The Case for Listening to Others
This time of year, our screens light up with offers to create meaning and connection. Check out the Vertellis card game that offers conversation starters to make the most of a family gathering. And here’s a fabulous free option from NPR: The Storycorps “Great Thanksgiving Listen” campaign encourages us to record an interview with an elder. The suggested question prompts include, “What are you most grateful for?” and “How do you want to be remembered?” Most importantly, the instructions emphasize the interviewer’s job—to listen.
It’s all about something we focus on a lot at Mendelow Consulting Group: connection. We have an innate human need to connect and belong. We see this at home and at work. The literature reinforces what we already know:
The Case for Listening to Yourself
In last month’s CBODN Book Club, Pamela Krist led a discussion of Simon Sinek’s book The Infinite Game.
Sinek talks about ‘finite’ games, where the goal is to win, and ‘infinite’ games where the point is to keep on playing while constantly adapting and improving. Sinek also talks about the concept of “Infinite Life” which means leaving things better than you found them, positively impacting those around you, and building trusting relationships.
One of our colleagues in the discussion shared a coaching activity she often uses – she asks clients to write their own obituary or (less morbid!) their own retirement plan. This is a reflection activity, which is really a prompt to pause and listen to yourself. (Of course, it might also encourage you to share with others, have a break-through discussion with your boss, etc.) Some similar writing prompts that may resonate with you are:
And, as always, let us know what ideas or insights this inspires for you…Like Dr. Fraiser Crane, “We’re listening.”
“Root down through your legs and feet. Then, lift through your torso. Raise your arms and let them sway with your breath. Notice if you are gripping your toes…” (Hope you read that in your best yoga teacher voice.) Yoga devotees spend a lot of time getting grounded in the physical body. Anyone who has ever attempted a balancing pose like “tree pose” knows that some days are better than others—and not to pass judgment if your “tree” is particularly shaky. Tree pose can be a metaphor for being grounded, or feeling centered, in life. You are rooting down and also reaching up, with an open chest and heart. At its core, the practice is about acceptance.
Rogers references this paradox in his book On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy. It came to mind this month during the Chesapeake Bay Organization Development Network Book Club discussion on the book Scaling leadership by Robert Anderson and William Adams. The authors present a model in which they discuss “Creative” and “Reactive” leaders. In a nutshell:
During our book discussion a question came up, "How do you give feedback to someone who is “reactive,” such that he/she can hear it, understand it, and be open to making the necessary changes?"
After reflecting on this question, I uncovered an underlying question of: How do you first help another person gain confidence in him/herself, so the person is able to receive and solicit feedback? (Back to tree pose!)
Being grounded allows you to hear feedback and not respond negatively or defensively to it. Being grounded also goes hand in hand with having confidence. But...building confidence is tricky. As I watched my son struggle with issues of confidence when he was younger, I went on a mission to try and figure out how to help others gain confidence.
Good leaders inspire people to have confidence in their leader. Great leaders inspire people to have confidence in themselves. - Eleanor Roosevelt
Here are four key activities you can do as a leader, both at home and at work, that will help to instill confidence in others.
Strategies for Helping Someone Build Confidence
What experiences have helped you grow confident? Please share!
Being quiet can be confused with a lot of things—including being hesitant, lacking confidence, being introverted, or even being shy. We place a lot of value on ‘airtime’ in our culture. Think about expressions like, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Leaders are coached to “find their voice”—to put their ideas out there, and express a point of view. But what if your role in the organization or on the project team does not authorize you to lead loudly? What if you don’t have “the box” on the org chart or the mic at the front of the room? Jocelyn Davis has some ideas about how to be a “quiet leader.” And she’s referring to anything but being hesitant, shy, or disengaged!
At the CBODN Book Club this month we discussed The Art of Quiet Influence Timeless Wisdom for Leading without Authority. Drawing on classical sages such as Buddha, Confucius, Rumi, and Gandhi, Davis shows us that anyone, not just bosses, can learn how to use influence without authority. Here are some of the ideas about influence that Davis presents in the book:
To Davis, a “Quiet Influencer” is someone who sets their ego aside to engage a group. They lead from behind or from within. Most importantly, they demonstrate mindfulness.
One of the quotes that resonated most with me was, “The leader does not try to master other people. Instead their energy is focused on mastering themself. The greatest power is to have power over themselves in service of the greater group.”
I have been working with leaders for 20+ years, and one of the most difficult transitions I observe is the shift from an individual mindset to a leader's mindset. Even if the leader understands intellectually that he/she does not need to have all of the answers or all of the power, in practice the leader may still influence the dynamic and the outcome by offering their point of view or by interjecting their opinion.
Why? They often don’t know another tactic and are simply relying on past success. In the past, the leader may have had influence as an individual contributor by offering his/her expertise. Now, as a leader, if he/she doesn’t offer expertise, then how else can he/she influence?
If you go one step deeper, the leader may question, “What is my value or identity if I don’t have expertise to offer?” After exploring this at a deeper level, leaders begin to see that even if they do have the “perfect” answer, it may still not be beneficial to share it. Other factors are at play, such as:
When zooming out to consider the bigger picture, a leader gains situational awareness and decides how and when to interject, support, question, and drive forward as appropriate for the situation. In the end, a leader who practices the techniques that Davis describes will not only be successful as an influencer, but will also have a much larger impact then they ever could have imagined.
It’s cliché to talk about a career as a “journey,” but it’s so true. Many of my coaching clients are 20+ years into the careers, well established as SMEs, and still wanting to make a change. And what’s wrong with that?
The answer is at the intersection of four circles...
There’s a simple Venn diagram that can help tremendously if you need clarity—at any point in your “journey.” You have to do some soul searching and research, of course, but if you find the answers to four questions, you find that sweet spot. What are the questions?
What do you love?
What are you good at?
What can you be paid to do?
What does the world need?
The overlap is your purpose or “Ikigai.” It’s a Japanese concept that means “reason for being.” I was reminded of this beautiful model at the recent Learning Leaders Conference. Thanks to long-time learning leader Kimo Kippen who shared the model in his talk at the event.
