web analytics

Ever heard of Sunday Somnia

We’ve learned through national surveys the last few years that Sunday night in this country is the night for the worst sleep of the week.  

Anxiety and dread about going back to work Monday.  We’ve also heard repeatedly that people quit their boss not their job, and Gallup reported in 2015 that half of Americans surveyed had left a job to improve their overall life.  

Loving work instead of dreading it is a function of several key things, top among them is the boss and the team you're on.  Patrick Lencioni challenges leaders with this:

“I want you to realize that while you are leading this team you are having a bigger impact on peoples’ lives than you may ever have.  You change the way they go home at night, the way they treat their families and friends, you effect their self-esteem and that’s going to carry over through their life.  Your ability to build a good team and help them feel a part of that team might be the most altruistic thing you ever do.”
Good teams can build people up and help them overcome all kinds of normal work challenges. 
In a recent meeting with a leadership team I am supporting I watched an individual practice vulnerability-based trust with his team by sharing an insight he had about the way people perceived him in the workplace. 
It had dawned on him in one short conversation that some people experience him as authoritarian, even a bully, when his intention is totally different. 
His team, one by one, affirmed both his perception and his intention and praised and supported his desire to adjust the way he presented himself. They pointed out the positives in his work and style. 
This was pretty exciting to watch. 
The energy in the room completely changed. 

You may think of teamwork as a way to get things done, but consider looking at teamwork as the most underutilized route to people’s happiness at workCreating groups that work well together will engage people, support them as individuals and make everyone feel like they are a part of something important. 
The reward is the much-needed meaning and purpose on Monday morning. 

You may even help people sleep at night! 

Temperance Not Prohibition

Temperance Not Prohibition

“The smartphone is in the saddle, and it rides mankind.” Ross Douthat.

On a bike ride not long ago I spotted a man standing on his front porch, neck bent with gaze downcast on the little flat box in his right hand.  I was triggered, I thought about where my phone was and when I could check it.  I kept riding and thought about the day in the future that a silhouette of that pose will represent this era, the 2010’s.

The compulsion to be connected via this technology won’t kill us exactly but is far from harmless.  Douthat in The New York Times states that it “requires you to focus intensely, furiously, and constantly on the ephemera that fills a tiny little screen, and experience the traditional graces of existence – your spouse and friends and children, the natural world, good food and great art – in a state of perpetual distraction.” 

So true, so true.  Last week I was in two meetings, six people in each, two separate days.  In one group, the custom is no-screens, including no phones on the table.  The other group apparently has not established any limits and three people were using their phone, their laptop, or both during the meeting.  One group focused on whoever was speaking, eyes were connected, any notes were taken with a pen.  In the other group, it was hard to tell who was in the meeting or connected elsewhere, attention was scattered, someone left to take a call, people were quickly and continuously distracted by movement outside the glass in both ends of the conference room.

Such amazing tools we have.  At coffee with a friend that same week I was sharing something I was reading and my friend ordered the book as we talked.  While writing about the compulsion of connectivity 5 minutes ago I asked Siri how to spell “silhouette.”

We don’t want prohibition but we need temperance.  Temperance can simply mean “a culture of restraint that tries to keep a specific product in its place.  And the internet, like alcohol, may be an example of a technology that should be sensibly restricted in custom and in law,” (Douthat).  This is happening in families, in theaters, and in organizations and can spread to so many spaces.  We’ll need to work consciously to catch up with the technology that seduces and addicts up (and “alienates and sedates” us in Douthat’s words) but there is a lot at stake – namely the richness of connecting to people we love and the natural world.

“Resist the Internet,” Ross Douthat, The New York Times, March 12, 2017

We Don't Need Another Hero

In today's non-profit world we may try to do it all.  
We want to save at least a piece of the world.

