Tell less, ask more

A haiku from the author Michael Bungay Stanier summarizing his book, The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way Your Lead Forever:

“Tell less and ask more.

Your advice is not as good

As you think it is.”

I need to print this and put it in a frame on my desk always in sight when I’m talking to people in my office. I’m prone to jump straight to what I think are solutions or helpful stories.

“That reminds me of a story…”

I’m becoming that guy.

Default to listening, not talking. Sit out the awkward gaps in conversation and wait.

Ask, “What’s on your mind?” Then keep at it by following up with “And what else?”

Leadership and friendship and human connection of any sort are all better served by sincere efforts to understand instead of attempting to be understood.

Conversations aren’t contests: Good listening is more than just waiting your turn to speak

Adam Grant recently tweeted a link to this Harvard Business Review article, What Great Listeners Actually Do. It’s based on research on what truly effective listeners consistently do.

Excellent listeners don’t just listen quietly, nod occasionally, and summarize what was just said. Instead, they engage and ask thoughtful, encouraging questions. The research suggests being a trampoline, not a sponge:

While many of us have thought of being a good listener being like a sponge that accurately absorbs what the other person is saying, instead, what these findings show is that good listeners are like trampolines. They are someone you can bounce ideas off of — and rather than absorbing your ideas and energy, they amplify, energize, and clarify your thinking. They make you feel better not merely passively absorbing, but by actively supporting. This lets you gain energy and height, just like someone jumping on a trampoline.

It’s not about simply politely waiting your turn to speak while giving the impression that you’re trying to understand the other person.

I know I think I’m pretty good at nodding and seeming engaged while in my brain I’m crafting what I’m going to say when it’s my turn to talk.

I have the best conversations, though, when I’m genuinely present, when I listen to truly understand without much thought given to being understood myself.

Most of us probably think we are better listeners than we actually are. What most of us are good at, though, is appearing to be good listeners.

Listening takes effort and discipline. Next time you’re face to face with someone, ramp up your focus. Tune in as closely as you can to the other person. Ask excellent questions as you attempt to get at what they mean and where they’re coming from.

Be a trampoline that enhances the energy they’re giving you and takes you both to a higher level of understanding and connection.

 

Going for it on fourth down, every time

I’ve posted about maverick Arkansas high school football coach Kevin Kelley before, and now Andy Staples of SI writes about seeing his team, the Pulaski Academy Bruins, in person where they ended the opponent’s 84-game home winning streak.

Kelley’s team is famous for going for it on almost every 4th-down, opting for onsides kicks on every kickoff, and now building laterals into many of their passing plays. Here’s Staples’s take on why this is so successful:

The Bruins don’t win because they don’t punt or because they attempt onside kicks every time or because their receivers routinely lateral on plays that aren’t the last one of the game. They win because of the attitude Kelley’s approach instills on Pulaski Academy’s sideline and the mindset it instills on the other sideline. The Bruins always play as if they’re down 10 with 90 seconds to go. Think about all the points you’ve seen scored in that type of situation. The offense plays as if it has nothing to lose. The defense tightens, playing to protect the lead rather than to advance the cause. That’s every minute of every Pulaski Academy game.

Wouldn’t you love to play on a team with that kind of bold philosophy? Wouldn’t you love to work on a team with a disregard for convention, with an attitude of curiosity and boldness that defies the caution that restrains most organizations?

The safe thing is to do what everyone else does: Build a resume that looks like everyone else’s. Produce work like everyone else does. Avoid artistic risks and leaps of faith. Accept the conventional wisdom and common assumptions because they’re conventional and common and safe.

But caution is the devil.

What if you had the courage to go for it on fourth down regularly, to try the uncommon path, to follow your reason and your creativity in a different direction altogether?

There is a lot of elbow room out on the edges. Not many have the chutzpah to go there. The competition for average levels of success is way stiffer than it is for extraordinary success because so few aim that high. It seems counterintuitive, but it might be easier for you to achieve a crazy, scary dream than to achieve the safe, sanitized middle class American dream.

