My mom, Janet Goodman, and I just spent four days at the ILA Women’s Conference at the Omega Institute in NY. I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical before I left for the conference because, when one person on the listserv asked “what to wear,” someone else e-mailed back “goddess clothing.” Oh no. What did I get myself into?
Despite my skepticism, upon arrival I encountered an amazing group of professional, intelligent, ambitious women all without their high heels on (well, except for one, who obviously didn’t get the memo).
Although I don’t consider myself a feminist or women’s activist, I walked away with more knowledge around unconscious gender bias and a greater appreciation for the importance of advancing and supporting women in leadership. Omega advertised a Women & Power retreat with the message of #dopowerdifferently.
But it wasn’t until something magical happened during the session we facilitated that I truly understood what that meant.
We led an interactive workshop on Barry Johnson's Polarity Thinking model and demonstrated how women have the opportunity to be even more effective when they bring their whole-selves to the table and truly embrace both masculine (yang) and feminine (yin) energy. We started off with an activity that most of us in the OD/Experiential Team Building world know and love… the Helium Stick activity.
For those of you unfamiliar with this activity, you start with a long stick, and all the participants are asked to place their fingers under the stick with the seemingly simple goal of lowering the stick to the ground in the fastest amount of time possible. I must have led people through this activity at least 100 times before, no exaggeration. However, I had never facilitated this with a group of all women.
What I observed was, well, DIFFERENT. The women started off very much on the same path as other groups where they were shocked and caught off guard when the stick suddenly went up instead of down. Their default reaction to this was to ask a series of questions to each other (leveraging the yin energy) and tested out their assumptions (for example, “Did everyone receive the same set of instructions?” “Is anyone looking to sabotage this?” “Is there a trick to this activity?” “Is something flawed in the stick?”).
After hearing from the participants, a leader emerged from the group. She restated their strategy and established a clear plan of action (accessing the Yang energy). They were getting some good momentum and once this happened the magic took place.
The group remained completely silent. I’ve never seen that happen before. The best way for me to describe it was a silent power.
They now trusted that everyone was on board, everyone was determined to do whatever it took to achieve the goal, and they trusted that each team member would adjust and flex as needed to allow the group to reach their shared goal of lowering the stick to the ground. In silence they continued to work together, in harmony in mutual trust and total respect for one another. They accomplished the task and all walked away with a sense of pride.
Both masculine and feminine ways of leading were present. They had to set direction and establish a plan which accessed the traditionally masculine side AND they listened and solicited ideas from each other which accessed the traditionally feminine side. However, the manner in which it was carried out was so different than what I had ever seen with any team before. I even have the chills now as I’m writing this and remembering the experience.
This, my friends, is doing power differently.
I left inspired by this experience, curious to know who’s already out there leading in this way, what companies are already role modeling this and how do we articulate doing power differently? Once we can describe it, we can then replicate it, own it and contribute to building a stronger society. Goddess clothing, however, is optional.
I’ll never forget the time I heard Elliot Masie, the man who coined the term “eLearning," discuss how learning and development professionals measure training. He said something to the effect of, “We might as well ask participants to step on a scale before they enter the training room. Then, each quarter, we can say we trained over 40 thousand pounds of participants.”
His point was that the way we traditionally measure training is useless. It’s typically measured in terms of number of participants who attended or even better, their level of entertainment during class. What’s completely missing is how much they’re learning and if they’re able to apply their learning. Isn’t that the point?
To build successful training, we continuously discover what leads to the best outcomes and tweak our programs accordingly. Here are a few tips to apply in ANY of your training programs:
The truth is, traditional training (e.g. attend a 1-2 day course) is simple and requires a low level of effort. However, if you are really invested in sustainable learning for your employees, you’ll need to rethink the Level of Effort (LOE) required for your trainers.
The shift that we’re seeing in companies is they’re moving from:
We’re curious to know how training is shifting in your organization. Let us know what’s working and what’s not. We invite you to join us on our quest to re-invent training for organizations.
Are we saying ditch the content and just let people socialize during training courses? No, not quite. What we do is provide new models and fresh approaches while also optimizing the time leaders spend interacting together.
It's time to start creating training that maps to the learning formula many of us in the training industry have known for years: The 70-20-10 rule. 70% of learning occurs through experiential practices, 20% comes from learning from peers, and 10% from the content itself.
