“One of the signs of someone who was wise is that they disseminate responsibility,” the late actor Chadwick Bosman told Trevor Noah on The Daily Show. “They use everybody’s skills, they don’t try to do everything. You can’t be everywhere at one time.”

He was speaking about his role in Black Panther, playing T’Challa, king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda — but he could easily have been giving a lecture on modern-day leadership.

As the world become increasingly complex and volatile, the leaders with the most influence understand something important. 

It’s not about having power and control. 

It’s not about efficiency and using employees as a means to drive performance. 

It’s not about the leader as the hero(ine) at the center of it all.

To build the teams that can solve big, thorny problems, leaders will have to empower their people to learn, grow and innovate.

This approach is often called “servant leadership” because the leader sees themself as serving, rather than commanding, the people around them.

But there’s nothing servile or weak about it. 

In fact, the “servant leader” approach requires a great deal of confidence and courage — you can’t just stick with the conventional style of “command and control” leadership.

It requires a greater range of emotional intelligence skills — curiosity, humility, vulnerability — and the flexibility to know when and how to use them. 

It requires situational awareness and the ability to adapt quickly — it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. 

So no matter how noble your intentions, be prepared for an ongoing journey of trial-and-error.

Here are three pitfalls to watch out for:

Empowered or Abandoned

Steffen Heilmann is a firm believer in empowering and challenging his people. In the early weeks of his new role as CTO at Aroundhome, they were heading into an important negotiation with their data center provider to take over responsibility of a mission-critical database. Steffen had confidence in the abilities of his Head of Ops to take full ownership of the process so he said something to the effect of “You handle it.”  

A few days later, he sensed something was off with his Head of Ops. When they sat down and talked, Steffen realized they had had a complete misunderstanding. Instead of feeling empowered, his Head of Ops felt under siege, as if Steffen was putting all the responsibility and pressure on him. 

This was far from the case. In fact, Steffen had plenty of experience in negotiations, that he was more than willing to share.

The Lesson

Your team can’t read your mind — and most people are conditioned to assume the worst. You think you’re giving them autonomy; they think you don’t care. The key is to give them context; communicate explicitly that you want to empower them but that you’re there if they need support. 

Inclusive or Authoritative

Jakob Schwankhaus, co-founder and managing director at product venture studio TrueNode, is eager to be an inclusive leader. He knows it’s more effective than just telling people what to do.  

So when rolling out a new product venture, for example, he has an open discussion with each individual on the team so he can incorporate their preferences into how responsibilities are allocated. Involving them in this way helps them feel committed to delivering outstanding performance when things get chaotic.

When Jakob can’t follow their preferences, involving them in that thought process has a positive effect on their motivation as they understand a) the rationale of the decision and b) the path for how to get where they want.

There are trade-offs however: 

A leader has to know when to set boundaries. Just because someone is yearning to do a particular activity — develop strategy, for example — doesn’t mean they should if they don’t have the relevant capabilities or experience.  

Also, the inclusive approach requires much more time and patience than simply dictating decisions. 

The Lesson

Being inclusive is not a black and white process: it requires a nuanced approach. Servant leaders must continuously evaluate the trade-offs in navigating the spectrum between authoritative decision-making and creating consensus. 

Hero or Martyr

Sebastian Sujka is CEO at xbird, an AI healthcare startup with a team of 20. Taking to heart the tenets of servant leadership, his initial mantra was: “It’s my job to give people what they need,” and he consistently put everyone else’s needs before his own. 

When an unexpected problem came up, he’d say to the team, “You guys go home, I’ll take care of it.” 

If a client situation blew up, he’d step in and take the heat.

Over the course of several months, the team got used to Sebastian saving the day. There were more and more nights where he found himself sitting alone in the office at 10 pm. Not surprisingly, he started to feel unappreciated, resentful and lose his sense of joy in building the company. 

That’s when he came to the realization: “I could work until 10 every night and it wouldn’t be enough.” So he switched gears. He told the team he was going to stop coming to the rescue and asked them to take more ownership for putting out fires. He started asking them for help.

As it turns out, the team had been feeling left out, and they started a “save Sebastian” initiative to take on more responsibility. 

