Lessons from Loss

This life I lead today is different from the one I led before I lost my friends, my daughter and a grandchild, whose eyes never opened outside the womb.

Over the last few years, I have been shocked into pain and anguish; thrust into it without my consent.

The death of a best friend, the loss of a granddaughter, followed by the loss of a daughter and bookended by the loss of a second friend.

Death has been busy.

But apparently it was just a prelude.

With the shock of a punch in the back, I was accelerated into a pace of action that I had the logical mind to understand, without the ramp up to prepare. The tsunami of emotions and subsequent trauma were comprehensive, all-inclusive, and heavy.

Like a weighted blanket, soaked with water; both freezing cold and boiling hot simultaneously.

Saying goodbye…who knew it would result in exhaustion, a zombie like numbness to stimuli, and a dull grinding ache like the slow-motion drilling of deep holes into hard wood during a long, hot, and humid summer.

But again, it seems that it was just a prelude.
Today I am worried and burdened, with the odd feeling that there is something very sad happening…to us all.

Over the next several weeks it has become increasingly clear that Death and Disease will visit the houses of many of us. It will be a shadow that lightly touches some and a hurricane that wreaks havoc for others.

I am sorry and sad in advance.

As an introvert and someone who enters the world feelings first, I am concerned about how I will manage the onslaught of sadness that is just a few days away…and will last for weeks
…and weeks
…and weeks.

How does one ‘work out’ and develop the kind of internal strength necessary to maintain a mental, emotional, and spiritual center when potential tragedy is just around the corner?

I have only my recent past to serve as prologue.

After my daughter passed away there were hundreds of people who reached out to me; to let me know they were thinking about me; to let me know someone was there for me.

I was awestruck by the compassion.

I am thankful for the self-awareness and humility to let others hold me up when my legs could not be trusted to bare the weight.

I am certain, after having visited the seemingly deserted island of loss and grief myself, that I was wrong…that in fact it is not an island at all, nor is it deserted; it is densely populated with people who care.

For those who are or will experience loss; you are not alone. There are many there, here, and elsewhere who want to support you, in healthy ways, and help you with your journey back to a new normal.

A couple strategies to consider:

  • Build/Reach out to your network before you need it.
    Many of us have a group of people who we trust – and who trust us – to love and support us in the healthiest ways we know how. Now is the time to reach out to them. In part to let them know you may need them…but also to let them know you are there for them, in this moment and beyond.
  • Find someone to help.
    Whether she is a Physician who needs you to make her laugh on the way home from work with a phone call, or he is a Custodian who would appreciate a surprise, home-cooked meal left on his porch. They may even be a Truck Driver who would love to hear an update on ‘The Tiger King’ phenomenon.
  • Help someone… they need it; you do too.
    For those of you who are able to reach out to others and those who are not, in advance of the tragedy that may befall you and your family, please know that I wish you strength for the journey you will have to walk; that each day you are in my thoughts.

Copyright James Pogue, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

Maximizing the Power of Strategic Foresight

In order to develop plans and recommend actions in support of strategic goals, national security professionals need the ability to anticipate the impacts of change in their external environment. The planner’s task is complicated by the fact that from the vantage of the present, there are many possible impacts of change. In a laboratory, variables can be titrated precisely and outcomes predicted; in the national security environment, variables are dynamic and complex, and outcomes are the product of emergent interactions among people, institutions, and systems. The exact path of these interactions is inherently nonlinear and difficult to predict.

The national security strategist is thus also in need of specialized thinking skills to help him or her mentally model uncertainty and grasp the nonlinear and complex pathways of change. These thinking skills do not come naturally to the modern American military education system, which valorizes an Enlightenment-inspired scientific approach and has historically focused on teaching critical thinking skills. Such skills are valuable when a problem is well defined and it is possible to identify its component parts, evaluate evidence, and generate solutions. However, they are not sufficiently robust to address situations that are as ambiguous, loosely bounded, and complex as the possible futures of national security.

In contexts of uncertainty, another set of skills—those contained in the strategic foresight toolkit—is required. Arguably, this requirement is especially vital today: technological advancements and their unevenly distributed but powerful effects, climate change, and social change are unfolding at a challenging pace in our interconnected global system. Black swans, cascading problems, and uncertainty stemming from interconnections abound. The stakes are high for anticipating and planning effectively for the potential impacts of change.

By way of example, imagine you are a strategist in the 1970s seeking to understand the implications of the newly created Internet. Its early architects did not view Internet protocols as a potential locus of national security threat because they assumed that small communities of mutually trustworthy academics would be the most likely users of the future Internet. Critical thinking would not assist you in generating scenarios of the possible futures of the Internet, let alone conceiving of it as the foundational infrastructure of future human institutions. In open-ended situations such as the future of a new technology or institution, systems thinking and frameworks to help structure imaginative and expansive exploration of the implications of change are required. Strategic foresight supplies these frameworks.

This article makes a two-pronged argument. First, strategic foresight, a discipline I describe in more detail, provides the vitally needed mindsets and frameworks required to plan in uncertainty.1 Strategic foresight should be taught and used more widely in the national security space. Second, where foresight is being taught and used (it has recently had an upswing in interest), there are opportunities to improve its application and better serve planning staffs and decision-makers.

What is Strategic Foresight?
Strategic foresight is an interdisciplinary domain that draws on cybernetics and systems thinking, management sciences, sociology, data science, cognitive psychology, and creative thinking, among others. Anticipatory thinking to support decision-making is its essence. The individual who invests time in learning how to think like a futurist emerges with an appreciation for the cognitive barriers faced by the human brain when it attempts to envision the future and will be well-practiced in holistic, synthetic, analytic, and creative ways of thinking. Organizations that adopt foresight practices to help them identify trends at an early stage and adapt or innovate to leverage those trends are in stronger competitive positions than those that do not. This value is demonstrable: A recently completed longitudinal study of large European firms demonstrated that those incorporating foresight into their strategic planning realized significant gains in both profit and market capitalization over the long term.2 Management science has revealed that systematically scanning the peripheral environment for weak signals of change can help people and institutions prepare for otherwise unexpected events.3

Foresight is not an unknown quantity in the U.S. national security space, yet it has waxed and waned as a discipline of interest. Following sustained enthusiasm from the end of World War II through the early 1990s, interest languished as the dramatic events of the moment—the fallout from the demise of the Soviet Union, the 9/11 attacks, the 2008 financial crisis—took center stage. Recently, strategic foresight has reappeared on the radar. The growing number of conference sessions, professional education opportunities, and pursuits such as science fiction writing contests designed to trigger creative thinking about the future attest to this rise in interest. This is all good news, and, hopefully, leaders in all relevant institutions will continue to grow their support for fostering successors who are skilled at thinking both systematically and creatively about how to envision an uncertain future.

Yet enthusiastic support, while necessary, is not sufficient to create a future-minded national security workforce. It is possible to use strategic foresight well or badly. In the national security community today, there is room for improvement. Strategic foresight activities are often brought into classrooms and conference rooms in ways that are superficial. A quick exercise in scenario-building, for example, may give participants the satisfaction that they have engaged in strategic foresight. But when conducted superficially, such activities typically become exercises in reinforcing rather than challenging preexisting ideas about what the future will be like. To be clear, superficiality is never intentional. Instead, urgent pressure to produce activities leads course or activity facilitators to using frameworks and ideas that are the easiest to access instead of those that are the most appropriate. Popular ideas and activities circulate through the national security educational community uncritically, so that rough usage in one place is replicated in another, and it is difficult to get new thinking in the door.

