Carving Out Time for Strategic Thinking

March 25, 2021

In today’s workplace, everyone should learn to think strategically—no matter their position. But effectively moving from manager to leader is where I think strategic thinking matters most.

As you move from being primarily responsible for the completion of a set of tasks or objectives to the alignment of people and processes, it is vital to think beyond your scope of direct influence to the larger organization. And this requires moving from convergent thinking to divergent thinking.

Convergent thinking is what you probably do most of the time and makes you a good problem solver. It is analytical and logical. This concrete thinking allows you to follow the data to make rational decisions. It is primarily focused on the near term and vital in every workplace.

Divergent thinking, on the other hand, is about looking at problems or opportunities from a variety of angles. It requires thinking abstractly to come up with ideas beyond what is directly obvious to everyone else. Typically, it is longer term. It means following tangents that convergent thinkers may think are off-topic and even a waste of time. But allowing for this enables the divergent thinker to come up with creative solutions.

This divergent thinking is important when choosing to think strategically because it is focused beyond the tactical problems of today and more on the potential problems and opportunities of tomorrow.

In a Harvard Business Review article some years back, Nina A. Bowman proposed 4 Ways to Improve Your Strategic Thinking Skills. These include:

  1. Know: Observe and Seek Trends – Look for themes that you see both in your organization as well as the overall market. Discuss your findings with your peers to better understand what you see.
  2. Think: Ask the Tough Questions – Ask yourself “How do I broaden what I consider?” This is where the divergent thinking becomes especially helpful as you need to think beyond the usual channels and pathways.
  3. Speak: Sound Strategic – Prepare your audience by providing a heads up that you want to have a higher-level conversation beyond the usual tactics. And rather than build up to your main point, provide this upfront and then back it up with your facts and ideas.
  4. Act: Make Time for Thinking and Embrace Conflict – Use the Eisenhower Box to evaluate what is urgent and important. Learn to guard your schedule by removing meetings, saying no to additional requests on your time, and blocking out protected time on your calendar for strategic thinking. You may encounter conflict from others in this, but they may ultimately respect you more by defending your precious time.

Learn to value the time you’re gazing out the window as you think through hard problems. Though you may be embarrassed should someone catch you doing this as opposed to staring at your computer, you should change your mindset and embrace it. This is where the real substance of strategic thinking comes from.

Strategic thinking cannot be done entirely in a vacuum, of course. But don’t let this keep you from first generating your own ideas to see where it takes you. Give yourself the time and space necessary to allow for divergent thinking and novel solutions will present themselves. Then, once you’ve got your thoughts together, bounce them off others to vet them as well as add on to them.  

Carving out time for strategic thinking will benefit you and your organization. Just be patient as your results will not be nearly as tangible in the short term. In fact, they may never come to fruition. That doesn’t mean the time spent on them wasn’t important. In fact, it may have been more important to simply rule them out and move on to other potential ideas. And that’s what great leaders are able to do.

Making the Most of Feedback

March 9, 2021

[This is an excerpt from my book Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, which is currently available at Amazon and wherever you buy books.]

Leading others in the workplace requires a combination of successfully receiving and giving feedback. At a very basic level, receiving feedback is about learning what you are perceived as doing well and should continue doing; understanding what you should not do and stop doing; and learning what you don’t currently do, but should begin doing.

Similarly, to give feedback effectively, you need to state what the other person is doing well and encourage them to continue; inform them of what they should not be doing and redirect as necessary; and communicate what they need to begin doing in order to be more effective in their role. Effectively receiving and giving feedback are essential in every career, but especially when seeking to lead by example.

It’s important to look at the feedback you receive as a gift by valuing the perspectives others have for how they see you showing up in the workplace. Ideally, this would come in the form of a 360-degree feedback appraisal, so you can learn how you are perceived by people up, down and across the organization. This collective perspective provides an overall picture in how you show up. It may differ from how you perceive yourself, yet this helps you gain an external perspective to increase your overall self-awareness.

When a comment is from one individual, you should see it as an opinion; when it is from two, you should treat it as a trend; and when it is from three or more people, you should view it as factual and especially important to consider.

Don’t dismiss the positive comments as these represent your strengths that helped you reach where you are today. Embrace this positive feedback and own it as part of your overall reputation and personal brand. Receiving feedback effectively means you are able to hear and accept both positive and critical information without dismissing, overreacting or becoming defensive. Developing self-awareness is based not only on how well you can accurately see yourself, but also on how aware you are of how others see you. This can come only through feedback from others. And it’s vital you are able to receive it well, determine what it means for you, and choose to act where appropriate in order to bring about any necessary changes to help you grow.

Getting feedback can be difficult in many workplaces because it may not be embedded into a performance evaluation process. Many companies that deploy annual performance appraisals find them dreaded by both supervisors and employees, which further undermines the potential for success in receiving useful feedback.

The best organizations deliver feedback as often as quarterly in order to course correct and pivot more quickly. This enables tighter communication, so employees can more immediately take corrective action and continually improve. The 360-degree feedback method can be especially helpful, but may not be used throughout your organization or used consistently. Regardless, top-performing leaders are those who regularly seek out feedback on their performance, according to Tasha Eurich in her book Insight.

“If anything, we are socially and professionally rewarded for seeking critical feedback,” says Eurich. “Leaders who do are seen as more effective, not just by their bosses, but by their peers and employees.” It’s important that you get the feedback you need in order to succeed in your role and throughout your career. Just as importantly, you need to receive it with a growth mindset so you can take appropriate action on what you get.

“If we can receive feedback with grace, reflect on it with courage, and respond to it with purpose, we are capable of unearthing unimaginable insights from the most unlikely of places,” says Eurich.

The 3R Model

She developed the 3R Model on how to best stay in control regarding surprising or difficult feedback. Using this 3R Model enables you to receive, reflect upon and respond to such feedback effectively.

  • Receive – Mine the insight potential by seeking specificity on where the particular behavior shows up and examples of when it was seen.
  • Reflect – How well do you understand the feedback? How will it affect your well-being? What affect will it have on your long-term workplace success?
  • Respond – Do you want to act on this feedback, and if so, how? Can you develop and communicate a plan for how you will go about this action?

Feedback should not be taken as judgment, but only as information that can be helpful to your growth.

“When faced with feedback in an area that plays into our self-limiting beliefs,” says Eurich, “merely taking a few minutes to remind ourselves of another important aspect of our identity than the one being threatened shores up our ‘psychological immune system.’” Using the 3R Model will help you make the most of the critical feedback you receive.

If you can be courageous enough to seek feedback, be sure you are also capable of receiving it well, reflecting on what it means, and responding in a way that helps you to grow.

The Art & Importance of Small Talk

February 24, 2021

I’ve recently discovered that while many people don’t feel comfortable making small talk, some minimize its importance as a leadership trait. Why bother chatting about insignificant things when more important business matters should be prioritized?

The verbal interaction between two people who just meet is an opportunity to make a connection. It has the potential to expand your network by discovering what you may share and how you may be able to help each other. It’s good to remember that you can learn something from anyone. You just have to open up and discover what that may be.

Perhaps most important of all, small talk enables you to establish rapport and build trust, both of which are essential to being able to influence, motivate, collaborate and lead others.

In fact, the more successfully you use language, the faster you can get ahead in life. This is the finding of Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone. “. . . small talk—the kind that happens between two people who don’t know each other—is the most important talk we do.”

Thomas Harrell, professor of applied psychology at Stanford University Graduate School of Business, years ago conducted a study to identify the traits of their most successful alumni. In this group of MBA students, a decade after graduation, he found that grade point average had no bearing on success. Instead, the one trait that was common among the groups’ most accomplished graduates was “verbal fluency.”

Those who had built businesses and climbed the corporate ladder with amazing speed were those who could confidently make conversation with anyone in any situation. This ability to make small talk enabled them to succeed.

“Mustering the audacity to talk with people who don’t know me often simply comes down to balancing the fear I have of embarrassment against the fear of failure and its repercussions,” says Ferrazzi. “Everyone has something in common every other person, but you won’t find out what these are unless you open up an expose your interests and concerns, allowing others to do likewise.”

And to get comfortable with small talk, you need to lean into it. The more you do it the easier it will become to continue doing it.

There are things you can do to make way for a more receptive interaction. Beyond what you say, it is how you show up with regard to your body language and your ability to listen well. How you are perceived is determined by many things before you even speak. Here are Ferrazzi’s suggestions:

  • Give the person a hearty smile. It says, “I’m approachable.”
  • Maintain a good balance of eye contact between 70 and 100 percent of the time. You don’t want to leer nor do you want to appear disinterested or rude.
  • Don’t keep your arms folded. Crossing your arms can make you appear defensive or closed. It also signals tension.
  • Nod your head and lean in, but without invading the other person’s space. You want to show that you’re engaged and interested.
  • Use a handshake optimally. One way to break through the distance between yourself and the other person is to touch the other person’s elbow as your shaking their hand. It conveys just the right amount of intimacy. (I recognize that this will have to be delayed until we are capable of moving beyond merely bumping elbows during COVID-19.)

