Nobody Behaves Well In The Corner

My business/mission is being a guide for people so they realize the excellence they were born to achieve and helping organizations achieve their business goals by aligning a people strategy behind them (and helping to build the strategy on occassion). In my experience walking in to unfamiliar territory, I have developed an ear for certain words. Here is a short list:

  • Crazy
  • Narcicist
  • Unreasonable
  • Abnormal
  • Wierd
  • Bipolar
  • Nuts

Get the idea? Sometimes I wonder how many people truly have a mental disorder, because it can feel like there is an epidemic in certain corporate settings. So I googled What percent of adults have a mental disorder?. This brought me to a site that shared the information that in any one year 28-30% of adults experience mental or addictive disorder. Of that group, only 5.4% have a serious disorder that is likely to last beyond a year.

Yesterday a friend shared with me the quote Nobody behaves well in the corner.  Another way I say it is that stress does things to people that often are not very positive.  Dr. Roger Birkman spent decades perfecting his own assessment along these lines that has become the Birkman Method.  This is a tool I use to help people name the source of their stress and the resulting behavior.  The Birkman Method provides input on both usual behavior (what people see), needs(mostly hidden, but identify preferred environment; clarify motivational needs, highlight inner strengths), and stress behavior(counter productive, frustrated actions).  Here is an example of what these sound like:

Area:  Relating one on one with others:

  • Usual Behavior:  Candid and matter-of-fact, minimal self-conscious feelings, outspoken and unevasive, at ease with superiors.
  • Needs:  Frank and direct relationships, genuine praise free of sentiment, direct/straight forward corrections and instructions, candor from superiors and associates
  • Stress Behavior (happens when needs are not met):  Inconsiderate in personal relationships, downplays the importance of personal needs of others, uncomfortable when relationships require sensitive understanding

Any of these sound familiar?  When we back people into a corner (low resources, threat of job loss, inconsiderate teammates, no communication, lots of long hours) some strange behavior often results.  The Birkman Method has been a great tool for leaders I work with to help them see the sources of their stress and deal with it.

There are some people that genuinely need professional help to address things they are feeling.  But beware of labeling without first understanding.  If someone is in a corner, that COULD BE the reason for their behavior.

Breathing and Leadership

I had the opportunity this week to go through a neurofeedback process at a local organization that revealed some cool things about my brain.  Here is a link if you want to know more.  http://www.theneurocore.com/ 

The big takeaway, for the body and the brain to work the best we have to do a better job at breathing.  Here is the sequence for Americans:

  • We take more breaths (17/min) but they are shallow and quick
  • The body does not get big doses of oxygen because of our breathing rate, so it has to work harder.
  • The heart pumps a little harder and has to react to the oxygen flow which is a bit irratic.
  • On and on and on . . . . .

Maybe a little oversimplified.  The good news – there is actually an app for breathing! 

My trU Tips that went out yesterday is about resilience and leaders.  (here is the video)One way to look at building resilience is to learn how to breath correctly.  When we get knocked off our feet by a surprise:

  • A key executive quits
  • Partner passes away
  • Sales dip 40%
  • We lose a large customer
  • A tsunami hits a key supplier

We freak out.  Yes – that is normal.  Then we start breathing normally, think, and react.  Resilience is not about getting knocked off your feet, that is called life.  Resilience is about how we start breathing normally again and live into/through the challenge.

Breath.

What I admire most about Steve Jobs – and it is not the iPad

As I watch the opinions pour out after the announcement of Steve Jobs stepping down from the CEO role, it makes me wonder if we are talking about the right things.  There are certainly lots of worries about not having him leading Apple.  Whether you are a shareholder, a reseller, a supplier, or an Apple lover worrying about future technology, this is certainly the changing of the guard at Apple and future success for the company is a big question.

As of today I do not own any Apple products (that might change tomorrow with an iPhone purchase) and up until I read the Fortune article about Apple several months ago I did not know much about him as a leader. 

