May 122015

Avoiding Responsibility is Like Throwing People Under the Bus

Companies are run by people, and people often hate taking responsibility for their own actions. All too often, the inclination is to blame someone or something else to bolster a self-image and explain away a problem.

In today’s political culture of spin, modern leaders are less ready than ever to admit fallibility. The phrase ‘mistakes were made …’ has entered the political lexicon as the most passive and detached way of acknowledging error rather than accepting responsibility.

As a leader, you’re responsible for what happens in your organization. You need to question the decisions and processes that hold your organization together because you’ll be held accountable, and the consequences can be severe.

Responsibility is not about power, but power brings about greater responsibility, and the executive or manager who doesn’t acknowledge their responsibility can indeed be a poor leader. When you accept a position of leadership, you accept the responsibility that comes with it. It is not an acceptance that should be taken lightly.

As a responsible leader, your main focus should be to ensure that you and your organization act responsibly, ethically and fairly. More people are needed in influential positions who embrace ideas around responsible leadership.

Gandhi claimed that, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.” So it starts with us. It’s not easy; there can be many obstacles, particularly if you’re fighting the status quo. We can begin by asking – what counts as great leadership in responsible organizations?

Taking responsibility is the right thing to do. When you constantly blame others and view yourself as a victim, you surround yourself with anger, resentment and negative thoughts. This process can bring on chronic stress.

So quit playing the blame game and take some time alone to review the situation. Admit when you might have helped create the problem, look for a lesson to be learned, and then take the initiative to learn from it.

The last thing you want is a reputation of throwing people under the bus. It may help if you take the time to step back and avoid knee-jerk responses. Make sure you give credit when credit is due, as this is important as well.

Apr 142015

Do You Give Your Employees a Reason To Be Engaged?

Wikipedia defines an engaged employee as one who is fully involved in and enthusiastic about their work, and thus will act in a way that furthers their organization’s interest.

According to an employee engagement report by Scarlet Surveys, only 31 percent of employees are actively engaged in their jobs.

If employee engagement is so important, then why are organizations so ineffective at it? And what is your responsibility as a leader in an organization to create an environment that is conducive to employees making good business choices?

Research has shown there are correlations between employee engagement and desirable business outcomes such as retention of talent, customer service, individual and team performance, and business productivity.

Employee engagement should not be an occasional effort, but a yearlong key strategic initiative that should drive employee performance and continuous improvement.

One reason organizations don’t employ an effective strategy is because it is not easy work — they cannot immediately see it in their bottom line. Another is that many organizations don’t make the commitment of time, tools, attention, and training. When measured effectively, one can see the relationship and correlation between specific positive business outcomes and positive employee engagement.

Organizations can take steps to develop a culture of employee engagement if they understand the role of leadership in communicating, developing, and rewarding employees. An article by Patricia Lotich, in The Thriving Business, identified at least ten ways an organization can create an employee engagement culture. Here is a summary of them:

  1. Strong Vision. Develop a defined and well-communicated vision.
  2. Consistent Communication. Communicate how the organization is doing, how goals are being accomplished, and how employees contribute to achieving the organization’s objectives.
  3. Supervision Interaction. Direct supervisors should demonstrate their care for employees as individuals.
  4. Employee Development. Employees should be given the opportunity to develop and grow professionally.
  5. Team Environment. Developing a strong team environment can help foster engaged employees.
  6. Culture of Trust. Employees need to trust each other as well as their leadership.
  7. Clear Expectations. Employees need to know what is expected of them.
  8. Reward and Recognition. Employees need to feel validated and acknowledged as part of the organization.
  9. Employee Satisfaction. Employees need to feel like they are part of the process.
  10. Competitive Pay and Benefits. While not a key indicator, offering competitive pay, benefits, and reasonable working conditions is a strategy for strong employee engagement.

Having effective engagement practices and understanding what is meaningful to employees can get you to work towards a more motivated and high-performing workforce. Commitment to an intentional culture of employee engagement is important for employees to thrive and for retaining the top performers. The bottom line is engaged employees are good for business.

