Be A River

For the last several weeks We’ve been talking about personal growth. As we leave this general theme, it’s important to ask, “Why do we want to grow?” Several answers may come to mind. Growth is its own reward for example. We are intrinsically motivated to get better at things. It’s called the motivation of “mastery.” Another very practical reason for personal growth is that it potentially opens more opportunities in life. I would like to suggest a higher reason. This reason taps into another intrinsic motivator, “transcendent purpose” – the desire to be part of something bigger and more important than ourselves. That reason is that growing yourself enables you to grow others.

Be a River Not a Reservoir

John Maxwell and others talk about the difference between a life of success and a life of significance. Young entrepreneur and founder of the website greattoawesome.com, Anshul Kamath, described the difference like this:

  • Success is consuming existing knowledge, data and news for your benefit. Significance is doing something news worthy and creating knowledge that others can benefit from.
  • Success is being able to afford to send your kids to a good school. Significance is educating others.
  • Success is earning a steady income, saving and retiring happy. Significance is empowering others with employment and a livelihood.

Put another way, a life of success is like a reservoir, taking in to fill itself. A life of significance is like a river, taking in at one end and sending along at the other. In one sense a river is always growing (taking in) but there is always room for more because it is flowing that water to other bodies of water. In the words of the Ancient Greek Philosopher, Heraclitus,

“No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

How to Become a River

How can I make the transition from reservoir to river, from success to significance? Here are a few practical steps:

  1. Ask Benjamin Franklin’s daily questions:
    1. In the morning ask, “What good shall I do today?”
    2. In the evening ask, “What good have I done today?”
  2. Be grateful – the attitude of gratitude is the antidote to entitlement. Gratitude is the fundamental river mentality. When I see everything as a gift, it’s much easier to share it.
  3. Put people first – above stuff, position, or achievement. People are the pathway to the others, not in the sense of stepping on them to rise, but in the sense that everyone rises when you care for the people as your priority.
  4. Don’t let stuff own you – we are servants to that which we give ourselves. Better to serve people than stuff.
  5. Define success as sowing not reaping – ask, “how much have I given,” rather than, “how much did I get?”
  6. Keep giving – a river that stops giving is a reservoir. I refer you back to step 1.

We’ve spent the last 13 weeks talking about personal growth. We’ve talked about curiosity, rubber bands, poop, recipes and much more. This, however, is the capstone concept of personal growth. Growing yourself enables you to grow others. If you make it your goal to grow others, there will be no end to what you can become.

How to Make a Recipe for Growth

I don’t have a certificate from the American Institute of Baking qualifying me as a Master Baker, but I can turn out a pretty good chocolate chip cookie. How is that, you ask? The secret is I follow the “Toll House” recipe on the back of my bag of chocolate chips. I’ve done it enough times I even have the recipe memorized. I can gather the ingredients and tools and have the first batch out of the oven in 15 – 20 minutes. The recipe makes it possible for me to consistently bake good tasting chocolate chip cookies.

Best selling author and small business guru, Michael Gerber (The E-myth) says, “Systems permit ordinary people to achieve extraordinary results predictably. However, without a system, even extraordinary people find it difficult to achieve even ordinary results.” A recipe is a system. Systems consist of components (ingredients like flour, sugar, eggs and tools like bowls, a mixer, cookie sheets) and processes (like measuring out the ingredients, combining and mixing, and placing in the oven at a certain temperature for a certain amount of time). I’m an ordinary guy but my cookies are consistently pretty extraordinary.

A Recipe for Personal Growth

Entrepreneur, author, and motivational speaker, Jim Rohn said, “If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you. Not Much.” Yikes! That’s true. In someone else’s life plan you and I will be, at best, a rung on their ladder or a medal on their chest. Do you want to be someone’s rung or medal? Me either. Here’s one more quote from Jim Rohn:

If you want to have more, you have to become more.
For things to improve, you have to improve.
For things to get better, you have to get better.
For things to change, you have to change.
When you change, everything changes for you.

We have to grow into who we want to be. So we’ve got to have a system for personal growth, a recipe if you will. As Rohn says, we have to design our own life plan.

What Would You Like to Bake?

Suzi’s (my wife) favorite cake is Angel Food (she’s an angel after all!). I love chocolate cake. We’ve already talked about my cookies. Each of those is a baked product but it requires a very different recipe to achieve each one. Before you begin to bake, you have to decide what you want to eat. As Stephen Covey famously said, “Begin with the end in mind.”

