Archive for the ‘ Challenges ’ Category

Boldness Be Your Friend

The past couple years for me have been nothing short of a bold adventure dotted with opportunities, seen and unseen, to face my fears. Head on. And I don’t regret a second of it. I previously earned the nickname “safety cat” (a light-hearted play on “scared-y-cat”), but I have learned to embrace a maxim put forth by the great playwright and poet:

Boldness

Fear is such a primal force. It does funny things to the brain. Fear works its way into the psyche and hijacks all reason and logic. It can be gripping and paralyzing, or rousing and electrifying. It can prevent you from thinking clearly and cause you to react without will or succumb to danger. When I was younger, I had a terrifying recurring dream when distressed that I was drowning in deep water. Dozens of times I have watched myself in this nightmare desperately struggling at the water’s surface but slowly sinking into a murky abyss. It was absolutely horrifying, every single time. Every once in a while, when I’m swimming around in fear surrounding some new challenge or perceived barrier, it sneaks in again and haunts my slumber. Naturally I’ve developed an irrational fear of being in deep water and therefore, I have never been comfortable in the ocean. Drowning is a powerful image of fear, so imagine my reaction when my brother approached me about getting scuba dive certified on vacation in the Virgin Islands! Knowing that he also harbored some anxiety around the idea of breathing from an air tank underwater, and not wanting to discourage him from challenging his own fears, I agreed to do it. I managed to say something like, “that would be fun for us to do together,” while in the background my brain was completely freaking out!

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Fear is such a primal force, but it is not absolute. Although the brain’s course of translating fear-inducing sensory information into a behavioral response is largely an unconscious process, neuroscience has shown that we can learn new ways of reacting to fear-inducing stimuli. So how did I do it? Well, it was basically a matter of diving right in! I chose to be bold.

My brother and I signed up for the PADI Open Water Diver certification course, affiliated with a reputable dive shop in St. Thomas, and completed our e-learning modules. Then there we were on day one, all geared up with BCDs, tanks and regulators, and ready to begin the confined water dive skills portion of our training, and my brain started freaking out again. “All you have to do is breathe through your mouth and everything will be fine,” I told myself. “That’s crazy, you can’t breathe underwater, don’t do it,” my brain fought back with me. With my heart pounding, I submerged and instantly hated it. “Go back to the surface and rip your mask off so you can breathe through your nose like normal,” my brain shouted at me. “Just try to take slower, deeper, more controlled inhales and exhales,” my yoga teacher self told my brain. My chest was tight and I felt like I couldn’t get enough air no matter how hard I tried. “I’m suffocating…This is horrible…I hate this,” my brain cried out in panic. I struggled through the entire morning, dreading the impending open-water dives that afternoon.

”Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.” – Helen Keller

Facing your fear is often about taking calculated risks and learning how to handle them. I chose to override my instinct to give up on diving, but my internal argument continued during the boat ride out to our first dive spot. “50 feet down is a long way…What if your regulator doesn’t work and you suffocate? What if you can’t clear your mask and you breathe in some water and choke on it? This is really scary. You don’t have to do this,” my brain tried to convince me. “Look here, amygdala, you’re not winning this time,” I answered back. Standing on the edge of the platform at the boat’s stern and heeding my brother’s advice from earlier that day, I rehearsed what was going to happen. “Walk yourself through it,” he said, so I reminded myself that I was in control and I stepped out into the ocean. We carefully made our first descent to the ocean’s floor and began our first underwater exploration!

Sarah

Diving_SarahWhat a mystical experience it was to be floating freely through the abyss, not struggling and fearful, but literally and figuratively buoyant. I fell in love with diving that day! More importantly, I gained an enormous sense of confidence in my ability to overcome the greatest obstacle to pursuing my dreams: fear.

“Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

How many times have you allowed fear to speak louder than reason or passion and missed an opportunity to challenge yourself and take a chance on growth in your personal or professional life? No one is immune from fear and it serves its purpose in warning us of potential threat, but it need not hold you back. You can still explore, try new things, step into the unknown, and know that you are in control even if you’re anxious. You can likely recount your own vivid tale of standing at the edge of whatever it is you were afraid to do, then taking that giant leap forward and feeling the rush of pure joy and pride afterwards. Revel in those moments and soak in the strength of resilience that you build when you do choose to face your fears. The first step is choosing to do it. The next step is going out and doing it. Share your stories below.

Boldness be your friend!

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” -Dale Carnegie

About the Author:

Sarah is a Professional Services Intern at The Ken Blanchard Companies. She is also pursuing a Ph.D. in Consulting Psychology and her research is based on mindfulness. You can reach her at sarah.maxwell@kenblanchard.com.

Flow to Success!

