Team Building

Questions: the ultimate creative tool for leaders

Posted by on May 2, 2014 in Appreciative Inquiry, Executive coaching, Leadership Development, Leadership practices, Team Building, Transforming conflict and adversity | 0 comments

Questions: the ultimate creative tool for leaders

“I’m not creative, haven’t got a creative bone in my body” said a business leader participating in a session I was leading. Then he turned and asked the group a question that started a most creative conversation. It was like witnessing a group of kids with a fresh set of finger-paints. This leader’s question opened a creative space his colleagues couldn’t fill fast enough with insights, adding color and details to each other’s ideas, alternately jumping in with excitement and pausing to see what was taking shape before adding more. When we hear “creative” we often think paintbrushes or clay. Certainly artistic endeavors are forms of creative expression but all creativity is not limited to making art. Effective leaders use questions as their preferred creative tool. Their questions evoke, stimulate, and engage. The key is to choose creative over destructive questions. Questions that move people in the direction of possibility versus impossibility.  Imagine questions that invite people to turn to each other to create, instead of turning on each other in blame or fear. Try this exercise. Read the question below and envision the thoughts and feelings this question would bring about: What do we do if this thing goes south? When we ask people to envision things going wrong, they feel the emotions associated with or at least the fear of things going wrong. Those images and emotions create a downward energy spiral in which imagination, empowerment, and confidence shut down. Read the next two questions and envision the thoughts and feelings these questions would create: What if we were on the other side of this challenge looking back at ourselves with pride about what we did and how we did it? How can we bring out the best in ourselves as we figure this thing out? When people envision themselves responding successfully, they free up positive energy and mental capacity to innovate, collaborate, and act. Most importantly, these questions help build relationships because people are invited to turn to each other. And that matters because relationships among people are the pathway to creating the results we need most for our...

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What you and Tom Hanks have in common

Posted by on Oct 31, 2013 in Executive coaching, Leadership Development, Team Building, Transforming conflict and adversity | 0 comments

What you and Tom Hanks have in common

The actor Tom Hanks loves stories of survival, ingenuity, and triumph. We are drawn to his portrayals of real life and fictional characters because he is so relatable in the face of extraordinary odds and extreme adversity. From the real-life Apollo 13 to the fictional Castaway, Hanks enlivens stories that are both inspirational and instructional. You might be thinking, “Inspirational sure, but instructional? No way am I going to perform dental work on myself with an ice skate!” (If you haven’t already seen Castaway, sorry for the spoiler.) Castaway and Apollo 13 are entertainment blockbusters – and instruct us in a practice called Appreciative Inquiry (AI) – that equips people to bring about extraordinary results from even the most difficult circumstances. Imagine being stranded in a space module 200,000 miles from earth, the oxygen supply is dwindling and there is no apparent way to get home. That’s the situation in which the Apollo 13 astronauts found themselves. Remember that iconic line, “Houston, we have a problem.” It’s the line everyone associates with Apollo 13, but it’s not the line that turned the mission into one of our most treasured stories of triumph against all odds. Rather, it was the instruction at mission control that engineers should collect only things that were already on board the module, and using only those resources, innovate a solution. And innovate they did. They instructed the astronauts to build an oxygen filter from a tube sock, duct tape, and a binder cover, among other things. In the practice of Appreciative Inquiry we call this ‘Discovery” – the search for what we already have going for us. It is the first step when faced with any difficult reality. Many leaders meet adversity by asking “What’s our next step?” or “Whose fault is this?” In reality we are best served by asking ‘Where are we” (that’s defining reality) followed by asking ‘What do we have going for us?” Once we know exactly where we are and what we have at our disposal, we can create and chart the way forward. The next time you find yourself stranded on a desert island or faced with a drastic cut in resources while needing to deliver the same level of service and quality, don’t ask “What do we do now” instead begin with “What do we have going for us?” Clients I have worked with over the years have been amazed at the depth of strengths, skills, resources, and values they actually have at their disposal. Strengths that can be repurposed (like the skates in Castaway) or reused (like the tube socks in Apollo 13) This may not be rocket science. Yet the reality for many companies and in many people’s careers is they get stuck, face challenges, and make mistakes. Too often the focus is on the problem or what is wrong with them and how to fix it. What if instead we asked, “what is right” and “how can we engage what is right to build future successes? What do you and Tom Hanks have in common? You love a good story about triumph in the face of adversity and challenge. Beginning with discovery of what you already have at your disposal is the first step in writing such a story for your organization. Photo by John Shearer | Wire Image...

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