Also: What to do if you too often hit snooze on problem-solving, strategic planning, and other ‘important’ work—because of ‘urgent’ work
There are few things that coaches and facilitators (two ‘hats’ I wear throughout the workweek) love more than questions. Questions are the sharpest tool in our toolboxes—razor sharp, because we are always honing them. We know that how you frame a question impacts how the brain receives it. You can imagine my delight when, at book club this month, Laurie Shellenberger shared a new question set from the book Upstream by Dan Heath. In the book, Heath introduces the concept of “upstream thinking,” which is a way to look at the source or drivers for a problem, rather than the consequences of it. It’s a structure to consider complex and costly problems (e.g., Medicare spends a fortune on hospital visits that could be prevented). As you look at your most important strategic issues, consider Heath’s questions.
Questions for Upstream Thinkers
Problem-solving questions from Upstream by Dan Heath
1. How will you unite the right people?
2. How will you change the system?
3. Where can you find a point of leverage?
4. How will you get early warning of the problem?
5. How will you know you’re succeeding?
6. How will you avoid doing harm?
7. Who will pay for what does not happen?
How to Make Time to Look Upstream – Separating the ‘Urgent’ from the ‘Important’
As much as I love Heath's questions, I realize it’s only half of the plan. It’s one thing to have a great set of questions. It’s entirely another to carve out space and time for the ‘Upstream’ conversation. In other words, if you really want change to happen, you have to invest in time for strategic conversations. This is where I see many of my clients suffer.
Plan as we may, there’s always something unexpected that creeps up. It can be a challenge to handle urgent needs and carve out time for strategic, long-term priorities. I get it! The most effective leaders plan for both the urgent and important tasks (both planned and unexpected). Here are three simple steps to help you get started in managing this tension so you can make real change happen.
Step 1: Audit
From a workload perspective, survey yourself and see how you are spending your time. This may be a quick calendar audit exercise. As you look at the months ahead, ideally you have a healthy mix of items including:
Step 2: Analyze
As you look at how you’re spending your time, ask yourself, “Does each item have a purpose?” Gain clarity on the purpose and value of everything on your calendar. If not, what can be done? You want to get to a place where you make time for an offsite or strategic planning session and have peace of mind that you’re handing the “urgent” items in daily huddles, etc. Relentlessly edit your calendar to make this happen.
Step 3: Act
Aside from the 'edits' mentioned above, taking action could look like this:
At Work and Beyond
Yes, please try this at home! This approach works at work and beyond. If you were to map your personal and family time to the purpose and value, what would you find? Ask yourself:
You know the steps! Walk through them. Pro tip: You might not want to call your family members ‘stakeholders,’ but you can do a verbal dance around that.
Let me know how you’re doing managing the ‘urgent,’ and how these tips help. As always, keep the feedback coming!
“How do tangible things create an intangible feeling of joy?” This is the question Ingrid Fetell Lee explores in the book Joyful, our January book club discussion topic. I have been “joyspotting” in the weeks since the discussion, noticing how even seemingly mundane things like a bundle of colorful new markers on my desk can spark a moment of joy.
(It was a great discussion, and you can check out the notes on the In the Know portal. Also check out Ingrid Fetell Lee’s TED Talk.)
While the book focuses on visual queues or environmental factors that spark joy, I have also been noticing joy in other places. In meetings, for example, there’s something indulgently delightful about a surprise moment of connection.
My team and I work to create these moments through activities such as icebreakers and even a creative way to do round-robin introductions in an otherwise perfunctory, predictable meeting. It could be the creativity, the unexpected “break” from the agenda, or a combination of all of the above…but it surely is joyful. If you were to measure the audio volume in a meeting, you’re sure to hear laughter (and overall less multi-tasking/more engagement) as well. As one client reminded me this week, these fun activities also go a long way toward building relationships and trust, in case you need a bottom-line driven reason to invest the time in a seemingly “off topic” agenda item.
To help you get started, and because we all need to spice up our Zoom game this many months into the pandemic, here’s a fun list of icebreakers you can try out. Let me know how it goes!
Icebreaker Recommendations for Your Next Virtual Meeting
We are all working hard to keep Zoom exciting. I recently pulsed a group of coaches and facilitators and added to my bag of tricks. Here are a few you may wish to try.
Happy New Year! When I was a kid, 2020 was THE year of the future. I can remember a school assignment where we were asked to write about the year 2020. Influenced greatly by The Jetsons, I imagined flying cars, eating pills instead of food, and holograms everywhere. Little did I know at the time that the reality of 2020 is that I would rarely ride in a car (let alone a flying one), I would be eating way too much real food (and taking pills to help me sleep), and attending endless Zoom meetings (which, I guess is pretty close to holograms so maybe I got one prediction right). Thinking about the loss of loved ones, it is hard to think about anything positive in 2020. Yet, I am wrapping up the year with a sense of resilience and growth. Here are some personal lessons and reminders from 2020:
I hope you can sift through the hardships and the heartbreaks of 2020 and find some glimmers of hope and happiness. Wishing you and your family all the best.
“How the @#*! am I going to get through this?” It’s a question I hear a lot these days—from the leaders I work with and also (admittedly) from the voices in my own head. It’s not the kind of question that generates creative brainstorming and explore-the-possibilities thinking. While it does not feel good in the moment, it’s these situations that build resiliency for the future. All you need is one seed of hope.
With that backdrop, in book club last month, Chris Westbrook led a discussion on Leadership in Turbulent Times by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. In the book, the author presents details of the leadership journeys of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson. She talks about how these four American leaders recognized leadership qualities in themselves and how they showed up as leaders to others. (Check out the portal for Chris’ discussion notes.)
It was interesting to hear about how, while the four presidents’ leadership styles were different, there is a lot of overlap in leadership behaviors and traits such as their storytelling ability, political acumen, empathy, and ability to learn from their own mistakes.
