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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.





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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!

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