We may not want to be heroes but we're ready and willing. 
In 34 years as a nonprofit executive I watched people suffer for the cause and simply suffer because of the cause.  We call the first martyrdom and the second victimhood.  Both states begin with the best of intentions and because people care.of course.  Most people quickly agree that we don't need more martyrs and victims in our work to improve the world.
And what about heroes, do we need more?  
"Hell yeah, who is going to turn down a true hero?"  Right, because a true hero steps up or steps in without pause when the crisis demands it.  The crisis could be life threatening or the crisis might be group silence when someone should speak up.  The heroes we don't need are people jumping onto exaggerated messes intent on saving the day, self-identified heroes who do their work as solutions-in-search-of-a-problem.  
As a leader in your organization you know your martyrs and heroes, and you don't need any more.  What you want and need are people who genuinely care about the cause and will be a meaningful part of the team that is on it.   Go ahead and name them, support them!

Parked At To-Be

Change is constant in the physical universe.  Our life happens in minutes that pass as we fret in distraction about the minutes coming up.  Sitting "still" we're on a globe spinning at 1,000 mph while orbiting at 66 times that speed.  We know all of this and all the while we may be simply parked at the part of our lives that we design.  

I loved the "2-B" sign the moment that we pulled under it in a three-story parking garage on the way to a party.  In the midst of the change and movement there's a part of life where we exercise design control: who do we want to-be, how do we want to-be showing up in the major areas of our lives, where are we headed? Parked at to-be means no answers and/or no action.  

Like over 40% of Americans I use the new calendar year to make a list, state new resolve and formalize intentions.  I review the previous year's list and the year before and that clarifies my reality.  I carry some things over from previous years and separate the broad intentions like "find inspiration" from the measurable to-do's, but most of all I resolve to avoid parking at to-be.  How do I stick to this?  By setting aside the time to check in with myself.  Am I living out my intentions daily, weekly hourly, minute by minute.  Am I present in my own life to where I stand on the to-be's and and actions that follow?

Awareness of what or where or who I want to-be is the only place to start, and then I pull out of the parking lot, get moving and stay moving!

Team Building vs. Team Development

Is Your Leadership Team Leading?            

Teamwork is promoted and praised  and pumped up AND is probably the most undeveloped advantage left for your organization.  Teams (especially "leadership teams") are built from organizational charts but rarely developed to the potential that a pool of talented, motivated people can attain.  Patrick Lencioni's best-selling book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team produced a model for team development that  shows us how cohesive teams behave and why they are productive & effective.

One of the ways I find this model so appealing and helpful is the progression up the pyramid.  We all want to get to results with less attention to the foundation beneath the results.  But as you can see, the pyramid rests on a strong level of trust and conflict management.  Members of a cohesive team behave like this:

  • They trust each other - when you are confident of your peers' intentions, everyone is comfortable being open.
  • They engage in productive conflict around ideas - with unfiltered debate, all opinions are shared.
  • They commit to decisions and plans of action - clarity & joint commitment is possible because trust and conflict have led to buy-in.
  • They hold each other accountable for delivering against those plans - reminding each other of responsibility to the team.
  • They focus on the achievement of collective results.

Each of these behaviors make sense alone, or at least most of us have tried to get them to work alone.  Together they form a structure that can help move from a team that was built into one that is  developed to be more effective and fun.  Call or write, let's talk about developing your team.


What Is Your Religion?

All the rules have changed about religion in politics in my lifetime. 

Guidelines for candidates moved from topical avoidance, to optional discussion, to mandatory personal sharing. 

It’s still changing and still treacherous territory, so at the highest level of the game we know it is carefully scripted; gauged for the immediate audience. But  those running for office believe that  the voting public want a clear answer that fits within a framework. 

George Clooney as presidential candidate Mike Morris in The Ides of March (2011) avoided that framework, saying “I am neither a Christian, nor an atheist. I’m not Jewish or Muslim … my religion is written on a piece of parchment called the Constitution.” 

This year Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders is speaking to a growing segment of people who see spirituality as separate from religion, while other candidates are quoting the Bible frequently.

