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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Life and Leadership Lessons from Master Yoda

Yoda was a master mentor. He had a lot of wisdom to impart to young Luke Skywalker and the other Jedi warriors. I believe there are things we can learn about personal development and leadership from Yoda’s teachings (here in our own galaxy).

Three of my favorite pearls of truth from the green little awesome guy are:

“Named must your fear be before banish it you can.”

“Do or do not…there is no try.”

 “You will find only what you bring in.”

1.     Overcome your fears. 

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

“Named must your fear be before banish it you can.”

Overcoming our fears is one of the most important things to improve ourselves and grow. If we don’t we will just get stuck. But how do you do it? Well, first, as Yoda says, you have to stop avoiding your fear. You have to think about it and see what you really fear.

After you have brought some clarity to the situation, here are few tips for actually overcoming that fear.

Face your fear.

Maybe this is not what you want to hear, but in my experience and from what I’ve learned from others this is the best way to overcome your fear. And if you have handled a big fear, whatever it may be, and later realize you actually survived it, many things in life you may have feared previously seem to shrink. Those fears become smaller. They might even disappear. You may think to yourself that what you thought was a fear before wasn’t that much to be afraid at all.

Everything is relative. And every triumph, problem, fear and experience becomes bigger or smaller depending on what you compare it to.

Be curious.

A curious frame of mind makes it easier for us to face our fears. When we are stuck in fear we are closed up. We tend to create division on our world and mind. We create barriers between us and other things/people.

When you shift to being curious your perceptions and the world just opens up. Curiosity is filled with anticipation and enthusiasm. It opens you up. And when you are open and enthusiastic then you have more fun things to think about than focusing on your fear.

How do you become more curious (are you curious now? Then you already know how)? One way is to remember how life has become more fun in the past thanks to your curiosity and to remember all the cool things it helped you to discover and experience.

All is one.

Our ego wants to divide our world. It wants to create barriers, separation and loves to play the comparison game. The game when people are different compared to us, the game where we are better or worse than someone else. All this creates fear whether you call it unease, anxiety, worry or concern.

Doing the opposite removes fear. Namely, that there is not real separation between beings, that we are one and the same. This might sound bit corny or new agey but it’s been demonstrated by quantum physics that we all come from the same source.

2.     Don’t Try Do. 

“Do or do not…there is no try.”

When we tell ourselves and/or someone else we will try we are more likely to give up or just stop when the first obstacle shows up.

When you say that you will do something there is more determination and power behind the decision. When the inevitable obstacles that always show up start to block your path you are determined. You will do this. So you find ways over, under, around and through the obstacles. And that’s what you have to do most of the time to actually get things done. Smooth sailing with no problems at all is pretty rare.

By actually making clear choices to do or not to do something—and putting power behind those choices—you are likely to preserve until you succeed.

3.     Your world is a reflection of you.

“You will find only what you bring in.”

That’s what Luke is told in “The Empire Strikes Back” (The best of the original series in my opinion) before he goes into the cave on Yoda’s home planet. Inside the cave Luke battles his demons—more specifically an illusion of Darth Vader—and is confronted with his own inner darkness. The darkness he brought into the cave that could pull him over to the dark side if he allowed it to.

I think this is relevant in our world too. We find in our world what we bring into our world. And in your world you can see yourself—your thoughts and behaviors—reflected. By observing the world around you, you gain insights into yourself and what you may need to change.

Because even though there is a big, big world out there with many possibilities and people—in the end change in your life comes down to changing yourself.

It’s very easy to get stuck in thinking that your perspective, the lens though which you view reality is reality itself. But you can’t really see reality. You can only see if filtered through a lens. And the lens is you.

Changing, for example, a negative attitude to a positive one changes how you view yourself and your entire world. But it’s very hard to convince people of this truth. You just have to choose to try another perspective or frame and use it for a month or so. Your old thought patterns may want to draw you back to the comfortable stability of your old view point.

One of our greatest gifts in life is the power to choose. We can choose to see things differently. And when we do all kinds of great things show up to help us move forward.

May the force be with you.

PM in the AM

Friday, March 18, 2011

You can't fake engagement

Quick Tips

“Engagement” may just be a fresh word for a familiar idea: Employees are more productive when they're happy and committed to your goals than when they're miserable and just trying to get by. But whatever you call it, you can't ignore the challenge. Here’s how to drive engagement in your team:

Set clear expectations. Tell employees where your team is headed—its mission—and how you plan to get there. A clear sense of direction helps people see the connection between their daily work and their employer’s long-term success.

