Tag: Learning (Page 1 of 2)

Becoming a Discipling Leader

This is a post I wrote earlier this year and published at the Vision Room in October.

Over the years, I have worked in a variety of fields, gaining exposure to many different industries. Each industry has unique jargon. Have you ever worked on a cat cracker or executed a turnaround? If so, you probably worked in a refinery. In church, we throw the word ‘discipleship’ around like everybody knows what it means. We talk about needing more of it and how we are really going to focus on it next semester. I was not well versed in church terminology, so I did a bit of research on the word. In addition to discovering this funny video from Tripp and Tyler, I found the major theme of discipleship was ‘following in the ways of someone else’.

I love the practical nature of this approach. It is not about reading more books and listening to more sermons or getting another degree. In fairness, I love knowledge and I loved school while I was there. However, real life happens in, well, the real world. What, then, is a disciple?

Disciple = Learner

I had a friend boil all that down for me: to be a disciple is to be a learner. I again went back to our old friend Chris Argyris, who stated (with Donald Schön) that learning is the ability to detect and correct error. We are striving to change our behavior to follow in the ways of Jesus. The best way to do that is to discover when we miss the mark and then get better. Sounds easy, right? There are a few key steps to making that happen consistently for you and for those you lead.

Build a Learning Environment

  • Create safety. The foundation of a learning environment is safety. Learners must feel safe enough and confident enough to admit mistakes. First to ourselves, then to our community (family, friends, coworkers, bosses, employees … you name it). This begins with the leader and sets a tone for all disciples. Exposing your own failures, fears, or questions is a sign not of weakness but of strength. This does not mean exposing every detail of your life to everyone; you must use judgement when being vulnerable. We are all disciples together, sometimes in the role of teacher and sometimes in the role of learner, so we need to consider how we create the environment for others to learn. Find a learning partner that you can listen to, guide, and hold accountable, and who can put their trust in you.
  • Embrace your mistakes. Too often, the concept of being a disciple of Christ is associated with having everything together. This is not how we think about a student. No one thinks the third grader can calculate the velocity of a moving object on the first day of school. Calling yourself a student begins with acknowledgment that you don’t have all the answers and are prone to mistakes. As disciples, we need to see our mistakes not as failures but as opportunities for growth. We must learn to enjoy our mistakes. Those may be errors in judgement, poorly chosen words, or a swing on that golf club that didn’t work out just right. Remember, mistakes are better teachers than success.
  • Check your emotions. Think back to the last time you realized you had made a mistake. The bigger the better. Without focusing on the error itself, revisit the experience of that realization. Is that a positive feeling? For most, this is an unpleasant feeling and leaves us running for the hills, thinking, “I will never do that again.” I recently had the chance to hear Brené Brown talk about this sense of being ‘emotionally snared’ and how it limits your ability to think clearly or learn anything new. That mistake you made — can you think clearly about it or are you staying wrapped up in the emotional response?
  • Talk less, act more. Great, you analyzed your mistake. Unless you translate that into action, you are likely to find yourself in the same position again. Often, through introspection, the learning we gain from a mistake can be applied to numerous situations. Don’t just learn from the individual circumstance. Look for the themes, causal factors, and unique things about your personality that make that situation difficult. Now experiment with new behaviors to see what works. Trying new things helps you know how best to engage with others and get a better result.

Is it possible to enjoy your mistakes? I think so, and it happens when you have experienced more good from your errors than bad. When you have presented a mistake to the world, and you got better as a result, that leaves a mark. Lather, rinse, repeat. Over time, reframe the experience of error from fear to excitement.

Your Next Move

Take a risk and admit the next mistake you make to the most dangerous person in the room. Detect your errors and share them with a close friend you can trust, then ask them for help in changing your behavior. To walk in the ways of someone else, to become disciples of Jesus the Christ, communicate your weakness and strengthen it for the next encounter.

Closing the Values Gap

This is a post I wrote for the Vision Room in September of this year.

