✅ Three tips I have for you to stay more focused on BEING.
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Katie Anderson: So, you know when you have one of those moments where you hear something and it strikes you as so profound in its simplicity and truth that it’s this aha that’s going to forever impact the way you think and act. Well, I had one of those moments recently when I was in Japan when a stage leader did just that with one simple phrase. Will it also inspire you to embrace a new way to think about your leadership? Welcome to chain of Learning, where the links of leadership and learning unite. This is your connection for actionable strategies and practices to empower you to build a people centered learning culture, get results and expand your impact so that you and your team can leave a lasting legacy.
I’m your host, Katie Anderson. Don’t focus on how to do, but rather on how to be. This was a simple answer to a question, and yet it inspired me. It reaffirmed my belief about the essence of leadership and it highlights what we often get wrong in our approach in leading organizational culture change or operational excellence transformations, or of how we actually get results in organizations. We focus on the doing rather than the being.
I want to say this again, don’t focus on how to do, but rather on how to be. What a powerful concept. And in this episode, I’ll help you understand what a big impact it can have on you, your team and your organization. If you can flip from a focus on doing to a focus on being in this episode, I want to unpack this for you and explore first, what does it mean to be versus do for you as a leader or continuous improvement practitioner? Two, why is it so hard for us to focus on being versus doing?
And three, three tips that I have for you to stay more focused on who to be and how to be. But first, let me give you a bit of context about how I heard this comment. So in addition to the organizational consulting, leadership coaching and keynote speaking that I do, one of the other ways that I help leaders learn how to create continuous improvement cultures are on my week- long immersive Japan study trips. Japan is the birthplace of Kaizen, or continuous improvement, and of Toyota, which is the model so many companies around the world try to emulate when creating that culture. For those of you who don’t know me, I lived in Japan for nearly two years in the mid two thousand and tens and during that time I developed deep relationships and connections with Japanese business leaders, including Isao Yoshino, a 40 year Toyota executive and the subject of my book, Learning to lead leading to learn, plus many other inspirational leaders who now welcome me and my groups of leaders into their companies on my Japan study trips. The focus of these tours is on leadership and how to build engaged learning cultures, and much less on the technical aspects of process improvement. Leaders come around the world to join me on these programs because they want to learn how to move from a doing organization focused on projects and tools to a learning organization where learning and continuous improvement is a part of every day. One of these companies that we visit is quite a trek away from the metropolitan areas of Nagoya and Tokyo, where we start and end the program, but it’s well worth the three hour bus journey to get there in the foothills of the Japanese Alps. It is one of the most impactful and inspiring companies that I’ve been to and is a cornerstone of my tours.
The founder and chairman of this company is considered by Toyota executives and other Japanese business leaders to be their sensei or teacher, and this company considers its purpose to be happiness. And that purpose, that purpose of happiness, is felt across the entire organization. It’s palpable. So recently we met with the Chairman’s son, who is now the managing director of the company, for a discussion and then a tour of the company facilities. And many of the questions that my trip participants asked were about how the company maintains constancy of purpose through generational leadership change and how the company continues to grow and innovate with new products, even through hard times such as the pandemic and other economic downturns.
He explained that it’s so easy as leaders to get focused on doing all the urgent things that are right in front of you, but that leaders need to be more focused on the essence of their purpose and their company’s purpose and the impact they want to have in the longer term. And then he said this one phrase that struck me and everyone else in the room, don’t focus on how to do, but rather on how to be. Wow. Focus more on being than on doing. This is the way to achieve longer term success and impact.
This was so profound in its simplicity that it became the theme of the rest of our program. This quote actually became our rallying cry, and it served as the crux of the challenge that my trip participants explored of what they were going to do when they came back from the learning trip and went back to their home countries and organizations about how they were going to move beyond the tools of continuous improvement, of implementing projects and all the doing that was happening in their organization. We explored questions like how will they focus on more being and not get caught back up in their culture of doing? How will they help team members focus more on being and to show up each and every day to create the conditions for learning. And how will they get their executives to understand that being is the way to motivate the doing to accomplish company goals?
