I was recently reminded of this video about the realities of conference calls during a coaching session.
It was fun introducing it in the next session: Not only is it hilarious to watch.
But there are many eye-opening observations to make about communication styles and pitfalls and the fine mechanics of competition, collaboration and confidence.
Which of your own behaviours and reactions do you see reflected in it?
Which behaviours of colleagues, customer and counterparts that you interact with do you recognize?
This poem by Portia Nelson greatly describes the experience of coaching. There is really nothing to add:
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost...I am helpless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn't my fault.
It still takes me a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in. It's a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault. I get out immediately.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
I walk down another street.
Portia Nelson, There's a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery
Here is my list of 15 essentials to look out for in a leader.
Which would be yours?
Yesterday, I came across this list of the 100 top management and leadership writers of our time.
The top 16 names are exclusively male.
Only one woman, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, made it under the top 40.
Including the latter, a total of four female experts made it under the top 50.
The whole list of top 100 speakers and writers in English language on the topics of management and leadership contains no more than 10 females.
Does it not sound familiar?
I am wondering what is the egg, and what the chicken here.
To which degree does this obvious male domination and definition of key leadership and management debates contribute to women's continuing struggle to be leaders among and as equals?
And to which extent does the reality of this struggle contribute to a wider public's preference for listening to male voices on the matter, or to the ranking criteria of lists like this itself?
How does the fact that 90% of the experts heard and recommended when it comes to questions of leadership and management contribute to the experience that the prevailing equation in many a head remains to the day: LEADER = MAN?
How does it inform our concepts and unconscious perceptions of leadership attributes and styles?
To which degree does it limit the perspectives we have on leadership and management?
Ultimately, how diverse and unbiased are our discussions about leadership if they are so much dominated by men?
If we want to achieve inclusive leadership, I believe we also need more women out there who rank under the top 100 experts on leadership and management.
Here is an entertaining video about achievable targets, shared vision, productive assignments, inspiring team work, efficient problem solving, and the value of expertise....
To quote a successful woman leader at the recent Hongkong Women Extraordinnaire Forum on biased labels: "When I hear people say about me that I am bossy, I smile and reply: Well, you know, I AM the boss. As such, I better be boss-y!"
Last week, from October 21-25th, many leading companies and organisations in Hong Kong and other Asian countries participated in the annual "Work-Life Balance Week" initiative. It took place for the sixth consecutive time under the patronage of Community Business.
There can be no question that the Hong Kong "Work-Life Balance Week" is an important and much required platform for the promotion of necessary changes to inefficient and unhealthy traditional work patterns in local and international society. If you are interested, the website of Community Business holds a number of studies and other materials which outline where the major challenges and pitfalls are.
Without doubt, the ability to calibrate the various aspects of one's own life and the ability to allow others to do so as well are important to be a successful leader. Where leaders and leadership teams fail to set the right tone in this respect, where workaholics and outlived traditions are allowed to coin the culture, where senior management expects everyone down the ranks to be available day and night, where sheer presence and burning the midnight oil is confused with performance and gets people promoted, companies waste their most important resource. They risk their own and their workforce's willingness and ability to do a great job every day.
Did you know and notice that it was "Work-Life Balance Week" last week? I think this is a good time to remind ourselves what it does mean for us to have a work-life balance. How do you define it for you specifically? How do you know you have the right "work-life balance"?
To me, the established term "work-life-balance" is an unfortunate one to begin with. It indicates that work and life are opposites. We are of course aware that "life" is meant to refer to our "personal life", "family life" or the "leisure time" we have. The messages the term sends to our subconscious minds however are very ambiguous. For our brains, having to seek a work-life balance translates into that when at work, we are not at life and ultimately, not even alive. It also implies that nothing we do outside of the workplace can be labelled work. Or to translate this subtle message into the world of blurred boundaries between professional and private life which comes with today's 24/7 remote access to e-mails and around-the-clock accessibility of employees, the term implies that nothing we do on top of our many job-related tasks is to be considered a burden. Last not least, it postulates that our "work" and our "life" are two clearly distinct arenas of our existence which do not overlap and that all we would need to do to be happy and successful is to counterweight the one against the other. It usually is not that easy. We are confronted with much more complicated decisions.
So how do you find and maintain a balance and set the right priorities when you are torn between contradicting demands?
