In a session this morning my client told me that the reason he has become more effective in his leadership is because he had a 'humbling' experience last year. This manager almost didn't make it in his organization as his behavior over time had become toxic. He first came to me after this humbling experience and he and I have done some really great, challenging and fun work together. The humbling experience was getting 360 feedback in the organization which was largely critical, as well as being put on the chopping block if he didn't turn around. I like his story so much because it illustrates that 1. we can turn around, and 2. we need to know what our blind spots or pain points are in order to grow.
Just as in the body pain points need to be identified and then released through manipulation, heat, rolling on rollers, etc., our psychological/emotional world need the same. With coaching this manager was able to roll out the kinks in his emotional reactions and intellectual disturbances by learning skills and looking at what he wanted to create. Instead of solely focusing on what isn't working, we started to use appreciation, relationship building, skill building and team building to create a better leadership and team experience. I have seen many pain points that leaders either know or get to know when I am on their watch.
I have documented many such pain points/blind spots that I believe as leaders (or anyone) gets more intimate with, they can become less and sometimes obliterated. Here is a non-exhaustive list. See if any fit for you, deep inside. See if you can identify one or two or (heavens-no) all of them and say them out loud:
Getting through to a defensive manager/managee
Fear of conflict
Figuring out capacity
How to say no
Letting go of control and let others help
Too much in the weeds
Holding others accountable; pleasing others
Unaware of impact on others
Trusting your gut
Lack of systems
Delivery too brash
Lonely at the top
Dealing with change
Inspiring a vision
Managing other’s employees
Lack of org chart clarity
No leadership training
Assessing when to fire someone
Co-managing an employee
Getting people committed
Getting annual reviews done
Can you see yourself in any of these? Are there others? I would love to hear about your pain points. As you self-identify (or have others identify them for you!) you can look at how you want to address it/them. I can think of nothing better to do than to become a better manager and thus person.
There are many people out there that think positive thinking is the holy grail. There's nothing wrong with that per se, but we can't live up to the ideal of not thinking negatively can we? We all have negative thoughts, judgments, and feelings from time to time; some more than others. And then we have positive times. Hopefully you have more of the former, but this isn't the main event. My mentor Robert Fritz once told us some years ago in a workshop that what actually matters is what you want to create. The creator wants to create the creation just because it wants to be created. I think there is a place for negativity and I am sometimes stricken by its hold. There is great power in negativity because it is showing you that something is awry with what you are trying to create. It helps us, or can help us, focus back on what it is we want and then keep the actions going to get it. We never know if the creation will pan out or will be good or received well by others, but that is again not the main event. Creating for creating's sake is the name of the game. So the next time you are betwixt with a negative (or positive) mindset, don't overload it with some pithy ideal from The Secret, acknowledge your dismay and turn its eye onto what it's telling you to bring into existence. So talk to your challenging co-worker, clean out that office clutter, get to the gym. Not because you have to, but because you want to.
I have been thinking lately about a 'well' life. For some reason inputs and outputs, or debits and credits, or payables and receivables come up for me. With my clients sometimes we are talking about such things like happiness, balance, well-being. I think most of us professionals are striving for the good life, where you have a lot of good things going on: money in the bank, a fit body, learning, nice things, pleasurable experiences, sound relationships, solid community involvement, etc. There are so many avenues to pursue that it can become sheer overwhelment at times trying to understand if we are reaching the balance/well-being or not.
Inputs and outputs can be shown in a myriad of ways. Eating 'right' is one avenue to explore. What are you putting into your body on a daily basis? Is what you think is healthy actually healthy? Do you tend to have patterns of stressful eating? Are you pursuing understanding how food becomes mood? For instance, alcohol is a depressant. Now I'm not averse to a drink here and there. But when you see how drinking affects your energy, mood, body even the next day, this is a case of inputs and outputs. You have to pay into the system. If you are eating lots of inflammatory foods and have ailments of certain kinds, you are taking a hit from the inputs you are putting in. It's basic science.
