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Improve Employee Capabilities and Retention for No Cost

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Business
Improve Employee Capabilities and Retention for No Cost
  1. This week’s article is by Mark Herschberg, an author and instructor at MIT.  It is a companion to his interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled Essential Skills for Success No One Taught You that aired on Tuesday, October 19th, 2021.

There’s the old line:

Question: What if we train people and then they leave?

Answer: What if you don’t train them and they stay?

As we head into the new normal of a covid-norm world (post-covid doesn’t seem to be the right term because covid seems like it will be there to stay) what does it mean for our organization and the development of its members? Companies are already seeing higher than average turnover due to the great recession and expect to see it for another few quarters. Knowing a certain, higher than average percentage of your training dollars will walk out the door seems like a bad investment. Besides, HR and leadership are already stretched thin from re-opening offices, navigating the new normal, and dealing with a labor shortage; who has time to start a new program! But what if you could train for an insignificant amount of dollars and increase your retention at the same time?

Training traditionally is implemented with the “sage on the stage” model. Your employees are sent to listen to an expert. It means bringing the expert in or sending your team to some offsite training. Either way, it’s big dollars in direct costs, plus potentially additional travel time and costs. Today we can get that training virtually, but we know people tend to be less engaged watching a video for an hour.

Fortunately, there are existing models we can turn to. For decades, top business schools have used the case method. This is a form of active learning in which the class doesn’t simply listen but actively participates. It can involve case studies, discussion problem solving, reflection, or other techniques in which the members of the class don’t just listen but actively participate. It’s the technique we also use at MIT’s famed career success accelerator program.

A low-cost, easy to implement method is to implement learning pods at your organization. In business school students are broken into cohorts, groups of people with a mix of backgrounds. During a case study, each person contributes their thoughts based on their own knowledge and prior experience. The students learn in a stone soup manner, everyone contributes some insight to the discussion to create something much more valuable than anyone could have created on her own.

The cost of doing this is little to none. One method is to use a book. That’s basically the cost of a lunch per person, certainly not going to break your budget. You can also use free content, such as online articles, videos, blogs, or podcasts. What matters is that there is common content everyone reviews ahead of time. They can engage with content in 15-30 minutes and then have a discussion 45-60 minutes long. That’s a time cost of 60-90 minutes per cycle.

The groups can then meet, say twice a month to discuss the content. Much like with a business school cohort, it’s the class discussion itself that adds to real value. The content was just the nucleus around which the content is created.

There are several ways to structure this. The simplest is to create small groups, typically around 6-8 people, send them the content, and let them self-direct the conversations. So, with zero cost, and a couple of hours of planning overhead, you can create this training program at your organization.

If you want to go further, you can structure the groups in a number of ways based on seniority, department, or other factors. You can also be more proactive in guiding the discussion. For example, you can create discussion topics or questions for the groups to consider. You can ask groups to share their thoughts in an email thread, or on a company wiki so groups can share knowledge with each other. You can also do more advanced types of learning including bringing in speakers and workshops or running actual case studies. Organizations such as The Innovative Leadership Institute (ILI) have free resources that you can employ, such as the ILI’s six-year podcast library.  You can also organize people into larger groups, but that takes more active organization since you need to actively moderate discussions of more than a dozen people or so.  The Innovative Leadership Institute builds cohort groups based on the Position Success Indicator assessment to ensure learning partners are matched for optimal learning.

So far, we’ve created a no-cost development program. But it offers so much more. There are multiple, great secondary benefits from such a training program.

First, you increase employee engagement. Whether they’re on the brink of leaving or are currently happy in their roles, employees will feel more engaged with the company. It’s no longer just work for pay, but a company that cares about them and wants to train them up. This will only help with engagement and retention.

Second, it’s a chance for employees to build those important internal networks. If you create groups mixed across departments people will get to know co-workers, they might not otherwise come across. This helps to break down silos and increase cross-departmental communication.

Third, it creates a common language. If everyone has read Good to Great you can say “hedgehog”, and everyone knows what you’re referring to. Models, stories, analogies, and terminology now become part of the common language of the company, helping to improve how people communicate with each other.

This is not to say you shouldn’t do other types of training, but as HR resources are stretched actively recruiting, this is a low-cost, low-effort program to engage and improve your employees. You can create this on your own or use free online resources like The Career Toolkit Development Guide available at https://www.thecareertoolkitbook.com/resources.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

About the Author

From tracking criminals and terrorists on the dark web to creating marketplaces and new authentication systems, Mark Herschberg has spent his career launching and developing new ventures at startups and Fortune 500s and in academia. He helped to start the Undergraduate Practice Opportunities Program, dubbed MIT’s “career success accelerator,” where he teaches annually. At MIT, he received a B.S. in physics, a B.S. in electrical engineering & computer science, and a M.Eng. in electrical engineering & computer science, focusing on cryptography. At Harvard Business School, Mark helped create a platform used to teach finance at prominent business schools. He also works with many nonprofits, including Techie Youth and Plant A Million Corals. He was one of the top-ranked ballroom dancers in the country and now lives in New York City, where he is known for his social gatherings, including his annual Halloween party, as well as his diverse cufflink collection.

Photo by Matthew Osborn on Unsplash

Setting the Virtual Table: How to Build a Culture of Belonging One Cyber-Meal at a Time

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Setting the Virtual Table: How to Build a Culture of Belonging One Cyber-Meal at a Time

This week’s article is an article by Jeffrey Hull, CEO of Leadershift, Inc.  It is a companion to his interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled Flex: The Art and Science of Leadership in a Changing World that aired on Tuesday, September 21st, 2021.

After a year of forced remote work, Zoom overload, and a substantial loss of work-life balance for many of us, the news is stark: virtual work is here to stay. That is according to workplace expert, Dave Burkus, who I had the privilege of interviewing recently for the Institute of Coaching at Harvard. But the news is not all bad. As Dave points out, research shows that many benefits outweigh the drawbacks once we learn how to optimize our work lives in virtual spaces: we have more work-time flexibility, no commute, can spend less on work “costumes” and can potentially work anywhere there is a good internet connection. Virtual work can also increase a worker’s sense of autonomy, which according to research on self-efficacy by Richard Ryan, PhD at the Center for Self Determination Theory is one of three evidence-based factors, along with competence and relatedness, that underpin performance and motivation.

The trouble is that the third factor, relatedness, is particularly difficult to maintain, let alone enhance, in cyber-space. So how do we build a sense of connection, community, and belonging when we’re sitting alone watching tiny boxes on a two-dimensional screen? The answer may surprise you. As Dave points out in his excellent book, Working from Anywhere, the key to connecting in virtual spaces is being intentional about re-creating those experiences that foster cohesion and collegiality.  First among them? Food.

For centuries, human tribes have communed by breaking bread together. Either sitting around the fire or the dining table, the simple act of sharing a meal ensemble has been part of all human cultures. As Burkus describes, a perfect example can be found in Sweden, with the “cake and coffee” culture known as “Fika:” where employees share a drink and a bite to eat with co-workers (not alone at their desks like many Americans) on a daily basis.  It is a deeply important ritual that underpins their well-known collegial, yet high-performing, work culture.

Yet, as regenerative design expert Ben Preston points out, it is challenging to “feel” that same emotional arousal provided by the lived experience of taste, smell, tone, and touch through a two-dimensional screen. The human parasympathetic system needs a certain amount of stimulation to mediate the “fight or flight” response, to bring us into a state of calm rapport.  Eye contact, gestures, smiles, and yes, the arousal of our taste buds and sense of smell, are keen aspects of how humans build trust. So how do we do it virtually?

Well, if you have ever watched a cooking show on TV, or recently saw Stanley Tucci devouring homemade pasta on his gastronomic tour of Italy for CNN, you know that just watching someone eating delicious food can make your taste buds tingle. Breaking bread in cyberspace can work. But you have to pay attention to the details. So here is my five-step recipe for virtual dining that is sure to delight, and inspire, a high-performing team.

  1. Get serious: Food and drink are the lifeblood of vitality for all of us. When we dispense with mealtime gatherings due to remote work we are missing out on something important.  Leaders take note:  creating an opportunity for your team to come together over a shared meal – even if very much BYOB – is serious stuff.  You may not be able to take your team out for lunch or dinner, but you can bring them together, turn off the “to-do” list and share the intimacy of a meal. In fact, by having your team bring their favorite foods, or perhaps a special drink concoction into the mix, the experience can not only be fun but can become a cross-cultural learning experience.
  1. Get personal: Food and drink, are actually just the appetizer, for it is in the stories we share about the highs and lows of living life—taking care of friends and family, overcoming obstacles, watching our kids grow and achieve—where bonds are forged. The virtual meal is an opportunity for leaders to invite everyone into a shared experience. Norms, myths, symbols, and intangible “moments” are what coalesce into a culture of teaming (and psychological safety).

It is important, however, for the circle to be complete by encouraging — not demanding — everyone, even introverts, participates. The key for leaders in this regard is to be the role model: share with humility and vulnerability some triumph or failure, which gives others permission to let down their hair, be human, and imperfect. Cultures of safety and trust are not born of competition, one-upmanship, or “sucking up” to the boss.  It is imperative that the interaction be facilitated well — that employees feel relaxed, supported, welcomed in their diversity and uniqueness.

  1. Get physical: Another key element of meal gatherings that is often taken for granted in the “real world” in the sense of tactile connection afforded by varying our somatic movements, postures, seating arrangements, and so on. To include this physical and energetic component in cyberspace requires intention and attention – to detail.  A leader might suggest people “dress up” (remember office attire?) or wear a costume.

