Time to Focus

June 30, 2022

In a world of constant distraction from incessant emails, text messages, phone calls, social media, and 24-hour news media, it can be difficult if not impossible to really focus. Yet, time to focus is exactly what we need to solve the biggest challenges we face as individuals, organizations, and societies.

Today in the United States, teenagers can focus on one task for only 65 seconds before being distracted. Adults working in an office can do so for just three minutes. These are the findings of author Johann Hari, which he explores in his book Stolen Focus: Why you can’t pay attention—and how to think deeply again.

Further, the number of Americans who read books for pleasure is now at its lowest level ever. Gallup found that the proportion of Americans who never read a book in any given year tripled between 1978 and 2014. Currently, 57 percent of Americans do not read a single book in a typical year. While average Americans spend 17 minutes a day reading a book, they spend nearly five-and-a-half hours on their phone.

The advent of the internet and smartphones have certainly been beneficial to our society. But at what cost? What we consider essential tools to help us be better informed, more connected and improve our productivity, are in many cases causing us to be misinformed, increasingly lonely, and unable to focus on anything long enough to solve real problems or make progress.

Think about this for a minute. When was the last time you had an hour of uninterrupted time to think deeply about something? How about just 15 minutes before you were distracted and had to switch back to focusing again? Was it something external that distracted you or was it your internal desire to reach for your phone for just a second?

The problem is not only the amount of time you are distracted. It is the switching back and forth because it takes so much time to be fully focused again.

We can certainly find fault with those companies who are focused on creating and running the devices, websites and apps that keep us in this distracted state of mind. These companies are incentivized to keep our eyes glued to what they’ve created. Facebook could easily create a feature making it easy for you to find out who in your network is in a particular location so you could meet up with them. You would then have a real social engagement, but Facebook would lose the ad revenue once you disengage the app.

Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and Indistractible, says there are things we can do as individuals to fight back. He suggests the 10-minute rule: When you feel the urge to check your phone, wait ten minutes. This short pause can help you stop simply reacting to the behavior that’s become a habit for all of us.

The moments in our lives that push us to give in to bad habits are what Eyal calls internal triggers. “An internal trigger is an uncomfortable emotional state,” he says. “It’s all about avoidance. It’s all about—how do I get out of this uncomfortable state?” He suggests thinking about our triggers nonjudgmentally. Find ways to disrupt them. When you are triggered to pick up your phone or Google something you’re curious about, instead, simply make a note and plan to do it later. Rarely, is it something you need to do immediately.

Other suggestions include:

  • Silence notifications on your phone so that you’re not constantly interrupted.
  • Turn on “do not disturb” when you want to focus or move your phone to another room.
  • Delete all the apps you can from your phone, especially social media.
  • Set up limits on how much time you can use each app so you are forced to disengage.
  • Unsubscribe from email lists that are not important to you.
  • Choose to have “office hours” for when you’ll read and respond to emails and stick to it.

My 18-year-old daughter recently attended a training where nobody knew each other. They were first seated in a circle and, although everyone else in the group pulled out their phones and began staring at them, she chose to simply sit and be present. Though no conversation ensued, I think that if only more of us would behave in this manner, we might begin to reclaim our humanity. We may realize our phones are simply a tool, which can be used by us or ruled over us.

Choose productivity over immediately satisfying your curiosity. You’re more likely to remain focused and you’ll be able to think deeply about things that really matter.

Personal Accountability & Social Responsibility

January 10, 2022

Do you feel your life and career are within your control? Do you accept accountability for your actions and your inactions? Are you doing your part to better your workplace and community in which you work and live? Or do you feel that you’re a victim without agency, and complain about how bad things are while failing to take responsibility?

It’s all too easy to make snarky comments on social media then stand back and complain about how the world is going to hell. Harder is when you take responsibility for yourself, and actively get involved to be part of a solution. This is when you are more likely to bring about change and feel better about your life.

Many people refuse to take responsibility for their own situation and/or take part in helping to improve our communities. Both are important and necessary and it’s not about which side of the political spectrum you’re on.

Personal Accountability

In the workplace, this means doing your job. Say what you will do and do what you say you will do. Assume positive intent. Respond rather than react. Remember that you are entitled to your feelings, and you are responsible for your behavior.  

To be personally accountable means to get your vaccines and booster shot. It means wearing a mask and practice social distancing to protect yourself. This is not a political decision. It’s a health decision and it can be one with life-or-death consequences. Choose to read and listen to factual information from reliable sources rather than mere opinions from unreliable ones.

Social Responsibility

In the workplace, social responsibility is about encouraging trust, respect, and collaboration. Innovation and efficiency will not happen without these, and you can’t operate independently from others.

Like it or not, your freedom is not about doing whatever you want wherever you want. You can’t shout “fire” in a crowded theatre when there’s no valid reason to do so. Wear a mask to protect your family, friends, neighbors, and the surrounding community. Public health is about all of us, and it requires each of us doing our part. This doesn’t diminish your freedom. In fact, it helps ensure it.

Tufts political science professor, Eitan Hersh, in his 2020 book Politics is for Power, wrote that many Americans participate in “political hobbyism” as a national pastime.  

“A third of Americans say they spend two hours or more each day on politics,” Hersh writes. “Of these people, four out of five say that not one minute of that time is spent on any kind of real political work. It’s all TV news and podcasts and radio shows and social media and cheering and booing and complaining to friends and family.”

For Hersh, real political work is the intentional, strategic accumulation of power in service of a defined end. It is action in service of change, not information in service of outrage.

Action in service of change, not information in service of outrage. I encounter so many who complain about their lives: at work, at home, with politicians, and with the state of our government. They so often complain via social media where “likes,” memes, snarky comments, and trolling is all too easy and has become all too socially acceptable.  

In the past two months alone, I’ve encountered several people who complained to me about different situations that I am directly helping to resolve and asked for their commitment to join me to help fix. In every case they either declined or simply went silent on me.

Be the Change You Want to See

I know it’s not easy for people to find the time and energy to devote to a cause outside of paying rent and putting food on the table, but I suspect just about all of us could make time and put forth effort towards improving something in our communities. Whether it’s simply volunteering at your children’s school, a local foodbank, or any number of other valuable organizations, you can make a difference and gain a more optimism in your own life.

Personally, when I reflect on my adult years, I feel my time and energy as a community volunteer, PTSA president, Big Brother, adult literacy tutor, and Braver Angels workshop facilitator, have improved my perspective on life. I feel that I am part of something bigger than myself and this has had a positive impact on both me and on my community.

Just this month I joined an advisory board to help steward a nearby community forest. For too long I found myself complaining about things related to this. After attending a virtual board meeting and found they were looking for new members, I put my name forward and will soon begin helping to balance various constituencies to help solve big and challenging issues.

The fact is you do have enough time. Just become aware of the time you spend on activities that don’t bring you joy or can make you feel worse. By reducing the amount of time spent staring at a screen can free up time. This doesn’t mean working less, but reducing the time spent on social media, streaming movies and series, and especially doom scrolling. Continual rumination is a cause for deep concern and should be a wakeup call.

To feel better about yourself and your community requires that you take control of your time and your energy. It means taking accountability for yourself and responsibility for our shared community. The sooner we all do this, the sooner we will reach the change we wish to see.

Milestone: 300 Blog Posts

December 26, 2021

During the past 12 years, I’ve written and posted articles about leadership, workplace communication, managing employees, executive coaching, organization development and other workplace topics. This blog post marks my 300th since I began writing them in 2009.

From my first post Operational Inefficiencies are Hurting Your Business regarding a trip to Denver that highlighted deficiencies with an airline and car rental company to my most recent Civility in the Workplace, these blog posts are primarily related to what I’m experiencing in my personal and professional life as well as what I’m reading or thinking about. I don’t follow an editorial calendar but instead write about whatever is present in my life at the time.

Though I receive no compensation, there are many benefits for this bi-weekly practice. These include providing potential clients the opportunity to better understand who I am and my expertise. Perhaps more importantly, this encourages my continual learning. (Full disclosure: About half the books I read and reference in these posts are sent free from publishers and publicists hoping I will write something positive.) Every year I read about 25-30 books related to these topics and, by writing about them, feel I am better able to retain the information and pass along to others what I’ve learned.

I wrote about leadership most often as this was tagged 178 times followed by employee engagement (79), organization development (79), workplace communication (75), and lower down was emotional intelligence (39), trust (38), and collaboration (34). The post where I received the most views and comments was Authoritarian vs. Authoritative Leadership written in the summer of 2019. It seemed to strike a chord during and after the Trump presidency.

