Strike Your Pose

fake it til you make it

Confidence can be an enviable quality. Being completely assured of yourself and your abilities gives you the courage to take risks and accomplish great things. But confidence doesn’t always come easy, and it can come and go depending on your mood. The good news: you can fake it pretty easily.

Self-esteem and self-confidence are different. You can feel like you suck at everything you do and still be totally confident in getting the job done. And it works the other way, too. You can value your skills, but maybe you’re just not terribly confident using them around other people. The problem with that is that some social situations call for confidence: giving a speech, for example, or a job interview. Whatever the scenario, here are a few things to keep in mind to come across as confident when you’re just not feeling it.

The Right Body Language

Body language is subtle, but it can send a powerful message without you even realizing it. For example, a few habits will automatically call you out you as lacking confidence:

  • Bad posture: slouching, hunched shoulders
  • Fidgeting
  • Crossed arms

Swapping those out with the right body language can immediately help you appear more confident. Social psychologist, Amy Cuddy, talks about “high power poses.” She suggests movements that are more open, spread out, and take up a bit more room help exude power. Consider the “Wonder Woman” pose, for example (or any of these other power poses): the elbows are jutting out, taking up more space, and the feet are spread out. It’s a classic power pose. What’s more, practicing these “high power poses” can eventually help you feel more confident. This is where the tired old phrase, “fake it ‘til you make it” really does ring true.

Your shoulders can be surprising indicators of self-confidence, too. As former FBI counterintelligence agent and best selling author Joe Navarro pointed out:

Over the years, after doing thousands of interviews, one of the things that I observed, which unfortunately had not been written about in the literature, was how the shoulders betrayed those who lacked confidence or who were outright lying. I found that when people are unsure of what they are saying or they lack confidence, their shoulders tendto reflect that uncertainty.

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He points out that raising your shoulders, in almost a shrug, can be a dead giveaway that you’re uncertain and not confident. Instead, stand up straight and pull those shoulders back. It’s obvious, and probably advice your mother gave you, but it really can make a big difference.

It helps to practice, too. In preparing for a job interview, for example, it can help to practice walking into a room to get a feel for your own body language (or even practice on a friend). It might feel like a silly thing to do, but it can help you get comfortable in your own skin.

More Eye Contact

Not enough eye contact can obviously indicate a lack of confidence, but too much eye contact can make you look like you’re trying too hard (or come across as aggressive). You want to maintain just the right amount, but finding that sweet spot really isn’t that difficult. As a general rule, it is suggested to try to make eye contact 60 percent of the time. Of course, that’s going to vary on the situation, but it’s less about the exact percentage and more about making sure you’re engaging with someone without coming across as overly intense.

It can help to ask close friends and family how they feel about your eye contact, too. That’s an easy way to find out if you make too much or too little. For the most part, though, we tend to make less eye contact when we lack confidence. Here’s a trick to help you remember: make a habit of noticing their eye color. When you meet someone and want to come across as confident, pair their name with their eye color. In doing so, you’ll give them more eye contact.

Components of Charisma

Confident people are often charismatic people; the traits go hand in hand. While confidence is focused more on your own habits and behaviors, charisma is about how you treat and interact with others. In short, you want to be engaged.

In the book The Charisma Myth, the author, Olivia Fox Cabane, suggests that charisma comes down to three things:

  • Being present in the moment with others
  • Exuding warmth by implying goodwill
  • Appearing powerful by coming across as someone who’s capable of impacting the world around you

The two-second rule can help you with the first point. It’s simple: before replying when it’s your turn to talk, wait two seconds. For one, this shows you’re listening to and processing what the other person is saying. However, it also creates a subtle amount of tension, and when you reply, that shows you’re in charge of the tone and flow of the conversation, which creates a sense of power and confidence, hitting on the third point.

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Asking questions is also a great, simple way to exude warmth and be present in an interaction with someone else. Interestingly, you’re also controlling the conversation when you ask questions, which, again, show power.

Charismatic people know how to keep the conversation going, too. Avoid awkward silences with the history/philosophy/metaphor rule. If you’re not sure how to respond to something, consider it from each of those angles.

Remember, being charismatic is more about how your behavior impacts the people around you. Simply being present and making them feel important can make a huge difference. It exhibits warmth and power, which is charisma in a nutshell.

