The BIG and Viral ‘Loneliness at Work’ Issue

Abundance Accountability Personal leadership Respect

FlipboardTwitterLinkedInFacebook

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Watch for the premiere of the Lead In With Lorne Podcast: A Leadership Story to Start Your Week, releasing Monday morning, Dec. 3. 

Story: What the heck can we do about the rapidly emerging loneliness issue, as it relates to the workplace? “‘Despite sitting on a floor with hundreds of other people, work can feel really lonely,’ says 31-year-old Sarah, who works for a prestigious advertising agency in central London. ‘The company is huge but my team is small and we don’t really work together. I’m naturally quite shy too, so it can be hard to speak to start a conversation with someone in another department. I often feel left out and excluded…’ ‘When I’m at work now I’m just ‘head down.’ I never have time to go for lunch with people or pop out for an impromptu drink. People have stopped asking me now and I do feel like I’m missing out. Work used to be much more sociable.’” These quotes are from this article in The Telegraph, a well respected UK newspaper in a country that actually has a Minister of Loneliness. England has the research to understand that loneliness, including its residency in the workplace, is a major health and happiness matter for the entire British community. This insight applies to North America.

Most experts on the subject note that loneliness is not simply a disposition or personality trait. Rather, it consists of a person’s feeling about the adequacy and quality of his or her relationships in particular situations. It is also challenging to identify loneliness at work, in part because we assume being around lots of people is an antidote by itself. This is NOT a valid assumption. Loneliness likes to disguise itself too. Research into companies reporting high levels of exhaustion found that while employees were in fact exhausted, it wasn’t just because of the pace of work. They were actually exhausted because people were lonely, and that was manifesting itself in a feeling of exhaustion. As Peter Senge notes, “cause and effect are not closely related in space and time.”

So what can we do about this? Obviously the matter of workplace loneliness cannot adequately be addressed in a short blog. I hope these words increase awareness worthy of more discussion. At the same time, there are some things we can do in the spirit of thinking big, starting small and acting now. People that study loneliness recommend CLOSENESS as a meaningful antidote to loneliness. This is a feeling of being both understood AND valued; what we’re all really craving when we are lonely.

Lead Yourself Moves:

  1. We can each do something about our personal loneliness. Kira Asatryan, author of Stop Being Lonely, emphasizes: “You can create this feeling of closeness with anyone else who also wants to feel it. Closeness doesn’t have to be something that happens randomly or by accident—it is within your control to do something about it.” See that person, tell them you care about their happiness and well-being. Knowing and caring is a powerful combination.

Lead Others Moves:

  1. If you accept the obligation to lead others, I strongly believe you have a responsibility to get CLOSE to the people who work for and around you. This means to really know them (personally connect) AND provide an opportunity for each to fully contribute so they feel a sense of meaningful belonging. Create closeness! That’s part of your job as a leader.

Closeness in Personal Leadership,

Lorne

One Millennial View: Yeah, this is certainly a complicated issue that doesn’t have an easy or short answer. You can’t really force team lunches or happy hours with any guaranteed positive results, and in my opinion, there is nothing more unstimulating than an office “icebreaker” session where we waste an hour learning that Brad has three cats, and Kim likes to scrapbook. It’s such a lazy effort at this point. But we can take our own steps to develop natural progression to desired closeness, and even a small start is a step further from the loneliness of doing nothing.

– Garrett

Blog 951 edited and published by Garrett Rubis

 

Dangerous Silence and Excessive Confidence

Abundance Accountability Personal leadership Respect

FlipboardTwitterLinkedInFacebook

Story: Why do organization cultures live with dangerous silence? How do you respond in situations when you know your boss could be making a serious mistake? Does it make a difference when the leader has a great reputation and is enormously confident? What if the culture is considered excellent and usually “right?” My recent visit to the hospital gave me an opportunity to observe the relationship between doctors (especially surgeons) and the rest of the medical team (nurses, physiotherapists, etc). It is clear that it might be difficult for the support team to speak up if it involves confronting the decision, or direction of a very self-assured authority figure. Surgeons in particular have to be a confident lot. It’s part of what makes them great at what they do. It is also a condition for dangerous silence. 

In her recently published book, The Fearless Organization, expert Amy Edmondson really digs into the vital nature of psychological safety. In the book she relays numerous powerful stories where excessive confidence contributed to catastrophes involving loss of life. All too often, small or massive tragedies could have been avoided if someone had spoken up and others listened.

Key Point: Our readers know that I’ve been writing about psychological safety as one of the key elements in building a great culture for some time. Most of our perspective has referred to the dangers when a blanket of fear keeps people muffled. In this blog, we want to highlight another factor: Overconfidence. The following is a chapter summary from The Fearless Organization.

When people fail to speak up with their concerns or questions, the physical safety of customers or employees is at risk, sometimes leading to tragic loss of life. Excessive confidence in authority is a risk factor in psychological and physical safety. A culture of silence is a dangerous culture.”

