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Monday, December 17, 2012

Wishing you Merry and Bright this Holiday Season!

As is our custom, we will take a few weeks off from our blog postings over the Christmas and New Years holiday.  We wish you and yours a season filled with Merry and Bright!

Monday, December 10, 2012

How Children (and Adults) Succeed

At the prompting of Joe Adams with The Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama (PARCA),  I just read the book How Children Succeed: Grit Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough.  Joe captured my attention about this book when he was giving a presentation to the Decatur City Schools Foundation on their standardized test scores.  Joe was asked the question, "Well how do we help kids succeed in school" (or at least that was the basic just of the question).  

Joe caught my attention when he pointed to this book and said,  "I didn't earn my PhD because I'm smart, I earned it because I would put up with more crap than anyone else."  While you might find this statement odd, what the book and Joe intend to mean is that we are missing the mark if we think teaching purely academic skills are what make children and people in general successful.

I think the same is true of the work environment.  If we think that only teaching people the technical skills necessary for the job is going to make them successful, then we are wrong. 

Here are some key points to consider from the book in helping people succeed: 

1.  Provide secure environments for people to live, work, play and learn.  In the working world, provide a work environment that provides support, especially support during stressful situations.  This is especially important for young children, and in my opinion, especially important for new hires in an organization.  An organized new hire orientation period where training and support are provided and expectations are established can lead to much success down the road for that employee.  For tools on this, click here.
2. Being a "helicopter" parent or boss, doesn't work.   In fact, it can be as detrimental to success as being an absent parent or boss.  Micromanaging and swooping in to "rescue" all the time does not lead to successful people. 
3. Allow people to fail.  That's where the most learning takes place. 
4. Challenge people.  No one succeeds, or leads a fulfilling life when the status quo is never challenged. 
5.  Speaking of a fulfilling life, help people develop grit in their work to lead to productivity and fulfillment.  Angela Duckworth who is chronicled in the book defines grit as "a passionate commitment to a single mission and an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission."  This involves getting people on the right seat on the bus or allowing them to get off your bus and join another one if the grit just isn't there. 
6.  Hard work matters and it leads to success and fulfillment.  In fact, determination and hard work matter more than a person's intellect.  

What type of characteristics does your work environment or leadership style have that help people succeed? 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Overcoming Barriers, Just Listen

After completing a career coaching project with 50 high school seniors,  I put together a report for the client that explained many things about the coaching project, including barriers that students had in their way of achieving college and career success.  Here is the list of barriers:

  •  Lack of self awareness about strengths and interests, which limits confidence
  • Lack of knowledge about careers
  • Teenage pregnancy
  •  Not having passed all parts of the graduation exam
  • Students living in poverty (measured by students qualifying for free and reduced lunch)
  • Single parents households (one coach who coached 25 students only talked to 4 students that had both a mother and father figure present in the home).
  •  Lack of understanding about what it takes to get into college, for example, not taking the ACT, assuming the school of their choice has a major they want to pursue, knowing or thinking they could qualify for a Pell Grant, but having no idea how to obtain one, etc.
  • Lack of computer skills or limited access to computers at home needed to register for ACT and complete college applications.
  • Drug use.  At least one student appeared to be under the influence of some type of substance and one student told a coach that she believed 75% of her classmates were involved in drugs in some way.  While this may be an exaggeration by this student, it cannot be overlooked. 
With this list of barriers, you can see how it might be near impossible to even get to the point of the career coaching session which was actually talking about what they wanted to be when they "grow up".  Much of the time was spent focused on how to overcome the mountains in their path.

This got me to thinking about barriers people have in doing a quality job day in and day out at work.  While many of those who work for you may not have the same exhausting list of issues, everyone has a set of issues that they deal with that are difficult when they show up to work for you. 

Is it important to help them overcome these issues?  Yes.  Not that you need to become a full-time therapist as a leader (but you could pay to have an Employee Assistance Program- EAP to provide this service if needed), but you do need to realize what would prohibit your staff from doing a great job and help them to at least make the mountains they have in front of them hills.   When you help eliminate some of the barriers, you get a more focused employee who is able to produce results for your company.  

