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

Man reflecting in park

When It’s Urgent to Reflect

For many of us reflection seems like a luxury in our over-packed schedules and high-efficiency mindset.

We feel a need to respond immediately.

To respond!

In our world of disruptive innovation and fast change, don’t we really need to initiate?

Proactivity requires reflection.  Overcoming recurring stumbling blocks demands new solutions.  In the words of Albert Einstein, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”

Reflection gets us thinking at another level.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”
– Albert Einstein

Here are five situations when deeper level thinking is vital.

1. When Faced with Failure

  • The deal you were about to close fell through at the last minute.
  • You expected a positive response from a colleague and met a very different reaction.
  • An employee left the company or is in burnout.

Step back

We could be too close to the problem.

Try stepping back using space.   Using Post-It notes, write one element of your challenge on each note and place them in order on a wall.  Step back and discover the pattern.  Where is the breaking point?

Try stepping back or forward with time.  Two weeks ago, what was the situation like?  Two weeks from now, what would you like to happen?

2. When Your Body “Complains”

  • You cannot sleep at night.
  • You have gained or lost weight.
  • You get sick.
  • Your digestion has gone havoc; gurgling sounds interrupt your meetings (!)

“If I knew I would live this long I would have taken better care of myself.”
– 90 year-old Al McDonald, previous Managing Director (CEO) of McKinsey & Company

Your and my energy is finite.  With exercise, nutrition, self-care, and planning we can increase our productivity … to a limit.

Re-Prioritize

Physical signs point to a need for change.  It’s time to re-evaluate the distribution of work.  Are you accepting too many projects?  Is it difficult to say, “No”?

Seeking recognition is a common goal.  All humans experience the fundamental need to belong and to contribute to a meaningful community.  Colleagues and neighbors may admire superhumans from afar.  It’s people we come alongside.  It’s relationships with fellow humans that bring meaning to work and life.

Review your investments in time and energy to identify tasks to delegate… and offer others a chance to grow and contribute too.

3. When Bored or Feeling Blasé

When all you see is 10 000 shades of grey, mental fatigue may be blinding you to life in full color spectrum.

Re-Connect

Consider these color images.  The first lacks greens.  The second is without red.  Without these hues, one can miss out on the obvious.

Numbers for Color Blind. No green
No green => confusing!
Numbers for Color Blind. No red
No red => confusing too.
Color blind numbers vector
Even with all the color, reading the numbers takes effort. Similarly, additional perspectives makes reflection easier.

When life appears color blind, it’s an invitation to reflect.  Easier said than done when we are in the blues.  Connecting with another person can add the clarity of perception we may have temporarily lost.  (That’s what coaches like me do.)

We have been given life in technicolor.  It’s urgent to re-assess when life appears monochromatic.

4. When Your Calendar is Always Full

I read of a foreigner learning English who integrated phrases she heard spoken around herShe learned to respond to, “How are you?” with, “I’m so busy.”

Many of us live with little margin.  We plan flexibility out of our lives.

Think of Yourself

Have you travelled on an airplane recently?  The flight attendants remind us to put on our oxygen mask BEFORE we help others.

Many people postpone self-care, prioritize working for others over taking time for oneself.   If you don’t invest in yourself, why should anyone else?

Self-care is a way to express your worth to your entourage.  Again, if you don’t believe in yourself, why should your boss, colleague, spouse, or child?

5. When You are Bitter or Jealous

We all look at the world through a filter.  The lens of envy focuses on faults … and since we are all humans, imperfections in each of us will be found.

Bitterness jettisons us into a vicious cycle of hurt and retaliation. It’s a lose-lose situation, and the one who harbors bitterness suffers most of all.

Lack of forgiveness is like drinking the poison you wish for someone else, reminds us Nelson Mandela.  Riddled with venom we perish; our joy dies, our ability to contribute constructively dwindles, and our sense of belonging withers.

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
– Nelson Mandela

Focus on Long Term Benefits

Numerous studies report how the elderly look back on their life.  Men and women lament the energy they wasted on insisting that they were right, even at the cost of a relationship.  The wise in years wish for strong rapport with folk who know their imperfections AND respect them still.

You may not desire nor need to reconnect in a hurtful relationship.  Do reconnect with yourself and your values.  (Often this does imply some kind of gesture in relationship recovery.)

