you are at. Should is at least one step beyond where you are right now.
I have the world record simply because I gave up on where I thought I should be and instead looked at where I was. I worked with what I had even though I thought I had nothing that I needed and that there was no way I could get deeper from where I was.
How does this translate for leaders ? You can only start from where your people are. It doesn’t help to have a list of things that a person should be able to do – in fact working from a list of should is a sure fire way to create a space lacking in safety and so immobilise people. You can’t canyon jump! By which I mean, you can’t go from here to over there is one large jump, it needs smaller steps.
Any journey is a series of steps and choices. You can only start from where you are and if you are in a team, you can only start from where everyone is at.
Everything we do is inside a system. In the words of Demming, a bad system beats a good person every time which means that it is really important that leaders are able to see the system they are in and work with it in a way that doesn’t take it head on. Because the system is always stronger than the people. The good news is that people create systems. To change a system requires everyone to start to make small changes to the system. Each change creates a little more space and if we are quietly persistent, changes that were impossible suddenly become our next step.
Systems are to us what water is to fish or I guess air is to us. It just is so we don’t even see them. For most of us, we lead into well established corporate systems that have strong processes and controls in place. Bringing in a new way of working brings in something new, foreign, unknown. It challenges the comfort and safety of the status quo.
Think of the system as a container! It has limits and edges and no go zones.We need to work with those constraints and in working with them, we also allow them to stretch and change.
Leadership is a big, big word and one that corporates spend a lot of time defining and growing. For me leadership is something inherently simple – leaders enable team capability. Good leaders shift the focus from themselves, the shift the focus away from individuals and make the team the hero. It is a hard shift to make for individuals, with lots of invisible assumptions that we have learnt along the way about what good leadership is and about how to be successful.
Leadership isn’t about leaders getting stuck in and doing or problem solving, it is about how they enable and support the team.
The point of a team and leadership is to get work to flow – to deliver, whatever it is you deliver. Regardless of the way in which you work there are a couple of key aspects that any set of processes and structures should encompass. The first is the abulity for individuals and teams to collaborate and to do that there needs to be an operating rhythm that allow teams to engage, talk and understand what is needed to get things done. Operating Rhythms revolve around how information flows, what are the meetings we need to be having and why ?
Operating rhythms define who needs to be where, doing what and include how we plan and how pass work into teams, see what work is in play, see what is important (and stop what is not).
Once we know what our balls are, what our playing field is and how we pass the ball, then it is about how we do this in the most effective manner possible.