3 Phases of Change – Transitions

There are many models of change, including Kotter’s 8 steps and ADKAR. But the one I like best comes from Bill Bridges, Ph.D. Bridges differentiates between the external change (for example, a promotion, or replacing an old low-tech product line with a new high-tech one, or getting married) and what he calls a “transition” – the internal alignment to that external change. That alignment process, which works for groups and individuals, has three overlapping, and sometimes repeated, phases:

1. Ending

2. Neutral Zone

3. New Beginning.

Let’s explore each of these in more detail.

1. Ending. An ending is the letting go of the old. Reactions to endings can range from “We thought it would never end!” to “We’ll never let go!” and all points in between. No matter the reaction, the ending has to occur before much else can happen. If it doesn’t, people remain stuck in the past. I’ll cover Endings in more depth next week.

2. Neutral Zone. The Neutral Zone is uncertainty on steroids. A person or group in a neutral zone can’t seem to focus on much of anything. They have trouble doing routine tasks and have no energy. This is because their old organizing principle has ended but the new one has not yet formed. Being in the neutral zone requires courage and compassion, because people are typically uncomfortable with uncertainty. I’ll cover Neutral Zone in more depth in 2 weeks.

3. New Beginning. This is when the new foundation/organizing principles become clear. This can occur in a flash of inspiration, or so slowly that the person or group doesn’t even know it’s happening until they look back a while later. Energy and focus and abilities return. I’ll cover New Beginnings in 3 weeks.

When a person or group is moving through a transition, a wise leader lowers expectations of productivity and creativity, and increases the allowance for mistakes. Otherwise, transitions can cause extreme stress to groups and individuals, with concomitant cost to the organizations.

I’d enjoy hearing about transitions that you’ve been through.

Gary Langenwalter

Embracing Opposites

I’m an ENFP. One of the senior leaders at a client is an ISTJ. That makes working together very “interesting” – the way in which I naturally interact, the way in which I typically make decisions seems to be the “right way” but Katie thinks and decides and works in a very different manner. Thus, working with each other takes a lot more conscious effort than working with a person with a style similar to my own.

It would be so easy to make her “wrong” for the way in which she operates. But that would not be fair to her, or to the organization.

Instead, we choose to understand that we are both completely committed to the organization’s mission, and to appreciate the gifts and talents that we each bring. And, based on that, we recognize that the two of us together make a powerful team. When we’re working well together, we have each other’s back. Me – I’m a visionary and possibility person. Katie’s a “do it now”, results-oriented person. I need her viewpoint and her task orientation so that the teams will move forward. She needs my vision and questions and possibilities to keep heading in the right direction. So I truly value her, BECAUSE she is so different.

Yes – it’s a lot of work. But it is definitely worth it – my life is richer because of working with her, and the organization is much better served by our collaboration.

By contrast, the 4 principals of a fledgling consulting organization had the same personality profile. In fact, that’s what attracted them to work together – they were very comfortable with each other. For months, they dreamed and talked and created and dreamed and talked and created, basking in the freedom to do what was truly important without a taskmaster forcing them to meet deadlines. But after a year, they realized that they not only had no clients, they had no prospects! Since there was not a results-oriented person in that team, they eventually dissolved.

What has been your experience in working with a person with a completely opposite type? Is a mix of divergent personality types required for an organization to be vibrant to succeed?

Gary Langenwalter

Ask Dumb Questions

Why ask dumb questions? For the same reason that Dillinger robbed banks – “That’s where the money (results) is!”

We’re accustomed to “telling” our employees what to do. But does that give us the results we want? What would happen if you started thinking of dumb questions that you could ask your employees?

A customer-facing team was not acting like a team – various team members were complaining to the manager that other team members were not doing their job, etc. So the manager led the team in defining their values, which were the typical values: trust, communication, etc. The next week was more same-old, same-old. While the team believed in, and wanted, the values, they didn’t see how their current way of operating prevented them from achieving their desired state.

So we decided to have the team focus on strengths. Each team member wrote the name of every other team member on individual note cards, then wrote a strength for that person. Example, Maria would write “Pat is joyful”, or “Kim is the go-to person for technical issues”. Then the manager collected the cards and gave them to the named person. The manager asked people how they felt about the praise.

The following week, the manager asked the “dumb question” – “Does anyone on the team have all the strengths of each person?” (Obviously not) Then the manager asked the follow-up question, “Since nobody here has all these strengths, is it realistic to try to expect each person excel in all areas?” (No) “So what do should we do about it?”

