by anne lueneburger
The seductive allure of extraordinary returns, be it in the form of status, money or fame, is too strong for many of us to resist. The “Ponzi scheme of perfectionism” demands ever greater circles of “more” until the nagging difference between what is and what should be has metastasized throughout our lives. And, as with any Ponzi scheme, sooner or later the drive for perfection does not weather the test of reality and collapses…
If your drive for perfectionism is causing you distress and costing you mastery, check out our most recent publication “Nobody’s Perfect” (btw, a recovering perfectionist myself, I had to laugh out loud when I sensed my frustration upon discovering a few typos that had slipped into the text as a result of the editor’s work. Overcoming perfectionism is a work in progress…):
And in this spirit, our wishes for the new year are to…
- embrace the thought of “ENOUGH” and focus on our strengths to be on top of our game,
- make room for “NARCISSISM” and re-charge our batteries on a regular basis,
- experiment with “FAILURE” and muster the courage to go for what we want,
- be in the “FLOW” and welcome serendipity,
- and put “PEOPLE FIRST”, prioritizing the “who” before the “what”.
Other people matter. And so do you. Make 2014 count.
by anne lueneburger
A member of the senior management team in a thriving boutique hedge fund, Coleman was sitting across from me in one of the yellow beanbags that populate the firm’s meeting rooms. “Our people are very smart and driven. As we are growing in size, this place is becoming more political, and competitive behaviors are starting to edge out our collaborative founder spirit,” he said.
Coleman is a visionary with excellent presentation skills, and his firm had engaged me as his coach to advance his influence with internal stakeholders. Over the past year, he had ruffled feathers by pushing back too hard or had lost ground by instinctively falling back into his über-accommodating negotiation style. Not surprisingly, Coleman had found it to be nearly impossible to change based on willpower alone. Indeed, standing on their own, personal resolutions (just think New Year’s) carry a mere 8 percent chance of success!
Here are seven steps that will set you up to win:
#1: Commit yourself.
As Einstein said, nothing happens until something moves. Any form of public commitment to your change goal increases your chances of success by a factor of 10. One of our clients literally put her flat on the market to shake out of her inertia and to apply for positions in geographical areas she was interested in. If you want to get out of a comfort zone that has long lost its appeal, what is the first domino you need to kick over so that the rest can follow?
#2: Make it inspiring.
We know from fMRI studies that our brains experience change (even if positive) as being as painful as breaking bones. Words such as “I should…” or “I have to…” are red flags for motivation. Only one out of every seven cardiac patients, even if faced by death, is able to follow doctor’s orders and start a healthy lifestyle. If we cannot connect needed change to who we aspire to be, we are doomed to fail.
It is the idea of realizing a dream that makes change inspiring. We often ask our clients to go through a Blue Sky Visioning exercise to define what kind of a leader they aspire to be. We also use Vision Boards (a collage of photos, pictures and words) to help clients conceptualize their “ideal life”. These exercises inform what specific action items need to follow. In this spirit: what would you like to start doing (rather what do you need to stop doing)?
#3: Focus on one or two behaviors at a time.
We all recognize this feeling of being overwhelmed. Did you know that the average senior executive engages in 139 distinct tasks every week? Each one of these tasks is made up of many smaller choices, and 50 percent of these choices are made in nine minutes or less. To focus energy where it matters, Steve Jobs simplified and decided to wear a black turtleneck and jeans every day. Less is more.
Based on the research of psychologist Herbert Simon, to optimize impact we need to be “satisficers.” Different from maximizers who consider all the alternatives possible, satisficers use criteria and standards to choose and don’t worry about the possibility that there might be something better. What are the one or two behavioral changes that will get you closer to reaching your goal?
#4: Stretch yourself step by step.
In addition to limiting the number of behavioral changes we take on, we need to be mindful about the depth of behavior change. As you begin to practice a new behavior, think smaller than small. Start by taking tiny baby steps that take almost no effort and little time. As you develop confidence that you are moving in the right direction, you can create bolder experiments to further push you out of your comfort zone.
