We’ve Moved!

We Have Moved SignWe on the Coaching Services team at The Ken Blanchard Companies love coaching. Our purpose is to unleash the power and potential of people for the greater good, and coaching is an amazingly useful tool to do this. We spend all day every day helping our clients deliver the finest coaching to their organizations. Since 2000, our 130 coaches have coached over 14,500 individuals in more than 250 companies throughout the world.

Here at The Coaching Source we have delighted in sharing our thoughts about coaching with you for more than five years. Today we are thrilled to announce that we have been invited to merge our writings from The Coaching Source with Blanchard LeaderChat, the principal blog of The Ken Blanchard Companies.

We hope you will follow us to leaderchat.org and watch for our regular Tuesday posts at that location beginning December 2, 2014.

The Practice of Gratitude

The ChiefOur dog, a three-year-old black lab named Chief, really has lived up to his name. He is dignified, kind, and gracious with all people and with other dogs. At meal time, he sits patiently and watches intently while his food is prepared. When we put his food down, he waits to be invited to eat. But then he does the dearest thing: when he is finished eating, he goes over to whoever put his food down and thanks them by nuzzling the hand. It is truly adorable.

Is there anything more attractive than gratitude? I think not. And guess what? It is as good for the person expressing gratitude as it is for the one receiving it. The research is piling up. Barbara Fredrickson’s research on Positivity shows a significant difference in health indicators, creativity, and resilience in people who practice gratitude among other positive emotions.

Robert A. Emmons and Anjali Mishra, leading researchers on the way gratitude affects health and well-being, define gratitude this way: “Gratitude is an acknowledgment that we have received something of value from others. It arises from a posture of openness to others, where we are able to gladly recognize their benevolence.”

Their work shows that there is evidence to support the notion that gratitude facilitates coping with stress and reduces toxic emotions resulting from self and social comparisons and materialism. Further, experiencing gratitude can make positive memories (as opposed to bad ones) easier to access, helps build community, makes achieving goals more likely, and promotes health.

In the US, we are once again celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday. It is not accidental that most cultures have a “gratitude” holiday. It is simply good for us to stop and remember what we are grateful for. Many people “say grace” year round before eating, which is a wonderful way to stay mindful about how fortunate we are to have plentiful food and clean water.

Of course, practicing a form of religion usually involves giving thanks, and The Blue Zones research shows that people who live the longest belong to some kind of religious community. The secular among us can easily reap the same benefits. From a health and well-being standpoint there is ample evidence that practicing gratitude in small ways on a daily basis is a good idea.

Some ideas:

  • When stopped at a traffic light or sitting in traffic, instead of looking at your smartphone, make a list in your head of all of the things you are grateful for. It will lower your blood pressure, release beneficial neurotransmitters and reduce adrenaline and cortisol in your bloodstream.
  • Write a thank-you note or email to someone who has done something nice for you. It will make you smile and it will make the person who receives it smile.
  • As you are falling asleep at night, review your day and come up with one lovely thing you are grateful for. It can be as simple as the hummingbirds who love the tree outside your kitchen window or the fact that you have a job.

Make gratitude a habit. It isn’t that hard to do—and the rewards are immediate and vast.

Tasty Tidbits from Social Neuroscience

I got the opportunity to attend the 14th NeuroLeadership summit in San Francisco last week. So many wonderful insights from social neuroscientists about how the newest brain research is shedding light on our behaviour. A couple of nuggets for you, our faithful blog readers:

  • Brain exercises do not increase your brain power, despite what Luminosity spends on marketing. Use that time to learn a new language, develop new skills or exercise your body; your brain will reap more benefits.
  • Collaboration does often yield better problem solving and more creative decisions, but it slows things down and the best companies reserve it for special occasions, not as a default.
  • The “in group/out group” response by the brain is constant and pretty much random. This means that the brain is constantly assessing whether other people are “on our team” or “not on our team” and this effect can be created by scientists merely telling you that some people are on your team and others are not. You will instinctively see those on the other team as adversaries.
  • Understanding one’s values, articulating them, writing about them and repeating them increases emotional resilience. Not sure how or why yet, but wow, who knew? The best argument ever for engaging in our Leadership Point of View exercise.
  • One of the most robust findings about learning is that the more “spacing” is used while learning – breaking the content into small chunks and repeating it a couple of times over a period of days with sleep between times – the better. Spacing ensures that the content is encoded into long term memory. Cramming information – learning it quickly right before an exam, for example – will result in the information staying in short term memory and then disappearing. A terrific support for Blended Learning!

Never Underestimate the Effect of Change

I recently shared a laugh with a client – we’ll call him Jon – because as he so eloquently said, “You just can’t win.” Here’s what happened.

Jon, by profession an accountant, is head of tax for a global manufacturing company. A lovely human being, he is nevertheless analytical and cerebral, and a 360-degree feedback process revealed that his people perceived him to be cold and unapproachable.

We worked together on practicing some new behaviors: making the effort to get to know folks, stopping to say hello to people in his area – all of whom report to people who report to him.

He worked on and shared his Leadership Point of View (his beliefs about leadership and his leadership values) which his people told him made him much more accessible.

Jon was really enjoying letting people see a little more of him, he was having more fun at work, he was literally wondering what took him so long to experience this very important side of himself.

You would think this could only be good right?

I certainly did.

3D Hand Giving Thumbs DownBut, you can never underestimate the power of change, even good change, to distress someone. Not everyone was thrilled with the change. One of Jon’s direct reports, Emilia, asked for a private meeting during which she reported that she was upset with this new softer, friendlier Jon.

