Remote Work and Leadership

June 25, 2024

The debate over remote work continues because for some it is a net positive while for others it is not. Many employees reportedly love the flexibility and freedom while managers dislike the lack of control and oversight. But how does remote work impact overall leadership?

According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics finding in February 2024, seventy-seven percent of people do not telework at all. Twelve percent of people teleworked some hours and only 11 percent worked from home every day.

A lot of the research on remote work has been done on sales positions, call center representatives and software engineers because it can be easier to measure their productivity. Yet this can be much more difficult to quantify in other occupations.

Measuring overall productivity requires looking beyond those of individual contributors because so much of workplace success is about collaboration, influence, relationship building, and other aspects involved in leadership. And, although those who sell remote working tools and technologies would love to argue that these things are possible, the data has yet to bear this out.

As outlined in a recent Wall Street Journal article, remote workers are missing out on mentorship and promotions. While this is not necessarily the case for those working a hybrid model, fully remote workers are at a clear disadvantage when it comes to career advancement opportunities.  This especially impacts women, who choose to work remotely at higher rates than men.

It may come down to the individual’s age as those who are earlier in their careers can benefit most from more time in the workplace while those who are more established won’t benefit as much. Unfortunately, it is young people who most desire to work remotely.

There is a great deal of teaching and learning that occurs more frequently when we are together in the same physical place. People early in their careers need to be in the workplace to receive this mentorship and those who are more established in their careers may need to be there to deliver it.

And in-person interactions make a difference when it comes to professional relationships that can help or hinder advancement opportunities. This is because so much of working together well has to do with respect, trust, and other “soft skills” that are far more difficult to demonstrate in a virtual environment.

“One of the things that’s pretty interesting is that we find that even when you’re in a building with colleagues who are not on your team, we still find a bump in the mentorship and the feedback that one gets,” according to Natalia Emanuel, a labor economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. “And it’s not from your teammates, then, of course. It’s from the non-teammates. But there still is an element of enhanced mentorship, feedback, collaboration simply by being around people.”

Ultimately, as a leader you need to mentor and grow your direct reports so they can become leaders themselves. As an employee early in your career, you need to seek out mentorship and learning opportunities from more senior colleagues. And doing this in person is much easier than remotely.

While remote work and the hybrid model are likely to remain, it’s important for leaders as well as aspiring leaders to recognize the challenges of being fully remote. To mentor others or to learn from others in a remote environment requires much more intention on both sides and, whenever possible, find ways to come together in person and make the most of these interactions.

Gender Equity is Not a Zero-Sum Game

May 31, 2024

For far too long women have been unfairly treated in the workplace. Whether it is lower pay or fewer advancement opportunities, senior leadership positions or corporate board seats, women have been held back from achieving their full potential. This is not only bad for women, but also for organizations that miss contributions from half the population.

Zero-sum thinkers will view the world as binary: either you win and I lose, or I win and you lose. A mutually beneficial solution is not even considered, and this is often the problem when we discuss gender equity.

In a recent announcement, philanthropist Melinda French Gates says she plans to spend $1 billion over the next two years to support women and families, and that she is committed to advocating for women and girls.

“For too long, a lack of money has forced organizations fighting for women’s rights into a defensive posture while the enemies of progress play offense,” said French Gates. “I want to help even the match.”

This is incredibly good news and long overdue in supporting the advancement of women around the world.

But many men are struggling to reach their full potential, and this is also important.

According to Hanna Rosin, author of The End of Men, for the first time in American history, in 2019 the balance of the workforce tipped toward women. In 1972, women earned just 42% of bachelor’s degrees and by 1982 women were as likely as men to graduate from college. During the next 20 years, women’s enrollment rose quickly while men’s did not. And by 2019 the gap reversed: women earned 59% of the bachelor’s degrees, while men earned just 49%.

Women are on the rise and that’s a very good thing. At the same time, men are losing ground and that needs to change.

Granted the diminishing number of manufacturing jobs has certainly contributed to this lack of opportunity for many men. The number of service jobs have outnumbered manufacturing jobs for years. According to Statista, as of 2021, nearly 80% of US jobs are now in some type of service.

Richard V. Reeves, author of the book Of Boys and Men, writes that we are now facing a labor shortage in two of the largest and most important service sectors of the economy—health and education—and we are trying to solve this crisis with only half the workforce.

STEM vs. HEAL

Reeves recommends that in the same way women are seeking to make further progress into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, we should find ways to encourage and assist men into opportunities in HEAL (health, education, administration and literacy) fields.

STEM careers currently account for 9% of all jobs in the US while HEAL careers account for 15%. Those in HEAL careers include nurses, lab technicians, dental hygienists, teachers, librarians, social workers, and childcare workers, are currently dominated by women. In theory, these jobs could become more attractive to men. Higher pay would certainly be important, but that’s not everything.

Making these careers more appealing and accessible to men would benefit both them and the people they serve. Reeves suggests that male teachers might provide role models for boys. Male nurses might make men more likely to take responsibility for their physical health. Male psychotherapists may make it easier for men to seek help and follow through with tending to their mental and emotional wellbeing.

This is not a zero-sum game. Women don’t have to lose their jobs at the expense of men getting theirs. It’s more about changing the stereotype that men are computer programmers, engineers, and CEOs, and women are nurses, teachers, and social workers.  

30 by 30

Reeves suggests we should set a 30 by 30 Goal: 30% female representation in STEM jobs and 30% male representation in HEAL jobs by 2030. This would certainly improve the lives of both men and women.

Doing this would take a concerted effort to shift how we currently think about the roles men and women play in the workplace. It would require the media, government officials, teachers, administrators, parents and communities to honor and support the work of every individual based on their skills and abilities rather than their gender.

Let’s stop thinking in terms of zero-sum when it comes to gender equity. Provide opportunity and support so that everyone can contribute to the best of their abilities, and we can improve our organizations and the overall economy.

Transforming Conflict

April 28, 2024

Too often conflict is due to an inability to remain open and to rethink our position. This is true in both our personal and our professional lives. And conflict can escalate when it’s based on an intractable position that prevents resolution.

Perhaps we should adopt what Stanford professor and technology forecaster Paul Saffo calls, strong positions weakly held. With this mindset we can confidently assert our opinion while remaining open and influenceable—not to eliminate conflict but to help transform it.

Strong opinions weakly held is about taking a stand based on your knowledge and experience, however, when new information comes along, you can remain flexible to adjusting your position as necessary.

“Instead of trying to resolve conflict and reach agreement, can we aim for something more realistic and more sustainable than resolution?” asks William Ury, author of Possible: How we survive (and thrive) in an age of conflict. “What if we were to focus on transforming conflict?”

This is about changing the form of conflict from destructive fighting into productive conflict and constructive negotiation.

“The more we react to conflict, the bigger conflict grows,” writes Ury. “Conflicts turn destructive because each side reacts in an escalating back-and-forth that all too often ends with everyone losing.”

Interests versus Positions

“In the language of negotiation, to zoom in means to focus on the interests that lie underneath our positions,”writes Ury. “Positions are the things we say we want. Interests are our underlying motivations—our desires, aspirations, concerns, fears, and needs. Whereas positions are what we say we want, interests are why we want what we want.”

What if we were to inquire beyond positions and into interests? By seeking to understand the interests, you are better able to move from stuck to unstuck.

Braver Angels

This reminds me of the work Braver Angels is doing to bring Americans together by bridging the political divide and strengthen our democratic republic. Founded directly after the 2016 Presidential Election, Braver Angels focuses on facilitating workshops to help individuals fully listening to those with a different position to better understand.

The goal of Braver Angels is not to change minds, but to better appreciate our differences and help ensure the American Experiment survives and thrives.

With 100 alliances spread across Red and Blue states with more than 33,000 participants equally representing those who identify as Republican and Democrat, Braver Angels seeks to engage people in a dialogue based on commonality rather than division. It’s meant to get beyond mere positions to better appreciate and respect each other’s interests.