Have you ever become so engrossed in a fun task that you lost track of time? Then you’ve experienced the concept of flow. Developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, it describes the state of mind when you reach the perfect combination of task challenge and personal skill:

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Click the image below for a simple demonstration of flow (use the mouse to move and remember to return when you’re finished):

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The creator of this simple game used Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow to develop the game elements. Since you can decide when to move further, you are always in control of both the level of challenge and skill, meaning you can always keep yourself in a state of flow.

Now think about your direct reports and their tasks. Are they in a state of flow? If not, is it due to the task being too difficult, or the direct reports not having high enough skills? Or perhaps the challenge isn’t increasing proportionately with their skills? And think about your own tasks. Are you in a state of flow? Why or why not? What can you do to improve your workplace and encourage more flow?

It’s clear that employees can become more engaged and productive, while constantly developing and growing, by applying this simple model to the workplace. So the next time you’re at work, try adjusting the level of challenge to match the level of skill. You might be surprised to find how much fun you can have while in flow!

Image Credit: 1

Party like its 1776!

With America’s recent bid for the World Cup title, coupled with the 4th of July weekend, I’ve been feeling pretty patriotic lately. I’ve decided that my first born’s sons name will be Tim Howard…Jaramillo. After the amazing 16 saves in the recent loss to Belgium in the World Cup by Tim Howard, I can admit that only this would be the appropriate and patriotic thing to do.  And with tTim Howardhis upcoming 4th of July weekend, I suddenly feel inspired to name my first daughter George Washington…Jaramillo. Some of these names, I’m sure, would have to be screened by my wife, but after some pillow talk and cuddling, I think they might be serious contenders.

The 4th of July weekend is a special weekend for so many reasons. In today’s modern America, it means fireworks, BBQ’s, family, and a whole lot of people trying some Pintrest(y) type desserts. We all need to eat a flag cake at least once in our lives, don’t we? Although John Adams never predicted the American hipster, he came pretty close to what celebrations look like today. He said the 4th of July, “Ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” He also wrote in a letter to his wife Abigail that the Second Continental Congress voted in Philadelphia to declare independence from Britain on July 2nd, not July 4th….whoops! And most of the signers actually signed on August 2nd and not on July 4th. Just to be safe, I’m recommending July 2nd-July 4th as national holiday(s). Who’s with me?

Whether it’s July 2nd or July 4th, I know one thing’s for sure. There have been incredible men and women who have sacrificed and fought to keep our nation independent. So let’s celebrate and cheer, not just for our nation, but for the folks who make up our great nation.

Gus is a Learning and Performance Professional at the Ken Blanchard Companies and is currently finishing his PhD in I/O Psychology. He can be reached at gus.jaramillo@kenblanchard.com

The Customer Experience: Generation-Driven?

Are expectations from the younger generations driving changes to customer service and product support?

genyEarlier this week, I came across an article on Forbes.com titled What Kind Of Customer Experience Are Millennials (Gen-Y) Looking For?.  In the article, Micah Solomon, the article’s author, attempts to summarize the expectations of the Millennial generation when it comes to expectations around customer service and customer experience:

Millennials are looking for the same customer experience as are older customers–but even more so. (More efficient, more respectful of their time, easier, more reliable, more transparent, with more choices and more control for the customer.)”

Expectations around customer service, customer experience, and product support are definitely on the rise, though I wouldn’t necessarily say that this is specific to Gen-Y.  In general, people want options when it comes to products and services and how they interact with business.

For example, if you’ve ever needed to contact Amazon’s support, you know they offer different methods to contact them via phone, email, or live chat.  They also have a web interface for their customers to do things like initiate a return, track shipments of orders, manage browsing history, along with a list of other options.  As the customer, I can decide my preference for how I want to interact using the various options Amazon has provided.

serviceAlternatively, red tape can slow down or even destroy a customer’s experience.  If I buy a product from a retail outlet and decide I want to return it, why should I have to fill out a form and then provide my driver’s license, social security number, birth certificate, etc…, just to get refund?

I understand that businesses need to protect themselves from fraudulent returns, but if I have to jump through hoops just to make a return as a customer, I may start looking elsewhere for my next purchase from a business with a less-intrusive return policy.  That extra 15 minutes it costs me to do a return as a customer may also wind up costing the business-in-question a future revenue stream.

If you want to improve your customer experience, don’t look at just Gen-Y, but look at your entire customer base.  As cliché as it sounds, ask your customers for feedback!  Most won’t hesitate to tell you what they want or would like to see if the benefit for them is an improved experience, product, or service.  However, you have to be sure to follow through with implementing at least some of those requests (and make it known to your customer base that those implementations are due directly to customer feedback) to show that you’re receptive to their feedback and suggestions.