I do know enough about his career to see some special accomplishments.  What I admire about Steve Jobs is that he did not quit, and much of his success came after he had been fired from his own company.   Often we forget that he lost his job at Apple and went on to a pretty mediocre second run with NeXT.  If I could talk with him for 5 minutes I would ask him two questions:

  • What did you learn from your time away from Apple that allowed you to be successful the second time around?
  • How has cancer impacted how you live and how you lead?

On a recent family vacation I dragged my family 30 miles off a main road in Iowa to visit the birthplace of John Wayne in Winterset, Iowa.  It was partly because I was interested in seeing it and partly because I wanted to hear my kids complain for years about what a crazy Dad they had.   I love his movies, got a kick out of the memorabilia that adorned this small house, and the complaining exceeded expectations.  But the thing that impacted me the most was some letters on the wall that came from stars asked to record some memories to put on display in the museum/home that opened shortly after his death.  In a quick summary, George Burns said he “was tall” and Ronald Reagan said he “made great movies”.   I left wondering – That was it?

With Steve Jobs there is lots to talk about and a lot that I don’t know about him, which is all fine.  I just think there is a lot more to him than the touch screens, easy to use products, and well integrated services. 

Steve, thanks for trying again and not giving up.

Lifeguards for Leaders: Who is watching?

I am a father of four.  With a sixteen year-old driver as part of that mix I sometimes think I have seen it all, but I am still hit by things that make me go Hmmmmm.  Here is one of those moments . . . . .

Who is watching your new leaders or new teams?

At swimming lessons for my 8 year old I looked down and saw 30+ kids, 5 instructors, and in the middle a lone lifeguard watching everything.  I saw the need for the lifeguard, but did not recall them being present for past lessons.  Later I asked my wife about it because one of her summer jobs was being a lifeguard, and sometimes she has proven more observant than me. 🙂   Her response – There is always a lifeguard because when you are teaching it is difficult to watch all the kids all the time.  There is real risk in not watching young children near water, when being 99% safe is not enough because the 1% has a name, parents, friends, and a beating heart. 

My mission is to be a guide for others so they realize the excellence they were born to achieve, and in living that mission I often engage with and worry about the safety of new leaders and teams.  My world is growth organizations and leaders/teams in transition, and I see the real risk in not having a lifeguard around to monitor safety/progress in their pools.  Here are three ways organizations create lifeguards for leaders/teams:

  1. Mentors:  Assign mentors(not their boss) to meet frequently (1-2x a month) with new leaders to see how they are doing, watch the team during the transition for evidence of issues, and just provide support.
  2. Six month transition plans:  New leaders need to connect with their teams, build the trust of their teams, and get assignments where they can generate wins for themselves/their team.   Formal written plans helps make this happen.
  3. Leadership peer groups: Some call it Leadership Orientation or New Leader Training.  Fortune 500 companies can afford a program, but the main benefit of these programs is to create a peer support network.  Peer support can happen with no impact on the income statment, so any organization can afford it. 

One myth . . . Our human resources leader is our lifeguard: You mean the HR leader who has to respond to daily people emergencies, do it now calls from the CEO, worry about legal compliance, and answer frequent questions about benefits/payroll/etc?  Reality check . . . Do you want your lifeguard watching the pool 70% of the time?

Lots has been written about leadership transitions.  Michael Watkins is an expert in leadership transitions and his research has determined 40% of leadership hires from outside of a company fail within 18 months.  Brad Smart is an expert in hiring and his research suggests that it takes organizations 18 months to let go of a bad leadership hire at the cost of 14.6x their base salary. 

A 40% failure rate is a lot of drownings.  I think organizations need to do a better job having lifeguards around. 

  • How safe is your pool for new leaders / teams? 
  • Who is your lifeguard?
The Resilience Formula – for Leaders . . . for Followers

The Resilience Formula – for Leaders . . . for Followers

I grew up in a community of scientists. I went to school with lots of engineers.  While science is not my passion, connecting the dots for people by finding a way to simplify big things is how my brain is wired.  I see a need to understand what stress looks like for leaders in transition, people trying to self-manage through over promised and under resourced projects, individuals starting a new company, and a host of other situations.  More than understand, a key life skill is to figure out how to get unstuck and moving forward.  This is resilience.

