Monthly Archives: April 2021

Wanders with Rusty

Today I walked down the street I used to wander

Yeah, shook my head and made myself a bet

There were all these things I don’t think I remember

How lucky can one dog get

Lyrics from John Prine’s “How Lucky” (with one minor change).

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Active Open Mindedness: It’s Not What You Think, but How You Think It

As a life-long Learner with a high level of curiosity, recently reading David Epstein’s book, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, has been incredibly enlightening to me.

In a chapter called Fooled by Expertise, the concept of “active open mindedness” is introduced and explored. A quote from the book:

“The best forecasters view their own ideas as hypotheses in need of testing. Their aim is not to convince their teammates of their own expertise, but to encourage their teammates to help them falsify their own notions. In the sweep of humanity, that is not normal…it is not what they think (that allows them to do well), it is how they think.”

I hope you are blessed to work in an environment where this approach can be taken. How fulfilling it is to not need to always be “right”, but rather work inside of a productive collaboration to build on ideas and thinking of those around you. That is a gold standard.

About half way through Range, I selected my next book to read. It is by Amy Edmondson, The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth. The crux of it is the gold standard I mention above. In a nutshell, how do you build a culture and teams to support the notion of Active Open Mindedness.

As I read The Fearless Organization I am seeing a number of parallels to concepts in Range. In fact, I’m already working on a post connecting learning from both. There are a couple of chapters that if cobbled together I’m feeling like make a great recipe for developing, executing, measuring and optimizing strategy. More to come on that!

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Interpreting Where is My Mind by Pixies

I do some really good thinking when I take my dog, Rusty, for walks. It’s usually when I get the most focused listening of podcasts or music done.

A few days ago I was listening to my Covers playlist on a walk with Rusty when Trampled by Turtles cover of Pixies Where is My Mind began to play. I can’t count the times I’ve listened to Surfer Rosa and that song in particular, let alone the cover. But for some reason I was much more dialed in to it. Perhaps a cover version that includes mandolin and accordion drew me in more.

The scribbles above came to my, um, mind as I listened, then re-listened on the walk. And then I started to consider Black Francis’, or Frank Black’s if you like, sparse lyrics.

“With your feet in the air and your head on the ground.” This is about changing or having a different perspective. Seeing things differently.

“Try this trick and spin it. Yeah!” And don’t just have a different perspective. Take some action with it and further the perspective change, learn how to do something new.

“Your head will collapse. There’s nothing in it. And you’ll ask yourself. Where is my mind?” Now here is where I started thinking a bit more deeply about this. The “mind” is a concept, the bringing together of a person’s beliefs, faith, intellect, ideas, opinions. Why would a head collapse without a “mind”?

It is because the mind is what defines who we are. It provides the strength for the brain to truly support our head. Think of the mind as providing the steel girders to support the surrounding structure of the brain (and the head in these lyrics). Without the mind, we all just have some gray matter between our ears.

So if you attempt to change your perspective without having an open mind, your head will collapse because there is no support to consider and try to understand what it is that you’re seeing and hearing. You can’t learn new things.

“Way out in the water. See it swimming?” And not having a mind to support new perspectives puts you out to sea, leads to confusion, or maybe even anger. And as the mind is a concept it can’t be seen, swimming or otherwise. And, thus, more confusion. And, further, it becomes easier to not change perspectives and learn.

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5 Key Investments Leaders Need to Make

I’m feeling especially inspired after a great sermon this morning at church. It focused on five investments in our personal relationships that unconditional love leads people to make. In and of itself, it was a powerful message for application in my personal life.

On the drive home, in a moment of lateral thinking, it struck me that these five things are applicable when it comes to professional relationships. And especially relevant when it comes to Leaders investing time and energy into the individuals on their team.

First, give instruction. But not just any instruction. Make sure you take the time to show how to do things correctly. To make sure it’s understood the instruction given is to provide the most benefit to your customers. And that those on your team are capable of giving and staying true to that instruction.

Second, give encouragement. The top pitfall that can bring people down is being discouraged. Ultimately, it can lead to apathy. That is not to say you should puff someone up if it’s not deserved, but seek to be consistent in your encouragement and keep it focused on the instructions to do things correctly. Be aware of when someone is moving into a part of their role that is challenging, or a time of year that is tougher than others. Lift people up.

Third, give affirmation. When you see someone doing something well, tell them right then. If you hear about someone doing something well, make sure they know that you know. We have so many tools to communicate with our teams these days that finding ways to give affirmation – and encouragement for that matter – should be easy. Try to do it in as real time as possible.

Fourth, give example(s). Now, this is mainly focused on the example of how you as a Leader behave, engage and go about your work. Demonstrate how your team should act by showing them in everything that you do – including and especially in how you work with them.

