Reason #11. Graduate School.
When doing my graduate research at Dartmouth College I was obsessed with risk-taking behavior. Key questions included: Why do we intentionally embrace a known risk? What causes us to embrace more risk in academics or business or interpersonal choices? How do we encourage constructive risk tolerance, risky shift, and risk taking behavior?
At the time I was teaching high school English in a boarding school in New Hampshire. Like every faculty member, I was required to embrace the “triple threat” requirements as a teacher, dorm parent, and a coach. I supervised a dormitory house with 12 9th grade boys. I coached soccer and x-c skiing. I taught rock climbing, whitewater canoeing, winter camping, outdoor adventures. I ran a January program that was designed to “foster risk taking” in academics and socially constructive outdoor adventures, which included a 3-day mandatory winter camping expedition called “Sophomore Wilderness.” And I met a lovely woman that I was not supposed to date– because she was on the faculty. And we dated. Got engaged. Then married, on Lake Winnepausaukee. Some 23 + years ago. Like the students and other faculty, I embraced risk.
My research required that I develop an assessment of adolescent risk taking behavior. Based upon recent related research and validated approaches. Then test the questions on hundreds of adolescents at summer camps, and at two independent high schools.
I found that adolescents described self-esteem in multi-dimensions (such as physical, social, academic, etc.) But adolescents did not discriminate between types of risk in that way. They only discriminated between socially constructive risks (helping others, talking to a teacher, etc) or socially destructive risks (taking drugs, sexual activity, etc.)
Some 25+ years later I remain fascinated by several facts:
1. Adults act like those adolescents. Adults discriminate between socially constructive and socially non-constructive risks.
2. That instant between a stimulus/trigger and a response/action defines our career success.
3. Coaches/consultants can help adults determine what is safe or risky, and what is productive or not.
4. I remain continually surprised and puzzled by that opening question: Why do people intentionally embrace a known risk?
What do you think?
Recently our high school-aged daughter asked, “Daddy, you talk to people all day long about their success. If you can make it simple, what are the two keys to success?”
If she was quizzing me, then I failed. Perhaps because I did not expect the question, perhaps because I wanted to say something special to her.
I said something trite: Focus on your strengths. Persist. Follow your passions. Build a great team. But sadly, like most of us, perhaps, I just could not find the words. Frankly, I struck out.
Then yesterday someone made it simple. Now I can answer her…
What are the 2 keys to success?
1. Attention, and 2. Support.
Just as we attend to an infant and support their growth, we create gardens of success. Every successful person talks about those who gave them attention. Their mentors. Their elders. Their coaches. Those who listened well, believed in them, supported them. After repeated actions toward a desirable goal, those people thrived and eventually felt successful.
This morning I shared this idea with someone. She doodled a circle, then drew an exclamation point, bold, in the center of the circle, to represent “attention,” then she gave it legs to represent “support,” then gave it an arrow to represent a future success. That image works!
The same pattern occurs in a coaching engagement. When I first meet someone they may be uncertain of the process, unclear about why they are receiving the attention. A common fear is that coaching is a process of “fixing behavioral gaps or deficiencies.” As if we could dunk people into a “flea and tick bath” and they emerge cleaned, ready for the next challenge. Instead, people decide if they like the attention, if they can use the support, and if they want to develop their strengths. That choice is the key to success.
So, key coaching questions may include, “Who do you need to give more attention to?” Or, “How can you support someone’s strengths?”
Time to go… I now have an answer for my daughter.
What are you going to do?
I hate the phrase “soft skills.”
Yesterday, I was at a project site, working with 10 people in 10 hours, and each person had concerns related to CORE business skills. Nothing ”soft” at all.
Their concerns included: conflict management, communication, delegation, listening, feedback, role clarity, alignment, engagement, motivating others, self-motivation, maximizing productivity of others, career development, managing work and family and health….
These are CORE Skills. Essential to their success. And there is nothing “soft” about developing these skills.
Perhaps it is time to rename skill development into two columns: Core skills (essential to business, hard to quantify) and technical skills (secondary to success, easy to quantify.)
- Consider what is taught in MBA programs? Or your training department?
- Consider what is tied to your employee incentives? Or promotions?
- Consider what has determined your success to date?
- Consider what will likely determine your future success?
My hunch is that your answers to questions 1 and 2 included technical skills. Easy to train, easy to measure, easy to track, yet secondary to your success.
Yesterday, one of my clients talked about his “Success Team.” He listed 4 influential people, and 3 were on site. I urged him to develop at least 6 people on his Success Team. And if he did not know the names of his target Success Team members, I urged him to select “the smartest person in the U.S. who wants this project to succeed.” He wrote down that phrase, and he will find the people soon.
Thankfully, we can each develop our core business skills when we ask for help.
One of my coaches says, “Individuals do not succeed, despite what history books and company records state. Teams succeed.”
So, how are you developing your core business success skills?
Who are you asking for help?
My undergraduate roommate was a NCAA swim champion. All of his friends shaved their heads and legs to prepare for important swim meets. And they coerced me (and everyone who lived in that hallway) to take swimming lessons. So, I became a Water Safety Instructor (WSI). Years later I taught advanced lifesaving skills at a summer camp.
