Take the Wheel  from Your Saboteur

Sandy was walking down the hall to the office of his boss Jim.  He was ready to present his big idea. It could make a significant difference to the company and be a game changer to his career. He had worked late nights and weekends to polish it.

As he got closer, he thought: Jim might think my idea is off base…maybe way off base.  No way would the company take a chance like that.  Who am I to be upsetting the way we do things?  Jim isn’t going to be comfortable with the risk and will get mad — at me.  This could be bad for my career, even my job.  This is a mistake.

So . . .

Sandy stopped in his tracks and went back to his desk.  He put the carefully prepared document in a file and closed the drawer.  He never proposed the idea that might have catapulted the company over the competition and launched him to a new level of responsibility.

What happened in that hallway?

An internal voice, we call a saboteur, inner critic, gremlin or The Committee, whispered in Sandy’s ear and planted a big dose of doubt.

So, as Sandy made up a negative story that his next move was going to be dangerous, maybe even a career-killer, his dream crumpled.  Worst of all, his saboteur convinced him to do nothing, to not even try.

Who or what was that saboteur and where did it come from?

The saboteur is that inner voice that serves as an internal warning system to avoid danger.  It means well in trying to keep us safe but is woefully out of date and actually can do serious harm.

Some believe the source of this voice goes way back to when we were prehistoric hunters.  That rustle of leaves might have a large and dangerous animal behind it; an internal voice said don’t go investigate and so live another day.

Others believe we devise coping strategies when we are very young children and then continue to use them despite being adults in radically changed circumstances.

While not the first to expose the pernicious saboteur, Shirzad Chamine has written a very accessible book, Positive Intelligence, and offers a free assessment as well.

Noting that our mind can be our friend or our enemy, Chamine’s assessment determines one’s Positive Intelligence Quotient, a score represented as a percentage of how much of the time your mind is your friend or your enemy.

His research has determined that a score of 75 is a tipping point.  It means that your mind is serving you about 75% of the time and sabotaging you 25% of the time.  Above 75, we are uplifted by the internal self talk and below that, we are being dragged down.  He says that a dramatic 80% of individuals and teams score below this critical tipping point.

What are some strategies to deal with this saboteur?  Start with awareness.  When we notice an internal message holding us back, we have a choice to override it.  Without the awareness, the saboteur is driving the bus and making decisions for us.

Consider the difference between:  “I think I’m going to make a mess of this.” and  “My lying saboteur thinks I’m going to make a mess of this.”

The challenge and the opportunity?  Take the wheel from your inner critic.

Chamine offers his assessment for free at PositiveIntelligence.com.  The feedback is nuanced and worthwhile.  Your results are immediately available and will be followed up with a series of unobtrusive emails offering messages and brief exercises to reinforce the awareness and learning.

As we increase our awareness of that inner voice, we give ourselves a chance to restore choice.

Full disclosure:  I let my own saboteur be loud and bossy while writing this, causing the post to be delayed.

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From the Water Cooler . . .

Self pity:  Resentment (resistance) about what is

Compassion:  Acceptance of what is

Success for you 

Death By Meeting, Nevermore!

Harry looked at his watch under the table.

10:27

Only three minutes since he last looked.  Ugh.

Tom droned on.  Kathy interrupted, again.  Jim nodded agreement to. . .what?  We started late.  No one introduced Mary who joined the company only two days ago.

No agenda.  Finance wasn’t there even though the meeting was supposed to be about how finance wanted to change the budget process.  Unprepared, Sally had no new information and that meant no decisions could be made. This meeting was a giant waste of time!

With a flimsy process and little follow through, we would likely be covering the same ground two weeks from now.

Business meetings are notorious, and for many good reasons.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Bain & Co estimates that 15% of an organization’s collective time is spent in meetings.  Other sources estimate time in meetings at 25% to 30%.  Bain’s research says that senior executives spend about two days a week (40%) of their time in meetings with three or more coworkers.  So, as executives rise in the ranks and their time becomes more valuable, they spend more time in meetings.

Meetings represent a sizable chunk of an office worker’s time, no matter what measurements are used.

The reality is that individuals are limited in how much they can cut back on meeting attendance given the very real risk of alienating their colleagues, and especially their boss.

So, how can we improve the meetings that we do have?

At a recent gathering for organizational development professionals, I had the good fortune to hear Dick and Emily Axelrod (luminaries in the OD field) present on a system they have developed to lead meetings that are productive and participants actually find useful and want to attend.

They outlined the merits of their Meeting Canoe, a six-step process that consistently creates good outcomes.

A look at the process and we see why it works:  it’s welcoming, inclusive and connecting, reality-based, rooted in the present with an aspirational eye on an ideal outcome, decisive, and has accountability built in.

As the Axelrods discussed that night and also in their book Let’s Stop Meeting Like This, they recommend the following process:

Welcome people to create an atmosphere conducive to doing the desired work.  We want to create a sense of safety and, with it, openness to sharing and receiving ideas.

Connect people to each other and the task.  This step has two levels.  Building relationships among the participants and, second, connecting the participants to the issue at hand.  Building on the safety, we want to engender trust, the most basic building block of effective teams.

Discover the way things are.  We create a shared view of our current reality. This requires being open to a broad spectrum of input, including divergent views and hearing from the quiet minority.  We want to enable the participants to share their own perspectives and create a common ground of understanding. Next, we help the group resist the temptation to jump to a fix.

