Tuesday, March 6, 2012

i-TFTD #356: Be Strongly Curious

On Curiosity
-Ivone (Rochelle)

If you were asked what was your greatest strength, what would you reply? In the case of John F. Kennedy, he said "My curiosity." Now, that's an answer you wouldn't expect. And then there's Albert Einstein protesting, "I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious." And even Eleanor Roosevelt said, "I think, at a child's birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity."

What's so great about curiosity? Actually, it's something we humans share with the entire animal kingdom. It's a necessary urge to find out about our environment, find food, to survive. But for humans, it's so much more. Curiosity leads you to explore new ways of doing things, solve problems, and investigate possibilities. It keeps the sense of wonder that you had as a child alive. When your curiosity is keen, you can grow and expand your life to fit your dreams.

Here's a fun exercise for you to try to show you what I mean. The next time you are faced with a problem or challenge, start off with the words "What if... ." Then allow yourself to think of the most absurd, unlikely, "way out" solutions you can. This helps you to think outside that proverbial box. And you just might surprise yourself by what you come up with!

To add more words to your curiosity arsenal, here's a poetic reminder from Rudyard Kipling:

I have six honest serving men
They taught me all I knew.
I call them Why and When and Where
And How and What and Who.

And don't worry that "Curiosity killed the cat…" Remember the rest of that proverb – "...but satisfaction brought him back"!

(Thanks to Prasad Pejawar for sharing this.)

Curiosity is exercised by asking questions, an underrated ability highlighted more than once in i-TFTD. Curiosity, by definition, can only be towards things I don't know. The advice above related to finding out-of-the-box solutions is to have curiosity towards things I might not have thought of or liked to consider.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

i-TFTD #355: Leadership Begins with Belief in Becoming

#355-1. Impatient leaders say let's do something. Wise leaders say, Let's become something.
-Dan Rockwell at leadershipfreak.com

#355-2. The first follower is actually an underestimated form of leadership in itself. The first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader.
-Derek Sivers (1969-) founder of CD Baby (His TED videos are here.)

#355-3. It's one of the characteristics of a leader that he not doubt for one moment the capacity of the people he's leading to realize whatever he's dreaming.
-Benjamin Zander (1939-), American music conductor from the UK (I like his brilliantly delightful TED video.)

Doing is about execution and is receiving a lot of attention ever since Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan published their book on the topic. This emphasis was a much needed correction to management literature with its rich repertoire of strategic thinking frameworks and conceptual models. However, in the real world of action-oriented business managers, many situations call for inspiring teams with a vision that transforms the team and the organization rather than merely motivating them to perform goal-oriented tasks.

A leader, by definition, cannot exist without followers. Authority and position vested by the organizational hierarchy is inadequate to be seen as a true leader of people. No one is always a leader in every situation nor is anyone always a follower. The positive belief of the leader in the team transmits to the team and gradually develops into a mutually trusting and enriching collective force.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

i-TFTD #354: An Exercise in Perspective

#354-1. Who breaks the thread, the one who pulls, the one who holds on?
-James Richardson, poet, professor (b. 1950)

#354-2. When the oak is felled the whole forest echoes with its fall, but a hundred acorns are sown in silence by an unnoticed breeze.
-Thomas Carlyle, historian and essayist (1795-1881)

#354-3. We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves.
-Francois, duc de La Rochefoucauld, moralist (1613-1680)

I find these very profound. Each has multiple reminders that could be extracted.

From the first:
-Depending on the situation, the one holding on could be more blameworthy
-In some situations holding on (or pulling) is simply the only right thing to do, regardless of what the other does
-Many top leaders in politics and business are experts at brinkmanship, holding on or pulling beyond what a reasonable person would be expected to
-Breaking the thread might be a good thing so we are not necessarily talking of blame but credit. Could we think of real examples of those who "hold on" in order to induce change?

From the second:
-Many good things are all around us, we tend to pay too much attention to the negative
-For every calamity there are many more positive possibilities opening up
-Creation and creativity often emerges out of destruction
-Nature always finds a way (as observed by Malcolm the mathematician character in "Jurassic Park" by Michael Crichton)
-The first thing that occurred to me when I read this is that I would like to be like the unnoticed breeze.

Useful interpretations from the third one are left--as the cliché goes--"as an exercise for the reader".

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

i-TFTD #353: Award o'Scar

#353-1. The art of life is to know how to enjoy a little and to endure much.
-William Hazlitt, essayist (1778-1830)

#353-2. When mind is WEAK, situation is a PROBLEM.
When mind is BALANCED, situation is a CHALLENGE.
When mind is STRONG, situation becomes OPPORTUNITY.

(Thanks to Ambarish Kulkarni for sharing this.)

