Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Working with half of a brain

Originally uploaded by vaXzine

"I've got half a mind to tell him off!"  OK, which half would that be? 

That question is not necessarily rhetorical.  Most likely the angry person is operating from the right half of his or her brain, the side that is responsible for emotions, creativity, and intuition.  If this person "follows their gut" and lets loose a stream of creative four-letter word combinations, they are firmly in the sway of the impulsiveness that can come from right-brained thinking.

A left-brain dominant individual might not be as upset.  He or she might step back quite naturally and try to determine the rationale behind the other person's behavior.  Even if the left-brained person's emotions are engaged by the other person's transgression, they are likely to analyze first, and then think through their response before they make it.  They may also weigh the benefits versus the risks of saying anything at all.

One of the most popular examples of the left-brain dominant individual would be the character Mr. Spock from Star Trek.  A Vulcan, Spock couldn't understand anything that wasn't logical.  On the other hand, Captain James Kirk, a far more right-brained, intuitive sort, wound up falling in love with almost any reasonably attractive alien or human that appeared in an episode.  Kirk was ruled by his feelings - or at the very least he went there first.

Check out this optical illusion to do a quick test of your brain dominance:

Right-brained functions
  • strategy
  • creativity
  • emotion
  • arts
  • go from A to C without going through B
  • visual
  • left side of the body
Left-brained functions
  • organizing
  • systems
  • A, then B, then C
  • verbal
  • right side of the body
If you'd like to try the brain teaser another way, look at this one.  White lines were added to demonstrate the patterns that right brains vs. left brains use to determine the direction of the dancer's rotation.

The two sides of your brain are connected - there are individuals who test "double-dominant in brain assessments.  If you have fairly balanced access to your brain hemispheres you might have been able to "see" the dancer rotate in each of the two directions.  In addition, there are structural brain differences between men and women.  Men have more brain cells, but women have more connectors between brain cells.  In general, women navigate back and forth between right- and left-brained mode more rapidly than men do.

Next post, we'll talk about things you can do to engage both sides of your brain.  There's no need to have only half a mind.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Message to working moms - fill your own lamp first

Oil Lamp
Originally uploaded by KNEU Photo
A common denominator among peak performers is the desire to contribute - to be of value - to customers, to the community, to their friends and their families.  Their schedules could make you break out into a sweat just reading them - how many places they have to be and how many things are on their "To Do" list.

How many places are you trying to be, and how many people are you trying to satisfy?  If you're a working mom (no offense guys, but this is true) you speed home from work to jump into your second full-time job cooking, supervising homework, cleaning, feeding the dog and driving to lessons and practices, followed by supervising baths, tooth brushing and bedtime.  If you're lucky you'll have a chance to plop into a chair to read or view a movie before you collapse into bed.  And the next morning it starts again.

All of this caring for others and their needs, although it can be incredibly rewarding, can be exhausting.  Your child steps off the bus in tears and your game face is immediately in place, soothing, encouraging, listening, distracting them from their problems.  The same goes when you and your husband finally have a chance to chat in the aftermath of dinner or during a late-evening glass of wine. 

I received one of the ubiquitous forwarded slideshows in my email a month or so ago with a tag line that really struck home:  "Fill your own lamp first."  This is so obvious and so important, yet sometimes it hides in plain sight.  When you are being a light for someone else in your life, you need reserves of the fuel that burns to produce it.  Where and how are you refilling your lamp?

Perhaps a bubble bath behind a locked bathroom door does it for you.  Maybe you manage to exercise daily to boost your energy and let go of your stressors.  Maybe a solitary activity like gardening or crafting, just because you like to do it, fills your reserves.  Or perhaps you take a class, or go out with your girlfriends to recharge and refresh.

If you are feeling overburdened and overwhelmed, is it because your lamp oil level is low enough that the flame is flickering?  Pushing the flame to burn longer isn't an effective strategy any more than you can coax your car to drive just a mile further when the tank is empty.  You have to fill your lamp FIRST.  Not last, but first.

That's the only way that you will be able to do what it is that you are called to do - to be a light in the world.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

When pessimism is your ally in performance

Originally uploaded by Because Studio.
In the spirit of full disclosure, this post should probably be titled "When TEMPORARY pessimism is your ally in performance."  When you constantly dwell on what can go wrong and expect a bad outcome, you may be more likely to become passive and not take the very action that will improve your situation.  Long-term pessimism can alter your view of your surroundings, causing the small blots on predominantly clean sheets of paper to distract you from the vast space that's there on which you can draw.

The Impact of Chronic Pessimism
Perpetual pessimism is a habit of thought that creates the conditions for exactly the poor results the pessimist expects.  Assuming the worst of other people's motives, for instance, leads to a lack of trust, which leads to enforcement and control behavior.  Then the other person responds in kind, or they follow through according to your expectations:  "If they already think that I'm cheating, why shouldn't I?"  They cheat, thinking that it doesn't matter because you already expect it...and when you find out about this recent cheating incident it reinforces your pessimistic view.  The downward spiral continues.

Some people think that optimists are blind to the real world, and that optimists whistle while walking in the dark places that hide vicious critters and trip hazards.  Some chronic pessimists think that optimists are oblivious, going on their merry way like the cartoon character that inadvertently steps off of a skyscraper roof and miraculously steps onto a steel girder that is being hoisted by a crane.  The character keeps walking (without looking) and just as he reaches the end of that somehow perfectly balanced girder it has reached its destination - the adjacent skyscraper roof - onto which he steps without incident or interruption of his tempo.  The character eludes injury and death without even being aware that his life was just in mortal danger.  It's evident to the chronic pessimist that, although it worked out fine this time, the optimist's blindness will eventually bite him in the a__.

Using Temporary Pessimism to Your Advantage
Temporary pessimism is different from chronic pessimism in that you invoke it intentionally, and for a limited period of time.  You really let yourself "go there," considering all the obstacles that are in your way and the contingencies that could crop up later.  Then once you think about everything that could possibly go wrong, you switch your focus to solutions and, better yet, prevention.  You plan the action steps that you will take to help to make sure that the worst won't happen.  And then you let it go.  You shift your attention back to what you WANT to happen.

