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Why Worry About Conflict?

According to industry research:

* On average, employees spend 2.1 hours per week dealing with conflict. That’s 385 million working days in the U.S. alone.

* Workplace conflicts cost the employer 10% of the salary of the employees involved.

* Unresolved conflict can escalate to personal attack, absenteeism, inter-departmental conflict, resignation, termination, and project failure.

* Fortune 500 senior executives spend 20% of their time on litigation.

What’s on Our Minds

  • Grading on a Curve Undermines Performance Microsoft offers a lesson on how not to conduct performance reviews. Its evaluation process, called “stack ranking” — essentially grading on a curve — has had a disastrous effect on morale, performance, and innovation, reports Kurt Eichenwald in “How Microsoft Lost Its Mojo.” His article in the August Vanity Fair describes a system in which ...
  • Men Don’t Have It All, Either Anne-Marie Slaughter’s heavily Tweeted cover story in the current issue of the Atlantic Monthly, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” publicly and very personally acknowledges what most women in the corporate trenches already know: it is incredibly difficult to climb the professional ladder and be a hands-on mother.  I agree. What I take issue ...
  • Networking is Not a Dirty Word Many of my career coaching clients cringe at the word “networking.” But I think networking gets a bad rap. When undertaken in the right spirit, building relationships can be fun as well as helpful. And you don’t have to be Keith Ferrazi to do it.
  • No More Mister Nice Guy? Nice guys earn significantly lower salaries than less agreeable men (though still more than women, regardless of their agreeableness) reports a new study by Timothy A. Judge, Beth A. Livingston, and Charlice Hurst in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Whether you are surprised or unsurprised, dismayed or vindicated, you may be wondering whether ...

How One Leader Conquered His Fear By Channeling Curious George

Edvard Munch “The Scream”

H.A. Rey’s Curious George

“It’s like I’m always vigilant, walking around tense all the time, bracing for an attack, ready to defend myself,” said David, a former client. He was not describing being in a tough neighborhood at night, but roaming the floors of the start-up where had worked for a number of years and had risen through the ranks to a leadership role. He was shocked to recognize his emotional state for what it was: pervasive fear.

This was surprising to him because work didn’t look scary. The company culture was somewhat chaotic, but mostly positive. David trusted and respected the majority of his colleagues, and he had good relationships throughout the organization. But as a boy, he had been taught by his father to be on guard always, and to defend himself vigorously, lest he be seen as weak. This worked pretty well on the playground and prevented him from getting picked on or bullied. As he progressed through college and business school, he was seen as strong and confident, and at work his colleagues described him as having a commanding demeanor and presence.

But this vigilance had a major downside. It made David over-reactive to questions and challenges. When presenting, if someone asked a question, he defended as if it were an attack on his reputation, sometimes shutting people down. And if this weren’t bad enough, there was another, more insidious, side to this fear. Because David believed that he needed to appear strong, he had a hidden commitment (see my previous blog on Immunity to Change) to not looking weak that led him to engage in other self-protective strategies. Since he equated questions and criticism with threat, his battle strategy was to limit his areas of vulnerability.Thus, he seldom advanced an idea that he had not fully vetted and scripted. And he frequently avoided broadly communicating his vision and plans, because the more he put out there, the more he could be criticized and judged as weak. He was playing small without even realizing it.

Intellectually, David knew he was not in danger, but he was behaving as if there were an existential threat lurking in every meeting. He had developed a bunker mentality, hunkering down to reduce the surface area vulnerable to attack. As a result, he under-communicated his vision and missed opportunities to build alignment with cross-functional colleagues and motivate the team. He refrained from sharing his uncertainty and missed out on important input from his partners. David was holding back, and it was hurting his effectiveness as a leader.

So what did he do? He cultivated a powerful antidote to fear — it’s not courage, it’s curiosity. When presenting an idea either in writing or verbally, his habitual approach had been: “How do I present my vision as unassailable and persuasive?” His new approach was: “How can draw out  my colleagues to help improve the vision and share ownership?” and “How can I elicit their questions and objections so that we can build an awesome shared vision?” He started small, with his written communications. He prefaced an email update with an invitation for questions, comments and suggestions. The response was mostly positive and appreciative, and David was able to welcome the few questions and suggestions he received. Then he started inviting questions and suggestions in low stakes presentations. And when questions or objections came in, he learned to meet each challenge with curiosity: “What are you concerned about? What do you think would make it better? How would you frame the issue? What is your vision?” The ensuing discussions provided useful insights and helped gain buy-in. Not scary. Cool.

Over time, David found he was able to use curiosity in many situations very effectively. Sometimes he would catch himself slipping back into bunker mentality, but as soon as he noticed, he would take a breath and arm himself with curiosity rather than defense and justification. The result? Better communication, improved trust, and increased alignment.

Scaling Up – How Our Hidden Immune System Makes It Hard to Change Old Habits

Over-active immune reaction

“What got you here, won’t get you there.”