I swam for only two reasons: 1) to cool off when it was hot outside, or 2) to survive. Later, I taught whitewater kayaking and canoeing. When the rapids tossed my boat upside down or sideways I had to swim hard. My helmet had a sticker saying “Don’t Drown- It will Spoil Your Day.” So I flailed in order to survive.
I never learned to swim a proper freestyle. I learned to flail. To survive.
When I turned 51, one of my triathlon buddies cornered me. “So, when are you going to get past this head trash? When are you going to learn to swim properly?”
He pointed me toward Total Immersion Swimming instruction. I checked out videos on YouTube. Their instructors looked smoother than Michal Phelps. I was ready to face my fears. So I hired a local coach and stumbled toward the local pool.
Coach Dinah siad, “Show up at 0800 with goggles. You don’t need to prepare anything.” She was wrong.
I bought goggles, but did not know how to fit them. They leaked. She taught me to mush them into my face until they created suction and kept the water out. Lesson #1= do what you can to at least look like a swimmer.
From the bottom dresser drawer, I grabbed the 20+ year old purple triathlon swim shorts. My wife said, “Those are too short to wear.” She was right. When I got to the locker room I learned that the elastic was gone. Unfazed, I stapled the waist band 1″ shorter. McGyver-style. Then I stuck a jumbo-sized paper clip into the waistband. As if that could keep those old shorts from falling down. When I leaned forward they revealed more than anyone needed to see…
Coach Dinah pulled out her video camera and simply said, “Show me your best stroke. Off you go.”
When I shared the video clips with my wife and daughters, later that night, they laughed until one rolled onto the floor. My shorts nearly slid off my backside. My arms flailed. I made thousands of bubbles…. and made it 2/3 of the way across the pool.
Just one more example of a time when the phrase “conscious incompetence” applies. I stood a long distance from “unconscious competence” or mastery. This process had started ugly…
I certainly had a lot of room to develop.
Coaching others is similar…
I know that we can each face challenges and develop new behaviors. I know that we can change. I know that we can overcome bad habits, we can improve patterns that formerly caused us to flail.
Coach Dinah is helping me embrace new challenges. Here are some takeaways. They may apply to your world too:
- Regular practice helps develop new skills In the last 14 days, I skipped 10 days, then practiced 4 days in a row. That is more than ever, but not enough.
- Video trumps imagination. I had never imagined how poor my form was. The video provided objective data, undeniable evidence, of the current state. The YouTube and instructional videos provided different evidence, of an improved state.
- Breathing is not necessary. I loved this idea. Coach Dinah explained that for the first few sessions my focus needed to be on proper body position to reduce resistance. She said, “Just put your head down and go.” Perhaps someday I will get to the lesson that includes proper breathing technique…
- When scared, just stand up. The pool water depth varies from 3.5 to 5 feet. No problem. I can stand up, and breathe with confidence, at any time.
Call me foolish, but every so many years I need to learn a new skill. Life is filled with challenges. I no longer want to be scared by the idea of a long freestyle swim. So it is time to learn some new behaviors.
How about you?
What challenges are you confronting?
And how is your “Coach Dinah” helping you progress?
One of my coaching clients recently shared some CDs based on this question. He provoked me. And I loved it.
Take this quiz:
1. I watch the evening news (despite its focus on violence and deprivation)
2. I listen to negative feedback from customers more than positive feedback
3. I regularly focus on the positive qualities of my life, and state them as choices
4. I agree that over 70% of people are motivated by fear
Now pause. And notice what you are feeling or thinking…
Who/What do you listen to?
If you listen to negative messages you will see the negatives.
If you are reading this blog, then you probably want to see positive results.
Here are three favorite resources: Martin Seligman’s research into Learned Optimism assures us that those who learn to be optimistic can have tremendous health and professional benefits. And Marcus Buckingham’s research at the Gallup foundation in Significant Strengths found that individual and team success is a result of intentional focus on your strengths.
In 2008 I attended a 3-day coach certification program lead by iPEC in Chicago. The gist of the content was to introduce the relationship between anabolic energy (positive, constructive, healing and growth-oriented) and catabolic energy (draining, destructive, potentially toxic.)
We have choices: to live anabolically or catabolically.
And we all know that who we listen to effects how we think/act. Examples abound, from talk radio to war-based propaganda to marketing.
A better question may be: Who/What do you CHOOSE to listen to?
Some people wake up and intentionally:
- spend 30+ minutes in yoga, or regular exercise
- spend 10+ minutes in prayer, or reading uplifting material such as “Success” magazine
- spend 20+ minutes writing expressions of gratitude in a journal, or love letters to family, or paint a gift
Throughout the day some people intentionally:
- begin every conversation by asking, “Is this a good time for us to talk?”
- end every conversation with a specific, genuine compliment
- maintain a list of the 5+ daily calls to friends or positive people that they make
- create a better future by focusing on HOW to make someone feel better, be more productive, own a success, etc
So, who/what are you CHOOSING to listen to?