how to co-create a better future

How to Co-Create a Better Future

There’s no going back, but a better future is possible

It should be clear to every leader at this point: there’s no getting back to “normal.” The pandemic has unalterably shifted the economic landscape and business operations. The racial equity movement sweeping the world underscores that “normal” wasn’t working. There’s no going back, but together, we can co-create a better future.

How Leaders Can Help Us Co-Create a Better Future

Shift gears.

Whether you’re rebuilding to face new business realities or doing the hard work to create a more equitable world, you’re not going to do either one overnight. It takes time. The emotion of the moment gives way to the daily slog of showing up, doing the work, and making it happen.

If you aren’t aware of that shift in gears, it can sneak up on you and steal your motivation, cause depression, and stop the work before it starts.

Give yourself a few minutes each day to acknowledge the work ahead. That you’ve moved from a sprint where the world is flying by, to a steady jog that doesn’t have the same adrenalin but will chew up the miles if you maintain the pace.

Get comfortable with discomfort.

Have you read the manual on how to lead your organization through a global pandemic, the greatest economic upheaval in one hundred years, and a global racial equity movement?

We haven’t seen that one either. These moments are filled with incredible opportunities to make a better future, but there’s no playbook. There are no easy answers.

There is only showing up every day, learning uncomfortable truths, acknowledging what’s not working, and working together to find a path forward.

Let’s be real: for most people, that’s painful or scary.

As you try new strategies to be more relevant and add value to your customers, some of them will work, some of them won’t.

If you’re white and actively listening to the experiences of people of color, it will be uncomfortable (it should be).

If you’re leading a team of people who are working remotely and balancing a sick parent, stir-crazy kids, and an out-of-work spouse and figuring out how to be compassionate and also move your business forward – it’s going to be uncomfortable.

It’s uncomfortable, but it’s okay. You don’t have to solve everything. Show up. Sit with the discomfort. Acknowledge it. Shake hands with it and welcome it on the journey to a better future. That discomfort is a sign that you’re heading in the right direction. Remember your past moments of courage and let them fuel your next steps.

Return to why.

As you and your team face uncertainty, you can regain clarity and focus by returning to your purpose and values. Why do you do the work you do? How have you committed to treating one another and serving your customers?

As you reconnect with your why and your values, you may see them in a new light. That commitment to your customer is still true; how can it guide you now?

You’ll restore your confidence and energy when you can say, “The world is changing, but this is who we are and this is why we’re here.”

Connect

We’ve been so inspired by the ways leaders across industries are working hard to connect with their people. Keep at it. Leading through uncertainty and change requires a tight connection with your team. It can feel challenging to stay connected in the press of so much activity, but it’s an investment that pays off with trust, results, and the ability to move quickly when you have to.

Ask

You will not build a better future on your own. You may have a vision, but you won’t have all the answers. The future is one we must build together. Whether you’re working on how to add value in new ways or trying to build a more just and equitable workplace, courageous questions will help you get there.

Courageous questions aren’t milquetoast “How can we get better?” efforts. They require confidence and humility. They acknowledge improvement is possible and get specific. They invite genuine answers that people might not otherwise be comfortable to volunteer. For example:

  • What’s the number one way we could improve our customer’s experience right now?
  • What’s the greatest obstacle to your productivity right now?
  • What’s sabotaging our success in building a more equitable workplace?

Listen

If you’ve done the work to get comfortable with discomfort, listening as people answer your courageous questions will test it. You may feel attacked. It’s okay—everything you’re hearing is feedback and data you can use to build a better future. Work on separating the message from the messenger or the way it was delivered.

Acknowledge what you’ve heard. Thank people for sharing—especially the hard truths. Then find the principles that will help you and your team move forward.

If you defensively want to ignore what you’ve heard because “they just don’t get it”—be careful. These moments represent a wide gulf between you and your people. You don’t understand one another and that lack of understanding quickly erodes trust. How can you rebuild it?

If they’re missing critical business data, give it to them and invite them back to the conversation. If you don’t understand where they’re coming from, do the work to get there.

Find your focus.

“It’s just so much.”

We’ve heard this over and over as we talk with leaders—and it is. Our emotions don’t do well with huge orders of magnitude. But you can take all of that emotion and focus it. What is the M.I.T. that you can do today to build a better future for your business? What is the M.I.T. (Most Important Thing) you can do today to build a more equitable world?

No matter how big your vision, you can break it down into next steps. We invite you to find your focus with one business M.I.T. and one personal M.I.T.

