The Voice for Insightful Leadership with Shelley Row, P.E.

Your Search for behavior

It was another one of those days. There were too many things on the to-do list to squish into the available time. I fretted and agonized. “How will it all get done?” The anxiety in my body mounted: tightness in my chest, knots in my stomach. “Oh no! You’re going to fail! This is it! Everyone will know that you can’t handle this business.” Thankfully, this time was different. Over weeks and months I had been training myself to respond with focus to these moments of over-whelm, and it was working, slowly but surely.

The brain has an optimal performance point – a point where there is enough stress or pressure to get it interested but not too much to create over-whelm. If there is too much or too little pressure, the cognitive part of the brain does not perform at its best. The trick is to manage the stress to keep it in the “just right” range – like Goldilocks. High stress levels also trip the alarm mode in the brain. Alarms generate reactions in the body – tightness in the chest, sweaty palms, racing heart. These are the tell-tale signs that you have tipped over out of the “just right” range. The body reactions are like the “canary in the coal mine.” They are warnings that you are moving out of cognitive mode and into reactionary mode. Continue reading

I admit up front that I’m not good at recognizing the nuances of people. That’s why I want to share this tip with you. It helps me and it’s likely to be valuable to you, too.

My step-daughter, Linnea Miron, is the CEO of Real Wellness.  She and I talked about the challenges of truly understanding people – whether staff, clients, or partners – so that we more effectively work together. But the brain is designed to see the world from our perspective. It takes effort and energy to consider another’s viewpoint. She shared that her husband, Ricky Williams, when working with a client, uses a simple technique to coax his brain to shift perspective. With each person, he asks himself, “Who’s here?”

Think about the simple power in that question. Try it yourself. With each person you work with, divide “Who’s here?” into four parts.

    1. What do you know about their life at this moment? This question helps you become more resonate with and sensitive to the factors influencing their thinking and behavior. For example, tomorrow I’ll see my friend, Page, for the first time since she visited her son at college. Their visit is likely to have left her heart full. That’s a good place to start. Maybe the person you talk with has recently changed jobs, has a new (awful) boss, gotten a promotion, was out with a sick baby, is leading a high-profile project, has a daughter leaving for college, just lost her beloved pet. Take a moment to ask yourself, “Who’s here and what’s happening in his life right now.” It shows your interest and creates connection which generates trust.
    2. What do you know about their personality? This is a key question that, when brought into your consciousness pays off in a big way. Think about it. What do you know about his communication style? Her work styles or nature? Maybe he is a big picture thinker, or maybe he loves knowing the details. Maybe she has a healthy ego or struggles with self-esteem. Maybe he takes pride in his work, is highly sensitive, is the life-of-the-party, is practical, or is a deep thinker. The list goes on. Here’s the dilemma, your brain wants him or her to be like YOU! But they aren’t. The more you appreciate who’s really here, the more you are likely to adapt your style and align the jobs with their skills.
    3. What do you know about their interests? This one may be easier for you. What are his hobbies? How does she spend her time? Perhaps he has a New England Patriots poster in his office, or a photo of a sailboat. Is there a Food and Wine magazine in her bag? Knowing something about her interests can provide a foothold for an easy conversation starter. Who’s here and what does he enjoy?
    4. What do you know about their background? The more you know about a person’s background the better you understand the filters through which she sees the world. Awareness of background influences provides insight into reactions, interpretations and pre-conceived ideas. For example, growing up in a small Texas town surrounded by farms, I struggle to understand the pressures of city dwellers just as they may struggle to understand the tragedy of drought. Who’s here? What’s their background and how does it influence their behavior?

Try exploring the power in, “Who’s here?” It gets you out of the way so that you can truly see the person right in front of you for who they are. I’ll be curious to know how it works for you!

It was a dark, stormy night. Rain was falling in buckets as we drove to Houston to pick up my sister at the airport for the holidays. The white lane lines were scarcely visible. We had a general outline of the road but were stressed because of the limited visibility.  Suddenly, the road lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree. The lane lines were raised reflective markers and they glowed through the dark rain like beacons. The road was clearly visible.  There was no question that we were on our path and our relief was palpable.

