Friday, December 16, 2011

Do I Really Have To Be Connected 24/7?

I just finished up the last day of a two-day intensive leadership workshop facilitation. And it is also at the end of an eight-day road trip to the UK that involved two other one-day workshops. I tend to crash when it is over from being so fully engaged in the work and the participants in each workshop. So I get back to my hotel; a very nice, fairly high priced one, and plug in my computer (Ethernet connection only in the room). I find I am still working off of the 24 hours I had purchased the night before. How much time did I have left? Would I be cut off part way through answering the myriad of emails I, of course, had to absolutely respond to? Maybe I better Skype home right away to say hi to my wife or my daughter and granddaughter? I choose the Skype option first.
Understand that our client pays for my travel expenses, so I could just purchase another 24 hours of Internet time. The problem is the fact that it tends to be the most expensive hotels that always charge more for Internet service annoys me. I travel often and am amazed at how the more reasonably priced hotels offer you free Internet, and in some cases, even free breakfast! Why is it that the hotels that are already charging us a significantly higher rate always then hit you with an additional Internet service fee? In this case it was an additional 15 pounds per 24-hour period. And the added value I have of treating my client’s money as if it was my own also lingered in the back of my mind. So if I was disappointed about the prospect of 15 more British Pounds to get a few more hours of world connection, then I decided that I would not renew for the additional 24 hours. After all, I was exhausted and would likely be in bed within 3 hours and my flight left mid morning the next day.  Surely, I could survive without connection to the world for that short period of time.
So thinking how the concept of paying such a high fee for a service like internet at a high priced hotel annoyed me so much, I jumped at the opportunity to scrape a few extra minutes off the back end of the previous 24 hour paid period. I called home, did some emails, connected with a couple of others that I cared about and saw were online and even took a quick peak at my local newspaper. And then I decided that my stomach was overriding my sense of annoyance and headed off for dinner.
I returned from dinner and sure enough, there was the message on my computer screen challenging me to buy another 24 hours of Internet service. I will admit that I took a good long look at that message before deciding no. I unplugged my computer from the Ethernet cord that bond me to the desk and hard chair and took my freedom to sit in the easy chair and kick back. I set my legs up on the coffee table in front of me and started typing this piece of literature you see in front of you right now. While typing I realized I would not be able to post it as soon as I finished because I was not connected! So you would not receive this until well after its completion. Maybe even up to 24 hours later! Can you imagine not instantly getting my thoughts out for the world to see the moment I braved committing them to type?
The real point I was considering was that as I taught the people in the workshop about authentic leadership and how to become a coach like leader, I noticed today how many of the people in the room would be moved to distraction whenever their mobile devise pinged or vibrated. Here they were trying to learn how to be more engaged with their people and they were so easily distracted by a tiny machine that signaled that it was so much more important than the human being in front of them. I wondered how they would ever become the great leaders that their people tell wonderful stories about when they can be so easily distracted from showing the person in front of them that they really matter.
The most reflective time I have had during this eight-day road trip has been the last couple of hours since my time ran out and I chose not to buy more Internet connection. Are you truly taking the necessary reflection time needed to most effectively lead? If you are not, I can assure you that you will not be one of the names I hear when we ask people in our workshops to share the stories of the great leaders that have impacted them in the past. In fact, I am willing to bet that you may be more like the leaders that qualify for the number one reason employees leave their organization. What has always topped the charts of the top reasons someone chooses to leave their organization is that the relationship with their boss sucks. Which one are you? The one that fits into the stories of great leader coaches or the one that fits into the basket of the primary reason people leave? The choice is yours.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Thanks Mom And Dad

