Leadership: An easy silence?

In an earlier post I was considering the difference between Feedback and Criticism.   If you are interested you can read about it here:

feb 2012 feedback-or-criticism

I was reminded of it a week or so back when I was with a few participants on a  short course. We were discussing some aspects of blogging. I am in a phase of very intense learning which I expect is going to last a long time.  A pattern of learn consolidate, learn consolidate, seems to work best for me.  I have to experience and play with what I am learning. I have to TOY with it. I appreciated the feedback I received, it was part of the learn consolidate cycle.

Giving and receiving feedback is essential to learning change and growth, for individuals personal relationships, as well as in teams and organisations.

You tend to find that there is more learning from the consolidation phases than you can easily quantify or imagine.  The feedback is unexpected and more powerful. The learning itself becomes much broader learning, as discernment comes into play. What started out as practising the skill you learned becomes something bigger when you DO IT  in real life. You start to generate different questions than when you were doing something in the simple process of learning it.

If you are curious many of those questions will be internal.  Whilst you learn in isolation you learn to accept silence. As you start to practice what you are learning in context – which means in public –  you start to experience feedback.

This feedback can come in many forms, from how your body feels as you start to change your diet, to how well your clothes fit when you stop exercising. The impact of your actions has an effect.
The effect you have is feedback.

When you change your actions because you have learned something new, there will be a reaction of some sort from the wider system. The same applies in teams and organisations. If you change the way you do something, hopefully it will have an effect, an impact on others, in the way you planned. It is also likely to have an effect in unexpected ways. Feedback will arrive. It might be in conversations to you, it might be with suggestions or complaints.

It also might be silence. Silence is a special sort of feedback and your job as a leader is to be sure what that silence means.

Acceptance: are people thinking “well yes that works, nothing to say, let’s get on with it” ? On the surface this could be a great thing, people are ” aligned” and “professional”. It could be a deep appreciation for the reasons and the context behind the changes and a realisation it is a good thing to do. If you work with a team like that the chances are you have spent time building up that level of awareness. People are getting on with it because they are 80-100 per cent behind it.

Have you spent that time? Are they 80-100 percent behind it?
If the answer to both those questions is an honest yes, the changes you are making have a very good chance of being successful.

My opinion isn’t important / what do I know: If you are working in an environment that requires “intellectual  capital” this is an attitude that MUST be explored. Is it a new inexperienced team member? Is the person losing confidence?  What factors might be at play that has led the person (or people)  you are leading to think their opinion doesn’t matter? How have you demonstrated their role is to think about and comment on what is happening because that is how THEY  and YOU and the ORGANISATION learn?

Apathy: This is evident when people  no longer provide any verbal feedback of any sort, no comments, no questions, no adjustments, no counter suggestions. Has there ever been a time when you did get commentary, questions and observations but it has all stopped?
Chances are the silence  is apathy. Apathy is very limiting. For the people affected it can be soul and career destroying. If you want your changes to have long-term positive impact, apathy is something that has to be investigated in its own right. What are the causes? Take the time to understand how and when the apathy arose. Don’t assume that the silence of apathy will still give your changes a good chance of success, it won’t. Apathy has a close neighbour.

Fear: People can be fearful for all sorts of reasons. Permanent fearlessness is a rare and potentially dangerous attribute. Even the most forthright people have times when fear sets in. Observant, intelligent people  ( the sort you want to lead right?) consider the consequences of their actions in advance. They learn from what has happened in the past too. Both of these qualities are essential for any success to happen. However if fear is the root of the silence and you don’t explore it, failure is likely. There is nothing inherently wrong with fear. This is evolution at work.  The emotion of fear is behind freeze, flight or fight responses. If Fear leads to silence anyone  of those responses could ensue. Silently

Not being able to function well – Frozen.

Not wanting to hang around, leaving early, doing the hours, resignations – Flight

Being angry, unhelpful and presenting obstacles that don’t need to be there – Fight

Silence is at best the result of conversation and deep mutual understanding. Which takes commitment and time and honesty. Only then will  the silence be an easy silence

Taking the time to reflect on the feedback you are getting, particularly if it is silence becomes essential when leading and making change happen. Investigate where the silence comes from before making assumptions.

And if you find you don’t like continued silence, give some of your own, in a generous and helpful way.

Feedback is the life blood of change. Donate


What effect does silence have on you? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.


Why your insignificance matters, speak up, act.