Your plans for 2019 are like the road. Perhaps you set your goals and they are completely clear in your mind. But how well have you communicated those goals to staff?  Even if you see clearly, your staff may not. They may be generally on the right road but without clarity, they can feel the stress of uncertainty and that wastes energy and time. When your goals are crystal clear, your staff is relieved of that uncertainty and can focus on execution. It’s like having the road to their goals lit up with reflective markers.  How do you bring that goal clarity into your workplace?

  1. Set clear goals. Your staff wants to know that you, as the leader, know the direction of the organization. If you haven’t already, take the time to consider your 2019 goals. It’s like picking the route you’ll travel this year just as we picked the road to Houston. When you think about 2019, what course are you on? What are your goals for the year? What are the major activities you intend to accomplish? Write them down now.
  2. Metrics. How will you know that you achieved the goals? I like to ask clients, “What does success look like?” This question is a great way to crystalize your expectations. Success may look like a revenue target, or a target for new clients, or specific behaviors for customer service. Once you know what success looks like, what are the metrics? Maybe it’s financial or maybe it’s that staff manage client calls in an efficient, friendly way. For each goal, write down the metrics or behaviors you associate with your goals.
  3. Share with staff repeatedly. You need goal clarity and so do your staff. Don’t underestimate the difficulty of assisting staff to internalize the same goals. This is a key job for you! You must share the goals and share them again and again, to embed them in long-term memory. Once is not enough. Neither is printing them on a poster and thinking you’re done. Repeated, specific goals, with metrics, are the reflective markers along the way that reduce stress and provide clarity. It’s key for staff to know, really know, the expectations for them and the organization. Clarity eliminates wasted energy on speculation and allows all that energy to be directed into performance.
  4. Report progress. Progress reports demonstrate that you are serious about the goals. Visible reporting of progress reinforces the goal and creates more clarity. It reassures staff that they remain on the right road and that their way forward is still lit with bright lights.
  5. Celebrate success. Divide the goal into chunks and have mini-celebrations along the way. I recently read Chip and Dan Heath’s book, The Power of Moments. They note the success of dividing a big goal into chunks that can be rewarded along the way. The brain likes rewards for meaningful progress. Completion of interim steps encourages one to tackle the next step. What intermediate milestones can you celebrate?

We arrived in Houston safely and with less stress due to the clear, lighted path. You can provide your staff with a clear, well-lit path by identifying your goals and clearly articulating them … regularly. When you do, you reduce their uncertainty and stress so that they can focus on performance. And that makes for a great 2019!

You drive along admiring the fall colors when suddenly the check engine light comes on in your car. What does that mean? For most of us, the check engine light indicates that something is wrong inside the car. We best find out what it is.

You have an internal check engine light. It’s the nagging feeling you get when something isn’t sitting right. Do you diagnose your nagging feeling just as you diagnose your car?

You tape over it. At a recent keynote address, I asked the audience what they do when their car’s check engine light comes on.  A woman on the front row said, “I tape over it!”  When your check engine light comes on, do you tape over it, ignore or discount it? As with your car, ignoring it is unlikely to be a sound solution. The source of the nagging feeling is still there.

Much in our culture reinforces the misguided notion that feelings lack validity or are not worthy of notice. We may be embarrassed by them or simply not have the skill to notice. The nagging feeling typically arises because the situation is incongruent with your brain’s expectation. Maybe the situation (or person) flies in the face of your value system. That always sets off the check engine light. Maybe the person has a communication or work style approach that radically differs from yours and it feels uncomfortable.  Maybe your experience leads you to see the situation differently from your colleagues.

Incongruence increases stress, causes you to over-react, make a poor decision or create an upset with a colleague.  You can prevent those unhealthy outcomes if, like in your car, you notice it.

Notice the check engine light. You notice the light in your car and you know that you need to do something … soon. Unfortunately, many of us power through the day without attending to the emotion that bubbles under the surface. We shove it aside.

It’s time that we relearn how to notice the nagging feeling in the gut. The feeling brings information and wisdom to your situation. The best way to notice the feeling is to practice naming it. “I feel annoyed by that discussion.” “My boss frustrates me!” “Something doesn’t feel right about this decision.”

Give voice to the gut feeling. It’s like acknowledging the check engine light and the need to attend to your car. You need to attend to your inner wisdom.