As the history of national security community engagement with foresight demonstrates, thinking creatively about the future is a cultural challenge. Large bureaucracies, such as the Department of Defense, are often resistant to change and to reckoning with the fact that conditions for success in the future may be different from those of today. Institutional proclivities can shape and constrain the imagination that is required to develop insights into the future of a profoundly complex, changing, and uncertain world.

To take one example, futurism is frequently presented in mainstream culture as primarily associated with technological innovation. This is a narrow use of the strategic foresight skillset; technology is only one of the drivers of complex social events such as war. When they assume, rather than interrogate, a high-tech future, military participants in strategic foresight foreclose the opportunity to identify signals of change and development across the spectrum of human activity. This has in the past led to institutional blindness to signals of change in societies that might produce low-tech, asymmetric approaches to armed conflict. One of the key tenets of foresight is that it is imperative to explore not only the most likely future but also a range of possible futures. It is in this arena where potential black swans lurk.

The popular premise that future wars will take place in megacities (with more than 10 million inhabitants) offers another example of how a selective use of the tools of strategic foresight can narrow strategic vision precisely where it would be useful to expand it. The war-in-megacities scenario is grounded in trend information related to the urban growth. By some accounts, there will be at least 50 such cities by 2050.4 So it is reasonable to project that at some point, warfighters will probably engage in a megacity. However, strategists who halt their exploration of the future with scenarios based on the extrapolations of current trends alone are underutilizing the tools of strategic foresight. To use the foresight toolkit more comprehensively and effectively, planners will also think deeply and creatively about the possible, a much wider and more complex world of potential than that of simply the probable. This is not easy; it takes intellectual rigor and self-knowledge to explore trends that may violate one’s institutional worldview. How could a war unfold in a nonurban area, especially in a world that is primarily urban? What assumptions are held today about what a city is and looks like? Will other emergent realities—for example, about the way people communicate and work or about how climate change and weather evolve—change the ways that cities develop in the future?

Venturing answers, however exploratory, to questions that probe beyond the boundaries of current expectations could help reduce strategic surprise in the future and prompt innovative thinking in advance of the unexpected. Strategic foresight offers compelling frameworks for asking these sorts of questions, and the frameworks themselves are not fancy or difficult to understand. This is all the more reason why advancing the understanding of strategic foresight as a discipline and a strategy support tool is not only a good idea but also a clear and simple route to creating opportunities for asking difficult questions about the potential future at a time when such questions are critical.

Strategic foresight functions best as a normal, integrated element of an organization’s planning cycle. This cycle will typically include horizon scanning (also called environmental scanning) for early indicators of change, the integration of early signals into existing forecasts, impact assessments, and a decision-making process that uses insights of foresight to inform action.

Historically notable examples demonstrate the power of this activity. The most famous example is likely that of Royal Dutch Shell—a common tool in the foresight kit because of its pioneering use of scenarios. The oil industry historically forecast its future needs on the presumption of steadily growing demand and opportunities to locate supply. In the 1970s, Royal Dutch Shell recognized that geopolitical developments (such as the newly formed Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) could lead to a serious disruption in oil supply, transforming what was heretofore a buyer’s market into a seller’s market. As a result of its readiness to take this scenario seriously, the company was prepared for the 1973 oil embargo and recovered with greater speed than its industry peers.5

In the United States, the coordinated effort to prepare for potential disruptions related to the Y2K “bug” offers a powerful example of the role strategic foresight can play in raising awareness and addressing potential crises. In 1998, the World Future Society (formerly a nonprofit organization for futurists) began working with the White House, United Nations coordination groups, and others to anticipate and address potential Y2K issues in the United States. Most of their efforts were in “real-time networking and swift decision-making,” but the group also raised awareness in a 1998 conference on the consequences that could unfold without further attention.6 Failures of foresight are similarly dramatic, as the many well-known anecdotes of corporations and retailers that failed to recognize the potential impacts of technological and cultural trends, such as online shopping or streaming video, attest.

In the spirit of supporting this capacity, the remainder of this article offers a brief account of the role that foresight has played in military planning, followed by recommendations for advancing its implementation in military education today.

The history of foresight in the U.S. national security environment is offered here to rebut the pervasive idea among national security professionals that the United States cannot be good at long-term strategy or planning. (This idea is often justified by reference to the United States as a young country, as compared to China, a country perceived to be strong at long-term planning because it has a long history and a centrally controlled government.) This is clearly a discussion that deserves its own time and place; what can be stated here is that military futurists have played a critical role in creating some of the foundational techniques and ideas of foresight, which offer an alternative history of successful and thoughtful exploration of potential futures. It also helps to press into relief some of the cultural tendencies that might have helped planners in the past but that might be hindrances today.

Historical Snapshot
A quick survey of the history of strategic foresight as a coherent management planning discipline often begins with the example of the U.S. Air Force. After World War II, under the direction of Secretary Harold “Hap” Arnold, the Service took the first steps to connect U.S. military planning with long-term scientific and technological developments. In order to organize resources and investments, Arnold commissioned a major study titled Toward New Horizons that projected future technology needs for the Air Force. The planning momentum was maintained by standing up the Research and Development Corporation, known today as RAND, which became the military’s go-to think tank for long-term questions and also the home of some of the country’s most prominent futurists during the Cold War.

This story of foresight’s foundations in the United States encapsulates the spirit of the American brand of foresight: a triumphal and empowered energy, a focus on technology as the key critical driver of future events, and a positivist outlook of the future as knowable and manageable. In the ensuing decades, this foundational vision of the postwar American future infused planning activities and also a particularly American mindset about how to think about “the future” in the abstract.

In the 1970s, the ideas of previously obscure futurists gained popularity, most notably as a result of Alvin Toffler’s bestselling book, Future Shock. These ideas trickled into the executive offices of both government leaders and major corporations. Long-range planning and the basic tenets of foresight were accompanied by a spirit of openness and an exploratory readiness to consider the potential that more than one future might emerge. At the same time, voices of warning also called on political and military leaders to adapt U.S. planning processes to a world that was becoming more complex and interconnected. Projects such as the Department of Defense Office of Net Assessment, which was established in 1973 to assess the impact of converging macro-trends, were attuned to the need to assess complex environments.

Some of the most forceful notes of warning can be found in a 1987 volume titled Creating Strategic Vision: Long-Range Planning for National Security.7 This compilation of essays outlining the various techniques of strategic foresight was offered as an antidote to the “pragmatic, fragmented, short-term” tendencies that were presumed to characterize the American way of leadership.8 Much of this critique from a generation ago about the short-term nature of U.S. strategy has become dogma today. When I introduced the work to a cohort of flag officers in an advanced training course recently, they readily warmed to the thesis that the United States is inherently poor at long-term thinking and needs to do a better job.

