Mendelow Consulting Group founder and owner, Laura Mendelow, collaborated with Ann Deaton on "The “Work-Life” Evolution: Understanding the Past to Help Your Clients Navigate the Future," published this month in the Library of Professional Coaching.
We invite you to read it and let us know what ideas or insights it sparks.
Imagine being paid to spend one year touring the most beautiful sites in the world, eating the best food, and staying in the best hotels. Jada Yuan was the lucky winner of a New York Times travel writer competition (of which 13,000 people applied!). She spent 2018 traveling to 52 fabulous destinations: "1 Woman, 12 Months, 52 Places." As she reflected on an extraordinary year, most of her lessons learned have nothing to do with travel tips and tricks. It’s all about self-awareness. For example, she came up with her superpower in the midst of non-stop travel. Guess what it was?
Her superpower is her ability to sleep soundly anywhere and under any conditions, including an uncomfortable airplane seat or noisy environment! For a travel writer (or anyone for that matter), being able to get rest whenever, wherever, is golden! I loved that she described this as her superpower. Something so basic but a "talent" she performs with little effort, and is tremendously beneficial.
It got me thinking…What would I say is my superpower?
I have an answer for you, but I have to tell you a story about hiking before I can share about my superpower. (Howie Mandel used to say in his stand up comedy routine, “I have to tell you this story before I can tell you that story.”)
As I was saying, about six years ago, we planned a family hiking day trip. We enjoyed a glorious day out in nature, climbing challenging, rocky terrain and enjoyed a picnic lunch—and were exhausted when we got back to the car. We stopped for dinner on the way home. At the restaurant, one of my sons asked to play a game on my phone. (Typically, we don't let them play on their phones at the table, but we’d more than met our quota of fresh air and togetherness, and were tired! So, I obliged.) You can’t imagine the skunk eye I got from the people at the tables around us. And, this was several years ago so when it wasn't as common as it is today to see kids with phones. If there’s a look for, “I'm passing judgment on your parenting choices,” I got it. But, seriously? Of all days to question my parenting after spending hours of quality time with my family. Of course, the other diners didn’t know what they didn’t know. I sent telepathic messages back to them with a smile saying, "You don't know the whole story."
You Don’t Know The Whole Story
So back to my superpower, I guess if I had to name it, I'd call it, “Story Radar." Definition: The ability to hear a story and recognize that one is only hearing a small sliver of the full story. In other words, reminding myself, "I don't know the whole story” when listening to others. As a coach, I am a trusted confidant. I hear personal stories all day. My clients tell me about how they are perceived and where they are struggling to get traction. They reveal life goals that they may have never said out loud before, or perhaps never admitted to themselves. As I listen, I stop myself from jumping to conclusions or putting ideas into categories. I remember to assume that there is more to the story than meets the eye. Being trained as a coach, I've learned that there is rarely an easy solution, and the kinds of problems I am entrusted to help with are rarely straight-forward. With my "Story Radar," I listen, see the world from my client's eyes, allow time for reflection, and get curious. This allows me to access powerful questions to help my clients get unstuck or connect the dots. I remind myself, there's always more to the story.
So, that's my superpower. Something that is part of who I am and is probably one of the reasons I ended up in the coaching field to begin with. This superpower shows up everywhere I go, not just when I'm interacting with clients. When volunteering at a senior center, I met Bob, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease. He was sitting alone at a table after lunch so I went over to meet him. It turns out he worked on a team at RCA who developed the first color television! And, sometimes, I admit, I overdo it. I strike up conversations with complete strangers at restaurants, for example, and my kids have to reel me back in. The point is, I don't intentionally focus on using this skill, it just happens, it's part of my DNA.
I challenge you to think about a quality you have that simply comes naturally, and probably is something you don't even notice. If you're having trouble thinking of something, ask a close friend or family member. Sometimes you're blind to it, but others you're close to can identify it right away. Write back with your superpower and let me know what it is and how it helps you at work and at home.
Mendelow Consulting Group founder and owner, Laura Mendelow, was interviewed on Dannielle Hawk's "Women Lead Change" podcast. In the interview, Laura talks about change initiatives at two levels—large-scale changes to influence an organizational culture, such as initiatives that change the role or expectations for all front-line leaders in an organization, as well as changes that impact a team or family unit.
Highlights from the discussion:
Listen to the discussion online and leave a comment to let us know what ideas or insights this sparks!
We didn’t go anywhere this Thanksgiving, but we wanted to make sure we all benefited from a break in our routine and didn’t fall prey to our devices.
We sat the kids down to set some expectations (yes, I know, a little nerdy) about when and how long we should spend on our devices, what games/activities we could do together, and what help we needed to prepare for our Thanksgiving meal.
The conversation was going well and then my son said, “Mom, we know the drill. We help cook, set the table, clean the house, everyone is crabby and yells at each other, and then we sit down and go around the table to say how thankful we are for everyone.” That pretty much sums it up! LOL. He’s very perceptive.
No matter what your Thanksgiving was like, whether you enjoyed each other’s company or couldn’t wait to get home, there’s always something you can think of to be thankful for. And, now being back at work, I encourage you to find ways to continue to express your gratitude to others. Remember, people want to be noticed. They want to know that 1) someone acknowledges their work and 2) their work makes a difference. Here are a few ways you can continue being thankful in the workplace:
Remember, practicing gratitude is one surefire secret to a happy life. Send me your creative ideas to keep the spirit of Thanksgiving going year-round.
Guest Post Contributed by Emily Lundberg @ Prialto, a virtual assistant company
To successfully lead groups of people, you must be skilled at delegating. A Gallup study discovered that leaders who delegate effectively achieved 112% higher growth rates than those who never delegate or who do so poorly.
Delegation is so important because, as much you may want to, it’s impossible for you to do everything yourself and maintain your sanity. There are so many small, tedious tasks that pile up and distract you from the projects that drive your team forward.
Assigning those tasks to others frees up several hours a week, so you have more time and energy to invest in activities that propel your success.
Here are three simple steps to become a master delegator:
You should delegate any task that does not meet those qualifications. At first, it will be difficult to let go but, the extra time you gain will allow you to invest more energy in the strategic activities.
For example, if you’re a Head of Talent, you likely have tons of paperwork, scheduling, and other admin tasks that can easily be assigned to a subordinate or assistant. You can then use your extra time to invest more energy in forecasting your company’s hiring needs, refining job qualifications and engaging in other projects that better utilize your knowledge and skills.
2) Surround Yourself with the Right Team
Once you know what tasks you should delegate, you need to surround yourself with people who can do them. For some projects, this will be easy because there are already people on your team who can immediately take over.
For the rest, write out your process for completing them, identify who on your team has the best knowledge and availability to take over, and teach them how to do it. Don’t make this decision lightly. Research shows delegating tasks to people who have the right abilities has a massive impact on the benefits you gain from delegation. If you give assignments to the right people, they will complete them with ease but, if you give them to someone who lacks the skills, and you may lose time answering questions and fixing their mistakes.
Strive to surround yourself with subordinates who have a wide range of skills so that it’s easier to assign more specialized tasks. If your team lacks the experience to take on your small projects, you can use delegation to create professional development opportunities. You will have to invest time training them but, in the long-run, it will make your employees much more versatile and productive.
Alternatively, if everyone on your team is too busy, consider hiring an in-house or virtual assistant who you can delegate the bulk of your work to.
3) Ensure You’re Delegating Effectively
Just asking people to do tasks for you is not enough to reap the full benefits of delegation. If you work with the wrong person and/or give vague instructions, you risk wasting more time fixing their mistakes than you would if you completed the task yourself.
To delegate effectively, you need to:
About the Author: Emily leads Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer, among others.
About 10 years ago, I jokingly told my manager that I was going to file for workman’s comp because I had an eye twitch that wouldn’t go away. Every 20 minutes my eye would spasm, and it continued for about four months! True story. The reason? I was DEEPLY engaged in Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) work and spent hours analyzing data and Excel spreadsheets so I could offer useful data to my internal clients. So, yeah, I did it to myself. ONA is an assessment that looks to identify informal networks in an organization including specific roles such as ‘brokers’ and ‘connectors’, those people who facilitate information flow and decisions—and are integral in collaboration. I’ve recently re-engaged in this work and am fascinated by the behaviors of the key connectors and brokers. These people are naturals at networking, and they are the most influential and in-the-know employees in their organizations. In terms of motivators, what do most of them have in common? The desire to help others! And can you guess what many find as their biggest challenge?
