Archive for the ‘Self-Improvement and Development’ Category
Every successful organization has at least one linchpin; some have dozens or even thousands. The linchpin is the essential element, the person who holds part of the organization together. Without the linchpin, the thing falls apart.
– by Seth Godin in Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? (2010)
Two American icons have been getting a bit of attention from the media lately: NASA’s space shuttle program, and Oprah Winfrey.
In NASA’s case, the agency is in its final countdown as it brings the current space shuttle program to an end. Manned space flight has been a reality for America since 1969; it has become a part of our lives in some way, even if it is just to pause and watch the takeoffs and landings with awe and appreciation. A fleet of space shuttles has served the program since 1981, with each one serving as an important component in its own right. If Space Shuttle Endeavour lands on time this week, for example, it will have spent 299 days in space and traveled more than 122.8 million miles during its 25 flights. It launched on its first mission on May 7, 1992. (Source: www.nasa.gov)
In an interview on CBS Sunday Morning this past weekend (see clip and article here: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/05/29/sunday/main20067174.shtml?tag=contentBody;featuredPost-PE), NASA Administrator Charles Bolden became emotional as he talked about the legacy of the space shuttle program and the important groundwork it has laid for future space exploration and discovery. Orion, the next spacecraft that NASA plans to use for additional exploration, has benefited from past explorations as well; it will have twice the capacity of the Apollo spacecraft that carried men to the moon in the 1960’s. Each decade of effort has built upon the last so NASA can continue to learn from its discoveries and carry out its mission effectively. From the standpoint of talent, the men and women who have worked on each element of the space program are clearly indispensable in their own way. The application of their knowledge and skills has had to evolve continuously in order to keep up with technological advances and stay aligned with NASA’s mission. There can be little doubt that NASA has several “linchpins” in its midst.
In Oprah’s case, she has been a fixture on daytime television for 25 years. In addition to her efforts to provide practical information for people to use in their daily lives, she has served as a one-woman wave of philanthropy for decades. Schools and scholarships are just two of the things she has supported through her commitment of personal wealth and time. Many people who have been featured in recent television interviews about her show have made a similar comment: “What will I watch at 4pm now, without Oprah? There’s nothing like her!” I suspect that as much as people will miss her show – and I am one of those people – the loss they are feeling goes to something beyond simple entertainment. Oprah has been seen as a linchpin by millions of individuals and on some level, a society, in terms of the differences she has made through her show.
I am predicting that somewhere, on some level, you play the role of a linchpin in your life too. You may or may not be an engineer who designs space shuttles; you may not be the CEO of a media organization that beams its way into millions of homes each day. But if you are playing a role in an organization you have an opportunity to be indispensable to the mission of that organization, no matter how far from the mission you may think you are. Here are some tips you can use to become a linchpin, too.
- What is one thing that only you can do in service to your organization’s mission? Think about this not just from your task list, but from the standpoint of your unique combination of knowledge, skills, experience and perspective. You may be uniquely qualified to solve a problem or advance a goal that will have an impact on your team, your department, your division, or the organization overall. Once you have identified at least one thing you are uniquely qualified to contribute to, look at your current job. Are you spending some percentage of time on that one thing? If not, why not? What will it take to make a shift so that you are dedicating some time to it?
- Make it a habit, not just a goal, to collaborate with others and exchange knowledge. It is easy to become so focused on your own task list that you lose sight of your organization’s broader needs. Something that you are working on could be the perfect complement to what a colleague has been staying up all night to figure out. Don’t go overboard with shameless self-promotion, but look for opportunities at the water cooler or the staff meeting to create connections and offer your insights. You may be surprised at how quickly this can become a lot like the game, Six Degrees of Separation.
- Carry a spirit of generosity into your work without undue worry that you will be taken advantage of. By “generosity,” do I mean you should give all of your knowledge and effort away without care for any credit or return? No…but that’s close. Many performance management systems reward us for results and sometimes, for innovation. I absolutely believe it is important to be rewarded and recognized, as appropriate, for what you bring to the table. I also believe you become indispensable not just for producing results, but for producing the type of environment where others are inspired to produce results, too. The efforts you make to create space for other people’s ideas, and the intentional way you support and encourage other people’s success, will add to your own.