Also, in the late 1980s, the U.S. Army War College introduced a new course titled Futures: Creating Strategic Visions.9 The goal of the course was to provide promising future leaders with the creative thinking skills required to envision and communicate alternative futures in an executive setting. Alternative futures, in this context, refers to a practice of indicating that more than one future is possible and that one’s own present-day decisions help to shape the future. The course was notable for stressing creativity as a teachable skill and for proposing that the future may unfold in many possible ways.

And there the enthusiasm stops. There is little documentary evidence in the 1990s of the creative, open-ended energy that suffused futures work in the 1980s. Indeed, the signs point in the opposite direction. The 2004 Strategic Leadership Primer published by the Department of Command, Leadership, and Management of the Army War College, while retaining the language of strategic vision and the future, presents the concept quite differently than it had in the 1980s.10 Drawing grimly on President George W. Bush’s 2004 remarks that the Nation’s “terrorist enemies have a vision,” the document calls for a countervailing one: an overarching summation of what “ought to be,” subject to the ends-ways-means logic of strategy creation and capable of being summarized in a pithy image or phrase—vision, in other words, as a tagline. Little could be further from the late 1980s promotion of strategic vision as an empowering, adaptive capacity to think creatively and imagine alternative futures.

A decade later, as the mood of crisis that permeated the “hot” years of the war on terror waned, foresight activities once again emerged into national security and Federal Government consciousness. Today, we can find a Federal Foresight community of interest sharing activities across the government in the shape of formal educational opportunities, such as the Army War College futures seminar titled What Kind of Army Does the Nation Need in 2035 and Beyond; the commitment to develop an entire course on foresight at the Army Command and General Staff College; and hands-on long-term planning experiments such as the Air University’s Blue Horizons program.11 Beyond formal education, there are forums such as the periodic conferences and online community of the Mad Scientists, sponsored by the Army Training and Doctrine Command, and various think tank conferences and events. This upsurge of interest, coupled with forays in different areas of the military into more wargaming, red-teaming, and activities structured according to design theory, suggest that this is a favorable moment to advocate on behalf of not simply quantity, but also higher quality. Here are five recommendations for its achievement.

Five Recommendations to Maximize the Benefits of Foresight
Embrace Analytic Holism. The U.S. military typically privileges technological innovations as the key driver of the future, which reflects a deeply embedded tendency in American culture and history. This is problematic in several directions, all of which distort the ability to accurately assess the evidence about potential contexts of future conflict.

First, technological change does not take place in a vacuum, but at the intersection of other human institutions and drivers of change. While there is a need for pure technological forecasting in weapons development and other related areas, this work will not generate scenarios of potential future conflict. It will only produce scenarios of future weapons systems and other related technologies.

Analytic holism is a concise directive reminding participants in futures work to keep a wide range of drivers of change in mind. A traditional place to start is with the drivers encapsulated in the acronym STEEP—society, technology, environment, economics, politics. There are others, of course: cultures, demographics, media, and legal systems, to take a few obvious examples.

Change in a complex, open system, such as the international system, will occur at the intersection of developments in these areas. War and conflict, as quintessentially social events, are always shaped by developments in these areas, even when technology on the battlefield is of the essence. If planners do not look at their surrounding environment as holistically as they possibly can, they risk not seeing or recognizing signals that are eminently available for analysis and thus losing the opportunity to consider how to avoid being surprised by them. One sobering example from this century should be the social media sophistication of the planners of the al Qaeda attacks in 2001. If the national security community had been better prepared to see how, in the 1980s and 1990s, satellite television and the advent of the Internet affected social interactions around the world, it could have reduced the unwarranted surprise that “low-tech” cultures could use new media in sophisticated ways.

An even more sophisticated step in this arena will be for strategic foresight projects to start acknowledging the fundamental transformations in the global economic, political, and social systems being wrought by the ongoing evolution of digital technologies. As many commentators have noted, all of humanity is in the first stages of a new era grounded in digital infrastructure.12 When technological innovations on this scale become ubiquitous and accepted, they actually become less notable in themselves as features of our world. Take, for example, electricity. Although not everyone has electricity, its ubiquity is a critical explanandum of human behavior. The world is on the way to a digital ubiquity (even though not everyone will have access to digital tools), and it is at the point of ubiquity that nontechnological drivers of change become vitally important to explore in order to posit potential future environments.

Rather than highlighting technological drivers of change and treating other drivers as “soft” or less real, strategic foresight project leaders should frame explorations of the future holistically and with a strong eye to ways in which people, collectively and individually, drive emergent and unexpected system behavior. This nuanced approach can improve the accuracy of insights into potential futures and potential surprises, even in high-tech battle space environments.

Demographers project that more than 70 percent of world’s population will live in cities, many of them coastal, by 2050, and that potential for instability and strife caused by humanitarian or other disasters in megacities makes it necessary to look at them as potential future battlegrounds, Lagos, Nigeria, June 23, 2011 (Wikipedia)

Adopt a Shared Lexicon Across the Government. Foresight terminology can be confusing. Not only does it present a number of terms of art that are also present in our everyday language (such as foresight, uncertainty, and prediction), but there also are differences among futurists and other disciplines in the ways they use these same words. While I might use the word predict in a loose and general sense to indicate my effort to explain my subjectively developed insights into how the future might unfold (“Here’s how I predict the long-term impacts of negotiations over the Arctic on both trade and culture,” for example), many practitioners in the strategic foresight community use the concept of prediction to refer to the narrow capacity to identify exactly what will happen, to a degree that is typically available only under strictly controlled experimental conditions. To add to this difficulty, many terms are somewhat similar in everyday usage (“forecasting the weather” and “predicting the weather” point to the same general idea for most purposes). Similar lexical and conceptual confusion abounds in the national security community and between different projects.

A clear and relatively simple route to orienting defense practitioners around foresight work will be by developing an authoritative lexicon and educating people across the government to use it as a reference. Other dictionaries of terms have been created—most notably by the government of Singapore, whose civil service does use the lexicon—and these and many other resources are available on the Internet for anyone’s reference.13 However, as a glance at the Singapore lexicon shows, such dictionaries are reflections of the context and priorities of their governments. A U.S. lexicon may share terminology as it is used by futurists around the world, but it will be a more authoritative resource for American professionals if it is composed with the United States in mind. Such a project will engender other benefits as well; it will create a clear point of reference for developing institutional knowledge across Services and agencies and, simplest of all, the introduction of conceptual clarity into the disparate activities by different actors.

“Get on the Balcony.” The title of this recommendation borrows from the advice offered in the 1990s by management strategists Ronald Heifetz and Donald Laurie to corporations facing emerging business conditions requiring novel forms of behavior and new ways of defining and achieving success.14 Heifetz and Laurie suggest that rather than offering solutions in such situations, leaders should galvanize adaptation to these new conditions by safely exposing employees to the challenges facing them and supporting the development of new behavioral models.

To this end, Heifetz and Laurie encouraged leaders to learn not only to view their organizations from the “field of play,” where they are a part of the day-to-day work of their team, but also to “get on the balcony.” From the rafters, high above the game itself, leaders can see not only competitors and the dynamics of doing business side by side with their colleagues but also the larger dynamics of the system—how different parts of the organization work together, and how they interact and intersect with the world beyond. Observations made from the balcony can provide powerful insights into the dynamics of the wider system and introduce opportunities to find “leverage points . . . to intervene” in the system, as the esteemed systems thinker Donella Meadows characterized the opportunity.15 Strategic foresight education and activities offer an appropriate venue for this exploratory way of seeing the world. First, holistic vision and systems thinking are intrinsic to foresight; only by seeking signals of potential change throughout the system, and beyond one’s typical domain, will one find the potential surprises and opportunities that offer competitive advantage.