It might be appropriate to suggest participants invite significant others to join in, or bring a child or pet to the “dinner table”.  One way to bring sensory experience into the meal is to have everyone bring a symbolic object that is meaningful for them — to “show and tell” — and share the meaning with which an object or symbol is imbued.  Another possibility is a poetry reading or musical interlude. Often at pre-covid gatherings, we would invite a co-worker to play an instrument or sing. This same activity can be accomplished online: a musical interlude adds color and flair to a virtual meal. Finally, consider adding variation in the use of physical space:  have everyone join in on some dance moves, stretch, or breathe together.  The key: get up and move!

  1. Get game: Last, but not least, in contrast to all of the above; don’t take the whole thing too seriously.  What makes gatherings special, memorable, and relaxing in the “real world” is also true virtually: stuff happens. Make space for slip-ups, jokesters, break-downs. Take time for fun and games. Dining together, virtually, should be what I would call “serious fun.”

One of my clients plays virtual charades with her team, another had a cocktail invention contest (e.g. They sent around a list of ingredients, all non-alcoholic, and then proceeded to find creative ways to mix and match for the best flavor combos). Another leader held an impromptu karaoke event on Zoom, which brought out the best and worst – in everyone.  The key here is to be playful, light, inclusive (invite the introverts, gently, to participate), and serious, all in the name of bonding.

There is a reason why the most important scene, the finale, in one of the longest-running Broadway musicals, recently celebrating 25 years of success across the world, is set in a restaurant around a big dining table. The cast of RENT sings the famous anthem La Vie Boheme while, eating, drinking, and dancing on the table. This ritual celebration symbolizes the ultimate experience we all crave as humans: to belong.

So as the RENT cast might say, there is no time like today. If you are leading a remote team, get serious, and get playful. Bring everyone together on Zoom, Teams, or whatever platform you like, set aside work for a bit, and instead, set a virtual table, eat, drink and make merry. Your team will be glad you did.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

About the Author
Jeffrey Hull, Ph.D. BCC is CEO of Leadershift, Inc. a leadership development consultancy based in New York City and author of the best-selling book, FLEX: The Art and Science of Leadership in A Changing World, from Penguin-Random House in 2019. A highly sought-after speaker, consultant, and executive coach with over twenty-five years working with C-suite leaders worldwide, Dr. Hull is also a Clinical Instructor in Psychology at Harvard Medical School and adjunct Professor of Leadership at New York University. He is the Director of Global Development at the Institute of Coaching, a Harvard Medical School Affiliate. Dr. Hull has been featured in Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, Investors Business Daily, and a wide range of media. He can be reached at www.jeffreyhull.com

Photo by Jay Winnington on Unsplash

The Spirituality of Work and Leadership

Posted by Felix Assivo on
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Business
The Spirituality of Work and Leadership

This week’s article is provided by Paul Gibbons, academic advisor and author.   The article is an excerpt from his new book The Spirituality of Work and Leadership: Finding Meaning, Joy, and Purpose in What You Do.   It is a companion to his interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled Finding Meaning, Joy, and Purpose in What You Do that aired on Tuesday, September 7th.

VOCATION AND SPIRITUAL FIT

“Most people’s jobs are too small for their spirits.” ~Studs Terkel, from Working

People spend nearly half their waking lives at work, perhaps 100,000 hours in a lifetime. In the previous chapter, we argued that the time one spends working should be joyfully and purposefully spent, contributions should be a source of meaning and fulfillment, and social interactions should be a significant source of community and connectedness.

In this chapter, we start with questions about vocation and mindset: Which matters more: what you do, or how you do it? Can you bring a spiritual mindset, say of gratitude or service, to any job? How much responsibility for the worker’s experience lies with the worker, and how much with the employer?

CHOOSING WORK – BALANCING SECULAR AND SPIRITUAL

“Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess.” ~ Father Thomas Merton

One workplace spirituality “killer-app” is vocation choice, sometimes called fulfilling your purpose in life, finding your calling, or “following your bliss.” This subject has birthed hundreds of books. A few, such as Connections between Spirit and Work in Career Development, are academic in approach. Others are more inspirational and practical, such as True Work, The Purpose Driven Life, The Leaders Way, The Work We Were Born To Do, and The Art of Work.

The above books rightly say that the feeling of being called may be immensely powerful. For the called, it may provide motivation to make drastic life changes. Calling provides a narrative for work that can help you soar in the good times and transcend the bad times. It helps leaders lead with greater passion and charisma—indeed, many leadership development programs help leaders create a powerful career narrative about their highs and lows and the learning from those that has shaped who they are. In my programs, leaders used to explore this by creating a timeline of life and leadership experiences that had shaped their vision and values and that shape what is unique about them and what they stand for as a leader.

There is a question of whether calling comes from “out there,” the Universe, a Higher Power, God, or whether (as existentialists would have it) there is no purpose “out there,” but we are liberated to choose for ourselves. Different strokes.

For the existentialists or people without a deity, this freedom of choice, of accepting responsibility for those choices, and of doing the work of creating meaning can be hard. In the words of Jean-Paul Sartre, “Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. It is up to you to give [life] a meaning.”

When reflecting upon your calling, using one of the many guides available, you want first to focus on the spiritual, the meaning derived from work, and on intrinsic satisfaction rather than on skills, interests, job opportunities, financial rewards, and traditional views of success. Secular concerns press upon us all the time, so we give priority to the less urgent but more important. There are various tools career coaches use to help with this: narratives, dreams, symbols, poetry, visualization, and insights from the past.

Once you’ve used these “spiritual tools,” you balance spiritual with secular concerns.

One simple tool, the Ikigai (“reason to live” in Japanese), helps readers think through the tension between the secular and spiritual worlds53.

Diagram V-1: The Ikigai career purpose tool

To use this tool, spend about an hour thinking about each of the petals and the tensions between them. Ask yourself which petal is most or least fulfilling in your current role. (I have formalized this process with a questionnaire and in workshops, but the do-it-yourself approach works well if you dedicate the time to it.)

Where some books on calling are wrong

“If you’re having work problems, I feel bad for you son. I got 99 problems but meaning ain’t one.” ~99 PROBLEMS, JAY-Z , paraphrase

Coaches and self-help gurus sometimes draw a distinction between societal and parental influences, the tangible pressures of living (paying rent), and what the “inner-self” or “real you” or “true self” is called to do.

This distinction is false and unhelpful because there is no “you” bereft of any historical or cultural influences – your likes and dislikes, talents and shortfalls, personality, and values were shaped from an early age by dozens of influences. You can’t untangle the threads and find a “pure you” in there. Humans have many scripts running – you just get to choose which you pay attention to. You also get to choose to set some influences aside and give more weight to others.

We gain information about the world of work as we mature.  Sometimes I advise young people that early jobs are as much about finding out what you dislike as what you like. Choosing a career is always a balancing act of dozens of factors including some fairly prosaic geographical ones such as where you prefer to live, where your spouse prefers to live, where the schools are good, where parents, friends, and relatives live, as well as all the different factors covered by the Ikigai.

Another faulty assumption of many spiritually oriented career counselors and coaches is that the practical matters of earning a living, developing skills, and finding a job will “unfold” once finding a calling unlocks the passion and commitment that lie within you. I don’t think this is helpful or true. There is a certain kind of spirituality, usually New Age, that holds that once you find your calling and put your career intentions “out there,” the Universe will provide a living.

Well, as they say in the Middle East, “…trust Allah but tether your camel.” Even though the Universe is on your team, put the hard work in. Circumstances, opportunity, luck, the economic environment, and your job-hunting skills will play a part in the realization of your calling. Adults need to balance passion and practicalities in the world of work – and (again) need to balance secular and spiritual concerns. (There is a 12-Step expression: “God does the steerin’, I do the rowin.’” For Humanists, it might be, “the purpose I’ve created does the steerin’, and I do the rowin.’”)

Another faulty assumption of some spiritual approaches to calling is that finding your calling and doing it is necessarily a source of great joy. Maybe. Life stories of great saints suggest that not everyone who is “called” finds it easy. It sometimes demands great change and sacrifice. You might be called to earn a quarter of what you do now. Or are you ready to uproot your family? Are you ready to go back to school? Do you want to be called to sacrifice? Do organizations want their workers to be called? Typically, in the 21st century, we want the “goodies” from calling or vocation without the sacrifice.

Coaching people out the door

“They attain perfection when they find joy in their work.” ~The Bhagavad Gita

Finally, coaches focus on worker self-actualization for (or so they should even if they are performance coaching), but many times when I’ve coached a mid-career executive on career matters (paid for by the company), they decide to go self-actualize somewhere else. When my firm ran a leadership development program for a few dozen senior investment bankers (partners in a big firm), we talked about choice, self-expression, joy, balance, work-family, and goal setting. Five of our initial group of 12 were gone within a year (retired, began independent consulting, or moved to another firm).

In the long run, empowering self-actualization that leads to someone quitting may benefit the business, creating an opening for someone whose passions may be more aligned. (After all, you should prefer employees who are passionate about being there.) The employee’s departure increases the amount of big-picture happiness in the world—you’ve done a good thing. In the short run, though, it looks like financial folly—investing in executive coaching to watch your employees leave and then incurring the cost of losing and rehiring a worker.

The challenge for businesses is how to improve their recruiting and interviewing processes to better identify those who are truly called to work for them. How can organizations best hone and express their mission so prospective employees can discern whether they should be working there?

