Month: May 2014

Fundamental Question to Ask Yourself in Any Interaction

We have all sensed, acted or reacted based on this and would think it makes sense, even if it may be unconscious during our interactions.  Most expert communicators and socially intelligent people have inherently known and used this approach.  Thanks to neuroscience research, the findings provide a solid reason to understand this.The fundamental question to ask yourself in any interaction:


This applies to any interaction in our world of work and personal relationships.

According to neuroscience studies:

  • Our brains are more tuned to picking up threats in the environment and the threat response is easily triggered.
  • It is easier to cause aggravation than it is to help other think rationally and creatively.
  • In the threat state, our brain is disengaged due to related activity and ‘noise’, resulting in reduced cognitive performance. There is also a high possibility of an “emotional hijack”. We also know that emotions are contagious and can spread.
  • The organizing, overarching principle of the brain is to minimize danger (threat state) and maximize rewards (towards state).
  • If a stimulus is associated with positive emotions, it will most likely lead to an approach response; if it is associated with negative emotions, it will lead to an avoid response.  From our experiences, we know that we naturally try to avoid uncomfortable interactions, situations or difficult people.
  • An approach response is synonymous with the idea of engagement and closely linked to positive emotions.

So next time you think about starting a conversation in person, over the phone or virtually, ask yourself: Do I want to create a “towards” (approach) state or an “away” (avoid) state? How can I create a “towards” state?

In the world around you, what percentage of “towards” state interactions vs. “away” state interactions do you notice?

Reference, Recommended Reading:
SCARF…, David Rock:

How Much of You Is Your Job Title or Position? Importance of Humility & Wisdom

To my dear friends, colleagues and readers,

Here are some questions for you:

If you were to lose your important position, title or social status today,

  1. What would happen to you?
  2. How would you feel, behave?
  3. How would your existing relationships shift? How would they respond?

Many people in today’s world seem to lose touch with their authentic selves once they get used to the trappings of an important corporate job, title and perceived power. Humility goes down. Arrogance creeps in. Ego grows rapidly. Respect factor goes down. A feeling of invincibility kicks in.

One starts believing or over relying on one’s belief, status of positions and unconsciously start feeling that these will last forever.

Why does one need to reflect and be aware of the line between confidence and over confidence/arrogance?

Like most things in life, nothing lasts forever.  Life involves ups and downs, successes and challenges, pleasures and pains. Sometimes, unexpected shifts in one’s life can cause lots of pain, be humbling and bring one to reality that we are  all in fact mortal. They may come forth in the form of unexpected job challenges, health issues with self or loved ones, losing someone close, personal issues etc.

If most of your relationships are formed and defined around your perceived social status and not your authentic selves, it may be helpful to be prepared for surprises and pains when life starts to present difficult moments.

It is helpful to be in touch with one’s own authentic self and values.  When the rough times appear, this prepares one more to maneuver through, similar to an anchor that holds a ship stable in rough waters. In today’s socially networked world, corporate or social hierarchy does not necessarily indicate level of influence or impact. Therefore, it’s helpful to be aware of arrogant behavior and where that may or may not lead one to.

Letting go of the trappings even for a bit can be a refreshing experience and reality check for oneself and the world of relationships.

I think most of us go through similar scenarios as we progress in our careers and lives.  What is important is to build awareness, consciousness, learning and wisdom. This will help to navigate rough waters whenever they come next.

According to Professor Ursula Staudinger, a life span psychologist and professor at Columbia University, true personal wisdom involves five elements. They are self-insight; the ability to demonstrate personal growth; self-awareness in terms of your historical era and your family history; understanding that priorities and values, including your own, are not absolute; and an awareness of life’s ambiguities.

Wishing you humility, wisdom and true success in your journey.

Additional Suggested Reading: Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

Trust Guidance for Leaders

One of the common discussions that I’ve come across in leadership discussions in organizations is “How do we build trust?”. I’ve thought about this question from two perspectives – building trust at an individual level and at an organizational level. If one wonders what the difference is, trust needs to start with individual actions in direct interactions and they have to be manifested to a wider audience or stakeholders through organizational processes, practices and systems. Multiple studies have found that trust is a crucial factor for team performance, including in sports. This applies to any type of organization.This post focuses on the individual aspect. Trust can be built more consciously at an individual level with fundamental actions – which I term as “Trust Guidance”. For someone wondering about how to build trust, these are useful starting points. These come from direct observations, and work with leaders and organizations.

1. Be visible.
Don’t get too busy with meetings and spend most time within closed doors.  All stakeholders especially your team members have a high need to see their leaders.  As human beings, visibility is reassuring and builds certainty and confidence (neuroscience research findings support this).

2. Be respectful. 
Being respectful in your direct and virtual interactions, irrespective of organizational levels are huge motivators for individuals. The lower you go, the more charged up and motivated individuals are when they feel leaders found time for them, even to have a short conversation or acknowledgement. People also go through good and bad phases at work or personal lives.  Respecting their space, especially during bad phases go a long way to building commitment and trust.

3. Be aware of self and impact of one’s behaviors and actions on others.
Take time to understand yourself, what drives you, your values, principles, strengths, development areas.  Self awareness is the starting point of any development effort. Next stage is to understand others around you and your impact of actions on people around.  Trust is a two way street and someone needs to extend a hand forward first to get the process of interactions into motion.

4. Be authentic, consistent in behaviors and actions.  
Be yourself. Don’t try to be someone else. Most people are smart enough to see through ‘fake’ personalities. This does not indicate the license to do whatever to be oneself, rather being aligned to  values and principles which are built as part of self awareness.  Practice what you preach.  Admit mistakes with accountability when they happen and share recognition when success is achieved.  It is also helpful to explain your thinking approach as people think differently about a certain topic and may struggle to see the rationale in another person’s approach.

