Lifelong (Workplace) Learning

August 25, 2016

It’s nearing the end of summer and time for the kids to go back to school. September should also remind us that lifelong learning is vital in order for each of us to stay relevant at work and vibrant in life.

Whether you are just beginning your career, a mid-level manager or a seasoned leader, everyone should embrace lifelong learning—through formal continuing education, independent study, or deliberate behavioral adjustments. This will keep you moving forward at work and elsewhere.

A Fast Company article a couple years ago titled You’re Probably Making These Five Mistakes at Work pointed out the commonality found in people who may be limiting themselves in their careers. These mistakes are:

  1. Handling upsets poorly
  2. Failing to self-promote
  3. Thinking “me” instead of “we”
  4. Not asking for feedback
  5. Declining to take on new roles

It’s interesting to note how each of these may seem insignificant or you may even feel it contradicts how to be successful in your particular workplace, but for me, they all resonate with wisdom. Each has an element of maturity in them. Each of them points to a particular skill set such as emotional intelligence, courage, humility or communication.

The good news is that all of them can be corrected with a little bit of practice and discipline. This correction is certainly not rocket science, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take significant attention and focus. It can be especially helpful to have a mentor, supervisor, HR partner or colleague to help keep you on track and measure your progress.

Meanwhile, Marcel Schwantes conducted a LinkedIn survey last year prior to writing an article for Inc. Magazine titled 8 Mistakes Managers Make, According to Their Employees. He compiled the list after posting the question: “What is the one mistake leaders make more frequently than others?” The results came in from around the world where he states many employees felt distressed and disengaged. These eight mistakes represent how they “suck the life out of their teams.”

  1. Micromanaging
  2. Leading from a position of power or ego
  3. Not listening
  4. Not valuing followers
  5. Failing to grow themselves as leaders
  6. Lacking boundaries
  7. Not providing or receiving feedback
  8. Not sharing leadership

A great deal of avoiding these mistakes begins with self-awareness and understanding how your behavior is impacting employees. Learning the “soft skills” mentioned above can also be especially helpful.

Sometimes a leader can receive candid 360-feedback that is highly instructive in highlighting concerns. Corrective action can then be taken either independently or with the help of an executive coach. Other times it may take the form of a more heavy-handed directive from another senior leader, superior or HR representative in order to elevate the importance of correcting these mistakes.

Regardless of how you learn about your own mistakes, the importance is in whether or not you choose to change. Changing one’s behavior is not necessarily easy as it takes effort and constant attention.  Much can be learned through articles and books, mentoring and coaching, as well as trial and error with continual adjustments. The change may come about very slowly, but I am certain correcting these mistakes will help you in your career.

Learning begins with awareness and accepting that there is room for improvement. Once you can identify what may be holding you back from being most effective, it is time to identify an achievable goal towards the desired change and build a plan for achieving it.

Lifelong learning means you will never truly graduate, but only continue on your quest toward personal and professional excellence.

Why Hire an Executive Coach

October 9, 2015

Companies used to engage executive coaches to help fix toxic behavior demonstrated by their top leaders. Today, most coaching is instead deployed in order to develop the capabilities of high-potential performers, including directors and senior managers. Coaching is no longer seen as an aspirin, but as a vitamin.

An ever-increasing pace of change requires leaders to quickly develop while on the job. Professional development programs or training that take the leader out of the organization to focus on general theories rather than the immediate day-to-day challenges are no longer sufficient.

Using 360-degree feedback is a valuable way to gather data and report back to the individual leader. This feedback has been found to stick better when the leader works with an unbiased external professional to create sustained progress based on that feedback.

Coaching provides a way to use the feedback as a springboard to formulate actionable S.M.A.R.T. goals and an individual development plan to bring about sustained behavioral change. Working in close partnership with a coach, the leader can then be given direction and support as well as be held accountable to meeting these goals.

There are now nearly 50,000 professional coaches worldwide representing about $2 Billion in revenue, according to a 2012 ICF Global Coaching Study.

Coaching is no longer limited to C-suite executives in big companies as those of all size and type now realize the importance of raising leadership capacities of high performers throughout the organization.

Many reasons exist for hiring an executive coach, including:

  • Uncover blind spots
  • Improve leadership presence
  • Improve communication skills
  • Improve interpersonal skills
  • Make sustained behavioral changes
  • Assist with a new leadership role
  • Help navigate rapid company growth

Bottom line: a coach can assist whenever you desire to grow as a leader.

A coach can be professional development expert (e.g., leadership development, emotional intelligence, performance management) who provides guidance, insight and challenges your thinking. The coach serves as a confidant and trusted advisor on whom you can fully rely upon. When the coach is external, he or she can serve as an objective outside resource to deliver tough messages those on the inside may not be able to do.