A good way to pace yourself is to ask the following questions:
- On a scale of 1 to 10, where are you today when it comes to acting in a desired way? (Let’s assume you come in at a 3).
- Where would you like to be in an ideal world? (Say an 8).
- Now if you were to move the needle up a notch or two (to get you to a level 4 or a 5), what specifically would that look like?
- What are some of the things you can take on to get you there?
#5: Be specific.
When we use the abstract form of paying with a credit card, we spend an average of 15-30 percent more than when we use cash. If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t count. It is not enough to state “I want to become a better listener.” Make it explicit: “Over the course of the next three months, I will aim for a 70/30 ratio of listening versus speaking, and I will ask others to hold me to it. During each of my meetings I will ask at least one open-ended question that begins with ‘what’, ‘how,’ or ‘when’. I will keep a daily log to keep track of my successes and to learn from my failures.” Looking for metrics will keep you honest and allow you to celebrate milestones.
#6: Plan for resistance.
When Michael Phelps had a goggle malfunction during the Beijing Olympics, he still swam to a world record. How? Phelps credits his coach who had been creative in preparing the Olympian for the element of surprise, including training in pitch darkness. An integral part of successful change involves planning for rough patches. One of my clients is fond of using a “Failure Mode & Effect Analysis”, which catalogs not only what might go wrong, but also develops responses according to both the likelihood of occurrence and the impact each scenario would have.
If you are training to be an Olympic swimmer, a goggle malfunction might not be frequent, but it could be detrimental if you don’t have a strategy for dealing with it. What will most likely cause you to fall off track? What tactics have you used successfully in the past to overcome such obstacles? And what will help you remember to practice new behavior? Layer some conscious reminders into your life via smartphones, computers or sticky notes.
And as you are moving along, don’t forget to celebrate. Our clients journal on what went well; they may give themselves a silent “Way to go!” or share their wins with others. Associating positive feedback with change glues these new habits into our brain.
#7: Have others at your side.
In a study of 1,000 people who were asked to gauge the likelihood of a famous person going to heaven, Mother Theresa came in highest at 79 percent (Bill Clinton got a 52 percent chance…). The only group ranked higher were the respondents themselves who rated their chance at 87 percent. And the more senior we are professionally (Hello, CEOs!), the more likely we are to fall prey to an inflated self-image: we speak to our own reasoning and ignore good advice.
Make no mistake: you are the one and only CEO of your life. However, most successful change involves having a solid sounding board to back you up. Gather around you experienced, informed advisers who both support and challenge you. A strong sounding board is interested in your story, they ask courageous questions, listen carefully and share insights you can respect. Who are the people with whom you will share your change goal, and how do you want them to hold you accountable?
And how long until I will see the change take root?
…this is typically what our clients will ask us. Well, it depends. The more straightforward the change and the more motivated you are to invest in the game plan, the shorter the time to reach your goal. Assuming you practice 30 minutes a week, it will take you about three months to create a new habit.
You will know that you have arrived the moment you no longer need to invest deliberate energy into a new behavior and when the act of not doing it feels weird!
 Journal of Clinical Psychology, (December 13th, 2012).
 Smith, E. E., (2011, March 28th). Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/lifestyle/content/healthday/651291.html.
 Sheena I., (2012). How to make choosing easier. Ted Talk.
 Duhigg, Ch. (2012). The Power of Habit. New York, NY: Random House.
 Gino, F., (2013). Sidetracked: Why our decisions get derailed and how we can stick to the plan. Boston, MA.: Harvard Business School Publishing.
 Kegan, R. and Lahey, L.L. (2009). Immunity to change. Boston, MA.: Harvard Business School Publishing.
by jennifer bezoza
A great manager does many things well, including offering her people the right type of feedback to encourage, stretch and/or expand their thinking when they need it most. Despite the common perception that positive feedback is the best motivator, research discussed in an HBR blog focuses on how both positive and negative feedback can be effective for motivating and enhancing performance, depending on the individual and her level of proficiency in a job. The research, by Stacey Finkelstein (Columbia University) and Ayelet Fishbach (University of Chicago), dissects the function of negative and positive feedback and also when and with whom it will work best.
