Design your success by using and growing your strengths every day. For a how-to guide that explains how to make your inspired and desired growth a reality visit https://www.freshconceptsonline.com/unstuck-last/.
Do you like to fly solo? I ask that question both literally and figuratively. Sometimes it’s nice to travel alone. You don’t need to wait for your companion’s luggage or worry about getting them a latte before boarding. It can be nice to work independently too. When we work solo, we may believe we have more control over deadlines, work product, and final outcomes. Depending on other people is a huge risk. Sometimes people let us down. Sometimes they come up short. Sometimes they annoy us.
After years of considering these issues, I have come to think that focusing on the positives of independence, is a trap. This flawed thinking can lull us into the belief that flying solo is not only better for us personally (less hassle!) but also better for our professional outcomes (more control!). But we do not develop, grow, and learn in a vacuum, cut off from other people. We learn about ourselves and the world by relying upon friends, colleagues, relatives, acquaintances, and total strangers every single day.
Depending upon others, at work and at home, is a skill I continue to grow. It does not come naturally to me. However, when I am able to find a great partner, or a fantastic group to be a part of, I have to remind myself all over again that flying solo has many disadvantages. When I pretend to be self-sufficient (is anyone actually capable of this?), I cut-off opportunities for collaboration, new thinking, and process improvement.
This Thanksgiving, I give thanks to the many people who make me better, who draw awareness to issues that lie in my blind spots and who know how to press back and slow me down when I want to charge ahead.
Who do you need most? How do they help you to be a better you? If you have the tendency to want to do everything yourself, ask yourself who actually benefits from your desire for total autonomy? When I ask myself this question, I realize that the benefits of flying solo are limited. People need one another. The Pilgrims were quick to figure this out.
Most of us have experienced the fear of being different at some point in our lives. I had more than a fleeting awareness that there were a handful of things about me that were different from my peers during grade school. Most notably, I was Caucasian and all my best friends during the period between first and sixth grades were not. I was really bummed that I couldn’t wear hair ties that had huge gumball-like balls on them as my African-American friends did. My fine, brown, slippery hair could not hold those heaving, decorative balls; the ties would just slip out of my hair, quite to my dismay. It seemed unfair and it made me sad.
The Fear of Differences
However, it wasn’t until junior high school that differences – whether they be physical or related to beliefs – actually caused fear in me. The fear of being different, of buying the “wrong” brand of jeans, of liking a boy that no one else liked, or actually enjoying a class that everyone else hated, was profound. There were many brands and beliefs that were easy to conform to. For example: what was the BEST soap opera? General Hospital; what was the BEST lip gloss? Bonny Bell; what was the ONLY tennis shoe that could be worn? Nike. This cult-like thinking was frequently inspired by the awareness of the ridicule that was in store for the outliers. The outliers were the people who dared to buck the norm and be different. The term outlier has been made famous by Malcolm Gladwell’s book with the same name. In this book, Gladwell dis-spells all of our lingering junior high fears while shining a bright light on the value and necessity of outliers. Gladwell not only praises the outliers but he inspires his reader to be an outlier.
The Power of Differences
In the work I do with corporate teams as a StrengthsFinder coach, I frequently highlight the outliers of the team. Who is the only member of the team who has Woo in their “Top 5 Strengths”? Who has Analytical? Who has Context? When the team members understand how each strength can be productively applied, these outliers become remarkably important. The Woo can advise the team on the best way to approach a stranger at a networking cocktail party, or better yet, they can go to the event and flex their strength in full view of their adoring colleagues. The differences of the team and the team’s ability to tap into these differences are the team’s “secret sauce.”
Research that supports this idea was completed by the company that is so well-known for creating high performing teams: Google. In Google’s quest to find “the components of a perfect team,” they studied 180 teams and found that there are two factors that most impacted a team’s performance. The first factor is “social sensitivity” or how aware group members were to the importance of social connection. The second factor relates to how well the group communicates. The groups who gave each team member equal time to speak and freedom to share ideas did best. Teams that consistently shared different ideas and resisted the temptation silence the outlier in favor of the majority rule consistently outperformed their peers. Needless to say, Google evaluated a host of other factors, including IQ and personality traits, when trying to decipher the key ingredients of a perfect team, and social sensitivity and idea-sharing were the big winners.
Embracing your differences and the differences of those around you while simultaneously learning how to focus the unique lens through which your team sees the world is your team’s challenge. Good luck!
For more on using your strengths as well as your differences productively see: Unstuck at Last: Using Your Strengths to Get What You Want. To learn more about Malcom Gladwell’s work see: Outliers.
This TEDTalk is worth every minute it takes to watch.
Below is a quick summary for those who don’t have 12 minutes to watch this fascinating video that explains the results of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, the longest study on happiness ever conducted.
- Connections with people are what impact health and happiness.
- The QUALITY of relationships counts. High quality relationships positively impact health and happiness. Low quality relationships can negatively impact health and happiness.