Over these past 12 years, I see that I frequently discussed the topic of intentionality as well as listening when it comes to effective communication. This was first explored in Turn Signals and Talk Signals where I compared not using turn signals to not being clear in our communication, and in Leader as Listener among others.

Last year, I was able to leverage the work I do on this blog by expanding upon a particular topic into a full book. I wrote Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace in December 2020 and I’m thrilled to see it has found a larger audience.

This month I self-published a collection of my short fiction, something I’ve worked on for more than 20 years. I Remember Clifford and Other Stories is about exploring identity, the loss of a father, finding one’s voice, and feeling and processing emotions, especially around grief.

Here’s an example of something I’ve learned in just putting this post together. It turns out 300 is the sum of a pair of twin primes (149 + 151) as well as the sum of ten consecutive primes (13 + 17 + 19 + 23 + 29 + 31 + 37 + 41 + 43 + 47). Perhaps only my daughter and a few others might find this of interest. Regardless, writing 300 posts feels like a big milestone for me.

I am extremely grateful to my clients and the many authors and thought leaders who continually inspire me. To my regular readers, I truly appreciate your continued interest, and I welcome your comments and feedback. Happy New Year!

Cultivating Purpose

August 31, 2021

In the early 1960s, while on a tour of NASA, President Kennedy saw a man walking in the hallway with a broom and bucket. The President walked over to him, introduced himself and said, “what do you do here?” The man, who was clearly a janitor, replied, “Sir, I help put a man on the moon.” This was a man with a sense of purpose.  

What about you? Do you feel your life has a clear direction? Do you feel your daily activities are important?

While meaning is about looking back on your life, purpose is about looking forward. Purpose is about guiding you as you make choices in what you do and how you live.

Research has shown that purpose offers direction in life in the same way a compass provides direction when trying to choose the right path. This is essential as having a sense of purpose is sustainable unlike happiness, which is fleeting.

Purpose isn’t something to be found, but something we can only develop from within, and needs to be cultivated, according to Cornell University psychologist Anthony Burrow. He says a sense of purpose is not an objective truth, but more of a subjective experience. You can’t outsource it to someone else.

While you can’t hold your company responsible for you finding or fulfilling your sense of purpose, there are certainly things it can do to help cultivate it in you. But you too have responsibility as well.

Organizations can help foster a sense of purpose by connecting what the employee does to the impact they are having, says futurist and author of The Future of Work, Jacob Morgan, and when the employee shows up with an open mind, ready to contribute and give it their all.

There are physical and cognitive benefits of those with a sense of purpose as you’re more likely to have reduced stress, better coping skills and choosing health-promoting behaviors. And when you’re pursing something that is meaningful to you, it actually can make you more attractive to others. Individuals reporting a sense of purpose in life report being viewed as a more likeable persona.

What if you don’t have a sense of purpose? Burrow suggests three ways to help you to cultivate purpose. These are:

  1. What do you find yourself pursuing whether it’s an activity, passion or hobby? This may be something where you ultimately lose track of time and you do it primarily for intrinsic value. This is a pro-active approach.
  2. An event may happen that causes you to be called into a certain pursuit. Perhaps a family member gets sick, and you pursue something initially to be helpful, but ultimately find it more fulfilling. This is more reactive.
  3. You see someone else who inspires you to follow a certain direction. This is a social learning pathway where you find yourself identifying with someone and cultivate your own purpose by learning from them.

Burrow says when cultivating purpose, it’s not so much a mental exercise, but more typically by actively engaging with the world. It takes some effort, but ultimately will fulfill and sustain you unlike anything else.

When you cultivate purpose and pursue work that aligns with it, you will have greater satisfaction in your career and very likely your entire life.

Anxiety at Work

July 28, 2021

Do you feel anxious? You’re not alone. Anxiety is on the rise and blamed on everything from COVID-19 to political instability to economic insecurity to social media to unstable weather conditions due to climate change.

Everyone experiences anxiety and stress at some point in life. While stress is a response to a threat in a situation, anxiety is a reaction to the stress associated with it.

According to Anxiety & Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States.

Anxiety disorders are more than the simple anxious feeling you might get about an upcoming presentation or other relatively minor situation. Anxiety is a problem when it goes beyond logical worry into a more unreasonable or uncontrollable way when a minor event can be felt as thoroughly embarrassing or seems life-threatening.

Fear plus uncertainty leads to anxiety, according to Judson Brewer, MD, PhD and author of Unwinding Anxiety. He developed and tested novel mindfulness programs for habit change, including app-based treatments for smoking, eating disorders and anxiety.

“When my students or patients are suffering under the weight of never-ending anxiety, a stubborn habit, or out-of-control addiction, I encourage them to see if they can envision these experiences as teachers,” writes Brewer. “Teachers help us learn. When we learn something, we feel good (it is rewarding).”

Brewer identified a reward-based learning process that includes first identifying the trigger that leads to a specific behavior, which then results in some type of reward. Analyzing this reward is key to understanding how to change your habit or your control anxiety.

Raising your awareness and staying curious can be vital. Brewer suggests the following: “Instead of asking why something is the way it is, get curious. It doesn’t matter what triggers worry or anxiety, but it does matter how you react to it. What thoughts are you having? What emotions are you feeling? What sensations are showing up in their bodies?”

In the workplace, anxiety can prevent you from being your best and—at a minimum—can be disruptive to feeling relaxed and under control in how you go about doing your job. When anxiety becomes a problem at work, it can be associated with any number of types of anxiety. Among Americans, these can include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects some 6.8 million, yet only 43% are currently receiving treatment for it. And GAD often co-occurs with major depression.  
  • Panic Disorders affect 6 million and women are more than twice as likely as men to have it.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) affects 15 million and can begin as early as age 13.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) affects 2.2 million adults and often begins before the age of adulthood.
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects 7.7 million and rape is the most likely trigger for PTSD. Some 65% of men and 46% of women who are raped will develop the disease. PTSD and OCD are closely related and many experience them at the same time along with depression.
  • Major Depression Disorder (MDD) impacts more than 16 million adults, is more prevalent in women and the average age for onset is about 33 years old.

If you find your anxiety is impacting you more than it should, it’s important to get the help you need. Anxiety disorders are treatable, and you should seek professional assistance rather than ignore it or go it alone.  You can quickly assess your overall mental health and find resources at Mental Health America.

To be your best at work, you need to look after your health and wellness: physical, emotional, and mental. Pay attention and take action. You deserve it.

Right Job: Intrinsic Motivation & Creativity

July 14, 2021

After an extraordinary time working from home, many of us are nearing a return to the workplace. Seems like a good time to check-in with yourself to see if you are in the right job: One where you find intrinsic motivation not only to feel engaged, but also to be most creative.

This creativity is vital for both your organization to survive and for you to thrive.

Teresa Amabile, psychology professor at Harvard Business School, studies how everyday life inside organizations can influence people and their performance and found that extrinsic motivators such as financial rewards that make people feel controlled can often stifle creativity.

While extrinsic motivation is primarily about external rewards such as money or recognition, intrinsic motivation means you are incentivized to do the activity for the enjoyment itself rather than for the external benefits that may result.

“You should do what you love, and you should love what you do,” says Amabile. Doing what you love means finding work that “matches well with your expertise, your creative thinking skills, and your strongest intrinsic motivations.” Loving what you do means “finding a work environment that will allow you to retain that intrinsic motivational focus, while supporting your exploration of new ideas.”

This means when you are in the right job you can leverage your core competencies, including the things you do best and enjoy as well as having autonomy and are regularly challenged to stretch your abilities.

Amabile found that external rewards can also boost one’s intrinsic motivation and creativity when they these rewards are unexpected or unchosen, especially if these extrinsic rewards support what you are already intrinsically motivated to do.

“My experiments have shown that extrinsic motivators that make people feel controlled or driven only by that motivator drain intrinsic motivation and stifle creativity,” writes Amabile. “But extrinsic motivators that either allow a person to be more engaged, or confirm their competence, in something they are already keen to do, can synergistically add to intrinsic motivation and creativity.”

According to Amabile, support from an employee’s manager is crucial. When a manager provides clear and honest communication, values individual contributions to the overall team, and sets clear goals, this results in the most creative projects. Further, creativity is optimized when the organization supports the free flow of ideas and an opportunity to develop new ideas.

It turns out that what drives creativity in the workplace comes down to simply making progress on meaningful work, providing a sense of moving forward on something that matters. When people felt this experience, they were both more productive and more creative.

