CEE Blog

Perspectives on the World We Work In

6 Things Successful Change Leaders Know

Can you feel it in the air? For the past few weeks, everything around us has been changing. The sun is setting earlier. Leaves are changing in color to vibrant reds and deep yellows. There’s no denying that fall is here and winter is just around the corner. As humans, we are hard wired to accept the inevitability of seasonal changes. Although we can manage extreme weather changes of four seasons a year, why are we so resistant to organizational changes?

If you’re engaged in the effort to set a new direction, orchestrate innovation, or mold a culture, here are six universal truths that can guide you along the way.

1. People don’t resist change. They resist being changed. As management guru Peter Senge suggests, resistance is greatest when change is inflicted on people. If you can give people a chance to offer their input, change is more likely to be met with enthusiasm and commitment.

2. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Big goals can seem overwhelming and cause us to freeze. This simple truth, attributed to Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, is a reminder to get moving. Take the first step, however small it may seem, and the journey is underway.

3. If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. Many change efforts fall short because of confusion over the end goal. In the Lewis Carroll classic, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice asks the Cheshire cat which road she should take. The cat’s response reminds us to focus on the destination first, then choose the best path.

4. Change is a process, not a decision. It happens all too often. Senior executives make pronouncements about change, and then launch programs that lose steam. Lasting change requires an ongoing commitment to the process reinforced by constant communication, tools, and milestone recognitions.

5. Do not declare victory prematurely. In his book, The Heart of Change Field Guide, author Dan Cohen suggests that short-term wins do not necessarily equal long-term success. Cohen writes, “keep urgency up and a feeling of false pride down.”

6. Be the change you wish to see in the world. These famous words attributed to Gandhi reminds us all — executives with associates, political leaders with followers, or parents with children — that one of our most important tasks is to exemplify the best of what the change is all about.

Any form of change requires an adjustment period, and some are easier than others. While seasonal changes are predictable and tend to go over smoothly, organizational changes cause more chaos. Leaders trying to implement changes in the workplace can take heart in these truisms, settle in and enjoy the journey.

Question: Chances are, you’re going through a change effort now. Which of these truths can you apply today to help you succeed?

4 Steps to Breathe Life Into Your Strategic Plan

Stand up if you can locate a copy of your organization’s strategic plan in less than five clicks from your desktop (or in a 3-ring binder on your bookshelf). Now keep standing if you’ve opened that file (or binder) in the last quarter.

Most likely, your organization is going through another season of strategic planning this time of year. But, if you haven’t cracked open last year’s plan, then the hours and hours of work you’re about to repeat will likely become another waste of valuable time and effort. To be relevant, strategy must be both planned and executed.

1. Make your goals short and clear. Fuzzy goals are easy to agree on but hard to execute. Fuzzy goals are open to interpretation and a waste of valuable resources. The outcome needs to be empirically verifiable. Everyone involved needs to be able to gauge whether the target has been met.

2. Assign individual responsibility for each goal. It may take a team to achieve each goal, but if everyone is responsible, no one is accountable. Clarifying responsibility will lead to accountability. Bonus: don’t assign most goals to the top executives. The further down the org chart goals are assigned, the more likely your organization will be aligned for success.

3. Measure twice. Cut once. Take the time up front to establish the best way to set targets for goal achievement, then report monthly on target-to-actual measurements. If you’re measuring something that your organization hasn’t executed before, look for industry benchmarks to set targets.

4. Review performance monthly. Execution-focused leaders meet regularly to review target-to-actual performance.

a. When performance slides, ask this series of questions:

b. Why is performance sliding?

c. Keep asking “why” until you reach a root cause.

d. What are we doing to fix the problem?

Do we need to put a cross-functional team on this to improve performance now, or is this an anomaly that will correct itself next month?

When leaders create explicit goals, assign individuals responsible, agree on achievable targets, and revisit performance every month, they are more likely to stay connected to strategic plans, and those plans are more likely to become reality.

Question: What is your organization doing to move from strategic planning to strategy execution?

