Author Archive

Building bonds in times of crisis

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Many of us are facing unprecedented circumstances with the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, and suddenly find ourselves in isolation from coworkers, friends, and loved ones.  Research shows that the long term effects of not being able to connect others can be damaging.  In an article by Stanford Medicine’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research Education, Dr. Emma Seppala says this: “People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. In other words, social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.” [http://ccare.stanford.edu/uncategorized/connectedness-health-the-science-of-social-connection-infographic/]

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”― Herman Melville

Somehow, we must figure out how to continue to build bonds despite the constraints of social distancing and quarantines.

What does it mean to build bonds with others? Those who are good at this competence of emotional intelligence tend to be nurturing and good at maintaining relationships. They seek out and cultivate mutually-beneficial friendships from a wide network of people. But we’re not talking about shallow, superficial relationships. People good at building bonds connect on a deep, if not spiritual level of understanding and compassion which leave others feeling valued and appreciated. They’re able to build rapport and earn the trust of those who interact with them. They value individual perspectives even when they differ from their own. And they’re willing to take time to do what it takes to reach out and check in with others.

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tired into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.”― Martin Luther King Jr.

Those who struggle with building bonds may have a hard time relating to those who are different than them. They fail to recognize — and respond — to the needs and/or concerns of others, and view colleagues, friends, and even family members as competitors. And when things get heated — they easily let go of once-meaningful relationships to avoid the conflict.

When we don’t have a strong network of close relationships, and experience times of stress or crisis, we become ineffective at accomplishing goals or completing tasks because we are limited in who we can turn to for help.

What’s encouraging about emotional intelligence competencies is that they can be developed. In other words, if you’re doing a poor job in the moment at building bonds — there’s hope! With some efforts you can begin to tune into your emotional drivers and alter behaviors which prevent you from making connections, especially during times like this when meaningful relationships are needed most.

Here are a few ways to get started on developing deeper bonds with others:

  • Determine who’s who. Decide upon the people you wish to connect with, whether it be someone you already know or someone you’d like to get to know better. Write down their names, and a few personal details you know about them for starters. Note, for each, why you’d like to strengthen the relationship.

 

  • Know thyself. Self-awareness is key to building bonds with others. Make a list of the positive traits you have to offer in a relationship.  If you’re not sure, consider taking the free VIA Character Strengths survey to determine your signature strengths.

 

  • Move beyond the chit chat. To strengthen relationships, you’ll want to learn who they are vs. what they do. Asking open-ended questions with the goal of learning their motivations behind their actions can help. Here are a few examples: “How are you — really?  Tell me about something you recently succeeded at, and how did it make you feel? How is a current struggle is tripping you up the most? What are you most excited about, and why? What makes your heart sing, and why?  When is the last time you laughed really hard, and what was it about? What are you most scared of, and why?”

 

  • Share authentically. In order to get others to open up, you’ll want to be able to share authentically as well, relating your own stories about the above questions.

 

  • Be consistent.  Check in with them on a regular basis and focus the conversation on them.  A simple, “How are you?” every few days lets someone know you really do care. Remember what they told you in the last conversation and ask how things are going around that. And don’t forget to reach out on special events — at the completion of an important project, birthdays, anniversaries, etc.  Since most of us are practicing social isolation at the moment, research the different platforms on which you can connect virtually, and give them a try.

 

  • Learn to listen.  Getting to know someone requires some good listening skills. Really try to focus on what they’re saying, and make a note to remember some of the details.  Write them down later if needed.  When they pause, instead of jumping in to speak, get in the habit of simply asking, “What else?”

 

  • Become a servant-friend. Are you aware of their current needs?  If not, ask, then try to think of ways you could lend a helping hand. Having an attitude of service can go a long way in deepening friendships.

 

  • Fix the flat tire. Is there unresolved conflict which needs to be taken care of?  Letting the “elephant in the room” exist too long can dampen any relationship and prevent you from moving to a deeper connection.  Though it may be easier to avoid the conflict, having an open and honest conversation to work toward resolve may be necessary if the relationship is to move forward. If this seems impossible, consider enlisting the help of a coach or counselor.

A note of advice: When attempting to take any relationship to deeper levels, make sure the connection level is reciprocated. Do they, too, have a desire to connect with you on a deeper level? Friendships don’t work real well when they’re one sided, and it’s tough to get to know someone better if they’re just not interested.  Stay tuned to whether or not they do any of the above steps with you, and if they too seem to be attempting to know you more. If the relationship is not mutually beneficial, it can fall flat and most likely will not develop to a deeper friendship–no harm, no foul. It’s OK.  Not everyone can be a friend.  Let it go if needed and move on.

In trying times like these, having close connections will do wonders for your soul. Taking the steps to deepen your relationships can provide the emotional and physical resiliency needed in times of trouble.