It’s vital to listen well. This cannot be overemphasized, especially in this narcissistic time we’re living in. You will stand out by giving others the gift of your full attention. Discover and practice active listening skills.

In 1936 Dale Carnegie wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People and his simple ideas are as relevant today as they were back then. They include:

  • Become genuinely interested in other people
  • Be a good listener by encouraging others to talk about themselves
  • Let the other person do a great deal of the talking
  • Smile
  • Talk in terms of the other person’s interests
  • Give honest and sincere appreciation

Others include showing empathy and repeating the other person’s name when you’re speaking to them. Both enable greater intimacy that builds further connection. All of these play an important role in the art of small talk and the big opportunity found in doing so.

Leading by Example

February 11, 2021

[This is an excerpt from my book Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, which is currently available at Amazon and wherever you buy books.]

Isaac was a senior account executive at a commercial real estate firm and consistently recognized for his sales expertise. He regularly exceeded quotas and, as a result, was given greater responsibility to manage a team of junior salespeople.

However, in this new role Isaac was challenged to shine. When his direct reports struggled to meet their numbers, Isaac failed to provide appropriate feedback to inspire and motivate them. Isaac was also unable to hear and accept constructive feedback from his supervisor concerning how to effectively manage his team. By the end of the year, when it was clear his team was in jeopardy of meeting quota and putting Isaac’s reputation at risk, he became more aggressive and threatened his people with consequences. Isaac used fear and intimidation that backfired and resulted not only in his team missing the sales forecast, but also losing several outstanding salespeople who had been performing well in spite of Isaac’s behavior. His inability to give and receive feedback well along with struggling while under stress exposed his low level of the social competencies in emotional intelligence.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Mia had recently been hired to take on managing a dysfunctional group of construction workers. Her predecessor had been ineffective regulating conflict, which resulted in missed deadlines and an unmotivated workforce. The group was dominated by men, many of whom were dubious and dismissive when they heard a woman was coming on board to lead them. In her first week on the job, rather than simply accept what her boss had told her regarding why the group struggled, she inquired and listened carefully to what each of the workers had to say. Mia took the time to build rapport with them. She learned that most of the conflict was related to bullying behavior by two men in particular, who were using intimidation and sarcasm to keep the group from performing optimally. Both men had been with the company longer than anyone and were generally considered high performers that she didn’t want to lose.

Mia decided to meet with the two men and deliver her findings in a direct manner making it clear that their bullying behavior needed to stop. Both men listened patiently as she told them how their behavior was undermining the project. Before they could become defensive and deny what she was saying, Mia requested their help. She asked that they each take on a leadership role in two separate teams that would work on vital parts of the project. She told them that they would need to inspire and motivate their team members to work collaboratively in order to meet the upcoming deadline. Mia made it clear that without their full cooperation, the entire project was at stake and this would put the company’s financial position in jeopardy. The men looked at each other then back at Mia, and both agreed to her proposal.

Before long, after clear and consistent communication along with appropriate coaching, Mia found that the two men became more engaged in focusing on the people in their teams and were rising to the challenge. Their bullying behavior had ceased as they were now inspired to succeed. What Mia was able to achieve demonstrated the social competencies of emotional intelligence, including the ability to regulate conflict and influence others effectively.

Leading is not limited to those in executive level positions. Leadership can be demonstrated by anyone, no matter their position because it is more of a mindset than a designation in an organizational chart. Real leadership is earned rather than appointed. It is modeled in how well you execute your role and the behavior you demonstrate doing so. Leaders are those who inspire others to do more than they thought they were capable of doing. People follow the best leaders not because they have to, but because they want to. And the best leaders lead by example. To do this, they are able to effectively influence others, give and receive feedback, perform well under stress and manage conflict.

Adapting Work Habits That Demonstrate EQ

January 27, 2021

[This is an excerpt from my book Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, which is currently available at Amazon and wherever you buy books.]

The behavior you demonstrate at work speaks volumes with regard to your overall emotional intelligence, and this behavior shows up directly in your habits. A habit—good or bad—is simply routine behavior repeated continually and without thinking. And because habits are automatic, you may not necessarily be aware of the impact they have on you or on others.

If you’re not clear which of your habits may be holding you back, you could scan past performance reviews for clues. There may be an indication of some habits that were identified as inappropriate and they may need to shift. You can also learn which habits are holding you back by directly asking your supervisor or a colleague you trust. Just remember to control your reaction, so that they feel comfortable fully sharing what they observe.

For example, let’s say a colleague says you have a tendency to look away when people are talking to you and this makes them feel you are not trustworthy. Knowing this habit is undermining your need to connect with others, you could try to keep longer eye contact with others instead of looking away.

Of course, if you’ve ever tried to break a habit or create a new one, you know it can be difficult to do. This can be due to a lack of self-discipline, but it is also likely that you haven’t broken the habit down small enough, so you can see incremental progress to keep you motivated and moving forward. Take the example of not looking people directly in the eye. This could be broken down so that you can work on looking just one person in the eye when he or she speaks to you. Get comfortable with that single interaction before attempting to do it with everyone.

“Habits should be small and easy do,” says James Clear, author of the book Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results. “If you make changes that are small and easy to do, and layer them on top of each other like units in a fundamental system, you can get powerful results.” Clear calls habits the compound interest of self-improvement because over time these incremental steps compound and help you end up in a very different place.

Three important lessons Clear has found to help break bad habits and form new ones:

  1. When you perform a habit, you execute a four-step pattern: cue, craving, response, reward.
  2. If you want to form a new habit, you should make it obvious, attractive, easy and satisfying.
  3. You can use a habit tracker to measure your progress and maintain your motivation.

It can also be very helpful to recruit someone to observe your efforts and provide support as you make progress on your habits. Perhaps you can find someone at work who is also looking to break a habit or create a new one. You may want to partner with that person to keep you both motivated.

There are many estimates for how long it takes to develop a new habit. I’ve heard claims of 21 days to 30 days to 66 days to 254 days. The fact is that it’s going to take as long as it’s going to take. Rather than pinpoint a specific date on the calendar when you are done, look at habit forming or habit breaking as a continual process. If you embrace a growth mindset, you’ll recognize that you are never really finished with the learning involved.

By focusing on your habit daily, it will become ingrained and begin to lock in. Stay at it, acknowledge gradual progress, and don’t give up because of the inevitable setbacks you’ll encounter along the way. Before long, you won’t even be thinking about it because it will have become automatic. That’s when the habit becomes, well, habitual.

Your overall level of emotional intelligence in the workplace is demonstrated through your habits. The behavior expressed in these habits either enable or prevent others from connecting, trusting and working with you effectively. Habits are foundational to the personal and social competencies of emotional intelligence.

The Peril of a Post-Truth Society

January 13, 2021

The January 6, 2021 attack on our nation’s Capitol should be a wake-up call to all those who fail to realize the severity of accepting and encouraging the post-truth world we’re now living in. Regardless of political affiliation, when we no longer trust reputable news sources for presenting factual information, we are doomed to lose our freedom and our democracy.

When alternative facts are taken seriously, they undermine our ability to discern fact from fiction. The notion of “fake news” is not new, yet it is extremely dangerous to our country.

As an undergraduate student, I studied journalism and learned that although complete objectivity was unattainable, we should nevertheless continually pursue it. Also, the so-called Fourth Estate is essential for holding truth to power.

Thomas Jefferson, one of our great founding fathers, wrote about the importance of a free press keeping government in check. He concluded that if he had to choose between “a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Just as important, in his very next sentence: “But I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them.” Perhaps therein lies our biggest challenge: Reputable news sources require investment in investigative reporting and verifiable fact-checking. If citizens are not interested in paying for this service, we are subject to the misinformation so prevalent in the conspiracy theories and proliferation of lies that are somehow defended as “free speech.”

In his book, Head in the Cloud, author William Poundstone found that people who get their news from social networks are less informed than audiences for other media. He conducted a simple survey that included a general knowledge quiz with questions such as:

  • Which came first, Judaism or Christianity?
  • Find South Carolina on an unlabeled U.S. map.
  • Name at least one of your state’s U.S. Senators

Average score for those who said they got some of their news from Facebook was 60 percent. This was 10 points less than the average scores for those who listed NPRThe New York Times, or even The Daily Show as news sources. Scores were lower for Twitter (58 percent) and Tumblr (55 percent).

The point is that a reliance on social media to keep you informed will only lead you to be fooled and subject to misinformation that results in your relying on someone else’s opinions rather than facts to fully understand. And others’ opinions often have malicious intent.

