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.

5 Step Checklist for Behavior Change

You can’t get a personality transplant but small behavioral changes can make a big impact. A 2% Shift in direction will affect your Destination

1. Once you have noticed how your intent is different than your impact, articulate the gap.  Put words to where you are now, and where you want to be.  This helps you to understand the nature shift and makes it real.

Old Behavior ___________________

New Behavior ___________________

Start Date: ______________________

2. Notice when you might practice your new behavior; define triggers that will soon remind you to do your new behavior.

Trigger:______________________________

3. Try on your new behavior in a safe environment.  Do your new behavior every time you get a trigger in a safe environment.

 4. Try on your new behavior in an “unsafe environment”.  Promise yourself to do it ONCE –  Once a day, once per opportunity, define a minimum for yourself and reward yourself every time you do it.

Minimum: _________________________________

5. Discuss the upside of your new behavior with a sympathetic champion of you.  The more you remind yourself of the benefit, the more you will be inclined to do it.

Who to talk to: ___________________________________________

 TIPS For Trying on new things:

  • Tell the people you feel safe with that you are trying something new.  Prepare to be teased. Teasing is good, generally people who like/love you tease you.
  • Ask for help in tweaking your new behavior
  • Ask for support  in identifying triggers, and in holding yourself accountable
  • Breathe deeply to avoid freezing up
  • Keep your feet on floor and feel your feet when you feel scared.
  • You will not be good at your new behavior.  You will fail, and you will feel foolish.  However, you will not die so keep trying and you will get better.  I promise.
  • Stick to one thing. Try on new things one at a time.  You can make a lot of changes, just not all at once.  Give yourself a chance to master one thing first, then you can move on to the next thing.

 

Taking the “UN” out of Un-Leaderlike Moments

It is perfect that this blog post coincides with a live cast with yours truly, Madeleine Blanchard,  that The Ken Blanchard Companies is sponsoring at 10 am Pacific today, October 30th. In the workshop we examine some of the ways you can increase your self-awareness and minimize behavior that you know might be weakening your leadership effectiveness.

So our blog readers get the Readers Digest version!   If you think you could be a better leader pay attention to:

Intent and Impact – Make sure you are having the impact you intend, watch people’s faces!  If you make an impact you do not intend, STOP, call it out and deal with it right in the moment. 

Habits – Take a look at what you complain about – that will give you a clue as to what bad habits you might have.  For example, if you are always late and complain about the traffic, you might have a habit of blaming circumstances for things that you actually have control over.  This will undermine your credibility as a leader.  

Also, you may have good habits – habits that you developed that have made you successful but might now be holding you back.  Take a look at what you do that has always worked that it might be time to let go of.  Best book on this topic:  Marshall Goldsmith’s What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.

Strengths – You heard it before and I am saying it again:  the more you are able to leverage your strengths, the more powerful you will be.  There are several ways to assess your strengths, you can buy StrenghtFinder 2.0 by Tim Roth and it provides you with a code to use for an online assessment.  You can take a free assessment immediately at the VIA Institute on Character website.   Another book:  Standout by Marcus Buckingham.

Blind Spots – you have ‘em but they’re blind spots, right?  So you don’t know you have them.  Ask someone you trust what they think yours might be.  Or, look to the spot where you have pain – an ongoing conflict you have with someone else, or an intractable problem, and ask yourself, “What am not seeing about myself that could be at the root of this?”  Painful, yes, but so much better to get the harsh beep from the person you are swerving into than actually get into a car wreck.

Limiting Beliefs – There is a good chance that you are a less than great leader because you are still playing small.  Cut it out.  Seriously, listen to the nasty voices in your head that hold you back by asking “Who do think you are?” and then talk back to them and tell them to shut up.  What limiting belief do you have that you would you challenge if you heard it from a friend?   

OK.  So what do you do if you really want to change a behavior?  Next week, I will share a 5 step plan for behavior change. Stay tuned!

The Truth About Coaching

Casting a Critical Eye on Coaching must-read article on executive coaching in Chief Learning Officer magazine. This strongly supports everything we know to be true about coaching in organizations and thus our methodology and approach.

Their short story: There are proven benefits to coaching as a leadership development tool if engagements are structured, transparent and their effectiveness measured.

Our short story:

  • The coach is only as good as the players’ readiness, willingness and ability to shift and grow.  Coaching is best used to help good people be great, not to stabilize the “problem people.”
  • The goals for coaching must be crystal clear for coach, client and organization to know if it has been successful.
  • Coaching is an extremely broad and multi-purpose tool – like a Swiss army knife – and the task at hand must be clearly defined so the right tool can be deployed. And as great as a Swiss Army Knife is, sometimes you need a wrench, meaning: coaching is not right for everyone all of the time.
  • There are ways for the correct people in the organization to get good information about the coaching without betraying confidentiality.  It takes a little work and a lot of finesse – for more information on this go to Ace Coaching Alliances

We have devoted our lives to coaching and we are thrilled that the information about how to best leverage it in organizations is becoming more and more clear!

