90% of product leadership involves communication.  Leadership skills that motivate people to reach both business and professional goals are critical to organizational and personal success.



25.07 20150

Rising Above Vicissitude – How to Build a Team

Recently, I was at lunch with coworkers and conversation turned to vicissitude. “Vicissitude, what is that?” I say.   Someone explained that it is a negative, unpredictable change in your luck or circumstances, a downturn. When talking of the vicissitudes of life, people are referring to the difficult times that we all go through… surprising, unwelcome episodes of pain or strife. In other words, “life has its ups and downs.” What goes up will come down. A high will eventually become a low, many times very unexpectedly, but how do we cope? How do we rise above a vicissitude or low point?

Al Siebert addresses this idea in his book “The Survivor Personality.” He takes a look at those people who meet very difficult life circumstances with uncommon courage and not only survive but thrive. He identifies the personality type of these individuals as a survivor personality. In the study of survivability, Siebert noticed that the Rambo types are the first to go. Survivors do not exhibit a self-centered survival of the fittest attitude, but rather such strong self-confidence that they do not have to act mean or tough. Survivors have a relaxed awareness; their personal radars are always on scan. Survivors are tough, but they show patience. They are pushed hard, but they are tolerant. Survivors hold up well under pressure. Siebert points out that if you go into deadly combat, these are the soldiers that you want to be with. These are the types of people you want to be on your team.

How can you identify and recruit these people to be on your team? Luck or fate is not the reason for survival; rather, something about the people’s personalities tips the scales in their favor. Per Siebert’s study, survivors possess some specific notable qualities. Survivors are learners who are more interested in continually learning, rather than just knowing. A person’s resume may be impressive with education and training, but what is his or her level of curiosity? Survivors incorporate information differently…they do not just take it in, store and regurgitate. They find patterns and make maps. A person may have a lot of certifications, but is he or she creative and engaged in thought processes? Survivors have predictable ways of reacting. Can the person hold a steady course of action?   Survivors maintain confidence in stressful situations. Is the person able to use his or her wits to apply previous training when under pressure?

Can survivability be promoted in existing teams? Siebert asserts that survivor qualities can be learned but not taught. Survivability is a discovery process that no other human can reveal to you. To assist with the development of these characteristics in our teams, we have to promote a culture and create an environment that fosters these traits. Promote a culture of continuous learning and improvement by offering hands-on training. Approach work in small increments, allowing the team to use trial and error to learn from failure. Promote a culture of self-accountability by instituting daily standups. Instill in the team the importance of the self-discipline of monitoring good practices through team working agreements. Use coaching techniques of questioning and guidance rather than direct instruction to allow a person to discover the answers. Be open to questioning the way things work. Develop an attitude of learning from mistakes or failures through regular retrospectives. Promote the Responsibility Matrix model to avoid blaming and victimization reactions. Use adversity to drive change by taking immediate action on learning.

Survivor characteristics are greatly important to both individuals and organizations as people learn to surmount crisis through personal effort, and not only survive, but thrive. Teams of people can learn to pick themselves up after failure or negativity, learn important lessons, set positive goals and rebuild, operating at a higher level than before. They can find growth from the pain and negativity previously experienced, rather than feeling victimized. Siebert profoundly points out that the way we interact with life determines if we will survive and if we will just survive or learn to thrive. Our attitudes will determine our well being more than our circumstances. With the right attitudes we can not only survive the vicissitudes of life but also rise above.

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01.12 20140

Think of the Possibilities…

If I could change the world… I would make it more peaceful, kinder, more intelligent, more creative, more grateful…fill in the blank. We believe that the world is wrong the way it is. It is wrong because it not the way we want it to be, not like us.   The real truth is that more than not being like us, the world is not the way we want ourselves to be.   Leo Tolstoy in one of his many moments of great wisdom remarked that everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. Our view of the world is distorted by how we view ourselves rather than the ills that are in the world. If we can stop directing blame to others and deal with the reality of who we are, then we can begin to have huge impacts. What if it is not the other guy’s problem after all? What is it our own problem that is at the root of the troubles we are having? Can we deal with that? The truth is that we can deal with our own problems more easily than we can deal with the other guy’s problems. We have no control over others and what they have done or will do. We only have control over ourselves. Our next move is entirely our own. If we move away from the blame shifting mentality, then our next move can be onward and upward. Our limitations in the world are not due to some innate problem with the world. Our limitations are not due to limited possibilities, but rather our limitations are due to our own limited thinking and desire to control others rather than perfect self control. If we would like to create magic this holiday season, then it will not come from creating peace on earth, but from creating peace within. We can achieve peace within by promoting self accountability at its highest. The belief that our actions have impacts and that we control our actions is one of the strongest belief systems of effective individuals. If we cede control of our actions to others or maintain the false belief that things happen just because that is the way the world works, then we are self-limiting our impact in the world. If we mind shift to purposeful thinking, we begin to have impact because our focus is not on what we can not change, but rather on what we can change about ourselves. Leadership involves encouraging others to believe in what is possible for them and helping them to direct their possibilities on the right course. All things are possible; pass the word on.