What do you do when you are overwhelmed by too many deadlines, last minute work assignments, important family obligations and the need to sleep for eight hours in a piece? How can you avoid getting trapped in a vicious cycle of increasing feelings of duty, stress, guilt and fear that could lead straight into burn-out and depression? What can you change when you feel that regardless how much you try, you can satisfy neither your loved ones nor your boss, colleagues and clients anymore, and that least, you get what you need just for yourself?
When I work with clients who struggle with this, and most of us do at times, I often start with asking them to come up with a list of all major components and aspects of their life as it is right now. How much space and time does each one occupy at present? I then encourage them to rate which of those are the important ones to them - and how they know those are important. Sometimes asking yourself the latter question already can resolve inner conflict and open up a wide path for change. In a next step, we work on identifying which of the important components in their life are currently over- and underrepresented. What do they want to do more, what do they want to do less and which components have the right proportion already? What are they ready to give up in order to achieve a new balance in their lives? Many people need to be reminded that they cannot have it all and certainly not all at the same time. Reviewing where one is happy to make compromises and where not and keeping it real can be as important as is setting clear boundaries. Sometimes, learning how to delegate more and getting better organised in the first place, and reminding oneself that when one is clear about one's priorities, one will know when to say "no", can by itself do miracles because it can free a lot of time and resources and take away a lot of unnecessary pressure.
In a bottom line, each of us has to find the balance in life that is right for him or her, and this is a process rather than a one-off task. Therefore, the best organisational "work-life-balance" programs and measures are the ones which acknowledge that there is no one-fits-all. They are the ones which give people the tools to recalibrate their lives in a whole by balancing out their individual priorities with the organisational requirements and goals.
This week, I like to share three powerful reenergization exercises with you. Each of these exercises of mind will help you to release negative stress, to refocus and to recharge. They take no more than a few minutes each to complete. You can do them anytime during your work day. Have fun trying them out for yourself. One may work better for you than another.
Do not get frustrated if initially, you feel a bit silly and awkward, get distracted, have difficulties with letting the imagination come alive, and need to pull out of the exercise a few times to review what's next (if you struggle with this, perhaps make a voice recording of the description until you have memorised it).
Exercises of the mind are no different from physical exercise: They need practice. The more often you exercise, the stronger the muscles of your imaginative mind will become, the better you remember the sequences of each exercise and the quicker and better you carry them out.
1. Ground yourself
To regain inner balance and come down to earth
Estimated minimum time to complete: 8 min
This exercise is best done while standing upright.
To begin, ensure that both your feet are flat on the ground, slightly apart from one another in about hip-width. Straighten out your back and neck, and pull your shoulders downwards and backwards. Lower your chin slightly down towards your chest. Your arms hang comfortably down on your sides. Slightly wip from your toes to your heels while pressing your feet onto the ground.
Once you have found a comfortable body posture, close your eyes if you can. Alternatively, look out of a window and focus somewhere on the horizon, or focus on a distant point in the office.
Next, concentrate on your breathing for a short while. Breathe slowly in and out through your nose. Concentrate for two breathing cycles on widening and filling your upper body with air. Then with the next breath, also fill your belly with air. Continue to naturally breathe slowly and deeply in and out from your belly for another two or three breathing cycles, and when breathing in, imagine how the air also streams into your arms and legs, up to your crest and down into your toes.
While you continue to calmly breathe in and out, let your mind's focus wander down to your feet again. Become conscious once more of how all your weight lasts heavily but pleasantly on your feet.
Now, imagine how little roots start growing from underneath your feet and into the ground your are standing on (it does not matter if in reality you stand on concrete on the 35th floor - deep down, there is nonetheless earth beneath you, but if your mind must work around the facts, then make the roots grow extra deep and long with extra speed).
Feel how the tiny roots under your feet tickle. Listen to the cracking soft sounds they make. Smell the moist odour of wood and earth.
With every breath you take, envision how the roots that grow from your feet reach deeper into earth and how they become thicker and stronger. Feel how the roots give you more and more stability and support.
Now, imagine how the roots begin to sprout stems. Feel how a few scions start growing around and up your feet. Picture how these stems develop green buds, and quickly move higher and higher, winding softly around your legs. Hear how the buds burst and the leaves emerge. Imagine how the leaves multiply and become bigger. Inhale the green aromas.
