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Sunday, March 5, 2017

6 Tips For Better Work-Life Balance

This article is part of a series on work-life balance. Check out the companion pieces here: The 20 Best Work-Life Balance Jobs and 5 Signs You Might Be a Workaholic.

These days, work-life balance can seem like an impossible feat. Technology makes workers accessible around the clock. Fears of job loss incentivize longer hours. In fact, a whopping 94% of working professionals reported working more than 50 hours per week and nearly half said they worked more than 65 hours per week in a Harvard Business School survey. Experts agree: the compounding stress from the never-ending workday is damaging. It can hurt relationships, health and overall happiness.
Work-life balance means something different to every individual, but here health and career experts share tips to help you find the balance that’s right for you.

1. Let go of perfectionism
A lot of overachievers develop perfectionist tendencies at a young age when demands on their time are limited to school, hobbies and maybe an after-school job. It’s easier to maintain that perfectionist habit as a kid, but as you grow up, life gets more complicated. As you climb the ladder at work and as your family grows, your responsibilities mushroom. Perfectionism becomes out of reach, and if that habit is left unchecked, it can become destructive, says executive coach Marilyn Puder-York, PhD, who wrote The Office Survival Guide.
The key to avoid burning out is to let go of perfectionism, says Puder-York. “As life gets more expanded it’s very hard, both neurologically and psychologically, to keep that habit of perfection going,” she says, adding that the healthier option is to strive not for perfection, but for excellence.

2. Unplug
From telecommuting to programs that make work easier, technology has helped our lives in many ways. But it has also created expectations of constant accessibility. The work day never seems to end. “There are times when you should just shut your phone off and enjoy the moment,” says Robert Brooks, a professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and co-author of The Power of Resilience: Achieving Balance, Confidence and Personal Strength in Your Life. Brooks says that phone notifications interrupt your off time and inject an undercurrent of stress in your system. So don’t text at your kid’s soccer game and don’t send work emails while you’re hanging out with family, Brooks advises. Make quality time true quality time. By not reacting to the updates from work, you will developing a stronger habit of resilience. “Resilient people feel a greater sense of control over their lives,” says Brooks, while reactive people have less control and are more prone to stress.
English: An artist's depiction of the rat race...
English: An artist's depiction of the rat race in reference to the work and life balance. See Made with following images: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. Exercise and meditate
Even when we’re busy, we make time for the crucial things in life. We eat. We go to the bathroom. We sleep. And yet one of our most crucial needs - exercise - is often the first thing to go when our calendars fill up. Exercise is an effective stress reducer. It pumps feel-good endorphins through your body. It helps lift your mood and can even serve a one-two punch by also putting you in a meditative state, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Puder-York recommends dedicating a few chunks of time each week to self-care, whether it’s exercise, yoga or meditation. And if you’re really pressed for time, start small with deep breathing exercises during your commute, a quick five minute meditation session morning and night, or replacing drinking alcohol with a healthier form of stress reduction.
“When I talk about balance, not everything has to be the completion and achievement of a task, it also has to include self-care so that your body, mind and soul are being refreshed,” says Puder-York.
These exercises require minor effort but offer major payoffs. Psychotherapist Bryan Robinson, who is also professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and author of the book Chained to the Desk, explains that our autonomic nervous system includes two branches: the sympathetic nervous system (our body’s stress response) and the parasympathetic nervous system (our body’s rest and digest response). “The key is to find something that you can build into your life that will activate your parasympathetic nervous system,” says Robinson. Short, meditative exercises like deep breathing or grounding your senses in your present surroundings, are great places to start. The more you do these, the more you activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which “calms everything down, (and) not just in the moment,” says Robinson. “Over time you start to notice that in your life, your parasympathetic nervous system will start to trump your sympathetic nervous system.”

