Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

Getting ready for an uncomfortable conversation

October 23, 2016
Like many people, I’d prefer to avoid tough conversations. Yet, addressing such topics is the only way to improve our relationships, our results, and the status quo.
Here are a few tips that I’ve learned from @LyssaAdkins to setup the conversation up for success…
First, take a few minutes to think about the issue from three different perspectives. An exercise called 3-2-1 guides us to envision ourselves first in the 3rd person perspective observing the conversation, “they”. Then, a 2nd person perspective “you”, imagine saying “you did xyz, you Abc”. And then finally an inclusive perspective saying “we” and inviting a shared solution.
Next, I write out what I intend to say and how I want to be received.
And finally, just before the actual conversation, I review my intention as written above.
Try it, you will be amazed at the clarity with which you enter the conversation and with your ability to stay present and on track in the heat of the moment. This will honor the other person and enable productive dialog.

Powerful Questions, #leadership thru curiousity

June 28, 2013

I like to lead. My idea of leading is to drive projects forward to the goal and outcome planned, and to be seen as a creative, idea person… a smart person that knows the answers…  But I am learning that real leadership is not about answers. And it is definitely not about being the smartest person in the room. It is much more about courage, faith, caring, and questions.

And the very best questions are powerful. Powerful questions.

I first learned this concept from Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd in their Agile Coaching Institute classes.

Briefly, powerful questions are open-ended, asked from a perspective of curiosity, inviting creativity and possibility.  

Powerful questions are also a little bit like swiss-army knives. When you have one good one, it works in multiple circumstances.

Here are a few to try:

If we had everything we needed for this then how would it look?

If we could do anything, what would it be? (Lyssa Adkins)

If we do xyz successfully, what else will be true?

And here are some resources;

Real leadership is about asking powerful questions. Encouraging ( -couraging ) others. Creating space for other solutions.

On leadership and my dad

June 16, 2013

This Father’s Day, I want to acknowledge and appreciate my dad, David E. Raley, Colonel, USAF (Ret.). I have learned so many leadership lessons from him. Learned in ways that are often not clear in the moment.. Yet are clearly understood much later…


Be a hard worker. My dad is a hard worker, he doesn’t shy away from whatever task needs doing. He just pitches in to start. He tried to teach us this quality early on. I remember as early as elementary school, the many hours he role modeled hard work — helping around the house pulling weeds and taking care of the yard. Imagine us kids’ enthusiasm, Not! And bringing work home and spreading it out across the coffee table, explaining bits and pieces of his work to us at the same time which was often interesting. And he always awakes at the crack of dawn– Rise and Shine!

Be a can-do fixer. I am quite certain that my dad can fix anything. He fixes things around the house. He fixes cars. He fixes laptops, networks, police computers. Whenever I am faced with something that is broken, I only need to think of dad for creative ways forward. What would dad do? As Bob the Builder says: “Can we fix it? Yes we can!”

Be a learner. My dad is always learning. From stacks of books around the house. To audio books. And formal coursework. My dad is always learning. And he encouraged me to be a learner too. When I announced my intention to earn a degree in Computer Engineering at the age of 15, he quickly ordered a Heath Kit so that I could learn how to solder and build electronics and see what I was getting into! He also earned his MBA back in the 70’s when I imagine that an MBA was still a relatively new concept. Which in turn inspired me to earn an MBA. And he became a professor for adjunct university courses. And a mentor to others. Later a campaign manager. And an elected official for local government. Today, he continues to be a learner, always picking up something new.

Be an innovator. We were one of the first families ever to own the original Radio Shack TRS-80. In fact, we soon had more than one. We also had one of the early portable calculators, and a “luggable” Compaq computer. Did I mention that he is resourceful? Surrounded by technology, resourcefulness, and constant encouragement to innovate, both of my brothers went on to become Principal Software Developers. All three of us kids have patents (in software technology) to our credit as well. Invention is part of our DNA!

Be a friend. My dad continues to be a friend to others in the community. When we visited at Thanksgiving, I went with him to visit an old Air Force friend, who lives nearby and is only semi-mobile. We brought over plates of Thanksgiving feasts to share. It was inspiring to see their friendship up close!

Be a great husband. My dad and mom are great together. They role-model for us what is looks like to commit to a partner for life. Through thick and thin. To value family.To make time for one another. To be respectful and considerate. To make space for one another. My dad and mom together are a package, completing and helping one another!

Our parents inspire and influence well beyond those early years when we live at home.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

Be a collaborative leader, part 1

June 1, 2012

Collaboration is a word that we generally associate with teams, not with leaders.


Teams collaborate, and leaders lead, right?


If a leader wanted to be collaborative with an individual, what would that look like? With a large department or group? With other executives?


This may sound attractive in theory, but it can be difficult to recall examples of what this would look like.


So, you want to be a more collaborative leader?


Here are 10 practical, real world examples of how this could look for a manager today inside a corporation….


