Leadership Unplugged: Finding Solutions and Inspiration for Change Initiatives

A few years ago I put myself through a 360-degree feedback process in which I requested developmental input from peers, clients, staff, friends and family.  The strongest “needs improvement” area that emerged was “Work-Life Balance.”  Written-in comments indicated that people were not concerned that I neglected family or friends – but rather that I did not make time for myself – for reflection and rejuvenation.

That feedback really stunned me, especially because it was consistent across all respondents, including clients with whom I do not typically share too much about my personal life or habits.  I took it to heart, and engaged in a lot of soul-searching, resulting in changes to my personal and professional routines.  One of the most important changes was to schedule downtime – no devices, no distractions, no companions – and to step outside my normal environment to take a walk in nature (that is, if we weren’t in the midst of a polar vortex!).

I share this because it was during one of those scheduled downtimes that “CQ” was born.  As I was walking, I heard this phrase bubble up into my conscious mind: “you know your IQ, you’ve probably heard of EQ, but what’s your CQ?  Isn’t that what’s missing from our leadership toolkit that’s causing the high rate of failed change:  the lack of CQ, or Change Intelligence?!”

The rest, as they say, is history.

After inspiration, it’s just a matter of implementation!  (Well that, along with a couple of years of hard work and support from partners like everyone reading this newsletter, of course!)

We all “know” intellectually about the importance of solitary time-outs, but how many of us really hold them as “sacred space” not to be scheduled over when the inevitable urgent crisis of the moment arises?

These “Aha moments” – from the apple falling on Newton’s head while resting under a tree to a major breakthrough in the design for the Hubble Telescope that originated while the engineer was taking a shower – so  often occur while we are taking a “creative pause.”

Note that I didn’t go on my walk at fateful day when I conceived of CQ thinking to myself, “I’m going to invent a ground-breaking innovation right now while strolling around the lake” or anything to that effect.  The point is to deliberately disconnect even from one’s own “intentions” – to intentionally set aside the challenges and problems of the day and simply to let the mind wonder where it will.

As a psychologist (and a human!) I know this can be intimidating.  A mind left to wonder often travels to scary places – where worry and fears run rampant.  Perhaps that’s why we seem to crave constant external stimulation and fill every waking minute with activity, whether or not it’s productive, meaningful or fulfilling.  I fall prey to these dysfunctional dynamics just like everyone else.  I have to remind myself that I’m a human being not a human doing, and that sometimes the fastest way to “get there” (achieve my goals) is to just “be here” (now, in the present moment, in the calm and creative white space).

Paradoxically, it’s often in the white space of creative pauses that we achieve significant breakthroughs.  New possibilities present themselves for vexing problems.  We see opportunities where before we perceived only roadblocks.  I invite you to ask yourself where in your current change initiatives do you feel like you are “pushing the string,” frustrated that no matter what you try, you’re not getting traction.  Consider that perhaps by stepping back, stepping aside, and giving the problem and yourself some space, you might arrive at an insight to help you move forward.

The fact that you are reading this blog post and have derived value from the CQ System is living proof of the transformative impact of intentional disengagement! Don’t forget to give yourself the gift of a mental holiday.  Yours could be a walk in nature, a quiet drive, a longer shower, a mindful meditation, or simply staring out the window.  Reflect upon whether carving out space in your schedule to check-out might be a winning way for you too to perhaps counter-intuitively power-down to speed-up realization of professional and personal goals and dreams.  Not to mention a feel-good experience for your body and spirit – and a way to rekindle your passion.  It worked for me!

Feel free to drop me a line and let me know of any insights or “ahas” that emerge around your change projects as a result of unplugging and taking time away.

Ready to create powerful and lasting results for your team or organization? Discover your Change Intelligence here. 

When Change is Out of Your Control: What You Can Do

Have you ever experienced the shocking blow of an unforeseen major change in your organization? Three of my clients in the middle-management ranks of their companies are currently facing changes that were sudden, unexpected, and from their perspectives, out of their control:

  • An IT organization notified of the decision to outsource several major functions
  • A manufacturing division suffering the disappointment of a canceled major expansion
  • An insurance firm undergoing reorganization that will entail relocating a significant number of personnel to a different region of the U.S.

What can a leader to when change is “forced” upon his or her team? One of my favorite models to use in situations like these is called the “Spheres of Influence” from leadership guru Stephen Covey:

The Spheres of Influence is a powerful coaching tool for ourselves as leaders as well as a potent exercise for our teams during times of unwanted and involuntary change.

