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I just started a new workout routine that is kicking my abs! I’ve heard about how important it is to have “core strength” – that is to build up muscle control in our back and stomach muscles. I hate doing the exercises (really, really, really hate them), but I love the results. I have better posture, balance, endurance, and incredibly, better speed.

As I was grimacing and grunting doing crunches on the balance ball, I realized that businesses need “core strength” as well. Instead of working abdominal and back muscles, companies need to work on other key abilities. According to Margaret Wheatley, author of Leadership and the New Science, there are three abilities that constitute the “core” of all organizations:

  • Identity
  • Intent
  • Relationships

There are two skills that companies must practice in order to develop strength in these three core areas – assessing and communicating. Just like personal training, companies have to continually practice and improve these two skills in order to keep a strong core. It’s easy to have identity drift, to have behaviors that don’t match with intention, and to struggle with relationships. Even the best athletes have coaches to help them maintain their high performance. Likewise, companies need to stay focused on developing and using the skills of assessing and communicating to achieve and keep high performance.

Margaret Wheatley has some fabulous resources on her website that challenge how we understand leadership and offers alternative perspectives to maneuvering through these chaotic times. Here are some links to two articles and a video clip that are very thought provoking.

http://www.margaretwheatley.com/articles/howisyourleadership.html
http://www.margaretwheatley.com/articles/relationships.html
http://www.lcc.edu/tv/videos/speakers/cqi-wheatley.aspx

Enjoy,

Clare

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I was out running this morning, pounding out the aches of a few decades of living. It was the kind of morning that reminds you that winter is a passing event and spring will replace it, like it always does. The birds were making a ruckus and the air promised a warm afternoon. As I was reveling in the thought of long, sunny days ahead, I noticed a man jogging towards me. He, too, had a lightness to his gait and a smile on his face. While passing, I expelled a breathy “Hi” and he responded, “Good job”. Our paths crossed for mere moments, but I thought about his greeting for the remainder of my run.

His words had an affect on me. I picked up my pace and straightened my back with pride. My greeting was a word of acknowledgement. Something that says, “I see you and I know you are there.” His words of greeting were encouragement. Something that says, “You are doing good things. Keep it up.” It struck me that we sometimes give simple words of acknowledgement to our co-workers, when what we really mean to do is give them words of encouragement.

Take a look at the difference:

Acknowledgement – “Thanks for getting that report to me on time.”

Encouragement – “The report you sent me was well written and full of the exact information I needed. I’m going to use it as a sample of how I’d like other reports to be done.”

Acknowledgement – “Thanks for covering the meeting for me.”

Encouragement – “I heard from other staff that you represented our department well at the meeting. I am really coming to rely upon and trust your judgement. Thanks for stepping up and giving me the freedom to focus my efforts elsewhere.”

Sometimes we are so focused on all of the work we have to get done that we don’t take the time to give encouragement. Acknowledgement is the best we can squeeze out – just like my breathy “hi” was all I could get out as I was struggling to keep my pace. Make the extra effort to turn words of acknowledgement into words of encouragement. Give the details of what you like about someone’s work. Stop analyzing for how to improve their work and start noticing what they are doing well and what is working.

I was meeting with a co-worker yesterday who was struggling with revising a cash flow projection for the year. She had spent hours and hours working on the document, making sure it included all of the information our oversight board wanted. I started looking at the document trying to analyze how it could be better – more concise and more user friendly. I had some ideas, but none of them seemed to make a significant improvement over what she had already done. Finally, I looked up and simply said, “This looks great. It has all of the information that the board wants and I can easily understand it.” I could see she was relieved and elated that she had accomplished what was asked of her. I had forgotten to take off my analytical hat and put on my people-encourager hat. It really doesn’t take long and the result is well worth the effort.

Your words of encouragement will be greeted with smiles and excitement that can’t help but give you more energy. And you know you can use all of the energy you can get to face the mounting list of tasks in your calendar. Practice giving words of encouragement this week. When you see someone coming towards you in the hallway don’t just acknowledge them with a simple “hi”, give them some encouragement. When you pass someone’s office and the door is open, stop and tell them something you appreciate about the work they have done recently. When you’re pulling your hair out in your office trying to figure out the exact right way to coordinate a project, get up, walk around the building and give out some encouragement. I promise you, you will get more energy back from this exercise then you’ll spend doing it.

To help you get started, watch this short video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lp3ka4E77YM

Go speak words of encouragement. Let me know how it goes for you. I love hearing stories!

Thanksgiving Leftovers

OK, so I finally threw out the remaining crumbles of Thanksgiving stuffing last weekend. Now that we’re headlong into the rush and buzz of the holiday decorating/shopping/singing/gift-giving season, I have this deep need to hold onto the simplicity of Thanksgiving—“the holiday that’s just about food and family”, as one of my friends described it. I’ve had several people confess to me recently that Thanksgiving is actually their favorite of the holidays, and I can’t personally argue against this sentiment.

How can anything be better than having a day—or a season—to reflect on feeling grateful—to be well, to be surrounded by loved ones, and to indulge ourselves with harvest feasts that remind us of our abundance and blessings? No malls, no carols, no shopping lists to break the bank; but we still have the joy of gathering together to eat and talk turkey.