But perhaps what was most eye-opening for me is hearing about how these four presidents each faced major adversity and hardship early in life, such as professional humiliation, loss of loved ones, and health struggles. In a word, they were resilient.
Reflecting on the presidents’ challenges, the discussion naturally turned to the “how the BLEEP are we going to get through this?” question. The pandemic is on everyone’s minds, and it is no wonder any look back at history and the seemingly unbelievable challenges in the past can inspire both fear and awe!
When I work with leaders who are feeling stuck, I invite them to do a little digging. Each of us has overcome something in life, at some point. Taking time to access your success stories allows you to draw on that strength, and move forward—in those moments when the weight of the problem is holding you back. This is our personal reservoir of resilience. It’s what gives us the hope we need to manage the struggle du jour, get clarity, and recast a vision. We all have these seeds of hope, but we don’t all honor and recognize them.
Yeah, exactly! That! That’s the seed of hope. Hold onto it. You got this!
"Good grief." It's times like these that no one better than Charlie Brown can put into TWO (G-rated) WORDS exactly what is on our minds. Whether you have school-aged kids at home, are helping to care for loved ones, are managing challenges at work or are looking for a job, (or some combo thereof) we all have a WHOLE LOT going on. When we emerge from our TV binges—Charlie Brown holiday specials, or whatever else provides a few moments of mental respite—we find ourselves juggling so much on the home front, that it can be hard not to bring it to work.
At book club this month, we discussed Mike Robbins’ Bring Your Whole Self to Work. The book provides perspective on, in a nutshell, how we work best when we can be ourselves. Every workplace out there has a culture, a set of written and unwritten rules for success, and some are better than others at allowing for employees to be authentic. Robbins urges us to be authentic and share about ourselves—that is, open up about what really makes us tick—when we enter the doors of the office, or the Zoom meeting room, as may be the case for most of us these days.
The discussion we had at book club is related to something I often speak about in coaching sessions and in trainings. We all have some basic psychological needs that, when met, make us feel more motivated and more engaged.
As an aside: This holds true for adults and kids alike. That's why the principles that we teach leaders in the workplace also work for relationships outside of work.
“Feeling empowered,” for example, is one of the three foundational needs in the Dynamic Engagement model, along with "feeling valued" and "feeling connected." The underlying psychological need is related to control. When people feel they have a sense of autonomy, they feel they have control over their decisions. When a person feels that they are not in control, they could end up feeling helpless and spiral downwards quickly.
The challenge for leaders is learning how to step in and set guardrails/structure for others while also stepping back and allowing people to create/innovate. Many leaders struggle with this tension and often ask for tips on how to delegate. However, we suggest before jumping to the mechanics of learning how to delegate, you think about why it may be hard to delegate. It's worth investigating some time thinking about why it may be so hard for you to let go. In working with so many leaders over the years, I've heard a variety of reasons as to why people struggle with delegation. For example, some people struggle because they don't want to risk damaging relationships and burdening others by putting more on their plates. While others don't fully trust that their employee is capable or able to think critically about key decisions. And, then there's some who simply don't want to give up control. We work with leaders to look beneath the surface and uncover the why. First address the why, then address the how. We encourage you to do the same.
The next time you're feeling overwhelmed, see if there's a way to delegate to others (in your professional or personal life). And, if you find yourself hesitating to delegate to others, pause for a moment to think about the why and address those challenges first. As always, we love hearing from you and finding out what works. Keep us posted!
I recently met with a client who had completed the DiSC personality assessment for the first time. So naturally I asked, what insights or learnings have you applied since taking that assessment? The answer was surprising. She said, "Honestly, I've been so busy, I have not have much time to do anything differently." I was confused by this comment at first, and then realized why. The DiSC is a mental model. From my perspective, the most powerful piece of the DiSC model is that it helps one understand and appreciate differences. It's not about carving out the time to DO something, it's literally about thinking differently about others. Having more empathy, being more open to a new viewpoint, or, if you really want to go out on a ledge, actually agreeing to a different approach that you typically wouldn't support. After explaining this to the client, she replied, "So you're saying, it's not that I have to DO anything...I need to BE different."
That's it! Well, at least that's the first step and then, once your mindset changes, your behaviors shift, too. This concept of reflection and challenging your own assumptions (rather than focusing on immediate action) was also the message I walked away with after hosting a community discussion on Race and Racial Inequity.
It's a good rule to follow, in general: When you receive the gift of some big insight, sit with it for a minute.
Taking the First Step: Self-Reflection and Education
Three months have passed since George Floyd was murdered. Many people are thinking to themselves, what I have done to change my ways? How am I contributing to change or taking action?
I recently came together with a group of people who have these same questions. It was our intention to reflect, regroup, and move forward. Led by facilitators Dana Karp and Anita Hinton, this group was thoughtful and smart and motivated and had feelings of being both hopeless and hopeful.
We all listened to this interview with Brené Brown and Ibram Kendi, author of the 2019 bestseller How to Be an Antiracist, and then shared our responses to these reflection questions:
You'll notice that the questions were crafted around reflecting on one's own reactions, thoughts, and emotions. This was very intentional. The facilitators have learned that any movement or action must begin with self reflection and education. Once you do that, you will get clarity on actions to take.
It was a great model for a difficult discussion. We first broke into smaller groups where people felt free to be more vulnerable and then we engaged in a large group discussion with almost 50 people on the call.
The takeaways for everyone were unique, of course. I can only speak for myself. I commit to keep pushing myself into the uncomfortable conversations and continue to educate myself on the things I didn't even know I didn't know. Inspired by our discussion, I ordered the young adult book, Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram Kendi, and read it on our vacation last week in the hopes that I could pass this on to my High School and Middle School aged children. The authors jokingly repeated that, "This is NOT a history book" so the young adults would actually read it. But I assure you, this was the best history book I've ever read. So eye opening to the impact and intention of policies that I knew nothing about. This book helped me to see the systemic issues that were in place long before the U.S. was even established.
