Author: thecareermuse

Consultant and Coach

Empathy: The Game Changer

Do you mirror others’ thoughts and feelings?

I recently wrote a post in support of empathy in the workplace. A new study by DDI proves I was on to something.

In their recent study, High Resolution Leadership, in which they synthesized the assessments of over 15,000 leaders and how they shape the business landscape, DDI (Development Dimensions International) found empathy had the greatest overall impact of ANY skill they assessed. Imagine that. One of the “softest” skills imaginable had the most measurable impact on performance. If you’re in the HR space, you’re already familiar with DDI and know that they are one of the most highly respected consultancies in the business. So, in my view, this study is huge. Simply put, greater empathy means higher performance.

You can read their online report by clicking on the link above or here. Of, if you want a quick read, this article from Inc.com sums it up nicely.

You want high performance, right? So what will you do to develop your own empathy skills or those of others in your organization?

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What Really Encourages (and Discourages) Learning

Are you leading in a way that encourages or discourages learning? How open are you (really) to learning?

Mindset by Carol DweckI went to an offsite meeting for WOMEN Unlimited recently and was given a book that was absolutely the right book at the right time for me.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. is not a new release so I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of it before. It is truly transformational.  And it’s based on research, which I find refreshing. There are a lot of books out there based on upon little more than anecdotes and sound bites but Professor Dweck’s is based on decades of research. Her conclusions provide such clarity, you’ll say “So that’s why…”

In short, her research shows that we develop a mindset that falls somewhere on a continuum from “growth” to “fixed” and the impact that has on our willingness to grow and achieve over the long term is incredible. As a leader, what impact do you think the willingness of your team members to grow has on your organization? On their careers? On you?

I highly recommend this book if you are interested in how you can get out of your own way, and others, and reignite that spark of learning required to achieve long-term success.

To get a taste of what’s in Professor Dweck’s book, here’s a presentation she gave at Stanford: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isHM1rEd3GE

Enjoy!

Empathy in business: misplaced or irreplaceable?

There’s been a lot of talk in the news lately about empathy. It’s fascinating to see how much impact such an ethereal thing can have on people.

But what about business? We want to measure everything and have numbers to support every decision. There’s no line on the balance sheet for “empathy”.  So should we bag it?

This article from The Atlantic outlines cognitive psychologist David Bloom’s arguments against empathy. He says we are more likely to make bad decisions when we are being empathetic, for example being swayed by a “small” issue because we can feel the other person’s pain, while ignoring “big” issues that may actually be more catastrophic.

And game theory shows us that when playing a zero-sum game, the player who consistently takes the “up” (win) position will win much more often than a player who sometimes takes the “down” (lose) position. In business, consistently taking the “down” position because you are empathetic to the other side can indeed result in losing. A lot. This suggests that we should always take the “up” position.

But what if business isn’t always a zero sum game? Indeed, I believe it usually is NOT. What if your “opponent” is within your company? If you win but they lose, have you really added value for your organization? What if your “opponent” is your customer? If you win but they lose, how long will they be a customer?  How long will you be in business? This is one of the reasons I suggest the premise that the only true aim of a business is to create profit is BULL. I won’t go into a long discussion of that, but in short, In order to create long-term value we must find the win-win. It’s true for what we offer to the market. It’s true for big negotiations but also day-to-day interactions. And, in order to find the win-win, understanding what is important to the other side is important. One might call this empathy.

There has been quite a bit of focus on EQ in addition to IQ since Daniel Goleman’s groundbreaking book Emotional Intelligence. At it’s heart (and with science behind it,) it suggests that the ability to read other’s emotions and manage them is critical to being a great leader. I agree 100% and I suggest that to do this well, we must not just read but truly honor their emotions even if we don’t hold the same ones. Reading and then ignoring their emotions does nothing.

We must not, however, forget our own aims. We must not forget reason. This is the danger of empathy–that we sacrifice our own needs completely. Bloom suggests that we can do good for others based on other things. To do good, he said, “we need an emotional push. But the push need not come from empathy. It can come from love, from caring, from compassion, from more distant emotions that don’t come from being swallowed up in the suffering of others.”