Let me close with two quotes about why employee engagement is so important:

“When people go to work, they shouldn’t have to leave their hearts at home.”  –Betty Bender

“Employee engagement is an investment we make for the privilege of future proofing our organization’s productivity and performance.” – Ian Hutchinson, Chief Engagement Officer, Life by Design


Mar 102015

Does Practicing Gratitude Make You a Better Leader

An important aspect of leadership is gratitude, or showing gratitude for who people are and what they do. Expressing your gratitude connotes a positive emotion or attitude that recognizes something you have received by acknowledging those who have helped you achieve it.

People who are not grateful tend to be less generous. They are centered on what they deserve or how they have been short-changed. They tend to have a “hoard it” mentality, and cling to what they have.

Leadership entails building community, and expressing gratitude can build healthier communities while deepening the culture of gratitude within an organization. It is one way leaders can walk their talk, and embodies a culture of gratitude in an organization. Think about people who have helped you get where you are. I’m sure you feel grateful for what they have done to help you. Why not show that gratitude?

Expressing your gratitude to those who have helped you gives them a sense of self-worth, which triggers other helpful behaviors. The Return on Investment (ROI) on a simple “thank-you” goes a long way – probably much further than we might think. Taking the opportunity to express gratitude is, without a doubt, a cost-free opportunity to motivate.

Developing a gratitude mindset is important in developing the leadership practice of gratitude. This can be difficult in the frenzied work environment many of us are in. Like most things that are worth developing, it takes practice to develop that mindset until it becomes a habit.

Consider these simple practices you can use to start to develop a gratitude mindset:

1.   Keep a gratitude journal. Journaling is a great way to develop mindsets and neural pathways to notice the positive. Simply keep a journal every day about what you are grateful for. It will boost your positivity and energy.

2.   Notice the contributions that others make. In interactions with others, make it a practice to look for one area of strength or contribution they make. Don’t set the standard too high, simply catch them doing something right.

3.   Create a culture of gratitude. One simple way to do this is to give everyone note cards they can hand out to others as often and as freely as they want. The note cards can say: “Thanks for making a difference.” Individuals may want to expand the note to explain what it was that person did to warrant the gratitude note.

4.   Begin your day by expressing your gratitude to three people, then get to work. End your day with an act of gratitude, then go home.

Leadership is about creating community. It’s about the values, goals and determinations we share. These communities go by different names; most commonly, we call them teams, companies, crews, departments, divisions or organizations. But the one thing they all have in common is that their effectiveness is directly related to how we create that feeling of one-ness, that sense of camaraderie.

Pick your own activity to develop a gratitude culture. I am sure you can come up with one or two of your own. Just start practicing it.

Feb 102015

How Can You Use Your Three Brains to Lead?

In a previous article series about the Enneagram (February – October 2013) I wrote about the nine Enneagram personalities. Each type functions in one of the three basic components of the human psyche: instinct, feeling, or thinking.  No matter what type of personality we are, our personality contains the three components. All three interact with each other, and we cannot work on one without affecting the others.

In their book The Wisdom of the Enneagram, Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson remind us that in Enneagram theory, these three functions are related to Centers in the human body, and the personality fixation is associated primarily in one of these centers. Types Eight, Nine, and One comprise the Instinctive (Gut) Triad; types Two, Three, and Four comprise the Feeling (Heart) Triad; and types Five, Six, and Seven are in the Thinking (Head) Triad.

Which of the three types, or which of the three brains, do you use to lead?

There was an excellent article by Vikki Brock, EMBA, PCD, MCC in Choice magazine Volume 12 Number 4, pages 33-35 titled The Triad, How are our three brains impacted by coaching. Following are key concepts excerpted from her article.

“Scientific research has shown we have three brains – the one in our head, the one in our heart, and the one in our gut. These three brains have control over the decisions we make. Aristotle, in his masterpiece Rhetoric, defines three ways to persuade an audience: Logos (an appeal to logic or head brain), pathos (an appeal to emotion or heart brain), and ethos (credibility of the speaker or gut brain).

In the Wizard of Oz, three main characters in the book were the Scarecrow, who was looking for a brain; the Tin Woodsman who wanted a heart; and the Cowardly Lion who wanted courage – or head, heart, and guts. This same triad is apparent when we reflect on what people say: trust your gut…listen to your heart…use your head.

