Cultivating and Using Curiosity

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When I started consulting seventeen years ago, I asked one of my mentors who was a very successful businessman to share with me what characteristics he felt made a successful consultant.  One of the qualities on the list was "intellectual curiosity: the ability to abstract".  While this is a critical aspect of being an effective consultant, we find it to be just as important to apply to being an impactful leader in any industry today.   
 
Signals of change are occurring all around us – sometimes in our industry and sometimes not.  Part of cultivating intellectual curiosity is preparing your mind to be observant.  It’s about being interested in what you are seeing in how clients/customers, employees, vendors, students, or people in general are interacting with or trying to interact with their environment in life or at work. To gain the most, it’s important not to limit your observations to your own bubble. Some of the key ways we can see beyond are: 

  • Look outside your industry and your situation. 
  • Pay attention to innovations, regardless of type or source, to explore new possibilities. 
  • Study work habits and communication of students or future generations of workers or customers. 
  • Explore emerging products or services in other markets or geographics. 

Evolving in how we work, serve, sell, or grow starts with cultivating intellectual curiosity personally and within our teams. But it doesn’t stop there. 

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What I find most interesting about my mentor’s note is that it’s not just about being curious (new ideas or interesting things you see, read, or experience) it’s also about what you do with it.  How do you take the next step to draw abstract value from the learning?  Once something draws your attention, take the next step to ask yourself  how it might impact your organization, industry, customers, and people. Better yet, challenge yourself to discover how positive change can be brought to your organization and beyond. It’s invigorating to explore the art of possibilities, even if it feels a little “out there”.  Some of the best ideas emerge when you collaboratively explore the space between what exists and imagining what’s possible.
 
Beyond leading by example by being intellectually curious and abstracting, great leaders also cultivate curiosity by creating a culture in which it can thrive.  They hire people who are curious. They inquire about the observations of others, regardless of level or role. They encourage and are open to thoughtful questions. They challenge assumptions and welcome others doing the same, and they recognize and reward curiosity.
 
To capitalize on opportunities to evolve, consider how you are leading by example to cultivate, use, and promote curiosity both within and outside your world.

The Importance of a Purpose-Driven Organization

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A significant change over the past few decades is the shift of employees looking for work that offers a solid pay check and stability to employees seeking meaningful work and purpose. While purpose and meaning has always been part of the equation, it is a much higher priority for team members now.  Beyond the importance of the organization’s purpose, employees also want to be able to see that their role in the organization is contributing to that purpose.  When employees can make a connection or have that line of sight, they find true meaning in their work. 

According to research conducted by Gallup, Inc., providing that line of sight makes a difference for the organization as well.  “When a company's mission or purpose makes employees feel their job is important, they are more likely to be engaged and, ultimately, to perform at higher levels. Business units in the top quartile of Gallup's engagement database on this element average from 5% to 15% higher profitability than bottom-quartile units.”

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As leaders and managers, regardless of our level or role in the organization, we have two obligations:

  • To know the organizational purpose – not just what we do, but why we do what we do.  What is our purpose? What difference do we make in the world?
  • To be able to help others around us, no matter what their role is, understand and connect to that purpose. What is the difference they make? How do they contribute?

If we are successful executing these obligations, there are multiple benefits. First and foremost, employees will be more engaged, which leads to greater energy, higher productivity and lower turnover. Second, the more employees find meaning in work, the stronger the organizational culture becomes and the ability to be resilient in times of change is greater.  Finally, both of the first two benefits can help raise the organization’s brand as a great place to work and attract talent. 

Be diligent in identifying and sharing your organizational purpose.  It can truly make a difference for everyone!

Cultivate Elastic Thinking to be "Future Relevant"

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In the business environment, change is constant and future readiness is essential. To compete and be ready, we must develop new knowledge and skills to stay current with globalization, new applications of technologies, and the rapid pace of innovation in business models and products/services.  However, to maintain relevance, we must also promote and engage in elastic thinking.

