“Executive Coach Teaches Companies to Grow, Diversify”. Feature article in Pasadena Outlook.
“Executive Coach Teaches Companies to Grow, Diversify”. Feature article in Pasadena Outlook.
If someone had told me back in high school that one day I would be sharing my life experiences with business professionals, or a group of soon to be graduating high school seniors, I would have responded that that would be highly unlikely. In high school I didn’t think enough about the impact I could have on those around me or the world. This is a letter I am writing to you about the life lessons you will learn in the near future.
1. Understand the importance of knowing yourself and your personal values. Many are not given the opportunity to pursue their passions in life. Either we are told very early in life that we should have certain interests, certain friends, we should attend certain schools or universities, we should have an interest in a particular profession. You will be told, either overtly or implicitly, that your choices aren’t perhaps the best idea — that they are not the typical and known path. I am not eschewing listening to others. It is a wonderful thing to receive guidance and advice from family and friends. No one, however, will know you better than you know yourself! Hold fast to your values and let the knowledge of yourself guide your decisions.
2. Life is unpredictable. What I want to communicate is the fact that you will experience adversity, setbacks and even direct opposition. Do not be afraid of experiencing the realities of life. Wrestling through setbacks and opposition produces individuals who are able to cope with life when it doesn’t go as planned. Don’t complain or wallow in disappointment or self-pity when this happens, know that these seeming setbacks are shaping and building your character.
3. Ask yourself, what are you doing for others, and what impact are you having on those around you? Are you a force for good? Be authentic, caring deeply about people, while creating a climate where people are cared for, understood, supported and challenged. What you do matters and deeply affects others. Be intentional about your actions and words.
As I look back over my life, there are a few things I believe that have made me into the person I am today and define success for me. Knowing myself — separating who I am and who I want to be from what the world thinks I am and wants me to be — allowed me to define success on my own terms. Taking time to cultivate healthy relationships allowed me to have true friends, who supported me on the path toward success. Lastly, asking myself what I can do for others and what impact I had on those around me enabled me to help others reach success. Keep this in mind, “One cannot lead a life that is truly excellent without feeling that one belongs to something greater and more permanent than oneself.”
See you in the future!
Your future self
This post was adapted from David Llewelyn Samuels keynote address at Flintridge Prep Senior Horizons Retreat
“Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” —Peter Drucker
Coaching with empathy means putting people first. Leaders who coach have a responsibility to guide and care for those they lead, remembering each individual has unique experiences and value to contribute.
Along the path of business and revenue goals it is easy for leaders to lose sight of their people. Has empathy been thrown out the window of your lowest performing employee’s review? Do you seek to understand the context of your team, leading to authentic understanding of team dynamics, strengths, and weaknesses?
Leaders have the power to influence the mental and physical health of employees as well. This influence greatly impacts an employee’s level of engagement and commitment to a job. Interpersonal relationships with leaders carry weight, affecting the entire being of an individual. Bob Sutton, of Good Boss, Bad Boss states, “Having a good boss decreases your chances of getting a heart attack.” Leaders illicit performance on both micro and macro levels. When leaders are putting people first, they are creating a workspace where humanity and concern for employees is the actual walk, not just the talk.
When coaching, articulate employee strengths while addressing liabilities. Be sure, however, to not do this in a punitive way. Instead, approach these topics in a manner that is reflective of constructive criticism and empathy. Dr. Helen Weiss gives practical coaching advice, through the acronym E.M.P.A.T.H.Y, on how to do just so:
Eye contact: Usually the first indication we have been noticed by someone (although culturally this may vary). Individuals want to be seen; understood; appreciated. Eye gaze is the first step toward communicating that another individual has been seen.
Muscle/facial expression: Our faces are a roadmap of human emotions. How do our faces express needs/wants/warning.
Posture: Posture signals if we are approachable or not.
Affect: Affect orients ourselves to the emotional experience of a person as it is the expressed emotion of an individual.
Tone-of-voice: Tonality is emotionally activated. A crack in the voice of someone who is about to cry; the edge in an angry voice.
Hearing the whole person: Understanding the context in which others live. Keep curiosity open until we understand.
Your response: People absorb the feelings of others. Our inner experience and feelings mirrors those of others, because that is what is required for authentic, interpersonal interaction.
While employing the E.M.P.A.T.H.Y. technique, also practice a deeper level of listening by removing assumptions and listening carefully. Respond thoughtfully by uncovering answers through inquiry, openness and exploration. Ask employees and individuals what else they could do/who else is affected by the situation/and what else occurs to them. Lastly, resist imposing personal solutions. While personal solutions have an appropriate time and place, coaching is about helping to empower individuals to come to a conclusion.
