Why Is It So Hard to Live Up To Our Values?

I’ve known communication experts with dysfunctional relationships, professional speakers who decline events because they are horrified to go on stage, and time management gurus who are late to meetings. I’ve met renowned thought-leaders who fabricate some of their work to get published, and personal change advisors who are terrified of change.

Why is it so hard to live our values? Why is it we can consume so much new information and knowledge and yet do nothing new in our daily life? We watch TED talks about how the mere presence of a smartphone on the table between us detracts from the quality of our conversation. Over 80% of us know this, and yet we do it anyway.

We read studies on the importance of grit and perseverance, and yet we are quitting our jobs and hopping to new opportunities at record levels because we feel we aren’t making an “impact” quickly enough to satisfy our ego.

We are constantly reminded that multitasking is a myth and only leads to decreased work quality, slower learning, and decreased attention spans, and yet we have numerous email and message alerts active on our computers and devices.

We know we can accelerate our learning when we try new things at work, and yet we go along with idiotic ideas, hide our opinions, and mask our true identities, because we are scared of being fired, or are desperate to fit in.

We know that the quality of our sleep is directly related to the quality of our health and well-being, and yet we take our smartphones to bed, and even check them in the middle of the night. And we know that the first five minutes when we walk in the front door can set the tone for the entire evening, and yet often our first reaction is dismay at the mountain of dirty dishes in the sink. That dismay is a mood killer.

Excellence requires work, impact takes time, leadership presence requires being present, and meaningful relationships need kind conversations.

Make it easier on yourself. The expression “activation energy” was coined 150 years ago by a chemist. The term refers to the minimum amount of energy required to stimulate an interaction between available reactants.

In other words, we should minimize the amount of energy it takes to get us in motion, and remove all the hurdles to taking action that we can. If we want to start jogging more, we should lay our gear and our shoes by the bed before we go to sleep. If we want to become better public speakers, we need to block off a doable amount of time — perhaps thirty minutes each day — to actively write and rehearse our material. And if we truly want opinions and new ideas at our meetings, we should make our meetings psychologically safe for honesty.

When we make it easy to begin something, we lower the amount of energy it takes to get started. And if it takes less energy to get started, we are more likely to do it. The slow, intentional approach to learning something new, overcoming fear, and leading with confidence requires guided mastery toward self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy is not self-esteem. Self-esteem is how good you feel about yourself. Self-efficacy is the strength of your belief in your own ability to complete the tasks you set out for yourself and reach your goals.

Make it easy on yourself. Start small.

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SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Routledge) just released. You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

A Small Shift to Ask More Powerful Questions

Typewriters with ribbons, developed in the 1950s, were excellent at speeding up typists, but not so good at erasing their mistakes. Bette Nesmith Graham was a typist by day, and a painter by night. She wondered, “What if I could cover up my typing mistakes the same way I cover up my painting mistakes?”

She mixed up a batch of quick-drying white paint, and used it to wipe out her typing mistakes. Almost immediately, she was handing it out to everyone in the typist pool. That product later became Liquid Paper, which she sold for almost $50 million.

In 1965, Dwayne Douglas, a football coach at the University of Florida, watched his players run and sweat and drink gallons of water for hours in the hot Florida sunshine. Squinting into the sun, he wondered, “Why aren’t the players peeing more after the games?” He asked a kidney researcher at the university that question, who then developed a drink to replenish electrolytes. The result became Gatorade, named after the Florida Gaters.

In 1943, while on vacation in New Mexico, Edwin Land took a family portrait with his camera. His daughter asked immediately, “You took the picture. Can I see it now?” Which led Land to ask himself the question, “What if you could somehow have a darkroom inside a camera?” The answer to that question became the Polaroid Camera.

When you think about it, everything starts with a question. I have been collaborating for the past year with Marilee Adams, Ph.D., author of Change Your Questions, Change Your Life. She has poignant stories of how simple questions, when reframed, can change the course of history.

