Refrain then Reframe

When meeting someone new we often ask, or are asked, what do you do? Usually implying or interpreted as, what do you do for work (to make a living)? And often answered affirming, “I am a (_title_).” A more accurate answer might define the activities that fill our day. Of course if we want better answers we need to ask better questions. 

Try reframing the context. How often do you ask yourself, “what do you do?” I’m guessing not often. Try it. Do you self-affirm your title or role?

Now try reframing the question, “how do you spend your time / energy?” Does this question take you by surprise? Sit with the question for a bit; really examine your activities. Does your answer for how you spend your energy deplete or revitalize your energy? How might you reframe your answer?

When we reframe we shift our perspective and allow for greater possibilities.

Reframe the question

Reframe problems as opportunity

Reframing allows us to renegotiate our mental models

- why I coach

Compassion and Leadership

Emotional Intelligence (EQ), the capacity to recognize emotions in oneself or others, is the prominent buzzword in today's leadership development circles. Empathy is often the fallback stance equated with EQ. Empathy may allow one to sense, or feel, the condition of another, but it does not inspire action. Compassion, not empathy, drives meaningful connection resulting in action to help others move forward. Compassion is empathy in motion.

Compassion is achieved through self-awareness. Greater self-awareness results in greater compassion. Greater compassion creates action resulting in forward movement.

Leader know thyself.

http://www.lennienoiles.com/coaching-2/

- why I coach

 

on being still

How boring

how boring to listen as waves crash upon the shore

how boring to watch a joyous child at play

how boring to be still while an Osprey dives to secure its dinner

how boring to witness the sun sink away in the distance

how boring to walk in the woods with no destination of journeys end

how boring to stare into the eyes of love

how boring to hold the hand of aging friend

how boring to be with oneself

How boring indeed

 

Asking for Feedback

Ask  -  Listen  -  Act

There is a lot of good (and some not so good) advice out there on how to deliver feedback and advice. But have you ever stopped to think about how to ask for and to receive feedback?

Knowing how to ask for feedback is often a missing leadership skill. A skill that may be even more important than knowing how to deliver feedback. When we practice asking for feedback we are building the leadership capacity of self-improvement and self-awareness. Good feedback provides new perspective and objectivity, along with a path to action.

Most people are happy to provide their opinion and to offer advice. Asking is an easy skill to master. Learning how to receive the feedback is a bit more challenging. So lets start there.

(To clarify, my intention is to discuss how to ask for and receive feedback rather than engaging in conversation; although, most of this can be utilized in a discussion format too.)

Often when we are on the receiving end of feedback, constructive criticism, advice, difficult conversations, etc., our lesser self thinks we are being attacked. The natural or human reaction is our default, which is a defensive posture, which could manifest as:

  • resistance
  • denial
  • shutting down
  • blaming
  • argument
  • defiance
  • excuse making
  • judgment of the messenger
  • plotting revenge
  • defensiveness
  • stop listening

All this boils down to missing an opportunity to receive.

What if, instead, we treated feedback as a gift and opened ourselves to graciously receive. How do we respond with gratitude and show appreciation? We say, “thank you.”

“Wait, what? I was just handed a shit sandwich, and you expect me to be grateful?”

See how quickly we resort to our default – defensiveness? Yes, I am advocating gratitude. However, this first requires us to believe that the giver actually has our best interest at heart. Most people who offer feedback or advice are truly trying to help. Especially true if asked for input. Asking for feedback from people we respect usually makes this a non-issue.

Once we check our assumption at the door, we listen. Really listen. Pushing aside all reactions to take in what is being said. Listen to understand. Don’t listen to respond because you don’t get to respond when you ask to receive the gift of feedback. You simply listen, and openly receive. After listening – reply with gratitude.