And highly-creativity projects have environments that are more intellectually challenging, sufficiently resourced, plenty of autonomy and encouraged innovative thinking.

Do you feel intrinsically motivated and are you able to be creative in your job? If not, is there something your boss or organization can do to change that? Obviously, it is not entirely up to your employer as you also need to take responsibility. Don’t neglect this important aspect of job satisfaction as there may be no better indicator as to whether you simply remain employed or really thrive.

This is the perfect time for you to assess whether the job you’re returning to in-person is the one that enables you to bring out your best.  

Saying “No” for Better Time Management

April 9, 2021

It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, what are we busy about? – Henry David Thoreau

In spite of your career success, you may find you are a slave to back-to-back meetings, an overflowing email inbox and never enough time for the strategic work you should be doing.

Until someone figures out how to squeeze more hours into a workday without impacting one’s personal life, you will never get it all done. But that’s just it. No one will. And time management may be about saying “no” as much as anything else.

“Highly successful people don’t prioritize tasks on a to-do list, or follow some complex five-step system, or refer to logic tree diagrams to make decisions,” says Kevin Kruse, author of 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management. “They don’t think about time much at all. Instead, they think about values, priorities and consistent habits.”

Changing your mindset so that every minute of every workday is spent in alignment with your values, priorities and good habits will enable you to have much greater control over your time. And stop doing things that eat up valuable minutes in your day.

Travis Bradberry, author and co-founder of TalentSmart, offers up Ten Bad Habits You Must Eliminate from you Daily Routine in order to better manage your time. These are:

  1. Using your phone, tablet or computer in bed
  2. Impulsively surfing the net
  3. Checking your phone during a conversation
  4. Using multiple notifications
  5. Saying “yes” when you should say “no”
  6. Thinking about toxic people
  7. Multitasking during meetings
  8. Gossiping
  9. Waiting to act until you know you’ll succeed
  10. Comparing Yourself to Other People

If you have any of these bad habits, then this is a perfect place to begin. In fact, not having enough time starts with gaining an honest appraisal of where your time is currently being spent. More than likely, there are things you can stop doing.

Take saying “yes” when you should be saying “no.” This is all too common for many leaders who want to make themselves accessible and not be a bottleneck. However, when you say “yes” to one thing, you are also saying “no” to something else. Are you making the right decision agreeing to attend a meeting when a more important task requires your attention?

Meetings are one of the biggest time sucks in a workday. Many meetings are longer than they need to be, have the wrong people (or too many) in attendance, and some are not conducted in the most effective manner. Do what can to avoid meetings that aren’t absolutely necessary.

Next time you’re invited to a meeting, at a minimum, ask yourself these important questions before agreeing to attend:

  • Why is this meeting being held? – Ensure you have a clear agenda beforehand to determine if your contribution is necessary to what is being discussed in the meeting.
  • Can I delegate someone to attend on my behalf? If yes, then be sure the person representing you is clear of your thoughts on the topic being discussed. Request that you be included on minutes taken regarding decisions/actions made at the meeting.
  • May I attend for only the part of the agenda I’m needed? If you need to attend, ensure that you are not spending unnecessary time when your participation is not needed.

Since there are only 1440 minutes in a day, how you spend each of them is very important. Get your priorities straight: be sure you’re working to live rather than living to work. Remove bad habits from your daily routine and say “no” whenever possible to guard precious time.

The Art & Importance of Small Talk

February 24, 2021

I’ve recently discovered that while many people don’t feel comfortable making small talk, some minimize its importance as a leadership trait. Why bother chatting about insignificant things when more important business matters should be prioritized?

The verbal interaction between two people who just meet is an opportunity to make a connection. It has the potential to expand your network by discovering what you may share and how you may be able to help each other. It’s good to remember that you can learn something from anyone. You just have to open up and discover what that may be.

Perhaps most important of all, small talk enables you to establish rapport and build trust, both of which are essential to being able to influence, motivate, collaborate and lead others.

In fact, the more successfully you use language, the faster you can get ahead in life. This is the finding of Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone. “. . . small talk—the kind that happens between two people who don’t know each other—is the most important talk we do.”

Thomas Harrell, professor of applied psychology at Stanford University Graduate School of Business, years ago conducted a study to identify the traits of their most successful alumni. In this group of MBA students, a decade after graduation, he found that grade point average had no bearing on success. Instead, the one trait that was common among the groups’ most accomplished graduates was “verbal fluency.”

Those who had built businesses and climbed the corporate ladder with amazing speed were those who could confidently make conversation with anyone in any situation. This ability to make small talk enabled them to succeed.

“Mustering the audacity to talk with people who don’t know me often simply comes down to balancing the fear I have of embarrassment against the fear of failure and its repercussions,” says Ferrazzi. “Everyone has something in common every other person, but you won’t find out what these are unless you open up an expose your interests and concerns, allowing others to do likewise.”

And to get comfortable with small talk, you need to lean into it. The more you do it the easier it will become to continue doing it.

There are things you can do to make way for a more receptive interaction. Beyond what you say, it is how you show up with regard to your body language and your ability to listen well. How you are perceived is determined by many things before you even speak. Here are Ferrazzi’s suggestions:

  • Give the person a hearty smile. It says, “I’m approachable.”
  • Maintain a good balance of eye contact between 70 and 100 percent of the time. You don’t want to leer nor do you want to appear disinterested or rude.
  • Don’t keep your arms folded. Crossing your arms can make you appear defensive or closed. It also signals tension.
  • Nod your head and lean in, but without invading the other person’s space. You want to show that you’re engaged and interested.
  • Use a handshake optimally. One way to break through the distance between yourself and the other person is to touch the other person’s elbow as your shaking their hand. It conveys just the right amount of intimacy. (I recognize that this will have to be delayed until we are capable of moving beyond merely bumping elbows during COVID-19.)

It’s vital to listen well. This cannot be overemphasized, especially in this narcissistic time we’re living in. You will stand out by giving others the gift of your full attention. Discover and practice active listening skills.

In 1936 Dale Carnegie wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People and his simple ideas are as relevant today as they were back then. They include:

  • Become genuinely interested in other people
  • Be a good listener by encouraging others to talk about themselves
  • Let the other person do a great deal of the talking
  • Smile
  • Talk in terms of the other person’s interests
  • Give honest and sincere appreciation

Others include showing empathy and repeating the other person’s name when you’re speaking to them. Both enable greater intimacy that builds further connection. All of these play an important role in the art of small talk and the big opportunity found in doing so.

The Peril of a Post-Truth Society

January 13, 2021

The January 6, 2021 attack on our nation’s Capitol should be a wake-up call to all those who fail to realize the severity of accepting and encouraging the post-truth world we’re now living in. Regardless of political affiliation, when we no longer trust reputable news sources for presenting factual information, we are doomed to lose our freedom and our democracy.

When alternative facts are taken seriously, they undermine our ability to discern fact from fiction. The notion of “fake news” is not new, yet it is extremely dangerous to our country.

As an undergraduate student, I studied journalism and learned that although complete objectivity was unattainable, we should nevertheless continually pursue it. Also, the so-called Fourth Estate is essential for holding truth to power.

Thomas Jefferson, one of our great founding fathers, wrote about the importance of a free press keeping government in check. He concluded that if he had to choose between “a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Just as important, in his very next sentence: “But I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them.” Perhaps therein lies our biggest challenge: Reputable news sources require investment in investigative reporting and verifiable fact-checking. If citizens are not interested in paying for this service, we are subject to the misinformation so prevalent in the conspiracy theories and proliferation of lies that are somehow defended as “free speech.”

In his book, Head in the Cloud, author William Poundstone found that people who get their news from social networks are less informed than audiences for other media. He conducted a simple survey that included a general knowledge quiz with questions such as:

  • Which came first, Judaism or Christianity?
  • Find South Carolina on an unlabeled U.S. map.
  • Name at least one of your state’s U.S. Senators

Average score for those who said they got some of their news from Facebook was 60 percent. This was 10 points less than the average scores for those who listed NPRThe New York Times, or even The Daily Show as news sources. Scores were lower for Twitter (58 percent) and Tumblr (55 percent).

The point is that a reliance on social media to keep you informed will only lead you to be fooled and subject to misinformation that results in your relying on someone else’s opinions rather than facts to fully understand. And others’ opinions often have malicious intent.

Choosing not to pay for news and information means you are left with unreliable sources that are not vetted and validated. The result is misinformation often compiled as clickbait that undermines your ability to function as a well-informed citizen. When you no longer trust the New York Times, Wall Street Journal or CNN, then people can take whatever they see on Facebook, Breitbart and QAnon as equally or perhaps somehow more reputable. 

