Paris in the snow

3 Managerial Insights from Snow in Paris

With the recent snowstorm in Paris, folk talk about other people’s responsibilities, especially what the governement should have done.

Today, I’m focusing on what I can do differently and what I learned about management from the 20 cm of snow in our garden.

Our decorative bushes usually stand proudly 1 meter high.  Laden with snow, they barely rise above the ground.

Commuting to work means schlepping through the snow and slush.  If it’s not cleared out, in the evening we’re slipping and sliding.  (I love the above photo by Christophe Jacrot taken in front of the Samaritaine.  Check out more of his beautiful pictures of Paris in the snow here.)

In dealing with our plants and path here is what I (re)learned about management.

1. Remove Needless Burdens

Laden and frozen branches approached their breaking point.  Removing the mounds of snow gives them a chance to survive.

They barely needed much help:  a bit of shaking off and retrieving the branches buried in the flakes.

Bushes laden with snow Burdened.

What are some of the burdens dumped on employees at work?

  • Negative criticism
  • Gossip
  • Expected 24/7 availability

Let’s take a closer look at the impact of negativity and how to lighten the load.

Negative Critique

Each snowflake numbs with cold and weighs down minutely.  It’s the culmination that damages.  Like most of the criticism we give and take.

“Late, again?” publicly announced.

“Why did you do it this way?  (regarding the format for the presentation or the homework in purple pen or the baked instead of fried chicken…)
Questions beginning with “Why” often put people on the defensive.  The intent behind the question is often, “Why did you not do it my way?”

“You didn’t do _____?”
The twenty major accomplishments slip by without a remark.  The one item remaining on the list gets highlighted.

“Yes, but ______” which really means, “No.  And I won’t listen.”

Taken individually, each of these comments seems innocuous.  “You are over-reacting!”

It’s a different story when you’ve heard a hundred of them in less than a week.

Take the Critique Test

Find out if YOU are the one inflicting minor chills on an ongoing basis!

Invite a colleague, friend, or family member to listen to you and to note both your reproving and your encouraging comments.  When we receive their feedback graciously (without being defensive), we discover a lot about ourself and our relationship grows in trust.

If you tend towards demotivating fault-finding, it’s more comfortable to find it out from a person of your chosing than during a formal review session!

Shake Off Negative Critique

Be quick to learn and to be flexible with others.

Avoid Taking Critique too Personally

When I shook the flexible branches, they easily dropped their burden of snow.  The rigid tree limbs held onto the piles of snow.

Are you insisting on being right?  That your viewpoint is THE ONLY VALID perspective?  Be flexible.  Be curious.

“Help me understand.  What would an excellent report look like?”

“If I were to do ______ and ______, would that be satisfactory?  If not, what is missing?”

“I hear that you are dissatisfied.  On a scale of 1 (very bad) to 10 (excellent) how would you esteem the quality of this work?”

Seek Benevolent yet Straight-Forward Feedback

There might be truth in the critique.  Does your reputation lean towards tardiness rather than timeliness?  Do you hide your work until the last minute so colleagues are not aware of your choices along the way?

Find out.  Seek feedback directly from someone you know appreciates you as a person.

Those branches did need some shaking up for the snow to fall off.

When a friend told me to arrive 10 minutes early, not right on time, I knew punctuality ranked among my needed areas for improvement!

2. Use the Available Resources

Since Paris is rarely under snow, we don’t own the equipment to shovel the walk and dig out the car.

The work still need to be done.

Out came the rake, the broom, and the metal dustbin.  These hardly classify as the ideal snow clearing tools, yet their availability rendered them optimal for me.

Years ago, upon graduating from Harvard Business School, a group of students and I spent two weeks in Peru on a humanitarian trip to build a sidewalk for a school teaching technical skills to polio survivors. In this jungle town of dirt roads, our sidewalk would enable students to access their classes during the rainy season.

The construction manager, a leathery-skinned man who looked ancient to me and was probably forty-years-old and prematurely aged by challenging conditions, instructed me to level the ground.  Which tool would generate the optimal results: the short-handled flat-edged shovel, the rusty round-edged shovel, or the stick?  THE ELBOW GREASE!

A tool makes A difference.  How we use it makes ALL the difference.

3. Work in Layers

Armed with imperfect tools, I discovered the most effective tactic lay in working in layers: first raking off, then hand shoveling, and finally brushing away snow as needed.  Each step made the next one possible. I tried beginning with the hand shovel, but cutting corners simply broke my back!

On a professional front, I focus on layering in my training classes too.  Teaching a concept with theory, then sharing an example, introducing multiple perspectives through a role play or activity, and inviting each participant to share a take-away and thus to take ownership of their learning.

It’s like tiramisu: a combination of different and complimentary layers that get repeated.  Together they create a delicacy.

Try layers in personal as well as professional relationships too.  When a child resists homework, parents often address the challenge in the same way again and again.  Voice.  More Voice.  DO IT NOW.

That’s re-investing in the losing strategy.

Consider additional tools and layers:

  • Break down the work into smaller chunks
  • Sit beside your child with your work as he does his
  • Engage in a conversation (veritable exchange) regarding his view of the value of school.  Try these discussion-inviting questions:
    • “Describe what life would be like if you dropped out now….”How would it be different if you graduated from high school…or college?”
    • “What bothers you the most about homework?”
    • “What is one benefit about doing your work for school?”
    • “If you were not to do homework, how would you use this time and energy?”
  • Frame grades to celebrate successes

 

This Paris snow storm got me inspired .  Read here about insights on diversity.

What do you think of these life lessons taken from current events?  Let me know in the comments.

Cover photo by Christophe Jacrot from his site, Tiramisu from LaBombacha

 

Boy looking through telescope. Searching Focus word!

What’s Your Focus Word?

For years now, I enjoy a Word-for-the-Year.  This year it is “Community.”

This focus word is more like a road to travel than a destination.  Think of Robert Frost’s diverging road in the yellow wood.  Frost chose the road less travelled; his focus word could have been “adventure” or “beyond comfort zone” or “curiosity.”  Someone with an inclination towards “security,” “comfort,” or “one step at a time” may have followed the path well-trod.