We can all intuitively understand this if you just think of the way you learn on a daily basis. Most likely, you're learning from YouTube videos, articles on LinkedIn, TedTalks, TV, magazines, conversations with friends, etc. We’re learning all the time in informal, easy digestible bites of information. We soak up and seek out knowledge when we need it or when a topic seems intriguing.
We believe it's time to change the game of how we teach leaders in organizations. Training should earn the audience’s attention by creating engaging, relevant, intriguing content that leaders are excited to discuss with peers and test out on the job.
Take a peak at this 3 minute video to learn a new way to deliver training for any content. The concepts are intuitive and the learning sticks:
This approach emphasizes the experiential element to training and encourages continued learning, beyond the classroom. We challenge you to implement a few of these ideas and let us know how it works. If you're feeling stuck and need some ideas, give us a call. We love brainstorming new ways to bring your content to life and create real learning for leaders.
Do you have bench strength or bench warmers? If you’re like most executive leaders, you have more bench warmers than you care to admit. But, there’s good news ahead.
Do you have bench strength or bench warmers? If you’re like most executive leaders, you have more bench warmers than you care to admit. But, there’s good news ahead.
News Flash: Traditional organizational structures have changed; today, “flat is the new black.” Middle managers carry more strategic responsibilities, manage more large-scale projects, provide more mentoring and are tasked with more team growth goals than ever before. Being stretched thin and wide is the new reality.
Managers struggle just to keep up with their inbox, let alone carve out time for long chats with their employees. The care and feeding of employees is falling by the wayside. People are moving faster, want information sooner, talk more and listen less.
The problem deepens as leaders can’t get away with giving orders anymore and don’t follow a clear hierarchy. Middle managers have responsibility without authority and manage through a matrix web. Roles are unclear, priorities are constantly shifting and decisions needed to be made yesterday. And, yet senior leaders often expect the middle managers to both understand the strategy and figure out how to execute. And, by the way, those solutions better be innovative!
Training and support clearly exists, but many companies only invest in the top performers and the highest senior level executives, leaving middle managers unaccounted and floating on their own. Consequently, they’re burning out and are likely to jump ship if a better offer comes their way. Here’s a startling statistic: “According to Talent Trends’ 2014 report, 85% of all staff are open to finding a new job.” So, even though they’re not actively seeking, if an opportunity presents itself they would consider jumping ship.
It’s no wonder only 13% of senior leaders have confidence in their leadership pipeline[i], which creates tension on both sides of the aisle. Yet, ironically, 86% of today’s business leaders agree that middle level managers will either make or break the organization[ii].
You might be asking yourself: If leaders see the critical role of their middle managers, why do companies lack training and development options? Here are a few reasons:
Here’s the good news: we’ve been considering the plight of middle managers and have spent several years developing new creative approaches for learning. Learning should be a natural, ongoing process for leaders and organizations, and remain affordable, accessible and provide sustained benefits.
To build your bench, various training options and tools exist. In our next post, we’ll talk about the online and offline options companies have. And, we’ve got some great information to share, including tips and tricks, which can be used right away. Stay tuned!
[i] Right Management, “Talent Management: Accelerating Business Performance.” 2014
[ii] Deloitte. “Leaders at all levels: Close the gap between hype and readiness.” 2014
[iii] Right Management, “Talent Management: Accelerating Business Performance.” 2014
86% of leaders know that the success of their company depends on their rising leaders, yet only 13% are confident in their leadership pipeline. The “Lead with Intention” prepares your leaders for what’s next.
Over the last 10 years, I have seen companies refocus their values, or leadership approach, to become less “Command and Control” and more “Inspire and Enroll.” However, I don't completely agree with this shift. Let me explain.
First of all, we’re not comparing apples to apples. “Command and Control” could be interpreted as the overuse of being too assertive or too decisive. However, the qualities of being assertive and decisive are still highly valued skills in today's workplace. The positive benefits when operating in this mindset are leaders that are able to make decisions, set clear direction, and able to quickly take action. On the contrary, "Inspire and Enroll” is a way to describe the positive benefits of being inclusive, collaborative, and open to other’s viewpoints. However, it is possible to overuse this approach as well. What happens when leaders are too open or too inclusive? Typically they end up with a team that never makes decisions, becomes stuck in analysis paralysis, or are conflict-avoidant. Take Zappos for example. In the last two years, Zappos shifted their entire approach to embrace “Holacracy,” (a radical, self-managed team approach to replace Bureaucracy). In recent reports, it sounds as if they may have swung the pendulum too far over to the collaborative side. They are left with more meetings, more discussions and less decisions or innovations being implemented. My guess is that as they continue to experiment with this new way of working, they will reach for the positive strategies from the “command and control” side such as clarifying decision-making protocol.
