Real Reason You Should Make Empathy Your Mantra – Lambeth Hochwald

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The capacity to understand or feel what others experience AKA ’empathy’ isn’t usually a word that’s associated with business but it should be because good bosses know that empathy is one of the best management tools they have.

But Michael Ventura, author of Applied Empathy: The New Language of Leadership (Touchstone), publishing this week, believes this word is one that can help us better connect to clients, attract the right talent, ignite a spirit of creativity and identify opportunities for growth and there are three definitive ways to up your empathy quotient.

I’m a big proponent of this word and consider it a mantra in all of my interactions, whether I’m interviewing someone who may not be as media-trained as a corporate bigwig or a vendor helping me sort out a billing issue.

That’s why I really wanted to speak with Ventura, an entrepreneur and creative director who founded Sub Rosa, a strategy and design practice, in 2009. He considers it his mission to demonstrate the ways in which empathy–the ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes–can be the key to your company’s innovation, growth and success.

“Empathy isn’t about being nice and it’s not about pity or sympathy either,” Ventura says. “It’s about understanding–your consumers, your colleagues and yourself–and it’s a direct path to powerful leadership.”

How to Step Up Your Empathy

To put yourself on that path, solicit feedback on your own leadership and create moments where you and your team can talk candidly about their needs and how they best thrive.

“Until we make an investment in ourself and the people we work with, we are at a disadvantage,” Ventura says. “Candid conversation, thoughtful listening, self-observation and a willingness to improve/evolve our approach as we grow are all key factors in delivering empathic leadership to our organizations.”

In looking back at the work he has done with his clients over the years, Ventura says that his best work was done when he and his principals were at their most empathetic selves.

“We got out of our own shoes and met with the people with whom the work intersected, whether that was consumers, partners or shareholders,” says Ventura whose firm counts among its clients a variety of Fortune 500 companies (GE, Google, Nike), the United Nations, the Obama Administration and start-ups like Warby Parker.

And, like any good coach knows, the way you get the most out of your players is by knowing how to inspire and motivate them, Ventura says.

“Some may benefit from instruction, while others thrive on pressure,” he says. “Great leaders take the time to truly understand their teams and bring forth leadership that matches their needs and aligns to the overall goals of the company.”

The ability to apply empathy and understand the ways in which it applies to leadership and staffing decisions is ‘where the rubber meets the road,’ Ventura says.

This means looking deeply at company values, the ways teams are structured, the way meetings are run and the way products are developed.

Focus on the Four Ps

“Everything that is core to your business can be considered,” he says. “We typically bundle these into four ‘Ps’ – people, processes, principles and product/service. Taking that empathic point of view that you’ve unearthed in your research and conversations can help to infuse these core pillars of the business with more meaning.”

Best of all, even the most cynical hardwired entrepreneurs can learn to be more empathic but there is one caveat: “Empathy is a muscle like anything else and if you don’t use it, it will atrophy,” Ventura emphasizes.

And, ironically, empathy begins with a look in the mirror.

Ventura stresses that it’s key to find ways to get out of your own perspective every day. This includes talking to people who are unlike you on your team.

“Journaling, meditation or other forms of self-reflection are key tools that you can use to better understand your own personal biases,” Ventura says. “This can also help you come to grips with your own limitations while still leading with confidence and empathy.”

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How This Therapist-Entrepreneur Is Starting A Global Movement Talking To Strangers – Melody Wilding

How much of your day do you spend listening to other people? I don’t mean half-heartedly nodding along while you mentally multi-task. I mean actively being present with another human being. These opportunities for connection are becoming increasingly rare in our hyper-connected world where distractions abound.

It’s difficult to stay focused long enough to listen to the people you love, let alone engage thoughtfully with someone you disagree with, whether that be your boss, a difficult colleague or someone whose political affiliations differ from yours.

Yet we’re facing a loneliness epidemic spurred on by disconnection. Being heard, feeling seen and getting validation are not only crucial components of good communication, but they are also essential for mental health.

Sidewalk Talk is an initiative that attempts to bridge the gaps we face today and give voice to marginalized emotions, people and communities. A team of volunteers take to city streets across the globe, simply sitting outside in chairs, eager to listen to any stranger who comes along wanting to chat. In these high-conflict times, Sidewalk Talk is attempting to use listening to heal, which is why when I first heard about the project, I knew I had to get inside the mind of the woman who started it, Traci Ruble.

In this interview, she discusses her inspiration for starting Sidewalk Talk along with the powerful ways the initiative is serving diverse, marginalized communities. Traci, a seasoned psychotherapist, also breaks down practical tips you can use to become a better listener, even in stressful situations.

Melody Wilding: You’ve been a psychotherapist for 14 years. What inspired you to start Sidewalk Talk?

Traci Ruble: Sidewalk Talk was not a heady decision.  It was inspired.  The inspiration was Psychological, Social and Spiritual all wrapped up in one.  Presidential elections were getting vitriolic in 2003.  In response, I had a profound call that we needed more love and equanimity in our political conversations.  Years later, gun violence (the Sandy Hook Shooting and the Charleston shooting), knocked me over.

All I wanted to do was hear directly from people why we were shooting each other.  Finally, the results of the Trayvon Martin case pushed me to finally sit and offer free listening on the sidewalk. I wanted to step out of “preach or teach” mode and wanted to hear directly from folks we frequently don’t listen to.  It felt like the right way for me to be in community to perhaps create some connection and justice.

