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.

Tuesday Jan 15, 2013

Who's Your CEO?

I love the start of a new year simply because it offers a clean slate. Most often, I have this feeling in September when school starts, but I’ll take it in January as well. Because the start of the year is a great time to start something new, I’m going to start something new with my blog. Besides writing more regularly (that’s on my list of resolutions), I want to write about topics that will provide you an opportunity to hopefully grow in your role, regardless of where you are on the org chart.

A while back, I wrote a blog called Developing You 2.0 where I outlined the top ten competencies that I think you’ll need to survive in a 2.0 world. I think those competencies still apply, and I’m planning to expand on those in future posts. Today, though, I want to focus on something else – your CEO. I’m not talking about Larry Ellison (for any Oracle employee) – I’m talking about the CEO of you. If you were your own CEO, what would you tell yourself?

Some time ago, I read a blog post by Kent Healy titled Why you should run your life like a start-up company. In this post, Kent talks about the concepts of business – asset management, capital, resourcefulness – and how they relate to managing one’s own life. I’m going to take this a step further.

I read and hear a lot of talk about people’s managers not letting them do certain things; or executive management at a company keeping people oppressed and unhappy in their jobs; or managers being responsible for <fill in the blank>. What I don’t hear a lot of is “I’m responsible for me.”

Your manager doesn’t know that you want to do a particular job or have a particular skill or want to learn a new skill if you don’t speak up. If you are your own CEO, you need to promote your company, and the only way to do that is to speak up about yourself. That is your responsibility. Laying the mantle of “professional development” at your manager’s feet does absolutely no good if you’re not willing to have conversations about what you’re good at and what you’d like to learn.

In case it wasn’t clear…YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE for your professional growth, your development at work, yourself. Your manager is only a tool that can help you achieve what YOU want to achieve, but you need to have development conversations with your manager so he or she knows what it is you want to achieve.

If you’re willing to jump into a learning adventure, grab a notebook and answer these questions: If you are the CEO of you, what would you identify as your top 3-5 assets? What are 2 or 3 things you do to nurture those assets? What are 1 or 2 things that you currently do that do not benefit your company? And finally, what is your biggest corporate goal this year? Remember, when answering these questions, you are the company.

I’m not sure where all of this will lead this year, but I’ve got a ton of ideas about personal learning environments, learning networks, you as a consultant, ROY (return on you), motivation and engagement, creating your brand, and building You 2.0. I can’t promise an assignment every time I post something, but keep that notebook handy!

Friday Jan 13, 2012

7 Ways to be a Better Leader in 2012

The past couple of weeks, I’ve received a lot of newsletter emails about resolutions – I guess the beginning of the year is a good time for that! Most of these newsletters have an article or two about improving your leadership skills in 2012. Rather than send you to all the web site to sift through loads of content, I thought I might summarize for you some of the tips on being a better leader in 2012.

1. Take time to reflect. By being reflective, you give yourself time to think about what is going well and what needs to be changed – this time gives you a chance to learn from your experiences. Some questions you might ask (both for yourself and for your team) are:
  • What are you most proud of in 2011?
  • What are you most looking forward to in 2012?
  • What are the goals/steps that you are dedicated to moving toward in 2012?

2. Re-focus your team. Everyone is more excited about the job that they’re doing when they understand how their work ties into business goals. Take time in a team meeting to ask questions like: Where are we going? What do we believe in? Why do we exist? Don’t have those team meeting? Start scheduling them.

3. Ban “To Do” lists. Yes, getting things done is important, but I also have things on a “to-do” list that don’t really matter if they get done or not. Instead, start tracking an “Accomplishments” list to differentiate between the mundane (checking Facebook) and the truly important.

4. Paint Your Legacy. What do you want to look like in 10 or 20 years? What do you want your team members to say about you when they talk about the manager they had in 2012? Imagine what you want this future to look like and make the choices today that will get you there tomorrow.

5. Be social. “Social” is here to stay. Learn how you can use social media/activity to your advantage. You can use it to build your brand, engage team members, interact with peers, etc. The old advice was to “manage by walking around” – social activity is how you do this in the digital age.

6. Work your network. This does not mean “use people to your advantage;” this means being conscientious of your relationships. Work at building relationships and making them better. Don’t forget that part of networking is giving back to the other person – make sure that when you’re requesting help, you can offer help in return.

7. Engage your people. Engagement doesn’t equate to money (don’t get me wrong, money is nice, too). Engagement is your ability to get your team excited about the work they’re doing; it’s the level of motivation one has for his or her job; it’s the team’s ability to solve problems with you removing roadblocks. If your team is engaged, chances are pretty good that you’re excited about going to work as well.

