You have a big problem. And you’re trying to solve it, but you just can’t. You keep saying to yourself and your team “Okay, here’s the problem”. “Here’s the issue.” “Let’s clarify the issue”. And all those words and focus, and the attempt to really gain an understanding of the problem… just aren’t working.
How do you get everyone to come together and find an explanation? Maybe you should try a new tactic: focus on the potential, not the problem. Be outcome-oriented.
The term “outcome-oriented” comes up in discussions about problem-solving, goal-setting, and strategy. Some people don’t like it. They say that you should instead focus on the process, because if you keep your eyes squarely on the prize, you’ll lose sight of everything that needs to happen along the way. There’s a simple answer to that: every big project is made up of a bunch of little projects; manage those projects capably, and you’re golden.
Naysayers of an outcome-oriented approach sometimes think that with too much focus on the end result, any means are justifiable. But I think that’s largely determined by your overall corporate culture. It won’t be a problem for you, because all throughout your company, from the tippy-top corner office to the basement broom closet, your employees know that your Big Goal is to help people – you’re good guys. You’re not greedy, you’re not going to lie, cheat or steal to improve the bottom line.
So, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s take a look at the upside of an outcome-oriented approach.
If you approach a problem scenario from an at-the-finish-line perspective, you can put together a plan that, when you account as best you can for the unforeseen, lets you finish the race on time and injury-free.
Mary Kay Ash said that, in order to succeed in sales as well as life overall, we should each “Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ‘Make me feel important.’” John Dewey, an American philosopher, said that the deepest human desire is “to be important”. So how do we go about making others feel important? Should we greet them with an honorific? Should we flatter and seek to boost their egos? Should we curtsey?
Honorifics have their place and help to convey respect, certainly. A curtsey or bow is sometimes called for. Many interactions, however, will require neither of those. And flattery is insincere and therefore a waste. The key to making people feel important is simple: just listen.
Now, I didn’t say it would be easy. Most things described as “simple” are not “easy” because they require some kind of a change. “Simplification” is a process. If you’re not a good listener, all you can do is: try, try again. Practice, after all, makes perfect.
The thing about listening is, it’s active. This is another one of those concepts that took me a while to grasp – the very phrase seemed misleading. How can listening be active? We’re not talking; we’re not doing anything but sitting there and staring at the other person… but that’s wrong. When you are listening, it’s true that you shouldn’t be talking – that’s called interrupting, and is, as you probably learned in kindergarten, very rude – but you should be working to understand what the other person is saying.
One of the things that many of us “good communicators” do is prepare how we’re going to respond, while the other person is still talking. You want to be on your toes, right? You don’t want to seem like you can’t hold up your end of the conversation. Well, guess what? You’re doing it wrong. In Dale Carnegie’s iconic book “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” Isaac F. Marcosson, a celebrity journalist, is credited with saying that people fail to make a favorable impression because they don’t listen attentively: “They have been so much concerned with what they are going to say next that they do not keep their ears open”.
If you have a really hard time listening – for example perhaps you get bored and start planning your grocery list, or you start looking around the room instead of focusing on the person you’re conversing with – Mindtools.com offers this tip:
“Try repeating their words mentally as they say them – this will reinforce their message and help you stay focused.”
Here’s a bonus that comes with listening well: It makes you seem more interesting. Dale Carnegie says “To be interesting, be interested”. This is because people like talking about themselves and their ideas; if you give them a chance to do that, and you seem genuinely interested, they will, consequently, like you. So, hand-in-hand with being a good listener is encouragement.
Encourage others to talk about themselves and their interests. Ask questions (another component of active listening). Show some enthusiasm. Even if you aren’t totally on-board with what they’re saying – in fact, especially if you’re not totally on-board with it. Questions further communication; they open doors. Simply passing judgement by deciding that you’re not going to be interested is a door-closer. So you don’t like to talk about the types of submarines used in World War II – maybe you’ll learn something anyway. At the very least keep an open mind, and demonstrate that somehow. Don’t shut down emotionally – if you’re emotionally withdrawn, your physical presence won’t buy you a penny’s worth of dirt. You need to be actively participating by actively listening.
