Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How to Train Your Boss

If you haven’t read the latest Gallup results about workplace engagement, don’t. It’s depressing. According to Gallup 70% of the workers in this country are either out to get their company or minimally have mentally checked out. Only 30% are engaged and enjoy their jobs. More fascinating but not unexpected is the main reason for workplace discontent, the boss. According to the study what employees want from their bosses are three things: regular praise, opportunity for growth and involvement on how to improve whatever work they do. Well, if you have one of those bosses who fails in any one or all of these areas, here are some things you can do to train your boss.
1. Ask for praise. More specifically ask for feedback. If you really want to know how you are doing, ask on a regular basis. Most managers assume their employees know how they are doing which is why they don’t tell them. Also it’s uncomfortable for managers to give difficult feedback to people they don’t believe are receptive. After all, bosses are human. So make sure you ask what you are doing well (so you are praised, but more importantly so you can repeat it) and what you are not doing well. And be ready to listen to it.
When I was at Merrill Lynch I gave my manager a printed list at the end of the week of all I had accomplished (she didn’t do email). It gave her the opportunity to provide immediate feedback and I knew if I was on track or not.
2. Ask for opportunities. Assuming that your boss knows you want to try new opportunities at work is bad communication. Bosses can’t mind-read. If you want to try new assignments or growth opportunities, ask for them. And make sure the description, expectations, support, and final result are clear so that you will have the best opportunity to succeed. You also might come with suggestions of areas you want to explore. That way the boss doesn’t have to think it up.
Recently a support person on a financial team wanted to expand into the role of events planner. She suggested to her boss that a culinary experience might be fun for clients and beneficial to the team. So she volunteered to run it. When it was successful she became the event planner for the team, but without her suggesting it her boss would not have thought about it.
3. Suggest improvements. No one knows your job like you do. You probably know many ways your work can be improved to be more efficient, productive, etc. But all that brain power goes to waste if you don’t get your idea to your boss. So, if they don’t ask you how to improve your work or your job, suggest it to them. Start with how it will improve the work. When bosses see that something can be better they quickly realize what is in it for them. Then detail how and why your suggestion can be implemented. Finally suggest a trial run so that your boss can see the results. And remember, at the end of all this, if your idea is adopted, your boss will get most if not all of the credit, but she/he will understand where the idea came from and your will have bettered your workplace.
I worked with a team that struggled to meet it’s goals, everyone was on edge and not a lot was getting done. One of the newer members of the team suggested a reorganization of the work based on people’s strengths. She convinced the boss to try it. After the initial test they found that both their productivity and morale soared. The bonus was that the boss gave her all the credit.
4. Praise your boss. This is the most important discipline of all. When your boss does something right, thank her/him. If they have a particularly efficient meeting, tell them what was so good about it and thank them for running it that way. If they praise you, thank them and tell them how much it meant to you. If they give you good feedback, thank them and tell them why the feedback was so good. The reason is that, like all of us, bosses like to do things right and most likely aren’t hearing anything from their own boss. When you thank them for what they did well, they are much more likely to repeat it.
I’ve always believed that people need to take control of their own lives. In the workplace we are very much at the mercy of our bosses. Yet they are not always the villain. Many times they are being pushed, prodded and driven from multiple directions at once and are overwhelmed. They also need to be trained on how to deal specifically with you. Teach them. Help them to be the boss you need them to be by following these four simple disciplines. They will be better for it and you will be happier and more engaged.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Work-Life Balance is the Holy Grail of Our Era

There is no such thing as work-life balance. There I said it and I wasn’t struck by lightning nor did the house shake. Though the inspirational-speaker-gods might be angry with me the ground did not swallow me up. The work-life balance misnomer has floated around for quite a while and it has been the cash cow for a lot of speakers, including me. Everybody seems to want to know how to find the magic balance. It is the holy grail of our era. But just like the holy grail of old, it is just a legend, a myth. It doesn’t exist.

Arianna Huffington’s Third Metric Conference recently focused on redefining success. She identifies that there needs to be a third way of defining success. She believes the first two metrics of success are money and power. Then she offers that the third metric needs to be about well-being. Reading about the conference I agreed with her up until this point. There needs to be a redefinition of success and that is great fodder for another blog. But as I read further in the article I believe the conference just made it more difficult for everybody. They said that the way to find success is to balance money, power and well-being. Okay, now they have just guaranteed that those who attended the conference and those reading about it just added tremendously to their stress level.

Work-life balance is not possible. Mathematically it is almost impossible to balance the hours in a day so that there are precisely enough for work and leisure. More importantly to separate work from life is ridiculous. Most of us have to work for a living. (Perhaps unless you are Arianna Huffington.) Work is integral to our lives. So, what do we have to do?

The challenge of work-life imbalance is stress and guilt. We spend more time on one side of the equation at the expense of the other and we feel stressed out and guilty. We believe we should be focused more on one element than the other whether it’s work or leisure. So the answer is choosing our imbalance.