Be wary of the halo effect circling around excessively confident people and organizations. Great leaders and cultures are both confident AND very humble. They know it is dangerous to get big heads from their loyal tribe (customers/employees/shareholders) and all the touted historical success. In fact, the best leaders go out of their way to invite challenges even to their most deeply held convictions. A strong Board of Directors also plays a vital role in this context. Overconfidence is a huge RISK. Watch for the “arrogant” signals blinking away.

Lead Yourself Move:

  1. Become known as someone who is confident and humble by proactively inviting challenge. Become a super listener. Be decisive, yet curious about how solid your convictions really are.

Lead Others Move:

  1. Institutionalize the value of challenge and respectful, constructive confrontation everywhere. Insist on nothing being sacred. Expect people to “talk back” AND “listen up.”
  2. Redefine loyalty to you as someone who tells it like it is whether you approve of the message or not. Surround yourself with positive challengers.

Confident humbleness in Personal Leadership,

Lorne  

One Millennial View: I think the key takeaway from the blog above is, “watch for the ‘arrogant’ signals blinking away.” When confidence spills over to arrogance, a fine line has been crossed. However, let’s be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. As an employee, I’d rather have a leader with a little too much confidence than a lack thereof. 

– Garrett

Blog 950 edited and published by Garrett Rubis

 

Burning Up My Past

Abundance Accountability Personal leadership Respect

FlipboardTwitterLinkedInFacebook

Story: As part of my workflow, I take notes in black notebooks. I rarely refer to these scribblers for very long after I write in them. Yet, they have proven vital to the way I learn. Over my career, I’ve poured my thinking into literally more than 1,000 notebooks, each a hundred or more double-sided pages. I typically fill up one every couple of months. Yesterday I burned about 50 of them in our outdoor fireplace (see the picture above). I shook each out checking for loose cards, old lottery tickets and other stuff I didn’t want to inadvertently destroy. However, I looked at none of my notes, partly because my writing is pretty much illegible, but mostly because the written words have all expired while the learnings travel on with me.

Key Point: We all have black books (literal or not). They are important, and remind us of where we have been. Still, there is something cathartic about burning them. I do love every chapter captured in those books, and it is important to honor what they stand for. However, they are done. In fact they are ashes to feed my flower bed and garden. Perhaps that is the most significant metaphor. I genuinely believe my very best work and contribution is in front of me.

Lead Yourself Move:

  1. Burn your little “black books.” As great (or not) as they were, they’re gone. Take the best parts with you as you move forward. Embrace the idea that your best work is ahead of you, regardless of where you are in your work life.

Lead Others Move:

  1. Remember that you are a chapter in the “black book” of everyone who works for or with you. What do you want them writing about you? When they “burn their books,” you will travel with them. How will they remember you?

Burning forward in personal leadership,

– Lorne

One Millennial View: Most Millennials have probably moved on from bound, black books to notes in an iPhone or tablet. Still, the sentiment remains the same. I know that I’ve taken plenty of notes that I simply have never looked at again. Kind of like that short video you took at that concert or fireworks display. You ever re-watch that? Instead, the memory and experience moves on with you. The only advantage to electronic notes via pages is they don’t take up the physical space of 1,000 notebooks and you can burn them with the click of a button. 

– Garrett

Blog number 949.

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis.

 

And in Walked Henry!

Abundance Accountability Personal leadership Respect

FlipboardTwitterLinkedInFacebook

Story: Last week I was listening to a very touching NPR radio piece about a pediatric oncologist, who conducted a precarious cancer intervention on an infant born at 35 weeks. This incredible doctor and support team administered chemotherapy to attack a large spinal tumor the first day the baby was outside the womb. The fear was that without this miraculous act of medicine, the child would die or at minimum suffer severe skeletal and neurological damage. Imagine the feelings of the parents, family, and medical team during this time.

Fast forward a year, and the same doctor was having a fundraiser for pediatric cancer at his home. The family of Henry, the infant noted above, attended and was warmly greeted by the doctor. They had become very familiar but had not seen each other for about six months. The doctor asked the parents how Henry was. They happily proclaimed that he was at the party. The oncologist exclaimed “well wheel him in.” And just as the pediatrician uttered the words, he choked up. Coming right at him was the toddler Henry, ambling through the doorway. In a tender halting voice, the doctor described that profound moment. While he was delighted with the waddle in, it was the size of the SMILE on Henry’s face that radiated ALL. The pure joy of life!

Key Point: It’s the season of Thanksgiving, and all of us know, regardless of how wonderful or difficult things in life may be, it really is important to pause and express gratitude. The benefits of gratitude are scientifically proven, yet when we hear this message, it can sometimes feel like one more thing for an already endless “to do” list. What I loved the most about the Henry story was that at one years old, he was unknowingly the definition of gratitude and a generous GIVER. It was that beaming smile that announced his full of life presence, like “baby, it’s great to be here!” Maybe we can all channel a little from Henry this Thanksgiving?

Lead Yourself Move:

  1. When you walk into a room this Thanksgiving season, why not both naturally and consciously give others your fully alive smile?