There are two types of thinking: analytic and elastic.  When we are faced with everyday obstacles – business or other challenges with which we have familiarity or even facts to which we can relate, our brains naturally resort to analytical thinking. Processing data points and drawing upon regular and pre-existing frameworks we have previously relied on to make decisions are the foundation of analytical thinking. Using your analytical or logical mind to solve the “normal stuff” is easy and feels natural.

The most effective way of thinking to deal with the complex, unexpected, or new challenges is elastic thinking. Elastic thinking emerges from the subconscious when the brain is in a relaxed and often unfocused state, or when it is out of its element.  It’s the level of thinking that unleashes innovation, creates new products or approaches, or identifies unique paths or niche markets. It is a powerful ally in the war for survival and sustainability that companies face.

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Elastic thinking can be cultivated through:

  1. Space and time: Creating space and stepping away from an issue can break focus and allow the subconscious mind to intervene.  This can be as simple as walking away for a short amount of time or scheduling “blue sky time” to free think or create. It can also occur by slowing the pace of a decision process and allowing for more contemplation or reflection.

  2. Reframing: Often reframing an issue by looking at it through a different lens or asking questions in a different way can create new possibilities. If the issue is internal, try looking at it through a customer’s point of view. If it is a customer complaint, flip it to see what a positive opportunity might lie within.

  3. OpennessIn certain cultures, new or different ideas or even hard questions are frowned upon, made light of, or met with rigidity of thought. All of these reactions can inhibit creativity and ultimately send a message to team members that it’s not worth exploring new ideas or innovation.  For elastic thinking to flourish, leaders have to have a willingness to hear it and stamp out cultural elements that are limiting.

To be competitive, to thrive, to be a disrupter and not the disrupted, are you changing how you think? Are you moving from analytical thinking to elastic thinking when needed and necessary?  

Elastic thinking is essential for any organization to be future ready and "future relevant".  Make sure you are both by setting an example for promoting and engaging in elastic thinking today.

The Best Leaders Know It's Not About Them

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One of the best pieces of feedback I ever received was, “It’s not about you, it’s about them.” It came when I was rehearsing for a workshop.  During my preparation, I was laser-focused on my performance – what I was doing and how it would be perceived. Was I making my points clearly enough? Was my body language right to emphasize key points? Was I coming across as an expert on the topic?

Unfortunately, my mindset and focus were all wrong.  In the practice run debrief, my coach reminded me that I could give the perfect presentation but completely miss the critical outcome: helping the participants learn and succeed!  I needed to put myself in their shoes, and if I did, my success as a presenter would naturally follow. She said simply, “Remember, it’s not about you. it’s about them.”
 
Over the years we at Archos Advisors have seen leaders fall into the same trap.  When it happens, leaders start to focus on their own attributes and how people view them in their role.  How do I come across? What do people think of me? What do I need to do next? How can I make sure people respect me?  While these things can be important, shifting the mindset and looking at leadership from a different point of view can enhance how leaders personally improve – in these areas and many more.  Remember, it’s not about you. It’s about your people.

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 In his book The Score Takes Care of Itself, Bill Walsh, former coach for the San Francisco 49ers, shares how wins come from daily steps and processes.  He also reinforces that leadership actions are an essential.  Walsh states, “Others follow you based on the quality of your actions rather than the magnitude of your declarations.”  To be the best leader, the focus should be on the quality of actions related to employees. Some of those include:

  • Ensuring employees have a line of sight and connection to the purpose and mission of the organization.
  • Helping employees understand expectations and navigate priorities.
  • Making sure employees know you care about them as individuals and recognize the unique value they bring.
  • Ensuring employees feel connected and part of the team.
  • Meeting employee needs for growth and development.
  • Removing barriers and knowing that if the team succeeds, you succeed!

What’s your mindset?  Is it people first? As leaders, each of us can be short-sided in our own growth if we don’t first value our people.  Putting a focus and priority on meeting their needs will naturally lead to being a better leader and success!

