Posts Tagged ‘Self-Leadership Development’
This is the third and final installment in a blog series that I have been writing about positive practices that leaders can use to improve the well-being as well as the performance of their teams. You can catch up on this series by clicking through the posts about empathy and kindness. Last but not least, this final post is about gratitude.
Many leaders do a fairly decent job of saying thank you to someone who has performed a much-needed task, or achieved a noteworthy outcome on a project. The basics of social skills and common courtesy will get most leaders that far. When I talk about employing gratitude as a leadership practice, however, I’m talking about something more than the occasional kudos. I’m talking about an intentional, consistent practice of infusing gratitude into how you are as a leader, not just what you do. Gratitude, then, becomes an attitude, not just an act. Here’s what I mean.
Imagine that it is 7pm on a Friday and you are still in your office. (This won’t be a stretch for many of you who are reading this post.) You are eager to get to your weekend plans and are starting to feel a tad worn out, maybe even a little resentful, about the stack of deliverables that are still on your desk. The more you think about the work you still have to do, the more shallow your breathing becomes and the more stressed you feel. You decide to sweep those reports into your briefcase and take them home so you can at least get out of the building. You’ve cleared your email as best you can; sorted out what priorities will need your top attention on Monday; the only thing left to do is turn off the computer and close the door. This is when I encourage you to stop and take just 15 minutes to do one more thing. I know, I can hear the groans from here – one more thing?! Yes.
Take 15 minutes to reflect on the most positive outcome of the week that one or more of your team members helped to achieve. This doesn’t have to be a world record. This can be small, but significant to their ongoing development – possibly something that only you know they are working on. It can be about a micro shift in behavior that you noticed and want to see more of. Whatever it is, write down a few lines to capture what happened and why it made an impression on you (and possibly others). Once you get started, you may find that other examples from other team members start coming to mind. Write down those examples too. Don’t limit yourself to your own team, either. What comes up when you think about a department you interact with regularly? Are there any moments, large or small, that you feel grateful about this week? Capture as many examples as you can in this short block of time that you’ve set aside.
Now, you may think my next recommendation will be to write a thank you email or handwritten note to a team member to thank them for what they did. That is definitely one action you could take that may be meaningful to the person(s) on your team. Expressions of gratitude like that tend to have a multiplier effect, too. The more you do it, the more others may do it, which builds an appreciative culture that positively impacts how people feel about coming to work each day. Before taking that action though, my recommendation is that you just stop, reflect on the positive strides that you noticed around you during the week, and allow yourself a moment to experience gratitude about those efforts.
Next, notice what you’re feeling as you reflect on these efforts with gratitude. Notice your breathing – even your heart rate. Notice your body language. Has it shifted from a stressed position with your shoulders nearly to your ears to a more relaxed, open position? Finally, notice your mindset compared to 15 minutes ago when you were desperate to leave your office. That stack of deliverables may still be waiting, but as you reflect on your team’s efforts with gratitude, what comes up? Do you feel a little more encouraged than resentful now? You may even catch yourself smiling as you visualize some of the actions that you wrote down. Given that our thought habits serve as the origination point for the eventual emotions and behaviors we exhibit, changing the way we think about something can have a profound impact on how you show up as a leader with others. Employing gratitude as a practice can help you to shift from a mindset of overwhelm into a mindset of positivity, appreciation, and renewed commitment to what your role calls for each day.
This brief 15-minute gratitude break is something you can do at any point in your day, not just at the end. One benefit to pausing then is that it helps to shift the busy, perhaps even frantic feel to the week into something more positive and productive. I don’t know about you, but that is my preferred onramp to the evening or weekend! If there is anyone waiting for you at home once you’ve left your office, I also predict that they will appreciate you taking a few moments to shift your mindset and your energy before you walk through the door.
It may take a few rounds of this practice until you truly allow yourself to slow down enough to experience a shift, but my prediction is that once you do it, you may actually start to look forward to it. For those of you who are not paper and pencil journaling types, there are also several applications out there to make it easy to record these short thoughts on your tablet, smart phone, or other devices. Above all, remember this: research shows that the simple act of pausing to surface feelings of gratitude produces a positive physiological impact that affects cognitive function and improves workplace performance (Check out Positive Leadership: Strategies for Extraordinary Performance by Kim Cameron for more). Put simply, practices like this create conditions that enable us to perform better because we feel better.