Choosing not to pay for news and information means you are left with unreliable sources that are not vetted and validated. The result is misinformation often compiled as clickbait that undermines your ability to function as a well-informed citizen. When you no longer trust the New York Times, Wall Street Journal or CNN, then people can take whatever they see on Facebook, Breitbart and QAnon as equally or perhaps somehow more reputable. 

Despite the internet’s ability to provide us with more content from different points of view around the globe, it’s difficult to discern what to believe. We should continually ask: Is it true or is it false? Is this source credible? Just because something has gone viral doesn’t mean it is accurate. As Mark Twain reportedly once said, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

Perhaps having a Politifact or Snopes filter overlaying your newsfeed might help, and maybe this is what some enterprising company should develop. Without that, each of us has to be our own editor to filter the unregulated information coming in. This is an important and vital responsibility if we want to be informed citizens who can maintain our freedom and democracy.  

2020: A Stoic Adventure

December 28, 2020

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
― Viktor E. Frankl

Here at the end of a very challenging year due to a global pandemic, it may be difficult to see the bright side. One lesson we might take away from this year is that it’s not the situation, but how we respond to it that matters most.

There’s an ancient Chinese story about a man who raised horses for a living, and one day he lost one of his prized horses. Hearing of the misfortune, his neighbor felt sorry for the rancher and came to comfort him. The rancher simply asked, “How could we know it is not a good thing for me?” After a while, the lost horse returned with another beautiful horse. The neighbor came over and congratulated the rancher on his good fortune. But the rancher simply asked, “How could we know it is not a bad thing for me?” The next day his son went out for a ride with the new horse and was violently thrown from the horse and broke his leg. The neighbor again expressed his condolences to the rancher, but he simply said, “How could we know it is not a good thing for me?” One year later, the Emperor’s army arrived at the village to recruit all able-bodied men to fight in the war. Because of his injury, the rancher’s son could not go off to war, and was spared from certain death.

The ending of this story suggests that every misfortune comes with a silver lining. Or what first appears to be good luck can come with misfortune.

Similarly, the Stoic ancient philosophers, which included Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, took the perspective that if you want to have a happy life, you need to take responsibility for it. When bad things happen, it is not the event itself but your reaction to it that can do the most harm.

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment,” according to Marcus Aurelius.

William B. Irvine, author of The Stoic Challenge: A Philosopher’s Guide to Becoming Tougher, Calmer and More Resilient, says that much of our suffering is due to the response we have to life. “When someone says something disparaging to you, it is just words, but how you respond to them can continually harm you. The response is usually worse than the event itself.”

When you think of the word stoic, you may be thinking of some unemotional Spock-like character devoid of feeling. However, while stoicism refers to a person who takes whatever life throws at them without expressing emotions in the process, Stoics (with a capital S) don’t suppress emotions but try to avoid expressing negative emotions. Ancient Stoics were actually considered to be cheerful individuals.

Anchoring & Framing

How would Stoics suggest we respond to this COVID experience? According to Irvine, you could practice a concept called anchoring, which involves comparing this situation with one that could be much worse. For example, whether you experienced it or not, you could envision being stuck in a concentration camp during the Holocaust, which would obviously be much worse.

Or you might try framing to provide a different perspective. Think of the hypothetical situation of your doctor saying you have a serious illness and a choice between two procedures: One has a one-month survival rate of 90 percent, while the other has a 10 percent mortality rate in the first month. Many will choose the first option due to its high survival rate, however, the perfectly rational person would see the two as equally attractive. As humans, we are not perfectly rational and we are influenced by how the exact same situation is framed.

Irvine also sees it important to develop your “emotional immune system” in the same way you boost your physical immune system. This means deliberately exposing yourself to things that would make you emotionally uncomfortable, so that you are more likely to overcome future setbacks. This ultimately makes you more emotionally resilient to handle whatever you encounter. The social isolation of the past year has certainly been an emotional challenge for many of us.

This is not to suggest that you resist all negativity, but only that you don’t let your response to challenges and setbacks make things worse. Choose to see the bright side. Be optimistic. And seek to respond in ways that bring you closer to getting what you want.

Here’s to a brighter, healthier and more resilient 2021!

Emotional Intelligence & Stress

December 13, 2020

[This is part two of an excerpt from my new book Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, which is available at Amazon and wherever you buy books.]

Raising your level of emotional intelligence enables you to better manage the stress you may experience in workplace relationships. This is because EQ helps you adapt to change, be flexible and more resilient while working with others. You are better able to be a cooperative teammate and enhance your leadership capacity.

It’s especially important in a VUCA environment. VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. In today’s workplace, organizational complexity is rapidly increasing as we work across time zones and international borders as well as with multiple languages and cultures. The pace of change is accelerating with greater focus on optimizing productivity. We need to make faster decisions without complete information. Leaders are increasingly looking to motivate others to do more with fewer resources. All of these can greatly impact your level of stress and demand the ability to work well with colleagues. A high level of emotional intelligence is of great importance whether you are in a leadership position, simply working with others in teams, or managing others.

Jeannine Acantilado, principal of Elan Consulting Services, has deployed more than 600 emotional intelligence assessments to healthcare professionals. She’s found that the more she focuses her clients on building their individual self-awareness, the more they become aware of how others view the world differently. Simply focusing on your own understanding of who you are enables you to see and understand others in contrast to yourself.

Acantilado also reports that clients who focus on increasing their EQ benefit significantly not only professionally, but also in their personal lives. That’s the power of emotional intelligence in that it applies both inside and outside of the workplace. The work you do developing your EQ competencies will strengthen all your relationships. When Acantilado first deployed EQ assessments in a healthcare facility, she says she deliberately asked for 12 people who measured particularly low on workplace engagement. After debriefing the assessments and coaching these individuals monthly over the course of an entire year, two had left the organization for unrelated reasons and all 10 of the others dramatically improved not only their own engagement scores but also those of their teams.

Engagement is an important indicator for how satisfied employees are with their jobs and workplace. And engagement can directly impact levels of productivity, innovation, and turnover. According to a 2018 Gallup study of workplace engagement in the United States, 34 percent of employees reported themselves as “engaged” at work. These employees said they were involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace. Additionally, 13 percent were “actively disengaged” or claimed miserable work experiences. That was actually the best ratio of engaged to actively disengaged since Gallup began polling in the year 2000. The remaining 54 percent were in the “not engaged” category, which means they were generally satisfied, but not connected to the work either cognitively or emotionally.

When only a third of employees are considered engaged, there is a problem; part of the responsibility for this problem is the employer’s and part of it belongs to employees. This lack of engagement is also an opportunity for raising emotional intelligence because it can help encourage people to connect who they are with what they do. When people feel engaged at work, they report feeling passion for the work and more collegiality, and they express loyalty to the company. Their engagement is linked directly to emotions based on their personal values aligning with the organization’s values.

“Engaged employees are more attentive and vigilant,” according to Jim Harter of the Gallup Research Center. “They look out for the needs of their coworkers and the overall enterprise, because they personally ‘own’ the result of their work and that of the organization.”

[You can read more in my new book Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, which is available at Amazon and wherever you buy books.]

The Importance of Strong Working Relationships

November 30, 2020

[The following is an excerpt from my new book Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, which is now available at Amazon and wherever you buy books.]

Today’s technology enables you to meet face-to-face far less often. However, this can actually make it harder for you to communicate in an effective manner. Connecting virtually—even through video conferencing—means you are missing essential elements of truly effective communication. That’s because it can be difficult to pick up nonverbal clues in body language, such as posture, micro-expressions, and eye movement. It’s also more challenging to establish rapport and build trust when you are not in the same physical space.

When you are in the same room, you should therefore make the most of these opportunities because it will pay off when you are not. Investing time to intentionally get to know others and allow them to get to know you will strengthen your relationships at work in the same way it does in your personal life. In addition to building rapport and trust, you’ll also be better prepared to communicate, collaborate, manage conflict, and influence others. All of these components of emotional intelligence enable you to strengthen your work relationships.

CEOs from a variety of industries understand the benefits of building strong relationships in business. Take for example:

  • Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway, who engenders intense loyalty with a relationship-driven focus. “Success in investing doesn’t correlate with IQ once you’re above the level of 25,” says Buffett. “Once you have ordinary intelligence, what you need is the temperament to control the urges that get other people into trouble investing.”
  • PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi bonded with the members of her executive team by sending letters to their parents and telling them what their “child” was doing at PepsiCo. In a discussion with the Boston Consulting Group, Nooyi said, “You need to look at the employee and say, ‘I value you as a person. I know that you have a life beyond PepsiCo, and I’m going to respect you for your entire life, not just treat you as employee number 4,567.’”
  • Or Alan Mulally of Ford who sends employees hand-written, personalized notes praising their work. He is well respected for his interpersonal skills and making those he’s in conversation with feel special.
  • And Microsoft’s Satya Nadella has brought the company back to prominence while revamping their corporate culture to encourage employees to learn from failure and remain motivated to continue giving their best.

