Social Power Is Real. Play With It WELL.

You need to stop being a doormat, Reverend Mona said to me.

I was 34 years old at the time. Artistic Head of an internationally acclaimed educational theatre company in New York. Hot shit, so I thought. For the first time in my life, I had taken 6 weeks off to stay in a retreat center in Arizona. This stay included a week of psychological processes to dig into the guests’ mental wiring.

That’s when Mona laid it on me.

A doormat? I found myself getting indignant when I heard those words. Didn’t Mona understand that I was a successful theatre director? Lauded by critics? How dare she!

Mona’s words, I know now, changed the course of my life. I thought my accomplishments were borne of my smarts, my creativity, my fine communication skills. Yes, they were. And yet, there was a whole other dimension of personal impact that eluded me.

My relationship to power. My own power. And the power of others.

Like many, I had internalized a belief system that power was a dirty word. So I ignored power. And, along the way, minimized my impact in the world.

My ability to tap my inner sources of power defines how I ‘show up’ in the world.” 

Achim Nowak, Infectious: How to Connect Deeply and Unleash the Energetic Leader Within

Doormat-ism is one end of the hidden power spectrum. Hot-shit-ness is the other. Both are flip sides of the same coin.

Robert Cialdini’s “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” is a classic text in the field of influence. Cialdini emphasizes the need to understand personal power tools if we wish to have influence. I have since learned that psychologists have developed power models to help us understand the elusive dynamics of interpersonal power.

In my work as an Executive Coach, I use a framework I developed with Miami psychologist Dr. Margarita Gurri. The principle is simple. You and I have 5 primary sources of personal power. Margarita and I call these sources Power Plugs. Just as we plug a light source into a power socket, you and I have the potential to plug into our own sources of power

In turn, every individual we engage with has her or his Power Plugs. If I wish to amplify my influence, it behooves me to plug well into my sources of power and “play well” with the powers of the other person.

Sound complicated? It really isn’t. It starts with being conscious of a source of personal power and then making choices about how to use this source. Let’s do a deeper dive into one of the 5 Power Plugs. Position Power. The authority that comes with the formal professional role we play. On the surface, this is an obvious source of power. Let’s break Position Power down into some variables I urge you to consider. 

How to Navigate Position Power

Position power seems easy. You can hire people. Fire people. People with less position power often defer to you. And you get the corner office.

None of this, of course, means terribly much. Position Power doesn’t inherently get you anything, certainly not earned respect or influence. Yet your Position Power is always “hanging in the air.” Consider the following variables as you figure out how to effectively claim this source of power.

Let It Be.

Don’t emphasize your Position Power. Don’t minimize it. Don’t “play the boss” or act like your team members’ “best buddy.” Don’t joke about your Position Power. Don’t use it as a weapon. Just let it be. Everyone around you knows the powers of your role. Let it be.

When it comes to making a decision, be clear on who is making the decision. Some decisions will likely be made together with your team. There may be majority-rule decisions. There may be consensus-decisions. Don’t abdicate your position power by surrendering every decision to your team. No matter what your philosophy of collective decision-making may be, make sure this philosophy doesn’t turn into an abdication of the authority that comes with your role.

Minimize Power Differentials.

I conduct a bunch of Executive Coaching with very Senior leaders in a well-known Big Pharma company. This company is helmed by Jean-Marc, a universally beloved European CEO. The leaders I support at times participate in group meetings with Jean-Marc. In a highly stratified global enterprise with multiple business streams, a 1-1 meeting with Jean-Marc is rare. So when David, Head of Sales for one of this company’s hot new assets, had one of these rare 1-1 meetings, an hour long, I was very curious about how it would go.

Jean-Marc was fantastic, David said to me after his 1-1. He made the conversation so comfortable. He asked me some personal questions. He shared personal stories of his own and talked about some of his aspirations. He made the conversation very relaxed. Then David added, after a pause. Jean-Marc really put me at ease.

Jean-Marc clearly understands that every time he has a conversation with any member of his pharma enterprise, there is a power differential. Folks may be nervous when they speak with him. Uptight. Guarded. And Jean-Marc has embraced a communication style that minimizes this power divide for others. That’s Position Power, well played.

Your Position Power Never Goes Away.

In the context of Position Power, Jean-Marc clearly has more power than David. David’s Position Power, however, doesn’t diminish just because he is speaking with someone who has more. It is wise to be mindful of the Position Power of another. It is never wise to abdicate our own or throw it away.

Mind you, I know very few people who intentionally abandon their authority when engaging with “a boss.” Our social conditioning about how we speak with folks who have Position Power, however, is deep-seated. It started in our early days of childhood. And it is likely operating on an entirely subconscious level.

Excavate Your Power Conditioning.

I support individuals with very high Position Power. I was born into a family that hails from humble social beginnings. While my Dad had a successful career as an architect for a Division of the German Foreign Service, it was clear to me that when we were assigned to a German embassy somewhere in the world, we didn’t rank very high in the power structure of that embassy. Nobody explained this to me. I simply absorbed it, every time I watched my mom act like a servant when she spoke with “someone important.” Mom did not consciously act like a servant, of course. She was simply performing her own subconscious power dance.

For me to engage effectively with folks of high Position Power, I had to excavate my hidden power conditioning. See it, know it, release it. I can’t show up as the little boy from the German embassy world any more.

You have your own version of this power conditioning. Every one of us does. It is operating as your hidden power blueprint. Excavate this blueprint. Make it conscious. Your influence in the world will always be limited if you don’t – even when you get promoted into a role of high Position Power.

The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.” 

Ken Blanchard

Influence is THE key lever to having an impact in the world, not personal power. Yet we will never have true influence in any aspect of our lives if we do not understand – and play well with - the hidden language of power.

In this Post, I have started to merely scratch the surface of one of 5 Power Plugs. There are 4 more. Without a keen understanding of all 5 of these Power Plugs, our impact in the world will always be diminished. We will continue to hit familiar walls. Crumble in the face of the same old barriers.

Don’t crumble, and don’t be diminished. In my work I see, over and over again, that understanding the hidden language of power dynamics is THE threshold where personal influence starts to expand.

Learn this language. Speak it well.

What Happens When We FEEL Into Things

I received a note in my LinkedIn message box last week.

