Do you have a sense of belonging on your team or within your organization?

As many of you know, the mission for my work is for “every voice to be heard.” I recently read the book No Hard Feelings by Fosslien and Duffy. There are lots of good ideas on how to create a sense of belonging on your team or within your organization. These ideas may fuel you to think of other actions you can take to make everyone feel they belong. This matters.

What does “belonging” mean to you? Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice, and belonging is having that voice be heard.

To create a sense of belonging on your team:

  • Use a colleague’s name in conversation. (This requires you to ask and remember how to correctly pronounce it.)
  • Once a month, grab coffee or lunch with a coworker you don’t know that well. Take the opportunity to learn more about who they are and what they do.
  • When new hires start, help them get to know others. When you introduce them to someone, don’t just say, “Hey you two should talk!” Instead find and mention an interest they share (ideally one that’s not work related) to give them a conversational starting point.
  • When someone joins a conversation, take a moment to bring them up to speed.
  • If colleagues go out of their way to help you, thank them.
  • When someone is talking to you, don’t multitask. Stop what you are doing and give them your full attention.
  • If you notice people getting cut off in mid-sentence, make a point to jump in and ask them to continue sharing their thoughts.
  • Always say “hi” to people you pass by or meet up on Zoom. (Lynne’s addition.)

To create a culture of belonging:

  • Assume good intentions: if colleagues you know and trust misstep, explain why their behavior made you feel excluded, etc. and propose an alternate action. Give people room to learn from their mistakes.
  • Belonging starts with onboarding: call new hires before their start date to tell them what to expect at orientation and to answer any questions.
  • Assign culture buddies: pair new hires with employees who already understand the culture. These buddies answer questions., give feedback, and help new hires understand that feeling a bit out of place is normal.
  • Make sure belonging does not nosedive in meetings: appoint one person to be an objective observer in meetings. That person records group dynamics, noting who speaks the most, who isn’t given any time to speak, and who keeps talking over other people. The observer than recommends ways to improve group dynamics.

 Advice on creating a sense of belonging for virtual workers:

  • Once we have earned it, trust us.
  • Set clear expectations. Measure our results.
  • Don’t worry if you don’t get a ping every five minutes.
  • Be mindful of time zones. Delay decision making until you have heard from everyone who should be involved.
  • Send stuff: a physical package, i.e. company swag, a cake, books, or handwritten notes.
  • Help us meet one another. Set up virtual lunches; teatimes.
  • Randomly pair employees with others at the company once a week. There is no set agenda…talk about families, hobbies, favorite shows or books, etc.

And if you are interested in measuring the “sense of belonging” on your team or within your organization, check out this survey. If you wish to have it administered anonymously, just let me know…no charge to you.

Click Here To Begin Free Survey

Manage Your Time…Organize Your Brain

September 2020 Newsletter Manage Your Time…Organize Your Brain

Since many of us are no longer commuting, I have noticed that many of our work day schedules are now back to back meetings. Our individual work tasks are focused upon whenever we have “time.” And we have other priorities as we work virtually— attending to children and their needs…and myriad other distractions throughout our day. Please check out Julie Morgenstern’s wonderful tips from her book, Never Check Your Email in the Morning. It may save your brain from burnout and overload! And you might be able to create some team agreements about when you have meetings and when you don’t!

Julie Morgenstern Tips on Time Management

Grouping Similar Tasks

Every day, you face a myriad of choices about your daily to-dos. There are things you have to do, things you want to do, and things other people ask you to do. Tasks for work, family, self, and friends. Tasks that require mental concentration, physical strength, charm, creativity, or diplomacy. When looking at a long list of to-dos, it can be tempting to dive right in, starting at the top and knocking them out as they come at you. But don’t. Take a moment to sort through them to ensure you approach your day efficiently.

In an organized closet, you stretch space by grouping similar items. The same is true of your to-dos. Grouping similar tasks (i.e., batching calls, errands, paperwork, creative activities, interaction with others) helps you get more time out of your day because you gain efficiency and momentum as you repeat each action. For example, when paying bills, it makes sense to balance your checkbook at the same time, because you already have the “financial” part of your brain open. Batching phone calls saves time too. With your sales or social “hat” on, you get more clear and concise with each call. If you have several letters to write, it’s more efficient to blast through them sequentially than switch to financial activities in between.

Beware Multitasking

Studies have shown that it takes your brain four times longer to recognize and process each thing you’re working on when you switch back and forth among tasks. This means that if your day is a random free-for-all in which you hop from task to task, your work will literally take much longer because of the real time you lose switching gears.

