WANT TO LEAD A GOOD MEETING? Begin with Facilitative Presence!
Since 1987, I have been facilitating a wide variety of high octave business meetings for just about every industry on planet earth. These meetings have been variably referred to as leadership development programs, creative thinking trainings, innovation workshops, team building off sites, brainstorming sessions, strategic planning pow wows, senior team retreats, annual conferences, and business simulations.
Along the way, as you might imagine, I've developed quite a repertoire of approaches, methods, processes, tools, techniques, and skills to help me get the job done. All of them have worked if delivered in the right way at the right time.
But when push comes to shove (as it often does), the single most effective meeting facilitation ability I've discovered is the most mysterious one of all: presence. Yes, presence, -- the ability to be totally in the moment, no matter what the collective mood, mindset, or drama is of the people in the room.
Presence, I have come to realize, is the doorway to all things meaningful -- the bridge between what is and what can be.
Easier said than done, however, especially when you, as the "meeting leader", find yourself in a room full of strong-willed, highly opinionated people who, more often than not...
1. Are not there of their own free will.
2. Represent competing agendas.
3. Don't always like or trust each other.
4. Are wondering why they aren't leading the meeting.
5. Have a hard time letting go of control.
6. Don't want to rock the boat.
7. Have a long history of funky meeting behaviors.
8. Are concerned that the meeting will actually accomplish its goal, leading to the uncomfortable moment when they will be expected to volunteer for a project they have no time to deal with.
9. Keep sneaking peaks at their cell phones.
10.Have major issues with senior leadership (even if they are senior leadership).
Facilitative presence -- the ability to let go of what just happened, what hasn't happened, and what might happen in service to what is happening is the difference-maker.
Presence opens up space and time. Presence opens up possibility. Presence enables a kind of organizational Red Sea to part so that everyone in the room, no matter what their social style, title, or astrological sign can take a fresh look at what needs to be addressed right then and there.
Presence is one of the major pre-conditions for change. It requires that the meeting facilitator has an uncluttered mind, trust in their own instincts, and a relentless fascination for group process.
If you like, think of presence as a kind of Venn diagram, the intersection where improv, planning, and curiosity meet.
The good news? There are many ways a meeting facilitator can get to the space of presence. The simplest way is similar to what some people, these days, are refering to as "mindfulness". Others call it by different names: "witnessing", "centering", "non-attachment", or "the fruits of meditation."
Ultimately, it doesn't matter what you call it. What matters is that you experience it so you can be a conduit/channel for a disparate group of people going beyond their individual differences to get to higher ground.November 24, 2016
Service Beyond the Call of Duty
Most companies trying to get a "competitive advantage" eventually realize that the key is customer service -- the ability to differentiate themselves from the competition by delivering their product or service in unforgettable ways. Here's a memorable example:
Some years ago, my company came together for a two-day team building offsite -- an "all hands on deck" outdoor ropes course experience in Colorado. All 14 of us met at a deli in Boulder to buy sandwiches for lunch later that day -- so when we got to our destination, two hours away, we could all chow down before the team building began.
Great concept. Great planning. Lots of turkey, tuna, and tofu. The only problem? I left all 14 sandwiches on the deli counter. None of them made it to my car -- something I only realized 30 minutes later. Too far down the road to turn back and with no time to buy a replacement lunch, we continued on our sandwich-less way.
Fast forward 90 minutes.
Surprise of surprises! When we checked in at the front desk, the 14 sandwiches were waiting for us! Huh? What? Really? The front desk guy then proceeded to explain that the owner of the deli, way back in Boulder, upon realizing we had left our sandwiches on his front counter, got in his car five minutes after we left and drove TWO HOURS to our destination, getting there before us! Un-blanking-believable! Amazing!
Guess who had a customer for life? Guess how many people I've told this story to? Guess how many new customers the deli owner got as a result of his outrageous, beyond-the-call-of-duty expression of customer service? The short answer: MANY.
This is as simple as it gets, folks. I seriously doubt that the deli owner ever attended a class on customer service. I seriously doubt he was reading books on customer service the night before or googling it. Not necessary. He knew, in his heart of hearts, that my leaving the bag of sandwiches on his counter was an opportunity to be extraordinary and he went for it.
YOU have that same choice every day. So do I. The question isn't whether or not we have the opportunity to go beyond the call of duty. The question is whether or not we CHOOSE to go beyond the call of duty.
Next time the opportunity arises, remember the deli guy.November 22, 2016
Time Is an Invented Thing. Invent It!
November 21, 2016
Trust What You Know, Then Speak
A 5:28 story of the time I overslept before a big presentation to 200 bankers. I learned something very valuable that day and I am honored to share it with you.November 20, 2016
Click Through to Kindness
HERE'S AN INTERESTING STATISTIC: The "click through" rate on negative headlines is 65% higher than positive headlines. People are far more curious about the negative than the positive. Parents, by the way, respond to their children with 10 times more "NO" statements than "YES" statements. No wonder why so many movies and TV shows are so full of conflict, violence, negativity, and scandal.