Leave your comments!

A Managerial Felony

“Why don’t you and I go get some lunch to connect?” Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard that from your manager. Ok, put your hand down before they see what you are reading. Plus, that guy in IT might think you’re waving him down to get in for the weekly donut rotation.
I have never been a real fan of “reconnecting” over lunch or any other median, really. It’s superficial, a little pretentious, and a lot of wasted emotion.Be-Your-Own-Boss-If-you-cant-find-a-job-with-a-Felony
Here’s three good ways to stay connected with your direct reports:

  • Conduct weekly or biweekly one on one’s. Depending on how many direct reports you have, it is absolutely imperative that you meet with them one on one to discuss their needs. Make this a formal time; there are a number of informal meetings, chats by the lunch room, and discussions about projects. A formal one on one with a focused discussion on the needs of your direct report will open up communication. From a practical stand point, make it 30 minutes or an hour if you can swing it. Let your direct report create the agenda and don’t use this time to “dump” projects or work on them.
  • Ask them about their lives outside of work. This is really important if you have a new or newer employee. Chances are they may be nervous, hesitant, and a little insecure about their new environment and work. Nothing eases that pressure  more than a manager who is genuinely invested in the lives of those who work for them. No one wants to work for a robot…
  • Be invested in them professionally and personally. Not everything is a competition and not everyone is a competitor. Many times, we are our own worst enemies. Supervisors should be people who care about other people. On my boss’s wall, for example, is written, “Every person has intrinsic value.” Employees work best when they are respected, valued, and heard.

Gus is a Learning and Performance Professional at the Ken Blanchard Companies and is currently finishing his PhD in I/O Psychology. He can be reached atgus.jaramillo@kenblanchard.com

The Balancing Act of a Leader

Being promoted into your first management role can be both an exciting and scary experience.  It shows that your employer trusts you to make decisions and lead others.  However, it can also be a major shift in responsibility.  People are going to look to you for direction, and it’s up to you to have the best possible answers for them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile most people are told that they will have new responsibilities, there’s one crucial piece that tends to be left out of that promotion-prepared conversation: get ready to start the workload balancing act.

What I mean by that is most people assume that their focus on work shifts to people they lead when coming into a management position.  While that’s true, that only paints half of the picture.  You had your own individual tasks and projects you completed before this promotion, but now that you’re promoted, you’re individual task work doesn’t simply stop (though the focus of that individual work may shift).  In fact, not only are you now responsible for your own workload, but you’re also responsible for the workload of those you lead.

It can be a major challenge when you have your direct reports coming to you needing direction, yet you’re in the middle of trying to complete a project with an impending deadline.  How can you balance the needs of the two?

  1. Start with the open door policy: Hopefully, you’ve heard of this term. If not, the basic idea is that your door is always “open”. If someone you lead has an issue they need to discuss, they can come by your office, email you, call you, etc… at just about any time of the working day. Having this policy can remove a major hurdle and allow the people you lead to get past problems faster than having to waiting until you’re available.
  2. Draw a boundary with your open door policy: While it’s great for your people to be able to discuss issues or get direction at anyJuggle Balls time, it may not always be feasible for you to maintain this policy at all hours of the day. If you have approaching deadlines or your own workload is starting to pile up, block out some time on your schedule. Set a ground rule with the people you lead that you can’t be disturbed during this time unless it’s absolutely critical. Be sure to follow up with step 3 below after establishing your boundary.
  3. Find your second-in-command: You’ve established your boundary, but now what? Your people need a backup plan for time-sensitive issues. After all, customers will only wait for so long before an issue gets out of hand. If you work in an organization with a large workforce, perhaps there’s another manager in the same department as you who can be your backup (also allowing you to reciprocate the favor).
    If you work in a smaller organization and there’s not an immediate manager who can cover for you, perhaps there’s someone you lead who is an expert in their role who can be groomed to take on this responsibility. Not only will it allow you to keep your boundary, but it allows you to tackle another management responsibility of developing your people.

Finding the right balance between being available and completing your own work will always be a juggling act, and you may find yourself needing to adjust and readjust your boundaries depending on the needs of your work and the needs of your people.

Leave your comments!

Can You Get the Delicious Cake?

Several years ago, someone posed the following challenge on a popular internet image board:

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The goal was “get the delicious cake” and you had to draw your solution. No other rules were given.

One response showed the figure crawling through the spikes, while others used elements from pop culture to get the cake. For instance, Harry Potter magic spells, Star Wars lightsabers, and Super Mario warp pipes were all presented as solutions to this challenge. The following are a few of the more original and creative ways people attained the cake:

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Use the door!