Transforming conflict requires reminding us of our compatible needs instead of focusing on our opposing positions. This means viewing conflict as an opportunity to strengthen the commonality rather than the differences between us. It requires working together cooperatively rather than competitively. If we are able to do this, we are more likely to ensure that we can move forward together and tackle our most challenging problems.

Stay Curious with Statistics

April 10, 2024

Today we are bombarded by statistics presented to influence how to interpret our world. These can be thoughtful and well-meaning attempts to help us better understand or they can be malicious and deliberately meant to obfuscate or deceive.

It’s therefore important to be curious whenever you encounter a statistic. Rather than take the information at face value, see if you can pause and reflect on its message before drawing a conclusion.  

To become more critical of the stats you come across, it may help to become familiar with the basic concepts of statistics. These include measures of central tendency (mean, median and mode), measures of variability (range, variance and standard deviation), and probability. It’s important to understand how these concepts relate to data and their interpretation.

Without having to become a statistician, however, you can increase your understanding by following the advice of Tim Harford, author of The Data Detective: Ten easy rules to make sense of statistics. These are:

  1. Search your feelings – Being human means being emotional, but it’s important to detach your feelings from the data you’re seeing. Don’t jump to conclusions just because your emotions are triggered.
  2. Ponder your personal experience – Learn to leverage the worm’s eye (your personal experience) view with the bird’s eye (more broad but dry scientific) view.
  3. Avoid premature enumeration – Be sure to fully understand before drawing conclusions. If inequality is said to have soared over the years, be sure you know what kind of inequality is being measured.
  4. Step back and enjoy the view – Slow down the process to fully understand the context to determine the main takeaways correctly.
  5. Get the backstory – Try to understand the story behind the data: where does it come from, is it reliable? Are all the findings crystal clear?
  6. Ask who is missing – Big data is now all the rage, but that can still lead to bias in data selection. As the author warns: do not let “N (dataset observations) = All”.
  7. Demand transparency when the computer says no – Big data brought with it advanced algorithms that typically brings better results but aren’t necessarily easy to interpret. Be careful not to take new methodologies as the Holy Grail.
  8. Don’t take statistical bedrock for granted – Though politicians and business leaders may bend statistics to fit their needs, this doesn’t mean that independent statisticians and economists are necessarily bad.
  9. Remember that misinformation can be beautiful, too – Behind every graph is someone likely trying to convince you of something. I think most of us have done this ourselves, which is the purpose of presenting statistics in the first place.
  10. Keep an open mind – Things change and therefore so should the conclusions that you draw. Remain curious and when the data changes, so too should your takeaway from the data.

You can become a lot more discerning of statistics if you remain curious and keep these rules in mind. And this is just important if you are the one presenting the statistics as well.

Leadership and Legacy

March 12, 2024

When you are at the mid-point or nearing the end of your career, how can you fully embrace where you are, your gifts and value to others, and how can you leverage who you are with how you live going forward? What is the legacy of your leadership?

This is about embracing your lived experience and bringing it into the workplace. Find ways to emphasize the value of your wisdom rather than hide your lack of youth. Offer communication expertise by actively listening to others, which is ultimately much more important and valuable than talking. Demonstrate that you are focused on serving others.  

Psychiatrist and talk-show host David Viscott writes, “The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The work of life is to develop it. The meaning of life is to give your gift away.”

When you reach a certain stage in life, it’s time to begin giving your gift away by shifting from an internal focus to an external focus.

Waiting to make this shift until just before you retire is too late as great leadership requires being less focused on you and more on others. To be a great leader is to serve others and the sooner you start doing this, the better for you and your organization.

Author David Brooks writes about the difference between what he calls resume virtues and eulogy virtues. Resume virtues are based on what you’ve done and are capable of doing as a professional. Eulogy virtues are what will be said about you at your funeral—based more on your character and who you were as a person.

According to Chip Conley, author of Learning to Love Midlife, the first half of life is often defined by the following mindsets:

  • I am what I do (achievement)
  • I am what others say about me (image)
  • I am what I have (status)
  • I am what I control (power)

This focus is all about the self and the ego. Early in one’s career this can be very beneficial as this provides the direction necessary to succeed. However, this ego focus needs to transition at midlife and beyond as this mindset is not sustainable.

“A number of recent studies show that general skills, especially soft skills that revolve around emotional intelligence are more durable than technical ones,” writes Conley. “So your greatest gifts may lie in the social skills that you’ve developed over a few decades in the workplace—the kinds of skills that can be learned and lived, but not taught. As a ‘modern elder,’ you have great value in the ‘invisible productivity’ you offer: the ability to not just be productive yourself, but to raise the productivity of your mentees and teams.”

As you reach midlife and into the later stage of your career, it’s a good time to adjust your mindset to one that is more in line with the legacy you wish to leave behind. Ask yourself:

  • Is what I’m doing today aligned with who I am and how I want others to see me?
  • What will be my purpose when I retire or shift to an encore career?
  • How do I want to be remembered by the people I care most about?
  • What is the reputation I have now and how will that remain or shift once I’m gone?

These are important concerns that shouldn’t wait until you retire as they help define how you show up as a leader today. Thinking long term is vital to leading your team or organization. And thinking long term is also important to how you lead yourself throughout the transitions in your life.

Really Knowing Others at Work

February 27, 2024

The ability to deeply see other people is important to develop and sustain relationships. This is beneficial in your personal life in order to live a long and happy one, but it is also important in the workplace if you want to successfully collaborate and lead others.

A vast amount of research has determined that the secret to a long, healthy, and happy life has to do with the quality of our relationships. This has been found to be more important than diet, exercise, genetics, wealth, education, and other factors.

Perhaps most famously, the Grant Study—a longitudinal study begun in 1938 that followed 268 Harvard sophomores—found that close relationships and social connections are crucial for our well-being as we age. That’s because supportive relationships help us cope with stress and protects our overall health. This finding proved true across the board not only among men in the Harvard study, but also participants studied from the inner-city.

In the workplace we may diminish the importance of how we relate to each other. Some may think it should only be about the work and that if we simply focus on the task at hand, the messiness of people won’t complicate matters. The problem with this perspective is that we are all emotional human beings and cannot simply show up as logic-minded, “Spock-like” characters in the workplace.

David Brooks, author of How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen, says this ability to really know another person is all too rare.

“There is one skill that lies at the heart of any healthy person, family, school, community organization, or society,” writes Brooks. “The ability to see someone else deeply and make them feel seen—to accurately know another person, to let them feel valued, heard, and understood.”

Brooks goes on to describe some people as Diminishers, who make others feel small and unseen; things to be used, not as persons to be befriended. Diminishers use stereotypes and ignore other people because they are so involved with themselves. Qualities of these Diminishers include egotism, anxiety, objectivism, and a static mindset.

On the other hand, Brooks highlights Illuminators as those with a persistent curiosity about others, knowing what to look for and how to ask the right questions at the right time. “They shine the brightness of their care on people and make them feel bigger, deeper, respected, lit up.” The qualities of Illuminators include tenderness, receptivity, active curiosity, affection, and generosity.

Do you recognize Diminishers or Illuminators in your workplace? If you’re fortunate, you work for an Illuminator who really sees you and supports your growth. They are the ones you should strive to work for and follow.

Diminishers are those who may be holding you back from being your best self at work. They are more interested in themselves than those around them. These people may be in leadership positions, but they are not true leaders. You should shun Diminishers whenever possible.

What about you? Do you show up in work relationships in a curious, attentive, and empathetic manner or do you show up in a manner that is more transactional, competitive, and self-focused?

True collaboration and teamwork require more of the Illuminator qualities. And leaders who embrace these qualities are more likely to build solid teams and organizations that are based on psychological safety, trust, rapport, and productivity.

Until artificial intelligence replaces us in the workplace, we will need to get along by recognizing our own emotions and those of the people we interact with. This requires elements of emotional intelligence to really know others in a way that helps them feel seen and to help others to really see ourselves. Seek to be an Illuminator in all your relationships so that you live a long and happy life, and you are more effective in the workplace.

Leadership: Decisive or Divisive?

February 15, 2024

Among the many important traits of the best leaders include motivating people toward achieving a common goal, continually delivering results, and making tough decisions with incomplete information. Being decisive rather than divisive.