 

Winter is coming! Need a roadmap to turn your most important goals into results? Whether you’re a startup or need a restart, we can help you develop a strategic plan and help your employees connect the dots. Click on the link above or email us at info@executiveexcellence.com to set-up a free 30 minute consultation.

 

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Sheri Nasim is President and CEO of Center for Executive Excellence, a leadership consulting firm headquartered in San Diego, CA. She is the author of Work On Purpose: How to Connect Who You Are With What You Do.

Driven by the premise that excellence is the result of aligning people, purpose and performance, Center for Executive Excellence facilitates training in leading self, leading teams and leading organizations. To learn more, visit us today at www.executiveexcellence.com or subscribe to receive CEE News!

The 5 Levels of Listening

Picture this. The CEO needs to make a decision about a cost-saving measure, and has turned to your team for advice. In support of the initiative to go paperless, she wants to eliminate either pens or pencils from use by employees across the organization. The program will be considered a success if it is rolled out in 30 days from today, 100% of employees have converted from the legacy writing instrument, and employee morale does not drop.

As ridiculous as this initiative may sound, the scenario sounds all too familiar. Teams are often given limited time, little supporting data, and high expectations to make decisions that will have enterprise-wide impact.

What is also familiar is that teams are working on several other initiatives with compressed due dates. When the topic of pens versus pencils comes up on the team meeting agenda, only one member of the team has a strong position. Let’s call him the Advocate. The Advocate has studied the issue, has prior experience with a successful rollout of a similar initiative, and has drafted a plan to share with the team.

When the issue is brought up at a meeting, the team members are scattered in focus, and don’t practice the listening skills that would take advantage of the Advocate’s expertise and passion. Instead, they fall into four types of listeners: Ignore, Volley, Judge, and Apply.

Ignore. The Ignorer must attend the meeting, but obviously has other issues pressing for his attention. He’s buried in his phone, but throws out occasional comments like “Uh huh” or “Wait. What are we talking about?” from time to time. His guiding statement is, “You’re not important to me right now.”

Volley. This person doesn’t really agree or disagree with the Advocate about this issue, but wants to be a part of the conversation to get his own remarks on record. He’s preparing his comeback while the Advocate is talking, and interrupts in mid-sentence. His guiding statement is, “You think that’s right/wrong, I can top that.”

Judge. She strongly disagrees with the Advocate about this issue. She’s constantly fact-checking, and making assumptions and conclusions before she hears out the Advocate. Her guiding statement is, “Here’s your problem.”

Apply. This person considers the Advocate a subject matter expert and is here to learn, but not ask clarifying questions or offer feedback. She pays close attention as she downloads information from the Advocate and her other teammates. Her guiding statement is, “What can I take away and keep myself safe?”

Scenarios like this play out all too often. The ability for teams to share information, and make decisions gets bogged down by the inability to listen. Instead, we accept unproductive listening behavior. We let Ignoring, Volleying, Judging, and Applying pass for listening. But to truly hear one another productively, we must practice listening with empathy, as follows:

Empathize. Team members don’t initially agree or disagree with the Advocate, but are present to the Advocate’s words and, more importantly, are open to being changed by what is said. They give their full attention to the Advocate’s words and body language. They stay curious, make an emotional connection, and forget their own agenda. Their guiding statement is, “What are you experiencing?”

Listening with empathy takes practice. It requires being fully present to the thoughts and feelings of others, setting aside our ego, and being open to information that may change our paradigm about an issue. As you go through your workday, take note of how many of the five levels of listening take place among your team members, and how your team would benefit by practicing listening with empathy.

Question: Which of the five levels of listening do you hear in your team meetings?

Download our 5 Levels of Listening free resource. Ask yourself which of these 5 levels of Listening are you participating in. If you find yourself regularly falling into the Ignoring, Volleying, Judging, or Applying levels of listening, take some time to remember the prescription for that level, so that you can become a more Empathetic listener.

 

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CEE News is designed to help you with the challenges you face every day by sharing infographics, white papers, best practices, and spotlighting businesses that are getting it right. I hope you’ll subscribe to CEE News and it becomes a resource that continually adds value to your walk as a leader. If I can be of assistance in any way, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

4 Easy Ways to Improve Employee Engagement Now!

Every week, we talk to leaders who are responsible for making sweeping organizational changes. Some are going through mergers. Some are opening new international markets. Others are leading major rebranding initiatives.