This phrase not only became that rallying cry of my Japan study trip group, it has been reverberating in my head so much the past weeks that I was inspired to focus this episode for you on this concept of being versus doing. It’s so essential to the shift you need to make if you want to create a real culture of engagement and learning. And yes, to get the results. So what does being versus doing look like for you? I work with so many continuous improvement professionals and operational leaders who struggle with the balance between doing and being as they strive to achieve needed business outcomes while developing people at the same time.
Let me give you a few examples. So first, just recently I was facilitating a discussion with a group of operational excellence practitioners at one of my client companies as part of a customized group learning program over multimonts, and they were feeling really stuck. So under pressure to implement a manufacturing operational process improvement initiative across multiple sites in multiple countries, they were relying on their technical expertise and knowledge to get it done. Yet many of them were coming across roadblocks and resistance from local operators for the changes. And they personally were talking about how they were struggling to understand how they could get the results that they know they needed and that they had been assigned to achieve, but also ensure that the process was sustainable when they left.
So over a few conversations, we spent time uncovering how their purpose as a continuous improvement change leader was not just to do the improvement, but also to be to help people learn how to improve their work and how to engage them in the process. By asking questions and listening, rather than just implementing the technical side to get the task done and move on. This is how they would really create the outcomes that they wanted and needed to deliver on, and it connected more with the reasons they came into this work in the first place. Does this resonate with your experience of leading continuous improvement projects or other initiatives about how to not just focus on the technical side in the doing, but how do we bring people along on that journey? And how do we be there as teachers, guides and coaches to help them learn how to improve their work?
So a second story I want to share is about another senior transformational leader that I’ve worked with for years. He’s actually been on my study trip to Japan, and I’ve led a lot of workshops and coaching groups for his organization, and this is a super smart, deeply passionate and caring, operational, transformational leader. And he’s always been deeply connected with an internal desire to help people learn and contribute to problem solving. But he found that he too was getting stuck in the doing. He was finding himself jumping in to tell people what to do or give them his ideas and answers to keep moving the work forward or contributing his ideas of how to make the work or their work better.
Have you experienced this challenge? But after working together, he started to get clarity of his purpose as a leader and as a transformational change agent in his company. So that purpose is really what I call leading to learn. It’s about, first, setting the direction for his team, the high level goals that they need to achieve, and then two, how to provide the support to them so that they can work on achieving those goals that have been set out. And then third, of course, to develop himself.
And that’s what I was helping him with. And these are these leading to learn concepts that I explore in my book, Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn and through our work together and his practice as well, he really realized that if he stayed connected to who he wanted to be and his desired impact on his team, to help them learn and grow and achieve those goals, he actually stayed better at asking questions about seeking their input, about giving them space to experiment and learn, instead of always to have everything done right now. So with attention and intention, he was better able to balance showing up in a way that more aligns with who he wants to be and the impact that he wants to have. And his team started to get more and better results. People actually started coming up to him and saying, what are you doing with your team?
He said, it’s like he has this leadership superpower now, and it’s so simple. He really stays more focused on the how to be so that his team can focus on the how to do so.
Another example is actually of Toyota leader Isao Yoshino, who after decades of working at Toyota and really spending time teaching and embodying this whole spirit of how are you being as a leader? He deeply knew what this was and why it was so important. Even he got caught in the trap of doing so.
In one of the stories and experiences that I share in learning to lead, leading to learn, I talk about this towards the end of his career, sort of about, I guess, probably 30 years into his tenure at Toyota, he was leading a new business venture and under all the pressure to get the work done and all of the pressure that he was feeling about things sort of going sideways and all the challenges that they were having and this new culture that he was working in of people who didn’t already really deeply know the continuous improvement mindset of Toyota. He stopped focusing on everything that he’d learned from his previous three decades at Toyota about how to be as a leader that supports learning. He even admits in reflection, and we talk about this in the book, that he realizes that he did not take the time to share the reasons behind strategic goals with his team or engage his team members in the development of the plans of how to reach those goals. He was just sitting in his office and working on the project plan and sending it off to the headquarters to get it done because it felt quicker and easier in the moment. But as we talk about in the book, he ultimately realized that by not taking the time to be, not taking the time to talk with his team to explain the challenges and to seek their input, they end up actually losing time and had to do rework because the team members in the organization wasn’t aligned and the people really didn’t understand the meaning and reason behind what they were being asked to do.
