Thin Difference is a virtual table where we can sit down to exchange ideas, tips, and insights across generations. Millennials, or Generation Y, are the new generation of leaders, and the future is bright with their talent and energy. Our mission is to encourage, empower, and inspire them to create a big leadership story.
My year started with a bang, and a reminder of the need to find joy and contentment in the smallest moments.
By 3 pm, I was in the emergency room. By midnight, it was confirmed — my appendix needed to come out. Surgery was scheduled for very early the next morning.
It turns out, my appendix had burst, which made a routine surgery less routine, and my discomfort after surgery all the more intense.
Balancing Health and Work
Despite the rupture, for some reason, I thought that because I was in good health and in pretty good shape, I would be back to my regular schedule in no time! The reality was my recovery was tougher and rougher than I expected. Even so, while I knew I needed to pace myself, I wanted desperately to feel like myself again. I also felt a responsibility to my family, colleagues and clients to return as soon as possible.
My body had other plans. So, I was forced to take it day to day. It was frustrating, but I figured – what else could I do?
Finally, I felt ready to go back to work, yet woke up the next day realizing that I was not ready to go back to work. One step forward, two steps back.
Once again, I vowed that the following day was going to be it! I got up early and set my mindset. Gentle and kind were going to be the words of the day. Plus, celebrate every step forward.
1. Shower. Small celebration.
2. Get dressed. Small victory dance.
3. Make it to work. Small victory song, Kool & the Gang’s “Celebrate.”
4. Prioritize emails. Celebrate!
You get the idea.
A month earlier, I would have blown through all those steps and more without a blink of an eye. And what a shame, in hindsight. So much opportunity for celebration and joy, and silly songs missed!
Lessons My Appendix Taught Me
Maybe there really was a purpose for the appendix crisis. Some lessons I will take forward:
When life gets big, take a step back. When you’re approaching a mountain and are miles out, it seems really small. Yet when you get to the bottom of the mountain and look up, it feels huge. So, when life gets too big, back up a little bit. Sometimes when you’re too close to something, it can feel overwhelming. You feel incapacitated and can’t take the first step.
Be kind and gentle. In the workplace and life, the first person we need to lead is ourselves. Yet in times of stress, we are often hard on ourselves (and others), instead of knowing that it’s time to go easy. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t have high standards or expectations. We can have both and still have compassion for ourselves (and then others). Using my self-talk to remind myself of those two concepts was hugely helpful.
Celebrate the little things, especially during challenging times and/or tougher days. When Steve and I took our daughter, Avi — then three months old — on her first trip, we knew it would be a challenging trek. We were headed to Hawaii! To ease the stress, we agreed that we were going to celebrate each and every step forward. Family in the cab. Celebrate. Family through security. High five. Family finds the gate. Dance. Family boards plane. Eureka, we can do this!! And so on. There’s such a rush of emotion that comes from taking a moment to savor accomplishing something small. In reality, all those small steps are really part of something much bigger.
Sip Matzo Ball soup. Comfort foods help. When I’m sick, it’s Matzo Ball soup. It was a staple at our holiday dinners growing up, and my Mom swore by it as a remedy for just about anything. A hearty bowl can go a long way!
For me, getting back to success at work and in life after a painful ruptured appendix was really about remembering what it takes to navigate through any of life’s stresses.
Sometimes, it’s simply about taking a breath and easing your way through, one day at a time. Or, it’s about celebrating the small wins. I’ve seen companies, great teams, and individuals do the same.
Whatever your preferred strategy to handle stress might be (or celebrating the lack of stress!), how do you do more of it in 2018, and be kinder and gentler to yourself?
When he’s not recovering from an emergency appendectomy, David helps leaders drive productivity and get the results they want through authentic and courageous leadership communication. He’s a sought-after speaker and advisor to Fortune 500 leaders. A three-time author, David is CEO of The Grossman Group, an award-winning Chicago-based strategic leadership development and internal communication consultancy; clients include: Astellas, Health Quest, Hill-Rom, Lockheed Martin, McDonald’s, Microsoft, NYU Langone Health, Tenneco and Wyndham, to name a few. David also teaches the graduate-level Building Internal Engagement course at Columbia University. Click these links to follow him on Twitter @ThoughtPartner and Facebook and to connect on LinkedIn.
If I asked you and your teammates to describe your work culture in one word, what words do you think would show up most often?
(Name two or three words to yourself silently before you keep reading)
The One Word You Probably Didn’t Use
Of all the words you just thought of, I’m going to guess “joyful” probably didn’t make the list.
Think back to your last team meeting or hallway conversation. What was the feeling like once everyone lost the momentum of holiday vacations or New Years’ resolutions? When a spouse or a friend asked about a meeting or interaction during your day, did you reply, “I got so much joy from that moment”?
