Personal engagement: it’s a relationship thing!

As so many of us focus on the newness of setting goals and resolutions, I find myself looking back over various relationships with friends, coworkers, and others that were once new and have now matured to be strongly connected and bonded.

The day-to-day work I do is something routinely accomplished within hundreds of organizations. Although some of these organizations may have more resources and are perhaps more sophisticated in their processes than my own, what these organizations don’t have are my friends and those who I have come to care about.

I used to believe a job that allowed me to accomplish meaningful work, utilize my talents, and recognize my accomplishments was the real key to career happiness…to true engagement. I pictured myself accomplishing goals and completing projects much to the delight of my superiors and earning that ego-affirming bonus or raise. Truth be told, these things are important and something I strive for. Yet, when I find myself completing a task that can be, shall we say, less than fulfilling, it is my coworkers-turned-friends that make the job more meaningful and fulfilling.

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It was not always this way. Like any new hire in any organization, at first I spent lunches alone, felt awkward at company events, and had to endure hearing the “who is she?” question just out of earshot. Over time, I saw how people in the organization built bonds with one another and how they eventually did the same with me.

In previous jobs, I interacted with those I worked with, attended the obligatory coworker’s family event, and said hello as necessary. Years after, there are a few people from each of those jobs who I consider to be friends…but only a few.

What I have come to realize is that engagement often seems to be a term employees believe an organization should own. For example, engagement is a word often mentioned as part of “problem” for an organization to solve.

Instead, I have learned how to create my own personal engagement by bonding with those I work with.

I created my own sense of engagement by:

1. Sharing personal stories with coworkers, like what funny things a parent said and how my dog chewed my favorite pillow. I became comfortable with laughing a little…and connecting by sharing the most mundane topics.

2. Stopping the multitasking when a coworker offered to share a personal story with me. I gave him or her my full, undivided attention, making the moment about them.

3. When coworkers or others in my organization (or industry) did not reach out to me, seemed to ignore me, or for whatever reason do not connect with me, I tried my best to keep it in perspective. I realized that some people are slow to trust, have personal issues, or are simply not ready to be vulnerable with newer organizational or industry members.

The more bonds I built, the more I found I was inexplicably, personally engaged in my work.

Try it, but don’t get discouraged if it takes time. The rewards are worth the effort!

Celebrate the “bright” moments of 2012 and build more in 2013

Here we are, a few days before the end of the year 2012. Now that we have survived the end of the Mayan calendar, it seems another year is rapidly approaching like a locomotive without breaks.

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But before you leave 2012 in the dust, take some time to reflect on and celebrate the successes you had this year — personal and professional. Did you meet expectations you set from your previous New Year’s resolutions?

It is often easy to point out what did not go well, because people instinctively strive to right their wrongs. However, focusing on the “brighter” moments’ of the year heightens your awareness of what is possible in the times to come.

Here is a three step process to bring “positive things” to light in the New Year:

Meditate to Practice Mindfulness: Evidence indicates that mindfulness meditation leads to well-being through increases in awareness (Shapiro, Oman, Thoresen, Plante, and Flinders, 2008). Set aside five, ten, or twenty minutes a day to settle your thoughts and become actively aware of your self-talk. The more you practice this art, the more you will notice that you lose track of time during this art and can more easily focus your attention on the present moment. Once you are aware of how you think, you can begin to direct your focus in a positive direction.


1525R-164535Write in a Gratitude Journal: In an experimental comparison

, those who kept gratitude journals on a weekly basis exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). Challenge yourself at the end of each day to focus on and write about three reasons you were thankful that day for people or things in your personal or professional life. Having to come up with three reasons to be thankful

each day requires you to be aware of, and even seek out, positive experiences.

 

Praise the People: Now that you are documenting your gratitude, take the next step and praise your people. When an employee believes his or her superiors are grateful for his or her work, the employee will benefit by having an improved sense of worth to the organization (Kerns, 2006). As a leader expressing your gratitude to the people you lead will be both beneficial for you and them. You will be amazed to see the positive outcomes produced by this simple action.