Ruble: We call Sidewalk Talk a community listening project because it is everyone’s project. We pull this project off for very little money per year and it has grown because members in various communities across the world have taken our street listening guidelines and launched their own Sidewalk Talk chapters.  It is also a community listening project because when we sit on public sidewalks we become community glue.

We take over a sidewalk and next think you know, you will have every member of the community represented, sitting side by side, being heard.  A few months ago, in San Francisco, we had two young black women (who didn’t know each other but became friends after), a homeless vet, a gay activist, an older female Asian executive, and a young white male ‘tech bro’ all sitting shoulder to shoulder, being listened to.

 The whole community was included and had a place to belong in the same space, as equals.  Now that, that was profound.  That is the dream vision.  But along the way, the community inside Sidewalk Talk, as an organization, is one powerful place of belonging, growth and inclusion , as well.

Wilding: You talk a lot about the power of human connection. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from listening to strangers on the street?

Ruble: Most important lesson hands down: listening non-defensively is way easier than reacting or avoiding and it is pleasurable.  Who wouldn’t want to change their behavior in the direction of ease and pleasure? But it isn’t easy and it takes practice.  So often when we listen, we don’t know how to have boundaries so we can feel “emotionally contaminated” by people.

 We react or avoid altogether. We need to practice “being with” people while also holding neutrality and lenses on possibility.  I don’t mean phony “mantra type” positive thinking but the hearing the whole person under this story where possibility exists.  When people feel the best parts of them seen in troubled times, they often rise to the occasion.  But it is delicate.

Too much lightness can feel patronizing and not helpful so listening for the whole person and leading with curiosity, not the need for this person to feel differently than they do is quite a muscle to flex.  If we don’t learn better listening, we don’t develop the capacity to face the problems the world is facing today. Moreover, we can remember, from this practice of listening on the sidewalk, how much we need to also take the time to really connect to those closest to us.

Wilding: What are the qualities of a good listener? Why is it so important that we learn how to listen more effectively?

Ruble: Good listeners first and foremost know how to hear someone’s story while remaining calm and objective.  If we don’t stay boundaried and calm we go into black and white thinking where one person is right and one person is wrong and now the conversation is one of power and might rather than human connection.  But, if you grow the capacity to remain calm and prevent your body and brain from  going into “danger” mode when someone disagrees with you, you will be able to lead with curiosity and inquisitiveness.

I don’t think I have to tell you why that is important.  I remember one of our listeners had someone say the person they admired most in the world was Adolf Hitler.  She was Jewish and her parents were gay.  She stayed listening and was able to really understand why he admired Hitler and she felt liberated through the understanding, not angry.  What she discovered was fascinating. First, he was young and had never heard of the holocaust.  Second what he admired about Hitler was his charisma.

This young man was living on the street and in his mind, someone like Hitler could keep him safe from the harms he had been facing on the street and the abuses he suffered in his past.  So she reflected back to him “You really admire people who you believe could make you feel safer in your life?” and just like that this young man and this listener have a connection.

Wilding: How can someone become a better listener with difficult people, especially if that’s their boss, clients, or colleagues?

Ruble: As adults, our brains have the capacity to hold nuance but so often we take differences personally and our nervous systems get hijacked.  Work adds another layer of complexity because our livelihood is felt to be on the line.  This is the place where I earn the money to feed and clothe myself so the link to a potential threat response in the nervous system is heightened. What to do about all this?  First,practice calming your nerves before entering into any difficult dialogue. It is why mindfulness practice is such a zeitgeist right now.

When you are ready to engage, First, label the behavior that doesn’t work for you not the person.  When you get an “ick” feeling from a boss, client or colleague ask yourself,  “What do I want to feel when I am around this person?” Write it out.  Next, only interact with them when you are prepared to be a steward for the feelings you want to be having.

Don’t forget, people are usually difficult for us because they trigger our own material.  Even the jerkiest of colleagues provide us with opportunities to grow.  So see if you can actively practice finding attributes about them you do like.  Our negativity bias and triggers from the past may have us zeroing in on the thing that we are annoyed by.  You just cannot trust everything your mind tells you.  Stretch yourself out of the black and white thinking of “all good” “all bad” and actively see the whole person in this colleague of yours.

Finally, when you do sit down to talk (not on text message or email please) take absolutely nothing personal.  Easier said than done but seriously, such an invaluable life skill. That sharp tone of voice, that one-upmanship in a meeting, that broken agreement….it is data, not death. There is possibility if we can listen with objectivity combined with kindness.  There is virtually no possibility when we listen with reactivity and anger.

Wilding: What’s your vision for the future of Sidewalk Talk?

Ruble:  Some exciting and big changes.  We have gone in and done some one-off corporate trainings.  Now we are doing corporate listening trainings combined with events on the sidewalk with the hope of leaving behind an intact Sidewalk Talk chapter put on regularly by that company.

It is great team building.  We are also starting a couples listening project where couples come out and do some listening training with each other and then we hit the streets together.  Novelty is really good for couples relationships.  So is purpose and meaning. Finally, we are getting help doing some real data-driven impact studies.  We see our impact on health, community, workplace productivity, and implicit bias. We are very excited to begin applying for larger grants to expand and start doing cross cultural listening tours through different cities around the globe.

 

If everyone who reads our articles, who likes it, helps fund it, our future would be much more secure. For as little as $5, you can donate us – and it only takes a minute. Thank you.

Maintaining a Daily Rhythm Is Important For Mental Health,Study Suggests

Setting an alarm might be the only thing that helps you get up in the morning, but try setting one at night to remind you when it's time to go to bed. Click through our gallery for other tips for better sleep.

