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Standards of Success

Anyone who has been to a school reunion knows the pressure to look successful. In business, we often define external yardsticks and measure performance against them. But that same logic is not always appropriate when it comes to measuring the success of your professional life. As long as you use external standards to evaluate your success, you are guaranteed dissatisfaction—you’ll always find someone who is doing more, making more, or has more.

Instead of focusing outward, ask yourself what your standards of success are. Write them down and share them with those closest to you. This ensures you measure what matters to you, not to others.

Keep Your Cool

Are tough times making you irritable and short-tempered?

It makes sense: the economy is stressed and so are we. When things get tough, we tend to tap into our worst selves. Try these three ways to be your best self and keep your cool under the increasing pressure:

  1. Stay alert. Pay attention to what’s going on around you and take action. But don’t panic; panic only inhibits your ability to make good decisions.
  2. Focus on must-do’s. It’s easy to feel swamped with a to-do list a mile long. Decide what is absolutely necessary and focus on those items. Try not to let the fire drills creep onto your “non-negotiables” list. Balance it with those things that will ensure your company’s survival in the long term.
  3. Ask people about what they’re going through. Demonstrate care and concern. It may not be in your power to fix others’ problems but you may hear a story that helps you feel less alone in your own thoughts.
…and remember: you’re not alone.

 

Stress Mastery

No previous generation of people in history has experienced the variety and intensity of pressures, conflicts, and demands ours has. We live in an age of anxiety and if you are among the thousands of people struggling to maintain physical and mental health in the face of stress, you know something has to change.

When managed correctly, stress can positively impact productivity and performance. Here are three things you can do to make stress work for you:

  1. Recognize worry for what it is.Stress is a feeling, not a sign of dysfunction. When you start to worry, realize it’s an indication that you care about something, not a cause for panic.
  2. Focus on what you can control. Too many people feel bad about things they simply can’t change. Remember what you can affect and what you can’t.
  3. Create a supportive network. Knowing you have somebody to turn to can help a lot. Make meaningful connections with others so that you have people to rely on in times of stress.
Stress is unavoidable, but it doesn’t have to be damaging.

Give Thanks

There is far too little praise and appreciation in most work environments.

Even those who are good about giving positive feedback can tend to reserve it for “above and beyond” moments. Yet, the routine work that people are expected to do every day often goes unnoticed and under-appreciated.

Genuine gratitude goes a long way in engaging people and binding them together. So…

Once a week, say thank you to an employee.

Don’t only focus on the extra mile they may have gone, but on the ordinary things they do to make your team, unit, or company hum. Be specific: explain the behavior or task that you are grateful for and the positive impact it has on you and the company.

Making It Right

Eventually, we all have to apologize for a mistake.

When it’s your turn, here are the three things to do to make it right:

  1. Admit it. Fessing up expedites the recovery process. While it’s tempting to shirk responsibility or slink away, it only makes matters worse.
  2. Laugh at it. If it’s appropriate, go ahead. Joking around gives others permission to do the same.
  3. Reframe it. People will want to talk about the mistake forever. Acknowledge it, but refocus the conversation on what matters most: moving forward.

Could It Be?

When I was working at a hospital years ago, I used to go into morning staff meetings and see problems so clearly, when others could not. I didn’t think I had the right or the capabilities to speak up sometimes – whether it was a management challenge I had an opinion on or a patient care issue. I worried about being seen as too new, or too inexperienced, or too arrogant, or too whatever to offer a solution to the team.

But mostly, I worried about being… too wrong.

So, I kept quiet most of the time and learned to sit on my hands lest those hands rise up and betray me. I would rather keep my job by staying within the lines than say something and risk looking stupid.

That was nearly 20 years ago. Since then, I’ve consulted at high levels with organizations like Bank of America, Citibank, Exelon, Honeywell, Office Depot, The New York City Fire Department, Raytheon and Time-Warner. And I’ve learned one simple thing. As companies are figuring out their tough problems like which new markets to go into, how to to boost sales in a recession, or ways to increase employee engagement the thing that stops any of these good teams from being successful is not stupidity.