These are just a few talent management strategies that I have used, and that I’ve coached clients to use, in an effort to become indispensable. What has worked for you? Write and tell me about your successes!
There’s an old saying that essentially warns us not to make assumptions because it can make us look foolish. Looking foolish is one of the many risks that come with making assumptions, but it isn’t the only one. Let’s step out of the routine office workplace for a moment and look at an extreme example of what can happen when you work from your own assumptions.
Imagine you are in a crowded, busy emergency room at a hospital, looking for a doctor or nurse. You are pacing nervously in the hallway, holding a blood-soaked washcloth in one hand. A nurse approaches you, sees the washcloth, and gives you a tetanus shot before you can explain or protest. As the nurse takes the washcloth from you and starts to examine your hand, it becomes clear that you don’t have an injury. You then explain that your son or daughter is the one with the injury, and they had just stepped away to the rest room when the nurse whisked you away for treatment. Meanwhile, the person who really needed treatment is now sitting out in the waiting room.
What assumption was the nurse holding? Among other assumptions, that you were injured and needed immediate treatment, a noble job that is his or hers to perform.
What assumption were you holding? Most likely, that you would have a chance to explain your situation before anyone proceeded with any treatment.
This example may seem like an exaggeration, particularly given the intentional approach that today’s healthcare workers strive to use when assessing patients. That isn’t my reason for selecting it. My point is that communication is required in almost every workplace; it is rare for your work to be so isolated that it doesn’t touch at least one other person. Given that, there are a few things you can do in the spirit of collaboration to help surface your assumptions and ensure you are aligned with others who will be impacted by your actions.
First, if you are a member of a team – especially if you or anyone else is new to the team – ask for time at the start of a project to talk about the team’s typical way of operating. If you hear anything that differs from your typical way of operating (your assumptions), bring it up. Ask if any of your ways of operating will be in conflict with the team’s norms.
Second, sometimes the words people use sound straightforward, but they hold different meaning to different people. Check in with colleagues from time to time to ensure that you are all talking about the same things and working toward the same outcomes. For example, let’s say your team has been tasked with creating an important report that senior management will use to make some big decisions. As the team starts gathering data for the report and assignments are being given, you might ask the team leader, “Louise, when you said the other day that a draft report will meet the initial deliverable for now, what does that draft need to contain? How much detail is important to include at this draft stage as opposed to later in the process?” Getting clarity about the expected level of detail up front can ensure that you don’t spend more or less time than required for success on the team’s overall deliverable.
In everyday workplace situations, if you work only from your assumptions it can result in lost productivity, bruised relationships, and general inefficiency. Don’t be the nurse who gives shots first and diagnoses the situation later. Surface your assumptions up front and invite others to do the same. You may learn a lot about how you are operating and what else you can do to work more effectively with others. This process may not save your life, but it may at least save time, effort and productivity that is best directed toward other work.
No, this isn’t a lead-in to a bad joke.
Paleontologists like Jack Horner have been doing research that shows there are some genetic markers that dinosaurs and present-day birds, like chickens, may share. Some scientists challenge whether birds or dinosaurs came first, but a traditional view suggests that birds represent evolution at its best; in essence, that today’s birds began as dinosaurs that adapted to the environment in order for the species to survive.
Organizations are not exactly like dinosaurs, but they do experience “evolution” or change throughout the year, as does the world around us. Each day presents an organization with opportunities to adapt in order to survive and hopefully, to grow. Both private and public sector organizations that adapt most effectively can find themselves operating in new places, serving others in new ways, and attracting talented new employees, with the end result of adding even more value to the world around them during the process. For-profit organizations often have the added incentive of increasing revenue or market share by adapting and evolving in this way. Organizations that resist adaptation can find themselves “extinct,” or at the very least, wondering why their employees and customers are looking elsewhere for a fresh approach to the services or opportunities that their organization once provided.
What about you? How have you adapted to your environment this year? The same opportunity to adapt and grow exists each day that you choose to come to work. The start of a new year is also a great time to take a fresh look at the next step in your professional development. What will it look like for you to continue to evolve, adapt, and add value to your organization next year?