Through personal trials, coaching, walking with friends, leading, and a host of other experiences I’ve settled on an equation I use to represent resilience.  

Hope > Fear + Anger + Despair + Frustration + Worry + Hunger + Mistrust + (Fill in the blank)

When the > (greater than)sign switches and the right side takes over our personality changes.  Is it normal for the equation to change on occasion?  Yes.  That’s life.  Is it healthy to let the right side dominate too long?  No. 

This has been talked about before.  In Good to Great Jim Collins talked about the Stockdale Paradox.  Admiral James Stockdale’s(a prisoner of war) presented the survival method of acknowlodging the brutal facts of a situation but never losing faith that he would prevail.  This is resilience.  

As leaders, we need to take care of ourselves.  Exercise.  Prayer.  Vacations.  Healthy Diet.  Reading.  Naps.  All of the above. 

Remember that your resilience will rub off on your organization.  When you are leading from the right side your stress behaviors come out and your ability to react/flex your leadership style to manage others goes away.  The Birkman Method assessment identifies these as stress behaviors.  When we name them, we have a chance to manage them.

In a slow economic recovery, resilience becomes as important as cash.

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Don’t Be Mean – Part Two . . the 5 step solution for leaders

I am a big fan of Mary Jo Asmus of Aspire Collaborative Services.  She is a great coach and passionate about developing leaders that make a difference.  She is also thoughtful and nice.  The kind of person you trust as soon as you meet. 

I had the privilege of doing a two guest posts on her blog around leadership development and coaching. 

Here is the link to the second part of the post: 

I am a big fan of Mary Jo Asmus of Aspire Collaborative Services.  She is a great coach and passionate about developing leaders that make a difference.  She is also thoughtful and nice.  The kind of person you trust as soon as you meet.  I had the privilege of doing a guest post on her blog around leadership development and coaching. 

Here is the link to Part 2 of the post.  http://www.aspire-cs.com/don%e2%80%99t-be-mean-part-2

If you missed it, here is the link to Part 1 of the post.  http://www.aspire-cs.com/don%e2%80%99t-be-mean-part-one?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

Don’t Be Mean – Part One

I am a big fan of Mary Jo Asmus of Aspire Collaborative Services.  She is a great coach and passionate about developing leaders that make a difference.  She is also thoughtful and nice.  The kind of person you trust as soon as you meet.  I had the privilege of doing a guest post on her blog around leadership development and coaching.  Here is the first part of the post.  http://www.aspire-cs.com/don%e2%80%99t-be-mean-part-one?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

To Know Yourself – Know your Art

The Mona Lisa (or La Joconde, La Gioconda).
Image via Wikipedia

Seth Godin made the comment “Art is not in the eye of the beholder.  It’s in the soul of the artist.”  One thing I always see when talking with people about careers is their art.  It is the heart of their story, and if I don’t see it I make them talk until it oozes out of them.  It is there, it just needs to be named.  Here are a few artists I have met recently:

The construction project manager who takes over a project that is behind schedule and over budget.  The work –  many hours and many difficult decisions.  The Art – completed, on time and on budget. 

The entrepreneur who is fanatical about taking care of the customer and giving back to the community.  The work –  two jobs through the first two years of being in business.  The Art – twenty people, a just completed 100% growth year, and numerous awards recognizing the big heart of this small company.

The administrative assistant who sees the workplace as something to be organized.  The work – anything to make sure meetings go smoothly, things get fixed, emergencies get handled, and nobody ever sees her sweat.  The Art – an amazingly well run department where things just happen smoothly and finding things is easy and logical. 

The administrative assistant who realizes everyone needs a friend at work – and a occassional kick in the pants.  The work – always willing to listen and connect with people in the organization, even while getting her work done.  The Art – some call her mom, some call her friend, I call her the pulse taker and doctor – in any case she is a cultural definer.

