Mind the Gap: Your Path to Greater Fulfillment

Bob’s keynote at the conference went well.  As the clapping died down, the rush of elation felt like a victory.

By lunch, his mood had slumped and he was feeling alone and, actually, a little resentful.

Two days later, he noticed himself thinking, “I put a lot into that presentation and I didn’t get any help at all.”

When Bob contacted me about coaching, he was restless and irritable.  He said he was working as hard as ever and feeling discouraged.

The long hours at the office and time on his computer at night was taking a toll on his family life.  His wife felt slighted and his kids mumbled that he was grumpy all the time.

His routine felt like a grind.  All that effort at work and the results were good but there didn’t seem to be any teamwork or appreciation for what he saw as his sacrifices.

To get our coaching started I asked him to complete an exercise called the Wheel of Life, which offers a simple and effective way to gauge someone’s current level of satisfaction.

Think of a pie cut into eight wedges, where each wedge represents a major domain of your life.  The categories include:

  • Career
  • Money
  • Friends & Family
  • Significant Other/Romance
  • Fun & Recreation
  • Health
  • Physical Environment
  • Personal Growth/Spirituality

Then rate your current fulfillment for each one on a scale of 1 to 10. It’s quick, easy and provides a “snapshot” of today’s level of satisfaction.

Bob reported moderate to low satisfaction with his job (5), his relationship with his wife (6), his family time (5), and even with fun and recreation (3-4).

For the second part of the exercise, I noted to Bob the rating of 5 that he gave to Career and asked him to imagine what a 10 for him would look like.

This is a basic coach technique; we invite a client to imagine an ideal outcome and then hold that vision as a goal. Next, after acknowledging where we are now, we collaborate and devise a strategic action plan to close the gap and make the vision a reality.

The Wheel exercise helped Bob get in touch with his current level of discontent and start the process of identifying solutions.

We quickly pinpointed the focal point as time.  Bob had been promoted into a bigger job with more responsibility and he hadn’t fully embraced his new role.

We worked together on establishing priorities, improving time management; and then, delegating and coaching his direct reports to take on more ownership.

The transition took some time.  As Bob’s staff members took on more responsibility, they developed new competencies.

Bob got out of the weeds and began to lead more and manage less.  He felt less stressed out and was able to enjoy his family again.  He also stopped bringing the ghost of an unhappy home life to the office.

We know that simply completing the Wheel exercise will not turn around major issues.  It can be a useful tool, however, to highlight areas of dissatisfaction and facilitate the process of identifying paths to greater fulfillment.

The challenge is to mind the gap.

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From the Water Cooler . . . 

Don’t be a prisoner of your past. 

Be a pioneer of your future. 

Lead for your success.

The Promise of Possibilities

Dogs…chased…the…gorillas…because…they…smelled…like…tangerines…that…cats…forgot…and…left…behind…at…the…party……period!

So plays out an exercise of improvisation among business colleagues.  That the sentence doesn’t make sense is beside the point.

Participating in groups of three, each member added one word at a time.  It meant that each of them had to listen to the others, be present to the exercise, and let go of where they wanted to take the story.

And, underlying the whole process, they all had to practice a Yes, And perspective.

Yes, And is the most basic building block of improvisation and stands in contrast to No or Yes, But.

With a Yes, And perspective one accepts what another offers and builds on it and never dismisses or denies.

The Yes, And perspective makes space for an idea to breathe before being shot down, sometimes just the moment that is needed for a new idea to develop into something worth pursuing.

Yes, And promotes the creation of a safe and courageous space and in turn supports risk taking and encourages innovation and creativity.

I’ve been leading groups to perform improv exercises on a regular basis this past year  The participants quickly get over any shyness.  They pay attention, focus and have fun.  Their energy goes up and they leave a little more open to possibilities and willing to engage with others.

Improvisation is an activity that allows participants to experience new concepts and in a visceral and lasting way.

The intent is not to try to be funny or to deliver a performance in front of their peers.  Instead, participating in a structured series of improv exercises can be a form of emotional intelligence in action and offers a creative learning experience.

Though the exercises may feel like play, improv promotes better listening, more spontaneity, increased confidence as well as flexibility and agility.

The benefits are not limited to just the individual experience.  Because the exercises are done in pairs, triads and larger groups, they can also build team cohesion and collaboration.

Another key part of what makes practicing improv effective is supporting our partners and helping them look good.  When we respond in the moment and build on the ideas that come up in the exercises, we’re not competing for credit.  This approach de-emphasizes ego and contributes to better teamwork.

Living in today’s period of unprecedented and accelerating change, it will be the people and institutions that are willing to adapt and consider new ways of doing things that will survive and thrive.  There are too many examples of institutions that have faded because they didn’t.

Contempt before investigation is a sure way to block progress and maintain the illusion of safety of the status quo.

Yes, And is positive, versatile and invites participation.

As we can lead from any chair, the opportunity in hand is to start noticing the negative impact of No and Yes, Butand replace it with

YES, that’s an interesting idea. . .AND. . .

 

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From the Water Cooler . . .

What we send out, we get back. 

Success for you now today

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 

The Next Step is . . . Sitting Still

My friend Chris Ogden, who I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, wrote to share his perspective on meditation.  He also included instructions on how to meditate.  They are simple and elegant at the same time.

I think part of the challenge in getting people to try meditation is that we westerners focus on the ‘goal’ rather than the practice.  The error in most thinking that I’ve encountered is that if one can’t get their mind to be still they can’t meditate.  This I believe is a misunderstanding. 

I believe that the most important part, instant, aspect of meditation is the moment when we realize our mind has strayed from the breath, jumped on the train of thought coming through the station of our consciousness and decided to ride rather than face the boredom of watching the breath. 

So, it isn’t about trying to keep the mind silent or focused on the breath.  It WILL stray.  The value of meditation comes from that moment when we become aware that our mind has strayed and we gently choose to let go of the thinking and go back to watching the breath. 

It is that moment, that decision, experienced over and over, thousands of times that lets us begin to become the master of our thoughts and our minds rather than its servant. 

I think the student whose mind wanders ceaselessly and who makes the choice to return it to the breath, if only for a few breaths, over and over many times during the period of meditation actually gains more than the experienced yogi who can sit with a still mind indefinitely.  

I now give those interested the following simple instruction.  Sit with your back fairly straight in an attentive awake attitude on the floor, on a pillow or on a chair.  Close your eyes.  Focus on the feeling of the air as it passes in and out at the end of your nose. 

You’ll notice cool on the in breath and warm on the out.  Focus your inner vision, your attention on that sensation.  Your mind will do this for only a brief time and then it will stray.  You’ll think about your day, or balancing your check book or whatever.  It is OK. 

When you notice you are no longer focused on the sensation at the end of your nose but instead have been ‘lost in thought’ simply and gently let go of the thought and go back to focusing attention on the sensation of the breath.  The value is in making the choice.

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.