The Powerful Practice of Gratitude

“Opportunities, relationships, even money flowed my way when I learned to be grateful, no matter what happened in my life.”
– Oprah Winfrey

The secret to greater happiness and success may be more attainable than you think.
Research reveals that taking a few minutes to list the things that make you feel grateful provides a powerful boost of well-being, energy and positive emotions.
This quick exercise also yields greater productivity, determination and optimism. Practicing gratitude fosters better relationships, social ties and career success. Grateful people sleep better, exercise more and have fewer symptoms of physical illness. They’re more likely to be perceived as prime candidates for promotion.
Each day of the week, write down five things for which you’re grateful. You can do this daily or once a week.

  • Day 1: I am grateful for …
  • Day 2: I am grateful for ? (etc.)
  • Day 3: I am grateful for? (etc.)

If success is as simple as this, why aren’t more people keeping a gratitude list?
Perhaps they think it’s a bit hokey – a project reserved for touchy-feely types. Yes, putting in the effort sounds a bit simplistic. But there’s clear evidence that even the most competitive, hard-driving executives benefit from doing so.
The science of happiness provides ample proof that certain practices and exercises improve one’s well-being and mood. When you feel good, you’re more likely to be enthusiastic, generous and supportive of others.
When gratitude becomes a habit, you no longer require a special event to make you happy. You become more aware of the good things that happen every day, and you start to anticipate putting them on your list.

The Case against Positivity

Some executives would assert that expressing positive emotions in the workplace denies the harsh realities of 21st-century business, which is too fast-paced and competitive to dwell on people’s feelings.
It’s true that dishonest or inauthentic positivity creates even more negativity. We have to be able to deliver bad news in ways that will be received and encourage the desired changes. For example, when you need to give negative feedback, you must speak honestly and respectfully, and still have an impact.
Multiple surveys tell us that feeling unappreciated is the No. 1 reason why most Americans leave their jobs. Such statistics have been underlining the need for positive reinforcements ever since the Gallup Organization began surveying millions of people in the workplace.
In fact, 65% of people surveyed said they received no recognition for good work in the previous year, note Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton in How Full Is Your Bucket? (2004).
What employees want most (along with competitive pay) is quality management, Gallup research tells us. When employees fail to feel acknowledged and disapprove of their managers, they leave or simply stop trying.

The Case for Positivity

Not surprisingly, we gravitate toward positive energy and away from negativity. Like animals and plants, humans are heliotropic (literal translation: moving toward the sun). When we’re kind to each other and express gratitude, we experience an energy surge that unlocks our inner resources.
We more accurately process positive information. We think about positive statements 20% longer than negative ones. We learn better, remember more and are more resourceful when we experience positive moods.
Several studies confirm that people live longer when they’re more appreciative. Gratitude and positivity stimulate the production of hormones that fight stress and fortify the immune system.
Although positive thinking is attractive to most, we also have a negative bias at play that must be counteracted.

The Case for Negativity

We humans have a strong survival instinct that draws on our ability to spot threats. We react quickly and intensely to warning signs. Negative headlines sell more newspapers, and people gravitate to TV shows that highlight negative behaviors.
We can pay more attention to criticisms than compliments. Negative events have a greater effect on our mood and behaviors. A healthy dose of negativity allows us to spot and avoid problems.
But too much focus on negativity saps our energy and compromises our ability to find necessary solutions.
Managers and leaders must therefore counteract the pull of negativity and the tendency to fixate on bad news. This means that as a leader, team member or friend, we need to seize opportunities to influence outcomes by emphasizing positivity and gratitude.
Ask yourself this important question: How can I help others (and myself) overcome negative events and move forward?

How to Be More Positive (and Successful)

Be willing to invest 5 minutes a day in making a gratitude list. It’s quick, unbelievably easy and provides immediate benefits.
You’ll need to sustain this practice to reap ongoing benefits. Like any habit, keeping a gratitude list takes some discipline at first. An ongoing commitment will allow it to become a natural, established practice in your life.
A word of caution: You may feel gratitude just by thinking about it, but it won’t last. Thinking isn’t doing. Daily or weekly practice – actually writing down five things for which you’re grateful – will deliver lasting results.
In closing I’ve included a list of three books referred to in this article. However, there are now a multitude of books published just in the last decade about gratitude and happiness which merit reading.

Gratitude Book Resources

Tal Ben-Shahar, Even Happier: a Gratitude Journal for Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, McGraw-Hill, 2009.
Kim Cameron, Practicing Positive Leadership: Tools and Techniques That Create Extraordinary Results, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013.
Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton, How Full Is Your Bucket? Gallup Press, 2004.

Set Big Hairy Audacious Goals

“Goals are one of the most misused and abused concepts in business and life today. Quite often, they’re set but not met, or set without providing realistic aims and/or equipment to achieve them. As a result, goal outcomes are often lowered until they are met or scrapped entirely in favor of new ones … and the fruitless goal cycle begins anew.”

Michael J. Burt and Colby B. Jubenville, PhD, Zebras & Cheetahs: Look Different and Stay Agile to Survive the Business Jungle (Wiley, 2013)

Setting a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) can seem exciting and energizing.
First proposed by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras in Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies (HarperBusiness, 2004), the term refers to a visionary goal that’s emotionally compelling.
A great BHAG drives us to realize achievements that exceed our expectations. It facilitates focus, concentration and the ability to ignore distractions. In simple terms, BHAGs help make our dreams come true.
But without proper exploration, planning and prioritizing, you may end up setting the wrong goal – one that can lead to disappointment, disillusionment, and a drain on energy and motivation. This type of failure makes it hard to start over again.
An effective BHAG motivates your mind (what you know you should do) and heart (what you care about most). It sufficiently challenges your abilities, without making tasks impossible.
Before setting a BHAG, examine your values, beliefs and purpose with a trusted accountability partner or coach. Once you determine what matters most (career, family, community), your goal – a natural extension of your values – will become clearer.
But goal setting is not for sissies. It requires sacrifices: time, money and energy. Are you willing to overlook distractions, guard your time and energy, and resist old habits and routines?