I have the fortune of still having my parents here on this earth. Every additional year I get feels like a bonus. I had the opportunity to visit them again recently. They live in Florida and with me in western Canada there are few opportunities to visit. I had some workshops to deliver in Florida and spent the weekend with them. Interestingly, as I flew back home from that trip I caught an article in our local Calgary newspaper titled “Being A Jerk Could Be in Your Genes”.
Since my work as a coach keeps me busy working with leaders and executives I was drawn to the title and thought how interesting it is that we work with so many leaders that seem to have not been at the meeting when the kindness gene was being handed out! Did they really miss the meeting or did life train it out of them?
The article suggests that research shows that “people with a certain gene trait are known to be kinder than people without it, and strangers can quickly tell the difference”.  Brain research has shown that the chemical messenger called oxytocin actually makes us kinder to one another, more empathetic and trust worthier. The research identified a gene sequence that showed those with this particular gene naturally “make more eye contact, tend to smile more, tend to have more head nods and so on” versus the people without this gene.
The research also raised the question of nature versus nurture.  This gene trait “doesn’t necessarily determine how kind you are, stressing more research needs to be done on external factors like rearing and life experiences”. There are people without the kindness gene sequence that are extremely wonderful people and there are those with the gene that are not wonderful. The research suggests, “there is no one gene for empathy, sympathy, kindness or trust. There are many factors that ultimately influence whether we are kind, compassionate people”.
With this I see that I have my parents to thank. Besides the genetics of flat feet, weak ankles and a bigger than usual Italian nose, my parents graced me with the gene (the OXTR gene) that created a natural kindness in me. As well, I see that nature was not the only factor. They made sure I was raised with a kind eye toward others and life in general. I am sure this has guided me to the work we do and a purpose of impacting those I meet in this world to see others in a kind way. For this I am most grateful.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Celebrating Celestine

My father in law died this past week. Cel Toenies lived a great life of 87 years and will be missed by many. Thinking of Cel brought up many memories of a man that lived life fully in service of others.
I am fortunate to travel all over the world delivering workshops on leadership. In one workshop we do an exercise called the A/B exercise. We have participants write down five names of people that are close in relationship to them at work. We then ask them to rate that person as an A or a B. The A signifies that this person is regarded highly and they are deemed to be people we trust and care about. The B’s are generally considered to be lower performers and not our “go to” people. We then work through the differences in the way we treat the rated A’s or B’s. Our final thought related to this phenomenon is that however you rate someone, either as an A or a B, they know.
Everyone in the world is on either someone’s A or B list. And you likely know when you are on someone’s B list. Think about how it feels when you know. Very different than when we know we are on an A list.
How do you rate the people that are in your life? I hope to travel this world holding all people as an A. I know that for me it is a constant work in progress. Whenever I do this exercise I always hold up one prime example of someone that regards everyone in the world as an A. That person has always been Cel Toenies. No one I have ever met exemplifies the characteristic of treating all people with dignity and respect as a natural way of being better than Cel. For Celestine Toenies it was just a given way to treat all people. How are you treating the people in your life? As an A or as a B? Remember that they know.
Cel leaves this world in a better place than it was when he entered it and I am honored and humbled to have lived in his presence.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Relationships - New, Old And Renewed

After a great weekend retreat with teammates from our partner company, Bluepoint Leadership Development, and a red eye overnight flight from Portland, Oregon to Newark, New Jersey, I find myself arriving early to the parking lot of the Madison YMCA.
The retreat in Portland renewed great present days friendships, built deeper ones that had been missed and created some new ones.  It was a beautiful connection experience
Almost 30 years ago I was a YMCA professional and worked at the Madison Y. Today I will be having lunch with two teammates from that Y experience so many years ago.  It has been years since I have seen these two, one being almost that total 30 years.  What a treat lies ahead as old friendships are renewed after a generation of absence. It makes me energized and anxious at the same time. Much like the high school reunion I have coming up this Fall. Most of my high school classmates I have not seen for 40 years.
I am curious about both of these events. What will this reconnecting bring? I find that I live mostly in the present, then to the future, but the past is usually not a domain I spend time in. What curiosity drives me to reconnect with long ago relationships? I do think it is curiosity that drives me. What have these people been up to over all these years? How do they look? Old probably.  Of course I look the same as I did 30 years ago!  What will we talk about? Will it feel like old times and we pick up right where we left off? Will there be disappointment? I wonder if we will enjoy the get together and then that is it, never to reconnect again.
I believe I am more curious and interested in new relationships rather than the old ones. If that is true then the drive to reconnect today must have bigger meaning. I am not sure what that bigger meaning might be.  Or maybe it is just another opportunity to enjoy the moment that is in front of me.
Are we hard wired to prefer life long relationships or to seek out new ones?  Maybe it goes back to the age-old nature versus nurture debate. For those that spend their lives living in or close by their home town may be nurtured into liking and maintaining long term friendships. Or was it nature that always keeps pulling them to their roots?  I have moved several times including to a different country and several thousand miles from my home territory that I now visit today. Did my nature drive me to adventure and new locales? Or maybe moving away created my spirit for always wanting new relationships. Whichever it may be, my curiosity is peaked and the questions may be more interesting than the answers. In any case, it is time to go on into the YMCA and live momentarily in both the present and the past.