Diversity Resources to Check Out
The other powerful outcome that resulted from this group was a list of resources generated by this group. Click on this link to access the list of suggestions ranging from podcasts to books to movies all in service of educating ourselves further. And, if you have other recommendations to add to the list, let me know... I'm continuing to add to it and will keep the list updated.
“Move over bacon, here comes something leaner.” If you were watching TV in the U.S. in the 1980s, you may recall this commercial for Sizzlean. (And you’re welcome for the trip down memory lane.) It came to mind as I participated in the virtual Mindfulness Summit and watched the session on “Choose Compassion over Empathy.” The topic is something which my brain framed as “Move over empathy, here comes compassion.” Based on neuroscience research, there is discussion that empathy can lead to emotional exhaustion, whereas a focus on compassion can lead to a sense of love and affiliation. There’s a move to focus on cultivating compassion. This blog post has a brief summary of the research.
I haven’t read all the research behind this discussion in depth, but I’m struck by the “either/or” mindset at play. I also found it interesting that compassion, as they propose, is the action of doing something for the person, even if it’s simply sitting with a person who is in need. The action, rather than feeling (as is the case with empathy), is what contributes to the goodness.
I can understand why engaging empathy is potentially problematic if when one is overusing empathy to the neglect of something else. I’m not convinced, though, that you can feel compassion if your body doesn’t first pick up on empathy. I’ll use a real example from my family. When my son was very little, he had a hard time reading social cues. We had to teach him that if someone else gets hurt, you say, “Are you OK?” And then if they’re not, you might follow up with, “Can I get you some ice?” This may seem robotic, but it was a very important part of the process to help our son begin to connect the dots, and connect with people. We worked with him to know that, when you see others suffering, you respond, you reach out…
I think what’s behind the recent empathy/compassion debate is that people are viewing empathy as getting too wrapped up in another person's emotions and then not taking action and/or not setting the appropriate boundaries to protect yourself from burnout. In other words, taking on another person's suffering. While I agree that it’s a real risk, the upside (when leveraged well) is that empathy allows you to see another person’s point of view. Compassion is what happens as a result. To me it's more sequential.
Set me straight on this, will you? Would love to hear about your experiences.
Many people are now asking, what can I be doing to support Black Lives Matter? From a workplace point of view, one way to make a difference is to do work differently. Go about the same work, tackle the same problems, but do it in a way that may be more inclusive than you have done in the past.
Earlier this month, I facilitated a book review of Creativity Inc., written by Pixar’s co-founder, Ed Catmull. After accomplishing his career goals of making a full-length, animated feature film, he then turned his efforts towards a new goal – creating an organizational culture of creativity. He views creativity as the magic that brings people together and produces exceptional outcomes. At Pixar, he made it his primary goal to explore, analyze, experiment, and evaluate how to build a culture of creativity. Even if you don’t work for an exceptionally creative organization, there are many things you as a leader can implement—or simply experiment with—on your own team. This creative mindset leads to an openness to experiment and do work differently.
Some Nuggets of Inspiration from Ed Catmull of Pixar Animation
Check out the book for more, or check out my discussion summary on the In the Know book club page.
What’s coming up for you? I challenge you to experiment and think about what you have influence over to create a more inclusive and diverse working environment. Let us know how you’re doing work differently.
As offices across the U.S. are preparing to re-open, in full or partial capacity, many organizations are grappling with how to make a smooth transition ‘back.’ But what does that look like? Readiness checklists, cleaning protocols, and safety guidelines, no matter how clear and well researched, just won’t be enough to help with the human side of reboarding. How can leaders help employees feel safe, connected to the mission, and engaged?
In recent weeks, anticipating these questions surrounding the transition back to the workplace, I started a collaboration with my client, Patty Starr from Health Action Council and Amy Swanson. We reached out to a group of individuals who have experienced significant life transitions or who have lived through disruptive life events—to see what they could share with us about what helped or hindered them, and what supported them as they transitioned out of the crisis period. For example, we talked with Andrew who was at the epicenter of the SARS outbreak in 2003, and Assem who was a child in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). Their reflections and stories were powerful and insightful. We then worked to translate the lessons learned to today’s workplace—to help leaders looking to build a reboarding plan.
Five Core Tactics
Our findings are presented in an article entitled Reboarding: Learning from the Past to Prepare for the Future and a related webinar, where we shared additional stories and insights that didn’t make the editor’s cut.
We identified five core tactics that are key to a successful reboarding plan that puts people first. These are:
Check out the article for the full write-up.
Communicate, Connect, and Co-create
As we shared the five tactics in the webinar, the audience was most curious to hear more about the third tactic, “Communicate, connect, and co-create.” In our interviews, we heard about the importance of communication in each person’s story. We were reminded of a best practice that all good leaders know: Communicate immediately, frequently, and consistently. And another one: Don’t cancel your one-on-one meetings with staff!
We were also reminded to avoid making assumptions or jumping to conclusions in the face of panic. How does communication help? We need to reach out and talk—and listen—to hear what is top of mind for others, and then develop shared goals. Goals that fit the new normal. Goals that we are all invested in. Here are some highlights from the discussion on communication:
As I shared in the article and webinar, across all the interviews, the resounding theme was resilience. So many of the people we interviewed reflected on the COVID-19 crisis and said, “It’s gonna be okay” or “We’ll get through this.” Perhaps it was the perspective of knowing that the pandemic is not their "first big" crisis. Perhaps they are drawing on their resilience reserves. The words they shared are words I’ve heard in so many other contexts in my life, but they have a particular significance to me now, coming from this group of strong people I admire.