Understand the problem. The best action is to dive under the hood of the car (for real or with a mechanic) to find the source of the alert. Maybe it’s an indication of a big problem or maybe it’s an easy fix. It’s the same for you. The wisest of us notices the check engine light and dives under the hood to understand the nagging feeling.

What is incongruent for you? Does their behavior fly in the face of your values? Does the decision you face challenge your assumptions? Does the person conduct their work differently from you? These are examples of incongruence in the brain. Your experience doesn’t square up with your expectations. When that happens, the check engine light goes off. It’s your job to understand why and decide if the reason is valid.

Your car may break down if you ignore the check engine light. Your health, life and leadership depend on noticing and resolving the nagging feeling inside. What’s your check engine light telling you?

Photo: Bwylezich

 

trophyThe trophy case stood in the middle of the building. It covered an entire wall. Walking through the Miles River Yacht Club, the sun reflected off the polished silver cups, chalices, and bowls. Some of the most highly sought trophies could have held a basketball. I stood in front of the case and marveled. I’d just witnessed historic log canoe races. The boats were beautiful, the crews were skilled, and the decades-old trophies were huge.

What, I pondered, causes us as humans to create an object (a big, shiny object) to signify accomplishment? Givers of trophies learned centuries ago what neuroscientists can now see. Trophies of any sort cause the brain to feel appreciated, connected and seen. You probably don’t have a trophy case at your office. And, you don’t need one as long as your employees feel rewarded for outstanding work.

How do you make employees feel like they just won the big trophy? There are more ways than you may think. Anything that makes them feel appreciated, connected and seen is an intrinsic trophy. An intrinsic trophy connects with the heart and feels good. Here are five examples to get you started.

1.       Take her to lunch or coffee. Never underestimate that power of being seen with the boss. Go into the lunch or coffee with an attitude of curiosity. What can you learn from this person? What can she teach you? Tell her what you learned and watch her glow with pride.

2.       Call him out in front of colleagues. Make it specific. Describe what he did to merit the mention so that he understands that you really know his contribution. Tie his work to an organizational initiative, goal or value.

3.       Listen to her ideas. Really listen. Repeat back what you hear to ensure that you truly understand. Repeating the idea forces you to pay attention. To be heard is to be seen.

4.       Implement his idea and give him credit. There is no greater compliment you can give than to implement his idea. Be clear about the source of the idea and give credit where credit is due.

5.       Donate to her favorite charity in her name. Not only is this a nice thing to do but you may be surprised by the choice of charity. The charity she selects may provide new insight into interests and life experiences

Notice that each of these intrinsic “trophies” creates good feelings because the rewarded person feels appreciated, connected and seen. You and your staff are thinking, feeling beings. The insightful leader is wise enough to leverage feelings to support, encourage and reward staff. It doesn’t have to be a punch-bowl-sized, silver chalice (although that could work, too!). Create your own intrinsic trophy case by consistently recognizing prize-winning behavior.

What creative techniques have you used to reward staff and make them feel appreciated, connected and seen?

Photo Credit: Spinsheet.com

The night was warm as we stood looking over the Annapolis harbor at the gathered crowd. It was a perfect evening for (are you ready?) tango. Yes, tango. Argentine tango, to be specific. The bricks of the Annapolis City Dock were covered by a smooth dance floor and a small band played tango music. If you are not a dancer, Argentine tango is not like a typical ballroom tango. Ballroom-style tango has specific steps. Argentine tango does not. It is all improvisational. The men learn to lead by shifting their bodies. Women learn to sense and follow their lead.  As we watched, the men were steady and (relatively) straightforward with their steps while the women twisted, turned, and flicked their feet with grace and style. They represented a subtle communication between leader and follower that resulted in beauty and art.

When I think about being an insightful leader, there are three lessons from tango.  The tango leads provided:

