Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Feeling Better by Thinking Straighter

Around 10 years ago if you went to a café you had a choice between a Nescafé Blend 43 and a cup of Lipton's tea. These days we are spoilt for choice. First we have to choose if we want a tea or a coffee...if it’s a tea is it black or white or a chai latté…and if it’s a coffee do we choose skinny or soy or almond milk and if we choose almond milk is it with normal or activated almonds? 

We make more choices in one day than our grandparents did a lifetime. How many more things do we fear now than we did then? How much more aware are we now, than we were when ignorance was bliss? 

Heard any of these lately? 
“Like begets like” 
“We are the company we keep” 
“We are what we think”

Life throws up challenges but the ones that can crowd us are the ones generated by our own internal voice because that voice is not really ever turned off. 

You have probably come across the principle of "garbage in, garbage out". The inputs into our daily lives (information, others’ opinions, life experiences) are not always positive. Some of us more readily adopt a more positive mindset and others of us not so much based on what we’ve learnt, perceived and experienced. 

When our gut or Somatic Intelligence gets "flooded", we react and may display unhelpful, impulsive behaviours. If as agile leaders we’re to adapt, be flexible, learn from experiences, take on challenges, we have to be able to work constructively from our Analytical Intelligence and our Emotional Intelligence as well as from our intuition and beyond our adaptive behavioural reflexive patterns. Therefore we need to be intentional or in control of our perceptions, our internal voice and our mood states.

Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck were pioneers of the therapeutic psychological discipline of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Their major premise was that we think, therefore we feel. If we can learn the discipline of tapping into and editing where necessary our internal conversations, we can more effectively control our mood states and release energy for performance. 
If we go blank whilst giving a presentation, it’s because we’ve lost oxygen to the brain. If we "awfulise" and "catastrophise" the notion of going blank and start to panic (somatic flooding), even though the audience may not even have noticed (remember our sense of time is distorted as we think faster than we speak), we are unlikely to be able to come down quickly and start operating from our brains. 

Michael Phelps, voted by Yahoo Sports as one of the all-time greatest, was considered to be so mentally tough in conceiving and accomplishing his goal of eight (8) (of 23 now) gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics with his coach Bob Bowman, that people have referred to monumental efforts in goal setting and personal achievement as “Phelpsian” in stature. 
Phelps and his coach who concocted their “wicked plan” to win eight gold medals knew that Phelps would have to race 17 perfect/near perfect races. The enormity of the task was increased when one considers that in the single stroke events he was swimming against the best specialist freestylers, backstrokers and butterfliers in the world. 

Five of his eight medals were in individual events and of course to win the medleys with the American men’s relay team, he had to rely on them to swim at their best too; not something that came easily to him as he wanted his success to be within his control due to his legendarily high self-belief (he knew he was supremely talented, physically gifted and had done the work) and high self-efficacy (he knew he could cope with any spontaneous challenge that came his way and could draw on countless experiences in which he had done just that, for example winning a race once after a head collision with another swimmer in a warm up and then swimming concussed with blurred vision). 

How might we adapt mental toughness principles to help us adapt to change and better shift our own internal voice? 

a) Believe you can. Your mind sets the bar for what you can and cannot achieve. There is an important difference between arrogance and high self-belief. 

b) Have high confidence in your ability to manage obstacles that may arise whilst working towards achieving your goal. This is high self-efficacy. 

c) When a crisis strikes, try to accept the fact that stuff happens and kick into problem solving mode quickly. Push the reset button and exhibit high bounce-backability. 

So, the next time a challenge presents itself unexpectedly and at the risk of sounding like motivational hype, frame it as an opportunity to practise feeling better by thinking straighter. And if you do find yourself struggling momentarily, bring to mind one or two of those challenges you have licked and those tough situations you have survived. Therapists do this all the time with clients. It is a legitimate strategy known as the transfer of optimism. When things are tough, we deserve to be reminded of our achievements and successes against the odds ... even if we're the ones doing it!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The times they are a callin - For courage and empathy

Down here in sunny Melbourne it's easy to forget the turmoil happening right now in Queensland and New South Wales in the wake of treacherous Cyclone Debbie; especially if like me, you limit the amount of news and current affairs you will expose yourself to on any given day.

