Friday, December 17, 2010

why a happy brain performs better

Here's an interesting interview. One caveat: he's not talking about happy as in, "joy" or "fun". He's using it to mean "open to positive possibilities". I wish those who studied this field would use a word other than "happy", which generates skepticisim. I took the Positive Psychology course with Tal Ben-Shahar and would recommend it to anyone interested in learning how to develop their own and others' abilities to open the mind, develop new neural pathways, and develop more positive relationships.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

When spiderwebs unite . . .

. . . they can halt even the lion.*

So many of my workshop participants say, "Everyone agrees we need to make that change but no one will stand up and say so." What we often fail to realize is that one person speaking alone is rarely able to make major changes within an organization but several voices together can turn it in a new direction.

Who are your natural allies -- who already agrees but hasn't said anything publicly? Who shares your interests and hasn't given much thought to the change you seek? Who has the ear of the powers that be?

Gather allies and make a coordinated effort to achieve your change goals. Use numerous influence techniques -- don't just talk, take action. Show results. Demonstrate the quantitative and qualitative cost of not making changes and the quantitative and qualitative benefits of the change. Don't hide the risks or you'll limit your credibility, but offer mitigation strategies. Tie the change to the organization's mission, vision, or strategic goals. Gather your spiderwebs together.

* Ethiopian proverb, according to various web sources

Saturday, December 11, 2010

We have to expand the pie, even if only in imagination

Do you know the story of the man who left 17 camels to his three sons upon his death? To his eldest he left half, to the next boy 1/3 and to the youngest son 1/9th. Unfortunately 17 cannot be divided by half, 1/3 nor 1/9 and the sons began to bicker.

Nearly giving up, they brought their plight to the wise woman of the village who said, "I don't have an answer for you, but if you'd like you can have one of my camels."

Now they had 18 camels: the oldest took half or 9, the middle boy took a third or 6, and the youngest took a 9th or 2. What to do with the camel left over? Give it to the wise woman, of course.

Over what resource are you bickering with others? Can you expand the pie, even momentarily, to see if doing so gives everyone enough of what they want?

What is needed to see the possibilities is either 1) an outsider, such as the wise woman or 2) one member of the group to step outside. A wise woman is not always available. We have to be able to step aside from the emotionality of our situation and look around to say, "what are the possibilities? In what way are we seeing this in black and white -- where is the gray? If no gray is obvious, can we create it?"

I was in a class once where the teacher asked, "what is impossible to do today that if it were possible would make a significant positive impact on your achievement of your goals." What is surprising about that is that once one lists the impossibilities and their impact, suddenly ways of gaining even small parts of those previous impossibilities become visible.

Can you step outside your current negotiations or conflicts and see a third way?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Purpose, passion and humility

Moses is on my mind these days -- my son has been studying the bible chapter beginning with Moses' birth and ending with his first meeting with Pharoah -- so it's no surprise that Moses was first to come to my mind when I read Bill Taylor's blog today:

"if money, power, and fame aren't all they're cracked up to be, what are the resources that allow leaders to make real change and have an enduring impact? I'd nominate purpose, passion, and humility . . . leaders who stand for something more than themselves."

Moses had all three. But, his purpose and passion came from a higher power. How do those of us not in constant contact with the Divine develop purpose and passion in our work? I'm lucky because I am able to do work I love, which enables me to follow my purpose in life, which in turn helps me maintain my passion.

What about you?

And humility? There is a difference between humility and subservience that I think gets lost in educating our children. Many parents fear their child will be walked all over by others and/or will lack self-confidence if he is not frequently praised, rescued from his own errors, and reminded to be a "winner". What do we do to develop humility in ourselves and in our children?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Managing your boss may mean managing yourself

In its Management Tip of the Day, Harvard Business Review editors advise those whose boss's style doesn't work well for them to look elsewhere for direction and inspiration. Not every manager knows how to coach employees. If yours doesn't, search for inspiration in the work itself and seek out mentors who can guide you in the right direction. Communicate upward to your manager, letting him or her know what you've accomplished. While you should not expect a "great job" to come from that direction, you never know what positive outcome may arise from the boss seeing your work outcomes.

If your boss is a micromanager, they suggest preempting that involvement by inviting it. "He's likely to include himself anyway, and bringing him in increases the likelihood he will support your work."