This recommendation is especially salient for leaders in the U.S. national security community seeking to grapple with how to influence future events in the emerging and not yet fully understood geopolitical circumstances of the 21st century and beyond. In a rough analogy to the sports teams that serve as models for adaptive leadership in Heifetz and Laurie’s work, institutions whose work is national defense tend to the see the world in terms of opposing teams. This is reasonable; it is their job. The field of play is the space from which members of the institution seek to see threats and potential adversaries.

When the world and national situations are in flux, however, this view will not provide a sufficiently comprehensive view of the evolving system—in this case, the global geopolitical, economic, and social systems. Leaders who can “get on the balcony” to view the larger context of change will see the system from an unusual vantage point that highlights flows, connections, and feedback loops not only beyond but also between parts of the U.S. defense establishment and other actors, whether these are militaries, corporations, global nonprofits, or any of the other institutional actors who make up the world.

Incorporate Complexity Thinking into Foresight Activities. Foresight and the study of complex systems arose from similar and even intertwined conceptual movements in the 20th century, and both futurists and complexity scientists draw inspiration from some of the same people—for example, Jay Forrester and Donella Meadows (and others), whose research used computer modeling in the 1970s to explore the intricate relationships between such large-scale systems as human societies and the planet’s ecological systems. The interdisciplinary science that emerged in the late 1970s recognized that some systems cannot be reduced to their component parts but rather are the result of small, simple actions whose interactions can produce intricate collective behavior of the systems as a whole.

Despite these early connections with foresight, the potential contributions of complexity thinking to more effective foresight work are too often given short shrift in contemporary education and activities in the defense context. The technical specificity of terminology used by complexity thinkers, such as complexity and uncertainty, are instead reduced to brisk contextual commentary that is presented as self-evident: the world is more complex and uncertain than in the past. Once past these observations, military foresight classes and seminars typically return to the comfortably reductionist space of a future battlefield projected as more or less walled off from the other systems with which it interacts. This means that the fullest spectrum of potential scenarios that could be explored as elements of future conflict is left unexplored, since war, as a social institution, resides and interacts with other systems.

Incorporating instruction in complexity thinking could produce nuanced scenarios of possible futures and therefore result in higher quality planning. While this is not the place to elaborate in depth on complexity thinking and complex systems, we can note that a deep dive into the conceptual lexicon of complex systems, applied to the global system, can help strategists and planners to visualize the potential actions of militaries (as systems), as the porous systems they are, and to map their interactions both in and out of wars in relation to these systems. Such an activity in the runup to the second Gulf War would have usefully mapped the potential interactions of the military, industrial, national, and social systems that could be expected to interact in the case of a war.

Start Early to Build a Culture of Adaptive Leaders. This recommendation could not be simpler. Foresight mindsets and tools are too important to leave until the last moment, when a Servicemember or civilian equivalent has already become a flag officer, which is when many are first exposed to them. Foresight, in one sense, is a habit of mind, a way of seeing the world in such a way that we question our assumptions, view events holistically, and seek out the interconnections between them. These are all the kinds of habits of mind required to be the adaptive, agile thinkers who will be needed in the future. Developing an educational “ladder” that begins with habits of mind that prepare emerging leaders to think like futurists, and that continue to advanced opportunities to apply thinking skills to the open-ended challenges of the future, has the potential to advance the overall strategic capacity of the military.

There could not be a more auspicious time to institutionalize more deliberate, speculative, and imaginative approaches to thinking about potential futures of violent conflict and its management, prevention, and resolution. The world appears to be at a pivotal moment, and the need for excellent leadership on the world stage is strong. Societies worldwide are just beginning to experience the transformational effects of the shift from an industrial to a digital world and are as dramatically on the brink of the potent effects of climate change, demographic shifts, and cultural swings. There can be little doubt that emerging environments producing social stress, violent conflict, or significant displacement will have novel characteristics and the potential to look quite different from those for which the military typically prepares. In light of the acknowledged need for an increasingly adaptive and future-focused force, it is important to encourage the burgeoning interest in the future. Yet how this future focus is encouraged and what activities are undertaken to explore it are just as important. In this realm, there is currently room for more reflection and improvement.

Copyright 2019 Amy Zalman  All rights reserved.

Imagination: Powering Post-COVID Pandemic Planning

Acknowledging that we live on the edge of uncertainty is terrifying for modern people. How to deal with that?

The coronavirus episode is an existential throwback. It reminds us not only that we do not know exactly what will happen, but that we cannot.

In the absence of data, the only way to uncover novel scenarios is to imagine them. Letting our imaginations run wild is play, but it is critically important play.
In business and government, spreadsheets, projections and shutting down conversations have been regularly deployed as tools to avoid having to deal with uncertainty.

For professionals trained to think in the modern managerial style, truly inventive ideas have been viewed as too “out there.”

Before COVID 19, futurists helped others strengthen their ability to recognize uncertainty. Now the challenge is no longer recognizing it but dealing with it.

I am a futurist, and it is my job to help people anticipate the future. That typically means spending many professional hours helping others strengthen their ability to recognize uncertainty.

That was true until a month ago. Now there is so much uncertainty around all of us that the challenge is no longer recognizing it but dealing with it.

Scientists and futurists
Scientists toil hard in their laboratories to predict the future because they control all of the variables. Or at least they try to control them.

Beyond the laboratory, there are too many variables interacting in complex ways for anyone to know exactly what will happen. That’s where futurists enter into the equation.

One of the key principles of strategic foresight is that it isn’t possible to predict precisely what the future holds. In the face of so much complexity, the task of anticipation is difficult.

The power of imagination
Daunting as it is, this is where the futurist’s work begins, and in a very simple way – with the power of imagination.

In the absence of hard data — which the future never releases — the only way to uncover novel scenarios is to imagine them. Letting our imaginations run wild is play, but it is critically important play.

Our pre- vs. post-COVID 19 futures
In the pre-COVID 19 world, getting companies and people to use this power could be an uphill battle. Some prime questions centered around topics such as: What will global trade look like in 2100? What about governments?

To open up their imagination, I have cajoled plenty of business and government executives. I have offered them case studies of imagination-fueled breakthroughs and have quoted sage management gurus.

I did all this to encourage people to let themselves imagine the unimaginable. Ultimately, there is one simple rule: As long as a potential future event doesn’t violate the laws of gravity, it is always a possibility, even if it is a faint one.

Can adults “play”?
Yet, persuading serious grown-ups who make strategy for corporations, government agencies and military departments to “play” can be challenging.

It sounded so goofy to imagine the unimaginable. It seemed so unserious. That could never happen, I have often been told. Or: Maybe it could happen, but not here. Not to us.

Innovation and uncertainty
Business leaders often respond by saying they want more innovation. But dealing with massive uncertainty, such as now? That’s going to be hard. Many even resisted innovation, despite paying lip service to the concept: “Try something new? That’s not the way we do things around here.”