Meet Your Brain

For my final post in the series on the books that have made the biggest impact on my coaching practice, I choose Your Brain at Work by David Rock.  It outlines the implications of all the recent research in neuroscience to the way we function at work – as employees, as bosses.  There are several terrific takeaways from it, notably, that the pre-frontal cortex – the front of the brain where complex calculations take place, decisions get made and self regulation gets handled – is easily exhausted.  It needs a great deal of rest and glucose.  Our ability to think clearly, make good decisions and manage ourselves erodes steadily over the course of the work day. 

David Rock also shares his model expressing what people need for their brain to be at its best, known as the SCARF Model:

Status – a clear sense of our own self worth and the acknowledgement of this perception in our environment is critical to our brains feeling good.

Certainty – we crave certainty the way we crave sugar or any other reward.  We will avoid uncertainty at all costs.

Autonomy – it is critical that we feel as much control over our environment as we are capable of managing; loss of control is interpreted by the brain as a serious threat.

Relatedness – we will naturally find what we have in common to increase relatedness, we will move toward people with whom we can relate believing them to be like ourselves, and away from those to whom we cannot relate making them “other”.

Fairness – is as rewarding as food or sex, and when things are perceived as “unfair” it causes us to feel an intense sense of threat. 

 For more on The SCARF Model check out some of David’s YouTube videos.  The book is also a really fun read, and there is a lot more that what I can share here!

The E-Myth Revisited

As a fledgling coach with a private practice, back in the day when if you said you were a coach the inevitable question was “oh, what sport?” a book that made an earth shaking difference was the E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber.  If you are in business, thinking of starting a business or have a friend or loved one who is suffering in a business, this book is a must.  There are several brilliant ideas in this book including:

  1. If you have started a business, you are either a technician (that’s what I was as a coach, so is your friend who loved to knit and started a knitting shop), a manager (the guy who understands the processes and systems that a business must have to succeed – people who buy franchises are usually managers) or a visionary (the person who sees a gap in the market place – Don Fisher started The Gap because he couldn’t find a pair of jeans, Steve Jobs wanted computers to be friendly).  You might have a little of the other two but you are primarily one of these and if you are going to succeed you need to partner with others who have the other two or find a way to grow yourself enough to get the other two covered.  It is stunningly simple and true.  The crazy thing is that as I have moved out of the small business world into the corporate world, I find that the same holds true for leaders inside organizations who need to be “intrapraneurs”.
  2. As a business owner, you need to find a way to spend as much time working on your business as you spend working in your business.  Obvious?  Maybe, but in 1995 I didn’t know it.  Again, totally applicable to people in organizations.
  3. Anything that works in the business must be systemized and if possible automated.  You have to do this so if you get the flu and can’t make it in,  the whole house of cards doesn’t fall down.  You also have to do it so you can grow.  It was the compelling evidence for how important this is that made me start my own coaching company with coaches using my system to coach the audience I had mastered.  And finally, I have used this maxim again and again as a manager in a much larger machine and it has served me well.

Michael Gerber has many other books out and has an institute and all that, but for sheer straightforward simplicity for people who maybe don’t think of themselves as “business” people, this book is a bible.

Going With the Flow

Flow : The Psychology of Optimal Experience  by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi  (pronounced mee-high  chick-sent-mee-high, my friend David Rock told me that, and he is important because he wrote one of my top books The Brain at Work) is another book that stopped me in my tracks.  Published in 1990, my copy is old, much dog eared and underlined.  The author is more recently widely known as a pioneer in the Positive Psychology arena, and his early work outlined in Flow was required reading for coaches because it was solid research about what makes people feel good.  Absent real problems like psychological damage, war or pestilence, people were coming to coaches with the objective of optimizing their existence and more specifically, their time at work.  Csikszentmihalyi says that in his studies, when people reflected on their most positive experiences they seemed to share one if not all of these characteristics:

  1. “ the experience usually occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing.”
  2. we must be able to concentrate on what we are doing.”
  3. The task has “clear goals and
  4. Provide immediate feedback
  5. There is deep but effortless involvement that shuts out the noise of everyday life
  6. We are able to exercise a sense of control over our actions
  7. Self consciousness disappears, but sense of self emerges more strongly after the experience is over
  8. The sense of time passing is altered; minutes can seem like hours, or hours can feel like minutes.” (Harper, 1991, pg. 49)

Csikszentmihalyi’s theory was that to achieve flow we needed to maintain the balance between the level of challenge of the activity, and our skill level – if the challenge is too low, we become bored, if it is too high we become overly anxious.  Each individual needs to monitor their own challenge level to keep it optimal to stay engaged. 

This rang so true for me, and it was extremely useful in work with clients who were clearly bored, but judging themselves for it, thinking they had perfectly jobs and should be happy.  Not so!  To stay in Flow, it is critical to constantly be raising the bar.  This is not totally true for everyone all the time, but for some people, some of the time, the model is extremely useful.

For more information on Flow