4. Limit time-wasting activities and people
First, identify what’s most important in your life. This list will differ for everyone, so make sure it truly reflects your priorities, not someone else’s. Next, draw firm boundaries so you can devote quality time to these high-priority people and activities.
From there, it will be easier to determine what needs to be trimmed from the schedule. If email or internet surfing sends you into a time-wasting spiral, establish rules to keep you on task. That may mean turning off email notifications and replying in batches during limited times each day. If you’re mindlessly surfing Facebook or cat blogs when you should be getting work done, try using productivity software like Freedom, LeechBlock or RescueTime. And if you find your time being gobbled up by less constructive people, find ways to diplomatically limit these interactions. Cornered every morning by the office chatterbox? Politely excuse yourself. Drinks with the work gang the night before a busy, important day? Bow out and get a good night sleep. Focus on the people and activities that reward you the most.
To some, this may seem selfish. “But it isn’t selfish,” says Robinson. “It’s that whole airplane metaphor. If you have a child, you put the oxygen mask on yourself first, not on the child.” When it comes to being a good friend, spouse, parent or worker, “the better you are yourself, the better you are going to be in all those areas as well.”

5. Change the structure of your life
Sometimes we fall into a rut and assume our habits are set in stone. Take a birds-eye view of your life and ask yourself: What changes could make life easier? 
Puder-York remembers meeting with a senior executive woman who, for 20 years of her marriage, arranged dinner for her husband every night. But as the higher earner with the more demanding job, the trips to the grocery store and daily meal preparations were adding too much stress to her life. “My response to her was, "Maybe it's time to change the habit,'” recalls Puder-York. The executive worried her husband might be upset, but Puder-York insisted that, if she wanted to reduce stress, this structural change could accomplish just that.
So instead of trying to do it all, focus on activities you specialize in and value most. Delegate or outsource everything else. Delegating can be a win-win situation, says Stewart Freidman, a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School and author of Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life. Freidman recommends talking to the “key stakeholders” in different areas of your life, which could include employees or colleagues at work, a spouse or a partner in a community project. “Find out what you can do to let go in ways that benefit other people by giving them opportunities to grow,” he says. This will give them a chance to learn something new and free you up so you may devote attention to your higher priorities.

6. Start small. Build from there.
We’ve all been there: crash diets that fizzle out, New Year’s resolutions we forget by February. It’s the same with work-life balance when we take on too much too quickly, says Brooks. Many of his workaholic clients commit to drastic changes: cutting their hours from 80 hours a week to 40, bumping up their daily run from zero miles a day to five miles a day. It’s a recipe for failure, says Brooks. When one client, who was always absent from his family dinners, vowed to begin attending the meals nightly, Brooks urged him to start smaller. So he began with one evening a week. Eventually, he worked his way up to two to three dinners per week.
“If you’re trying to change a certain script in your life, start small and experience some success. Build from there,” says Brooks.

Deborah Jian Lee is a journalist, radio producer and author of a forthcoming book about progressive evangelicals (Beacon Press). Follow her @deborahjianlee. Visit her website

6 Changes Your Company Must Make to Develop More Female Leaders

The most recent allegations of sexual harassment by management and subsequent apathy by HR at hot tech startup Uber have once again brought to the fore the lack of progress we’ve made in gender equality. What Susan Fowler’s story highlights is that not only do women face direct discrimination from managers and peers, when they speak out they often feel the backlash in their opportunities for advancement.
The lack of female leaders in general, and especially in the tech world, is one of the most highly discussed challenges. All the industry giants have been criticized for continuing to have such low numbers of women on the board, in management positions or even in the workforce in general. This has caused many, such as Facebook, Google and Apple to publicly release reports on their diversity statistics and commit to developing more female leaders. The numbers of women of color in leadership positions is even lower. A study by the AAUW found that out of Standard and Poor’s 500 only 4 percent of executive officials and managers were women of color.
Not only is this an issue about equality, it also greatly impacts a company’s bottom line. Studies show that companies which are more gender diverse are 15 percent more likely to outperform and those which are more ethnically diverse are 35 percent more likely to outperform. Companies with more female leaders are also proven to be more profitable. In fact, studies have shown that women are typically rated as being more effective leaders overall than men by their reports, peers and managers. So why are there so few female leaders?