The word “religion” is somewhat individualized, whereas we often use “religious” about all sorts of things that are not part of a named religion - your friend who works out religiously six days a week;  a coworker who is religious about getting coffee from Starbucks every morning, and the people who never leave a balance on their credit cards are religious. These all reflect actions and practices that connect to beliefs,  as shown here, “religious” about the body, caffeine, and debt. 

The word religion itself has its origins in Latin, signifying binding, unifying, and linking back. As such, religion can be seen as a set of practices and actions that continually reunite us to something else; to something bigger; to our core beliefs. 

 Part of the definition also corresponds to repetition and discipline.  Watch me for a few days and you’ll not only learn my habits, but also what I believe in from what do I repeatedly.

So, in your organization, what’s your “religion?” (Oh yes, this blog is about organizations and leadership!)  What do you do repeatedly and what beliefs are reflected? Here’s a quick set of questions in three important areas.

Internal Communication, including Meetings

* How much is communicated religiously through what means and patterns? 

* Do you rely on e-mail over meetings? 

* Are there formal meeting norms, agenda setting and results? 

* What’s the most common channel for employees to learn about important changes?

These answers can identify beliefs about what people need to know to support the mission.

 Customer definition

The human service sector is blessed and burdened by diffused “customers.” Our values are set by what the end-beneficiaries need; our processes set by the buyers who are paying for the service. Therefore:

* What are the definitions we use?

* What do we do about conflicting demands?

* How do we measure what the diverse “customers” want from us? 

* If we say we’re religious about customer service, what repeated behaviors display that?

Investment in People

* When it comes to hiring, what are the routines that never vary and do they serve the end goal? 

* Where in the employee life-cycle does the bulk of training occur?

*Are managers taught to lead?

“Religious” practices – in the sense of routine actions that connect us to our beliefs – are a big deal. 

“In our organization we are absolutely religious about….” 

Answer that and you’ll clarify what you believe in.  

Making the Invisible VISIBLE

In iceberg-talk we usually refer to the tip, in this metaphor there's a foreboding allusion to the rest of the chunk.  The part we don't see holds danger, it's THAT PART that will bring an appearance from the State Farm mayhem guy!

Gary Keller brings a more positive version (above) in his 2012 bestseller The One Thing,  using the iceberg to show what supports our visible activity, namely purpose and priority.  In this iceberg the daily activity or "productivity" is the visible portion and there's a three part natural rhythm for achieving extraordinary results:

  • Purpose
  • Priority
  • Productivity

And it's up to us to keep them connected.  When connected, what we do is buoyed by our purpose and the clearly stated and often-reviewed priorities that serve it.

I had great fun recently with an executive team working to revise their organization's mission statement.  As a highly active and productive group the tip of the iceberg was easy to see.  Their productivity is measured in various numbers and the buzz of their center is daily testimony.  

As with many human service agencies, priorities are always pushing up to daily busy-ness and those priorities are set by outside demands as often as by internal deliberation.  The reality of outside priorities is frustrating but manageable when you build in some gatekeeping.

Then you look further and see purpose, or mission.  That was our task that day, to take a four-hour dive below the surface and revisit the words that are supporting the activity.  What is the problem we seek to address?  What do we want to achieve for whom?  What business are we in, and in the end for what will we be remembered? 
Before the end of the day, a committed, passionate team had hammered on the iceberg to create a six word draft mission statement.  This base of their existence will be more visible since it will drive priorities and actions.  What a great iceberg, the activity tip is not only floated by the rest of the chunk but really tells you what’s underneath it all.

Some Great Reasons (Ten Actually) to Join an Executive Roundtable

After my first full year as a coach and consultant I became very clear about the three types of support I most want to provide for clients, and one of the three is roundtables.  You can read more about the format here on the website and we’re enrolling now for a 10 month 2016 cohort.  NOW, here are some great reasons to join!

Reason #10:  Your board will be impressed – All boards want an exec who is invested in self-improvement and no boards think their exec knows it all.  Show your drive toward excellence.

Reason #9:  You’ll expand your posse – You will gain colleague-friends who may stay with you for life.  We all need a solid posse behind us when things get tough, it can never be too big.