My point is that we’re comparing a negative, downside ("Command and Control") from one approach to a positive, upside ("Inspire and Enroll") from another approach. This thinking stems from Barry Johnson's work on Polarity Management. If we instead viewed these approaches as more neutral, we’re really comparing “Being Decisive” with “Being Inclusive” or some similar variation. They both have benefits and downsides. I don’t think you’ll find any CEO that would want one or the other; we need both. Instead of favoring one style of operating, I suggest leaders learn to recognize when and how to leverage the benefits from both styles. In order to do this, leaders must first recognize their own tendencies and biases. Second, have an overall awareness of how their behaviors are positively or negatively impacting others. And finally, know what strategies to employ when they’re overdoing one of the approaches. I believe that if we can teach leaders the dynamics between behaviors and the patterns that exist, leaders will become more aware and recognize what is necessary to use in any given situation.
A simple exercise you can do to start experimenting with this concept is to recognize one of your greatest strengths as a leader. Then, think if you were to rely too heavily on this particular strength, how would it get in your way? For example, being directive may turn into micromanaging. Being kind may become too accommodating. Just being aware of your own strengths (how they work for you and against you) is the first step to becoming a mindful leader who can adapt to any given situation.
Most of us spend the majority of our days in our heads, thinking, strategizing, and literally not moving. I can recall a time when I was working in a satellite office and the lights suddenly went off. I realized that all of the lights were on motion detectors and as far as the room was concerned, no one was there. My only movements were probably my fingertips typing away at the keyboard. Our bodies and minds are connected and this is not just some new age, woo-woo thing. When I coach people I often have them recognize what’s going on in their bodies because, brain research now reveals that our bodies pick up on signals first and then we interpret the meaning intellectually. The more we are aware of our bodies, the faster we can recognize what’s happening, intersect the fight/flight response and lead in a more calm, powerful way.
Patty Onderko explores the idea that exercise can “rebuild, strengthen and fortify our muscles and brains” in her article, You^n, which appeared in the June 2015 edition of Success. An exciting study out of Sweden found a direct link between fitness level and IQ. The study followed more than 1 million men as they aged between 15 and 55. As they aged, the men who improved their fitness also improved their IQ and IQ was lowered in the men with a decrease in fitness. The question, then, is how can you more consciously care for your body in order to better serve your brain? We all know exercise and diet are essential but let’s get even more basic. If you simply focus on walking and resting more, you will see both short term and long term positive effects on your “mood, memory, performance, creativity, and motivation.” In his book, The Brain’s Way of Healing, Dr. Norman Doidge argues this point by telling the story of man who literally walked away his debilitating Parkinson symptoms. The man walked several miles every other day while focusing closely on his movements and was able to create new neural pathways reversing his crippling symptoms. This is why walking is so powerful. It taps into our primal survival instincts as it was primitively critical in finding food and fleeing from predators. “Doidge recommends walking fast enough to break a sweat and doing it outside where we are exposed to changing landscapes and obstacles as often as possible.”
Taking a break is equally important to brain development. Neuroscience research shows that memory is boosted when you take a period of rest after learning something new. This is called “spaced learning patterns” and it is critical in giving your brain time to process new information and to commit it to your long term memory. Getting enough sleep is crucial in giving your brain time to flush itself. Scientists from the University of Rochester Medical Center found that the channels between a mouse’s neurons expand up to 60% during sleep allowing for “an influx of cerebrospinal fluid throughout the brain, clearing out neurotoxic waste at a much faster rate than awake mice.” In fact, it has long been believed that sleep deprivation was a symptom of Alzheimer’s disease but instead is now considered a contributing cause.
So how can we incorporate this important research into our workplace? Try going out of your way to build movement into your day… take the stairs, park in the furthest parking spot. Some managers even ask their staff to store walking shoes in the office and walk around the building during their one-on-one meetings. Experiment with your sleep. Try going to bed 30 minutes earlier each night for a week. The paradox is that we demonstrate more productivity when we allow ourselves to slow down. And, just by reading this blog, you gave yourself a brain break, so congratulations; you’re well on your way.
