Got a little time to kill? As we wrap up this month’s leadership challenge to develop or enhance your cultural intelligence, take a few minutes to watch a series of ads run by HSBC Bank. This link takes you to my favorite among the group of ads, but all these clever ads make the point of the importance of cultural intelligence. They are good reminders to your students and those whom you mentor that being culturally aware or culturally ignorant can be the difference between successful encounters with clients, business contacts, and others, and being perceived as boorish, insensitive, uncaring, or offensive.
Cultural intelligence helps to temper, for example, one’s expectation that a Chinese business partner will push through a proposal with the urgency and expedience of Western business culture when that individual is influenced by her culture that values harmony and waiting until the right moment. Cultural intelligence avoids wrongly concluding that an individual has nothing to contribute during a meeting when in their culture, one does not speak unless invited or questioned.
Developing and continuing to enhance one’s cultural intelligence is hard, and the learning is never done. Impressing that lesson on our students is an extremely valuable gift for their future success.
Well, he’s Trekkie Monster, and you’re Kate Monster.
You’re both Monsters.
Are you two related?
What?! Princeton, I’m surprised at you! I find that racist!
Oh, well, I’m sorry! I was just asking!
Well, it’s a touchy subject. No, not all Monsters are related. What are you trying say, huh? That we all look the same to you?
The dialog above sets up the song, Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist from the Broadway musical, “Avenue Q.” Beyond the catchy tune, the song acknowledges something we know is true: we all harbor biases about different people based on race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, sexual identity, and a host of other categories like Southerner or Yankee.
With this post, we continue our focus on cultural intelligence, the challenge for the month of July. We noted in the first blog post on this challenge that developing cultural intelligence involves five steps. With this post, we discuss the third step, addressing implicit bias. We challenge you to address the implicit bias you may have learned along the way.
As the song from Avenue Q notes, bigotry has never been exclusively white; we all harbor biases, some overt biases and some implicit or unconscious biases because we are human. Experts believe that implicit biases are the result of adaptive behavior, the need to “function at maximum capacity by finding patterns among information or events or groups of individuals as a way of enabling us to make decisions without really thinking about it” according to Dr. Kierra S. Barnett, a post-doctoral researcher at the Kirwan Institute. Dr. Michelle van Ryan, a professor at the Oregon Health and Science University School of Nursing notes that, “[I]mplicit biases are basically this [learning] system applying whatever information [the system has] learned, even if it’s negative and inaccurate, to whole groups of people.”
That an individual harbors biases doesn’t make him or her a bad person, unless, that individual refuses to acknowledge their own biases or acts out of those biases in ways that cause tangible harm to the people with whom they interact or the organizations with which they work. Plenty of studies in the health care field document the effects implicit bias can have on patient care. For examples, see here and here.
But the impact of implicit bias is not limited to health care. Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan conducted a field study to answer the question, “Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal?” Bertrand and Mullainathan discovered, using fictitious resumes to respond to help-wanted ads in Chicago and Boston, that having a name associated with African Americans (like Jamal and Lakisha) resulted in significantly fewer callbacks for interviews than those candidates assumed to be white because of names like Emily and Greg, even though the credentials were the same.
We in the legal field are not immune to unconscious bias. Researchers from the leadership consulting firm Nextion submitted a legal memo drafted by five law firm partners from different firms to some 53 other partners at 22 law firms who agreed to participate in a writing analysis study, in which they would evaluate the submitted memo. All evaluators were told the memo was written by Thomas Meyer, a third-year associate who was a graduate of NYU Law School. However, approximately half of the evaluators were told the hypothetical Thomas Meyer was black; the other half were told he was white. The average evaluation of the memo by the white Thomas Meyer scored almost a full point higher than that of the black Thomas Meyer, 4.1 versus 3.2. The Nextion researchers were clever; they intentionally inserted 22 errors into the memo. The evaluators of the black Thomas Meyer were more likely to find those errors than the evaluators of the white Thomas Meyer.
We urge you to consider your own biases, particularly your implicit biases. If you have not taken one of the implicit attitude tests that are part of a Harvard study and meant to disclose unconscious biases, I urge you to take one here. We acknowledge that the Harvard has its detractors, but that the IAT may be flawed is not evidence that implicit bias doesn’t exist. Rather, measuring it may be difficult.
