Leading with Aliveness

Leading with Aliveness

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who come alive.” —Howard Thurman

What supports you in experiencing aliveness?

So many of my executive clients, colleagues in organizations and others I meet report feeling stressed and disconnected these days. It is not surprising. Most organizations are experiencing disruption and change is a constant. Often companies are cutting resources yet more and more is required. There is a sense of unease and polarization both in organizations and everywhere.  Our daily news is filled with challenges and conflict.

People want to shift from feelings of scarcity and stress and to create more connection and possibility. Yet most don’t know how to do so. We are all influenced by our environments. How do we change cultures to allow more connection and innovation?

Leaders need to start with themselves. They need to make it their intention to create positive and productive environmentseven one interaction at a time.

It is worth the investment in paying attention to your experience and then recalling your commitment to create an innovative and inclusive environment. Yes, this does mean slowing down a bit to become aware and to really see your colleagues and to listen. It means catching yourself when you feel competitive and want to win over someone.  By being self-aware and making small shifts in our interactions, people start to feel heard and seen and more alive, and then they relax a bit too and are more apt to bring forth new and creative ideas.

Leaders can ask themselves, “Am I open to possibilities and experiencing aliveness?”  It is useful to develop a small practice or habit to keep focused on your intention. Perhaps you appreciate your situation and colleagues as you travel to work. You may take a walk, enjoy nature or a hobby, breathe deeply or listen to an inspiring podcast. You can share your goal to listen and create an open-minded atmosphere with a friend or a coach and reflect on your progress.

As we make the intention to be alive and open and engage in meaningful conversations the climate begins to change. Changing the culture involves supporting others in also being more open and addressing the systems and norms of the organization to be supportive and aligned.

Renew your intention of creating a positive and productive environment and start with noticing and nurturing aliveness in yourself.

Contact us anytime.

Applied Emotional Intelligence

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“If you want maximal productivity and you want work that gets the best results, you want the people doing the work to be in the optimal brain state for the work. You are a person who can evict them from the zone of optimal performance by slothfully handling your own interactions with them. So it is up to you to take responsibility for your impact on their ability to do their best.”—Daniel Goleman

Studies show that people with high levels of emotional intelligence experience greater job performance, stronger leadership skills, greater mental health and wellbeing and overall more success. Research supports that intellectual intelligence only accounts for about 20% of success and emotional intelligence is the significant differentiating factor. 

How do we be emotionally intelligent? It takes practice, the development of habits of self-awareness, and increased awareness in our interactions.  

Emotional intelligence involves becoming self-aware and honing the ability to manage our reactions. In addition, it involves being aware of others and successfully managing our relationships.  

I have worked with many leaders and organizations to share the key habits of emotional and social intelligence. It is useful to appreciate that emotions are contagious and that we are influencing others as our relationships influence us. We need to pay attention and take responsibility to create a positive and productive environment. I often ask myself if I am experiencing an oasis with others or more of the challenging experience of being in the arid desert heat. The metaphor helps me to pay attention and work to create an open environment in which I am listening and curious.

There are a few key OASIS moves of emotional intelligence. First, Observationnotice your environment, recognizing that we are each noticing different things based on our background conditioning. Next, Awarenessmake it a habit of checking in and noticing your assumptions, emotions and how your background influences your thoughts and emotions. We know that our thoughts are influencing our interactions and by noticing our thoughts we have more choices than just reacting. The key skill is recognizing when we are closed or in judgment and Shift to being open. It is the open, oasis state that supports others in being open to us and to possibilities. Then you can focus on understanding what is Important to you, another and both of you. Then you are positioned to explore options and create agreements and Solutions

Each of these moves can easily be learned and are concrete ways to be emotionally intelligent and create positive and productive interactions. We have opportunities to practice throughout our days at work and at home. For example, Ray, a manager,  became frustrated when he believed a team member did not complete a project.  He noticed tightness in his chest and his feeling of irritation. Here he recognized that he was not experiencing an oasis with the team member. He acknowledged his contraction and shifted to being open and curious about what happened. He remembered to “assume positive intent.”  He was able to say to this teammate, “I notice that I have not seen the report I expected today.” Since he was open, he was able to engage in a conversation and learn what was most important to his teammate. When he listened, it supported his teammate in being open and interested in his needs. After some open dialogue and empathy, they came to an agreement that the teammate had too much on his plate and had misjudged his capabilities. His teammate would be more forthright about his commitments to ease planning in the future. Now that the team member understood the importance of the report and the deadline, he shifted priorities and completed the report. The open dialogue and agreement on the solution and next steps supported the team member and enhanced their relationship. In addition to securing the report, Ray, the manager created a working environment of trust and openness. The investment Ray made in being emotionally intelligent benefitted him at work and at home. 

