What Makes a Team Click?

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In some group work I am currently involved with, I am facilitating a session of business leaders who are from all around the world, therefore multi-cultural and quite high achievers.  One of the things we do at the beginning is called The Leadership Journey, which involves sharing the experiences and the people who have essentially shaped the person and type of leader they have become.  This has proven to be an extremely effective means of team bonding, for the following reasons.

  • Past experiences can shape future decisions.  So perhaps the more you know about somebody’s past, the better you might understand the position they take or decision made, and how you might possibly influence it.
  • Sharing is caring and vice versa – when demonstrating interest in people’s backgrounds and what matters to them, connections become stronger that can create a sense of genuine collegiality.
  • Vulnerability builds trust – when everybody shares their past in an honest, open way, you see each other for who they truly are; this creates a unique and trusting bond.
  • Happiness leads to effectiveness – when people enjoy their work and the people they work with in an authentic way, there is a genuine sense of collaboration and happiness, that are enablers of success.

Interestingly, in most work situations, we never really take the time to understand who the person is; it’s perhaps regarded as none of our business, or might be seen as prying into their personal lives.  In reality, personal and professional are not mutually exclusive.  Whether you like it or not, you bring your work stuff home with you, and your home baggage goes to work with you.  So why not simply embrace and understand it, and be open to the possibility that it might in fact create a very supportive work environment, that facilitates much higher levels of engagement and productivity?  If that is the case, you might also be a lot happier going home and so the cycle becomes much more positive.

Leading in a Changing Workplace

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Much has been written with regards to the changing face of the workplace.  With the replacement of Boomers (born before 1964) by Millennials (1977 – 1995), new challenges are being presented as to how best manage and lead this seemingly more complex collective.  Part of the challenge is the fact that many of the leaders and managers are in fact Boomers and those reporting to them are Millennials, so there is an obvious disconnect between “old and new”.  To better understand this, it might be helpful to trace back a little into the past and assess these characteristics chronologically, under these changing circumstances.

1940 – 1970

This was an era characterized by motivation through money and/or fear (carrot and stick), and because it was primarily during the industrial age, when any advancement in productivity was king, it worked pretty well.  It also fed off the basis that you left your brain at the door, as it was more about a physical contribution.

1970 – 2000

As the landscape of business began to shift from industrial to informational so too did the need to move from physical to intellectual labor.  People were now expected to use their brain as the need for more educated workers emerged.  With that the old carrot and stick became much less effective, and leadership had to adapt to a system of involvement, support and truly understanding what motivated people.

2000 – Today

Most recently, a newer workforce has emerged, that not alone is intellectually based (better educated overall), but is also influenced by technology and a very different world view.  These employees want engagement and challenge within a creative process and consequently leadership has had to redefine itself once again.  Leaders have had to become coaches and have the ability to skillfully guide people and help facilitate an outcome.

So, if you are a leader, you are most likely dealing with different workforce generations.  Rather than feel exasperated and helpless that “these people” just don’t get it, embrace it and adapt accordingly, which will allow you to get the best from everybody.

What is Enough ‘Positivity’?

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As we go through our personal and professional lives, we come across people with a variety of emotions; some can be very negative and some very positive and the rest are anywhere in between. But what is right blend? People who are overly negative can be “drainers”, sucking the life out of you; and then those that are all “sunshine and roses” are simply out of touch with reality.positive

In his book, “To Sell is Human”, Dan Pink quotes research conducted by Barbara Frederickson of The University of North Carolina as to what is the right balance between positivity and negativity is in order to be most effective. The results suggest, for optimum performance, there should be a 3:1 ratio of positive to negative emotions. You can do the test yourself at This is essentially saying that one needs to be positive most of the time but that some degree of negativity is appropriate. It might be akin to bringing positivity to what you do, but in a grounded way (e.g. challenge appropriately). This has tremendous implications to teachers, parents, leaders and indeed coaches.