There are so many barriers to joy in our organizations and companies. Some of them are clearly visible while others are more subtle.
I define “Joy Barriers” as the attitudes and mindsets which keep us from contentment, confidence, and delight in our organizations. (For more on the lies we believe about joy, click here.)
5 Joy Barriers Which Hold Our Teams Back
There is an infinite number of potential joy barriers, but I picked five to explore today.
Entitlement kills joy. What could be appreciated is assumed. And what’s missing becomes a source of complaints. Joy is a gift, not something we’re entitled to. Entitlement is dangerous in a company because the focus shifts from serving others to being served. And as many have noted, if serving is below you, then leading is beyond you.
Cynics are often idealists who don’t want to be disappointed again. Cynicism sucks joy right out of the room. A painful experience often leads to the loss of our joy and cynicism steals the joy of others too. Cynicism is contagious; we either process the pain of our past, or we pass it on to others in the future.
A Critical Spirit
A critical spirit is different than critical thinking. Critical thinking is invaluable to a team, while a critical spirit is detrimental to a team. In many of our organizations, we have a proud “devil’s advocate” sitting at the table. Here’s the thing – the devil doesn’t need an advocate, especially if you’re seeking to try something new or difficult. A critical spirit shuts down the ideas we need.
Scientific research has found that joy grows when shared. But, we often become consumed by what’s good for us at the expense of what’s good for others. Our organizations should exist for people, but not be about them. Selfishness turns us inward, limiting the success and joy of those we are leading.
A fixed mindset believes talent, intelligence and potential are fixed, whereas a growth mindset believes these three can be developed through persistence, education, and effort. Organizations which operate with and reinforce a fixed mindset remove the joy of growth, discovery and transformation from their members. There is no joy in the status quo. None of us became leaders to maintain what was done by someone else before us.
Tips for Breaking Through Joy Barriers
Our joy barriers are often intense and sturdy, built through intense experiences and attempts to cope with pain. They do not break down easily. They often require persistence to break through, both individually and corporately. I’ve seen these three methods be effective agents in changing individual attitudes and corporate culture.
Begin a No Complaining Challenge
Jon Gordon, the author of the No Complaining Rule, has created No Complaining bracelets for a No Complaining Challenge. I bought the team I lead a pack of bracelets earlier this year. We established a 21 day period, where no one was allowed to complain without offering a solution to what was wrong or broken. It was fun to hold each other accountable and redirect our focus from what was broken to what we could do to fix it.
It might seem odd to talk about forgiveness in a leadership blog with readers in Corporate America. But forgiveness is an antidote for cynicism and a critical spirit. Until we let go of our bitterness towards those who hurt or disappointed us in the past, we’ll continue to wound those we know in the present. Contrary to popular opinion, forgiveness doesn’t let the person who hurt you off the hook; it sets you free!
Bringing Joy to Our Teams
The most invaluable team members – the kind of people we want to collaborate with to solve difficult problems – are those people who introduce joy into every room they walk into. We can all be those kinds of people if we deal with the joy barriers in us and around us.
What is the true test of leadership development? Answer one question: When a senior position becomes available, do you promote from within or hire from the outside?
If you promote from within at least 50 percent of the time, then you might have good leadership development and mentoring.
If you hire from the outside over 50 percent of the time, you might have a poor to mediocre leadership development and mentoring program and process.
In my opinion, the first percentage should be higher for larger companies. I also know that entrepreneurial companies will need to hire more from the outside as they grow. However, in all cases, a company not promoting from within in a meaningful way is not developing and mentoring leaders in an effective way. Meaningful promotion from within is the true test of leadership and leadership development.
A Collegiate Example
Earlier this week, the headline said it all – “Lawrence Bacow, former Tufts president, will be new Harvard University president.” The fact that a university needs to hire their next president from the outside struck me odd. If learning institutions cannot develop good leaders to step into vacancies, how can a business do this?
On the Harvard hire, another headline expressed a valid concern – “Harvard’s Next President: Another ‘White Male Economist Named Larry’.” Diversity lags.
A Deloitte (2017) study found that “nearly two-thirds of [university] presidents surveyed said they had coaches or mentors to help them prepare for the role, only one-third indicated that they still receive coaching to succeed in the job.” The study also found that being a university president has changed over the years, and many universities did not have succession plans. Academic deans move into the presidency more often today than the usual standard of being a provost first.
Another trend is hiring directly from the business world. Hiring from another industry creates other challenges. In a 2012 survey, 20 percent of university presidents come from fields outside of academia. CEOs are being tapped to run universities, and this trend is growing. Leading a university is very different than leading a business. Students are not customers, and professors have influence. Innovation prevails. The culture is different as are the dynamics.
