Monthly Archives: October 2010

The Competence Cycle

As team members learn how to do new tasks, they will go through four predictable stages related to their confidence and competence.  The leader’s role is to help them progress through the four stages without damaging their self-confidence or causing too much risk to the team or organization.

Stage 1 – Unconscious Incompetence At this stage, the performer has little concept of what the task is actually going to entail.  She is incredibly excited about it and feels enormous confidence that she is up to the task.  The problem is that this confidence is rarely based on reality.  The confidence comes from ignorance of the skills, knowledge and hard work necessary to complete the task.  Often, performers feel that success in previous endeavors will guarantee success in this one.  Sometimes they are right, but most often they are not.  The leader should be very specific with a performer at this stage.  It’s important to tell her exactly what, when, where and how a task should be done.  Make expectations crystal clear, and supervise progress closely. Think about the last time you took up a new sport.  I’ll use golf as an example.  You watched it on TV, saw the pros do their thing and thought, “Hey, I can do that!  How hard could it be to hit a ball with a stick?”  So, you go out to a golf course and mortgage your house to play 18.  (You didn’t know it was going to be so expensive!)  You head to the first hole and watch the party in front of you.  Looks easy enough.  Your turn.  You set your tee, work a little bit to get the ball to balance on top of it, and then you take a swing!  You strain your eyes to see your first hole-in-one.  Wow!  Those balls are really hard to see…oh… wait.  No, they’re not.  They show up nicely against the green color of the grass.  You take another swing… and another… and another… This is getting embarrassing.  The party behind you is starting to laugh… and then complain.  Now they are getting hostile.  You’ve just entered… Stage 2 – Conscious Incompetence This stage is typically a huge letdown for performers.  The high expectations they had have not materialized.  The task is harder, bigger, less glamorous, more work, more expensive…you name it.  They’ve made a big step, though.  Just recognizing that they don’t have the skill set or knowledge for the task is the first step toward getting them.  Now they know what they don’t know.  As long as the performer doesn’t regress to Stage 1 (i.e., go into denial about the skills and knowledge they need), you’ve got them right where you want them.  Now that they know they won’t be the next prodigy, they will typically be much more teachable.  What they need from you is encouragement.  Their confidence has been dealt a blow, and they need to know that this is a normal stage…that all experts were once beginners.  Keep the end result in front of them to motivate them through this stage. Now that you know you aren’t Tiger Woods, you have a few choices.  You can give up – golf must be a hereditary skill that you didn’t get in your gene pool.  Or you can keep plugging (divots, that is).  Get a coach, head to the driving range, practice, practice, practice…  With time, instruction and practice, you’ll reach… Stage 3 – Conscious Competence Progress has been made.  The performer has developed the competence to be able to perform the task.  The problem here is that the performer has to really concentrate on the steps to get it done.  He will typically be hesitant and afraid of making mistakes.  He might over-think the process, leading to avoidable errors and frustration.  Your role as the leader will be to be patient and allow him plenty of practice.  He may need a pep talk from time to time to remind him of how far he has come.  If the performer starts making too many mistakes in a row, his confidence could be seriously damaged.  If you start to see signs of demoralization, give him a break so that he can get his mind off all the steps.  When he relaxes, he will perform better. You are now a golfer, but you’re not enjoying it much.  It takes too much thinking.  Eyes on the ball, legs apart, knees bent, eyes on the ball, pull back, eyes on the ball, elbow straight, eyes on the ball, swing, eyes on the ball, WHACK!  You thought golf was supposed to be fun.  Be patient.  Before you know it, you will cross over to… Stage 4 – Unconscious Competence Eureka!  You’ll rarely recognize the transition from Stage 3 to Stage 4 when it happens, but you’ll be able to see it in retrospect.  One day, you’ll observe the performer, and she will be performing the task without even thinking about it.  Be sure to point it out to her, because she will probably be the last to know.  The beauty of this stage is that the new skills and knowledge have been integrated into the performer’s skill set.  She is now the expert that she originally set out to be! When did it happen?  Who knows?  Overnight, you stopped having to think so much about what you were doing.  Now, you can’t wait to get on the greens.  Everybody wants you to join their group for the upcoming tournament.  Tiger called and asked you for some advice. The Competence Cycle is universal.  All experts were once beginners  – even the Tiger Woods of the world.  While some have natural ability, disciplining it to make it work for them is still a learning process.  Use the Competence Cycle to diagnose your performers.  Then, meet them where they are at to help them move to the next level.


