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

Inspired vs. Required

It’s back to school time! While the memories of summer fade into our conscious, to be called upon in future years of eternal youth, young minds reluctantly transition into formal education mode. The thought of spending the next nine months sitting in a classroom cramming information into their brains is far from the glorious lessons learned on rope swings down by the river, swimming pools, and lemonade stands of summertime.

Square Peg, Round Hole

Square Peg, Round Hole

So why is it such a haunting proposition to return to the classroom this time every year? Why are our children not as excited about learning—the core purpose education—as they are about the freedoms of summer?

Today’s formal education conditions young people to jump through hoops, rather than train them to think for themselves.

Core curriculum and Standardized Testing provides checklists and incentives/consequences for the fulfillment or lack of fulfillment of the duties outlined. Today, we require rather than inspire a healthy and effective learning process. We worry about skills, test scores, grade point averages and assignments rather than focusing on the process and the development of the whole person into a critical thinker and unique individual contributor with valuable ideas and a mission to fulfill in life.

These children grow up to work for organizations and continue the program they learned in childhood…. hoop jumping, get by, do your duty until their eyes glaze over from the combination of boredom and stress of today’s formal education process.

We applaud those who successfully jump through the hoops and we shake our heads at those who don’t. We forget that some of the greatest minds and contributors to our culture and civilization were children that we would have shaken our heads at in their youth because they couldn’t “hack” it. Thomas Edison and Steve Jobs, as well as many of today’s movers and shakers come to mind.

What would happen if we took time to have great discussions with children? What would happen if we inspired them to learn all they could and then turn around and fulfill their life mission and inspire others in the process? What would happen if we stopped focusing on the outcome (scores, grades) and focused on how effective the process is? What would happen if we adults stopped being “the sage on the stage”, but rather the “guide by the side” and became fellow learners with children showing them how to effectively learn, lead, and apply during the process? What if we mentored them as a whole person and took delight in them and in drawing out their thoughts on various subjects?

When the inspired children grow up, how would that change the way they approached their careers? How would they lead others differently? How would that affect entire organizations as they started to hire employees that had the quiet confidence and desire to serve a higher cause that inevitably stems from having been treated with interest, and respect and given time and attention and encouragement to naturally grow in areas of weakness and strengths, rather than be criticized and measured by the results of cookie cutter tests?

The way we raise and teach our children conditions them to accept mediocrity and boredom and a state of disempowerment as the norm for their adult lives to the detriment of us all. There is a better way, but it is time-consuming, messy, harder, less measurable, but for sure more fulfilling. It’s time to rethink the way we teach our children to becoming healthy, happy, adults through the learning process.

 Jason Diamond Arnold is a Leadership Consultant at The Ken Blanchard Companies and is CoAuthor of Situational Self Leadership in Action, a virtual learning experience for Individuals in the workplace. He also a Master Trainer of Student Self Leadership, a leadership program designed for youth to be more effective collaborators and problems solvers in their schools and communities.

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!

When Silence is Not Golden: A Story of Unexpected Leadership

I admit it. I fear the unexpected. And I still remember the time when the unexpected hit me flat in the face.

I was working for the Geek Squad at Best Buy at the time, and my supervisor asked if I’d like to be an instructor for the local Geek Squad Summer Academy event. This is a two-day program held annually in different locations of the world where agents from across the country gather and teach children in the area about various aspects of technology, from building computers to producing music.  I said, “sure,” and was sent off a week later to Oceanside, CA.

After orientation, I was assigned to teach the image manipulation class with another agent who looked like he went to the gym far too often. We went over the course and divided the lessons between the two of us before heading home to prepare for the next day of actual instruction.

On the first day of class, we stood in front of about 25 children, ranging from four- to thirteen-year-olds, and three other agents in the room who were acting as helpers. We all went around the room introducing ourselves and my co-instructor confidently started to talk about the first lesson. And that’s when things went terribly wrong.

As he pulled up the program on the computer for the first activity, he started fumbling his words and his voice lowered to a mutter as he moved from the instructor’s computer to the instructor materials. Then, he went silent. He looked like he had no idea what he was doing. I could see the children starting to fidget in their seats. They began to whisper, which grew to talking, and then yelling. The three helpers were desperately and unsuccessfully trying to calm them down.stage fright

Instantly, I was on my feet. An intense dread came over me as I realized I had no idea what I was going to say or do. I remained motionless with everyone’s eyes on me, including my co-instructor, for what felt uncomfortably longer than the 10 milliseconds that I stood there. And then, my brain suddenly started making connections and words flowed from my mouth. I had vaguely recalled that my co-instructor’s portion involved taking pictures, so I told everyone to grab their cameras. And with that, I ended up presenting the entire two days, making up lessons for portions that weren’t mine. The kids went home happy and skilled at image manipulation, and I went home relieved it was over and pleasantly surprised at myself.