In coaching, the objective is to facilitate a process that leads a client ultimately to where they want to be – a better place or outcome. Most coaches feel that by being positive there is a contagion associated with this that is good for the client; this is true and who’d want to be coached by Debbie Downer? Additionally, by having this appropriate blend of positivity, it can help create engagement, motivation and creativity in the process. It also builds confidence and likeability, on the part of the client, in the coach’s abilities. At the same time, there is accountability, which is challenging and sometime uncomfortable for a client; but its helps to get things done. These are key ingredients for success.

Most good coaches already have this, its part of their DNA and, most likely it’s why they became coaches in the first place. But for those who might struggle in this department, take the test and consciously begin to look more at the opportunities to succeed rather than all the challenges impeding you. Is your glass half full or half empty?

Managing Division

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If we go back to the beginning of time, survival was key to existence.  A significant contributor to this was safety in numbers and so people watched out for each other, thereby creating an additional blanket of security.  When we fast forward to today there is still a hugely significant group mentality that can, in truth, perpetuate both good and evil.Division

We all understand the importance of groups and their potential value which Aristotle describes as “the whole being greater than the sum of its parts”.  But a bigger question might be, what makes certain groups join forces and then equally do battle against others?  This is playing out at all levels from the playground, to the workplace and, without doubt, to national politics.  Seemingly this is what human beings do.

George Halvorson in a Harvard Business Review article contended that, “21st century leadership is a matter of endowing groups of individuals with a satisfying sense of us and channeling their collective energy toward noble ends.” The challenge with creating an “us” is that it naturally gives rise to the existence of a “them” which to Halvorson claims “can lead to wonderful or terrible effects”. The question therefore is how does one amplify the positive (US) and minimize the negative (THEM)?

Perhaps the answer lies, if one was to consider a business, in having high level mission, values and goals that creates an over-arching “US”.  Then within this there will be multiple groups (US and THEM) that will inevitably pursue a local agenda that might create some divisiveness.  However, if it is still consistent with the agenda of over-arching “US”, a healthy US and THEM will exist.  This is actually a good situation to have as it perpetuates innovation (creativity), understanding (empathy) and accountability (results).

US and THEM certainly has a negative connotation but if it can be very effective if channeled in an appropriate manner.  The key is encouraging a healthy local “US” and “THEM” among those who are already part of the more broad and united “US”.

Emotional Intelligence and the Bachelor

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Ok, so I am going to make a radical admission – I have been watching this season’s Bachelor on TV and let’s just say it’s quality time spent with my wife. So, when to my pleasant surprise, I heard how Corinne was being accused of lacking in Emotional Intelligence (EI) by fellow competitor the bachelorTaylor, I thought some might be interested in truly understanding what this form of intelligence is really all about.

According to Genos International, Emotional Intelligence involves a set of skills that define how effectively you perceive, understand, reason with, and manage your own and others’ emotions. Some of the keys skills are:

1. Self Awareness

How you show up in terms of your emotions / behavior forms a huge part of how other people perceive (and feel about) you. The perception of you by others is their reality and first impressions can be lasting. You may not care and that’s ok. But if you do care, such as with family, friends and co-workers, then being tuned into your behavior and its effect on others, can serve you very well.

2. Awareness of Others

In parallel with the above, being equally mindful and sensitive to the emotions of other people can really help you connect with them. By listening better and being able to tap into their emotional cues, you can build a better rapport and be genuinely empathetic; consequently, people will be drawn to you.

3. Emotional Decision Making

Many might argue that we justify based on facts, but make decisions on emotions; think of buying a car. By taking the time to consider, not only the data/facts, but how those (including yourself) might be impacted emotionally by a decision you make, could ultimately lead to making better choices.

4. Self Management

This is the classic where something is upsetting, and do you react impulsively (typically followed by regret), or do you respond in a controlled manner and achieve the desired outcome? Taking time to consider (looking before you leap) is about taking control of the choices you make, in reasonable and responsible manner.

Emotionally intelligent behavior can be summed up as doing/saying the appropriate thing, with the appropriate person, at the appropriate time. In the case of Corrine and Taylor, this just never happened and consequently resulted in what was plain to be seen right up to the end; they couldn’t even look at each other. Everybody thought it was funny (and let’s not forget it was reality TV) but based on what we saw, who would want to spend time with either person?