Think about it: If it takes you 10 minutes to get oriented to a new task every time you switch gears, and you switch gears 10 times a day, that’s over 1.5 hours of wasted time. Not only does multitasking have a quantitative impact on your day, it can also damage the quality of your work. Science journals have determined that managing two mental tasks at the same time significantly reduces the brainpower available to concentrate on either one, ultimately damaging the quality of your final product. Severe multitaskers experience a variety of symptoms, including short-term memory loss, gaps in their attentiveness, and a general inability to concentrate.

Start in the middle. If it’s hard to get started on a project at the beginning, try jumping to the second or third step to ease into the water. For example, when writing a letter, the opening paragraph may be the most difficult. If you’re stuck, try jumping to the body of the letter, outlining the bullets you want to cover first. Get that out of the way, and the introduction may come easier. Focus on the payoff. By taking your eye off the particular task and focusing on the happiness and success you’ll gain from completion, you can often keep yourself moving forward. For example, when filling out expense forms, think about what you will buy with the reimbursement.

Set time limits on difficult tasks. Setting aside either too much time-or not enough time-can make you procrastinate. Setting aside an hour to do expense reports? Minimize the torture by shrinking it down to 30 minutes and get as far as you can. Trying to plan a holiday event in 30 minutes and can’t get started? Try giving yourself an hour and see if that does the trick.

Conquer Interruptions

Studies show that when you are interrupted, it takes 20 minutes to regain the level of concentration you had reached before the disruption. Furthermore, in nearly 50 percent of the cases, a person never even returns to the original task.

Track yourself for a week or two. Use the Tracker section of your daily pages to learn who is likely to interrupt you and why. Understand your own proclivity to be railroaded by someone who bursts into your office begging for help or that tendency to reach for the phone every time it rings. Each time you are interrupted, note the time, who it was, what they needed from you, and how long it took. Then, grade the importance and urgency of the interruption: A = critical and urgent; B = important but not urgent; C = unnecessary and not worth the time. At the end of the week, study your log to determine the average time lost to interruptions each day, giving special focus to A- and B-level interruptions. If the average time totals up to two hours of important and necessary interruptions a day, you need to start planning for them. In this case, you’d reserve two hours of open time in your daily schedule and use the rest of the day for planned tasks.

A powerful way to minimize the time lost to switching gears all day long is the grouping of similar kinds of tasks. The pattern can be as simple as paperwork in the morning and calls in the afternoon or quiet work in the morning and interactive activities in the afternoon. Or, you could organize your day around your core responsibilities, setting aside two hours for creative work, one hour for financial tasks, and five hours for people management every day. If you were in business for yourself and had complete control over your schedule, you could devote one day to administrative tasks, one day to marketing, and three days to client service.

Use the following strategies to prevent unnecessary interruptions:

· Choose two or three people who can interrupt you at any time. Make a short list of key people whose interruptions you will always take, no matter what you are doing. Defer everyone else to a better time.

· Always ask how long it will take. Every time you’re interrupted, ask how long the person needs (15 minutes? 45?). Tell them you want to know so that you can provide the focus and attention they really deserve. Holding people accountable to the time they ask for helps them be more efficient too.

· Begin the conversation with “What can I do for you?” not “How are you?” “How are you?” is an open invitation to chat. “What can I do for you?” immediately focuses your interrupter on getting straight to the point.

From a functional leader to an executive by Michael D Watkins


All the shifts a functional leader must make when first becoming an executive involve learning new skills and cultivating new mind-sets.

Shifting from Left Brained to Right Brained Mind Sets

For the most part, the seven shifts below involve switching from left-brain, analytical thinking to right-brain conceptual mind-sets. But that doesn’t mean you never spend time on tactics or on functional concerns. It’s just that you spend far, far less time on those responsibilities than you used to in your previous roles. In fact, it’s often helpful for you to engage someone else—a chief of staff, a chief operating officer, or a project manager—to focus on execution, as a way to free up time for your new role.

Here are the shifts and what each requires you to do to transform from a functional leader to an executive:

 Specialist to Generalist

You will need to understand the mental models, tools, and terms used in key business functions and develop templates for evaluating the leaders of those functions.

How to do this: The immediate challenge will be shifting from leading a single function to overseeing the full set of business functions. At first, you may feel disoriented and less confident in your ability to make good judgments. You may fall into a classic trap—over managing the function you know well and undermanaging the others. You may have a tendency to stay in your functional comfort zone as an understandable reaction to the stresses of moving up to a much broader role. It would be wonderful if newly appointed executives were world-class experts in all business functions, but of course they never are. In some instances they have gained experience by rotating through various functions or working on cross-functional projects, which certainly helps. But the reality is that the move to executive leadership always requires executives who’ve been specialists to quickly turn into generalists who know enough about all the functions to run their businesses.