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Filed under Challenges, Change, coaching, comfort zone, commitment, delegation, discipleship, failure, Fathering, feedback, growth, leadership, learning, management, mentoring, motivation, parenting, performance, Persistence, Productivity, Teaching

Soft Hands

During a Monday night football game a few years ago, the Dallas Cowboy’s were defending at their own three-yard line.  The quarterback for the opposing team dropped back and fired a bullet…right to one of the Cowboy’s defensive linemen.  To my disgust, the lineman dropped the ball even though it was right between the numbers and even though he got both hands on the ball.

At the time, it seemed unthinkable that he would drop a sure interception, but I stopped yelling at the TV long enough to hear one of the commentators (a former lineman himself) explain why we should give the guy a break.  As he explained it, linemen spend their entire careers pushing against three-hundred-pound gorillas on the other side of the line of scrimmage.  Every muscle in their body is invested in the struggle to push past the opposing lineman to get at the quarterback.  When a ball is thrown their way, they don’t have the “soft hands” required to catch the ball.

By that last comment, he meant that because the linemen were totally focused on the goal of overpowering their opponent, it was supremely difficult for them to switch goals in the middle of battle.  I can relate.  I remember countless times when I was insensitive to my wife when she called me at the office.  Her calls always seemed to come right in the middle of my battles with three-hundred-pound gorilla projects and three-hundred-pound gorilla deadlines.  Bruised from her own battles with the kids, all she wanted was a sympathetic ear.  What she typically got were short, curt responses indicating I had better things to do than to talk with her.

Because I was so focused on the battle, I didn’t have the soft hands necessary to respond to my wife appropriately, and I forgot we were playing for the same team.  Each time I dropped the ball, I regretted it the second I hung up the phone.  Realization of how important and unrecoverable the moment was always made me wish I had not been so single-focused.

If we are going to be effective leaders, we have to learn to develop the soft hands required when our team members come to us for help.  We have to be skilled at transitioning from driving the line, chasing down the goal, sacking the competition… to taking time out, being receptive and possibly moving in a whole new direction.

While success requires us to be totally invested in our work, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that teams are made of people, and we can’t play this game alone.

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Filed under Attitude, Challenges, Change, communication, conflict, determination, emotions, family, Fathering, Goals, habits, Interpersonal, leadership, management, marriage, mentoring, paradigm shift, pressure, priorities, Prioritize, Priority, Relationships, Serving Others

Nothing Happened Today

On July 4, 1776, King George III of England wrote in his diary, “Nothing happened today.”

That same day, fifty-six men of the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence.  Through this document, they created a new nation, independent of British rule.  Through this document, they created a country that would one day become a world power unequaled in strength and prosperity.  What looked like an ordinary day from the King’s perspective was really a day of extraordinary proportions.

King George III, the leader of the world’s strongest country at the time, didn’t think anything important had happened that day, because he didn’t respect his competition.  He knew that the colonials were trying to shrug off the yoke of his leadership, but he didn’t think they had it in them.  His early attempts to quell their revolutionary spirit included imposing higher taxes and restrictive laws.  These actions further angered the colonials and united them behind a shared indignation.  While King George III had been distracted by his obvious adversaries (France, in particular), the colonials had been quietly gathering strength and organization until they were able to throw off the king’s yoke altogether.

In the words of Gerald Nachman, “Nothing fails like success.”  Once we are the reigning leader in a particular area, we typically become complacent.  We stop doing the things that got us there.  We switch our focus from our weaknesses and the threats to our success and put it solely on our strengths and accomplishments.  When we do, we are susceptible to attack from even the most unlikely of sources.

Don’t make the same mistake King George III made.  Always keep your eye on tomorrow’s competition.

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Filed under Change, comfort zone, conflict, Denial, focus, group think, paradigm, paradigm shift, Preparation, selective perception, success

It Grows On You!