Know What You’re Talking About

Of course, if you want to come across as confident, you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about…even if you don’t. A few quick and easy ways to do that include:

  • Avoid blank words: “um,” “like,” “uh.”
  • Don’t jump at the first chance to speak. Take a moment and think about your reply.
  • Talk slowly and calmly.

Beyond that, you want to emphasize what you know. If you don’t have the best answer to a question, don’t try to lie or cover it up, but finish up your answer with what you do know instead. This is classic job interview advice. 

One thing most of us are guilty of is trying to prove other people wrong. It’s tempting to put people in their place, but it can also make you come across as lacking confidence. It’s one thing to clear the air about a question you’re asked, but dwelling on why you’re right makes it seem like you’re trying to prove yourself.

Sometimes trying to be confident when you’re not can come across as cocky, but that’s only because you overdo it. Confidence isn’t about being better than everyone else, it’s just about having the assurance to be able to be yourself. So, it seems a little ironic to suggest pretending to be more comfortable in your skin. But there’s something to be said for the cliché, “fake it until you make it.” Sometimes going with the motions actually makes you feel them.

Ideally, you want to learn to develop confidence long-term, because it’s a useful trait that gives you the ability to try new things, take risks, and accomplish lofty goals. But we all have off days, and for those days, these tips can come in handy.

Questions of the week:

  • What does “fake it until you make it” look like for you?
  • How do you improve or enhance your charisma?
  • What is your “power pose”?

Take the time to honestly and thoughtfully answer these questions. Share your thoughts and ideas with your team and your leaders, your family and your friends.

 

What Matters Most

The business world has changed significantly over the past 10–20 years. The exponential rise of mobile internet devices and improved connectivity has gifted leaders the opportunity to work from anywhere at any time, blurring the lines between work and home.

Screen-Shot-2018-10-18-at-4.26.05-PM.pngThe rise in wearable, smart technology has enabled real-time data and insight sharing, assisting us in making faster, more informed decisions. Despite the numerous benefits that come with recent technology advancements, however, many of us still get sucked into a productivity blackhole on a regular basis. Receiving emails, text messages and other notifications can be literally addictive because dopamine, a feel-good chemical, is released into the blood stream. It helps explain why 80% of people check their phones first thing in the morning.

Many leaders today find it increasingly difficult to attend to what matters most. They are switched on for too long (without adequate rest and recovery time) and suffer from the ‘Law of Distraction’, which states that the more distractions we have, the less we can achieve. Energy flows where our attention goes; therefore, the more distractions we have, the more diluted our focus becomes.

The stats below related to the average office worker’s day speak volumes:

  • They receive at least 200 messages and spend close to 2.5 hours reading and responding to emails
  • They switch between tasks over 300 times
  • They spend 56 minutes using their mobile phone for non-work activity

Of course, distractions can be very bad for your health too. A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that 68% of car crashes in the US had distraction as a contributing factor. Multitasking has also been found to reduce cognitive function. Extensive research conducted by Stanford University demonstrated that daily multitasking makes leaders less effective, greatly reducing their ability to prioritize.

Multitasking is sold to us as the ultimate in efficiency. Supposedly, it allows us to perform several tasks simultaneously. But multitasking is most often about “task-switching,” hopping back and forth among several tasks in quick succession, never giving deep, full attention to any of them. It’s characterized by frequent interruption, and that makes it highly inefficient. Each time we’re interrupted (or we interrupt ourselves) it takes time to get back to where we were on a project.

And according to a recent study by the University of California, it takes just over 23minutes to get back on task after being distracted. Therefore, the post-distraction period in many cases is way more damaging than the distraction itself. Distraction costs leaders valuable time, energy and the ability to engage in quality, meaningful thinking.

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So, what can leaders do to minimize distractions and become more productive?

  1. Turn off or greatly reduce the number of notifications received

This includes Messenger; WhatsApp; Email, Microsoft Teams, and others. Thinking about your role and the main outcomes you are trying to achieve before asking – what do I need to know? And how often do I need to know it?

  1. Establish “no respond” hours in your office

You can’t do important work and respond immediately to email and text. In other words, expecting immediate responses trains people to spend time on trivialities and urgencies.

  1. Take control of your email inbox

This includes reducing the number of times you check it each day (the average is around 15); creating email-free zones; setting up inbox ‘rules’; avoiding ping-pong emails by calling the person instead. We can cut email time in half through better habits.