Change is pervasive in our society and a fact of life in organizations. It’s easy to get caught up in the sexy complexities of organizational change. So easy, in fact, that we can forget to connect with what our employees are doing each day to keep the engines running. If that disconnect is too great, we run the risk of creating lasting damage.

Gallup reports that 7 out of every 10 employees are disengaged at work. If your calendar is loaded with meetings about your latest strategic initiative, consider making room for small changes to engage with your employees. Take some time to show them that they are valued members of your team.

Here are 4 small changes that can produce big results:



1. Greet every employee you encounter, making eye contact and smiling, no matter how rushed you feel. 
Does this sound too simple to be effective? Remember that every employee wants to be recognized. At its most basic, that means seeing and acknowledging each person. This takes very little time, but can significantly improve the spirits of the entire organization. Be genuine though. Employees can spot a smile-o-matic from miles away.

 


2. Spend at least 15 minutes each day simply listening to what your employees have to say. 
Leaders spend so much time telling, that it is easy to forget the value of listening. Listen with your ears, your eyes, and your heart. With daily practice, you’ll begin to find out what matters most to your employees. Great leaders are great listeners.

 

4 Easy Ways to Improve Employee Engagement Now_ICONS-02


3. Connect employees’ daily contributions to the organization’s strategic objectives. 
Granted, there may be some strategic initiatives in the pipeline that you are not ready to share with your employees. But employees can and should connect what they do each day to the published organizational goals. As a leader, it is vital that help employees connect the dots between what they do and what the organization is trying to achieve. Read more about proven ways to connect your employees with your strategic plan here.


4. Offer more praise than corrective feedback. Being negative comes naturally. But, according to this Galllup Business Journal article, “Recognition is a short-term need that has to be satisfied on an ongoing basis – weekly, maybe daily.” Every time we praise, it creates a burst of dopamine or internal reward system that makes employees want to repeat the behavior that was positively recognized.

 

Each of these four simple steps takes very little time out of your day. Find the time and take the time to make these small changes to keep your employees engaged.

Question: Which of these actions could you take today?

 

Download our infographic: From Buzz Phrase to Business Case: Why Employee Engagement Really Matters or email us at info@executiveexcellence.com to learn more about our workshops and corporate training opportunities for employee engagement. We’d love to hear from you!

3 Steps to Leveraging Team Conflict

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” Like many of the quotes attributed to Henry Ford nearly 100 years ago, this one continues to ring true today. Ford was known for his innovation, ingenuity, and resourcefulness that revolutionized transportation in America.

Today, the world is poised for another revolution that will not only transportation, but every other conceivable industry. In order to meet the overwhelming demand and associated stresses that these changes will bring, teams will need to effectively deal with conflict. When some of your team members have strong, conflicting opinions about what strategy to take, here are three steps you can take to put everyone back on track:

1.    Separate the business issues from the personal issues. If personal styles vary greatly among your team members, administer an assessment like the Gallup© StrengthsFinder. Collect the top five strengths of every team member and put them on a matrix. Review the matrix with the team to help them see what personal styles they have in common, and where there are differences. Doing so will enable the team to build a common frame of references for dealing with individual differences.

2.    Identify where the team is in violent agreement. If you haven’t taken the time to create a team charter, now may be a good time to stop and do so. The process of creating a charter will allow the team to establish a common set of values, purpose, goals, and expectations. Have the team sign the charter, give each member a copy, and post a copy in a common area. When conflicts arise, use the charter as a North Star to guide the team back to the what they mutually agreed to. Here’s a template published by Redbooth to get you started.

3.    Pop the power bubbles. Sometimes, conflict involves power issues or strong personal agendas that require your direct attention. If you allow these to go unchecked for too long, it will erode confidence in your ability to lead the team. Sit down with any members of your team who may be testing your authority. Help them identify the sources of their conflict. Let them know that you will provide every resource you have available to help them, but that team cohesion is your first priority. Read this article from the Harvard Business Review to learn more about toxic team members.

