What’s In Your Head?

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What’s in your head may be totally wrong.

The above statement may make you shrug your shoulders, as you think I’ve grasped something so obvious.

I had a conversation with a client today who relayed multiple stories of leaders who continued to rely on the faulty data roaming around in their heads. It was clear to him that much was missing and much could go wrong on multiple projects. As I’m sure you can imagine, big plans and tight deadlines were the drivers.

I asked him whether these leaders lived inside their own heads. I proceeded to explain why our own thought processes can deceive us. I pointed out that our thought processes have a tendency to be reliant on self and past accomplishments. You’ve experienced this before. A smart person who has been told how smart they are, with success to show for it, typically is not accepting of contrary opinion or advice. Who needs it when you’ve pretty much figured out the riddle of life and work.

People from all walks of life are interesting in how they apply thoughtful analysis, or critical thinking. My coaching client saw an example at work of how very smart people can fall into the trap of leaning on their own mental capabilities. Much of it is a pick and choose proposition. What if you were told by their doctor to come back annually for a test, you’d say of course they will make the appointment without missing a beat. Isn’t it ironic how you can rationalize not doing it. Recognize these sentences:

  • “I have to complete this project, and then I will…”
  • “I feel great and I’m not in any pain.”
  • “I don’t think it’s as serious as he told me it was.”

It really is arrogance-covert or overt. Arrogant people often have the biggest blind sides. Once again, relying only on information that fits what’s in their head. It took me years to turn around on this front.

The Trade

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As I progress through life, I am more aware of the trade-offs each day brings. When I look at my calendar, when I reflect on my thoughts or when I consider a business opportunity. Regardless of the situation, a trade is made in everything. Like you, I want to be pleased by what I trade. I apply this to today and tomorrow.

In my younger days I thought I was made of steel. I still feel really strong. I now pause and consider my choices more carefully. My margin for error has changed. I’ve found an interesting correlation between feeling like a man of steel and ignoring life’s trade offs; comfort.

Comfort is worshipped in many parts of the world. America is a leader in this type of worship. I’m not against comfort, I just see it as something to be careful with. Change never comes through comfort, no matter how much we delude ourselves.I even introduce discomfort for the purpose of keeping myself on a healthy razor’s edge. For example, I practice muscle confusion in my exercise plans. This is not revolutionary, but it helps my mind stay focused on growth and not on what feels “familiar.”

It’s a daily battle and it doesn’t happen naturally.

I highly recommend you give careful consideration to the trade-offs in the following areas of life:

  • Relationships-Is what you’re pursuing more important than your relationships?
  • Business and Career-Is the move into something bigger, more important than the space you operate in now?
  • Physical and Mental Wellbeing-Is trading the quality of your physical and mental wellbeing worth compromising, in the end?
  • Spirituality-Is your spirituality only a passing thought?
  • Learning-Is what you’re doing supported by something that will last, like learning?

Each of the above will require something from you, make sure you can live with the transaction.

Work and Employee Happiness

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Most organizations, these days, are speaking the language of happiness. For some entities it’s just talk, for others a striving everyday.

Employee happiness and engagement are connected. Maybe it’s obvious for you. I come from a view that says your company is not responsible for your happiness. Only you can own that. Whether it’s changing roles, transferring geographically or firing your boss with your feet, it still comes back to you.

Why are so many employees unhappy?

My answers:

Employees make choices that lead to unhappiness. On the whole, we live unbalanced and incongruent lives. The unbalance is found in our willingness to pour mind, body and soul into one area of life, while ignoring another. See the work versus family civil war, many are fighting right now. As someone who used to value my work over my family, it is a civil war. The incongruent part is the BS we tell the world. For example, “family is number one for me.” Nobody is perfect, but if you know you haven’t lived this out in over two years, you’re living incongruently. These are the recipes for unhappiness.

Employers foster unhappiness by the conditions their employees work under. Here’s the deal, if you are a CEO and you expect an employee to get excited about the stock price or last quarter’s earnings, you need a straight-jacket. Happiness and engagement happen when there is a great mission to achieve, something beautiful to create or a dangerous problem to solve. Without those, most will leave, or worse, die and stay.

Employees have defined happiness incorrectly. For me, happiness is fluid. It’s not a genie to be captured in a bottle. If you would have looked at my life yesterday, I would have been 90% happy and 10% unhappy. Those numbers don’t make me special, I just chose to be happy 90% of the day. I chose to be unhappy too. I think many are too fixated on happiness. Like life, happiness is not an arrival point. If we look at happiness as fluid, we’ll be better able to handle the stuff of life. Maybe we’ll find that moments of unhappiness are not the end of the world.