Make SMARTER Goals

“Personal success and organizational success are not entitlements; they have to be earned every day. Reaching the big goals, keeping our eye on our own Big Hairy Audacious Goals, is achieved through daily actions in the here and now.”

– Howard Behar, “It’s Not About the Coffee: Leadership Principles from a Life at Starbucks“(Portfolio Hardcover, 2007)

A great goal must be SMARTER:

S = Specific
M = Measurable
A = Attainable
R = Realistic
T = Time-framed
E = Evaluated
R = Reevaluated

1. Be “specific” when you write down a goal. Narrow your focus. For example, “getting fit” is an outcome – not a goal. “Exercise regularly” is not specific enough. Be precise: “Ride bike 40 minutes, four times a week (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday).” Start small; you can always expand goals as you progress.
2. Goals must include quantifiable measures. Track the minutes, days or times you engage in goal behavior. If you miss key targets, record what you did manage to complete. A formal log will track your efforts and help you make adjustments, especially on days when you lack energy or motivation.
3. Make sure your goal is attainable and realistic. If you know that 40 minutes on the bike will exhaust you or create stress because of time limitations, revise the goal to reflect what’s truly possible. If you enjoy yourself, you’re more likely to maintain the frequency required to meet your goal.
4. A goal must be time-framed, with a definable beginning and end.
5. Evaluate your goal to ensure it’s not too easy. If you achieve it too quickly, you may have set the bar too low. Try stretching your goal by 10-20 percent. Conversely, if you’re falling short on your goal, give yourself permission to reduce activities by 10 percent.
6. Reevaluate periodically. Regularly review your goal (and its alignment with your values) with your coach or accountability partner. If you’re not hitting your goals, work with your coach or partner to identify the reasons.

Online Goal-Tracking Programs

Numerous online tracking programs can help you achieve your goals; some are even free.
Here’s a list of the top 10:
1. Achieve Planner:
2. Declare-It:
3. Get Goaling:
4. GoalEnforcer:
5. GoalPro:
6. Goalscape:
7. GoalsOnTrack:
8. Lifetick:
9. MyGoalManager:
10. The Covey Community:

Are Your Goals Incomplete?

“Learning – from experts, workshops, training, practical experiments, therapy, coaches, observing and silence – is all good,” notes Starbucks’ Howard Behar. “It’s how we test and hone our values, our potential and our goals in the real world of life.”
Real learning occurs when you review your goal shortages with your coach or accountability partner. You can then revise your goals and work toward achieving them. The rewards you’ll enjoy are well worth the hard work, time and commitment required.

Mind Over Mood

Mind Over Mood: 3 Paths to Better Decisions

“Our decision-making capacities are not simply “wired in,” following some evolutionary design. Choosing wisely is a learned skill, which, like any other skill, can be improved with experience.”
Reid Hastie and Robyn M. Dawes,”Rational Choice in an Uncertain World: The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making” (SAGE Publications, 2009)
Psychologists, neuroscientists, economists and Buddhism scholars are shedding new light on how we make decisions:
We make the best choices when we acknowledge our emotions.
In Western civilization, we’re taught that the best decisions are based on logic and reason. Businesses favor data analysis – hard numbers – over any subjective input colored by emotions.
Most decisions, however, are heavily influenced by emotions, often without our awareness. The brain is prone to making errors and succumbing to biases, no matter how much data we may have. It doesn’t matter if we’re determining major corporate strategies or considering minor purchases. Without emotional influences, we’d be incapable of making any decisions.
Dr. Antonio Damasio, a neurologist at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute, confirmed this theory when working with “Elliot,” a brain-damaged patient who was unable to process emotions. While Elliot’s IQ and mental functioning remained intact, his inability to feel emotion rendered him incapable of making any decisions.

A Self-Awareness Formula

If you want to refine your decision-making skills, you must become more aware of your:

  1. Emotions and moods
  2. Physical state
  3. Social systems and group dynamics

1. Emotions and Moods
Avoid repressing your emotions, no matter how “right” or “wrong” they appear to be. Instead, become more aware of them – and learn to manage them so you can make smarter choices.
Studies of stock traders reveal that their level of success depends on two factors: self-awareness and the ability to identify emotional biases. Sentient traders make better investments. Studies of other professionals support this finding.
Even if you’re unaware of your underlying emotions, your decisions reflect their inherent influence. Increasing your emotional awareness helps you achieve greater balance and form more reasoned decisions.

Your Mood Thermostat

Think about the last time someone at work offered feedback on your mood. Did you make adjustments, moving toward a middle ground?
Emotional awareness functions as a mood-management system, granting full access to logic and feelings. Just as your home thermostat keeps temperatures within sensible limits, turning on your emotional thermostat allows you to monitor your internal climate.
Become more emotionally fluent by actively soliciting feedback. Ask yourself how you feel, and become mindful of your moods.

Mindful Meditation

Buddhist monks practice “mindfulness,” continuously noting – but not judging – their emotions. Studies show they have highly developed emotional thermostats. When confronted with negative emotions, they immediately note them and recalibrate their responses. They effectively balance their emotions when making decisions.
A 2011 Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging study revealed that even novice meditators enjoy an increase in the brain’s grey matter, which regulates emotions.
Learn to spot, label and understand your emotions by becoming more mindful (with or without meditation). Practice detaching from your feelings and observing them without judgment. You’ll eventually learn to separate biases and distortions from the decision-making process.
2. Physical State
“In a recent study of parole decisions in Israel, the key factor that determined whether or not a judge granted parole was not the gender of the prisoner, their ethnicity, or even the severity of their crime, but whether or not the judge had eaten recently. If a prisoner came before a judge whose blood sugar was low in advance of his ten o’clock mid-morning snack of a sandwich or a piece of fruit, it was terrible timing. At such times, the accused had hardly any chance of getting parole – pretty much 0 percent.”
Noreena Hertz,”Eyes Wide Open: How to Make Smart Decisions in a Confusing World” (HarperBusiness, 2013)
Your physical state has a profound impact on decision-making. A compromised state can drive you to be impulsive and impatient. Before making any decisions, take a physical inventory. Are you:

  • Functioning on adequate sleep?
  • Hungry or thirsty?
  • Stressed?
  • Experiencing fear?
  • Physically fatigued?