Finally, I encourage you to review at least the executive summary of the ABA study, You Can’t Change What You Can’t See: Interrupting Racial & Gender Bias in the Legal Profession. It outlines four patterns of bias in the legal profession: 1) prove-it-again bias; 2) tightrope bias; 3) maternal wall bias; and 4) tug of war bias. Consider whether you, or your firm or organization, may have unwittingly slipped into these patterns. Implicit biases are difficult to change, but we can start by acknowledging them.
There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes ‘What the hell is water?’”
–David Wallace Foster
While Foster was urging general awareness of the world, the same should be said of culture. It is so much a part of who we are that it is often easy to forget it until we become the proverbial fish out of water or we encounter others who are unfamiliar with the water in which we swim.
As we continue our focus on developing cultural intelligence as one tool in the leader’s tool kit, the first step is awareness of one’s own culture. Culture, as you will recall, is the values, norms, and traditions that affect how individuals of a particular group perceive, think, interact, behave, and make judgements about the world. Culture is so ingrained in us that, for example, as Americans, we may fail to understand why people from other parts of the world recoil at our offer of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a quick snack, unaware that while the PB&J sandwich is a well-established part of American culture (according to a survey, the average American adult consumes three PB&J sandwiches every month, and nearly half of Americans regularly enjoy a good PB&J sandwich), many non-Americans find this combination of flavors disgusting, according to delish.com; they prefer other foods that are part of their culture. Vegemite, anyone? How about chocolate-covered locusts?
When we’re talking about culture, there’s rarely a right or a wrong; there’s just different. Different ideas on food are amusing, but imagine how harmful it can be when “different” is viewed negatively. Recently, a colleague relayed a story about an interview to hire a new professor in his department. The male candidate, hailing from one of the African countries, repeatedly referred to his spouse as “Wife” rather than using her given name, a practice the other members of the interview team found demeaning and off-putting, failing to recognize that in the candidate’s culture, his reference to her as, “Wife” was a show of respect to his spouse. They opted not to advance the candidate in the hiring process, perhaps missing out on a wonderful addition to the department. Making a value judgement about another culture, especially a negative one, can harm one’s endeavors and undermine developing the cross-cultural relationships essential to being an effective leader.
The first step to being a leader who can interact effectively with people of different cultures is to become aware of the water in which we swim. We can’t understand other cultures unless we are sensitive to our own. A simple exercise, adapted from an article in the Journal of Management Education, gives you and the individuals you teach or mentor a chance to consider your own culture. For this exercise, consider how you would describe your culture, focusing on what distinguishes you culturally from others, describing some of the customs, rituals, and ceremonies associated with your cultural group. Continue by considering a member of your cultural group, excluding family members, who is a good role model for others in your cultural group and what makes them a good role model. Finally, consider a situation when you felt out of place because of being different from others. What was it that made you feel different? To take this exercise a step further, answer the same questions, placing yourself in the shoes of a person from a different cultural background.
As you think about your culture, keep in mind that you are influenced by many cultures of which you are a member: American culture; legal culture; the culture of your race or ethnicity; religious culture; and many others. Developing cultural intelligence is not a one-time goal to be checked off on the to-do list of effective leadership. Rather it involves regularly engaging in activities to enhance one’s cultural intelligence, and regularly thinking about this first step. It’s not an easy step to take, but it is well worthwhile.
To get a better sense of your culture, consider the following questions:
How do people in your culture greet each other? With a hug? A handshake? A kiss on the cheek?
How do you address people in your culture? With a title? By first name, regardless of the age of the speaker or the listener? As Auntie or Uncle?
What response is appropriate when those in your culture are paid a compliment? A simple thank you or a compliment in return?
How do people in your culture disagree with each other? How do they criticize or correct each other? Who is allowed to be critical?
How do people in your culture treat individuals that are outside the group?
This is a non-exhaustive list (obviously) to start to focus on those parts of the cultures in which you swim that may differ from those outside your culture. Please feel free to share your thoughts about this exercise and your observations about culture in the comments below.
Multiculturalism. Is it just a buzzword, a New Age fad for the new millennium? Or is it a meaningful concept, important to leaders now and in the future?
