Leaders: How to do 8 hours’ worth of work in 4 hours’ time.

The human mind is estimated to wander roughly half of our waking hours. Half! Mindfulness has been shown to stabilize our attention in the present moment. ~Rob Dube (author of do nothing: The most rewarding leadership challenge you’ll ever take)

I thought if I started with “how to do eight hours’ worth of work in four hours’ time” that might get your attention. As I continue to learn about neuroscience and how our brains function, I am more and more convinced that technology has turned us into a very “reactive” culture. This “reactive” way of life impacts both efficiency (what we do or don’t accomplish) and human interaction (relationships).

Technology doesn’t really request our attention; it demands our attention. Pings, dings, alerts, etc. are coming at us every second. In a quick Google search, I learned that on average, people use nine apps daily (TechCrunch) and 30 apps monthly (comScore). Nine apps, every day, clamoring for our attention. Is it any surprise that we now “react” to what’s vying for our attention?

Hence, why 13 percent of US workers reported engaging in mindfulness-enhancing practices. The practice that seems to be included on every list of “mindfulness practices” is do nothing for at least five minutes. Simply sit in silence, focus on your breathing, become comfortable with the silence and stillness. Your mind isn’t processing or thinking, it’s just observing your breath without judging it. When your mind wanders, just gently bring it back to focusing on your breath. That’s it, for five minutes.

Mindfulness can help your mind to wander far less; therefore, giving you more time to really focus, pay attention and thoughtfully respond instead of react to every ping, ding, and alert throughout the day.

But there’s more! My last post was entitled “Leaders don’t tolerate, they celebrate differences!” and it seems to have struck a chord with many readers. I believe that one of a number of things we can do to move from tolerating to celebrating is to be more mindful in our human interactions. When we are tolerating we are likely putting a “judgment” on our differences, consequently the inclination to tolerate. But if we withhold judgment, we would be more likely to celebrate differences.

In do nothing, Dube quotes William James, all the way back to Principles of Psychology published in 1890. James said, “The faculty of bringing back a wandering attention over and over again [what we now call mindfulness] is the very root of judgment, character, and will.” Dube also quotes a Harvard study with business leaders that reported: “the qualities of mindfulness opened up a space in the leaders’ minds helping them to become less reactive and more responsive, affecting other skills such as regulating their emotions, empathizing, focusing on the issues at hand, adapting to situations, and taking broader perspectives into account.”

Talk about killing two birds with one stone! Mindfulness can not only help us become more efficient with our time, it can also raise the bar on our human interactions (i.e., celebrate differences) by regulating our emotions, heightening our ability to empathize, and taking a broader perspective into consideration.

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that we struggle to find five minutes a day that could have an exponential return on investment. How will you become a more mindful leader this week?

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Leaders don’t tolerate, they celebrate differences!

It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.  ~Audre Lorde

Lately I’ve been thinking that it’s not the obvious differences that make getting along difficult; it’s the subtle differences that get under our skin, just simply annoy us, and probably make us a little judgmental. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they are accepting of people who are different, but then I see behavior that tells another story.

I’d suggest first that our definition of acceptance may really be tolerance. And second, that the understated differences in perspective and approach are what make us most irritated at the end of the day.

I was reminded of this in a conversation with my financial advisor. I was describing some of the work I’ve been doing in consulting and training and he said the most critical lesson he’d ever learned was that people really are different. While that sounds simplistic, it’s really quite insightful. In his case, for example, he recognizes that everyone has their own unique comfort level when it comes to their money. As he described to me, some people like to keep a sizeable amount of money in their money market account so they have quick and easy access to cash, if necessary. While others, are okay to leave a rather small amount in their money market so they can immediately funnel any excess into their investments (which are not as readily accessible). He doesn’t tell people what is the right way. Instead, he spends time learning their comfort level and then does his best to work with them within that framework. In other words, he recognizes, accepts and then celebrates his clients’ differences.

In organizations I see leaders who get frustrated when others aren’t sharing their perspective. For example, some leaders want to keep as many options open as possible and not be too confined by a narrow focus. However, their executive team may have a differing perspective and crave a specific focus so they can attack it. In other cases, I’ve seen the overall pace of leadership, or at least perceived pace, cause angst among teams. And I’ve had leaders say to me, “it would be a lot easier if everyone just thought the same way I do.”

Hillary Clinton said, “What we have to do…is to find a way to celebrate our diversity and debate our differences without fracturing our communities.” While she was speaking on a more global level, I think the sentiment of that statement can certainly apply to organizations, both large and small.

Do we celebrate our differences or do we tolerate our differences and let them fracture our organizations over time? Synonyms for tolerate are stand, bear, put up with, endure, and stomach. Not exactly a culture most of us would want to be part of on a daily basis. Whereas synonyms of celebrate are rejoice, party, have fun, and enjoy yourself. That certainly creates an image that would make nearly everyone excited about showing up to work on Monday morning.

As leaders, are we celebrating differences or tolerating differences, even the subtle ones?

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Do you have the heart for leadership?

Leaders know that difficult conversations are best accomplished with their head and their heart. They understand that if they aren’t “openhearted,” the conversation can have a life of its own, and often one that isn’t pleasant. ~Mary Jo Asmus

Mary Jo asks the question, “Have you ever heard ‘I’m going to have a head-to-head conversation’? Of course not, but this is what often happens in our organizations. Having a ‘heart-to-heart’ conversation is what’s most important when the topic is difficult. The words you will say aren’t enough (those come from your head); you need to also have an open heart.”