We need to do better at developing leaders from within, and universities need to step up to the true test of leadership development and set a better example.
The Business Example
Are businesses doing better in promoting from within? A research study conducted through the Stanford School of Business (PDF) found that 33 percent of CEOs were hire externally in the 2000s as compared to 15 percent in the 1970s. The study also found that struggling companies were more likely to hire a new CEO from the outside. Situations vary. However, when things go bad, the first reaction is to hire someone with an external track record or new way of thinking. Although this works in some cases, it does not always work. As a Wall Street Journal article points out, “The CEO so talented that he or she can step into any company and turn it around, or push profit to new heights, is so rare as to be nonexistent.”
Knowing the company culture and challenges at the start helps a new CEO make changes and gain better traction with new initiatives and achieve better results. When Microsoft needed a new CEO, they chose this path by selecting Satya Nadella. Chief Executive magazine makes a key point, “Investing in the development of internal CEO pipeline candidates usually yields a much better ROI.”
I believe most organizations know the importance of leadership and leadership development. However, many are not innovating or implementing leadership development programs that work.
I believe that many organizations intuitively know the value of mentoring, yet few take the time to develop an effective and sustainable mentoring program.
Getting leadership development right converts to bench strength. Bench strength provides the backbone for any organization to navigate leadership, market, strategy, and competitive changes.
Both leadership development and mentoring take investments. Neither can afford to become stale, and many do.
Unlike hiring leaders from the outside, utilizing outside training opportunities is a good practice. Using conferences and university programs are a starting point. Gaining another perspective and broadening experiences help. Within an organization, providing opportunities to lead in unexpected ways is also beneficial. New initiatives and open-field opportunities provide a platform to test skills, learn lessons, and develop character.
Getting leadership development right converts to bench strength. Bench strength provides the backbone for any organization to navigate leadership, market, strategy, and competitive changes.
Universities can deliver a better example. Businesses can deliver a better example. Collaboration between the two can deliver insight and educational opportunities for better leadership development.
Are you ready to hire from within when the next senior vacancy happens? Are you ready to pass the true test of leadership?
Our deadline approached. As time ticked away, minor tweaks, small adjustments, and little changes continued to roll in from all over the organization. The only problem? None of the tweaks were minor, none of the adjustments were small, and none of the changes were little. We’d sent our “finished” product out for review to far too many people and much too close to launch. As we faced all the suggested edits, we realized that we’d made a mistake.
Running the Risk of Death by Committee
Against my advice, my client was seeking buy-in from coworkers and colleagues who hadn’t been privy to our months-long process. The marketing project we’d carefully researched, developed, tested, and honed was facing death by committee.
We understood the importance of collaboration. That’s why we gathered a small, talented, group of stakeholders to create the campaign. We spent hours in meetings brainstorming and working together to build something we were proud of.
We believed in the necessity of feedback. That’s why when we’d settled on a concept we took it to the folks we reported to for input. We wanted to make sure we were headed in the right direction and weren’t missing anything.
We reminded ourselves that flexibility is wise. That’s why we made changes based on the feedback we received — even when it meant rethinking our hard work and making big adjustments. We trusted the folks above us on the organization chart and knew we reported to them for a reason.
But we also made a massive mistake. Perhaps we were looking for validation, perhaps we underestimated how many opinions others would share, perhaps we doubted our abilities, but whatever the reason, we sent the project out for one more round of feedback from folks who probably didn’t need to have a say.
Trust Your Team and Lock it Down
When it comes to creative projects with agreed-upon deadlines, there is a point when you have to lock it down. You must stop soliciting advice and input from the peanut gallery. You must trust your work. And you must begin to execute. We’d failed to do those things, and now our deadline was closing in, and we were facing another round of edits that probably weren’t necessary.
Because we felt compelled to take time to make the second round of adjustments, we were robbing the art department and front-line folks of the time they needed to carry out the strategy. We were eating into their preparation time and possibly sabotaging all of the hard work we’d put in.
How to Avoid Death by Committee
Get stakeholders input early: as complicated as collaboration can be, it is vital to success. No one person has all the answers or is capable of seeing a problem from every perspective. You cannot overstate the importance of input from a variety of stakeholders. Collaboration makes every project stronger.
Set a soft deadline: never underestimate your ability to have missed something. Even though a project has taken months (or even years) to complete, there’s likely something you and your team missed. Set a soft deadline that allows for time to fix whatever that is.