The decisive leader is one who can determine the best course of action when no perfect solution is readily available. They decide what to do when complete information is unavailable. They accept that a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) environment is difficult to navigate yet courageously lean in and move forward.

A decisive leader demonstrates confidence in their ability to make a choice while acknowledging it may prove to be wrong with the passage of time and/or more information. It means accepting that not making a decision can be worse than making the wrong decision.

Divisive leaders, on the other hand, are those who often create chaos, which can lead to polarization and instability. They may build silos, withhold resources or information, and generally compete with coworkers in order to consolidate power or influence. These are leaders in name only.

The divisive leader is one who can easily point out the problems and assign blame but fail to offer help formulate solutions. They move people away rather than bring them together.

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, called Level 5 Leaders are those who look out the window when things are going well and into the mirror when things are going wrong: Looking out the window to give credit to others and looking in the mirror to take responsibility for what’s gone wrong. Divisive leaders may very well do the opposite.

Clearly, there are many examples of divisive leaders in both our businesses and our politics. Why they are successful could be that they’re personality, bravado, or deceit is able to mask their true nature. Narcissism can show up as confidence. Boisterous can be perceived as bold. Denials may be seen as persistence or never backing down.

Though it may be difficult to determine which leaders are divisive, once you know, it’s important to get away from them. They might be successful in the short term, but divisive leaders won’t be for long if we refuse to follow or support them. This takes courage to accept that perhaps you made a mistake in working for or voting for them in the first place.  

We live at a very divisive time and this is causing real harm to our workplaces and our country. Perhaps the best way to reduce the divisions is to ensure our own behavior doesn’t contribute to this divisiveness.

Think twice before you tweet, retweet, like, or share something on social media and determine whether it’s contributing to the problem or not. Before you speak ill of someone, ask yourself if this is going to be helpful. When others make a disparaging comment about another person, defend that person if you think the comment is unfair.

Choose to be a decisive leader who is able to make hard decisions with incomplete information. Be courageous in accepting that VUCA is the new normal and therefore you often don’t have the luxury of delaying exactly how to best move forward. And refrain from following divisive leadership, wherever you find it.

Best Friend at Work

January 31, 2024

Numerous studies have found that effective engagement in the workplace has to do with a number of factors, which include recognition, communication, culture, leadership, autonomy, and career progression. Another item especially important after the pandemic and with the hybrid work environment is having a best friend at work.

According to a Gallup Workplace article titled “The Increasing Importance of a Best Friend at Work,” employees who have a best friend at work are more likely to engage customers and colleagues, get more done more quickly, support a safe place to work, innovate and share ideas and have fun while working.

“Our latest findings show that since the pandemic started, there has been an even stronger relationship between having a best friend at work and important outcomes such as employees’ likelihood to recommend their workplace, their intent to leave and their overall satisfaction with their workplace,” writes Gallup’s Alok Patel and Stephanie Plowman.

Many complain that making friends after becoming an adult is difficult. There is certainly some truth to this and that’s why it’s important to do the necessary work to cultivate friends. It’s not only important in the workplace, but in your personal life as well.

A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine claims that more than a third of adults over 45 feel lonely, and nearly a quarter of those over 65 are considered to be socially isolated.

Social isolation and loneliness are directly associated with poor health and shorter lifespans. Loneliness is also associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.

Arthur C. Brooks, co-author of the book Build the Life You Want, includes friends as one of the four important pillars of a happier life. In the book, he provides five lessons regarding the blissful work of friendship:

  1. Don’t let an introverted personality or a fear of rejection block your ability to make friends, and don’t let extroversion prevent you from going deep.

  2. Friendship is ruined when we look for people who are useful to us for reasons other than friendship itself. Build links that are based on love and enjoyment of another’s company, not what she or he can do for you professionally or socially.

  3. Too many deep friendships today are spoiled by differences of opinion. Love for others can be enhanced, not harmed, by differences, if we elect to show humility instead of pride—and the happiness benefits are enormous.

  4. The goal for long-term romance is a special kind of friendship, not undying passion. Companionate love is based on trust and mutual affection. It’s what old people who still love each other talk about.

  5. Real friendship requires real contact. Technology can complement your deepest relationships, but it is a terrible substitute. Look for more ways to be together in person with the people you love must.

While these lessons are not specific to finding and making a friend at work, they can certainly be applied there. Regardless of where you make a friend, keep these lessons in mind to help make it easier.

Seeking to make a best friend—whether at work or outside of work—means investing in your happiness that will pay dividends throughout your life. And if you’re able to make a best friend at work, you will most likely be more engaged and satisfied with where you work.

Work & Happiness

January 12, 2024

It’s a new year and time to reflect on whether your job is serving to increase or decrease your happiness. In an era where there seems to be little loyalty to employees or to employers, perhaps taking a more active role in your career can lead to greater satisfaction in what you do and greater happiness in your life.

In 2014 economists determined that a one-percentage-point increase in unemployment lowers national well-being by more than five times as much as a one-percent increase in the inflation rate. Is our well-being impacted more by our jobs than the overall value of our paychecks? Given how much time we spend at our jobs, what we do for a living greatly impacts our satisfaction and enjoyment.

“Hundreds of studies have shown that job satisfaction and life satisfaction are positively related, and causal: liking your job causes you to be happier all around,” writes Arthur C. Brooks in his book Build the Life You Want, which is co-authored by Oprah Winfrey. “Engaging in work with your whole heart is one of the best ways to enjoy your days, get satisfaction from your accomplishments, and see meaning in your efforts.”

The authors explain how four factors help determine whether you can live a happy life: family, friends, work, and faith. No one of these is more important than the others. And, assuming you’re earning enough money from your job to provide for your basic needs, you should seek to make your work “love made visible” in the words of Brooks and Winfrey. Among other things, this means choosing extrinsic rewards only to the point of providing for your economic requirements and intrinsic rewards for your overall happiness.

To do this with your career, the authors suggest putting some space between your job and your life by making friends outside of where you work. Take weekends off and partake in true vacations to ensure your life is more than what you do for a living. Your career or job should be an extension of who you are and not vice versa: work to live rather than live to work.

Specifically, with regard to enabling your work to be love made visible, Brooks and Winfrey suggest the challenges are:

  1. Figure out your career goals. To do this, seek intrinsic rewards from what you do to ensure that you are not simply motivated by financial motives or fancy titles. Intrinsic rewards will lead to inherent fulfillment and enjoyment when you do your work. You can often determine whether you have enough intrinsic rewards by reflecting on how you speak to other people about what you do for a living.
  2. Decide whether your career path is linear, steady state, transitory or spiral. Is your path a ladder, a lattice, or something else? Then actively pursue that path by paying attention to your internal signals as a guide for whether and when to move from one position or company to another.
  3. Determine whether you have a work addiction by honestly looking at your patterns and assess the health of your habits. Are they serving your mental and physical health, your relationships, your overall happiness? Depression and anxiety are strongly associated with work addiction—either the cause or the result. Making time for family and friends, hobbies, and exercise can reduce the likelihood of these and improve your happiness.
  4. Own up to whether your identity is defined by what you do. It’s all too easy to lose your true self to a representation of yourself that is based on your job title or duties. Avoid this self-objectification, which is allowing your job to determine who you are. Make sure you get space from your work and have people in your life who see you as a person and not just as a professional.

While your work is not the only factor that can determine your happiness, it can certainly play an important role. Therefore, reflect on whether you are taking an active role in your career. Ensure you don’t let your identity define who you are based on what you do. And, most importantly, don’t neglect your family, friends and faith as these are equally important for building the life you want and one that is happier.

Listeners Lead Proactive Teams

December 26, 2023

A leader is someone who commands attention, has all the answers, and motivates people to accomplish a specific goal. The best leaders also share leadership, ask important questions, and actively listen to others.

More often than not, when we think of an effective leader, we also think of an extrovert. But this does not mean introverts can’t be effective leaders. In fact, introverts can be more effective leading simply because they may be better at listening.

