Archive for the ‘Executive Coaching’ Category

Ending the Year with Celebration

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

It’s been quite the year. The thought of looking back on 2020 with a celebratory outlook may seem like a joke. A bad joke. If I asked you to name for me all the negative things which have happened this past year, I’m guessing you could rattle off a dozen or two without effort. Me too. It makes sense that we may not find reason to celebrate this past year, in any shape or form.

But it’s no joke. Though the heartaches and disappointments we’ve experienced are very real–not to mention the powerful, negative emotions which accompanied them–they don’t encompass everything we’ve experienced. Sprinkled throughout the bad have been very good things, though they may take a little more work to remember. And learning to reflect on the positives alongside the negatives of this past year can have a great impact on how well we launch the coming year.

If you’ve been a human on this earth for very long, you are well aware that life is a jumble of joys and pains, happys and sads, positives and negatives. And without the lows we can’t fully experience the highs.

But be aware of this: our brains have a negative bias. Think about the last time you felt really, really discouraged or down. Maybe it was this morning. Did you notice how easy it was to ruminate on the negative, and how those thoughts affected other thoughts and actions you entertained during the negativity? It’s like we get tunnel vision and nothing seems to go well. It’s normal because our brains are wired to function this way. Kendra Cherry, in her article, “What is the Negativity Bias?”, notes, “It is the “bad things” that grab our attention, stick to our memories, and, in many cases, influence the decisions that we make.” In one study, researchers found that the cerebral cortex, the part of our brain which plays a key role in perception, awareness, thought, memory, and consciousness, registered a much strong response to negative images than positive ones. Originally, this leaning toward the negative was probably a survival adaption, in times when danger was ever-present. Those who were attuned to potential danger had a greater chance of survival. But for many of us, we no longer in constant physical harm. Yet the negative bias remains. If we’re not careful, this slant can have a harmful effect on our relationships and decision-making. [https://www.verywellmind.com/negative-bias-4589618]. Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, Director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at UNC-Chapel Hill, Founding Co-Chair of the Association of Positive Emotion Laboratories, and President of the International Positive Psychology Association, has done extensive research on the power of positive and negative emotions. Her work shows that negative emotions narrow our minds, to the point of seeing fewer options, diminishing our creativity and problem-solving skills, assets we most need when times are tough. [https://www.huffpost.com/entry/positive-thinking_b_351220].

“This bias toward the negative leads you to pay much more attention to the bad things that happen, making them seem much more important than they really are.” — Kendra Cherry

We also have the ability to choose a positive mindset, and make a choice to celebrate our wins, no matter how small or few and far between. And in doing so, we can begin to see our way through the tough times. I’ll never forget the example of this I experienced when I was in Africa, on a mission trip. Our small team paid a visit to a home (a one-room structure made of mud bricks with a dirt floor, which housed a family of seven), where one woman offered up the most heartfelt prayer of thanks I had ever heard. As she enthusiastically expressed her gratitude for their “overflowing and abundant blessings”, I looked around me and saw nothing but poverty…a rusted bicycle with a flat tire, the dilapidated house, children in ragged clothing with flies crawling on their dirt-encrusted skin, broken, cracked cooking pots, and an array of old, yellow gas cans scattered across the hard-packed ground, to be used for gathering water…yet she exhibited more joy than I had ever witnessed. This amazing woman chose to see the good aspects of her life and celebrate her wins despite her tough circumstances. She made a lasting impact upon me.

James Clear, in an article entitled, “The Science of Positive Thinking: How Positive Thoughts Build Your Skills, Boost Your Health, and Improve Your Work”, says this: “When you are experiencing positive emotions like joy, contentment, and love, you will see more possibilities in your life.” In turn, positive emotions allow us to build new skills and resources vital to navigating tough circumstances. [https://jamesclear.com/positive-thinking]

So, choosing to ruminate losses or celebrate wins is a choice. We get to decide which mindset we’ll make a part of our everyday routine, and no one can make the choice for us. If we decide to focus on what’s gone wrong, we’ll be walking in step with most humans who are bent on negativity. However, if developing a celebratory mindset is appealing, here are a few ways to get started:

Reflect on what went wrong. What went wrong? Yes, it’s a surprising one, but ignoring negativities won’t help. Acknowledging your struggles and allowing yourself to experience grief from losses can actually help you move forward. Write these down and/or find a close friend or counselor to talk through them with if needed.

Note the emotions you felt during the tough times. Try to name them, specifically, and connect each to the why. For example, you could say, “I felt disappointed, and angry, because my company let me go and I had live off of unemployment. This resulted in me feeling downhearted and cynical.”