But I’ll extend it. Give specific examples whenever you can of your expectations. This can be scenarios provided of how to manage certain situations. This can be learning opportunities of situations that did not go well and how it could have gone better. Concrete examples are effective when it comes to instruction, encouragement and affirmation as well.

Fifth, give them a vision. I’m reinterpreting this point a bit from the sermon, but I believe it fits. As a Leader, you need to show your team that they have the opportunity to grow, to one day being not just someone who works for you, but a colleague. Help them understand what that path looks like and what it takes to be successful on it. They may want something else – which you should seek to understand – but you – and they – won’t know until the vision is given.

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Work from Your Strengths and Your Strengths Will Work for You

Yep, that’s the title I’m going with. So on with it then.

Several years ago, my wife, LeAnn, and I were members of a church that was just getting started. The pastor was looking for people who were wiling to volunteer for many different roles, and LeAnn and I were more than happy to do so. To his credit, the pastor wanted to ensure he placed volunteers into the right sort of opportunity to have the best shot at success – for the fledgling church’s growth and for the volunteers to feel they were contributing to that growth. The tool he used was StrengthsFinder.

StrengthsFinder is now known as CliftonStrengths. While there is a deep body of work around this, the basic thesis is understanding and using your strengths in life is more fulfilling and productive than focusing on fixing your weaknesses.

That most certainly is not to say we don’t all have weaknesses and blind spots we need to address. That is, also, not to say we don’t all need some input on what we do wrong. Further, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to learn new things. But, by and large, if we operate from our strengths, we can have a clearer understanding of our weaknesses, why they are our weaknesses, and a better chance of learning how to improve ourselves.

When LeAnn and I originally went through the process, we purchased a book which included a URL with a code to take the survey. Now, the CliftonStrengths team at Gallup has a fantastic online experience complete with dashboards and opportunities to go as deep as one wants in learning how to leverage and build upon their strengths.

Here’s a photo of my copy of the StrengthsFinder book. I’ve busted this thing out more times than I care to admit over the years in times where things didn’t make sense, I was having a bad day, or I just needed a reminder I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.

Jerry’s beat up copy of StrengthsFinder 2.0, the original companion to the survey.

Not only is the idea of focusing on strengths a (cough cough) strong one, the model focuses on a person’s Top 5 (even though there are 34 strengths on the survey that are ranked top to bottom). As you can see, when I originally went through this process in 2009, my Top 5 Strengths in order were Context, Learner, Responsibility, Relator and Ideation.

Some 12 years later, 4 of those 5 remain with one new entrant – Individualization. While that may sound like I want to work alone, it is the exact opposite. This is a strength focused on understanding the value each individual brings to a team or organization and figuring out how to put them in a place to succeed.

Digging into it, while Ideation dropped from my Top 5, the combination of my other strengths and my Strengths Themes actually speak to my not being less interested in ideas. Rather as I lead with Strategic Thinking followed by Execution and Relationship Building, I am able to absorb and translate a large amount of disparate information, working with others to make sense and further build ideas, prioritize and then execute and pivot as new information comes in.

I could have grabbed a shot of my dashboard from Gallup and placed it here, but as I say about this blog, this is all pre-PowerPoint and Keynote stuff. And I think and absorb information best when I sketch on blank pieces of paper. So, behold, Jerry Courtney’s Top 5 Strengths and Strengths Themes.

Jerry’s Strengths and Strengths Themes

As you can probably guess, I am a very big believer in CliftonStrengths. I have seen it work in my life, in good times and in bad (especially helpful when going through a rough spot). I have used it informally over and over again in working with people who worked for and with me (whether they knew it or not:), and I have seen people exceed even their own expectations when they began to focus at what they are best.

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Solutions | Positive | Transparent

Seeing my resolution…Every. Darn. Day.

I began 2021 and have been adhering to a three part approach to life and work.

First, I will be Solutions-Oriented. There is not a problem without a solution. Further, there are usually more than two options to go with. Don’t assume the first or most obvious solution is the right answer.

Second, I will be Positive. There is enough negativity and derision in this world. There is always something to be thankful for. Find it and stay positive.

Third, I will be Transparent. This works in two ways. First, if I don’t understand, I will seek to do so. Second, I will ensure I am understood.

I’ve never made resolutions before, but this one has been easy to stick to. And, ultimately, pretty darn obvious. To the point that it seems it has always been there in how I approach life and work, but just needed to be said out loud to keep myself honest and committed. Oh, yeah…that’s why you make resolutions!

Kidding aside, if you are thinking there is something complex to setting and sticking to an approach – a resolution if you like – to life and work, take it from this former skeptic that some time of contemplation and a focus on what values you hold closest is all that is required.

And then write it down someplace that you see everyday, preferably multiple times per day.

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