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Building Consensus in Meetings

The aim of facilitated discussions is to create participatory groups: one where the goal is cooperative rather than competitive decision-making. All members should have equal input in the process, and equal opportunity to voice opposition to an idea or conclusion. In this post, we will briefly discuss the key facilitation skills needed to build consensus.

Encouraging Participation
Consensus is more likely to happen if members feel encouraged to contribute. The following are some of the ways a facilitator can encourage participation in small groups:

Provide preparation guidelines in the meeting agenda. Participants are more likely to contribute, if they feel confident that they have something to add to the discussion. It’s helpful then to send out a meeting invitation with guidelines what to review and study in preparation for the meeting. It is also better if you can also send out guide questions ahead of time.

Before starting a group meeting, check on everyone’s comfort level. Some people are at ease being in meetings; others have difficulty. There are also situational factors, such as an uncomfortable seat or a poorly ventilated room, which can hamper group participation. Inquiring if group members are comfortable before starting a meeting can help a facilitator establish rapport with the group, and address hindrances to group participation.

State at the start of the meeting that members’ participation is not just welcome, but is integral to the process. Sometimes, all it takes is for the facilitator to explicitly say that members are allowed and encouraged to participate for the discussion to be a lively one. These guidelines can be made part of the orientation process.

Acknowledge responses. Show that you have heard and understood a contribution. You can do this in non-verbal and verbal ways. Non-verbal ways include eye contact, nodding, and leaning forward towards the speaker. Verbal ways include praising (“I’m glad you brought that up.”, “That’s a good point.”), clarifying (If I may reiterate what you just said, you suggested that, is this correct?), and requesting for more information (“Tell us more.”, “Please go on.”).
Avoid discounting responses. Similar, make sure that you’re careful not to give a response that might be interpreted as devaluing a contribution, or even ignoring it. Examples of discounting responses are “That was said already.”, “That’s irrelevant.”, “That’s it?, Is there anything else?”

Solicit group members’ responses. You can encourage participation by directly asking everyone their opinion on a subject matter. Example: “Can I get everyone’s opinion about this proposal?” or “Let’s share all our ideas. We won’t react until we’ve heard them all.”

Build on responses. A good way to encourage participation is to integrate each member’s response with that of other members or with the whole group. Similarities and differences are surfaced, and the way each point relates to another is verbalized. This way, the discussion is moving and the individual contributions are seen as relevant to the whole.

This post is from November’s topic on Facilitation Skills.

Setting Goals

A vision without specific, targeted goals is just a wish or a hope. Without targeted goals, how will you ever know if your vision is being accomplished? A vision needs a project roadmap with milestones, but how do you determine what those goals are? First, we will discuss goals themselves, then how to determine what your goals should be and how to support them.

Setting SMART Goals

SMART goals are:

Specific: The vision itself is general while the goals are specific targets to be met. Specific goals answer the questions of who, what, when, where, why and how questions as specifically as possible.

Measurable: Goals must be measurable in terms of progress and attainment. They must be tracked according to the amount of time or money spent, or results achieved as appropriate.

Attainable: A goal which cannot be met, is not a goal, it is an ideal. If you know you need certain infrastructure in place to accomplish your vision, you should break down your goals into attainable steps you can monitor as each step is put into place.

Realistic: A goal may be attainable, but not with the resources at hand. In that case, you need other goals to build up to the level where the attainable goal becomes realistic. A goal may be possible, but you need the right people with the right amount of time and support to make it happen.

Timed: All goals need to be accomplished within a given time frame. Deadlines may indeed be missed, but without any timetable, there will be no sense of urgency and no reason not to put it off until “later.”

Each goal should lead to the “next step” in the overall plan until the ultimate vision is reached.

Creating a Long-Term Plan
Also called Strategic Planning, the long-term plan is the road map that guides you to the ultimate realization of your vision. A goal may be possible, but not attainable or realistic – now. You may be missing a quality person for a key position, you may lack the funds, or time to achieve the higher-level goals, so lower level stepping stone goals must be planned.

If your goal is to unify a modern computer network throughout your organization, but you only have a few outdated computers and older shared printers, your ultimate goal will be possible and attainable, but not realistic. If you do not have the money for the new equipment and do not have a strong IT person on staff, your goal will be unattainable. If you need everything done in a week, your goal cannot be timely, as it will take much longer. Intermediate goals, however, can make your ultimate goal realistic, attainable, and timely.