Nice to be connected to you. Would you be interested in receiving a copy of my new book xxxxxx, and you can feel into me being on your podcast?

The writer is a professor at Stanford University. She teaches conscious leadership, and I adore her very conscious use of the phrase feel into me being on your podcast.

Nice.

There is a certain grace about feeling into things. And, you may wonder, what exactly does “feeling into things” look like?

Last Thursday I had a planning meeting with 3 esteemed colleagues. We’re supporting a leadership team at a biotech company that’s in the midst of some major firefighting. Folks are under-resourced. Overworked. Burned out.

This meeting wasn’t about more data collection. Crafting surveys. Planning focus groups. There wasn’t time.

No, it was a time to feel into a situation. What sort of action would be helpful, what wouldn’t? Based on our collective wisdom. Years of experience. Finely honed instincts.

In a very real sense we have two minds, one that thinks and one that feels."

Daniel Goleman

Does this sound a tad woo-woo? It’s not. We’re in emotional intelligence territory.

Daniel Goleman, Harvard professor and author of the classic “Emotional Intelligence,” has spent 25 years writing books and fostering research on the feeling part of being a leader. Goleman has found that emotional intelligence is comprised of 4 domains: Self Awareness, Self Management, Social Awareness, and Relationship Management.

Nestled within these domains are 12 core competencies. My Stanford professor’s message was nodding to one of these 12 – Emotional Self Awareness. As I read her book, would I feel excited enough about having a conversation with her?

My biotech planning meeting nodded to another – Organizational Awareness. What are the moods and social dynamics within the workforce right now? Which sort of intervention might support, which might hinder a greater sense of well-being and productivity?

Let me un-woo-woo the notion of feeling into things a little more. Here are some of the signals an emotionally intelligent leader considers.

Feeling Into Inner Signals

Notice Your Emotions

Feelings can be marvelous when they “feel good.” Unsettling when they don’t. They offer valuable information about our relationship to the activities we’re engaged in. Feelings, as the saying famously goes, aren’t facts. They are, however, key indicators about our inner state of affairs.

When we are super-busy, we often do not have time to notice how we feel. We’re too busy getting things done. We may say to someone I don’t have strong feelings about what’s going on. Indeed, you may not. Or you may be so busy that you don’t notice how you feel. When we don’t notice how we feel, we cut ourselves off from a key source of inner intelligence. Our clarity and effectiveness are measurably diminished.

Consider Your Emotions

Take fear, for example. We may consider our fear as a factor in whether we move forward with an action. We may decide that our fear necessitates a mindset shift around a specific action. A different tactic, perhaps. Or we may decide to be afraid and take the action, anyway.

We are robbed of any of this consideration when we are too busy to notice what we feel. You know the individual that says I’m just not a very emotional person? Chances are, this person is often making less fully informed decisions. Because emotional intelligence has not come into play.

Feeling Into External Signals

Sense What is NOT Being Said

It’s the classic read the room suggestion. Or read the mood of your entire professional playground. You may be gung-ho about a new initiative or idea. Notice the signals of others as you talk about this idea. Notice their body language, their energy, their silence, the spirit in which they respond, or don’t. These are all key predictors on how well any of what you’re excited about may actually play out.

Feel into what is not being said. Consider it essential information. This implicit intelligence data may prompt you to probe more deeply. It may nudge you to approach your new initiative differently. Ignoring, or not noticing, what is not being said is never an option. It will cost you dearly.

Make an Empathetic Decision

Explore beyond noticing external signals. Consider the WHY behind these signals. We consider the WHY not by conducting a detailed analysis of the signals we see but by, instead, putting ourselves into the shoes of others. WHY do they feel the way they feel? How would I feel if I were in their shoes, facing the same circumstances they face? Empathy is our ability to feel into what others may be experiencing. Empathy has no opinion or judgment about the experience of others. It does not connote agreement or disagreement. When we have felt into the experience of others AND allow it to impact our decision-making, we will always make more holistically sound decisions. Such decisions yield better outcomes than decisions not informed by empathy.

Here is another conversation I had last week. Victor, a Top-level HR executive, speaks to me about being in meetings with Martin, his company’s CEO.

Martin has a lot of emotional intelligence, Victor says to me. I admire that about him. We often go into a meeting with a strategy that we have agreed on. But more often than not, as we are in conversation with other people, Martin will actually change his mind and go in a slightly different direction.

A less savvy person might get frustrated with Martin changing course. Might see it as a sign of weakness. View it through an emotional intelligence lens, and Martin’s change of course is likely prompted by the very factors we have examined in this article:

Feeling into situations is a beautiful thing. It also generates better outcomes.

Always does.

How To Lead With A Bit More Feeling

Received this note in my LinkedIn message box last week.

I am a podcast host like you and launching my book xxxxxx. Nice to be connected to you. Would you be interested in receiving a copy of xxxxxx, and you can feel into me being on your podcast?

The writer is a professor at Stanford University and teaches conscious leadership. I admire her very intentional use of the phrase feel into me being on your podcast.

Nice.

There is a certain grace about feeling into things. And, you may wonder, what exactly does “feeling into things” look like?

Last Thursday I had a planning meeting with 3 esteemed colleagues. We’re supporting a leadership team at a pharmaceutical company that’s in the midst of some major firefighting. Folks are under-resourced. Overworked. Burned out.

This meeting wasn’t about collecting more data. Crafting surveys. Organizing focus groups. There wasn’t time.

In a very real sense we have two minds, one that thinks and one that feels.”

Daniel Goleman

No, it was a time to feel into a situation. What sort of action would be helpful, what wouldn’t? Based on our collective wisdom. Years of experience. Finely honed instincts.

Feeling into a situation means paying attention to what feels right, what doesn’t. It may require tossing well-wrought plans to the wind.

Does this sound a tad woo-woo? It’s not. We’re in emotional intelligence territory. Daniel Goleman, Harvard professor and author of the classic “Emotional Intelligence,” has spent 25 years writing books and fostering research on the feeling part of being a leader. Goleman has found that emotional intelligence is comprised of 4 domains: Self Awareness, Self Management, Social Awareness, and Relationship Management.

Nested within these domains are 12 core competencies. My Stanford professor’s message was nodding to one of these 12 – Emotional Self Awareness. As I read her book, would I feel excited enough about having a conversation with her?