“Connecting with others gives us a sense of inclusion, connection, interaction, safety, and community. Your vibe attracts your tribe, so if you want to attract positive and healthy relationships, be one! Staying connected and getting reconnected feeds the flow of goodness which empowers our humanity.”― Susan C. Young

 

Turning Mistakes into Motivators

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

I don’t know anyone who enjoys making mistakes.

Perfectionists or not, when we mess up, we feel bad. Embarrassment, self-loathing, and shame often accompany mishaps, emotions strong enough to tackle the strongest of us. “Are you really this dumb?!” or “Seriously, you did that again?!”, we ask our inward self, and our inward self often answers with self-defeating agreement. In fact, the feelings we associate with making mistakes can wield enough negative power to prevent most of us from ever trying again.

Think back on the last time you missed. Do you get positive, “warm fuzzies” when you reflect upon it? Is it something you are proud to share with others? I’m guessing not. We usually want to hide or attempt to cover up our errors, and sometimes choose negative behaviors such as lying or passing the blame to do so, neither of which benefits us in the long run. Responding this way gets in the way of success, not only our own but for others. It’s no wonder we avoid mess ups like the plague.

Having a bias for action is a competency of emotional intelligence. It’s that ability to create and seize opportunities, not allowing a fear of mistakes prevent you from missing out. Rather than waiting for good things to come your way, or procrastinating, it’s having the inclination to act before you have to, to foresee necessary changes and take steps toward new endeavors. One aspect of taking initiative is being persistent. Persistence is the quality of “continuing firmly or obstinately in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.” [https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/persistent]

“If you wait until you’re ready, you’ll wait forever.” ― Will Rogers

Many successful people have made mistakes at one time or another, and had the choice of quitting, or, exercising persistence to motivate them toward success. Consider for a moment the story of the confectioner, Milton Hersey.

His last name should give it away. We know him as the founder of the company that produces those delicious chocolate bars wrapped in foil and brown paper, the Hershey Chocolate Company. At an early age, Milton discovered the value of persistence, despite mistakes and perceived failures, a trait which would later contribute to his success.

At fourteen years of age, Milton dropped out of school and was working as an apprentice at a print shop in his home town. But he was let go for accidentally dropping his hat into one of the machines! After taking another job at a nearby candy factory, and subsequently losing it, he decided to step out on his own and open his own candy store. The business failed. For the next 15 years–yes, 15 years!–, Milton moved from city to city, job to job, searching for success, but not finding it. When he ended up in New York City, he decided to sell candies as a street vendor, which proved to be unsuccessful as well. Just when most of us would have quit, feeling the painful pangs of failure, Milton moved back to his hometown, where an old employee, Henry Lebkicher, offered him lodging and gave him a loan to ship his candy-making equipment from the city.

“If someone offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!” ― Richard Branson

Milton began to experiment with his own chocolate recipes, using condensed milk which was readily available from the dairy cows on the farm. It wasn’t until 1893, when Milton was 36 years old — over 20 years after he dropped that hat — he created the Lancaster Caramel Company. Seven years after its birth, he sold the company for one million dollars, and in 1900, established the Hershey Chocolate Company, which today still stands as one of the most famous (and best-tasting) brands of chocolate on the planet. [https://www.wanderlustworker.com/48-famous-failures-who-will-inspire-you-to-achieve/]

Now that’s some perseverance! I am very glad he didn’t quit (she says, as she bites into a mouthwatering chocolate bar).

One thing we can learn from this story is that mistakes don’t have to lead to failure. They can, instead, propel us forward. As we develop a mindset of persistence, we can begin to look at errors as stumbling blocks from which we can learn. And as we figure out how to clear these hurdles, we will begin to develop the grit it takes to bring about success.

“Your limits are YOUR limits” ― Daren Martin

Remember the fable about the old donkey who was no longer wanted by his master? The disgruntled owner dug a deep pit, threw the poor donkey in, and began filling in the hole. But with each shovelful of dirt intended to bury him, the ingenuous donkey tamped down the dirt and stepped up, building his own staircase, until he could step right out of that dark place.

Taking initiative despite mistakes takes some effort. If you struggle with this, you may find you procrastinate on things you need to be doing, then feel bad about falling behind schedule. You may be resistant to work that falls outside your ‘required duties’, and give up easily. You may find you are always in ‘crisis mode’, reacting instead of being proactive and reaping the benefits of planning ahead. You may find you postpone decisions due to being overly-cautious and afraid to take risks.