1)       When it’s annual budget planning time, invite team members to suggest what will be needed next year, when and why. Include “nice to haves” too along with rationale. This can take the form of a shared spreadsheet on Sharepoint or GoogleDocs.


2)     When it’s time to assign work or tasks, try asking for volunteers instead. For extra credit, try assigning responsibility instead of tasks. Delegate. It’s empowering!


3)     When you do need to assign something to a specific person, still ask… “Would you please “… and leave space for the person to decline, if they feel strongly. Give as many choices as possible. Choice is collaborative and it is also empowering.


4)     Create space for things to go right. Find a way to have vision that the team can succeed. If you have doubts, the team or team member will sense your doubts. Share the concern and then ask how they feel and ask what is needed to mitigate. If the concern is with an individual team member, communicate one-on-one. In either case, be hard on the issue, and soft on the person.


5)     As a collaborative leader, it’s important to say what you think. But, if your emotions (including anger) are still fresh and unchecked, the timing may not yet be the best. Try reflecting on your intention first. What do I hope will happen as a result of this sharing? What is my intention? Speak the truth in love.


6)     Make a “travel” bag of collaborative tools – sticky notes in several sizes and colors, blue painters tape, index cards (in while and maybe an extra color or two). Let team members know that they are welcome to take this bag to gathers too…it’s a shared resource. Keep it stocked and ready to go.


7)      Share information openly whenever possible. Share it in a way that allows people to quickly know if this is optional to read versus if it is integral to their day-to-day mission. For example, if several times a week you have “FYI” info, consider posting to an internal blog, board, or even an email with a easy to categorize title. For example – Just FYI #1, Just FYI #2, or Learning about our customers #1. Learning about our customers #2, etc.


8)      To develop annual performance goals for and with a larger group, start a collaborative space on a team wall with print-outs of the related missions, goals, and visions that we want to align with. Then, start writing sticky notes with brainstorm ideas of potential goals. Invite team members to contribute with this silent brainstorming method. Write new sticky notes with updated summaries of what looks best for the team. Encourage participation. Leave the wall up for a while so that people can see the connection between suggested goals and what was decided.


9)     When a few people are remote and the rest are “all in one” room, leave a webex with chat window open and projected onto an easily visible screen so that the remote folks can chime in with written ideas and questions and even a “raised hand” via chat during the conversation. Because it is very hard to collaboratively join in when you are a single remote person to a team. Of course you can use a webcam based system to give the remote person visual cues.  But the running chat window along with webconferencing or other tools like googledocs or Confluence is a practical alternative.


10)  Another collaborative idea for including remote team members is to post snapshots of the team idea walls and boards every week and post to a shared location. Our admin (who we love) takes the pix and posts to Sharepoint every Monday. Would be great to add occasional photo’s of the team, too. and ask remote team members to share pix from their life as well. Even pix of their backyard or the recent snow story can help to bring us closer.


What’s your collaboration story?

Be a collaborative leader, part 3

June 1, 2012

I am inspired to write this series because I am learning that being “agile” is not enough. Starting up 15+ scrum teams is not enough. Hearing that team members that are happier in self-organizing teams is not enough.  Even delivering frequent, iterative value is not enough. Without Collaborative Leadership, we will revert back to the old way. Slowly. Surely. Sadly.

I am a manager inside a large enterprise. There are the ways that I am learning and practicing Collaborative Leadership… try it, you’ll like it!

1)        Hiring is a critical time. People make the difference. How will you collaboratively find an A player who will fit with your collaborative environment & who can do the work? Be collaborative Send a draft job description to the team members who will work with the new person. Invite their edits and comments! Invite their referrals for the position – after all, who better to recommend a great candidate? Invite these same team members to collaboratively build a set of interview questions and invite them to contribute to the interview timings and structure as well. And after a round of interviews is completed, invite the interviewers to a collaborative sharing and discussion of the candidates. This collaborative candidate review is powerful and revealing.

  1. Before we start the interviews, I would like to request your ideas and input on the interview process ..


  1. In some cases, team members enjoy interviewing their potential manager in pairs. People have shared that they found this helpful because they were also able to observe the candidate answering other person’s questions. And they learned from one another how to improve their own interviews for the future – by that observation. Is this something that you are interested in trying?


  1. We will hold a group debrief following the interview so that everyone can share their impressions with one another. I am finding that this is very valuable because it allows us to hear different perspectives upfront, before hiring. And also to build together a stronger picture of what we need in the new member and why it matters to us. For example, in the past debriefs, several people commented that they felt that a given candidate would “go to bat for them.” This was significant because two different people commented this about two different candidates. Now we know that our candidate will need to be strong in this quality.


  1. On the second round interview, we are also trying something new. The candidate is holding an interactive session … we are simulating a team meeting. The candidate is presenting on the topic of “10 things I’ve learned.”


  1. I would also love to hear your ideas on who we want to be on our interview panel. Who is effective at interviewing?


  1. PS: here is an interesting article

#39 – How to interview and hire people « Scott Berkun

2)      Be vulnerable. Share your own learnings. Your own mistakes. We don’t learn by always being perfect. In fact, none of us is perfect!

