“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!
Post Contributed by Ann V. Deaton, PhD, PCC.
“I can access my work phone from wherever I am, even at the gym.”
“My flexible schedule lets me take time to be with my brand new niece as often as my brother wants me there.”
“Having the dry cleaner and child care on site at work is a godsend.”
“When I need to, I can work remotely from across the country so I don’t miss important family events, nor critical deadlines with my team at work.”
“Would you believe it? They have a relaxation room at my work where I can go to meditate, do yoga, or even take a quick nap.”
We’ve come a long way in our experience of work, how we see our employment, and our lives outside of work. Decades ago, the focus was on separating work and life---keeping each in its rightful place. Then we transitioned to trying to balance the different aspects of our lives, making sure each got their fair share of our time. This balance stance morphed into work-life integration, where we approached our lives with the awareness that work and life weren’t necessarily in competition for our time, that each might actually contribute to the other. And, at present, we are continuing to evolve our sense of how to be whole human beings—honoring our commitments to ourselves, significant people and events in our lives, and our responsibility to our jobs.
As the quotes at the start of this blog suggest, many workplaces have noticed, and accommodated, our evolving needs. The employers who can’t, or don’t, adjust run the risk of a revolving door of new hires and valued workers leaving for better jobs. In this case, “better” is not always synonymous with a higher salary or a more prestigious role. “Better” often means a workplace that sees me not just as a way to get the work done, but as a whole human being with needs and wants of my own outside of work.
This evolving sense of what it means to be committed to work and simultaneously dedicated to our hobbies, friends, and families outside of work takes many forms. Recently, my colleague Laura Mendelow and I had the opportunity to facilitate an experiential session at the annual Organizational Development Network (ODN) conference where the participants helped us to reflect on the varied phases of life-work evolution. Session attendees were prolific and eloquent in capturing the upsides and the downsides of how we’ve approached the challenge of limited time and seemingly unlimited demands on our time over the decades. We captured their brilliance in a recent article for the Library of Professional Coaching. We added coaching questions to enable professional coaches, and leaders who coach their team members, to craft individual solutions.
How effectively are you engaging with the tension of living a full life, and accomplishing your career or work goals? Consider the following questions for a little self-reflection:
We’d love to hear how you are ensuring that you, and those around you, create meaningful and sustainable lives. Post your comments below!
Ann V. Deaton, PhD, PCC, is a leadership and team coach based in Richmond, VA. Her publications include the books VUCA Tools for a VUCA World and Being Coached: Group and Team Coaching from the Inside.
Last week I attended a private viewing of the 2018 documentary film Bias and a bonus chat with Director Robin Hauser. The event was sponsored by Washington Women's Leadership Initiative, and it was awesome! I thought I’d write up a few key nuggets that I walked away with, for the benefit of anyone who could not join. Feel free to chime in if you attended, as it was hard to take notes in a dark theater.
Hauser is interested in exploring unconscious bias, the bias that is below the threshold of consciousness, and specifically how it relates to gender and race. This film features many of the top researchers in the field including Tony Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji, co-founders of Project Implicit at Harvard University. They are best known for the IAT (Implicit Association Test). I highly recommend going to this site to take one of their tests and examine your own implicit bias. It’s completely free, and the results will have a lasting impact on you, guaranteed.
View the trailer for a sneak peak.
Here are some of the highlights:
If you saw the film, please chime in to add or build off of anything I mentioned. There was so much information packed into this film. It both educates and entertains. Loved it!
Thank you WWLI for hosting this wonderful event!
How do you judge if a coworker is as good as her word? How do you know whom to trust? In a recent CBODN book club discussion, Janice Shack-Marquez shared data presented in social science researcher Brené Brown’s latest book, Dare to Lead. When 1000 leaders are asked what makes them trust a coworker, can you guess what the #1 answer is?
The survey results show that when employees ask for help, this indicates to their leadership that they are trustworthy. At first, this may seem counterintuitive. In a “fake-it-until-you-make-it” world, we want to show up as intelligent, capable, and knowledgeable—especially in front of our own bosses. So why does asking for help build trust, rather than erode it?
How Does Asking for Help Build Trust?
Interesting, huh? I have a hypothesis to run by you—just to get the discussion going.
It could be that, when an employee admits she needs help, the leader knows she’s not trying to hide information. The call for help reassures the leader that if the employee runs into a problem that she can’t handle on her own, she won’t try to haphazardly address it, but instead will consult the leader. This also shows the leader that she has the best interest of others in mind, rather than just focusing on herself. Over time, the leader can believe this employee when she says, “I got this.” Even for a complex or particularly high-stakes task, the leader is more inclined to be hands off.
There is, of course, some fine-print that accompanies the hypothesis. For example:
Disclaimer aside, the fact that “asking for help” made it to the top of the survey results was really eye opening and refreshing to hear. Hopefully, this little piece of data puts you at ease the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed or over your head and need to reach out for help. And if you are not the type to reach out, I hope this will help you reconsider.
TIPS on Asking for Help
Sometimes it’s hard to ask for help. Here are some conversation starters to help you ask for help across different situations.
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!