Aspire-CS Mary Jo Asmus Tue, 16 Jan 2018 16:04:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Include others in complex decisions Tue, 16 Jan 2018 16:04:41 +0000 You are smart and confident, traits that have helped you to be a successful leader. Yet these traits have a dark side that can work against you, causing you to be less effective. Some leaders have failed when they are certain their smarts will be enough, especially when situations requiring action are complex with high stakes. They may have relied on themselves too much, when they need to bring others into making the best decision.

The truth is that almost everything a leader does has more than one possible solution and including others in a decision is the best way to assure it’ll be the right one.

The good news is that you have a lot of smart people around you who can provide you with wise counsel. They’ll be willing to help if you let your guard down and open up enough to consider their ideas.

If you’ve been isolated and unwilling to include others in your decisions in the past, now is the time to be humble and ask for their input. You’ll need to change how you approach them as well as your internal mindset to one that allows you to consider all options.

Some or all of these tactics might work to help you make complex decisions:

Doubt your certainty and switch into a learning mode while asking others for their insight on the decision you need to make. Cast a wide net by asking yourself who can you include in your thinking that you haven’t yet. They may well have your organization’s best interests in mind, and you need to consider their advice.

Listen well to the concerns and ideas of others. At least for now, set your judgements of them and their ideas aside. Open your ears and your mind. Ask questions about why they think their suggestions are important (and continue to dive deeper with additional questions – that’s where the gems are often found!).

Consider all options you hear, weighing the pro’s and con’s of each. A simple exercise in facilitating the uncovering of a list of pro’s and con’s with a team or group will give you more diversity of thought. Other leaders find that using polarity management may cut through complexity in a different and sometimes more effective way.

Discuss the final decision while still considering it a “draft” before proceeding with stakeholders who will be affected. Let them know “the why” of your solution or decision and listen to what they have to say about it. You just might need to tweak a something before moving forward.

Proceed cautiously as you begin with your solution. Proceeding carefully with high stakes solutions might allow you to turn back or change course if things aren’t working the way you thought they would. Check in with those who are doing the work and listen to their thoughts about any course corrections that may need to be made.

The bottom line here is that some decisions are just better when you include others.

]]> 0
Make this year the beginning of closer work relationships Tue, 09 Jan 2018 13:49:15 +0000 Things are tough out there. Our core values are being challenged, our societies are being shaken up, and our organizations are filled with people who come into work every day confused and fearful.

For so many, work is a haven to feel accomplished, to get things done, and to develop relationships. You can be the facilitator and demonstrator of what it means to connect, relate, mentor, coach, and help others to feel a sense of stability, inclusion and relationship in the workplace in service to your organizational mission.

Gather up your courage and do something other leaders aren’t doing at your workplace by setting an intention to unite people through the simple act of showing that you need them. Next, set your sights on those who depend on you for leadership by finding new ways to help them to connect and work together.

Its not that hard, but it requires you to step up in a way that you haven’t before. And I’m sure that when you do, you’ll find stakeholders around you who are engaged and excited about what lies ahead for the rest of the year and beyond.

Start here:

Reach out to let your direct reports know of your intent, and ask for their help (you are clearly modelling interdependence in this way). Ask them, “What will help us to work more closely together in order to achieve our organizational mission with greater quality and timeliness?”. Listen, ask questions, and find bits of wisdom that you all can start using right now.

Widen your reach beyond your own organization to those that have a shared stake in your work as you lead the way toward greater connection. Your team is important, but so are peers, customers, contractors, and your manager. Ask them “How can we work together even more effectively?”, and take their suggestions seriously, using those that will move you further along in your relationship building.

Stay optimistic while verbally commending those who are working more closely together. Let them know that you approve of their efforts, and use their hard work as examples for others who may be struggling with this new emphasis on working together. Coach those who struggle and support them when you can.

Measure results of your efforts to lead those around you in closer working relationships. Can you track the efforts in business results? How about polls indicating employee engagement or satisfaction? You might find that you are losing fewer good employees to rival organizations, or that you are surprised that there is an unexpected uptick in new leaders stepping up to support your new relationship initiative.

Don’t rest on your accomplishments. Although relationship building may get easier once you’ve set the foundations, you need to ever vigilant that it continues, recognize those who are participating well, and intervene with those who require your help.

This could be the year that you make a difference through facilitating the relationship-building that will make your organization strong. Stand out, and get going because leadership is truly all about relationships.