At the end of the day, I believe love, caring, compassion and even understanding your customer are only possible with empathy. So, I don’t think we should bag it. I think we need empathy as one of the critical tools in our leadership toolkit.

Stretch Your Rubber Band

One of the concepts I often share with my coaching clients is that of ‘stretching the rubber band.’ rubber band

You know how when you are going to use a rubber band, you stretch it first, making it bigger than it needs to be, before placing it where you actually need it? You can also use this concept when you are trying to develop new skills or stretch your existing skills. Before you are in a situation where you actually need that skill, practice stretching it way beyond where it needs to end up.

For example, let’s say you want to become more concise in your speaking habits. Rather than just trying to reduce a little (which is hard to measure), take a situation you commonly find yourself in, or that you know you have coming up, and think about what you would say if you could only say three words in that situation. Or, for one whole day, practice speaking to people only in sentences of no more than six words.

If you struggle with engaging with others, give yourself a day to run errands and commit that you will make eye contact and say hello to every person you pass on the street, or stand in line with at the grocery store.

If you want to be a better listener, use verbal mirroring all day for one day (you’ll be exhausted, trust me!) Verbal mirroring is repeating literally every single word the other person is saying, generally done silently in your head.

These all seem like silly examples but that is the point–they are extreme. By getting the feel of a behavior that is more extreme than what you actually desire in the long run, it provides perspective. When you later use the behavior you actually want to use, it won’t feel nearly as uncomfortable.

Think about it–what are you working on and how can you stretch that rubber band in a safe environment before you have to really perform? Now, get out there and try it.

How are you showing up?

640px-Lioness-in-the-Serengeti

“Lioness-in-the-Serengeti” by Charles J Sharp – Cannon EOS with 300mm zoom lens. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5.

If you talk to twenty different people about how to “show up strong” you may get twenty different answers. This is because we all view strength through our own lens. There are, however, many studies that do show some statistically common responses to various behaviors. It’s good data, when interpreted correctly. Unfortunately, many people interpret it to sound as though we all have to be Ringmasters — performers with a booming voice, oozing charisma — to get anyone to follow us. Fortunately, this is not true. There are some great resources out there which suggest alternate paths, such as Quiet Leadership by David Rock, and some of the insights in Good to Great and Built to Last by Jim Collins.

Here, I add my thoughts, based on my experience with leaders over the past 20+ years. If you want to show up with strong leadership presence, I’ll boil it down to four big things:

Clarity of Purpose

The most important thing you can do before going into a situation where you want to show up strong is to clarify your purpose. When you remember why you are on this project, or making this recommendation or believe in this effort, you will feel greater commitment, communicate more clearly and stand stronger in the face of opposition. Bottom line, you will come across as more confident as well as competent. Before any meeting, take a few minutes to center your thoughts and consider:

  • Why am I / are we doing this?
  • What impact can / will it have?

Big Picture Focus

If the batting coach only talks about batting 100% of the time, and never about the team as a whole, he or she will never be seen as someone who can be the head coach.

Remember that the higher up in any organization a person goes, the greater the scope of concerns. If you only focus on small details, the message you are sending is that your scope and understanding is very small. This is unlikely to impress or influence others with larger scope concerns. Always:

  • Take time to understand what the big picture goal is and how your piece of the puzzle connects to it.
  • Reference that big picture any time you are speaking or presenting.

This will reinforce the impression by your audience that you can play at a higher level (or already are.)

Self Awareness

Here is where the external self becomes an even bigger part of the equation. Pay attention to your physical habits. Do they say small, weak and unsure, or strong, open and confident?  Are you like a mouse, with quick, small, nervous-seeming movements? Or are you like a lion with big, deliberate movements?  This does not mean loud = strong. Birds can be loud, squawking all the time. A bunch of loud squawking does not say “powerful”. It says “annoying”. Lions do not roar all the time. But you always know they are there. And when they do vocalize, you listen.

