The Engagement Wizard

I think so many businesses, in today’s economy, figure employees “should be happy they have a job.” The truth is that, according to Inc. magazine, 70% of your employees are job hunting. They might smile and nod and laugh at your jokes, and at night they are on CareerBuilder and asking for recommendations on LinkedIn.  Their resumes are up to date and they are ready to jump ship at the first sign of a decent paying job. They aren’t just looking for more money; they want a place that encourages engagement.  As Dan Pink espouses in his book Drive, “autonomy, mastery and purpose” are the ingredients for the Engagement Wizard. Engagement Wizard

The Engagement Wizard is the secret to holding onto those employees who are phoning it in while they search for greener, autonomous pastures. It is far better to employ some engagement tactics to hold onto your veteran employees than to search out a perceived better fit. I realize that some folks are too far gone to turn around and they are the poison in the kool-aid.  Employing a few tactics to create engagement for those who are salvageable, is well worth the effort when you figure that turnover can cost you anywhere from 50 to 200 % of the positions salary (and the replacements likely to cost you 10 to 20% more that the incumbent anyway).

So what are the techniques of the Engagement Wizard? Here are a few:

1. Thumb.  Quit keeping your employees tightly under your thumb.  It’s time to loosen the reigns.  As Dan Pink said at a recent conference, no one ever said “my favorite boss was the guy who breathed down my neck”.  People leave bosses.  If you are dictating an employee’s every movement and deed and watching the clock to make sure they are constantly at the grind stone, your employee will not be engaged. Loosen up your thumbs.

2. Don’t prescribe.  You should not view yourself as the doctor who is prescribing all the answers.  As Liz Wiseman said in her book “Multipliers”, you want to shift from being the Tyrant who has all the answers to the Liberator who is listening.  Listen; don’t talk.  This encourages the autonomy that Dan Pink prescribes.  If your employee is thinking for themselves, they are happier.  If you don’t believe me, tell your partner how to make the bed.  See how that goes over; and if they ever make the bed again.  Don’t prescribe.

3. Learning.  One of the downfalls in the recent economy is the slashing of training budgets.  We keep the Sales and Marketing budget status quo, and cut the non-essential training and development budget.  This, especially for Millennials, is a bad idea.  Employees, who have a “Growth Mindset” as espoused by Carol Dweck, are constantly looking to learn new skills.  “The Investor” as written by Liz Wiseman is the leader who is investing in resources for their team.  Encourage learning so that your employees are gaining “Mastery”.

4. Monkeys.  Delegate the monkey (as in task, project or duty) and check up on their care and feeding.  Leaders need to delegate and give ownership to their team.  This is another trait of Wiseman’s “The Investor”.  You can’t develop Pink’s “Mastery” without letting go of the monkeys.  This doesn’t mean you aren’t responsible for checking in on the monkeys, however you shouldn’t be the one filling the water dish.  Delegate the monkeys.

5. Big Picture.  Does your team know the big picture?  Jon Gordon at a recent conference suggested handing out 3 X 5 cards to all your employees and asking what the purpose of the company was.  What would your team answer?  We all need to know the purpose of the organization for which we work.  It is much easier to align with an organization and be engaged when we know what the purpose it.  If you answer, “To make money”, your team is not engaged.  Make sure they know the Big Picture.

6. Non-Commissioned Work.  One of the best examples of how effective autonomy is to creating better outcomes was a study that Pink refers to in his book “Drive”.  They found that in a blind evaluation (they didn’t know which art work was commissioned versus non-commissioned) paintings that were commissioned (i.e. I want it to match my couch, I want flamingos and it needs to be 6 feet wide) were of less quality and creativeness as opposed to non-commissioned work.  So make sure your team has some time to just create instead of keeping them “in the box.”  It’s not practical to have all non-commissioned work all the time, however some time left to one’s own devices is critical to engagement.

Once you’ve found your magic wand, get out of the way.  You will be amazed at what folks can do if they are given the freedom to find their own path.   Find your Engagement Wizard and start waving the magic wand.

Falling on the Sword

I was recently at a Peer-to-Peer Human Resource group at Elinvar in Raleigh, NC.  They had an interesting speaker, Santo Costa, Esq., who spoke to the group about workplace integrity.  The surprising observation he made was that integrity in an organization can be determined by how a manager handles mistakes.  He brought up the example of General McChrystal  stepping down after comments some of his staff made to a New York Times reporter and contrasted that with Janet Reno saying she was “taking full responsibility” for the Waco Siege but went back to her office and kept her job.  I think any political example can be fraught with misinformation (press versus one party versus another party) but it does illustrate that the person who takes the bullet for his staff can dictate the culture of the organization.