Consider the subtle question shift, from “How do we get ourselves to water?” to “How do we get water to us?” That question shift is the difference between nomadic cultures moving themselves to reach water, to civilizations using technology to bring water to the people. Roman aqueducts, irrigation and indoor plumbing are the cornerstones of modern infrastructure, and all an answer to the question, “How do we bring the water to us?”.

“A paradigm shift occurs when a question is asked inside the current paradigm that can only be answered outside it.” – Marliee Adams, Ph.D.

Here is an idea from the work of Eric Vogt and this colleagues, start by reframing questions from Either/Or to What If.

questions

A powerful question will generate curiosity, stimulate reflection, invite possibility, and focus attention. A more powerful question will also stay with you much longer, and touch something deeper inside. Powerful questions such as, “What would you do if you were not afraid?” and “If you were dying, would you worry about this?” make us rethink our priorities, and give us courage and purpose.

In Germany there is often a professional called Director Grundsatzfragen, which translates to Director of Fundamental Questions. It’s their job to be asking questions that have the power to drive systemic innovation and change. To the most experienced, shaping better questions becomes a true art.

Einstein said much of his breakthrough thinking in Relativity came from wondering, “What would the universe look like if I were riding on the end of a light beam at the speed of light?” That might sound like a crazy question, but it’s also the kind of crazy question that brought about breakthrough thinking.

Start one small act at a time. Try our course Small Acts of Leadership to build action into your life every single day.

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

Last summer, our son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

A Mental Trick to Achieving Your Big Goals

success_kid

O, the places you will go! In this season of graduation and change, anything is possible.

We’re told from a very young age we can do anything we set our mind to. Olympic gold medal winner Seth Wescott once signed a poster for our son, and wrote on it, “Go big! Live your dreams.”

Sometimes our dreams are accomplished, and sometimes they go unfulfilled, for years and even decades. Remember the movie, Up, in which it took a lifetime to get to Angel Falls?

angelfallsWe have dreams and aspirations, whatever they may be. And that’s good. But the strange thing is, the more idealized our dreams are, the more unlikely and demotivating they become.

For example, those enrolled in a weight reduction class, who most earnestly envisioned fantastic weight loss, and a brand new body, had the least amount of weight loss six months, and one year later. And later regained most of what they lost.

In the study, researchers Gabriele Oettingen and Thomas Wadden asked the participants at the beginning of the study to finish hypothetical scenarios. For example,

You have just completed a year long weight loss program. Tonight you have made plans to go out with an old friend whom you haven’t seen in about a year. As you wait for your friend to arrive, you imagine ….

Those who fantasized about a transformed body, and significant weight loss, turned out to be the least likely to be successful after 17 weeks and 52 weeks. Oettingen found other examples of how grand fantasies sabotaged goals: College graduates who dreamed of excellent future jobs, had fewer offers, and submitted fewer applications, than those who had lesser aspirations.

Aspiration is good. Dreaming and fantasizing about future success gives direction to our energy, but not momentum. We need to add some intelligence to our motivational strategies. Here is a simple strategy Oettingen has found to work in many different goal settings.

How Does It Work?
First, identify a wish that is dear to you. Hold that in your mind. It should be a goal that is both challenging, yet possible to be self-fulfilled. In other words, it’s a dream that doesn’t require you to control external forces like the stock market or the weather. The goal here is to identify what is both challenging in your life, yet feasible.

Next, identify in your mind what is the best possible outcome of that specific goal. And here’s the reframing part: Instead of focusing on the end result, ask “What is it within me that stands in the way?” To put it another way, think of the obstacles that will occur along the path to accomplishing your goal, and what you can do specifically to counteract each obstacle.

The key here is to be specific about planning on doing specific actions when anticipated obstacles arrive. So tell yourself, “When obstacle X presents itself, I will do Y instead of what I usually do.”