Probably most important in these seven tips is how you’re going to change. Instead of saying “I want to develop my network,” decide the specific actions or behaviors that you are going to start or stop this year to mark your accomplishment. If you want to “develop your network,” maybe you’ll join a professional organization and attend meetings, or maybe you’ll start tweeting. Maybe you’ll stop working 18 hours on Thursdays so you can attend those meetings. By outlining those things to stop and start, you’re likely to see actual changes throughout the year

Here's to a great start in 2012!

Monday Sep 12, 2011

You're a Manager...Now What?

You shone as an individual contributor.  You completed assignments that were thought impossible.  Your reward?  You were given a team and told "Congratulations.  You're a manager."  Gulp!  Now what do you do?

You refer to this blog for resources that can help you shine as a manager, too!  Plenty of resources exist to help you in your transition to management, but I think the resources below are some really good ones for people new to a management role:

  • www.12manage.com  - when you're in a meeting and someone mentions the Theory of Reasoned Action or a PEST analysis and acts like everyone should know what it is, head to this site.  12manage defines over 2000 management theories across 12 disciplines, including areas like strategy, decision-making, leadership and communications.
  • www.managementhelp.org  - also called the Free Management Library, this site provides overview and in-depth information on over 650 topics managers deal with, including coaching, crisis management, social networking and finances.
  • www.businessballs.com  - started as a "free ethical learning and development resource," the site has over 200 topics across 10 categories, all designed to help you be a better employee ad leader.
  • iTunes University has some great channels and podcasts on improving your management skills.  What Great Bosses Knowincludes titles like " Tips for New Managers," "The Power of Questions," "The Myth of the Open Door" and "Secrets of Great Coaching."  The HBR Idea Cast channel has titles like "Can Introverts Lead?," "What's Holding You Back?" and "Learn from Failure."  Another channel that looks interesting (but I haven't had time to explore) is The Look and Sound of Leadership.
  • www.mindtools.com  - MindTools (TM) provides a variety of resources to help you become exceptionally effective at management and leadership skills.  Although parts of the site are fee-based, the content offered for free is worth checking out.
  • YouTube has a variety of interesting channels to which you can subscribe.  When you subscribe, new videos for that channel are added to your YouTube home page, and you can elect to receive an email for new postings as well.  Harvard Business Review is a great channel, and a list of educational channels can be found here - click the "Most Subscribed" tab to see the most popular education channels.
  • EBSCHost - provides articles from a large database of magazines, journals and other resources, including Fast Company, Harvard Business Review and MIT Sloan Management review.  EBSCO also provides Business Book Summaries - short overviews of current business books.  Oracle employees can access EBSCO here.  Outside of Oracle, you can likely access EBSCO through you public library.

So, how can you actually use this information?  Let's say that you are a new manager, and you have a development conversation with your manager.  Yes, I used the term "development conversation" because those are important, and you should have them if you want to improve you capabilities!  Anyway, you determine that you need to improve your decision-making skills.  Here's what I would recommend:

  • Review "decision-making" at the Free Management Library and at businessballs.com.  Use the information you find there to further define the aspects of decision-making that you need to improve.
  • Take the quiz "How Good is Your Decision-Making?"at MindTools (TM).  Use this information to further refine your goals for improvement and to brainstorm some specific examples of things you might do.
  • Browse YouTube and iTunes to see if there are any videos or podcasts that you can watch about decision-making (put the term in the search box).  As you watch, take notes on things that you might or might not do and determine what you might discuss with your manager or present to your teammates.  Some videos that might be of interest include:
    • The Future of Decision Making - presented by John Rymer, Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester, addressing business' need to make smarter, faster decisions to reduce risk and stay profitable.
    • How Companies Can Make Better Decisions - a Harvard Business Review interview with Marcia Blenko, leader of Bain & Company's Global Organization Practice, on integrating effective decision making into your business.
  • Search EBSCOHost to find relevant articles or book summaries on decision-making.  Remember, if your company doesn't subscribe to EBSCHost, you can probably access the database through your public library.
  • From your research, determine one or two things about your decision-making skills that you want to change.  On your development plan, record those things with specific expectations.  Review this with your manager.
  • Check in with yourself, your manager, your direct reports, or your peers on a regular basis to determine if your skills are improving.  You may decide to check in with a few people on a monthly basis, your staff on a quarterly basis, etc.  If you need a tool to track your progress, consider the Stop-Keep-Start concept.  Basically, define your role and area for improvement and then ask what behaviors your should stop, keep and start.  An example might look like this:

Role: Manager

Intended Change: Improve Decision Making Skills

Behaviors to Stop

Behaviors to Keep

Behaviors to Start

· Making decisions without team input

· Make decisions quickly

· Balance pros/cons of decisions

· Gain input from team on product release decisions

If you have others complete a Stop-Keep-Start analysis for you, ask them to be specific in their feedback, and you'll have a great mechanism for deciding specific actions you can take to improve your skills.

  • At your goal point, discuss with your manager your awareness of new decision-making skills, your implementation of those skills, and your next steps for improvement.

