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.
- They know that their work is personal — they speak their own truth from their unique perspective, not generic viewpoints that feel flat.
- They draw you in with great storytelling that includes intentionally shared details, and also can improvise in the moment, fully attuned to the situation.
- They get to the point — clear punch lines, clear take-aways, no fluff.
- They surprise and challenge you, and sometimes make things a bit uncomfortable –They know that boredom is poison.
- They show courage. They choose a viewpoint, take some risks, and escalate their stance without worrying about not being enough or what not to say.
- Some of their best “bits” are around questions no one else asks and that they cannot answer on their own.
- Finally, they don’t take themselves too seriously. That makes the rest of us feel safe being ourselves. And it makes us want to be around them.
I love watching and listening to great comedians and improvisers. Since I’m not talented enough to be a pro myself, I’ll keep channeling what I see and learn into my coaching work with leaders.
Do you know when your mind is running on a low battery? And – importantly – what to do about it? This question popped in my head recently when my ever-so-smart phone notified me of its own “Low Battery” and offered me an optional “Low Power Mode”. Since my own energy was running low at that time, I thought this was especially brilliant. A refresher lesson on resilience!
The first step to managing yourself with low energy is to recognize the signals. If you’re like me, your common clues may include: Simple decisions becomes difficult, attention span diminishes, patience wanes, normal organizational tricks lapse, and my thinking can become stubbornly rigid. You likely have your own cues.
The second step is to decide what recharging activities will yield the fastest and most valuable energy boost. For me, some combination of running, walking, yoga, sleep, and fun time with people I enjoy are the best way to restore me to my 100% best self. (TV is tempting, but not on the good list.) Depending upon the causes of my “battery drain”, I can give myself a booster shot in 30 minutes. I just have to remember how easy that is – and make the time without delay.
Third, you need to decide what trade-offs you can make for a day or so, so that you can turn off some of your functionality and operate on “Low Power Mode”. I try to enlist the following tactics: defer major decisions and sensitive conversations at least a day, break down complicated activities to bite size steps, seek out helpful thought partners more than usual, and choose a couple of moderate tasks to fully complete for the sense of accomplishment.
Resilience is about making the best of all you bring over the long haul. Intentional trade-offs and recovery periods are a key element for that end game. I’d be curious to hear your favorite tactics and encourage you to take them out of your tool box more often. I’m trying to do the same.
- Explicitly invite fresh perspectives to the table and give them the platform to share candid views on a topic (e.g., someone impacted by your team’s work but not on your team)
- Ask junior staff to prepare and present their perspective on an issue as the starting point to a problem-solving discussion — encouraging them to boldly think beyond existing management assumptions
- Declare your meeting up front as hierarchy-neutral, exploratory and safe for unpopular views; then walk that talk, calling out any critical or controlling behavior
- When folks narrow in on a solution very quickly, ask them to generate and compare two more options before making a decision
- Close out a meeting by reaffirming the value of and protection of differing viewpoints and new untested ideas; celebrate the specific bold ideas that prove valuable.
The new year is the season for setting ambitious goals. Declaring aspirations about new skills and new achievements may serve you well. But there’s another approach that may be more accessible and more valuable to you professionally: Pick a couple of things you already know how to do well and that your organization values, and simply aim to do them well more consistently. That increased consistency may be about frequency, about style, about rigor, about listening, about emotions… or anything else that influences your impact on others.
Whatever you contribute when you do something that is especially valued – such as coaching your colleagues, preparing presentations, meeting deadlines, guiding creative thinking… wouldn’t there be a positive ripple effect in your organization if folks got MORE of that at the same level of quality? Wouldn’t clarity, alignment and performance be strengthened if your stakeholders experienced a more consistent, predictable version of you? Consistent behavior – when it is valued behavior — also cultivates trust, reduces misunderstandings and enables safe organizational learning.
Someone once said “Consistency is better than rare moments of greatness.” I fully agree! Where is valuable consistency accessible to you with just a little more discipline?