Above all, for rational professionals trained to think in the modern managerial style, truly inventive ideas were viewed as too “out there” to even bother imagining. It takes only one sentence to kick an idea out of consideration forever: “That is not realistic.”

Back to ancient times?
Acknowledging that we live on the edge of uncertainty, the way ancients lived on a flat world surrounded by a sea of untamed monsters, is terrifying for modern people.

The coronavirus episode reminds us not only that we do not know exactly what will happen, but that we cannot.

The pseudo-certainty of spreadsheets
Because this reminder is painful, government and corporate leaders have devised many ways of avoiding uncertainty. Spreadsheets, projections and shutting down conversations about what seems silly or unrealistic are the most common.

Refusal to let the most imaginative among us into the conversation is another.

But that was then, in pre-coronavirus times. Now, the unimaginable is everywhere. I turned on the TV the day I wrote this, and there was Anderson Cooper on CNN, calling what was happening in New York “unimaginable.”

Imagining the unimaginable
Now, like a tsunami, an ocean of uncertainty has washed up on the world’s shores, and we are all drowning it. Every day, headlines bring us situations we have never seen before.

There are no facts about what comes next. We have little in the way of prior experience to guide us. There is no country, no government and no sector able to retreat to high ground.

We need all of the tools that epidemiologists, data scientists and analysts can give us to make sense of the data emerging from the pandemic. Sure, statistical models, projections and simulations are indispensable for finding patterns in the data to understand what could happen next.

The real modern condition: No precedent, no data
But much of what is happening in our societies now has no precedent, and no data behind it.

In order to figure out how to plan, we need a different kind of tool. We need imagination, the most powerful instrument we have for lighting a way to the future when the path is dim.

The unimaginable has become imaginable. This fact has unfolded in a cruel but at least remarkably symmetric way across most of the world, independent of where we live and what our level of per capita GDP.

If there is a prospect for redemption, it might be this: The coronavirus has opened our eyes to the uses of imagination. What an opportunity. When the previously unimaginable becomes possible to see, great new vistas open before us.

Shedding cardinal inhibitions of the mind
Imagine these potential outcomes:

  1. Families and communities are creating joyful new rituals that will keep them connected long after this moment has passed.
  2. Business leaders are seizing this mother-of-all-disruptions to learn agility, reinvent, and transform their organizations to meet the future.
  3. Politicians look forward to presiding over a country so healthy so resilient, so productive that we all stand fearless and united, whatever lies ahead.

Anticipate it. Create it.

Copyright 2020 Amy Zalman All rights reserved.

Flying High – How to Live a Bucket List Life

I knew that it would go one of two ways.

Either it would be the greatest, most daring and courageous sporting success of my life… or the NFL would be cutting to commercial because things had gone horribly wrong. That was the mental challenge circling around in my head over and over again — much like the plane we were flying in 5000 feet above the Denver Broncos Stadium as kickoff approached.

Ever since I had learned about the Broncos Skydive team, it had been at the very top of my bucket list. With 15 years in the sport and over 4000 skydives at the time, I had an eager desire to be on the most prestigious skydive demonstration team in the world.

It had all started many months prior when I went to the owner of the Drop Zone in Denver and said, “Hey, what do I have to do to be on the team?”

“You’re going to have to train.”

I replied, “OK!”

“You’re going to have to be here for every game.”

I boldly proclaimed, “Done deal!” And followed it up with, “What else do I have to do?

Then he got really serious and told me,

“You have to be able to land perfectly every single time no questions asked — no matter what the conditions are. You need to have the ability to handle lots of turbulence, along with navigating the crowd noise, the pressure of executing this demo… time and time again with absolute precision.”

Unable to contain my excitement, I exclaimed, “I’m up for the challenge!”

I trained all summer long. Jump after jump. Practice after practice. Perfect landing after perfect landing into the open area at the Drop Zone.

About a third of the way through the NFL season I was given the opportunity to practice diving into the empty football stadium. That in itself was simply amazing. But the real goal had not yet been achieved.

Each Sunday that the Broncos played at home, I sat patiently waiting to get the call and chance to jump into the game. Just like when Tom Brady sat the bench behind Drew Bledsoe, patiently waiting for a chance to show the world that he would be the greatest of all time. (Sorry for the reference Broncos fans.) I knew that one of those weeks I was going to get the go ahead, the opportunity I had trained my whole life for, the chance to have coach ‘put me in the game!’

Getting My Shot
Then the text came, “Hey…be ready and at the DZ on Sunday by 11am…bring your full uniform!”

I feverishly texted back, “I get to jump into the next game?”

He responded simply, “Yep, you’re ready now.”

Sunday came, and I loaded into the aircraft with the other team members. It took off and we had a quick flight to the stadium. The Twin Otter Aircraft circled the stadium for about fifteen minutes prior to kickoff, my nervousness compounding with every minute that passed. There are 70,000 people down in the stands and I know the gravity of the situation.

At this point I’m calming myself down by listening for the countdown call times. The pilot shouts, “Ten minutes!” and then — what seemed like 30 seconds later — he shouted, “Five minutes!”

When he makes the “Two minutes!” call, the plane circles around and starts on its final path directly over the stadium. The green light turns on and the door is opened up. We are good to go, knowing we only have three minutes to land on the field. The NFL runs a tight ship and we certainly can’t be the cause a delay of the kickoff.

The first jumper exits the plane. The second jumper follows right behind. Then the third and the fourth. I’m the fifth jumper. As soon as I’m out the plane, I deploy my parachute and it opens up perfectly on heading.

I scream, “Yeah!”

That’s what I say every single time my parachute opens — “Yeah!”

The five of us quickly find each other and move into our formation slots above the stadium. It’s at this point when we’re up there we can hear the 70,000 fans screaming and cheering! We can hear all the energy billowing up into the sky from the packed stadium below.

Now, what I don’t know is happening down on the field is that at the very same moment the PA Announcer notices there’s five jumpers in the air.

He quickly radios and he says, “There are five jumpers but I only have names for four. What’s the fifth guy’s name?”

The ground crew confusingly responds back with “Uh, that’s Kenyon.”

The PA radios the crew again and says, “Great that we have a first name, but I need a last name to announce him correctly.”

The ground crew chimes back, “We just know him as Kenyon at the Drop Zone…sorry that’s all we have.”

The PA announcer frustratingly says, “All right, I’ll figure something out.”

As we continued circling the stadium we must be very aware of the cables that crisscross the stadium 8 times. We have to be very careful of not just the field goal cables, but also the cable cam cables and we have to dive through them, mission impossible style. If one of us makes a mistake, they’re going to have to hold the NFL game… the thing we had to avoid at all costs.

At this point the first jumper makes his turn into the stadium at a high rate of speed. His setup turn sends him flying across the upper deck and down onto the field at speeds nearing 60mph. Next, the second jumper makes his 270 degree turn and fires down into the stadium as the crowd erupts in loud cheers. The third and forth jumpers do the same, with raving thunder from the crowd. Now it’s my turn and I’m setting up and getting ready. Finally, I initiate my turn to pick up speed and dive towards the crowd.