Really, making people feel important is as “simple” as following the Golden Rule. Don’t you want to be listened to? Don’t you want to feel that your thoughts, opinions, ideas and interests have value? Do you want to talk to someone who is looking around the room, fidgeting with their nails, making a mental “to-do” list? You have it in you to be a good listener – just think of how you would want someone to behave while you were talking, and do that. Simple. Right?
So 11/11/11 is coming up! What will it mean for you? There are several doomsday prophecies that tie this date to the supposed 12/21/12 end of the world/awakening. There’s also plenty of scientific information to debunk the prophecies. So, will 11/11/11 be a good day, or a bad day? Guess what? It’s going to be what you make of it.
Recently, a friend asked whether we should categorize the things that happen to us as “good” or “bad,” or if, taking a more Zen viewpoint, we should just say that things “are,” and move on. My feeling is that things are going to happen, and how we perceive a given situation is a matter of personal choice. Here is how I answered my friend: Whether something is “good” or “bad” is relative – and it’s important to remain focused on the positive. Every bad thing that happens can be a learning experience; if it’s something that causes grief or anger, it’s important to recognize those feelings and deal with them – not gloss over them with a “positive” paintbrush – but eventually, after the healing is done, if you have let yourself grow from that experience then it can be very good. It’s a matter of making a conscious decision, a choice, to always be learning and always be looking for the positive.
As Johnny Mercer said, even Jonah, trapped in the dark belly of the whale, knew: you gotta “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate” the positive, eliminate the negative, and don’t mess with Mr. In-Between.
The fact is, as pointed out in Everett T. Suter’s book, Succeed In Spite of Yourself, when we have a positive outlook on life, we “raise our sights to higher levels. We look beyond the lower need-levels” and are able to concentrate on achieving goals and building our future. Assuming, of course, that we have a future – let’s hope humanity doesn’t get wiped out anytime soon.
As for the doomsday prophets, they can take comfort in the wisdom of Keats: “Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true.”
I recently heard about a study conducted for Princeton University in 2010 by economist Angus Deaton and psychologist Daniel Kahneman, which indicates that a person’s level of happiness rises according to his salary, up to $75K/year. Once a person makes $75K, his salary no longer impacts his day-to-day happiness. According to Kelly Blair’s Time Magazine article about the study, “For people who earn that much or more, individual temperament and life circumstances have much more sway over their lightness of heart than money.” The concept that money does not buy happiness is familiar to all of us, though there are times, I am sure, when each of us has a hard time believing it. However, in general, we think about the people we love, or the beauty of a sunrise, and recognize that, no, we don’t need money to be happy.
That’s because money, in itself, is not a need. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a theory of motivation which tells us that we have multiple levels of need, with the lowest (but most urgently necessary to satisfy,) being biological (i.e. food/water,) and the highest being self-actualization/self-fulfillment. In Everett T. Suters’ book Succeed In Spite Of Yourself, the author uses Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs to point out that money is but a means to an end: “No one needs money. Money is only a satisfier of a need. I may be hungry (biological), deep in dept (need for security) and want to live in a better neighborhood (social or group acceptance). Money can satisfy these lower levels of need”.
What about the higher levels of need? How do we find self-confidence, a sense of achievement, and the pinnacle: self-actualization? If it has to do with individual temperament and life circumstances, as Kelly’s article suggests, then certainly we have some control. Now, I remember learning a lot about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in my Organizational Behavior class in grad school. My professor, Peter F. Sorensen, Jr., literally wrote the book on organizational behavior (along with some of his colleagues,) and according to that book, “Self-Actualization” is defined as: “Being all you can be, involving full use of creativity, personal and spiritual growth”. Hmmm… being all that you can be. Sounds like we’re talking about working from strengths, here.
There’s another widely used theory of motivation, based on Maslow’s Hierarchy. Herzberg’s “Motivation-Hygiene Theory” says that Maslow’s lower levels of need are “hygiene factors,” which from an employee-motivation standpoint are encompassed in the work environment but do not ultimately impact happiness, and that the upper two levels, ego and self-fulfillment, are motivating factors and have to do with the work itself. These motivating factors directly impact a person’s happiness.
