Close Observation

One of the best things about coaching colleagues is the gift they give back; you’ve both had the chance to watch each other in action. There’s no better way to judge someone’s amazing talent than through a “live audition.” This gift of observation is precious when people make the time to talk about it. I experienced this recently – here’s what went down.

My colleague Khalid Raza is an emerging leader (aren’t we all, by the way?  We continue learning until we are dead!)  He’s working with intent (boy, does that speed up the process!) to understand, develop and communicate his strengths, improve his effectiveness, and navigate the ups and downs of success. He has hired me to be a guide along his strengths and self-leadership journey (which is also a blessing for me – it gives me the opportunity to do what I do best).

We spoke a few weeks ago and before we started talking about him, he asked about my new situation of working 3 days a week (it’s a challenge trying to do everything in 3 days that I used to do in 5!)  I don’t even remember how I answered the question, but whatever I said triggered something, and he interrupted me in mid-sentence (his Activator kicked in!)  He said, “Do you know what you do better than anyone else? You turn a negative into a positive and use it to your advantage.” 

I was stunned. I was so surprised by his observation (it is not one I would not have made of myself) that I said, “Wait a second, I have to write that down.”  I wanted to make sure that I captured it so I could process it later.  He went on to say that my ability to “maneuver the vantage point” was something he was struggling with. He listed a few examples of how he had seen me do this in some of the global initiatives we worked on.  He said I had been able to pacify people, get people to do their best even if they didn’t want to, and keep people engaged even when the technology failed us during global webinars.  When I heard him explain what he meant, I realized he was right.  Then we talked about how he might leverage his strengths and plan his own path to accomplish the same goal.

Afterwards, as I noodled over our conversation, I realized that Khalid’s observation was also reflected in how I responded to an executive who came down on me with a lot of force.  She may have felt that the global project that Khalid and had launched was trespassing on her territory. It wasn’t fun, but I did turn it into a positive and use it to my advantage – eventually.  It became one of those road signs that helped me realize that I was in the wrong place to achieve what I was put on this earth to do.  In the end, I saw it as a gift (though I’ve never managed to like it, nor do I believe she showed maturity or effective self-leadership).

When I look at Khalid’s observation through the lens of my strengths, this is where the picture becomes especially intriguing.  If you were to say to someone that they were able to turn a negative into a positive, wouldn’t you think they had the strength of Positivity?  Helping pacify people, doesn’t that sound like Harmony?  Getting people to do their best – that is something I am more familiar with – it’s my job as a success architect. But generating pacification and a “glass overflowing” point of view?  Me? Positivity is #24 for me.  Harmony is #32 (out of 34).  Not exactly my “strengths zone”, is it?

So, what is happening inside me?  What self-leadership motors are whirring away, fueled by my strengths?

Well, a couple of things.

  1. I’ve faced some hard times in my life, and there isn’t much that anyone can do to me that’s worse than what I’ve already been through. That reality helps me keep things in perspective.
  2.  Self-Assurance is in my top 10, so I’m relatively confident.  While being whacked by an authority figure might be discouraging and unpleasant, it isn’t the end of the world. And just because they hit hard doesn’t mean that their point of view is correct.   If I ultimately decide that the leader, instructor, or executive is not correct, or is exhibiting poor self-leadership, it becomes an example of how NOT to lead. I can pocket the experience as rocket fuel for my journey. I can observe it, but I won’t dwell on it, and I don’t let it undermine me.
  3. I get ideas from things that go wrong. A few years back, in a performance review, my manager said, “I don’t need more Maureen Monte’s on this team! I need more minions that will do some work!”  I learned what she valued – execution (which I am actually good at). Yet, in that role, my most powerful value proposition was building relationships with client executives.  She didn’t see it (we were an 80 person team that she managed from some 1,200 miles away). She could see bar charts or reports, but she couldn’t see me forging partnerships. Once I realized that building relationships with clients didn’t matter to her, I only showed her things that did (but I kept building those relationships and I still enjoy those friendships today – two and a half years out of that role.)

The above process highlights a simple truth:  I am at my best when I get to blend Ideation, Learner, Strategic, Individualization, Context, Achiever, and Maximizer. All of those strengths are at work as I “turn a negative into a positive and use it to my advantage.”   Using my strengths gives me energy, and with great gusto, I revise my plans. To others, it may appear that I’ve turned a negative into a positive, and leveraged it to my advantage. To me, it’s a course correction based on data and experience.

Thank you, Khalid, for making time to share your observations with me. I’ve revisited our conversation multiple times, which means it’s a gift that keeps on giving!  As a reminder, if you haven’t seen Khalid’s blog focused on social business, HR, and employee engagement, please do –  visit  http://khalidraza9.wordpress.com/  It is very good.

CALL TO ACTION:  Approach a colleague, close friend, or your manager and ask them what they observe as you go about your work.  Listen, and then do the same for them.

