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.
In the 1970s we talked about Work-Life Separation, in the 1990s it was Work-Life Balance, and by 2010 we called it Work-Life Integration. Despite all this juggling and integrating, we still feel the pull between these competing commitments in our lives. And we’re tired!
Some of us may even pay a premium for three days at an exclusive resort where we are forced to unplug and—gasp—live without cell phone coverage and WiFi! There’s even a term for it now, “Digital Detox!” To many, Work-Life Integration has come to mean never shutting down—being available 24/7. So, what’s next?
As a society, we value and admire optimists. Those of us who are optimists take pride in seeing “the glass half full” in light of challenges. However it’s not that simple! This month’s CBODN Book Club discussion was on the book “Positively Resilient” by Doug Hensch. We talked about the factors that contribute to one’s ability to “bounce back” from challenging times—and the benefits of overcoming adversity.
The discussion got me thinking about the power of positive thinking in the workplace and at home. It also got me thinking about the downside of extreme positivity. As a coach, I know that clients who are overly optimistic may have certain blind spots. In fact, pessimists are known to form more accurate self-assessments than optimists. I wanted to share my thinking on resiliency—which I believe encompasses a healthy dose of both realism and optimism—through a polarity lens.
Admiral Jim Stockdale was a Prisoner of War (POW) in Vietnam for seven years. During an interview he was asked, “Who didn’t make it out?” Stockdale responded, “Oh, that’s easy, the optimists.”
Polarities at Play: The Stockdale Paradox
The story of Admiral Stockdale was made famous by Jim Collins’ book, “Good to Great.” It is the most powerful example I have found that demonstrates the potential downside to being too optimistic. However, the way the story was portrayed seems to imply that you shouldn’t be optimistic. In my opinion, however, the moral of the story is that one needs to access both a realistic and optimistic mindset without over-focusing on either side. In retelling this story, I would like to examine it from a Polarity lens and build the case for a “both/and” approach. Polarity Thinking, coined by Dr. Barry Johnson of Polarity Partnerships, offers a more dynamic view in which the two "poles" (optimistic and realistic) are interdependent upon one another. In this story when the prisoners' of war learn to leverage the upsides of both poles, they survive.
A Polarity Lens
At first, Stockdale’s observation may seem absurd! How could optimism lead to someone’s death? However, when looking through the lens of Polarities, we see the larger dynamic at play. When navigating through complexities, there are at least two interdependent poles at play. The two poles, in this scenario are Optimism and Realism. We will see how these poles depend upon one another. As the story suggests, the prisoners who didn’t survive the war camp over-focused on their optimistic mindset to the neglect of the realities of the situation.
The optimists had an “unwavering belief for the future” that they would be rescued before Christmas. But then, Christmas would come and go, year after year, with no rescue in sight. Over-time, the people who over-focused on this optimistic mindset (to the neglect of Realism), ended up losing all sense of reality.
Meanwhile, there were some soldiers who were able to face “the brutal facts” which gave them a healthy dose of reality. But those who over-focused on the harsh realities (to the neglect of optimism) would find themselves quickly in the downside of Realism. And, over time, the soldiers would lose all hope for the future.
Those who did survive had a mindset that leveraged the upsides of both poles: Optimism AND Realism.
As Stockdale commented, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
Without the ability to hold BOTH Optimism and Realism, one could not survive the terrible conditions of the prisoner of war camp.
Admittedly, this is an extreme life-and-death example. But it’s no exaggeration of the power of polarities and dynamic thinking. Polarities are ever-present and can help you navigate through any complex challenge in the workplace or at home.
This polarity of being realistic AND optimistic is very present for me at work and at home. I am constantly thinking of ways to acknowledge the realities of a situation, validate other’s concerns AND offer support to help them navigate through the difficult situations. I’m curious to hear how you have helped others face reality while being encouraging at the same time. Send us your stories and examples, we’d love to hear them.
It was 7am on a Wednesday morning. I was on my way to our monthly book club meeting where I was leading a discussion on the book Rewire Your Brain for Love by Marsha Lucas. I turned on the radio to the Business Talk station and listen to an interview of a very successful woman executive and author. In the introduction, the interviewer listed her accomplishments, one after another—barely taking a breath while reading the exhaustive list, and said to the woman, “Wow, it really seems like you’re able to do it all.”
To which the executive responded proudly, “Yes, the key is that I don’t waste any time during the day. If I’m on a flight, I’m writing a book. If I’m in the car, I’m catching up on my calls. Every minute is planned and productive.”
It was a moment that made me cringe. I have to admit I passed judgment on her. I felt sorry for her! I wondered how many breakdowns she’s already had, and how stressful her life must be as she fills every minute of the day with “productive work.” Her message could not have been more opposed to what I was about to share at book club: the importance of slowing down, meditating, and being present in the moment.