And when I interviewed him for the book, he was really lamenting how he had got so focused on the doing that he had lost sight of how he wanted to be as a leader. Okay, so now we’ve explored sort of some of the challenges being versus doing can look like for you as a leader, as a continuous improvement professional, and as a human being. So why is it so hard for us to focus more on how to be and to get over our concept of how we’re focusing on how to do? How can we really embrace this concept of being while still making progress on what we need to be doing? There are three main reasons that I observed why it is so hard for us.
No matter the country, the industry, the size of the company, whatever, there are consistent challenges we have to overcome. Just like in the examples above, in this tension we have between doing and being? So the first challenge is that we are in a results outcomes oriented and action driven culture. Goal setting and figuring out how to achieve results is leadership 101. We are rewarded for winning, achieving, having the answer.
This happens even early for us in school as we, you know, whoever can put their hand up first or get the right answer in school. And as we become early in our careers, as early independent contributors, we are rewarded for this. And in our busy, results driven world, we often get more focused on the doing and the achievements, the goals, the answer, the outcomes that it’s easy to lose sight of how we can show up also to nurture other people’s ideas and capabilities as a way to achieve those results. So the second challenge that we have too is we don’t feel like we have time. We are in a constant state of urgency and firefighting in our companies with so many quote unquote priorities and crises, or what we perceive are crises.
We are overburdened and we don’t have the time, or we don’t feel like we have the time to give space for thinking, asking questions, going to see and checking in with people. But does everything really need to be solved right now? Is everything really a priority? And we need to get out of this feeling of we don’t have time in this constant state of urgency and doing, doing. And the third challenge is that personally we might be high achievers who like to do the doing.
We are used to being the expert with the answer, or we’re focused on our personal goals of what we want to accomplish. It’s personally rewarding, and we’re often promoted for our success as individual contributors or technical experts. But this can be limiting, and especially if we are interacting with other people, if our focus is always on what we want to accomplish rather than the impact of what we want to create in others and help them accomplish as well. And these are all challenges, and particularly this last one for me, as a high achiever, I love to set big goals, such as starting this podcast or always have something new that I’m trying to achieve and do. And I have to work really hard to not let my goals and projects get in the way of me showing up and being how I want to for those in my life.
And this includes not just being at work, but also how am I being at home, as a mom, as a partner, as a friend? And am I getting all of these other things in the way for showing up, for the impact that I really want to make, both personally and professionally? So we can get stuck in this trap of doing, on focusing on achievement and results, or feeling like we don’t have time and lose sight of being, of nurturing, of cultivating conditions for learning and development and growth. So where is the happy balance between doing and being? We need both.
We need both being and doing. So it’s by showing up very intentionally to create conditions where people are happy, where they’re engaged and supported, where they have opportunity to contribute their ideas, so that we can harness the collective thinking of a company’s people to actually get more done, focus more on how to be and less on how to do and the results will follow. So how can you do this? If you want to know how to be, you first need to figure out who you want to be. I have three tips to help you connect with both who to be and how to be.
So the first tip that I have for you to connect with this concept of being is to connect in with yourself and draw. One of the best ways that I’ve learned to really understand who we want to be and the impact we want to have is to draw. I learned this practice from my friend and coaching partner, Karen Ross years ago, and it’s become an essential part of how I work with individual leaders and leadership teams. I’ve done this drawing exercise with thousands of leaders in their teams, from in person leadership retreats to online workshops. In fact, at the time of this recording, I have done several of these recently, and it’s so engaging and energizing.
