Self-Expression Through Service

“Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Service is the highest form of self-expression” read the title of an editorial in Times of India by Janina Gomes and it got me thinking about service.

I realized that the only way to grow yourself, your teams, your organization is to think about what you have to offer from a service perspective. Who and what do you serve? You can directly serve others or serve a cause that enriches others. We all know about great examples of servant leaders from Gandhi to Mandela. But what about Steve Jobs? I like to think that he devoted his life serving the cause of simplifying technology and design.

But why is service the highest form of self-expression, you may ask?

Because mindset of service subdues the ego and real self-expression (and also learning) cannot happen when you wear a mask of your ego. And the truth is, real service is not about you, it is about purpose and people. And when you think about purpose and receivers of your service, YOU become the medium and not the source. Ego and entitlement must take a back seat if you are truly set out to serve others and when that happens, the whole foundation of your engagement with the cause is transformed.

Gandhi famously said,

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service of others.”

It doesn’t matter if you are an artist, employee, a team member, a leader or an entrepreneur – you are paid to serve something or someone. Breaking the cocoon of your limited beliefs and thinking about who/what you serve is also a powerful way to also discover your unique purpose.

Here is a quick doodle to encapsulate this wonderful thought!

Also Read at QAspire:

Five Not-So-Radical Ideas For Nurturing Change

When everything around is constantly changing, it is easy to:

  • Get carried away by latest fads, best practices etc.
  • Execute changes that may not be significant in shifting results to positive direction
  • Implement solutions to half-baked problem statements
  • Isolate people affected by change in a rush to just change things
  • Get confused between change and transformation initiatives

We often see this happening all around us. There is so much conversation going on about change and transformation that it is easy to get carried away when the “Big WHY” of change is not clear.

In this context, I read Paul Taylor’s latest post titled “Three Simple Ideas To Stop Change Failing” where he offers not so radical ideas to ensure that change does not fail. He emphasizes on importance of mindset, getting influence devolved to people closest to change, change through small experimentation and not initiating change without a clear problem statement and some evidence that proposed solution will result in net positive business outcome.

These are simple ideas, but powerful ones. Simplicity after all is not all that flashy and it takes far more thinking and work to simplify things. Which is probably why we take the easier route of adding complexity, heh!

Here are a few excerpts from Paul’s post:

change is best served when we devolve power, and the institutions and hierarchy get out of the way

– – – – –

Our change programmes rarely answer the question “Why are we changing?” in a truly coherent way.

This – combined with our cultural bias for execution over problem definition – is why change often fails. We may solve a problem – just not the right one.

– – – – –

And here’s a quick sketch note summary of key ideas from the post:

Related Posts on Managing Change

How to Accelerate Team Learning

A team’s ability to learn quickly is at the heart of adapting to constant changes. In fact, it seems that constant learning is the only key to agility as a team and organization.

Jack Welch famously said,

“An organizations ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the greatest competitive advantage.”

On this blog, we have visually explored various facets of creating a learning organization. It all starts from understanding why organizations don’t learn. Peter Senge’s seminal work on creating a learning organizations outlines learning disabilities that plague organizations. To overcome these disabilities, we explored disciplines of a learning organization and the role of reflection in how we learn.

Along the same lines, I read Elizabeth Doty’s post titled “How to Accelerate Learning on Your Team” at Strategy+Business blog with great interest. It adds on to the ideas we have explored further and provides fresh perspective on how to catalyze learning within teams.

I encourage you to read the full post and here are my visual notes from the same article.

P.S: I wrote a post in 2011 that outlined 10 actions for leaders to create learning organizations and further outlined Three Rituals For Constant Alignment And Learning that just aligns with some of the ideas suggested in this post. Do check them out.

Peter Senge: How to Overcome Learning Disabilities in Organizations

As an organization grows, managing the flow demands work items to move from one team/department to another. In quest to make these teams accountable, very specific KPI’s are established and that breeds non-systemic thinking. People look at meeting their own numbers and push the work to next stage and often, what happens is that while people win (in short term), the system fails. Every team meets the KPI numbers and yet, customers remain disgruntled.

