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When and How to use Why, or, How to Replace it with a What

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Exactly a year ago, I wrote “STOP AT WHY: HOW GREAT COACHES INSPIRE SELF TRANSFORMATION,” and I left the question “When and How to use Why or How to replace it with a What?”

So, just to recap;

  • When you use “why” you hit the rock bottom of your client’s beliefs.

    WHEN AND HOW TO USE A WHY AND WITH A WHAT?

  • When you use “why” you challenge their deep set values.
  • When you use “why” you enter the zone of their conscious and unconscious programs.
  • When you use “why” you, often, challenge their personal charades or “rackets” as some schools of thoughts like to call it.
  • When you use “why” you are, often, throwing them into an arena where they can get defensive.

Of course all these do not count if you have acquired massive and loving trust where the client is open and feels absolutely safe with you or, if the client is high on self-consciousness and open to being coached.

Now to work into the ability of how to replace “why” with a less edgy, less sharp “what” or a “how.”

Let’s take a very simple example of “Why are you late?”

You’d get a response of “because I…yadi, yadi, ya!” Or, worse, you may get “What’s it to you?”

Now try replacing “Why are you late?” with…

“Traffic on the streets?” This will give you a yes or a no. If you get a “yes” you get labelled as “understanding” and he/she relaxes, smiles and unwinds. If you get a “no” then the fact that you gave him/her an option out will be followed with the real reasons that made him/her come late.

Now, let’s take a much complex and a serious example of “Why are you always late?”

This one is bound to push all the red buttons and he/she can give you hell in return. So be cautious and replace “Why are you always late?” with something that gets you the answers you need without cornering your client and, often, empowering them a bit. Here are the options;

  • You have been late often recently, what are the reasons?
  • What has been making you come late these last few days?
  • Any ideas on how you can make it on time for these meetings?
  • And, a supportive one, anyway we can help you come on time?

You get the drift?

As a coach and a business leader, or even a supportive parent, it takes time an effort to refrain from using “why” carelessly and by default. It takes deeper mental effort and time to think through your query and reframe it in such a manner that it draws no blood, so to say.

Beyond just taking effort and time, it also requires a long-term dedication to changing the way you communicate and lead others. It takes practice, and it takes patience, and it takes powerful intention to coach and empower others benignly.

Using “How” and “What” instead of a “Why” is like shaving with the grain rather than against it. It converts relationship friction into traction. So spend a little time every time to flip your “Why” into a “How” or a “What,” it’ll do you and your relationships a ton of good.

Those are my ideas on why not to ask why often.

Article inspired by my book, the HeART of the CLOSE, which contains a section on sales coaching.  Further work on Appreciative Inquiry is taken up in my workshops on Appreciative Leadership.

 

https://goo.gl/IqWjmS                                Facebook/Raju Mandhyan

https://goo.gl/SzCJgV                                LinkedIn/ Raju Mandhyan

https://goo.gl/7JHKrs                                the HeART of CLOSE

https://goo.gl/b6aChH                               the HeART of STORY

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My books also available on Amazon: http://goo.gl/OZSMj8

Posts on Facebook: https://goo.gl/MXQEqU

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Choice Clips from ExPat InSights :  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjf3sHaZBSo

 

 

Change the way you look at things, the things you look at will change.

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by Carlos Castaneda

Zig Ziglar shared this story a few decades ago,

“Growing up on a farm, I’d have to be up way before dawn and one of assignments was to milk the cows. The cows did not know that it was their job to let me get milk from them. My assignment was always tougher in the winters of the great state of Texas. The milk inside the cow, in my mind, was usually frozen. I hated the job and hated the cows.

Over time I realized the more frustrated I was at the job and the cows, the harder my job became. And, I am sure the cows also went out of their ways to make my life miserable too. Then I decided to change the way I looked at my job. I decided milk was good. It brought health and nutrition and income for the family. I began to look at the cows with kinder eyes. I even went out of my way to have a chat with the cows before I even touched them.

“Sally,” I’d say to the eldest of the cows, “you look good today! It seems like you had a good night’s rest.”

“And Martha,” I’d say to the youngest, “that smile on your face is gonna’ take you places, y’know!”

“You cows have no idea how much we enjoy and appreciate all that you do for us. If not for you guys, our breakfast tables would be dull and boring. Thank you. Really, thank you!”

He had no measure for it but Zig Ziglar was sure that on the days he appreciated the cows and thanked them for being who they were, he usually picked up a few extra quarts of milk.

People at work and, in life, aren’t any different. All of us need appreciation and grace from each other. All of us need to learn regard each with respect and kindness. When we look at each other, when we behold each other our eyes need to zero in on the potential and grace that lays hidden in each of us. Yes, it does!

