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Filtering by Category: Management

Creating Problem Solvers By Learning To Follow

Librada Estrada

Over the last six months I have been coaching, along with another adult, my daughter’s Odyssey of the Mind Team. It’s an extracurricular activity that is completely student driven. It’s for students in kindergarten through college.

What this means is that the kids have to select the problem they will be addressing, identify the solution and learn to work with each other as a team. Through the process they learn critical thinking, creative problem solving, and thinking outside of the box. They present their solution in eight minutes at a regional competition. From there the winners move onto state. It's an international competition.

My job as co-coach was to make sure that they followed the guidelines of the competition, had a place to meet, and to provide them with some structure so that they could keep moving forward. It also involved us being sounding boards to the kids without giving them solutions. It sounds pretty simple, right?

Well, it was and it wasn’t. Since this is my second year doing this, it was a “little” bit easier. I had an idea of what to expect.

I found myself frequently using skills I developed as a supervisor, facilitator, coach, mentor and team member to work with a team consisting of elementary students.

Are you creating problem solvers or problem bringers?

When was the last time that you created an environment for your staff where you only acted as a sounding board, followed where the team led you and only reminded them of the guidelines?

How more effective would individual staff learn to be? How much more would they learn to rely on each other instead of looking to you, their leader/manager, to solve the problem for them?

It reminded me of a question I was once asked—are you creating problem solvers or problem bringers?

Followership is a skill to develop

The competition is trying to create problem solvers. The rules emphasize that the solutions and ideas must all be student led.

The biggest challenge personally was learning to be a good follower in service of the team. I had to remove my individual leadership hat more often than not so that I could support each team member to develop as a leader within the team. There were several things that helped me be a better follower.

Step into a new role. It requires you to let go of leadership and to embrace followership. Doing so will help you gain comfort in supporting someone else’s idea. As leaders we are used to standing out, having the answers and being competent. We sometimes forget we need to take a step back to support the growth of our staff and that this is part of the role of a good leader.

Encourage each member to lead the team at different points. Doing so gives them a feel for what leading involves. It provides staff with an opportunity to step into your shoes.  You are able to experience areas that your staff excel in and also identify some spots for potential growth. It helps them gain confidence that yes, they can be a leader as well.

Let them make mistakes. Several times my fellow coach and I had to step away and let the team learn by implementing their ideas. Often it’s not enough to say something won’t work. You have to let them experience success and failure. It provides your team an opportunity to try it their way and to learn what works and what won’t.

Ask open-ended questions. These are the best types of questions to encourage a different way of thinking. You don’t limit the responses you get. Any time the team asked me a closed-ended question I had them reframe it into an open-ended question. You help set an expectation that you don’t have all of the answers and you encourage them to have a different type of conversation.  

Let go of having all of the answers. Somehow you come to believe that you have to have a response all the time. Be okay with saying I don't know. Ask frequently what do other team members have to say. 

Encourage improvisation. When ideas are discussed it is very easy to begin with identifying what won’t work or by shutting them down. Encourage the team to build on each other’s ideas by practicing improvisation. Working with what has been provided encourages following a suggestion or train a thought for a moment to see what is possible. And, it helps team members be more open to proposing things that are not necessarily 100% figured out. You shift the environment and help staff perceive you in a different way. 

When the competition came to an end the team could confidently claim that the play was their work because they had brainstormed the solutions, written the entire narrative, and designed and made the costumes and props.

Your turn: What do you do to grow problem solvers?

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Why Reframing Is A Key To Success

Librada Estrada

Are you the type of person that sees things as half full or half empty? I know-it depends on the situation. And, being able to see both sides is necessary. However, sometimes we get bogged down because we look at things only from one perspective or focus on the little things and we forget the big picture of what we are trying to achieve.

Typically I like to see situations and people as half-full or from a positive place. There have certainly been exceptions, especially if I interact with individuals that tend to see things as half-empty. I start buying into their mentality and next thing you know I become a Debbie Downer. Yikes! Does this sound familiar to you?

