Laugh First – Then we can talk about importance of affirmation . . .

A friend sent me this video.  It is short, so spend 60 seconds and watch it.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qR3rK0kZFkg

Many of you probably do not remember Senator Al Franken on Saturday Night Live, but he also did an affirming character called Stuart Smalley.  Here is the punch line to every Stuart Smalley bit – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DIETlxquzY.

There are two things that hit me about the first video.

First, it is good to laugh.  It lowers blood pressure, decreases stress, and increases creativity – just to name a few benefits.  For a team, it helps reset the tone so individually we can be at our best going into a discussion, a big project, or a verbal battle to ensure we make a great decision.

Secondly, I am still amazed at the impact of any exercise where teammates share the things they value about each other.  I remember one individual after a 3 to 1 activity (receiving three positives from a teammate / 1 area to work on) say “I am a little shamed to admit it because it makes me sound like a %#*!&, but it felt good having people remind me what I am good at.”  Become the mirror for someone else.

Sometimes to be at our best and to get the best out of our team (ie.  talent management) – we just need to hit reset.  Enjoy the laughter, and find a way to make it contagious for a few minutes at your next team meeting.

Stress and Leadership – Measuring the impact on self, what about others?

A thought hit me several months ago – If being a CEO is such a difficult job (it is), then what the divorce rate is versus other jobs?  As it turns out a study was done, and chief executives had a 40% lower divorce rate than the overall average of all occupations in the study.  Their rate was 70% lower than dancers, bartenders, and massage therapists.  Here is a link to the study. Based on this measure, it can be said that leaders personally handle a lot of stress.

Conversation done?  Not exactly.  In working with teams and leaders I have seen it from another perspective.  What is the effect of a stressed leader on the rest of the organization.  For leadership and team development I use a tool called the Birkman Method.  The advantage I have found in this assessment is that Dr. Roger Birkman has found a way to measure not only surface behaviors, but underlying needs and the stress behaviors that result from needs not being met.  Here is an example.

Many senior leaders I have worked with have a work pace that is very fast, and have a high need for practical and tangible results. The Birkman uses phrases like a need for practical results, opportunities for physical action, and activities that focus on practical results.  When these needs are not met, Birkman describes the stress behaviors as acts without thinking, generates restless tension, and impatient/edgy

While leaders have to be able to handle lots of stress, do these behaviors sound familiar?  What is the impact of these behaviors on a team?  Peer relationships?  An organization?

It is great leaders can handle the stress.  But what about the impact it has on everything else?

Resilience – The discussion starts(and continues) with transparency

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 appearsPeople 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.

Is Resilience The Right Message? Three things to consider before starting this discussion in your organization

Many years ago a friend shared this story.  At the birth of their first child they reached a point where the doctor asked them if they wanted an epidural.  They had discussed it during birthing classes and decided to go through the delivery process without it because it was not covered by insurance.  Several hours of real labor had changed his wife’s thinking on the matter and she wanted it.  My friend, still being a rookie at marriage and childbirth, decided to coach his wife through the final stages of childbirth by offering the advice “Suck it up honey”.   I will stop the story here, but will share that they ended up getting the epidural.

Coming back from the recent economic downturn will take resilience from everyone.  How often does the message of resilience sound like the response of the father above when being delivered from others.  This is emerging as one of the hot topics in 2011 as companies grow with limited hiring and budgets.  Here are three key things to remember when tackling this topic:

1. What it means?  In the January 2011 edition of HR Magazine author William Atkinson provides a nice summary of the topic. (link to article)  A key point is this is not a new topic, but the current conditions in the workforce make this critical because the pressure caused by increasing expectations for performance versus the unprecedented push for efficiency.  People have more to do and fewer resources.  In his article, Atkinson refers to a survey that found 75% of people saying they were stressed to unhealthy levels.  The take away is that we need to equip our people to cope with this new reality.

How we should talk about it?  The topic goes beyond the wellness discussion, although how we take care of ourselves is important.  To start, the message has to focus on the reality that all levels of the organization are facing this challenge.  It has been said, but has it been said from the standpoint of “We feel we are doing what we have to do for this business to be successful.  Yet we know that it is stressing people beyond what is healthy.”  Next, focus on open and honest discussions about what stresses each person out, what we can do to relieve the stress, and what can be done to lesson it (both by the leader and the employee).  If there is going to be training, it needs to first focus on equipping the leaders to have these conversations with their teams and provide ongoing support.

Who we should be listening to?  A standard piece of every management library is a stress management book.  If it is not there go buy one.  Jim Loehr is an author that has been around this topic for a while using the analogy of creating a corporate athlete.  Another voice that I like to listen to is Doug Silsbee.  He has placed a few videos that outline his thoughts on the topic that will provide a perspective on how resilience can help and provided some basic stress management techniques.  Here is a link to the videos.

Back to my initial story.  Was my friend purposefully trying to be insensitive to his wife?  No.  They are still married and that baby son is now off to college.  But when stress hits sometimes the words out of our mouth don’t accurately reflect what we are thinking/feeling.  For leaders, just make sure the words out of your mouth take the discussion in a healthy direction, not to a place where people interpret the message as “deal with it”.  This is a topic we should all be talking about.