Culture – to create and protect

After a brief hiatus from this blog to have another baby and get life organized, I’m back!

Things happened this week at work that have got me thinking (more than usual, which is already a lot!) about Organizational Culture… That nebulous, intangible atmosphere that surrounds all of us in our workplaces.

Many people say culture is synonymous with your values, that it’s set from the top and that it’s represented in everything from the office layout, to your approach to problem-solving.

In my mind it’s simple. Culture is co-created by everyone in the system. It’s the way we act and interact with each other and our customers. It’s reinforced through people practices, and modeled by leaders… but no one person has the power alone to set or transform cultureCulture.

This week we lost one of our leaders… A passionate, kind man who for many was an inspiration. He left on his own accord, and for his own reasons. The reaction in our system was varied. Some people understanding and supporting the need for new leadership, and others feeling hopeless with the loss. He was instrumental, after all, in helping to shape the culture and signature sense of community that we all hold dear.

But what I know is this. Emotions, connection and community run deep. Far deeper than any one person alone can create or destroy. My want for our system as we go through this transition is to allow everyone to tap into their own power around creating culture; to identify those things that they will fiercely protect through this change and the inevitable others to come; to own our culture as their own; and then to act and interact in a way that aligns completely with the culture we’re building.

I’m biased, but we are creating something special together. That’s what makes us peers in the deepest sense of the word… Friends, collaborators, co-conspirators in our quest for the extraordinary.

If you had to pick 2-3 things in your own culture to fiercely protect or amplify in the spirit of excellence, what would you choose?

The Downward Spiral of Tough Love

I had lunch last week with a friend and colleague who was telling me about a leader in her organization who subscribes to the “tough love” school of leadership. That for her teams to perform she has to be brutally honest about where they are screwing up.

Come on people! It doesn’t work for parents, teachers, spouses… so why do we think that tough love is a viable approach to leadership?

Now I get this woman’s position: she is frustrated because her teams are under-performing. The rest of the organization is counting on them… they are highly visible, and the face of the organization. If I were in her shoes, I’d feel gutted too. And probably annoyed and a bit embarrassed.

So to get the best from her teams, she motivates them by telling them how much they suck. Surprisingly, there is no substantial shift in results from her team. Then what does she do? More tough love. And what does she get? More mediocre results. It’s a downward spiral into blame, judgement and de-motivation.

Einstein was on to something: “Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results”. This applies more than ever to leadership.

While her teams may be faltering… the common denominator in all of this is her leadership. To change a system, starts with changing self.

When I’ve worked with leaders like this before, a common worry I hear is that people don’t want to shift their style in a way that is inauthentic. But the truth around authenticity is that sometimes people are authentically as*holes – and then they wonder why team performance suffers. Authentic leadership, on the other hand, is about showing up as who you are AND being willing to work with the impact you’re having on those around you. Instead of saying “this is me, deal with it,” authentic leaders say “how can I play to my strengths and adapt my style to get the best from my people?”

Because really, results can’t happen without people. To get the most from your team, bring intention to your leadership this week. Try a few new things:

Be a Leader:

  • Start by taking 100% accountability: if your team isn’t getting the results you want, choose accountability rather than blame. What do you need to shift in your leadership to get better results from your people?
  • Facilitate success. Rather than de-motivate through tough love, try giving feedback and coaching. One of the biggest and most important roles a leader plays is helping their people succeed.
  • Listen with curiosity and care. When results are faltering, find out why. Start first with asking questions and listening rather than directing and declaring. Facilitate conversations where learning happens.

Leadership Mile-High Club

I’m sitting on the plane, coming home from a short week away with a client. The vantage point from up here is unreal – far out my window I can see the tips of the Rockies, and immediately underneath us the brown earth slides by. Besides the fact that I am continually amazed (and a tiny bit anxious) that I’m flying in a metal tube thousands of feet above the ground, I am in awe of the perspective I get from this height. And the perspective comes not only the vastness of my view, but the fact that I get a brief time-out-of-time from our plugged-in world.

While it is a bit of circumstance that is forcing me to take best advantage of my time in the sky, this ‘white space’ is useful (probably even more so) when I’m in the chaos of my life on the ground.

As a leader, it’s a art and a skill to be able to step above the day-to-day, to be able to both observe and assess what you see happening in your interactions, your team, your company and your career. In The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, Heifetz, Grashow and Linsky say: “To diagnose a system or yourself while in the midst of action requires the ability to achieve some distance from those ‘on-the-ground’ events.” This distance and perspective leads to informed action, rather than unconscious reaction.

And you don’t have to be in plane to put these leadership practices in place:

Balcony View: This in-moment perspective requires the ability to observe your interactions, the impact you’re having, and the quality of conversation. Leadership is an everyday practice, and not distinct from strategic business conversations. How you show up in the immediate is what makes up your leadership essence. To have the impact you want means being able to both observe and act simultaneously.

Make it a habit:

  • At the end of every meeting, check in with yourself: did I show up the way I wanted to? What was my leadership impact? How do I know?
  • Check in with the team: how would everyone rate the quality of the conversation? Did we defend and declare or pause and inquire? What worked and didn’t work with how we engaged with each other?

Strategic white space: Ever noticed how one minute your calendar is blissfully empty and the next it’s completely full of meetings, phone calls, operational deadlines? If you’re not intentional about giving yourself some white space – that time away from the day-to-day where you can have a longer-term perspective – your day-to-day time just fills up.