At Mendelow Consulting Group, we’ve surveyed thousands of managers. We’ve crunched the numbers. Engagement boils down to three things.
Employees want to feel a sense of belonging or connection,
to feel valued for their work,
and to be empowered to make decisions.
That’s the secret to a happy employee, who in turn is giving their all to the organization. And, it turns out, it’s the secret to any relationship at work or at home. In our research, we have gathered input on three fundamental factors--
And, none of these elements operates in isolation. They’re all connected and are in motion at any given time. The Dynamic Leader graphic above shows all three elements intertwined by three intersecting infinity loops. When my son saw this image, he immediately said, “Oh, you created a fidget spinner.” So, we present to you the Fidget Spinner of Life.
Let’s look more closely at each of these, and how they show up at work and at home.
When he defined the hierarchy of needs, Maslow hit on a critical insight that unites humans: we are social beings. Our predecessors lived in tribes in order to survive. Today, we still rely on our communities and are social beings—even at a time when loneliness is an epidemic. (Side note, if you haven’t read the research on social rejection, check it out. It triggers the same reactions in the brain as physical pain.) Feeling a sense of connection at home and work is critical to our overall well-being. For example…
We also need to feel valued. Not simply recognized, but truly valued. The core question one asks him/herself here is, “Am I making a difference?” Whereas connection is focused on the interpersonal relationships, feeling valued is focused on skills and competence. In other words, one may question, “Do my contributions (skills, strengths, etc.) contribute in a meaningful way?” Soliciting feedback from the people who see us in action, and whose opinions we most value, will in turn help us feel valued. And, delivering feedback to others, in an honest yet supportive manner, will enhance engagement. Here’s what that looks like at work and at home…
We give “control” a bad rap (think “control freak” or “micromanager”), but we humans need to feel a sense of control. Without it, we feel helpless, and in extreme cases this can lead to depression and despair. How do you help those around you feel empowered? How do you balance your own need to be in control with others’? Here are some ideas…
The interplay of feeling connected, valued, and empowered is so powerful that it is the framework we use to help leaders grow in their role, and prepare to take on a broader role. Let us know how it rings true for you!
P.S. If you are looking for more insights on how organizations promote their values, check out the brief summary of our discussion from this month’s CBODN Book Club focused on the book Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux. The book talks about a “soulful revolution,” one in which employees are engaged and organizations are enlightened.
I recently saw a meme on Facebook. It was a butterfly sitting next to a chrysalis. The chrysalis says, “You’ve changed.” The butterfly says, “You’re supposed to.”
Why is it that, when we notice growth in another person, we often feel surprised? And how do we recognize growth in ourselves?
Last month’s CBODN Book Club discussion was about the book Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World by Jennifer Garvey Berger. The author presents a model for adult development that is designed to help us understand the complex world we live in. Many of the concepts are derived from Robert Kegan. The model includes four phases, or stages of growth.
Stages of Adult Development
So it’s not all about me?
During our Book Club discussion, we looked at the four stages and considered which most describes us. I was particularly intrigued by the notion that the first two phases, Self-Sovereign and Socialized, are “subject-oriented;” whereas, the second two, Self-Authored and Self-Transforming, are “object-oriented.” It felt very intuitive. The subject-oriented phases are less developed—less mature people feel as if they are (always) the subject of a situation or occurrence. They attach all meaning to themselves, and they may feel the need to prove their worth. Adults in the object-oriented phases are more grounded and better able to consider others’ perspectives and multiple perspectives. They know not everything is about them, and as a result they are not triggered as much by life’s annoyances—or worse.
Here’s where the “AND” comes in
The notion of subject/object orientation could seem binary or “either/or,” but it’s more complex. And here’s where Polarity Thinking can help drive insights. You’ve heard me espouse the benefits of Polarity Thinking before. It’s a brilliant model to help you think at a higher level, consider multiple possibilities, and—most importantly and uniquely—consider two (seemingly) opposing ideas at the same time.
Here’s an example that has come up with more than one coaching client. Imagine a leader who loves connecting with people and who finds joy in the human connections at work. This is a person who knows everyone’s dog’s names and who remembers birthdays and maybe even their favorite colors. This leader does a great job, moves up in the organization, and suddenly is less hands on. In order to make room for strategic thinking and taking a broader view at the work a group/team is doing (to contribute more broadly to the organization), executives often need to let go of the more hands-on work related to specific projects or deliverables. It can feel like a trade-off, and it can cause feelings of loss for leaders who enjoy and take pride in connecting with their teams, seeing them in action, and of course socializing with people they enjoy.
How does Polarity Thinking help?
The first step is to identify the polarity at play here. What are the two seemingly opposing viewpoints, or where is the tension? The tension is how to maintain personal connections while maintaining a broad oversight over the entire team. More succinctly, this may be managing the tension between managing individuals and groups.
If a leader focuses too heavily on spending time with the individuals, they are less able to manage at a strategic level and will likely get burned out in the process. On the other hand, if the leader focuses too much on managing at the group level, the leader may come across as distant or disconnected.
What I have found is that leaders who manage this tension successfully do so by becoming culture keepers. They set the tone and expectations for their managers around the values that are important to them and the organization, such as recognizing achievement and building personal connections. Then, instead of investing time directly with the individuals, they work with their next level down, or “second team” as many companies refer to that group, and build a culture where it’s not dependent upon the behaviors of the one leader. In practice, it may look like this:
This is just one example of a tension that I hear quite often during my Executive Coaching conversations. Polarity Thinking allows individuals to elevate their thinking and approach to consider creative options for managing on-going tensions. Once you’ve become a leader, the problems you face are not simple “black and white” problems, but rather complex tensions that have multiple right answers. When leaders learn to elevate their thinking process, they are able to reach solutions that are more effective and sustainable.
What tensions do you face as a leader each day?
How do you manage through those tensions?
From trust falls to ropes courses to analytics and assessments, I have been working on team effectiveness for the better part of two decades. (And I am still fascinated by team dynamics!) What is it that makes one group gel, and another group fracture?
