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!
My first opportunity to consciously stand up for my professional and philosophical beliefs about Professional Intimacy occurred in 1994. In the last year of my Master’s program, my thesis involved research on the process of creating a successful business partnership.
Using Appreciative Inquiry, our process resulted in a model of a synergistic triangle consisting of three equally key ingredients, where 1 + 1 = 3 (I was never good at math, but this makes sense … read on):
In the early 1990′s the unspoken, unwritten rule in the business world was “Don’t Talk About Relationships, feelings or any of the soft, fluffy stuff humans were made of when delivering leadership or management training or when speaking to businesses, managers or executive leaders about improving productivity or performance. I was directed to leave that stuff at the door and talk about “real” skills. Don’t feel … just get to work!
I followed this advice for a while and felt my hands (and credibility) were tied behind my back.
Then I ignoring that advice. After 12 years in business, our design resulted in not only building our own successful business and partnership, but also served as a model for our clients to build sustainable partnerships.
Through the process of developing Professional Intimacy as defined in my thesis in 1994 and even to this day, I continued to learn and grow both intra-personally and inter-personally as a result.
The truth is this: We learn and grow in relationship, not in isolation. Following the old rule and disregarding the complex and dynamic relationship systems we create through all of our relationships, however brief, is ridiculous.
Here’s the point: My thesis was nominated for publication in the college journal … an honor, for sure. However, the committee stated it would only be considered for publication only if I changed the title.
They objected to the phrase I used to symbolize our design for a successful business partnership: Professional Intimacy.
Because sexual harassment in the workplace was such a touchy (pun intended) topic in the early 90′s, the committee frowned upon my use of the phrase in the title. I stood my ground on principle because even though the rule was “Don’t talk about RELATIONSHIPS and WORK in the same sentence.” I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) in good conscience back down. Besides, I have a strong oppositional reflex.
I ran across the dusty, bound thesis years later and wondered …
“Did I do the right thing in standing up for my values?”
“Would my career path have changed had I decided to belly up?”
“Would I have been able to help more people sooner?”
I suppose I’ll never know… What would you have done?
PS. Check out Chapter 19: “Professional Intimacy: The key to being a Sustainable Leader” in the book “The Character Based Leader: Instigating a leadership revolution one person at a time” on Amazon or your favorite bookseller.
As the boss, have you ever “lost it” in a meeting? Even if your answer is “Of course not!” would your team agree with you?
The way we communicate determines our ability to engage, motivate and inspire creativity in our team.
Unfortunately, the skills needed to communicate effectively are sometimes lost because what we see and hear in ourselves as a leader is not always the same as what our employees experience during conversations and meetings.
By using Brain Based Learning Strategies we can develop a new understanding of our approach and the impact it has on results.
Coming to terms with how we lead is the first step to improving our effectiveness and ability to develop into a Sustainable Leader, one that can face challenges and drive his or her team to success over the long haul.
I wrote a post describing an executive coaching session with “Jeff” (not his real name) where you can see Brain Based Learning, self evaluation and creating a new mindset for improved leadership effectiveness in action:
It was “Jeff’s” (not his real name) third team meeting this week, and after this particularly long meeting he was beyond frustrated. “Why can’t they just get it right? How many times do I have to tell them what I want? Why don’t they get it? Are they that stupid? Or do they just not give a damn?” Click here to read the entire blog post at ManagingAmericans
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