Archive for the ‘ Problem Solving ’ Category

How to Manage your Competing Values

In the spring of 2010, I received a phone call from my commanding officer. “Jaramillo, you have been selected to a deployment in Afghanistan for 400 days. I don’t know what you will be doing or what unit you will be with, but I trust that you will have a successful mission and that you will make us all proud.”

Ok, whoa! Can I get a little more detail here?

I wanted to serve my country and go to war, but, I mValuesean, do I have to go now… like, right now? I had just gotten married 3 months earlier and was working on my graduate degree. I had no plans at the time to pack up and go. “Hey boss, look, I’m a little busy right now, can we move this war thing later on in my calendar.” Of course, it doesn’t work like that, but I still had these two strong competing values. In this instance, I wanted to go to serve my country, but my family and school were also very important to me. We all have competing values, and we must understand them and embrace their complexity. What I needed to do was figure out how I would internalize these feelings and contain my emotions through this experience.

What are your competing values? Take a minute to really ponder this question to understand your own thoughts and feelings. Really evaluating your competing values will help you to look at them objectively. Gather the facts in all scenarios to be open to exploring and doing a little soul searching. These competing values can come in all aspects of life, from relationships with friends and co-workers to grand theoretical and philosophical questions. It’s important to realize that they exist in our lives, so make sure you take some extra thought when you are confronted with one to be fully content with your decisions.

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

Lifehack – Achieve Your Goals by Making Them Easy

Happy 2014! With a new year comes new resolutions. Are yours the same resolutions you’ve made last year? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Despite what psychologists tell you, behaviors are difficult to change, especially when you’ve become used to doing them. There’s a reason why self-help books sell every year and apps are released to motivate individuals to change.

calvin-hobbes-new-years-resolutions-572x433

Change is difficult

So why will this year be different? Because I will share a secret that will help you to actually achieve your resolutions: Make your resolutions easy.

Now this does not mean that you reduce your weight loss goal to -5lbs or that you discard your quest to read 50 books this year and instead read 2 lines of a blog post. What I mean is, do all of the prework first so that the goal becomes easy to attain. This is especially useful for when you have difficulty starting.

Its-easy

It’s easy if you try

For instance, I had an issue with running. I would sit there figuring out what to wear and then spend another 10 minutes scrolling through my playlists and choosing the songs for my run. Then I would look through my fridge for a pre-run snack and spot the delicious leftover burger from the restaurant the night before. The next logical thing to do was to gobble down that burger on the couch!

Instead, I prepare all of this in advance. I prepare my clothing, my playlist, and my snack before I go to bed. The next morning, all of my running gear is ready to go. The preparation comes easy since I know that I won’t have to run right after I’m done.

The author of the post below, Gus Jaramillo, actually changes into his workout clothes when he is off of work. That way, he is ready for the gym before he even gets into his car. The only logical destination becomes the gym.

2011-year-resolution-400x400

Start today

So think about your goals and ask yourself, “What can I do to make them just a little more easy to start?”

Image Credit: 1 | 2 | 3

Leadership is as Leadership Does—Leadership Lessons Learned from the Recent US-Government Shutdown

 

Leadership is Not a Title

Leadership is Not a Title 

Leadership Dependency Weakens Independence 

The most fundamental leadership lesson learned from the shutdown is the ancient reminder that the more we, as individuals, become dependent on leadership, the more it weakens our own personal independence. The United States of America was founded on the core value of personal independence—leadership of self. When leaders of organizations and communities take a top-down approach to solving problems and finding solutions, they undermine the power of the individual to come up with creative and innovative solutions to the challenges at hand. Excellent leadership empowers individuals to equip themselves with the mindset and skill sets to resolve issues at a personal, local level, rather than depend on someone else to solve the problem for them.