This month’s CBODN Book Club discussion was on Daniel Coyle’s book The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups. (Many thanks to our facilitator, Heeral Coleman.) The book looks at what makes groups successful, and Coyle presents three skills that contribute—building safety, sharing vulnerability, and establishing purpose. For a summary of the book club discussion, which includes highlights from the book and other ideas sparked by the book discussion, click here. Below, you’ll find some of my take-aways.
How to Create a High-Performing Team
Please let me know what ideas or insights my short list sparks for you! Always love your feedback.
I try hard to practice what I preach to clients, such as making time for self care, not neglecting my own professional development, and connecting with people who inspire me. Attending the Association for Talent Development (ATD) conference this month was one-stop shopping for all of the above. With Oprah Winfrey, Seth Godin, and Eric Whitacre in the line-up, I had very high expectations, and ATD delivered! Here's what I am STILL thinking about...
LESSONS FROM OPRAH
Oprah Winfrey reflected on life post the Oprah Winfrey Show, which ran from 1986-2011. She spoke with candor and humility about some setbacks--personal and professional challenges that have shaken her foundation. There were so many nuggets from her talk, but I'll share the most memorable ones for me.
LESSONS FROM SETH
Seth Godin, marketing guru and author, challenged us to make a ruckus. Again, so many nuggets to share, here are just a few...
LESSONS FROM ERIC
Eric Whitacre is a composer and conductor and was the last keynote speaker. After three days of digesting new information, we all entered the hall exhausted, and Eric provided the perfect presentation to tie it all together. From his creative process in developing a piece from scratch to his willingness to play with the unknown, the lessons I pulled from his presentation were powerful and inspiriting. Eric is best known for the virtual choir, a breathtakingly gorgeous piece of work in which he weaves together the voices of singers from 120 countries. If you haven't seen his work, I strongly encourage you to check it out some of his work on YouTube.
Eric ended his talk with us sharing his latest virtual choir piece, Fly to Paradise, on video while simultaneously inviting a live choir from DC to perform on stage. It was incredible!
Eric embodies the key messages from Oprah's talk about being intentional about your purpose and leaving your ego at the door as well as Seth's message about being creatively bold. Eric embodies what learning and development is all about: Leveraging other's strengths, creating harmony together, and being open to what's possible.
I thank all of these presenters for their stories, vulnerability, and inspiration!
If you attended too, I would love to hear what resonated with you. What are you still thinking about?
How do you improve your organization's culture? Take a look at the social network.
We're not taking social media, although that's certainly an important channel. We're talking more broadly about people networks. After years of research, we know that the best places to work have a few things in common—and one of the most important factors is that information f l o w s!
What does this look like? Leaders leave their doors open. Emails are answered. Meetings are productive. People know the “whys” behind decisions. There are no surprises, hidden agendas, or secret societies. In fact, people who are naturally inclined to be “in the know” are celebrated and leveraged as change agents and spokespeople for important initiatives. And this is a big part of the organizational culture.
I have learned a great deal about social networks in organizations through my collaborations with Rob Cross, a business researcher who has made networks his life’s work. Rob examines how to use networking to build a more cohesive culture.
What’s fascinating is that the tools and model Rob uses can work in any organization, regardless of the industry. He recently invited me to present at the “Connected Commons” member summit in Boston, MA, along with my colleagues Bennet Voorhees and Kevin Martin. We were surrounded by the world’s biggest brains—these people are curing cancer!—I was in awe. With the backdrop of MIT’s “Drunken Robots,” (see the photo) one metaphor for the funky architectural design, we put a “network lens” on culture, so we could see how people, information flow, and connections can support efforts to strengthen an organization’s culture. My specific focus was on the OD interventions. That is, once Rob and team have done the analysis, how do you bring people together to talk about, define, and create accountability for the “what’s next?” (Here's a bit more from Rob on that.) That’s where the magic happens!
Interested in learning more? Read through these brief case studies—or drop me a line:
Our brains are hard wired to do some things that may have worked “way back when,”—queue the nostalgic music—in simpler, more predictable times. But in a VUCA world, where information is on a superhighway, and change happens rapidly—our brains sometimes lead us astray. In her 2019 book Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps: How to Thrive in Complexity, Jennifer Garvey Berger calls this mental sabotage “mindtraps” and, it turns out, there are five traps we can learn to avoid…
Now That We Are Aware of The Mindtraps, What Can Be Done?
So what do we do about it? There are times when you see a trap, but you are not sure how to get out of it—elegantly or otherwise. If you are a leader who facilitates a lot of meetings, chances are good that you want to talk less and encourage more participation. Chances are also good that you’d like to encourage the group to participate fully, when often times people can seem distracted, even during important discussions. The book club gang quickly rattled off a list of resources, tips, and practices that help individuals and groups facilitate everyday and difficult discussions. I also added to the list. Here are a few you may wish to try…
How’s that for a start? If this is useful, let me know. And, if you have other quick tips, please pass them along and I will add your ideas to the list!
Let me wrap up by sending out a huge thanks to Devah Galloway (in the photo, she’s over my (Laura) left shoulder) for talking with the CBODN book club about mindtraps and leading a great discussion.
We tend to beat ourselves up. A lot. In a recent workshop with a group of highly intelligent, technical, and experienced professionals, we were talking about some of the polarities that are present in our lives. One person talked about “taking care of others and taking care of myself,” and another talked about “stepping in and stepping back.” One participant felt stumped. He was nearing the end of his career and was struggling to figure out the polarity or tension he was experiencing. He said, “being with or without direction.” That seemed pretty heavy, so I asked if he’d be open to digging in further. Here’s what we uncovered...
What I first observed is that being “with” or “without” direction is not a polarity. This is viewing a situation from an “either/or” mindset, and he was viewing the potential downside of retirement as having “no direction” and feeling lost. He shared that, up until this point, his career was based on his drive, his passion, and his clear purpose. At this point, however, his drive was becoming fuzzy (or perhaps changing). He didn’t have the language for this new mindset that was emerging and could only see the drive (that he has now) or the absence of his drive (which he was anticipating after retirement). So, I asked if he’d be willing to let the class help him map out this polarity using a Polarity Map. He agreed.