What is your story? Glenn Garnes of The Village Connector interviewed me about the work I do in developing leaders both at work and at home. Thanks to him, I’ve become a little more clear about my own story. The Village Connector offers free talks on both personal and professional development content. Check out the interview.
The good news is that approximately 86% of business leaders agree an organization’s future success greatly depends on the development of their rising leaders (2014 study by Deloitte). The bad news is that only 30% of senior managers report feeling very confident that their talent management efforts pay off, and 13%, have confidence in the strength of their leadership pipeline (Right Management, “Talent Management” study).
Building High Potential Leadership programs has become a strong passion of mine. Although the basic leadership skills are somewhat the same across organizations, the focus areas for development vary greatly. I came across an article by Harrison Monarth, published by Harvard Business Review, that recommends using a back-end approach to leadership development.
Creating strategies for the next 5-10 years are a thing of the past. Timing is critical. Think about where your company is headed in the next year and start with the end in mind. For example, are you going through a merger, experiencing growth, creating new products, expanding internationally? First consider the desired goals or strategy of the organization, then work backwards to determine the critical qualities needed from your leaders to help you get there.
Most companies make the mistake of creating laundry lists of vague competencies that they expect in their leaders (that could “plug and play” into any company) and then identify the “high potentials” as the people who effectively display the majority of these behaviors. Instead of letting the competencies lead the way, let your business strategy lead the way. In other words, first clearly articulate your business strategy, then identify what competencies will be essential from your leaders over the next year. As you develop leaders (through mentoring, coaching, training, etc.), you will know what areas to focus on developing. Though you may identify leaders that will help during this time, as the organization strategy changes, you might select a different set of leaders in the organization or develop them in a more targeted way. Now, that makes for a truly flexible, adaptable organization.
How well does do your talent development programs align to your business strategy? Where is your business headed and who do you need to help you get there?
My son and I were watching "American Ninja Warrior" the other night on TV. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s an obstacle course for the strongest, most agile, most highly-skilled athletes. During the episode, they showed a clip from last year of one of the “veterans” that everyone was sure would move on to the last round but he surprised everyone by being disqualified on the second element. The guy was devastated and in such a state of shock that he struggled to overcome his disappointment. Even after several months had passed, his friends said he wasn’t the same person and wanted to give up. He literally could not seem to pull his life back together. Then, he started receiving fan mail and it was the messages he received from many kids that gave him the push he needed to turn his life around. The kids still considered him a role model and wrote that everyone messes up, everyone makes mistakes, and he should keep going. This motivated him to continue training and he excelled on the course this year. He came back a calmer, more grounded athlete.
In parenting, I have always found that one of the most important lessons to teach my kids is that life isn’t fair, life will throw us challenges AND we can get through them and recover. We try so hard to protect our kids from life’s bumps and bruises but in the end, we’re usually doing them more harm than good. We like to think that it’ll all work out fine but the reality is, sometimes it won't. And then what? What skills do they have to bounce back? I’d rather help them learn to face life’s challenges and help them get through it at an early age than to shield them until they must deal with the much more difficult and consequential challenges during HS or adulthood. As my husband and I joke, find a reason to disappoint your kids everyday. My husband forwarded an article on to me, “6 Things I Wish I Had Never Told My Kids,” that I think captures these “false” life lessons perfectly. We can all learn from them.
We took the kids to the movies to see “Tomorrowland” a few weeks ago. Besides the fact that human robots were decapitated (which apparently falls under a “PG” rating now), the kids seemed to enjoy it. Throughout the movie they referenced the famous Cherokee Story about the two fighting wolves. One wolf is full of love, kindness, and joy while the other wolf is filled with evil, anger, and greed. The boy asks his grandfather, “Who will win?” and the grandfather replies, “The one you feed.” I am reminded of this story every day, especially during those moments in which I encounter poor customer service. I recently came across an article with a great approach on staying grounded into feeding the wolf that provides happiness and joy. Bahram Akradi refers to this concept as “Conscious Kindness.”
Mr. Akradi shares the story of a time when he was out to a business lunch with colleagues and they encountered a less than stellar server. Rather than stick it to her for the poor service by leaving her a terrible tip he chose “to see it as an opportunity for conscious kindness, and to tip her double instead.” He understood that the girl was already struggling and he wanted to throw her a rope. As it turned out, helping to make her day a little better ultimately improved his as well. Scientific research is now backing up this assertion. The research indicates that when we act kindly towards others, we actually receive a benefit too. It not only improves our mood but gives a rush of endorphins, or a “helper’s high,” that has been shown to also reduce stress.