Monday, June 6, 2011

20 Years And Counting

Leadersearch celebrated our 20th anniversary this year. Passing the 20-year mark for anything usually qualifies for some type of accolade. For us, it passed with mostly a business as usual theme.  Dinner with family sufficed as opportunity to pause and reflect on our 20 years in the leadership and people development business.  Then we were back at it taking a few precious moments to consider what the next 20 years might look like.
After ongoing moments of reflection regarding the possibility of another 20 years in this business I have to say that in some ways the thought felt quite daunting. I have been in the coaching business for over 28 years and consider this work to be a noble calling.  And the thought of another 20+years gave me both shivers of excitement as well as trepidation.  Do I really hope to be doing this work for 20 more years!?  The first response is an unqualified absolutely! This work we do is life and world changing work. As long as clients continue to see my contribution as valuable I expect to carry on. I sometimes picture myself sitting in a rocking chair dispensing wisdom and powerful questions that provokes our clients into their own best thinking and action.  And maybe they will forgive my occasional nodding off as I rock thoughtfully back and forth in the comfortable rocking chair.
I do know that I would not have dreams of 20 more years if I were doing the same coaching work that I started with way back in 1983. The coaching profession has evolved over all those years and my work has transformed and changed over those same years.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Who’s in Charge of Engagement?

We coach leaders. We also facilitate numerous workshops on leadership. Often I find that we quote the data from countless surveys regarding leadership and its impact on employees and therefore the corporate bottom line. One glaring stat that has stood the test of survey time is that the number one reason that employees leave their employer to go to another organization is their immediate boss. As our client organizations ask us to conduct exit interviews we see exiting employees finally share the truth for why they chose to leave. Overwhelmingly we hear them say, “My boss sucked.” We can debate who is responsible for motivating and engaging employees and the research points to the leaders in the organization.
In a survey produced in March 2011 by Psychometrics Canada, their conclusion was that “if employees aren’t motivated, it’s poor management that is to blame.” The poll of 368 human resources managers at Canadian companies found:
• 69% consider low employee engagement a major issue in their organization,
• 82% per cent said that they feel their management should be doing more to address employee engagement.
Shawn Bakker, who conducted the survey said, “The thing that really stood out is they overwhelmingly pointed the blame on management. They said it wasn’t so much the employees who are lacking motivation, but that their direct managers or senior management are not creating conditions that make employees feel engaged.”
The survey continued on to show that executives are failing in four key areas:
• 71% said managers should listen more to employees’ opinions,
• 68% said they fail to communicate clear expectations,
• 58% said they need to give more recognition and praise and,
• 57% said they need to provide more learning and development opportunities.
So, if you continually wonder what it takes to attract and retain a talented, engaged and motivated workforce, look to your leaders. Are they doing the job? My belief is that leaders who see the role of leadership as a job or occupation versus a calling to noble work will be the leaders that contribute to the statistics of disengaged employees. Which leader are you?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Accepting Acknowledgement