My pharma planning meeting nodded to another competency – Organizational Awareness. What are the moods and social dynamics within the workforce right now? Which sort of intervention might support, which might hinder a greater sense of well-being and productivity?

Let me un-woo-woo the notion of feeling into things a little more. Here are some of the signals an emotionally intelligent leader considers.

Feeling Into Inner Signals

Notice Your Emotions

Feelings can be marvelous when they “feel good.” Unsettling when they don’t. They offer valuable information about our relationship to the activities we’re engaged in. Feelings, as the saying famously goes, aren’t facts. They are, however, indicators about our inner state of affairs.

When we are super-busy, we often do not have time to notice how we feel. We’re too busy getting things done. We may say to someone I don’t have a strong feeling about what’s going on. Indeed, you may not. Or you may be so busy that you don’t notice how you feel. When we don’t notice how we feel, we cut ourselves off from a key source of inner intelligence. Our clarity and effectiveness are measurably diminished.

Consider Your Emotions

Take fear, for example. We may consider our fear as a factor in whether we move forward with an action. We may decide that our fear necessitates a mindset shift around a specific action. A different tactic. Or we may decide to be afraid and take the action, anyway.

We are robbed of any of this consideration when we are too busy to notice what we feel. You know the individual that says I’m just not a very emotional person, right? Chances are, this person is often making less fully informed decisions. Because emotional intelligence has not come into play.

Feeling Into External Signals

Sense What is NOT Being Said

It’s the classic read the room suggestion. Or read the mood of your entire professional playground. You may be gung-ho about a new initiative or idea. Notice the signals of others as you talk about this idea. Notice their body language, their energy, their silence, the spirit in which they respond, or don’t. These are all predictors on how well any of what you’re excited about may actually play out.

Feel into what is not being said. Consider it essential information. This implicit intelligence data may prompt you to probe more deeply. It may nudge you to approach your new initiative differently. Ignoring, or not noticing, what is not being said is never an option. It will cost you dearly.

Make an Empathetic Decision

Explore what may lurk behind external signals. Consider the WHY behind these signals. We consider the WHY not by conducting a detailed analysis of the signals we see but by, instead, putting ourselves into the shoes of others. WHY do they feel the way they feel? How would I feel if I were in their shoes, facing the circumstances they face?

Empathy is our ability to feel into what others may be experiencing. Empathy has no opinion or judgment about the experience of others. It does not connote agreement or disagreement. When we have felt into the experience of others AND allow it to impact our decision-making, we will always make more sound decisions. Such decisions yield better outcomes than decisions not informed by empathy. They always do.

Here's another conversation I had last week. Victor, a Senior HR executive, speaks to me about being in meetings with Martin, his company’s CEO.

Martin has a lot of emotional intelligence, Victor says to me. I admire that about him. We often go into a meeting with a strategy that we have agreed on. But more often than not, as we are in conversation with other people, Martin will actually change his mind and go in a slightly different direction.

A less savvy person might get frustrated when Martin seems to change course. Might see it as a sign of weakness. Viewed through an emotional intelligence lens, Martin’s fluidity in thought is likely prompted by the very factors we have examined in this article:

Feeling into situations is a beautiful thing. It also generates better outcomes.

Always does.

Lessons from a Leadership Trainwreck

I confess.

I watched the Liz Truss train-wreck with glee. Couldn’t get enough of the news. Even her most ardent detractors didn’t expect Truss to derail as quickly as she did. Watching the debacle unravel was akin to witnessing the performance of a 5-act Greek tragedy distilled into 15 minutes. All heightened. Condensed. So inevitable.

And in many ways so satisfying.

I trust the precis of what happened is still vivid. In a time of high inflation, a new prime minister institutes unfunded tax cuts for the wealthy and an equally unfunded 2-year subsidy on energy costs for her citizens. The financial markets rebel. The country’s financial infrastructure starts to collapse. The media ridicules her.

The leadership juice, however, is in the details.

It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently." 

Warren Buffett

While the trainwreck shone light on the ugliness of retail politics, allow me to take this moment to reflect on how the lessons from the Liz Truss debacle inform the choices a corporate leader makes. The dynamics in a corporate playground do not perfectly parallel those in politics. The human foibles that derailed this train, however, have the power to impact human behavior in any situation.

Don’t make the Truss mistakes. Mind the following beliefs that, conscious or subterranean, will impede your personal impact in YOUR professional arena.

The norms don’t apply to me.

In her eagerness to act quickly, fueled by the arrogance of a leader who believes that her marginal economic value system will be the “stroke of genius” that fixes longstanding structural problems, Truss chose an organizational by-pass to get it done.

Ms. Truss, writes Max Colchester in The Wall Street Journal (Colchester, WSJ, 10/20/22, “Liz Truss Resigns as U.K. Prime Minister After Tax Plan Caused Market Turmoil”), a former chartered accountant for Shell PLC and other companies, and her allies refused to have the tax-cut and energy subsidy plans assessed by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility, which normally publishes an analysis alongside new government budgets to account for their impact on public finances.

The desire to by-pass norms is often animated by an outsized belief in the brilliance of our ideas, a sense of grandiosity, and a ferocious personal ambition, even when we downplay it publicly to “act nice.” In her brilliant and scathing opinion piece in The New York Times, published 2 days prior to Truss’s resignation, Tanya Gold put it as follows: Ms. Truss is as close to ambition for its own sake as you can find, and the spectacle of her failure carries a certain thrill. (Gold. NY Times, 10/18/22, “Liz Truss Is Finished”).

Ambition, beware.

I will throw you under the bus if I have to.

When her economic plans invoked instant and near universal backlash, Truss summoned her Chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Karteng, home from a US trip and promptly fired him. I mean, someone had to take the fall, right?

Karteng had been Truss’s closest political ally for years. He had announced a tax and subsidy plan that was very much Truss’s plan. He was the agent of their shared ideas and values. In the act of swiftly dismissing her closest political ally and friend, Truss made it very clear: Please don’t trust me. Don’t think I have your back. I will kick you to the curb if I have to. In a flash.

Shakespearean character flaws. Nothing new, unambiguously displayed. They made it just as easy for others to then kick Truss to the curb.

