Monday, December 16, 2019

"Leading Groups to Solutions" Book Review

Facilitation in Leadership: Leading Groups to Solutions, a book review


    I was given this book to read by a mentor shortly after he discovered that I actually like reading and further my wisdom and understanding of leadership principles.  One day he tossed me this book as well as a couple of loose pages that he printed out on various topics related to leadership.  He instructed me to share the pages but return the book.  He challenged me to return the book sooner than two months, jokingly.  Unfortunately, it took me about one of those two months to get through it, and as it concluded this morning, I felt that the appropriate time to review it would be right away.

    “Leading Groups to Solutions”, is a book generally about leadership as it relates to team building.  I immediately liked this notion because it is right up my alley.  It is easy to read with relatively large print for non-fiction and has a relatively short length at 169 pages.  It is written in a way that is easily understood with many take-away portions and wrap ups with bullet points to outline the primary material.

    I am an affiliate marketer of audible and audible products.  I do receive a small commission on sales and accounts generated through audible if you access the website through one of my links.  It seems that this book is not on audible, however, another great book from this author is.  Steven J. Stowell, PH.D. is also the author of a book titled "The Art of Strategic Leadership".  I do a lot of travelling and I don't always like to listen to music or talk on the phone during my commutes.  I love the fact that a good book can pack decades of learning and experience into just a few hours of reading and I recommend using audible to help.  Not only do I really believe in this product, it has had a profoundly positive impact on my life and others.

Diving In

    I took off reading this book relatively fast because of the way it is formatted.  I initially thought it would be a quick and easy read.  I typically stay away from these because I tend to breeze through them and then spend a lot of time recalling what it was that I read a week later.  Despite the ease of the read, I found that I didn’t want to rush it and that I would rather read a small portion before taking a good amount of time to reflect on what it was that I read.  I often found myself taking situations from the book and directly applying them to what I had experienced during group leadership and group meetings within my organization.

    The book is divided into two larger sections.  The first section is directly related to facilitating, in fact, the meat of this book revolves around the facilitator and how to best facilitate.  The last half of the book consists of small chapters that focus on specific techniques and situations that you may use or encounter while being the facilitator of a group.  There are sections at the back of each chapter that outline the material as well as a short summary for content in the chapter that a team-member should take away if they are not able to facilitate.  I found this part exceptionally helpful as while I find myself in the role of facilitator a lot, I also find myself in meetings where I am a team player and not in a facilitator role at all.

Writings on Facilitation

    When I read the title of the book, I had assumed that I would be reading a lot of repetitive team building strategies that most non-fiction group solutions books try to produce.  I was happily surprised when the authors took a direct approach and identified one area to focus on.  I was enlightened by the end of the book at just how much someone in a leadership role encounters situations where they act as a facilitator.  I count it a success when I am reading a book and then during my daily routine, I recall something that I read in that book and then apply it to my life.  This happened countless times during reading “Leading Groups to Solutions”, and I am willing to bet that it will continue to happen for some time.

    The authors take a good portion of the book to write on topics related to facilitation such as engagement, clarification, sustenance, and action.  I was a bit put off by how they seemed to always use a formal meeting setting in which to describe how facilitation takes place.  I don’t believe that we should make the mistake of assuming this book is only for that formal type of professional meeting.  I believe that we can take a lot of lessons out of here for ground level team-based leadership and apply them across the board, regardless of whether or not we are the primary leader or an ordinary team member.

Wrapping Up

    The latter half of the book takes us through various strategies to use when addressing groups, once again, from the leadership position or as a team member.  It does a good job of walking through step by step the process from the beginning to the consensus.  There is a lot of problem solving included during the latter half of the book.  I like this because it provides us with a lot of if, then information that we can add to our list of tools to use in various situations.  Once again I felt that it provided this information on the contextual basis that it is being used in a formal meeting room, however, it is really easy to see how to apply it on a production floor.

    I’m not sure that I liked the idea of gearing the entire book titled “Leading Groups to Solutions” towards delivering the chronological events of a formal meeting and various strategies and problem solving techniques you may use to make sure you reach a productive consensus, however, if that is what you are going for than I highly recommend this book to you.  If you are looking for a book for general team building with no specifics involved, then you may find your time better spent elsewhere.  I don’t believe that I can walk away from this without strongly emphasizing that even though the book seems to be written for that formal meeting situation, that it is clear how it can be practically applied to a variety of situations including production floor, family dinner table, and sports or recreation.