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26.10 20140

Environmentally Conscious Relationships

There is a lot of focus now on being green… being environmentally conscious. What does that really mean? It means making conscious decisions about how to treat your environment and choosing options that are not only good for the moment but are also good for the future. It means being sustainable. Not taking more than you are giving. This sort of awareness of how we treat our environment should also extend to what kind of environment that we create in our emotional world.  We should learn to have environmentally conscious relationships. Have you ever been in a toxic relationship? Basically you become a dumping ground for the other person’s toxic materials. How does this happen? It usually starts in a small way… you tolerate a little bad behavior, and then before you know it, you are a dump for the mother load of stinking, rotten, bad behavior. The toxic person is only concerned about themselves and their needs. You feel hurt, taken advantage of and angry. Sure, your life is colorful, but instead of thinking green all you can do is see red, and the angry red takes over. Passive aggressive behavior is the breeding ground for toxic relationships. Direct communication is the only cure. You have to open a dialogue to a possible resolution. If the toxic person is not open to the conversation, then you will know where you stand in the relationship and make future positive plans to move on. I coach teams to become green and rid themselves of toxic waste through a direct communication exercise conducted frequently called retrospective. Feelings are often a topic of retrospectives, and thus many teams want to avoid them and say that they are not a best use of time. You can always tell teams that practice retrospectives from the ones that do not. Some measures of the level of toxicity will be demeanor of the people, productivity, and turnover. There are some symptoms that you will feel if you are on a toxic team; the same ones you experience in a toxic personal relationship. If toxicity is high, it will seem like you cannot do anything right. Everything will always be about others and never about you. You may find yourself unable to enjoy good moments with the team or uncomfortable being yourself around team members. You will feel stifled and not allowed to grow and change. How do you manage a toxic team or individual relationship? There are some generally accepted guidelines for managing a negative situation. First, you have to step out of denial and acknowledge that the situation is detrimental to your well-being and that the situation is holding you back from achieving your potential. You have to identify how you feel in the present and what the perks are, if any, of maintaining the relationship. You can soothe yourself by finding alternative sources of positivity outside the team or relationship… filling the hole that is missing. Being surrounded with people focusing on the art of the possible will allow you to work toward healing until you are at a point that you can let go and move on if necessary. Hopefully, your team or relationship can be salvaged before this point. Good retrospectives are a great place to start. It is important to remember that what we say and do is never as important as how we make people feel. This quote from Maya Angelou is a pearl of wisdom, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said; people will forget what you did; but people will never forget how you make them feel.” Change the color of your relationships… move from red to green. Make conscious choices about how to treat the people around you. Choose actions that are not only good for the moment but also good for the future. Have sustainable relationships… don’t take more than you give. As Kermit the Frog says “It’s not eazee being green,” but it is well worth the effort. The benefits are long-lasting; they echo into the future.

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31.08 20140

The Critical Inch

By: michelemuse Categories:Agile

We all have choices to make. The most important one is what to do with the day that is before us. Will we ignore those around us in favor of living in the past or dreaming of the future, or will we seize the day? If we are all food for worms, what will you do with today to make it matter? Are you always stressed to meet a new goal or distressed about past performance? Are you excited and alive about the work you are doing today and the relationships that you are enjoying? Could you engage more with those around you… take the time to go to lunch with coworkers and get to know them a little more, put the extra effort into the mindless tasks of your day, or make time to engage those personal relationships that you neglected for far off ambitions? To the inch worm, his largest goal is the inch in front of him. Eventually he makes it across the room but only one inch at a time. If he focuses too much on where he is going, he becomes overwhelmed. If he focuses too much on where he has been, he becomes discouraged. He must make every inch count as he spends his life moving inch by inch from one place to another. If there are enough fulfilling inches, then we have a fulfilling life. It will be worthwhile because we have filled it with what matters… the interactions with those around us within our critical inch. The critical inch concept ties back into the first value of the Agile Manifesto… individuals and interactions. All agile work is driven by this value. Our largest ambition or most distant goal is realized everyday on the team level with the daily standup, one task at a time. The interactions and relationships we build with the team are not only what leads to ultimate project success but also ultimately what leads to a fulfilling work life for those on the team. Instead of worrying about past problems or stressing about potential challenges, learn to be present to the moment you living and be present to those around you who are living it with you. Our lives are lived in the moment…not the past nor the future. My wish for you I take from Jonathon Swift, “may you live all of the days of your life.”      

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