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I firmly believe that exploring who you truly are as a contributor is vital to leading a happy, fulfilling work life. I would venture to say that this applies most of us. When we stretch ourselves into people that we do not recognize, this can cause great discomfort. In my recent work with managers, (read more about that here) we build upon the work of Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project to explore the essence of their work lives — to harvest what they require to solidify their own managerial brand.

The process begins with an inquiry into what makes us “tick” at work — and how to acknowledge that individualized blueprint. In this post, Rubin discusses the identification of a set of personal commandments which serve as an over-arching umbrella to approach our lives. This exercise is easily applied to work life, and is fundamental to working toward an adequate level of self-awareness.

Your first thought may be that you do not have the “ingredients” to develop your own list of commandments, yet I urge you to do so. You have likely already considered (faced and applied) many of the commandments that you will include.

Above all, be true to yourself and how you approach your work life.

Here are a few of my guiding commandments:

  1. Seek inspiration daily.
  2. Imagine my future work life self.
  3. When in doubt, reach out, share.
  4. Preserve ideas. Respect them. Explore them.
  5. Value goals, but let go of them if needed.
  6. Connect the dots for others.
  7. Morning are far wiser than evening. (Russian Proverb).

Here are a few ideas to help you identify your own work life commandments:

  • What feeds your work life? What drives you? What does your inner voice tell you to seek?
  • What advice do you offer others? What would you say to your younger work life self?
  • What words of wisdom resonate? As Rubin mentions, words of wisdom and shared advice or guidance often stick with us for the long haul. Note what has stayed with you.
  • What do you object to? Think of situations when you felt that someone received the “short end of the stick”. What happened? What would you have done differently?
  • Why you’ve left a role. Look back on when you’ve been tempted (or actually left) a job? Why did you leave? What was broken?
  • What you are seeking? What are you looking for at your next role? What are the guiding values within an organization or team would attract you? What is missing in your current role?

This takes time.

Build your list of commandments as they strike you.

Share them here as this helps others.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She examines the effect of Core Stability on work life with The Core Training. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program — her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

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“I find it harder and harder every day to live up to my blue china.” – Oscar Wilde

Author’s Note: Thanks to Gretchen Rubin for inspiring this post.

As you likely have, I hold many expectations pertaining to my career. These expectations can prove invigorating, limiting, or even humiliating — depending on my vantage point. On some days, I hold myself to unachievable standards. On the following day, I may hold a much different view of my career reflection.

I do know this: Kindness matters — and expectations can become a cruel task master.

So a bit of advice:

Know that you likely do the best you possibly can to meet your most valued expectations.

Know that missing the mark isn’t a crime. Not venturing to try is far worse.

Know that falling back on what feels comfortable or fulfilling is never wrong — it just may not always pay the bills or prove practical (in the present).

Know that mixing expectations and comfort, may reveal a recipe that works for you.

Know that expectations should serve as a guide — and not a sentence.

Always strive to acknowledge that difference.

Happy Independence Day!

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She examines the effect of Core Stability on work & work life life. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program — her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

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Photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash

Losing a great employee can be a shocking experience. I’ve heard tales of wide-eyed horror and deep disappointment from managers with long-lasting effects. But sadly, saying goodbye prematurely — has become somewhat of an accepted state within organizations today.

I’m not entirely sure how this state came to be. However, I am more than a little alarmed. A combination of factors, such as learned-helplessness and exhaustion are likely operating. (Managers are often fighting both time and resources.) Yet, it’s almost as if we have thrown up our hands in defeat, before our entire arsenal of knowledge and experience has been applied. While we have solid plans concerning how to deal with the aftermath of losing a valued employee, why lose them at all?

We can offer managers the chance to do more.

Yet first, we have to lay blame. The buck stops with us — those who know better — and that’s ok. Taking responsibility leads to progress. Progress is of course, what we need.

All of this shouldn’t come as a surprise. We’ve not entirely resolved the engagement crisis, which has far-reaching effects. Most employees are still not fully connected with their work, which makes any of them an easy target. Engagement may be on the rise, but the numbers remain weak. We simply have more to do. There are noticeable gaps — and they live at the core of our work lives.

These can serve as the most fertile opportunities. (Think of the impact of poor job fit or the psychological contract.) Offering those close to employees the tools to do more, may contribute to the solution.

We may not be able to save every turnover incident. After all, life happens.

However, I am convinced that we can do better.