The good news is kindness is contagious. The reverse, however, is equally true. Rudeness, nastiness and pettiness, too, can result in the same snowball effect. One kind or rude gesture will inspire the next. So when you find yourself getting trapped in the dark, downward spiral of frustration, anger, or resentment, go out of your way to give kindness. You can watch the kindness circle back to you. You may be surprised at how little effort you have to put forth to see a positive shift. Any act of kindness you send out will be so unexpected that it will get you out of your funk and brighten someone else’s day too. You have more influence than you realize. You get to decide which wolf you want to feed.
I just completed The Leadership Circle Assessment certification and one of the qualities of an effective leader that stood out to me was “Courageous Authenticity.” Based on what I’m learning about the newest generation of leaders, this is a necessity, not a nice to have.
Just as I finally feel like I've gotten a grasp on the Millennial generation, in marches the “Digital Natives.” But there’s good news… this is a generation that values integrity and authenticity. In his article, “After the Millennials” which appeared in the June, 2015 edition of “Success”, Owen Shapiro asserts that if companies can demonstrate to this latest generation of consumers that they are doing the right thing, then the digital natives will want to stand behind them. These new consumers are not interested in the sleazy sales pitch and they have the ability to tune it out. This makes them more difficult to reach, to be sure, but it is absolutely possible.
First, ensure that your organization’s mission, goals, procedures and communications are in alignment. Then, be transparent about what your organization stands for. You must “represent and reveal your values, because consumers buy brands that reflect their values.” Chipotle is a great example of a company doing just that. They have a loyal customer base who believes in Chipotle’s “Food With Integrity” initiative. They are excited to get behind a fast food chain willing to put their money where their mouth is. Shapiro asserts that social media is a useful tool to employ in building lasting relationships with your customer base. He argues that it allows an organization to have direct access to individual consumers. Successful companies are positioning themselves as trusted friends by offering tips, recipes, hassle-free refunds or free products. Find areas where you can give up some control to your customers. Invite them to submit ideas for new flavors, new packaging or design.
Ultimately, what you want is a customer base who believes in what you are doing because today’s tech savvy consumers are not interested in being targeted for a sales pitch. They want something to rally around. Showing them who you are and what you believe in will give them a reason to get behind you. Digital natives are consumers who are advocating for companies with authenticity. What are some of the ways you reveal your values to your customers?
Think of a time in which you were the most effective, the most successful. Chances are, you had someone in your corner; someone who made you feel significant, made you feel like you matter. In “How to Make Others Feel Significant,” which appeared online in May 2015 on Success.com, Tony Jeary argues that making the people in your life feel essential is even more important than making them feel appreciated. This is equally true for both home and work. If you want to help the people who mean the most to you succeed, you have to be sure you're making them feel significant.
Jeary offers a few ideas for ways to make the important people in your life feel special. He says to brag on them in the presence of others, ask them for advice on important matters, give them credit for the things they do. He keeps a list of people and next to each of their names he takes note of things that matter to them. He says, “By understanding their needs, I can help them win.” For his clients, he makes them feel like VIP’s. Offering them quality food and drink, printing boarding passes for them or even washing their cars. At home he does what he can to make his spouse and children feel extra special. You can take the time to listen to them, show them you value their opinions, do thoughtful things for them, take them on a vacation. “People blossom when the feel loved.”
Making the effort to show those you work with, love, and respect how much you value them will improve your relationships. Furthermore, it will give them more to respect about you and will help them to be successful in their endeavors. What are you doing at home and at the office to make those around you feel significant?
My dear colleague and mentor, Lee Salmon, passed away last week. At the funeral people shared stories about his contributions to the coaching profession, sustainability efforts, and his love for his family. He was the type of person who was always able to stand strong behind his values and make anyone feel comfortable and welcomed (especially with his great bear hug greetings). The ceremony was a celebration of his life and a way to seek comfort on the reality that Lee is no longer with us.