Leadership Is Not a Title

People assume that elected officials are leaders by nature. This assumption is misleading and is often a source of frustration when politicians don’t live up to our expectations; behaving more like spoiled children rather than acting like mature servants of the people. As with other assumed leadership roles—executives, teachers, doctors, president of the local sports league—people aren’t necessarily in that role because of their leadership skills. Often they assume positions of authority by default or indifference of the people, not necessarily because they are qualified for the position. We shouldn’t assume people are effective leaders just because of their title. Good leaders should be viewed as such based on how they collaborate with and influence others through a positive and productive process.

Leaders Collaborate

Collaboration is no easy task. It’s an acquired and developed skill set of every good leader. The larger the stakes and the more people involved means the more complicated collaboration will be. That’s why great leaders—of both others and self—need to be effective collaborators. Collaboration is not just listening to others’ opinions then making a decision based on your own personal point of view. Collaboration could be the most exhaustive, painful, messy, and frustrating part of leadership, but it is critical to maintain the trust of the people you are leading, as well as serve the greater good of the people.

Blame Game

Blame Game

Leaders Don’t Point Fingers

One of the silliest aspects of an otherwise tragic situation in the government shutdown was the public calling out of others with opposing views. The blame game is nothing more than an immature act of desperation in an attempt to influence public perception of other people’s point of view. Instead of finger pointing, great leaders assess the disagreements, seek understanding, and assume the best in other’s opinions, even if there is an apparent selfish intent. Effective leaders roll up their sleeves and work behind closed doors, face-to-face, to get the issues on the table as a first step to discussing possible solutions. Leaders listen, they don’t stand behind a podium and blame others.

As the dust settles from the latest uprising of political division in the country, let us sober our minds and check our own hearts to consider how we, the people, may glean something worthy from this conflict. There is still great hope in the great American experience, and it still resides within the heart of effective personal and collaborative leadership.

During Chaotic Times, FOCUS is King

I am sure many of the people reading have experienced streaks of pure chaos in the workplace. Often times people let their emotions get the best of them, and the result is usually very stressful and unproductive.

Stress in the workplace

Stress in the workplace

Leaders in organizations need to dig deep during these pressure packed periods to find a sense of calm and clarity from which to lead their direct reports. They still need to work with a sense of urgency in order to meet deadlines and complete timely requests, but sometimes in order to work fast the best practice is to slow down.

That is where the acronym FOCUS comes into play. When the leader finds the ability to take a moment to breath and FOCUS then they keep their mind clear and simplify every challenge. Some people are not naturally calm under pressure but this is a skill that can be learned if leaders are mindful enough to be aware of how their thoughts affect their actions.

Leading Others

Leading Others

FOCUS:

Find your center – When stress builds and tensions rise take a moment to breathe deeply and return to your internal comfort zone. You really need to be in tune with yourself to diagnose when your mind is about to be overloaded. Start practicing mindfulness now to know how you feel when you are at your most productive and collaborative state.

Own your emotions – Once you let your emotions control you then you have lost your ability to lead. Stay calm, cool, and collected and remember that when you are starting to feel overwhelmed take a moment to find your center.

Control your reactions – Reactions define your relationships with your coworkers. Every time you interact with another you create a memory on the others mental blue print of whom they believe you are. Be sure that all the impressions you are leaving are consistent with your character and personal values. Owning your emotions will definitely help you control your reactions.

Understand the situation – Leaders who take the time to listen to their direct reports during chaotic times succeed in identifying the correct next steps. Listening occurs with both your ears and your eyes. If you are entering a situation without having been previously involved then you do not know the dynamics. Taking a moment before reacting will help you understand the solution to the situation.

Serve others needs – The greatest leaders know that it is not possible for one person to make every decision and complete every action. Therefore you must provide your team members with the direction and support they need at every point in time. If you approach every day with the mentality that you lead to serve rather than be served then you and your organization will succeed.

That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.

Steve Jobs

Brian Alexander is the Marketing Project Specialist with The Ken Blanchard Companies

Stop the Stalling – Ideas for Spreading Innovation

Why is it that certain innovations spread faster than others?  After all, everyone should rush to a game-changer, right?

lightbulbThat’s the topic of an article on The New Yorker from Dr. Atul Gawande.  In the article, Dr. Gawande dissects (excuse the pun) two very important medical innovations that began during the 1800s, each having very different adoption rates.