  1. Direction. The leader provides the forward direction. Will he steer his partner slightly right, slightly left or straight ahead? He watches other couples and navigate between and around them. He adjusts their rate of progress to account for others. It’s the same for leaders in an organization. You, too, provide direction and navigate employees, staff and projects around obstacles. In your case, obstacles may be political, technical, financial or personnel. It’s your job to watch the surroundings, notice openings and deftly steer the organization forward as though you are dancing together.
  2. Framework. The tango lead held his frame. He provided a firm, physical frame that gave his partner the boundaries for her dance. Within his arms and the space around his steps, he contained the space of the dance. A leader does the same. You provide the organizational framework within which staff perform and work happens. In this case, your frame work may be the organizational culture, a way of doing business, the boundaries of acceptable business practices or acceptable behaviors at work.
  3. Flexibility. Perhaps the most striking part of the tango was the flexibility afforded to the woman dancer. Our tango lead provided direction and a framework that allowed her to improvise. Steps, kicks, flourishes, twists and turns. She was the show. He gave her the space to explore her creativity and develop beauty. Too often, this element of leadership is missing. Sometimes, we as leaders create a framework that’s too tight. It confines creativity in the workplace. Instead, insightful leaders create space like the tango. There’s an openness to new ideas, new processes and procedures. Staff are encouraged to develop their creativity and show off their highest skills. The creativity of the staff can be the showpiece under a wise leader.

Because of the skill of the tango leader, the woman improvised, added her unique style and created a work of art while moving forward within the framework. How well is your organization dancing under your leadership? Maybe it’s time for a tango lesson!

Copyright: timurpix / 123RF Stock Photo

Each May the Blue Angels fly for the U.S. Naval Academy graduation in Annapolis. Their performance in the blue skies over the Severn River is a highlight and a special moment. Visitors and residents gather along the shore staring overhead, searching the horizon. No matter how many times I see their show, the sudden roar of their engines ripping the sky apart surprises me. It’s as though they materialize from the clouds. Flying 18” apart they make sweeping banks as though they are glued together. Then, in a roar of power and speed they rotate upside down, sideways, right side up. Their flying is a thrill that belies the skill needed to execute as a team.

This year, standing on the dock, marveling at their precision, I was struck by the level of commitment they embody. When they are flying, there’s no debate, no discussion and no consensus building. They follow the leader’s commands. Period. Sometimes, that’s the way it needs to be in an organization, too.

We talk a lot about the need to gather information, discuss, debate and gain consensus. We should also talk about when enough discussion is enough. We need to know how to decide and commit. You probably disagreed with a decision at some point. Did you handle it with grace or did you grumble to anyone who would listen? As those jets zoomed overhead with no margin for error, there was no grumbling…only commitment. What does it look like to commit at work – whether you agree with the decision or not?

  1. Recognize that you don’t have insight into all facets of the decision. Like the Blue Angel flying at the back of formation, you only see from your vantage point. That pilot only sees the planes directly in front of him. His view is limited. He trusts that the lead plane – which has a different view – is making the best decision based on the additional information they have. It’s the same for you. You don’t have all the information that the final decision-maker does. There comes a time when you must recognize that decision-makers are assimilating more and different information than you. Commitment means trusting that they will select the most reasonable approach based on their vantage point.
  2. Don’t bad mouth the decision-maker. You’ve argued it up one side and down the other. You’ve got the facts on your side and still the decision doesn’t go your way. Well…that happens. Commitment is determined by what you do next. The most detrimental behavior for the organization is to complain about the decision to your staff. Venting to others at or below you grows distrust and breeds lack of commitment. Either keep quiet or go to option three below.
  3. Disagree and commit for the good of the whole. The Blue Angels can’t tolerate the pilot who wants to bank 2-degrees differently from the others. Either everyone agrees to the same plan or they literally all go down in flames. Most of us don’t have that level of risk in the workplace. Nonetheless, the time comes when you must decide to disagree and be fully committed to the decision. For the sake of the greater good and for the sake of moving forward, swallow hard, find ways to articulate your support and behave in ways that fully conform with the decision even though you may not personally agree.

Six planes, wingtip to wingtip soared directly over the viewing stands. In a single precise moment, each plane abruptly changed course to fly apart in six different directions into a starburst of power and smoke.  But, we all knew, they would meet back at the base together to celebrate a safe, well-executed show.  All because they committed.

over thinkingI was intrigued but not surprised. The a-ha moment happened as I discussed the pitfalls of over-thinking with a group of 70 transportation leaders. It could have been any group of leaders. Perhaps it is evident: Leaders develop good and bad decision-making habits and so do organizations. I work with individual leaders to develop their capacity for balanced decision-making.  But, organizations also develop habits – ways of relating or responding – that may be productive or not.  The organizational decision-making pattern is learned or influenced in part by the leader.