Are you Growing or Dying? 5 Key Ways to Grow and Develop

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Every day presents an opportunity for growth.  “Are you growing or dying?” It’s a question Coach Lou Holtz often asks during his presentations, and I’ve been very fortunate to see him speak several times.  Each time I am inspired by the personal examples he shares and his stories of how continuous growth propels success.  I am also challenged by that question:  Am I growing or dying?

Growth is a choice, yet, as the quote would infer, it is essential for “new life”. For leaders and employees alike, growth revolves around being open to new ideas, experiences, innovation, learning, feedback, new knowledge or skills, or something else that stretches you.  It’s an openness, an understanding that complacency is not an option and coasting can lead to stagnation.  Growth is recognizing that what is comfortable is often easy, but what is uncomfortable can lead to breakthroughs and new horizons.

So if you appreciate the importance of growth, how do you ensure at a practical level that members of your team are growing in a focused and productive way both individually and collectively? There are five key ways we grow and develop:

  1. Experiential Learning – Having learning opportunities while on the job and stretch assignments to promote skill building and new thinking.
  2. Feedback – Getting regular, timely, positive and developmental feedback that is given in tandem with the performance to ensure behavior change.
  3. Coaching – Receiving personalized performance coaching targeted to continued improvement and results within the role.
  4. Formal Training – Attending formal learning and development events to build competence and confidence in knowledge and skill sets.
  5. Self-Development – Proactively investing as an individual in personal development through reading, study, or other activities.
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These five keys to growth can be used as a screen to see how effective you are, your team is, or your organization is at prioritizing growth.  A true learning organization ensures that these five levers are in play to promote development at all levels. In addition, a company focusing on growth is attune to different learning styles and employs multiple methods for development.  These proactive efforts not only make a difference in performance, but also in engagement, both of which lead to greater employee and organizational success.

Choose to propel your success and your company’s success. Choose growth!

Two of the Most Important Questions You Should Ask When Starting a Change Process

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Organizations make decisions that create change every day, from structure, mergers, acquisitions, processes, technology, service models and methods, etc.  It is what comes after the decision to change that determines the difference between success and failure.  

To lay the foundation for success, start any change process with two questions:

1. From a business perspective, what specifically are you trying to achieve with the change (e.g., enhanced top line revenue, bottom line revenue, deeper relationships, expense control, quality, etc.)?  

The leader or the leadership team heading up the change must define and agree upon the desired business outcomes. As they move through the change, these outcomes will be used to assess progress, and in the end, they will serve as the measurement of the ROI.

2. What percentage of these outcomes depend on people changing behaviors or actions as a part of their job?

To answer this question, we must first identify the impacted people or groups – anyone impacted by the change in any way. Second, consider what the individuals will have to change and how that relates to the desired outcomes.  What happens if no one changes or very few do?  

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The answer to #1 provides the context – the WHY.  Why are the change being made? If you can’t answer #1, it’s not clear, or leadership is not committed, stop right there. If the reason why a change is being made cannot be articulated, save any further time and effort until it can be defined.

If the "why" is clear, then #2 is critical.  If the change is one where business outcomes are highly dependent on people changing behavior (i.e., 60, 80, 100%), then consideration of how to implement intentional change management must be made.

Change management proactively addresses the people side of the change, helping people move from the current state, through a transition state, to the desired future state. It includes applying a scientific approach to the psychology involved in change.  When coupled with project management (i.e., technical processes, project charter, timelines, budget, resources, etc.), change management promotes higher realization of business outcomes.  

The next time you are embarking on an organizational change, set yourself up for success.  Ask these two questions, and use the answers to guide to your strategy.  If you do, you will have a solid foundation for change, and it’s much more likely that you will achieve your desired results.

