Accelerate

Just Say Yes

Just Say Yes

No question, 2020 was the year of no. No in-person meetings. No eating out. No gym. No friends or family. Not even seeing each others’ mouths for month.

We had to say no to so many things we probably don’t know how to say yes anymore.

So, after a terrible year, I have decided 2021 is the year of yes.

I will say yes to everything I can (within reason). This doesn’t include letting my kids play in traffic or buying a Maserati or selling my house. This includes saying yes to new experiences, new clients, new friends, new adventures and new skills. So far in the first week of 2021 I have said yes to parasailing, a new business opportunity, joining my kids in a freezing ocean (I said no after the water touched my feet) and returning to swimming consistently to get in shape.

I did this because I have found that the word No trips too easily off my tongue. I am more likely to have a negative bias against new, different, and potentially uncomfortable situations and I didn’t understand why.

After some research about this phenomenon, I discovered the theory of Negative Bias (Negative Bias: Why We’re Hardwired for Negativity (verywellmind.com). This describes the human tendency to focus on negative events, dwell on them and make decisions based on them. Psychologist Dr. Rick Hanson describes it this way: “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones”. (Confronting the Negativity Bias – Dr. Rick Hanson)

Why is this the case? My previous posts discussed the role of the most primitive part of the brain, the amygdala, in approaching critical decisions. It tells us to look for threats and if you sense any, to take flight or fight. We are walking around, especially lately, in a constant state of anxiety, which is easily elevated if even a perceived threat presents itself. Saying no allows us to stay safe.

In addition, negative experiences produce more neural activity than positive ones, are processed faster and more easily, and get stored in your memory more quickly. Positive things, however, take longer to sink in and get buried, as we tend to overestimate the negative and forget about the positive. (Psychological Recommendations to Help Reduce Negativity Bias | by Saarim Aslam | Mind Cafe | Dec, 2020 | Medium)

What can we do to overcome our negative bias? A few things:

Understand that your brain is trying to seek out and destroy anything that could be remotely threatening. This could include asking for a raise or crossing against the light (even if there is no one coming for miles). Don’t let a small amount of anxiety stop you from saying yes – use your brain to determine whether a real threat exists
Take a pause between the request and the word “no”. Think about why you are saying no, and what you could learn if you say yes
Savor positive moments. Write down the compliment you got. Keep a “kudos” folder in your email so you can go back and bask in your own glory. Hold onto that positive performance appraisal
Look for the people in your life that say yes. What have they learned, gained, discovered? Talk to them about their experiences and the benefits they have gained by saying yes
So what will you say yes to in 2021?

Just Embrace the Suck

Just Embrace the Suck

My beloved father died a month ago.

It was the pickle-flavored icing on the crap sandwich that has been my last two years (quick recap – brain cancer, suicide of a very close family member, multiple instances of family illness).

To conquer this latest loss, I did what I normally have done and started researching. Thank god there are so many places to find ways we can build resilience!

The NYT says exercise makes you more stress resistant! https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/09/well/move/Exercise-stress-resilience.html?referringSource=articleShare. I work out all the time. Doesn’t help right this minute.

The NYT also says learn new skills! https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/02/health/resilience-learning-building-skills.html. I am constantly learning new things. It’s my job. Doesn’t help right this minute.

This article explains that there are So. Many. Ways. to build resilience! https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/resilience-training/in-depth/resilience/art-20046311 Oh good. Tell me more about how I need to be stronger, that I will get sick, that falling apart is bad and I’m doing something wrong.

Resilience has become a charged word. Yes, we need to build it, yes, we are in a moment in our world where it is being tested like never before and yes, being strong and able to bounce back is better for you. But when people say to me wow, you are so resilient, I feel less pride now and more anger. I didn’t want all this to happen. And I don’t want to have to work hard right now to get over it. I don’t feel like getting over it. Yet I know I will.

My dad used to say, don’t just do something, sit there. He was right. Taking time to mourn, taking time to get angry, taking time to feel victimized; those are all part of building resilience too. Resilience doesn’t have to be stoicism – it can be feeling your feelings and stewing in them, for a short while. It can be learning what your own personal struggle looks like and what your coping mechanisms are in order to better understand your reaction to hardship.

Then as you come out of it, you can see how you bounced back. How you feel better. How you made it through. Hey, I do change out of my pajamas now by noon. Sometimes. But I am also starting to think about the good times – how my dad showed up for me, every day. How overcoming cancer gave me a sense of purpose that I didn’t have before. And that I CAN overcome, and I do have resilience. And you all do, too.

