Without Highs and Lows, We Are Dead

This great video says it all. Whether you’re in the midst of a personal low point, helping a friend who is bottoming-out, or parenting a child who is down-in-the-dumps, this too shall pass. The highs are on their way. Both highs and lows let us know we are alive. A life devoid of these highs and lows is a flat-lined, non-emotive life. Such a line represents death.

During the low times remember:

Be patient. Be open to learning something new, Be good to yourself.

During the high times remember:

Milk it for everything it’s worth. Be generous and spread your joy. Capture and, then, file away all the goodness in your (figurative) memory box.


Change, Like Growth, Can Be Painful and Gorgeous

The other week I worked with a team that was in the midst of tremendous change. They were past the hard part and smack-dab in the middle of the messy part. The gorgeous part of change seemed light years away for some of the team members. The really optimistic ones thought it was in the distant but conceivable future. Tough times.

We dove right into the mess and discussed how our strengths can both help and hinder change. It was a difficult discussion but it was honest and real. We were touching on the team’s shared nerve ending – it was alive and exposed in the middle of the table as we discussed each person’s struggle.

Change is a sign of growth. We cannot grow – physically, cognitively, emotionally, or spiritually – if we stay the same. As kids, most of us experienced growing pains. I vividly remember the achy-ness, the throbbing dull pain, that plagued me one summer when I was 13 years old. I complained about my aches and pains to my parents but they were mostly dismissive. Growth, they assured me, should not be and cannot be stopped. The pain was just an unpleasant but necessary part of the greater picture – the picture of me developing into the full-grown person I was meant to be.

This perspective is worth remembering as we continue to grow in our adult years. The pain of growth, whether it comes from learning something new, changing our standard operating procedures, or taking a risk of some kind, can be hard. Even when we think we are through the tough times, it can be messy. Should we go back to our old ways? Is this change worth the hassle?

Hang in there. It’s gorgeous at the end. Allow yourself to slip back into your old habits only long enough to realize that you are better for the changes you’ve made whatever they may be: forcing yourself to study for that certification you’ve always wanted, getting up at 5 a.m. to workout a few days a week, or eliminating some unhealthy vice from your diet. You’ll never know just how gorgeous it might be without taking the plunge.



Positive Feedback, Negative Feedback, or No Feedback

Some say feedback is the most important form of communication that occurs at work. Feedback is a term frequently referred to in the academic world of organizational behavior as well. Feedback has two purposes: 1) it can help us to understand how well we are achieving goals; and 2) it can help us discern if we have understood a message.

Leaders should not be shy about giving positive and even negative feedback. Feedback of both types is a critical component of improving performance and engagement. This might be hard for some to believe – especially the idea that negative feedback can increase engagement.

We question if negative feedback could possibly be linked to increases in engagement because no one enjoys getting negative feedback. It can hurt our fragile egos, make us worry about our job security, and wonder if our boss values our contributions. Remarkably, a 2009 Gallup poll found that employees who received negative feedback were 20 times more likely to be engaged than employees who received no feedback at all. 

Most workers thrive when given positive feedback because it can have the opposite effect of negative feedback: it can positively impact our fragile egos, increase our sense of job security, and underscore our feelings of being valued. Less surprising is the fact that employees who receive positive feedback are 30 times more likely to be engaged than those who received no feedback at all. 

The obvious conclusion that can be drawn from this research is that feedback of ANY kind is important to improve work performance as well as engagement.

If we personalize the somewhat tricky issue of negative feedback and ask ourselves, “When am I most apt to accept negative feedback?” I think we would find that we are MOST ABLE to accept negative feedback from those we trust and those we believe, ultimately, value us.

It is for this reason that I encourage leaders to build trust and increase the likelihood that employees feel valued by them. The easiest way to do this is to provide regular comments that specifically address the good works of employees (or in other words give regular and specific positive feedback). When a concern pops up, address the concern in the same prompt and direct manner (or in other words also give negative feedback).

And above all else: DON’T SAY NOTHING. When employees are operating in a void, questioning what is good and what is poor performance, and wondering whether their boss even notices the work they do, the organization loses.

Frequent feedback is key to reaching your organization’s performance and engagement goals.