The moment we seek, zero in and stay positive about that hidden potential our attitude and our outlook becomes the water and sunshine that unleashes that potential. When we change the way we look at people, the people we look at will change and grow into and fill the frame we perceive them through. This is powerful medicine. It is the truth and it costs nothing. Nothing at all! In fact, it is like oxygen to your own wellbeing and happiness.

On those cold, wintry mornings the cows, I hear, also returned the favor to Zig Ziglar  with a “Thank you for a warm hand on a chilly morning.”

Five Philosophies of Appreciative Leadership

Most individual and organizations go around carrying a cudgel of “what is wrong and who is to blame,” in all the businesses and the organizations we lead.

This approach of looking for problems may work for complex machinery and systems but fails drastically when it comes to human groups because human relationships are not just complex but are complicated.

Thus, a mechanical+rational+cognitive approach to resolving issues rarely work and barely sustainable. Over the decades, a new strengths-based, affirmative approach, a way of life has been delivering brilliant and beautiful results.

What will work better is “what’s working, what strengths can we employ and who is passionate about taking the lead?”

And, it takes five beliefs that can come handy in driving productive change:

  1. Every individual and organization is a beautiful mystery to be unfolded and unleashed.
  2. In life, and at work there are multiple realities and these realities construct according to how we perceive them collectively.
  3. The strengths and the resources that we most focus upon will grow magnificently.
  4. Every positive, empowering question we ask will simultaneously give rise to affirmative thought followed by action.
  5. When we filter, choose and select every grain, every word in our conversations for success and strengths, we build a beautiful world.

Appreciative Leadership is a personal and organizational leadership program influenced by Appreciative Inquiry, a holistic method and a process to initiate, drive and succeed affirmatively and sustainably all change programs.

Right after the Hospital Management Awards on September 7-8 in Vietnam, on September 09, 2016 sign up for a whole day workshop on Appreciative Leadership organized by the Vietnam Marketing Association.

Should you wish to sponsor, help promote this please call or send an email to Ms. Mai Nguyen (Ms.) | Workshop Project Manager of VMI at

P: +(848) 3507 3575  |  HP: +(848) 908 863 118  /  Email:mainh@vmi.edu.vn  to confirm. Website: www.VMI.edu.vn

Appreciative Leadership

Appreciative Leadership & Ha Long Bay

Individuals and Organizations are Mysteries to be Explored and Uncovered.

Individuals and Organizations are Mysteries to be Explored and Uncovered.

A few years ago, on a cruise, at early dawn we sailed into Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay. Not just the moment but the whole morning was nothing but magical, majestic.

The dark, dense water seemed to caress and draw the ship deeper into the bay. The giant rocks, strewn with shrubs, seemed to gently glide, bend and bow down inviting us to feel free and awed by the beauty. The sights were amazingly beautiful. The murmuring water was love-giving and the scents from the shrubs nourished our souls.

Today, as I relive the memory, part of me wonders why I didn’t find the dull darkness to be scary. Why didn’t the deep, dense water strike fear into my heart and why didn’t the jagged rocks remind me of the Titanic’s fate? I guess the answer to this mystery might lay in the fact that a part of me was expecting and looking forward to the sights, sounds and the smells of Ha Long Bay being beautiful and awesome. I also suspect that, over the years, the millions who visit and capture this beauty also undergo the same magic and majesty. They all come filled with a sense of wonder and an expectancy to witness the beautiful.

In a similar way, the underlying philosophies of ‘Appreciative Inquiry’ urge us to approach individual systems and organizations in a similar way, with the same wonder and a similar sense of being greeted by majestic beauty.  Appreciative Inquiry, a method of facilitation and developing organizations was first conceptualized by Dr. David Cooperrider of Case Western University in the 80s.

It claims, our default approach in looking at people, looking at teams and organizations made of people is to try and zero in on what is wrong with them and how do I, as a leader, fix that problem. It questions, what if we were to simply flip that first, defaulting assumption of ours and look for strengths, for resources, for successes? Wouldn’t that change our approach, our mind-sets and thus our behavior towards these entities, these systems and these living organizations?

Over the years, across the globe several leaders and change agents have discovered this secret and used it powerfully and fruitfully to turn individuals and organizations from good to great. It’s an approach, a way of life that adds power, beauty and strength into our initiatives to change and innovate.  The philosophical presumption is “individuals and organizations are mysteries to be explored and uncovered.”

On September 09, 2016 in Vietnam, in association with Vietnam Marketing and Management, I will be conducting a whole day, interactive workshop on Appreciative Leadership.  This follows the Hospital Management Awards being held in Ho Chi Minh City on September 7 & 8, 2016. On that day not only will I accompany you on this journey but also guide you into being able navigate your own ships into magic and majestic landscapes like Ha Long Bay.