In the emotional or mental world it's not so easy to assess. Thich Nhat Hahn, Zen Master says that watching media and reading tabloids, etc. can create an unruly mind, or agitation. This can be very subtle but again, taking in negativity can lead to the output of negativity or negative states of mind and feeling.
For wellness to occur, I believe we need to assess the various areas of our lives to see what is working and what is not working. A good coach or friend can help you sift through this quagmire. Putting the various pieces of your life out on display, even if it is just on a sheet of paper you can begin to see how you are doing and what is off kilter. Of course I am presupposing that you want to create a life of balance and well-being, mindfulness and health. I talk to clients everyday about some things that are out of balance. I love these candid talks. Nobody really wants stress and I believe it can be controlled by controlling the inputs into the system. Take care of what you read, what you ingest, what you choose to focus on, etc. and you will see an enlightening turnaround I'm sure of it!
Recently I was able to do something that I have never done before: speak to 1200 people over 2 days up on the big stage. I was asked to speak to the incoming new students about managing anxiety at Keene State College. The experience and collaboration with the student affairs folks was truly amazing, totally went off without a hitch and was well received.
Some of my clients are dealing with pushing the edge, riding the wave, creating something new, taking risks. For me it was a calculated risk because even though I have never done a Ted style talk on the big stage, I have done hundreds of hours with groups of smaller sizes. So when the college asked me to do this it felt right, and my work heretofore was leading me into this arena of public/motivational speaking. It just felt right.
I had a session last evening with someone who is looking at morphing her role in her company. She is feeling hemmed in by her current role and wants to approach her boss about a new position that she is creating (in her mind) based on a real need in the organization. This could be a risk to put out there to her boss because the answer might be no. Also, if others find out they might think she isn't committed to her current department and role. And her major fear is that her boss might say no and use this to push her out the door. So in coaching her, we got into the vision of the new role, which excited her. Then we talked about all of these potential landmines and explored how to mitigate them should they arise. And we talked about the choice of staying unhappy in a current role or seeking to go towards the positive energy she is feeling.
After my talks were through I had several students come up to me and ask me questions, some have me high fives and some were sobbing or crying. People are dealing with anxiety and depression all over the place and I struck a cord. I shared some of my own past pain up there on the stage and it connected them to me. After all I am a human being too not immune to the slings and arrows of time.
After taking this calculated risk I want more. I had a filmmaker film the whole thing and he is going to make a full length movie out of it and give me whatever video clips for marketing I want. I will pander this to other colleges and businesses to get more speaking gigs. I love being on the stage, connecting with a large audience, and being as real as possible. I never would have known this if I would have played it safe.
I have been hearing lately in many places this notion of the economy of motion, that is making each movement as efficient as possible. So if you are weight lifting for instance, or running, you don't want to waste energy in inefficient body movements. Not only do you not get the benefit of the gains you want, you can get injured as well. So I was thinking about how this may apply to the emotional world.
In a recent blog I mentioned how an adverse feeling like embarrassment can lead us to take actions like acquiescence, avoidance, going small. However, when I ask people, these are not usually the actions they really want to take, so to me this is an inefficient way to deal with the strong negative emotions. One woman in a recent workshop blurted out that is just seems so natural to purvey these ineffective actions.
Why would we do the opposite of what we want? Very curious indeed. Answer? Because we usually don't know any better or don't know a better way. But there is always a better way in anything. My Kung Fu instructor just told me that after 40+ years of practicing he just learned something new from his master. Very cool.
So the better and more efficient way is this: When you feel gripped by a strong emotion, stop. Take a deep breath or two, take a walk, sleep on it, talk to a friend about it, go work out, eat some protein, take a break. Sometimes taking what a client called a 'calculated pause' you can get a new perspective on something that is triggering you in the moment. Let us not react to situations, but calm down and enlist our rational minds on the challenges we face. Then we can choose what we want to do instead of react with an action that doesn't support what we want. Of course strong emotions are there for a good reason, but you won't know what the reason is until you inspect it.