You might first want to increase your revenue through increased sales, a fundraiser, long-term business loan, or by other means. You can make a goal to hire a network guru for a reasonable cost who can analyze your current systems and determine what needs to be upgraded according to modern networking technology. That analysis will provide you the information to set new goals of buying, configuring and implementing the equipment, then adding the infrastructure to network it all together. In the end, the goal that seemed impossible will become a reality, according to your original vision.

Creating a Support System
Once your goals are established you need a way to ensure they are set into motion. Duties must be assigned and documentation must be established to support and track progress. A Gantt Chart is a great way to track milestones over a period of time. You need to establish the tools necessary to track progress or development as appropriate. These might include a simple checklist for some tasks and complicated advanced software tracking systems for others.

Monitoring and oversight are the keys to achieving all goals.

This post is from October’s topic on Leadership and Influence, which is also a course on our Mini-MBA program.

Influencing Skills

The best leaders are able to influence others to do something and think it was all their idea. Don’t worry about taking credit for every good thing that happens on your watch. As the leader, you get credit whenever your followers succeed because you created the environment that allowed their success.

The Art of Persuasion
Aristotle was a master of the art persuasion, and he outlines his thinking in his work, Rhetoric, where he identifies three important factors: ethos, pathos, and logos.

Ethos (credibility) persuades people using character. If you are respectful and honest, people will be more likely to follow you because of your character. Your character convinces the follower that you are someone who is worth listening to for advice.

Pathos (emotional) persuades people by appealing to their emotions. For example, when a politician wants to gain support for the bill, it inevitably is argued, “it’s for the children!” Babies, puppies, and kitties abound in advertising for a reason. Although a car is neither male nor female, they are sometimes called “sexy” in car commercials. Pathos allows you to tie into emotional triggers that will capture a person’s attention and enlist their support, but it can be easily abused, leading to a loss of Ethos, as described above.

Logos (logical) persuades people by means persuading by appealing to their intellect. This was Aristotle’s favorite and his forte’, but not everyone reacts on a rational level.

Of the three, Ethos must always come first. Ideally, you want to appeal to Pathos, back your arguments up with Logos, and never lose Ethos. President Bill Clinton appealed to people using Pathos, saying often, “I feel your pain,” but there were serious questions raised about his Ethos, and he often did not back up his appeals with Logos. There is no doubt that he was a successful, but there is also no doubt that he was not as successful as he could have been.

The Principles of Influence
Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D. once said, “It is through the influence process that we generate and manage change.” In his studies, he outlined five universal principles of influence, which are useful and effective in a wide range of circumstances.

Reciprocation: People are more willing to do something for you if you have already done something for them first. Married couples do this all the time, giving in on little things so they can ask for that big night out or a chance to watch the game later.

Commitment: You cannot get people to commit to you or your vision if they don’t see your commitment. Once you provide a solid, consistent example, they will feel they have to do the same.

Authority: If people believe you know what you are talking about and accept your expertise, they are far more likely to follow you. Despite the rebel cry, “Question Authority,” when people need help with something, they will seek out an authority figure. If you place a man in a tie next to a man in jeans and a ratty T-shirt, people will invariably ask the man in the tie for advice on a technical subject first simply because he looks like an authority.

Social Validation: As independent as we like to consider ourselves, we love to be part of a crowd. It will always be a part of us, that school age desire to be accepted, no matter how many times our parents tell us, “If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you join them?” People will always jump on a bandwagon if their friends like the band.

Friendship: People listen to their friends. If they know you and like you, they are far more likely to support you. A pleasant personality can make up for a multitude of failures. More than one leader has been abandoned at the first sign of trouble because they were not very well liked.

Creating an Impact
As mentioned before, communication is accomplished with more than just words. The more of the previous leadership skills you develop, the more you will make an impact. In addition, the bigger the impact, the greater the positive change you can create.

Impact is created by a number of intangible factors:

  • A confident bearing, tempered by a kindly manner
  • A strong sense of justice, tempered by mercy
  • A strong intellect, tempered by the willingness to learn
  • A strong sense of emotion, tempered by self-control
  • A strong ability to communicate, tempered by the ability to listen
  • A strong insistence on following the rules, tempered by flexibility
  • A strong commitment to innovation, tempered by situational reality
  • A strong commitment to your followers, tempered by the ability to lead

Above all: maintain a strong personal commitment to your vision.

This post is from October’s topic on Leadership and Influence, which is also a course on our Mini-MBA program.

Situational Leadership

Now we get to the nuts and bolts of leadership. The definitive leadership style research comes from Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard, which they expressed in their Situational Leadership Model. The Hersey-Blanchard model addresses the key to practical leadership development: the attributes and styles of the followers.

