Your brain is not designed to hold ideas, your brain is designed to have ideas.” – Robert Allen, ‘Getting Things Done”
An informal survey of 150 senior managers who participated in the most recent Sustainable Leaders Strategic Planning workshop revealed the biggest challenge they faced was “having too much to do in too little time with fewer resources than ever before… and having to make the right decisions quickly.”
The often unbelievable demands to be both highly productive and accurate bombard us daily. What’s different? The speed with which business must get done today is light years faster than even 15 or 20 years ago. In many industries (technology), change happens too quickly and if you only strive to keep up, you will be out of business faster than you can say “Buck Rogers.”
There are only 24 hours in a day and you cannot create “more time” in a day. The solution for most is to work longer and harder to get the job done. The only problem with that solution is that it is a recipe for burn out.
Let’s break the rules and shift your perspective consider this: Time is a limited resource and energy is an infinitely unlimited resource. You cannot create more time. You can, however, create more energy by taking control not only of your time, but where your attention is within that time frame.
My personal observation is that productive and sustainable leaders who feel happy and satisfied at the end of each day actively focus on BOTH how much they DO and DON’T DO to conserve brain power and leverage energy successfully.
Say “No” 100 times for every time you say “Yes.” If saying “No” is hard for you (as it is for most people), add “No, thank you” so you can get the added benefit of being grateful and appreciative, if not polite.
The latest studies in brain based learning prove that multitasking is not only impossible (we switch attention, our brains are incapable of focusing on two things at once), but to make matters worse, the reduction in accuracy for even the “best multi-tasker” doing the simplest of tasks is almost 50%. Pretty scary when you think about the complex tasks you do simultaneously (driving a car, talking on a cell phone or talking on the phone and typing an email response). Try to focus on doing one thing at a time. Notice how much less time it takes, especially because you don’t run the risk of hitting “send” prematurely then spending time on damage control.
Bottom line, people will feel heard and be able to find their own solutions more easily without unnecessary interference from you. And, you will conserve your brain power for more important challenges that lie ahead.
When you delegate, trust and offer challenges to people, not only will it benefit you, but also they’ll feel better about you if you do. We all know the importance of delegating so that you aren’t seen as the control freak in the corner office. But did you know that when you delegate responsibilities and tasks (with their buy in of course), the meta-message (as long as the deadline is reasonable or they are involved in setting the deadline) or message under the message, is “trust.” The receiver feels you believe in them enough to give them the opportunity to rise to the challenge. Win win.
Indecision happens when we have too many thoughts getting stuck in or out of sequence in the cognitive pipeline. Often we can get thoughts flowing again when we ask ourselves “What’s the one most important thing that needs to be decided and acted upon before that decision can be made?”
Whether you are a list maker or mind map fan, get every thought bouncing around inside of your head OUT of your head and onto paper, a whiteboard or computer program you are in the habit of checking or using regularly (“Freemind” is a simple and free example). Robert Allen’s “Getting Things Done” is a must read for “How To’s” when it comes to being more productive so you can take quick, effective action.
The Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC for short) is the part of your brain responsible for your ability to avoid distraction, make decisions, reason, understand and memorize. Think of it as powered by rechargeable batteries, not a 220v power cord plugged into an outlet in the wall. It needs frequent recharging (among other ingredients) in order for high performance. Taking a short 20 minute walk inside or outside your office building at the most hectic time of day will not only benefit your metabolism and your waistline, but also your brain. Try shutting off your brain for 5 minutes just two or three times a day, talk to a co-worker about a non-related subject (this is probably why gossip is so enticing), play a game of angry birds or juggle.
Think of how many “mindless” automatic patterns you have every day. Repeatedly doing routine tasks (like shaving, putting on your pants or brushing your teeth) the same way every day, doesn’t do your brain any favors. You are just deepening the same brain groove over and over. You are wasting valuable real estate! If you normally put your right leg in your pants first, put your left leg in first instead. If you begin shaving your face left side first, try starting your first swipe on a different part of your face. Do you have stairs in your office building? Which leg do you typically start with as you start up a flight of stairs? Try what you think I’m going to suggest next ….