So, here are the leadership practices we’ve explored in this series.
E = Develop empathy.
K = Extend kindness.
G = Practice gratitude.
There are many other practical yet powerful practices that you can employ as a leader to create a positive, productive climate in your workplace. In the meantime, remember that the simple acronym I made up for this set of leadership practices – EKG – centers around your ability to share more of your heart with your team, not just your head. It doesn’t matter which practice you start with. You might start by finding a point in your day or your week when you are willing to try this 15-minute gratitude practice consistently and see what you notice. Whatever you decide to start with, please write to me about it. I’d love to hear how it goes for you.
Change can be fantastic. Really.
Late summer tends to bring on a time of change in people’s lives, and this summer is no exception in my neck of the woods.
Some of my friends are about to send their kids off to school for the first time. They are studying bus schedules and working up the courage to ask their boss for a more flexible work day so they can be with their kids at the beginning and the end of the school day. It is a natural request, yet one that feels hard for some people to make if they work in an office with a culture that seems to value long hours and ‘face time.’ It is easy to feel like an outlier if it isn’t common behavior in your office to decline in-person meetings after 3pm for the sake of personal commitments.
Other friends are preparing to send their kids off to school too – college. These friends are busy helping their kids to pick out dorm supplies; they are double checking their insurance policies to make sure their kids will be covered when away from home; they are lovingly planning the last family meal at home before the composition of their household changes forever. They are learning how to care for their kids in a whole new way through all of these steps. The ones who are married are also learning how to relate to their spouse in a new way, particularly if their college-bound kid is the last one to leave home. No more track meets to schedule dinner around or dry cleaning reminders to work in between car pool runs or soccer practice. There is suddenly more time for ‘real’ conversation again. That can feel fantastic…or scary…or at the very least, unfamiliar. Quite possibly, all of the above at different times.
Times of change present us with an opportunity to demonstrate some curiosity and adaptability. This takes some intention and practice for most people, however. Our brains are wired to appreciate routine. A change to our routine – even a small one – can feel like a threat to the brain, making it hard to adopt a perspective that is open to possibilities. And yet, our brains have a remarkable capacity for continuous learning. When you help your brain to learn to see changes as opportunities you build the capacity to adapt to change more successfully.
There are a few simple questions that I often ask my coaching clients to consider when they are working on their capacity to adapt to change. One question is: “What is one thing about this change that I might like?” This question helps to shift the perspective from a sense of what is being lost to the possibility that the change presents something that would be positive. Another is: “What is one thing I will be relieved to let go of as a result of this change?” I have found that this question is sometimes harder for coaching clients to answer right away, especially if their answer is tied to something they feel a strong sense of responsibility about (like caring for their kids every day). It can be easy for that sense of responsibility to become a sense of identity, making it even harder to let go in the face of change.
Leaders need to be aware of this dynamic when they announce changes in the workplace, too. There are usually many thoughts and emotions that go unspoken during times of change unless leaders make it a point to demonstrate their openness to hearing about what is on people’s hearts and minds. Left unspoken, these thoughts and emotions can fester into unproductive behaviors that show up as lower productivity, increased absences, and sometimes, outright sabotage of the mission. Leaders can do a lot to diminish the fears people may have during times of change by making it safe to surface difficult topics. This is also another way of building individual and organizational capacity for adapting to change.
Change is a constant in life, whether it happens at work or at home. Whether you are experiencing a big change right now or you are leading a change initiative where you work, take a few minutes to ask yourself the questions I have offered and notice what comes up for you. If you have been feeling resistant to the change you may be surprised at how quickly you can shift your perspective and your energy around it by practicing this exercise. If you could see your brain as you do this you would see it creating new thought patterns that will build your capacity to shift to a different perspective. Then, offer the questions to those you lead, and practice some active listening as they share their responses with you. Demonstrate that it is safe for them to bring up whatever concerns or ideas they may have about the change. This will help to lower the sense of threat that the brain experiences during change. Your ability to role model adaptability and openness just may provide your team with the perfect setting for their own possibilities to unfold.