 You and I face a TON of decisions daily.  Research reveals the debilitating impact of decision-overload.  By the time 5 o‘clock rolls around, our brains are spent from making choices as varied as which of the five cereals to eat for breakfast to allocating resources to major business projects.

A focus word streamlines decisions.  It’s a lens through which we view the world.

Through the perspective of my focus word, community, it does not matter which cereal I eat so long as I breakfast with my kids.  In my business, I’m seeking partnerships.

Don’t you too wish to look back over the day or week or year and assert with assurance that we lived One. Great. Time.

How will we measure “great”?  Through the focus word!

The Focus Word vs. Chaos

People ask me, “But, isn’t this limiting?  One word for the entire year?!”

Science affirms that our natural tendency is towards chaos. 

An unkept gardens grows into a mini-jungle.  Without an agenda and a leader, a meeting can oh-so-quickly degenerate into a griping session or a game of office politics.  No house-rules about eating invite snacking and fewer sit-down family meals.

It takes effort to keep chaos at bay.  Intentionality.   

You and I know that our energy is finite.  Effort is good.  Exhaustion isn’t helpful.  The focus word helps set boundaries that are simultaneously clear and gentle.

The Focus Word & Barrier or Center-Orientation

A mentor speaks of two ways to define groups.  This can be applied to behaviors as well.

  • According to the barriers. 
    On one side people or actions are “in” and others are “out.” 
Star-belly Sneetches are “In”. Plain bellies are “out.”
Center is the focus
  • According to the center.
    Those whose life is most aligned with the center enjoy the greatest sense of belonging and stability.  The core is the key.

A focus word provides a center-orientation to your day, week, and year.

Examples of Focus Words

The focus words frees us from guilt at having missed our goal or “crossed the boundary.”  Tomorrow we are presented with yet another opportunity to move closer to the center.

Here are some examples

Slow

Slow” was one of my previous words.  Changes abounded in personal and professional life and I felt confused and sometimes trapped.  Many circumstances lay outside of my control.  No matter how hard I pressed life’s accelerator, the situation did not move faster.

Slow meant

  • Give people space.  My concern lay foremost on my mind…not on everyone’s.  Respect their priorities too.
  • Grow in the waiting.  Consider this period of my life as a gift to me to prepare for an upcoming action-packed rhythm.  What can I learn about myself and others?  Where do I need to heal/grow/give/be silent?
  • Be vs. Do.  Love myself. Period. And allow others to be vs. trying to change them.  Sooo much easier said than done!

The “Slow” focus word impacted my daily routine (I integrated more time for thinking) and my attitude towards others (I would catch myself judging people and remember to listen and observe before jumping to conclusions). 

When waiting grew frustrating, I would take long walks to review my life’s journey.  Five years ago, I could not have imagined my current life!

Decisions

I worked with a woman who chose “Decisions” as her focus word. 

The word seemed obvious as she faced upcoming transitions.  She grew even more through the more subtle, daily decisions she learned to recognize and take

  • Her attitude in face of uncertainty
  • Her actions when others behaved inappropriately (according to her)
  • Her time management and priorities
  • The food she ate and her exercise practices

Fruitfulness

One woman chose to apply this Bible verse to her life, focusing one of these fruit per year:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5: 22-23

She was mature in years and experience and was going through the cycle again!  Her focus word impacted her behavior so powerfully that friends recognized when it was the year for joy or tolerance (forbearance) or gentleness.

Impact

A focus word has impact.  We grow both for ourselves and those with whom we work and live.  

I hope that at the end of this year, friends, colleagues, and family will feel enjoyment  at being together. ?

Choosing a Focus Word

How do we choose a focus word?  From the heart and soul, not the head.

Psychologists assert that our beliefs, not our intellectualization, impact our behaviors.  A focus word that sticks addresses our emotions and our vulnerabilities.  It goes beyond the rational.  We can be blind to those underlying assumptions and mindsets.

Here are two ways I have found helpful to remove our barriers and identify a focus word.

Ask

I was taught to ask in prayer.  The focus word is a spiritual exercise.  Do you believe in a higher being?  Ask for a focus word. 

Alternatively, petition trusted friends. “If you would give me one word for the year, what would it be?”

When they answer, notice your physical reaction.  Does it hit you in the gut?  Are you comforted in your mind?  Do you feel embraced?

With that awareness, sit with the word for a week.  The initial reaction, whether positive or not, is not always the last word.  Some of us need a wake-up call.  Others crave encouragement. 

To sit with the word, I put it on my calendar as an all-day event that lasts a week.  I see it everyday and let it ruminate.

You can ask me.  Send me a note.  It would be a delight to work together to identify a focus word for the year…it’s a way to build community with you! 

Do the Pizza Plan

Another useful technique is the Pizza Plan.  This four-step process brings to focus important facets of your life (pieces of pizza) and your satisfaction in each (crust and goodies).  This funny-looking pizza gives insight into the challenges opportunities (!) for the upcoming year.

I created a free four video series for you.  Discover it here.

Get more clarity sooner.  Write me. I will walk you through the process and be a mirror for you.  It sure helps to gain fresh perspective!

What is YOUR Focus Word?

Share your word in the comments below.  It’s great to hear from you…that’s community too.

Business man with gas mask. Toxic behavior.

What is a “Toxic Employee”?

Last week we began a series on managing “toxic employees.”

One reader inquired, “What, exactly, is a toxic employee?”

It is such a great (and obvious) question, that we’re addressing it now before going on to additional constructive communication tools to develop collaboration with these colleagues.

What is a “Toxic Employee”?

“Toxic employee” is one of those phrases that gets thrown around without clarification.

People are not toxic.  Behaviors are.

People get labeled according to their behaviors.

“She’s a high potential.”

“He’s totally toxic.”

Read about labels that create a disconnect with listeners.

worldview-beliefs-values-behaviors icebergOur actions stem from our beliefs and attitudes.  You and I operate according to our conscious and unconscious convictions.

Just because a person bravely stands up to a bully does not make her a brave person in all circumstances.  She sure acted with courage in this instance. This strengthens her and others’ confidence that she could do so under even more challenging conditions too.

Similarly, someone who trips over his feet is not a klutz.  He acts clumsy.