The Lesson

“Leaders eat last” doesn’t mean always putting your own needs aside, sheltering your team from discomfort. As Sebastian said, “Knowing when to make sacrifices for the company or ask for help, whether to empower my team or step in and take over, it’s a much more subtle balance than I expected.”

Servant leadership is all about that subtle balance. Because we’re entering an era where it’s not about solving problems so they go away, but about managing paradox — ongoing situations where there’s no single “one and done” solution.

Leadership in a fast-moving, complex world will be less like building an engine and more like nurturing a living, breathing organism.

Note: The amazing Renita Kalhorn, Coach to Mavericks, published this in Fortune magazine. Congratulations!

Whenever we hear “think outside the box”, especially in times of real distress (Covid not withstanding), it is almost like fingernails on a chalkboard, and yet, admittedly, I have used it myself. “Think outside the box” is an overused rally cry for fresh ideas. It gives permission for innovative thinking and creative solutions. However, in a workplace culture where “fitting in” and “not rocking the apple cart” are generally prized, and failure is not allowed, suddenly thinking outside that darn box can be a challenge. Especially in times when many are worried about holding on to their jobs. One solution is to call on your positive emotions.

Positive emotions can help you move from not upsetting the cart to thinking perhaps the cart isn’t even necessary. In her 1998 study, Barbara Fredrickson formulated the “broaden-and-build” theory. In it, she explained that negative emotions provide a useful evolutionary function to narrow our thoughts and action repertoire when we feel threatened. Likewise, positive emotions, she explained, also serve an evolutionary function by broadening our scope of attention, cognition, and action. In short, positive emotions provide choices in how we react to opportunities.

When we speak of evolutionary functions, we tend to think about individuals, but Fredrickson (2003) suggests that positive emotions can transform organizations through what she called “upward spirals.” Upward spirals occur when positive emotions spur the broadening of how we habitually think and act. This helps build perpetual resources and, in turn, promotes more positive emotions. We feel good about feeling good. And feeling good allows us to be more flexible and creative in our thinking. And being more flexible and creative allows us to achieve innovative solutions. And so we spiral upwards.

Thinking outside the box cannot happen only on the individual level. Organizations that want “outside thinkers” must have an atmosphere that allows creative thinking to thrive. In part, this is achieved by fostering employee engagement; employee engagement generally elicits positive emotions. Another step is to have management lead by example. When employees see management upending traditional approaches to challenges, those employees know it is valued. And for it to be valued, outside thinking cannot be solicited only in times of crisis. Create a culture of flexibility and creativity that encourages broad thinking at all levels all the time.

Meanwhile, I propose we keep the intent, but get rid of the expression. Instead of thinking outside the box, why don’t we urge people to “Think openly.” Or “Solve differently.” Or “Use your positive emotions.”

And we know self care is an important component of generating positive emotions, in ourselves and in others, check out this great NYT article from a week ago: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/07/health/laurie-santos-covid-happiness.html?referringSource=articleShare

References

Fredrickson, B.L. (1998). What good are positive emotions? Review of General Psychology, 2(3), 300-319.
Fredrickson, B.L. (2003). Positive emotions and upward spirals in organizational settings. In K. Cameron, J. Dutton, & R. Quinn (Eds.), Positive Organizational Scholarship: Foundations of a New Discipline (pp. 163-175). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Based on a blog by North of Neutral coach Dr. Carolyn Mathews, positive psychologist and Board Certified Coach

by anne lueneburger

This 2008 Blockbuster movie has become a classic. Jim Carrey stars as Carl Allen, a guy whose life is going nowhere—the operative word being “no”—until he signs up for a self-help program based on one simple covenant: say yes to everything….and anything. Unleashing the power of “YES”  and doing the opposite to his initial inclination begins to transform Carl’s life in amazing and unexpected ways, getting him promoted at work and opening the door to a new romance and life.

In some way this is related to the idea that doing the opposite to what our anxiety tells us can actually help us overcome anxiety. Moreover, it often even boosts our confidence and overall resilience. All emotions make sense. But at times fully expressing our emotions can be unhelpful. For example, as a leader showing your panic when you need to lead your team through a crisis is likely going to backfire. Being able to regulate our emotion when it risks getting in our way is a critical leadership skill. Opposite action means noticing an urge related to an emotion and then doing the opposite. Research shows: Changing behaviour often changes the way we feel. If a dog barks and we run away it raises our level of fear. If we approach the small barking dog, however, our fear likely lessens and even dissipates.