How to Develop Strong Enterprise Leaders

Analyst to Integrator

You will integrate the collective knowledge of cross-functional teams and make appropriate trade-offs to solve complex organizational problems.

How to do this: The primary responsibility of functional leaders is to recruit, develop, and manage people who focus in analytical depth on specific business activities. An executive leader’s job is to manage and integrate the collective knowledge of those functional teams to solve important organizational problems. This is tough at first as you seek to address the many competing demands of the business. You will be expected to balance the needs of the supply side of the business (operations) with those of its demand side (sales and marketing), to know when to focus on the quarterly business results (finance) and when to invest in the future (R&D), to decide how much attention to devote to execution and how much to innovation, and to make many other such calls. Once again, executives need general knowledge of the various functions to resolve such competing issues, but that isn’t enough. The skills required have less to do with analysis and more to do with understanding how to make trade-offs and explain the rationale for those decisions. Here, too, previous experience with cross-functional or new-product development teams would stand newly minted executive leaders in good stead, as would a previous apprenticeship as a chief of staff to a senior executive.

Tactician to Strategist

You will need to shift fluidly between the details and the larger picture, perceive important patterns in complex environments, and anticipate and influence the reactions of key external players.

How do tactically strong leaders learn to develop a strategic mind-set? By cultivating three skills: level shifting, pattern recognition, and mental simulation. Level shifting is the ability to move fluidly among levels of analysis—to know when to focus on the details, when to focus on the big picture, and how the two relate. Pattern recognition is the ability to discern important causal relationships and other significant patterns in a complex business and its environment—that is, to separate the signal from the noise. Mental simulation is the ability to anticipate how outside parties (competitors, regulators, the media, key members of the public) will respond to what you do, to predict their actions and reactions in order to define the best course to take. Are strategic thinkers born or made? The answer is both. There’s no doubt that strategic thinking, like any other skill, can be improved with training. But the ability to shift through different levels of analysis, recognize patterns, and construct mental models requires some natural propensity. One of the paradoxes of leadership development is that people earn promotions to senior functional levels predominantly by being good at blocking and tackling, but employees with strategic talent may struggle at lower levels because they focus less on the details. Darwinian forces can winnow strategic thinkers out of the developmental pipeline too soon if companies don’t adopt explicit policies to identify and to some degree protect them in their early careers.

Bricklayer to Architect

You must understand how to analyze and design organizational systems so that strategy, structure, operating models, and skill bases fit together effectively and efficiently, and harness this understanding to make needed organizational changes.

How to do this: Too often, senior executives dabble in the profession of organizational design without a license—and end up committing malpractice. They come into their first business unit-level role itching to make their mark and then target elements of the organization that seem relatively easy to change, like strategy or structure, without completely understanding the effect their moves will have on the organization as a whole. As you move up to the business unit level, you become responsible for designing and altering the architecture of their organization—its strategy, structure, processes, and skill bases. To be effective organizational architects, you need to think in terms of systems. You must understand how the key elements of the organization fit together and not naively believe that you can alter one element without thinking through the implications for all the others. You need to know the principles of organizational change and change management, including the mechanics of organizational design, business process improvement, and transition management. Yet few rising executives get any formal training in these domains, leaving most of them ill equipped to be the architects of their organizations—or even to be educated consumers of the work of organizational development professionals. If companies have invested in sending them to executive education programs that teach organizational change, they’ll be better prepared for this shift.

You need to evaluate the work of all your functional executives, not just those in the same area you came from. A simple template that systematically lists the most important metrics to track for a particular function, as well as which ones indicate trouble is brewing, will help you get up to speed. Here is an example of a template to use:

Core Performance Metrics

Execution against business plan commitments

People Management Metrics

Turnover rate

Rate of internal promotions and strength of internal succession pipeline

Number of regrettable employee losses and the reasons for them

Success in recruiting and selection

Customer Metrics

Customer satisfaction and retention rates

Warning Signs

Regrettable losses of personnel

Flattening or declining sales

Lack of internal development for future leaders

Internal promotions with poor results

Inability to communicate product advantages and disadvantages

Poor assessment of the organization’s strengths and weaknesses

Lack of time in the field or interactions with customers

Lack of partnering skills with other key functions

Problem Solver to Agenda Setter

You will need to be able to define the problems the organization should focus on, and spot issues that don’t fall neatly into any one function but are still important.