Many of the leaders I coach have Type A personalities and many are over-achievers. Although I admire them for their masterful work, many of them literally end up burning themselves out. One client stopped answering my emails only to find out later she was hospitalized for three weeks due to stress. The lifestyle is grueling. With meetings back to back during the day, and catching up on the hundreds of emails at night, one may think you need to work faster and harder to reach your productivity goals. As a coach, I would challenge this thinking and suggest you step back and slow down. Think about it, do you admire those leaders who run around like chickens with their heads cut off—or do you admire those leaders who remain calm in the midst of chaos? I have a magnet in my office that says the following:
“Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”
As I work with busy executives, we don’t explore actions to work faster. Instead, we examine ways to be productive and calm. One of the most powerful ways to achieve this is through meditation. And, the neuroscience supports this. Lucas presents the brain science behind human habits, patterns, and behaviors—and provides science-based guidance for “rewiring” the brain to support healthy patterns and strong, supportive relationships.
As Lucas explains, if you’re looking to change behavior, insight and intellectual thinking is helpful but short-lived. The most sustainable way to achieve a new state of being is through rewiring your neuropathways in your brain. And, this is done through meditation.
Back to the book club! Our book club discussion was lively. (View the summary sheet to read an overview of the discussion, as well as a sample meditation from the book). We explored neuroscience and what exactly happens in the brain when we meditate. Fascinating stuff! The group—mainly leadership coaches, facilitators, and organizational development practitioners—was “sold” on the science and the benefits of meditation. And so we took the conversation to a practical level: What happens when, as a coach, mentor, boss, or colleague, you want to give the gift of meditation but the other person is looking for is the gift receipt?
Here are a few tips on how to “sell” meditation and mindfulness to others who may be skeptics.
I encourage you to think about ways to become more mindful, present, and calm throughout the day. And, I’d love to hear what you experiment with. Send me a note to let me know what works for you and how you’ve been able to give others the gift of mindfulness or meditation.
It’s a common scenario. A leader receives feedback on her communication style. She’s too direct, and sometimes harsh. Rather than working to style switch or adopt a softer approach, she resists the feedback. “I want to be myself. I don’t want to have to ‘sugar coat’ my words, besides I pride myself on 'saying it like it is'" she says. In this scenario, the leader feels forced to choose between being "direct and straight forward" or "weak and insincere." So, it's no wonder the feedback doesn't land and her behavior doesn't change. However, the leader is not seeing a complete picture. She is only looking at the upsides of her approach and the downsides of the alternative approach. What if she could see the upsides and downsides to both being direct and being gentle?
Like the leader in this scenario, we sometimes grapple with what appear to be an "either or" choice. There is another option -- a "both/ and" mindset. In other words, this leader can continue to be direct AND deliver her message with care. With this approach, she continues to leverage her strengths, she stays aligned to her values of being honest, and is adding to her effectiveness by being empathetic. Now when she delivers a dose of reality, others will actually hear it and appreciate the feedback.
My good friend and colleague, Halelly Azulay invited me to join her podcast and talk about Polarity Thinking. I recently completed a two-year mastery program led by Dr. Barry Johnson of Polarity Partnerships, and shared my perspective on this way of thinking. I admit, I drank the Kool-Aid. Not only do I live by this way of thinking and being on a daily basis but I've incorporated Polarity Thinking into all of our leadership programs to help leaders become more dynamic and less static. A dynamic leadership approach is one that is fluid, resilient, and universal across all domains of one's life. Dynamic leaders see the big picture, expect the unexpected, and effectively navigate through unsolvable problems both at work and at home.
Listen to the podcast now as I share several workplace examples that are sure to resonate—and may boost your effectiveness as a leader. You will walk away with insights and tips to broaden your view of everyday issues and overcome challenges. I'd love to hear what resonates with you - respond here, shoot me an email or send a tweet @LauraMendelow.
It’s 5pm on Friday afternoon. My inbox has 50 unanswered messages, I have a proposal to complete before the “end of day” (luckily the client is on the West coast), I’m typing up notes from the hour and half client call I just had so I don’t forget what we agreed to do, and I still need to mail out a check for my quarterly taxes. My guilt is starting to build as I think about the Shabbat dinner that isn’t getting made (Shabbat dinner is the only family tradition we honor each week) and figuring out how all of this is going to get done in time to make it to my older son Jack’s basketball game by 7pm.
Then I hear Jack say, “Mom, can you help me swap out the laundry?” “Right now?” I think to myself. “Yah, in a minute,” I respond and begin thinking about how long the clothes have been sitting idle in the washer. I know he’s asking me to help him not because he doesn’t know how to do the laundry but because he’s being considerate. After learning that not all clothes go into the dryer, he’s asking me to help him sort the clothes so he doesn’t shrink anything by accident. Two minutes pass and he asks again, “Mom, do you think you can help me with the laundry?” To which I immediately snap back with, “I heard you the first time. Don’t keep asking me. That’s not going to help me finish up my work any faster! And, we don’t have to do the laundry right this minute!”