If you are paid to think, treat your brain and your energy as precious commodities that need daily TLC to function most effectively and with ease. Pick one of these 7 Tips to practice each day and notice what happens to your mind and your mood; you too will become a Sustainable Leader one small step at a time.
I recently had the pleasure to be invited to be the keynote speaker for the SBDC (Small Business Development Center) Women in Business Leadership Conference (“Women Redefining Business”) where the keynote message was about communication, connection and courage as a pathway to Professional Intimacy: The Key to Sustainable Leadership.
The breakout session piggybacked on how business owners can leverage stress by learning how to have authentic conversations with their employees in order to avoid entrepreneurial burn out.
When I give this talk, I usually ask the audience for a raise of hands if they consider stress a problem for them at work (i.e., negative effect on productivity, experience physical stress-related symptoms and relationship problems like irritability).
When the audience is predominantly male, only about 30% of the men in the audience raise their hands.
This audience was 98% female, and about 80% of the audience raised said “Yes!” to is stress a problem for you at work.
Why such a large difference between men and women?
According to research published by the the American Psychological Association on gender and stress:
” … Men and women report different reactions to stress, both physically and mentally. They attempt to manage stress in very different ways and also perceive their ability to do so — and the things that stand in their way — in markedly different ways. Findings suggest that while women are more likely to report physical symptoms associated with stress, they are doing a better job connecting with others in their lives and, at times, these connections are important to their stress management strategies.”
The bottom line is whether you are a man or a woman, an entrepreneur, a senior manager or CEO, your unrecognized and untreated stress could quickly be the end of your career, your relationships and quite possibly your life as long as you ignore the symptoms or refuse to change your behavior.
While work/life balance is a good solution, I’m not convinced it’s the only solution. There is another most surprising solution, that can be executed at work just about any time of the day and there’s zero financial cost.
A process I have developed over many years of working with highly successful business people whose steps are backed by scientific research and will reduce stress and prevent burn out. Simply stated, you can execute the steps in quick and simple conversations and relationships at work. I call it “Professional Intimacy: The key to becoming a Sustainable Leader (one who is built to last for the long haul).
There are three simple steps to Professional Intimacy … (a special thank you to Heather Martinez, who crafted the Story Map of my Keynote )
1. Connection – Know the answer to these four questions asked by Kevin Cashman, Author of Leadership from the Inside Out:
Who Am I? Where Am I Going? Why Am I Going There? and I’ll add Who is Going With Me?
2. Curiosity – When it comes to brain science, the truth is the same chemicals that are involved in a fearful are also involved when we feel curious or excited. What’s the difference? The story I tell myself to explain the situation, why it’s happening and what’ll be the result. Asking better questions when it comes to making meaning of my environment will result in my responding rather than automatically reacting because I’ve assumed the worst case scenario (which is likely not the case, anyhow).
3. Communicate – Have the courage to communicate you care when it comes to your team. Be a real human being, not some ivory-tower-untouchable-walk-on-water-CXO. Vulnerability, letting people see you sweat, showing your emotions (I didn’t say wear your heart on your sleeve), asking someone “How are you doing? What do you need right now?” when they appear to be having a rough day. Oh yes, then shut up and listen … the most important part. Doing this will build trust and respect, which will go both ways. Try it, I dare you.
If you would like more information on how you can reduce, manage or leverage stress and avoid burning up or burning out in your career by using the 3 Key Principals of Professional Intimacy, join me for a free webinar replay available for two more days: You can get more information or register here to get immediate access: Free Webinar “What Your Brain Wishes You Knew About Leadership Stress: Myths & Solutions” – This full video is packed with practical strategies to reduce stress and feel happier and more satisfied at work AND a special announcement at the end!
Watch your language!