Growing up in the Midwest, I learned that America was a melting pot in which different cultures contributed their own distinct flavors, literally and figuratively, to American culture. There is no doubt truth to that, but how limited my worldview was through college and even into my early career. Other than a girl named Tiku, who joined my 7th grade class as an immigrant from Uganda following Idi Amin’s seizure of power, my exposure to people from different cultures was fairly limited to the occasional missionary who visited my church, often a transplanted Westerner who shared his or her experiences working in some far-flung place. In fact, there wasn’t a lot of focus on the distinctly different cultures in America, for example, African American culture or Native American culture, or even Southern culture, beyond a few units in Social Studies from time-to-time. I daresay, that was the experience of most of my friends—eating tacos (our version of Mexican food), chop suey (the only Asian meal anyone I knew ate), and of course spaghetti and pizza did little to expand our knowledge or understanding of other cultures. Misperceptions about different people, who hailed from different cultures, abounded.
Since my childhood, American has experienced a sea change in culture, perhaps because of the growth in population of individuals from different cultural backgrounds because of immigration and shifts in birth rate. Perhaps the changes are attributable to less of a willingness of immigrants to assimilate to the extent immigrants did in the past–many immigrants indeed are proud of their cultural heritage, continuing to speak their language and observing their traditions openly. Or perhaps the change is because we are more cognizant that we are part of a global economy, involving a great deal of movement of people, goods, and services that require interacting with individuals from a variety of different cultural backgrounds in a variety of different settings.
Whatever the explanation, we assume, in fact we hope, that most leaders recognize and accept the premise that to be effective leaders in this multicultural world, one must intentionally work to develop and maintain cultural intelligence, which moves beyond learning about differences to connecting on deeper and more meaningful levels. Cultural intelligence starts with pursuing cultural competence which is the ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures. Culture is defined as the values, norms, and traditions that affect how individuals of a particular group perceive, think, interact, behave and make judgement about the world. As my colleagues outlined in Chapter 17 of their book, Fundamental of Lawyer Leadership, developing cultural competence involves five steps: 1) being aware of differences; 2) addressing implicit bias; 3) developing an attitude of openness; 4) gaining knowledge and understanding of different cultural practices; and 5) developing cross-cultural skills.
Toward that end, this month’s challenge involves a focus on cultural intelligence. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will address these different steps, and as we do, we invite you to share your thoughts and experiences about cultural intelligence.
We believe that managers must also be leaders (and vice-versa). They must focus upon the details and ensure that the trains run on time while also keeping an eye on the bigger picture. Part of that bigger picture is growing their team and setting everyone up for future success. From the article, “as Sir John Whitmore, a leading figure in the field, defined it, skilled coaching involves ‘unlocking people’s potential to maximize their own performance.’” This article in the Harvard Business Review is a great discussion of the acknowledgement of that shifting role of managers in the field. In our modern world, managers must become better coaches to help their teams grow – they must exercise leadership skills as well as managerial ones. The article discusses the barriers to doing this well, a couple of models to consider, and some tips to improve. It also provides some basic steps and further reading about coaching.
Here’s my favorite paragraph: “We live in a world of flux. Successful executives must increasingly supplement their industry and functional expertise with a general capacity for learning—and they must develop that capacity in the people they supervise. No longer can managers simply command and control. Nor will they succeed by rewarding team members mainly for executing flawlessly on things they already know how to do. Instead, with full institutional support, they need to reinvent themselves as coaches whose job it is to draw energy, creativity, and learning out of the people with whom they work.” Overall, excellent discussion of what managers and leaders should be and I highly recommend it. Kudos to Victor Flores for recently posting about this article. Although it’s not a recent article (originally published in late 2019), it is a great refresher about the importance of good managers.
To be gritty is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. To be gritty is to hold fast to an interesting and purposeful goal. To be gritty is to invest, day after week after year, in challenging practice. To be gritty is to fall down seven times and rise eight. – Angela Lee Duckworth
Last month we started a series of monthly challenges starting with Listening. The next five cover topics we view as foundational to Leadership of Self: grit, growth mindset, feedback, failure, and resilience. We start with grit because it focuses on persistence in the face of adversity, a skill which seems particularly needed given the challenges of the last year.
But what is grit? Psychologist Angela Duckworth defined grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” Grit requires both sustained effort and a zealous interest that goes beyond mere pleasure or amusement, moving to that which is meaningful and fulfilling. Agreeing to join a friend for a lovely 2-hour hike around a local lake cannot compare to training for 9 months to complete the Badwater 135 race in Death Valley – 135 grueling miles from the lowest elevation in North America to the tallest mountain in the continental U.S. Despite the inevitable setbacks during training and the race itself, gritty individuals don’t quit.
