The last word

I spent some time this week watching email fly back and forth between people at work and thought about how much of it wasn’t necessary. So much of the time – in written and spoken communications – people seem driven to have the last word on a subject. Which prompts someone else to have another last word, and so on and so on.

I suppose it’s a way of asserting your identity, of making sure your voice is heard and distinguishing yourself from the crowd. These are valid goals, but is it always necessary to pursue them in this way, in a work environment? Sometimes maybe yes, but I’d argue far less often than we see it today. When you’re dealing with a client it can be particularly unattractive.

Recently I saw a consultant argue with a client in a public forum, talking over them in an attempt to have the final say. I could feel my skin crawl as I watched this display and tried to think of a way to end it. Eventually the client did end it – by letting the consultant have the last word – but was this really a good idea? What is the eventual cost to that relationship?

So the next time you’re tempted to follow up, correct, talk over, disagree or say “me too!”, just have a little think about why you’re chiming in. Is it necessary, or is it just because you’re trying to one-up the competition, whoever that is?


You can’t tell people

A former colleague and friend of mine gave me a phrase a few years ago that I find I use all of the time.

I was speaking to her about a situation with a client in which I’d recommended one course of action and they took a different path. Now they were in trouble and I was saying what a shame it was that they hadn’t taken my advice. She said, “You know, after a while being right loses its impact.”

I realized then – and continue to realize every day – that you can’t tell people anything. You can only ever create the conditions under which they discover things for themselves. This is how we all really learn.

So ask questions, listen, challenge, seek to understand – all while keeping your objective in mind – and create the situation in which the client can make the right choice. Just don’t bother telling them. They won’t really get it unless they get to it themselves.

Be Gentle With Yourself

I used to do yoga with a friend of mine. She would watch me struggle into poses and struggle to hold them – I’m not really a yoga type – and after awhile she’d say,

“Be gentle with yourself.”

Have you ever done your best work when you’ve felt like you’re struggling? I haven’t. My best work flows. It feels good to do it and it makes me feel great.

There are lots of days we’re asked to “lean in” and work hard, but this doesn’t mean we have to be unkind and thoughtless about ourselves. Not a bad thing to remember from time to time.

More Difficult Than You Think

it was my birthday this week and I was reminded of another birthday, many years ago, during which I did a workshop about mastering the self and your own self-expression. I’m not always someone who enjoys public soul-searching but it proved to be one of the best workshops I’ve ever done. I left it feeling open and free and happy in my own skin.

The leaders created a very safe space in which to explore  but still, one task proved to be the most difficult for everyone. This was to write a love letter – to yourself – and then to read it aloud to the small groups we were working in.

Try it. I guarantee you will find it difficult to seriously address yourself and express positive, loving feelings. Then try reading it aloud. Every single person who did this at the workshop had tears in their eyes as they were speaking.

These days we’re all asked to do a lot – to do the best for our clients and our employer, to support our families and friends, to make money, to achieve, to do what sometimes feels like the impossible, to commit to what we love. How can you do those things, how can you commit, if you can’t love and support who you are?


The Best Leadership – In Command and Out of Control

I really enjoyed re-reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink” recently. He tells a lot of great stories about human beings’ ability to make quick decisions on limited information, but the phrase that stays in my mind comes out of one story about the military.

In the book, he relates a story about a war games exercise one of his subjects particpated in. Team A had lots and lots of sensors, advanced technology systems and defined processes for reaching decisions; Team B had standard information-gathering techniques and very little tech. The theory was that with lots of information and lots of processes to govern decision-making, Team A would naturally be the winner.

You can guess already that this didn’t happen, right? Once the games began, Team A received too much information, which they then spent too much time talking about. They weren’t set up to handle unexpected events or behaviours from the other side and as a consequence lost the game.

As an experienced battlefield commander, the leader of Team B knew that he didn’t WANT to know everything and that events often move too quickly for deep discussion. He wanted his people in the field to be able to address the situation in front of them effectively and tell him what he needed to know to forward the overall objective.

His expression for this was “in command and out of control,” which I thought was a great description of effective modern leadership.

It came to mind again during the recent floods in Calgary as we saw Mayor Naheed Nenshi do such a great job leading the city from disaster to recovery. He knew he didn’t need to know everything all of the time and he didn’t issue detailed instructions – he just said, “Help your neighbours,” which proved to be all people needed.

Are you in the same position? Can you give your team a broad directive like that and know they will perform effectively?