A good friend of mine said the other day that we need to embrace the suck. This has become my new mantra. The suck sucks. It’s ok to sit in the suck. Just remember to get back out, at some point.

Your Brain, Your Fear, pt. 2!

Your Brain, Your Fear, pt. 2!

First, I want to say I really appreciate all the kind words and messages from my initial blog post. Many of you took the time to reach out and check in and I am so grateful. My next MRI is coming up and it is always a tough time for me.

So…we last left our brains in a state of constant fear and anxiety. With Covid resurgence in most states, civil unrest continuing (I lived in Portland, OR for 6 years and my heart breaks) and the economy in a free fall, our limbic systems are getting quite the workout.

What does this mean?

To dig deeper into the neuroscience, when you have a fear response, the amygdala activates your central response system. This is known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal cortical axis because of the three parts of your brain that comprise it. Don’t try to say this at home – just call it the HPA. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypothalamic%E2%80%93pituitary%E2%80%93adrenal_axis

Why do we care about this? Because this is the axis of good and evil that regulates your cortisol, which is the stress hormone. Remember, some stress is good. It helps you jump out of the way of a speeding car.

If stress becomes chronic, like now, we are amped up all the time and our cortisol flows unabated. This can cause digestive issues, sleep problems and a weakened immune system, which means you might be more likely to get a virus or experience chronic health problems. It can also cause memory and concentration problems, which is why I couldn’t remember things. And still can’t.

A study at UC Berkeley (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201402/chronic-stress-can-damage-brain-structure-and-connectivity) also showed that the stress hormone can create a domino effect that may begin a cycle where your brain is always in fight or flight. This can turn stem cells into another type of cell that inhibits connections to the prefrontal cortex, which as you may remember, acts as the friend who talks you down from feeling super stressed. Thus my irritability.

Lastly, your brain under chronic stress makes some glial (https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-are-glial-cells-and-what-do-they-do-4159734) cells called oligodendrocytes (my tumor was a oligodendroglioma – also a big word that it took me literally months to say or spell) which can cause future mental issues as well.

Awesome.

The good news is, there are things you can do to reduce the cortisol and reset your brain, even in these highly stressful times. Next week I will share more!

Your Brain, Your Fear

Your Brain, Your Fear

I’m a brain cancer survivor. No one was more shocked than me, sitting in my neurologist’s office, trying to absorb what he was saying about the size and location of the tumor. My husband was on the phone from Barcelona, where he was on a business trip. Thank goodness my friend had also come so someone was taking notes and paying attention. I had to have surgery as soon as possible so that the doctors could tell me what kind it was and decide on treatment options.

As you can imagine, not knowing what was going to happen was terrible. The runup to my surgery (at Sloan, where they are the best….check out this pic of my awesome neurosurgeon: https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/types/glioma) was filled with so many emotions I could hardly breathe, but fear and anxiety were at the top of the list.

Once I came through surgery, I was told that I had the “best kind” of brain cancer (um, ok). They got the whole tumor out, and I didn’t need any further treatment.

After all this, I got very interested in my brain and what was happening with me, even after I technically recovered and the tumor was gone. Why was I so tired? Why was I SO irritable? Why couldn’t I remember things even though the surgery had no neurological impact?

I had never experienced a lengthy period of stress until that time. I didn’t understand what was happening to me.

Soon after I went back to work I enrolled in the NeuroLeadership Institute’s Brain-Based Executive Coaching certification (https://neuroleadership.com/our-events/programs-for-individuals/brain-based-coaching/), which focused on how to use neuroscience to help coachees set goals, build action plans and create insights so they acheive their desired outcomes. I also started reading (a lot) to learn more.

Here is what I found:

Your reaction to stress and anxiety starts in your limbic system, which is a set of brain structures located beneath the medial temporal lobe, in the cerebrum.
It a powerful friend AND enemy. It evolved early in humans’ lives and plays an important role in survival, acts as a control center for all your functions and regulates your body.
The hippocampus and amygdala are part of your limbic system and they work together to regulate emotion and fear.
Specifically, when the amygdala perceives a threat, it activates the adrenal glands to produce hormones like epinephrine that raise blood pressure and heart rate, elevate breathing rate, and send blood to important muscles and organs.
Ever feel your face get hot? Heart pound? Stomach get butterflies? Probably your amygdala activating your fight, flight or fright response. This was awesome when you had to run from wooly mammals, not so awesome when you are giving a big presentation to the CEO.

Yikes.

It’s not all bad. We are meant to feel fear in order to help ensure survival. Our limbic system activates, we react, and then our prefrontal cortex, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prefrontal%20cortex acts as the adult in the room and get engaged to evaluate the situation, regulate emotions and de-escalate your body’s response. You return to normal and you calm down.

