Sunday, December 13, 2020

Holding Space for Curiosity

Ever heard someone say, “Curiosity killed the cat?” The original form of this saying was actually, “Care killed the cat,” attributed to William Shakespeare in the 1500s (Much Ado About Nothing circa 1958). It was meant as a warning against excessive worry and sorrow for others. Since its original use, it has come to be understood as a warning against “unnecessary investigation” or trying something new. 

This change in social understanding of the well-known aphorism is unfortunate. The inquisitive minds are often the ones that make great discoveries and find innovative ways to make the world around us better. Sadly, we tend to foster a negative mindset regarding experimentation and seek efficiency at the expense of exploration and innovation.

Here are some tips to help create a more hospitable environment for curiosity in our lives:

  1. Model Inquisitiveness. Encourage others to curiosity by asking questions—and not just the simple or obvious ones. Ask questions like: What was your favorite part of that [movie/book/meeting]? Why? What part wasn’t what you expected?  What ideas do you have to make it better?
  2. Practice Brainstorming. Especially in a group, create space for everyone’s ideas to be heard without judgment. It takes a lot of trust to think out loud, and the main barrier to doing it is fear of ridicule. 
  3. Emphasize Learning Goals. It is an unfortunate fact that humans learn best through failure. As such, we tend to favor the safe and known ways of doing things with a focus on the results. As the old saying goes, “The journey is more important than the destination.” Help others set goals without a clear journey, even if the destination is outlined well. We need space to try new things and a soft place to land.
  4. Normalize Expanding Interests. Here’s one: Subject Matter Expert. We like having go-to people for specific skillsets, and we tend to ask the same people for the same types of help, because we know they do it. But, what else are our SME’s interested in? Typecasting those around us leads to under-stimulation and can actually fuel burnout. 
  5. Be Attentive to the World Around You. Sometimes, it helps to stand back and look at the big picture and just take it in. Wonder at the ways things move, the chain reactions of causes and their effects, the simple things you may have missed before. Let all those pieces flow in mists of billowing chaos in your mind until something new takes shape. 

Curiosity is important not only because of its ties to innovation but because it is the foundation of competence. A penchant for seeking new experiences, trying new things, and being open to change increases the depth and breadth of what we learn from what we do. 

We are good at being curious on vacation. We stroll through the unfamiliar halls of museums. We browse through little shops off the beaten path. We play dinner roulette on road trips and eat at whatever fun place we are near when we get hungry. But what about in our everyday lives? When was the last time you took a different route to work? How many times a week do you have the same thing for lunch? Above all else, seek out novelty and new challenges to extend and exercise your capacity to explore, to learn, and to live a fuller life. 

Sunday, December 6, 2020

The Good Follower

Personal development programs tend to focus much of their efforts on leadership principles, an important aspect to developing the individual self. Developing a good team, however, relies on fostering the skill of “followership.” It’s straightforward: followership is the ability to take direction and be part of a team to deliver what is expected of the group, department, or area. 

Being labeled an “excellent follower” has been a backhanded compliment signaling an individual’s ineptitude when it comes to leadership potential. Because of this, many modern leaders fear being labeled as a good follower and seek opportunities to assert their dominance. In order to destigmatize the notion of following, this is a skill we need to showcase as leaders. When we practice following others, we are leading by example and showing those around us how to work together for the good of the team instead of the glory of the individuals.

Here are eight qualities of a Good Follower:

  1. Judgment—Followers must learn to take directions, but they have an underlying obligation only to do so when the direction is ethical. We must gain a level of discernment that helps us distinguish between directions we don’t agree with and directions that are wrong.
  2. Work Ethic—Good followers are good workers, diligent and motivated, committed and with good attention to detail. Being a follower means you were trusted to complete a task. Failing to do so, for whatever reason, will hurt your reputation as a leader and break trust with your peers and leaders.
  3. Competence—Followers must know their limits and only agree to complete tasks for which they are competent to perform. Asking for help is a strength, not a weakness.
  4. Honesty—Respect and politeness are important, but it is more important still that the follower also provide open and honest feedback to their leaders. Good leaders are grateful for constructive feedback, and good followers are not afraid to speak the truth as they see it.
  5. Courage—Honesty takes courage. Following someone else takes courage. A good follower faces their fears to fully engage in the work.
  6. Discretion—“Loose lips sink ships” is a favorite saying from WWII. Talking about work inappropriately or to an inappropriate audience undermines the teamwork and reputation of the entire enterprise.
  7. Loyalty—Obligation to the enterprise is essential in a follower, not obligation to an individual leader. It is paramount to the success of the group that each member has their loyalty aligned properly. When our loyalty lies with the enterprise (or the member), it is easier for us to set aside petty differences and focus on what is truly important as the work evolves.
  8. Ego Management—Followers are team players who embrace the fullness of the concept. They have good interpersonal skills. Their performance positively impacts the goal achievement, and their teammates know they are not doing the work for personal recognition or promotion.
  9. Being a Good Follower might feel like placing yourself in the shadow of leadership, but strong followers are essential to success. Without them, our workplace suffers from poor work ethic, bad morale, organizational confusion, and overall poor performance. The most important step to revamping workplace culture is for our leaders to model strong followership as well as strong leadership qualities. 

Vozza, S. (2018). How to be a good follower (and why it’s a skill you need). Career Evolution. 

Thursday, December 3, 2020

The Great Conjunction: December 21, 2020

Science: Conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn

Astrology: The Waves of Change

We’ve been living in a Capricorn world, one that is defined by top-down hierarchies, for a decade now, and this year, on December 21, Saturn and Jupiter will be in alignment at exactly 0 degrees Aquarius. (That probably sounds like a lot of new-agey babel, for those of you who don’t follow astrology, but hear me out.) 

You see, there is a limit to how far a top-down hierarchy can go. At some point, it hits the bottom and then has nowhere else to go. they eventually outlive their purpose. Where we are right now is the place where the Saturn-Capricorn Hierarchy has peaked--at the very bottom of our social structures--and from here, it feels like everything is falling apart. 

Imagine the planets as magnets hurling through the cosmos. The current state of things has us oriented with the positive at the bottom, where the most friction and pressure is, and the negative at the top. As the current model approaches the new model with the negative on the bottom, the forces are pushing against one another, refusing to adhere, repelled apart by their charge. With this alignment, auspiciously occurring on Yule this year, we will flip the Capricorn “magnet,” placing the negative force at the bottom, and everything will snap into place. By the time Winter Solstice has arrived, we will feel the chaos begin to abate. The perspective from the top down becomes more and more narrow as it approaches the bottom. The perspective from the bottom grows wider as it reaches for the stars. Jupiter brings vision, and Saturn brings implementation. And with the power at the bottom, there are no limits to where this may take us. 

As we begin our final preparations for the coming of the Solstice and the true new beginning promised to us this year, let us find within ourselves the ability to flip the magnet. What does restructuring look like for you? For me? I hope it looks like a further breakdown of privilege. I hope it looks like those on the top will create space for those who are coming up behind them. I hope it looks like reparations and accountability for the narrow points-of-view that have caused harm, globally and personally. But most of all, I hope it looks like solidarity, equity, and progress toward a just society. Who knows? From where we are, the only direction we can go is up!