Monday, November 22, 2010

Stop writing!

and start using pictures and diagrams to persuade:

"One of the first to use the visual world to navigate numbers was Florence Nightingale.

Although better known for her contributions to nursing, her greatest achievements were mathematical. She was the first to use the idea of a pie chart to represent data.

Florence Nightingale's Crimea diagrams Nightingale's diagrams were designed to highlight deaths in the Crimea

Nightingale had discovered that the majority of deaths in the Crimea were due to poor sanitation rather than casualties in battle. She wanted to persuade government of the need for better hygiene in hospitals.

She realised though that just looking at the numbers was unlikely to impress ministers. But once those numbers were translated into a picture - her Diagram of the Causes of Mortality in the Army in the East - the message could not be ignored. A good diagram, Nightingale discovered, is certainly worth 1,000 numbers."

published in BBC news article

Diagrams that changed the world

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

When not to coach

While I promote coaching as an exceptional method to build competency, there are times when it is not appropriate to coach. Watch this video for a few hints:

(some material sourced from Dennis Kinlaw's Coaching for Commitment)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Law of Diminishing Intent

"We intend to take action when an idea strikes us. We intend to do something when the emotion is high. But if we don't translate that intention into action fairly soon, the urgency starts to diminish. A month from now, the passion is cold. A year from now, it can't be found.” -- Jim Rohn

What ideas do you have right now? What are your dreams? Start today! Want to run a 5K someday? Go for a walk today. Want to be a better communicator? Start writing now. Want to know your kids better? Sit with them when they do their homework tonight and listen to their concerns and ideas. Start right now -- don't let that great idea turn cold.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

There are physical, emotional, intellectual, and character strengths. Do you know your character strengths?

Often we are told what our intellectual strengths are early in life: you're good in math, you're a good reader, you're quite the musician. We're told what our physical strengths are: you're flexible, you've got a great throwing arm, you're nimble, you've got great rhythm.

But, what are our character strengths? Are we industrious, socially intelligent, curious, prudent? And what is the value of these strengths?

To best utilize our strengths, we must identify them and then develop them. Identify your character strengths with the online test at
  • From the top 10, choose the 5 that best fulfill the “Strengths Criteria”
  • Choose one character strength and for the following week use the strength in a new way every day
  • Each night, briefly describe how you used your strength in a new way today and how you intend to use the strength in a new way tomorrow

--from UPenn's course Positive Psychology, 2009

Friday, October 8, 2010

Play to your strengths

"The real tragedy of life is not that we don't have enough strengths. It's that we fail to use the ones we have." -- Buckingham and Clifton

Many of us spend enormous energy fixing our weaknesses and the weaknesses we perceive in others -- our direct reports, our spouses, our bosses, our children. There is much more to be gained by enhancing and then playing to our strengths. Figure out what everyone around you is best at and then put them to work on that -- utilize those strengths and both you and others will gain. And be far more content in life!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"I'll just explain why it's necessary"

. . . the answer most people give when asked how they will persuade someone to make a critical change. And yet:

"Two years after receiving coronary bypass surgery to save their lives, 90% of patients are back to old behaviors." -- Dr. Edward Miller, Johns Hopkins University*

Can you imagine a more persuasive argument for changing behavior? "Change your behavior or die"; yet, it doesn't work!

Explaining is not persuading. What else can you do to persuade others to make needed changes?

* as quoted by David Maxfield in his program, Influencing for Change

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Human potential is underrated

My son's class learned about Stanley Milgram's famous "shock" experiments, where nearly 50% of subjects were willing to shock another human being to death because a man in a white lab coat told them to. My son is exceedingly upset about the baseness of human nature.

Here's what I tried to tell him today, summed up much better than I could do by Abraham Maslow:
"“If we want to know how fast a human being can run, then it is no use to average out the speed of a ‘good sample’ of the population; it is far better to collect Olympic gold medal winners and see how well they can do.

If we want to know the possibilities for spiritual growth, value growth, or moral development in human beings, then I maintain that we can learn most by studying our most moral, ethical, or saintly people.

On the whole I think it is fair to say that human history is a record of the ways in which human nature has been sold short. The highest possibilities of human nature have practically always been underrated"

We have to look at our best to see what we can be; perhaps we can look at the worst we can be so that we know what to avoid, yes. But, don't forget to also look at what we humans can do in the face of adversity. Don't forget Lincoln, Gandhi, Dr. King, Mother Theresa, Moses, and others who were the change they believed in the world!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Clarity wins over pretension

Which of these is more likely to propel you to take action?

