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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.

My new gig with BIZCATALYST360

Okay, I know I said in my last post that I wouldn’t be starting a bunch of new stuff this year.  In my defense, I committed to this in 2013, and am just now going public with it. I’m thrilled to have been invited to become a contributor to the business knowledge forum BIZCATALYST360.com.

As a contributor, I’ll be sharing some of the things I discuss on this blog, and also some broader topics which may not be directly career related. What I love about the site, is the variety of topics curated there including business, technology, leadership, ethics and much, much more. I hope you’ll stop by and check it out. I’ll be writing there soon. In the meantime, check out some of the fantastic articles by my colleagues.