Unconscious bias

While we may not realize it, everyone is subject to unconscious bias. The reason why it’s so taboo is because people fear being labelled as sexist, racist or prejudiced for acknowledging it. In fact, studies show that it’s not just male managers who unconsciously stereotype women -- female managers are also susceptible to unconscious bias against their female reports. Failing to acknowledge the potential for unconscious bias is your company’s number one mistake when it comes to developing female and minority leaders.
Even if your company has a clear policy against inequality in promotions and pay, why does it still happen? To find out you have to look at the root causes.

Similarity bias

Similarity bias is the tendency for people to want to help and mentor people who remind them of themselves when they were coming up in the company. As the majority of managers are still men, it’s not uncommon for them to see themselves in a male report who may have the same personality and interests as them when they began working. Even if unconscious, this can lead managers to favor certain reports with extra mentoring and, thereby, opportunities for development.

In feedback

Feedback and performance reviews are essential to helping employees develop professionally and for companies to identify top performers for new positions. When unconscious bias finds its way into these important tools for advancement, it can cause women to be held back under the radar.
A joint 2016 study by McKinsey&Company and Lean In found that, while both genders ask for feedback equally, women are 20 percent less likely to receive difficult feedback. The most common answer given is that managers don’t want to seem “mean or hurtful”.
Most managers already find it difficult to give constructive feedback, even when their employees ask for it. If male managers hold on to an unconscious fear that women will be more likely to react emotionally to feedback, their female reports will not receive the same coaching opportunities as their male peers.
Adding another layer, a study by the Center for Talent Innovation found that 2/3 of men in senior positions pulled back from 1-on-1 contact with junior female employees for fear that they might be suspected of having an affair.
In performance reviews
What’s more, when women do receive feedback, studies show it is often vague and not tied to business outcomes. This means that, whether it’s positive or constructive, women are less likely to be told what specific actions contributed to the team/company objectives or how they can improve. Meanwhile, their male colleagues are more likely to receive a clear picture of how they’re doing and what they can do to improve.
People also have a tendency to see certain behaviors as primarily male or female. For example, assertiveness, independence and authority are often stereotyped as “male”, while supportive, collaborative and helpful are perceived as typically “female”. Therefore, studies show that when women demonstrate qualities typically associated with men, it is often criticized. For example, two studies in particular have shown that while men are often described as confident and assertive, for the same behavior, women are described as abrasive and off putting.

There is no evidence men more effective leaders.

However, a study by Zenger and Folkman sought to evaluate the effectiveness of male versus female leaders in 16 leadership qualities. Overall women were perceived as more effective and surpassed men in 12 categories, even those typically perceived as “male” such as taking initiative and driving for results.
Perhaps most convincing of all, a meta-analysis of 99 data sets from 95 studies conducted between 1962-2011 published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, similarly found that female leaders were rated by their reports, peers and managers as being just as or even more effective than male leaders.
The interesting question is why women continue to be overlooked for leadership positions? These studies may reveal some answers. For one, the meta-analysis showed that, while they’re rated highly by others, many have a tendency to underrate themselves in their self-assessments. Another, as mentioned previously, is the tendency to perceive the desired leadership skills as those regularly stereotyped as “male”.
In today’s flattening, collaborative, autonomous work atmosphere companies are beginning to realize they want coaches, not managers. Some of the top qualities needed are instead: emotional intelligence, coaching/mentoring, ability to motivate and engage through purpose, empowering through autonomy and ownership. In effect, not only are our perceptions of female vs male leaders incorrect, our perceptions of what makes a great leader are also based on outdated stereotypes.
Here are six ways you can help your company develop more female leaders:

1. Recognize the potential for unconscious bias.

Rather than making it a witch hunt, it’s important to explain that the potential for bias is common but there are ways that companies are helping their workforces to identify and combat it. Companies like Paradigm and Textio, for example, are helping major tech companies overcome this challenge by offering trainings and workshops on implicit bias and opening up their hiring practices to more diverse candidates. Meanwhile Google has come up with its own internal program to help its people recognize unconscious bias. It has also publicly shared the slides and training materials it presents to its employees.