With each wrong, list one good thing which came along with it. This may be a stretch to discover, but they are there. For example, if you lost your job, maybe you were able to get more sleep due to the extra time off work, which improved your physical health. Maybe the process sent you on a job search to find a career you actually enjoy. Possibly you were able to encourage others who were in the same shoes as you. Find the positive side effects of the negative events and write them down.

“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.” – Og Mandino

Express gratitude for the things that went south because of the joys which came along with them. There are many ways to express gratitude, but simply saying “Thank you” aloud is a good place to start. You could write an “I’m thankful for ____” list, or have a conversation with a friend and share your appreciation for the good and the bad with them.

Now remember all the things that went well. These may be as trivial as finding a mask in your coat pocket when you thought you’d forgotten to bring one to the grocery, or as grand as business successes or relationship wins. Write these down, tell them to a friend, add them to your journal. Be sure to acknowledge the people who contributed to your successes, and personally thank them.

Don’t underestimate the impact you are having on others. Even if you think others aren’t watching, you may be surprised how the simplest of actions affect others. Try this one on for size: Post a negative comment on your social media page and sit back and watch how many people chime in with negativity. On the flip side, phone a friend simply to let them know how much you appreciate them, and be specific with your words. Watch and see whether this causes them to feel discouraged or encouraged. Just as negativity breeds negativity, positivity breeds positivity. If not for yourself, embrace a positive mindset to encourage others.

“Just as despair can come to one only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings.” – Elie Weisel

Remember that adversity builds resilience. There’s the old fable of the donkey whose master no longer wanted him, so he threw the poor animal into a deep, dark pit and began scooping shovelfuls of dirt to bury him. Instead of letting this terrible act of unkindness defeat him, the ingenious donkey instead tamped the dirt down with his small hooves and built a staircase, upon which he used to ascend out of the dark pit. How can you repurpose the troubles of 2020 to construct solutions and climb out of your pit?

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.” – Nelson Mandela

Know that you are stronger than you think. Robert Schuller, pastor, motivational speaker, and author, once said, “Tough times never last, but tough people do.” Just as the positive emotions of joyful events eventually fades, so does the pain from losses. In other words, emotions come and go, but we are able to keep on keepin’ on. A 2002 study of widow and widowers proved this point, in which, barring those who experienced chronic grief, the data showed that most participants returned to their baseline of functioning after a year and a half. [https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1525/ctx.2006.5.4.22]. As my kids and I used to remind ourselves when times were challenging, “We can do hard things.”

Incorporating these practices into our day-to-day mindset won’t necessarily come naturally or easily. Embracing positivity takes effort, especially when the popular mindset is to focus on what’s gone wrong. But this shift can provide the fuel necessary to start the new year off on a good foot. Instead of looking back on 2020 as the worst year ever, consider reflecting on the past year in a new light. Find those positives — the new skills developed, the deeper connections built, the lessons learned, the insights incurred — and celebrate 2020 as the year you ________! (fill in the blank)

This positive-but-realistic mindset of celebration can frame the coming year with the fresh, innovative outlook needed to navigate what’s to come.

“It is only in our darkest hours that we may discover the true strength of the brilliant light within ourselves that can never, ever, be dimmed.” – Doe Zantamata

An unpopular way to inspire

In a world where everyone appears to be shouting loudly (whether verbally or through the written word in their social media posts) to push others to think differently and act differently, it can seem as if forcing one’s hand is the only way to bring about change.

How did this become the norm, and when did the art of inspirational leadership lose its foothold?

It was the 14th century when the word inspire first came into use, carrying much of the same meaning then which it does today: to influence, move, or guide, not by force, but by a divine power, empowering followers to action. It was a metaphorical use of its Latin root inspirare which means to breathe or blow into to create something new. We figuratively refer to this when we say things like, “that vacation was a much-needed breath of fresh air”, or when a particular confrontation is stifling, “I need to get some air”.

I can’t help but think of a blow-up life raft, which, when uninflated, is rather useless, but when filled with air, is capable of fulfilling its intended purpose of floating upon turbulent waters to carry its passengers where they need to be. Inspirational leadership is like that. It’s the act of breathing life into others so they are then capable of being their best self, not only fulfilling their intended purpose, but motivated to rise above to create and achieve great things.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, and do more, you are a leader.”

— John Quincy Adams

Back to the yelling. When you hear inflamed insults, name-calling, and outbursts of verbal venom spewing forth, do you feel inspired to dream more, learn more, and do more? Do you experience inspirare, your heart and soul filled and brimming over with the oxygen-rich motivation to become your best self and accomplish bigger, better things? Or instead, do the angry affronts leave you feeling rather deflated?

Inspirational leadership is the ability to mobilize individuals and groups by articulating a clear, compelling and motivational vision for the future. Those who possess this superpower (I jest, we all are capable of it, with some superpower effort!) are able to bring people together in unified efforts to reach an intelligible, enthralling objective. And one very effective way to do this is to be a servant leader.

