I have been working with the American Red Cross for the past seven years doing leadership development. I feel so lucky to even be a small part of such an incredible organization. When I coach people here, I often begin with asking the staff what they are doing successfully in their lives to keep them going in such a hard work environment. One thing I have learned here is the tremendous amount of resiliency present, particularly from the disaster relief people.
The disaster relief team is particularly special because they are volunteering in the field for 6 weeks, sleeping on a cot, away from their families and working with people at their worst. The public loves them for the first few days and then starts picking them apart, forgetting that they are mostly volunteer run. When I am training them, I ask them, “What do you do to keep your resiliency?”
Here are some of the beautiful lessons I have learned from the disaster relief people.
1. Focus on the greater purpose of what you are there to achieve. For them it’s obvious, but for everyone else it might be harder to see. In our daily lives we are all part of a greater purpose. Look at the context of your specific situation–even if you sell janitorial supplies, you are part of people keeping a clean environment.
2. Keep a compassionate perspective. Many people who come to the Red Cross for assistance are seeking medical, financial, or mental help or trauma counseling from trained therapists. Most people coming to them for help are not in the best mental state. The disaster relief team frequently encounters people who are stressed, looking for a loved one, or are yelling or complaining because the meal is not what they wanted. This work environment can easily make the team feel unappreciated. The teams realize that the people they are helping are going through a hard time, so they focus to give them extra compassion.
It is important to remember that everyone you are dealing with has some conflict in their life–fear of losing a job, a sick child, divorce, etc. Understand that when you’re dealing with someone who has a bad attitude and bad behavior it’s probably not about you.
3. Nourish your personal life. Even though your job can be extremely stressful and time consuming at times, make sure to nourish good experiences such as going to yoga, hiking, or spending time with your family. Include enough time in your schedule to get adequate amounts of sleep. Make sure you find some way of nourishing yourself both physically and emotionally, so you are recharged and able to give.
4. Support each other at work. Supporting your co-workers sets up a network of trust and reliability among the team. You are all dealing with some of the same things and your co-workers can be your biggest allies in stressful times.
5. Finally, eat well, drink plenty of water, and relax when you get a chance.
Back in the late ’80s I began to dabble in meditation and other mindfulness practices. (I also had phenomenal hair and some wicked dance moves, but that is a story for another blog post.) Over the years, I continued to develop and use these techniques to become more self-aware. Mindfulness, in its many forms, also helped me save my own life. I suffered from severe PTSD due to childhood trauma, and the techniques helped me become more aware that what I felt was not me; it was passing. It gave me an awareness that was transformational.
I was also able to use mindfulness to shift from an autocratic leader to a high-engagement, more positive leader. I even used these methods to change my relationships. At one time I was fairly insensitive, a terrible listener, and not that good at praising or celebrating the women I dated. Practicing mindfulness helped me to savor the beautiful things about them. I was able to have deeper, more meaningful relationships by being present and listening deeply.
There are many different kinds of mindfulness techniques. Last month we talked about creating a MeTube playlist, which is the mindfulness method of choosing what to focus on and using that focus to guide you.
I want to guide you through creating a helpful mental video to add to your MeTube playlist. It’s a calming video designed to help out when you’re about to walk into a high-stress situation where you want to be your best.
I’ve been using this particular “MeTube video” for decades. It has helped me gain more positivity, think clearly in stressful situations, and to support others during difficult circumstances.
In fact, I was recently in a meeting where a person was verbally lashing out at me. I started to react to the situation by clenching up and I wanted to respond in kind. But I took a deep breath, cultivated my calming feelings, and thought, “My goal here is to give him the best possible service I can in the moment, not to prove myself to him.”
Here are the steps to creating a Calming MeTube Video:
- Start by sitting upright with your feet shoulder-width apart. Sit as straight as you can while still being comfortable. Place your hands on your lap and close your eyes.
- Begin to play in your mind a memory of the most relaxing situation you’ve experienced in your life. It can be a time playing with a puppy, witnessing a beautiful sunset, or spending a moment with your significant other. It can be anything, and you never have to tell anybody about this place.
