When Empathy becomes a liability…

empathy22In counseling and coaching folks from all walks of life, in personal and professional settings, I come across folks who have great empathy. They have that special attribute of literally ‘putting themselves in others’ shoes’ emotionally and use that awareness to change their approach to a situation. Conversely, I’ve also come across folks with terrible empathy who either cannot or do not care to know how others’ feel leaving behind them a trail littered with wounded people. The case for empathy as a positive leadership attribute is well documented and I have been a part of that school of thought too. There is, however, a case to be made, which I see just as frequently, that empathy can be a liability. When empathy enables abuse, then it is a liability.

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2 Guys in a Garage

garageIn the past 2 decades, the business landscape has witnessed industries being disrupted in ways unimaginable. Values of many of these disruptive businesses have exceeded the decades-old well-established incumbent companies. Many of these disruptive companies were founded by some version of “2 guys in a garage” – a very small number of people, with very little money who had nothing but an idea and a great deal of motivation to not live in the business-as-usual world. How is it that these folks, under-funded, inexperienced, and with little resources, could disrupt large businesses who have very highly-paid talented leaders, with enormous resources in fancy offices?

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3 CEO Questions…

ceoAt this stage of my career, I have coached over 30 CEOs of companies of all sizes, industries, cultures, and geographies. Throw in another hundred or so senior executives and they will tell me to a person that they are routinely presented with all kinds of challenges by their direct reports who usually are very seasoned and well-compensated leaders. I coach them to not give answers or offer solutions as the first response. There are three powerful questions they have now molded into their management style that is allowing them to build strong leaders and more importantly, make better decisions. Continue reading

Social Media Nutrition

socail-mediaNot a stretch to argue that if you consume unhealthy foods, your body is likely to be unhealthy too. You are what you consume after all. The same could be argued with your emotional consumption habits. You are emotionally what you emotionally consume. If you surround yourself with experiences or people that are draining emotionally, you are likely to be drained and compromise your emotional health. Again, not a stretch argument either. What is worth your attention is how and what you are emotionally consuming. In this digital age, coffee shop conversations, dinners, lunches, walks with friends, etc are being replaced emotionally with social media. Whether that is good or bad is for another time to debate but make no mistake, social media has become a large part of our emotional nutrition.

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Lead or fail …

menpushing.jpgTake a look at this picture that I found in my feed last week. I am sure many of you, as have I, have seen similar ones in the past. Everyone is doing things one way and one person figures out a simpler and better way to do it. When I look at these kinds of images, I rarely think of the brilliance of that one person, as much as I wonder what it is about all the others that kept them from thinking of that smarter way. What caused them to ‘just do’ instead of thinking of a different way, or taking the time to think of a different way, or even believing there was a different way out there to be thought of. Continue reading

Is Fear a Motivator?

fear2At an executive retreat, one leader asked why it was that he performed best when he was stressed and felt the pressure of failure. He elaborated that when felt threatened, his team seemed to do well. This was in the context of my sharing that fear was a collaboration and innovation killer. I responded by telling him of a well-known professional athlete who asked me the same question a few years ago. He also said that when he felt angry and hate towards his opponent, he performed better. He had come to see me because his public relations reputation was that of a ‘bad boy’ who was mean to everyone including his sponsors. I asked him only one question: When do you turn it off?

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France’s New Work Email Policy

worklifev5The entire text below is from GOOD website written by Tod Perry. As we start a new year, and you are a leader, think about how a version of a policy like this might have a positive difference in both business and employees’ lives.

Nothing can ruin a relaxing weekend or holiday like an email from the office. Even if there’s no need to take action until Monday, the unwanted intrusion of professional life can really suck the joy out of a Sunday afternoon bar-b-que. That’s why the country that’s famous for giving its employees 30 days off a year and 16 weeks of full-paid family leave, just made itself even cooler with its new “right to disconnect” law. Continue reading

Get Rid of “1-hour”

onehourGo ahead and look at your calendar right now. My guess is that your day, especially your work day, is largely carved up into 1-hour chunks of meetings or activities. Fair to assume that recreational or wellness activities are also chopped into 1-hour blocks. Perhaps a 1-hour yoga class or massage or work out at your gym. Even classes at school are mostly in 1-hour blocks. That most of what we do is in 1-hour increments is a safe argument to make. Now consider whether there is any research that suggests, even remotely, that 1-hour is the right amount of time to conduct any activity much less all activities? I will save you the google search – there is none.