Optimism has been documented to improve health and improve performance.  But optimism is not necessarily blind.  It's easier to believe in a positive outcome when you have been proactive about preventing the negative outcome.  And you can determine the appropriate actions to take to prevent the worst case scenario when you allow yourself to walk on the dark, pessimistic side just for a while.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Your story is fiction

Yes, your story is fiction.  Your story about yourself, about your significant other, your boss, your job, your life...it's all fiction.   I'm not trying to insult you and tell you that you're a liar.  The fictional nature of your stories is the good news.  You have written them the way they are for certain reasons, and if your reasons change, you can choose to rewrite them.

Circumstances and personal qualities that you think you observe are all filtered through a process of interpretation.  The stories you tell about them are affected by the degree to which you have been paying attention.  They are blown up or shrunken down, exaggerated or downplayed when you have described them based upon whether or not they reinforce (or seem to prove) the patterns that you have seen in your life.

Here's an example for you:  A wife is waiting for her husband to arrive for their lunch date.  She has a busy schedule at work today, but the two of them have found that the lunchtime get-away is a good time to talk without kids interrupting every five seconds.

She has been sitting there in the booth for ten minutes, and she's getting pretty steamed that he has not yet arrived.  "He is ALWAYS late," she mutters under her breath.  "It's like my time isn't as important as his time.  He is probably all caught up in something stupid on the Internet - tweeting to Siberia or something.  He probably didn't even see what time it was.  If he doesn't get here in thirty seconds I'm going to text him.  This is the third time in a week that he's kept me cooling my heels...."  And on and on she goes, building the story in her mind and with every sentence becoming more and more irate.

When her husband enters the restaurant two minutes later she greets him with, "It's about time!  I've been waiting here for almost 15 minutes!"  He responds, "Sorry.  There was a really bad traffic accident right in front of me on the way in and I had to speak with the responding police officer.  It was pretty ugly."

In this scenario the husband WAS late.  The clock proves the fact - although depending on whether their respective clocks were in sync there could be a discrepancy even among the "facts".  But beyond the actual time of day the interpretation of the situation was a construct in the woman's mind.  She ascribed motives to his lateness, she presumed the reason for his lateness, and both of those anger-building stories were completely incorrect - they were works of fiction that reinforced her pre-existing ideas about her spouse and his time management habits.

Have you heard someone say, "I'm so blessed!"  That brief sentence is a story that they tell themselves and others.  Those three short words convey volumes about the individual's spiritual life - they tell you that the person believes in God and that God has directly affected his or her life.  The person is also choosing to notice the aspects in his or her life that look like gifts, like blessings.  This person is sorting the facts for the optimistic interpretation.

You are creating stories every day about how you look, the talents you possess, your status in life, etc.  If you make a point of listening to yourself you will start to notice the recurring stories that you use to reinforce your self-image and your beliefs, and to influence other people.  You might start to hear how you have developed habits of tearing down certain other people who might have hurt you in the past.  Or you might realize that you are already affirming others and assuming the best about them.

You can become more intentional about your stories - the ones you tell other people and the ones you tell yourself.  You can choose consciously (instead of by habit) what pieces of your life and what elements of a situation you want to reinforce.  You can look for the silver lining rather than embrace the gray cloud.  You are the author of your life, and you write the story. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

The "Cowboy" Leader

Originally uploaded by AZ CHAPS
First, let's say this - the cattle handler is an integral symbol for American individualism.  The cowboy is rugged, self-sufficient, capable, and level-headed.  He does hard labor in order to protect valuable agricultural assets.  Unlike the images in the old movies, cowboys didn't fight Native Americans - most of that conflict was between the Indians and the American military.  The most common use of a gun was to dispatch a rattlesnake or other varmint that was threatening the herd.

But sometimes the word "cowboy" takes a pejorative tone.  The "cowboy" is rowdy, too quick to the trigger, immoderate in his personal habits, even violent.  A "cowboy" might be wearing the clothes without knowing the job.  He might be a rustler, trying to take what's not his.

The "Cowboy" Leader tries to drive the herd in the direction in which he (or she) wants them to go.   The whip is cracked and the cattle are prodded.  Resistance is met with force until the herd complies.

The false assumption underlying The "Cowboy" Leader's behavior is that the people working for him or her are cattle.  The assumption is that people are stupid and need a strong hand.  The idea is that they, without the direction of The "Cowboy" Leader, would stampede into a canyon and break their respective necks.  And that would cost the "Cowboy" money, so he doesn't take any chances.

This "Cowboy" leader operates with fear as his or her primary method for motivation.  It might not even be a stretch to say that this method is an extension of the "Cowboy's" own fear of making a poor decision, failing to achieve the desired results, or being criticized. 

"Cowboy" leadership can get results in the short term, or in times of crisis.  Temporarily, people are willing to cede responsibility and freedom of choice for the sake of security, or to learn information.  But after a while they either become immune to the fear tactics or they choose to leave the environment.

In the workplace, people have to be there if they need to earn a paycheck.  They may be willing to endure a "Cowboy" if it means that they can feed their families, or add a prestigious entry to their resumes.  But in a volunteer setting a "Cowboy" can mean destruction.  Nobody has to be there, and they won't be there if the environment is hostile - the stress of coping with "The Cowboy" starts to outweigh their commitment to whatever cause drives them to volunteer.

What drives "The Cowboy Leader" in a volunteer setting?  After all, the results don't feed kids or ensure job security.  Sometimes volunteer roles are the first (or only) places where individuals have the opportunity to be at the top of the heap.  They may be passing their own follower experiences down the line, unpleasant as they may be.  They may be so inexperienced that they don't realize the impact of their aggressive behavior. 

But when it comes down to it, the drivers and the experience level aren't important whether in the workplace or in volunteer organizations.  The behavior is what counts, and The "Cowboy" Leader is likely to lose his or her cattle.  If you know you have one working for you, you need to reign them in (cowboy pun noted) before they do more damage.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Who would you talk to?

Quick - answer these questions: 
  1. If you had a new business idea or a pressing problem, who would be the 5-10 people you would contact to sort it out? 
  2. Who is in your support system? 
  3. In whose business and personal life are you a go-to resource?
If the names aren't immediately coming to you, you have some work to do!  If you are trying to do it alone, to make it without any help from anyone you are
  • Limiting your resources
  • Taking a de facto myopic view of the situation
  • Limiting your self-development
  • Limiting your influence
  • Limiting your satisfaction
These relationships aren't built overnight.  They arise from a foundation of candid give-and-take.  They are fueled by the willingness to give before you receive.  And they are protected by a shield of confidentiality.