- Start to slow and deepen your breathing. Now begin to immerse yourself and focus on the most relaxing parts of this memory. Observe your senses during the memory: what you hear, what you feel, what you smell, what you see. Do this for 2-3 minutes.
- Now notice how you feel differently than you did before you started. Most people will feel more relaxed. You’ve literally changed your biochemistry.
In the next few days, reflect back on and cultivate this feeling multiple times. It’s far easier to do this exercise before a stressful situation to prime yourself into a peaceful state of mind. Then during the situation, continue the deep breathing and recalling your senses to help you feel as relaxed as possible.
The good news is that after doing this mindfulness exercise just one time you will notice a small difference. The great news is the more you do it, the better you will get at it. If you practice this daily it will become a habit and a neuro-network that you can come back to and use quickly.
If you’re interested in more mindfulness techniques, for yourself or your team, I teach mindfulness workshops, both virtually or in person. Feel free to reach out to me if you have questions.
And if you use this technique, let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear about it.
Alter Your Mood with This Quick Brain Hack
We’ve all spent time on YouTube—maybe watching adorable puppy or kitten videos, funny blooper videos, or other mindless entertainment. The fact is that most of us turn to YouTube for the mood-altering benefits it offers.
These kinds of videos are escapism, and they can be an understandable go-to when situations at work get stressful or you experience failures—even to avoid a project that seems intimidating. Simply put, zoning out to pleasant videos is one way to soothe a bad mood into a happier one. I’ll share how to alter your mood even more powerfully, and wherever you need it.
Stress and emotions from tough days can be a significant influencer, especially for a leader. Leadership starts from within, so your mental and emotional state, attitude, unconscious biases, and your beliefs about yourself and others influence your leadership tremendously.
It’s also important to remember that people can pick up on your actual feelings and attitudes, regardless of the pep talk you try to give. Before you know it, your bad day has spread to the rest of your team.
Our brains have what is called “negativity bias”, which causes us to pay more attention to threats than to opportunities and to feel the negative far more strongly than the positive. When you’re deep in the negativity bias, you may even see negatives where they don’t exist. While the negativity bias is very helpful from a survival standpoint, it really gets in our way at work and home.
This is why it’s extremely important to understand how to influence your own internal landscape (or prime yourself) to be as effective as possible. This allows you to energize your employees and others you need to influence. There are a variety of ways to prime yourself, all of which help you reach your best emotional state as a leader. From that state, you can also positively prime those you need to lead.
This is where we come back to YouTube. When you notice your negativity bias kicking in, here is one simple tool you can use:
Create a “MeTube” playlist in your mind. This is a playlist full of videos of your past successes and of great life moments, even mental videos of someone else’s success that inspire you.
The easiest way to do this is to reflect back on your past achievements. Think of a time where you not only achieved your goals, but also had a team that was enthusiastic and engaged. Think about the mindset that you had at the time, the attitude you had towards the people you worked with, and the behaviors you exhibited towards them. Notice what parts of that memory are the most gratifying to think about; the most uplifting, and maybe even the most exciting. Take those best moments and coalesce them into a short MeTube video that you can play at any time.
Notice how you feel after playing back that MeTube video. Most people say that they feel more energized and more confident. Replaying the MeTube video also primes you to bring up the strengths that you used in the past, and to be more confident to take on new tasks.
Research in neuroscience and Positive Psychology have shown that using this kind of priming can help you both enjoy your days and be more effective. Studies also show that if done regularly, positive priming can even improve your health!
Take some time to start your MeTube playlist today. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.
After you do, I invite you to share your experience with me. I love to hear stories of people using those tools. Speaking of tools, I have quite a few more positive priming tools under my belt. If you want more ideas, simply email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be happy to share. It’s one of my favorite topics to speak about!
The facts. A recent Gallup poll showed that companies with high employee engagement outperform other companies by 22% in profitability and 21% in productivity. Not only that, but they also see significantly lower turnover (65%), absenteeism (37%), and quality defects (41%) than competing companies.
Why is this? Because engaged employees are Energized employees!
Let me start out by saying that Energizing Culture is my absolute favorite topic. The change that results from Energizing initiatives is tangible (exemplified by the stats above), and witnessing the shift that comes with employee engagement is the reason that I am a Chief Energizing Officer.