There is a bigger challenge we get to later which is how businesses can they make sure their insides live up to the glossy outsides of recruitment pitches.

THE SPIRITUAL FIT

“…you are someone who has a particular passion or a particular personal philosophy, and you’re able to turn work into an instrument of realizing the deeper meaning in pursuing your personal philosophy or passion.” ~Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO

Satya is talking about what I call the “spiritual fit” how well one’s purpose and values fit with the specific mission of our employer.  However, a courtship might produce a fit and result in two people deciding to marry but working on the fit does not stop there. Even if you find a job in the Ikigai sweet spot – that is:

  • Work that the world needs,
  • Work we are passionate about,
  • Work that tests us and uses our skills,
  • Work that remunerates us well.

… the “marriage” demands work on both sides. For firms, the fit isn’t just about hiring workers who fit, it is about helping new workers onboard.

Back in the day, even at my blue-chip former employers, the boss “onboarded” new hires, thus: “there is your desk, the bathroom is down the hall, and the coffee machine a bit further.” That is it. There was zero effort to help new hires fit – to help them make sense of the values of their new firm, and how their skills might contribute to their passion and purpose. Our connection to purpose, if it happened, was left to chance.

In the 1990s, PwC offered new employees a whole day onboarding! That whole day was then seen as indulgent by some but would seem ridiculously short to today’s HR professionals – and today PwC’s process is six months long. Leading firms take onboarding very seriously: Google also devotes six months to it, kicking off with an intensive two-week immersion into “being Googly” (the culture) but also the structure and strategy of the business and the architecture of the platform.

Hiring and onboarding help with internal fit. One could recommend companies look more deeply into values and purpose at the recruitment stage, but as values questions become more personal, they may veer into off-limits territory or may be potentially discriminatory.  Fits won’t be perfect or permanent – some employees don’t know what job they want until they see it – and at 25, you ain’t seen much. Some jobs look juicy from the outside but don’t feel right once you are in them. (And sometimes, as the song says, “you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone”.)

Choosing the right profession and the right company to work for can be a long journey. You have to constantly reassess your priorities, values, fit with your employer, and whether the path you are on is one you value and admire. Mormon, Steven Covey said cleverly, “there is no use racing up the ladder of success if it is leaning against the wrong wall.”

However, I recommend strongly against daily or even monthly questioning of values and fit and purpose in life. I think that is a recipe for misery. Rumination, experts say, is among the unhealthiest psychological habits. The question “Is this the right job or profession for me” is one to be taken seriously, but only periodically – semi-annually, or annually. Once you commit, you stop asking the question for another six or twelve months – when it pops into your head, you set it aside.

Having said that, you should put your values, fit, and purpose to work in daily life – questioning yourself hard on whether you are living up to them. That is the spiritual challenge – not to get too comfortable with yourself, but also having a depth of self-compassion for your stumbles. Few of us can walk in and say “take this job and shove it” without consequences. Daily, you recommit to where you are and to the sorts of attitudes that make you happier and make you a nicer person to work with.

This, clearly, speaks to the necessity of making time for annual (or so) reflection upon your purpose and values – again not ruminating daily, but when the time that you set aside comes, engaging in purposeful life-design (or re-design.) Once, you commit to change, it will still take a long while to enact your new vision or profession. When I coached mid- or late-career people who desired or were approaching a major career transition, I used to advise that such transitions take a year to envision, plan, and execute. If you are retiring from a 40-year career, I suggest (unless your only goal is the hammock) that it takes five years to build up a portfolio of stimulating, enriching service and commercial opportunities.

A final source of misery is people who suffer at work, decide to change, and who fail to take action. They wake up each day with “I need to change jobs” for months or years without acting – getting a little unhappier and a weakening sense of their own power and agency. Usually, they need support in planning and being held accountable for taking the baby steps to realize the change.

This discussion has mostly been about fitting the job to yourself, that is finding work that aligns with your purpose and calling. However, there is another spiritual job alluded to above, fitting yourself to the job with the right mindset.

IT AIN’T WHAT YOU DO, IT’S THE WAY THAT YOU DO IT54

“For works do not sanctify us, but we should sanctify the works.” ~Meister Eckhart

While vocation choice concerns itself with “doing the work you love,” the alternative is “loving the work you do.” In other words, how do you “get your head right”? Which work attitudes and beliefs affect your experience of work? For example, if work is approached as a place of service or giving, rather than a place of being served or getting, would one enjoy it more? Was St. Francis right in saying, “It is better to understand than to be understood, to comfort than to be comforted, to love than to be loved, better to give than to receive”? Is the secret of happiness not doing what one likes, but liking what one does? At one spiritual retreat I spent time with a Benedictine Abbott and even though 25 years ago, I remember his questions: How is life treating you, Paul? More to the point though, how are you treating life? 

Meaning making

“Do not indulge in dreams of having what you have not, but reckon up the chief of the blessings you do possess, and then thankfully remember how you would crave for them if they were not yours.” ~Marcus Aurelius

Ancient spiritual texts and modern writers on humanism suggest that taking personal responsibility for meaning “creates the work reality.” Viktor Frankl was able to find meaning in a concentration camp. In the yogic spiritual tradition, the concept of Karma Yoga suggests that working with love and enthusiasm can turn a chore into a spiritually enriching experience. The Buddhist spiritual path (bodhisattva) recommends going forth for the welfare and benefit of the world to prevent suffering. In Hinduism, the concept of right livelihood affects one’s karma, one’s inheritance in the next life. Christian monks maintained “laborare est orare” (to work is to pray). These views suggest that enjoyment of work is “an inside job”—if you can bring the right attitude and actions to work, you can transform your experience of it.

Recall the parable of the stonecutters. The third stonecutter’s narrative was: “I’m creating a magnificent cathedral.” We get to decide which cathedrals we are building by creating our own narratives.  This illustrates, again, that meaning isn’t “out there” but is created; it’s created in this case by—the why of our work. Sadly, the prevalent and contrary view in society is that what happens determines what we feel and do: “He made me furious” or, “Work is killing me.” If one’s mood is determined by context, then it will ebb and flow with the fortunes of life. If the actions of others determine one’s response, then there is no freedom, only reaction.  Many spiritual orientations make you more responsible for your feelings and actions:

  • “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.” (Marcus Aurelius)
  • “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves.  The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)
  • “Look at the word ‘responsibility’ – “response-ability” – the ability to choose your response.” (Steven Covey)
  • “Man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked.” (Viktor Frankl)
  • “Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.” (HH the Dalai Lama)

Their essential message is that our perception of the world, and our reaction to it, are a matter of choice. And right attitudes and right actions manifest themselves not only in an improved internal experience, but also in relationships with others, including our relationship to the world. This deeper connection to self, others, and world was part of our definition of spirituality, the practical face of the spiritual journey.

What do “real people” say gives their working life meaning. In a survey from US consulting firm BetterUp55 conducted in 2018, today’s workers report that they find most meaning:

  • “… where I’m trying to make other people’s lives better…”
  • “…when I’m working to help others grow and see their potential…”
  • “…when I am able to push my abilities to the utmost is the most fulfilling…”
  • “…when my work revolves around helping others especially the disadvantaged and needy…”

This leads to a paradoxical situation. On one hand, meaning happens between our ears—and ultimately, only we can be responsible for the meaning we create. On the other hand, the employer, culture, work environment, job, and leadership can make it hard or easy to find meaning in a given job. Does the idea of personal responsibility for meaning-making give employers a free pass? Is it all “on you?”  Of course not.

Here we find one of the most incisive criticisms of the whole idea of spirituality and business – the idea that finding meaning and purpose at work can be found if the individual works hard enough at it no matter how oppressive the circumstances may be.

We saw that meaning and purpose can be found in the humblest of jobs: humans can reshape their narratives to a great extent. But, leaving all the spiritual heavy lifting to workers isn’t right—for them to enjoy a shitty job, they would have to become spiritual giants, master meaning-makers. There is also something deeply cynical about expecting someone who earns ten times less than you to get with the program and find the right attitude to make “loading 16 tons”56 meaningful.

The attitude of gratitude

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

One attitude, though not by any means a uniquely spiritual one, is gratitude.57 Gratitude means being thankful, not just for specifics, as when a colleague does you a kindness, but generally, toward life, toward the people in it, and for circumstances (even those that seem harsh). As the saying goes, “Happiness isn’t getting what you want; it is wanting what you got.”

But like most valuable things in life, the attitude of gratitude takes practice and cultivation. The general “attitude of gratitude” creates an other- rather than self-orientation—an appreciation for what one has, rather than entitlement and grasping for what one lacks. As British author G.K. Chesterton said, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

Another way that the gratitude mindset is expressed is a “get to” rather than “have to” orientation. “Have to” people see a world with little choice, one whether they comply (grudgingly) with demands put upon them. “Get to” people may be doing the same thing, but with a different narrative—I “get to” do what I’m doing. This simple shift in narrative can be transformative.

Nietzsche, of course, had an even deeper take on gratitude. He suggested that true gratitude was being willing to live your life, just as it has happened, over and over again in eternal recurrence. (One of his signature ideas.) Only then, said he, when you accept all that has been, and are willing to live as such over and over, will peace and gratitude be found. “And then you will find every pain and every pleasure, every friend and every enemy, every hope and every error, every blade of grass and every ray of sunshine once more, and the whole fabric of things which make up your life.”58

One of the biggest obstacles to having attitudes at work (and in life) that create a better experience is the intrusion of negative thoughts. Everybody “knows” they should be grateful, everybody “knows” that they are the author of their own experience – but that “knowledge” can be of little use when the sniveling shipwreck of a human being in the next cubicle tries to take credit for your work, or you have to work past 9PM for the third time this week.

