i am experienced

Today at work was our fourth employee development day.  A year or so ago my company decided to spend a full day per quarter giving all employees instruction in personal development.  I blogged about day 1 (Myers-Briggs assessments + sailing) and day 2 (conflict resolution strategies).  The third day (my least favorite of the four) was about management techniques and I guess I didn't have enough to say about it to rate a blog post.

Before I start, I want to point out this is something I really appreciate about my company.  (Oh, and the toys too.)  Not many employers are willing to spend the money to do these things.  Not to mention I think self-reflection is such an under-practiced skill by, well, human beings.  One day a quarter isn't enough to really become a reflective person but hopefully that effort spurs a couple of folks to try it a little more on their own.  So if in reading this post you think I have been brainwashed, well...  I don't think I have but I have good feelings right now and it will show.

Today's agenda was "the Vistage experience."  Many of you don't know where I work or if you do don't know what my company does.  It's hard to explain.  Lots of employees don't even understand it.  Today we got to experience what our customers experience to help shrink that knowledge gap.

Vistage is a CEO membership organization.  Our customers pay us a fair amount of money per year to join a "group" which is led by (usually) a retired CEO.  The groups have 12-16 members and meet once a month.  During the meetings the members process their business and personal issues de jour.  There are many more services members get like one-to-one sessions, professional speaker presentations, webinars, online communities, etc.  You can click through and read the proper marketing material if you care to know more.

I can recite the above but what do I know about what goes on in these meetings?  Can I explain it to friends, family, possible customers that I might meet?  That was the purpose of today.  In the morning, a speaker, Dave Logan, give a talk about his book Tribal Leadership.  Dave is a professor at USC, a bestselling author and well-known business consultant.  This was part of the experience since the member groups regularly get speakers of this caliber.


the army of IT blue-shirts listen to the speaker. I do not wear these blue shirts

My review of the speech here will be brief.  I loved Dave's delivery.  As a Toastmaster I watched his enthusiastic and varied inflection with envy.  Though his energy was very strong, he still seemed calm and in-control.  When I get amped up, I come across as hyper.  Not Dave.  The content was good but I think I'd have to read the book to really get usable techniques.  Although I'm social enough at work, professionally my role is accurately described by the industry term cowboy coder.  (Not bad I suppose, cowboys are pretty cool.  Not ninja or pirate cool, but at least zombie cool.)  Anyway, given my role I don't feel the motivation to dig into Dave's collaboration techniques since I don't think I'd use them enough.

The provided lunch was from Phil's BBQ.  Very Solid if not as good as my fave, Brett's.  Nom.

The afternoon session is what I was really looking forward to -- a faux group meeting with a genuine group leader.  I'm not sure if I should name him here so I will err on the side of caution.  I was very impressed with him and the way he ran our meeting.  His descriptions of how he runs his groups, what principals all members, and his ruminations on human nature were all very thoughtful and insightful.

For instance, he told us that behavior is perfectly correlated with the way the world occurs to us.  In other words, when you don't understand why a person is acting in an undesirable way, it will become clear if you examine what he believes about himself and his world.  As I re-read that it may not appear ground breaking.  But his explanation was clear and delivered at a perfect time in the conversation.

He also gave us 12 principals of good group participation.  One was "Listen newly, be intentionally slow to understand."  Our brains are pattern matchers.  When we see or hear something, our brains instantly analyze it and categorize it based on what we have seen and heard before.  This is very useful for navigating life.  But it works against us when we experience something new or need to understand someone else's differing perspective.  An extreme example is the riot that broke out during the first performance of Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.  Beyond riots, you married folks can probablyrelate to this more down-home example.  Sometimes I'm thinking about something, say the upcoming Buckeye football season and my wife says to me, "I don't want beef or chicken tonight."  Because of my train of thought, I might instead hear, "I won't root for Michigan tonight."  I'll look at her confusedly and ask, "When would you ever root for Michigan?"  And she'll think I'm nuts.

I'm not really nuts (after all, I don't root for Michigan) but we hear what we expect to hear and we see what we expect to see.  Our brains rebel against the novel and take comfort in the familiar.  So the "slow to understand" principal tell us to purposefully step back and consider during the conversation.  When another member says, "my marketing efforts aren't fruitful enough" don't jump to the conclusion that he's an idiot or what worked in your industry will work for his.  Instead, think about it, ask questions, and get a sense of what it's like in his shoes.

The best thing I learned today was that a real Vistage group is a very safe place.  If you are a CEO, everyone you deal with has an agenda.  People are trying to sell to you, get your donations, get you to hire them, get you to promote them or their idea, etc.  You may even run into agendas in your family depending on the employment situation.  But the Vistage group is a place where everyone is there to help process each others' problems.  (Members aren't allowed to be competitors.)  That is something very valuable to the average CEO.  Obviously as coworkers, we could not duplicate that part of the experience today.  But he described the value of that clearly; the value of this had not occurred to me before.

The worst part of the group experience for me was that a couple of the people in my group weren't fully invested in it.  I could tell by their responses that it was so.  Once again, I'll err on the side of caution and leave it at that.

I'm off tonight to see a concert from some of my old band mates.  I'll take some pictures and talk about that next time.


this is circa 1PM yesterday - my coworkers are so cool they shun doughnuts!