Actually, I am not all that surprised. The fairy tales we grew up on all have a dark side (the monster, the demon, the boogeyman) and kids want their parents telling those same stories over and over again.
On some level, its not just voyeurism or obsession -- it's catharsis -- part of our cellular journey, going from darkness to light.
That being said, there's a cultural tipping point to all of this, whereby too many of us are focusing only on the glass being half empty and calling our conclusions "social activism" or "being realistic". Methinks, a better balance is required -- the ability to keep our eyes open to the destructive forces so we can respond in intelligent ways, but WITHOUT becoming negativity junkies, losing our center, our sense of the possible, and the kind of personal, daily renewal required to be IN the world, but not OF the world.
Remember, the LOTUS grows in the MUDDIEST of waters. Moving out of the country is not the answer, nor is hiding in our houses. Conversely, demonizing the "other" creates only reactivity and resistance. There is a middle path here, folks and we have not yet found it.
Remember, there are some extraordinary exemplars in human history of those who have taken the high road: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jesus and many, many others who no one has ever heard about -- maybe even the person sitting next to you on the bus.
Ultimately, it gets down to each breath, each thought, and each action. We have a choice every moment of the day. I like what Buddha supposedly said about the mind (and I paraphrase) "There are approximately 2,000 thoughts every second. I have slowed my mind down enough to be able to tell you what the last two were."
My question to you is this -- something Gandhi suggested: "How can you be the change you want to see in the world?"
And getting down to the bare basics... how can you, in your home life, work life, and community life, be an embodiment of the kind of clarity, kindness, compassion, wisdom, and honesty you'd like to see our so-called leaders embody?
PS: Just saw this great quote from Prem Rawat on a friend's FB feed: "Fight the fight you want, yes. Be a warrior for justice and peace, but first, fill your own cup with joy or you're not going to be clear and able to accomplish much to make the world a better place."
Photos: Jesse Ditkoff
International Day of Compassion and Kindness
Tell a different story
The Wisdom Circles of San Miguel
Every human being, no matter what path they walk, skip, hop, or jump is a fountainhead of wisdom -- a deep well of insights, brilliance, and lessons learned. This wisdom, however, is often buried beneath the flora and fauna of our daily lives and, because it is, the full value of what we know to be true often remains unexpressed.
The good news? Our deepest wisdom is always available to us. It's just hiding. And where it's hiding is in our stories -- those memorable moments of truth we've all had that have, contained within them, meaning and inspiration worth sharing.
One of the simplest ways to get back in touch with the deepest part of who we are is a Wisdom Circle, a lightly facilitated sharing of life stories that provides the safety, guidance, and inspiration for participants to reconnect with best of who they are.
Lead by Mitch Ditkoff, author of the award-winning book, Storytelling at Work, LifePath's first-ever Wisdom Circle -- to be offered on January 18th in San Miguel de Allende -- promises to be a fun, engaging, life-affirming experience for everyone. Two hours long. Enrollment limited to 15.November 11, 2016
How Einstein Looked at Problems
November 06, 2016
The Six Sides of the So-Called Box
Unless you've been in a coma for the past 20 years, I'm sure you're familiar with the phrase "get out of the box." It's everywhere. Whole industries have sprung up around it, including mine.
No one can deny that getting out of the box is a good thing to do. Seems like a no-brainer, eh? Kind of like helping little old ladies cross the street. Or tearing down the Berlin Wall.
But before you start planning your heroic escape, answer me this: What the heck is the box, anyway? What is this so-called thing that keeps us so contained, confined, caged, trapped, claustrophobic, and otherwise unable to create?
Let's start with the basics. A box has six sides, including the top and the bottom.
If we can understand what these six sides are, we'll know what we're dealing with -- and this knowledge will improve our chances of getting out. Or, as Fritz Perls once said, "Awareness cures."
Let us proceed...
1. FEAR: If you want to raise the odds of being trapped in a box for the rest of your life, all you need to do is increase the amount of fear you feel.
Fear inhibits. Fear paralyzes. Fear subverts action. Indeed, when fear rules the day, even reacting is difficult. Fear not only puts us in the box, it makes it almost impossible to get out the box.
Fear of what?
Fear of judgment. Fear of failure. Fear of change. Fear of the unknown. Fear of being revealed to be an impostor. Fear of this. Fear of that. And fear of the other thing, too.
Do you think it's an accident that Peter Drucker devoted his entire life to driving fear out of the workplace? Or course not.
Fear sucks. And precisely what it sucks is the life right out of you. There is no box without fear. Get rid of fear and you get rid of the box.