Here are some things I've seen companies do to help employees deal with personal barriers:

Provide classes like Financial Peace University to help employees with the stress of money related issues.
Provide an Employee Assistance Program that allows employees access to counselors specialized in areas such as marital counseling, substance abuse counseling, etc.  or, for smaller companies, provide time off to meet with such a counselor and help with making sure these services can be billed through health insurance plans
Provide wellness programs or healthy living incentives to reduce health-related issues.
Provide paid time off (or a personal leave or vacation plan that is flexible enough) so that employees can take time off for family related issues, whether it be time to attend the school play or time to care for a terminally ill relative.

What's most important? 

What's most important though, as a leader, is just simply listening.  I think we were able to uncover many of the barriers these teenagers faced simply because they had a devoted 45 minute to an hour time frame with an individual whose job for that time frame was just them, and most importantly, just listening to them.  So whether or not you can provide any of the above listed things to overcome personal barriers,  you can take time to listen.  And sometimes listening means hearing the things that aren't said.  Listening to your employees and establishing a level of trust through listening may lead you to understand obstacles that keep them from performing A+ work or you, then be able to start to help them fix it. 

How have you helped your employees eliminate personal obstacles that limit success? 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Usefulness as an Employee Satisfaction Tool

Our little boy loves Thomas the Train.  Although it can be mind numbing to listen to Thomas and his friends over and over again,  listening to it enough has led me to pick up on the fact that the underlying theme is that all the engines' purpose is to be useful.  Not happy, not successful, not prosperous, not even efficient, but useful.  The usefulness theme is embedded in the videos, the songs, the website, in all things Thomas.

What if the workplace was embedded with the theme of making you and your employees useful?  How would this shape employee satifaction efforts and organizational commitment and how would it shape how you handle leadership? What would be useful for you to do for your employees?

While I sometimes tire of the constant requests for "Choo Choo" (aka Thomas and his friends), I am pleased that the usefulness the lesson is being taught through one of my child's favorite things to watch and do.  He not only sees that hard work is valuable, but that each train is different and, therefore, has a different way to go about being useful.   The "steamies" have a different purpose than the "diesels" and that's okay.  Taking it even further, each individual engine is especially good at something.  One is obsessed with being on time (which you could see serving to be useful in certain situations), one is strong and hauls the heavy loads, while another is nice and clean and is responsible for carrying passengers on the island of Sodor where they all live to be useful.

While you might think that useful could be, well boring,  it turns out that all the engines on Sodor are happy and satisfied.  The only time they aren't is when they aren't serving their intended purpose.   The end state of being useful actually leads to a greater end state of job satisfaction and commitment.

Research show that a key component in creating job satisfaction is the nature of the work or the characteristics of the job.  Matching people with the right work helps create a sense of satisfaction that leads to motivation and success.  Why? Because being useful means meeting a need, and deep down we all want to meet needs, whether it be our own needs or others. You want every employee to feel a sense of meeting a need that maximizes your company's success. Here are some tips for helping you emphasize usefulness which will help lead to job satisfaction:

1.  Place people in assignments that allow them to feel as though they are important and competent (perceived competence) based on their strengths and personality.
2.  Allow competent people the opportunity to make decisions about how they do their work or how they get it done  (see Task-Purpose-Endstate as an example of this) (participative decision making).
3.  Related to number two, leave those that are competent alone to do their job (job autonomy).
4.  With the right training and leadership from you, allow people to expand their job role within their scope of usefulness so they can learn and grow with your organization (job scope).*

When have you felt most useful?

*Source Jex, S.M. & Britt, T.W.,  Organizational Psychology, A Scientist-Practioner Approach. 2008. pp 137&155.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Leadership How-To: Team Communications

One of my favorite companies, Red Sage Communications, Inc.,  who did my website and marketing materials, asked me to write a blog on team communication a few months ago.

