Monday, October 3, 2011

Do you accept what others are saying?

I enjoy reading a variety of leadership and business books. On one of my recent business trips, I found myself strolling through an airport bookstore and stumbled upon Tina Fey's book "Bossypants."

I was immediately intrigued by the title "Bossypants" and because it is an autobiography, it sounded like it might be about her admittance to not being the best of bosses.

Once it captured my attention, I looked at the cover more closely and there she was, Tina Fey, posed on the cover with hairy, man arms. Why? Was this image somehow tied to her message of being a bossypants? Or was it simply a comedic statement? I decided that it was probably the latter, yet despite my intrigue, I refrained from purchasing it right there on the spot because it seemed so silly.

It wasn't until I got my Kindle, that I reconsidered purchasing it. I guess that image of Tina Fey with hairy, man arms bothered me more than I thought. Having an electronic reader allowed me to read it without having to look at that cover each time I picked it up. I did learn a lot about the business of comedy (probably more than I really wanted to) but more importantly I learned an interesting leadership lesson

The lesson I learned was the power of YES; not as a response to a question, but as an attitude.

Now that may not seem very groundbreaking.
It's not until you realize how little YES we have when leading others that you really start to see the power of YES as an attitude.

This idea was presented in the book when Fey was explaining how comedians engage in improvisation; the rules of the game, so to speak.

If you have ever watched an improv show, it is clear that those leading the show aren't planning how or where the dialogue is going. In fact, as a participant in improv you have no way to control, direct or be responsible for what anybody says to you or how they even respond to you. You only have the ability and the role to listen and react to what is being said.

Sounds a bit like real life, doesn't it?

Ideally, yes. But in environments where authority is at play (parenting and leading) we mistakenly believe that we can control, direct or be responsible for the words and reactions of others. In reality, we can't. Like in improv, we can still only react accordingly to what is said. We own our own words and reactions, not the words or reactions of others.

In this context, A YES attitude isn't about positive thinking, or positive re-framing, it is simply about accepting what the person has said to you, not arguing with them, or trying to change it, or determine how or why they said it, but simply hearing and accepting that it was said and building on it from there

Think for a moment how little we see this really at play in the business world, or perhaps even in your home life with kids, a spouse or partner.

It is a difficult leadership lesson and one that I admit I still struggle with.

When guiding and developing people, I always thought that if they could only watch me, learn from me and observe me, they would ultimately see "how it was to be done." However, the problem with this line of thinking is that they aren't me and I am not them. It's based on a fundamental flaw that I can actually direct, control and teach others to react exactly as I would react. Nothing is further from the truth.

Unfortunately, leaders do this all the time with their associates and parents do this all of the time with their kids. In trying to control, direct or teach others to react and say things as you would, you aren't listening or accepting what they are saying. You diminish not enhance, their ability to think and act on their own feet. You also negate their involvement and demotivate them from participating in the future.

Having a YES attitude doesn't mean that you have to agree with their perspective, but it does mean that you must listen and accept their idea and allow it to be.

Using the power of YES as an attitude allows for innovative communication and exchange while pushing back accountability and responsibility to the other person.
Accepting the words of others and reacting to them accordingly ultimately engages and develops others to a whole new level.

After all, isn't this the ultimate role of a leader?

Tina Fey as a comedian was definitely schooled in using YES as an attitude. However, did she transfer this skill into her leadership roles? Maybe not as much as she could, because if she had, she wouldn't have been as much of a bossypants, would she?

Then maybe she wouldn't have had hairy, man arms on the cover either.

So what about you? Are you accepting what others are saying?

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