Get feedback from people with expertise: everyone has opinions. However, not every opinion is helpful in every situation. When seeking feedback, get it from folks with even more expertise than the folks who envisioned the campaign/product/project.
Lock it down: After revision put a pause on the tweaks and adjustments. After the campaign or project has gone live and the public has given its feedback there will be plenty of time for adjustments. But, for now…
Trust your team’s hard work: know that you spent time researching, brainstorming, and working hard to create the best campaign you could. Trust your expertise.
Accept that people will always find things to complain about: count on folks within your organization playing Monday-morning quarterback. Human beings will always find a reason to complain. They will always find fault. They will always seize opportunities to nitpick. When they do, circle back and remind yourself of step five.
Execute with care: Take the time to execute with as much precision and attention as you planned with. Give yourself the time and space to carry out the plan. If you’re still tweaking the plan hours before the deadline, you’ve missed your opportunity to deliver the best product you can. Planning is crucial, executing is too.
Sadly, in the end, we missed our deadline. We launched the campaign more than a week later than we’d originally hoped, and in my opinion, the final product wasn’t as strong as it had been before the second round of revisions. The campaign was a victim of death by committee.
As I look back on the project today, I can see where we went wrong quite clearly. We failed to set a soft deadline, we failed to lock down our strategy after our first round of revisions, and most importantly, we failed to trust our hard work. Though it ended up being a moderately-successful campaign, I can’t help but wonder what might have been.
A recent conversation with a colleague highlighted a challenge that I’ve been having for a while: does my work help people? Or does it simply add to the noise?
I love writing these monthly posts for Thin Difference and feel incredibly grateful that my job involves lots of reading, writing, and editing. I have been fortunate to work on, and publish, some incredible pieces of writing. I have grown leaps and bounds as a writer, been able to indulge my curiosity with research and data analysis, and collaborated with some of the smartest people I’ve ever met.
Finding a Voice Without Faking Confidence
And yet, underneath that gratitude and excitement runs a nagging apprehension. Who am I to write posts that advise business leaders, consultants and coaches, managers, and team members? I’m just a front-line worker, an individual contributor, a former student of literature, and a bit of a book nerd. My background isn’t in business, and I’ve never been a manager or worked for a large organization. I often feel like I simply don’t have the credentials for the work that I do. I’ve made great progress toward overcoming imposter syndrome, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still struggle with feelings of inadequacy. Some days I worry that my employer will figure out that I tricked them into giving me my job.
Everywhere I look there is great content, written by far more confident people than me. (Or maybe they’re just better at appearing confident?). And to be honest, I find their confidence a bit jarring.
There are a lot of articles that are written from the perspective of “this worked for me, so it must work for you too.” The type of posts that encourage everyone to “find their passion”—without ever acknowledging that the ability to switch jobs comfortably is a mark of privilege and a degree of financial success. Or that claim that the path to greater happiness and productivity is to start every day with an hour of meditation at 5am—which they fail to acknowledge would be impossible for people who work late, have very young children, or simply aren’t morning people.
These are the articles where the author proclaims that “money isn’t everything,” which tells me that they’ve always had more than enough (or are far enough past their days of scraping and saving that they’ve lost the sting of it). The posts that claim “Millennials want this one thing more than a big paycheck,” which shows an amorphous, whitewashed perception of a generation. The posts that define success in a very narrow way, and assume that definition holds true for everyone.
At best, these posts lack self-awareness. At worst, they belie an arrogance that makes accepting their advice feel impossible.
The authors of these articles seem impossibly confident, and I often envy their apparent certainty. They have credentials: books, speaking tours, a history of growing a team or increasing profits, a blue check on their Twitter profiles. What they lack in self-awareness they make up for with bravado — bold enough to be loud, unflinchingly confident that they are right.
But maybe what the world needs is a bit less certainty. Maybe we need more nuance, more acknowledgment of the different circumstances that mean each person has a unique experience of the world. Maybe we need writers and thinkers who continue to contribute to the world in spite of those feelings of being never quite enough. People who understand, both implicitly and explicitly, that their experience of the world does not reflect the experiences of everyone else, and that it is not a moral failing or symptom of incompleteness to not know everything.
Maybe what the world needs is a bit less certainty.
Perhaps what I find most intimidating about the professional space I inhabit, is also one of my greatest assets—I understand (sometimes acutely painfully) that there is a lot I don’t know. It can be a bit scary to hit send or publish and share a piece of writing with the world (or perhaps more accurately, with a small corner of the internet), but I push through because I’ve made a commitment and know that people are counting on me.