The best coaches serve as partners to their clients not because they know the specific details of your particular business, but because they know people, relationships, organizations and how to bring about behavioral change. They can help you with the interpersonal aspects of leading.

A coach can be especially helpful when you are struggling to best manage yourself when you engage with others.

But you also need to be ready to be coached. Those who are coachable are able to readily share their experience. They know their strengths and are able to accept their weaknesses. They are also capable of taking behavioral risks.

Making behavioral change is hard because it’s not instinctual and it is counter to the way we normally behave. It also becomes especially challenging when under stress, which is when it also matters most.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects to consider when choosing to hire a coach is whether the sponsors can be counted on. There may be no better link to coaching effectiveness than whether or not leadership either those above or along side the client are on-board with and supportive of the coaching effort.

As Marshall Goldsmith and Howard Morgan wrote in an article titled “Leadership is a Contact Sport,” leadership is a relationship not between a coach and “coachee,” but between the leader and colleague. It is vitally important that those stakeholders surrounding the one being coached are involved in order for coaching to succeed. Coaching cannot exist in a vacuum.

The ultimate goal of coaching is not dependency on the coach or his or her colleagues. The goal is self-reliance and therefore the one being coached needs to be committed and disciplined.

When there’s a good match between leader and coach, clearly defined goals, a roadmap that leads to behavioral change, commitment to the process, and supportive, involved stakeholders, coaching can be extremely valuable in making more effective leaders.

Mindfulness in Leadership Development

January 12, 2012

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”
–Shunryu Suzuki

In a recent Harvard Business Review blog, Polly LaBarre wrote about the wisdom of developing mindful leaders.

Much of the billions of dollars companies invest in leadership development fall short of success because the programs are so heavily focused on data/assessment gathering and so little on people and processes.

“What if, instead of stuffing people with curricula, models, and competencies, we focused on deepening their sense of purpose, expanding their capability to navigate difficulty and complexity, and enriching their emotional resilience?” ponders LaBarre.

“What if, instead of trying to fix people, we assumed that they were already full of potential and created an environment that promoted their long-term well-being?”

LaBarre cites the Personal Excellence Program (PEP) developed at biotechnology company Genentech in 2002 by CIO Todd Pierce and his coach, Pamella Weiss.

PEP begins with the premise that people are whole, not broken. By fully integrating the intellectual (head), emotional (heart) and somatic (body) intelligence, PEP is able to tap into people’s wholehearted engagement, helps them cultivate self-awareness, and supports them to develop mastery through embodied practice.

More than 800 Genentech employees have so far completed this program (primarily in the IT department) and it has dramatically improved employee engagement.

This includes:

• 10-20% increase in employee satisfaction;

• 12% increase in customer satisfaction;

• 50% percent improvement in employee communication, collaboration, conflict management and coaching; and

• 77% of PEP participants reported “significant measurable business impact” as a result of participating in PEP. This is almost three times the norm (25–30%), compared to dozens of similar programs studied.

In terms of a return on investment, evaluators found the program conservatively produced an estimated $1.50 to $2 for every dollar spent to deliver PEP.

“I thought PEP might be a strategy for people to develop a skill or quality,” said Pierce. “But what I see is that it is a strategy to help them be life-long learners and to increase their capacity for personal development and personal satisfaction in every area of their life.”

The PEP program takes place over a ten month period and includes three large group workshops, eight facilitated small group meetings, three individual coaching sessions and monthly peer coaching.

Participants choose a topic to focus on that is important to them, observe them selves in real time to gain insight and self-awareness, and then practice new behaviors to establish new habits and develop mastery.

Deliberate practice is the most significant indicator of success and this requires steady, consistent repetition over time, until new behaviors take root in the body as a new habit.

Mindfulness is about paying attention. It is about learning to observe one self in the context of day-to-day life to enable new insights and begin seeing yourself more clearly. The result is you can then make wiser choices. Increasing this self-awareness helps you cultivate the ability to act rather than react, enabling you to become response-able—even in the midst of high-stress situations.

“I think what makes PEP so successful is less about what we do than it is about the attitude we bring to how we do it,” says Weiss. “When we start from a place of beginner’s mind, and add a big dose of curiosity, patience and appreciation, learning happens because as human beings we are wired to learn and grow. In many ways, it comes down to doing less and trusting more in our innate capacities and vast potential.”

Leadership development programs should provide tangible, long lasting results and a program like PEP that engages the heart, mind and body is an example of one that appears to work.

Rather than seek a one-off, one-day solution for developing leaders in your organization, look for a longer term program with dynamic involvement that includes mindfulness and disciplined practice for changing behavior. Only then will you have a significant return on investment measured not only in dollars, but also in more engaged human capital.