As I’m now diving down towards the stands at 60 MPH I see a guy with a hot dog and a beer and he’s like, “Yeah!”, I look at him and I’m shoot back, “Yeah!” in turn. I continue flying and air surfing down the upper deck and then the lower deck. Through all the cables and then a quick right turn to go down the field. Like a kick returner breaking through the coverage and finding daylight, I am crossing the hashmarks at full speed.

I’m at the 50, the 40, the 20, the 10, and I just put my feet down…I hear the PA announcer say, “And our fifth and final jumper is… Kennnnnnnn-Yawnnnnnnn!”

Living Your Own Bucket List Life
I know that a lot of people might look at this story and have some unsettling feelings about it — fear, reckless endangerment, or just extreme craziness to name a few.

For others it could be the opposite — admiration. They could see the act of jumping out of an airplane onto the field of an NFL Game as one of courage and boldness.
In reality, the most difficult and bold part of the journey of 4000+ skydives that ultimately led to me joining the most elite skydive demo team in the world came down to a single, very important decision.

This decision is one that I recognize many people struggling with at every single event that I speak at.

That is the decision to create a new experience and simply take the first step towards it. Without the first skydive there can’t be a 4000th skydive. It takes that first step of courage that leads you to the next, and then the next, and then the next.

Our society has never been softer. It’s never been easier to stay safe in your comfort zone. But it’s a trap that you must be courageous enough to escape!

To become the best version of ourselves we must be bold. We must understand that we start out at our worst, but that we can become our best if we have the discipline and dedication. Every master was once a disaster. Think about that again. Every master was once a disaster.

What you eventually recognize with age, experience, and boldness, is that the biggest thing separating people who are living fulfilling lives from those who feel desperate and trapped is a willingness to do things that you are bad at or afraid of. In the process of doing those things, you come to understand that fear is just an obstacle to fulfillment and growth. What’s more, you witness that building a new skill or hobby from scratch is the best method we humans have of attaining genuine confidence.

Now go be bold and take the first step of many in a new experience. You may be surprised where it actually leads you in this great life.

© Kenyon Salo  All Rights Reserved.

Sales Clerks Don’t Have a Clue about Their Products

A well-trained clerk can boost your sales
Well, it’s the holidays again and it’s time for my least favorite thing to do — shopping!

That’s right, boys and girls, a round of chemotherapy might be a touch more enjoyable. Let’s just get into the car, circle the mall parking lot for an hour, fight the other crazy people for the parking space that is in another ZIP code from the entrance to the mall. But wait, the best is not even mentioned yet. Now we have to weave through all the crowds to maybe, actually get inside the store where of course I have no idea what I want, and then comes the magic moment of having a clerk or salesperson know even less than me.

That’s correct, the people who work in the stores today don’t have a clue what’s going on! Don’t believe me?

See if this argument holds true after your shopping experience. Now let’s look at the customer’s frustration for a few moments and then we can look at what to do from the employer’s point of view. We go to the local department store, or better yet, one of those large electronic retailers and we want, let’s just say, a computer or DVD player (they are both hot products this year).

We now have to get a special degree in electronics or computer science just so we know that the salesperson is not just making things up and they really do know the products. It is one thing just to read back the feature card that describes the equipment next to the unit being displayed. It is another when a salesperson can actually ask me thought-provoking questions that will make me want to buy from them.

For example, if I wanted to buy a computer, a great salesperson is not going to read me info on bits and bytes, but might ask, “Do you have any kids? If you do, are they on PC or Mac at school?” If the answer is Mac, maybe I should think along those lines. If they act like a doctor and ask me questions rather than point and then run away, I would want to shop at the store again and actually ask for that person by name in the future.

If you want to buy something as simple as a DVD, which one are you going to buy, how much will you spend, etc.? It can get pretty confusing and this could be a simple decision if the person was trained for an hour or so on the basics, and then really helped us rather than just let us buy on price.

For whatever its worth, when a consumer is not educated he or she will assume that all things might be somewhat equal and then price is the issue because they do not understand the differences. A well-trained salesperson or one with, what the heck, any training at all, could help raise the average sale per square foot in the store if the customers leaves better informed and actually bought what they wanted or needed.

It is so easy to be good at what you do if you take pride in yourself and want to do a better job than just average!

Now, for what the employer should do:

Forget whether the employee is full-time or part-time. The question to ask: Is this the person you want to represent your business? Remember people never say, do not ask for Bob, they just say don’t go there (the place of business) if they’ve had a bad experience!

The customer does know or care whether the person taking care of them is full- or part-time. They just want to be made to feel special and to enjoy the shopping experience.

Train all the people all the time. The more training, the more sales and the more profitable you are. Do not just train people on how to use the cash register. Train them as they were going to stay with you forever.

We all know how difficult it is to find and hire good people. They are not as plentiful as they were before. A part-time person can replace a full-time person if they are more reliable or have a better attitude. Attitude is everything!

© Hal Becker  All Rights Reserved.

Questioning Your Way to Higher Sales

Contrary to popular misconception, selling is a matter of asking, not telling, listening, not talking.

Any sales course or manufacturer’s tape will say the same thing: probe and find out what the customer wants or needs.

So why is it that when most salespeople get in front of a customer, all they do is talk, telling the customer what they think they need.

Let’s look at two examples of great salespeople: doctors and attorneys. When you go to the doctor’s office for an annual physical, there is a form with questions about your past medical history. You never see a doctor leave the room and say, “Shoot, I forgot to ask about heart disease. Oh well.”

It’s the doctor’s job to find out what is bothering you and then come up with a remedy to help you feel better. A salesperson should do the same thing. Ask questions first to find out about the customer, then if there is a remedy that will help the customer, offer it.

Probably the world’s best salespeople are attorneys. What is their job? To sell a group of 12 people on their ideas. How do they do it? By asking questions. Have you ever seen an attorney go into a courtroom without a legal pad full of questions? Of course not.

Also, they always know the answers to the questions before the witness answers. Attorneys are always prepared before they go into trial. Why aren’t sales people prepared? Usually they are reading a magazine in the waiting room before seeing the customer when they could be reviewing their notes or preparing new questions.

How to Get Started
Here’s a way to plan you line of questioning with customers.

First, get a piece of paper, and get ready to fill it with questions. The top of the page should have the customers name, contact person and the date. The following is an outline with some sample questions:

1. Operations – Ask questions about their business like “How long have you been in business? and “How many employees or locations do you have?

2. Decision making – The goal here is to find the right decision maker. The magic question is: “Who, besides yourself, participates in the decision-making process?”

3. Usage – Find out what they now use, asking questions about stock amount, quantity, etc.

4. Methods – Ask about current vendors. Who do they use, why and for how long? All these questions have answers, just ask.

5. Area of dissatisfaction – This is the tricky part of sales. Here you have to ask the question, “If you could change anything about your present vendor, what would that be?” If they are completely satisfied, ask more questions, and if you believe they are really happy with the way things are and you won’t make much of a difference, leave. But if they say they are dissatisfied with a certain area, move on to number 6.

6. Consequences – When you find an area of dissatisfaction, for instance, slow, service, respond by asking, “How does this affect you?” While telling you, they will relive the bad experience. Now it’s time for number 7.