Who we are is more than how we act.

Mindset Matters

The purpose of this series on toxic behavior at work is to present solutions which foster lasting, constructive behavior.

We do so by addressing the beliefs behind the behaviors.

Fixed and Growth Mindsets

Dr. Carol Dweck, professor at Columbia University, identified two underlying attitudes towards growth.  These attitudes either extend or constrain our view of ourselves and of others.

People with the Fixed Mindset believe that people have qualities and they reach a maximum capability level and cannot go further.  Like our height.  My brother, a longstanding adult, is 6’2”.  He won’t grow taller.

Folk with a Growth Mindset consider that we can change throughout life.  Like muscle.  My brother joined a gym. His biceps are more pronounced than a few months ago!

Moving Between Mindsets

Through our interactions with people we can encourage either of these mindsets.

Labels move people towards the fixed mindset. This is true whether it’s a positive or negative label.  Once identified as toxic, always problematic.  Once considered high-potential, always more is expected of them.

I seek to orient people towards the growth mindset and do so through constructive communication tools that provide choices within clear limits. This approach to communication renders people responsible for their actions and invites collaboration and mutual respect.

These tools are founded on the psychological principles of Dr. Alfred Adler and have been confirmed by neuroscience.  For example, Dweck describes that people with a fixed mindset focus on declarative statements.  “This is the way it is.  Period.”  Growth mindset folk entertain questions.  “What will it take to move from here to there?”

Dweck asserts that people can change mindsets.  The realization that these two worldviews exist has helped many recognize their fixed mindset tendencies and to intentionally focus on developing more of a growth perspective.

Toxic behavior is often a symptom of a fixed mindset.  The person believes his label is superior to another’s.  They therefore deserve special treatment.  (They can be a bigger victim too.)

The purpose of this series on toxic behavior at work is to present growth mindset solutions to

  • Avoid falling into a fixed mindset trap
  • Invite challenging employees to grow
    … thanks to relationship tools that are simultaneously firm and kind
  • Be in expectation that the colleague can and will progress

Toxic Behaviors at Work

When a person spreads rumors, it’s poisoning the atmosphere.

When a boss misuses power, he is killing trust.

I have noticed two categories of particularly venomous behaviors:  undermining colleagues and expecting favored treatment.  These share a worldview of needing to be “superior to others.”

Here is how they might be expressed at work:

Undermining colleagues

  • Stealing ideas and taking the credit for oneself
  • Spreading rumors
    “Too bad Stacey lacks confidence.”
  • Focusing on faults and publicizing them
    “Here comes Joe who makes spills coffee on his pants.”
  • Initiating power struggles, as in passive-aggression
    “Too bad you did not take into account this information before making the decision.” They then present data that would have been helpful earlier.

Expecting favored treatment

  • Abusing power, no matter the level of responsibility
  • Judging others for behaviors they consider acceptable for themselves
    “Sam is so irresponsible for being late. I, however, have a legitimate excuse.”
  • Requesting special favors
    “I should get two presents at the holiday party because …” (it happened)
  • Complaining

These behaviors leave a sour taste in the mouth.  The value of people has been sullied.

Creating an Environment where People Grow

People can change.  Colleagues with toxic behavior can become collaborative team members (and visa versa).  I have personally seen it happen on numerous occasions.  The name SoSooper stands for becoming super through bloopers.  By learning from our professional and personal mistakes, we prosper in making a living and in life.

Change first

THE EFFECTIVE WAY OF CHANGING OTHER PEOPLE IS TO FIRST CHANGE YOURSELF.

Imagine a tennis ball bouncing against a wall.  When you throw it repeatedly the same way, the ball will bounce back in a predictable fashion.  How to get the ball to bounce differently?

  • Change the ball
  • Change the way you throw
  • Change the wall

Changing other people is like trying to alter the shape of the ball.  It means constraining it into another shape, like force-wrapping it in tape.  It works AS LONG AS THE PRESSURE LASTS.  It’s uncomfortable for the person being compacted (and they resist), and it’s a pain to continuously apply pressure.

Create growth opportunities

The relationship tools in this series (and throughout my blog and in my trainings) present ways to change the way we toss a ball.  We act differently SO THAT the person with unacceptable behavior faces the responsibility and results of his acts.  These tools create learning situations which invite a constructive response from the offending party.

In the previous post, we looked at addressing toxic behavior by acknowledging a rift in the relationship, admitting we could have a role in it, and having them recognize that they share a responsibility in it too.  Those tools were not about telling them about their faults.  “Something is wrong with our interactions (not with you).  Tell me how you understand the situation.”

This approach demands, in a firm and kind manner, that the other person account for his behavior.

Read: Alternatives to Firing Toxic Employees – Acknowledge the challenge…and your role in it

When we change our behavior, it impacts multiple relationships. When we stop complaining to other colleagues about someone else’s toxic behavior, we open up to creativity and become more productive with all our team members.  The environment flourishes.

Toxic Example

Consider this actual situation.  One boss, in the guise of being helpful, would touch women inappropriately.  When they were in private, he would say with concern, “You have a thingee on your sweater,” and reach over and pluck a crumb (real or imagined?) from her chest.

He’s the boss.  It’s her bosom. That’s an abuse of power.  It’s also difficult to react to.

How to respond to unacceptable behavior in a way that respects yourself (setting clear limits) and respects the other person (not stooping to shame and blame behavior)?

Fixed Mindset Responses

She wanted to exclaim, “You jerk!”

That labels him and more firmly instills him in a fixed mindset.

She could respond with a clear command, “Please keep your hands off my chest.”

He is surely prepared for such a reaction and, with assumed hurt, would assure that he only wanted to help.  HE is the victim for having been misunderstood.

Toxin diffusers worm their way out of responsibility.

Take Responsibility & Render Responsible

Consider this way of addressing the delicate dilemma with an “I” Message, one of the constructive communication tools that effectively establishes limits and invites the offender to a more respectful behavior.  (“I” Messages are the topic of the next post.)  Here is how it could play out:

A few days later, when the woman has had time to gather her thoughts, she is ready to set limits and point to positive collaboration. “When you plucked that crumb off my sweater, I felt uncomfortable and perplexed because I consider my chest to be a private space and yet our relationship is professional.”