In Conclusion

I believe that a specific quote from this text does a really good job of defining it, “Most of all, our best hope for leaders and facilitators of teams is that you’ll discover in real and specific ways a grand truth: together we are better than the sum of everyone individually.” (Steven J. Stowell, 2002)  I believe this book has a lot of teachable information delivered in very small packages of words.  In spite of some of my dislikes of this book, I did thoroughly enjoy reading it, and I hope to thoroughly enjoy its continuous application in my professional life.


Steven J. Stowell, P. S. (2002). Leading Groups to Solutions. In P. Steven J. Stowell, Leading Groups to Solutions (p. 169). Salt Lake City: CMOE Press.

Monday, December 9, 2019

5 Ways to Continue Learning in Leadership

5 Ways to Continue Learning in Leadership

Why Learning is Important as a Leader

    In leadership often the key to our success is our ability to learn, adapt, and apply.  We must be able to learn new information and drive change by disseminating that information.  Being able to do the latter is a bit useless without the former.  A foundational skill that leaders must master is learning, and believe it or not, it is often trickier than it sounds.

    It is kind of silly that in our public-school system we devote a lot of time and resources on learning very specific topics, however, very little time and resources teaching students how to learn.  We encounter several situations where individuals struggle with learning and as a society, we are quick to label them as having a learning disability, when in all reality the case too often is that the individual has never been taught how to learn.

    I believe that with enough time, effort, and self-understanding that anyone can learn anything.  I don’t believe there are learning constraints that prevent certain individuals from learning certain topics.  I would encourage every individual to discover how they learn best and how to apply various techniques to improve their ability to learn.  I would strongly suggest that individuals interested in leadership take a much more aggressive stance at understanding how they learn best to maximize their chances of success as a leader.  A leader who is able to learn any topic before adapting and applying it to their specific situation or organization is unparalleled by an individual who is trapped within a set of learning constraints.


What I mean when I say “Learn how to Learn”

    When an individual who understands how they learn best is introduced to new material that may be foreign to them, they begin a set of practices that includes determining whether they should learn this new material or whether they should discard it as unnecessary for them to learn.  If they determine that they want to learn it, they actively use techniques that they know will allow them to absorb and retain information.  When an individual engages learning in this manner, it could be said that they know how to learn.

    Understanding how our body and brain learns best is a skill that can be acquired.  This may seem like an oxymoron, because if we innately knew how to learn, then we would just learn how to learn, right?  If we didn’t than we never would.  It may be confusing if you look too deeply into it, but I suggest that we think about it more broadly.  Like many things, some people naturally take to them.  It seems common-sensical to some people that if they wanted to pick something up that they knew nothing about that they would focus on that topic, use their inner dialogue to talk to themselves about it, take notes on it, and immerse their lives in and around it.

    When I say, “Learn how to Learn”, I am talking about acquiring an inner self confidence that one can learn and apply any topic to ones life or organization regardless of the complexity of the topic or the public opinion regarding how “difficult” the topic is.  While attending college I remember of the horror stories of learning calculus, and how it was a deal breaker for many college students trying to obtain a degree.  Often times, many students would change their majors to an “easier” one that did not require this course, when in reality, the approach required to learn this topic is much like the approach required to learn any topic.

    Let’s explore some techniques in learning how to learn, as well as techniques for the actual learning itself.

1. Recognize that learning is a skill

    The key word here is self-confidence.  We need to studying learning as a topic and identify it as an actual skill that we can possess much like tying a shoe.  Once you learn how to tie a shoe, you don’t worry about whether you will be able to tie a different shoe.  When you stumble upon a different pair of shoes to tie, you approach it in the same way to tie the very first shoestring that you encountered.  We need to look at learning exactly like this.

   This involves identifying some techniques that mesh well with our mind, and then when challenged with retaining new information, begin applying them until an adequate amount of information on the topic has been retained.  Once we have adopted this way of thinking about learning, we are empowered to desire to learn things that we would have previously dismissed as un-learnable.  Also key here is simply the realization that retention of information is just that, and successfully mastering this step has to do with perception more than practice.  If we allow a small paradigm shift here in order to view learning a bit differently then we will have already begun the transformation.

    This applies directly to leadership because often we are challenged to learn things that may not particularly interest us, or that would otherwise seem too tall of a task.  As leaders we will encounter many situations where we are tasked to learn something new and then regurgitate this information to others.  We do not want to be the leaders that are the last to learn a new topic, after all, that would aggravate the very definition of leadership.

2. Taking Notes

    It is no coincidence that some of the best learners are also the best note takers.  It is widely accepted that taking hand-written notes is a highly effective way to retain information.  I feel that it is almost a negative stigma to be “that person with a notebook” in a non-classroom environment.  The truth is, if you want to be prepared to learn anything on short notice, you would be wise to carry around a notebook and a pen.

