To my readers, I say thanks. We have such an opportunity right now to shift our understanding of leadership, not merely in the workplace, but in everything we do. Be well, and I hope this provides some insight into connecting better.

The Terrible Twos

How many of you have raised small children . . . or been one? Then you already know there is a stage (sometimes an era) in our development called the terrible twos. It sets in at about 20 months, with periodic revisits if we mature sporadically. You might say we join the resistance at two years old. Robert Frost suggested, “something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” Seems like something there is about us that doesn’t love a ‘yes’.

I’ve worked with kids my whole life. When I first started trying to manage a gaggle of children, I’d raise my voice to get their attention. You can guess what happened. One day I accidentally lowered my voice to speak to one of the kids, and the strangest thing happened. They all wanted to hear, so the tumult tailed off. I learned that shouting over folks is trying to manage them; getting quiet is leading them. I’ll come back to that difference later.

Get Over the Counter

We’ve grown accustomed to winning points rather than understanding. I’ve had to do some serious re-programming myself on this one. I was a debate coach when I taught high school. We were pretty damn good – state champs, even went to the nationals, though we only made the first cut. I was tapped as a judge, and one of the criteria for scoring is that every single point raised by one team must be countered by their opponent. For years after, I only listened (including my personal conversations) in order to track and counter. Ouch! But how many of us, politician-like, listen only for the opportunity to counter? The knee-jerk of resistance or terrible twos revisited.

Margaret Wheatley, who somehow managed to link quantum mechanics, chaos theory, and leadership in Leadership and the New Science, proposes that “Power in organizations is the capacity generated by relationships.”

Every interaction we have not only moves to action, but it also moves the relationship. We can focus on both. More often than not, the focus on relationship is sacrificed to the focus on action, a different locus of control.

Management focuses on controlling others; leadership focuses on controlling ourselves. As the great conductor, Ben Zander asks, “Who am I being that the eyes of my orchestra are not lit up?”

I am learning that how I speak is important and worth some thought (see Yet the primary way to avoid being counter-productive is to listen differently. All we have to do is avoid, or at least subdue, the four landmines.

The Four Landmines

Argufying: making debate points by challenging and discounting rather than exploring toward understanding.

Ignoring: inattention, a sideways answer, or no answer, each of which shows we were ‘somewhere else’ while s/he was talking.

Negating: blaming, disagreeing, excusing, minimizing, or an unwillingness to help move the conversation toward possibilities.

Interrupting: talking over, cutting off, or stymieing via body language (looking away, glancing at your Fitbit). The exception to this behavior is when we respectfully interrupt to make sure we’re understanding. When changing habits, we feel unnatural. Don’t let that discomfort stop you. This shift in being is like learning to ride a bike or to swim. It feels awkward. Yet persistence (rather than resistance) will greatly expand the power of every relationship.

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Mac Bogert
Mac Bogert
I fell in love with learning, language, and leadership through the intervention of two professors—I had actually achieved a negative GPA—who kicked my butt for drifting through my first couple of semesters at Washington and Lee University. After graduate school at U. Va., I started teaching English at a large high school in northern Virginia. A terrific principal lit my fire, a terrible one extinguished it. I left after five years (the national average, as it turns out, maybe the only time I did something normal) and started an original folk/blues/rock band. That went well for a time until the record company sponsoring us folded. I toured for some years as an acoustic blues musician, primarily as an opening act for bands like the Muddy Waters Band, Doc, and Merle Watson and such remarkable talent. As that market dried up (disco), I earned my Coast Guard Masters License and worked for the next decade as a charter and delivery captain and sailing instructor. At the same time, I was working part-time as an actor and voice-over artist, selling inflatable boats and encyclopedias, and working as a puppeteer. Itchy feet, I suppose. I came back into the system in 1987 as a teacher specialist in health and drug education in my county school system, also part-time as Education Coordinator (and faculty member) for Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. I ‘departed’ both jobs in 1994 (therein lie more stories than 350 words could hold) and started my own business. AzaLearning is the career I’d been dodging for decades. I serve 200 clients around the country, helping with all kinds of coaching, planning, transforming conflict, creative problem-solving, communication, and mediation (I also trained and worked as a community mediator somewhere during sailing and teaching): learning, language, and leadership. In 2016 I published Learning Chaos: How Disorder Can Save Education and actively contribute to a couple of online education magazines as well as publish a newsletter, a blog, and the learning chaos podcast.

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  1. Thanks, Jeff.
    There is an ethical piece to the listening process. Spot on! When I was a debate coach (and when I was coaching investigators), we would master neutral listening as a way to “get” the other person. So the Why and What of engagement must be absolutely transparent. I worked as a mediator and mediator trainer for a while, and I learned early on that if one of the disputants perceived bias from the mediators, it was over and done. Bam! So I learned the skills first, and from that practice grew the personal value of listening ethically, not just artfully ( thought we could have a great beach conversation about their congruence).
    Be good. And well.

  2. Mac — Thought-provoking. “Yet the primary way to avoid being counter-productive is to listen differently. All we have to do is avoid, or at least subdue, the four landmines.” I wonder if there is a fifth and or sixth dependency here:

    To listen differently, one must have the HONEST INTENT to understand and not just listen to guard a position.
    To listen differently, one must take PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY to understand – a willingness to look at situations from different angles – and not just take what others have said as truth.

    Both of these factors are absent in much of the “debate” today.