Peter Senge, in his book “The Fifth Discipline – The Art and Practice of Learning Organization” outlines 7 organizational learning disabilities. He says,

“It is no accident that most organizations learn poorly. The way they are designed and managed, the way people’s jobs are defined, and, most importantly, the way we have all been taught to think and interact (not only in organizations but more broadly) create fundamental learning disabilities. These disabilities operate despite the best effort of bright, committed people. Often the harder they try to solve problems, the worse the results. What learning does occur takes place despite these learning disabilities – for they pervade all organizations to some degree.”

It then becomes very crucial that we identify clearly these learning disabilities. Here is a sketch note summary of these 7 learning disabilities.

Critical question then is: How to we overcome these learning disabilities and truly create an organization that learns better? Peter Senge answers that question through his 5 disciplines of learning organizations that I have written about in the past. Here is a sketchnote summary of five disciplines:

More on Creating Learning Organization at QAspire:

5 Elements of Working Out Loud by @JohnStepper

When I started this blog in 2006, I only thought of it as a repository of my own lessons as a new manager. Little did I know that this space will become one of the most important learning and sharing tools for me over years.

The benefits of putting myself out there in a way that it helps others has been immense both intrinsically and extrinsically. I have evolved as a professional and human being writing this blog, sharing my work and getting plenty of constructive feedback and validation in return.

Along the way, the topics I covered on this blog also became starting point of many enriching conversations offline and enabled deep relationships with others based on ideas.

John Stepper defines this as working out loud:

Working out loud is an approach to building relationships that can help you in some way. It’s a practice that combines conventional wisdom about relationships with modern ways to reach and engage people. When you work out loud, you feel good and empowered at the same time.

Learning is a social act and sharing our work, building relationships and feeding our communities are at the heart of how we should learn. Technology and social media only accelerates the process of sharing beyond boundaries and amplifies our reach.

John Stepper outlines five elements of working out loud that addresses the “why” of working out loud and here is a quick sketch note outlining these five elements. Please read the original post for more elaboration from John Stepper.

 

To add to this conversation, here is a sketch note on “How to Work out Loud” with insights from John Stepper. I am so grateful to John for having included this sketch in his recent TEDx Navesink talk.

 

Related Reading at QAspire:

10 Characteristics of Companies that Succeed

What differentiates companies that succeed over a long run from those that don’t? As the rate of change and disruption continues to accelerate, companies need a strong foundation of fundamentals that enable long term success and growth.

In this respect, I recently read Leandro Herrero’s post on characteristics of companies that succeed in long run. 10 characteristics are outlined in the sketch note below.

Also Read:

Dwell in Possibility

Dwell in possibility”, borrowed from Emily Dickinson is one theme that is guided me so far and will continue to guide me in the future. 

Every single day brings along a world of possibilities and one thing that determines what we see and how we see things is out own attitude. If you look for problems and constraints, you will always find them – even in the best of situations.

Possibility thinking is an attitude of seeing things and asking, “What’s possible here?” and then working to bring those possibilities to life. Because, ultimately all human progress depends on ability to see possibilities and make them happen.

In my own career, the mindset shift from constraints to possibilities has helped me immensely and continues to help. How do you dwell in possibilities? Here are a few things to consider:

  • It starts with a belief that possibilities (and solutions) exists. It is not about denying constraints but working your way around constraints.
  • It is about persistence in looking for answers when you are unable to find straightforward solutions to constraints.
  • It is about having an eye for what’s working and how can that be amplified as much as it is about knowing what falls in your circle of influence.
  • It is about learning to live with uncertainty and still acting with confidence.
  • It is about realization that things don’t have to be the way they are and that making a change is a possibility.
  • It is about being able to challenge the status-quo knowing that there are better ways of doing things.
  • It is all about execution putting all your energy out there to take the right next steps.
  • It is about riding the waves of change rather than being crushed by it.
  • It is about consciously pursuing the path of your heart and go where it takes you – even if it means living on the edge. Because as Seth Godin says, “If you can’t fail, it doesn’t matter.” 
  • It is about moving beyond our best and being prepared to fail fast, early and often to succeed eventually. Having high expectations from the self and from others is vital because making possibilities happen is hard work.
  • It is about being impeccable with your words (one of the four agreements)  because our choice of words create our possibilities.
  • It is about a strong desire to make a positive difference and contribution in your own life but making a difference to others (your people, organization, teams, family, friends etc.)
  • Living in possibilities is a mindset of serving others by working with them, collaborating with them and finding people who can be your allies in making things happen.