Except I didn’t. My prefrontal cortex (which, I should mention, is where the tumor was) was not “taking care of business” and I was a hot mess and experiencing a sustained fear response.

So why am I telling you all this? From everything I have seen, heard and experienced in the last 5 months, I suspect you are also experiencing a sustained fear response in this time of Covid, economic concern and civil unrest https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/anxiety-fear-and-hate/202004/coronavirus-and-anxiety-fear-panic-and-paranoia.

Our limbic systems are working overtime and we feel like crap.

So what happens next? Visit my blog next week

Let’s Not Be Jerks, Ok?

Let’s Not Be Jerks, Ok?

With all that is going on in the world, I am totally overwhelmed by all sorts of social media telling me what to do, what not to do, how to act, how not to act…etc. I feel frustrated and helpless and disgusted by what is happening. And from what I’ve read, so do you.

While I know I cannot solve the larger issues on my own, I was thinking: As leaders, and as people, what can we do to create more space, open up dialogue and exhibit empathy to our employees, families and friends?

I have an idea: As author David Cottrell says, Don’t Be a Jerk

How can you NOT be a jerk?

Know that microinequities exist, and we are all guilty of them.
The EW Group defines microinequities as “…tiny, often unconscious gestures, facial expressions, postures, words and tone of voice that can influence how included (or not included) the people around us feel”. It may be related to hair color, religion, socioeconomic status or a host of other things that we perceive in others. Examples include having a boss who says good morning to everyone but one person, or a leader who never looks a team member in the eye. It could also be that neighbor you don’t say hi to. These are small actions that are hard to call out, but they are damaging.

Guess what people: we are all guilty of these. Our biases are ingrained and extremely hard to identify and eliminate. The NeuroLeadership Institute (my go-to for everything brain-based) describes the 5 biggest biases that affect decision-making and explains that without biases, we would’ve never learned NOT to play with fire. Our brain is wired to think a certain way; it is unconscious.

Legally, having biases is not the issue – it’s acting on them, which is called discrimination. But biases may be keeping you from having interesting, enlightening, and diverse conversations. Pay attention to your actions – it’s true, they speak louder than words.

Shut up and listen.
Creating a safe place for your team (and peers, and managers, and family members) to come and share their concerns is critical to getting a pulse on the dynamics and norms you and others have created. At work, how often do you meet with each team members? What about skip-level meetings? Use these interactions to solicit feedback; what is on their minds and what would help them feel more included? Then, communicate back what you plan to do about it. Data with no action is disempowering and disengaging.

Understand that “fair” doesn’t always mean equal.
The Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator demonstrates this truism. Some people (Thinkers) see fairness = constancy. Treat everyone the same. The opposite style, “Feelers”, emphasize and consider the personal situations and needs of the people involved in the decision. So the next time you make a decision using fairness as a criteria, think about what that means to the people in your life. I bet it’s not consistent.

Not being a jerk makes business sense. Harvard Business Review says teams with inclusive leaders are 17% more likely to report that they are high performing, 20% more likely to say they make high quality decisions and 29% more likely to behave collaboratively. It also cuts absenteeism, as an improvement in the perception of inclusion increases work attendance.

So, let’s embrace a no jerk policy

Psychological Safety, Leadership and COVID-19

Psychological Safety, Leadership and COVID-19

Psychological Safety and Leadership in the Time of Pandemic

We have all been invited to hundreds (thousands? millions?) of webinars, podcasts and Zoom talks on the current reality we live in: Stuck in our homes, some trying to work and be full time teachers, some sheltering in place away from friends and family and still others crawling the walls to get some personal space. So why am I talking about psychological safety? Seems the furthest thing from our mind. But it is more important than ever in this time of COVID-19.

First, let’s all get on the same page about what psychological safety is. Amy Edmondson, Harvard Business School professor (https://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/profile.aspx?facId=6451), coined the term and defined it as a culture “..where people are not full of fear, and not trying to cover their tracks to avoid being embarrassed or punished”.

One of my favorite websites, the Neuroleadership Institute, has a great blog post describing the various kinds of psychological safety:

Safe to be yourself – People can express themselves authentically without the need to “cover up” to fit in. You bring your whole self to your Zoom calls and people see you as authentically honest and open.
Safe to speak up –When you need to challenge another person about their perspective or decisions, you are free from worry about being less liked or, worst case, retaliated against.
Safe to take risks and make mistakes. This means people use a growth mindset (more Neuroleadership language!) to see failures as learnings, not mistakes to cover up or a reason to be berated (https://neuroleadership.com/your-brain-at-work/psychological-safety-to-do-what/)
This matters now.

