To Know Yourself, Look in Your Perfect Mirror…

You will find this in those who influenced you-and in those who you influence.
Your behavior will be reflected back for you.

This is how you will know…how YOU behave!

No one of us was born knowing how to behave. We learn as we go…

Those you lead, teach, befriend, marry, parent. Those who parented, lead and taught you. These are the mirrors that will reflect to you who you are.


A Barrel of Monkeys Create A Power Struggle

I played with my barrel of monkeys to the extent that I decided I wanted to and being a four-year old bent on testing the boundaries, got up and walked away from them. Yes, in case you are wondering, the walk away included leaving the monkeys spread all over the floor; not put away as the rules called for.

This scenario sets the stage for dynamics that play out in living rooms, board rooms, team meetings and many supervisor to worker interactions daily.

As the script so predictably would call for, mother enters stage left. “CORA CELESTE, GET IN HERE.”

I wandered in, plastering on my best Alfred E. Newman, “What? Me?” face. Standing over the monkeys spread out all over the floor, is my mother. She has “that” look, complete with hands on hips and tapping toe. Is this a universal pose for mothers? She strikes a new pose as one hand comes off the hip and aims at the monkeys with accusation. “Why are these not picked up young lady?” As any self-respecting red-headed Irish girl would answer, “I don’t WAAAANT TO,” delivered with my own look of defiance. “Do it NOWWW,” is the reply.

Battle lines were now drawn. Sound vaguely familiar?

Engaging in this battle resulted only in tears and shrieks of frustration; yet not one single monkey had moved from the floor to the barrel.  So mother called in the heavy artillery. The battle cry echoed through the house. “Ronald, your daughter is not doing what she is told.”

In the business world the script typically calls for this role to be played by the next level in the hierarchy, or the compliance police in human resources.

In this particular story, the script takes an interesting turn. My father was not one to engage in power struggles; he found empowerment to be a far more effective strategy.

“Cora, before you took out your barrel of monkeys, did you not remember the toy rules? That you are to put away what you take out when you are done with them?” “But I DON”T WANT TO PUT THEM AWAY RIGHT NOW!!”

“Ok. Well, you have a few choices. You can choose to pick them up now and join the family in watching Gunsmoke. Or, you can choose not to pick up the monkeys now, in which case you will need to go to your room by yourself until you decide to pick up the monkeys.  Finally, if you decide not to pick up the monkeys by the time I go to bed and I have to pick them up, you will no longer have a barrel of monkeys. Your choice. You decide.

One of the most common fought over commodities is power; and the best strategy for gaining power in a conflict is to give power. By giving power one gains power.

Whether a four-year old or a forty-year old in the midst of a power struggle, the behavior may look a little different, but the dynamics will remain consistent; and although this four-year old continued to throw a temper tantrum, my father calmly continued to resist my invitation into a power struggle by placing the choice in my hands. “Cora, make your choice; I will give you a few minutes to decide to pick up your monkeys and put them away, go to your room and pick them up later, or not pick them up and no longer have a barrel of monkeys.” Then he calmly walked away.

Obviously I was a bit of a challenger and felt the need to exert my independence; therefore I could not simply pick up my monkeys. So I chose option B. I went to my bedroom (loudly stomping my feet mind you) just long enough to show I was in “control.” A short time later (after all, I was missing Gunsmoke) I came down quietly and put all the monkeys back in their barrel and put them away. I then went into the living room, crawled onto the couch next to my father, and proceeded to watch Gunsmoke with my family.

How had my father gained power?  By empowering me to have control of my choices, he ended the power struggle and achieved the outcome.

What is the bigger picture in this scenario? Of course we all know demanding compliance through formal power exists as an option. So what is gained with empowerment? Compliance may complete the task short-term. Long term, empowerment teaches cause and effect, imposes accountability and aligns decision-making (if I take a toy out, I will be accountable to putting it away, causing me to think before dumping all the monkeys out on the floor next time). Simply put, compliance focuses on the person, empowerment focuses on the decision.

When I am “told” what to do, who might I hold accountable to the outcome? When I experience cause and effect and am empowered to make a decision, whom might I hold accountable to both the action and the decision? How might either approach influence future actions and decisions?

Power Lies in Choice

Allowing others to make your choices gives your power away. Taking others choices away dis-empowers. Being responsible for others choices or others being responsible for yours; either way creates dysfunctional and reliant relations. Creating accountability, stating boundaries and expectations articulately, and ensuring clarity exists creates healthy relationships. In the work place this creates self-reliant, problem-solving, aligned decision-making confident high performers.



As You Speak… Can You Listen?

