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So many people have lost more than their jobs in this pandemic – they have lost their identities.  They don’t know how to answer the question, “What do you do?”

Safety in Numbers

Since humans are wired for connection and belonging, it makes sense that we gravitate toward people with similar interests and perspectives.  As we share experiences, our relationships deepen and the safety we feel as part of a group reinforces our identity.  When you lose a job that severs your connection to a work group or professional association, you may struggle with how to define yourself and your value.

Who Do You Want to Be?

If you consider who you want to be and how you measure your professional and personal value, your answer might be, “I want to be a partner, parent, friend and team leader.”  Bruce Shaffer, whose position as Director of Human Resources and Internal Communication for Schlumberger’s subsea business was eliminated recently, explained that he was able to move from bitterness to acceptance by getting clear about who he wants to be.

Bruce recognized his value to family members and former colleagues who needed his support.  As he reflected on what success means, Bruce said Ralph Waldo Emerson described it best:  “To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children … to leave the world a bit better … to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived. This is to have succeeded.”

What would it mean for you to believe that you are more than the job you do?

Do you know anyone who is confused about how to address inequality on their team, in their organization and in their personal life? Who feels defensive when asked to check their privilege? Who doesn’t understand the cry that silence is violence? These people are likely reacting to shame.

Shame vs. Accountability

As Brené Brown explained in a recent Shame and Accountability podcast, shame is not a tool for social justice; it is a tool of suppression. Rather than motivating us to change, shame triggers a fear of disconnection from our tribe that we inherited from our ancestors. Our brains react to that fear and we fight, flee or freeze.
Accountability is a more effective tool for motivating change. To explain the difference between being shamed and being held accountable, Brené shared this example: when you tell a child he is a liar, he feels ashamed and alone. If you tell a child that he is a good person who told a lie and that’s not OK in your family, you’re holding him accountable for his behavior. That helps him accept responsibility and change his behavior so he can stay in the tribe.

Empathy and Action

When we feel shamed for saying the wrong thing or not speaking up to challenge the status quo, relying on empathy enables us to be curious about the other person’s perspective. Then we must manage our own reactions by recognizing our triggers, breathing deeply and pausing before we respond. Listening first, then considering what to think, say or do differently is a way to avoid getting defensive, rationalizing our behavior or demanding absolution from the person holding us accountable. I recommend Brene’s mantra – I’m here to get it right, not to be right.

Change requires courage, curiosity and commitment. I invite you to check out The Role of Senior Leaders in Building a Race Equity Culture and So, You Want to Talk About Race and consider joining a Brave Conversation about racial inequality. Contact cheryl@csbryan.com today to find out more about small discussion group opportunities or inquire about a custom-designed corporate program.

One of the many terms highlighted by the pandemic has been “asynchronous” – referring to learning and/or working at different times and places.  We haven’t had much choice while working from home but my clients are realizing that there can be real challenges to this approach.

Paint the Big Picture

Think about a jigsaw puzzle of an elephant.  If you haven’t seen the picture on the box you wouldn’t know that your piece is the knee.   It is too easy for each person to focus on his or her part of a project and overlook how the pieces fit together.  When the leader paints the big picture of success and everyone’s role in achieving it, the team can work in synch with clear priorities and refresh the picture as the project evolves.

Make the Connection

To nurture connection between team members in an asynchronous environment, I recommend inviting each person to talk about how others are contributing.  Regular live interaction and gratitude are essential to reducing feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Staying connected to the big picture and to each other are two ways to make the best of our asynchronous world.  If you are feeling disconnected, I encourage you to reach out to someone.  They are likely feeling the same way.

Blog where are you going compass

Can you envision your world after the pandemic?  It’s almost impossible to do because there are so many unknowns, including how to define when it’s “over”.  It’s hard to know where we go from here.  Listening to Brené Brown’s podcast on Grief and Finding Meaning helped me process my feelings about the losses I’ve experienced and reminded me to refocus on my purpose: I make the world a better place by helping people be the best version of themselves.

FINDING MEANING THROUGH PURPOSE

In Man’s Search for Meaning Viktor Frankl explained that having a clear purpose helps us avoid feeling that we have suffered in vain.  I went back to this exercise from my training at Six Seconds, the first and largest organization 100% dedicated to the development of emotional intelligence (EQ):

Step One: Create a Mission Statement

Follow the example answers in red through each step.