Pause.

“I feel more comfortable when there is a clear distinction between the two.”

The disruptive behavior has been contained without judging the person as toxic.

 

She cannot control his response, and we will address this further next week.  In the meantime, please leave questions or comments below.

Read: Alternatives to Firing Toxic Employees – Acknowledge the challenge…and your role in it

Toxic employee is like a slithery snake

Alternatives to Firing a Toxic Employee – 1/3

Consider the case of a team with a toxic employee.  I am coaching the manager who says, “I told him right out what is not working, and he keeps doing it.”

The manager is being honest with feedback.  And yet, the situation perpetuates itself…even worsens.

This post is the first in a three-part series to present tools to turn around situations with bad-attitude employees.

The Case of the Toxic Team Member

This young employee, let’s call him George, had been assigned to a team for a specific project.  George’s previous work had been well enough appreciated, his skills were valuable, and this project needed manpower.

The manager expected higher quality output than what he was getting from George, so he let him know it.  Honestly. And with respectful language.

“You have got to be more thorough.”

“Be responsible.  Take initiative.”

“Don’t wait for me to specify what work you need to do and how.”

“There are mistakes in this document!”

Instead of improving his attitude and effort, George withdrew when in front of the manager and talked behind his back.

manager employee toxic relationship. Vicious cycleRumors got back to the manager who trusted George less and less.  He was on the lookout for occasions where George underperformed.  People find what they seek; the manager identified imperfect work, and George received increasing critique and diffused more resentment throughout the team.

Vicious circle.  Toxic employee.  Suffering team.

The Manager is Honest and Respectful.  Isn’t he right?!

Yes, the manager clearly pointed out the areas of underperformance without disparaging the junior employee, George.

Could he have done anything else? Yes.

The Trust Balance on Overdraft

Let me use a metaphor to explain:  Credit

When you pay off your debt, the balance becomes ZERO.  Not negative.  Yet not positive either.

When the manager pointed out the faults, he may have been removing negative behaviors.  It’s like he brought “development potential” up…up to zero!  Yet, the employee still totters on the brink of demotivation and disengagement.

The manager’s goal is to generate a positive performance AND positive return on the investment in talent.  Pointing out the negatives is not the same as investing in skill development.

There are constructive communication tools which BOTH set limits for expected results AND SIMULTANEOUSLY encourage and engage the employee. Before considering termination, try one of these less costly and potentially high return approaches to bringing a slacking employee up to speed.

  1. Acknowledge the challenge…and your role in it (this post)
  2. Use “I” Messages
  3. Schedule frequent feedback

This post is the first in a series of three where we address tools to encourage employees.

Acknowledge the challenge…and your role in it

How can one have a conflict with only one person?

By definition, a clash involves a minimum of two parties.  It is rare that with humans one person is totally correct and the other one is completely 100% in neglect.

On the principle, the boss is most probably correct.  Performance needs improvement.

And yet…How was the tone of voice?  Or the clarity of expectations?  How many times do we spout off requests while rushing to a meeting?!

I had a situation where an employee was mourning the death of a friend from overdose and the boss had just had a fight with his teen.  In their respective hypersensitive states, latent tension was exposed.  They clashed, and it led to subsequent coaching.

An outright confrontation has the advantage of bringing the differences out in the open.  It’s a costly move for everyone.  Angry outbursts at work leave a mark on everyone’s reputation.

Here are more trust-building ways to address a conflictual relationship.

Inquire & listen

“I wonder if we are understanding each other as effectively as we could. How would you rate our communication on a scale of 1 (ineffective) to 10 (full engagement on both of our parts)?”

Find ways to have your employee speak and name the challenge.  They are savvy at slithering into a victim mentality.  Avoid the trap with this type of question which respectfully yet firmly has the employee face his responsibility for his attitude and behavior.

A ranking provides a starting point for exposing differences.  If they respond with a “9” and you think the cooperation runs at “2”, it’s an opportunity for each of you to express your expectations of effective collaboration.

“What does a “9” entail, and can you give me an example of when this happened?”

Think of it like deciphering an optical illusion where both of you see different images in the same brush strokes on the paper.

Read: See Through Someone Else’s Eyes

Set a meeting with just this topic on the agenda.

Separate personal and professional issues

“As a manager, I don’t see us working well together to reach performance objectives. As a person just like you, I would like work to be a motivating and pleasant part of my life.  I feel frustrated (choose your emotion) with the way we work together.  I don’t see us reaching either of those goals.  When can we set a time to discuss what you want from this job and what you expect from your work relationships and I can share mine too?”

Many young employees seek society at work.  Their work used to be school and that’s where they made friends. Help them understand that performance issues differ from their interest as an individual.

By having the employee “present his case” you again have him face the responsibility of his own attitude.

Give the employee a respectful way to voice objections

“You and I seem to be viewing the same situation from very different perspectives. When can we sit down, and you can tell me your understanding of our project requirements and of our teamwork?  At 9:00 a.m. or after lunch?”

We managers give feedback regularly.  Often in little chunks.  We drop by his desk on the way to a meeting.  We call him into our office, say our stuff, and dismiss him.

(In the third post of this series we will look at a way to encourage self-evaluation and focus feedback on ways to progress.)

When are employees invited to share their disagreements with their boss?

Consider this an opportunity to model the kind of behavior and respect you would like to receive from him.

Switch Perspectives

The above questions invite both manager and employee to switch perspectives.

The employee is challenged to get out of a “victim” mindset where the world owes him favors.  The manager gives him responsibility for his actions.

Each of these examples also acknowledges that the manager, may not have a 360° understanding of the situation.  The more responsibility one gains, the more difficult it is to know what happens lower in the organizational structure.

The boss has the power to give a raise, to promote (and to dictate who works on weekends).  Team members watch for signs from their manager that indicates they may disagree without negative repercussions.

That young employee’s adverse behavior might just be an indication that a sensitive subject merit being addressed.

I have learned what I do well and what to improve in my leadership style through such discussions.  It’s not always pleasant.  It has been beneficial.

Your Invitation to Disagree

I presented these concepts to Harvard Business School alumni.  Some espoused them immediately: “It’s so obvious that I forgot to think of it.  Like fish not recognizing water.”