One dismaying fact — and I would argue a growing trend with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator — is the series of misconceptions that regularly arise in its interpretation. This is mainly due to increasingly compressed timeframes in which the theory is taught.
I would like to do my part to lay to rest one of the myths, and I want to do that with a story, in order to help others understand what the MBTI really is.
You have probably heard someone complain that the MBTI “puts people in boxes.” The hypothesis of a preference is somehow seen as tagging someone with a label from which he or she cannot escape.
I know I’d be unhappy if that were the case, but it’s not. Type simply describes preferences we bring to life, work, relationships and situations. In fact, we have to use all the functions every day in order to survive, but some we prefer to others.
Type describes where you start, but it says nothing about where you wind up. In fact, one of the most important concepts in Type – Type development – is all about how you develop the less-preferred parts of the personality in order to be more well-rounded, adaptive and, as Carl Jung said, “individuated.”
I have always believed it is healthy to engage in activity that is the opposite of preference – that it is a good idea for introverts to work on speaking up more, for extraverts to take a little more time before speaking, and so on.
In my own Type – ENTP – I have a very clear preference for Intuition over Sensing. Intuition is about the big picture, patterns, concepts, themes and the future. Sensing is about the details, specifics, concrete facts, the knowable and more the immediate reality.
And now to the story.
I don’t remember exactly how it happened, or if it involved some arm twisting, cold beers, volunteer guilting or — in the way so many volunteer jobs work — a profound lack of understanding of what I was getting into, but I wound up in a role as something called “Clerk of Course” for my daughter’s summer swim team. Clerk of Course may sound like an official, even bureaucratic function involving a sharpened pencil and perhaps a banker’s lamp, but it’s not.
No, Clerk of Course is physically located right in the middle of the central nervous system of a meet. It includes mayhem, stress, elevated pulse rates and a never-ending fear of jacking up and delaying the running of a meet, at which point hundreds of over-ambitious, time-starved parents can hate you, let alone the swimmers who are inconvenienced.
The job of Clerk of Course each Saturday morning during the season is to get 272 excited swimmers to the right lane, at the right time, for the right race. Some of these swimmers are 8 years old and younger, meaning they suddenly realize they need to go to the bathroom right before a race, and want you to tell them it’s OK to do so.
If you think that’s bad, try corralling the 15-18 age group, the chief goal of which seems to be strutting, preening and occasional chest-beating (the boys) and quietly talking about each other and relationships (the girls). Both genders are more interested in what is on their iPods than anything an old guy wants to tell them about getting lined up. They have far more important things on their minds that actually checking in at the Clerk of Course, which is required under Northern Virginia Swim League rules, people. Please.
But one error, and the wrath of the NVSL (and remember, the parents) can befall the Clerk of Course, hence the stress mentioned above.
Now, all of my dear and wonderful colleagues will readily tell you that attention to details is not exactly my strong suit. They would probably tell you this while rolling their eyes, and they would probably say it in a more colorful and extreme fashion than I just wrote. There’s a good reason for this. For those of you who have studied Type, it is my Inferior Function, meaning it comes last in my own batting order for dealing with the world of Intuition, Thinking, Feeling, and then, dead last, Sensing.
But here’s the real point: I knew the volunteer job would require me to develop my own Sensing and attention to details, and that’s actually why I took it. I knew it would stretch me.
And, in retrospect, I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.
Each Saturday during the swim season, I had to completely focus attention on each of those 272 names, making sure the right person got to the right lane, etc. An earthquake could have taken place, a helicopter could have made an emergency landing in the pool, the Obama motorcade could have driven by and I would have never noticed. Total focus.
After the initial panic and sense of being overwhelmed, which went on for 4 or 5 years, I actually started to get into the rhythm of the job, finding the best ways to make sure everything worked. In fact, I began to take pride in the mastery of the details, and the running of an error-free meet. After some time, it became clear to me it was like a ballet and a mosh pit, a seamless and rhythmic orchestrating of unruly, youthful crowds. It was a beautiful thing when each race ended and the next race was ready to take off. The time-challenged parents loved that.