"illumination is required to be extinguished when vacating these premises"


"turn of the lights when you leave"

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Leadership is a team sport

In my leadership courses and when I conduct corporate training, participants/students often point to great historical leaders' qualities as examples of successful leader characteristics. Yet, follower characteristics are critical to determining the leader characteristics that are most successful within a certain context. Leadership is only successful when followers follow!

Recent research by Adam M. Grant, Francesca Gino, and David A. Hofmann demonstrates that extroverted leaders succeed with passive employees while introverted leaders succeed with proactive employees.

What type of team do you play for? How are you leading that team?

(title source: Trina Soske and Jay A. Conger in HBR article,
It's Time to Focus Executive Development on Real Business Issues. Research source: Reversing the Extraverted Leadership Advantage: The Role of Employee Proactivity)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Life is a series of extenuating circumstances. So, are choices ever "just this once"?

Clayton M. Christensen is the Robert and Jane Cizik Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. He writes:

"A voice in our head says, “Look, I know that as a general rule, most people shouldn’t do this. But in this particular extenuating circumstance, just this once, it’s OK.” The marginal cost of doing something wrong “just this once” always seems alluringly low. It suckers you in, and you don’t ever look at where that path ultimately is headed and at the full costs that the choice entails. Justification for infidelity and dishonesty in all their manifestations lies in the marginal cost economics of “just this once.”

I’d like to share a story about how I came to understand the potential damage of “just this once” in my own life. I played on the Oxford University varsity basketball team. We worked our tails off and finished the season undefeated. The guys on the team were the best friends I’ve ever had in my life. We got to the British equivalent of the NCAA tournament—and made it to the final four. It turned out the championship game was scheduled to be played on a Sunday. I had made a personal commitment to God at age 16 that I would never play ball on Sunday. So I went to the coach and explained my problem. He was incredulous. My teammates were, too, because I was the starting center. Every one of the guys on the team came to me and said, “You’ve got to play. Can’t you break the rule just this one time?”

I’m a deeply religious man, so I went away and prayed about what I should do. I got a very clear feeling that I shouldn’t break my commitment—so I didn’t play in the championship game.

In many ways that was a small decision—involving one of several thousand Sundays in my life. In theory, surely I could have crossed over the line just that one time and then not done it again. But looking back on it, resisting the temptation whose logic was “In this extenuating circumstance, just this once, it’s OK” has proven to be one of the most important decisions of my life. Why? My life has been one unending stream of extenuating circumstances. Had I crossed the line that one time, I would have done it over and over in the years that followed."

Friday, September 3, 2010

Is your organization a "best place to work"?

According to Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge, companies that are on the best places to work lists are also the most profitable in their industries.

Perhaps people prefer to work for profitable companies? Or, are the companies profitable because the culture supports employee innovation and ownership, which in turn lead to employee satisfaction?

What do you think?

Would the people who report to you say they work in a great environment? Why or why not?


Monday, August 30, 2010

Finding brilliance

When people don't think like we do, we think they're stupid:

Okay, maybe these folks are not too bright. Nonetheless, we have to find ways to persuade others who do not think the way we do. One way is to find the brilliance in everyone and speak to that -- are they really good at numbers and not so good with people? Are they great at sports? Computer technology? Find what they're really good at and see if you can approach them from that perspective.

Any ideas?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Leading a team in conflict?

In today's Management Tip of the Day from Harvard Business School Publishing (sign up here --, we are advised that if our team is in conflict, we should "focus on team norms.. . Use team norms to guide behavior."

This is great advice, and it really works! However, it depends upon your team already having norms in place. If you haven't done so yet, call a team meeting -- perhaps bring in lunch? -- and hash out the guidelines you all agree to follow as a team. Some ideas include:
1) we agree to decide most things by majority vote and highly critical things by collaboration
2) we agree to avoid side conversations in meetings
3) we agree to provide all members with meeting agendas 24 hours before meetings
4) we agree that when two members of our team are in conflict, the full team will work together to resolve it
5) we agree to discuss all ideas brought to the table, not discounting any until we've fully explored them

Work together as a team to determine group ground rules so that you and anyone on the team has something to refer back to when challenges arise. It is much more comfortable -- particularly for a very polite or a low-level person on the team -- to say, "hey guys, we agreed that we'd avoid side conversations in meetings; could we focus on our agenda now and then whatever is being discussed on the side can be brought to the full group?" than it is for that same person to say, "hey, stop interrupting, it's annoying!" Most likely, nothing will be said and the behavior will worsen.