Ironically, part of what helps energize a culture is helping people understand the natural negative biases we all have, so that we can counteract them to create an engaged culture.
The Us vs. Them Bias
Even though we are all one company, there is a natural bias that occurs in most organizations, pitting one department or group against another. Marketing versus production, sales against shipping, the list goes on. Whether competing for resources, time, or money, this type of rivalry isn’t healthy for creating a collaborative culture.
Who wins when your employees compete against each other? Your competition!
The Negativity Bias (and Loss Aversion Bias)
So often we see employees who fear change, when in reality it is the fear of uncertainty. Especially if the change is not communicated adequately, employees may wonder, “Why are we making this change? What negative actions will the change bring? How will it change what I currently enjoy about my job?” If we help employees understand these different dynamics, they will be more engaged and can use their knowledge to instead build bridges between teams.
Engaging your culture starts with simple tools, and it’s easier than you think! Try these four practical, yet effective ideas:
Celebrate the heroes. Institute employee recognition, not only by managers, but among colleagues as well. Try printing your company’s core values (or valued team behaviors) on index cards, and handing them out to the team. Then when they see a colleague excelling at one of those values, encourage them to circle the value on the card, write a bit about what they saw, and give it to the employee.
Then at your weekly staff meeting or some other public forum, take a moment to recognize employees who exemplify company values and briefly share these short stories with the team. Afterward, keep these examples visible by creating a Hero Wall where these cards can be posted and seen throughout the year.
This will cultivate your team’s ability to focus on what doeswork. And having recognition from all directions is more effective than the traditional parental model of the leaders motivating the team by themselves. Use peer pressure positively. Give your team the tools and encouragement to help energize one another!
Get team input. If you want people to be energized, get them involved with decision-making. I’m not talking about creating pure consensus around every idea. That just bogs down progress. Instead come up with a clear system that helps people feel like their voices are being heard, but still gives management the authority to make clear and quick decisions. Make sure to follow-up and tell them what ideas are being used, and why they were chosen over other ideas. It helps to start with concepts that are easy to implement, so that people can quickly see you’re serious about their input… before their negativity bias tells them you don’t care about their ideas.
Get rid of rotten apples. Even if a person is the world’s best at performing the duties of a job, they can still be toxic to the culture. If you have employees who are gossiping, putting others down, and constantly on a negative bent about the company, address that behavior with them and give them an improvement plan and timeline. If they don’t improve, help them realize why they don’t fit, and let them go. Ultimately, this type of pruning will help the rest of team feel better and engage more. Comparing an employee’s value to the cost of their bringing others down helps you see that you are likely losing value over all.
Look for what’s right. As a leader, make it a goal to tell at least one person per week what they are doing right. It is easy for leaders to identify what is wrong and what needs to be fixed in an organization, and while this is a necessary part of leadership, it can keep you in a negative mindset. You would be surprised at the transformation that you will have personally as a leader by just looking for what is going right. This action helps leaders become more balanced and more realistic about the team—seeing both the positives and negatives.
Want to Energize your culture? Contact Bob (email@example.com) to do a culture evaluation. You’ll receive ideas to talk about your culture and jumpstart moving things in the right direction.
In every area of life positive priming is very helpful. It is particularly powerful in sports.
I’m a lucky person, in that there are many times in my work where I feel deeply fulfilled by people doing great things with tools I teach them… I was training in DC recently, when Lou came up to tell me a story of how he’d used positive priming since a previous course he’d taken with me. It was brilliantly done! Here is his story…
“My daughter Emily is a competitive figure skater. She’s very talented technically. Yet the area she struggles with is “musicality”–emotionally expressing the music and her passion during her performances. She was getting really down from getting this feedback from coaches and others. They’d tell her, “Express! Show emotion!”. But like most people, this is not an easy thing for her to do on command. She was even beginning to lose some of her enthusiasm for the sport!