The same is true for personal growth. Where do you want to grow? What skill or trait or vision of the future do you want to work on? That’s the beginning point of your personal growth recipe. The desired outcome determines the ingredients and processes required to get there.

Guidelines for Creating a Recipe

You’ve decided you want to grow in a certain area. Now you need a plan, the recipe. Here are some guidelines for creating your recipe.

  1. Measurement – how will you measure your progress? Make a checklist of the necessary elements in your growth plan and track your progress.
  2. Priorities – think proportions. How much time, energy, and money are you willing to invest in your goal? Remember, don’t prioritize your schedule. Schedule your priorities.
  3. Application – the heat of the oven transforms the recipe’s combined ingredients into a cake or cookies. In the same way, the heat of putting your skill, trait, or vision of the future into practice creates the necessary transformation in you. As soon as you learn something important, think, “Where can I use this?” “When can I use this?” “Who else needs to know this?” and take action on the answer to each of those questions.

Your recipe for growth may include classes, books, interviews, skills training, or other ingredients. It will involve exposing yourself to new things, educating yourself, and experiencing the opportunities your new skill, trait, or realized vision open for you. How you combine all these things is your recipe for personal growth. What do you want to bake?

Know Yourself to Grow Yourself

When you plan a trip you have to know at least two things. You need to know where you’re starting from and where you’re going. That’s true if you’re going to the grocery store or going across the country. It’s also true when we talk about personal growth. It’s true but the starting and ending points of personal growth are often far less obvious than are the two end points of a physical journey. That’s why we say you have to “know yourself to grow yourself.”

Knowing yourself is the starting point of your personal growth journey and it involves understanding what you want. There are three kinds of people when it comes to knowing what you want and doing it. First, there are those who don’t know. They are confused. Then, there are those who know but don’t do anything. They’re frustrated. Finally, there are those who know and make the journey. They are fulfilled. Which are you?

The really great thing is there is fulfillment in the personal growth journey itself, not just in arriving at the destination. If you think about it, when it comes to personal growth, when does one ever arrive?

To Know Yourself, Know Your Why?

A starting point for your personal growth journey is to understand your purpose. Knowing what to do becomes more clear when you know your “why.” How do you know your purpose, your why? I really like this exercise I learned from John Maxwell’s book Intentional Living. He suggests you can discover your “why” by asking the following questions:

  1. What do you Cry about? Almost everyone cries about things like the loss of a loved one (human or pet) or a broken relationship. So, the question is not what do you cry about? It’s, what do you cry about? What are the things that uniquely move you to tears? I’m a sap crier, not a sad crier. Don’t get me wrong, I cry about the normal things. But I tend to cry more about things that are moving. My family calls me a sap. So, I had to reverse engineer this to discover that I cry about Ignorance (when people don’t know that things could be better or how to make them better). I also cry about Estrangement (when relationships that should be wonderful are broken). Finally, I cry about Devaluation (I’m not talking about currency here. I’m talking about when people are written off as of having or bringing no value)
  2. What do you Sing about? Again, the emphasis is on you. What are the specific things that light you up to the point of wanting to sing? I get jazzed about discovery, when I see or help people learn the things that will transform their lives. I also want to sing when there is reconciliation, when those relationships that should be wonderful become wonderful again. Finally, I love it when those who’ve been written off are proven to be worthy. Call it redemption or transformation. I don’t care what we call it, I love it.
  3. What do you Dream about? This is not the big house, boat, or fancy car conversation. This is about what one thing, if you could change it, would make all the difference for you? I dream about spending the rest of my life launching leaders to live their legend.

So, Now What?

Comedian, Michael Jr. says, “To inspire people to walk in purpose is my Why. I can do comedy, write books, or be in a movie. They are ‘whats’ that are made more clear and impactful by my why.”

The next step in personal growth is to find some of your best “Whats.” Ask yourself,

“What are my strengths?”
“What are my weaknesses?”
“What are my interests?”
“What are my opportunities?”

In short, what do you like to do and/or want to do?

Now, ask some of your friends and family the same questions about you. They can validate or clarify especially the answers to the strengths and weaknesses questions. You may also find value in taking an assessment like the DISC analysis. I can help with that. I’m a certified DISC trainer. Feel free to contact me at jim@engagerdynamics.com. I’ll set you up with a web-based assessment that will give you a 30 page report outlining many helpful insights into your DISC personality profile. There is a small fee for this service, but it is well worth it.