I see two implications:

  • The same principles for balanced decision-making apply to organizations as to individuals.  Like an individual, organizations can practice and reinforce productive decision-making until the collective “brain” of the organization is rewired.
  • The leader’s impact extends beyond the immediate decision. The leader is the decision-making model for the organization. Over-think it and a message is sent. Have a knee-jerk reaction and another message is sent. Exhibit balanced decision-making and a model is created that reinforces optimal behavior.

Let’s consider, for example, a tendency to over-think decisions. Over-thinking is characterized by delayed decisions, a relentless need for more information, and analysis paralysis. Over-thinking wastes time, causes missed opportunities and reduces ROI. And while it may be a characteristic attributed to a leader, an over-thinking organization moves at a slow, slogging pace.

An over-thinking organization creates a culture of caution that permeates its collective thinking. Early warning signs of an over-thinking organization include constant striving for more data and analysis, reluctance to make a recommendation, and bumping the decision to a higher level. Cautiousness grinds progress to a halt.  Rather than decide and move on, the organizational unit studies and vets and studies even more. As with an individual the way out is to first notice the hesitancy and then to probe the organizational discomfort.  What is the underlying feeling within the group? Why is there fear of moving forward?  What repercussions lurk – either real or imagined – that color the forward progress of the group? Once those intangible issues are surfaced and articulated, there is a chance for the group to choose a different path.  But an organization is more complex than an individual.  Although difficult, deeply ingrained organizational habits can be changed.  As with an individual, that change comes as a result of practice, reinforcement and focused attention. Did I mention practice?  Did I mention reinforcement?  This is hard and it requires determination. It is the practice and focused attention that will ultimately rewire the organization’s collective brain.  Members of the organization, managers and leaders must stay vigilant to the ease with which decision-making can slide into old, familiar patterns. As in an individual’s brain, habitual responses are easier, faster, and comforting for the organization.  But they may not be productive.

The leader’s role is even more crucial. It’s important for a leader to develop good decision-making practices as part of her skill set and it is even more important to be an example of productive decision-making. The leader’s decision-making approach is mimicked and modeled – perhaps more subconsciously that consciously.

When a leader gets lost in over-thinking, that behavior trains the rest of the office. An over-thinking leader creates a culture of restraint with overly-cautious team members who are risk averse and who have an avoidance mentality. Unhelpful behaviors exemplified by the leader are passed along to the staff perpetuating suboptimal decision-making. It’s a huge price to pay.

Conversely, a leader who models balanced decision-making that uses both cognition and intuition grows a staff with deep awareness and capability. This type of decision-making also takes individual practice and persistence.  However, the ROI is significant.  The organization benefits from sound leadership decisions and staff become receptive and capable with the depth to choose well-balanced responses. It cultivates a healthier organization and positions individuals to grow into insightful leaders. When the leader cultivates balanced decision-making patterns, it permeates the organization like a breath of fresh air.

So what about you and your organization? Are you as a leader, developing balanced and insightful decision-making patterns?  Have you looked at the decision-making patterns of your office? As you develop yourself, you feed them.  It’s worth the practice and persistence.

 

Is it seeding doubt or confidence? Is it reluctant or aggressive?

Is it frustrated with your work, boss, co-workers or all of the above?

Is it afraid to make that big career change that you’ve been dreaming of?

Would it help you to have a partner who can assist in gaining insight into and rewrite those
internal stories?

Would you benefit from a confidant outside of your work environment to collaborate in your
success and growth?

And, would it be valuable if you had unlimited access to that confidant?

That’s where the Insightful Leaders Individual Coaching Program can help. It is tailored and
personalized to your situation and needs.

You see, the stories in your head shape your work relationships with colleagues, the approach you take to your career, and the actions you opt to pursue or neglect. The good news is that unhelpful
behaviors can be rewired, …but it takes focused, intentional action. That’s where individual, personalized, targeted coaching pays off. A research study showed that a training program alone increased productivity by 28% and the addition of a coaching component increased productivity by 88%.

