Mason jar performance evaluation #4

Quality performance feedback

Strip #4:  “To the best mediator, facilitator, delegator, and leader…you will be missed”

I hope this doesn’t seem too self serving, but after the last post where I was characterized as the chief leader into the weeds, I needed to build myself up a bit.  🙂

Not that this is really about me.  Remember, we are mining this feedback for insight into what the team values.  Whatever I did or didn’t do to bring it about really isn’t the point.  Look at what this person valued, and the order it was phrased.  Mediator, facilitator, delegator, leader.  Each one deserves its own mention.

Mediator: “Group conversation” is really an oxymoron since verbal communication just doesn’t work well in group environments.  Our brains can’t process more than one person’s input at a time, and they do a horrible job of taking 5 different opinions expressed in series, and integrating them all into a unified conclusion.  To make things worse, most of us aren’t really listening to those 5 different opinions anyway.  While they are being delivered, we are generally still thinking about what we want to say next.  I’m much more effective shutting up and monitoring the “shape” of a conversation, where it’s moving and how it’s changing as each voice is heard.  Once I think I have it, I’ll re-formulate where I think we are for the group, watch for the head nods, and then throw the reins back to them.  I try to contribute very few of my own thoughts or ideas.  I have plenty of other forums I can use to bring my them forward.  The team re-orients towards its goal, presses forward, and the whole cycle repeats until we arrive at agreement.  As tempting as it is to contribute, team meetings are for the team to be heard.

Facilitator: I hear this over and over again.  The help my teams want most is for me to get things out of their way.  They know what they want to do, they are confident they know how, but there are obstacles in the way that they simply don’t have the authority, access, or network contacts needed to remove them.  When I get a barrier moved, the team excels.  When I try to grab the wheel and show them how to drive over it, we often founder.

Delegator: If my boss is doing my work, what am I here for?  Teams will naturally fall into this line of thinking…because it is logical and factual!  Any remotely insightful team will come to this conclusion whenever you try and do their work.  Such a simple principle, with so many different ways to screw it up.  I think the reason is because our brains staunchly hide the truth from us every time we succumb to meddling. We get impatient and we get risk averse and both create un-admitted, unconscious anxiety, followed immediately by profound denial.  But you say no one really manages this way anymore, right?  Micro-management is such a well established no-no, there’s no way I’m doing that.  Right.  Well, like so many other things in life, there is a gap between what what we think we do and what we’re doing.  It’s like faking orgasm.  20% of people say a partner has faked, and 80% admit to faking.  You do the math (but not too carefully since my faking data is entirely made up and probably borrowed from Seinfeld: fake, fake, fake, fake).

When we let that anxiety create unconscious excuses to meddle, it is a breach of contract.

You heard me.  The “social contract” of management, often unspoken but at the very core of what we do, is “more risk for more money” or power, or perks, or whatever.  Most of that risk is wrapped up in the anxiety-provoking (yet absolutely essential) aspect of leadership that requires us to be responsible for the things others do.  Yet many of us renege on that contract all the time when we fail to delegate.  It’s a cheat.  It cheats the company out of innovation, and it cheats the team (us included) out of critical professional development.

Bottom line: Help your team communicate, move things out of their way, and let them fly on their own.  And no, I didn’t forget “Leadership”.  It’s just that if you get the first three, you’re kind of already there on the fourth, aren’t you?

-These quotes are from a jar that my team presented me as I was leaving to accept a promotion.  They are the impressions, thoughts, and ideas that they had come to associate with me during my time there.  I’ve decided to share them, and what I remember of how they came to be, with my readers as I draw them at random-

Mason jar performance evaluation #3

Quality performance feedback

Strip #3:  “Your ability to get an entire group of people off track and into the weeds so quickly will be missed”

Right.  Well, can’t say I didn’t see this one coming.

Meetings are funny things.  You can make agendas, set ground rules, and choose outstanding facilitators, and they will still grow legs once in a while and wander off.  Then there’s guys like me who occasionally feel the need to grab the wheel, swing left on the first unmarked road, and take the team off on a little off-road jaunt.  A sure sign that I’m getting bored.

I do have the best of intentions.  I have a bright group of analysts and they thrive on entertainment.  I am an entertainer at heart and the temptation is often just too great.  This isn’t always a pure distraction.  When I see that things are getting a bit too serious and that rigidity is creeping into the conversation, a good story does a lot to reset everyone back to a more neutral frame of mind.

