The Pyramid of Perspective

How many times have you gotten sucked into the stress of someone else’s timeline or making sure the details of the steps were exactly right? This occurs on teams and in leadership daily, and perspective gets lost. One of the most effective ways to channel the brilliance of your team while grounding it to something solid is to continually give them perspective on their process.  Think of it like a Pyramid of Perspective

So, where’s your vantage point?  Each of the levels on this pyramid represent different viewpoints of perspective.  In the way that you lead and communicate, you can come from any of the levels of the pyramid, each one coloring your message and influence differently.  The deeper you go on the pyramid, the more foundation of grounded perspective you bring to the team.  As a leader, you’ve got some choices…

WHEN- Coming from this place, you’re concerned with time (usually never enough), the schedule and the deliverable deadlines.  For a competitive team, When is an important and effective driver for them to get to their results and come together before another team beats them to it.  High achievers often do their best work under pressure, so time and an impending constraint of When can bring out their best. As a leader, it’s important that you leverage that as a motivator without becoming the watch-checker. If you cross that line to become overly concerned with time, your team can dismiss you as valuing time over content or process quality.

• Build and show timelines to give your team a sense of how their process will play out in concrete terms, and give them a sense of “we are here” on the map.

• Adjust the timeline as you go, making space for their emergent process as they collaborate.

• Strategically, use time and deliverables to create urgency when needed. Deadlines spur action.

HOW- Here, the focus is on the process, the steps and the way we get there. If you’ve got a team of individuals coming from successful yet diverse disciplines and experiences, the How will be important to them. They can get stuck on How your team is approaching the work, attached to a particular process to achieve results from their previous world. I’ve seen potentially brilliant teams crumble because they couldn’t get aligned on process.  How your team goes about its impressive disruption is ultimately your call as the leader. It’s critical, because How your team does its magic may be the very thing that sets you apart from your competitors and defines your brand. Yet if you’re overly skewed on form and checking off every box just so, they’ll feel micromanaged and stifled, without enough creativity.

• Direct the approach, honoring and incorporating their expertise, then getting their buy-in on why X is the best way for the team. As the leader, be the keeper of the process.

• Get alignment on it early, check in and adjust course often, looking to make sure the How is tapping their talent consistently and providing a way for it to manifest in great work.

WHAT- This is the outcome or result you’re going for. Achievers and concrete thinkers on your team will always need this to be as clear as possible. If it’s not, they’ll each come to the team’s work with their own interpretation of What you’re trying to accomplish, which can be problematic when they clash with one another. While they each may hold their own important piece in the puzzle, they all need to be working toward the same picture on the box lid to guide them together. Clear focus on the What elevates the team’s dynamic and conversation to a common goal and a reason to rally in collaboration. The more vividly they’re able to envision the outcome they’re going for, the more they’ll be pulled to it, causing the How and When to fall into place to make it happen.

• Get What your team is going for- the change you’re trying to impact- clear and concrete.

• Have the team articulate the goal, get it visually up on the wall of your workspaces, and keep reiterating it for them.

• If the result you’re going for is ambiguous, then set shorter term What milestones along the course for them to focus on and hit.

WHY- All the layers of the pyramid are key in keeping your team and the work focused on the right things at the right times. And Why is is the one that makes the difference between managing and really leading people. The Why both trumps and grounds everything above it on that pyramid, because it gets to the heart of motivation.  This could be what brought them all onboard with you in the first place- a mission to ________ (fill in accordingly). It’s their cause, their call, their drive to do the work and push through to the other side. It brings it all back to purpose which is energizing, clarifying and even calming.  For you as the leader, getting the Team Why clear and articulated is the most important thing of all, after which everything else (What, How and When) is about execution.  This is the conviction that makes the game matter, and the impact of their efforts bigger in the world. It’s what engages these individual brilliant people on your team, bringing their separate Whys and visions of what’s possible in the world to this work together.

• As a leader of disruption, you see the layers of Why to the work. Sort and prioritize them, then keep bringing it back to focus for your team.

