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Sunday, April 29, 2018

How to Help Students to Survive the Age of Anxiety

My consulting, coaching, and teaching functions in four main arenas:
  1. Leadership Development (mostly management training and intern programs)
  2. Executive Coaching (CEO's, presidents and administrators of academic institutions)
  3. Executive Leaders of Churches and Non-Profits
  4. Education (mostly as an adjunct instructor)
While I have had experience in all these fields, it all started in 1983 (yikes!) working directly with students, and often that is still where I find my radar finely tuned. I continue to be acutely interested in trends, topics, and concerns related to "kids these days." I appreciate how they have kept me young at heart after all these years, although I can cite many examples that also nearly turned my hair white in fear and frustration!

Whenever a conversation with those who work with students today ask me about the "good ol' days," inevitably the questions turns to,
"What changes have you seen that have made the most impact?"
Sure, I could easily mention the obvious ones like the Internet. Computers. Cell phones. Media. And certainly, there have been some profound cultural changes around those cultural and technological phenomenons... for example, in hindsight I find it unimaginable that I ran a non-profit in the 80's and early 90's with 70 adult volunteers, a budget over $100K, and eight different clubs in four different cities without a cell phone. But we all did just fine. Go figure.

But I digress... My point is that I find one variable far more stunning than all of those paradigm shifters. The title of this post probably gives it away: I think STRESS is far and away the most significant change I have seen in 35 years of working with students.

While I have watched students go from landlines to smartphones, typewriters to tablets, and from VHS to making their own movies (with CGI effects!), I have also seen massive events and changes like:

  • Columbine (1999)
  • 9/11
  • The Great Recession of 2007-2009
  • Aurora (2012), Sandy Hook (2013) and now Parkland
  • multiple hours of homework every night, starting in elementary school
  • intense pressure from extracurricular activities
  • college entrance becoming intensely competitive and incredibly expensive
What I have seen this all add up to is a marked increase in anxiety-related issues: panic attacks, anxiety disorders, depression, addiction, suicidality, lots of medication, and so on. Colleges are finding themselves to be the "first responders" to these challenges, and are not resourced to manage it all adequately.

Before this cheerful post sends you running to the hills to jump off the grid and live off the land, read this article I just came across this week. They offer no "solution,' but I'll give away the most telling statement: "The most important step we can take on college campuses is to name the problem."

If your life and work are touched by this at all (and even if they aren't!), please get involved. As someone dedicated to developing transformational leaders, I ask all of us to: Pay attention. Ask questions. Find out what is available in terms of services and support. Listen closely and consistently. It will take all of us working together to even begin to make changes. Nothing will alter quickly of course (I've watched it shift incrementally for decades), but we must commit to long-term advocacy and care. Tell me your thoughts.

P.S. I'm not sure what to make of this news, which came out the same week as the previous article. Should we laugh or cry?

Friday, April 27, 2018

35 Things to Do for Your Career by 35

In the past two weeks I've landed on a new resource that I'm finding helpful in my leadership development work: The Muse. As Fast Company magazine states, "The Muse has become the definitive career resource for the under-35 set (60% of its more than 5 million monthly users are between 18 and 35) by focusing on work culture and hiring in a digital age."

They posted an article recently that definitely got my mind working as I scanned over their list of 35 Things to Do for Your Career by 35. Some of them are a bit much (#2. "Know Your Superpower" *eyeroll*) and feel like they were added to puff up the list. But many of them are rock-solid and I'd endorse them heartily.

Here are my Top 7 from the list:
  • 4. Learn How to Delegate. One of the many things I work through with new managers is to understand that their job focus is shifting from tasks to people. Many new managers just try to work harder than everyone on their team and think they drag them along in their wake. Instead, they need to manage others in doing all the tasks by delegating efficiently and consistently.
  • 6. Do Something You’re Really, Really Proud Of. As the articles describes it, "Whether or not it’s something you’ll be known for forever, something you get paid for doing, or even something you really want to do with your life, make sure you have something on your resume that, deep down, you’re really proud of." I'm thankful for several things I've gotten to do over my life, and have seen some have deep impact. For example, back in 1999, I listened to two students who wanted our youth group to start getting involved with the local Rescue Mission. We pulled it together, and after many stops and starts, learned how to build significant connection with folks living on the streets. Not only is this involvement still happening, but I was able to get another entire school involved after learning how to best do it. I think there has been great mutual benefit (certainly the students learned A TON) from this relationship-building and service.
  • 9. Do Something That Really Scares You. Too often we live within self-imposed limits that really deprive us of deep lessons to be learned. For me, at age 31 I stepped away from very familiar ground with students who looked like me and waded into the lives of gang members. I got completely schooled! But it took me on a trajectory I'm still riding, and am so thankful for it.
  • 10. Get Comfortable With Getting Feedback. Definitely not easy!! We all prefer pats on the back. But real feedback always makes me better. I just need to grow up and realize I will never be perfect.
  • 20. Know How to Manage Up. This is something I always work on with clients. The article sums it up well: "In fact, being able to manage up—or, communicate with your boss and advocate for what you need to do your job best—is a crucial job skill." I could spend a separate blog post on this one, and may just have to at some point. We all need to learn how to speak up for how we are being assessed and led. But it's a fine art that requires thoughtful and strategic effort.
  • 23. Find a To-Do List System That Works for You. All I can say here is YES!!!!! I probably work on this more consistently with clients than anything else. It requires ongoing attention almost every day, but it is SO worth it. It also leads to my last favorite on this list...
  • 26. Know How to Manage Stress. I didn't start thinking about this until 6 years after I graduated from college, when I basically crashed from overwork and burnout. Stress management is absolutely crucial to living a meaningful and sustainable life. And everyone does it differently. I love helping people figure this one out.
For those north of 35 years old, which ones are your favorites? For everyone in the thick of building your 35, which ones are kicking your butt? Where do you need help?

