Speak to be understood, not to be heard

coach2Recently, I took a swim lesson from a new coach. It is the off-season for me as a triathlete and a good time to focus on technique. She watched me swim for several minutes after which I asked her what needed to be fixed. She paused and then uttered magical words to me:”There are a million ways to tell you but I am trying to figure out what will work for you.” I have held a long-standing belief that little knowledge understood is much more powerful than perfect knowledge not understood. And herein lies a powerful communication tip for anyone in the business of knowledge transfer – speak to be understood, not to be heard.

Continue reading

Loyalty: Person vs Values

loyaltyIn the current age of 24-hour news and the interconnectedness of so many previously disparate sources, it has become routine to look at news and almost on a daily basis, finding compromising revelations about other people, products or companies, especially those in the spotlight. People that had a certain persona are turning out to have everything from previously unknown character flaws to committing unimaginable atrocities. We are talking of not just movie stars, politicians or athletes, but of local mayors, clergy men and business leaders. Anyone and everyone relevant to you. People that were once revered new seem fallible. It seems like hypocrisy is becoming quite difficult. Of all the layers to all these stories, the one that intrigues me the most is whether our loyalty should be to people or to a set of values? Continue reading

Tribute to Yogi Berra – The Psychologist

yogiYogi Berra, one of my favorite athletes, passed away last week. I never saw him play and to be honest, never even heard of him until I was in my 20s when I learned about his famous quotes before learning about him. My first reaction to his quotes was that these were incredibly powerful thoughts from a sports psychologist, not from an athlete. The one that I use very often and almost every time I speak is: “Wherever I go, there I am.” There is such immense wisdom and neuroscience in these six words as it relates to how we live our lives, and the activities we pursue to find higher performance or happiness. It debunks the myth of compartmentalization which for decades with espoused by employers, bosses, coaches and people. This foolish and inaccurate idea that we can and should “shut off” certain parts of our lives so that they do not interfere with other parts of life when in fact, it is neurologically impossible to do so. In other words, wherever you go, there YOU are. ALL of you.

Continue reading

Learn to Discard

discardThe contrast between “acquiring” and “discarding” is one worth exploring this week. In the pursuit of success, the widely-held assumption is that we must “acquire” – a degree, a title, a role, amount of money, a home, a certain type of car, certain skills, etc. We hold this assumption not because it is true, but because it is reinforced by societal norms. In order to get a degree, for example, there are schools where you can get these. In order to get a title, there is a corporate ladder to climb. In order to get the house of your dreams, there are things to be done to make money to acquire the home. In other words, there is no shortage when it comes to the “acquisition” part of the success journey. But where do you learn to discard? Discard your bad habits, discard negative people or experiences in your life, discard past trauma, or discard things you no longer need? I argue that the ability to “discard” is actually more important, especially as you get older, in the pursuit of success. Continue reading

Lead by Optimism

optimismMany years ago, I asked one group to carry two 50-pound weights in each hand up a flight of stairs knowing many would be challenged by the physical task and sure enough, we subsequently engaged in all kinds of reasons why the challenge would seem unattainable. I then went to another group of similar skills and proposed the same task but this time, with 100-pound weights. This time however, after about 5 minutes of the same type of despondent dialogue as with the first group, I changed it to 50-pound weights. The second group, assuming they had just gotten a huge break with lesser weights to carry, then proceeded with excitement to a significantly higher completion percentage than the first group. Many psychologists have done this kind of study in the past with almost identical results. What can we learn about leadership from this? Continue reading

Gossip vs Constructive Feedback

feedbackGiving feedback continues to be one of the more challenging tasks for many leaders. Recipients struggle with the process just as much, as emotional temperatures typically rise during the process. It is my contention that the primary onus of this process belongs to the giver of the feedback. I have noted that all too often the feedback given has not gone through the due diligence process required so that it is in fact received for its intended purpose – for improvement. I call this feedback Gossip Feedback. This feedback usually starts with “I heard that” or “Someone said” or “I feel that” and lack credibility and objectivity.  Continue reading

The Science of Non Verbal Communication

body languageI have read for years that what we communicate non-verbally is about 90% of what the audience interprets. It was not until recently that I ran into the neuroscience to corroborate this widely-held view. In a study of brain activity, subjects were shown 3-5 minute videos of people speaking to them. Their brains were attached to scanners that allowed neuroscientists to see visually both the level of activity in the brain, and also the specific locations (neuropathways) of the activity. In the study, the same videos were shown twice; once with the audio on and another with it off. The sequence were altered with different speakers. The results showed that the activity levels were essentially the same with or without audio. In other words, the actual verbal words used accounted for very little of what the listener’s brain was processing. This proved the belief that our actual words play only a small role in communication. Continue reading

Passion Statements

passionWhether I am coaching an executive in a company or a professional athlete, I always ask the question: What is your Passion Statement? The answer can’t be “because I love what I do.” The answer should be why you love what you do. What is it about what you do that you find meaningful? How much of the response is really a part of your identity.

