Have you ever found yourself frustrated because you are doing the same things over and over again while hoping for a different outcome? I hear from clients all the time that they want to solve a problem, but they resist potential new approaches because they have “tried that on other projects and it didn’t work.” A solution to this dilemma is rethinking our approach to “favorite things.”
There was a leader I worked with early in my career who had what our team called a “pet chart wall.” It was one wall of his office where he displayed his favorite models and charts throughout his career posted for easy access. By the time we were working together he had quite the collection. When we were trying to solve a problem or he was trying to communicate how he wanted something done, he would pull down a chart and use it to illustrate how we should proceed.
Many leaders, especially those with some experience like this leader, develop their own set of solutions or approaches. The upside is having a set of proven solutions to apply to new problems. The downside though is that what worked previously won’t necessarily work on the new problem or situation. While the wall demonstrated many helpful approaches this leader unintentionally discouraged those in the room from contributing their own expertise.
Opening your mind to other solutions
This holiday season, a friend invited me to a “Favorite Things” party. The concept was based on the song from “The Sound of Music,” and also on Oprah’s Favorite Things List (more on that in a moment). The party host asked each guest to pick one of their favorite things (with a cost limit of $20), and to bring three of that same thing to the party. During the party, each guest explained the items they brought and why they are “favorite things;” sort of an adult version of show-and-tell. At the end of the party, we each left with three different “favorite things” along with the associated stories from the other guests.
I narrowed my favorite thing down from several items and ultimately chose fuzzy socks. For me, fuzzy socks symbolize warmth, comfort and home. I typically gift fuzzy socks to my family at Christmas, and I always love receiving them in return. What struck me about this experience was that I brought home new things that I quickly added to my own favorites list.
Oprah Winfrey is a well-known celebrity who started publishing her annual, “Oprah’s Favorite Things” list in 2002. Oprah has many fans and it’s fair to say that she influences opinions, just like leaders in organizations. When she lists something on her “Favorite Things” list, I imagine it makes that item more popular than it would otherwise be without her endorsement. The same thing happens in organizations. When leaders endorse or show a preference for a particular model, process, approach or tool, many people in the organization pay attention to that and start using the same one simply because that is what the leader uses.
Using these proven practices can be a great way to help establish the culture in the organization that the leader wants to have. However, if that leader isn’t open to adding fresh perspectives to that list, they may quickly find that they don’t have the right tools to keep them current with the changing situation. Even worse, the people in the organization who emulate that leader can find themselves unable to solve problems with the same solution set or even unintentionally discouraged from innovating or contributing.
Expanding your available solutions for ultimate success
So, how does a leader both use the proven practices and still beopen to new perspectives at the same time? Here are a few ideas to consider:
· Invite fresh perspectives before deciding on a solution to a problem.
· Benchmark what works well for other organizations and consider how to apply it to your situation.
· Embrace continuous review and improvement cycles, regularly updating practices.
· Don’t throw out everything and start over –the best solution may be available from things that have worked before (after all there is a reason they made it to your favorite things list).
· Apply the right tool to the right situationrather than using a one-size-fits-all approach.
· Demonstrate openness to new perspectives andideas by continually inviting those in your organization to add to the list.
Over the years Oprah has added many things to her favorites list, demonstrating her openness to new ideas. The “Favorite Things” party I attended was a great reminder to review my own list of leadership practices and consider new approaches and solutions. I am excited about all the possibilities for new “Favorite Things,” and fuzzy socks will always be on my list!
Favorite things from Seasons Leadership:
· Susan Ireland, co-founder: Topo Chico sparkling mineral water, the bubbles symbolize celebrations, fun and refreshment!
· Debbie Collard, co-founder: Fuzzy socks, symbolizing warmth, comfort and home
· Lauren Penning, Communications and Marketing: Stonewall Kitchen Hot Pepper Cranberry Jelly, symbolizing gathering with family and friends with a fun spicy kick!
What would you bring to the Favorite Things Party?