For instance, I had a colleague who used to complain, a lot, about a peer in our office. At first, I did not pay attention but once I started to listen to my colleague, I began to find evidence to support her opinion of our peer. It would not have been so bad if it were just the occasional rant but it became a daily occurrence. I realized that it was affecting how I interacted with our peer and that it was impacting our outcomes because I was not engaging her in our work.

When I finally became aware of my behavior and that I was becoming negative as well, I spoke up. I shared that it was not fruitful, that we were concentrating on little things, and that our mutual colleague did have strengths. I challenged both of us to start finding positive things to say about this person; we focused and shared things our peer was doing well that contributed to our outcomes rather than just what wasn’t working.

After a while we both noticed a positive difference in our attitude and behavior towards this other person. We also were able to recognize that she had different strengths from us.

By reframing how we saw our colleague, we were able to change our opinion of her. It did not change her level of performance but it did help how we were willing to interact with her, how we asked her to contribute to the team and the support we provided to her. Our relationship changed over time to be more productive and positive because we shifted our perspective and we kept our outcome in mind.

Based on the results, we agreed that if either of us said something negative about a person, meeting, etc., the other was to ask for at least one positive statement or to make a neutral comment related to the topic. Supporting each other helped us to stay positive and to build better working relationships with our peers, supervisors, and staff we managed.

The reality is that we get stuck believing we are right, want to do things our way, or make a judgment based on our experiences. As someone who has been the only Latina/female/parent/manager/public health professional/etc. (take your pick) in the room it is very easy to focus on sharing my opinion from just one lens. However, when I have I am not very effective, come across as myopic and do not build relationships with others. I know because of past experiences and failures. 

It’s important to recognize that your way of thinking may be holding you back from success. Learn to be more flexible. Reframe your perspective to move forward and achieve the outcome you desire personally and professionally. When you are focusing on just one side of things or cannot see an alternative to a situation, consider the following:

  • Reframe your thought—Pay attention to your current way of thinking. Shift your thought so that the message or story you tell yourself helps you be more productive. In my example we went from saying “I cannot work with her!" to “I can work with her when I focus on her strengths.” Go from seeing something as a problem to a challenge or from being negative to positive/neutral.
  • Clarify your focus—Are you focusing on the process or the outcome? Consider if things are not moving forward because they are not being done the way you want them accomplished (process) or because they are not being completed at all (outcome).
  • Recognize that you will find evidence to support the story you tell—Increase the likelihood of success by focusing on the positive or neutral side of things. It will help you notice what is going well or help you be more patient with what is not working.
  • Find someone who may provide a different perspective—Look for individuals that can provide you with another way of looking at things. If those around you focus mostly on the negative or are rigid in their beliefs, consider who else might broaden your viewpoint and ask for their opinion.
  • Shift your body—The great thing about reframing, or shifting your perspective, is that you can do it in seconds if you are open to it.  Sometimes you might find yourself in a situation where you cannot take a break to clear you head or to ask for an opinion. Then stand up, move your chair to a different position, or shift your body. If you cannot change the situation, shift yourself literally.
  • Do a reality check—By considering other possibilities you start opening yourself to neutralizing or changing your current frame of mind.  Ask what is another way to look at the situation or person? Or, what other information do I should I consider?

Your turn: What helps you reframe your thinking?

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Co-powering: A Smart Communication Strategy for a New Business Age

Ana Polanco

20140628_181900Five years ago, I had the honor of receiving training from the Rockwood Leadership Institute. Rockwood is a community of coaches and consultants who support leaders who are searching for purpose, facing burnout, in transition or looking to take a leap to more authentic forms of leadership. When I came to Rockwood I was mostly feeling unfulfilled and burned out. The social justice movement that I was a part of was struggling to evolve.

Up until that point in my professional career, most of the training and experience I had received and utilized was in a hierarchical setting. You had to respect the hierarchy and the traditional rules of the labor movement in order to advance. You had to pay your dues to advance and at the same time sink or swim learning the work. This was considered the norm.