Positive feedback, the research shows, increases peoples’ commitment to their work, by enhancing confidence. In contrast, negative feedback provides valuable information on how to improve. For individuals who are new in a job and less confident, positive feedback is likely to help one remain positive and comfortable in facing a new set of challenges. For the seasoned expert, negative or constructive feedback is more likely to give one unexpected insight on how to make incremental improvements, and with a track record of success, one is less likely to be discouraged or offended.
For one of my executive coaching clients, regular delivery of feedback to employees—particularly constructive feedback—has not been something that has come naturally, even as his team and responsibilities have continued to grow in size and scope over the years. As a personal development strategy, this leader decided he wanted to incorporate a “feedback model” into regular one-on-ones with employees.
As we spoke recently, a month after setting about this new practice, I heard my client being critical of his ability to implement the feedback model consistently. As we dug deeper, however, it became apparent that just by adding the topic of “feedback” to his agendas, he was becoming more observant of his employees in both the big and the small ways; while he may not have been executing against the feedback model in the way he envisioned, he was communicating more frequently with his team about what was and was not working, and he also was tuning into each individuals’ behaviors and results in a more nuanced way.
This also made him more reflective about the quality and quantity of feedback he was giving to each of his employees. He noticed, for example, that he was able to give much more concrete feedback in domains where he had worked previously and to his credit, that he was spending more time with employees who were newer in their roles and dealing with detailed processes and systems that were being challenged by expedient growth in the organization.
For employees who were more experienced and high performing in their roles in functions less familiar to the leader, however, he was challenged as to how to offer value for his direct reports. Should he gain more knowledge in this domain where he had not worked previously to offer that necessary constructive feedback? Should he bring in outside experts who can help them stretch and further refine their craft? Or should he assume the role of advisor and coach who asks forwarding questions and helps his star performer reflect on the bigger picture without judgment?
All of these are potential directions for this manager, and ones he is considering, all because he has put employee feedback on his list of reoccurring agenda items.
In closing, this experience was a good reminder that a model is purely that – it’s a template of what can work, not a prescribed approach. Relationships and conversations are just too complicated to be limited by formulas. On the flip side, the story demonstrates how small shifts in awareness and prioritization can have profound positive results for a leader, team and the organization.
by anne lueneburger
This shot isn’t from an art gallery. This photo was taken in Shanghai where I was on a coaching mandate this spring. I’m looking at graffiti on a wall just outside the ‘slum’ area at Xiaonanmen station. A minute ago I had been immersed in a world of dense housing with people cooking on gas stoves on the street and scrawny chickens darting across old rubble and waste. A turn around a corner and I was in a rich urban development populated by lofts and artificial beaches, and other hallmarks of a modern metropolis. The contrast of poverty and privilege was stark. The angry expression on this man’s face seemed to represent the tension that often exists between worlds that are so close and so yet so far apart.
Growing up, conflict in my family was characterized by what the French call “soup au lait” (if you have ever heated up milk on a stove, you will know that it can boil over quickly, but then recede just as rapidly the moment you remove the pot from its heat source). Arguments quickly got hot and loud, only to cool off the next moment and certainly be forgotten the following day. Without exception, I found these exchanges stressful. The power imbalance between parent and child often translated into positions of being in the “right” and “wrong” and gave me a sense of helplessness when it came to the final decision. Most frustrating was that there were rarely any takeaways that would result from these arguments. Life would go on and it was “business as usual” – it all seemed to be a waste of time. No surprise then that I entered adulthood with a less than positive attitude when it came to conflict, and a rather unrefined tool kit that was little use in helping me to navigate tension effectively.
Over two decades have passed since then and today I want to share some hard won lessons, be it through formal training or the classroom we call “life”, on how we can create win-win outcomes in conflict situations.
Lesson 1: Stop thinking in positions.