According to Dr. Sorensen’s book, a central premise to Maslow’s Hierarchy is that “a satisfied need cannot serve as a source of motivation”. In other words, once you’ve got food and clothing and you’re safe and people like you, those factors cannot serve as motivation; so long as they remain fulfilled, they cannot impact happiness. So we know that, in order to motivate ourselves or others, we need to go beyond the basics; we need to surpass the happiness threshold attainable through money, and provide satisfying work that utilizes strengths and provides people with ongoing opportunity for success.
What happens once a person has achieved a healthy ego and finds her work fulfilling – does that mean she’s reached the peak of the needs heirarchy, and it’s all downhill? No. Because, according to Suters, success begets success.
Suters does a great job of defining success, breaking it down into twelve interdependent components, one of which is that “Success has an appetite which grows at the higher levels of need… at the high levels of need involving the need to feel important and the need for experiencing a sense of fulfillment, these appetites are almost insatiable”.
Therefore, the more success you achieve, the more success you need – it is a need which cannot be satisfied. Thus, success has an ongoing impact on happiness, and serves as its own source of motivation. If you are being all that you can be – being true to your authentic self and building a life, a career, a team or a company based on strengths – you will experience a constant replenishment of self-confidence and self-actualization, unhindered by a happiness threshold that maxes out at any dollar amount.
“To find a career to which you are adapted by nature, and then to work hard at it, is about as near to a formula for success and happiness as the world provides… Then hard work is not hard work at all.” (Mark Sullivan)
If you are considering a new career venture, or if you don’t love what you do for a living/don’t feel like you’re very good at it, or if you’re feeling generally unfulfilled by your career, then it will be very helpful for you to do two things: identify your strengths, and find your hedgehog.
First, to find your strengths. Lyn Christian of Soul Salt Coaching, together with Harry Nelson, founded a program called Headtrip Audio Magazine and produced a fantastic package of these programs on CD, called the Entrepreneur’s Starter Kit. The CD’s give a lot of great advice, among which is to read Jim Collins‘ book, Good to Great, and find your hedgehog concept.
Now, I’m not digressing, I promise. I am talking about first finding your strengths, and then finding your hedgehog; but I found my strengths only because I knew I needed to look for my hedgehog. In one of the editions of Headtrip Audio, Lyn interviewed a coach named Wade Lindstrom, Director of Coaching at PEI, and Wade suggested that you start the process of finding your hedgehog by making some lists, one of which is: stuff that you’re really good at. Well, Wade and Lyn agreed (and I do, too,) that you might not know what you’re good at. Peter Drucker said “Most people think they know what they are good at. They are usually wrong… And yet, a person can perform only from strength.” In my quest for answers, I discovered the StrengthsFinder 2.0 and I fell in love.
The StrengthsFinder tool is so simple to use, so intuitive, so revealing and affirming, that I firmly believe that everyone could benefit from it. When you purchase the StrengthsFinder 2.0 book, you get a code, which you use to take the StrengthsFinder 2.0 quiz. If, like me, you are too impatient to wait for your hardcover book to arrive in the mail, or to wait till you can get to your local bookstore, then buy the e-book and your code will be emailed to you. Then take the quiz, and you will discover your top five Strengths. As each strength is revealed to you, so is an action plan for capitalizing on that strength. Additionally, you get tips on who will be the best types of people to connect with–people with strengths complementary to yours–so that you can both achieve maximum potential.
If you are feeling disengaged at work, or like you are always told to focus on “fixing” your weaknesses, or like you have great ideas but no opportunity to put them into action, it may well be because you are not working from your strengths. If you are feeling like a misfit, a square peg in a round hole, it’s probably because you are… not working from your strengths. Take the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment, and your wheels will start to turn.
My own top five strengths are Futuristic, Strategic, Competitive, Input & Leaner. When I first read the descriptions for each of these, I was underlining sentences and writing “Yes!” in the margins – the descriptions were that spot-on. Finally I felt like I had a firm grasp on the first part of my hedgehog concept, which is figuring out what you’re good at.
Now, the hedgehogs. Jim Collins defined the hedgehog concept, basically, as being something at which you are really passionate, something at which you are really really good, and something that people will pay money for. A Venn diagram, like the one accompanying this post, helps to illustrate this.
It can be daunting, but if you take the time to thoroughly, honestly examine your talents & your passions, and think about how you could use those attributes to provide something of value to the world, you will find your hedgehog; you may even find more than one.