Employers are living in the past. Organizing your company like the industrial revolution happened last year is a disaster. Most employees live life in and around the 21st century. It frustrates the hell out of them when they’re treated like an assembly line worker or treated as if they’re a 4th grader.

In the end, every employer has an agenda. It may be a fit for you, or not. Either way happiness is your animal to wrestle with.

I Don’t Know

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It’s clear we like to know where we’re going. The idea of mystery, question marks and pure unknowns disturbs us.

The statement of “I don’t know” can be liberating.

Many won’t go there. We’ve been duped into believing that we have control, can master anything we set our minds to, or there is a solution for every problem. Terry Walling once wrote that the best leaders know how to live with the questions. As tough as that is to swallow and live, I agree, from my own experience. There’s something about moving forward without an answer. There’s something inspiring about moving forward without knowing (exactly) where you’re going. I’ve had so many twists and turns over the last ten years, I’ve come to a peace about the dance. It is life.

In America and other parts of the world, we’re trying to keep the status quo and be innovative at the same time. It doesn’t work. We want to find talent, but we don’t want to get too close to our gut instincts. We want to give advice on employee wellbeing, but don’t want change the structure. Many organizations turn to data and technology to replace what only a human can do. It’s almost like a throwing up the hands approach. When the robots take over, then I’ll bow down to the alter of data. It’s really just a mask anyway, for those who can’t look into your soul, or their own. Data and technology is mostly a spice or flavoring. The human is the main ingredient. Always has, always will be. 

Am I advocating dumping research into the cures for cancer or diabetes? Am I saying data won’t help the talent recruiter make better decisions? In no way do I believe that. However, anything used to make up for our intellectual laziness and discipline will only be a band-aid on a gunshot wound. I think we need more of doing what we know we need to do, instead of analyzing endless data/excuses.

Here’s how to start embracing your “I don’t know:”

  • Understand that being in a place where you don’t have an answer is not an indictment of your intelligence. Anyone who condemns you for your I don’t know is an insecure…you know the right words
  • Understand we live in the age of titles, certifications, etc., the truth is found in the pursuit and not an outcome with a label
  • I don’t know leads to knowing. It’s a sad irony how we miss the boat here. By the way, companies like Google are looking for this in the people they hire
  • A full and vibrant life is found in those able to embrace the unknown.
  • Surround yourself with people who are on a similar journey. It will keep you strong in a faux world

 

My Top Ten Finds in 2015

The following are my top ten finds in 2015, so far:

  1. Personality differences between entrepreneurs and employees –http://read.bi/1vOZdQ6
  2. The stability trap – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/stability-trap-carmen-medina
  3. Why telemedicine’s time has finally come – http://onforb.es/17EawVP
  4. World’s most romantic cities – http://www.foodandwine.com/slideshows/worlds-most-romantic-cities/25
  5. Building the chest through exercise – http://www.menshealth.com/fitness/anarchy-chest-workout
  6. Risks leading to reward – http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/243061
  7. Jazz vs. Symphony – http://on.bcg.com/1hi5LVj
  8. Will Uber make your job obsolete – http://cnn.it/1FumHQf
  9. Academic economics, strengths and weaknesses – http://bit.ly/1HOwfGS
  10. Lack of sleep and Alzheimer’s – http://bit.ly/1CVmdUh

 

The Organization Versus Your Health

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I admire the organizations that are structured around encouraging strong wellbeing for their people. It’s rare, but important in so many ways. Kinda makes sense that a growing organization would want employees who are sharp mentally, physically and spiritually. Only trouble is the rest of the sample size makes up the majority. They’re representative of organizations who may market themselves as a “best place” to work or a “healthy employer,” but the reality is far from it.

Call me the Upsetter of the apple cart. I’m not alone, you know?

One thing must be made clear; it is not the responsibility of the organization to make sure you have great wellbeing, that’s a you-responsibility. I certainly feel that many employees are bound and determined to kill themselves. The blame for the diabetes problem in the U.S. does not lie at the foot of H-P or BofA. Most of the blame is ours to accept.

Some time ago I observed the perfect storm of the organization versus the health of the employee. I was doing a project, unrelated to my work in wellbeing, I felt my senses and passion for the wellbeing of people come alive in the engagement. It would safe for me to write that as the organization was making great strides to move forward, financial results and such, the wellbeing of the employees was moving backwards. I can’t say if that reality kept the senior leaders up at night. One thing is for sure, as I look back, it should have.