I am a practical person. Oh, no doubt I love discussing the theory and craft of professional development; dreaming great dreams is how we move forward. But we live in the here and the now, and I’m happy to accept that theory doesn’t do very well at bringing home the bacon—at least not for most of us.
So after years of teaching grammar and writing, I’ve come up with three timeless, practical grammar rules for the business environment—yes, grammar rules with no exceptions:
Rule number one: When in doubt, rewrite it!
Oh, you know the grammar rule for whatever it is you are writing, but does your reader? And if your reader doesn’t know the rule, how well is he or she likely to understand what you’re trying to communicate? Ultimately, writing is about communicating as perfectly as possible what it is that you want to say. Consider this example:
“When the Harley Roadster hit the 100 year-old oak tree, it was badly damaged.”
You may have it clear in your mind that the poor old oak was badly damaged—a grammar rule would back you on this—but logic would lead the reader to surmise otherwise. When editing your document, always try to see the various ways someone can interpret what you’ve written. If readers can misinterpret your writing, try again. Rewrite it.
Here’s a better way to write the sentence above: “When the Harley Roadster hit the 100 year-old oak tree, the bike was badly damaged.” By simply replacing the pronoun “it” with “the bike,” there’s now no doubt in the reader’s mind about what you meant to say.
Rule number two: The “boss rule”
Stop beating your head against the wall; in the end, what the boss says is what you should do. If you can’t handle that, it’s time to get a job somewhere else. And yes, this applies to writing style and grammar. If you have a good relationship with your boss, go ahead and push back on her insistence that you eliminate the comma before the conjunction and in a list or series. The shocking truth is that there are very few hard and fast grammar rules. Grammar is as much about preference and style—current style—as it is about rules.
In every class I teach I hear the complaint, “You recommend we write it this way, but my boss insists that we write it a different way.” Okay, write it that way! Unless there’s a grammar rule—a real, no-kidding, documented grammar rule—to the contrary, do what the boss suggests.
And that brings me to rule number three: Language changes. Get over it!
Did I really start a sentence with the word And? Yes. And from time to time, I’ll start a sentence with But. Or I might—dare I say it—end a sentence with a preposition. Gadzooks! I might even use a contraction in my business correspondence. Guess what? It’s okay to do so; the former president of the United States said I could use “common, everyday words” in my business writing. Go ahead and google President Clinton’s 1998 Plain Language Memorandum.
In a recent writing class comprised of federal employees, when I brought up that the Plain Language Memorandum suggests it’s acceptable to use contractions (common, every-day words), I nearly had a revolt on my hands. “It’s unprofessional!” several declared. Another participant complained, “I was told that I shouldn’t use contractions in business writing.” I smiled and calmly asked the class, “Would you consider your responses unprofessional or inappropriate?” “Of course not,” was the response. I followed, “But all of your statements just contained contractions.” Silence.
I don’t write using the language of my ancestors. I can’t tell you the last time I used the expression “four score and seven years ago” in a note to my boss. Nor did our forefathers write in the language of Shakespeare, just as Shakespeare did not write in the language of Beowulf. Let me be clear. I’m not advocating that we riddle our documents with the expressions “dude” and “um.” But our language evolves and our writing evolves along with the spoken language—thankfully. Yet for some reason we are uncomfortable with changing our writing.
Maybe this says more about human nature than grammar, but it’s okay to move forward in our writing.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about our changing business writing “rules.”
Los Angeles is a long way from Venezuela. But somehow, Gustavo Dudamel never looks more at home than when he is on the platform as the new conductor of the LA Philharmonic. Dudamel is currently one of the most sought-after conductors in the world. Have I mentioned that he is 29 years old?
The Millennial Generation, or Gen Y as it is often called, is generally defined as those who were born between 1978 and 1996. They comprise more than 25% of the U.S. population. And in addition to being amongst the youngest in their workplaces, they are frequently the colleagues who are expressing strong views about the importance of brainstorming, their ability to generate creative solutions, and their interest in making a significant mark on the world. This is a generation who holds themselves and their organizations to a high standard.