Fall on the Sword
Fall on the Sword

In most organizations that I have worked in, if the leader isn’t willing to take the heat for his direct reports mistakes, there is inevitably a lack of trust.  If the leader is constantly throwing their reports under the bus for every error and misstep, it will be a culture of CYA squared (covering your butt).  If you want to build a culture of trust and integrity in work or your life, you’ll need to fall on the sword whether it’s for a direct report or your child or your spouse.

Here are some ideas on how to boost your integrity:

1. Consistent. Show up in your relationships in a consistent manner.  The ability to control one’s emotions is a basic tenet of Emotion Intelligence.  Being a hot head or moody, can put people in your life on edge.  “Hmmm.  I wonder if Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde is showing up for this budget meeting?”  Working towards authenticity involves people’s expectations being met in that they can be confident that you won’t overreact or fall off the deep end.  They know what to expect when you interact with them. Consistency is important to building trust.

2.  Humility.  Being humble in front of the team is important.  No one likes working for the leader who is constantly tooting their own horn.  The leader who does so is much less approachable. The humble leader makes sure their entire team gets credit for the project and makes sure the organization knows it. The humble leader is not trying to build their resume.  They are building everyone else’s resume.

3. Rationale.  Sharing the rationale with the folks around you builds integrity.  If you are looking at new software to make the transaction process easier, make sure the folks that will be impacted by the new software, understand the rationale.  There won’t be any buy-in if you don’t communicate the rationale.  More likely, there will be dissent and mistrust and folks might try to thwart the process.  Share the rationale.

4. Punches.  Don’t pull punches.  If there is bad news, craft the message and deliver it.  Don’t drag your feet.  Having information in limbo causes everyone to be in limbo.  The gossip mill will certainly get a tidbit of information and turn it into catastrophic conclusions in the blink of an eye.  Grab the tiger by the tail before it gets loose.  Don’t pull punches.

5. Private.  When someone makes a mistake, talk to them in private.  Figure out what went wrong; maintain their self esteem and move on to some solutions.  Don’t call someone on the carpet in front of the team.  The best practice for a leader is to critique in private.

6. Public.  When someone or the team gets something right, celebrate in public.  It’s so important to identify milestones in a project or when you finally attain the millionth customer that you celebrate.  Let everyone bath in the glory.  They will seek more of it. Others will want to be on your team.  Make sure you celebrate success in public.

7. Monkeys.  Once you have delegated a monkey (a task or project), don’t take the monkey back.  If you have assigned a monkey and the person has gotten off to a rocky start; don’t take the monkey back.  You want to check in on the monkey (make sure it’s being fed and scratched), just don’t take it back.  If people are unsure if they will keep the monkey they are much more likely to fail.  Keep the monkeys where they belong.

Building trust and creating an authentic relationship is a long process.  This cannot be created overnight.  Take responsibility for those that work for and with you.  There are times when you will need to fall on the sword but your team will be there to support you and you will create a culture of integrity.

Stress buster

I had the privilege of hearing Jon Gordon speak at a Capital Associated Industries conference recently.  He is the author of several books but the one quote I took away from the lecture was “Be positive! You can’t be stressed and thankful at the same time.” How true is that!  When was the last time you were stressed while praying or meditating? So when you’re running late for work; be thankful that you have a job and a car that’s working.

be positiveJon Gordon’s recent book is “The Positive Dog”. It talks about how positivity in your relationships and at work will not only make it better for you but for those around you as well.  Haven’t we all been there?  You know who the Debbie Downers of the world are; and you try and stay clear of them.  The guy who is constantly saying that the sky is falling?  Yeah.  Skip lunch with him.  You’ll have a gun to your head if you hang out with him for too long.  Positivity rules.  And it is the ultimate stress buster.

Here are some tips on how to increase your positivity:

1. Stop.  The minute you start catastrophizing some adverse event, you need to STOP.  In Martin Seligman‘s book “Learned Optimism”, he recommends physically hitting the wall and saying “Stop!”  If there isn’t a wall handy, try a rubber band on your wrist and snap it (hard) and say “Stop!”  As Seligman says, this disrupts the thoughts.  So if you are thinking your daughter was in a car accident because she is 10 minutes late, just smack yourself and say “Stop!”