Those of us who are fortunate enough to need to do nothing more than stay home during the COVID-19 crisis have been finding ways to bring the world to us. Whether it’s a virtual Tai Chi class, a virtual Seder for Passover, or a virtual happy hour, we have been stretching the functionality of our collaboration tools such as Zoom and Webex in exceptionally creative ways these past few weeks. Yet I am hearing from many of you that facilitating an online meeting--Wait! Wasn’t that what this software was designed for?—can somehow feel more daunting than leading a virtual scavenger hunt! I have been facilitating online meetings and trainings for years and wanted to offer some of my tips for maximizing a meeting. First off, the start of the meeting is critical! It’s important to engage everyone early on. When you get all the voices in the room early, you are more likely to hear discussion throughout the meeting.
Facilitating Online Meetings – How to Start a Meeting
When you start a meeting, your first order of business is to help everyone make the transition away from whatever they were doing prior to the start of the meeting—so they can be fully present for the meeting. Just as you would if everyone were walking into a conference room, you want to greet and connect with everyone. The right meeting opener will help to set the tone for participation and discussion. Whether you have time for a quick check-in or a more elaborate icebreaker, you will want to do something that:
Facilitating Online Meetings – Quick Icebreakers to Help You Start a Meeting
In the chat feature, ask everyone to type one word that comes to mind for them right now. “Everyone, please type one word in the chat. It could be how you’re feeling, it could be related to something you were just doing… it’s up to you.” The only rule is that it is only one word. You can then call on a few people and ask them to elaborate on their word.
Ask a quick opening question using the chat feature or whiteboard. (The question should be easy to answer and not sensational. Don’t make people think too much!) Here are some opening questions related to being quarantined:
-What is your favorite show to binge watch?
-What was a great movie you watched recently?
-What’s one dinner you’ve made and would be willing to share a recipe for?
-How many hours of sleep did you get last night?
-What part of the house do you enjoy cleaning the most?
-What’s one thing you miss now that you are quarantined?
-What’s one thing you love about being quarantined?
-What virtual games have you played with friends / family?
Before the meeting begins, prepare a slide that has a set of pictures representing different moods. You can pick emojis, photos of people, or photos of animals. Ask the participants to annotate (either using the stamp or arrow) the image that best represents their mood.
Grab an Item
Ask everyone to grab one item that is in close range to their computer. It could be something in their pocket, on their desk, on the floor. Ask them NOT to grab their phones. Have each person take turns holding up their item to the camera and explaining what it is. Note: This activity works best with a group of 10 people or less.
Cell Phone Challenge
Have each person find a picture or a text message on their phone that speaks to some aspect of their life outside of work. Have each person go around and hold the picture up to the camera or read the text message aloud.
Two Truths and a Lie
Ask one person to share three statements—two truths and one lie. As the person is sharing the information, you use the annotate feature to write it down on the whiteboard or on a blank slide. Then ask the group to go to annotate to either use stamps or the arrow to select the statement that is a lie. This works well for a series of meetings. You can ask for one person to go at the beginning of each meeting and repeat this until everyone has taken a turn.
You got this! Let me know what works best, and where you get stuck.
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
Over these last few weeks, I’ve had some powerful discussions with leaders about how they may need to show up differently during times of crisis. And, in fact, years from now your staff will likely remember you by how they were treated and supported during the COVID-19 crisis of 2020. As a leader, you have the opportunity to make a lasting positive impact on others right now. Here are some tips on what to try out, or do differently.
Get Connected – Tips for Leaders in Times of Stress, Remote Working, and High Distraction
These are crazy times. With so much uncertainty in the world around us, and a sudden change to the routines that (while stressful under “normal” circumstances) may be a huge source of comfort, many of us are feeling distracted, off center, and all around awful. For those of us lucky enough to continue to work (and earn income), we may be pushed to take our leadership skills to the next level, at work and at home.
Try out some of these tips to get connected, and check back to let me know what’s working.
Is there anything AI can’t do? From helping medical researchers better predict who is at risk for certain diseases, to helping teachers spot a plagiarized paper, to helping us get where we need to be with traffic apps like Waze—we have come a long way in just a few years.
There’s no question that AI has helped us solve a number of “complicated” problems, but it’s no match for the world’s most wicked, “complex” problems.
In today’s world, tried-and-true strategies may be ill suited to dealing with the biggest challenges of the future. This month at the CBODN Book Club we discussed the book “Range: Why Generalists Triumph In a Specialized World,” by David Epstein. In the discussion, we talked about the distinction between “complicated” and “complex,” and a related concept of “kind” and “wicked” types of environments. Here's the breakdown...
There are many examples of “wicked” problems in the business world. In such a fast-changing environment, you need a broad and varied background to understand it, and to thrive in it. Per the central premise of Epstein’s book, you need “range.” In the book, Epstein shares examples of successful people who “sample” a variety of experiences, including different jobs or sports, gather broad knowledge (a “range”), and go on to reach great heights in their careers—sometimes later in life.
How can you create “range” – for yourself and your team?
As a leader, what can you do to equip yourself and your teams to develop “range?” There are a few strategies I often recommend to the leaders I work with.
What other ideas do you have?
It’s the pot calling the kettle black, ‘2020 Edition.’ The other night, my son Drew was in his room watching videos. I asked him to shut down 30 minutes before bedtime and come find me so we could unwind together. Research shows that avoiding screen time before bed helps you rest better, so we try to follow that rule at home. When Drew came to find me later that night, what was I doing? Watching a video. (For the record, I was screening a video that I needed for a leadership training program. But still…) BUSTED!
As parents we are always looking to help our kids develop healthy habits—and to model healthy habits. This article from The Atlantic talks about the impact of parents being digitally distracted, or “technoference.” The perception is that “kids today” are tech-addicted. But are we looking at ourselves?
I reflect on this as a mom, but also in general. Is technology helping me? How do I keep myself in check? And what is the issue, actually? Is it about maintaining self-control like the Stanford marshmallow experiments of the 1960s? Is it about interpersonal connections and not letting the presence of a phone on a table disrupt intimacy in a conversation? Or is it about mindfulness and managing distractions?