Each brain has core competencies. When we use the Gut Brain we rely on our gut often for quick decision-making; that fight or flight response. When using the Heart Brain, we use it mostly for processing emotions (joy, anger, hate, love, empathy). It helps you discover what is important to you in life. And the Head Brain is primarily used to reason, to analyze and to synthesize information. Alignment of these three brains creates a “flow” state where each brain is functioning at its efficient best.”

“When an individual makes a decision or responds to a situation from only one brain and ignores the others, it affects his or her decision-making. If they use the Gut Brain, they will likely be reactive, impulsive, and action oriented. This can be useful when safety or survival is threatened. If they use the Heart Brain, they will be concerned about self-image, impact on others, and lives of others. When the Head Brain is used, they plan and prepare and focus on what could go wrong.”

“If you over rely on one or two of your brains, practice and integrate trusting your gut, listening to your heart, and using your head.”

“When you are faced with making a decision or responding to a situation from one brain and ignoring the others, ask yourself the following questions: What does your gut tell you? What does your heart feel? What does your head say?”

Jan 132015

How Do You Manage Change Successfully?

Change is all around us. Sometimes it is so subtle we hardly notice it. Other times it is so dramatic and sudden that we develop negative and resistant reactions. By nature, we tend to resent and resist change strongly.

The process of change, at any level, can be distressing and create negative emotions or reactions. If change is not handled correctly, it has the potential to cause failures, loss of production, and low morale. In the most dramatic cases, we could lose our most valued employees.

So who is responsible for ensuring that the change process is addressed so that individuals accept change and reduce its impact to manageable levels?

Employees affected by change have the responsibility to continue to do their best work as they experience the different stages of change including denial, anger, dejection, acceptance, and learning and development. An individual’s degree of resistance to change is determined by how they perceive the change, good or bad, and how severe they expect the impact on them to be.

The responsibility to manage change is with management and leadership. Change has to be understood and managed so that everyone impacted can cope effectively.

To get the employees to acceptance and learning requires skills on managing change. The key to implementing the change successfully is to communicate what is changing and why. It’s important that people understand what is changing, when the change will take place, and why the change is being made. Equally important is to communicate what is not changing.

In order to develop a strategy to manage the change, the change leader must make an effort to understand the reluctance that comes with the change and the need to understand the fears associated with it.

John P. Kotter, an expert on business leadership and author of Leading Change, created the Eight-Stage Change Process of Creating Major Change:

  1. Establishing a Sense of Urgency – Inspire people to move, make objectives real and relevant.
  2. Creating the Guiding Coalition – Get the right people in place with the right emotional commitment, and the right mix of skill levels.
  3. Developing a Vision and Strategy – Get the team to establish a simple vision and strategy, focus on emotional and creative aspects necessary to drive service and efficiency.
  4. Communicating the Change Vision – Involve as many people as possible, communicate the essentials, appeal to people’s needs. De-clutter communications.
  5. Empowering Broad-Based Action – Remove obstacles, enable constructive feedback and support from leaders.
  6. Generating Short-Term Wins – Aim for achievable wins and recognize those who made the wins possible.
  7.  Consolidating Gains and Producing More Change – Foster and encourage determination and persistence, encourage ongoing progress. Highlight achievements and future milestones.
  8. Anchoring New Approaches in the Culture – Reinforce the value of successful change via recruitment, promotion, and new change leaders. Weave change into the culture.

The first four steps in the process help defrost the status quo. Steps five to seven introduce new practices. The last stage grounds the changes in the organizations’ culture and helps make them stick.

What’s important for change leaders is to manage the issue. Don’t try to rationalize things and waste time wishing people were more predictable. Instead, focus on maintaining clear channels of communication so they understand what is coming and what it means to them.

Dec 092014

What is Important to You and How Would You Like to Be?

Now that Thanksgiving is over, many of us turn our focus to the Christmas holidays. During the holiday season, we tend to take more time to relax and enjoy our family or those important to us. Perhaps we took a four-day weekend for Thanksgiving and are looking forward to four-day weekends for Christmas and New Year’s as well.