Fast forward to Sunday, the day after the funeral. All parents of 4th grade students in my synagogue were asked to attend Sunday School with their kids as there was a special session on “Death and Dying.” Timely, huh? I was curious about what they were going to teach us and was also looking for some comfort for my recent loss. The session focused on teaching parents how to talk about Death and Dying with their kids. Because the topic of death is so difficult for most adults, kids often suffer by not being told the truth, not being able to express real concerns or questions, and not being included in the conversations and mourning process. The messages were wonderful. Be open with your kids, don’t feel that you have to have all the answers, and give your child space to ask questions, feel hurt or just be comforted. There was one message, however, that really stuck with me. In the Jewish tradition, the mourners “sit Shiva” for 7 days after the person is buried. The family members open their house for others to come in and keep them company for seven days. People share stories, cry, laugh, eat, eat some more, comfort each other and support the family who is experiencing the greatest loss. At this session, however, I learned a little more to this tradition. There is a significance to the seven days. The Rabbi explained that it took God seven days to create the world and when you lose a loved one, it’s as if you have lost your world. To which my son leans over to me and whispers, “Mom, so it’s like the time it takes for the world to update?” This was a beautiful statement. I went in to the Sunday School workshop thinking how I would learn to comfort my children when dealing with death and I left feeling comforted by the words of my son.
So, as I think of Lee over the next seven days (and beyond), I will reflect on how much his presence and contributions changed the world we live in and recognize that I need to be patient as the world updates without him in our presence.
“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.” –Martin Luther King Jr.
Even when faced with extreme injustices, Martin Luther King Jr. led his followers to a place of higher being. This bold action of responding with dignity and discipline is so powerful and counter intuitive to our natural fight or flight response. When you have been wronged, whether at work or at home, you want to make things right. Immediately negative thoughts run through our head, “No, he didn't just do that!” “She’s not going to show me up like that,” “I can’t let him win” or “It’s a matter of principle.” If you do take action and either retaliate, seek revenge or become passive aggressive, then you have just entered the vicious cycle.
There’s a book by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels called, “The Tools,” that references this vicious cycle as the Maze. The authors describe the Maze as the place you’re in when you’re so trapped in hurt and anger that you’re paralyzed to move on. “The Maze doesn't just damage your relationship to other people; it damages your relationship to life itself.” And, the deeper you go, the harder it is to escape. Why is it so hard to escape? Because of a universal expectation around fairness.
“We’re trapped because of a universal human expectation that the world will treat us fairly. This is a cherished, childish assumption – ‘If I’m good, the world will be good to me.’ We should know better—the world violates this assumption every day. Someone cuts you off on the highway, a customer is rude to you. But despite this overwhelming evidence, we cling to our childish views.
As long as you insist that life treat you fairly, when someone wrongs you you’ll demand that the scales of justice be balanced immediately…. It’s only when you feel something bigger better, and more powerful than fairness that you stop waiting for it.”
The book continues to describe the tools to help you get out of the Maze. However, this section alone was so powerful for me and a good reminder about how to remain grounded even when every button is being pushed. I’m reminded of the quote, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?”
We finally broke down and adopted a puppy. She’s an 11-week old Cockapoo who is already sleeping through the night. I think of it as Karma for hushing my oldest son to sleep in my makeshift bed in the hallway for his first three years of life. Although I grew up with a dog, I realized I had very limited knowledge when it comes to raising a puppy and I didn’t know what I didn’t know. So, where did I turn to for some answers? Well TV of course! The one and only Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan. This show is a must see even if you don’t have a dog. If you look beyond Cesar’s “chht” claw-hand response for unwanted behavior (which I’d imagine wouldn’t go over well with your staff), his messages and approaches run deep into leadership theory and practices. I find myself referencing the show quite a bit, not when I’m talking about my dog but rather when people ask me what I do. I explain leadership as the ability to hold two seemingly conflicting ways of being… like being directive AND inclusive or grounded AND flexible or accountable AND supportive. I then get the confused “huh?” stare and follow up with, “Have you ever seen the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan? You know how Cesar trains humans to be the Calm AND Assertive pack leader? Well, I help leaders remain calm and assertive at work with their staff and at home with their kids.” Then they get it. Thanks Cesar!
If you’ve never seen the show, you might think this doesn’t make any sense. How can I be both calm AND assertive at the same time? I can only be one or the other, right?? And, when I am in one state it’s at the cost of the other state. However, when you watch the show, you see how Cesar teaches the owner to hold both of these leadership concepts together. It’s a respectful yet commanding way to show the dog who is the pack leader.