Servant leader. It’s a phrase first coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970 in his essay The Servant as Leader. It’s not the most provocative phrase, is it? Where’s the passion, the persuasiveness, the power that we so often associate with leadership? For many, the word servant evokes images of weakness and ineffectiveness. If this is you, I challenge you to allow for a paradigm shift, for this humble, quieter style of leadership may very well be the most powerful breath of fresh air needed to inspire others.

Leaders who practice servant leadership focus on others’ needs and objectives, and seek to understand the why behind those needs and objectives. They are able to see and appreciate others’ perspectives. They actively look for ways to increase others’ satisfaction and make themselves available, with gladness, to offer assistance.

Think of someone you know who truly understands you, who ‘gets’ your hopes and dreams, and actively does as much as they can to help make them happen. They listen to you. They validate your viewpoints. They take time out to be with you, show an interest in your life, and truly care. When asked, they are happy to offer support to help you be successful. They celebrate your achievements and mourn your losses, by your side.

If you are so fortunate to have someone like this in your life, a servant leader, you understand the positive impact of the inspirare they provide. Imagine if all of us had these life-breathers encircling and lifting us up. In his article in the Small Business Chronical, Fraser Sherman outlines how servant leadership, in the workplace, can boost morale. He notes “Employees feel valued and they know you are looking out for them. That inspires them to work with more enthusiasm and [better] serve the customers, which benefits your bottom line.” Servant leaders also encourage a collaborative workplace, and provide a model of authenticity where employees, in turn, feel safe enough to be authentic, deepening levels of trust within the organization.

Palena Neale, Ph.D., writes in her Forbes article, “Why Servant Leadership is More Important Than Ever“, that our current “new normal” with different ways of operating, sickness, layoffs, furloughs, and at-home employees make this novel style of leadership vital. She writes, “Wider societal impacts include adverse effects on the global economy. This calls for a more comprehensive, communal leadership approach: leadership that is focused on serving others.”

In contrast, think of leaders you know who are not on the lookout for the needs of their teams. They focus on their own objectives and often diminish the needs of others. They don’t make time for those ‘beneath’ them, and when they do interact, they are distracted, quick to give quick, “off the shelf” advice or solutions, hurrying the conversation along. They fail to go above and beyond, and team members find themselves saying things like, “I hate to bother you…” or “I’m sorry to take your time but…” at the start of any ask. These individuals tend to speak poorly of others (leaving you to wonder what they say about you when you’re not there), point blame away from themselves, and rarely stand up for the underdog.

Sadly, leaders such as this leave their teams feeling deflated and discouraged.

“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

It’s easy to point the finger at those in leadership. “If only leaders would figure this stuff out!”, we say in exasperation. However, we’re talking about emotional intelligence here — that ability to exhibit self-awareness and self-management, and tune into others’ emotions and manage our relationships with them appropriately. If you’re ever tried to control someone else’s behavior, you probably know how well that turns out. We can only change ourselves. So instead of waiting on those who bear the title, let’s instead take the brave task of looking inward as to how we can improve our own inspirational leadership skills. Here are a few tips to get started:

  • Get to know people. Ask others how they are doing and really stop to listen. Use open-ended questions to understand the why behind their needs, hopes, dreams. One of my favorite coaching questions, after someone has shared, is,”What else?”
  • Keep an eye out for small ways you can be of service to others. Open the door for someone, offer up the best parking space, spend an extra 5 minutes listening. Offer to buy a colleague’s coffee. Give a sincere compliment. These little gives can help build a new habit of service.
  • Schedule time for others. I know you’re busy. We all are. If it helps, set aside a small amount of time each week on your calendar as ‘Others’ time, so doing something for others actually DOES fit into your schedule.
  • Adopt a yes attitude for a while. When others make requests, think how you CAN help them instead of all the reasons you can’t. If it’s a no, it’s a no, but before you commit to the no, consider alternate ways you could turn it into a yes.
  • Keep your promises. Nothing sucks the air out of someone like a broken promise. Be realistic in what you can do and if you do agree to help someone, make that the priority. You will always have ‘better’ things come up…other opportunities and demands which compete for your time and attention. Though those things may be more attractive — stick to your word.
  • Become an over-deliverer. It’s one thing to meet someone’s needs, but going above and beyond can inspire others to new heights. Again, start small. If someone needs five minutes of your time, offer them ten. If they ask to have coffee, take them out to lunch. If they need an hour off work to tend to stressful events at home, if possible, tell them to take the day.
  • Develop the habit of follow-up. We all appreciate it when someone gives us the time of day, but if it’s a one-off incident, the value of that connection begins to fade with time. Follow up with them. Check in with them, and ask about details you discussed last time. If you’re one of those people who says, “I’m not good with names — let alone details!”, write down the things they share with you and review before your next encounter.

