Archives for March 2013

Practicing Mindful Leadership

During the past decade, the number of leaders indicating that job stress is a major stress in their lives has doubled. The U.S. Department of Health attributes 70 percent of work-related physical and mental complaints to stress. And health insurance claims related to stress are estimated to cost organizations more than $300 billion yearly. In today’s accelerating business world, we live in an always-on, round-the-clock work atmosphere, are barraged with increasingly more information needing to be assimilated, and are pressured to do more with less.

At the same time, or perhaps in response to this environment, strong leaders are striving to be high-producing (a given) and visionary, but also creative, innovative, authentic, and balanced. Leadership development programs and activities can help to develop many skills (for example, presentation skills, strategic thinking, problem solving, giving feedback, leading change, and building teams), but there are some qualities of terrific leaders that cannot be developed by merely learning about the nature, the value, or the right times to demonstrate them.

Some of these qualities can be referred to as “states of being.” Consider, for example, the states of being relaxed, alert, curious, close minded, open minded, negative, positive, or self-confident. These states of being are attained by having experiences and by discussing the experiences of others who have attained them.

One particular state of being that is increasingly seen in corporations and reputable executive education programs as a both necessary and distinguishing leadership attribute is mindfulness.

Defining mindfulness

Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor emeritus of medicine and founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic, and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, describes mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”

Mindfulness is achieved by regulating one’s attention—focusing attention on one’s thoughts and emotions. Dan Siegel is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine; faculty member of the Center for Culture, Brain, and Development; and co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center. He refers to mindfulness practice as “good brain hygiene” that is as important to our health as brushing our teeth.

What exactly are the benefits of practicing mindfulness? Greater frequency of practice may yield greater benefits, but in even a handful of minutes of practice each day, we can

  • improve mental focus and reduce mind wandering
  • extend our attention span
  • discourage black-and-white thinking
  • assist in staying organized, managing time, and setting priorities
  • lift us from a constant, low level of panic and guilt
  • lower wear and tear on our bodies
  • toughen immunity
  • improve mood and emotional stability
  • build self-monitoring capacity
  • offer neuroprotective effects and reduce cognitive decline associated with aging.

Mindfulness is not a new idea. Forty years ago Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts to treat chronically ill patients. This sparked interest in the medical field, where mindfulness began to be used and applied to both healthy and unhealthy people.

Use of the ideas and techniques continued to spread around the world, during which time two other advances were occurring: psychologists created techniques to offer their patients the benefits of mindfulness training, and an increasing number of scientific studies were conducted on the impacts of mindfulness practice.

In the workplace

Why is mindfulness gaining attention now? As our understanding of what it takes to be a good leader evolves, we are finding that effective leadership requires self-knowledge, self-awareness, and centeredness. Additionally, research reveals that the best leaders have some method to manage the constant onslaught of inputs and stimuli to maintain their presence of mind and good health.

How does this work? Neuroscientists have been able to show, through the use of magnetic resonance images (MRIs), that mindfulness is associated with changes in gray brain matter concentration in areas of the brain activated during learning and memory processes, emotional regulation, and perspective taking.

In Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, Maria Konnikova explains how neurologist Marcus Raichle learned, after decades of examining the brain, that our minds are wired to wander.

“Whenever our thoughts are suspended between specific, discrete, goal-directed activities, the brain reverts to a so-called baseline, ‘resting’ state—but don’t let the word fool you, because the brain isn’t at rest at all,” Konnikova writes. “This baseline activation suggests that the brain is constantly gathering information from both the external world and our internal states, and what’s more, that it is monitoring that information for signs of something that is worth its attention. … [O]ur minds are made to wander. That is their resting state. Anything more requires an act of conscious will.”

Because business leaders see the need to do more things faster, they need to learn how to prioritize their attention and do the most important things really well. Attention is a limited resource. Paying attention to one thing comes at the expense of another.

Individuals cannot give their attention to multiple things at once and hope that their brains will function at the same level as it would if focused on just one thing. Two tasks cannot receive equal attention at the same time. One will be the focus, and the other will exist as “noise” to be categorized and perhaps filtered out.

Giving attention to one thing at the expense of another leads to “attentional blindness,” which is just what it sounds like. Focusing on one thing squarely makes people essentially blind to other stimuli. Neuroscientists have concluded that multitasking is not possible. When a person thinks she is multitasking well, what she is likely doing is task-switching, which is taxing on the brain and can be interpreted as a negative stress.

Being mindful

With the environments we work in these days, what can individuals do to try to gain the experience of being mindful? Remember that the “end in mind” is a continuous state of mindfulness. To begin to achieve that end, though, one might try mindfulness training exercises to help develop awareness of one’s mental and emotional pulses.

