by carolyn mathews

“I’ve done a lot of complaining here, but of all the things I’ve complained about, I can’t complain about my life.”

– Andy Rooney, Commentator

Andy Rooney, a commentator on CBS’ 60 Minutes, died at the age of 92 last fall. His age, although significant, is not what caught my attention. These days, many people live into their 90s.What I thought was significant, is that he worked until October 2, 2011, the day he died. He retired at age 92, after 33 years with CBS (he had other jobs previously).

Even if you didn’t watch his segment, “A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney,” you probably would recognize him. He had eyebrows that showed up before he did and had perfected the rumpled Peter Falk/Columbo look, especially when he wore sweaters. Week after week, Rooney made observations about the mundane and the profound. He played the curmudgeon to great effect. Sometimes he offended people (and was even suspended for it), sometimes his wry observations made us smile, and sometimes we just shook our heads wondering what the heck he was going on about.

It was clear to those who watched Rooney that he loved his work. He must have; he did 1,097 shows with 60 Minutes. He had a passion for defending some, lambasting others, eliciting change, and being heard. He was a husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Many called Rooney friend, among them greats like Cronkite and Reasoner.

I did not know him personally, so I have no idea what he would consider his legacy to be. As someone who watched Andy Rooney off and on throughout my adulthood, his legacy is that he noticed the seemingly unimportant – the things we may experience in passing, but not truly think about – and made them important. Rooney’s life exemplifies the life satisfaction of loving your work, choosing to work into your retirement years, and leaving your mark on the world.

by carolyn mathews

How would you best describe your workplace behavior?

Type A, Type B, Type X, or Type I?

What? Type X and Type I? Yes, it’s true…Type A and Type B behavior is so passé! Instead, the behavior types du jour are Type X or Type I. X and I (stand for extrinsic and intrinsic, respectively)are terms used by Dan Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, to describe motivational behavior.  Learning more about these types can help you better understand what drives you (and your team) at work. It can influence how you approach your job and how you manage your direct reports.

Pink provides simple explanations of each type. Type X behavior is driven largely by extrinsic desires and external rewards. For instance, one’s desire to work simply to make large amounts of money, deriving nothing but a large paycheck from a job that provides no satisfaction is an example.  On the other hand, Type I behavior is “powered by our innate need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world,” explains Pink. Fostering more of Type I behavior in the workplace, he suggests, would help develop stronger organizations that achieve more.

A closer look at the definition reveals three elements identified through research as necessary to motivate employees involved in non-routine, conceptual work, led by right brain thinking. If you read our blog, you are most likely a non-routine worker, as opposed to what Pink refers to as an “algorithmic” worker, whose work can be reduced to a set of rules. Non-routine workers depend on three elements to feel truly motivated, according to Pink. These three elements are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Most people working in leadership roles enjoy success because of these three drives. Without autonomy, it is difficult to shine as a leader. Leaders pursue mastery through continued learning (i.e. pursuit of an advanced degree, on-the-job experience) and the opportunity to use their strengths on a daily basis at work. And our emotional connection to our work is often related to a sense of purpose, something larger than ourselves.

Pink’s book has a chapter dedicated to each of these elements. However, I am struck how two in particular, mastery and purpose, play a large role in how positive psychology relates to the workplace. Mastery could also described as flow, a term coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi two decades ago in his famous book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (see our blog). People experience flow when they are so completely absorbed in an activity there is no awareness of their surroundings. Flow is the perfect tension when skill meets challenge. Those are moments of mastery!

Sense of purpose is also a cornerstone of happiness. Martin Seligman (a founder of the study of positive psychology) uses the phrase, “the meaningful life” to describe one of three paths to happiness. The meaningful life, he states, is “using your signature strengths and virtues in service of something larger than you are.”  Pink echoes this idea, stating, “The most deeply motivated people—not to mention those who are most productive and satisfied—hitch their desires to a cause larger than themselves.”