2. If you think your feedback may be hurtful, you’re giving it wrong.

If you’re unconsciously worried about giving constructive feedback to a female report because you don’t know how they’ll take it, you should consider how you’re saying it. Anyone - whether a man or a woman - who receives strong criticism which isn’t actionable will find it difficult to process. Remember, these key practices: never judge, always refer to specific examples of what was said or done and provide suggestions for how the person could improve.

3. Define top leadership qualities.

Without a common and agreed upon set of top leadership qualities, it is more likely that people will hold onto the dominating stereotype of the typical “boss”. Instead, take a page from Google’s Project Oxygen. During this project the company utilized employee surveys, analyzed manager performance reviews and interviewed the top managers within the company. As a result, they came up with 8 key behaviors that the best managers possess.
Not surprisingly, not a single one conformed to the traditional authoritarian stereotype many still unconsciously think of. Instead, some of these included: being a great coach, empowering the team and not micromanaging, and expressing interest/concern for team member’s success and well being.
Find out what qualities are most important for being a great leader in your company. Make sure this process is inclusive with feedback from employees, peers and managers alike. The better you define what leadership looks like, the less likely future managers will be chosen based on outdated stereotypes.

4. Integrate these qualities into your performance review process.

It’s not enough to simply come up with a list of behaviors. The next step is then to integrate them into your performance review process as core leadership competencies. Rather than asking if said person has leadership potential, ask people to review others based on their ability to coach, communicate effectively or empower others. This will help both men and women develop the leadership skills needed to effectively manage your teams.

5. Mentoring reports

Rather than making coaching an informal part of a manager’s job, every manager should set up standing bi-monthly 1-on-1s  and/or weekly strategic check-ins with each report. By making these 1-on-1 meetings standard for everyone, managers can ensure they’re not unconsciously giving preference to certain employees over others.

6. Tackle impostor syndrome.

Though often associated with women, studies show that imposter syndrome affects both sexes. It could very well be the reason why talented individuals aren’t getting promoted within your organization. To address this common phenomenon, help train your employees to set challenging but attainable goals and teach them how they can use these achievements to benchmark their progress, for themselves and their manager.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Business article review - Can You Measure Leadership?