How to do this: Many managers are promoted to senior levels on the strength of their ability to fix problems. When you become an executive however, you must focus less on solving problems and more on defining which problems the organization should be tackling. You need to perceive the full range of opportunities and threats facing the business, and focus the attention of the team on only the most important ones. You need to identify the “white spaces”—issues that don’t fall neatly into any one function but are still important to the business. The number of concerns can be head-spinning by the scope and complexity of some of the problems at this higher level of the business. It is tough to know how to allocate time and immediately not feel overloaded. The skills you hone as a functional leader—for example, mastery of sales and marketing tools and techniques, organizational know-how, and even the ability to mobilize talent and promote teamwork—are not enough. To work out which problems the team should focus on—that is, to set the agenda—you have to learn to navigate a far more uncertain and ambiguous environment than you are used to. You also need to learn to communicate priorities in ways the organization can respond to.

 Warrior to Diplomat

You will proactively shape the environment in which the business operates by influencing key external constituencies, including the public domain, NGOs, the media, and investors.

How to do this: Executives devote a surprising amount of time to influencing a host of external constituencies, including regulators, the media, investors, and NGOs. Your support staff will be bombarded with requests for your time: public forums sponsored by the public affairs departments? Interviewing with an editor from a leading business publication? Meeting with a key group of institutional investors? Some of this you may be familiar with; others not so much. What will be new is the responsibility not just to interact with various stakeholders but also to proactively address their concerns in ways that mesh with the organization’s interests. What will you do as an effective corporate diplomat? You will use the tools of diplomacy—negotiation, persuasion, conflict management, and alliance building—to shape the external business environment to support their strategic objectives. In the process you will often find yourself collaborating with people with whom you compete aggressively in the market every day. To do this well, you will need to embrace a new mind-set—to look for ways that interests can or do align, understand how decisions are made in different kinds of organizations, and develop effective strategies for influencing others. You must also understand how to recruit and manage employees of a kind that you have probably never supervised before: such as professionals in key supporting functions such as government relations and corporate communications. And you must recognize that these employees’ initiatives have longer horizons than the ongoing business, with its focus on quarterly or even annual results, does.

Supporting Cast Member to Lead Role

You must the right behaviors as a role model for the organization and learn to communicate with and inspire large groups of people both directly and, increasingly, indirectly.

How to do this: Becoming an executive means moving to center stage under the bright lights. The intensity of the attention and the almost constant need to keep up your guard can catch you by surprise. You will be shocked to discover how much stock people place in what you say or do. In part, this shift is about having a much greater impact as a role model. Managers at all levels are role models to some degree. But at the executive level, your influence is magnified, as everyone looks to you for vision, inspiration, and cues about the “right” behaviors and attitudes. For good or ill, the personal styles and quirks of senior leaders are infectious, whether they are observed directly by employees or indirectly transmitted from their reports to the level below and on down through the organization. This effect can’t really be avoided, but you can make it less inadvertent by cultivating more self-awareness and taking the time to develop empathy with subordinates’ viewpoints. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that you were the subordinate, drawing these kinds of inferences from your own bosses’ behavior! Then there is the question of what it means, practically speaking, to lead large groups of people—how to define a compelling vision and share it in an inspiring way. Instead of you communicating the vision to the organization, you will have to work more through your direct reports and find other channels, such as video, for spreading the word. And after touring most of your business unit’s facilities, you may be worried that you will never really be able to figure out what is happening on the front lines. So rather than meet just with leaders when you make site visits, you might instituted brown-bag lunches with small groups of frontline employees and tune in to online discussion groups in which employees comment on the company.

Lasso Leadership Principles

Ted Lasso, played by Jason Sudeikis, is a victorious collegiate football coach from Kansas City who is surprisingly recruited to be the Head Coach of a struggling soccer club in London. This Apple TV series models high performing leadership in so many ways. You must check it out. Here is how the website describes it:


He takes the time to listen to people around him, and always tries to put himself in their shoes so he can fully understand them and figure out how he can get the best out of them. As a result, each person he interacts with is left feeling cared for and heard.


His credibility and coaching methods are subject to immediate and ongoing judgment, bolstered by unfavorable name calling from the British public, and even his own players. He shows us how to stay grounded in who you are and your leadership philosophies despite overwhelming scrutiny.


Winning and losing provides incentive and motivation to perform at our best, and yes, both carry consequences, especially in professional sport. Yet he doesn’t view winning as everything, or indeed the only thing. For him, the journey of inspiring others to grow and step into possibility is what drives him as a leader.


He disregards rank at the ground level, and he also strives to bridge the gap to the highest level of the organization, always encouraging the club’s owner to “join the team downstairs” more often.


He empowers his “kit man” to perform tasks beyond his role. He also encourages each player to give their input on game tactics, which creates a sense of ownership, leading to more engagement and motivation.


Coaching a team of high performers will likely mean managing large egos and resolving personality conflicts. He tirelessly communicates his message that the team comes first, no matter your talent or superstar status.


