Jun 16, 2008

Taking a risk.

In my business I have taken quite a few risks. Even I shake my head in amazement sometimes at what I do. But what is life and how can change be made if one does not dare to risk?

I am always aware that my energy sets the tone for the whole team. If I am unhappy about something, whether business or personal, it seems to seep by osmosis into the energy of others. We are all sensitive to the people around us even though we are not always aware of it. Fortunately, I am quite the optimist and I very seldom find myself entertaining negative thoughts. I enjoy my work and my life.

One of the things my core team has had access to for the last 7 years is Instant Messaging. Big risk! Would it be used to chat with friends while work lay gathering dust? Not at all. In our case it has been an extremely successful change and we all like it. Phones are wonderful inventions but they can slurp up time like a dry sponge. IM keeps communicating short and its fun too.

I used to work at a place where the owner of the business could monitor our computer screens and see what we were doing at any given time. Do you think I felt like my employer trusted me? Of course not! Did I like working there? Of course not! Do people browse the internet or reply to personal emails during work time? Of course they do! Its not that they do….it is how much of it they do during work-time.

When I left the company the employer was keen to let me know that he had never trusted me. I thought: 'you do not trust anyone, not even yourself'. How you are, is how you think other people will be. If you cannot be trusted, then how can you trust? But more about the Paranoid Personality in the workplace at a later date.

Another big step was offering my staff to work 4/10 and choosing the day they would like to have off every week. I asked for everyone to play by the rules, report their hours not worked, to work 40 hours, to be in on time and to coordinate work so that nothing slipped through the cracks. I also said that it was a trial to see if we could apply this to our company and that even if just one of us didn’t take it seriously, we would go back to working 5 days a week. It took us 2 weeks to settle into our routine. Notorious late-comers suddenly came in on time, productivity soared and everyone loved it.

Now I am taking things a step further and have the same apprehensions as I have had every time. I have to be able to trust that everyone involved will be open, honest and play by the rules once again.

We are slowly going to try to work from home. It just so happens that in our industry this is possible. This may not always be the case, but it is worth looking into. I have worked from home at different stages of my career and have always liked it. My productivity is much higher than when I go into the office. I am a notorious late-comer. Working from home, I am early for work. I have to plan my week carefully to be able to get everything in, including time with my individual team members. We have quite a structured way of working already. Weekly planning schedules are in by Monday morning, reports are brief and come in promptly after a meeting has ended, and we inform each other what is going on, on our end.

It can only work if everyone in the team can handle it and has the discipline and sense of responsibility to accomplish it.

Do you suppose that the above risks have paid off in terms of a better workforce in the company? I assure you it has. Do we have enjoyment in our professional and personal lives? For certain. Do you think we form a solid block as a team. Yup, we do.

If you treat people as mature adults, you might discover that they are mature adults.

Jun 5, 2008

What makes us do what we do?

We are driven by our emotions. Whether consciously or subconsciously our emotions enable us to react to situations. Something gives us a happy feeling and we smile and are open to the situation. On the other hand when we encounter something that angers us or makes us fearful we react very differently. Our emotions are controlled by the limbic system in the brain.

Imagine taking a walk and suddenly you see a long snake-like object in the brush. Your eyes send a signal to a part of the brain (the frontal lobe) that recognizes that what you are seeing might be a snake (or not) and sends a signal to a part that analyzes the situation (the Amygdala) resulting in an emotion. The Amygdala sends the information to the Hypothalamus where the emotion is changed into a reaction. You first feel fear, "Yikes, a snake!" (the emotion) and then you need to get ready to fight it, or get away as quickly as you can (the reaction = fight or flight). This whole process takes place in just a split second.

During our day we experience this process in various degrees many times when interacting with others. Our brain is constantly assessing if we are safe or if we should react in some way. The more negative emotions we experience, the more stressful our job. The more positive feelings (emotions) we experience the better we feel about our work and job and the better we can be at it.

We are not always aware of what we feel consciously because there is so much more happening around us at all times. In addition we don't always have the emotion that corresponds to the situation. For example, some people are more fearful than others, and can therefore feel a different level of the emotion.

By being aware of our emotions we can consider how a situation will affect our personal well-being and then we can appraise how we can best cope with this situation.

This applies to snakes in the wild as well as snakes in the workplace.

May 11, 2008

High I.Q. or Emotional Smarts?

I have always loved working with people. I was fascinated as to why the one was so successful in many areas of life and to see another struggle with little result. What was it that caused this difference? Then in 1995 I read a book by Daniel Goleman called simply, 'Emotional Intelligence' which made many things clear to me.

People with a high EQ possess the ability to understand their strengths and weaknesses and those of others. They are able to express their feelings and thoughts non-destructively. They have a high level of empathy and are therefore able to relate, understand and be aware of other people's feelings. People with a highEQ can afford to be open because they are generally comfortable with who they are and relate well to others. They tend to successfully cope with daily demands and challenges and cope with immediate situations realistically and withflexibility . They manage their emotions so that they work for them and not against them often resulting in a positive, optimistic and self-motivated approach to people and life.

John D. Mayer (a personality psychologist, who developed the concept of Emotional Intelligence) gives the following definition:
Emotional intelligence refers to an ability to recognize the meanings of emotion and their relationships, and to reason and problem-solve on the basis of them. Emotional intelligence is involved in the capacity to perceive emotions, assimilate emotion-related feelings, understand the information of those emotions, and manage them.