3)      When it comes time to Celebrate – plan the celebration together. Enjoy celebrating as a group and ask team members for celebration suggestions.

4)      Everyone loves to be appreciated. And yet appreciations are infrequently shared. Try making an Appreciations wall with sticky notes and public appreciations. Go first, add the first appreciation note, sign and date it so that older appreciations can be aged out.  Appreciate teams too! So much of what goes right is due to successful team collaboration.

5)      Keep gardening – this is how we soften the ground, it’s a marathon without a single destination, not a sprint a. Use internal blogs & newsletters to encourage and nurture new ideas and soft ideas. I recently wrote an internal blog post called “I’m bored”…I can already see that this will be a “best seller” post because it is hitting a nerve. People care. People read. People talk. Give them something deep to talk about, insightful, meaningful, challenging. Plant seeds.

6)      When facilitating meetings, remember the facilitator motto of “all voices heard”… ask everyone to participate. Ask people for their ideas and opinions by name. It’s engaging to be addressed by name. It is energizing and collaborative. And it can be a bit stressful too – so as a facilitator, make it OK for the person to remain quiet – “Great, you are in agreement with what has been shared” or “We’ve got everything covered so far, good to know.”

7)      Sometimes, you will still need to “take charge.” Being a collaborative leader doesn’t make you a fulltime facilitator, a wallflower, or worse yet, road-kill. Some decisions need to be made independent of the team. The world is not a black and white place. There is a lot of gray, and fuchsia, and aqua, and many other colors! Ask yourself, “with more time, would I be able to make this decision more collaboratively?” and if the answer is no – then stop pretending that the decision is still open for collaboration. Instead, get open with the team and explain both the decision and your rationale.

8)      Relationships & alliances matter– you are not the lone ranger or even the lone facilitator– this is a system we are talking about. And relationships matter more than hierarchy. More than titles. More that org charts. To get more of a sense of how alliances form an energy pattern, reference Michael Spayd’s work with Constellations here and here.  Whenever you sense tension in a relationship, then in fact there is tension. And it’s good to keep that in mind if you are expecting the other person or group to collaborate with you, your team, or your initiative.

9)      Create (mental and emotional) space for teamwork. A)  Welcome and thank people communicating bad news early, B) Say “we” more…especially when taking credit!, C) Say “I” when taking a failure bow, read the rest of this post here

10)   Develop collaborative leaders – everywhere you go, commit to be a force for developing collaborative leaders. You are a collaborative leader, you believe in agile values, help others to step up into this role, too. Start with vision, see others through a lens that highlights the positive and the collaborative. If they come to you with a problem, listen and ask powerful questions, ie If we had everything we needed for this then how would it look? Assume that they want to become collaborative leaders themselves. Assume the best. Act “as if.”

It’s your turn…

You might be working on a startup

May 1, 2012

If you are hoping, planning, dreaming to create a new business inside a large company, please take some time to learn about Customer Development, Steve Blank, and #leanstartup.

How many startups fail because of technology or engineering performance? Less than 10%.

What’s missing? Customer Development.

Not focus groups, not market research, not even a great business case or business plan is enough for most Startups to succeed.

Business plans make all the sense in the world in a large corporation for a repeatable product.

Startups, however, need a Customer Development model. That evolves as we learn. Decide what metrics will validate (or invalidate) your hypothesis. Then “pivot” based on the metric (learning). Here is a long video, a UCLA class lecture. Worth it.

I am learning about and practicing the model as part of a Stanford Technology Entrepreneurship class. It’s a free online class with 30,000 students! Crowd learning. I am part of a team of 6. Our project #2 is here We were challenged to take another team’s “worst idea” and pivot it.Then create and publish an advertisement! Looking forward to learning more and seeing how to apply the learning here!

Socializing new ideas

May 1, 2012

Within a large company, it can seems like a mystery to figure out how to convince others to support your idea. It can seem overwhelming. it can seem like your idea is just not possible.


Think again.

It is possible.


Here’s what I’ve learned…

1) Don’t fall in love with your idea to the exclusion of everything else

2) Do believe in your idea and let your passion show

3) Selling is about listening

4) Get out of your “office”… Go to your “customers”

5) Keep learning

6) Pivot (change parts of the idea or approach based on learning)

7) Know when to put the idea on the back burner

8) Keep listening, the time to bring it back (with a twist ) will come

9) Celebrate

10) Acknowledge others

11) Do it again


Here is a related post with great insights:

Seven Hints for Selling Ideas by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, HBR


You can

May 1, 2012

You can make a difference

You can ask the question that will reveal a new solution

You can wonder why and discover a new way

You can be innovative

You can invent a new product

You can imagine a new service

You can improve the way we work

You can re-frame the problem… Into an opportunity

You can take the customer’s perspective

You can assist our users

You can talk to customers

You can test your hypothesis

You can lead the change

You can