2. Truth.  As Byron Katie says in her book “Loving What Is”, is it the truth?  If you are telling your self that your boss hates you, that your spouse doesn’t love you or that you’ve blown your diet; take a second look.  Stuff a sock in your Inner Dictator, and ask yourself if it’s true.  Dust off the evidence and analyze what you know to be absolutely true.  What evidence do you have other than what your Inner Dictator has said?  The boss is in the middle of an acquisition and is overwhelmed.  Your spouse is working overtime and needs some appreciation.  One brownie and a glass of Zinfandel is not blowing a diet.  Make sure you know the truth.

3. Spill.  Set the timer, grab a pen and spill your guts on paper.  Dump all the worries, self-doubt and demons on some good old college ruled paper.  This is amazingly freeing.   Suddenly the stage of your prefrontal cortex is wide open, now that you have all the villains, bad actors and stage hands safely cleared off.  Getting it all on paper and out of your head is such a relief.  From there, light a match and literally “burn up your worries”. Spill your guts so you can look at the positive.

4. Blessings. Count your blessings.  Inspiring coach Michele Woodward recommends counting three things you are thankful for before you get out of bed in the morning.  Sometimes I cheat and count ten things I’m thankful for.  Being grateful starts your day off with optimism.  It might just be the roof over your head, your hardworking spouse and your dog (who is happy to see you no matter the circumstances…actually I’m usually the one that feeds her and she knows where her bread is buttered).  An attitude of gratitude is an attraction magnet.  Who would you rather hang out with, Sue Ann Nivens or Simon Cowell?  I’m guessing the one who counts their blessings.

5. Discourse.  Martin Seligman also recommends getting a close trusted friend and modeling the self talk in your head through some discourse.  Your role is to take the positive angle and your trusted buddy takes your normal self talk of pessimism. So your buddy starts off with “You messed up that project and everyone is disgusted with you. You are so lazy”.  You respond with, “It’s true I delivered the project late but the project itself was spot on.  I know my boss was upset it was late, but he appreciated the quality of the project.  I’m a hard worker.  I was just a little overwhelmed and that caused me to be late.”  The point is, that if you get good at arguing for you instead of against you (in your self talk), it will become second nature to stand up for yourself against your inner dictator.  Grab a buddy and engage in discourse.

It’s amazing how much stress can be created by our inner dictator.  Embracing optimism and positivity can have a huge impact on your ability to roll with the punches.  The most important thing that Martin Seligman has found in his research is that you can learn to be optimistic.  I hope a few of these techniques will help be a stress buster in your life.

Listen up

I recently read Daniel Pink‘s book “To Sell is Human.”  His premise is that everyone is selling; that we are all trying to move people.  So teachers are trying to get students to do their homework.  Doctors are trying to get people to take their medicine.  We are all trying to move someone to do something.  The most interesting chapter was on improvising and a company called “Performance of a Lifetime” created by Cathy Salit. In this class executives are taught how to improvise which involves an intense amount of listening.  If you think about it, we can’t improvise without listening.  We can’t move people without listening.  We can’t sell without listening. images 6

My son and I share a love of listening to stories.  One of the things I look forward to on a long car trip with him is that he is always game to listen to Story Corps, Radio Lab or The Moth podcasts.  These are all documentary type radio shows where people share their stories.  They can be deeply personal, a guy recounting how he met his fiancé who later died in 9-11, or a story about how some people see more colors than others (could it be me?) or mad cap drug induced adventures in Morocco.  The thing is, if you aren’t good at listening, you will miss the meaning of the story.  And it takes practice.

So what could you be missing?  Here are some tips into how to improve your listening skills:

1.  Pause. Daniel Pink and Michael Segovia, an outstanding MBTI instructor, both recommend that you pause. Dan Pink recommends 5 seconds and Michael recommends 10 seconds. In Michael’s case, every time he asks a group of participants if they have any questions, he would count to 10 in his head.  This seems like an eternity. But for those people who prefer introversion, they need that time to reflect. Dan, on the other hand, pauses at the end of someone else talking.  It lets you reflect on what they said. Pause, digest and truly listen.

2. Eye to eye. If you are physically in the room with someone, make eye contact.  Hold their gaze when they are talking.  Be in the moment. If they are on the phone, cut all the technology. Don’t be reading emails, texts, messages, Facebook updates or playing Soduko. Imagine them being in front of you and making eye contact. Can’t you always tell when you are speaking to someone over the phone and they are distracted? We all can. Tune in and turn off the clatter!