I thought about the positive priming I learned from you and suggested to Emily that she create an imaginary story that goes along with the moves and the music to her next performance. She was inspired! She created a story in which exciting things happened during exciting music, and sad things happened during sad music, etc. She even created an imaginary cat friend (coincidentally) named Bob to make it more emotionally engaging. When skating, now she’d play her story (“inner movie“) in her head as she skated and she then expressed the right emotions and energy authentically and in great timing.
She got great feedback from her coach, and really enjoys competing again! Oh, and Emily won a medal at the next competition she was in!”
Well, dear reader, where can you use positive priming to ignite your passion and performance?
Aligning Culture and Strategy
Think of a company culture you’ve experienced that inspired you to work at your best. What was that culture like? Come up with at least five words to describe it.
When I do this exercise during workshops and trainings, most people say similar things: high standards, ample resources, employee appreciation, input is valued, and so on. These are the basic tenants that motivate people over the long haul.
For people to work hard and do their best you can’t just push them to work hard. You have to create an environment where working hard is fulfilling—a culture where they have some autonomy to make decisions and a chance to feel masterful at a task they enjoy.
You may have heard the phrase, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” It’s true that if you don’t have a healthy culture, then the best-laid strategy will likely fail. But to turn the odds in your favor, make sure your culture supports your strategy.
Strategy and culture are often seen as independent factors but they are completely dependent upon each other. Ignore one at the peril of the other. In reality, 1% of strategy is planning, and 99% is daily decisions and actions. Culture effects these daily decisions and actions far more than the plan itself. The most successful companies have a mix of good strategy and supportive culture.
How do you get there? Great question! Here are a few tips:
Begin with your Best DNA. Your Best DNA is what your company excels at, your people have passion for, and your customers value about your. Building on your company’s Best DNA is a powerful way to guide culture and strategy goals. Goals should be aligned with your strengths and the best value you add to customers. Your brand is your DNA seen from the outside, and should resonate throughout the company and the market.
Involve your team. Together discover where you’re supporting your Best DNA well. Then evaluate where your current culture needs a change to support the strategy better. Collectively work together to figure out how to build a bridge from your current strengths to where you want to be. Use this process to engage your team in the culture and strategy planning. Most people contribute powerfully when they are invited to do so and are given enough information. Support your team in taking healthy risks to adapt and implement strategy quickly and easily. Good decision-making and high employee engagement create a vital cycle of great business results.
Develop culture and strategy simultaneously. Create strategy that builds on the core of your culture, energizing vision, and the strengths of your organization. As you progress, redesign systems to enable you to fulfill your vision. Developing your people and enhancing momentum propel both strategy and culture.
Want to learn more about Culture and Strategy?
Watch this short video: on “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast”.
Download this free handout.
Book a Culture Workshop, presentation or keynote with Bob.
How to Guide Change That Actually Works
I once worked with a bank president who wanted to make the organization bigger, add technology, and increase services. But his employees were resisting the change; they weren’t making any extra effort and weren’t following through on the change tasks he was asking them to do.
So I asked him, “What’s in it for the employees?” And he looked at me with complete surprise.
Here is the key to guiding change that actually sticks: People must be invested in the change.
Guiding change is different than forcing change. When you guide change, there is transparency during the process so the people who are involved will have a sense of what’s happening. This allows people to be involved in a meaningful way.
Many times clients will bring me in to help their employees feel like they are part of a change initiative. I say, “Do you want them to just feel it or actually be part of it?” This is the key! You can’t just tell people to make the change; you have to get them productively involved in making the change.
Many leaders see resistance to change as defiance or rejection of the master plan, when in fact a lot of resistance comes from fear—“I like the way we’re doing it now. I don’t know what my part will be in this new plan. I don’t understand why we need to change.”
Look for the passion in resistance. Many people who fear change are simply afraid of losing what they value about the organization. If you are able to guide change so that the Best DNA of the organization is protected, people will be much more likely to accept the change.
Back at the bank, I spent some time interviewing employees and discovered that they were resisting because they didn’t want to become like the big banks that didn’t care about their communities and their employees. (Ironically, several years after that, quite a few bank scandals came out in the news showing that they were right.)
The bank employees felt like the Best DNA of their organization was that they were a great community bank. They would be willing to participate in the change if they felt like the changes improved that.