  1. Use your peak periods wisely

There are certain times each day when we have greater energy and focus. Therefore, it makes sense to schedule the most critical (and often the most mentally demanding work) during those times. I am a morning person and schedule my project and office time before lunch and meetings in the afternoon.

  1. Remove physical distractions

Just sitting near someone who is multitasking reduces your comprehension by a whopping 17%. With 70% of office spaces being open plan, minimizing your exposure to other people’s screens and activities makes sense.

  1. Practice mindfulness meditation

More and more leaders are discovering the power of mindfulness meditation. It is a great way to train your brain to be improve concentration because each time you notice your mind wandering off from whatever you’re focusing on, you intentionally bring your attention back to the object of your attention. Calm, Headspace and Mindfulness Apps offer some great tips and tools to get you started.

By reducing distractions and becoming more focused, leaders can achieve more than they dare.

Questions of the week:

  • How do you focus on what matters most?
  • What steps will you take towards becoming a more effective and efficient leader?
  • How will you reduce/ eliminate distractions?
  • What is the difference between “urgent” and “important”?

Take the time to honestly and thoughtfully answer these questions. Share your thoughts and ideas with your team and your leaders, your family and your friends.

 

 

Possession vs. Responsibility

In most cases the concept of ownership is an illusion. Ownership is not about possession it is about responsibility. What we own matters far less than what you take ownership for. What we take responsibility for is far more important than what we think we own. When we own failure it can never own us. We must take ownership of our lives, our future and the world around us. For we can change only what we own.

In high-performance organizations, there’s a strong link between employees who take ownership, having a culture of accountability, and having a high trust workplace. All three are critical to embed into the culture and values of an organization.

take-ownershipWhat does it mean to take ownership at work?

Taking ownership is about taking initiative. We take ownership when we believe that taking action is not someone else’s responsibility. You, as an individual, are accountable for the quality and timeliness of an outcome, even when you’re working with others. You care about the outcome the same way you would care as an owner of the organization. It doesn’t mean you have an obligation to own the project. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t involve others. It does mean you have an obligation to the results of the organization and that you have an obligation to act on items that impact those results.

Maybe you have a great idea for how to save the organization money, but it’s outside the scope of your role. Or perhaps it would take more time than you have. Or perhaps you don’t have the resources needed to complete the task or the fix resides elsewhere in the organization. In these situations, taking ownership means bringing your idea forward to someone who does have the time or resources to get it done. Taking ownership tells others — “You can trust me to do the right thing”.

Accountability in the workplace

Being accountable is about being responsible for the result. Ownership is about initiative, accountability is about follow-through. It’s not just about the individual and their goals or commitments, it’s about acknowledging that your actions affect other team members’ abilities to accomplish their goals. When you say “I’ve got this”, accountability means you will deliver as promised, on-time, within budget, etc. It also means you’re forthcoming when you fall short. If you can’t deliver on time, or the results will not be as strong as you’d hoped, be honest and proactive with your communication. By being forthcoming, you respect the impact you have on teammates. Being accountable is a major factor in building trust. Being accountable tells others “You can trust me to do what I say I’m going to do.”

Trust in the workplace

Trust is confidence that your teammates are working towards the same objectives you are. That they’re doing this with diligence and professionalism. Another way to understand trust in the workplace is to look at what it’s not. Trust is the opposite of micromanaging. However, let’s not confuse clarity with micromanaging. Good communication and a shared understanding of objectives are critical. But beyond that it’s important to trust that your teammates will do the right things and come back with results. Low trust translates to poor productivity. If you don’t trust your teammates, you spend time and energy following up and managing details you shouldn’t be. If you don’t feel trusted, you’re less likely to take initiative because you anticipate criticism for your approach. Having trust in the workplace tells others — “I believe in you. I believe you’ll do the right thing and I believe you’ll do what you say you’re going to do.”

Ownership and accountability build trust. Trust encourages employees to take ownership. Trust reinforces accountability because when you’re trusted, you don’t want to let your team down.

Why does taking ownership matter?

When employees take ownership of their work, they treat the business they are working for — and its money — as if it were their own. They will make decisions thoughtfully, responsibly, and with more care. They will also be more driven, motivated, and have more initiative, seeking creative and innovative ways to improve and develop what they are doing, rather than going through the motions and fulfilling the minimum, and worse still, stagnating.