It seems like the only option we have to truly steer ourselves forward is to embrace the mindset of possibility and abundance. Then why not commit to live by the words of Emily Dickinson and “dwell in possibility”?

A worthy goal for 2017 and beyond.

Also Read at QAspire:

In the sketch: Ancient 16th century windmills from Zaanse Schans, The Netherlands (illustrated from my visit there in Dec 2016).

Organizational Leader as a Social Architect

Leadership success is largely governed by, amongst other things, one’s ability to create an ecosystem of engagement, meaning, performance and growth. A leader creates this ecosystem through conversations, communication (leading to clarity), connection, systems, rituals, processes and decisions.

Leandro Herrero, in his post, “Five spaces that the organizational leader needs to design and nurture”, calls leader a social architect. The idea resonated very strongly with me since social architecture (physical and psychological spaces) is a way to create the ecosystem of high performance. 

“Yes, leaders need to see themselves as architects, as space designers, creators, and implementors. This is an area where what the leader says counts less than what the leader does in this social engineering. It is therefore very silent, but the spaces will be very visible and the legacy will be enormous.” – Leandro Herrero

Here is a quick sketch note I created based on the ideas presented in the post.

Related Posts/Sketchnotes at QAspire:

In 100 Words: Face The Light

 

In moments of uncertainty, inspiration came to me in form of a tweet with a visual that read,

“If you see shadows, it is because there is light.”

I instinctively told myself,

“If you face the light, shadows fall behind.”

The mindset of abundance asks, “What’s possible?” instead of “What could go wrong?” and focuses on those possibilities because constraints are almost a given in work and life.

Only then, we can start focusing on possibilities, thinking beyond the boundaries, raising the bar, stepping into the unknown and doing what truly matters.

We try. We err. And then, we learn!


Also Read at QAspire:

Putting People First: Leading in an Era of Constant Transformation

Leading in an era of constant disruption, change and transformation is not easy. In such transformation efforts, soft aspects of leadership play as crucial role as the hard aspects like systems thinking, innovation and execution of change.

Last week, I saw an insightful TED talk by Jim Hemerling where he outlined 5 ways to lead in an era of constant changes. He says,

Let’s acknowledge that change is hard. People naturally resist change, especially when it’s imposed on them. But there are things that organizations do that make change even harder and more exhausting for people than it needs to be. First of all, leaders often wait too long to act. As a result, everything is happening in crisis mode. Which, of course, tends to be exhausting. Or, given the urgency, what they’ll do is they’ll just focus on the short-term results, but that doesn’t give any hope for the future. Or they’ll just take a superficial, one-off approach, hoping that they can return back to business as usual as soon as the crisis is over.

Sustainable change and transformation requires inclusive leadership that inspires through purpose, develops people and builds a culture of continuous learning.

Here are my sketch notes summarizing the key insights from the talk.

 

Related Posts/Sketchnotes at QAspire:

5 C’s for Great Talent

What do you look for when you look for talent?

Competence is the key to solving problems but competence alone is not sufficient for success. In current context, I would define talent as a combination of competence, commitment, learning agility, attitude/character, communication skills, ability to collaborate across different cultures, critical thinking and creative problem solving.

Back in 2010, I interviewed John Spence on this blog when he released his new book titled Awesomely Simple – Essential Business Strategies For Turning Ideas Into Action. The book offers great ideas to simplify work life which I often refer.