I found myself smiling as I looked at the angry man. Our perception of conflict influences how we take our first step forward. I am no longer captive to my childhood paradigm when it comes to conflict. While some of us are born gifted mediators, navigating conflict can be learned. From what I know today, conflict is neither good nor bad. It is also not about winners and losers.
con·flict \kän-flikt\ : competitive or opposing action of incompatibles
ne·go·ti·a·tion \ni-ˌgō-shē-ˈā-shən : to confer with another or others in order to come to terms or reach an agreement
To shift beyond a “fixed pie” mentality we need to explore how we can expand the pie and negotiate. While it may not be feasible to completely obtain our position, it is often possible to satisfy our interests.
In this light, consider what would be acceptable outcomes for you? (And suspend your judgment for a moment and rank them in order of preference…) Also, have a BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement) in place. What is your best course of action, should you and the other party not come to an agreement?
Lesson 2: Make it a choice.
“Knowing when to fight is just as important as knowing how.”
- Terry Goodkind
While some may argue that avoiding any conflict is a lost opportunity, a good starting point is to gauge whether we really care or need to engage with the other party. Unless you thrive on the adrenaline rush that comes with conflict, the time and energy involved in negotiation and the effects of this, also needs to be weighed against the benefits. Here are the two questions to answer:
- How important is this project to me?
- How much do I value this relationship?
Sometimes it is simply better to walk away.
Lesson 3: Keep your shades clear.
Negotiations are often full of the unexpected and the complex. If you are not being clear about your own values, beliefs, and emotional triggers, then the chances are your shades are dirty. If we are not checking whether our assumptions are true then we risk stumbling in the dark when it comes to influencing others.
As you are getting ready to enter a specific negotiation, here are three questions to clarify:
>What outcome am I looking to achieve?
>What are some of my main concerns, going in?
>What needs am I ultimately trying to meet?
Also take a moment to consider a time when you handled conflict well. Which of your strengths were particularly useful? Now think of a time when you did not manage conflict constructively. What were key emotional triggers that tend to trip you up in general? (Keep a list!) What needs are associated with these?
I often ask my coaching clients to sit the Intercultural Conflict Style Inventory to clarify their default negotiation style and to explore the characteristics of alternative styles they might find useful, depending on the context.
Lesson 4: Rehearse.
You may remember the Hans Christian Andersen parable, The Emperor’s New Clothes, where the emperor’s weavers claimed a new fabric was invisible to all who were “hopelessly stupid.” No one, not even his advisors, dared tell the Emperor that he was naked. One day, as the Emperor strolled through the village, one boy in the crowd shouted that the Emperor wore nothing.
Who in your crowd is willing to shout out and hold you accountable? For tough negotiations, get an objective perspective from someone you trust and who gives candid feedback. Consider roleplaying to gauge how good your influencing skills really are.
Lesson 5: Lead with warmth.
Many of my clients, in particular female execs, are reluctant to accommodate during negotiations: “I don’t want to be the doormat” is a frequent pushback I receive as a coach. However, research confirms: leading with warmth as we aspire to influence others facilitates trust as it communicates that we are attentive to their needs. According to Gallup we are five times more likely to follow the lead of someone we trust.
Warmth expresses itself not only in what we say but also in how we say it. Vision is – hands down – our leading sense, taking up half of our brain’s resources. It is not surprising then, that body language steers how other people think and feel about us, and also how we feel about ourselves as there is a feedback loop: try smiling for a couple of minutes and your brain will increase its serotonin production, which is responsible for feelings of happiness.
Suggest a time for your discussion that accommodates the other party’s schedule. Consider using a more welcoming space in or outside the office. A 2010 study by MIT and Yale brain researchers confirms: offer the other party a comfortable chair and a coffee and they will be more flexible in their demands.
Add competence and a projection of strength to the mix and you become a “happy warrior.”
Lesson 6: Listen. Carefully.
Start any negotiation by inquiring about the other party’s perspective first. Rather than delivering your version of the story and risking a defensive reaction, you are getting a general sense as to where they are coming from. Also, they are more likely to listen to you when it’s your turn.
>What is their goal or desired outcome?