]]> 0
How to develop your intuition Tue, 19 Dec 2017 14:00:10 +0000 The Oxford dictionary has a simple definition of intuition that I like: “A thing that one knows or considers likely from instinctive feeling rather than conscious reasoning”. Intuition is the ability to quickly take different thoughts that may have slipped below one’s consciousness  and to put them together to create a decision, a direction, or an idea. We’ve all experienced intuition but rarely think much about it.

Leaders need intuition because it fuels agility and creativity in the workplace. Intuition guides those snap judgment moments where things become very clear even when you weren’t thinking much about them. They most often come from within you but may have been “sparked” by something in the external environment.

Seasoned leaders use their intuition often because there are so many “unknowns” in their work, their employees, and the world today. It enables vision for their organization and themselves. Even if you are a new or budding leader, you can start now to build your intuitive capacity. Here are some ways to begin to get better at it:

Notice what stimulates your intuition: You may already inherently know how to stimulate your intuitive gifts. Many people say that taking a shower is a good way to come up with new insight. Others like to take a walk in the woods or a drive in their car with the radio and other distractions turned off. If these work for you, continue using them. If not, consider the following.

Start reflecting: A reflective practice with questions you ask yourself is a great way to “see” patterns and to put together information in such a way that you get insight you haven’t had before. This kind of reflective practice doesn’t have to take long either – note this post on “Reflection in 15 minutes with bullet points” for a way to start a brief reflective practice.

Learn to pay attention to your physical sensations and emotions: One of the first places an “intuitive hit” can appear is in your physical body. You’ve heard the expression, “gut feeling”? Well, that is real, as scientists have discovered neurons in the gut (and the heart, as well as sensory organs). Noticing physical sensations that may lead you in a direction (heartbeat speeding up, a tightening in your chest or gut, a change in breathing pattern, etc.) and being curious about why you might be experiencing them is a great way to become more intuitive.

Embrace new experiences and learning: Travelling to an unfamiliar location is, for many, another way to build up your intuitive power. Trying a new creative pursuit or learning a new language helps others. Learning new things is good, because the more you know, the more pieces of information that create those all-important patterns will be available to you.

Leaders with intuition find it easier to make snap decisions and to create a vision. They also tend to have a developed sense of understanding about people, how they behave and how to best lead them. Developing your intuition can make you a better leader.

Leading your team through a crisis Tue, 12 Dec 2017 14:59:28 +0000 Every once in a while, I work with a leader who heads up an organization that has been traumatized by an event or situation. This can be difficult work for the leader because they need to acknowledge and work with the suffering the employees are experiencing while continuing to move forward with the organizational mission.

Helping a team work through something that devastated them is hard work that every leader may not be naturally cut out for. It requires the leader to call up a great deal of empathy and compassion. Yet it is possible for even the “toughest” leader to bring forward some thoughtful understanding that will help the team to get through difficulty.

You can begin here:

Believe in your team and their ability to get through whatever crisis they’ve experienced. Let them know that you will support them as they go through their personal processing. Ask each individual what they need to become whole again and, when possible, grant them what they need.

Listen to their stories and notice emotions because these can be an indication of where they are at in getting through the crisis. Know  when they become overwhelmed with emotion and just listen. Sometimes doing this processing with the team as a whole can help each person  to realize that they aren’t alone.

Stay calm and nonjudgmental when emotions run high. Be the voice of calm, reasoned decisions. As a leader, you are being watched for your reaction, and your team will mirror your behavior. When you stay calm and nonjudgmental, chances are that they will also.

Support them in changing their behavior by coaching them to their personal and team goals. This helps them to consider a more energizing future and can help to take the focus off the crisis they’ve experienced. Recognize and acknowledge their progress.

Gently and firmly reiterate the organizational mission when you can. While you are paying attention to their emotional side, there is still work that needs to be done. Know that this is not the time to push hard, but to let the team know with care that work will and must continue.

Recognize when it’s time to move on and if some of the team isn’t able to put the trauma aside, perhaps it’s time for a heart to heart discussion. Let them know what is expected of them, and if team members aren’t able to move on in order to reach goals, perhaps it’s time for you to help them to consider other options than staying where they are.

Crisis happens in almost every organization at some time. The way you lead will help employees to move through it and to a focus on the work at hand.

The recipe for great leadership Tue, 05 Dec 2017 15:54:44 +0000 I’m a pretty decent cook who loves to try new and sometimes unusual recipes. I always follow the step by step instructions – at least the first time I try a recipe. After that, I can improvise to make a dish that is my own.