I say a lot of things I don’t actually do. I don’t intend to lie, or even drop the ball. It is just that I don’t seem to be able to execute consistently what I envision in the future. The gap between what we say and what we do can be hard to acknowledge. In fact, I used to really beat myself up for this, but as it turns out, I am not alone in this gap between what I espouse and what I actually produce. Even Paul in Romans points to this gap: “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.” (Rom. 7:15) Not living according to our aspirational values is part of the human condition, but not all of us address this dissidence in a way that results in reducing the gap.

I first became aware of this as a theory when reading a book by Chris Argyris (Strategy, Change, and Defensive Routines). At its root, the idea is that we all have two theories in our head at any one time:

1. Espoused Theory
The worldview and values people believe their behavior is based on.
2. Theory-in-Use (Produced in Action)
The worldview and values implied by their behavior, or the maps they use to take action.

At times, these two theories are perfectly aligned and our behavior is exactly what we want it to be, and exactly what we said it would be. Of course that builds credibility and trust in our relationships and we should strive for this all the time. Other times, the distance between our espoused and lived-out values can be visible and even painful. How do we, in those times, create more alignment between our aspirations and our actions?

For Ourselves

When we notice this misalignment, consider it a great learning opportunity. Having the self-awareness to recognize the gap is a critical first step. Rather than beating yourself up over the gap, I suggest you respond carefully:

  • Fix It. Can you correct this now, or is it too late? If there is still a chance to ‘do the right thing’, then do that immediately. As you do, pay special attention to what is the most difficult about it. That will provide insight to the inner struggle you have to resolve.
  • Inspect your Values. Are your espoused values really what you want? If so, then dig deep and do more of that. What was most difficult about doing the right thing in the first place? Work with a friend or mentor to talk through that challenge.
  • Communicate Carefully. Once you are more clear about your actual values and beliefs (not just aspirations), get very good at communicating precisely what you value and where you are on that journey. I believe my diet is the number one factor in my physical health, and I believe we all have responsibility for our own health. However, I am overweight and eat too much of the wrong stuff and too little of the right stuff. I now have to add a caveat to that belief: “and I am really struggling to implement that consistently.” Open acknowledgment of the struggle creates credibility with others and an environment where people may feel safe to be more transparent themselves.

For Others

As leaders in our organizations, sometimes we are more aware of our co-workers’ inconsistency than our own, especially when we are in the supervisor role. How do we deal with that?

  • Stop Assuming the Worst. We often jump right to a character flaw in that person. “He must have lied during the interview.” “I guess he doesn’t really care as much as he said.” Give them a break and assume they had the best of intentions and just have a gap between what they espoused and what they produced. It is OK for you, right? Then make it OK for them too.
  • Remember Your Purpose. As a leader/mentor/supervisor your primary job is to develop the people around you. Getting the work at hand done is important, but should be secondary to building the capacity of the people who do the work. We all need people in our lives to help us identify these disconnects — take the time to have the conversation. “Elizabeth, I know you value treating others with respect, and yesterday you interrupted Shannon several times. Help me understand what was going on there.”
  • Be Precise. Be very careful to describe the problem you are trying to solve. There are usually two problems and people often get them mixed up. One is the specific behavior that created the concern (the immediate problem). The other is the gap between espoused and produced beliefs (the more important problem). Separate the conversation to ensure you are only working one problem at a time. Why Elizabeth was acting outside of her values in that moment and apologizing to Shannon are two different things and should be treated separately.

Your Next Move

For yourself, think about the past week — is there any situation where your behavior did not match your espoused beliefs? Go address it in your own heart and then with the other person immediately.

For others, have you judged someone too harshly? Go apologize and reengage them to give the benefit of the doubt. Be prepared for hesitancy and defensiveness in that person. That is to be expected and is simply part of the process.

What If?

Tamie Folley over Pikes Peak
A few weeks ago I wrote about How Come, a phrase that has helped me understand my own thinking process and all the inferences I make along the way. The corollary to that is What If. I use How Come to understand a conclusion I (or others) developed. I use What If to imagine a different possible future.