Want to learn how to tamp down the dirt that comes your way and step up and out past your mistakes? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Feel the feels.  If you messed up, it’s OK to feel bad for a while. It’s normal, and shows you are human and possess empathy. Instead of tuning out those feelings, use them as a valuable source of information as to what’s going on inside of you. Notice the emotions you feel, and name them. Acknowledge them and connect them to their source, listening to what they are trying to tell you.
  • Reflect. Looking back on the error, determine which parts (if any) actually went well and which went south. What can you learn from these? What will you repeat next time, and what will you choose not to repeat?
  • Listen to your narrative and sleuth out the truth. Are you retelling the story of your mistake based upon untruths? Challenge yourself to lay down a negative bias and run through the facts — not your perceptions — of the situation. This is a good time to remove any assumptions you have made about what others are thinking of you. If you’re struggling with this, ask trusted friends or colleagues — those who want to help you grow — who know the situation for their perspective.
  • Adopt a positive mindset. No matter how poorly you may feel about the mishap, remember that you have the choice to behave differently next time. Replace your negative, self-defeating thoughts with positive affirmations. Instead of, “I can’t ____”, figure out what you can do. Instead of “I always ___”, try saying, “I can change by ____”. Your words matter. Speak words which breathe positivity, hope, and success.
  • Stop victiming out. OK, so you messed up. We all have. If you find yourself playing the role of the victim, not only is it going to stunt your own growth, but you’ll drive everyone else around you crazy as well. Instead, visualize yourself as victor. Again, you have the choice to change. Spend some time dreaming about what would it look like if you chose not to repeat the poor behavior. What are some ways you could do it differently next time? Describe what it would feel like to succeed. Take a moment to journal about this or talk to a trusted friend.
  • Apologize then move on. You can’t keep beating yourself up for a past mistake–it only causes you and others to relive the pain over and over. Figure out who your mistake(s) hurt, and how, then go to them and do your best to apologize. Don’t expect them to become your new best friend or immediately forgive you. They may not be ready to let it go, but offering a sincere apology will help you let it go.
  • Start snacking every day.  The change needed to move on from a mistake may seem overwhelming or daunting. Remember that small bites of large tasks are much easier to chew. Figure out one small thing you can to today to get started, and take small steps forward from there, every day. As Henry Ford once said, “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” Start now.
  • Find your superhero.  Who do you know who has made a mistake, yet bounced back with vigor and resiliency? Find successful people and talk with them, ask them questions about how they overcame their past to move past mishaps.

If you have a beating heart and breathe in and out each day, you’re going to make mistakes. It’s part of being human. As a result, you may find yourself in what seems to be a deep, dark pit. No need to stay there. Learn to tamp down the dirt and step up. Pick up your hat, and move on. Allow your errors motivate you toward better choices next time, becoming someone who is known for his/her persistence.

“Dreams don’t work unless you take action. The surest way to make your dreams come true is to live them.” ― Roy T. Bennett

A Spark of Creativity

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

If you’ve ever watched fireworks, whether as a small child or as an adult, it’s likely you’ve experienced moments of awe at the grandiose pyrotechnics illuminating the night. What’s even more amazing is that all it takes is a relatively small, smoldering stick to spark the explosive array of color, sound and light overhead.

When it comes to creativity, it seems some are able to come up with innovative ideas comparable to a dazzling display, where others of us can’t even seem to get the match to light. And it’s true: some people are more creative than others. However, each of us have the ability to improve our creativity, and all it takes is a small spark to light things up.

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” –Peter F. Drucker

We often think of creative people as those who can draw, or paint, or pull off an amazing performance on stage. At the office, the creative gene may seem to be limited to those in leadership. Or maybe you see ingenuity as the role of those on the creative team in the marketing department. At home, it may be assumed that it’s your significant other’s role to keep things new and interesting. I like to think that creativity spans a broader demographic, and is a behavior which can be achieved by anyone who puts their mind (and effort!) to it. Consider creativity in a more comprehensive sense. For example, it could be as simple as being open to and actively pursuing novel ideas. It’s being willing to take on new approaches, and seek out fresh ideas from a variety of sources. It’s being able to consider new solutions to old ways of doing things, and being willing to ask questions which generate new ideas–and encouraging others to do the same.

Creativity can be about taking risks to test out a new idea to see if it’s a worthy one. It’s about being curious. People who are creative tend to be flexible and adaptable, and view ‘failure’ as feedback instead of a setback.

“If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong.” –Charles Kettering

Looking at it in this light, how creative are you? Here are some questions to ask yourself.  If you answer yes to any of the below, your creativity could probably use a spark:

  • Do you worry about impending yet necessary change in your personal or professional life?
  • Do you respond negatively to new situations?
  • Are you one to complain when changes occur?
  • Do you take an inflexible stance when new ideas are introduced?
  • Are you hesitant to take on new challenges?
  • Have you ever said, “That’s not the way we do things”?
  • Do you drag your feet toward change even when you recognize the ‘old ways’ aren’t working anymore?

If you have more yes’s than no’s, there’s no need to write yourself off as hopeless. Creativity and innovation are competencies of emotional intelligence, that ability to be aware of our own emotions and those of others, then manage our behaviors accordingly. And the good news about emotional intelligence is that it can be improved, with some effort.

But first, why develop your creativity? Research shows that increased creativity can:

  • lift us out of ruts
  • sparks new ideas
  • provide fresh perspectives
  • open up better ways of doing things
  • give us a positive outlook
  • connect us with others
  • create a sense of accomplishment

“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”–Albert Einstein

Most of us who don’t think we’re creative allow ourselves to get stuck behind one or more of the following hurdles. Which one of these is preventing you from sparking something new?