Vietnam Marketing:  http://www.vmi.edu.vn/

Appreciative Leadership: http://www.vmi.edu.vn/news/pid/49/search/page/1/id/4544

My upcoming public workshops:http://www.informa-mea.com/hrsummit

Advanced Selling Skills in Vietnam: http://www.hospitalmanagementasia.com/cacnhadienthuyet?page=5

InSpire Like a CEO: http://www.genesistrainingevents.com/Raju/inspire.html

Appreciative Leadership: http://www.genesistrainingevents.com/Raju/AL.html

Corporate Storytelling in Dubai:http://www.hrsummitexpo.com/

Posts on Facebook: https://goo.gl/MXQEqU

Talks on You Tube: https://goo.gl/dVclfm

Choice Clips from the TV Show, ExPat InSights :  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjf3sHaZBSo

Raju Mandhyan

www.mandhyan.com

 

 

 

 

A Story: The Wrong House

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Everyone loves a good story but I have a penchant for stories. I look out for them like an addict yearns for a shot in the arm. And, when I do get that shot, life for a while becomes livable, love-giving.

On a flight from Bangkok to Manila, I happened to land a seat next to an old friend, Louie, and we began to catch up on each other with stories. Some we’d heard but, nevertheless, they were still good ones and then he hit me with a whopper of a story.

More than a decade ago, at a workshop on Appreciative Inquiry,  Loiue was sitting next to a repatriate from Saudi Arabia called Elmer. Part of the workshop proceeding require that participants ask each other questions that’ll bring up good memories, memories of success and memories of having had a change of heart.

“Can you share me a story or two about having lived and worked in Saudi Arabia?” asks Louie of Elmer. Elmer In Prayer

“At first it was tough. I hated every aspect of the Saudi culture. I hated the authorities. I hated the fact that they had so much wealth and power over all those that came to seek a living in Saudi Arabia. Most of all, I hated the fact that there were no churches in the vicinity for a Catholic like me to drop by and pray. Nevertheless, I continued working and suffering, hoping that one day I’d save up enough money to go home and look after my adolescent daughter and wife in the Philippines. You see I loved them both to death, and believed that they both brought meaning and purpose to my life,” shared Elmer.

“And?” urged on Louie.

“Life wasn’t easy. The work was demanding and I really wasn’t saving up much, as a construction worker in Saudi Arabia. Three years went by and I began to grow homesick when one day my wife calls up and claimed our daughter, Precious, was seriously ill and had to be brought to the hospital. Panic-stricken and helpless, I stayed by the phone for the next few days. Three days into the hospital, I get a call claiming that Precious needed to undergo immediate surgery or we would lose her. My heart screamed out in pain and I had no idea what to do, where to go? I had, then, not enough money to send to my wife and I had no one to run to. I had no place to borrow from in Saudi Arabia,” cried Elmer.

“Where’d you go?” asked Louie.

“I was desperate. I called a few, Filipino co-workers but we were all in the same boat – helpless and money-less. It was before sunrise on a Friday in Saudi Arabia and I couldn’t even approach my bosses at work. My heart still screaming, I stepped out onto the streets of Riyadh hoping to beg, borrow or let a miracle happen. My Christian heart yearned for an altar to kneel before and send out my plea into the skies but then again, this was Saudi Arabia, and I couldn’t find a church. A few blocks away from my place of stay I reached a mosque from within which, I could hear prayers being recited. Sozzled with pain and anguish, I walked in and in a corner fell upon my knees and let my head drop in prayer. I wanted my daughter to live. I wanted her to be there when I went home.”

“Gosh,” muttered Louie and placed his arm across Elmer’s shoulders, “what happened?”

“I didn’t know but an Imam had walked up to me and was standing in front of me, demanding to know if I were a Muslim. No, I replied, I am not, “replied Elmer.

“Then, in that case, I am sorry, but you will have to step out and take your prayers and plea somewhere else,” announced the Imam.

His face wet with tears, Elmer stumbled up and with shoulders drooping, and he began to walk out with the Imam right on his tracks. He was angry at himself for having walked into a wrong house. When outside, the Imam stopped him and asked what exactly was his problem. Elmer’s heart burst and he poured out his pain, sobbingly, to the Imam. With hardly a shift in his attitude, the Imam had Elmer follow him to his bank’s automated teller and punched out the amount of money that Elmer thought would get his Precious out of danger. “Pay me back when and if you can. If not then consider it as a response to your plea,” smiled the Imam and walked away.

My friend Louie, too, wiped away the tears from his own face and asked, “So, did you ever get to see that Imam again.”

“No, I haven’t” claimed Elmer, “but there is not a single day in my life that I do not think of him. Every time I enter a church here in the Philippines, I see his stoic, bearded face in the crowds and my heart smiles. I must confess that I do not want to go back to Saudi Arabia at my age now but the amazing thing is that in me there is no dislike or contempt people of a different belief. This, this way, I feel happy and big inside of me.”