I finally finish up my work, take a breath, and mentally jump into the weekend. I walk into the family room where my younger son Drew (10 years old) is sitting playing cards with my husband. He looks up at me and says, “Mom, can we talk privately?” Something in his tone makes me realize “something’s up.” He pulls me aside and says, “I know you’re stressed out and you’re trying to finish up your work, but I think you overreacted when Jack asked you to help with the laundry. He was just trying to get himself ready, and now I think he’s feeling more stressed.”
Can you say role reversal?! As I’m listening to my 10-year-old give me feedback, so many thoughts are going through my mind. “Oh, this is about me, not him.” “He’s doing this really well.” “I guess some of my parenting is soaking in.” “And, he’s totally right! I was completely out of line.”
Of course I felt bad for lashing out at Jack as soon as the words left my mouth. What I was really upset about is that I didn’t manage my time well that day, and I allowed for meetings and work to interfere with my family time. I was irritated with myself and took it out on Jack.
I respond to Drew and say, “First, thank you for pulling me aside. I agree, I overacted and will apologize to Jack. I was feeling stressed out and took it out on him. And, by the way, do you realize how good you are at giving feedback? Most adults don’t know how to give feedback the way you just did with me.”
Feedback Tips from a 10-Year-Old
No matter what, giving constructive feedback is uncomfortable for the giver and the receiver. David Rock has a great approach. He says that everyone should just stop giving feedback in organizations. And then quickly adds, instead, people should learn to ask for feedback on a regular basis. From a neuroscience perspective, our brains and bodies feel less threatened after hearing feedback that was actively solicited. As a result, we’re more open to hearing feedback and more likely to make changes.
Now, we all know the reality that unless it’s part of the company culture, most people are not walking around asking for feedback. So, how do you engage in good feedback conversations that reduce the other person’s sense of fight or flight and focus on growth and development? Take a lesson from Drew! Here are a few things that he did:
Speaking of Great Conversations
In last month’s book discussion, we reviewed the book, “We Need to Talk” by Celeste Headlee. (Good timing, right?) Whether you’re conducting an interview to get information, having a performance conversation, or addressing a conflict, conversations are tricky. Here are some other great tips for effective conversations:
It’s the start of 2018! Are you resolving to eat clean, learn Japanese, or quit a bad habit? As a coach, I know a lot of my clients are laser-focused on self-improvement this time of year. While I firmly believe in the power of goal setting, I wonder what would happen if I take a break from so much “doing.” What if, in 2018 I commit to slowing down, being more present, and noticing what’s around me? What if my resolution is to “just be?”
I recently read a moving book, Ghost Boy, that drove home the importance of observation and connection. The author, Martin Pistorius, shares his true life story of being trapped inside his own body. At the age of twelve, Martin unexpectedly becomes very ill to the point where he cannot talk, eat, or move at his own will, and is bound to a wheel chair. Doctors conclude that he has a degenerative neurological disorder, and his mind has reverted back to that of an infant.
He has no recollection of the few years that immediately follow; however, late into his teens, his brain does something miraculous—it wakes up. He becomes fully conscious, fully aware, and yet is trapped inside his own body – a “Ghost Boy,” if you will. Although he is treated with love from many, tragically, he is met with abuse as well. In the book, he recalls one instance of driving in the car to an institution where he is repeatedly abused. He writes,
“The one thing I wished for more than anything as I sat strapped in a seat, powerless to tell anyone about what I soon knew would happen to me, was for someone to look at me. Surely then they would see what was written on my face? Fear…. I had feelings. I wasn’t just a ghost boy.
But no one looked.”
It wasn’t until his mid-twenties that the second miraculous event occurs – someone noticed him.
While his family and caregivers are convinced his IQ is well below average, one caretaker was so present when interacting with him that she notices a glimmer in his eyes. This one small act of connection and keen observation literally changes Martin’s life. With specialized testing, support, encouragement, and advancements in technology, Martin regains physical strength, is able to communicate through specialized devices, and currently lives a life rich with loving relationships and meaningful work. All because one person took the time to notice.
This book hit a chord with me and is a story that I will carry with me for a long time. For me, Martin’s story reveals the essence of humanity. In the leadership courses I teach, we talk about the three core psychological needs of human beings – to feel connected, valued, and empowered – none of which Martin was able to fulfill. It wasn’t until that special caregiver connected with him that he was able to regain purpose, strength, and hope for the future.
In the workplace, one of the most powerful tools a manager has at his/her fingertips is the power to be fully present, yet so few managers are truly present. When others feel that their manager is genuinely listening (even if they don’t receive the outcome they want), they feel connected. And connection leads to engagement, which then leads to tangible results. And of course we all know this carries into the home as well. The more present we are with our family members, the deeper the connections, and the greater the satisfaction.