Lead your team with the Why. Tell the Why. Ask the Why. Every time, every conversation, every day.

• Open with the Why, then layer the What, How and When on top.

 

THE BIG WHY- The deepest level of individual personal drive we all have is our Big Why… why we’re doing this in the great scheme of life. This is our biggest game, truest purpose, greatest good and what gets us out of bed in the morning.

Steve Jobs: “To make a dent in the universe.”

As a leader, get clear about yours. Once you do, it will come through as the passion that fuels everything else you do, and will serve as inspiration for every person you lead.

You also need to get  … their individual Big Whys. Once you know their WHY, it can be very powerful, giving you a way to frame communication with them- an entrance into their world at any moment.  When they’re in need of motivation, acknowledgment or perspective, you can frame it in the most meaningful way for what matters most to them.  Their why is their buy-in, and your why can be their inspiration.

Once you’re grounded in this deepest, most stable part of the pyramid, the others- WHAT, HOW, and WHEN are easy to reference and command as needed, because they’re truly held in perspective of the biggest Why.

• If you don’t already know them, find the Big Whys for each on your core team… by asking them!  While this is getting to what’s most essential to people’s core, many don’t talk much about it or even think of it consciously to the level of easy articulation. Getting them to unearth it will help them get more passionate about what their doing, and help you to lead them more accurately.

• As you ask, know that these questions are the kind that may require people to search a little internally for if they haven’t already clarified it for themselves. Give them space to think about it and then ask in layers…

You may ask them, “So why do you do this?”

They may say, “because I’m intrigued by X kinds of challenges,” or some other such practical but not meaningful answer.

You then follow up simply with, “Why are these kinds of challenges intriguing to you?”

They might answer, “Because I really care about X…”

You probe, “Why do you care so much about X?”

…until you’ve asked five levels into their Why. Think of it as helping them peel the layers back on the onion of their Big Why, getting down to their most fundamental Big Why beneath.

As you lead and manage every day, the art of it is to keep perspective for yourself and your team. When, How, What, Why are each important in different ways,  can demand its own hyper focus, and can become consuming if you’re not careful.   Picture yourself as standing at any level on the pyramid, grounded at that level,  easily able to reach every level above it. If you’re standing all the way up in When, you can’t even see, let alone reach the others below you. The deeper you go on the pyramid, the better your perspective is, allowing each of the other levels to fall into place. Standing and starting with Why, you can layer, reference, tap and pull from What, How and When easily, without getting sucked in to them and losing your vantage point.

Your perspective colors how you choose, lead and relate… so keep yourself grounded.

©SarahSinger&Co. 2013

More Space Than You Think

Everyone needs space, whether they know it or not. 

To think, to feel, to connect the dots… to be.  It doesn’t take very many clicks on Google or tweets in your feed to find someone’s take on the busy-ness and overstimulation of our lives and how to either maximize or manage it. Every day there are more options to get more input- through every medium, device and airwave possible.  If you’re not getting enough- well, that’s for another day. Most of us have no shortage of people around us all the time, either.  Whether you’re actually connecting with them in a meaningful way is something else to examine another time, to be sure. Meanwhile- there they are around you, pulling your attention. Despite where you fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum and how energized by people you are or not, you also need space and process to work through all that’s in your head, by yourself.

The challenge with all that input, all those people and the stimulation they’re giving you is that it’s not all going to turn itself off- it’ll keep coming, and it’s up to you to purposefully find some quiet space for yourself anyhow. Easier said than done. And why should we, right? How can learning or exploring more or connecting more be bad, right? I’m the biggest advocate there is for true, meaningful connection between people and creating more of it. Yet this is different…that constant buzz around you- can become an easy, justifiable addiction. It also can keep us from getting to true, pure personal clarity.

Yes- some people like to talk their way through ideas, learn with others and get big insights in a group. I’m a huge fan of team brainstorming and collaborative thinking, yet know that it only works well when balanced with solo time.