Remember, leaders are there to serve the needs of the people they lead. What better way to serve than to lead with positive praises?

Take the last few days of 2012 to develop a “praise plan” for 2013 that includes mindful meditation, keeping a gratitude journal, and praising people around you. It will increase the level of positive well-being in all aspects of your life and the lives of those you touch.

“It takes but one positive thought when given a chance to survive and thrive to overpower an entire army of negative thoughts.”

-Robert H. Schuller

Times Like These

I’m a little divided. Do I stay or run away and leave it all behind? —The Foo Fighters

There is something different to ponder, on a more intimate level, this holiday season. Slight of hand and a twist of fate have befallen our world, again, in ways we weren’t meant to imagine. With every moment of silence, (something we are not very good at, in our opinion driven, mainstream and social media networked world) I am left search for answers to questions I can’t even begin to understand. I have found very few this past week.

Times Like These

Times Like These

But somehow there, in those moments of silence, a thought, inside of a tune played by an American Rock band, The Foo Fighters, Times Like These, has hung on me like smoke from a camp fire that lingers on one’s clothes—reminding you of a place remembered.

I’m a wild light blinding bright burning off alone.

Some of the most destructive moments in life come from a bright light smoldering in isolation. A disillusioned soul that has some how forgotten or been allowed to retreat to an island and become cut off from others. There, in those places, are no political, theological, or philosophical commentaries—only the burning embers of what used to be or could be again.

Individuals are to be connected to others, collaborating on ideas that make the world a better place. And even though cultivating real and intimate personal and professional relationships is hard, it’s our calling as leaders and individuals to reach out and show compassion to those in isolation—even when we lack understanding.

One of the most vivid moments in Charles Dickens classic tale, A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge wakes up after a harrowing evening of being visited by three ghosts who show him what he was and what he has become. Ebenezer recommits himself to reaching out to others and being more compassionate. And in one of the most touching moments of the story, he shows up to his nephews house for Christmas dinner, after rejecting his invitation the day before. After a gasp of surprise by the estranged uncle’s presence, family and friends warmly welcome the recently reformed soul back into the loving arms of community and fellowship.

There in those moments of silence this past week I have been reminded that, “It’s times like these you learn to live again. It’s times like these you give and give again. It’s times like these you learn to love again. It’s times like these time and time again.”

Don’t wait for a holy day—a day set apart from the others—to reach out to others who’s wild light may be flickering. It just may be the one light the world needs right now.

Jason Diamond Arnold is a Leadership Consulting Associate with The Ken Blanchard Companies. He is the Co-Author of Situational Self Leadership in Action, a virtual learning experience that helps individuals effectively collaborate with others at a higher level.

Hitting the Performance “Wall”? Push Through By Asking the Right Questions

At any given point, everyone you lead will face performance challenges.  There’s no way around it.  runnerwallEven if your team is primarily composed of experts/veterans who have been on the job for years, you’ll still need to help those employees after they hit the performance “wall” at one point or another. 

 In order to help your people work through performance challenges, you need to understand the potential causes.  The following are prime reasons that everyone – from your new hires, to even your most knowledgeable and talented individuals – will hit the wall sooner or later:

  • We live in a society of constant change.  Technology is a great example because it rapidly changes and affects our daily lives.  We find ourselves interacting with one-another in new ways and using new tools.
  • Businesses have to constantly adapt and evolve in order to beat the competition.  That means that the employees are the ones that are actually adapting, and more specifically, learning and doing something new continuously.
  • We are all human.  We have emotions that affect us inside the workplace and at home.  Personal issues with friends, family, pets, bills, or even issues in the workplace, all take a toll.

The second bullet above is one of the biggest reasons for performance challenges.  Give your people something new to do that they’ve never done before and you’re likely to see a few cases of hitting the wall.  