Servant leaders have a desire to be the change someone else needs. These days, it’s not the most popular way of leading, and surely won’t get you a lot of attention. And for most of us, it doesn’t come naturally, and it doesn’t come easily. But it is a skill set worth developing. Not only will your efforts breathe life into those around you to be their best, they just may inspire you to discover your own purpose and direction as well.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

— Mahatma Gandhi

The road to resilience

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

These are tough times, worrisome times, exhausting times. For many, taking the path of least resistance can seem like a good choice as we navigate the road ahead. However, a tough go of it may be the very thing needed to help us build a competency of emotional intelligence which is vital to our ability to thrive during these stressful times.

This competency is resilience. Resilience is the ability to recover and bounce back after tough circumstances. It’s represented by perseverance and a “don’t quit” attitude in the face of setbacks. It’s the ability to cope with difficult circumstances, move past hurdles, and be resourceful when resources are limited. Those who are resilient are able to rebound quickly from disappointments. They tend to be flexible, adaptable, and open to change. They see setbacks as temporary and failures as isolated, short-term events.

People who exercise resilience may experience the same negative, stressful situations as the next person. It’s not a lack of negative circumstances which cause them to fare well, it’s the ability to adapt and keep going.

Laura Malloy, the Successful Aging program director at the Harvard-affiliated Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, says resilience is associated with longevity, lower rates of depression, and greater satisfaction with life. “There’s a sense of control, and it helps people feel more positive in general,” she says. [https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/ramp-up-your-resilience]

On the other hand, those who are not resilient tend to see failures as permanent. They demonstrate inflexible thinking, dwell in the past, and become frustrated when change is required. These individuals tend to get ‘stuck’ and can’t move forward when creative, innovate ideas are needed in the midst of tough circumstances. They tend to engage in negative self-talk when things go poorly. We often describe this as a ‘victim mentality’.

Most worthwhile things in life take work. Think back on the last thing you accomplished which you are most proud of. Was it an easy road to get there, or did it take hard work? Most likely, your success required a great deal of perseverance, trouble-shooting, and resourcefulness. There were probably times when you wanted to quit — but you didn’t. 

“Show me someone who has done something worthwhile, and I’ll show you someone how has overcome adversity.” — Lou Holtz

Instead, you made a choice to stick with it, despite the challenges. One of the most beautiful things about competencies of emotional intelligence, such as resilience, is they can be developed and broadened with the choice to do the work. So if you struggle with resilience, rather than waving the white flag and throwing in the towel, consider choosing to take one small step in a new direction.

Here are a few places to start down the road to resilience:

  • Practice healthy living. It sounds simple, but if you’re not getting sufficient sleep, or eating nutritious meals, or getting physical exercises, it can be tough to develop a resilient mindset.
  • Note your negative self-talk. Engaging in negative self-talk is a good way to tear down your resilience. Take note of when these conversations take place and look for patterns. Is there someone in particular who triggers this negative talk? Why might that be? See if you can’t isolate the negative talk and ask yourself, “Is this belief based upon facts? What evidence do I have to back it up? Is this belief serving me and others well? What is a different way I could view this situation?” 
  • Replace negative self-talk with positive affirmations. State your goals with “I can…” or “I am…” or “I will..” sentences which give credence to your ability to be successful. Write them down. Say them out loud. Share them with a friend.
  • Remind yourself that setbacks are temporary and need not be viewed as long term and permanent. Picture each challenge as a hurdle which can be jumped over, instead of a brick wall which will bring you to a halt. Envision yourself leaping over that hurdle and moving forward.
  • Look to others who are resilient. Identify people in your life who exercise resilience and learn from them. Ask them how they move forward when they face obstacles. Seek out their advice and ask them to share stories of times when they persevered.
  • Don’t go it alone. Surround yourself with a team of  people who support your efforts to become more resilient. Shy away from those who validate you as being a victim and instead, seek out others who know the value of hard work and aren’t afraid to tackle hard things. These could be colleagues, managers, family members, friends, a coach, etc.

“We can do hard things”. — Anonymous

Building a resilient mindset takes work and time. Allow yourself mistakes along the journey, being quick to forgive yourself and others, and keep that chin up, always looking ahead. When you stumble, remind yourself that everyone gets tripped up from time to time. When you fall, get back up and keep moving. The road to resilience is tough, but the reward is worth the effort.

Leading with a coach approach

“The greatest good you can do another is not just share your riches, but reveal to him his own.” — Benjamin Franklin

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Very few situations create more resistance than the tasks we’re forced to do. Maybe it’s tracking expenses, or meeting with someone who makes you uncomfortable, or having to reach a sales quota to keep your job. When we have to do something, we often don’t want to, and find every excuse to avoid it. But when we’re motivated  and inspired to accomplish something, especially by intrinsic motivation (the type which draws from our internal values, resulting in ‘feel good’ rewards), we can hardly wait to get started.