Kudzu is a hearty and leafy vine that grows quickly and abundantly in the southeast part of the United States.  It grows so fast that those in the South quip that, “You might be a Southerner if… you’ve ever lost a loved one to kudzu.”  Kudzu covers everything it comes in contact with.  As you drive through a kudzu state, the roadside is draped with it, and you can only vaguely make out the shapes of trees, fences, small buildings, farmers…

With a name like “kudzu,” it’s obvious that it’s not indigenous to the U.S., so where did it come from?  In 1876, the nation of Japan originally brought it as a “gift” to the United States to celebrate the U.S.’s 100th birthday at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.  During the Great Depression in the 1930’s, the government realized that the dense root system of kudzu would be an excellent deterrent to soil erosion.  The Civil Conservation Corps paid hundreds of unemployed men to plant the vine throughout the South.  Farmers were paid as much as $8 an acre to plant entire fields of kudzu in the ‘30s and ‘40s.

But by the 1950s, rapid growth of the plant (it grows a foot each day) had started to cool the government’s enthusiasm for what had been dubbed, “the miracle vine.”  They stopped advocating it altogether, and by 1970, the USDA had officially declared kudzu a “noxious weed.”  It had now earned the new nicknames of “mile-a-minute vine,” “foot-a-night vine” and “the vine that ate the South.”

But it was too late to pull back support.  Such large amounts of kudzu had been planted that it soon began to interfere with the growth of crops and destroy forest land.  Kudzu vines were so heavy that they often brought down power lines and even collapsed small buildings.  Kudzu was taking over.

Today, kudzu covers seven million acres of land in the Southeast, and it’s not going away anytime soon.  For years, we have been trying to find a herbicide that will kill the plant.  It’s highly resistant to poisoning, and most experts agree that it takes a concerted and persistent ten-year effort to kill just one patch of kudzu.  Even then, it’s likely to come back unless the patch is watched and treated regularly.  Current estimates put kudzu management costs at more than $50 million each year!

All this happened because the government broke one of the cardinal rules of problem solving.  They didn’t consider the long-term effects of their solution.  Some solutions create problems that are bigger than the original problem they were intended to solve.  What looked like an effective treatment of soil erosion and unemployment during the Great Depression was really a long-term relationship with a fast-growing, all-consuming predator weed.  Had we asked Japan about the growing conditions of the vine before we spread it all over the South, we might have realized that Japan’s climate and certain natural insect enemies help to naturally keep the vine at manageable levels.

I know what you’re thinking…    but before we start importing those natural insect enemies to take care of the problem we already have, consider a potential headline 50 years from now:

“The Insect That Ate the South!”

Beware the “quick-fix.”  It comes with small print (and creeping vines).

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Filed under Challenges, Decision Making, helping, Instant Gratification, leadership, management, overcoming obstacles, Problem Solving

Full of Riches But No Life In It

In Israel, there are two major bodies of water: the Sea of Galilee (a.k.a. the Kinneret) and the Dead Sea (though both are really lakes).  Although they are in the same country and connected by a common river (the Jordan), the two couldn’t be more different.  The Sea of Galilee is fed by the Jordan River and teaming with life.  It contains 27 species of fish, some found nowhere else in the world.  Its sweet waters serve as the heart of the water supply system for Israel.  It’s shores are lush with vegetation.

The Dead Sea, on the other hand, didn’t get its name for nothing.  There are no fish, no fishermen, no vegetation on its shores…  It’s twice as wide and almost four times as long as the Sea of Galilee, but the Dead Sea is toxic and bitter.  So much so that there is no life in it or around it.

Why?  The Sea of Galilee receives nutrients and water from the Jordan River.  It then empties into the Jordan River, which begins again at the lake’s south end.  The Jordan then takes the nutrients throughout the Jordan River Basin, snaking 200 miles before it reaches the Dead Sea.  But that’s where it all ends.  Nutrients from the Dead Sea stay in the Dead Sea.  It doesn’t share any of its wealth with the valley below it.  Seven million gallons of water evaporate from the lake daily in the hot desert environment, and the water that’s left is so mineral-rich that it can’t support life.  Scientists estimate that it has a mineral concentration between 26% and 35%.