Now it’s time to put it all together.

What’s Your Sweet Spot?

The next step in your personal growth journey is to identify what you’re great at? It may be natural talent or developed skill, but you’re good at it. You may like to do lots of things but there are a couple or one that you excel at. These are the things people tell you you’re good at but you don’t recognize it because it “comes naturally.”

Your sweet spot is where your passion (what you cry and sing about), your dream(s) (what you dream about) and your talent and skills intersect. When you’ve identified your sweet spot you have the “Know Yourself” part of “Know Yourself to Grow Yourself.” You’ve put a pin in the “Where am I now” part of your personal growth map. Now you can plan your growth to develop your sweet spot.

Growth Doesn’t Just Happen

Over the last three months I’ve been writing about Communication. In April the topic was “The Power of Connection” in four parts. May was four posts on Organizational Communication. Finally, last week I concluded a five part series on Listening. During the quarter that started this month, I want to shift themes from Communication to Personal Growth. It’s been said that “mastery” (the desire to get better at stuff) is one of a handful of intrinsic motivators. In other words, we are driven to grow and improve because of internal rewards (satisfaction) over external ones like prizes or recognition.

Leadership teacher, coach, and author John C. Maxwell,  among his many books, has written two that have been helpful to me on this topic. First is , The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, and the other is called Intentional Living: Choosing a Life that Matters. I highly recommend them both and if you were to read them you would recognize their influence in my writing during this quarter.

The First Law

The first of John’s invaluable laws of growth is the law of “Intentionality.” It’s also what the entire second book is about, living on purpose. The Law of Intentionality says, “Growth Doesn’t Just Happen.” You have to plan for it and work on it … on purpose.

My youngest two graduated from High School a year ago (wow! already). Our lives have changed in the evenings since that happened. While they were in school the evenings were filled with homework and preparation. That’s because the school had a curriculum and each course in that curriculum had a syllabus and each day had a lesson plan which included learning objectives. The school district was intentional about their learning and development (growth).

Once we graduate and the structured learning environment of school is gone, most of us are set adrift when it comes to personal growth. We find jobs or start businesses that may or may not have anything to do with our formal education. Then life is all about the daily tasks related to that job or business. But, as many experts will tell you, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” If that’s true, then in the scenario I just described, we’re dying.

Be Your own Board of Education

Because we no longer have others structuring our learning and growth for us, we need to develop our own personal growth plan.

Start with work. If you love your job (if you don’t, that’s another conversation) or aspire to a certain position, there are most likely job related certifications you can pursue. Research those and decide which ones you want and how to get them. There may even be organizations you can join that provide curriculum for your job development. In many cases an employer will pay for job related education and memberships. LinkedIn Premium has training available on a wide variety of topics as well.

How about Hobbies and personal interests? Set a goal. What do you want to be able to do by the end of the year? Find Youtube videos or online communities or local clubs that deal with that and start learning. Or go old school, like me, and buy books. Invest some time and money in yourself.

Finally, set a time and place to “study.” I get up at 5:15 every morning. After feeding the cat and letting the dog out, I pour a cup of coffee and sit down on the couch in the living room. I read for half an hour. I read a selection from two books. First, I read a chapter from the Bible progressing through a book. Then I read from whichever book is current on my list. It could be on a variety of subjects. After that, I write for half an hour. That’s when I work on these posts. I also have a couple of e-books on my phone that I read whenever I’m in line or waiting for my wife in a store.

There are other things I do and other things you could do. The main thing, though, is to start. Growth doesn’t just happen.

Where Are The Boundary Lines?

Several years ago my wife and I loaded into our mini-van with some other members of her family and drove from where we lived at the time in Normal, IL (it’s a real place!) to Lincoln, Nebraska because our local college basketball team was playing in the first round of the NCAA tournament. We had a great time on the drive over and then watching a couple games.

When we started home later the same night a blizzard hit. We drove most of the way home in white-out conditions. That’s what you call white-knuckle driving. We had to be home for some reason by a certain time the next day so we kept going. In those conditions you can see better with just the parking lights on because they don’t reflect so much light back at you off the blowing snow. Your best friends are the lines on the road, if you can see them. That solid white line on the right tells you where the edge of the road is and the dashed line on the left let’s you know you’re in your lane. When you can’t find the boundary lines, your stress level really goes up.