The first innovation examined was surgical anesthesia, which went from being used in a couple of test cases to a surgical tool used in various regions around the globe in less than a year.  The second innovation was antiseptics, which took decades to be widely used.

Why is it that both innovations, while both very important, spread at radically different rates?

Dr. Gawande identifies some of the following characteristics:

1. Pain – Both medical advancements solved pain in one form or another for patients.  However, only anesthesia solved an immediate pain for the surgeons, as well.  Before anesthesia, surgeons would have to fight and hold down screaming patients who simply had to deal with the pain.

The early composition of antiseptics, while beneficial to patients, actually caused additional pain in the form of chemical burns for surgeons who handled them.

2. Visibility – I can see an individual in pain caused by a fresh wound.  What I don’t see are the germs that might be crawling into that wound to later cause infection.  The visibility of a problem plays a key role in how quickly we prioritize a resolution.surgical team working

3. Speed – Anesthesia solved a pain that could be immediately felt.  Antiseptics solved a pain that would come much later.

You may have heard of a term called “hyperbolic discounting” or “delay discounting”.  Various studies have shown that in many cases, when presented with an immediate reward with a smaller payoff, compared to a reward that will come later with a larger payoff, the greater reward is discounted in our minds.

As an example, I could give you a choice to receive $10 now, or $20 in a month.  If you wait a month, the reward is greater, but the downside is that you have to be patient to receive it.  We know $20 is greater than $10, but the perceived wait to receive that money causes us to discount the overall value of that $20 bill.  We love immediate gratification, and in many cases, tend to lean towards choices that fulfill that need.

4. Sacrifice – Related the number 1 above, the perceived hassle of dealing with chemical burns from antiseptics likely caused most surgeons to simple say “It’s not worth it.”

These same characteristics can be applied to the spread of other ideas and innovations, as well. Keeping all of these questions in mind can increase the spread at which they are adopted:

  • How painful is it to implement?  Is there a way to minimize the potential impact?
  • Does it solve a problem perceived by many?  If not, is there a way to increase awareness of the issue?
  • How fast does it solve the problem?  Is there a way the move up the time table?
  • Does it require individuals to give up something they cherish as a trade-off?  How can you limit the trade-off?

There is a lot more to Dr. Gawande’s article about the spread of new ideas, so I highly recommend it for a fascinating read.

Leave your comments!

Speakeasy Leadership

Seakeasy Leadership

Seakeasy Leadership

The spirit of the Roaring Twenties was marked by a cultural rebellion against classic traditions, inspiring social revolutions around the world. Everything seemed to be possible through the modern technology of automobiles, motion pictures, and radio, which all promoted ‘modernity’ to the world.

One of the most mysterious trends that came out of the Roaring Twenties was the establishment of Speakeasies—hidden sections of an establishment that were used to illegally sell alcoholic beverages and feature new artistic expressions of music, dance, and risqué behavior. To enter a speakeasy, one would need to say a password to the doorman, indicating that the person-seeking entrance was welcome by the owner or other members of the “business within the business.”

In many ways, today’s workplace resembles the spirit of the twenties, with a rapidly evolving workplace, cutting edge technology changing and shaping the culture norms of organizations around the world.

Unfortunately, one of the dangers of today’s workplace is Speakeasy Leadership—the hidden sections of an organization where only a few people in positions of power make decisions that affect the rest of the organization. The practice of exclusive leadership, rather than inclusive leadership practice is alive and well in today’s organizations. But the reality is that the old school leadership hierarchy is an ineffective novelty in a knowledge-based economy.

Outside Looking In

Outside Looking In

Today secret societies and “good ole’ boy networks” only work at your local grocery store or coffee shop as a special promotion tool. In a Knowledge base economy, where individuals are empowered through the Internet, smart phones, and social networking that empowers a variety of information and connections that naturally drive higher levels of collaboration and success.