In the same year 2010, American Management Association released result of their Critical skill survey which outlined Creativity, Communication, Collaboration and Critical Thinking as key skills for future success.

In the book, John defines business success as a combination of culture and great talent, and further offers 5 C’s of Great Talent, which I found very useful. 

Here is a quick sketch note version of 5 C’s of Great Talent.

Related Reading at QAspire: Skills For Future Success in a Disruptive World of Work

In 100 Words: Finding Inspiration

We either wait for inspiration to happen to us or try finding it from somewhere (books/blogs/videos etc). I have spent countless hours trying to wait or find inspiration. It helped, but only for a short while.

A better way to create inspiration, in my experience, is to get down to doing things. Once you dedicate yourself to the cycle of doing, delivering and improving, that becomes the source of your inspiration, the one that feeds more inspiration.

Ralph Waldo Emerson rightly said, “An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.”

The best inspiration happens while doing the work!

– – – – –

Also Read at QAspire

Making Work More Effective

Here is what leaders often do – when faced with a complex situation at work, they add more meetings, task forces, new procedures and governance structures that makes things more complex. What we need to handle complex challenges is simplicity that leads to effectiveness.

Simon Terry, whose thinking I really admire, wrote a short post titled “Five Ways to Make Work More Effective” offering vital ideas about efficient work.

Meetings, unending email threads, too much focus on consensus building, siloed thinking and lack of experimentation are some of the biggest wastes in an organization. They sap productivity, hurt engagement and kill accountability.

If you are a leader or a manager, this might just be a reminder you need often to ensure that you create an environment of effective work – smart work as they call it!

Here’s a quick sketch summary of the post!

Related Reading at QAspire

The Neo-Generalist

The books I love the most are not the ones that offer off-the-shelf “solutions” but ones that start a conversation, catalyze thinking, elevate understanding and help in thinking about a topic in novel ways.

And that’s why I loved reading “The Neo-Generalist” by Kenneth Mikkelsen and Richard Martin.  It is a book that bridges the gap between two extremes of specialism and generalism and introduces a neo-generalist as:

“The neo-generalist is both specialist and generalist, often able to master multiple disciplines. We all carry within us the potential to specialise and generalise. Many of us are unwittingly eclectic, innately curious. There is a continuum between the extremes of specialism and generalism, a spectrum of possibilities. Where we stand on that continuum at a given point in time is governed by context.”

The book introduces the concept and then takes it forward with the help of stories from many people who were interviewed as a part of the research for this book. Reading diverse journeys of so many multi-disciplinarians was insightful and only added new dimensions to the topic.

Somewhere in these narratives and stories, I could sense a deep connection with my own inclination towards neo-generalism right from my choices in school to how I have evolved as a professional. From that perspective, reading this book was very rewarding because it helped me map my own journey to the specialist-generalist continuum that this book talks about. Gaining new perspectives and expanding my own understanding of how we learn, choose and do things was a huge bonus.

I also loved the organization of book where quotes so eloquently encompass and extend the essence of the ideas. The bibliography section of book recommends other rich resources for extending the conversation.

Here is a sketch note summary of key points from the book that may offer a small preview of some key insights from this treasure.

More on The Neo-Generalist
Related Topics at QAspire

Nobody Rises To Low Expectations

If you are dealing with a mediocre team or average performance from people, check what you are expecting from them. People respond to expectations (implicit and explicit) and raising the bar of expectations is a great way to enable growth and potential in people.

Raising Expectations Doesn’t Mean Pressurizing People

Setting high expectation means providing clarity of purpose, helping people find meaning of their work, helping them see what success looks like and then helping them along the way. It is a common misconception that the only way to raise expectations is to put undue pressure on people. Pressure can help people perform, but only till a certain point beyond which it results in a burnout. In a creative world of work, people step up when they know the difference their effort can make. It is a leader’s job to enable the ecosystem of conversation, clarity and collaboration.

To Believe that People Can Do Better

When you raise expectations, people will falter. The key is to have a belief that people can do better. It is easy to give up on someone and blame their limitations. It is incredibly hard to handhold, believe, enable and help.