We can all learn to enhance our emotional intelligence. What have you found useful?

Contact us anytime at www.potentials.com.

Appreciative Leadership

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“Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart.”—Seneca

In my work with leaders, I emphasize the importance of creating an environment in which people feel a sense of openness and respect, where people can engage in meaningful conversations and can explore diverse perspectives and be innovative. Emotions are contagious and leaders benefit from being aware of their disposition and how they influence others. One of the simplest ways to create a positive and productive environment is to build the habit of gratitude.

During the holidays, people are more apt to recall what they are grateful for. Making it a daily practice is even more powerful. Most successful leaders are problem solvers and implementers of solutions and are quick to identify what is not working. It takes a different stance to embrace gratitude.

When we are able to reflect and actually experience the sensation of gratefulness, we encounter more openness to possibilities and others sense this energy.

Research shows that being grateful has multiple benefits.  People report greater well-being when they appreciate what they have.  There are clear physical and mental health benefits. Those who are grateful experience deeper relationships and less stress.  It’s hard to argue against building the habit of noticing and being grateful and showing appreciation.

People often suggest having a journal to collect what you are grateful for. I have adopted the simple habit of reflecting on what I am grateful for about my day as I go to sleep.  I have noticed that connecting with people seems to bring me my greatest joy. I have also noticed and appreciate how much I do have and how fortunate I am. It becomes a cycle. The more I am grateful, the more I seem to be grateful for.  This sure beats my old pattern of reflecting on all I had not done and all I needed to do.  Oh, by the way, research shows that people who adopt the habit of gratitude sleep better too.

Wishing you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving.

Me or We?

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“Challenges are what makes life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” — Joshua J. Marine

Most leaders and organizations are experiencing disruption these days. The external environment is rapidly changing with increased competition and the need to be flexible and to make significant changes for success.  Amidst the volatility, leaders and staff are experiencing stress. There is a great need to have meaningful conversations across functions and business lines to create agreements on strategies and collective action.  While most recognize this need, often leaders and staff fail to engage in real conversations. Too often leaders continue to be locked in conflict with colleagues rather than together focusing on the external challenges.

Leaders will benefit from noticing their language and saying “we” more than “I”.  It is useful to draw attention to the bigger collective goals.  I often draw a simple diagram to demonstrate the need to expand “we” to include others in our organization. When leaders expand the “we” to include their peers and other groups, staff are free to make changes, less energy is expended on internal disagreements and trust can be enhanced.

I have seen the damage of many power struggles.  I have also experienced the power of leaders joining together to face an external challenge. One company had lost market share to new competitors. However, when the heads of the businesses and other leaders stopped fighting each other, they were able to work together and gained significant market share. With a shared vision and commitment to work together, the leaders reported that it was one of their greatest experiences.  It can be a fun game working together. Often it requires someone stopping the internal competition and choosing to work together for the benefit of the organization.  It often takes someone making the first move.

Where is your focus as a leader? Are you willing to join with your peers in addressing external competition?  Are you having open-minded conversations? It will serve you and others in the organization to draw a bigger boundary.  It takes courage and can make a difference.

Contact us anytime.

Communicate your Intention

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People will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. Intent does not equal impact.

We each are seeing the world differently. It is hard for us to remember this.  Since things seem so obvious to us, we assume that others are “getting it.”  More times than we imagine—they are not.  We each have different experiences and thus our conditioning has us pay attention to different things. Millions of bits of sensory data are available every second and only a small portion can get through.  We are seeing and hearing different things than the person next to us.

A leader texted his team member, Jerry, that he didn’t need to attend a meeting. Jerry immediately assumed he had done something wrong and became anxious.  He felt it was rude of his boss to send such a note and not talk with him directly. Jerry told fellow team members that he did not feel valued. Jerry assumed the worst and experienced stress. Based on research called the fundamental attribution error, we are wired to assume negative motivations of others. This disposition along with our negativity bias helps us to be prepared in the face of potential danger. However the cost can be high for all involved. It turns out the leader thought he was being helpful to Jerry since he knew Jerry had a lot on his plate. The leader thought he was being kind by relieving Jerry of attending the meeting since he would be there.