I facilitate leadership and coaching workshops all over the world. I find it rewarding and exhilarating to see participants learn and grow in our workshops. As well, the depth of growth that shows up with our one on one coaching clients is in its own way – more deeply fulfilling.  In either circumstance I often tell a story that relates to acknowledgment. I fully believe there are two types in the world when it comes to recognition and acknowledgement; those who say they like it and liars. Now, as a very experienced and successful executive coach many would expect that I do an effective job of practicing what I preach. And, I am like the proverbial plumber with leaky pipes at home. I have much of my own work to do as I experienced again this week.
I had another one of those annual events that occur every year; called a birthday, happen this week. At my age I don’t see it as pivotal as it may have been when I was a younger man yet this year it had some distinctive significance. It happened to fall during the time of my annual executive coach mastermind group retreat. This is a group of very experienced executive coaches and we have been together for over seven years now. We hold our annual retreat to dive deep into our work, our purpose and how we support each other in the work we each bring to the world. These retreats are always a very energizing and enlightening, and maybe challenging experience. With my birthday falling during this event my friends decided to host a little birthday celebration for me. They called it Bob Fest.
I would consider myself to be a confident man with the occasional bouts of self-admiration and believe I have something significant to offer the world. And any attention that is bestowed on me is usually meet with my own version of modesty. I am uncomfortable being any form of center of attention. In this case, the attention paid on me was huge, humbling, deeply treasured and very appreciated.
This celebration brought out the typical flood of thoughts I have related to almost anything and specifically in this case, how we are generally pretty bad at sitting in the genuine praise and acknowledgement that may be bestowed upon us by others. All of my dear friends had very good things to say about me and shared wonderful stories of how our relationship has had great significance for them. As each one shared their stories I became both more shy and humbled while at the same time craving more! One of our teammates could not make this retreat due to health issues. Angela did send a note to be read at my celebration so it became the one acknowledgement that I was able to keep for prosperity (thank you Angela). Her words are shared here as I do my own work to learn more about accepting our own brilliance:
“What I Love About You Bob
There are many things I love about you, Bob. So it’s challenging to pick the one thing that I love ‘most”. That’s like having to choose a favorite snack or a best friend... How do you pick just one?  OK... So, probably your most impressive and notable characteristic is your consistently warm and engaging presence. You embody ‘unconditional positive regard’ at least as well as Carl Rodgers ever did. It’s in your posture, your language, your gaze, and your questions. I love the consistency and integrity in that – all of those avenues of expression exude the same warmth and engaged presence. It’s even evident in the chuckle/sigh thing you do when someone else makes a particularly poignant self-disclosure. Happy Birthday Bob. Angela”
There it is. I have publically shared something very nice someone else has said about me! It’s almost therapeutic to do so. I believe I fall into a group called ‘the majority’ when it comes to falling short of accepting our own brilliance. I realize in doing so that I also fall short in what I could do in and for the world. I know I have done some great stuff in the world and there is much more to do. I will continue to work on acknowledging others and acknowledging myself.
Most importantly, for those of you that have relationships with others (can’t think of anyone that doesn’t), step it up. Acknowledge the brilliance you see in others. Contribute to their development. If you are a leader, this is not a suggestion for you to contemplate. You must do it. If not, you are a leader as anointed by position only.  Leadership is a noble right – treat it as such.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Do Your People Think For Themselves Or Do You Think For Them?