That incident taught me a few things:

  1. Don’t doubt yourself. Doubt can be quite the speech-killer, so believe that you can overcome and succeed. The brain can make surprising connections under high pressure situations. Or, in my fellow instructor’s case, make no connections… and then, you just might put yourself and/or someone else in an awkward situation.
  2. Take everything as a learning experience. This mindset can help you get more from your best moments, as well as really understanding your worst ones.
  3. Just go with it. Never think that something is ruined if it doesn’t pan out the way you thought. Be creative. Sometimes, things can turn out better than how you’ve planned.

You never know when a moment of unexpected leadership will strike next, but these tips can help you turn things around and make the outcomes a bit more… expected.

I’m Too Busy to Plan

There’s this new trend around planning lately; so I’ve heard. SMART Goals, SMARTER Goals, getting organized, and what not. To be honest, I’m not that into it really. It doesn’t grab my attention in the way that hopscotch, skipbo, or a mintly pressed cut-off jean jacket does. A tiger tattoo, the original Mario, or 3-in-1 shampoo? Now that’s cool. Planning? Eh, no thanks.

It’s boring.

frustrated

Overwhelmed without a plan

My wife periodically asks me what I want for dinner tomorrow night; “chicken or steak?” Really? Seriously, I can’t even answer that question; I loathe the question in fact. There is something deep in my core that just won’t allow an intelligible response. The truth is, it’s too far in advance for me to know. Maybe it’s that I value authenticity. What if I change my mind? What if I want neither? It’s too much pressure.  I can tell you what I want to eat now; let’s start there. But tomorrow? No sir; can’t do it.

Planning has that similar sting for me. It’s analogous in many aspects. There’s no immediate gratification for deciding on what to do next Tuesday.  Every once in a while I see a quote from George Washington or some nostalgic leader who talked about planning…  “Planning is great, for without it, I would not have chopped down the cherry tree.” I probably mis-quoted him, but you get the idea. I need realization not inspiration.

One of the ways I get going on planning is mapping out ideas for success. Instead of saying, “What do I need to do?” I sometimes think, “What does success look like here?” Then, I can build upon that frame of reference. If you’re like me, here are a few practical things to do to get kick-started on your planning journey:

1)      Get organized– It’s a start! Getting organized will help you plan; Don’t get too carried away here. I put sticky notes on the inside of my wallet. True story. Not at all ideal, but it’s an option.

2)      Prioritize! Separate the urgent from the immediate. Have you watched the local news lately? Everything is urgent! So if everything is urgent, then nothing is urgent.

3)      Don’t get distracted. I like to put some music on and get in the zone when I plan stuff out. Block out some time in your day to plan.

Those are just a few things and it seems to have worked for me. Not all of us can be wedding planners, but a adding a few elements to your planning arsenal isn’t such a bad idea.

Anyways, if you need me, I’ll be poolside snacking on a bucket of churros.

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

Flipping the Leadership Mentality

A learning revolution is taking place in the world today. The idea of the Flipped Classroom has widely swept the educational community. This idea places more emphasis on activity in the classroom instead of lecture and places more value on real-time collaboration among students to complete tasks. Traditionally classes would only provide information during class and expect the students to absorb it as a one size fits all offering then complete the course work on their own time alone. This one size fits all model has proved to be ineffective for every learner and does not promote mastery of the curriculum.

Flipped classroom

Traditional learning turned upside down.

Traditional management has taken the same approach with their direct reports. Today with the wide array of technology available, leaders need to flip their mentality from “telling and expecting” to “sharing and doing”. This requires more preparation from the leader and places more responsibility on them to work side by side with direct reports to get things done the way they intended them to be.

Leaders should hold regular one on ones with their direct reports to let them share what is on their mind. The direct report should lead the agenda and the manager should listen and determine the amount of support or direction needed. This meeting format greatly increases the amount of collaboration between the manager and direct report and helps to build the working relationship.

collaboration, effective planning

Collaboration is everything

Before scheduling a meeting, leaders should send a report or detailed description of your idea to their team or direct report an hour or two before they meet with them. Now when they meet the entire time is not spent describing what the meeting is about and the direct report is not caught off guard. The time is used to discuss concerns the team or direct report may have and brain storm ways to improve on the idea or results of the report. People will feel empowered and respected which encourages them to take ownership over the project.

Flipping the traditional authoritative leadership mentality to encourage more collaboration produces the results that organizations need. Managers will need to set their ego aside and be willing to relinquish the positional power that comes with their title. Remember that if you are in a leadership position you are there to serve the needs of your people as well as the needs of your customers.

A leader is someone who steps back from the entire system and tries to build a more collaborative, more innovative system that will work over the long term.

– Robert Reich

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

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.

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