What we are doing in this exercise is starting with the idealized future and then contrasting that with current reality. This is what Gabriele Oettingen calls Mental Contrasting. It’s the contrast between an envisioned goal, and the reality of how we currently confront obstacles that stand in our path to achieving these goals.

Why Does It Work?
The reason this technique of mental contrasting works is that our subconscious mind is lazy and prefers routine and habit. Left alone, we will likely fall into our familiar routines and ruts. By forcing ourselves to acknowledge realities and obstacles, and then visualize how we will deal with each roadblock, we create a mental plan of action for taking small, incremental steps toward our goals.

Another useful aspect of mental contrasting is that it helps us understand what to let go of. For example, our friend dreamed of owning a 42-foot school bus and completely renovating the interior to be a beautiful custom mobile home, complete with a kitchen, bedroom, storage, and more. He even purchased a bus, which then sat in his driveway for a few years tormenting him as a reminder of unfulfilled dreams.

But instead of languishing over an unfulfilled dream, he redefined the goal, and changed the path to achieve it. He sold the bus and bought a cool Mercedes utility van which he refurbished to travel in, and is now out smiling on the open road.

Dream big, and then hold that dream against the reality of how you deal with each obstacle along the way.

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SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Bibliomotion) will be out in October, 2016. You can pre-order a copy now.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

A Trick to Avoid Frustration and Stress

Someone in a big SUV, talking on the phone, oblivious to everyone around them, just cut you off. How do you feel? Just today, in a meeting, your boss contradicted you, again. How do you feel?

That imbecile over in product management just got the promotion you wanted. How about now? The plane has just landed, and already, the guy behind you is talking loudly on the phone while you taxi to the gate. Now, how do you feel?

The world is uncertain. People are irrational. Traffic happens. Cell phone batteries sometimes die.

Here’s an idea: when we get annoyed, frustrated, angry, and miserable over events and circumstances in our lives, we are also being unfair to ourselves. By berating ourselves, we are being unethical and unjust to ourselves. And when we make ourselves miserable, we make the people around us miserable. Instead, be kind to yourself, and find the kindness in others.

It wasn’t the traffic, it was our reaction to the traffic. It wasn’t losing that big contract that made us dejected. Our expectation made us feel dejected and miserable.

Albert Ellis is regarded as one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century. One of his signature ideas is called Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), which has been used to effectively to change the attitudes and behaviors of millions of people.

The promise of REBT is this: no matter how badly you sometimes think about yourself, and no matter how horrible others sometimes treat you, and no matter how awful our circumstances are…. we always have the power to change our feelings of hostility, despair, or stress. Always.

Dr. Ellis doesn’t go all zen meditative to the extent that he suggests you deny all of your feelings and emotions and view the world utterly impassively, like a robot. Not at all. REBT recognizes that caution, concern or suspicion, are normal emotions which are useful for making decisions. Yet allowing those emotions to turn into outright panic, dread or despair is not useful. It’s worse. It’s self-destructive.

Here’s a short version of how it works. First, imagine an unfortunate event occurring in your life. Let’s say, you break your leg badly and have to be in a wheelchair, and work through physical therapy for months. How do you think about this hypothetical circumstance?

Healthy concern or annoyance self-talk might sound like “Wow. What a bummer. I guess my weekly basketball game is on hold, but I can do many enjoyable and new things over the next few months.” Or “This sucks and is going to take some work, but I’ll have a little more time to work on my other projects.”

The difference is that little “but” inserted where we add the positives and hopeful outcomes. A healthy reaction acknowledges circumstances and adjusts to anticipate optimistic outcomes and choices.

Next, look for should, must, and ought, in our self-talk. When we think, “My boss must never speak to me that way!” or “I should get that promotion. I deserve it!”, we are extending our own wishes and preferences to the behavior of others. And we can’t control the behavior of others. We can only control how we react and feel in the face of circumstances.