He is the eternal optimist, and this creates a mixture of first impressions. Not everybody knows how to take his almost over the top enthusiasm and positivity, but despite their initial resistance, they inevitably develop a soft spot for him. His “can-do” attitude creates a ripple effect that raises the collective vibration around him.


There is something to be said about injecting humor into a high-pressure environment at the right time, helping to ease the tension and remind players to relax and enjoy their work.


The thought of leaving the comfort of your hometown to live in a foreign city abroad is scary enough for most people. Add to that coaching a sport you know nothing about at the professional level, and you’re left with very few individuals who’d be willing to take that on. He faces changes within the change throughout, embracing each challenge with humility and grace, always looking for the opportunities they present.


Which is the best animal to embody when you make a mistake? The one with a memory that lasts between 5 – 10 seconds of course. Next time you need to shake it off and get back to optimal performance…be a goldfish.


Despite his discomfort, he still finds the courage to have the crucial conversations, because he knows it will improve the individual, and serve the culture of the team. He also makes some massively courageous decisions in the face of ridicule, that earns the respect and trust of the people that matter the most.


Self-doubt can be crippling, especially when the odds seem stacked against us. It is virtually impossible for us to achieve our desires if we don’t believe we are either capable or deserving of achieving them. He teaches us that we must believe to achieve and remember to have as much fun as possible on the journey.

Positive Intelligence

Hi there

You know those “negative voices” in your head? The ones that tell you that you “aren’t good enough, that you will mess this up, and on and on and on?” Well, according to Michael Singer from this book The Untethered Soul, you are the listener of those voices…those voices are not you!

A way for you to notice and name those voices in your head is to take the Positive Intelligence and Saboteur Assessments. I have included the link for you to access them at the end of this post. I was fortunate enough to take part in this program recently, and I highly recommend the book Positive Intelligence by Shirzad Chamine.  Here are excerpts from the book:

High positive Intelligence means your mind acts as your friend far more than as your enemy. Low positive intelligence is the reverse. Positive Intelligence is therefore an indication of the control you have over your own mind and how well your minds acts in your best interest.

By taking the assessments, you will learn about your saboteurs that get in the way of your mind working in your best interest. Here are the top “negative voices in your head” you will learn about:

Judge: the master saboteur that everyone suffers from. You constantly find fault with yourself and others and everything.

Avoider: You avoid difficult and unpleasant tasks.

Controller: You need to take charge of everything and experience high anxiety and impatience when you cannot.

Hyper-Achiever: You depend on constant high performance and achievement for self-respect and self-validation.

Hyper-Rational: You may focus so much on the rational that you become impatient with people’s emotions.

Hyper-Vigilant: You may feel intense and continuous anxiety about all of the dangers surrounding you and what could go wrong.

Pleaser: You are compelled to gain acceptance by helping, pleasing, recuing, or flattering others constantly.

Restless: You are constantly in search of greater excitement in the next activity or through perpetual business.

Stickler: You have a need for perfection, order, and organization taken too far.

Victim: You feel emotional and temperamental in order to gain attention and affection.

To rid yourself of these voices, you instead need to learn to listen to your sage: the deepest and wisest part of you. It is this part of you that can rise above the fray and resist getting carried away by the drama and the tension of the moment or the saboteurs’ voices in your head.

The top five sage powers are:

Explore with great curiosity and an open mind. (My favorite).

Empathize with yourself and others, bringing compassion and understanding to any situation.

Innovating and creating new perspectives.

Navigating and choosing a path that best aligns with your values and mission

Activating by taking decisive actions without the chatter of your negative voice or the saboteurs.

And my own: sense of humor and not taking yourself so seriously

Finally, reconfigure your brain through somatic PQ activities like wiggling your toes, or rubbing your index and thumb fingers together to feel the fingerprint ridges, or deep breathing for ten seconds. I know it sounds odd, but by doing these simple hacks, you are rewiring your brain to not listen to those negative voices and instead intentionally call upon your sage voices to be your best self.

Here is the link to take the PQ Assessment as well as the Saboteur Assessment. And here is my shameless marketing: let me know if you want to do a PQ Team Building Process virtually…it is a total blast.

Your Leadership Challenge

Hello everyone,

During this “virtual moving to hybrid workplace culture to what’s next,” it is so important to remember that you, as a leader, will create the culture you want through your intentional leadership practices. Following is a reminder of the most impactful leadership practices researched and, in turn, created by Kouzes and Posner in their book Leadership Challenge. These practices are timeless and as meaningful today as when they were first published 25 years ago. 

Here is a coaching practice for you: Measure yourself against each of these practices at the end of each day…on a scale of 1-10, 10 being your best, how well did you practice this leadership skill? If not so good, how can you, with intent, improve tomorrow? If you did well, how can you leverage this strength again tomorrow? Remember, “we treasure what we measure.”