Conduct regular self-audits. Note how you feel before making a decision.
3. Social Systems and Group Dynamics
“If we are to make smarter decisions in our personal lives, we have to make sure that we are not unwittingly surrounding ourselves only with people like us.”
– Hertz
Group dynamics and social systems influence the quality of our decisions.
If your social network is limited, the information flow may be too narrow. Your perception of a “majority opinion” will be skewed by insufficient data.
Smarter decision-making requires exposure to diversity. If you want to develop new ideas and solve problems, break away from conventional thinking, and seek out alternative views.
Don’t dismiss contrarian attitudes. Conformity can be a major trap when you’re trying to make a sound decision.

Managing Your Decision Docket

“It’s always easy to look back at other people’s errors and say how foolish they were. It’s a much harder thing to be in the situation yourself and avoid the same mistakes.”
Zachary Shore,”Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions” (Bloomsbury USA, 2009)
Research shows we make around 10,000 decisions a day, most of them trivial and unconscious. Better decisions – the ones that really count – rely on awareness of our moods, emotions and social influences.
Take some time to assess the impact of your emotions, physical well-being and social influences on your decision-making process.

The Innovator’s Paradox

When’s the best time to implement change? Before you need to do so.
In a world of accelerating product and technology developments, the way you handle your job today is far different from when you first started out. Business in the 21st-century is continuously reinvented and innovated. If you resist change, thriving and surviving may prove elusive.
Companies that focus on innovation not only keep pace, but drive change. Think beyond adaptation; look toward making significant contributions that shape the future.
During the 2008-2009 financial crises, many organizations viewed innovation as a choice. Not so today. If you and your organization fail to innovate, you’re on the path to stagnation and obsolescence.
Today’s competitive advantages will not be tomorrow’s. Can you and your company identify fresh trends and walk away from outdated core competencies, when necessary? Are you actively preparing new products and services?
Organizations adapt only if their people do. This means that everyone – leaders, managers and staff – must acquire an innovation mindset to improve today’s job performance and prepare for future demands.
As former Intel CEO Andy Grove notes in “Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company” (Crown Business, 1996):

“It is at such times of fundamental change that the cliche ‘adapt or die’ takes on its true meaning.”

Too Little, Too Late

Unfortunately, many corporations don’t recognize the need to change until it’s too late. Prime examples include Kodak, Blockbuster and the U.S. Postal Service.
When times are good, you can do things differently, without great urgency or desire. When times are bad, you must urgently do things differently, even if you lack the necessary resources. It’s terribly hard to be creative when you’re in crisis.
Whenever start-ups clobber big companies, the writing was almost always on the wall. Everything looked fine – until the day it didn’t. Will your business be ready before that day comes?
Start by asking three question sets proposed by consultant Scott D. Anthony in The Little Black Book of Innovation: How It Works, How to Do It (Harvard Business Review Press, 2011):

  1. What do underlying trends suggest about possible future states? What would happen if some of these trends converged into a perfect storm?
  2. Where is there a small, but growing, trend? Anything that has doubled in size is a potential disruptor, regardless of its small size today.
  3. What can you learn from analogies and metaphors? What similar situations have companies faced in the past? What can you learn from others’ mistakes and history?

An innovative mindset requires a keen eye that can spot even the haziest signals – when there’s still time to develop and create solutions.
Helpful tip: Create a list of three signposts that suggest the need for a dramatic shift in strategy.

Innovation Is a Discipline

Over the last two decades, experts have researched and defined ways to develop innovative organizational solutions. They’ve learned that successful innovators follow a disciplined process that helps them discover opportunities to try something new. “Doing something differently with an impact” is how Scott Anthony defines it.
Innovation is not just about finding a new product or service. You must create solutions to customers’ problems – even the ones that aren’t yet clear or articulated.
Don’t view the innovation process as something mysterious, random or reserved for creative geniuses. Instead, break it down into four distinct phases:

  1. Discover opportunities.
  2. Organize ideas into plans or pilot projects.
  3. Assess, test and learn from ideas.
  4. Execute.

Each phase requires you to keep an open mind, learn from mistakes, test your ideas, revise when necessary, and have persistence and patience when awaiting results.

Enemies of Innovation

Innovation isn’t limited to R&D units, marketing departments or special committees. Everyone should adopt an innovation mindset because ideas can come from any corner of the organization.
Managers sometimes squelch good ideas before they have a chance to turn into new growth opportunities. A strong culture of winning and peer pressure also inhibits people from taking risks. Some managers inadvertently discourage innovation by focusing on numbers, short-term goals and compliance. Incentive programs tend to reward results instead of acknowledging innovative behaviors.
Work with your CEO, department heads and team leaders to avoid becoming trapped in the status quo – a big step toward freeing up creative thinking.

Phase 1: Innovation Starts with the Customer

To innovate, companies focus on their customers and end-users. They devote resources, teams and processes to find out intimate details about customer experiences.
Regrettably, this challenging phase is often glossed over. It isn’t productive to simply survey customers about their needs or wants. Most customers will provide only cursory answers to this question.
Focus groups are often ineffective if you want to discover customers’ frustration points. Participants couch their answers to conform to group dynamics or erroneously assume others are on the same page. First-hand observation of product usage works better when trying to come up with innovation opportunities.
To fully understand what goes on in customers’ minds, ask them what they’re trying to accomplish with your product or service. Management guru Peter Drucker has been known to explain it like this:

“The customer rarely buys what the company thinks it sells him. One reason for this is, of course, that nobody pays for a ‘product.’ What is paid for is satisfaction.”

Ask customers several successive questions to determine how they wish to use your product or service to achieve satisfaction:

  • “Why?”
  • “Why not?”
  • “What if… ?”

