Infinite Blog

experiment, leadership, tips

Instead of calling someone out, try this.

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I belong to a group that meets monthly to find ways to tackle personal and systemic racism. As part of this work, members share their own beliefs and experiences related to race. There’s a tendency to tiptoe in this space because no one wants to be perceived as racist or risk offending other members. We realized early on that if we were going to make any progress, we needed to get past tiptoeing and have REAL conversations, so we established ground rules to make the space as safe as possible.

In creating those ground rules, someone suggested that we get comfortable calling each other out if we’re offended by anything that is said. This way, she explained, we would be able to address any hurt feelings rather than walking away not knowing if we’d accidentally offended. We all nodded, seeing the benefit to this approach.

Then another person in the group suggested a modification. “Instead of agreeing to call each other out, could we agree to call each other in?”

He was met by some puzzled looks that slowly gave way to smiling nods as we realized what a difference that one small tweak would make.

Calling someone OUT is about holding them accountable in a confrontational way. It puts them on the spot, implies a moral high ground for the person challenging them, and is likely to create defensiveness. Think about the last time you called someone out. How did it go? Did you deepen your relationship with the other person? Probably not. In fact, they may have walked away thinking you were a jerk.

Calling someone IN does the opposite. Instead of judging, you try to understand. You come from a place of curiosity and ask questions to understand. You invite them to clarify their thinking – which not only helps you understand where they’re coming from, but also often helps them recognize where they may have originally missed the mark. It invites deeper conversation as opposed to being a one-sided rebuke. Imagine how this conversation might go.

You’ve probably used both techniques at different times without even realizing what you were doing. What I like about “calling someone in” is that in naming the behavior, we raise our awareness of it which makes it an overt choice we can make. From my experience, the leaders who get the best from their team (and teammates) operate from this place, because it pulls their people closer instead of pushing them away.

So the next time you have a bone to pick with someone, what’s it going to be? Call ’em out, or call ’em in? I’d be curious to hear what you choose and what you notice.

Book Group, Resources, Review

Bite-Sized Book Review: Rework

Finally! A business book that I didn’t abandon at the 40% mark. There are three main reasons for that:

  1. It’s too short to abandon. Technically 288 pages, it’s served up as bite-sized essays with lots of illustrations and a lot of white space, so I moved through it in a breeze.
  2. It’s really well written. The authors use simple, conversational language and they don’t mince words or hide behind corporate-speak.
  3. It’s full of great advice. In challenging conventional thinking about what makes copmanies successful, the authors systematically tick through (almost) everything that has struck me as backwards about business.

Intrigued? I’m talking about Rework, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.

While the target audience seems to be entrepreneurs (or “starters,” as they prefer to think of them), leaders in every organization that aspires to be innovative or agile would benefit from giving this a read. It might not contain many wildly new ideas, but serves as  a kick in the pants to think about unproductive habits, beliefs and behaviors that govern most organizations, including the assumptions that bigger is always better and growth is always the goal.

This will likely join Radical Candor as a book I recommend to every leader I coach. And I can’t wait to read their next release (coming this fall), which – based on title alone – should have a pretty immediate fan base: It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work.

Nutshell: Read it. You’re welcome.

leadership, Reflections & Questions

What we can learn about leadership from the Parkland student survivors

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Living in DC, I’m no stranger to political protests. So when I saw that the Parkland students were organizing a march to end gun violence, I was curious to see how adept they would be at rallying the public to their cause. Turns out: most professional leaders would benefit from taking a page from their book.

Here are a few of the reasons they’re leading so effectively: 

They have a clear vision. They know what they want, they aren’t mincing words, and they’re keeping everyone focused on the goal. Check out the March for Our Lives website and tell me when you last saw a corporate mission statement this clear or compelling.

They are fantastic storytellers. Every student who took the stage last Saturday made the mission come to life by sharing personal stories that (to borrow from Simon Sinek) illustrated WHY this mission is so important. Corporate leaders often spend a lot of time telling people what to accomplish and how to tackle it – but miss the ever-critical WHY that connects people to the mission.

They came prepared. I stood through two hours of students taking the stage to speak and do you know what I didn’t see? Anyone get up there and attempt to wing-it. These students knew that their words mattered, they appreciated the opportunity that had been offered to them, and they took it seriously. Sometimes the more comfortable we get in leadership roles, the more inclined we are to cut corners and shoot from the hip. Being candid can be great, but not when it results in a missed opportunity.

They are inclusive. They have identified common ground on a potentially controversial issue, and they are deliberate in making the case that it’s not a left/right issue, but something that is a shared issue regardless of party affiliation. They could have made this all about Parkland and their personal experience, but instead they reached out to other kids affected by gun violence – like those from Chicago and DC and LA –  and shared their spotlight with them. Leaders help amplify other voices.

They are vulnerable. A lot of people think CEOs should remain buttoned up and unemotional, even when the chips are down. But the most effective leaders know that it’s more important to be authentic than it is to be controlled. Letting people see you handling situations not just as a leader, but as a human, helps them trust you and want to follow you.

They are unflappable. I was blown away by Sam Fuentes’s composure. If you don’t know who I’m talking about: she threw up in the middle of her speech (on-air for the world to see) and instead of crawling off the stage to cry, she laughed it off and FINISHED. That takes perseverance to a whole new level.

They can stomach discomfort. Emma Gonzalez used part of her time at the microphone – a few minutes at least – to stand silently in observance of the six minutes and twenty seconds the gunman shot her classmates. Imagine how uncomfortable that must have been: standing on a stage, looking out at hundreds of thousands of people who weren’t sure what you were doing, and just continuing to stand. Now think of that within a leadership context and I’m sure we can all come up with examples of times we’ve caved and done the easy thing because we simply wanted to step out of the discomfort.

It comes down to this: we should stop acting so surprised by these students, because leadership has nothing to do with age or credentials or degrees. It’s not something that’s conferred by a title. Leadership is all about how you show up. It’s about being someone others are inspired to follow. These kids are nailing – and the rest of us can, too.