>How important is this goal to them?
>What relationships play key roles here?
>What are they most concerned about?
>What are some of the influencing factors we might not be aware of?
>What are their specific needs and what outcomes would address those?
Of course, looking for a place of mutual understanding does not mean you are in agreement with the other person. This is a tough test for your listening skills. Powerful listening means you don’t go into your own head. You fully concentrate on what the other person is saying – as well as to what they are not saying… Observing their body language, facial expression, and tone of voice can give good clues as to what they may care most about.
Lesson 7: Meet them where they are.
Ever heard the saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”? As you are listening, show empathy where appropriate. “I can imagine that this must have been hard/difficult/frustrating…” Dance in the moment, step to their side and let go of trying to control their reaction: you can’t. If you hear common ground, be sure to mention it, “It is clear that this is frustrating for both of us. So, moving forward, what is important to you now?”
Paraphrasing involves restating what was just said using other words. It lets the other party know they have been heard. You validate their concerns. As you summarize milestones, do NOT say “What you are trying to say is…” but rather start with “So if I understand you correctly…”, “In other words, what you are saying is…”, “Let me make sure I got this right…”, or “Do you mean that…?”
Paraphrasing can also serve as an opener to probe for more information: “Can I ask a couple of questions?” Once you have listened to the other person, you have won yourself a hearing to assert your own needs.
Lesson 8: Stay calm…and carry on.
It is particularly tough to manage emotional triggers when time constraints are factored into the equation. In response to requests such as “I need it now!” consider asking “What is important about having it now?” (And if it’s you who puts on the pressure, ask yourself the same question). This might allow you to address an underlying need differently.
Also, if you are someone who needs time to reflect before making a decision, buy additional time. Play back the conversation until now: “To make sure I get what you are saying…” or, “Hold on, let me make sure I get this right, can we back up for a minute and review how we got here….” You may also ask “to enlist third party counsel or check in with the other parties who are involved” prior to making a decision.
If you’re tempted to blow up in the face of antagonism, pause for a moment before you respond: count to three, take a couple of deep breaths. Or take a break, step out into the corridor, go for a walk and remove yourself from the psychological pressure in the room. Imagine it’s five years from now: what do you think you will have learned from this conflict? How will you feel about how you handled it? What advice will the ‘older you’ tell the ‘younger you’ that is experiencing the challenge?
At all times, what helps you control your initial reaction is to keep your eyes on the prize: what is it that you really want as an outcome?
Lesson 9: Brainstorm.
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein
You understand what the other party’s needs are (in addition to your own). You have identified common ground. Now you are ready to develop acceptable solutions. Select those options that will work for both of you. “Reality-test” them, using criteria of fairness and reciprocity, to ensure that needs are met on both sides. Mention their needs first, use the “we” as well as the “and” perspective as you are asserting your own needs:
>“If we move forward with this option, how can we make sure it addresses your need for abc and my need for xyz?”
>“I know this is important to the two of us. You do need abc and I need xyz. What are options that get us there?”
>“What I heard you say is…and from my point of view what I need is…, how can this option meet these criteria?”
If you are in a genuine deadlock, explore openly the costs of no agreement with the other party, holding up the mirror on what is at stake for the two of you. As a last resort you may choose to let the other party know that you have a BATNA: “I have other ideas on how to resolve this, however, my hope is that we resolve this together.” This tactic works best if all alternatives were not accepted. Never to be used as a threat but used as another piece of information.
Lesson 10: Write it up.
Summarizing the main points of an agreement helps avoid future misunderstandings and sets standards of accountability. Sometimes a simple email to all participants can do the job. Be sure to mention how and by when the solution will be implemented as well as any milestones and metrics.
Now go, and have fun “arguing!”
P. S. Some reads you may want to check out:
- Cuddy, A., Kohut, M., and Nelfinger, J. (July-August 2013).“Is it better to be loved or feared?” Harvard Business Review.
- Stone, D., Patton, B., Heen, S. and Fisher, R. (2010). “Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most.” New York, NY: Penguin.