Even if you regularly fall short when you defy convention, you’ll have a lot more fun than if you had just followed along with the crowd. And you’ll be strengthening your courage muscles and making yourself even more willing to be bold.

Don’t punt. Go for it.

The guardian

Solid insight from @garrytan:

Steve Jobs was that guardian for Apple. He was ruthlessly protective of the experience Apple products provided for their customers. 

Walt Disney was all about “plussing” and relentlessly improving the Disney experience. 

This article about Stephen Colbert shows he’s personally overseeing even very small details about his reinvention of The Late Show. 

My friend Kevin was telling me today that Taylor Swift is like that with her concerts. 

Committees and bureaucracy are more likely to offer safe but unexceptional products and services. 

A singular and determined voice is usually generating and guiding the very best work. 

Tim Cook on Steve Jobs and the values that drive Apple

Fast Company has an exclusive interview with Apple CEO Tim Cook that is filled with quote-worthy insights.

Cook, an Auburn University graduate from Mobile, Alabama, has always come across to me as a genuinely good guy. Very smart and driven and hard-working, of course, but a regular, unassuming nice person who just happens to run the most impressive and wealthiest and coolest company in the world. As a fellow southerner and a delighted Apple customer, I especially enjoy hearing Cook’s southern drawl as the voice of a company that’s changing the world like few others ever have.

Cook earned his reputation at the company for his brilliant corralling of logistics and resources to build a staggeringly robust sytem for manufacturing all those iPods and iPhones and Macs. Steve Jobs was the product visionary and shaper of a uniquely innovative company culture, but it was Cook who was resonsible for making sure those dreams could be made and shipped.

Cook will never match Jobs as a cultural icon. But that doesn’t seem to be his aim.

Here’s Cook on lessons learned from Jobs:

Steve felt that most people live in a small box. They think they can’t influence or change things a lot. I think he would probably call that a limited life. And more than anybody I’ve ever met, Steve never accepted that.

He got each of us [his top executives] to reject that philosophy. If you can do that, then you can change things. If you embrace that the things that you can do are limitless, you can put your ding in the universe. You can change the world.

That was the huge arc of his life, the common thread. That’s what drove him to have big ideas. Through his actions, way more than any preaching, he embedded this nonacceptance of the status quo into the company.

That is great leadership. Clearly, Cook and those who worked with Jobs were infected by his approach, his “nonacceptance of the status quo”, his razor sharp focus on transformational ideas and products, and a relentless commitment to constant improvement.

And, with Apple, as with all great organizations, it keeps coming back to culture.

Here’s Cook’s response when asked about conveying the Apple culture within the company:

I don’t think of it as systematizing, but there are a number of things that we do, starting with employee orientation. Actually, it starts before that, in interviews. You’re trying to pick people that fit into the culture of the company. You want a very diverse group with very diverse life experiences looking at every problem. But you also want people to buy into the philosophy, not just buy in, but to deeply believe in it.

Then there’s employee orientation, which we do throughout the company all over the world. And then there’s Apple U., which takes things that happened in the past and dissects them in a way that helps people understand how decisions were made, why they were made, how successes occurred, and how failures occurred. All of these things help.

Ultimately, though, it’s on the company leaders to set the tone. Not only the CEO, but the leaders across the company. If you select them so carefully that they then hire the right people, it’s a nice self-fulfilling prophecy.

Apple recently has allowed the media more access to it’s top people than I can ever recall. The interview with Cook is thorough and interesting throughout and well worth reading whether you care about technology or not.

Pick a path and get moving

A thought worth considering from Donald Miller’s memoir about relationships, Scary Close:

“I wonder if what might help couples build great families is to pick a place for their family to go and then hit the gas, to work toward their vision and build it out. Relationships have a way of stabilizing when in motion. Until then, they just feel like a road trip to nowhere.”

A direction to go in and action to move you in that direction can invigorate not just a couple or a family, but an organization or an individual. Even if you’re not completely sure which direction to pursue, just start. Pick a path you wouldn’t mind pursuing and get moving. You can then course correct as necessary.

Just existing in a relationship or an organization or a life without direction and motion will suck the energy from everyone involved.