‘A’ students teach the ‘B’ students how to work for the ‘C’ students

“The ‘A’ students teach the ‘B’ students how to work for the ‘C’ students.”

Come again?

“That’s right: The ‘A’ students teach the ‘B’ students how to work for the ‘C’ students.”

He could see the puzzled look on my face.

You see, one of the benefits of coaching several businesses across a wide-range of industries and geographies is that I get exposed to a lot of unique ways of seeing business and seeing the world. In fact, I was in Israel doing some Visioning work with one of my clients for his business when he looked up from his notebook and broke it down:  

“You see, the ‘A’ students are the ones who have mastered how to play within the lines. They are great observers. They excel at working within a system or structure. They follow the rules and are groomed to be comfortable leading when called upon. Because they have been so well trained, they know how to do this for others. 

‘B’ students often tried their best but just didn’t have the same focus, skills, or extra mojo to excel to the same degree. They follow along enough, but are a step behind. Yet they are just as trainable.”

He saw me waiting for the punchline.

“The ‘C’ students are not engaged in the structure and system in the same way.  They daydream about a whole other way of making their mark that doesn’t fit into the ‘system.’ They are the disruptors and the ones who are not as bought into needing the approval and validation of teachers, their parents or the identity around achievement that a lot of ‘A’ and ‘B’ students can fall prey to. Their passions lie elsewhere and they do enough to get by but focus on things they care more about.” (He clearly identified as the ‘C’ student). 

I could feel my inner ‘A’ student getting restless hearing this. He wanted to believe the story he had always been told that he was the one primed for success and ingenuity. 

“Now don’t get me wrong,” my client said. “Not all ‘C’ students are brilliant entrepreneurs who just need to create and find their own context to thrive. Some of them are just lazy or doing the minimum to get by.  Yet you’d be surprised how many genius ‘C’ students are flying under the radar just because they don’t fit into the school system of standardized testing, regurgitating lessons, etc.”

As much as I wanted to argue, I could sense he was onto something that I hadn’t really thought about in this way before.

In fact, Richard Branson recently posted an article on this very topic: Top of the class isn’t everything. He left school at 16 years old to pursue his passion of creating and publishing a youth magazine. One thing led to another and he eventually founded Virgin Records and then Virgin Atlantic. Taking the leap from school, or a set infrastructure can be a scary thing. Yet being willing to think outside the conventional box is what truly separates the good from the great.

In fact, the willingness to go your own way is often the very thing that blazes innovation. This recent article discusses how most valedictorians don’t become billionaires or change the world. Researcher Karen Arnold found that "Valedictorians aren't likely to be the future's visionaries. They typically settle into the system instead of shaking it up."

This conversation had me re-appreciate that leading can be found anywhere and it often ventures ‘outside the lines.’ How can institutions and company cultures do a better job of inspiring creative and innovative engagement with everyone on the team, not just those raising their hands? 

So are you listening to that inner conversation that may have a different cadence than the voices around you?  What will you do with that?

Cultivating Intuition With Your Team

As technology continues to advance, the customer is dramatically influencing and shaping product and service development of businesses like never before.  Agility is no longer an option with instant feedback, customer engagement and reviews.  One of the outcomes of this reality is that businesses are welcoming intuition as a necessary component to integrate into leadership, management, decision-making, customer service, and every facet of a business.  The more the collective wisdom of the group is incorporated, the better.

What was once thought of as soft science and esoteric is now becoming quite practical and a necessary advantage for companies that embrace deeper intelligence and outside-the-box thinking.  This is one of the big reasons that intuition and intuitive leadership are becoming some of the hottest buzzwords in business today as reflected in the latest articles in the top business magazines such as the Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, INC, Entrepreneur and Forbes.  

Intuition is commonly identified as coming from a different source than the rational mind.  It is often defined as the ability to know something immediately without conscious reasoning.  In other words, being able to download something instantly without having to spend a lot of time in deep analysis and laborious decision-making.  This can happen in terms of an instant awareness inside of yourself, others, or with the environment at-large as a major data point to include.

And while intuition is often seen as something you either have or you don’t, what if it can actually be cultivated?  What if intuition can be developed with your team?  What if you can create an environment that promotes outside-the-box thinking, trusting one’s gut, and a ‘switched-on’ atmosphere at work?  

The key question is not if intuitive leadership is a distinct advantage, but instead, how do I teach this to my team?  Here are some practical tools that you can use with your staff to encourage intuitive and outside-the-box thinking:

Fresh Air

So often staff find themselves working under the gun of a big deadline or hitting a monthly target, that taking a break or a pause in the action is not valued. In fact it is seen as counterproductive and a waste of time. Drivenness is often seen as the hallmark of productivity in business culture.  

