Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

How Babies Learn

April 22, 2015

why-explorationOver a period of thee-and-a-half years,  researchers at Johns Hopkins’ conducted four experiments on 110 preverbal 11-month-olds to determine how they responded to surprising vs. predictable situations. They let the children watch a ball pass though a presumably solid wall, an object float in mid-air and an object disappear and reappear. They also had more predictable situations where the ball bounced off a solid wall, an objected obviously supported by something underneath and an object remaining in place without disappearing. The children who witnessed the surprising situations were given the option to explore the object from the experiment or choose new toy. Babies chose the surprising object rather than the new toy.

When they got their hands on the ball that passed through the wall they banged it on the table to check how solid it was. When they held the object that floated in the air they dropped it to the floor to see if it really could fly. And here’s the kicker. The infants showed no evidence of learning anything from a predictable object.

The take-away for us, as adults, is that new and surprising situations; encounters that challenge our view of the world; and outcomes that defy our expectations are prime opportunities for learning. These encounters can provide growth that is transformational, not just incremental. We must embrace those situations rather than retreat from them. They enrich our lives.

Another set of researcher believe that the reason time seems to fly by as we get older is that all those new and novel experiences have already happened. We are only left with the familiar and the predictable. Finding ways to embrace the newness of every day and the new possibilities each encounter brings makes life interesting, more enjoyable and helps us savor every day. This is also the key to effective leadership for the long haul.

Born Curious

April 21, 2015

You know this is true. We are born curious. Three-year-olds, on average, ask their parents 100 questions a day. EVERY DAY! By the age of 10 or 12 they have basically stopped asking. Studies suggest that by the age of 25 only 2% of individuals can think outside the box. The sad truth is that curiosity seldom survives to adulthood.

Ironically, our career paths follow a similar trajectory. When we start a new job we move into our role as a learner. We want to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible. We want more than anything else to become competent. We ask questions. We apprentice those who are more experienced. Our knowledge increases exponentially every day. Then something happens. At some point, having the answers becomes more important than asking questions. Appearing competent becomes more important than growing in competence. We trade in our learning mindset for the level of knowledge we have already acquired…and… we coast.

The dictionary defines “coasting” as “moving forward using no power or very little power; progressing without special effort.” One of my favorite writers on leadership is Lee Thayer. In his book, The Good Leader, he writes: “Most people stop learning when they know enough to get by.” And we wonder why our jobs are boring and unfulfilling. It shocks us when our careers plateau and we slowly slide back down the hill. We wonder why our organizations are stagnant and no one seems to notice or care. Organizations are never more curious than their leaders. It is a problem when our curiosity doesn’t survive into adulthood.

I agree with Dorothy Parker: “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”

NHPCO’s 30th Management and Leadership Conference

April 20, 2015

Next week I will have the privilege of speaking at the MLC. My topic is “Continual Leadership Development for Seasoned Executives: Keeping Your Leadership Fresh by Building a Learning Mindset.” I love the topic, though I am not certain whether they invited me to speak because I am “seasoned” (lit. old) or they hope I might have something to say about life-long learning. In the coming days I will post some thoughts about what lifelong learning involves and why it matters, especially as we advance in (years, uh…) our careers.

Several years ago, the University of Virginia conducted a study aimed at identifying the characteristics of “Learning Leaders.” They found that these leaders (1) experienced a number of life events that caused them to dramatically rethink their basic assumptions; (2) demonstrated agility of thought, adapted easily to new situations and saw patterns and connections between seemingly unconnected variables; (3) sought out learning opportunities and learned from many sources; and (4) communicated in metaphors and analogies and conducted discussions in a nonlinear manner.

The shocker of the study is that researchers found that only 10% of executive leaders possessed a learning mindset. One-in-ten kept learning, while the other nine were content with what they already knew or had acheived. Which ones do you think were the greatest asset to their organizations?

The Hardest Person To Lead

April 20, 2015

It doesn’t take long to realize that leadership is hard. You could quickly compile a mental list of people who make that a true statement. But, in the book True North, Bill George says, “the hardest person you will ever have to lead is yourself.” He is right.

The life we have is often the result of poor self-leadership. The greatest obstacle to experiencing the life we want is poor self-leadership. John Maxwell said “If I could kick the person who is most responsible for my problems then I wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week!” The toughest person to lead is not not above me, below me nor beside me. It is me. The most important conversations I will ever have will be the ones I have with myself.

In the book, Derailed, Tim Irwin gives some great hints:

1. Grow in self-awareness by proactively seeking feedback from multiple sources.

2. Find a wise and trusted advisor to help you interpret various work experiences.

3. Be receptive to information about areas in which you are less than stellar.

4. Fine-tune your ability to connect with others.

5. Work on empathy.

6. Conduct a 360-degree feedback exercise.

7. Identify the circumstances under which you are likely to lose your composure – develop early warning systems…

8. Wait longer to say something in a meeting-write it down and test if for appropriateness before you say it.

A Challenge
Take charge of your personal disciplines, attitudes, and communications and watch the changes that occur in the world, and the people, around you.

Whose Business Is It?

March 29, 2015

Most of us have heard of the Serenity Prayer. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And the wisdom to know the difference.” Being able to discern between what we can change and those things we can’t is the key to our peace of mind.

Byron Katie says that there are only three kinds of business in the world: my business, your business, and God’s business (things out of your/my control). She observes that stress comes often because we mentally insert ourselves into, ruminate on, and worry about things that are somebody else’s business.

When I think, “You need to get a job,” “You need to be happy,” “You should be on time,” or “You need to fix this,” “You need to break off this relationship,” or “You should take better care of yourself,” I am in your business. Any time I think that I know what’s best for anyone else is to be out of my business. Even in the name of love, it is pure arrogance, and the result is tension, anxiety, and fear. Do I even know what’s right for myself? That is my only business. Let me work with that before I try to solve your problems for you. If someone invites me in to their “stuff” to help, that is different. But, even then, I must humbly realize that I won’t be the one living with the outcomes of the decisions.

Whose business is it when your daughter is getting failing grades in college? Hers

Whose business is it if you are paying her tuition? Yours

Whose business is it that your son smokes? His

Whose business is it if he is buying cigarettes with the spending money you give him? Yours

Whose business is it that I’m grieving a loved who died? Mine

Whose business is it that my grief makes those around me uncomfortable? Theirs

Whose business is it where and when people die? God’s

Our stress often comes when we are trying to fix every other person or every situation and fail to ask if it is really my business to fix it or not.


Count, in five minute intervals, how many times you are in someone else’s business mentally. Notice when you give uninvited advice or offer your opinion about something (aloud or silently). When you are tempted to interject, ask yourself…

1. Am I in somebody else’s business?

2. Did this person ask for my input or advice?

3. Am I willing to take the advice I am offering and apply it to my life?

If you understand the three kinds of business enough to stay in your own business, it could free your life (and your mind) in ways you can’t even imagine. The next time you’re feeling stress or discomfort, ask yourself whose business you’re in. That question can bring you back to yourself, your life and your business.