Harnessing Your Strengths – Best Practices

Sometimes it’s nice to get a quick reminder of the way we can, and should, direct our attention to our strengths. Below are 9 strengths-based best practices that can help you to grow your business, develop your team, or even improve your life satisfaction.

  1. Don’t focus on your weaknesses. It’s ok to be aware of your weaknesses but you don’t want to spend too much time trying to improve them. Your greatest areas of potential success lie in your strengths.
  2. Learn to partner with people who have strengths that are complementary to your strengths. Turn your strengths-envy into a strengths partnership. For example, if you wish you could Woo (Win Over Others), find a Woo who needs your Strategic mind.
  3. Challenge yourself to use and grow your strengths every day. We experience 10,000 individual moments every day. What if you used 5 of those moments to use and grow your strengths?
  4. See the strengths of those around you and be a positive force in their lives. Nine out of ten people say they are more productive when they are around positive people. Be the person who others get a jolt of positive energy from! It will benefit both of you.
  5. Surround yourself with strengths champions. Do you have people in your life who are frenemies (friend + enemy)? Fire them. People who act like a friend but who subtly undermine you or diminish your achievements are preventing you from using your strengths and being the best you that you can be.
  6. Recognize those who are doing good work. 56% of Americans received no recognition in the workplace last year. Compliments from a colleague, customer, or stranger can make a person’s day. Recognizing the good work of others and praising that work will help you build a positive network.
  7. Don’t underestimate the power and importance of your strengths. It is common to misunderstand how some strengths can be used productively. For example, do you think Empathy has no place at work? Or that Harmony means you are unable to handle conflict? Or that your need for Context is holding your back in your future-focused organization? Learn the power of every strength. Draw confidence from knowing that Empathy allows you to understand and diffuse the negative emotions of others, that Harmony allows you to see both sides of an issue, and that Context prevents your team from making the same mistakes that were made 10 years ago.
  8. Get gritty with your strengths. Using determination to achieve a goal in a proven way to make any goal a reality. Directing your grit towards your natural way of thinking and behaving (your Strengths) is time well-spent because it will make working towards your goals a natural process that feels right.
  9. Don’t imitate others, be the real YOU. Don’t try to be someone you are not. The chances that you will ever find another person with your “Top 5” Strengths in your order is 1 in 33 million. You are unique and special. Let your uniqueness shine.

To learn more about harnessing your strengths, see Unstuck at Last: Using Your Strengths to Get What You Want.

Don’t Be a Work Martyr: Take Your PTO!

I get it! You’re busy! You have commitments! But don’t be a work martyr.

Make sure you carve out time for yourself, your family, and your friends. Don’t succumb to the temptation to become a work martyr.  It’s not in your best interests personally or professionally. Studies show (Project Time Off has a corner on this niche market of research) that PEOPLE WHO DO NOT TAKE TIME OFF are about 25% less likely to receive a promotion and approximately 80% less likely to receive a raise as compared to their peers who actually allow themselves time to enjoy life and relax. Hmm. These figures might seem counter-intuitive to many who work in highly competitive environments, but let’s look deeper at why taking time off promotes productivity and success in all environments, and is critical to long-term success in highly competitive environments.

  • You gain perspective when you step away from work.
  • You’re relationships improve when you are less pre-occupied with work.
  • Your productivity improves when you give yourself a mental and physical break.
  • Giving up (some) control over work is good for you.

Effective leaders need to model the right behaviors by taking vacations and by praising individuals who take time to enjoy life while showing an appropriate commitment to work.

Here is a summary of the fascinating statistics Project Time Off has compiled and presented in the video below:

  • American workers taking vacation time has been on the decline since 2000, with a small increase in 2016.
  • In 2016, 54% of workers left vacations days unused.
  • Vacations promote productivity and profitability and decrease accidents.

Summer officially starts in ONE WEEK: Thursday, June 21. Plan a great vacation this summer. It will help you and your workplace.

Work-Life Balance: 4 Tips For Today’s Crazy World

It’s Friday. Are you thinking about your plans for the weekend or the work you’ll be doing over the weekend? Work-life balance is tough to navigate. The demands that beckon us to work more (like the expectation that emails will be responded to before, during, and after working hours and that we will be responsive to teammates and customers who live in a variety of time zones) are many times inconsistent with the demands felt on the home-front.

