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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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

The Balanced and Authentic Life

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“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”  Oscar Wilde

I was recently asked to present a talk on the subjects of authentic living, and living a balanced life. As I typically do, I’ll look through articles and books I have read previously and also search for current articles on the same topics. I was quite surprised to find how seldom the word authenticity appeared in business and psychological literature. It appears that most of what we are reading is pushing us to do more, rather than be more. I have a sneaking suspicion that many of us are struggling to find balance. Or even more unfortunate, many of us are completely out of balance, having become almost entirely focused on doing, rather than being. So how do we regain our focus, and start on the journey to getting back to being authentic people who live balanced lives?

Becoming an authentic person really requires us to adopt a holistic view of ourselves. Authors Bob Rosen and Kathie RossIn have developed The Healthy Leader Model, which is an excellent framework for pursuing authentic living. As you can see from their model, there is so much more to us than we often acknowledge. We are so much kinder to ourselves and others when we look to develop ourselves holistically. As the business investor extraordinaire Warren Buffet says, “Investing in yourself is the best thing you can do”.

The Healthy Leader Model

The Healthy Leader Model

I remember the first time I heard someone say, ‘I need to be more productive.‘ The phrase may sound like a call to live responsibly, but subtly I think our performance based culture has robbed us of what it means to be authentically human. I know I’m not the first to make this observation; we are human beings, which means we cannot be defined only by what we do. It is far more important for our own well-being to find out who we are, not just what we do, and live our lives informed by that perspective. Easier said than done you say! The late Warren Bennis, University Professor and Distinguished Professor of Business Administration, University of Southern California says in his book, On Becoming A Leader, “If knowing yourself and being yourself were as easy to do as to talk about, there wouldn’t be nearly so many people walking around in borrowed postures, spouting secondhand ideas, trying desperately to fit in rather than to stand out.” My work with my clients is helping them identify what is most important to them, and to become more of who they are, so that they can make the maximum contribution in every area of their life.

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of Flow – The Psychology of Optimal Experience, genuinely happy individuals are few and far between. He asks us to think about how many people we know who really enjoy what they do and are reasonably satisfied with their lot, who do not regret the past, and look to the future with confidence. Probably, not very many! In Simon Sinek’s  TED-talk, Why Leaders Eat Last, I believe the following statement captures the heart of the problem for many of us business people; “In business we give bonuses to people who are willing to sacrifice others so they can survive.” This truly begs the question, how can we humans be happy if at the end of the day we are hurting others and ourselves? Put another way, why are we not doing more to help ourselves and others? Sound too touchy-feely? It should, and that’s because our bodies and brains have been designed to do things that make us feel good.

Our bodies contain certain chemicals which are there for the sole purpose of our survival and making us feel good. Again I fear, that many of the activities of our lives; work and relationships, are actually depleting and do not enhance our human experience. You probably have heard of  some of these biological chemicals:

  • Endorphins – the chemical released in the body which reduces pain.
  • Dopamine – regulates movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them.
  • Serotonin – the chemical that is responsible for maintaining mood balance, and that a deficit of serotonin leads to depression.
  • Oxytocin – the chemical released in our body when we feel trust, love, safety and empathy in the presence of a person whom your body senses is safe, as well as enabling feelings of  bonding.

The reason for discussing these chemicals is to remind us that we are so much more than what we do, and so much more about who we are and how we are wired biologically and neurologically. I think we have to ask ourselves on a regular basis the important question, are the activities of work, family, and friends allowing us to experience those “happy-chemicals”?

Have you ever thought about the connection between working in a healthy environment and the impact it has on your psychological and physical health? According to a recent study by Stanford Graduate School of Business, workplace stress — such as long hours, job insecurity and lack of work-life balance, contributes to at least 120,000 deaths each year and accounts for up to $190 billion in health care costs! According to Jeffrey Pfeffer, Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business and one of the authors of the study, “When people like their lives, and that includes work life, they will do a better job of taking care of themselves. When they don’t like their lives, they don’t.” To paraphrase, when we don’t like our jobs, our lives and our health fall apart!

Recently I had the opportunity to have lunch with a former associate I’ll call Jim, and inquired as to how he felt he was doing in his career. Sadly, I heard what many of my colleagues and friends seem to be experiencing; their bosses are either unable to talk about development and growth opportunities, or worse, their bosses show no interest in their associates careers. Author and consultant Patrick Lencioni calls this “abdication management.” The most troubling part of Jim’s situation is that he is a millennial and has only been in the workplace for a few years, and has already grown cynical towards management. I encouraged Jim to talk with others about his interests and even do a little soul-searching, and begin defining his values, purpose, and goals in life. As I said earlier, if we find ourselves going through the motions (only doing), including “punching-the-clock” at work, we are not  going to be effective in our jobs, and we will never feel those life-giving happy chemicals which are so fundamental to our human experience. We need to be in environments which support and allow us to be fully human.

