The Exec Q&A communication Jedi progression

Most folks respond to questions from an executive or folks who’ve got a higher ratio of impactful things to do/time than we do in the course of their work week. Handling Q&A, verbal or written, is a skill and I’ve become mindful of the following progression as I work on my own abilities to do so. Each stage builds on the other.

(1) Padawan learner: We are prompt. We answer questions promptly but tend to bury the answer in a blur of detail in our attempts to be complete.

(2) Jedi Knight: We deliver clarity over completeness. We answer the question first and provide just the amount of extra detail required for clarity.

(3) Jedi Master: We anticipate follow up questions. By putting ourselves in the shoes of the asker, our extra detail minimizes follow up questions and back-and-forth.

(4) Jedi Council: We see and answer the question behind the question. Awareness is the gift of competence and, at this level, we go beyond the question to the interests of the asker and, thus, to the question behind the question.

(5) Grandmaster: We become the one asking the questions. :-)

While this post has been focused on responding to executives/folks busier than us, I’ve come to appreciate the value this skill adds in life. Learning to listen for the interests of the asker, answer the question behind the question, and do so with clarity over completeness are very useful skills – both at work and at home.

Fast risks and slow risks

Albert Wenger, a venture capitalist and all around wonderful person, had a great post about fast risks and slow risks.

“People worry about many risks, but generally about the wrong ones. We tend to be obsessed with personal and societal risk that is “fast.” What will the Fed Reserve announce next? Should I trust Tesla’s auto steering? These are risks where outcomes are realized quickly. That’s why I call them fast risks. As it turns out though some of the biggest risks today are slow. Outcomes will not be realized for decades or longer. The impact of nutrition and exercise on health is an example of a slow risk. The mother of all slow risks is climate change.” 

I hadn’t thought of risks this way and now see this fast risk-slow risk dichotomy everywhere. It is fascinating to think of fast and slow risks from the perspective of our careers. Fast risks are the next big presentation, evaluation, interview or promotion cycle. But, a slow risk on the other hand is any deceleration of our rate of learning.

Albert goes on to observe – “I continue to be amazed by how much fear and anxiety people are experiencing daily based on fast risk. Will I get a good grade on my exam? Will this investment succeed or fail? These risks completely pale compared to the climate change risk of global upheaval of life as we know it, with the potential for tens of millions of human deaths.”

Powerful observation. It begs the question – how can we do a better job putting fast risks in perspective and ensure we’re working toward a better response to that “mother of all slow risks” – climate change?

Doing things poorly

“Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.”

This resonated. It is a nice reminder to not let the desire to be good get in the way of the desire to become good.

In the long run, becoming > being.

Ravana and the Khettarama stadium

The Ramayana is an ancient Indian epic poem about a prince called Rama (the hero) who sets out to Lanka/ancient day Sri Lanka to conquer Ravana (the villain portrayed as a “demon king”) and rescue his wife.

We were in the midst of a chapter detailing a small story from the Ramayana in our 6th grade when our Sanskrit teacher stopped for a moment to tell us about the “Khettarama stadium.” Cricket matches between India and Sri Lanka were common fare growing up and these were often played in the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo. And, it turns out the founding name of the stadium was “Khettarama” or “Bad Rama.”

He went on to explain that the version of Ramayana we were told was not the only version. In Sri Lanka, Ravana was famous for his wisdom and valour and wasn’t portrayed as a “demon king.” There were versions in which Rama was the bad guy – a fact that blew our minds back then. :-)

It’s been close to two decades since I heard this story and, yet, I think about it time to time as I reflect on the many stories we’re told that are just versions from one point of view. There are often two or more sides to every story and there’s a lot of wisdom in listening to both/all sides before we rush to judgments.

Understanding triggers

A recent challenge I’ve been grappling with is understanding and then responding to our 2 year olds “triggers.” I define a trigger as a condition that results in an emotional outburst/completely irrational behavior.

Hunger is her most sensitive trigger – not rocket science in itself. But, I’ve come to realize that the part I find most challenging is that it goes from zero to one. As a result, I’ve been guilty of reacting to that emotional outburst with my own emotional outburst.

Needless to say, that doesn’t work out well. :-)

Observing myself in my attempts to respond and not react to her triggers has resulted in two takeaways. First, I do better when I’ve gotten sleep. And, second, I need to have better awareness of my own triggers if I intend to help her deal with hers.

Replacing reactions with responses is hard to do consistently. I’m hoping to make the most of these opportunities to get better – both as a parent and as a person.

Remembering Arthur Ashe

There are a few classic ALearningaDay stories that I share every 1-2 years as part of my attempts to internalize them. One of these is from tennis legend Arthur Ashe – the only black man to ever win the Wimbledon, US Open, and Australian Open.

He contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion he received when he was in surgery and once received a letter from a fan asking why, of all people, was he chosen to have AIDS?

To which, he replied – “The world over – 50,000,000 children start playing tennis, 5,000,000 learn to play tennis, 500,000 learn professional tennis, 50,000 come to the circuit, 5,000 reach the grand slams, 50 reach the Wimbledon, 4 make the semi finals and 2 make the finals. When I was the one holding the cup, I never asked god “Why me?”

Arthur Ashe taught us that if we’re not asking “why me” when things are going well, it isn’t fair to ask “why me” when things are not.

One of the most profound reminders I’ve gotten to keep perspective and to keep plugging away..

Managers and people who solve problems

We spent time with Dan Pink, the author of a collection of great books, a couple months ago and the conversation veered to managing managers.

He remarked that he believed that as managers (and everyone is and has a manager in some aspect of their life), we segment folks we work with into two types of people –  people who solve problems and people who create problems.

He gave the example of his search for an architect. His eventual choice was someone who he believed would solve problems than they created.

And, thus, his advice was to be the kind of person who solves problems for our own managers.

I’ve reflected on that discussion a few times in the past months on the areas where I solve problems and create problems for folks around me. It has also helped me appreciate the fantastic job some folks I know do in this regard.

Simple advice. Good advice.