We invite you to take three minutes to watch/listen to our new podcast, “Lead In with Lorne Rubis: A Leadership Story to Start Off Your Week.”
This week’s podcast discusses the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone, with a personal story attached. Enjoy it on the YouTube video embedded below, and stay tuned for it to be available to access/subscribe to on iTunes and other audio options soon. We hope it enriches your Monday morning.
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:
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:
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,
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.
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:
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:
Institutionalize the value of challenge and respectful, constructive confrontation everywhere. Insist on nothing being sacred. Expect people to “talk back” AND “listen up.”
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,
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.
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:
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:
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,
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.
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:
When you walk into a room this Thanksgiving season, why not both naturally and consciously give others your fully alive smile?
Lead Others Move:
Repeat the step above.
Giving a grateful smile in Personal Leadership,
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.