Logically, this all makes sense, and I would love to say that my commitment for 2018 is to be as fully present and connected as I can be. And then I remember that I live on planet Earth, have two kids, a business to manage, and bills to pay. What’s more—by nature I have a lot of energy—and I enjoy “doing.” My default mode is programmed to take action, be entrepreneurial, and innovate. And these qualities are not qualities that I want to give up. Just the opposite—they are the qualities that shape who I am. (Although I admit, I may over-do it at times.) And in those moments of overwhelm that’s when I will tap into Ghost Boy’s story. To recall the appreciation I have for slowing down, being present, and just taking it all in.
That is my personal work that I am committed to focusing on in 2018. I understand that this tension between “doing” and “being” will always be there, but how I choose to leverage the best of both is up to me. I guess it’s not so much a New Year’s resolution, but rather a way to live in greater awareness on a day-to-day (sometimes moment-to-moment) basis.
I’m curious to hear what you have found helpful in managing the tensions between “doing” and “being.” Would love to hear some ideas and practices that have worked for you. Please share.
Wishing you an inspiring and calm New Year!
I have something a little embarrassing to admit. I was listening to a podcast from NPR, Joshua Johnson’s 1A show (It’s So Hard To Be Grateful, November 20, 2017) and I found myself being critical of the comments from some of the guests on the podcast. And, then I laughed to myself as I recognized the irony. I was criticizing a podcast titled, “It’s so Hard to be Grateful!” So, I recognized my mistake and then self-corrected. The way I got myself back on track was to commit to writing this blog about all the wonderful insights and nuggets I was grateful for receiving from this podcast.
As Thanksgiving approaches, I hope you find some meaning in this and actively seek out ways to be grateful this holiday season.
Nugget #1: “If you look hard enough, there’s always something you can be grateful for.”
This quote says it all! When I first started listening to the podcast, I was listening with a critical ear and I wasn’t focused on listening for all the nuggets I could find. Our brains naturally scan the environment for danger to help keep us safe. So, we need to work against our wiring to see what is working. This takes tremendous practice and even then, we fall into the trap of negative or critical thinking.
So, here’s a challenge for you - when you find yourself criticizing or complaining about something, think of three things that are working or that you do appreciate. Remember, we believe what we see and see what we believe. When you train yourself to see what’s working, or what you appreciate, your belief about others—and outcomes—will begin to change as well.
Nugget #2: “Mindfulness is the practice of keeping our attention focused on moment to moment in a non-judgmental way.”
This definition of mindfulness is a great reminder that mindfulness and being grateful are a practice, not a goal. I think of leadership in the same way. Being a focused, conscious leader is something that I work towards every day. And, those times when I stray off track, like I did when I initially listened to the podcast, I then notice what’s happening (without judgment) and then look for a way to get back on track. (And no, the track is not walking to happy hour!) As soon as we judge ourselves, we enter a downward spiral and get stuck in our thinking. When we learn to notice without judgement, we learn to have self-compassion (rather than be self-critical). This creates openness in our mind and allows for new alternatives to emerge.
Nugget #3: "Mindfulness is the practice of developing awareness and learning how to respond to life in a more skillful way.”
What I love about this quote is ‘a more skillful way.’ The reality is that we’re responding to life all the time. So, we can either be conscious and intentional about it, or we can respond without thought. The choice is ours.
Nugget #4: “How can I be content with what I have and ambitious with what I want?”
This is something I have spent time grappling with myself. From studying Polarity Thinking with Barry Johnson, I have learned to identify these tensions as polarities. In this case, I would label this polarity (or tension) as: 1) being content and 2) being ambitious. What’s helpful is to recognize that there’s an upside to being “content” (i.e., appreciating what is, being in the moment, etc.), and there’s a downside if I over-focus on it (i.e., becoming lazy, complacent, disengaged, etc.).
Similarly, there’s an upside to being “ambitious” (i.e., achieve new goals, brings me energy, innovation, etc.), and there’s also a downside (i.e., moving too quickly, burning out). There is a place in which I can find gratitude while continuing to improve myself. And, I find this place by being aware of my actions and the impact my behaviors have on me and others.
Nugget #5: Create a Gratitude Jar at work or at home
I thought this was a great tip for the office or the home. How it works:
‘Tis the season to be grateful! This might be a good activity to start on Thanksgiving day. Set the jar out in the morning and have everyone write down 1-2 items that they’re grateful for. Then during dinner, pass the jar around and read the comments.
I’m grateful you have read this blog! And I’d love to hear what you do to keep gratitude front and center at home and at work. And I’m curious to know what you do when you get off track too. Write a comment or send me a tweet @LauraMendelow. In the meantime, I hope you all have a Happy Thanksgiving!
“…You take it all, and there you have The Facts of Life. The Fa-cts of Life.”