Despite the internet’s ability to provide us with more content from different points of view around the globe, it’s difficult to discern what to believe. We should continually ask: Is it true or is it false? Is this source credible? Just because something has gone viral doesn’t mean it is accurate. As Mark Twain reportedly once said, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

Perhaps having a Politifact or Snopes filter overlaying your newsfeed might help, and maybe this is what some enterprising company should develop. Without that, each of us has to be our own editor to filter the unregulated information coming in. This is an important and vital responsibility if we want to be informed citizens who can maintain our freedom and democracy.  

Gray Market Opportunity

August 30, 2020

Marketers target the youngest generation in order to capture spending by those early in their careers, starting families, buying their first home and generally seen as having the most disposable income. With a focus largely on the millennial generation, marketers are missing a huge opportunity with older consumers.

In addition, employers should recognize the value older employees provide in the workplace in helping to best serve the wants and needs of people over the age of 60.

In a new book 2030: How Today’s Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything, author Mauro F. Guillén presents a compelling case for thinking differently about older consumers both today and ten years from now. Consider the following:

  • Currently, 12,000 Americans turning 60 every day; in 2030, those 60 or older will represent more than a quarter of the US population.
  • According to the Economist magazine the “older consumer will reshape the business landscape,” and Boston Consulting Group estimates that only one in seven companies are currently prepared for the growing spending power of this gray market.
  • Durable consumer goods such as appliances, tools and cars should assure older consumers that these products are geared to their needs, including that they are easy to use, provide legible instructions and controls, and offer leasing options.
  • According to AARP, a majority of seniors are optimistic about their overall quality of life, including financial well-being, mental and physical health, recreation and leisure time, and family life. When people feel optimistic, they tend to spend more.
  • Today’s expenditures on healthcare, home care, assisted living and similar service industries will accelerate over the next decade.

Technology certainly plays a part when it comes to aging as the breakthroughs in medicine, nutrition, biotechnology and other fields that help more people enjoy longer and happier lives. “By 2030,” according to Guillén, “the average seventy-year-old will live like today’s average fifty-year-old.”

If companies want to capitalize on this rapidly growing gray market, it’s important they recognize that those over 60—employees as well as customers—cannot be ignored. In fact, organizations should recognize the value employees can bring to serving similar aged consumers. Because they are of the same generation, older employees may be better able to define the feature set, user interface and overall value proposition.

As people live longer lives, the idea of early retirement becomes less attractive—either due to it not being financially viable or because people like working and want to continue being productive as long as it is enjoyable.

Older employees can bring experience and wisdom to complement the expected new ideas and tech savvy of younger people. And employees in their sixties and beyond can often provide stability, predictability and reliability other generations cannot. This is something HR departments should take into account when looking for job candidates.

These older workers are not going to be the best fit for every position. Recognizing those individuals who are will be vital in order to take advantage of this growing gray market. Similar aged employees will best be able to understand and meet the needs of such older customers. That makes good business sense now and in the coming decade.

Wanted: Authoritative Leaders

July 27, 2020

Authoritative leadership is especially important now because so many organizations are aimlessly adrift due to the health risks and economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and heightened focus on racial inequality. We need leaders who understand that these are things that require inspiring everyone to collectively do their part.

A year ago I wrote a post titled “Authoritarian vs. Authoritative Leadership” and it became one of my mostly widely read blog posts. Perhaps this is a sign of the times when so many are interested to read about the rise of authoritarian leaders around the world.

I now want to expand on the authoritative leadership style as I think this is one to model in both business and politics—especially at this point in time.

Authoritative leaders, according to Daniel Goleman, are those who use a “come along with me” approach to leading others. They point a direction or describe a vision, and then provide the freedom and confidence in those who follow to determine the best means to achieve it.  Goleman says this style of leadership is especially important when a business is adrift—when organizations require the leader to set a new course and inspire people to help reach it.

The authoritative leader engages the energy of individuals to accomplish organizational goals and admit that they don’t have all the answers. They point the direction on what needs to be achieved and trusts the individuals to collectively determine the best approach for getting there. Authoritative leaders inspire enthusiasm and build the confidence of the entire team.

According to Goleman, the authoritative style of leading provides a high level of clarity, commitment and flexibility to keep people motivated and successful. Examples of some authoritative leaders include Bill Gates, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Clarity

The authoritative leader is able to clearly articulate a vision and motivate each individual to contribute to that organizational vision. People feel inspired when they are able to see that what they do really matters, and this brings about greater productivity. This clarity of vision contributes greatly to becoming a reality.

Commitment

The commitment authoritative leaders demonstrate comes through when they are able to define the standards on how individual actions lead to success. Performance feedback can then directly point back to these previously defined standards and on whether the individual met or did not meet expectations.

Flexibility

Flexibility in how one does the work is extremely empowering. This is about allowing people to experiment, innovate and take on calculated risks. It is about allowing for occasional mistakes with optimal learning and improvement. Authoritative leaders state the goal and enable people the flexibility to best determine the means to reach that goal.

An authoritative leadership style for some may mean letting go of the “command and control” of coercive or authoritarian leadership. If the ship is literally sinking and the person in charge is best able to save it, then by all means be that coercive leader. Most of the time and especially now, coercive leadership is inappropriate.  

Instead, we need leaders who are able to articulate a compelling vision as well as embrace the collective intelligence, talents and abilities of those around them to bring it to fruition. This means the CEO is able to bring along her leadership team to execute on the strategy most effectively. It means a government leader is able to recognize that a pandemic and social unrest cannot be wished or commanded away, but requires the best science and collective intelligence to do the hard work and make the sacrifices necessary to achieve safety, stability and meaningful change.

The authoritative style may not be appropriate in all situations, but it is one that works most of the time and is perhaps necessary more now than ever.

Thoughts on Troubled Times

June 4, 2020

As a middle-aged straight white man, I recognize the privileges I have simply due to my gender, sexual orientation and light pigment of my skin. I grew up in racially mixed suburbs of Chicago in a loving family where I learned the importance of hard work, self-reliance and compassion for others.

I’ve struggled with many challenges throughout my life, yet they pale in comparison to what I would have had to deal with were I not so privileged. I acknowledge my good fortune and recognize that I should do more for those who are not so fortunate. I love my country and believe we have a right and duty to speak out and to protest when our country is not living up to the ideals it was founded upon. All men (and women) are created equal and entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Speaking out should not be left to those not so privileged.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed on my 10th birthday, and 1968 was one of great turmoil in our country with some similarities to what we’re experiencing now. While segregation officially ended, racism and poverty continued to make life difficult for many Black people. Back then there were large-scale peaceful protests regarding racial injustice as well as against the war in Vietnam, which was diverting necessary funds away from the President’s Great Society programs. We also had rioting in the streets.

It was an election year and President Lyndon Johnson surprisingly decided not to seek re-election on March 31. King was assassinated four days later. Bobby Kennedy ran for the Democratic nomination and was shot and killed in June. Later that summer, the Democratic National Convention held in Chicago resulted in Hubert Humphrey, Vice President at the time, winning the nomination even though he had avoided primaries during the campaign. The following November, the former Vice President for Dwight Eisenhower running on a platform of “law and order” was elected President. His name was Richard Nixon. His election represented the beginning of mass incarceration of a disproportionate number of Black men and the rise of the prison-industrial complex. If you haven’t already discovered it, I highly recommend you watch the powerful documentary 13th currently streaming on Netflix.

In 2002 my mother informed me of a rising star in the Democratic party who represented the 13th district in the Illinois Senate. He had a funny name, and she felt great kinship with his message. His name was Barack Obama and he went on to become our nation’s first black President in 2008.

Some people claim that as a result of electing a Black person President we now live in a post-racial society and that there’s no longer need for Affirmative Action. Many of these same people say they don’t see color when it comes to race. This inability to acknowledge that they do indeed see color is both a privilege as well as delusional. In fact, race and gender are the very first characteristics we all take note of when we see someone for the first time.

Dr Osagie Obasogie, author of Blinded by Sight: Seeing Race Through the Eyes of the Blind, found that even people who never had sight still use visual representations of people—including perceived racial or ethnic identity—as a major indicator for how they interact with them. His research determined that race and racism aren’t about what you see, but what you perceive and how you’re told to behave.

As we all know, white babies don’t come out of the womb with racist attitudes toward people of color. They are taught to behave this way. It is a choice to believe that one race is superior to another and there is a certain irony in the fact that citizens in Germany are currently protesting the racial injustice here in the United States of America. It appears Germans are able to learn from history, so why can’t we Americans?