Whether you are a leader of a team with a diverse age range or a team member who wants to learn more about what drives your colleagues, learning to work together effectively is about more than workplace satisfaction; it is about business growth and sustainability too, as more members of the Baby Boomer generation prepare to retire. Millennials and their slightly older colleagues from Generation X (born between 1965 and 1977) represent the blend of ages that will exist on the senior leadership teams of tomorrow. There are two new books on the shelves that I’ve found interesting on this topic. The first is What’s Next, Gen X? by Tamara Erickson. The second is Managing the Millennials by Espinoza, Ukleja and Rusch. Both books include helpful research and practical tips to foster greater understanding and synergy between members of the multiple generations that are in today’s workplace.
Dudamel’s list of expectations and accomplishments grows by the day, by the way, as does his trademark curly hair, which he is known to toss about passionately while conducting. An accomplished violinist, Dudamel is the former Music Director of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra and an important factor behind YOLA (Youth Orchestra Los Angeles), which makes it possible for low-income children throughout Los Angeles to participate in a first-rate musical education program. Dudamel credits his early days in a similar program, El Sistema, as the place that first nurtured his talent and his passion for music. His experience at El Sistema also inspired him to make a similar difference for children around the world through programs like YOLA. High expectations? Yes. But to a Millennial, big dreams and bold actions are an everyday expectation. If your organization hasn’t found a way to leverage this energy yet, now is a great time to start!
P.S. To watch Dudamel in action with the kids from YOLA, click here: http://www.laphil.com/gustavo/about.html
The field of leadership has invested in services and skill building areas such as mentoring, coaching, team building, role modelling, and didactic exercises to enable people to repeat and paraphrase conversations in order to replicate significant information or actions in the hopes of understanding others. The business world uses these various services and skill sets to further enhance skill development, relationship building, doing things the “right” way, and being effective communicators. This entire suite of services and training rely on the support of the brain’s mirror neuron system in order to work effectively.
Mirror neurons are important for understanding the actions of other people, and for learning new skills by imitation. Recent research published in Spring 2010, confirmed the presence of mirror neurons in the human brain.
The brain’s mirror neuron system plays a critical role for effective leadership as it provides people with the blueprint to follow desired norms or preferred behavior within their organizations. The body language, the method of speaking, the norms on dress and time management, the implied expectation to work 10 or 12 hours a day all fall under “follow the leader” in modeling key norms for an organization. Key norms are further observed and demonstrated through the healthy activity of the brain’s mirror neuron systems in people throughout the organization.
Whenever there is power in the room in the form of leadership at any level, people pay attention. Every action and behavior is noticed and assessed. It is then replicated, because the “leader” did it, it must be okay! Cultural norms are demonstrated and mimicked to set direction in organizations. The mirror neuron systems in the people that make up an organization serve to propagate observed behavior.
When leaders communicate, there may be a specific style they use in one-on-one dialogue or when addressing an all-hands meeting to share information. What people throughout the organization notice is whether or not the leader is a great speaker and demonstrates phenomenal skills in articulating the direction of the business. The very act of observing the speaker helps the audience capture the actions in the mirror neuron system. Then they associate the message with the behaviors demonstrated while standing in front of the group. As other leaders who’ve observed the speaker move to the front of the room located in other areas of the business, their mirror neuron systems replicate the demonstrated and desired skills seen from the original speaker. This will spread throughout the organization like a ripple in a pond. Mimicking the observed behavior in lower level staff meetings may strengthen communication skills.
You can take that scenario and apply it to facilitating an important stakeholder meeting or delivering a performance appraisal. Any professional skills that leaders use as part of doing the work or working on the business, are subject to activating the mirror neuron system and influencing the business. Leaders have to be accountable for their actions, as they will influence anyone and everyone by their highly visible actions.
Leadership modeling exemplary behavior in the organization, or on the flip side, unethical behavior will set a standard for which the mirror neurons will follow. Poor behavior is often tagged with the phrase, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”, really isn’t true! What happens in Vegas will be replicated in the brain’s mirror neuron system by everyone who observed it and or participated in it! In the same vein, what happens in the conference room, good or bad, doesn’t only stay in the conference room! The mirror neuron system replicators are watching! Therefore, the behavior will show up somewhere in the organization, somehow when you least expect it!