Should, must, and ought are absolute and rigid values. As Dr. Ellis writes:

“When you insist, however, that you always must have or do something, you often think in this way: “Because I would very much like or prefer to have success, approval, or pleasure, I absolutely, under practically all conditions, must have it. And if I don’t get it, as I completely must, it’s awful, I can’t stand it, I am an inferior person for not arranging to get it, and the world is a horrible place for not giving me what I must have! I am sure that I’ll never get it, and therefore can’t be happy at all!”
– Albert Ellis, Ph.D., from How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable About Anything. Yes, Anything!

When we think in these rigid ways we become anxious and self-pitying. Try instead Dr. Ellis’ prescription of self-talk that goes like this: “I would very much like or prefer to have success, approval, or comfort, but I don’t have to have it. I won’t die without it. And I could be happy (though not as happy) without it.”

The kinds of thoughts that create anxiety are those that demand success or approval, such as “I must impress everyone at the meeting because I’m smart.” or “This deal will propel me to the top of my team, so I have to win it!”

The advice is this: turn should, must, ought to, and have to statements into preferences instead of demands. Accept what is going on (WIGO) around you without feeling the need to control people and circumstances.

One of Dr. Ellis’ most famous quotes is:

There are three musts that hold us back: I must do well. You must treat me well. And the world must be easy.

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SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Bibliomotion) will be out in October, 2016. You can pre-order a copy now.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

No, Time is Not Money

How would you answer these questions?

  • Would you prefer a less expensive apartment with a longer commute, or a more expensive apartment closer to work?
  • Would you buy a more expensive direct flight, or a less expensive flight with a layover?
  • Would you choose a job with a higher starting salary, which required more hours of your time?
  • Do you pay to park in the garage convenient to your destination, or park for free farther away?

These are a few of the questions Elizabeth Dunn and her colleagues at The University of British Columbia asked of participants to help understand how our priorities affect how happy we feel. In the study the authors found that those who prioritize time over money expressed a greater willingness to use their money to have more time, and often spend that time in more enjoyable activities.

The researchers enlisted a large sample of people (2303 students) to try to understand the how prioritizing time versus money affects our level of subjective well-being.

“Consistent with our hypothesis, participants who prioritized time reported higher subjective well-being compared to participants who prioritized money.”

Once the authors found that a large sample of university students who prioritize time over money were happier, they worried that sampling only college kids wasn’t a reasonable representation of the greater population. After all, college students don’t have to worry about money too much, right? It would make sense that they would care more about their time.

So next they enlisted over 1200 working American adults with wide social, ethnic, political, and financial diversity to replicate the study. Once again, they found a consistent correlation between valuing time over money, and an increased sense of well-being. Interestingly, those who valued time over money tended to also maximize their free time engaged in highly enjoyable activities such as socializing with friends, and exercising.

Toward the end of the research paper, the authors concede that these priorities likely change over time, as our life circumstances change, and more research needs to be done to understand whether time priorities become easier after financial obligations are met.

Here is one life hack Elizabeth Dunn offers that does work. Instead of our common behavior of “enjoy now, pay later” enabled by our credit banking system, Dunn suggests trying “pay now, consume later”. When you pre-pay for the lunch, the latte, or even the vacation, by the time you actually consume and experience it, it feels free and is more enjoyable.

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SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful elearning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Bibliomotion) will be out in October, 2016. You can pre-order a copy now.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

What’s Possible When We Are Not Afraid

“The thing I fear most is fear.”
– Michel de Montaigne, 1580

Corruption, muggings, police brutality, whooping cough, tornados, and pandemics all rank in the top 25 of American fears of the last year. Dig a little deeper down the list and avian flu, pesticides, identity theft, and flesh-eating disease show up.