First write at least three words to answer each of the following questions:

1. In the world I want to see less  (emptiness    judgement    anger)

2. Instead I want more  (caring    compassion    patience)

3. To make this happen people need to  (be healthy    consider others’ perspectives     understand themselves better)

Go back and circle the one answer to each question that jumps out at you.

Next answer this question:

4. What quality do I want to strengthen in myself so I can help make this happen?   (EQ    empathy   self-awareness)

Finally, create a Mission Statement by putting your answers to those four questions together like this: 

I will #4 to help people #3 so the world is more #2 and less #1.

Example Mission Statement:  I will tap into my EQ to help people be healthy so the world is more caring and there is less emptiness. 

Step Two: Define Your Purpose

Consider why that mission is important to you.  What do you want people to say at your funeral?

Example Purpose:  I make the world a better place by helping people be the best version of themselves.

MOVING FORWARD

To move forward we need to make sense of our experience.  Asking these questions can help:

  • What have I learned that makes me feel grateful?
  • How will I apply what I have learned to fulfill my purpose?

With a clear purpose you can now take action, regain some sense of control and reduce stress.  What is one way you will fulfill your purpose in the next week?

Urgent or Important?

Coaching clients often say, “I feel like I’m just putting out one fire after another and I never have time to step back and think about the big picture.” A Google search for prioritization generates 51 million results so it’s obviously a common struggle.

Sort Urgent and Important

In the number one most influential business book of the twentieth century, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey described a matrix for sorting urgent and important activities. These quadrants are still relevant today:

1. Do – Important & Urgent: This is fire-fighting mode – dealing with a crisis, meeting a deadline, handling an irate client. Spending too much time here leaves us feeling stressed and burned out but we can get addicted to a temporary sense of accomplishment when we cross things off our list. Covey refers to this as “urgency addiction.” When we recognize what feeds the addiction, we can make a choice to focus on Quadrant 2 instead.

2. Plan – Important & Non-Urgent: Covey calls this the magic quadrant because spending more time planning, preventing problems and building relationships helps us feel calm and reduces the time we spend in Quadrant 1. One strategy I recommend is asking yourself, “Does it have to be me and does it have to be now?”

3. Delegate – Urgent & Not Important: When we allow ourselves to be constantly interrupted by texts, hallway conversations and responding to other people’s priorities, we can feel stuck and frustrated. Saying no can help us minimize the time we spend in this quadrant and give us more time for Quadrant 2.

4. Eliminate – Not Urgent & Not Important: These are the distractions that provide an escape when our brains are overloaded. It’s OK to take an occasional break to check social media or do a little online shopping as long as we don’t overdo it. Setting a timer is a good solution for this.

Prioritize

Answering these questions can help you determine whether you’re operating from a paradigm of urgency or importance:

  • What one thing could you do on a regular basis that would have significant positive results in your personal life?
  • What one thing in your professional life would bring similar results?

Most likely your answers will be in Quadrant 2 – Important & Non-Urgent. If you know these things would make a significant difference, how will you start prioritizing them now?

A very results-oriented CEO, frustrated with what she perceived as a direct report’s lack of commitment, felt she had to choose between empathy and effectiveness.  This CEO has been working hard to embrace the concepts in Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead™ , especially the idea that people are doing the best they can.

What Does That Really Mean?

We went back to the source for clarification: “Assuming positive intent does not mean that we stop helping people set goals or that we stop expecting people to grow and change.  It’s a commitment to stop respecting and evaluating people based solely on what we think they should accomplish, and start respecting them for who they are and holding them accountable for what they’re actually doing.”

Set Boundaries for Ourselves First

If a team member isn’t meeting expectations, it’s the leader’s job to have the tough conversation and hold that person accountable.  It is possible to do that with empathy but here’s the surprise – we have to set appropriate boundaries for ourselves first.  When the CEO acknowledged that her direct report’s best wasn’t good enough, she made the decision to let him go.  Defining that clear boundary for herself meant she didn’t have to choose between empathy and effectiveness.

What boundary do you need to strengthen to be both empathetic and effective?