1-Negative self-talk. “I’m just not creative,” you may tell yourself. And based upon what you’re thinking, it may seem as if it’s true. But in all verity, each of us can be creative in some shape or form. In his article, “Challenging Negative Self-Talk”, Ben Martin, Psy.D., suggests we start by testing the accuracy of our negative self-perceptions, by asking one or all of these four questions:

Just because someone has criticized you in the past doesn’t mean you have to wear their stamp of disapproval like a scarlet letter. Allow yourself to see yourself as imaginative despite the negativity of others.

2-I choose distractions. Would you rather mindlessly scroll on your phone or carve out time for innovative thinking? Here’s a quick test:  Yes or no – do you pick up your phone every time you have a free moment? If so, you may be limiting your ability–and time–to think creatively.  In an article entitled, “Why You Should Put Your Phone Down”, author Alexandra Hayes notes that “Allowing your mind to wander is a prerequisite for having a eureka moment, and when your gaze is perpetually glued to your phone, mind-wandering is nearly impossible.” [https://thriveglobal.com/stories/brain-body-benefits-less-screen-time/?]. Next time you pick up your phone, consider setting it back down and allowing your mind a little freedom to wander, and wonder.

3-I’m too busy. When my kids were little, they’d tire of a game or activity and whine, “I’m bored”.  Instead of fixing it for them by providing a new, engaging activity, I’d often respond with, “OK”.  It wasn’t long before they’d find something else to do, on their own. As adults, we tend to stay so busy that we never allow ourselves to feel bored. However, boredom can spark creative ideas. “Bored people feel that their actions are meaningless and so they are motivated to engage in meaningful behaviour,” concludes Wijnand van Tilburg, co-author of the paper, “Bored George Helps Others: A Pragmatic Meaning-Regulation Hypothesis on Boredom and Prosocial Behaviour.” [https://www.theguardian.com/science/2011/may/06/boredom-good-for-you-claims-study].

So consider freeing up your schedule for some ‘nothing time’, allow yourself to feel bored, and see what happens next.

4-Innovative ideas are not safe in this environment. Your surroundings may not feel like a safe place to exercise creativity. You may have a boss who disregarded an idea you had, or a significant other who laughed at your last novel suggestion for a fun, family activity. It makes sense why you may choose to shut down your creativity. In an article entitled, “Why A Culture of Innovation Doesn’t Work When People Are Afraid”, author Pere Rosales points out that when our work environment conditions us to keep quiet and do what we’re told, instead of exercising creativity, employees are concerned more with not coming across ignorant or incompetent. The result? “People keep everything—from big ideas to good questions—inside,” severely limiting new and innovative ideas for growth. [https://inusual.com/en/blog/why-a-culture-of-innovation-doesnt-work-when-people-are-afraid].

If you are in a situation such as this, it may be time to have a conversation with your manager or human resources professional, or, at home, with your significant other about how it is important for you to feel you have a say in helping to create new direction when needed. As well, be sure you are doing your part to create a safe environment for creativity, making sure not to criticize or ridicule new ways of doing things.

5-I don’t know where to start. Sometimes getting started is the biggest hurdle in sparking creativity. In Josh Spector’s article, “How to Start a Creative Project When You Don’t Know Where to Begin”, he speaks of the importance of recognizing there are two aspects to every creative project: ideas and execution. Sometimes we get overwhelmed by the actions we’d need to take that we shut down. Spending time on a simple brainstorming exercise can get the ideas flowing, thus helping us launch.

When you’re ready to ignite your creativity, here are a few prompts to journal about or discuss with a close friend or coach:

  • In which areas of your life are things feeling stale or stagnant? How does it make you feel?
  • What is one shift you foresee needs to be made in your workplace? At home?
    • What is your role in preventing necessary changes at work? At home?
  • If you were to make changes, who else would it involve and how would the changes potentially impact them?
  • What conversations do you need to have and with whom to initiate change?
  • What is one thing you can do today to start in a fresh direction?

Making the smallest of effort towards creativity may be just the spark you need to create your own fireworks display!

“There’s a way to do it better – find it.” –Thomas A. Edison

A Fresh Start

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

“When the path ignites a soul, there’s no remaining in place. The foot touches ground, but not for long.”

― Hakim Sanai

Have you ever gone for a walk in freshly-fallen snow?

There’s something magical about taking those first steps onto the pristine white canvas of a serene, snow-covered landscape. A few years back, I had a mile walk between the city transit stop and my office, and often, after a snowstorm, I’d be the first to traipse through the deep snow which had accumulated overnight. The soft crunch under my boots blended with the dazzling sunlight dancing on the frozen terrain brought much delight on cold, wintery days. At the end of the day, I’d notice that many other footsteps had joined my own on the new path I’d blazed that morning.