Loyalty wins the long game. Always does.

They chose me because they want big changes.

It’s one of the most fatal leadership beliefs. I see it in my corporate coaching practice, all the time. You are hired because things aren’t working in the Status Quo. You are told that changes are needed. Big changes. And you’re told that you have been hired to make those changes.

Guess what. When they said changes they meant mini-changes. Baby steps. Band-aid solutions. You sneer at that notion because you know that incremental changes offer only incremental relief. You are right, of course. You missed entirely, however, that your organization is not ready for the BIG changes you champion. They like to hear you talk about big ideas. They want baby steps.

You believed them. That was a fatal flaw.

I have support for my ideas.

You likely counted the votes prior to a key stakeholder meeting. You have lobbied behind the scenes. You have a pretty good idea of who will support a perhaps controversial proposal you’re about to make. And you’re proud of yourself. Because they do, indeed, vote with you.

Great start. Liz Truss learned very quickly that immediate-vote-count support only gets you so far. In any business situation, there are legions of other stakeholders. Does your immediate team who has to execute your initiative support it? Are the workers on the factory floor who are impacted by your initiative ready to execute it? And if you’re a publicly traded company – do analysts who shape the public narrative about your firm support it?

Building support for an initiative takes more than a few chats with key power brokers. Liz Truss never got that memo.

One of the most fatal derailers for any leader is the inability to fully, deeply appreciate context. Context is real. It is invariably complex, and it will never be ignored. Liz Truss’s leadership errors unraveled in the midst of a powerful historical context that Truss, I surmise, reveled in but did not fully grasp. The aforementioned Tanya Gold describes is as follows:

Queen Elizabeth II’s death, on the third day of the new prime minister’s tenure, left Britain morning a leader it loved. The defenestration of Ms. Truss, I feel, is an unacknowledged part of that public mourning, a way of honoring one Elizabeth by rejecting another. Ms. Truss certainly invited opprobrium with her recklessness: Only 6 percent of the country supports her tax cuts, while Elizabeth II preached unity and love. That is the kind of authoritarianism the British like, the velvet kind. In comparison, Ms. Truss looked tinny and pitiful. She could be dismissed.

When a tinny and pitiful leader tosses an economic hand grenade into a mourning crowd, support is not the outcome.

Context rules. Always does. Let us honor it, please, and not ever forget.

You Manage Your Boss, Don’t You?

My friend Sheila hates the phrase. Managing UP.

Patriarchal power nonsense, Sheila likes to fume. Corporate-speak for sucking up to people with authority.

I get Sheila’s frustration with the phrase. Stripped down to its essence, each social interaction, professional or personal, is an encounter between 2 human beings. None of this managing UP, managing DOWN, managing LATERALLY stuff.

Reality check, Sheila. Most corporate CEOs are themselves beholden to a Board. Their ability to manage this Board is pivotal to their success. Yup, even CEOs have to manage UP.

These are the sort of prompts I regularly receive from CHRO’s and Heads of HR in my Executive Coaching practice.

  • Joe manages UP really well. He is, however, too careless in how he relates to his peers.
  • Fran manages her direct reports magnificently. She is timid on the Executive Team and ineffective at managing UP.
  • Ignacio manages UP really well. He manages DOWN well. He needs to do better with LATERAL relationships.

I respect those who tell me the truth, no matter how hard it is.” 

Michael Corleone, The Godfather

Like it or not, even in very “flat” organizations we work within social power dynamics. These power dynamics never, ever go away. It behooves us to see them for what they are. And manage them. Well.

Here is an example of how these dynamics play out on the Executive Team of a global manufacturing enterprise. Mitch, the CEO, has an immediate team of 8. Some of the 8 are CEOs of their own multi-billion-dollar enterprises that fold into this larger organization. Because of the size of the team, the quarterly team meetings last 2 full days. Miriam is one of the mini-CEOs on Mitch’s Executive Team. This is her stream-of-consciousness rant about the dynamics on the team:

These meetings suck. Everyone does a 30-minute update. I have lots of thoughts about some of the other businesses and their strategies but I have decided to keep my mouth shut when they present. I don’t want to ruffle any feathers (managing LATERALLY).

I wish Mitch would challenge my colleagues a little more aggressively when they present unconvincing data. I have given him this feedback privately (managing UP).

I’m not sure it had any impact, so in the Executive Meetings I just make a strong effort to agree with Mitch when he presents a new idea (more managing UP). I do this because don’t want to be branded a trouble-maker.

Miriam describes a few of the choices she makes to manage a complex set of relationships. Let us focus very specifically on 4 key Managing UP behaviors. These behaviors will strengthen our relationship with any boss or authority figure.

Understand What Makes Your Boss(es) Tick.

This transcends knowing their strategic goals and priorities. You DO want to know those. But understand your boss’ innermost drivers. What makes her get out of bed in the morning? Winning? Stability? Experimentation? Radical honesty? Civility?

How does he like to feel when he engages with you? Have fun? Provoked? Reassured? Energized? Validated? And what are some of the wounds that s/he carries? A marriage perhaps that has failed. Persistent health concerns. Disloyal employees. How have these wounds shaped his world view or her sense of herself?

The phrase it’s lonely at the top is both a cliche and true. Chances are, your boss doesn’t like to feel lonely. Be one of the trusted advisors your boss likes to confide in. Make sure you respect her preferred communication cadences. Know his ideal communication channels. Quick emails? Texts? Scheduled mini-meetings? Spontaneous calls? Co-create a helpful communication eco-system that supports your boss’ needs and desires.

Be 3 Steps Ahead of Your Boss(es).

Don’t “make” your boss pepper you with Are you doing this? or Have you thought of that? questions. BE the one who is already doing that and has already thought of this. Don’t have them manage YOU. Manage THEM

Being 3 Steps Ahead starts with what you know from item #1. So, vault into action. Anticipate challenges. Work to prevent them. Find potential solutions and view yourself as a solution-provider. Offering a solution does not mean getting fixated on the one PERFECT solution. Remember, most bosses tend to be super-smart. They want to respond to your ideas. They itch to contribute. Present your potential solutions – and then co-create,

Take the notion of being ahead a step further – mind you, not easy – and become the one who surprises a boss with growth ideas s/he hasn’t considered. Not easy because your super-smart boss is already spending a lot of time on strategic thought. Show YOUR strategic prowess. Exercise that muscle. Go there.