So typically at work, we do introductions with our name or our title or our role. Our interactions might focus around what we need to do to achieve results. So when I’m starting to work with leadership teams, I ask them, just like I’m going to encourage you to do right now, to pull out a blank piece of paper and some pens and start drawing. What’s important to you? Who are you?
What is your purpose? Not just at work, but in your life. So draw who you are, what your purpose is, what’s important to you. And at first, many people get really stuck and like, oh, my God, what am I going to draw? Like, no words.
What is this? Sometimes people are looking around at each other, but once you start putting pen to paper, it’s amazing to see what comes out of it. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a stick figure drawing drawings say so much. So your drawing could be stick figures, it could be clip art. It could be an amazing sketch.
Maybe you’re an artist. It doesn’t matter. The point is to get out what’s inside of you, of what’s the most important to you. And so when I do this with leadership teams, either on a remote Zoom call or if we’re in person together, we go around the room and people share their drawing and describe it to each other. And when we’re in a large room together, like I just did recently, it’s almost like the speed dating and the energy that emerges when people talk about how they understand their purpose and what’s important to them and who they are and want to be.
It’s contagious. We connect with the heart and learn so much more about the people around us. And this happens on Zoom calls, too. There are common elements when people draw what’s important to them or who they want to be and how they want to interact with each other. Common elements about community, family, or team, about helping others improve and grow, about making the world a better place, and maybe some sort of special activity or something else that brings them joy and connection in their life.
It’s this sense of this connection and this getting better that’s just so common to us as human beings. And when we can draw and share our purpose, what is most important to us, it re-humanizes us at work as well. And it can help rehumanize our teams and companies and really ground us in a shared humanity. And then it also connects us then to focus more on that being so that we can better work together to the doing for working on shared goals or outcomes that we’re pursuing. So start with our human connection.
So right now or later today, when you have your hands free, I want you to get out a blank piece of paper and some pens and think about what’s most important to you, who you are and what your purpose is, and start to draw. And really, don’t worry what your drawing looks like. My drawing is full of stick figures, and yet it can say so much. So get your drawing down, and then go share your drawing with someone, your partner, a colleague, a friend. And when you explain the pictures, you’ll discover that you’re learning even more.
And then you can refine from there as you get more clear and iterate on really, what is this essence of who you are and your purpose? So I’ve done my own drawing so many times over the last years, and it started off really messy with a ton of little figures and maybe some words, which I actually encourage you not to put, but you got to get started with somewhere. But through iteration, I’ve really distilled my drawing down to the essence. And I’ll put the picture of my drawing from a recent leadership event that I had of me showing it around to other people for you on the podcast episode web page. So you can see that, and that Link will be in the show notes.
But I have come to understand that my purpose, the essence of who I am, is to connect the hearts and minds of people around the globe to make the world a better place. And my drawing is just a simple drawing of a globe with little stick figures around it, connected with hearts and minds, with a little heart, over the San Francisco Bay Area. Because home is where the heart is. So go to my website, kBjanderson.com, or this episode website, chainoflearning.com and you can see the links in the show notes to see my picture. So go out and get a piece of paper and start drawing.
Get clarity on who you want to be and what’s most important to the essence of who you are. And then take this exercise and do it with your team members. Sometime later this week or next week, I bet you’ll learn something new about the people you work with and feel more connected to them as people, and then start to do it across the organization. Restart the conversation of who we are, not just with our name and our role, but really who each of us are and want to be. How could this result in a shift in your organizational culture from one not just of doing, but to one of more being, connection, and learning?
So start on that human level and start bringing the focus back on being, not just doing. Okay, there’s a second tip that I have for you, and this one’s really short and simple and has been transformative to how I have been more effective in getting better at showing up to be the person I want to be. And I call this taking an intention pause. Just take a pause to reconnect with who you want to be and the actions you need to take to really align with that and fulfill that purpose and that intention that you have. This can happen.