What team norms does your team follow and how did you develop them?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

does showing your feelings make you weak?

"Not often in the story of mankind does a man arrive on earth who is both steel and velvet, who is as hard as rock and soft as drifting fog, who holds in his heart and mind the paradox of terrible storm and peace unspeakable and perfect."

Carl Sandburg on 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth

Monday, August 2, 2010

People do not do what you want over the long term . . .

. . . because you tell them to or because you give them the facts.

If you're still stuck on the "what" of what you want them to do, watch this video:

Monday, July 19, 2010

Managing people is a balancing act

"I believe managing is like holding a dove in your hand. If you hold it too tightly you kill it, but if you hold it too loosely, you lose it." -- Tommy Lasorda

We have to balance pushing our people hard enough to get their best and backing off when needed. What do you think?

Image: Matt Banks /

Friday, July 16, 2010

One right answer?

In his video, Everyday Creativity ( Dewitt Jones tells us there is more than one right answer.

My students often try to give every possible answer just to make sure they get the one right one. At work, people often argue over the one right answer, digging in their heels and pushing for their solution until relationships are damaged and the solution is watered down to "make everyone happy." At home we worry we aren't finding the one right answer for our children and can get stuck in a sort of paralysis until we're forced to act.

Dewitt is right, though. There are often many right answers. And the key to success is to pick one and make it work, without worrying over making mistakes.

What do you think? In what areas of your life are you searching for the one right answer, always disappointed with yourself for choosing wrong or angry at others for not following yours?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Align your (hidden?) drives with your team's stated goals

People are committed to organizations that stand for the same ideals. We form team identities with teams that enhance our self-esteem by representing high ideals. And we decide the organization's and the team's ideals by the behavior of the leader -- not by the organization or the team's motto, mission statement, or advertising.

Leaders are people, too, though. And while they support their organization's or team's mission, etc., they, like all people, have unconscious goals and desires. These drive their behavior. And if the behavior doesn't match their stated ideals, it seems irrational to their employees.

As a leader, are you aware of your own internal -- perhaps hidden from yourself -- ambitions, drives, and need for self-aggrandizement?

How might your drives lead your behavior to be different from behavior that would be driven by the organization's stated ideals?

How can you align your personal needs and goals with the organization's?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

When leading a virtual team . . .

. . . communicate, communicate, communicate! Use many different tools to reach people.

In this article, Bob Taccini, a Cisco Systems vice president, discusses his use of vlogs (video blogs), blogs, teleconferencing, videoconferencing, discussion boards and the good old fashioned telephone to communicate with his far-flung team:

You'll find a wonderful list of tips for leading virtually in the article as well.

vintage phone image: Daniel St.Pierre /

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Yet, we keep trying to . . .

"You can control cheese, or at least you can keep tweaking and tweaking, trying to get it just right, but you can't control people."

--Paul Stephan, owner and head cheesemaker Blue Ridge Dairy Co. Quoted in the Washington Post Magazine (7/4/2010) on why he prefers making cheese over managing a large restaurant.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

What kind of challenge are you facing?

We often throw technical solutions at adaptive challenges. For example: team communications seem to miss the mark. Let's train them on how to have productive meetings and how to use email effectively. But the deeper problems -- cultural, personal -- go left unresolved.

Or, we are overworked because we fail to delegate. Let's get a book on delegation and follow the directions step by step. But the deeper issues -- our identity is wrapped up in doing work, not telling others what to do -- will prevent us from long term quality delegation. Within a few weeks, we'll be overworked again.