The demands of modern leadership require a new set of skills . The autocratic management style is being less and less accepted by people in the workplace, who now have a growing sense of independence and value. Successful leaders are democratic and let their team participate in vision and purpose. While giving opportunities for development and growth, autonomy and freedom, a good leader will take the responsibility of the team and be a mentor and coach. Managers who do not develop their emotional intelligence have difficulty in building good relationships with peers, subordinates, superiors and clients (Goleman, 1998).

Effective leaders will be conscious of their self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness, commitment and integrity. Communication is an essential element in managing a team (as it is in any relationship). An effective leader is able to communicate directly and clearly and will listen. Nobody is able to read minds and without clarity in what is expected or what the direction, a team will not work in coherence and cooperation.
Self-awareness is the deep understanding of one's emotions, strengths and weaknesses, an ability to accurately and honestly self-assess.
Self-management is about control and regulation of one's emotions, the ability to stay calm, clear and focused when things do not go as planned, the ability for self-motivation and initiative. Both these are personal domains, the following are social domains and concern a person's ability to manage relationships with others.
Social awareness covers empathy and the ability to consider other's feeling e.g. when making intelligent decisions either on a one-on-one basis or as a group.
Relationship management covers the ability to communicate, influence, collaborate and work with others.

William A. Cohen said that great leaders are made and not born. If so, then everyone can become at least a good leader. Some people are born to shake the world, but those of us who are not can learn and develop skills.

Bruce Avolio, Ph.D., director of the Center for Leadership Studies at SUNY-Binghamton says:
We've discovered techniques to help you take the helm: Visualize obstacles; set goals and find someone who will hold you accountable to them; seek and incorporate feedback from colleagues; reflect on your best and worst moments; train gradually; broaden your model of leadership to include a full range of styles; and honor high ethical standards.

In a series of five studies, leaders of different ages and levels of experience from around the world participated in workshops with other members of their organizations. Based on this model, the teams developed practical problem-solving techniques and leadership that they successfully deployed over the following six to 12 months. Regardless of whether their skills were born or made, all got the job done equally well.

May 7, 2008

Liar, liar pants on fire.

In the workplace we interact with all kinds of people. There are times when we are left with a feeling that something is just not quite right. Lucinda seemed to have had the most unremarkable life, yet would tell the most remarkable stories. The painful thing was that Lucinda didn't tell stories, she passed her fables off as the truth. "I was in a club in Los Angeles and I saw Bruce Willis". Possible. "We talked for a while". Less possible. "He asked me if I wanted his autograph". Yeah right.

We all tell a lie from time to time because we are human. Most people are very aware that they do not want to lie, and so it is avoided but still it sometimes happens. "I am late because of traffic" (but I am conveniently forgetting that I got stuck in traffic at the Starbucks' drive-thru).

However. much more serious is someone who fabricates stories or dissembles. They cannot really help themselves. It is a form of an impulse control disorder. They cannot resist the drive to lie and they are aware that their actions are harmful to others. Yet the urge to dissemble is so powerful that they can't resist it. The urge make them feel anxious, tense or aroused. To sooth these feelings they tell their story and it gives them a feeling of importance or pleasure, however later they feel guilt and self-loathing, but they will do it again, because the urge returns.

In the workplace dissemblers are hard to trust, because they are so comfortable with lying. To protect yourself with a liar, you need to immediately say that you don't believe what they are saying. Usually, compulsive liars will mumble something and move on. They don't like hearing that you know they are not telling the truth. Ask the liar why he/she is lying. We are often too nice and we allow people to get away with things that can eventually harm us or others. If a liar can and is willing to tell a fabricated story, they are also capable of telling harmful nonsense about you and you could find yourself responding to spurious accusations against yourself.

My mother had her own methods for dealing with fibbing. When I was still small and my fibs were really evident, she would tell me that she could see a black stripe across my forehead and it was getting darker. I believed in the black stripe for a long time and I don't think it did me any harm. It made me aware that I should be truthful. It gives me confidence that I am not ashamed to tell my mother about anything that I do in my life.

Coaches do not work with people with disorders but some are trained to recognize disorders and will refer the client to a psychologist. Unfortunately, people with disorders are very resistant to changing their behavior.

Apr 27, 2008

Agents of Change.

I still often encounter a quizzical look when I say that I am a Certified Business Coach. I am sure that I don't meet the expectations when baseball comes to mind. Well, I am not that kind of a Coach.
Coaches are agents of change and just like a baseball or basketball coach we work with teams or individuals so that they are at their best.
Whether a Coach is called a Life Coach, an Organizational Coach, a Business Coach or one of the many other creative labels that have become part of the coaching world, in essence they all work with people who would like to create positive change in some particular area of their life.

Everyone encounters barriers or has to deal with behaviors that get in the way of a quality life that gives pleasure and brings success. We have dreams and desires. We can envision what we want in our lives, but how to attain it is often not clear to us. Self-help books give guidance and direction but they do not make us proactive and powerful. Only we, ourselves can do that. In fact, we can only make changes if we want to make them. We cannot make someone change. Coaches do not make changes, they are agents of change and have access to their 'toolbox', which contains various techniques to guide and assist to make change happen.