Perhaps what I can offer is my uncertainty. My reticence. My skepticism toward anyone who claims, either implicitly or explicitly, to have it all figured out. My partial answers and my qualified, perhaps even tentative, expression that “this has worked for me, and by no means am I suggesting that it will be a slamdunk for you, but here is my humble perspective.” My willingness to explore nuance, to view the world with empathy, to try to help in the small ways that I can. To recognize that there is a lot that I don’t know, and to research and dig to fill some of those gaps. Or at least I hope that’s enough, because I don’t think I’ll ever be capable of the sort of certainty I observe and (sometimes) envy from others.
All of the best stories are very specific—and in their specificity, they can become universal. Setting out to write a universal story that rings true to everyone is a fool’s errand. As Kurt Vonnegut advises, “write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” And so I’ll keep writing for the people like me: the uncertain, the explorative, the curious. Those who are unflinchingly confident have plenty of content out there geared toward them, and I don’t want my posts to get pneumonia.
When is the last time you took a moment for yourself at work?
Really give that some thought.
No matter the job, one thing I always feel the most entitled to, is asking for a moment. In my current position, I get asked a lot of questions, have tasks delegated to me, and I manage a lot of the daily logistics of my current organization. This means, at any time of day, in addition to non-stop emails, someone is at my desk or calling me on the phone to talk. Sometimes it’s to ask questions. Other times, it’s to confirm if an email was received, to expound on a particular task that has been given or provide information the colleague feels I should know.
In nearly all cases, me looking, and being busy does not seem to deter some coworkers. So I generally have to stop what I am doing, shift my attention and focus on them while trying to maintain my original train of thought. It’s a lot. This is why I started being honest with, not only my colleagues, but myself and ask for time and space.
Why It’s Important to Take a Minute
I am sure it makes me come across as a [fill in the blank], but one of the best things I do for myself at work, is ask for time or simply a moment. Whether it’s because I’m at lunch, reading or writing an email, in the restroom, or doing any number of things I do daily, if needed, I freely will say, “Can you just give me five minutes?” or “Let me call you back at about 9:15,” or “Can we move this meeting back 30 minutes?”
I don’t do it often, only when necessary. I feel it is a disservice to my colleagues to pretend I am completely focused, or presently interested, when I am not. Let’s be honest, typically people want to get things off of their desk or mind, so they shift the onus on you, which can create a sense of unnecessary urgency. It’s just the work culture.
Reconsidering Always Being Available
We are taught to always be available. Somehow, we have equated teamwork with never saying “no” or “not right now” or “I don’t have the time.” How many times have you sent your team an out-of-office notice letting them know they can access you by cell or email on your sick days?! There is a reason when you go on vacation you emphasize that you won’t have access to emails. In most cases, unless you’re going to some remote island jungle, you can have access, you just want to vacation in peace — which is totally fair.
Would we not be a better and more productive workforce if people managed their time honestly?
There is an honest case for asking for space and time. You deserve it, and your work will improve.
It is hard to say no. It is even harder to turn people away. But how much better would your work production be if you were undisturbed? We get sidetracked all day long with emails, texts, phone calls and social media, making it hard to focus as is. There is an honest case for asking for space and time. You deserve it, and your work will improve.
Our jobs ask a lot of us these days, and most people spend a great deal of time at work, but we often don’t feel we have the right to set our own boundaries and rules- practices that help us have peak work performance. When I ask to have a moment, sometimes I get a look of surprise from my colleagues, but most times people are respectful and completely understanding. It only takes one person to start a trend.
Let’s get this one rolling. Take a moment when you need one and see what happens.
I admit it. Hope seems too warm and fuzzy. It is one of those words spoken that seems hollow. It is like punting when you do not know what to do next or what to say when situations seem impossible. I came around somewhat in thinking that hope is a conversation, a connection point to others, but not much more. Like many others, I never believed that hope is a strategy.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, hope became central. An artist created an image of then-candidate Barack Obama with the word “hope.” The artist, Shepard Fairey, captured the imagination of the voters through a day’s work and an initial printing of 350, then another 350, and then 4,000. From here, hope went viral.
In 2008, voters wanted hope. During this time, the country was going through the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression. Words of hope inspired people. We wanted hope because everything else seemed dismal.
After Barack Obama became president, Benjamin Ola Akande wrote an open letter stating, “the fact remains that hope will not reduce housing foreclosures. Hope does not stop a recession. Hope cannot create jobs. Hope will not prevent catastrophic failures of banks. Hope is not a strategy.” At the time, Dr. Akande was the dean of the business school at Webster University in St. Louis.
Dr. Akande was not being critical. He was encouraging the new president to give hope strength through his leadership.
