Want to Increase Your Self-Awareness? Ask for Feedback.

In our earlier articles this month, the focus has been on ways to increase self-awareness through considering how your ways of thinking and responding to situations aligns with the big picture of who you are at your best, as defined by your identified values and principles and who you are in the activities of each day, a.k.a your big and little “who”. However, as Tasha Eurich, an executive coach and organizational psychologist reminds us in her book, Insight: Why We Are Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life (2017), “To be truly self-aware, we must also build on that to understand our impact: that is, how our behavior affects others.”

How does your behavior affect others? In many places, organizations turn to the 360 Assessment to compare how you see you to how others see you. One challenge with this is when it happens in a confidential manner, without revealing who is providing the feedback. We believe that feedback is critical and is best provided in open conversations where others give honest feedback, with the desire to support the person asking, in order to advance and enrich performance.

Here are four easy steps for getting feedback on how your behaviors are affecting others.

  1. Ask for feedback. You don’t have to go out and ask every person you work with to give you feedback. Rather, solicit feedback from 3 to 5 (or more) people who have your best interest at heart, have a good understanding of your current behaviors, and will be completely honest with you because they want to see you continue to grow and develop. And, if you’re wondering why three to five people, consider what Tasha Eurich in Insight (2017) says. “Feedback from one person is a perspective; feedback from two people is a pattern; but feedback from three or more people is likely to be as close to a fact as you can get.” So, let’s gather some facts. And all you have to do with the facts is think about them, not necessarily act on them. Which takes us to point #2.
  2. Set the stage and be ready to receive, reflect and respond to the feedback given. Begin with some information about your honest desire to continue to grow as a leader. Share some of your personal successes and one or two areas that are currently offering you challenges. Tell those participating that you are asking for their feedback, because you believe that they will be honest with you and because you know that they have your best interest at heart.
  3. Ask three questions and give people time to think before they respond. Ask for specifics and remember that it’s best to focus on a few things at a time, rather than asking for feedback on everything you do at work.
    1. What am I currently doing that demonstrates my skills as a leader?
    2. What are examples of growth that you observed in me since we began working together?
    3. What is one thing, if I did it at an improved level, that would have a positive impact on my work and my performance?

    As people share, remember to listen with the intent to understand. Take notes. There is no need to defend yourself, or to interrupt as they are talking. Just presume positive intent on the part of each person giving feedback and stay neutral as you gather the feedback.

  4. Thank the participants and share how the feedback has been helpful. Share some first steps that you plan to take. If you are not ready to share specific steps, be sure to get back to the individuals at a later time to share how you are using the feedback.

Gathering feedback from others on an ongoing basis indicates your complete desire to increase your levels of self-awareness as does your ongoing reflections about your big and little “who”. And, remember what Emerson said, “To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.”

The Big and Little of You and Why Both are Important for Self-Awareness

In the ezine article for September, we mentioned the concept of the “big and little who” as coined by Carly Anderson, MCC. Thinking about both fosters possibilities for advanced insights about ourselves and about others.

Your “who” represents the way you think through situations, your values, your beliefs, your assumptions, your needs, your wants, etc. Sometimes the “who” part of you is given minuscule attention as you are dealing with the “what” you want to achieve or do.

Your “big who” connects to your values and principles. It’s who you are and what you hold on to as guiding principles as you move through your days. We spend a significant amount of time in our Powerful Coaching seminar on this concept. Many leaders share that they have not taken the time to give priority thinking to what principles are at the center of who they are as a person and as a leader. They say they know, and yet have not taken the time to clearly articulate those principles. They appreciate having time to think about themselves at their best.

That big “who” moves with you as you journey through life, somewhat like your coat of armor, your insignia, or your family crest. Ideally, we never have to be reminded of our big “who” and yet realistically, if not careful, we might lose sight of our big “who” while dealing with the immediate demands of the day.

Your little “who” has to do with who you are in the moment and it connects to your big “who”. For example, let’s say that you’re feeling anxious about a short timeline you’ve been given by your supervisor and you mention it to your coach, saying something like, “I can’t believe that we were only given a couple of weeks to complete this big task! When am I going to find the time to get this work done? It’s this sort of thing that keeps my stomach tied up in knots!”