This trait translates to legal practice as well. In Milana Hogan’s 2013 study of women lawyers in AmLaw 200 firms, the most successful women demonstrated both grit and growth mindset. Grit predicted achievement, often above and beyond other metrics such as GPA or rank in law school. A partner classified as “very gritty” brought in almost $300,000 more per year than one of average grit. When interviewed, successful women lawyers gave grit-heavy explanations for how they succeeded in the practice of law.
We believe there’s value in grit. Our challenge to you this month is to assess your own grit. Perhaps you will recall incidents of grittiness in your professional or personal life (feel free to share them in the comments). Along the way, we will share a variety of resources and experiences on the topic of grit.
Two hunters were out in the woods when one suddenly fell to the ground. His eyes rolled back in his head, and he seemed to stop breathing. The other hunter frantically took out his cellphone and called 9-1-1. As soon as the call connected, he yelled out, “My friend Bubba is dead! What can I do?” The operator calmly replied, “Take it easy. I can help. Just listen to me and follow my instructions. First, let’s make sure he’s really dead.” A short pause ensued, and the operator then heard a loud gunshot. The hunter came back on the line and said, “Okay… now what?” [i]
Our modern society provides constant noise. Everywhere we turn there is something to listen to – 24/7 news, social media videos, audiobooks, podcasts, satellite/internet radio . . . the list goes on and on. While noise is frequent, we rarely see anyone simply being in the moment, truly engaged in observing and understanding the world. Instead, we pull out our phones during any down time to check email and social media. We are losing the art of doing nothing—of letting our brains have creative rest. We also are forgetting how to really listen.
For me personally, these constant distractions make it difficult to focus on one thing at a time. This is true not only during personal time; it happens at work as well. When I am on a business-focused Zoom call, even with just a few people, I constantly glance at my phone to read text messages or check that most recent email in case it demands my attention. In doing so, I may be hearing the conversation on the Zoom call, but am I really listening? A Russian proverb says, “If you chase two rabbits, you won’t catch either one.” When I multitask, as the expression goes, am I really catching either of the rabbits I need to catch?
To compound the issue, we lawyers listen to respond rather than listening to understand. Law school has trained us – and done a fine job at it – to listen to what another person is saying and immediately formulate an argument that rebuts that person’s position. I have learned this the hard way with my lawyer-spouse, Jeanine. The mark of a great lawyer, after all, is the power of oration and persuasion, and based on how our arguments usually go, Jeanine is clearly the superior lawyer. But a different and more important question is whether the responding person really understood the first person’s position or argument before choosing to respond.
The distinction is key, particularly when personal relationships and difficult subjects are involved. From conducting voir dire to negotiating a business deal, real communication requires effective listening just as much as (if not more than) effective speaking.[ii] Listening actively to what someone says rather than focusing on the literal meaning of the words spoken can provide greater insight and improve productivity within your organization.[iii] Colleagues who feel they have been heard are more likely to feel valued and remain loyal to the organization.[iv] In addition, leaders who actively listen catch things that other would miss and are better informed when making decisions.[v]
I suspect that I am not alone in these listening faults. The lack of civil discourse present in society certainly seems to confirm that others struggle with this as well. So, how do we train ourselves to really listen to others and be engaged in the moment?
Artful listening includes hearing not only what is said but also what is not said.[vi] Non-verbal cues––body language, posturing, and tone, for example––can convey a great deal about what is really being said.[vii] Maintaining eye contact and using reassuring facial expressions convey to the speaker that you are hearing them. When you also confirm what you heard and ask open-ended questions to follow up, you increase the likelihood you are truly communicating. Resist the temptation to interrupt or think only about what to say next; both diminish your ability to listen closely.[viii] Your non-verbal cues, especially those that signal you are bored or impatient can overpower anything that you say. This skill can be especially beneficial when giving feedback to a team member as you convey that this conversation is important.
Practicing artful listening can be done on a daily basis with friends, loved ones, and strangers alike. Becoming a master will help you build and maintain relationships. These deep relationships will pay dividends years after the first conversation. For lawyers, active listeners are better at witness examinations and voir dire during trial, at connecting with clients, with catching the nuances of office politics, and is critical for developing cultural competence. And for leaders, artful listening contributes to team trust, good decision-making, and fewer unpleasant surprises.
Law school provides ample opportunities to teach students to listen to respond, but it also provides opportunities to train students to artfully listen. Any course that focuses upon developing Legal analysis and problem-solving skills would be well served to include a section on active listening. Specific classes that focus upon relationships, such as client counseling, negotiations, or ADR, are also ripe for an artful listening discussion. Below are some exercises that can be used to practice artful listening.