Purpose, along with autonomy and mastery, speaks to organizational strength and achievement. How could you use this information in your work? While you may be aware of your own sense of each of these, have you asked those who report to you? (Dan Pink offers a 30-question free assessment at: www.danpink.com/drive.html )Find out what motivates them. Are they Type X or Type I? Does this influence how you manage them? Start the conversation! It benefits you, your team, and the organization.

moments of insight

March 25, 2012

by carolyn mathews

Allow me to go out on a limb and suggest that many of you do some of your best thinking in the shower. There you are, rinsing shampoo from your hair when suddenly you have that “ah-ha” moment about a challenge you face at work. There’s a reason for that experience…

At a conference I attended, the speaker was Jonah Lehrer, author of several books, including one of my favorites, How We Decide.  Lehrer addressed the crowd with steps we can take to foster innovation, including:

>Learn to relax

>Think grit

>Learn from mistakes

>Don’t eat the marshmallow (Read Lehrer’s classic article published in the New Yorker Magazine.)

The first suggestion, learn to relax, caught my attention. In a relaxed state, such as when we are in the shower, alpha waves put our minds at rest. This state of our brainwaves helps generate moments of insight.  Lehrer describes insight as that moment when an answer arrives to a problem and you just know it is right. You don’t even have to check it out (although you probably will). In part, relaxing allows us to look past unrelated ideas for what relates. Suddenly, the answer “clicks.”

In our society, particularly in the workplace, our busyness is valued, perhaps overly so. Lehrer argues that as a society, we are so busy being productive that we do not take the time to listen to our insight. How can we find our insight at work when most of us are not in a position to take to the shower for those moments of clarity? Moments of mindfulness provides the same reaction. I suggest that you find a quiet place to sit comfortably where you won’t be disturbed. There are many mindfulness exercises you can find online or in books, but one I have used with clients is the Circular Breath exercise. Breathe in slowly to the count of four and then exhale slowly to the count of four. You can focus your mind on a thought, like: I breathe in to relax, I breathe out to relax.

Lehrer also explained that when trying to solve a challenge, consider whether you have a feeling of knowing, or what many of us think of as a gut response. To decide if you need insight to solve a challenge, ask if you have a feeling of knowing. If you do, focus on the knowing to reach the answer. Think about all the components of what needs to be resolved, spin them around, and look at them again from a different perspective. If you still cannot find the answer among all of those thoughts and/or images, relax. Look for the alpha waves that will produce a moment of insight. It may require a shower.

by anne lueneburger

I recently started working with Drew, a director in a financial services firm who has everything going for him as a leader: integrity, passion for his work, vision and sound judgement, empathy, and emotional intelligence. The only thing that seemed to be missing was… courage. He does have courage when it comes to managing conflict and adversity. However, there was something holding him back to step up to the next leadership challenge: “I am introvert,” he shared. It sounded like an admission of a huge flaw. In what ways, I asked, could being an introvert be a powerful asset for him?

Based on research by Wharton Business School psychologist Adam Grant, introverted leaders are best suited for independent and empowered employees. In stark contrast to this are extroverted leaders who mesh best with employees who have no qualms about following orders. “In a faster-paced service and knowledge economy, it’s much more difficult for leaders to anticipate all of the threats and opportunities that face their organizations,” Grant is quoted in a recent article in Time Magazine (“The Upside of Being An Introvert”, March 2012). “This need for employee proactivity has created a distinct advantage for introverted leaders.”

Given my client does in fact work for a fast paced, knowledge heavy firm, his leadership style likely will have a positive impact on bottom line. So, we explored further, what are ways Drew can start leveraging his introversion with his team? We are partnering on making it happen as I am writing this…

by anne lueneburger

I’m referring to the proverbial frog that, placed in a pot of boiling hot water, immediately jumps out to save himself. If placed in cold water that is gradually heated, however, the frog never realizes the danger it’s in and is boiled alive. [Note: we know from contemporary science that real frogs will, in fact, jump out of the pot after some time – but never mind that for now!] The hypothetical boiled frog is a useful metaphor for a very real problem: the difficulty of becoming aware of, and responding to, stress as it slowly creeps up on us a bit at a time.