You can check it out here on their blog: Communication and Team Work on Red Sage's blog

There are five tips, or how-tos in improving team communication.   Happy Reading!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Task- Purpose- Endstate

This posting comes from guest blogger, Captain Davis Ozier of the United States Army.   

Within an organization, developing our personnel is a critical task that receives a lot of talk but never much attention.  Managers generally think, hope, and assume that subordinates will be developed by simply observing those around them or that merely teaching them a task is sufficient to be considered as developing them in their position.  It doesn’t.  People are at the center of our organizations and the successful execution of our daily business falls on their shoulders.  It is therefore imperative that leaders spend time developing their people to grow and succeed, and empowering our subordinates is a great first step.

The US Army has historically trained a topic or subject on a model of Task – Conditions – Standard, which defines the task, the conditions under which the task will be completed, and the standard that must be reached to be considered a successful execution of said task.  What if, as leaders, we adopt a slightly different approach, and modify our format to Task – Purpose – Endstate?  Define the task at hand, the reason for doing it, and what it should look like at the end.  Doing so empowers the individual or team while affording them maximum creativity and flexibility.  And who do you want to rise within your organization – those that can only execute tasks that are described in detail to them or those that have the ingenuity and agility to develop creative solutions on their own?

Adopting the Task – Purpose – Endstate model has its drawbacks, though.  There will be a learning curve where the subordinate might, and probably will, fail.  This failure is not only acceptable, it is encouraged!  Ask yourself the simple question, have you learned more from your failures or your successes?  As long as leaders can identify the critical tasks ahead of time that are no-fail missions and ensure they are appropriately resourced, there is no reason to worry about potential failures.

Leaders must prioritize development of our team members.  However, it won’t happen on its own – it must be a deliberate and planned effort.  Take a moment and reflect on how your bosses have developed you?  

How do you currently develop your subordinates?  

Monday, November 5, 2012

November Leadership Carnival is up!

Another one of our blog postings is featured in this month's Leadership Carnival.  Check it out here:

November Leadership Carnival

Leadership How-Tos: Firefighting and 80/20 Rule

For those of you that were a part of the leadership classes, several previous blog posts highlight how-tos in the firefighting and dealing with "slackers" conversations.

Check them out: 

80/20 Rule   The how-tos are numbered in the middle of the page.

Are you a firefighter: Part 1   The how-tos are bulleted towards the bottom of the page under the heading "How to put away your fire hose" 

Are you a firefighter: Part 2:  This one is linked to our discussion on being an empowering leader.  The how-tos are numbered in the middle of the page.   The best how-to in this lesson, I think, is another two-birder:
Do you need to assign a task to a team member to get something done?  Then: 

 Bird 1:  Assign the task to someone who is not the expert in this field.   This gives them the opportunity to learn and helps build confidence and empowerment.
Bird 2:  Get your "expert" this task area to mentor and coach the new person in this area.  This shows your expert you trust them to train others, which builds confidence and empowerment too.

You've got two people now who are competent in an area, and hopefully two people who are empowered by following this how-to.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Your Horizon Part 2: Match Yourself

Last week,  I talked about the first step in discovering your career horizon: Know Yourself.   The next step is matching yourself with jobs that fit align with your talents, passions and values.  In considering your matches, you also have to consider the job market where you live or where your willing to relocate.

1.  Take assessments that match yourself to jobs that fit you: 

For free tools, check out O*NET's Career Exploration Tools.  Some of these assessments require you to print out an manually score the assessment while others let you download the application to your computer.  The easiest tool to use is the Career Interest Profiler that can be found at  which will provide you with a list of careers that match you based on your assessment results and how much education and training you have or are willing to pursue.

If you are willing to pay a little for an assessment, you can take some more comprehensive tools found at:

Self Directed Search
Strong Interest Inventory  This includes an in-person or over the phone interpretation from me.