Before all this took place, in the early morning when the pool was just starting to awaken, I would go to the staging area and clean it up, arrange the benches, make sure the ground was clear of any objects. It was a quiet, introverted devotion to details. To be honest, it was kind of a reverence, a caring about the details.
Type describes where you start, but not where you wind up. I may still struggle with some details at work, but doing this activity increased my confidence that I can flex to sensing when needed.
I did the gig for eight years, and with a daughter going to college now, it’s over. More than 10,000 swimmers later, my work there is done, and I will miss it terribly. It was a great opportunity, a lot of fun in between the moments of sheer terror, and I hope a service to all those wonderful kids.
You never know what Type development opportunities might open up for you.
The subjective perception of time is fascinating. After all, it objectively ticks away one reliable second at a time. There is no deviation. The atomic clock rules.
Yet, there are times when time seems to slow down. We sit at a long traffic light, ensure a boring speech, clean out a basement – we might feel like, “How long has this been going on?” and be surprised it was just a few minutes.
On the other hand, it is good to know there are at least two things that happen really fast — shockingly fast — so you can be prepared. The first is brief and personal; the second relates to you and your career.
Kids leaving home happens fast. I remember bringing my daughter Emma home from the hospital after birth, and in a blink, she is headed off to college. As my colleague Scott Boozer would say, “Yay!” We are thrilled for her, and (we think) we’re all ready. We’ll see about that with some experiential learning in the drive back from drop-off, and yes, we know it is uncool for parents to linger or get all emotional.
Here’s the other thing that happens really fast: your career.
We go to work day by day, navigating the terrain as best we can, getting a promotion here or there, an assignment to here or there. We do what we do, and the days roll into weeks, the weeks into months and then “Wow! I’ve been here 5 years!” What happened?”
That turns into a decade faster than the first 5 years took, and then amazing things start to happen. People start talking about retirement more, the little ones go to college (see above) and start their careers, you notice the retirement account and wonder about how your lifestyle will be. There are more and more retirement parties, the people in your office get younger and younger (and gosh, certainly dress and behave differently than you do!).
It all flies by. In a blink, and maybe before you know what happened, your career is over.
What was your plan? What was your vision for your working life? To get by? To make the mortgage?
Only you can figure out the vision for you. This means the mental picture of the future you want. HR will not tell you, neither will your boss. It’s yours.
It’s good to know what it is that you want, because the clock is ticking. It feels like it is speeding up.
In the embarrassing-admissions department, I have to confess I sometimes watch Kitchen Nightmares, that show in which the acerbic Gordon Ramsay (poster child for Thinking versus Feeling in the MBTI) shreds a failing restaurant along the way to rebuilding it into something successful.
The predictable sequence is: Gordon enters the disaster zone, dissects what is going wrong, engages in a confrontation, makes a new move, turns the place around. Along the way many bad words are dropped, emotions run high and arguments ensue.
It’s just like many workplaces.
One episode the other night struck me as particularly resonant for the modern office. In this show, the chef, Eric, began by talking about how many customers had complimented his dishes. “They say it all the time,” he stressed. He expressed complete confidence in his abilities and execution.
Of course, there wouldn’t be a decent show if there weren’t a different perspective from Gordon, who F-bombed his way through a critique of Eric’s meals. Eric’s response? To defend his cooking.
Gordon then went out with a video camera and asked people on the street if they had ever eaten at the place, and put together a little movie that he showed the staff, including Eric, of stinging criticism of the food.
Still, Eric defended his work. Even as dishes kept coming back into the kitchen as unacceptable to the diners, Eric defended. It’s easy to blame the customer, isn’t it?
The closest thing we have today to a movie about you and your work is the 360-degree assessment, in which people up, down and all around assess you on a variety of competencies. There are, fortunately, some other very simple and powerful ways to gather feedback, but first, the problem:
Research shows that the higher up ones goes in an organization, the less feedback he or she gets, and the less accurate it is. No need to mine the reasons here, since you already understand – it’s about power and control, and fear of consequences. It’s easy to understand.
So what if your organization doesn’t do a 360, and no one is walking around with a video camera for you?