In short, a company with employees who take ownership is a company that’s moving forward. It also creates a much more positive and fulfilling working environment for everyone, including managers.

Clearly define what success looks like

A key factor in encouraging employees to take ownership is establishing expectations and defining what success looks like. This means defining the end goal. What end result do you want your staff to achieve? However, do so without dictating everything they must do to reach it.

By focusing on the end goal, you are placing trust in your employees, and that trust empowers them. Trust is a key part of getting employees to take ownership of what they do, so that they care about the outcome. Employees who are given responsibly are more likely to take responsibility. So, let your employees know clearly what end result you are seeking, and give them the trust to work out how to get there.

Start with “Why”

As much as possible, communicate why a person’s work is important. This is about you as the leader providing the guiding vision. People are more engaged in something they think is important. Understanding why something is important leads to people doing a better job. So as a manager, provide your employees with a clear vision about why their work is important and where it fits in with the bigger picture. Understanding why allows an employee to fill in the gaps on objectives and take initiative or ownership of decisions or situations where there is ambiguity. When people know which way they are marching and why, they can march more confidently.

Micromanaging discourages ownership

Micromanaging and breathing down people’s necks is not the way. It creates resentment and stifles initiative, and makes people feel like they are just a cog in someone else’s wheel. Micromanaging creates a negative cycle where taking initiative is punished because how the task was completed, or the particulars of the result are criticized. It teaches employees that they should seek guidance and check-in often to ensure they are on the right track.

It’s hard to take ownership over someone else’s recipe/playbook when things are already too narrowly defined. Problem solving is fun, and creating some space for people to use other areas of their brain is more engaging than just executing orders. So when assigning work, set the overarching parameters in a way that leaves enough space to give your staff room for decision-making, problem-solving, and creative-thinking to achieve the outcome.

Learn to Listen

Ownership is a two-way street. Communication cannot all be one-way. If you want employees to take ownership of their work, then you must create an environment in which they feel free to express themselves openly and honestly, and share their ideas with you. As we defined earlier, ownership does not mean they will own the project, or that others won’t be included. But it does mean taking initiative to point out problems or opportunities. That type of initiative needs an outlet.

So there is an accountability to listen to ideas and act on them. Doing so builds trust. They are the ones working on the front lines and are likely to have valid input. Generally speaking, the more ideas coming your way the better, and you can harness their ideas for a better outcome. So, listen to employees, and show them that their ideas matter, even if you may not apply them in every instance. This creates trust and mutual respect.

The outcome of a culture where employees take ownership

The most productive people and those most likely to succeed are those who are proactive about finding and solving problems, and comfortable acting with increasing autonomy and decreased oversight. In a world where problems are getting more complex, determined and innovative problem-solving will flow from those who live as if help is not coming. Living with responsibility can make us stronger and more action-oriented individuals.

The power of personal choice liberates us from this. Although we can’t control circumstances like the weather, we have a choice in how we respond. People who are responsible take charge of their own personal actions, and don’t blame someone or something else for what they actually do or don’t do.

A good way to understand this is with Stephen Covey’s first Habit: “Be Proactive,” from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He divides life into two circles: the circle of influence and the circle of concern. The circle of concern contains things that affect you but which you have little or no control over — the weather, the economy, traffic congestion, etc. The circle of influence contains the things you can actually affect, like your personal fitness level, your relationships and tasks, or issues in the office. Covey believes successful people focus their time and energy on the circle of influence. This is a more positive outlook, as you focus on what you can do, rather than wasting time worrying about what you can’t change.

Don’t confuse fault or responsibility with ownership

When an issue is caused by someone, or it’s someone’s responsibility to get something done — you want those people to have ownership over fixing the issue or making sure they get something done. However, it doesn’t mean that others can’t or shouldn’t also take ownership in helping someone fix issues or taking responsibility for what happens. In team environments, ownership means problems are everyone’s responsibility. This is especially true of leadership. This is best understood when you think of a leader taking ownership of results or mistakes within the organization even though he or she may not have had any direct involvement in the activities that caused the issue.

Our power comes in taking personal responsibility for our life. The way of the leader is a path towards ownership. As a leader we take responsibility for our life, our actions and the environment around us. The leader knows that they own nothing so they can risk everything. The measure of success is not the outcome but the intention. The courage to face the challenge is the victory! If failure is not an option, neither is risk.