You may find yourself having a reaction to what you are hearing. If so, take a mental note of what was said along with the emotion it stirred. Park it, and continue listening. Plenty of time to reflect later. If during the feedback you truly do not understand something, you can ask one or two questions, but no more than two, clarifying questions. Only to clarify what is being said, not to engage in a conversation or rebuttal. Another way to seek clarity is to ask for an example. Specifically a set of contrasting examples, for instance: “when did I exhibit this in a positive way, when did I do this in a way that could have been improved?” The best way to gain clarity may be with a simple open-ended question, “can you go into more detail?”

Listen then respond with gratitude. When we practice deep listening without reacting, we build the leadership capacity of self-regulation (the ability to control behavior, emotions, and thoughts).

The How

Now let’s back up to how we request feedback. A confident leader may ask for feedback when they want new insight, a fresh perspective, or expert advice. An insecure leader may view asking for feedback as a weakness. A strong leader knows the vulnerability of asking develops Emotional Intelligence. Regularly asking for feedback builds leadership strength. Asking for honest feedback requires self-confidence. Excessively asking for or seeking approval is not the same as asking for feedback and suggests lack of confidence.

Here are some considerations when soliciting feedback:

  • Get specific about what you want feed back on and why you want it. 
  • You can’t change the past so ask about the future.
  • Who can provide you with valuable insight? This may be one individual or several people. Think outside your normal circle of comfort.
  • Be cognizant of how much time you are asking for. Is a two sentence off the cuff response sufficient, or are you asking for a substantial investment of time?
  • Be clear that you are seeking honest feedback.

A simple example:

You want feedback on your presentation skills (what) so that you can improve (why) your delivery (future).

You admire the way Pat (who) presents. You are asking for a few pointers, which should take less than five minutes (time).  

The conversation might go like this:

How to ask: 

“Pat, I admire the way you deliver presentations. I want to improve my presentation style. Would you be comfortable giving me feedback on how I might improve going forward?” Pat encourages you to focus more on the content of the message and less on the use of visuals.

Default mode to receiving feedback: 

Your ego hears this as an attack. It has a big investment in the creation of the visuals. You spent a lot of time and effort getting things just right. Carefully choosing the colors. The typeface. Meticulously aligning text and graphics. 

New way to receive feedback:

You take note of the emotional reaction – and park it. 

You continue to listen as Pat explains the needs of the audience and what you want them to take away from the presentation. 

When Pat finishes, you graciously express your gratitude saying, “Thank you. I appreciate your advice and your time”

 

Asking for and receiving feedback. Check!

Action

But wait! There’s more.

Now that you have received feedback, what are you going to do with it?

Nothing says thank you more than seeing action. The feedback process is not complete until action is taken. Taking action may be simple. Or it may be a long and involved process, such as changing old habits or beliefs. If you are asking for feedback, the expectation is you are going to act on it. Action is where leaders build character.

But what happens if you don’t agree with the advice you receive? Not everyone gives good, objective advice. When this happens, check if the advice is valid and if you are resisting, then act accordingly. Seek additional input. If you are getting similar feedback, reconsider your perspective. If the feedback still does not sit well, be gracious and thank them for their advice. You may want to follow up with them later to let them know you considered their advice, and why you chose a different direction.

If you want feedback – ask for it. Be prepared to be on the other end of the question and learn how to give valuable feedback, too.

What feedback will you ask for today?

  1. Ask
  2. Listen (without judgment)
  3. Act

- why I coach

Accountability Partner

Who are you giving an account to?

I was doing a check-in with my accountability partner the other day and after summarizing what I was asking of him, I reflected, “that feels like a lot.” He responded, “You are only asking me to follow-up and check-in on your progress. You are the one who has to do the work.”

Bingo!

I have some hard work ahead of me. Asking someone to hold me accountable does not make the work easier – it keeps me motivated and honest about what is important and what I will commit to do.

What is an accountability partner, and why would you want one (or more)?