In this way your assumptions become clearer.
Helpful tip: To develop an innovative mindset, practice discovering opportunities:

  1. Identify your target customer.
  2. Identify problems the customer is struggling to solve today. For what job is he or she using your product or service?
  3. Discover any signals that suggest the customer is dissatisfied with the status quo.

Phase 2: From Idea to Plan

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
– Mike Tyson

Some recently published books on innovation suggest that a strong idea is a good starting point for finding growth opportunities. In truth, your first idea is usually wrong in some meaningful way. Use it, instead, to develop the next idea, until you find what works.
Moving from good idea to growth requires a robust blueprint or full schematic of what your ideas will ultimately yield. Research how other leaders have solved similar problems.
Your idea doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to be good enough to deliver better solutions. Your plan also has to be realistic.

  • How will you test the idea?
  • What resources will you need (partners, customers, time, money)?
  • What are possible revenues (short- and long-term)?
  • What are the possible threats and barriers (short- and long-term)?
  • What assumptions are you making?

Helpful tip: Look for innovation inspiration by searching online. A good place to start is the 20-minute video talks by experts at TED.

Phase 3: Assessing and Testing Ideas

Many people assume that coming up with a winning idea is key. Ideas are relatively easy; what’s hard is actually doing something with them.
You must be willing to accept failure and learn from mistakes. This requires resilience and persistence. Be alert to the signals of a disruptive solution, as opposed to a failure. How can you provide a simpler, more convenient or more affordable answer to your customers’ frustration points?
Tests are the best ways to learn about existing critical assumptions and to identify new ones. As valuable as research is, you’ll know whether your idea works only after actual implementation.
Thomas Edison’s famous quotation holds true: “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” If you’re not sweating, you’re not innovating.
Helpful tip from Scott Anthony:

“How can you quickly estimate an idea’s financial potential? Multiply population, penetration, price and purchase frequency to gain quick insight into an idea’s potential.”

Phase 4: Putting Plans to Work

After completing the testing, learning and revising phases, put your plans to work. Start with a pilot project to minimize resources and maximize potential.
You’ll need to manage resources to improve potential. Determine what you’ll do yourself and what you’ll delegate. Involve partners where feasible.
If the project is part of a larger organizational mandate, prepare a presentation on your results for involved executives. Your presentation style and contents will influence your project’s acceptance or rejection, so be meticulous. You may love your baby, but how will you convince others to adopt it? Seek help from presentation experts, if necessary, to ensure success.
The belief that a good idea will win the hearts (and money) of the consumer is false. An ideal product or service is tempered by people’s willingness to try new things, culture, habits and other events. The number of failed innovative products is testimony.
The most successful innovations balance what experts and consumers value (often two different perspectives). Remember: Success is never guaranteed, no matter how hard you push or market your innovation.

Acquiring Innovative Qualities

Business professors Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton Christensendecoded what they call “The Innovator’s DNA” in their book of the same name (Harvard Business Review Press, 2011).
Successful innovators master associational thinking. They make connections among seemingly unconnected inputs.
Here are four time-tested approaches for gathering stimuli and making connections:

  1. Questioning: An innovative mind makes a lot of “what if?” inquiries.
  2. Networking: Innovators interact with people from diverse backgrounds to access new perspectives.
  3. Observing: Innovators are always looking at the world with business radar to detect surprising solutions.
  4. Experimenting: Innovators try new things, in new places, to expose themselves to new experiences.

You can develop these qualities by working with a professional coach. The investment is well worth the reward: your ability to influence the future, your career and your personal-development capabilities.

The Quest For Better Teams

“Teamwork remains the one sustainable competitive advantage that has been largely untapped.”

– Patrick Lencioni, Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Jossey-Bass, 2005)
Corporations increasingly organize workforces into teams, a practice that gained popularity in the ’90s. By 2000, roughly half of all U.S. organizations used the team approach; today, virtually all do.
A recent survey found that 91 percent of high-level managers believe teams are the key to success. But the evidence doesn’t always support this assertion. Many teamwork-related problems actually inhibit performance and go undetected.
While leadership and management styles have been evolving from autocratic to more participatory, the blurring of hierarchies and sharing of responsibilities have created other performance problems.
There are several barriers to achieving great work from teams:

  • Some individuals are faster (or better) on key tasks.
  • Developing and maintaining teams can prove costly and time-consuming.
  • Some individuals do less work, relying on others to complete assigned tasks.

Team members aren’t always clear about roles and responsibilities, and members sometimes avoid debate and conflict in favor of consensus. Pressures to perform drive people toward safe solutions that are justifiable, rather than innovative.
Despite these potential pitfalls, effective teams benefit from combined talent and experience, more diverse resources and greater operating flexibility. Research in the last decade demonstrates the superiority of group decision-making over even the brightest individual’s singular contributions.
The exception to this rule occurs when a group lacks harmony or the ability to cooperate. Decision-making quality and speed then suffer.
Beyond perfunctory team-building training sessions, what’s needed for teams to perform optimally? How can they evolve into resourceful, high-performing units?

Defining Your Team

Consultants Jon R. Katzenbach and Douglas K. Smith provide a solid definition of “team” in The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization (HarperBusiness, 2006):
“A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and an approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”
Teams can be composed of 3 to 20+ members, but there’s often an ideal number: around 10-12, depending on the nature of the project. They can, and should, be diverse to benefit from multiple perspectives, skills and knowledge.
Management professors Vanessa Urch Druskat, PhD, and Steven B. Wolff, PhD, identify three conditions essential to group effectiveness in “Building the Emotional Intelligence of Groups” (Harvard Business Review, March 2001):
1. Trust among members
2. A sense of group identity
3. A sense of group efficacy
When working well, teams have definite advantages:

  • Improved information-sharing
  • Better decisions, products and services
  • Higher employee motivation and engagement

What separates the good from the mediocre? What makes a team great?
Building Your Team
When a team first forms, members should identify their common goals and purpose. They can formalize their mission in a meeting that identifies these basic organizational issues:

  1. Core purpose
  2. Core values
  3. Business definition
  4. Strategy
  5. Goals
  6. Roles and responsibilities

Team members must have a shared understanding of the business before they define their purpose. Without this foundation, group cohesiveness is more difficult to achieve.
Next, team members should list what they intend to achieve as a group. This goal should be qualitative rather than quantitative.

