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Tips To Effectively and Quickly Adapting To Change

The only constant in life is change. According to Darwin those who can adapt to their environment the best and quickest are the most fit. Or said more eloquently by Leon C. Megginson “it is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change“. Humans don’t like change all that much. Rather it’s our brains that don’t like change. Our brain’s primary job is to keep us alive. If everything is working as it should the brain sees no need for change. When you make an attempt to change the brain will fight against you in the form of little voices that sing a chorus of “but you can’t.” Adapting to change isn’t just a skill for the workplace, it’s a life-coping skill that allows us to get what we can out of life. We fight against change out of fear of the unknown. We rather the Devil we know versus the Devil we don’t. Whether as an individual or a company change is inevitable, necessary and doesn’t have to be the worse thing in the world.

Through my career and life I have managed through all sorts of changes. Most I did pretty well, some, well, I didn’t or I opted out. I personally believe change is good but that doesn’t stop the firestorm of little voices saying the unknown world is fraught with catastrophe. Here are some secrets to adapting to change in order to thrive instead of just survive.

Read The Tea Leaves

One of the reasons I and many others are good at adapting to change is that we see it coming. Read as many signs as possible. This skill comes from being a good listener and making connections where there seemingly aren’t any. There be things of course that you just don’t see coming. Being a constant observer of human behavior though will give you plenty of clues, having a large network and be sure to catalog information somewhere in the back of your mind. Many people will have small pieces of a large story. If you can put the pieces together correctly you’re ahead of the game and can begin preparing your adaptation strategy.  There were many changes that didn’t rattle me because, frankly, I saw them coming.

Embrace The Suck

Sometimes change is just straight, no chaser. Especially when the change comes about suddenly without warning. Our natural inclinations are to immediately push back against the change and immediately begin harping on why it’s bad or horrible. Do that for about a day or two, then get on with the business of embracing the suck. It may very well be the worst decision on the planet ever made in recorded history, but you probably have very little power to change the change. So while everyone else is complaining about it, embrace it and begin working on your strategy of how you will operate in the new world order. What we focus on expands. If we focus on how bad a situation is it will continue to get worse. If we shift our focus to resolution of the situation, solutions begin coming out of the air. The more energy you give to fighting the change the more tired you will become.

Be The Calm In The Storm

Whether the change is good or not, there will be noise. There will be complaints, push back, and all out Armageddon depending on what it is. Don’t let that be you. After you have embraced the suck the next step is to get control of your energy. If you have to meditate to make that happen, so be it. Don’t add bad energy to everyone else’s. People gravitate toward calm. But this generally has two reactions. One reaction is that people will look to you for leadership. They see you aren’t phased by the change and want to be as calm as you. The other reaction will be for some people to think there is something wrong with you. Misery loves company. They will try to bring you down to their level. They may even go so far as to bad mouth you behind your back. This reaction is, generally speaking, that of a person who is insecure in their role or their leadership abilities. They see people gravitating toward you and they don’t like it. Regardless, be the calm in the storm anyway. You will feel better and the people around you will feel better. Also, you can make better decisions about your options.

Make Good Choices

When change happens it brings about opportunities. Some of those opportunities will serve you and some of them won’t. By getting control of your mind and energy you clear the path to evaluate your options objectively. Sometimes it doesn’t serve you or anyone else to be the hero of the situation and sometimes it does. Don’t allow others’ perceptions, energy or reactions to define yours. At the end of the day you have to look yourself in the mirror and feel good about the choices you make. If you feel strongly you can navigate the changing environment, great, go for it! If you feel you can’t, that’s okay to. My only advice is to carefully evaluate the situation either way. Meaning, don’t jump in too soon or out too quickly. When I say make good choices, what I’m really saying is make the best choice for you to thrive not merely survive.

What are your go-to techniques for adapting to change? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

About the author. Nile Harris is a word weaver and dream believer with 2o years of experience in healthcare and finance. This aspiring motivational speaker, TED presenter and LinkedIn Influencer is committed to valuing people, driving healthcare access and innovation, and weaving words that move people to action.  Her views are her own. Connect with Nile on Facebook and Twitter @theNileHarris.


Tips To Listening Better From A Lifelong Listener

The greatest gift you can give to someone is your time. Giving your time goes beyond simply just being there. What good is your time if you’re not present? A big part of being present involves doing something that people really just don’t do very much. I would say people don’t do it anymore but in my lifetime (which hasn’t been very long), I don’t recall there ever being a great time of listening. The skill of listening has declined over time with the advent of mobile technology. Now it’s difficult to have a conversation with someone without them checking their phone every four minutes. Further, in a world of instant gratification people only listen long enough to sort of hear what you’re saying to think of their response.

I am a listener. I have always been a listener. I rather talk than listen. That may seem odd for someone who aspires to public speaking, but not really. The one thing a listener really wants is to be heard. People like me spend our lives being present in conversations, not picking up our phones, and clarifying what we just heard. Unfortunately, the favor is rarely returned. One of the many things I have observed as a listener is that people are so used to not being listened to that they will just keep talking until you interrupt them. I get this a lot. I’m listening as a person speaks for five, even ten minutes straight without a break. I rarely interrupt. I don’t like interrupting or being interrupted. Since I don’t interrupt, the person will eventually stop speaking and ask why I’m not contributing or saying anything, almost in frustration. To which I reply “I’m listening to you”. There is almost always a look of shock. People often speak so fast or so much in anticipation of being interrupted. But alas, as a listener 90% of the time, I’m going to let you talk.

I have also come to believe that people are largely unaware of the habits that are making others feel unheard. I’m using heard and listen interchangeably here, but I do distinguish between hearing and listening. Hearing is simply the observation of sound. Listening is interpreting the sound (in this case talking), comprehending it, and reacting accordingly. I do sometimes say “I don’t feel heard” to mean the same as listening. Now with that out of the way, here are tips to becoming a better listener from a life long listener.

Put Down The Device

It really isn’t necessary to have the phone in your hand while talking to someone. I typically don’t even bring my phone to meetings. If it’s a meal, I usually leave it in my bag. I know. It’s just a quick glance. But typically that quick glance is right in the middle of someone else’s story. Or what’s quick to you is much longer to them. If you’re expecting an important message, then set the expectation with the person at the beginning. I have attended meetings where every single person is typing on their computers or punching away at their phones. Yes, everyone is busy. But somehow listeners manage to listen to everyone and get their work done too. For one week when you attend a meeting or hang with friends, leave the phone at the desk or in the car. You can’t give someone your time if your nose is buried in a screen.

Resist The Urge To Interrupt – Better Yet, Don’t

The reason I don’t interrupt is because I’m focused on what the person is saying. I do interrupt at times. Sometimes it’s out of excitement, other times the person may have misunderstood a piece of information and needs a course correction. Sometimes I interrupt because I realize the person won’t stop talking until I do or I just want to say what I want to say. The reason you shouldn’t interrupt isn’t simply because it’s rude. You can’t understand what the other person is saying, feeling, or thinking if you’re talking over them. The message you’re unintentionally sending is that what they want to communicate doesn’t matter to you. You have something to say and you’re going to say it. This is also how misunderstandings get started. I have amazing recall for conversations, not because I have an incredible memory, it’s because I’m listening in the first place. For one week don’t interrupt anyone for any reason.

Repeat What They Say

A great technique for active listening is to repeat what the person said to you but in your own words. This lets the other person know you’re listening and solidifies the information in your own mind. A great way to do this is to say “This is what I heard you say…… Is that correct?” I once knew a person who would say they understood what I was saying but then when it was repeated back to me at a later date it was drastically different and damaging. This was completely frustrating because it meant clearly the person wasn’t listening and projected something entirely wrong on to me. For one week repeat back to the person what you heard them say in your own words. If they correct you, say it again until they agree.