“I tell you, brother, no story has touched and changed me the way that Elmer’s story did,” said Louie to me, as our plane skidded on the runway in the Philippines. Louie’s miracle question to Elmer had changed him and continues transforming people who hear of it.

Me? I got my story shot-in-the-arm and still have my head in clouds since that day.

Raju Mandhyan

 

My upcoming public workshops:

InSpire Like a CEO: http://www.genesistrainingevents.com/Raju/inspire.html

Appreciative Leadership: http://www.genesistrainingevents.com/Raju/AL.html

 

My books also available on Amazon: http://goo.gl/OZSMj8

Posts on Facebook: https://goo.gl/MXQEqU

Talks on You Tube: https://goo.gl/dVclfm

Choice Clips from ExPat InSights :  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjf3sHaZBSo

 

 

Stop at Why: How Great Coaches Inspire Self Transformation

I have participated in hundreds of conversations on why not ask the “why” question in coaching and the itch to answer calls for this write-up.

Though I have covered what exactly is coaching in many of my previous blogs and it is covered in depth in my book, the HeART of the CLOSE. For this specific write-up let’s go with “coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential,” as stated by the International Coaching Federation at  https://goo.gl/MGM1KC

Now in the process most coaches and those that train others to coach will claim “ask all questions but stay away from the “why” question.” In response most newbies will go, “Huh? Why? But Simon Sinek claims that is the ultimate question to ask ahead of the what and the how questions!”

So, ask “why” or ask not “why?”Stop at Why

Well the answer, Charlie, is that both the parties are right and both of them are approaching the raison d’etre from two different windows. One is working inside out and the other is working outside in. The leader who starts with the why question is giving clarity, shape and existence to the purpose behind what she is dreaming of, speaking of and acting upon for her followers to understand, align and deliver the vision they together co-create. Knowing why we dream, say and do becomes of utmost importance.

On the other hand when a coach begins to partner with a client in a thought-provoking and creative process for her client to maximize their personal and professional potential then she, the coach, has no right to influence her client’s “why” but mostly work with her “what” and “how.” For a client to change, upgrade or even, sometimes, dump her “why” is totally and completely a personal choice. Should the coach make even the slightest effort to influence the client’s choice then the whole process loses purity and ceases to become a coaching partnership.

That is, essentially, the raison d’etre behind why a coach must stop at why when coaching others.

There are several other reasons why “why” isn’t that great a question to employ in coaching others and some of them are:

  1. Asking a “why” question can seem confrontational and overwhelming.
  2. Asking a “why” question can seem to be influenced by the coaches’ personal preferences and paradigms.
  3. Asking “why” questions require a client to dig deep and probe into their own, sometimes, unconscious beliefs also called “metaprograms” in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP.)

Thus, asking a “why” question can be intrusive and extremely over-whelming in a pure coaching partnership.

Though, I must confess, a professional/well-experienced/intuitive coach will employ the “why” question at times and with great effect and results. Consider this kind of a coach as a rare medicine man who can kill poison with poison at the right time, with the correct amount of the dosage.

There, that answers the question of why not to ask the why question in coaching. Thus, Stop at Why, that is how great coaches inspire self-transformation.

If you like this article then let me know and we can take up When and How to use Why or How to replace it with a What?

My books also available on Amazon: http://goo.gl/OZSMj8

Posts on Facebook: https://goo.gl/MXQEqU

Talks on You Tube: https://goo.gl/dVclfm

Choice Clips from ExPat InSights :  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjf3sHaZBSo

 

 

 

 

Storytelling Legacies of Leaders

In the mid-1930s India, a spritely old man wrapped up in loincloth spoke of freedom, compassion, and peace. Mahatma Gandhi carried a big stick, marched across the nation to pick up a fistful of salt by the ocean, and eventually liberated the country. He spoke to his people through painted visions and he touched hearts through parables of possibilities, “Change,” he said “must come from the inside. We must become that change.”

Connect, Engage and Influence your World Creatively!

A few decades later in America, another visionary stepped on the podium and shortly after, set aside the text of his prepared remarks to improvise. Addressing a crowd of many thousands, he declared his dream—people from all corners of the country, from all walks of life, children of all races living together as one “to turn the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.” He announced his vision to the world to change a nation.

In the early 1980s in the Philippines, a journalist-turned-statesman chose to stand up against tyranny.  Amid the toughest of odds, he flew home, stepped off the plane, and walked into the waiting jaws of death.  This act of courage gave life to a story that inspired millions to act.  Fired by his example and call of, “The Filipino is worth dying for!” the first ever people power revolution produced a peaceful transfer of leadership and changed the country’s future. People power became a global model for bringing about change at the country level.

In comparison to the last 20 years, the rate of progress and the proliferation of information and technology have been exponential and show no signs of plateauing.  How people will regulate and sustain life stories in the future is unimaginable.  The stories of today are flourished in diverse formats. They are told and retold to sound and music, in dance, in art, in words, in moving images, all in bytes and pixels.  Stories travel, morph and multiply at the speed of light with a cursory glance and the touch of a fingertip.