Not everyone is on the same intellectual, maturity, compliance, or motivational level. Different people are motivated by different things, and this must be taken into account if one is to be a great leader. Communications experts consider it critical to tailor your message to your “target audience.” It is the followers that you want to motivate and influence and you cannot do that if you don’t know whom you are trying to motivate or influence.

The Situational Leadership model addresses four types of leadership styles, based on the follower:

  • Telling
  • Selling
  • Participating
  • Delegating

Situational Leadership: Telling
Telling is the lowest level of leadership style. Most new employees require direct instructions, so this is called the “Telling” or “Directing” style. The follower is characterized by low competence and high commitment, being unable to comply, with possible feelings of insecurity.

The leader must focus highly on tasks, rather than a relationship with the employee, as a relationship does not yet exist.

When an employee can’t do the job because they are unknowledgeable, the leader must spend much more time working with the employee, offering clear instructions and regular follow up. The leader must be encouraging and motivational, offering praise for positive results and correction for less than positive results. The idea is to motivate the follower to rise to the next level of ability.

This is a very leader-driven stage.

Situational Leadership: Selling
Selling addresses the follower who has developed some competence with an improved commitment. The follower is not convinced yet, but is open to becoming cooperative and motivated.

The leader must still focus highly on tasks and this still requires much of the leader’s time, but the focus now also includes developing a relationship with the employee. Build upon the trust that has begun to develop and the encouragement that has been demonstrated. The leader must spend more time listening and offering advice, scheduling the follower for additional training if the situation requires it.

The goal is to engage the follower so they can develop to the next level. There is less “telling” and more “suggesting” which leads to more encouragement, acting as a coach. It is recognition that they have progressed and motivates them to progress even further.

This is a very leader-driven stage.

Situational Leadership: Participating
Participating addresses the follower who is now competent at the job, but remains somewhat inconsistent and is not yet fully committed. The follower may be uncooperative or performing as little work as possible, despite their competence with the tasks

The leader must participate with and support the follower. The leader no longer needs to give detailed instructions and follow up as often, but does need to continue working with the follower to ensure the work is being done at the level required.

The follower is now highly competent, but is not yet convinced in his or her ability or not fully committed to do their best and excel. The leader must now focus less on the tasks assigned and more on the relationship between the follower, the leader, and the group.

This is a very follower-driven, relationship-focused stage.

Situational Leadership: Delegating
Delegating is the ultimate goal: a follower who feels fully empowered and competent enough to take the ball and run with it, with minimal supervision. The follower is highly competent, highly committed, motivated, and empowered.

The leader can now delegate tasks to the follower and observe with minimal follow up, knowing that acceptable or even excellent results will be achieved. There is a low focus on tasks and a low focus on relationships. There is no need to compliment the follower on every task, although continued praise for outstanding performance must be given as appropriate.

This is a very follower-driven stage.

This post is from October’s topic on Leadership and Influence, which is also a course on our Mini-MBA program.

Accentuate the Positive

It’s hard to feel happy at work when we focus on the negative. Making the small shift to accentuate the positive can go a long way toward greater happiness at work. Finding ways to focus on the positive aspects of your life, your job, and your workplace, even when negative things happen, can foster your workplace happiness. Positive thinking is in many ways a choice – when we choose to see the positive rather than the negative, it attracts positive experiences to us.

Use a Daily Affirmation
One way to start your day off on a positive note, and to focus on positivity throughout the day, is to use a daily affirmation. Affirmations are simple, positive statements that you repeat throughout the day, either mentally or out loud. A simple affirmation could be, “Today is going to be a great day.” You can write your own affirmations, or use affirmations written by others – there are many books and websites that offer up daily affirmations. You might use the same affirmation each day, or choose a new affirmation every morning, once a week, or once a month. An affirmation gives you something to focus on when you are tempted to drift into negative thinking or you are faced with other people’s negative attitudes. Some people find it helpful to print out or write their affirmation and keep it somewhere visible. There are also beautiful pieces of art with affirmations available, if you choose to put your affirmation in your office.

Surround Yourself with Positive People
One way to stay positive is to surround yourself with positive people. While you may have to interact with people who are less than positive in order to accomplish tasks at work, you can choose to surround yourself with positive people whenever possible. Choose to interact with coworkers and colleagues who have a positive outlook. When you put together your support team, choose people who have a consistently positive outlook. This doesn’t mean choosing people who will never tell you hard truths or who never have a bad day, but it does mean choosing people who attempt to find the positive in even difficult situations, who act with compassion, and who seek to lift others up rather than bring them down.