Conflict can be healthy for a team when it’s channeled properly. Knowing how and when to intervene is a leadership skill that will pay off for you and your team.

Question: What approaches have you found helpful to create a culture of healthy conflict with your team?

Interested in getting more content like this? Subscribe to CEE News!

CEE News is designed to help you with the challenges you face every day by sharing infographics, white papers, best practices, and spotlighting businesses that are getting it right. I hope you’ll subscribe to CEE News and it becomes a resource that continually adds value to your walk as a leader. If I can be of assistance in any way, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Make A Mistake? Take A Failure Bow!

Think about the last mistake that you made. Now think about what happens to your body when you realize you made the mistake.

Here’s an example. You’re happily going about your daily routine, when, “Oops!” you realize that you forgot to bring something that you need for your next meeting. Or, you remember a commitment you made that you forgot to deliver on. It could be something as innocuous as leaving a phone on a colleague’s desk, to something important like forgetting your anniversary. Regardless of the level of the mistake, in the moment it occurs to us that we did not do the right thing at the right time, what happens to our body?

We cringe. And sometimes, not subtly. Sometimes, we instinctively throw one hand over our head and block our chin with the other. Our shoulders curl, we squint our eyes, and we make ourselves smaller — like a prize fighter protecting himself from a blow. But, there is no physical blow. There’s only a mental blow that we manifest physically as shame for failure.

It’s something that we have done so many times over the years of making mistakes, that we don’t event recognize that we do it. It’s automatic.

The problem is, suggests Matt Smith in his TEDx Talk on Sustainable Happiness, that embodying our mistakes over and over can lead our thoughts to change from, “I made a mistake” to “I am a mistake.” The cringe mode is the embodiment of the mistake. We become the mistake.

When we allow ourselves to go into cringe mode every time we make a mistake, we put our bodies in a protective, inward posture that does not invite growth. Over time, the muscle memory of what it feels like to make a mistake keeps us from trying new things, from suggesting new ideas, or even from thinking new thoughts. We freeze.

Research by social psychologists like Amy Cuddy suggests that we may be able to change our own body chemistry — simply by changing body positions. What’s more, neuroscience studies show that our brains are filled with neurons that mirror not only the actions, but the emotions, of those around us. So, going into self-imposed cringe mode can cause those around us to replicate the shame we feel for making mistakes.

So how do you rewire your impulse to protect yourself from cringe mode when you realize you’ve made a mistake?

Take a Failure Bow. If you’ve ever watched an Olympic gymnast recover from a shaky landing after a vault jump or a high beam routine, you’ve seen the Failure Bow. The next time you catch your body going to automatic cringe posture from making a mistake, stop yourself and immediately switch to a Failure Bow. You can do it like an Olympic gymnast. You can do it like a trapeze artist. You can do it like a magician. You can even add a “Ta Da!” for emphasis.

Bring Yourself Back to the Present. The Failure Bow develops the skill of bringing your attention back to the present moment and resets your focus. It’s impossible to cringe in shame and bow like a gymnast who’s just stuck the perfect landing at the same time. Likewise, it’s impossible to feel shame and get locked in the past if your body is facing open and outward.

Acknowledge the Learning Path. The purpose of the Failure Bow is not to celebrate mistake making. Its purpose is to acknowledge the facts of a mistake, then create an alternative interpretation of those facts. “I failed because I’m lousy at this” tells a radically different story than “I’m bravely walking a risk-filled learning edge.” The former compounds the mistake by embodying it — the latter makes it a natural part of learning.

We work in a world where innovation is a requirement for survival. We need to be creative, take chances, and innovate. Mistakes are a natural part of that process. The next time you find yourself going into cringe mode, celebrate the learning path by taking a dramatic Failure Bow. You’ll reset the shame, acknowledge your vulnerability, and move forward with humor.

Question: How do you rewire your impulse to protect yourself from the shame that comes with the innovation process?

Can You Pass the Trust Test?