This is not to suggest extroverts aren’t capable of listening well. The most extroverted leaders can be excellent listeners if they avoid dominating discussions and encourage others to share their thoughts. If a leader is not giving adequate airtime to others and engaged in hearing the ideas and arguments of others, he or she is not going to encourage proactivity.

“When we select leaders, we don’t usually pick the person with the strongest leadership skills,” writes Adam Grant in his book Hidden Potential: The Science of Achieving Greater Things. “We frequently choose the person who talks the most. It’s called the babble effect. Research shows that groups promote the people who command the most airtime—regardless of their aptitude and expertise.”

If you’re like me you may have found this to be the case in your current or previous workplace.

“We mistake confidence for competence, certainty for credibility, and quantity for quality,” continues Grant. “We get stuck following people who dominate the discussion instead of those who elevate it.”

In a research study conducted by Grant and his colleagues, they sought to examine whether extraverts were more effective leaders than introverts. He found that the ideal leadership style is actually more nuanced, and what made for effective leadership depended on how proactive a team was.

This proactivity means team members were engaged in problem solving and ideation without waiting for their leader to intervene. It means team members felt their leader had confidence in their competence and trust that they were collectively capable of coming to the best solutions.

“But when teams were proactive, bringing many ideas and suggestions to the table, it was introverts who led them to achieve greater things,” writes Grant. “The more reserved leaders came across as more receptive to input from below, which gave them access to better ideas and left their teams more motivated. With a team of sponges, the best leader is not the person who talks the most, but the one who listens best.”

Learning to actively listen is one of the most common behaviors leaders seek to improve upon in my coaching practice. Too often people mistakenly believe it’s important to speak more than listen to best demonstrate value. However, as one rises into leadership, it is more often the questions that elevate conversations and engage in greater discussions that lead to better solutions. That’s value.

This takes practice and the belief that your team has the ability to contribute effectively. By engaging each of your people and showing appreciation for their contributions, you will build confidence in their collective competence. They will then be viewed as a proactive team and you as their effective leader.

Civility at Work & Beyond

December 6, 2023

The workplace continues to evolve as hybrid models enable working from home while maintaining optimal productivity. Yet there is definitely a cost to remote communication and collaboration—no matter how effective are the tools we can use.

This cost to communication and collaboration may be due to an overall lower level of trust or respect. It could also be because there is now an alarming lack of civility throughout our lives.

Look no further than our representatives in congress to see how dysfunctional our so-called leaders have become. Cable news programs are less about conveying news and information so viewers can draw their own conclusions than partisan battles that are all about dramatic one-upmanship to keep viewers tuned in. Social media is rampant with vitriol that clearly fails to deliver Mark Zuckerberg’s mission to “give people the capacity to form communities and bring the globe closer together.”

We are actually moving further apart because we are talking over each other, failing to fully listen, seeking only confirming data that supports our perspective, and generally choosing to stay within the confines of our own tribes.

Civility is the deliberate practice of treating others with courtesy and politeness, yet many people are choosing not to do so. A Harvard Business Review study found that 98% of employees have experienced incivility at work. Half of the participants reported that they were treaded badly at least once a week.

This lack of civility can show up in the workplace in various forms:

  • Passive-aggressive communication
  • Failing to assume positive intent with email messages
  • Not giving others the benefit of the doubt
  • Keeping the camera off in a Teams meeting
  • Miserable performance feedback meetings

These things can all contribute to a lack of engagement, poor performance, lower productivity, and greater turnover.

Our behavior in the workplace may be a reflection in how we behave in our personal lives, and I suggest this needs to change. Showing general kindness and compassion to others—regardless of whether we know them—can make both you and others feel better.

When I reflect on random acts of kindness and compassion in my own life, there were so many times where I received a helping hand, generosity, and comfort. But two acts I performed continue to stick with me as I felt so much joy in initiating these actions:

  • Many years ago, while visiting a sick loved one in the hospital, I was unable to leave the parking garage as the woman in front of me didn’t have cash to pay for her parking. I gave her $5 and, although she asked for my address with the promise of paying me back, I held no assurances. I simply felt good about my ability to help someone, who very likely was also visiting a sick loved one. A thoughtful card with the money arrived a few days later.
  • While walking across a bridge near my home, I witnessed a young woman lift a leg across the railing with the intent to jump off. I quickly crossed the street, put my hand on her shoulder and engaged her in a conversation to prevent her from jumping. Several other people assisted in helping this troubled woman, and before long the police arrived who I’d like to believe provided greater assistance. It was a powerful moment that lifted my spirits on how I as well as several other strangers all engaged to be helpful.

In the workplace, communication and collaboration can improve via greater kindness and compassion by practicing giving others the benefit of the doubt, assuming positive intent, listening with our full attention, and delivering critical feedback while demonstrating care.

Make it a point to behave with kindness and compassion throughout your life. Practice and encourage more of this in your workplace. Both you and others will feel better and you will help make your workplace and our world a more civil and peaceful place.  

The Greatness of Gratitude

November 10, 2023

This is the time of year my thoughts turn to being thankful for the abundance in my life. It is the Thanksgiving holiday, of course, but November is also the month I’ve suffered great tragedy and loss in my life. Through this tragedy and loss, however, I’ve been able to find grace and a focus on what I have rather than what I’ve lost.

As I’ve written about previously, Thanksgiving is the time of year when we are reminded to express our gratitude, yet certainly shouldn’t be limited to only this time of a year.

In fact, many studies have found that having a grateful outlook and regularly expressing gratitude to others has positive effects on our emotional health as well as our relationships. Some studies have further discovered that our physical health can also benefit by expressing gratitude.

“Gratitude heals, energizes and changes lives,” says psychologist Robert A. Emmons. “It is the prism through which we view life in terms of gifts, givers, goodness, and grace.”

Some studies asked participants to write letters of thanks or list positive things in their lives. The effects of those acts revealed mental health benefits such as reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, increased self-esteem, and overall greater satisfaction with life.

What is especially profound is that not only does this expression of gratitude improve the well-being of the giver and receiver, but it may also be good for those who simply witness it. Observing an act of gratitude between people can cause the one watching to feel warmth towards the others.

Here are some suggested ways to express gratitude:

  • Write a handwritten note of thanks to people you are grateful for. This can have a dramatic effect as it is so rarely done in this age of electronic communication.
  • Thank your direct reports and colleagues for their contributions. Be specific on what you are grateful for as this dramatically improves its impact.
  • Perform random acts of kindness: use your turn signal when changing lanes or making a turn, open or hold a door for a stranger, simply make eye contact and smile when passing someone on the street.
  • Write down what you are grateful for each night before going to sleep. This will help you sleep better and improve your outlook in the morning.
  • Create a gratitude jar and provide slips of paper where you can easily write down what you’re grateful for and drop it in the jar. Watching the contents grow will continually remind you of the abundance in your life.
  • Catch yourself when you find you’re feeling jealous of others’ good fortune. Avoid comparing yourself to others by limiting your time on social media.
  • Remember to appreciate what you have rather than what you lack. This could be your health, family, friends, job, or your freedom.
  • Take a walk in nature and be grateful for all that cannot be adequately simulated by technology: Physically moving your body, breathing fresh air, taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of all that surrounds you.

Regardless of how you express gratitude, find ways to do it regularly as this will sustain your good health and well-being.

“I think the benefits of gratitude activities truly unfold through long-term habits,” said Joel Wong, a professor of counseling psychology at Indiana University’s School of Education. Dr. Wong has a list of 100 questions as prompts for expressing gratitude. These include both micro and macro gratitude questions, as well as those that are interpersonal and redemptive.

The greatness of expressing gratitude is how simple and meaningful it can be. It’s good for your health. It doesn’t cost anything. It will likely improve your relationships. And expressing gratitude may benefit even those witnessing it from the sidelines. Be grateful for yourself and for others.

Reform Necessary to Remain Informed

October 31, 2023

Maintaining a democracy requires citizens who are engaged in contributing to the health and vitality of the country. At a minimum, this means following the news to best understand the issues and concerns, and then voting in federal, state, and local elections.