5. Be open to discussions, while being conscious of biases.
Having the openness to discuss aspects that you may not agree with and have a strong view about, may help you see many possibilities and ideas that are otherwise missed.  Sometimes, it helps to be open about the fact that you have a strong view for a certain reason.  It also encourages others to share ideas and thoughts with you without fear. Presence of fear is one of the biggest barriers to trust.  Nobody wants to be the ’emperor with the naked clothes’ but there is a probability of unknowingly becoming one with and it becomes very difficult to call someone out when the perceived power distance is higher.  Being vulnerable, even to some extent is a big factor for others to see the humanness and accessibility.

6. Be fair in approach and communicate, especially tough choices.
People can live with tough choices if they feel it was based on a fair process and they’re not being misled into believing so. Many times, lack of visibility to the process or the way it was communicated or absence of it, result in difficult scenarios and contradictions for everyone involved.

7. Reflect constantly and make necessary changes.
Take out some thinking time with yourself or with your social network, coaches or mentors who can help with your thinking process and getting to more clarity on changes and actions. Everyone has a different scenario to think about and there are no perfect answers that address all scenarios. Observing, reflecting and adjusting your approaches accordingly would help you figure out the best approach for your environment.

Are there any other fundamental starting points in your view?

Best wishes on your leadership journey…

Absolute ‘Must Haves’ for High Performing Teams in Any Environment

How many teams does one work with in a lifetime?  A collection of multiple teams working efficiently towards common goals are fundamental to the success of any program or organization.  It is therefore important for leaders to build a shared understanding and definition for high performance (individual and team).  After having worked in and with various diverse teams as a member and consultant (sometimes ones with major issues), the following factors or elements seem ‘non negotiable’, in order to develop a high performing team.

1. Self & Social Awareness
Self awareness is the fundamental building block of any development effort, either at the individual or team level.  Strong self and social awareness are consciously developed using appropriate tools or assessments (eg. Team Management Profile) and conscious practices. If practiced well in a consistent manner, they result in a high degree of personal trust, and creation of “friend, not foe”/“towards, not away” frames (Daniel Goleman’s ‘Social Intelligence’, David Rock’s ‘Quiet Leadership’). The leader spends time with team members actively listening, coaching and empowering (not controlling or answering questions always). He/she is conscious about keeping his or her own ego and biases under check. The perception of fairness within the team is strong. Enabling a learning environment ensures that team members are encouraged to stretch, acknowledge mistakes & learn to make necessary adjustments with accountability.  Team members feel encouraged to flourish and find meaning in their work, not restricted or controlled.

2. Key Stakeholders/Outside-In Perspective
These teams are aware of and always work with the key stakeholder perspectives (Dave Ulrich & Norm Smallwood use the term, “Outside-In”), while developing their Points of View.  To start with, they map out key internal and external stakeholders and work towards building strong relationships.

3. Purpose of Existence
Through the leaders initiative and facilitation, the team builds together clear, inspiring answers to these key questions: Why do we exist as a team? What is our common vision and purpose? How do we achieve value for our key stakeholders?

4. Clarity of Roles/Responsibilities
There is a strong understanding of each others’ roles and responsibilities, and how they practically interface with each other. These are aligned with the core objectives. I’ve found this area to be a big cause of frustration and conflicts within teams and the reality is that it is very difficult to document everything into a single ‘roles & responsibilities’ document in today’s constantly evolving environments. In cases where misalignment or confusion appears, clarity needs to be forged through constant open dialogues (facilitated by the leader or an expert). This will work smoothly only if the social and self awareness competencies of the team have been consciously developed in the beginning.

5. Diversity
For a high performing team, diversity in thinking, work preferences and approaches are essential. Mutually complementary and supporting skills ensure that there is a healthy spread of task, behavioral preferences and strengths.  Diversity has the potential to create more stress and challenging environments in the beginning, sometimes resulting in in negative conflicts but the potential for achievement is much higher if the social and awareness factors are addressed proactively. Constructive challenges help a team push a team further, without needing to wait for external stimuli.  Managing diversity can also serve as a strong test and development for the leader’s maturity, emotional intelligence and leadership skills. Michael Watkins (First Hundred Days) noted that organizations can be like organisms – they repel any new or foreign body entering the system. Diversity keeps a team open and sensitive to competitive challenges or strategic shifts and challenges ‘herd’ mentality.

6. Focus/Priorities
Most teams get inundated with demands over time and have the constant challenge of delivering more than they can support. High performing teams and leaders build clarity around the right priorities and results, through reflection, active dialogues, alignment with key stakeholders and focusing their intense efforts accordingly. The performance management and reward systems are aligned accordingly. This also relates to clarity on goals, expectations and progress reviews at the individual level. In his recent HBR article “The Focused Leader”, Daniel Goleman noted that a primary task of leadership is to direct attention.

For any leader of a team, it is helpful to ask oneself what percentage of time is spent reflecting on or discussing these topics – individually and with the team (especially during the early phases of a team’s forming and norming stages)? Most teams spend majority of their time discussing practical issues at hand or technical topics. If a leader does not facilitate and enable the building blocks of team development especially in the early stages, and constantly follow-up on these elements, she or he will spend a lot more time later thinking about and sorting out related issues.

It is never too late to start. This important team development capability needs to be built either internally with HR support or with external experts.  These factors become even more relevant and important for senior level teams with high impact on the overall organization.

Are there any other ‘must-haves’ in your view?

Best wishes…

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