Questions of the week:

  • What are you responsible for?
  • What do you own/ take ownership for?
  • How do you build trust in your organization (or relationships)?

Take the time to honestly and thoughtfully answer these questions. Share your thoughts and ideas with your team and your leaders, your family and your friends.

 

 

Competition

Competition in the workplace is often inevitable. And, while some leaderships view competition as a technique to maximize production, the truth is that it can cause unnecessary stress and anxiety. It’s a good thing to be a dedicated employee and want to produce solid work, but you don’t have to do that at the expense of battling it out with your co-workers.

Compliment vs. Compete 

Think of your peers as a team with each person playing their own position. Notice who excels at what. Instead of comparing your abilities to theirs, make an effort to embrace, honor, and applaud their efforts—chances are, they’ll do the same for you if you set an example.

A solid, well-rounded team flourishes most when there’s a diverse range of skill sets, not to mention a collaborative, supportive work environment.

1890848-steve-young-quote-the-principle-is-competing-against-yourself-it-s-e1553723005683.jpgKnow Your Strength

Think of a space that’s uniquely yours, setting you apart from everyone else at the office. Maybe it’s efficiently pulling and analyzing data, being unshakable in tough conversations with customers, excelling in negotiating prices or possessing a business network with an insurmountable number of contacts. Consider areas where you’ve received compliments, been the go-to expert, or even won awards. It can be really difficult, especially early in your career, to pinpoint what you bring to the table.

If you’re having trouble identifying your top strengths, keep in mind that we often find success in the same areas in which we take delight. The things you genuinely enjoy participating in. Reflect on the moments in which you seem to find yourself in exceptionally high spirits, what types of projects were you working on at that time? Once you recognize your strong suits, embrace cohesiveness over contention by promoting your gifts while partnering with those who compliment your shortcomings.

Know Your “Why”

Consider your “why”, beyond a paycheck and possible promotion, why do you clock in every day? Let this lead you toward setting goals. For example, my “why” is “to equip, empower and support individuals and teams to become their best version of themselves.” That led me to a short-term goal of working with Learning & Development on an “employee roadmap” that starts during the recruiting process and continues all the way to reassignment/ termination/ retirement.

My long-term goal involves demonstrating a direct connection between company culture and revenue growth in order to influence companies do more to positively affect their employees engagement and development, with consistency and intentionality.

Once you begin to better understand yourself, you’ll realize you’re probably aiming toward different goals than your peers, hence eliminating the drive to compete. Of course, in many industries, it may appear you have the same goals on paper as one or more of your colleagues, but remember that there’s a reason two of you (or 10 of you) were hired for this role. Even if you’re trying to accomplish similar things, you’re bringing different skills and ways of doing it to the playing field.

Puzzle Pieces

Consider in what way your individual talents fit into the puzzle that makes your team successful. Alleviate the stress to duplicate by concentrating on pushing your strong points forward which will in turn aid the team. Uncover business problems with solutions that align with your gifts.

Use your distinct skills to modify inefficient and ineffective processes that may be in place. Don’t be afraid to stand out and lend a hand to your peers as teamwork often trumps separation. And remember to record your successes on an up-to-date resume and on your LinkedIn page.

Compete Against You

We’ve all witnessed the toll that stress in the workplace can take on a person’s well-being. There’s value in appreciating the contributions of your colleagues. Instead of competing against each other, we can co-exist by complimenting each other’s abilities with our own.

So rather than comparing yourself to others why don’t you compete against you, the who you are today? That way when you’re at your best you’re still competing against the same person, the who you were yesterday. When you’re at you’re best you don’t compete against other, you compete against what is impossible. And the impossible becomes possible.

Questions of the week:

  • Who do you compare yourself to?
  • What are your greatest fears?
  • What do you currently see as impossible?

Take the time to honestly and thoughtfully answer these questions. Share your thoughts and ideas with your team and your leaders, your family and your friends.

Environment Matters

It can be tempting to blame failure on a lack of willpower or a scarcity of talent, and to attribute success to hard work, effort, and grit. Those things matter. However, is that if you examine how human behavior has been shaped over time, you discover that motivation (and even talent) is often overvalued. In many cases, the environment matters more.