Most of my impact with people as their coach comes from something fairly simple, yet elusive for most… getting a vantage point or perspective on oneself, which brings clarity of a certain kind. I help people do that in lots of ways, yet one of the most powerful is just in creating clear space for someone to process their own experience- without an agenda or task other than  thinking/feeling through what’s there. It’s amazing to see how every time, insight and clarity into oneself, another or a situation occurs just with some space in which it can. While I love coaching and facilitating this process for people, you don’t need me or a coach to do it…

One of the most important differences between child and adult learners is when their big a-ha’s occur in learning. For kids, it happens right in the moment of learning (why they’re so much fun to teach), while adults have their a-has in reflection afterward.

Letting it marinate. Process time. When we don’t create space for this to occur, it all backs up in your head like your computer when it’s been running with all its applications open for too long.  At best it makes everything else run slower (like your thinking) and at worst, it’ll eventually crash (you know what this looks like for you)- neither good. As with all your devices, you’ve got to shut it all down and reboot to run clear and fast.

There are many ways to do this, and I challenge you to actually create some deliberate space in which you can just process and let your mind connect the dots- even for a brief reset. While of course vacations, daily meditation practices and retreats are great and healthy, THIS can be effective with even just 5 minutes at a time.  Do what appeals to you…

  • Get out. Go for a walk, jog or run by yourself, without music  (and in a way that you don’t have to be preoccupied with breath or body)
  • Just sit and look at something in nature (outside is best)
  • Get some window time- for just looking and thinking.  My personal favorites are airplane windows.
  • Journal. Whatever’s in your head, just capture in writing. It doesn’t have to be linear or fit a certain template. Mindmap, free-associate. To start…
  • Draw. Not as a way to entertain yourself during something else (meeting, class, etc.) but as a way to empty out your head.
  • Meditate right where you are. This can be formal or informal, the practice of clearing the mind.

Give yourself some real space like this, and you’ll notice a difference- guaranteed.  You’ll get some connections you otherwise wouldn’t.  You’ll create ideas that would’ve taken many more iterations to reach. You’ll solve questions you’ve struggled with for too long. With some practice, you’ll get some much-needed perspective on yourself, your questions and your answers.

And then there’s the space you don’t have to find or create, because you already have it. Built into your day, simply notice the several-moment windows you already have, and claim them as your own. Here are the easiest top three…

  • Walk time.  Instead of talking on your phone or checking your screen as you walk, actually just think, eyes up and around. Even take the long route to your destination to give yourself a little extra process time.
  • Shower time. There are fewer things more consistent or calming than warm water pounding down on you, creating a space between you and the rest of the world. Take advantage of that time to intentionally breathe the steam deeply and let your mind go.
  • Drive/ride time. Rather than listen to your headphones/radio or talk on the phone, actually take the solo time you spend in the car/train/bike to just take in the landscape and listen to your own thoughts.

Fair warning- if you’re not accustomed to solo think time or creating that space for yourself, know that it might take some adapting to just learn how to be with your own thoughts, alone. If you’re averse to the idea, there might be some anxiety about what might come up in that space. That time to just be with your own thoughts can bubble up layers of feeling and insight you didn’t even know you had. This is where the clarity, the layers, the pulls on your energy are waiting for the space to get up and out…

It’s also where you get to work it all through, get to the best a-ha’s and finally get some peace in your quiet. 

©SarahSinger&Co. 2013

The Upside of Pressure

“With eight seconds left in overtime…” This line and the song that goes with it has been stuck in my head for weeks.  (Over My Head by The Fray)

“Just in time…” is how I recently described my coaching style.  Might even be the title of a new book I’m working on.

"The Art of the Timeout under Pressure" ...a misunderstood and underutilized coaching tool I've been talking with leaders a lot about lately. 

The Timeteller”...book by Mitch Albom, who I got to see and hear speak the other day, and left thinking about time, our infatuation with it, and its impact.

A pattern here, maybe?  While it’s telling of where my thinking has been, there’s also some bigger learning here to share about time, pressure, and what you’re doing with it.