Have each student sit in a comfortable position and engage in mindfulness, closing their eyes, calming their breathing, and noting their heart rate and physical self. Are they calm and relaxed? Is some part of the body tense or tight? What is going on mentally – is the brain active and scattered or focused and calm? Spend a few moments with the students getting in touch with their bodies and minds using one or more of the following techniques:[x]
Focus on the rising and falling of the breath;
Pay attention to how your feet feel as they touch the floor;
Do a full-body scan, starting at the top of the head and moving to the feet. Note any areas of tension.
Imagine bright, warm sunlight streaming down on you;
Let your mind think about whatever it wants – no judgment
For faculty comfortable with leading a meditation moment, feel free to use the techniques noted above. If you’d like to use an internet video, take a look at the resources available on Headspace.com.
After the students try these methods, have them think about what felt easiest and most calming for them.
Next, have the students think about a difficult or stressful situation. Note how the body and mind react. Now, try to refocus the students back to the state of physical and mental calm they were in previously.[xii] How might they do this in a professional setting while listening to a boss, judge, or client?
Pair all of the students. Ask each pair to arrange their chairs so that they are back to back. One student in each pair will be given a piece of paper with a couple of shapes on it. The second student sits with his or her back to the student holding the paper. The second student should not be able to see his or her partner’s paper, or the paper (with shapes) of any other student. Using only the methods of communication instructed, the second student will attempt to duplicate the shapes on the paper in front of the first student.
The shapes on the paper can be anything (they can be a star inside of a rectangle, a circle overlapping a square, trapezoid, and diamond, etc.). For an example, please see below.
For the first round, the student with the paper with shapes will describe the shapes and instruct his or her partner on how to draw the shapes on their paper. Give the students about a minute to complete the exercise, but explain that this is a one-way communication exercise; the students drawing cannot talk to their partners or ask questions.
After a minute, telling the drawing students to take out another piece of paper and try again. Give them another minute, but this time, it is a two-way communication exercise; allow them to talk to their partners and ask clarifying questions about the instructions they’re receiving.
Once done, have the students show their partners and each other their drawings, compared to the original. The first example (with one-way communication) is usually way off from the original, but the second example (with two-way communication) is usually much closer (comparatively speaking).
This exercise demonstrates how hard it is to understand exactly what someone is saying when they’re speaking to you. It also demonstrates the power of artful listening and the importance of asking good questions to clarify understanding.
[i] John C. Maxwell, Leadership Gold: Lessons I’ve Learned from a Lifetime of Leading 50 (Thomas Nelson 2008).
[ii] See Elle Kaplan, “Active Listening”: The Key to Strong Workplace Relationships, Productivity, and Personal Empowerment, Medium (Aug. 22, 2018), https://medium.com/@ellekaplan/active-listening-the-key-to-strong-workplace-relationships-productivity-and-personal-72650f32da4c.
[vi] Sir Andrew Likierman, The Elements of Good Judgment, Harv. Bus. Rev. (Jan. 2020), https://hbr.org/2020/01/the-elements-of-good-judgment.
[vii] Kaplan, supra note 2.
[ix] Erin Olivo, Two Simple Mindful Meditation Exercises for Teachers, The Guardian (Dec. 6, 2015), https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2015/dec/06/two-simple-mindful-meditation-exercises-for-teachers.
A recent class focused on the importance of active listening. One of our students, James Fryer, wrote about a transformative experience he had when his boss used active listening skills with him. We enjoyed reading it and thought you might too. – LWT & SLR
What do you mean, Mike?
My final year at the University of Oregon was one of my best years. I had finished my graduation requirements the spring before, so I was rounding out my undergraduate experience with a light-and-easy class schedule and a job as a Resident Assistant to pay for housing.
Oh, did I mention I had a girlfriend? I did, at least until one Friday night when she broke up with me. To salt the wound, I was also “on duty,” so I had to put on my happy face and patrol the residence hall. Continuing my bad luck, that night saw a half-dozen conduct violations, including a resident who decided to toss every toilet paper roll in the building in the dumpster as a zany prank. It was so late that it was early before I finished writing the required reports and fell asleep.
I awoke to a note my boss, Mike, slid under my door which said that I had not put enough effort into my reports from the night before and asked me to do a rewrite. I saw RED. He clearly didn’t have a clue how hard I had worked! After all, even though I had been dumped, I spent hours keeping the residents from breaking things when all I really wanted to do was feel sorry for myself! And he had the audacity to put a note under my door! He didn’t even have the nerve to talk to me about it!