How does the theme song from the 1980’s sitcom The Facts of Live enter into a leadership blog? So glad you asked!Allow me to explain.
It all started after I attended the In the Know discussion on Adam Grant’s book Give and Take. As I was describing the central concept in the book to a friend, he gently interrupted, “Oh, it’s so funny that you mentioned this because I was home alone the other night flipping through the channels and the same concept came up on ‘The Facts of Life.’”
Ha! I knew we were friends for good reason! First, he admitted to me that he was alone, without the kids, watching an episode of ‘The Facts of Life.” And second, he was inspired by the life lessons of the beloved Mrs. Garrett.
I was intrigued. I asked to hear more. He recapped the episode as follows:
Street-smart Jo was torn between her old boyfriend from home (who just happened to be visiting) and her interest in a new guy from Bates Military Academy. Jo was feeling selfish for even considering going out with the new guy. She asked the reliable housemother Mrs. Garrett for advice. That’s when things took an interesting turn.
“I think that word [selfish] gets a bad rap,” Mrs. Garrett said. “What’s so wrong with doing something for yourself?” She continued, “If you don’t feel fulfilled as a person, if you’re not your best self, what good are you to anyone else?”
Whoa! All-of-a-sudden, this 1980s sitcom got real! Mrs. Garrett was ahead of her time. The lessons from that episode were right in line with the Give and Take Concept. “Givers” and “takers” are defined as follows:
Similar to Jo, I am a Giver. So much so that (TMI alert) most of my therapy sessions were about how I needed to stop giving so much and start looking out for myself. As a middle child, I was always looking out for everyone else and thinking of ways to keep the harmony.
As a Giver, at work or at home, I would look for opportunities to help others. Not only did the other person feel grateful for my support, but I was able to build deeper connections with others by giving. There is also a downside to Giving. For example, as a manager at work, I would make time for everyone else during the day and then I would end up staying up until midnight to finish my own work. I quickly became burned out and resentful.
How did I find balance? Overtime, I taught myself to distinguish between a healthy selfishness and an unhealthy selfishness. I learned to establish boundaries and take care of myself. And, the beauty is that I didn’t have to give up my Giver self. I learned to take care of myself and others. Although Grant refers to this concept a little differently, using the term “others-ish” (describing Givers who focus on others’ needs and their own needs), I believe we’re both arriving at the same place.
How does this concept resonate with you at home or work? Send me a Tweet @LauraMendelow or post a comment below.
(And, in case you were wondering, Jo broke up with her boyfriend from home. And she didn’t feel selfish for doing so.)
Engagement may be a hot buzz word in organizations today, but I believe it’s much bigger than what goes on at the office. When we truly understand what it takes to engage with others, we begin to create a world of compassion and connection rather than resentment and isolation. As I often say, “when you get people, you get results.”
For decades, researchers and psychologists have declared a sense of belonging as one of the core psychological needs of every human being, if not, the most essential need across all cultures.
It makes sense, even our cavemen ancestors figured out that there was safety in numbers.
Unfortunately, lack of belonging sometimes shows itself in tragic ways. The recent Las Vegas shootings show the worst possible result of not feeling connected and feeling severe loneliness. Charlie Hoehn recently published an article discussing potential reasons for the massacre, and revealed loneliness as one of the key commonalities among people who commit violent crimes.
In the workplace, there’s also a loneliness epidemic (HBR). As more and more companies move to remote or virtual working, there’s a growing concern that there’s less opportunity to actually connect with others. Some companies, such as IBM, once known for leading the trend in teleworking, now recognizes the tremendous value of bringing people together and recently asked 5,000 of their employees to come back to the office. But you can’t guarantee connection simply because people are now working under one roof.
I’m thinking back to the days where I worked in a “hoteling” situation. I walked into work, logged into a system so I could find a free working space, sat down at a desk on a random floor with random people around me and spent the day in back-to-back conference calls at my desk. And, not only was I sitting alone on my phone, my lights would often click off automatically because I wasn’t moving enough to activate the light sensor!
So, here I am, in an office, alone, on the phone in the dark! To state the obvious, I was not feeling so connected. So, how can we help others feel more connected both professionally and personally?
The New York Times recently published an article describing how organizations are investing time and money to create more collaborative work environments. A change of environment is one solution, but what’s that old saying about leading a horse to water?
The fact is, we simply can’t force others to feel connected or engaged. But as leaders, we can create a culture of engagement and connection - both at work and at home.
During last month's “In the Know” book discussion, we reviewed Bob Anderson and Bill Adams’ book, Mastering Leadership, and their leadership assessment tool, The Leadership Circle. A portion of the assessment identifies behaviors to help leaders create an environment of connection and belonging. The authors refer to this as "Relating." When leveraged positively, a leader fosters team play, establishes caring connections, and takes the time to mentor and develop others.
