Monday Mar 04, 2013

Be Mindful of...Well, Everything

When I was about five or six years old, I spent a lot of time in the summer practicing cartwheels in our yard. When I was seven, I entered a gymnastics gym for the first time, and it was love at first tumble. More than 20 years of my life have been spent with the sport of gymnastics, and I’m finding out that the sport has served me well – even in the area of business.

As I started to compete, we used a technique called “visualization.” With over 48M hits on Google today, “visualization” was new back then. The concept is simple – use mental imagery to “see” yourself going through your routine perfectly. You’re called…you present to the judge…you mount the balance beam…your toes are pointed…you do you first tumbling element…perfect stick… full turn…perfect stop at the end…getting ready for your dismount…deep breath…relaxed…push off the beam…great height…twist…turn…land…stay tight…no steps…perfect...present to judges…smile…walk off the floor with shoulders squared.

The concept of visualization is so powerful because during the process, your brain directs your muscles to work in a desired manner, creating neural patterns in your brain that are identical to the actual physical performance of the movements. This mental rehearsal allows you to train your mind and body to actually perform the skills. Visualization allows an athlete to improve self-awareness, increase concentration, focus on purpose, reduce pressures, and manage his response to a situation.

The same concepts are a growing trend in many business related fields, but it has morphed into the term “mindfulness.” Mindfulness originates from Buddhist teachings and is now commonly incorporated into aspects of western psychology. At its core, mindfulness can be described as a state of nonjudgemental, present-centered awareness – basically, “being in the moment.”

Mindfulness is huge in the leadership field – a Google search will return over 6 million hits! Mindful leadership simply means giving your full attention to the moment without. According to Harvard professor Bill George, mindful leaders “tend to be more effective in understanding and relating to others, and motivating them toward shared goals. Hence, they become more effective in leadership roles.”

Mindfulness can be an invaluable tool for leaders, engaging the part of the brain responsible for building and sustaining relationships, defining purpose, improving self-awareness and managing stressful situations. Let’s say that you buy into the concept of mindfulness and think it can be helpful – how can you practice mindfulness? WikiHow provides five steps to get you started:

1) Learn more about mindfulness. Being aware of what mindfulness is can help you understand how you might incorporate it into your daily activities. With a big thanks to my colleagues, here are some resources that you might want to check out:
  • Book: The Mindful Leader: Awakening Your Natural Management Skills Through Mindful Meditation
  • Mindful.org, especially the “at Work” link
  • Mindfulnet.org – follow the links on the right for Mindful Leadership

2) Start practicing mindful meditation. No, you don’t need to sit in a dark room and chant “ummm.” Instead, find a quiet spot each day and spend five minutes focusing on clearing your mind. Pretend all your thoughts are on a blackboard, and your job is to clean the blackboard so you can start fresh.


3) Practice mindfulness outside of meditation. Be aware of yourself and your emotions, but practice removing distractions so you can focus on the moment at hand.

4) Have gratitude. Recognize those things that you might have taken for granted. Acknowledge the foundations that have been established that you can build upon.

5) Analyze. When faced with any situation, take into account those things that can color your judgments – consider your physical body, your feelings, and your state of mind. Try to remove these things from the situation so you can make better (i.e. non-biased) decisions.

For me, it started with visualization to be more aware of my body and my reaction to stressful situations (e.g. a gymnastics meet). Mindfulness extends this practice to be fully aware of my environment, including myself and those around me.

General Mills has introduced mindfulness into their organization, and, as a result, 80% of participating leaders say that they are able to make better decisions with more clarity; 89% say that they have become better listeners. Genentech based a training program on the principles of mindfulness and experienced a 50% increase in employee collaboration, conflict management and communication and went from “rock bottom” employee satisfaction scores to one of the best places to work in the IT world.

Is mindfulness the newest “magic bullet?” Highly doubtful, but practicing mindfulness does offer the opportunity to think with clarity, engage in the moment, make better decisions and improve your performance. And if you’re a leader, those are not bad traits to model to your team.

Wednesday Dec 28, 2011

Leadership Lessons From Santa Claus

As we finish out 2011 and look forward to 2012, I thought I’d take an opportunity to reflect on the leadership lessons we can learn from Santa Claus. Here are the top ones that I came up with:

Engage with a Vision. The elves aren’t being paid a bonus to get all those presents done. Instead, Santa relies on the vision of fulfilling dreams to children around the world. Elves aren’t simply employees – they’re dream makers. Your employees aren’t simply employees either – what are they?

Have Audacious Goals. Let’s face it – having a simple goal that’s easily achieved is really no better than having no goal. Flying around the world and dropping presents at every house in a single night is an audacious goal that requires a detailed plan. What’s your goal?

Build a Strong Team. Santa has nine reindeer (eight + Rudolph), and he’s responsible for making sure the team is in top shape before that audacious goal can be achieved. Make sure that your team is in top shape – knowledge and skills are in alignment – before you ask them to strive toward the goal.