#353-3. There is something beautiful about all scars of whatever nature. A scar means the hurt is over, the wound is closed and healed, done with.
-Harry Crews, novelist and playwright (b. 1935)

The perspective shift involved in changing a scar from ugly reminder to a symbol of closure and hope requires a plasticity of thought that is different from fickle-mindedness. Rigidity is often confused as a sign of strength but in a fast-changing world with unlimited information, the strongest are those who know how to dynamically balance confidence with openness to opportunity, and how to alternate between input-gathering and synthesis.

Endurance of the inevitable need not be the opposite of enjoyment if one can abstract oneself to a meta level. Endurance also connotes exertion of effort, without which true enjoyment is unattainable.

A scar, then, may be an award for past endurance?

Now sing along with me (same seven syllable structure as the nursery rhyme):

Twinkle, twinkle, little scar
What a sign of hope you are
Strong minds can shift perspective
Simple thoughts to gaily live!

Friday, January 20, 2012

i-TFTD #352: Leadership Speaks

#352-1. When Cicero spoke, people marveled. When Caesar spoke, people marched.
-Cato the younger, Roman politician

#352-2. Leadership is not simply speech, it is speech that makes people march. Good judgment without action is worthless.
-Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis in their 2007 book, "Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls"

#352-3. We've already moved from management to leadership--and we're about to go beyond leadership to inspiration.
-Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide
Most of us either underrate or overrate the importance of speaking ability. Leadership is influence and what we say, how we say, when we say and what we do not say influences those around us including our subordinates. Inspiration can also occur through one's action (without speech), often in the context of "leading from the front".

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

i-TFTD #351: Flow with Talent

#351-1. The kind of leadership my dad learned in World War II—where the leader makes all the decisions and tells everybody else what to do—that's the flaw in organizations.
-Scott Cook, founder and chairman of financial software maker Intuit (1952-)

#351-2. We can build organizations that are far more adaptable, far more inspiring places to work, far more innovative than anything we've seen so far. But there's a huge ideological challenge in doing that, because inside most huge organizations is a bureaucratic caste that believes it's their role to make decisions.
-Gary Hamel, management thinker and author

#351-3. Today, talented people need organizations less than organizations need talented people.
-Daniel Pink, author of many books including "A Whole New Mind" and "Drive"

Leaders at all levels are struggling with a dilemma on how they should approach their role: should they base it on what they have observed leaders do in the past, or, should they go with what they intuitively sense is today's expectation? Should they go the whole hog on participative, inclusive, diversity-celebrating, empowering decision-making or are there decisions they need to weigh in on with their knowledge, experience, judgment and vantage point in the organization?

And amidst the agonies of making and fine-tuning such stylistic choices, leaders know that the talent pool they have is the critical foundation on which business success is achieved. Talented people today have multiple and overlapping options for their careers. Have you noticed how many full-time employees leave their jobs in large corporations with its associated perks and then come back to do more or less the same job as a contractor? I know many women who have taken a break in their careers, started their own ventures, went back to jobs and interspersed with freelancing stints.

The biggest challenge to help leaders perform effectively in such an environment is for HR decision makers. Some textbook-throwing is called for, methinks.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

i-TFTD #350: Rules About Rules

#350-1. Pedantry and mastery are opposite attitudes toward rules. To apply a rule to the letter, rigidly, unquestioningly, in cases where it fits and in cases where it does not fit, is pedantry. To apply a rule with natural ease, with judgment, noticing the cases where it fits, and without ever letting the words of the rule obscure the purpose of the action or the opportunities of the situation, is mastery.
-George Polya, mathematician (1887-1985)

#350-2. Sure, we need rules, but remember that every rule removes a choice, and choice is the fuel for learning.
-@mwbuckingham (Marcus Buckingham, strengths guru on Twitter)

#350-3. Rules without relationship equals rebellion.
-attributed to many authors but mostly to Andy Stanley, pastor (1958-) and Joslin McDowell, Christian evangelist and writer (1939-)

Rules such as those codified in law are the foundation of civilization and society but it is more interesting to think about some other types of rules: assumed rules, outdated rules whose intent has become irrelevant and self-imposed rules. When our behavior is guided by unexamined rules, we find it difficult to adopt innovation and change. When we impose rules on others without building a platform of relationship and trust, we encounter resistance. Explaining the objective behind setting a rule is a necessary first step but logic alone does not suffice to convince others.

Breaking rules is a natural and essential part of growing up, of innovating, of bringing out the best of human potential. Ignorance about rules can occasionally help in generating original ideas but it is more often used as an excuse—and rarely accepted. Consistently successful rule-breakers first endeavor to know and understand rules before deciding which ones to break in which situation. When done well, this leads to new, better rules that achieve common good. Some have formulated this as a rule: Know the rules before breaking them!