Lead Others Move:

  1. Repeat the step above.

Giving a grateful smile in Personal Leadership,

Lorne

One Millennial View: Yeah, while most pre-Thanksgiving rhetoric revolves around anticipating fierce political debates at the dinner table, or wrangling in drunk uncles, it’s refreshing to reflect on the reality of a big smile and the gratitude most of us can fortunately relate to. Henry would probably sit at the kids’ table, but his story delivers a good opportunity for a grown up discussion. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

 

Who the Heck Cries at Work Anyway? Geez!

Abundance Accountability Personal leadership Respect

FlipboardTwitterLinkedInFacebook

Story: JiJi Lee, a New York comedian, contributed a very funny and poignant article in the Nov. 9 New York Times regarding where the heck one goes to cry in an open office environment. The following are a few “best” cry zone places Lee suggests:

“At your desk with your headphones on: The trick is to release your tears one at a time. Tears are a dead giveaway that you’re doing crying stuff and not work stuff.

At Ravi’s standing desk: The dry cleaning he’s always hanging on it will provide partial coverage. Plus, crying at a sit/stand desk is so much better for your posture.

By the water cooler: Boost collaboration with your co-workers by taking turns to openly weep. They might hesitate at first, but remind them it’s easier to cry in person than via email.

Behind your succulent: Sure, the company removed all the walls but at least it added Instagram-worthy décor. The company will be thrilled that you’re getting so choked up over its long-term investment in plants.

Into your poke bowl: Pretend you’re crying about the appropriation of Hawaiian food culture and not the disintegration of autonomy in the workplace.

The restroom: This is where everyone goes to cry. Anticipate long lines.”

Key Point: I’m from a generation where crying at work was generally frowned upon as a sign of weakness. And there certainly was, and perhaps still is gender bias regarding crying being more common and maybe even more acceptable for women. I’m not an easy crier, and yet over 40+ years I’ve had an occasional good bawl at work. A couple of situations have been based on sheer joy, the last being when my team brought in a choir to serenade my retirement. At others, it’s been due to some real personal stuff just accumulating and I couldn’t hold in any longer. On one occasion it was essentially an open space office (my office was totally see through glass), and I probably used a half box of tissue. I could tell from the eyes in the back of my head that colleagues were very uncomfortable. They didn’t know whether to console me, or pretend they didn’t see me. And during my many years as an executive leader, I can assure you almost everyone of my direct reports teared up to the “kleenex level” with me at least once; male and female. (I’m not proud to note that sometimes my demanding expectations caused this reaction). On every sports team I’ve played, including with the toughest athletes, there have been many tears shed.

Is this vulnerable behavior a sign of weakness? My understanding is that there’s is not one bit of empirical evidence that vulnerability is connected to weakness. In fact, open vulnerability is a strength and necessary to be a truly courageous leader. Crying is an occasional subset of being vulnerable, and I certainly don’t want to overstate the connection. Yet, I think it is worth asking when the last time you had a good cry at work? Tim Herrera, who edits the Smarter Living newsletter for the NYT asked this question as a lead in to an instructive article on the subject. Herrera notes: “What we need to realize, however, is that really it’s not a big deal: Just under half of employees have cried at work at some point, according to a study from earlier this year, which also found that about 75 percent of C.F.O.s surveyed thought crying every so often is totally normal.”  Maybe the number should be closer to 100 percent?

Lead Yourself Move:

  1. If you are going to be an evolved leader, your authenticity is vital. This means being very human and subsequently shedding occasional tears may be part of your experience. Acknowledge your emotions and let people appreciate that you are vulnerable. This helps people appreciate that at times of uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure we are ALL very vulnerable, including you. It’s important to be real.

Lead Others Move:

  1. Model that it is ok for people who work for or with you to shed their coat of armor, which occasionally may involve tears and/or a darn good cry. Be empathetic, compassionate and understanding when your team members show that emotion. Do NOT be patronizing, judgmental and/or stupid. Expunge any thinking that that person is weak. It is a myth.

Note: Occasional crying is normal. When someone is very emotional on a recurring basis, we likely need to offer that teammate help that most often includes professionals beyond our personal expertise.

Ok crying in Personal Leadership,

– Lorne

One Millennial View: Hey let’s face it, the stigmatism against publicly crying has not really progressed since the “Mad Men” days, and I’m guessing that has to do with human nature. It can be awkward for all parties, especially when you just work together. Many female colleagues or friends I know have admitted to retreating to a bathroom to occasionally cry, and in all honesty, if a male co-worker shed tears at the office then people auto-assume a loved one has just died. Biased? Yes. Fair? No. I think at work, of all places, we hope things run smoothly. Ideally, leaders hope they don’t make people cry, we Millennials hope we don’t screw up bad enough to feel like crying, and in either case tears signify something went really awry. The rule isn’t “there’s no crying at work,” but sobbing shouldn’t be scheduled on your Google calendar either. If it is, that truly is a sad place to earn a paycheck.  

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis