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professional body languageIn their book Leadership Presence: Dramatic Techniques to Reach Out, Motivate and Inspire, authors Kathy Lubar and Belle Linda Halpern suggest three guidelines for developing emotional expressiveness that inspires others, influences change and drives business results.

  1. Generate excitement
  2. Put nonverbal cues to work
  3. Find and express a passionate purpose

My previous post explored generating authentic excitement through being expressive. Moving forward, this post explores how nonverbal behaviours and cues can work for or against you in developing your unique style of emotional expressiveness to carry your message as a leader.

Put Nonverbal Cues to Work

How do you put nonverbal behaviours to work in order to fully express emotions and carry your message as a leader?

“What makes presence is not just the clothes you wear, the words you speak or how you think. Rather, presence requires alignment between your mind, body and words — to walk the talk, you need a simultaneous focus on all three levers: mental, skill and physical. Your presence is an interconnected system of your beliefs and assumptions, your communication skills and your physical energy.” ~ Amy Jen Su, Own the Room: Discover Your Signature Voice to Master Your Leadership Presence (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013)

While the words you choose play an important role in your message’s emotional impact, research tells us that facial and body cues may be even more significant:

  • Body language and confidence level shape your message’s impact.
  • Tone of voice radiates clarity, energy and passion (or lack thereof).
  • Actual words have the least effect on communication impact.

Albert Mehrabian, a professor emeritus of psychology at UCLA, conducted studies that revealed:

  • Words account for only 7% of a speaker’s impact.
  • Vocal tone is responsible for 38%.
  • Body language trumps them both at an astounding 55%.

Despite these game-changing findings, most of us spend 99% of our time on crafting language when planning a presentation — and a mere 1% on how we’re going to convey our message.

Are You Happy? You Might Want to Tell Your Face That

In the BBC comedy series, Benidorm, Janey, the Solana hotel manager played by British actress Crissy Rock, calls out to a guest “Are you happy, darlin?” The guest replies “yes”, but obviously her response is not in sync with her facial expression. Janey retorts “Might want to tell your face that?”

You lose credibility when your face and body send different messages. You may not even be aware of your “tics”: unconscious movements or gestures that are out of sync with how you truly feel.

Alignment Using Your Core Values

Speak from your core values to achieve alignment. If you are not clear about your core values or if you feel you are holding back from expressing your highest values, consider hiring an experienced executive coach. In my work with executives, I reference the work of Sally Hogshead and her best-selling book, How the World Sees You. Discover Your Highest Value Through the Science of Fascination. I encourage my clients to use the Fascination Advantage Report as a foundation to align their words and actions in creating and delivering their leadership message.

The challenge of aligning your leadership presence is too important to ignore. Your overall leadership presence ultimately determines whether or not you are perceived as a strong, consistent leader. Nonverbal behaviour and cues are subconscious and can sabotage your message. There is significant benefit in gaining awareness through feedback and coaching.

What do you think about this?

  • Are your words and actions aligned?
  • Do your words, your voice, and your body language carry your message as a leader?
  • How do you use your highest value to present a fascinating presence?

I’d love to hear from you. Tell me how you maintain a fascinating presence with the people you lead. Your comments are welcome. You can also contact me at patricia@maestroquality.com, at 905-858-7566, on LinkedIn, or on Maestro’s Facebook page.

You won’t want to miss the next blog post:

  • Enhance Your Leadership Presence. Stop explaining and relaying information! Challenge people to change and overcome obstacles to success. Express your passionate purpose.

 

Books and Audiobooks:

Leadership Presence: Dramatic Techniques to Reach Out, Motivate and Inspire(Penguin Group, USA, 2004), Kathy Lubar and Belle Linda Halpern. Available on iTunes

How the World Sees You, Discover Your Highest Value Through the Science of Fascination, Sally Hogshead. Also available as an audiobook on ITunes

Photo © contrastwerkstatt | Fotolia.com

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: unemotional businesswomanI have worked closely with leaders for over two decades and have witnessed technology change rapidly beyond the speed of light while leadership behaviours evolve at a snail’s pace. In the work I do coaching executives and executive teams, I meet many “leaders” who still cling to the idea that emotional expressiveness is seen in leaders as weak and ineffective. I discussed this recently in Emotional Expressiveness for Leaders and Myths and Assumptions about Emotions.