Below are a few tips to help you set reasonable boundaries at work and at home:

  1. You Do You – Only you know what balance will ultimately be right for you. Considering your long and short-term goals related to work, happiness, income, and relationships will help you to construct a framework that will almost certainly have a different look at various times over the span of your life. The priorities of single person with a cat and an apartment to care for may be vastly different from the priorities of a married person with a house and triplets. There is no  magic formula for either of these people but looking to someone else’s metrics for happiness will only guarantee failure. Look to the inside of you and what makes you feel happy and proud today and discover the outcomes that give you long-term joy.
  2. Health – Your body has physiological and psychological needs. Proper nourishment, rest (including sleep), activity, and social interaction are all elements that play a role in your overall health. Ideally, your job can play an active and positive role in your health by giving you meaningful activity and social interaction. Unfortunately, the opposite can also be the case. Relationships that are unnecessarily stressful, working conditions that are emotionally or physically straining, and demands that prevent you from getting the right amount of rest should be evaluated. Your body can be fairly vocal if you decide to stop listening to its subtle messages: illness and accidents are most likely to occur when you ignore the signs of an unhealthy environment.
  3. Be Engaged at Work and at Home – Being fully present and tapping into your unique talents whether you’re at work or at home is good for your colleagues, your family, and you. “Engagement at work” is today’s buzz word for the human resources department. But both work and home benefit when you are engaged. The ‘old school” way to think about work was that working used us up, drained our energies, and exhausted us physically and mentally. We needed our weekends to recharge and relax because our work week had tapped us out. The opposite is actually true. If you are using the best parts of yourself at work, you should not be depleted at the end of the week. Instead, if you are engaged at work you’re empowered and proud. For example, let’s say you are a fantastic planner and enjoy arranging complex projects. Your boss finally allows you to take the reins and organize a three-day event involving your business and three high profile clients. You knock the project out of the park. Your boss and the clients are all thrilled. You feel happy and energized by the work and the results. At home, this could translate into planning that big surprise birthday trip your spouse has always hinted at wanting. Instead of needing to rest-up after your big project, keep the momentum going and build on this already-established skill set.
  4. Technology Hiatus – Our lives are more dependent than ever on technology. But our well-being and happiness should not be. Exercise the power to take a technology hiatus on a semi-regular basis. For some people that means no phones at meetings or meals, for others that means taking breaks from social media for specific periods (say Lent or the month of December), for others that means having no-phone and no-email vacations. It is only by disconnecting from our technology that we can re-connect with the people who are sitting across from us. Checking your phone during a meeting or at the dinner table says loud and clear “you’re not as important as what might be on my phone.”

Work-life balance is not easy but it is also not impossible. Good luck.


June 7, 2018 – Find Your Strengths

I am honored to be speaking about Finding Your Strengths at the Successful Women Made Here event on June 7 from 9 a.m. -11 a.m.

Please check your calendars and sign-up using the link here. I hope to see you and your daughter or mentee there!


Define Your Meaning of Success


What is success to you? Watch Matthew McConaughey’s five minute talk and he will give you a framework to think about this question. He believes that before we can determine what success means to us we must first know who we are. Knowing precisely who we are is a more difficult than knowing who we ARE NOT. McConaughey suggests that by discarding the people, paths, and activities that make us feel less than, we make more space and free up more time to to be more than – meaning more who we really are. Once we know who we are, we are more able to become the true architects of our lives and pursue our individual definitions of success.

Another way to look at this same question is to consider what we do best and value most. Our strengths and our values help us to define success. How can we do more of what we love? How can we quit chasing weaknesses? How can we align our abilities with our goals?

Whether you define success as an accomplishment, achievement, fame, family, happiness, prosperity, or victory is not the issue. The real issue is that you create a life filled with abundance and joy on your path to this success.

For more about creating a life filled with joy and success, see Sarah Robinson’s Unstuck at Last: Using Your Strengths to Get What You Want.


When Teamwork Doesn’t Work – and Why

Teamwork, as opposed to independent work, has increased dramatically in the last two decades. Some calculate the average time spent working with others has increased 50% or more in the last 20 years.