The importance of strengthening work relationships is not only for leaders. It’s important for all of us because the more connected we are to others, the better we all perform, whether we are part of a basketball team or jazz ensemble or work in distribution centers, retail stores, construction sites, law firms, hospitals, consultancies, business offices, or other workplaces. We rarely work in isolation; therefore, it’s paramount to build strong working relationships. Teamwork makes the team work. The more capable you are at working well with others, the better the overall performance from you and the group.

Judy Riege, principal of Connected Leaders based in Calgary, Canada, successfully deployed emotional intelligence training to nearly 200 leaders in a large chemical company in North America. In addition, 15 of the company’s HR professionals were later certified to deliver that same EQ training beyond the leaders, further down in the organization. Because the company is made up primarily of engineers, scientists, and other technical people, Riege says it was especially important for them to see the value of emotional intelligence by tying the brain science directly to the behaviors that play out in the workplace. For example, when they learned how their ability to stay curious was compromised when they were under stress or in conflict, they could better see directly the benefits of emotional intelligence. EQ helped them learn how to stay curious and connected in spite of the stress.

“We need to shift our thinking of the word ‘trust’ as a verb instead of a noun,” says Riege. “Everything we do in relationship influences whether we improve or take away trust. It’s about the connection to curiosity. Trust is an act of grace.” Riege says the best leaders are confident and connected. “You cannot build either in isolation. If you’re not building trust and a network who can tell you when you’re doing well or not, you can’t build confidence. EQ is going to be significantly more important than IQ because of this.”

[A continuation of this discussion will appear in my next blog post.]

Does EQ Matter in the Workplace?

November 9, 2020

[This is an excerpt from my new book Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, which is now available at Amazon and wherever you buy books.]

The burly, barrel-chested vice president of operations entered the meeting room and the mood quickly dropped from jovial to somber. Earlier in the week Jonathon had reprimanded two meeting attendees, lashed out at a third, and mocked another. His frequent use of sarcasm, although greeted encouragingly by one team member, made him hard to read. No one knew exactly what they were going to get in their interactions with Jonathon, but they were always on guard. Though he was respected due to his subject matter expertise and his executive position, Jonathon’s peers, direct-reports, and external vendors all found it difficult to work with him effectively.

Jonathon had little self-awareness, an inability to control his reactions, was unable to read or care about what others were feeling, and had lost the trust of those he worked with. Jonathon had very low emotional intelligence, and this was undermining his effectiveness and would ultimately jeopardize his career.

All humans are emotional beings, and emotions are not something you can ignore or leave at home when you go to work. Feeling emotions such as happiness, sadness, anger, fear, love, surprise, disgust, and shame provides you with valuable information. As with any other data, your emotions can enable you to make better decisions in how you work and how you live.

The information emotions provide can be appreciated or discounted, but emotions cannot be ignored. When emotions are ignored, they can show up negatively within your behavior. These behaviors show up in your interactions with others where they can undermine your intentions and result in friction. Such behaviors could include overreacting to feedback or an offhand comment, “flying off the handle,” or becoming unhinged. You may be unable to control your anger, disappointment, or jealousy and have it show up as rage, defensiveness, or spite. Emotions can be revealed in less dramatic ways such as in passive-aggressive behavior, where the external expression is not consistent with the underlying emotion. Passive-aggressive behavior can result when you avoid responsibility or refuse to directly express your concerns or needs. Emotions can also be suppressed or not intentionally expressed, but this often leads to them leaking out in unintended and potentially consequential ways. Your emotions have great power to help or hurt you. The good news is that you can choose how to harness that power.

Since the 1995 publication of Daniel Goleman’s best-selling book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, a great deal of energy and excitement has been generated around understanding emotional intelligence. Individuals and organizations around the world have sought to learn and embrace ways of improving emotional intelligence, or “EQ.” It has also become a major component of many leadership development programs and an important part of executive coaching. In the workplace, it is critical to be aware of your emotions because they are revealed in your behavior. This behavior can either support or undermine your overall effectiveness.

Not long ago, 30 percent of all work was collaborative and 70 percent was the result of individual contributions. That has since been reversed as the majority of work now requires collaboration and effective interaction with other people. Even when jobs are conducted remotely, it has become increasingly common for them to be performed in teams. When such interaction is face-to-face, it’s critical that you are in touch with your emotions and are able to read the emotions of others. When the interaction is compromised because it is done via phone calls, video conferences, email, Slack messages, or text, it is even more critical that you are able to effectively connect because you are missing the essential nonverbal feedback of being in another person’s physical presence. And although some jobs require little interaction with other people, all of us will need to interact with others—even if it is only our direct supervisor. Managing that relationship effectively is extremely important. In most organizations, your advancement opportunities typically require not only working with others, but often supervising others as a manager or director. In fact, the higher you rise in an organization, the more you will be interacting with others rather than primarily staring at a spreadsheet or writing emails. Working effectively with others requires EQ.

Emotional intelligence is an excellent indicator of success in the workplace and is often used to identify team players and good leaders as well as people who are better suited to working alone. Increasingly, when it comes to gauging job candidates, companies are viewing emotional intelligence as an integral factor, once technical skills and work experience are considered.

Daniel Goleman makes a strong case for a direct link between emotional intelligence and workplace performance in his book, Working with Emotional Intelligence. Goleman presents data showing that 67 percent of competencies deemed as essential for high performance within one’s work career are grounded in one’s emotional intelligence. In fact, one’s emotional intelligence is believed to matter nearly twice as much as one’s technical knowledge or IQ, where high performance within one’s career is concerned. Perhaps not surprisingly, EQ was also found to be of the greatest advantage at the highest levels of leadership.

[Learn more about Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace.]

Human Behavior at Work

October 27, 2020

As an executive coach my focus is on helping clients raise their leadership capacity in order to lead more effectively. This typically involves tweaking certain behaviors, so leaders can to bring their best selves to the workplace.

While changing one’s behavior can be extremely difficult, it is crucial in order to become a better leader. Keep in mind that behavioral change is not an event, but a process. It requires diligence and patience. It often means that you stop behaving in a certain manner in order to start behaving differently.

“People will do something—including changing their behavior—only if it can be demonstrated that doing so is in their own best interests as defined by their own values,” wrote Marshall Goldsmith in his book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. “The higher you go in the organization, the more your problems are behavioral. The higher you go, the more your issues are behavioral.”

As much as we may recognize that our current behavior is holding us back, it can be difficult to change because that knowledge alone is not enough to move us forward.

According to Plato, human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion and knowledge. It’s important to keep these elements in mind when trying to understand why we behave the way we do and in how we can change certain behaviors.

Desire

This is about the longing or craving you may have for something that will bring about greater satisfaction or enjoyment. In the workplace, desire drives the expression of your behavior even when it may not serve your best interests. Think about inappropriate comments regarding attraction to another person. Unfiltered desire may actually threaten continued employment. Desire can also provide the motivation or passion you need to initiate a change in behavior.

Emotion

This affective state of your consciousness enables you to experience joy, love, anger, hate, etc. Though some may think they can ignore emotions while at work, to be human means to be emotional and this is true wherever you are. But experiencing emotions at work doesn’t mean simply reacting to them. Instead, you should learn to leverage the information emotions bring about, which means not reacting to them in a way that may undermine your goals but responding to the wisdom they provide in order to behave appropriately. Understanding and practicing this can aid in your ability to initiate behavioral change.

Knowledge

Your knowledge informs how you behave. Though your intentions may be entirely clear to you, that doesn’t mean they are clear to others. Understanding that certain behaviors may be holding you back is very important, but it is not enough. The knowledge you have of your emotions and the desire driving them enables you to behave in a certain manner. This helps you understand how to bring about changes to behaviors that better serve your goals.

More than what you say, it is your behavior that demonstrates most clearly how you show up in the workplace. This behavior can either reflect well or poorly on you. When it undermines your what you intend, it is time for change.

I will be sharing an exciting announcement next week! Be sure to stay tuned and keep an eye out, I can’t wait to share this news with you!


Emotions in Decision-Making

October 15, 2020

Emotions impact our decision-making whether we admit it or not. These emotions are actually available to assist in evaluating an experience and then propel us to take some action upon it. We are informed through felt sensations in our body resulting in feelings that ultimately shape our views and perspectives.

While the US Senate is currently in the process of confirming Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, many are trying to determine how Barrett’s personal views will impact her decision-making as a judge on the highest court in the land. Judge Barrett has been very careful to state that she will rule based on the law and not on her personal views.