Human Resources for the Future

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When most non-Human Resources (HR) people think about this function, it’s typically not with a feeling of endearment. If you go back a number of years when it was more commonly known as the Personnel Department, the perception was even worse. However, in successful organizations today, the Human Resources function is redefining its role and, in many cases, being greeted with open arms and sought after. What has happened to cause this shift?human-resources-pic

In truth, the modern HR function is adopting a much more “proactive developmental” role, versus the traditional “reactive remedial”. The latter was very much associated with problem employees, policing the rules and administering policies that really didn’t add any value. However, today HR is truly stepping up and is gaining a place at the table purely on the merits of providing value added systems and support to the organization.

A key contributor is that the HR function is now the facilitator of performance growth or Organizational Development (OD). The emphasis is on assessing the individual relative to the job requirement and ensuring they have the skills / knowledge and, most importantly, the support to bring about significant performance improvements. There is ongoing monitoring of this rather than the traditional Annual Review that everybody hated and, quite frankly, did very little to improve performance.

The modern HR professional also has a new set of knowledge and skills. They are now utilizing the methodologies of Coaching and this is building credibility and sustainability into the professional development mentioned above. It is also modeling a set of behaviors that are essential to leadership. This is about being able to have the impactful conversations that get to the root causes in an empowering way and that ultimately leads to positive motivation and sustainable results.

Many organizations claim their greatest asset is their people but are not quite sure how to go about this. The reality is that people drive an enterprise; they are both the engine and the fuel. We are also dealing with a new more challenging type of people through the influences of technology and generational issues. A progressive and fully functioning HR function is now essential to serve the organization’s evolving needs.

Why Mistakes are Good

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James Joyce once wrote, “A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery”; he was speaking about William Shakespeare. Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. What does all this mean? Are mistakes simply an essential part of how we develop, both personally and professionally? In fact, one could argue that most mistakes are positive! Mistakes try again

As human beings, despite our best intentions, we make “mistakes” all the time. As Peter Buffet in his book “Life Is What You Make Of It”, he points that we makes mistakes when impatient and indecisive, with foolish acts and foolish failures to act, when overly ambitious and not ambitious enough. There is no prescription for this and each situation is unique to every individual. Yes, we can learn from others, but you will never know exactly what works for you unless you try it.

Obviously, a certain amount of caution can be exercised, but doing nothing can also be considered a mistake; a Catch 22 if you will! This applies to every single aspect of your life whether it has to do with family, career, health, business, money, relationships, etc. So what might be some options to better manage these potential “mistakes”?

1. Do some analysis – assess the “pros and cons” to gain a deeper insight of what might be involved.
2. Speak to others – identify those you know, like or trust who might have some experience and are prepared to offer their advice.
3. Hire a coach – seek out an objective, professional confidante who will challenge, but also support you along the way.
4. Be courageous and just do it – maybe walk before your run and you can always adjust your setting along the way.

All of this revolves around being an proactive player in your life and being less concerned about the judgments of others. Perhaps there are no mistakes!

The New Year and No Regrets

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I was recently asked by my own coach to identify my 100 Desires; anything I would like to do, to be, to taste, to go, to have or to experience. Whatever came to mind was written down with little or no judgment. Interestingly, the exercise turned out to be much more difficult than I thought it would be. The first 30 or so were easy, but then it got steadily more difficult and by 45, I was done. I put it aside for a few days and came back to it and added another 5. The more I reflected on this exercise, the more I thought there was a catch or perhaps I was missing something.
happy team
So, I decided to view this from the perspective of what would the people who I care most about say. I thought of my wife, my kids, my coach and some of my closest friends and before I know it the ideas were flowing again; it felt so good. Interestingly I found that this is pretty much a reflection of our personal and professional lives. Initially getting things done is easy, and then progressively becomes more difficult, until eventually we often give up. However, if you think of other people, you very often find a new lease of life and the creative process kicks in and you advance. Then finally your effort pays off and great things happen.