Remember, being a manager is different from being an individual contributor - you have more than one person to look out for, and your work in now focused on a bigger picture.  Transitioning into this role is a process, and, as such, it will take both time and effort on your part.  Your best approach is to work with your manager, be open to suggestions for improvement, and remember that you got to this position because you are successful.

If you have additional transition tips or helpful resources, please feel free to leave a comment so that others might learn from your experiences.

Happy managing!

Wednesday Apr 27, 2011

Is Your Leadership Style Killing Your Employees?

I attended a webinar yesterday by Kevin Kruse, author of We: How to Increase Performance and Profits through Full Engagement. I typically try to find at least one or two nuggets of information in the webinars that I attend, and when I registered, I figured that any webinar on employee engagement would give me at least one good nugget. Boy was I wrong – the whole webinar was engaging!

Let’s start with some statistics (I’ll get to the killing part later). According to polls done by BlessingWhite, Conference Board and Gallup, fewer than 1 in 3 employees are engaged in their work; only 45% are “satisfied” with their work; and employee disengagement costs companies around $300 billion annually. Additionally, higher performing organizations tend to have more engaged employees (56%) than low performing organizations (27%); and companies ranked high in employee engagement had better shareholder return (17.9%) than companies ranked low in employee engagement (-4.9%).

Now, about that killing part. The engagement surveys also showed that dissatisfied employees weighed about 5 pounds more than their colleagues and were more susceptible to cardiovascular events. Even more surprising, a person’s job satisfaction has a direct correlation on their marital happiness and on the likeliness their kids will misbehave in school (this is called the “spillover effect”). And much of one’s engagement and job satisfaction comes from a person’s interaction with his or her boss. In fact, five questions can determine the quality of boss/employee interaction:

  1. My boss gives me the information I need.
  2. My boss is good at pushing through and carrying out changes.
  3. My boss explains goals for our work so that I understand what they mean for my particular part of the task.
  4. I have sufficient power in relation to my responsibilities.
  5. I am praised by my boss if I have done something good.

If you’d like, you can even take a short quiz to see if you are suffering from boss-related health issues.

In the webinar, Kevin provided a “GReaT” model of leadership. The capitalization is a reminder for Growth, Recognition and Trust, which are three high-impact drivers of engagement. Leaders can take certain step to drive GReaT leadership, including:

To drive Growth & Development

To drive Recognition & Appreciation

To drive Trust & Confidence

  • Hold 1:1 meetings to talk about 3-5 year career goals
  • Identify knowledge, skills, experience and relationships needed to reach those goals
  • Identify ways to close the gaps
  • Meet quarterly to track progress
  • Show appreciation regularly, but make sure it’s deserved
  • Hand-written notes are valued. Write them.
  • Offer recognition publicly
  • When thanking someone, explain how their actions impact the company
  • Ask for opinions and let people be involved
  • Match your words to your actions
  • Be transparent – share good and bad news
  • Acknowledge your mistakes
  • Never say anything you wouldn’t say to someone’s face
  • Focus on the BHAGs (big, hairy, audacious goals)

As a leader, you may want to think about the five questions and how you drive GReaT leadership. The culture that you create with your team members has an impact beyond just your team – it impacts every team member and every person in his or her family. Simply changing how you interact with your employees could lead to higher levels of engagement, fewer health related issues, and better family relationships for your employees…and wouldn’t that be a great impact to have on your universe?

Thursday May 28, 2009

Develop Your Career Resiliency for Free

In my job, I manage professional development programs for US employees.  Given current market conditions, I'm frequently asked about career development opportunities, and, as I was responding to the latest request, I decided to share with a wider audience some of my thoughts.

Most of the links in this post will be Sun internal links, so if you're reading this and you're not a Sun employee, I apologize up front for the inaccessibility of the links.  I hope you'll still get something out of the content though.

First thing's first - what do you mean by "career development" or "career resiliency?"  Dawn Mular posted about ITIL and Career Resiliency, and she outlined her strategy around career resiliency.  You need to do the same thing - defining career resiliency will help you decide what endeavors are most appropriate for your situation. 

If you need help doing that, check out the HR Career Services site - although the resource centers are no longer on campus (at least at Broomfield), the web site still has a great deal of information and usable worksheets.  Of particular value are the worksheets under Know Yourself, the PDF files under Know Your Environment, and the section called Create a Career Action PlanKnow Yourself and Know Your Environment can help you determine your priorities and identify your growth opportunities (some people call these your "weaknesses").

Once you know what career resiliency means, look for opportunities to grow your skills.  You're probably thinking "that's pretty obvious - can you help me out a little more than that?"  Sure!  There's a myriad of free learning opportunities if you look around.  Here are some that I found:

Obviously, if you have some money to work with, there are a ton of workshops, seminars, webinars, etc. that you might attend.  Free is good, though, and there are plenty of free resources out there.  So what other resources are out there?  What are you using to manage your career?  There's a whole list on this page that you can take advantage of, too!



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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