Sometimes these fears emerge into full-blown panics such as the Y2K millennium bug, which turned out to be non-existent. In 2008 many people believed the Large Hadron Collider would initiate a black hole which would consume the planet. In fact, just two weeks before the Hadron Collider was scheduled to start up, an esteemed chemist from the University of Tubingen filed a lawsuit to block the Hadron Collider experiments on the grounds that the ensuing black hole would violate the right to life of European citizens and pose a threat to the rule of law.

Autonomous swarms of intelligent drones, self-replicating nanotechnology, GMOs, environmental collapse, and child-snatchers all populate the realm of our collective fears today. And why not? In many ways we live in the most unpredictable era in human history. Never before have we seen such acceleration of technology, population growth, and scale of environmental change. Currently the DHS terror threat level is yellow (elevated). It has never, ever, been green (low) or blue (guarded). It’s a good time to be afraid. Or is it?

Today we are born healthier, live longer, with less chronic illness, more wealth, and higher IQs, then ever before. We are living at a time when awareness of the evils of chemicals, additives and preservatives are heightened more than ever before. With our organic, local, artisanal, hand-picked, kale and spinach green smoothies, we are aggressively trying to lower the toxicity of our food supply. But it wasn’t always that way.

Starting in 1935, Dupont adopted the slogan “Better things for better living through chemistry.” This was the same period when kids chased “The Fog Truck” that spread DDT throughout the neighborhoods. This was the also same time when nuclear war, Russian invasion, and the “red tentacles of communism” topped our list of fears.

Almost every measure of personal victimization has gone down over the last 40 years. Child abuse, sexual abuse, robbery, larceny, even bullying, are all down by over 50% since 1970. As horrifying as the notion is, the odds of a child being abducted and murdered today are have fallen to 1.5 million to one. And as scared as we are for our teenagers today, their actual likelihood of pregnancy, drug use, and running away from home are all down over the last few decades. And no, the reason our kids are safer is not helicopter parenting and tiger moms.

Yes, children do get abducted. And when they do, everyone, everywhere, knows about it instantly. Our emotion is visceral, but the actual threat to us is minimal.

In 2005, when 9/11 was fresh in our minds, researchers from Lawrence Livermore Labs conducted comprehensive statistical analysis on global terrorism. Compared to our lifetime likelihood of car crashes, drowning in backyard pools, or even being struck by lightening (1 in 79,000), they found the risk posed to us personally by terrorism falls in a range that actuaries would call “de minimis” or too trivial to merit concern.

We are full of strange hypocrisies. Nobody lights up like Eastern Europe, where average annual cigarette consumption can exceed half a pack a day. Yet they will march in the streets indignantly banning GMOs. Yes, genetically modified organisms might be dangerous, but compared to smoking…?

I’m not suggesting that our common fears are unfounded or non-existent, only that they are often irrationally exaggerated. I am suggesting that we should kill some of our fears. I believe that when we find ourselves in a place of discomfort and rising panic, we are at a moment of greatest opportunity for learning and progress.

As I describe in my upcoming book Small Acts of Leadership, when people overcome their phobias they tend to become more confident, effective, and often go on to make more audacious, and personally affirming, decisions. For example, people who overcame their fear of snakes, went on to try new things like ballroom dancing, skydiving, and even experienced higher salaries and promotions at work.

Go ahead. Start small. Kill a fear today.

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Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 2.45.37 PMShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful elearning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Bibliomotion) will be out in October but you can pre-order a copy now.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

Do You Know When to Disobey?

What if your boss asks you to do something you think is wrong? What if there are practices your company engages in that are just ridiculous, or redundant? Or worse, what if there is an institutionalized process in your company that you think is flat-out unethical?

Maybe you work in a look-the-other-way culture, or a get-it-done-at-all-costs culture. What do you do?