The desire to help others! (You saw that coming, I know). The upside is that these key connectors put their energy into relationships and helping others. The downside is that when they focus too much on others (and neglect their own self-care), they burn out. In addition, when you step in to help too much, you may unintentionally send the message that “I don’t trust you to handle the issue” or “I don't think you’re capable of doing it yourself.” Growing up as a middle child and having that strong desire to help others, I’ve always been intrigued by this topic and wanted to share some distinctions around a few terms that I’m hoping you’ll find helpful to apply to your work and life.
In what ways do we help?
To be sure, caring for others is essential to relationship building. But being overly helpful or empathetic can exhaust and wear down the best of us. In our CBODN book club meeting this month, Dana Pulley facilitated a discussion on the book, The Mind of The Leader, and briefly referenced some distinctions around empathy, sympathy, and compassion.
How to do BOTH—Care for Self AND Others
Compassion is a key skill for leaders. By showing compassion, you understand the feeling someone has, but do not hold their pain. You protect yourself from the burden of the pain or suffering that the other person is feeling. You also keep yourself whole, which can allow you to give, and be of service to the person.
When someone is struggling with a challenge, sometimes what they need to hear most is, “I am sorry you are facing this AND I have faith in your ability to manage it.” By showing compassion, and reinforcing their ability, you can support them and retain a healthy distance to protect yourself from emotional contagion.
I’d love to hear what ideas this sparks for you, and what works for you.
New coaching clients often expect me to offer clear strategies on how to change their behavior. My response is almost always the same, "The greatest gift I can give you is to help you shift your mindset. Once you do that, the behavior shifts (and results) will follow." I recognize that "shifting your mindset" may sound daunting or too abstract. So, I thought I'd share a concrete example at the organizational level and also highlight a powerful "flipping" technique from the book, "Conversations Worth Having."
Here's an example of how one flip in mindset changed an organization. There was a company that was growing rapidly—and was expected to double in size in five years. With the majority of staff working on job sites full time, many never stepped foot in HQ. Proud of the work they did for their clients, employees identified with their clients’ missions. But just as fast as they were growing, they were losing people at the same rate due to a disconnection between employees and their managers. In fact, there were many stories of staff not knowing who to deliver their resignation letters to! (Irony of ironies!) .
In attempting to address this issue of disconnection, HR started driving company-wide efforts to reinforce expectations and roles of managers. They were asked to spend time on the job site, walk the halls, and have career conversations with their staff. Only one issue: they had jobs to do, too! Who had time to walk the halls on a job site for a client they’re not even involved with! Needless to say, that didn’t work. Other ideas were implemented too, including new organizational alignments and time-reporting policies. These efforts felt like layers of bureaucracy and more guidelines for managers. All of these actions were to address the fact that staff were leaving and managers were feeling disconnected...but attrition and engagement surveys showed the efforts were not working.
One Executive’s Secret to Engagement
One executive leader, however, took a different approach. He flipped the problem. Instead of focusing on those managers who were disconnected, he focused on the few managers who were making connections. He began tracking how many times they engaged with their staff. He met with the managers, asked specific questions of how they were able to manage their time focusing on their work and connecting with and supporting others. Creative solutions emerged such as assigning “job site mentors” who could look out for their employees when they couldn’t physically be there or another solution of offering team lunches and inviting clients to share in successful accomplishments. The ideas were innovative and most importantly, they worked! The managers of those teams showed little to no turnover and the satisfaction levels were among the highest in the division. After learning about these great success stories, he simply asked his team of leaders to figure out how to repeat this for all teams. Together, they built off of the positive energy and momentum and they ended up with an entire division of engaged employees. They developed metrics and didn’t view this as another HR initiative, but rather a system to develop staff and become more productive as a team.
Flipping It, and Moving toward a Solution
At this month’s CBODN book club meeting, authors Cheri Torres and Jackie Stavros co-facilitated a discussion of their recently published book, Conversations Worth Having. They spoke about an Appreciative Inquiry (AI) technique to problem solving that they call “flipping it.” From the book’s Executive Summary:
“Flipping [can] help you take any problem or challenge and create a positive frame. This is a simple three-step approach to move from a negative, deficit-based frame to a positive frame, allowing you to work towards solutions by engaging in conversations worth having. The three steps are:
At the organization I described, they were trying to help build connection with leaders and their staff. As it turned out, there were already pockets of leaders who had highly engaged staff. Instead of focusing on “low engagement” across the board, they showcased the exceptional example as a best practice and got curious about exactly what was working well—and why it was working. The “flip” from thinking “Everyone around here is so dis-engaged” to “Wow! Look at this team! How do we replicate this?” turned out to be the secret to their success.
“What if, just as everyone is checking in for the conference, a meteorite hits the Convention Center!! Then, what?” She asked the question with a straight face. Everyone else was silent, unsure how to respond. At first the leader didn't know how to react either and then she said something that changed the group's dynamic from that point forward.
The leader responded, "Yes and what if all of the attendees are stuck there for months and we run out of food!?" To the team's surprise, the leader was playing right along with this absurd scenario. Then, picking up on the leader's cues, another team member says, "Yes, and what would happen with all of their flights and what about contacting their families?" To which another person chimed in and said, "Sounds like another Snowmageddon." Bingo! The meteorite comment was just the sort of wacky scenario they needed to begin planning for possible emergencies.
This was one story shared from my colleague, Janice Shack-Marquez, during this month’s CBODN book club meeting on the book Originals by Adam Grant. One of the concepts in the book (and there were many—you can read the discussion summary here) that resonated most with me is the idea that the easiest way to encourage non-conformity is to introduce a single dissenter.
The key to this working though, lies with the leader. The leader is the one to create a safe space where others are encouraged to introduce a wacky idea, or an unpopular idea, and not lose face, or worse, their job! But why would a leader want to do this? In Originals, Grant talks about the benefits of introducing debate to fuel the flames of innovation. The crazy ideas are used to fuel a productive debate—the kind of debate that can lift blind spots, test your logic, and drive creative, original solutions. In Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about healthy debate as a critical success factor to every successful leadership team.
Easier Said Than Done?
At some point or another, we have probably all raised the Devil’s Advocate card. There’s something safe about using that caveat in conversation. Yet, in many workplaces, even with the caveat, it’s still not easy to show dissent. Many times in the workplace saying “yes” to a leader or hearing the leader’s comments as a directive is absolutely the necessary thing to do. But not always!
Do you work in a “Yes, Boss” world? Whether you’ve grown up in one, created one yourself, or are stepping into one as a new leader, you have the power to change it.
Please: Try This at Home!
This technique was shared at the CBODN book discussion I mentioned: Create the expectation that any given time in meetings and project discussions, a random person will be asked to provide a counter argument or alternative solution to whatever is being discussed. Everyone then is prepared to play the Devil's Advocate card or share a "disruptive" point of view. Then, your job as the leader is to be OPEN to the counter attack. NEVER shut it down with a dismissive, “Yah, but." Instead, say, “Yes, and" and encourage others to jump into the conversation to build off of the crazy idea.
Try it out! We want to hear from you!
"AGAIN? You gotta be kidding me!" Your boss delegated a task to one of your direct reports without consulting with you first. It has happened before, and you have previously asked your boss to give you a heads up before delegating to your team members. You are irate! You were promoted recently and are working to assert your leadership with this new team. Why is your boss undermining your authority?
This month’s CBODN Book Club focused on Enneagrams, a model that presents different lenses through which people see the world. This model is especially important when in conflict with others. The conflict may be big or small, and the scenario above gives us an example to play with. As you think about giving feedback to your boss, while you may think the goal is to get the other person to see where you're coming from, the real goal is to allow the other person to feel heard. Once the other person feels heard, they will no longer be on the defensive, will open up, and will engage in a more rational conversation to reach a mutually beneficial outcome. While you may think you have listened deeply, provided timely feedback, and demonstrated empathy, it takes patience and practice to really see another person’s point of view — in particular when they are very different from your own. Asking the right questions—and then listening is a great start, but we encourage you to take one more step to more fully "hear" the other person.