To use the tool, ask yourself and/or your team:

What can we control?  Regardless of your industry, your title or your specific circumstances, the answer to this is consistent. Typically, the answer is only ourselves – our individual behaviors and attitudes.  However, this is not nothing.  As the saying goes, “your attitude determines your altitude.”  Moreover, in times of change, leaders “walking the talk” speaks volumes, and role models for others.

What can we influence?  Although we cannot control the behaviors and attitudes of others, we can influence them.  In my 25+ years of coaching leaders at all levels, there has never been an instance where I did not observe that an individual’s circle of influence was greater than they initially perceived.  That’s the essence of Change Intelligence:  cultivating awareness of our own behaviors so we can more effectively adapt to influence others.  Often, an even small shift in our mindset or our approach will enable us to have a far greater impact than we had achieved in the past.  For example, by sharing neuroscience research that shows that giving people some sense of “certainty” during a change process – such as by informing people of a date by which a significant announcement will be made, even if the details are unknown – an IT Project Manager was able to convince her Director and peers to begin the communication process much earlier than they had planned.  A month after the announcement the director told the PM that the senior team was pleased with the decision to increase the communication cadence, since they perceived the tactic led to significantly less disruption than with previous reorganizations, giving people the degree of comfort they needed to continue focusing on day-to-day priorities even in the midst of significant uncertainty about their long-term roles.

What can’t we influence at this time?  Of course, this is often the easiest question to answer.  We may not be able to control the final decision to outsource, not expand, or downsize.  However, by answering these three questions – and then by reversing the order, and challenging yourself and your team to consider whether all the factors that seem “out of our control at this time” actually are,unseen possibilities often appear.  For example, the IT PM in the example above wasn’t able to control the ultimate direction of the senior team, but she was able to control – or significantly impact – the process by which the change was rolled-out in the organization.

Although the strategies I’ve shared thus far are very helpful in times of involuntary change, they are all reactive moves.  What can we as leaders do to proactively prepare ourselves and our teams to cope with the inevitable changes sure to come, since we know organizational change around the world is exponentially increasing in pace, scope, and complexity?

Here are some practices to put in place today to set yourself up to take control of your future tomorrow:

At the individual level:  Build trusting relationships with your staff, peers, and managers.  Make it easy for others to be comfortable approaching you about issues and concerns.  Take the pulse of how people are “feeling” in addition to what they are “thinking,” and use your own and others’ emotions as data.  Mutually supportive connections will greatly increase your span of influence – relationships facilitate results. Also, when you build trust and connection during the “easy times,” the trust will be in place when the “change hits the fan.”

At the team level:  Institute regular process checks on your team. Make room for “time-outs” in your meeting agendas to solicit input into what people see as challenges, and opportunities, impacting the group – and importantly, what they see looming on the horizon.  Schedule informal walk-arounds where you ask team members questions such as, “How do you think we’re doing?  What could we be doing better?”

At the organizational level:  Create multiple methods to both effectively communicate information from the top-down, but also to elicit feedback from the bottom up.  So often, executive communication regarding major changes is transmitted ineffectively, causing confusion and even fear.  How can communications be tailored to specific audiences in ways that not only help them understand they “why and what,” but also the “how and when” and a positive part they can play, enabling some sense of personal control, or at least influence.  The higher you go in an organization, the more difficult it is to get timely and accurate feedback about what is happening on the front lines and through the ranks.  One of the most important – and most difficult – roles of middle- and front-line managers is to demonstrate leadership courage by giving feedback to those above them in the hierarchy about how changes are being perceived and the impact they are having – including at times that the “emperor has no clothes” and that the senior team may need to change how it is operating (walking the talk, providing resources, removing barriers, etc.) to enable the change to take root.  Is there a courageous conversation you can facilitate right now? One that would have a positive impact for you and your team today? One that would enhance the possibility of effective upward influence for the future? I invite you to take 5 minutes today to identify 1-2 actions that will bring the greatest impact to you as a leader, to your team and for your organization and then schedule time to execute. Once you do, send me a reply to let me know how it went.

Ready to create powerful and lasting results for your team or organization? Discover your Change Intelligence here. 

Crisis of Confidence? You Are Not Alone

“What is my goal for this coaching process? To have more self-confidence in myself as a leader. I know I’ve been successful in my career so far. But there are some huge challenges looming on the horizon. I’m not as sure of myself and my ability to lead at this next level.”

Guess who said this to me?  

Was it someone stepping up to their first supervisory position?  An early career professional embarking upon a daunting high-visibility assignment?  A novice project manager taking-on a global IT implementation?

