I can thank the US Postal Service for this quote, because I discovered it on a stamp a few years ago and it has stuck with me. It is a great reminder of the work we all have to do in managing the intent and focus of our work. As a consultant, the trap is to always enter a situation with an answer, and allow people to just pull answers from you versus working together to find and implement a solution that moves us towards a desired future. In my mind, it is the fine line between being a consultant or a partner, and I strive to be the latter.
I first became aware of the approach of assuming all my clients “whole and resourceful” and “possessing the answer to their problem” when I took my coaching training with Doug Silsbee, a master coach. His presence-based approach to coaching and leadership is focused on helping people develop the capacity to be present with all the people and the situations around us, and use that awareness to build relationships and solve problems differently. His The Mindful Coach: Seven Roles for Facilitating Leader Development book is still one of my go to coaching guides. His most recent book, Presence-Based Leadership: Complexity Practices for Clarity, Resilience, and Results That Matter, has been a fun read for me this summer because it so captures his beliefs, the models he created from his work, and the stories that capture the essence of the impact of his approach. I can still see his subtle motion to remind me to relax my jaw when listening during one of our coaching practices.
Doug passed away on July 30th. This quote is also a celebration of the song he shared with me that has shaped and continues to shape my approach to coaching, consulting, and teaching.
Do you have any quotes on your desk? Words that bring you back to a core belief or encourage you to stay on a challenging journey?
A second powerful quote for me:
People will forget what you said,
People will forget what you did,
But people will never forget how you made them feel.
The biggest thing getting in the way of performance for most of us is US. It is why Tony Robbins is a multi-millonaire and countless other people make a living at getting us unstuck and doing our best work.
Many of you are in positions where people come to you with problems, and in many cases want an answer to fix it. If you fix it, they will likely be back with the same question next time. If you help THEM fix it, then the next time they come back it will probably be with a bigger problem because they have the confidence to handle the other ones. Listen well and you will hear gremlins in their story.
Keep this video handy because it challenges us to examine our stories/assumptions that become our Gremlins.
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:
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.
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.
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.
I have a friend who is very skilled at creative play. I always like to see how he translates that skill into the workplace without getting into trouble. He is successful at that most of the time.
His team likes to laugh so they came up with a game that allowed words or phrases to be banned by the team and then use of those words/phrases cost the individual a one dollar fine. The process is pretty simple – individuals present the word/phrase and the team votes. New words are added an others are taken off the list. As he told me the stories the joy was overflowing. I was laughing uncontrollably.
So far, here are a sample of the words that have been banned: brutal, very nice, baby, and whatever.
Any other simple ways to create a little laughter in the workplace?
Do any of us in the private sector experience any more stress than a soldier in battle? We all know the answer. No. Which is why it is worth taking 300 words to explore an effort to help soldiers build their resilience.
Resilience is the word of the year for the discussion around assisting people to manage through a stressful business environment. I found a great clinical discussion in the Harvard Business Review around resilience (link). I like clinical approaches to topics because they provide great information about what works, what doesn’t, and an outline of the critical steps/pieces of a solution. They learn and I apply.
Here are the key pieces of the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness (CSF) program.
Test for psychological fitness – Identify strengths in four areas: emotional, family, social, and spiritual fitness. All four have been found to reduce depression and anxiety.
Learning – A mandatory course on post-traumatic growth and optional on-line classes on the four fitness areas. Mandatory class covers five areas: Understanding a normal response to trauma, learning techniques for controlling intrusive thoughts/images, how to talk about it, see the trauma as a fork in the road, and transforming the trauma into new/reinforced principles of life.
Train key leaders – Called Master Resiliency Training (MRT), the goal is to teach them how to embrace resilience and pass on the knowledge. This last piece focuses on: Building mental toughness, Building on our signature strengths, and Building relationships.
I am not sure where this study will go, but when 900,000 people go through something and someone is measuring the outcomes and sharing the learning it should have a lasting benefit.
How can we apply this today? What do you see from their approach that reinforces how you lead today? How you coach or mentor? How you can create your own CSF program? How does your own awarness of self make you more resilient? or less . . . . .
On a side note: I am glad someone is looking out for the health of our soldiers.
Right Management, an outplacement company and division of Manpower tells those experiencing #3 to do three things right away:
Get a schedule
When I share this with people trying to process a career shift or a plan #3 often stands out and evokes the question “Why?”. The reason -pain needs to be processed to add to the tools/weapons that build resilience for future events. Are you dealing with some event below the top 3 above. Here are other ways to process pain/challenge:
Executive coaching – A safe place to process, reset, and plan to move past it.
Peer network – Few things are more comforting than knowing you are not alone in your challenges. ALL managers and above NEED to develop this for themselves. Don’t wait for your employer or HR team to do it for you.
Read how others have done it – Like #2, finding a person with a good perspective can be comforting and will help you process things.
Spouse/Best Friend – Having a ‘here is where I am’ discussion with someone who cares for and understands you is priceless.
Being alone with a challenge is not a good place to stay. Go find a friend.
People are often shocked when we review the results of their Birkman assessment and it identifies a need to recharge. Those with opposite results are often surprised people need quiet time. The really confused people work 15 hour days so they will be there when everyone leaves and they can have time to work without interruption.
In swimming they call it tapering.
In running it is called a recovery run.
In Europe it is called holiday.
In business it is too often called ‘something HR told me I have to do’.
Everyone needs time to step back and recover/reset their mind.
The serial decision maker needs to review which decisions they made that should have gone to their team.
The CFO needs to focus on a few items that the CEO graciously granted their request for more time, even if it only means an extra hour.
The super achiever needs to think when they smiled last – and realize they answered four calls from customers with abrupt, matter of fact responses. At least one customer is offended.
Silence isn’t equal to doing nothing. Silence in resilience is about cleaning the lists off the mental whiteboard and only putting one or two things back on for a short time so they get attention.
Training for resilience requires recovery at some point.
I have had several opportunities to lead and participate in group discussions at retreat weekends. When I lieten to people share at the end of the weekend the message of I was encouraged to hear that I was not the only one struggling with ___________always appears. People find comfort in knowing that what they are feeling is common to others. All too often leaders are told or tell themselves they have to act more like a superhero than a person. While it is true that leaders should not run around like Chicken Little every time something unexpected happens (people do look to leaders for inspiration in the form of strength), that is not the transparency that I am talking about. Transparency is about admitting we are surprised or stressed, and then getting back to the work of dealing with whatever knocked us off-balance.
Resilience is not about not being rattled, it is about how quickly we recover. Someone I look to as a great voice in this is Doug Silsbee. Doug tells the story of a martial arts master who was once asked why he never seemed to be knocked off-balance. The master replied that he was constantly being knocked off-balance, but he had learned through practice to return to center very quickly. For the master who looked impenetrable, being transparent was about being honest when asked. Imagine the impact on those who came to him to learn? The students left that day recognizing the importance of practice in their own quest for mastery.
With an economic world that is so interconnected, there will constantly be events that surprise us/our businesses and knock us off-balance. Learning to absorb those blows and get back to center is a skill that people/leaders at all levels need. This path to resiliency starts by being willing to admit that, no matter what people see, we get shaken like everyone else.