2.  Learn more about your matches:

First, explore online to learn more about your matches.  I like to use   You can enter occupations in the search field in the top right-hand corner of the screen and watch a career video about the job, learn more about what's needed to be successful on the job, daily tasks and activities of the job as well as salary and job growth data. 

Speaking of job growth data,  You can't be a marine biologist in the middle of Nebraska......

This is where it is important to consider the horizon of the job market as to whether or not you can get a job that aligns with your talents, passions and values in the area where you live or where you are willing to live. 

Finally,  talk to people who are in the occupations that interest you.  This Job Shadowing Questionnaire may help. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Leadership How-Tos

I recently finished teaching two sessions of a two-day leadership training class.   As always, I asked for feedback at the end of the course to find out what would make the instruction and content better.   In one class,  many participants noted the need for more "how-tos", meaning they wanted more ways to apply what they had learned on the job.

I thought a list of how-tos might be helpful to share not only with them, but those of you who read this blog.  While this blog is always an effort to provide leadership how-tos, I'll have several installments of "how-tos" over the next few weeks related to topics from this particular course.

The purpose of any training, and the way to measure if it was effective, is to see if behaviors change on the job.  Here are some behavioral-based "how-tos" based on the topics of this particular course.

Leaders' roles of planning, organizing, directing, and monitoring: 

Planning how-to:  "Reverse-engineer". One of the class participants came up with this phrase and I love it!    It really emphasizes that you can't plan without knowing where you want to be; you have to know your end or desired state to plan for it.

Sit down with your team and have a planning session.  If you can do it off-site away from distractions, that is great.    Review the company mission and vision and any other strategic planning information.  Then "reverse engineer" your way into plans that meet those strategic objectives that your team is responsible for doing. This can be done on a smaller scale, say for example sitting down each week to plan for how your team is going to meet the production goal for the week.  Put the plan in writing and in a place where everyone can refer to it.

Organizing how-to:  Get some type of organizing mechanism (planner, computer based calendar tool and/or task list, white board in your office, etc.) and use it consistently to record work schedules of all of your team, meetings, dates goals needs to be reached, etc.  Use one tool, not ten and make it public.  Find a mechanism where everyone can assess this information.  I like google calendar as well as google's other tools for sharing documents and information.

 Kill two birds with one stone! Direct and Monitor with one how-to!  Schedule a time to manage by walking around.  You monitor more effectively if you do it regularly, but not at the same time each week.  People will come to know the boss walks around and monitors every Tuesday at 2:00 pm and they will definitely be working hard if you know that's when you are making rounds!

Walk your work area speaking to team members, talking about what they are working on, how things are going and asking if they need help with anything.  You may only have to observe what they are doing; it depends on the type of environment you work in. This will help you monitor what they are doing, and direct them if help is needed.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Your Horizon Part 1: Know Yourself

We're looking forward to beginning a project with a high school and their local partner in education to provide career coaching for all of the seniors at the school.   In addition to that, I'll be speaking at a job club on the topic of "Should I consider a career change?" next week.  Even with two completely different audiences, high school students and adults in career transition, we use the same model to help people make wise career decisions.

Here's how the first step works.

Know Yourself

1. Talents- We examine what you're good at.  This is done in a variety of ways (there are many instruments out there), but here are some questions that you can reflect on quickly in this area:

  • What do other people frequently ask you for help with? 
  • What tasks to do you find that come easy to you that seem difficult for others? 
2. Passions- We examine what cranks your tractor.   Again, there are a variety of instruments out there to assess interests or passions, but here are some things to consider on your own: 
  • What do you loose track of time doing you enjoy it so much? 
  • Are you engrossed with people, things or ideas? 
  • If you were standing in front of a magazine rack, what magazine would you pick up first to read? 
3. Values- We examine your personal values in the context of work environment.  This doesn't deal with moral values, such as integrity, instead it focuses on what environment is best for you and what you value most from work.  We typically use a card sorter activity that forces you to priorities what you value in work.  Here are some things to consider in this category:
  • Where do you want to live? Big city, small town, close to the ocean, in the mountains, close to family or far far away from them? (Yes, I have actually had people tell me it doesn't matter where they work as long as family isn't close by.  They obviously don't have a toddler!) 
  • Do you prefer to work with others or independently?
  • What is important to you in terms of work?  Is it flexibility, variety, status, autonomy, stability, etc? 
These areas, as seen in the diagram above, should overlap.  Most people are good at what they love to do and vis versa and most people gravitate toward jobs that provide alignment with their work and personal values.   Knowing yourself before considering different career fields or considering a change in career fields is vital to success. 