On the contrary, research into emotional and social intelligence reveals that failure to show emotions makes leaders far less effective. Without recognizing our feelings, our ability to make wise decisions is impaired. There is an emotion at the root of all decisions.

However, feelings are often suppressed and go unexplored in the workplace as though they are taboo. We ignore feelings in our peers, employees, and customers. We assume everyone feels as we do and we go to great lengths to avoid the work needed to uncover and deal with differences.

In truth, every human interaction is emotionally charged — especially at work. You can try to ignore this reality, but do so at your own peril.

Your moods, both positive and negative, are ultimately contagious. Expressing your emotions may make the difference between inspiring employee commitment and perpetuating a culture of boredom, isolation, and apathy.

3 Basic Techniques for Developing Expressiveness

Lubar and Halpern offer three guidelines for developing expressiveness that inspires others, influences change, and drives business results.

  1. Generate excitement
  2. Put nonverbal cues to work
  3. Find and express a passionate purpose

We will explore these guidelines in this and the next two posts. Let’s start with generating excitement!

Generate Excitement

Authentic excitement: it’s the emotion {that} leaders tell us they want most in their people. ~ Kathy Lubar and Belle Linda Halpern, Leadership Presence: Dramatic Techniques to Reach Out, Motivate and Inspire(Penguin Group, USA, 2004)

Creating excitement begins with showing enthusiasm and fighting the urge to suppress it (in yourself and in others). The workplace can be pretty cold and oppressive when people are forced to hold back their excitement. You’ll deepen your bond with others by revealing your humanity and vulnerability when you lead with and encourage excitement

The Bad and the Ugly

Anger, frustration, and pain, when properly expressed, bring us closer to one another. Never forget, however, that expressing emotion has a powerful effect, hence, think before you emote. Always wield emotions with thoughtfulness.

Feelings are everywhere. Be gentle. ~ J. Masai

Unfortunately, we must address one important caveat: Women and members of minority groups are wise to proceed with caution. Like it or not, these groups continue to walk a tightrope between showing authenticity and playing the conformity game.

Yes, we’ve come a long way, but the road to success remains strewn with unspoken rules and hidden prejudices. If you own your emotions and feel completely comfortable with them, you’ll likely be fine.

What do you think about this?

  • Are you encouraging suppression or expression of excitement?
  • Are you leading by showing authentic enthusiasm or defaulting to ignoring feelings?
  • Who would you need to be in order to be more expressive?

I’d love to hear from you about your experiences with emotional expressiveness in the workplace. The good, bad, and the ugly. Your comments are welcome. You can also contact me at patricia@maestroquality.com, at 905-858-7566, on LinkedIn, or on Maestro’s Facebook page.

Coming up in the next two blog posts:

  • How can you put nonverbal behaviours to work in order to fully express emotions to carry your message as a leader?
  • Stop explaining and relaying information! Challenge people to change and overcome obstacles to success. Express your passionate purpose.

Books and Audiobooks

Leadership Presence: Dramatic Techniques to Reach Out, Motivate and Inspire   (Penguin Group, USA, 2004), Kathy Lubar and Belle Linda Halpern

Photo © auremar | Fotolia.com

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leader expressing positive emotionMy clients and their employees know me for busting workplace myths. One of my favourite myths is the notion that “common sense” is all we need to keep us productive and safe. More about the pitfalls of “common sense” in the workplace another time. In this blog, I focus on the myths and assumptions about “emotions” in the workplace.

When leaders communicate, they often focus on message clarity and overlook its important emotional component. In my previous blog on Emotional Expressiveness for Leaders, I wrote about the high intellectual understanding of emotions, but the low effective expression of emotions. What stops us from utilizing this critical communication and leadership skill?

Barriers to Expressing Emotions

So many of us cling to myths and assumptions about expressing emotions. Where do these myths and assumptions come from? Most likely from our experience in a workplace environment that rejected any emotion other than fear. Thankfully, workplace environments are evolving. The old “command and control” is waning and we are seeing workplace models that inspire and ignite engagement and peak performance.