Instill Confidence.

My Boss Self longs to believe that you know what you’re doing. Don’t wish to wake up in the middle of the night and worry about your business. Want to have faith in your ability to get it done. It’s the biggest gift you can give me.

Please be clear: You don’t instill confidence by giving me “happy talk” or telling me what you think I want to hear. You don’t do it by sugar-coating things to make yourself look good. Don’t bullshit me.

My confidence is strengthened when I know that you have assembled a top-notch team. When I have faith that you don’t have blind spots about this team. When you bring major business challenges to my attention quickly instead of shielding me from unpleasant news. Most importantly, my confidence grows when I hear your problem-solving ideas. Bring them, please.

Last but never least: Share your successes with me. Don’t retreat into being the worker-bee who doesn’t take credit for accomplishments but resents those colleagues who DO. Success begets more success. Success stories bolster my confidence. Do not withhold them.

Hold Your Boss(es) Accountable.

You have had meetings with bosses where you left feeling great – and then nothing much happened afterwards. Ideas got kicked around, and no follow-up occurred. You had a momentary “boss-high” – only to feel deflated within days.

Chances are, you settled for the feel-good. You didn’t contract UP. Especially if you have a boss who is also willing to settle for the feel-good, you two just wasted a heck of a lot of get-something-done time.

Contracting UP sounds something like this: As the meeting nears its end, take charge by saying Hey, Marge – based on what we just talked about, here are 3 things I will take care off within the next 24 hours. And if I understood you correctly, here are the 2 things you will look into after this chat. Will you have time to get to it next week? Is it Ok if I loop back to you on Friday?

Clear. Reasonable. Your boss will appreciate the fact that you mean business. She is likely to hold up her end of the bargain. You just contracted UP. It’s a win for you AND your boss.

Social and positional power dynamics are real. We will never, ever be able to manage UP successfully if we have either too much reverence for these powers or approach them with undue fear.

Don’t show up at work as the little boy or little girl who is afraid of authority. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? It is – and it is not easy to do. Our childhood conditioning can be infantilizing and runs deep.

In the end, my friend Sheila is right, of course. In the end, it’s always just one human speaking with another.

Understand power. Manage UP. Do it well.

It begins with managing ourselves.

How To HELP When You Don’t Have To.

We all wanna help, don’t we?

It’s what I like to tell myself. Is that actually true? There are loads of examples of narcissists who don’t help anyone but themselves. Is this just one of those feel-good clichés we cling to?

I’m not talking about doing your job well. I’m talking about helping others at work when you don’t actually have to.

Here’s a study that got me thinking about this. In her illuminating Wall Street Journal “Mind and Matter” column, Susan Pinker describes research conducted by Rodolfo Cortes Barragan, a post-doctoral scholar at the University of Washington (WSJ, 3/7/2020). Barragan tested 96 toddlers to see how likely they might be to help a needy stranger. Yes – those impatient 2-year-olds who are inclined to kick, scream, and bite if they don’t get what they want!

The research. Each child met an adult who was sitting behind a desk. The desk was gated, and the toddler stayed on the other side of the gate with a parent nearby, to ensure the child would not feel threatened. The adult behind the desk selected a piece of freshly cut fruit which then suddenly slipped out of his hand and landed on a tray on the child’s side of the desk.

In 2 control groups, the adults reacted very differently to the loss of the fruit. The adult in the first group acted dismayed at the loss of the fruit, grasped the air unsuccessfully to get at the fruit, and displayed his desire to get the fruit back. The adult in the second group acted nonchalantly after the loss of the fruit.

The outcome. When faced with an adult who was clearly yearning to get the fruit back, 60% of the toddlers retrieved the fruit and promptly offered it to the adult. With the adult who did not seem to yearn for the fruit, only 4% did the same.

Yes, when faced with a clear need for help, the desire to help runs deep. It’s near primal. Even toddlers are wired to help.

Think, for a moment, about less extraordinary circumstances. Think of your own everyday behaviors at work. What are some ways in which you can be of help, every single day, beyond what your job requires you to do? And, conversely, what might be some helping instincts that may actually NOT be helpful?

1.   Offer to help.

We ask if there’s anything we can do to help. We don’t impose help. We don’t force help.

Sometimes, it may be helpful to describe specific ways in which we can be of help. When I curated a Pechakucha Performance event in Miami, for example. I approached my 11 presenters with some “helping questions.” Would it be helpful to look at the slide deck together? Would it be helpful to have a quick run-through? Our helping questions may elicit a desire for help that has been heretofore dormant in the other person.

2.   Extend networks.

One of the most potent ways of helping others is to connect them with someone else who might be able to help. When a colleague struggles with solving a problem and you know a colleague who has solved a similar problem in the past, offer to connect her with that colleague. When a colleague might benefit from a conversation with an expert outside of your company and you know just such an expert, offer to introduce him to this expert. My entire practice as an Executive Coach is predicated on the kindness of someone introducing someone else to me because s/he thinks I can help. Powerful.

Making an introduction is quick. It’s simple. And it strengthens the relationships of every party involved in the introduction. Triple win.

3.  Be an ally.

A good half of my clients in Senior Executive roles are at times accused of not speaking up enough in Senior Leadership meetings. When we probe a little more deeply, these are the sort of comments I tend to hear: Well, someone already said what I was going to say. I don’t want to be redundant. I don’t want to take up unnecessary air time.

Someone has already made the point you wished to make? Terrific. Speak up and let the group know that you agree with what was just said. Support their point-of-view. Be an ally. An ally is one of the most influential roles we can play in any situation. And it’s a powerful way of being of help. Bingo.

4.   Join communities of help.

I like to joke that I don’t do anything alone anymore. Yes, it’s a joke – and there’s a strong grain of truth in it. When I was about to launch my first business, Influens, I joined a Mastermind Group in Manhattan hosted by an organization called Small Business Strategy. I attribute much of the success of my firm to the wisdom, insight and guidance I received from my entrepreneur colleagues in that group. I now host Mastermind Groups, and I belong to a Mastermind Group comprised of top global coaches. I see it in both, all the time. Being in a community of help is an exponential success accelerator for everyone involved.