Probably all of the above! But phones seem to pose the biggest challenge! Why are they so irresistible?
Staying Focused in the Age of the Smart Phone
In this episode of Brain Games (begin watching at 1:50), we see a group of adults participating in a focus group. The premise is that they are asked to set their phones aside in order to maintain confidentiality for the focus group—and they won’t be compensated for their time if they break the no-phone rule. (Of course, as it turns out, the experiment is about adults’ abilities to resist the urge to grab their phones. There actually is no focus group.) To complicate matters, the participants are left in a room while the facilitators seemingly troubleshoot some technology issues. And what happens? The group gets antsy. Then, the phones start ringing and buzzing. What a temptation! How many of the participants are able to stick to the no-phone rule? 80% of the participants grabbed their phones. Incidentally, as it turns out, a phone ringing is one of the most irresistible noises.
But the thing is that we check our phones even when they don’t ring. We’re rewarded every time we reach for them. Each refresh of the screen provides us with information—an update on the weather, a “like” count on social media, or a text message. These rewards are addicting. No wonder we don’t put the phones down!
How well would you have done in the focus group?
Strategies for Staying Focused & Listening Deeply
At Mendelow Consulting Group, we are always looking for ways to help leaders engage more fully with their staff. One of the most effective strategies to engage with others is to be fully present when listening. It seems so simple, yet so many managers miss out on the chance to connect because they don't shut down their email reminders ("ping") or because they don't let themselves "snooze" their mental to-do lists for enough time to talk with a colleague.
We brainstormed some more listening strategies at last month's "Cliff Notes" Book Club discussion on The Zen of Listening by Rebecca Shafir. The basic premise of the book is that being a good listener is about being mindful, and in large part, about noticing the distractions (both internal and external factors). Here are some steps to follow:
For a short summary of our discussion of The Zen of Listening by Rebecca Shafir, check out the In the Know portal.)
And, who knew that Michael Franks’ 1983 hit, “Don’t touch that phone”, would be so relevant in 2020!
Would love to hear what ideas this topic sparks for you…
‘Best of the Bookshelf’ List – What to read and watch in 2020 to stay on top of trends in leadership, business, and psychology
“Hindsight is not 20/20. It’s 20/200.” This means, when we look back at events that happened, we start crafting narratives. That’s way deep, right? It’s because of insights like these (I am quoting a CBODN Book Club participant) that I spend the first Wednesday of every month at CBODN Book Club. They are my peeps! (And I don’t mean that in any kind of exclusive way. You’re welcome to join us!)
It’s no secret that I love staying on top of trends am hungry for the latest research in neuroscience, leadership, and psychology—and that there’s NEVER enough time to read ALL the books. For this reason, about 20 years ago now, I started a "Cliff's Note" club format for our book club. In other words, it's a book club where there's no pressure to read the book to participate. Instead, the presenter prepares a talk about the books and shares the highlights and insights with the rest of us—who get to sit back and soak it in. (It’s a great format, and the discussion summaries are posted to the In the Know portal each month. Check it out!)
Well, that’s the format for every month except for December. In December, we sit around a big table covered in sugary treats and share books, articles, podcasts, etc., that have caught our eyes recently…or that we remember fondly from years past. It’s our ‘Best of the Bookshelf’ list and it’s too good to keep to myself. Here’s a sample platter…for the full buffet, head to the In the Know portal.
What to Read in 2020 - To Stay In the Know
Leadership & The Presidency
The Case for Listening to Others
This time of year, our screens light up with offers to create meaning and connection. Check out the Vertellis card game that offers conversation starters to make the most of a family gathering. And here’s a fabulous free option from NPR: The Storycorps “Great Thanksgiving Listen” campaign encourages us to record an interview with an elder. The suggested question prompts include, “What are you most grateful for?” and “How do you want to be remembered?” Most importantly, the instructions emphasize the interviewer’s job—to listen.
It’s all about something we focus on a lot at Mendelow Consulting Group: connection. We have an innate human need to connect and belong. We see this at home and at work. The literature reinforces what we already know:
The Case for Listening to Yourself
In last month’s CBODN Book Club, Pamela Krist led a discussion of Simon Sinek’s book The Infinite Game.
Sinek talks about ‘finite’ games, where the goal is to win, and ‘infinite’ games where the point is to keep on playing while constantly adapting and improving. Sinek also talks about the concept of “Infinite Life” which means leaving things better than you found them, positively impacting those around you, and building trusting relationships.
One of our colleagues in the discussion shared a coaching activity she often uses – she asks clients to write their own obituary or (less morbid!) their own retirement plan. This is a reflection activity, which is really a prompt to pause and listen to yourself. (Of course, it might also encourage you to share with others, have a break-through discussion with your boss, etc.) Some similar writing prompts that may resonate with you are:
And, as always, let us know what ideas or insights this inspires for you…Like Dr. Fraiser Crane, “We’re listening.”
“Root down through your legs and feet. Then, lift through your torso. Raise your arms and let them sway with your breath. Notice if you are gripping your toes…” (Hope you read that in your best yoga teacher voice.) Yoga devotees spend a lot of time getting grounded in the physical body. Anyone who has ever attempted a balancing pose like “tree pose” knows that some days are better than others—and not to pass judgment if your “tree” is particularly shaky. Tree pose can be a metaphor for being grounded, or feeling centered, in life. You are rooting down and also reaching up, with an open chest and heart. At its core, the practice is about acceptance.
Rogers references this paradox in his book On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy. It came to mind this month during the Chesapeake Bay Organization Development Network Book Club discussion on the book Scaling leadership by Robert Anderson and William Adams. The authors present a model in which they discuss “Creative” and “Reactive” leaders. In a nutshell:
During our book discussion a question came up, "How do you give feedback to someone who is “reactive,” such that he/she can hear it, understand it, and be open to making the necessary changes?"