The amygdala is often thought of as the emotional center of our brains but is actually made up of several regions in the brain – the amygdala (regulates emotion), hippocampus (is important for attaching emotional significance to experiences), hypothalamus (regulates biological needs such as regulating body temperature, breathing, sex and other bodily functions), and the frontal cortex (responsible for thinking, making judgments, planning, decision-making and conscious emotion). It takes in environmental stimuli and assesses whether it is a threat or reward.
The limbic system is basically an emotional thermometer that is highly sensitive to threat and reward in our environment. It is triggered very quickly when danger is present and warns us to ensure our survival. When over aroused we act first then think later. The fight or flight reaction is an essential function of the limbic system and is quick to respond to threat with the onset of fear. No matter how small the threat, fear will spark arousal in the limbic system in milliseconds. Cortisol and adrenaline, the stress hormones are secreted into the blood stream and begin accumulating in the amygdala. Too much of these stress hormones in the system can initiate an uncontrollable hijack of the amygdala and will drive us to demonstrate uncontrollable behaviours with complete lack of intellectual reasoning or rational thinking to handle the situation. An amygdala hijack demonstrated in the work place very often leads to disciplinary action up to and including termination. Therefore it is important to understand what influences our limbic system and how we can control it.
A sad yet common occurrence is when people are constantly exposed to stress and threat in the workplace. The accumulation of stress hormones caused by emotionally challenging tasks and fear based experiences will drive people to the edge until they reach a point of saturation, the point of no return and can explode with rage and do something that sabotages their work, career, or others health and safety. Our impulse control is regulated and controlled by a refreshed, rested, and fully functioning prefrontal cortex. If we constantly saturate the prefrontal cortex by overloading it with information, demanding constant complex decisions that fatigue the most brilliant minds, create situations that lack time for decompressing after stressful interactions, and put people in position to meet unrealistic deadlines to complete assignments we are actually bombarding them with stress inducing situations that limit our ability to maintain impulse control and reduces their capacity to meet the demands of the tasks at hand.
The more people operate in a state of high stress and threat the more sensitive the limbic system becomes to threat in the workplace. This sensitivity and lowered response time to arousal can dissuade key contributors from moving forward on risky projects. The detection of threat related to a project or change initiative will more than likely be perceived as negative. People perceiving a state of threat linked to a project or activity will want to remain safe and will be less inclined to support it or demonstrate the higher level thinking required to complete their portion of the project tasks. The tendency will be to look at the downside of the project and offer less than supportive ideas or reasons why it won’t work. People feeling this state of threat will take fewer risks on projects. They’ll be less likely to have creative insights and offer innovative solutions to move the needle in a positive direction.
When the limbic system is aroused because of perceived threat in a work setting we lose the ability to draw on needed resources to think quickly and intelligently to handle hard, challenging questions from leaders, managers or key stakeholders in meetings or presentations. The perceived threat forces us to rely on deeply embedded functions or ideas housed in long term memory or more recent events that caught our attention yet may not have importance to answering the questions or relevance to furthering the project. Important details will be forgotten at the critical moment and will not be recalled until later when we are in a calm and relaxed state in a non-threatening environment. At that time the PFC is able to access the resources to recall the appropriate information through higher level thinking.
When the limbic system is aroused it limits good decision making in the work place because we are limited in our ability to focus and maintain attention. We get easily distracted as we react to salient objects (loud, shiny, and bright) or stimuli in our environment that is less detailed and more general. We are responding to them as we are influenced by emotion rather than rational thinking. We do not focus on important details and information that is required to make key decisions. Complex thinking is a challenge when the thinking region of the brain is impaired and influenced by the onset of stress (threat) in the workplace.
