My brother lost his wallet last week. Turns out, he’d left it on top of his car when he drove out of a gas station in an unfamiliar town. Fortunately for him, a truck driver was on the country lane behind him. After the wallet blew off the roof, the driver retrieved the wallet and painstakingly collected all of the contents strewn across the road, and turned it in at the state police barracks.
You can imagine how my brother felt when he got the call from Trooper Bradford the next evening! What did my brother do? He took a shower, he ate his dinner, and then he went to the store and purchased a box of chocolates and a card before heading west for the (now familiar) 2 hour drive. He told the state troopers stationed at the barracks that the chocolates were a thank you for Trooper Bradford—and with a wink, said hopefully he’ll share them. He then counted the cash in the wallet–$27 dollars. He wrote in the thank you card to the driver: “When Trooper Bradford called me to say the wallet had been turned in, he recounted how he’d told you you’d done a good deed, and karma would pay you back tenfold. Here is a check for $270. Don’t you wish I carried more cash?” With his wallet securely in his pocket, my brother then drove another 2 hours home.
After the stress of a lost wallet, I was surprised he was so chipper for the 4 hour round trip! I asked him about it and he reminded me that our mom has always told us to “think about the other guy,” especially when we’re feeling sorry for ourselves. My brother was filled with appreciation for both the trooper and the driver, and that really buoyed him. It’s also good to note that he took care to fortify himself before heading west.
Why am I blogging about this? Because this is a great story! Story telling connects us with one another, and I hope it transported you right into my brother’s experience. Story telling is both the art and the heart of being human. Scientifically, listening to stories engage more parts of your brain than simply reviewing facts, which is why stories have staying power (see earlier blogs on neuroscience and LPOV). Story telling matters in families, and it matters in business, too.
Next time you’re having a hard time, think about the other guy. It’s highly probable that shift in focus will improve things for BOTH of you!
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!
The problem with becoming known as a good “problem solver” is that you get really good at looking at situations as, well, problems! Your focus is on what has failed. Your goal is to correct, save, or restore a broken system to a state where it will again provide acceptable results. You get a reputation as the “fixer,” and are dispatched again and again to solve different problems. Where is the fun in that?
There is a better way to contribute to organizations.
David Cooperrider invented Appreciative Inquiry when he was a graduate student studying Organizational Development at Case Western Reserve University in the late 1980’s. You can read all about him, and the AI Movement, at http://appreciativeinquiry.case.edu/. (The work he began with Professor Suresh Srivastva transformed me and my leadership research. I cited their initial work in my 1990 dissertation when I posited that having dialogue rather than debate can help groups work together to come to better decisions.)
I have continued to follow AI in the ensuing 25 years, and unabashedly say the reason coaching works is because the inquiry of the coach uncovers the wisdom in the leader. Appreciative Inquiry is the underpinning of Positive Psychology, a theoretical foundation in the Coaching Profession, and is essential in understanding the impact of language in the field of Neuroscience.
Here is why Appreciative Inquiry matters for leaders:
- Appreciative Inquiry has a positive core: it focuses on the strengths and peak experiences in an organization. AI focuses on the best of what is, and then stretches further to imagine the ideal future state.
- Appreciative Inquiry is co-creative: Rather than one “Mr. Fixit,” with AI everyone can be involved in the discovery, the dream, the design, and the destiny of the ideal state of the organization.
- Appreciative Inquiry is generative: with a focus on “what works,” a leader is aligned towards new possibilities for the organization.
You don’t have to wait for an AI intervention in your organization to benefit from this approach. Simply shifting your focus from seeking problems to seeking what works well has an immediate, positive, and generative effect: on you, on your group, and on your effectiveness. Have at it!
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 company. 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.
What is the most important element for success? Good leadership from your boss? The right resources? Direction? Support? Autonomy? Intrinsic motivation? Optimism? Resilience?
All of the above matter, of course. However, research psychologist Roy Baumeister unequivocally answers that the most important element for success is self-control. Self-control is what keeps us on track. Self-control reminds us that we have choices. Self-control is something we are told to learn in childhood and many of us continue to work on every day!
Basically, self-control is what helps us look beyond immediate frustration or perceived loss, and look to the future benefit. This keeps us “on track” to achieve success.
Our brains are wired to react to perceived danger. (You can read more on neuroscience in earlier Coaching Source blogs by Madeleine Blanchard.) Self-control can allow us to “wait out” the immediate reaction to danger and its corresponding focus on loss, pain and blame. With self control, we can influence our mind to determine a better result. How? By asking what positive attributes are in this circumstance?
Most importantly, when you shift your mind’s focus from negative to positive, you shift your physical and emotional state, too. Focusing on the benefits of any circumstance, creating images of hope and possibility are not just important for your success—they are critical for your team, too! Helping others to focus on what can be (instead of what cannot happen) can influence your team to shift to a “possibilities” focus.
“You always have a choice about where you put your focus. Learning to use that choice is part of leadership development.” (p 139,Care to Dare, Kohlrieser, Goldsworthy and Coombe, 2012.)
Work that “choice muscle” and you will remain on the path to success!
The last couple of days I’ve been doing some redesign work on our department intranet site. Things were moving along pretty well until I encountered a problem. I knew what I wanted to do and felt confident I knew how to make it happen but, for whatever reason, it just wasn’t working.
I was puzzled and slightly frustrated since everything appeared to be done correctly. I had reviewed and analyzed all the little details of my work to see if I missed something. I couldn’t find anything. So I started experimenting with different settings that might have contributed to my problem. That didn’t work either. At this point, slight frustration turned into genuine frustration.
I picked the brain of my colleague in the office next door as he’s worked on a similar project. He couldn’t find anything out of place either and suggested I call our expert up in the I.T. department. But by this point, I was committed to figuring this one out. I refused to admit defeat!
After attempting every possible minor adjustment without success, I discarded ALL my work and decided to start over again from scratch. As far as I know, I did everything the same the second time around only this time, it worked! I threw my hands up in victory and danced around my office while laughing uncontrollably. (OK, so I may have exaggerated that a bit but I was obviously pretty pleased with myself.) Even though I can’t tell you exactly why it worked the second time but not the first, I did learn some new techniques and approaches throughout the problem-solving process.
The takeaway here is that there is a huge learning opportunity and an enormous level of satisfaction to be gained from solving a problem. And in order to solve a problem, you need to allow for the extra time involved. In this instance, I spent an extra two or three hours that I hadn’t originally planned for but the emotional return far outweighed the time investment. Had I escalated the issue to our I.T. department, the problem may have been solved a little quicker, though no guarantees, but I wouldn’t have the same emotional attachment to the outcome that I am currently experiencing. I’m still smiling!
What emotions do you experience when you solve a difficult problem? Do you learn best by doing? If not, what type of learner are you? And finally, leaders, are you allowing room for your people to problem solve?
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!