You don’t have to put on a song and dance for breaks like these to be effective.  I often use this time for training, on topics that range from basic leadership, to logical analysis, to policy development, communication, critical thinking, and team building.  I’ve had a lot of money spent on me for both formal and informal training and these are great opportunities to share that education with my team.  Before I’m done, I try to aim the subject matter back towards the task at hand and we generally settle right back on track.

Bottom line: Agendas and team focus are essential to the success of any meeting, but don’t be afraid to let things spin out into the dunes once in awhile.

-These quotes are from a jar that my team presented me as I was leaving to accept a promotion.  They are the impressions, thoughts, and ideas that they had come to associate with me during my time there.  I’ve decided to share them, and what I remember of how they came to be, with my readers as I draw them at random-

Mason jar performance evaluation #2

Quality performance feedback

 

Strip #2:  “Always acknowledge a fault frankly.  This will throw those in authority off their guard and give you opportunity to commit more.” -Mark Twain

This quote is at the bottom of my company email signature.  Funny?  Yes.  But also so, so true.  I’m really glad someone on the team picked this one.  I love it because it covers so much  essential truth in such a short time.  That’s Clemens for you.

First, there is the unequivocal admonition to admit error, and to do it quickly.  He doesn’t say “If you have a cool boss”, or “if you are sure you won’t be blamed”.  The rules are “always” and “frankly”.  Absolutely brilliant.  I don’t know about you, but I haven’t met the problem yet that got smaller and more manageable with age.  A team member who comes to me quickly with a problem gives me the best chance to minimize the damage.  I’ve tried to do the same for my own leaders and rely on them to reward my trust with trust.  On base, this strategy has always bought me more than it cost me.

Second, there is the expectation that leaders will find such disclosures surprising, disarming even.  It’s kind of a sad commentary on the state of leader-team relations, but it’s also very human.  We don’t naturally value the admission of error, and leaders often forget to establish it as a cultural norm and create a safe environment for it.  Explicitly setting that expectation, and always delivering on the promise of  safe disclosures, has never failed me in overcoming the human reluctance to self-report.

Finally, there is the promise that this behavior will be rewarded, the bookend to the extension of trust at the beginning.  I used to think he referred to the opportunity to continue messing things up while those in authority were off their guard, or that that fessing-up would mitigate the punishment for your original screw-up (after all, you can only commit other faults if you are still employed).  From a more optimistic perspective I see, rather, a banking of good-will that occurs when disclosure enables deft recovery.  This is currency you can draw upon on the next time (and there is always a next time).

Bottom line: Get trouble on the table fast and never miss an opportunity to reward it’s disclosure.  In the uphill race against mistrust, you can’t afford to miss this even once.

-These are from a jar that my team presented me as I was leaving to accept a promotion.  They are the impressions, thoughts, and ideas that they had come to associate with me during my time there.  I’ve decided to share them, and what I remember of how they came to be, with my readers as I draw them at random-

Mason jar performance evaluation #1

Quality performance feedback

 

Strip #1:  “I admire that you make time to read…”  This one also includes a quote from Harry S. Truman: “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”

It was probably a familiar sight each day around 11 to see me close up my office and head for the cafeteria, Kindle in hand.  I have always been an avid reader, although I must confess that I am not remotely an intellectual reader.  You will find a lot more of J.R.R. Tolkein, Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, Anne Rice, and Frank Herbert on my Kindle than, well.. I don’t really know what authors to put here, since the point is I don’t read them much.  I have some friends who are very astute, literarily speaking, and there have been a few uncomfortable pauses in our conversations over the years, as they have mentioned an essential author that I’ve never heard of.

Still, there are biographies, histories, scientific reviews, and social analyses in my library.  Not just old textbooks or gifts, but ones I’ve actually gone and picked out myself.  Admittedly, it’s probably 1 cerebral work for every 10 fun pieces, but I have finished every one and am certain they have broadened they way I look at the world.

The other important part of this ritual isn’t so much the reading as it is the break from the schedule, from the pressures of the day, to re-set and recharge.  I often use this time as much for quiet thinking as I do to read what I brought with me.  It really helps to evaluate where I am on the day’s tasks, and to be much more efficient as I start working through the second half of the day.