It takes some stepping back to recognize our own responsibility in a relationship rift.

  • The 10 additional critical words to make SURE the reprimand got across
  • The 10 additional decibels in our tone of voice so that the entire floor could hear the negative feedback

As we realize and express our responsibility in the conflict, we free ourselves from a victim mentality and from reactivity.

Do you use a mirror to pluck out an ingrown hair?  Consider getting a coach or a sparring partner to bring to focus behaviors which could be aggravating an already delicate situation.

 

Reflection Becomes a Habit of the Mind

Reflection becomes a habit.

Try this activity from Positive Discipline that we do in my workshops:

  • Put your hands together and interlace your fingers
  • Straighten your fingers and move them down one notch. If your right index was on top before, the left one will be on top now.
  • How does it feel? What do you want to do?
    One participant shared, “The new hand position felt weird.  I wanted to go back to the previous way, and without thinking did so.  Then I tried the new hand position again.  It still felt unfamiliar, but less uncomfortable.  I realized that with practice, I could do this.”

Neuroscience corroborates this phenomenon.  When we activate our brain (as in through reflection) neurons create a pathway of connections from one part of the brain to another.  As we rethink similar thoughts, those same pathways get utilized, like a path a well-worn path that becomes easier and easier to follow.

Phew!

Action Step

Schedule a free trial coaching call.  Get in touch.

 

 

 

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

Woman doing pushups in Pilates class

Lead Constructive Meetings – Tips from Pilates

For many of us, meetings are a necessary evil.  We need team ressources and support, so we have to meet.  And yet many meetings feel unproductive.

How does one organize and run a meeting for optimal teamwork and productivity?

Contrary to popular believe, efficient and effective meetings rarely start by jumping right into the meat of the matter.  That’s expecting everyone to have thinking, listening, and creative caps donned.

It’s rarely the case.

Here is inspiration from one of my most envigorating weekly meetings:  a Pilates class.

1. Define the Mindset

Tips from Pilates

Our teacher begins every class the same way.

“Breathe.  Stand straight.  Feet hip-width apart.  Shoulders above hips.  Tummy muscles squeezed tight. Let your chin drop towards the sternum and feel the stretch…”

Every time, I am caught by both surprise and familiarity.

Surprised because I’m slouching, am disconnected with my body, and don’t even realize it!

These regularly repeated words prime both my spirit and my body for stretching and muscle-building. It takes 10 seconds.

Positive Mindset in Meetings

How do you prime your team members for alignment during your meeting?  Model the behavior you seek.

For connectedness: Take 10 seconds to smile and look each person in the eye.

To tackle a challenge regarding the competition: Link your fingers and stretch your arms out in front of you.

To foster listening: Stay silent until the room quiets down.

2. Engage the Core Muscles

Tips from Pilates

“Tighten your abs. Squeeze the inside of your thighs …”

Engage the Core Muscles in Meetings

What will constitute a “firm core” for your meeting?  Let the group know the intellectual muscle you expect.

“Let’s put those creativity caps on!”

“We have a full agenda.  We want to hear from everyone who has something new and relevant to add.”

“Disagreement is OK. When we present our viewpoint, let’s stick to facts. I may request a moment for each of us to write our thoughts down before continuing the debate.”

3. Clarify Expectations

Tips from Pilates

“Feel the stretch in your lower back…”   It’s our cue for success; if we only feel the legs, something is out of whack.

Clarify Expectations with a Meeting Agenda

A shared written agenda helps keep the meeting on track.  It’s an agreed-upon tool to refocus.

“The decision we have to make today is ___________. You have a valid point and we still need to move ahead.”

Time indicators on your agenda adds yet another element of accountability.

“We had spent 15 minutes debating this issue.  Are we getting ready to decide or do we need to come back to this topic with additional information?  If so, who will do what?”

4. Maximize Results in Minimum Time

Tips from Pilates

“Let’s tone triceps.  For these push-ups, place your hands facing forward with arms next to your body.”

Standard push-ups build upper body strength.  This particularly positionning tones triceps.  Our goal is fit-looking arms to show off our summer wardrobe.  These forward-facing pushups get us the results easier and faster.

Stay Focused

Less is more.  Avoid distraction that generate lengthy, somewhat-related discussions.  Aim to define several concrete steps to move forward and assigning who does what.  That’s HUGE and motivating to all.