I have several accountability partners. My primary accountability partner is a friend who has agreed to fill the role, and I do the same for him. My coaches hold me accountable to the commitments I make in coaching sessions. Additionally, I will enlist others when there is a need for a specific expertise or experience. 

Accountability partner: someone who helps another person establish and keep a commitment.

An accountability partner will nudge you when you need a little push to achieve your goals. Your partner will help you break big goals down into actionable steps and follow up with you to see if you met your commitments while cheering you on. They will push you when you need pushing and provide encouragement when you are down.

Accountability: being accountable, to account for, the ability to give an account

I was at lunch recently with a friend. While discussing some challenges, I mentioned I leveraged an accountability partner to help me drive toward success. She asked how that worked; stating she tried working with an accountability partner, but it did not have any impact. She explained, “I asked a friend to be my accountability partner on something, they agreed, and nothing ever happened.”

Although anyone can be an accountability partner, not everyone makes a good accountability partner.

When asking someone to hold you accountable, the responsibility is on you to be specific about what you need. It is important to work together to design the partnership. Your agreement might include:

  • What is the specific action for which you want to be held accountable (do what, by when)?
  • Is your partner comfortable with and able to meet the request?
  • How do you want your partner to follow-up or check-in (will you proactively report or will they initiate)?
  • How often and how will you connect?
  • What happens if you do not make your commitments? How would you like your partner address this?
  • Are you asking for help other than a followup? 

Clarifying expectations upfront will go a long way to determining your success and reducing some awkward situations. I’m guessing you do not want your accountability partner to be a nag or micro-managing busybody. If your partner senses you are making excuses do you want to be called you out? And how do you want to be called out?

Traits of a good accountability partner:

  • You can be open with them
  • They will be brutally honest
  • They are reliable
  • They will challenge you
  • They support your success

As a coach, my clients expect me to hold them accountable. Like a coach, the right accountability partner will ask about your bigger goal: Your intent. Your why. They will help you break down that big goal into doable actionable steps. They will question if you are biting off too much or not pushing hard enough. They will be your champion rooting for you and celebrating your success. They will nudge you when you get off track and help you focus on what you deemed important.

Regardless if your accountability partner is your coach, your mentor, your friend; much of the success of having an accountability partner is attributed to human nature. Knowing I will make an account of my progress on a commitment to a friend is enough to motivate me to complete my task. We are less likely to disappoint another person than we are to let down ourselves.

What do you want to be held accountable for?

Who will you give account to?

 

- why I coach

From Agile to Anarchy

What if Agile’s natural evolution is toward anarchy?

Anarchy: a utopian society of individuals who enjoy complete freedom without government. ~ Merriam-Webster

Anarchy is not chaotic and violent disorder. In true Anarchy great freedom is achieved through self-responsibility not imposed governance. In an anarchic utopia self-organization and collaboration are innate states. 

Unfortunately, as long as Agile is treated as rigid doctrine, the road to utopian anarchy leads straight through hell. The only way out is through.

Of course I am willing, so willing, to be wrong. Let’s start the conversation.

Three simple questions

What do you see?

What could you do?

What will you do?

Three simple questions that when combined …

I’ve been talking a lot about the power of powerful questions (who, what, where, when, why, which, & how) lately and the growing list of questions I have collected over the years. As a leadership coach inquiry through powerful questions to deliver extraordinary results is my craft. I have my favorite fallback questions

 “What If…?” and “How might we…?” 

And my big question 

“What do you want? What do you really, really, want?” 

Yet there is something about the combination of the three questions; What do you see? What could you do? What will you do? that inspires me to share this tool again and again.

Here is how the questions work together.

First, although there are 3 questions in a specific sequence they are not stacked. Stacking is asking questions in rapid succession without sufficient space between questions to allow for thoughtful reflection and response. Instead each question builds a connection to the next. This neural-like pathway contains a vast array of informational building blocks.