Know Your Strengths. Santa’s strength is employing Christmas magic – how else can he shimmy down chimneys? Rudolph’s strength is lighting the way. The elves are great at building toys. Everyone has their own strengths. Make sure you know what the strengths are of your people.

Build Your Network. Santa can’t be everywhere at the same time. That’s why he has all those helpers sitting in malls listening to kids’ wishes. Make sure you build your network so you can learn what the wishes are of your employees and colleagues.

Be Sensitive to Others. Santa is aware of customs and cultures around the world and makes sure that he addresses those cultures and customs. Do you do the same thing?

Never Forget Your Impact. Santa has the ability to change peoples’ lives. I’ve never forgotten the wonder at coming home from church as a seven year old and seeing presents from Santa under our tree. I’ve never forgotten the VP who took time from her schedule to mentor me. Know that you have the ability to impact others – positively or negatively – it’s your choice.

Santa may not be real to everyone, but his leadership lessons certainly are.

Best wishes for an engaging 2012!

Monday Oct 10, 2011

Leadership, Motivation and Performance

Last week I attended a webcast on the science of motivation, led by Dan Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. The webinar was really interesting in that Pink addresses motivation as an intrinsic need, comprised of autonomy, mastery and purpose. What really caught my attention was the comment that disengagement in the workplaces costs about $300 Billion per year.

In talking about autonomy, Pink claims that “management” is an 1850’s technique and that engagement occurs through self-direction rather than by being managed. Example of autonomy in the business world include “Fed Ex Days” at Atlassian where employees are given a day to be creative and then present to a “board” the next day – called “Fed Ex Days” because they have to deliver something overnight. At Google, “20% Time” is where employees are given 20% of their time to work on things outside of their area of responsibility. In both cases, the deliverables from these activities often become parts of the corporate portfolio.

As part of the webinar, we took an “Autonomy Audit” that consisted of four questions, rated from 1 (low) to 10 (high). Pink suggests that managers try the Autonomy Audit with their teams and predict the average score. The four questions are:

  1. How much autonomy do you have over your time at work – for instance, when you leave, when you arrive, and how you allocate your hours each day
  2. How much autonomy do you have over your tasks at work – your main responsibilities and what you do in a given day?
  3. How much autonomy do you have over your team at work – that is, to what extent are you able to choose the people with whom you typically collaborate
  4. How much autonomy do you have over your technique at work – how you actually perform the main responsibilities of your job.

Greater than 34, you’re probably in the right spot; fewer than 27 or so could indicate a problem. Pink did make the point that the distribution of the points may matter more than the actual total.

The second component of motivation was described as mastery – the desire to get better at stuff and make progress in one’s work. And the only way to know if you’re getting better at something is to solicit feedback. Whether it’s asked for or not, it’s always a good idea to set out your own learning and performance goals – specify what you want to achieve, and check in with yourself once a month. Determine where you’re achieving, where you’re falling behind, any tools you need to achieve goals, etc.

Pink shared an interesting tool called “iDoneThis.” It’s basically an email-based productivity log. Each night you receive an email asking what you accomplished for the day. Your response to the email creates a calendar entry for your accomplishments. In our email-based world, this might be a great way to track your accomplishments for performance review time, your monthly check-in on progress, etc. I’ve only used it for a short time, but I find I don’t like to disappoint my calendar by not having anything to enter.

The third component of motivation was purpose. Not surprisingly, when people are reminded of the purpose of their job (or even that their job has purpose), they are more likely to engage in doing that job well. Most often, people think that leading is about the how – that is, getting the job done. As a leader, however, it’s more important to focus on the why - people do better when they know why they’re doing something.

So, what did I get out of the webinar that I think is worth passing on to you? Two things – one from a leadership perspective; the other from an individual perspective.

First - as a leader, if you feel that your team could be performing better, take a look at autonomy, mastery and purpose, and determine if those needs are being met for all your team members. If not, determine what steps you can take to improve each area. Maybe it’s as simple as explaining the “why” of a particular project; maybe you need to provide more latitude in how a deliverable gets accomplished.

Second, as an individual, do your own self-audit with regard to autonomy, mastery and purpose. If you feel like you’re lacking in autonomy, have a conversation with your manager to see what might change. If you’re lacking in motivation, do self-reviews each week to give yourself a sense of accomplishment within your job. If purpose is lacking, spend some time contemplating “why” you’re doing your job and if that fits with your intrinsic needs.

Overall, I think the webinar provided attendees with the opportunity to think outside of the “financial rewards box” when looking at ways to improve performance and motivation amongst team members. If you’d like to hear more about motivation from Daniel Pink, check out the TED talk that he gave at TEDGlobal 2009.

About

Sandy's ideas about learning, organizational & personal improvement and other stuff.

I work on Oracle's Leadership Development team, but all thoughts and opinions expressed here are solely my own!

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