Don’t Reinterpret The Message

This can be a tricky one. Some people are very direct. They say what they mean and mean what they say. Others speak in veiled language. There is a time for both. It’s going to take some knowledge of the person, but don’t assume every message is a veiled one. An example of veiled language is to say a house is cozy when it’s small. Here is another example. Once upon a time I was interviewing for a role. I asked the interviewer, who was the VP of something, what his leadership philosophy is. His response was “so what you’re really asking me is what do I do.” It was an interview so I responded with “sure”, but what I really wanted to say was “no”. I asked exactly what I wanted to know and the reinterpretation was so far off. This becomes easier as you get to know a person. You’ll know when they’re using veiled language versus being more direct. For one week just assume that people you don’t know well are saying what they mean, don’t reinterpret it.

Enjoy The Freedom

Allow the conversation to go where it goes, within reason of course. Another aspect of non-listening behavior I’ve observed is the need to keep the conversation rigid. Because the talker is talking and not listening, they want to keep the conversation focused where they want it to be. Have you ever been having a conversation with someone where you apologized for something and they just kept talking about it? They continued to talk about why they were hurt or offended or upset, and completely grazed over the apology that they seem to want so badly? We have all been there. Had the other person been listening the discussion could have been allowed to move in a different direction. One of the reasons I like listening is because, every now and again, the conversation can become so random it’s fun. You get to learn so much about people and it’s cool. It’s also freeing to just sort of go where the conversation takes you. For one week just go with the flow, within reason. I mean, if you’re supposed to be talking about fixing world hunger, you should probably stick with that.

The next time you find the other person in the conversation isn’t talking very much consider two things. One, you may be doing most of the talking and it’s time to listen; and two they are a listener and would really welcome the opportunity to talk if they know they’ll be heard. Encourage them to contribute. By the way, most great leaders are also great listeners.

About the author. Nile Harris is a word weaver and dream believer with 2o years of experience in healthcare and finance. This aspiring motivational speaker, TED presenter and LinkedIn Influencer is committed to valuing people, driving healthcare access and innovation, and weaving words that move people to action.  Her views are her own. Connect with Nile on Facebook and Twitter @theNileHarris.

Six Skills Required For The Art of Having Grit

What does it mean to have grit? The dictionary defines grit as “courage or resolve; the strength of character; and mental toughness”. I once asked a senior leader what he looks for in people he hires to his team. The things he mentioned were the usual suspects save one – raw talent, smart, coachable, flexible and grit. Two things stood out to me about this list. First, there was no mention of knowing how to do everything, that’s where raw talent and coachable comes in. You can teach people what you want them to do but if the other aspects aren’t already present in the person, it doesn’t really matter. Second, this was the first time I ever heard a leader use the word grit when describing the ideal employee. I agree the most talented people in any organization have a certain amount of grit, but it’s usually described with fancier words such as perseverance, courage, brave, determination, etc. The reason I like the word grit and I like that he used the word grit is because it’s a simple word. It drives at the essence of what people need today in the workplace, in life, in business and so on. It’s visual and raw. You get the sense that others don’t mess with a person that has grit. If they do, they quickly find out the true meaning of the word.

A word of caution about grit though. If one of the aspects overpower the others it can come across as bullying, arrogant, mean, pessimistic, so on and so forth. There is a delicate balance and art to having grit. You have to know when to be hard versus soft; when to be steel versus silk; and when to be loud versus quiet. There is a certain wisdom to having grit.

To Thine Own Self Be True

A basic component of having grit is to know your weaknesses, strengths, and triggers. When you know and embrace these three things you can shift your energy and actions accordingly to manage almost any situation. For example, if you embrace people not following instructions is a big trigger for you ask someone else to manage certain processes for you. If you have to go it alone, set up a system that relies on your strengths to deal with those types of situations. You may decide to set up a call with everyone to walk people through a process at once. That way you’re not repeating it over and over which only serves to flip the trigger over and over.

Additionally, embracing your weaknesses, strengths and triggers will allow you to identify your boundaries and communicate them to others.

Solve The Problem

Finger pointing or “throwing others under the bus” is a symptom of a problem, not the problem itself. When I worked in trading we had very little time to make tough decisions. We’re talking a minute or two, if that. There was no time to focus on the outcomes of a problem or even people’s feelings. We simply had to solve the problem, identify the fix and implement the solution. Did tempers flare sometimes? Absolutely, we’re talking about billions of dollars a day in transactions. But tempers got way worse if the issue became repetitive. It meant the problem wasn’t solved, merely the symptoms were treated.

Problem solving is an important component of having grit because people with grit tend to power through situations. You rarely hear people with grit complaining that somebody else did something. They explain the issue, how the issue came about, the potential solutions, and then set about fixing it.

Find The Signal In The Noise

This goes hand-in-glove with solving the problem, the signal versus the noise. People with grit outright ignore noise but recognize that the static is surrounding something. They look for the something. Think of it this way. When you’re trying to tune into a radio station and you are one or two numbers off you can hear the program but it’s covered with a bunch of static. You have to turn the dial (or push the button) to fine tune the station to hear it crystal clear. That’s what people with grit do. They analyze the information they are receiving and have the ability to distinguish the static from the crystal clear signal and that’s what they act on. They don’t exhaust themselves trying to focus on the program through the noise or even deal with the noise. The noise is a smoke screen and drains everyone’s energy.

Find A Way And Fire That Engine

One of my favorite movie lines is from Armageddon. They are about to take off from the asteroid but the shuttle won’t start. Bruce Willis’ character is outside ready to sacrifice himself to save the world but the remaining crew tells Houston Control they can’t take off. Houston Control replies back “if there’s not a way, you find a way, now fire that engine!” Spoiler alert, they do get the engine started. But I love that line so much because it nicely sums up the heart of a person with grit – if you don’t immediately see a way, find or make a way. People with grit exhaust every possibility of which they can conceive. They ask others for ideas and exhaust those. Only after trying a thousand different things do they concede they haven’t found the answer…yet, rarely do they use the word “impossible”. Results are the primary goal – not titles or accolades. That will come regardless, those with grit, however, are interested in earning them.

Exercise Wisdom

People with grit aren’t all bark and all bite. They know when it’s time to bark, when it’s time to bite and when it’s time for a belly rub. Despite how true grit is depicted in the movie of the same name, it doesn’t mean a gritty person is one who is hard all of the time. They have times of softness and vulnerability, especially with those they are charged with leading. Having grit doesn’t mean lacking feelings or emotions or keeping them to yourself. That’s just silly and damaging. To tell people that they can’t express their emotions, passions, etc. in a work environment is saying you don’t want humans working for you. Of course, this should be done professionally and not in a destructive manner but being able to cut through the noise to fix problems requires open expression. Being smart is about knowing how to do, being wise is about knowing when to do. Sometimes silence speaks volumes and sometimes volume speaks volume.

Courage Under Fire

One of the hardest things in the world is for people to admit they’re wrong or made a mistake. Since I’m on a movie roll I’ll keep it going. The movie Courage Under Fire was about literal courage under fire and the lack thereof. Denzel Washington’s character is posthumously awarding Meg Ryan’s character’s the Medal of Honor for her bravery in action in Desert Storm (literal courage under fire). The investigation reveals she died from friendly fire and it was covered up resulting in the one responsible committing suicide after being questioned (lack of courage under fire). Someone with grit owns their mistakes, their wrongs, admits it and learns from it. When they receive feedback they consider it whether they agree with it or not. If they push back against the feedback it’s done so with facts and figures, not excuses or conjecture. They invite the other side to do so as well.  These are people you cannot easily scare or intimidate, nor do they seek to scare and intimidate. They meet fact with fact and fiction with fact because they are interested in the signal not the noise. They say what needs to be said, in the manner in which it needs to be said, even when it’s not the popular thing to say.