Thematic Goals

Lencioni advises team members to identify a ‘thematic goal’ that answers the following question:
“What is the single most important goal that we must achieve during this period if we are to consider ourselves successful?”
Examples of thematic goals include:

  • Improve customer satisfaction.
  • Control expenses.
  • Increase market awareness.
  • Launch a new product.
  • Strengthen the team.
  • Rebuild the infrastructure.
  • Grow market share.

Choosing a thematic goal doesn’t mean that other goals are ignored. A thematic goal ensures that every team member emphasizes a core priority, thereby creating team alignment, minimizing paralysis and frustration, and avoiding a collective silo mentality (i.e., hoarding information).

Putting the ‘TEAM’ in Teams

Effective teams excel in the following functional areas:
T = Trust (shared vulnerability and empathy)
E = Engagement (shared goals, commitment and debate)
A = Accountability (personal and peer-to-peer conversations)
M = Metrics (focus on the right measurements for the right results)


Nothing is more important to team success than a solid foundation of trust. Unfortunately, this can be hard to achieve. People are dedicated to self-preservation, often at others’ expense.
“When it comes to teams, trust is all about vulnerability,” Lencioni notes. “Team members who trust one another learn to be comfortable being open, even exposed, to one another around their failures, weaknesses, even fears.”
Trusting relationships form the foundation for forgiveness and acceptance. Authenticity depends on members’ willingness to admit weaknesses and mistakes. Trust cannot exist if team members are afraid to say:

  • “I could be wrong.”
  • “I messed up.”
  • “I’m not sure.”
  • “I need some help here.”
  • “I’m sorry.”

Team-building sessions are the glue that holds the group together when the going gets rough. Trust is established when one team member shows a willingness to be vulnerable and takes personal accountability.
Managers can also build trust by sharing personality assessments and profiles (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or DISC assessment). When team members learn how different personalities deal with tasks and relationships, they can be more understanding and accepting. Ask your coach, team leader or HR department to conduct one of the common assessments to shed insights into members’ personalities.


Think of engagement along a continuum. On one end there’s complete apathy, disengagement and perhaps even sabotage (the ultimate form of negativity). On the other end there’s total engagement (unbridled enthusiasm and passion).
Engagement requires team members to be open to debate and willing to discuss the issues and tasks that matter most. Members who succumb to apathy and disengagement often don’t feel safe enough to speak up. Lencioni cites this desire to avoid conflict as one of the most pervasive team dysfunctions. Others include:

  • Lack of trust
  • Lack of commitment
  • Avoidance of accountability
  • Inattention to results

When trust has been established, team members can safely argue about issues and decisions that are critical to success. They’re comfortable disagreeing with each other, challenging perspectives and questioning premises in an effort to find the best answers. They’re willing to consider all opinions and possibilities to arrive at sound decisions.
Active debate means team members can achieve a consensus (not necessarily unanimous) and commit to action steps.
“If team members are never pushing one another outside of their emotional comfort zones, then it is extremely likely that they’re not making the best decisions for the organization,” Lencioni notes.


Team members who commit to decisions and performance standards aren’t afraid to hold one another accountable. In fact, they invite suggestions that help each member stay on task. Peer-to-peer accountability conversations are essential to maintaining focus and monitoring progress.
Team members should agree on set phrases to remind each other of what matters most. They can help each other out by noticing distractions and steering efforts toward accomplishing thematic goals. Groups should be encouraged to ask key questions on a regular basis:

  • Will (this issue) or (task) help us reach our goals?
  • I notice ____ hasn’t been finished. What do you need to get it done?
  • What resources are missing here?

Effective team members are quick to spot problems and are willing to speak up without assigning blame. They cooperatively seek solutions.


Highly functional teams focus on group efforts and avoid seeking personal gains, fulfilling career aspirations and/or boosting individual egos. They use metrics to assess their achievements – be it a simple whiteboard or a sophisticated online tracking tool.
Success depends on monitoring progress and posting results for all members to see. Results should be updated regularly so any necessary adjustments can be made.
Teams should learn to provide positive feedback and recognition for progress – key motivators that renew energy and drive.

Identify Gaps

Assess your team by asking each member to answer two questions confidentially:

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10, how well are we working together as a team?
  2. On a scale of 1 to 10, how well do we need to be working together as a team?

Calculate for each area of functioning in the TEAM acronym and discuss the results. According to research involving several hundred teams in multinational corporations, the average team member believes his/her team operates at a 5.8 level of effectiveness, but recognizes the need to be at an 8.7.
Discuss and explore performance gaps. Ask team members for ways to improve trust, engagement, accountability and metrics. After making a list, choose one behavioral change that everyone can agree to prioritize.
Set up a team score card to track and recognize progress for each element of effectiveness in the TEAM. Make team-building a regular part of your meetings.

Leading through Inquiry: Do Ask, Don’t Tell

Good communication is a hallmark of healthy organizations, but it’s often founded on the belief that employees thrive when given clear directions. In today’s increasingly complex organizations, it’s not enough to tell people what to do.
Leaders who ask evocative questions instead of giving instructions set the stage for better communication, employee engagement and high performance.
After airplane crashes, chemical and nuclear accidents, oil spills, hospital errors and cruise-ship disasters, expert reviewers have frequently found that lower-ranking employees had information that could have prevented these events or lessened their consequences. Senior managers were guilty of ignoring their subordinates and being consistently resistant to hearing bad news.
Employees often worry about upsetting their bosses, so they settle for silence – a decision that exposes their organizations to risks with potentially irreversible outcomes. This dynamic plays out in government offices, hospitals and corporations with divisions in power and status, regardless of how democratic and “fair” they claim to be.
How can you create a climate that encourages people to speak up, especially when safety is on the line? How do you convince your staff to correct you when you’re about to make a mistake?