Let’s be clear. In a community of help, there is no other agenda but the desire to be of help and receive help. These are not networking communities or lead generators. There are no hidden agendas. There is only the shared purpose to help.

5.   Ask for help.

If the need to offer help is primal – even if subverted in a few folks we know – the willingness to ask for help is sublimated in even more of us. We may feel that asking for help at work is a sign of weakness. It may show that we are less skilled, less certain than we pretend to be. It may tap into the part of us that feels a little like an impostor.

Got it. Consider this, however: When I ask you for help, I tap deeply into the part of you that wants to help others. I allow you a chance to act on your innermost instincts. Toddler, anyone? How selfish it would be to deprive you of the opportunity to be of help to me. I mean, really!

Helping at work does NOT mean I do your job for you. Does not mean I help for my own hidden EGO gratification. Doesn’t mean I enable you to stay less competent than you need to be. It doesn’t mean I rescue you.

So, help freely. Help when your help is wanted. And notice how in the act of helping, you help yourself, as well.

Wins all around.

What do your employees REALLY need from you?

Earlier this month, Emma Goldberg wrote a compelling article in The New York Times that caught my attention: “Head of Team Anywhere and Other Job Titles for an Uncertain Time” (4/8/2022).

Some of the new job titles had me chuckling.

And I got the point.

In a time when millions of people who used to go an office are still working from home and may never go back to a physical office, all the essential work-satisfaction-questions return in new form: Why do folks stay at a company? What makes them feel like they belong? What meets their deepest desires for job satisfaction?

Goldberg points out that job titles have always changed with the times. When new information technologies emerged in the 1980s, suddenly we had Chief Information Officers. When political leaders starting showing up in tech firms, we suddenly had Chefs of Staff. And as the competition for talent has become increasingly fierce, we suddenly have Chief People Officers instead of Chief Human Resource Officers.

Here are some of the new job titles that have emerged during the pandemic as companies grapple with workplace disruptions and a workforce that literally – and emotionally – feels a lot more distant:

Yes, you too may chuckle, but LinkedIn has seen a 304 percent rise in new titles that reference hybrid work or are related to the future of work.

I appreciate the burning questions that underlie these job titles. Why would anyone want to work here, with us? How do we make this a place where the way we work works for our people?

In 2011, Daniel Pink tackled these questions in his now classic “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.” He spelled out the 3 areas that unleash any worker’s intrinsic motivation. Fancy new title or not, I invite you to consider these 3 areas and translate them into how you operate in the midst of your new pandemic-workplace-reality.

Daniel Pink’s Key Workforce Motivators

Autonomy

Is there room for those who work for you to make decisions? Is there an opportunity to initiate projects? Is there a chance to experiment and try new ways of doing things? Are there opportunities to stretch and fail? Are there substantial chunks of a work cycle that do not require a review or approval process?

The opposite of autonomy: The General Manager of a $ 400 Million dollar revenue worksite tells me of having to go “up the chain” and waiting for 7 weeks to hire a new part-time employee. And you wonder why he left?

Mastery

Do folks who work for you have a chance to take on increasingly challenging tasks? Do you hold real and honest conversations about enhancing workplace performance (as opposed to going through the motions because you have to conduct a performance review)? Do you have leaders who know how to appropriately challenge their teams and help them live up to their potential? Do you offer training, coaching and other developmental opportunities at every organizational level? Is a personal-growth-mindset fully integrated into how you “do work?”

The opposite of Mastery: You are limited to forever performing the one or two tasks you do very well. You become known as the expert in these tasks - but you never tap or master your full potential.

Purpose

Does your business have a purpose beyond enhancing shareholder value? Is this a true purpose (as opposed to a clever marketing purpose on your firm’s website)? Is everyone’s work contribution tied to such a deeper purpose? Are your statements of purpose and values actually “lived” and embodied at work? Do the leaders you work for/with show interest in your personal purpose, separate from what the corporate purpose may be?

The opposite of Purpose: A purpose connects us to the heart-and-soul reasons for getting out of bed in the morning and going to work. It channels our dreams.  Going to work in a place without purpose is like living a slow death every day.

The frameworks and models for taking care of our employees are well-tested. We know what they are. Remote or hybrid work was alive and well before Covid came around. Whatever you are inventing now has been invented before.

Have fun with the job titles. But it’s about more than a new title. Isn’t it?

In case of doubt, consider Pink’s 3 workplace motivators as your North Star.

Address these 3 needs, and you will fare a lot better than if you don’t.

The Case for Curiosity

I had a birthday last Friday. We celebrated over a meal at Pinch Kitchen, an eclectic and award-wining eatery in Miami’s Upper East Side neighborhood.

I could go on and on about the joys of Pinch Kitchen. I won’t. Here, however, is what I want to share with you: I love Pinch’s publicly stated ethos – a pinch of this, a pinch of that. It’s an ethos of experimentation and exploration. An ethos of innovation. Curiosity.

My birthday dinner at Pinch got me thinking about all of this and more. A younger version of me arrived in South Florida 18 years. At Pinch, munching on olives and warm octopus salad, I found myself remembering the brilliant Miami episode of Anthony Bourdain’s series, “Parts Unknown.”

In the final minutes of that episode, Iggy Pop, scraggly-faced musician, former front-man for The Stooges, the grandfather of punk (and these days a Miamian), and Bourdain stand in the sand on Miami Beach, looking at the sky. Two aging men who, by most people’s standards, have been there, done that, seen it all, muse on what’s left.

Iggy: I’m still curious. You seem like a curious person.

Anthony: It’s my only virtue. (Said with a chuckle.)

Iggy: There you go. All right. Curious is a good thing to be. You know it seems to pay some unexpected dividends.

Final words of the Miami episode as birds soar in the sky and Pop’s song “The Passenger” pipes in. Quintessential Florida.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

Albert Einstein

In the end, back to curiosity.

You and I know that when work starts to feel stale, curiosity can be hard to come by.

Before I opened my first firm I spent 5 years on the road, delivering training programs for an international training company. Within a year the programs I facilitated had become entirely routine for me.

It forced me to think. In the face of routine, what am I still curious about? There were endless nuances to program content, but I knew these nuances would reveal themselves on their own. My curiosity needed to transcend the task I was performing.