A Little Off Topic

Last night my wife and I went to Costco for gas and then pulled into the parking lot. I was going to run in for a couple things and get the hot-dog-and-a-coke-for-$1.50 deal for our dinner on the way out. Right after we parked we heard someone screaming. It was a high pitched scream like a child so we quickly looked around worried that some child may be hurt. Then we saw what was happening. A toddler apparently didn’t want to get out of the shopping cart and into the car. He was screaming at and hitting his mom with nearby grandma looking on trying to calm him down.

My wife, who is something of an expert on raising children, was horrified. She’s the one who made the connection between driving when you can’t see the boundary lines and the stress children feel when the boundary lines of behavior aren’t clear. There is security in knowing where the lines are. Under normal conditions the lines aren’t restrictive, they’re safe. “Can you imagine,” she said, “what would happen if everyone just drove wherever they wanted?!” When conditions turn stressful, the lines are a blessing!

To take the analogy a little further, you can’t paint the lines during the snowstorm. They have to be put in place when the weather is good. Teaching children where the boundaries are when everyone is calm and happy is the way to prevent outbursts like what we saw last night. Early, consistent, loving reinforcement is the key. When one of our five children was tired or cranky and tested the boundaries (and they did!), one quick look from Mom was usually all it took to remind them where the lines were. They felt secure in knowing that.

Expand the Truth

The same is true in work relationships between employers and employees. Whether the boundaries are about attendance, workplace behavior, or safety, for example, establish them early and reinforce them consistently. We’re happier and more productive when we feel secure in knowing what’s expected of us.

When we were white-knuckling it back home from Nebraska in that blizzard, you could feel the tension ease when we could see the lines on the road. Then we only had to worry about tail lights suddenly appearing in front of us. But, at least we knew we were safely on the road.

How to Successfully Navigate the Chaos of Change

This week I’m posting an article I ran across awhile ago. This article, by Steven M. Smith, effectively applies a family therapist’s change model to the business environment. I’ve reprinted it below for your convenience.

Improvement is always possible. This conviction is the heart of the transformation system developed by family therapist Virginia Satir. Her system helps people improve their lives by transforming the way they see and express themselves.

An element of the Satir System is a five-stage change model (see the picture) that describes the effects each stage has on feelings, thinking, performance, and physiology. Using the principles embodied in this model, you can improve how you process change and how you help others process change.

Stage 1: Late Status Quo

The group is at a familiar place. The performance pattern is consistent. Stable relationships give members a sense of belonging and identity. Members know what to expect, how to react, and how to behave.

Implicit and explicit rules underlie behavior. Members attach survival value to the rules, even if they are harmful. For instance, the chief of an engineering group has an explicit rule — all projects must be completed on schedule. When the flu halts the work of several engineers, the chief requires the group to compensate by working ten hours a day, seven days a week. After experiencing too many crises at both work and home, the engineers begin to bicker and the project falls apart.

For this group, the chief’s explicit rule about deadlines is their Late Status Quo. They don’t necessarily enjoy the amount of work they had to do, but they know and understand what is expected of them. The team feels the pressure from the chief’s rule about deadlines and compensates accordingly. The pressure works for small problems. With a major problem, like the flu, the group cannot cope with the chief’s expectations and a pattern of dysfunctional behavior starts.

Poor communication is a symptom of a dysfunctional group. Members use blaming, placating, and other incongruent communication styles to cope with feelings like anger and guilt. Stress may lead to physical symptoms such as headaches and gastrointestinal pain that create an unexplainable increase in absenteeism.

Caught in a web of dysfunctional concepts, the members whose opinions count the most are unaware of the imbalance between the group and its environment. New information and concepts from outside the group can open members up to the possibility of improvement.

Stage 2: Resistance

The group confronts a foreign element that requires a response. Often imported by a small minority seeking change, this element brings the members whose opinions count the most face to face with a crucial issue.
A foreign element threatens the stability of familiar power structures. Most members resist by denying its validity, avoiding the issue, or blaming someone for causing the problem. These blocking tactics are accompanied by unconscious physical responses, such as shallow breathing and closed posture.