Others took the opposite stance, “You are letting the wolves take over.”

What is your take on dealing with a potentially toxic employee?  Comment below or send me a message.

 

Next week, we’ll explore “I” Messages.  Stay tuned.

Cover photo by David Clode on Unsplash
On a sampan in the Mekong river

Express Your Values and Give Them Purpose

There is a difference between saying the right words to talk about organizational values and culture and giving meaning to words through actions.

How can we identify an organization’s values?  Listen for phrases that get repeated in daily life.

What describes your culture?  How are these values translated from words into actions that help the community thrive?

Organizational Values Revealed

– Examples from Traveling Abroad

During a recent trip to Vietnam I learned much about their culture and, through my reactions, I also discovered more about myself.  These insights are revealed through essential words: some that are important to me (expressing my values) and others that specifically apply in Vietnam (a country is an organization too).

(Scroll to the end for photos.)

Thank You

When traveling abroad I make the effort to master the local version of “Thank you.” 

In Vietnamese it is written cảm ơn.”  I’m still uncertain how to pronounce it since, in their tone-based language, there are five different ways to articulate the letters C.A.M.  Each of these pronouciations represents a unique definition ranging from feeling to chin to forbidden.

Instead of sharing appreciation I often mumbled an embarrassed, “cmmmmn”.

My reaction contradicted my values!  My life objective is to learn and I express openness to growth with words of appreciation.   My mumbling focused on me rather than learning from others.  In Vietnam I found my way to express gratitude for growth:  a “thumbs up” or a handshake did the job.

Hello, Young Man

We visited with expat friends who each spontaneously expressed their you-need-to-know-this-word-in-Vietnamese.  These are culture-specific terms which make sense in the culture and which help those on the outside make sense of the culture.

“I hear ‘em oi’ (pronounced ‘aim oy’) 100 times a day to get someone’s attention,” reported a friend working in a male professional environment.

“Em oi” means “May I have your attention, young fellow.”  “Em” refers to the youthfulness which even more mature gentlemen consider a compliment.  “Oi” refers to creating a connection.  I see you and please see me too.

“Em oi” launches an exchange.

Enough!

Another friend, a woman who faced the daily price negotiation for bananas, school supplies, and even medicine expressed her appreciation for ways to stop an exchange, to set limits.

“KHÔNG” (pronounced “hong” with a severe tone of voice) means “ENOUGH!”  No more haggling over prices.  No more following me around.  Let. Me. Be.

 

Isn’t it fascinating how these chosen words speak volumes both about ourself the culture in which they are used?!

Behind each of these selected lies individual and cultural values

  • life-long learning through appreciation
  • the search for attention
  • a desire to stay young
  • keeping boundaries

Organizational Values Revealed

– Words at Work

Let’s explore some common words heard in organizations.  We all agree on their worth, and yet many people experience a gap between the concept and the context (implementation).

What values describe your corporate culture?  How do they impact members’ actions and decision-making?

Teamwork

Everyone believes in teamwork.  And yet some colleagues miss feeling a sense of belonging.  How is commitment to teamwork expressed in your organization?  Test yourself with these questions:

  • How often are team meetings held?
  • How much of the agenda is set by team members…or is it controlled by the manager?
  • What element of compensation relies on individual performance vs. on team results?
  • How do you learn and celebrate together?
  • Do team members eat together?… or do colleagues limit their interactions to work-related issues?

“The team that eats together stays together.”

Innovation

Many corporate mission statements include the word “innovation.”  Let’s unpack that.

Creativity and discovery require experimentation.  Testing the unknown means experiencing failure.  ERROR?!  MISTAKES?!

  • When was the last time an error occurred in your team?
    What happened before, during, and after?
  • How long are you willing to keep trying before reaching desired results?
  • How is learning from errors shared throughout the organization?
  • What is the career path of the top managers? How do the C-Suite leaders model learning from mistakes?
  • What happens to the manager who only shares successes?

“Never get discouraged if you fail. Learn from it. Keep trying. Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
– Thomas Edison

Open-minded

When a culture favors open minds, there exist safe spaces for people to express different points of view without fear.

  • What is the role of brainstorming and of laying out ideas without judgement in your team?
  • How well do people listen to each other…or are most folk preparing their own response before seeking understanding?!
  • What benchmarks are used to keep you and your team oriented towards growth and improvement?
  • How diverse is your team: in gender, race, nationality, age, and more?
  • Whose ideas get selected?

“A bend in the road is not the end of the road…Unless you fail to make the turn.”
Helen Keller (blind, deaf, & dumb.  Prolific author.  1880 – 1968)

 

Teamwork, innovation, open-mindedness, and every one of our corporate values gains meaning by how it is put into practice.  What a leadership opportunity!

Organizational Values Revealed

– Practices in Personal Life

Just as your team at work thrives on belonging to a group and contributing to a purpose with values, your family and personal entourage do too.

Teamwork & Togetherness

If you seek family togetherness, how often do you enjoy family time?  Is it regularly planned and marked on the family calendar? When do you eat together? How does each person help with chores?

Put into practice.

Are your parents ageing?  Plan a weekly phone call. Every week.

Does your household include teens?  Schedule a smart-phone-free family meal.  Generate interest by inviting them to choose the menu.  Make it a time to coordinate calendars so that you can prevent misunderstandings (“Where is the party and what time will you be back?” rather than correcting them (“Where were you until the wee hours last night?”).

Innovation & Creativity

Transmit creativity and a spirit of experimentation in the kids through your response to their mistakes, whether it’s spilled milk, leaving a mess, and (mis)use of money.

Teach them calmly (!) to clean up.  No lound voices needed.  The kids will learn a valuable skill and, if they don’t like it, they’ll find ways to make cleaning faster or more fun … or how to avoid making a mess in the first place.

As a family, brainstorm ways to keep the living room welcoming…and ways to enjoy it together!  When did you last sit down for a card game or a movie night?

Help kids find ways to earn money: bake cakes to order for the neighbors, take care of younger kids or keep company to elderly folk, tutor younger children in schoolwork.

(FYI, we did not pay children to do regular chores.  Helping with the family is part of togetherness.  We all participate in making home a nice place to be.)