The study, published Tuesday in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry, looked at disruptions in the circadian rhythms — or daily sleep-wake cycles — of over 91,000 adults in the United Kingdom. It measured these disruptions using a device called an accelerometer that is worn on the wrist and measures one’s daily activity levels. The participants were taken from the UK Biobank, a large cohort of over half a million UK adults ages 37 to 73.
The researchers found that individuals with more circadian rhythm disruptions — defined as increased activity at night, decreased activity during the day or both — were significantly more likely to have symptoms consistent with bipolar disorder or major depression. They were also more likely to have decreased feelings of well-being and to have reduced cognitive functioning, based on a computer-generated reaction time test.
For all participants, activity levels were measured over a seven-day period in either 2013 or 2014, and mental health proxies such as mood and cognitive functioning were measured using an online mental health questionnaire that participants filled out in 2016 or 2017.
“It’s widely known that a good night’s sleep is a good thing for well-being and health. That’s not a big surprise,” said Dr. Daniel Smith, professor of psychiatry at the University of Glasgow and a leading author on the study. “But I think what’s less well-known and what comes out of this work is that not only is a good night’s sleep important, but having a regular rhythm of being active in daylight and inactive in darkness over time is important for mental well-being.”
The findings were found to be consistent even when controlling for a number of influential factors including age, sex, lifestyle, education and body mass index, according to Smith.
“I think one of the striking things that we found was just the consistency in the direction of our association across everything we looked at in terms of mental health,” Smith said.
Daily circadian rhythm is controlled by a collection of neurons in an area of the brain called the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus helps regulate a number of important behavioral and physiological functions such as body temperature, eating and drinking habits, emotional well-being and sleep, according to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.
The findings are consistent with research indicating a link between sleep disruptions and mood disorders. A 2009 study, for example, showed that men who worked night shifts for four years or more were more likely to have anxiety and depression than those who work during the day.
However, the new study is the first to use objective measurements of daily activity and is among the largest of its kind, according to Aiden Doherty, senior research fellow at the University of Oxford, who was not involved in the research.
“This study is the first large-scale investigation of the association of objectively measured circadian rhythmicity with various mental health, well-being, personality and cognitive outcomes, with an unprecedented sample size of more than 90 000 participants,” Doherty wrote in an email.
“Previous studies have been very small (in just a few hundred people), or relied on self-report measures (asking people what they think they do). … However, this study used objective device-based measures in over 90,000 participants; and then linked this information to standard measures of mood disorders, subjective well-being, and cognitive function,” he added.
The findings have significant public health consequences, particularly for those who live in urban areas, where circadian rhythms are often disrupted due to artificial light, according to Smith.
“By 2030, two-thirds of the world’s population will be living in cities, and we know that living in an urban environment can be pretty toxic to your circadian system because of all the artificial light that you’re exposed to,” Smith said.
“So we need to think about ways to help people tune in to their natural rhythms of activity and sleeping more effectively. Hopefully, that will protect a lot of people from mood disorders.”
For those who struggle to maintain a consistent circadian rhythm, certain strategies — such as avoiding technology at night — have proven to be an important part of good sleep hygiene.
“Not using your phone late at night and having a regular pattern of sleeping is really important,” Smith said. “But equally important is a pattern of exposing yourself to sunshine and daylight in the morning and doing activity in the morning or midday so you can actually sleep properly.”
Based on the observational nature of the study, the researchers were unable to show causality, meaning it is unclear whether the sleep disturbances caused the mental health problems or vice versa.
“It’s a cross-sectional study, so we can’t say anything about cause and effect or what came first, the mood disorder or the circadian disruption,” said Kristen Knutson, associate professor of neurology at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study.
“And it’s likely they affect each other in a circular fashion,” she added. The researchers also looked exclusively at adults between age 37 and 73, meaning the results may not apply to younger individuals, whose circadian rhythms are known to be different than those of older adults, according to Smith.
“The circadian system changes throughout life. If you’ve got kids, you know that very young kids tend to be nocturnal,” Smith said. “My suspicion is that we might observe even more pronounced effects in younger samples, but that hasn’t been done yet, to my knowledge.”
But the study adds more credence to the idea that sleep hygiene — including maintaining a consistent pattern of sleep and wake cycles — may be an important component of good mental health, according to Smith.
“It’s an exciting time for this kind of research because it’s beginning to have some real-world applications,” Smith said. “And from my point of view as a psychiatrist, I think it’s probably under-recognized in psychiatry how important healthy circadian function is, but it’s an area that we’re trying to develop.”

 May 15, 2018

Zero Tolerance Approach To Behaviour

shutterstock_390670672 Hipster girl in checked shirt showing tongue with piercing over yellow background. Impertinent behaviour. Hipsters. Provocation. Aggression. Naughtiness.

Paul Dix (2017) in his book When The Adults Change Everything Changes tells us that “Most behaviour policies are a collection of confused and rehashed ideas that barely worked for yesterday’s children, let alone today’s.”

Paul reminds us that some schools have more rules than Alcatraz and their policies are full of prison terminology.

He advises us, “Resist the urge to adopt the platitudes – zero tolerance, non-negotiables, red lines. It might make you feel butch but it makes absolutely no difference to the children.”

He’s right. As reported in The Guardian, “Two decades of US experience with zero tolerance policies in schools tells us that it doesn’t work.”

The president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, supported “zero-tolerance” policies in schools for years but then back-tracked and apologised for its failure.