Resistance clogs awareness and conceals the desires highlighted by the foreign element. For example, a powerful minority within the marketing department of a tool manufacturer engages a consultant to do a market survey. She finds a disturbing trend: A growing number of clients believe that a competitor is producing superior quality products at a lower price. Middle and upper management vehemently deny the findings and dispute the validity of the survey methods. But after a series of frank discussions with key clients, upper management accepts the findings. They develop a vision for propelling the company into a position as the industry leader in product quality and support.

Members in this stage need help opening up, becoming aware, and overcoming the reaction to deny, avoid or blame.

Stage 3: Chaos

The group enters the unknown. Relationships shatter: Old expectations may no longer be valid; old reactions may cease to be effective; and old behaviors may not be possible.

The loss of belonging and identity triggers anxiousness and vulnerability. On occasion, these feelings may set off nervous disorders such as shaking, dizziness, tics, and rashes. Members may behave uncharacteristically as they revert to childhood survival rules. For instance, a manufacturing company cancels the development of a major new product, reduces the number of employees, and reorganizes. Many of the surviving employees lose their ability to concentrate for much of the day. Desperately seeking new relationships that offer hope, the employees search for different jobs. Both manufacturing yield and product quality takes a nosedive.

Managers of groups experiencing chaos should plan for group performance to plummet during this stage. Until the members accept the foreign element, members form only halfhearted relationships with each other. Chaos is the period of erratic performance that mirrors the search for a beneficial relationship to the foreign element.

All members in this stage need help focusing on their feelings, acknowledging their fear, and using their support systems. Management needs special help avoiding any attempt to short circuit this stage with magical solutions. The chaos stage is vital to the transformation process.

Stage 4: Integration

The members discover a transforming idea that shows how the foreign element can benefit them. The group becomes excited. New relationships emerge that offer the opportunity for identity and belonging. With practice, performance improves rapidly.

For instance, an experienced accounting group must convert to a new computer system. The group resists the new system fearing it will turn them into novices. But the members eventually discover that skill with this widely used system increases their value in the marketplace. Believing that the change may lead to salary increases or better jobs, the members begin a vigorous conversion to the new system.

Awareness of new possibilities enables authorship of new rules that build functional reactions, expectations, and behaviors. Members may feel euphoric and invincible, as the transforming idea may be so powerful that it becomes a panacea.

Members in this stage need more support than might be first thought. They can become frustrated when things fail to work perfectly the first time. Although members feel good, they are also afraid that any transformation might mysteriously evaporate disconnecting them from their new relationships and plunging them back into chaos. The members need reassurance and help finding new methods for coping with difficulties.

Stage 5: New Status Quo

If the change is well conceived and assimilated, the group and its environment are in better accord and performance stabilizes at a higher level than in the Late Status Quo.

A healthy group is calm and alert. Members are centered with more erect posture and deeper breathing. They feel free to observe and communicate what is really happening. A sense of accomplishment and possibility permeates the atmosphere.

In this stage, the members continue to need to feel safe so they can practice. Everyone, manager and members, needs to encourage each other to continue exploring the imbalances between the group and its environment so that there is less resistance to change.

I’ve observed groups, after many change cycles, become learning organizations?they learn how to cope with change. The members of these organizations are not threatened or anxious about the types of situations that they used to experience as foreign element. Instead, these situations excite and motivate them.

For example, the customer services group of a computer manufacturer learns to adapt their repair policies and techniques to any new product. Supporting a new computer system used to scare the group but not anymore. Management communicates and reinforces the vision of seamless new product support. Some members influence the design of support features for the new products. Other members plan and teach training courses. All members provide feedback to improve the process.

Postscript: Coping With Change

Virginia Satir’s Change Model describes the change patterns she saw during therapy with families. In my experience, the patterns she describes occur with any group of people when confronted by change.

I use this model to select how to help a group make a successful transformation from an Old Status Quo to a New Status Quo. Table 1 summarizes my suggestions on how to help during each stage of the change model:

Stage Description How to Help
1 Late Status Quo Encourage people to seek improvement information and concepts from outside the group.
2 Resistance Help people to open up, become aware, and overcome the reaction to deny, avoid or blame.

 

3 Chaos Help build a safe environment that enables people to focus on their feelings, acknowledge their fear, and use their support systems. Help management avoid any attempt to short circuit this stage with magical solutions.
4 Integration Offer reassurance and help finding new methods for coping with difficulties.
5 New Status Quo Help people feel safe so they can practice.
Table 1. Actions for each stage that will help a group change more quickly and effectively.
The actions in Table 1 will help people cope. Actions that inhibit coping retards an organization’s ability to make core changes. These organization are resisting the fundamental foreign element of change. But organizations that create a safe environment where people are encouraged to cope increase their capacity for change and are much more able to respond effectively to whatever challenges are thrown their way.