3. Understand.   Stephen Covey said “Seek first to understand and not to respond.” If you’re busy planning your response (re: argument, counter point, brilliant repartee) you are not listening.  Ask questions that help you understand their point of view.  “What do you think your boss meant by that comment?” “How is your relationship with your Mother?” “I can see you feel hurt, what do you want to do about it?” Do a deep dive into their story. Don’t give advice. Just seek to understand.

4. Mirror. In one of the exercises that Dan Pink did in Cathy Salit’s class was to mirror someone else’s movements.  Now this type of mimicry would be over the top in real life, and cause a fist fight between my brothers and I when we were kids in the back seat of our Country Squire station wagon.  But subtly copying someone else’s stance can create some symbiosis. They lean back in the chair, you lean back. They lean in, you lean in.  This creates a sense of connection. Mirror others to build confidence.

5. Generosity. Listening is about being generous. Selfless. As a great facilitator from Inscape Publishing once said “It’s all about them.” As in your audience.  It’s time to hang up your one-ups-manship.  Your friend is talking about their trip to Hawaii? There’s no point in butting in to talk about your honeymoon in Maui.  Your co-worker just finished a year long project? Now is not the time for a diatribe on the messy project you are in the middle of that just got delayed….again.  Your spouse had a horrible day yesterday? Now is not the time to bring up the Honey Do List. Give them the gift of being the center of your attention. Completely with no strings attached.  Be generous.

6. Yes, and.  One of the exercises from Cathy Salit’s workshop is something I have experience in one of my classes while earning my Masters.  In the class, we had to plan a fictitious class reunion.  First, we were instructed to say “Yes, but.” When that played out, the energy in the room diminished.  None of the ideas had any traction. Everyone was a wet blanket suffocating inspiration.  In the next round, we were instructed to say “Yes, and.” One word changed, and we all had possibilities. We were intently listening to everyone’s ideas and building on them. Next thing you know we were holding the reunion in Rio with limos, samba lessons and caipirinhas.  Try it. It’s inspiring.

Listening is a way to be present and take in the person, loved one or group interaction around you.  It can be a gift to yourself and others to just show up and “be there”. One of the most effective ways to do that is to LISTEN.

Keep your hands off my stuff

Hands-Off-Mat-MT-2673Seth Godin wrote a recent post called “Possession Aggression.”  It’s a short post but basically he says that it’s hard to give something substantial away but it’s even harder to take something away from someone else.  The person, department or organization starts building their world around their stuff and it gets incorporated into how they view the world.  I actually think that this is where silos start getting erected.  Accounting handles those reports, lay off! Human Resources sets up the company picnic, hands off! Thanksgiving is always at Mom’s house, back off!

Why does it become a personal affront when we try to change?  Even if the organization, the department or the extended family would be much better off with a change in who handled the stuff.  After all, it is just dinner.  A report.  A picnic.  Suddenly paranoia sets in.  Didn’t they like the way “we” handled it.  Maybe we didn’t serve enough gravy.  They didn’t like the way the report looked.  The picnic was boring.  Turn off your dictator and get off the paranoia train;  easier said than done.  We all just want to keep our stuff and for everyone else to keep their paws off.

So here are some steps to letting go of our stuff:

1. Detach. Take a step back. Take a few slow deep breaths. And detach.  Get some perspective on the situation. Sometimes our emotions go on overload and we can’t seem to get off the paranoia train.  Get off at the next station.   Give yourself some space and silence.  When someone has just absconded with your favorite project, decided they would take over the retirement party or delegated making the apple pies to your cousin (even though everyone knows your apple pies are the best);  it’s important to take a step back and detach.

2. Reframe. Once your heart rate has returned to normal and you can gain a little clarity, reframe the issue.  Stand in their shoes.  Especially the cousin who may have never made pies before.  Did he ask to make the pies? Is this a stretch goal for him? Did he just finish a baking school course and wants to test out his skills?  We can get caught up in being the victim and lose our perspective. Put on a different pair of glasses and reframe.

3. Awfulizing. I just learned this word from Michael Segovia who is a tremendous Myers-Briggs facilitator for CPP.  I can fall victim to awfulizing.  I can turn my stubbed toe into an amputation in the blink of an eye. So if my boss’ door is closed all morning, I’ve gone to the mail room to get a box for all my personal effects because I must be getting fired today.  Try to stay focused on the facts.  My boss’ door is closed.  Stop. There are millions of doors that are closed. Chill. Out.