Everybody has thoughts that are not in the interest of the thinker. Everybody has impulses to do the wrong thing. Most of us ruminate a downward spiral of worry, fantasy, and resentment at least sometimes. How do we overcome negative thoughts, sometimes called the “itty bitty shitty committee” in your head? Let’s look at mindfulness.

53 You can find the ikigai and dozens of tools on purpose and calling in Reboot Your Career, a workbook that I co-authored with career coaching specialist Tim Ragan in 2016.

54 From poppy one-hit wonder group Bananarama and Fun Boy Three in the 1980s. Try to get that earworm out of your head now.

55 www.betterup.com

56 “You load 16 tons, and whaddya get? Another day older and deeper in debt. St. Peter don’t you call me, ‘cos I can’t go. I owe my soul to the company store.” (Folk song from 1947.)

57 Sometimes spiritual writers use the terms spirituality as if “all that good stuff” – humility, integrity, gratitude, passion, and conscience were uniquely spiritual. You can arrive at those attitudes through Humanistic psychology or many other ways. (No psychologist would take exception to the mentioned goodies.) We should not pretend that only spirituality, or only our own version of it is the only path to desirable human qualities – although our position is that the word “umbrellas” inner and outer work and includes those virtues and an ethical stance on life..

58 From The Gay Science, published in 1882.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

About the Authors
Paul Gibbons keynotes on five continents on the future of business, particularly on humanizing business, culture change, ethics, and the future of work. He is currently an academic advisor to Deloitte’s Human Capital practice – creating the future of change management He has authored five books, most prominently The Science of Successful Organizational Change and Impact, and he runs the popular philosophy podcast, Think Bigger Think Better. Those books are category best-sellers on Amazon in organizational change, decision-making, and leadership. After eight years as a consultant at PwC, Gibbons founded Future Considerations, a consulting firm that advises major corporations, including Shell, BP, Barclays, and HSBC, on leadership, strategy, and culture change. From 2015 to 2018, he was an adjunct professor of business ethics at the University of Denver. Paul is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a hyperpolyglot, has been named a “top-20 culture guru,” and one of the UK’s top two CEO “super coaches” by CEO magazine. He is a member of the American Philosophical Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science and lives in the Denver area with his two sons and enjoys competing internationally at mindsports such as poker, bridge, MOBA, and chess.

Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

Are You Ready to Accelerate to Optimized Performance?

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Are You Ready to Accelerate to Optimized Performance?

This week’s article is provided by Dr. JJ Walcutt, scientist, innovator and author, and Jason Armendariz.  It is a companion to JJ’s interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled Building a Culture of Brain Health, Growth, and Effectiveness that aired on Tuesday, August 31st.

SEEKING PERFORMANCE ENHANCEMENT

Recent years have passed without the typical fanfare of annual celebrations of reflecting upon the sunsetting year and looking forward to the new year with goals, resolutions, and a vision of what a person wants to achieve in the new year.  Each new year enters with a renewed focus on challenges and building a road map to accomplish them.  For instance, if the goal is a new body weight, learning a new sport, or even setting the goal of running a marathon, one might expend resources on a training plan, gym membership, or a trainer to strengthen their bodies in preparation for their goal.  As common as these are, unfortunately, a lot of these lose steam, gym memberships go unutilized, and visions go unrealized.  And no one bats an eye.  It is a societal acceptable failure.

According to  US News report, Americans have spent more than $60B on trying to achieve this goal of losing weight.  Tom Van Riper points out in this 2012 article that the cost to train Olympic athletes can cost a range of $13K-$25K per year, monies that do not see a tangible financial return on investment.  Corporations, less focused on Olympic athletes, are focusing on the health and wellness of their employees paying for gym memberships or installing smaller health clubs in their offices.

Have you found yourself or your company seeking, similarly, how to gain the next competitive advantage? Like many, searching for an edge when it comes to reaching their physical goals hiring experts or coaches, has your business sought a workshop to hone and sharpen skills?  Have you found a gap in your knowledge or desired to gain momentum in an area that may not be your strength?  If so, you’re not alone.  However, there is an angle that most do not know about nor consider when it comes to self-improvement or improving individual performance. Training the entirety of the person – mind, body, and brain.

The skills that tomorrow’s workforce needs to thrive in uncertain, changing, and chaotic situations will not be met by the installation of a health club, but by a deliberate focus on training the most important organ in the body – the brain.

Meet the Accelerate program which combines the latest and emerging trends in cognitive psychological research, developed by Dr. JJ Walcutt.  Dr. Walcutt combines her experience from academia, industry, and the US Government to concentrate training for businesses, teams, and individuals to gain the most out of personalized training and accomplish a higher level of performance.

TRAINING

The foundation of this elite-level training centers around the findings of cognitive psychology.  Educating participants on the cognitive processes and how the brain system works to process information and understanding choices can drive toward optimal performance.  Working to understand resilience can enhance your ability to recover from stressful moment’s compartmentalize, and function with clarity. This can help productivity as well as work towards innovative solutions by enhancing your ability to clearly analyze the problems at hand. The current workforce faces challenges and deadlines which often force personnel to juggle multiple tasks.  Accelerate discusses agility and leads participants to improve their ability to switch efficiently and effectively between tasks.  These focal areas of training are unprecedented in today’s corporate training but will be key for those corporations, teams, and individuals who want to be ahead of the curve of tomorrow’s challenges.  In his book, A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink points out the importance of developing skills and the mind for skills in which the future will require a human in the loop.

Preparing an individual to be this human in the loop leverages the training that Dr. Walcutt has developed for the accelerate program.  Like the algorithms that suggest the next song on your chosen music platform, personalized learning will help corporations, teams, and individuals achieve greater success through optimized training.

INFORMATION MATTERS

Accelerate spends time honing the understanding of information processing as individuals and across teams.  As a foremost expert in cognitive load theory and unmatched experience in team dynamics from her time doing DoD research, Dr. Walcutt transfers the understanding of working memory to participants.  This allows program participants to learn how to harness the information, increase their ability to hold it, and be able to enhance the speed and accuracy of applying that information.  Having pertinent information at hand may then translate to the ability to process information more rapidly and allow teams to exponentially collaborate on issues.

Part of any corporate success is the ability to get ahead of competitors.  The same may be true of individuals looking for that promotion, edge, or gain that will put them in the driver’s seat for their career.  Getting ahead means being able to make sense of information, connect the dots, and ultimately make decisions that will be impactful for the future.  Dr. Walcutt’s design of Accelerate will allow participants to learn how to best anticipate, assess, and then act to make key decisions efficiently to achieve desired outcomes.

WHY ACCELERATE?

Most organizations, whether corporate, military, private, or even academia have goals that translate across domains.  Accelerate is the one program that delivers elite-level training that deliberately addresses these.  80% of leaders feel they are “time poor” and wanting more hours in the day to accomplish duties and tasks.  Accelerate will demonstrate methods that will allow a reduction in time to do tasks, improving efficiency.  Once time is mastered, the next logical step is to then master the ability to work through multiple tasks and learn specifically how to switch more effectively between skills and settings.  Finally, quality is the concern across all domains.  Through Accelerate, increase your quality of output, learning to accomplish more tasks at a higher level.  Increase the number of good decisions of your corporations, teams, and individuals.

Many Americans spend countless hours exercising the body.  Accelerate wants to know – do you exercise your mind?

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

About the Authors

Dr. J.J. Walcutt is a scientist, innovator, and learning engineer that specializes in strategic development and reform across education, military, and government. Her current work focuses on optimizing human cognition and performance across a wide spectrum of learning programs that promote optimization. Dr. Walcutt has served in the U.S. Government as a Director of Innovation for distributed learning optimization and as a Human Innovation Fellow. In her role at the Pentagon, she also served as a U.S. Delegate to NATO, Partnership for Peace, and as a national and international keynote speaker. Dr. Walcutt has over 20 years of experience in research and development for training, education, and human optimization.

Jason Armendariz is a cognitive scientist with a lifelong learner attitude and a true passion for training, education, and leadership.  Jason started his path in learning as a high school educator prior to joining the military.  During his time in the military, he rose to serve as a trainer in tactics, communications, and leadership.  He has experience in research and development efforts to improve cognitive skills, learning, team dynamics and human performance. Jason has studied cognitive science, human systems interaction, and adult education and strives to build the capability of others to succeed by integrating research into programs and plans to improve learning.

Photo by Fakurian Design on Unsplash

The 5 Main Reasons Why People Get Stuck and Stop Growing

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The 5 Main Reasons Why People Get Stuck and Stop Growing

This week’s article was adapted from The Self Help Book by Jared Graybeal.  It is a companion to his interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled The Self Help Book: Practical Ways to Never Stop Growing that aired on Tuesday, August 10th.

Do you ever feel stuck in your own routine? If the feelings of momentum and growth seem elusive in your current life phase, you may be interested in learning how to get “unstuck.”

However, I firmly believe that there’s a seriously important step before moving into the action phase. We need to look at why you’re feeling stuck in the first place.

Without first acknowledging some of the things that hold us back, we may never have the humility and maturity to approach growth with the right mindset.

