Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How To Find More "You" Time

Stress and it’s ill effects are often in the news, and entire books are written on the topic. Perhaps too much stress is one of the reasons why the US has dropped to number 49 in the world in longevity. In the 1950’s, we were 5th.

The Center for Disease Control reports that 85% of disease has an emotional component to it. Stress is emotional yet it affects our physical bodies in measureable ways: brains shrink and nerve endings (dendrites) disappear from brain neurons. The stress hormone cortisol causes increased fat around organs. Stress weakens our immune response and causes changes in antibodies. There’s more, but I am not a doctor or scientist so it quickly gets too overwhelming for me.

Where are we supposed to find the time to exercise, relax and spend time with our loved ones? How can a leader take the time off that’s essential to reducing stress?

If you are a leader it is vital that you can handle stress, and you may think that you can handle more than most people. That may be true. But what is also true is that if you don’t manage your stress well, your organization will suffer from your poor decisions.

According to Henry L. Thompson, author of The Stress Effect, stress is often the reason for poor leadership performance. High stress compromises the ability to access our emotional intelligence and our cognitive abilities, leading to impaired thinking and behavior choices. Brain scientists such as John Medina tell us that stressed brains can’t learn as well either.

Here are two (just 2!) tips that will help you find the time to do the relaxing things that help manage your stress:

First, make sure you have your priorities straight. General George C. Marshall said “save (your) ammunition for the big fights and avoid a constant drain of little ones.” General Marshall, who as Army Chief of Staff during WWII built up troop numbers from 174,000 to 8 million, regularly rose at 6 am to exercise on horseback – to give him thinking time, he said – and quit for the day at 4 pm. From 4pm to his 9pm bedtime he relaxed with his wife dining, walking and canoeing. Sure, occasionally he worked late, but he knew the value of incorporating sleep, exercise, and recreation into a regular schedule. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of your team members and your projects very well.

By reviewing your projects to ensure they are aligned with your organization’s strategy, mission and values, you will probably be able to scrap a few that aren’t. Enlist the help of your employees to identify and eliminate the draining little tasks that don’t directly support the projects that are priorities. One of the questions you can ask to help identify vital tasks is, "Would our customers be willing to pay for that?"

Second, trust others. Delegate, ask for help, and relax knowing that your team members can take care of things as well as if not better than you can. Keeping information and responsibilities to yourself creates a downward spiral leading to dysfunctional teams. Micromanaging is detrimental to everyone, stressing out you and your subordinates unnecessarily and causing them to feel distrusted. Let go a little, and maybe let up on yourself a little too.

These two tips will help you manage your time better. In Good to Great, Jim Collins says “Most of us lead busy but undisciplined lives. We have ever-expanding 'to do' lists, trying to build momentum by doing, doing, doing—and doing more. And it rarely works. Those who built the good-to-great companies, however, made as much use of 'stop doing' lists as 'to do' lists."

If you prioritize thoughtfully and delegate more, you will have time to regularly schedule exercise and relaxation. In global research from the Center for Creative Leadership, it was found that executives who exercise regularly are rated significantly higher on leadership effectiveness by their bosses, peers and direct reports than those who exercised sporadically or not at all.

So take a tip from General Marshall, who wrote this in a note to a new brigadier general:

“Now I counsel you to make a studied business of relaxing and taking things easy, getting to the office late, taking trips, and making everybody else work like hell. It is pretty hard for a leopard to change his spots, but you must cloak your new rank with a deliberate effort to be quite casual….I woke up at about thirty-three to the fact that I was working myself to death, to my superior’s advantage, and that I was acquiring the reputation of being merely a pick and shovel man. From that time on, I made it a business to avoid, so far as possible, detail work, and to relax as completely as I could manage in a pleasurable fashion….”

It may be hard for you too to “change your spots” but the benefits are far more vast, and the detriments far too serious, for you not to take the time, every day, to relax.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Happy World Statistics Day! Coaching ROI Is Several Hundred Percent

A lot of people I talk to have only a vague idea of what coaching is. They think maybe I am a cross between Lucy and her advice booth from the comic strip Peanuts and an airy-fairy motivational speaker. They don’t realize that there are stringent educational and professional requirements for coaches just as there are for any profession.

I suppose anyone can say they are a coach. However, to be a “legitimate” coach, one should have graduated from a certified coaching program and be credentialed, or in the process of becoming credentialed, by the International Coach Federation. All the coaches I know also have other degrees and experience. That’s what makes them good in their area of coaching, whether it is leadership and career coaching such as I do, or retirement coaching, parenting coaching, wellness coaching, or any of the other many niches out there.