My own journey to authenticity has not been easy. I can think of many occasions where people have misjudged my motives, questioned my actions, but this will always be the result of living a life where you are not thinking so much about what others think of you, but asking yourself, am I being honest and true with myself? It is in this place where our relationships with others move to a different level, and ultimately we begin to experience the kind of life that is centered on life-giving activities, rather than life-depleting activities.  Just this week over lunch with a friend, we talked at about a tragic event in this person’s life — the anniversary falling on this Mothering Sunday. Our friendship could be seen as quite unlikely, because on paper we couldn’t be more different; different ethnicity, thirty-plus age difference, different nationalities. We have become close friends because of the intentional authenticity on both our parts. As we talked about this event, my friend was moved to tears and neither one of us felt any embarrassment, but rather experienced those feelings of empathy, love and connection. As Brendon Bouchard author of The Motivation Manifesto says so eloquently, “We learn that the more we are true to ourselves, the more we can connect and contribute to the world. We find that the more free and spontaneous and authentic we become, the more our motivation and aliveness returns and the more others are attracted to us and want to be around us. I’m reminded and encouraged to embrace the words of the musical artist Sting, “Be yourself no matter what they say.”

The Power of Intention

IntentionYou may recall this saying from Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” What I have found to be true for many of us, is that we may have goals and aspirations, but we often miss the opportunities to be intentional in many areas of our lives — especially in our professional and interpersonal relationships. When I use the word intentional, think of words like deliberate, calculated, conscious, purposeful, which are all words of action and purpose. I think what Yogi Berra is saying is, living a life without intention, is a life lived without purpose or direction. As an executive and life coach, one of my objectives is to help my clients articulate their goals, priorities, and the vision they have for their organization or their lives. This is where the power of intention becomes palpable and tangible. Until we begin writing down our goals and priorities, we are in ‘wish’ mode, (it’s a start); but once we can see these goals in black and white, or we can talk them through with another person, we have moved to the mindset of intentionality.

Here are some suggestions to get you started on the road to discovering the Power of Intention:

  • Ask yourself with complete honesty if you have or are making a difference in the world! This question need not overwhelm you; you are taking the time to reflect on yourself and how you are caring first for yourself, and secondly, how you are impacting those around you. My personal journey into coaching is a result of such personal reflection. I frequently receive  a calls from colleagues, clients, and friends beginning with these words, ‘You are first person I want to share this with…”When those around you want to share their successes with you, you have become someone they trust and someone they consider a cheerleader and a believer in you! Similarly, if you regularly receive kind words and compliments from those around you, take note of this — it is a reflection of how you make others feel about themselves. Corporations and organizations everywhere could stand to promote behaviors and practices that foster cultures where people are encouraged to make a difference.
  • Write down a list of your priorities and identify if how you are spending your time matches those priorities. Last summer I attempted to ride my son’s single speed bike up a steep hill by Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach, CA. It became painfully apparent to me that I wasn’t in any kind of physical condition to achieve this goal. I decided at that time that I needed to do something about that. So upon returning from our vacation, I purchased my own single speed bicycle and have made it an almost daily activity to ride my bike for about ten minutes around my neighborhood. One year later, I was able to navigate to the top of that same steep hill in Newport Beach from Pacific Coast Highway with success. I became aware, that if my health and fitness were incredibly important to me, then I had to become intentional about making exercise a priority.
  • Resolve to begin living life with a new sense of purpose. Another way to say this is, get to know your true self. As Robert S. Kaplan of Harvard Business School says of staying true to oneself as a leader, “ A business career is a marathon, not a sprint. If you’ve adopted a leadership style that doesn’t suit your skills, values, and personality, you’ll wear down”. This hopefully rings true for all of us professionally and personally. When I work with clients, we engage in a Socratic dialog — a back-and-forth discussion which leads to ‘aha’ or ‘eureka’ moments. You can begin this journey yourself by taking personality assessments such as discprofile.com or strengths assessments like strengthfinder.com. You may want to go further to understand and test ihhp.com your emotional intelligence quotient. The power of intention, as it relates to your personal development will serve as jet-fuel in both living a life of purpose and getting to know your true self. Almost 10 years ago, I wrote a short paper (50 pages) titled People Strategies – People at the Strategic Center. As I look back over the topics I covered, I realize that this was more of journal or personal manifesto of how I wanted to lead the teams I managed, build a culture of high performance and teamwork, mentoring and coaching, employee engagement, and developing people and leaders. During this process, it became crystal clear to me what I stood for and believed to be most important to me professionally and personally. Recently I struck up a relationship with an internationally recognized keynote speaker and author, as I was curious about the revolutionary concepts this person presented. A few months into this relationship I shared the aforementioned document with this individual and they wrote the following in response; ”I hope your organization recognizes what they have in you. I have met hundreds of executives in my career and few demonstrate the courage and integrity that comes through so loud and clear in our conversations and you’re writing. Thank you for sharing David!”Reading those words right now serves as reminder to me to continue to live a life of intentional purpose, and being true to oneself!

This installment on the Power of Intention reflects an analysis of any individual who has lived their lives as difference-makers. They have made a difference, perhaps changed the world, because they were people of intention.