However, if we can agree emotions impact our decision-making ultimately leading to better decisions and that emotions help shape our personal views, won’t this mean that Judge Barrett and in fact all judges make rulings that are indeed influenced by the emotions they feel? Afterall, none of us are Spock-like characters devoid of feeling. 

Total objectivity was the goal yet impossible to achieve, I was taught as a journalism student. I suspect total impartiality for a judge is equally impossible to achieve. Experienced criminal lawyers say the outcome of a case is largely determined by the judge one gets. Exercising complete impartiality is a worthy goal, but should we really believe it’s possible to achieve and realistic to find?

According to American Nobel Laureate scientist Herbert Simon, emotions influence, skew or sometimes completely determine the outcome of a large number of decisions we make each day.

We shouldn’t rely solely on our gut instinct to make important decisions, nor should we deny the emotions we feel while deliberating with only rational thinking. Emotions, when correctly interpreted, can actually assist in making the best decisions. Trust your gut, but back it up with facts and data to support it.

Psychologists differentiate between integral (e.g., envy and regret) emotions and incidental (e.g., sadness and anger) emotions. Integral emotions are those caused by the decision, such as thinking about the implications of a decision causes anxiety. This anxiety is actually very useful information for you to consider and you may need to be more cautious.

On the other hand, incidental emotions should have nothing to do with your decision-making. For example, it you’re about to make a financial transaction, being sad or angry should play no role in this very rational decision and yet it often does.  When you are angry, it’s extremely important to take a breath and pause because you are probably not in a good space for making a rational decision and could very well result in a costly mistake.  

Because of the many ways our emotions can affect us, it’s important to be aware of them and take them into consideration whenever we are in a deliberative frame of mind. Emotions are there to assist or undermine us, but they can’t be ignored.

“When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with the creatures of emotion,” said American writer and lecturer Dale Carnegie. Use the information your emotions provide to help you make the best decisions.

Be a Catalyst for Change

September 27, 2020

So often change efforts fail due to moving too quickly, not getting adequate sponsor support, not consistently communicating what needs to happen and other factors. In fact, nearly 70% of change management initiatives fail for these and other reasons. And yet, change is necessary, and we should adopt a catalyst mentality in order to be effective change agents.

Change, as the saying goes, is the only constant in life. Yet most of us are reluctant to change and this often prevents us from making progress. Understanding this about ourselves can help us better understand those we want to adopt our particular change.

Successfully changing someone’s mind is not simply about being more persuasive or providing them with more information. Rather than pushing harder, successful change agents are able to pull in by removing roadblocks and reducing barriers.

In Jonah Berger’s new book, The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind, the author presents practical guidance based on scientific research for how to change minds. He provides many examples and anecdotes to explain what he sees as five key barriers that inhibit change. Collectively, he calls these barriers: REDUCE.

  • Reactance – People typically push back when feeling pushed to change. Rather than tell people what to do, the catalyst allows for agency and encourages people to convince themselves. To do this, encourage them to chart their path towards your destination.
  • Endowment – We are attached to the status quo. To ease this endowment, the catalyst surfaces the costs of inaction and helps people realize doing nothing isn’t costless. Try to surface the hidden costs of not changing to make them see this is not a viable option.
  • Distance – When removed from their daily lives, people tend to disregard the need for change. The catalyst needs to shrink this distance by asking for less and switching the field. This means avoiding confirmation bias by staying out of the rejection area. Ask for something a bit less that could be a pivotable start before asking for more.
  • Uncertainty – The doubt people feel presents allowing for change. Alleviate uncertainty by making it easier to try. Examples such as free shipping or the freemium model are examples that made it easier for people to buy products in the early days of e-commerce.
  • Corroborating Evidence – Often people just need more data from trusted sources. The catalyst can find this corroborating evidence with multiple sources to quickly overcome people’s reluctance due to a lack of information.

As Berger wrote, behavioral scientist Kurt Lewin once stated, “If you want to truly understand something, try to change it.” Berger says the reverse is also true in that to truly change something, you need to understand it. And perhaps this summarizes how to change something best of all. No two situations are the same. In each area you are looking to change, you need to thoroughly understand not only the thing itself but also the potential roadblocks and resistance likely faced before you’ll be able to change it.

It could be that up until now, we’ve spent far too much time on the former and not enough on the latter. Investing the time and energy to truly understand the recipient of the change and their potential barriers will enable you to be much more successful in getting your change accepted. And that’s good for all of us.

Thriving in the Decade Ahead

September 17, 2020

In just 10 short years our world will be radically changed in both positive and negative ways. How we adapt to these changes will determine whether we thrive or merely hang on to survive. Developing and further honing creativity and social skills may be key.

In Mauro F. Guillén’s new book, 2030: How Today’s Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything, the author lays out an astonishing list of things to expect and how these will impact all of us in very dramatic ways. Among them:

  • Percentage of the world’s wealth owned by women in 2000: 15%; 2030: 55%
  • Percentage of Americans projected to be obese in 2030: 50%
  • Number of people entering the middle class in emerging markets in 2030: 1 billion
  • Percentage of world’s urban population exposed to rising sea levels in 2030: 80%
  • Percentage of American workers considered part of the “creative class” in 2030: 50%

The huge influx of people migrating to urban areas will further increase inequality as those in the “creative class” will thrive. This creative class, defined by author and University of Toronto professor Richard Florida, are those in knowledge professions, such as scientists, engineers, architects, artists, designers as well as those in healthcare, business, finance, legal and education.

Florida says what it takes for a city to develop a dynamic creative class with the concept of “the three T’s”: talent, tolerance and technology. While talent and technology may be obvious, it is tolerance that has attracted a lot of attention. This tolerance is defined as a melting pot of diverse people, including members of the LGBTQ community, artists, musicians and others.

“Tolerance and openness to diversity is part and parcel of the broad cultural shift toward post-materialist values,” writes Florida. He says this tolerance provides an added source of economic advantage working alongside technology and talent.

An increasing number of jobs also require non-routine analytical skills, according to David J. Deming, an economist at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Social skills involving coordination, negotiation, persuasion, and social perceptiveness are and will continue to be in high demand. By 2030, Deming’s research suggests a majority of jobs will require the use of social skills and creativity.

The coming decade will likely bring self-driving cars and an ever-increasing amount of automation throughout our lives. It is therefore vital to maintain our (dare I say) human advantage.

[By 2030,] “. . . there will be more computers than human brains, more sensors than eyes, and more robotic arms than human labor in manufacturing,” according to Mauro. In fact, a single robot will displace an average of five to six workers in the manufacturing sector.

Rather than resist or deny the rapid innovation inevitably coming our way, I believe we should embrace the opportunities that will accompany it. In the same way we previously adapted to massive revolutionary technology change in existing industries, markets and occupations, I think we can again. We need to acknowledge and embrace the unique skills we humans (at least currently) have over artificial intelligence.  

This creativity and social skills should continue to remain our competitive advantage. This means learning to regularly think “outside the box,” do more lateral thinking and develop strong social skills. The ability to grow our emotional intelligence to navigate workplace relationships effectively will also be increasingly important in the future.

No matter your profession, the ability to stay relevant and thrive in your career over the next decade will require more than simply staying up to date on your domain expertise and general business knowledge. You will also need to expand your ability to think creatively and strengthen your overall social skills.  

Gray Market Opportunity

August 30, 2020

Marketers target the youngest generation in order to capture spending by those early in their careers, starting families, buying their first home and generally seen as having the most disposable income. With a focus largely on the millennial generation, marketers are missing a huge opportunity with older consumers.

In addition, employers should recognize the value older employees provide in the workplace in helping to best serve the wants and needs of people over the age of 60.

In a new book 2030: How Today’s Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything, author Mauro F. Guillén presents a compelling case for thinking differently about older consumers both today and ten years from now. Consider the following:

  • Currently, 12,000 Americans turning 60 every day; in 2030, those 60 or older will represent more than a quarter of the US population.
  • According to the Economist magazine the “older consumer will reshape the business landscape,” and Boston Consulting Group estimates that only one in seven companies are currently prepared for the growing spending power of this gray market.
  • Durable consumer goods such as appliances, tools and cars should assure older consumers that these products are geared to their needs, including that they are easy to use, provide legible instructions and controls, and offer leasing options.
  • According to AARP, a majority of seniors are optimistic about their overall quality of life, including financial well-being, mental and physical health, recreation and leisure time, and family life. When people feel optimistic, they tend to spend more.
  • Today’s expenditures on healthcare, home care, assisted living and similar service industries will accelerate over the next decade.

Technology certainly plays a part when it comes to aging as the breakthroughs in medicine, nutrition, biotechnology and other fields that help more people enjoy longer and happier lives. “By 2030,” according to Guillén, “the average seventy-year-old will live like today’s average fifty-year-old.”