The next time you are in a situation where you want to appear strong (or preferably before that, while you are preparing):

  • Envision a mirror in front of you. What body language do you see?
  • Also, listen to your choice of words and tone of voice. Are you using lots of wiggle words and phrases (maybe, I think, this might be stupid but…)
  • Ask a trusted colleague how you are showing up and what behaviors, words and vocal cues give that impression.

Remember that we are all sending messages of submission, power, understanding, focus, nervousness, confusion, and many other things continuously through our actions and our words. What do yours say about you?

Self Control

Self awareness, if we do nothing with it, is not worth much. Once you identify behaviors that are counter-productive, you must engage in some kind of behavior modification. This may be a quick and easy change or a long, difficult process which takes many, many times to practice until the new behavior feels more natural. Remember how long it took you to learn to walk? No, of course you don’t, but I’ll tell you it wasn’t quick and it wasn’t easy. But you did it.

Before you go into a situation where you want to show up differently:

  • Decide and practice in advance what behaviors you will use to replace the behaviors you don’t want.
  • Keep practicing until the new behaviors become ingrained.
  • Just before “performing”, do something physical. Get out the excess energy if you have too much with some jumping jacks or shake it out with your arms and shoulders like a boxer (where no one can see you!) Or, if you feel withdrawn and low energy, do some power poses and power breaths to feel bigger and stronger.
  • Envision success.
  • Only try to control what you can control — you!
  • Remember that you will survive no matter what. Seriously. Framing the situation properly can help to quell that fight or flight response in our brains that can send us back to our old habits.

The great thing about using strong behaviors is that it actually affects your brain chemistry and you feel stronger too, especially over time. Our minds and bodies have a pretty cool thing going on there.

Try these four tips and let me know how they help you to show up strong!

More on the topic of introverts in business

I’ve posted before about introverts, particularly when it comes to networking, and have even recommended the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. But I had never watched her TED talk. I’m facilitating a session this week on Networking for Introverts, so have been thinking about it a lot again, and just watched her talk.

Today, instead of a how-to blog post, I just want to share this link to Susan Cain’s TED talk, for your consumption. Yes, I know it’s the lazy way out of a post. But I also think it’s a great reminder that we all have value, no matter our personality type. And, it discusses the important distinction between being introverted and being shy.

Understanding these distinctions, learning to value what is at my core, and also learning new skills and behaviors which enable me to be effective at (and enjoy!) interacting with many, many people are the reason I grew from a child who was afraid to raise her hand in class to a woman who speaks in public for a living.

We all have gifts to offer. Let’s not forget that about each other, or about ourselves.

You Made a Difference

Coming home recently after spending time with some amazing people in my network, I felt particularly blessed. Somehow, I find myself at this point in my career surrounded by people I admire, respect and value. They have all contributed to my success and my happiness in different ways.  I want to acknowledge just a few of them, though anonomously for their privacy. They will know who they are.

One of the first, most important of these, is the first manager of my professional career. She believed in me when I didn’t have any experience in the field of HR. All I had was a bit of  education and part-time experience in the legal industry. She saw something in me, and took pride in bringing it out. Thanks to her, I learned a LOT, and gained confidence in my abilities. I also got promoted, based in part on her recommendation.  Working with her was the springboard for my career.

Second were my leaders at SunTrust. Without fail, they were leaders of the highest quality. Ethical, encouraging and always pushing me beyond my comfort zone, to my benefit.  Though they were my managers, they were also my mentors.

Another is a woman with whom I’ve crossed paths many times in many ways, first as a graduate student, then as a trusted network contact and confidante, then as a colleague and leader, and as a mentor.  She taught me the true nature of networking and allowed me to get my feet wet in business development. Her spirit and competitive zeal motivate me.

I am also thankful for those current and former colleagues who referred business to me as I was just getting started in my consulting practice.  All of my business has come from referrals, so what they did for me cannot be overstated.

Last but not least, my students who I taught or coached. It’s a joy to be involved in your journey. I am inspired by all of you.

Thank you again to all those named and not named who touched my career. You made a difference!

Now, who do you need to acknowledge and thank in your career?