As a leader in the workplace or at home, we are constantly moving between two ways of being. Barry Johnson (polaritypartnerships.com) labels these pairs as “polarities” and has been studying polarity management since 1975. He describes polarities as “independent pairs that support a common purpose and one another. They are energy systems in which we live and work.” From my perspective, thinking in polarities is a realistic view to the way we actually live. It’s messy, complex, and constantly changing. Should I be more assertive or more accommodating? Should I let things go or stick to the policy? The answers are, “yes” and “yes!” Polarities are unsolvable problems so traditional problem-solving approaches will not work. Our techniques will teach you how to zoom out and look at the bigger picture, measure how well you’re managing the polarities in your life, and apply strategies to maximize the benefits of both. Intrigued? Contact Us to be part of our pilot study on measuring effectiveness within leadership polarities.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand;
they listen with the intent to reply.”
- Stephen Covey
One of the best ways to improve a relationship is to improve your listening skills. When someone feels heard, they feel a connection with the other person. Many of us, however, never received any lessons on how to listen. Most of the time, when we’re listening to someone, we assume they don’t have the answers and it’s our job to provide advice or share information. However when you do this, you are solving problems from your own frame of reference. In other words, you’re thinking about the problem from your own past experiences, what’s important to you, and what has helped you in the past rather than thinking about the situation from the other person’s perspective. Although your intentions are good, the other person often feels “you don’t get it” or will respond with “yah but” statements because he/she is coming from a different frame of reference. Stephen Covey in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” explains the typical listening responses:
Instead of assuming the other person is looking to you for answers, assume the other person has the answers already but they’re just not aware of them yet. In other words, be an investigator, be curious about the other person’s perspective and what has worked or not worked for that person in the past. The idea is to help the other person analyze his/her own situation in a new way rather than solving the problem for him/her. Test out some of these alternative ways to listen:
So, next time you’re in conversation with someone who you want to connect with, try experimenting with these new listening approaches. Even if you don’t solve anything, the other person will feel heard, and you’ll both feel more connected.
Throughout our lives, we create stories about who we are, what we’re good at, and what we can and can’t do. Often a key breakthrough for my coaching clients is when they examine their story and the evolution of that story. How, when and why was it created?
As a leadership coach, I work with many clients to tap into their creativity. Being creative is an important leadership skill at work and at home as it allows for new possibilities, new solutions, collaboration, openness, discovery… the list goes on. Yet, a story that I commonly hear from leaders is “I’m not a creative person.” Where does this come from?
Gordon MacKenzie, author of “Orbiting the Giant Hairball,” worked in the creativity department of Hallmark Cards for 30 years. He was also an artist, a sculptor, and traveled to different elementary schools to demonstrate both his craft and the magic of creativity.
The following excerpt from chapter one, “Where have all the Geniuses Gone,” describes Gordon’s experience in observing the evolution of the childrens’ stories around creativity.
Anger has a bad reputation for being loud, forceful, and aggressive. However, anger is also passionate, bold, and energizing.
When someone gets angry and acts out in a destructive manner, we think that the problem is the anger. Actually, it’s not. Anger is just an emotion, like happiness, sadness, excitement (you know the list!). The problem is how that person reacted to anger.
Anger gets a lot of attention because frankly, not many people are good at being angry. Most of us revert to a natural fight or flight response to anger because we didn’t spend time as kids developing the skills to react in a positive, productive manner. Most of us went to school to grow our intellectual capacity (new information, knowledge and facts) but I personally don’t remember any classes that focused on growing my emotional capacity. So, when a child (who never focused on his/her emotional growth) becomes an adult and gets angry, the outcome looks childish and messy at best.
Anger can be a very powerful and helpful emotion. Anger is full of energy and passion, and if we can better understand the anger, we can use that energy productively and move into action. For example, if I am angry because I didn’t get that raise I expected I might feel like barging into my boss’ office and start screaming at him which may of course result in losing my job completely. Hopefully, I would have some ounce of rational thought left to steer me away from his office, however I may not know what else to do.
The hardest time to change a behavior is when you’re right in the middle of it. So first, take a deep breath. Maybe two. Maybe three. If that doesn’t work to help calm down, then delay the conversation. A great way to role model this for others is to acknowledge the feeling and actively choose not to engage. For example, you may say, “I’m realizing that I’m really angry right now and I’m not thinking clearly. When I’ve calmed down, I’d like to discuss this with you.” Then experiment to see what actually helps you calm down. It’s somewhat trial and error but don’t give up; this is essential in helping you regroup and refocus your anger. Many people find a sensory change to be very helpful to get themselves back in check. Some examples of sensory changes include stepping outside (especially on a cool day), holding a piece of ice, squeezing a stress ball, looking at a beautiful picture, going for a run, or listening to a favorite song. Find something that works for you.
