FranklinCovey Consultant Blogs | Todd Wangsgard | March, 2009
In my field of work, it’s okay to take your work home with you, right?
About 12 years ago, after teaching my first 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I remember making an effort to really turn on Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood. I had only been married a few months and wanted to show my new bride, Jana, that I was the world’s best husband. I came home from work one day, greeted my wife, and just sat there listening to her. Unlike any other day, I didn’t pick up the paper. I didn’t turn on the TV. I just stared at her and listened.
I didn’t’ get 30 seconds into my intense listening mode, when Jana said to me, “You’d better not be trying any of that work stuff on me.”
Sure, I could have been a little less obvious. And yes, I have improved my technique after a dozen or so years. (How do you stack up?) My point is, however, that when we want to make significant improvements in an interpersonal skill, we may need to step out and do something different and sometimes uncomfortable. We must appreciate the incremental progress we make along the way and be sure to break down our overall objective into bite-size pieces. Additionally, it’s always helpful to forewarn those who will be most affected by our new behavior that we’re trying something new. At least Jana didn’t turn and say to me, “Who are you and what have you done with my husband?”
At least I tried. (And, for the record, I’m still working on listening.) That’s the single most gratifying result I witness each week. I am thrilled to hear at least one person from each workshop or consulting session report back on the tremendous success they experience when they earnestly try even one piece of what we studied.
To illustrate my point, here is yet another compelling testimonial, this time from Cathy, a Veterans Health Administration associate, who attended one of my Project Management workshops a couple weeks ago (shared with permission, of course):
“I have realized several positive changes in my project management ability as a result of applying what I learned. Prior to attending your training session, I had no planned way of organizing a project. I now feel that I am able to manage and guide projects from point A to point B in a way that demonstrates efficiency and clarity. I now have a plan to resolve problems before it is too late, or before the problem gets out of control. Finally, I believe that I now do a much better job of prioritizing my goals and making better use of my time.” (click here to learn more about FranklinCovey’s Government Solutions.)
Our progress is a never-ending path of wins that come from the effort we put forth every day. Let’s not forget Dr. Leo Marvin’s advice from the 1991 comedy movie, “What About Bob?” – Baby Steps!
Early Monday morning a dear friend of the family passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. He was only in his mid-50s. All who knew him loved him. He spent his life tirelessly serving others. For example, the final few hours of his life on Sunday were spent visiting a friend who had been diagnosed with 4th stage cancer to provide her comfort and support. That same evening he spent time diligently preparing to teach early the next morning (as he had every morning this school year) as a volunteer instructor for his church’s youth religion class. He loved his children and extended family deeply. He provided living quarters free of charge in his own home to missionaries from his church. If one of his expressed goals in life was to serve others, he certainly proved it through his tireless actions. Although he will be sorely missed, he left behind a lifelong legacy of caring and love in his path.
We will miss you, Kevin.
I’m confident that Kevin thought about the legacy he might leave behind, at least a few times during the course of his life, even if he expected to stay much longer. This unfortunate event caused me to pose the same question to myself: What legacy will I leave behind? Is my life’s mission crystal clear? Do I keep it foremost in mind during my weekly and daily planning? Does it drive my every decision? Do I ever find myself trading what I want most of all in life, for what I might l like in the moment? Is the quality of my relationships moving in a direction that would cause others to express similar sentiments at my life’s end?
All of us stand to benefit by occasionally re-evaluating our progress toward fulfilling our own life’s mission. If we don’t already have one, no time could be better than the present to commit our personal life’s credo to paper.
I certainly don’t mean to convey a morbid or overly somber messge, but I do hope to generate deep introspection among those who wish to become a more deliberate author of their ultimate life’s story. That is the power of Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind.
To this end, I invite everyone to share a brief comment under this posting that includes at least one life’s goal that is deeply important to you – one that is yet incomplete. These are likely to inspire the reader and hold us all a little bit more accountable, knowing we’ve shared them publicly.
I’ll go first. I wish to be a better husband and father – one who is known for his patience, love, understanding, and deep commitment to promoting family values in his home and throughout the community.
Care to share?
Last week, I had the privilege of facilitating a 7 Habits for Managers program to a mix of leaders from diverse organizations including a state hospital, community hospital, and public schools. All participants were, of course, employees of a not-for-profit organization. But that’s is exactly what made the experience so profound. Not one person in the room was responsible for making his or her organization profitable, yet the principles taught in the 7 Habits for Managers program transcended that fact. Their need to be fiscally responsible and increasingly more effective was met by principles that never discriminate.