This week on hbr.org blogs there is a short post  referencing  a high school commencement speech that went viral in The US a week or so ago. The speaker tells the class that they are not special, in an amusing, wise and still inspirational way.

You can find it here Hbr.org  In it, Sarah Green makes reference to another much older commencement speech I had not read before today. I won’t publish the two links here because they deserve to be read within the context of her “get to work” article.

I had not read or heard of  the older one by John Chapman until I read that blog post this morning. Why would I, I am a Brit and we didn’t do commencement speeches or graduation from school. I just walked out of the door on the day of the last public exam happy in the knowledge I would never have to return there again.

I think we missed a trick, maybe it happens now.

Stirred on by her quoting the final few words I followed the link and read.  Simple, unambiguous.

Speak UP.

It is a hard argument to balance.  We learn early that discretion is the better part of valour.  We learn to weigh that up against not being silent when you can see something that is not right.  We wait for others to speak because they know better, are better connected, perhaps are braver ( you think?) . Then there is the exhaustion angle, sometimes if you have been speaking up it becomes tiresome for others and tiring for yourself. What to do then? The classic/biblical when to speak and when to be silent dilemma.

Who are you to question? What is your significance,why should your opinion count?

What does it feel like to remain silent when you should have said something? I bet you can think of occasions looking back when you wished you had found the words, any words, to say something. Say Something.

It doesn’t have to be about a hugely significant thing, though it is easy here to think of Martin Niemöller

and his poem:

First they came for the communists
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

It can be as seemingly insignificant as “please stop making me eggs they make me feel ill”, or “what are you trying to achieve by doing X”.  Chapman is saying question what you are seeing and imploring everyone to do so.

It is the  insignificant things that add up to your life being your own, or someone else’s. He is saying don’t be passive.

Insignificance is underrated, and yet it is the insignificant who in so many ways change the world. Either because they have no caring about who they are and go about things that seem important to them; some view this as humble, others might conclude arrogant. Or because they don’t care what happens to them. The Cause has become bigger than them, more important to them.

Being in nature gives you a sense of insignificance, your place in the universe. At times this is a good measure to decide whether your concerns are proportionate and how to respond. Delve into the dilemma of speaking up or staying silent,  contemplate this whilst emersed in the enormous.

Nature can remind us of our insignificance in other ways too.

Recently I was in a forest on a hill-side. There was a path I had seen but not taken before, previously I’d just enjoyed the serenity the green light gave me. That evening, without my fully understanding why,  I decided I wanted to see how this path went up. It got steeper and steeper and wetter and wetter as a storm suddenly came in.I could hear a new waterfall nearby and realised my moment of enthusiasm was NOTHING in this place of trees, with a torrent of rain coming and a sky full of relentless black clouds indicating more and more.
At that moment I probably had less to help me than the insects that were under leaves just waiting for it to be over.

I did not have that option. I couldn’t wait. I had to get up there because the way back down from there was certain. I knew what the path lead to if I could get there, something solid and wide from which I could descend. Whereas turning back was now impossible to do safely.

My knowing my insignificance against the elements told me, I had to get up there, I had to complete.

Why Rest days make THE difference to overall performance. Everyone needs refreshment

In 2001 Harvard Business Review published an article called The Making of the Corporate Athlete by Jim Loehr  and Tony Schwartz  ( he of The Energy Project)  which stands the test of time. I still regularly go back to reread it.

Even if you do not subscribe it is about £4 to download, long, detailed and well worth it.

They outlined in the article  a carefully argued comparison between sports professionals and people who work in business. To remain fit to grow, you need to be take care of your whole self, with a focus on your body and specifically with making the time for regular and deliberate rest.

A line that hits home every time is this one:

“By alternating periods of stress with renewal, they learn to align their work with the body’s need for breaks.”

They demonstrate with examples the interaction between the mind and the body to be able to fully engage, to adapt and develop, to grow stronger at what it is you are engaged in.

Fitness means so many different things to different people. Being the right fit for a job, being physically fit, emotionally fit, mentally fit. All of these aspects of Fitness apply to business people. Sure, it is super clear with an athlete and we watch them typically on competition days.

But what about days when they are not competing ( with others) what about when we are not watching, what is it that the top performers do that other performers do not do? And for ourselves, what days are we not competing at least against ourselves?

Rest, reflect, hydrate, take refreshment.  That makes sense doesn’t it?

Think about yourself? You know you  can only keep going as long as there is a will to do so. As long as you have the mind for it. If you never pause for refreshment, take the time to break out, how can you make space for new ideas, remind yourself of what you know, what is important.