We began with discussing the upside to having a clear direction (e.g., it’s motivating, he sets clear goals and objectives, he can rally the troops, etc.). Then we moved to explore what happens when one over-focuses on having a clear direction. To which the group offered comments such as, “becoming too narrow-minded,” “always looking to the future,” and “not slowing down.” After that last comment, he nearly jumped out of his chair. “That’s it! It’s about me slowing down to appreciate what’s right in front of me.”
He continued, “Actually, I don’t think it’s about direction. It’s about shifting my focus. I think my tension might be being planful and allowing for things to emerge.”
We then talked about the downside of over-focusing on allowing things to emerge, which may result in chaos and complacency. This was his fear of what might happen once he retires. The conversation ended with ideas on how to leverage both during retirement, the upsides of being planful and the upsides of emergence.
Also embedded in his comment was the weight of a heavy “should.”
He said he felt he “should have a clear direction” even after retirement. He was asked the question daily by his co-workers, “So, what do you plan to do after you retire?” This was really weighing on him as if he should have a clear answer.
At the March Chesapeake Bay Organization Development Network Book Club, Karen See facilitated a discussion of Michelle Obama’s Becoming through the framework of “shoulds” from The Should Syndrome. As Karen explained, “shoulds” are expectations (often unconscious) that we have of ourselves or others—which cause us to make choices that are inconsistent with who we are, and therefore get in the way of achieving our goals. Examples of “shoulds” include:
So what do you do with your “shoulds?”
Karen advised us to observe them, name them, and reflect on the source. Some “shoulds” are aligned with our deeply held values and will help us reach our goals. Others are imposed or assumed—and can sometimes turn real ugly. A quick exercise is to write up your own list of “shoulds,” and then challenge yourself to play devil’s advocate with them. Show the “shoulds” who’s boss. You are, after all!
Post Contributed by Ann V. Deaton, PhD, PCC.
“I can access my work phone from wherever I am, even at the gym.”
“My flexible schedule lets me take time to be with my brand new niece as often as my brother wants me there.”
“Having the dry cleaner and child care on site at work is a godsend.”
“When I need to, I can work remotely from across the country so I don’t miss important family events, nor critical deadlines with my team at work.”
“Would you believe it? They have a relaxation room at my work where I can go to meditate, do yoga, or even take a quick nap.”
We’ve come a long way in our experience of work, how we see our employment, and our lives outside of work. Decades ago, the focus was on separating work and life---keeping each in its rightful place. Then we transitioned to trying to balance the different aspects of our lives, making sure each got their fair share of our time. This balance stance morphed into work-life integration, where we approached our lives with the awareness that work and life weren’t necessarily in competition for our time, that each might actually contribute to the other. And, at present, we are continuing to evolve our sense of how to be whole human beings—honoring our commitments to ourselves, significant people and events in our lives, and our responsibility to our jobs.
As the quotes at the start of this blog suggest, many workplaces have noticed, and accommodated, our evolving needs. The employers who can’t, or don’t, adjust run the risk of a revolving door of new hires and valued workers leaving for better jobs. In this case, “better” is not always synonymous with a higher salary or a more prestigious role. “Better” often means a workplace that sees me not just as a way to get the work done, but as a whole human being with needs and wants of my own outside of work.
This evolving sense of what it means to be committed to work and simultaneously dedicated to our hobbies, friends, and families outside of work takes many forms. Recently, my colleague Laura Mendelow and I had the opportunity to facilitate an experiential session at the annual Organizational Development Network (ODN) conference where the participants helped us to reflect on the varied phases of life-work evolution. Session attendees were prolific and eloquent in capturing the upsides and the downsides of how we’ve approached the challenge of limited time and seemingly unlimited demands on our time over the decades. We captured their brilliance in a recent article for the Library of Professional Coaching. We added coaching questions to enable professional coaches, and leaders who coach their team members, to craft individual solutions.
How effectively are you engaging with the tension of living a full life, and accomplishing your career or work goals? Consider the following questions for a little self-reflection:
We’d love to hear how you are ensuring that you, and those around you, create meaningful and sustainable lives. Post your comments below!
Ann V. Deaton, PhD, PCC, is a leadership and team coach based in Richmond, VA. Her publications include the books VUCA Tools for a VUCA World and Being Coached: Group and Team Coaching from the Inside.
Last week I attended a private viewing of the 2018 documentary film Bias and a bonus chat with Director Robin Hauser. The event was sponsored by Washington Women's Leadership Initiative, and it was awesome! I thought I’d write up a few key nuggets that I walked away with, for the benefit of anyone who could not join. Feel free to chime in if you attended, as it was hard to take notes in a dark theater.
Hauser is interested in exploring unconscious bias, the bias that is below the threshold of consciousness, and specifically how it relates to gender and race. This film features many of the top researchers in the field including Tony Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji, co-founders of Project Implicit at Harvard University. They are best known for the IAT (Implicit Association Test). I highly recommend going to this site to take one of their tests and examine your own implicit bias. It’s completely free, and the results will have a lasting impact on you, guaranteed.
View the trailer for a sneak peak.
Here are some of the highlights:
If you saw the film, please chime in to add or build off of anything I mentioned. There was so much information packed into this film. It both educates and entertains. Loved it!
Thank you WWLI for hosting this wonderful event!
How do you judge if a coworker is as good as her word? How do you know whom to trust? In a recent CBODN book club discussion, Janice Shack-Marquez shared data presented in social science researcher Brené Brown’s latest book, Dare to Lead. When 1000 leaders are asked what makes them trust a coworker, can you guess what the #1 answer is?
The survey results show that when employees ask for help, this indicates to their leadership that they are trustworthy. At first, this may seem counterintuitive. In a “fake-it-until-you-make-it” world, we want to show up as intelligent, capable, and knowledgeable—especially in front of our own bosses. So why does asking for help build trust, rather than erode it?