Once you’ve calmed down, your rational brain wakes up and you can think about what your anger is actually telling you. In this case, my anger might be telling me that I deeply care about the work but feel undervalued. It may be telling me that my core values are being triggered. It may mean that I’m frustrated with myself for not effectively communicating my value to my senior leaders. Or, it may mean that it’s time to move on and look for a new job. Anger is allowing me to see what’s important to me and is propelling me into motion. My action may be to meet with my manager to understand how my contributions are perceived by others. Without anger, I may become depressed, do nothing and lose all hope that anything will change. Anger allows for action. The challenge is to make that action powerful and positive.
Trap 3 of 3: I need to protect.
There’s nothing harder than to see someone struggle through a situation. However, this is exactly how children learn to talk, to walk, to eat, etc. Independence has to be coupled with the parent/executive’s ability to let go and to trust. Both are necessary. They are separate and equally important concepts. We learn to trust them and they learn to trust themselves. It’s a process, so start small. Young children, for example, often thrive when they receive two choices to select from. As they grow, the choices become more complex. Likewise, in the workplace, less experienced employees may need more limited choices, however, as they gain experience, allow them to tackle more complex problems. Certainly there will be problems along the way but if you intentionally focus on developing independence in others, you will have the fortitude to help others work through their problems, rather than protecting or solving their problems for them.
Think about the people you want to develop. What choices can you limit to encourage success in some? Where can you offer more challenges for others? When you and the other person feel slightly nervous (but not too much to cause panic), then you know you’re in the growth zone.
Trap 2 of 3: Independence happens naturally.
Many parents think that children will automatically learn to be independent as they grow. That isn’t necessarily true. We need to help our children develop a healthy sense of independence along the way. Don’t we all know stories of children who are raised with overactive parents dictating what to do and when these children get to college they can’t handle the freedom and fall apart or drop out?
Not enough independence is frustrating and slows development, however, too much independence is overwhelming and can negatively impact one’s self-confidence. So how do you seek the right balance?
There’s a trust formula that I used to recite in leadership classes:
Trust = Skill X Will. In other words, trust occurs when you feel the person is capable (has the skills) and is willing or motivated (or has your back). I find that this also holds true for nurturing independence. In order to be independent, you must first teach the necessary skills (if the person doesn’t have them already) and then motivate the individual to accomplish the task on their own. And, every person requires their own development plan. Typically in the workplace, I see leaders enrolling their staff in training which is a development activity to teach new knowledge or skills. However, in many cases (especially with more tenured staff) the issue is more around motivation (or “will”) than skill. On the contrary, parents often assume a child is not taking responsibility (e.g. clean up after dinner) because of lack of motivation (or “will”) but more likely, they’ve never been taught HOW to perform the task. When you break down a seemingly simple task, you realize the complexity in the number of steps and how unrealistic our expectations often are as parents. So, when encouraging independence, first ask yourself, is it an issue of “Skill” or “Will?”
I had a one of those shocking parenting moments last week when I witnessed something actually working! My kids actually cleaned up from dinner without complaining and without expecting a reward in return. Who cares if dishes aren’t stacked in the right cabinet, who cares if a few glasses break… the kids are taking charge! As I reflect on the 4th of July, I thought it would be appropriate to write a few thoughts on independence and share some of the common traps I see leaders make every day.
Despite our best intentions, both as parents and executives, we fall trap to enabling more dependent rather than independent behaviors in those we want develop. See if you’ve fallen trap to any of the following:
Trap 1 of 3: I’m just being helpful.
Most people view being helpful as a very positive thing and most of the time it is. However, the whole idea of independence is to not do for others what others are capable of doing/deciding for themselves. Of course there are some exceptions to this (e.g. if safety is at risk) but during a typical day, there are plenty of occasions where we step in as leaders to help when really we’re enabling dependency. For example, as parents, being helpful may be obvious like helping your child get dressed in the morning or more subtle reminders each morning such as “Did you remember to pack your lunch in your backpack?” As executives, you may proofread a document and make all the corrections for the other person to help the other person save time or perhaps you may provide a template for monthly status reports for the new team lead. All of these actions are helpful AND they get in the way of allowing the other person to take responsibility and become independent. Every time you step up, the other person steps back. In what ways do you evaluate your own “helpful” intentions? How do you stop yourself from stepping in – and take a step back to allow others to make decisions on their own?