4. Check in.  Check in with whomever you believe to be the absconder of your stuff.  Find out their perspective.  “Hey Suzie, I just found out you’re responsible for Joe’s retirement party. Let me know if you need any help.” You might find out she didn’t even know. You might find out she’s terrified.  You might find out she’s excited by the challenge and would love your input.  You won’t know unless you check in.

5. Clutter check.  Most of our plates have been too full since…well…graduation.   We all hold on tightly to our stuff.  It’s time to check the clutter in our life.  So many of us feel that our value is measured by the amount of balls we can juggle in the air at once.  If we are in a circus, that is true.  In life, we are not.  Take an inventory of what is important and on track with your values.  Let the rest go.  Dump the stuff that is cluttering your mind and life.  And, most importantly, don’t take on new stuff that doesn’t align with your values.  So if there is a new project that someone “volentold” you for, that isn’t an absolute yes…it’s a no.  Stay away from new stuff that isn’t your passion. And you won’t be inadvertently taking someone else’s stuff.

6.  Examine fear. When you do the clutter check there is likely to be fear that bubbles up…rather grips you.  If you let go, how will they do it without me. Everyone is so dependent on you, that they can’t possibly do it on their own.   I can remember leaving one HR job for another some 15 years ago. I felt sure the place would fall apart without me. Employees wouldn’t get paid. Benefits would fall through the cracks. I would let people down. They were fine.  We all survived. The bad news is that we are dispensable. The good news is that we are dispensable. Let go of the fear.

Possession is 9/10th’s of the law. Perhaps this why we guard our stuff with such fervor.  It’s amazing how it can weigh us all down; whether literally with physical possessions or figuratively with obligations on our time.  It might be time to cull out the stuff that is holding you back.

Rising to the Review

For many of you out there, this time of the year is when the rubber meets the road, when your boss let’s you know where you stand or, as the leader, you need to size up your direct reports.   Yep, you guessed it – The Dreaded Annual Review.  Ugh.  As a Human Resource professional, I have read thousands of annual reviews.  Some well crafted, some not.  Some meandering diatribes that serve no purpose but to prop up the author, some with one or two sentence milk toast generalizations that do little more than say “hey, you showed up for work.”images 2

I’ve wondered sometimes what would happen if we had to give an annual review to our spouse or visa versa.  I can imagine my husband saying, “Great job this year on Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner but can we back off the bell peppers for 2013?” It’s really difficult to summarize the 2080 hours of work into one or two pages of meaningful, pertinent, impactful prose.

Here are some pointers on how to survive the process:

1. Embrace.  This is going to sound counter intuitive but – try to embrace the process.  If you dwell on the dread, you will delay the inevitable and suffer the process; whether giving or receiving.   Drafting the review hours before you have to sit down and give the review will not be your best work. It will be rushed, poorly thought-out and not likely to be thorough.  If you set the intention that you look forward to the process, the end product will be all the better (and it will won’t be as painful).  If you’re about to receive a review and aren’t open to constructive criticism, you won’t be able to benefit at all from the process.

2. Document.  The traditional advice from a Human Resource professional is, “Document, document, document.”  I’m not advocating “building a file”, I’m advocating that you make detailed notes throughout the year. Many annual reviews are a reflection of what has happened in the last two months.  All the great breakthroughs and successes from last February are a faint memory.  Memorialize the high points as well as the low points; there will be both.

3. Dissonance.  Most of us look for consonance.  We look for information to back up our beliefs.  So if we think that our assistant is sloppy, we look for more information that backs up our belief that he is slipshod.  So all we will see is misspellings, input errors and crumbs on the keyboard.  Look for the dissonance; seek out neatness, examples of straightforward execution, tidiness.

4. Equilibrium.  Seek out balance.  Focusing on only negative feedback can be demoralizing.  Only “pumping sunshine” can be just as detrimental.  Most of us want to know what we can work on to get better.  In a recent training there was an excellent analogy that a tri-athlete is constantly working for better form and time.  You never “arrive” at perfection; we are all works in progress.

5. Craft. Craft the message.  Phrasing developmental feedback in the form of what the person can do “more” of is important.  As I have posted before, trying to do “less” is much more difficult to measure.  Doing “more” is proactive.  So I should suggest that my assistant be “more” detail oriented instead of being “less” sloppy.  Stay away from negating words like “but” and “however”.  They erase any words before them.