5. Self-Evaluate

Tips from Pilates

Between exercises, our Pilates instructor reminds us to align our body, to strengthen our core, and where to feel the stretch.

Oops!  I squeezed those glutes five minutes ago and then shifted my concentration to the movement.  In that short time span, I forget to keep those butt muscles engaged!

Invite Re-Alignment throughout the Meeting

In the same way, it’s helpful to return to meeting’s posture, purpose, and schedule to check in.

To avoid putting someone on the spot, invite self-evaluation.

“How are we doing on creativity/timeliness/mutual respect/?  What could you do to help us be more imaginative/productive/effective listeners?  Let’s continue…”

Read Turn Good Intentions to Great Teamwork for an example of self-evaluation during meetings.

 

6. Nourish your Brain

Tips from Pilates

Between exercises we rehydrate with water infused with lemon, ginger, or cucumber.

Serve Water during Meetings

Do you know that the brain contains 80% water?  Studies show that hydration contributes to memory and clear thinking.

Serving water also creates a pause in the meeting dynamic.  Try relieving tension between participants by offering a glass of water.  These nanoseconds allow the brain to receive nourishment AND to process emotions which boosts the ability to reason and rationally weigh alternatives.

The humble act of service demonstrates your care for the participants.  It’s a basic human need to seek belonging and significance.  A glass of water with a smile allows you to connect one-on-one with a person, even during a large meeting.

7. End with a Closing Routine

Tips from Pilates

“One last stretch before we go.”

Stretch the Value of the Meeting with One Word to Recap

“Let’s go around the table with a take-away from each of you.”

This is a gentle yet firm way of securing buy-in….at least on something.  Peer pressure encourages even the reticent participant to contribute.  It could be eye opening for them to realize the meeting held value to their colleagues.

If the closing comments fall below your hopes,consider how to prepare or manage your next meetings differently.  Take stock:

  • What went well?
  • When were the less productive moments?
  • How well did your respect the schedule (ie and respect the value of your participants’ time)?

Want to participate in a business meeting with these tips in action?  Contact me about organizing a conference in your workplace.

Apply to Life

These techniques work marvels with children around the kitchen table.  It’s the opportunity to address an elephant in the room and get the kids involved.

“I noticed that we have trouble getting out the door on time in the morning.”

Define the Mindset – Smile.  Reassure the children this is a time for solution-finding, not blaming.  “Around this table I won’t tell anyone to ‘Stop dragging your feet.’”

Clarify Expectations “Let’s come up with ideas to make mornings calm and joyful.  From our list we can choose one to try this week.”

Invite Self-Evaluation“Yes, your brother could ______.  What could YOU do?”

Stay Focused – When the kids squabble among each other, reframe.  “Hum. How is that pinching helping us get out the door on time? (Pause. Eye contact. Smile.) Another idea?”

Finish Strong“Let’s each say one phrase to share what you thought of our meeting.”

  • “I felt like a big person.”
  • “I know how to help.”
  • “We have great ideas!”

Cover photo from Unsplash

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.
Fanny Smith Ski Cross Olympics 2018

Time Optimization Tips from the Olympics

Time management matters when nanoseconds make the cut for an Olympic medal.

That’s the case with champion women’s skicross Fanny Smith, from Villars-sur-Ollon, who won the bronze medal in the Olympics at PyeongChang.  Our children learned to ski in Villars and I too felt that thrill of the locals when she earned her medal.

Fanny Smith Bronze Olympics 2018

On our local slopes we don’t see these; they are prevelant at the Olympics.  The blue lines on the slopes.

 

Optimize Time with Success Lines

These markers help racers and coaches trace the optimal path to follow.  It’s literally their time-optimization guide.  Stay within the lines to go faster.

How do you track the optimal path and reach your goals fast?  For your life?  For your work? For your relationships?

Time management is an issue for many of us.  Few of us can afford hours retracing our steps.  And yet many of us do so with relationships.  Building positive rapport between people takes time…and it takes even longer to clean up after the s*@! hits the fan. 

Too far off these blue lines and the skiers crash and forfeit the race.

If you find yourself impatient or frustrated or repeating yourself, it’s time to consider.  Might something be out-of-focus: either your goal or the path to get there?