Finally, when coaching employees through empathetic leadership employ the artful critique. Daniel Goleman states, “The artful critique focuses on what a person has done and can do rather than reading a mark of character into a job poorly done.” To do this:
Brene Brown reminds us, “empathy is a choice where we have to dig in ourselves and choose to feel something to connect with the individual.” How can you develop an empathic approach?
Over the holidays I took some time to reflect on some of the highlights of 2016. One of those highlights was a conversation with my son, a senior in high school, on the topic of self discovery, identity, and self-actualization. I was a little surprised by how much he had thought about who he’s becoming, and how clear he was about his personal ideology and identity. During our conversation, I realized that he was essentially quoting the famous Oscar Wilde, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”
In my coaching practice, it is very common to discuss the leadership challenges of running an organization, managing teams, and developing individuals. It is equally common for me to ask questions that get at intrinsic motivation, personal values and purpose. When I think about new years resolutions, I believe that we have good intentions, but we may be approaching these things without reflecting on the deeper principles behind them. What do I mean by this? As I talked to various people about their new resolutions, it became clear to me that almost all of them fell into two categories; do less, or do more! For example: drink less, exercise more; spend less money, save more money; less soda, more tea; less ungratefulness, more gratitude; less worrying, more hoping.
Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing more noble things and less ignoble things, but I question if these resolutions are too superficial? Is there something more primal to get after with our resolutions? I’d like to suggest a different approach, and that approach is to begin the process of self-discovery in 2017. Self discovery means many things. It means finding your purpose in life (we all have a purpose), it means digging into your childhood and revealing the experiences that shaped you…good and bad. It means realizing what your beliefs are and then living by them. Or as the American English Dictionary defines it, “ a becoming aware of one’s true potential, character, motives, etc.”
I’d like to suggest that the journey of self-discovery will be far more rewarding than the short-term resolutions (they do have their place), and ultimately will lead you to a) greater self-actualization — the realization or fulfillment of one’s talents and potentialities; and b) greater self-awareness — the capacity for introspection and ability to recognize oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals. To embark on this journey, you must think holistically about yourself by asking the following:
Having begun the journey of self-discovery many years ago, I fully embraced Socrates famous saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” And as Warren Bennis states, “Until you make your life your own, you’re walking around in borrowed clothes.” So I encourage you to discover your authentic and true self this year, because the more we know about ourselves and our world, the freer we are to achieve everything we are capable of achieving.
When you walk into a room – can you read it? How well can you gauge the perceptions, feelings, emotions, needs of those around you? As an individual, are you self and socially aware, sensing need around you, while harnessing an empathetic approach? These all are key qualities of Emotional Intelligence.
Emotional Intelligence (EQ) was made popular by Daniel Goleman and is rising in both personal and professional capacities. According to World Economic Forum Future of Jobs report, Emotional Intelligence will be one of the top 10 job skills in 2020. So what is EQ and why does it matter?
Emotional Intelligence is the ability to understand, express, and manage emotions, while developing and maintaining good social relationships, and thinking clearly under pressure. Developed EQ is important and desirable because it is the foundation of teachable and team-focused attitudes. Emotionally Intelligent individuals share seven qualities that make them effective leaders and valuable employees:
Emotionally Intelligent employees are/have:
In a recent workshop, a high-level participant stated she looked for these qualities in new-hires because she can teach them how to use Excel and develop a budget fairly quickly. She could not, however, spend the time teaching new hires how to be empathetic, teachable, and team-players. Please do not misunderstand, emotional intelligence is something to be cultivated, but cultivation takes time and self-awareness. If an employer can hire someone with a developed EQ over an individual without one, they will be saving time and bringing an immediate and strong asset to the team.
At the core of EQ is self-awareness. To be emotionally intelligent we need to be able to be critically self-reflective. In essence, we cannot avoid who we are, but we can develop who we are. Developing who we are begins with self-awareness and is comprised of 3 competencies:
Practically speaking, if you find yourself saying, “this person is clueless” you have successfully found an individual void of self-awareness. To avoid being “that guy” ask yourself: “Are there things I don’t like about myself? Things I can change about myself?” In doing so, you have begun the journey of self-awareness.
It’s been almost three months since I gave this talk to a group of educators and school board trustees. Since that time, there have been several new stories that have firmly placed in our collective faces the reality that we in the US have a major issue with diversity. My talk does not speak directly to any of the issues, but I believe I get at the heart of the problem, and that is what I call “cultural empathy” — our individual ability and desire to understand the perspective of someone who is different from ourselves.
Recently I was chatting with some parents and friends and I mentioned that I was working with a local school on their diversity initiatives. Both individuals seemed to flinch when I said the word diversity. Now, I wasn’t surprised by their reaction. I took this as the perfect opportunity to engage in a conversation rather than assume that their views and mine were incompatible. After a two hour conversation I sincerely believe that we both understood more about each others experiences and challenges navigating conversations about diversity.