If my leader came to me and said “You know, Matt, you’re an expert in what you do.  I have something new for you to take on.  The company has decided that we’re going to build a robot and have you take charge of programming it to do our bidding.”  I know nothing about robotics!  I can guarantee that I’d hit the performance wall, especially without the proper training and support.

Ok, that example might be a little out there.  However, think about anytime your company or IT department decided to do an upgrade or even change a key piece of critical software that your employees use.  Is your company moving to Microsoft Windows 8, soon?  Windows 8 doesn’t have the “Start” menu anymore (at least not without a workaround).  Think about your longtime Windows users, all familiar with that key Start menu, no longer having access to it.  How badly do you think their performance will suffer as they struggle through learning to navigate Windows all over again?  

TMedicalo help your people through performance issues, you need to start by asking the right questions.  Just as a doctor diagnoses a sick patient, you need to diagnose your employees by thinking of the following questions:

 1. What is the specific goal or task? – This should always be the first question that comes to mind.  It doesn’t matter that an individual may be an expert in their field.  If they’re doing/learning something for the first time, that “expert” is really a novice.

2. Has this person demonstrated task knowledge and skills? – Based on the goal/task, has this individual shown (not just told you) that they have the skills to complete the goal/task?

3. Does this individual have transferable skills, and if so, how strong are those skills? – Let’s go back to my example of switching to Windows 8.  Your employees have used some version of Windows, previously, so they do have some transferable skills.  Those employees are better off than someone who has only been a Mac user, or better yet, someone who has never used a computer, previously. 

4. Is this person motivated, interested, and/or enthusiastic about the goal or task? – Does this individual actually want to learn how to do the goal/task?  Let me add that even if they don’t want to learn how to do this goal or task (example: they don’t have the capacity to take on something new; completing the task is monotonous; they just aren’t interested; etc…) there is a difference between “can’t” and “won’t”.

5. Is this person confident or self-assured in completing the goal or task? – Are the confident they can get the job done, or are they having a problem learning how to do the task and feel like they’re stuck?  This one can be tricky, because if it’s something I want to learn, I might have a false sense of confidence in the beginning where I say “Sure, I can learn this!  No problem!” – not realizing how difficult learning the task may be.

perscriptionFinding out the answers to these questions allows you, as a leader, to write the prescription.  The prescription needs to be a proper mixture of direction and support.  Just as the same as a medical prescription, if you don’t apply the correct mix of direction and support, your patient (your employee) may experience adverse reactions. 

Think about a time in your life where you weren’t given the correct prescription, such as being given too much direction from your leader.  You probably thought of it as being “micromanaged”.  How did that make you feel?  Did you feel more or less motivated by it?  How did it make you feel about your leader?

These key diagnosis questions are based on the Situational Leadership® II model.  There’s a lot more to this model than just performance challenges, so if you’re not familiar with the Situational Leadership® II concepts, be sure to click on the link to get a better sense of the positive impact that Situational Leadership® II can create.

Leave your comments!

The Reluctant, Non-Conformist Leader

Lately, I have been listening to friends and colleagues regarding their desired career path. You know, the whole, “someday, when I grow up I want to be a (fill in the blank here)” conversation? For the longest time, I believed my own reluctance to lead, my unwillingness to sacrifice my own happiness just to earn that corner office with the window and prime parking spot, set me apart. That somehow I was special and unique and on a different path. I figured that rebellious streak; the non-conformist…defined by my lack of desire to be an executive took me down a road much less traveled.

Not so much…

…turns out, I am not alone.

From my coworkers and friends, I am hearing a definite reluctance to lead. It seems there has been so much focus on scurrying about to determine just how to lead Gen X and Y that the question of whether we want to become future leaders has been ignored like a worn-down speed bump at the local strip mall.