I’m more than willing to take on that blame.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

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Surprise.

It’s a random day — at a random time — in a week that seems like any other. Except for one glaring reality. One of your “stars” is in front of you resigning. Your utter shock is only matched by the nagging shame that comes from the knowledge that as a manager, you had absolutely no clue.

As your eyes widen in panic, try to remain calm. There are steps that can be taken.

Here’s what to do next:

  • Set up a time to talk in depth. Do this, but know that you have some pre-work to complete. What kind of problems might have contributed to this scenario? Does this truly come out of left field or were you turning a blind eye to issues? (You can read “How Not Manage a High Performer” for a few ideas concerning what may have gone wrong.)
  • Discuss exchange agreements. If you haven’t already acknowledged the existence of the psychological contract, it’s time to do so. This is an often unstated “give & take” agreement concerning what your contributor brings to the table and what they need/expect in return.
  • Don’t talk money, yet. Refrain from a conversation about money. In many cases, the reasons behind a high performer departing are much more complex. If you make this exclusively about salary, you may miss the driving point entirely and any chance of redemption.
  • Read the room. If you’ve struck a chord — ask for another conversation that would allow both of you to present/discuss short & longer-term solutions.
  • Don’t make quick promises you cannot keep. Any progress that you forge needs to be carefully considered and 100% genuine. If your contributor is looking for something you or your organization really can’t give — make peace with that — and let them move on.

As a manager, have you found yourself in this situation? What did you do?

Learn more about utilizing The Core to empower managers here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

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The Office Blend by Marla Gottschalk - 2M ago

We all benefit from mentorship. Even those that hold lofty, leadership roles experience this need. When we look back on preparation for our current role for example, we can all identify training gaps. Ultimately, these gaps can come to roost over our paths in unsettling ways.

Early in my career, a VP in my firm pulled me into his office. Realizing that he wasn’t as popular as he might have hoped — he asked — in no uncertain terms where he had gone wrong. To be honest, I wasn’t surprised. He was reviled by many, feared by most, and known for being a hard-lined leader with absolutely no heart. He had a reputation for choosing clients over team members in a manner where resentment and anger were bound to grow. Sadly, I had been on the receiving end of this dynamic.

I surmised the conversation was precipitated by a “lively” discussion months earlier concerning a client situation where I had felt grossly unsupported. The situation had led to some very harsh words and much stress. In that moment, I realized that this sentiment was shared on both sides. For some reason, he realized that this was a growing pattern — and he likely lived in the center of that storm.

In retrospect, we invest a lot of time building our leaders, but fail to offer the same attention to management skills as they move through supervisory roles. When management skills are neglected, leaders often walk a fine line between expressing power and remaining relatable, which is difficult to master. This can be exacerbated if an individual possesses a temperament or demeanor that can misconstrued as “cold” — where building a warm feeling toward that leader can be very, very difficult. His overt displays of power, were undermining the potential afforded by his role.

He needed to express his own humanity. However, this was a tall order when trust was already undermined. Appearing “false” or “contrived” was of course a risk. The core of existing relationships was likely damaged or weakened.

What I said:

  • Celebrate the work. After a project was delivered, there was only silence from leadership, and a sense of relief/exhaustion from team members. Marking our successes in a positive manner, was fundamental for the team to stay energized longer-term. This fell on him, to do so.

What I would add today:

  • Acknowledge our challenges. Share that he understood that our line of work was challenging. With tough clients and looming deadlines, the work was — even in the best of situations — rigorous.
  • Respect what excellence demands. The quality of the work that was delivered was exceptional. However, this became routine and was demanded/expected with little thought of the impact on the team’s psychological resources.

As a final note, I have to commend this individual for coming forward and expressing the need for guidance. Why he chose me, I’ll never know. However, I respect his request whole-hardheartedly.

Reflection, is the first step in the path to development and change. If we have identified a possible gap in our training — seek the mentor who can shed the most light on that gap.

Have you ever been asked to mentor your boss? What did you do?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. She explores the need for Core Stability at work. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

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Photo by Aubrey Odom on Unsplash

There are times in work life when things slow to such a lethargic pace — that forward progress can only be measured in levels of frustration. As you likely feel, I find this state extremely disheartening. Yet in the end, these phases can prove fundamental to our progress. This occurs because the situation is telling us (in no uncertain terms), that there is something vital we should be attending to.

Motivation isn’t a topic to be taken lightly. Primarily because it is not only complicated, but insanely personal.