6. Eyes.  Get a second set of eyes to read what you have written.  Getting a second opinion from someone you trust is important for perspective.  Sometimes we get caught up in our own “junk”.  You could end up dwelling on Excel techniques for a third of the review and not realize that you’ve lost balance in the appraisal.   You may use euphemisms that are lost out of context.  Having a second set of eyes can help clear up the message.

I hope this has alleviated some of the dread and challenges that come with drafting annual reviews.  You can make a difference with a well crafted appraisal and investing the time to deliver a balanced, well thought out message will be appreciated by the receiver.

Biting your Tongue

You need to get good at biting your tongue if you have a teenager, spouse/partner or boss.  Don’t meddle in things that don’t concern you or that aren’t in your span of control.  In the case of a teenager, you have NO span of control; in the case of the partner or boss, only as it is bestowed upon you.  I’m not sure if it’s a gender thing but I have a real hard time staying out of what does not concern me.  I need to back off and bite my tongue.images 3

Giving your opinion on your children’s clothing, dating or music preferences is a losing proposition.  You will not gain any trust or confidence if you are criticizing your teenager’s latest clothing ensemble or iTunes download.  The Romeo and Juliet effect is alive and well.  The more you say that you don’t like “skinny jeans” or gages or head banging music (I don’t even know what the real name is…but it’s awful), the more your children will embrace it.  You strengthen their ties to whatever is the object of your disgust.

It’s not easy but there are ways to bite your tongue (without literally biting your tongue):

1. Divest.  Don’t invest your ego and the judgment thereof into your offspring, friends and co-workers.  Getting wrapped up in “what will the neighbors say?” is a losing proposition.  I can remember my son waiting for the elementary school bus at the top of the driveway, wearing sandals and no jacket on a cold windy day practicing his karate moves.  I had to let go.  The neighbors still loved him and, as far as I know, didn’t call child protective services.

2. Suspend. Quit judging by your own standards.  Just because I get up at 5:30 AM to go for a run doesn’t mean my spouse will or wants to or will dare to.  Suspend judgment.  We all make our own path.  If your assistant wants to wear THOSE earrings with THAT dress, so be it.  If your boss wants to move a meeting because she’s got a hair appointment, so be it.  Let the judgment go.

3. Empathy.  Stand in their shoes.  There was a time when high top chucks were in style.  I owned a pair or two of bell bottoms.  My daughter came home from a hiking trip with a swath of bright red hair.  I remember dying my hair blue/black at age 20 testing my independence.  I bit my tongue and gave her a hug.

4. Silence. Speak when spoken to. Think whatever you are thinking, just don’t say it out loud.  If no one asked your opinion, don’t give it.  It’s amazing how powerful silence can be.  If they do, be judicious with your comments.  As Thumper’s Mom said “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all”.

5. Positive. Look for the good in all.  Reinforce the positive.  You may not like most of the presentation your friend gave at the conference but you really liked the slides.  Compliment the slides.  Your son hasn’t shaved in two months but he got a haircut last week?  Compliment the haircut.  Find the good and reinforce.

Suspending judgment can be liberating.  Worrying about what someone will think about this or that can weigh you down.  Don’t be responsible for carrying the burden.  Let go.  Bite your tongue and revel in the freedom.

Turn Over a New Leaf

This is the time of year where many folks start gathering up their New Year’s resolutions.   We start putting together the list that will cure all our ills and bad habits.  We decide it’s time to turn over a new leaf.  Lose 50 pounds, quit smoking, get out of debt.  Pick your leaf.  You might be ready to tear up that leaf by the second week of February.  You’ll be sore from that new exercise regime, or blow $100 on that new Thai restaurant, or break out the plastic again.  Why can’t we stick to the same leaf…new or otherwise?

New-Years-Resolutions-600x406

There is a lot of scientific evidence that is available now to help show you the way.  If you really think it through and set up a plan, you can succeed.  There are ways to anticipate the self sabotage. To be one step ahead of yourself and anticipate a few faltering steps.  If you understand your willpower and can short circuit your “auto-pilot”, there is hope that you can achieve your greatest desires.  You can succeed in turning over that leaf.

Here are a few steps:

1. More.  It is much easier to get behind the concept of more versus less.  Drink more water versus drink less soda.  Exercise more versus eat less.  It is so much easier to say, “Yeah, I ran more miles this week than last.”  But how do you know if you ate less, without meticulous logging of every calorie?  Even in the during performance reviews, it’s so much easier to ask someone to do more of something than less.   Frame your goal as something you want to do more of.