- Loneliness greatly impacts cognitive and physical health.
The BEST predictor of health was was NOT cholesterol levels or any of the other physiological measures collected over the 75 years that the study has taken place. Instead, researchers found that the men who had the most satisfying relationships at age 50 were more apt to be alive and healthier at age 80 than their peers who had less satisfying relationships at age 50. WOW.
These results are fascinating and even more exciting when coupled with the new research discussed in Shawn Achor’s not-yet-released book Big Potential. Achor, also a happiness researcher from Harvard, explains that most people believe that SUCCESS will make them happy and that success is derived from winning in a world that is based on a zero sum game. This means most people believe that there is only so much success out there in the world; I must compete against others to win; if I win, you must lose. Wrong. Achor presents research that explains how our individual success is actually interconnected with the success of those around us. When we help others succeed, we are more likely to succeed on a higher level.
Bottom line: not only your health and happiness but your ultimate success at work are dependent on your ability to grow and sustain relationships.
In a nutshell, there is plenty that’s wrong about the carrot and stick approach. Yet, managers have not been given the tools or witnessed a better way to harness workers’ interests. So, this dated approach lives on and on and on. The carrot and stick approach has long referred to how we motivate people at work, with the assumption being that people are like horses who love carrots and hate getting smacked on their behind by a stick (but if smacked by their rider, will run faster). Are people and horses the same? Do rewards and punishments work at work?
- Research shows rewards work best to harness ACTION
In the September 27, 2017 Harvard Business Review, Tali Sharot, an associate professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University College London, shares how the reward of praise was more effective to increase hospital employees’ hand sanitizing efforts than the threat of disease (and obvious punishment). In fact, cameras monitoring employees washing or not washing their hands showed an increase from 10% compliance when warning signs about disease were used to motivate employees’ actions versus almost 90% compliance when an electronic board displayed a positive message (“Good job!”) to reward hand washing. Bottom line: immediate positive feedback is very effective when it comes to changing actions. Sharot explains that our brains have evolved over time to be wired such that we think “if reward, then action needed.”
- Research shows punishments work best to harness INACTION
On the flip side, our brains have also evolved to avoid negative consequences (such as drowning, poison, or dangerous areas) by inaction or staying where we are. Most people have experienced the phenomena of freezing in place in a potentially dangerous situation. Sharot believes that “when we anticipate something bad, our brain triggers a ‘no go’ signal.” For this reason, punishments (like getting fired or being legally prosecuted) may be most effective to discourage people from acting in certain ways (like stealing from the company or sharing trade secrets).
- Best ways to use this information
Unfortunately, the clarity of this message (immediately reward the actions you want to see at work and immediately punish the actions you want to extinguish) is frequently confused or ineffectively rolled out. How often has the fear of punishment (public embarrassment or demotion) been the stick that has “motivated” us to work on a project or presentation? Given this research, it’s not surprising that we have delayed working on our project or presentation! Our brain has been telling us “DON’T ACT; STAY WHERE YOU ARE!” To combat this, skilled managers need to motivate team members with the promise of praise and immediate feedback. Most employees want more specific feedback than the generic “Good job!” but a sincere compliment that occurs immediately after the action is almost universally appreciated.
The runner-up “ah-ha” from Sharot’s article is how important praise is at work. I always worry when I encounter managers who pride themselves in doling out compliments infrequently for fear of over-saturating their employees’ egos. There is no BETTER, CHEAPER, or MORE EFFECTIVE motivational tool. Effective managers know what good praise looks like (authentic, specific, meaningful) and when (often) to dole it out.
To read the full article in HBR go to: https://hbr.org/2017/09/what-motivates-employees-more-rewards-or-punishments. To read more from Sarah Robinson, see Unstuck at Last: Using Your Strengths to Get What You Want.
If you think back over your career, who was your best boss? My guess is that regardless of your age, race, or profession, your best boss was actually a great coach. To be honest, the term boss seems pretty dated. In most settings, it has been replaced by words like manager, supervisor, or leader. When I first entered the workforce, twenty-five years ago, people actually used the term boss and most people had limited expectations of their boss. We believed that no news was good news. As long as our boss wasn’t in our office or standing at our cubicle door with a look or horror and negative comments, things were ok.
And while some things have changed, some things remain the same. One thing that has changed is that we no longer believe that no news is good news. In fact, we think no news is BAD news. We want and need feedback. If we have no news, it means we are irrelevant. We do not want to be irrelevant at work. Another thing that has changed is that we have much higher expectations of our boss. A good boss is someone who understands us, wants to develop us, and challenges us with interesting work.
This may lead you to ask, then what has stayed the same? What remains the same is that the boss who acts like a coach was the best boss twenty-five years ago and continues to be the boss we want and need today. Unfortunately, most bosses need training to be a good coach. The rules have changed but the players (ie: your boss) did not get the new rule book and has not constructed plays for these new rules.