Make it a habit:

  • Book time at least once a quarter to step away from your day-to-day to look more strategically at your leadership and your business. Ask yourself: Am I leading my team in a way that gets the best out of them? What challenges and opportunities do I see on the horizon? What’s it going to take from me and my team to overcome these challenges and seize the opportunities?
  • Check in with your customers: What trends am I seeing in customer expectations? How can we best meet customer needs? How can we stay two-steps ahead of what our customers want?

Periods of complete disengagement:  Self-care is one of the most overlooked leadership advantages. When you are at your best, your team is too… And the reality is as much as you try to convince yourself otherwise, working endless hours, day-in and day-out is not conducive to your best self.

Make it a habit:

  • Take vacations. Even though it can seem pointless – working crazy hours to get ready to leave, and crazy hours to catch up when you’re back – the complete disconnection from work is what allows you to come back with refreshed energy, perspective and mental focus.
  • Turn your e-mail off every once in a while. Companies managed to survive (and even thrive!) before the days of the digital… a few hours of inaccessibility isn’t going to end the world.
  • Spend time doing things you love… and if you looooove work, spend time doing OTHER things you love. Time with family, laughs with friends, adventures in the woods… do things that feed your soul. Then your soul has more to give.

As I start the slow decent into Vancouver, I’m thankful for this reflective time I’ve given myself. Come join me in this leadership mile-high club, take some time-out-of-time to reflect and think – and let me know if it makes a difference for you.

Finding the Awesome

Lately I’ve been in a bit of a tailspin wanting to get some clarity over what my *big* future looks like. I’ve been so intent on figuring out the destination that I’ve neglected the journey along the way. I don’t know about you, but when I get in this mindset, I start to think about all the things that are going wrong and holding me back rather than pausing to appreciate “the awesome” of what’s immediate and in front of me.

So often I see this problem-focused mentality with leaders too. With a mandate of: fix things… improve… do better… be better… do more… it’s no wonder many leaders look first for problems, rather than look for what’s working, or even what’s… awesome.

Shifting from problem-focused to awesome-focused is hard. Many of you were hired to fix things. And, absolutely keep fixing… I’m just suggesting that the fixin’ might get easier, and the road less bumpy, if you look also for the good.

This week, try these few things (at home or at work):

  • Pause to celebrate the little things… This means slowing down enough to notice.
  • Look for the awesome in your colleagues and employees… (or your spouse!)…. And tell them. Not just the “you’re awesome” comment… but really, truly telling them what they’ve done that makes them awesome, and the impact it’s had on you, the team and on results.
  • Notice what makes you smile.

Emotions are contagious. Take this to heart.

When I need a little reminder to lighten my mindset, I’ll pick up Neil Pasricha’s The Book of Awesome and read a few pages. Pasricha, a self-proclaimed “regular guy,” started a website called as a way to escape the doldrums of everyday life.  It’s a reminder that there is joy in noticing the little awesome things.

e-musings awesome list for May 21 and 22:

  • Waking up while the house is still quiet and sneaking in a productive hour of work. It’s not often that this happens (me waking up early, and a quiet house! I’ll take it!)
  • The morning crib-chatter of my 17-month-old. This sound melts my heart. I have no idea what he’s saying, but it sure sounds important and interesting!
  • Listening to my dog have puppy dreams. If you have a dog, you know this sound. I laugh every time I hear it… It just doesn’t get tired.
  • Tiny glimpses of sunshine on an otherwise cloudy day. I’m in Vancouver. I’ll take what I can get!
  • Cows lying down. Saw this the other day, and I couldn’t help but laugh. Cows need rest too.

What’s awesome in your life today?

Triggers and the Contagion of Leadership

You know that co-worker that you have… the one that just keeps getting under your skin? No matter what he (or she) says or does, it’s the wrong thing? Even when you try to get along, he’ll say something stupid that will just set you back further? Wouldn’t life just be easier if he would just go away?

Truth be known: he irks you because you let him… and it may be more about you than you think or choose to admit. When we are triggered by someone, or something, we get thrown into a response that can sometimes be out of proportion to the situation.  This amplification is a cue that it’s less about the other person and more about, well… you.

As a leader, when you are triggered, frustrated, annoyed, or irritated that energy is both observable and contagious. Your team performance suffers, as does your reputation. Boyatzis and McKee talk about this contagion of leadership in Resonant Leadership. On the flip side, when you are curious, confident, compassionate and accountable, so too is your team. What team would you rather lead?

This week I invite you to join in my experiment. When you get triggered by someone, stop and ask: “What’s my part in this.” Get serious and real with yourself. Try these tactics:

  1. Change your lens. You see the world through your filters. Values, beliefs, family history, past experiences: these all shape your perception of people and situations. You can’t change another, you can only change yourself, so try on a new pair of glasses to see the world through.
  2. Own your part. If someone gets under your skin, look in the mirror. You might just be casting your shadow where it doesn’t belong.
  3. Get curious. What’s going on for the other person? Would your response be different if you came at it from a learner mindset?

e-musings confession: I’ll tell you what gets my irk on… ego. Pure. Arrogant. Ignorant. Better-than. Ego… That grandiose sense-of-self is in direct conflict with my value around learning. And if I get really, deep-down honest with myself I’m triggered because I, too, can be egotistical. I inadvertently make other people feel small when I show up with blinders on. So, to make life easier (on me!) I prefer casting that shadow onto someone else rather than own it myself. Please tell me I’m not alone!

We get triggered all the time. It’s how we respond to those triggers that determines our character. Notice, reflect and then choose your response. I know it’s something I’ll be working on… forever.