I’ll bet that you will discover your own shiny diamonds in the discussion!  Of course, enquiring minds always want to know what you’ve learned (the comment section below is free of charge!)  ;-)

Onward!

Maureen –Ideation ~ Strategic ~ Learner ~ Achiever ~ Individualization ~ Maximizer

8 thoughts on “Close Observation

  1. Great post, Maureen! A wonderfully introspective and insightful post. I, too, have found that others’ perspective on our behavior to be helpful. They see things that it seems should be obvious to us, but perhaps since we are so close to them, we miss them. I gave up counting the number of times you’ve shared something with me that was a ‘golden nugget’ that made me think, opened me, helped me see something more clearly – you gave me a beautiful flower to observe up closely. Lucky for me, many of those came in writing so I didn’t have to write them down, just print them off! Thank you for all the coaching you’ve given me as our friendship has blossomed. (The other day someone gave me a flower but at first I thought it was a weed – it took awhile for me to recognize the truth and beauty in it. Good old fashioned fear in action – showing up as resistance, defensiveness. And, yes, sometimes people do simply hand you weeds…)

    • HI Vicki! Wow, thank you for such kind remarks. And you know well how many times you have helped me (scripts like, “Tell me more!”) so like Khalid, ours is very much a two way street. I have laughed so hard that someone gave you a flower and you thought it was a weed! What a great parable for the perspective of reality vs value. It’s okay that it took a while – as you know, it is the JOURNEY that we remember. And you are right, some people do give us weeds (we’ll leave out the names to protect the guilty) so perhaps it’s time to start The Weed Collection Club. ;-) Support for the weary. Thank you again for coming out to play. Onward!

  2. What a lovely post Maureen, akin to the loveliness you exude all the time and inspire people around you, especially me. I was talking to few leaders around the culture of feedback in IBM and this story exemplifies the crux of it – ‘If we care to listen to people around us, we will find ourselves!’

    I am writing a blog on the same topic and your confession here has given me a perfect example to quote – only if you allow #wink.

    Others’ perspective on our behavior is the benchmark one should follow to see if we are effective. I may do a world of amazing things but if that is not effective, I am missing the bus and people around me, can provide the best account of it. So collect the flowers as Vicki says above, pick up weeds too, cos flowers die but weeds don’t. And the smartest ones, like you, trun weed into something beautiful.

    Cheers.

    • You make a great point, Khalid. I hear a lot about the culture of feedback. The problem is this: we don’t always understand or appreciate the very subtle nature of effective feedback, nor do we understand or know the people we are expected to provide feedback to. Sometimes corporations give feedback akin to “Do 10 pushups and everything will be fine!” when in reality, success requires external and internal effort. And each person’s journey is unique – you cannot lead/guide people without knowing them. Then when they speak about us or to us, we can indeed “find ourselves.” That’s a great OBSERVATION.

      Please do blog away, no winks even required! :-)

      Effectiveness is the key – knowing what works, when, and why. You nailed it.

      Flower Power – I think that’s from the 60’s, but perhaps they were on to something! Talk soon, my friend, thanks again for sharing.

  3. I haven’t yet been brave enough to ask for comments (Deliberative: I will get there), but I do notice intriguing things about other people sometimes.
    One of my former colleagues would make awful spelling mistakes when she was tired and in proof reading her work I could tell a lot about how she was feeling when she wrote – not from the content, but from the little errors.
    I noticed recently a colleague had left a lot of unclosed parentheses in a hurriedly put together draft document. I commented and we think that it might indicate unfinished thoughts so he is going to review those points to see if there is more in his head that needs to be captured there.
    I think I pick up clues from writing easier than I do from face-to-face interactions. I understand my dog, but people are too hard; you can say so much with a tail and expressive ears without being ambiguous.
    Often I notice things and am not brave enough to offer them, there needs to be a good level of trust before you can start to dig in to that sort of thing.

  4. Hi Hazel! Gosh, what a wonderful set of points you make! First of all, YES – trust is the currency of such conversation – that’s why I think that most feedback is ineffective. People who don’t know each other well are expected to “do something” for the other. So get to know someone, build trust, and THEN begin the two-way dialogue. I love that your noticing these things about your colleagues. I saw something written by a business partner that was full of grammar errors… wondered if I should reach out (I am a good editor) but like you said, if you don’t know one another well, it might be seen as an insult. :- ) I also like that you have narrowed your strengths set to writing – it’s okay that you don’t get the visual human cues – you have some good ones already using the written aspect of communication.

    I offer you a discussion on observing one another – it would be fun! (My tail is wagging for sure!) :-)

    • AWESOME! I look forward to that conversation (maybe next week?) and know that I’ll learn much from you – that is always the case. Thanks Hazel!

Leave a Reply