Next week,  I'll discuss the next step- Match Yourself- which gives a clearer picture of your horizon in the context of the job market. 

Let us know your answers to some of the questions above for this week's feedback! 

I'll give you one of mine... Passions- I loose track of time writing about and putting together presentations/trainings and individual plans for career and leadership development!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Lessons Learned on Learning

Last week,  I talked about the best leadership lesson I took away from the book Now You See It by Cathy Davidson.   Here are some other key points I took away from the book: 
  1. Many of our educational and business institutions are still geared towards creating and maintaining a type of worker (the industrial, assembly line worker) we by and large no longer need.  Teaching to the (standardized) test and forcing routine, in-the-box tasks does us no good.
  2. Learning should be fun, make it a game.
  3. Learning should synthesize knowledge.
  4. The brain is geared towards multitasking, work with it, don't fight it.
  5. Technology does help us be more productive; we by and large cause distractions ourselves.   Read the book to find out what the head honcho of Firefox does to limit distractions that our digital world helps create. 
  6. There are so many things to pay attention to, team up!  You count the balls I'll watch for the gorilla....
  7. Unlearning is just as important as learning.
  8.  Avoid categorizing people as "normal" "not normal". Someone's "disability" could be your greatest asset as an employee.  Read the book to learn more about how autistic individuals are the best computer code testers.
  9. Learning, relearning and unlearning keep us young! 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Are You a LEGO leader?

I just finished the book, Now You See It, by Cathy Davidson that describes how the digital age can and should be transforming our schools and businesses of the 21st Century.   There are many things that captured my attention in this book concerning the world of work, learning, and leadership which I will talk about over the next few weeks.  

One thing that stood out to me as the most powerful leadership principle was when she discussed LEGO leaders.  Lego leaders are really the same things as servant leaders.  She used the example of Shane Battier, a standout basketball player  who was described by sports writer Michael Lewis as one who had the remarkable ability to lead his team to victory, not by his own "prowess" in scoring, rebounding, and assists, but by his ability to "arrange a situation in which each participant plays to his very best ability in relationship to the opponents." It's a "remarkably modest form of leadership that lets others shine and at the same time empowers others to take responsibility and change."*

Shane's nickname on the court was "LEGO" because he made all the pieces fit together when he was playing. 

This ability to humbly lead by making others succeed was also the first on the list of "What Science Says About Successful Bosses"  where research showed that the first thing that distinguishes successful from unsuccessful bosses according to years of extensive research is that they are humble rather than arrogant and put others development first.   

Here are some questions to ask yourself to discern whether you're being a LEGO leader: 

1.  What do you spend the most time doing? Is it taking the time to develop the people who work for you?  Do you feel that developing others is your first and most important responsibility? 
2.  Can you name the key strengths of each of the people you lead and do you give them assignments that cater to those strengths? 
3.  Do members of your team enjoy coming to work and are they motivated to succeed? 
4.  Do you get out of peoples' way and let them do their job instead of micromanaging over their shoulders?
5.  Does your presence make the pieces fit together for a more cohesive whole or does your presence stress those who work for you out? 
6.  Do you talk about yourself more than your team? Count the number of times you say "I" versus "we" in a day.  If "I" is even close to being said as many times as "we" or naming someone who works for you, then you may need to reexamine your focus.

Tell us about someone you know that is a LEGO leader?  What do they do to put the pieces together? 

