The Single Best Investment You Can Make – In Relationships

This post is about a topic I fear most readers care about very sincerely, but most neglect because so little value is placed on it in today’s overachievement oriented world. I believe that the best investment we can make is in relationships! Who doesn’t want to experience harmony, collaboration, affection, kindness, respect, support at work, school and home? Perhaps only those with little to no emotional intelligence may not be able to answer in the affirmative; in fact, one of the main reasons people report to work is because of the social element.

Some may push back on my assertion with arguments like, work is about work and not interpersonal relationships. It turns out we are profoundly social creatures–more than we know. In Social, renowned psychologist Matthew Lieberman explores groundbreaking research in social neuroscience revealing that our need to connect with other people is even more fundamental, more basic, than our need for food or shelter.

I have had my own share of interpersonal relationship challenges this year and have found that to successfully navigate the complexity of relationships at home and work, and experience thriving, life giving relationships, it requires quite an elaborate network to make this happen. Gathering from the world of psychology, coaches and mentors, management literature, as well a spirituality, I’d like to recommend the following approaches to making the most of your best investment.

Invest in A Personal Board of Directors

In an article for Harvard Business Review, Priscilla Claman defines this unique set as “… a group of people you consult regularly to get advice and feedback.” Claman adds, “There’s no need to hold meetings or even inform each person of his or her status as a board member—but you do need to select the right people and stay in touch.” My current board of directors are eight individuals who all speak into my career, personal, and spiritual life.  Five of them I meet with individually on a monthly basis, the other three meet as a group on a bi-weekly basis. As I mentioned earlier, one of the challenges I faced just this month was losing one of these board members to cancer. This was very sudden and has had a significant impact on me personally. The adjacent picture captures the warmth of the friendship, but our meetings were characterized by a commitment to seeking advice and feedback.

Invest in Developing Diverse Relationships

One of the best examples that comes to mind is Nelson Mandela as the newly elected President of South Africa, befriending the captain of the South African national rugby team, known as the Springboks. The Springboks were a symbol of apartheid to black South Africans and Nelson Mandela who had spent 27 years in jail for fighting against apartheid. He somehow managed to overlook all of that because of his Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG), that if South Africa could win the 1995 Rugby World Cup, it would bring together a nation divided by apartheid.  A new constitution, which enfranchised blacks and other racial groups, took effect in 1994, and elections that year led to a coalition government with a nonwhite majority, marking the official end of the apartheid system.

The beauty of this diverse and unexpected relationship is proof as I have argued for what I call cultural empathy, that “authentic diversity happens one relationship at a time.” Pienaar told The Telegraph. “As we stood there he turned to me and said with that incredible, beautiful smile of his: ‘Thank you for what you have done for South Africa.’ I couldn’t believe he had said that. With some people you meet, they are just

courteous. Some you meet are politicking. With Madiba, it was always genuine. We had met a year before, in 1994. He had just been elected president and I had just been made Springbok captain. We had tea together. Pienaar and his wife remained close to Mandela and years later asked him to be godfather to their two sons, Jean and Stephane.

Another area of diversity that I am committed to is gender equality and advocating for women who are leaders (because of gender inequality). I also provide support in my coaching practice to women who are leaders and executives. I actively participate and partner with organizations like https://www.missioalliance.org/  and http://tedxpasadena.org/ who’s purpose is to promote gender equality and egalitarian leadership.

Frances Hesselbein whom Peter Drucker called the …greatest leader America reminds us on the topic of women in leadership, “We never refer to ourselves as ‘female, or women leaders.” We are not a category. We are leaders who are women. As leaders who are women we begin by acknowledging that we bring a special dimension to the work of our organization.”

Invest in Personal and Professional Development

Well, it goes without saying that an executive coach would give this advice! I think I’m in good company if not just for these two men. Tony Robbins and Warren Buffet attribute their success to making an investment in their professional and personal development. When Robbins was 17 and earning $40 a week, he spent $35 for a three-hour seminar with personal development coach Jim Rohn. Buffett learned a similar lesson. He was terrified of public speaking when he was young. To force himself to face his fears, at age 20, Buffett signed up for a public speaking course with the Dale Carnegie institute.