When you are in conflict with someone who is very different from yourself, the “REAL” model can help. I created this model several years ago when I realized that active listening simply wasn't enough. People were still getting stuck speaking at the surface level, and neither party felt heard. This model works particularly well:
Walking Through the REAL Model
Before the conversation, it is helpful to get into the right mindset. While you do not know how the person will respond, you can control if you are entering the conversation from a place of positive intent and interest for both of you to feel heard and respected.
Given the scenario above, you might initiate the conversation and say, "I'd like to re-evaluate our roles on the team so we can provide clear direction to the staff. There are times when you go out to lunch or coffee with staff members, and they come back to the project with a new direction. How are you seeing this situation?" And, then begin the REAL process.
This conversation started with the manager feeling undermined by her boss. The conversation ended with strategies on how to support each other in their new roles and work as unified leaders. The REAL model is a way to structure conversations so both parties can be heard and reach a solution that addresses the underlying issues. I invite you to experiment with some of these concepts (at work and at home) and let me know how it works. What is different in this approach compared to how you typically have these types of conversations (assuming you don't avoid them all together)? What might be most challenging for you? And, let me know what else you discover as you entertain new ways to engage in meaningful conversations.
One doesn’t typically associate military practices with vulnerability. However, this is exactly the secret to the world-renowned Israeli Air Force. On her most recent Talent Grow Show podcast, my good friend and colleague, Halelly Azulay, interviewed a former Israeli Air Force Pilot, Ofir Paldi. What he shared about the secrets to their success will baffle you. “By implementing a unique culture and methodology, the Israeli Air Force became one of the best in the world in terms of quality, safety, and training, effectively cutting accidents by 95%.” Can you guess what methodology they use?
Are you ready for this?
The Israeli Air Force has created a culture where mistakes are not only accepted but are encouraged to talk about.
After each flight, they have a process where all members, from the highest to the lowest ranking pilot, share their mistakes and what they plan to do to improve their actions for the future.
When coaching executives, I often conduct 360 interviews from their staff , manager(s), and peers to learn more about the leader’s style and impact on the team. What I have found is that leaders who admit mistakes and are comfortable being vulnerable have stronger relationships with their staff and focus more on continuous improvement.
Leaders who choose to hide their mistakes tend to come across as conceited, closed, and disconnected.
But why does sharing mistakes work? What is it about being vulnerable in this way that creates a culture of continuous improvement? Based on research and my own experiences, here’s what I’ve discovered:
APPLICATION AT WORK
APPLICATION AT HOME
And, the value of sharing mistakes does not only apply in the military or in the office. In fact, I first stumbled upon this topic when I was struggling to help my oldest son, as a toddler, improve his self-esteem. Oddly enough, the “solution” I landed on was for my husband and I to talk about mistakes in front of our children. Most of the time, kids will not see the mistakes parents make and assume that parents are perfect. And, the expectation from a child’s perspective is that I need to be perfect too. To make matters worse, most parents hover over their kids and call out every mistake they make throughout the day. I know I was guilty of this for sure. The more you share mistakes openly, the more it builds your child’s confidence and comfort in themselves.
There was a period of time where all of our dinner conversations were about the mistakes we made throughout the day and what we did to recover. If you’re a Gen Xer, you may remember the popular Sesame Street song Everyone Makes Mistakes from the Gold Album. Well, that was a popular tune in our household and became the default tune whenever someone in our family made a mistake. This brought some laughter and humor to the conversation too which always helps! In fact, my kids will still refer back to this song today when I make a mistake… it definitely helps me get over it faster and move on.
As leaders at work or at home, we have the ability to either create a culture of shame and anxiety or a culture of learning and continuous improvement. It does take an investment, and it does take courage to be vulnerable but the results are priceless. I’m intrigued to hear how you plan to experiment with these techniques at work and at home. And, once you start experimenting take some time to think about what worked, what didn’t work, and what you can do differently moving forward. Share your stories and experiences with the community. Reply here, send me an email or tweet.
I recently saw a video that Sharon Salzberg produced on How Mindfulness Empowers Us. She shares a Native American folktale, about two wolves. An elder says to a child, “I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is fearful, vengeful and angry, and the other is compassionate, kind and gentle." The child asks, “which wolf will win the fight?” And the elder responds, "The one I feed.”
The powerful message intended in this story is the fact that you choose how you want to respond, behave, and engage with others. No one makes you feel a certain way; you decide what voices you listen to, how you feel, and how you want to respond to the world around you. However, there was something that didn’t sit well with me. The way the “bad wolf” was dismissed didn’t seem to be the right approach.
From my experience working with many executives, I’m well aware of the impact negative self-talk. When you continue to pay attention to the negative voice in you head, it grows and becomes more destructive. As my colleague Anne Suh says, “What we practice grows stronger.”
And, I have found the reverse to be true as well. The more you try to ignore the negative talk or “gremlin” (as it’s often called), the more it grows and the louder it becomes. So, if you listen to the gremlin, it grows and if you ignore it, it continues to grow as well…. what is one supposed to do?
Here’s a strategy that helps many of my clients deal with their gremlins: Name it. Thank it. Tame It.
What I like about this approach is that I’m not trying to suppress the negative thoughts, I recognize, accept, and move on. The more you practice this technique the more you become in charge.
During our last Book Club discussion on the book, “You are Not Your Brain,” we explored the way author Jeffrey Schwartz differentiates between the mind and the brain. He explains in the book, the “brain decides what will grab you [and the] mind can decide what to do when grabbed.” Schwartz came up with a concept of “Free Won’t” instead of Free Will. In his research, he has documented that there is a half of a second from the time your brain decides to take an action to the time your mind is conscious of that thought. And then there is another half of a second before your pre-frontal cortex (higher brain functioning) kicks in. Although this may sound daunting of how quickly you react from a thought or stimulus, the good news is that if you simply take two deep breaths before reacting, you can buy yourself some time to react in a more rational manner.
Victor Frankl, a psychologist and Holocaust survivor is often quoted to have said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” He proclaims that even in the midst of the most horrifying human conditions (referring to the concentration camps), “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
So, I challenge you, next time you become aware of your gremlin telling you you’re not good enough, smart enough, (fill in the blank) enough… first take a breath and then get to know this little voice. Name it, Thank it, Tame it.
In the 1970s we talked about Work-Life Separation, in the 1990s it was Work-Life Balance, and by 2010 we called it Work-Life Integration. Despite all this juggling and integrating, we still feel the pull between these competing commitments in our lives. And we’re tired!
Some of us may even pay a premium for three days at an exclusive resort where we are forced to unplug and—gasp—live without cell phone coverage and WiFi! There’s even a term for it now, “Digital Detox!” To many, Work-Life Integration has come to mean never shutting down—being available 24/7. So, what’s next?
As a society, we value and admire optimists. Those of us who are optimists take pride in seeing “the glass half full” in light of challenges. However it’s not that simple! This month’s CBODN Book Club discussion was on the book “Positively Resilient” by Doug Hensch. We talked about the factors that contribute to one’s ability to “bounce back” from challenging times—and the benefits of overcoming adversity.
The discussion got me thinking about the power of positive thinking in the workplace and at home. It also got me thinking about the downside of extreme positivity. As a coach, I know that clients who are overly optimistic may have certain blind spots. In fact, pessimists are known to form more accurate self-assessments than optimists. I wanted to share my thinking on resiliency—which I believe encompasses a healthy dose of both realism and optimism—through a polarity lens.
Admiral Jim Stockdale was a Prisoner of War (POW) in Vietnam for seven years. During an interview he was asked, “Who didn’t make it out?” Stockdale responded, “Oh, that’s easy, the optimists.”