If companies want to capitalize on this rapidly growing gray market, it’s important they recognize that those over 60—employees as well as customers—cannot be ignored. In fact, organizations should recognize the value employees can bring to serving similar aged consumers. Because they are of the same generation, older employees may be better able to define the feature set, user interface and overall value proposition.

As people live longer lives, the idea of early retirement becomes less attractive—either due to it not being financially viable or because people like working and want to continue being productive as long as it is enjoyable.

Older employees can bring experience and wisdom to complement the expected new ideas and tech savvy of younger people. And employees in their sixties and beyond can often provide stability, predictability and reliability other generations cannot. This is something HR departments should take into account when looking for job candidates.

These older workers are not going to be the best fit for every position. Recognizing those individuals who are will be vital in order to take advantage of this growing gray market. Similar aged employees will best be able to understand and meet the needs of such older customers. That makes good business sense now and in the coming decade.

Why Positive Feedback?

August 6, 2020

In my work as a leadership coach I work with Millennials who often complain they don’t receive enough positive feedback from their supervisors. I also work with leaders in their 40s and 50s who claim their younger direct reports continually crave recognition for a job well done.

Is the desire for positive feedback contributing to confirmation bias, looking to confirm what they already believe: they are a good performer in the workplace? And is this perhaps a symptom or result of what social media has created? Or is it merely related to a lack of confidence that they will grow out of as they mature in their careers?

For those reluctant to provide such positive feedback, are they preventing the opportunity to bring out the best in their employees? Do they believe delivering such comments is unnecessary and maybe even destructive? Or are they holding back because they didn’t receive it earlier in their own careers?

Regular feedback is important for anyone in order to understand what they are doing well and what they are doing not so well. It is also vital to know what to continue doing, what to stop doing, and what to start doing. This is integral to one’s growth and development whatever the job, and it shouldn’t be delivered only in awkward annual performance reviews.

Leaving out regular positive feedback is just as bad as leaving out regular critical feedback.

As I wrote in a post two years ago, what provides true satisfaction in the workplace is not the salary, job title, or other external expressions of worth, but whether or not the person feels valued by their manager, their peers and by the company as a whole. Conveying this appreciation costs you and the company nothing.

So why are leaders reluctant to dish out more compliments for a job well done and for the value they see their employees delivering?

It could be many are perfectionists believing there is always room for improvement and therefore little reason to praise. Some may be more intrinsically motivated and believe others should be as well. These leaders do their job because they gain satisfaction without the need for external rewards or recognition. Salary and regular promotions should be enough.

But are they?

Research has found that people often leave a company due to a bad manager. When employees find their direct supervisor doesn’t believe in and express the value they see in them, they seek greener (not necessarily based on dollars) pastures. This is bad for organizations as it leads to lower motivation, lower productivity and higher turnover.

In order to provide more positive feedback with the motivation needed to feel valued in the workplace, leaders can modify their approach in the following ways:

Catch employees doing things right

Provide positive comments in the moment. Don’t hold back your compliments until the end of the year. Instead, find ways to encourage individuals when you see them doing something particularly well. A little goes a long way.

Normalize positive feedback

In your regular one-on-one meetings, be sure to point out where you think the individual did something particularly well or worked especially hard since the last meeting. Don’t make a big deal about it, simply make a habit of stating your recognition of the value they bring.

Celebrate incremental victories for the individual or team

Don’t wait until the end of the year to celebrate overall performance. Provide praise at milestones and recognize individual contributions publicly. This simple recognition goes a long way towards people feeling valued by you and the organization.

None of this will matter, of course, unless you are sincere in your behavior. Your intended audience will sense a lack of genuine sincerity and your efforts will be wasted. Make your appreciation behaviorally specific and make it meaningful. This positive feedback will help provide the recognition necessary to bring out the best in your employees.

Wanted: Authoritative Leaders

July 27, 2020

Authoritative leadership is especially important now because so many organizations are aimlessly adrift due to the health risks and economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and heightened focus on racial inequality. We need leaders who understand that these are things that require inspiring everyone to collectively do their part.

A year ago I wrote a post titled “Authoritarian vs. Authoritative Leadership” and it became one of my mostly widely read blog posts. Perhaps this is a sign of the times when so many are interested to read about the rise of authoritarian leaders around the world.

I now want to expand on the authoritative leadership style as I think this is one to model in both business and politics—especially at this point in time.

Authoritative leaders, according to Daniel Goleman, are those who use a “come along with me” approach to leading others. They point a direction or describe a vision, and then provide the freedom and confidence in those who follow to determine the best means to achieve it.  Goleman says this style of leadership is especially important when a business is adrift—when organizations require the leader to set a new course and inspire people to help reach it.

The authoritative leader engages the energy of individuals to accomplish organizational goals and admit that they don’t have all the answers. They point the direction on what needs to be achieved and trusts the individuals to collectively determine the best approach for getting there. Authoritative leaders inspire enthusiasm and build the confidence of the entire team.

According to Goleman, the authoritative style of leading provides a high level of clarity, commitment and flexibility to keep people motivated and successful. Examples of some authoritative leaders include Bill Gates, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Clarity

The authoritative leader is able to clearly articulate a vision and motivate each individual to contribute to that organizational vision. People feel inspired when they are able to see that what they do really matters, and this brings about greater productivity. This clarity of vision contributes greatly to becoming a reality.

Commitment

The commitment authoritative leaders demonstrate comes through when they are able to define the standards on how individual actions lead to success. Performance feedback can then directly point back to these previously defined standards and on whether the individual met or did not meet expectations.

Flexibility

Flexibility in how one does the work is extremely empowering. This is about allowing people to experiment, innovate and take on calculated risks. It is about allowing for occasional mistakes with optimal learning and improvement. Authoritative leaders state the goal and enable people the flexibility to best determine the means to reach that goal.

An authoritative leadership style for some may mean letting go of the “command and control” of coercive or authoritarian leadership. If the ship is literally sinking and the person in charge is best able to save it, then by all means be that coercive leader. Most of the time and especially now, coercive leadership is inappropriate.  

Instead, we need leaders who are able to articulate a compelling vision as well as embrace the collective intelligence, talents and abilities of those around them to bring it to fruition. This means the CEO is able to bring along her leadership team to execute on the strategy most effectively. It means a government leader is able to recognize that a pandemic and social unrest cannot be wished or commanded away, but requires the best science and collective intelligence to do the hard work and make the sacrifices necessary to achieve safety, stability and meaningful change.

The authoritative style may not be appropriate in all situations, but it is one that works most of the time and is perhaps necessary more now than ever.

Questions for 21st Century Leaders

July 14, 2020

To lead effectively requires many competencies. To be a great leader in the 21st century means you are also looking further out, valuing the diversity of thought, and are brave enough to let go of your tried and true assumptions.

Roselinde Torres, senior partner and managing director at Boston Consulting Group, found that performance reviews, leadership development programs, hiring practices and executive coaching just aren’t working well enough anymore. Many companies continue to fail, fall behind and are simply unable to succeed.

In her widely-watched TED Talk “What it Takes to be a Great Leader,” Torres reported her findings on what successful leaders are doing. She says leadership in the 21st century is defined and evidenced by three essential questions: 1) Where are you looking to anticipate change? 2) How diverse is your network? 3) Are you courageous enough to abandon the past?

As an executive coach focused on leadership development, I thought I’d delve into each of these questions with a take on what I’ve witnessed in my practice and some potential action steps forward.  

Where are you looking to anticipate change?

In 1995 Bill Gates anticipated the impact of the Internet to completely redirect and refocus the company’s efforts in order to keep Microsoft on track. In 2007 Reed Hastings, co-founder and CEO of Netflix, moved his company from shipping DVDs via the mail to streaming movies, TV shows and original content to now reach more than 180 million subscribers worldwide.

Did you anticipate this year’s popularity and support for the Black Lives Matter movement? How will this widespread support change how you hire and promote people of color? What other cultural or consumer trends are you noticing beyond the scope of your business that will have an impact on it? What will be the next big change that impacts your business: meaningful action on climate change, regulation to reduce income inequality, health care reform?

For you to anticipate what’s coming, you need to make a practice of looking beyond where you usually look and what your usually do. This is about adaptive leadership to anticipate what’s coming and respond with agility as the business environment changes.

How diverse is your network?

I know of several companies where diversity in boardrooms rarely extends beyond including women. The same could be said for those in the C-suite. How about your professional network? Does it include people who look, speak, act and, most importantly, think differently than you? If not, I suspect you are limiting your ability to lead effectively as your employees, vendors, customers and community represents more than those similar to you.

When I joined a professional organization a couple years ago, I was disappointed that it was dominated by middle-aged white men. My goal is to find ways to add more women and people of color so we’re adding to the conversation rather than limiting it.