Endure Optimistically

Last, but not least, someone with grit can endure unpleasantness for a long time. They can endure the rough times and do so with an eye on the future state. They are working toward a better state or a greater good and know that sludge is par for the course. They are loyal and don’t abandon the ship the second the waters get rough. They adapt and make do. When someone abandons ship they don’t focus on it, they pick up the slack or assign it to someone else. They inspire others to do the same. They don’t leave a man or woman behind. They do all of this with a good attitude. That doesn’t mean they won’t get upset, frustrated or discouraged at times. It means that when they do they rely on their mental toughness and fortitude to regroup to get themselves and others back on track.

When you hear of people having grit and wonder if you have it too, think on this list of characteristics. Do you have them? If not, you can cultivate them. Start by looking for and partnering with the closet person with true grit you can find. You may find you have more grit than you think. Take a look at the very top of your organization, your C-suite. Do you think they have grit or are they more political? In a world that values quick fixes and instant gratification is it harder to have grit? And when does grit go too far? I would love to hear your thoughts on the art of grit.

About the author. Nile Harris is a word weaver and dream believer with 2o years of experience in healthcare and finance. This aspiring motivational speaker, TED presenter and LinkedIn Influencer is committed to valuing people, driving healthcare access and innovation, and weaving words that move people to action.  Her views are her own. Connect with Nile on Facebook and Twitter @theNileHarris.

5 Keys To Receiving Any Type Of Feedback Effectively

I gave you my five keys to giving effective feedback effectively, now let’s learn how to receive it. The feedback we receive isn’t always clear, fair, or makes sense. The thing with feedback is it’s through the eyes of the observer. How we perceive people is about us not about them. The lens through which we evaluate a person is based almost entirely on our belief system. Malcolm Gladwell talks about this in his book Blink. I consistently cite this book when I talk about perceptions of others because it eloquently explains why we do it and how we can work around how our subconscious mind colors people and events. This is also important to understand when delivering feedback.

In the five keys to giving effective feedback effectively I talked about how to make sure the feedback you are giving is received well, understood and actionable. Unfortunately, that is not how we will always receive feedback. We need to be open to feedback in any form, but shape it into something we can act on.

1. Listen With Objectivity

The first point of receiving feedback is to quietly listen to the feedback. If you’re talking at the same time they are you can’t understand what the person is saying. Back to the woods. In the exercise where we had to lead teams in the completion of a task we had very specific ways of giving feedback – “what worked for me. what didn’t work for me. what I would like to see done differently.”. While this feedback was delivered to the leader, the leader was not allowed to speak, at all. There could be no interruption. If the leader interrupted the person observing the team quickly corrected them. The leader’s only job was to listen. This part isn’t too difficult for me. I’m a listener. I much rather listen than speak. And in a world that much rather speak than listen I can find myself overwhelmed, but mostly frustrated when it is finally my turn to speak – no one listens. While you are listening to the feedback, be present and focus on the words and the body language of the speaker. Do not start preparing your counter or explanation. You may ask clarifying questions only after the person has finished speaking. They must be clarifying questions, not objections in the form of a question; i.e. “would you rather I had turn the report in late?” is a thinly veiled objection. What do you do when the person is done?

2. Thank Them For Their Feedback

In the woods once we received feedback we could only say “thank you for the feedback.” That was it. No explanation, no I’m sorry, no objection. Simply, thank you. This allows the deliverer to feel heard while the recipient considers the feedback, even if you agree. Feedback is a gift. Hopefully the person delivered it as a gift versus using it as a weapon. Since we’re not in the woods you can leave it there or you can add a little something to the thank you to help you understand and incorporate the feedback.

3. Ask Truly Clarifying Questions

Let’s say the feedback is vague and unclear. You really have no idea what you did well or poorly. It’s not clear what behaviors you should repeat or discontinue. This is where you ask clarifying questions. It can go something like “When you said turn the report in on time my interpretation is that you meant on the day it was due. From what I’m hearing you say on time for you meant the day before so you could review it? Is that correct? How would you like for me to handle that in the future?”. This technique helps them define exactly what worked for them, didn’t work and what they would like to see in the future. Be objective and unemotional about it. This can be difficult if the feedback to you was delivered in an emotional way. I don’t do well with emotional feedback if the emotion doesn’t seem to match the topic. Meaning if a person is highly emotional about the report being delivered on the day it was due instead of the day prior I can’t match up the intensity with the crime. This leads me to believe the person is actually upset about something else or they don’t know how to properly express themselves. In this case, I may not want to ask clarifying questions for fear of making the situation worse. But you must, so carry on. Gauge the best way to do so.

4. Consider The Feedback

There’s a reason the person gave you the feedback. It could be that it was a violation of their belief structure, values and virtues. It could be that they truly have your best interest at heart and want to see you do well. Or it could be what you’re doing is going to get you fired or stall your career. Either way, consider the feedback. If you don’t have the time or capacity to truly consider it in that moment simply say you’ll consider it. You would like a little time to replay everything in your mind and see where that feedback fits. If the feedback really doesn’t work for you or is a violation of your belief system you can respectfully push back because you feel they don’t have a good understanding of your perspective; or say nothing and simply don’t implement the suggestions. Do this with the understanding that some feedback may be non-negotiable for the deliverer and there may be consequences for not implementing the feedback. What if you feel the feedback is not coming from a place of good intent? Sometimes we get feedback from someone just because they don’t like us. The answer is the same. Consider it, no need to push back against it. But if this feedback is for work performance, you may want to consider documenting it if you feel strongly the feedback is not in your best interest.

5. Ask To Provide Your Point Of View

People like to feel heard. If the feedback you received feels like it’s coming from a place of mis-perception, ask to provide your rationale or side of the story. Hopefully the person would have provided you an opportunity to express yourself. But if not, thank them for the feedback, say you’ll consider it, then ask if it would be okay to walk them through your rationale. You may have had a very good reason for whatever you did and perception is reality in the absence of fact. Once you’re able to explain how you got there it may actually change the feedback or the perception of the situation. Feedback really should be a dialogue, this structure isn’t meant to remove that dialogue. It’s meant to provide some structure and ground rules so that the discussion is effective. Both people should walk away feeling heard, understood, and respected. However, that doesn’t mean both people agree on the feedback itself.

About the author. Nile Harris is a word weaver and dream believer with 2o years of experience in healthcare and finance. This aspiring motivational speaker, TED presenter and LinkedIn Influencer is committed to valuing people, driving healthcare access and innovation, and weaving words that move people to action.  Her views are her own. Connect with Nile on Facebook and Twitter @theNileHarris.


1 5 Keys To Delivering Effective Feedback Effectively

One of the most difficult things to do is provide feedback to someone. This isn’t something that we just experience at work, but with friends and family. We don’t always know how the person on the other end is going to receive it. We inherently either don’t want to hurt people’s feelings or we don’t want to deal with the fallout, we have enough stress. Ultimately what ends up happening, through a lack of feedback, is the issue continues to escalate until it explodes. At work employees are allowed to go year after year from review to review without being given feedback that would make a difference to their career trajectory. It’s not just critical feedback either, but good feedback also goes unsaid. Or, the feedback isn’t clear or actionable, which is only marginally better than no feedback. How do you give feedback that is impactful, meaningful, and actionable? Easy, here are five keys to delivering effective feedback effectively.

1. Assess The Person’s Willingness For Feedback

I can tell you right now I don’t give feedback to everyone simply because not everyone wants feedback. So if you’re not responsible for giving a person feedback you need to gauge their ability to hear and integrate it. Let me tell you how I learned this valuable lesson. My summer internship following my freshman year in college was at an investment bank in Chicago. I was so excited to be there but as my first official professional job that wasn’t a friend of my parents I had to navigate fitting in. I dressed wrong, I spoke wrong, I laughed wrong. Now when I say I dressed wrong I mean it wasn’t in the manner of dress for the role you want not the role you have. About halfway through the summer another young black woman started in a full time position. The way she dressed was absolutely inappropriate. She was referred to as a husband-hunter. Women who worked at the exchange for the purpose of snagging themselves a rich suitor. Somehow or other one of the managers got it in their minds I should be the one to deliver the message that her attire was inappropriate. I was 19, she was about three or four years older. Being a dutiful intern I went to talk with her too naive to know that it was highly inappropriate for them to send an intern to speak with this woman simply because we were both black. Also, I didn’t know a thing about her or gauge her capacity for feedback.