7. Value – With the customer telling you about their frustration, with slow service, ask “What would it mean to you if we could provide on-time delivery all the time?”

8. Benefits – Now you get to talk about yourself. Until now you have been asking questions, just like a doctor or an attorney. But it’s time to talk about the benefits of your company, such as higher quality, easier operations, lower costs, etc.

When you go in asking, not telling, you will find yourself becoming a provider and not just another salesperson.

© Hal Becker  All Rights Reserved.

Customer Service as a Way of Life

Why do we call this area of business customer service? Is it a service to have customers wait in long queues at the counter or to dangle endlessly on the line while the phone never gets answered, or to be stranded forever in the voicemail Bermuda Triangle?

Most companies really do believe they are customer focused, but the reality is not in what the companies think, but in what the customers think… and no one ever really asks them. There are too many stupid policies that favor only the business while ignoring the customer’s needs.

For example, go to any discount department store. Go to the dressing room to try on some clothing. Oops! Now you notice that a sign says only three garments allowed at one time. What a stupid policy. Why is this here? Because of shoplifting, of course. But only 3 percent of customers steal, so the store has just inconvenienced and alienated 97 percent of its patrons.

This sort of “no-care attitude” has led me to conduct an intense three-year research study of poor customer service, which will be explored in my upcoming book, Lip Service: 50 Hysterical Stories of Horrible Customer Service.

On the other hand, we always hear great things about great companies: Nordstrom, Lexus, L.L. Bean, Ritz-Carlton, Disney, Motorola, Cooker, Southwest, British Airways, among others. The answer to their success is simple, but we would rather talk about them than do anything ourselves.

The No. 1 secret: non-stop training.
All companies must find good people with good attitudes (the managers must have better attitudes), and reinforce those attitudes every day. The policies must always favor the customer.

The No. 2 secret: have fun.
Here is an example of a good policy at work. The 1990s buzzword “empowerment” means nothing by itself. It needs substance. Ritz-Carlton Hotels has a simple mission statement which reads: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” Each person always carries a little plastic card with them that has 20 sayings on it. Saying No. 9 reads: “Any employee who receives a guest complaint ‘owns’ the complaint.” The sentiment alone is not good enough. The first-line employees have the authority to spend up to $2,000 to satisfy a customer, and the managers can spend up to $5,000. Not bad.

Yes, simple training and empowerment together. Can your company do this every day?

© Hal Becker  All Rights Reserved.

Leading Millennials Within a Productive and Positive Workplace

In the leadership seminars I facilitate, “millennials” always come up. Managers in the room groan and gripe, millennials get offended (understandably!), and the once happy atmosphere I had worked hard to create is destroyed. I see this happening in the workplace too! Here’s how to be a positive leader of millennials in the office.

Step 1: Please drop the stereotypes
Bottom line is: nobody likes to be stereotyped. Not for their gender, their race, their culture, their sexuality, their generation, or anything. I’m sure you can identify with at least one of these. No human fits into one neat little box, so the first step toward influential leadership with millennials is to drop the stereotypes.

We want to create a workplace where people feel good about contributing based on the positive leadership environment. If we’re writing people off and making them feel judged just because they happened to be born between 1981 and 1997, they’re much less likely to have a positive attitude and give us their all. (There are several schools of thought on exactly how the generations break down. For the sake of this article, I have used the Pew Research Center’s dates.)

Step 2: Understand the differences
Due to the pervasive child-rearing philosophies that were popular when people in the millennial generation were raised and the differing social and cultural changes during their formative years, many in this generation entered the workforce with a different set of expectations, values and skills than those from previous generations. For example, people in the younger generation may have spent the first 18 years having a lot more successes (earned or unearned) resulting in the expectation of more frequent reinforcement than the older generation may have been accustomed to. Being children of parents who came of age in an era of freedom and self-expression, and the increasing ease of immediate gratification with the internet and a booming retail marketplace, Millennials may value self-fulfillment and self-expression over loyalty and hard work. Also, due to the heavy increase in technological communication, Millennials may lack the comfort and confidence having difficult face to face conversations, and effective professional interactions.  None of this is their fault, and it is neither right or wrong, it is simply different than what the older generations may be used to. Understanding this can help leaders develop patience and mentor millennials on what they need to do to be successful in their jobs.

Step 3: Forget “should”
When we become more patient, we’re able to drop the dreaded, useless words that I hear all the time: “They SHOULD know” or “They SHOULD do that.”
When someone learns one thing for 18 years of her life and then is dropped into a world with a whole different set of expectations, your belief that they SHOULD know is irrelevant and unproductive. They DON’T know, and the more we cling to our expectations, the longer they flounder. Plus, you are frustrated, creating lost work, high turn-over, high stress, and lowering morale and engagement in your workplace.

It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, and frankly, it doesn’t matter why. In order to keep our businesses afloat, we need to figure out how to deal with it. The first step is recognizing our unproductive thought processes to help increase our patience. Then, let’s teach!

Step 4: Be a mentor!
If someone on your team isn’t doing what he needs to do to be successful, teach him! Help her! Explain why it’s important for the organization, for the team and for them and their future. Show that you are more than just an angry, nagging and ineffective manager. Show them that you care about their success. No matter when you’re born, you will always work harder for someone who cares and wants to work with you to maximize your success.

Step 5: Hold your team accountable
Showing that you care doesn’t mean that you don’t hold them accountable when they don’t do what’s required of them. You can show you care, mentor them and still follow through with consequences if they don’t correct the behavior. The key is in the delivery.

Don’t approach the difficult conversation with a punitive mindset. Be sure they know of any potential consequences during preliminary conversations and that they can make the decision of what to do on their own. Then, if they don’t correct the behavior, let them know that they made the choice and this was the next step you discussed. Also discuss what challenges they may be having and share your intent to help make them stronger, rather than wagging your finger at them. You will have a lot more success with this approach with any adult.

One of the keys to being an influential leader whom people want to work for is having these tough conversations well. If you want to get better at tough conversations at work or even at home, I highly recommend the book Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler.

Everyone’s in
Whether we like it or not, we need everyone we can get to contribute in a positive way to the success of our workplace. You can sit and complain about the unique challenges that millennials bring to the workforce, or you can make it better. Shifting your mindset about the problem is the first step toward a more productive approach to leading everyone in your workplace, including those who happened to be born between 1981 and 1997.

©Anne Bonney All Rights Reserved.

Effective Delegation in the Workplace

The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. The greatest leader is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” -Ronald Reagan

We can’t do it alone, but so many leaders fail when it comes to effective delegation in the workplace. Whether they have an inherent distrust for their people, a death grip on control and the need to do things their way, or a lack of comfort “ordering people around”, delegation is one of most challenging leadership skills to get right, but when you get it right, your team will fire on all cylinders, achieving a whole lot more than they would have otherwise.

The first step to effective delegation is nailing the setup. It takes a little planning, and takes some time, but it gets easier the more you do it, and the investment in time will pay off in the end when you don’t have to do more work to clean up after the delegating.

When you’re planning to delegate, ask yourself Who, What, When, Why and How.