Yet if you are focusing too long on the same problem or staring at the same email for 15 minutes it is actually counterproductive. Sometimes the best thing we can do for a perspective shift and outside-the-box thinking is to literally get out of the office, get some fresh air, and go for a walk.  Some of the most intuitive moments happen when you put down your work momentarily and change your mindset.

In fact, a business I have worked with does this routinely and encourages staff to self-monitor when they need to shake things up and go for a walk around the block.  Many times team members have come back with a fresh idea and a new way of tackling the problem by spending some time not thinking about the problem in-front of them at all. Literally changing your environment and getting out of your routine can help bring forth new ideas. New questions may arise that didn’t even enter your mind previously.

Encourage Critical Thinking

Another way to inspire intuitive thinking with your team is to ask them to come up with a solution to every question or dilemma they bring to you. It’s the old adage of teaching them how to fish versus giving them a fish.  As Daniel Caruana, CEO of Danrae Waterproofing states:

“I encourage others to not just seek the answer from others because that’s easier. But instead coach them to use their gut feel on how to carry out something or answer the question. Part of how I do that is not offering them the answer immediately. It’s important to ask more questions. When they continually ask questions and are not redirected back to themselves for the answer, it reinforces a lack of confidence. I want to help them learn how to trust their instincts.”

Sometimes giving an employee the answer is the smart thing to do and will save everyone time. Yet if this becomes the norm, employees don’t learn to think for themselves and develop critical thinking.  A great manager is synonymous with a mentor and will help guide the employee to their own answers.  It also doesn’t develop their leadership skills if they don’t learn how to grapple with a problem and become dependant on you for the answer.  This kills intuition and intuitive thinking over time.

For example, let’s say an employee approaches you with questions about making an upcoming deadline and is uncertain of the next steps.  You could simply give them the answer that you see. Or you could start asking questions that force them to do some critical thinking. Such as: “If I wasn’t here, what would you suggest?”  or “If you were managing the department, what would you advise?”  Or “I’m not sure. I want you to think on it and come up with a solution by the end of the day.” Each question gets them to step out of their normal reference point, for at least a moment.  This may seem like the longer route, but in the bigger picture, you are teaching staff how to build strategic muscle and learning to discover and trust the answers within.  

Lead Them Toward Their Inner Wisdom

This may seem overly simplified, but when you next find yourself in a creative, brainstorming meeting, ask them to trust their gut on a given project and to speak from their heart. If they get that this is a safe environment and that they won’t be judged for out-of-the-box thinking, you’ll start getting more contribution and engagement from your team right away. If you are not getting such engagement, chances are you are not creating a conducive space for collaboration and learning.

Whether you are in a one-to-one meeting or a group meeting, see what happens when you direct your team to look inside for the answers.  You can prompt them with questions like, “What is your gut telling you about the right way to go?” or “What do you sense in your heart of hearts?”  or  “ I want everyone to take a moment and close their eyes, get out of your head for a second, and what comes to you when I say ______?”  Or in other words, you can offer them a couple of different directions the company could go in this given situation, and see what type of inner feedback they have for you when they check-in with their intuitive centers.  This may not be the end-all, be-all, but it’s at least another data point that helps get at possible solutions from another angle.

In conclusion, by asking questions, moving toward a state change and changing the reference point from the mind to a deeper instinct and intelligence inside your team, you are able to harness the inner wisdom and new approaches that can make all the difference that lead to your competitive advantage. The more we include all of ourselves in decision-making, the more likely we are to come up with the best solution possible. Test this out with your teams and let me know what you discover!  

For further trainings or coaching in bringing intuitive decision-making to your teams, contact me or visit our web page.

The Golden Key To Negotiation: Listening

In this TED talk, William Ury, top-level negotiator, shares something so simple that we often look past it in effective communication: listening.  He accurately states that "listening is the golden key to open the door to human relationships."

Whether you are managing, selling, overseeing customer accounts, or working with a business partner or others on your leadership team, negotiation is key to successful leadership. And listening is the key to negotiation.

William points out that listening has three powerful outcomes: 

1) It helps you to better understand the other side

2) Connect with others and build increased trust and rapport

3) You are more likely to be listened to if you have led in this way as well, thus making both sides more likely to get to Yes

Practice conscious listening in your next negotiation or conversation and see what happens when you put your full attention on someone else, and not on yourself.

How To Approach Millennials In The Workplace?

In this video, Simon Sinek offers that it is up to a leadership team to essentially re-parent millennials and help them get the structure and discipline they often lacked from parenting.  He also shares great strategies around eliminating distractions, such as smart phones, from meetings and the value of connection and attention in the workplace.  What do you notice in your company culture in regards to this challenge?