The beauty of each question lays concealed under its simplistic appearance. What do you see, is not asking about visual input. It is an inquiry of deep observation and wholistic perception. What is happening contextually from the micro to the macro. What is here and now? It is understanding the data, the meta-data, and the connections between the data. Here we grasp what is being said and what is left unsaid. In this deep state of observation we see the limiting beliefs and assumptions holding us back. Feeling is understanding. We gain knowledge to propel us forward into possibility.

Having this contextual foundation allows us to ask, “What could you do?” The intent being - from the here and now - what is possible? Although anything is possible, we are constrained by our current state, our contextual starting point. However, we are ultimately unlimited in what is possible from here. When we ask what could we do, we consider the obvious and the practical. With the intent of what is possible, our range expands into the infinite. This question asks us to stand simultaneously within and outside of the box. Possibility to journey from the profane through the sacred and back again.

From the divergent thinking of the possible new bonds begin to form. Convergence then consolidates this energy into a call for action, "What will you do?" What right action will you take to move the current state forward into the realm of possibility? This personal call to action is founded in the deep understanding of the current state, and propelled forward by the energy of possibility. What is it that you can no longer not do? "What will you do?"

My 3 question tool:

What do you see? Deep observation of the as is state.

What could you do? Explore possibility and generate momentum.

What will you do? Take positive action to move forward.

Three simple questions that when combined deliver extraordinary results.

 I’ll be addressing the topic The Power of Powerful Questions at Mile High Agile 2017 on May 23. 

White Space vs. Negative Space in Coaching

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free… Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.  - Michelangelo

In design, white space and negative space are often used interchangeably. I differentiate the two in both design and coaching.

White space originated in the printing world referring to the unmarked part of the (white) paper. Margins, gutters, the space between paragraphs and lines of type, or even the space between individual letters (kerning) are considered white space. In design, white space increases readability.

In conversational coaching - conversation with intent - white space would be the equivalent of the pauses in the conversation, the time between transmit and receive, and receive and response, or the space between topics and issues. In coaching, white space increases clarity.

Without white space, in print or conversation, everything would run together with no discernible separation - no point of focus.

If you prefer musical analogies, white space is the space between musical notes.

We tend to take white space for granted. In design, space is high value real-estate. Yet when we fill the entire space with content our message gets lost. There is no place for the eye to rest, no indication of where to focus.

In coaching conversation the same is true. When we don’t create space, when we stack questions, or don’t provide time for contemplation we lose the opportunity to focus on what is important. Without space the coaching conversation is reduced to casual conversation.

In design and coaching white space forms the ascetic of our relationship to the content.

Negative space may start as whitespace but it has a vastly more powerful role. Negative space comes from the art world and is often defined as the space around or between the subject. Emptiness in a painting or photograph, and the voids of a 3-dimensional sculpture are examples of negative space in art. The power of negative space over white space is not in the absence of mark or substance, but in the ability to take form itself. The space around the subject becomes itself the subject.

One of the best known examples of this is Rubin’s Vase, where the vase-subject is formed by the negative space of opposing silhouetted faces - also subjects. (30 brilliant examples of negative space can be found here)  

In music an interval of silence is notated as a rest. John Cage took this to the extreme in his conceptual piece 4'33”

In coaching sessions we can find negative space in the long, often uncomfortable, silences in the conversation.

In coaching, negative space (silence) is not void of subject or content. It is expansive with activity. Negative space is where deep understanding, realization, and processing take place. It is where new knowledge comes to surface and limiting beliefs are transcended. This space comes to form, not the brief moments of white space, but from a cumulation of moments built over time. This is the space, not between questions, but the spaces between conversations. Here is where the ah-ah moments come to light. It is the singing in the shower that becomes the crystal clear solution to the problem we have been struggling through. It is where we simultaneously see both the vase and the faces. Negative space is the space of possibility - where form is created from the formless. It is where shift happens.

In conversation, just as in design, we must resist the urge to fill the entire space. Allow for a place to rest and let form emerge.