Handling Adversity

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We’ve all heard the old adage “Life is 10% of what happens to you, and 90% of how you react!” That is especially true for leaders in times of challenge.  When things don’t go well and we experience lost clients/customers, budget overruns, turnover, bad PR, negative customer or employee feedback, slow sales or other adversity, how we react can make all the difference.  Leaders not only need mental strength to personally handle a challenge, they also need it to serve as a role model. Their reactions and behaviors will be noticed by others.  Thus, a leader’s reaction to adversity can have a significant cascading affect – positive or negative – which is why being skilled in this area of leadership is so important.


Handling adversity effectively starts with a candid, self-awareness of how you immediately react in challenging situations (e.g., when you or the company get criticized, fail, fall short of expectations, experience resistance to ideas, have conflict with others, etc.). Do you get emotional? Do you take things personally or internalize them? Are you defensive?  Second, you must understand how you are impacting others. To get additional data and gain perspective, ask for feedback from peers or team members on their perception of how you handle adverse situations. What do you project? What do they see or hear from you?  Finally, it helps to consider your mindset or the “way you think” about adversity.  Do you cringe at the thought of it? Do you avoid dealing with it or try to have others take care of it, or do you feel compelled to step up to own it?  

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Those leaders with innate managerial talent “lean in” to adversity and find ways to overcome it.  They take challenges or obstacles head-on, take action to remove barriers, and promote forward movement. They recognize these situations sometimes require compromise, creative solutions, and working with others, not against them.  In addition, true leaders recognize the need to take charge of a significant factor that is within their control – their own reaction.  That control comes from a strong, positive mindset (i.e., understanding that adversity is normal and is quite often a growth opportunity) and a desire to minimize the potential negative impact on their team or others.


We all face adversity in our careers and our lives. Our success and the success of our team depends on how we address it to overcome it.  The next time you experience adversity, what will you do to “lean in” to it in a positive way?  

When Winning Overshadows Performance

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Mike Krzyzewski, head basketball coach at Duke University, is known to be a great leader, demanding coach, and a stickler for performance.  One of his quotes that resonates in both sports and business is “When you win, sometimes it overshadows a poor performance.”


Today, I see companies face this challenge, perhaps without even realizing it.  There are companies who strive to be a best place to work or employer of choice; thus, they put a huge focus on employees, creating a “win” culturally.  They are attracting and retaining employees and people are happy, which is critically important.  However, some of these firms are experiencing poor performance. They aren’t growing or aren’t as successful as desired financially, and they wonder why.


Companies that focus on creating a great culture without holding people accountable or aiming at performance miss the mark.  Don’t get me wrong, building a positive culture is essential to success, but if it lacks the context of performance, potentially the only “win” is having a happy place to work.

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Performance is about delivering, whether it be on goals, on quality, on customer engagement, with excellence on the required results (financial or other).  When you are a performer, it’s about owning these outcomes and being accountable.  When you are a manager, it’s about how you are helping your employees leverage their strengths, enhancing their engagement, and holding people accountable with a performance-orientation. When you are a leader, it’s about creating a great place to work AND fostering high-performance.


You can win through culture initiatives, but you can only achieve your best as an organization if you integrate a focus on performance.  One without the other limits potential.  How effectively are you doing both in your organization?

Unlocking and Unleashing Strengths

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One of our Archos team members, Tom Porter, often says, “You do best what you like to do best!”, and the research on strengths proves he is right.  So, why don’t managers and employers take advantage of innate talents or strengths? The data is actually quite surprising on how often they don’t.  Gallup’s research has found that only 20% of US Workers feel their jobs use their talents.  In other words, 80% do not feel like they have the opportunity to do what they do best! What companies don’t realize, however, is the potential and financial impact being “left on the table”.

According to Gallup, strength is "the ability to consistently produce a positive outcome through near-perfect performance in a specific task." Employers who focus on strengths generate greater profitability and experience less turnover.  Those financial impacts come from improved results and an enhanced employee experience.  Employees whose managers allow them to use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged and 8% more productive.  Beyond the individual, teams who have managers that focus on strengths every day are 12.5% more productive!