No one can begin exploring the reasons behind the stall, but you.

To start the sorting process, consider the following questions:

  • What’s missing? If we forget to include a leavening agent when baking (such as baking powder), cakes fail to rise. This doesn’t necessarily cast aspersion on the quality of the other ingredients — it’s simply basic chemistry. What or whom, might you need to bring toward your work life to expand? (BTW, I cover this thoroughly in The Core.)
  • What needs to go? Forward progress is often stymied when our attention is divided. In a world where we collect goals like sea shells — we fail to realize that juggling too many can hold us back. Instead, we should re-visit their individual value to our work life well-being. When multiple goals siphon focus away from a truly meaningful endeavor, we set ourselves up to lose.
  • Are you practicing self-care? In my years of experience as a coach, I’ve found that exhaustion (mental, physical, spiritual) leads the pack of reasons that might explain a lack of forward progress. Remember that creativity is fueled by a well-rested brain. If you can walk away from your challenge for a bit of time (even a mere 24 hours) — invest in that diversion.

How do you manage yourself when you feel stuck? What works for you?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

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Photo by Tristan Billet on Unsplash

“Conflict Debt is the sum of all the contentious issues that need to be addressed to be able to move forward, but instead remain undisclosed and unresolved.” – Liane Davey

Over the past few years, I’ve been on a quiet, steadfast mission exploring the elements that comprise core stability in our work lives. Core stability is a confluence of elements — such as psychological safety and the psychological contract — that help us develop a strong foundation. This in turn, help us to become (and remain) engaged and productive. It has been an interesting journey, rediscovering constructs that I haven’t visited in years, all of which seem to demand that we circle back and pay close attention.

In the age of innovation and digital disruption, stability may seem an odd path. However, for those of us who are troubled by enduring workplace problems, such as poor fit and disengagement, stability offers fertile ground.

When you consider the topics that might affect work life stability — conflict and more specifically the absence of healthy conflict — land on the short list. When we think of conflict in our own work lives, we might recall the odd argument or heated discussion concerning a project or client. However, those memories are only part of the conflict story.

We also must consider all of the moments where we failed to confront an issue. Instances where we hesitated — because of the imagined aftermath.

In her new book, The Good Fight, Liane Davey lets us know that avoiding conflict comes with a clear cost — something she brilliantly named “Conflict Debt”. Conflict debt is the accumulation of emotions and resentment that can occur when we fail to broach the topic. Davey takes our hand and leads us through the emotions that come with that dynamic. The Good Fight explores the idea that when mastered, conflict builds both courage and confidence. She also explores the roots of why we feel the way we do. (Her personal conflict story is like so many of our own— laden with judgement, avoidance and outright fear.)

There is a certain hell that we quickly correlate with work-related conflict. In fact, that is enough to relegate conflict into near oblivion. We should be doing the polar opposite — dancing with it. “Normalizing conflict” is the goal, Davey explains.

Ultimately, we sacrifice ourselves when we avoid conflict. We also negatively affect the strength and quality of our work.

Unresolved conflict doesn’t really dissipate.

It can take on a festering life of its own.

Purchase The Good Fight here:

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

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Photo by Cathryn Lavery on Unsplash

Most of us would like to inject the wisdom of a mentor into our work lives. As we read the stories of successful individuals describing the impact of these “guiding forces”,  we find ourselves feeling a bit left behind.

Real mentors — those that can can shape and re-shape our work lives — are few and far between. To coin an old adage, they “don’t grow on trees”.

On a related note, I happened upon this incredible post by Nancy Duarte, who instructs us how to the tell the stories that matter. She shared techniques that have helped her clients build the stories of their own lives, that engage and motivate others. (The process involves reflecting on people, places and things.) Most of us are challenged to recall the events and conversations that are no longer in the forefront of our minds. Through her process, we might recall those moments and possibly identify those in our lives that have served as mentors — yet we haven’t identified them as such.

She calls these bits and pieces, “latent stories”.

One of Duarte’s techniques involves placing your name in the center of a piece of paper and mapping the connection between people, places and things — ensuring the we describe the dynamic of each. As I began the process, names ended up on the paper that I hadn’t thought of in years. In fact, their positive impact had been buried under a myriad of negative experiences that can hover (and cloud) over more positive experiences. For example, my own schematic revealed a middle school teacher who instilled a sense of pride concerning my strengths in math and science. She encouraged me to make a lasting contribution to the world, although at 13, my wish was simply to be accepted and blend in.