Of course it came together with a recent coaching client, as I reoriented her to a breakthrough. Currently in between the high-stakes, high-pressure, all-consuming projects she normally leads… this high-performing, rising star of her firm is currently in a period of downtime, and presented with several internal “interesting,” ongoing initiatives within the firm which have been waiting.  While critical and the stuff of which the future of the firm will be built (like groundbreaking new business development), she’s just not fired up about taking it on.  She reached out to me because she’d like to move up to the next level of leadership in the firm, yet is feeling stuck with this current outlay of not-so-exciting initiatives to engage with and wanted direction.

I chuckled to myself at the irony-  a high-performing rising star, eager to move up and forward but wholly unmotivated by all there is to create around her, and unsure how to engage.

So… what happened?

Downtime.That golden time when things slow a bit, and you should theoretically get so much done in all those key areas you otherwise neglect when you’re slammed with other time-sensitive work… right?  These key areas are important; building-the-structure-and-system work, completing-the-growing-ideas work, writing-the-article-to-share-the-success work, mapping-the-course-forward-to-ensure-our-long-term-success work. When we’re slammed with getting deliverables out the door, we fantasize about having space to think about, let alone execute, these fundamentals.

And then… things slow down. The calm arrives. Except all that completion, creation and productivity we envisioned actually doesn’t happen, does it?

When the pressure cooker we’re used to (in which we regularly produce multiplied brilliance within a compressed time) cools off and we have clear space to create, complete, be deliberate and thoughtful… we’re less productive, less motivated and slower.  This happens, right? At least it does for some of us, including my client today.  Why?

Pressure vs not. For some of us, while we might even complain about it, the truth is that we feed on the pressure of… the glorious impending deadline.  Under it, the clock ticks down, pushing the best ideas to the top, the endorphins through our system and the rush of creativity to our thinking. The more we thrive on that pressure- the 11th hour before the presentation to create the very best insights and work and client deadlines to drive our process-  the more we need it to get to that endorphin-firing state of creative productivity.  That pressure keeps us driving, cranking and producing.  Yet it can also become a crutch we’re dependent on in order to produce.

For my rising star coachee, even the desire to excel wasn’t enough to generate the same spark.  I’ve been there, too.  As the pattern emerged today, I pinpointed the most important and deadly word in it all for her (describing the initiatives she had to engage with)- the very word we should all eliminate… ongoing.

Sometimes there’s nothing worse than something that goes on and on and on with no clear end.  It’s like a life sentence- ugh.  Our brains like clean beginnings and clean endings to things, lights at the end of tunnels, and yes… clear finish lines to cross.

Time is finite for a reason- it gives us both perspective and the push to get moving. Tick tock.

Messing with it...                                                                                                               
When we compress time (or someone/thing compresses it for us), performance goes up, because it doesn’t have a choice. Create it now, take your shot, or you lose the moment forever. Tick tock.

Some people naturally feed on this dynamic as fuel- knowing our best work happens under pressure, best ideas right before the deadline… maybe even in not starting until just before deadline, knowing it’ll just come.  Other people may not be inclined this way (and our apologies if you’re teamed with those who are), yet learn to adapt to it and learn how to generate under pressure. Some don’t, and the best thing for them is to identify it early on. I’ve coached many people out of roles, teams and jobs where cadence and pressure-response were just too mismatched in this way- misery for them.

For most, though- when we expand the time allotted, then the work and the process also expand to fill it. The urgency disappears and often the energy right along with it.  I have gone into lethargic, deadened team settings as a coach, simply compressed everyone’s time a bit, and noticed the energy and productivity come alive instantly, because deadlines spur action.

So… create the pressure where you need it.  The magic is when you can create it yourself rather than having to be dependent on (or at the mercy of) life, clients, teammates to put the pressure on. There is a way we need to set ourselves up to get moving and bring it. 

I said to our star…. “Leaders task themselves. They don’t wait until there’s the pressure of an expectant client or challenging leader or deadline- they CREATE them. Often from nothing. Take every “ongoing” initiative that’s been labeled and compress its time- give it a 10-day deadline to get to resolution, concept or deliverable. Then what might happen?”   She paused, then simply said, “Thank you.  That’s all I needed.  I’m on my way.”  She then went on to reset those firm initiatives with real time, tight deadlines, rallied and dove in.