He was shocked – of all people he had thought she would appreciate it the most.

It turns out that she was enjoying the change for herself, but she was worried that Jon’s new accessibility was “undermining” her position with her direct reports. She was concerned that people might feel comfortable going straight to Jon instead of having to get things done through her.

Of course this presented a great coaching opportunity for Jon. But we had to laugh…I had thought in 25 years of coaching that I had heard everything, but this was a first.

Are You Too Comfortable?

Man Relaxing In Easy Chair - Retro Clipart IllustrationUnder the category of “Everything I Need to Know, I Learn from My Clients”: one of them said a remarkable thing last week. We were talking about a new, high pressure, high visibility job he is settling into and the fact that his To Do list far exceeds the realities of the time/space continuum. As we brainstormed what he could let go, reprioritize, or delegate, he kept balking. Then—complete silence.
He took a deep breath in and said, “I was talking to a good friend who recently became CEO of his company. He told me he was struggling with the fact that regardless of what he was ‘supposed’ to be doing, the things he does naturally are the things he loves doing and is comfortable doing. I think that’s exactly what’s going on with me.”
Well, he certainly made my job easy.
When you step into a senior leadership role, the task list is never, ever done. The only way to keep from drowning is to stay focused only on the things that really matter. And the things that matter most are often things that are new to you and, therefore, uncomfortable. You will automatically engage in the behaviors and activities that are easy and relaxing unless you stop, breathe, pay very close attention, and choose to do the stuff that really needs doing—and that isn’t going to be easy or relaxing.
So what happened with the client, you might be wondering. He continued to self coach. He decided that his homework would be to look at everything he was supposed to be doing, delegate the things someone else could do, and focus on the things only he could do.
Feeling overwhelmed? Too much to do? Ask yourself: Am I defaulting to doing the easy stuff that can wait (or be delegated) instead of staying focused on what really matters, even if it is harder.

How to Be Grateful

Coaching isn’t all about achieving happiness, but it certainly is almost always focused on the pursuit of what the client believes will make him happy.  You may have heard already that the happiest people are happy because they are grateful rather than grateful because they are happy.  It is not a chicken/egg proposition.  It is in the research – The Happiness Advantage, The How of Happiness.  Consciously choosing to constantly scan the environment for what you are grateful for, and keeping lists of the same, changes the brain and literally makes you happier.  So if want to be happier, there is one super simple easy thing you can do right now.  Today: this minute.  Be more grateful.  Not just once a year on Thanksgiving, not just when you get a promotion or good news.  All the time.  But how you might ask: how do I be more grateful?  Well, David Steindl-Rast explains it perfectly in his TED talk – you can take 14 minutes and watch it or you go with my Cliff Notes.  Here they are:

 Stop. Look. Listen.

That’s it. 

 Stop. Look. Listen.

 Notice what is going on that you are grateful for – the sun, the rain, running water, indoor plumbing, shoes that fit, electricity, your adorable dog/cat/child, your funny colleague, your car started! Your new desk chair you had to lobby five years to get. Functioning internet. So much.  An endless list.

 When?  As often as possible.  Here are some ideas to get into the habit:

  •  Any time you start obsessing about your To Do list, stop and think of things you are grateful for instead.
  • Anytime you start second guessing what you should have said in your last meeting, stop and…
  • Set a timer on your phone to do it every 15 minutes. 
  • Every time an email/text/tweet comes in.
  • Every time you hear a beep of any kind (I do this; you would be amazed how much beeping goes on.  It makes it much easier not to be annoyed at the sound of trucks backing up!).
  • When waiting at a stop light.
  • When brushing your teeth (Oh the possibilities, unlimited clean water, hot water! toothpaste, dental care!).
  • Every time you sit down at your desk. 
  • Every time you get up from your desk.
  • When you get into bed.

Other ideas? Try it, and see what happens.

Running on Fumes

I recently spoke to a friend and colleague who needed my input on something.  This colleague has the highest IQ of anyone I know ( not exagerating), and an intimidating work ethic.  She is literally the gold standard for productivity in our companygas tank on empty.  After a string of emails, I failed to understand what was required of me so I picked up the phone to chat and found my friend literally incoherent with stress.  It took me several minutes to get her calmed down enough to explain what she needed from me.

It made me stop and think. 

We forget that we are a finite resource.

We can do so much and no more.  Even if we practice (highly recommended by coaches everywhere) extreme self care*, we can do so much and no more

My sister Mia is a lovely person, does for others all day long.  She is chatty, fun, highly engaging and extroverted until about 8 o’clock at night at which point she says “I am out of words”, and goes to bed with a book.  Such a role model.

It is critical for all of us, as  leaders, professionals, parents, and friends to know at what point we “run out”. Out of gas, as it were.  Do you know when you are at a quarter tank?  Do you have reasonable boundaries around your rest time?  I have found that it isn’t so much others we have trouble saying no to, it is ourselves.

Stop and think.  Remember, you are a finite resource.

 *Extreme Self Care: A term coined by Thomas Leonard, a pioneer of the coaching profession and popularized by Shirley Anderson, considered to be a Yoda of the coaching profession. It could be defined as: enough sleep, proper nutrition, exercise, down time, meditation and/or prayer, time to connect with others, and fun as you need to operate at 100%.  Click here for more information about the multiple aspects of well being from a Neuroscience standpoint.