 

How to Turn Bad Experiences Into a Win

Our second oldest son used to love playing with LEGOs. He had a big bin of them that he would dig in for hours gathering just the right pieces for his newest creation. Every once in awhile a stray LEGO would get left behind when he was done and had put the bin away. You know where this is going! If I walked by in the dark or if the color of that piece happened to blend in with the carpet and I stepped on it in bare feet … Ouch! That is one kind of painful experience.

There are other kinds of painful experiences. Some create emotional pain that doesn’t go away as fast as the stepped-on-a-LEGO pain. Nobody likes pain, nobody wants pain, nobody looks forward to painful experiences. But they happen. As the late family therapist and author, Virginia Satir said, “Life is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.”

Another quote that really resonated with a group of colleagues recently comes from Dennis Wholey. He said, “Expecting the world to treat your fairly just because you’re a good person is a little like expecting the bull not to charge you because you’re a vegetarian.”

No Pain No Gain?

We’ve all heard the expression, “no pain, no gain.” It’s usually associated with physical exercise. The idea is that when you stretch (see my last post), and then exercise your muscles, your muscles feel sore afterward. That soreness is an indicator that you have worked your muscles sufficiently to strengthen them. “No soreness, no gain” doesn’t have the same ring to it as “no pain, no gain.”

If you injure yourself during an activity, that also hurts. But the no-pain-no-gain model doesn’t apply then. That kind of pain sets you back. Injury pain is more like the emotionally painful experiences I mentioned above. But, let’s talk about how to turn that kind of pain into gain.

John Maxwell talks about “The Law of Pain” in his book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth. That law says, “Good management of Bad experiences leads to Great growth.” Even the pain of injury can be turned to gain if we keep a few things in mind. the first thing is that turning pain into gain takes action. It won’t just happen because you had the bad experience. John McDonnell said, “Every problem introduces a person to himself.” When the painful experience or the problem comes, I need to be willing to look in the mirror and ask, “How did I contribute to this?” We usually can’t change the circumstances of the problem and we certainly can’t change the other people involved. But, we can change ourselves.

How To Turn Pain to Gain

Try taking these practical steps and see if you can’t change that pain into gain:

  1. Define the problem – without a clear understanding of the actual problem, I’ll never be able to solve it. Remember, for this exercise, the problem I’m defining is not other people or the circumstances, it’s what’s going on inside me?
  2. Understand your emotion – call it by name. Am I angry, scared, frustrated, hopeless? Calling the emotion by name helps you gain mastery of it.
  3. Articulate the lesson – what, specifically, have I learned? Is it that I shouldn’t say this to that person? Is it that I should do this in that situation? What is the lesson?
  4. Identify a desired change – OK, so, what do I want to be different next time? What words should I use or what actions should I take or avoid?
  5. Brainstorm numerous pathways – I shouldn’t give in to the belief that I can’t get there from here. In fact, there are many routes between point A and point B.  I should think of at least 5 things I can do to bring about the desired change.
  6. Receive other’s input – ask around. Others are often willing to share their perspective on my actions if I ask.
  7. Implement a course of action – planning a trip is great, but if I don’t actually make the journey all I have is a marked up map. I need to start moving in the direction of my growth plan.

Bad experiences don’t have to be just bad experiences. They can become a win when they are catalysts to growth. It all depends on how we manage them.

Well Known?

Socrates said, “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” John C. Maxwell said, “You have to know yourself to grow yourself.” Self-knowledge or self-awareness is essential to healthy relationships on the personal level and at work. The question is, “How well do we know ourselves?” the “Johari Window” is one tool that can help us consider an answer to that question. This tool was developed by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham (Jo-Hari, get it?) in 1955. The Window into our relationships with ourselves and others has four panes.

The Arena

This is what everyone knows about us. “Everyone knows Jane is a free spirit.” “Everyone knows John is analytical and reserved.” It’s our public self, we are very aware of it and others can easily see it. It’s how we present ourselves in public both automatically and intentionally. By automatic I mean our habits of interaction with others. By intentional I mean what we make a concerted effort to be sure people see about us. The Arena is not the whole story.