*Now You See It, page 225

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Performance Development Tool for Servant Leaders

Last week,  I talked about Servant Leadership and emphasized how servant leaders focus on developing more leaders by seeking to have conversations, even if they are difficult, with all employees.   One thing that all leaders may find difficult is developing poor performers. Whether you are dealing with great or poor performers, you should establish development plans with each of your people at least once a year (I advocate for every six months).

Beginning a performance development conversation may be difficult, especially with poor performers, so here is tool to use to start the conversation:

Sample Employee Development Questionnaire

Note that this is a completely separate process than one tied to employee evaluation and any compensation decisions that may be tied to an employee's "official" evaluation.  This make the process much less intimidating for both you and the employee and helps you both focus on growth and development, not deficiencies that prohibit pay increases.

Here's how you use it:

1. At a regularly scheduled interval that you choose (semi-annually, annually),  hand this questionnaire out to all of your direct reports.  

2. Ask them to evaluate themselves and fill out the questionnaire and give them a specific date to return to you.

3.  Fill out the questionnaire yourself on each of your subordinates.

4. Collect the the responses from your direct reports and compare your responses to the self-evaulation the employee completed.  Make sure you have completed your responses for them BEFORE gathering their responses so your responses will not be influenced.

5. Schedule a time to meet with each of your direct reports (1 hour each) to discuss the development questionnaire.

6. In planning for and implementing your one-on-one development meetings, focus on areas where your evaluation of the employee and the employee's self-evalation differ.  For example, if the employee gives himself or herself a 5 in productivity and you gave them a 2,  this a good time to discuss how you define productivity and discuss behavioral based changes they can make to improve their performance in that area.  At the same time if, for example, your employee gives himself or herself a 1 in technical skills and you gave them a 5, this is time to discuss to brag on the employee, and discuss why they feel deficient in this area.
In addition, another key area to focus on is the question related to charting goals for the employee.  If their professional goals are completely different than those you wish the employee to develop, synthesizing your impressions and direction forward is critical.

Here are some other tips for giving feedback.

7.  Use the questionnaire and meeting as a time to put a development plan in place with timelines associated with each development goal.    This should be put on paper and shared between you and the employee for updating.

8.  Don't complete the meeting without scheduling a sit-down time to check progress on the development plan.  Depending on the development needs of the direct report, this could be as often as once a week or a infrequent as quarterly.

I think you'll find that if you have a process in place and a template to follow to facilitate a development conversation, it makes it less intimidating to do.  

How have you made employee development conversations easy and effective?

Like this post and tool?  You may also like the Employee Evaluation Sample as well.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Servant Leadership

In a meeting this week,  I heard someone speak of their passion for the concept of servant leadership.   The image of a servant leader is obviously someone who puts others above themselves.  It completely aligns with my definition of true leadership in that real leaders make more leaders.   True leaders are focused on the growth and development of others, not themselves.

Because of this reminder of the power of servant leadership, I revisited a book about the topic, The World's Most Powerful Leadership Principle: How to Become a Servant Leader, by James Hunter.

I think some people struggle with the concept of servant leadership because let's face it, we are all driven by self interest. If you think you aren't, then you're lying to yourself.  I think others struggle with the concept because it conveys an image of almost a "softy", of a benevolent person that puts others above self and because of this, doesn't have a backbone.  

In Hunter's book, I was struck by a quote by Colin Powell that speaks the second difficulty with the concept.

"Ironically, by procrastinating on the difficult choices, by trying not to get anyone mad, and by treating everyone equally 'nicely' regardless of their contributions, you'll simply ensure that the only people you'll wind up angering are the most creative and productive people in the organization."  

Servant leaders don't strive to treat everyone the same.  They strive to serve others by helping people capitalize on their true strengths and talents. Sometimes this means distinguishing between great performance and poor performance which means making difficult choices to respond appropriately to poor performance.  

Next week I'll talk about how poor performance can be addressed, by emphasizing that by seeking to improve performance you are acting as a servant leader to all your people. 