Though we weren’t struggling with a pandemic in 1968, we did have a downturn in the economy, social unrest, racial injustice and incompetent leadership in government. Let’s hope this November we are able to elect another former Vice President, who will provide the healing and progress on racial reforms this country so desperately needs right now.

Behavioral Change & Social Distancing

March 29, 2020

Even in the best of times, changing one’s behavior to break a bad habit, learn a favorable one or develop new leadership capacity is hard and takes time. During the COVID-19 pandemic, our ability to change behavior is vital to the health and safety of everyone.

If you’ve ever struggled with changing your behavior in order to lose weight or workout more regularly, you know that it takes a lot of discipline and persistence. It’s helpful to break it down into smaller parts so you can see regular progress rather than have one all-consuming goal. Rather than lose 10 pounds by summertime, focus on losing three pounds in the next six weeks. It also helps to have a partner to help you stay motivated. And it’s helpful when you can be compassionate with yourself if you slip up or fall back into old behaviors.

Behavioral change comes into play during this time of social distancing. When we are forced to isolate ourselves, it can be traumatizing as we are biologically social beings. Those fortunate to have loving partners, families and housemates who can be supportive are at an advantage. For those who live alone or are living under less than ideal circumstances, it is important to reach out and find community in whatever ways possible. New behaviors may have to be developed and practiced quickly in order to maintain your emotional well-being.

As a leadership coach, I help my clients identify the behaviors that may be holding them back from becoming more effective leaders. For example, these could be in communication such as appropriately giving or receiving feedback, effective presentation skills or body language, tone of voice or other behaviors that may be reflecting poorly on them. Once identified and accepted that they need to change, the next step is to create a development plan and then execute upon it.

For those interested in changing their behavior in order to ride out social distancing during this health crisis, I offer the following suggestions.

  1. Identify what is bringing about the most anxiety. Is it food, housing, job or other economic insecurity? Try to get to the root of the anxiety rather than just an overall label of fear in what may happen. Talk to a professional or close friend about this.
  2. See if you can identify what behaviors are helping or hurting your current situation. If you are concerned about food, are you doing what you can to budget yourself? Since you can’t go to restaurants, are you reducing expenses by cooking?
  3. Connect with others differently than before. Since you cannot socialize face to face, don’t just rely on texting and social media. Use your phone to talk or FaceTime with others. I’ve been Zooming with friends and extended family to stay connected.
  4. Take care of your physical health. Just because you can no longer workout at the gym, doesn’t mean you can’t stay in shape. Get outside to take in fresh air by walking, jogging, running or biking around your neighborhood. Do this every day as it will lift your spirits, especially now that we’ve entered spring.
  5. Be compassionate with yourself. Recognize that we are living in extraordinary times and there is no playbook to follow. Give yourself the space and time to do what you need to do in order to get through this. There will be an end to this crisis, and you will be stronger having lived through it.

Life on our planet will be forever impacted by this pandemic and, hopefully, we will be better prepared for the next one. By practicing social distancing and taking care of ourselves as we ride this out, we will all help flatten the curve and save lives.

The success you have in changing your behavior during this time may also enable greater confidence in your ability to change other behaviors. Use this time to learn and grow in your capacity to change behaviors so you can thrive throughout the rest of your life.

Values Precede Purpose

February 28, 2020

In order to find meaning in the work you do, it’s essential to align what you do with who you are. This means defining your purpose or vision for what you do based on your values.

In the strategic planning I do with newer organizations, we begin by clarifying mission, vision and values. Typically, they are done in this order. While the mission and vision are determined by the founder, CEO or a small group of leaders, an organization’s values should be representative of collective employees and therefore co-created.

On the other hand, individuals should begin by first clarifying their values, which can then serve as a guide to a personal vision or purpose. Only through this clarity around values can one hope to find and reach a personal vision or purpose to enable vocational focus.

Values are simply the things you believe are important to the way you live. They are lasting beliefs or ideals that determine what you think is desirable or undesirable. Our values typically don’t change, but may be refined as we age.

What Are Your Values?

According to Susan David, author of Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life, there are questions you may want to ask yourself in order to help identify your own values. Sample questions could include things like:

  • Deep down, what matters to me?
  • What relationships do I want to build?
  • What do I want my life to be about?
  • How do I feel most of the time?
  • What kind of situations make me feel most vital?

Answers to these questions can lead to discovering what values are most important to you. Though the questions may be difficult to answer, they are helpful in guiding you towards the work you want to do and life you want to live.

According to Susan David, the characteristics of values should be that they:

  • Are freely chosen and have not been imposed on you.
  • Are not goals; that is, they are ongoing rather than fixed.
  • Guide you rather than constrain you.
  • Are active, not static.
  • Allow you to get closer to the way you want to live your life.
  • Bring you freedom from social comparisons.
  • Foster self-acceptance, which is crucial to mental health.

One of my personal values is integrity, which to me means showing up authentically and doing the right thing in all my interactions. My chosen profession as an organization development consultant and leadership coach enables and challenges me to demonstrate this regularly.

It’s important to define and fully understand your own values before you can find meaning or purpose in life. While this can be separate from the work you do, the more you can integrate it into your profession, the more likely you will find satisfaction in all of your life.

While organizations should begin with a vision and later define values, individuals should start by clarifying values in order to determine their purpose or personal vision. Start with your values and you’ll more likely find an organization that aligns the work you do with who you are. And that will lead to much greater satisfaction.

Corporations Responsibility to Society

August 21, 2019

For more than 50 years American corporations have prioritized profits for its shareholders above serving customers, employees and communities. This may be changing as a significant number of Fortune 500 companies indicated a shift to also focus on customers, employees, suppliers and protecting the environment.

Milton Friedman, the celebrated University of Chicago economist, proclaimed in 1962 that a corporation is a morally neutral legal construct and its single purpose should be maximizing returns for shareholders. This profits-as-purpose grew ever since. Friedman wrote in 1970:

“There is one and only one social responsibility of business—to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.”

I suspect that Friedman might have concerns with the many examples of corporations who have stretched the meaning of and violated those “rules of the game.”

Beginning in 1978 Business Roundtable periodically issued a “Principles of Corporate Governance” and since 1997 each version of the document endorsed principles that corporations exist principally to serve shareholders. That changed with this new statement.

“The American dream is alive, but fraying,” says Jamie Dimon, Chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Chairman of Business Roundtable. “Major employers are investing in their workers and communities because they know it is the only way to be successful over the long term. These modernized principles reflect the business community’s unwavering commitment to continue to push for an economy that serves all Americans.”

Purpose of a Corporation

Earlier this week the Business Roundtable issued a “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation” stating that corporations—in addition to maximizing shareholder return—should also deliver value to customers, invest in employees, deal fairly and ethically with suppliers, and support communities by protecting the environment. In fact, the bulleted list of commitments now places customers, employees, suppliers and communities all before shareholders.

“Americans deserve an economy that allows each person to succeed through hard work and creativity and to lead a life of meaning and dignity,” the statement begins. “We believe the free-market system is the best means of generating good jobs, a strong and sustainable economy, innovation, a healthy environment and economic opportunity for all.

“Each of our stakeholders is essential,” the statement concludes. “We commit to deliver value to all of them, for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country.”

This new focus shouldn’t seem so radical yet only 181 of the CEOs from the 500 corporations signed the document. Some of the well-known companies represented include Apple, Amazon, Salesforce, Oracle, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Walmart, Boeing, Ford, General Motors, IBM, Pfizer and Procter & Gamble.

The companies who chose not to sign the new document include such giants as Alphabet, Microsoft, Facebook, Alcoa and General Electric.

Now signing a document doesn’t necessarily mean it results in change to actual corporate behavior, but I think it’s a good sign that there is interest in moving in the direction of corporate social responsibility. The real strength of this statement is if and when specific proposals are offered up and corporations actually carry through on the them.

How We Can Act

As customers we can often choose whether to purchase their products and services; as employees we can hopefully choose whether to work for them; as suppliers we may be able to choose whether we provide to them; and as citizens of the communities impacted by corporations, we can choose to take action against them if we don’t respect how they impact our environment.

Investors will have to decide whether their return-on-investment trumps all else.  

The long-term result of this new “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation” has yet to be written. However, all of us have the option on whether to support or associate with powerful corporations. And in this way, we have the power to hold them accountable.