Have you tried something like this before? What do you think happened next? (And yes, that qualifies as a “dumb question”) J

Gary Langenwalter

What Makes a Team High-Performing?

What makes a team high-performing?

Some would say they should follow the rules for effective team meetings:

· Send out an agenda in advance, showing the amount of time for each topic and the person responsible for that topic,

· Start on time, end on time,

· Someone recording decisions and action items,

· All participants fully present and prepared – no sidebar texting, e-mailing, etc.,

· All persons participating, with the leader insuring that introverts are encouraged to contribute,

· Discussions concluding with action items, with person responsible and due date,

· Parking lot for ideas for future consideration, and

· Interruption-free – no sidebar conversations, phone calls, etc.

The high-performing that I recently observed ignored several of these rules, and yet management said they were the best teams in the organization.

The common thread that makes these teams high-performing is culture: team members were comfortable with each other and trusted each other. (They work together closely, in contrast to an ad-hoc task team.) The teams:

· Joked and laughed – they treated the meeting with respect, yes, but also in a relaxed manner. They knew that they would not be creating world peace in those meetings, so they were able to avoid terminal seriousness.

· Supported each other – they could count on their team-mates.

· Communicated well – they could ask questions and get things resolved.

· Focused on the vision and mission of the organization, instead of their own egos.

· Were learning teams. They were empowered to make changes.

· Made mistakes and owned up to them. They were comfortable that they could make mistakes (that’s how people and teams learn!) without being criticized, and knew the boundaries within which they could experiment.

· Focused on their customers.

· Allowed team members to use their judgment.

We’ll explore some of these topics in more detail in future posts.

What do you think? Does this fit your experience?

Gary Langenwalter

Effective Leadership Trait 1 – Person of Character

What do highly effective leaders do? Wrong question – the right question is “what do highly effective leaders BE?” First and foremost, highly effective leaders (whose companies outperform the S&P 500 2.5 to 1) “be” persons of character.

A person of character makes decisions in a manner very different from a typical “show me the bottom line” leader. In making decisions, a person of character:

· Maintains integrity. Integrity starts with honesty, which is the most frequently-cited characteristic of excellent leaders. But integrity doesn’t stop there – it is deeper. It’s grounded in being authentic. Authenticity is about knowing oneself, and being true to your moral compass. Integrity listens to a “True North” moral compass as it makes decisions, realizing that sometimes the decisions will alienate powerful people, and being willing to pay that price. “Principle before profit” could be its motto. Interesting, isn’t it, that companies that have these highly effective leaders outperform the “Profit first” crowd by 2.5 to 1.

· Demonstrates humility. “A position is a role, not a coronation.” This is true for any position, from CEO to groundskeeper. The root word for humility is “humus” – or ground/earth. A humble person stays grounded in the wisdom that each person has worth, and that each person has gifts and graces. A humble person knows that our society needs each of those gifts and graces, and is willing to learn from people of all walks of life. One man I know, who is now worth several million dollars, often wears shoes with no laces to remind himself that at one time he could not afford laces for his shoes. He KNOWS that he is no better, and no worse, than anybody else.

· Serves a higher purpose. One of the best ways to maintain integrity and remain humble is to realize that we are each here in this life for a purpose. Frederick Buechner states, “A person’s call is where their deepest gladness meets the world’s greatest need.” Some people are called to social services, others to retail, others to technical professions, others to cutting hair or driving taxis, and others as stay-at-home parents. Persons who are serving a higher purpose receive deep peace, which affirms their choices and gives them the ability to keep on keeping on when the going gets difficult. Intentionally serving a higher purpose enables them to help others to seek their own higher purpose, because it removes the element of competition from the conversation.

This, and the 6 additional traits of effective leadership which will be covered in future blogs, are based on Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership, by James W. Sipe and Don M. Frick.

I welcome your reaction, your feedback, your thoughts

Gary Langenwalter

#1 Job of a Leader

The #1 job of a leader was clearly illustrated at a high school choir concert last night. Actually, there are two intertwined #1 jobs that every effective leader must do consistently.

1. Inspire – inspire the rest of the organization to bring everything they’ve got, every day, to do their absolute best. The young men and young women on stage were inspired – they were doing their best, in spite of their nerves. They watched their director (and I’ve been in too many choirs that DIDN’T watch the director!), because they trusted their director to lead them successfully.