Polarities at Play: The Stockdale Paradox
The story of Admiral Stockdale was made famous by Jim Collins’ book, “Good to Great.” It is the most powerful example I have found that demonstrates the potential downside to being too optimistic. However, the way the story was portrayed seems to imply that you shouldn’t be optimistic. In my opinion, however, the moral of the story is that one needs to access both a realistic and optimistic mindset without over-focusing on either side. In retelling this story, I would like to examine it from a Polarity lens and build the case for a “both/and” approach. Polarity Thinking, coined by Dr. Barry Johnson of Polarity Partnerships, offers a more dynamic view in which the two "poles" (optimistic and realistic) are interdependent upon one another. In this story when the prisoners' of war learn to leverage the upsides of both poles, they survive.
A Polarity Lens
At first, Stockdale’s observation may seem absurd! How could optimism lead to someone’s death? However, when looking through the lens of Polarities, we see the larger dynamic at play. When navigating through complexities, there are at least two interdependent poles at play. The two poles, in this scenario are Optimism and Realism. We will see how these poles depend upon one another. As the story suggests, the prisoners who didn’t survive the war camp over-focused on their optimistic mindset to the neglect of the realities of the situation.
The optimists had an “unwavering belief for the future” that they would be rescued before Christmas. But then, Christmas would come and go, year after year, with no rescue in sight. Over-time, the people who over-focused on this optimistic mindset (to the neglect of Realism), ended up losing all sense of reality.
Meanwhile, there were some soldiers who were able to face “the brutal facts” which gave them a healthy dose of reality. But those who over-focused on the harsh realities (to the neglect of optimism) would find themselves quickly in the downside of Realism. And, over time, the soldiers would lose all hope for the future.
Those who did survive had a mindset that leveraged the upsides of both poles: Optimism AND Realism.
As Stockdale commented, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
Without the ability to hold BOTH Optimism and Realism, one could not survive the terrible conditions of the prisoner of war camp.
Admittedly, this is an extreme life-and-death example. But it’s no exaggeration of the power of polarities and dynamic thinking. Polarities are ever-present and can help you navigate through any complex challenge in the workplace or at home.
This polarity of being realistic AND optimistic is very present for me at work and at home. I am constantly thinking of ways to acknowledge the realities of a situation, validate other’s concerns AND offer support to help them navigate through the difficult situations. I’m curious to hear how you have helped others face reality while being encouraging at the same time. Send us your stories and examples, we’d love to hear them.
It was 7am on a Wednesday morning. I was on my way to our monthly book club meeting where I was leading a discussion on the book Rewire Your Brain for Love by Marsha Lucas. I turned on the radio to the Business Talk station and listen to an interview of a very successful woman executive and author. In the introduction, the interviewer listed her accomplishments, one after another—barely taking a breath while reading the exhaustive list, and said to the woman, “Wow, it really seems like you’re able to do it all.”
To which the executive responded proudly, “Yes, the key is that I don’t waste any time during the day. If I’m on a flight, I’m writing a book. If I’m in the car, I’m catching up on my calls. Every minute is planned and productive.”
It was a moment that made me cringe. I have to admit I passed judgment on her. I felt sorry for her! I wondered how many breakdowns she’s already had, and how stressful her life must be as she fills every minute of the day with “productive work.” Her message could not have been more opposed to what I was about to share at book club: the importance of slowing down, meditating, and being present in the moment.
Many of the leaders I coach have Type A personalities and many are over-achievers. Although I admire them for their masterful work, many of them literally end up burning themselves out. One client stopped answering my emails only to find out later she was hospitalized for three weeks due to stress. The lifestyle is grueling. With meetings back to back during the day, and catching up on the hundreds of emails at night, one may think you need to work faster and harder to reach your productivity goals. As a coach, I would challenge this thinking and suggest you step back and slow down. Think about it, do you admire those leaders who run around like chickens with their heads cut off—or do you admire those leaders who remain calm in the midst of chaos? I have a magnet in my office that says the following:
“Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.”
As I work with busy executives, we don’t explore actions to work faster. Instead, we examine ways to be productive and calm. One of the most powerful ways to achieve this is through meditation. And, the neuroscience supports this. Lucas presents the brain science behind human habits, patterns, and behaviors—and provides science-based guidance for “rewiring” the brain to support healthy patterns and strong, supportive relationships.
As Lucas explains, if you’re looking to change behavior, insight and intellectual thinking is helpful but short-lived. The most sustainable way to achieve a new state of being is through rewiring your neuropathways in your brain. And, this is done through meditation.
Back to the book club! Our book club discussion was lively. (View the summary sheet to read an overview of the discussion, as well as a sample meditation from the book). We explored neuroscience and what exactly happens in the brain when we meditate. Fascinating stuff! The group—mainly leadership coaches, facilitators, and organizational development practitioners—was “sold” on the science and the benefits of meditation. And so we took the conversation to a practical level: What happens when, as a coach, mentor, boss, or colleague, you want to give the gift of meditation but the other person is looking for is the gift receipt?
Here are a few tips on how to “sell” meditation and mindfulness to others who may be skeptics.
I encourage you to think about ways to become more mindful, present, and calm throughout the day. And, I’d love to hear what you experiment with. Send me a note to let me know what works for you and how you’ve been able to give others the gift of mindfulness or meditation.
It’s a common scenario. A leader receives feedback on her communication style. She’s too direct, and sometimes harsh. Rather than working to style switch or adopt a softer approach, she resists the feedback. “I want to be myself. I don’t want to have to ‘sugar coat’ my words, besides I pride myself on 'saying it like it is'" she says. In this scenario, the leader feels forced to choose between being "direct and straight forward" or "weak and insincere." So, it's no wonder the feedback doesn't land and her behavior doesn't change. However, the leader is not seeing a complete picture. She is only looking at the upsides of her approach and the downsides of the alternative approach. What if she could see the upsides and downsides to both being direct and being gentle?
Like the leader in this scenario, we sometimes grapple with what appear to be an "either or" choice. There is another option -- a "both/ and" mindset. In other words, this leader can continue to be direct AND deliver her message with care. With this approach, she continues to leverage her strengths, she stays aligned to her values of being honest, and is adding to her effectiveness by being empathetic. Now when she delivers a dose of reality, others will actually hear it and appreciate the feedback.
My good friend and colleague, Halelly Azulay invited me to join her podcast and talk about Polarity Thinking. I recently completed a two-year mastery program led by Dr. Barry Johnson of Polarity Partnerships, and shared my perspective on this way of thinking. I admit, I drank the Kool-Aid. Not only do I live by this way of thinking and being on a daily basis but I've incorporated Polarity Thinking into all of our leadership programs to help leaders become more dynamic and less static. A dynamic leadership approach is one that is fluid, resilient, and universal across all domains of one's life. Dynamic leaders see the big picture, expect the unexpected, and effectively navigate through unsolvable problems both at work and at home.
Listen to the podcast now as I share several workplace examples that are sure to resonate—and may boost your effectiveness as a leader. You will walk away with insights and tips to broaden your view of everyday issues and overcome challenges. I'd love to hear what resonates with you - respond here, shoot me an email or send a tweet @LauraMendelow.
It’s 5pm on Friday afternoon. My inbox has 50 unanswered messages, I have a proposal to complete before the “end of day” (luckily the client is on the West coast), I’m typing up notes from the hour and half client call I just had so I don’t forget what we agreed to do, and I still need to mail out a check for my quarterly taxes. My guilt is starting to build as I think about the Shabbat dinner that isn’t getting made (Shabbat dinner is the only family tradition we honor each week) and figuring out how all of this is going to get done in time to make it to my older son Jack’s basketball game by 7pm.
Then I hear Jack say, “Mom, can you help me swap out the laundry?” “Right now?” I think to myself. “Yah, in a minute,” I respond and begin thinking about how long the clothes have been sitting idle in the washer. I know he’s asking me to help him not because he doesn’t know how to do the laundry but because he’s being considerate. After learning that not all clothes go into the dryer, he’s asking me to help him sort the clothes so he doesn’t shrink anything by accident. Two minutes pass and he asks again, “Mom, do you think you can help me with the laundry?” To which I immediately snap back with, “I heard you the first time. Don’t keep asking me. That’s not going to help me finish up my work any faster! And, we don’t have to do the laundry right this minute!”