This anxiety buster is among the most challenging ones for our clients, yet it is also among the most powerful techniques to overcome anxiety and unhelpful emotions. Engaging in new behaviours that are independent of our mood is one of the main ingredients in scientifically supported treatments of anxiety, depression and even relational tension and conflict. Generally, anxiety motivates us to avoid whatever makes us anxious.  So sitting with what makes us anxious/upset/angry/annoyed (replace here with just about any emotion),  or even approaching it, will generally lessen the emotion. This sounds probably quite hokey so why not run a small experiment this week? For example, in your next meeting where you know you will find yourself bored, practice sitting closer to a key stakeholder, act interested, ask questions. Chances are that you may find yourself becoming more interested.

Now like Jim Carrey’s character in “Yes Man”, there may be situations where the willingness to embrace every opportunity to do the opposite might just become too much of a good thing. The context where “Do the opposite” is a good strategy describes situations in which acting the opposite emotion makes sense. If an emotion serves an adaptive function, such as running away from a robber in a dark alley, doing the opposite does not make sense. These are functional behaviours. However, if you are so afraid during a robbery that you can’t run because you struggle to breathe, some amount of doing the opposite of what you feel, for example slowing down and breathing, makes sense. Choose when to do the opposite after mindfully considering whether the action, as a result of your emotion, is effective.

Here is what we suggest;

Step 1: Notice and label your emotion and what action it pulls you towards. Rate your emotion based on its intensity on a scale from 1-10.

Step 2: Decide on whether acting on the full intensity of your emotion would be harmful or not in your best interest.

Step 3: If the answer to Step 2 is yes, do the opposite of your initial emotional urge, all the way, with your face, body and thoughts. What does this look like? Describe the choices you are making.

Step 4: Now, what do you notice about your emotions after doing the opposite?

Here it is in a nutshell: Change the way you act and you can change the way you feel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

by anne lueneburger

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Anxiety and worrying are close relatives. And there are real problem worries such as “is it safe to buy groceries” in times of Covid19. But most of our worries are hypothetical, they are in the future and not based on any facts or real dangers.

Often when we worry we let our worries freely emerge throughout the day. This can be quite time consuming and if you were to add up all the moments in any given day that you worry, you might be taken aback by how much time you actually spend on worrying. This is why we suggest that you give your worries some boundaries. And as you do this, we encourage you to develop some awareness on what your relationship with worry actually is. What are you noticing?

Any change starts with awareness. Interested in taking it further and bust some of that anxiety you are carrying around? Then here are three next steps:

Step 1: Decide when your worry time will be and how much time you will allot to this.

For example, you might devote every day 15 minutes to all your worries and you could decide that this will happen daily at 6 pm. Ideally pick a time that allows you to be undisturbed.

Step 2: As worries pop up during the day, triage them by asking yourself: “Is this a real problem worry that I can do something about right now?” If the answer is “Yes”, then go ahead and take immediate action. If the answer is “No” or you are unsure, delay thinking about any such worry until it’s your dedicated worry time.

Once you have completed this triage, you can redirect your focus back to the here and now. If you struggle to do so, you might want to use your five senses (taste, sight, smell, touch, and sound) and notice what is coming up for you. To support yourself further, you can give yourself permission to temporarily let go of any such worry: “I will not engage in this worry now, I will engage in this worry later.”

Step 3: When your dedicated worry time comes up, make sure to use this time. Write down any hypothetical worry that had come up during the day. How concerning are they now, on a scale of 1-10 (1= not at all and 10=extremely so). Are there any practical actions you can take?

Hopefully, you will find that the majority of worries that can hold you back from feeling at peace and engaged in life and at work, turn out to be irrelevant once you have gained some distance to them. And gaining distance includes postponing our attention. As Mark Twain said: “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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After five years of being a widower, Walter Baltes had enough. The former inventor, art gallerist and author decided to run a classified in the local paper: “Lonesome 95-year old offers Sunday roast in exchange for good conversation.” A slew of responses filled his mailbox soon after. However, none of the people Baltes joined for lunch did accept his offer to pay for the meal. His interesting company was compensation enough.