Success: More than Ability & Effort

July 12, 2019

Reaching success in life requires many things, such as ability, effort, chance and other people. While many successful people stress the first two, it’s important to recognize and appreciate the role chance and other people have on our individual success.

No matter how you define success, it requires a certain amount of ability and effort on your part. This often means working hard to gain the right level of education and experience in order to be successful in your chosen field. Though I won’t focus on these things here, where you grew up, the color of your skin and whether your parents are successful will also play a part in helping determine whether or not you achieve success.

But dumb luck and the assistance of other people certainly play a role as well.

Role of Chance

The economist Robert Frank used computer simulations to examine the role of ability, effort and chance in driving success. His computer simulation started with the assumption that ability and effort together explained 98 percent of outcomes and chance explained only 2 percent. Most of the “winners” of those simulations generally had high ability and effort scores. Something counter-intuitive happened as the simulation became more competitive, however.

At the highest levels of competition, everyone has high levels of ability and effort. But what differentiates the very successful from the moderately successful is chance.

And the higher up the ladder you go, the more your success is influenced by chance, in addition to your abilities and effort. Reminding yourself of this good fortune and dumb luck is a powerful way to combat a sense of entitlement that so often comes with success. This may also keep you humble, which is a very important leadership quality.

Role of Other People

No matter how much ability, effort and chance are involved in reaching success, every individual also relies on the assistance of other people. These people could be your parents and other family members, friends, teachers, colleagues, mentors, investors or any number of people who invest time, instruction, wisdom, mentoring, money and other support in you.

The aspen tree can be an excellent metaphor for a successful person. Not only due to the majesty of it above ground, but also because of how it is connected below. Each individual tree is part of an enormous root system making up one giant plant. In fact, the aspen tree is one of the largest living organisms in the world. Pando is a single grove of aspen in Utah spanning 106 acres and weighing an estimated 13 million pounds!

What lies under the ground is what makes the aspen tree so majestic above. In the same way, those people upon whose shoulders we stand are an important reason for our own success. Keeping this in mind enables us to remain empathetic toward others.

While individual effort and ability are absolutely necessary to succeed in life, don’t underestimate the importance of luck and your relationship with others. By recognizing the role of both chance and other people, you are more likely to hold on to your humility and empathy. And both are vital to great leadership.

Astronomical Compensation at the Top

June 21, 2019

What happens when one person in a company or on a team is significantly compensated far beyond everyone else? Perhaps a superstar athlete or outstanding CEO should be paid a lot because of what they deliver. But what level of compensation inequality is appropriate?

While the pay for athletes is very public, corporations try to shield the total compensation given to senior executives for good reason. But as you’ll see, that is changing.

In the NFL the more a team pays an elite quarterback, the less is available for the other 52 players due to the salary cap. Russell Wilson, quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks and now the highest compensated player in the league, will command just under 14% of the Seahawks’ salary cap. (No team has won the Super Bowl with more than 13.1% of the cap dedicated to one player.)  At $35 million, Wilson makes about 17 times as much as the average NFL player.

Research conducted in the United States and around the world indicates that people are generally unaware of just how unequal CEO pay is in most corporations.

In the US, for example, people say they estimate CEOs earn about 30 times the average worker. In reality, as of 2012, the average CEO earned $12.3 million. That’s about 350 times the average worker’s income of $35,000. Is the top executive at any company worth 350 times more than its average worker?

How much do CEOs contribute to the bottom line?

Management professor Markus Fitza sought to find out. In a comprehensive analysis of thousands of corporations over nearly two decades, he found that only about 5 percent of the performance differences between companies could be attributed to the CEO. Fitza estimated that in addition to uncontrollable elements, such as fluctuations in the economy, about 70 percent of a company’s performance—which the CEO normally gets credit or blame—is a matter of random chance.

Others analyzed the same data using different statistical methods and found that the CEO effect might be as high as 22 percent. Regardless of whether the number is 5 percent or 22 percent, it may be hard to accept that the CEO is really worth his or her salary.

What about the larger impact of income inequality?

According to Keith Payne, author of The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live and Die, those states and countries with greater levels of income inequality have much higher rates of the social and health maladies we associate with poverty, including lower than average life expectancies, serious health problems, mental illness and crime.

States like Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama have the highest levels of income inequality and rate weakest on the index of health and social problems. In contrast, New Hampshire, Utah and Iowa are the opposite.

On a global scale the United Kingdom, Portugal and United States have the highest level of income inequality and rate weakest on the index of health and social problems, while countries like Japan, Norway and Sweden have the lowest income inequality and rate best on the index of health and social problems.

“The inequality reflected in statistics like the Gini coefficient is driven almost entirely by how wealthy the rich are,” writes Payne. “If some economic genius were to come up with an innovation that doubled everyone’s income overnight, it would make the problems of inequality worse, not better as multiplying the income of millionaires would increase their wealth by a greater amount than doubling the income of someone earning $15,000 a year. Everyone would be wealthier, but inequality would grow that much more pronounced.”

About three-fourths of Americans believe CEO pay is too high, and nearly two-thirds believe it should be capped. And this is based on people believing CEOs were compensated 30 times as much as the average worker, not 350 times as much!

Beginning in 2015 corporations are required to publicly disclose the ratio of CEO pay to that of the average employee. Perhaps it’s too early to tell how much this more transparent dissemination of information will have on workers’ morale.

Research led by Bhavya Mohan found that when customers learn that a corporation has high inequality between the compensation for the CEO and average workers, they are willing to penalize the company by buying from a competitor with lower inequality.

Time will tell how this plays out and whether it results in average salaries rising to better offset CEO pay. Whether CEO salaries are capped, or corporations find a way to get astronomical pay more in-line with average workers, something needs to shift in order to reduce compensation inequality in the workplace.

How to Think Strategically

June 4, 2019

One  common growth opportunity many of my coaching clients face is the need to think more strategically. This is true not only for senior leaders, but also mid-level managers throughout the organization. But how do you think strategically?

No matter what your job title, taking the necessary time for strategic thinking flies in the face of near-term accomplishments. For example, the 43 emails you responded to, 12 phone calls you made, budget you finalized, presentation you prepared, or the many meetings you attended. Strategic thinking is not about the number of items checked off your to-do list.

It’s harder to measure in the near term because outcomes may take months, years or never actually come about. Nevertheless, it is absolutely necessary to take time for strategic thinking for your organization and for your career.

Strategic thinking can be generally defined as a mental or thinking process applied by individuals in the context of achieving a goal or set of goals.

Thinking strategically requires:

Notice & Seek Trends
To be strategic you need to gain a solid background and understanding of your organization, the industry it’s in, the competitive landscape, and the trends that are occurring. In this way you can provide a perspective from your area of expertise in the context of the larger organization and industry. Don’t underestimate your perspective as no one else has it and this can be consequential to important decisions being made. Think Outside Your Silo
Thinking strategically requires that you think beyond your own department. By reaching beyond your direct scope of responsibilities, you are also likely to expand your area of influence. You will demonstrate great leadership by leading your department in service to the goals of the overall organization. Divergent & Convergent
Use divergent thinking to imagine a future that diverges from convention and, at least temporarily, suspend your criticism and judgment. This provides the opportunity for brainstorming the wild and crazy that may ultimately provide novel solutions. Convergent thinking can then be used to narrow the options to one via deeper analysis, and ultimately choose the optimal way forward. Nurture Peer Relationships
Focus on better understanding the challenges your peers are facing in their subject areas. The more you know what they are working on and what they are struggling with, the more you can work together to solve larger more complex issues. And the rapport you build with others will enable you to find further support in reaching goals. Schedule & Remain Disciplined
It’s vital that you schedule and protect time for strategic thinking. Use the Eisenhower box in order to separate the urgent from the important so you can fit it into your already filled schedule. Stop attending meetings that don’t absolutely require you to be there. Delegate wherever possible. Create an Optimal Space
Find a location away from your office where you can minimize distractions and stimulate creative thinking. Use this time to reflect, ideate and dream, but not to produce anything tangible right away. Some may find it’s better to partner with a valued thought-partner to shake things up when necessary. Resist the Guilt Feelings
Fight back any guilt in doing this as it may take some getting used to the idea that this time is actually beneficial. You may have little to show for it at first, but eventually you will get results. I suspect simply dedicating this time will increase your ability to reflect, and that alone can be extremely beneficial to thinking more strategically.

Taking the steps above can lead to you thinking more strategically, which will increase your overall leadership capacity. Resist the temptation to dabble in the practice now and then. Like a fitness program or meditation practice, positive results depend on your ability to stick with it and make it a consistent part of your job.