To eliminate “lizard brain” (the emotional hijack caused by stress) avoid asking questions like “Why did you ..??” “WHY can’t you …?” “WHY don’t you …?” “WHY?” not only results in the listener feeling defensive, but also rarely matters when we are looking for solutions to a problem.
A better question effective leaders ask begins with “what” or “how” and helps people think. One example is asked with genuine curiosity (remember to manage your frustration first) … “What did you hope would happen by doing XYZ?”
Then, if you want people to trust you, shut up and listen.
To get the other 20 Ways to Eliminate Leadership Stress for You AND Your Team, click the link below to register for a free webinar:
Stress causes more than just physical symptoms. Did you know stress in the workplace erodes trust, productivity and creativity of you and your team?
Discover 21 Ways to Eliminate Stress to be able to do your best work, feel happier and more satisfied at the end of the day (and help your team do so, too!)
“The Neuroscience of Leadership Stress: Myths & Solutions for Busy Professionals, Managers & Executives”
“What Your Brain Wishes You Knew About Leadership Stress & 5 Simple Solutions to Successfully Do More With Less & Have Fun Doing It!”
We all experience stress and to a certain degree need it to be motivated into action. Left unchecked, even low levels of chronic stress will not only reduce your ability to solve problems and make decisions, your stress will reduce your team’s productivity and engagement. Click here to listen to the webinar replay (available for a limited time only):
Are you paid to think? Sustainable Leaders® know that the secret to success is not only managing time, but also managing energy, is an essential practice to making great decisions, especially under stress.
Successful leaders also know being efficient with their energy is critical to their success.
The latest research in the field of neuroscience (how our brain works) describes our pre-frontal cortex as the part of the brain that’s responsible for thinking. However, since it’s relatively newly evolved, it is also very inefficient as compared to the basal ganglia, the part of the brain that stores our hard-wiring, what we can do “automatically” without too much thinking power.
David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work, describes the pre-frontal cortex as “powered by rechargeable batteries” and needs frequent re-charging, in the form of sleep, glucose (and Ill add play and fun!).
How do you know when you’re pre-frontal cortex is running on empty? Here are some common signs:
1. (More) easily distracted by sounds, visual stimuli
2. Difficulty focusing
4. Unable to make a decision
5. Unable to remember things you “should” be able to remember (like your bosses’ name)
Here’s an ironic conflict of interest. The pre-frontal cortex is responsible for higher order thinking or “executive functions” such as:
In order for us to increase the odds we are being most economical with our brain’s limited brain-power, we must take time to recharge, and make time for our self, and preserve our limited brain power.
1. Unplug/Disconnect for 10 minutes a day no cell, no tv, no radio, no computer – Turn off notifications on your phone, your Blackberry, your computer email program. Go for a walk without your phone. This is completely doable even if you are marginally neurotic.
2. Give up on perfectionism in areas where you don’t need perfection – What if you can get away with a C instead of an A? Let your friends know from now on when they receive a return email from you and see: a that means “I like it!” This might not fly for business emails. For work, do your response emails really need to win a Nobel Prize? Will “C” work be satisfactory for some things so you can save “A” work for the really important things?
3. Schedule a one minute break every hour during the busiest time of the day – Set a timer/bell at the end of every hour or pick a number between 0 to 59 and at that minute in that hour, take a one minute “bathroom” break. Take 20 deep breaths, pay attention to your breath, nothing else.
4. Practice saying “I’ll check my calendar and get back to you” instead of “Yes.” Think about how responsible you’ll feel saying this rather than irresponsible because you’ve over committed, again.
5. Schedule a 10 minute session with yourself (yes, put it in your calendar) once a day (with no deliverables) and totally unplugged. Early mornings or right before bedtime is a perfect time to reflect and think.
How do you recharge in 1 to 3 minutes at work? Reply to this blog with your suggestions and … Thanks for playing.
… I’m off to recharge with a 5 minute walk!
If you like this, click the link to sign up and get more free tools to become a leader who will be built to last here: Sustainable Leadership, Inc.[sharebox4 sharetext=”Share This Page”] [/sharebox4]
Because most people will work hard to avoid conflict, productive meetings prepare participants for “what we are doing today” and encourage them to think out loud.