According to a survey of 1600 managers in the UK, unethical behavior at work is common and widespread. In the survey, these managers reported the top ten questionable behaviors include:

  1. Taking shortcuts / accepting or encouraging shoddy work: 72%
  2. Lying to hide mistakes: 72%
  3. Badmouthing colleagues: 68%
  4. Blaming colleagues (when you don’t get your work done): 67%
  5. Slacking off when no one is watching: 64%
  6. Lying to hide colleagues’ mistakes: 63%
  7. Taking credit for colleagues’ work: 57%
  8. Calling in sick (when you’re not): 56%
  9. Lying about skills and experience: 54%
  10. Stealing low value items from the company: 52%

So, what do you do when your boss asks, or simply suggests, you do something inappropriate? Here’s is what people at some of the highest performing companies do: they disobey – intelligently, politely, and firmly.

Intelligent disobedience is a term that originated in the dog training world, and has migrated over to business culture. In Ira Chaloff’s new book Intelligent Disobedience, he describes what can go horribly wrong when people blindly follow orders, and inversely, how high-performing organizations create cultures in which individuals think for themselves.

Training guide dogs can take up to three years, and the really hard stuff comes at about 18 months when trainers introduce concept of intelligent disobedience. To teach a guide dog to cross the street safely with a handler is pretty straightforward.

First you teach the dog to stop at the down curb, which indicates to the handler that you are at the edge of the street. Then you teach the dog to respond to a “forward” command to lead the handler to the other side of the street. No problem.

But training guide dogs to “intelligently disobey” is tricky work. What if you want to teach the dog to willfully contradict the command, and not lead when a car is approaching? Trainers will ride in an approaching vehicle and use nerf bats or squirt guns to gently correct them. It takes time and patience, but eventually guide dogs learn to assess the situation, and decide for themselves if the path is clear and safe to cross the street.

Many guide dogs start the training process, and most don’t make it through to final graduation. One of the biggest reasons guide dogs washout during the training process is they follow every single command without question.

The opposite of courage is not cowardice, it is conformity. Even a dead fish can go with the flow.
– Jim Hightower

In business settings, it can be tough to contradict your boss. Often, managers reflexively don’t like dissent. They may view it as insubordination. As Chaloff points out in his book, “…if obeying is likely to produce more harm than good, disobeying is the right move, at least until we have further clarified the situation and the order.”

Kirk O. Hansen, professor of social ethics at Santa Clara University suggests starting with a non-confrontational approach that might point out the questionable ethics of the order, such as “Do we have a policy on that?” or “Under what circumstances would we normally destroy documents?”

According to Chaloff, if ultimately you can’t stop your boss from his intentions and actions, at least you can choose not to participate yourself. Chaloff suggests you don’t step off that curb with him into oncoming danger, accept any short-term consequences, and focus on long-term integrity and character.

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Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 2.45.37 PMShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful elearning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. He is also the author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes and his new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Bibliomotion, October 4, 2016).

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

Only You Can Own Your Own Engagement

“Seek small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens. And when it happens, it lasts.”
– John Wooden

I recently spent a half-day working with executives from a global technology company. Our goal was to develop ways to heighten the engagement and drive of their team members. The executives in the room were responsible for immense teams. The twenty or so executives assembled that day were responsible for the work and livelihood of thousands of people around the world.

To kick things off, we reviewed results from a recent company-wide engagement survey. The results were so-so. While the ratings were fairly high in response to the question about being proud to work for a famous and well-known brand, the results were poor regarding levels of personal engagement, and also low regarding a sense that the company leadership was open, accessible and communicative.

Many respondents claimed there was a lack of communication between the higher levels and the lower levels in the company. The survey revealed that many people in the company felt like they were left in the dark, out of the loop.

One of the participants in the survey commented anonymously, “Now what are the executives going to do about the lack of engagement around here?”

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

It Starts with Choice
There is a simple truth about people who become great leaders. They step up. It doesn’t start at the top. You can’t sit around and wait for the culture to change, or the engagement to start magically happening. You have to make it happen. It starts with you and your own personal attitudes and behaviors.