Some of us actually enjoy the work we do. We are passionate about it and we gain joy in our creativity and success. Others love the power or connection their work brings. And it pulls us away from our family and loved ones. But if we choose the “work” side of the equation to focus on, and accept the fact that it will demand our time, perhaps we can relax so that when we spend the time with our loved ones, or in leisure we can savor the moment rather than feel torn about getting back to work. Or conversely, if we identify that we want to spend the majority of our time with our family and loved ones we set that expectation in our mind, work as little as we can and accept the consequences.

The challenge with work-life balance thinking is the fallacy that we can “have it all.” In reality we can’t have it all, but we can have more of what we want if we stop searching for the grail of balance and just accept whatever imbalance we choose.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Ritual Effect

Many years ago when I first began speaking to audiences I would become so nervous I'd want to vomit. I was given some great instruction and wonderful advice that has helped me transition to a much calmer and more professional speaker. One of the key pieces of advice was to create a "ritual." Seriously? When I first heard the word "ritual" I thought of incense and prayers since as an ordained clergyman I've participated in many rituals over the years. But what was suggested to me was using a physical movement that would trigger my body when I was about to speak. My body would then react by moving the energy to where I needed it and not leave it in my stomach. All these years later I still use that same quick ritual before I speak and I feel myself gaining control.

Recently Forbes Magazine ran an article about two associate professors at Harvard, Michael Norton and Francesca Gino, who are researching the effects of rituals. They discovered that rituals help alleviate grief and also enhance the experience of eating. Well, as a clergyman, I know about alleviating grief, but had to smile at rituals enhancing eating. Yet what I wondered is why it has taken so long for many of us to catch on to the power of rituals. 

Rituals enhance, assist and invigorate most activities. Actors, singers, athletes and business men and women use them effectively every day to be better at what they do. A ritual helps them prepare, focus and be energized throughout an action. We now teach professionals to create their own rituals so that they can quickly engage in an activity rather than be hesitant or distracted. 

For example, when I am writing something new I prefer to create the idea long hand. Only once the idea is on paper do I sit at my keyboard and flesh it out. But the ritual I use before I write brings my mind into focus and relaxes me. First I purchased some very nice pens. My favorite is a fountain pen which I purposely fill with ink each time I want to start a new article, or book. The movement of deliberately picking up the pen, opening it and filling it with ink relaxes and focuses me. It's as if my mind and body know what's coming and so they are ready. 

What rituals do you use in your life and work? How do you prepare your mind and body so you will be more relaxed and focused during any activity? Remember, you can create rituals to enhance anything you do. Just as long as they are followed every time by that activity your mind and body will be more in tune and more focused as you start. And you can even use them to enjoy your meals more. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Devil Made Me Do It: Disbelief in Free Will May Lead to Unsocial Behaviors

Those of us old enough to remember the comic Flip Wilson also remember his alter ego Geraldine. When Flip Wilson dressed up as Geraldine, it was hard to forget. Geraldine was a vivacious, amazingly funny, energetic woman who never took responsibility for her own actions. Her classic line after a lewd remark or action was “the devil made me do it.” And since she believed she had no control over her actions she’d just laugh and carry on.
One of the crucial elements of achievement, success and personal greatness is the belief that you are in control of your choices and actions. Individuals who have higher degrees of success take the actions they need because they believe they are in control of their choices no matter the circumstances around them. They will admit that sometimes the choices aren’t balanced or equal, but they still have a choice. In my workshop Roadmap to Personal Greatness the first exercise I offer is one designed to help people understand what is behind their choices and most importantly, that they have free choice no matter what is going on.
Do we have free will? Can we make a free decision at a crucial moment to alter our own actions? There are some psychologists and sociologists who would clam that we don’t have a choice. They claim we are primed for certain behaviors. These behaviors become constant either because of the genetic wiring in our brain or because of the habitual reflexes we develop. The researchers make a good case that we often react without consciously choosing what we are doing. Some philosophers go further by trumpeting determinism where all our actions are pre-determined anyway and we are just acting out a preassigned role. I’m not going to argue about free will. However there is recent research that disbelief in free will may cause some disruptive behaviors.
Using texts that argued against free will, researchers first had volunteers read the texts (the control group read neutral texts) and then gave the volunteers various activities to participate in. Vohs and Schooler found that those induced to disbelieve in free will were more likely to cheat on a test, they were more aggressive and less social than others, whereas those who strengthened their belief in free will fostered a sense of thoughtful reflection and willingness to exert energy to accomplish a task. Overall the researchers found that our personal belief about free will affects job performance and career attitudes based on having control over our actions.
Most of us believe we have free will, but it is more of a philosophical thought. When I ask people what gets in their way of achieving their goals, too often they blame others or circumstances on why they can’t make the choice. Yet in every moment of every day, we have the choice to decide how we will act. It’s not always easy and it’s not always fair, but we always have a choice. Otherwise, we may as well just blame our actions on the devil.