There are several methods or practices that can lead a person to a mindful state. The practice of mindful leadership has four primary elements:

  • mastery of attention
  • clarity of intention
  • optimization of attitude and emotional intelligence
  • integration into every domain of daily life, work, and relationships.

All of those elements can be strength­-ened by one primary method—meditation. Search online for meditation guides. For example, provides descriptions and illustrations of numerous guided meditations used to build mindfulness. The basics of sitting are explained, as are the fundamental method of breathing and the importance of posture.

You also can find specific meditations to be used for different purposes or in different scenarios. For example, if you’re working on changing habits, try the “habit releaser” meditation. “Body scan” is a wonderful and brief meditation that assists in identifying spots where you are holding on to tension or fear, and then relaxing those areas.

Mindfulness does not have to be practiced sitting still on a square cushion in a quiet room. The ultimate goal is to experience each day as mindfully as possible. The “mindful movement” meditation helps carry the sensations and benefits of mindfulness throughout each day, and all of its activities.

When trying to adopt mindfulness as a new habit, there are simple and clever ways to begin to make the practice routine. Some people associate walking through the transition between two rooms with mindfulness, and use this physical transition as a prompt to breathe, reflect on their thoughts, and return to the present.

Others have tried doing mini-meditations or quick body scans at red lights while driving. There are creative ways to build this practice into your life without the need to set aside time in a separate place, if that presents a challenge.

What follows are examples of mindful leadership at work, which were gathered from small consulting firms that teach mindfulness.

  • A “mindfulness laboratory” was developed to teach software engineers and technology leaders skills to bring greater innovation, creativity, focus, change, resilience, personal sustainability, mindfulness, and wisdom to their work.
  • Mindfulness became one of the guiding values for a division of a major global computer hardware manufacturer. The work eventually spread to many divisions and locations of the company worldwide.
  • An initiative called “Attention Leadership” gave rise to a wave of programs designed to help all leaders in the organization become more effective, innovative, and change resilient.
  • At a health cooperative and a children’s medical center, training sessions were held for medical leaders that emphasized the practice of mindfulness for mastering stress, reducing pain, improving attention, developing clear presence, improving the quality of communications, increasing clarity and depth of thinking, and improving the quality of work. Mindfulness also is a core element of the training of medical students, physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals at the International Center of Mindfulness, Meditation, and MindBody Medicine.

The foundational ideas underlying mindfulness are time-tested and proved to have significant benefits. At minimum, we can begin to integrate mindfulness into our present lifestyles, especially since the integration can involve such small amounts of time and are “portable.”

Being transparent and vocal about your practice can serve as powerful modeling for others. And if you work with individual leaders who encounter stress on the job (are there leaders that don’t?), you could be offering them physical, emotional, and mental relief and improved effectiveness by introducing them to this practice.

More broadly, we can share information and resources with training and development staff or otherwise support the integration of mindfulness content and practice into larger, more systemic leadership development programs.

Mindful leadership can alter the tone of the work environment in subtle and overt ways, making it a potential agent of positive change in organizations.

Reprinted from T&D Magazine

11 Pitfalls to Avoid in Using SME-Created Training Content

This would seem like a highly cost-effective move. Not so fast. Just giving people some development tools and telling them to “go forth and create content” will, more than likely, result in chaos.

If you are going to move content development out to the field, make sure you are doing it right. Here are 11 disastrous content failures to avoid.

The content is inaccurate

Who says the end user or SME knows what he/she is talking about? Have you vetted them? Lots of people out there know a lot of stuff, but what they know is not always right. And if you let inaccurate content out without review, people will follow it, perhaps to disastrous ends.

The content is incomplete

This is not exactly the same as being inaccurate. Even though the content is right on, it’s just not finished. Content consumers can get only so far, then stumble when they find out there is information that’s missing. “Coming soon” is not a notice people in the field want to see when they need the information right now.

The content is not authentic

Sometimes content is accurate and relevant, but not authentic. In other words, it just doesn’t ring real or true for the content consumer. “Sure, it may be right,” they would say, “but we don’t do it this way in the ‘real world.”

To avoid this, field-test your content with real users and/or customers, not just SMEs.

The content is trivial

Is this information that people really need to know? For example, when learning about occupational health and safety, do you need to learn that Richard Nixon signed the original OSHA law (bet you didn’t know that)? While there can be legitimate debate on whether content is “need to know” vs. “nice to know,” watch out for content creeping in that’s “completely unnecessary to know.”