Summit realizes how important these mutual mentor relationships are, so we have taken matters into our own hands, forming our first Executive Womens Roundtable in York, PA.  Based upon the initial response, we will be forming another one in Fall 2011.  If you see the value in building a circle of trusted peers for your business and your self, perhaps we should talk.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Who is the smartest small business leader around?

C'mon, you know that I'm not going to name names, although I can think of a few good nominees. The stupidest leader around is the one who won't ask for help - the one who won't ask questions. The smartest leader around is the one who does his or her homework. The smartest startup leaders in the U.S. consult SCORE before they open their doors.

SCORE is a resource partner of the Small Business Administration (SBA).  It used to be known as the Service Corps of Retired Executives, but right now in our local chapter almost half of the SCORE mentors are still quite active in business.  Their information is current, and at the level that new and emerging businesses need. 

Most of the Summit coaches are volunteer mentors at SCORE.  For experienced business owners and senior executives, volunteering through SCORE is a great way to give back to the community, and to help the local economy grow.  A role as a SCORE mentor can be very rewarding, helping new ventures create a solid startup foundation, and helping emerging leaders steer around the avoidable potholes in business ownership.

One of SCORE's signature services besides mentoring is its Simple Steps workshop series that helps a new business create a solid business plan.  When a prospective new business owner is seeking financing for the startup, financial institutions are going to look at the quality and thoroughness of the thought process as they assess the risk in providing financial backing.  Beyond its use in obtaining needed startup financing, the strategic plan helps the business owner fill knowledge gaps that could be deal-breakers once the doors are open.

The best way to benefit from SCORE is to contact your local chapter early in your thought process.  They can guide you on some appropriate homework so you are going into your business with your eyes open - you'll develop answers on things like:  what you expect your customers to look like, who your competition will be, what marketing and delivery methods you will use, and how much cash you'll need to have on hand.

You aren't limited to calling SCORE when you are new.  You might have hit a rough patch or dug a hole for your business and would like advice on how to get back on the right track or climb out of the hole.  An appointment with your SCORE mentors can give you ideas on what to do next.  They can be neutral thought partners for you when you're too emotionally involved to think straight.

Here's how to connect with SCORE:
  • Go to SCORE.org
  • Find a mentor online (there are 13,000 of them,) or
  • Call your local SCORE chapter (there are 364) to set up a meeting and they will assign mentors to you, selecting them on the basis of their experience with your type of business, question or problem
Many of their services, starting with your initial mentoring session,  are completely FREE.  There is no good reason not to contact SCORE when you're trying to build a healthy, thriving business.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Thing That Makes You One-Of-A-Kind

Crochet Tree
Originally uploaded by babukatorium
Indispensable, irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind you.  What makes you different from anyone and everyone else?  Are you willing to act? Do you attract people?  Do you have a visual eye that enables you to create something from scratch?  Are you a cocoon for people in trouble or in need?  Have you been gifted with a talent for discernment?

You could choose to look at your business from the standpoint of interchangeable blocks on an organizational chart.  There are core competencies that are needed for each role to be performed effectively. But beyond that, there are a million-zillion ways in which the competencies could be expressed.  If you define yourself only by the block in which you sit every day you'll be missing the thrill, the strategic advantage, the peak performance that stems from unleashing your uniqueness.

Let's take a simple example to illustrate:  think about painters whose art is widely known.
  • The unknown artists at the caves at Lascaux - Some of the oldest painting we know.  The forms are of animals, human figures and geometric symbols.
  • Claude Monet - He enabled people to see images that were only suggested, not replicated, through brush strokes. 
  • Pablo Picasso - Picasso rearranged the perspective from which we view objects, converting them into juxtaposed planes. 
  • Piet Mondrian - Mondrian is best known for his abstract grids of black on white, punctuated with squares and rectangles of primary colors.
Although they might be taught by others and inspired by others, an artist's goal is to express in a fresh way through the visual medium.  They might work in paint, like the examples above, or they might sculpt, photograph, or even crochet onto a tree!  The visual expression is simultaneously a representation of their world view and a demonstration of their skills and innovation in execution.  Each artist is unique in life experience, nuances of talent, training and geography.

You might not produce visual art, but you can be an artist.  When you develop the talents that make you one-of-a-kind you transform function into peak performance.  You can become the singular person that is best suited for this task, this challenge.  You might already be poised and ready - it's a matter now of noticing the opportunity.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Overcoming the Used Car Salesman in Yourself

What?  You say that you've never sold cars, so you could never be a used car salesman?  You don't have an ounce of that sleazy, pushy, fashion-bereft stereotypical "liar liar pants on fire" behavior in you?  Perhaps it would be good to think again.  You might be wrong.

First off, let's clarify something.  Mandrake the used car salesman is an archetype - it's a character that has grown to be compiled and exaggerated over time as the various accumulated experiences of individuals have been layered on top of one another.  The result is a Frankenstein of sorts, with Harry the corner car dealer's plaid jacket, Sam the huckster's flair for half-truths, aggressive Al's pressure tactics and George the gouger's self-serving deal making.

The fact that Mandrake the used car salesman is a compilation, an exaggeration, doesn't make him any less powerful.  When you are in the midst of a selling/buying transaction and you notice a touch of him, one of these or other characters, the used car salesman pops into the foreground of your consciousness, reinforcing the stereotype.

Here's where it gets really interesting.  Back in the real world you have just discovered that your new responsibilities include sales.  You have been a professional whatever (engineer, banker, etc.) all of these years and now you have to do WHAT??  You have been in a role that carries a lofty reputation and respect, and now they are expecting you to lower yourself and become another Mandrake??

How do you go out there and talk to people and avoid having them hang up on you, slam the door in your face, or treat you with the same mistrust that they have learned that they need to use with the used car salesman?  You have to let go of the archetype, first of all.  You need to start by acknowledging that it's not representative of the bulk of salespersons out there.  You don't have to be that guy if you don't want to be that guy.