We took the approach of finding out what people loved and building on that, versus rooting out the resistance and attacking it. If you attack resistance, guess what, people become more resistant!
I worked with the organization to identify its core values and vision, which were centered around community engagement. We then got all 200 employees into one room, seated at round tables, to brainstorm meaningful ways to continue and build engagement as they grew. It was a combination brainstorm, celebration of the good stuff about them, and a fun party. This generated the energy we needed to really take off.
Purposefully, we set up each table with a mix of employees: a security guard, a teller, management, a VP, etc. We did skills exercises to identify what would be needed as the bank grew, and shared best practices from branch to branch. The diversity at the tables helped people understand other departments and see what was valuable to everyone.
We started by identifying what they were already doing well. Soon everyone was sharing stories of how their coworkers were already living the core values. We created a Hero Wall, where people wrote these stories on large index cards, and throughout the event people stopped by the wall to read the examples. This process builds confidence in the ability to change, and a sense of momentum (being able to see how much they’re already doing well). Then they came up with hundreds of creative ideas on how to keep getting even better. They helped us prioritize the top ideas, and gave ideas on how to accomplish it.
This whole process was kick-started, and within six years they had grown from having $1 billion in assets to $17 billion, while actually making their culture stronger.
If you are working through change or have change on the horizon, I’d love to talk to you about it. Feel free to send me an email, no obligation!
Or check out more on our Guiding Change programs.
And six ways to fix those mistakes!
Communication can be tough. It’s often hard to communicate important or difficult messages in a way that achieves the desired result.
Leaders often inadvertently use communication that scares people off, turns them off, or pisses them off.
Don’t let this be you!
Are you making any of these common communication mistakes?
Overusing fear as a motivator—A small amount of fear is actually a helpful edge to have, such as the natural fear of the consequences of not meeting a goal or deadline. But leaders sometimes make the mistake of using too much fear, which causes people to freeze up, and can even cause apathy or despair.
Focusing overly on failures—When a leader talks about current or past failures, this almost invariably starts the blame game. When everybody is pointing fingers, communication is stifled because people fear the finger will be pointed at them.
Talking only about what matters to you—When leaders talk only about their concerns, for example market share or stock prices, and not about the things that matter to their people, they see that you don’t care about them.
Using too much corporate jargon—When you use too much corporate speak, you alienate your listeners because it doesn’t have as much meaning to them. This type of communication often seems inauthentic.
Doing it all digitally—Digital communication is a necessity in the modern workplace, but doing all of your communication this way eliminates personal connection, which makes your message less relevant and easier to ignore.
Compelling communication is important and ultimately effective! When leaders focus on moving the hearts and the minds of their teams, they will see amazing results. One of the hardest parts of compelling communication is finding authentic reasons that your audience should care. It takes some thought!
Here are six ways to improve your communication:
Focus on a common goal—Find something that both you and the audience care about. This part takes some real work. In fact, it may take conversations with people in advance to help you frame the common goal so that it appeals to everyone involved.
Build on successes—This communication strategy builds confidence with people by reminding them of past successes that can help them accomplish the task ahead. It also reminds people of the practices, attitudes and ideas that you want to see them use again.
Define what’s in it for them—You need to find out how what you’re trying to convey will be useful to the people you’re talking to. It’s okay to draw parallels to some of your own goals, but only mention them after you’ve laid the groundwork for why your audience should care.
Stay positive and give hope—Communication should focus mostly on what you are trying to accomplish. It’s okay to mention the challenges and obstacles, but not in a way that makes the entire message about fear. Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “Leadership is about telling people where to go and giving them hope that they can get there.”
Use their language—You will be much more successful as a communicator if you relate to your audience on their terms and in their words. Audiences respond to messages that feel tailored to them and that meet them where they are at.
Be there in person—By far the most effective way to communicate important messages is in person. This isn’t always possible; in these cases, a medium such as video is a great option so that your audience can see your facial expressions and read your body language.
One of the most important aspects of compelling communication is that it takes you from the Golden Rule to the Platinum Rule: Focusing on what your audience needs instead of centering on what you want. And isn’t that where we all want to be anyway?