Feel the twigs grow even higher, grow around your hips, embrace your upper body, coil around your arms. Imagine how they finally develop into a majestic tree, how they grow up your neck and around your head and then spread out into the sky above you, holding you firmly but nicely in their middle. Picture the green shadowy roof which is forming above you. Sense how the twigs have become stable branches all around you, and how they attach to your body in a soothing, comforting way.
Now, focus on how the roots from your feet nurture the tree around you. Feel how these roots nurture your body as well. Enjoy the connection. Imagine that you have become a part of the tree around you. Feel how the roots from your feet channel water and energy from the ground into the tree and into your body. Feel how they also provide your mind with fresh motivation and courage, new ideas and new solutions. Think of how the leaves transform light and sun into oxygene and sugar, and imagine that you absorb the energy they generate through every pore of your skin. Let the fresh pure oxygene stream to every cell of your body and to freshen your brain. Now, search for remaining stress, tiredness, anger, sorrow and frustration inside of you. Send all these negative thoughts and emotions into the tree. Feel them evaporate from the surface of the leaves into thin air. Envision them flush down through the roots into the depths of the underground. Enjoy the feeling of being grounded and of being one with the tree for as long as you like.
When you are ready to go back to work, let your mind shrink the tree. Envision how the branches and twigs retreat back into the ground, and sense how the roots under your feet snap and release you. Take a deep breath, press your upper arms against your upper body once with all your strength, open our eyes and/or look at your feet, and then step out of the exercise.
2. The door to peace and quiet
To de-stress, let go and silence the inner voices
Estimated minimum time to complete: 10 min
For this exercise, it does not matter whether you are standing or sitting. But you should be comfortable to close your eyes during it.
Start with finding a comfortable and relaxed body posture. Place both of your feet flat on the ground, straighten your spine, bring your pelvis slightly to the front, and pull your shoulder blades softly down- and backwards. Lower your chin slightly towards your chest. Let your arms rest at your sides.
Begin with closing your eyes and taking a deep breath out. Then calmly and naturally breathe in and out through your nose a few times with mindfulness. Continue to calmly breathe throughout the exercise.
Now turn your attention to the voices in your head. Turn your attention to all thoughts which are on your mind and cause you stress or anxiety. Give space to all your worries, fears, problems, difficulties, conflicts, negative experiences, sorrows and inner self-critics. Imagine that you are suddenly standing in the middle of a wide room. Look around and see how all these thoughts, emotions and voices manifest as figures which slowly begin to fill the room. If you find it easy, imagine these imaginatory personas cluttering in small interacting groups of people. Think of them as beings of different age and gender who are dressed in different clothes and have different hairstyles. If it does not come easy to you, think of them just as some dimly shadows surrounding you.
You may be surprised that there is a real crowd gathering around you, and more continue to join. Acknowledge their presence and how loud and agitated their voices and gestures may be. Realise that the individual figures do not seem to notice you standing there between them. You are merely an observer who watches and keeps a distance. Let them talk, whisper, scream, shout, moan, sigh and mutter amongst themselves. Picture how the voices blend into one another and become no more than an ambient noise.
Imagine now how you turn your head to the right, and there, in the wall, is a door which you did not notice before. Envision how there is a clear empty path which leads through the crowd and across the room straight to this door.
In your imagination, now walk towards the door. Open it. Step through it. Close the door firmly behind you, and imagine how you are immediately enclosed by wonderful silence. It smells nice. It is a very pleasant temperature. You find yourself in the middle of a peaceful, relaxing stretch of nature. It can be a sandy beach, the shore of a lake, your own garden, a sun-lit forest or the top of a mountain range. Maybe you are even diving at a coral reef. The place of nature you are in after you step through the door is which ever place of nature real or imaginative is the most appealing to you. You are free to choose it to be your perfect scenary. Picture everything around you as lively and perfect as you can and do so with all your mind's senses. Smell the aromas in the air. What does the ground under your feet consist of? Do you see the sky? Stretch you body. Become aware of the sounds of nature around you. Sit, stand, lie down, run, jump, float. Do what is best for you while you are in this quiet and peaceful place of mind. Stay as long as you like and need to be. Enjoy the clarity and ease of mind you have regained. Let feelings of tenseness and stress wear off.
When you feel relaxed and calm again, open your eyes and return directly from this oasis in your mind into reality.