Next, think about the qualities and behaviors you would like to see in someone you trust, from whom you want to buy something big.  Is that ideal person candid and straightforward?  Are they well-informed?  Are they easy to talk to?  Can you trust that they have your best interests in mind?  Would you recommend them to friends and family?

Replace the arechetypical descriptions by affirming the ideal characteristics.  Convert them to behaviors and set goals around them.  For instance, if you want to be easy to talk to, you can affirm that in yourself by saying or writing, "I remember to start by asking questions to get to know my prospective customer." or "I listen more than I talk when interacting with prospects." 

In order to embrace the role of the ideal salesperson you have to let go of Mandrake the Used Car Salesman.  While you are working with his shadow looming over you, you aren't going to engage in the level of activity that you need to engage in to get the results you want.  You aren't going to risk being rejected because Mandrake deserves to be rejected.

Your options are wide open to become the type of salesperson (or person, for that matter) with whom you would like to do business, in a style that suits your natural strengths.  You will get there faster if, instead of focusing on what you don't want, you engage your imagination in envisioning how you DO want to be.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Value of Simmer Time for Your Idea

Simmer Pot
Originally uploaded by madmolecule
There's no way to know accurately the proportion of ideas that ultimately result in implementation.  This blog has often wrapped around the topic of taking action - after all, thoughts don't directly accomplish results - it's the moving of the hands and feet that give the idea life.  But there's something to be said for that simmer time, the expanse between the conception of the idea and the beginning of its implementation.

Simmer Time is when you have your concept in general terms, and then you park it for a defined period in the back of your mind, or write it down in an idea file so it doesn't get lost.  You might be actively contemplating it, or you might be engaging your conscious thought elsewhere, allowing your subconscious to make connections for you while you're not paying attention.

Sometimes repetitive activities can enable Simmer Time.  Vacuuming, walking or biking, knitting, gardening, and mowing the lawn are activities that don't always require your full mental capacities.  While your body is engaged your brain is free to wander around your idea.

Unrelated brain engagement like reading fiction can create connections between two disparate ideas and enhance the creative process.  It's often in the moments of apparent inattention that your mind is awakened to new possibilities.

Simmer Time is also useful, even important, when you are faced with an emotionally charged decision or situation.  Sometimes the intensity of your feelings is blocking your ability to analyze your options fully.  Simmer Time gives the intensity an opportunity to dissipate, so you don't make a rash decision that you'll regret later.

Simmer Time can devolve into procrastination when it becomes an excuse for not taking action on something that's important to implement.  You'll know whether you're simmering or only procrastinating if you check your gut for feelings of fear or inadequacy.  Procrastination is most often associated with fear - fear of failing, fear of succeeding, concerns about wanting to be "right," fear of being judged, etc.

When you let things simmer for the sake of a better outcome, you can enhance the flavor of the dish.  Some ideas, some decisions take more than a minute to develop fully.  So you might want to consider building Simmer Time into your planning process.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Diversity misunderstandings - operating under the farmer's clock

Originally uploaded by thegreenpages
Oftentimes when diversity comes up in discussion in the workplace or in communities the conversation revolves around assumptions that are made from physical appearance. Stereotypes are often disputed and/or debunked.  Sometimes the debate revolves around questions about appropriate vs. inappropriate expectations about using the language of the adopted culture. Yesterday’s topic of time use, specifically lateness, inspired some digging into chronemics (the study of one's use of time in nonverbal communication) as I realized its implications on cross-cultural harmony.
First – some countries and regions are known for being monochronic, where the clock reigns supreme and promptness is highly valued:

  • United States
  • Germany
  • Switzerland
  • Scandinavia
The monochronic view of things stems from the onset of the industrial era. Companies needed to make sure their workers were onsite at the same time ready to engage in their tasks in a coordinated fashion.
Others do not share this focus on task and clock, rather place more emphasis on relationship (polychronic):

  • Saudi Arabia
  • Mexico
  • Egypt
  • The Philippines
Raymond Cohen, a specialist in cross-cultural negotiation, says that in a polychronic culture the orientation is often based on longstanding tradition, or on rural lifestyles linked to seasons or sunrise and sunset. Urgency toward a particular end is not seen as important.
Here’s an example from Wikipedia about where two cultures bump into one another routinely:
“In the United States, the Hawaiian culture provides an example of how co-cultures can clash. Two time systems exist in Hawaii where the Polynesians live somewhere between two time systems: Hauley time and Hawaiian time. When you hear someone say “See you at two o’clock Hauley time,” that means that they will see you at precisely two o’clock. But if you hear someone say, “I will be there at two o’clock Hawaiian time” then the message has an entirely different meaning. This is because Hawaiian time is very lax and basically means “when you get there.”

In diplomacy a monochronic culture like the United States will seek results and solutions; a polychronic culture might never get to the agenda at hand because its focus is on relationship and preserving face. No wonder Americans get so frustrated listening to reports on diplomacy and its perceived lack of progress!

This potential for time-related culture clash doesn’t only relate to international affairs –
  • One of my clients doesn’t like the rapid pace of the Northeast. She’ll say that she thinks people from New Jersey talk too fast (no offense intended toward my New Jersey friends) and move the conversation too fast, and to her that sounds suspicious. She wants to take more time to establish relationship rather than just get down to brass tacks right away.
  • A service provider gets impatient because he schedules his appointments at a certain time interval. One of his clients takes a huge amount of extra time with small talk before getting to the point of the visit. Although the service provider restrains himself from reaching across the desk and physically yanking the words out of the client’s mouth his stomach is churning inside, concerned that he’ll be late for his next call.
  • There’s a family I know where the patriarch was raised on a farm in a small town – he drove everybody else in the family nuts because when he said he was coming to visit on Saturday it could mean any time between dawn and 11 p.m.
Relationship orientation is only a piece of the chronemics difference.  The other part is the agricultural frame of referance and the macro perspective from which time is viewed.  On a farm, the thoughts revolve around planting time, calving time, harvest time, winter downtime, etc.  Weeks, months or seasons are the measurements - not hours or minutes.  On a daily basis work is planned around feeding time, sunrise, sunset, etc.  There is no need to put too fine a point on it.

In addition, the agrarian tasks don't always have predictable timeframes around them.  You can't set appointments in 15-minute increments.  For instance, you mend however many fences need to be mended, and that might take you a few hours to a few days to complete.  Some cultures with a more elastic time sense arrive there through the agricultural mindset.

