How to recognize talent: A few tidbits to consider

How to recognize talent: A few tidbits to consider

This blog post is part of the Next Top Credit Union Executive competition originally posted June 1, 2012.


Photo by Andre Nantel

Recognizing talent in credit unions is an easy thing to do. The CUES Next Top Credit Union Executive competition is a chance for every nominee, and their credit union, to be a winner. As a nominator, you have a valuable opportunity to make a difference in developing talent. Over the years, I have collected and formed ideas on how to spot good talent and want to share some with you. I hope these tidbits are helpful.

  • Energy and confidence are so important; energy shows up in how a person walks, how they pace through projects and conversations, and how they stay connected in a conversation or meeting, especially a long one. For example, does your potential nominees ebb and flow in energy, or  are they modulated and produce an assessment of continuity and consistency?
  • Confidence and self-efficacy are key attributes to learning. As a nominator, what is your assessment about the talent’s ability to perceive and respond to situations and execute as the role or initiative requires?  A person who constantly second guesses will make more mistakes and their second-guess energy may stifle others on the team.
  • Viewing challenging problems as learning opportunities contribute to ongoing leadership growth. How does your talent perceive tough problems, obstacles, and resistance? Talent who can get out of the box and expand their peripheral vision to seek or create innovation solutions are worthy of attention.
  • Individuals who ask for guidance from mentors and request support in learning opportunities have strong self-efficacy. Look for someone who asks for more assignments, even if the task or initiative is outside their immediate area of responsibility.
  • Another important attribute for next best talent is they ask clarifying questions rather than jumping feet first without looking. And, they complete initiatives and projects on time and within expectations.  Look for repetitive and consistent completion as a standard, rather than the exception.
  • Inclusivity of others in learning and exploring opportunities is a leadership move. Does your potential nominee easily offer support, provide opportunities to others for learning, and speak praises and virtues of peers in public?  Inclusion is indicative of a worldview that it takes a team to win, not an individual.
  • The leadership attribute that makes a major difference is MOOD. It is a true skill of self-management and leadership when a person has a practice to minimize stress and elevate mood in times of difficulty or facing difficult tasks.

This is an exciting and valuable opportunity. Be open in conversation with your nominee, listen to what they want in their leadership development and use these tidbits as a guide in your conversation.

Do you have someone who comes to mind? Someone you feel could be the CUES Next Top Credit Union Exec? Why not take the time and nominate them right now?


Shifting to a Practice of Creativity and Innovation in 2012

Shifting to a Practice of Creativity and Innovation in 2012

Personal Reflection

Moving toward the completion of 2011, I am reflecting on the commitment and hard work I witnessed throughout the year. The past few years have been a struggle and challenge which produced a sense of hyper-alertness. With so many of us in a constant state of alertness, we have worked hard to sustain the health of our organizations.

The external environment is calling us to encourage and promote creativity and innovation−which is problematic, yet necessary for long-term sustainability−in a tough economic environment. Moving into the 2011 4th Quarter, I noticed an increase in the number of organizations that, in building their 2012 budgets and capital resources, shifted awareness and attention to reframe problems as productive challenges. This shift of attention is a good thing. Actively challenging our assumptions is much more sustainable than being constantly in a hyper-alert and reactive state.

Organizations that start to peel back the covers and look under the surface have so many more resources readily available. I believe the most precious resource in an organization is the individual who comes to work every day. Understanding what motivates the individual and creating an environment where each person makes a difference automatically encourages creativity and innovation−a must for us as an industry, as a country, as a global economy.

Commitment and hard work is evident in individuals, teams, and organizations that challenge established methods and protocols and actively sought ways in 2011 to modify existing models and designs. Why is this so important? It is time to shift from hyper-alertness to embodied creativity and innovation. This, I believe, is a practice we can all give more attention as we move into 2012. This practice does not need a line item in our budget; it happens in conversations involving individuals and teams.