In honor of World Statistics Day – which is today in case you didn’t know, I‘d like to share some statistics about the profession and practice of coaching.

The International Coach Federation is the professional organization for coaches, with over 16,300 members in more than 100 countries. The ICF is the only organization that awards a global credential which is currently held by more than 6,700 coaches worldwide, including me.

In a recent consumer awareness survey commissioned by the ICF, 15,000 participants age 25 and up in 20 countries were surveyed by the International Survey Unit of Price Waterhouse Coopers. According to a press release from the ICF:

The Global Consumer Awareness Study determined common areas in which people are using professional coaching today. More than two-fifths (42.6 percent) of respondents who had experienced coaching chose “optimize individual and/or team performance” as their motivation for being coached. This reason ranked highest followed by “expand professional career opportunities” at 38.8 percent and “improve business management strategies” at 36.1 percent. Other more personal motivations like “increase self-esteem/self-confidence” and “manage work/life balance” rated fourth and fifth to round out the top five motivation areas.

In previous research the ICF found that coaching is also generating a very good return on investment—a median return of seven times the initial investment for businesses—while being used for some of the same motivations mentioned in the latest study.

Companies large and small are optimizing individual and team performance through coaching. Despite the recent global economic climate, of North America reported a 563 percent return on investment from its coaching programs that engage sales teams and managers within the company. Solaglas, a leading UK-based glass replacement and installation company, reported higher customer satisfaction and a return on investment of 490 percent. Company executives believe these gains are small compared to the long-term impact coaching will have.

Coaching is not a mystery. It offers real results. Try it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Do You Have the Courage to Be Candid?

In survey after survey, integrity is always one of the top qualities people say they want in leaders. However, one study has determined there are 185 different behavioral expectations around integrity. I’d like to talk about one of them here, candor – “the state or quality of being frank, open, and sincere in speech or expression. “ (

Communicating with candor can be tricky, no matter who you are talking with. It takes some courage to speak frankly to a boss. Some people have trouble doing it with anyone if it involves bringing up something distasteful.

In a speech at the US Naval Academy last April, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a hall full of midshipmen that vision, perseverance, candor and moral courage are essential qualities for 21st-century leaders. “In addition to speaking hard truths to your superiors,” he said, “as a leader you must create a climate that encourages candor among your subordinates, especially in difficult situations.”

Straight talk, integrity and courage should always be encouraged and rewarded. Wisely, Secretary Gates noted: “In a perfect world that should always happen. Sadly, it does not, and I will not pretend there is not risk. At some point, each of you will surely work for a jackass. We all have. But that does not make taking that stand any less necessary for the sake of our country.”

Or for the sake of your own organization and peace of mind.

I want to make some distinctions about candor. Candor is not forgetting who your audience is. Speaking to the troops, Gates’ use of the word “jackass” was candidly appropriate. But some audiences might be offended or regard the use of coarse language as evidence of coarse behavior – not necessarily behavior connoting integrity.

Candor is not bluntness. It can be blunt, but again, know your audience. Being frank, particularly about negative issues, may require some diplomatic lead-in so that you don’t come across as cold or overly direct.

Candor is not always about something negative. Yes, according to marketing’s ‘Law of Candor’ admitting a negative creates a positive impression in the prospect’s mind. For example, Avis stating they are number two impresses the audience with the company’s honesty. A leader sincerely admitting they were wrong impresses the listeners. See the second video below for an example of a commercial that uses the Law of Candor to the max.

In the first video below we see a former CEO of Philip Morris. What he says may be the truth as he sees it, but does he seem candid to you? He may feel that he is being honest. Nothing he says is necessarily a lie, yet the way he presents the information, without any concern or acknowledgement of the whole truth, leads me to believe that he lacks integrity, even though I can find no lies in his presentation. He doesn’t impress me as being “frank, open or sincere.”

The second video shows a business owner being very candid about his products. He is not dressed in a nice suit, and doesn’t convey a sense of wealth and education. Which video instills more trust? Which leader would you allow to influence you more? Which leader shows more integrity?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Tips for Working with Expedient Colleagues

This week I was honored to have an article published on Introvert Zone about how process-oriented thinkers (who are often, but not always, introverts) can work more effectively with expedient thinkers. Check out the two-part article called "No, They Won't Ask: How to Successfully Work with Expedient Colleagues" for some practical tips that will make your life a little easier.