To help you identify the source of your stagnation, I’ve compiled a list of the five main reasons why most people get stuck and stop growing. See if any of these resonate with you.

Reason #1: We stop making an effort to learn.

Unless they’re forced to learn things at work in order to keep their job, most people don’t commit to a life of continued education. This could be because of burnout from the education system, or it could simply be because committing to a life of never-ending learning is hard.

There are a lot of easier and more immediately rewarding things to do with our time after we get off work, like watching TV, scrolling on social media, or hanging out with friends.

Reason #2: We stop setting goals.

According to the latest research, less than 3 percent of Americans have written goals, and less than 1 percent review and rewrite their goals on a daily basis.

Why? I believe lack of self-confidence, fear of failure, laziness, and impatience keep us from looking forward to the things we want to achieve.

Unfortunately, the minute we stop setting goals, we become aimless.

Reason #3: When we set goals, we suck at it.

Studies show that less than 25 percent of us actually stick to New Year’s resolutions after thirty days, and only 8 percent accomplish them. Clearly, there’s something wrong with how we are setting goals.

Why? Because most of us just don’t know how. Brian Tracy, self-development author and goal-setting expert, says, “One of the greatest tragedies of our educational system is that you can receive fifteen to eighteen years of education in our schools and never once receive a single hour of instruction on how to set goals.”

Reason #4: We are one-track minded about growth.

Most people think growth is linear, assuming you can only grow in one way at one time. Then they get stuck on it.

For example, if you’re trying to get a promotion, you dial into the lifestyle it takes to get that promotion and forsake everything else. Or if you’re trying to lose weight, you do a mediocre job at work, maybe hang with your friends when it’s convenient, but give your fitness goals 100 percent of your attention.

The problem with this is that we stay there, and even once we’ve reached our goal, we don’t think to diversify until we’ve sunk into the depressive state of being stuck again.

Reason #5: Growth can be painful.

When I was in high school, I was 4’11” until my junior year. I prayed daily to grow, but nothing happened…until eleventh grade. I grew seven inches that year (and about three inches more since then, thankfully), and I can remember how painful that was. Seven inches in one year is an unusual growth spurt, and it caused a lot of pain to my joints, especially my hips.

But as I was going through that pain, I was also very thankful, because I had gotten the growth I had been praying for. Personal growth can be much like that. Both the work required and the change that comes with the results can be painful at times, and some people aren’t cut out for that level of discomfort. Once you accept that pain is a part of growth, you will also be able to enjoy the fruits of it later on and live a life of constant, positive change.

What’s keeping you stuck?

It may not be just one reason. You may identify with several of these reasons, and that’s OK. It’s not that you’re more stuck or hopelessly stuck.

It’s that you’re human and honest and ready to move forward. Now that we’ve covered the bad news and the not-so-fun statistics, here’s the good news: you can change.

Getting unstuck isn’t that hard—I promise. It’s just a few small, simple steps done consistently over time. You can live a life of greatness, fulfill your potential, and be happy doing it. Most importantly, you can start right now.

Not next Monday, next month, or next January.

RIGHT NOW.

For more advice on personal growth, you can find The Self Help Book on Amazon.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

 

About the Author

Jared Graybeal’s mission is to encourage, educate, and empower others to live happier, healthier lives. I am a NASM-certified personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, behavioral change specialist, CrossFit Level 2 trainer, and corrective exercise specialist with an education in marketing and psychology from the University of North Florida. I own and operate two companies. One is Superfit Foods, a healthy, subscription-based, fully customizable meal prep company. The other is E3, a business consulting and marketing agency. I’ve done a few cool things, like exhibiting Superfit Foods at Forbes Under 30 and giving a TEDx Talk on nutrition and mental health, and every day I get to work hard at doing what I love.

 

Photo by Content Pixie on Unsplash

Leading in Emerging Industries

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Leading in Emerging Industries

This week’s article was written by James Brenza.  It is a companion to his interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled Leading in Emerging Industries that aired on Tuesday, August 3rd.

I recently shifted my business and technology leadership skills to a new industry. It is an opportunity to help a burgeoning industry improve operational efficiency, improve patient outcomes and help operational leaders be more effective. My career focus has been technology, data, and analytics. My career took a tangential shift when I started Greenest Grow, a company that focuses on creating sensors and software to support efficient cannabis growth. After watching my brother and father suffer extreme pain during the end stages of cancer, I decided to shift my strong professional focus to an area that would help others have a better experience than my family had.

Leaders are frequently called on to step into new industry domains. Sometimes, we invite ourselves into those domains. While the reasons for the shift can be numerous (e.g., burgeoning market opportunities, industry transitions, or personal growth), there’s one constant you’ll encounter: change. While it may be obvious that you’re going to instill change in the new industry domain, you’ll also need to accept some changes yourself. For many people, that second change can be the harder one to anticipate and accept.

My shift required a great deal of soul searching and business research to ensure I was focusing on an area that would have a positive impact on the industry, be financially viable, make the impact I wanted to make for cancer patients and their families. It was also critical that I not provide a gateway drug that might exasperate our global drug addiction issues. This shift has been a bit easier by focusing on 3 key elements:

  1. Adapting and applying the lessons I’ve learned in other industries. When you step away from the details, there are nearly always parallels you can identify and solutions you can leverage.
  2. Applying domain knowledge in common areas (e.g., technology, marketing, and finance).
  3. Adjusting your interpersonal approach to adapt your knowledge to the new domain while garnering acceptance.

That last element, adjusting your interpersonal approach, may be difficult to navigate. “Leading” is getting in front and charging forward, right? While that may work for some, I’ve found it’s generally more effective to gain acceptance and facilitate change through others. While we may need to be “in the forefront”, we can also remain humble and gain perspective. One very effective method is leading with questions to facilitate mutual understanding. If you’re attempting to explain how a prior experience can help solve a challenge, you’ll likely find a very short story will help. That will help others see the parallel to their challenge, consider it differently, and adapt/adopt a new approach.

Throughout a cross-industry transition, it’s critical to remain true to yourself and your values. Consider this: if you can’t lead yourself, how can you lead others? If you can’t succinctly state your values, you may encounter unnecessary turbulence when you encounter new problems. By clarifying your values, it will be much easier to navigate the gray areas and avoid a potential abyss. More importantly, it will help you focus your value proposition and avoid conflicts with your “true north”. By being true to yourself and your values, your new team and industry peers will immediately perceive your sincerity.

The Innovative Leadership Mindset model from the Innovative Leadership Institute provides a robust perspective to help you lead more effectively. Here’s a summary of the mindsets and examples of how I applied them.

Leader 2050 Mindset Application
Be professionally humble You, your peers and your team know you have a lot of expertise. However, you’re stepping into a new domain. It’s important to remember that others have spent decades in that domain and possess a lot of industry wisdom.

I am a 50+ year old man who has never used drugs. I was trying to enter the cannabis industry, which is closed by necessity because of the legal challenges. I needed to observe, learn, build relationships before even stepping into a grow house. I went from being the industry expert to the new guy in this industry with extensive experience that would help solve significant challenges and improve operational efficiency. I found it helpful to spend 3-4x more time listening than speaking. I also try to introduce new approaches with a question that invites discussion rather than blunt statement or order.

Have an unwavering commitment to the right action I was an Eagle Scout growing up. I didn’t use illegal drugs. When my brother and father died from cancer, I began to explore the available options to help other cancer patients and their families. I looked at questions of ethics such as is cannabis a gateway drug. Each of us will find our own path. For me, my research made me confident that I could pursue this path and help many people by improving the growing efficiency, which will help produce consistent medicinal cannabis at a lower cost.
Be a 360-degree thinker This was certainly a new domain for me. The size of the puzzle I was facing increased dramatically. Prior to jumping into action, I had to invest time and effort into understanding the entire landscape, identify parallels I could leverage as well as blind spots I needed to question. I relied on Stephen Covey’s sage advice: “seek first to understand, then to be understood”.

I partnered with a broad range of people to help me solve significant business issues such as addressing the ability to retain a bank account as a business that supports the cannabis industry. I learned about running a manufacturing business and the contract manufacturing process, about all of the elements in the manufacturing value chain and the cannabis value chain. I sought a board with a range of experience and strategic partners to help in areas where they were experts.

Be intellectually versatile I was stepping into a new domain. It was disconcerting to not have all the answers immediately. I had to open my mind to new knowledge, new experiences, new information, new perspectives – before I could apply any existing mental constructs. I also realized I would never develop the skills that others have spent decades honing. I adapted my approach to ensure that I was building a team that could fill my voids while I applied my skills to help them reach a new level. Collectively, the intellectual capacity of the team increased dramatically.
Be highly authentic and reflective As I processed new information and perspectives, I needed to “double click” on my firmly held beliefs and values.  I knew that if I varied from my “true north”, I wouldn’t be able to work or lead effectively. I had to think deeply to understand my values, what they meant and how they are accomplished. I value both helping people mitigate pain AND I value laws and a focus on avoiding making illegal recreational drugs more accessible if they function as a gateway drug.  I also had to incorporate more research to validate accepted concepts. I grappled with my initial view of “drugs”, my values and the research and ultimately refined how I viewed cannabis. Lastly, it was important to ensure I was applying concise logic and not simply rationalizing to support a business model. This process was an important one. I use the word grappling because I needed to think deeply about what I support, what ventures I want to invest my energy and financial resources into. For many entrepreneurs, this is an important step to consider.
Be able to inspire followership Many individuals look to the “leaders” for the instant answer. However, many leaders know there isn’t always an easy or instant answer. I’ve found that it’s a very fine balance to be both collaborative (seeking input) as well as a visionary that can offer the team a new outcome. I’ve found it helpful to introduce a vision followed by a series of questions that invite conversation to help validate, refine and gain adoption. This “softer” approach helps me empower the team to expand the thinking, influence the adoption of new methods, and encourage collective ownership for sustainable change. We built a shared vision through a process that gave them a voice in the outcome. They also built trust in me and the leadership team through this process.
Be innately collaborative The delicate balance I mentioned above shows up in the tension between inspiring people to follow me and inviting them to collaborate. I’ve realized my first thought should always be to find a way to bring others into the thought process and solution development. Lasting change is only instilled if others are buying into the changes. I’ve observed many organizations rebounding to old behaviors due to the solution being incomplete or a lack of shared ownership. I’ve increased my focus on bringing the team together rather than trying to provide all the answers.