    The benefits of taking hand-written notes are multiple.  Just by having recorded something down for later review is a benefit.  I would also count the slow inner dialogue that happens when we write something down as a direct benefit due to the familiarity we gain by consciously talking to ourselves regarding the information that we are recording.  I also believe that something magical happens when we craft the wording for our notes that doesn’t necessarily happen when we just unconsciously copy something down.  I was given the opportunity to attend a broadcast by Jim Kwik, who is a trainer of learning and speed reading.  Mr. Kwik advises that we should take notes directly by copying them down, and then take our own notes of our notes where we further explore what we recorded to ourselves.  You can find more information from Mr. Jim Kwik below as well as some books related to the topic.

    Just about everywhere I go I will have some sort of media to record information.  Not only is this beneficial to learning new things, but we often overlook retaining information about meetings, people, and events.  We can use the power of retention and note-taking to maximize our effectiveness as leaders by using this technique in various situations for reinforcing retention of various things.

3. Consistent Exposure

    I believe in consistent exposure to media that we wish to learn.  I believe that if we want a more thorough understanding of a topic, then we should seek to immerse ourselves in that topic in as many ways as possible.  I spend a lot of my time on the road commuting to and from work, and I do not like to think that I just waste this time in travel.  Aside from time reflecting and listening to current news, I listen to a lot of books on Audible.  Audible has a wonderful credits program where you are able to purchase books for bargain prices as well as a wonderful software implemented to read these books to you.

Jim Kwik also said that the benefits to having a book is that an author is able to condense ten years of experience into a few hours of reading.  If our goal is to compound the information that we have as individuals, we should be spending a lot of our time learning the amassed information of others.  For this reason, I recommend books as a source of information on just about any topic that exists.

    Audible isn’t just something that I blindly market.  While I am an affiliate marketer of audible and its products, I regularly use this as a core tool to reinforcing my learning.  The amount of information that I have extracted from audible during my commutes is immeasurable.  While it may not be for everyone, I highly recommend it for anyone seeking to collect information from reading books, but due to circumstances listening to the books is the most feasible way to digest them.

4. Continuing Formal Education

    Now more than ever it is possible to continue your formal education with smaller investments of time.  With the proliferation of online courses, it is possible to integrate obtaining a formal education in just about any instance of life or living arrangement.  I do not recommend over-booking yourself and stretching yourself so thin that you live in a world of stress, however, I encourage everyone to constantly be actively learning.  Taking one course or so at a time is relatively inexpensive and provides direction to your life as well as keeping the blade of your mind sharp.

    There are so many topics that you can pick up on that aren’t taught formally in grade school.  I look at all of the instances of finance and money as they relate to life, and how ill prepared high school graduates are to actually enter and succeed in the real world of money, bills, and finances.  While I don’t discredit being goal focused toward a degree while obtaining a formal education, spot educating and taking only courses that you are interested in for the knowledge that they can provide is also very beneficial.  Regardless of your path, something here is better than stagnation and nothing.  I think it is also important to mention that if you are degree motivated to not be dissuaded by the amount of time it will take to accomplish this goal if you only have the time available for taking one course at a time.

5. Becoming Emotionally Invested

    I recommend that anything it is that you seek to learn that you become emotionally invested in that topic.  This can be tricky to do depending on our personal interest in the subject matter, but with practice we can learn to manipulate our emotions for our benefit.  When we begin the journey of learning something new, we need to tie this to our emotions.  The best way to do this for me is to allow the knowledge of the subject matter to excite me.  As I was learning topics such as organic chemistry, I envisioned myself being able to start entrepreneurial journeys related to chemistry and felt the emotions related to success in the area.  I believe that using our imagination here is the key to unlocking our ability to manipulate our emotions.

    I recall back to the near distant past where I was challenged to thoroughly learn the topic of calculus.  I wasn’t really interested in this topic and did not particularly care for its complexity, however, I began to manipulate my emotions in order to become emotionally invested in understanding calculus by looking back into what some famous physicists were able to prove by knowing calculus.  I imagined what it must have been like to use calculus to postulate theories and understand some hidden meanings of our universe and then I used these emotions to drive the learning process.  I allowed the emotions to flow through me as I would engage new sections and topics of calculus, and allowed those emotions to drive me forward as I was taking notes and reading content.

The Take Away

    As leaders, we need to be well versed in learning.  We need to understand how our brain works and use it in order to retain new information as well as sort through and analyze various bits of information from many sources.  I believe this is a facet of our mental health that goes largely ignored.  I believe this is a cultural problem.  As a society we are so focused on so many specifics that we forget some very key general points to life.  We need to keep the blade of our mind sharp, and to do that requires constant work.