2. POWERLESSNESS: Powerlessness is the state of mind in which people think they have no choice -- that they are victims of circumstance, that the act of attempting anything new is futile.
It's why Dilbert has become the patron saint of most cubicle dwellers.
Some in-the-box people have dwelled in the state of powerlessness for their entire life, going all the way back to childhood, overpowered (or disempowered) by parents, schools, and who knows what else.
If you work in a corporation, you've seen this powerlessness paradigm in spades -- as the "powers-that-be" don't always take kindly to the ideas, input, and grumblings of the "rank and file."
If you're feeling powerless, not only are you in the box, it's highly unlikely that you'll be able to muster the energy, intention, or urgency to get out of it.
3. ISOLATION: Boxes are usually small and confining. Rarely is there room for more than one person. Isolation is the result. There's no one to talk to, no one to bounce ideas off of, no one to collaborate with.
Curiously, solitary confinement is the biggest punishment our society doles out -- second only to the death sentence. Being cut off from the tribe has been a very effective "behavior modification" technique for centuries.
When you're in the box, that's exactly what's happening.
And while your isolation may give you a momentary feeling of much-needed privacy, safety, and relief from the judgment of others, it's fool's gold. Sitting in the dark, being completely on your own, vision obscured -- all reduce your chances of getting out.
4. ASSUMPTIONS: Assumptions are the guesses we make based on our subjective interpretation of reality. They are short cuts. Lines drawn in the sand.
We end up taking things for granted because we are either too lazy to get down to the root of things or too entranced by our own beliefs to consider an alternative.
Ultimately, it is our assumptions that shape our world. The world is the screen and we are the projector, seeing only what we project -- which is all too often merely a function of the assumptions we've made.
As one wise pundit once put it, "When a pickpocket meets a saint, all he sees our pockets."
Bottom line, we see what we are primed to see. Change your assumptions and you change the world -- starting with your own.
5. MENTAL CLUTTER:
If you find yourself in the box, it would be fair to say that the box contains you. But what do you contain?
If you are like most people in today's over-caffeinated, twitterfied, fast food, information overloaded world the answer is: too much.
With the amount of information doubling every few years, most of us have way too much on our minds. Too much to do and not enough time.
We have no time for musing. No time for pondering. No time for reflecting. No time for contemplating, incubating, or making new connections -- behaviors that are essential to true out-of-the-box thinking.
The result? Not a good one.
We glom onto the first seemingly "right idea" that comes our way -- or else desperately try to declutter our minds with an endless series of mindless distractions that only increase the amount of clutter we need to process. Ouch.
6. Tunnel Vision:
When you're in a box, it's hard to see. Sight lines are limited. Vision is obscured. We become shortsighted. Our vision conforms to that which confines it. We become, soon enough, narrow-minded.
I'm sure you know a few people like this. Their ability to see beyond their immediate surroundings has become disabled.
When this kind of phenomenon becomes institutionalized, we end up with a bad case of "next quarter syndrome" -- especially in organizations ruled by the need to constantly please profit-seeking shareholders.
Few people are thinking six months out. Few are thinking 12 months out. And almost no one is thinking five years out. Everyone is trapped by the short-term.
What we call "focus" becomes a euphemism for tunnel vision -- just another form of narrow-mindedness that makes getting out of the box about as likely as my credit card company rescinding their usurious late payment fees.
OK. I hope I've not depressed you. That's not my purpose. Neither is it my purpose to obsess about the "problem." But until we know what we're really dealing with, all this hot talk about "getting out of the box" is just hype and a complete waste of time.
One way to get out of the box
How to help other people get out of the box
Boxes you don't want to be in
The Path Is Made By Walking On It
Back in the late 1990s, in New York City, there lived a world-class architect who had just spent the last two years of his life designing and building what many people were claiming to be the best inner city housing project ever conceived.
Although the world stood up and took notice, the architect's friends were totally baffled why a man of his stature would have taken on such a seemingly mundane project. After all, this was a man who had designed some of the world's finest museums. This was a man who had designed more than 20 celebrity mansions and a yacht club on the French Riviera. Why he had chosen to design an inner city housing project was absolutely inconceivable to them.
But not to him.
As the son of immigrant parents, he had grown up in a two-room, cold water flat. His bedroom was actually the hallway. He had no TV. In college, he had to work two jobs to pay his tuition and in graduate school, three. Housing was always an issue for him -- a mix of couch surfing, rat infested tenements, and ridiculously small studio apartments.
So when he heard about the inner city housing project, his ears perked up. To him, this was an opportunity of a lifetime, a message from God, a chance to give back.
With great delight, he threw himself headlong into the project. It took every ounce of energy he had, what with the corrupt labor unions and the crazy New York politics, but he pressed on and, in 18 months, had created something so extraordinary that the press was calling it "The Taj Mahal of Inner City Housing".