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Leadership Lessons Learned from Laborers Leaving

Forgive my over-reliance on alliteration... I struggled to find a catchy title for this one!

Let me open by saying that I am NOT a Human Resources specialist. Any certification I've received in this realm comes from the School of Hard Knocks. But over the years (and especially in the last year or two) I've had several clients come to me with burning questions like:

  • How often should I do performance reviews for my employees? And um, while we're at it, HOW do I do one?
  • How do I fire someone?
  • Should I do reviews for new hires? What questions should I ask?
  • How do I motivate an employee to improve?
  • How do I stop employee turnover?
In the world of #metoo and situations like the one Starbucks is facing right now, I will be the first to acknowledge that the whole HR world has gotten really complicated. In the past, Human Resources handled benefits and payroll, but was mostly available as a listening ear and a place to help mediate some sticky workplace conflicts. But now, most clients I talk to say that HR is so consumed with the administration of compliance and benefits that it has little to no time (or ability) to address the pressing questions I've listed above. This now falls to managers and leaders. And frankly, I think that is best.

Where do we start? Here are a few fundamentals I always make sure to ask:
  1. CONFLICT. On a scale of 1 to 10, how well do you handle conflict? This is always my first question, and crucial to the conversation. I often find that situations are allowed to escalate to an unmanageable level before being addressed, which makes things all the more difficult to handle. I always try to have someone complete a StrengthsFinder assessment at the start, which really helps in assessing someone's capacity for handling conflict. And then I am able to coach them in the best ways to address tenuous and challenging situations sooner rather than later. Additionally, here's a quick article on getting a jump start on overcoming your aversion to conflict: Conversations When You Don't Like Conflict.
  2. PERSONNEL FILES. Do you maintain up-to-date files on employees? This seems really basic, but I am always surprised at how often this gets neglected. In the hustle and bustle of daily office life, it is something easily put off for some other time. Yet it is imperative that managers and supervisors maintain up-to-date personnel files, and here are details on some best practices for how to do that. I would make sure to include significant communications through email that have been conducted as well. May I add that it becomes very difficult to let go of a difficult employee if you haven't maintained these files?
  3. PERFORMANCE REVIEWS. How often do you conduct them? I am a huge fan of conducting 60- to 90-day reviews for new hires (letting them know at the outset that you'll be doing so). Let me know if you need help formulating a plan for that. I also heartily recommend that you conduct consistent performance reviews. However, we can all perhaps agree that the tradition of Annual Reviews feels rather useless, and has simply become an excuse for an employee to ask for a raise. This is a missed opportunity! Performance reviews can be a chance to develop your employees into leaders. But we must keep in mind that all research indicates that Millennials (currently aged 20-38, roughly) want more regular feedback in a much less structured way, in real-time. This may feel like additional work for the managers, but I find it also improves employee engagement to really commit to this form of leadership development - I recommend quarterly reviews, at minimum. Gallup is doing some good work in this arena. Here's a longer article, with my highlights to save you time! Re-Engineering Performance Management.
  4. PIP. Have you ever done a Performance Improvement Plan? Sometimes I cut straight to the chase on this one. If you have never done one, it's time to learn! Here's an online article that I've used with a couple of clients. I like it because it takes the positive approach -- ideally, PIP's will help employees improve, rather than serve as a perfunctory step to cover one's behind in preparation to fire someone.
  5. EMPLOYEE HANDBOOK. Do you even have one? I am WAY over my skis on this, but want to mention it. I know of resources to refer you to, but it is IMPERATIVE that your handbook be kept up to date -- everything is changing constantly, from online usage to dress codes to FMLA to harassment to so many other things, so cover your bases and schedule an annual update at the very least.
  6. EXIT INTERVIEWS. Take the time to do these. In a time of low unemployment, I am hearing the woes of many employers - they are having a harder time than ever in keeping good employees. Glassdoor has written up a resource on how to conduct exit interviews that might be helpful. I'm hearing from some clients that they are gleaning useful data on how to tweak their employment numbers by doing this.
My goal with everyone I talk to about this is to encourage them to see these situations as opportunities to LEAD rather than as onerous burdens. If you want to create a culture of excellence, it includes paying attention to this. Let's get going!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