  • Learn to ask the right questions instead of telling your staff what to do.
  • Questions should be genuine, based on curiosity and without an agenda.

Effective leaders master the art of “humble inquiry,” says Edgar H. Schein, PhD, an MIT Sloan School of Management professor emeritus and consultant.
In his new book, Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013), Dr. Schein describes his title’s skill as “the art of drawing someone out, of asking questions to which you do not already know the answer, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.”
Unfortunately, asking questions runs counter to traditional business cultures that value achievement and performance over building relationships. Nonetheless, soliciting others’ input is a fundamental aspect of human relations for leaders who want to foster solid relationships, trust, communication and high performance.

What’s Wrong with Telling?

We live in a culture of telling, where conversations become opportunities to show how smart or funny we are. While we ask questions to show interest in another person, we just as often want to sway them to our viewpoint or get something from them.
When we tell, we put other people in a position of inferiority they come to resent. One-way communication implies that they don’t know what we’re telling them and that they should already know it. This approach provokes defensiveness. People stop listening to you so they can work on a snarky comeback.
In contrast, asking questions temporarily empowers your conversation partners, giving them an opportunity to share what they know. You deliberately put yourself in the inferior position: of wanting to know something about them. This technique opens the door to relationship-building.

The Fear Behind Asking Questions

Displaying vulnerability is truly terrifying for many leaders.
You have to make a choice:
A. Risk appearing fallible by asking questions.
B. Risk creating a culture where people wait to be told what to do.
Take the first step: Banish any obsolete beliefs about omnipotence, and focus on practicing humility, Dr. Schein emphasizes. Ask real questions. Embrace the reality that you depend on your subordinates. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with soliciting their feedback.

Defining Inquiry

Professional pollsters, researchers, therapists and executive coaches have dedicated years to refining their inquiry skills. The rest of us take it for granted that we know how to ask questions. We tend to mimic our role models – usually parents, teachers and bosses – who rely on superficial or social questions that are essentially disguised forms of telling:

  • Why weren’t you at home (in class, at the meeting)
  • How could you screw this up
  • When did I ever tell you to do this?
  • What were you thinking?

These seemingly open-ended questions are actually quite controlling. If you want someone to reveal the full story, avoid steering conversations in any given direction. Distinguish open inquiry (Dr. Schein’s “humble inquiry”) from the three other types of inquiry:

  • Diagnostic
  • Confrontational
  • Process-oriented

Open Inquiry

Open inquiry evolves from authentic interest in another person. We ask questions to encourage honesty and minimize preconceived biases. We have no real agenda, other than to discover what’s on the other person’s mind.

Diagnostic Inquiry

It’s easy to veer off the path of open inquiry by homing in on a particular detail. Doing so may steer the conversation in a different direction and inadvertently return control to you.
Determine why you’re doing this. Are you trying to get the job done, or are you inappropriately indulging your curiosity?

Confrontational Inquiry

Leaders sometimes insert their own ideas in the form of a leading or rhetorical question. By doing so, you’re tacitly giving advice and trying to influence your conversation partner’s answers. Your partner may experience this as manipulative and become resistant.

Process-Oriented Inquiry

Leaders practice process-oriented inquiry when their focus is the conversation itself. This may be helpful when a discussion starts badly. You can explore solutions by asking:

  • “What’s happening right now?”
  • “Are you feeling defensive?”
  • “Have I offended you in some way?”
  • “Are we OK?”

It takes discipline and practice to allow yourself to appear vulnerable. Consider working with an executive coach to break through any vulnerability barriers and perfect the art of humble inquiry.

Connecting through Social Media

If your company hasn’t jumped on the social media bandwagon yet, it’s probably missing opportunities to connect with customers in new ways.
Information technology is reshaping the company/consumer relationship, often bringing benefits to both. The misuse of technology, however, can erode customer care. In the work I do with organizations and corporate coaching, I’ve heard more than a few horror stories.
Despite living in an age where technology has made always-on data connections ubiquitous, we are more disconnected from the people we impact than at any other time in history. Even with the proliferation of social-media sites, we continue to miss opportunities for genuine dialogue.
Fortunately, many companies are changing this. They know their customers crave the ability to provide immediate input on specific products and services. Consumers prefer to buy products from businesses that know and care about customers’ needs. Managers and front-line employees must listen empathically to what consumers have to say. When managed properly, social-media sites allow open communication.
A 2011 study conducted by Parasole Restaurant Holdings and newBrandAnalytics found what consumers say online increases staff ownership of the employee/customer relationship.
Indeed, technology can actually enrich relationships between customers and employees. But it requires commitment from senior managers, who must:
1. Affirm their commitment to active, empathic involvement with customers
2. Understand the ways in which current procedures and systems mediate interactions with customers
3. Promote the deployment of social networks and other technologies to help customers tell their stories
4. Encourage and enable workers and managers to hear them
Only when employees can step into their customers’ shoes can companies add authenticity to the claim, “We care for you“.
Inside the Empathic Organization
Stanford Professor Dev Patnaik has created the term “Open Empathy Organizations” for those that encourage employees to focus on empathy as part of the company mission. Success requires employees at all levels to be genuinely interested in other people, and there must be multiple ways for them to interact.
Open Empathy Organizations also provide ways for employees to buy and use the company’s products and services. Netflix gives DVD players and free subscriptions to employees, who can learn firsthand how customers experience the company.
Similarly, gardening giant Smith & Hawken boasts a large garden at its company headquarters. Leaders encourage employees to plant and tend to crops, while familiarizing themselves with the company’s products. At such empathic companies, employees begin to understand how their work plays a positive role in their customers’ lives. Staffers become more attached to the results they see at work.
Employees perform at optimum levels when they know they make a difference. When they are encouraged to demonstrate care for customers, they become more engaged and energized.
In what ways could you create opportunities to demonstrate customer care in your work? If you don’t have contact with customers, then in what ways could you see yourself connecting with co-workers with enhanced empathy? I’d love to hear from you.

Are You Over-Led and Under-Managed?