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The traditional notion of hierarchical leadership does not resonate with me. I would sacrifice pay, benefits….and even the corner office with the killer view, for a more flexible work schedule…or even no work schedule at all. When I lead, I prefer to do so with a team of peers (and forget the term “peers”, I call them coworkers and more often than not, friends) where several perspectives on the best way to approach something is ideal. I want to lead from my home, the local coffee shop, my car, the beach. Not exactly the job description we see for today’s executive.

According to Matt Dunne, in his article Policy Leadership, Gen X Style, Gen Xers in particular tend to be more entrepreneurial in their style, use technology as a competitive advantage, and learn how to do many different types of jobs. Anne Houlihan takes it a step further in her article Taking Charge stating that Gen Xers value balance; we are indeed results driven and see little value in providing face-time to those leading us. Our goal is to produce and get the job done, even if it is from our home office when a family member is sick…including the dog.  We want collaboration, mentoring, and to be believed, trusted, and valued. We want to have a life and live it too.

Cheryl Cran eloquently stated the view I have observed of many members of Gen X and Y in the following video:

As a leader, I would hire for character, reliability, and results by surrounding myself with people who have the proven ability to get it done, however “it” is defined. The performance of those I lead is defined by their reputation to engage, be present, yet still multi-task autonomously. I am not concerned if your work experience involved raising a family, running a marathon, or writing a paper. If you can produce and are sincerely passionate about the work we would collaborate on, then I am interested.

Perhaps if my fellow members of Gen X and Y decided to redefine what it means to lead an organization, we might be less reluctant to “fill in the blank here” with the term “leader”.

2 Roadblocks to Kick Start Change

Over the last few weeks I have run into so many people struggling to either initiate a change or maintain one. People’s struggles with change range from implementing a new system at work to adopting a new regimen of diet and daily exercise in their personal lives. Those responsible for initiating change will see changes fall to the wayside without addressing two important levels of concern. What are the roadblocks preventing people from initiating and maintaining change?

Information Concerns

The first obstacle for change is a matter of explaining all informational concerns centered on the change. The old popular saying, “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” often resonates with most people since they do not see what benefits the change will bring. People are creatures of habit and in order to break those habits a clear persuasive purpose for the change needs to be explained. Early adopters can be developed when people see a clear picture of what the change looks like, how it is implemented, and what impact it will have on the company or the longevity of their life. The leaders initiating a change can gain trust and respect through full disclosure of all informational reasons for the change and what outcomes they hope to see from it.

Personal Concerns

The second obstacle holding up a change (and most common) is a matter of personal concerns. People want to know how they will be involved in the change and what demands will be placed on their everyday work schedule. Two common questions that pop up are “Will I have enough time?” and “Am I capable of executing the change?”. Without these questions immediately being addressed the change will fail. People will push their tasks involved in the change to the bottom of their priority lists and procrastinate with the fear of failure.

“Tipping Point” to Change Adaptation

In an organization, a change leader must find the people who are most susceptible to become early adopters of the change. Once these people are identified, and their informational and personal concerns are addressed, they can be dispersed throughout the organization to advocate for the change. This method is especially critical for company-wide change in larger corporations. One person is not as strong as a team of people, who share a common vision and purpose.

As for individuals, changing eating habits or daily exercise routines are great personal challenges that are often difficult to tackle alone. Human beings are naturally social beings. People thrive to connect and find comfort being included with others who share common interests. Changing ones way of living is incredibly difficult when approaching it alone. People should find a support group through their family and friends to help progress through their life change, when it seems too difficult. Collaborating with others and seeking their feedback, helps to reemphasize the purpose for the change and could surface new ideas on how to implement it.

“Most of us are about as eager to be changed as we were to be born, and go through our changes in a similar state of shock.”

– James Baldwin

Leadership is Luck

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times… —A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

The opening lines to Charles Dickens classic, A Tale of Two Cities could not have expressed any better, my eleven year old son’s feelings about his favorite football team, the Indianapolis Colts, one year ago at this time. The Colts had gone from perennial Super Bowl contenders each year for the past decade, led by a future Hall of Fame quarterback, Peyton Manning. It was the best of times for Colts fans.