I finally finish up my work, take a breath, and mentally jump into the weekend. I walk into the family room where my younger son Drew (10 years old) is sitting playing cards with my husband. He looks up at me and says, “Mom, can we talk privately?” Something in his tone makes me realize “something’s up.” He pulls me aside and says, “I know you’re stressed out and you’re trying to finish up your work, but I think you overreacted when Jack asked you to help with the laundry. He was just trying to get himself ready, and now I think he’s feeling more stressed.”
Can you say role reversal?! As I’m listening to my 10-year-old give me feedback, so many thoughts are going through my mind. “Oh, this is about me, not him.” “He’s doing this really well.” “I guess some of my parenting is soaking in.” “And, he’s totally right! I was completely out of line.”
Of course I felt bad for lashing out at Jack as soon as the words left my mouth. What I was really upset about is that I didn’t manage my time well that day, and I allowed for meetings and work to interfere with my family time. I was irritated with myself and took it out on Jack.
I respond to Drew and say, “First, thank you for pulling me aside. I agree, I overacted and will apologize to Jack. I was feeling stressed out and took it out on him. And, by the way, do you realize how good you are at giving feedback? Most adults don’t know how to give feedback the way you just did with me.”
Feedback Tips from a 10-Year-Old
No matter what, giving constructive feedback is uncomfortable for the giver and the receiver. David Rock has a great approach. He says that everyone should just stop giving feedback in organizations. And then quickly adds, instead, people should learn to ask for feedback on a regular basis. From a neuroscience perspective, our brains and bodies feel less threatened after hearing feedback that was actively solicited. As a result, we’re more open to hearing feedback and more likely to make changes.
Now, we all know the reality that unless it’s part of the company culture, most people are not walking around asking for feedback. So, how do you engage in good feedback conversations that reduce the other person’s sense of fight or flight and focus on growth and development? Take a lesson from Drew! Here are a few things that he did:
Speaking of Great Conversations
In last month’s book discussion, we reviewed the book, “We Need to Talk” by Celeste Headlee. (Good timing, right?) Whether you’re conducting an interview to get information, having a performance conversation, or addressing a conflict, conversations are tricky. Here are some other great tips for effective conversations:
It’s the start of 2018! Are you resolving to eat clean, learn Japanese, or quit a bad habit? As a coach, I know a lot of my clients are laser-focused on self-improvement this time of year. While I firmly believe in the power of goal setting, I wonder what would happen if I take a break from so much “doing.” What if, in 2018 I commit to slowing down, being more present, and noticing what’s around me? What if my resolution is to “just be?”
I recently read a moving book, Ghost Boy, that drove home the importance of observation and connection. The author, Martin Pistorius, shares his true life story of being trapped inside his own body. At the age of twelve, Martin unexpectedly becomes very ill to the point where he cannot talk, eat, or move at his own will, and is bound to a wheel chair. Doctors conclude that he has a degenerative neurological disorder, and his mind has reverted back to that of an infant.
He has no recollection of the few years that immediately follow; however, late into his teens, his brain does something miraculous—it wakes up. He becomes fully conscious, fully aware, and yet is trapped inside his own body – a “Ghost Boy,” if you will. Although he is treated with love from many, tragically, he is met with abuse as well. In the book, he recalls one instance of driving in the car to an institution where he is repeatedly abused. He writes,
“The one thing I wished for more than anything as I sat strapped in a seat, powerless to tell anyone about what I soon knew would happen to me, was for someone to look at me. Surely then they would see what was written on my face? Fear…. I had feelings. I wasn’t just a ghost boy.
But no one looked.”
It wasn’t until his mid-twenties that the second miraculous event occurs – someone noticed him.
While his family and caregivers are convinced his IQ is well below average, one caretaker was so present when interacting with him that she notices a glimmer in his eyes. This one small act of connection and keen observation literally changes Martin’s life. With specialized testing, support, encouragement, and advancements in technology, Martin regains physical strength, is able to communicate through specialized devices, and currently lives a life rich with loving relationships and meaningful work. All because one person took the time to notice.
This book hit a chord with me and is a story that I will carry with me for a long time. For me, Martin’s story reveals the essence of humanity. In the leadership courses I teach, we talk about the three core psychological needs of human beings – to feel connected, valued, and empowered – none of which Martin was able to fulfill. It wasn’t until that special caregiver connected with him that he was able to regain purpose, strength, and hope for the future.
In the workplace, one of the most powerful tools a manager has at his/her fingertips is the power to be fully present, yet so few managers are truly present. When others feel that their manager is genuinely listening (even if they don’t receive the outcome they want), they feel connected. And connection leads to engagement, which then leads to tangible results. And of course we all know this carries into the home as well. The more present we are with our family members, the deeper the connections, and the greater the satisfaction.
Logically, this all makes sense, and I would love to say that my commitment for 2018 is to be as fully present and connected as I can be. And then I remember that I live on planet Earth, have two kids, a business to manage, and bills to pay. What’s more—by nature I have a lot of energy—and I enjoy “doing.” My default mode is programmed to take action, be entrepreneurial, and innovate. And these qualities are not qualities that I want to give up. Just the opposite—they are the qualities that shape who I am. (Although I admit, I may over-do it at times.) And in those moments of overwhelm that’s when I will tap into Ghost Boy’s story. To recall the appreciation I have for slowing down, being present, and just taking it all in.
That is my personal work that I am committed to focusing on in 2018. I understand that this tension between “doing” and “being” will always be there, but how I choose to leverage the best of both is up to me. I guess it’s not so much a New Year’s resolution, but rather a way to live in greater awareness on a day-to-day (sometimes moment-to-moment) basis.
I’m curious to hear what you have found helpful in managing the tensions between “doing” and “being.” Would love to hear some ideas and practices that have worked for you. Please share.
Wishing you an inspiring and calm New Year!
I have something a little embarrassing to admit. I was listening to a podcast from NPR, Joshua Johnson’s 1A show (It’s So Hard To Be Grateful, November 20, 2017) and I found myself being critical of the comments from some of the guests on the podcast. And, then I laughed to myself as I recognized the irony. I was criticizing a podcast titled, “It’s so Hard to be Grateful!” So, I recognized my mistake and then self-corrected. The way I got myself back on track was to commit to writing this blog about all the wonderful insights and nuggets I was grateful for receiving from this podcast.
As Thanksgiving approaches, I hope you find some meaning in this and actively seek out ways to be grateful this holiday season.
Nugget #1: “If you look hard enough, there’s always something you can be grateful for.”
This quote says it all! When I first started listening to the podcast, I was listening with a critical ear and I wasn’t focused on listening for all the nuggets I could find. Our brains naturally scan the environment for danger to help keep us safe. So, we need to work against our wiring to see what is working. This takes tremendous practice and even then, we fall into the trap of negative or critical thinking.
So, here’s a challenge for you - when you find yourself criticizing or complaining about something, think of three things that are working or that you do appreciate. Remember, we believe what we see and see what we believe. When you train yourself to see what’s working, or what you appreciate, your belief about others—and outcomes—will begin to change as well.
Nugget #2: “Mindfulness is the practice of keeping our attention focused on moment to moment in a non-judgmental way.”
This definition of mindfulness is a great reminder that mindfulness and being grateful are a practice, not a goal. I think of leadership in the same way. Being a focused, conscious leader is something that I work towards every day. And, those times when I stray off track, like I did when I initially listened to the podcast, I then notice what’s happening (without judgment) and then look for a way to get back on track. (And no, the track is not walking to happy hour!) As soon as we judge ourselves, we enter a downward spiral and get stuck in our thinking. When we learn to notice without judgement, we learn to have self-compassion (rather than be self-critical). This creates openness in our mind and allows for new alternatives to emerge.
Nugget #3: "Mindfulness is the practice of developing awareness and learning how to respond to life in a more skillful way.”
What I love about this quote is ‘a more skillful way.’ The reality is that we’re responding to life all the time. So, we can either be conscious and intentional about it, or we can respond without thought. The choice is ours.
Nugget #4: “How can I be content with what I have and ambitious with what I want?”