Hope Is a Strategy for Engagement
To my surprise, hope is a strategy. In reading Tom Rath’s 2009 book, Strengths Based Leadership, the word stuck out like a big, fluffy, solo cumulus cloud – hope! In exploring why people follow leaders, Rath discovered that one of the reasons is hope. The simple role of hope is this: It gives people something to look forward to and see a way forward. Hope delivers enthusiasm. More than enthusiasm, hope liberates engagement.
What Rath found is that 69 percent of employees were more engaged in their jobs when they were enthusiastic about the future (i.e., hopeful). With current employee engagement numbers at 33 percent or less, hope is a strategy. Leaders miss this point, as most spend time reacting to daily issues rather than initiating for the future.
How to Engage Hope as a Strategy
Leaders need to give hope strength through their actions. For hope to be enlivened, it needs to be based in a solid plan and good metrics. Wrapped in good communications, hope is a sound strategy.
How can we use hope as a strategy? Let’s begin.
1 – Begin with a conversation.
For leaders, there are two key parts of a good conversation. The first is asking good questions, and the second is listening to learn. Call it fact-finding. Call it a listening tour. Whatever you call it, do less talking and more listening. Individuals closest to the work need to be heard and what they know absorbed for understanding.
2 – Convert conversations into further research points.
After hearing what various team members experience and know, take the salient points and conduct market and competitive research. Talk to other external stakeholders, too. What points pop and need to be addressed in a plan? The research will unveil many key points but flesh out the one or two that communicate the need to change and/or why a selected direction is vital for success.
3 – Convert research points into a plan of substance.
The conversations and research must create interactive, meaningful, respectful, and progress-oriented strategic discussions. A senior leadership team needs to come together, put aside self-interests, embrace what is best for the company, their customers, and stakeholders, and craft tenets of a plan that delivers hope with substance.
4 – Communicate the plan.
Let everyone in the company know what the plan is and why it is important. Never make the communication of the plan a one-time event. Communicate the plan often. Communicate the metrics and adjustments. If individuals do not know the plan, the status, and the importance, then they will disengage. Keep your organization and teams enthusiast yet realistic about the work to be done.
5 – Let people do their work.
Too often, leaders get too involved in the day-to-day work of different teams. Trust people to do their work and innovate in the work they do. Checkpoint the work. Celebrate the milestones. Adjust as everyone learns along the way.
Hope: The Way to Ignite Engagement
Hope is a strategy, especially when it comes to engaging your organizational culture. When hope and substance meet, we achieve more, and we feel good about the work we are doing. How often do people in your organization feel that way?
Time to use hope as a strategy. Time to give hope strength through your leadership.
Everyone I know wants to live a great story. Some want an adventurous life; filled with memorable experiences. Others want a life filled with love and meaningful connections. We want our lives to matter. We want to make an impact with our life. We want to live in a way that our grandkids will tell their grandkids about us.
And yet, if I’m being honest, I rarely consider the story of my life. Some days are totally consumed with work. Others are spent looking forward to a vacation or enjoying time with friends. Most days, I’m just trying to make it through the day.
If we all want to live a great story, why is it that the idea of that kind of life seems more like a fantasy? And more importantly, is there anything we can do to change it?
To Live a Great Story, See Your Life as One
In order to live a great story, we must recognize the story of our life. We must see life as a story rather than a series of random incidents. All of us are on a journey through life. We all face certain challenges and trials. When we recognize our lives as a story, we can start to lean into it more intentionally and embrace every trial through a different lens.
In order to live a great story, we could learn a few things from our favorite stories. Here are a few ways seeing our lives as a story propels us towards living a better story:
We must always be willing to embrace the journey. In great movies or novels, the main character never knows how the story will end. And yet, he or she always moves into the unknown in order to reach the destination. In the same way, viewing our lives as a story pushes us to step into the chaos, embrace it and live the journey well.
We can’t live a great story alone. Every protagonist has a mentor to guide them or a friend to come alongside them at a particular point in time. Like Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, the mentor always appears when the student is ready and willing to embrace the challenge. Like Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings, we all need friends who are willing to walk alongside us through the greatest challenges of life. Why would we think our stories would be any different?
We should recognize the difficult moments in life are where the story gets good. We are all on the edge of our seats when Indiana Jones is running for his life in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but do you really think the character was embracing the epic reality at that moment? No. He had no idea what was going to happen next. But what about the difficult moments in our life? What about the seasons when we face unknown situations? Many of us just want to move past it and move on. Recognizing challenges as the moment “our stories get good” helps us step into them with confidence and creativity.
While we might not find the cure for a modern disease or overcome insurmountable odds to accomplish an extraordinary feat, we all have the opportunity to live a great story in our own way. And it starts by learning to embrace everything that happens in our lives as part of it.