It’s often like that when we decide to venture out in a new direction of life. With each brave stride, our footprints carve a way for us and others to make a shift toward fresh perspectives and experiences.

What better time to do this than at the start of a new year?

When is the last time you ventured down a new path? If you’re like most of us, change can be disconcerting. Many of us settle into our habits and get so comfortable that any disruption to ‘the way things are’ can throw us for a loop. It’s easy to fall into this routine of not only resenting change, but avoiding it at all costs.

But life seems to be chock-full of continual change, and it’s nearly impossible to tread the same path year after year, without incurring negative outcomes. Unforeseen circumstances — and the emotions which accompany them — can hit with the ferocity of a bitter winter storm, and if we’re not ready to plow through it, we can get ‘snowed in’ to old patterns and ways which don’t serve us well.

Part of being open to change is seeking out opportunities to learn new things. Whether you are a coach, an HR professional, a leader, or an individual looking to grow, I’d like to propose Social + Emotional Intelligence Coaching, a unique niche to add to your coaching skill set. Learning to coach others to improve their self-awareness, self-management, other awareness, and relationship management can bring about more life satisfaction to you and those you lead. Taking this new step can help you forge a passage though the ups and downs of life, making the way a little easier to navigate for both you and those who follow.

So bundle up, don your snow boots, and consider exploring the new path of social + emotional intelligence coaching in the new year. We offer online courses each month to certify you as a Social + Emotional Intelligence Coach and equip you to administer the Social + Emotional Intelligence Profile. Not only will you be giving yourself the gift of a fresh start, you’ll be able to turn around and lay the course for those you work with and lead as they attempt to cross their own barren landscapes.

Learn more in our monthly free one-hour webinars. Click here to learn more or register today!

http://www.the-isei.com/certificationcourses.aspx

How do you sabotage your success?

Article contributed by guest author Brian Baker.

Everyone has had the experience of self-destructing. It’s a strange feeling to know that you ruined the very thing you were trying so hard to accomplish. Most self-sabotage is the result of discomfort. It can be the discomfort of failing, succeeding, or having to perform tasks that are uncomfortable.

You may have heard the saying, “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Unfortunately, most of us are well-practiced in the art of avoiding discomfort. This is the most common way we sabotage our success.

Are you sabotaging your success? Consider these points:


1.  Distractions. The tasks that need to be done in order to be successful are typically less appealing than watching TV, surfing the internet, or spending time with friends. We’re experts at distracting ourselves, and the urge to seek out distractions increases with the unpleasantness of the task.

  • Solution: Allow yourself to have distractions, but control when, and how long, you engage in them. You might give yourself 30 minutes of distraction time after three hours of work. Or, you might limit distractions to the evening after your work is done for the day.

2.  Procrastination. Distractions are one way of procrastinating, but there are countless ways to procrastinate. The general theme is that you’re doing something other than what you should be doing.

  • Solution: Be clear on what needs to be done and why.
  • Focus on just getting started, which is often the most challenging part of working.
  • Use a timer and see how much you can accomplish in 30 minutes.

3.  Indecisiveness. Indecisiveness is a success killer. When you can’t make up your mind, progress comes to a stop. If you wait until you have all the wisdom and information necessary to make the perfect choice, you’ll be waiting a long time. You have to pull the trigger and move forward.

  • Solution: Be clear on what needs to be done to accomplish your objective.
  • Give yourself a time limit. You might give yourself 10 minutes or a day to make a decision. Then just decide and do your best.

4.  Negative thoughts. For many people, the closer they get to success, the more negative thoughts they experience.

  • Solution: Take control of your mind and think thoughts that are useful to you. Cheer yourself on rather than criticize your actions.
  • Ignore the random noise of your mind. You don’t have to engage with your random thoughts. You can choose to ignore them.

5.  Focus on low-priority tasks. We like to work on our projects but avoid the most important tasks. The most important tasks are often the least enjoyable, so we avoid them. We tackle the less important tasks because it allows us to feel like we’re still making progress.

  • Solution: Have a list of tasks to do each day ordered from most important to least. Start at the top of your list and work your way down.

6.  Quitting. This is the ultimate way to sabotage your success. You can’t achieve anything if you quit before you’re successful. Many people have a habit of quitting right before achieving success.

  • Solution: Develop the habit of finishing what you start. Avoid caving into the fear that crops up when you’re about to find out if you were successful or not. Remember that you can always try again, regardless of the outcome.

Self-sabotage is a great problem to have because you don’t need to try to change anyone else. In fact, the entire issue is your responsibility! This might sound disheartening, but it’s easier to change yourself than it is to change someone else.

Remember this, the person responsible for your successes and failures is staring at you in the mirror each day.

Reflections

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.” — Margaret J. Wheatley

Making time this holiday season to reflect on the past year may feel like one more item to add to your ever-growing to do list, and the last thing you have time for.  However, stopping to reflect may be one of the most important things you do amidst the holiday hubbub.