No.

This is a quote from a very senior executive, responsible for a 400-person $100M global business unit.  In my work on an assignment for his firm, where I am coaching him and six of his peers, five of the six expressed similar coaching objectives – listing “building self-confidence” as one of their top three developmental priorities.

How is it possible that leaders at the helm of a major enterprise would be experiencing a crisis of confidence?

Back in the early 1980s psychological researchers coined the term “Impostor Syndrome” to refer to the fear of being “found out” for “faking it” – for not being as talented or competent as one appears.  Initially it was believed that women suffer from this syndrome more than men, but now we know that both genders are at risk, as many as 70% of the population may be affected, and that these misperceptions are particularly prevalent among high performers.

The Impostor Syndrome may be especially likely to strike when we are presented with a difficult new challenge.  Even though you’ve successfully met every new challenge in the past, is this next one too much?  Will it all come crashing down?  Will your wings burn flying too close to the sun?

Moreover, when encountering new opportunities, do you shy away from stepping forward to grab them?  Do you tell yourself you’re not quite ready yet, or that someone else could do the job better?  Do you avoid climbing the professional ladder, or are surprised when career opportunities are offered to you?  Do you neglect positive self-advocacy because you don’t want to appear to be bragging, arrogant, overly ambitious?

If you endure any of these examples of negative self-talk, you may be suffering from Impostor Syndrome:

  • One day they’ll find out I’m not as great as they think I am.
  • My boss just put me up for a promotion.  I don’t know if I’m ready – I still have so much to learn – the new position seems like three steps beyond me.
  • I got nominated for “team leader of the year”?  I’ve got them fooled!
  • Wow, I can’t believe I’m part of this organization.  They are all so much smarter than me.
  • I know that I’ve gotten the highest performance rating every year for the last five years, but this new assignment is just beyond me.  I know I’ll have to put in 80 hour weeks and work twice as hard as everyone else just to get a “meets requirements” evaluation.
  • When I look back at my major career accomplishments, luck played such a big part.

Indeed, it’s often in times of change that the Impostor Syndrome rears its ugly head.  And given that we’re all bombarded with constant change, which is by definition ambiguous and uncertain – and at times unwanted – and increasing in scope, pace, and complexity – it probably should not come as a surprise that my executive coaching clients – and perhaps many folks we all work with, and even some readers of this newsletter – might be feeling stressed and anxious about not being up to the task.

If you suffer from Impostor Syndrome – at least in some situations – and if you have the nagging fear that it’s holding you back from realizing all you were meant to contribute – here are some strategies to try out:

As with developing Change Intelligence, the first step is awareness – become aware of this tendency, acknowledge that at times it plagues you, and accept that it’s normal to sometimes feel insecure.

Next, recognize “your own b.s.” for what it is – a belief system – that you created and that you can change.  The Impostor Syndrome results from flawed thinking, and by shining a light on your own misapprehensions you can fix your flaws.  Reflect, and reframe.

Make a list of your successes and your talents.  Keep score.  Now, reconcile this objective, factual database with the subjective, fraudulent fears you have invented.  Acknowledge the part you actively, intentionally played in your accomplishments – not luck or chance.  Celebrate!

On the flipside, we all have ways we can improve professionally and personally.  If there is a skill you would benefit from building, or a behavior it would be behoove you to change, make a plan to do so.  Setting and achieving goals boosts self-confidence and is more evidence of your self-efficacy.

Remember that your behavior and your results are not who you are as a person.  We all stumble and we all fall.  The only failure is the failure to try, and the failure to pick ourselves up when we misstep.  We’re all only human, and high achievers tend to be harder on themselves than anyone else around them.

Think “complement” not “compare.”  We don’t have to look far to find someone who’s better than us at something.  And I assert we also don’t have to look far to recognize that there are things we are better at than other people are.  Rather than seeing such differences as good/bad or better/worse, perhaps it is healthier to consider ways we complement each other’s gifts, making us all more effective together.  Moreover, adding empathy to the mix is an even more powerful formula – remember that lots of our coworkers feel like “shams” at times too!

Get into the ring.  Staying safe is boring.  You have too much potential to waste playing small.  Don’t die with your song unsung.  You (and only you) know what song I’m talking about!