Diversity in professional networks enable us to move beyond confirmation bias, which is so prevalent in our chosen news sources and social media feeds. Studies have repeatedly shown that adding diverse opinions and perspectives to the conversation leads to better decisions. By increasing the diversity in those we reach out to for advice and counsel, we will expand our understanding and challenge our assumptions. Both will serve us in leading into the future.

Are you courageous enough to abandon the past?

We are all creatures of habit, especially when these habits have served us so well in the past. It’s hard to let go of what’s worked previously because of the confidence you have in it. But if continuing to do so is no longer effective, it’s time to let go and move on to something else.

This requires curiosity and a beginner’s mind so that you can find solutions that would otherwise remain hidden. Adopt a lifelong learning perspective to read beyond the business journals and books everyone else is reading. Seek out new conversations and develop relationships with different people.

Make the time and summon the courage to challenge your thinking. Try new approaches that requires breaking out of what you have done in the past that is no longer suitable for the present. Your resistance to risk may prevent you from reaching success.

To be a successful leader in the 21st century you can no longer rely on the tried and true methods of yesterday. It’s time to shift your mindset and respond to Torres’ three questions in a way that raises your leadership competency to what is required today and in the future.

Moving from Equality to Equity

June 30, 2020

Most Americans, I suspect, believe in equal opportunity more than equal outcome. This means providing a level playing field, so everyone has the opportunity to reach their goals if they put in the necessary work. Yet without equity, we don’t have a level playing field.

Huge advantages persist in the United States for those who are white, male, heterosexual, college-educated and having been raised in a financially-secure family. I have no idea what percent of the current US population this demographic represents, but I’d be surprised if it were more than 20%. However, if I were to guess at the make-up of those in power—both in business and government—I’d guess this demographic is closer to 80%.

A diversity of opinion provides enhanced decision-making. By taking minority views into account and encouraging the silent voices in the room, we can make the best decisions. A leader can become aware of issues and concerns that upon first glance may not be noticed. Great leaders know this. They seek to be challenged rather than back away. from them

Corporations are unlikely to have a diverse make-up of executives in the C-suite unless their boards of directors include such diversity. Businesses should therefore hire and promote more women and people of color into board seats as well as executive and senior leadership roles. Their presence mean companies will be more representative of the people they serve: employees, customers, suppliers, shareholders and the surrounding community.

When companies claim they can’t find qualified applicants representing women or people of color, perhaps they are not looking in the right places. Are they recruiting from colleges and universities that primarily serve this demographic? Do they offer training and leadership development programs to all employees equally? Though their policies may claim this, how does it show up in the diversity of those being promoted?

Those in government should also represent the overall make-up of the population they serve. Yet gerrymandering, voter suppression and the Citizens United decision certainly provide representatives the opportunity to choose their voters rather than voters choosing their representatives. And while the 116th Congress is the most racially and ethnically diverse group ever, this still represents just one-in-five in the House of Representatives and Senate. And the overwhelming majority of these representatives are Democrats (90%), while just 10% are Republicans.

I’m not advocating for taking away rights of straight white males of which I count myself as a member, but I am saying there needs to be more equity in how we educate, hire, promote and lead in all areas of society. This means providing equity, so everyone has a fair shot at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

We need to move beyond seeking equality and look for equity instead. Equity acknowledges this is not a level playing field. Equity is not antithetical to capitalism, nor to freedom. Equity is about providing fairness to all. Equity is especially important in this time of protesting systemic racial injustice because it gets closer to root of the problem. Until black lives matter, all lives can’t matter.

Equity provides support or assistance based on specific needs or abilities. It’s not entirely about race or gender as it is about fairness due to your particular situation. Obviously many programs have so far failed to provide this, but that doesn’t mean we should abandon seeking to make them successful. It wasn’t the aim of the programs that failed, but the execution of implementing many of them. This can and should be corrected.

And moving from equality to equity will bring us closer to reaching the moral standard our country should continually strive to live up to.

Thoughts on Troubled Times

June 4, 2020

As a middle-aged straight white man, I recognize the privileges I have simply due to my gender, sexual orientation and light pigment of my skin. I grew up in racially mixed suburbs of Chicago in a loving family where I learned the importance of hard work, self-reliance and compassion for others.

I’ve struggled with many challenges throughout my life, yet they pale in comparison to what I would have had to deal with were I not so privileged. I acknowledge my good fortune and recognize that I should do more for those who are not so fortunate. I love my country and believe we have a right and duty to speak out and to protest when our country is not living up to the ideals it was founded upon. All men (and women) are created equal and entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Speaking out should not be left to those not so privileged.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed on my 10th birthday, and 1968 was one of great turmoil in our country with some similarities to what we’re experiencing now. While segregation officially ended, racism and poverty continued to make life difficult for many Black people. Back then there were large-scale peaceful protests regarding racial injustice as well as against the war in Vietnam, which was diverting necessary funds away from the President’s Great Society programs. We also had rioting in the streets.

It was an election year and President Lyndon Johnson surprisingly decided not to seek re-election on March 31. King was assassinated four days later. Bobby Kennedy ran for the Democratic nomination and was shot and killed in June. Later that summer, the Democratic National Convention held in Chicago resulted in Hubert Humphrey, Vice President at the time, winning the nomination even though he had avoided primaries during the campaign. The following November, the former Vice President for Dwight Eisenhower running on a platform of “law and order” was elected President. His name was Richard Nixon. His election represented the beginning of mass incarceration of a disproportionate number of Black men and the rise of the prison-industrial complex. If you haven’t already discovered it, I highly recommend you watch the powerful documentary 13th currently streaming on Netflix.

In 2002 my mother informed me of a rising star in the Democratic party who represented the 13th district in the Illinois Senate. He had a funny name, and she felt great kinship with his message. His name was Barack Obama and he went on to become our nation’s first black President in 2008.

Some people claim that as a result of electing a Black person President we now live in a post-racial society and that there’s no longer need for Affirmative Action. Many of these same people say they don’t see color when it comes to race. This inability to acknowledge that they do indeed see color is both a privilege as well as delusional. In fact, race and gender are the very first characteristics we all take note of when we see someone for the first time.

Dr Osagie Obasogie, author of Blinded by Sight: Seeing Race Through the Eyes of the Blind, found that even people who never had sight still use visual representations of people—including perceived racial or ethnic identity—as a major indicator for how they interact with them. His research determined that race and racism aren’t about what you see, but what you perceive and how you’re told to behave.

As we all know, white babies don’t come out of the womb with racist attitudes toward people of color. They are taught to behave this way. It is a choice to believe that one race is superior to another and there is a certain irony in the fact that citizens in Germany are currently protesting the racial injustice here in the United States of America. It appears Germans are able to learn from history, so why can’t we Americans?

Though we weren’t struggling with a pandemic in 1968, we did have a downturn in the economy, social unrest, racial injustice and incompetent leadership in government. Let’s hope this November we are able to elect another former Vice President, who will provide the healing and progress on racial reforms this country so desperately needs right now.

Unmasking Emotions: EQ During a Pandemic

May 18, 2020

Demonstrating one’s emotional intelligence at work can be very beneficial, but also challenging—especially when trying to read another’s emotions hidden behind a mask. When workplaces open up again and we’re working in the same physical space as others, many of us will likely to be wearing masks. How well will you be able to read the emotions of others?

Emotional intelligence includes personal and social competencies in the areas of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. These competencies can be extremely valuable in navigating relationships in the workplace. Social awareness is about the ability to accurately recognize another’s emotions and demonstrate empathy. It is about discerning what may be unsaid, but communicated in more subtle ways.

The best protective mask fully covers both the nose and mouth, thus blocking what can help reveal emotions. We rely a great deal on recognizing whether someone is happy, sad, angry, disappointed or surprised by whether the corners of the mouth are turning up or down, a tightening of the jaw, flaring of the nostrils and other facial features.

So how can you recognize the emotions of others when shielded by a mask? Without being able to see the nose or mouth, you’ll need to rely more on what is revealed in their tone of voice and what you can determine from the other person’s eyes.

You’ll need to work harder to understand their intent, seek information from their body language and continually check your assumptions in order to fully understand.

According to researcher Albert Mehrabian regarding communication, he determined that 55% is revealed through body language, 38% through tone of voice and 7% through the actual words that are spoken. While this breakdown is not absolute and can’t be applied to every situation, it is helpful to see the importance of communication beyond the words spoken.

Since nearly 40% of communication can potentially be understood from one’s tone of voice, we should be able to pick up useful information regarding the other’s emotions from this alone. A tone of voice that is perceived as confident and more direct may lead you to respond very differently than when it is softer and more subtle. A deeper tone is often associated with more confidence and trustworthiness. A tone that is lower in volume could indicate inexperience or inhibition.

It can be challenging to determine what a person’s eyes reveal from an emotional standpoint, but these so-called “windows of the soul” can be helpful if you know what to look for.