Reflection simply means to give deep thought to something.  It’s not a fleeting, in-passing glance back, and isn’t to be confused with the goofy, quirky “Deep Thoughts” by Jack Handy on NBC’s television comedy, Saturday Night Live.  Reflection consists of stopping what we’re doing, pausing our current thought stream, and purposefully remembering past events, considering why they happened, how they happened, and pondering the outcomes.

“There is no greater journey than the one that you must take to discover all of the mysteries that lie within you.” – Michelle Sandlin

In a research study of employees in call centers, compiling the efforts of Francesca Gino, Giada Di Stefano, Bradley Staats, and Gary Pisano, it was discovered that employees who spent 15 minutes at the reflecting about lessons learned at the end of the day performed 23% better after 10 days than those who did not. [https://hbr.org/2017/03/why-you-should-make-time-for-self-reflection-even-if-you-hate-doing-it]. In the world of academia, researchers found the significance of reflecting on the student’s learning is undeniable . “It can naturally activate further engagement with learning material, deepen learners’ understanding of the topic and reinforce independent thinking and in that way create an effective learning environment.”[https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329203590_Theories_on_Self-Reflection_in_Education].

Reflecting is a positive choice any time of the year, but is especially beneficial as we wrap up the past 12 months and look ahead to 2020. Making time to reflect can add value in many ways. Here are just a few:

  • Forces us to slow down during a hectic time of year
  • Makes it possible to celebrate our achievements
  • Promotes gratitude
  • Helps us determine the things we don’t want to repeat in the coming year
  • Births creative ideas, helping us plan ahead for what’s next
  • Inspires others to reflect on their own lives
  • Connects us with those around us by remembering those who helped us along the way

As educational reformer John Dewey noted: “We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience.”

Need some ideas on which aspects of this past year to reflect on?  Consider some of these, for starters:

  • What went well?
  • Where did you miss?
  • What ‘made your heart sing’?
  • What made you laugh?
  • What scared you and why?
  • What are you most grateful for?
  • What (and who) inspired you with hope?
  • Who helped along the way?
  • Who do you wish you would’ve spent more time with?
  • Which accomplishment made you the most proud?
  • How did you overcome a particularly difficult challenge?
  • Who did you help?
  • What do you wish you would’ve done more of?
  • Who are you most grateful for?
  • Which activities were the best use of your time?

Most likely, reflecting on the above questions will prompt you to think of more questions of your own to reflect upon.  If you like to write, consider using a journal to document your thoughts, or record your responses on a voice recorder, or have an in-depth conversation with a trusted friend or colleague.

Doing so will help direct you toward a successful year ahead.

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.” — Peter Drucker

5 Ways to Build Confidence as Parents

Article submitted by guest author Brian Baker.

Self-esteem can be very tenuous. As parents, when our children fail it is easy to take it personally. The same principles apply to parents building confidence as to children who are developing confidence in themselves.

Building greater confidence and self-esteem takes practice. But, the results are well worth the time and effort. Stronger confidence benefits you in every area of your life.

Using these strategies will help you and your children develop greater confidence and self-esteem:

1.  Learn from mistakes and failure. It’s okay to fail. Failing is part of the learning process. This improves decision-making skills, enables one to think through long-term results of their choices, and accept feedback about their mistakes without feeling like a personal failure.

  • Parents are also learning something new with each child. The process is the same – you learn from mistakes and failures.

2.  See mistakes and failures as tools for success. Confidence comes from learning to trust our instincts, skills, and abilities. It is gained over time through both success and failure. It requires taking risks and dealing with consequences.

  • The more skilled our children become in making the right choices, the more confident they become.
  • If you regularly use mistakes as a tool for success, when your kids do fail or miscalculate, they learn that it was the thinking or process that was faulty, not the person. The same applies to you as a parent.

3.  Never stop learning. Parents are teachers. Your job is to prepare your child to be a successful young adult. It starts day one and never ends. You are not always going to get it right – nobody does.

  • Like your child, you learn as you do things and improve as you learn. Chances are that you’ll feel inadequate at times and make mistakes.
  • Own it. Be open about your mistakes and talk to your child about the lessons learned. They will benefit as much from your candid discussions as anything else you do.

4.  Think positive thoughts about yourself. If you struggle with low self-esteem, it’s important that you get help with that. Seek out a therapist if you need to. Your behavior and how you treat yourself is what your child absorbs.

  • If you stand in front of the mirror making negative comments about your body, berate yourself when you make a mistake, or judge others when they don’t meet your standards, your child will do the same.

5.  Learn to let it go. Move forward after you discuss lessons learned – yours and your child’s. It is information that you will use to calculate choices in the future.

  • If you dwell on it or label yourself, your child will do the same. “I made a mistake” can become “I am a mistake” if internalized. Get help if you need it. Perfectionism leads to additional challenges that neither of you need.