We’re moving from meeting to meeting, and it’s easy to get reactive or when we’re starting to feel like we’re under the pressure and we don’t have that time and we’re getting sucked into that sense of urgency. Just taking a few seconds, 10 seconds, 15 seconds to say, okay, in this upcoming interaction, what is my purpose? Who do I want to be? What’s the impact I want to have? And then what am I really going to do and how am I going to show up to really have that impact?
We start being more proactive and less reactive, and there are other ways that we can connect with ourselves and who we want to be. Could be going for a walk or doing something that really grounds you in that real sense of purpose. Taking intention pause is so critical for me, too. When I’m shifting into my home life, I get so focused on all the things I need to want to do for my business that sometimes it’s hard for me to mentally shift to now, okay, now I have a few hours with my kids in the evening. I need to put that aside because I want to be a present parent.
I want to be a mom and a good partner as well. And so even though the urgency of work deadlines and other projects like this podcast beckon me, I don’t want that to be clouding how I’m showing up. So again, taking that intention pause really allows me a moment to put that aside and then be present in the way that I want to be. So we can use this in many different ways throughout our day, at work and at home. Take an intention pause and slow down and reconnect with who you want to be.
And then the third tip is to start paying attention to how you are actually being. How are you acting? Are you focusing more on being versus doing? How are your habits? Are they really aligned with the person you want to be in any one moment?
And another way to really help uncover this for yourself is not just through reflection, but engaging with a coach, someone like me or a colleague or a friend who can really help you see your habits and help you think through what adjustments you need to make to ensure that your actions are really aligned with who you want to be and how to balance all those things that you need to do. I have found coaches so incredibly impactful for helping me better show up intentionally to balance my drive to do with what in my heart I want to be. Don’t focus on how to do, but rather how to be. This is my new mantra about the shift in focus we all need to make to make the impact we really want. So in this episode, we uncovered first what being versus doing looks like.
Two, the reasons we find it so hard to stay in being, and then these three tips from me for how you can get more focused on both who to be and how to be doing the drawing, taking the intention pause and paying attention to how you’re showing up either through reflection or working with a coach. Focusing on being as a way to achieve more doing is the foundation of how to build a people centered learning culture where results happen as an outcome of focusing on people and learning. This is the essence of the work that I do with leaders in my trusted Advisor program and is the cornerstone of how I help executives and continuous improvement practitioners in my learning programs and group coaching groups and of course is the foundation of learning on my executive Japan study trips. Learning to balance Being and doing is what will lead to the impact you want and the legacy you want to leave. It is by being that we create a strong chain of learning across our organization and in that strength connected together, we can do and achieve so much more.
As you know, reflection is the first step in learning and it is the first step in exploring this concept of being versus doing. So I want you to reflect on what you’re taking away from this episode and from the process of drawing, taking out a piece of paper and drawing who you want to be and your purpose. And I want you to post your drawing and your reflections on LinkedIn and tag me and share what you have learned about yourself, your team and your organization through doing this exercise. I also invite you to join me on the learning experience of a lifetime in Japan on one of my upcoming Japan study trips. Over 100 leaders from over a dozen countries have joined me for an immersive week of learning culture, delicious food and connections that have forever impacted how they are leading change in their companies.
When you come to Japan with me, you get a curated, insider, exclusive access to diverse companies and unique cultural experience that will revitalize your energy and deepen your knowledge of what it takes to create a successful culture of continuous improvement, innovation and engagement. Our focus is on people, culture and leadership, and each cohort is limited in enrollment to maximize learning experience and discussions. Each program sells out far in advance, so don’t hesitate. If this has been on your leadership bucket list, you can learn more about the program and submit your application for an upcoming tour on my website, kbjanderson.com japantrip. The link is also in the show notes.
So as we end this episode, remember, don’t focus on how to do, but rather on how to be. Be sure to follow and subscribe now and share this podcast with your friends and colleagues so we can all strengthen our chain of learning together. Thanks for being in my chain of learning today. I’ll see you next time.
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