What other difficult choices do you see servant leaders having to make?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Feeling Overwhelmed? Find time to think.

After coming back from a long weekend out of town, Monday morning hit with overwhelming thoughts of "I have so much to do and I do not know where to start!"  I stared at my computer wondering, "What first?" and dreading it all.

What did I do?  I pulled out my running shoes and took off.  Yes, I went into avoidance mode.

But what was a designed to be a cop-out, ended up being a way for me to think through my work, generate ideas, and focus attention.  My quiet run gave me the time to brainstorm questions and go through pros and cons of question wording for a client's organizational survey I needed to complete,  think through not one, but three blog posts (including this one that came to me while on the run!),  contemplate how to grab people's attention with a presentation I am giving in Biloxi next month, and take some time to actually enjoy an utterly gorgeous hint-of-fall morning.

When I got back,  I got all of these things done, and actually enjoyed doing all of them.

When people are busy, and lets face it, who's not, finding time to think seems to be last on the priority list.  But when we take the time to get in a place where we can put our thinking caps on, we end up conserving our time because we are more focused when we get down to the business of getting stuff done.

Here are some ideas for thinking time:
1. GET OUTSIDE alone and walk or run your way to thinking.
2. CHANGE YOUR SCENERY.  Go to a library, or coffee house, book store and sit.
3. SCHEDULE THINKING CAP SESSIONS.  Schedule a regular lunch or coffee time with someone who stimulates your thinking.  Bounce ideas off them.
4. UNPLUG. If you don't have the chance to get outside or out of the office, at least shut your email program and phone down for at least half a day at a time.
5. CHUNK YOUR TIME. Try to schedule meetings in a way that they don't chop up your day.  Schedule time back to back at the beginning or end of the day so you have the full morning or the afternoon to think and focus your attention.

You may also like to read about Mindfulness at Work.

What other ideas do you have for focusing your attention?

Monday, September 10, 2012

m&ms or timeout?

Our toddler is the biter at school.  Surrounded by nine girls as the lone boy in his classroom, he has decided that his teeth are his weapon of choice when a toy is taken from him, or he is pushed, or well, just because he feels like biting for no reason at all.

Our first line of defense, after talking and agreeing with the school staff, was the timeout chair.  When he bites, he would be told, "No, teeth are not for biting!" and would be put in timeout.  After coming out of timeout, he would have to apologize (as well as a 20 month old can) and would be asked,  "Do we bite?" to which he would quickly respond "No" with a shake of his head.   And every time he shook his head "No" we were dumb enough to think he wouldn't do it again.   But bite and bite he did.

So we had to corral the horse again to figure out a plan B.  Along with the staff, we decided we would reward him when he didn't bite instead of punishing for biting.  So if he made it until lunch without biting he would get two m&ms as a treat.  Go all day without biting and he would get two more m&ms when mommy and daddy came to pick him up.

He has not unleashed his teeth on any of his classmates since the implementation of the m&ms.  In fact, when my husband or I walk in the room to pick him up and he hasn't bitten,  he says, "Treat!" and walks straight down the hall to the drawer in the Director's desk where his treats are kept for his reward.

Although it didn't seem so simple, this example illustrates the simple idea of shaping behavior through the carrot or the stick.   When you reward the behavior you want to see, you less frequently see the behavior you don't want.  Unfortunately, we oftentimes neglect to reward "good" behavior and instead, only give people attention when there has been a negative occurrence.

In reading Leadership and the One Minute Manager by Blanchard, Zigarmi and Zigarmi,  the authors advocate for praising to shape behavior and self-direction instead of "reprimands".   In their model of Sitautional Leadership,  reprimands should only be used "with competent subordinates who have lost interest in a task....Reprimands do not teach skills, but are only effective in getting good performers back in line when they've developed a poor attitude toward their work."

So, its almost always better to "provide support and encouragement, and if necessary, direction" instead of whipping out that stick.

When you have pulled out your stick when you should have used the carrot?