For example, people blink a lot more when they are surprised, angry or annoyed. When someone’s pupils dilate, it could be because they are feeling stimulated, or it could simply be due to their being in a dimly lit area. Those who fail to maintain eye contact or look from side-to-side could be lying or it could mean they are merely timid. Certainly, this will take further discernment on your part to take everything into account.

One’s eyes can reveal a great deal of social and emotional information. A quick glance or an extended gaze can be interpreted differently by the receiver. The quick glance could mean simply checking to see your reaction and emotional state to what’s been said. Or it could mean an inability to stay locked in when interacting with you. But is this due to a lack of confidence or shiftiness? Again, you’ll need to take other factors into account.

Effectively working with others is greatly enhanced with high emotional intelligence. However, during this time of COVID-19 when you are likely to encounter others wearing masks, it will be more difficult for social awareness. It will be especially important to focus on tone of voice and the look in one’s eyes in order to understand their emotional state. Don’t let the presence of a physical mask prevent you from seeing what’s behind it.

Empathy in Leadership

May 1, 2020

Leaders who demonstrate empathy are more effective than those who don’t. This is because empathy can help leaders raise engagement, increase loyalty, and ultimately convey their humanity, which makes them more approachable and able to be influenced.

Empathy helps convey that you are able to identify the feeling another has, touch that feeling yourself, and offer to help the other person deal with that feeling or situation. Empathy enables connection like nothing else because it provides the receiver of this empathetic response to feel truly heard.

Unlike sympathy, which is about sharing the feelings of another, empathy is about being able imagine what it might be like to have those feelings. It is about understanding and putting oneself into the other’s position. This helps people connect far more than sympathy.

In politics we’ve witnessed many examples of previous Presidents expressing empathy. For example, President Reagan capture the emotions of the country with his eulogy to the crew of the space shuttle Challenger after it exploded. President Clinton channeled the country’s grief after the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. President G. W. Bush shed tears and hugs with families of those killed on Sept. 11, 2001. President Obama openly wept after the school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. It’s hard to think of an example for President Trump, who I have yet to witness demonstrate empathy.

In business there is great opportunity for leaders to demonstrate empathy during this Covid-19 pandemic. It can be done by finding creative ways to serve customers more compassionately. It can be demonstrated through the shared sacrifice a company chooses in reducing the number of layoffs by cutting back salaries for senior executives and removing some benefits for every employee. It can be done in the way they conduct their business to employees, customers, shareholders and the surrounding community.  

Business leaders who demonstrate empathy:

  • Enable people to feel safe with failures as they are not simply blamed for them
  • Look to understand the root cause behind poor performance
  • Help struggling employees improve themselves
  • Enable the opportunity to influence and be influenced by others
  • Build and develop relationships with those they lead

Empathy should also be viewed as a data gathering tool to help you understand the human environment in which you operate your business. This data can then enable you to make better predictions, determine appropriate tactics, inspire loyalty and communicate clearly.

It can play a powerful role in how well you are able to influence others. This begins with warmth you project in your interactions as a way to help build rapport and trust. Empathy means you choose to actively listen, so others feel heard based on the behavior they see you demonstrate. And the compassion you convey through your empathy brings about a deep and lasting connection. Embracing and demonstrating empathy towards others greatly enhances your ability to influence them effectively. And this is absolutely necessary in order to lead others.

The best leaders are those who lead with empathy. This is needed more than ever during this pandemic and in the challenging months ahead.

Executive Presence in a Virtual Environment

April 14, 2020

Leaders demonstrate executive presence in the way they show up. This is hard enough to do in a conference room, but much more challenging in a video conferencing environment.

Executive presence can mean different things to different people, but it is generally about demonstrating self-confidence, clarity and credibility. When one has it, they are perceived as polished, poised and prepared. Beyond their overall competence and expertise, their executive presence reveals leadership.

Other elements of executive presence may be things such as:

  • People notice when you enter a room
  • People find you likeable, trustworthy and want to build relationships with you
  • You are perceived as important and respected
  • You ask timely, relevant and thought-provoking questions
  • You are socially aware and able to read the emotional field in a room
  • You relate equally well with people throughout the organization
  • You are fully engaged and make people feel important

Now that many business leaders are forced to conduct business in a virtual environment due to Covid-19, it’s important to practice leadership presence behaviors that can help overcome this obstacle. Given that you are likely to be doing more and more via video conferencing, it’s important to find ways to optimize your overall executive presence.

Here are suggestions to best demonstrate your executive presence in a virtual environment:

Visual Representation – Fill the frame with your head and shoulders to show you are fully present. When speaking, look directly into the camera like an actor or newscaster as you will appear to be speaking more directly to others. Ensure there is adequate lighting in front of you to fully illuminate your face and be mindful of what is behind you, so it isn’t distracting. Dress similarly to how you would at work, so you look and feel like you’re in a working frame of mind. Don’t get distracted and attempt to multitask as this will be magnified when others are watching you in this environment.

Audio Representation – Talk with a bit more volume as if you are speaking in a large conference room. Your voice will more likely come across as authoritative, confident and credible. Actively listen so that others feel heard by leaning in, nodding and paraphrasing or asking good follow-up questions. When you’re not speaking, ensure you are muted if there’s any potential for distracting noises, such as kids or pets. And don’t forget to unmute yourself before begin speaking.

Leverage Technology – Take advantage of the technology in Microsoft Teams, Zoom Meeting or others by using the chat window to provide useful links to other resources that can elevate the discussion. This will further demonstrate your credibility by expanding the conversation beyond what is directly discussed. Closely watch the people in the video windows and seek understanding when you see strong reactions to what is being said. This can help reveal your empathy for others and strengthening all relationships.

It’s important to first acknowledge that your executive presence is being compromised in this virtual environment. Then accept that even after this pandemic, we are likely to be using video conferencing more and more often. Take the steps listed above to show up in a way that best demonstrates your executive presence, so you continue to rise in your leadership in spite of the environment you find yourself in.

Behavioral Change & Social Distancing

March 29, 2020

Even in the best of times, changing one’s behavior to break a bad habit, learn a favorable one or develop new leadership capacity is hard and takes time. During the COVID-19 pandemic, our ability to change behavior is vital to the health and safety of everyone.

If you’ve ever struggled with changing your behavior in order to lose weight or workout more regularly, you know that it takes a lot of discipline and persistence. It’s helpful to break it down into smaller parts so you can see regular progress rather than have one all-consuming goal. Rather than lose 10 pounds by summertime, focus on losing three pounds in the next six weeks. It also helps to have a partner to help you stay motivated. And it’s helpful when you can be compassionate with yourself if you slip up or fall back into old behaviors.

Behavioral change comes into play during this time of social distancing. When we are forced to isolate ourselves, it can be traumatizing as we are biologically social beings. Those fortunate to have loving partners, families and housemates who can be supportive are at an advantage. For those who live alone or are living under less than ideal circumstances, it is important to reach out and find community in whatever ways possible. New behaviors may have to be developed and practiced quickly in order to maintain your emotional well-being.

As a leadership coach, I help my clients identify the behaviors that may be holding them back from becoming more effective leaders. For example, these could be in communication such as appropriately giving or receiving feedback, effective presentation skills or body language, tone of voice or other behaviors that may be reflecting poorly on them. Once identified and accepted that they need to change, the next step is to create a development plan and then execute upon it.

For those interested in changing their behavior in order to ride out social distancing during this health crisis, I offer the following suggestions.

  1. Identify what is bringing about the most anxiety. Is it food, housing, job or other economic insecurity? Try to get to the root of the anxiety rather than just an overall label of fear in what may happen. Talk to a professional or close friend about this.
  2. See if you can identify what behaviors are helping or hurting your current situation. If you are concerned about food, are you doing what you can to budget yourself? Since you can’t go to restaurants, are you reducing expenses by cooking?
  3. Connect with others differently than before. Since you cannot socialize face to face, don’t just rely on texting and social media. Use your phone to talk or FaceTime with others. I’ve been Zooming with friends and extended family to stay connected.
  4. Take care of your physical health. Just because you can no longer workout at the gym, doesn’t mean you can’t stay in shape. Get outside to take in fresh air by walking, jogging, running or biking around your neighborhood. Do this every day as it will lift your spirits, especially now that we’ve entered spring.
  5. Be compassionate with yourself. Recognize that we are living in extraordinary times and there is no playbook to follow. Give yourself the space and time to do what you need to do in order to get through this. There will be an end to this crisis, and you will be stronger having lived through it.

Life on our planet will be forever impacted by this pandemic and, hopefully, we will be better prepared for the next one. By practicing social distancing and taking care of ourselves as we ride this out, we will all help flatten the curve and save lives.

The success you have in changing your behavior during this time may also enable greater confidence in your ability to change other behaviors. Use this time to learn and grow in your capacity to change behaviors so you can thrive throughout the rest of your life.