This often left young leaders and people of color disillusioned. A wave of Generation X and Y leaders ultimately left the labor movement because of this hierarchical system to find or create other forms of leadership and engagement that offered other opportunities to advance worker rights.

As I look back at the changes in the economy, technology and needs of the workforce, I realize we are living in a system that doesn’t match today’s worker values or society’s demands. Workers and leaders were thinking about power in different terms. Instead of building power for myself and then making space for the next person, I wanted to bring that person with me. I wanted us to discover how to power up and energize our work together.

While I was at Rockwood, I came across “co-powerment,” a term coined by Author and Leadership Coach Roberto Vargas.  Roberto defines co-powerment as “communication that seeks to lift the confidence, energy and agency of another person, self, and the relationship. It is lifting the power of self and others.”

Co-powerment has been instrumental in the way I look at the world and how I lead and build partnerships. In politics I was trained to demonstrate power over others as part of our method of moving companies to pay attention to the needs of workers.  Power over others can move your allies and adversaries in your favor but it has limits.  In politics you never know when power will shift. At some point the people you are looking to relate to may stop responding to that way of communication.

Power with has unlimited possibilities. It gives you the opportunity to think through how to grow your collaboration with the people around you. It is focused on getting to know each other, recognizing the non-verbal communications that make up close to 70% of what we communicate to the people around us. It also creates realistic expectations for the work.

If you are going to create or revive a partnership with someone, you have to consider your values. Things much deeper than your position on the affordable health care act. What is the underlying value below that policy and why do you hold it?

Asking those types of questions helps us to see each other as human beings and removes assumptions that we all think and feel the same way about our work.

There are three keys to co-powering that I have found very useful:

Ask Questions about the Obvious. When you ask questions about the things you have in common with someone you can deepen the relationship to a new level. For example: while my friend and I may both like chocolate, we may like it for different reasons and enjoy it in different ways. Understanding those details helps deepen our friendship. The same is true in business. If two department heads favor having staff input on a department restructure, the reasons may be radically different. Getting to know why we are alike in outcome can help us strengthen our values, purpose and the processes we use to create change.

Be Brutally Honest with Kindness. I can’t tell you how many times I have told colleagues or watched colleagues tell me they were going to fulfill their share of project when you really weren’t on board. Not being on board can mean many things. It’s important to get specific about the details and help your coworkers understand the challenges. Sometimes we lie thinking that it will save the relationship with another manager to avoid dealing with the problem at hand. The challenge with lying about the problem, is that over time it festers and will ultimately show up in the work and how your teams treat each other. It’s better to find a kind way of being clear about the challenge ahead. Honesty helps teams problem solve and results in a better work product.

Be Open to Other People’s Ideas. Co-powering is all about discovering new ways of improving the outcome. It’s also about letting everyone shine. When a team comes together to solve a problem, it makes for better results. When we win everyone wins, but when we fail, everyone is looking to blame one person or team. The truth is that if we fail, we all fail, because we all contributed to the work. Find ways of making space for new solutions to old problems. The results will be a stronger and more effective outcome to your work. You’ll also have gained the respect of your colleagues and their staff.

Your turn: In the comment section below, share how you co-power with others.

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What’s so bad about the “F” word?

Librada Estrada

Failure and SuccessNobody likes to have it attached to him or her and we don’t want our project to be labeled as such. In some instances it may cause you to freeze. We dislike the word so much that we spend most of our time avoiding it like the plague—FAILURE! But is it really that bad of a word? On the surface, folks hear it or say it and automatically think negative connotations. I used to think this way as well until I realized that I was not only seeing it as a dirty word but also thinking in absolutes and focusing on it’s definition of lack of success or insufficient.

I would drive myself nuts, and those around me, by trying to think of all the things that could potentially go wrong on a project and prepare for them. Why? Because I did not want others to point out if I had fallen short or if the product/program was not well implemented.

I would create unrealistic expectations for myself that I would spend so much time on the planning that I would postpone the implementing; I would experience analysis paralysis. This caused a lot of anxiety for me.