Many a new leader or manager has heard this truism coined by Marshall Goldsmith and have understood it to mean that they will need to up their game and change their approach if they want to succeed as leaders. They are advised to “be more strategic and less tactical,” to zoom out and view the whole system rather than being stuck in the weeds. To delegate more and to empower and motivate others. To set a vision and “bring people along.” Most of them genuinely want to step into this new leadership space and make a larger contribution. But many find it really hard to let go of their old ways.

Because what got them here, got them here. Up until now, their behaviors and habits worked and helped make them successful. Whether they were problem solvers, detail hounds, or perfectionists, their ways of being are part of their professional identity. Such habits are well-established grooves, and any approach to change needs to understand the source and power of these patterns in order to move beyond them and chart a new course.

3 Ways to Promote Resiliency – How CEOs and Moms Can Be Better Role Models

What do many new leaders of growing companies and adolescent girls have in common? They are both facing demands that leave them overwhelmed, riddled with anxiety, and at risk for burnout.

My two teens girls are growing up in a world in which they are expected to excel in every dimension. They must win at academics and extracurriculars, but that’s not all — they must also have perfect bodies and be liked by everyone. The result, too often, is overwhelm, self-criticism, and anxiety. This sounds like a lot of emerging leaders I coach, male and female, on whom the demands are overwhelming and the expectations (both internal and external) are high. They must excel in all dimensions: be visionary and strategic, move fast, execute reliably, deliver results, communicate effectively, develop their people, demonstrate high EQ, and play nicely with others. These demands leave them with a pervasive sense of not being or doing enough. Senior leaders in their organizations would do well to take some advice from Rachel Simmons, author of “Enough As She Is,” who writes about helping adolescent girls cultivate self-compassion and resilience in the face of mounting expectations. She recently gave the following advice to moms on how to be a role model. Her guidance makes just as much sense for CEOs and other leaders:

1. Let your girls [teams] see you ask for help. No one can do it all alone – not a super-mom, nor a CEO, yet with the best of intentions we can all too often shoulder too much of the burden. This is not only bad for you, it also sets a bad example. Say what you will about CEO Jack Dorsey – last March, he was a great role model when he asked for outside help in addressing the state of discourse on Twitter: “We simply can’t and don’t want to do this alone. So we’re seeking help by opening an RFP process….” This public vulnerability and humility sent a powerful message. Although many companies tout a collaborative model, they should reinforce helping one another and make sure that everyone knows it’s okay to ask for assistance. Some side benefits of asking for help? It builds trust and deepens your bench strength.

2. Talk to them about your failures and how you are handling them. By now, it has become a cliche that failure is an essential step on the path to greatness. But what about run-of-the-mill failures where later greatness is not assured? In the privacy of 1:1 coaching sessions, many clients confess that they are terrified of failure. They need to build their failure muscles. Take the example of Sara Blakely, billionaire founder of Spanx, whose father routinely asked her “What did you fail at this week?” and high-fived her for her failures. Even better if he also shared his own missteps and how he was dealing with them so she could learn from his example. Talking about everyday failure normalizes it and provides an opportunity for learning. Consider each failure as a bicep curl for your resilience.

3. Model down-time. Take a break and rest. Number 3 may be the hardest advice to follow. As a mom who runs my own business, I try to wring every drop of productivity out of my day, and most of my client leaders are in the same boat. We may call it efficiency or optimizing, but really it’s a constant state of activity with no break. Yet studies show that resting boosts productivity. I’m not just talking about getting enough sleep or taking vacations, both of which are important. This is about small daily rituals of rest. Putting your feet up and closing your eyes for 5 minutes, or 20. Taking a walk on the beach – or around the block. Unilever has recognized the importance of rest and has put structures in place to support employee rest breaks (including recommending that if you want to nap, you do it between 2:00-3:00 and for no more than 30 minutes!)  Rest brings greater mental clarity and renews one’s emotional resources to decrease reactivity, and results in improved decision making (and being nicer to work with).

As a leadership coach and a parent, I am often struck by the ways that parenting advice applies to leadership and vice versa. Parents set the norms for families, and CEOs and executives set the culture for organizations. For your own sake and for the resiliency of your people, ask for help, share your failures, and rest.

Feedback – 8 Tips to Get People to Tell You What You Need to Hear

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures YouTube

Many leaders report that when they ask for feedback, they get very little in response. It’s not because they’re perfect. More than likely, people are afraid that they won’t react well to the truth. What to do about that? You need to make it a safe and positive experience for the other person. Here’s how:

From the Culture Desk: When Startups Get Political

“It was great in the early days. Then things got political.” This is a common lament from my startup clients. When pressed to define “political,” the answers can get a bit fuzzy. Most find it hard to pinpoint, but, as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said of obscenity, they “know it when [they] see it.”

Full Stop — What a Traffic Ticket Taught Me About Being at Rest

A while back I got a ticket in the mail for failing to stop at a red light. This New England girl had been caught on camera doing a “California rolling stop.” I was mortified, and upset at the steep fine. My husband was remarkably cool. Apparently he had noticed my tendency to roll through intersections and had been worried about it. “I’m just glad nobody got hurt,” he said.  That made me feel even worse. You’d think I would learn my lesson, but I continued to tap-and-roll through intersections more often than not. So this week I recruited my children to help me “brake” my habit. They were delighted at the invitation to correct my behavior, ready to catch me being bad. But I’ve been good, and to my surprise, it feels good to stop. This second or two of stillness at the intersection gives me a moment to look around, breathe, and be at rest, before driving on.