Many individuals find it easy to take time off during holidays but difficult to relax and enjoy personal leisure other times of the year. What makes it so difficult to discipline ourselves to enjoy a little more balance during every season? After all, isn’t work-life balance important to us, and doesn’t it help us be what we would like to be?

In theory, work-life balance seems to make sense – splitting our time with our work life and also enjoying personal activities and leisure time. But “work-life balance,” as we traditionally think about it, may not actually exist. Because technology has redefined our leisure time, this is truer today than in the past.

As organizations embrace workforce mobility, opportunities for innovation and communication between team members increase. These increased opportunities to work from home or remotely with colleagues and coworkers causes an overlap of our professional and personal lives.

Research has shown that the world’s mobile worker population will grow to 1.3 billion by 2015 (that’s only one year away). Technology further creates a blur between work and life. Personal ambition and commitment may be some of the reasons, but by encouraging employees to stay connected, even when they are not in the office, companies don’t make it easier for them to get away and enjoy non- work activities.

A Harvard Business School survey showed that 94 percent of professionals work more than 50 hours a week and nearly half work more than 65 hours per week. Employees can face difficult and exhausting conditions that have adverse effects on them as a result. These effects include burn out, health issues, and an increase in workplace violence. Work-life balance is increasingly becoming impossible to obtain.

A recent Forbes article provided the following tips on how to find the balance that is right for you.

  1. Let go of perfectionism. A healthier option is to strive for excellence, not perfectionism.
  2. Make “quality time” true quality time. Shut your phone off and enjoy the moment. By not reacting to the updates from work, you can develop a stronger habit of resilience.
  3. Exercise and meditate. It’s important to refresh your mind, body and soul. Do some sort of exercise, yoga or meditation.
  4. Limit time-wasting activities and people. Identify what’s important in your life and draw boundaries to devote quality time to these high priority people and activities.
  5. Change the structure of your life. Take a birds-eye view of your life and ask what changes can make it easier. Then focus on those activities you specialize in and value most.
  6. Start small. Build from there. If you’re trying to change a certain script in your life, start small and experience some success. Build from there.

Alexander Kjerulf—founder of Woohoo, an international thought leader, and author of topics relating to happiness at work—summed it up nicely when he said, “The ultimate goal is to avoid separating work and life into separate spheres, and find the sweet spot that allows you to do both without neglecting the other.”

As leaders, we want to think about what we can do to make the workplace less difficult and more pleasant for our teams. Employees who are able to balance their work, family and life commitments are likely to stay and contribute more to the organization.

So perhaps the title of this article should be: What’s important for them and how would you like for them to be?

Nov 102014

Does a Broken Bone Heal in Isolation? Does an Organization?

A broken bone does not heal in isolation. The recovery process utilizes the whole body, making the healing faster and more complete.

An organization is a living system, which we can compare to a living organism. Within an organization, there are different functions, much like our hands, feet, heart, and lungs. All of these parts working together make it possible for our body to perform. If one part of the body suffers, the whole system suffers.

The same is true of an organization. If one part of the system is underperforming, the whole organization suffers. When the whole system is involved in progressive development, all parts of the organization are improved.

Most people get promoted because of their individual contributions to an organization. In fact, it may be because they were unlike the rest of the members of a team. Sometimes they are held back because other team members held them back from accomplishing things.

However, the best way to accomplish something in most cases is by having a well-functioning, high performing team. Well-functioning teams can out produce the collective efforts of individuals.

So what conditions are necessary to have a well-functioning team? One of the tools we use in our Ascending Leaders Program™ for Team Development measures two areas: Productivity and Engagement.

Productivity strengths support the team in achieving results, accomplishing goals, and staying on course to reach objectives. Seven productivity attributes are necessary to achieve high team performance:

  1. Alignment: The team has a sense of common mission and purpose.
  2. Goals & Strategies: The team has clear objectives and alignment on strategies and priorities.
  3. Accountability: There is clarity of roles and responsibilities. Team members hold each other accountable.
  4. Proactive: The team embraces change and sees it as vital to the total organization.
  5. Decision Making: There is a clear and efficient decision making process.
  6. Resources: Available resources are well managed to meet objectives.
  7. Team Leadership: The team leader’s role is clear and supportive of the team.