One new workforce member expressed it this way, “I am used to being so connected to my colleagues and playing off each other in the office, via social media, and creating ideas together with high levels of synergy everyday…” The open organization, without the Speakeasy executive office on the second floor, is a robust place where individuals create new best friends instantly and in days create a strong network with everyone on the team, as well as the friends made at their last organization.

Speakeasy Leadership promotes the opposite atmosphere at work where a few gatekeepers of ideas, formulate a plan from the top of the organizational pyramid, then pass it down to the people on the frontline to try and implement—void of passion and intimacy. 
 “I feel like there is a secret group of people running the organization,” says another frustrated employee. “It’s like were sitting in a meeting, and there are two or three people sitting at the table, speaking their own language, giving each other a wink and a nod to each other when I present our teams creative solutions to our organizational challenges.”

Collaborate for Success

Collaborate for Success

Speakeasy Leadership will kill today’s knowledge based company, because today’s leadership model and workplace formula for success is one based in wide-open communication, effective collaboration, social networking, and truly empowering individuals that are encouraged take ownership in the vision—not just contribute to it. Touch the untouchable by bringing energy and productivity to work, breaking down the interior walls of Speakeasy Leadership, creating a community where people work and play together, stimulating innovation, connection, and wild success.

Jason Diamond Arnold is a Leadership Consultant and New Media Producer at The Ken Blanchard Companies. He is Coauthor of Situational Self Leadership in Action, a non-linear learning program that promotes individual empowerment and collaboration.

Separating the electronic umbilical cord

Vacation, vacation, vacation…. I’m going on vacation.  There’s nothing quite like sitting on a warm beach sipping a margarita…or so I’ve heard.  Instead, I’ll be in my backyard digging up the ground to make way for a new patio in what will probably be 90+ degree heat.

Couple at BeachIt sounded like a good idea a few months ago.  I’d take some time off in July to do some work around the house and in the yard.  Well, it seems that was a boneheaded move on my part to pick one of the hottest times of the year to give my backyard a facelift (I hear Death Valley reached 129 degrees earlier this week).  However, even though I’ll be doing physical labor, I plan on returning from vacation fully recharged and ready to work.  How do I plan on doing that?  It’s simple…

I’m not checking my email.

I’ve made a commitment to stay away from my inbox, no matter how addicting it is every time I see that blinking indicator light on my smartphone that a new email has arrived.

With that addiction comes the side effect of stress.  It’s stress from seeing something that’s being asked of me.  It’s not so much the work that accompanies those email communications that causes it, but rather juggling priorities with fast-approaching deadlines.  It’s the stress of wondering if I can really meet all those commitments within the time frames specified.

It’s why I’m leaving my inbox with accompanying stress at the office.  My fellow colleagues are more than capable to cover my workload while I’m gone.

It sounds so easy to do, but like I said, it’s an addiction.  Over half of workers who take vacation wind up checking their email.  I read one study that pinned a figure as high as 79% who check their inbox during vacation.  As that study pointed out, some do this so that their inbox doesn’t turn into a mountain of requests when they return from vacation.  Even I have been guilty of this for that very reason during previous vacations because I hate playing catch-up.

phoneSome of you might think this is impossible.  Perhaps you have a unique role or skill set within your organization.  Maybe you’re the go-to for specific projects and/or tasks.  The trick to being able to “cut the cord” is to do the necessary prep work before you leave for vacation.   Work with colleagues who can be your back-ups while you’re gone.  Brief them ahead of time on what to expect and train them on any important processes.  Enable your organization to survive without you for a few weeks.

After all, that’s the point of vacation – to be disconnected from your work.  If you can never get away from it, sooner or later, you will find yourself burnt out.  Everyone needs a mental refresher every now and again.

What about you?  Do you make it a point to leave your inbox at the office on vacation, or do you have no choice but to check email?

Leave your comments!