Leading through changes and transitions can be both frustrating and rewarding. As you see from the brief account of my experiences, this change in direction has been highly rewarding and also one of the more challenging endeavors I have taken on. At the end of the day, I will accomplish a goal that I am very proud of, improving the lives of people with cancer and the lives of their families. To do this, I needed to remain curious, facilitative and true to myself.

As you think about yourself as an entrepreneurial leader, what is your story? If you look at the seven mindsets, how would you describe your journey? Does this process reveal any gaps you would like to attend to?

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

 

 

About the Author

James Brenza is an entrepreneur, information technology and analytics leader with 30 years of diversified experience. He is a hands-on leader who carefully balances strategic planning, business communications, and technical delivery. He has extensive experience with motivating mixed-shore teams to deliver high-quality, flexible results. James’ academic foundation includes 3 degrees: Information Technology, Finance, and an MBA. He complemented his technical skills with a Six Sigma Black Belt, Lean Qualification, and PMP certifications. He applies that foundation to solving problems in agriculture, banking, insurance, retail, distribution, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, and public service. He led analytic programs that have paid for themselves upon implementation and delivered first year ROI’s in excess of 10,000%.

The Ecosystem Decision-Making Radar

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The Ecosystem Decision-Making Radar

This week’s article was written by Christoph Hinske, associate professor at SAXION University of Applied Sciences with contributions from Tom Grote, Chief Catalyst at Edge Innovation Hub.   It is a companion to their interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled Applying Innovative Leadership Concepts that aired on Tuesday, July 27th

 

Making high-quality decisions in complex situations requires more than just knowing the conducive or inhibitive factors defining the probabilities of our success. Instead, riding the complexity wave asks us to understand how these factors interrelate, form dynamics and how our fundamental emotions and belief systems influence our decisions.

Taking on this responsibility is challenging since few tools exist that combine strategic decision-making in complex situations with emotional intelligence, business ecosystem thinking, and system dynamics.

The Ecosystem Decision-Making Radar (the Radar) is about to change just that. It intends to help you and your organization build your emotional intelligence by mapping out the consequences (both good and bad) of how you choose to respond in complex situations. To map out and learn from our decisions strategically, we must know our individual and organizational values, superpower, and core identity. Unfortunately, many do not take this step as they lack the tools to correlate it to their performance. Yet, we believe this step to be essential, and without it, we are just fumbling in the dark.

Consequently, we tried to build a robust leadership tool that combines emotional intelligence with systems thinking, system dynamics, and strategy. It intends to increase the performance of you, your organization, and your stakeholder relationships alike.

An observation I did when activating entrepreneurial ecosystems

In 100% of my projects on activating entrepreneurial ecosystems, leadership struggles to see the consequences of individuals’ emotionally impaired responses individuals on their own, their organizations’, and stakeholders’ success.

  1. This phenomenon leads to an average of €140,000 extra costs, considering that the medium time spent solving the resulting frictions, redundancies, silo structures, and stress is about 40% per process step, essentially squeezing business models to death.
  2. Each actor in the Entrepreneurial ecosystem loses roundabout 40% of potential new revenues due to the vanishing of possibilities, thus, increasing the probability of becoming obsolete.
  3. These well-intended economic development measures lose approximately 60% of the highly engaged and loyal leaders, resulting in up to 100% of brand value destruction for the project owners.

A decision I made, to stop contributing to the destruction of value I do not own

Being a passionate action researcher and “pracademic”, I decided not to accept these devastating outcomes anymore. Mainly, I stopped taking three fundamental beliefs for granted, helping me to develop the Ecosystem Decision-Making Radar:

  1. Wrong assumption #1: People can choose to be emotional or not, and emotions are threatening success in professional meetings; aka “He should stop being so emotional, he kills our performance!”
  2. Wrong assumption #2: The relation between primary emotional states and resource performance in complex entrepreneurial ecosystems is hard to map and measure.
  3. Wrong assumption #3: Decision-makers refuse to consider the behavioral impacts of unreflected emotional states on their processes and outcomes.

Helping leaders overcome these assumptions is even more critical as advances and access to technology imply that our context moves ever faster. Consequently, the opportunity costs of not using a systemic approach to decision-making are growing exponentially.

A tool I developed to support leaders to navigate their complexity

I started to study the effect of our primary emotional states and how these affect our behaviors and decisions. During several months of trial and error, I related my observations to insights offered in such articles as those referenced at the end of the post.

A tool started to emerge. I called it “The Ecosystem Decision-Making Radar” or just The Radar. This tool begins from a few basic assumptions:

  1. Humans are always in one of eight primary emotional states if we want or not.
  2. For a short moment, we are victims of this emotion, and that is fine!
  3. Our ability to identify our states and define their impact on our behaviors is a conscious choice.
  4. Naming, mapping, and reflecting our behaviors help us grow as leaders and positively contribute to our organizations’ and entrepreneurial ecosystem’s success.

One day during a coaching session, my client, a director of one of the largest, oldest, and most well-known nature conservation groups in Germany, helped me see the game changer!

We were mapping his behavioral response to an emotional state during a video conference with a minister of state. He suddenly stopped talking, looked at me in amazement, and held his coffee mug in front of the camera. On the cup, it stated: “There is a space between stimulus and reaction. In this space lies our power to choose our response. Our development and our freedom lie in our reactions.” — Viktor Emil Frankl.

Now, it is essential to know that Viktor Frankl was an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, author, and Holocaust survivor; * March 26, 1905; † September 2, 1997.

My coachee explained to me that the Radar helps him live the phrase. It empowers him to take responsibility for his intrinsic intentions (aka SuperPower or Core Identity) by acting out his core values. In later sessions with him and others, I figured out that the Radar creates awareness of the primary emotional states, enabling leaders to produce intended results by performing appropriate behaviors/actions rooted in their fundamental values. This transparency and heightened awareness of the impact their “inner systems” have on the world around them helps them act much more consciously in their stakeholder relationships, allowing them to co-create value with much more efficiency. We started to observe that he drastically reduced most of the costs stated at the beginning of the article just after a few sessions.

How the tool can help you become a better leader in complex entrepreneurial ecosystems

In the situation mapped out in the image below, the process helped my coachee identify patterns of behavior that benefit his and his organizations and stakeholders’ success.

Figure 1: The causal relationships between the elements in this Mental Model use the approach of Causal Loop Diagramming. For further information on more identified patterns and how to read and develop such simple yet powerful system models, please get in touch with c.hinske@saxion.nl

A simple rundown of how to read and build a model

  1. Core Values Flywheel: If activated, it nourishes our SuperPower and Core Identity, causing positive emotions. If hampered from turning, it causes negative emotions.
  2. Core Identity and Superpower: It is the emerging pattern happening when our core values flywheel is turning.
  3. Primary emotional states: There are 4 to 8 primary emotions. We map secondary emotions in the outer circles of the model. Primary emotions form a filter shaping our behaviors.
  4. Decision-Making Space: It is the moment shortly after an emotional response but before our behavioral response. In this instant, we have the power to choose. Before, it’s too early as our primary emotion directs us. Afterward, it’s too late since our behaviors already shaped the situation. See also the quote by Viktor Frankl.
  5. Behaviors/Activities: We execute conscious or unconscious behaviors and actions in a given situation after experiencing a primary emotion.
  6. Results: The contribution we make to our organizations and our stakeholder’s performance in a given situation. The quality of the results defines resource performance and opportunity costs.
  7. Factors: Aspects that happen or that one does, together with their causal relationships (arrows), form a system.
  8. Blue arrows: the more of A, the more of B, or the less of A, the less of B (S = same directional development)
  9. Red arrows: the more of A, the less of B, or the less of A, the more of B (O = opposite directional development)

In the case of my coachee, it showed him that responding to his primary emotion of anger with devaluating his opponent, leaving the video conference; he fled into a wrong belief of being authentic. He started to understand that a behavioral response, which he was initially proud of, undermined his long-term success of being a trusted, reliable leader since he increased political polarization.

Our next step aims to identify more systemic patterns and archetypal behaviors to develop hands-on tools for leaders acting in complex stakeholder systems. We want to understand how unreflected emotional states threaten the activation and stable functioning of entrepreneurial ecosystems mentioned at the beginning of my blog post. Solving this leadership challenge will make a major contribution in solving current and future transformation processes (e.g. energy systems, circular economy, digitalization).

 

My coachee’s outcomes and next steps

He is starting to use the Radar with all his teams, integrating the models to understand his organizations’ SuperPower, core values, opportunity spaces, and efficiency gains. His next step is to do the same for the stakeholder landscape of his organization, allowing him to identify growth and lobby strategies that serve them and the greater good at the same time.