Challenging the Process

·      Leaders search for opportunities to change the status quo. 

·      They look for innovative ways to improve the organization.

·      In doing so, they experiment and take risks.

·      And, because leaders know that risk taking involves mistakes and failures, they accept the inevitable disappointments as learning opportunities. 

 Inspiring a Shared Vision

·      Leaders passionately believe that they can make a difference. 

·      They envision the future, creating an ideal and unique image of what the organization can become. 

·      Through their magnetism and quiet persuasion, leaders enlist others in their dreams.

·      They breathe life into their visions and get people to see exciting possibilities for the future.

Enabling Others to Act

·      Leaders foster collaboration and build spirited teams.

·      They actively involve others.

·      Leaders understand that mutual respect is what sustains extraordinary efforts.

·      They strive to create an atmosphere of trust and human dignity.

·      They strengthen others, making each person feel capable and powerful.

Modeling the Way

·      Leaders establish principles concerning the way people (constituents, colleagues, and customers alike) should be treated and the way goals should be pursued.

·      They create standards of excellence and then set an example for others to follow.

·      Because the prospect of complex change can overwhelm people and stifle action, they set interim goals so that people can achieve small wins as they work toward larger objectives.

·      They unravel bureaucracy when it impedes action.

·      They put up signposts when people are unsure of where to go or how to get there.

·      They create opportunities for victory. 

Encouraging the Heart

·      Accomplishing things in organizations is hard work. To keep hope and determination alive, leaders recognize the contributions that individuals make. 

·      In every winning team, the members need to share in the rewards of their efforts, so they celebrate accomplishments. 

·      They make people feel like heroes.

Performance Appraisals/Feedback & Defensiveness: they go together!

Hi there

I recently wrote this in response to a question from our Georgetown Community List Serve…thought it might be “food for thought” for some of you too.

It is performance appraisal time for many of my clients– I remember from David Rock’s Brain Based Coaching Training that folks often know their shortcomings better than we do. Therefore, leaders might ask employees what they believe their highlights and enhancement opportunities are first… before giving their own appraisal thoughts.  This may ease the leaders’ conversation into a coaching path rather than a path of defensiveness.

I have learned personally that my best hack for my own defensiveness is to be curious instead of defensive. It sets my ego free. And when I am curious, I am also listening actively—and others may hear themselves more clearly through my reflection back to them.

Instead of spending time rationalizing a rating, I encourage leaders to be curious about where the defensiveness comes from their employees.

To me the real path to growth for both leaders and employees is to spend most of the conversation in feedforward rather than feedback mode. We can’t change the past, but we can change the future. Leaders and employees together can envision what they see as the best version and possibilities for themselves by describing the expected behaviors to get there. This creates a future focused envisioning scenario.

I keep thinking about “bad beats” described in The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova. The more time we spend dwelling in the mistakes and “less thans,” the more we reinforce these behaviors to take hold in our brains. The more time we spend on the possibilities and future embodiment of expected behaviors, the more we can transform.

I also coach leaders to have an “intention” in their minds before going into these sessions. This keeps them tethered to their purpose as a leader, and not having to be right. 

And I just learned a new question to ask—”What is at risk for you to change this behavior?” Employees might discover their immunity to change…an unconscious commitment that keeps them trapped in their status quo. We can’t change what we can’t see!

Finally, if leaders only appraise performance annually, there is lots more opportunity for defensiveness to occur. No one likes surprises. Quarterly check-ins represent best practices today for performance appraisals.

Listening is the key to everything.

Listening is the key to everything: building trust, resolving conflict, finding solutions, and on and on. Check out this excerpt from the HBR article The Power of Listening by Itzchakov and Kluger, May 2018.

Listening seems to make an employee more relaxed, more self-aware of his or her strengths and weaknesses, and more willing to reflect in a non-defensive manner.  This can make employees more likely to cooperate (versus compete) with other colleagues, as they become more interested in sharing their attitudes, but not necessarily in trying to persuade others to adopt them, and more open to considering other points of view.

And listening to employees talk about their own experiences first can make giving feedback more productive by helping them feel psychologically safe and less defensive.

