Archive for March, 2012

Bend Without Breaking: 3 Tips for When You’re Feeling the Pressure

It’s very cold and windy today here in New England.

We’re experiencing a week of March weather, the real kind this time (as opposed to last week when it hit the mid-80s and folks flocked to Hampton Beach to cool off). It’s cold and the budding trees are feeling the shock of hard frost again. This year March has it backwards, perversely deciding to come in like a lamb and go out like a lion.

As I work in my home office, I can feel the house brace itself against the force of the wind, the creaking windows sounding like chattering teeth. The trees surrounding the house sway and bend dramatically, and I’m hoping the limbs won’t snap and once more litter the yard with broken branches. But none of them do; they whip around at the wind’s direction but then pop right back up again. It’s one of Nature’s games, this pressure countered by resiliency.

The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines resilience as:

  • able to recoil or spring back into shape after bending, stretching, or being compressed.
  • able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.

This got me thinking about us humans. Much has been researched, written and taught about resiliency – Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence, The Three Principles, and Bounce Theory to name three examples. It’s all good stuff, but can sometimes overwhelm someone like me, who likes things simple.

Back to the trees. As I watch them sway, bend and snap back to their natural positions, I think about my experience with pressure and my need for simplicity, and realize that there are three easy tips that work for me when I’m faced with life’s headwinds:

  1. Go with the flow. Don’t fight it. You will always experience both windy days and calm days. Deepen your awareness about that, find space and time to breathe and rest in that assurance. It’s often tiring and counterproductive to work against some (most!) pressures.
  2. Bend with it. Like the trees outside my window, bend with it and notice what that’s like. You may discover new ways to look at the situation if you ride the wind. It may take you to a place of fresh, creative thinking that you never imagined.
  3. Find and accept shelter. Seek out a trusted companion who can provide you with care and support as you work through the pressure. I noticed that the trees that are protected by a circle of other trees are also protected from the force of the wind. Find your inner circle of support.

We have a saying here in New England: If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes. I find the same is often true of the “weather” I’m feeling inside—the pressure changes, even—sometimes—the storms. I follow my three tips and wait for things to change. And they always do.

What do you rely on when the pressure changes for you?


3 Ways to Improve Employee Engagement Right Now!

[To our regular readers: Today’s blog is a guest post by Michael Charney, the other half of Charney Coaching & Consulting. We encourage you to comment below.]

Here’s the bad news: the job market is improving.

This morning’s job numbers show that new applications for unemployment benefits have dropped to a four-year low, while last week’s jobs report showed a net increase of 227,000 jobs.  Sherry Leginski of CareerPlace (as reported in the New York Times) said that “we’ve seen a lot less Eeyore,” referring to the hapless sad-sack from the Winnie-the-Pooh books, suggesting instead that people are “turning a little bit more Tigger.”

So why is this bad news? Well, it’s not. Not really. But as employers, leaders and HR professionals we need to be aware that the people who work in our organizations will soon have more opportunities for advancement and, if they’re not happy where they are, if they’re not fully engaged, they may choose to go elsewhere.

Employee engagement once again takes center stage, and here are three things you can do right now to engage your employees:

  1. Have Honest Conversations. This sounds simple, but too often we’ve seen leaders err on the side of sharing too little information with their teams rather than too much. Leadership Development Consultant Kristi Hedges recently blogged about a related topic, saying that “authenticity is paramount and palpable.” Engaged employees want to work for leaders who are self-aware, sharing, and trusting. That starts with openness.
  2. Encourage Risk Taking. David Packard, American philanthropist and a founding half of Hewlett-Packard, said this: “Take risks. Ask big questions. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; if you don’t make mistakes, you’re not reaching far enough.”  How often do we, as leaders, encourage rather than discourage risk taking? Engaged employees want to take chances, want to try new things. Sure, they’ll fall down, and that’s when it’s a leader’s job to help them up. So let them take chances; let them reach “far enough.”
  3. Give Trust. Too often in our culture we talk of having to earn trust, as if trust is some currency that can be passed from hand to hand. In our view, trust is something to give, not to earn, and one way to engage effectively with your employees is simply to assume trust.  As often as not, your lack of trust may be merely self-fulfilling. Try it the other way, giving trust rather than forcing it to be earned. You’ll be amazed at how often people will live up to your expectations—and will trust you all the more for trusting them.