An Alternative to New Year’s Resolutions: Year-End Lessons

Many of us fall into one camp or the other: the optimistic resolution-makers — who begin the year with energy and hope for positive change — and the cynical non-resolvers who sit on the sidelines and dismiss resolutions as delusional and doomed to be broken. But for those who see a value in year-end reflection and intention setting but don’t embrace the resolution model, I’d like to invite a slightly different approach — one that is both grounded in experience and constructively future-oriented. It has three steps: we celebrate our successes; we acknowledge our failures and disappointments; and we draw from both specific lessons that we want to take forward and apply in the new year.

Celebrate success! Often life is moving so fast that we fail to recognize and celebrate along the way. Look back over the last year at the different areas of your life — career, relationships with family and friends, personal growth, health, finances. What are you most proud of? What did you build, create, or achieve? Where did you find joy or wonder? With whom did you connect? Take note of how your behaviors and attitudes made these successes possible. Remember also to recognize the accomplishment of facing challenges and enduring hardship — simply coming through a hard time is a reason for celebration and can be a source of great learning. Some ways to celebrate: light a candle, turn up the music and dance, tell a friend, write a letter of congratulations to yourself, throw confetti …

Acknowledge failure and disappointment. Okay, this one is less fun than the celebration part, but equally valuable, as it offers an opportunity for learning and for healing. Where did your outcomes not match your intentions? Consider whether the results were within your control or not, question your assumptions, ask whether the goals you set were the right ones for the circumstances. What relationships did you let slip that you would like to repair? What needs went unmet? If you need to mourn a loss or disappointment, you might want to write about it. If you feel angry or disappointed perhaps you need to acknowledge and forgive yourself or someone else. And here’s the crucial step: move on. Don’t wallow or get stuck. Which takes us to ….

Learn Your Lessons and Apply Them. After you have reviewed your year, make a list of five to seven lessons that you have learned — both from your successes and your failures. It is important that your write them down, as writing them down requires you to be clear about what you learned. (Note: your lessons needn’t be profound. There are some lessons I have to learn over and over again, and most of them are as obvious as they are difficult to integrate — put ’em on the list!) Then look toward the coming year and identify specifically how you will apply those lessons. Write this down, too. And finally, schedule some follow-up. Make a date with yourself sometime in March to check in on how you are doing at integrating and applying your lessons. Chances are you will need a refresher. Review, revise, and re-commit, as necessary.

This exercise can be a solitary reflection and a chance to get in touch with your inner self or it can be a fun and mutually supportive exercise to do with a friend or with your partner. But however you choose to do it, I hope you find it helpful and rewarding. And if you feel inspired to share any of the lessons that you are taking forward into 2013, I would love to hear them. Happy New Year!


I love my children, but….. (confessions from a mom’s business trip)

I really loved my trip to New York. A lot.

My vacation … er, …. I mean,  business trip, I mean, began the moment I arrived at the airport and got a copy of the New York Times. On the plane, my economy-plus seat might have been a poolside chaise-lounge for all the enjoyment I took of the five-hour flight — a golden opportunity to read, doze, and work without interruption. Bliss. From my arrival in The City, my schedule was busy and full. I had meetings with clients and potential clients throughout the days and social engagements shoehorned in between times and in the evenings. Every day was non-stop. My work was engaging and challenging, and I opened some new and intriguing doors. I reconnected with beloved friends. I even went clothes shopping — which I never do at home — and had a blast. And as a special bonus, I got to be with my sister on her birthday.

Details, Details…..Confession of a Former Associate

It’s really hard to excel at something that you don’t like.

At my first law job after my clerkship, I was one of forty lawyers to join a prestigious 450-lawyer firm. As our training ground, we newbies were distributed throughout the firm and assigned to help more senior associates on big cases and deals. My first rotation was Securities, where we most often represented the underwriters of huge equity or debt offerings. I tagged along with the senior associate, listened on conference calls, and helped with the massive papering of a deal. There were underwriting agreements and SEC  filings choc full of legalese and “risk factors,” and I was to help mark them up — making changes to boiler plate language, proofreading, making conforming changes from one document to another. It was heavy on the details, and at the beginning I didn’t understand much of it, which made it even harder. The later at night it got, the more the words swam on the page and lost their meaning.

It’s Not All About You

California may very well be the cradle of the “spiritual but not religious” movement, if you can call it a movement. Many of us are are more inclined to spend our weekends hiking or mountain-biking than in a church, synagogue or mosque. And we are not alone. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life recently reported that the fastest growing group among Americans  — a whopping one in five adults and one third of those under age 30 — is those who report no religious affiliation. “I attend the church of the blue dome,” said a friend of a friend recently. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? But I had an experience this weekend that reminded me of the value of good, old-fashioned organized religion, and it had a lesson for all of us about community.