Why does embarrassment come up for instance? Let's say you are doing a presentation and you start fumbling your words. You then get in your head and worry what others are thinking of you and you think you should be able to do better. These are thoughts in your head that let embarrassment creep in. Of course this happens at the speed of light and just seems to happen. The our body catches up with the feeling and we get red and sweaty in the palms and then look to get out of the situation as fast as possible. BUT, reality is that you were fumbling the words a little bit, that's it. We then ascribe all of these worries, fears, and obligations on it to be something different. By reacting to the embarrassment we don't usually get what we want. SO...we need to calm down in the face of embarrassment and re-calibrate. Take some deep breaths and focus on what you want to pull off. If you can't pull it off maybe you need more practice and next time will go more smoothly.
The economy of emotion is to calm down under duress and focus on the outcome you want. If you fall prey to the emotions and purvey a negative action, learn about it so you have less chance to do it next time. One of my students from the college told me after 3 months in my class that she doesn't get embarrassed anymore, and she had a heavy case of it. She is in the driver's seat, not the other way around. This is the most efficient and stable place to be.
I am supporting a manager in a company currently who was on the rocks with his team. He was even on the track to be fired until I was called in to facilitate a transformation in his leadership. Now before I make it all about me, I tell you it takes two to make a transformation happen: my support and his willingness. Both were clearly there 100% out of the gate. The shock of the initial feedback about his performance and attitude quickly gave way to an appetite for growth. Over a couple months things began to turn around.
When meeting with him last week he said something truly profound, that he takes a 'calculated pause' now. I was blown away. This pause is so subtle yet so powerful. Before I came into the picture he would react to his frustrations and anxieties by being negative. He was part of the problem, which he didn't see. As we went through some of the feedback he received from a 360 degree report, as well as the feedback I was able to ascertain working with his team without him, he began to take a critical look at how his strong negative emotions were wreaking havoc in his team. It goes without saying that this manager has done some pretty intense and amazing work in a short time to effect an almost complete turnaround. Mastery takes time and I told him last week that I believe he is at the point where he won't regress back to old behaviors because he is onto himself and he values being a supportive and engaged leader.
But back to the calculated pause. If you don't know you are in emotional hot water, then actions will flow to try to deal with those, most often being reactive, blaming in nature. This doesn't solve the original problem you were frustrated about and causes another problem: negativity in those around you. To be an effective leader you need to be able to understand your feeling tones and when they change and then to take pause, to calm down enough to think about the action you want to purvey in your relationships. Not all negative behaviors are aggressive though, some are passive aggressive like sarcasm and some are passive like avoiding others. In the case of working with his anxiety he said he tends to over-explain things to others so they 'get it'. But what tends to happen is the verbosity tunes other people out, is a trigger for them. So, he gets the very thing he doesn't want: disengagement.
If you are a manager you can try this on for yourself, as well as help others take pause under duress. This is an important management function that goes under the radar oftentimes. By knowing your trigger points and helping others understand theirs, awareness flows and people can take a calculated pause in order to be as mindful and constructive with their actions.
In a recent session with a middle manager we struck something pretty profound. Now I get paid to listen to people, help them see their motivations, goals, and then support them to get what they want. In this particular case I had gotten some feedback from his team that at times he can be defensive and talk too much. I asked the crew if I could support the leader to look at these things, to which they agreed. After all, potentially making a change in this behavior would reap great energetic rewards for his teammates.