This is something I have spent time grappling with myself. From studying Polarity Thinking with Barry Johnson, I have learned to identify these tensions as polarities. In this case, I would label this polarity (or tension) as: 1) being content and 2) being ambitious. What’s helpful is to recognize that there’s an upside to being “content” (i.e., appreciating what is, being in the moment, etc.), and there’s a downside if I over-focus on it (i.e., becoming lazy, complacent, disengaged, etc.).
Similarly, there’s an upside to being “ambitious” (i.e., achieve new goals, brings me energy, innovation, etc.), and there’s also a downside (i.e., moving too quickly, burning out). There is a place in which I can find gratitude while continuing to improve myself. And, I find this place by being aware of my actions and the impact my behaviors have on me and others.
Nugget #5: Create a Gratitude Jar at work or at home
I thought this was a great tip for the office or the home. How it works:
‘Tis the season to be grateful! This might be a good activity to start on Thanksgiving day. Set the jar out in the morning and have everyone write down 1-2 items that they’re grateful for. Then during dinner, pass the jar around and read the comments.
I’m grateful you have read this blog! And I’d love to hear what you do to keep gratitude front and center at home and at work. And I’m curious to know what you do when you get off track too. Write a comment or send me a tweet @LauraMendelow. In the meantime, I hope you all have a Happy Thanksgiving!
“…You take it all, and there you have The Facts of Life. The Fa-cts of Life.”
How does the theme song from the 1980’s sitcom The Facts of Live enter into a leadership blog? So glad you asked!Allow me to explain.
It all started after I attended the In the Know discussion on Adam Grant’s book Give and Take. As I was describing the central concept in the book to a friend, he gently interrupted, “Oh, it’s so funny that you mentioned this because I was home alone the other night flipping through the channels and the same concept came up on ‘The Facts of Life.’”
Ha! I knew we were friends for good reason! First, he admitted to me that he was alone, without the kids, watching an episode of ‘The Facts of Life.” And second, he was inspired by the life lessons of the beloved Mrs. Garrett.
I was intrigued. I asked to hear more. He recapped the episode as follows:
Street-smart Jo was torn between her old boyfriend from home (who just happened to be visiting) and her interest in a new guy from Bates Military Academy. Jo was feeling selfish for even considering going out with the new guy. She asked the reliable housemother Mrs. Garrett for advice. That’s when things took an interesting turn.
“I think that word [selfish] gets a bad rap,” Mrs. Garrett said. “What’s so wrong with doing something for yourself?” She continued, “If you don’t feel fulfilled as a person, if you’re not your best self, what good are you to anyone else?”
Whoa! All-of-a-sudden, this 1980s sitcom got real! Mrs. Garrett was ahead of her time. The lessons from that episode were right in line with the Give and Take Concept. “Givers” and “takers” are defined as follows:
Similar to Jo, I am a Giver. So much so that (TMI alert) most of my therapy sessions were about how I needed to stop giving so much and start looking out for myself. As a middle child, I was always looking out for everyone else and thinking of ways to keep the harmony.
As a Giver, at work or at home, I would look for opportunities to help others. Not only did the other person feel grateful for my support, but I was able to build deeper connections with others by giving. There is also a downside to Giving. For example, as a manager at work, I would make time for everyone else during the day and then I would end up staying up until midnight to finish my own work. I quickly became burned out and resentful.
How did I find balance? Overtime, I taught myself to distinguish between a healthy selfishness and an unhealthy selfishness. I learned to establish boundaries and take care of myself. And, the beauty is that I didn’t have to give up my Giver self. I learned to take care of myself and others. Although Grant refers to this concept a little differently, using the term “others-ish” (describing Givers who focus on others’ needs and their own needs), I believe we’re both arriving at the same place.
How does this concept resonate with you at home or work? Send me a Tweet @LauraMendelow or post a comment below.
(And, in case you were wondering, Jo broke up with her boyfriend from home. And she didn’t feel selfish for doing so.)
Engagement may be a hot buzz word in organizations today, but I believe it’s much bigger than what goes on at the office. When we truly understand what it takes to engage with others, we begin to create a world of compassion and connection rather than resentment and isolation. As I often say, “when you get people, you get results.”
For decades, researchers and psychologists have declared a sense of belonging as one of the core psychological needs of every human being, if not, the most essential need across all cultures.
It makes sense, even our cavemen ancestors figured out that there was safety in numbers.
Unfortunately, lack of belonging sometimes shows itself in tragic ways. The recent Las Vegas shootings show the worst possible result of not feeling connected and feeling severe loneliness. Charlie Hoehn recently published an article discussing potential reasons for the massacre, and revealed loneliness as one of the key commonalities among people who commit violent crimes.
In the workplace, there’s also a loneliness epidemic (HBR). As more and more companies move to remote or virtual working, there’s a growing concern that there’s less opportunity to actually connect with others. Some companies, such as IBM, once known for leading the trend in teleworking, now recognizes the tremendous value of bringing people together and recently asked 5,000 of their employees to come back to the office. But you can’t guarantee connection simply because people are now working under one roof.
I’m thinking back to the days where I worked in a “hoteling” situation. I walked into work, logged into a system so I could find a free working space, sat down at a desk on a random floor with random people around me and spent the day in back-to-back conference calls at my desk. And, not only was I sitting alone on my phone, my lights would often click off automatically because I wasn’t moving enough to activate the light sensor!
So, here I am, in an office, alone, on the phone in the dark! To state the obvious, I was not feeling so connected. So, how can we help others feel more connected both professionally and personally?
The New York Times recently published an article describing how organizations are investing time and money to create more collaborative work environments. A change of environment is one solution, but what’s that old saying about leading a horse to water?
The fact is, we simply can’t force others to feel connected or engaged. But as leaders, we can create a culture of engagement and connection - both at work and at home.
During last month's “In the Know” book discussion, we reviewed Bob Anderson and Bill Adams’ book, Mastering Leadership, and their leadership assessment tool, The Leadership Circle. A portion of the assessment identifies behaviors to help leaders create an environment of connection and belonging. The authors refer to this as "Relating." When leveraged positively, a leader fosters team play, establishes caring connections, and takes the time to mentor and develop others.
Although we want to encourage leaders to focus on building connection, there is a danger in over-focusing on “relating.” For example, a leader may be overly concerned about being liked by their team that they end up being too pleasing or too passive, resulting in inadequate results or lack of direction. The Leadership Circle refers to this as “Complying.” By taking this assessment, a leader can gain insight into how well he/she is creating an environment of connection (as well as several other areas) and learn strategies to enhance that connection.
There are simple actions too that require very little effort. In the article, The Social Muscle, the authors share some quick and useful techniques to encourage connection. They suggest to unplug, make time for face to face interactions, do small favors for others, find reasons to collaborate with others, and (my favorite), just say hello as you're walking by. You wouldn't believe how many times when interviewing teams about their leader's performance, I hear the employees say, our leader "doesn't even say good morning to us when she walks in." These simple acts of kindness and connection go a long way.
And, I know no one wants to attend yet another meeting but meeting structures (e.g. weekly one on ones, team meetings, and All Hands) create connection. Establishing set times where employees know they have your attention, will not only help you connect but studies from David Allen's Getting Things Done methodology reveal this can actually reduce the amount of emails you receive! For example, when employees know they can rely on meeting with you for an hour a week, they are more likely to create a list of their questions and concerns and save it for the weekly meeting rather than sending you individual emails randomly throughout the week when the thought occurs to them. There is one caveat here, employees have to feel they can rely on these meetings. In other words, they need to believe this meeting will not be changed or cancelled each week. I always recommend to schedule one-on-one meetings first thing in the morning when they are less likely to be canceled or moved. When you honor your commitments to one-on-one meetings with your employees, you send the message that you care. You are conveying that it's worth your time to invest in them. This alone can increase a feeling of connection and value among employees.
Besides the workplace, there are "meeting" structures you can implement as a leader at home. The more opportunities you provide for connection, the more likely you will actually connect. Here are some ideas you can implement today:
A sense of belonging and connection is vitally important for the health of individuals, companies, and communities. As Vivek Murthy so eloquently said in his recent HBR article, “The world is suffering from an epidemic of loneliness. If we cannot rebuild strong, authentic social connections, we will continue to splinter apart — in the workplace and in society…. We must take action now to build the connections that are the foundation of strong companies and strong communities — and that ensure greater health and well-being for all of us. ”
I couldn’t agree more. As history has proven time and time again, we’re all stronger together. As a leader, I challenge you to find new ways to build and strengthen connections both at work and at home.