So what are employees to do? They’re bombarded by messages telling them to save for a retirement that often seems like an impossibility, raise perfect kids that get scholarships to the best colleges, trust in an economy that never seems to be as good as reported, and the list goes on. I have a few ideas, not silver bullets, just some things to consider/try:

  • Make wellbeing a priority. This post could be a starting point for reference.
  • Don’t ignore your wounds. These are the emotional disappointments and failures you’ve never looked fully in the eye. Trouble always hangs around wounds not dealt with. Healing leads to breakthroughs.
  • Leave the organization that refuses to create conditions for good wellbeing. Make this decision with thought and care. Don’t wake up tomorrow and make an emotional jump. However, the problem must be dealt with.
  • Get a coach/advisor/wise-man/woman. This is not a time to go it alone.
  • Look at your bad habits and take responsibility. Like wounds, these need to be dealt with.

Health is undefeated in the game of life-good outcome or bad.

 

5 Questions with Lois Kelly and Carmen Medina, Authors of Rebels at Work

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I’ve been looking forward to this interview for some time. Lois and Carmen are two thought leaders I admire and respect a great deal. Rebels at Work: A Handbook for Leading Change from Within is a great read, and their insights here are powerful. Enjoy!

What or who inspired you to take on the challenge of helping rebels in the workplace?

Lois: A giant light bulb popped for me when I was at an innovation conference and heard Carmen talking about being a heretic within the CIA, and how hard it was to create change inside the “belly of the beast.” I realized that day that I had throughout my career I had either been helping clients create change inside their big organizations or had been shaking things up in my own organizations. I also realized that I had been winging it my entire career, and felt kind of sad about that.. What else might I have been able to do if someone had coached me on what it takes to move new ideas through the politics of any organization? Could I have enjoyed work more? Could I have been kinder and more empathetic? This melancholy motivated me to help others.

Carmen: Well, as Lois said when I retired from the CIA the first significant public speech I gave was about being a heretic at the CIA. I not only connected with Lois, but also with many other people trying to make innovation occur inside big organizations. We too often talk about entrepreneurs and startups, but as hard as that is, I think making change inside existing organizations is harder. Like living in your house while you’re doing a big remodel. When I was at CIA, I was always reflecting on what I was doing. A lot of those reflections evolved into better practices for Rebels at Work.

What keeps you up at night regarding this mission? Are there any storm clouds we should be looking out for?

Lois: how do we reach BOTH the rebels and the executives to whom rebels report? We can teach, mentor and inspire rebels. But for organizations to adapt and grow executives have to create an environment where new ideas are welcomed and they have to know how to coach their rebels. Maybe even more fundamentally, they have to want rebels on their teams, not just tolerate them. The storm cloud I see is that as changing market contexts upend business as usual, most people get scared. And when they get scared they double down and try to make what’s worked before keep on working, shunning the people with the new ideas. Related is that people stop raising new ideas because they know business is not good and they are afraid of losing their jobs.

Carmen: What keeps me up a lot is the worldwide conspiracy for the preservation of mediocrity. For the most part, it’s not an explicit conspiracy, although people who believe things like “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” are suggesting that we should just settle. All of us, at one time or another, are unwitting members of this conspiracy. I also worry a lot about how hard it is to get people to accept diversity of thinking. This is something I had to deal with during my career. And sometimes I worry it isn’t really improving.

In Chapter 8, you write about the importance of Rebel Self-Care. From a wellbeing perspective, can you expand on that?

Lois: We rebels tend to be passionate and that passion can morph into obsession. Obsession can eat you alive, causing all kinds of bad behavior and blinding us from being able to rationally see what’s what. Taking care of ourselves is the only way to not fall into an obsessive dark hole. It’s the only way to keep a positive perspective and sense of humor. When we lose those, we’re losing our ability to be effective. Maybe we’re just plain losing ourselves. The more committed we are about excelling at our work, the more we need to look after our mental, spiritual and physical well-being. That’s our fuel and our safety net. It’s also what gives meaning to our life and work. (And meaning is a much more satisfying outcome than money or status.)

Carmen: I flunked Rebel Self-Care in my career, so I’m excited that we discuss this in the book and that so many people respond so positively to the message. I lost some of my best friends at the Agency during my time there because I didn’t pay attention to my emotions, that I was approaching a breaking point. All rebels need to avoid that breaking point. When we become cynical and negative, it takes a lot of effort to recover. And sometimes we never do.

Can the strategies found in the book apply to multiple areas of a rebel’s life?