Catherine Winter (2016) reports that zero-tolerance has been anything but a success in the US saying,

“Across the country, schools are moving away from zero tolerance and trying to reduce the number of students they’re suspending. The turnaround is a response to a growing body of research showing that zero-tolerance policies resulted in a disproportionate number of kids of color suspended, expelled, and referred to law enforcement.”

In its 2016 report Preventing Bullying Through Science, Policy, and Practice, the National Academies of Sciences, said that the most effective school behaviour programmes “are those that promote a positive school environment and combine social and emotional skill-building for all students, with targeted interventions for those at greatest risk for being involved in bullying,”

Ready, Respectful, Safe

Every school should have a behaviour policy that is rational, flexible and simple enough to cater for all students. Many work on the basis of a ‘Ready, Respectful, Safe’ (RRS) methodology which is simple and offers clarity for everyone.

RRS isn’t complicated because behaviour management doesn’t have to be.

In schools with over-complicated policies, teachers are often confused by the rules and what to do. Heavyweight policies end up punishing teachers because they add more players of stress and workload.

If a school promotes a ‘zero tolerance’, how confident are these institutions helping young people learn from their mistakes? How do their permanent exclusion figures read? Every school should have a behaviour policy which promotes learning and aims to cull disruption or defiance.

At their annual conference, the NUT section of the National Education Union (NEU) voiced concerns about zero tolerance and the state of children’s mental health saying that zero tolerance was an “abuse” of their rights.

Zero tolerance policies come at a huge social cost as they are contributing to high exclusions, and in some cases a ‘meteroic‘ rise. We therefore need to stop tolerating zero tolerance.

Zero Tolerance – it doesn’t work!

To say you have a ‘zero tolerance’ approach, is just lip-service for parents and visitors. It’s the same when a school says it is ‘inclusive’. Every school requires students to learn in a safe and respectful environment.

As the American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force found ten years ago,

“Zero tolerance has not been shown to improve school climate or school safety. Its application in suspension and expulsion has not proven an effective means of improving student behavior. It has not resolved, and indeed may have exacerbated, minority overrepresentation in school punishments. Zero tolerance policies as applied appear to run counter to our best knowledge of child development.”

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The Science Behind Empathy And Being An Empath

The Science Behind Empathy And Being An Empath

Five scientific studies on the phenomenon of how empathy works.

As a psychiatrist and an empath, I am fascinated by the science of empathy and how the phenomenon of empathy works. I feel passionately that empathy is the medicine the world needs right now.

What is empathy? Empathy is when we reach our hearts out to others and put ourselves in their shoes. However, being an empath goes even further. Like many of my patients and myself, empaths are people who’re high on the empathic spectrum and actually feel what is happening to others in their own bodies.

As a result, empaths can have incredible compassion for people, but they often get exhausted from feeling “too much” unless they develop strategies to safeguard their sensitivities and develop healthy boundaries.


RELATED: 10 Crystal-Clear Signs You (Or Someone You Know) Is An Empath


In my book, The Empath’s Survival Guide, I discuss the science of empathy. These will help us more deeply understand the power of empathy so we can utilize and honor it in our lives.

1. The Mirror Neuron System

Researchers have discovered a specialized group of brain cells that are responsible for compassion. These cells enable everyone to mirror emotions, to share another person’s pain, fear, or joy. Because empaths are thought to have hyper-responsive mirror neurons, we deeply resonate with other people’s feelings.

How does this occur? Mirror neurons are triggered by outside events. For example, our spouse gets hurt, we feel hurt too. Our child is crying; we feel sad too. Our friend is happy; we feel happy too.

In contrast, psychopaths, sociopaths, and narcissists are thought to have what science calls “empathy deficient disorders.” This means they lack the ability to feel empathy like other people do, which may be caused by an under-active mirror neuron system. We must beware of these people because they are incapable of unconditional love.

2. Electromagnetic fields

The second finding is based on the fact that both the brain and the heart generate electromagnetic fields. According to the HeartMath Institute, these fields transmit information about people’s thoughts and emotions. Empaths may be particularly sensitive to this input and tend to become overwhelmed by it.

Similarly, we often have stronger physical and emotional responses to changes in the electromagnetic fields of the earth and sun. Empaths know well that what happens to the earth and sun affects our state of mind and energy.

Similarly, we often have stronger physical and emotional responses to changes in the electromagnetic fields of the earth and sun. Empaths know well that what happens to the earth and sun affects our state of mind and energy.


RELATED: The Circle You’re Drawn To Reveals Your Strongest Gift As An Empath


3. Emotional contagion

 

The third finding which enhances our understanding of empaths is the phenomena of emotional contagion. Research has shown that many people pick up the emotions of those around them.

For instance, one crying infant will set off a wave of crying in a hospital ward. Or one person loudly expressing anxiety in the workplace can spread it to other workers. People commonly catch other people’s feelings in groups. A New York Times article stated that this ability to synchronize moods with others is crucial for good relationships.

What is the lesson for empaths? To choose positive people in our lives so we’re not brought down by negativity. Or, if, say a friend is going through a hard time, take special precautions to ground and center yourself. These are important strategies you’ll learn in this book.

4. Increased dopamine sensitivity

 

The fourth finding involves dopamine, a neurotransmitter that increases the activity of neurons and is associated with the pleasure response. Research has shown that introverted empaths tend to have a higher sensitivity to dopamine than extroverts. Basically, they need less dopamine to feel happy.

That could explain why they are more content with alone time, reading, and meditation and need less external stimulation from parties and other large social gatherings. In contrast, extroverts crave the dopamine rush from lively events. In fact, they can’t get enough of it.