According to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in institutions is evaporating at an alarming rate. For 17 years, Edelman has measured trust in 28 countries. This year, trust in government, business, media and NGOs is little more than 47% on average. CEO credibility declined in all 28 countries to just 37%.

Interestingly, these stats represent institutions and business leaders in developed countries. It’s enough to make us stop and think, “Just how developed are leaders of the 21st century?” Is it time for a trust reset? If so, where do we begin?

We can choose to focus on issues in 2016 that contributed to the results – the rise of populist elections, protectionist governments, and fear of job displacement by the rapid rise in technology. But when we focus on the macro level, we can quickly become overwhelmed. We may think that what we do as individuals doesn’t matter in the big picture. The truth is that trust matters, and it starts with us.

In his book The Speed of Trust, author Stephen M.R. Covey states that trust has become the key leadership competency of the global economy. He argues that rebuilding trust at the macro level starts with each individual. Like a ripple in a pond, trust begins within each of us personally, continues into our relationships, expands into our organizations, and ultimately encompasses our global society.

Turning the trust lens from outward to inward requires us to take a hard look at ourselves. If you think you’re ready, download this Trust Self-Assessment to see how you would score.

 

If there is room for improvement in your score, consider making changes in these three key areas:

1. Do I fulfill commitments to myself and others? In our fast-paced, information overload world, we’ve become accustomed to overpromising and under delivering. But, when we don’t follow through with our commitments, we lose credibility with others and respect for ourselves. Before you make any commitment, ask yourself these questions: 1) Is this a commitment I really want to make? 2) Will I follow through with this? Pause and reflect, then commit, deliver and repeat.

 

2. Do I walk my talk? When we share half-baked ideas or say things we don’t really mean, we lose personal credibility. People won’t believe the message if they don’t believe the messenger. Make sure your actions match your words and beliefs. Lead by example, modeling for others through consistency, competency and communication.

 

3. Do I extend trust to others? As a leader with responsibilities for business outcomes, it can be hard to extend trust to others. Yet, when we micromanage and fact check, we send the message to our team that they can’t be trusted. Over time, we can end up leading a team of paranoid cynics who don’t trust one another. Between the extremes of gullibility and paranoia is smart trust. Learn how to extend smart trust here. No second-guessing required.

Self-trust is at the core of everything we do. It ripples through every relationship, the organization, the market, and society. Give others a person they can trust.

Question: How did you score on the Trust Self-Assessment? In which of the three key areas can you improve?

Simon Sinek Explains the Trust Gap in Your Organization

In the third most popular TED Talk of all time, Simon Sinek inspired leaders to reconnect with their organizational why. In just 18 minutes and with a rough sketch of concentric circles on a flip chart, Sinek shared what he said was “probably the world’s simplest idea.” Most organizations focus on what they do and how they do it. But only the most inspired organizations have leaders who start with why they do it first. And for companies like Apple, and people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Wright Brothers, starting with why was the fundamental difference between success and obscurity.

In a less popular but equally profound TED Talk, Sinek turned again to the flip chart. In “First why and then trust,” Sinek illustrates why organizations must clarify and codify their why. Imagine a simple x, y graph. At the (0,0) coordinates, where x and y meet, is the genesis of an organization. At (0,0), x equals what and y equals, well, why. At that genesis, the what and the why are perfectly aligned. When a company launches, the founders are inspired by a big idea. They put some money together, and off they go.

At first, it’s easy for the founders to share their vision with their handful of employees. Customers are soon attracted and life is good. The what and the why lines grow in parallel on the chart. But, as Sinek explains, “the single biggest challenge that an organization will ever face is its own success.” Here’s why. The more successful an organization becomes, the more people it has to hire based on what they do. The company’s what keeps growing. “The problem is,” Sinek explains, “why they do it starts to go fuzzy.” And as the what and why lines separate, a trust gap occurs.

Consider this example that Sinek gives about trust in America since World War II:

The country rallied together to fight in a war in which they were united and unified behind a common cause. After the war, veterans took advantage of the GI Bill to get low-interest loans or cover tuition to attend college or trade schools. When they entered the job market, they applied the same sense of loyalty to their companies as they had to their country. “The problem is,” says Sinek, “as we started to become more affluent, and the wealth of country started to grow, that sense of purpose — that sense of trust — didn’t grow with it.”