“It has become popular to talk about us being over-managed and under-led. I believe we are now over-led and under-managed.” – Henry Mintzberg, Simply Managing: What Managers Do – and Can Do Better(Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013)
Much has been written about the difference between leaders and managers.
“Leaders are people who do the right thing,” note leadership experts Warren Bennis and Joan Goldsmith in Learning to Lead: A Workbook on Becoming a Leader (Basic Books, 2003). “Managers are people who do things right.”
As they further explain: “To manage means to bring about, to accomplish, to have charge of or responsibility for, to conduct. Leading is influencing, guiding in a direction, course, action, opinion. The distinction is crucial.”
While this distinction is correct, it has unintended negative effects. Some leaders now believe their job is about coming up with big ideas. They dismiss executing these ideas, engaging in conversation and planning the details as mere “management” work.
Worse still, many leaders cite this distinction as the reason why they’re entitled to avoid the hard work of learning about the people they lead, the processes their companies use and the customers they serve.

What Managers Actually Do

According to traditional management theorists, managers are supposed to plan, organize, coordinate and control. In truth, the pressures of reacting to urgent matters supplant most reflection and planning.
Managers respond to daily crises, take on too much work, operate with continuous interruptions and make instant decisions. They have no time to step back and consider bigger issues – a problem that often causes them to act with superficial, fragmented information.
In a classic November 2003 Harvard Business Review article, “Manager’s Job: Folklore and Fact,” Mintzberg outlines 10 daily management roles that fall within three broad categories:
1. Interpersonal Category (3 Roles)
a. Figurehead. You represent your group to your organization and the community at large.
b. Leader. You hire, train and motivate employees.
c. Liaison. You maintain contact with colleagues and stakeholders outside your immediate chain of command.
2. Informational Category (3 Roles)
a. Monitor. You leverage your personal network to scan the environment for vital information.
b. Disseminator. You feed information to subordinates who lack your access to critical data.
c. Spokesperson. You provide information on behalf of your unit to senior management and outside organizations.
3. Decisional Category (4 Roles)
a. Entrepreneur. You initiate projects to improve your unit’s processes or profits.
b. Disturbance Handler. You manage crises precipitated by employees, customers, suppliers, systems or accidents.
c. Resource Allocator. You decide who will get what, coordinate the impact of interrelated decisions and allocate managerial time.
d. Negotiator. You use strategic information to resolve grievances, establish contracts and promote shared decisions.
If you want to improve your managerial skills, take a good look at what actually happens each day:
How do you spend your time?
In which activities are you engaged?
Are you really operating in all 10 pivotal roles?
Where do you need help?

5 Effective Managerial Mindsets

Mintzberg further describes five critical managerial mindsets:
Managing oneself (reflective mindset). A reflective mindset allows you to be thoughtful, examine familiar experiences in a new light, and set the stage for developing innovative products and services.
Managing organizations (analytical mindset). An analytical mindset ensures that you make decisions based on in-depth data.
Managing context (worldly mindset). A worldly mindset helps you operate in diverse regions, with the cultural and social insights needed to serve varied customers.
Managing relationships (collaborative mindset). A collaborative mindset fosters relationship-building among the individuals and teams who produce your products and services. Instead of managing people, focus on managing your relationships with them.
Managing change (action mindset). An action mindset energizes you to create and expedite the best plans for achieving strategic goals.
Expecting managers to excel in all five managerial mindsets misses Mintzberg’s point. Managers are people, not superheroes. But when they’re at least somewhat familiar with each way of thinking, they can more easily recognize which skills are needed and appropriately switch mindsets.

The Care and Feeding of Managers

CEOs who wish to retain top managers need to see them as important resources and nurture them accordingly. Managers are the single greatest factor in retaining employees (Gallup Organization, State of the American Workplace, 2012).
CEOs should provide their managers with development opportunities and professional coaching. Companies that offer coaching enjoy marked performance improvements – not only from managers, but from those who report to them, as well.
Executive coaching grants managers time to practice introspection, which is necessary for ongoing learning. Job pressures frequently drive managers to take on too much work, encourage interruptions, respond quickly to every stimulus, seek the tangible and avoid the abstract, and make decisions in small increments. Effective managers consciously deal with these pressures.

Becoming a More Effective Manager

Conquer the challenges associated with managerial demands by developing introspection skills and insights:
Be aware of which roles you naturally prefer. Don’t ignore those that make you uncomfortable. Stretch beyond your usual limits.
Be sure to disseminate information to others so you can delegate more and help your people grow more self-sufficient.
Avoid the traps of superficial decision-making because of time pressures. Make use of other experts and analysts.
Schedule time for the tasks you believe are most important. Don’t let daily pressures crowd out time for reflection, innovation or other critical values.

The Right Management Mix

Stanford University Management Professor Robert I. Sutton notes in “True Leaders Are Also Managers,” an August 2010 Harvard Business Review blog post:
“I am not rejecting the distinction between leadership and management, but I am saying that the best leaders do something that might properly be called a mix of leadership and management. At a minimum, they lead in a way that constantly takes into account the importance of management.
“Meanwhile, the worst senior executives use the distinction between leadership and management as an excuse to avoid the details they really have to master to see the big picture and select the right strategies.”
As an adjunct to Bennis’ oft-quoted distinction between managers and leaders, Sutton proposes the following:
“To do the right thing, a leader needs to understand what it takes to do things right, and to make sure they actually get done.”
When we praise the value of leadership and begin to denigrate management’s role, we greatly risk failing to act on these experts’ obvious, yet powerful, messages.