Engagement strengths focus on interrelationships between team members. It is the spirit or tone of the team as a system. Seven engagement attributes of a high achieving team are:

  1. Trust: There is safe environment to speak your mind openly.
  2. Respect: There is mutual respect and genuine positive regard.
  3. Camaraderie: There is a strong sense of belonging to the team.
  4. Communication: Clear and efficient communication is valued over other less direct approaches.
  5. Constructive Interaction: The team sees conflict as an opportunity for discovery, growth, and creativity.
  6. Values Diversity: The team is open-minded and values differences in ideas, backgrounds, perspectives, personalities, approaches, and lifestyles.
  7. Optimism: The team shares an inspiring vision.

A team is not just a collection of individuals; it is a selection of people brought together for a common purpose with identifiable goals, clear roles, and accountability for results.

Every team has its own unique culture that exerts tremendous influence on the team’s ability to perform. Every team member wants to be on a great team and contribute their best. The goal of team coaching is to create the conditions to make that happen.

Oct 142014

Can You Become the Other Person and Go From There?

Being an effective leader requires many skills. One of the most important is empathy. Empathy is about recognizing emotions in others and putting yourself in another person’s shoes. It is a skill that can be developed.

It should not be confused with sympathy. Empathy means being able to understand the needs of others, being aware of their feelings and how it impacts their perception. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with how they see things, but that you appreciate what they’re going through.

In leadership, empathy matters. It matters because leaders need to put aside their viewpoint and try to see from the other person’s point of view. It matters because it validates the other person’s perspective. It matters because it requires us to listen—to listen with our ears, our eyes, our instincts, and our heart.

Developing empathic skills improves our people skills. When we develop the capacity to comprehend or experience other’s emotions, it reinforces the concept that leadership is all about people, it’s all about the relationship. Effective leaders value their followers as individuals and are more tolerant and willing to understand the position and objectivity of others. When we can accept and leverage diversity because of our differences, and not in spite of them, we can be a more effective empathic leader.

Being willing and able to listen with empathy can set you apart as a leader. There are at least three ways we can be more empathic listeners:

  1. Make an effort to recognize verbal and nonverbal cues, such as body language, tone and facial expressions.
  2. Make an effort to understand the meaning of the message, summarize the points of agreement or disagreement, and assure them you remember what they say.
  3. Give appropriate replies, acknowledge them, and clarify any questions you might have.

In an article on empathy in leadership, Ginny Whitelaw, President of the institute for Zen Leadership, wrote that the best coaching advice she ever received was from Tanouye Roshi, a certified Zen master, who told her, “Become the other person and go from there.” She wrote, “to become the other person is to feel their emotional state, see through her eyes, think like she thinks, and see how she views us, our proposition, and the situation at hand. You can start making big things happen, not by controlling, by connecting; not making war on them, but by becoming the people whose interests are served by those big things.”

Once you see beyond yourself and your own concerns, you will realize that there is so much more to discover and appreciate beyond your own world.

Sep 092014

How Do You Stay Calm in a Stressful Situation?

There is no shortage of things in our lives that cause us to worry. When one of those things disappears, we feel good. But soon another thing pops into our mind, and we start stressing about something else. We all have moments when the demands on our life leave us stressed. It not just about stress when we are about to speak in public, there are all sorts of occasions in life when our nerves get the better of us. When this happens, the anxieties we feel –rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, sweating, and light-headedness– are normal.

Fortunately, there is something we can do about it. We can use a technique called “Centering.” You can use Centering to improve focus and manage stress. It will help you keep a clear head when you face a stressful situation. But it’s good for everyday situations as well, such a gathering your thoughts before a difficult conversation or when you must deliver bad news.

There are many ways to “center” yourself, but for this newsletter I’ll focus on a simple, three step visualization technique.

Step 1: Focus on Your Breathing. This is a way to help the body relax and restore its basic functioning to steady your breath. Sit or lie somewhere comfortable. Place one hand on your stomach, and breathe in slowly through your nose. Breathe deep into your stomach, using the air you breathe to push your hand while keeping the rest of your body still. Hold your breath for a couple of seconds before exhaling slowly through your mouth.