Why? Because it is easier than ever to hide behind our remote working environment and technology to ensure “non-verbal leakage” doesn’t show and you can hide your true feelings. It’s too easy to be nice, not real.

This can cause “ruinous empathy” (a term from Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor https://www.radicalcandor.com/), which means being nice to spare others’ feelings. This might make people feel good in the short run but does not improve results – individual or team – in the long run. It can also cause delays in sharing bad news, which can negatively impact performance.

An example: Korean Air had more plane crashes in the 1990s than almost any other airline in the world. Not because they had poor maintenance or pilots, but because the method of communication between crew members was rooted in ruinous empathy – not stating clearly what the issues were in order to deal with them quickly and avert disaster.

But engaging in conflict seems like asking for trouble, especially in front of others. However, psychological safety rests on healthy conflict, the appropriate amount of candor, and leadership modeling how to be humble and open.

So what can you as a leader do to build, or improve, psychological safety in your teams?

Spend time during meetings checking in with team members. Even if the conversation doesn’t always feel work related, keep the dialogue flowing as it will drive productivity in the long run if your teams are able to share, and assuage, their personal fears https://www.aug.co/blog/how-should-leaders-think-about-psychological-safety-as-they-confront-the-covid-19-crisis
Be open. Share your own fears and be humble. Share bad decisions you made and what you learned https://slackhq.com/psychological-safety-building-trust-teams
Admit you’re wrong. Demonstrate vulnerability and directness. If need be, reset the norm of fear through your actions and language
Solicit input from the team. Hierarchical behavior can be a safety killer; demonstrate openness individually and in a group and let people have a say regardless of their level
Support questioning and doubting – even if the idea is not workable. Gallup says only 30% of US employees think their opinions matter at work – be part of that 30%
See mistakes as learning, not a failure. I love this apocryphal story about Jack Welch: A manager made a dreadful mistake that cost the company over a million dollars. Jack asked why the manager thought he was there, and he responded, “So you can fire me”. Jack responded: “I just spent a million dollars on your education – why would I fire you now?” Be like Jack. Or at least in that regard….
Google Ventures hosted an anxiety party to practice vulnerability where everyone writes down their biggest anxieties and rank them from most to least worrisome. Then they asked for support to allay their fears and problem solve together
Be honest about what everyone is feeling: “We have no idea what’s next, and we are all learning. Let’s all share information and be open to help navigate this uncertainty together”
When someone doesn’t share bad news in a timely manner, meet with them find out why and reinforce your commitment to an open environment where information must be shared
If trust is built by consistency over time, it’s time to focus on building psychological safety. It will pay dividends far past COVID-19 and could change your culture forever.

Talent Leaders in Cris

Talent Leaders in Cris

The HR Management Association defines a crisis as “A low probability, high-impact occurrence that is often unexpected and unfamiliar”. Yeah, that’s about right. Millions of us working from home, business shirts on top and pajama bottoms on the bottom, definitely feels unfamiliar. (By the way, a funny article about “the remote working mullet” can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/s4he42p)

I would argue with the HRMA that unexpected is not the right word for what we are dealing with. As HR professionals, we may have been involved in crisis management for our organizations and built the best-laid plans for how to handle business continuity. However, most people I talked to were not ready for this. I personally ran Business Continuity Management for a company for 3 years and can tell you, we had gaps that we had not anticipated.

But, here we are.

So, now that we are IN crisis, what can Talent Professional do to help their companies and their employees get through it?

Be authentic

Bill George, Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School, authored the book “Discover Your True North”, which is the handbook for authentic leadership (https://tinyurl.com/t62v7kv). He talks about aligning who we are with the way we lead, and it is a great read. Use this chance to learn more about your own motivators, values and true north!

Being authentic also means being in the loop so you can share correct information. Are you in the loop with your senior leaders about what is happening with the business? Is there a Coronavirus Task Force you could join to be up to date on crisis management activities?

Aligning with others can be hard remotely, so if it’s not happening, try to get your leaders to agree to a daily call to share issues and challenges and discuss solutions. This will give you the information to be able to genuinely share appropriate news and keep your team on the journey.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Do you have methods in place to ensure your teams know what’s happening? These could be an email newsletter each day, a video blog from your CEO or centrally created touchbase agendas for your leaders to hold with their teams. What about trying a virtual town hall or Happy Hour? I have also seen virtual show and tell with dogs, kids, spouses and home offices. We crave company and Zoom and other video conferencing technology can provide it.