5 Golden Rules of Leadership

I’ve been reading The Leadership Code: 5 Rules to Lead By, (Harvard Business Press, 2011) Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood and Kate Sweetman. I like this book for many reasons, but especially because the authors do a good job of synthesizing leadership theories into a concise framework. Having a framework of the five major leadership functions makes it easier to tackle the job of getting better at leading people effectively.
All leaders have to function well as a strategist (shape the future), an executor (get things done), a talent manager (bring out the best in people), and as a human capitol developer (prepare for the next generation). As a foundation for these roles, an effective leader must excel at their own personal proficiency (they must invest in their own learning and development in order to lead others well). Here is a summary of the authors’ ideas, put in the form of five “golden” rules:
Rule 1: Shape the future. As a strategist, you must answer the question “Where are we going?” for the people you lead. You not only envision the future, but help create it. You need to figure out where the organization must go to succeed, while pragmatically testing ideas against current resources and capabilities. Work with others to figure out how to move from the present to the desired future.
How informed are you about future trends, both inside and outside your field? How much time and attention do you allocate to future planning? How will you inspire your people with vision, purpose, mission and strategies?
Rule 2: Make things happen. As executors, leaders focus on the question, “How can we ensure we’ll reach our goals?” You must translate strategy into action. You’ll need to transform plans for change into measurable results by assigning accountability, knowing which decisions to manage and which to delegate, and ensuring that teams work together effectively.
This means keeping promises to multiple stakeholders. It also means ensuring that systems are in place for others to perform with the support and resources they need. Discipline is required. How can you help your people create their own high-performance results? Do you know when to step in or, conversely, step back?
I’m saving Rules 3-5 for my next post, but I’d love to hear from you about these two rules. Are you a person who focuses on the future, or who tries to become more forward-thinking? How adept are you at getting things done? Both areas are certainly important to being an effective leader and both can be improved by working with an executive coach.

Play to Your Strengths

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” – Civil-rights activist Harriet Tubman

Over the last decade, self-help, coaching and leadership professionals have been placing greater emphasis on positivity and personal strengths. The goal is to help clients work with what they have and build on their inherent talents.
Large corporations like Wells Fargo, Intel, Best Buy, Toyota and Yahoo now require employees to take surveys that measure talents and strengths. Their CEOs recognize that company success depends on leveraging what already works instead of trying to fix what’s broken.
This approach is logical: You cannot learn how to ensure safety at a nuclear power plant by studying Russia’s Chernobyl disaster. You’re better off reviewing what a successful cleanup entails.

Measuring Your Strengths

Regardless of your job or industry, you can’t always do what you love. Your job description will include responsibilities that challenge you or try your patience.
You can, however, play to your strengths and approach tasks in ways that bring your best work to light.
First, you’ll need to identify your top three strengths, as well as your three greatest weaknesses. Several excellent books can walk you through the self-assessment process:
1. Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton (Free Press, 2001)
2. StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath (Gallup Press, 2007)
3. Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to OutstandingPerformance by Marcus Buckingham (Free Press, 2007) also offers a free online strengths test:.
As the site notes: “It is hard for people to value and to know their strengths because they don’t see any value in doing an activity that is easy for them; they believe that everybody else can do it. When people realize that what they do easily is extremely hard and valuable for others, they normally will focus more deeply on improving their strengths, which ultimately affects their overall “performance”.

Gallup’s Research

“People have several times more potential for growth when they invest energy in developing their strengths instead of correcting their deficiencies.”~ Rath
The Gallup Organization identifies 34 distinct personal strengths after interviewing 1.7 million professionals over 40 years:
1. Achiever: constantly driven to accomplish tasks
2. Activator: sets things in motion
3. Adaptability: adept at accommodating changes in direction/plan
4. Analytical: requires data/proof to make sense of circumstances
5. Arranger: enjoys orchestrating many tasks/variables
6. Belief: strives to find ultimate meaning in everything he/she does
7. Command: embraces leadership positions without fearing confrontation
8. Communication: uses words to inspire action and education
9. Competition: thrives on comparison and competition
10. Connectedness: seeks to unite others through commonalities
11. Consistency: treats everyone the same to avoid unfair advantage
12. Context: reviews the past to make better decisions
13. Deliberative: proceeds with caution and a planned approach
14. Developer: sees others’ untapped potential
15. Discipline: makes sense of the world by imposing order
16. Empathy: in tune with others’ emotions
17. Focus: has a clear sense of direction
18. Futuristic: eyes the future to drive today’s success
19. Harmony: seeks to avoid conflict and achieve consensus
20. Ideation: sees underlying concepts that unite disparate ideas
21. Includer: instinctively works to include everyone
22. Individualization: draws upon individuals’ uniqueness to create successful teams
23. Input: constantly collects information/objects for future use
24. Intellection: enjoys thinking and thought-provoking conversation; can compress complex concepts into simplified models
25. Learner: constantly challenged; learns new skills/information to feel successful
26. Maximizer: takes people and projects from great to excellent
27. Positivity: injects levity into any situation
28. Relator: most comfortable with fewer, deeper relationships
29. Responsibility: always follows through on commitments
30. Restorative: thrives on solving difficult problems
31. Self-Assurance: stays true to beliefs; self-confident
32. Significance: wants others to see him/her as significant
33. Strategic: can see a clear direction in complex situations
34. Woo: can easily persuade

Four SIGNs of Strength

“Your strengths have an I-can’t-help-but quality to them. You can’t quite articulate why, but you find yourself drawn to certain activities repeatedly. Even though you may be just a little scared to do them, just a little nervous – ‘Maybe I’m not good enough, maybe I’ll fail’ – you nonetheless feel a pull toward them.”
– Buckingham, Go Put Your Strengths to Work
Buckingham identifies four key SIGNs of a strength:
o S = Success. You succeed at activities in which you’re strong.
o I = Instinct. You instinctively know how to accomplish a task.
o G = Growth. You grow each time you perform a strength.
o N = Need. You feel a need to be involved in an activity.
Clarify and confirm your strengths by examining the conditions that make an activity particularly engaging:
1. Does it matter why I’m doing this?
2. Does it matter for whom I do this?
3. Does it matter when I do this?
4. Does it matter what this activity entails?
Perhaps public speaking is one of your strengths – but only when it involves large groups, on a topic you know well, with the goal of closing a sale or entertaining your audience.
Once you clearly identify your strengths, you’ll be better equipped to design the work you love and set the stage for excellence. If, however, you’re struggling to pinpoint your strengths, work with an experienced coach to gain important insights.