Limit Your Negative Interactions
Another way to keep yourself focused on the positive at work is to limit your negative interactions. There will be times when you will have to interact with negative people, but it is important to limit these interactions if at all possible. Avoiding office gossip is another way to limit negative interactions. Once you have a list of positive people to surround yourself with, seek them out instead of engaging in negative interactions. It can be tempting to vent or join in when others complain, but this can bring negativity into your day. It’s understandable to want to vent frustrations, but if possible you should find a way to turn this into a positive interactions. If there are people in your workplace that are consistently negative and with whom you do not have to interact, keep your interactions with them professional and pleasant, but brief. Another way to limit negative interactions is to be aware of the type of media you consume – we can’t avoid bad news and negative images totally, but being sure to also feed your mind positive images is key to staying positive and happy.

Build Friendships
Building friendships at work also helps keep you focused on the positive. Having strong friendships at work gives you a built in support network. When you choose positive people to build friendships with, it is easier to avoid negative interactions and choose positive ones instead. The time you spend socializing with colleagues helps to lay the groundwork for work friendships. Seek out colleagues and coworkers who share your interests, who make you smile or laugh, or who appear to share your goals and values. Collaborate with these people when possible, and seek to spend time with them that is not focused on work.

Do One Thing Every Day That You Love and Enjoy
Taking time each day to do one thing you love and enjoy goes a long way toward fostering happiness. Whether you do yoga in the morning, drink a cup of your favorite tea, visit a funny website, or engage in a rewarding hobby, finding something you love and making time to do it is key to your well-being. It is not even necessary to do the thing you love in the context of work – just knowing it will be part of your day fosters happiness. When we don’t take time to do things we love, our lives become a series of obligations. Taking time to engage in something you love and enjoy activates parts of your brain associated with joy and pleasure, and this fosters an overall sense of mental and emotional well-being.

Seek to Make Positive Changes
Happiness is a process. Even when we decide to choose happiness, it won’t happen overnight. Seek to continuously make positive changes in your life, and you will find your happiness growing. Whether it’s implementing the suggestions from this post such as doing something you love each day or limiting your interactions with negative people, every step you take towards a more positive life leads to greater happiness. Adopt a continuous improvement mindset and constantly look for ways in which you can make positive changes. Also reward yourself for making changes.

Happiness is a journey!

This post is from Septembers’s topic on Increasing Your Happiness.

The Evolution of Leadership

As long as there have been leaders, there have been those who tried to determine how and why they were successful. Leadership itself has not evolved, but our understanding of it has. It is important to understand why very different leadership styles can be effective, why the same leadership techniques will not work in every situation, and which leadership style fits your personality best. Everyone has leadership potential within them, but understanding these concepts will help you maximize your leadership ability. Welcome to the evolution of leadership.

Defining Leadership
Simply speaking, “leadership” is defined as “the ability to lead.” Unfortunately, this is not very helpful. A better definition comes from the BNET online Business Dictionary: “The capacity to establish direction and to influence and align others toward a common goal, motivating and committing them to action and making them responsible for their performance.” Although this is more descriptive, it is not substantial. It does not tell us what leadership actually is, but rather what it does.

Characteristics of a Leader
The mark of a true leader is not a position or title held, but it is how many people are willing to follow them. Santa Clara University and the Tom Peters group outline the following leadership characteristics:

  • Honest
  • Competent
  • Forward-looking 
  • Inspiring
  • Intelligent 
  • Fair-minded 
  • Broad-minded 
  • Courageous 
  • Straightforward 
  • Imaginative 

The United States Army offers 11 Leadership Principles:

  • Be tactically and technically proficient
  • Know yourself and seek self-improvement
  • Know your soldiers and look out for their welfare
  • Keep your soldiers informed
  • Set the example
  • Ensure the task is understood, supervised and accomplished
  • Train your soldiers as a team
  • Make sound and timely decisions
  • Develop a sense of responsibility in your subordinates
  • Employ your unit in accordance with its capabilities
  • Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions

You will notice that none of the above actually tells you how to lead in a practical manner. They don’t address what to do or say in any given situation. That is because there is no real formula to being a leader. Leadership must come from within and it is based on your personality.

A Brief History of Leadership:

Historical Leaders
Throughout the centuries, there have been leaders. We are social animals who bond together, but we look for order against the chaos of life. We look to be organized to accomplish tasks as a society that we cannot perform individually. As a result, someone inevitably ends up in charge.