When in brainstorming meetings to generate new ideas and possible solutions for an important issue an aroused limbic system will influence our ability to contribute ideas. Brainstorming generally requires us to be open and creative to allow brain stimulation to access remote regions of our brains to offer ideas to the group. The aroused limbic system will impact our ability to have insights. Insights require a quiet brain to access multiple regions and tap into the network of memory and brain maps…the aroused brain doesn’t allow this process to occur as it is creating distracting emotional noise and gearing up to fight or flight or freeze. The aroused limbic system would limit the flood of insights we desire and we would likely be silent and perceived as disengaged or a non-contributor by others in the meeting. To allow the brain to fully engage in the brainstorming process we need to create an environment that restricts stress, creates calm and comfort and frees the brain up to access remote regions of the brain to recall tacit information appropriate for the purpose of the meeting.
The limbic system reacts to threat. In the workplace that threat is easily felt through stress. The onset of stress can be triggered by any number of things throughout a typical day. Think about what stresses you and how you perform after you are in this state of stress for prolonged periods of time. Are you at your peak performance level? Do you have the necessary clarity and alertness required to respond to requests or make complex decisions? The bottom line is for all of us to be aware of how we react to threat and stress and how well we engage our impulse control to regulate emotion in the workplace. An over aroused limbic system will impair our ability to fully function in the workplace.
Something very strange happened to me this week. A supervisor came to me and asked for feedback on her performance. Imagine my surprise!
It’s been said in oh, so many ways that a critical component of effective performance planning is establishing expectations and discussing meaningful outcomes. If we keep in mind that organizations fail or succeed as a team, it becomes obvious that everyone in that unit—individual contributors and supervisors—must do their jobs well. So performance planning should not be a one-way, downward-directed activity; no, it should be bi-directional. Most bosses do a great job of discussing expectations and desired outcomes with their subordinates. But how many subordinates have a performance discussion with their boss?
Bosses have a responsibility to their subordinates to do the things that are expected of them as supervisors. That’s their job. If they do that poorly, the unit will flounder. Therefore, individual contributors should be demanding performance planning sessions of their bosses. But this doesn’t happen. Why? One word: “fear.” The superior is afraid that she might appear unqualified to be in her position, and the subordinate is afraid that the feedback she delivers will be used against her.
To move beyond this potential stalemate, only the supervisor is in a position to take action. Make performance planning discussions two-way conversations. And you can do so by asking a few simple questions of your subordinates:
“To better help you get done what I’ve asked you to do,
- What should I continue to do, but perhaps do better?
- What am I doing that you’d like me to stop?
- What am I not doing that you’d like me to start?”
You want to be an effective boss. You want your subordinates to respect you. You want to meet the goals you’ve laid out for your organization. If all these statements are true, then ask your subordinates for feedback! Doing so is a sign of strength, not weakness.
I’d love to hear your experiences in asking for the opportunity to give feedback to your boss.
Fellow Baby Boomers, I am embarrassed…dare I say, appalled?
As a facilitator for leadership classes, I have the privilege of hearing, first-hand, concerns from supervisors of all levels. One overwhelming complaint is that they are tired of the newest workforce generation–the millennials–continually asking “why?”
Have we forgotten our roots? We were the generation that questioned everything; indeed, the Boomer mantra was “question authority!” We implored compatriots to not trust anyone over 30.
The problem is that we soon turned 31 and older. And when we did, we found that some of the establishment’s perspectives actually were reasonable and valuable. Somehow, we slowly devolved into the very same cynical, unreflective, unyielding leaders as our traditionalist forebears. So now, as supervisors, we get frustrated when our subordinates don’t just march off and execute the orders we bark out. We’ve taken on a new mantra borrowed from a well-known sports advertising campaign: “Just do it!”
Answering “the why” is how we avoid complacency—how great change occurs. New generations are sent to us for a reason: to keep us thinking and moving forward.
So, fellow Boomers, embrace “the why,” encourage “the why,” enjoy “the why.” But if you really want to reach back to your past, preempt “the why” by not only thinking and executing great thoughts yourselves, but by extroverting those thoughts so subsequent generations can understand and learn to think great thoughts too.
What would you say if I asked you to describe what it means to you to be personally
Webster’s defines the word resilient as bouncing back, or elastic. (Webster’s New World
Dictionary, 4th Ed, 2000).
Some of you might say personal resilience means the ability to overcome hardships, such
as a personal loss, or extreme organizational changes such as layoffs, all while
maintaining an optimistic outlook.