Oh how I wish great leadership were so simple that it could be condensed into a recipe. The truth is, that leaders aren’t just born (although they might be), and if they aren’t, they need learn to be great leaders. That learning can be difficult and complex.  In our rough and tumble business world, with high stress, big stakes and lightning fast movement, greatness is becoming more elusive for those who strive to achieve it.

Yet you can find your way to great leadership. I’ve had the privilege of watching ordinary leaders become great. When that happens, the following results occur:

Confidence is prevalent. Not only in the leader, but in their team members.

Talent emerges. Direct reports discover they have hidden strengths. New talent wants to work for that leader.

Cohesiveness materializes. The organizational vision and mission are clear and all stakeholders are supportive and engaged in it.

Results are achieved. Missions are accomplished on time and within budget.

Opportunities arise. The leader may get solicited to work at a bigger and broader initiatives with their company and elsewhere.

Isn’t that what you would like to have happen? But where do you start without a recipe for great leadership? Begin with cultivating your capacity for becoming:

Observant: When you can observe your own actions and emotions, as well as be cognizant of what is going on with your team, you can be more responsive to change. Lose the distractions and develop a focus on what is happening in front of you. Being observant is the first step toward using strengths and dealing with the gaps in yourself, your team members and the work you are doing.

Genuine: When you act with integrity and stay true to your values, you will not only be more confident of your actions, but you will also build trust with your stakeholders and others around you. To cultivate this kind of honesty in yourself, you need know what you value, have an intention to act accordingly, and create space for reflection time to become clear about the path ahead.

Flexible: Since your organization is changing rapidly in response to the external environment, you have to be willing to make quick decisions and embrace constant change. Many a leader has been brought down when they aren’t willing or able to see that a change needs to be made. Open yourself up to the experience of frequent reassessment to take action on new learning, skills and directions that allow you and your team to be responsive to what is happening.

Unfortunately, there is no recipe for becoming a great leader. Being observant, genuine and flexible set the ground work to help you to be the best you can be. From that foundation, you can improvise and learn to be a great leader in your own way.

Separating behavior from the person Tue, 28 Nov 2017 14:09:49 +0000 Many of us are quick to judge others based on an instance of unseemly behavior. As a leader, falling into the trap of quickly judging someone based on a single bad behavior isn’t the best way to assure you have an organization of people brimming with potential. It’s all too easy to paint a broad brush and declare individuals who behave badly as bad people.

Challenge yourself to look beyond an instance of bad behavior in the people you lead. Character and potential are not determined by one unfortunate action, but rather by the whole of the individual. Yes, poor behavior needs to be addressed. But we’re not talking about sociopaths here, rather the good people in your organization who sometimes behave badly and are capable of so much more.

Beware of letting someone’s poor behavior overrule your judgment, tipping it into a negative space. When you cling to judgement, you’ve shut them out of any possibility of being something more or better. You’ve also lost a chance on helping that person to grow and develop.

What if you were open to being surprised about the positive things that people who exhibited bad behavior are capable of by:

Looking for the good: Instead of focusing on the unacceptable behavior, what if you intentionally looked for the good in them and let them know what you see? When you stay present and intentional, you might find redeeming qualities you missed. My guess is that you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find some goodness.

Empathizing with them: We all make mistakes. What if you put yourself in their shoes and imagined how you might have behaved in their situation? You may find that you are just as human as they are, and fully capable to behaviors that are less than ideal. This understanding can help you to see something new and positive (and keep you humble!).

Supporting them: The vast majority of people mean well, want to improve, and are likely embarrassed by their bad behavior. They want to grow and develop. Their desire to become a better person may be very strong, but they need someone (like you perhaps?) to guide them. Offer support and guidance for their journey.

Leaders see the good, and help others to reach their highest potential. Behind unseemly behavior there might be a person just like you; someone who wants to get stronger and better.

Three enjoyable ways to manage stress Tue, 21 Nov 2017 13:54:27 +0000 Sometimes even the best leaders do bad things. If I had to name a common culprit that causes those bad behaviors, I’d pin it on chronic stress. Stress in the workplace has become so normalized that it often goes unnoticed to its victims until bad behavior shows up. When that happens, a stress-infected leader can negatively impact everyone they are connected with, increasing the stress levels throughout an organization.