Continue reading

Boss vs Leader


Power of Appreciation

thanksThis is by no means a new topic. Who can really argue that showing appreciation to others – friends, family, coworkers, employees and others – is not a good thing? So why is it still an issue we see recurring in exit interviews of employees and in failed or unhealthy relationships? The most common answer is lack of time. And I think we can all safely label that as terrible excuse. My take is that we do not really understand the true value of appreciation, and this devalues its role and priority in day to day interactions. 

From a neuroscience perspective, know that we are wired to retain, store and retrieve negative experiences with more functionality than positive experiences. I’ve blogged research on how on average it takes five positive experiences to dilute (chemically) just one comparable negative experience physiologically in our body. This is the same rule discovered by psychologists in healthy marriages and employee retention where people can recall five positive experiences for every negative one they have within a relationship or place of work. Appreciation, which can be done so simply and so frequently can account for 3 to almost all 5 of those positive experiences that is required daily to manage the negative experiences that are simply inherent in both life and virtually guaranteed to occur at work. An Emotionally Intelligent (EQ) leader does not leave to chance the occurrence of those positive experiences. Whether it is a smile, an acknowledgement of work, a verbal “thank you” or “please”, or a gently re-worded email or giving someone time to express their thoughts without interrupting – all these ways add up to the five plus positive experiences needed so that people around you can feel good which is the bedrock for effectively using skills to get to creativity and innovation.

This week, in every experience you have, proactive insert an “appreciation” tactic. Observe what happens afterwards. What you will find surprising is that you will get the most out of it!

All Emotions are Contagious

contagiousSo you walk into an office and your boss is visibly unhappy about something. Or you are an athlete, and your team member is upset, or a fellow competitor starts to get under your skin. The probability that you will subsequently adopt the emotions of the environment and people around you is very high, and mostly subconscious. We have “mirror neurons” in our brain that simply mimic the emotions of people around us. Why would we be designed for this? Because our physiological makeup was not wired for the world many of us live in today. It was designed so that when we saw danger in someone else, whether rational or justified, we would trust that danger as a sign for us to fight or flight. And for thousands of years, that served us well as a survival mechanism. Continue reading

Do versus Change

Change-management-communicationA CEO asked a senior executive candidate in an interview what she changed at her last job? The candidate gave a list of all the things she did. The CEO politely asked again,”No. I didn’t ask what you did. I asked what you changed?” The candidate was not prepared for this question. She did not get the job but years later, when she became a CEO herself, she talked about how that question changed the way she “did” her job.

 Certainly, there are parts of everyone’s job that require you to “do” but the “doing” has to result in a positive change, she now argues. She adopted this approach for herself, her team and her company. It is the first question she asks when she does anyone’s performance review.

This week, think about this question. Look at your calendar and take inventory of your work. How much of it is “do” versus “do and change”? Start to build a repository of all the things that you are changing (making better). You will find that not only will you be able to have a great answer in your reviews/interviews, but you will delightfully enjoy them both and alot more of what you “do”!

Power of Core Values

core valuesI will often ask an audience to tell me what their core values are. Some seemed surprised by the question, as it is not one that comes up in most conversations and relationships. Most, however, respond with values like Integrity, Honesty, Respect, and such like. After the first few, people typically throw out many others that are similar but it is obvious to me that they are responding in “brainstorming mode” as opposed to a mode where these values are carefully thought of and selected.  I then ask how they feel when one or more of these values are compromised? Do they feel good? How upset do they get? For how long do they “check out” from that relationship? How many violations of each core value need to occur before giving up on the relationship? The reality is that we all have values but only a few of us have truly processed them, prioritized them, analyzed their roles in our lives, and have prepared ourselves for a response when they are violated. Continue reading

No Action … is Action

actionA few years ago, my son and daughter got into a typical sibling brouhaha. I was in an adjacent room and could hear the entire exchange. It was a low-level issue, to me, and I chose to let them work it out. About 30 minutes later, my son walked into the room I was in and appeared shocked to see me. “What?!” he yelled. “You were here the whole time? Why didn’t you say something? You always take her side!” Right or wrong, he felt terribly betrayed by me. I have told this simple story many times at leadership conferences on just how powerful an action of ‘no action’ can be to followers. Continue reading

Workplace Athletes

teamsportsAs someone who lives both in the business workplace and in the professional sports world, I often get asked what the similarities and differences are between the two. I have answered this question in many ways but now realize that the biggest difference is in Performance Management.  The professional athlete gets constant feedback (statistics on each game) and it is objective. In golf, for example, the athlete can look at about a dozen different personal statistic at the end of each weekly tournament. Her coach can show actual video of what she did well and not so well. And very quickly, a plan is put together to address that weakness within hours or days. At the next tournament, the same thing is done and she may have fixed the problem from the week before but the feedback shows different issues and the focus changes to improve the new issues. This constant cycle of feedback is what creates the bedrock for that one competition where the magic happens. So let us juxtapose this to the professional worker who also gets paid, like a pro athlete, for her performance.

Continue reading