Bingo. I hadn’t really labeled her as a mentor — but there she was. What were the lasting lessons she taught? There were others, I had minimized as well. Those that shared the “one-liners” along the way, that shifted my self-view or path, ever so slightly.

We may think that we do not have a strong a mentoring story to tell.

However, if we explore the past we might just see the individuals, who saw potential within us.

They showed this — by taking the time to share.

It’s all about that story we tell ourselves, isn’t it?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

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The Office Blend by Marla Gottschalk - 5M ago
Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

For some curious reason — performance feedback often becomes an exercise in dwelling upon our shortcomings. (Read a recent HBR post on feedback here.) As a psychologist, this concerns me deeply. I’m sure many of us would agree, that we learn more about where we might go from shared feedback concerning our strengths. However, we also know that information about weaknesses shouldn’t be ignored.

Still — negative information remains a difficult subject to broach.

On a related note, this predisposition sets up our managers for the unsavory task of ripping us down. I’ve never heard a manager say, “I can’t wait to complete performance appraisals”. I wonder in this moment, if negative information is the reason why.

Being honest about weaknesses, while leaving our core intact — is not an easy stretch of the road to maneuver. Yet, we still need to complete the journey. As detailed here, confirmation bias can hide the deal-breaking flaws that affect our work (and organizations). But as human beings we have “tender” hearts when it comes to negative information. Resilience, that nifty quality that allows us to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off, is about self-efficacy — not self-doubt. So, I suppose “radical transparency” can have its pitfalls.

I’m wondering is there is a way for the two goals to marry? How do we deliver negative information, yet leave our core intact?

One theory, is hitting the right ratio of positive to negative feedback that is offered. (Hint: We should dwell on the positive, much more than the negative). Another strategy is to use less judgemental language and present alternative behaviors, so that change doesn’t appear unreachable. You may have your own theory as well. There is probably a wealth of information living out there.

I do know that solving this is imperative. Let’s share our experiences and ideas.

Thoughts?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

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Photo by Kris Chin on Unsplash

“We’re counting on you to trust yourself enough to speak your own version of our future.” – Seth Godin

I’d like to think we all have ideas worth sharing.

I also believe that our ideas deserve more than a random scribble or a passing thought. Somehow, when we fail to pause with an idea — there is often a lost opportunity.

However, developing our ideas is easier said than done. Anyone that has tried to bring an idea to fruition, realizes there are fundamental obstacles that cause us to leave an idea behind. First, both emotion and data are typically required to prove an idea’s worth. Yet early in the development process accurate data is often unavailable. Secondly, we must plan for the most common reaction to something new: fear of change. When these enduring obstacles are not at least considered, it can be a challenge to develop any modicum of “idea momentum”.

Borrowing the notion of a “user story” from design thinking, may help bridge the expanse of the “unknown”, left by fear and a lack of targeted data.

It may just save your idea from being scrapped.

Here is a collected set of elements to consider when reflecting on your idea (user stories are included):

  • Respect tenacity. Does the idea return to you over & over again? If you find that an idea simply won’t “leave you alone” pay attention. Elizabeth Gilbert describes this experience in her glorious Ted Talk (and it’s utterly amazing).
  • Clarification. There is a reason this idea found you. What are you solving? Does the idea build awareness, address a problem or correct a pain point?
  • Document the core. What comprises the core of your idea? Is it a collection of elements that haven’t yet been considered together? Is it a way to group people or things to build awareness? Is it something others have simply overlooked? Map its contents.
  • Build the emotional case. Explore if your idea resonates with others as a key litmus test. These discussions will help you refine the problem statement. You may shift your focus slightly — yet this might make all the difference going forward.
  • Develop the all-important user story. How might the idea positively affect you, your employees or a potential customer if brought to the world? What do you envision happening if the idea matures and is operationalized? Can you develop a prototype? What are the snafus or costs that might accompany implementation? The development of a user story can help build your case.
  • Offer structure. Attempt to design a framework that would organize your thoughts. (See how I organized an idea about how we differ when facing change, here.)
  • Master “the talk”. What is your idea elevator pitch? Think of a few, illustrative sentences that not only describe what you are trying to accomplish — but might stir a potential call to action.

An idea evolves over time.

Respect it.

Don’t dismiss an idea just because the world as we know it — fails to offer data to support the future state.

Now go.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

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