Leadership Failure

Not too long ago I was put in charge of a couple sections of soldiers who were working on some military intelligence products for an upcoming mission. Since the teams were working on separate products, I assigned myself to one team and had a Lieutenant take charge of another team. The LT had been in the army for a few years, so I had no qualms about giving the team to him. I spoke with him privately and told him that he had “full autonomy” over his team and gave him full discourse over what his team did and how they finished their products. The next morning I come into work at 7:30 fully expecting everyone to be there for unit physical training. They weren’t. When I asked the LT where his team was, he said that he told them that they could do physical training on their own and that they didn’t need to show up until 9:30am. “What? Why did you do that? We always show up at 7:30.”Leadership

So, of course, they decided to sleep in and didn’t do any physical training for the day.

And of course my team was upset that they didn’t get to sleep in and come to work at 9:30. The last thing I wanted to create was resentment across the two teams. I thought that maybe a “team building” exercise was in order, but I didn’t carry it out because I felt I would probably screw that up too.  I was upset about the whole situation, but mainly I was irritated at myself.

After looking back on the incident, here’s what I learned:

  • I never really gave him full autonomy

Here’s what I really said: You can have full autonomy unless you do something I don’t want you to do or something that I disagree with you on. What I told him he could do and what I wanted him to do were two separate things.

  • I shouldn’t have given him full autonomy

Giving full autonomy over everything is not really leadership at all. I thought I was doing the right thing by giving him autonomy, but what I should have done in that situation was to give him more direction as to what is expected and necessary. Autonomy has its place and limitations; using it correctly is when it’s the most impactful.

  • My communication was not aligned with my expectations

I was never clear on my expectations. What was standard and status quo for me was not necessarily the same for him. Talking through each other’s expectations would have been helpful for minimizing conflict and building trust.

For any further information or questions contact me at gus.jaramillo@kenblanchard.com

The End of Innovation

“Innovation is dangerous!” says Yawn Fearman, Gatekeeper of Ideas at Acme Corporation—an international consulting firm that provides executives and managers the tools and skill sets needed to maintain power and balance within organizations. “Innovation is an unruly attitude that ignites revolutions and unwillingly forces change upon the slow and steady hand of the status quo.”Death of Innovation

Fearman asserts that there several simple mindsets to avoid disruptive an inconvenient ideas within an organization:

Isolate Innovation

When a child acts up or misbehaves at home, the best discipline is to give them a Time Out and send them to their room. You don’t have to kick them out of the organization, but isolation will make them think about the real vision and values of the company in more detail. It will encourage them to align their hopes and dreams with the hierarchy of the organization who own the vision and values.

But if you do want to innovate within your organization, keep it limited to one or two departments that are led by individuals who have a degree from a prestigious school and who are in close collaboration with you as a key leader.

Just Say No

Hey, if it worked for Nancy Reagan in the mid-80s (and look how far we’ve come since then), it can work for leaders when individual contributors come up with creative and new ways to serve clients. When ideas come up from the front line, just say, “no.” You probably don’t have the resources or money to implement the ideas anyway, so no real harm can come from this approach. It’s clean and effective and eventually, people will stop coming up with their own ideas so that you can do your job—implementing your own.

Show Them Who’s Boss

When the first two strategies don’t work, flex your Position Power. You have the degree, the experience, the complex title, and the pay grade—so use them!

If employees discover that they have other avenues of power, such as personal experience, knowledge, relationships outside the organization, or a specialized ability to perform specific tasks that the executives may or may not, this could become very disruptive to an organization. Don’t shy away from the fact that you are getting paid the big bucks to drive the organization into the future—not them. You have the title and the authority to make the first and final decision.

Enjoy the Silence

Don’t allow the loud distractions of individual or collaborative innovation to drown out the brilliance of your leadership ability. You’ve earned the corner office, and you were born to lead. The future of the world depends on you—don’t leave it to chance by putting its fate hang on someone else’s wild ideas.

** The views and opinions expressed in this fictitious article do not necessarily reflect sound advice or the views and opinions of
 the author, or The Ken Blanchard Companies.