After reflecting on this question, I uncovered an underlying question of: How do you first help another person gain confidence in him/herself, so the person is able to receive and solicit feedback? (Back to tree pose!)
Being grounded allows you to hear feedback and not respond negatively or defensively to it. Being grounded also goes hand in hand with having confidence. But...building confidence is tricky. As I watched my son struggle with issues of confidence when he was younger, I went on a mission to try and figure out how to help others gain confidence.
Good leaders inspire people to have confidence in their leader. Great leaders inspire people to have confidence in themselves. - Eleanor Roosevelt
Here are four key activities you can do as a leader, both at home and at work, that will help to instill confidence in others.
Strategies for Helping Someone Build Confidence
What experiences have helped you grow confident? Please share!
Being quiet can be confused with a lot of things—including being hesitant, lacking confidence, being introverted, or even being shy. We place a lot of value on ‘airtime’ in our culture. Think about expressions like, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Leaders are coached to “find their voice”—to put their ideas out there, and express a point of view. But what if your role in the organization or on the project team does not authorize you to lead loudly? What if you don’t have “the box” on the org chart or the mic at the front of the room? Jocelyn Davis has some ideas about how to be a “quiet leader.” And she’s referring to anything but being hesitant, shy, or disengaged!
At the CBODN Book Club this month we discussed The Art of Quiet Influence Timeless Wisdom for Leading without Authority. Drawing on classical sages such as Buddha, Confucius, Rumi, and Gandhi, Davis shows us that anyone, not just bosses, can learn how to use influence without authority. Here are some of the ideas about influence that Davis presents in the book:
To Davis, a “Quiet Influencer” is someone who sets their ego aside to engage a group. They lead from behind or from within. Most importantly, they demonstrate mindfulness.
One of the quotes that resonated most with me was, “The leader does not try to master other people. Instead their energy is focused on mastering themself. The greatest power is to have power over themselves in service of the greater group.”
I have been working with leaders for 20+ years, and one of the most difficult transitions I observe is the shift from an individual mindset to a leader's mindset. Even if the leader understands intellectually that he/she does not need to have all of the answers or all of the power, in practice the leader may still influence the dynamic and the outcome by offering their point of view or by interjecting their opinion.
Why? They often don’t know another tactic and are simply relying on past success. In the past, the leader may have had influence as an individual contributor by offering his/her expertise. Now, as a leader, if he/she doesn’t offer expertise, then how else can he/she influence?
If you go one step deeper, the leader may question, “What is my value or identity if I don’t have expertise to offer?” After exploring this at a deeper level, leaders begin to see that even if they do have the “perfect” answer, it may still not be beneficial to share it. Other factors are at play, such as:
When zooming out to consider the bigger picture, a leader gains situational awareness and decides how and when to interject, support, question, and drive forward as appropriate for the situation. In the end, a leader who practices the techniques that Davis describes will not only be successful as an influencer, but will also have a much larger impact then they ever could have imagined.
It’s cliché to talk about a career as a “journey,” but it’s so true. Many of my coaching clients are 20+ years into the careers, well established as SMEs, and still wanting to make a change. And what’s wrong with that?
The answer is at the intersection of four circles...
There’s a simple Venn diagram that can help tremendously if you need clarity—at any point in your “journey.” You have to do some soul searching and research, of course, but if you find the answers to four questions, you find that sweet spot. What are the questions?
What do you love?
What are you good at?
What can you be paid to do?
What does the world need?
The overlap is your purpose or “Ikigai.” It’s a Japanese concept that means “reason for being.” I was reminded of this beautiful model at the recent Learning Leaders Conference. Thanks to long-time learning leader Kimo Kippen who shared the model in his talk at the event.
At Mendelow Consulting Group, we’ve surveyed thousands of managers. We’ve crunched the numbers. Engagement boils down to three things.
Employees want to feel a sense of belonging or connection,
to feel valued for their work,
and to be empowered to make decisions.
That’s the secret to a happy employee, who in turn is giving their all to the organization. And, it turns out, it’s the secret to any relationship at work or at home. In our research, we have gathered input on three fundamental factors--
And, none of these elements operates in isolation. They’re all connected and are in motion at any given time. The Dynamic Leader graphic above shows all three elements intertwined by three intersecting infinity loops. When my son saw this image, he immediately said, “Oh, you created a fidget spinner.” So, we present to you the Fidget Spinner of Life.
Let’s look more closely at each of these, and how they show up at work and at home.
When he defined the hierarchy of needs, Maslow hit on a critical insight that unites humans: we are social beings. Our predecessors lived in tribes in order to survive. Today, we still rely on our communities and are social beings—even at a time when loneliness is an epidemic. (Side note, if you haven’t read the research on social rejection, check it out. It triggers the same reactions in the brain as physical pain.) Feeling a sense of connection at home and work is critical to our overall well-being. For example…
We also need to feel valued. Not simply recognized, but truly valued. The core question one asks him/herself here is, “Am I making a difference?” Whereas connection is focused on the interpersonal relationships, feeling valued is focused on skills and competence. In other words, one may question, “Do my contributions (skills, strengths, etc.) contribute in a meaningful way?” Soliciting feedback from the people who see us in action, and whose opinions we most value, will in turn help us feel valued. And, delivering feedback to others, in an honest yet supportive manner, will enhance engagement. Here’s what that looks like at work and at home…
We give “control” a bad rap (think “control freak” or “micromanager”), but we humans need to feel a sense of control. Without it, we feel helpless, and in extreme cases this can lead to depression and despair. How do you help those around you feel empowered? How do you balance your own need to be in control with others’? Here are some ideas…
The interplay of feeling connected, valued, and empowered is so powerful that it is the framework we use to help leaders grow in their role, and prepare to take on a broader role. Let us know how it rings true for you!
P.S. If you are looking for more insights on how organizations promote their values, check out the brief summary of our discussion from this month’s CBODN Book Club focused on the book Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux. The book talks about a “soulful revolution,” one in which employees are engaged and organizations are enlightened.