Will this explosion of knowledge and ideas through technology ever change the concept and the heart of telling stories? The answer is a flat out no!

Here’s why:

  • Wherever they may sit, leaders enhance their credibility and authenticity through storytelling to spark the change they seek. Storytelling does much, merely by advocating and counter-advocating propositional debate, which leads to increased discussions.
  • Storytelling is focused on the future. It is not just an extrapolation of the present. It swirls emergent, new phenomena and nourishes it by downplaying the doubts and misconceptions of yesterday.
  • Stories are about human empowerment and real transformations in organizations. Stories are about humanity. Stories are about us transforming into a better us. Stories are about us wanting to know who we are and about us wanting to reach for the stars.

A story is like mist that develops on the outside, but the wisdom emerges from the inside. When a story touches our hearts, it takes hold of us forever and silently sets us free. This is a never ending journey.  It is also a never ending symphony. As long as this quest exists, stories will always fuel and fire us. And, since this is a never ending quest, we will always be leading ourselves and others happily into the ever after through stories.

That is the HeART of stories taken from the book, the HeART of STORY, available on Amazon: http://goo.gl/OZSMj8

Posts on Facebook: https://goo.gl/MXQEqU

Talks on You Tube: https://goo.gl/dVclfm

Choice Clips from ExPat InSights :  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjf3sHaZBSo

 

Appreciative Feedback, How to Give It

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The toughest task of any manager-leader is providing critical feedback and doing it in a benign and productive way. The day you master how to provide constructive and corrective feedback without drawing blood is the day you can claim to have touched the shores of leadership wisdom.  Feedback that may appear hard on the surface is actually supportive and developmental at the core.

These five simple attitudinal and behavioural practices for providing feedback will not just build others but inspire them to do better at work, and even life.

  1. View the dropping performance or the floor behaviour as an event.  Do not look at it as something good or bad, but simply as an “event” in a day in the life of an employee and manager.
  2. Refrain from getting emotional, from taking things personally or from becoming personally attached to the outcomes. Practice looking at the “event” from the eyes of the recipient of the feedback and also from the eyes of a third, neutral perspective.

    Appreciative Feedback

    Appreciative Feedback

  3. Our brain is made up of three levels-the Rational, the Romantic and the Reptilian also known as the neo-cortex, the middle brain and the limbic brain. The limbic brain is the seat of strong emotions. Manage your demeanour and the restlessness of your Reptilian Brain, which tends to show its fangs every now and then. Juggle the thoughts, ideas, and opinions about the incident between your Reasoning and the Romantic Brain to calm and cool down your Reptilian Brain.
  4. Describe the event to the feedback recipient objectively and in the simplest possible terms. Don’t say “I think” “I believe”, “I guess”, “I assume”.  Just state the situation and describe what you saw, what you heard and what you understood and felt.
  5.  Wait for the feedback recipient to think through and then respond. It is possible that upon sensing your equanimity, she will take responsibility, suggest solutions and even offer to resolve the issue herself.  If this happens, it can be the end of the feedback session because your colleague has taken responsibility and there is no need to correct further.
  6. You can then discuss what changes need to come about. You can then dialogue about the “how and the when” of the ideas you co-create.  Highlight and detail the measurable but be open to possibilities of challenges that may still come about.
  7.  Finally, end your feedback in a warm and friendly manner. Manage it such as if it were a chat led by the recipient of the feedback rather than by you, the manager.

Many years ago I read a book entitled True Freedom written by an Australian monk living in Thailand. He wrote about a day when he was extremely mad at a junior monk for having messed up on a project. He sent for the monk and had planned to give him a tongue lashing to remember. As he sat there fuming, he realized he did not like the “state” he had driven himself into! Soon he began to think of the many years he had known the junior monk. He remembered the times they had laughed together at other failures and successes. He remembered the times they had struggled and survived through tough periods.  A smile slowly came upon his face just at the time when the junior monk knocked at his door and asked to be let in.

You can guess pretty well how that planned tongue lashing went. At the end of 20 minutes, after they brainstormed ideas and action plans, they parted ways laughingly and with hearts and minds filled with new vigour and hope.

So, whenever you get mad or upset at any of your people’s’ performance, look back at their track record, look back at your relationship and from that perspective, slowly and gently speak up and co-create solutions and plans for growth. The rule of thumb in providing corrective feedback appreciatively is to see the big picture, delete your ego from the equation and mutually find a way forward into growth and success.

Inspired by the book, the HeART of the CLOSE.