In the session I brought up defensiveness in a general sense and told him that it something most of us need to work on. It’s really hard work actually if you have ever tried to stave off a defensive posture. There is a reason why we are defensive, which I will get to in a minute. He took the bait and we chatted about how his defensiveness showed up. Well lo and behold he brought up over-explaining things to people! Now once I had the big kahuna on the line I just had to reel it in. Most people faced with these situations with others will tell people to stop doing the behavior. But as a coach I want to know what is motivating the over-explaining, or any behavior for that matter. It is easier to give someone a directive. It takes time to sit with someone, give them your full attention to understand what is going on. Sometimes directive leadership is needed, but often coaching is better. When people can see what is going on by stepping back with a trusted person, they can own the behavior and thus what is propelling it.
So I asked this manager why he tends to do this over-explaining behavior. He told me anxiety ‘drives’ the behavior. I found this to be a gem. In my work with triggers I teach people about how ‘negative’ feelings can turn into ‘negative’ behaviors. In this case he isn’t trying to come off as negative or cause a rub with others, he is trying to resolve his anxiety. So I asked him what has him feel anxious. Here I had him drill down a little deeper. He told me that when he feels doubted by others he tends to feel anxiety and thus feel like he has to explain himself ad nauseum to have people think good of his ability to manage. Wow! What a powerful motivator. During this time he also said that when he is addressing his team and there is silence or they seem tuned out or quiet, this anxiety comes up and he starts the motor mouth. With this realization he was able to see the chain of events, which were largely unconscious come to conscious reflection. He actually started to cry a little bit.
I ended up going a bit deeper with him about what is so wrong if people doubt you, what that says about him in the deep dark recess of his mind. Most times these negative beliefs about ourselves are developed by how we were parented. This manager said his upbringing was less-than-stellar, to which we are going to talk about in our next session. Being a coach is being on the fringe of people’s self-concepts, their psychological defense mechanisms. It was a fascinating dive into a person’s soft core, taking the dark place and pulling it out to the light. As a leader you want to engender this type of learning with your mangers and thus giving them the ability to do it to the people they supervise. This takes a negative action and turns it into self-awareness and corrective action, instead of just corrective action in the directive approach. Self-awareness done in the space with others builds trust, morale, and a deeper sense of teamwork. Leaders that put themselves out there like this can transform a team, department or business. Do not underestimate the power of the coaching approach.
It is a well-kept secret for some reason that love and business can be synonymous. Before you judge me as woo-woo or too touchy feely you need to know the facts: 30% of workers in the US are engaged in their jobs for many reasons. One of those reasons is that they don't feel appreciated by their immediate supervisor. I have written about appreciation before and to me love is a form of appreciation. By appreciating people more often, this increases engagement metrics like absenteeism, morale, and productivity to name a few.
So I was stunned the other day that a middle manager in a local manufacturer told me that he had an epiphany recently: that he wants to bring more love to his staff. This grown man actually used these words and I was lock, stock and barrel with him, on the edge of my seat. Since I don't often hear things like this, but believe it myself, I was ready to unpack what he meant by it. He realized that he is in the position to help steward his supervisees to feel more connected to each other, to their jobs, and to themselves. He realized that he can take strategic actions to boost the support and care that he exhibits on a daily or weekly basis.
I applaud this manager for his vulnerability, for his commitment to well-being of the whole, and his risk taking. He told me too that he appreciates immensely his immediate boss, the CEO. I told him to go to the CEO and 'give him the love'. Supervisors need attention too, and it can be lonely at the top. This manager indeed did go into the CEO's office right after our meeting and gave the love. It had a ripple effect. The CEO then emailed me and told me that he loves me and the manager, which then I in turn gave it back! It was a complete love-fest.
Don't underestimate this power. We all have it. We all need it. We all can give it. Release the blockages that you have and let it flow freely. When a whole department or company can do this, the culture shifts and it feels more affiliative, more harmonious. And the proof is in the data. Companies that love up on their employees not only perform better but are the best places to work. I want to thank this manager for amping up the love and being brave enough to let it shine in one of the most unlikely places. My mind is effectively blown.