I recently saw a meme on Facebook. It was a butterfly sitting next to a chrysalis. The chrysalis says, “You’ve changed.” The butterfly says, “You’re supposed to.”
Why is it that, when we notice growth in another person, we often feel surprised? And how do we recognize growth in ourselves?
Last month’s CBODN Book Club discussion was about the book Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World by Jennifer Garvey Berger. The author presents a model for adult development that is designed to help us understand the complex world we live in. Many of the concepts are derived from Robert Kegan. The model includes four phases, or stages of growth.
Stages of Adult Development
So it’s not all about me?
During our Book Club discussion, we looked at the four stages and considered which most describes us. I was particularly intrigued by the notion that the first two phases, Self-Sovereign and Socialized, are “subject-oriented;” whereas, the second two, Self-Authored and Self-Transforming, are “object-oriented.” It felt very intuitive. The subject-oriented phases are less developed—less mature people feel as if they are (always) the subject of a situation or occurrence. They attach all meaning to themselves, and they may feel the need to prove their worth. Adults in the object-oriented phases are more grounded and better able to consider others’ perspectives and multiple perspectives. They know not everything is about them, and as a result they are not triggered as much by life’s annoyances—or worse.
Here’s where the “AND” comes in
The notion of subject/object orientation could seem binary or “either/or,” but it’s more complex. And here’s where Polarity Thinking can help drive insights. You’ve heard me espouse the benefits of Polarity Thinking before. It’s a brilliant model to help you think at a higher level, consider multiple possibilities, and—most importantly and uniquely—consider two (seemingly) opposing ideas at the same time.
Here’s an example that has come up with more than one coaching client. Imagine a leader who loves connecting with people and who finds joy in the human connections at work. This is a person who knows everyone’s dog’s names and who remembers birthdays and maybe even their favorite colors. This leader does a great job, moves up in the organization, and suddenly is less hands on. In order to make room for strategic thinking and taking a broader view at the work a group/team is doing (to contribute more broadly to the organization), executives often need to let go of the more hands-on work related to specific projects or deliverables. It can feel like a trade-off, and it can cause feelings of loss for leaders who enjoy and take pride in connecting with their teams, seeing them in action, and of course socializing with people they enjoy.
How does Polarity Thinking help?
The first step is to identify the polarity at play here. What are the two seemingly opposing viewpoints, or where is the tension? The tension is how to maintain personal connections while maintaining a broad oversight over the entire team. More succinctly, this may be managing the tension between managing individuals and groups.
If a leader focuses too heavily on spending time with the individuals, they are less able to manage at a strategic level and will likely get burned out in the process. On the other hand, if the leader focuses too much on managing at the group level, the leader may come across as distant or disconnected.
What I have found is that leaders who manage this tension successfully do so by becoming culture keepers. They set the tone and expectations for their managers around the values that are important to them and the organization, such as recognizing achievement and building personal connections. Then, instead of investing time directly with the individuals, they work with their next level down, or “second team” as many companies refer to that group, and build a culture where it’s not dependent upon the behaviors of the one leader. In practice, it may look like this:
This is just one example of a tension that I hear quite often during my Executive Coaching conversations. Polarity Thinking allows individuals to elevate their thinking and approach to consider creative options for managing on-going tensions. Once you’ve become a leader, the problems you face are not simple “black and white” problems, but rather complex tensions that have multiple right answers. When leaders learn to elevate their thinking process, they are able to reach solutions that are more effective and sustainable.
What tensions do you face as a leader each day?
How do you manage through those tensions?
From trust falls to ropes courses to analytics and assessments, I have been working on team effectiveness for the better part of two decades. (And I am still fascinated by team dynamics!) What is it that makes one group gel, and another group fracture?
This month’s CBODN Book Club discussion was on Daniel Coyle’s book The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups. (Many thanks to our facilitator, Heeral Coleman.) The book looks at what makes groups successful, and Coyle presents three skills that contribute—building safety, sharing vulnerability, and establishing purpose. For a summary of the book club discussion, which includes highlights from the book and other ideas sparked by the book discussion, click here. Below, you’ll find some of my take-aways.
How to Create a High-Performing Team
Please let me know what ideas or insights my short list sparks for you! Always love your feedback.
I try hard to practice what I preach to clients, such as making time for self care, not neglecting my own professional development, and connecting with people who inspire me. Attending the Association for Talent Development (ATD) conference this month was one-stop shopping for all of the above. With Oprah Winfrey, Seth Godin, and Eric Whitacre in the line-up, I had very high expectations, and ATD delivered! Here's what I am STILL thinking about...
LESSONS FROM OPRAH
Oprah Winfrey reflected on life post the Oprah Winfrey Show, which ran from 1986-2011. She spoke with candor and humility about some setbacks--personal and professional challenges that have shaken her foundation. There were so many nuggets from her talk, but I'll share the most memorable ones for me.
LESSONS FROM SETH
Seth Godin, marketing guru and author, challenged us to make a ruckus. Again, so many nuggets to share, here are just a few...
LESSONS FROM ERIC
Eric Whitacre is a composer and conductor and was the last keynote speaker. After three days of digesting new information, we all entered the hall exhausted, and Eric provided the perfect presentation to tie it all together. From his creative process in developing a piece from scratch to his willingness to play with the unknown, the lessons I pulled from his presentation were powerful and inspiriting. Eric is best known for the virtual choir, a breathtakingly gorgeous piece of work in which he weaves together the voices of singers from 120 countries. If you haven't seen his work, I strongly encourage you to check it out some of his work on YouTube.
Eric ended his talk with us sharing his latest virtual choir piece, Fly to Paradise, on video while simultaneously inviting a live choir from DC to perform on stage. It was incredible!