More often than not, inspiration does not happen in isolation. Our motivation usually comes from others, often from someone in a leadership position. Think of the last great thing you accomplished. Did you complete the entire feat alone, or were there others who were part of the process, possibly by your side every step of the way, encouraging, bolstering, and inspiring you to be successful?

Some people seem to be gifted with the ability to see other’s potential and take action to help them be the best they can be.  In reality, the skill set they possess can be learned. These rare specimens show a genuine interest in helping others, and take the time it takes to thoroughly understand others’ hopes and dreams. They are able to help others recognize their strengths and also their areas of growth, understand their personal and professional values, and guide others toward moving past hurdles which may be tripping them up. They are able to give constructive and timely feedback when needed, and truly have a heart for the long-term development of others as they stretch toward excellence.

We call these people coaches, or mentors. And when these qualities show up in a leader, we’re inspired. Jack Welch said this, “Being a leader changes everything. Before you are a leader, success is all about you.  It’s about your performance, your contributions, about getting called upon and having the right answers. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.  Your success as a leader comes not from what you do but from the reflected glory of the people you lead.”

The old style of leadership where the boss has all the answers can prove to be very demeaning to those who work with him/her.  When teammates don’t feel like they have a voice, or the environment is not a safe place to exercise their voice, they soon will shut down and not speak up.  This quickly makes the idea pool quite shallow. Because innovate employees are often some of the best, they will no longer be interested in working there.

How can you tell if you’re an old-style leader?  If you can say yes to the following, you may want to shift how you manage others:

  • You direct, dictate, and do most of the talking
  • You presume and assume
  • You manages only for results
  • You solve problems in isolation
  • When things go awry, you assign blame

“Sometimes a person just needs a little inspiration or a different thought to get them propelled in the right direction”. — Tondeleya Allen

On the other hand, leading with a coach approach can inspire and empower your best employees. What is a coach approach? Coaching is a developmental process designed to help individuals and teams achieve and sustain top performance in support of the organization’s goals. It’s a venue for promoting discovery, learning, growth and higher levels of performance. It’s a collaborative effort where the coach serves as a strategic thinking partner, and manager and employee think and plan together. Think of it as an ongoing partnership, a sustained alliance.

Those who lead with a coach approach tend to:

  • guide, empower, and listens a lot
  • explore and discover
  • manage the development of employees
  • create partnerships with employees to collaboratively solve problems
  •  take responsibility when things go awry.

Learning to lead with a coach approach is about understanding the needs of those who work with you.  Here are a few things that people are looking for in someone who is managing them. They want to:

  • Know what is expected of them
  • Have the opportunity to do their best every day
  • Make a contribution
  • Be recognized for their work
  • Have someone at work care enough to encourage their development
  • Have their opinions count and be heard
  • Have the opportunity to learn and grow
  • Be respected

There are many benefits of being a leader who inspires others to be their best. First of all, it makes the manager’s job easier and reduces turnover and associated cost. It increases productivity, improves work quality, and promotes innovation (because the environment is a safe place to take risks). It provides clarification of the manager’s expectations, and “stretches” people to reach for bigger goals, to name a few.

In other words, people who are led with a coach approach become satisfied, engaged employees. Research shows that organizations with above-average employee satisfaction scores also had:

  • 38 percent higher customer satisfaction scores
  • 22 percent higher productivity
  • 27 percent higher profits

Learning to incorporate a coach approach to leadership can help you go from being a good leader to a great leader.  And along the way, you’ll be able to bring others along with you toward that greatness.

“Great leaders can inspire their people to unprecedented feats, convey grand visions of the bright future that beckons, rally the people to heroic efforts in defense of their country or their beliefs.” — Will Peters

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 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

The pursuit of “perfection” can lead to “procrastination”

 

Article contributed by guest author Stephanie Wachman.

Striving to be perfect has its good side, but let’s be honest: perfectionism, paradoxically, can paralyze us and zap productivity. It often leads to missed opportunities, blown deadlines, massive stress, and frustration with ourselves and others. If we can learn to tame the voice in our head that says, “It’s still not good enough,” then we can free up our minds and schedules to conquer other important tasks and initiatives. The net result of “perfection” is usually “procrastination”.

If you have a pattern of blowing deadlines or not starting on a project, ask yourself why you are holding off. From my experience in working with professionals I have heard three consistent answers.