No, when an organization’s problems are tough (and really interesting problems are all tough) the issue is rarely stupid people. Rather, what limits success, growth, and winning is something more like blindness. Blindness, as in we don’t know the whole context, or see an issue in its full complexity. As in, we are blind in not knowing what we don’t know. Smart people know how to solve most problems and so when they are failing, it’s usually the fact that we can’t see what we can’t see because we are experts and we stopped looking at it fresh a long time ago. And perhaps you can identify how this happens where you work?

Perhaps you were attending a new strategy rollout and you “knew” big chunks of it wouldn’t work. Or the latest re-org focuses on optimizing the delivery of X, when you know the market is really looking for Y. Or your leader never seems to address the one thing that is stopping a bunch of other things from being successful.

Maybe you’ve heard the hallway chatter such as “don’t they get it?” and “will they ever deal with this?” The thinking goes like this… the plan seems crazy and the issue is Z, but since it’s plain to me, well they must see it too.

But tragically, their blindness can make us silent. We conclude that a topic is mysteriously “taboo.” We say to ourselves how busy we are, telling ourselves that the issue is theirs and not ours. If we do ponder what best explains the unmentioned elephant, we notice that one option obligates us to be a bearer of bad news to the powers that be. And what if we’re wrong? As Lincoln said, “better to keep silent and be thought a fool, than speak up and remove all doubt”. And so, in the end, 99 times out of 100, we choose silence. We don’t express our viewpoint and offer what we think could help.

And here’s the cost to our silence…when issues stay unaddressed, stagnant, broken…we all fail. We ship bad products, our brand suffers, and our company performance plummets. In general, things suck. Not just for “them” but for all of “us.” The cost of silence is total suck-ness.

When we are silent, we are hurting the outcome. You see, minority viewpoints have been proven to aid the quality of decision making in juries, by teams and for the purpose of innovation. Research proves then even when the different points of view are wrong, they cause people to think better, to create more solutions and to improve the creativity of problem solving.

And so here’s the opportunity to avoid suck-ness, and the thing I’ve learned along the way to speak your truth without losing your job. Rather than saying, “This is the problem” which can risk looking the fool and quite possibly pissing someone off, ask this:

“Could it be …that this is the problem?”

“Could it be” is a conversation starter, rather than an assertion. It is the way you put it out there without having to defend it.Could it be allows the issue to be a question for everyone. allows for a dialogue exchange rather than a yes/no argument.

The blind need you to see. The silence needs to be broken. And perhaps risking being the fool is necessary to move forward. Underlying all that is courage: courage to speak, courage to risk, courage to stand up and speak rather than sit down and listen. Courage to break the silence…and when you do, the blind will see, the different viewpoints will be heard, and we can reduce suck-ness where we work.

Could it be….you’re ready to speak up?

 

The Nod

I run. And when I take my 4-mile trek around the outskirts of a local golf course very early in the morning, I do so against the tide of about 50 cyclists. These are serious riders and they’re doing about 25 laps a day…so I get to see a lot of them over the course of 30 minutes.

For about a year now, I’ve made it a practice of giving a quick head nod as the riders go by. They’re coming towards me at about 50 MPH so I’ve rationalized that they just can’t see me very well at such a high rate of speed – and that’s why no one has ever nodded back.

This morning that all changed. The lead cyclist was approaching and I gave my customary nod for the gazillionth time. And then it happened. He nodded back. Then most of the riders trailing behind him nodded. And finally, as the last rider in line started his sprint to close the gap behind the person in front of him, he raised two fingers ever-so-slightly off the handlebars and shot me a peace sign…along with a nod.

I had arrived!

I had to earn those nods – at least that’s how I’m choosing to see it. I had to make almost a hundred trips around that golf course at 5AM on weekdays for many months to get that nod of acceptance, of validation, of acknowledgment for my efforts. I run for me and my health, not for anyone else…

But we all need a nod every once in a while, don’t we?