Ask Through the Fear

Years ago I was consulting to a large manufacturing company and we were talking about how to make the organization way more efficient. They had just lost a major contract accounting for about a third of their business. As a result, their operating costs were way too high for the level of production they could sell. I was working with a group of folks from around the company to figure out the future and there was a lot of fear in the room. As we talked about that fear, the largest theme was, “if we get more efficient, will I lose my job?” With that level of personal risk at stake, the willingness to find great solutions was, let’s say, limited. These folks were legitimately concerned for their future and they had played the What If game. What If we get more efficient…then I will be unemployed…and that is scary.

We took a break and my colleague Jon Thorne briefed me on our next step. “We are going to play the What If game, but we are not going to let them be lazy about it.” I learned a lot from Jon, and this was a big one. We went back into the room and asked the team, “So, what if you lost your job…what would happen next?” And what if that happened, what comes next? And so on.

As it turned out nearly everyone in the room had lost a job before in their life for one reason or another, and they were all just fine. In fact, many of them told stories about how losing that past job was a great blessing in their life that opened doors they couldn’t imagine.

Limited Beliefs

About a year ago, several of us flew our hot air balloons over Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs. I mentioned the plan to a fellow pilot and asked if she wanted to join the flight. Her first response, as I recall, sounded like, “I could never do that, I just don’t have the experience.” In this case, she might have been right, based on the assumptions she was making. See, I was calling to ask if she wanted to go with me, not alone. Our assumptions about the world limit our willingness to engage in the possible. I asked, “What if I flew with you, would that change things?” When we reframed the conversation, she was all in.

I mean ALL IN. She was gung-ho to plan the flight, gather all the crew and equipment required. She executed the flight flawlessly and even wrote an article for our national magazine about the experience. She and I now have a shared experience that was so much fun and we have developed a great friendship. What she doesn’t know is that she did way more for me than I did for her. Sure, I brought some experience and knowledge to the table, but she brought learning and excitement that keeps me fired up to this day.

Your Next Move

Next time you feel the fear of a situation, play the What If game. Keep playing and asking What If until you feel your fear dissipating.
Next time you hear that internal voice say you just can’t move forward…ask what if I could.
What would it take to go out and seize the day?

Learning is State Dependent

Jim Kwik

I enjoy learning about learning. How do people learn, and what prevents them from learning? I was recently watching a video by Jim Kwik talking about learning and memory. He had a lot of great things to say about improving your memory. One thing that stuck with me was a comment that, “all learning is state dependent.” He was talking about your ability to learn and how it is impacted by your current state, emotionally, physically, mentally, etc. If that is true, and I think it is, then what do we do about it?

Recognize your state

Becoming self aware is a great idea, but not one attained by many. Although I am not “there” yet, I have found a few things that help me recognize my current state. I have found paying attention to my physical body gives me insight to my emotions better than anything else.

First, pay attention to pain. Do I have pain somewhere in my body? If so, where is it and how much am I paying attention to it? If we are focused on the pain in our body, we are likely not paying attention to the larger task at hand. Pain is a great reminder of where we are out of alignment with our health and our mission.

Second, pay attention to my rates. What is my heart rate, my breathing rate, and my digestion rate. Do I feel like my heart is racing and breathing is shallow? Is my stomach churning, or peaceful?

Third, pay attention to my posture. Whether I am sitting or standing, am I doing that in a natural, healthy way? Or am I sitting in some awkward position with my shoulders bunched up and my back hunched over? Since I spend a lot of time at my desk, this is a major issue affecting my state of health and natural flow.

Correct your state

OK, so you noticed some things about your state – but who cares? What does it mean if my heart is fast and my breathing shallow and my shoulders tight and my stomach churning? Well, I don’t really know what it “means”. Interestingly, the deep and philosophical meanings are often not all that important. It is sometimes nice to have that clarity, but action can happen regardless. So, let’s talk about responding to the state rather than understanding it fully.