Emotional leadership is the spark that ignites a company’s performance, creating a bonfire of success or a landscape of ashes.” ~ Daniel Goleman, Harvard Business Review, December 2001

To generate excitement, leaders need to master their emotional expressiveness. Most leaders continue to demonstrate resistance. How? Why?

Many leaders still cling to long-standing assumptions about showing emotions:

  • It’s unbecoming
  • It undermines authority
  • It reveals a lack of control
  • It conveys irrationality
  • It indicates weakness and vulnerability
  • It isn’t masculine (and is, therefore, too feminine)

leader expressing negative emotionWhat I’ve been most curious about in my work life is how and why expressing negative emotions of aggression and instilling fear have become acceptable. I have never seen anything so unbecoming, so irrational, and such an exhibition of weak character, as a corporate CEO, glowing red with rage, belittling and bullying his executive team and managers, shouting that they are worthless and unemployable anywhere else. Experienced first-hand in 1991! Exited that environment really fast.

In today’s workplace, both men and women leaders grapple with assumptions about being emotionally expressive. Men in leadership positions don’t want to come across as dictatorial, angry, moody, or over-sensitive. Women in leadership positions avoid showing emotions because they believe it plays into stereotypes about women being high-strung and over-emotional.

Does Your Head Overrule Your Heart?

In business, leaders are highly respected for sharp minds to the extent that we frequently ignore and squelch our emotional voices. But even the most analytical personalities experience emotions.

Peter Bregman addresses this issue in “Don’t Let Your Head Attack Your Heart,” a July 2014 Harvard Business Review blog post:

“We are trained and rewarded, in schools and in organizations, to lead with a fast, witty and critical mind. And it serves us well. The mind can be logical, clear, incisive and powerful. It perceives, positions, politics and protects. One of its many talents is to defend us from emotional vulnerability, which it does, at times, with jokes and quick repartee.

The heart, on the other hand, has no comebacks, no quips. Gentle, slow and unprotected, an open heart is easily attacked, especially by a frightened mind. And feelings scare the mind.”

No wonder leaders become entrenched in a comfort zone of data, facts, and ideas. But safe isn’t always smart. Truly inspirational leaders express their full range of emotions and are quick to pick up on others’. However, many continue to avoid expressing their feelings, fearing they’ll appear weak or out of control.

Practising empathic listening while observing and encouraging others’ emotional expressiveness will take you out of your comfort zone and align your mind and heart. To understand the power of empathy in leadership, refer to an earlier post Empathy in Everyday Conversations.

When I work with executives and executive teams, I coach many who are still clinging to the idea that emotional expressiveness is seen as weak and ineffective. Women leaders, in particular, struggle with this myth, as do business owners and executives who are members of minorities. They fear of being judged harshly and unjustly.

What do you think about this in your organization? What are you doing to debunk myths and stereotypes in your business? Your comments are welcome. You can also contact me at patricia@maestroquality.com, at 905-858-7566, on LinkedIn, or on Maestro’s Facebook page.

Coming up in my next blog post: Bad news for buttoned-up leaders. Failure to show emotions makes leaders far less effective. Failure to recognize feelings impairs decision-making.

Photos © DXfoto.com – PhotoXpress

Stay positive

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How well do the leaders in your organization express their emotions? What about you? Do you appropriately articulate your feelings? Do you use emotional expressiveness to persuade and inspire others?

“Great leaders move us. They ignite our passion and inspire the best in us. When we try to explain why they are so effective, we speak of strategy, vision or powerful ideas. But the reality is much more primal. Great leadership works through the emotions.” ~ Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, Primal Leadership (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013)

Leaders are responsible for their organizations’ energy levels. While research has demonstrated a strong link among excitement, commitment, and business results, many leaders stumble at emotional expressiveness. They hesitate to express both positive and negative emotions in an effort to maintain credibility, authority, and gravitas. Consequently, they’re losing one of the best tools for achieving impact.

: emotional intelligence and leadership

 

Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

“The role of emotional maturity in leadership is crucial.” ~ Kathy Lubar and Belle Linda Halpern, Leadership Presence: Dramatic Techniques to Reach Out, Motivate and Inspire(Penguin Group, USA, 2004)

MBA programs do not teach emotional expressiveness, although professors often address emotional intelligence as an important leadership quality.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your — and others’ — moods and emotions, and is a critical component of effective leadership. Leaders at all organizational levels must master:

  1. Appraisal and expression of emotions
  2. Use of emotion to enhance cognitive processes and decision-making
  3. The psychology of emotions
  4. Appropriate management of emotions

Every message has an emotional component. Hence, leaders must learn to articulate and express their feelings. Mastering this objective inspires your team in five essential domains:

  1. Developing collective goals
  2. Instilling an appreciation of work’s value and importance
  3. Generating and maintaining enthusiasm, confidence, optimism, cooperation, and trust
  4. Encouraging flexibility in decision-making and change management
  5. Establishing and maintaining a meaningful organizational identity

Leaders create authentic relationships by expressing interest in their people and showing empathy. They must also learn to express their emotions publicly, albeit in an appropriate and effective way. Expressing emotions does not mean wielding the sword or making others feel uncomfortable or even unsafe. There is a lot to be said for expressing emotions with grace, dignity, and respect.

When I am consulting and coaching executives and executive teams, I find many who are intellectually conversant about emotions… but that is different than expressing their personal feelings. Not many are comfortable being that open and transparent.

What about you? In your organization, do people express emotions? Do they feel safe and competent in expressing a wide range of emotions? I’d love to hear from you. Contact me at patricia@maestroquality.com, at 905-858-7566, on LinkedIn, or on Maestro’s Facebook page.

Coming up: My clients and their employees know that I love debunking myths – such as the myth of “common sense”. In my next blog, I address the myths and assumptions about “emotions”.

Books and Audiobooks

The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success, Third Edition, Steven J. Stein, Ph.D. and Howard E. Book, M.D.

On iTunes

Assessment for Measuring Emotional Self-expression and Empathy

For information about qualified administration and briefing of Emotional Intelligence assessments (EQi 2.0 and EQ360), contact Patricia at patricia@maestoquality.com or call 905-858-7566.

Photo © contrastwerkstatt | Fotolia.com

Stay positive

Aug
22

Empathy vs. Sympathy

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Many of us confuse empathy with sympathy. Sympathy is feeling for a person. Empathy is feeling with a person—an important distinction. When we’re empathic, we not only put ourselves in others’ shoes, we go a step further and imagine the world from their perspective.

Humans have an innate ability to do this. The mirror neurons in our brains pick up other people’s conscious and unconscious cues. This triggers our own feelings and thoughts, allowing us to align with others. Our brain waves actually sync.

Interestingly, my work with younger executives down in the pitoften reveals high empathy in emotional intelligence. When coaching these younger executives, we talk about the dark side of empathy – sympathy – and how they would know the difference. I further explain empathy with the analogy of a friend being stuck in a pit. Empathy is when you stand on the edge of the pit and help your friend climb out. Sympathy is when you get into the pit (or fall in) with your friend. Any effort to get out is futile and perhaps the pit gets deeper.

Sympathy has its place when appropriate, but empathy is critical if your goals include persuading others, reaching mutually beneficial solutions, or building connection and influence.

Members of high-performing teams consistently show high levels of empathy for one another. They care enough to ask:

  • What makes you who you are?
  • What do you really care about?

Mastering Everyday Empathy

Authors Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar offer three key guidelines for everyday empathy in Leadership Presence: Dramatic Techniques to Reach Out, Motivate, and Inspire (Gotham Books, 2004). The first guideline is to:

  • Learn what makes a person tick.
 Make it a goal to find out more about people: what they like, what they dislike, and what they are passionate about. The mere act of asking a question or two clears the way for future conversations and collaboration. It doesn’t take much time, doesn’t annoy anyone (unless done inappropriately) and can be FUN. Of course, it’s easier with people you like and more difficult with someone you dislike or mistrust. Try it with a wide range of people to see how asking questions improves communication.

Empathic Executives = Great Places to Work and Great Profits

When working with executive teams, I observe their interactions in the boardroom with one another and when receiving information and feedback from their employees and customers. I bring their attention to examples of deep active listening and how raising their level of empathy will engage high performance throughout their organization.