A tool used by the coach to expand space is the powerful question. Powerful questions can be used like a sculptors chisel to remove unwanted mater, creating form from space. When we ask a powerful question and step back, allowing the question to do the work, we create the space for new forms to appear. 

Negative space is as full as the marks in positive space. It only requires deep observation to discover the power of within the void. What do you see? What do you hear? What is coming forth from the void?

- why I coach

 

I will be sharing more about Powerful Questions at Mile High Agile, happening May 22-23 in downtown Denver. If you would like a special Friends of Speakers discount code to get $50 off registration use this link.  https://milehighagile.ticketbud.com/mha17?pc=FriendsOfSpeakers

What’s in your coaching tool kit?

What’s in your coaching tool kit?

Once you get past the metaphorical answers; depending on the type of coach you ask you will get a common set of answers. A sports coach generally has a whistle, stopwatch, athletic tape, and a few sport specific items. A life coach may have some assessment forms. Most Agile coaches immediately reach for their stickies & markers (does anyone still call them Post-Its?).

I often hear the answer, The quintessential list of 500 Powerful Questions, but none could pull this out of their briefcase when asked. Although I have assembled a list shy of 100 questions, I don’t cary mine with me either.

Having the right tool for the job is essential. Improvisation and necessity may get the job done, but … 

If you don’t have a personal coaching tool kit I strongly encourage you to start assembling one. Start with one or two simple familiar tools. Build your collection over time. 

What do I cary in my tool kit?

My tool kit fits into a sandwich size ziplock and is as versatile as a Swiss Army knife.

  • First, money talks, so I cary $1,000,000 in assorted (play) currency. Can you put a $ value on…? 
  • I have several card decks:
    • A deck of 12 story cards from the Human Side of Tech This is my mini version of powerful questions.
    • A couple decks of Moving Motivators, Delegation Poker, and a deck of Improv cards from Management 3.0  Each of these have multiple uses with individuals and/or teams.
  • My go to manipulative, as a Lego Serious Play facilitator, is an LSP window kit (ask, build, tell, reflect). This is the best tool I have found for getting traction with complex problems. What is your superpower?

I cary all of this in a Quart size ziplock in my briefcase.

Here is the important catch. If you are going to cary a tool, be sure you know how and when to use it. I cary these physical tools with me. BUT, just because I have them does not mean I always use them. In any coaching situation I first and foremost rely on my skills, and years of training and experience. I don’t let my tool kit become a crutch or a premature shortcut. I reach for these tools only when they are the right tools to help my client move forward.

What’s in your tool kit (and how do you use it)?    

Driving Value with OKRs

Product Owners, Product Sponsors, and Project/Product Leads are you ready to double down on driving value? Our roadmap prioritization is value based. Our messaging markets our value. By solving customer problems and developing products and services we deliver value.

To ensure we are able to understand, capture, and track the value of the work we do we have enlisted several tools to communicate value and align efforts with value. Three specific tools we use intended to keep us value-focused and aligned are the Lean Canvas, the Goal-Oriented Roadmap, and User Stories. Each of these tools, used properly, allow aligned value to emerge throughout the product development process and in turn improve our overall performance.

To capitalize on the benefit these tools are designed to deliver, we need to use them appropriately. To maximize alignment our value proposition should be captured in the three tools based on “Objectives and Key Results” (OKRs), think KPIs on steroids.

Lean Canvas:  Many organizations, at the early stage of project/product development, create a Lean Canvas (or Business Model Canvas). The Lean Canvas first and foremost should capture the Why, identifying the problem to be solved. Our default process may be to skip this overarching question and dive directly into our solution. Failing to understand the problem first significantly reduces our potential value proposition. Proper use of the Lean Canvas should capture the Why / Value proposition in three areas:

  • Problem Description
  • Business Value
  • Goals/Metrics

The value captured is not meant to be a bulleted list. It should be an aspirational qualitative statement that guides and aligns all future efforts. Likewise Goals & Metrics should provide specific quantitative success criteria of the value to be delivered. Use OKRs to target bold goals and measurement of value.