Reason #8:  Time Out of the Office – Someday these roundtables will surpass golf as the most relaxing and fun way to get out of the office and still call it work.  Change your view and change your perspective.

Reason #7:  Businesses that invest in their leaders excel – Although not always preached in the nonprofit sector this is a needless-to-say in the private sector.  The myth that overhead-is-bad hurts the sector in several ways and leadership development is high on the list.

Reason #6:  Leaders who invest in themselves move up – How many things do you do that are both good for your organization and good for your career?  Not many, but this is a good and affordable one.

Reason #5:  Peers are the best consultants – Do you ever gather 8 or 9 eager consultants who have actually experienced your dilemmas?  The accuracy with which peers hear your challenges and the experience they apply lays the groundwork for valuable advice.

Reason #4:  You’ll gain confidence – Sometimes the mere verbalization of an issue with people who “get it” ups your confidence that you’re on the right track.  Say it aloud in a group of people who understand the context and your path may be affirmed.

Reason #3:  There are “new” ideas – You will actually uncover ideas that are “new” to you.  Nonprofit execs come from scattered causes, stacks of experiences, and varied formal learning.  You will be surprised at what is out there that will be new to you.

Reason #2:  You need space – Your job and life is crowded, your best head work and your best heart work happen when both can stretch and breathe.  This kind of space is rarely happenstance, you must intentionally create it.

Reason #1:  You need focus – Focus is not only something we have, it’s something we do.  The ability to focus is a muscle, learn how to exercise it and build it.

If these ten reasons convinced you to enroll or talk more about it, go to the TAKE ACTION website tab and send me a note.  We’re now enrolling for a Space to Focus Executive Roundtable that begins February 19. 

Give yourself some space to focus – your organization needs it and you deserve it.

Reporting Your Lessons Learned

The tough times come and the tough times go.  Sometimes we’re so relieved when that high and violent tide recedes that we simply run down the beach away from the leftover debris.  I was sharing reflections with a client recently on a particularly long and tough period for his organization and we talked about several areas to tackle coming out of the storm.  Restoring the confidence of a number of board members (the silent minority of an unknown size who were shaken by the events) was on the top of the list so we approached it from a transparent “lessons learned” angle.  Here’s a very simple report format that everyone can relate to.  It displays transparency plus the wisdom that some people get from challenges. 

o   The Event or Situation – not a rehash of the story, but a “headline,” short and objectively stated

o   Lesson Learned – broadly stated, what did we learn about people (ours or outsiders) or action including inaction or early action, or risks and incentives, or how our management systems work, or where our attention is drawn.

o   Can the lesson lead to changes? – Not all do immediately, and the immediate one may have costs of its own, but leaders see action in response to adversity so what do you see?

o   If “yes,” what are the strategies we can implement now.

Demonstrating that we’ve learned from the inevitable downturns and showing the guts to report it will restore confidence in your leadership, and the pause to document it will launch some meaningful restorative and preventative strategies.  Not as simple as a walk on the beach but a great way to watch the tide go out.

Inspiring Answers to Straight Questions

I am inspired by nonprofit leaders, consistently and mightily, and that’s why I took my second career in this direction instead of two things that periodically inspire me like craft beer and fly fishing.  In the last few months, in groups or individually, I’ve asked a variety of nonprofit leaders a question:  what is one belief you hold about the world or humankind that you feel got you into human services?

The responses have all been thoughtful and instructive, and they have often been specific about the person’s life.  The varied combinations of words fall into two general groups, one group of answers were about all people and one group of answers were about one person:

All people – I believe that all people are essentially good, deserve empathy, and sometimes need help.

One person – I know that I can make a difference.

What’s magical about this is that truly these two answers pair up for people in the helping field.  In other words, the leader whose answer drops in the one-person category will say “…and of course” about the all-person category.  And those who answer about all-people are doing what they do because they know they can make a difference.

Getting down to the basics is a great exercise and I know that I can always use more exercise.  And inspiration.