Shape of Human Behavior

In his award-winning book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond points out a simple fact: different continents have different shapes. This statement seems rather obvious and unimportant, but it turns out to have a profound impact on human behavior. The primary axis of the Americas runs from north to south. The landmass of North and South America tends to be tall and thin rather than wide and fat. The same is generally true for Africa. Meanwhile, the landmass that makes up Europe, Asia, and the Middle East is the opposite. This massive stretch of land tends to be more east-west in shape. According to Diamond, this difference in shape played a significant role in the spread of agriculture over the centuries.

Remarkable Power of Environment

When agriculture began to spread around the globe, farmers had an easier time expanding along east-west routes than along north-south ones. This is because locations along the same latitude generally share similar climates, amounts of sunlight and rainfall, and changes in season. These factors allowed farmers in Europe and Asia to domesticate a few crops and grow them along the entire stretch of land from France to China.

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By comparison, the climate varies greatly when traveling from north to south. Just imagine how different the weather is in Florida compared to Canada. You can be the most talented farmer in the world, but it won’t help you grow Florida oranges in the Canadian winter. Snow is a poor substitute for soil. In order to spread crops along north-south routes, farmers would need to find and domesticate new plants whenever the climate changed.

As a result, agriculture spread two to three times faster across Asia and Europe than it did up and down the Americas. Over the span of centuries, this small difference had a very big impact. Increased food production allowed for more rapid population growth. With more people, these cultures were able to build stronger armies and were better equipped to develop new technologies. The changes started out small (a crop that spread slightly farther, a population that grew slightly faster) but compounded into substantial differences over time.

Invisible Hand

Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior. We tend to believe our habits are a product of our motivation, talent, and effort. Certainly, these qualities matter. But the surprising thing is, especially over a long time period, your personal characteristics tend to get overpowered by your environment. There is no evidence that the farmers of Europe and Asia were more talented or more motivated than farmers in the rest of the world. Yet, they were able to spread agriculture 2x to 3x faster than their peers. If you want to maximize your odds of success, then you need to operate in an environment that accelerates your results rather than hinders them.

Design a Better Environment

First, automate good decisions. Whenever possible, design an environment that makes good decisions for you. For example, buying smaller plates can help you lose weight by deciding portion size for you. A study from Brian Wansink at Cornell University found that people eat 22 percent less food by switching from 12-inch dinner plates to 10-inch plates. Similarly, using software to block social media sites can help overcome procrastination by putting your willpower on autopilot.

Second, get in the flow. A few years ago, PetSmart changed their checkout process. After swiping their credit card, customers were shown a screen that asked if they wanted to donate to “help save homeless animals.” Through this single strategy, PetSmart Charities raised $40 million in a year. You can apply a similar strategy by designing an environment where good habits “get in the flow” of your normal behaviors. For example, if you want to practice a musical instrument, you could place it in the middle of your living room. Similarly, you are more likely to go to the gym if it is literally on the way home from work than if the gym is only five minutes away, but in the opposite direction of your commute. Whenever possible, design your habits so they fit in the flow of your current patterns.

Third, subtract the negative influences. Ancient farmers didn’t have the opportunity to remove the barriers that held them back, but you do. For example, Japanese television manufacturers rearranged their workspaces to save time by eliminating unnecessary turning, bending, and swiveling. You can also reduce the negative influences in your environment. For example, you can make it easier to avoid unhealthy foods by storing them in less visible places. (Foods that are placed at eye level tend to be purchased and eaten more frequently.)

Luck of the Environment

We are quick to blame our environment when things go poorly. If you lose a job, it’s because the economy sucks. If you lose a game, it’s because the officiating was bad. If you’re late to work, it’s because traffic was insane. When we win, however, we ignore the environment completely. If you land a job, it’s because you were talented and likable. If you win a game, it’s because you played better. If you’re early for a meeting, it’s because you are organized and prompt.

positive-work-environment

It is important to remember that the environment drives our good behaviors as well as our bad ones. People who seem to stick to good habits with ease are often benefitting from an environment that makes those behaviors easier. Meanwhile, people who struggle to succeed could be fighting an uphill battle against their environment. What often looks like a lack of willpower is actually the result of a poor environment. Life is a game and if you want to guarantee better results over a sustained period of time, the best approach is to play the game in an environment that favors you. Winners often win because their environment makes winning easier.

Aspire to Inspire

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When employees aren’t just engaged, but inspired, that’s when organizations see real breakthroughs. Inspired employees are themselves far more productive and, in turn, inspire those around them to strive for greater heights.

