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May 8, 2020 //

Using “The Four Agreements” To Help You Lead During Covid-19

“Now, more than ever before in history, anxiety and uncertainty are playing a huge role in our behavior, our assumptions, our trust…our hope.  So, I went back to basics and re-read Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements.   Because…yes…ancient shamanic wisdom has a place in this COVID-19 world”.

Bear with me…

Of course all business is governed by facts and figures – no argument there.  BUT I am personally drawn to Agile Leadership because it also has a SPIRITUAL SIDE.  “How so?” you may ask with side-eyed skepticism. Well…in my opinion, successful Agile leaders are trustworthy, courageous, open-minded people, who keep their promises and work well with others.  And that leans much more toward “spiritual” than it does “facts and figures”.

So, at a time when my mind has routinely been sent into the kind of “deep thinking” that global-pandemic-induced anxiety can provoke, I began to consider what “spiritual” books speak to the Agile in me, particularly during a crisis… and immediately the tenets of Don Miguel Ruiz’s book The Four Agreements sprang to mind.

History of The Four Agreements (for those unfamiliar with the book or the author):  Following a horrific car accident (from which he escaped unscathed), Don Miguel Ruiz turned to the shamanic practices of his Mexican (Toltec) ancestors for spiritual answers, eventually becoming a shaman himself. In his book that followed, The Four Agreements, Ruiz shares the Toltec wisdom that “we all make agreements with ourselves” – to achieve this or that, to be a better friend, parent, or spouse, etc. He concedes that these agreements are typically based more on others’ expectations and rules than our own, but his book purports that by following his “Four Agreements” (which dramatically SIMPLIFY what we expect from ourselves), we can consciously try to live more productive lives.

Likewise (or more to the point of this article), I am convinced that Ruiz’s The Four Agreements studied has unlimited potential to enhance (perhaps even DEFINE) Agile performance…particularly now, when leaders are looking for sources of stability…and inspiration. The following is how I attempt to apply Ruiz’s Agreements to doing just that.

Agreement #1:  Be Impeccable With Your Word

This one is simple: TELL THE TRUTH. I try to say only what I mean, thereby demonstrating to my colleagues and clients that I can be trusted. ESPECIALLY NOW, WHEN COVID-19 IS NOTORIOUS FOR STEALING THE TRUST AND CONFIDENCE WE HAVE IN EACH OTHER…AND IN THE WORLD AS A WHOLE. I firmly believe that those who are impeccable with their words are more likely to be welcomed onto team projects, earn leadership roles and be awarded more business.

Agreement #2:  Don’t Take Anything Personally

Admittedly this is the most difficult Agreement for me to follow:  IT’S NOT PERSONAL.  According to Ruiz, whatever anyone else says or does is virtually always a reflection of his/her OWN perception of the world, and has nothing to do with us personally. Other people live in their own minds and worlds – completely separate from our minds/worlds.  But when we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world and vice versa.  Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, Ruiz states that it is vital to remember their opinions are based on their OWN perceptions…their OWN “Agreements”.

In other words, Ruiz believes that thinking that what others do is BECAUSE OF US reveals our tendency to think the world REVOLVES AROUND US. And that “me” mentality defies Agile excellence.  As such, I try very hard to use my energy to meet/exceed my commitments to clients and coworkers (see Agreement #4 below)… instead of trying to mentally insert myself into the minds of others in order to “personalize” their negative words/behaviors. Case in point, I had a leader in one of my virtual classes recently who was struggling post-pandemic with coming up with an increased cadence for checking in with her (now remote) team members.  If/when she attempted to increase that cadence, one or more of team members immediately tended to “take it personally”, and assumed it was because she did not trust them to work remotely.  My recommendation was to collaborate with them on a Working Agreement that addresses that cadence…and to remind ALL of her team members to consider this (and the next) Agreement as we plod forward through this tsunami.

Agreement #3:  Don’t Make Assumptions

Good business is based on good information: DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS. Every time we make assumptions, we are at risk of either a) allowing denial or wishful thinking to positively distort reality, or conversely b) letting history or self-fulfilling prophecies to negatively distort reality.  And let’s face it, one false assumption can destroy credibility and trust indefinitely (evidenced by my example above where at least  one member “assumed” an increased check-in cadence meant an erosion of trust/confidence).  Not surprisingly, this Agreement and the “Don’t Take Anything Personally” Agreement go hand in hand. So, in an effort to avoid assumption pitfalls, I notoriously ask question after question after question, until I am satisfied that my associated conclusions are steeped in facts. Additionally, I’ve found that this level of unbiased excavation not only brings clarity, but it also lends itself to more authentic relationships with my clients and colleagues.

Agreement #4: Always Do Your Best

Never underestimate the power of this one:  DO YOUR BEST.  Above all, this Agreement has had the most impact on me long-term, because it has taught me to gauge my “success” on whether I am doing my best, NOT whether I have achieved certain goals.  And in my case, “doing my best” means being fully PRESENT, and even more importantly being GRATEFUL, for whatever it is I’m doing. Once again, if you think about it, Agile (“self-managing/self-organizing”) teams can ONLY succeed if every team member is INTERNALLY DRIVEN to abide by this Agreement.

So here’s my challenge for you.  If you haven’t already, read The Four Agreements; it’s a very quick (albeit provocative) read (only 138 5”x7” pages). THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A BETTER TIME TO DO SO…OR TO ENCOURAGE YOUR TEAM MEMBERS AND COLLEAGUES TO DO SO.  For me, the Agreements bring some much needed calm to my troubled mind. Then, ask yourself, do you believe that Agile Leaders have a responsibility to live by, as well as share, the Four Agreements with your Teams? If not, why not? If so, have you done so? Will you do so?

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