Leadership & Organization

Become an Activist to Make Change Happen

If you consider any profound change that has occurred in history, it can typically be traced back to a few people who took action. Yes, sometimes it accelerated into a larger movement led from the top, but it’s rarely where it began. The seed typically  was planted somewhere completely different – a few like-minded individuals who decide to act at the grassroots level.

Image result for activistOften we consider well-know leaders that symbolize change as originators of it (ex like Ghandi or George Washington or Galileo). But with few exceptions, these were all standing on the shoulders of unknown activists who preceded them long before. While we cannot diminish the importance of leaders to catalyze change (it’s an essential ingredient), their success would have been impossible without activists triggering it and supporting them.

So what makes up an activist? Here are two very simple, but powerful, characteristics:

  1. Conviction – a deep held belief in something worth personally sacrificing for
  2. Action – doing something about the conviction to effect change

While there are many success factors for impactful activism (which we may explore in future posts), the two characteristics above define it.

Using this simple definition, consider the following questions to provoke reflection on your personal level of activism:

  • are you an activist? if so, for what? …is everyone an activist for something?
  • how would you evaluate your level of conviction vs action (go back to the definition)? Does it match?
  • what is the actual impact of your activism?
  • what needs to be done to make it more effective?

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Effective Consulting Step #4: Tools / “Hands”

…now for the fourth & final step in the series on “the path to successful consulting & coaching – tools! (if you’re just jumping in here, start with the first post for context).

…tools! tools!…finally!…a consultant’s dream! Time to open your the toolbox, dazzle with frameworks, approaches, how much you know, how valuable you are, right?? WRONG!!

Image result for tools

Nothing could be worse! After painstakingly building a relationship of trust and engaging the heart & mind, don’t blow it up here. By this point your client should be eager and energized to move forward. If you lambast them with your arsenal of tools they’ll be deflated, disillusioned and wonder why they hired you in the first place (“I knew this was going to get heavy”).

What does it look like? For a moment visualize with me a professional golfer getting ready for a shot…she eyes the next hole, paces quietly, surveys the green from different perspectives, walks quietly to her golf bag, chooses ONE club (out of many!)…then lines up the shot.

Translate the analogy to consulting…A good consultant listens intently, builds trust, takes inventory of the situation, reaches into his quiver of tools and chooses the one necessary to take the next step.

How do you do that? Here are some pointers:

  1. Make it logical. A good sign that you’ve actually done steps 1-3 well is that the tools seem “natural.” Sure, there may have to be explanation on proper usage, but it doesn’t feel like a “requirement” or “checking the box”…it’s actually an enabler that helps take a step forward. If it doesn’t feel that way, you’ve either missed a step in the journey, or it’s the wrong tool.
  2. Speak the client’s language. Nothing is more frustrating than being “talked down to” or feeling like we’ve made a “mountain out of a mole hill.” Wrap your “tool talk” in your clients words to make it theirs…they don’t need to know the technical lingo. Example…you can say “it’s time to do a stakeholder-force-fields-analysis” (techno-heavy), or you could simply say “why don’t we think about how others see the pros & cons of this project” (plain English).
  3. Make tools invisible. Your client doesn’t need to know the technical nuts-n-bolts of your methodology…just enough to contribute and engage with it effectively. In fact, it’s your job to manage the complexity behind the scenes and keep it as invisible as possible…like the backstage of a theater. Making it look simple and organic on the front-stage is the key value you bring.

This final step of the series is the real acid test of your skill as a consultant/coach, since you’ll quickly know how well you’ve done on the previous steps (or not). However, don’t panic or think it’s abnormal when you need to circle back – you’ll have to (often)!…or feel like you have to get it right the first time – you won’t!

Think of an airliner on a long flight – when it inevitably hits turbulence, the pilot goes up or down in altitude until he finds smoother air. By the same token…you’re the pilot!…you’ll have to iterate and go back and forth between steps to get it right. That’s the joy and the art of coaching and consulting!

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Effective Consulting Step #3: Approach & Process / “Eyes”

If you’re following along on my proposed “path to successful consulting & coaching”, we’re now on step 3 – process (eyes). If you’re just jumping in I suggest starting at the beginning of the series for context…(1st post)

Now that you have clarity on where you are, have established credibility and focused on the mindset & destination, it’s time to lay out a path to get there. How do you know if you’re ready? The clearest sign is that people are asking for it…”how do we make it happen?…what do we do?…let’s move!” (Incidentally the clearest sign you’re not ready is if people are stuck in the previous steps – “why are we here?…I don’t see the need?…”)

Image result for processAs you move into this step, try to make the progression feel organic. It sounds like: “since we know where we’re headed, let’s talk about the way we’re going to get there.”

Here are principles to keep in mind:

  1. Stay as high as possible as long as possible (no, we’re not talking about drugs). Communicate in terms of roadmap and macro-phases, not steps. People understand there’s a “beginning, middle and an end,” so connect with them at this level. Although there may very well be sub-phases and steps, do they need to know? Probably not. You’re in the drivers seat.
  2. Shine the headlights only on the next 100 feet. Continuing on the previous point, if we need to work in lockstep at a detailed level, then only explain what comes next. Don’t overwhelm them with future steps that are to come (…and often likely to change as a function of previous steps).
  3. Always communicate in terms of outcomes. While the activity itself might get messy, always go back to “what we’re trying to achieve in this phase” and how it fits to the overall big picture (back to destination mindset). This is amazingly clarifying, unifies people around outcomes, and helps untangle from “the technique.”

Clearly, the step of “process” crosses the border into “how” territory. As mentioned above, aim do it organically in a way that provides a way to move forward, not a labyrinth to be overcome.

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