Articles

Are You a Fuel-Efficient Leader?

July 2019

This quarter, I offer you a page from the playbook of the US women’s national soccer team. As I watched their final match to earn the World Cup championship (again!), I was in awe of how they are continually fueled by their desire to win, with their focus or energy never waning.
Similarly, our work sometimes feels so much less effortful than other times. Some challenges actually increase our precious energy rather than consume it. We all want more of that!
I recently helped an accomplished executive recover the exhilarating joy her work gave her and shed the excess toll that the work relationships were taking on her. For Julie, an in-house attorney, the powerful shift involved doubling down with more focus on the business goals she shared with her internal clients and less on self-protection. She started paying less attention to how much professional respect her clients’ actions conveyed and when they might disregard her advice. Previously, she had been channeling energy into monitoring and reacting to every client move with a cautious and critical eye, making her mood like a volatile thermometer. Predictably, the needed collaboration was rare and exhausting.
Generalizing from Julie’s success and Team USA, when our main mental focus is on the desired outcome and not on what could go wrong, we can stay more energized regardless of obstacles. When we play to win or achieve, we bring our best creativity to a challenge. In contrast, when we play not to lose, with a mindset based in caution, our work feels all uphill. Energy is depleted and we are less resourceful.
Every professional challenge we confront involves a current state, a desired future state and numerous undesirable future states. Without being naively blind to the risks, how can you strengthen your (and your team’s) focus on your desired outcome and reduce your thinking and effort around avoiding undesired results? Can you recall a time when such a creative versus reactive/protective mindset amplified what was possible and cleared a path for your team to overcome challenge with less effort?

Getting It Right:  Ease and Effort

April 22, 2019

My quarterly coaching insight is again inspired by yoga. But you don’t have to like or do yoga to appreciate this.

Sometimes, we care so much about something – and are so sure we know the best way to achieve it – that we try too hard.  All that single-minded focus may initially feel like commitment, leadership, and a great work ethic.  Wonderful stuff — up to a point!  But if it morphs into persistent striving–to be right or to win, it frays our nerves and relationships and becomes an exhausting drain on productivity.

I recently worked with an executive I’ll call Sara who generally lived by a “get-it-perfect” mindset that helped her be a topnotch performer. But her high voltage drive and fixation on exactly how things should be done took a toll. Colleagues made her aware of the negativity she injected into team dynamics.  After we unpacked her assumptions about excellence, she loosened her effortful grip on one way of seeing and doing, she noticed which meetings turned south rapidly and why, which tactics worked best in conflicts, and how others were more collaborative if she took more time to listen.  As Sara brought more flexibility and acceptance into her thinking, she created a new normal where collaboration now comes with more ease and the quality of team effort improves.

The take-away lesson can feel counter-intuitive:  Inviting more ease into your work will improve, not dilute, the results of your efforts.  You will make new solutions and better interactions possible.  That ease may include various shifts: loosening your grip on specific expectations, giving a conversation more time, having fewer strong opinions, or pausing and breathing before reacting.  Start with just one “move” toward ease and notice the benefits.

Your Brain on Presumptions: It’s Not Pretty, But It’s Curable

January 12, 2019

A recent coaching client, call her Anne, was a productive and ambitious over-achiever with expertise and results that top management highly valued. But she had been told she could be so brusque and direct that colleagues at various levels found it hard to work with her. She was described as sometimes intimidating, condescending, exhausting, and emotionally unpredictable. Not good!

At the start of our coaching partnership, Anne shared that she often felt disrespected due to the way her colleagues made demands of her. This incensed her, because being a highly valued professional was a top personal priority. Another one of her priorities was projecting unwavering strength. So when she was triggered by apparent disrespect, she projected an even more “invulnerable” harsher and inapproachable image. You can see the vicious cycle.

Our coaching engagement equipped me with 360-degree data about her colleagues’ perceptions. With the data in hand, I assured Anne that her smarts, talent and contributions were unquestionably respected. She had filled her knowledge gap with an incorrect assumption. By ending her imagined need to “fight” for respect, she found great new possibilities. We identified small ways to show up differently to her colleagues and reverse negative perceptions. She used more questions, explained more patiently, and established clearer boundaries – without the emotional load. Relationship improvements quickly emerged.

As Anne demonstrates, discarding old inaccurate assumptions can be powerful. When such presumptions are not vetted, they thrive uncorrected and unaddressed. The casualties can be trust, collaboration, innovation, and even talent retention. You don’t need a formal 360 to (in)validate silent assumptions. Just take a few minutes to respectfully review different stakeholders’ unspoken assumptions about a shared work stream, about role expectations, or about assorted priorities. The resulting illumination makes work easier, more enjoyable, and more rewarding for many. What a great gift to bring to your team to start off 2019!

Do More of What the Best Teams Do

An increasing amount of research explains some patterns that I’ve observed for many years as a team facilitator. Specifically, the teams that generate the most valuable insights in defining their…

1 2 4