The Insightful Leaders Individual Coaching Program includes:

  • 30-minute initial consultation to discuss your specific goals
  • Business DNA Behavior self-assessment summary report (5-page report with access to
    more)
  • Unlimited 20-minute phone, video or email coaching sessions for six months
  • PDF of my book, Think Less Live More: Lessons from a Recovering Over-Thinker

The Insightful Leaders Individual Coaching Program kicks off with a 30-minute meeting by phone or video. In that meeting, we identify your goals, objectives and desired outcomes from the
program. Maybe you need:

  • support with a difficult work relationship,
  • Techniques to more effectively manage staff,
  • Strategies to position yourself for the next promotion,
  • Analysis of assessing career options,
  • Approaches to enhance your personal brand,
  • Improving communication or presentation skills,
  • Clarity to navigate a career shift or more.

You decide and I work with you to identify specific actions as first steps toward your goals.

Next, we will create a tailored, specific homework for you to complete. Also, you will receive access to the Business DNA Behavior self-assessment that will provide additional insights into your personal communication and work style. Upon completion of the homework and the self-assessment, you schedule unlimited 20-minute phone, email or video sessions over a period of six
months from our initial call. At the end of the six months, we will reassess your progress and create a list of next steps so that your personal and professional growth continues after the
Insightful Leaders Individual Coaching Program concludes.

Guarantee: As an added benefit, if after the first 30-minute session you do not feel confident that this program is right for you, I will refund your money. You have no risk to get started.

The loudest voice in the room is the one inside your head. Make that voice count!


$1497 per person

 

*Note that this program is intended for individuals. For information on corporate or team coaching, contact Shelley.

We left the dock at 5 am, bundled against the cold, the boat loaded with food, drinks, snacks for us and lures for the fish. It was opening day of Rockfish season. I know nothing about Rockfish, but I was with an experienced team who have fished together for twenty years. Their preparation was extensive and exhaustive. The week before they organized lines, white and chartreuse lures, weights coordinated to each line so that lures trailed the boat at varying depths and distances. The team planned it all in advance  ̶  thoughtful & intentional. Knowledge of Rockfish patterns determined the trolling location which was 90 minutes away at top speed. We were well organized, well planned, and well prepared…and we caught no fish.

Have you ever been fully prepared; thought of everything and were disappointed that it (the project, the meeting, the conversation) didn’t turn out as planned? Insightful leaders may be disappointed but they start asking questions.

  1. What mid-course correction can be made?

At the first inkling that the plan isn’t working out, insightful leaders look for ways to adjust. Since much of any work project is about making an emotional connection, what clues can you pick up from the reaction of the client, boss or audience? Notice their mood and receptivity. Do you need to ask more questions, reorient the project direction, be more or less aggressive, or make a change to the project team? Mid-course corrections could be in timing, staffing, approach, product/service shift, scale or more. Maybe a tweak will get you back on track.

Our accomplished team quickly realized that the fish were scarce. They adjusted the lines, cleaned jellyfish from the lures and changed course. All were good mid-course corrections and they didn’t work. Time for the next step.

  1. What are others experiencing?

Is it just you or are others experiencing problems? Your next steps are colored by the answer.  Are you able to ask questions of others in your office with similar projects or clients? Competitors may offer clues, too. When you observe their behaviors, do you notice them shifting strategy, tactics or customers? Are there partners or even competitors with whom you can safely make inquiries? Your intention is to determine if your work is an isolated situation or part of a bigger trend.

As we trolled the quiet waters, we observed the charter fishing boats.  Many were in the same area we were. We took comfort in that, except the radio was missing the usual chatter of excited fishermen. Within hours, the charters started looking for fish elsewhere. We were part of a tournament. Friendly competitors texted back and forth lamenting the lack of fish.  It wasn’t just us.

  1. What’s the bigger picture?

An insightful leader is always attentive for indicators of a big picture shift. In a time of big data, there are an increasing array of information sources to help spot a shift. Sometimes, the gnawing in the gut is also a good indicator. When you look at all the information you gathered, do you see a shift in client expectations, a change in client demographics or psychographics? Are there new technologies that bring new business opportunities and disrupt existing ones? Is this a one-time problem or a systemic trend? You need to know the difference.

The water was still too cold. That was the consensus from our team. The fish had not yet left the rivers. The question remains, is this a one-time event or an indicator of climate change? One is a blip, the other would make opening day fishing more speculative.

As any leader can attest: It’s essential to have a plan and it’s equally essential to be able to change the plan. Use these questions whenever your best-laid plans don’t pan out.

Are there other key questions you use when plans change?