Listening has its enemies

Managers who listen well are perceived as people leaders, generate more trust, instill higher job satisfaction, and increase their team’s creativity. Yet, if listening is so beneficial for employees and for organizations, why is it not more prevalent in the workplace? Why are most employees not listened to in the way they want? Research shows that a few barriers often stand in the way:

  1. Loss of power. Some managers may feel that if they listen to their employees they are going to be looked upon as weak. But at the same time, it’s been shown that being a good listener means gaining prestige. So it seems managers must make a tradeoff between attaining status based on intimidation and getting status based on admiration.
  2. Listening consumes time and effort.In many instances, managers listen to employees under time pressure or while they’re distracted by other thoughts or work. So listening is an investment decision: managers must put in the time to listen in order to see the future benefits.
  3. Fear of change. High-quality listening can be risky because it entails entering a speaker’s perspective without trying to make judgments. This process could potentially change the listener’s attitudes and perceptions. When managers truly listen, they gain crucial insights about their employees — they are stunned to learn how little they knew about the lives of people they’d worked with for many years.

Tips for becoming a better listener

Listening resembles a muscle. It requires training, persistence, effort, and most importantly, the intention to become a good listener. It requires clearing your mind from internal and external noise — and if this isn’t possible, postponing a conversation for when you can truly listen without being distracted. Here are some best practices:

Give 100% of your attention, or do not listen. Put aside your smartphone, iPad, or laptop, and look at the speaker, even if they do not look back at you. In an ordinary conversation, a speaker looks at you occasionally to see that you’re still listening. Constant eye contact lets the speaker feel that you are listening.

Do not interrupt. Resist the urge to interrupt before the speaker indicates that they are done for the moment. Practice by doing  this:  “Go to someone at your work who makes listening very hard on you. Let them know that you are learning and practicing listening and that today, you will only listen for __ minutes (where the blank could be 3, 5, or even 10 minutes), and delay responding until the predetermined listening time is up, or even until the following day.”

Do not judge or evaluate. Listen without jumping to conclusions and interpreting what you hear. You may notice your judgmental thoughts but push them aside. If you notice that you lost track of the conversation due to your judgments, apologize to the speaker that your mind was distracted, and ask them to repeat. Do not pretend to listen.

Do not impose your solutions. The role of the listener is to help the speaker draw up a solution themselves. Therefore, when listening to a fellow colleague or subordinate, refrain from suggesting solutions.

Ask more (good) questions. Listeners shape conversations by asking questions that benefit the speaker. Good listening requires being thoughtful about what the speaker needs help with most and crafting a question that would lead the speaker to search for an answer. Ask questions to help someone delve deeper into their thoughts and experiences.

Before you ask a question, ask yourself, “Is this question intended to benefit the speaker or satisfy my curiosity?” Of course, there is room for both, but a good listener prioritizes the needs of the other. One of the best questions you can ask is, “Is there anything else?” This often exposes novel information and unexpected opportunities.

Reflect. When you finish a conversation, reflect on your listening and think about missed opportunities — moments you ignored potential leads or remained silent versus asking questions. When you feel that you were an excellent listener, consider what you gained, and how you can apply this type of listening in more challenging circumstances.

People Are Talking About You

As many of you know, I administer anonymous and confidential 360 Feedback Surveys as part of my leadership coaching process. Although I may be working myself out of a job, I recommend this article by Ron Carucci, Forbes, Feb 11, 2019:  Leaders:  Here is How to Find Out What People Really Think About You. Following are excerpts that will whet your appetite to read the entire article:

Knowing how others experience you is fundamental to influencing effectively. You don’t need a formal 360 process to find out how others experience you. People are talking about you. You should get in on the conversation. Pay attention to, and act upon, all of the data you are already getting:

Ask for pushback.  Whether in meetings, or one on one, if you don’t have people routinely offering dissenting ideas or concerns about actions you take or have taken, you should worry. No news is not necessarily good news.  After meetings where particularly difficult/decisions issues are discussed, check in with a few team members: “How did that go and what could have been done differently? Effective leaders simply ask for feedback on a regular basis in more intimate settings where the conversation can enhance the relationship.  

Read cues and faces.  The greatest “mirror” reflecting how others experience you is the faces of those around you. They can provide a steady stream of useful feedback about how your words and actions are perceived. When people avoid eye-contact with you, when talkative colleagues become quiet, or when even-keeled colleagues get defensive, pay attention. While people may withhold verbal feedback, their faces and bodies will often tell a different story. Offer your observations with curiosity. When moods or countenance take a sudden shift, ask, “Tell me how I should interpret your silence,” or “You suddenly seem to not want to look directly at me. I’m concerned something I’ve said isn’t sitting well.”

Monitor how you narrate the story.  We are notoriously bad observers of our own reality.  We interpret how things are going in overly positive or negative ways. Pay attention to your inner voice. If that voice is working to convince you things are fine, or harshly criticizing you, step back and re-assess. If your voice leans too heavily in one direction, force yourself to consider what interpretations you could be missing to develop a more balanced perspective. And do a reality check in with a trusted advisor.