Sinek goes on to describe how trust continued to fall through the 1960’s (the hippie movement), the 1970’s (the Me generation), the 1980’s (think greed is good), and the 1990’s (the dot.com bubble). Over the decades, the country became more and more affluent, but lost touch with its sense of purpose.

Here’s the key takeaway for your organization: the answer to why your organization exists can no longer be simply, “to make a profit.” If you don’t codify, clarify and deploy your why, you’ll have an unsustainable business model and no competitive advantage.

Question: Do you know your organization’s “why”? 

 

Do you know how to codify, clarify, and deploy your organizational purpose? Get our Summer special of 15% off a 2-hour workshop on What’s Your ROP? (Return on Purpose) between now and September 31, 2017. Get a list of available dates and learn more about the program by emailing me directly at info@executiveexcellence.com. [Read more about our Purpose Alignment services.]

4 Ways Introverts Excel As Leaders

What do Charles DarwinCandice Bergen and Michael Jordan have in common? They’re all introverts.

So are Bill GatesWarren Buffet and Mark Zuckerberg. When we think about the personality traits that effective leaders need, we typically think of people who are charismatic, dominant, and outgoing. We think of extroverts. Especially in the U.S.

study by researchers at Stanford suggests that Western cultures value excitement, and that these values carry over into the behavior of leaders in those countries. Author and TED Talk contributor Susan Cain agrees. In her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, she writes,

“The U.S. has become a nation of extroverts. The extrovert ideal really came to play at the turn of the 20th century when we had the rise of big business. We moved from what cultural historians call a culture of character to a culture of personality. During the culture of character, what was important was the good deeds that you performed when nobody was looking. Abraham Lincoln is the embodiment of the culture of character, and people celebrated him back then for being a man who did not offend by superiority. But at the turn of the century, when we moved into this culture of personality, suddenly what was admired was to be magnetic and charismatic.”

At a time when our headlines are full of messages from brash, assertive, outspoken leaders who love their own press, it may be time to consider the virtues of their quiet counterparts. Here are four ways introverts can turn their love of solitude and keen observational skills into effective leadership skills:

1. Listen first, talk second. Extroverts talk first and think later, because they express themselves more easily verbally. Yet according to Susan Cain, “There’s zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.” Rather than rely on witty repartee, introverts listen intently to what others say and internalize it before they speak. They’re not thinking about what to say while the other person is still talking, but rather listening so they can construct the best reply.

2. Leverage your quiet nature. Remember the meetings where everyone was clamoring to be heard, until Bill — who never said a peep — chimed in? Then what happened? Everyone turned around to look in awe at how Bill owned the moment by speaking calmly and deliberately. He was tapping into the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln who said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

3. Soak up the ‘me’ time. Introverts spend a lot of time in their own heads. And they need this time. It’s how they turn information into knowledge, and knowledge into insight. So set aside ‘me’ time every day. Find a quiet spot to sit down and reflect. Even if it’s 15 minutes. Let the thoughts flow through your head and jot down any new ideas that percolate.

4. Let your fingers do the talking. Introverts tend not to think out loud. Speaking extemporaneously is not their strong suit. Take advantage of opportunities to prepare your thoughts in writing. You’ll have time to choose compelling and persuasive language that you can refer to when you’re speaking and can leave with others to make sure your key points stick.

In a world where being social and outgoing are highly prized, it can be difficult to be an introvert. But introverts bring extraordinary gifts to the leadership table that should be celebrated and encouraged.

Question: What is your primary orientation? How can you leverage the talents of those who are your opposite? 

 

Interested in receiving some one-on-one coaching to help hone effective leadership skills? Check out our Leadership Development services or email me at snasim@executiveexcellence.com directly to set-up a free 30 minute consultation. We have a few spots available this summer for in-person or online coaching.

Triggered? Rewire Your Brain in 3 Easy Steps

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking at an event hosted by the San Diego Employers Association. I talked about the research I’ve been doing on a book I’m co-writing with Dr. Tony Baron about power and leadership.