We are social animals. Being solitary over extended periods of time is not in our DNA. And yet, many of us find ourselves in situations when we feel isolated and alone. The “lonely-at-the-top syndrome” is a well-known struggle for executives as they climb the organisational ranks.

And like Baltes, we will tolerate isolation to a point. Looking at the global Covid19 pandemic, at first people were willing to go into social distancing and self isolation. However, only three weeks into lockdown and we see the percentage of people being done with social distancing rise in national surveys. When I walk our dog Apple to the park there are groups of  joggers together on the track, there no longer is a 2 m distance respected when people pass each other, and they sit on benches with a friend and smoke a cigar.

In order to thrive in business and in life, we depend on other people. As the research giant Gallup shared: we are seven times more engaged if we have a “best buddy at work.” So how do we do this in these extraordinary times when our need to connect might put others at risk? How creative can you get? And how can you manage virtual overstimulation? Well, even when we don’t get a reciprocal signal, just mailing a letter to a friend, offering a box of chocolates to a colleague who is recovering, or sending a short text to a family member will raise our well-being and sense of connection. You may even choose to reach out to someone that you could never connect with in the physical world. What can you do, right now, to feel more connected?

This post was inspired by my lovely colleague Laurence Bridot with whom I am co-leading a virtual team workshop for Google right now. She shared the “Energy Shower” which involves a sequence of tapping on our body to reduce stress and anxiety. It comes from the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) where the latest research and science shows that through tapping we activate the meridian system in our body which impacts the amygdala, our fight or flight response centre in our brain. The patterns of self sabotage such as worrying, procrastination, being stuck in old habits, at the most basic level, are stress responses, driven by our amygdala.

Tapping can create a balance in our energy system, can unleash self healing, and retrain the brain on how to respond to our inner saboteur and fear centre. Why not give it a try? Takes up about a couple minutes of your time, and if you feel the benefits you may find yourself volunteering for another round of tapping.

by anne lueneburger

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This is a time of high anxiety. London’s city noise is filled increasingly with ambulance sirens. Clients are closing offices, meetings are going virtual and every conversation seems to start with a topic related to the Coronavirus.

And there is reason to be fearful as there are some real dangers that come with a pandemic. However, where does fear end and anxiety start? And what to do with all that extra adrenaline? Research seems to suggest that we can manage our anxiety to some degree if we decide to leverage the energy it creates into something positive. As part of a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, participants were preparing to perform a song in front of an audience. As anxiety levels rose in anticipation of the performance, each participant was given a short sentence that they had to say to themselves out loud. This sentence was different for each individual and some read “I am calm” , others “I am anxious”, “I am sad”, “I am excited”, or  “I am sad”. Some received a blank piece of paper with no statement on it at all.  Once study participants had read that sentence, their performance was evaluated by a voice recognition software and scored on volume, pitch and note duration. Do you have any guess as to which group performed the worst? You probably got this, it was “I am anxious”.

The best performers, on the other hand, were those participants who had read out “I am excited”.  Why? Using the energy that had been created as a result of the initial anxiety and working with the body’s physiology and a positive mindset (moving towards “I get to perform” as opposed to “I am afraid to perform”) seemed to have done the trick. So turning a threat into an opportunity is a choice we can make. And if it feels impossible to bring a positive mindset to an apparent threat, how about using that extra adrenaline and channel it into something that gives us energy. We can honour that we may be terrifyingly anxious. And we can then look for what part of us can feel deeply excited about our here and now or our future and then go and leverage that energy boost to do good.

 

 

by anne lueneburger

This Sunday I dropped by Whole Foods to pick up my favourite hazelnut milk after a light workout session at my local gym. As I strolled through the aisles a couple caught my eye. Each was pushing a huge shopping cart filled to the rim with non-perishables, such as canned soups, cereal, rice, and dried lentils. What were they buying all this food for? Was it for a local charity? Surely not at pricey ‘Whole Pay check’! Turns out the couple was stacking up their own food pantry as news broke about an increase in Coronavirus cases by 50 percent in the UK. The fear of the virus is based on a dire reality of a global health crisis. Yet, there is still a lot of ambiguity as to what this will ultimately mean to most of us. And the mounting anxiety around this uncertainty feels exhausting. How can we remain calm and confident amid so much perceived danger?

