6 Swallows Remind Me About Grace Under Pressure

I wish the ‘six swallows’ bit was some Gabriel Garcia Marquez-like bit of magical-realism, but this really is about half a dozen birds that derailed my Monday.

Every Spring a family of swallows builds its nest on our front porch. It used to be kind of charming hearing their song and watching them dart about. Charming, until one swooped into the house when I stepped out. Birdie zoomed up our high-ceiling entry and planted itself on an unreachable ledge by an unreachable window trying to get out. I called animal control figuring they could help. Not so much. They just said leave the door open and it would eventually fly out.  Instead, 5 more flew in.

Cute when he's way up there.

Cute when he’s way up there.

Then I called Greenwood Wildlife Rehabilitation Center who provided critical, additional detail. You need to cover all the other sources of external light so the flock realizes This Is the Way Out. Luckily neighbor Kevin was home with his happy-to-help attitude and 8’ ladder. Long story short, the birds did leave, but I lost my day hauling a ladder around to tape up sheets, undo sheets and clean bird poop.

The day was not without its universal lessons, however:

  • Listen to your gut.  I was always a little leery of how close the swallows were to the door, but too ‘busy’ to be proactive and prevent them from building a nest this year.
  • Don’t be shy about asking for help. Even though the experts weren’t necessarily as helpful as I would’ve hoped, it set me far enough on the path that I could figure it out.
  • Sometimes the best resource just may be whoever is available. (Especially if they have the right attitude and tools for the job.)
  • In the thick of frustration and mess, remind yourself that this too shall pass.

Happily, the babies have left the nest.

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“Daring Greatly” According to Dr. Brene Brown

Sometimes you decide to squeeze something in to your already-packed life and in hindsight it wasn’t worth it. Other times, you’re glad you made the effort.

Last night, or rather early this morning (2am), joining a live feed to listen to Dr. Brene Brown was definitely worth it.  Dr. Brown was speaking at the annual International Coach Federation conference in London about how having the courage to be vulnerable can transform  the way we live, love and lead.

Here’s her Ted Talk.

Here are my tweets to give you a flavor of her research and writing:

  • Vulnerability researcher gets “Daring Greatly” from Teddy R quote http://bit.ly/T2dZOZ
  • No such thing as creative people and not creative people, only those who use their creativity and those who don’t.
  • In you, vulnerability looks like courage. In me, it feels like weakness. How do we jump that disconnect?
  • Vulnerability is not weakness. It’s our most accurate measure of courage.
  • If you are not aware about how you do vulnerability, it will do you.
  • Feedback is a function of respect.
  • #1 complaint HR hears is “no feedback.” Feedback done well makes the giver vulnerable too. Interesting catch-22.
  • Shame is the birthplace of perfectionism. We don’t succeed bc of perfectionism, but in spite if it.
  • Cultivating “cool” puts a straight jacket on learning and connection.

Here’s another I forgot to tweet:

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

Gives me chills every time.

Want more? (I do.) Here’s her latest book

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Poor Company Leadership: 5 Worst Leadership Mistakes

Thought I’d share a quick guest post I did for the  OI Partners blog.  OI Partners is a global talent management company helping individuals develop their careers through personalized, one-on-one attention and employers improve the performance of their employees and organizations.  They wanted to know what I’d list as the 5 Worst Leadership Mistakes.  Here’s what I said:

There are many ways leaders can blow it. To me, it’s most discouraging when they trip over things involving interpersonal insensitivity, ignorance or laziness. These gaffes bruise an employee’s sense of loyalty which can have a big ripple effect because:

“Employees rated their relationship with their immediate supervisor as more important to their job satisfaction than benefits and compensation.”

Source: 2011 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement: A Research Report by SHRM

With that in mind, here’s my list of the Top 5 Worst Leadership Mistakes:

1)    Avoid Difficult Conversations – This one is a double whammy. First, by not stepping up to awkward situations or performance concerns, the supervisor doesn’t allow the employee to address the issue. Second, the resulting disruptions create drag on other employees and weaken their faith in the boss’ leadership.

2)    Pride Themselves on a “Hands Off” Management Style – When there’s friction between employees it can be messy. A leader whose go-to strategy is “letting you figure out how to play nicely in the sand box” is basically abdicating responsibility. The leader is ensuring continued distraction and frustration for the team. A good leader sees the issue, considers a range of interventions, and selects one based on the situation. They may choose “hands off,” but it’s not the only tool in their box. This slip is a close cousin to Avoiding Difficult Conversations.

3)    Err on the Side of Less Communication – Despite the email deluge, it’s surprising how often employees feel out of the loop. Leaders sometimes shift position but fail to update those that weren’t in the last, pivotal conversation. They may feel so overwhelmed by the ‘to do’s” of a big initiative that they skimp on the communications that would keep everyone up to speed. Employees can feel left out, exert effort in the wrong direction, and/or think the leader is hiding something.

4)    Don’t Hold Others Accountable – How often have you worked like crazy to meet your part of a deadline just to have others miss theirs without consequence? How does it feel when this happens over and over? It’s a sure recipe for frustration, resentment, second-guessing, and loss of respect for leadership.

5)    Don’t Hold Themselves Accountable – This leadership pitfall holds all the snakes of number four, but magnified tenfold. The implication is “I don’t have to play by the rules I set for you.” Who wants to work for someone conveying that sense of arrogance?

For some supervisors, these issues are simply blind spots that can be shored up with leadership executive coaching that heightens awareness and generates more effective strategies. For others, the roots of these bad behaviors may be a bit more knotty. It would be advantageous to engage in a robust executive development program that, in addition to raising awareness, untangles motivations, highlights perceptions and their impact, defines the leader’s more desired impact, and creates an action plan for working through this shift.

Which of the above have you wrestled with? I’d love to hear about changes you made and the resulting impact.

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Discretionary Effort: Performance Nuances and Leadership Response

An HR leader mentioned “discretionary effort” in a recent succession planning workshop. I really liked the phrase’s elegance.  We usually speak in terms of “above and beyond” which has a gung-ho, superhuman feel, calling to mind late-night work sessions, pre-dawn emails and extreme intellectual exertion. It’s all about in-your-face sacrifice and obviously connects to a specific goal. 

How hard are you willing to work?

“Discretionary effort” is more coy.  It’s the quiet, calibrated choice someone makes about how much work they’ll do relative to their role and broader corporate initiatives.  It may throw them onto the hero’s stage with the “above and beyonders,” or just create the confident dependability that surrounds a go-to person.  On the other end, a colleague may decide to expend “just enough” effort.  While it may not advance their career, competently doing the job one was hired to do is sometimes fine.

Then there are those who choose to drop the bar lower and still hope to get by. Sometimes this lesser discretionary effort is so subtle that it’s barely noticed or only noticed over time.  It may seem so slight that it’s hard for a busy manager to muster the energy or data for a discussion around expectations.  Then it’s the leader who’s calibrating effort.  Ultimately, this drip, drip of lost productivity becomes a bucketful of missed opportunity and discontent among harder-working colleagues.

I like “discretionary effort” for its shades of grey and acknowledgement of choice.  It encompasses the decisions an employee makes regarding the amount of energy they expend, as well as how much attention a leader directs towards managing that employee.  Noticing what an employee is doing or not doing well is one thing; choosing how much follow-up time, energy and emotional oomph it is worth is another.

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