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When you want to get rid of something in an image, the eraser tool is handy

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Thinking outside of the box

The lesson I took from this was that people can get very creative when presented with a problem and given the freedom to devise a solution.

As a leader, you may have goals you need to accomplish, but it is left up to you to determine how to accomplish those goals. With a little time and ingenuity, you can come up with many different and often surprising ways to achieve those goals, particularly when you have the help of others.

So how would you get to the delicious cake? Type your solution in the comments, or you can use your favorite image editor or an online one and post a visual of your solution.

Are you a Whine Sommelier?

If you are like me, you probably know someone who is a Sommelier, or an expert on all things wine. They know the flavors, the smells, and what will best complement each food item on the menu. They can tell you about the regions the wine came from, how long you should wait before you open a bottle, and the perfect temperatures for each bottle you have. Wine experts generally all agree on 1 rule: don’t drink the same bottle of wine every time.

Well here’s my number 1 rule for those who may be a Sommelier (of sorts).

Don’t uncork the whine.wine_couple

There’s nothing worse than when you’re having a great dinner conversation with friends, and someone busts out the whine. Maybe you’re trying to have fun, talking about good times, and someone has to complain all night about some inequitable atrocity that was bestowed upon them. Don’t get me wrong, a good whine is great for certain occasions, but you have to know when to share it and when to just leave it corked. I mean, some people bring that whine to every occasion and I think to myself, “That whine is 100 years old, you should have saved it for a special occasion.”

I get it. Sometimes you just need to vent and be heard; I’m definitely with you on that. However, next time you are in the mood for a good whine, just remember that not everyone drinks.

Gus is a Learning and Performance Professional at the Ken Blanchard Companies and is currently finishing his PhD in I/O Psychology. He can be reached at gus.jaramillo@kenblanchard.com

 

Quit & Stayed, or Quit & Paid?

If you’re not familiar with the term “quit & stayed”, it is the act of mentally quitting, yet staying in the same physical environment. More specifically, it’s the act of becoming disengaged in the work you complete, whether that’s for a business or just in general.

"Image courtesy of Stuart Miles, / FreeDigitalPhotos.net".

“Image courtesy of Stuart Miles, / FreeDigitalPhotos.net”.

Chances are that you work with one or more people who have quit & stayed.  They are people who show up just for the paycheck.  They aren’t passionate about their job.  They don’t have the motivation to go above and beyond.  In a perfect world, everyone would get paid handsomely to do what they love, but unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world.  Almost every company and organization has employees who fit into this category.

Amazon recently listed this trend in the annual letter to shareholders from company CEO Jeff Bezos along with a plan to deal with employees who have quit & stayed.  The idea behind this plan is that once a year, employees will be offered a payout to quit.  Depending on how many years you’ve been with Amazon, you could make anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 for handing in your resignation.   The idea isn’t to create a high turnover rate, but instead, bring in new blood and energy where existing employees may have no interest in maintaining their career with Amazon.

Personally, I’d be curious to know what this does to their turnover rate.  Will they see an uptick in the number of employees who move on to other companies?  More importantly, are they paying adding unnecessary costs by paying employees to resign who might resign in either case even if they weren’t getting a bonus to do so?

Jeff Bezos says it best: “In the long-run, an employee staying somewhere they don’t want to be isn’t healthy for the employee or the company.”  That is one statement I wholeheartedly agree with.

Be sure to take a look at The Ken Blanchard Companies Quit & Stayed Leadership Livecast.  You can even view 17 minutes of the Livecast for free.

Leave your comments!

Overcoming the odds

My dad and I after the surgery

About 5 years ago my father was diagnosed with liver cancer. He was a heavy drinker in his younger days and his cirrhosis compounded his medical issues. Over these 5 years he has gone through chemotherapy, radiation, and a litany of drugs to stabilize his liver. 9 months ago he was finally cancer-free and was then able to be on the transplant list for a new liver. A few weeks ago we received a call that a new liver came in and he needed to be at the hospital as soon as he could. My dad said he felt strange about it and had mixed emotions about the process. “How can I live because someone else has died?” I can’t imagine the competing values he had to deal with. The surgery went better than expected and the transplant was successful.  When the doctor pulled the liver out he said he didn’t know how my dad was still alive. He barely had a few inches left of a functioning liver.

What’s different about dad now than before his surgery is his zeal for life. He has always been a very happy and positive person, but something has changed for him. He told me the other day on the phone that he has “a second chance at life.” It got me thinking. What if I lived like I had a second chance at life? How much happier and productive could I be if I lived like this? So go out and make the best of everything. You never know how much you can accomplish with the right mindset

“The Happiest people don’t have the best of everything; they just make the best of everything.”

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