- What is the common goal that we all want? Instead of focusing on the problem, focus on the outcome that everyone is looking for. This helps to unite the team for the future.
- What is already working toward that goal? It might be counterintuitive, but it’s very powerful. Instead of focusing on what is wrong, instead start with what is right. Have the group help you brainstorm what is working: maybe relationships, skillsets, financial resources, whatever you have already in place. This improves the overall outlook and helps people feel safe, heard and confident. It builds a sense of momentum, and allows you to build on best practices instead of starting from scratch.
- What else can we do to build on what is working? This helps create a plan to get to the common goal, starting from a place of momentum instead of starting from defeat. People are far more creative when they are brainstorming using best practices, versus brainstorming about the gaps (which often starts the blame game again).
Many of us are already pages deep in never-to-be-fulfilled New Year’s resolutions—listing off myriad ways to improve ourselves in a variety of areas. My suggestion this year is to set just one goal for yourself. It is a simple yet important resolution that will make life much better. It can make your more fulfilled, and make you more interesting to be around too.
Let 2017 be the year that you let your Purpose guide you.
Positive Psychology has shown the value in having a purpose-driven life. Purpose is one of our major intrinsic motivators. According to Daniel Pink in his book Drive, it’s these three motivators—Purpose, Autonomy, and Mastery—that enable people to feel passionate about their lives, going above and beyond regularly.
To uncover your purpose, consider what fulfills you. What drives you to do good in the world? Then reflect on how you spend your time: What is the purpose of your organization? What is the purpose of your team? Then line these things up.
It’s OK if you can’t line them up perfectly. Not everyone can start a non-profit. Good thing there are countless ways to fulfill your purpose. The world needs people whose purpose is fulfilled through creating all kinds of goods, services and entertainment. And if you can increase the amount you live your purpose by just 5%, your life will be more meaningful!
One of the things I find purpose in is helping people with the way they look at the world and the way they view themselves. Thankfully, I get to live my purpose as a career. But I also spend extra time doing things that I’m not compensated for, such as writing, creating videos, and mentoring young people.
Recently I met a young man on the subway. Here was this tall, good-looking guy who at first glance looked privileged. But upon further examination, he was missing his shoelaces and pretty scattered. He didn’t have enough money for the train, so I bought him a ticket and asked him what was going on. As I learned more about his story, I discovered that this young man had had an abusive childhood that had led to arrests and a general distrust of authority. I could empathize. I told him that I had experienced a lot of violence as a child as well. I had once felt the way he felt, but that I had changed my thinking through the support of mentors, and that today I was an author, speaker and trainer. He asked the name of my book, and seemed to be energized by our conversation and the possibilities. I noticed that others on the train who were eavesdropping on our conversation seemed to be energized as well, as some were smiling at me as I got off the train.
Because I connect with people relatively easily, my wife and friends like to ask me who I befriended that day or what my stories were. When you live a purpose-driven life, it makes for great stories!
People get tired of hearing others vent about their job and about things they don’t like about their lives. Misery does love company, but company doesn’t like misery. If you want to be an inspiration to people talk more about your passion and your purpose. It’s not just the big things that you do; it’s all the little things you do that create a purpose-driven life.
Here are a couple ideas for finding your Purpose:
Complete the Best DNA instrument (for free!). It’s a great way to quickly clarify your passions and your purpose into a practical motto. If you’ve got 90 minutes and want life to be better, use this coupon code “CompanyDoesn’tLikeMisery” by the end of February.
Or Track it. Set a daily reminder to write down, “What did I get pleasantly lost in today?” Essentially that activity that you enjoyed doing, during which time didn’t matter, and afterwards you could have spent more time doing it. It could be tackling an interesting problem at your job or helping somebody with an issue. Or maybe working on some cool form of creative expression.
Note these activities for a couple of weeks, and then look for commonalities and discuss them with a friend. Many people are surprised at the things that come up again and again. The best ways to find out how to make life better are usually by looking at what is good already.
As a bonus, there is brain science showing that when you make a habit of looking for the things that are fulfilling in your life, you will not only find them you but you will also savor them!
And for more on savoring, check out this Highlights activity!
So, do you want more fun and self-esteem in your life? Live life on purpose!