Know and permit others to name triggers.  We all have buttons that get pushed that can trigger unproductive behavior. We may react defensively when confronted with mistakes.  Or become sarcastic or passive-aggressive when we don’t get our way.  Or become impatient when things don’t move quickly enough.  Self-aware leaders know their triggers and let others name them in the moment. Great leaders also apologize when triggered, cleaning up emotional messes.

Remote Work Stages

This is an excerpt from an article by Matt Mullenweg: Distributed Work’s Five Levels of Autonomy. I found it thought provoking as many of us continue to work remotely. Leaders can become more disciplined in creating measurable goals with their team members when working remotely.  Team members can share these goals with one another and truly hold each other accountable for results—rather than hours worked.

“To make sense of this journey — from a company’s cautious exploration of remote possibilities to a fully realized distributed experience — I like to think of how it plays out through the concept of levels of distributed work:

Level Zero autonomy is a job which cannot be done unless you’re physically there. Imagine construction worker, barista, massage therapist, firefighter. Many companies assumed they had far more of these than it has turned out they really did.

  1. The first level is where most co-located businesses are: there’s no deliberate effort to make things remote-friendly, though in the case of many knowledge workers, people can keep things moving for a day or two when there’s an emergency. More often than not, they’ll likely put things off until they’re back in the office. Work happens on company equipment, in company space, on company time. You don’t have any special equipment and may have to use a clunky VPN to access basic work resources like email or your calendar. Larger level one companies often have people in the same building or campus dialing into a meeting. Level one companies were largely unprepared for this crisis.
  2. Level two is where many companies have found themselves in the past few weeks with the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve accepted that work is going to happen at home for a while, but they recreate what they were doing in the office in a “remote” setting. You’re probably able to access information from afar, you’ve adapted to tools like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, but everything is still synchronous, your day is full of interruptions, no real-time meetings have been canceled (yet), and there’s a lot of anxiety in management around productivity — that’s the stage where companies sometimes install surveillance software on laptops. Pro tip: Don’t do that! And also: Don’t stop at level two!
  3. At the third level, you’re really starting to benefit from being remote-first, or distributed. That’s when you see people invest in better equipment and in more robust asynchronous processes that start to replace meetings. It’s also the point at which you realize just how crucial written communication is for your success, and you start looking for great writers in your hiring. When you are on a Zoom, you often also have a Google Doc up with the other meeting participants so you can take and check real-time notes together. In a non-pandemic world you plan meetups so teams can break bread and meet each other in person a week or two a year.
  4. Level four is when things go truly asynchronous. You evaluate people’s work on what they produce, not how or when they produce it. Trust emerges as the glue that holds the entire operation together. You begin shifting to better — perhaps slower, but more deliberate — decision-making, and you empower everyone, not just the loudest or most extroverted, to weigh in on major conversations. You tap into the global talent pool, the 99% of the world’s population and intelligence that doesn’t live near one of your legacy physical office locations. Employee retention goes way up, and you invest more in training and coaching. Most employees have home-office setups that would make office workers green with envy. You have a rich social life with people you choose. Real-time meetings are respected and taken seriously, almost always have agendas and pre-work or post-work. work will follow the sun 24/7 around the world. Your organization is truly inclusive because standards are objective and give people agency to accomplish their work their way.
  5. Finally, I believe it’s always useful to have an ideal that’s not wholly attainable — and that’s level five, Nirvana! This is when you consistently perform better than any in-person organization could. You’re effortlessly effective. It’s when everyone in the company has time for wellness and mental health, when people bring their best selves and highest levels of creativity to do the best work of their careers, and just have fun.

Check out Daniel Pink’s Drive. He introduces the three things that really matter in motivating people: mastery, purpose, and autonomy.

Mastery is the urge to get better skills.

Purpose is the desire to do something that has meaning, that’s bigger than yourself. These first two principles physically co-located companies can be great at. But the third, autonomy, is where even the best in-office company can never match a Level 4 or above distributed company.

Autonomy is our desire to be self-directed, to have agency over ourselves and our environment. Close your eyes and imagine everything around you in a physical office: the chair you’re in, the desk, distance from a window, the smells, the temperature, the music, the flooring, what’s in the fridge, the comfort and privacy of the bathrooms, the people (or pets) around you, the lighting. Now imagine an environment where you can choose and control every one of those to your liking — maybe it’s a room in your house, a converted garage, a shared studio, or really anything, the important thing is you’re able to shape the environment fit your personal preferences, not the lowest common denominator of everyone an employer has decided to squish together for 8 hours a day. The micro-interactions of the hundreds of variables of your work environment can charge you and give you creative energy, or make you dependent, infantilized, and a character in someone else’s story. Which do you want to spend half of your waking workday hours in?”

Check out this presentation by Daniel Pink