This simple misunderstanding cost time, energy and good will of Jerry and his coworkers. The climate of the workplace had become fearful. The manager had no idea of the impact of his action until later when he had to deal with Jerry and the team’s negative engagement and decline in outcomes.

Unfortunately, these kinds of misunderstandings happen frequently and cost time, energy, good will and money.

Jerry would have benefited from checking out his assumptions by engaging in a conversation with his manager. His boss would have benefited by sharing his intention behind his request.

Make it a habit of sharing your positive intentions and check to make sure people are receiving your requests and comments in a positive way.  Try to engage in respectful conversations when possible.

Encourage Conversations

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“Conversation is food for the soul.”—Mexican Proverb

Julie, a staff member of an executive, complained that another business unit was not cooperating and satisfying corporate requirements. What would you do if you were Julie’s manager? Do you speak with your peer, the head of the other area, or do you support Julie in having a conversation with her peer?  Either or both could be appropriate depending on the issue and the greater context.

Somewhere a conversation is needed. Often, I find that challenges my clients are experiencing are because those above are not aligned and are not having open-minded conversations. I once facilitated an agreement meeting between heads of a corporate function and a key business unit. They had been fighting for a while and the business unit had actually duplicated the corporate function in many ways to avoid contact. However, they were stuck and not able to solve an important business problem.  After some work with them we were able to get to the core issue and resolve the technical issue and enhance their relationship. However, we discovered that their leaders were misaligned and there were many ramifications.  After I facilitated a conversation with the top leaders, they were able to make progress and gained significant market share.

While conversations need to happen at the senior-most levels, I believe a role of a leader is to encourage team members to have meaningful and open-minded conversations. After some coaching, Julie did have the conversation with her peer. She was able to resolve the issue at her level. This was more efficient for Julie and her boss and others in the organization.

Leadership is about conversations. All day long leaders need to engage in conversations to inspire others and support alignment toward a compelling vision. In addition, leaders need to give feedback and support and resolve issues.  Open-minded conversations are essential for success and like any skill require practice. Leaders need to create a culture where respectful conversations are the norm.

Are you engaging in open-minded conversations today and encouraging your team members to do the same?

Contact us anytime.

 

 

How is blame working?

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“When you think everything is someone else’s fault, you will suffer a lot. —His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

After working at a company for nine months, a manager complained bitterly about the organization and his colleagues. He believed he was brought into the company to bring about needed change. His expertise would clearly benefit the company with their changing market demands and increased competition. He knew what the company should do. There was one problem. People were not open to his ideas or even to him for that matter. Of course, many experienced hires have a similar onboarding experience. The newly hired expert has a paradigm of how things “should be” and comes across as negative and not understanding. The experienced hire begins to feel anxious because he or she wants to demonstrate value.

The challenge this manager had is that his solutions seemed so obvious to him. After all, they worked at his previous employer and he was an expert. However, rather than influencing his new colleagues, he blamed them for not listening or adopting his solutions.  Not surprisingly, the blame did not endear him to his new colleagues and complaints about him grew. Eventually, HR suggested he work with a coach.

It is human nature to blame others.  We naturally feel like the “good guy” or the innocent victim.  It feels good to “be right” and we are supported when others agree that we are right.  However, the cost of staying in this stance can be high. Many new hires don’t make it in their new companies or they continue to feel alone and as if they are fighting an uphill battle.

I am reminded of the saying that when we are pointing a finger to blame the other person that more fingers are pointing toward us. You may also recall the parable of a man in a boat who demanded that an oncoming boat change course. The other boat kept heading right toward him and eventually hit him. He was furious. Then he realized that the boat did not have a navigator and must have broken free and was floating down the river.  We can only try to manage or change ourselves.  The blaming takes a lot of energy that is diverted from the business problem we are eager to solve.

How do we manage our instinct to blame? First, we need to get empathy and understanding from a caring friend or coach and also give ourselves compassion.  It really is difficult to come into an organization with new ideas. It is also stressful to feel you need to prove yourself quickly.  It is upsetting to see results slip when you sense you could make a difference.  You paid a high cost to move to a new organization and you and your family are counting on being successful. It is frustrating to feel blocked out of conversations. You’re disappointed that behaviors that were appreciated in your previous organizations are not recognized at the new organization. You don’t feel valued.

Don’t underestimate the importance of empathy and self-compassion. It is not easy to join a new organization and introduce change for anyone.

Choose to want success and connection more than being “right.”  Assume that people have good intentions and are doing the best they can. Work to notice when you are blaming and focus on learning. That’s right. Look for what you can learn and be humble. It will take multiple times to shift from judgment to being open-minded.  It is a great muscle to develop and use this experience to build the muscle. It will serve you in multiple areas of your life.  When we get trapped in the victim mentality we need to jump out of the cycle to change the dynamics.