Although we want to encourage leaders to focus on building connection, there is a danger in over-focusing on “relating.” For example, a leader may be overly concerned about being liked by their team that they end up being too pleasing or too passive, resulting in inadequate results or lack of direction. The Leadership Circle refers to this as “Complying.” By taking this assessment, a leader can gain insight into how well he/she is creating an environment of connection (as well as several other areas) and learn strategies to enhance that connection.
There are simple actions too that require very little effort. In the article, The Social Muscle, the authors share some quick and useful techniques to encourage connection. They suggest to unplug, make time for face to face interactions, do small favors for others, find reasons to collaborate with others, and (my favorite), just say hello as you're walking by. You wouldn't believe how many times when interviewing teams about their leader's performance, I hear the employees say, our leader "doesn't even say good morning to us when she walks in." These simple acts of kindness and connection go a long way.
And, I know no one wants to attend yet another meeting but meeting structures (e.g. weekly one on ones, team meetings, and All Hands) create connection. Establishing set times where employees know they have your attention, will not only help you connect but studies from David Allen's Getting Things Done methodology reveal this can actually reduce the amount of emails you receive! For example, when employees know they can rely on meeting with you for an hour a week, they are more likely to create a list of their questions and concerns and save it for the weekly meeting rather than sending you individual emails randomly throughout the week when the thought occurs to them. There is one caveat here, employees have to feel they can rely on these meetings. In other words, they need to believe this meeting will not be changed or cancelled each week. I always recommend to schedule one-on-one meetings first thing in the morning when they are less likely to be canceled or moved. When you honor your commitments to one-on-one meetings with your employees, you send the message that you care. You are conveying that it's worth your time to invest in them. This alone can increase a feeling of connection and value among employees.
Besides the workplace, there are "meeting" structures you can implement as a leader at home. The more opportunities you provide for connection, the more likely you will actually connect. Here are some ideas you can implement today:
A sense of belonging and connection is vitally important for the health of individuals, companies, and communities. As Vivek Murthy so eloquently said in his recent HBR article, “The world is suffering from an epidemic of loneliness. If we cannot rebuild strong, authentic social connections, we will continue to splinter apart — in the workplace and in society…. We must take action now to build the connections that are the foundation of strong companies and strong communities — and that ensure greater health and well-being for all of us. ”
I couldn’t agree more. As history has proven time and time again, we’re all stronger together. As a leader, I challenge you to find new ways to build and strengthen connections both at work and at home.
I’ll admit it. I’ve been distracted and anxious over these last few weeks, thinking about all the people impacted by the recent hurricanes. Like many Americans, I was glued to the television and radio to monitor the intensity and pathway of the storms.
These storms were serious business. But why weren’t some of the people in their paths taking them seriously?
As the storms neared, officials clearly needed to send direct, decisive messages to the residents who were potentially in danger. One official sent a message to the residents in the mandatory evacuation zone and said, flat out, “We will not be able to save you during the hurricane.” Another official stated, “Evacuations are not meant to be convenient, they are meant to keep you safe.” Clear? Crystal. Honest? Definitely. Harsh? Possibly, it depends on the context. If the perception is that the officials care personally for the residents of that state, then these comments will be interpreted as appropriate, clear, and direct. However, if the perception was a lack of concern for the residents, these comments would appear harsh. But sometimes, it’s worth the risk of appearing harsh – and an approaching life-threatening storm is definitely one of those times.
In this context, the officials have the best interests of the residents in mind. They’re doing everything in their power to keep people safe from the natural disaster. As elected officials, it is their job to both keep people safe AND communicate the realities of this dangerous situation.
So, it was fortunate timing that this month’s In the Know session covered the book Radical Candor by Kim Scott. Just like those elected officials, leaders are expected to share the realities of the state of their organization or marketplace and provide direction on how to strategize and move forward. In her book, Scott addresses the idea that because of that mandate, leaders can’t always subscribe to the idea that “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Scott calls this “Radical Candor.”
Radical Candor occurs when, as a leader or colleague, you care personally AND challenge directly.
This type of communication can show up in many ways, when providing difficult performance feedback, when acting against the norms of a group, when questioning another’s assumptions, or even positively challenging someone to reach their potential.
In the book, Scott shared a few stories from early on in her career where she erred more on the side of caring personally at the expense of being direct with others. She feared that if she addressed the performance issues head on, she would no longer be liked on the team. As you probably surmised, this approach backfired on her and morale began to decline as her team members worked harder to compensate for the lack of quality and productivity from one of their key members.
When Scott finally gained enough courage to talk to the employee with the performance issues, the employee was shocked and felt disrespected that no one shared their concerns with him earlier when he could have actually done something to change his behavior. This left a big impression on Kim and was one of many experiences that led to her developing the concept of Radical Candor.
