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.

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.

Dealing with Diversity, Authentically.

I asked several people what immediately comes to mind when they hear the word diversity used in the context of an organization. As expected, most people do not have a favorable view of the word. The word carries significant baggage with a definite element of mistrust and hidden agendas. To  begin a trust-based conversation on diversity, it would be helpful to ask deeper questions than those typically discussed.

  1. Why is diversity important to our organization? Are we interested in deepening our empathy and understanding towards others who are different, or are we creating the potential to divide groups and create an atmosphere of confrontation?
  2. If we seek to be a diverse organization, have we consciously hired individuals who value others from different backgrounds, different perspectives, and different ethnic and cultural heritages?
  3. Do the most senior members of the leadership team demonstrate a real interest in diversity, or has it been delegated to a function that keeps the ‘compliance-police’ satisfied? In other words, do the senior leaders hide behind political-correctness or are they out-in-front, in seeking to realize the benefits of a diverse organization.
  4. If in seeking to become a diverse organization, is their true acknowledgement and acceptance that, everyone has biases and prejudices learned early in life, and people carry around feelings left over from what they learned in their families as children. True diversity will not be achieved if individuals cannot express themselves freely (respectfully) without fearing punishment or ostracism.
  5. Are the key decision makers, as well as any stakeholders, able to articulate comfortably the value of diversity? Do they understand that true diversity is not the same as meeting quotas, and can express views that demonstrate an understanding that diversity is about empathy and tolerance for different perspectives?
  6. How do we ensure that any diversity initiative does not compromise the mission and values of the organization? That is to say, how do we apply equal rigor in improving all areas to the area of diversity, knowing that most organizations take the ‘low-road,’ and end up with mere compliance?
  7. Does your leadership team and staff members reflect diversity in all its forms? If not, how likely is it that your clients, constituents, or students will come from diverse backgrounds? If the organization desires to reach a more diverse audience, the organization must have diverse voices advocating for that organization.
  8. How do we measure diversity in a qualitative way? Has/is diversity impacting decision making, or does the diversity only represent a quantitative value with little to no impact on the organization at large?
  9. How does an organization intentionally bring diverse voices to the table, when the typical voices at the table are those who by way of legacy and success typically occupy those seats? With an increasingly diverse world comes different views of success, which implies that many long held traditional views are no longer the only of most popular view. How does an organization seek out all generations, genders, socio-economic, races — including the burgeoning group of bi-racial children, and other groups to inform the conversations that shape our organizations?
  10. If we are to experience success in becoming a more diverse organization, it will require everyone to adopt a mindset of openness to learning, and a commitment to suspending judgement. Discussing diversity can become quickly charged because of the emotional learning attached to our already held views. To participate in a productive discussion requires humility, deep listening skills, and the ability to communicate with sensitivity and empathy for others deeply held views.

    Two human head silhouettes with cogs and gears

    Two human head silhouettes with cogs and gears