My choice: Be curious about the variables, not the routine. Every person who showed up at one of my seminars was the variable. Every latest trend in the training industry was the variable. Every new city I trained in was the variable.

Be curious about everything. That’s the grand thought.

Easy when we stand on the beach with Iggy Pop and Bourdain and contemplate the meaning of life.

At work, however, focus your curiosity. If you’re not the one who makes presentations to your firm’s Board of Directors, perhaps let someone else be curious about that. Fire the curiosity that will drive your commitment to the things YOU do every day.

Be curious about the variables in your sphere of influence.

You decide. But be curious, please.

Here’s a conversation I have had with more than one person I have coached.

Coachee: I dread all these endless business dinners I have to attend.

Part of me empathizes and understands. And yet, here’s where I draw the line

Achim: Not attending is not an option. What would it take to attend with curiosity?

Dale is a fellow who shows up every day at the breakfast joint where I like to grab my morning bagel. When I ask Dale how he’s doing, his answer is always the same:

Same old, same old.

Curiosity extinguished. Same old, same old is simply not an option.

The unexpected curiosity dividends?

Curiosity is a choice. It requires vigilance. It is available to us every moment of every single day. It keeps our inner spark alive. It adds a deeper purpose to every task you and I perform and every conversation we engage in. It connects us to a larger world of wisdom and possibility.

Bourdain took his life. That is a choice, as well. I have a brother who made the same choice. I am curious about the why. We will never truly know.

But Iggy Pop, unlikely punk survivor, got this one right. 

Curious is a good thing to be.

Routine has the potential to unleash a rich deep curiosity. Be vigilant. Be curious about the variables, not the routine. Be specific. But please, be curious.

And collect your dividends.

The Power of Everyday Transitions

We’ve all had THAT day.

Meeting upon meeting upon meeting. Our head starts to swirl by early afternoon. By evening we’re drained. And feel incapable of thinking one more thought.

The entire day has felt like a ride on a runaway train.

How do we stop this train?

How do we slow down the pile-on madness?

I learned about the power of transitions several decades ago when I was a trainer for Langevin Learning Services, the largest train-the-trainer company in the world. I delivered 20 different programs, designed by a professional instructional designer.

Here’s what was designed into each of these programs: After learners returned from a break, I would not immediately delve into teaching new content. I would, instead, deliver a short and hopefully enjoyable brain teaser to allow learners to transition from the hallway chit-chats, phone calls and email catch-ups, back to the focus of a learning environment.

Honor the space between no longer and not yet.” 

Nancy Levin, best-selling author

A brain teaser would take no longer than 5 minutes. Here was the thinking behind this convention: When you don’t build in a transition and go straight to content, instead, learners are not ready to fully focus on what the trainer is about to present. Their mental energy is still on what they were thinking about in the hallway.

By incorporating a transition (the brain teaser), learners are able to better transition from what had happened outside of the room to what is happening in the training room. 5 minutes buy a much higher degree of learning focus. Much better work happens in class because participants are able to transition into a learning state-of-mind.

I’m not proposing you do brain-teasers all day. I’m also not proposing that you start each meeting with soft chit-chat, as often happens in a business meeting these days.

No, I propose that YOU start creating and managing YOUR own transitions.

Have a transition mindset. And consider the following very specific ways of putting transitions into action throughout your work day.

4 Transition Practices

The 30-Minute Preview

Instead of launching into your day first thing in the morning with a crucial meeting, schedule 30 minutes of private time before you “go public.” Think of these 30 minutes as your preview time. You look ahead to your day, the meetings that are in store, the deadlines you must meet, and you consider what you need to do to bring your Best Self to all of these circumstances.

While a Preview is not a transition, you have the chance to consider your transitions for the day, first thing in the morning. What do you need to do, at any given moment, to be mentally, emotionally and spiritually present? What do you need to do to remain energized until the final meeting? Yes, review key documents that will help you to contribute meaningfully in a meeting - but also consider the sort of transitions that will help you to move with ease from one situation to the next throughout your day.

Prepare with data and information. And prepare for flow.

The 5-Minute Regenerator

Where can you find 5 minutes in-between meetings, tasks, obligations to simply stop? 5 minutes is the magic number I followed at Langevin to help my learners “transition.” While I might have felt the pressure to cram more content into an hour, 5 minutes facilitated a much richer engagement in the minutes that followed. And the moment we decide, we will always find the 5 minutes, no matter how busy we are. Always.

Only you know what will be regenerative for you in those 5 minutes. Close your eyes and meditate? Step outside and enjoy a change of scenery? Look at a bit of nature? Have a quick jog? Eat a power bar? Chances are, going on social media or chit-chatting with colleagues, no matter how much you like them, won’t do the trick.

Know what regenerates you. Make sure you choose an activity that is realistic and do-able for you. Make this activity a habit. If success in life is predicated on simple habits that set us up for success, make your 5-minute regenerators a habit you don’t negotiate away.

The 1-Minute Focus Moment

Surely you can take a minute, just ONE minute, to focus yourself before you join a meeting. A minute in which you mentally and emotionally put yourself into an optimal state of mind for the meeting you are about to attend.

What do we do in that minute? What will help us focus? If our mind is chattering away with fears and predictions, consider taking a few deep breaths, eyes closed, to bring yourself back to fully being in your body. If you want to make sure that you will be a helpful thought partner in the meeting, affirm that it will be so. I am a thoughtful and valuable contributor to each meeting I attend. Affirm this quietly, a few times over, in the minute before you join. It will calm you and affirm that it will be so.

Anchoring techniques (an affirmation IS an anchoring technique) are powerful self-management techniques that quickly put us into an optimal state of mind. They are the sort of techniques actors use before they need to act and athletes before they enter a race or competition. Visualize the perfect meeting with an impeccable exchange of ideas. Listen to your favorite piece of music that instantly lifts you into a great mood. Curious about anchoring techniques? I urge you to do a bit of google research. Anchoring techniques are perfect helpers in your 1-Minute Focus Moment.

The 15-Second Reset

Meetings tend to shift and swerve and sometimes veer into unexpected directions. We have all sat in that meeting where a topic was covered, the conversation has moved on, and someone harps on something that was talked about and tabled 15 minutes ago. Dude, you think to yourself, we’re done with that one. Move on!