The sender-receiver model suggests we are sending and receiving messages simultaneously. I wonder sometimes if we are better at sending than receiving.
What is the role of listening in the delivery of an effective and on target message?
I have had many wise, patient and insightful mentors be kind enough to provide me feedback on my listening attentiveness and how it relates to my message delivery. Among the best is of the equine kind. Horses are highly skilled at providing feedback as to how well I am delivering my message, and how well I am listening to them while doing so.
One such lesson and feedback was provided over a line of lime. Lime is often used in riding arenas to outline courses or identify a start or finish line. For reasons beyond me, someone had laid a line of lime in the middle of the arena I happened to be riding in. Crystal, my mount, apparently had just as much lack of understanding of the purpose of this line of lime as I. Although we had mutual lack of understanding, we chose to respond quite differently. I chose to ignore it. She chose to refuse to cross over said blinding white, stinky, line of lime.
Here is where I began delivering my message. I asked for forward movement (ignore line). She began delivering her message by refusing (No way, I do not know what that is!). Being fully prepared to place the blame on Crystal’s plummeting listening skills, I continued to send my message. As did she. She snorted, she danced, she tossed her head; in fact she did just about everything but hear my message requesting she move forward. The more I asked, the less she listened.
Fortunately I came to my senses and my training kicked in. The realization that “I” was not listening hit me. Until I listened, there was no way Crystal would hear me. And the longer I chose not to listen, the more the situation would escalate. Horses, like people, have clear behavioral strategies to demonstrate their emotional state in a transaction. What is different in equine transactions is that escalation can result in this aging body ending up taking as much of a bruising as my emotions.
What was I hearing? Crystal had confusion regarding the line of lime in front of her. This confusion was creating fear. My insistence-and ignoring her fear-not only escalated her feelings, it validated there was a reason to feel what she felt. Since horses are herd animals, they take their lead from the leader. And if the leader was acting in an agitated manner (insistence and escalated requests), there certainly was a reason to feel fear. The issue then becomes less about the white line on the ground, and more about the feelings being generated between leader and follower. Crystal is experiencing fear in relation to the line, and behaves accordingly. My lack of acknowledgment of this feeling is eroding her trust in my leadership; much like people in a communication transaction.
When I change my behavior and how I respond to her, I influence how she is experiencing the situation; therefore how she is relating to the topic-the line of lime.
As I change my communication to focus more on addressing her fear and what she perceives, instead of delivering my agenda- which she cannot hear at this time anyway- her behavior de-escalates.
She demonstrates she has calmed by the typical “blowing out of the butterflies,” an equine version of a big sigh. Now I know I have her attention and she is able to hear me and I can introduce her to the line of lime in a different way, a way that will allow for future transactions to be positive and less fear-driven. By being calm, I translate to her it is “okay” and the line is not a danger. My previous state of agitation was not sending this message.
Upon realizing, through my behavior, there is no danger, Crystal is able to hear my request. This time when I ask her to move forward – over the line of lime- she responds and calmly walks over the line.

Communication transactions can come to a standstill over battle lines, versus moving forward through hearing the concerns and needs of both parties in the interaction. Are you able to hear why the other does not want to cross the white line? Or do you continue to push to cross over the line because you see no reason not to?
As my equine and human mentors have taught me on so many occasions, when I feel as if others are not listening, is it really them? Or is it me?

The Power of Questions; The Value of Purpose. Lessons From A Stop Sign

“What in the world?  What have you got there, Cora?”  “Hi, Dad! Look! I have a stop sign for my room!”

At sixteen, for some reason, having a traffic sign in one’s room was deemed “cool.” Trying to explain to a parent why was an effort in futility. However, for this sixteen year-old, the parent chose to capitalize on the act as yet another profound learning event. As I continued on my way back to my bedroom to find a place for my new found treasure, my father stayed in place as he gathered his thoughts and found the perfect treasures in his mind; the questions that would align with his purpose as a parent, and provide his child yet another step toward competent decision-making skills that involved the consideration of cause and effect, compassion for others when considering choices and accountability to one’s actions.

“Cora, I am curious, where did you find that stop sign?” “Oh, it was hanging at the intersection of Dupey Valley Rd and Gopey Turnoff; it was loose so I was actually able to get it down!”

Having arrived in the bedroom to witness the transformation of an average room to a cool room by rules understood only by the group that adheres to them, my father participated in a conversation regarding the excitement of this little adventure of his child. As he prepared to leave he asked his final few questions. On the heels of the question regarding the original location of the treasure, the next question was like a punch to the gut.

“Have you thought about what might happen if someone were to go through that intersection and not stop, since there is no stop sign, while someone else is going through and also does not stop, since they expect other traffic to stop?” After a long pause and watching me process the impact of my actions, he goes on.  “I only ask this because I worry about you and how you might feel if next week you read in the paper there has been an awful accident at that intersection and people were hurt.”

As my father leaves my room, I gather not only my treasured stop sign, but also the hammer and nails I had intended to use on the wall, but for which I would now use to ensure that stop sign would hang far more secure than ever on its post at its home intersection.

As I raced back to the intersection, I was white-knuckled. So concerned something would happen between the time I had taken the sign and the time I could put it back.

As parents, leaders, educators and influencers, we have the opportunity to either tell or teach.  How would the outcome have been different had my father simply “told” me to put the sign back? In aligning with his one of his purpose as a parent-to develop a young person with solid decision-making skills- how does compliance accomplish this?

In communication, being clear on purpose and utilizing the power of effective questions can take the focus off what “we” want others to do, and places the focus on empowering and developing others. At the end of the day, which has more impact?