The two bodies of water serve as a good metaphor for a spiritual principle.  When you share your gifts and resources freely, you receive much more in return.  Whatever you jealously clutch and keep for yourself stagnates and eventually chokes the life out of you.

“Sea of Galilee people” have an abundance mentality.  They know that if they give freely, there will always be more coming their way.  They never worry that the supply of blessings will dry up.  “Dead Sea people” have a scarcity mentality.  They fear that sharing their riches will make them poorer.  What they don’t understand is that the only reason they were given the gifts and resources in the first place was so that they would pass them along.

If you want to keep it, share it.

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Filed under Abundance, delegation, generosity, growth, helping, ownership, sacrifice, Scarcity, Service, Serving Others, Sowing and reaping, Spiritual Growth

The Eye of the Fish

Once in ancient India there was a tournament held to test marksmanship in archery.  A wooden fish was set up on a high pole and the eye of the fish was the target.  One-by-one many valiant princes came and tried their skill, but in vain.  Before each one shot his arrow, the teacher asked him what he saw, and invariably all replied that they saw a fish on a pole at a great height with head, eyes, etc., but Arjuna, as he took his aim, said, “I see the eye of the fish,” and he was the only one who succeeded in hitting the mark.

We need incredible focus to hit some of our goals.  Believe it or not, the focus is created in the planning stages.  Before you begin working toward your goal, make sure you are absolutely clear about what it is.  Here are some questions to help gain that clarity:

  • What exactly are we trying to accomplish?
  • What does success look like?
  • Will our current plan earn the result we are looking to achieve?
  • What happens if we miss the mark?
  • What is it going to cost us to reach this goal?
  • Is it worth it?

When faced with an incredible challenge, seeing just “the fish” won’t cut it.  Make sure you can see the “eye of the fish,” and be sure to remind your team about it throughout the implementation of your plan.

(Story Source – Paramananda)

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Filed under focus, Goals, leadership, management, planning

And You Are…..?

If you’re like me, one of the most embarrassing things you encounter day-to-day is the inability to remember the names of those you meet.  I can count the number of people who I have met who have mastered this skill on my fingers and toes, and I don’t even have to take off my shoes.  But Dale Carnegie tells us that, “A person’s name is to that person the sweetest sound in the world.”  So, how do we improve this essential skill?

When you meet the person…

  1. Be interested.  If you aren’t paying attention when they give it, you won’t remember it later.  Anticipate it, listen for it, focus on it!
  2. Repeat it.  Right after they say it.  For example, if someone introduces himself as “Kevin,” confirm what you heard with, “Was that ‘Kevin?'” or just, “Kevin?”  Almost no one is offended if you verify what you heard, and it helps your mind to focus on the name even more.  You can also repeat it in your mind four or five times quickly to make it stick.
  3. Picture the name written across their forehead.  Franklin Roosevelt passed this trick on to us, and he was highly respected for his name remembering abilities.  Imagine their name written boldly in your favorite color of permanent marker.
  4. Write it down.  This was Dale Carnegie’s trick.  As soon as he could break away from the speaker, he wrote the name down.  Just the act of writing tells your Reticular Activating System (your brain’s traffic cop that determines what’s worth remembering and what’s not) that this is important.  If you can’t break away, imagine writing the name in your mind as you make the pen movements with your fingers.  It has nearly the same effect.
  5. Make a picture.  Another trick to get your traffic cop’s attention is to associate the person and his/her name with a picture in your mind.  The more bizarre, the better.  For example…
    • If a person’s name is Carl, you might imagine him as a giant curl of hair.
    • If a person’s name is Amy, you might imagine her as an arrow aimed at a giant bulls-eye.
    • If a person’s name is Tony, you might picture him/her as a giant tiger with black and orange stripes eating a bowl of breakfast cereal.  (You get the idea….)
  1. Use it at least three times.  Use it while you are talking to the person, again during conversation with him/her if you can, again when you say goodbye and then again when you tell someone else about your conversation with that person.

One other thing…when you meet someone again, and you suspect that they might not remember your name, they will always appreciate it if you offer it right up front as you shake their hand.  It will save them from a lot of embarrassment, and it usually prompts them to return the favor.

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Filed under brain, communication, Interpersonal, memory, Mind, mnemonic techniques, Relationships