If You are Leading Anyone, Anywhere, You Should Read This

Whenever I run into an old friend (which happens often because I've lived in the same town since 1979...), I usually get "so-what-are-you-up-to?" question and I try to briefly explain this whole consulting and leadership development "thang" I've been doing for the last several years and more often than not I get a bit of a cocked-head look that says, "What exactly does that MEAN?"

If you are...
... an owner, executive, senior leader, supervisor of many;
... a (new?) manager leading a team of employees;
... a grad student / teacher / professor instructing and advising students;
... a coach guiding, training, coaxing, pushing athletes;
... a parent;
... a volunteer leading others at church, school, or non-profit...

Then YOU ARE A LEADER. And most leaders do not receive much training before they get thrown into the water to see if they can swim!

So I try to help with that process, mostly listening and empathizing a lot before I try to give any feedback to assist in their leadership development. Currently I'm working with college presidents, senior pastors, faculty, C-Suite executives, directors of non-profits, business owners, managers and really really nice people!

In the spirit of this glorious pursuit of leadership development, here are four useful articles. Bookmark this and read one each day this workweek. Share them with your colleagues. Discuss them around a table. Make it normal and transparent to talk about leadership development. There is ALWAYS more to learn. We can always get get better. Cheers!

HBR IdeaCast on Leading During a Time of Change. Harvard University's president, Drew Gilpin Faust, is moving on after being the president of Harvard for the past 11 years. This is a fascinating interview about how to get a whole bunch of moving parts in some sort of synchronization. (Pssst! The HBR IdeaCast is a good podcast to follow...)

How to Bring Out the Best in Your People and Company. Wow. Wow. Wow. This is a really good article. Take the time to work through it with your colleagues. The opening lines had me at "hello." (Perhaps because they quote Brene Brown!)
Connecting with others and belonging are basic human needs that are essential to being our best selves.
Social science researcher Brené Brown defines belonging as "the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance."
This is an outstanding how-to on the fundamentals of team-building and culture.

How to Recover from a Cultural Faux Pas. Admit it. We've all done it... either we're nervous or think we're funny or we're just CLUELESS and we put both feet and one of our hands into our mouth by saying something stupid (lame, insensitive, embarrassing, uninformed...). As our world grows and grows through technology, global economics, and ease of travel, we have even more chances to get it wrong. This is a good start. 

Using Multiple Trello Boards for a Super-Flexible Workflow. I know, I know, it feels OVERWHELMING to think AGAIN about how to manage your emails / projects / meetings / travel / appointments / etc etc. and you are so tired of all these productivity apps making promises they don't keep. All I can say is "I'm sorry" and "I understand." But a KEY PART of leadership development is keeping on top of all the crazy!! At least I can say that this article holds you gently by the hand and walks you into a possible plan for organizing all the details. That's all I'm saying...

Please let me know if one or all of these are helpful. I'm rooting for you!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Update on Podcasts Post No. 4: Astronauts Are Awesome!

Last week I wrote about an excellent podcast I'd recently listened to on how to built trust on teams. And they profiled space programs as exemplars of this approach.

I'm happy to report that a client reached out to me after reading my post and listening to the podcast. See his brief comments below... and see his example as an invitation from me to do the same. I would LOVE to give profile to your experiences with anything I talk about here. Thanks for reading and collaborating! See his feedback below.

Okay, this podcast was AWESOME!  I’ve always been fascinated by space, so listening to any podcast where astronauts share their experiences is a lot of fun.
And trust is something near and dear to my heart as well.  Combine the two and it’s a perfect podcast.

Over the years, I’ve experienced great team building activities and horrible team building.  I think this podcast nailed it on the head.  When leaders or team members are vulnerable first, it is a catalyst to build trust. 
My philosophy has always been to combine team building exercises into fun, crazy group activities along with time of sharing from the heart. 

I’ve forwarded this podcast on to my key team leads and challenged them to think of how we can improve building trust among our teams.  I’ll follow up with them later this month to see what ideas they come up with.  Should be interesting to hear from them - they bring a wide span of gifts to their leadership.  I love my job! Thanks for sharing.