- Kolb, D.M., Williams, J. (2003). “Everyday Negotiation: Navigating the Hidden Agendas in Bargaining.” San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Medina, J.(2008). “Brain rules”
- Ury, W.(1993). “Getting Past No.” New York, NY: Bantam Dell.
by Renita Kalhorn
In the hit TV show Breaking Bad, Gus Fring is a drug lord and one of the most prominent meth distributors in the southwestern United States. At one point, Gus is brought in for questioning by the Drug Enforcement Agency. He doesn’t know why until they start asking him about his connection with the murder of Gale (who they don’t know was his former employee). Watching the scene and knowing Gus is sitting there right under the nose of his enemy is nerve-wracking. And yet you can’t tell from his expression or his response whether he’s surprised, nervous or angry: He is the epitome of calm and collected.
You may not be dealing with angry cartel members or rogue chemistry teachers, but I’m guessing your life provides its own brand of uncertainty and volatility. Whether you’re an executive in a Fortune 500 company dealing with global strategies or a start-up entrepreneur calculating whether you can make next month’s payroll, the key to staying in – and winning — the game is how quickly you recover from the unexpected.
Sports psychologist Don Green says: “The ability to move on – to put a poor judgment, a wrong answer, a weak moment, a physical lapse, behind you instantly – is the thing that makes winners out of the merely talented.”
You can’t change the up-and-down nature of life, but you can change its impact on you. What it takes is mastering your psychology so you’re able to think clearly and take decisive action under pressure.
Let’s start with your current M.O. when things go awry. Do you panic and freeze, blow up at your team, do nothing — but feel nauseous?
Whatever you’re doing, it’s because you’ve trained yourself to react that way. And you’ve been reacting that way so reflexively for so long that you may not even realize there are alternative ways to behave that might serve you better. But once you become aware of what you’re doing, you can train yourself to practice different reactions and attitudes — here’s how:
SKIP THE JUDGMENT. ACCEPT WHAT HAPPENED.
Yes, skip the part where you see what happened as good or bad, fair or unfair, wanted or unwanted. Skip the “I can’t believe it” or “This sucks!” We judge because we think we KNOW what should happen and what’s best for us – it’s normal but not actually necessary or useful.
Okay, you may not be able to skip the judgment entirely. You can, however, train yourself to shorten the time between “what happened” and “accepting what happened.”
ADOPT A STANCE OF “NOT KNOWING.”
Maybe you know this story:
“An old Chinese farmer had a mare. One day, his horse ran away into the mountains. All the neighbors scurried over saying, “This is such bad news. You must be so upset.” The man just said, “We’ll see, it’s too soon to tell.”
A few days later, his horse came back, bringing with her a wild stallion. Once again, all the neighbors came by saying, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!” The man just said, ““It’s too soon to tell.” One day, while the man’s only son was training the stallion, it kicked him and broke his leg. All the neighbors came by saying, “I’m so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.” The man just said, “It’s too soon to tell.”
The country went to war, and every able-bodied young man was drafted to fight. The war was terrible and killed every young man, but the farmer’s son was spared, since his broken leg prevented him from being drafted. All the neighbors came by saying, “Congratulations! This is such good news. You must be so happy!” The old man simply said, “It’s too soon to tell.”
Our lives ebb and flow in just the same way. And yet, we want so much to know how things are going to work out that we try to control circumstances when, in fact, we never even have to decide whether something is to our advantage or not.
As the old man said: “How do you know if this is a blessing or not? Unless you know the whole story, how can you judge? You read only one page of a book. Can you judge the whole book? You read only one word of one phrase. Can you understand the entire phrase?”
As a first step, start to notice the extent you want to pronounce something as good or bad and see if you can train yourself to be okay — just for now — with not knowing.
SHIFT TO SOLUTION MODE FASTER.
Thanks to our evolutionary ancestors, we’re conditioned to look for what went wrong, why something won’t work. And, typically, we spend too much time focused on the problem: justifying why something should or shouldn’t have happened, how it happened, whose fault it was, explaining why it’s not ours.