Fear is fundamentally human. Our individual fear response is likely to some degree due to genetic predisposition (hello nature!) as well as the result of how we are raised (hello nurture!) and life circumstances. It serves a signalling purpose in the face of immediate danger (real or perceived), a useful mechanism that will initiate important biological responses such as the release of adrenaline to run away from a lion or to muster strength to fight a colleague who is playing politics. Fear sharpens the senses and prepares us for flight or fight reactions. Anxiety, however, given it is based on uncertainty, paralyses the senses, inhibits action, and leaves us often oblivious as to how to diminish our discomfort. So in other words, fear is good, anxiety not so much?

Well, not so fast you might say. Anxiety can be a source of survival. Intel’s former CEO Andy Grove definitely bought into this idea as he coined the phrase “only the paranoid survive” over the course of his successful leadership of the chip giant. Leaders who envision a future that inspires followership can leverage anxiety in parts to remain vigilant and to prepare for possible dangers and roadblocks. What is more, anxiety can make us feel alive, as we face a world of possibility, and according to famous Existentialist Soren Kierkegard, “the greater the anxiety, the greater the man”. Stephen Colbert, likely one of the most gifted performers of our time, has openly admitted his anxiety and that “creating something is what helped from just spinning apart like an unweighted flywheel.”

But anxieties that lead to chronic overthinking and worry, that stifle our ability to function, to take risks and thrive, are another matter. Not surprisingly, there is a close link between anxiety and depression and 60 percent of those with excessive worry develop depression at some point or another. Depression often leads to loss of energy as well as low levels of engagement and self-esteem.

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As a first step towards building resilience and coping with modern life, we can learn to separate fear from anxiety: what are the facts, what is the fiction? And as we look at what is fiction, how much of our worry is productive?

So, should you be worried about your level of worrying? Here is a questionnaire to get you started: Worry and Anxiety Questionnaire (WAQ)

All of our clients are talented and successful. Many, however, are anxious and stand in their own way of being even more successful. More importantly (we believe), they don’t enjoy their success and miss out on feeling fully engaged and alive.

So we have decided to devote a few of our entries to anxiety, the shadow cousin of leadership resilience.  We start with sharing Dr. Harry Barry’s (love that name, just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?) talk at Google on the topic:

by renita kalhorn

“I’m working as hard as I can, but I always feel behind.” I hear this a lot from my clients. Can you relate? Invariably, when we dig into what they’re actually working on, I find that they’re falling into a common trap: doing too many things and not accomplishing enough. They’re confusing motion with momentum. Imagine everything you’re working on in a funnel. At the top of the funnel is the shiny and new: ideas, projects and connections that may or may not produce fruit. At the bottom are the tasks, projects, relationships that will have the greatest impact on your success.

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As entrepreneur-VC Mark Suster points out, the amount of time it takes to move the things in the bottom of your funnel forward is disproportionately long and hard relative to the time and ease of each new top-of-funnel activity — which is why you allocate your time on the wrong things. Shiny objects are alluring precisely because opening is orders-of-magnitude easier than closing.  Rapper 50 Cent said, “Most people can’t handle boredom. That means they can’t stay on one thing until they get good at it.” (Or execute to closure.) That’s ’cause your brain loves novelty. It’s looking for ways to be distracted and avoid the mundane or hard. But consider world-class performers: They’re able to find an inherent satisfaction in what others see as boring:

=>Michael Phelps swims back and forth over a black line for hours.
=>Kobe Bryant doesn’t stop until he’s made 800 jump shots.
=>James Dyson was able to create 5,000+ prototypes of his vacuum.
=>Warren Buffett read all 725 pages of The Intelligent Investor 12 times.

And there is a small group of evolved leaders who have also learned how to focus relentlessly on what matters most.  As a result, these leaders no longer feel like they’re falling behind. By mastering their natural human tendencies, they have greater energy, confidence and influence on the people around them. Do you find yourself constantly comparing where you are to where you want to be? Are you feeling like you’re on the path to burnout? If you’re serious and committed to levelling up so you can have the impact and influence you deserve, we need to talk.