He learned:

  1. He cannot choose to be emotional or not and that this is perfectly fine.
  2. Emotions only threaten his success as a system leader if he does not name them. Naming them increases the odds to respond appropriately, taking over responsibility for the outcomes he creates.
  3. He now actively manages the relationship between his primary emotional states and the resource performance in his complex actor ecosystem.

Further reading:

  • Anuwa-Amarh, E., & Hinske, C. (2020, June 1). Thought Leaders – Compelling new writing about the Sustainable Development Goals by leading experts. Retrieved from https://www.taylorfrancis.com/sdgo/about/leading-thoughts?context=sdgo.
  • Beehner, C. G. (2019). System Leadership for Sustainability. Routledge.
  • Duhigg, C. (2014). The Power of Habit – Why we do what we do in life and business.
  • Fredin, S., & Lidén, A. (2020). Entrepreneurial Ecosystems: towards a systemic approach to entrepreneurship?. Danish Journal of Geography, 120(2), 87–97. Routledge | Taylor & Francis
  • Hawkins, P., & Turner, E. (2019). Systemic Coaching. Routledge.
  • Hüther, G. (2006). The Compassionate Brain – How empathy creates intelligence. Shambhala Publications.
  • Kegan, R., & Lahey, L. L. (2009). Immunity to Change – How to Overcome it and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization. Harvard Business Press.
  • Wheatley, M. J. (2017). Who Do We Choose To Be? – Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

About the Author and the Contributor

Christoph Hinske is an associate professor at the School of Finance and Accounting at SAXION University of Applied Sciences, covering Systems Leadership and Entrepreneurial Ecosystems. In his work, Christoph observed that our rapidly transforming economies force leaders to be systemic since they need to act in complex, ambiguous ecosystems. Consequently, his research focuses on empowering leaders to change their strategic and operational models from linear to circular to ecosystemic. He observed that 80% of organizations, intending to transform their models to be more systemic, continue doing the old stuff, using new fancy words. They still apply the same tools, mindsets, and frameworks developed to build linear success.

Thomas Grote is chief catalyst for the Edge Innovation Hub, an ecosystem dedicated to building principle-based businesses that lead with love and drive food innovation to the edge of possibility.   Thomas grew up working with his parents and siblings at the first Donatos Pizza.   As chief operating officer, he helped grow the family business from one restaurant to a regional chain which the family eventually sold and then later repurchased from McDonalds.   He opened Central Ohio’s first visible and welcoming LGBTQ+ themed restaurant and helped found a non-profit, Equality Ohio, to advocate for equity and inclusion in his home state.   Thomas also served as chief financial officer for a UK-based biotech company focused on commercializing plant-based chemicals.   Thomas graduated with a finance degree from Miami University and earned his MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.  He resides in Columbus, Ohio with his husband and two daughters.

Photo by Jens Lelie on Unsplash

We Must Get Workers Ready for the Post-pandemic Economy

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We Must Get Workers Ready for the Post-pandemic Economy

This week’s article is provided by William Bonvillian and Sanjay Sarma, authors of a new book from MIT Press, Workforce Education – A New Roadmap. It is a companion to their interview Workforce Education: A New Roadmap on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled that aired on Tuesday, July 13th

 

The pandemic has forced the American workforce into a massive resorting.  Significant numbers of workers were forced to leave sectors like hospitality, retail and travel, and those jobs will not be waiting for them when the pandemic fades. They will have to learn new skills for jobs in the post-pandemic economy. Workforce education must be part of our economic recovery.

The dimensions of the jobs lost during the pandemic are staggering. Restaurants lost 5.5 million jobs in April 2020, then re-openings that summer let the industry regain some jobs, only to lose jobs again with the fall spike in infections. They are picking up now with re-openings but many restaurants will stay closed. Similarly, in April, retail lost 2.3 million store jobs, rebounded by a million jobs by June 2020, but in-person retail will not go back to prior job levels. In travel and tourism, 35% of the jobs were lost after February 2020 and unemployment was at 15% in December, with recovery taking more time than hoped.  Manufacturing is still over a half million jobs short of where it was pre-pandemic.  These aren’t the only hard-hit sectors but they are big ones. Retail has been hit by massive store closings and mall shutdowns, and with the shift to online commerce, in-store jobs won’t be recovered. Bankruptcies in restaurants and tourism are pervasive—many of these firms won’t come back either.

A McKinsey study suggests that perhaps 17 million U.S. workers—28% more than pre-pandemic research had forecast—may need to change occupations by 2030. This means not just changing jobs but changing occupations, which takes longer, is more disruptive, and requires more reskilling. This shift means that the share of employment in low-wage occupations may decline by 2030, while higher-wage occupations in healthcare and STEM professions expand.

Many workers in these hard-hit sectors are going to be stranded.  This will make American economic inequality problems even worse than they were before the pandemic. Workers from these sectors will need quality jobs. Healthcare is embracing suites of new technologies that will require skilled technologists at good pay. Manufacturing and utilities have aging workforces and will require millions of new workers in coming years, but for increasingly skilled jobs.  How can our worker pool reskill?

Unlike many European nations, the U.S. never built a real workforce education system. Americans know what our high school and college systems look like, but if you ask what our workforce education system looks like you will get a blank stare. Although there are parts of a system here and there, we need a robust system now.

Employers, high schools and universities will all have new roles. But we already have a cornerstone of the new system: community colleges.  These colleges, in turn, will need new building blocks:

  • Form Short programs – people who have been in the workforce won’t be able to take time off for two- and four-year degrees; they have families to support and obligations to meet. They need short programs of 10 to 20 weeks with focused programs for technical skills.
  • Embrace credentialing – we need certificates for these programs for specific groups of related skills, based on demonstrated competencies. Since college degrees and credits remain the most recognized credentials, these should be stacked toward degrees. Certificate programs can provide workforce education opportunities for students with limited time availability, as well as meet specific skill requirements for particular employers.
  • Support competency-based education – today’s education is based on an agricultural calendar and pre-determined seat times (time to complete) for credentials. Instead, organize workforce education around demonstrated skills are broken down into particular competencies. If students show skill competency they get the certificate, regardless of how long they have spent in the program. This can cut time in school, student costs and reward practical experience.
  • Bring on online education – online education can’t replace effective instructors or hands-on work with actual equipment, but it can be quite good in conveying and assessing the foundational information behind the skills. Bring blended learning into the system—let online do what it does best, and let instructors do what they do best. Online modules will be critical if workforce education is going to scale up to meet the post-pandemic need.
  • Break down the work/learn barrier – schools have been too disconnected from the workplace; they too need to be deeply linked. Link-programs—apprenticeships, internships, coops—are needed to get students into the workplace earning money while they build skills. This lets them see very directly the link between the competencies they must learn in school programs and job opportunities.
  • Improve completion rates – at too many community colleges only a third of students complete their programs. Workforce education would significantly improve if we make that completion 70%. One of the biggest problems is that many students never get to college courses because they get frustrated with required remedial prep courses. Instead, integrate the remedial course work into students’ study program for career skills so they can clearly see how the remedial work is relevant to their career opportunities.
  • Embed industry-recognized credentials into educational programs – Academic credentials are not enough. Many employers want the assurance of skill knowledge that an industry-approved and accepted credential provides. It creates an additional and parallel pathway to help students toward employment. It also ensures that academic programs are relevant to actual industry needs.

Is creating a workforce education system that follows these new models a mission impossible? We have many studies that tell us what we need to do. States, with backing from federal education funds, need to step up their game and get on board with implementation; fortunately, some states and their community colleges have begun to embrace these steps. After World War II, 16 million veterans returned from overseas while we were shutting down our defense economy.  Congress passed the GI Bill and sent them to school to build their skills. It was perhaps the most successful social legislation our government passed and laid the foundation for a postwar boom.  Recently, researchers and companies created new vaccines in eight months that will save countless lives around the world.  We can create a workforce education system that reskills 17 million. This should be a critical goal.

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

About the Author

Sanjay Sarma is a professor and vice president of MIT Open Learning, leading online education development.  William Bonvillian is an MIT lecturer leading research projects on workforce education. They are authors of a new book from MIT Press, Workforce Education – A New Roadmap, that sets out the new policies needed for a true workforce system.

How to Use Your Stress for Good

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Business
How to Use Your Stress for Good

This week’s article is provided by Deb Lewis, founder of Mentally Tough Women (MTW). It is a companion to her interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled Mental Toughness: How to Embrace Stress for Greater Success that aired on Tuesday, July 6th.

Have you ever felt that SPECIAL SATISFACTION when you achieve what others thought impossible?

I graduated from West Point in the first class to EVER accept women.  174 years of them saying NO to all the women who wanted to attend and now our 62 women graduates from that first class have grown to over 5000 today.

It wasn’t easy. Important lessons rarely are. Those early days taught me a LOT.

Some years later, I was hand-picked to lead a $2.1 billion engineer construction program IN COMBAT!  Today, I’m very involved with non-profits, businesses, schools, and government offices to make it possible to work closely together to succeed under the toughest conditions. I lead a couple of non-profits, which include one with 4,200 members as Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars for Hawaii, and as Hawaii’s ambassador for the Military Women’s Memorial, encouraging women to sign up and share Herstory.

What’s been my KEY TO SUCCESS… that’s helped 1000s of women and men do AMAZING things EVERY day against the odds?