If you are a leader and want to prevent time use from becoming a barrier to effective relationships, you need to define, for instance, what "on time" means.  You might be operating under the assumption that 8:01 is late for an 8:00 appointment, where the other person might not perceive lateness until they are ten minutes or more behind the assigned appointment time.   Address it early, too (no time pun intended!) - if you feel frustrated about lateness and don't address it right away you'll create a completely preventable angry over-reaction.

If you get the impression that you and the other person are culturally different in regards to time use, talk about it.  Share expectations, preferences and needs.  They might really like you to slow down and take time to relate to them.  They might want you to hurry it up and complete the task rather than tell stories to your colleagues.  Information is your friend here, and can prevent you from treating other people on the basis of stereotypes, extrapolating their different use of time into all sorts of other speculations on their intelligence, motivation, and other character traits.

If you’d like to read up on chronemics and its various applications, here’s the link:


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Why are you always running late??

I still hear feedback several years after a blog post I wrote about some of the reasons why people are late. In particular, one friend and client of mine receives regular hassle from her business partners for her constant tardiness.  She's by no means alone.  You know the people I mean (and perhaps you are one,) who are perpetually racing out the door and/or driving like a maniac, yet still arriving way after the time they agreed upon to meet a colleague, friend, or family member.  Meanwhile, there's the other person, standing or sitting, trying to be patient about the loss of productive time while waiting, and feeling like the latester must not think they are important enough to be on time for.

This is one of those intent vs. impact situations. Chronically late Lucy or Larry may genuinely be trying to arrive on the dot of the agreed-upon time – but as repeated occasions of their tardiness occur, the people who are waiting for them might begin to interpret Lucy’s and Larry's constant lateness as laziness, disorganization, a show of apathy, or a power play.

Although you might intuitively notice different ways of perceiving time, there is a scientific explanation for the differences in how people handle time use. Anthropologist Edward T. Hall, after substantial international travel, identified two different types of time sense: monochronic vs. polychronic.

  • Do one thing at a time.
  • View time commitments as critical.
  • Are committed to jobs (projects and tasks).
  • Adhere religiously to plans.
  • Emphasize promptness, always.
  • Are accustomed to short-term relationships.
  • Do many things at once and are highly distractible.
  • View time commitments as objectives.
  • Are committed to people and relationships.
  • Change plans often.
  • Base promptness on the significance of the relationship.
  • Have a strong tendency to build lifelong relationships.
No wonder that the time issue creates such tension! In the U.S. we’re in a very monochronic society, with every moment scheduled, such that even the most time sensitive have to hop to in order to meet our commitments.  The society is mobile, and often the focus is on tasks rather than relationships.  Businesspersons, students, even retired individuals are guided (or ruled) by clocks and calendars.

As individuals, Americans are not exclusively monochronic or polychronic – one person might be at any spot on a continuum in between the two extremes. But if a person has polychronic tendencies it’s typically played out in the transition from one activity to another. Coach Martha Beck suggests a coping strategy in what she calls “The Art of the Dismount:”

If you are a polychrone who is constantly late, and it's a problem for you or other people who are important to you, here are some ideas:
  1. Accept transition trauma - Sometimes it is hard to think about letting go of the activity right in front of you to switch to another, especially if the current activity is interesting and absorbing.  It might not feel good to stop, but regardless of how it feels it might be necessary.
  2. Plan your dismount backward - Start with the time that you know you have to arrive, then work back from there.  How long is the walk there from your car, and before that, how long is your drive?  How long will your personal preparation be before you can hop into the car?  So by when do you have to log off of your Facebook account?
  3. Say goodbye before you say hello - Determine ahead of time what you are going to say when it is time to leave.  You might need to say it in a few different ways before you take off.  If you are concerned about hurting feelings, it will be helpful to think it through ahead of time - you won't be as likely to procrastinate on your departure if you know how you are going to do it.
  4. Set up redundant reminders - You might need a watch alarm, a beep from your smart phone - even a staffer or family member to keep you on the path to disengagement.  This thing right in front of you is hanging onto your attention, so it will likely take some extra steps to make you actually push back from your desk, stand up, and walk out the door.
  5. Give the dismount half the energy - Assume that you'll have to expend energy into developing your eventual disengagement, enough that it might be a full 50% of your total energy on the project or event in which you're involved.
Time sense is a significant way in which people are different from one another.  If you are a polychrone who has to live and succeed in a monochronic world, you can use some of these adaptations to help yourself perform more effectively.  If you’d like to read Martha  Beck’s article, check out this link:

Stay tuned for tomorrow's post about the impact of time sense on intercultural relationships.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Flying Trash Bags Can Change Your State of Mind

Trashing by nateOne
Originally uploaded by nateOne
 You might be familiar with the phrase, “If you want to make God laugh, plan your life.” The fact that you have goals doesn't necessarily mean that you will rule over all. The universe has surprises - some you will see as good and some bad - in store for you and all of the rest of us. Somebody else might have goals and aspirations that fly right in the face of yours. You might want to run for a political office, or to start a business venture, and you might have to compete to reach your goal. Although you might work in a focused way every day toward your goal, someone else might work harder, faster, smarter, or have more natural gifts, or better timing.

The difference between a person who continually works toward and achieves his or her goals, and the one who doesn’t reach them, is what they allow their brain to do with this information. What will you do in those moments when it hits you that your goal isn’t a no-brainer? Will you keep that picture of your goal in your mind, and invest whatever energy and focus are necessary? Right now you might already be talking to yourself about how your goal would be easier to achieve if you were smarter, richer, thinner, more organized or better connected. Does that reinforce your destination in your mind, or does that only help you continue to carry the baggage of the past?

See if you can recall for a moment an upsetting situation or incident from the past that still nags at you regularly. Perhaps it’s something you did at one time that you are not proud of. Maybe it’s a relationship that went wrong, and you’re having a hard time letting it go. Perhaps it’s a time when you worked and worked – and you didn’t get the results you thought you deserved.

If you really stop to think about it, that situation is like a balloon – once the balloon has been burst you can’t un-break it. The same holds true with the rest of your life history up to today. It just is, and all of the inner rehashing and replaying you might be doing won’t change a thing.