 

Check Out My Inaugural Article on BIZCATALYST 360

My inaugural article Why Business Leaders Should Care About Research has just been published on BIZCATALYST 360!  I’m happy to be a Featured Contributor there, along with a number of other inspiring professionals, writing on a wide variety of business topics. Check out my article here. Thanks for your interest and support!

P.S. I also was profiled in the Central Florida Lifestyle magazine this week in an article about changing careers, both in the print and online editions. Fun week!

Development Through Delegation

In a previous post, I talked about owning your weaknesses.  I believe owning them allows you to better overcome or work around them, and ultimately to become more impactful.

One of the strategies for not letting your weaknesses hold you back is to find others who are strong in your area of weakness. Once you do this, you can tap into them, and have better odds of achieving your goals.  But only if you are willing to delegate.  When you delegate, you can also do something equally important: you can help others achieve their goals.

This is a strategy of the best leaders: to develop those around them. It’s a no-brainer, right? Okay, then why don’t more people do it?  How many leaders do you know that are 100% about achieving the results of today, so focused on the now, they don’t prepare their people for the future? Then they wonder why they have no candidates ready for succession, why their most ambitious and eager talent leave.

People are motivated when they can use their gifts, and when they can grow. If you try to do it all, what are you leaving for others? If you try to do it all, at the end of the day, you will severely limit your impact. But if you bring others into the work, give them assignments (and don’t take them back), allow them to make decisions, and provide feedback and encouragement — now you can begin to have exponential impact, both today and tomorrow.

Delegation is often one of the toughest challenges of new leaders but sometimes experienced leaders too.  First, you must make the mental shift to recognizing that when you delegate you are creating opportunity. Second, you must practice the behaviors of delegation until they are comfortable for you. There are many books and online resources available to help you learn the behaviors of delegation. One easy and practical guide is Delegation & Supervision by Brian Tracy, but I trust you to seek out and find the resource that’s right for you. (See how I did that?)

Happy delegating!

You’re leading but does anyone want to follow?

An HR manager I know and respect shared an article with me recently and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. When I read 10 Ways Companies Drive Away Talent from Liz Ryan on Forbes.com I nearly yelled Yes, yes, yes! aloud.  It is truly a must-read article, so the link is included. She is so right about all the things companies do that not only fail to attract, but actively repel top talent, which frankly is really… well, sad. And frustrating.

How is it that the people who are supposed to know the most about attracting, motivating and retaining talent are doing such a poor to mediocre job on average? There are many reasons we’ve ended up going down this rabbit hole but the more important question is: as a leader, what obligation do you have to do something about it?

If you’ve accepted a leadership position in your company, you’ve agreed to be a steward of the success and well-being of that company. You’ve accepted the responsibility of speaking up when something’s not working.

  • Do you have chronically open positions which you have trouble finding the right candidates for, even though you know plenty of people with that skill set exist in the market?
  • Are you able to fill the positions as advertised, but can’t keep anyone in them long enough to get really good?
  • Do the best producers or employees with the best relationship with your clients leave at a higher rate than you’d like?

These are indicators that something is not working.  Often, that something has to do with treating human beings like non-human beings. When it comes to customers, we spend a lot of time figuring out how to capture their emotions and make it easy for them to buy from us (1-click anyone?) over and over and over again. Why do we think employees are any different?  The economic realities of the past few years have lulled us into a false sense of security, but as the tide turns, many companies will be caught flat-footed.

So, here’s what you can do: question how your talent is being attracted, rewarded, developed and treated overall, by you personally and by your company. Don’t accept “it’s just our policy” or “that’s just the process” for an answer. Find out why. There is a reason. Processes and policies are created with good intention. Most often it’s risk avoidance; sometimes it’s because that’s how “everyone” does it. But, did anybody weigh that against the cost of not being able to fill positions, of having poor producers stay and top producers leave, of having employees who once developed top quality products or loyal customer relationships give up and accept mediocre because they can’t fight the system anymore?  A bad system will foil a good worker every time. This isn’t news. Check out Deming’s Red Bead Experiment if you’ve never heard of it before.

If you want to be a leader good people will want to follow, look at their experience of finding you, joining you and staying with you, and work to make the experience one they would choose over and over and over again.