Many times the result of the team’s collaborative effort is greater than the sum of each individual’s contribution; this is the magic of teamwork. But occasionally the team’s work doesn’t work. Effective leaders quickly recognize that some individuals are better in a team setting than others, but are frequently at a loss when it comes to considering how their actions – as a leader – impact the team’s overall performance.

Below are tips for leaders who are looking to improve their own leadership abilities and, ultimately, the performance of their team.

Create a Trusting and Fair Environment – Trust is the foundation of good leadership and strong teamwork. Being fair and trustworthy is a leader’s first order of business. Squashing attempts by team members to create an unhealthy work environment – an environment that contains backstabbing, cynicism, cliques, or one-upping – is the second most important order of business. Great leaders are good at detecting early signs of such behaviors and nipping them in the bud. Some leaders encourage “stabbing them in the heart, not the back” which translates into “tell a team member directly and to their face when you are put out or peeved with their behavior instead of telling another teammate behind their back.” Many might think such language is too harsh for the workplace and I might agree. Regardless of the actual wording, the message from the leader – communicated by words and actions – needs to be “our team behaves in ways that promote trust and fairness.”

Value Diversity – Diversity can come in many forms: sex, race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, weight, disability, and the list goes on. Today, we recognize that diversity can include non-visible characteristics and that diversity improves teamwork. However, 20 years ago, the opposite belief was held. Most leaders I worked with early in my career believed that diversity referred to visible traits and that too much diversity could cause problems on a team (thus the need for diversity training!). For example, two decades ago, I worked with a sales team that was known for having and building great relationships with their customers. Common wisdom of that time declared this team needed more salespeople who were very similar to the current team members, if the team was to perform at that same high level.

Most leaders today recognize that this “homogeneous is best” attitude is flawed. However, leaders can be slow to recognize how they may be inadvertently de-valuing diversity. I recommend that leaders take a good look at the kinds of people they favor, count as key team players, and are generally impressed by. Leaders who value diversity surround themselves with, and take advice from, people who have a variety of personalities, abilities, and strengths – in sum people who are not like themselves. The teams led by such leaders have fewer blind spots and greater success. Leaders who overlook the benefits of diversity and surround themselves with people who look, act, or think just like themselves, create teams that have a one-sided, myopic vision of the world and its problems. Studies show that these less diverse teams do not perform as well as diverse teams.

Address Social Loafing – Social loafing occurs when individuals put forth less effort when working in a team than they would when working alone. In high school and college, instructors use feedback tools to assess the social loafing that can occur during a group project. Such tools are less prevalent in the workplace despite the fact that social loafing at work creates bad feelings, stress, and negativity among team members. It is a leader’s duty to be on the lookout for social loafing. It is the leader, not the individuals on the team, who should be preoccupied with the distribution of work among team members. Both the leader and the team member in question should remedy this situation by finding new ways for the underutilized team member to contribute to the overall goals of the team.

Reinforce the Use of Emotional Intelligence – Emotional intelligence is defined as one’s ability to understand one’s own emotions and the emotions of someone else. Emotional intelligence – and its cousin empathy – are greatly underutilized skills in the workplace. Last week I had a manager question how empathy could be used productively and professionally in her straight-laced, male-dominated, and unemotional banking environment. I tried to convince her that being aware of emotions like fear, confusion, sadness, stress, and the like, are keys to promoting individual and team productivity. Leaders who can honestly address the emotions that fill a room and start a conversation about those emotions (for example, “I’m noticing some negative body language in the room; possibly there is not as much agreement about this issue as we have verbalized. Can anyone give me their thoughts on this?”) are light-years ahead of those who stick their heads in the sand and ignore the silent messages that many times are more important than the overt discussions.

Reinforce Turn-Taking When Talking – Successful teams have a track record of taking turns talking and giving equal time to each team member to communicate their opinion. Participating on a team where one person monopolizes the discussion and plows forward with her ideas, obliterating any rival suggestions, can be exhausting and even enraging. Leaders who set clear communication ground rules when it comes to brainstorming, problem solving, and figuring out a new strategy create an environment of open and safe (meaning no ideas are ridiculed) communication. When team members recognize that everyone’s viewpoint will be heard and considered, the need to be the loudest, longest, or most passionate communicator is lessened. Open and safe communication builds trust, just as trust builds open and safe communication.