Stress build-up is what many of us experience as we build our professional lives. When we’re stressed, a hormone called epinephrine (or adrenaline) makes our pulse beat faster and makes our blood pressure rise. As a result, our body quickly moves blood and nutrients (aka energy) to the places that need them the most. Just think of working on a complex client request with a tight deadline – your brain is like a sponge and sucks up loads of energy. This isn’t in itself a problem, but if we don’t find ways to ‘decompress’, then our stress levels will continue to rise. By the time we realize this, it can be too late. Constant stress can take the joy out of our lives and can make us sick – it can even kill us.

Now let’s give our frog story a bit of twist: what if the frog in the pot is more in tune with his environment and how it is affecting his well being and his chances of survival? What if he notices, and starts analyzing, the rising temperature and what this means for his future? The chances are that he’ll jump out in time.

So, what can you do to be this frog, who is strong on self-awareness and conviction, and who perceived the important changes in his environment?  Check out these two videos for starters…

Video Part 1:

Video Part 2:

how’s your intuition?

February 4, 2012

by anne lueneburger

Intuition is one of the tools I use as a coach to help my clients drive insight and move forward towards their goals. Yet, my intuition is only powerful if I share it with my client who then has the chance to validate it (or not). This process of validating rarely happens when it comes to interactions with others, however, if you look at your typical work environment. Most of us make our assumptions about others without ever checking these agains the ‘facts’. Listening to your gut is powerful and important. Yet, intuition also often is plain wrong, as this video a client sent me illustrates (thanks J!).

Getting the facts is often easier than we think – it can be as simple as asking a few pointed questions. If you want to read up more on intuition, consider picking up David Myer’s read ‘Intuition: Its Powers and Perils‘.

leaders as climate engineers

January 25, 2012

by carolyn mathews

If you were to describe your position as a leader, would you include “Climate Engineer”? Now, before you envision yourself in front of a green screen, pointing to cold fronts and high pressure icons, think more locally. In addition to setting strategic direction and ensuring smooth organizational operations, leaders also set the climate of their team, department, and organization through their attitudes and behaviors, according to positive psychology researchers. Those in your organization watch how you respond to all challenges and this sets the tenor for how others meet challenges and how they work with each other. Thus, leaders serve as climate engineers.

One way to set a positive climate is through strengths coaching. Strengths coaching allows leaders to recognize and develop their own strengths and also recognize strengths in others.  When used in positive psychology, the term “strengths” refers to ways of thinking, feeling, or behaving that are intrinsic or come naturally to us. They differ from skills in that skills can be learned, even if one is not necessarily good at something.

Several researchers, ranging from the Gallup Organization to university based organizational and positive psychologists, have found benefits to a strengths-based approach in the workplace, including: better performance, higher engagement, and greater likelihood of goal achievement. Recognizing and managing to strengths in yourself and others, explain the researchers, allows leaders to allocate “people and resources according to individual and collective strengths as they go about building strengths-based organizations more broadly.”

However, a strengths-based approach does not imply that weaknesses are ignored in favor of what one does well naturally. We all have areas of weakness and they may be included in our job descriptions. To build robust organizations, weaknesses must be recognized in ourselves and in teams and not ignored. Depending on how integral they are to one’s position, weaknesses should be mitigated. The good news is that you can choose to use strengths as a way to mitigate those weaknesses.

For example, I once wrote speeches for a C-suite leader. He was not a great public speaker, yet because of his position in the company, this was not something he could allocate. So, we sent him to an executive seminar to hone his public speaking skills. His skills improved, but it was still a struggle. If I were to work with him now, I would recognize his strength for making difficult concepts very approachable and ask him how he could use this strength in developing and delivering content for presentations. Using strengths that come naturally to him (explaining difficult concepts in an approachable manner) would have contributed to a much more natural speaking style and probably less anxiety about public speaking. Would that have made him a great speaker? Probably not, but the goal would be to mitigate the weakness using one’s strengths.