Although participation soared in the U.S. 2020 election—nearly 63% of voting age people cast ballots—this democracy is far behind many others. According to Pew Research Center, compared with turnout among voting-age population in 49 other countries, the U.S. was 31st.

Perhaps low participation in voting is at least partially due to the challenge of being well informed. Newspapers are struggling to remain viable as people are often choosing to learn about the issues of the day from the internet or social media.

The internet, of course, makes it possible to find “evidence” for just about anything you want to believe. This is why I have so much trouble when I hear people with conspiracy theories say they don’t trust the media and do their own research. This “research” is often collected from unreliable sources and not based on verifiable facts, but on opinions that are backed by random and often disparate supportive information.

Social media was identified as a primary source for news for as many as half of Americans. This is obviously alarming: whether it’s climate change, Covid vaccines, wars in Ukraine or Gaza, you can’t rely on social media platforms for the truth. But as news is slowly disaggregated from companies like Meta and Google, the question becomes where will people go to stay informed?

Perhaps the workplace is a new place where we can learn civics. In Germany, companies are launching seminars on civics and democratic principles—the importance of voting and recognizing the dangers of disinformation, conspiracy theories and hate speech—as a way to ensure healthier relationships at work as well as society as a whole.

These Business Council for Democracy workshops are hoping to fill the gaps in employees’ knowledge of the democratic system, including digital civic culture. The programs hope to help people recognize and question conspiracy theories and disinformation, and also reinforce personal responsibility and resilience.

Twitter was once a beacon of great hope for citizen journalists to report on events as they happened. The Arab Spring uprising was a pivotal moment for the platform. Now Elon Musk has run afoul of the European Union’s Digital Services Act that requires social media platforms to restrict misinformation and other violative content within the union’s 27 nations.

The value of X is now less than half of what it was when Musk acquired it as it’s lost both users and advertisers. In its new incarnation, Elon Musk now wants to make X into an everything app.

What if instead of relying on “everything apps” there were more dedicated social media apps we could actually trust and rely on for specific information? Rather than companies seeking to profit merely from eyeballs and stickiness, there could be a financial model built upon either ads, subscriptions, or some combination.

  • Imagine opening your news app and finding strictly verifiable facts in context that helps you understand events of the day? Or at least provide a useful filter such as Snopes or FactCheck to immediately check on what you read or hear. USA Facts app?  
  • Sports fanatics are currently X’s most loyal users representing 42 percent of the X audience, according to the platform. What if there was an app strictly designed for athletes and fans that would enable focus and community. The Athletic are you listening?
  • A pop culture app could dominate all things celebrated in the entertainment world and be designed to follow artists, musicians, actors, etc.

This should not be exclusively tied to apps, but could include podcasts, blogs, vlogs, and other emerging technologies to keep us informed without the deceit and bile. Certainly, we need to beware of artificial intelligence and all that can go wrong.

I suspect there are many reasons why what I’m suggesting won’t work, but there’s got to be an opportunity to reform the way we stay informed. This country depends on all citizens being knowledgeable about current events and engaged in voting so that our democracy remains.

Rethinking Retirement

October 18, 2023

I have reached the age where many of my siblings, friends and colleagues either left the workforce or are headed in the direction of what we call retirement. But this is not your parent’s retirement as people today are living longer than ever and looking to remain active, healthy, useful and, in many cases, engaged in work long after retirement age.

Many factors could be at play here as our longer lifespans have fueled our desire to remain relevant. For many people, fishing, golfing, travelling, and hanging with the grandchildren are no longer fulfilling on their own. Whether it’s about identity or purpose, many want to further contribute, give back, be of service.

According to a report titled The New Age of Aging, based on a nationally representative survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults with more than 900 adults age 50+, here are five key insights:

  1. The demographic makeup of the U.S. is turning upside down as older adults will soon outnumber youth under 18 for the for the first time in our history.
  2. The definition of “old” has been pushed back by twenty years, driven by a new breed of older adults. People over 60 are now more active, open-minded, and curious, and far less rigid and isolated than previous generations.  
  3. Seventy-one percent of today’s modern elders, adults 65+, say the best time of their life is right now or in front of them.
  4. We need to re-imagine purposeful roles for older adults, as 83% of adults 65+ say it’s more important to feel “useful” rather than “youthful” in their retirement years.
  5. There is a need and desire to better match our healthspans to our lifespans.

The survey found that a majority of today’s retirees and pre-retirees say they want both work and retirement: full-time, part-time, or cycling in and out of work. Flex-work, remote-work, sabbaticals, and paid leave should no longer be restricted to younger workers. And keeping older adults working could fuel economic growth and promote greater lifelong financial security.

Age Wave further uncovered five keys to thriving in this longevity:

  1. Actively take care of your physical, mental, and emotional health.
  2. Build and nurture strong relationships with family, friends, and loved ones.
  3. Maintain a clear sense of purpose and pursue meaningful involvements.
  4. Be willing to course-correct as needed to achieve your dreams throughout life.
  5. Commit to saving and investing for lifelong financial security.

A sense of purpose and connection to others enhances your well-being and can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and stroke. On the other hand, loneliness can be more deadly than cigarette smoking.

Purpose can be found in many ways as people choose to volunteer time and expertise to organizations or causes that are most meaningful to them. Consider joining an organization like Third Act where you can contribute your time to protecting our planet.

Try replacing the notion of “aging” with “longevity.” Rather than ask an elderly person how old they are, ask them how many years they have lived. You get the same answer, but I think this may signal a recognition of what they have accomplished rather than simply endured.

Regardless, whether you are in you 65, 55, 45, or even younger, the sooner you rethink retirement, the sooner you’ll be prepared to make the most of it when it arrives.

Feedforward Follows Feedback

September 27, 2023

As Millennials and Generation Z people continue to make-up a larger portion of the workforce, it’s important to evolve in how we interact and communicate. Performance reviews, for example, are largely conducted annually to deliver and hear feedback based on past performance. Feedforward is focused on future performance and about what’s next rather than what’s been.

Ideally, feedforward should follow any feedback so the person receiving the information has an immediate opportunity to course correct. This is important to all of us, but especially for those in younger generations.

While most people dislike giving or receiving feedback, feedforward information (when welcome) can be satisfying to both giver and receiver. That’s because feedforward information is based on learning, possibility, and future performance. It’s less personal and more about what the right behavior looks like going forward.

In my coaching practice, gathering and providing 360 feedback is extremely helpful for me to better understand how my clients show up at work. It provides a baseline for where they are at this time in their career. However, this is only a starting point. Effective coaching is also about providing a prescription for the path ahead. It’s about laying out a plan and help implementing that plan for how to acquire new skills, practice different behaviors and essentially improve how to better show up as leaders. That’s feedforward.

Much of coaching is rooted in helping individuals understand what they should continue doing, start doing, and stop doing based on what will help them grow as leaders. Using feedback for understanding what is and feedforward for what can be is essential for this growth.

Feedforward delivery should not be limited only to coaches as every manager and leader can and should provide this kind of direction and support to their direct reports. It is not punitive based on past performance, but directive and supportive based on what is possible and necessary.

The classic feedback sandwich comprised of giving praise, then criticism, followed by more praise can often leave employees confused and irritated. On the other hand, feedforward information enables direct reports to listen attentively and take immediate action because it’s not sandwiched around a criticism.

While feedback is often vague or too general, feedforward is specific and actionable. Feedback is likely focused on a mistake or failure, and feedforward is without criticism or judgment. And while feedback can be static as it is about a particular point in time, feedforward is about bringing about motivation for positive change.

It is ultimately the combination of providing feedback and feedforward that enables employees to thrive. That’s because it helps people learn what they should continue doing, stop doing, and start doing in a direct and supportive manner.

Perhaps most important, feedback and feedforward should not be delivered only on an annual basis at a performance review. Instead, it should be delivered as quickly as possible to provide immediate benefits. Because people are generally more comfortable providing and receiving feedforward information, this should make it much easier and less intimidating than once a year.

Incorporate feedforward in your regular feedback sessions with your direct reports because this is good for them, good for you and good for the organization.