2. Identity.  Kelly McGonigal in her book “The Willpower Instinct” calls this your “Want Power”.  Think about how you want to identify with yourself.  It’s not that you want to save more as much as you want to see yourself as a “financially stable” person.  So when you make choices, you see yourself in the condition you are aspiring to.  So, if you identify with being a long distance runner, you aren’t likely to stop at McDonalds.

3.  Plan B.  Make sure you have a back up plan when hunger, stress and fatigue kick in.  These will happen.  Maybe not the first day, but at some point, you will be standing in the check out line at the Piggly Wiggly, a half hour late for your Zumba class, starving to death and that York/Reeses/Milky Way/(fill in your favorite candy) will be calling your name.  There are times when making a good choice will be impossible.  Your willpower is at its brink.   Pick the “regular size” versus the “king size” bar; choose gum or a bottle of water.  Pick a new default when your back is against the wall.

4. Schedule.  I’ve been a Franklin Covey Facilitator for several years.  One of the principles that has always been esposed in their “Focus” and “7 Habits ” courses is to schedule the big rocks.  The big rocks are the important goals in your life.  Whether it is training for a marathon, a happier marriage or being financially stable, if you schedule time in advance, you are much likelier to actually show up.  So plan a date with your partner, schedule ten miles for Saturday morning or spend Sunday afternoon working on your business plan.  Scheduling it will ensure that it happens.

5. Imagine temptation.  Envision your worst case scenario.  What bump in the road is likely to show up in the first week or so?  Birthday cake at work during your first week of your fitness plan: imagine yourself emailing that you have a conflicting meeting and turn it down.  You’re running late to your child’s concert and the only choice is fast food: imagine yourself ordering a salad and bottle of water.  Visualizing “the higher path” will help you actually follow through.

6. Compassion.  Forgiving yourself for any slip ups is critical.  Assume before you start that you will.  Because you will.  There are vacations, snowstorms, fires to put out and sick babysitters.  Showing yourself compassion is critical.  If you know that you can forgive yourself, you are much more likely to be successful in the long term.  Take care of your inner dictator.

All these steps involve taking the long view.  Pick the leaf that is most important (don’t pick a whole pile) and pull your full attention to it.  Imagine your future self. Make decisions based on their best interest. When you don’t–and there will be times when you don’t–practice forgiveness.  When you are successful with the first leaf, there will be will be others to take on.

Pointing Fingers

I’d love to know how much time and energy gets wasted pointing fingers.  We seem to be constantly searching for Fault, who to blame – The fall guy. We feel so vindicated once that football coach is fired, that worthless sales guy is let go or your daughter finally drops that no good boyfriend. Now it will all be better. But it isn’t.  Pointing fingers can be….er, pointless.

I’m not trying to assert that root cause analysis isn’t important. It certainly has its place when figuring out what went wrong with a plane crash. I’m just saying it’s not very productive in everyday life.  If the stakes aren’t high, what is the point of all this finger pointing?  It creates camps of co-workers on one side or the other; it creates division.  The assumption mill goes crazy along with the gossip mill and, worst of all, the complaint mill.images

I recently joined a peer to peer group and one of the rules of engagement is to not ask “why”. Well that seemed a little unorthodox, my Human Resource filter is always looking for the “why” but what was astutely pointed out by our leader is that “why” is all about blame. We are in the group for solutions and that is all about “what, how and where”. Makes you think doesn’t it.

So how do we get off the blame train? Here are some ideas:

1. You. It starts with you. Forgive yourself.  Calm down your inner critic.  I’ve seen co-workers blame themselves and then beat themselves up for months. I’ve seen managers bring up the doofus they hired ten years ago and waited two years to fire. This is not going to instill confidence in yourself…or anybody else. Don’t live in blame mode.

2. Debrief with compassion.  The team should certainly review what went right and what went wrong at an event. Be careful not to attach anyone to the failures. “Well it was Joe’s decision to get the dancing Elephant, what an idiot!”  Don’t start driving the bus over anyone.  Learn from the failures and successes and move on. No corpses left behind. The team won’t be afraid of the debrief going forward.

3. Potential. Dr. David Rock advocates “listening for potential” in his book “Quiet Leadership”. It engages you as a listener. Instead of thinking for ways to respond or problem solve, you listen with the intent for the speaker to find their own potential. It’s so much more proactive.  It’s difficult to point the finger if you are looking for potential.