I would come across as dictatorial and rigid. Rather than keeping the big picture in mind, I would be narrow-minded and fixate on the little things. Sometimes I would be perceived as not being a team player since I would not engage others or ask for help because I feared being seen as not knowing what I was doing. Other times I would come across as not being interested, particularly when I would not speak up in meetings because I was worried that my ideas or questions were not fully formed.

The story that I bought into was that I was preparing, planning and being thoughtful. In reality I was trying to hide being ill informed or avoiding things like having to be in front of others and being open to judgment. I made up a story that if flaws did not come up, I could stay under the radar and not draw attention to myself.

I had also written a script in my head that I could not afford mistakes because of being Latina. I put more pressure on myself to come across as perfect, particularly if I was the only woman, the only Latina or the only person of color on a project or in a meeting. I decided that I needed to present myself well not just for me but for other Latinas as well. Talk about grandiose stories!

What I also realized is that by focusing on avoiding mistakes, I was holding myself back from risking—at work, at home, in my relationships, etc. I would put off crucial conversations or providing feedback as long as I could because I was afraid of not doing a good job the first time around or that I might be wrong.

Fortunately, I started to work with an awesome coach that asked me some powerful questions. As a result, I learned to shift how I perceived mistakes and to see them as stepping-stones and opportunities to improve. I learned to differentiate between failing and being a failure.

Failures hold us back when we are not open to learning from them. By focusing on failure as a bad thing we end up limiting ourselves. It holds us back from receiving feedback and allowing us to be vulnerable and authentic. We are not open to learning and stretching. Apologies do not come easy to anyone and when we cannot recognize our mistakes, it’s almost impossible to say I am sorry in a sincere manner. We end up not even trying and maybe becoming complacent.

Playing it safe contributes to boredom, lack of creative thinking and staying inside the box. If you are a business, it affects your revenue and being able to compete in the market place. As a professional, it affects your performance and development. As a leader, you don’t stretch or inspire others and end up emphasizing that failing is not an option.

Fearing failure also contributes to having unrealistic expectations of your staff and affects your supervisory style. How can your team grow if there is no room for creative thinking or stretching? What is the incentive for someone to admit an error and ask for help if this may be seen as a negative?

Yes, success is important and don’t let fear of failure hold you back from stretching, trying new things and risking a little. To appreciate the gifts from your mistakes and failures, consider the following:

  • Break the cycle— Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “Insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.” Learn from your mistakes. Identify how can you grow from the experience and modify your behavior or process that you use to change your results.
  • Acknowledge failures and move on—We all want to succeed and sometimes we have to stumble or fall down before crossing the finish line. Acknowledge what went wrong, your part in it and then get up and move. Consider them steps moving you toward your goals. If you don’t own it, it will fester and keep you from being able to move forward successfully.
  • Clarify is this F.E.A.R.?—Differentiate between False Evidence Appearing Real (F.E.A.R.) and what truly concerns you. Is your concern real or is it a story that you are buying into and that you are allowing to influence your decisions?
  • Reflect on the following questions: -What is it that scares you about failing? -What stories are you attaching to failing? -What is the worst-case scenario? -What is the best-case scenario? -What are you risking by not trying? -What's possible if you were not concerned about failing? -What are true consequences and which ones have you made up?
  • Learn to say I don’t know AND follow up—Give yourself permission to not always have the answers AND make it a point to take action. Get curious and ask clarifying questions or do some research.
  • Engage others—Reach out and ask for input. Tap into the expertise of others and build on ideas. No one became successful without the help, input or support of others.

Your turn: In the comment section below, share what have you been able to accomplish when you let go of fearing failure.

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What are the implications of your requests?

Librada Estrada

CautionHave you ever had this happen to you—you fantasize about asking for something (raise, promotion, going on a date, etc.) and when you get it you realize that you are receiving more than you expected? Before asking for what I want, I build a fantasy about what it will be like to get it. As an employee, I would dream about a flexible schedule, new office space, more income, how I would supervise staff, or how I would design a program. Before children I pictured myself volunteering, chaperoning and baking. I would become giddy with the possibilities of what might be. Unfortunately, fantasy and reality do not always align.