 

 

12/14/15 Inspire Like a CEO in Mumbai http://www.genesistrainingevents.com/inspire.html

12/21/15 Appreciative Leadership in Bangalore  http://www.genesistrainingevents.com/Workshops/ai-mail.html

Books on Amazon: http://goo.gl/OZSMj8

Posts on Facebook: https://goo.gl/MXQEqU

Talks on You Tube: https://goo.gl/dVclfm

Choice Clips from ExPat InSights:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjf3sHaZBSo

 

 

Storytelling Legacies of Leaders

In the mid-1930s India, a spritely old man wrapped up in loincloth spoke of freedom, compassion, and peace.  Mahatma Gandhi carried a big stick, marched across the nation to pick up a fistful of salt by the ocean, and eventually liberated the country. He spoke to his people through painted visions and he touched hearts through parables of possibilities, “Change,” he said “must come from the inside. We must become that change.”

Connect, Engage and Influence your World Creatively!

A few decades later in America, another visionary stepped on the podium and shortly after, set aside the text of his prepared remarks to improvise.   Addressing a crowd of many thousands, he declared his dream—people from all corners of the country, from all walks of life, children of all races living together as one “to turn the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.” He announced his vision to the world to change a nation.

In the early 1980s in the Philippines, a journalist-turned-statesman chose to stand up against tyranny.  Amid the toughest of odds, he flew home, stepped off the plane, and walked into the waiting jaws of death.  This act of courage gave life to a story that inspired millions to act.  Fired by his example and call of, “The Filipino is worth dying for!” the first ever people power revolution produced a peaceful transfer of leadership and changed the country’s future. People power became a global model for bringing about change at the country level.

In comparison to the last 20 years, the rate of progress and the proliferation of information and technology have been exponential and show no signs of plateauing.  How people will regulate and sustain life stories in the future is unimaginable.  The stories of today are flourished in diverse formats. They are told and retold to sound and music, in dance, in art, in words, in moving images, all in bytes and pixels.  Stories travel, morph and multiply at the speed of light with a cursory glance and the touch of a fingertip.

Will this explosion of knowledge and ideas through technology ever change the concept and the heart of telling stories? The answer is a flat out no!

Here’s why:

  • Wherever they may sit, leaders enhance their credibility and authenticity through storytelling to spark the change they seek. Storytelling does much, merely by advocating and counter-advocating propositional debate, which leads to increased discussions.
  • Storytelling is focused on the future. It is not just an extrapolation of the present. It swirls emergent, new phenomena and nourishes it by downplaying the doubts and misconceptions of yesterday.
  • Stories are about human empowerment and real transformations in organizations. Stories are about humanity. Stories are about us transforming into a better us. Stories are about us wanting to know who we are and about us wanting to reach for the stars.

A story is like mist that develops on the outside, but the wisdom emerges from the inside. When a story touches our hearts, it takes hold of us forever and silently sets us free. This is a never ending journey.  It is also a never ending symphony. As long as this quest exists, stories will always fuel and fire us. And, since this is a never ending quest, we will always be leading ourselves and others happily into the ever after through stories.

That is the HeART of stories.

Drawn from the book, the HeART of STORY on Amazon.

 

Ego and the Appreciative Self

Among the many theories and recommended global best practices in leadership, none stands out more than the universal consensus builder and conversation starter that goes:  “self-knowledge and self-management is foremost before anything else.” Of the numerous descriptions of leadership, let’s talk about that which describes leadership as being a catalyst for creating positive and progressive change.

Tales and Techniques to a Creatively Funnier you at Work and at Home.

Let’s then narrow down our focus to what a leader needs to do in order to be able to create, catalyze and champion change.  It would go without saying that to create change a leader must know (1) where he stands and (2) where he wants to go, bringing others along others with him.

How does a leader know where she stands?  She needs to have clear knowledge, deep understanding, and calm acceptance of exactly who she is, what she wants, and what she intends to accomplish in her sphere of influence in the world.

The tricky thing about intentions though is the fact that they are intricately tied to self-perception and ideas of who we are. This narrow, intertwined niche is where the probability exists for our assumptions to go wrong. Here, in this sliver of creative space, is where who we really are clashes with our overblown assumptions of who we think we are. Let’s consider this anomaly of true self versus overblown perception of self from the Eastern philosophical perspectives. Side stepping a bit from Sigmund Freud’s theory of the ID and the Superego, let’s simply refer to it as Ego or our own distorted view of ourselves.

In the course of leading, driving change, and living up to our fullest potential, this misrepresentation or Ego does get in the way not only of what we intend to create in the long-term but also in our interactions in day-to-day living. It can stonewall us just as Walt Kelly’s hero, Pogo, once claimed, “I have found the enemy and they are us!” It can side-track us just as a wise old man once said, “If not for me, there I go!”

Thus, hurdles to progress and innovation constantly appear and surface within the change initiatives of an organization or an individual. They arise mostly from a false, distorted perception of the self.