    I believe that it is very easy to recognize a leader who isn’t opposed to learning.  I believe that these leaders give the greatest contribution to their organizations and have many opportunities that others do not.  I would encourage every leader to become a beacon of learning and drive the passion of learning and brain health into others with passion.  I believe that by applying these techniques will give us a good framework for learning and retaining information that will help us along the way.  Feel free to comment, email, or reach out to me on any one of my various social media platforms if you would like to discuss this further.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Organizational Change: Lewin's Model of Change

Photo by timJ on Unsplash

Lewin’s Model of Change - Organizational Change in Leadership

    Change is a necessary occurrence for organizations to continually grow.  Change is very important in leadership because it is the leadership that drives the change.  A social psychologist named Kurt Lewin developed a model for change that I am particularly fond of.  I give credit to Lewin’s Model of Change in helping me grow in my own organization as well as helping me tackle problems and achieve goals as I have grown.  I still today think of how to apply Lewin’s Model of Change to situations in my organization and life that require change to happen.

    I intend to further elaborate on the stages of Lewin’s Model of Change at a future date, because so much can be said about the technique used to apply them.  I really enjoy breaking down his ideology of change because it is extremely applicable to situations where the change is required because of stagnation due to culture.

Overview of Lewin’s Model

     To summarize, Kurt Lewin proposed that change should encompass three steps.  A step of unfreezing, a step of actual changing, and then a step of re-freezing.  We can generally understand this by thinking about what it is that we need to change and what change is.  To need change that means we must have some established practices that seem to be the norm that are undesirable.  The norm may not even be undesirable, rather, we may want to do things differently to achieve a different result.  Often, we are met with much resistance.  The core of Lewin’s Model focuses on breaking this resistance.

    To successfully apply Lewin’s Model of Change, we must understand the series of events that need to happen for us to effectively change some normal practices within our organization.  First, we must identify what it is that we want to change, and then unlearn those norms.  After we have “un-frozen” the normal practices, we can then begin to introduce the new norms that we want.  Once we have introduced the new normal, it becomes our job to further normalize this, and freeze this into permanency.

My First Application - an Anecdote

    During what I would call one of the most important interviews of my life, I had the opportunity to sit in front of two of my mentors and try to convince them that I was the best candidate for a job.  During this time a very key questions in the interview came up, as my department and organization required someone to help drive change, as many changes were required to succeed in the coming years.  I did not yet know the terms or the direct strategy that Kurt Lewin proposed, however, I used the word “normalize” and it stuck with my interviewers.

    I believe that we intrinsically understand what Kurt Lewin lays out for us, and that we know that to drive change to a situation where there has been a reinforced culture of doing things, we must first un-learn the autonomous repetition, introduce the new material, and then set in place a program to establish the new material to become autonomous as the old pre-change material was. 

    My mentor held me to Lewin’s final step in his model for change and quoted me following my promotion.  He has said to me many times since then, “Normalize Josh, normalize.”  As I further study topics of organizational management and come across strategies such as these that I sought to apply in the past because of what seemed like common-sensical knowledge, I am really pleased that I have been given the chance to grow and apply what I have learned in life.

Step 1: Un-freezing

    This stage is the precursor to carrying out real change.  It is best to think of this like making frozen food malleable again via the thawing process.  There is no sense in trying to shape frozen hamburger, rather, first we thaw it out so that we can shape it how we like.  The same is true for teams in an organization.  If our team’s thoughts are fixed and they are autonomously carrying out procedures based on an old norm that we want to change, first we must prepare them for change.

    Lewin advises that we do this by visiting and re-visiting the need for change until the individuals itself recognize the usefulness of the change.  Allow the team to see why change is needed and allow them time to explore the why themselves.  To release a locked set of ideals and prepare that set of ideals for molding, we need to properly prepare our team as individuals for a coming change and allow them to perceive the need for it.

    Unlearning normalized behaviors take time and attention.  We as leaders need to stay attentive to the level of fluidity that our teams are exhibiting by staying present and available for communication.  Special attention is placed on the act of unlearning because we do not develop an autonomous sense of functionality overnight, and as such we cannot unlearn the autonomous behaviors that we may have been performing for years overnight either.  Sometimes the best tool to unlearn behaviors is to release fragments of the change early and allow a preview of what is to come.

    During this period of executing a change, we need to pay attention to those that will be resistant and focus some of our efforts.  Dig deep when trying to convince the most resistant team members and use all the tools available to you.  The most beneficial tools to have during this phase is undoubtedly positive relationships with rapport as well as the foundational influence that comes along with leadership.