If we just talk about the task and ignore your feelings then we have missed an important opportunity to strengthen your own self-awareness and personal growth about how you best deal with situations when you have a heightened level of anxiousness. Coaches don’t step over such comments. As coach leaders, let’s not either.

A coach might respond by saying that she can feel the anxiousness in your voice as you describe the current situation. She might then ask if you would like to spend a few minutes talking about the feelings that are coming forward before you begin to put together a plan to complete the task on time. This opens the door to considering your “who” when dealing with stressful situations, which happens for every leader. A coach might then ask how you want to best think about these emotions, rather than deciding for you how to move the conversation forward. You say, “Let’s just deal with it head on. What makes me get so uptight at times like this?”

Taking the time to consider your “who” in this situation is critical for ongoing development and self-awareness. Here are a few sample questions that get to the “who” of the matter.

  • You said you were tied up in knots. That must be painful. How do you best release the knots?
  • What are ways you keep yourself from getting tied up in knots?
  • Which of your guiding principles will be of help to you in releasing the knots?
  • Let’s say that you have moved to a place where you no longer let events determine your level of anxiety. What strategies have you put into place to prevent over-anxiousness?

While a coach would certainly not ask all of the above questions, she knows that it is important to ask questions about how the client wants to untie knots and prevent them from happening, as much as possible. When we better understand who we are, both from the big picture and in the moment, we are more apt to stay congruent with our ideal state.

The Importance of “Who” in Coaching

“To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thank you, Ralph Waldo Emerson, for reminding us that wisdom comes in the moments, the steps, and the hours! Maybe this is why coaching has become the way of those seeking thoughtfulness and wisdom. It makes a difference for all involved.

Coaching is a dynamic process that calls for individuals to look inwardly, as well as outwardly as they move toward their desired actions and results. It is a creative process where you, with an experienced and skilled thinking partner, a.k.a. coach, step into a space of openness and at times uncertainty in order to know more clearly about thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and actions. It is truly an enriching opportunity for growth and development. As leaders, we may be very strong on the outward component of this process (the “what” we want and are doing) while not yet where we desire to be on the inward component (the “who” we are).

I jokingly describe my earlier leadership style at times as somewhat like “a dog after a bone.” While it’s not a bad thing for a dog to be in search of a bone and to protect that bone once it’s found, it is also beneficial when the dog considers how the hunt will take place and with whom he might share the find. I was all about getting the results desired and yet along the way – I didn’t always take enough time, with a thinking partner, to deeply consider what I was learning about myself in the process. I needed a coach and didn’t yet realize that need.

Thank goodness, times have changed! Today, more and more leaders understand that thinking, including their own, is a critical component of any productive organization. There is no way to achieve the daunting goals expected of schools and school leaders today without taking the time to purposefully and thoughtfully think about best approaches aligned with clearly articulated values of who we are as individuals, as teams and as organizations.

As a flight attendant offers clean hot towels to refresh hands before a meal, the start of a new school year hands to each of us a fresh opportunity to consider “who” we are as we go about the “what” of our work. In so doing, we are deepening our own self-awareness, a necessity for any leader. And for a baseline on self-awareness, let’s use Tasha Eurich‘s definition from her highly engaging book, Insight: Why We Are Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life (2017). “Self-awareness is the will and the skill to understand yourself and how others see you,” says Eurich. This must be why coaches ask clients what they are learning about themselves as they consider best approaches to deal with challenges and opportunities coming their way on a daily basis.

This month, in all three of our social media articles, we will delve into practical ways for each of us to become more self-aware, which in turn will strengthen our “who”, both big and little, as described by an admired master level coach, Carly Anderson. Let’s begin.

Most likely you have identified a set of principles that guide the way you live your life, personally and professionally. Think about your top three to five principles. Here are some examples: honesty, patience, respect, positive influence, empathy, challenging status quo, excellence for all, growth and innovation, etc.