Refresh yourself?

In simpler terms an article this time directly from sport talks about rest. The quote that may mean all the difference to you  is this one.

“adaptation takes place during the rest and recovery phase, not during the workout! ”

( you can find the article here )

Still wondering how valid the comparison with an Athlete is? It is used a lot but does it apply really to you?

Competition – sound familiar? Competing for customers? Endurance and maintaining performance through difficult times, like a recession, or training up for a new role?  Coaching a good performance out of your team or those you work with? Collaborating with others, building a team? Being in a team?  Are convinced yet?

And finally Hydration.

When you are dehydrated even adrenalin will stop helping you after a while.

Working hard, focussing, competing, engaging, collaborating, studying, learning, supporting etc etc, it is all very energising for a while but without the time to rest they all take a natural toll on your mind, your body and your spirit.

Refuelling isn’t always enough you also need to refresh too.

Re Fresh – Get Fresh again.

The ability is there but no time out for refreshment will render you unable to deliver, will fundamentally limit your opportunities for adaptation,development, growth and change.

It will sap your joy, personally and professionally.

What are you doing to build in the regular rest and refreshment?

How are you pausing to maintain long term momentum?

Making Time out a strategy for the long term will pay dividends

Interested in ways to build in refreshment  ?

Click here

the deadline for applications is May 14th

Your life story, ready for some plot changes?

“When patterns in engagments with the people around you become well-worn and ineffective, are they persistent because they have to be, or because the story demands it?”

This is the last line from Seth Godin’s blog post today, if you don’t regularly read him you are missing out on some wise words and simple wisdom. He sometimes says stuff that you know you always knew, but had forgotten. Other times he says things that throw a light on something you hadn’t considered before. He is always short, always entertaining. He writes well, understands the importance of that .


But he rates taking action higher than making things perfect.

I likes him!

If you are beginning to guess I have a lot of time for him, you would be right, there is nothing special about me for that he has 162,000 twitter followers to start with..

The headline to his piece is Extending the Narrative and you can find it here  http://sethgodin.typepad.com/

Sometimes ( always) when we lead or are asking to others to lead, there are voices in our heads telling us what people think, what we should do, how we should behave. These voices are not evidence of madness. They are evidence that as well as writing out our stories for the past, constructing them, we are in a very powerful position.

Instead of being caught at the whim of life’s events, we are able to create how we live by the simple measure of listening to what we say to ourselves ( and others) and then having the power to decide what we say and do instead.

We can choose, its just that we often forget as we live the story that we can choose, we can step out of the story at any time, change the direction of the story, the flavour.

There is a grand name for this Constructionism – of which there are many flavours, social, relational, religions, philosophies, scientific methods etc etc..

My simplistic synthesis of all of them ( by that I mean it works for me!) is that we are sense making creatures, we seek to explain what is going on around us, happening to us, within us and in doing so we build, we construct our sense of reality.

We don’t need to have lots of qualifications to do this, we don’t need to have lots of life experience or a grand job title.

A sense of humour helps, along with a sense that we can open our minds and remain curious.

Because we create, we can change whenever  we decide that the story (US)  would benefit from it





What would be on your Tree?

Look out the window. If you are in the UK the chances are, even if you are in a city, you can see a tree. If not visible from a window, perhaps around a corner in a square or a park, perhaps an avenue you walk along to and from work

Look at the Trees, look how varied and wonderfully they are shaped. Look how they grow and respond to the environment they are in.

Trees root deeply and so much more is beautiful about them but invisible to us most of the time. The roots provide water, the trunk strong and sturdy as it ages supports the branches that reach out

At Christmas time, some of us decorate trees, with objects that Might have symbolism to do with a religious festival, or because they are symbolic and important to us about something in our family and personal lives. Each decorated tree looks different. Each one is built differently, sometimes just thrown up quickly sometimes lovingly dressed as part of a wider family/group ceremony

Imagine you had your own tree and you choose everything about it. It being symbolic of you and your dreams, desires, what you care about, what you must have, what you expect from others. How you want to be in the world, at home, at work, with the teams you work with. An authentic essence of you.

Well you do have a tree, perhaps more than one..

Would you like to find out more about it and how you can use it? Support change  in your life and remain yourself?.



Feedback or criticism?

OK I admit both of those words are loaded and there is no one agreed separate definition. And yes you could argue that criticism is just a form of feedback.. Equally you could argue that most people see “positive feedback ” as criticism in disguise.