In the early-to-mid-1980s I had traveled around the world to sell and promote Philippine-made apparels and textiles.  On my first few sales trips to the Americas and the Middle East, I failed to bring back any sales not just once but three times. Each trip had taken months of preparation, weeks of travel, and thousands of dollars.  After every trip during that period, I’d come back empty handed and unsuccessful. The effect on my self-esteem was devastating. The organization I worked for knew the reason and I too, gradually learned the reason. It had very little to do with the products, the business knowledge, or the market conditions then. It had all to do with me.

Several months of humbling reflection and pondering made me realize that what seemed like external challenges were really my own internal shenanigans.  I was playing with my own mind and myself. It was all about how I perceived and positioned myself in the world and to the world. My self-image was inflated and unreal. It needed work; lots of work!

Months after that deadly year of professional failures, disappointments, and humiliation, I remember a moment sitting by my mother’s feet and sharing my most recent, eventually successful trip across the world. Her hand rested on my head as she gently asked, “What was different this time, son?” I recall taking a very long pause while fighting back my tears, I responded, “It was me, Mom. It was my own over-inflated perception of myself that got in the way of my dealings with others and my attempts at creating value. It was my ego, Mom. ” She patted my head gently and tears that I was fighting with began to roll down from hers.

Our egos, or misrepresentations to ourselves and to the world, create majority, if not all, of our work-life challenges. No sure-fire way exists of eliminating or curing this chronic ailment that occurs and recurs in every one of us persistently and maliciously. But since that emotional realization of my malady in the presence of my mother, I had set out on a quest to find a remedy– a solution–to benignly manage or tone down the excessiveness of my own ego-driven, exaggerated perceptions of self. That was over two decades ago.

Nearly a decade ago I have found a balm in a new way of life inspired by the philosophy and practice of Appreciative Inquiry, originated by Dr. David Cooperrider of Case Western University, USA.

Three of the many guiding principles of this way of life are most relevant to us in evoking a true perception of self and in nurturing the possibilities and potential brought forth by such a benign and beautiful awareness.

Principle 1: Trusting that every Human System and every Human ( a system too) has innate and untapped potential.

Of paramount importance is the fact that this belief is innate and exists in all of us. It can also be very easily be unleashed with care and compassion. The quality, quantity, and comparative value of this hidden potential is priceless.

This perspective allows me to look at the external world as a world of abundance and opportunities. It allows me to leap onto unchartered waters, take risks and to be open to all that this dynamic life has to offer.  With this belief, I can live with confidence, courage, and optimism. It allows me to declare to myself that regardless of my size, shape, or skin color I am part of an unfolding universe and I need not protect myself any sort of pretensions and machinations.

Principle 2: Acknowledging and adapting to Diverse and Constantly Changing Perspectives.

By recognizing that people and organizations are different; by accepting that these individuals and organizations are in a state of flux and change allows one to hold back from being judgmental. With this principle, self-awareness takes on a systemic swing and allows one to view and regard people and institutions that are different, in a compassionate and holistic way. It helps us mingle with all others with a sense of wonder and enthusiasm.

For me, this approach sparks off an attitude of adaptability and strengthens the muscles for seeking synergistic possibilities. From “I know,” I can move to “I am interested in knowing, learning and adapting.” In this way the sense of my true and authentic self takes the lead and gently dissolves my ego.

Principle 3: Asking Questions instead of Telling and Opinionating.

This principle and practice of learning, leading, and guiding resets a dramatic pathway into uncovering and unleashing untapped potential in oneself and in others.

A few years ago, I had conceptualized and hosted a TV Talk Show called ExPat InSights. My core intention for the program was to highlight similarities between cultures and therefore, enhance the bond between the Philippines and the scores of foreigners living and working in the country. Diplomats of different nations, business leaders, NGO heads, members of academe, and any individual who represented anything different were invited to share their passions about their business or advocacies.

Two seasons into the program, and after close to 300 interviews, I had covered Cambodia, Afghanistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Canada, among other countries. One day, my program assistant (whom I had given carte blanche to invite guests based on the above criteria) announced that the Ambassador of Pakistan had accepted the invitation to be on ExPat InSights. I nodded acknowledgement and smilingly showed my approval.

A couple of weeks before the set program date, I sat down to plan for the interview and my questions. And that’s when it hit me!  Pakistan? Wait! Isn’t that the country that borders India? Isn’t that the country that once used to be India? I realized that I’d lived too long away from my birth country and had forgotten that Indians and Pakistanis live across a blood-drenched border drawn 65 years ago.

Neither the Pakistanis nor the Indians have forgotten the pain, the trauma, and the bloody events from that past. They have had several wars and have continued until present day to deploy men armed and ready to kill anyone who crosses the barb-wired border.  These two groups go to war even when they play cricket or compete at the Olympics!