Research shows that while anyone can become an inspiring leader (they’re made, not born), in most companies, there are far too few of them. In employer surveys conducted by the Economist, they found that less than half of respondents said they agree or strongly agree that their leaders were inspiring or were unlocking motivation in employees. Even fewer felt that their leaders fostered engagement or commitment and modeled the culture and values of the corporation.

To understand what makes a leader inspirational, Bain & Company surveyed 2,000 people. What they found may be surprising. It turns out that inspiration alone is not enough. Just as leaders who deliver only performance may do so at a cost that the organization is unwilling to bear, those who focus only on inspiration may find that they motivate the troops but are undermined by mediocre outcomes. Instead, inspiring leaders are those who use their unique combination of strengths to motivate individuals and teams to take on bold missions – and hold them accountable for results. And they unlock higher performance through empowerment, not command and control. Here are some additional findings about how leaders both inspire, and get, great performance:

You only need one truly “inspiring” attribute

Survey recipients were asked what inspired them about their colleagues. This provided a list of 33 traits that help leaders in four areas: developing inner resources, connecting with others, setting the tone, and leading the team. Stress tolerance, self-regard, and optimism help leaders develop inner resources. Vitality, humility, and empathy help leaders connect. Openness, unselfishness, and responsibility help set the tone. Vision, focus, servanthood, and sponsorship help them lead. We found that people who inspire are incredibly diverse, which underscores the need to find inspirational leaders that are right for motivating your organization—there is no universal model. A upshot of this finding is that anyone can become an inspirational leader by focusing on his or her strengths.

Although they found that many different attributes help leaders inspire people, they also found that you need only one of them to double your chances of being an inspirational leader. Specifically, ranking in the top 10% in your peer group on just one attribute nearly doubles your chance of being seen as inspirational. There is one trait that the respondents indicated matters more than any other: centeredness. This is a state of mindfulness that enables leaders to remain calm under stress, empathize, listen deeply, and remain present.

Your key strength has to match how your organization creates value

Effective leadership isn’t generic. To achieve great performance, companies need a leadership profile that reflects their unique context, strategy, business model, and culture (the company’s unique behavioral signature). To win in the market, every company must emphasize the specific capabilities that make it better than the competition.

True leaders also must be spiky, not well-rounded, and those “spikes” must be relevant to the way that the company creates value. For example, an organization that makes its money out-marketing the competition isn’t likely to be inspired by a leader whose best talent is cost management. Spiky leaders achieve great performance by obsessing about the specific capabilities that underpin their company’s competitive advantage. They make sure those capabilities get an outsized, unfair share of resources and provide the key players the freedom they need to continue to excel.

You have to behave differently if you want your employees to do so

Even with a clear idea of your company’s winning behavioral signature, leaders need to develop new ways of operating. Leaders who both inspire people and generate results find ways to constructively disrupt established behaviors to help employees break out of culture-weakening routines. Inspirational leaders recognize the need to pick their moments carefully to reinforce a performance culture in a way that can also be inspiring. These are real moments of leadership and truth. A few classic examples include:

  • When Paul O’Neill became CEO of Alcoa in 1987, he knew that he needed to focus the company on workplace safety. To show his commitment to the goal, he required that he be notified of all safety incidents within 24 hours. Safety improved dramatically, to the point where Alcoa’s worker injury rate fell to 5% of the US average.
  • When Howard Schultz returned to Starbucks as CEO after a nearly eight-year hiatus, he realized that Starbucks’s unique customer-focused coffee experience was now in the back seat. In the front seat were automation and diversification, both implemented in pursuit of throughput and growth. Schultz took swift action to change the company’s direction; he even shut down 7,100 US stores for three hours on February 26th, 2008, to retrain the baristas in the art of making espresso. In this highly symbolic move, he left no doubt about his intentions—and about what he thought it would take to make Starbucks great again.
  • When Alan Mulally came to Ford in 2006 to help turn around the business, he took bold actions to change the way they company operated. In one highly visible moment, he applauded Mark Fields (who would eventually become his successor) for admitting to a failure in an executive meeting. That was pretty much unheard-of at Ford, and it set the tone for the open and honest communications required for a new culture at the company.

While these are only single actions by leaders who are famous for producing both performance and inspiration, they provide a window into what inspirational leadership looks like.