The Facade (Mask)

This is the “us” no one else knows about, the hidden us. It sounds ominous and almost sinister, but that’s only true of those who are hiding evil or criminal thoughts and intentions. For most of us, we keep fears and dreams here. Ironically, we keep dreams here because of fear of ridicule for having such dreams.

We can have different masks at work or at home. We may behave differently in those arenas. In that case the mask at work may simply be that our personal interests are none of anyone else’s business, but our family knows all about them. So, masks are not necessarily bad, they are just part of how we control the arena. This is like when someone at work discovers on social media that Bill plays in a band and says, “I had no idea he was a musician.”

The Blind Spot

This is the opposite of the Mask. It’s what everyone else knows about us and usually wishes we knew. Obviously, there is no self-awareness in this pane of the window. Here is where we have the greatest opportunity to grow.

A few years ago my wife started taking a medication. One evening a couple weeks after taking it, she was re-reading the documentation and asked, “Have I been aggressive lately?” The entire family answered in unison, “YES!” It was a side effect of the medication but she hadn’t been aware of it. When she asked and learned the answer, that knowledge moved from the Blind Spot pane to the Arena and she was able to manage that side effect very well.

The Unknown

This is the adventure of self-awareness. When my wife and I first began to date, almost everything was in this pane of the window. The excitement and fun of the last decades together has been discovering things about ourselves and each other.

The same can be true for other personal and work relationships. Making the unknown known is the adventure of the journey.

Practical Steps

Looking through the Johari Window is a step toward self-awareness and growth. The exercise of thinking about things in different ways expands our thinking and provides growth.

There are other practical tools that can help as well. One is the DISC Model personality test. I’m a certified trainer in the DISC Model and would be happy to help you and your organization work through the assessment. It will help you gain a clearer understanding of your personal patterns and how they effect your communication and interaction within your work environment and/or family.

There is a small fee for this service. Please feel free to contact me at jim@engagerdynamics.com.

How to Make a Habit of Cultivating

People generally don’t like change. On the other hand, one of life’s intrinsic motivators is “Mastery” or the desire to get better at things. That’s why people will spend countless hours practicing and playing an instrument with no intent they will ever make a dime at it professionally. Or, how many people play video games professionally? or golf? You get the idea.

Think about that, though. If I improve at something, isn’t that growth? And, isn’t growth, by definition, equal to change? Well, if I find it motivating to get better at things (or grow = change), but I don’t like change, isn’t that a contradiction? It sure seems like it. Maybe the question is, “what does it mean when people say they don’t like change?”

Several years ago my wife and I were having lunch with another couple who were friends of ours. We were talking about personal growth and development. At one point in the conversation my friend’s wife made a telling comment. She said, “If growth means I have to experience any pain, then I’m fine just the way I am.” Bingo! It’s likely what people don’t like is not the change, but the anticipated “pain” we often associate with growth.

What Pain?

We love the flower or the food we get from plants, the result of the growth. So we cultivate. Cultivating means to prepare the soil for planting and to promote the growth of the plants. We prepare soil by breaking it up and introducing fertilizer. What’s the best fertilizer? To put it nicely, dung. To promote growth we make sure to plant the seed where it will be exposed to rain and sunlight. We also pull up any weeds that may start to grow in the vicinity and we often need to prune the plant as it grows. Pruning is cutting away growth that is not healthy for the plant. Wow! “Breaking up, dung, rain, pulling, cutting away,” Ouch! Growth can involve pain . . . “No pain, no gain” so the saying goes.

The pain for us may come in the form of feedback from co-workers that identifies an area where we need to grow. It may come from a boss in the form of an evaluation or discipline. It could come from a mistake we make that identifies a deficiency. It’s often said that failure is a great teacher. None of these is particularly pleasant. But, they are often the beginning of growth.

Putting it to Work

The Engager Dynamic called Cultivate is all about creating an environment at work that promotes growth. The first step is to make the pain bearable. Really, you’re just changing people’s perception of it. If you make continuous improvement part of your culture, if “we get better” is just “how we do things around here,” then feedback, evaluation, and even failure become normal. When they become normal, they seem less painful and can even become as welcome as eating healthily or a morning workout. To achieve this you must allow freedom for mistakes and failure without retribution as necessary steps of improvement. Failing forward is part of a continuous improvement culture.