I also observe examples of empathy in the daily interactions of employees with their peers and their customers. The positive effects of a high level of empathy in an organization can be seen in employee engagement and peak performance; and in customer reviews, loyalty, and referrals. The overall return on investment is a great place to work and great profits.

Measuring Your Level of Empathy

How well you ask questions of others and really get to know the people you work with and whom you serve is a good indication of how much you engage in empathic conversations.

Learning more about the people you work with is key. It’s not difficult, and the time and effort is priceless. An awareness and conscious effort is required as you take your empathy to a higher level. You can begin by asking yourself “How often do I start conversations with the intent to see, hear and appreciate people?”

If you are looking for qualitative measurement of your empathy and/or your executive team’s empathy, you will be interested in the emotional intelligence assessments – EQi 2.0 and EQ360.

Taking empathy to the next level in the workplace is something I focus on when working with clients to create great places to work and build great profits. Find out how to take your empathy to another level. Contact me at patricia@maestroquality.com, at 905-858-7566, on LinkedIn, or on Maestro’s Facebook page.

Books and Audiobooks

The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success, Third Edition, Steven J. Stein, Ph.D. and Howard E. Book, M.D.

On iTunes

Assessment for Measuring Empathy

For information about qualified administration and briefing of the following assessment, contact Patricia at patricia@maestoquality.com or call 905-858-7566

EQ – Emotional Intelligence – EQi 2.0 and EQ 360

Photo © timur1970 / photoXpress.com

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Aug
18

Empathy in Everyday Conversations

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colleague expressing empathy in the workplaceIn a previous post, Return from the 2nd Canadian Positive Psychology Conference, I wrote about the revolutionary work being done in our educational systems to build resilience and overall state of happiness for our children. One specific workshop introduced an international organization and its two programs dedicated to building caring, peaceful, and civil societies through the development of empathy in children and adults. Roots of Empathy and Seeds of Empathy are evidenced-based programs that have shown significant effect in reducing levels of aggression among school children while raising social and emotional competence and increasing empathy. I was led to wonder how today’s children will transform the workplace with well-developed empathic behaviour.

Empathy in Everyday Conversations

In everyday conversations – whether with friends, family or coworkers – most of us have an empathy deficit – or at least we don’t express empathy enough.

Everyone wants to be seen, heard and appreciated. However, not that many people—especially in workplaces—know how to communicate empathy so that others feel seen, heard and appreciated.

Most of us are too focused on conveying our own messages.

“Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection—or compassionate action.” ~ Psychologist Daniel Goleman, Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships (Bantam, 2007)

“Warm and Fuzzy” in the Workplace?

Empathy isn’t defined as having warm feelings for all of humanity as we strive for peace on Earth. It’s not about “warm and fuzzy” feelings for someone else (although that may well happen). Empathy involves understanding others’ thoughts and feelings—gaining true awareness by asking questions and actively listening.

Relationships are built on empathy. Unfortunately, many people erroneously assume they’re empathetic. Poorly expressed or absent empathy leads to misunderstandings, lack of trust and uncooperative friends/family/colleagues.

Poorly expressed empathy occurs in a conversation that begins with something like “I understand how you feel.” On the other hand, well-expressed empathy begins with something like “That must be so difficult for you.” A subtle difference that changes the focus and impact.

The Consequences of Lack of Empathy

Superficial connections with colleagues are often accepted as the norm. We let superficiality slip into our relationships with friends and family. We sometimes default to using humour as a handy substitute for getting to know and understand each other. How often have you heard sarcasm used to minimize and trivialize a person’s feelings?

The lack of empathy has wide-reaching consequences. No one intends to keep others at a distance, but that’s what happens when we pay insufficient attention to others’ emotions. Perhaps we’re afraid of coming across as overly touchy-feely and go to the other extreme: relying on logic and common sense, ignoring all feelings. Neither extreme benefits our relationships or communication efforts.

Communication is never a one-way street. While people want to hear what you have to say, they are more interested in knowing that you care about them. Theodore Roosevelt said it well: “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

Connecting Empathy with Trust and Influence

Empathy lubricates authentic connections, allowing us to build trust and influence. It requires more than just seeing and feeling. It’s more than simply “walking in the other’s shoes.” It’s about describing every blister and cut, every triumphant step. It’s mirroring the other person’s experience.