Luck

But that all went away when Manning had to go through a series of operations on his neck that left him sidelined for the entire 2011 season, and his professional football career in doubt. The Colts could only muster two wins out of sixteen games under the leadership of a variety of quarterbacks that couldn’t elevate the team to even a respectable showing. The Colts missed the playoff for the first time in a decade, the head coach was fired, and the end of an era for Manning in Indianapolis was coming to an end. It was the worst of times for Colts fans.

However, the worst of times was short lived. In one of the most ironic twists of fate in modern sports history, the Colts became the luckiest team in the league. As a result of the worst record 2011, they were aligned to have the number one overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft. And in a controversial move, they dropped their Hall of Fame quarterback, uncertain if he would be able to play again, and choose the All American quarterback out of Stanford, Andrew Luck, to replace the legend at the helm of the Colts offense.

Since then, the rookie quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts has resurrected an organization from the ashes of the National Football League, not only by his decision making abilities and skill sets on the field, but his attitude and inspiration off the field of play. Nine games into the season, the young quarterback has led his team to a 6-3 record mid-way through the season, tripling their win total over last year and positioning them for an improbable shot at the playoffs.

A great quarterback is like a great leader in the workplace. It doesn’t take long to be in the workforce before you realize that there are good leaders (managers, bosses, supervisors) and there are bad leaders. We’ve all probably had at least one awful leader that we’ve had to work for. And of course, there are the disengaged managers who are neither good nor bad—they are just there to make sure that the organizational chart is up to date and protocol is followed.

There is an obvious difference between a great leader and a terrible leader. But there is also a significant difference between a great leader and an average leader. The difference between a great leader and an average leader isn’t about how much smarter they are or even the quality of the decisions they make day in and day out. The difference between a great leader and an average leader is what they do to make the people they work with better!

Andrew Luck is often only credited for the way he runs the Colts complicated offense, and his knowledge of the game that are far beyond the years he has been in the league. But there is so much more Luck does for his team that goes beyond the offense. The longer he sustains a drive, coming up with key third down conversions, and eating up time on the clock, the more the Colts defense gets to rest on the sideline.

Andrew Luck’s character goes beyond his skill sets. When the Colts head coach, Chuck Pagano, was diagnosed with leukemia only a few games into the season, Luck took the lead in support for his coach by shaving his head—a show of solidarity for the coach who would loose his hair due to the chemotherapy treatments. Most of the team followed the young quarterbacks lead and the team has rallied around their ailing coach to rattle off four wins in a row—one of the most inspirational stories in recent years.

For whatever reason, many individuals are content with the status quo. They come to work; they put in their time at work, pull their paycheck, and are satisfied with a job that’s good enough. They may have run into roadblocks or constraints in their career that keep them from taking risks or thinking of ways they could do their job better—the multitude of individual contributors who have settled for average. This doesn’t mean that they are bad people, they’ve just settled into a lifestyle of mediocrity and aren’t really pushed to be better.

Great leaders inspire those individual contributors on the front line of organizations to rise above the temptation to settle for average. They inspire the people they are leading to find, cultivate, and develop the personal desire for excellence within. Great leaders take average contributors and make them good contributors, and they take good contributors and make them great. The entire organization benefits from this type of leadership.

That is exactly what Andrew Luck does. He has taken made his teammates better as a young leader of a proud franchise that has a rich history of success. He has diverted a long winter of discontent for that organization and has inspired Colt’s players and fans alike to hope for the best of times again. Leadership isn’t just about knowledge and skills, sometimes it is Luck.

Jason Diamond Arnold is a Leadership Consulting Associate at The Ken Blanchard Companies and is Co-Author of Situational Self Leadership in Action, a virtual learning program designed to develop personal and professional excellence.

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