  • I’m not sure what I’m doing
  • I don’t know where to start, and
  • I’m not sure it will be good enough

By holding off on starting a big project or by frequently missing deadlines, you are actually sabotaging yourself and your success. Ask yourself if you have a pattern of behavior that causes you to hold back on delivering work on time.  Some of us are willing to accept the consequences of being slapped on the wrist for a blown deadline then the risk of turning in work we think is “imperfect”.  I refer to this predicament as Perfection Paralyses.

Although you won’t find this syndrome in the official book of psychological disorders, this is a real problem that’s not easy to overcome—unless you are perfect.

The pursuit of “perfection” can be an elusive ideal as “perfection” is hard to define for ourselves but ultimately leads to procrastination.

4 tips to overcome procrastination:

Sometimes good is good enough:  In some cases, doing a good enough job is the right choice, especially when you consider the consequences of not meeting your commitments.

Find a starting point: When you are overwhelmed with the task at hand, start by making a list of all the things you have to do pertaining to the project. Drill down as far as you can go and then pick one item to start with.  Often, we just need to get started somewhere in order to get the work flow going.

Set a timer: Blocking a short period of time on your calendar and setting a time for it will help you with focus. Make it into a challenge, where you play beat the clock.  I often say that if you are really blocked then start with 20 minutes and just begin with brainstorming.  This will warm up the mind and get thoughts flowing.

Ask for help:  If you have taken on a project that is more than you can handle or you are truly not equipped to do it, then find someone who can help you.  It might even be a colleague who isn’t in your office. Asking for help can be a lifeline when you need it most.

Getting past procrastination and the consequences that go along with it will help you improve your work performance as well as decrease stress.  Leaving things undone can increase the amount of frustration and disappointment you have in yourself. The good news is you can overcome it by being deliberate in how you take steps to get beyond it.

Why Empathy Matters

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

Not feeling it

She theatrically shared her sob story, voice cracking from the flood of emotion, complete with a long, pregnant pause to regain her composure. I squirmed uncomfortably in my hard, metal seat and inwardly rolled my eyes. Oh, the drama. The presenter struggled through her testimony and I struggled with listening–caring. Her situation seemed easy to me, and not worth the eruption of emotional energy she was giving it.

I turned my head toward my colleague with a smirk, knowing she’d share my lack of enthusiasm at this flagrant show of sentiment. I was surprised to see she had a big, fat tear trickling down her cheek. She quickly brushed it away and reached in her purse for a tissue. As I looked around, I noticed others in the audience sniffling and dabbing their eyes. They, like my colleague, were feeling what the speaker was feeling, displaying compassionate listening skills.

I was not.

What is empathy?

Empathy is the ability to sense others’ feelings and take an active interest in their perspectives and concerns. It’s that ability to put yourself in another’s shoes and respond in a way that creates connection and understanding within your relationship. People who are good at this are able to tune into a wide array of emotional signals. They can sense underlying emotions that the other may be trying to hide. They show sensitivity to how the other is feeling and respond in a way that makes the other person feel understood, valued, and heard.

Those of us who aren’t so good at it tend to be judgmental and stereotype others before we have all the facts. We misunderstand how others are feeling and are quick to evaluate their actions based upon our criteria–not theirs.  As a result, we tend to act in a way that may crush another’s spirit and come across as indifferent or uncaring, which can cripple a relationship.

Before you cast your judgment upon me for my obvious lack of this vital competency of emotional intelligence, know that it reared its ugly head at a time in my life when I was younger, more focused on myself and my needs, with an inability to understand what others were suffering–mainly because I hadn’t lived much of my own life yet. Research shows that when we are in comfortable situations it is more difficult to empathize with someone else’s suffering. “At a neurobiological level – without a properly functioning supramarginal gyrus – the part of the brain that decouples perception of self from that of others  — your brain has a tough time putting itself in someone else’s shoes.”[https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201310/the-neuroscience-empathy] .

“Maturity begins to grow when you can sense your concern for others outweighing your concern for yourself.”  — John MacNaughton

Little did I know that just around the corner, I’d soon be in dire need for the empathy I didn’t yet know how to offer others.

Empathy is vital

Learning to perceive the internal frame of reference of another with accuracy and meaning, without losing the ‘as-if’ mentality — as if the same thing could happen to me — is a skill that is valuable to the health of our relationships.  It enables us to “share experiences, needs, and desires between individuals and providing an emotional bridge that promotes pro-social behavior.” [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5513638/]. Empathy leads to helping shift behaviors which benefit us socially. “When people experience empathy, they are more likely to engage in pro-social behaviors that benefit other people. Things such as altruism and heroism are also connected to feeling empathy for others.” [https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-empathy-2795562].