Open Kids’ Minds

Opportunities abound to stretch children’s comfort zones.

  • Invite adults to join in a family meal. The children will learn more about you and the world.
  • Try a discovery menu. Have you tasted Moroccan tagine, Vietnamese spring rolls, Indian curry, or French steak tartare?  They don’t have to like it.  The purpose is to discover something new.
  • Plan a vacation in an exotic country!

Next Step

“We have found that companies need to speak a common language, because some of the suggested ways to harness disruptive innovation are seemingly counter-intuitive. If companies don’t have that common language, it is hard for them to come to consensus on a counter-intuitive course of action.”
– Clayton Christensen, professor Harvard Business School

Identify those most important words for your organization and translate them into every day actions.

This is constructive communication in practice and it is my area of expertise.

Can I help you transmit teamwork, innovation, openness and other values throughout your organization?   Discover the culture-strengthening workshops here or contact me directly to discuss your specific situation.

“Hẹn sớm gặp lại.” (Vietnamese)

“A bientôt.” (French)

Let’s be in touch.

 

Photos from our Trip to Vietnam

Gorgeous and diverse scenery.  “Em oi!  Cảm ơn!”  (Young fellow, Thank you)

  • Thanks FOR the opportunity to discover these treasures, sufficient business success to finance travel and family memory-making, the beauty of the earth and its energizing impact…
  • Thanks TO the generations past that labored to level the rice paddies and discover the caves, the creative force in the universe, the resilient Vietnamese people who warmly welcome visitors from previously warring nations…

Sapa rice terraces in Vietnam
Terraced rice paddies in Sapa.

Phong Nha Paradise Cave in Vietnam
Ginormous Paradise Cave goes on for 30 km underground.

Ha Long Bay in stormy weather
Ha Long Bay in the rain. Monsoon season.

 

Delectable foods and culinary adventures at the market, some of which I could only handle from a distance.

“Không!”  No squiggling squid from a bucket for me today…no matter what the price.

Outdoor food market in Vietnam
No fixed prices. We negotiate with fingers, showing cash, or typing numbers on smart phones.

“Không!” Enough trying new foods.  We ordered boneless chicken and were served chicken feet (albeit deboned)!  “Em oi!  Beef please! Cảm ơn!”

Boneless chicken claw Vietnames delicacy
Trying to be local. We have a looooong way to go before savoring chicken claws!

Kids-give-lessons-to-parents

4 Ways Kids Can Help Parents Resolve Work Challenges

Do you know the story of the three blindfolded men who meet the elephant?

Problem solving with elephants

One person is presented with the tail.  He feels the swoosh and the stringy stands and concludes it is a rope.

Another feels the breath from the trunk and hears the sound and wonders if it is a trumpet or a French horn.

The third touches his ear.  It’s thin, dry, and cracked.

Each of them feels safe … until the blinders are removed.

Elephant charging prey
Photo by James Weiss, Eyes on Africa

As we grow in leadership responsibility and power, we lose the perspective held by team members.  Problem-solving without persepective only aggravates the situation.

If a challenging issue were seen from another angle, even better from multiple perspectives, we might make very different decisions.

Summer vacation is coming up and we often spend this time with children trying to forget about work.  What if the kids could bring you fresh perspective for problem-solving of issues at work? Try these ideas which

  • Build connection between you and your child
  • Boost your children’s self-confidence
  • Give you fresh perspective on a work challenge

 

1. Observe with an Open Mind

When you observe someone, how long do you wait to speak and ty to influence their behavior?  Do these phrases sound familiar?

  • Advice: “Listen…and don’t interrupt.”
  • Coaching: “Try doing it this way instead. It will work better.”
  • Critique: “Don’t just sit there. Do something about it!”

In my workshops, we ask participants to observe a colleague or family member for five to fifteen minutes.  No a priori.  Just watch to learn.  Try it this summer.

What interests them and what makes them tune out?  What are the cues?

What resources are they tapping into: persistence, patience, ingenuity…?

How would you describe their demeanor: comfortable, tense, enthused….?

Here is what one manager shared:

“I noticed how this young employee struggled with his Power Point presentation.  She typed – erased – typed – erased…  I wanted to tell her to STOP and think it through first.  Instead I kept my distance and observed.  She was tenacious.  I realized she sought excellence…. I wanted to give her feedback and decided that instead of my usual advice I would ask her to self-evaluate:  what went well, what she learned from it, and how she might do things differently next time.  We would end up with the same conclusion as when I tell her what to do, only this time the insights would come from her.  She would own her performance.”

Here is what a parent shared:

“My teen was doing his laundry.  He had a wrinkled button-down shirt. He tried to smooth out the front to no avail.  He went to get my curling iron and used it to smooth out the front of his shirt!  Quite ingenious!   Before intentionally observing him, I thought my son was so impractical and a dreamer.  I learned that he manages…very differently from me AND quite well anyhow.”

2. Play the Multiple Perspectives Game

Is there a challenge with you and a child?  How about viewing it from multiple angles together.

Maybe you want your daughter to help clear the table after meals.  You could each try to understand this request from everyone involved (and more):

  • Daughter: “Why me? Why not my brothers?  Boys can help in the kitchen.”
  • Big Brother: “I get to play while my sister works. My parents love me more because I can do what I want.”
  • Little Brother: “My parents ask Sister to help and not me. She is big and can do many things.  I am small and need help.”
  • A Martian: “Why do they have plates? Can’t they eat with their hands?”
  • A parent: “I want vacation too. If we all help a bit, then it’s less work for each one.”
  • In 20 years: … Your daughter interrupts the game to ask, “Does what I do today make a difference for 20 years from now?!” and you have the invitation to embark on a meaningful discussion…

Who knows, your daughter might come up with a chore chart that includes clearing the table AND vacuuming AND picking up toys!  And EVERYONE pitches in!

Similarly, at work this could entail trying to understand the perspective of the client, the finance team, the engineers, the supplier, the newlywed colleague’s spouse….

3. Explain the Challenge Simply

Relationship challenges are unique AND similar. 