Bottom line: keep putting stuff in your brain, but take time out to process it too.

-These are from a jar that my team presented me as I was leaving to accept a promotion.  They are the impressions, thoughts, and ideas that they had come to associate with me during my time there.  I’ve decided to share them, and what I remember of how they came to be, with my readers as I draw them at random from the jar-

Mason jar performance evaluation

Quality performance feedback

Recently, I accepted a promotion into my first senior manager role.  Shortly after the announcement was made, my current team surprised me in a staff meeting with a jar full of colored paper strips.  On the sly, they had assembled a collection of thoughts, attributes, ideas, or sayings they had come to associate with me during my two years on their team.

I haven’t read them yet.  I’ve had them on my desk at home for a couple weeks, thinking over whether I was ready for that kind of feedback.  Not that I think there will be anything horrible in there.  It was a challenging period of time for everyone, but I felt like we had a good team going by the end, and that my participation had been helpful.

It was just that, as I looked at the jar and got ready to open it, it occurred to me what a really choice moment this could be.  As leaders we all try to inspire, to create a vision for what the organization and its individuals are capable of.  We hope that the vision is shared and that it may contribute in some way to increased performance and success by the group.

That is, after all, the value proposition of management: that our contributions create an environment around our teams where more value is produced than would otherwise be.  Here in front of me was a jar full of what my team had absorbed, what they had come to associate with my leadership.  I know what I had tried to communicate.  But how had it really come across?  Did it retain the essence of what I had intended?  Had it grown into things I could never have anticipated?

I am going to open the jar tonight and read one of the strips.  In my next post, I will share what it says, and my recollections about the circumstances that might have fixed its contents in the mind of whoever submitted it.  I’m a little nervous, but I am also excited to see what sort of influence I might have had, especially if they were able to make more of my simple efforts than I had ever intended.

The many returns from jumping into a new pool.

One of the things that really jazzes me about travel is the multitude of little differences from the way things are at home.  The big differences are obvious and always a challenge.  Communication, financial transactions, transportation, dining, etc. are often tough to learn in places where they are handled very differently from what you are used to.  But there may also be a myriad of small, seemingly inconsequential differences that add up to a steep learning curve before you start to feel competent while you travel.

I think the reason I don’t mind this kind of change anymore is because I really love learning.  I love getting comfortable and accomplished in new places (as much as you can without living there, anyways), and my recent first trip to London was no exception.  Lots of small, fun, different ways to do things that I take for granted at home.  Okay, I know.  London is not going to be that big a challenge for an American compared to, say, Tibet but you get what I mean.  There is a richness to experiencing any part of the world outside your normal comfort zone, and mastering even the small things can be a tremendous source of satisfaction.

It wasn’t always that way for me, though.  What follows is a little essay from the “Things I wrote when I was 17 and still kind of like” archive…enjoy!

Stalled

     I negotiated the narrow metal steps down from the passenger car while balancing my suitcases and had miraculously avoided killing myself or someone else in the process.  The train platform was all rough metal and concrete, weather-beaten and very foreign.  I stopped a moment and looked around.  So much was different.  I had been fascinated by languages in my younger years, and had pursued an education in linguistics.  Consequently, I had made plans to complete my senior year in Scandinavia, specializing in the closely-related languages spoken there.  My goal was to master one of them (Swedish or Norwegian most likely, since learning one of them got you the other for practically nothing), and perhaps take a side trip through the wonderful linguistic curiosity that is Finnish.

The preparations were made over the summer and I was now making the final train connections to the university at Uppsala, Sweden from which I would base my work.  Staring out the window while the country miles passed was like watching an old movie.  With each brief stop, the foreign feel of my new environment crept in around me.  It came like fog on old two lane highways in the middle of nowhere.  One moment you’re cruising just fine, the next moment you realize you’ve got only ten feet of visible road in front of you.  “Curioser and curioser,” our good pal Alice said, and if you ask me, she was a master of understatement.

They say our thoughts are super-fast electrical impulses, that thousands of little connections are being made every minute. Not even close.  The sad truth is that the human mind can’t even keep up with a 747 jumbo jet and a United States passport.  Such an airplane had launched me into a world I couldn’t begin to understand.  At first I couldn’t identify the source of my unease.  Then I realized that hundreds of small things, things my mind relied on to keep itself together each moment, were nowhere to be found or were perplexingly different.  Road signs, light switches, menus, and bus schedules could not longer be taken for granted.  All had something changed about them that required extra brain processing.  I had an hour to kill before my connecting train arrived, so I left the station for a stroll.  I needed some air and some time to wade through the fog in my head that threatened to cancel all rail service indefinitely.