Empathy is considered the missing link when it comes to strong connections in our families, schools, and workplaces. “Without empathy”, says Julie Fuimano,  certified coach, writer and speaker, “people tend to go about life without considering how other people feel or what they may be thinking. We are so limited when we only see our own perspective. Without taking a moment to assess another, it is easy to make assumptions and jump to conclusions which leads to misunderstandings, bad feelings, conflict, poor morale, and broken relationships.” [https://www.healthecareers.com/article/healthcare-news/the-importance-of-empathy-in-the-workplace].

It wasn’t but a few short months after that conference that my own set of struggles–which all of us encounter in this thing called life–began to take me down. My emotions were a raw, raucous roller coaster of highs and lows, and I could see no light at the end of the tunnel.  I couldn’t see my way ahead and my days became filled with pretending and my nights filled with worry. I noticed some friends started avoiding me. They’d tell me they were there for me, and some even went so far to say they were praying for me, but they sure didn’t want to hang around me.  I felt alone and questioned my self-worth.

“If there is any great secret of success in life, it lies in the ability to put yourself in the other person’s place and to see things from his point of view — as well as your own.” — Henry Ford

Oh, what I would’ve given for someone to assure me, “Of course you’re feeling that way. I get it.  And it’s OK.” Where were all the empaths when I needed them?! It was as if no one really cared. It’s not surprising that only around 20 percent of the population is genetically predisposed toward empathy, based upon a study published in the Brain and Behavior journal. [https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322189.php].  The good news, though, is that empathy is a competency of emotional intelligence, a behavior, and can be learned, even if we our natural tendencies don’t lend toward us shedding tears.

8 Ways to Increase your Empathy

  1.  Work on your listening skills. Listening is key to empathy, so practice quieting your mind when others are talking and really tune in to what they are saying, both verbally and non-verbally.
  2. Go beyond the words. When someone is speaking, search for the meaning behind their words, body language, and approach, to figure out what their underlying purpose and concerns are.
  3. Stop what you’re doing. When someone approaches you to share their heart, try to stop what you’re doing by looking at them, turning away from your computer, and putting down your phone.
  4. Find the emotions. What is the other person feeling?  Try to name the emotions they are experiencing and connect them to your own emotions.
  5. Paraphrase.  Check your understanding of what’s being said by repeating back to them what you think you heard.  “What I heard was…” or “It sounds like you’re….” are great ways to paraphrase what they said.
  6. Withhold judgment. Even if you agree with nothing that was said, try to be supportive of their viewpoint by letting them know you value their opinion.  Let them know that though you may believe differently, you still respect them for the way they are feeling and thinking.
  7. Think back. Reflect upon a time when you were hurting, or struggling with a tough situation.  Do you remember who helped you find your way?  Who was it who made you feel heard and understood, and what did they do to make you feel that way? Attempt to emulate their behavior as you work with others.
  8. Remind yourself that we’re all in this together.  It’s rare that someone close to you can go through a rough time without it affecting you and others.  Consider doing a compassion meditation to develop a greater understanding of how similar we all really are.

My own empathy has grown and developed since those heartless days. And though I have a long way to go, I can say that after years of work, I’m now often the first one crying in the room. If you struggle with empathy, see if you can’t choose just one of the above steps to start practicing this week.  After a few weeks, move on to another step, and so on. Journal about each step and reach out to others to talk about your progress. It takes work, but if you want to have meaningful, deep relationships, and make an impact on others as a leader, it’s a trait worth developing.

Managing Work-Related Stress with EQ

Article contributed by guest author Deb Westcott.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is critical to being able to manage stress. Out of all the major EQ competencies, the most powerful tool at your disposal is self-awareness. It allows you to know what your body is telling you, as well as be mindful of how you are adapting internally to outside stressors such as headaches, muscle tension, unsupportive self-talk, worry, and fatigue.

Here are 8 simple things you can do from the comfort of your own desk to combat stress every day:

1. Deep Breathing
The no. 1 most important and most successful stress reducer— resets your body and produces a physiological response.

2. Engage Your Senses
Listening to music, using scented lotion or candles, looking at vacation pictures, playing with stress balls – all of these actions reduce cortisol and increase oxytocin, which disrupts the stress reaction in your body.

3. Visualize a Happy Place
Seriously! It changes your mindset and hits the “restart” button in your body.

4. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
A long phrase for listening to where your body is hurting and actively working on relaxing those muscles, one by one. Roll your shoulders, stretch your arms above your head, touch your toes.

5. Laugh
Laughing not only releases endorphins and fosters brain connectivity— it tends to be contagious!

6. Take a Break
(Okay, so there’s one of these that you shouldn’t do at your desk.) Stand up, walk outside, and let your eyes focus on something in the distance. A change of perspective can do you good!

7. Self-Awareness
Stop, listen to what you are saying to yourself, and make sure it’s supportive and positive.

8. Change How You Communicate With Others
Say no, set boundaries, be assertive, and ask for help.

Unless we are present, our bodies and minds react to stress. Knowing ourselves and creating a pro-active plan to reduce stress is our best tool.