There are many ways to identify personal strengths, including several assessment options and coaching. Observation also provides opportunities to recognize strengths. Notice what you, or your team members, tend to naturally gravitate towards and are successful doing. Who always volunteers for presentations? Who thrives on analytics? Allocate based on personal strengths when you can. Watch your employees thrive as the climate changes.

no pain, no gain

January 18, 2012

by pamela welling

Neuroscientific research tells us that change is painful, as painful as breaking a bone in fact. When researchers at Columbia University (1) used fMRI imaging techniques to map the nerve centers of the brain, they found that the same neural receptors that register physical pain also light up when we go through significant emotional change (like changing jobs). So if change feels hard, that’s because it is.

Organizational psychologists have written at length about the impact of ineffectively navigating change on the bottom line and change management theory is now a well established field of study in all top international business schools. Harvard Business School, like most others, has developed whole curricula for executives on managing all manner of changes: turbulent change; change in the time of growth; change in response to a merger…..the list goes on. We have a ton of organizational development research available to support us as we figure out how to successfully drive change in our teams and organizations, but how about managing our response on a personal level?

Knowing about the pain associations that occur in our brains is a first step towards understanding why it can take so long and feel so hard to make personal and professional changes. Neuroscience also tells us that by focusing our efforts we can abandon old maps and create new neural pathways to learn new behaviors. Jeffrey Schwartz, a leading researcher in the field of self-directed neuroplasticity at UCLA’s School of Medicine, suggests that the brain is a quantum environment and therefore the laws of quantum physics hold true. Viz: the question you ask of your brain influences the outcome you see.

So what does this mean for us in the context of coaching and minimizing some of the negative impacts of personal and professional change? If the brain truly is a quantum environment then how and where we focus our thoughts and attention can allow us to make new connections, and thereby change habits and behaviors. If we decide to reframe negative situations by focusing on the positive (a central exercise in positive psychology) then we can re-wire our response to impactful change and decrease its negative effects. We can train our brains to do what Winston Churchill describes so eloquently: be optimists who see the opportunity in every difficulty as opposed to pessimists who see the difficulty in every opportunity.

Coaching has been shown to be an essential tool in supporting the creation and establishment of new neural pathways. By working with a coach we can learn tricks and techniques that help us actively focus on the habits, activities and actions we want to have more of in order to move away from old patterns, habits and actions we no longer wish to exhibit.  Coaches can point out the learning we experience as we create these new pathways and help us formulate solutions to problems we might encounter as we embark on this energy intensive process. Coaches acknowledge the successes and small victories we achieve as we create these new habits to help us stay on track with our goals- an exceptionally powerful process and one that Jeffery Schwartz discovered when he used his quantum brain theory to re-train the thought patterns of patients with severe OCD (2). It’s unlikely that we will be able to completely mitigate the pain that comes with change, but with the right coach and the right conditions, we might just get to those gains with a little less pain than usual.

(1)   Research conducted Edward E. Smith, Director of Cognitive Neuroscience at Columbia University quoted at http://www.businessweek.com/lifestyle/content/healthday/651291.html, March 28th 2011

(2)   Schwartz, J. M., Stapp, H. P., and Beauregard, M. (2005). Quantum theory in neuroscience and psychology: A neurophysical model of mind-brain interaction. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B, 360(1458):1309-27.

just for today

January 15, 2012

by anne lueneburger

This may sound counterintuitive as most of us start the new year by thinking ‘big picture’ and what we hope to accomplish and achieve over the coming twelve months. But this is also in part the reason why so many New Year’s resolutions fail: we bite off more than we can chew.

So, if you are like many of our clients who hope to make this year a happy year filled with more courage and less worrying, more productivity and less procrastination, and more connectivity and less conflict, how about breaking it down into a smaller program? There is a collection of timeless nuggets of wisdom by Sybil Partridge that can increase our portion of ‘la joie de vivre’:

1. Just for today I will be happy. This assumes that what Abraham Lincoln said is true that,”Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Happiness is from within; it is not a matter of externals.

2. Just for today I will try to adjust myself to what is, and not try to adjust everything to my own desires. I will take my family, my business, and my luck as they come and fit myself to them.

3. Just for today I will take care of my body. I will exercise it, care for it, nourish it, not abuse it nor neglect it, so that it will be a perfect machine for my bidding.