The individual who harks back to previous matters has not transitioned to where the conversation has evolved. S/he has simply not noticed. S/he has not adjusted or transitioned, along with the tenor and flow of the conversation.

A 15-Second Reset is internal. It happens in the midst of a conversation. It is based on our observation of the collective mood of the moment. I guess this topic is done. There is no collective appetite to kick this around anymore. Let me switch along with the group.

Simple. Helpful. Quick. And most importantly, conscious.

A transition mindset is a true self-management mindset.

I am mindful that my energy is not limitless.

I am mindful of making choices that best manage my energy and don’t overload my brain.

I understand that transitions are a key tool for managing my everyday energy flow, and I commit to honoring my transitions every day.

Simple stuff. Powerful.

Please go do it.

Cultivate the EYE of the BEHOLDER

The news can be so grim some weeks, says Scott Simon. You may want to hear about something happy, even charming. I saw such a scene a few days ago, on vacation with my family in France.

Scott Simon is a best-selling author and the host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday. This is my Saturday morning routine: I work out with my trainer Chris at 7, hop in the car afterwards and head to Dania Back Shack for a tantalizing breakfast. And I listen to Scott Simon who comes on the air right at 8 am.

I love Scott Simon’s gravelly voice. It oozes authority. And boy, does Simon have a way with words.

There's a Paris restaurant called Tour D' Argent, Simon elaborates the morning of his 7/9 newscast, that's mentioned in the books of Hemingway and Proust, and inspired scenes in the film "Ratatouille," where a rat named Remy comes to live, and cook, in the kitchen.

Just across the street from the Michelin-starred establishment is the Rotisserie D' Argent, which my wife recalls from her student days in Paris. It has red-checked tablecloths, manageable prices, and rotisseries that churn like small Ferris wheels, spinning glistening chickens, filets of salmon, and fat slivers of potatoes that blister to an incandescent bronze.

Sorry to get carried away...

To keep going during COVID, the rotisserie has set up tables not just on, but across the street--on the Left Bank of the Seine, just above the river barges, and strolling, smooching lovers. What transpires is a great show. People order, and servers in bowties wait for red lights to halt traffic, and bustle across the street with grace and purpose. They dash back a few minutes later, hoisting icy metal buckets with bottles of blushing rose wine, and sparkling platters of roasted chicken or fish, spilling not a jot of au jus.

Sometimes, a server shoulders a tray and holds up a hand to hold back a car making a turn. Sometimes, they wave a car through with the sweep of an empty tray, like a matador with a cape.

I ordered an espresso at the end of our meal. Nicola(s), our server, nodded as if being entrusted with a mission from General De Gaulle. He waited for a green light to illuminate the crosswalk, dashed into the rotisserie, then out moments later with an espresso sitting on a metal tray like a precious pearl on a velvet pillow. When I called him a hero, he shrugged, which is what heroes do.

The whole scene, the small, great show on a street along the Seine, was a snapshot I will carry in my mind. Even when the world feels tumultuous and even dire, it is possible to find moments of art and delight in our everyday lives.

Yes. Simon has a way with words.

Easy to see the charm of the everyday moment when you’re on vacation in Paris, you may think to yourself. Harder in the middle of a distracted day at work.

Much data and evidence about events in the world IS grim. Catching the beauty of the everyday moment is our choice. Scott Simon reminds me of how critical it is that I exercise that choice.

Last Tuesday I step out of my apartment building and see my Uber driver across the street, waiting for me. He sports an outsized mohawk do and flashes an extravagant grin.

Gustavo is from Uruguay, I am from Germany. Within 30 seconds we’re talking soccer. Gustavo professes his admiration of German soccer. Has Uruguay ever won the World Cup? I inquire. 3 times, I learn, the last time in 1950.

We talk about the German 7:1 soccer rout of Brazil at the 2014 World Cup. Gustavo proclaims his love of Borussia Dortmund, one of Germany’s top pro soccer teams. I tell him I was born in Hagen, 20 kilometers from Dortmund.

I learn about Gustavo’s 2 sons. They play soccer. Are they good enough to play professionally? I ask. The oldest one, 22, does in fact play professionally in Europe.

You must be very proud of your sons, I say to Gustavo. He beams.

Gustavo drives Uber and also works as a physical trainer. I tell him about my work as an Executive Coach and my former side-gig as an Airbnb super host. As we chat, I find myself thinking about Gustavo’s American dream, and I find myself contemplating my own.

It’s a 12-minute ride from my building to the Ft. Lauderdale airport. It contained all the charms of Scott Simon’s Paris adventure.

The conversation was a choice. Every moment within the conversation was a choice. I am grateful for the 12 minutes.

The following night, I find myself sitting on the patio of the very savory Café Lucci in the Chicago suburb of Glenview. I’m with the Executive Leadership team of a manufacturing company, breaking bread and sharing stories.

Glenn, the fellow sitting next to me, has just purchased a 21-acre property that has its own shooting range. Steve, the fellow sitting across from him, is also an avid gun owner and hobby gun shooter, as is Alison, the firm’s VP of HR who is sitting across from me.

I suddenly find myself in a conversation with gun hobbyists. I have never had such a conversation before. We’re having this conversation 2 towns down from Highland Park, a week after the Highland Park Fourth of July shootings. I listen with fascination as I hear Glenn, Steve and Alison talk about the shooting ranges where they shoot, the many guns they own, the various type of rifles, and the guns owned by their family members.

You have AR 15s, right? Alison asks Glenn. He nods affirmatively.

So do we, Alison affirms.

I listen in silence. I have never owned a gun or fired one. I am a pretty skilled conversationalist, but this is unfamiliar conversational turf.

Is this conversation making you uncomfortable? Alison asks me.

I know nothing about guns, I say.

I suppose I was a little uncomfortable. And at the same time, I fully cherished being in an entirely unfamiliar conversation. This conversation had a rich beauty of its own.

Seeing that beauty was a choice.

I wrote a little book called “The Moment” a few years back. It celebrates the power of simple everyday moments, and our choice to notice and find meaning.

It need not be Paris. But thank you, Scott Simon, for the reminder. In a world where news is so frequently grim, some choices are always mine.

And yours.