2. Encourage – the root of the word encourage is Old French “couer”, meaning heart. So an effective leader “heartens” the people. For one song, the choir did not come in properly. The director stopped the beat (and the singers stopped, because they were watching her). The director smiled at them, gave the downbeat again, and this time it worked. What could have been a VERY embarrassing situation for high school students was treated as inconsequential by the director. No wonder the students follow the director – she gives them courage to keep on keeping on, even when things go wrong publicly.

So, kudos to the various choirs of McMinnville High School, and the two directors. They demonstrated leadership – and they got wonderful results.

I welcome comments and feedback.

Gary Langenwalter

Dueling at Dawn: Having Difficult Conversations Successfully!

Do you put off dueling at dawn? Me too! Are you putting off a conversation you need to have with an employee, your manager or a teammate? Do you hate hurting others’ feelings? Are you tired of the same old performance issues occurring over and over? Having a difficult conversation doesn’t really need to be difficult. What can make it more difficult is thinking that it will have an unexpected, emotional outcome or possibly make it worse. So, here are four simple steps for you to successfully have those difficult conversations.

Four Simple Steps:

Firstly, practice, practice, practice! Practice the conversation with a friend until what is said and how it is said comes across effectively. A successful outcome will depend on two things: how you are and what you say. How you are (centered, supportive, curious and problem-solving) will greatly influence what you say (the actual language) and how you say it (emotion, tone and body language). Practice the conversation with a friend until what is said and how it is said comes across effectively.

Step #1: Inquiry – Begin the conversation with an attitude of inquiry. Don’t bring in any assumptions. Just ask good questions. Initially, check in with the person…asking them about their family or interests. Then you can continue with specific questions around their understanding of certain situation. Let them do all the talking. Do not take anything that is said personally. Don’t interrupt. Observe their body language. Acknowledge what is being said. Learn as much as possible about the person, their point of view and specific details.

Step #2: Acknowledge – Acknowledge by showing that you’ve heard and understood the person. Paraphrase back to the person your understanding of their point of view and their possible goals and intentions. Even acknowledge your own emotions, such as being defensive or angry. For example, in an argument with a teammate, I said: “I notice I’m becoming defensive, and I think it’s because you were becoming emotional. I just want to stay focused on this topic. I’m not trying to persuade you in either direction.” The acknowledgment helped both of us to re-group. You may state “this sounds really important to you,” which doesn’t mean I’m going agree with your decision.

Step #3: Support – When it seems like the other person has expressed all their information and energy on the topic, it’s now your turn. To make sure their finished ask, “do you have anything more to add.” What can you see from your perspective that they’ve missed? Help clarify your position without minimizing theirs. For example: “From what I’ve heard, I can see how you came to the conclusion that I’m not an effective project manager.” When I’m discussing issues with a project team, I’m thinking about its long-term success. I don’t mean to be a critic, though perhaps I sound like one. Perhaps we can have a conversation around how to provide feedback to each other, so that we can both meet our needs?

Step #4: Build Solutions – Now you’re ready to begin problem solving and building solutions. Brainstorming and continued inquiry are useful here. Build on potential solutions that both of you find mutually agreeable. Seeking the other’s perspective will help them engage more effectively. If the conversation becomes emotional or confrontive, go back to inquiry. If you’ve done well with steps 1- 3, then building solutions should go smoothly.

Now, go find your first guinea pig!


Greg Sievers

Stopping our Negative Self-Talk

I’ve been struggling the last couple of weeks with negative chatter in my head. I’ve always been a bit perfectionistic and have set-up quite the high bar which makes it fairly easy to not make the mark. When I receive constructive feedback, even though I desire it, it hits me very emotionally. Then I started trying to figure out where that came from.

My fear of abandonment at a very early age caused me to try to fit in at all costs. Be the funniest, the smartest, most accommodating & collaborative. At the same time I was always seeking external approval. What a setup! Trying to please all those people, all the time. Very exhausting. So, my value relied not on my own self-worth, but how others’ saw me. But now at least I’m more aware and working on myself. But it is a long-term journey.

So, what are some of the causes of this negative self-talk chatter? Four ways emotions are created:

1. Chemicals we consume directly affect our brain.

2. Hormones in the body – 30+ hormones that support the brain function.

3. Damages to the brain – due to an accident or impact.

4. Self-talk and pictures we make up in our brain – our internal dial.

Another interesting fact:

1. 65% to 75% of all emotions are created because of the self-talk and the mental images we create inside our minds.