Practice these techniques daily with your children. The more you practice, the easier these behaviors become. Once they become a habit, you and your children are well on the path to having an automatic process that supports greater confidence and self-esteem each day.

 

What Services Do Servant Leaders Provide?

Article contributed by guest author Dennis Hooper.

Sometimes leaders ask if I help organizations understand and implement “servant leadership.” Maybe the individual has heard of the concept but can’t imagine how it functions, considering his or her current beliefs about leadership. I love exploring existing perspectives with inquisitive people, helping them see a more effective model and allowing them to adjust their leadership behaviors.

The most common image of leadership involves the traditional pyramidal hierarchy. Developed centuries ago, the corporate organization chart clearly identifies what portion of the empire each leader controls. “These people work for me” is the operative mental outlook. Within this framework, many leaders find it hard to consider “what can I do to serve them?”

So, let’s start thinking about servant leadership by representing the organization through a different model. Imagine how we might use a tree as a more appropriate organizational metaphor.

Visualize that the individuals who do the work on a day-to-day basis are the leaves. They are supported by the branches, which are the organization’s managers and supervisors. Top management is the trunk supporting the branches and leaves and delivering water and nutrients up from the roots. The trunk and branches provide substantial support for that portion of the organization where the “real work” is accomplished. When the winds of change blow, the trunk and roots provide stability, keeping the tree anchored firmly. The tree’s extensive root system collects revenue from customers, and the trunk delivers the needed capital equipment, raw materials, tools, and supplies to the leaves.

Through this simple paradigm shift, many individuals are immediately able to better understand the concept of servant leadership. The trunk and branches function collaboratively to ensure the health and growth of the twigs and leaves. A tree is a living organism; if any part becomes diseased, the life of the entire tree is in jeopardy.
If the organization remains healthy, the parts that do the “real work” are pushed higher, competing favorably with surrounding trees for sunlight. Growth, through increased production and reliability, is a natural desire among those doing the work. The trunk and branches grow only as much as is required to deliver the resources needed by the growing numbers of leaves.

Pyramids were never intended to grow; they were designed as tombs! Trees, however, are alive and beautiful. With apologies to Joyce Kilmer, “I think that I shall never see a pyramid lovely as a tree.”

Now, let’s consider the real-time services that you provide when you function as a servant leader. Let’s start with you as entrepreneur, gathering resources and sending up the first shoot. Leaves are added as survival seems viable. Growth occurs quickly in those first few years as the tender seedling seeks sunshine and manages to avoid consumption by insects and herbivores.

Once the organization matures, you as leader provide opportunity, resources, a healthy work environment, and clear expectations. Depending on the surroundings, you communicate direction so that everyone is empowered to achieve the inspiring vision of robust growth. When problems arise, you listen and collaborate to eliminate obstructions and obtain needed resources.

You offer coaching, feedback, respect, and expanded responsibilities. You inform everyone of the organization’s results and you invite new ideas. You offer encouragement, hope, balance, and clarity. You tell the truth. You plan so last-minute requests rarely occur. You keep promises that you’ve made. You ask people what they need, and you work to provide it.

Lest we take this model too far, let’s acknowledge that those doing the “real work” are accountable to your authority. However, the leaves rarely need to be reminded why they exist. They realize that their role–processing sunshine, water, and nutrients–is a critical function for the success of “the tree team.”

As a servant leader, you support and empower those who do the “real work” of the organization!

A Heart to Serve

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

I couldn’t believe my ears. Had I really heard her correctly?

The cold months had been rough on Bessie, our red Subaru, and piece by piece, with daily driving in the harsh winter weather, my little car seemed to be falling apart. We’d had her for about five years, after buying her already well-used. Day in and day out, she carried the kids and I to and fro on our daily errands, and many a road trip, but though she was still running, was showing a good deal of wear and tear. The sunroof was splintered, the windshield was littered with cracks, and the engine was running a little rough. The brakes had started to squeak, and thanks to the lack of mature driving skills from one of my newly licensed children, she now had a nice big dent in her fender. Our family has always driven old cars, and we tended to drive them into the ground, so this was nothing new. But it was a few days after I posted on my social media page about how I was using duct tape to hold a section of her bumper together, trying to be funny,  when the phone call came.

“We want to buy you a new car.”

It was a dear old friend from college days, a kind, giving soul who always has something encouraging to say. She and her husband had decided they wanted to lay down a large portion of money to buy the kids and I a new vehicle. Being just a few weeks before Christmas, they were determined to share their blessings with our family during the holiday season. After much protesting, I humbly accepted their generous offer and went car shopping.

Who buys a friend a car?!

I’ve known some extremely giving people in my life.  My parents sacrificed much to make sure my brothers and I had a happy, loving home to grow up in. An aunt assisted me in procuring a scholarship to help with college expenses. A university professor paid my way for the college ski outing. A kind lady in our church offered to make our wedding cake. Friends and family babysat our children when we needed some time out, and once the kids were old enough, the acts of kindness they’d offer often brought tears to my eyes. I’d find a hard-earned $20 of allowance money tucked into a homemade Mother’s Day Card, enjoy occasional breakfasts in bed, and welcome their offers to help with chores around the house.