5. Synesthesia

The fifth finding, which I find particularly compelling, is the extraordinary state called “mirror-touch synesthesia.” Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which two different senses are paired in the brain.

For instance, you see colors when you hear a piece of music or you taste words. Famous synesthetics include Isaac Newton, Billy Joel, and violinist Itzhak Perlman. However, with mirror-touch synesthesia, people can actually feel the emotions and sensations of others in their own bodies as if these were their own. This is a wonderful neurological explanation of an empath’s experience.

The Dali Lama says, “Empathy is the most precious human quality.” During these stressful times, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Even so, empathy is the quality that will get us through. It will enable us to respect one another, even if we disagree.

Empathy doesn’t make you a sentimental softy without discernment. It allows you to keep your heart open to foster tolerance and understanding. It might not always be effective in getting through to people and creating peace but I think it’s the best chance we have.


RELATED: 6 Super Intuitive Zodiac Signs Who Can Read People Really Well


(Adapted from The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People by Judith Orloff, MD, which is a guidebook for empaths and all caring people who want to keep their hearts open in an often-insensitive world.)

Judith Orloff, MD is a psychiatrist and an empath who combines the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, energy, and spirituality. She is on the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty also specializes in treating empaths and highly sensitive people in her private practice.

How to Play to Your Strengths

Image result for How to Play to Your Strengths

Most feedback accentuates the negative. During formal employee evaluations, discussions invariably focus on “opportunities for improvement,” even if the overall evaluation is laudatory. Informally, the sting of criticism lasts longer than the balm of praise. Multiple studies have shown that people pay keen attention to negative information. For example, when asked to recall important emotional events, people remember four negative memories for every positive one. No wonder most executives give and receive performance reviews with all the enthusiasm of a child on the way to the dentist.

Traditional, corrective feedback has its place, of course; every organization must filter out failing employees and ensure that everyone performs at an expected level of competence. Unfortunately, feedback that ferrets out flaws can lead otherwise talented managers to overinvest in shoring up or papering over their perceived weaknesses, or forcing themselves onto an ill-fitting template. Ironically, such a focus on problem areas prevents companies from reaping the best performance from its people. After all, it’s a rare baseball player who is equally good at every position. Why should a natural third baseman labor to develop his skills as a right fielder?

Why should a natural third baseman labor to develop his skills as a right fielder?

The alternative, as the Gallup Organization researchers Marcus Buckingham, Donald Clifton, and others have suggested, is to foster excellence in the third baseman by identifying and harnessing his unique strengths. It is a paradox of human psychology that while people remember criticism, they respond to praise. The former makes them defensive and therefore unlikely to change, while the latter produces confidence and the desire to perform better. Managers who build up their strengths can reach their highest potential. This positive approach does not pretend to ignore or deny the problems that traditional feedback mechanisms identify. Rather, it offers a separate and unique feedback experience that counterbalances negative input. It allows managers to tap into strengths they may or may not be aware of and so contribute more to their organizations.

During the past few years, we have developed a powerful tool to help people understand and leverage their individual talents. Called the Reflected Best Self (RBS) exercise, our method allows managers to develop a sense of their “personal best” in order to increase their future potential. The RBS exercise is but one example of new approaches springing from an area of research called positive organizational scholarship (POS). Just as psychologists know that people respond better to praise than to criticism, organizational behavior scholars are finding that when companies focus on positive attributes such as resilience and trust, they can reap impressive bottom-line returns. (For more on this research, see the sidebar “The Positive Organization.”) Thousands of executives, as well as tomorrow’s leaders enrolled in business schools around the world, have completed the RBS exercise.

In this article, we will walk you through the RBS exercise step-by-step and describe the insights and results it can yield. Before we proceed, however, a few caveats are in order. First, understand that the tool is not designed to stroke your ego; its purpose is to assist you in developing a plan for more effective action. (Without such a plan, you’ll keep running in place.) Second, the lessons generated from the RBS exercise can elude you if you don’t pay sincere attention to them. If you are too burdened by time pressures and job demands, you may just file the information away and forget about it. To be effective, the exercise requires commitment, diligence, and follow-through. It may even be helpful to have a coach keep you on task. Third, it’s important to conduct the RBS exercise at a different time of year than the traditional performance review so that negative feedback from traditional mechanisms doesn’t interfere with the results of the exercise.

Used correctly, the RBS exercise can help you tap into unrecognized and unexplored areas of potential. Armed with a constructive, systematic process for gathering and analyzing data about your best self, you can burnish your performance at work.

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Step 1

Identify Respondents and Ask for Feedback

The first task in the exercise is to collect feedback from a variety of people inside and outside work. By gathering input from a variety of sources—family members, past and present colleagues, friends, teachers, and so on—you can develop a much broader and richer understanding of yourself than you can from a standard performance evaluation.

As we describe the process of the Reflected Best Self exercise, we will highlight the experience of Robert Duggan (not his real name), whose self-discovery process is typical of the managers we’ve observed. Having retired from a successful career in the military at a fairly young age and earned an MBA from a top business school, Robert accepted a midlevel management position at an IT services firm. Despite strong credentials and leadership experience, Robert remained stuck in the same position year after year. His performance evaluations were generally good but not strong enough to put him on the high-potential track. Disengaged, frustrated, and disheartened, Robert grew increasingly stressed and disillusioned with his company. His workday felt more and more like an episode of Survivor.

Seeking to improve his performance, Robert enrolled in an executive education program and took the RBS exercise. As part of the exercise, Robert gathered feedback from 11 individuals from his past and present who knew him well. He selected a diverse but balanced group—his wife and two other family members, two friends from his MBA program, two colleagues from his time in the army, and four current colleagues.