Michael Michalko, in Tinker Toys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques, writes than anyone can learn to pay attention. Richard Strozzi-Heckler, in The Leadership Dojo: Building Your Foundation as an Exemplary Leader writes that learning starts with awareness. An awakening that invites awareness to what is and what matters is the start of learning. I borrowed from Michalko, Strozzi-Heckler, and our custom leadership programs to provide the following simple, no cost practices you and your leadership team can activate over the next couple of weeks as preparation for moving into 2012 with a commitment to encourage creativity and innovation.

Practice # 1: Learning to Pay Attention, a Team Practice

Each member of your leadership team picks a single color to be aware of for one day. You may pick yellow, another selects blue, and so on. Assume you pick yellow and you commit to noticing yellow throughout your day. By the end of the day, you will notice yellow everywhere: books, clothing, flowers, furniture, advertisements, cars, art work, and so on. You might notice different shades of yellow: subtle, rich, some more vivid. Journal your reflections on how the attention to yellow developed throughout the day. Meet with your team members and reflect on what the Learning to Pay Attention practice means. Ask these questions:

  • How do we pay attention now?
  • What does our current attention practice produce in our team relationships?
  • What does our current attention practice produce in our organization?
  • How does this practice serve us moving into 2012?
  • What and how do we want to practice to increase creativity and innovation so all employees feel they make a difference?
  • How will we know we are practicing what we want to practice?

Practice # 2: Paying Attention to Challenges that Need Resolve, Individual Practice

Start a journal of problems, challenges, and opportunities that are of personal interest. Some are right at the surface of your consciousness; others will awaken throughout the practice. Keep your journal for a week and add to it several times throughout the day. For this practice, keep your attention focused on the question you have and not on fixing the problem or taking action on an opportunity. There is time for that later. Here are some sample questions to start the practice:

  • How do I want to make a difference?
  • What do I wish would happen in my job?
  • What do I wish there was more time to do?
  • What conversation do I want to have?
  • What conversations want to happen naturally?
  • Where is most of my focus and time?
  • What takes too much time?
  • Where am I inefficient?
  • What would I like to organize better?
  • About what do I most complain?
  • What is my energy level walking into work?
  • What is my energy level walking out of work?
  • How could I be more efficient with less paperwork?
  • How could I be more efficient with fewer meetings?
  • How am I accountable to myself?
  • How do I keep my promises?
  • What offers can I make to others?
  • How can I become indispensable to my organization?
  • What am I aware of as a result of this practice?

Practice # 3: Paying Attention to Challenges that Need Resolve, Team Practice

This practice is similar to Practice 2 with an emphasis on the team. Schedule an hour for open dialogue on questions. All that is needed is for individuals to ask questions and not discuss ideas or solve problems. This attention practice is challenging for most teams because the automatic reaction is to look for solutions. The purpose is to ask the questions, and over the next few days, increase awareness and attention to creative and innovative ways to resolve the questions. This practice is ideal for all teams in the organization in the first weeks of 2012−functional teams, groups, and project teams, for example. A consolidation process provides meaningful information. Here are sample questions to start the practice:

  • How can we better differentiate our products from others?
  • What is our competitive advantage?
  • How can we better serve our members and customers?
  • How can we use external resources as strategic thought partners?
  • How does the community speak of us?
  • How do we want the community to speak of us?
  • Is it possible to encourage each individual to look for ways to be innovative?
  • What is the quality of conversation in our team meetings?
  • What would be different if each individual in the organization had 40 hours a year of personal development?
  • How often do I smile at others in the workplace?
  • How often do we offer assistance to other employees?
  • How can our advertising better communicate the advantages of products and services?

Closing Comments

We are what we practice. As we increase attention to what we practice, we will have more choices about how we want to be and how we want others to notice us. There is a direct correlation between noticing what we practice and creativity and innovation, challenging unchallenged assumptions and better leveraging current resources in our organization.