Could it could really be that simple?  Just compress the time for yourself, create a deadline, and work within the constraints you’ve given yourself.                                           
If you’re working on your own, and need the pressure to kick you into gear, you may have tried setting arbitrary deadlines for yourself to get your brain to activate.  If you have amazing self-discipline in this arena, that’s probably working beautifully for you.  You give yourself little deadlines and force yourself to hit them.  And you do.  That’s awesome.  Yet sometimes it’s actually not that straightforward. For many reading this, I’m guessing that the results in the arena of “just set a deadline for yourself” have been inconsistent at best.  It may have worked the first time or so, but then didn’t anymore.  Here’s why…

• Deadlines and the pressure that goes with them have to be real, or they don’t work.  Your brain is too smart for fake deadlines.  It’ll skate out of it and go through its normal evasive pattern of avoidance until it has real pressure to push it into action.  There are a few ways to make it real…

• Get someone else to be accountable to. This could be someone you choose to whom you’ll deliver the finished product to by a certain time- who will hold you to it.  A team is even better. Just knowing that they’re expecting it, planning around it can kick you into gear. They will be your pressure.

• Create an event around it.                                                                                      
Beyond just people expecting something from you, create an actual happening around your deadline, so you’ve got something on which your performance will hinge.  A team meeting, a presentation, even a “let’s meet for coffee so I can show you…”  The impending event is great pressure- you’ll perform.

• Lead.                                                                                                                                  
This brings all of it together. One of my favorite parts of leading is being able to have others able to help execute great ideas. When I told my coachee today that “leaders task themselves” I was serious- leaders task themselves- often along with tasking others, and that’s why it works.  It’s a beautiful thing- an idea is born- you put it out there, and create a deadline for the team/organization to hit.  They’re fired up about the goal, you’re in it with them (to varying degrees), everyone performs and… it gets done.                                    
And if you’ve been paying attention… make that deadline short.

• Most importantly… Keep it in Perspective.                                                               
The one thing none of us want is pressure that goes toxic, and turns into unhealthy overwhelming stress. There’s good and bad stress- and that’s the bad kind.

Sometimes it’s about just getting perspective on it.  Specifically, keep checking your WHY in it all- that’s your reason for doing whatever it is in the first place.  It’s easy to get wrapped up instead with When (as in deadline pressure).  The Why is what gives it all a reason to be- your reason to care in the first place.  Find your Why in what you’re doing until it speaks to you.  Then come back to the When as your trigger to action- to get moving.

So- check your Why, get yourself set up for optimal push, and then…

Tick tock.

©SarahSinger&Co. 2012

Airways

It’s all about getting perspective.

This is most obvious to me in looking at the world through airplane windows for many continuous minutes on end, like the one in this picture, somewhere above the clouds between Ohio and California.

Sometimes the rhythm of a day or week or couple of months feels labored, like a sprint within a marathon… and at the same time fleeting- like “where did that month go?”  It’s a strange sensation in time, and unsettling.

I’ve found myself more and more saying things like, “How did it get to be July- wasn’t it just fall?” or (to one of my three quickly growing kids) “How did you get to be so big all of the sudden?”  These are the kinds of statements I used to hear adults say when I was little, and thought to myself how old and out of touch with reality they were.

I don’t think I’m that old or out of touch with reality- even proud that I’m not, yet…

Yet, one of the challenges for me is the balance of being completely present in the moment- with my work, my family or in those rare moments by myself- and keeping perspective on where it all fits (strategically or organically) in time and space and reality, then negotiating those tensions.

The #1 reason I’ve had for a long time for not doing most of the things I know I should in my life (from sleeping as much as I should to putting laundry away to creating baby photo albums for my now-big kids) and in my business (from getting an assistant to handling expense reports to training someone to teach my programs) has been that “I don’t have time.”