Robert then asked these individuals to provide information about his strengths, accompanied by specific examples of moments when Robert used those strengths in ways that were meaningful to them, to their families or teams, or to their organizations. Many people—Robert among them—feel uncomfortable asking for exclusively positive feedback, particularly from colleagues. Accustomed to hearing about their strengths and weaknesses simultaneously, many executives imagine any positive feedback will be unrealistic, even false. Some also worry that respondents might construe the request as presumptuous or egotistical. But once managers accept that the exercise will help them improve their performance, they tend to dive in.

Within ten days, Robert received e-mail responses from all 11 people describing specific instances when he had made important contributions—including pushing for high quality under a tight deadline, being inclusive in communicating with a diverse group, and digging for critical information. The answers he received surprised him. As a military veteran and a technical person holding an MBA, Robert rarely yielded to his emotions. But in reading story after story from his respondents, Robert found himself deeply moved—as if he were listening to appreciative speeches at a party thrown in his honor. The stories were also surprisingly convincing. He had more strengths than he knew. (For more on Step 1, refer to the exhibit “Gathering Feedback.”)

Step 2

Recognize Patterns

In this step, Robert searched for common themes among the feedback, adding to the examples with observations of his own, then organizing all the input into a table. (To view parts of Robert’s table, see the exhibit “Finding Common Themes.”) Like many who participate in the RBS exercise, Robert expected that, given the diversity of respondents, the comments he received would be inconsistent or even competing. Instead, he was struck by their uniformity. The comments from his wife and family members were similar to those from his army buddies and work colleagues. Everyone took note of Robert’s courage under pressure, high ethical standards, perseverance, curiosity, adaptability, respect for diversity, and team-building skills. Robert suddenly realized that even his small, unconscious behaviors had made a huge impression on others. In many cases, he had forgotten about the specific examples cited until he read the feedback, because his behavior in those situations had felt like second nature to him.

Finding Common Themes

 

The RBS exercise confirmed Robert’s sense of himself, but for those who are unaware of their strengths, the exercise can be truly illuminating. Edward, for example, was a recently minted MBA executive in an automotive firm. His colleagues and subordinates were older and more experienced than he, and he felt uncomfortable disagreeing with them. But he learned through the RBS exercise that his peers appreciated his candid alternative views and respected the diplomatic and respectful manner with which he made his assertions. As a result, Edward grew bolder in making the case for his ideas, knowing that his boss and colleagues listened to him, learned from him, and appreciated what he had to say.

Other times, the RBS exercise sheds a more nuanced light on the skills one takes for granted. Beth, for example, was a lawyer who negotiated on behalf of nonprofit organizations. Throughout her life, Beth had been told she was a good listener, but her exercise respondents noted that the interactive, empathetic, and insightful manner in which she listened made her particularly effective. The specificity of the feedback encouraged Beth to take the lead in future negotiations that required delicate and diplomatic communications.

For naturally analytical people, the analysis portion of the exercise serves both to integrate the feedback and develop a larger picture of their capabilities. Janet, an engineer, thought she could study her feedback as she would a technical drawing of a suspension bridge. She saw her “reflected best self” as something to interrogate and improve. But as she read the remarks from family, friends, and colleagues, she saw herself in a broader and more human context. Over time, the stories she read about her enthusiasm and love of design helped her rethink her career path toward more managerial roles in which she might lead and motivate others.

Step 3

Compose Your Self-Portrait

The next step is to write a description of yourself that summarizes and distills the accumulated information. The description should weave themes from the feedback together with your self-observations into a composite of who you are at your best. The self-portrait is not designed to be a complete psychological and cognitive profile. Rather, it should be an insightful image that you can use as a reminder of your previous contributions and as a guide for future action. The portrait itself should not be a set of bullet points but rather a prose composition beginning with the phrase, “When I am at my best, I…” The process of writing out a two- to four-paragraph narrative cements the image of your best self in your consciousness. The narrative form also helps you draw connections between the themes in your life that may previously have seemed disjointed or unrelated. Composing the portrait takes time and demands careful consideration, but at the end of this process, you should come away with a rejuvenated image of who you are.

In developing his self-portrait, Robert drew on the actual words that others used to describe him, rounding out the picture with his own sense of himself at his best. He excised competencies that felt off the mark. This didn’t mean he discounted them, but he wanted to assure that the overall portrait felt authentic and powerful. “When I am at my best,” Robert wrote,

I stand by my values and can get others to understand why doing so is important. I choose the harder right over the easier wrong. I enjoy setting an example. When I am in learning mode and am curious and passionate about a project, I can work intensely and untiringly. I enjoy taking things on that others might be afraid of or see as too difficult. I’m able to set limits and find alternatives when a current approach is not working. I don’t always assume that I am right or know best, which engenders respect from others. I try to empower and give credit to others. I am tolerant and open to differences.

As Robert developed his portrait, he began to understand why he hadn’t performed his best at work: He lacked a sense of mission. In the army, he drew satisfaction from the knowledge that the safety of the men and women he led, as well as the nation he served, depended on the quality of his work. He enjoyed the sense of teamwork and variety of problems to be solved. But as an IT manager in charge of routine maintenance on new hardware products, he felt bored and isolated from other people.

The portrait-writing process also helped Robert create a more vivid and elaborate sense of what psychologists would call his “possible self”—not just the person he is in his day-to-day job but the person he might be in completely different contexts. Organizational researchers have shown that when we develop a sense of our best possible self, we are better able make positive changes in our lives.