You guessed it, she let me have it. I learned in that moment and began a journey to perfect my ability to evaluate someone’s willingness to hear feedback. As a manager you have to give feedback, that’s not opt out. However, you can still gauge someone’s receptiveness in order to refine the message and the delivery. Working on a trading floor my delivery had to be blunt and to the point and not at all personal. For example, when I went down to the trade floor some of the men had posted pictures of  mostly-naked women in our booth. I barely noticed them and didn’t care, but the woman supervisor did. When I asked her why she hadn’t made the men remove them, she said they wouldn’t listen to her. I sought out the ring leader of these pictures, quickly assessed him and delivered the message “these photos are inappropriate, you will remove them and destroy them now, while I’m standing here. If I come back and you have posted new photos I will take more formal action. This is not a request.” The photos were removed and didn’t return during the rest of my tenure. What did I see in him at that moment that moved me to deliver that message? I have the advantage of having studied interpersonal and speech communication which included courses in psychology, speech and hearing science and tons of theoretical communication courses.

First and foremost, read a person’s non-verbal queues. His body language told me he was an alpha male and respected authority. So I had that going for me, I had some, not a lot, but some authority in the situation. His speech pattern told me he wasn’t going to debate me on the issue. Meaning he wasn’t going to cite precedent for why this wasn’t considered sexual harassment. His behavior let me know that he likes to push buttons, he likes attention and he found me attractive. So when I delivered the message it needed to be in the most alpha female non-emotional and personal way possible with the air of authority and accountability.

Second, rely on past behaviors to tell you how they will react. If they generally seem sensitive or combative in other situations, they are likely to feel that way during a feedback session. If they are highly adaptable and collaborative that indicates they are open to suggestion and don’t believe there is any one way to skin a cat.

Third, you can always just ask them how they prefer to receive feedback. If you can’t figure it out from non-verbals and general behavior don’t be afraid to ask. Sometimes asking if they mind if you share feedback with them if they aren’t your subordinate works very well. If they are your subordinate ask them early on during the process of getting to know them how they like to receive feedback. Take that time also to ask them how they like to be recognized. All feedback isn’t negative or bad. People have preferences for how they like to be recognized and praised too. That’s equally important and often forgotten.

2. Adopt The Proper Feedback Structure

I learned this structure in one of my leadership courses, but I practiced my own structure before. I have now combined the two because I think it’s a great marriage. It’s a two part structure, the first part is spot self evaluation, the second is my evaluation.

In the spot evaluation I ask the person to identify what they did well or what worked well. I allow them to speak without interruption, agreement or dissent. My job is only to listen. Ask clarifying questions only if necessary. Then ask them to identify what didn’t go well. Again, no interruption. Prevent your face from expressing agreement or disagreement. Lastly, ask them what they would do differently next time. Shhhh, let them talk. Resist the urge to interrupt. This is very important. Listen. Shhh.

In the next part, your evaluation, you follow the exact same process. You say what you thought went well, what didn’t go well, and what you would like to see different in the future. You say your complete thoughts even if it is the exact same thing they said. This is important to how the brain processes information (e.g. speech and hearing science). You might use the exact same words but they may different things to each of you. That is why the next key is critical. Also, don’t allow the recipient to justify the choice or behavior until you ask for it. Just like your job was to listen to them, theirs is now to listen to you. Where you ask for their response is up to you. But insist that you be allowed to finish your thoughts first.

3. Feedback Should Be Specific And Actionable

When delivering feedback be as clear as possible using examples, even if the feedback is good. If your manager said to you “you did a great job on that report” what would you repeat for the next report? Everything probably. What if your manager said “you did a great job highlighting the advantages of the vendor in your report. It clearly and simply communicated that the vendor will meet our goals and expectations. That analysis was spot on.”? In your next report you will make sure your analysis is just as thorough. In other words what behavior do you want them to keep doing and why. This message should be delivered as upbeat and passionately as possible.

When you move to the what didn’t work well, be just as thorough. What do you want them to stop doing and why. Be specific. No one, no one at all likes vague feedback. Frankly, there really isn’t a good reason not to give someone specific and actionable feedback. While you should display positiveness while delivering the good, you should deliver the critique in a dispassionate matter of fact way. Why? Because the brain is designed to focus on the negative. The brain will use the tone of voice to amplify the negativity of the message. No matter how small or minor the feedback, the brain will interpret it as “danger”.

Lastly, what you would like to see done differently is the actionable part of the feedback. Provide them with suggestions. If they already said something you want to see, say you agree with what they said and say it again. This lets them know you heard them when they suggested it themselves, that this wasn’t your brilliant idea. Saying it again reinforces it in their mind. This also builds agreement that this is something they will work on and you both expect to see progress. It assures them that you are a partner in their success and that you believe in them enough to identify and solve their own problems. Too often people give feedback before they even know what the person thinks. This puts them on the defensive. Asking them first to evaluate themselves says you value their ability to be introspective and self aware.

4. Feedback Should Be Ongoing

Feedback isn’t a once a year sort of thing. It should be ongoing. I once had a manager who was so good at quick feedback sessions after a meeting or presentation. He would pull me aside either right then or within a day or two. He wouldn’t necessarily ask me to evaluate myself first. If there was a conflict or someone came to him with something he would ask my side of the story. Remember when I said don’t allow them to justify their actions before you finish delivering the feedback. Here is an exception. If you were’t the observer of the behavior always always always get their understanding of events first, then go to self evaluation, then deliver your evaluation. You will build trust this way.

The same manager did this with me when a high profile VP came to him about my “defensiveness”. What the VP left out of the story was that I was reacting to him making me the butt of his jokes to other senior leaders. These were demeaning jokes. I lashed out. When my manager, a senior vice president, asked me about it I explained my version of events. He gave me his evaluation of the situation along with his thoughts on what I could have done differently. He summed it up by saying his feedback to that VP in the moment was he had observed him making these jokes, and as my manger he didn’t find them funny at all. The only reason he hadn’t said anything is because I hadn’t reacted so he thought it didn’t bother me. His learning was to ask me in the future, my learning was to speak up. Our bond of trust strengthened.

If you see something in the moment, say something. If it’s not someone who works for you evaluate their willingness to get feedback, their willingness to get it from you, and ask them if they mind you sharing it.

5. Let It Go

Once feedback has been delivered and agreed to, allow the person the leeway to achieve it. Keep it fresh during your meetings to understand their progress but don’t beat them up over it. If you are still bringing up feedback from two, three, ten years ago and the person addressed it and moved on, the issue is you not them. Feedback is a gift, not a weapon. This also means don’t put every single piece of feedback in someone’s performance review, especially if it’s one off. That same manager I had was good for that as well. If he brought it up and I addressed it, I never heard about it again. Ever. Not in my review. Not during lunch three years later. Done is done. If the person isn’t displaying the behavior anymore what is the benefit of punishing them? You will simply just drive them away.

Another point about giving feedback is that it is largely based on perception. Our perceptions of the world and people says more about us than it does about others. This is another reason to let go of feedback. Consider the fact that the criticism or the recognition you are giving may be more about your internal values, virtues and construct of right and wrong. Given this, it is the recipient’s right to reject your feedback. They can gracefully reject it right then or just simply not implement your suggestions. Either way you should take into account how much your own bias played in the feedback itself. This isn’t true in every case of course. Use your best judgment for when not accepting your feedback is truly causing career- or relationship-damage and act accordingly. Read Blink by Malcolm Gladwell to better understand how our biases impact how we evaluate others.