Now, think about the last conversation you had at work or at home that became heated. You know – where you and the other person had differing opinions and points of views about the subject at hand, and where emotions became elevated, as did your own heart rate. Next, consider some or all of the following questions that might come from your coach.

  • How do you best handle conversations that become heated?
  • As you look back at that particular conversation, what did you learn about yourself and the way you dealt with the conflict?
  • How did your behaviors align with your core principles?
  • What metaphor best expresses who you were in that conversation?
  • What metaphor best describes who you would have liked to have been in the conversation, if you’d like to have a do-over?
  • How will this conversation impact the way you deal with other high emotion conversations?
  • What question do you hope someone does not ask you related to that conversation?
  • If you were the other person in the conversation, how would you describe the whole situation?

It would be wishful thinking to say that you will never be in a heated conversation. Of course you will, unless you plan to live in isolation. The real question is, how do you want to “be” when you are dealing with this type of challenge? When we know how we want to be in those tough times, then we have a strong handle, somewhat like a straphanger on a fast moving tram, to hold on to during the conversation and a baseline to reflect on as we think back about the way we actually were. And, as we follow Emerson’s thoughts about wisdom, it’s helpful to consider what we learned from a particular conversation that will most benefit us as we carry on. After all, even when we didn’t handle a conversation as we had intended, there is always an opportunity to learn and prepare ourselves for the next one.

Five Ways For Principals to Keep More Irreplaceable Teachers

Here are five tips from The New Teacher Project on ways for principals to keep more irreplaceable teachers. It’s all about sitting with teachers and having clear and authentic coaching conversations and providing reflective feedback to them. How do these tips match your current practices and what new ideas are coming to mind as you reflect on the information below?

    The best teachers want clarity. Use meeting or orientation time at the start of the year to rally teachers around a clear and specific definition of excellent teaching and a set of goals for making the school a better place for learning. Then, with the teacher, set individual goals aligned to that vision. Tell teachers that you will observe them frequently and that you will be honest when they are falling short. Be clear that ineffective teaching is not an option.
    Don’t let success be a secret. Set aside 5 to 10 minutes in regular meetings to publicly celebrate teachers who have done exceptional work in the classroom or achieved a notable milestone with their students. Congratulate them and tie what they’re doing to the school’s goals and vision of great teaching. Don’t praise everyone every time; nothing demoralizes Irreplaceables more than false praise for mediocre or poor performance.
  4. Make it hard to leave your school. List the teachers who are most critical to your school’s academic success and spend time with them. Observe them at work and offer regular feedback. Get to know their interests and development needs, help them access resources, and give them opportunities to grow their careers and increase their impact. Invest them in the school by involving them in decision-making, and make sure other school leaders treat them well, too.

    Many teachers use the winter holidays to think about what’s next. Set aside time after Thanksgiving to talk with your Irreplaceable and rising-star teachers about continuing to teach at the school next year. Tell them that they are irreplaceable and how much you want them to return. Ask them about their own interests and concerns, and if they are considering other options, ask what you can do to convince them to stay.
    Schools that refuse to tolerate poor teaching keep more of their top teachers. Inevitably, some teachers will struggle, despite good intentions and hard work. Be honest with them about their weaknesses, give them regular feedback and support, and set reasonable limits on how long they have to show significant improvement (months, not years). Make sure they don’t get mixed messages from other school administrators or coaches. However difficult it may be, do not allow unsuccessful teachers to linger.

Ways to Retain High Performing Teachers

male teacher holding booksWant to know what high-performing teachers say they desire to have in order to stay working at their current schools? The New Teacher Project report of 2012 says that three of four high-performing teachers with plans to leave their schools would stay if their top reasons for leaving improved. Here is what high performing teachers say they want. Notice how these desires align with schools where leaders demonstrate coach-like behaviors as they interact with staff, including having conversations where reflective feedback is a natural course of action by the leader.

How does this list align with your own actions to intentionally provide a culture where highflying teachers are eager to work and support the overall goals of the school and the school district? What else would you add to this list?