The content is redundant

When the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, you have waste. Before assigning a content development project, ask if someone has already done this or if someone currently is working on this. Collaboration on content development most often results in a better overall product.

There is conflicting information

Sometimes one piece of content directly contradicts another. This is not necessarily a bad thing; when you find this, you have a great opportunity to correct and clarify, which does a great service to content integrity as a whole. Of course, if you just ignore the contradictions, well, let’s just say that you wouldn’t want to be around when two people try to do the same thing two different ways.

There is too much or too little content

This is tricky, because while the content may be right for some users, it may be too much, too little, or too detailed for others. Think of a manager who just wants an overview of a new technology and gets everything there is. Or the technical professional who wants a deep dive, but all she or he can find is an overview. In such cases the content isn’t bad; it’s just frustratingly not useful.

The content has sourcing issues

The more critical the content, the more important it is to be able to point to reliable sources for the information. This doesn’t mean you have to exhaustively cite materials, but it does mean you should have adequate and accurate back up for what you are distributing. Plus, managing your sources well enables a much easier time when it comes to updating.

Introduction of bias

Everyone has bias in some way, and sometimes a biased approach is valuable, especially when advocating for a position. But in most cases, the development of good content ought to reflect the needs and interests of the organizations and users, not just the perspective of content developers. Introducing development collaboration and peer review can mitigate the problems of individual bias.

Bad communication

Sometimes people simply can’t communicate. They can’t write or put together a coherent presentation or they have trouble clearly articulating the content they are developing. Teaching experts to be better communicators may sometimes be too much of a hurdle. Initially screening for those who show

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some communication skill and savvy may be a better way to go.

Loss of control

If everyone is developing content, how do you know who is doing what and how it all fits together? This can be a management nightmare. Ask yourself how much control you want of end user and SME developers. Too much and they may rebel or avoid this kind of work. Too little and you may experience many of the factors above, perhaps all at once!

And it’s not just managing the development process; you also have to consider archiving, distributing, and refreshing the content over the long term. Our new reality, in the age of social media, is that everyone is a content consumer and a content creator. We should not take lightly how we manage all of this. The knowledge explosion already overwhelms us; let’s not make it worse by flooding our organizations with bad content.

Reprinted from Learning Solutions magazine

Driving Social Learning in Your Organization

No matter how they define it, learning executives seem to agree that jumping on the social learning bandwagon just because everyone else is doing it is counterintuitive; it needs to serve a purpose. Rather than gravitating toward the bells and whistles of a new or popular product on the market, it’s incumbent to first identify a business problem that social learning can solve.

“One does not do social learning for the sake of saying, ‘I’m doing social learning,’” said Teresa Roche, vice president and chief learning officer for Agilent Technologies. “How do you do it to enable, extend, accelerate what is already a process of work that you’re doing?”

Roche said she would never try to get ahead of where Agilent’s businesses are, nor would she wholly encourage everyone to use a tool for collaboration. Instead, the question is, where are people collaborating? And then, where can we use this tool?

For example, last year Agilent bought iPads for use in its Emerging Leaders leadership program to accelerate development for 42 globally dispersed participants. The iPads were pre-populated with content, including an e-book that contained the company’s training materials and multimedia content, such as video clips, where appropriate. The company also built components into the program whereby participants could take polls and view results on an app, and participants used the Evernote app to reflect on what they learned and how it could be applied.

Similarly, SunTrust Bank identified a business need — driving productivity — that social learning could help solve. This year the bank is rethinking its technology infrastructure to determine what kind of device to provide its employees with to drive productivity. And learning leaders are providing IT with the business requirements needed to enable employees to do their jobs better.

“Whether that’s accessing a social media site or going to an internal SharePoint site or being able to post information to blog about something, we are giving them the business requirements that help them figure out the network bandwidth requirement, the software and technology infrastructure, desktop hardware that [employees] need,” said Mary Slaughter, senior vice president for talent management and development at SunTrust Bank.

Organizations across industries can benefit from enhanced collaboration and innovation among workers. For example, one of the tools Telus, a Canadian telecom company, uses to drive collaboration among its call center members is a wiki called Fixopedia. It allows employees to log issues they’re having and share solutions with peers. Previously they had to wait for a classroom session to do that, said Dan Pontefract, head of learning and collaboration at Telus.

However, a collaborative culture is necessary to drive this type of interaction.

“For example if … company X has launched a blogging platform for their employees, if their employees are scared to bits because it’s a hierarchical or closed-minded culture, who cares about a blogging platform? No one’s going to be authentically honest,” he said. “If you have a culture that’s very hoarding and controlling and stressful, you don’t have a culture of openness or full of employees that want to give back and contribute the knowledge, expertise, experience to the grid.”