How in heaven’s name was I going to appreciate a representative of that country? How was I going to find and highlight the good? I realized that I was in an extremely difficult situation. My trust and adopted belief in the appreciative way of life had locked horns with a terrible past and with my own, unconscious fears.  Even if I did manage to be proper and professional as a host, I’d be ostracized and hated by a billion Indian people. I was faced with a fierce conflict of values within myself.

During the next few days I began to check for any loopholes in the invitation that had been sent  to the Ambassador.  Maybe the date was wrong? Maybe it was another show? Maybe the weather would announce a holiday for one of those infamous Philippine typhoons. Anything that would let me chicken out of my dilemma!

Meanwhile, the Ambassador had gone ahead and sent me his picture, his profile, current updates, and news about Pakistan-Philippine relations. I was getting deeper into the muck.  I began to have nightmares.  In those dreams, all Indian people from across the world were throwing sticks and stones at me and calling me unmentionable names. The eggs and tomatoes flew right at me through the TV screens. The Indian government had gone declared me a traitor.

A night before the interview date, I called up my mentor, Dean Rose Fuentes, who embodied the appreciative way of life.

“I don’t know what to do. This is a real mess, I’ve gotten myself into!” I screamed through the phone.

“Yes, I agree, this is a mess and I appreciate you calling me. Now, how is it that you want me to help you?” I realized that she’d appreciated my action and asked me a question right back. This late at night, she was setting a good example of walking the talk of appreciative inquiry.

“Do you, Dean, have any suggestion on how to sit across a person whose fore fathers might have killed some of my forefathers and be nice to him?”

“Wait,” she said, “Let me switch off my favorite episode of Sponge Bob Square Pants and let me think.”

I waited.

After what seemed an eternity of moving chairs, clicking switches and grunting noises, she came back on the phone and said, “There’s this wonderful little book called Dynamic Relationships by Jacqueline Stavros, and I think you ought to read it before you on live.”

I was a day away from dying in front of the cameras and she was asking me to go buy a book. I gently bid her good night and let her go back to Sponge Bob Square Pants.

I then called up another friend of mine; a wise old soul of Indian origin but Burmese by birth. He was in his 70s and I was sure he’d be able to give some practical advice. Not only was mature and smart but he also was a diplomat’s son. He knew tact and diplomacy.

“Tell the Ambassador that you are sick,” he suggested.

“But, I don’t want to lie, and especially not about illness,” I replied.

“Then tell him that the TV station does not approve of your program content,” he offered.

“I can’t do that! I created the show and I own full autonomy over programming. The station has nothing to say about the content and I’d still be lying,” I wailed.

“Hey look, you asked me for advice and given the fact that I need to be jumping into bed, here’s a last idea.”

“Ughh, okay, tell me please,” I begged.

“Say no, the Asian way,” he chuckled.

“And, what is the Asian way?” I asked.

“Tell him, that the show needs to be postponed and that you will call him … and then don’tever call him again,” he ended.

It struck me at that time that no matter what I do, it will be out of fear, out of a warped sense of reality. It would also amount to being a total cheat. I did not want to do that. The war of values inside me had ended. I trusted living the authentic and appreciative way.

The next day, there I was happily chatting with the Ambassador of Pakistan in front of three cameras. Our interview would soon be broadcast nationwide and across the world through the internet. I had swept my mind and heart clean of all biases; of all negative assumptions. I framed my questions such that each question appeared to lighten up the face of the Ambassador and he opened up his heart to me. He shared stories of struggle, success, and synergistic wisdom.

I even managed to ask him about why and how Osama Bin Laden had made Pakistan his hideout in his last days.  He answered every question politely and warmly. He expressed optimism and shared his insights about possibilities and hopes for a peaceful world. Not for a moment during the interview did I feel any enmity or friction. The interview, which is still up for anyone to view over the internet, is proof of the power and beauty of Appreciative Inquiry.

Yes, the process of gentle inquiry, of warmly exploring memories and stories of strength, success, and synergistic action works massively towards empowering others and driving change. The amazing thing about the process of inquiry is that it also works exceedingly well with conversations with our selves.

No, let’s not label it self-talk. Rather, let’s claim the use of appreciation and inquisitiveness as the backdrop for healthy, life-giving debate between our true selves and our inflated perceptions of self, our ego.

You have to understand though that the ego can never be totally eliminated. It can, though, be tamed with conscious efforts at aligning with an appreciative and an inquisitive way of life.  You also have to know that eliminating the ego totally is NOT necessary.   All we need is to keep it in check and maintain a healthy sense of self.

This belief and approach has become a way of living for me. This way of life is the air that fuels the fires of engagement, innovation and excellent execution towards growth and success at work. It is the belief system that strengthens my ties with family, friends, and the community at large. In every other aspect of existence, I depend on this life-giving oxygen to learn and innovate; to consult and facilitate; to coach and train.  Appreciative Inquiry constantly equips me to build bridges from where I am to where I want to go. It makes me humble and strong enough to have an impact on my own destiny.