“No one has ever become poor by giving.”― Anne Frank

Having a heart to serve others is a competency of emotional intelligence called service orientation. I like the use of the word, “orientation”. Miriam-Webster defines orientation as “a usually general or lasting direction of thought, inclination, or interest.” [https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/orientation] Note the words “usually general” and “lasting direction”. We’re not talking about a one-time do-a-good-deed for someone. Rather than a one-time service project, think of service orientation as a way of life. It’s having a mindset of anticipating, recognizing, and meeting others’ needs.

People who have a service orientation spend time getting to know others so they understand what their needs are. They are on the lookout to find new ways to increase satisfaction levels of those around them, and gladly make themselves available to offer assistance. They enjoy helping others and especially like providing assistance to the underdog. They have a knack for seeing things through the eyes of others and are quick to grasp perspectives different from their own.  People who are behave this way usually have a good deal of empathy.

“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know; the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”— Albert Schweitzer

Those who struggle with service orientation tend to think of themselves first and focus on their own needs before others. They’re not always the best team players and when asked for help, may do what’s required of them, but don’t often go above and beyond. They don’t stand up on the behalf of those around them and often speak poorly of others behind their back. These folks will often ‘pass the buck’ and even go so far as being discourteous and disrespectful.

Robert Greenleaf, author of the book Servant Leadership, observed that there are leaders who are in it for themselves and leaders who are in it for others. He concluded that those who put their focus on others were the most effective. According to Greenleaf, a servant leader must exhibit good listening skills, empathy, a desire to help heal those who are hurting, other-awareness, persuasion, conceptualization (the ability to dream), foresight, stewardship, commitment to helping others grow, and a heart for building community.

As with competencies of emotional intelligence, our ability to be of service to others can be developed and enhanced, no matter how far from having a service orientation we may be. From the ISEI Coaching Toolkit developed by Dr. Laura Belsten, here are some developmental tips to increase your service orientation:

  • Look for opportunities to be helpful, to be of service, to others
  • Anticipate and be aware of the needs of others; plan ahead to meet people’s needs if possible
  • Create a culture of service by modeling the behavior
  • Ask questions to understand another’s needs; act on or agree to a course of action
  • Under-promise and over-deliver; do more than expected
  • Follow through; check to ensure satisfaction

You may not ever have the opportunity to give someone a car, but there are many practical ways you can serve those around you, especially in the workplace. Here are some ideas: Offer a kind word of encouragement to your project manager, pick up a specialty coffee for a colleague, invite a coworker to lunch, thank your boss for her leadership, offer to help a team member on a project, ask your cubicle-mate about their weekend (and really listen). What else? Jot down a few ideas of your own then pick one to start with today. Taking an action to hep another is a great first step toward developing a service orientation.

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”
― Charles Dickens

8 Essential Components of Personal Transformation

Article contributed by Brian Baker.

Today we are talking about personal transformation. These 8 strategies can help you become the person you’ve always wanted to be.

1. Identify your core values. You won’t be happy if you create a big change that puts you in conflict with your values. Most people have never really taken the time to identify their values. Take a day to consider the values that are most important to you. Write them down.

2. Create a vision of the future. Think about the end result of the transformation you want to make. What would that look like? What direction would you like your life to take? Is your transformation reasonable for you? For example, you might not be able to make a trillion dollars, but you could still build great wealth.

3. Determine why. Why do you want to make this change? Create a long list of reasons why you want to transform. Get excited and dream big!

4. Identify the qualities and skills you’ll need to develop. If you want to transform your body, you might need to learn more about exercise physiology, nutrition, and develop some discipline. Consider what it will take to accomplish your transformation.

5. Identify the resources you’ll require. Do you need a personal trainer, gym membership, and a blender? Maybe you need money and a life coach for your transformation. Figure out the resources you’ll need.

6. Make a plan. Start at the end and keep working backwards until you reach a step that you can do today. Avoid worrying about every little detail of the future and work in the moment. Don’t get ahead of yourself.

7. Audit your plan. Imagine following your plan and note how you feel at each step. You’re bound to feel some emotional resistance at one or more points. If you didn’t, you would have made the transformation long ago.

a. It’s important to address each of the issues that creates emotional discomfort. You’re likely to quit if you don’t.
b. Either come up with a plan to work around those issues or just relax and let the negative feelings go.
c. You’ll know you’re in a good place when you find yourself chomping at the bit to get started. Procrastination is a sign that something is awry.

8. Don’t quit! This is the most challenging part for most people. You fail if you quit. You can’t fail if you don’t. Keep on going no matter how bleak things seem. You can always do better tomorrow than you did today. A little bit of progress each day or week is all you need.

Start your transformation today. Build a vision and create a plan. Stay the course until you’re satisfied with the changes you’ve made.

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