Again, feel free to let me know your thoughts on the resources I share here. You don't have to work alone.

I'll end with my favorite quote from this week ~ it was shared at a roundtable I participated in earlier this week. Cheers!
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” 
― R. Buckminster Fuller

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Podcasts Post No. 5: Feeling Lost and Facing Loss

I have had the tremendous privilege of being invited to walk alongside people during the most intense times of life: birth, courtship, marriage, divorce, mental illness, betrayal, terminal illness, long-held secrets... you name it. The highs were very high and the lows often felt consuming and unbearable. While I have cherished the profound joys shared, I have found that part of why I am able to draw such deep delight from them is that because I have also been dragged through the depths several times. And those times are so agonizing as to be truly "breath-taking." There is nothing to say in the face of deep pain and fortunately I learned rather early on just to SHUT. UP. and sit with someone.

This might seem rather heavy and perhaps you would rather skip this post altogether. But in the midst of my work in the past month I have talked with two people who are depressed, and it has been important for them to actually just acknowledge that to another person. So I bring it up here and want to remind you that the odds are quite good that someone you know (if not you yourself) is depressed. And it is a great gift to that person to remind them that they aren't alone. As Andrew Solomon says in one of the posts I'll be recommending,
"I think depression is, above all, an illness of loneliness. I think the sense that you are unable to do things and that no one can help you — eventually, you go to a doctor and he gives you some kind of medication, or you go to another kind of doctor and he gives you psychotherapy, or, in fact, you go to a priest or a minister or a rabbi or somebody like that, who tries to encourage you and to keep you going through philosophical and theological argument — but you lose the sense of the inevitability of your own being alive. And that’s the most lonely, isolating feeling."
Since this is a blog about leadership development, I am here to remind us all that part of being a leader will certainly require us to persevere through incredibly difficult times, and crucial to our growth in maturity and depth will be the willingness to walk through the fire rather than numb ourselves or do anything possible to avoid the pain. Both of the podcasts I list today are quite powerful arguments for why we must learn how to get through the sadness and grief.

Both episodes come from the same podcast and I cannot recommend it enough. It is called On Being, which describes itself as, "Conversation about the big questions of meaning in 21st century lives and endeavors — spiritual inquiry, science, social innovation, and the arts."

Listen to these if you are interested in learning from those who have walked these roads and come out on the other side as deeper, more sensitive and thoughtful leaders:

Parker Palmer is the author of the book Let Your Life Speak, which is on my list of the top five books that have impacted my life. If you're looking for a brief but extremely thought-provoking book that will prompt reflection on career, vocation and purpose, this is what I recommend. (Then again, my chiropractor thought it had too much "touchy-feely" stuff, so there you have it!)

I listened to the podcast regarding Sheryl Sandberg's untimely loss of her husband twice because it was so moving to me. Buckle up for a surprisingly vulnerable and generous interview.

Thanks for reading this far. Please let me know if you found either or both of these podcasts valuable. As leaders we need to create space for people to enter such times when they comes. As Sandberg said,
“I have lived 30 years in these 30 days. I am 30 years sadder. I feel like I am 30 years wiser.”
May we learn to walk with others when they are in such places, and be brave enough to invite others into our own struggles when they occur. Godspeed.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Podcasts Posts No. 4: Building Trust

So far I've shared podcasts on how to nurture organizational culture, how to push through roadblocks to creativity, and how to support one another through immense personal challenge. Together these give you a small sense of the variety of podcasts I listen to... but really, we're just getting started. I have 35 different podcasts I regularly check. Should I admit that?

Ignoring my own nerdy addictions... on to today's podcast. Despite its title ("WorkLife with Adam Grant"), this episode is pertinent to everyone. The title is How Astronauts Build Trust. Early on, they give a few examples of where we rely on trust: agreeing to a friend's pick for a restaurant, letting someone else drive, picking your next job, flying in an airplane... you get the picture.

The main premise of this podcast is that the best way to build trust is by going through stress together. The host Adam Grant puts it this way:
"Stress doesn't just teach us about each other; it also forces us to be vulnerable together."
As one of his interviewees states, "If we're vulnerable together, we're gonna get CLOSE. We're gonna trust each other. We're gonna cooperate; we're gonna have cohesion."

I don't want to give more away. Just check it out. We all need to build trust, whether it's in the workplace or with those closest to us. We all need to solve hard problems with others at different points in our lives, in different contexts. Listen here to gain some pithy insights.

P.S. If you want to keep digging in to what it means to build trust.... REAL trust... this is my go-to resource: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni.


Hearty Bread for the Whole Journey? aka, "What's with the vague subtitle?"

If you have sat through (endured? enjoyed?) one of my Strengths Finder presentations, you know that I often refer back to my life as an eter...