Over the years, Scott learned to “challenge directly” and had to reframe what she previously thought as “harsh” was really being clear and direct. Her relationships strengthened and people appreciated her honesty in helping them see their own areas for growth. Scott makes a bold statement that if you can’t achieve Radical Candor (i.e. both caring and challenging), it’s better to be a challenger who doesn’t care personally than a person who cares personally but doesn’t challenge. In other words, if you’re going to err on one side or the other, it’s better to challenge than to care.
This was a strong statement (and one I wasn’t sure if I agreed with), so I did some research to see if there were studies that supported this notion. What I found were many studies on comparing the impact of ignoring someone vs. being extremely harsh to them.
Research from British Columbia stated that being ignored or ostracized socially has a stronger emotional negative impact than bullying. The reason being that if you’re being bullied, you’re at least worthy of being noticed. Researcher Kip Williams, a professor at Duke University, is well-known for his studies on ostracism. He and his colleagues were able to demonstrate that not only are there damaging psychological effects but the same area of the brain that detects pain is also stimulated when one feels ostracized. He explains the evolutionary reason being “social rejection and pain serve the same purpose—alerting an organism to a potentially life-threatening risk.”
Research conducted by Dan Airley, Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, gave a TED talk about “What makes us feel good about our work?” One experiment involved a task where they would pay a person to read through gibberish on a sheet of paper and count the number of all like letters that were written together. Once they completed it, they handed it to a reviewer and the reviewer did one of three things:
So, going back to Scott’s bold statement that being too harsh is better than being too nice, I may now have to agree. If Scott was implying that people who over-focus on caring personally (to the neglect of challenging) tend to avoid difficult conversations or ignore poor performance, then this research does, in fact, support her point. In study after study, the results indicate that ignoring has either a similar or worse impact on an individual as receiving harsh treatment. However, it’s worth noting that neither being too harsh nor being too caring is sustainable for employees to bare over time.
So, what does all of this teach us about being direct and caring? First, the best-case scenario is to practice BOTH, caring for others and challenge directly. And, as Dan Airley revealed in his research, even the slightest ounce of positive acknowledgement that shows you care will increase engagement.
If, however, you’re like most people, you probably tend to over-emphasize one or the other. Here are a few tips and strategies based on my coaching experience that I have seen work with many clients.
If you over-focus on caring personally:
In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell made famous the statistic about practicing 10,000 total hours to become world-class at anything. But what he didn’t highlight is that there’s a limit as to how much disciplined, focused, concentrated practice one can perform in in one day.
10,000 hours of practice makes you a pro. But how many hours should you do at a time?
Research cited in the article “A Better Way To Work” estimates that limit to be of approximately four hours per day. And, not only is there a limit to how much you can practice each day, there’s actually a negative decline if you consistently over-perform. In other words, there’s a point where you put in so many hours that you become burned out, discouraged, and decrease effectiveness.
This probably makes sense to you from a logical standpoint, but how often do we dismiss the importance of sleep to perform harder, better or faster? Research in the article states that in addition to your 10,000 hours of practice, you need 12,500 hours of deliberate rest, and 30,000 of sleep (including naps). The author also references studies that were conducted with violin students at one university. The study analyzed activity and rest patterns from the best students compared to the average students. What they found is that the best students had the following in common:
Today’s society praises people for working long hours, we pride ourselves with how busy we are, and we are often rewarded for going the extra mile. But very few organizations deliberately focus on rest.
Google stands out as one company that embraces downtime and rest. I had the pleasure of taking a tour of the company in 2010 and I distinctly remember seeing egg-shaped nap pods (which were basically mini beds) placed throughout the floor. OK, I thought, it’s a nice idea but I’m sure no one uses them. To my surprise, they were being used frequently throughout the day and, even more surprisingly, most of the people I observed using them were managers! What?! I had never seen anything like that before. The managers set the tone of the culture. Google embraced the benefits of rest (using these nap pods among many other perks) resulting in an increase in productivity, innovation, and positive energy from their staff.
Researchers have been studying the benefits of rest for a long time. Another “oldie but goodie” book in the Organization Development field is Power of Full Engagement Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. Through research and experiments, these authors prove how critical downtime is throughout the day.
In one experiment, Loehr and Schwartz attached EKGs to both professional tennis players and average tennis players. What they found is that the average players kept their heart rates high throughout a match. However, the professional players found short periods of time to lower their heart rate throughout a match. Whether it was when they retrieved a ball or walked back to their position from the net, they found small moments to slow their heart rates down and give their body a quick rest.
So, yes, it’s true, you need 10,000 hours of practice to achieve world-class success. AND… you also need over four times that in rest and sleep, at appropriate intervals.
We can’t all be fortunate to work for an employer that actively provides opportunities for rest and rejuvenation. However, we can take it upon ourselves to find ways to work differently. Don’t rely on the two weeks of vacation you take once a year (if you’re lucky!), think about ways to incorporate rest and downtime everyday throughout your day. Here are some realistic tips regardless of your industry or location, that may help you get started:
These may seem insignificant but these little moments of downtime will actually give you more energy throughout the day. What works for you? Leave a comment and let us know! I encourage you to experiment with deliberate rest to help you become more productive. Let us know how it works.