When we must adapt, technical tactics will not resolve our challenges. We must find ways to alter our own -- or our team's -- mindsets.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Teleconference tips 4

Start and end the meeting successfully:
  1. Start: (5 minutes max) if your team is multi-national, assign one person each meeting to share a story or other information from his home country. If not, ask one person each meeting to start the meeting off with something motivational, funny, or a personal achievement (graduation, birth, new home, promotion, etc.)
  2. Review agenda and promise to stick to it
  3. End: "self-propelling ending" (HBS publishing) -- end the meeting with
  • who will do what by when (any decisions or agreements made during the meeting)
  • the date/time of next telecon
  • a statement of the team's purpose and a specific reason why this meeting got the team closer to its purpose ("we've hashed out some difficult decisions on the technical requirements and I thank you for your input and candor. Without that, we could have risked some major problems down the line")

Friday, June 4, 2010

Teleconference tips 3

Are you the leader for a particular telecon? If so, ensure everyone who must be on the line and focused is on the line and focused!
  1. send a reminder email (subject: telecon, project X, time, date) the day before
  2. call the most critical people (are there any people without whose input or decision the meeting is wasted?) the day before to confirm their attendance

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The future . . .

Teleconference Tips 2

When holding a teleconference, set ground rules in advance. While it's best that the group determine the ground rules, here are a few suggestions:
  1. everyone turn off their cell phones
  2. everyone turn off their email and email reminders
  3. everyone open / print the agenda and have it in front of them
  4. no driving or engaging in any other activity (except perhaps drinking something)
  5. everyone put phone on mute except when speaking (so we don't hear you drinking!)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Teleconference tips

When holding a teleconference, ask everyone to call in from separate work spaces. When 2 or more people sit together, they engage in activities that reduce the team's effectiveness:
  1. passing notes or whispering -- excludes others who are not colocated. Often these other folks can tell there is some side conversation elsewhere even when the mute button is on -- suddenly there is dead air and no one is responding to their comments. Also, while the 2 or more people are engaged in their side conversation, they miss information others share.
  2. facial and physical gestures that imply disagreement or annoyance -- things that most people would not do in a meeting where everyone can see them
The optimum solution is to have everyone virtual.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Culture vs Strategy

"Culture eats strategy for breakfast."
Attributed to Peter Drucker

What do you think? I believe that the culture must support the strategy, or the people will sabotage (perhaps even inadvertently) the outcome. Yet, even dedicated people cannot make a really bad idea work.

I believe the two are interdependent. Neither can survive without the other.

What are your thoughts?

Sorry I've been gone so long

Hello everyone. I apologize for being "gone" for the last month +. I've been working 'round the clock but that is no excuse.

I'll try to share some useful information and if there are any topics you'd like me to investigate or comment on, please let me know. You an always comment in the "Ask Illysa" section.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Why don't we speak up?

Even people at the top of organizations have difficulty speaking up to those above them -- the CEO's, CFO's, and the board. What might prevent you from speaking up and how can you overcome this challenge.

Read here for more on leading upward in an ethically challenging situation.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Reality-based optimism

I used a free assessment tool -- -- to learn more about my leadership skills as others see them. My lowest score was in "reality-based optimism". Does this mean I am overly-optimistic -- and need a dose of reality -- or that I am not optimistic -- and need to look for the more positive side of reality? (had I sprung for the fee-based assessment, I would have received more detailed information)

In researching this topic, I came across a Harvard Business School Working Knowledge article titled:
Ruthlessly Realistic: How CEOs Must Overcome Denial. You can find it by clicking here.

One of the authors, Richard Tedlow, says, "Accentuating the positive for employees or others is not denial, as long as you yourself are fully confronting reality. In fact, there may be times when it is prudent, even necessary, to put on a brave face.

On the other hand, convincing yourself that things are better than, or different from, what they really are is never prudent, and often disastrous. So the key is to be ruthlessly realistic with oneself."

What about you -- do you balance accentuating the positive while also being ruthlessly realistic with yourself?

How do you communicate enough realism to ensure employees are committed to finding solutions to current problems while still showing a brave face?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

You must strive to fail . . .

Yup, you read that right. According to David Shenk, you have to strive to fail to reach the potential of your unique genius.

We all have gifts, but it is not just genetics that leads people to success. Instead, it is hours of practice focused on development and improvement, the willingness to fail over and over again, and the desire to learn from that practice and failure.

Listen to Shenk discuss the variables in all cultures that guide us toward certain skills, rather than internal abilities:

What does this mean for us as managers, leaders, and/or parents? How do we create and support the environment that facilitates another to become the genius he/she is capable of becoming?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Don't let new opportunities pass you by out of fear based on past experiences!