Success in Behavioral Change

September 14, 2023

Bringing about behavioral change is often at the root of what it means to successfully lead others. This is because leading often requires helping shift the way people act to produce the desired results. Helping others to change their behavior is not always easy, but you can certainly grow to be more successful at it.

Much of my coaching work begins with data gathering where I ask probing questions of my client and the people they work with and around. This fact finding begins the process of more fully understanding the strengths and opportunities for my client to grow in their leadership.

This inquiry often reveals my client needs to improve their ability to actively listen, demonstrate empathy, build rapport, and effectively influence to bring about behavioral change in how they lead. Turns out these are the very components of the Behavioral Change Stairway Model developed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to negotiate with violent felons.

The FBI hostage negotiation techniques can be just as helpful for leaders to bring about a change in the behavior in those they lead. These techniques need to be conducted in the following order so let’s look at them in detail.

  1. Actively Listen – Seek first to understand, then to be understood as author Stephen Covey wrote years ago. It’s about making the other person feel heard. And truly listen for both what is said and what is not said.
  2. Show Empathy – Join with the other person to demonstrate that you are not there to judge but to help support them as they face this situation. Put yourself in their shoes so that you can really feel and relate to them and their predicament.  
  3. Build Rapport – When rapport is present, the other person also feels your empathy, which leads to greater trust. Try to create an equal give-and-take between the two of you despite the power dynamic that is always present between a boss and employee.  
  4. Create Influence – With trust you have now earned the right to begin to offer solutions to a problem and/or recommend a course of action.   
  5. Initiate Behavioral Change – The previous four steps enable the action of initiating behavior change. Once this is initiated, it is then necessary for you to encourage and support so the change is sustained.

Demonstrating that you care personally can bring about change in a professional setting. This is true in our professional lives just as it is in our personal lives. As a leader, you need to appeal to both thoughts and feelings to change people’s behavior.

“It’s a road map for satisfying people’s social-emotional needs that nudges them toward a solution drawing on their cognitive abilities,” according to Ethan Kross, author of the book Chatter: The voice in our head, why it matters, and how to harness it. “While law-enforcement negotiators are naturally trying to defuse dangerous situations and arrest criminals, their work bears some similarities to coaching someone we care about through a problem. In both cases, there is a person who can benefit from the right kind of verbal support.”

Succeeding with behavioral change is vital for leaders. Following the steps in the Behavioral Change Stairway Model developed by the FBI for dealing with hostages can make leaders in organizations successful with bringing about behavioral change with their employees too.

Success in Working Remotely

August 31, 2023

Now that fulltime and hybrid remote work will continue as the new normal for many employees, it’s important to make this is successful for both workers and employers. This means adopting best practices for maximizing productivity and engagement, without sacrificing health and wellbeing.

Ever since the pandemic began there’s been lots of advice about how to set up a home office to make remote work most effective. Adopting the right technology was paramount as was carving out a quiet space in your home.

A study by the Harvard Business Review found that remote workers are actually more productive than their office workers because they are less likely to take time off and quit. Another study found that employees who work remotely save up to $4,500 annually on commuting costs.

However, one of the challenges in working remotely has to do with the loneliness or alienation that comes from no longer being around colleagues. This should not be minimized as two important elements of job satisfaction have to do with a positive relationship with your boss and whether you have a best friend at work. These relationships are maintained and strengthened when you’re interacting in person. Whenever you are in the office, you should maximize face time with these important relationships.

Here are other best practices for success when working remotely:

  • Discipline – Maintain a routine and act as if you are in the office to maintain consistency in your productivity. Although you have greater flexibility, demonstrate that you can be relied upon at the times when your boss and colleagues expect you to be.
  • Boundaries – Intentionally separate work from the rest of your life as much as possible by clarifying with family or housemates when you are working and when you are not. Maintain those boundaries and perhaps take a walk after work to help you transition.
  • Communication – Be more intentional and frequent in your communication with colleagues to ensure you are continually aligned with them. And use the right medium for your messages depending on what works best.
  • Professionalism – Dress appropriately for your workplace and practice online meeting etiquette to ensure your online presence demonstrates you are in work mode. Limit distractions so you can stay focused whether you are on camera or not.
  • Accountability – Ensure that you deliver what you are charged with delivering. And continually seek clarity around what is your responsibility as well as your priorities.
  • Health & Wellbeing – Since you are not commuting, you are likely not moving around as much and you may need to be more intentional about your health. Schedule time at the gym, go for a walk with a friend, eat and sleep right. Be intentional about keeping your mind and body fit.
  • Feedback Loop – Since you’re not in the office as much, it’s vital to know if your virtual presence is demonstrating your value. Continually check in with those you work with directly as well as your boss to ensure you are meeting their expectations.

As a manager of remote workers, you should also seek feedback from your direct reports to ensure they are getting the direction and support they need. Schedule your one-to-one meetings in person whenever possible and focus on maintaining a trusted relationship to drive performance and engagement.

Success in working remotely will ensure you don’t have to return to fulltime work in the office again. It is therefore important to demonstrate your remote work is beneficial to both you and your company.

Leadership includes Managing Others

August 19, 2023

Many leaders assume the people they lead no longer need to be managed. That somehow managing others at the executive level isn’t necessary. Nothing could be further from the truth.

One might argue that you should manage things and lead people. While there is truth in this, leading people requires the ability to influence, motivate, and enable others to contribute to an organization’s success. This includes managing them effectively.

Maybe you believe that once someone reaches an executive level, he or she no longer requires any oversight. There shouldn’t be further need for direction or support. For example, as a leader, do you believe:

  • Providing individual guidance and coaching people is beneath you or not worth your time?
  • You should be able to trust your direct reports to manage themselves?
  • Not knowing what your direct reports are doing keeps you from micromanaging them?

If you answered yes to these questions, then your motive for leading may be off. This is according to Patrick Lencioni, author of The Motive: Why so many leaders abdicate their most important responsibilities.

“You can either rethink your role and get more involved in coaching them around their work,” writes Lencioni, “or accept that they will often fail to meet your expectations and become misaligned with the goals of the team.”

The fact is leaders do need to manage others in the most effective manner using an approach that includes clear communication, true collaboration, and a coaching mentality. It means navigating effectively in between completely hands-off and micromanaging.

Lencioni says managing others is ultimately about helping them set the general direction of their work, ensuring that it is aligned with and understood by their peers, and staying informed enough to identify potential obstacles and problems to improve themselves behaviorally to make it more likely that they will succeed.

In his book, Lencioni describes what he calls reward-centered leadership, which is based on the belief that “being a leader is the reward for hard work; therefore, the experience of being a leader should be pleasant and enjoyable, free to choose what they work on and avoid anything mundane, unpleasant, or uncomfortable.” This motive for leading is mis-guided as it doesn’t provide the work necessary for the organization to thrive.

On the other hand, responsibility-centered leadership is based on the “belief that being a leader is a responsibility; therefore, the experience of leading should be difficult and challenging (though certainly not without elements of personal gratification).” This motive is grounded in the notion that there are requirements of leadership that fall outside of what one prefers to do and that needs to be done anyway.

Managing others is vital to leading effectively and one of the five omissions of those who are reward-centric leaders, according to Lencioni. The other four omissions are developing the leadership team, having difficult and uncomfortable conversations, running great team meetings, and communicating constantly and repetitively to employees. All of these may be avoided, outsourced, or simply ignored by a leader at the organization’s peril.

Managing subordinates and ensuring that they manage theirs is central to being an effective executive. Effectively managing others is one of the elements that enable a leader to rise in an organization and this should continue no matter how high one rises. In fact, the higher one rises, the more they should recognize that it is the people around him or her that determines the success of the organization. These people require effective managing.

Embrace Debate for Sound Decisions

July 21, 2023

So often the decision-making process in the workplace can be difficult to navigate. Sometimes it’s due to simply not knowing whether the decision is made democratically or by a single person. Regardless, to make sound decisions it’s important to embrace debate among all the stakeholders able to contribute.

Leaders who practice debate in decision making not only help lead to better outcomes, but also more fully engage employees and maximize their potential.