Or maybe, by pure coincidence, they just happened to notice me for the first time today and when the leader gave me my props, everyone else decided to follow suit (which is an entirely separate topic for a great post in the future – stay tuned for that). Whatever. Either way, I finished my last quarter-mile today with a huge, peaceful grin; which hasn’t always been easy to muster up at the end of a tiring run.

So…who can you give a nod to today? Who has earned your respect with their demonstration of resilience, perseverance and determination? Who do you see going that extra mile?

Today – amidst the hustle and bustle of your busy, fast-paced schedule – notice someone going by you who has consistently exceeded your expectations.

Give ‘em a nod. Flash ‘em the peace sign.

They’ll appreciate it.

 

Happiness At Work

As an executive and organizational coach, I see many studies of the causes and symptoms of work stress. So it was refreshing to see a study about the converse: what makes workers happy.

Focusing on social workers, a profession known for its high attrition, stress and burnout, John Graham, Ph.D., a professor of social work at the University of Calgary and his then doctoral student Micheal Shier, now at the University of Pennsylvania, sent a survey out to 2,500 registered social workers in Alberta, Canada. Seven hundred people responded.

From that group they took 13 people who scored the highest in nine areas of happiness and then followed them closely through in-depth interviews about their lives at home, at work and through shadowing them at work. Here’s what he found made them happy:

  1. Flexible work schedules. The workers had the ability to provide self-care by having the flexibility to manage their personal lives. A flexible schedule helped them to achieve a healthy work-life balance.
  2. A strong sense of engagement in their work. The researcher found that was because of behind-the-scenes support the employees received from their bosses and employers. This support included flex schedules as well as the availability of superiors to consult with and bounce issues off of.
  3. A feeling of being appreciated and valued, which often stemmed from their being included in organizational decision-making.
  4. Having a high degree of freedom built into their jobs, meaning that they wanted the ability to try new things and expand out of their immediate area.
  5. A pleasant physical workspace and good relationships with clients and colleagues.
  6. Having a diversity of responsibilities, which might include training or teaching others, research, and policy development work.
  7. Having a mentor to talk about their life, career decisions and their day-to-day job.

Graham and Shier are currently researching whether these factors make other types of workers happy as well, but the hunch is that these attributes would be important to all workers.

What improves your sense of well being at work?

 

Toy Drive

A friend of mine, Jeff, is a a canine officer with the Miami-Dade County Police Department. His partner, “Bo”, is a seven year-old German Shepherd…and Bo loves his toy.

His adored plaything – a knotted up piece of sturdy rope – gets Bo so excited, so playful and it revs him up every time he sees it. I have witnesed this…and it is amazing.

That toy centers him, focuses him and when it is waved in front of Bo during his dangerous job of flushing out fugtives, Bo knows that if he follows Jeff’s commands and get’s the bad guy, he’ll be playing with that toy in no time. Bo does it all for the toy. Jeff calls it his “toy drive”.

Do you have your own “toy drive”? What’s your toy? What do you get excited about everyday? What (or who) do you adore that inspires and energizes you?

What do you do it for?

Three Basic Elements of a Real Team

The word “team” is so commonly used in today’s organizations, most managers I come across are oblivious to its true meaning. Here are three key elements a group must have to be considered a real team and to maximize its potential:

  1. A meaningful and common purpose. This is more than an outside mandate from the top. To be successful, the team must develop and own its purpose.
  2. Adaptable skills. Diverse capabilities are important. Effective teams rarely online casino poker tournament have all the skills they need at the outset; they develop them as they learn what their challenge requires.
  3. Mutual accountability. You can’t force trust and commitment. Agreeing on the team’s goals is the first moment at which team members forge their accountability to one another.
One of the best books I’ve come across in my work with my teams is Pat Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. You’ll enjoy it…

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