First , you can observe. Carefully. What happens when you walk in the room? How engaged are people in talking with you? How committed to their work are they? Do they show passion and connection? Are they able to be themselves? Do they speak freely and honestly? What kind of impact are you having?
It can be hard to judge much of this, which is why there is step two.
You have to ask. Nicely.
This just means inquiring of others about their perspectives – on you. Simple, right?
Yes, actually, but maybe a little unnerving to most mere mortals and fallible human beings. How do you make this work?
You do it by, in the words of the brilliant facilitator Clara Martinez, “disarming yourself.” It means letting go of defenses, self-justifying routines, blaming and rationalizing logic. You have to really be ready for whatever people say. (This step is one of the reasons we call this field “the soft skills,” because this isn’t that hard, is it . . . ?)
It’s important to declare your intentions. Again, simple. “I would like to understand how I come across so that I can be as effective as possible in working with people.”
Now you can ask a few good, open-ended questions, and then be silent. Here are some candidates:
- What do you feel I do well, and not well?
- What should I start, stop or continue?
- What do I need to know about how I work with others that I may not see right now?
You can make up your own.
Do not respond, at least right away. This is the time to “go to the balcony,” as Ron Heifitz phrases it, and let the contents settle. Some of the messages may be a surprise – good or bad. Others may confirm what you knew or perhaps suspected. Some may rock your world.
This is the case when you have been holding fundamental, grounding assumptions that are in collision with the real world. Eric had some assumptions problems. These assumptions are usually unconscious (which is why they’re so difficult to get your arms around), and inform your actions on a constant basis. They are part of your worldview. Here are some assumptions that may start to come into focus, courtesy of feedback:
- The best way to get people to perform is tell them what to do.
- We’re not here to make each other feel good.
- If you give people positive feedback they’ll get a big head.
- It’s not my job to get into “people issues.” My job is to get the job done.
Dissecting the internal “logic” in these is beyond the scope of this blog. For now, they serve just as examples of fundamental assumptions that may bear fruit that smells a little rotten in feedback.
The fact is, there’s no fast way to allow feedback to filter down to the unconscious level at which fundamental assumptions live and can be challenged. Well, actually, there is one way, but it is a crisis, and usually a messy, expensive, dramatic way that change happens. It’s not necessary, if you are alert, disarm yourself, and let the environment talk to you. Just notice the messages. Don’t evaluate or interpret right away.
I recommend taking a walk in nature, sitting on your back deck, working out, playing golf, swimming or whatever else allows your conscious mind to idle. The prefrontal cortex (your executive decision-making center) has to get out of the way. When you’ve disarmed yourself and have cultivated this capacity to really just hear the messages, your ability to do something with them rises.
There are some stages that correlate to stages of change, even of death and dying (since part of you may actually go away in this process as a new part of you takes form – this is development, after all). There may be disbelief, confusion, initial acceptance, fuller recognition, ownership and action.
The final point I’ll make on this is, I think, pretty huge. For what it’s worth, my experience, limited as it is, is that if you can make it through this learning, and really come to accept whatever it is that you are hearing, it feels something like metaphorically stepping out onto a new plane, a new frontier. It is different from the old world in a very significant and important way. Out there, things feel clear, right and true. There is a freshness, a newness to it. It is an energizing place, from which new possibilities become apparent. The future can start there.
We all are imperfect, seeing imperfectly, acting imperfectly. The more you let go of any inner Eric, and grab hold of feedback (which is also imperfect – you have to sort through what is accurate and what may come from another person’s blind spot) and let it tell you what you need to know for the next part of your journey – limited in time as it is — the better things can get.
Readers of this blog know I like to play the electric guitar (I turn it up to 11), and I like Arlington Fretworks. http://arlingtonfretworks.com/home
Proprietor and craftsman Daniel Carbone repairs and builds guitars there. I have written previously about his standards of excellence being off the charts. (One client wrote that he would trust him to work on his kids’ teeth.) http://blogs.managementconcepts.com/lm/leadership/2010/09/a-thousandth-of-an-inch-or-%e2%80%9cgood-enough-for-government-work%e2%80%9d/
Daniel’s website notes that an interesting question has arisen in the music and physics world of whether a wood-based instrument improves the more you play it. http://arlingtonfretworks.com/articles
Sounds pretty virtuous if it’s true. According to a New York Times story, Dr. David G. Hunt of the School of Engineering Systems and Design at South Bank University in London believes it is. He says vibrations aimed at the instrument subtly alter the physics of the wood in a way that empirically increases sustain (the Holy Grail of guitar players), and more subjectively improves the sound.