This idea of being openhearted reminded me of another word I heard someone use to describe tough situations – being tenderhearted. For me, tenderhearted takes it to an even greater level and consequently, degree of difficulty. Tenderhearted is defined by Webster’s as easily moved to love and compassion.

I’m sure I’ve lost a number of folks by now because I’ve taken this to a place of too much touchy-feely talk. Why do we think that when we walk through the doors of our workplace that we’ve somehow left our humanity outside on the street? Our humanity follows us everywhere, even into the walls of our office. And for those of us who tout practices like servant leadership or transformational leadership, we better take notice of what it means to be tenderhearted if we are going to actually practice what we preach.

Let me illustrate. I came across a situation where a leader was berated by a couple of employees in an email conversation that made its way back to the leader. [Don’t you love the way technology has become the number one tattle-tail in organizations today.] The person at fault here openly stated they made a mistake and can point to the exact moment when everything started to head south. She willingly agreed to talk with the leader, apologize, and try to make things right. The leader (as well as the leader’s supervisor) said she shouldn’t have to go through that and essentially refused to accept the apology or make an effort to reconcile the relationship. This offended leader only wants discipline for this employee who is sincerely trying to apologize.

I’m missing the tenderhearted piece in this picture. This is an organization that espouses servant leadership. Wouldn’t that mean not only seeking forgiveness but also accepting forgiveness when someone wants to apologize and try to make things right?

Chuck Swindoll describes this as having a “tender heart and a tough hide.” It could be that having a tough hide is a prerequisite to having a tender heart. And what a great, concise definition of a leader – a tender heart and a tough hide. Swindoll then asks the question: Are you tough and tender or do you become brittle and bitter? Are you a leader of both grace and grit?

Do you have the heart for leadership?

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Leadership Lessons from a Chicago Police Commander

The process of becoming a leader is, if not identical, certainly similar to the process of becoming a fully integrated human being.  ~Warren Bennis (a pioneer of the contemporary field of leadership studies)

On February 13, Chicago Police Commander, Paul Bauer, was shot and killed. As his life played out before us for the remainder of the week, I kept thinking about Warren Bennis’ statement that the process of becoming a leader is similar to the process of becoming a fully integrated human being. The stories I heard were a testament to Bauer being a fully integrated human being.

While he held the title of Commander, what I heard and saw, was a focus on the man, not the title. People gathered and supported the family, not so much for the title or position he held, but for the man – for the fully integrated human being – for a true leader.

Here are just a few quotes from the media about Bauer this past week.

  • Thousands attended the funeral at Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church, where the two-hour service and subsequent procession combined for one of most impressive — and stately — civic farewells in recent memory.
  • The city laid the fallen officer to rest with stories of his selflessness.
  • His dedication to his family and community has been well-documented in the days since his death. He walked his daughter to school each day, made sure wounded veterans had the best spots for viewing at the annual Air and Water Show, and declined to attend his own promotion ceremony because he disliked the spotlight.
  • A few days before his death, he purchased a snowblower so he could clear the sidewalks on his block.
  • “Those who served under him felt like they served alongside him.”
  • As the funeral procession took more than two hours to snake its way to Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in south suburban Alsip, Chicagoans — many of who hadn’t known Bauer’s name a week ago — lined the streets to honor him.
  • Community members remembered Bauer fondly, some getting to know him through his “Coffee with a Commander” meetings in his district. “He really seemed like a genuine, honest man, more than anything,” said Tucker Brookshire, a barista at Eva’s Cafe, where Bauer held those events. “I just think the fact that he would stay so long and talk to everybody.”

We don’t see enough public examples of true leadership, so I wanted to highlight Paul Bauer. Even in his death, he brought together political adversaries. He was, in the words of Warren Bennis, a fully integrated human being. I am grateful for his exemplary leadership.

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Leaders love well.

Great leaders genuinely care for and love the people they lead more than they love leading itself.  ~Rick Warren

Former CEO of Saab USA Joel Manby points out in his book Love Works that many organizations are great at measuring what he calls do goals—the success of the customer experience, employee satisfaction, safety results, brand strength, and financials. But very few measure what Manby calls be goals—those we set for how we want our leaders to treat each other and the members of their teams while they are working to accomplish the “do” goals.

In principle, the “be” goals measure how well a leader lives the core values and fits in with the culture. Manby believes that leaders should not only be measured on how well they achieve the “do” goals, but their performance on the “be” goals is also important. In fact, he believes that their compensation should be directly tied to how well they do on both; in order to even qualify to be a senior leader a person must excel at both.

To get the best measure of the “be” goals set for leaders, consider gathering anonymous 360-degree feedback from employees and peers, and getting feedback from seniors in person. Ask questions such as:

  • How well does Bob listen?
  • How willing is Bob to help others?
  • How important to Bob is the happiness and success of the people he leads?
  • How kind is Bob?
  • How compassionate is Bob?
  • How well does Bob live core value A (repeat for each value)?

In essence, we’re asking “How well does Bob love his team?” Of course, we’re not talking about some romantic feeling that people often confuse with love. We’re talking about acts of love—extending oneself for others’ benefit and treating them with kindness and compassion. This is what it takes to be the ultimate leader.

When leaders commit to measuring how well they love those around them, and how well the other leaders in the organization love those around them, they can dramatically improve the business outcomes for their organization.

Leadership and loving well, a not often thought of combination, but far more interdependent than many of us may be willing to admit. The week of Valentines may be a good time to consider be goals and think about how well you love your team.

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