Lois: Ha! Anyone who has teenagers knows what it’s like to be the “boss” of rebels. You love their fresh thinking, their creativity, their intolerance for school and societal rules that just don’t make sense. And yet they make you crazy when they break the rules, do stupid things without understanding the bigger context, and let their emotions run wild. When we coach our teenagers and help them learn how to navigate, they develop capacities for being effective, meaningful citizens of the world. If we simply insist they follow the rules, they just get angrier and more frustrated. Same with rebels and their bosses. As for rebels, the strategies in the book apply to many areas of our lives where we’re trying to get groups of people or organizations to consider new and better approaches than what exists. Parent-Teacher Organizations, church councils, school committees, condo associations, boards of non-profits. It’s about people influencing people.

Carmen: I use my “lizard brain” mantra to control my emotions ALL THE TIME. It really works. One recommendation we make is for rebels to not dominate conversations. In everything we do, we need to listen more.

When you think back on your career, can you recall a manager who once looked negatively at rebels, and then changed their mind? What brought the change on?

Lois: As a lifelong rebel, I pissed off more than a couple of my bosses and most of them came around because of two reasons, and sometimes a third. They realized how much I cared for the organization and wanted all of us to succeed. Second, they often couldn’t believe how many risks I took to make new ideas work. I didn’t just have skin in the game, I had a whole body commitment. From my observations, no manager needs to give rebels the “you have to be accountable” talk. Because I spent my career working for ad agencies and consulting firms, the third thing that turned my bosses into believers was revenue. When my ideas produced new revenue, there was only happiness and support.

Carmen: It’s always surprised me how well I get along with gruff, no-nonsense people. I think I had a couple of managers in my career who first thought I was nuts and then came to believe in what I was doing. This is going to sound arrogant, perhaps, but I think what changed their mind was that they began to appreciate that I had been right all along. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been wrong many, many times. But in the late 1990s, I appreciated what the internet was going to do to “knowledge work” sooner than many people in my organization. I had so many arguments with people about applications such as Wikipedia and Social Media. Years later, some of them now ask me how I saw it coming. Well, I can’t explain that at all. Really, I don’t understand why they didn’t see it.

 

Carmen

 

 

 

 

 

Carmen Medina 

Carmen spent 32 years as a heretic at the Central Intelligence Agency. Despite this, she held several senior positions at the Agency, including serving on the executive team that led the CIA’s analytic directorate. She thinks most organizations don’t have a good way of determining when it’s time to transform and/or “sell” their current business model. Heretics, mavericks, and rebels at work can provide organizations with the important early warning system they so desperately need.

Since retiring from CIA in 2010, Carmen has continued to write and speak about Rebels at Work, analysis and strategic warning, the emergence of new global norms in the 21st century, the future culture of work, and cognitive diversity. She is Puerto Rican by birth and Texan by nationality.  She tweets under @milouness and @RebelsatWork

 

 Lois

Lois Kelly

Lois Kelly has been a creative rebel throughout her career, helping some of the most respected companies in the world create new ways to launch products, communicate complicated issues, influence public opinion, deal with crises, go public, adopt innovative business practices, and occasionally try to move mountains.

During this journey, Lois has become a student of change, learning what it takes to get people to embrace new ideas. Her obsession is creating clarity from complexity. Her most meaningful work is leading workshops where people create the future they want for their organizations and companies.

Lois lives in Rhode Island, the smallest and most creative state in the United States, and tweets under @LoisKelly and @RebelsatWork.

 

Dehumanizing the Employee

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In my last post, I rang the bell about the gap between human development and the advancements of technology. The disharmony is evident to many. Within the large and mid-market organizations, there is another disturbing trend afoot. We are witnessing the dehumanization of the employee.

Dehumanizing the employee occurs as many employers are looking to advance efficiency and innovation. It’s a false belief that those twins can move human development the way technology does with automation or research.

One area worth looking at is the process many organizations use to hire talent. Keep in mind that the talent is made up of flesh and blood. I realize this can also be a source of real frustration for those in talent recruitment. Technology has convinced many senior leaders that vast problems are solved in the hands of inventive software.

The idea of using screening software has a place. However, it’s proven, the folly of hiring based on keywords. The old saying, “we hired your resume, but what we got was you” is on mark here. More critical thinking in this spot is what we need. Seems like that would remedy the incongruent state of the talent recruitment processes.

So the dehumanizing continues. What do we do now that the horses are out of the gate?

  • Put on your big boy pants or big girl skirt, and be a leader with integrity and vigor
  • Change the culture. This is not for the faint of heart, but if you do the first bullet it will increase the odds in your favor
  • Stop listening to the marketing
  • Trust only those who’ve been hurt deeply. They will be honest and real
  • Close it down, quit, move on, if that’s what it takes. Better to live to fight another, than die while still breathing