Resilience – What we can learn from the military

Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. George W. Cas...
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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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

To Know Yourself – Know your Art

The Mona Lisa (or La Joconde, La Gioconda).
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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?

Secret Sauce for Performance – Knowing What Matters to Your People. A story . . .

Movie or concert tickets symbol
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A friend recently told me a great story.  As part of a performance evaluation for one of his people who had worked hard this past year he gave all the things he was expected to provide – feedback in the form of an evaluation and a wage increase.  But for this employee, he also handed tickets to a concert for he and his wife.  The source of this gift was a conversation a couple of months earlier when it was shared that his wife loved this artist, but they could not justify the cost at that time.  This third piece brought forth a response of passion and gratitude that way exceeded the response to the first two rewards.  My friend hit the secret sauce of performance – knowing your people and giving them something REALLY special when they deserve it.

One question I love to ask people is What rewards mean the most to you?  Too often Management 101 discussions neglect to tell the new leader that money is not a motivator.  If that is not understood then you only have to sit in a room with 10 of your people and have someone like me ask that question.  Money will be mentioned, but it is not at the top of the list. 

Great rewards go deeper than just the standard list.  The ability to connect family members, hobbies, or passions outside of work allows you to do two things:

  1. Show that you care about them as a person.
  2. Speak to other significant people in their lives with a message that you/your company cares.  These friends/spouses are the people who encourage them after a day when maybe you are not so great a leader (we all have those days).  They will also tell the story to other great people who might be looking to work for a great company/leader.  The textbooks call these two things retention and attraction – and they are pretty important.

Interested in being this kind of leader?  Here are two moves you can make:

  1. Keep a file with everyone’s name and their answer to the question What rewards mean the most to you?
  2. Keep notes in your file anytime they say I love to  _________ or We would really like to see/go to _____________.

Then you just have to follow through when they do something great – but that is the easy part.

Lessons in Leadership – Learning delegation from a child

Last night my youngest daughter delivered these faithful words at 2am – “Daddy, my tummy hurts.”  I turned on the light and asked her “Tell me about the hurt?”  Her response was pretty simple “I think I am going to get sick.  I need to go to the bathroom.”  My response “Go ahead.”  I will spare you the details of the next 20 minutes, but I judge the endings of these things based on how much work I end up having to do.  In this case, I was just needed for comfort.  Whew.

As I think about that event today, I realized that my daughter is growing up.  She got up when she felt bad, came to tell me, and with very little help from me other than a slight nudge, she took care of herself.  We have raised a child that is showing signs of maturity and independence.  It feels good.

One of the big challenges of leaders is growing individuals and teams that show that kind of independence.  I have always been struck by all the different ways people have created to measure the effectiveness of a leader.   Too often we depend on a test or a psychologist to measure how well individuals and teams are developing into independent thinkers. 

Here is a simple one to measure how independent your team is today.  Take a piece of paper and every time someone on your team comes to you with a need for help today make a mark.  If they bring the answer or you are able to get them to provide their own answer, circle that mark.   At the end of the day what does the sheet say about your leadership style and their ability to solve their own problems?

Your development plan – more marks with circles tomorrow because you ask what they think the answer is more often. 

When they leave with their own answer, you are becoming a developer of people . . and a leader.  Trust me, it will feel good.

Finally Friday! – Why it is the best day to connect with your people

Friday’s are great days.  As you look out in your office everyone has expectations of the coming two days that will tell you a lot about where they are in life.  Here are a few messages you might hear and what they actually are telling you that is significant to know about them:

  1. “It will be great to get out of here” says – I have worked hard all week and it is a nice break.
  2. “It will be great to get out of here” says – This place is killing me and any time away is like gold.
  3. “I can’t wait to spend time with my family” says – I love work, but family time is important to me.
  4. “It will be quiet, the kids are with my ex” – It will be alone time to either do what I love or miss being connected with the significant people in my life.
  5. “Oh a little of this and a little of that.  What are you doing?” says – Usually you don’t care what I do outside of work.  So why ask now?
  6. “Nothing” says – Usually you don’t care about what I do outside of work.  So why ask now?

So what do you hear when you ask?  If what they are actually saying is unclear, why not ask another question to allow them to share a little more.

Listening on Friday does commit you to ask again on Monday to see how the weekend turned out.  Eventually the last #5 and #6 will go away.

What does your answer tell me about where you are?  Is it the same place you want to be next Friday? Happy Friday.

The Law of Leadership Transparency – 3 ways to apply it

 A business owner shared his survival story from the latest downturn.  When I asked him “What is different about your business now versus three years ago?” his answer made me step back.  He said “Now, my business comes before my people.”  He went on to explain when he hires he tells people up front that he is doing everything he can to keep them busy, but if the business drops off he will have to  send them home.  He also makes it clear that his best people, regardless of tenure, will be kept on as long as he can.

He learned the law of transparency, which is Be open and honest about things you want to face with someone if you expect/need them to help.  

Here are three ways to apply this law:

  • Performance discussion – If this does not feel like a conversation the law is not being applied.
  • Making a sacrifice to manage through a negative event – If people have to sacrifice then they need to know what is happening.
  • Recruiting – What is broken that this role needs to be fixed?  Say it and ask for the help before you offer the job.

Transparency can be taught, but it first has to be valued. 

Leaders who use it effectively are rewarded with trust and respect.

Leadership and . . . Valentine’s Day?

Tree decorated for Valentine's Day in San Dieg...
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In an informal poll of a half-dozen men over the last week I found that 100% of them were wishing this Hallmark holiday never existed.  Based on the line at Walgreen’s last night at 9pm, I can say the world feels a responsibility to buy something red, sweet or shiny for someone today.  Let me offer an alternative.

Valentine’s Day should be about emotionally connecting with someone you care about.

What if you put aside time on the couch, in front of a fire, or over a meal (in or out) and discussed these five questions:

  • What were the high points of our past year together?
  • What did we overcome?
  • What are the things facing us that have me worried?
  • What should we be doing more of and less of in the coming year? 
  • Why are you/this relationship so important to me?

Too often, both at work and at home, we don’t put enough value on giving our time and full focus. 

Most of my life is spent helping leaders connect with and influence the people around them.  As I look at this list it hits me that it would probably be a powerful conversation to have at work.

Sometimes I wonder if we think too much and don’t feel enough.

Silence and Resilience

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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.

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 listen 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.