Archive for February 2016

Week of February 29, 2016

“Quotable,” on listening to counsel

Be intentional about seeking counsel, and especially about seeking it from people with wisdom. Identify those people around you, people who have experience and history and cultural context and biblical wisdom, and go after their input. Ask questions, get feedback, and listen. If you do so, you will be a far better leader. Just listen and learn.

Are You Listening?

 

Have you ever noticed how, when you become aware of something, you seem to notice it everywhere? For example, it seems like every time we have purchased a car, I have suddenly seen the same car everyplace I would go, even though I hadn’t noticed it before (Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons talk about the same thing in The Invisible Gorilla). Recently, I have had the same experience with an idea (rather than with a tangible object, like a car).

I had been reading Mindset, by Carol Dweck, on the effect of growth vs. fixed mindsets on how people respond to life, while also spending some time in the book of Proverbs, in which several similar verses on listening to counsel had caught my attention. This was happening in the context of my first year in a new job, and the combination of these things coalesced together to remind me the value and importance of listening to wise counsel.

The book explained that a growth mindset is willing to listen and grow from adversity and challenge, while a fixed mindset does not, which has a direct impact on learning, growth, and change. The verses in Proverbs included 11:14 (“Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety”), 15:22 (“Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they are established”), and 15:31 (“The ear that hears the rebukes of life will abide among the wise”). Meanwhile, in my new job, I was intentionally asking questions and listening to others who had expertise and information that I needed.

When I realized the theme idea that I was seeing everywhere – seeking counsel, listening, and being teachable – it caused me to stop and think about how well I was doing with this, and it reminded me of a particular story that took place in I Kings 12. The story describes what happened when Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, became King after Solomon died.

Almost immediately after he was crowned, another man (Jeroboam) came to Rehoboam with a representative group of Israelites to ask for a change in their workload from what Solomon had demanded of them. At this point in the story, there is no indication of whether or not their complaint and this request was appropriate or valid. We only know that the question was asked, and Rehoboam’s response initially seems to be a very good one – he asks them to come back in three days, so that he can take the time to figure out the best answer. There’s lots of room for biblical wisdom in this response, like taking time to gather all the information before responding, or counting the cost before making a decision.

Then he continues to show good judgment by calling together the elders, those with experience and wisdom who knew the history and the culture, to ask their advice on what to do. Their counsel: it was a valid request, and furthermore, if he would respond in the right way, with compassion and fairness, he would earn their loyalty and trust.

That’s when he takes a wrong turn. 2 Kings 12:8 informs us that after he left that meeting, he rejected their counsel, and turned to another group, “the young men who had grown up with him,” to hear their thoughts. Sadly, their counsel was to show the people that he meant business, to put them in their place, and to make their work harder. Rehoboam listened to the foolish advice of his friends, and the result was revolt, conflict, and corruption for the next two decades.

The lesson is obvious and simple – listen to wise counsel. The danger, however, is in where you seek that counsel. Proverbs makes it clear that there is much wisdom in seeking counsel, and doing so will increase the likelihood of successful plans.   However, Proverbs 13:20 also says, “he who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed,” so it does matter where that counsel comes from. You will perform better, you will be better, and you will lead better when you listen to good counsel. Therefore, be intentional about seeking counsel, and especially about seeking it from people with wisdom. Identify those people around you, people who have experience and history and cultural context and biblical wisdom, and go after their input. Ask questions, get feedback, and listen. If you do so, you will be a far better leader. Just listen and learn.

 

Week of February 22, 2016

“Quotable,” on genuine relationships

One of the most important components in relationships is that they be genuine. They cannot be based on ulterior, selfish motives that seek to take advantage of others for personal gain. If that’s the case, then it is no longer relationship building, but manipulation, and manipulation will only cause damage and frustration and hurt to both you and them.

Yes, Relationships Are Important

February just seems to be a good month to talk about relationships. I’m sure it has something to do with Valentine’s Day, with it’s accompanying emphasis on flowers, chocolate, and Hallmark cards, and a focus that seems to primarily be on romantic relationships. The reality is, however, that relationships are a vital part of everything we do, whether that involves family, friends, or work. We operate in relationship with others, and more and more it seems that research and study are recognizing this.

Much of the “brain-based education” research in recent years has resulted in the realization of the importance of the teacher-student relationship in the shaping of children, and even, literally, in the shaping of their brains. The concept of social intelligence has pointed out the cellular biological connection and influence that happens in an interaction between people, underscoring the importance of being able to connect well with people. Leadership studies have developed theories that account for both task management and people management, and the most recent theories of leadership – related to authentic leadership – heavily emphasize the need to develop and maintain genuine relationships with people.

You probably realize that this simply makes sense. People matter, and relationships are important. Therefore, we need to intentionally foster relationships with people, and in a great variety of ways. We need to build relationships with people from whom we can learn, mentors who will help us to grow. We need to build relationships with people that have potential to grow, so that we can mentor and develop others. We need to build relationships with our coworkers and peers, our supervisors, and our subordinates, so that we can better function together within the organization. We need to be investing in the relationships we have with our family members – our spouses, our children, our parents (because, after all, your family is more important than your job). Everywhere that we connect with people, we need to be intentionally building relationships.

What is most important in all of these relationships, though, is that they be genuine. They cannot be based on ulterior, selfish motives that seek to take advantage of others for personal gain. If that’s the case, then it is no longer relationship-building, but manipulation, and manipulation will only cause damage and frustration and hurt to both you and them. We need to build relationships, but we need to be genuine about it, connecting with people and caring about people because they matter, and connecting in ways that are beneficial for them as much as for us.

Recently, my boss – the chairman of the board of directors – spoke with me about the need for me to take more opportunities to personally connect with our constituents. I had been guilty of hiding behind my introverted tendencies, and was letting others stand up front at events in the visible role. I was reminded and encouraged by him to put myself in front of people and make myself more accessible, because they needed to be able to feel connected with me, for the benefit and health of the organization. And he was right.

I immediately began putting myself on the agenda at the beginning of public events, even if only to stand in front and take a couple of minutes to welcome everyone. I also started standing at the main exit door after events to simply smile, greet, and thank people. In addition, I took a page from Verne Harnish’s “Scaling Up” and started building into my schedule regular interaction with customers, in the form of a planned personal interaction with two or three individual families a week. All of these things were specific steps to help me meet, connect with, and build relationships with people. I knew it was important to do, but I had allowed myself to let it slip as a priority, and so I needed the reminder to continue focusing on relationships.

Now, I’m reminding you. You also need to be connecting with people and building relationships. You probably have your own story that illustrates the importance of this (and feel free to share your story), but perhaps you too have let it slide. Get back out there, meet with people, invest in people, and put a priority on relationships. Relationship building and maintaining (in a genuine way) are integral and essential to your life – at home, at work, and in your community and social life – therefore you need to be intentional about doing it. Build relationships. It matters.