In her book, Multipliers: How the best leaders make everyone smarter, author Liz Wiseman describes Multipliers as those who “use intelligence to amplify the smarts and capabilities of people around them. They inspire employees to stretch themselves to deliver results that surpass expectations.”

Wiseman further defines Talent Magnets as those who attract talented people and use them to their fullest capacity. Unlike Empire Builders, who she describes as those who hoard resources and underutilize talent, Talent Magnets enable people to work at their highest point of contribution. These Multipliers attract the best talent because people flock to work for them.

Multipliers are those who have the right people to assist in making tough decisions, and it is therefore incumbent upon them to engage this talent in the decision-making process.

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do,” wrote Steve Jobs in Steve Jobs: His Own Words and Wisdom. “We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

To practice effective debate making with your team, Wiseman describes three practices to reach sound decisions that fully engage people. These are:

  1. Frame the Issue
    1. The question: What is the decision to be made?
    1. The why: Why is this an important questions to answer?
    1. The who: Who will be involved in making the decision?
    1. The how: How will the final decision be made?
  • Spark the Debate
    • Engaging – Ask a provocative question to get everyone involved
    • Comprehension – Seek assurance that everyone understands what’s at stake
    • Fact based – Opinions are not wrong, but facts should carry more weight
    • Educational – Encourage learning throughout the process
  • Drive a Sound Decision
    • Reclarify the decision-making process
    • Make the decision
    • Communicate the decision and the rationale for it

This debate making process will lead to better outcomes no matter who and how the decision is ultimately made. It also has the added benefit of fully engaging employees and optimizing their talent and expertise, so they feel more valued and appreciated.

Make sound decisions by framing the issue and sparking the debate so that your organization and people continue to thrive.     

ABG: Always Be Growing

July 9, 2023

Many professionals finish their undergraduate or master’s degree and conclude they can rely on that institutional knowledge alone to thrive in their careers. Yet those most likely to reach personal and professional goals are always growing and learning.

This includes not only book (articles, podcast, lectures, TED Talks, etc.) learning, but also experiential learning that is available to you all the time. This means learning from setbacks by making changes, so you don’t repeat mistakes in the future. It means continually taking a “beginner’s mind” perspective so that you remain curious and open to innovation and ideas.

A huge part of this continual growth comes from knowing yourself so that you can continually recognize where you are in relation to where you want to be. Welcome both positive and critical feedback as information to help you better understand how you’re showing up.

“Become the world’s greatest expert on yourself so that you can become the very best version of yourself.” This is the advice of Greg Harden, author of the book Stay Sane in an Insane World. Harden, the executive director of athletic counseling at the University of Michigan, has a track record of working with high profile athletes including Tom Brady, Desmond Howard, Charles Woodson, Michael Phelps and many others, who were able to use his advice to reach incredible athletic goals.

Harden’s guidance includes the idea that you should practice, train, and rehearse by giving one hundred percent, one hundred percent of the time. “Because if you make this your mindset, then on your absolutely worst day,” he writes, “you’re still going to be better than the average person on their best day.” Harden sees no shortcut to greatness.

This doesn’t apply only to Olympic and professional athletes. Giving one hundred percent one hundred percent of the time can be applied to everything we do on or off the field.

And all too often we can be our own worst enemy by being overly critical when we should practice self-love and self-acceptance. By doing so, we’re more likely to welcome the opportunities we face every day to learn and grow.

According to Harden, it is our attitudes and behaviors that can either support or detract from our growth. We should recognize that:

  • Self-defeating attitudes and behaviors hold you back from reaching your goals.

while . . .

  • Self-supporting attitudes and behaviors help you cultivate reaching your goals.

All too often our self-talk is critical or dismissive of our efforts. This can undermine our ability to grow. Instead, we should treat ourselves the way we would counsel and support a close friend or family member. We should be compassionate and supportive.

“Become the very best friend you ever had in your life, because your very best friend has to be you,” writes Harden.  

To always be growing means taking this advice and using it to assist you. Reduce your self-defeating attitudes and behaviors; embrace your self-supporting ones. Be your own very best friend and give one hundred percent one hundred percent of the time. Do so and you will always be growing and reaching your goals.

The Value of Values

June 22, 2023

My teenage daughter recently spoke to me about an ethical dilemma she was facing—reconciling the fact that a musical artist, whose songs she greatly enjoys has been accused of sexual misconduct. Can she still listen to his music (although not purchasing “merch” and attending concerts) while still holding true to her values?

This is increasingly becoming a concern for all consumers as we can often choose products and services from companies that align with our values and avoid those that don’t. But where do we draw the line, and can we count on what companies reveal to us?

Companies throughout the country are attempting to demonstrate their ability to maintain profitability while aligning their values with those of their customers and employees. Many companies have taken on DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) initiatives yet find it challenging to make this more than simply checking a box and adding new words to their website.

As I wrote about in a previous blog post, organizational values need to be consistent between what is outward facing to customers and what is practiced internally by employees. These are the core values an organization currently holds as opposed to aspirational values that it is seeking to reach.

Just shy of 90 years after the USA declared independence with the promise that all men are created equal, the last enslaved Black Americans were informed that they are free. It would be another 156 years before Juneteenth officially became a federal holiday as this recent development coincided with nationwide protests following the police killings of Black Americans, including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

Companies today are attempting to deal with many social concerns very differently. Oil companies find they can no longer stand on the sidelines denying our climate crisis. But many are simply  “greenwashing” to appear like they are acting in the best interests of the planet when it’s clear that they are not. Greenwashing is not new as it started in the 1960s when hotels asked their guests to reuse towels to help save the environment. Clearly these hotels were saving money on laundry costs yet never passed this savings on to their guests.

Both Target and Bud Light have faced boycotts over their marketing efforts toward the LGBTQ community. Last month Bud Light’s sales were down 23% and Target’s share price dropped 20%, although this may be partially due to concerns over inflation. Other companies such as Kohl’s, Southwest Airlines and Lego are also facing heat for their advertising and promotions of Pride events. Clearly, customers have an impact.

To what extent should we as consumers, employees and shareholders hold corporations responsible for matching our core values? That is, of course, an individual’s decision, but our decisions can collectively have a huge influence on how corporations conduct themselves.

If these organizational values are important to where you shop, work, and invest, then it’s important to determine whether the values they publish are core values versus merely aspirational ones. It’s also important to understand whether what they preach squares with what they practice.

While it’s difficult for companies to thread the needle regarding maximizing profits with societal concerns, I believe it is exactly what we should demand from them.

Even Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman wrote that “. . . 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 in the rules of the game, which is to say, engage in open and free competition, without deception or fraud.”

It is our responsibility to hold companies accountable when in their efforts to increase profits they break rules, build a monopoly, or seek to deceive us. If we choose not to hold them accountable for this and our government does not regulate them, it is our collective peril.

Making the Most of Feedback

June 4, 2023

[This is an excerpt from my book Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, which is currently available at Amazon and wherever you buy books. It was previously posted in March 2021, but seems appropriate to post again as a good reminder.]

Leading others in the workplace requires a combination of successfully receiving and giving feedback. At a very basic level, receiving feedback is about learning what you are perceived as doing well and should continue doing; understanding what you should not do and stop doing; and learning what you don’t currently do, but should begin doing.

Similarly, to give feedback effectively, you need to state what the other person is doing well and encourage them to continue; inform them of what they should not be doing and redirect as necessary; and communicate what they need to begin doing in order to be more effective in their role. Effectively receiving and giving feedback are essential in every career, but especially when seeking to lead by example.

It’s important to look at the feedback you receive as a gift by valuing the perspectives others have for how they see you showing up in the workplace. Ideally, this would come in the form of a 360-degree feedback appraisal, so you can learn how you are perceived by people up, down and across the organization. This collective perspective provides an overall picture in how you show up. It may differ from how you perceive yourself, yet this helps you gain an external perspective to increase your overall self-awareness.

When a comment is from one individual, you should see it as an opinion; when it is from two, you should treat it as a trend; and when it is from three or more people, you should view it as factual and especially important to consider.