Retirement and the Pursuit of Joy

May 10, 2019

“I won’t retire, but I might retread.” – Neil Young

With more than 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 every day in the United States, retirement is on the rise. However, old notions of the viability and the actual practice of retirement have evolved enormously. Retirement provides the opportunity to find meaning and pursue joy.

The nearly 75 million people in this country born between 1946 and 1964 will soon be surpassed by Millennials to represent the largest generation in the workplace. While Boomers are ending their careers, Millennials are just beginning.

More than half of these Boomers have retirement savings of less than $250,000 and can expect average annual Social Security income of about $28,000 per couple. However, the average couple ages 65-74 spends about $55,000 annually. That’s not good news.

On the other hand, about 31% of those over 65 have more than $200,000 in their retirement accounts. That’s good, but it too may not be enough to sustain the golden years.

If you don’t have enough, you are likely destined to continue working a while longer to prepare for when you are financially able to do so. For those with enough, you may find the ability and desire to move to Arizona or Florida and golf everyday not all that appealing.

Perhaps it’s time to consider what New York Times columnist and author David Brooks calls the second mountain. This second mountain is where you stop pursuing happiness and instead focus on joy.

“The goals on that first mountain are the normal goals that our culture endorses—to be a success, to be well thought of, to get invited into the right social circles, and to experience personal happiness,” writes Brooks in his new book The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life. “It’s all the normal stuff: nice home, nice family, nice vacations, good food, good friends, and so on.

“The second mountain is not the opposite of the first mountain,” he continues. “To climb it doesn’t mean rejecting the first mountain. It’s the journey after it. It’s the more generous and satisfying phase of life.”

This second mountain is about joy rather than happiness. While happiness is about victories for the self, joy is more about transcending the self.

“Joy is present when mother and baby are gazing adoringly into each other’s eyes, when a hiker is overwhelmed by beauty in the woods and feels at one with nature, when a gaggle of friends are dancing deliriously in unison,” writes Brooks. “Joy often involves self-forgetting.”

Brooks says that happiness is what we aim for on the first mountain and joy is a by-product of living on the second mountain. This joy comes out of an enmeshed and embedded life. While happiness happens when a personal desire is fulfilled, the more permanent moral joy emerges when desire is turned outward for others.

Whether this is in the form of a vocation, volunteer work or further engagement in your community, the idea is to keep moving forward. And to actively engage with those Millennials.

Psychologist Erik Erikson said that as we enter old age, we face a critical choice between what he calls generativity and stagnation. Generativity is more than creativity. It means turning toward the rising generation and offering whatever we know that they might find useful—and learning from them in the process.

Joy can be found when serving a cause, purpose or people beyond yourself. Joy provides meaning in one’s life that rises above mere material acquisitions or ego gratifying experiences.

In Brooks earlier book The Road to Character, he referred to “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues.” Resume virtues are what he calls the skills one brings to the job market that contribute to external success. Eulogy virtues are those at the core of our being like courage, honesty, loyalty and the quality of our relationships that contribute to real joy.

For those approaching retirement age with finances in pretty good shape, you may want to consider focusing on your eulogy rather than your resume. This will likely result in moving beyond seeking temporary happiness to finding sustainable joy.

Self-Awareness in Leadership

April 25, 2019

The best leaders are self-aware. Are you?

Most of us tend to over-estimate how self-aware we actually are. In the same way 80% of drivers think of themselves as above average, 95% of people say they are self-aware. Yet, according to a five-year research program, only 10% to 15% of people are considered self-aware.

When it comes to leaders and self-awareness, some research suggests that the higher you ascend, the less self-aware you become. This means it’s very important to monitor how self-aware you are as you progress throughout your career.

How do you know whether you or someone you know is self-aware? Here are the consistent behaviors of people who are not self-aware:

  • They won’t listen to, or accept, critical feedback.
  • They cannot empathize with, or take the perspective of, others.
  • They have difficulty “reading a room” and tailoring their message to their audience.
  • They possess an inflated opinion of their contributions and performance.
  • They are hurtful to others without realizing it.
  • They take credit for successes and blame others for failures.

Self-awareness means you have a sound understanding of who you are as a person and how you relate to the world in which you live. You know your strengths and weaknesses, and you know how to manage them in the workplace. You can manage your emotions, and the more you pay attention to them, the better you understand why you do the things the way you do. This is critical to self-leadership.

According to organizational psychologist and executive coach Dr. Tasha Eurich, research has found that when we are able to see ourselves clearly, we are more confident and creative, able to make better decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively. All of which are important to effective leadership.

Of course, most of us are not entirely self-aware or unself-aware, but somewhere in the middle. This means we are likely to be more developed internally or externally. To find out, you can take a self-awareness Insight Quiz here.

Internal and External Self-Awareness

Eurich separates self-awareness into two broad categories: internal and external. Internal self-awareness is how clear we can see our values, passions, aspirations, fit with our environment and reactions—including our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths and weaknesses. It also represents the impact we have on others. This internal perspective is associated with higher satisfaction in both our relationships, on the job and overall happiness.

External self-awareness is how other people view us in terms of those same factors. Research shows that people who know how others see them are more skilled at showing empathy and taking others’ perspectives. When leaders are able see themselves as their employees do, the employees tend to have a better relationship with them, feel more satisfied with them, and see them as more effective in general.

Eurich’s research reveals that there is basically no relationship between internal and external self-awareness—just because you may be high on one doesn’t mean you will be high on the other. Developing both your internal and external self-awareness are equally important.

Increasing your self-awareness requires that you accurately see yourself for who you are, and this requires breaking through preconceived notions of what may be your aspirational self to reveal your imperfect self. It means identifying what you see and accepting it. With this knowledge and acceptance then comes the ability to leverage it and propel your leadership growth.

Seeing ourselves for who we really are requires humility and vulnerability. Accepting what we see and choosing to increase our self-awareness takes courage and discipline. And the effort will pay off as you increase your overall leadership capacity.

Successful Givers are Otherish Givers

April 8, 2019

In every workplace there are givers, takers and matchers. Most of us are matchers, looking for something equal in return for what we provide to others. This reciprocity style is predominant because it is about overall fairness.

Adam Grant, organizational psychologist and author of the book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, says that your reciprocity style can directly impact your ability to succeed. In his research, he found that givers are often found at the bottom of the success ladder, and also at the very top. 

It turns out the giver reciprocity style can be either detrimental or beneficial to one’s career.

This is because givers at the bottom may be so selfless that they are “too trusting and too willing to sacrifice their own interests for the benefit of others.” Givers at the top have found a way to be successful by becoming what Grant terms otherish.

While being a selfless giver is admirable, you may run the risk of burning out and developing resentment towards others. This can deprive you of emotional energy, which is vital to well-being. Selfless giving can ultimately become overwhelming without self-preservation instincts.

An otherish giver is someone who maintains concern for themselves as well as others. They genuinely care about helping people, and they want to achieve their own ambitions and interests. They don’t see these two perspectives in conflict with each other.

Being otherish means you’re willing to give more than you receive, but still keep your own interests in sight and using them as a guide for choosing when, where, how, and to whom you give. And there are times when you choose not to give because that time, place, method or person is in some way detrimental to you and your interests.

Empathy is the persuasive force behind giving behaviors, but it’s also a major source of vulnerability. According to Columbia psychologist Adam Galinsky, when you focus only on the emotions and feelings of another you can risk giving away too much. It is therefore important that you also take into account the other’s thoughts and interests in order to satisfy the other person without sacrificing your own interests.

In group settings, the best way to ensure givers aren’t being exploited is to get everyone in the group to act like givers.

Reciprocity Rings

One unique way to encourage all members of a group to act more like givers is the use of Reciprocity Rings, which is a face-to-face exercise where every individual of a group asks for and offers help. Because everyone is making a request, there’s little reason to be embarrassed or feel overly vulnerable. And when requests are specific and explicit, each participant provides potential givers with clear direction about how they can contribute most effectively.

In Reciprocity Rings people present meaningful requests and matchers are often drawn in by empathy. Takers are also likely to act like givers because they know that in such a public setting, they’ll gain reputational benefits for being generous in sharing their expertise, resources and connections. And if they don’t contribute, they risk looking stingy and selfish.

This random, pay-it-forward mentality may seem counter-intuitive to the way many organizations are currently run. But companies like Bristol-Myers Squibb, IBM, Boeing, Citigroup, Estee Lauder, UPS, Novartis and GM all use Reciprocity Rings to save time and money as well strengthen the community of participants, which increase overall engagement.