Step 4

Redesign Your Job

Having pinpointed his strengths, Robert’s next step was to redesign his personal job description to build on what he was good at. Given the fact that routine maintenance work left him cold, Robert’s challenge was to create a better fit between his work and his best self. Like most RBS participants, Robert found that the strengths the exercise identified could be put into play in his current position. This involved making small changes in the way he worked, in the composition of his team, and in the way he spent his time. (Most jobs have degrees of freedom in all three of these areas; the trick is operating within the fixed constraints of your job to redesign work at the margins, allowing you to better play to your strengths.)

Robert began by scheduling meetings with systems designers and engineers who told him they were having trouble getting timely information flowing between their groups and Robert’s maintenance team. If communication improved, Robert believed, new products would not continue to be saddled with the serious and costly maintenance issues seen in the past. Armed with a carefully documented history of those maintenance problems as well as a new understanding of his naturally analytical and creative team-building skills, Robert began meeting regularly with the designers and engineers to brainstorm better ways to prevent problems with new products. The meetings satisfied two of Robert’s deepest best-self needs: He was interacting with more people at work, and he was actively learning about systems design and engineering.

Robert’s efforts did not go unnoticed. Key executives remarked on his initiative and his ability to collaborate across functions, as well as on the critical role he played in making new products more reliable. They also saw how he gave credit to others. In less than nine months, Robert’s hard work paid off, and he was promoted to program manager. In addition to receiving more pay and higher visibility, Robert enjoyed his work more. His passion was reignited; he felt intensely alive and authentic. Whenever he felt down or lacking in energy, he reread the original e-mail feedback he had received. In difficult situations, the e-mail messages helped him feel more resilient.

Robert was able to leverage his strengths to perform better, but there are cases in which RBS findings conflict with the realities of a person’s job. This was true for James, a sales executive who told us he was “in a world of hurt” over his work situation. Unable to meet his ambitious sales goals, tired of flying around the globe to fight fires, his family life on the verge of collapse, James had suffered enough. The RBS exercise revealed that James was at his best when managing people and leading change, but these natural skills did not and could not come into play in his current job. Not long after he did the exercise, he quit his high-stress position and started his own successful company.

Other times, the findings help managers aim for undreamed-of positions in their own organizations. Sarah, a high-level administrator at a university, shared her best-self portrait with key colleagues, asking them to help her identify ways to better exploit her strengths and talents. They suggested that she would be an ideal candidate for a new executive position. Previously, she would never have considered applying for the job, believing herself unqualified. To her surprise, she handily beat out the other candidates.

Beyond Good Enough

We have noted that while people remember criticism, awareness of faults doesn’t necessarily translate into better performance. Based on that understanding, the RBS exercise helps you remember your strengths—and construct a plan to build on them. Knowing your strengths also offers you a better understanding of how to deal with your weaknesses—and helps you gain the confidence you need to address them. It allows you to say, “I’m great at leading but lousy at numbers. So rather than teach me remedial math, get me a good finance partner.” It also allows you to be clearer in addressing your areas of weakness as a manager. When Tim, a financial services executive, received feedback that he was a great listener and coach, he also became more aware that he had a tendency to spend too much time being a cheerleader and too little time keeping his employees to task. Susan, a senior advertising executive, had the opposite problem: While her feedback lauded her results-oriented management approach, she wanted to be sure that she hadn’t missed opportunities to give her employees the space to learn and make mistakes.

In the end, the strength-based orientation of the RBS exercise helps you get past the “good enough” bar. Once you discover who you are at the top of your game, you can use your strengths to better shape the positions you choose to play—both now and in the next phase of your career.

By:

5 Ways to Build Capacity for Solving Problems

Getting better results doesn’t happen by having a magic bullet. There are no magic bullets. Better results come from having a long term perspective and working diligently to make things better now and in the future. We need to have a process for growth we can rely on, not just a quick fix.

Quick fixes usually make things better just for a moment. But looking good is not the same as being good. Looking good is on the surface. It’s superficial. We want to actually be good and continue getting better. Ultimately, we want to help students succeed for the long term, not just for today.

Lots of educators are working tirelessly every day to try to make sure students succeed. They are trying to be as productive as they possibly can. They’re putting out fires left and right. They’re dealing with urgent problems. They’re attending workshops to learn new ideas. And trying to implement new ideas.

But many feel like they’re spinning their wheels. And it’s no wonder.

In the busyness of everything that’s urgent, it’s really easy to neglect the importance of growing. Are you really examining your own growth? Are you looking inward? Are you developing greater self-awareness? Are you reflecting? And most importantly, are you really investing in building your own capacity?

Schools need to create environments to support educators in the process of growth. We must make sure professionals are given time, encouragement, and opportunity to build their own capacity. Leadership needs to support growth, not just demand productivity.

We focus lots of energy on problems. But how much time are we focusing on how we can become better problem solvers? Too much professional learning seems to try to “teacher-proof” the instructional process. It turns educators into implementers instead of initiators. And that’s clearly not professional learning. I believe professional learning should actually help people grow as people and professionals.

One of the best strategies for solving problems is building capacity for solving problems. Everything about your school can be improved as the people in your school grow and learn together, all of them—students, teachers, everyone. The best way to improve a school is for the people in the school to be focused on improving themselves. The entire school becomes a dynamic learning environment.