But as Einstein said, you can’t solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. The longer you focus on a problem, the more you delay relief. An array of potential solutions are waiting for you but you need to shift your consciousness — your focus — to have access to them.
The training is simple (though not easy). Take the hit and ask: “Okay, now what? What’s one thing we can do to improve this situation?”
BE PATIENT AND VIGILANT.
You didn’t train your current behaviors overnight so be patient with yourself — it takes vigilance to change what’s automatic. Practice with less important things – mastering your reaction when you just missed the train or a colleague doesn’t have the information you need. With each instance, you’ll train yourself to master your reactions and develop a calm composure that will give Gus Fring a run for his money.
by renita kalhorn
You know how to eat an elephant, right? One bite at a time.When it comes to elephants, we get it – there’s no way we can eat one all at once. When it comes to our own goals however, we tend toward an all-or-nothing approach.
[Which explains Blue Monday, a theory by psychologist Dr. Cliff Arnall, who came up with a mathematical formula determining that the third Monday of the year is statistically the saddest day of the year.Makes sense: it’s about the three-week point that the zeal for your life-changing “this year will be different” new year’s resolutions starts to fade and the realization of what it’s going to take sinks in.]
Set yourself up for success
For sure, big goals are more compelling. Like Four-Hour Workweek author Tim Ferriss says, “Having an unusually large goal is an adrenaline infusion that provides the endurance to overcome the inevitable trials and tribulations that go along with any goal.”
The best way to get the big win, however, is to start small: modest, consistent progress almost always trumps all-out, dramatic efforts. Starting small sets you up for success [there’s nothing that says you can’t scale up as you acclimate!].
Here are three ways to start small:
Inevitably, all-or-nothing thinking – which, by definition, means going from 0 to 100 — creates inertia. Breaking a big goal up into micro-goals may mean less bragging rights [sorry, Ego!] but it busts through the wall of inertia. Once you start taking small steps, momentum kicks in and it actually becomes easier to keep moving forward than to stop.
At BUD/s training, Navy SEAL candidates are taught to “segment” – rather than thinking about how they’re going to get through the next five days of Hell Week, to focus on the micro-goal of getting to the next meal, the next evolution.
Former SEAL Commander Mark Divine says: “When we set our sights on micro-goals, we achieve micro-wins, which quickly stack up and develop a sense of momentum and “can-do” instead of “can’t – won’t.”
Micro-goals work in a crisis too. Jeff Wise, author of Extreme Fear, says: “If you’re bogged down in a massive project at work, then, don’t let yourself despair at the hugeness of the task. Break it down into pieces small enough that you can do each one in an hour or less, and focus all your attention exclusively on that.”
Anyone who’s intent on mastering a skill may scoff at the value of practicing only five minutes. But Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code, says: “When you practice a little each day, skills don’t erode. In fact, they consolidate. It’s like a bank account earning compound interest: a virtuous spiral where skill accrues quickly.”
This is exactly what my violinist sister found as she was counting down the last three months before returning to her post at the Paris Opera after several years focused on raising her children. By practicing every day – even if only for 15 minutes – she showed up at the first rehearsal feeling confident and in control.
And, finally, for everyone who says they don’t have time to exercise, former Navy SEAL Phil Black and founder of FitDeck, is on a mission to change that with micro-cising. “Basically, he says, “whenever I found myself waiting for someone or something, I started microcising. It didn’t matter what I was wearing, there was no sweating involved, and no exercise took more than 10-20 seconds at a time.”
Check out this example of how he found hidden pockets of time to exercise while the eggs are boiling, a TV commercial is playing and his kids are putting on their soccer cleats.
by anne lueneburger
A few days ago it was a beautiful summer eve in New York. The city was at its best, with blue skies, temperatures in the mid 70s, no humidity, and just a gentle breeze. As a result, it was with some hesitation that I walked up the stairs of Columbia University’s Grace Dodge Hall, a somewhat somber, old red brick building that would fit perfectly onto Hogwarts campus (apologies: my 10-year-old has been sharing all of her Harry Potter stories lately, and some of her preoccupation seems to have rubbed off on her mother).