Step 2: Find Your Center. Your center, your “physical center of gravity,” is about two inches below your navel. Become familiar with it, and remember where it is and what it feels like. It’s important to focus your mind on the “center” of your body. Whenever you feel stressed, return to this “center” and remind yourself that you have balance and control. Once at your center, breathe in deeply at least five times. As you concentrate on your center, you should feel your body stabilize. You can do this prior to a difficult discussion or speech and while sitting in a chair or standing, if you don’t have the opportunity to lie down and breathe.

Step 3: Redirect Your Energy. Channel your energy. Choose an image that works for you. Imagine energy flowing to the center of your body. This image can be a ball, or a hot air balloon, whatever works for you. Put all your negative thoughts into the balloon or ball. As you inhale, say to yourself, “I let…” As you exhale, say “…go.” Depending on your imagery, imagine tossing it away, such as throwing the ball, or watching the hot air balloon float away. Let go of whatever is stressing you, and imagine your center filling with calm.

At the next inhalation think about what you want to achieve and focus on it, thinking positively. Use affirmations like “I breathe in calmness and breathe out nervousness,” “I trust my inner wisdom and intuition,” or “I draw from my inner strength.” Or you can repeat a word to yourself, such as “success” or “confidence.”

For each self-defeating thought that pops up, such as, “I’ll never get it all done,” visualize a large, red stop sign in your mind and think, “Stop.” Try to drop the rest of the thought. This takes practice because those thoughts have a lot of “psychic inertia,” and that’s why we may need a “Stop Sign.” Use it liberally. 

When you can center yourself in times of distress, you will find that you work more efficiently, relate to others more easily, and improve your physical health. You can employ the above techniques anywhere and anytime, in just a minute or two.

Life can get hectic, but these simple tools can bring you back to center so that you can master stress instead of it mastering you.

Aug 122014

Change. Why Is It So Difficult For So Many?

For some, change is readily accepted; for others, resistance is the norm.

At our annual conference last month, the leadership of the National Speakers Association announced a rebranding effort. The most visible aspect was the name change to “Platform.” I am sure they spent a considerable amount of time and resources to develop the new brand, but the announcement certainly caught everyone by surprise.

For many it was a welcome change, but based on the emails and videos sent out from the leadership team almost immediately after the announcement, it appears that many of our members are resistant. Now it appears they must spend more time and effort to rethink their intentions and quell the uprising.

Organizations don’t just change because systems change. Organizations change because people within them have made personal decisions to change. Only then can the organization reap the benefits of change.

When dealing with people, the challenge is to help and support those within the organization. Change—even something as simple as a name change—can be traumatic, especially for long-term members who have grown up with the name and brand of the National Speakers Association.
An article in Mind Tools™ mentions the following four stages people typically go through as they adjust to change:

  1. The initial reaction may be shock or denial as they react to a change from the status quo. Once reality starts to hit, they tend to react negatively and move to the second stage.
  2. They may feel angry, fear the impact, and actively resist or protest the change. Some wrongly fear negative consequences or identify threats to their position. At this stage the organization may experience disruption, which can easily spiral into chaos.
  3. Then people stop focusing on what they lost. They start to let go and accept the change. They accept what is good and not so good and learn to adapt.
  4. In the final stage they accept the change and can start to embrace it.

Once people get to the final stage, the organization can start to reap the benefits. I suspect the National Speakers Association is in the process of getting members from Stage 1 to Stage 2. The turning point is Stage 3, when it will come out of the danger zone. I am sure they will be successful in minimizing the impact and help people adapt more quickly. Getting members through this transition is critical. Something as simple as an Impact Analysis may have given more insight as to the consequences of the decision.

We have to be aware that the world changes; we have to change as well. As the pace of change continues to increase, an organization’s change capability will become a greater requirement for sustainable performance. Organizations that have stayed stagnant and resisted change are no longer with us; they typically die a slow death. Organizations that are investing in change capabilities are more likely to capitalize on future opportunities.

Is your organization one of them?

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