Answer: STRESS

It can break you, making your life miserable…or…

With the right training, YOU face whatever the future holds and enjoy what’s truly possible.

What better time to learn how to use stress to your advantage than today?

Think about the huge challenges we face -from climate change (drought, floods, melting ice caps & sea rise), to aggressive nations or combative groups to COVID and deadly variants.

Consider what’s happening to our businesses.

  • A Harvard Study found that in a recent recession only 9-10% of companies use adversity to their advantage. (Gulati – HBS)
  • A Harvard Business Review report found that 70-90% of business mergers and acquisitions fail. (HBR, 2019)
  • Gallup studies for 2020 indicate a workforce struggling to live up to its potential. Only 1 or 2 employees in 5 are engaged at work (highly involved), 43% are stressed out daily, and 15-20% are actively DISENGAGED (actively discouraging others to perform).

What employees in the US face at home:

  • 70% of adults have experienced a traumatic event – that’s Pre-COVID. (thenationalcouncil.org)
  • 50% of marriages end in divorce, and up to 73% for subsequent marriages. (worldpopulationreview.com)
  • 66% of people are seeking a real relationship, a meaningful partnership that is built on commitment and love (eHarmony)

When important issues at work and at home are wrapped in toxic and divisive perspectives, we magnify problems and solutions become elusive.

It’s natural to mistakenly view stress as a threat. In fact, we’re hard-wired and conditioned/soft-wired to do so. Threats trigger most people into survival-mode thinking.

In survival mode, unmet expectations are judged harshly and quickly. In this mode, a large range of options dramatically narrow to three strategies:  Fight, Flight (run away), or Shut Down (disengage).

It’s a lot like walking into a pie shop that normally offers 50 mouth-watering options. In survival mode, you narrow your options to three ordinary-looking pies…which you don’t realize until later. And those limited choices all make you sick.

A lack of stress skills can be easy to spot. Have you ever sat in a restaurant when someone you’re with has an issue with an order? How do they treat the server? Shouting or getting upset may get movement and lots of unintended consequences. Outcomes that exceed my expectations – never happen when I’m in survival mode!

In one case, a client enthusiastically signed up for both of my Extreme Stress and Stress Basics courses. Two weeks later, I noted she had not started either one. Upon questioning, she stated, “I’m in such a dark place. I really don’t think I have the energy or desire to even start because I won’t finish.”

Rather than be disappointed, I became excited and challenged her to watch just one of my 5 minutes videos. I promised she’d have more energy and feel better right away. Two weeks later, I checked back. and she shared, “I watched the video and finished both courses by the next day.”

I knew the toxic environment she worked in and asked if she wanted to talk more. She said, “I’m great now… really!” We did talk later. Her situation was even worse than I imagined. Today, she’s in a dream job.

With a better perspective and a few stress tools, you can walk through fire. And won’t waste time in survival mode whenever your emotions are triggered. Without that training and discipline to handle stress, it’s easy to forget the wisdom that’s available to us.

Remember when Wonder Woman took on the world after her early years of intense training? My own mental toughness journey in and out of the military continues to give me the power to transform incredibly difficult situations into opportunities and to help others do the same. It hasn’t gotten easier. I’ve gotten better!

TV, newspapers, magazines, books, radio, social media, and daily conversations bombard our beliefs, conversations, and choices we make every day. Recognize that a growing number of people refuse to listen to or restrict the “News” they receive or have even sworn off social media entirely. It comes down to how well you handle life’s challenges, no matter how tough things get. Stress isn’t bad. It’s how you deal with stress that matters.

 Do YOU want to stand out as a better leader? If so, your real test won’t happen when things go as planned. It’s those moments when a turn of events tests you – disappoints, frustrates or potentially angers you and those around you. With survival-mode thinking, keep in mind that:

Once you go negative, you break the trust and shake the foundation of your relationships.

What you do matters. When you’re lucky enough to be placed in leadership roles, use them to make a difference. The more challenging the job, the bigger your potential impact.

Go to our website Mentallytoughwomen.com to find out more about MTW’s Powerful Stress Tools. You’ll enjoy being tested to your limits!

Use stress to fuel your success

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

About the Author

Colonel Deb Lewis is a West Point graduate from its first class with women. A retired Army Colonel and Harvard MBA, Deb commanded three US Army Corps of Engineer Districts, including a $2.1B reconstruction program in combat. She survived the 9/11 Pentagon attack while serving on the Joint Staff antiterrorism team. Colonel Deb’s experiences leading while under fire inspired her unique ‘Mentally Tough Women’ (MTW) program. MTW prepares women (and enlightened men) to handle more stress – not de-stress – in good times and times of crisis. Once you ‘Armor Up’ with mental toughness, your daily battles turn into sweet victories.

Photo by Diego González on Unsplash

Seven Questions You Can Use to Move from Manager to a Leader

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Seven Questions You Can Use to Move from Manager to a Leader

This week’s article is provided by Jonathan Reitz as part of the World Business and Executive Coach Summit (WBECS) interview series.  It is a companion to his interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled Management Vs Leadership: How Coaching Skills Make a Difference that aired on Tuesday, May 25th.

Many careers get built around the mysterious difference between a manager and a leader. Don’t believe me? Google how to become a leader some time. But what IS that difference?

Both get things done. Each produces on strategic initiatives and business outcomes. Execution is a priority no matter what your career trajectory, especially coming out of COVID-19. The entrepreneurial view requires the action-reflection cycle to move an organization forward. It’s not accidental that action leads to that combination.

Leaders follow a vision that they see and communicate to their followers. Understanding where you and the organization are going is the first step to having others follow. How a leader develops that vision and owns it is another article.

But mixing in another slight mindset shift sets leaders apart: Leaders intentionally look for opportunities to unlock/develop the people around them. When you follow or work for a true leader, full potential is within reach for both the individual and the organization.

Bringing that future to life challenges even an excellent leader. And taking people with you as you move toward a vision requires handling changing conditions and expectations.

How can an effective leader release the people around them to reach their potential? Here are seven structured, systematic questions that you can use to challenge the people around you in developmental conversations:

  1. What progress have you made?

Right out of the gate, a leader has to decide: will it be more helpful to track progress by measuring back from the starting point? Or is the distance to the goal more compelling? Looking back to where you started roots the progress conversation in tangible outcomes. Keeping your eyes on what’s in front builds ownership of the vision. Both have solid reasoning behind them.

  1. How on track are you?

This second question invites an assessment of the progress from the perspective of the client/team member. Leaders who develop people gain insight into how well their team evaluates their progress, a key growth area. You’ll not only measure progress but also understand and improve strategic skills. Sharpening this area equips individual contributors to level up to leadership.

  1. What’s working?

Now we move from the strategic to the tactical. This question focuses on the practical actions that have produced beneficial results in the recent past. For example, the conversation might focus on the results produced since the last you spoke. You can target these areas later in the conversation.

  1. What’s not working?

This practical corollary to the last question explores actions that produced unhelpful or useless results. These items can be shut down or cut back.

  1. What are you learning?

The client describes their discoveries out loud. The process of forming their learning into clear thoughts and then pushing the words out of their mouth reinforces the insight. The client hears their words and gauges their reaction to them, which further confirms the moment. This question drives discoveries more often than any of the others, so don’t miss the opportunity to ask it!

  1. What needs to change?

Adapting or developing a client’s thinking becomes the goal here. Learning that gets named but not acted on slows development. Be sure to connect the change with the realizations identified previously. Even a few moments of reflection may inspire new connections and actions.

  1. What now/next?

Splitting the last step into two questions helps team members focus and order their commitments.

– “What now?” points to the first thing the client will do after the conversation ends. This action grows out of the last two questions and should move the client toward the critical outcome.

– “What next?” carries a less clear priority. As long as what the client names in response to this question moves them toward their vision/goal, the timeline can be more open-ended. A good rule of thumb expects completion of this action before the following conversation or next team meeting.

These seven questions shift a manager from directing the actions and priorities toward being a leader that invites team members to make meaningful contributions daily. The mindset shift requires the leader to depend on team members and work to bring out the team’s abilities. Team member growth AND bottom-line outcomes indicate how well this is working.

Important note: This seven-question framework only works if there is an existing goal, vision, or destination. The leader and the team member focus together toward specific outcomes. Clarity wins. Ideally, the client names the target as the conversation begins. If that target isn’t clear in the client’s mind, the leader/coach becomes most effective by asking open-ended questions that become specific about what they want to accomplish.

Whether you or the team member identified the future target isn’t the point. Clarity about what you want is the multiplier. It’s potent if you can specify how you’ll know you’re getting what you want in the moment.

One unintended side effect is that this approach can make your team more prone to turnover. BUT it’s the kind of turnover that comes from team members being promoted or taking on more responsibility. The converse of this side effect is that you will become the leader in your organization that helps people advance their careers, and that is a decisive recruiting advantage!

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

About the Author:

Jonathan Reitz, MCC is CoachNet FLUXIFY’s Director for Training/CEO. Jonathan holds the Master Certified Coach (MCC) credential in the International Coaching Federation.   He’s also the co-founder of the Team Coaching Global Alliance, and has been featured multiple times on the World Business and Executive Coaches Summit (WBECS).

He wrote Coaching Hacks:  Simple Strategies to Make Every Conversation More Effective.  Jonathan is a member of the faculty in the Weatherhead School of Management Coaching Program at Case Western Reserve University.  Jonathan Reitz lives in Cleveland, Ohio with his wife Joy and daughter Julia.   Find him online at www.jonathanreitz.com

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