What happened in this situation? I intentionally chose to suspend any judgements I had about this couples views on the topic. I believe that one of the major barriers to achieving authentic diversity in any organization is our human propensity to judge others. Our judgements can also make us draw incorrect conclusions about others.Harvard University social psychology professor, Ellen Langer, has studied the relationship between people’s stereotypes of themselves (not others) and their performance. All of us are mindlessly prone to believe stereotypes of ourselves unless we question them.How much more must we believe stereotypes about others, who we don’t know?
What if we could develop the ability to suspend all judgement and become better listeners, especially when we are discussing topics with folks that may have a different perspective? Unfortunately, the word diversity seems to carry significant baggage for certain groups. For others, it is their calling card to address perceived and real inequality or exclusion.This is the first step we have to consciously take — suspend judgement — if we want to engage in an authentic conversation about diversity.
The second step we have to take if we want to engage in a discussion about diversity, is to clearly articulate why we believe diversity is important to your organization. Studies like the recent study by McKinsey & Company, and others by the Gallup Organization, that consistently find that diverse teams out-perform non-diverse teams, from a gender and ethnic perspective.
The July/August 2016 issue of the Harvard Business Review was devoted to the topic of diversity. Their research finds compelling evidence for organizations to take a measured and thoughtful approach to their diversity programs. Intel CEO shares his motivation for building a diverse organization — “I have two daughters. They are both technically bright. I want them to come into a workplace that is better than the way the workplace is today.” His view is the opposite of some organizations where the senior leaders have explicitly delegated this topic to the Diversity and Inclusion department. These leaders do not or cannot articulate a vision of diversity themselves, much less the value diversity brings to their organization. The question I think we need to ask ourselves is, are we genuinely interested in deepening our empathy and understanding towards others who are different from us, or do our diversity efforts have the potential to divide groups and create an atmosphere of exclusion? I think we would all agree that on an individual basis, extending empathy and understanding towards everyone, listening respectfully to points of views that are different from our own, will strengthen and bolster any community. Developing a community that expresses cultural empathy and understanding for different perspectives is a value an organization must hold highly, to achieve authentic diversity.
Another obstacle to achieving authentic diversity in our organizations is our own individual unconscious bias. Unconscious biases are created and reinforced by our environments and experiences. Our mind is constantly processing information, oftentimes without our conscious awareness. When we are moving fast or lack all the data, our unconscious biases fill in the gaps. The reasons we struggle and flounder with topics like diversity is because we fail to make it personal. We reduce these things to “initiatives”. Now, I believe we need to start somewhere, so I understand the need for such and initiatives and affinity groups — but if these initiatives or groups do not challenge us to look at the world through the eyes of others, then I’d emphatically state that these groups do not promote authentic diversity! We all need to challenge our assumptions about what diversity looks like.If you have a desire for your organization to embrace authentic diversity, you will need to consider that it will take time.
I suggested the following three steps to for anyone who is serious about exploring the idea of cultural empathy, vis-a-vis, authentic diversity:
I’m reminded of the words of the 1st century Roman philosopher, Cicero’s words,
“ All I can do is to urge you to put friendship ahead of all other human concerns, for there is nothing so suited to man’s nature, nothing that can mean so much to him, whether in good times or in bad… I am inclined to think that with the exception of wisdom, the gods have given nothing finer to men than this.”
Authentic diversity is a beautiful thing,because it reminds us of our shared humanity. We all crave to be understood for who we are and our unique stories; none of us want to be labeled — we are so much more complex and nuanced than labels allow. Real, authentic diversity happens one relationship at a time – I hope that all of us will lean into and embrace the beauty and benefits of cultural empathy and authentic diversity at work and beyond.
If you have had a boss in your professional life, which is probably everyone reading this, you are acutely aware of the impact they have on you professionally and personally. They have either helped you succeed on the job, or have possibly created obstacles to your success. They may have supported your wishes to balance your family obligations with your career, or caused you to sacrifice your family to succeed at work. They perhaps gave you opportunities to grow and develop and are partly responsible for the success you are experiencing in your career. Or, they have been ambivalent towards you and your colleagues, by demonstrating no interest in your career, but only in their success. If you are like me, I’ve experienced all the aforementioned scenarios. I think you will agree that the type of boss we have, or the kind of boss we are, is extremely critical to our daily work experience and entire career. Said another way, your boss directly impacts the quality of your life. According to Robert Sutton, professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and author of Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best and Learn from the Worst, having a good boss decreases your chances of getting a heart attack!
I’d like to suggest the following steps to help you begin the journey of becoming a better boss.
To be a better twenty-first-century boss, you must remind yourself that you are a steward — of careers, capabilities, resources and organizational values. Challenge yourself today — to be a better boss — nothing less should be acceptable.