Even more disheartening news is that there are health impacts from chronic, long term stress as well. Your body is designed to handle short bursts of stress, not the kind of ongoing stress that happens in so many organizations and stretches into months and years. Chronic stress can cause depression, anxiety and loss of sleep, and when those are experienced over a months and years, they can take their toll physically (heart disease is one manifestation of long term pressure).

So how do you recognize stress before it’s too late?

Physically: You might notice faster and more shallow breathing, a heart rhythm that is not regular (some people might feel their heart rate increasing or skipping beats) and muscles that are continually tight and sore (neck, and lower back may show up due to stress).

Emotionally: You may begin feeling down and anxious. Sleep doesn’t come as easily and you  awaken several times in a night, having trouble getting back to sleep. People might be avoiding you because you are grumpy or lashing out.

When you first notice these things, it’s time to do something. Even though much of the stress you experience is not caused by you, you can manage your reaction to it. You can begin doing so slowly with some things that can be fun.  Start here with some small steps that you just might enjoy:

Breathe: Step away from work for a few minutes to breathe. A daily break of 2 minutes twice a day to take some of those life-altering deep belly breaths should find its place in your schedule (plug a reminder into your smart phone!). Find a quiet spot if you can, and then close your eyes. Inhale, and notice your breath going slowly and deeply into your diaphragm. Exhale slowly, repeat until you feel your mind and body relaxing. The research is clear about the positive impact of deep breathing on stress.

Exercise: How about 20 minutes of walking a day? No time? Break it up into smaller chunks: 10 minutes before work, 10 minutes on a break. Still no time? Okay, start smaller. Five minutes twice a day, and work up to 10 minutes twice a day when you can. Exercise releases endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin, all-natural “highs” that your body produces and which fight stress and make you feel good.

Be grateful: Recent studies indicate that gratitude decreases some of the effects of stress, actually reducing inflammation, keeping artery plaque buildup at bay, and helping to maintain a healthy heart rhythm. Practicing gratitude can have a positive impact on depression, anxiety, and sleep. It only takes a minute a day to capture a few things or people that you are grateful for, and it will put a smile on your face.

Managing stress can be enjoyable and the results include better leadership and a healthy body, mind and soul.

]]> 2
Being vulnerable builds work relationships Tue, 14 Nov 2017 13:15:19 +0000 I was vying for a position in “corporate” that would round out my experience for something bigger later on. The manager who was interviewing me gave the most grueling interview I’d ever had. His intensity in interviews was the stuff of legends, and I wasn’t given a break.

I got the job, and came to realize this guy was actually a great leader and a joy to work for. In short, he was willing to be vulnerable. I thrived, as did the rest of the team, and it was one of the most enjoyable jobs I’d ever had due to this man and the connections that he fostered among us. Beyond his gruff exterior, he had a soft heart, was willing to be wrong and to not know all of the answers. And yes – he still demanded results and got them.

Brene’ Brown, a social scientist, speaker, and best-selling author, describes vulnerability as lying at the heart of great relationships. It is not about being “weak” (which is what most think it means), but a willingness to be genuine and real.

Yet it’s not uncommon for leaders to hold back, showing toughness and foregoing the genuine connection that vulnerability creates in order to avoid being seen as weak. Contrary to popular belief, being vulnerable – showing your real self –  is an act of courage that engages others and forges connections that foster trust.

Leaders who have the courage to be vulnerable are willing to admit they don’t have all the answers, and that sometimes they don’t even know the questions to ask.

The road to being more vulnerable and authentic can begin here:

Noticing your emotions: Beneath your tough exterior, you might be avoiding an acknowledgment that you have an emotional life too. Think about it: how many times have you felt something for a family member who is struggling? Those same emotions that have appeared at home but get buried at work have a place in building strong, trusting relationships.

Sharing your feelings: Opening up to let others know that you too have insecurities. Letting others know that you are happy, sad, or concerned about something or someone is a courageous act that binds others to you. They can see you as human, and that creates a shared experience that almost anyone can connect to.

Admitting when you don’t have the answers: This is a challenge in organizations that reward your knowledge. Admitting that there is something you don’t know is honest and real because nobody can know everything. Rather than making up an answer, “not knowing” creates trust in the shared experiences of travelling the path of the unknown.

Showing compassion: Your employees appreciate it when you show compassion for their situation. This might include expressing your gratitude that you are asking them to put in extra time to meet a deadline, or helping them out in some way when their personal lives are impacted by unfortunate events. Compassion is an act of vulnerability that connects us all to the human condition.

Being vulnerable isn’t a weakness, but rather an act of courage that binds people together into relationships built on trust. Without it, you are just working. With it, you work as a caring and engaged team.