Five Ways The Most Effective Leaders Manage Their Emotions

The best managers know how to keep their emotions in check and focus on building a healthy team.

Article submitted by guest author Harvey Deutschendorf

Five Ways The Most Effective Leaders Manage Their Emotions
[PHOTO: H. ARMSTRONG ROBERTS/CLASSICSTOCK/GETTY IMAGES]

Soft skills have garnered increasing attention in the workplace over the last 20 years. In fact, emotional intelligence is one of the fastest growing job skills, according to a report by the World Economic Forum.

Ironically, those are the very skills hiring managers say the latest crop of college graduates lacks as they’ve focused on honing their technological prowess. Yet managing our emotions effectively in the workplace is a major component of success for all of us.

Emotions running amok can damage those who work directly with us. Although employees may get away with an occasional lapse in emotional control, leaders are not afforded that leeway. A leader who is not managing his or her emotions well can wreak severe havoc on an organization, seriously damaging employee morale, retention, and ultimately the bottom line. Every reaction–positive or negative–will have consequences for all those who are under them and effect the overall success of the company.

Here are five ways effective leaders manage their emotions.

1. THEY KNOW WHEN AND HOW TO SHARE

It isn’t necessary or healthy for leaders to be unemotional robots and keep all their feelings inside. Effective leaders are able to use their emotions to connect with others through their ability to share the feelings that enhance relationships with their direct reports.

Whether an employee is feeling joy over a successful sales week or sadness over a family member passing, an effective leader is able to express emotions to let that person know they are connecting with them on a heart level.

While their emotions are under control, they know what to express and how much to let out in the circumstance. For example, if someone just lost a family member, the manager could express how they felt when they lost someone close to them and how good it felt to be supported. Then, they could ask the grieving person if they needed anything. Depending on the closeness of the relationship, they could put a hand on the person’s back or shoulder, or offer a hug.

2. THEY DO WHAT’S RIGHT INSTEAD OF WHAT’S POPULAR

There are many instances when leaders are tempted to make popular decisions as these will bring them instant feelings of relief from a pressing and difficult situation. However, effective managers overcome the urge to give in to what is popular and opt for what is right. This requires a great deal of self-confidence and courage.

If a particular unpopular employee was being subjected to ridicule and being ostracized, the manager could support that employee and confront his or her coworkers in order to stop the behavior. This may cause resentment from the offender, but it enforces the idea that bullying isn’t tolerated, and that’s more important for effective managers than being popular.

3. THEY TRUST THEIR INTUITION

When struggling with a decision, effective managers are able to tune into and use their gut instincts to make decisions, even though there may be compelling reasons for not doing so. That’s because they’ve relied on intuition in the past and trust it will be the best guide when there isn’t an obvious answer.

For example, they might make a decision to hire someone outside of the company who they feel would be a great fit instead of promoting someone from the inside who is popular, but doesn’t have the vision or initiative to take on the new role.

4. THEY ROUTINELY FIGHT APATHY, INERTIA, AND PROCRASTINATION

Ever have a day when you felt like doing very little, leaving things undone until later, or the next day? Perhaps you’re feeling tired, or just having a bad day or week. We’ve all had those days.

Leaders share this struggle but don’t have the luxury of giving in. Others depend on them to take action and get things done–even when they don’t they feel like it. They’ve disciplined themselves to do whatever it takes, regardless of how they feel. If they need to have a difficult conversation with an employee or customer, they’ll go through with it even if they’re tempted to put it off for another day.

5. THEY LOOK FOR SOLUTIONS, NOT SOMEONE TO BLAME

One of the easiest traps to fall into is to avoid responsibility when things aren’t going well. Poor leaders look for ways to shift the blame to others when things go wrong. It’s easier to avoid responsibility by pinning it on others or on outside circumstances–but that isn’t leadership.

Effective leaders immediately begin to look for solutions. They find out what went wrong to avoid the same problem in the future. They’re more interested in using the failure as a learning opportunity and moving on from it, rather than spending time and energy looking for scapegoats.

Often the reason for the problem is a breakdown in communication between leaders and those assisting them. Effective leaders find out where that happened and readily admit that their instructions may not have been clear enough.

This also creates an opportunity to reassure employees who are reluctant to admit they didn’t understand for fear of appearing stupid, and let them know their boss won’t think less of them for asking for clarification. It’s crucial for good managers not to show any signs of frustration if what they thought was a straightforward request wasn’t understood at first.

Effective leaders are acutely aware of their feelings and know their responsibilities toward staff, customers, and the organization. This isn’t easy–it takes effort. But they’ve worked on themselves to develop their abilities to keep their emotions in check when necessary and show them when the situation calls for it.

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