Jason Diamond Arnold is a Leadership Consultant at The Ken Blanchard Companies and Coauthor of Situational Self Leadership in Action, an asynchronous learning experience for Individual Contributors within Organizations.

Effective Leaders Choose to “Humanize” Communication

One of the workplaces largest challenges is communicating effectively to achieve desired results and outcomes. Due to the quick advancements in technology over the past few years, everyone is available at all times. It is fantastic that the people who need to make important decisions are available at a moment’s notice no matter where they are in the world, but do all forms of communication allow managers and leaders the ability to clearly understand the needs of their direct reports without communicating face to face? I do not always believe this is true. We need to remember that business is built on relationships and in order to create a meaningful relationship we need to “humanize” communication. I would like to highlight the four most common ways we have available today to communicate and describe some of the advantages and disadvantages with each.20130523-140123.jpg

  1. Communication via email is time stamped and an effective alternative to “snail mail”. It is a great way to send someone in your company a quick message, a long list of to-dos, or a detailed inquiry on any given task. Email correspondence is not always time sensitive and is a great way for multiple people to read, process, and refer back to tasks or initiatives sent to them by their manager before they respond with questions, concerns, or approval. The pitfalls of emailing revolve around missing the physical and vocal cues people unintentionally respond to face to face. Also, if there is ever an emergency situation a quick response may be difficult to come by. In speaking directly to your manager, you can convey certain concerns through the pitch of your voice and body motions which elicit emotions you are feeling. We read these signals unconsciously and they connect us to others. This is especially important when you have an urgent matter. Many times writing styles are confusing and may not be interpreted in the same manner in which it was intended. I would not suggest trying to email your leader or direct report when you need to make a quick decision.
  2. Communication via telephone is one of the earliest technological advancements and is extremely effective for a number of reasons. You can get straight to the point and make quick real time decisions. It is also possible to convey emotions through the pitch and tone of your voice which does help in connecting with the person on the other end of the phone line. However you lack the ability to gain a complete perspective of what the other person is experiencing in that given moment. Environment plays a key role in connecting people through experience and can affect the productivity of communication. Someone on the other end of the line could be fighting traffic while on the phone, distracted by their surroundings, which would take their mind off of the present moment. Important urgent decisions are influenced by environment and it is important to understand all variables influencing it. It is impossible for people on opposite lines of a telephone to know what the other is going through.
  3. Communication via video conference is a great alternative for people who are working together from multiple locations. Programs like Skype and Face time have brought families, friends, and colleagues from around the globe together in real time. Both parties can see each other face to face and somewhat experience their environments. You can see their facial cues and mannerisms through the video and gain a pretty accurate impression of what the other is experiencing during your conversation. While this is a great way to connect to people in your organization from around the globe it is still not the best. You miss the complete interactive feeling of being in the presence of another human being. It is often difficult to really gain full understanding of the other persons thought process because you only see the top half of their body and/or what the video screen captures behind them. Frustration may set in if the internet bandwidth is not strong enough. Complications can arise delaying the video feed and chopping the audio so I would not recommend holding high level business communications through this medium if at all possible.
  4. Communication in person is of course the original form of relating to others inter-personally and remains the most productive. You just cannot beat a face to face interaction. One of my coaches told me that he would evaluate the effectiveness of his interactions by imagining himself viewing the interaction as a third person in the room looking down from a corner. While this may sound strange, it is very useful to imagine how the two of you are relating and meshing with one another. After all people are not robots and a sense of connection is important to establish the feelings needed so that you can work together. You must look at a situation from another person’s perspective. If the logistics of an in person meeting are difficult to figure out I would revert back to a video conference meeting but if at all possible do it in person. You will gain a much richer experience with the other person and really connect, which increases the likelihood that you will achieve your desired results.

To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.
- Anthony Robbins

Brian Alexander is the Marketing Project Specialist with The Ken Blanchard Companies. To learn more about The Ken Blanchard Companies please visit www.kenblanchard.com

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