Return to this imaginatory place when ever you require to have another moment of peace of mind.
3. The internal fire
To recharge your batteries and reconnect with your source of inner strength
Estimated minimum time to complete: 5 min
This exercise gets you in touch with some of your deeper feelings and your inner self. You may feel almost overwhelmed by powerful positive emotion. If you want to make it work, try not to fight these feelings.
To carry out the exercise, sit or stand in a relaxed posture with your eyes closed. Take a deep breath and straighten your upper body: Pull your shoulders down and backwards and stretch your backbone and neck. Bend your hip bone slightly to the front. Put your feet flat onto the ground. Continue to naturally breathe in and out through your nose.
Now imagine that you are holding a burning candle in your hands. Picture it as clearly as you can manage. Envision the heat coming from it, how the flame flickers, how the wax smells and melts.
When you have formed a clear picture of this candle in your mind, focus on your navel region. Imagine how you take the candle, reach through your navel and place it inside your belly (yes, of course this is possible: It is your imagination and only you decide what is possible and what is not). Feel the warmth and light of the candle spread throughout your belly region. Imagine the flame getting bigger until it reaches your heart.
While it slowly fills your heart and body with warmth and light, let your thoughts wander to those who love you and whom you love. Think about what you love about them. Feel the strength of their love and appreciation for you. Look at yourself through their loving eyes. Remind yourself of all the positive things they have to say about you. Look at yourself with the love and appreciation you deserve.
Imagine and feel how their love for you and the love you have for them and for yourself and everything that is good in your life fuels the candle's flame. Let it grow into a blazing and cleansing fire that engulfs you from head to toe. Feel the fire and energy in every cell of your body. Imagine how the light and heat of the fire radiates from your inside to the outside and forms a shining powerful ball of energy all around you.
Then picture how all this huge positive energy contracts until it is all concentrated in one tiny spot behind your navel, approximately in the place where you have put the imaginatory lit candle before. Use this source of highly concentrated positive energy inside of you as needed. It can be a lasting source of energy for your work and your private life, and you now know how to replenish it when it runs out.
Rule No. 1: Nobody is perfect
Nobody is perfect. You are not and your clients are not. Your team members and colleagues are not. The boss and senior management are not. The receptionist is not, the secretary is not, and neither that guy in accounting who has not yet come back on a request. The busdriver on the way to work who closed the door on you is not perfect. The woman in the elevator who stepped on your foot this morning did probably not do so on purpose. Even your parents, siblings and kids are not perfect, and your partner has probably turned out to be human as well, after those first weeks of absolute bliss.
Fact is: Sometimes you make mistakes. Because you do not concentrate or because you do not know better. So do others. When you remind yourself that each of us makes an occasional error, it means that you can be forgiving. Shit sometimes happens. To you. To others. To all of us. So relax. Chill. Let it go. Stop judging. And now start concentrating on what you can contribute to correct what went wrong and to prevent it from happening again. You will feel good about it.
Rule No. 2: It is not the others who are to blame
Are you annoyed with someone? Irritated about something? Everybody in the office gets onto your nerves today? Is it one of these days when nothing seems to run smoothly? Before you lash out at your colleague, before you shout at your assistant or loose your temper in the meeting, before you send out the angry lines you drafted in reply to the stupid e-mail you received this morning: Stop. Breathe. Check again.
The bitter truth is: In a vast majority of cases, when everything bugs you and you are totally wound up, it is not the others, it is you. Your attitude. Your mindset. Your perception.
Of course, it is much easier to blame everybody else. It is much easier to ask others to change, than to change yourself.
When you feel tempted to sulk, curse, shout, sabotage or seek revenge, remember that if you act out on your emotions it does not alter anything. Remind yourself that, even it you are at the top of the pack, you lack the power to change others. You can change processes, procedures, perceptions. You cannot change people. With one exception, and that is yourself.
It takes courage to risk an honest look at yourself and to become aware of which triggers can set you off. It takes even more courage and a lot of effort to gain control over your hot buttons. It can seem a quick release to instead snap at your subordinates and to silently blame senior management. It is much better though, to be a model of emotional self-management. Someone who has the guts to reach out to others in a constructive and open manner, so that they will listen to what you have to say. They may be ready to cooperate with you and to perhaps find a solution to what rightfully bothers you.