There’s more to come on this topic. Stay tuned.
The words success and failure are opposites. Success is associated with fame, fortune, achievement, and victory. Conversely, failure is traditionally linked to despair, poverty, hardship, and loss. Ironically, like many opposites, success and failure are frequently found together: in life, in work, and even in relationships.
Although most of us work hard to avoid failure in all the areas noted above, failure still occurs. We have setbacks in life, poorly completed projects at work, and friendships that end or drift into nothingness. The choice is how we react to failure. How do we learn from it, change due to our new insights, and overcome the blind spots that may have contributed to our failure?
Interestingly, success can also breed failure. When we start taking our success for granted, when we slip into a certain complacency, when we lose sight of the people or ideas that made our initial success possible, then we can quickly spiral into failure.
Ideally, we should harness our failures to spur our successes. Limited time spent wallowing and licking wounds may be needed after an epic failure but the emphasis here should be on limited. At some point after a failure the new direction must be plotted, with ego in check and tougher skin grown. Using your failures to create the backdrop of your story to success is charming, human, and smart. The reason this coupling is brilliant is that it keeps us striving, growing, and living. Once we become complacent in our success or crushed by our failure, we have lost. Being aware of the cyclical nature of life and remembering that this strange coupling between success and failure exists keeps us moving.
For more about creating your own success read Unstuck at Last: Using Your Strengths to Get What You Want.
What do your brain and your brand have in common? Everything.
Your brain helps you organize the variety of information, thoughts, and novel ideas that cross your consciousness every day. We know that the right side of the brain holds much of our creative and emotional thinking, while the left side of the brain is in charge of logical and rational thought.
Great ideas happen when these two sides of our brain intersect. Fantastic insights, products, and solutions to problems originate from ideas that are both useful (coming for our rational left side) and new (coming from our imaginative right side).
A successful brand – whether that brand be a personal brand or a professional brand – is similar to a great idea in that it needs to be both helpful and distinctive. Trying to be all things to all people, at work or at home, may be helpful in the short-term but ultimately leads to failure. If we are not distinctive, then people do not know what we do best, and how best to use us. However, it takes some creative thought to tap into our distinctiveness. Conversely, if we spend all of our energies trying to separate ourselves from the pack, overplaying our distinctiveness, we may find that only a very small number of colleagues, customers, or family members find us to be useful.
When coaching individuals and teams about their strengths, I do not normally touch on the need to actively use both sides of the brain, but I do focus on the need to use your strengths to create a strong brand. Understanding how our strengths make us both useful and novel is an exciting step toward creating a world-class team and a brand that will resonate near and far.
I talk too much. Much of my job requires that I speak at length to individuals and groups. I get tired of hearing myself talk. I can only imagine how others feel. Recently, I had a few days off and took a well-deserved break from talking. I tried to listen more to strangers and those more familiar. It was heavenly.
Below are some of my insights learned while trying to become a better listener.
- For many of us, becoming a better listener is a skill we need to learn and practice.
Why should we bother? The number one reason that managers or supervisors need to develop better listening skills is because it is a highly valued and evaluated skill by those who lead, direct, or evaluate the performance of others. For the rest of us, we should become better listeners because it will signal to others that we are concerned with them and care about their lives, jobs, feelings, and aspirations. Listening builds closer relationships at work and at home. Challenge yourself at work to listen more and solve problems later. Be sure you have heard the whole story before planning your response. Ask follow-up questions and give feedback to make sure that you understand the speaker.
Our educational system and corporate America reward the talkers. Teachers are impressed by the students who wave their hands in the air and have something meaningful to add or ask. Leaders are grateful for the underlings who have novel answers to complex questions and feel comfortable sharing their insights with the team. However, this reward system can turn some of us into non-stop talkers and fairly poor listeners. For these reasons, and surely more, listening is a skill that can lay dormant in our toolbox of abilities.
- We naturally miss much of the information said by others who speak before and after us.
Consider the last time you spoke in a group meeting. For most of us, this is how the lead up (Stage 1), speaking (Stage 2), and after speaking (Stage 3) go. Stage 1: you are thinking about what you are going to say. Stage 2: you are talking and making sure you say everything you want to say. Stage 3: you are assessing how your comments went. All three stages take up a lot of energy and mental processing, and therefore, severely impact our ability to process what anyone else is saying. The people most directly impacted are the people who speak before and after us. In fact, studies have proven this to be the case! (See Malcolm Brenner’s “The Next in Line Effect,” Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 12, no 3 (1973): 320-23.)
- Listening allows for new learning.
We can only talk about what we know. Listening allows us to learn new information, process it, and combine it with previously obtained facts. Try to put your preconceived ideas out of your mind and be open to new ideas and perspectives when talking to someone about something you feel knowledgeable about. This is harder than anyone wants to admit but is very beneficial to the listening process.
Start practicing this old-new skill. If you’re like me, you’ll enjoy every second of it.