Don’t dismiss the positive comments as these represent your strengths that helped you reach where you are today. Embrace this positive feedback and own it as part of your overall reputation and personal brand. Receiving feedback effectively means you are able to hear and accept both positive and critical information without dismissing, overreacting or becoming defensive. Developing self-awareness is based not only on how well you can accurately see yourself, but also on how aware you are of how others see you. This can come only through feedback from others. And it’s vital you are able to receive it well, determine what it means for you, and choose to act where appropriate in order to bring about any necessary changes to help you grow.

Getting feedback can be difficult in many workplaces because it may not be embedded into a performance evaluation process. Many companies that deploy annual performance appraisals find them dreaded by both supervisors and employees, which further undermines the potential for success in receiving useful feedback.

The best organizations deliver feedback as often as quarterly in order to course correct and pivot more quickly. This enables tighter communication, so employees can more immediately take corrective action and continually improve. The 360-degree feedback method can be especially helpful, but may not be used throughout your organization or used consistently. Regardless, top-performing leaders are those who regularly seek out feedback on their performance, according to Tasha Eurich in her book Insight: The Surprising Truth about how others see us, how we see ourselves, and why the answers matter more than we think.

“If anything, we are socially and professionally rewarded for seeking critical feedback,” says Eurich. “Leaders who do are seen as more effective, not just by their bosses, but by their peers and employees.” It’s important that you get the feedback you need in order to succeed in your role and throughout your career. Just as importantly, you need to receive it with a growth mindset so you can take appropriate action on what you get.

“If we can receive feedback with grace, reflect on it with courage, and respond to it with purpose, we are capable of unearthing unimaginable insights from the most unlikely of places,” she says.

The 3R Model

Eurich developed the 3R Model on how to best stay in control regarding surprising or difficult feedback. Using this 3R Model enables you to receive, reflect upon and respond to such feedback effectively.

  • Receive – Mine the insight potential by seeking specificity on where the particular behavior shows up and examples of when it was seen.
  • Reflect – How well do you understand the feedback? How will it affect your well-being? What affect will it have on your long-term workplace success?
  • Respond – Do you want to act on this feedback, and if so, how? Can you develop and communicate a plan for how you will go about this action?

Feedback should not be taken as judgment, but only as information that can be helpful to your growth.

“When faced with feedback in an area that plays into our self-limiting beliefs,” says Eurich, “merely taking a few minutes to remind ourselves of another important aspect of our identity than the one being threatened shores up our ‘psychological immune system.’” Using the 3R Model will help you make the most of the critical feedback you receive.

If you can be courageous enough to seek feedback, be sure you are also capable of receiving it well, reflecting on what it means, and responding in a way that helps you to grow.

Trusted Leadership

May 12, 2023

Leaders are those who can be trusted. Sounds obvious but there are far too many examples of leaders in business and politics who fabricate, deceive, omit, obfuscate, or otherwise stretch fact into fiction.

As someone who thoroughly appreciates fiction in the form of novels, short stories, movies and so many streaming series, I know that verisimilitude is essential. Verisimilitude basically means “similarity to the truth,” and writers and filmmakers use a form of verisimilitude to give stories the appearance of truth to keep the reader or viewer engaged.

That’s because verisimilitude is necessary to suspend our belief and follow a character in his or her world. It is vital for the story to appear believable. Cultural verisimilitude shows up in the context of reality in the real world. For example, novels can accurately describe the real world—regardless of historical time and place.

Writers and filmmakers can make us laugh, cry, smile, or frown because of verisimilitude. We willingly except this because we want to be entertained.

When the appearance of truth is used to deceive, confuse, and otherwise manipulate us to act or vote in a particular way, it can be highly destructive. Whether it’s former President Donald Trump claiming “fake news” regarding any number of the many transgressions and lies he’s committed throughout his life or Howard Schultz, the ex-CEO of Starbucks, claiming falsely that the company has never once broken labor laws during its anti-union campaign, they are seeking to deceive us.

While public relations officers, media consultants, cable news pundits, social media commenters, and other spin doctors seek to further the deception, it’s up to each of us to seek out the truth—no matter how difficult it can be.

I consider myself a very trusting person in that I go into most situations where I trust what I’m reading, seeing, or hearing. However, when I learn that a person, organization, or entity is guilty of deception, they lose credibility for me and need to regain my trust before I’ll take them at their word again.

According to the EY Global Integrity Report 2022, there is a widening gap between higher levels of integrity awareness and lowering standards, as well as between the confidence in integrity standards displayed by companies’ leadership ranks and their employees. Yet 97% of respondents say they agree that integrity is important.

Why do we say integrity is important, yet we allow ourselves to be manipulated by people who are clearly not being honest?

Social media no doubt contributes greatly to a lack of trust. (I removed myself from both Facebook and Twitter long ago for this reason as well as others.) Social media certainly didn’t succeed in creating community and perhaps is only contributing to a nationwide loneliness epidemic. If someone you know is primarily getting their news from social media, there’s a good reason to be dubious in what they then tell you to be true.

If we are truly a nation of laws where someone is innocent until proven guilty, then we must also demand justice when someone is found guilty by a jury of his or her peers. Verisimilitude should be used for entertainment, but not for leading organizations or people. We should demand that our leaders are trustworthy. And we should hold them accountable for their actions and we should no longer support them when they lie to us. Perhaps most importantly, we should demand justice when they commit a crime

Multiplying Upwards

April 23, 2023

The best bosses raise the leadership capacity of those around them. They motivate direct reports to deliver more than they thought possible and help them grow to be more effective doing so. These multipliers also work up and across the organization to spread their impact.

On the flip side, there are bosses who diminish others’ contributions and reduce their commitment and engagement. These leaders drain intelligence, energy, and capability from the people around them. They always need to be the smartest ones in the room, according to Liz Wiseman, author of the book Multipliers: How the best leaders make everyone smarter, who calls these people diminishers as they diminish talent and commitment.

While diminishers say “People will never figure this out without me,” multipliers say “People are smart and can figure it out.”

Apple’s co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs may have been speaking of multipliers when he stated: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” 

If you are fortunate to work for a multiplier, count yourself lucky and do what you can to continually nurture this relationship. These people amplify the intelligence and capabilities of others and inspire employees to stretch themselves to deliver results surpassing expectations. Multipliers multiply their impact on others. You would be wise to follow their example.

Even if you don’t report directly to a diminisher, you probably know some inside your organization. They are likely more interested in building an empire than building the talent in others. Rather than attract talented people and use them to their fullest capacity, diminishers make big promises, but underutilize and reduce their engagement.

Working for a diminisher can be difficult but it doesn’t have to diminish your career. You just need a plan for how to work with them.

According to Wiseman, diminishers want to be valued for their intelligence and ideas. Many are desperate for it. In many ways, diminishers need multipliers to help them be successful. When diminishers feel smart, valued, heard, included, and trusted, they are more likely to trust in return.

Wiseman suggest the following ways to help move your contribution forward with those otherwise good people who fail at being a good boss. When you work for a diminisher, you can multiply up.

  1. Exploit your boss’s strengths. Instead of trying to change your boss, focus on trying to utilize his or her knowledge and skills in service of the work you’re doing. Don’t give up ownership but use his or her capabilities at key milestones and in ways they can be helpful.
  2. Give them a user’s guide. Broadcast your capabilities and help your colleagues pick up the signal. Or you can simply tell people what you are good at and how you can be best used. If you want to work at your highest point of contribution, you need to let people know your value.
  3. Listen to learn. Diminishers want to be heard and remember you can learn something from anyone. Look for common ground and ask questions that help your boss weigh both the upsides and downsides of his or her ideas.
  4. Admit your mistakes. Talk frankly about mistakes and what you’ve learned from them. This demonstrates accountability, which can bring greater trust.
  5. Sign up for a stretch. Let your boss know when you’re ready and able to take on a new challenge above and beyond the scope of your role. Or ask your manager what work you can take off his or her plate.
  6. Invite them to the party. Invite your diminisher boss to your team meetings to witness your brilliance as well as to contribute while not allowing them to take control of the meeting.

Rather than continually battle with your diminisher boss, seek ways to improve the relationship so that it works better. This is about exercising your multiplier behavior by multiplying upwards.