How Does Asking for Help Build Trust?
Interesting, huh? I have a hypothesis to run by you—just to get the discussion going.
It could be that, when an employee admits she needs help, the leader knows she’s not trying to hide information. The call for help reassures the leader that if the employee runs into a problem that she can’t handle on her own, she won’t try to haphazardly address it, but instead will consult the leader. This also shows the leader that she has the best interest of others in mind, rather than just focusing on herself. Over time, the leader can believe this employee when she says, “I got this.” Even for a complex or particularly high-stakes task, the leader is more inclined to be hands off.
There is, of course, some fine-print that accompanies the hypothesis. For example:
Disclaimer aside, the fact that “asking for help” made it to the top of the survey results was really eye opening and refreshing to hear. Hopefully, this little piece of data puts you at ease the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed or over your head and need to reach out for help. And if you are not the type to reach out, I hope this will help you reconsider.
TIPS on Asking for Help
Sometimes it’s hard to ask for help. Here are some conversation starters to help you ask for help across different situations.
Mendelow Consulting Group founder and owner, Laura Mendelow, collaborated with Ann Deaton on "The “Work-Life” Evolution: Understanding the Past to Help Your Clients Navigate the Future," published this month in the Library of Professional Coaching.
We invite you to read it and let us know what ideas or insights it sparks.
Imagine being paid to spend one year touring the most beautiful sites in the world, eating the best food, and staying in the best hotels. Jada Yuan was the lucky winner of a New York Times travel writer competition (of which 13,000 people applied!). She spent 2018 traveling to 52 fabulous destinations: "1 Woman, 12 Months, 52 Places." As she reflected on an extraordinary year, most of her lessons learned have nothing to do with travel tips and tricks. It’s all about self-awareness. For example, she came up with her superpower in the midst of non-stop travel. Guess what it was?
Her superpower is her ability to sleep soundly anywhere and under any conditions, including an uncomfortable airplane seat or noisy environment! For a travel writer (or anyone for that matter), being able to get rest whenever, wherever, is golden! I loved that she described this as her superpower. Something so basic but a "talent" she performs with little effort, and is tremendously beneficial.
It got me thinking…What would I say is my superpower?
I have an answer for you, but I have to tell you a story about hiking before I can share about my superpower. (Howie Mandel used to say in his stand up comedy routine, “I have to tell you this story before I can tell you that story.”)
As I was saying, about six years ago, we planned a family hiking day trip. We enjoyed a glorious day out in nature, climbing challenging, rocky terrain and enjoyed a picnic lunch—and were exhausted when we got back to the car. We stopped for dinner on the way home. At the restaurant, one of my sons asked to play a game on my phone. (Typically, we don't let them play on their phones at the table, but we’d more than met our quota of fresh air and togetherness, and were tired! So, I obliged.) You can’t imagine the skunk eye I got from the people at the tables around us. And, this was several years ago so when it wasn't as common as it is today to see kids with phones. If there’s a look for, “I'm passing judgment on your parenting choices,” I got it. But, seriously? Of all days to question my parenting after spending hours of quality time with my family. Of course, the other diners didn’t know what they didn’t know. I sent telepathic messages back to them with a smile saying, "You don't know the whole story."
You Don’t Know The Whole Story
So back to my superpower, I guess if I had to name it, I'd call it, “Story Radar." Definition: The ability to hear a story and recognize that one is only hearing a small sliver of the full story. In other words, reminding myself, "I don't know the whole story” when listening to others. As a coach, I am a trusted confidant. I hear personal stories all day. My clients tell me about how they are perceived and where they are struggling to get traction. They reveal life goals that they may have never said out loud before, or perhaps never admitted to themselves. As I listen, I stop myself from jumping to conclusions or putting ideas into categories. I remember to assume that there is more to the story than meets the eye. Being trained as a coach, I've learned that there is rarely an easy solution, and the kinds of problems I am entrusted to help with are rarely straight-forward. With my "Story Radar," I listen, see the world from my client's eyes, allow time for reflection, and get curious. This allows me to access powerful questions to help my clients get unstuck or connect the dots. I remind myself, there's always more to the story.
So, that's my superpower. Something that is part of who I am and is probably one of the reasons I ended up in the coaching field to begin with. This superpower shows up everywhere I go, not just when I'm interacting with clients. When volunteering at a senior center, I met Bob, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease. He was sitting alone at a table after lunch so I went over to meet him. It turns out he worked on a team at RCA who developed the first color television! And, sometimes, I admit, I overdo it. I strike up conversations with complete strangers at restaurants, for example, and my kids have to reel me back in. The point is, I don't intentionally focus on using this skill, it just happens, it's part of my DNA.
I challenge you to think about a quality you have that simply comes naturally, and probably is something you don't even notice. If you're having trouble thinking of something, ask a close friend or family member. Sometimes you're blind to it, but others you're close to can identify it right away. Write back with your superpower and let me know what it is and how it helps you at work and at home.
Mendelow Consulting Group founder and owner, Laura Mendelow, was interviewed on Dannielle Hawk's "Women Lead Change" podcast. In the interview, Laura talks about change initiatives at two levels—large-scale changes to influence an organizational culture, such as initiatives that change the role or expectations for all front-line leaders in an organization, as well as changes that impact a team or family unit.
Highlights from the discussion:
Listen to the discussion online and leave a comment to let us know what ideas or insights this sparks!
We didn’t go anywhere this Thanksgiving, but we wanted to make sure we all benefited from a break in our routine and didn’t fall prey to our devices.
We sat the kids down to set some expectations (yes, I know, a little nerdy) about when and how long we should spend on our devices, what games/activities we could do together, and what help we needed to prepare for our Thanksgiving meal.
The conversation was going well and then my son said, “Mom, we know the drill. We help cook, set the table, clean the house, everyone is crabby and yells at each other, and then we sit down and go around the table to say how thankful we are for everyone.” That pretty much sums it up! LOL. He’s very perceptive.