Something that I learned the hard way is that getting what you want is not always what it is cracked up to be and that sometimes there are unexpected consequences. For instance, when I became a supervisor for the first time I imagined that my team and I would work like a well-oiled machine and that it would be smooth sailing. HAH! My ideas did not take into consideration personalities, deadlines, or group dynamics. I had a huge learning curve on team building and individual preferences.

Or, when we had our first child, in my mind I skipped the first 5 years and only ran scenarios that would involve school, play dates and coordinating birthdays. I considered what I would control and I did not realize the impact she, and eventually her brother, would have on my life as an individual, as a parent and on my career on a daily basis.

Often we focus so much on getting what we want that we don’t consider what might actually happen, besides the obvious. Or, we don’t proceed with caution. We are quick to move forward, concentrate on the positives and we don’t pause to examine the potential risks.

Many people want a promotion. They desire a higher income bracket, a title change, more responsibilities, and/or the opportunity to supervise (more) individuals. When they get it they are excited for all of these reasons and more.

However, earning a promotion is more than just these obvious things. It involves a shift in attitude, producing more and increasing your emotional intelligence. It may require you to project yourself as a leader and to push yourself to develop professionally. You will have to invest in yourself.

Depending on the promotion, your former peers and friends may end up reporting to you, shifting the power dynamic in the relationship. This may include losing some friends while gaining new ones. Your peer group changes and that may require you starting off as the new kid on the block and spending time and energy building bridges.

What this also does is give you access to information once shielded from you. Ignorance is bliss and often being privy to behind closed-door conversations may result in you becoming more jaded about the organization, its willingness to change or the impact that you can have.

Your quality of life may be impacted. You may find yourself modifying your schedule to deliver a product or meet a deadline and have less free time for loved ones. Or, you may not have a chance to enjoy the additional vacation days you are entitled to because of work travel, etc. A promotion may result in you being more stressed and taking it out on friends and family.

As the saying goes, forewarned is forearmed. As you consider your next promotion, raise, life change, personal relationship, etc. it’s important to recognize what you are asking for will involve more than you expect. Understanding this will help you better negotiate your request, set more realistic expectations, prioritize items, or identify concessions you are willing to make. When you do get it you will be better prepared to deal with the unexpected and can spend more time on enjoying the experience.

The next time you get ready to make a request or negotiate, keep the following things in mind:

  1. Ask questions—Don't be afraid to talk to others or to ask the questions that you have. Don't assume that others will give you the information you need.
  2. Be clear on what you want and be flexible on how it can be met—Know what it is that you really want and be open to how the organization, supervisor, or other can provide it to you. If you are rigid about how it is achieved you will limit your likelihood of success. I have had more success when I have stayed focus on the outcome that I desire and not worried about the process.
  3. Make time to identify the long-term implications of what you desire—To better negotiate, think past the short-term gratification to determine what is it that you may expect and what else do you need to ask for. Picture yourself in a week’s time, three months into the future, a year or further down the line. Ask yourself how will you be different.
  4. Build on your past experiences—How many times have you said to yourself, I wish I would have known X or if I had only thought about Y. These are nuggets of information. Think about your successes and failures. My experience differed slightly each time I was promoted because I did things a little different in each position. What do you want to build on? What do you want to make sure you don’t lose sight of? What is important for you to negotiate?
  5. Stretch outside of your comfort zone—Yes, you may not have signed up for all that you are receiving and be open to how the opportunity may help you grow in other areas of your life.
  6. Prepare to receive—Consider what is it that you need to do to get ready to receive what you want. What attitudes or beliefs do you need to shift? What skills will you have to be ready to develop or learn? What boundaries do you have to put in place personally or professionally?

Your turn: In the comment section below, share an unexpected consequence of getting what you wanted and how you dealt with it.

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