Empower the Team’s Introvert – If your team has a quiet member, don’t immediately assume that person is loafing! Great leaders know how to engage introverted team members and spark their less attention-needy personalities. In Susan Cain’s book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” she explains how the insights and knowledge of introverts can be greatly diminished in a world that values extroverts. Leaders can address the issue of overlooking the introverts by 1) having a strong personal connection with them, and 2) a good knowledge of their expertise. Drawing the introvert into the group’s conversation with particular questions (for example: “Bill, I know you have done some special training in this area. What are your thoughts?”) is a great way to empower this individual.

Focus on the Strengths of the Team – Teams that focus on what each member does best, receive feedback about how they are utilizing their strengths, and know how their unique talents connect to their work have higher productivity, increased profitability, and are six times more likely to be engaged at work. The leader sets the tone and can create a deficiency-based culture (“If only we were more like team B, they have some real stars. Let’s do what they are doing.”) or a strengths-based culture (“I’m so excited about the abilities of everyone here and complementary skills of this team. We are unique. Let’s use our unique talents to be the best we can possibly be.”) Harnessing the strengths of a team may sound challenging but is actually a very straight-forward process.

Every leader plays a key role in the outcomes of their team. In fact, the outcomes are precisely how each leader’s ability will be judged. Are you looking for that magic ingredient to unlock your team’s potential?  Look no farther than the mirror.


For more about leading with strengths see Sarah Robinson’s best-selling book “Unstuck at Last: Using Your Strengths to Get What You Want.”




The Differences in Your Team Make the Difference

It is widely recognized that diverse teams outperform homogeneous teams. A 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies found that those organizations in the top 25% for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have above average financial returns.

Below are three reasons why having a team with visible and invisible differences positively impacts the results that team can produce.

  1. Innovation is more likely when the team has divergent thinking and divergent life experiences.
  2. Teams are more apt to carefully process information when an outsider is present.
  3. Diverse teams focus more on facts than less diverse teams.

While all of these reasons make sense, we know that not all diverse teams perform consistently at a high level. Google wanted to discover if there was a magic ingredient that created the “secret sauce” of a perfect team. Did some teams have a trait, a characteristic, or a minimum composite IQ that made them better than at solving problems and producing high quality results when compared to similar teams?

Google has the resources to discern what the perfect mix of personalities, IQ scores, cultural backgrounds, and religious preferences of a team might be – and luckily the rest of us can benefit from learning from these efforts. Remarkably, the results of Google’s Project Aristotle found that success had less to do with individual attributes and more to do with social norms and mutual respect.

Social Sensitivity and Equal Time When Speaking Are Key Traits of Successful Teams

The way Project Aristotle summed up its findings were that: (1) the most successful teams had a high average on a “social sensitivity” score; and (2) the team members all got turns speaking and roughly the same amount of time speaking when the group convened.

Social sensitivity is evaluated by showing individuals photos of people’s eyes and gauging the emotions of the person in the photograph based on the expression in the photo. The most high performing teams had individual team members who scored above average on these tests. Presumably, this means these same individuals are proficient at understanding how their teammates feel based on non-verbal cues such at facial expression, tone of voice, or other non-verbal mannerisms. I might place the term “social sensitivity” under the umbrella of emotional intelligence (an oft-referenced organizational behavior term that refers to the ability to understand one’s own emotions and the emotions of someone else.) Importantly, Google did not make this same generalization.

The second trait of a high performing team turned out to be respectful listening and turn-taking when it came to conversations. Anita Woolley, Project Aristotle’s lead author, found that when one person or a small group dominated the discussion of the team, the collective intelligence of the team declined. The face validity of this result is high. Who hasn’t felt reluctant to participate in a group’s discussion when one or more people in the group seem to dominate or control the topic of the conversation with their perspective?

So, yes, it is the differences in your team that make the difference. But it is also the ability of your team to understand the emotions of team members and encourage equal participation in discussions that allow those differences to enhance the group’s decision making and problem solving.