I am always surprised when I meet a business leader who says they wish their organization believed in either executive coaching or leadership development. This investment is a matter of strategic leadership and long range planning. An organization or board of directors that doesn’t understand the impact of leadership coaching must not understand effective leadership. They may understand the monthly financials, but they cannot understand the importance of a healthy organization being led by healthy leadership team. Peter Drucker, the man who invented management theory, put great currency in listening, asking questions and letting natural patterns emerge from the answers. Boards of directors who approve budgets for executive and leadership training must know that the organization’s leadership should be asking questions like; How effective is our management team? What is the relationship between management and the culture it seeks to direct? How is the business organized, and how can managers use people’s strengths more effectively?

When you invest in your own personal and professional development, you will see every relationship around your improve. Your level of engagement for work and life can catapult you to new opportunities when you know yourself well.

Invest In Your Colleagues

Employees report that when they have friends at work, their job is more fun, enjoyable, worthwhile, and satisfying. Gallup found that close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50% and people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to engage fully in their work. The development of trusting relationships is a significant emotional compensation for employees in today’s marketplace. Thus, it is easy to understand why it is such a key trait of retention, and is one of the Q12 key discoveries from a multiyear research effort by The Gallup Organization.

At DLS PARTNERS LLC  we’ve developed a model to operationalize Gallup’s ‘best friend at work’ concept. We call in the Leadership Buddy SystemTM. – A leadership self-awareness and performance effectiveness tool. It was designed to provide psychological safety or a “safe-space” for leaders to discuss, share, vent, solicit input on issues and matters they are faced with on a daily basis. Having a designated individual within the organization as a sounding board, confidant, and accountability partner, enables a leader to develop and grow exponentially, much like what we see with individual coaching. (It is not expected that buddies can provide “executive coaching,” however, buddies can provide real-time feedback on specific issues.)

I realize that much of what I’ve said, even though backed by the latest research and is relatively intuitive, is actually quite counter-cultural. Most of us don’t have our own personal board of directors, enjoy diverse relationships, invest significantly in our own personal and professional development, and experience strong relationships with our co-workers. If you are willing try at least one of these options, you will experience a greater level of meaning at work and beyond.  In the words of words of the 1st century Roman philosopher, Marcus Tullius Cicero, “ 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 (and women) than this.”

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Conflict in the workplace cannot be avoided — it’s the leaders job to deal with it!

Let’s face it, if you put two people together in any given situation, the likelihood that conflict may arise is extremely high. What is conflict? Conflict is disagreement, but contrary to popular belief conflict does not necessarily involve fighting. Conflict exists in any situation where facts, desires or fears pull or push participants against each other or in divergent directions.

Conflict is a normal and natural part of any workplace. When it occurs, however, there is a tendency for morale to be lowered, an increase in absenteeism and decreased productivity. It has been estimated that managers spend at least 25 percent of their time resolving workplace conflicts — causing lowered office performance.

One reason there is so much conflict in the workplace is primarily because most people simply haven’t learned how to resolve conflict before it turns into fighting, or more often than not, try to avoid conflict at all cost. This is why we have so many ‘elephants in the room’ which grow and fester. The problem with this is everyone is expending massive amounts of energy trying to avoid these ‘landmines’ and find themselves feeling they are treading on ‘eggshells’, avoiding bosses and peers, ignoring a colleagues bad behavior or poor performance, and seemingly are unable to have productive and fruitful conversations.

I have seen up-close and personal numerous situations where the absence of conflict resolution has led to disastrous outcomes and many wasted hours of employees time and energy. I was made aware of a manager who on a daily basis would appear to be involved in a negative interaction with either a peer or her manager. On one occasion, she took it upon herself to barge into a closed door meeting with her boss who was having a private (skip level) meeting with her employee. She demanded to know from her boss why he was meeting with her employee — even though there was a company wide initiative encouraging skip level meetings, in order to break down communication bottlenecks within management. Neither the manager’s boss or the employee confronted the situation, but avoided the conflict because of either the shock of what had happened, or just not wanting to appear to be a part of the problem. Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a contentious situation?