Yes, it is true that your manager often defines the personality of the company for you. You experience the company through the quality of your relationship with your boss. And it’s also true that the greatest attractor of outside talent is great managers.

But this doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility to be accountable, and to be as present as you can in your work. Each of us must accept responsibility for our own “engagement.” A manager only creates the circumstances and the opportunity for you to do your best work.

Make it Easy on Yourself
The expression “activation energy” was coined 150 years ago by a chemist. The terms refers to the minimal amount of energy required to stimulate an interaction between available reactants. Make things easy on yourself. If you want to start jogging more, lay our your gear and your shoes by the bedside before you go to sleep. That way, it will be right there staring at your in the morning. And if you’ve been wanting to become a better public speaker, block off time on your calendar that will alert you to focus on that activity for just thirty minutes.

When you make things easier to begin, you lower the amount of energy it takes to get started. And if it takes less energy to get started, you are more likely to do it.

“Turns out it’s not where, but what you think, that really matters.”
– Dave Matthews

Not Where, But What You Think
Hip workplaces and free cafeterias are cool, but ultimately it’s not where – but what – we think, and how we behave, that matters. I recently had an interview with Paul Hiltz, CEO of Springfield Medical Center. The staff of two different hospital systems came together and moved into a brand new five hundred million dollar state-of-the-art facility in Springfield, Ohio.

Thinking perhaps the new building was somehow inspirational to the staff, I asked him what role the new facility played in helping to bring about high levels of engagement and patient focus. He explained that the new hospital, equipment, and facilities were all very nice, and definitely increased their ability to effectively treat patients, but it was not a big player in the developing the collaboration and camaraderie of the staff.

In his opinion, the facilities are a nice-to-have advantage in their work, but the deep and meaningful team collaboration and heightened patient care came from conscientious work of the staff and leadership, it didn’t come from simply working in a fancy building.

When we point fingers at the management, or the CEO, or this crappy workplace, we are placing blame on people and circumstances. To begin a path to engagement, fulfillment and effectiveness, we have to own our own engagement.

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Shawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, and the author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive great results.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

Resiliency: How to Rise to Your Potential

“Some of my greatest pleasures have come from finding ways to overcome obstacles.”
– John Wooden

Considered one of the greatest speed skaters of all time, Dan Jansen was favored to win the gold medal in both the 500M and 1000M races at the 1988 Olympics. Just a week before the Olympics, Dan was on top of the skating world when he won the World Sprint Championships. He was fit and prepared.

As the Olympic race day grew closer, Dan’s sister Jane was getting sicker and sicker battling leukemia. In the early morning hours, the same day of the 500M race, Dan’s sister died in a hospital surrounded by loved ones. Dan was shocked and stunned as he deliberated whether to race. Believing his sister would want him to compete, he went to the track to warm up.

He later said in those moments while warming up he didn’t even feel like it was himself inside his skin. He felt he had forgotten how to skate. In the 500M race, Dan lost an edge and went down just after the first turn. A couple of days later in the 1000M, he again lost his feel for the ice, slipped and went down.

Four years later, in 1992 in Albertville, France, Dan was again on the ice ready to compete in the 500M and 1000M races. Just two weeks before the Olympics he had set a world record. He said he was super confident he would win, and at the starting line he felt completely calm, without anxiety or nerves. Of his Olympic opportunities up until then, this was Dan’s time to shine. He knew there was no other competitor who could beat him that day. In the 500M race, Dan took 4th place. In the 1000M race, Dan came in 26th.

Later, he couldn’t explain it. He didn’t fall. It was as if he was skating as someone else. He wasn’t nearly as fast as his recent times would predict him to be.

In 1994, the winter Olympics were held in Lillehammer, Norway. At his physical and training peak, this would likely be Dan’s last shot at an Olympic medal. Over the two years since the last Olympics, Dan had posted the five fastest times in history, and was the only speed skater ever to break 36 seconds in the 500M race.