For others, resilience might mean taking the phrase, “Feedback is the breakfast of
champions” to heart, allowing you to let any and all comments you receive from
customers, colleagues, or supervisors roll off of your back without damaging your
feelings or your sense of self-worth based on what someone else has said.
There are likely as many answers to my imaginary questions as there are people and
points of view in the world, because each person’s take on this topic will understandably
be shaped by their own experiences.
People who know me well would tell you that I enjoy studying leadership and personal
effectiveness from multiple angles. When I look through the slightly worn lens of history,
for example, the British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew on the Endurance
stand out as one of my favorite illustrations of resilience.
Shackleton and his team withstood life-threatening conditions and months of multiple
setbacks in their expedition to the Antarctic. Historic accounts of the expedition note the
team’s level of personal sacrifice in pursuit of their mission along with Shackleton’s
dogged determination and strong leadership as key to his ability to eventually bring the
team home. (“Shackleton, Sir Ernest Henry.” The Oxford Companion to Ships and the
Sea. Oxford University Press. 2006. Retrieved January 26, 2010 from Encyclopedia.com:
To me, however, Sir Ernest Shackleton and his team incorporated more than physical will
and determination as their way of demonstrating resilience. Records also show that they
read, sang, played cards, enjoyed meals together, wrote letters to loved ones, and rough-
housed with the sled dogs they brought on the trip in an effort to pass the time and release
stress. This is one very important aspect of becoming and remaining resilient: time for
When I think about resilience with an emphasis on how it helps hard-working
professionals to be effective in today’s workplace, here are a few tips that you can use to
build your own level of personal resilience.
- Resilience is about having the capability to bend rather than break. As the dictionary
definition states, the ability to “bounce back” is the literal interpretation of resilience.
Think for a moment about the way trees blow in the wind. Strong, healthy branches
are usually able to bend gracefully in the wind and adapt to current conditions;
weaker branches break and fall to the ground, especially when the winds blow the
hardest. Which type of branch do you feel most like today? What can you do to give
yourself some of the renewal time you may need in order to bend and “bounce back”
more gracefully when the wind blows within your organization?
- Resilience is like a muscle – you can develop it. Our access to information has never
been more immediate than it is today, and unfortunately, much of the news has been
bad in recent months. This constant barrage of negative news takes its toll on your
body and your mind whether the events in question affect you directly or not -
especially if it is the main source of information you are taking in each day.
- It may sound overly simplistic, but you can help yourself to bounce back by making
more intentional choices that balance the amount and type of information you take in.
I invite you to try an experiment that has worked very well for many of my coaching
clients: for one week, avoid turning the television on first thing in the morning when
all of the network news shows are shouting their headlines. Use that time to listen to
music while you get ready for work, or to just enjoy some rare silence (if your
household allows). Take note of how you feel each day. What do you notice about
your energy level and your state of mind? At the end of the week, do a reality check
with yourself about how much you did or did not miss the “news” that you elected not
to take in. You may find that a small “news diet” like this can make a big impact on
how equipped you feel to meet the challenges of each day.
- Resilience is not always about extreme acts of heroism; small acts of grace work
wonders too. Those of you who have burned hours of midnight oil on work projects
will understand what I mean by this statement. Organizations often hold up these
“heroic moments” as exemplars for everyone else to emulate, forgetting that efforts
like that are meant to be an exception, not the rule, in most healthy workplaces.
Some of you may read this post and say that late nights and weekend projects are the
norm in your office; you may even thrive on that type of pace. If you do, perhaps you
are already quite resilient! But for those of you who work in organizations that do not
typically operate this way, your level of resilience is being tested when you are asked
to perform at this level on a regular basis. It is at these times when your reserves of
resilience are at risk of being depleted; the same is true of those around you if they
are working at that pace too. So, what small act of grace can you extend to yourself or
others at those times? For example, are you holding yourself and others to “real”
deadlines, or have you just become so used to working with an eye on the clock that
you’ve forgotten what is really driving those deadlines?
Whatever your definition of personal resilience is, I would love to hear your thoughts
about how might it help you at work if you could feel and demonstrate more resilience
each day. What would that look like? I look forward to your comments and ideas.