  1. Provide me with regular, positive feedback.
  2. Help me identify areas of development.
  3. Give me critical feedback about my performance informally.
  1. Recognize my accomplishments publically.
  2. Inform me that I am high performing.
  1. Identify opportunities or paths for teacher leader roles.
  2. Put me in charge of something important.
  1. Provide me with access to additional resources for my classroom.

What Will It Take?

What does it mean to be irreplaceable in the work world? Some might say it’s a reference to people who do their work at an exceptional or outstanding level. They are known as highflyers, super stars, indispensables and considered critical to the success of the organization. If we lost even one of these people, it would be a great loss to the organization and a real challenge to replace him or her; thus the term Irreplaceable. Irreplaceable teachers are those that have great success with advancing student learning and developing productive relationships with their students, parents of students and with other staff members. They are committed to the advancement of all students and the entire staff. Clearly, we don’t want to lose even one of these key staff members.

Yet, a current research study shows how some principals have lost teachers considered irreplaceable simply by not letting them know how much value they bring to the school. In July of 2012, The New Teacher Project (TNTP) released a report on a study they conducted related to ways to retain the top 20% of teachers, known as the irreplaceables, in large urban school districts. Here is a link to the entire report. Their findings give us all, whether in urban, suburban, large or small school districts, information to reflect on and consider as we close out one school year and prepare for another.

The report shares a story of an elementary teacher named Sarah, who had over three decades of successful results in large urban school districts. She intentionally came to a low performing school district in the south in response to her personal mission to serve students in great need and to share her expertise with others. Almost all of the twenty-four students assigned to her fourth-grade class spoke Spanish at home with limited English skills. However, by the time the spring testing for reading and math took place, all but one of her students passed the math test and all but four passed the reading test. These results were much higher than other classes at her school and throughout the district. Not only did Sarah’s students perform well on the academic exams, they also grew to enjoy school and developed a deep sense of care and concern for each other and for their teacher. Sarah loved working with the students, was committed to them and proud of their accomplishments. She had no intentions of leaving the school. Yet, as the school year came to a close, Sarah felt devalued, having received little recognition from school leaders for her efforts and accomplishments. She had not been asked to share her instructional expertise with others, and received no positive statements or support from leaders for the team-building approaches that helped boost her students’ performance.

In an environment of indifference and isolation, Sarah made the decision to leave the school at the end of the school year. She felt that even though her students had made extraordinary results in one year, their growth would not be sustained or expanded on if they were assigned to a poor teacher the following year.

When Sarah resigned, her principal did not say a word to her, he just signed her paperwork. The saddest part of this whole story is what Sarah had to say about the principal’s reaction. “If he would have said, ‘What’s it going to take for me to get you to stay?’ that’s all he had to do,” she said.

We know that this story is not playing out in the schools where you work and lead. You know the importance of providing your teachers with specific language that represents value for their work, contributions and accomplishments. You would never let an outstanding teacher walk away without finding out what it would take for him or her to stay. You know that your high performing teachers desire to hear you recognize their hard work and accomplishments as you also provide expanded leadership opportunities for them and challenge them to continue to stretch in their work. You know what it takes to keep your outstanding teachers feeling respected and appreciated. For that we thank you!

Three Critical Points About Successful Conversations

Leaders have an enormous responsibility to convene and conduct conversations where people involved feel free to speak openly without reprimand. Earlier this month we offered three important points to consider when having conversations. They were to 1) Listen fully. 2) Respond by offering genuine and authentic paraphrases. 3) Maintain a mindset of respect and presume positive intent on behalf of the other person, as well as yourself.

There is a process involved in holding a successful conversation – be it one that is planned and scheduled or one that happens in the spur of the moment. During our seminars, we teach this process on a deep level. For now, let’s look at three critical components of successful conversations.