As you can see, managers have a major impact on how employee strengths are leveraged. Too often, managers fall into the trap of being more “task-focused” – getting the work done or meeting a deadline – than “performance-focused”. Those two may sound like the same thing, but they are not.  Being performance-focused not only takes into consideration the task, but it also takes into consideration the human nature that is inherently part of work.

To help organizations and people achieve their greatest potential, leaders and managers must understand and influence behavioral economics (i.e., “the mathematical description of the role human nature plays in just about…everything” Jim Clifton, CEO, Gallup).  Strengths and how people use them is one of the key factors in the behavioral economic equation that drives performance.  So, how does a manager unlock that part of the equation and translate the awareness of strengths behavioral economics into their day-to-day actions?  

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A manager must adopt a strengths-based approach that includes:

  • Understanding and investing in their own talents. Strengths-based development starts with the leader or manager.  By becoming aware of your own talents and investing in them to develop strengths, you will put yourself and your team in the best position to achieve success.
  • Identifying and understanding team member talents. Whether it is done using an assessment or informally, managers must prioritize inventorying the talents they have on their team and contemplating how those fit with team roles or elsewhere in the organization.
  • Support team members in turning talents into strengths. Investing in talents means providing space for team members to use them at work, assigning team members to activities that enhance and develop their innate talent, and providing positive reinforcement through feedback and observations when strengths are being applied.

By doing these three things regularly and consistently, managers will start to make a difference, employees will start to feel the difference, and the performance impact will start to be realized.

To tap into the best of your people, put them into positions where they can do what they like to do best and help them develop their strengths. You will unlock and unleash their potential and your own!

Promoting Learning by Combatting the Forgetting Curve

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Training and development is critical for every organization, and most invest heavily in learning each year. Training topics can include technical, technology or process updates, leadership or “soft” skills, and revenue generation (e.g., sales, innovation, practice development, etc.) just to name a few.  With the current dynamic work environment, new requirements for learning are almost ever-present, and the learning curve is clearly evident. Not as evident is that the learning curve is quickly impacted by the forgetting curve, and the forgetting curve can rapidly deplete the ROI on any learning investment IF the organization is not proactive.

The forgetting curve is a concept that was first researched by Hermann Ebbinghaus in 1885.  Ebbingaus studied the effect of the passage of time on memorization and recall of information.  The result of his research, which has been subsequently validated through additional studies, is “the forgetting curve”.  The forgetting curve shows that, on average, individuals forget about 70% of what we learn within about 24 hours! 70%! While that makes it sound like training is a wasted investment, let me be clear: it is not.  In fact, it is one of the most valued aspects of the employee experience.  However, because the forgetting curve is real, companies need to be smart about how they approach learning to get the greatest ROI.

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To maximize ROI, learning strategy and design should include three things:

  1. The original training design should be experiential and hands on. “…Involve me and I learn” is not just a quote, but also a sound learning principle. Participants who apply concepts in a “safe” environment have greater recall and success in execution following a learning event. Solid training design can slow the process of forgetting, but it must be coupled with other reinforcement methods for maximum impact.
  2. Reinforcement and active recall (especially spaced repetition).  Learning must be recognized as an ongoing journey, not an event.  A “training” session can be part of the journey, but greater change will happen if the training is reinforced with spaced “boosters” of content reinforcement.  This could be questions, concept refreshers, or application exercises. Regardless, training should always be coupled with follow-up over a period of weeks and months to optimize behavior change and learning.
  3. Applied examples.  At an appropriate time after initial training, asking the participants to periodically share examples of how they are applying the learning is powerful reinforcement.  It brings content to life and ensures the intended learning is translated into action.

To become a learning organization, you must embed these concepts within your culture.  In addition, make sure that training in not promoted as or seen as a “check the box” exercise or a one time event, but rather is understood as a process.  Finally, make sure learning is about more than just knowledge, it is about true development, behavior change, and sustainability.  If you achieve these shifts, both your employees and your company will benefit!