Know Where to Raise Expectations

To be able to set the expectations higher, a leader has to have a deep understanding of the work people do. As a leader, if you don’t understand the nuances of how work is done, you will never be able to raise the bar for others. Leader also needs ability to decide when to focus on details (activities, task, operational aspects) and when to see a broad picture (values, behaviors, methods, results etc).

Finally…

Once you raise expectations, be a catalyst of their performance. When you see their efforts towards raising the bar, acknowledge it early and often. Celebrate small milestones because appreciation is the fuel of high performance. Fail to do this and people will fall into the trap of “it is never enough” mindset. When they know that you are raising expectations only to squeeze something out of them, they will soon disengage.

Bottomline: If you are a leader at any level (yes, parents are leaders too), do keep raising the bar of expectations. You will be surprised to see how people step up and respond!

By the way, this also applies to expectations that you have from your own self!

– – – – –

Also Check Out:

– – – – –

Thanks to Sebastian Andreo for sharing his view via Twitter on acknowledging, appreciating and celebrating the efforts. I updated the post.

Six Rules to Simplify Work

Most re-organization efforts either focus on hard stuff (processes, strategy, structure, KPI’s) or on soft stuff (culture, values, relationships, feelings). I have seen very few reorganization efforts in my career that are focused on the most important aspect of how value is delivered to customers: Simplicity

Simplicity stems from decentralization of power. “New Power” as they call it, is all about empowering people, creating conducive ecosystems for performance, learning collectively and encouraging collaboration. Most complexity in organization is introduced in an attempt to centralize power. The focus then is on adding more checks, processes, structures, metrics, KPI’s, incentives, coordinating offices and such.

Yesterday, I saw a very interesting TED talk by Yves Morieux (Boston Consulting Group) where he says,

Complicatedness: This is your battle, business leaders. The real battle is not against competitors. This is rubbish, very abstract. When do we meet competitors to fight them? The real battle is against ourselves, against our bureaucracy, our complicatedness. Only you can fight, can do it.

The talk sets the context on how organizations increase complexity and offers useful ideas on how work can be simplified. Here are my notes from the talk and I recommend you watch this insightful and provocative talk to gain a more well rounded view.

More Posts on Simplicity at QAspire

Leading and Learning: How to Feed a Community

When I started this blog in April 2006, little did I understand about how a community works. I would write posts each week only to be read by my immediate colleagues and friends. Till a point when I learned that,

“conversation and sharing is the currency of a social community”

I started following many other blogs, take the conversation forward through comments and share along good stuff. I learned the art of building a community through excellent blogs of Michael Wade, Rajesh Setty and Lisa Haneberg. Their work fueled my own journey of understanding how a social community works.

Getting into Twitter in 2009 opened up new avenues to contribute and accelerate my ability to connect with multiple like minded people through sharing and conversation. Today, I am very happy to have a personal learning network – a group of fellow learners and explorers who share as they learn and work out loud.

Lisa Haneberg, one of my favorite bloggers, wrote about how to feed a community where she said,

if we want to belong to a vibrant community we have to feed it.

And then, we belong to offline communities at work and outside of work. There again, conversation, generous sharing and helping others make meaningful progress is at the heart of building a community. I learned a great deal of this by going through my mentor Rajesh Setty’s program “The Right Hustle” which he defines as:

To hustle right is to choreograph the actions of those that matter to create meaningful accomplishments in an arrangement where everybody involved finds a win.

It became quite clear to me that

learning is a social act and we learn the most when we learn together.

In the communities that we choose to belong to (online and offline), we have to do our part in feeding it. It is only when we are generous about sharing our gifts that we build credibility to receive anything meaningful in return, build influence, thought leadership and learn.

Harold Jarche’s Personal Knowledge Mastery and the mindset of working out loud evangelized by John Stepper are great ways to feed your community and learn.

I wrote a post earlier titled “3 C’s for Leading and Learning on Social Media” which may offer helpful ideas to feed your community. Here is a quick sketchnote of Lisa Haneberg’s ideas on how to feed a community.