Bottom line is the leader must facilitate a psychologically safe environment for people to take risks.
“All ideas are accepted” and we start with only positive statements or strengths will create such an environment.
Brain science research has proven there’s an optimum 5:1 ratio: when we start a conversation with the positive, then our brain will be more open to accepting the “negative” or different opinions.
It’s like merging onto a freeway … start by going with the flow of traffic, then merge lane by lane into the fast lane is a better strategy than getting on the freeway going the wrong direction![sharebox4 sharetext=”Share This Page”] [/sharebox4]
If you are a leader in your organization (and anyone who makes a difference can be a leader), what if you were to notice opportunities to make a positive difference in another person’s self-image. What difference could you make today?
Common sense and now recent discoveries in brain science of social intelligence research, proves it: It is within a conversation in a relationship we learn and grow and our minds are shaped (ideally) to become more of who we are supposed to be. However, in many conversations we end up feeling criticized, deflated and unmotivated. Especially if that conversation happens with the boss or where there is an imbalance of power, as in a leader vs. direct report relationship.
Let’s make this practical and now take it a step further. We communicate through language (verbal, non-verbal). Stay with me now … In our conversations we influence and change our minds and subsequently our neural connections. When new neural networks and connections in our brain are made, due to neuroplasticity, our self-identity is constantly shaped and re-shaped and in turn we influence the self-identity of others. Oh, and many of us are in contact with more people and have more conversations with people at work … therefore many opportunities to create positive, constructive neural connections in not only their brain, but our own.
ScienceDaily (2010-08-27) — In the first study of its kind, researchers have found compelling evidence that our best and worst experiences in life are likely to involve not individual accomplishments, but interaction with other people and the fulfillment of an urge for social connection.
What if you were to notice opportunities to make a positive difference in someone else’s brain … what difference could you make today? Go ahead, I dare you.
Do you wonder why leadership training programs fail to prepare leaders of today for tomorrow’s challenges? The survey says …. “Avoid 5 Fail Points in Leadership Training” Download or listen now to the webinar on how to avoid wasting time and money on your personal or company’s leadership training and three key strategies to make your coaching or leadership development program truly pay off for the leader, for constituents and for the entire organization.
The bottom line is developing Sustainable Leaders: Developing authentic leaders happens from the inside out and from the outside in … for more information go to Sustainable Leadership, Inc.
Jay Politi offers a terrific summary of why Coaching with The Brain in Mind by David Rock and Linda Page is a must read for managers and leaders who want to avoid burn out and become Sustainable Leaders who are built to last.
Leaders are responsible for making quick yet “correct” decisions about critical issues and executing those decisions.
It is critical for leaders to be non-judgmental or neutral in evaluating, deciding and taking action. “Judgment” is often paired with a negative emotion (which our brain interprets as “pain”), which then closes doors to insight, awareness, empathy and solutions.
When we are mindful, or aware without judgment, we have a greater opportunity to evaluate our thoughts, feelings and beliefs without judgment. Being able to label or re-frame these “mindless” assertions, also allows us the opportunity to neutralize the negative charge that comes with the judgment associated with our reactions, painful feelings and “shoulds.”
At that point of awareness and reframing, we then have a choice, and thus an opportunity to execute that choice, try it out and see what happens, instead of being held hostage by the past. Labeling events and feelings, as well as an increased awareness at the levels of sensing, observation and knowing integrates and balances the left and right hemispheres of the brain (Badenoch, 2000).
Leaders can develop the skills to be intentionally mindful, sustainable leaders by developing the muscle of mindfulness in their brain. As a leadership coach who is an expert in the combination of relationships, communication and neuroscience, I have seen leaders whose peers and subordinates describe as “mindless” and “socially inept” be able to ramp up and learn the skills pretty quickly, and see a noticeable difference in their effectiveness at work, but also significantly lowering their stress level in the process.