Think for a moment about whether or not there is anything you learned from the unpleasantness or disappointment of the incident. If there is, jot it down so your mind can take the whole rest of the thing out of your short-term memory loop.

Once you have finished writing, picture yourself packing that incident into a magic expandable trash bag, the kind that cinches closed. How big is that old situation, and how much does it weigh? Is it heavy, prickly, jagged, cold, lumpy? When you have finished filling the bag tie it closed, really tight, with a double knot if you have to. Now pick that trash bag up and heave it over your shoulder. Don’t hang onto it – let that trash bag go flying behind you!

Flying trash bags?

We’re talking about flying trash bags here because right on the heels of your initial enthusiasm about a goal comes a necessary process of separation from your old habits of thought and action.

Although it might seem logical that you would automatically move away from your unproductive habits of the past to the better way you have laid out for the future, the old ways have become ingrained. They have become familiar methods, and so are somewhat comfortable even if they are unpleasant, or don’t get the results that you want. Separation from them is a necessary part of change and improvement. Visualize the trash bag exercise, or write your past bad situation down on an index card, then tear it up or burn it. The idea is to take some sort of symbolic action to demonstrate to yourself that the past is done and over with.
In the early stage of personal development it may be clear to you what you don’t want to do, but it may not be as clear what you do want to be doing. During the next stage of personal change you will test the solutions you developed; some will work and some won’t. Although you have already planned your goal in detail, once you are in action mode you will be learning things along the way. You will be adapting and improving your actions accordingly – if you allow your mind to be open to the learning.

You are in charge of the mood that surrounds your pursuit of goals. You can choose to see them as useful stepping stones to the future of your dreams or you can view your goals as pressure cookers and whipping posts. You will keep your enthusiasm high and your action plan rolling best when you talk to yourself positively about the progress, however small, you are making. You will be more likely to persist in stretching and learning if you reinforce the wins in your early results rather than the losses.  So give those lumpy, bumpy, heavy, smelly trash bags the old heave ho!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Four Questions to Improve Your Life

Jim Poland is posting today...

Great-granddaughter of the seaman's haberdasher
It was the third of June, a grey and damp day as a tweed-clad gentleman with a fedora pulled low on his balding head glided his black bicycle to a stop at the base of the gang plank walkway to a Canadian-flagged freighter. He pulled the clips from his trouser cuffs, tucked them into the leather satchel slung over his shoulder and pulled a cloth bag filled with fabric swatches from the bicycle's basket. Turning up the gang plank he announced himself to the seaman on watch and said that the Captain and First Mate were expecting him.

This was the first day after the great Blitz of Liverpool, in early May, that Will Gates, my grandfather and a haberdasher had called upon his customers in the Port. The barrage balloons bobbed and swayed overhead in the strong wind as thick, swollen clouds low in the sky raced across the Mersey.

Will Gates had created a unique business to feed his family during the war. He called aboard ships to provide high quality, English tweed custom-made mens' suits and accessories to the captains and first mates of the merchantmen that docked in the Port of Liverpool. He CAME TO HIS CUSTOMERS who had very little time while in port and rarely left their ships during the war while their cargoes were off-loaded and supplies re-stocked.

Every night brought German bombs meant to cripple the freight shipping capabilities of Liverpool and before the war's end would cause the second greatest loss of civilian life during the reign of the Air Battle of Britain, after London itself. Will had given up on maintaining his Gates' Fine Gentlemen's Tailor Shop since each night meant that any building in the port city was liable to be rubble and ashes by dawn.

Mr. Gates had run off as a young boy and sailed the seas from the Port of Liverpool. So he had many friends and contacts at the docks. After being swindled twice by unscrupulous partners, Will vowed to never have a profit-sharing partner in his clothing business again.

Will Gates embraced "outsourcing" in 1940! He was a direct-call salesman and sourced his tailoring to two Jewish tailors that he had worked closely with before the war. His customers knew him as a fun-loving seaman who got his land legs, opened a haberdashery and came directly to them to provide personalized service and top-notch hand-delivered British clothing.

Perhaps as a legacy to the ingenuity and hard-work of Will Gates, during a time when 70,000 Liverpudlians were made homeless, fifty years later his grandson began providing personalized service to business owners and leaders; the "Captains of Industry".

That grandson is me, and the business is SummitHRD.com; a 21 year "young" firm that provides individual and team coaching, structure and process, for men and women to achieve their goals and improve the world.

The stories or “legend” I learned from my mother about her father shaped my inner thoughts of what was possible or achievable in a lifetime, and what was not. I cope with those deeply engrained images and habits of thought every day.

If we could be more self-aware and more intentional about the legacy of possibilities that we leave behind for future generations, we might be able to elevate the quality of life for generations to come.

Consider these questions today and tomorrow . . . take time to allow your thoughts to evolve:
  1. What positive, inspiring story will the next generation tell about you?
  2. What will be the guiding lessons of the “legend of you” that will be passed down for several generations?
  3. What is your definition of “success” for your lifetime?
  4. What will you do tomorrow to positively impact the future generations of your family, your community?

Monday, May 9, 2011

The new world of customer centered organizational structure

This is the second of a two-part post on organizational structure.  Part 1 can be viewed here.

Perhaps you have been operating in a Power Pyramid, where authority and decision making are concentrated at the top of the organization.  The old organization with layers of thinkers, communicators and doers respectively didn't serve customers.  It served the organization.  In addition to the omission of customers from the company radar, the old structure underutilized its people resources, relegating even highly experienced, outstanding individual producers to the status of "warm body."

The enlightened company is saying "no more" to the Power Pyramid, and instead is embracing this Performance Excellence Model:

Notice that customers are not only on the model - they are the purpose for the model.  Everything on the inverted pyramid is intended to support the development of a satisfied, loyal external customer base.  Loyal means they are repeat buyers.  Loyal means they are likely to refer other customers to the company. 

The foundation of the Performance Excellence model is Strategy.  A business can't be excellent when it doesn't know what it wants to be when it grows up, nor how it plans to get there.  Strategy need not be a 50-plus page tome.  But it goes beyond this year's budget (the business plan) to a 2- or 3-year window.  Vision, the foundation of the foundation, as it were, might extend as far as a 10- or 15-year view - or maybe longer.