  1. Trust – It is the leader’s responsibility to offer an attitude and environment of trust to those who gather for the conversation. Beginnings matter even as we know that trust grows and builds throughout the conversation. A smile, a handshake, calling someone by name, using a tone of voice that sends a message of respect and reassurance. When called into the leader’s office for a meeting, many people will tense up, even holding their breath. When is the last time you tried to talk while holding your breath?
  2. Agreements – As someone who is committed to being coach-like during your conversations, go for agreements. Agreements offer certainty about what we are going to talk about and how we will move through a conversation. When people feel that they are part of the decisions made around agreements, they are more likely to feel safe and respected and thus engage in the conversation at a much deeper level. Three types of agreements are:
    • Time – Getting an agreement around time brings a greater sense of certainty. Instead of wondering how long this meeting is going to last – let’s agree together on the length – knowing times can be extended as all agree.
    • Topic – This is the main focus for the conversation. Since we can only tend to one concern or challenge at a time, it’s critical to get clear on the “one thing” that we agree to as the main topic of the conversation and the importance of this one topic. Sometimes you bring the topic, but if it is truly a coaching conversation, the other person brings the topic.
    • Outcomes – Many times we move into a conversation and never clearly identify the desired outcome for the conversation. We just keep talking until time is up. Typically, before getting to an agreed-upon outcome, there is a time for exploration around the topic to be clear on what is really desired as a result of the conversation. Exploration is a critical component of a conversation. Getting an agreement on the outcome is a must, as is stating the outcome verbally. Otherwise, you may have one idea of what the outcome for the conversation is, while others have a totally different understanding. Once the outcome is agreed upon – move the conversation toward the desired outcome.
  3. Follow-Up – Decisions are made during conversations that call for action on your part and the part of others. Without follow-through on next steps, there is no real movement toward the agreed upon desired results. Before the conversation ends, have participants state clearly their next steps to ensure follow-through.

What parts of this nugget are speaking the strongest to you? When you hold conversations, how do you establish a sense of trust between all engaged in the conversation? What methods do you use to identify agreements for the conversation? How clear are all involved on the identified outcome of the conversation? Finally, how do you plan for and ensure follow-through as a result of the conversation?

Want to increase your skills in holding successful conversations? Join us at an upcoming seminar and experience for yourself the power of being a coach leader.

Also, if you have not yet purchased one or both of our books on Results Coaching, here is the link for easy access.

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Take Three For Successful Conversations

“I need to have a conversation with someone, but for some reason I’m holding off, or I’m not sure of the best approach to take.” That is a statement that we at RCG hear over and over again, even from highly successful leaders. What is it that causes people, including high-flying leaders, to hesitate before having a conversation with a colleague or subordinate? It is certainly not for lack of support on how best to have the conversation. In fact, during a recent Internet search for books on having conversations, 48,225 were listed as possible options. Clearly, there is no shortage of books about a variety of processes and practices with regard to conversations, yet leaders continue to seek best approaches to use when holding conversations with others.

What is the purpose of any conversation? We believe the intent within any conversation, whether personal or professional is for human beings to interact through the use of words and feelings to communicate thoughts and ideas, make connections, understand from different perspectives, gain clarity, and consider possible actions as a result of the conversation. Notice the descriptors of a successful conversation. They are to:

  • Be together so that you can see and hear each other.
  • Have interaction of thoughts, feelings and ideas between individuals.
  • Make/strengthen connections.
  • Understand from different perspectives.
  • Gain clarity.
  • Consider possible actions.

There is a secret to having successful conversations and it’s one that we are eager to share. It consists of three important points. For this article, let’s call them Take Three for Conversations.

  1. Listen. Enter the conversation with the intent to listen and understand from the other person’s perspective. Yes, we get it that there are times when the leader is to speak first and the other person is to listen. However, in most cases it is much better for you to ask, to listen and then respond. If you have done work with us in the past, you know from personal experience that once another person feels heard, really heard, they will relax and engage.
  2. Show that you understand. This best happens when you paraphrase the essence of what the other person has said. This is another trademark of our work. Your paraphrase does not mean that you agree – it means that you understand, or are trying to understand. Paraphrases are short and are stated in ways that focus on the other person’s feelings and main point(s).
    1. “You were surprised that you did not hear about this sooner.”
    2. “You feel like you are standing alone on a foreign dock.”
    3. “You want to be more involved in your child’s education.”
  3. Model an attitude of respect. If you have been through our seminars, you also know that we place a heavy emphasis on presuming positive intent on behalf of the other person, or entire groups of people. Your language can either make or break the conversation. Voice tone matters and so does the way you pose a question or make a statement. Which question or statement below would you rather receive?
    1. “Can you do what is expected, or do I have to write you up?”
    2. “Stop talking and do as I say!”
    3. “How are you thinking that you would like to proceed so that we move forward in a productive manner?”
    4. “What ideas are coming to mind for you that you would like to share?”