Have you ever thought about a friend, only to have him call you 5 minutes later? This is called "synchronicity." While I don't believe we can cause synchronous events, I do believe we can use them productively.

Many of us respond to experiences based on past outcomes. If we've been hurt when we reached out to someone, we are less likely to reach out to a different person. If we've been rejected when we've offered to help to someone, we are less likely to offer similar help to a different person.

It is human nature to protect ourselves. Here's how we can protect ourselves yet still expand our experiences, deepen our relationships with others, and fully express who we are. When we find ourselves fearing to take an action, we can think through this process:

  1. what outcome am I concerned about -- being rejected, being insulted, being hurt, being embarrassed, looking stupid, looking naive, other?
  2. where did this concern come from -- in what environment(s) and/or with whom has this outcome occurred?
  3. are these experiences likely to be universal -- are they likely in all situations or with all other people? Are there environments in which or individuals with whom the outcome has been different?
  4. what are the risks of testing the universality of this outcome in this situation or with this person?
When we follow these four steps, we weaken the glue between our past experiences and our current opportunities. We become open to new possibilities and to achieving our current goals.

Try it out and let me know the outcome!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Friday, March 5, 2010

Management is common sense

"The good news is that the first steps to becoming a really great manager are simply common sense. . . Put simply, things normally go wrong not because you are stupid but only because you have never thought about it before." -- Gerard Blair quoted in Immunity to Change by Kegan and Lahey.

How do we develop common sense? Are we born with it? Do we learn it at home growing up?

"Common sense" is culture- and situation-specific. Every business, industry, organization, country, religion, and group has its own defined characteristics of common sense. For example, everyone knows it is idiotic to wear white mittens. Who knows? People who grow up in deer-hunting country.

We can develop common sense in our work environment by:
1) taking courses related to our industry and position
2) listening to those who are successful in that environment -- pay attention to what they say and do. How do they solve problems? How do they make decisions? How do they persuade decision-makers?
3) reading critically reviewed publications regarding our industry and position

How about you? How did you develop common sense?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Want to ensure everyone is on time to meetings?

How about this: Create a policy: $5 late fee for more than one minute late to meetings. Don't have people pay the team, though -- they must add $5 to the next tip at their next opportunity. If they go out for a meal, they must add $5 to the waitstaff tip. Get a haircut, add $5 to the tip. This way the team has a lighthearted way of ensuring on time meeting starts and people have more opportunities to show appreciation to others.
Idea from How NASA Builds Teams, by Charles J. Pellerin.

Photo: Suat Eman /

Monday, February 22, 2010

Managing by walking around doesn't work . . .

. . . if you're out looking for problems. It only "works" if you're out looking for ways to "help people do their jobs better", say HBS professor Anita L. Tucker and Harvard School of Public Health professor Sara J. Singer in their working paper "Going Through the Motions: An Empirical Test of Management Involvement in Process Improvement".

Their studies show that employees become more discouraged when managers dredge up multiple problems -- even if they fix them all -- than when managers fix the one or two things the employees' believe are most critical.

In what ways is your visibility hindering rather than hurting your employees' performance?

What will you do today to help your direct reports do their jobs better?

Monday, February 15, 2010

What do they want most that we can want for them also?

We often have difficulty getting along with others who want something different for themselves than we want for them; or alternatively, who want something for us that differs from what we want for ourselves.

Think about your children. Are you currently having a conflict? If so, perhaps you are expressing to them a hidden wish that they would want something different for themselves. I want my son to get higher grades. He does not care about grades. We are in conflict.
What does my son want that I can want for him also? What about your child(ren)?

Based on How NASA Builds Teams, by Charles J. Pellerin

Use HAPPS to express appreciation

  • "Habitually: appreciate as a matter of habit
  • Authentically: live in the mindset of gratitude to support you in experiencing what you appreciate in others.
  • Promptly: the closer in time to the valued behavior, the better
  • Proportionally: make the statement of appreciation (verbal, financial, paper) proportional to the behavior
  • Specifically: your expression of appreciation will have more power when it is specific (see previous posts on this topic)"
How NASA Builds Teams by Charles J. Pellerin, page 158

Sunday, February 7, 2010

How do the ways in which you express your emotions make others feel?

I know, I've said a million times, no one can make you feel anything. But any other title seemed less likely to get read.
What are the effects on other people of the ways in which you express your emotions?