Your Turn

It’s natural to look at massive upheaval and wonder “What’s next?” But there’s also a time to stop wondering and start building. Your team needs your leadership. You need the voice of every team member. And to build a better future, we need each other.

We’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment and share how you’re shifting gears, connecting, listening, and building tomorrow, together.

Why your open door policy doesn't work and what to do instead

Why Your Open-Door Policy Doesn’t Work – and What to Do Instead

 

The intent behind your open-door policy is good: a door that is figuratively always open to encourage transparency, open lines of communication, a standing invitation for your employees to bring you issues that affect them or their work. But relying on an open-door policy to give you what you need to lead creates several problems and can undermine the culture you want to create. In this episode you’ll get specific strategies you can use to move beyond the open-door and lead with intention.

Courageous Cultures is now available for preorder. Learn more and get your pre-order bonuses!

how to unlock your teams best ideas

How to Unlock Your Team’s Best Ideas

 

To get your team’s best ideas, ask courageous questions.

Have you ever watched a team member do something insightful, helpful, or creative and asked them why they hadn’t shared it with everyone else? Their answer holds the key to unlocking your team’s best ideas and building a team of micro-innovators, problem-solvers, and customer advocates.

If your silent innovator is like most people, she probably told you “I guess I haven’t shared it because no one ever asked.”

But let’s be real, we work with many leaders who ask for ideas, but don’t get the insights they want.

Overcoming Safe Silence

It takes more than a generic “How can we improve?” to draw out your team’s best ideas.

Your team has questions of their own:

  • Do you really want to hear what I have to say?
  • Is it safe to share a critical view or a perspective different from yours?
  • Are you humble enough to hear feedback?
  • Are you confident and competent enough to do something with what you hear?

Experiences with leaders who didn’t really want input mixed with these concerns lead many people to default to “safe silence.” If you want to free their best ideas from the prison of safety, you need to address these concerns.

One of the best ways to create safety and draw out your team’s best ideas is to ask courageous questions.

Courageous Questions

A courageous question differs from a generic “How can we be better?” question in three ways.

First, a courageous question focuses on a specific activity, behavior, or outcome. For example, rather than ask “How can we improve?” ask “What is the number one frustration of our largest customer? What’s your analysis? What would happen if we solved this? How can we solve it?”

Next, a courageous question creates powerful vulnerability. When you ask any of these sample questions, you are implicitly saying “I know I’m not perfect. I know I can improve.” This is a strong message–if you sincerely mean it.

You send the message that you are growing and want to improve. This, in turn, gives your team permission to grow and be in process themselves. It also makes it safe to share real feedback. When you say “What is the greatest obstacle?” you acknowledge that there is an obstacle and you want to hear about it.

Finally, courageous questions require the asker to listen without defensiveness. This is where well-intentioned leaders often get into trouble. They ask a good question, but they weren’t prepared to hear feedback that made them uncomfortable or besmirched their pet project. Don’t ask questions you don’t want answers for – asking for feedback and ignoring it is worse than not asking at all.

When you ask a courageous question, allow yourself to take in the feedback. Take notes, thank everyone for taking the time and having the confidence to share their perspective.

With many courageous questions, you’ll get conflicting perspectives. That’s okay. It’s healthy. Let the team know how you (or they) will decide going forward.

Courageous Questions Unlock Your Team’s Best Ideas

It will take time. The first time you ask, people will probably be tentative. Remember, they’re wondering if you mean it. The more you respond well, the less guarded they will be.

Here are a few more courageous questions to get you started and unlock your team’s best ideas:

      • What is the problem we have that no one talks about?
      • What do we do that really annoys our customers?
      • What is the greatest obstacle to your productivity?
      • What must I do better as a leader if we are to be successful?
      • What do you think we could do differently next time to help this project (or person) succeed?
      • What recommendations do you have before we start on this conversion?
      • What are you most afraid of with this program / project / process?
      • What is the biggest source of conflict you’re having working with X department? (How might we be contributing to the issue?)
      • What’s sabotaging our success?

Once you’ve tried asking a few questions and having genuine dialogue around the answers, it can also work well to give each team member and index card and ask them to come up with their own courageous questions for the group. Then start each staff meeting or huddle with one or two.

Your Turn

When you use courageous questions and allow people to share feedback without defensiveness, you’ll draw out their truly great ideas. Leave a comment and share: “What is your favorite courageous question to ask your team?”