I have been going to those hot yoga classes called Bikram Yoga for about nine months now. I am sure I surpassed the 100 class mark around Christmas time. I felt this type of yoga could meet my needs of flexibility, strength and a hard, sweaty workout. As well, it gave me 90 minutes of dedicated time to just me. Like many of us I also stay more committed to my health and exercise when I find someone else helping me hold myself accountable to my goals. I know I could likely do all the 26 postures myself and not have to go to a structured class. And, I realize that if I tried to do it myself I would cut corners, not push myself, and find excuses to quit early, etc. I enjoy the old adage of ‘misery loves company’ also. There is an energy that comes from a room of people working on themselves while also providing incentive to the others in the class. And finally, there is always that instructor in the front of the room guiding you through each segment of class and giving you the gentle nudge toward harder work.
I can’t remember names of postures or the order to do them, what’s coming next, etc because an teacher is always there telling us what to do next. So I don’t need to think for myself. In fact they say, let me do your thinking for you.
Friends ask me which poses I like the most or which ones are the hardest for me and I can’t remember the names of these postures. I can only say something like, it’s that one posture where you stand like this or bend this way. Why? Because I don’t have to – a teacher does it for me.
Many leaders do this same thing. Constantly telling their people exactly what to do, when to do it and typically when they do it wrong. Therefore, subordinates do not need to learn to do it on their own. And we wonder why, as leaders, we have to constantly keep telling our people what to do or worse yet, keep doing it for them.
Having a teacher tell you what to do in a class where you should not have to think for yourself may be great when there is no intention of me developing enough to have the task delegated and me heading off on my own to do the work. In my yoga program they are pleased to have me continue coming to class and have a teacher run me through my paces.
If you want your people to think and act on their own I would recommend a different leadership model than the one I practice at my yoga studio.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Is Your Boss Still The #1 Reason You Leave?

We have coached hundreds of leaders and executives over the years and led an equal number of workshops on leadership and coaching. I often ask our clients in our workshops to identify the number one reason that people leave their organization. The answer has been universally the same over the 27 years I have been in this business. That answer is – my direct boss. If retention and succession have become leading contenders in organizational development success conversations, what keeps these companies from doing more about this dilemma?
Psychometrics Canada conducted a survey to study leadership in the Canadian workplace. Of those surveyed, 63.2% saw leaders as having a lot of influence over their organizations’ success with only 2.5% reporting that leaders had very little influence. This leads me to believe that our informal surveys over the years do have merit.
The survey also found that good leadership created some of the following results:
• Increased motivation (85.5%),
• Improved working relationships (85.1%),
• Higher team performance (80.7%),
• Better solutions to problems (68.9%), and
• Major innovations (41.6%).
So hooray for good leadership! But what about poor leadership? With so many ‘accidental promotions’ into leadership and not enough investment in developing good leadership skills, is there a cost to poor leadership ability?
The Psychometric survey professes that when not properly used, leadership can have many negative effects. Results falling into the top 5:
• Good people quitting and a lack of morale (91.7%),
• Employees’ skills not being utilized (87.2%),
• Disconnection between organization’s goals and employees’ work (76%).
• Feuding staff members (68.3%), and
• Failed projects (60%).
The Management and Leadership section of most bookstores seems to always take up as much space as the Mystery section. And with its challenges maybe the Management and Leadership section should be married into the Mystery section! With so much on the line in terms of positive benefits versus negative effects, uncovering the skills necessary for effective leadership is critically important.
The survey rated the importance of various leadership skills to success:
• Communication is critically important (90%),
• Dealing with change (52.6%),
• Managing people (48.2%),
• Setting goals (37.5%),
• Solving problems (30.3%), and
• Project management (12%).
When these key skills were rated survey participants were also asked to rate leaders on their current effectiveness in each of these skill sets. Here lies another challenge. Only 27.8% rated leaders’ communication skills as effective, and only 24% indicated that the leaders they know are effective when it comes to dealing with change. These respondents cited a number of obstacles that get in the way of leaders developing these skills. These include leaders not seeing the need for improvement (67.5%), not having enough time (63.1%), lacking support from superiors (50.1%), and having inadequate training budgets (41.6%).
When asked what leaders could do to be more effective, respondents endorsed actions such as:
• Clearly communicating how the organization plans to manage change  (89%),
• Talking less and listening more (81%),
• Providing clear expectations (78%),
• Having more informal interaction with staff (76%),
• Assigning tasks to staff based on their skills rather than office politics (71%),
• Holding people accountable (68%),
• Giving employees more responsibility (65%),
• Deferring to people with greater expertise (63%), and
• Overcoming resistance to change (48%).
Now all of this may seem so much like ‘duh’ to those of you reading this and as a coach and leadership developer for almost 28 years now, I would want to agree with you. The concern is that this seems to be so true and even more obvious that we wonder what it takes for organizations to realize how valuable it is for them to find the right leaders, develop the right leaders and keep the right leaders! And finally, here’s a toast to all of you that have had the seemingly rare luxury of working for and with one of those talented few.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Beauty As An Asset Or A Liability