    A lot of the reason why resistant team members will follow you into change that they do not particularly like or agree with is rooted in their trust in you as a leader.  Bring them on board early, explain the why, give examples, and listen to feedback.  The most damaging thing that a leader can do at this point is declare the change just because followed by shutting down any types of feedback or criticisms to the change.  Just because we listen to feedback and criticism doesn’t mean that we are going to change the organization’s game plan, however, it does result in a more widely accepted attempt at executing the change desired.

    A lot of time can be wrapped up in this phase of change.  It is impossible to tell exactly how long it will take to properly prepare an organization or team for any change, however, it is recommended that we set goals and push to stick to timelines.  There is nothing wrong with adjusting along the way so long as the adjustments aren’t ultimately detrimental to the end game.  This is supported by a large feedback loop that should extend from the floor to the upper management level where we use a channel to communicate positive and negative feedback regarding the preparedness for the coming change.

Step 2: The Change

    Once we have spent a good deal of time unlearning behaviors and preparing individuals for change the task is set to officiate the change.  This is the phase where we deliver the information and the procedures, as well as the new expectations and guidelines.  It will be evident here if we have rushed the change as there is no proverbial dog to eat your homework when things turn upside down, and believe me, during change things often turn upside down.

    The further things go astray, the more you will see resistance begin to pop up.  These patches of resistance will be strongest in those who were resistant from the beginning, but the goal here is to communicate expectations, accept all feedback and encourage others to work with you on discovering the various properties of change that was foreseen and unforeseen, and finally to give feedback yourself to superiors so that they are able to do their job in executing the change.

    Even in the most unfrozen of situations, it will seem evident that “we were just not ready for the change.”  This is kind of a fallacy to fluidity in organizations, and the larger the organization, the more apparent this fallacy.  This is typically a perception related to a type of cognitive dissonance, and this is exactly where my organization was when I suggested that we push forward to achieve a state of normalcy.  It is at this point where we see the true drivers of change as well as the ones who want to hop back on the bus to do things the old way.

    My organization has pushed through so much change in the past two years that it seems we have an “old way” to do everything, as a matter of fact, just about everything that we do has an “old way” that seniority will refer to from time to time, even though we are well into the re-freezing stage.

Step 3: Re-freezing

    The final step in Lewin’s Model of Change has to do with the very idea that I proposed during my interview.  So far, we have taken an autonomous function of an organization, prepared to change it, changed it, and now we are tasked with making the change the new autonomous function.  It is important that we recognize this step in executing the change and begin to move in order to successfully complete it.  It is important that we don’t stagnate during phase two, which is synonymous with just avoiding phase three, as then it will become normal to have a duality in autonomously carrying out organizational procedures, which can be more detrimental than avoiding the change in the first place.

    To re-freeze is to create a culture of normality in executing functions brought about by the change, and to then make these autonomous actions by all members of the team or organization.  This is done by time, reinforcement, feedback, and refining.  To re-establish culture is a tall task, and often we procrastinate by returning to the “old way” of functionality.  The drivers of change will be the ones constantly attentive to course correction and identifying problems and working towards finding solutions rather than avoidance.

    To jump start this part of the process, I suggest identifying some of the strongest influencers and allow them to be drivers of change with you.  Play to the strengths of some of your quick learners and invest some time in explaining some of the roots of the change in more detail.  Task these individuals with a clear goal of disseminating this information to others.  When looking for these associates, look for adaptable and influential team members that you have a strong relationship with.

    This is the step in Lewin’s Model of Change that we should get lost in and lose track of time.  Often you only realize that you have begun to make progress on this step once the progress is already made and you are reflecting on the past.  If you have succeeded in re-freezing after a change, you should be able to clearly identify some fruits of your change and can reinforce the re-freezing by interacting with team members of the organization.

The Take Away

    Every organization runs into stagnation and requires an execution of change.  How we approach this need to change will determine whether we are successful in achieving our goals that relate to the root cause of the change.  So many failures occur because of misguided approach.  We can avoid failure and bolster our odds for success by proper planning and using our leadership resources in the best possible ways.  Following Lewin’s Model of Change doesn’t guarantee that our change will occur without resistance, or that our change will be beneficial in the end, however, it does give us a road map to follow in order to roll out new organizational functions that we believe will benefit the organization in the end. 

    This model of change is the means for leadership to use in order to come to a concluding point in time where we can further assess its effectiveness.  As leaders, it is our obligation to best serve our organization and our team by bridging the two together and being a facilitator of change deemed necessary.  I believe by following structured systems that we can introduce and reinforce change for the betterment of our organization and our teams.