I’d like to provide three steps to moving you and your workplace, and even your home, to working through conflict. I believe this approach may get you the results that may have eluded you to date:

  • Engage both parties in an empathic way. This is, recognizing that both parties have been affected on an emotional level — they may be angry, bitter, wounded, fearful, even disgusted by the other person. If individuals are unable to express and label their emotions (how they’ve been impacted), they will not be able to move onto working through solutions. There is often a danger in these situations to expect people to “act” like professionals. Unfortunately, this approach never works, because what makes us human is our ability to feel and express a very wide range of emotions. Ultimately, when both parties acknowledge the other persons feelings, they can begin to the next step.
  • Allow both parties to explain their version of the events. Sounds incredibly simple. But it is because of misunderstanding — in the first place, that conflict has arisen. When I conduct a mediation session or coaching an individual through a challenging situation, it is without fail, that the parties have a different understanding of what has transpired. And if the conflict has risen to the level to require mediation, then there is significant misunderstanding on many levels. Often times, it can be very difficult to have individuals clearly articulate the events without creeping back into misunderstanding. The ability to listen deeply to both parties and understand how each individual has contributed to the conflict will enable you to identify potential solutions.
  • Create a psychologically safe environment for the individuals. When conflict arises, it will always have an impact on trust between people. It is staggering to me how many times this critical factor is overlooked. Again, the workplace can often feel cold and inhumane when we fail to recognize how allowing conflict to exist amongst co-workers on a daily basis is damaging, if not traumatic, to an individual’s psyche. In a recent study at Google, they found that teams with psychologically safe environments had employees who were less likely to leave, more likely to harness the power of diversity, and ultimately, were more successful. As leaders and managers, it is our job to protect people from work environments that are dysfunctional. We dare not abdicate our mandate to create environments where people can thrive, lest we expose our associates to emotional trauma, anxiety and stress.

So when the conflict inevitably arises, follow these three steps and you will minimize the negative impact of conflict at work.

Advice to My High School Self

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

Putting People First

“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:

  • Be specific, focusing on what was done well, done poorly, and how it can be changed, while avoiding generalizations.
  • Offer a solution through useful feedback, pointing out a way to fix the problem, and letting employees know you want to see them succeed.
  • Be present as critique and praise is most effective face-to-face and in private.
  • Be sensitive through attuning into the impact of what you are saying and how it will be received.
  • Realize the difference between power over and power with. This is the perspective of having power over them versus having an integrative, collaborative power with each other.

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?

A Different Kind of New Year’s Resolution – Discover Yourself in 2017

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:

  1. Who do I see when I look in the mirror? Do you see someone that is comfortable with looking in the mirror and accepting what you see? Warts and all? What’s important here is that we are not in denial about who we are and can show empathy for our own selves as we journey through this life. I’d suggest taking an inventory of your physical, emotional and spiritual health. If we don’t feel good in our bodies (barring a medical condition) then it can be expected that not much else will truly feel good. If we are plagued by anxiety, anger, frustration, and disappointment, then we will not be living to our full potential. From a spiritual perspective, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi states, “One cannot lead a life that is truly excellent without feeling that one belongs to something greater and more permanent than oneself.”
  2. Are the relationships with your family and friends life-giving or life-draining? I’m particularly drawn to individuals who aren’t afraid to distance themselves from people who show little desire to better themselves. I am not suggesting or promoting arrogance or prideful behavior, but rather, developing an awareness of healthy and unhealthy relationships. As Warren Bennis states in On Becoming a Leader, “We cannot change the circumstances of our childhoods, much less improve them at this late date, but we can recall them honestly, reflect on them, understand them, and thereby overcome their influence on us.” I can’t emphasize the importance of cultivating a circle of friends who are equally invested in their personal growth and yours. If you want to become all that you want to be in 2017, those closest to you will either support your journey or hinder it!
  3. Does your work have meaning beyond your title and salary? If I am honest about my own career aspirations, I can say that for many years, my motivation was to make more money and reach to a level in an organization which others would envy. But as Dan Pink, author of Drive reminds us, “We’re designed to be active and engaged. And we know that the richest experiences in our lives aren’t when we are clamoring for validation from others, but when we’re listening to our own voice — doing something that matters, doing it well, and doing it in the service of a cause larger than ourselves.

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.

The Importance of Developing Emotional Intelligence

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:

  1. Better able to handle pressure
  2. Increased level to understand and cooperate with others
  3. Good Listeners
  4. Are Open to Feedback
  5. More Empathetic Toward Others
  6. Set an Excellent Example for Others: Ability to not be flustered
  7. Make More Thoughtful and Thorough Decisions

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:

  1. Emotional Self-Awareness: Able to read and understand your own emotions; recognize personal emotions impact on work performance and relationships; able to conceptualize how we impact others.
  2. Accurate Self-Assessment: Knowing strengths and limitations of the self.
  3. Self-confidence: Where you have a positive and strong sense of one’s self-worth

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.