I’ll admit it. I’ve been distracted and anxious over these last few weeks, thinking about all the people impacted by the recent hurricanes. Like many Americans, I was glued to the television and radio to monitor the intensity and pathway of the storms.
These storms were serious business. But why weren’t some of the people in their paths taking them seriously?
As the storms neared, officials clearly needed to send direct, decisive messages to the residents who were potentially in danger. One official sent a message to the residents in the mandatory evacuation zone and said, flat out, “We will not be able to save you during the hurricane.” Another official stated, “Evacuations are not meant to be convenient, they are meant to keep you safe.” Clear? Crystal. Honest? Definitely. Harsh? Possibly, it depends on the context. If the perception is that the officials care personally for the residents of that state, then these comments will be interpreted as appropriate, clear, and direct. However, if the perception was a lack of concern for the residents, these comments would appear harsh. But sometimes, it’s worth the risk of appearing harsh – and an approaching life-threatening storm is definitely one of those times.
In this context, the officials have the best interests of the residents in mind. They’re doing everything in their power to keep people safe from the natural disaster. As elected officials, it is their job to both keep people safe AND communicate the realities of this dangerous situation.
So, it was fortunate timing that this month’s In the Know session covered the book Radical Candor by Kim Scott. Just like those elected officials, leaders are expected to share the realities of the state of their organization or marketplace and provide direction on how to strategize and move forward. In her book, Scott addresses the idea that because of that mandate, leaders can’t always subscribe to the idea that “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Scott calls this “Radical Candor.”
Radical Candor occurs when, as a leader or colleague, you care personally AND challenge directly.
This type of communication can show up in many ways, when providing difficult performance feedback, when acting against the norms of a group, when questioning another’s assumptions, or even positively challenging someone to reach their potential.
In the book, Scott shared a few stories from early on in her career where she erred more on the side of caring personally at the expense of being direct with others. She feared that if she addressed the performance issues head on, she would no longer be liked on the team. As you probably surmised, this approach backfired on her and morale began to decline as her team members worked harder to compensate for the lack of quality and productivity from one of their key members.
When Scott finally gained enough courage to talk to the employee with the performance issues, the employee was shocked and felt disrespected that no one shared their concerns with him earlier when he could have actually done something to change his behavior. This left a big impression on Kim and was one of many experiences that led to her developing the concept of Radical Candor.
Over the years, Scott learned to “challenge directly” and had to reframe what she previously thought as “harsh” was really being clear and direct. Her relationships strengthened and people appreciated her honesty in helping them see their own areas for growth. Scott makes a bold statement that if you can’t achieve Radical Candor (i.e. both caring and challenging), it’s better to be a challenger who doesn’t care personally than a person who cares personally but doesn’t challenge. In other words, if you’re going to err on one side or the other, it’s better to challenge than to care.
This was a strong statement (and one I wasn’t sure if I agreed with), so I did some research to see if there were studies that supported this notion. What I found were many studies on comparing the impact of ignoring someone vs. being extremely harsh to them.
Research from British Columbia stated that being ignored or ostracized socially has a stronger emotional negative impact than bullying. The reason being that if you’re being bullied, you’re at least worthy of being noticed. Researcher Kip Williams, a professor at Duke University, is well-known for his studies on ostracism. He and his colleagues were able to demonstrate that not only are there damaging psychological effects but the same area of the brain that detects pain is also stimulated when one feels ostracized. He explains the evolutionary reason being “social rejection and pain serve the same purpose—alerting an organism to a potentially life-threatening risk.”
Research conducted by Dan Airley, Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, gave a TED talk about “What makes us feel good about our work?” One experiment involved a task where they would pay a person to read through gibberish on a sheet of paper and count the number of all like letters that were written together. Once they completed it, they handed it to a reviewer and the reviewer did one of three things:
So, going back to Scott’s bold statement that being too harsh is better than being too nice, I may now have to agree. If Scott was implying that people who over-focus on caring personally (to the neglect of challenging) tend to avoid difficult conversations or ignore poor performance, then this research does, in fact, support her point. In study after study, the results indicate that ignoring has either a similar or worse impact on an individual as receiving harsh treatment. However, it’s worth noting that neither being too harsh nor being too caring is sustainable for employees to bare over time.
So, what does all of this teach us about being direct and caring? First, the best-case scenario is to practice BOTH, caring for others and challenge directly. And, as Dan Airley revealed in his research, even the slightest ounce of positive acknowledgement that shows you care will increase engagement.
If, however, you’re like most people, you probably tend to over-emphasize one or the other. Here are a few tips and strategies based on my coaching experience that I have seen work with many clients.
If you over-focus on caring personally:
In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell made famous the statistic about practicing 10,000 total hours to become world-class at anything. But what he didn’t highlight is that there’s a limit as to how much disciplined, focused, concentrated practice one can perform in in one day.
10,000 hours of practice makes you a pro. But how many hours should you do at a time?
Research cited in the article “A Better Way To Work” estimates that limit to be of approximately four hours per day. And, not only is there a limit to how much you can practice each day, there’s actually a negative decline if you consistently over-perform. In other words, there’s a point where you put in so many hours that you become burned out, discouraged, and decrease effectiveness.
This probably makes sense to you from a logical standpoint, but how often do we dismiss the importance of sleep to perform harder, better or faster? Research in the article states that in addition to your 10,000 hours of practice, you need 12,500 hours of deliberate rest, and 30,000 of sleep (including naps). The author also references studies that were conducted with violin students at one university. The study analyzed activity and rest patterns from the best students compared to the average students. What they found is that the best students had the following in common:
Today’s society praises people for working long hours, we pride ourselves with how busy we are, and we are often rewarded for going the extra mile. But very few organizations deliberately focus on rest.
Google stands out as one company that embraces downtime and rest. I had the pleasure of taking a tour of the company in 2010 and I distinctly remember seeing egg-shaped nap pods (which were basically mini beds) placed throughout the floor. OK, I thought, it’s a nice idea but I’m sure no one uses them. To my surprise, they were being used frequently throughout the day and, even more surprisingly, most of the people I observed using them were managers! What?! I had never seen anything like that before. The managers set the tone of the culture. Google embraced the benefits of rest (using these nap pods among many other perks) resulting in an increase in productivity, innovation, and positive energy from their staff.
Researchers have been studying the benefits of rest for a long time. Another “oldie but goodie” book in the Organization Development field is Power of Full Engagement Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. Through research and experiments, these authors prove how critical downtime is throughout the day.
In one experiment, Loehr and Schwartz attached EKGs to both professional tennis players and average tennis players. What they found is that the average players kept their heart rates high throughout a match. However, the professional players found short periods of time to lower their heart rate throughout a match. Whether it was when they retrieved a ball or walked back to their position from the net, they found small moments to slow their heart rates down and give their body a quick rest.
So, yes, it’s true, you need 10,000 hours of practice to achieve world-class success. AND… you also need over four times that in rest and sleep, at appropriate intervals.
We can’t all be fortunate to work for an employer that actively provides opportunities for rest and rejuvenation. However, we can take it upon ourselves to find ways to work differently. Don’t rely on the two weeks of vacation you take once a year (if you’re lucky!), think about ways to incorporate rest and downtime everyday throughout your day. Here are some realistic tips regardless of your industry or location, that may help you get started:
These may seem insignificant but these little moments of downtime will actually give you more energy throughout the day. What works for you? Leave a comment and let us know! I encourage you to experiment with deliberate rest to help you become more productive. Let us know how it works.
“Relaxed and Alert.” Those were the words Dana Pulley used to describe Mindfulness during our last CBODN, In the Know, book review session. Yeah, I did a double-take, too. Is that supposed to be an “and?” Take a minute, though, and really give this statement some thought: Relaxed and Alert.