Pay attention to your culture. Engagement can’t thrive in an environment that ignores employees. Listen to your workforce; ask employees what resources and training they need to do their best work; and support them in developing their skills so they feel that you’re all on the same side. Provide simple, clear and regular feedback.

Inspire your workforce. Employees want to know that their work is about more than making money for the executives or shareholders. Tell them why their work is important and how it helps customers, the community, and the world. Just be sure to back up your inspirational talks with decisions and actions that demonstrate you’re not just mouthing slogans.

Be authentic. Your employees won’t feel passionate about their work if they think you’re faking it. Express your own feelings about why the work is important. Celebrate successes, and be honest about setbacks. Sincerity is the foundation of engagement.

All the success!

Peter Mclees, MS LMFT

Smart Development, inc

Sunday, March 13, 2011

From the Leader's Digest Mail Bag: Managing Mediocrity:

Dear Leader’s Digest:

I am struggling with some employees who are just not cutting it. Their performance is mediocre at best, but there is not enough cause to terminate them. Other employees have complained about them. Customers have not complained about them but they never receive compliments either.

I feel as though I am stuck with these people who are not up to par. How can I better handle employees who just skate by doing the minimum?

Dear Managing Mediocrity:

We hope you're sitting down because our answer is going to suggest more work than you might have hoped. But we can assure you that if you really want to raise performance for not only these low performers, but for the entire employee, this is an approach that may help.

First, let’s agree on the real problem. The issue you're facing is not low performers. The issue is low expectations. If these two employees are truly low performers and yet “there is not enough cause to terminate them,” then you are operating in a culture with mediocre norms. And if that’s true, then the work you have to do is not first and foremost with the low performers, it is with chronically bad group norms. If your team was crystal clear on high performance expectations, mediocrity would be painfully apparent and you wouldn't have to make a tough call when it came time to coach, counsel or redeploy.

So, how do you reset norms? How can you set a high performance standard that makes dealing with mediocrity much clearer?

1. Confirm the Company/Region/HR Standard. You, your peers, your supervisors, and HR need to have a uniform and explicit understanding about the kind of performance you expect from employees, their position and the duties they are performing in your store.

2. Go Public. Once you have sufficient support from the people identified in step 1 for the hard decisions involved with a higher performance standard, you'll have to go public. Let people know the bar is being raised. Let them know of any implications for jobs, for development, and any other consequences people will need to understand so there are no surprises. Acknowledge that the norms-expectations were different in the past, without sounding self-righteous and judgmental of past leadership. Frankly state how things will be going forward and why this is right for the store and good for those involved. Sell the vision as a way of instilling pride and ambition. Let people know that there will be ample and just opportunities to upgrade their contribution, as well as how you'll support that with candor, coaching, and development.

3. Coach, Coach, Coach—Redeploy. Now live the standard. If someone performs below the standard, coach them—have the “content” conversation to let them know the gap between what they did and what you expected. Three factors set those who are adept at talking about mediocre behavior apart from the rest of the pack: research, homework and connection. First, you need to gather data. Have a talk with the marginal employees about what they like and don't like about their current work situation. What are their frustrations, aspirations, and concerns? Approach your “research” conversation with a genuine desire to discover underlying barriers and then see if you can find ways to resolve them.

Next, scrupulously gather facts—from memory and observation—that will allow you to describe in illuminating detail the difference between mediocrity and excellence. This is crucial. Many managers are so vague about the difference that they end up using the feel-good, mean-nothing terms that typically pepper pregame speeches, such as “We need you give 110 percent.” This advise may make sense to those giving it but it only confuses and insults the people who are supposed to change. Ask yourself, what actual behaviors can I describe to make this distinction clear?

Finally, connect your homework with your research. Explain how your recommendations will not only bridge the performance gap but help them achieve their aspirations. When you make this link your influence will increase enormously. Also, this would be a great time to use goal setting to engage the employee in identifying and resolving the performance shortfall.

If it continues, coach again—but this time have a “pattern” conversation—let them know this is now a chronic concern, not an isolated concern. If needed, this escalation is documented and any necessary support in the form of training, mentoring, work process change, etc., is offered. If it happens again, it’s time for a “relationship” conversation. At this point the person must know that redeployment is an option. This must be put in writing to allow no wiggle room in understanding.

In conclusion, the greatest challenge you'll face in coaching is not the individual's performance, but your own clarity. Far too few managers know how to articulate the difference between mediocre performance and good performance. And if you can't describe it you can't expect it. You must do the hard work of detailing the behaviors and results you expect to see and contrasting those with typical mediocre performance. Every minute you spend more expertly articulating expectations will save you an hour in debate and resentment later.

All the success,

PM in the AM