Making it a Habit

Once you’ve removed the fear of punishment for mistakes, the environment will be much more conducive to growth. The following three elements will promote learning and development for your team.

  1. Exposure – give your people the opportunity to be exposed to new things. Take someone to a meeting they don’t usually attend. Give them a chance to spend time in another job or department for a day. Introduce them to someone who is an expert in an area of their interest. I put this element first because often this exposure excites a motivation for the next.
  2. Education – having been exposed to something of interest, people are often filled with questions to which they sincerely want answers. Now they’re ready to go to “class.” This may be in the form of online learning, or in-person classes your company offers. Don’t be afraid to spend a little money to send someone to a seminar or class or school if your company offers tuition reimbursement. On the other hand, it may be a simple as letting them spend time with a mentor. NOTE: too often, leaders make the mistake of thinking Education is the totality of Learning and Development. They believe if they send someone to a class and they get a certificate, then they should know everything they need to know. In fact, education is only about 20% of the learning package.
  3. Experiences – here is where you really get the benefit. Focus up to 70% of your development plan on providing opportunities for your people to put into practice what they’re learning. We retain only about 50% of what we see and hear. We retain over 80% of what we experience for ourselves. Give people guided experience at leading meetings. putting together presentations, whatever their learning path is about. As I suggested in my post on Training, if you really want them to know their stuff, let them teach you or someone else what they’re learning. We retain 95% of what we teach.

Weave these elements into the every day routine of your organization or team and you will have a thriving garden of engaged, productive people.

How to Make a Habit of Training

“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” Aristotle

In my post on the Engager Dynamic – Train, I said that one of the mistakes leaders often make, when it comes to training, is to delegate it entirely to someone else. I believe it’s a mistake because there is no better time to make a strong connection with someone than when they’re learning something they care about from you. Employees care about learning what they need to be successful in their new job.

You don’t have to be the one who teaches them everything they need to know to be successful. Pick one thing you’re an expert at and spend some time with employees training them on that.

I know of one company, the largest of its kind in the country, where the CEO takes over an hour to engage with every New Employee Orientation class. His purpose is to share the history of the company which is over 50 years old and to connect with the group on what the company’s mission means to him. It’s genius! It doesn’t hurt that he’s a charismatic salesman, but the head of the company making himself available to it’s newest employees is training of the highest order. This is a leader who is an engager. He makes a connection with every new employee by inspiring them with the company mission.

Make it a Habit

What are the skills that got you to your current role? What are you best at? Chances are they’re things you care about so this should be fun. Pick one of those skills. Now ask yourself these questions:

  1. Why is this skill important?
  2. How did I learn this skill? (Not just who taught you but what steps did    you go through in the learning process?)
  3. What does excellent look like for this skill?

Now you have an outline to a training. Take some notes. Write down why the skill is important, how it connects to the mission/vision of the organization and what it does personally for the people who develop it.

Question number 3 above gives you what educators call a learning objective. Write this down next. When you’re training someone it’s good to let them know ahead of time what they’ll be able to do once they’ve completed the training.

Now, break down the skill into steps. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Have you ever been in a meeting where they did an icebreaker about giving or following directions? I’ve seen ones where you had to guide a blindfolded person through a maze with only verbal directions, or where you’ve had to write directions to building a Lego toy, or describe to someone how to draw a picture you’re looking at. It can be pretty funny because of how difficult it is to give clear directions.

You might want to try a “wax-on-wax-off” drill to improve this step. Write down the steps involved in brushing your teeth or getting dressed. Try it with several everyday things you do. Now, ask someone else to follow your written directions. Have some fun with it until you’re pretty good at writing clear, step-by-step instructions. Now, go back and re-write the steps to the skill you’re training on.

Put it to Work

You now have the most of a training prepared. You can put it into a Power Point presentation or simply organize your notes. Decide how long it will take to go through what you’ve put together. Figure out what hands-on practice you should provide as part of the training. Is this skill best learned one-on-one or can you train a group?

Now you need (a) trainee(s). Which of the people on your team could use the opportunity to develop this skill? Schedule time with them and go through your training. Receive their feedback and observe them using the skill later. What might you do to improve the training?

Finally, like the leader at the company I mentioned above, you may want to get yourself scheduled into New Employee Orientation as a regular presentation. To build on what Aristotle said, becoming excellent and helping people become excellent will make you a powerful engager.