How does this apply to businesses? Why as manager should I be concerned with my employees negative self-talk? Because you as the primary motivator and leader can directly impact some of this. Think about it. Employees, as any normal human being, desire feedback on how they’re doing? Could they do their jobs any better? And you as their manager, provide them with constructive feedback & hopefully, some effective coaching. Often because there’s not enough time in the day…and we don’t take adequate time to think about what we want to convey to our employees. But even taking 5 minutes before you have some feedback for someone will help you get a little clearer.

And most likely, you have your own issues with negative self-talk. So, what better way to address this issue by working on yourself first. So, following are some suggestions to begin the process:

1. Begin by watching and paying attention to you internal dialogue and negative and positive dial.

2. Become aware of your “negative” thinking pattern or patterns.

3. When you start thinking negative thoughts check in with yourself and try to understand why you are thinking this way – take time to be in the moment of what is happening around you that is triggering this negative self-talk or chatter.

4. Take steps to clear the chatter – talk to someone, write it down in a personal journal, stop what you are doing at that moment and start something new, fresh, positive, etc.

Good luck with staying on the positive path!

Greg Sievers

Staying sane in the midst of chaos; otherwise known as changing your expectations!

My wife Kathy and I made the decision to down-size our home in the early summer of this year for two reasons: (1) to reduce our house payments and (2) reduce the size of our home to keep clean (current home is 3,300 sq. ft.). Both very practical reasons. We thought we could being doing repairs, updating and boxing up our stuff in June 2014 and have ready by September 15th….WRONG! I had that date set in stone and maintained it within my own head all summer.

Well, we had various family issues spring up during the summer which included one of our children had a psychotic episode which became a roller coaster for the entire family. From getting the medical help and medications stabilized to taking turns where who was going to be on duty. She’s still not out of the woods yet. Another child, adopted at birth who has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) was in jail again and he wanted some help in getting out. He expected that we’d get a high-priced lawyer that would help his case. Lastly, a week ago our small family dog, Cody a Pom-A-Pug, went into convulsions which was very upsetting. Especially having never seen a dog do this before. And off to the vet we went. Incidentally, it was a kidney infection which is known to cause convulsions when a dog is far along with illness. Well, you get the picture. It was roller-coaster summer. Now, back to the house…we were completely distracted with the family issues and did not maintain our original momentum. But I still had September 15th as the date for placing our house on the market.

What that did was to cause me to be more distressed…beating myself up for not getting all of the home repairs done in a timely fashion and being completely exhausted. So, as I talked to Kathy about the date, she stated very simply let’s move the date out….to spring time. Wow! Those words were a MAJOR relief! I relaxed. Now, why didn’t I discuss with this with her sooner? Because my earlier conditioning around making and keeping commitments kept me focused on that goal, that priority and do it at all costs…because it was cast in stone….even though that was not the healthiest choice for me. I needed to let go of that belief.

What I learned from this experience is when your circumstances change, what else in your life needs to change? Do your priorities, goals and expectations need to change? Probably. Do you need to renegotiate your priorities? So, please know that this situation goes well beyond family issues and our homes. This is called LIFE. And that changing our expectations of ourselves, and of others’ is OK. In fact, it’s NORMAL!

Greg Sievers

When You’re in a River of Flaming Shit

When I was the IT Director of Faultless Caster Corporation in Evansville, Indiana, I led a cultural transformation by implementing a new enterprise (ERP) system. About ¾ through the implementation, it felt like we were being nibbled to death by a school of rubber-toothed piranhas, and frustration was climbing to dangerous levels. In the weekly Steering Committee meeting, the VP of Sales and Marketing asked the inevitable question: “Hey, I’m not sure this is a good idea. Why don’t we just go back to the old system?” The CEO replied, “When you’re in the middle of a river of flaming shit, you gotta keep paddling toward the other side.”

We kept paddling, the new system came live (only a couple weeks late), and paid itself back in a year with increased sales, reduced costs, etc., etc., etc.

I draw on this and comparable experiences when I find myself in a similar situation. That’s when I get really “persistent” and continue paddling toward the other side. (Other people are mule-headed and stubborn, I’m goal-oriented and persistent.)

Have you ever been in the middle of a river of flaming shit? I’d enjoy hearing your story. I’ll buy the coffee.

Gary Langenwalter, 971-221-8155