Save Time & Fix your objective

I begin many workshops with an activity* to bring our goals into clear focus.

Step 1—List the Time Consuming Challenges

What zaps your time and energy in relationships?  We clear out what blocks our vision by naming these challenges.

For a workshop for managers of Millennials, we wrote down “Challenges Working with Millennials.”

Participants chime in: resistance to rules, attached to the phone, in need of perpetual feedback, (too) high view of his (untested) capabilities, and even spelling mistakes.

Maybe you don’t work with the Gen Y.  Then tweak the question to match your work dynamics:

  • Challenges of working with off-site teams
  • Challenges of working in Finance/Legal/Marketing in an industrial group

This process of listing difficulties creates a positive group dynamic and opens communication.  Everyone realizes we sweat and worry over similar predicaments.  In expressing these shared relationship challenges, we give ourselves and each other the permission to be human and to learn.

Expressing the negatives has the effect of letting dust settle.  The atmosphere is lighter and we are ready to clearly focus on the positives we seek.

Step 2—Identify the Team Skills to Build

We then create a separate and complementary list to bring the leadership goals into focus.  These are the skills managers seek to transmit to their teams to create a motivating and performing work environment.  We enumerate them under, “Qualities of our Team’s Culture.”

Of course, you seek to develop technical capabilities: mastery of financial analysis or digital marketing tool.  You ALSO aim to build communication and soft skills:  trust, mutual respect, learning from experienced team members, learning from youth, seeking excellence…

Step 3—Assess

Once the two lists are completed, we step back to review them side by side and invite comments from everyone

Some participant are motivated: “I had not thought of myself in the leadership development business.  How inspiring!”

Others balk: “What pressure.  I don’t master all those soft skills.  How can I pass them on to my team?”

Many have questions: “Do I have to do all of them at once?” and “So, what is the link between the two lists?”

Step 4—Use Time Optimizing Success Lines

Success lines help us identify where we are and where to aim.  They’re like a GPS.

These lists represent our leadership GPS.

The challenges point to our present situation.  “You are here.”  This is where we have arrived using our current leadership style.  This is also where you will stay by continuing with your actual managerial tools. 

The qualities represent our desired destination.  Like when your team members jump out of bed in the morning with enthusiasm to get to work and engage with a dynamic team.  Or when colleagues seek you or your employee out for greater responsibilities.

Focus, Focus, Focus

But you may wonder, “It’s just a list…”

Correction.  It’s a lens. 

You get what you measure.  When your bonus is set on profit, you’ll likely avoid high volume, low margin customers.

“Human systems grow in the direction of their deepest and most frequent inquiries.” – David Cooperrider, founder of Appreciative Inquiry, Case Western University

Our leadership focus is what we generate in our team. Your and my focus matters because it changes our actions.

“The act of looking for certain information evokes the information we went looking for—and simultaneously eliminates our opportunity to observe other information.” – John Wheatley, quantum physicist

When we talk, model, clarify, and encourage the qualities we seek in our team, we create clear success lines. And that saves tons of time…and money, and energy, and good spirits.

Positive Communication Tools

A clear focus is the first among many tools to build the qualities in your Leadership GPS.  Check out the workshops to discover others and how to develop them in your team.

Leadership GPS Works In Life too

This optimizing GPS applies in personal relationships as well.

When our four boys were young I embarked on a husband-improvement-program.  As a woman, I KNEW how to be a great dad!!!

Every day for one month I noted one helpful behavior my husband did for the family and let him know my appreciation.  “Honey, thanks for having done the dishes. It’s really nice to finally relax after having put the kids to bed.”

I anticipated behavioral modification in my husband.  This process changed me. 

My previous focus lay on the mountain of chores to be done and how my husband did not do his part.  My tone of voice often sounded critical.  When focusing on his contributions, I became more enjoyable to be around.  Maybe he became more involved or my company became more pleasant; either way, we ALL (sons included) do chores.

Ranking high on the list of “Dampierre Qualities to Groove Together” (our family GPS) you’ll find:

Everyone in the family helps.

Food for thought

  • How many times a day do you focus on what is going wrong? On what is going right?
  • How time effective is your critique?
  • Your critique is welcome here. What do you disagree with in this post?

Tell us in the comments.  Thanks.

 

Cover photo from lacote.ch