If you feel like you are not at your best state for learning, then try these:

  • Take a Breath. Breathing is so critical to life we can only afford to avoid it for a few minutes. However, we seem to avoid doing it well for long periods of time. A good breath starts with your nose and ends at your belly button. Take a deep, slow breath in through your nose, and let it fill your belly. As you feel the pressure to exhale, then do that…slowly. This brings oxygen to your blood (and your brain) and allows so much of your body to relax. Do it now, I’ll wait.
  • Get Balanced. If your posture is out of whack, fix it. Take just a minute and get as straight as you can. I don’t mean that stiff-as-a-board posture we think of from parochial school. I mean balanced left to right, front to back. The easiest way to do this while sitting is to sit in the center of your chair and wiggle your hips and shoulders a bit until they are loose. Then let them naturally settle to where they below. Now, work in that posture for a while.
  • Think Laughter. It has been said that laughter is the best medicine. I am not sure that is exclusively true, but I do believe it helps. While it might seem like a waste of time, take a few minutes to laugh. This might be finding some funny video online, remembering a fun experience, or telling yourself a joke. Whatever works for you – get a smile on your face and pay attention to how the rest of your body and mind responds.

These simple things can make a huge difference in your physical, emotional, and mental state. If you would like more exercises to improve your memory, go watch Jim’s video and pay attention to the 41 minute mark for his own exercise recommendations.

Your Next Move

The next time you are not excelling, take stock of your current state, then try these few quick techniques to get back to a place you can be great.

I won’t help you

don't be disappointed if people refuse to helpWhen I was in high school, I learned a few programming languages. In one class, we were given a new assignment nearly every day. Whenever I would get stuck, I would ask the teacher for help. His answer became very predictable.

He who learns for himself learns seven fold of he who is told

Argh. Look man, all I really needed was a simple answer, not a philosophy lesson. As it turns out, he was right.

Get the Answer, or Learn to Learn?

In the moment of feeling stuck, having a leader unwilling to bail you out is so frustrating. Looking back, I value those people the most in my life, whether they be teachers, friends, mentors, or strangers. As a result of those frustrating moments, I have developed an attitude in life of, “I can figure this out…I can learn this if I just ask the right questions.” Of course, that doesn’t always work, but it gets me a lot further down the road than waiting for someone to give me the answer. I have adopted a similar strategy now that I have others to lead.

Why You Should Frustrate Them

As I have watched people on my team, or my family, get frustrated with me, I have had to reflect on why I am doing this. Is it just because I am mean?

  • It is fun to watch you struggle. Ok, that sounds sinister, but what I really mean is that I love to see people dig deep and create some new thinking patterns that will get them out of this situation. While they struggle, stay close and nudge them along…without giving away too much.
  • I care more about you than the answer. This is the big one. As a leader, it is my job to grow people more than anything. It is not my primary role to grow the business, take care of the customer, or ensure profitability. Those things are important, but all secondary to growing people to be better, smarter, faster, more confident, and more valuable to the world. The best way I know how to do that is to help them learn to learn. When I feel bad about watching someone wrestle with a problem, I have to remind both of us, “I care more about you, and your ability to learn, than I do the time it takes or quality of the solution.”
  • It exposes my leadership failures. Yay! Let’s all look at how I have let you down and failed to equip you…what fun. Although not always pleasant, exposing where I have failed to communicate, teach, guide, or lead helps me to learn in the situation. At the highest level this has taught me that every time a protegé is struggling, I have something to learn.

Part of my philosophy of leadership is a job well done renders me useless. I want to invest in people and the process so thoroughly that I am not required to solve a problem. They have the tools they need to do a great job. This is often referred to the “hit by a bus” strategy. I love to be called on because I am the best one to solve a problem. I get very discouraged when I am the only one who can solve a problem.

Your Next Move

Look for opportunities to promote the ability to learn in those around you. Choose one problem this week and change the way you help. Walk them through learning rather than give them the answer. If you get push back, send them here to read this.

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