Gratitude is, by its very nature, good for us. (And not just because our grandmas taught us to appreciate and be thankful as a practice of living as civilized beings.) When we experience gratitude, appreciation and deep levels of caring, something amazing happens to our biology. Research demonstrates that when we feel gratitude or appreciation, we have increased levels of DHEA, the anti-aging hormone, flooding our endocrine system. In addition, acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter, rushes into the neurological system to produce feelings of calmness, peace and contentedness; it is the body’s natural chemical that promotes relaxation during sleep, massages or other low-energy states.

I was raised on The Power of Positive Thinking. At an early age, my father introduced me to Napolean Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, the book that described the law of attraction years before The Secret. Practice in positive thinking can help shape attitudes of optimism, problem-solving and perseverance. New research in neuroscience, however, demonstrates that positive feeling—the deliberate invocation of a feeling state created through positive imagery—can have a direct and immediate effect on the body’s hormonal and nervous systems, and can create an actual shift in a person’s emotional state.

Last year, I became a certified provider in HeartMath, which is essentially a set of tools to help reduce stress, increase focus and live a heart-centered lifestyle. The HeartMath Institute has conducted and collected extensive research in neurophysiology, and has produced a wide array of tools, resources, publications and products which help people learn to work with their own biology to be effective in their work, in their play, and in their relationships. I’ll write more about HeartMath as time goes on, but feel free to check it out for yourself, or call me if you want a one-on-one demo.

And in the meantime, there’s no rule that says you can’t hang onto Thanksgiving a little longer. It’s not an accident that we start the bustle of the holiday season by giving thanks.  Keep it alive all season. Happy holidays!

This week I watched as a friend was crushed by his supervisor.  He has worked for the company for the past four years, and is the perfect example of an individual who “owns” his job.  His relationship with the company goes beyond employee / employer but might be better described as he is a “FAN” of the brand and company.  I am not sure how many people I know really operate at this level of engagement or ownership – it seems like this level is above “Active Engagement” and generally reserved for the actual owners of the business.

Over the years the company has grown and created new infrastructure and levels of reporting – bringing a new manager between my friend and the company owner who he used to report to.  Of course this brings change, which can always be tough to deal with as a human. But this case is different.  Mike’s role is being reduced to a smaller set of tasks and responsibilities, not due to issues of performance but because of other growth needs of the company.  While Mike understands the strategic shift, it doesn’t make it easier for him personally.  The interesting question and opportunity to watch and learn will be to see how this affects his view of the company, his “ownership” in the brand and his performance as the biggest fan the company has.

Too Empathic?

When I got my EQi results, I wasn’t too surprised to see that my Empathy score was the highest. I like to consider myself a caring person. The EQi defines empathy as “the ability to be aware of, to understand, and to appreciate the feelings of others,” so I guess I am good at it…

What was very helpful and useful to me professionally was not just knowing that I am empathetic, but how that can be good and bad in a work setting.

Clare provided the feedback for my EQi results. Because my empathy is high and my assertiveness is lower, I can let my concern for people and their feelings get in the way of saying what it is that I want/need to say.

Clare proposed some strategies to compensate for my lower scores using my higher scores and I’ve been implementing them over the last few months.

Looking back on it, one small conversation in regards to my EQ levels has really helped me move forward in my professional careers. It’s pretty cool.

Missing the Bus

I had an experience this morning that reminded me of some EQ skills. Social Responsibility and Flexibility.

From time to time, I ride public transportation to and from work. This morning, I rode the bus. Instead of taking the suggested route, I took a riskier route that makes my transfer between busses very short. I’ve made the transfer each other time I’ve chosen this route, but this morning, a vehicle in front of our bus chose to wait for an unusually long time letting vehicles leave a busy parking lot. This minor delay was just long enough that I missed my transfer.

I had no choice but to be flexible and find a different way to work. Other than arriving later than planned, this was no big deal.

While it isn’t a perfect fit with social responsibility, this got me thinking… I wonder how often I make a decision or do something that negatively affects another. The driver of the car in front of the bus was trying to be kind by letting a bunch of cars enter the road at a busy junction, but it caused me to miss my transfer. Surely the driver was completely unaware of some of the consequences of his/her actions.

Luckily for me, there really was no one to blame for this circumstance, for it was no ones fault (although, you could argue that if anyone were to blame, it’d be me). Knowing when to roll with the punches and when to fight back is a great EQ skill to develop and one that I constantly have to work on.

Also being aware of how my actions can affect others is an area that need to be better in. Luckily, I’ve got things like the EQi and DISC to help me know what areas I can work on.

Everyday, I consider myself lucky to be able to work with such great leaders and consultants who help companies and individuals become more efficient, engaged and profitable.

No Engine Brake!

Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia lies one of my favorite road signs (you’re thinking, “this guy has favorite road signs?”). It is completely ridiculous. So ridiculous, in fact, I had to take a picture of it. Have a look:

It is illegal for any vehicle to operate an engine compression brake device with in the city limits "Except in an emergency"...

At first glance, one may say, “What’s wrong with that sign.” Well, nothing at face-value. Consider this, however: the sign is about the size of an American speed limit sign and the speed which cars are traveling when they pass it is about 35 MPH. There is no way anyone could read the entire sign traveling at that rate. It is just way too much communication for the medium and situation.

How often do we get caught in this same scenario? We have something important to say, but over dilute the meaning with extra words. How many times in life do we say too much, when all we really need to say is, “No Engine Brake”?

This ties into the EQ skill of don’t say any more than is completely and utterly necessary to make a valid and sound argument that supports the thing that you are trying to say by saying what you wanted to say to begin with skill.

Let’s all do better.

No Engine Brake