Goal Oriented Roadmap:  Throughout our Agile project lifecycle we plan and execute against a Goal-Oriented Roadmap. The “Goal” (Why/Value) drives the roadmap. The Goal should describe the benefits and value alignment for all work to be executed within the timebox. Applying OKRs to the Goal in the Agile Goal-Oriented Roadmap affords shorter cycles and rapid adjustment to change while reducing risk and promoting innovation. Again this is not a bulleted list, but a clear, aligned, and aspirational directive.

User Stories:  The work of our Agile teams is driven by User Stories provided, usually, by the Product Owner. Good User Stories are value-based and results-focused, not technical and task driven. Completing tasks without delivering value is not success. When writing User Stories, a Hypothesis-Driven approach  We believe if we do (__X__), we will meet objective (__y__), which can be measured by (__z__) — will create Value-based User Stories, driving delivery of value not just completion of tasks.

The chain of completing Value-based User Stories to deliver features that support our roadmap goals, allow us to successfully deliver innovative products that solve our customers problems as defined by our Lean Canvas. Following this framework provides a definition of value that can be tracked and quantified from project inception to completion. 

About OKRs:  Objectives and Key Results are used to align and track objectives and outcomes. The main goal of OKRs is to connect organizations, teams, and individuals to generate movement in the same direction with measurable results. There is a wealth of information available on the web addressing OKR’s. I would recommend starting here with the OKR Guide.  

How will you you use OKRs to successfully drive Value?

It's hard but don't quit

Coaching is hard. Coaching is like exercise. It is hard work. It elevates your heart rate. It can make you sweaty and breathless. Sometimes you want to quit (don’t). It is often tiring, and sometimes exhausting. It may get easier, but it will never be easy.

When you feel like quitting - Don’t!  Remember why you started.

To improve, you must push past your comfort zone. Do one more rep. Run that extra mile. Push yourself to get better, to be stronger. Push yourself when no one is watching. In time the extra effort will show. You will feel it. Your clients and teams will reap the benefit. Your peers will notice. You can change the world.

Coaching - Interacting with experiments

Interacting with experiments

Every choice we make, every action we take, is an experiment. Learning comes from how we interact with the data (output / results) of experiments.

Lean Change Management, Experiment Boards, Celebration Grids, Experiment and LEWI Cards all help us to understand how to right size, run, and retrospect experiments. Start with a hypothesis. Make a small change or try something new. Measure the results. Rinse and repeat.

I wholeheartedly believe this is the the best way to interact with complex systems. I also believe most people (myself included) leave money on the table between the measuring of results and moving on to the next experiment. We leave value hidden in the data by not interacting with data.

There is a a profound opportunity for meta-learning by interacting with the data generated from experiments. To get the hidden value, interact with the data beyond the traditional retrospective and inspect and adapt cycle. By questioning the data we can look beyond the “cult of the average” and ask, what stories are the outliers telling? What is happening at the intersection of correlation and causality? How can we subdivide the outputs to see new patterns and what fractals are forming in the meta-data? How can we display our findings to encourage others to explore and interact with both the data and with us? 

Getting intimate with the data makes it easier to ask questions like “what if” and “how might we?” Leverage the output of one set of experiments to create the next. Build micro-experiments to deliver focused results. Personally interacting with the data moves the the information from the cold and impersonal, to a tool for growth and exploration where we own the process from the design to result. 

Working with the data provides an audit trail to show how specific actions create meaningful results. As a coach, I have a tool to measure my contribution and the value my effort delivers.

How can you use the output of your experiments to leverage learning and increase your ROI?

Additional resources:

Jason Little’s Lean Change Management

Jurgen Appelo’s Celebration Grid

Vanessa Shaw’s LEWI Cards