Eric embodies the key messages from Oprah's talk about being intentional about your purpose and leaving your ego at the door as well as Seth's message about being creatively bold. Eric embodies what learning and development is all about: Leveraging other's strengths, creating harmony together, and being open to what's possible.
I thank all of these presenters for their stories, vulnerability, and inspiration!
If you attended too, I would love to hear what resonated with you. What are you still thinking about?
How do you improve your organization's culture? Take a look at the social network.
We're not taking social media, although that's certainly an important channel. We're talking more broadly about people networks. After years of research, we know that the best places to work have a few things in common—and one of the most important factors is that information f l o w s!
What does this look like? Leaders leave their doors open. Emails are answered. Meetings are productive. People know the “whys” behind decisions. There are no surprises, hidden agendas, or secret societies. In fact, people who are naturally inclined to be “in the know” are celebrated and leveraged as change agents and spokespeople for important initiatives. And this is a big part of the organizational culture.
I have learned a great deal about social networks in organizations through my collaborations with Rob Cross, a business researcher who has made networks his life’s work. Rob examines how to use networking to build a more cohesive culture.
What’s fascinating is that the tools and model Rob uses can work in any organization, regardless of the industry. He recently invited me to present at the “Connected Commons” member summit in Boston, MA, along with my colleagues Bennet Voorhees and Kevin Martin. We were surrounded by the world’s biggest brains—these people are curing cancer!—I was in awe. With the backdrop of MIT’s “Drunken Robots,” (see the photo) one metaphor for the funky architectural design, we put a “network lens” on culture, so we could see how people, information flow, and connections can support efforts to strengthen an organization’s culture. My specific focus was on the OD interventions. That is, once Rob and team have done the analysis, how do you bring people together to talk about, define, and create accountability for the “what’s next?” (Here's a bit more from Rob on that.) That’s where the magic happens!
Interested in learning more? Read through these brief case studies—or drop me a line:
Our brains are hard wired to do some things that may have worked “way back when,”—queue the nostalgic music—in simpler, more predictable times. But in a VUCA world, where information is on a superhighway, and change happens rapidly—our brains sometimes lead us astray. In her 2019 book Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps: How to Thrive in Complexity, Jennifer Garvey Berger calls this mental sabotage “mindtraps” and, it turns out, there are five traps we can learn to avoid…
Now That We Are Aware of The Mindtraps, What Can Be Done?
So what do we do about it? There are times when you see a trap, but you are not sure how to get out of it—elegantly or otherwise. If you are a leader who facilitates a lot of meetings, chances are good that you want to talk less and encourage more participation. Chances are also good that you’d like to encourage the group to participate fully, when often times people can seem distracted, even during important discussions. The book club gang quickly rattled off a list of resources, tips, and practices that help individuals and groups facilitate everyday and difficult discussions. I also added to the list. Here are a few you may wish to try…
How’s that for a start? If this is useful, let me know. And, if you have other quick tips, please pass them along and I will add your ideas to the list!
Let me wrap up by sending out a huge thanks to Devah Galloway (in the photo, she’s over my (Laura) left shoulder) for talking with the CBODN book club about mindtraps and leading a great discussion.
We tend to beat ourselves up. A lot. In a recent workshop with a group of highly intelligent, technical, and experienced professionals, we were talking about some of the polarities that are present in our lives. One person talked about “taking care of others and taking care of myself,” and another talked about “stepping in and stepping back.” One participant felt stumped. He was nearing the end of his career and was struggling to figure out the polarity or tension he was experiencing. He said, “being with or without direction.” That seemed pretty heavy, so I asked if he’d be open to digging in further. Here’s what we uncovered...
What I first observed is that being “with” or “without” direction is not a polarity. This is viewing a situation from an “either/or” mindset, and he was viewing the potential downside of retirement as having “no direction” and feeling lost. He shared that, up until this point, his career was based on his drive, his passion, and his clear purpose. At this point, however, his drive was becoming fuzzy (or perhaps changing). He didn’t have the language for this new mindset that was emerging and could only see the drive (that he has now) or the absence of his drive (which he was anticipating after retirement). So, I asked if he’d be willing to let the class help him map out this polarity using a Polarity Map. He agreed.
We began with discussing the upside to having a clear direction (e.g., it’s motivating, he sets clear goals and objectives, he can rally the troops, etc.). Then we moved to explore what happens when one over-focuses on having a clear direction. To which the group offered comments such as, “becoming too narrow-minded,” “always looking to the future,” and “not slowing down.” After that last comment, he nearly jumped out of his chair. “That’s it! It’s about me slowing down to appreciate what’s right in front of me.”
He continued, “Actually, I don’t think it’s about direction. It’s about shifting my focus. I think my tension might be being planful and allowing for things to emerge.”
We then talked about the downside of over-focusing on allowing things to emerge, which may result in chaos and complacency. This was his fear of what might happen once he retires. The conversation ended with ideas on how to leverage both during retirement, the upsides of being planful and the upsides of emergence.
Also embedded in his comment was the weight of a heavy “should.”
He said he felt he “should have a clear direction” even after retirement. He was asked the question daily by his co-workers, “So, what do you plan to do after you retire?” This was really weighing on him as if he should have a clear answer.
At the March Chesapeake Bay Organization Development Network Book Club, Karen See facilitated a discussion of Michelle Obama’s Becoming through the framework of “shoulds” from The Should Syndrome. As Karen explained, “shoulds” are expectations (often unconscious) that we have of ourselves or others—which cause us to make choices that are inconsistent with who we are, and therefore get in the way of achieving our goals. Examples of “shoulds” include:
So what do you do with your “shoulds?”
Karen advised us to observe them, name them, and reflect on the source. Some “shoulds” are aligned with our deeply held values and will help us reach our goals. Others are imposed or assumed—and can sometimes turn real ugly. A quick exercise is to write up your own list of “shoulds,” and then challenge yourself to play devil’s advocate with them. Show the “shoulds” who’s boss. You are, after all!