Communication works both ways. Are you in touch with leaders across your company to ensure they are listening as well as talking? Are one-on-ones and staff meetings still happening? You can play a role in ensuring these are effective and informative. Gather data from your leaders to see what themes emerge that could help frame out talent needs until this crisis has passed.

Keep talent needs in mind

At the core, you are the shepherd of talent management. What do your teams need that they may not be getting remotely?

One critical talent need that comes to mind is supporting frontline managers. They are new to leading and new to leading in a crisis. Partner with your HRBPs to understand their needs and provide some real time support as well as learning opportunities to help support them. Good methods include virtual touchbases, focus groups, and skip level meetings. There are also some great online courses specifically designed for this population. One example is https://www.udemy.com/course/the-managers-mindset/, which is only $29.99.

Your more seasoned leaders need help, too. See my blog post “5 Things to Help You Develop as a Leader” (https://acceleratetm.com/blog/) for ideas on how leaders can support their own development while supporting others.

In terms of overall training, there are great options for remote employees. If you are lucky enough to have an instructional designer with online learning experience, work with them to identify where your training programs could be easily transitioned to online learning. If not, teleconferencing allows trainers to reach a wide audience (including geographically disperse teams). Who can you tap as a stretch assignment to run a training for your teams?

There are also great technical trainers out there who can deploy virtual classes on Excel, PowerPoint, Autocad and others for a wide audience. I have used this one and think she is great: http://vqott.com/aboutus.htm

Also, appreciation goes a long way right now. Your associates are keeping your business going and will be the main contributors to the recovery process once this crisis passes. For more information on showing appreciation remotely, click here: https://www.fond.co/blog/8-ways-recognize-during-covid-19/

Take care of yourself

Strong leaders must balance their own personal anxiety and uncertainty with being supportive of their team. Knowing how to manage your stress is important, and these are a few tools that provide online meditation for sleep, exercise, weight loss and mindfulness:
https://www.headspace.com
https://www.calm.com
https://www.simplehabit.com

Knowing we are all in the same boat, a colleague and I have started an online group called The Talent Tribe, which will virtually bring together talent leaders across the region to discuss professional (and personal) issues we are struggling with right now. We are a confidential and safe space for talent leaders to process our new normal and learn from each other. If you are interested, email me at rwallins@acceleratetm.com.

As Star Trek used to say, we are exploring strange new worlds. Let’s do our part to help ourselves, our employees and our leaders conquer it!

Stuck at home? Here are 5 things to help you develop as a leader while in your pajamas

Stuck at home? Here are 5 things to help you develop as a leader while in your pajamas

The silver lining to sheltering in place? Being able to focus on a little self-development…

A good friend told me the other day that she worried she “wished” Coronavirus on the world because she just wanted to slow down. Between her and her husband’s work, her kids’ crazy schedule, working out and just living her life, she needed a breath.

As leaders, you need one too. How many things related to your development have you wanted to get to but never found the time? Below is a list of things you can do in between Zoom calls and Microsoft Team IMs.

Learn more about what makes you tick with this online, free Meyers Briggs Type Indicator assessment: https://www.truity.com/test/type-finder-personality-test-new This can help answer questions about how you get your energy, how you structure your work and how you like to take in information.
We are super focused on communicating virtually right now, so learn more about how you communicate and what your preferred style is: https://www.activia.co.uk/communication-skills-test (I’m a Director). It’s helpful to know so you understand how you are coming across in-person and online.
Take an online course! The below are inexpensive (or free) and help upskill you quickly before heading back into the office to show off what you learned.
– Alison.com has multiple business and leadership development courses : www.alison.com
– Universal Class has multiple team management courses: https://www.universalclass.com/i/subjects/business/team-management-courses.htm
– Lynda.com, LinkedIn’s online training, has literally thousands of videos and learning paths to choose from: https://www.linkedin.com/learning/topics/business?src=re-other&veh=www.cio.com%7Cre-other
Check in with your teams about what they need from you. Are you still holding consistent touchbases? Are you exhibiting care and concern for their well-being? Use Zoom or Skype to bring that face-to-face presence to your meetings and check out these tips for remote management: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2018/05/30/top-15-tips-to-effectively-manage-remote-employees/#14ea3c5d503c
Don’t forget about the care and feeding of YOU. Leadership starts with self-leadership and you need love, too! Check out this article about how to stay productive (and sane) during this isolated period: https://www.forbes.com/sites/bryanrobinson/2020/03/14/9-tips-to-be-productive-when-working-at-home-during-covid-19/#6f9b4bd95a38
Would love feedback on other resources you found to help drive our ongoing learning and development. What’s your favorite online program? What are some tips and tricks you found to keep motivation up and stress down? Comment here!