Try these three steps out and see what a difference it makes for you. And, if you have not yet experienced the power of one of our seminars, sign up today for Leadership Coaching for High Performance or Instructional Coaching or contact us to come directly to your district. That’s a step that you will be very glad you took!

Five Ways to Reduce Blind Spots

be-aware-listening-engagedWe talked earlier this month about possible blind spots in our current view of reality related to our workplace culture. Here are a few thoughts on ways to reduce blind spots. These ideas are embedded in our soon to be released Results Coaching Next Steps: Leading for Growth and Change.

  • Listen to understand from the other person’s perspective.
  • Refrain from jumping to conclusions that may or may not be accurate, or seeking to impose our own views rather than understanding their views.
  • Use the skill of paraphrasing in responses to demonstrate respect, understanding and make connections so that the person feels safe to continue.
    • If people do not feel safe to continue- they will shut down or elevate an aggressive state (fight, flight or freeze). This is a Trust Buster.
    • Hormones are released in the brain (Oxytocin – feel good hormone, or Cortisol – feel bad hormone). We seek Trust Building.
  • Maintain an attitude of presuming positive intent, which shows up in our language and our internal thoughts. Remember, chemical reactions are happening internally for everyone during a conversation.
  • Ask discovery/powerful questions where you do not already have the answers.
    • This is what coach-leaders do.
    • If you ask questions where you already know the answers – that is called a leading question and that is not the behavior of a coach leader.

Organizational Culture – A Living Definition of a Shared Reality and Overall Success

group-of-happy-business-peopleWhen you look out across the dynamics of your workplace culture, what do you see? And, as you describe what you see, how clear is your view? How does it compare with those who live and work within the same culture? Where, if anyplace, might there be obstructions in your view – obstructions that are unintentional or perhaps intentional?

Judith E. Glaser, in Conversational Intelligence (2013) describes culture as the conversational rituals and practices of organizations. She says it is the way in which we harmonize experiences and create shared language, which in turn bridges and connects us together more fully. Culture creates a shared reality. Organizational culture defines the success of the organization. As organizations desire to move to the next level of greatness, it is all dependent on the quality of the culture and the culture depends on the quality of the conversations. “Everything happens through conversations.”

Back to your view of your organizational culture – how do you ensure that what you see is clear and accurate in your eyes and the eyes of others? What, if any, blind spots may be obstructing your view?

Below are 5 blind spots to consider as you hold conversations with others. We thank Dr. Glaser for her articulation of these blind spots. After all, and as we have been saying for years – conversations are the threads that bind us together in rich relationships. It serves us well to be on the look out for blind spots, such as:

  • Holding assumptions that others see what we see, feel what we feel and think what we think.
  • Failure to realize that fear, trust and distrust changes how we see and interpret reality, and therefore how we talk about it.
  • An inability to stand in each other’s shoes when we are fearful or upset.
  • Assuming that we remember what others say, when we actually remember what we think about what others say.
  • Assuming that meaning resides in the speaker, when in fact it resides in the listener.

Blind spots spring from reality gaps. Dr. Glaser says, “Your reality and mine are not the same. You and I have different experiences, we know different people, we came from different parts of the world, and we use different language to label our world. Even those of us who are in the same room at the same time will take away different impressions of our time together.”

As we work with leaders from across the country, we are continually impressed with their desire to positively impact the culture of the organization. That means they create time and space for open and honest conversations where they listen first to understand from others’ perspectives before they speak, in a desire to create a shared understanding of the current realities and a combined effort on best ways to move forward in a productive manner. They know that the quality of the conversation is imperative for success in relationships and in results. And, they are committed to reducing their own blind spots.