No matter what your Thanksgiving was like, whether you enjoyed each other’s company or couldn’t wait to get home, there’s always something you can think of to be thankful for. And, now being back at work, I encourage you to find ways to continue to express your gratitude to others. Remember, people want to be noticed. They want to know that 1) someone acknowledges their work and 2) their work makes a difference. Here are a few ways you can continue being thankful in the workplace:
Remember, practicing gratitude is one surefire secret to a happy life. Send me your creative ideas to keep the spirit of Thanksgiving going year-round.
Guest Post Contributed by Emily Lundberg @ Prialto, a virtual assistant company
To successfully lead groups of people, you must be skilled at delegating. A Gallup study discovered that leaders who delegate effectively achieved 112% higher growth rates than those who never delegate or who do so poorly.
Delegation is so important because, as much you may want to, it’s impossible for you to do everything yourself and maintain your sanity. There are so many small, tedious tasks that pile up and distract you from the projects that drive your team forward.
Assigning those tasks to others frees up several hours a week, so you have more time and energy to invest in activities that propel your success.
Here are three simple steps to become a master delegator:
You should delegate any task that does not meet those qualifications. At first, it will be difficult to let go but, the extra time you gain will allow you to invest more energy in the strategic activities.
For example, if you’re a Head of Talent, you likely have tons of paperwork, scheduling, and other admin tasks that can easily be assigned to a subordinate or assistant. You can then use your extra time to invest more energy in forecasting your company’s hiring needs, refining job qualifications and engaging in other projects that better utilize your knowledge and skills.
2) Surround Yourself with the Right Team
Once you know what tasks you should delegate, you need to surround yourself with people who can do them. For some projects, this will be easy because there are already people on your team who can immediately take over.
For the rest, write out your process for completing them, identify who on your team has the best knowledge and availability to take over, and teach them how to do it. Don’t make this decision lightly. Research shows delegating tasks to people who have the right abilities has a massive impact on the benefits you gain from delegation. If you give assignments to the right people, they will complete them with ease but, if you give them to someone who lacks the skills, and you may lose time answering questions and fixing their mistakes.
Strive to surround yourself with subordinates who have a wide range of skills so that it’s easier to assign more specialized tasks. If your team lacks the experience to take on your small projects, you can use delegation to create professional development opportunities. You will have to invest time training them but, in the long-run, it will make your employees much more versatile and productive.
Alternatively, if everyone on your team is too busy, consider hiring an in-house or virtual assistant who you can delegate the bulk of your work to.
3) Ensure You’re Delegating Effectively
Just asking people to do tasks for you is not enough to reap the full benefits of delegation. If you work with the wrong person and/or give vague instructions, you risk wasting more time fixing their mistakes than you would if you completed the task yourself.
To delegate effectively, you need to:
About the Author: Emily leads Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer, among others.
About 10 years ago, I jokingly told my manager that I was going to file for workman’s comp because I had an eye twitch that wouldn’t go away. Every 20 minutes my eye would spasm, and it continued for about four months! True story. The reason? I was DEEPLY engaged in Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) work and spent hours analyzing data and Excel spreadsheets so I could offer useful data to my internal clients. So, yeah, I did it to myself. ONA is an assessment that looks to identify informal networks in an organization including specific roles such as ‘brokers’ and ‘connectors’, those people who facilitate information flow and decisions—and are integral in collaboration. I’ve recently re-engaged in this work and am fascinated by the behaviors of the key connectors and brokers. These people are naturals at networking, and they are the most influential and in-the-know employees in their organizations. In terms of motivators, what do most of them have in common? The desire to help others! And can you guess what many find as their biggest challenge?
The desire to help others! (You saw that coming, I know). The upside is that these key connectors put their energy into relationships and helping others. The downside is that when they focus too much on others (and neglect their own self-care), they burn out. In addition, when you step in to help too much, you may unintentionally send the message that “I don’t trust you to handle the issue” or “I don't think you’re capable of doing it yourself.” Growing up as a middle child and having that strong desire to help others, I’ve always been intrigued by this topic and wanted to share some distinctions around a few terms that I’m hoping you’ll find helpful to apply to your work and life.
In what ways do we help?
To be sure, caring for others is essential to relationship building. But being overly helpful or empathetic can exhaust and wear down the best of us. In our CBODN book club meeting this month, Dana Pulley facilitated a discussion on the book, The Mind of The Leader, and briefly referenced some distinctions around empathy, sympathy, and compassion.
How to do BOTH—Care for Self AND Others
Compassion is a key skill for leaders. By showing compassion, you understand the feeling someone has, but do not hold their pain. You protect yourself from the burden of the pain or suffering that the other person is feeling. You also keep yourself whole, which can allow you to give, and be of service to the person.
When someone is struggling with a challenge, sometimes what they need to hear most is, “I am sorry you are facing this AND I have faith in your ability to manage it.” By showing compassion, and reinforcing their ability, you can support them and retain a healthy distance to protect yourself from emotional contagion.
I’d love to hear what ideas this sparks for you, and what works for you.
New coaching clients often expect me to offer clear strategies on how to change their behavior. My response is almost always the same, "The greatest gift I can give you is to help you shift your mindset. Once you do that, the behavior shifts (and results) will follow." I recognize that "shifting your mindset" may sound daunting or too abstract. So, I thought I'd share a concrete example at the organizational level and also highlight a powerful "flipping" technique from the book, "Conversations Worth Having."
Here's an example of how one flip in mindset changed an organization. There was a company that was growing rapidly—and was expected to double in size in five years. With the majority of staff working on job sites full time, many never stepped foot in HQ. Proud of the work they did for their clients, employees identified with their clients’ missions. But just as fast as they were growing, they were losing people at the same rate due to a disconnection between employees and their managers. In fact, there were many stories of staff not knowing who to deliver their resignation letters to! (Irony of ironies!) .
