Memo to Human Resources from your Chief Executive Officer

I recently moderated a very lively panel with two CEO’s. The topic of discussion is What do CEO’s want from their HR Team? Setting the stage early, I asked what are some non-negotiable qualities CEO’s are looking for in their Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO).

Three themes are worth noting:

1. Show you have a strategy that leverages people strategically to do their best work every day

This is supported every year by the Gallup Q12 EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT Survey. HR’s role is to align your policies and programs with those strategic goals which drive growth and engagement. In order to do this, there has to be a deep understanding of the business. A superficial understanding and singular focus on legal compliance and “policing” the organization will diminish your credibility and ability to gain a valuable seat at the C-suite table. To become a true strategic partner requires the CHRO and team to spend time with all executives and leaders. This is the most effective way to build credibility and deepen relationships and strategic alliances. Too often, HR does not take the time to immerse themselves in the core business functions and learning from those whom they serve. First and foremost, HR is a service to the organization, and your task is to champion people above all else.  

 

2. Think about changing your name from Human Resource to…

You are in the people business, but this isn’t always obvious! Human Resources fails to project the perception the organization values people as their most valuable asset. Can we move from managing people to unleashing people into maximizing their full potential? Without realizing it, HR often operates with a fixed mindset vs a growth mindset. Fixed mindsets fail to foster cultures of innovation, creativity, or responsible failure. Fixed mindsets suggest that people cannot grow, they are lazy and untrustworthy. If you are honest, many of your conversations within your teams do not look at people in a positive or optimistic perspective. Show us CEO’s that you can put people to work to solve their biggest business challenges. So why change your name? You will be in good company with several companies whose most senior HR leader is called Chief People Officer, or SVP of People Operations. Remember, people first!

3. HR leaders must have exemplary emotional intelligence skills.

Those of you who read my posts know this is where I have received my training, and emotional intelligence is a consistent theme. However, this was not my ‘non-negotiable’ quality. Both CEO’s pointed out that the CHRO and team must be able to be effective people leaders, handling interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. Emotional intelligence is a set of skills that allows you to develop relationships which are mutually beneficial — “win-win,” vs self-serving relationships, which ultimately hurt organizations. Furthermore, according to Amy Hirsh Robinson, employees expect their Chief People Officers to be authentic, open, and honest. A CPO’s ability to gain the trust of others and consistently act with integrity is a critical success factor.

In conclusion, CEO’s need a true partner who truly cares about people. It may sound simple, but in fact it constitutes a  fundamental shift in thinking. To quote one of our panelists, “We foster a shared belief that our work together is all about the people.”

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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.

Cultural Empathy – An expansive and authentic view on diversity

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:

  1. Write down an experience in your life that has shaped your views on diversity. It isn’t until we reflect thoughtfully on how our experiences have shaped our views that we can begin to articulate our own views authentically. I recently took Flintridge Prep’s administrative council through this exercise. Everyone shared their stories with the group. What became apparent was that every individual had in some way experienced being misunderstood and had had the feeling of being on the outside. After the meeting, several of the members expressed to me that they had worked with some of the individuals for over 15 years, and felt that they really got know some of their peers for the first time.
  2. Secondly, challenge yourself to identify your own unconscious bias and how and where it shows up in your own life.The simple act of writing a few words, sentences, or paragraphs everyday can have a profound and instant effect on your life for the better. If you don’t already journal, I would recommend this practice to enable you understand yourself better.
  3. Third, begin looking for opportunities to build an authentic relationship with someone who doesn’t look like you. I empathize with you if this idea doesn’t sound particularly appealing. However, it is only when we intentionally seek out others who are different to ourselves that we begin to learn about other peoples stories, experiences and perspectives. Said differently, it is highly unlikely that any one of us will develop any sort of empathy for others who are different, if we remain in essentially homogenous vs heterogeneous circles.

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.

Remembering TEDxPasadenaWomen

Last Saturday I was able to attend a monumental and historic event,the first TEDxPasadenaWomen. Leading up to this event, I and my co-coach, Michele Lando, dubbed ‘The Twins’, had the pleasure of working with each of the thirteen speakers. Each speaker told their own story in such a way that the audience was moved to tears as well as uproarious laughter several times throughout the day.So that I don’t forget the powerful messages from our speakers, I thought I’d I recap.

Alyesha White – taught us about our responsibility towards our family members, especially if we have younger siblings, and how we must participate in raising responsible young adults. Her spoken word poetry was passionate and heartfelt. Standing ovation #1!! Allison Gryphon and Lolita Lopez – demonstrated the importance of teamwork, and how two women came together to fight breast cancer, and still remain committed to fighting the battle together forever. Standing ovation #2!! See a trend? Kristin Mascka – vividly illustrated how unconscious bias affects all of us, and how we should all strive to support one another, regardless of gender, race, or other classification, because we all are on the same team, and we must seek to support our fellow humans. Frank Chechel – our first male speaker asked the audience if he was even “allowed” to address the primarily female audience. Absolutely! Frank encouraged both the men and women to ‘rock-the-boat’ on gender-equality issues; for men to hire, support, and promote women, and for women to acknowledge the men who do the things that Frank asked the men to do. Dr.Tess Warschaw – if anyone was qualified to talk about resiliency, it was the indomitable Dr.Tess. Now in her eight decade, she shared how in her darkest moment, she lost her resiliency, but with the help of friends, she bounced back. She was quite clear with us that, if you don’t have real friends, we need to go in search of them. All of us at some point in our lives, will need friends to be resilient for us.