In my work I have discovered that there are two general areas for celebration and improvement with each employee. I call these two key areas performance and attitude and I have created a matrix of four possibilities that may be helpful to managers and leaders when thinking through the current reality of their individual employees. Here is the matrix:
1. Great performance and great attitude, 2. great performance and bad attitude, 3. bad performance and great attitude and 4. bad performance and bad attitude.
I think we can all agree that we have seen employees in all of these categories of the matrix. Of course there are grey areas, but for this purpose let's keep it black and white. Performance refers to meeting the criteria and objectives of their technical role, that is what they do for the organization. Attitude refers to intangible things like respect for coworkers, stepping up and taking initiative, being a team player, feeling connected and engaged, being appreciative, etc. So in short another way to state performance and attitude is tangible and intangible outcomes.
We all love the first group. They are engaged and get the work done. They look for ways to help others, take on more than asked, and seek to resolve challenges by collaborating. As managers we want to recognize in various ways these A players.
The second group is a tough bunch. They do good quality work but they aren't engaged and worse even toxic. As managers we need to coach these folks about the expectations of respectful behavior and seek to understand why they are curmudgeon. When coaching fails sometimes ultimatums will work. Managers sometimes fear that if they fire a great performer that the business unit/team will fall down. I have never seen this happen and is an unfounded assumption/fear.
The third group are well intentioned folks that may lack technical skill, experience, cognitive aptitudes, etc. Again here coaching is required as well as an assessment how they learn best. Some people need visuals to learn best. Some people need to be taken by the hand. Some people need autonomy, still others consistent check-ins. Of course clear objectives need to be in place to measure the needed performance improvements.
Lastly, the fourth group. Get rid of these people, they are time suckers and the return on their incremental development will be dismal. Don't keep a dying horse. I have learned that even though I may not like it, not everyone is a good fit for the culture. By being always optimistic and wanting a win/win this can drag a situation on for too long. By having to develop performance and attitude, this may require more resources, time and energy than it's worth.
Use this matrix to contemplate the state of your workforce and to come up with strategies to get people to the next level. Most people don't wake up looking to do a bad job, or cast a negative attitude. Get in there and coach people to understand what their hindrances to performance and/or attitude are. What you find just may help you change up a situation for the better.
The organizational chart is a wonderful visioning and management tool. Unfortunately too few people use it. The org chart is a visual chart/graph/spreadsheet of who reports to who in the business or organization. If people don't know who reports to who it causes confusion and inefficiencies. People do workarounds, or aren't held accountable. This is problematic and I think can be cleared up with a first step of getting this chart worked out. It is a work in progress but it is a useful snapshot of reality, and like I said can be revised over time and used as a visioning tool.
I was sitting with a manufacturing CEO yesterday and his business has been growing, and there has been some turnover and new hires recently. He has been thinking about the org chart, so we put it up on the white board. It was fascinating to talk through the players in the business and to see in reality who reports to who. Of course, as you may know my work I like to have horizontal leadership instead of vertical, but vertical is useful in terms of management functions. At any rate, by putting this up on the white board it showed two key areas needing attention. Right now with the turnover he had he is carrying the load of roles he 'shouldn't' be doing. So by seeing it visually it helped him to get clear about what is needed in the future as well.
I then asked him to take it one step further: make the visual and post it somewhere where everyone in the company can see it. You better bet that if he was unclear to some degree, others in the business are too. There may be assumptions and judgments floating around in the environment about the turnover and shift of players. If it isn't clear then we leave ourselves open to these potential potholes. Now making it explicit still may produce judgments and assumptions about what should be, but reality at least is seen and can alleviate some fears or negativity. I have seen negativity and ambiguity even in a business with four employees. It is amazing to me that as leaders we think people are clear when in reality they aren't.
So, take a look at the current reality of your org chart. It may be crystal clear and in that case good for you! If it isn't though, it may expose strategic areas to work on. One company realized that in theory the manager was supposed to be managing 10 guys, but the CEO was doing his job for him and enabling the manager's lack of management. When you know reality, you can then use that to envision how it should be and use it as a living, breathing document.
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