Drawing insight from Eastern philosophy, “If you want to change the way of being, you have to change the way of doing.” Leaders can only change by doing things differently. The more often they behave in a new way, the sooner they become a new type of leader, an inspirational leader. Individual inspiration is the gateway to employee discretionary energy, and that, in turn, is critical to making the most of our scarcest resource – our human capital.

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Questions of the week:

  • When do you feel you are the most inspiring?
  • When do you feel you are the most inspired?
  • How well does your leadership profile reflect the unique context, strategy, business model, and company culture?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how do you rate your centeredness?
  • What practices can you adopt that will strengthen your ability to remain calm under stress, empathize, listen deeply, and remain present?

Take the time to honestly and thoughtfully answer these questions. Share your thoughts and ideas with your team and your leaders, your family and your friends.

Influence, not Authority

An inexperience young leader might think that they know best. They might think that they have all the right answers, and that everyone should just follow what they say. I know, because when I first was in a leadership position that’s how I thought. And my time in the Unites States Marines Corps often reinforced that belief. But I was misguided and mistaken. And I will illustrate how I was wrong through the following examples:

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The Game

Imagine your favorite sports game. Maybe that’s soccer, football, basketball or something else. Now think of the very best player of that sport you know. That person may be the best player in the entire world. They may be absolutely fantastic with millions of fans. But how well would they do on their own without the team?

The reality is that they would lose every single game as a lone player. They may be the best, but a team of average players is always going to beat the best player if he or she is alone. Why do we think it’s any different for business? It isn’t.

The Team

A well-functioning team is always going to do better than a lone genius dictating orders. It’s important for leaders to recognize this. Some leaders think too highly of themselves. They may be a genius. But it takes so much more than a genius to build an incredible company. As a leader, it’s important to be humble and learn from your employees. Listen to them. Listen so well that you are molded by them. When you are wrong, admit it! Be open. Leaders often say that it’s lonely at the top. But it really isn’t if you are doing it right.

Being a great leader is about building mutual respect with your team. It’s never about barking orders out of a position of authority (leave that to the drill instructors). If you can build that mutual respect, then you can lead from a place of influence. Below are three ways to help build the trust and respect with your team.

Listen to your Employees

Every leader will likely say that they listen to their employees. But are they really? When I say listen I mean something deeper than simply hearing others. Leaders should listen to truly understand their employees. Then they should be willing to be molded by what those employees tell them. You will be surprised what you can learn during meetings, group or individual conversations and daily interactions if you allow yourself to be present and listen.

As humans we can only directly see about 70% of our body. If we have something embarrassing in our teeth we either need a mirror or other people to tell us about it. The same goes for our personality. There are flaws in our personality that we can’t see.  We need other people to share it with us. It isn’t easy to truly listen to people when they are sharing our flaws. But that’s when we need to listen more than ever because that is the first step to improving the problems.

Find Great Mentors

To be a great leader, you need great mentors. You need wise people who have already gone down this journey in life. And the more wise mentors you have the better leader you can become. The reason is because humans have a wonderful ability to learn lessons from each other. We don’t need to make all the same mistakes that others have before us. Instead let them share with you what those mistakes were and learn how to avoid them. Great leaders are life-long learners and stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before them.

Be Humble

There is something about the role of a leader that sometimes makes the leader think they are better than everyone else. First off, that is not true at all. But secondly, it’s a recipe for failure. Pride comes before the fall. It takes a great team to succeed at business (and I am blessed to have the pleasure of working just such a team). Great employees don’t want to work for a prideful boss. So eventually that boss will lose their good team and their company will fall into chaos. Great leaders avoid this by being humble. They take the blame for failure and give away the credit for success.

Lead with Influence not Authority

Great leaders recognize that it takes a great team to be successful. So, they lead from a place of influence instead of authority. And by doing that they can start to make a positive impact in their company and the world. They inspire the people they work with to do and be more, not by telling them what to do or how to do it, but by inspiring them to maximize their individual inputs and strengths, ultimately contributing to the success of a winning team or organization.

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Questions of the week:

  • How do you typically lead?
  • What are the benefits of having a mentor?
  • What are the benefits of being a mentor?
  • How well are you listening to (hearing) your employees?

Take the time to honestly and thoughtfully answer these questions. Share your thoughts and ideas with your team and your leaders, your family and your friends.