Fast forward 90 minutes, and I walk back out into the fresh air, feeling inspired. I had just attended a speech by Professor Warner Burke, a guru on organizational change and leadership effectiveness. The message that he delivered with an entertaining Texan twang: Learning agility is the sine qua non when we want to effect change.
Change is hard, even if it involves desired change (for more, see our article “no pain, no gain” here.) No surprise, without the appropriate outlook, approach and support, about two thirds of organizational change efforts fail, and leaders of change are effective only about half of the time.
What then differentiates high performing leaders of change from those that fail? According to extensive research by Burke and his team (and backed up by other high profile studies) it is not what is frequently used in the process of identifying high potentials, factors such as “past performance” and “competence” as well as “other stuff”. The process of changing dynamics can render past experience irrelevant, and it may require few of the skills and competencies that an individual currently possesses. It reminded me of what leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith summarized so well: What got you here won’t get you there.
Now, what about the “other stuff?” Burke went on to explain that “other stuff” is often a selection bias, based on the similarity between individuals. In other words, if your boss feels like you are in many ways similar to her, you are significantly more likely to be considered a high potential. A longitudinal study within AT&T, for example, found that more low potentials were promoted than high potential ones, as long as they worked for the “right bosses”. Not surprisingly, leaders often use the same selection bias of similarity when it comes to building their teams. This helps explain why there are a good number of underperforming teams, as innovation and change is driven by healthy debate and an openness to see the world in a variety of ways.
Successful change agents such as Brian Walker of Hermann Miller, Bill Gates of Microsoft, and Steve Jobs of Apple are role models when it comes to learning agility. According to Burke’s research, in addition to learning agility, the two other key drivers of successful change leadership are emotional intelligence and optimism (which did not come as a surprise to the psychologists and coaches in the room!).
So, what makes for learning agility?
We know that effective learning has both a cognitive and behavioral component. As we struggle to look into what goes on in other people’s heads, the focus of being able to assess learning agility is to look for the following behavioral components:
- Feedback seeking.
- Information gathering.
- Exposing and learning from failure.
- Risk taking.
- Quick study.
- Swift but not hasty decision-making.
If you are like most of us in the audience that day, then you are probably curious to find out what your particular agility score is… While the full research results and an accompanying assessment will not be available until September, here is a questionnaire Burke shared with those of us who are looking for instant knowledge gratification:
|Rate yourself on a scale of “1” [to a very small extent] to “5” [to a very great extent] on what extent do you…|
|1…seek feedback from others about your work performance?|
|2…update your knowledge by collecting information from outside sources?|
|3…discuss with others errors or mistakes you may have made and seek help in understanding what happened?|
|4…put yourself into situations that involve a high degree of ambiguity about the process and/or outcome?|
|5…facilitate learning from and among others?|
|6…collect data to test and try out a new idea about and/or approach to work?|
|7…take time after an event to consider what happened, why it happened that way, and how things should be done moving forward?|
|8…move easily between different ideas and perspectives?|
|9…pick up quickly new information, ideas, and behavior?|
|10…rely on using what has worked for you in the past?|
After you have rated yourself on each question, add up your total score for questions 1 through 9. For question 10, revert your number (i.e. if you rated yourself a “5”, give yourself a “1”, if you rated yourself a “4”, give yourself a “2”, “3” stays the same) and then add this to your total score. Why? Question 10 tests our rigidity factor, aka “we have always done things this way”, which is known to get in the way of agility.
If you score 40 or higher then you may well be on your way to mastery. It’s always good to practice some humility though, as we know that for any self-rating assessment a remarkable 80 percent of us tend to overrate ourselves.
And if you are inspired to grow your change agent muscles (as you know now, seeking feedback is a key component of learning agility!), here is an experiment you may wish to try: Why not have your team score you on the same questionnaire, and compare those results with yours? Now take a closer look at where you think you are compared to your team’s perceptions, and you may find where you could stretch yourself a bit more…