We began by discussing the need for leaders to lead themselves and then to lead others – as opposed to being managers who don’t lead by example and then attempt to control or manipulate their employees. Leadership is certainly not for the weak of heart. But it is certainly for those with heart.
This week I would invite all leaders (whether by title or by function) to revisit the 7 Habits and decide which habit could most enhance your leadership practices at the moment. Is it being more proactive? Do you always begin each endeavor with a written plan? Are you spending sufficient time on your priorities, instead of relentlessly being drawn in by the urgent? Does your team believe win win-win solutions? Do they actively seek them out? How well do you and others truly listen to understand, instead of listening to formulate your response?
When Ullyses wanted to hear the sweet, sultry song of the Muses, he knew that others had been met by tragedy when their ships turned too close to the rocks and were dashed into pieces. Ullyses had a plan. He told his seamen to fill their ears with wax and continue rowing, no matter what he might say or do during the journey. Then, they lashed him to the mast of the ship. Ullyses was able to listen to the beauty of the Muses’ ballad as the ship sailed safely on its course. No matter how much he screamed at the sailors to take him closer, they kept him safe at bay.
Who will lash you to the mast? Personally, I’ve decided that I need to focus on better working the priorities I’ve already set for myself, and not let distractions get the best of me. I’ve shared my intentions with others who can “lash me to the mast.” I’ve physically removed some distractions that might otherwise hold me back.
My fourth child has Down Syndrome (DS). His name is Bridger. One in 2 babies with DS are diagnosed with some type of congenital heart defect. After Bridger’s birth and while he was still in the hospital, several doctors and technicians carefully listened to his heart with a stethescope to determine whether there was a classic murmur or abnormality in his heart’s rhythm. “Sounds perfect!” they would all say.
One week after his birth, we took little Bridger in for his first check up with our pediatrician. She listened to his heart. “Sounds great!” she exclaimed. Next day: Off to the cardiologist.
With DS, it is almost automatic that kids see a cardiologist as soon as possible to get an echocardiogram (ultrasound). The picture created by an echo machine is a much better way to diagnose whether there are problems with the heart chambers, vessels, and valves. The cardiologist first warmed up his stethescope and placed it on my son’s chest. He listened. He listened more. He kept listening…
As you might imagine, we were especially interested in his opinion. After all, he’s the specialist and would hopefully confirm what previous professionals had found – nothing. After what felt like an eternity, the doctor declared, “Well, I agree. It sounds fine. Let’s take a look.”
No sooner had the probe been placed on Bridger’s chest, than we began to see what we had hoped NOT to see. Holes. There were two obvious gaps between the chambers of his heart that would need to be repaired, if we expected Bridger to enjoy any long-term quality of life.
Sometimes we think we know what others are experiencing. Their circumstances appear generic enough to us that we have likely experienced something similar. We listen. Or rather we think we listen. Solutions easily come to mind and we share them gratuitously. But maybe, we’re wrong…
Sometimes we have to take a deeper “look.” Sometimes attentive listening just doesn’t cut it. Any time emotions run high or the stakes are high, we need to apply more empathic methods – empathic listening. For you 7 Habits aficionados, you know that empathic listening is central to Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood. At its core, empathic listening is reflecting another person’s feelings and rephrasing his or her content – to the other person’s satisfaction.
When you listen more deeply, you may finally reveal the holes in somebody’s heart.
Think about those close to you – at work or at home. Who may be withdrawing from their best work, just because they don’t feel understood? You’ll be surprised what listening more deeply can do to transform the relationship and lead to greater levels of effectiveness. There are very real and specific things you can do when nobody’s listening.
p.s. Bridger had open heart surgery in December, at 5 months old. It went perfectly and he is now firing on all four cylinders (or rather chambers). It’s considered a permanent fix!
No moving stories this week. Instead, I’d like to share the simple yet amazing results that come from applying the tools we teach. One of my favorite clients invited me to teach Project Management a couple weeks ago as part of his organization’s open enrollment education program. He and another colleague attended from the same division. I received an email from him two days later that included this excerpt:
[My co-worker] mind-mapped his Behavioral Based Safety Training, and used that to fill out his Project Plan on Microsoft Project. He filled out several of the other tools as well, and when he was finished he showed the whole thing to our boss (VP of Human Resources). Our boss was very impressed, and [my co-worker] made sure to tell him that all of it came from your workshop.
Of course, our goal isn’t just to impress the boss. Our mission is to “enable greatness in people and organizations everywhere” But that’s exactly what happened. In the very first few hours after attending this workshop, someone went back and ernestly applied the tools to his world. And it’s making all the difference! Greatness is being unleashed. › Continue reading