  • Someone seeks attention and affirmation.
  • Another wants power or control.
  • A person has been hurt and attempts to retaliate.
  • Others fear rejection and not being worthy…

Parents have questions about the challenges their children face.  And kids are interested in the lives of their parents.

Try a mutual coaching between you and your child.  Your kid shares a challenge with you and you do the same with her.  This is not a teaching time; it’s a mutual discovery moment.

You might be surprised by their insight:
“You mean you are not friends with everyone at work?!”

They might be surprised by yours:
“So, the fight started when he hit you back.”

Learning opportunities abound!

4. Ask What They Would Like in that Situation

Many of us try to solve other people’s problems.

One child was slooooooooow to get up in the morning even though her Dad has tried everything.  Mornings grew to become the worst time of the day for all.  Finally, in despair the father asks, “What would make it easier for you to get up in the morning?”  The child admits sheepishly, “I want a hug to help me get out of bed.”  Their morning routing is now pleasant for everyone.

Is there a routine at the office that does not function smoothly?

Instead of being the one to find all the answers, try asking.  The answers from your children could provide helpful insights for work.

About Bossiness

Child’s answer:
“What do I want when you boss me around?  It’s OK for you to tell me what to do.  I just want us to play first.”

Application at Work:
Does your team have moments to connect as people:  a weekly lunch together, a morning coffee ritual, or a WhatsApp group to share news and photos of successes.

About Emotions

Child’s answer:
“When I feel sad, I like to snuggle with my Froggy.”

Application at Work:
We each perform better when we feel better.  How do you calm down and recharge?

One teacher reported used a toy palm-tree as a sign to students that she needed calm.  When the trinket was on her desk, it meant to this-is-not-the-right-time.

What is your calming routine, and could you encourage team members to think of theirs:  could it help you to walk down several flights of stairs?  To do breathing exercises in the bathroom?  To get a glass of water?

 

Enjoy your vacation and the inspiration you can glean from your kids.

French soccer team winning FIFA World Cup 2018

Winning. Insights from Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard Business School

France just won the soccer World Cup.  It happened last 20 years ago.

The World Cup was launched in 1930 and every four years (except during WWII) national soccer teams throughout the world compete for the champion’s prize.  Of the 23 FIFA World Cups held over the years, nine countries experienced the glory of winning.  Only two times did the same country win twice in a row.

Confidence How Winning Streaks & Losing Streaks Begin & End

What makes a winning team?

Rosabeth Moss Kanter, professor at Harvard Business School, researched the question and wrote about it in her book, Confidence: How Winning Streaks & Losing Streaks Begin & End.

Moss Kanter’s determines that winning stems from confidence and leaders deliver confidence.  Learn how and apply her insights to your company or organization.

Success is a process.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter (RMK): “Failure and success are not episodes, they are trajectories.”

“Success is neither magic nor dumb luck; it stems from a great deal of hard work to perfect each detail.  It is even a little mundane.  Win, go back to work, win again.”

Moss Kanter also describes losing as a process and mindset:  blaming and making excuses.

Food for thought:

What processes do you have in place to learn from winning?

How do you share this knowledge?

Confidence-building is the leader’s job.

RMK: “Confidence underlies the performance of individuals, teams, businesses, schools, economies, and nations.  The fundamental task of leaders is to develop confidence in advance of victory, in order to attract the investments that make victory possible—money, talent, support, loyalty, attention, effort, or people’s best thinking.”

Food for thought:

What three resources does your team need most now?

  • Freedom to take risks and learn from mistakes
  • Consistency in management objectives
  • Trust to manage their own time and priorities
  • Appreciation of a job well done
  • Training to work more effectively as team

Confidence builds on past experiences and reactions to those experiences.

RMK: “But confidence is not an artificial mental construct, solely dependent on what people decide to believe; it reflects reasonable reactions to circumstances.   People are caught in cycles, and they interpret events based on what they see happening, on how they are treated by others around them.”

Moss-Kanter refers to events occurring during the performance AND backstage.  On the field AND in the locker room.  In front of the client AND in the conference room.

Food for thought:

How do your actions “during practice times” contribute to your team’s confidence “in the limelight”?

For example, what are the impact of gossip, ridicule, selective information, and pleasing in your organization?

When and how does your team practice before “big performances”?  Which of these apply to your team

  • Present challenges to the team for co-development
  • Identify worst-case scenarios and brainstorm potential solutions in anticipation
  • Role play critical meetings beforehand

Emotions are contagious.

RMK: “Good moods are both causes and effects.  Winning puts people in a good mood and being in a good mood makes it easier to win.  Positive emotions draw people together and negative emotions tend to push them apart.”

Food for thought:

What emotions do you express or allow at work?  When did you last hear someone (including you) say

  • How proud they are of themselves
  • They are excited to come to work
  • It’s satisfying to learn
  • They enjoy the teamwork
  • They are bored and would like new challenges
  • They feel let down and seek ways to build mutual support

What impact does expressing or suppressing emotions have on your team?

Winners face facts and address problems.

RMK: “It builds confidence in leaders when they name problems that everyone knows are there and put facts on the table for everyone to see.  It also helps other people get over their fear of exposure and humiliation to see leaders providing examples of accepting responsibility.”

“Accountability is the first cornerstone of confidence….Everyone said they knew what the problems were, but those problems were always some else’s fault.”

Food for thought:

Surprisingly, obvious challenges can be hard to pinpoint.  Like the fish who asks, “What is water?”
How can you step back and gain a fresh perspective?

  • Request feedback from a junior member of your team
  • Meet with an independent sparring partner
  • Accept a speaking engagement or an invitation for an interview which challenges you to synthesize strategies and actions

Winners really do work harder.  They track the specifics of their progress.

RMK: “(The CEO) was not looking for drama, he was looking for delivery.  Delivery required attention to details.”

Moss-Kanter spoke of the boring part of winning:  tracking the numbers and being disciplined.  It also helps everyone be on the same page and data reveals what needs to improve right now.

RMK: “Data, details, metrics, measurement, analyses, charts, tests, assessments, performance, evaluations, report cards, grades—these are the tools of accountability, but they are neutral tools.  The do not restore confidence by themselves.  What matters is the culture that surrounds them.  For losers, they are another sign that they are watched too closely, not trusted, about to be punished.  For winners, they are useful, even vital, tools for understanding and improving performance.”