At the start of each year, all individuals in our company speak about their practices to the team. Verbalizing our commitment provides an environment of self-accountability and support from others who witness our practice throughout the year. What is your practice for 2012?

Shifting to a Practice of Creativity and Innovation in 2012

I Am What I Practice

Over the past weeks, I have been self-evaluating how I take care of myself, when my actions are on remote control and what I do without thought or commitment.  We all have those times in our lives; the days when we move through actions without feeling life or energy, a bit dull. I know about the cycles in life, human development and living a life of purpose.  Yet there are the days or weeks I can still disengage from myself and be available only for others.  Does this sound familiar?

How do I notice?   There are a few clues that have become familiar friends over the years.  Here are mine.  What are yours?

  • I start to eat food that does not care for my body; a chip here, a cookie there and, oh, how a bowl of ice cream with all that yummy chocolate and caramel syrup is sooo good!
  • I let go of my daily sitting practice, the 20 minutes where I still my body.
  • I rationalize not working out.
  • I do not make powerful requests or declines.
  • I stop hanging out with nutritious friends.
  • I lose a bit, or more than a bit, of my dignity.
  • I go to bed at night and cannot answer with satisfaction “Was this a day well lived?”

There are probably more clues and this is a good place to move on.

My four little ones, the quadruplets, Ian, Scott, Rebecca and Bryce are turning eight soon.  Celebrating their birthday every year is a reminder of a continual defining moment. Being alive, with a body, mind and spirit, is top of mind for me. Every day with the kids is a joy. How I care for myself is my own accountability to being fully available to the children.  Their birthday is an important day; it represents the facing into a challenge and producing an outcome of love, hope and celebration.   I needed to be that commitment for them during pregnancy and my body knows how to organize for success.

I have recommitted to the practices that support my body and am taking care practices every day.  My attention is on what I do, eat, act or say that helps or derails my sense of purpose and love in my life.   I remind myself that life has cycles and my commitment to supportive practices is my own accountability.  I hear my teacher, Richard Strozzi-Heckler, say, “You are what you practice.”

What are you practicing today?

Useless Directions

Useless Directions

I travel a lot. I am so grateful of GPS units and when someone else volunteers to drive and my responsibility is merely to navigate. Jennifer was driving one day in greater Los Angeles and I was dutifully calling out the directions from the GPS unit so she could concentrate on traffic. I would give her a final warning of turns at 100 yards. Sometimes I would call it out as 300 feet. This worked well for me, given the many years spent on football fields in marching bands. I knew what it looked like, and I can, literally, march off 100 yards with my eyes closed.

I began to notice that Jennifer would begin asking me, “Is it this street?” frequently after the 100-yard notice. So I tried giving her the 300-foot notice, and still she would start asking me for how many blocks that meant. Finally, she says, “Look Mark, you’re doing great giving me which way to turn, but this distance thing just isn’t working for me. I don’t have the same sense of distance that you have.”

What a dork I was! I was assuming that my experiences were hers, and that what I would find relevant in navigating, she would find relevant in navigating. My directions were not useful to her, even as we both shared the same goal: To get to the client on time and safely. Yet my leadership wasn’t congruent with her needs. We worked out that I would give her a 3-street notice before turning, as she thought in number of turns, not feet and yard. We’ve never missed a turn since.

On the Edge

On the Edge

I arrived at the Grand Canyon the afternoon before my planned one-day down and up of the Canyon. It’s a 17-mile down and up, a mile deep, so that means two miles down and up of elevation. The Canyon is opposite of most of my training, where you climb down first and then up. My biggest concern was over my arthritic knees. Would the downhill crush them and disable me? At this point, I had seen the Park Service postings advising against hiking the canyon in one day at least three times. “We rescue over 300 people a year out of the canyon, and most of them look like this.” Next to the text was a photo of a young, taut, model who looked liked like Matt Damon in the Bourne Identity movies. What am I doing, thinking I can do this?