He didn’t need CPR. But my client felt like the wind was knocked out of him by a senior executive’s dismissive behavior. I’ve recently watched several coaching clients who are great contributors get discouraged because they were on the receiving end of a seemingly unfair, unexplained judgment. It’s an exhausting distraction.
We all make snap judgments. (I’ve been catching myself in the act lately.) The scientific explanation is that our brains have so much information continuously coming in that categorizing our observations is a necessary short cut. It allows us to form opinions and decisions at an acceptable pace. But we pay a steep price when we don’t check up on assumptions about the capabilities of colleagues. Every negative categorization – including subconscious ones – can play out as self-fulfilling, with a detrimental impact on both team performance and individual engagement.
Which of these common short cut assumptions trip you up?
- Someone who speaks very differently from me probably isn’t as thoughtful or smart as I am (e.g., a regional accent, faster/slower pace, more/less precise)
- Someone who isn’t “put together” (by my subjective standards) probably isn’t a sharp or organized thinker (e.g., physical appearance, mannerisms, posture)
- Someone who seems “more sensitive” (by my subjective standards) probably cannot handle a tough conversation that we should have
If you picked at least one such offense that you commit, can you identify the specific individual who is most impacted by your short cut? Then, in your next few interactions, ask a few more questions, bring a bit more patience, and seek out fresh learning from them.
[Note: Some of our most pervasive and damaging mental short cuts involve unconscious bias around race and gender. That is too large a topic to do justice here. But you can always try on your own to self-assess and adjust your thinking.]
Appreciating and leveraging our natural talents and accumulated strengths is an important element of a successful career. Yet when those same valuable attributes are leaned on TOO heavily, they crowd out complementary behaviors. Heavy-handed reliance on our strengths creates a false sense of security and enables narrow, rigid thinking and can even drive away colleagues.
Two executives I coached recently got such feedback and were asked to work on their tendencies with their coach (me). They got down to business, and each of them recently forwarded to me emails from their CEOs with unsolicited praise about how they are showing up with colleagues. This big step forward took just a couple of months of focused intention. They each chose to step back and explore their assumptions about cause-and-effect. They had been over-attributing positive outcomes to particular behaviors (“strengths”) that they liked to use and under-attributing a few negative consequences (including employee demotivation and performance issues) to dynamics that they had inadvertently introduced.
Simple questions you can ask yourself: What else could be true (about my role in this issue)? When might my assumptions not be so consistently true? For example, if you think that you have to drive certain staff hard or check up on all their work to sustain high performance, you may be overlooking your negative impact: they may be afraid to ask for help when they need it, they may not trust themselves to take smart risks if they feel you don’t trust them, or they may withhold good ideas because they are rewarded to conforming tightly to your demands.
Keep playing to your true strengths when they serve your objectives – and remember they are part of a larger tool kit that is at your disposal! I’d love to hear your own examples of reining in an overused strength and what resulted.
Our main sources of stress seem to come from outside ourselves, they happen to us… leaders overcommit, clients get angry, colleagues drop the ball, bosses change their minds. But what if you could influence the amount of organizational anxiety those stressors generate? … You can!
Neuroscience has taught us that moods are highly contagious – the good ones as well as the bad ones. Recall intense meetings where relationships were strained or bad news just broke. Have you been in this situation and then found yourself very relieved by someone else’s composed response… when someone you respect – likely in leadership – was staying calm? It is powerfully reassuring – it physiologically lifts us – when we are in proximity to a calm person in an anxiety-inducing situation. Non-work examples I’ve experienced include turbulence on an airplane, or being lost and late while driving somewhere.
Challenge yourself to “BE that guy/woman” who injects a bit more contagious calmness into your work environment. It’s ok if you cannot authentically sustain a completely calm, confident response for very long. And you don’t have to have reassuring answers or sugarcoat the situation to justify your calm. Just pause long enough to be more thoughtful and less reactive to the escalating moods and questionable actions of others. Model a response that is calmer than the group average for at least the duration of a meeting. Simply by not adding to the collectively expressed anxiety, you can bring down overall stress levels and their ripple effect.