Seven Lessons about Leading Teams I Learned from Nettles

For those who hike or are into wild natural foods, you have likely heard of stinging nettles, sometimes referred to as burn hazel. However, for most folks, this seeming weed remains a misunderstood member of the botanical world. When my wife and I bought our hobby farm four years ago, three of the ten acres were densely covered in stinging nettles. My first tour of the property was a painful trek through knee high stinging nettles because, as their name clearly tells us, they sting. The chemical that is passed from its hairy leaves and stems is actually referred to as venom. Yikes! That walk and my subsequent nettles adventures have helped me learn 7 important lessons, not only about botany, but more so about being a better team facilitator or leader. Lesson One: Respect the citizens who are there, no matter what. When I run into those well entrenched and therefore seemingly unfriendly denizens of an organization on a team, I need to respect them. They probably are there...
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Need Out of the Box Thinking? Get off the typical road!

Struggling to get your team to think creatively?  Are you looking for innovation by trying the same old strategy of "think outside the box?"  Struggling to get them to move past the same old answer? Try this approach – it’s how I get my GPS…and teams… to creatively find ways around the well worn thought patterns. Recently I was driving home to Lancaster, PA from Dulles airport, nominally a 2.5 hour drive. But the Google Maps app was estimating over 3 hours, due to a jam on I-95 north. It recommended a sidestep to miss some of it, but I wasn’t liking the option. That recommendation saved less than 10 minutes. Coming north from DC, there are three significant options off the top of the beltway; I-95, the Baltimore Washington Parkway (295), and good old US Route 1. Route 1 is the slowest as it’s just a 4 lane road, with traffic lights. As I came to the top of the beltway, I saw the traffic warning signs...
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Improving Process Thinking: Are you just saying “throw a strike?”

It’s spring, and time to think baseball.  It may also be good time to get our processes in better shape, so here’s a story to help you differentiate process thinking from outcome thinking…critical to process improvement. A while back, I was helping a good guy coach. An accountant by profession, it did seem that the scorebook was his favorite piece of equipment, but he was a nice guy and he wasn’t a screamer. (keep that in mind…it sets the tone) In this one game, the coach’s son took to the mound. He was one of the better pitchers in our league, a tall kid with heat and control. But on this day, it would be different. As the first pitch left his hand, I thought to myself “that’s not a strike.” It was low outside, the ump called “ball”. His Dad then provided this advice to the mound. “Throw a strike.” It was said encouragingly, not even sternly. It was just a clear reminder of the desired outcome. I thought jokingly to myself,...
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5 Tips for Better Data Visualization for your Team

Data is all around us more and more, and sometimes its hard to actually visualize what you are really need to do with it.  As facilitators, we need to help participants with data visualization to see the information they are wrestling with more clearly. To show you this, I really must start with a story. Recently, my dear parents were moving to an independent living retirement community. Because they had already sold their home of 60 years, downsizing was imminent. My Dad was hesitant. My Mom was flustered. Too many decisions about what pieces of furniture to take and how they would all fit. Every discussion of the topic sort of ended with just more confusion. So, I put on my facilitator hat. I copied an overview plan of the apartment, that showed how a few pieces would fit. This was good, but not great. I grabbed my office whiteboard, drew a big version of their apartment and then beside it listed every piece of furniture. There,...
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Storytelling vs. Seeing what the data says

This past week I had the pleasure of attending a session on “Data Visualization” at the ASQ Service Quality Conference in Chicago. It was of particular interest to me because I have taught classes and tried to help clients on this topic. The session was given by Robb Richardson and he did a wonderful job in what was a very short time to help the group see some excellent principles to follow in staying true to the statistical voice of the data. He demonstrated some simple techniques to maximize what Ed Tufte calls “data ink.” Robb had a simple formula that data visualization is 3S+A; statistics, science, storytelling plus aesthetics. Storytelling. I think we all intuitively understand that to visualize data, we need to address stats, science and make it look cool. But storytelling? That’s the element that too many times I see folks skip over in their race to ‘see what the data says’. What we forget is that we come to the data with a...
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Learning to Lead by Stepping Back

Last week I read The Servant as Leader by Robert Greenleaf as part of the Greenleaf Center’s Foundations Certification course, which I’m taking with my friends at Third River Partners.  In the essay, Greenleaf proposes how one can test his or her effectiveness as a servant leader with reflection upon the “Best Test."  When you are serving another person or group of people, ask yourself, "Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?”  - Robert Greenleaf Hearing this test of servant leadership abilities was particularly poignant for me in my role as mother.  My little guy is a joy and a blessing that I thank God for every morning.  Even so, when he wakes in the middle of the night it’s easy to lose sight of coherent thoughts and the greater goal of how to best lead my son. At about 2 months old, my baby started sleeping from 10pm - 6am most nights.  We...
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Taking on Project Risk…Together

Risk. We dread it and we love it. Or is it, we dread it OR we love it? Understanding this about ourselves and those we work with can make a project a lot more enjoyable. Risk is everywhere. Our financial advisors reiterate at every turn “current success does not indicate future gains.”  Moms excel at dreading about risk with the worry lines to prove it. Yet, we also love risk. We watch football players risk injury every game to play a game they love.  We play games “of chance”, putting our money or our bragging rights out there at risk of loss. Nearly every new endeavor has an element of risk, or, to put it in the nerdy way, has a probability of some sort of severe consequence. When we work on a project together as a team, how do we deal with risk? We bring our different perceptions of risk together to make decisions to manage the project. Team decision-making has become...
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Do Profits Matter?

Do Profits Matter?  I was doing some work with another consultant, and he made the comment that only profits matter.  I took objection to that statement and shared this. Yes.  Profits matter.  But we need to realize that profits matter like breathing matters.  Profits are the oxygen that keep a company viable.  Without profits, there is no company.  It’s that simple.  But do you wake up everyday making breathing your objective for the day?  Maybe if you have pneumonia or if you woke up on the bottom of the lake, then breathing is a good objective for the day.  Similarly, if your business is ‘under water’, then having an objective to make sure your firm can “breathe" is a good call. But even in those situations, we try to breathe because we have something we want to live for.  That is what really matters. Wonderfully eloquent works by  Lencioni, Sinek , Deming and Pink have made this case over and over.  Yes, profits...
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Joy in Leadership

Last week, I was treated to listening to a key note by Shawn Achor at the #WCQI in Nashville on the Happiness Advantage.  I listened intently as I was giving a talk on Joy in Leadership in a few short hours...and I wondered if our terminology was similar.  It was.  Shawn ended his talk with a line, that, if I scribbled it correctly, was: The more we choose Joy, the more we make this world a better place to live. Fascinating.   Deming told us that over 30 years ago, and lots of folks poo-pooed that aspect of his teachings.  Deming told managers that their job, in addition to prediction, was to "enable joy in work."  Now Achor had the facts to back up just how powerful Deming's advice is. Though I loved Deming's mandate to managers, I found it hard to explain to tough minded managers.  Until a few years ago... and this is what I shared at the conference. Building on...
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