A measure of empathy exists as part of your Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Perhaps there ought to exist a measure of empathy as part of your IQ and as part of learning to be conversationally intelligent. Programs like Seeds of Empathy and Roots of Empathy are giving our children a good head start. Just like verbal and mathematical abilities, you can improve your empathy skills.

Taking empathy to the next level in the workplace is something I focus on when working with clients to create great places to work and build great profits. Find out how to take your empathy to another level. Contact me at patricia@maestroquality.com, at 905-858-7566, on LinkedIn, or on Maestro’s Facebook page.

Books and Audiobooks

The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success, Third Edition, Steven J. Stein, Ph.D. and Howard E. Book, M.D.

On iTunes

Assessment for Measuring Empathy

For information about qualified administration and briefing of the following assessment, contact Patricia at patricia@maestoquality.com or call 905-858-7566

EQ – Emotional Intelligence – EQi 2.0 and EQ 360

Photo © Orange Line Media | Fotolia.com

Stay positive

Average reading time: 2 minutes

Maintaining Excellence in Uncertain Times

Nothing is as difficult as managing in uncertain times. My clients tell me that the rapidly changing competitive environment and new technologies make it difficult to keep up adding insurmountable stress for themselves, their leadership team, employees, and their families.

StressedManaging people well is even more challenging when you’re constantly putting out fires. How are you supposed to bring out the best in your people when no one has a cue as to what will happen tomorrow?

Draw on your core values and lessons learned along the way. Embrace a plan like the Hallowell Cycle of Excellence. Perhaps one of the five steps is going unfulfilled. An employee may not be in the right job or may not be sufficiently challenged. See previous blogs on the topic of Steps to Build Peak Performance starting with Step 1. The Right Fit.

A plan is a mooring to use during times of crisis and chaos—a strategy for redirecting energies in the right direction. Your plan can be used to correct course. My clients are familiar with my philosophy that you can’t sacrifice performance in the name of speed, cost-cutting, efficiency, and what can be mislabeled as necessity. When you ignore connections in your planning, deep thought disappears in favour of decisions based on fear.

The five areas of focus in the Cycle of Excellence can help you avoid fear-based management practices which have the potential to disable you and create barriers for the people you lead. Use the Cycle of Excellence to identify problem areas and decide on a plan of action. Stick to your plan.  Demonstrate commitment to the plan even when you need to revise.  In this way you and your employees can creatively manage for growth not just survival.

I’ve learned from my clients just how hard it is to bring out the best in people. This very challenge is the reason why so many smart leaders value and use executive coaching in addition to consulting.

  1. What do you think about this?
  2. What’s been your own experience managing for peak performance?
  3. Have you read all 5 steps for building peak performance?

Stay positive

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Previous blogs have summarized the first 4 steps in the Cycle of Excellence and referenced in the book Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People (Harvard Business Press, 2011).

Recap: Dr. Hallowell, the author, a psychiatrist and behavior expert, draws on brain science, performance research, and his own experience to present the Cycle of Excellence process and the 5 steps to build peak performance:

  1. Select: Put the right people in the right job, and give them responsibilities that “light up” their brains.  
  2. Connect: Strengthen interpersonal bonds among team members.
  3. Play: Help people unleash their imaginations at work.
  4. Grapple and Grow: When the pressure’s on, enable employees to achieve mastery of their work.
  5. Shine: Use the right rewards to promote loyalty and stoke your people’s desire to excel.

We continue with the fifth step.

Step 5: Shine

I have chosen to be happy because it is good for my health. –Voltaire-

Poster on client’s Health & Safety Bulletin Board

People rarely give out too much appreciation. In my work with leaders and executive teams implementing Quality Management Systems and Healthy Workplace programs, I witness the emphasis on identifying deficits, gaps, and non-compliance.  Mistakes, unsatisfactory performance, and non-conforming processes get too much attention. Overwhelming energy is spent on analyzing weaknesses and attributing blame.

Not enough attention is given to recognizing strengths, talents, and attitudes. An analysis of what is working well and celebratory meetings focused on attributing praise is rare in the workplace. Yet research shows most people learn better from positive reinforcement of success than focusing on improving weaknesses. Every employee should feel recognized and valued for what he or she does well.