In attempting to address this issue of disconnection, HR started driving company-wide efforts to reinforce expectations and roles of managers. They were asked to spend time on the job site, walk the halls, and have career conversations with their staff. Only one issue: they had jobs to do, too! Who had time to walk the halls on a job site for a client they’re not even involved with! Needless to say, that didn’t work. Other ideas were implemented too, including new organizational alignments and time-reporting policies. These efforts felt like layers of bureaucracy and more guidelines for managers. All of these actions were to address the fact that staff were leaving and managers were feeling disconnected...but attrition and engagement surveys showed the efforts were not working.
One Executive’s Secret to Engagement
One executive leader, however, took a different approach. He flipped the problem. Instead of focusing on those managers who were disconnected, he focused on the few managers who were making connections. He began tracking how many times they engaged with their staff. He met with the managers, asked specific questions of how they were able to manage their time focusing on their work and connecting with and supporting others. Creative solutions emerged such as assigning “job site mentors” who could look out for their employees when they couldn’t physically be there or another solution of offering team lunches and inviting clients to share in successful accomplishments. The ideas were innovative and most importantly, they worked! The managers of those teams showed little to no turnover and the satisfaction levels were among the highest in the division. After learning about these great success stories, he simply asked his team of leaders to figure out how to repeat this for all teams. Together, they built off of the positive energy and momentum and they ended up with an entire division of engaged employees. They developed metrics and didn’t view this as another HR initiative, but rather a system to develop staff and become more productive as a team.
Flipping It, and Moving toward a Solution
At this month’s CBODN book club meeting, authors Cheri Torres and Jackie Stavros co-facilitated a discussion of their recently published book, Conversations Worth Having. They spoke about an Appreciative Inquiry (AI) technique to problem solving that they call “flipping it.” From the book’s Executive Summary:
“Flipping [can] help you take any problem or challenge and create a positive frame. This is a simple three-step approach to move from a negative, deficit-based frame to a positive frame, allowing you to work towards solutions by engaging in conversations worth having. The three steps are:
At the organization I described, they were trying to help build connection with leaders and their staff. As it turned out, there were already pockets of leaders who had highly engaged staff. Instead of focusing on “low engagement” across the board, they showcased the exceptional example as a best practice and got curious about exactly what was working well—and why it was working. The “flip” from thinking “Everyone around here is so dis-engaged” to “Wow! Look at this team! How do we replicate this?” turned out to be the secret to their success.
“What if, just as everyone is checking in for the conference, a meteorite hits the Convention Center!! Then, what?” She asked the question with a straight face. Everyone else was silent, unsure how to respond. At first the leader didn't know how to react either and then she said something that changed the group's dynamic from that point forward.
The leader responded, "Yes and what if all of the attendees are stuck there for months and we run out of food!?" To the team's surprise, the leader was playing right along with this absurd scenario. Then, picking up on the leader's cues, another team member says, "Yes, and what would happen with all of their flights and what about contacting their families?" To which another person chimed in and said, "Sounds like another Snowmageddon." Bingo! The meteorite comment was just the sort of wacky scenario they needed to begin planning for possible emergencies.
This was one story shared from my colleague, Janice Shack-Marquez, during this month’s CBODN book club meeting on the book Originals by Adam Grant. One of the concepts in the book (and there were many—you can read the discussion summary here) that resonated most with me is the idea that the easiest way to encourage non-conformity is to introduce a single dissenter.
The key to this working though, lies with the leader. The leader is the one to create a safe space where others are encouraged to introduce a wacky idea, or an unpopular idea, and not lose face, or worse, their job! But why would a leader want to do this? In Originals, Grant talks about the benefits of introducing debate to fuel the flames of innovation. The crazy ideas are used to fuel a productive debate—the kind of debate that can lift blind spots, test your logic, and drive creative, original solutions. In Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about healthy debate as a critical success factor to every successful leadership team.
Easier Said Than Done?
At some point or another, we have probably all raised the Devil’s Advocate card. There’s something safe about using that caveat in conversation. Yet, in many workplaces, even with the caveat, it’s still not easy to show dissent. Many times in the workplace saying “yes” to a leader or hearing the leader’s comments as a directive is absolutely the necessary thing to do. But not always!
Do you work in a “Yes, Boss” world? Whether you’ve grown up in one, created one yourself, or are stepping into one as a new leader, you have the power to change it.
Please: Try This at Home!
This technique was shared at the CBODN book discussion I mentioned: Create the expectation that any given time in meetings and project discussions, a random person will be asked to provide a counter argument or alternative solution to whatever is being discussed. Everyone then is prepared to play the Devil's Advocate card or share a "disruptive" point of view. Then, your job as the leader is to be OPEN to the counter attack. NEVER shut it down with a dismissive, “Yah, but." Instead, say, “Yes, and" and encourage others to jump into the conversation to build off of the crazy idea.
Try it out! We want to hear from you!
"AGAIN? You gotta be kidding me!" Your boss delegated a task to one of your direct reports without consulting with you first. It has happened before, and you have previously asked your boss to give you a heads up before delegating to your team members. You are irate! You were promoted recently and are working to assert your leadership with this new team. Why is your boss undermining your authority?
This month’s CBODN Book Club focused on Enneagrams, a model that presents different lenses through which people see the world. This model is especially important when in conflict with others. The conflict may be big or small, and the scenario above gives us an example to play with. As you think about giving feedback to your boss, while you may think the goal is to get the other person to see where you're coming from, the real goal is to allow the other person to feel heard. Once the other person feels heard, they will no longer be on the defensive, will open up, and will engage in a more rational conversation to reach a mutually beneficial outcome. While you may think you have listened deeply, provided timely feedback, and demonstrated empathy, it takes patience and practice to really see another person’s point of view — in particular when they are very different from your own. Asking the right questions—and then listening is a great start, but we encourage you to take one more step to more fully "hear" the other person.
When you are in conflict with someone who is very different from yourself, the “REAL” model can help. I created this model several years ago when I realized that active listening simply wasn't enough. People were still getting stuck speaking at the surface level, and neither party felt heard. This model works particularly well:
Walking Through the REAL Model
Before the conversation, it is helpful to get into the right mindset. While you do not know how the person will respond, you can control if you are entering the conversation from a place of positive intent and interest for both of you to feel heard and respected.