4. Stop judging. Half the time, people are pointing the finger because they want the spotlight off themselves. If they start judging others and their actions, they feel better. Put someone else down and then, by default, you raise yourself up. This may work for a while but eventually you will find yourself alone. No one hangs out with guy who is driving the bus over folks.

5. Commitment. There are going to be times when you hold your child accountable for failing grades, your assistant for the botched report or your dog for the “accident” on the carpet.  Keep it as confidential as possible, maintain their self esteem and show them confidence and commitment that we can move forward from here.

It’s easy to fall into finger pointing and this isn’t going to end anytime soon. Start in your corner of the world and see what effect it has on others. As Bob Marley said, “who are you to judge the life I live? I know I’m not perfect and I don’t live to be, but before you start pointing fingers make sure your hands are clean.”

Seeing the Forest through the Trees

Have you ever wondered why some people seem to develop great outcomes almost without effort?  As if they are omniscient? They see the big picture while the rest of us are slogging through the brush trying to find the path.  Dr. David Rock talks about “the clarity of distance” in his book Quiet Leadership.  He suggests that by “listening for potential” in those around you, you will be much more effective if you keep your distance or stay away from your own agenda, filter, too much detail or hot spots.

We all walk around with our own filters; sometimes we don’t even use them knowingly.  I run into this when I am coaching clients and a Human Resource situation comes up.  Say, the client talks about a situation that involves a co-worker potentially being harassed.  My human resource filter can easily turn on.  Suddenly, I’m not engaged in listening; I’m trying to resolve the harassment issue instead of trying to understand the client. images 3

Analysis paralysis is another solution killer.  In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink, more data does not make for a better decision.  In fact, he says, “There can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis.” I’m not suggesting you send off the space shuttle without some engineering but when it comes to many decisions or solutions at hand, staying out of the details can be a real advantage.

So how can you start seeing the forest through the trees?  Here are some tips:

1. Step Back.  It’s much easier to make a great decision if you step back from the situation.  If you are too invested in the outcome or the person making the decision, you can definitely derail the decision making process.  My son is applying to colleges and recently decided to apply to my alma mater’s arch rival.  I’m not going to be a good listener or have his best interest in mind if I’m worried about him rooting against the Big Red.  If you can’t step away; at least bite your tongue.

2. Paralysis.  Don’t end up in analysis paralysis.  If you are helping someone make a decision, don’t create endless delays waiting for more facts and information.  I don’t suffer from this but I know a lot of people that do.  I remember an episode of  “This American Life” called Cat and Mouse where a man had been searching for over 20 years for the perfect couch.  It was a huge decision but he just kept gathering more data.  As of the airing of the episode, he STILL did not have a couch.  He’s in the forest and buried in a gigantic pile of leaves.

3. Taboos.  Acknowledge that there are areas where you just can’t be of any help and remain unbiased.  These are things that hold some emotional charge normally.  My husband can’t watch a movie that has adultery.  Therefore, he is not a good person to be a sounding board for someone deciding if they should stay with a cheating spouse. He cannot be unbiased…let alone control his emotions. Make sure you have the self awareness to know your taboos. You don’t want to be a part of the problem or to become the problem.

4. Lens check. When a team is trying to create solutions, everyone at the table has a different “lens”. Finance is trying to figure out how to fund it, Information Services is trying to figure out how to automate it and Sales is trying to figure out how to sell it. You’ve spent years of laying neuroplasty down in your head through education, work experience and making decisions based on that lens. It can be a unique perspective or completely out of your element.  Having Maintenance on the 401(k) Committee may not make a lot of sense. Yes, the perspective might be unique but duct tape isn’t going to help in most investment decisions. Make sure you know your own lens in order to see the forest.

5. Close Agendas. Depending on the situation, we all have agendas.  I speak some Spanish. If my daughter is researching study abroad programs, I’m going to push for Spain over China.  My son has a seafood allergy; he’s not going to be on board with a sushi restaurant.  My colleague’s friend owns a BBQ restaurant.  We end up with a lot of BBQ for catered events.  This is not a problem in a lot of situations but you want to be aware of your agendas if you are selected to be on the committee to decide the menu for the Annual Holiday Party.  If my son and colleague are on the committee, we’ll end up with BBQ. If you want to see the forest, make sure you are staying off the same old path through the trees.

To bring perspective to any situation, we need to make sure we know ourselves. Keeping our biases in check and knowing that, if we can’t, maybe we can bring our perspective at another time, in order to help see the forest through the trees.