So, as we embrace the beckoning of a New Year, give this exercise a try. It may not be easy, but bear in mind that everything we set our minds to do is possible but perhaps takes time, money, creativity, and above all perseverance. Some might say where there’s a will, there’s a way and, by also considering what others might hope for you, it can be just the added impetus you needed. Start to live a life of “no regrets”, that’s filled with a sense of purpose and service, and you’d be pleasantly surprised how fulfilled and happier you can be.

Receiving Feedback

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Recieving FeedbackFor many the thoughts of receiving feedback can be daunting, yet for others it’s seen as a wonderful opportunity. Many perhaps reading this piece, would most likely put themselves in the former category because, after all, it is very judgmental and can point to shortcomings. In response to that, yes this is true but the key to feedback (and its effectiveness) is to have the receiver take control of the process and use the information to their benefit. After all, if you choose to feel judged or insecure about feedback, you are probably feeling the same way about other things in your life.

So how can we reframe this so that the recipients of feedback actually take charge. The key is to hone in on its potential benefits and Stone and Heen, in their HBS article “Thanks for the Feedback”, point to three key positives.

  • Take charge of your Life Long Learning – see this feedback as a blessing and a real opportunity for you to acquire new skills and information, that ultimately allow you to grow.
  • Improve Your relationships – if you can take feedback positively, people will see you as being open and what somebody says actually matters. This can only serve to improve how you interact with everybody.
  • Reduce Stress and Anxiety – sometimes feedback can be tough, but if you can build up the resilience to accept as just that, and not personal, it can make you feel a lot more composed and relaxed.

In general, getting feedback can be very helpful. What is important to optimizing this is to ensure that both the provider and receiver seize the opportunity for what it is truly intended. So notwithstanding what was presented above, there is also an obligation to the feedback provider to do so in an appropriate manner. Some of the keys to this are:

Honesty – be candid in your feedback
Timing – don’t wait for something to go wrong to speak up
Frequency – do it often and let it become normal
De-personalize – be strong on the issue and kind with the person

When all is said and done, “true feedback” is an opportunity for somebody to improve. If that can be instilled as the pure purpose both for the provider and receiver, and become a seamless process that just happens as a natural course of events. However, if you are one of those who struggles with being that recipient, remember this is very much about how you choose to view it, so take control and get the benefit!

Handling a Difficult Boss

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Quite often, when dealing with a difficult boss, the tendency is to blame him or her. However, in any relationship there are at least two people involved and therefore with that comes an equal responsibility. But, how you might ask, can you influence the behavior when he/she are in control? Yes, they may be able to pull rank on you in terms of decisions, but there are things within your control that you can do about it.Boss Giving Direction

  • Walk in their shoes – this is often regarded as empathy and when we take time and truly look at people’s behavior from their perspective, it might help to understand better why they show up as they do. It may not be excusable, but if it goes somewhere toward providing a justification, that can be a major first step in terms of how you process what is actually happening. For example, if you feel you are being ignored, but then realize that your boss is under extreme pressures (that could be work based or even personal), then you are more inclined to understand and help explain what might be happening as a result.
  • It’s not always about you – bosses have multiple agendas and are dealing with complex issues all the time. They can be easily distracted or side tracked which can mean less time for you. But you are not the problem (though you might perceive it that way); it’s all these other things they are dealing with and therefore try to avoid taking things personally.
  • Seek Advice from Others – perhaps what you are doing might be pressing your boss’s buttons (i.e. his personal dislikes). For example, if he/she values somebody who is direct and to the point and you have a habit of being long winded in your responses, he/she might avoid you unless it’s something critical. Your peers might be able to provide a ‘heads up” in terms of how best to interact with your boss, that you could work on adapting to.
  • Speak with your boss – at the appropriate moment discuss with your boss how you might make some improvements, as distinct from fixing shortcomings. This could happen in a casual setting (e.g. while traveling) or you could ask for some time to formally sit down. The key is to avoid any defensiveness and make it about positives and opportunities.

So, if you are feeling a little like this and somewhat helpless, take control and do something about it. Most bosses and even the most difficult ones, are inherently good people. They are human as well and have their own challenges, so that if you can find a way to make their lives that bit easier, it’s pretty well guaranteed that this will be reciprocated. In the end of the day, you always reserve the final option, and that is to find another job. Either way, you are the person in control.