Elicit people’s dreams.  Mining the group for ideal outcomes is the yin to the current reality’s yang.  This is a time to loosen our grasp on exacting practicality and have participants imagine possibilities.

Decide on next steps.  Participants make their choices clear, while taking into account the way things are and the articulated ideal outcomes.  Note that the process for how to arrive at decisions should be understood beforehand.  It is particularly toxic for participants who thought they had a vote to be disenfranchised because it emerges they are not aligned with what the meeting leader wants.

Attend to the end.  Bring the meeting to a close by reviewing decisions made, next steps, and who is going to do what by when.

I have adopted this process for meetings myself and recommended it to coaching clients. I am happy to report that it works extremely well for all types ranging from brief interactions to group meetings to longer planning sessions.

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From the Water Cooler . . .

You can’t complain about it if you’re not willing to do something about it.

Success is at hand 

How to Sharpen Your Saw – No Ohms Required

I stop doing it just when I need it the most.

When I’m feeling hurried, pressured, with too many things to do, I let it go.  I’m rushing, having difficulty staying focused, not following through.  Monkey mind takes over — swinging every which way.

It’s then that I skip the practice that supports me, keeps me balanced, helps me focus for better productivity, and generates inner peace.

My friend Chris said to me years ago it was like finding a $100 bill and, despite that perspective, he didn’t do it every day.  Even though he could and there was nothing stopping him.  He is not alone in bypassing a simple and personally fulfilling exercise.

The IT here is meditation.

It can be just a simple period of sitting quietly, focusing on breathing, and allowing the mind to quiet down.

It doesn’t have to be complicated or take a lot of time. I don’t need to go anywhere special, or pay anything.  No “Ohms” required.

When I make time to give myself a good start to the day, I take 10 to 20 minutes in the morning to sit in a comfortable chair, close my eyes and focus on my breathing.  Afterward, I am calmer, clearer, more grounded and my grasp on the day is a little looser.

Meditation is under the umbrella of mindfulness, which has rightly received a great deal of positive press of late – from a TIME cover story to a segment on 60 Minutes.

It’s an ancient practice that has survived through the centuries for good reason.  Physically, it reduces high blood pressure, decreases tension-related pain, improves immune system and increases our energy.  Mentally, it decreases anxiety, improves emotional stability and increases creativity and happiness.

The experience of meditation is both personal to the individuality of the meditator and also evolves over time through the practice itself.

Despite all these glowing recommendations, when I have a full schedule I can feel compelled to jump in and start doing right now (and so skip that day’s meditation). It’s then that I am reminded of Steven Covey’s sharpening the saw story in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

It goes like this:

Suppose you come across a woodsman who is working feverishly to saw down a tree.

He complains, “I’m beat! This hard work!”

“Why don’t you take a break and sharpen your saw?” you ask.

To which he replies, “I don’t have time to sharpen the saw. I’m too busy sawing!

So it goes with taking a few minutes for the benefits of personal quiet time.  The benefits are immediately apparent, consistently positive, and cumulative over time.

While no formal training is necessary, there are a few books that I especially like. The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh and A Gradual Awakening by Stephen Levine.  Another, a classic, is Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zin. Surely, there are many others.

The point is that there is no right way here.  The value for each of us is just being on the path at all.  It is in the seeking that we find.

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From the Water Cooler . . .

What you believe is what you get.

Success can be yours today.

3 Steps to Accepting Abundance

I remember exactly when it happened.

I was in New York not quite half-way across Park Avenue on 90th Street, heading east.

It was something my friend Dur said and then it dawned on me in a singular moment: There is enough for everybody.

Life is not a zero sum experience.

So, if someone else gets something good, it does not mean that there is less for me.  Likewise, if you compliment my friend or colleague, it does not diminish me.

We live in abundance and this is especially so for the intangibles like love, appreciation, encouragement.  What’s more, these expressions are like muscles that grow stronger when used.

The memory of that moment was triggered by the many Thanksgiving messages of gratitude I received this last week.  That, in turn, reminded me of how global visionary Lynne Twist proposed that our society is dominated by a pervasive and pernicious lie of scarcity.

In her book, The Soul of Money, Twist cites three toxic myths that she believes sustain the scarcity mindset.

  1. There’s Not Enough:  says some are definitely going to lose out and it becomes the driver to make sure there will be a chair when the music stops.
  2. More Is Better:  seeks to fill the void and ” . . . is a chase with no end and a race without winners.”
  3. That’s Just the Way It Is: cue a sigh of resignation that “the way it is is the way it will stay.”

Twist continues that we have the choice to let go of the mind-set of scarcity and accept sufficiency, and not in a measly barely-more-than-crumbs-outlook, but instead “a context we generate, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough.”

This leads to an acknowledgment that appreciation appreciates, a time-honored spiritual belief.

Twist then includes in her discussion appreciative inquiry, a strengths-based model for organizational change based on building on a foundation of what’s working instead of focusing on what’s not working.This is a model created by David Cooperrider and Diana Whitney in their positive psychology work at Case Western Reserve.

I have long believed that what we send out, we get back; what we give energy to, gets bigger.

So, as we enter the holiday season and look ahead to a new year, we can accept the invitation to be generous knowing that there is an abundant sufficiency and the act of giving is, in and of itself, self generative.

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From the Water Cooler . . . 
Celebrate what you already have!
 

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Success is yours today