At first, it may seem like an impossible state to be in. But Dana walked us – well, SAT us – through it. She asked that we sit on the very front part of our seats, so our backs were upright and not resting against the backs of our chairs. Why?
If you’re too comfortable and relaxed, you’ll fall asleep. Yet, if you’re too tense and alert, you’ll be too distracted. She explained that the art of mindfulness is balancing both states, leaving you – you guessed it – relaxed and alert.
As one participant pointed out during the session, it’s like making pottery – to center your work, you have to apply just the right amount of focus (or alertness) on the wheel with a light touch (or relaxation) to be able to work with the clay.
We went on to discuss mindfulness as a practice to engage in every day (and often many times throughout the day) rather than a singular state of awareness that you strive to achieve. The author of Search Inside Yourself describes mindfulness as a cycle starting with a focal point (e.g. your breath, your feet walking, sounds outside), next your mind wanders (which is normal human tendency), then you notice that you’ve wandered (with kindness and curiosity) and then you bring yourself back to your focal point.
As I reflected on the concept of “relaxed and alert” and the cycle of focusing, wandering, noticing and coming back to focus, I realized that this is also how I view leadership.
Being a leader doesn’t require taking full control (too alert) or being too hands off either (too relaxed). Much like mindfulness, leadership isn’t a skill set that one strives to achieve but rather a state of awareness that is practiced on a daily basis. You can’t just check the box and call yourself mindful – or a leader.
We often say that (both mindfulness and leadership) aren’t about perfection, but rather course-correction.
For example, as a leader, you have a goal in mind, you engage with others to bring you closer to that goal, then notice your impact and decide how to continue forward. It’s a constant awareness of your surroundings, awareness of your impact, and courage to get back on track if you made an error. In fact, I would argue that the most effective leaders are the ones who may go off track but have learned how to quickly recover and refocus with kindness and curiosity rather than internal criticism and despair.
One of my coaching clients shared a story with me. He started off by saying, “Laura, I’ve been managing people for 25 years, and I think I made the worst mistake of my career.”
This seemed like a bold statement and I was curious to hear what had happened. He explained that he recently hired someone to join his team in a new role and that the decision had caused tremendous contention with the existing team members – so much, in fact, that after about two weeks, half of the team began interviewing for new jobs.
So, I asked, “What did you do?” He said he immediately saw the mistake he made. Not only was the new role not meeting the needs of the team but most of the existing team members interpreted the hire as an insult to their own abilities and value to the organization. In addition, he only consulted up the chain, never down about the needs and expectations for this role. After realizing his mistake, he began meeting with individual team members to hear their perspective, he spoke with the new hire, and just about everyone who was deeply impacted by the hiring decision. After hearing from everyone’s point of view, it was clear that this was a huge hiring mistake and even the new hire agreed that this wasn’t going to work. They worked out arrangements to remove this individual and eventually re-created the position based on the needs of the team and the organization.
This leader was shaken, and ashamed of what he had done. However, I recognized and applauded him for his ability to notice the mistake, listen carefully to other points of view, honor other people’s opinions and then get his team back on track.
He did it. Without even realizing it, he had been both alert, and relaxed, course-corrected, and performed as a leader. Even while personally feeling ashamed of the original decision.
You see, if he had been too relaxed, he would’ve blown it off and possibly blamed the commotion on others being jealous of this new manager. If he was too alert, he might have tried to micromanage the situation and perhaps would’ve become burned out himself. Instead, he remained both relaxed and alert. He followed the cycle, noticed something was off track and brought the team back to center. And, on top of that, he was role modeling to others what happens when one makes a mistake. You own it, engage, and recover. His staff are now more likely to adopt that cycle when they make a mistake and probably became a stronger team as a result.
We believe that this way of showing up as a leader applies to people managing teams at work as well as leaders as parents, managing their kids at home. Now, I’m not suggesting that you parent your children as if they were little employees (mostly because they’d probably unionize and create a list of demands like outlawing veggies in the workplace), but I am suggesting that you can apply the same level of mindfulness as a leader when you are at work or at home. Finding that balance point between alert and relaxed puts you in an optimal state to understand, assess, and problem-solve.
So the next time you’re facing a difficult situation, whether it’s an office debacle or a parental conundrum, give it a try – take a moment to look at it holistically, examine the impacts, and adjust your course. But remember, it will take practice.
My mom, Janet Goodman, and I just spent four days at the ILA Women’s Conference at the Omega Institute in NY. I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical before I left for the conference because, when one person on the listserv asked “what to wear,” someone else e-mailed back “goddess clothing.” Oh no. What did I get myself into?
Despite my skepticism, upon arrival I encountered an amazing group of professional, intelligent, ambitious women all without their high heels on (well, except for one, who obviously didn’t get the memo).
Although I don’t consider myself a feminist or women’s activist, I walked away with more knowledge around unconscious gender bias and a greater appreciation for the importance of advancing and supporting women in leadership. Omega advertised a Women & Power retreat with the message of #dopowerdifferently.
But it wasn’t until something magical happened during the session we facilitated that I truly understood what that meant.
We led an interactive workshop on Barry Johnson's Polarity Thinking model and demonstrated how women have the opportunity to be even more effective when they bring their whole-selves to the table and truly embrace both masculine (yang) and feminine (yin) energy. We started off with an activity that most of us in the OD/Experiential Team Building world know and love… the Helium Stick activity.
For those of you unfamiliar with this activity, you start with a long stick, and all the participants are asked to place their fingers under the stick with the seemingly simple goal of lowering the stick to the ground in the fastest amount of time possible. I must have led people through this activity at least 100 times before, no exaggeration. However, I had never facilitated this with a group of all women.
What I observed was, well, DIFFERENT. The women started off very much on the same path as other groups where they were shocked and caught off guard when the stick suddenly went up instead of down. Their default reaction to this was to ask a series of questions to each other (leveraging the yin energy) and tested out their assumptions (for example, “Did everyone receive the same set of instructions?” “Is anyone looking to sabotage this?” “Is there a trick to this activity?” “Is something flawed in the stick?”).
After hearing from the participants, a leader emerged from the group. She restated their strategy and established a clear plan of action (accessing the Yang energy). They were getting some good momentum and once this happened the magic took place.
The group remained completely silent. I’ve never seen that happen before. The best way for me to describe it was a silent power.
They now trusted that everyone was on board, everyone was determined to do whatever it took to achieve the goal, and they trusted that each team member would adjust and flex as needed to allow the group to reach their shared goal of lowering the stick to the ground. In silence they continued to work together, in harmony in mutual trust and total respect for one another. They accomplished the task and all walked away with a sense of pride.
Both masculine and feminine ways of leading were present. They had to set direction and establish a plan which accessed the traditionally masculine side AND they listened and solicited ideas from each other which accessed the traditionally feminine side. However, the manner in which it was carried out was so different than what I had ever seen with any team before. I even have the chills now as I’m writing this and remembering the experience.
This, my friends, is doing power differently.
I left inspired by this experience, curious to know who’s already out there leading in this way, what companies are already role modeling this and how do we articulate doing power differently? Once we can describe it, we can then replicate it, own it and contribute to building a stronger society. Goddess clothing, however, is optional.
I’ll never forget the time I heard Elliot Masie, the man who coined the term “eLearning," discuss how learning and development professionals measure training. He said something to the effect of, “We might as well ask participants to step on a scale before they enter the training room. Then, each quarter, we can say we trained over 40 thousand pounds of participants.”
His point was that the way we traditionally measure training is useless. It’s typically measured in terms of number of participants who attended or even better, their level of entertainment during class. What’s completely missing is how much they’re learning and if they’re able to apply their learning. Isn’t that the point?
To build successful training, we continuously discover what leads to the best outcomes and tweak our programs accordingly. Here are a few tips to apply in ANY of your training programs:
The truth is, traditional training (e.g. attend a 1-2 day course) is simple and requires a low level of effort. However, if you are really invested in sustainable learning for your employees, you’ll need to rethink the Level of Effort (LOE) required for your trainers.
The shift that we’re seeing in companies is they’re moving from:
We’re curious to know how training is shifting in your organization. Let us know what’s working and what’s not. We invite you to join us on our quest to re-invent training for organizations.