Yet, I had trained my body for this – just two weeks earlier, I hiked a trail more technical and deeper into wilderness area than the Canyon. I thought I was ready until I stood there, looking into the maw of the Canyon. I lost my sense of my back – my sense of all the training and strength in the body. The canyon always looks larger and more amazing than any photo can capture, and I was in awe over it beauty and size.

I thought, “This is what change feels like to many people,” – coming from great strength and previous accomplishment, then feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of what lays ahead. At the Canyon, one can see the trail disappear into ever-deeper canyons. I knew the mileage and elevation change intellectually, but here I stood looking into a path that seemed enormous and unavailable to view.

I had to get back into touch with my “back”, that sense of what I am able to accomplish. I recalled the hike from two weeks ago, one that was very difficult due to the primitive nature of the trail and the steep heights involved. There were places the trail was barely wider than my shoes, and there was a 100-foot drop-off on my left. And I am really afraid of heights. I remember asking myself then, “what am I doing, and how will I get out of this?” Then I recalled what I did– I put one foot in front of the other, and told myself I can do it. I repeated that same sensation at the edge of the Grand Canyon. Slowly, the strength of my “back” – the knowing of what I can do – came back to me. I turned to my wife, Deedee, and asked her to tell me that I can do this. She said so with confidence.

How do we support this same in others in leadership? How do we work to recognize when someone is standing at the edge of what they see as a maw of a canyon, with the trail disappearing into an abyss? Do we slow down and remind them of the one-step-at-a-time approach, knowing that they can accomplish this “canyon” because they have conquered other “canyons”?

I hiked the canyon the next day well, my body being like a never-ending, never give up, tank. Down the steep Kaibab trail with postcard views at every turn. I smiled at the beauty. I laughed as I put my bare feet into the Colorado River. I knew then I can do this. A man and his young daughter brought swim suits and were slashing in the cove along the river. Our eyes met, and we exchanged a knowing smile. I reached the top of the Bright Angel trail feeling like I could hike for five more miles. My thoughts were of the return to the canyon. I felt my strength.

(By the way, that great photo of the trail disappearing into the canyon is from this trip.)

Making Choices About the Episodes in your Life

Making Choices About the Episodes in your Life

Our world, according to Barnett Pearce (2007) is made of episodes. A conversation is an episode, sending an email is an episode and kissing my children goodbye in the morning is an episode. Each episode has a beginning and end. Kissing my children is more than the act of kissing. The smiles we exchange, the embrace and the murmurs accompanying the kiss expand the possibility of a day of potential joy for my children and me.

When does the episode of kissing my children goodbye begin? It begins with how I awake in the morning, my first thoughts as I open my eyes to see the sun shining through the blinds. It begins with hearing children stirring in their rooms, hearing voices chattering and laughing.

Saying goodbye to the children is a favorite time of the morning. The few moments with each child as they wait for the bus is precious, watching them play in the yard, their backpacks holding their place in line. The yard filled with laughter and legs flying overhead in cartwheels, playing red light green light or practicing a TaeKwonDo pattern. The entire experience of the morning organized for a loving send off on the bus with the culminating goodbye kiss followed by a wave as the bus lumbers away is the perfect moment, something yearned for since I was a young child.

Saying goodbye is a single episode in the flow of the morning experience full of multiple episodes. How I act in each episode impacts the next episode, and the next. My mood, how I live in my body and what I care about shapes my language and action. Choosing to act in a certain mood is a leadership choice. I can choose to be grumpy because I stayed up late with homework, or I can choose a different quality and bring love and care forward. Each choice creates the same outcome yet with distinctive qualities.

Being a leader requires knowing that outcomes are influenced by choice, particularly choice of mood, sensation and emotion. How we are in relationship at home is the way we are in relationship at work. We each have one body, we each have choice, we are accountable for creating episodes, series of episodes, with distinctive qualities leaving each person in our life more fully human; our children, partners, coworkers, neighbors and parents. How are you making choices about the episodes in your life?

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