CEE Founder Sheri Nasim and Danielle Aguas with SDEA Team!

Dr. Baron and I flew to U.C. Berkeley last year to visit Professor and social psychologist Dacher Keltner. Professor Keltner had just published a book called The Power Paradox. Using MRIs to study the brain, Keltner and his students found that when a person experiences power, the brain gets a little surge of dopamine – the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, love, addiction, and psychotic behavior.

The paradox, Keltner found, is that dopamine can also suppress our ability to empathize. That’s not good news for the people we’re supposed to be leading. (Read more about Professor Keltner’s findings here.)

Dr. Baron and I also reviewed what Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, refers to as the “amygdala hijack”. If you’ve ever experience road rage, you’re familiar with this phenomenon. Here’s a breakdown of why it happens.

Our brains are made up of three parts. The first and oldest is the brain stem. It’s responsible for the body’s basic operating functions like breathing and heartbeat. Next, comes the limbic system where the amygdalae are located. The amygdalae activate during times of stress. They are responsible for “fight or flight” responses that have kept us alive as since the days that cave men crossed paths with sabre-toothed tigers. Over the limbic system is the neocortex, which is responsible for logic and reason.

When the amygdalae are triggered by stress, they race into action. First, they signal the brain stem to release adrenaline and cortisol through the body. The heart beats faster, blood pressure rises, and breathing accelerates. Next, the amygdalae shut down the flow of blood to the neocortex, because using logic and reasoning could cause you to delay jumping into immediate action.

That’s the amygdala hijack. And though we’ve evolved from living in caves to condos, our brains don’t know the difference between a sabre tooth and a distracted driver. When someone cuts us off in traffic, we can lose the ability to reason. Our focus narrows, and all we can think is “I’m right and he’s wrong!”

We get triggered the same way when we are in a stressful meeting, or even when we replay memories of stressful events. Adrenaline and cortisol flood the body. What’s worse is that these stress hormones can stay in the body for up to 4 hours, which is why we may stay amped up long after the stressful situation has passed. There’s a term for that effect too – the amygdala hangover.

So, is there anything that we can do to avoid an amygdala hijack? Fortunately, yes.

1. Recognize when you are triggered.  If you get easily triggered at work, especially when you’re in meetings with the same people each week, this is an excellent opportunity to practice. You might start by going to the meeting, getting upset, staying upset for a day or two before you realize that you were triggered. The next week, you go to the meeting, get upset, and stay that way until you get home that evening before you recognize that you’ve been triggered. The next week, you’re in the meeting and you start to feel your chest tighten and your blood pressure rise just before you get upset. You still get upset, but you notice what’s happening in your body in the moment. Progress!

2. Fire up your neocortex. Once you can recognize that you are being triggered in the moment, you can move to Step 2. Thomas Jefferson once said that if you get mad, count to 10. If you get really mad, count to 100. This sounds simplistic, but it actually has the effect that you need to counter an amygdala hijack. When you count, you re-engage the neocortex that was shut off just seconds ago. Counting will give you the ability to re-access logic and will build the distance you need to see things more clearly.

3. Switch your attention. Take long, intentional breaths. Again, this sounds simplistic, but when you bring your attention repeatedly to each breath as you have it, you activate the parasympathetic system. That’s the part of your nervous system responsible for “rest and digest.” Taking deep, mindful breaths will have the net result of bringing you back into a calm state.

Recognize when you are triggered, reconnect with your neocortex, and take slow, deep breaths to find the path back to a calm state. Doing so over time, will form new neural pathways to re-take control of your brain.

Question: When was the last time you got upset? Did you blame others for your response, or did you recognize that you were triggered?

 

Interested in learning more about how to rewire your brain to excel at leadership? Summer special: Get 15% off our executive coaching services when you book between now and August 1, 2017. Learn more about our process by emailing me directly at snasim@executiveexcellence.com. [Read more about our Executive Coaching services.]

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How to Dig Out of the Valley of Despair During Culture Change

One of the most challenging yet satisfying roles we play at Center for Executive Excellence is helping teams through culture transformations. These are heavy lift, long-term projects that require us to embed ourselves with our clients to execute the transformation roadmap.