So here I was, in a town whose name I couldn’t pronounce, trying to identify where I had begun to lose my grip on what was happening.  As I walked away from the station into a nearby park, I was hit with one of those inevitable calls of nature that visit frequent travelers at every stop, usually whether they need it or not.  “Thank God,” I thought,” at least something works the same.”  Finding the restroom was easy.  I just looked for the figure on the doors nearby whose body wasn’t shaped like a skirt.  Holmes would have been proud.  I went inside, entered the nearest stall, took care of business, and got everything reassembled.  It was at this point, ladies and gentlemen, that I experienced a moment of rare insight, an intuitive leap, as it were.  At this moment I found myself able to pin down what culture shock really is.  It’s not strange road signs.  It’s not funny accents.  It isn’t fake-looking money or a different song sung when a foreign flag is raised.  Culture shock, my friends and neighbors, is what happens when you are standing in a restroom stall in a public park.  It’s what happens when you look at the toilet in that stall for a full minute and slowly come to the realization that, despite your college education, you have absolutely no idea how to flush it.

There was a knob on the top of what appeared to be the tank.  Everything else looked normal.  Fear, impotence, frustration, all settled in the pit of my stomach in a swirling, heavy, acidic mixture.  I mean, of all the difficulties that arise during this trivial bodily necessity, the last thing you think about thinking about is the flushing.  It’s like saying “Bless you” when someone sneezes.  I reached out and gave the knob a very sensible push downward.  Nothing happened.  I pushed again.  Still no go.  I could feel panic fluttering its wings overhead, ready to descend.  I looked around for some other mechanism.  Nothing.  I turned the knob clockwise, then counter-clockwise with the same lack of results.  I could feel the sweat starting on my forehead as my nerves kicked into high gear.  I knew it was impossible, but at the same time I knew, was certain, that every television in the country was tuned in on me.  Everyone was being treated to a view of the pathetic American who was losing a battle of wits with a public toilet, all courtesy of some twisted version of “Candid Camera.”

The door to the restroom opened and I froze.  I knew, just knew, that in two seconds the stall door would fly open and I would turn, blinded by stage lights, to face the camera crew and a hundred laughing figures, clutching their sides and howling.  The restroom door closed and I saw two small feet in white sneakers pad into the next stall over.  A wave of relief began to pass over me, then fizzled away as I realized this could possibly be even worse.  It was.  Less than two minutes later, those same two feet padded out again, this time accompanied by the musical tones of flowing water coming from the stall next door.  I was torn in two, half of me wanting to throttle the little brat for making me look like a complete idiot on national television.  The other half of me wanted to run after him and ask, no, plead with him to reveal the secret he possessed which had so eluded me.

I did neither of those things.  It finally came down to a choice of either trying one last time or being found sobbing uncontrollably by the police.  I took a deep breath, turned to face my enemy and began to think.  “If I were the obvious psychotic who had designed this with the intent of increasing the suicide rate among the tourist population, how would I have put this thing together?”  Slowly an idea began to form in my mind.  At first I almost rejected it.  Why, you ask?  It was just too easy.  Yet even that thought suggested my idea might be correct.  Slowly, I reached both hands back toward the knob, grasped it, paused.  I took another breath, uttered a prayer to any of the gods that might be listening and, like Arthur drawing the sword from the stone, I closed my eyes and lifted.

The sound of water filled the room, filled the whole world till I thought I must surely drown.  My eyes widened and a cry escaped my lips. “A-ha!” I cried, then immediately closed my mouth.  I could not however suppress the feeling of triumph that welled up within me.  I left the bathroom hurriedly, catching a strange glance in the mirror from a man stooped over the sink.  As I walked back through the park, I noticed a family playing on the grass, the remains of a picnic lunch nearby.  The father was playing catch with a boy and girl while the mother watched from the shade.  I waved at the boy as I walked past and he looked at me carefully for a moment.  Then he waved and dared a shy smile, new grass stains on his little white sneakers.