Then, you need to work to understand and give empathy to your new colleagues. When we are able to calm down and see different perspectives, we can often see a mistake we made or are continuing to make.  Each culture is different and it is hard to interpret some of the unwritten rules. Upon reflection, this manager realized that he had publicly doubted a colleague’s solution. This kind of action was expected and rewarded in his previous organization. No wonder this important peer did not share information now and be open to his ideas.  With understanding, small changes can make a difference.

When my client was able to shift from blaming to understanding, he was much more acceptable to his colleagues. He began engaging in meaningful conversations. He experienced more ease and he was able to share his views and build a solution with his colleagues that gained market share for the organization. Over time, he gained a positive reputation as someone who was emotionally intelligent and a team player.

Where are you frustrated and blaming others? What has supported you in shifting to being open-minded?

Contact us anytime.

Have You Experienced Peer Coaching?

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Some of my most meaningful learning has come from groups of peers who provide real feedback and support. I have had the fortune of being in such groups and facilitating peer learning groups throughout my career.  For example, I have facilitated groups of CEOs of companies, people responsible for changing organization cultures, change agents, various professionals, managers, students and coaches.

Peer coaching allows participants to receive support on a strategic challenge, opportunity or learning goal they are facing in a positive environment. Participants gain valuable input in an efficient, effective and enjoyable way. The impact goes beyond the individual to be a positive force for an organization or community.

While there are many formats for peer learning groups, a central theme is creating a safe space for reflection, learning and sharing perspectives. It is valuable to hear multiple views, receive real-time feedback and to explore how to be effective with peers. We realize that we are all learning and “we don’t know what we don’t know.” Participants receive “ just in time” challenge and support. In addition to creating awareness, the peer group provides a sense of accountability that supports taking action and results.

I actually started peer coaching in my high school many years ago. I saw that students were more open to learning from peers and gained the benefit of being a part of a community. I believe that peer coaching supports progress on various content issues as well as strengthens emotional, social and collective intelligence. Peers gain a deeper appreciation for what others are facing and enhance their communication and coaching skills.

I am using peer coaching in companies to enable managers and others to practice conversation skills and adopting an open mindset. Participants learn coaching principles. It is a way of changing an organization’s culture and supporting people in building habits and extends the benefit of training. Engagement is enhanced and it supports creating the desired organizational culture. Participants value the relationships formed and it supports them in being more productive. Given our increasingly volatile environment, peer coaching creates the space for innovative collaboration.

I recall one peer coaching group that was comprised of directors of various functions of a major organization. One particular leader was aggressive and difficult for peers. He perceived that he knew more than others and had a reputation of being uncooperative.  He received support and feedback and dramatically shifted his way of communicating. He became more open and supportive. He said that the experience changed how he interacted with staff and others in his personal life. The bonds formed supported the leaders and allowed the company to make significant changes that did not seem possible beforehand. The company became dramatically more profitable.

I recently participated in a peer coaching summit and more organizations and coaches are creating peer coaching experiences. Peer coaching is being used in leadership and management development programs, for problem solving, to support culture change, for embedding and integrating learning, to support transitions, for achieving goals and networking and for professional and personal development.

Research shows emotions are contagious and we are influenced greatly by those we interact with. Creating a positive, growth-oriented experience with other peers may be what we all need these days when faced with multiple challenges and fewer resources and less time. Many participants say that peer coaching is one of their best learning experiences and that many of the relationships formed last a long time. The best way to evaluate the power of peer coaching is to experience it.

Of course, there is still a need for executive and other coaching. Peer coaching is one way to expand some of the clear benefits of coaching including listening with curiosity, creating awareness and determining action and accountability to a wider group.

What kind of peer coaching experiences are you a part of and what has been their impact? Contact us at any time.

Are You Creating Psychological Safety with your Team?

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“Psychological safety describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.”  — Amy Edmondson

A manager said angrily to her staff member, “This work is not up to par. Don’t you know how to put together a decent presentation?” Clearly, she was agitated that she did not receive a draft that would serve her needs and she had several other pressing deadlines. However, her tone and manner of giving feedback demeaned her team member and caused the team member to feel uncertain. The two did not have a real conversation. At first the team member tried to defend her work. “This is what you said you wanted.”