And then of course we’ve all been told that we shouldn’t be defensive . Often  this is when we feel we are under attack, so we get told to act inhumanly whilst being treated in an inhumane way ( or perhaps the lazy common human way)


The thing is, I think there is a difference and it is an important one. It is intent with effort.

So here are my personal  thoughts on the two words:

Feedback can come in many guises many of which are noticeably supportive, from a smile, a conversation, an email, a testimonial,  comment on a essay or in a meeting. It can be short or long. It can even be silence. Sometimes silence is telling. It doesn’t have to be positive, for its EFFECTS to be positive.

Criticism nearly always hurts (I’ll come back to that)

Spoken or written feedback takes consideration from the person giving it. It takes thought to decide what precisely to give feedback on, to decide why that particular thing you’ve chosen to feedback on is important and then how to do it. Even if the last bit of that process – the how to do it-  feels clumsy and painful to the recipient, the effort taken for the first  two bits acts as a useful  salve.  As the recipient you are aware somehow of the intent and the effort being made for you. Respect is being shown.

Criticism is often quite swift.

If you ask for feedback,  or if you have been asked to give feedback then there is a contract between you that gives permission to be clear and not evasive in the details. Often great mentors, chosen by YOU ( not self appointed!!!) give you this as part of living, breathing and conversing. As you do back.

If you are giving it unasked, on what basis are you giving it.?  Beware,  because it could be a criticism you are about to spout.

Also have you  REALLY given the thought to what and why you have the feedback to give.

You know when you’ve been on the receiving end of good feedback even if the content of it was full of negatives. You know because you can do something with it. It somehow opens up possibilities, even when it means “stop this because there is something else you can do.”

It’s not that I think all criticism is a bad thing. There are times when even though it is harsh, it might just be what is required to break the person out of  a pattern, or to indicate what you actually feel.  This is being authentic and there is no relationship if it is not real.  It is OK to agree to differ.  That way lies growth and exploration.

What isn’t authentic is when you hide your thoughts behind careful crafted messages that make it hard for the other person to OPENLY  appreciate what you mean. They can feel the pain, the sting, but there is nothing else solid to work with, just a sense of hurt, of insult.

In the end the power lies with the recipient, to do what they will with the feedback and/or the criticism.

We decide, we always decide ourselves in the end.

It is a funny, nearly dark, magical thing.

You know when you have been gifted something  that at first glance, on the first sting perhaps was hard to take, and aroused all maner of emotions and thoughts in your head. You know because somehow you stick with it and something else emerges.

It is reciprocal too. The more you demonstrate your willingness to give feedback, the more you encourage others to help you too.

Feedback is the lifeblood of change.



I would love to hear/read what you think about this. How you personally define the difference between them. Comments are enabled 🙂

Environment is Culture

Lots of things make up the culture of your life. Primarily in the end the people you are with, choose to be with, the relationships you have – make up the culture.

In a work place how people are with each other  every day without thinking IS the culture. An example:  if you are in an organisation with rule books, lots of policies, that tells you something about the culture.  Another example:  how language is used gives you some key information about the culture.

All of this can be looked at another way

What is the environment like? What is it like to sit somewhere? Visiting  a different organisation and you immediately get an impression, sometimes it is hard to accurately decipher. Perhaps it is the “professional receptionist” with the automatic smile and up beat voice, perhaps you decide if it is real or plastic. There will be other cues

All of which you take in somehow, you feel it first. Then you decide if you like it or not.

It is the same at home and with your circle of friends and your career and business relationships. The feelings around the relationships are the culture you are living in.

Thinking biologically… in a lab cultures are used to grow organisms.. The right culture and the organism thrives. The wrong culture and the organism struggles.

Your relationships are manifested in how people treat you. How they routinely respond to you.  Equally how you treat others…

Imagine you are an organism ( which of course we all are). When you stretch out for growth are you encouraged or are you squashed, is there space for you or are you crowded out.

How do you routinely respond to yourself? Do you stretch out for growth or do you retreat and squash yourself.

Have you noticed that when you are confident and stretch out in a relaxed but certain way, others respond to you differently? It is all changeable.

Look around and ask yourself is the culture around you, the one that you are part of, that your behaviour contributes to for yourself and others:

Is it one that is supportive of growth where you thrive. Or one that stifles it, where surviving is the best you can hope for.

What would you rather have?

What will YOU change?