Food for thought:

On a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high), how relevant are your metrics?  How much do you rely on your KPI’s for decision-making?

What do metrics conjure up in your culture: blame or learning?  What will you do about that?

 

Can there be Winners without Losers?

In the World Cup only one team receives the championship cup.

And yet, no one can categorize Croatia as “Losers” in the 2018.  Their president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic set the example in recognizing great sportsmanship in the competition and in her own team.  She embraced the championship cup holders as warmly as she embraced her own team.  Following suit, the French president Emmanuel Macron also embraced each of the Croatian athletes.

Emmanuel Macron and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic
The final whistle blows. Photo from Purepeople

Emmanuel Macron and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic
Victory to all champions. Photo from La Parisienne

Emmanuel Macron and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic hugging Mbappe
Such a HUG. Even Mbappe is surprised at her warm congratulations. Photo from La Parisienne.

Emmanuel Macron and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic in rain
Celebration rain or shine. Photo from La Parisienne.

The world witnessed a moment of connection as rain-soaked heads of states hugged sweat-soaked athletes, regardless of whether they held the prized cup or not.

Grabar-Kitarovic’s honorable stance at the award ceremony changed the way the French public views the Croatian team.

There is one world cup winner.  AND, there are no loser.  Everyone stands tall after the match.

 

What power-struggle in your life can we transform into a no-lose situation?  Contact me  to implement such a transition.

 

Quotes from Rosabeth Moss Kater are excerpts from her book
Confidence: How Winning Streaks & Losing Streaks Begin & End

Cover photo from Gala

Serenity of lighthouse

Serenity to Accept Things I Cannot Change

Google announces 6,2 Million results to my search for “Serenity Prayer.”

Many team-help groups gain inspiration from this prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

These lines hold “serenity” as the namesake, and yet who focuses on accepting the things they cannot change?!

Courage to Change Things

How exciting and ego-boosting to be a valiant savior!

To show courage and, with chivalry, to forge ahead into the unknow with sword drawn.  We can almost hear the cheerleaders encouraging us on: “A.C.T…I.O.N….Action, Action, We want Action!”  

Wisdom to Choose

The wizened elder expounding sound advice conjures up a positive image too.

The sage gathers a following of disciples.

The wise person holds authority.

The counselor is sought out.

A mentor’s insights lead to action.

Decision-making is prized by people from all walks of life

  • CEO’s organize “strategy sessions” around critical company decisions
  • Poets pen about our choice of life path…which makes all the difference
  • Child educators and neuroscientists refer to developing social and emotional skills by triggering areas of the brain related to decision-making

Making choices also brings a semblance of control, a feeling especially prized when we feel out of control!

Serenity to Do Nothing!!!

Isn’t doing nothing…bad?!

Non-action runs against our sense of control.  When we make a move, we feel power.  When we wait, we depend upon others.

Inaction is vulnerability.  Big time.

Serenity: When “Doing Nothing” is Good

To Accept Matters Beyond our Control

Some battles we cannot win; matters are beyond our control.

As I write, the French railroad employees are striking.  No personal effort on my part will get my scheduled train on the tracks.  Serenity helps me stop waste time moaning and groaning.   Then wisdom and courage get me on my smart phone to reserve a spot on a car-pool app.

Challenges happen.  We don’t choose war, persecution, cancer, corporate takeovers, our noisy next-door neighbors or ageing.

We do choose how we encounter hurdles:  either as victims or as survivors.  Serenity helps transform anger, hurt, and frustration into resilience, creativity, and hope.

Serenity helps us step back to identify whether we have a chance to win the challenge-of-the-moment.

To Take a Step Back

Sometimes our trouble results from a choice we took; our chosen path did not lead to the desired destination.

If we climb the winding trail at the base of Machu Pichu, we will not find a Yurt.  In the same way, no matter how far we travel the plains of Mongolia, we won’t find Inca treasures.

It sounds obvious…and yet how many of us slurp ice cream or sip wine and simultaneously lament being out of shape?

Or let steam out on a colleague and expect them to be motivated at work.

Or nag at our children and anticipate they will turn to us as trustworthy, secure, and patient counselors.

Sometimes the best action is to STOP. That’s what serenity helps us do…and to look around and find an alternative route to reach our goal.

How to Build Serenity

Serenity in the Brain

Our ability to observe a situation with calm and clarity relies on brain chemistry.

Have you noticed how your thoughts get fuzzy under emotional excitation, whether anger or extreme frustration or deep grief?

Our human brains physically disconnect.  The prefrontal cortex (which enables you and I to make logical connections, develop plans, understand emotional cues….) lifts and exposes the mid-brain which is responsible for our gut reactions of fight, flight, or freeze.  Dr. Daniel Siegel, neuroscientist at Stanford, explains it in this two-minute video.

Serenity in the Mind

Sometimes it just takes seconds (literally) to help calm the brain and to reason clearly again.

1. My favorite way is through laughter

… and sometimes I fake it until I make it. Other times, I imagine the S.H.I.T. hitting the fan…literally.  Stench.  Aggggh, the clean up!

The dread of this outcome makes me laugh.  AND STOP.

2. Gratitude also invites serenity.

Early in my career I interned with a clothing manufacturer to do market research and help the company owner prepare a five-year growth plan. The team consisted of seasoned men who had worked their way up in the garment district.  They considered me book smart and street stupid and wanted to prove me wrong.  I presented what I thought was the final report…and then discovered mistakes in the Excel calculations!  No opportunity to reverse time or to delete the shared files from these colleagues’ computers.

Gratitude helped me find serenity which then allowed me to act with intelligence.

  • Thankful to have found the mistake as soon as I did and that it did not change the recommendations
  • Thankful I learned to review. Review. REVIEW work early on in my career
  • Thankful to realize that we become super through our bloopers…the inspiration behind SoSooper!

 

Serenity is simple.  Not easy.  The opposite of serenity is worry and brooding.  Now THAT is complicated!!!

In what situations do you need serenity?

What do you do to take a step back and regain perspective?

 

Cover photo by Joshua Hibbert from Unsplash.