While she knew that her manager often seemed to change her mind, she felt humiliated and angry and as a result, did not really hear the changes her manager suggested. She was too flooded with stress and she lost her sense of confidence. Instead, she talked about her boss to colleagues. She was looking for empathy and understanding. Instead, they shared their own stories of receiving negative feedback. In a short while the atmosphere of the team became negative. The next version of the presentation that the colleague gave to her manager did not meet her boss’ expectations. Now the boss was complaining about the inadequacies of the team member to her colleagues and other members of the team. The spiral was in place and continued to go downhill.

In this situation, the staff member began complaining about her boss to others outside the department and word filtered back to HR and the boss. Emotions are contagious and the climate of the team declined. Eventually the team member sought out a different role. This team lacked psychological safety. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon situation. The manager and the team member did not intend to be difficult or cause harm and both were skilled and worked hard. Both manager and the team member reacted to stress and both regretted the energy required to deal with the aftermath.  Both would benefit from knowing how to manage their reactions and being able to successfully engage in an open-minded conversation to give and receive feedback. Being open-minded and able to manage ourselves and engage in conversations are critical for success these days.

Google conducted a comprehensive study of 180 teams to analyze the critical ingredients of high performing teams. The study identified psychological safety as the most important factor. If team members felt comfortable asking for constructive feedback and exploring divergent views with one another, they experienced a greater sense of trust and openness. These teams were more productive too.

It is critical to take steps to ensure that your teams are experiencing psychological safety. You can do so by adapting an open mindset and having meaningful conversations with each other. You can agree on norms for how the team will operate. For example, how you will handle disagreements and create a positive climate.  It is important to assume positive intent and respect that people generally desire to do well. Yet we each have different strengths and different views of what is important. When we make assumptions without testing them, we invariably create a negative spiral without our desired results.

What steps are you taking today to create more psychological safety in your teams?

Contact us at any time at www.Potentials.com.

Should You Send an Email or Call?

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“The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things.  Information is giving out; communication is getting through.” —Sydney J. Harris

An executive I work with shared with me the frustration he was experiencing over a colleague. He learned that she was criticizing him and telling people that he was “out to get her”. He was frustrated and angry during our discussion. He had been working on being collaborative and this accusation of hers which she broadcasted to others seemed to come out of nowhere.  

As we worked to understand the circumstances, he reviewed the details. The last email he sent to his colleague was meant to give her a “heads up” that an issue falling under her responsibility was going to be addressed at an upcoming Executive Leadership Team (ELT) meeting. He had written in his email, “I want to make perfectly clear that I am trying to let you know what I heard…”  He thought he was being a good citizen to let her know. When she received the email, she reacted in a way he didn’t expect. She was defensive about what her team had accomplished, blamed my client, and copied many people. Then he started hearing from people that she believed he was out to get her. She did not want the issue that he identified to be addressed at the next ELT meeting. She didn’t feel ready to do so and assumed my client put it on the agenda (which he did not). So where did my client go wrong?  

Well, we found a few places. The week before, he had learned that the budget he had anticipated had not been approved. And what’s more, he felt that his colleague’s team should give up some of her budget or a person from her team to compensate for a new role he needed filled that would benefit both of them. So he complained about the situation to her boss and to his own boss. She heard about the complaint (of course!) and she was angry and felt, “He is trying to throw me under the bus.” My client heard that she was upset, and so he chose to send the troublesome email assuming he was helping her. From her end, when she received his email, she read it with the perception that he was against her, even though it was not the case.

What to do?  My client needed to vent his disappointment and anger about losing resources. He then needed to speak with his colleague. Instead, they were conveying messages to each other through others rather than talking directly to one another.  Once he calmed down, he was able to speak with her, give her empathy and recognize that it was not her fault that he did not receive the budget he wanted. He explained that he was actually trying to let her know that an issue important to her was going to be addressed at the ELT meeting and that he had not proposed the agenda item. They were able to communicate effectively and resume their positive relationship. As it turned out, they each were focused on different issues and had different views of their team’s responsibilities. As a result of their conversation, they were able to clarify and reconnect. They also came up with a solution to the budget and staff issue.

When you know there is some disruption in a relationship, consider calling or talking in-person (when possible) before sending an email. It is so easy to read the tone of emails differently depending on our mood. It is useful to recognize our own mistakes, too. It may seem efficient to send an email and document. However, many issues have been cleared up with an open-minded conversation. In addition, relationships can be strengthened.

Where would a call or a visit serve you today rather than sending an email? What lessons have you learned about communicating via email?

Contact us at any time at www.Potentials.com.