 “To err is human; to forgive, divine.”  Alexander Pope, “Essay on Criticism”

I would add to this quote: To acknowledge successes, divine!

People learn from mistakes and continue to develop when their successes are noticed and acknowledged. Letting them know that you appreciate efforts and victories large and small will motivate them to shine.

Ironically, when a person is underperforming or otherwise disengaged, lack of recognition may be the root cause. An employee will rarely come right out and tell you that she feels undervalued.  It’s one of those dreaded conversations that people avoid while the issue festers.  An astute leader and manager will be alert for the subtle signs that an employee is suffering.

Preventive and Predictive Action

I encourage my executive clients to follow a process of preventive and predictive action rather than fighting fires when employees disengage and problems arise:

  • Be on the lookout for moments when you can catch someone doing something right. It doesn’t have to be unusual or spectacular. Don’t withhold compliments.
  • Be generous with praise. People will pick up on your use of praise and positive acknowledgment and will begin to emulate for themselves and each other.
  • Recognize attitudes as well as achievements. Optimism and a growth mindset are two attitudes to single out and encourage. Look for other desirable attitudes.

Notice that the above actions have a positive-focus aka “positive psychology interventions”.

Positive Psychology Interventions

Insights from the recent Canadian Positive Psychology Conference in Ottawa validated positive-focused interventions. Try a few simple positive psychology interventions to add praise and positive acknowledgement to your workplace culture:

  • Begin your meetings with “what’s going well”.  End with “what we learned today”.  Best Practice: Make it safe for everyone to engage in positive feedback.
  • Install a Gratitude Bulletin Board beside your Health and Safety Bulletin Board.
  • Post-the-positive on your Employee Communications Board on a regular basis including positive affirmations; acknowledgements; employee achievements behind the scenes and outside the workplace; and positive news. Based on personal experience with clients and their employees’ response, I guarantee this one positive intervention will stoke your employees’ desire to excel and shine.

Simple interventions promoting positive psychology in the workplace are good for business; the workplace; and the community.  Everyone has a right to flourish.

When you’re in sync with your people, you create positive energy and opportunities for peak performance. Working together can be one of life’s greatest joys—and it’s what we’re wired to do.  Watching people grow and excel can be most gratifying – it’s what leaders are wired to do.

What do you think about this?

  • Are you watching for and acknowledging what is going well?
  • Are you modeling a culture of praise and positive feedback
  • Are you going beyond your workplace celebrities and acknowledging the work been done behind the scenes and bright lights?

Books and Audiobooks

Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People (Harvard Business Press, 2011)

On iTunes

Stay positive

A view of the Parliament Buildings from the Chateau Laurier

A view of the Parliament Buildings from the Chateau Laurier.  Photo taken by Patricia A. Muir

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I returned from the 2nd Canadian Positive Psychology Conference with exciting insights to share with my clients who, like me, are committed to making the workplace a better place for everyone.

My intentions were satisfied beyond expectations with an array of presentations and activities that support peak performance and flourishing individuals.

Kudos to Educators

Although my focus for learning was related to the workplace, I was “wowed” by the work being done in our educational systems. Positive Psychology “intervention strategies” are helping educators and their students build strong psychological and emotional foundations.  Students around the world are being introduced to a different way of navigating life that contributes to their resilience and overall state of happiness. Kudos to all those educators who are open to a new way of thinking and new strategies for developing our future leaders at home, at work, and in our communities.

Post-traumatic Growth and Return-to-Work Policy

At the CPPA conference, I gravitated toward the intriguing concept of “Post-traumatic Growth”. I have been researching post-traumatic growth since experiencing first-hand how grieving and critical illness affects performance and how it relates to return-to-work issues and policy. In future blogs, I will present the research and the practical application of this concept in the workplace. I intend to increase awareness around what happens when your peak performers experience a traumatic event or a critical illness. I will challenge the status quo and the management attitude and platitude of “business-as-usual”. I will present strategies and interventions that are good for business, good for the workplace, and good for the community? And, let’s not forget good for the individual. Everyone has the right to flourish!