The mechanics of the process are tailored from client to client, depending on things like size, business case, and readiness for change. The emotional cycle, however, is a consistent 5-stage process.

Stage 1 is uninformed optimism.

Stage 2 is informed pessimism.

Stage 3 is the “Oh S*&t! What have we gotten ourselves into?” phase, also known as the “Valley of Despair.”

Stage 4 is informed optimism.

Stage 5 is success and fulfillment.

Change of every type – both good and bad – can be stressful. Change takes us out of autopilot and forces us to lay down new neural pathways. Change makes us slow down and re-think what we’re thinking about.

I overheard another metaphor for change last week attributed to a leader at Chuao Chocolatier that helped explain cultural resistance to change. If you think of yourself as a piece of a jigsaw puzzle, you can imagine that your shape impacts the shape of those in your immediate surroundings. In turn, their shapes impact the shapes of those surrounding them, and so on throughout the entire organization.

If you try to change, you will meet resistance from those around you, because it will force them to change their shape. But, if enough of your team succeeds in changing together, it can be the catalyst for organizational change.

If you’re stuck in Stages 1 – 3 of your change project, try identifying a team that shows the highest proclivity to make the change you want to see in the rest of the organization. They will be most likely to find ways around resistance and influence those in their immediate surroundings to climb out of the Valley of Despair.

Question: Are you in the middle of a culture transformation? What stage do you find yourself in?

Take a Culture Field Trip

When was the last time you took a field trip? A time when you stepped out of your office, drove yourself to another company, and just observed. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the daily drama of leading our organizations. It’s tempting to tell ourselves that our methods are the best. Yet, a 90-minute field trip inside the office of another organization can be a major accelerator for your leadership journey.

That’s just what happened when we arranged for Stone Brewing Company President, Steve Wagner, to take a team of five employees to visit WD40 President and CEO, Garry Ridge, at the company’s San Diego headquarters. The mission: to learn what role culture plays in creating the WD40 brand and performance. The outcome: the ability for Stone Brewing to springboard its own initiative to align its culture and brand integrity.

With an international employee base of nearly 450, Ridge shared insights he’s gained to help WD40 achieve annual sales just under $400 million in 2016 – that’s nearly $1 million per employee. Here are some of the Stone team’s top takeaways:

1. Create a learning environment. When Ridge was promoted from within as CEO, he knew that growth was being held back partly due to deep silos within the organization. “Those who knew the most about how things worked guarded that knowledge, which gave them power,” Ridge said. He immediately set to work to define the concept of learning moments. Over time, he built trust in the concept by showing that no one would be punished for trying something new and sharing knowledge about what worked and what did not. At today’s WD40, knowledge is shared and information moves easily.

2. Personalize accountability and responsibility. In Helping People Win at Work, a book co-authored with Ken Blanchard, Ridge shares the unique WD40 performance review system. Employees develop measurable, achievable goals that will help the company reach its annual strategic targets. They describe what ‘A’ work looks like, rate their own progress each quarter, and review these ratings with their manager. The manager’s role is to help employees achieve all As. Ridge says, “If you help your people get As, your performance management system will ignite them to blow away your customers with outstanding service. Because people who feel good about themselves want to return the favor.”

3. Get your values off the wall. WD40 doesn’t just want good performers, it wants good performers who are also good citizens. Ridge believes that values must be at the core of your business model, not just words engraved in a plaque on the wall. Not only does the company have six, clear-to-understand values, but they are ranked in order of importance. He explained, “Life is about values conflicts. When these conflicts arise, people need to know which value to focus on.” Employees are taught the values at orientation, assigned to ‘tour guides’ to help explain values in action, and hold themselves accountable for demonstrating the values, which make up 30% of their performance review.

In 1 ½ hours, the Stone team saw a company that was candid about sharing knowledge, committed to achieving results, and clear about what it stands for. They gained actionable insights to help them crystallize their values, and cultivate the very best of Stone.

Question: If you were asked to share how your culture is aligned with your performance, what would you share in 90 minutes?