From clients, friends and family, I hear this reason of not enough time for not doing things, taking action or just taking a breath from people all the time, and I get it.  I do. 

Yet…

I’m realizing that it’s less about making time for things, and more about creating AIRWAYS.

I was in a coaching conversation recently with someone who was going that direction… “I don’t have time to…”  The description was one I understood well- feeling like it’s getting harder and harder to breathe because there’s no space in this current self-created reality to even do that- and I found myself coaching, “…exactly why you need to do it anyway- youneed to create an airway!”  It was one of those coaching moments I was proud of, because it connected… it was true for this person, and is true for me a lot of the time, too.  It opened up some possibility all the way around. Maybe for you, too?

In that sprint-within-the-marathon cadence of my life sometimes, the only way to get more air into my lungs is to go find it. Like someone crashing on an ER cart who can’t ask for the air because they can’t get enough of it to speak the words, I too often go into autopilot of shallow breathing stress without reaching out for an airway, and these are the very days and weeks I find myself missing in my perspective of time- hence, “How did it get to be July?”

So I’ve been on a personal campaign of finding my airways and using them consciously.  It’s interesting to note, that the more I seek them out and choose them, the more I use them unconsciously, too.

Some of my current airways:

Jumping on the trampoline, listening to a great song, singing in the band I don’t have time to be in, calling and talking to a loved long-distance friend for even five minutes, working out to that point when my brain shifts from physical work to release, writing like this, looking up at the sky or trees for several minutes, holding hands with my son, reading books with my girls, saying the words, “energy, easy,” making my husband or one of my kids laugh really hard, looking out an airplane window down at the Earth, working with teenagers despite any other work I'm doing, sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night to play the piano while everyone's sleeping, getting regular coaching myself, going on real dates with my husband, photographing nature, watching a TED talk, doing or creating or learning anything new.

I now understand that these things are not just bonus “nice-to-have-if-I-have-time-after-what-I really-need-to-get-done”, which is how I’ve always looked at them.  They’re actually essential for me to be complete, vital and the person I want to be. If I don’t have a good dose of them mixed into my daily life, everything else I do gets compromised- including my work, my impact, my patience, my ability to be present, my relationships and absolutely my perspective on it all.

So... what are your airways?

Hint: they're those things that fill you up every time, change your State in a great way, and leave your overall capacity for everything else you do better and bigger, breathing more fully (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually).

Find those airways, note them, then wedge them in. Especially when you don't have time. That's when they bring the most oxygen.

©SarahSinger&Co. 2010

Weeding My Brain

I actually love to weed.  Right after a big rain.  Even for five minutes, like I just did outside my office door.

The satisfaction that comes with pulling a giant weed out and getting the whole taproot at once is amazing.  It’s right up there with cracking open a crab’s leg and pulling all of the meat out in one piece, or tossing a grape into the air and actually catching it square in your mouth.

While I’m a person committed to challenge, big hairy projects to solve and change, intense feedback and keeping myself on a continuous learning curve, I also get that it has to be balanced by things in my life that are simple, visceral, concrete straightforward wins.  I’ve been known to disappear from a big intense question or a house full of unfinished projects for an hour outside of pulling weeds.  In that one hour, I can get so much that would take many hours in my office to accomplish…

Every square foot of earth I cover looks different than when I started- immediate feedback of concrete impact.

I soak up the saturated colors, smells and sounds of nature vs. the comparatively pale world inside- altered perspective on things.

I get completely out of my head full of thoughts and into my senses- smelling the dirt, feeling the resistance of the roots against my pull, watching the micro-world of the scurrying bugs among the plants- truly quieting the chatter in my head.

Quick wins, concrete impact, altered perspective, clearing one’s head.  The ultimate in State Change.

Where are your opportunities like these- 5 minute windows to step outside our normal path which can alter our reality, change our state enough to send us back into the game different, able to see new hues, catch new insights, tap different energy to make the difference?  Find them, seize them, use them as your fuel.

©SarahSinger&Co. 2010