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Look to applaud …

applause.pngI was listening to a three-person acoustic band recently. It was a small intimate setting just perfect for the kind of music they were playing. It was very clear that the audience and the band had connected as we all applauded every song they played. Half way through, the lead musician said “I wish all of you could have a job were every five minutes, people applauded your work.”
I was struct at the depth of his comment, partially filled with envy and the rest with a conviction to applaud people who were passionate and good at their craft. I could easily share statistics on employee engagement and how powerful simple rewards are or case studies to support the power of acknowledgement, but I will leave it at this and let you digest and enjoy the power of his comment as I did.
This week, look hard for anyone enjoying their work and give them a hand!

Pick me ups …we all need them.

pickmeupNot sure how many of you listen to music when doing something physical like a walk, jog, bike or hike. I’m fairly certain that while listening to the music, there will be one song that will come on that you really like, that get’s you pumped up, pick’s you up, more than the previous songs did, and pushes you to do whatever you are doing both with more enthusiasm and better form. Have you considered why that is the case with that particular song? Or if you can choose songs like that strategically before a big event requiring you to be at your best?

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All Perspectives Matter …

2sidesA married couple went to a college football game where their alma maters played against each other in a rival game. Two people who love each other at the same event watching the same plays unfold. Their reactions, as predictable, were polar opposite. When team A made a great play, the wife jumped in exhilaration while the husband dropped his head in sorrow. The quality of athleticism of each play on either team was irrelevant to how each reacted. This story is relatively easy to decipher. Each spouse feels loyal to their school. They went there, have four  fond years of experiences and many more alumni memories. As a resident of Charlotte, NC, I was struck at how the events of the last week were interpreted and experienced differently divided largely by racial lines. Continue reading

Share failures …

failure22.jpgThere are so many ways that leaders start their weekly staff meetings. Some use ice breakers, some share successes, some share big events coming up and the like. The idea is to start on a positive note. There is nothing wrong here. However, it’s rare to insert into the agenda failures of the past week. I’d like to suggest considering doing so. Continue reading

Maturity = “Howhen”

howhenLike most parents, I struggle with balancing allowing a child to be a child with expecting them to be a little more mature than their actual age. On some frustrating days, I may even have the gall to expect my children to behave adult-like. Leaders in the workplace have similar struggles. Employees are diverse not just in age but in dozens of ways where behavior is not uniform as perhaps might have been decades ago. The idea of wearing shorts and sandles would be considered unthinkable but Steve Jobs proved that what you wear has little to with how productive you are. Despite this diversity, there are two universal expectations: (1)  that performance not be compromised and (2) a level of Maturity be exhibited in behavior. Performance is easier to process, teach, and expect. Maturity is not. So let me introduce both a parenting and workplace term to process maturity. It is “Howhen” – one word – a new word – easy to remember.
The “what” is intellectual. It is the task to be executed. For example, you make a decision to eliminate a large budget item. This is the “what.” Some “what” are better than others, but most problems do not come from the “what.” After you made the decision, you decided at 2PM in the afternoon when everyone was working in the cubicles to yell that decision as loud as you could standing just outside your office. The “when” was at 2PM and the “how” was by yelling in the hallway. In this example, most of what will be discussed after will not be the decision regarding the budget item, but the decision to communicate that to those impacted by yelling in the middle of the afternoon. This would be considered immature even if the “what” was the correct decision.

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You are what you think …

thoughtsThe notion that a large part of our identity and our performance (decision-making) is dependent on the prevailing thoughts in our minds, specifically our monologues, is not new. “We are what we thinketh” the adage goes. What IS new is the neuroscience that now supports this age-old belief. Neuropathway-mapping now shows that our response to experiences is far less objective that we think. In fact, our response to just about everything is not based on a rational and critical-thinking set of neuropathways. They are significantly subjective and based on the thoughts that have inhabited the context of that experience. Continue reading

The ‘Fail Fast’ Myth…

failureEntrepreneurs, investors, and executives have all fallen in love with the “fail fast” motif. It’s a simple concept: Make your mistakes early in the game whilst it is easy to make changes to avoid digging out of a big hole. Sounds very logical. I am calling this a myth because the logic  works if two other components are also sequentially included. Failing fast only works if (1) there’s an acceptance to the failure (2) a subsequent process to learn, and change quickly. Continue reading