4. Just for today I will try to strengthen my mind. I will learn something useful. I will not be a mental loafer. I will read something that requires effort, thought, and concentration.

5. Just for today I will exercise my soul in three ways: I will do somebody a good turn and not get found out. I will do at least two things I don’t want to do, as William James suggests, “just for exercise.”

6. Just for today I will be agreeable. I will look as well as I can, dress as becomingly as possible, talk low, act courteously, be liberal with praise, criticize not at all, nor find fault with anything, and not try to regulate nor improve anyone.

7. Just for today I will try to live through this day only, not to tackle my whole life problem at once. I can do things for twelve hours that would appall me if I have to keep them up for a lifetime.

8. Just for today I will have a plan. I will write down what I expect to do every hour. I may not follow it exactly, but I will have it. It will eliminate two pests – hurrying and indecision.

9. Just for today I will have a quiet half hour all by myself and relax. In this half hour, sometimes, I will think of what my purpose is on this earth so as to get a little more perspective into my life.

10. Just for today I will be unafraid. Especially, I will not be afraid to be happy, to enjoy what is beautiful, to love, and to believe that those I love, love me.

by carolyn mathews

A few months ago, Atul Gawande, contributor to The New Yorker, wrote an article about his decision to seek coaching. He wasn’t looking for a writing coach, but a surgical coach. In addition to writing, Gawande is also an endocrine surgeon. Initially, I wondered why a surgeon would need a coach. After all, don’t we all want a surgeon that has already “improved”? In explaining his decision, Gawande made two observations:

  1. Even the best of the best cannot achieve and sustain mastery on their own.
  2. While coaches do not need to be the “experts” in your field, they must serve as teachers, bosses, “editors,” and your eyes and ears for there to be benefit.

I found it fascinating that someone who has successfully completed many thousands of operations and beats national averages on surgical complications would seek coaching. After all, Gawande was at the top of his game! Likening his decision to find a coach to that of professional opera singers and athletes, Gawande notes that among athletes, there is a clear understanding that “no matter how well prepared people are in their formative years, few can achieve and maintain their best performance on their own.” Opera singers, even when they have mastered their art through years of training, continue to have a coach who observes them as an extra set of ears to make their best even better. This was Gawande’s situation. He felt he had peaked and wasn’t getting any better. The way he saw it, it could only go south.

There are some barriers to the general acceptance of coaching among professionals, Gawande points out. Among these, I suggest the greatest challenge may be our own openness to observational, non-remedial  coaching. In the corporate world, coaching sometimes is used for remedial purposes whereby a “weakness” is observed by others, and a coach is hired to help the person change things. Other times coaching is sought to make changes that will get you to that “next level.” What if, as a seasoned professional, you ARE at that next level? Would you hire a coach to observe you working and provide feedback just because you want to be even better at what you do?

Famous coaches work with elite executives who are at the top of their game.  I believe these situations are too few and far between. There are many reasons for this, but I would like to offer one that is so entrenched in us – fear of failing in front of others. For some reason, we have come to believe that as professionals, we should not let our mistakes be observed. Something in our professional status (surgeon, executive, therapist, and even coach) allows us to believe that we have learned and perfected our profession in a way that leaves little room for change. Yet, this very situation happened to Gawande. His pre-surgery decisions failed and his coach (a former surgeon) observed not only his decision process, but also the consequences of his poor decisions. (Note: No patients were harmed in this process…)

Whereas athletes and vocalists are vastly exposed to the public each time they perform, C-suite executives experience minimal public observation of their work.  It behooves athletes and vocalists to hire coaches to help them maintain their elite positions. While there can be serious repercussions from the failed decision-making of a C-suite executive, few people ever witness the process except in times of crisis (e.g. Tylenol tampering, various oil spills, etc.). The word “failure” is so loaded that no one wants to be associated with it never mind be observed failing!

Some people believe things are “good enough” if they are not failing. Gawande has a point, though. If you believe you are good enough, then the only direction for things to go is down. You have ceased to strive for excellence and mastery. For those who wish to not only achieve mastery, but also sustain it, a coach can provide teachable moments, act as another set of eyes and ears, and give feedback to keep you at the top of your game.