A sad step back for undersea exploration and research…

In 2007, I had the privilege to provide medical support for an undersea research mission at the only permanent underwater habitat in the U.S.  Located about 9 miles off Key Largo, FL, the Aquarius Reef Base is run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) and provides a unique home from which researchers can do extended surveillance and observations of the nearby Conch Reef.

This was an absolute highlight of my Navy career.  For about a week, I partnered with the Aquarius staff and the team of researchers who would carry out the mission.  In addition to my normal duties, I got to splash down with the rest of the team, carry supplies back and forth from the habitat, and help with maintenance dives.  The diving conditions were phenomenal and, as a wannabe research scientist, I had a great time working with the research team and learning about the sponges they were studying.

The reason they chose Aquarius, is because it enables them to dive longer and collect much more data than is possible when diving off a boat or from the beach.  Most people know that diving deep for a long time a can require a slow return to the surface, called decompression, in order to avoid the “bends” (decompression sickness).  The longer you stay down, the longer and more technically difficult the decompression will be.

In Aquarius, divers stay underwater in a dry environment long enough to become “saturated”.  Their bodies have absorbed as much nitrogen (the gas that causes decompression sickness) as they can at that depth.  At this point, the amount of time it takes to decompress stays the same whether you do a 10 minute dive or a two-hour dive, and whether you stay in the habitat two days or ten days.  This has great benefits for research, since you effectively have no limits on how long you can stay out to get your data collected.  You have one long decompression at the end of your mission, but until then you can dive almost as long as you need to.

So why the travelogue?  NOAA has announced their intention to cancel funding for the National Undersea Research Program (NURP) which provides funding for Aquarius.  Like with NASA, this is the latest in a series of shortsighted government decisions to make miniscule savings in the national budget, while sacrificing unique institutions that are centers of knowledge creation.

Ben Hellwart has written a very good article describing the circumstances surrounding this sad day for American innovation, exploration, and research.  You can read about it here.  The homepage for Aquarius also has tons of information about the habitat’s history, past missions, current activities, technical specification, videos, webcams, etc.

There is a mission going on right now (July 14-21) that you can follow on Twitter (@reefbase) and via a live webcam.

According to Ben’s article, NOAA is trying to buy time for the Aquarius staff to transition to private sector jobs.  Makes me wonder if Aquarius itself might be saved by such a transition.  The problem with that is that Florida already has a couple of underwater hotels.  Trading off our only undersea research habitat for another hotel doesn’t seem like a good trade.

Shout out to my first follower

Because it does deserve some recognition, right?  Thanks very much to Luke’SkyWalker’ Connelly!  Go check out his blog at walkedthru.com.

Now we know that it is very courageous to be the first follower, but it is really the second follower who sets events in motion for a movement to form.  All my pals from London Business School know what I’m talking about, right?  C’mon gang!  Who is going to grab the opportunity to be the second follower?

Yankee crepes: my latest Pinterest contribution

Eggo waffles, Nutella, and fresh ground peanut butter

Okay, not the most original contribution, I know, but I have been having the best time with Pinterest lately.

As I mentioned in my inaugural post, I spent June at London Business School and had some phenomenal lectures on technology (among many other things).  One of the things I came away with is that the social media experience is tremendously enhanced when you rise above lurker status and try to be a contributor.  This is one of my humble attempts.  You can see others here.

Welcome to my world!

First of all, thank you so much for taking a moment to peek into my world a bit.  My grand plan is to regularly put things here that will inspire, excite, and amuse.  I am appreciating more and more the power of all of you to contribute marvelous content, so I also hope to use this space to give visibility to the incredible things that others are doing as well.

The idea for meshmote came from a remarkable experience I recently had at London Business School.  After some incredible lectures on technology and social media, I came to the sudden realization that I was no longer the technological leader in my family.  That position had been quietly taken over by my fifteen and eighteen year-old children.  The power of collaborative networks (the mesh) was second nature to them, and something I was going to have to work to learn.  The “mote” is me, floating around within that network, looking for a place to connect, collate, and contribute.

I am so full of interests right now, that I expect it will take time for me to settle into a theme or rhythm for what I will share.  My own creative writing will definitely appear, but I am also anxious to share visual images, interesting tech developments, music, world-changing ideas, and brilliant innovations (at least in my ever humble opinion).  Please be patient and let me know what you like, especially if it is a surprise to find you like it.

Thanks again for joining me.  I hope you will be back.

-Robert-