As Carl W. Buechner said, "They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel."

How have you chosen to express your emotions today?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

What do you tell yourself about other people's motivations . . .

and how does this story-line influence how you respond to those other people? (often our beliefs about others' motivations -- their thoughts behind their visible actions, or story-lines -- are negative!)

When we assume others think something negative, we have a much more difficult time overcoming conflict with them.
Charles Pellerin, author of How Nasa Builds Teams, tells us that he learned in presentation by Robert K. Cooper of Ball Aerospace that research shows "that story-lines about other people's motivations are wrong 95 percent of the time! Would you bet heavily on something important with only a 5% chance of being correct? When you notice you are running story-lines about the motivations of others, stop them immediately."

There are several steps to this process:

1. notice you have beliefs about others story-lines that you create based on their actions

2. drop any story-lines that inhibit your ability to work productively with that person

3. focus on story-lines that facilitate your ability to work productively with that person

Monday, February 1, 2010

how do you contribute to the ways your team behaves?

An excellent tool to answer this question can be found at

On this site, home of How Nasa Builds Teams, you can find two diagnostic tools:

1. Team development assessment
2. Individual development assessment

Even if your team isn't interested, take the individual assessment anyway. You'll learn where you stand in relation to high performing teams. It's free, and takes about 15 minutes, so why not? The site also provides free tools to help you improve your performance.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

What do you give your attention to?

"Traditional Melanesian sailors can be taken blindfolded to any point of the ocean within a radius of several hundred miles from their island home and, if allowed to float for a few minutes in the sea, are able to recognize the spot by the feel of the currents on their bodies." -- Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszenmihalyi.

It is said that we can achieve whatever we put our minds to. Right now, too many of us have our minds on too many different things to do well in any one thing. To what are you attending right now?

We become what we give our attention to.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

How often are you in a state of flow? Do you inhibit others' flow?

The state of flow experience is defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as "situations in which attention can be freely invested to achieve a person's goals, because there is no disorder to straighten out, no threat to the self to defend against."

Have you ever noticed how easy other peoples' problems are to solve? They're easy for us because nothing is in our way. We have no idea what goes on for people that is unseen and that prevents them from following our easy advice.

further states that those who attain flow "develop a stronger, more confident self, because more of their psychic energy has been invested successfully in goals they themselves had chosen to pursue."

Are you pursuing goals that fit with who you are, or are you chasing after someone else's idea of what you should work toward? What does it cost you to neglect to generate your own goals?

Are you expecting others to live up to your goals, or are you facilitating them in discovering and pursuing goals that fit who they are? If the former, what does it cost you and them when others in your life are not in a state of flow? What would you and others gain by supporting each other in discovering and pursuing self-concordant goals (goals that are aligned with our needs, personality, and values)?

From Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience by
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Monday, January 25, 2010

What leadership lessons do you find in stories?

If you haven't seen it in awhile, watch Apollo 13. You'll see numerous leadership lessons. Here are just two I caught:

1) leadership is shared. While Commander Jim Lovell is the leader on the craft, there are different leaders on the ground. As the situation changes, leadership moves from one person to the next depending on whose knowledge is greatest.

2) leaders trust their direct reports. In one scene, the 3 astronauts exit the simulator, with Commander Lovell and Fred Haise complaining about 4 hours sitting around for 5 minutes of action. The pilot, Ken Mattingly, says, "I'd like to do it again." Although Lovell knows it was near perfect, he also knows that it's critical that Mattingly believes in himself. He turns the crew around and they run it again. Later in the movie, different people on the ground are given absolute authority over specific decisions. Although Gene Kranz is the leader, he defers to others' knowledge when making critical decisions.

What leadership lessons do you notice?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Our job as a leader is to help other people light their fires

What are you doing today to help your employees, colleagues, spouse, and/or children find and light their own fires?

What I did:
1) asked my husband what he liked best about his work; really listened to his answer.
2) asked my coworker who was complaining that work had become boring: if she had a magic wand that she could wave and instantly something would change at work, what would she change? Really listened to her answer.

These types of questions help people explore what they are doing and can do to attain their best life.

What about you? Anyone helped you light your own fire lately? If so, how?


This video from is a bit long (20 minutes) but gives some great insight into leadership:

Thursday, January 14, 2010