Friends and family showed empathy and asked me questions like what are your goals and what career do you really want. I couldn’t answer either with any clarity.
Can You Find Joy at Work?
It is clear now that what I was looking for joy — an internal spirit of happiness and well being. I don’t think my family and friends knew that any more than I did nor do I think that the colleagues would have changed their answer even if they did know it. They had compartmentalized and separated work and happiness (joy) in life. That, of course, is an individual choice.
Yet something has changed over the last 30 years in American society. People do seek — and even expect to find — joy. I am thrilled to see this progression. I walked the road to joy rather alone except for the help of an insightful career counselor and support from my mom and sisters.
Society at the time did not buoy my journey to find joy, and when I left corporate America to start my own business (one step on my pathway to joy), several people at my job said: “you will fail.” That stung for 30 seconds. Then I realized it was the ultimate sign that I had made the right decision to leave.
It was absolutely clear that for me to find joy, I had to be away from people who didn’t want it, who were afraid of the journey to it, who were resentful of people who wanted it and might get it, and whose daily energy could squash it.
A Few Lessons About Finding Joy
Here are my lessons learned about joy. I hope they help you!
Joy is important. It sustains my can-do attitude. It buoys and gives me resilience.
Joy is not the same as constant happiness. Happiness is just the outer layer of joy’s deeper skin. I can be unhappy with daily surface annoyances yet deeper joy keeps me smiling on the inside.
We don’t plan joy; we discover it. It helps to start with a picture of being joyful. Don’t be too specific. Specifics are always skewed by fears, limits of what is realistically achievable, and every aspect of our present reality.
Joy is different from goals. People who say things like “life is nothing without goals,” and related quips are saying that they don’t believe in finding joy. You can have goals, reach them, and still be miserable. The world is full of people who have switched out of a successful career because they weren’t “happy” (read “joyful” here.) Don’t get me wrong. Goals are valuable but so is joy. While you are paying your bills and working along on goals, keep looking for joy. I was on my second career and was self-supporting while on my quest for joy.
Let the quest for joy run in the background of your mind. I use this technology analogy because that is how I let my mind search for joy while supporting myself. Draw a picture of you being joyful or write it down in words if you don’t draw. Then look at it at the start of each day before you go off to work. Why? Because that picture/description in the background of your mind will see opening and opportunities for joy that you wouldn’t see if it wasn’t running in the background. You will see something on TV, in a news article, on social media, with other people you know that are seeking joy just like you, with strangers that you start talking to and BAM you discover something about joy from them, etc… etc…. etc…
Your joy can’t come at the constant expense of others. Joy is not childish self-absorption. We live in this world together. We must give and take. In fact, you will be even more willing to give and take when you started tasting your inner joy. When you have inner joy, you don’t run over and hurt others. You invite them to share a joyful banquet.
True joy has the power to create peace. With joy, you know that you matter, and so do others. You see the world as infinite opportunity, not a zero-sum win/lose game that always hurts somebody. Your joy doesn’t have to cheat somebody out of theirs. Each person’s joy is unique and thus limitless.
I realize that some of these lessons learned about joy may help you while others may leave you wondering. You may even see joy in a polar opposite way. I would love to discuss what you think about joy so I too can continue to expand my vision of what joy truly is. I look forward to your comments below.
Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach, author of the upcoming book “Leading Morale” started her own business, CAS, Inc., 25+ years ago. She inspires leaders and teams in large & mid-size corporations to the heights great leadership, teamwork, and customer service. In keynotes, workshops, and powerful consultations, she uses humor, facts, and novel engagement techniques to teach how to turn everyday interaction obstacles into supreme success. See her in action on YouTube, on Twitter for her Sunday morning global #PeopleSkills chat (@KateNasser) and through her website KateNasser.com.
The trust and employee engagement statistics are in, and both are discouraging. Each report is a leadership jolt, yet many leaders still seem asleep at their desks. Trust and employee engagement continue to falter.
Worldwide, only 15 percent of adults who work for an employer are “highly involved and enthusiastic about their work and workplace”
Businesses that are in the top quartile of employee engagement are 21 percent more profitable than those in the bottom quartile
The U.S. fares better with 33 percent engaged at work
Western Europeans do worse with only 10 percent engaged at work
The best-managed companies (top quartile) have as many as 70 percent engaged at work
The Trust and Engagement Mix
An interesting divergence appears in the business statistics. While trust declines across the board, individuals want business leaders to step up to address policy issues and also make building trust their number one objective. While there is trust in business leaders, trust in U.S. headquartered businesses fell.
The other divergence is employees placing faith in CEOs to do the right thing yet engagement within many companies is subpar.
Pairing trust to employee engagement is necessary to raise the standards of both.