I refuse to go into the specifics of tragedy as I'm sure some people are triggered enough. But two questions keep bubbling up for me and it may be useful for workplace parallels to be drawn.

1. What's courage?

2. How can one feel empathy if another's situation is not in one's line of sight? And how can one voluntarily engage with any change if they don't understand the reason/s for it?

How do people show courage at work? Just a few...

They plan for and engage in, difficult, high-risk conversations despite concerns about retaliatory aggression, the cold shoulder, the bullying grievance, the office gossip, the backlash from up on high when the nose-out-of-joint person has gone above them and the possibility that they're unsuccessful, but do it anyway.

They may be the lone voice for or against a particular position or strategy but care enough to risk being marginalised or told they are troublesome/negative/cynical/too scared/not scared enough. How much money, even millions is squandered as we throw good money after bad, convinced we can still save the sinking ship?

They call out bad behaviour and draw a line in the sand for good culture even where there is a possibility of being victimised for doing so or the person concerned is a close friend who may well play the "friendship card" afterwards.

They make an agonising decision to let someone go on misconduct or sustained poor performance (and only after due process) even though they have compassion for the offending party's personal situation or hired that person themselves. How often do people cling to bad decisions because they can't accept they made a mistake in the first place?

How might one mitigate the risk of fallout when they act with courage in the above examples?

· Provide the "why" of the message, not just the "what"

· Use the "Tevye principle (inspired by Fiddler on The Roof) by explicitly stating the "On the one hand we could do but the consequences would be Y. I believe we should do this as we mitigate those risks by doing that.

· Transition into the bad news message with a "This is not an easy matter to raise but I feel compelled to do so and I hope you can trust the reasons why...." or " I think there's something we've not yet considered and that is ...."

How might we create line of sight to foster empathy and engagement?

Again always provide the "why" as well as the "what" for organisational change. The shared purpose is the foundational piece to attitudinal and behavioural change (including different ways of working)

Remember people have to hear a message up to nine times before it may register (McKinsey)

Remember also that executive teams may have had weeks or months to get used to an idea and can become too impatient too early thus serving to shore up resistance to new ideas and intended changes and be described as "aloof/unfeeling" or "out of touch"

Never underestimate the critical importance of consistent role models. Hold coaching circles for executive or other leadership teams for the specific purpose of rigorous self- examination of the extent to which they are all demonstrating the attitudes and behaviours necessary to inspire confidence and behaviour change in others. Tell them to leave their egos at the door and agree that no one present is above feedback.

Provide reinforcement for positive employee behaviours and progress. Once I start a survey I am addicted to the movement and instant feedback created by my answers. I feel compelled to see that bar move ever closer to 100% complete and the "Finished!" sign at the end (Am I the only one?)

Develop and stick to a communication strategy to keep the "why" alive. Some clients do it extremely well. They storyboard many overlapping initiatives to keep an unforgettable narrative at the forefront of employee minds and utilise different modalities (Visual, Auditor, Kinaesthetic) to achieve it.

We all have a well-developed ability to 'thin slice' information and extrapolate from that. It's a kind of data processing shorthand for survival. If a hooded man holding a knife rushed at me in a cobblestoned city lane way, I would want to be able to perceive threat quickly, not wait until I'd registered the colour of his eyes, the length of the knife, his likely height and weight or the brand of his sneakers. In other words, to transcend tunnel vision and give people a line of sight to the picture, we have to provide the frame. Most of us mere mortals sit in judgment, readily and often. Encouraging others to suspend judgment and give them line of sight to what we see and how we want them to see it requires elegant facilitation, patience and bounce-backability lest we become too easily demoralised too early and before we observe any traction. When clients get disheartened at the first sign of organisational resistance or regression I remind them that while some AFL clubs are on the cusp of premiership success, others have a 5-10 year rebuilding plan and remain motivated and attached to that.

As I write this, the sun is shining and a cool breeze heralds another beautiful day in the most liveable city in the world. But other people are in other places, figuratively and literally and assuming the difficult should be easy and that our reality is theirs is folly.