Let’s Play for Peak Performance

If you have read recent blogs about peak performance, you will appreciate this 54-second Silent Disco video clip that reinforces the many benefits of play at work. Turn up the volume to hear my voice describing the event.  You won’t hear the music.  I leave that to your imagination.  We truly “broke out” inside and outside the Chateau Laurier with an activity called “Silent Disco”.   As we paraded our dance outside the hotel to music heard only through our personal headphones, we attracted crowds of Ottawa visitors at the height of tourist season. I am sure we were branded as crazy Canadians even though CPPA conference attendees came from all over the world.

Silent Disco is an activity that is spreading like flash-mobs; in parks; on school campuses; at public events; and workplace events. A major benefit is the mind-body connection to induce creativity and peak performance. Learn more about Silent Disco at www.silentdisco.com .

Coming up in the next blog.  The final step in 5 Steps to Build Peak Performance – #5 Shine.  Use the right rewards to promote loyalty and stoke your the desire to excel.

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In previous blogs, I have summarized the first three steps of the Cycle of Excellence referenced in the book Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People (Harvard Business Press, 2011).

Dr. Hallowell, the author, a psychiatrist and behavior expert, draws on brain science, performance research, and his own experience to present the Cycle of Excellence process for getting the best from your people and providing optimal working conditions for peak performance.

To recap, the following are the 5 Steps to Build Peak Performance.

  1. Select: Put the right people in the right job, and give them responsibilities that “light up” their brains.   
  2. Connect: Strengthen interpersonal bonds among team members.
  3. Play: Help people unleash their imaginations at work.
  4. Grapple and Grow: When the pressure’s on, enable employees to achieve mastery of their work.
  5. Shine: Use the right rewards to promote loyalty and stoke your people’s desire to excel.

Today’s blog continues with the fourth step.

Step 4: Grapple and Grow

growFollowing up on Step 3. Play, people will eagerly stretch beyond their usual limits when there is a supportive environment to engage imaginatively with tasks they like and at which they excel.

If tasks are too easy or too routine, people fall into boredom and apathy. If there is no encouragement, opportunity, or a safe environment for creative and critical thinking, people will follow rules and regulations with blind compliance or perhaps worse, they become lone rangers or saboteurs wreaking havoc for everyone.  With the latter, no one makes progress, learns anything new, or contributes with peak performance.

Your job, as a leader or manager, is to be a catalyst.  When people get stuck, ask powerful questions to engage their creative and critical-thinking. Offer a few suggestions and then let them work out solutions.

The Right Environment for Grapple-and-Grow

Provide a physical environment that inspires and induces a different way of thinking and a different approach to finding solutions.  One of my clients set up different “creative-thinking” zones throughout the workplace where employees can switch their brains from routine operational work to more strategic and creative work.  The zones are designed for grapple-and-grow experiences that are fun.  Two zones incorporate physical play, a basketball hoop and a foosball table.  Other zones offer solitary or team challenges along with mental and physical challenges.

growing

Another client has yearned for a place where she could focus solely on her strategic-thinking away from the distractions of routine deskwork and other interruptions. Getting past the initial inertia of needing to make the space perfect-before-use was a “grapple and grow” exercise in itself providing valuable insights in how she approaches challenges.  She now sees the space as sacred, evolving, and a place to develop mastery.

The Grapple-and-Grow concept is as important, if not more important, in work that is routine and structured such as administrative, accounting, and front-line service.  Encouraging a different way of thinking and a different approach to finding solutions adds energy to work that can be physically, mentally, and emotionally draining.  It’s in the process of finding a different way that we often find the better way.  Finding the better way develops mastery.

Pressure Can Make or Break

Adding pressure to complete tasks quickly is counter to grapple-and-grow and leads to shortcuts and stress that usurp creative and critical-thinking. On the other hand, the right amount of pressure and the right amount of creativity enables employees to grapple, grow, and achieve mastery over their work.

 

What do you think about this?

  • Are there job functions that need review to avoid boredom and apathy?
  • Are you presenting meaningful challenges and allowing people to grapple and grow?
  • Are you applying the right amount of pressure to create some sparkling gems in your organization?

 

Books and Audiobooks

Shine: Using Brain Science to Get the Best from Your People (Harvard Business Press, 2011)

On iTunes
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