In the 500M race Dan lost an edge on the final turn and slipped badly – not falling outright, but effectively losing the race. Now in his fourth Olympics without a medal, he was stunned and baffled, but not despondent. He later said he was confused, but he didn’t despair. In his failure, he was disappointed, but motivated. Instead of resignation, he felt inspired to succeed.

Dan said when the gun went off for the final race of his Olympic career, he felt “incredible.” He said that time slowed down, his efforts felt easy and instinctive. He felt as if he was in slow motion, with plenty of time to be hyper-aware of his surroundings. Glancing up at the split times on the clock during the race, he saw that he was skating faster than he had ever before, in fact faster than anyone had ever skated. And he still had more in the tank. He won that race, and set a world record doing it.

He said the first thought that went through his mind at that moment was, “I finally skated to my potential at the Olympics.” He had no idea yet if it was worth a medal or not. And he didn’t care. On his victory lap, he carried his daughter Jane, named after his sister.

That final race was the culmination of years of preparation, resolve and resiliency. Remember never to be defined by a moment. Each event, and each day, is but another opportunity to fall forward.

“Players with fight never lose a game, they just run out of time”
– John Wooden

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Shawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, and the author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive great results.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

Go ahead and ask. You can be more assertive than you think.

Recently our daughter Annie and I were at the store picking out a card to for her to send to a friend. In the card display was a big section dedicated to Taylor Swift. We examined each card – Taylor Swift looking dreamy, sassy, alluring, or even defiant. Taylor can certainly strike a pose. I asked Annie to pick one.

“I can’t decide,” she said. Then, “Wait, what about that one!”

It was the display poster, the marquee advertising the Taylor Swift section of the greeting cards. “Well, that’s not for sale sweetie. It’s just the banner. You know, the poster for all the Taylor Swift cards.”

Annie says, “Yeah. Can we get it?”

There was also a little sign saying the Taylor Swift card collection was being replaced in a few days. I shrugged, “Let’s ask.” I took the poster from the wall and Annie carried it to the checkout counter.

“I can’t find a price on this,” the clerk said.

I replied, “Yeah, well, it’s..ah…the display poster. But the sign says you are getting rid of the cards in a couple days. Can we have it?” The clerk frowned. “I need to talk to the manager.”

We waited and the manager arrived, looked at the poster, and said. “I’m sorry but we don’t own those banners. The card company does. We can’t give them away.” I turned and saw Annie’s face wrinkle in confusion. “But why not?” she asked.

For a second no one moved. Then the manager said, “Tell you what. If you give us your phone number, we’ll ask the card company and call you if they say you can have it.” I was pretty skeptical, but Annie’s face lit up and she carefully wrote down our phone number for the manager as I said it out loud.

We drove home and I forgot all about it. But Annie didn’t forget. Sure enough about ten days later, the drug store manager called and asked if we still wanted the poster. Within the hour, that Taylor Swift poster was hanging in our daughter’s bedroom.

When in doubt, ask.

People seen by others as getting assertiveness right, often mistakenly think they’ve gotten it wrong.

In a study by doctoral students at Columbia Business School, 57% of those who believed that they were appropriately assertive in their requests and negotiations, were actually seen by the other party as under-assertive, and under-demanding. In other words, more than half didn’t ask for enough.

On the other hand, those who believe that have been overly-assertive and overly-demanding in their requests and negotiations often fall victim to a belief that they have “crossed a line” and gone too far in their requests. The result is that they backpedal, try to smooth things over, and acquiesce to a lesser deal. In the end, both parties often accept a worse deal.

That’s a bummer, because in the study often those who were assertive and demanding were actually interpreted by the other party as being fair and appropriate.

According to the research, you should go for it and ask for a little more. And not back off or feel badly about what you ask for.

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Shawn Hunter is the Founder of Mindscaling and author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive great results.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com