Leaders in the past have generally belonged to one of three categories: Political, Military or Religious. 

  • Political: Around 1790 B.C., Babylonian ruler Hammurabi created the codified laws, which unified his empire in what was seen as a fair order as all people were subject to the same rules. 
  • Military: Sun Tzu was a military general in China from 500 B.C. He wrote the Art of War, and although he was a great military leader, his book is actually about how to not use armies except as a last resort, focusing more on wise political policies and strategies to prevent war.
  • Religious: It may be said that religious leaders have had the greatest impact on their societies, with results that last for centuries. 

Modern Leaders
With the rise of the industrial revolution, a new kind of leader emerged: Economic. The so-called Captains of Industry found they could build an empire based on modern technology instead of swords. Oil Barons, railroad magnates, and factory owners built large fortunes without the benefit of armies; it was often at the expense of the people they employed. This gave rise to Union leaders and various movements designed to promote justice where abuses were perceived to exist.

The Industrial Revolution also increased the number of Scientific Leaders, as scientists now had easy access to a wide range of new materials for their work. Psychiatry and Psychology came into prominence with studies on the workplace, in regards to improving productivity and the effect on the workforce.

Studies have shown consistently that workers are more productive when they are in a “positive work environment.” The attitude and influence of the boss is a major factor in this productivity. If employees feel they are listened to, respected, and treated fairly, they are happier in their work and perform better than those who feel they are disrespected and unappreciated. Which kind of work environment would you prefer?

Three Theories of Leadership:

The Great Man Theory
The Great Man Theory was abandoned in favor of the theories of behavioral science. It’s easy to be inspired by stories of great men and women who did great things in their lives. Alexander the Great conquered the known world. Genghis Khan then ravaged most of it. Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. Harriet Tubman saved hundreds from slavery in the Underground Railroad. Mother Theresa aided and comforted thousands in Calcutta who were abandoned by society. Theory goes that these people did great things because they were simply great people determined by fate and fulfilling their destiny.

The Trait Theory
It has often been said, “Great leaders are born, not made.” Trait Theory takes this saying literally. If you have the ability to lead, you were born with it, with no way to learning those skills. This theory expands on the Great Man Theory by defining what makes great leaders “great.”

Today, we recognize that true leadership seems to come from a combination of both theories – and more. As we have seen, there are wide varieties of leadership qualities. Everyone has some ability in at least one or more of these areas. This means that under the right circumstances, anyone can rise to a leadership role and be successful based on the leadership style that best matches their personality if they know how to use that ability to properly address the situation at hand. Other leadership skills can indeed be learned, developed, and mastered.

Transformational Leadership
In 1978, James MacGregor Burns introduced the idea of transformational leadership as he researched political leaders. Burns theorized that “transformational leadership” is actually a process where leaders interact with their followers and inspire each other to advance together. His characteristics and behaviors demonstrated the differences between “management” and “leadership.” People and organizations are transformed due to the leadership style and abilities of the leader, who is able to convey a vision and guide the transformation.

Bernard M. Bass, in 1985, added to Burns’ transformational leadership theory buy shifting the focus to the followers. It is not the individual traits and vision of the leader that matter as much as it is their ability to influence the feelings, attitudes, and commitment of their followers. As we mentioned before in productivity studies, if followers feel they can trust a leader (or better yet, if they admire a leader who can stimulate a sense of loyalty and respect) the followers go beyond what was originally expected of them and will do so happily. As a result, productivity and unity increases. The followers are transformed by a charismatic, motivational leader.

Through all of the studies, we have seen that there are a variety of attributes and abilities associated with leadership, and these vary from leader to leader. Some leaders are great orators, others great writers. Some leaders are very quiet, but the force of their logic or passion wins the day. The difference between a good leader and a great leader is partly the number of leadership skills they have developed. The other part is their ability to apply those skills properly to those who would follow.

This post is from October’s topic on Leadership and Influence, which is also a course on our Mini-MBA program.

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They say that leaders are born, not made. While it is true that some people are born leaders, some leaders are born in the midst of adversity. Often, simple people who have never had a leadership role will stand up and take the lead when a situation they care about requires it. A simple example is parenting. When a child arrives, many parents discover leadership abilities they never knew existed in order to guide and protect their offspring.

Once you learn the techniques of true Leadership, you will be able to build the confidence it takes to take the lead. The more experience you have acting as a genuine leader, the easier it will be for you. It is never easy to take the lead, as you will need to make decisions and face challenges, but it can become natural and rewarding.

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