Using Reciprocity Rings will encourage more giver mentality in organizations, and this is beneficial to everyone. And givers acting more otherish enables them to be more successful.

Real Leadership in a Time of Crisis

March 20, 2019

Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand, is demonstrating what real leaders do in a time of crisis. The deadly attack on two mosques that left 50 people dead last week in Christchurch was a horrendous example of the rise of terrorism—specifically white supremacism—around the world. And Ardern is responding in a way that serves as a role model for real leadership.

Though she has been in office less than 18 months and earned mixed reviews over how she’s handled the job overall, on crisis management, Ardern is demonstrating great leadership.

The 38-year-old came into office as part of a wave of progressive, young leaders that include France’s Emmanuel Macron and Canada’s Justin Trudeau. The Jacindamania surrounding her political rise inspired New Zealand’s people to participate politically and follow her lead as citizens.

“Ms. Ardern is emerging as the definitive progressive antithesis to the crowded field of right-wing strongmen like President Trump, Viktor Orban of Hungary and Narendra Modi of India, whose careers thrive on illiberal, anti-Muslim rhetoric,” wrote journalist Sushil Aaron in the New York Times op-ed Why Jacinda Ardern Matters.

Her courage played out immediately by standing up to the hateful act in a way seldom seen by many of our current world leaders. She took an important stand in refusing to mention the shooter’s name and deny him the very recognition he sought from this despicable act. Surprisingly, much of the media has followed her lead.

With just 5 million citizens, today nearly one in four Kiwis own a gun. That could change as early as next week when Ardern is expected to unveil proposals to reform gun laws in response to the attack. Though the country doesn’t have the equivalent of a Second Amendment protecting gun rights nor a National Rifle Association lobby for them, she is not backing down to the likely opposition she will face.

In a news conference she said the attack had not happened because their country was a safe harbor for hate, or racism or extremism.

“We were chosen for the very fact that we are none of those things,” she said. “Because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion. A home for those who share our values. Refuge for those who need it. And those values will not and cannot be shaken by this attack.”

She demonstrated compassion not only in her statements but in her actions, such as wearing a black scarf when she comforted families of the victims—despite the negative reaction from many Western countries regarding Muslim women’s headgear.

Ardern said President Trump called to offer condolences and asked what support the United States could offer New Zealand.

“Sympathy and love for all Muslim communities,” she told him. Ardern recognizes that thoughts and prayers will do her country nothing more than it does in the United States after a mass shooting.

This young leader from a tiny country in the South Pacific is demonstrating the kind of courageous and compassionate leadership that is necessary in both business and politics. Will Kiwis respond by adopting gun regulations to prevent further tragedies? Will people around the world respond by demonstrating compassion and respect for those of the Muslim faith?

Ardern is combating bigotry and hatred that requires more than greater gun regulation and law enforcement. She is also focusing on addressing the cultural change necessary to confront our social divisions. And this will take time and patience.

Let’s demand the kind of courage and compassion Ardern is modelling from all our leaders in business and politics.

Saving the Planet Through Behavioral Change

March 7, 2019

Changing one’s behavior is hard and it is often necessary. This is true whether you want to become a more effective leader or help save the planet. But before you take action, you must first answer the questions: what, why and how.

In my line of work as an executive coach, I help clients tweak certain behaviors that may undermine their overall effectiveness. This requires identifying what those behaviors are, why it is important to change them, and finally provide guidance on how to change them.

Determining what behaviors are holding people back is often revealed through 360 feedback surveys or interviews and using cognitive assessments. Once clients understand what it is that’s holding them back, they can begin to address it.

Explaining the why change is necessary is vitally important, since people often get entrenched in their behaviors and may defend them as “that’s just the way I am.” However, as Marshall Goldsmith states in the title of his best-selling book, what got you here, won’t get you there. Fully embracing why certain behaviors are hampering overall leadership is the most critical element in someone accepting and following through on implementing the change that is necessary.

When I think about what’s holding back necessary behavioral change needed to tackle climate change, so much of this is wrapped around the lack of a compelling answer to why. And people need a compelling reason to change behaviors.

The what question is continually answered all around us, although I fully acknowledge many skeptics remain. Perhaps a compelling answer to why will never convince some of them.

However, the reason most people have not yet accepted why it’s important to act on climate change is because any discussion tends to focus on the how rather than the why. Corporations claim that the regulation necessary to reduce carbon will strangle their profitability and require higher prices on consumers. Politicians (influenced by special interests and their lobbyists) are concerned with this and, of course, any notion that it will cost jobs.

Until someone is able to convincingly explain why it is important for us to act on climate change now in a way that motivates and inspires the majority of citizens, little progress will be made. This is especially challenging because, like the proverbial frog in a pot of water set to boil, we won’t see the urgency until it may be too late.

Organizations that clearly articulate a why that resonates have the potential to inspire employees to give their best, customers to purchase products and services, and shareholders to invest, according to Simon Sinek in his book Start with Why. Think of companies like Apple, Southwest Airlines and Harley-Davidson—all three have a compelling why.

When global citizens are presented with a compelling answer for why we should act on climate change now, we can then shift to how this can be accomplished most effectively. This how will require behavioral changes such as consuming less, recycling more, choosing clean energy alternatives over fossil fuels, holding elected politicians accountable, and many more.

Of course, individual actions by citizens of the world won’t make much of a dent in the challenge of climate change until government policies and corporate actions are aligned with these efforts. But governments and corporations rely upon voters and consumers, and we as individuals can influence their actions through our votes and our consumption.

When you understand what needs to change, have a compelling why it’s necessary, and see how to do it, behavioral change can happen. This is true in your growth as a leader or your help saving the planet.

Communicating with Listening Intelligence

February 20, 2019

Verbal communication is a critical skill in every organization, yet rarely do we think beyond the speaking half of what we call communication. Fact is, listening is equally important for effective communication and it is neglected on factory floors as well as in office cubicles, meeting rooms, C-suites, and board rooms. It’s time to raise our listening intelligence.

Many of us fail to provide speakers with the opportunity to fully express themselves—giving them our undivided attention so they feel heard and understood. Listening needs to be more active and more intentional to be truly effective.

According to SIS International Research, 70 percent of small to mid-size businesses claim that ineffective communication is their primary problem. And a business with 100 employees spends an average downtime of 17.5 hours per week clarifying communication, which translates to an annual cost of $524,569.

Listening is a huge component of this since on average we retain just 25% of what we hear due to busyness and lack of effective listening skills.

Cognitive researchers have learned that individuals interpret what they hear based on habits learned over a lifetime. We can all be better listeners, yet there are no “good” or “bad” listeners, just different ways listeners interpret, value and categorize what they hear.

Listening Intelligence

Different people habitually listen to and for different types of information. Once you become aware of your own filters, you can then examine blind spots and start listening for and recognizing an expanded range of input. You can also watch for and speak into other people’s listening preferences to enhance overall communication. This greater awareness and ability is called Listening Intelligence.

The ECHO Listening Profile identifies four styles of listening: connective, reflective, analytical, and conceptual. No one style is better than another, but we all have a preference for one over the others and each style has benefits and drawbacks.

As I wrote in a previous post, connective listening filters what you hear through interests in other people, groups, processes and audiences. This type of listening demonstrates support and empathy, seeks out feelings behind the facts, and orients oneself toward others. On the flip side, these connective listeners may accept information at face value, sacrifice facts and data, and be ruled by emotions.

Reflective listeners filter what they hear through their own interests and purposes. They are able to evaluate what they hear based on direct application, reflect on personal meaning, and easily discard non-useful information. On the other hand, they may miss potential applications, be overly introspective and ignore the meaning for others.

The analytical listener focuses on what the interaction means to an issue or objective situation. For them it’s about results and facts. They are able to critique information for decision-making, listen for the facts beyond the emotions, and are able to control for biases and attitudes. However, they may discard information that could be useful, miss out on others’ feelings, and could shut off complete interactions.

Conceptual listeners are those who focus on ideas and the big picture. Their interest is in concepts and possibilities. They are able to use the information they hear to stimulate ideas, connect ideas together, and understand multiple meanings in messages. Alternatively, they can miss the trees for the forest, lack focus on the present situation, and may read more into the message than is intended.

As you can see, each listening preference has its benefits and drawbacks. Regardless of where you score, it’s important to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of this particular style. It’s equally important to recognize and understand how well those you interact with are able to listen to you.

Listening intelligence will improve your ability to understand others and enhance overall communication. By focusing on listening, you will become more engaged and therefore more effective in the workplace.