Take a trip to the mall.  There was a hilarious scene from the movie Soap Dish, in which Sandy Field played an aging soap opera diva and Whoopie Goldberg her supportive manager.  When Sandy was feeling down because an attractive new actress was hired on the show, Whoopie took her to a mall in New Jersey.  Sandy started descending from the top of a huge, open escalator in the middle of the mall.  At the bottom of the escalator Whoopie, pretending not to know Sandy personally, shouted, “OMG – is it really YOU?!”  After which throngs of adoring fans accosted Sandy for autographs and showered her with an outpouring of affection.  Who’s your Whoopie, the president of your fan club?!  I’ll bet you have many admirers who would welcome the opportunity to remind you how great you are.  We’re so busy that we so often forget to give the people who matter most to us an encouraging word:  I often say that positive feedback is the most impactful and most under-utilized leadership behavior in our workplaces today. Don’t be stingy – give someone the gift of contributing to you – ask a buddy for a “trip to the mall”!

Ready to create powerful and lasting results for your team or organization? Discover your Change Intelligence here. 

Do Men and Women Lead Change Differently?

The short answer is “yes.” Although in the U.S. women comprise half the workforce, earn the majority of college and post-graduate degrees, and own 40% of businesses, when we look at Fortune 500 companies, only 4% of CEOs and only 16% of Board Members are women. Yet, we also know from research by Catalyst, McKinsey, and others that a higher percentage of women in top leadership positions leads to 50% higher profitability, 25% increases in revenue, and higher motivation and retention rates.

What can we do about this paradox?  Research into gender differences in leadership styles using the CQ/Change Intelligence Assessment reveals ideas for a new way forward.

Regardless of gender, each change agent has a basic tendency to lead with his or her Heart, Head, Hands, or some combination of the three. Leaders who lead mainly from the Heart connect with people emotionally (I want it!). Those who lead from the Head connect with people cognitively (I get it!). And those who lead from the Hands connect with people behaviorally (I can do it!).  The powerful combination of all three is what Change Intelligence, or CQ, is all about.

My research clearly indicates that men tend to lead change more with the Head, women primarily with the Heart, and that for women, Hands is a strong secondary style:

Said another way, almost half of men surveyed lead change by focusing on vision, mission, and strategy (Head strengths). Almost half of women, conversely, place a premium on engaging, communicating, and collaborating (Heart strengths), and almost a third of women emphasize planning, tactics, and execution (Hands strengths).  Most men have their radars tuned to purpose, and women on people and process.

Why is this?  These findings are consistent with other research that shows women on the whole tend to display more emotionally intelligent as well as transformational leadership behaviors.  Men focus on results, and women on relationships that facilitate results. Note that it is not inherently better or worse to focus on Heart or Head or Hands – the most effective change incorporates all three.  The point is not for change leaders – men or women – to change their natural style.  The point, instead, is awareness of our styles, and the ability to adapt our behavior to incorporate other approaches to be optimally impactful across a variety of people and situations. Also, the point is that when leading change, men tend to display behaviors traditionally associated with strategic executives, concentrating on future vision and new business horizons.  Conversely, women tend to center on supporting their teams to work together and to detail a road map to achieve a change objective, functioning more like supportive coaches.

Implications? Many — both for men’s and women’s careers as leaders, as well as for organizations intent on leveraging the best leadership talent as well as on managing successful and sustainable change.

For organizations:

  • What leadership behaviors do you value and promote during change processes?  Are you including diverse perspectives –a focus on purpose and people and process?  Managing change that sticks mandates a balance on all three.
  • Are you including women in executive-level deliberations and decisions?  Are they being mentored to develop their strategic business skills?

For women:

  • Are you actively seeking opportunities to learn about other parts of the business, or are you “head down” in the trenches assisting your team and accomplishing your immediate objectives?  At times, women need to get their heads up and out of their short-term and day-to-day responsibilities to develop Head skills!
  • Is your voice being heard at work, beyond your immediate team?  How can you expand your influence outside your work group and upward in your organization?

For men:

  • Are you remembering to bring people along as you pursue your lofty goals (Heart skills)?
  • Have you laid out a realistic plan and given people the training and the tools they need to partner with you on the journey (Hands skills)?

We need to remember that a significant percentage (over a third) of men do “start with the Heart” and a substantial number (over a quarter) of women do lead with the Head when facilitating change.  A common complaint from both these groups is that they can be misunderstood, because at times their behaviors seem contrary to others’ expectations:  men talking about exploring emotions and women about driving results.  Change intelligent teams and organizations embrace all perspectives so people at all levels are empowered, engaged, and equipped to partner together to lead mission-critical transformation.

Ready to create powerful and lasting results for your team or organization? Discover your Change Intelligence here.