Supporting the strategy are Process and People.  Process is comprised of all of the "how it gets the work done" components of the business.  It defines what the people do, and well-managed processes obtain the optimal leverage from the corporate IQ.  Well-managed processes are both effective (producing the results customers want) and efficient (doing so with the minimal investment in people and other resources).  Strategy determines the priority of attention on the improvement of production and business processes.

The People component is about leadership, about culture.  It might seem like a blinding flash of the obvious that company culture has to align with the strategy, but many, if not most, companies have gaps.  Leaders and owners become frustrated at the behavior of their direct reports, forgetting that, to quote Peter Drucker, "Management is cause, and all else is effect."  Smart companies don't leave the culture to chance - they develop their leaders in alignment with their strategy.

Notice the center of the model - the interim goal is "Satisfied, Loyal, Internal Customers."  These are the people who interact with the customers through various points of connection.  It becomes the job of senior leaders to make sure that every employee has the resources by which he or she can satisfy customer wants and needs.  In the customer-focused company, peers look for ways in which they can benefit other people downstream in their work processes.  They are involved in creating solutions to customer problems.  They own their results.

Remember the old saw, "If momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy"?  Same goes for companies and customers.  Without customers, nothing happens.  And if you have customers going out the back door while you're investing heavily to bring them in the front door, you're not going to grow at the pace you want to grow.  Turn that Power Pyramid upside down.  It's the first step in achieving the results you want for your company.

Friday, May 6, 2011

If you're still doing this you're missing opportunity

It has been readily observable that companies are becoming flatter structurally, with fewer layers in the middle.  The middle manager hasn't become extinct by a long shot, but there are still countless businesses that are operating in the tradition of top-down management.  And for the ones who are, opportunities are passing by, missed in the organizational muddle.

Here's a model of the old way of organizing, called the Power Pyramid.  This structure was designed under the premise that the more highly educated, smarter people rose to the top, the people in the middle communicated the message from the top to the masses, and the job of the front line doers was to check their brains at the door and get their jobs done as prescribed from above.

There are several problems with the Power Pyramid:
  1. The people at the top don't know what's really happening in the trenches.  Only the people doing the work are fully aware of the problems and the opportunities.  This means that the senior managers aren't able to make good decisions about operations, regardless of their education or smarts.
  2. As has been studied extensively, there are many types of intelligence.  The assumption that senior execs are smarter and therefore more capable than front line folks is simply invalid.
  3. What is the real role of the communicators - to translate from "executive" into "real world"?  They are closer to the real action, but in many instances they can't perform the enforcer and controller parts of their roles effectively.  They can't because they aren't in the thick of the work of providing service or producing product, so they don't know all of the problems, or the opportunities either.  Their job is to serve the corporate organism, and often they are aware enough of their tenuous purpose that their focus narrows primarily to their own career progression and job security.
  4. Nowhere do customers appear on the Power Pyramid.  Where do the customer's preferences enter the organization?  According to this model the customers are irrelevant. 
This model doesn't leverage the combined IQ of the company - it only uses 10% of the true mental capacity inside the company that could be used to solve problems, or to identify and capitalize on opportunities.  It makes potentially rewarding work mind-numbing, and it creates undue and unrealistic pressure for the senior leadership. 

As for the customer?  The customer holds the key to the company's current and future financial success.  This dinosaur of an organizational structure had better figure out how to bring customers into the picture or its future is at risk.

In the next post we'll talk about a better mental model for your company, one that acknowledges the value of the producers, saves resources, and places customers where they belong - at the top of the priority list.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Misguided management or a strategic end run?

Running Boxes
Originally uploaded by 3Alex
A senior leader, frustrated to the gills, unloaded a story the other day about what she perceived to be a completely lame-brained move by her boss, the CEO of a company in the performing arts industry.  To some of you in more traditional businesses it might not be hard to imagine that in a creative business sometimes things play out more creatively than businesslike.  Whether that presumption is true or not, this situation leaves a linchpin leader frustrated enough that she fantasizes about placing this job in her rear-view mirror.

Here's the gist of the story:

This senior leader (we'll call her Beth) is responsible for the operations of the performing arts company.  She manages field leaders who are on the road, and she got her current role by doing the field leader job effectively.  She knows first-hand what traits and skills are needed, and she still fills in from time to time when it's necessary for her to do so.  She is even-tempered while being a no-nonsense leader who gets things done.  She checks the tasks off the list, but does so while working to maintain good interpersonal relationships.

One of Beth's direct reports in the field (Sam for our use here,) while very effective in the content of his work, has had a couple of recent temper tantrums.  One was with his contact at a performance venue, and the other was directly with her.  In Beth's estimation, Sam's behavior went beyond frustrated and angry.  He made personal verbal attacks that Beth described as completely disrespectful.  In conversation with us, the neutral outsiders, Beth expressed her reservations about Sam's temperament, and his potential impact as representative of the company in the field.

Now the plot thickens:  Sam had the opportunity to socialize with the CEO of the company, and the two of them found that they had a lot of personal interests in common.  Not long thereafter, Beth heard through the company grapevine that the CEO plans to promote Sam, bringing him in off the road to work at the home office.  Rumor has it that he will continue to report to Beth in his new role.

Beth is upset that, despite her reservations about some of Sam's behavior patterns, he is being rewarded by a promotion.  Now she is expecting to be required to manage the fall-out from his prickly personality up close and personal.  What's worse in Beth's mind is that, although she will be responsible for Sam's performance in a new role for which he has inadequate background, she was not included in the decision to bring him in. Beth wasn't even informed of the possibility until it was already appearing to be a done deal.

Compounding the issue is the "window dressing" factor.  Beth acknowledges that one of Sam's assets is that he puts forth a polished appearance.  It's something that "the CEO loves" according to the senior manager, and her theory is that the CEO is being overly persuaded by Sam's aesthetic presentation.  But if and when Sam comes "in" to the home office, there is another person to be negatively impacted by his presence.  Beth is concerned that he will displace a solid, but less sexy, employee (George) that has been her right hand person.  It is her view that the CEO's prioritizing style over substance, while perhaps understandable in a performing arts business, doesn't work on the operations side.