Rule No. 3: It is a give and take
Beware of confusing ambition and competition, with ruthlessness. When you'd sell your own grandmother to get the next promotion and stop at nothing to close a deal, beware of the effect it has on those around you. If you mostly think of yourself and your career, if you act purely on what you need and what you could gain, it is very likely that at some point in your career, you find that you are a very lonesome figure and that nobody has your back. Nobody likes parasites, nobody likes to be used, and nobody likes to be taken advantage of. So remember to always look out for your colleagues as well. Ask yourself how your decision will impact their careers and their work situation, and whether there can be a better alternative. When you network, do not only connect with people who may be door openers for you, but also with those who need mentoring by you. Lend a helping hand or a piece of advise from time to time without expecting anything in return. Offer your assistance. Give praise. Ask if anybody else wants a coffee. Ask how their weekend was. Show genuine interest. Listen. Support. Scratch their backs. Many studies have shown that when we give to others, not only do we gain their trust, gratitude and respect.. We also feel genuinely happy.
Rule No. 4: Take full responsibility for yourself
You have a job, so probably you are an adult. This means that you can care for yourself. Actually, it means that it is your duty and must be your priority to take care of yourself. Clearly, unless you are still in your teenage years, it is not the responsibility of others to ensure your wellbeing. Again: You are in charge of yourself. Nobody else is. As an adult, you are responsible for your emotional welfare and health. You are responsible for the feelings you have and for handling them in a reliable way. The last time it was ok for you to throw a trantrum you were three years old.
You are also responsible for your physical well-being. It means that it is your job to ensure that you eat, drink, exercise, rest and sleep enough, to manage your stress levels, speak up for yourself when necessary and set boundaries to yourself and others. Take this job seriously. Do not complain if you do not. But also do not forget that being a self-reliant and responsible grown-up and acting like one includes knowing when to ask others to come to your aid.
Rule No. 5: Don't bitch about
Sometimes, all of us have to blow off some steam, and yes, a certain degree of superficial gossip is probably just part of all human social interaction.
But before you bluntly share how you feel about a client over lunch, complain about the idiot next door to senior management, or pass on the latest rumours in confidence, remind yourself that there are very fine lines not to cross. What you consider innocent chit-chat can easily turn into serious bullying or mobbing. Rumours more often than not are false and, upon being spread, may result in severe damage to the company and hurt those who are their subject. Your accusations about someone, if found baseless, may backfire. And those who like to bitch about others with you may very well be the ones who gabber about you in your abscence.
When we talk badly about others and tell about their weaknesses behind their back, it reflects on ourselves and showcases a lack of integrity. You do not want to be the victim of bad-mouthing and dishonesty yourself. So do not start intrigues and refrain from having a part in them. Make it your habit to talk about others positively. Else, stay quiet. And when you are faced with issues or conflicts, bring them out into the open and then solve what needs to be solved. Do so with those concerned in a fair manner.
Rule No. 6: Show some manners
It is the small things that make such a big difference. Brighten up our coexistence by showing some manners. Be a good example and advertise that you had a good upbringing. Ask nicely. Say thank you. Say it again. Say good morning when you come in and wish a good evening when you leave at night. Smile. Smile more often. Open a door. Ask if anybody minds. Restock paper when the printer has run out. Clean up after yourself in the cafeteria. Do not leave a mess. Always be polite and considerate.
Rule No. 7: Walk the talk
Be a role model and lead by example. Do so always and without exception. Keep your promises. Do not tolerate double standards. Do not accept when special rules are applied to the benefit of a select few. Do not claim unofficial privileges for yourself. If you want to be taken seriously, do not feast on cake and expect your staff and clients to eat bread crumbs. Treat everyone with the same degree of fundamental respect, regardless of whether they are a key client, the CEO, a team colleague, the office cleaning lady, or the homeless guy down at the street corner.
Rule No. 8: The universal golden one
In a nutshell, remember the universal golden rule: "Do onto others what you would have done onto you."
Or as the German philosopher Immanuel Kant put it: "Always act according to a maxim which can be adopted as a universal law."
Further, remember the old saying: "What comes around, goes around." Last not least, be reminded of the other one which goes: "Birds of a feather flock together." Hence, whenever you think you are surrounded by lots of jerks, there is a good chance that you are a full- or parttime jerk yourself. At which point it may be high time to reimplement the above rules. You may be in for a surprise.