“…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.
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.