“Relaxed and Alert.” Those were the words Dana Pulley used to describe Mindfulness during our last CBODN, In the Know, book review session. Yeah, I did a double-take, too. Is that supposed to be an “and?” Take a minute, though, and really give this statement some thought: Relaxed and Alert.
At first, it may seem like an impossible state to be in. But Dana walked us – well, SAT us – through it. She asked that we sit on the very front part of our seats, so our backs were upright and not resting against the backs of our chairs. Why?
If you’re too comfortable and relaxed, you’ll fall asleep. Yet, if you’re too tense and alert, you’ll be too distracted. She explained that the art of mindfulness is balancing both states, leaving you – you guessed it – relaxed and alert.
As one participant pointed out during the session, it’s like making pottery – to center your work, you have to apply just the right amount of focus (or alertness) on the wheel with a light touch (or relaxation) to be able to work with the clay.
We went on to discuss mindfulness as a practice to engage in every day (and often many times throughout the day) rather than a singular state of awareness that you strive to achieve. The author of Search Inside Yourself describes mindfulness as a cycle starting with a focal point (e.g. your breath, your feet walking, sounds outside), next your mind wanders (which is normal human tendency), then you notice that you’ve wandered (with kindness and curiosity) and then you bring yourself back to your focal point.
As I reflected on the concept of “relaxed and alert” and the cycle of focusing, wandering, noticing and coming back to focus, I realized that this is also how I view leadership.
Being a leader doesn’t require taking full control (too alert) or being too hands off either (too relaxed). Much like mindfulness, leadership isn’t a skill set that one strives to achieve but rather a state of awareness that is practiced on a daily basis. You can’t just check the box and call yourself mindful – or a leader.
We often say that (both mindfulness and leadership) aren’t about perfection, but rather course-correction.
For example, as a leader, you have a goal in mind, you engage with others to bring you closer to that goal, then notice your impact and decide how to continue forward. It’s a constant awareness of your surroundings, awareness of your impact, and courage to get back on track if you made an error. In fact, I would argue that the most effective leaders are the ones who may go off track but have learned how to quickly recover and refocus with kindness and curiosity rather than internal criticism and despair.
One of my coaching clients shared a story with me. He started off by saying, “Laura, I’ve been managing people for 25 years, and I think I made the worst mistake of my career.”
This seemed like a bold statement and I was curious to hear what had happened. He explained that he recently hired someone to join his team in a new role and that the decision had caused tremendous contention with the existing team members – so much, in fact, that after about two weeks, half of the team began interviewing for new jobs.
So, I asked, “What did you do?” He said he immediately saw the mistake he made. Not only was the new role not meeting the needs of the team but most of the existing team members interpreted the hire as an insult to their own abilities and value to the organization. In addition, he only consulted up the chain, never down about the needs and expectations for this role. After realizing his mistake, he began meeting with individual team members to hear their perspective, he spoke with the new hire, and just about everyone who was deeply impacted by the hiring decision. After hearing from everyone’s point of view, it was clear that this was a huge hiring mistake and even the new hire agreed that this wasn’t going to work. They worked out arrangements to remove this individual and eventually re-created the position based on the needs of the team and the organization.
This leader was shaken, and ashamed of what he had done. However, I recognized and applauded him for his ability to notice the mistake, listen carefully to other points of view, honor other people’s opinions and then get his team back on track.
He did it. Without even realizing it, he had been both alert, and relaxed, course-corrected, and performed as a leader. Even while personally feeling ashamed of the original decision.
You see, if he had been too relaxed, he would’ve blown it off and possibly blamed the commotion on others being jealous of this new manager. If he was too alert, he might have tried to micromanage the situation and perhaps would’ve become burned out himself. Instead, he remained both relaxed and alert. He followed the cycle, noticed something was off track and brought the team back to center. And, on top of that, he was role modeling to others what happens when one makes a mistake. You own it, engage, and recover. His staff are now more likely to adopt that cycle when they make a mistake and probably became a stronger team as a result.
We believe that this way of showing up as a leader applies to people managing teams at work as well as leaders as parents, managing their kids at home. Now, I’m not suggesting that you parent your children as if they were little employees (mostly because they’d probably unionize and create a list of demands like outlawing veggies in the workplace), but I am suggesting that you can apply the same level of mindfulness as a leader when you are at work or at home. Finding that balance point between alert and relaxed puts you in an optimal state to understand, assess, and problem-solve.
So the next time you’re facing a difficult situation, whether it’s an office debacle or a parental conundrum, give it a try – take a moment to look at it holistically, examine the impacts, and adjust your course. But remember, it will take practice.
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.