Loretta Whitesides – the astronaut from Stanford University  who realized with the help of a mentor, that developing your leadership skills and self-development was more important than accomplishments and accolades. How sad would it be walking on the surface of the moon and still have the feeling that she didn’t belong? She encouraged the audience to find your mission in life, and that is when you have the feeling of belonging. Alex Cohen – KPCC news correspondent and retired Roller Derby player illustrated the similarities between the rough and tumble sport of and motherhood. She pointed out some of the ways that mothers failed to be supportive to other mothers, and asked whether if its time to rewrite the manual on motherhood? She began her own support group with other mothers, who have played Roller Derby. Ron Florence – an investment executive challenged the audience not to confuse net-worth with self-worth. A very bold and powerful concept you don’t hear very often. He then helped the audience think about financial decision making with the following three questions. What is the money for? What are you worried about? What is going to make you happy? Joelle Casteix – a victim of sexual abuse, however, she made it very clear to the audience that she is not defined by the abuse. She taught us that becoming a victim is the opposite of taking responsibility. Joelle has taken her experiences and is a published author, speaker, and national expert on child sexual abuse prevention, detection, and education. Nancy Bennett – has always been the first to try new things. Growing up in a family of accomplished scientists and artists, and extremely supportive parents, she developed a curiosity for how things work. And that curiosity led to the development of empathy for others.Her work is always about collaboration, whether it has been producing and directing television shows, music videos, and now creating virtual reality films.

 Tembi Locke – an accomplished actress gave a moving account of how one day her life completely changed from what appeared to be an extremely promising one, to one she couldn’t have imagined. Overnight she became a caregiver to her husband who was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer. She told the audience that what matters most in life is unconditional love and connection. Cristi Hegranes – founder of Global Press Institute told the audience that her lifelong dream to be a foreign correspondent journalist, her dream job, was shattered when she realized she wasn’t qualified to tell the stories of the native lands she visited. But instead of giving up, she started an organization that now trains local people to become journalists who can accurately tell these stories all around the globe. Consuelo Martinez – our closing speaker challenged the audience to find their voice and speak up, because she has experienced the power of words and ideas. She closed her talk with the very first talk she gave, just a few months prior that rocked her world and her school audience. In her words, being Latino, female, public school educated, and seventeen years old, may not look like she has the best chance in this world. However, Connie’s powerful talk showed everyone in the room what a difference we can make when we find our voice and use it!

Give the Gift of Listening Well

Have you ever taken the time to reflect on an enjoyable conversation? It is very likely that if and when you have had the pleasure of such a conversation, it is because both individuals are listening intently to the other. I was recently reminded by a speaker that, people living in the twenty-first century are the most overly stimulated and distracted at any time in human history. This implies that we are extremely busy and preoccupied, and frequently distracted when we spend time with others.

Recently I found myself eavesdropping on a few conversations at my local coffee shop. What has struck me about some of these interactions are a) the participants do not appear to be enjoying the others company, b) the tone can be tense and somewhat frantic, and c) each person walks away with a ‘look’ of dissatisfaction or ambivalence.I have a sense that these kinds of interactions are far too common place which I believe are a direct result of our inability to give ourselves completely to others – to be present – in conversation or otherwise. I recently listened to a group engaged in such an interaction, and noticed that they did not seem the least bit interested in what each person had to say, but rather were looking for openings where they could ‘throw in their two cents’! Why would anyone choose to spend their time in such an unrewarding way? Do you want to have a conversation with someone who isn’t listening? Emphatically no! Listening well requires us to be genuinely interested in what the person we are speaking with has to say.

For several years, I have come to believe that the most important communication skill, is the ability to listen well. Think for a minute why relationships end, or wars start, or the source of conflict in the workplace; is it not true that one party fails to understand or ‘hear’ what the other is saying or even chooses deliberately not to listen? Most people who consider themselves to have achieved some level of success in their relationships recognize that this ability to listen well is the lubricant of healthy relationships. And yet I am not aware of any school or university that teaches children and young people the importance of learning this major life skill. Many of us do not learn this personally until we are sitting across from a therapist trying to understand what went wrong with a partner or our children. Or equally confounding is when a supervisor is providing feedback which doesn’t match our version of things – an indication that one of the two parties has not heard the same thing. I recall coaching a client who was adamant that the contents of her disciplinary action was ‘completely inaccurate’. Clearly another example of the inability of two individuals to communicate and listen well to each other.

As I reflect on this important life skill, I am reminded that some people make it more difficult than others for us to practice this skill. During the holidays, we may find ourselves pushed to our emotional limits which leaves next-to-nothing in our self-control reservoirs. It is this emotional intelligence skill which we need to draw on, so that we can choose how we will interact with those close to us in those moments when we are challenged to listen well. According to Mary Mitchell, author of Class Acts: How Good Manners Create Good Relationships and Good Relationships Create Good Business,  “Listening not only shows respect and consideration for another human being, but is the first step to truly understanding their concerns, needs, and wants.”

As you approach the holidays, fully recognizing that we may find ourselves squeezed in many ways, I believe that we can experience very enjoyable conversations with others if we can apply a few principles to our listening.Try the following: Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

  • Use Empathy vs. Sympathy
  • Suspend Judgement 
  • Don’t Interrupt
  • Tolerate Silence
  • Experience the Total Message
  • Ask Open-Ended Questions
  • Show That You’re Listening
  • Remember Why Listening is Important