Here are 5 ways you can be more dynamic in your learning and build your capacity for solving problems:

1. Listen Before You Act

As we get input from our colleagues, mentors and PLN, we can grow into problem-solving before we rush into problem-solving. We become more like the people we spend the most time with. Spend more time with people who are growing and who are capable problem-solvers. Soon, you’ll be stronger too.

2. Think, Don’t React

Better schools are built on better thinking. Take the limits off and look at issues from all sides and as objectively as possible. Emotions may say one thing, but careful thought may lead you in a different direction.

3. Test Ideas and Solutions

We can become better problem solvers when we are open to trying creative solutions. Generate lots of ideas and test them. We can’t keep doing the same things and expecting different results. Try a slightly different approach. Try a radically different approach. And see what works. Sometimes a massive change is needed.

4. Make Time for Learning

The most successful people make time for learning, not just doing. Benjamin Franklin, Warren Buffett, Oprah Winfrey, and Bill Gates all follow the 5-hour rule. At least five hours a week should be dedicated to learning something new. Always be learning.

5. Look Within, Reflect

Self-awareness allows us to examine our own thought process. When we take time to reflect, we learn more from our experiences and the experiences of others. Without reflection, we are constrained by our bias, blind spots, and habits. We won’t grow as problem-solvers unless we acknowledge the areas where we need to continue to learn and grow.

So what’s your reflection on these thoughts? Are you making time to learn and grow? Are you only focused on being productive (checking off your list each day)? Or, are you also focused on building your capacity? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I would love to hear from you.

By: Dr. David Geurin

https://www.facebook.com/DrDavidGeurin/

How to Classify Your Employees Right from the Start

employees

Herd mentality is almost never a good thing. As social creatures, perhaps it’s only human to want to be included and be part of something bigger. When applied to business, the herd mentality often leads to less stellar decisions, against better judgment, because “everyone else is doing it,” so why not? For many startups, the hiring model to follow would appear obvious, with gig economy powerhouses like Uber, Handy and TaskRabbit hiring tens of thousands of independent contractors. Classifying employees as independent contractors delivers a cheaper workforce for employers, while touting freedom and flexibility for workers. But we all know what’s happened to their story since.

If your startup is looking to hire, even if it’s just one new person, then employee classification should be on your radar. It can be a smooth or a bumpy ride, depending on how you proceed.

Read on to find out what one startup did, why it matters, and how your business can stay on the right side of the law.


Related: Why Your Employees Are Your Best Marketing Asset

Full-time employees: A worthy investment for one startup

Freelancers now make up 35 percent of the U.S. workforce. When Dan Teran was starting his business in 2014, the gig economy’s independent contractor model was all the rage. That pitch centered on having a company with no inventory and no employees.

But Teran had just finished Zeynep Ton’s book, “The Good Jobs Strategy.” A professor at MIT Sloan School and retail industry researcher, Ton wrote about companies like Zappos and Trader Joe’s investing in their workforce, and how this has boosted their bottom line in the long run. This really resonated with Teran, having grown up in middle-class America where benefits were invaluable.

So when Teran launched Managed by Q, a technology platform that connects clients to facilities service providers, he decided to do something most startups would consider unthinkable: he offered health insurance, a 401K program with matching contributions, and paid family leave to full-time employees. These benefits were also applied to employees of Q Services, Q’s profitable, in-house network of cleaners, office managers, and handymen. Two years later, Q announced a stock option for all employees, regardless of their role.

Intent is everything

As an entrepreneur, you know best what your business needs and what you can afford. Scalability is the power to change in size. In a perfect world, businesses want a workforce that is scaled for growth, yet dependent on demand. But we don’t live a perfect world.

According to Maria O. Hart, an attorney specializing in employment law and business litigation, employee misclassification is not a new problem, and savvy business owners have always been aware of its existence. While it’s perfectly reasonable to hire independent contractors because the business is seasonal, it’s illegal to deliberately misclassify employees to free oneself of administrative and financial burdens, while depriving the workers of the legal protections they deserve.

Differentiating an employee and a contractor

According to Hart, the ultimate test in determining whether you have an employee or an independent contractor boils down to one primary factor: control. If the worker is dependent on the employer financially, has no say their schedule, and uses only employer-provided software, tools, or equipment, they are most likely a full-time employee.

An independent contractor is free to come and go once the job is done, can have multiple clients at the same time, can perform the work remotely in some cases, and can hire subcontractors or additional help to complete the task. Independent contractors with access to proprietary information can be required to sign confidentiality or non-disclosure agreements, but not non-compete contracts.

But sometimes, roles change. The independent contractor you hired during the early days of your startup may evolve into something more over time. This is not illegal. What is illegal, however, is a lack of self-auditing processes. The intentional failure to initiate the conversation to convert the contract worker into a full-time employee ultimately denies this employee the benefits and compensation he or she is owed.

$3 billion less to go around

The IRS estimated that about 15 percent of employers misclassified their employees as independent contractors, costing nearly $3 billion each year in income, payroll and federal unemployment taxes, with 10 to 20 percent of employers classifying at least one worker incorrectly.

States are reporting equally staggering figures in lost revenue annually due to misclassified employees. That revenue would otherwise go into education, transportation, or health coverage for low-income families, to build strong communities and contribute to the nation’s economic vitality, of which startups are part of.


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Running a business is a balancing act

There’s no denying that business owners are between a rock and hard place. They need to be profitable and competitive and keep employees and investors happy — and these factors aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. However, having to juggle these factors is not an excuse to flout the law.

Classifying your next hire correctly is essential for both the business and the entrepreneur. Building a profitable organization may start with the entrepreneur, but its success is ensured by its employees; so start by taking care of yours.