Monday, July 30, 2012

Collaborate through Confusion

My first ever 6 mile run was accomplished today, 2 weeks before my 40th birthday.  It was the most gratifying yet tiring thing I've done in a long time, physically speaking that is.  As I began my run, I felt good.  My goal was set before I started, and I was committed to making it happen.  Through the first 3 miles, I maintained a good pace, monitoring my breathing to make sure that I did not get winded.  The first 3 miles were accomplished, and under the time that I set as my half way point goal. 

Now the time had arrived to begin my journey home.  I could feel the tweak in various muscles in my legs.  My stomach was beginning to cramp a little.  The physical exhaustion allowed doubt to seap into my mind.  Could I reach my goal?  Could I make it up the next hill?  All of these questions and mental moments of doubt created confusion and attempted to deter me from my goal.

In my confusion, I down-shifted my goals from finishing my run to shorter-term goals.  Instead of reaching the mile marker from my Runtastic app, I focused my mind and legs on running to a tangible, attainable and concrete goal on my path, mailboxes, driveways, etc.  I turned up the Creed station on Pandora and demanded of myself to reach my next target. When I reached that target, I briefly patted myself on the back and immediately looked down the path to a new target that I knew was attainable and began the mental process all over again.  Before I knew it, I was turning back into my neighborhood for my final half mile where I celebrated my conquest over my new distance record and for using my confusion and doubt to push myself to a place where I had never been before.

As teams of educators, what do we do when we reach a place we have never been before and begin to experience confusion or doubt.  In most teams, it is where progress or learning stops, but in committed and successful organizations it is where learning begins.  These organizations understand that confusion is the starting point for where learning begins and know that short term goals must be more frequent to overcome confusion and ultimately foster new thinking.

Analyze your Confusion

In order to conquer confusion, you must first analyze your confusion and break it down into smaller understandable parts.  Once your understand the components of your confusion, a definite pattern will emerge which simply stated is the source of your confusion. Here are some guiding questions:
  • What thoughts or uncertainties are prevalent in our confusion?
  • What expectations, initiatives or ideas are unclear or fuzzy?
  • What parts of our work create stress, fear or confusion?
  • Who are the people that add to our confusion and why is that?
  • Are there things being asked of us that we feel that we cannot do?

Set a Target on your Biggest Source of Confusion

Your answers will tell you what the biggest issue is.  The Pareto Principle says that by focusing on 20% of the problems, you can change 80% of the issue.  Select the largest uncertainty that is revealed in your inquiry and commit to learning more about it.  By creating your tangible target (i.e. - the mailbox on your run), you are ready to run.  Also, by setting a target on your most difficult source of confusion, you also are addressing the ancillary sources of confusion

Adapt to your Current Reality

Your journey begins where you currently stand and with the physical and mental condition that your team is in. In order to survive, you must adapt to your environment and part of that means that you must check yourself before you wreck yourself. Revisit your norms and make sure everyone is committed to them.
  • Are You Extremely Stressed about your Confusion? You team must take a mental break to clear minds of the stress before you begin. Sometimes, just a night of rest will be all that you need to begin the journey to overcome your confusion. For others, retail therapy, time with friends or a fun time is necessary.
  • Are You Fatigued? If so, you must realize that the journey you are about to begin will require your team to move at a slower and more comfortable pace to reach your target.  Just because you are tired doesn't mean that you can't make it through the confusion. Throughout the year, we become more fatigued and drained not by the job, but by the fact that it requires so much from us to be successful.  It is ok to move slowly on your path.
  • Are You Thirsty or Hungry? In order to get going, we need to be nourished with positive interaction and support from one another. Encouragement and celebrating how far your team has come thus far feeds the team and you need these nutrients to accomplish your goal. Discuss what you are trying to accomplish and encourage discussion, feedback and encouragement.
  • Do You Need Support on your Journey? There is nothing wrong with inviting colleagues outside of your team to go with you on this journey to conquer your confusion. They may have the same confusion and your collaborative efforts to learn from your confusion will make everyone better.  Also, having guests join you builds trusting relationships.

Time to Begin Learning

Once you have set your goal and identified what your current reality is, you must now begin your journey to learn about your confusion. Sometimes, just making up your mind to learn reinvigorates your soul and that is half the battle.  The other half of the battle is knowing where to go to learn.
  • Ask questions of your fellow colleagues.  Their experience is invaluable and many times they have had the same confusion and conquered it, so they can point you in the right direction.
  • Ask your supervisor for help on your confusion.  Many times, you're confused because they may have communicated in a confusing way. Yes, we leaders cause confusion, but a real leader will clarify and rectify ambiguity if he/she truly wants to help you.
  • Dig Deeper in your Resources  Sometimes we haven't spent enough time learning how our resources should be utilized.  It is important to do our own homework with the tools that we have been given.  Digging deeper synthesizes confusion and generates questions to resolve it.
  • Self-Reflection is a Great Learning Tool.  Reflection helps identify strengths and weaknesses and combined with information gathered from the sources listed above can yield the  energy needed to move your team ever so quickly towards your target.

Remove Distractors from your Path

In my learning, I have to set up filters so that I have the necessary energy and focus to move towards my target.  If I am truly committed to turning my confusion into learning, I have to remove all the garbage from my mind, and only allow thoughts and ideas that will support and sustain me in reaching my goal.
  • Negative Thoughts must be Countered with Positive Thoughts.  Focus your mind on the fact that your team will (not can) overcome your confusion.  Don't argue with negative thoughts.  Instead turn your mind to your commitment with positive self talk.
  • Park your Tangent Thoughts - With my random thinking, I can chase a lot a rabbits while I am running. These rabbits can get me off the path or actually have me running towards a new target.  I have to remind myself regularly that while a new thought may be good, it may not necessarily be aligned with reaching my goal.  These thoughts must go to the parking lot in my mind.  If it is a good idea, it will be there after I reach my goal.
  • Ignore Distracting People  - Teams stop running toward their target, because they allow everyone to distract them.  Yes, you have to interact with people, but you don't have to allow their actions and words to deter your efforts.  Negative interactions with people are the most distracting of all, as their negativity can make you forget all about reaching your goal. 
  • Don't Compare Your Team to Others - This isn't about being the best or the most perfect team.  It's about your team becoming stronger.  Your team is an original, so it is futile and a huge distractor when you try to compare yourself to others. Your goal is not to be THE best but to be YOUR best.

Celebrate your Confusion Conquest

If you have followed these tips to eradicating confusion, your team will accomplish your goal.  Once you eliminate your confusion, the team has proven that collectively you have the determination and self-discipline to persevere.  This should yield the self-confidence to know that you can overcome confusion each and every time that it knocks on your door.  More importantly, you have also improved upon your team's knowledge and for that, you must celebrate.  How can you celebrate?
  • Share with experience with your colleagues,
  • Write about your experience through a blog,
  • Identify the same confusion in other teams and offer to help them with your successful experience,
  • Encourage other teams that they can overcome their confusion because your team did.
In this difficult world that we live in, confusion is a daily and natural part of our lives.  If we truly want to be the best for kids, we must be the best that we can be. The only way that we will ever our best is if we are self-actualized enough to acknowledge our own confusion and make a commitment to learn from it.  Then and only then will we be prepared to win the race.

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