]]> 2
How to heal a broken work relationship Tue, 31 Oct 2017 12:18:31 +0000 It happens a lot: you have someone in your circle of work relationships that is driving you crazy. This relationship may involve your boss, direct report, peer, client, customer or someone else that you feel is preventing you from being fully effective. You need this person in some way to help you to accomplish your goals and this failed relationship may be keeping you from doing that effectively.

This other person is difficult to work with; they may be disrespectful, passive aggressive, or just not pulling their load. You have tried working with this person, and out of exasperation, you may have addressed the issue with the individual previously to no avail.

So what now? You’ve done everything you can and are at your wit’s end.

When I hear these stories from leaders, I almost always find one of the following things left out. They require great courage and they are just waiting in the wings for you to pull them out and use them:

Take ownership for your part in the failed relationship. Have you communicated poorly with this person, not been fully truthful? Or perhaps you’ve been too indirect so the message of harm that is happening between the two of you isn’t clear to them. In almost every tough relationship situation, blame doesn’t belong in just one place. There is likely something you didn’t do, forgot to do, or avoided doing.

Allow yourself to be vulnerable about your part in the situation. This means that you might have to admit your mistakes to the other person and apologize. This is hard, and not something we want to do, but it opens the door to a conversation you haven’t yet had with this person.

Have empathy for the other person’s situation that may be causing them to act the way they are. This is especially difficult, but try to put yourself in their shoes. Despite what you might think, they most likely aren’t out to get you, but may have something going on in themselves or their life that impacts their less-than-ideal behavior.

Have the conversation you need to have with them while taking ownership, allowing yourself to be vulnerable and trying to understand their situation. Be direct and be kind. Listen a lot, and try to understand their side by asking questions. Don’t be defensive even when it’s hard not to be. Follow up if you must later and continue the conversation until you can come to a resolution.

These things just might bust through the barriers of a broken relationship that will be more satisfying in the future.

How to help people to change themselves Tue, 24 Oct 2017 12:43:40 +0000 You’re frustrated with a  good employee who reports to you because you feel they aren’t working up to their full potential. You’ve worked with them for some time now, and they appear to want to make the changes you’ve agreed to together, but you don’t see them.

You might also be irritated at yourself while you’re working hard to figure out what you should do to be  better coach or mentor to this employee. Maybe it’s time to understand how people change and allow yourself some compassion because you know that you can’t change others – only they can do that.

You’re up against a couple of things:

Conditioning: They’ve been conditioned to behave a certain way by their families, social circles and work environment. Almost unconsciously, they learn to do what works for them, what makes them feel good and rewards them in some way, even if it’s not what is needed now for them to fulfill their potential. These behaviors shape the brain like the grooves in vinyl records, facilitating habitual actions to play over and over without much thought.

Identity: Everyone forms an identity, meaning we all have a self-concept of who believe we are. Your employee’s behavior is shaped by this identity through mostly-unconsciously noticed feedback that reinforces the identity they’ve built for themselves. We all have an “identity” that we’ve shaped over the years. It’s the story we tell ourselves about who we are in the world.

The fact that you’ve been working with that employee with potential means that something in their world has changed where their conditioning and identity may also need to change. This change isn’t an easy job for them, since they are, as we all are, creatures of habit, we don’t particularly like change, and we prefer to convince ourselves that how we show up in our workplace is okay.

Except it isn’t always. It’s those times that the environment requires a personal change. We have to be adaptable or we can’t reach that latent potential we all have.

So, how can you support others to adapt and change in a way that will benefit them and your organization?

Self-observe: Ask them to self-observe themselves in action (or in the specific situations where the behavioral change is needed). This can be done by “splitting themselves in two” in real time – one part, doing what they normally do, the other part observing their physical, mental, and emotional reactions. Ask them what they notice.

Choosing: After enough self-observing and becoming familiar with their automatic behaviors, your employee may come to a point where they realize that they can choose, in the moment, the actions that are right for them and the situation. This is important to the changes they need to make and require you to simply guide them lightly in their choices.

Sustain: Making personal changes takes a lot out of courage, and it takes time. Your job will be to continue to support your employee while encouraging them as they walk down the path to not needing you anymore. At some point, they’ll feel like they can sustain the new behavior.

The truth is that you can’t change them – only they can do that. Having your support, though, as they go through the process of letting go of old habits and taking on new ones is key to their success at realizing their full potential.