When the big day came to officially dedicate his creation, everyone was there -- the Mayor, the Deputy Mayor, the Assistant to the Deputy Mayor, the Assistant to the Deputy Mayor's Assistant, his parents, wife, kids, therapist, and 500 housing project residents.
Wine was plentiful. So was the cheese and crackers. There was even a reggae band. The Mayor, as you might expect, was the first to speak. Then came the Deputy Mayor and then the Head of the Tenant's Association. Finally, it was the architect's turn. At the end of his talk, he raised a magnum of champagne high over his head and, in the grand tradition of sea captains christening sailing vessels, smashed it on the corner of Building #1.
People were cheering. Flashbulbs were popping. Champagne was guzzled. Everything was as upbeat as humanly possible. That is, until the architect noticed a very large woman, in the back of the crowd, pacing back and forth. She wasn't clapping. She wasn't cheering. She wasn't drinking champagne.
"HEY!" she screamed at the top of her lungs. "Something is wrong here -- very wrong. And with that, began hurriedly making her way forward.
The architect, tapped his mic, quieted the crowd, and invited her to join him on stage.
"Yes, my good woman?" he began. "What seems to be the problem?"
"Please don't get me wrong, sir", she began. "I love what you've created here. And I love that I now have a beautiful home I can afford. But..."
"Yes?" the architect replied."But what?"
"But.." she continued, with a dramatic sweep of her hand in the direction of the courtyard. "There are no sidewalks! Where are the sidewalks? Millions of dollars have been spent on this place and I don't see a single sidewalk."
"Ah..." the architect replied, "a most astute observation. Yes, you are absolutely right. There are no sidewalks. Not a single one. And do you know why?"
"No sir, I don't," she replied.
"There are no sidewalks, because I don't yet know where people walk. So, I've decided to wait a season, notice the paths people naturally make when walking from building to building -- and then pave over them."
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: The Path Is Made By Walking On It
In what ways does the architect's choice to wait a few months before adding sidewalks relate to a project of yours? What patterns or feedback do you need to pay more attention to? Where might you need to let things organically unfold rather than making an arbitrary decision that has no correlation to the real needs of the people you are serving? Where might improv be the path to improvement?
This story is one of 40 that will be included in my new book: MOMENTS OF TRUTH: Discovering the Hidden Wisdom of Your Own Stories If you would like to purchase an advance copy, and/or contribute to my GoFundMe campaign, click here. Thanks
My book on storytelling
Why Storytelling is So Powerful November 03, 2016
You Have to Know WHAT IS Before You Can Figure Out WHAT'S NEXT
Many organizations say they want to create a bold new future for themselves -- and that is laudable -- but all-too-often their future-oriented efforts are launched without fully understanding their present reality. As a result, their forward thinking efforts are often ungrounded, unfocused, and unwieldy.
Bottom line, if you want to arrive at a new destination, it's useful to know where you're starting from. Which is precisely why Idea Champions is happy to announce that it is now offering its clients a simple way to assess the WHAT IS of their organization.
Idea Champions' Current Reality Check Up is a highly effective needs assessment process that provides senior leaders with deep insight into the mindset, perspective, and needs of their company's workforce. Metaphorically speaking, it's a kind of organizational X-RAY that reveals what exists beneath the surface -- strengths to leverage, weaknesses to address, and opportunities to explore.
The Current Reality Check Up goes well beyond the realm of traditional surveys. Surveying, in fact, is only 20 percent of what's included in our needs assessment efforts. The other four elements? 1) Individual and group interviews with a cross-section of your employees; 2) Tacit Knowledge Mining (i.e. identification of best practices and success stories; 3) Analysis of Senior Leaders' poll projections compared to actual results and: 4) A written summary that distills down the best of what we've learned and provides a selection of easy-to-implement, low-cost recommendations.
Our survey designers and interviewers are experienced human process consultants with only one purpose in mind -- and that is to discover what is really going on in your organization. We have no axe to grind, no hidden agendas, and nothing else to sell. Our sole aim is to provide you with the clearest possible picture of what is going on in your enterprise so you can make intelligent choices, going forward.
The benefits of our service are many: Your senior leaders get the input they need to go beyond their own C-Suite assumptions and inertia. And employees get engaged and informed simply by being asked to share their opinions on issues that matter to them. Indeed, there's nothing quite like being asked "What do you think?" to increase a person's level of engagement and buy-in -- especially if they know that Senior Leaders are committed to doing something different in response to what employees think and feel.
If you've got a big conference coming up, a company-wide initiative to launch, a transition to go through, or simply want to raise the bar for employee engagement, begin your efforts by understanding what is. Your ability to clarify what's next will then emerge organically -- with the least amount of wheel spinning and wasted effort.
The next step? Call us at 845.377.0222 or email (Val@ideachampions.com)