Bonus

As an extension to the ideas above, here is a sketch note version of “How to Work Out Loud” which John Stepper included in his recent TEDx Navesink talk.


My Community

People who read this blog, follow me on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere is my community and I am very grateful about it. I am intentional about feeding this community by sharing my lessons, summarizing insights visually, helping others move the needle and share resources that help.

Critical Questions

What about you? What learning communities do you belong to – online and offline? How do you feed your community? Critical questions as we start a new week. Do share your insights in the comments!

Two Ways to Respond to Anxiety

The anxiety we feel when we are worried about an uncertain outcome (or guessing our failure before it happens) can be very disabling. We fight it out to an extent that the only thing we really do is defend our ground. When we are focused on defending, minimizing our exposure to anxiety, complying and cruising along the path of minimum resistance, we can hardly create anything meaningful.

Then there is another kind of anxiety that results from your eagerness to do something – to make something happen. Sure, there is a strong element of apprehension here as well which is why it is a kind of anxiety. But the focus here is to beat anxiety by raising the bar, changing the frame of reference and explore newer boundaries. 

If you are set out to do anything meaningful, anxiety is a part of the game. Embrace it and you will make it. Let it embrace you and you stall.

Fear of failure in advance is very human. It is our response that makes it a limiting force or a creative force. In fact, history tells us that no meaningful creation has ever happened without anxiety.

As Henry Ward Beecher very aptly said,

“Every tomorrow has two handles. We can take hold of it with handle of anxiety or the handle of faith.”

So, what does this mean for leaders?

If you are a leader at any level, choosing your response to anxiety (your own or your team’s apprehensions) is so critical. Your team can only do better when they are encouraged to acknowledge the fear and look beyond it for possibilities.

Leadership and The Art of Effective Listening

There is no leadership, personal or organizational, without listening. In fact, ability to truly listen (and not just hear) is the foundation of having a conversation, building trust, influencing others, resolving conflicts, driving your vision, building relationships, implementing change and learning. Yet, many of us equate listening with absorption of what the other person is saying. There’s more to it!

In this respect, I loved reading a recent article on Harvard Business Review titled “What Great Listeners Actually Do” by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman. The article provides an excellent round up of how to truly listen.

I attempted to capture the essence of their post in a sketch note form and I loved the way they sum it up. Here is a snippet from an article that you must read:

“Finally, we hope all will see that the highest and best form of listening comes in playing the same role for the other person that a trampoline plays for a child. It gives energy, acceleration, height and amplification. These are the hallmarks of great listening.”

Here is a sketch note summary along with some links to my own thoughts on listening well at QAspire.

 Related Posts at QAspire

What Makes a Team Great

Last week, during an internal team event, we organized an interesting activity. Team members were asked to form a human chain by holding hands. A round hoop was then passed through one end of the chain and participants had to pass the hoop through themselves to other end without breaking the chain. The team that passed hoop across in least time would win.

The hoop signified challenges and issues that a team faces. To achieve the goal and overcome challenges, team members had to contribute equally – each link of the chain was important. When a team member was struggling to put the hoop through the head, the other team member would just raise the hand and help put the hoop into next person’s head. They empathized with struggle of the other team member and changed their posture (alignment) to help put hoop through the head. Teams learned that empathy, emotional intelligence, self-alignment (adaptability) are the key ingredients of a strong team.

In the same week, I stumbled upon a 2015 NY Times article titled “Why Some Teams are Smarter Than Others”. According to the research presented in this article, three characteristics that differentiate a smart team are:

  • Equal Contribution: from all members rather than a few team members dominating.
  • Emotional Intelligence: Ability to read  complex emotional states of others.
  • Women Power: Teams with more women were found to be more effective. This had little to do with diversity (equal number of men and women) but just having more women on team. Women are, on average, are more intelligent emotionally than men.

Read the full article here and a summary of the same in sketch note form below:

Related Posts/Sketchnotes at QAspire.com