Recommended reading is an article in the MIT Sloan Management Review entitled Can You Measure Leadership? In the article, Robert Gandossy and Robin Guarnieri address the urgency, as well as the accompanying challenges, to measure the effectiveness of the leadership at your organization.  Not only does this piece add more dimension to an area that is front and center for all businesses, it also supports two of the 12 Currie Success Principles©:
Currie Success Principle #5 Continuous Development
Currie Success Principle #9 Results Orientation
Please note on the first page of this article – another stern reminder that the world is about to change.  Paragraph #2 contains mission critical information that Bob and the Currie team have been repeating for the past several years:  “the so-called ‘key leader age’ will drop by 15% over the next decade…”  Now is the time for all distributors to plot the strategic placement of your future leaders.  And this article is in keeping with the theme of talent management that has been assembled this year, beginning with The 2012 Global Workforce Study[i].
The Sloan article takes us through the process of identifying the circumstances when a company has successfully developed leaders.  In other (Currie) words:  “What does [leadership] look like when it’s right”.  Then we learn how talent is analyzed, and finally the author provides some questions and measurements to help all companies create and implement a leadership measurement process.
Pay special attention to the Sample Nine-Block Framework diagram.  This graphic demonstrates “Results Orientation” in action, as it applies to leadership, which has historically been an area that is difficult to assess.  The Framework is a rating tool designed to assist top management in their endeavor to understand exactly how effective their leadership team is.  Notice that accountability is created by the public reporting of the results, and it is likened to McKinsey & Co.’s “team barometer” survey.  Now we understand the vision behind the measurement of leadership effectiveness, just as we understand the evaluation of financial results through the Currie Financial Composite©.
In the quest for “Continuous Improvement”, the authors have developed a series of questions that are critical to the growth of the leadership team.  These questions are geared toward different groups within the organization:  People Managers, Key Talent, Business Leaders, and HR Professionals.  By defining the parameters for a great leadership team, the company can develop a world class talent capture (refer to Currie’s website for Q2 2014’s recommended article:  Building a Game Changing-Talent Strategy[ii]).  The Currie Leadership Development Program and Operational Seminars are continuous development offerings that all distribution companies should be taking advantage of.  Other activities (think of the annual Currie Reading List and the quarterly article reviews) are designed to promote and inspire development initiatives.  At most Best Practices group meetings, Currie Management Consultants, Inc. encourages all Human Resources Departments to invent and implement a continuous development plan for each and every employee of the company.  (And remember, in our Model, we encourage a ratio of one HR executive per 100 employees.)  This is how we build solid, engaged leaders.
Finally, how do we apply the lessons from this article to our equipment distribution companies?
  • Utilize a tool such as the Nine-Block Framework or the team barometer survey, create motivation by sharing the results publicly, or create a leader scorecard. All of these methods build a culture of accountability, as well as motivate and engage the leaders.  In other words, this is how we construct a “Results Oriented” leadership team.
  • Encourage, inspire, excite, and motivate your leadership team through ongoing educational programs and advanced training. Invite your team to learn and grow.  In the Currie Leadership Development Program, Leadership Practices Inventory[iii] is utilized to help each participant assess their own inner “toolbox” and their capacity for growing from a good leader into a great leader through the following practices:  Encourage the Heart, Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, and Enable Others to Act.
  • “Hire for attitude, train for skill” (Herb Kelleher, former Southwest Airlines CEO). Identify your brightest talent and prepare your replacement! Remember Emperor Napoleon’s Military Maxim LIV:  “Assets should always be placed in the most advantageous position”.  Your company’s talent is not only an asset, but a precious resource that contains the power to propel your company into future successes.  Succession planning is an ongoing process that needs to be approached with vision, focus, and purpose.
Favorite quote from Can You Measure Leadership?:  “When a company has a true commitment to leadership, it becomes integrated with business planning and woven into the culture of the organization”.
[iii] James M. Kouzes and Barry Z Posner
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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Assertive Communication Skills - Program Offering Saturday February 4, 2017