“Engage” is one of those buzzwords; we’re all supposed to take it seriously and we know it. But many, we believe, forget that the word has myriad meanings. On the one hand it means to “occupy the attention or efforts of.” If that’s the definition we want to use—if we think that employee engagement is merely about occupying the attention and efforts of our team members—then we will fail. However, if we lean to another meaning—“to pledge one’s word; to assume an obligation”—then we can truly engage with our employees in meaningful ways, and they’ll do the same with us.

What are your thoughts? How have you succeeded in providing instant employee engagement? Please share your ideas for others to read by adding to the comments below, and thank you.

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You Just Never Know…

I recently visited my brother, Jeff, to celebrate his birthday, and I chose to stay at a charming Bed & Breakfast near his home in the Stockade section of Schenectady. Normally when I visit, I drive up in time for an early supper, spend the evening catching up with him, and then meet him for breakfast the next morning before sliding behind the wheel for the return four-hour drive.

On this occasion, since my lodging included breakfast, I asked the Innkeeper if my brother could join us for the meal. She graciously invited him; I thanked her and I said I’d let her know that evening whether or not we’d be there. (I mentioned that I would need to check with my brother as he might have planned something else.)

When I asked about bringing my brother, I had some reservations. My brother is not a “morning person.” He wakes up slowly, can be a bit picky about the quality of his coffee, and generally avoids chatting before at least three such cups have worked their way into his system. He also prefers his social settings with people he knows; the “family-like” setting in the B&B’s dining room might not be what he would feel like doing. We couldn’t guarantee who would be joining us at the table—what if we sat there with nothing to talk about?—and he could end up wishing that we were digging into an omelet at the local diner instead.

To my delight, my brother agreed to have breakfast at the B&B.

We sat at a table set for four and started drinking our coffee, waiting for the other couple to join us. In a few minutes, Jim and Cynthia arrived, sat down, and poured coffee for themselves from the communal carafe.

Here’s where it began to get interesting. My brother opened up the conversation (surprising in and of itself) by asking the couple what brought them to the area. Jim replied that they had been coming frequently for over a month in order to be with their 24-year-old son who was in rehabilitation for a head injury sustained in a recent snowboarding accident. They named the rehab facility and described the slow and painful process their son was undertaking, all to get him to a point where he would have enough strength and mobility to go home and be with his family.

What made this interesting—and odd—is that my brother had spent six months in that very same facility.  You see, my brother had sustained a brain injury twelve years earlier: he just woke up one morning unable to move, talk, or swallow, the result of an arteriorvenous malformation (or AVM, a tangled web of blood vessels in the brain) that had suddenly burst. He was taken to the same hospital and then to the same rehabilitation facility, underwent the same kind of therapy and worked through the same painful recovery process that Jim and Cynthia’s son was experiencing.

It turned out that our breakfast was an opportunity for my brother to share his story—and to provide encouragement and hope to the couple sitting across from us. They were fully aware of the severity of their son’s condition and my brother didn’t try to sugar-coat what he went through, but the fact that their conversation centered on a shared experience was truly a blessing, a help and support. It was one of those moments that makes one stop and realize that there was a reason that we were all there at the breakfast table that very morning; the (sacred) space that contained our conversation and connection was one that held special serendipitous timing.

We never really know what’s going on with the people around us and often, in the rush (and self-orientation) of the moment, we make assumptions about how an experience will be or how a conversation will go. Then, suddenly (and often beautifully) it takes a turn in a direction that we didn’t expect.

I know that I walked away from this experience with a deeper appreciation for being curious about what others may be experiencing and where they are in their life’s journey. As leaders, each day, let’s be intentionally curious and interested in those around us. We never really know unless we strike up the conversation.

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