You’ve got to think about who you’re delegating to. There are many reasons to delegate. A few are

  • Take advantage of someone’s strength
  • Give someone the opportunity to try something new and learn
  • Give someone a task they enjoy or that has greater visibility within the rest of the company
  • Allow you to focus on items that require your specific expertise and authority

When considering who to give a task to, think about the above reasons, and decide, do I need quick and efficient output, or is this a great development opportunity? Trusting a new person with a new project can be scary, but it could be a great opportunity to see what they can do, and if you nail the rest of this setup, they’ll have a greater chance for success.

One warning: when it comes to the “who”, we often have our go-to people. That team member who always delivers good quality work on time, and often we rely to heavily on that person. It can be demotivating for them, because their reward for good work is…more work! Or, if the work is desirable, it can be demotivating for the rest of the team, because they never get the chance to learn and shine! So beware of singling anyone out here. It can really compromise your effectiveness as a motivating leader.

What is the task you need completed? What are your expectations for completion? What does success look like? Be super clear on this. Have you ever been asked to do something, but walk away with no idea exactly what they want? It’s so confusing, disorienting and demotivating! If you want someone to be motivated to complete your task well and on time, be sure they understand what it is you need them to do. Be sure to ask them if they have any questions, and make yourself available for questions along the way.

When do you need the task completed by? BE SPECIFIC HERE! I can’t stress that enough.

“ASAP” for you may mean 3pm today, and it may mean next week for the person you’re delegating to!

“When you can” for you may mean at the end of the week, and for the delegatee, next January!

So be specific. Date, and time if applicable.

In my leadership workshops, sometimes managers say they’re uncomfortable “being bossy” and saying “I need this by Friday” feels bossy. If that’s the case, how about saying, “This research is in preparation for the staff meeting a week from Friday, and I’ll need to plug it into my presentation. Are you able to get it to me by this Friday? That would give me time to incorporate it, and practice so I can make our team look good in front of the company. Will Friday work for you?” Giving someone the reason for the deadline will give them a sense of urgency, and asking them if it’s works for them will make it seem less bossy. Be ready for them to say “No, but I can get it to you Monday.” And you may need to compromise, but at least they don’t feel like you’re ordering them around. It also works to ask them when they can get it done. Then you can negotiate more towards the date you want if necessary, but if they come up with the date, they’ll be more committed to it, and you don’t feel like a bossypants.

This is a big one. Adults like to know why things are happening. It helps them put the task into context so they don’t think it’s just busy work. It also helps them problem solve when they understand what the end goal is, so be sure to let them know why something needs to be completed.

Lastly, if at all possible, let them decide how they’re going to do the task. As the old saying goes, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat”, and we all have our favorite way. (ok, that’s kind of a morbid analogy, and I’ve never actually done that, but you know what I’m saying.) As managers, sometimes we have to let go of our death grip on control and allow someone to do a task their way. It may not be the way we’d do it, and we may think our way is more efficient or better, but if their way gets you to the end goal you need, gets the task off your plate, and was done in their way, they’ll feel better about the outcome, trusted and empowered, and you just killed 2 birds with one stone. WINNER!

Follow these 5 guidelines when planning your delegation, and you’ll have a much better chance at success. It takes a little time to plan and be ready for the delegation, but it’s an investment in ease in the future. Your team will feel successful and empowered, and you’ll have more time to focus on bigger priorities.

©Anne Bonney All Rights Reserved.

Don’t Let your Emotions Control your Reactions

Raise your hand if emotion sometimes leaks out onto your face? When someone says something that upsets you, even though you know you shouldn’t show it, your face betrays you, and becomes a billboard of anger or hurt. Or how about I-Didn’t-Just-Say-That-itis, where you feel an emotion and snap, say something sharp, then wish you could take it all back?

Emotional Intelligence is a buzz word in the personal and professional development world right now, and for good reason! It is a key indicator of success in the workplace, and in life. The 4 elements of Emotional Intelligence (or EQ) are self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness and social regulation. Leaky Face Syndrome or Sharp-Tongue-itis is a self-regulation issue, and I’ve got a great technique to help reduce the immediate emotions in a situation, making it easier to regulate what inadvertently slips out.

Now, please understand me, this does not mean you’re not dealing with the issues. It simply means that you’re able to deal with them in a more emotionally controlled way, creating a situation in which the other person is more likely to work with you.

The key is to examine the story you’re telling yourself about whatever is going on and reframing that thought so you can reduce the emotional kick and respond in a calm way. It’s about being able to stop the reactive part of your brain from hijacking your reactions and allowing the rational part to take the wheel.

Here’s how it works. When something happens (A), we have certain thoughts, or judgements about what happened. (B) Because of those thoughts, we feel emotions (C), which makes our Neanderthal brain react (D) giving us certain results from the world (E). Let me give you an example.

I am kind of a stickler about time. When Casey arrives late to a meeting (A), my judgement is, “Lateness is unprofessional, disrespectful and this person clearly doesn’t have their stuff together.” (B). Because of these thoughts, I feel angry (C), give them dirty looks throughout the meeting, and don’t assign an important project to them (D) and as a result, they’re not open to collaborating and communicating with me (E) thus damaging our working relationship.

Joe is a single dad, and he knows that sometimes life is not your own, and no matter how much time you leave for yourself to get somewhere, timeliness is often completely out of your control. So, when Casey walks into the same meeting late (A), Joe’s thoughts turn to priorities and busy life (B) and he feels empathy. (C) After the meeting, he approaches Casey to ask if everything is ok (D) and their relationship is strengthened as a result. (E)

Because of Joe and my differing thoughts and judgements about lateness, we have a different emotional experience, and thus, we behave differently and get very different results.

Now comes the magic. What I need to do, is to reframe my thoughts about lateness in order to not go off the deep end every time someone is late. When there is something that you don’t have immediate control over that repeatedly happens and gives you angst, examine your thoughts and judgements (B) and question whether that is the only possible explanation for that behavior.

In the lateness example, perhaps Casey was in the hall talking to the CEO about a media crisis going on in the company. That’s a little more important than the TPS report review we’re doing in the Lakeview Conference Room. Or maybe they were on the phone with their kid’s oncologist. WAY more important. So instead of immediately getting mad and writing off everyone who is late to meetings, I suspend judgement, and say “maybe there was another explanation for the lateness” and speak rationally about it with them.

You can bring up your immediate negative thoughts and judgements if you think it’s relevant for them to know but bring it up in a tentative way by saying “it makes me think…” rather than accusingly pounding them on the chest with your index finger. Perfect example, when my partner doesn’t do the dishes for days after committing to do them, my immediate thought is “he thinks it’s my job as the woman to do the dishes” Instead of flying off the handle and accusing him of being a sexist pig (which I know full well won’t have a positive outcome), I can say “I’m frustrated when the dishes sit there for days because it makes me think you believe it’s my job as a woman to do them. I’m pretty sure that’s not what you’re thinking, but it sure feels that way, and I wanted you to know that.” This gets a much better result. In fact, I came home from a business trip last Friday, and the dishes were done and the kitchen was spotless. This stuff works folks. Give it a try!

Reframe your thoughts, and you’ll be able to handle conflict and challenges much more calmly. We’ll talk about this and tons more about EQ on November 13 at Kirkbride Hall, so get your ticket today, and I’ll see you there!

©Anne Bonney All Rights Reserved.