Instead of meekly rewriting last night’s reports, I went to Mike’s office to have the conversation he was so obviously keen to avoid. His door was open, so I walked in brandishing the note.
“What do you want me to do with this?” I started.
Mike looked up, closed his laptop lid and didn’t respond. He didn’t respond long enough that I tried again.
“I wrote those reports last night and they are fine. You got the story; why do I have to rewrite something I already did?”
“What happened?” he responded.
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN, MIKE!” I replied, too loud.
“What happened, James?” he repeated, “something did….so SIT.” It wasn’t an offer; it was a command.
I sat. The pressure in my chest released slightly despite my efforts to stay mad.
“Give me the note,” he said.
When I handed it over to him, he held it over the recycling bin and let it drop.
“So,” he said, “What happened…?”
I broke and spent the next half-hour explaining to him everything else I had carried into his office that morning, along with the now-trashed note.
“Probably start there next time, eh?” Mike said once I was done. “But, I need you to rewrite those reports. Your writing was sloppy and rushed. I can’t use it. As for why I wrote the note? You had a late night and I thought you should be sleeping. That’s why I wrote you a note and didn’t knock on your door.”
I left Mike’s office in a haze. But I knew something extraordinary had happened. When I asked Mike about our conversation the next week, he said:
“You told me everything before you said anything, James.” He continued, “your face was red, your eyes wide, and you didn’t knock before you raised your voice at me… there was no way you were in my office about a note or rewriting a report. Sometimes,” he finished “you’ve got to listen with your eyes.”
Since that day, I have tried listening with my eyes. What a person says is so much more than words they choose. By actively and attentively listening with more than his ears, Mike understood my Saturday morning trip to his office had little to do with his note.
Active listening is a critical skill to develop because communication is inherently imperfect. No person can make themselves completely known to another; something is always lost between thoughts and words. However, by giving a person your full attention and listening with all your senses, you can be like Mike and understand a bit more than what is said.
I emailed Mike the rewritten reports that afternoon.
Who among us is not convinced of the importance of being a leader who listens? Study after study has addressed the value of listening, and many articles have chastised us for being poor listeners. Many writers have encouraged us to work harder to develop that skill, including an article that I wrote with Dr. Hal Ritter nearly 20 years ago. I submit that most of us are in agreement that listening is a skill to be developed and fostered. Speaking for myself, however, true active listening frequently falls by the wayside unless I’m intentional about it. Between multitasking during telephone calls or Zoom meetings, contemplating other tasks on my to-do list, or simply formulating my response to what a speaker is saying, I often recognize belatedly that the speaker has not had my full attention and engagement, and that I have indeed missed important verbal and nonverbal cues. I don’t think I’m alone in this.
Consequently, our first challenge—literally and figuratively—for the next 30 days is to become more intentional about listening. Your challenge—and ours—is to listen actively to the people with whom we speak, giving undivided attention. We challenge you to not just hear or even listen superficially, but to listen intently, in a quest to understand the speaker’s words, perspective, and motivations. We also urge you to listen for what isn’t being said. Over the next few weeks, we will share with our progress and thoughts and items to encourage you to focus on listening. We hope you’ll share with us your own thoughts.
You may remember a few years ago when “Mayhem,” the character from the Allstate Insurance Company ad campaign, turned over a new leaf, choosing to be helpful rather than creating havoc for which he had become known. It was the beginning of the New Year, and like most New Year’s resolutions, Mayhem’s resolve lasted only a couple of weeks before he reverted to his old habits.
Let’s be real: resolving to break an old habit and create a new one, or just forming a new habit without breaking an old one, is really hard. Research suggests that the time it takes to form a habit is highly varied among individuals, ranging from as little as 18 days to as many as 254. However, that something is hard is not a reason to forego trying.
So, we’re going to try something new: A series of 30-day challenges to encourage building or enhancing good leadership habits. We harbor no illusion that 30 days is sufficient for most of us form a last-lasting habit. The idea of a 30-day challenge is not even original to us. However, if not the start of a lasting habit, perhaps 30 days of focusing on a specific leadership goal will result in some modest improvement or modification in one’s leadership skills.
We plan to participate in each of the challenges. We hope that you will too, and that you’ll share your thoughts with us about how it’s going. Stay tuned for the first challenge, coming up in a few days.