Given the scenario above, you might initiate the conversation and say, "I'd like to re-evaluate our roles on the team so we can provide clear direction to the staff. There are times when you go out to lunch or coffee with staff members, and they come back to the project with a new direction. How are you seeing this situation?" And, then begin the REAL process.
This conversation started with the manager feeling undermined by her boss. The conversation ended with strategies on how to support each other in their new roles and work as unified leaders. The REAL model is a way to structure conversations so both parties can be heard and reach a solution that addresses the underlying issues. I invite you to experiment with some of these concepts (at work and at home) and let me know how it works. What is different in this approach compared to how you typically have these types of conversations (assuming you don't avoid them all together)? What might be most challenging for you? And, let me know what else you discover as you entertain new ways to engage in meaningful conversations.
One doesn’t typically associate military practices with vulnerability. However, this is exactly the secret to the world-renowned Israeli Air Force. On her most recent Talent Grow Show podcast, my good friend and colleague, Halelly Azulay, interviewed a former Israeli Air Force Pilot, Ofir Paldi. What he shared about the secrets to their success will baffle you. “By implementing a unique culture and methodology, the Israeli Air Force became one of the best in the world in terms of quality, safety, and training, effectively cutting accidents by 95%.” Can you guess what methodology they use?
Are you ready for this?
The Israeli Air Force has created a culture where mistakes are not only accepted but are encouraged to talk about.
After each flight, they have a process where all members, from the highest to the lowest ranking pilot, share their mistakes and what they plan to do to improve their actions for the future.
When coaching executives, I often conduct 360 interviews from their staff , manager(s), and peers to learn more about the leader’s style and impact on the team. What I have found is that leaders who admit mistakes and are comfortable being vulnerable have stronger relationships with their staff and focus more on continuous improvement.
Leaders who choose to hide their mistakes tend to come across as conceited, closed, and disconnected.
But why does sharing mistakes work? What is it about being vulnerable in this way that creates a culture of continuous improvement? Based on research and my own experiences, here’s what I’ve discovered:
APPLICATION AT WORK
APPLICATION AT HOME
And, the value of sharing mistakes does not only apply in the military or in the office. In fact, I first stumbled upon this topic when I was struggling to help my oldest son, as a toddler, improve his self-esteem. Oddly enough, the “solution” I landed on was for my husband and I to talk about mistakes in front of our children. Most of the time, kids will not see the mistakes parents make and assume that parents are perfect. And, the expectation from a child’s perspective is that I need to be perfect too. To make matters worse, most parents hover over their kids and call out every mistake they make throughout the day. I know I was guilty of this for sure. The more you share mistakes openly, the more it builds your child’s confidence and comfort in themselves.
There was a period of time where all of our dinner conversations were about the mistakes we made throughout the day and what we did to recover. If you’re a Gen Xer, you may remember the popular Sesame Street song Everyone Makes Mistakes from the Gold Album. Well, that was a popular tune in our household and became the default tune whenever someone in our family made a mistake. This brought some laughter and humor to the conversation too which always helps! In fact, my kids will still refer back to this song today when I make a mistake… it definitely helps me get over it faster and move on.
As leaders at work or at home, we have the ability to either create a culture of shame and anxiety or a culture of learning and continuous improvement. It does take an investment, and it does take courage to be vulnerable but the results are priceless. I’m intrigued to hear how you plan to experiment with these techniques at work and at home. And, once you start experimenting take some time to think about what worked, what didn’t work, and what you can do differently moving forward. Share your stories and experiences with the community. Reply here, send me an email or tweet.
I recently saw a video that Sharon Salzberg produced on How Mindfulness Empowers Us. She shares a Native American folktale, about two wolves. An elder says to a child, “I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is fearful, vengeful and angry, and the other is compassionate, kind and gentle." The child asks, “which wolf will win the fight?” And the elder responds, "The one I feed.”
The powerful message intended in this story is the fact that you choose how you want to respond, behave, and engage with others. No one makes you feel a certain way; you decide what voices you listen to, how you feel, and how you want to respond to the world around you. However, there was something that didn’t sit well with me. The way the “bad wolf” was dismissed didn’t seem to be the right approach.
From my experience working with many executives, I’m well aware of the impact negative self-talk. When you continue to pay attention to the negative voice in you head, it grows and becomes more destructive. As my colleague Anne Suh says, “What we practice grows stronger.”
And, I have found the reverse to be true as well. The more you try to ignore the negative talk or “gremlin” (as it’s often called), the more it grows and the louder it becomes. So, if you listen to the gremlin, it grows and if you ignore it, it continues to grow as well…. what is one supposed to do?
Here’s a strategy that helps many of my clients deal with their gremlins: Name it. Thank it. Tame It.
What I like about this approach is that I’m not trying to suppress the negative thoughts, I recognize, accept, and move on. The more you practice this technique the more you become in charge.
During our last Book Club discussion on the book, “You are Not Your Brain,” we explored the way author Jeffrey Schwartz differentiates between the mind and the brain. He explains in the book, the “brain decides what will grab you [and the] mind can decide what to do when grabbed.” Schwartz came up with a concept of “Free Won’t” instead of Free Will. In his research, he has documented that there is a half of a second from the time your brain decides to take an action to the time your mind is conscious of that thought. And then there is another half of a second before your pre-frontal cortex (higher brain functioning) kicks in. Although this may sound daunting of how quickly you react from a thought or stimulus, the good news is that if you simply take two deep breaths before reacting, you can buy yourself some time to react in a more rational manner.
Victor Frankl, a psychologist and Holocaust survivor is often quoted to have said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” He proclaims that even in the midst of the most horrifying human conditions (referring to the concentration camps), “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
So, I challenge you, next time you become aware of your gremlin telling you you’re not good enough, smart enough, (fill in the blank) enough… first take a breath and then get to know this little voice. Name it, Thank it, Tame it.