So what leadership lesson can we apply from world of musical instruments and physics?
Every time you do something positive, constructive, helpful, engaging, uplifting, inspiring, motivating or other-centered (music), I believe you change yourself (wood).
By actually doing whatever you have learned and think might work better than whatever you were doing, you behaviorally rewrite some of your operating system source code; you rearrange the molecules in the wood.
There is actually a neuroscientific explanation for this, as you change behavior, you lay down new neural pathways in your malleable brain; it is about plasticity. It is how habits – good or bad – get formed. One phrase is, “what fires, wires.” Synaptic connections become the new reality.
You can also pick up good vibes by associating with people who operate at a high level. By observing, maybe by osmosis, you are influenced in a positive way — but you still have to act on what you are noticing.
Keep in mind that overnight, radical development usually doesn’t last. It takes time.
I once worked with a woman in Atlanta in a leadership position in a federal agency. She said in workshop that one thing she does now is really listen to employees. She also said she could not do this several years ago. (Actually, she could have at any time; she just chose to start trying it at some point.) Her comment was that it still requires some effort, but it is much easier now than it used to be.
Her molecules got rearranged. Without belaboring the point about the very significant benefits of true listening, we can say she is somehow different as a result of all the times she was ready to jump in with The Expert Opinion, but chose to hold back and listen longer. I would lay a heavy bet her employees appreciated this.
The opposite way to think about this is the old phrase, “To know and not do is to not know.”
A final point: The author of the study mentioned above said in an interview that “People don’t understand entirely the structure of wood, even after using it and studying it for centuries.”
So there’s something a mystery in this (but not enough to prevent guitar players from keeping their axes by their speakers). Think about it: We have some real gaps in our knowledge of wood.
How about our knowledge of people and relationships?
I’ve adopted a new practice I want to share with you, because it’s making a real difference in my own life, and maybe it could in yours, too.
You know the bumper sticker, “Practice random acts of kindness and senseless beauty?” The one some people sneer at? Well, the people who made and display that bumper sticker have something going on.
I’ve been doing this for a few weeks, and think I’ve hit it every day. (I was on the road and you know how blurry things get on the road.) I’ve been doing the acts of kindness part rather than senseless beauty; I’m still working on getting my arms around that latter part.
And I want to tell you, it changes things.
I was talking with a colleague about this practice and she asked what the impact was. I told her, after pausing to think about it for a minute, that it changes the space.
By this, I mean that it changes several things. This is ironically pretty selfish, but it changes me. At the best of times, I can be pretty demanding, critical, judgmental and negative. But doing something kind somehow pushes back on all that. It’s a kink in the armor.
It also may change others. You never know what the result will be when you pause to let someone in a hurry into the lane of traffic, or tell someone how much you enjoy working with him or her, or tell an employee that you really appreciate his or her help.
(I had to pay a traffic ticket last month, and used Virginia’s automated system to do so. I have to tell you, it’s a really great interface. When I talked to a human being to confirm everything had been received, I told her what a great system it was and that I had actually enjoyed using it. We had a laugh together, and I imagined what she must hear from other disgruntled traffic violators.)
And then, this is in the somewhat mystical department, it changes the space. Somehow, the air, the vibe, the climate is different. I can’t really explain it. The weather inside gets better. This may relate to mirror neurons, or limbic system resonance.
I was at a party last night talking to a friend who had been through some pretty bad team development experiences. Understandably, he seemed pretty skeptical about organization development efforts. I told him one premise I hold is that at the end of the day, people have to believe in and really own and behavior or change they want to make. You can’t really make anyone do anything – at least very well.
So in that vein, I offer this practice as a possibility for you to pursue. You decide if it makes sense. You decide what the results are. Give it a shot.