“To know oneself, one should assert oneself.” This is an interesting quote from 20th Century French philosopher and novelist Albert Camus, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature. Camus reportedly would not call himself an existentialist, but his followers labelled him as one, mostly because of ambiguous and deeply abstruse statements and quotes such as that one. Let’s take a closer look at Assertiveness and the concept of assertive communication: what does it mean for professionals, and what do other experts have to say about it?
Dorland’s Medical Dictionary defines assertiveness as a form of behavior characterized by a confident declaration or affirmation of a statement without need of proof; this affirms the person’s rights or point of view without either aggressively threatening the rights of another (assuming a position of dominance) or submissively permitting another to ignore or deny one’s rights or point of view.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a top U.S. hospital located in Rochester Minnesota, Assertiveness can help you control stress and anger, and can also contribute to improved coping skills. An informative article on the Mayo Clinic website makes two sets of important contrasts concerning behaviors: Assertive/Passive Behavior, and Assertive/Aggressive Behavior.
Assertive vs. passive behavior
If your style is passive, you may seem to be shy or overly easygoing. You may routinely say things such as, “I’ll just go with whatever the group decides.” You tend to avoid conflict. Why is that a problem? Because the message you’re sending is that your thoughts and feelings aren’t as important as those of other people. In essence, when you’re too passive, you give others the license to disregard your wants and needs.
Assertive vs. aggressive behavior
Now consider the flip side. If your style is aggressive, you may come across as a bully who disregards the needs, feelings and opinions of others. You may appear self-righteous or superior. Very aggressive people humiliate and intimidate others and may even be physically threatening.
More of this information can be found here, on the Mayo Clinic website.
An assertive personality is something that many people are born with, therefore it is natural for them. However, the good news is that assertiveness is a behavior which can be learned. Naturally assertive people and their approaches can and should be studied, thus enabling those who are naturally aggressive, passive, or some combination of these factors, to learn. When naturally assertive people are modelling the way, here’s what we will find:
• They have a healthy level of self-esteem.
• Assertive people feel empowered.
• They feel free to express their feelings, thoughts, and desires.
• They are also able to initiate and maintain relaxed relationships with others.
• They understand their rights, and the rights of others.
• They have control over their anger, and other strong emotions. This does not mean that they do not experience these emotions, but it means that they are able to effectively manage them, and talk about them in a productive manner.
• Assertive people have been found to be comfortably and reasonably accommodating, and willing to compromise with others.
• They are proactive rather than reactive.
• Are able to resist non-assertive forms of communication that are meant to intimidate or manipulate.
Now let’s talk about Assertive Communication. I'm a big fan of Dr. Jon Warner and his work entitled Assertiveness Style Profile. Once again Warner gives us an interesting analysis, and remarkable labels for four very specific communication styles:
1. Firmly Asserting
2. Passively Observing
3. Warmly Proposing
4. Aggressively Controlling
By utilizing Dr. Warner’s Profile, we learn about a great variety of degrees of assertiveness. The four categories described above are detailed, and also combined with other factors such as level of energy and level of empathy. Assessment results can now be plotted and analyzed according to all of the factors mentioned. And Dr. Warner also provides strategies to move toward enhanced assertive communication. Below is the chart that Warner has created to assess and analyze individual assertiveness styles.
Assertive Comminucation grid
An added bonus that Warner gives us is information about body language, and how it relates to each individual assertiveness style. It’s important to note that Dr. Warner’s Assertiveness Style Profile has no right or wrong answers—it simply analyzes and describes each person’s own unique style based upon their honest responses to a series of statements. Finally, Warner describes assertiveness as “getting what you want from others without infringing upon their rights”. Sounds like a win-win!
Looking at some other viewpoints, we find that assertiveness in business is a critical skill. John Folkman, a contributor for Forbes, lets us know just how important effective assertiveness is for a leader. In his article The 6 Secrets of Successfully Assertive Leaders, Mr. Folkman describes the outcome of a survey where assertiveness was ranked against good judgement. Here are the surprising results:
“Leaders who were rated high (in the 75th percentile) as having good judgment but lower on assertiveness had only a 4.2% chance of being highly rated as an effective leader.
On the other hand, leaders who ranked high on assertiveness but lower on good judgment had a 12.5% chance. However, leaders who ranked high in both characteristics had an actual 71% change of being rated as one of the best leaders.”
The article then takes us through “The 6 Secrets”, which are provided, in brief, below:
1. Connect and Communicate with everyone.
2. Give honest feedback in a helpful way.
3. Use good judgement to make decisions.
4. Walk your talk.
5. Maintain excellent relationships.
6. Look for opportunities to collaborate.
Read the full article for further details about John Folkman’s take on assertiveness and its importance to managers, CEOs and other influential people.
Finally, for further development, Robin Currie recommends the book,Managing Assertively, by Madelyn Burley-Allen. Burley-Allen’s work delves into assertiveness and assertive communication, and also helps the reader to vastly improve his or her “people skills” using her eight building blocks method to become a more effective manager.
There is a plethora of information available on assertiveness, developing assertive communication, and enhancing communication skills. These are invaluable tools for all people, whether in business, family life, volunteering, coaching, teaching, or parenting.