Learning leaders can evaluate if a company’s culture is truly collaborative and its social strategy successful via employee engagement scores, sub-drivers such as return on performance, return on employee morale, employee likelihood to recommend the company or an employee’s likelihood to use its products.

Reprinted from Chief Learning Officer magazine


Moving Employees from ‘Have To’ to ‘Want To’

It’s not uncommon for executives to believe that they have a positive work culture, yet in reality, most still have problems typical of a negative reinforcement management style. The misinformed executive typically arrives at this conclusion because company performance is good, they are profitable and employee complaints are few. It is unfortunate that negative reinforcement can produce those results, but it can.

The reason is that negative reinforcement produces improvement in behavior as people do more to avoid punishment. The punishment may be slight or significant. People will work hard to avoid termination, but they will also work hard to avoid the displeasure of the boss.

Take employee morale, for instance. Executives have been conditioned through history to think that competitive wages and good benefits produce high morale. If that were true, all financially successful organizations would have high morale. Of course they don’t. In fact, I’ve reported on this before: employee engagement numbers have changed little in the more than 20 years. A Towers Perrin Global Workforce study showed that only 22 percent of workers are engaged, while BlessingWhite’s survey found 31 percent.

Furthermore, by their own admission less than half of employees say that they are “fully engaged.” It is quite unusual to find a company where all employees enter the workplace rejoicing, “Thank goodness it’s Monday!”

Engagement is not determined by what you do; it is determined by what happens to you when you do it. Employee engagement is a leadership problem, period. You cannot improve engagement by having a one-day motivational training program or an engaging mission statement or vision. You can only improve it by changing how people are treated on an hour to hour basis.

As Tom Odum of Shell Oil said many years ago, “It’s hard to celebrate when you have been beaten up on the way to the party.”

Engagement requires policies, executive decisions and management behaviors that are focused on helping employees be successful. Respect their brains. Make them a vital part of determining how things are done, how problems are solved. After all, most executives have said at one time or another that their employees are their most valuable asset.

How many of the following five signs typical of engaged employees do you see in your organization?

  1. Volunteerism – Employees willingly lend a hand to co-workers, even when they aren’t asked.
  2. Dedication – Employees typically complete jobs/projects ahead of schedule and aren’t clock watchers; they often show up early or even stay late.
  3. Pride in accomplishments – Employees acknowledge the accomplishments of others and are pleased with their own success as well.
  4. Initiative – Employees openly offer ideas and solutions for improvement, and anticipate needs.
  5. Response to criticism/failure – Employees are open to feedback and make changes quickly.

As with most things in business, pure engagement is a leadership issue. It cannot be mandated; it must be done willingly. Leadership must be focused on creating a workplace where every employee advances the organizational mission every day. The mission of leaders should be to “create successful employees.”

It is only when the culture of a company is defined as a group of people working to create the best, most cost-effective, quality product or service and where they all see the accomplishments driven by their behavior on a regular basis that you will have employees who come to work after the weekend saying, “Thank goodness it’s Monday!”

Reprinted from Talent Management Magazine

Rolling Out the Dough Motivates Employees to Lose Pounds

Offering financial incentives may be more effective in motivating employees to achieve weight-loss goals than previously thought, according to a recent study conducted by the Mayo Clinic.

Participants in the study were grouped into one of four control groups. Two groups offered a $20 reward to individuals who were able to achieve a monthly weight-loss goal. The other two groups were offered no financial incentives.

According to the study, all participants were given a goal of losing four pounds per month up to a pre-determined weight. Those who could not achieve their goal for the month paid $20 into a lottery pool, which all individuals in the group were eligible to win.

The study found that 62 percent of participants in the financial-incentive group achieved their ultimate weight-loss goal, whereas only 26 percent of participants in the non-incentive group achieved their ultimate goal. The study also shows that participants in the incentive group who paid penalties for missed monthly goals were more likely to accomplish total weight-loss goals than participants in the non-incentive group.

“The take-home message is that sustained weight loss can be achieved by financial incentives,” which can improve results, and improve compliance and adherence to weight loss goals, said Dr. Steven Driver, lead author of the study and internal medicine resident at the Mayo Clinic, in a news release.

Dr. Donald Hensrud, preventive-medicine expert at the Mayo Clinic, says obesity continues to be a major concern in the United States because extra weight contributes to conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

“Traditional therapies are not working for a lot of people, so people are looking for creative ways to help people lose weight and keep it off. The results of this study show the potential of financial incentives,” Hensrud said in the news release.

Reprinted from Workforce

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