I spoke a lot about feedback in relation to work, but this exact format will work in your personal life as well. A human being is a human being whether they are at work or at home. I know it might seem weird to say to your husband “honey, what worked for me is this, what didn’t work for me is this, and this is what I would like to see in the future”. I assure you it will work because the male brain likes headlines, problem solving, and clear direction. Female brains like the structure because it’s collaborative, non-judgmental and allows them to solve their own problems.

About the author. Nile Harris is a word weaver and dream believer with 2o years of experience in healthcare and finance. This aspiring motivational speaker, TED presenter and LinkedIn Influencer is committed to valuing people, driving healthcare access and innovation, and weaving words that move people to action.  Her views are her own. Connect with Nile on Facebook and Twitter @theNileHarris.


Stop Being Selfish With Your Gift

Nile Harris

“You are selfish.” His face was fairly stern as he said those words to me. I was thinking how harsh a statement that was especially since I had known this man for all of three hours. To add to the confusion this was his feedback to me after practicing my presentation on type II diabetes in front of my small group. The two others in the group, who I also didn’t know, shook their head in agreement with his statement. It’s a presentation on how type II diabetes is costing the country billions and how in most cases it’s preventable and even reversible. Maybe they feel my position is too much blame the victim. I don’t know. So I ask hoping that I will receive clear feedback that I can act on.

In the last few years I’ve taken several speaking courses. I want to be a better presenter to go along with my word weaving, and it’s in support of my goal of being a public speaker. When I ask what didn’t work for them, because clearly they were skipping the first step of feedback which is to say what did work well, he responded with the clear feedback I needed. He said to me that I’m such a gifted speaker and I have something powerful to say, but what he didn’t get was why I wasn’t already speaking publicly. I was given a gift and a message and by not sharing it beyond this class I was being selfish. “How many people could’ve been helped by just the practice speech you gave here. Why do you remain hidden? That’s not why God gave you your gifts.”

“How many people could’ve been helped by just the practice speech you gave here. Why do you remain hidden? That’s not why God gave you your gifts.”

Well alrighty then. I had never heard this concept before, but it made perfect sense. This was about two years ago, the funny thing is I hear it from people all of the time now. Not necessarily speaking to me. I mean, I hear other speakers talking about this concept of sharing one’s gifts. We are all interconnected, even the plants, animals, everything on Earth is connected. In a Star Wars the force sort of way, everything relies on everything else in order to survive and thrive. What if bees collectively decided they would stop contributing their gift to the world? Pollination wouldn’t happen. What if dogs decided they would no longer serve humanity? Who would herd sheep and keep the wolves away? What if that person who had the biggest impact on your life or career had decided not to share their gift with you?

Yes – You Have A Gift

Hopefully you’re not sitting there thinking you don’t have a gift. The order of the Universe is that every person is born with a gift. Even when that person spends only a few moments on Earth. What you should be doing right now is asking yourself what gift or gifts do you have that you aren’t sharing and why. Every reason that is coming into your mind right now is probably perfectly legitimate. Without even knowing what you’re thinking I’m going to answer all of those reasons collectively with this – it doesn’t serve the world to stay hidden. Sure, everyone is busy. You don’t need to spend hours or days a week sharing your gift. You can start in your home, in your neighborhood, or in your work group. In other words start sharing your gift with the person sitting right next to you. Maybe your gift is bringing people together or inspiring others. Your gift may be something you do every day that helps others and you don’t even know it.

People Do Want To Hear What You Have To Say

I feel this way sometimes, okay, many times. Why would anyone be interested in what I have to say? People are only interested in hearing people who have attained a certain level of wealth, or have a certain title in a company – was my excuse. Then one day I flipped it around. The books, articles, TED Talks, etc. that I read and listen to are from all sorts of people. I’ve listened to children and read books by people who never went to college. I’ve benefited from conversations from people who weren’t CEOs or who were “ranked below me” in the corporate hierarchy. So, if I’m doing it, other people are doing it. If a message was put in my mind and on my heart, that means that someone is supposed to hear it.

Has anyone ever called you out of the blue and said something that you needed to hear that day in that moment? Or someone sends you an email with a link to an article that seems meant for you? I don’t believe that’s a coincidence. I believe because we are connected that these things happen. It happens in the animal kingdom all of the time, this isn’t unusual. It has become unusual to humans. There may be someone waiting to hear what you are dying to say.

It’s A Growth Opportunity

I think everyone would agree that we learn more when we teach others. Really, if you think about it, being selfless is about being selfish. It feels good to help other people, most of the time. True, sometimes helping someone can backfire. The road to hell and all. Even when your helping someone takes a bad turn you don’t feel bad about yourself. You feel you did the right thing regardless and you got an extra bonus learning. Perhaps there are some situations where you don’t share your gift. There are other times that you do and the response is unexpected, in a good way and provides you with a different perspective. I think a great example of this is Oprah Winfrey’s OWN channel. Oprah has clearly been sharing her gift with the world for many years. She felt OWN would provide a bigger platform for others to share their gifts. Essentially this was her gift of gift giving. We saw less of Oprah and more of other people, who were great, but not Oprah. She reassessed the model and realized that her audience still wanted to see her but in a bigger way. She expanded the platform and people that they would get more of her not less. That changed her perspective, that provided her with an opportunity to grow.

How To Share Your Gift

Here’s the thing, I’m not going to tell you how to share your gift. I know, that’s not fair. Everyone’s gift is unique to them, how can any one person tell you how to shine? There are important components. First is belief. In order to be a gift to others you must first be one to yourself. If you aren’t there yet, that’s where you start. Voices of self doubt can creep in, that’s fine. Acknowledge them and send them on their way. The second component is worth. In order to give you must be able to receive. I know, the saying goes the other way. It’s chicken and egg. You have to do both. Givers make terrible receivers sometimes. You have to know that you are worth receiving. The third component is gratitude. Be grateful for every opportunity to share your gift. When someone asks you for help thank them for asking you, whether or not you can. You are thanking them for the opportunity to serve.

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About the author. Nile Harris, is a word weaver and dream believer with 2o years of experience in healthcare and finance. This aspiring motivational speaker, TED presenter and LinkedIn Influencer is committed to valuing people, driving healthcare access and innovation, and weaving words that move people to action.  Her views are her own. Connect with Nile on Facebook and Twitter @theNileHarris.

How To Fail Forward In A World That Punishes Failure

Nile Harris

There is no dark without the light. There is no hot without the cold. And there is no success without failure. In order to experience the fullness of one you must experience the fullness of the other. I don’t believe I’m saying anything you haven’t heard before. Some of the most successful people failed numerous times before finally succeeding. We already know that failure is the price we pay for success. Then why is it when we go to work we are judged harshly for our failings, while entrepreneurs and innovators are applauded for theirs? Think about it, we are riveted by stories of repeated failure that eventually led to one success. But when we show up for those performance reviews, they can become a litany of the things that went wrong glossing over how they contributed to what went right.

Failure provides us with crucial information. It lets us know what we got right and what we got wrong. And, if we’re tough enough, we’ll make the necessary changes and push through. Henry Ford said “failure is simply the opportunity to begin again. This time, more intelligently”. Here’s the key, when we fail we need to fail forward. The term fail forward was coined by John C. Maxwell about 20 years ago in his book Failing Forward: How To Make The Most Of Your Mistakes. There are some great quotes in this book and it speaks for itself. I want to look at this from a different perspective. How do you fail forward in an environment that punishes failure?

My belief is that the reason most people don’t take risks isn’t the fear of failure, it’s the fear of having the failure thrown back in their faces. It’s not just thrown in their faces, but the failure gets bigger every time and the frequency of the reminders increases. How can we guard against this stigma while at the same time taking risks that have a strong probability of success? By the way, research shows if you’re a woman, especially a woman of color, you will likely be judged harsher and your failures remembered longer than that of a white male. Here are my thoughts on navigating the balance between perceptions of failure and the success of failing.

Document The Risk(s) Not Taken

I think we can agree that a risk should be carefully calculated. No one is suggesting that we just run with the first thing that pops in our heads. Though, sometimes, that can work too. But if you’re contemplating a big shift from the norm you will have to do your research. Take time to document your “what if” questions. While you were considering a course of action you asked yourself and probably others what are the pros and cons of that action. You probably talked to several experts in your network and settled on two or three options. However, we don’t generally document the other options that didn’t make the final list and why. We carefully prepare the PowerPoint presentation of the options we want to discuss, then focus on the recommended course of action. But there’s a wealth of information in the options discarded early on. Assuming you have a manager, you probably didn’t discuss those discarded ideas with them. These days we seem to get so little time with our direct managers, and even less with those above them, that we don’t want to squander our time discussing what we didn’t choose.

By including a brief discussion about other avenues you investigated but declined and why you are starting to the lay the documentation ground work. You may even want to go as far as to prepare a short PowerPoint on the path not taken. Should your risk not pan out you have a paper trail of how you got there that serves two purposes: first, you already have a set of other options to evaluate further; second, it lays the ground work for the discussion with your manager when it comes up in the performance review. It shows you put real thought into your plan and it was a well considered risk.

Ditch Analysis Paralysis And Commit

This is easily said but tough to do. We become so married to our proposals that we can get stuck in the numbers and not make a decision. Making a decision in a timely manner shows commitment to the idea and confidence in its high probability of success. The reverse is also true, ditch the plan if it’s not going well. Okay, don’t ditch the entire plan but be prepared to either course correct or pull the plug. Don’t allow ego to continue to move you down a path that you don’t even believe is right just to save face. What every good project leader knows is you must identify metrics at the outset and track those metrics. If something isn’t going quite right, don’t jump ship too quickly. Sometimes just a small tweek in the plan can make a huge difference in results.

Document The Learning

Hopefully you created some sort of dashboard for the project based on the metrics you identified. There should always be some metrics, otherwise what was the point of the risk? Keep good notes about what happened at various points in the plan. It doesn’t have to be fancy, you can create a notebook in Evernote. At the end of the day you want a roadmap of what you did so you can decide later if it was a good thing or a bad thing. Discuss openly what your thoughts were and where they were flawed. Perhaps you misjudged the target audience’s preferences or your forecast assumptions were flawed. The notes are valuable because they help you document the learning which can make for a great conversation around why the project failed. Most managers just want to feel comfortable and confident that something was gained from the experience. When it’s a highly visible failure they need to know what happened because someone has to answer for it. Be able to speak specifically to what went wrong, what went well and how to course correct for the future.

Update Your Plan While Highlighting The Course Correction

If you get another shot at it, and you probably will if you do the above, you need to demonstrate what you will do differently. Go back to those notes and the actions not taken to see if there is something you can use. You may have to come up with something entirely new. The truth of the matter is we fail more than we succeed. If we’re succeeding more than we’re failing we aren’t trying hard enough. But the standard performance review process rewards successes over failures, even though out of failure can come great success.

Implement these steps at the outset of your next risky project and should you fail, I believe you will see a positive difference in how that failure is perceived. If you’re going to fail, do it quickly and in the direction in which you want to go…forward.

About the author. Nile Harris is a word weaver and dream believer with 2o years of experience in healthcare and finance. This aspiring motivational speaker, TED presenter and LinkedIn Influencer is committed to valuing people, driving healthcare access and innovation, and weaving words that move people to action.  Her views are her own. Connect with Nile on Facebook and Twitter @theNileHarris

5 Reasons To Focus More On Connecting Than Networking

Nile Harris

Networking is one of the most enduring business buzz words. It applies to all functions and industries. There are books and courses that teach why and how to effectively network your way to success. LinkedIn has an entire business model built around it. Occasionally, in order to not seem repetitive, we will use the word connection. While we tend to use them interchangeably I would argue these are actually two different things. Both are useful and have their place in our personal and professional lives. The challenge is we tend to approach them as interchangeably as the words. Yet, we know when someone has networked to us versus connected with us.

Networking is something computers do. Connection is something living creatures do. At the risk of potentially sounding confusing a network is an interconnection to one another typically for an exchange of information. A connection is a shared experience with someone else. Still with me? Good. We’ve all attended networking events with plenty of business in hand. The conversation tends to be focused on what the other person does. We collect the business card, exchange pleasantries and afterwards don’t follow up with the person. Unless, of course, there is a mutually beneficial reason to do so. When we connect with another human being we develop a sense of how we feel around that person. We remember personality traits, preferences and the experience of knowing that person. More importantly we want to talk with that person again and get to know more about them. The funny thing about connection is we did naturally as children, teenagers and even in college. This formed our inner circle of friends. When we entered the workforce somewhere along the way we got the message that we need to network to as many people as possible. This network will help us find jobs, business partners or information we need. We may not be as concerned with the personality traits of the other individual as long as we reach the desired goal.

Don’t dismay, networking has its place and so does connection. Here are five reasons you should focus more on connecting than networking.

1. Connection just feels good. When was the last time you left a networking event and said “wow, I feel great about myself”? Hmmm. How did you feel after having a great conversation with a co-worker or someone in the same industry as you? And by great I mean you learned more about the person beyond how they earn a living. Perhaps you attended the same school, worked at the same company or are from the same small town in California. That common bond sparked a conversation that allowed you to peek behind the curtain. That good feeling is not a fluke. As you connected with that person your body released oxytocin, the hug hormone. The release of oxytocin tells your brain you like interacting with the person and to do it again. This will lead your brain to act in such a way that will encourage reconnecting with the person. You may start to mimic their movements or laugh at what they say when it isn’t funny. Biologically speaking you are trying to form a connection with the person so that you can continue to feel good. Networking to a person doesn’t really cause you to open up. If we’ve networked well we will release dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine reinforces the feeling we get from accomplishing a goal and serotonin is about the feeling of being respected.

2. It’s appropriate in the workplace. We spend most of our days with co-workers, employees, customers, etc. yet somehow we feel we should limit our connection within these groups. The best team is a connected team. Being vulnerable with your colleagues and even your leadership can have a profound impact on productivity and results. Stop squirming in your seat. I’m not suggesting that you divulge your deepest secrets to your team. People perform for people they trust. Trust is built through connection (the release of oxytocin). The most successful leaders throughout time have consistently cited connection as one of the tools of their success. Yet, we get to work and experience very little of it. People are busy and have their own agenda. It’s like the emails you get from people who have forgotten there’s a human being on the receiving end. One of the most profound moments I have ever had at work was with a high-ranking executive who at one time was my one-over manager. He was leaving the company and I went to say my goodbyes. He had been a great mentor to me but I don’t believe we were ever connected, or so I thought. He was so raw and vulnerable while he revealed the true reason he was leaving. It takes an immense amount of trust to believe the person sitting across from you in that moment won’t run out the door and tell everyone what you just said. But by him doing that it allowed me to do the same with others who I thought would be a good risk. Not all risks work out, but I’ll get to that.

3. Connection isn’t a numbers game. When LinkedIn started to gain in popularity I believe people were secretly trying to up their “connection” numbers. Once you hit 500 links your status just shows as “500+”. This is the quintessential premise behind networking. You want to create pathways that help you reach a goal or accomplish a task. In some companies the only way to find out about job opportunities or be considered is to be highly networked. Connection on the other hand isn’t about the quantity, it’s about the quality. Within even the largest network you must have strong connections that will act on your behalf. These people can become your advocates if necessary. But that’s not why you connect with them, it’s a side effect of connecting with them. Believe me, people know when you’re trying to connect with them for that purpose alone. Developing meaningful relationships with people is also good for getting feedback Not to mention having a work “spouse” or “sibling” helps the day go by faster. It creates a strong sense of team and togetherness. A team with a sense of togetherness will be more productive and will take failure much better than a team who is torn apart. While it’s the leader’s job to create the environment for team cohesion, each member must be willing to put their trust on the line. Any member that doesn’t runs the risk of being cut from the team. The same is true in the animal kingdom. Animals tend to live in groups. If one animal in the group doesn’t rely on the others they are cast out.

4. Connection isn’t about status. There is something appealing to most about having people in your network with high titles. But there is something truly satisfying about being connected with someone who knows you don’t eat gluten and your favorite color is purple. It may be cool to be able to say you spoke with a certain high ranking official but it’s way cooler to say someone called you because they thought of you. We can expand our individual network by linking to someone with a large network. The assumption is the higher an individual is in the hierarchy the larger the network. So not true. People who know how to connect with others are typically good networkers and boast the largest pool of people in their circle. These people are known as nodes or hubs – #KevinBacon. A person’s professional or social position should not in any way dictate connecting with them. You want to have a mutually beneficial relationship with someone that feels good to both of you.

5. Be specific with your connections. Remember when I said that not all risks work out? You have to carefully consider who you will connect with. Networking is different in this regard. Knowing the shortest pathway to information or an individual is great. Having direct access to that pathway is invaluable. I have plenty of people in my network. The occasional email, call or text is good in order to stay in touch.  Sometimes a true connection is spontaneous and sometimes you have to work at it. But there are some connections you should not make. I recall connecting with a coworker who I thought would become a friend. This was someone I could seeing spending time with outside of work. It turns out that person used our connection to serve their own purposes. I know this because when I suspected this person might have ulterior motives for connecting with me I gave them false information about something. The next day someone I trusted repeated the information to me not knowing I was the source. In cases like that, you live it and learn it. Choose wisely and don’t connect with people who don’t want to connect with you. They may prefer to just be networked to you and that’s okay.  Don’t take it personal. There are all sorts of reasons they may not want to connect. But keep an open mind on them for later. You never know.

Now that I’ve given you the reasons to focus on connection here are some suggestions on how to do it.

  • Be genuine. Bring yourself to the interaction while maintaining a professional demeanor when warranted. The situation may call for being more personal than professional.
  • Be vulnerable. Share a little of yourself. It doesn’t have to be your whole life story. I’m a very private person but when I feel a connection to someone I’m more inclined to share.
  • Consider the other gender and other races. Even though networking is good men tend to network with men and women tend to network with women; same with the races. Your pool of connections (and your network) should be like the united colors of Benetton. If everyone in your circle looks like you, it’s really a square.
  • Find common ground. I don’t do well with small talk. Partly because I’m an introvert but mainly because it typically doesn’t lead somewhere after five minutes. Small talk can be a great way to find common ground from which to springboard into meaningful conversation. After five or ten minutes it may not go very far. My standard go-to common ground topics are school, home town and sports team. Nine times out of ten I can get somewhere with these topics. Topics to avoid are religion and politics.
  • Share a brief story about yourself. Sharing a quick anecdote that relates to the situation can break the ice. I’ve done it in this post without revealing my life story. It helps illustrate the point I’m trying to make while sharing a bit about myself that may resonate with someone else. Storytelling never goes out of style.
  • For goodness sake, just do it!

About the author. Nile Harris is a word weaver and dream believer with 2o years of experience in healthcare and finance. This aspiring speaker, TED presenter and LinkedIn Influencer is committed to valuing people, driving healthcare access and innovation, and weaving words that move people to action.  Her views are her own. Connect with Nile at her LinkedIn profile and follow @theNileHarris.

The 13 Leadership Lessons I Learned In The Woods With Total Strangers: Part II

Here you go, part II of the 13 Leadership Lessons I Learned in the Woods with Total Strangers. While these are in no particular order, the first six lessons were more about leadership styles and beliefs. The next set of lessons are around how to be a leader.

7. Acknowledge people individually and brag. Everyone has a gift and shame on the leader that doesn’t take 60 seconds to let someone know they are valuable and valued. During my review one year I had a manager praise me on how I had worked with another team member who was struggling a bit to integrate them into the team. I was surprised because I thought I was doing it under the radar. He said he noticed it, the only reason he didn’t bring it up earlier was because he didn’t want me to become self-conscious about it. He wanted to acknowledge it now because it was behavior he wanted me to repeat and he was proud because it improved his relationship with the person.

8. Admit your weaknesses and ask for feedback. There is nothing more irritating to me than dealing with someone, leader or not, that refuses to admit they aren’t good at something. It’s worse when it’s a leader and they bring the whole team down with them. We came to a challenge that I was commanding and I was clearly out of my depth. It was an uncomfortable feeling to say, I’m not sure what to do here. You should always take suggestions from the team but in this case given the time restraint I asked another person to lead us through the exercise. I didn’t die from the experience, in fact I learned something new and allowed someone else to shine when it was technically my time to shine. During these challenges feedback was a part of the process, so I didn’t have to ask. Getting the feedback after each challenge was invaluable. I heard it and adjusted for the next time. A poor manager can ruin, delay or derail a career – don’t be that person. [tweetthis hidden_hashtags=”#leadership”]A poor manager can ruin, delay or derail a career – don’t be that person[/tweetthis]

9. Make the tough calls quickly and with confidence. During one of the exercises I had to work with a different team of strangers after two days gelling with my original team. This team was men and women, whereas my original team was the only all female team. There was one particularly difficult gentleman who claimed to know the solution to every task and didn’t listen. During one of the exercises the team had to move two planks across a field while standing on them. I allowed him to lead the team as the front. After a few minutes I realized he was too weak to be the front. I asked him to step off and put the best person in the front. It wasn’t confrontational and I explained why I was doing it and it wasn’t up for debate with him. Where I went wrong was in taking too long to make that critical decision. Had I acted quicker we would have come in first instead of third.

10. Trust yourself as the leader. On the last day of the camp we had to develop and deliver a marching performance. We learned several military marching commands. We had to develop a 4-minute march and chant within the guidelines. For this particular event I was a follower. Remember my team was all women and there was always a lot of discussion about what we should and shouldn’t do. We got to the morning of the last day and we had nothing, zero, to perform. My team realized I had a knack for this and swapped me in as the commander. Luckily, one of the women had come up with a very cool chant so we needed the marching choreography. I was reluctant but I took over. I trusted myself. I had to move us through learning this quickly which meant there wasn’t room for extraneous talking or making suggestions. I had to trust I was doing the best for my team. Then during the performance I had to make some decisions on the fly and to their credit they followed my commands without the least bit of hesitation or confusion. One of the women at the end did say she was upset I changed it on the fly even though I had good reason. I trusted myself. Well, we came in second place. Many people came up to us later to say we should have won. For me, we did win. I trusted myself to make the best decision for my team. I could have refused the promotion to commander and easily pointed the finger of our failure. I could have coasted. I trusted myself and my team and they trusted me back.

11. Leaders create other leaders. The notion that leaders create followers is unnerving. I want people to follow me because I’m leading not because I turned them into followers. It’s a nuance of language but a big distinction in behavior and mindset. I want people I lead to not only come out of our relationship better than they were, I want them to be better than I was. I observed my fellow commanders when I was the follower and noted what I liked about their style to integrate in to my own. I also watched commanders that weren’t so good and determined the type of traits I didn’t want.

12. Leaders say “I’m sorry”, accept the consequences, and demonstrate learning. No one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes hurt people and/or their career. So when I apologized to my team member for completely dismissing her and she was still upset I had to take that. I realized, as I said earlier, that it wasn’t necessarily about me dismissing her but about being dismissed in general. Something that women often face at work. In addition to the apology, I accepted her coldness, but more importantly I made every effort to demonstrate I learned from the experience. I demonstrated it with each person not just her. By the end of the camp the coldness was replaced with friendship.

13. If you can’t follow you can’t lead. The point of having us rotate from leader to follower is to work on both. How you follow says a lot about how you lead. One of the most painful aspects of this for me was to resist the urge to take over leadership from the leader. We were expressly forbidden from “initiating a coup”. We had to let the leader go through their journey, then provide the feedback. If that meant sitting down and being quiet, that’s what you did. During one of the challenges the commander wasn’t being clear at all. I was trying desperately to follow orders but wasn’t being given clear and concise direction. I took a deep breath and told the commander I would be standing off to the side when he was ready to give me some orders. After a while someone else came to stand with me, then another, and another. We had to watch painfully as the commander tried to complete the task alone. In real life, at work, we probably wouldn’t let a task go undone and watch the leader flounder, but we wouldn’t try to take it over either. In that moment I made a choice to not contribute to the chaos and instead create peace that others were drawn to. As a leader I understand the frustration of unclear communication but more importantly the impact of chaos. Though I was not the commander in this situation, I ended up being the leader.

If I had it to do over again I would go to the Navy but since I can’t go back in time, my experience in the woods was everything I needed it to be. I received validation on beliefs I hold close, learned some new things and worked on my followership. More importantly those around me noticed a difference in me when I came back from the woods. Leading isn’t easy. I’ve had my share of phenomenal leaders and those who should perhaps take a different path. We look to our companies to create leaders. They attempt to do this through courses, seminars, conferences and other programs for high potentials. While these have their place, those phenomenal leaders I spoke of didn’t get that way in a classroom. They got that way by running head first into the challenge, adapting to their environment and having a willingness to separate themselves from their titles.

If you’re interested in learning more about Peak Potentials, now New Peaks, just shoot me an email. I highly recommend the experience.

1 The 13 Leadership Lessons I Learned In The Woods With Total Strangers: Part I

nile harris

As I tuned into her giving me feedback she, of course, brought up the fact that she was right and I didn’t listen. In fact I outright dismissed her. But she left out the part where I apologized to her and acknowledged that I didn’t listen. I realized her frustration wasn’t directed at me because of the one time I didn’t listen. Her frustration was at the multiple times it happened to her and it wasn’t acknowledged by the leader. I learned that by owning my mistake publicly I created an environment for her to speak up. Though she was delivering feedback to me it was really for the group to acknowledge her contributions. I was the vehicle she was using to deliver that message. I was happy to do it.

For as long as I can remember people looked to me to lead. I don’t know if I was seen as a good leader or even as average but definitely someone others gravitated towards. The thing is, I didn’t like it. It scared me. Even in my teens and early twenties leadership seemed such an awesome responsibility. Not awesome like cool, but like big and scary. Having people depend on you for guidance, inspiration, empathy, reliability, etc. is not something to take lightly. Yet the word “leader” gets thrown around to describe everyone in a position of power. I learned, over time, that leadership isn’t a position it’s a trait. Leadership is granted by followers, titles are given by companies.

I didn’t follow my first love which was military service, Navy to be exact. Had I done so, I believe I would have learned what I know now without having to spend time in the woods with hundred of strangers. But I’m glad I did. In my late twenties I came to understand my leadership philosophy. I was applying for business school and I wanted the experience to mean something. I believe in servant leadership. I firmly believe that leadership is for the followers, position is for the leader. If you lead well you get a promotion or more pay, that’s the leader’s reward. The followers reward for following is leadership. Simply put, leadership is the privilege of the leader while it’s the right of the follower.[tweetthis]Leadership is the privilege of the leader and the right of the follower[/tweetthis]

So how did I end up in the woods? I joined an organization called Peak Potentials in 2012. My first course was in the woods of Squamish, British Columbia with hundreds of strangers all sleeping in tents. The first summer in 2012 was about finding your inner warrior, cleaning out the emotional clutter and driving toward your dreams. The following courses in 2013 and 2014, same place, built on the foundation. That is me and my good friend in the photo at camp in 2013. The camouflage headband indicates we are followers. When we were leading we wore red headbands. I was blown away at what I learned about myself, following and leading. I wasn’t sitting in a classroom dying a slow death by PowerPoint while experts expounded on the theories of leadership. We often went past midnight and woke up with the sun. It was exhausting, grueling and fun.

I was put in situation after situation to lead, follow, and, more importantly, to fail, learn, then do better. Here are my first six lessons from the woods:

1. Confirmation in my beliefs of servant leadership. One of the first things our instructor said is the failure of the team is on the leader. As the leader you must define success with your team first. The team can meet the objective but if they hate each other by the end, is that success? The second thing he said is the leader serves the team, removes obstacles and keeps them moving forward. If someone on your team is struggling and you are not actively helping them, the failure is yours not theirs. Additionally, don’t ask people to do something you aren’t willing to do yourself.

2. Meet people where they are. This concept is from the Bible but I came to know this phrase in a new way. I was leading my team through an exercise where we had to run a long distance. The physically weakest person on the team struggled. I set the expectation of the team to not be last. I ran beside our weakest person and inspired her with words that meant something to her. Saying “you can do it” meant nothing to her. I could do this because I had gotten to know her. We talked about her dog. I didn’t ask the stronger people to run with her, they did it because they saw me doing it. You have to get to people’s level to understand what they see. Don’t stand above people, lord over them and expect them to get to where you are. Meet them where they are and pull them up.

3. You can be candid without being cruel or confrontational. One of our instructors told us that truth without compassion is cruelty. Too often people use the word “candor” as an excuse to just be mean or assert their authority. The truth is invaluable but should be tempered with vulnerability, objectivity, and empathy. A conversation can be both uncomfortable and productive without being confrontational and demeaning. Providing people with clear and actionable feedback is so critical to someone’s success. If you can’t do this, you can’t lead. Maybe you can manage, but not lead.

4. Put people first. You have to understand the people who have been entrusted to you. Some chose you while others were assigned to you. Regardless of how they came to be on your team, you are responsible for them. Further, who cares if you like them or not, you are responsible for their success. Everyone is busy. There will always be business objectives to meet. If you find most of your conversations with your team is about meeting those objectives, canceling one-on-one’s or telling them what to do, you are not putting them first. The only time you don’t put people first is if there is a wall of fire. That, dear leader, is yours to walk into first. If you can’t put it out, lead your team through to the other side.

5. Maintain the trust at all costs. If what you say about your team members to their face is not what you say to other leaders behind their back that makes you a liar and/or a coward. If your words don’t match your actions you are at best unreliable. Toward the end of the week a member of another team disappeared. We were in the middle of the wilderness and it was pitch black. The concern was that she was missing or, worse, hurt. It turns out she felt her team had turned against her and they were talking about her behind her back but weren’t giving her the feedback to her face. She rejoined her team but the trust was broken. Once that happens it may never be reestablished. People don’t work hard for people they don’t trust. People look more to what you do than what you say. So when you show someone who you are, be careful because they just may believe you.

6. Be the wall between them and the outside. One of our challenges was a full day on the battlefield, literally. During a paintball battle I led one of my charges got into a tussle with someone from another team. She came back and fessed up. She was concerned that a general would come over to speak to us. I immediately thanked her for her honesty and to focus on the task at hand. If they come over, they can speak to me, whatever happened was on me as the commander and she and I can deal with it after that. She responded by saying “wow, no one has ever done that for me before”. To me it made perfect sense. I wasn’t going to let anyone hurt or address people on my team without first going through me. If a person on my team was wrong I will work with them, which is my responsibility. Never allow open season on the people you lead. Make it clear that there are consequences for hurting someone on your team.

Stay tuned for the next seven lessons, part II.