So here are some of the questions at this point:
  • Is there a means by which Beth can still influence the outcome?  If not to prevent the promotion, at least to place Sam in a role for which he is better suited than the one defined by the CEO?
  • How can she help George, her solid performer that is already in place, to present in a better light for the CEO?  Should Beth be embarking on an internal PR campaign to make sure his value is not overlooked or underestimated?
  • To what extent should Beth throw her weight around to get the outcome she wants?  She has been an integral part of the business for years, coming up through the ranks to a role without which it's unlikely that the company could survive.  Can she use her personal preferences to influence the CEO?
  • How far should she go to help Sam succeed at the home office?  It appears to her that the CEO has inadvertently set Sam up to fail in a role that he's not ready for.  Should Beth be laying out an alternative plan that she thinks is more workable - and one that protects her interests?
This case seems to represent a lot of the characteristics that people despise about corporate settings - politics, personal relationships prioritized over business soundness, solid performers who go unnoticed because of their lack of drama, and leaders who are kept out of the loop in situations over which they are later supposed to be responsible.

What would you recommend that this senior leader do?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Five actions that won't change their mind

It has been proven over and over again that you can change your own habits of thought but you can't change someone else's.  Yet it's tempting to try, especially when their performance impacts your own or when their actions outside of work affect the quality of your life.  Here are some of the most common unsuccessful strategies:
  1. Giving them the facts.  First of all, truth is often in the eye of the beholder.  Your perception of the world is colored by your attitudes, your habits of thought, just like their attitudes color theirs.  Who says that your "truth" is any truer than theirs is?
  2. Persuading them to change.  Persuasion can sometimes be a variation on #1 above, but with a bit of additional emotional engagement.  When you attempt to persuade you often give them the perceived benefits, but they are your perceived benefits.  If they don't see things the same way you do they may not see the same perceived payoff in change.
  3. Wearing them down.  Perhaps if you talk long enough you can help them see the light, right?  Wrong.  If you continue to go on and on you're more likely to cause them to tune you out.  Remember the offscreen parent in the Peanuts cartoons?  You'll be like that for them.  "Wah... wah wah wah wah...." 
  4. Threatening them if they don't come around.  Fear is a short-lived motivator.  Over time people become immune, or at least desensitized, to its persuasive power.  The more you threaten, the more dulled their senses will become.  They will simply disengage.
  5. Holding carrots in front of their nose.  Externally presented rewards can create temporary behavior change, but they tend not to last.  When the reward goes away the behavior goes away.  And in situations where the rewards become part of the system (like pay incentives,) they are primarily noticed when they are missed, not when they are received.  And that just ticks people off. 
Change is an individual choice.  You can provide the information, rewards, consequences, etc. - but THEY have to be the ones to open their minds to a new way of thinking. You can, however, create a climate where it becomes easier for people to be open to new habits of thought.
  • Share the big picture, the really big goals with them.  It is easier to change one's mind in small ways if the really big outcome is compelling enough.
  • When you can, include them in the establishment of the really big goals.  It's much easier to obtain buy-in when it's their idea.  But to do so, you have to trust their input enough to go with their ideas.
  • Determine whether it's important to change their minds or to change their behavior.  Sometimes the behavior is enough - for now.  Their mindset may follow once they see that the behavior works.  And if you think about it, you can't manage their attitudes.  Behavior is the only measurable, readily observable measurement you have.
  • Take the competition out of it.  When you work overhard to move someone, your pressure creates oppositional pressure.  When you build in a "win" for yourself and a "loss" for them if they come over to your way of thinking, you'll create resistance just because of the individual's desire not to lose face.
Attitude change only comes about in the same way that behavior change does - through intention, over time.  Habits are below your conscious mind, so to change them you have to take yourself off of autopilot temporarily to build the new ones.  Once you have generated enough repetition of the new habit (thought or behavior) it's easier to sustain in the new direction.

Last point for today:  It is possible that the first mind change that has to happen is yours.  Perhaps they are not wrong and you are not right.  Perhaps there is no wrong or right, but just different perspectives on the issue.  Yours is the only mind over which you have control, so if things aren't working as well as you would like them to, that's the best place to start.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Belief despite evidence

Belief despite lack of evidence - or belief even despite evidence to the contrary - might be called by many names:  faith, loyalty, tenacity, prejudice, bigotry or even stupidity.  In one instance you might admire a person for his or her constancy to another.  After all, don't spouses agree to stick together in good times and in bad? 

In the case of marriage, staying together doesn't necessarily indicate blindness to the evidence that one or the other party isn't perfect.  The couple said vows in front of witnesses, so even when one of the two parties commits a large transgression the other might choose to continue to go on together.  The marriage partners may operate under the view that a vow is a commitment, regardless of the quality of the actual experience over time.

Aside from the example of the marriage vow, though, there is only one reason why a person would believe despite the evidence - it's when the belief is more important than the evidence.  The person is placing his or her assumptions and attitudes in higher priority than they place the facts.

At the Correspondents' Dinner April 30th, President Obama made light of recent attempts by the "birther" movement to invalidate his presidency in the eyes of the public by insisting that he is not a legal U.S. Citizen.  He might as well make fun, because the birthers aren't going away.  On MSNBC, Lawrence O'Donnell appeared to become almost apoplectic at Orly Taitz when she refused to admit that Obama's long form birth certificate disproved her claims that he isn't eligible for office.  Regardless of the seemingly undisputable evidence of Obama's citizenship, Taitz has a new angle to pursue - the President's selective service records. 

It's not about the evidence.  It's about the beliefs, the attitudes, the habits of thought that people hold dear.  The upside of this discussion is that we as individuals and as a society benefit from optimism (the belief in a good outcome) and faith (belief in a higher, loving power) and some other sustaining, nourishing, motivating habits of thought.  Societies get through the bad times because the vision of what is possible is so important to them.

Unfortunately, though, the unproductive, damaging, hurtful, and in some cases downright insane habits of thought are just as persistent.  They aren't going away just become some birth certificate proves them wrong.  Some people are invested enough in their own point of view that they could be hit repeatedly over the head with the evidence and yet remain unpersuaded. 

The adversarial habits of thought in the case of the birthers are the products of fear - fear of differences, fear of being proven wrong, fear of change, fear of being one-down in the societal pecking order.  It's far deeper than the evidence, so don't expect evidence to cause them to stand down.