Final point, the art takes work.  Funny thing, the artist does not see the work, just the art. 

Today, look around at the artists and make sure they know you see their art.  Challenge others to create some art.  What art are you creating and sharing today?

Want to develop as a leader? Focus on these three adjectives

Leadership is not easy.  It does not get any easier by the endless number of competency models, development programs, books, blogs, and opinions that seem to get thrown at new leaders.  In case you were wondering, I don’t have an answer on a sure fire way to become a great leader in the next 300 words.

What I offer is a solution to something I see in leaders at all levels, and that is an incredible talent for getting work done but a struggle building relationships with peers and their team.  Here are three adjectives that should be part of the selection and development of any leader.  If people are willing to use these words to describe a leader then they are  doing something right.

  • Transparent – What are your priorities?  What are you worried about?  Often the speed at which you are operating and the dozens of things you are dealing with at any one time make it hard for people to know what you are thinking. 
  • Consistent – Respect comes before like for leaders.  Do people know what to expect from you around vacations?  Lunch breaks?  Professional development requests?  Deadlines?  Personal calls?  Celebrations?
  • Authentic – Regular people laugh, cry, have bad hair days, and sometimes have to say they are sorry for something they did or said.  Leadership models too often paint a picture of someone who sounds more like Superman or Wonder Woman.  Leaders do all the things regular people do – with a balance of providing strength, energy, and passion for an effort.  This one is probably the toughest.

So what do these adjectives look like in practice?  Here are a few tips:

  • When taking over a new team, take time to find out what they do and don’t pretend to have all the answers.  (authentic, transparent)
  • Develop standard events around communication, performance discussions, follow-up to questions/issues, and celebrating special events. (consistent)
  • Get to know the outside lives of your people and let them get to know yours. (transparent)

There are many more, but hopefully this starts the discussion.  Feel free to share some important things that I might have missed.  I don’t know everything. (transparent, authentic)  🙂

Is Failure The End?

I went to a class sponsored by our local chamber of commerce this week.  The presenter was terrible and it was two hours of wasted content.  The benefit was that it got me thinking about when we fail, what it means, and what it should mean.

A mentor of mine, Doug Silsbee, once shared the observation that “We have to shift from a success/failure belief system.”  As a startup, I have that posted on a piece of paper on my desk to give me some perspective on viewing good and bad days.  I am not to the point where I want to ban the word because it has power.  It has the power to be positive if we do things with it.  Here are three ways failure can be a building block: 

  1. If it means the beginning of something – In Parker Palmer’s classic book  Let Your Life Speak he shares some wisdom from a Quaker elder.  She said “A lot of way(doors) has closed behind me, and that’s had the same guiding effect.”  Failure should be a guide on a journey, not an end.  The ability to see it and process it this way does take some strength and maturity, but it will make a huge difference on your journey.
  2. It is only part of what defines us – When I talk to groups around career choices and job searches one of the main themes I use is ‘Your Story’, and that any resume, LinkedIn profile, or references should tell our story.  Part of our story are failures in jobs, projects, and degrees.  When I hire I want to hear them and hear how the person has processed them.  It is that part of our story that helps us either not repeat past mistakes or handle the same situation differently to produce a different outcome.
  3. We learn empathy –  Let’s face it, to walk off the stage after a poor presentation, get escorted out of our workplace, or fly home from a failed selling presentation it hurts.  But once we experience it we understand what it feels like and what kinds of darker choices enter our mind when the memory is fresh.  By dark, I mean the emotions or things you want to do to lash out at those you view as responsible.  I will stop here.  If you have been here you know what I mean, and being familiar with this place allows us to guide others past it and on to better places.

The final thought is that failure often needs a friend.  Someone to come along side you, help identify the event for what it was, and help put some positive energy into the event that will allow you to move along.  Gallup did a study that identified the positive outcomes of having 3 friends at work.  Buried in the reasons is the benefit of having someone familiar with you that can help process these moments.  It is not the only reason for building relationships at work, but it is a significant one. 

I hope the presenter makes our time together the beginning of something better.