I recently facilitated a workshop at a conference for the two sales divisions of a very successful pharmaceutical company. I travel frequently delivering workshops and speaking on the art of coaching and leadership. I love the adventure of traveling to different places, absorbing the local culture, and receiving the energy that shows up when participants learn and grow as a result of a workshop. This workshop provided me with some insights that led me to some research and new learning.
This conference was jam packed with beautiful people. Pretty women and handsome men filled the conference halls and almost without exception, the participants in my two workshops all topped the charts on the physical beauty scales. It was clear that this company saw a direct correlation to attractiveness and sales success. Type A personalities was also an obvious hallmark of criteria for the attractive sales professional along with what appeared to be one other criteria – youthfulness. I believe that fully eighty percent of the participants had to be under the age of 32. Youthfulness and high-energy personalities didn’t surprise me, but I did find myself curious about the beauty factor. Easily recognizing that I no longer fit into the youthful category, place myself more into the Type B personality range and do not qualify for the beautiful people club, I wondered mostly what impact beauty has in the world of business, thus fueling my curiosity.
Lisa Johnson Mandell posted an article in August of 2010 titled “Beauty Can Be A Beast At Work”.  She wrote “It's hard to feel sorry for pretty girls, since numerous studies have been done that show they have an edge when it comes to getting hired, promoted, elected and evaluated. But there are two areas in which they are at a distinct disadvantage: one is in fields that are traditionally considered to be masculine, and the other is when an insecure and/or jealous wife is involved.”
The Journal of Social Psychology revealed a recent study that suggests attractive women are discriminated against when applying for jobs that many people consider to be more testosterone-infused, called the manly job syndrome. "In these professions being attractive was highly detrimental to women," said Researcher Professor Stefanie Johnson of the University of Colorado Denver Business School. "In every other job, attractive women were preferred. This wasn't the case with men, which shows there is still a double standard when it comes to gender." Her study found that they frequently ruled out good-looking women for positions considered to be more masculine, but attractive men were not subjected to same discrimination.
However, there's another area where attractive women are often discriminated against and attractive men are not: That's in positions where the female will be working closely, or perhaps even living with, a married man. These include jobs such as personal assistant, assistant manager, nanny and au pair. The jealous wife syndrome.
Preferring less attractive females in these positions may be understandable, but that doesn't make it fair or easier to swallow, especially for the attractive women being passed over for the jobs.

Newsweek.com recently released an article titled "The Beauty Advantage," Newsweek surveyed over 200 corporate hiring managers and more than 900 members of the public to find out how looking good affects everything from hiring to office politics and promotions. The results prove Johnson's findings that beauty is no longer just skin deep but a double-edged sword that can help or hinder your career depending on how it is used -- a hindrance that researchers have coined, the "beauty is beastly" effect.
The findings from the Newsweek study include:
• Fifty-seven percent of hiring managers said that, "qualified but unattractive candidates are likely to have a harder time landing a job."
• Half of hiring managers advised spending as much time and money on making sure they look attractive as on perfecting a resume.
• Sixty-one percent of hiring managers (most of them men) said it would be an advantage for a woman to wear clothing showing off her figure at work.
• Newsweek also asked the hiring managers to rank the top nine character traits they sought in an employee in order of importance, appearance came in third, right behind experience (No. 1) and confidence (No. 2).
The conference sessions and the subsequent reading on the topic left me unresolved about beauty discrimination. It feels like many other things in life – sometimes it works to our advantage and sometimes it does not. May we all have success putting our best assets – whatever they may be - to their best use. My biggest hope is whatever that best use may be; it is for doing good and not evil!