While trust in journalism rises, trust in social platforms fall. Even with these facts, two-thirds of people say they get their news from the platforms. The truth gets fuzzy, with nearly 60 percent saying that they do not know where the truth lies. The boisterous voices about “fake news” do not help and exhibit poor leadership. With negative leadership voices, it makes sense that journalism rises to the challenge of delivering more trustworthy news.
The platform challenge continues, and platforms, like Facebook, know it is an important. At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, George Soros was very vocal about the social platforms, stating:
“Mining and oil companies exploit the physical environment; social media companies exploit the social environment.”
He goes on to make his point:
“The power to shape people’s attention is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies. It takes a real effort to assert and defend what John Stuart Mill called ‘the freedom of mind’. There is a possibility that once lost, people who grow up in the digital age will have difficulty in regaining it. This may have far-reaching political consequences.”
If business leaders want to make trust their number one mission and also step up to lead with trusted policies, then Facebook and Google in particular need to take on this challenge more aggressively and transparently. Other platforms, like Twitter, need to do the same, especially in light of the number of fake accounts.
With social platforms, we are at a crossroads. The reality: Some mix of governmental and business policy is necessary, yet the strength of character for either to step up fully to this responsibility is unlikely. We have a growing leadership gap within government and an abundant one with leaders and companies.
Four Areas to Reboot to Raise Trust and Engagement
In another survey conducted by NBC News/GenForward, 63 percent of Millennials feel our country is on the wrong track with only 18 percent believing that we are generally headed in right direction. Disapproval of President Trump is high, as it is for Congress. Millennials believe that organizations and community groups are more effective at producing real change. Overall, 59 percent of Millennials are optimistic and believe they can make a difference, even in politics. A positive outlook and actions are needed to improve trust and engagement.
Millennials vote, and they are in leadership positions. Their presence will continue to grow, as it does with any new generation. However, we cannot afford to wait. Each generation needs to step up. We need to begin now.
Mindset: Problem Solving Replaces Solution Avoidance
In Congress, avoiding solutions is an art. The list of problems to be solved is long:
Eroding public infrastructure (e.g., bridges)
Rising federal debt
Increasing health care costs and a growing aging population
Challenging Social Security metrics along with an escalating aging population
Mounting privacy concerns in an increasingly connected world and Smart City technologies
Avoiding solutions does not rest with Congress alone. Too many business leaders kick the can down the road. What happens is:
Less innovation and greater catchup
More competitive barriers arise
Stalled product and service development
Shrinking profitability and market share
Fixed mindsets displace growth ones, and most initiatives (and people) get stuck
We need to stop avoiding solutions and start solving real problems with real solutions. Trust and engagement will grow when we act in good faith.
Solutions: Policy Replaces Politics
No matter if government or business, playing politics is taking over the process and culture. We need to stop certain individuals and groups from positioning and start having conversations on policy. Here’s a starting point:
Define the situation
Analyze the facts
Argue, deliberate, give, take, and do so with integrity
Synthesize the findings and formulate new policies
Removing politics adds trust. Focusing on policy enhances engagement.
Actions: Collaborate Diversely Replaces Inciting an Identity
Maybe it is similar to politics, but it is worse. You can feel a tightening within our culture. By culture, it expands to our communities, companies, organizations, states, and nation. We have a culture in each, and it is becoming narrow. Whether through greater data analysis or demographic divisiveness, we align more to those who are alike. We need to mix it up and reject the identy alignment to a diverse one.
Within our diversity, we gain broader perspectives and creative options. Diversity and collaboration are peanut butter and jelly, mixing well together for delectable results. In collaboration, we gain trust. In collaboration, we engage.
Purpose: Greater All Replaces Reduced Few
Just as identity focus narrows our thinking so does focus on a few. In companies, discussions and solutions can become selfish and self-centered. In government, segments gain preference over a broader population. Woven in each is a shrinkage of purpose. Small purpose creates a paper cut affect – the pain grows.
We need to think deeper and bigger. We need to push purpose up to the top of our solution-crafting and policy-creating. When we don’t ask what the greater purpose is frequently, we lose focus and slip into fixed mindsets and problem stalemates.
Purpose-focus engages more people in more places. Purpose-focus re-kindles trust at many levels.
Wake-up Leaders: Lead with Trust to Engage with Greater Purpose
We cannot afford to let trust and engagement slip further. I realize the political times are tough, but we need to remain focused on what we can do. We are citizens. We have a responsibility to do our part. We also are business leaders. We need to lessen the slack left by government inaction and force more reasonable and inclusive policy discussions and results. We need to build companies with a conscious.
We cannot wait. We must do our part to restore trust and engagement.