The most important quality of a good leader

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Strong leaders need several important qualities to help them inspire and motivate their teams. The ability to effectively listen is likely most important. Why is is so important for leaders to acquire and maintain this skill? Read on to find out 🙂

Voices
Leadership is about leading a group and providing them with direction, solutions and motivation. However, people in positions of power also need to know how to take suggestions from other individuals. Whether it’s at a job, for a sports team or in another environment, one person alone is usually unable to stand alone on every task. Instead, leaders can and should listen to the suggestions that teammates have. This will create a sense of unity among the team, promote new products to customers and more.

Criticism

Of course, listening to criticism is difficult for anyone, but doing so is very important for a leader. While constantly critiquing leaders might lead to trouble for employees, students or team members, they should be able to express their concerns. For example, let’s say that a new policy in the workplace isn’t working for you. Customers are verbally expressing their concerns with the procedure, and business seems to be suffering as a result. When employees bring these concerns to the leader, they should never be scoffed at. Leaders needs to realize that cause for concern exists among those who matter more than anyone else!

Insularity
Leaders also need to pay attention to what is happening in the world beyond their organization. Let’s consider an educational example. Say you are the head of an academic program at a community college. Other schools in the area are intensifying their science and mathematics programs, but your peers at home don’t want to hear about it, because your system seems to be working. Well, without evaluating whether this is truly the case, this could lead your school to fall behind.  This is why it’s your duty as a leader to fight insularity – it never leads to anything good.

Respect
Listening is a surprising but sensible tool for showing respect. Indeed, followers are supposed to respect their leaders, but the reverse needs to be true as well. If employers (or other kinds of subordinates, of course) feel as though they’re being respected, they’ll be much more willing to work harder for communal goals. If a leader never listens to the people who are a part of his or her team, they simply aren’t going to feel respected. This means that actions necessary, rather than words, and it’s your responsibility to prove to your employees that you respect them!

Lana Martinez is a life coach that writes about self-help, leadership and personal growth. Her recent work is on the best online counseling degrees in the US.

C’mon, get happy: five ways to achieve corporate bliss

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If you want to be happy, be.  ~Leo Tolstoy

It was recently reported that about 80% of Americans are unhappy at work. While this statistic is more than mildly depressing, I can’t help but reflect on Tolstoy’s thought. Are we Americans unhappy at work because our employers are monsters, or are we unhappy because we’re just negative?

Regardless of the reason, there’s a larger lesson here. As Tolstoy said, “If you want to be happy, be.” Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? But when those deadlines roll around and your boss starts breathing down your neck about this or that, all Tolstoy-related insight seems to dissipate. Arm yourself with these positive ideas next time you’re sulking around your cubicle.

1. Ask yourself what has to happen to make you happy. Ask yourself what has to happen to make you unhappy. Examine your answers. Chances are, it’s a heck of a lot easier to make you unhappy than happy. It may be time to reassess. Write yourself new “rules.” Make it easier for yourself to be happy than upset. For example, “Working with this person every day makes me happy,” and “Natural disasters make me unhappy.” See how hard it is to make you unhappy now? Post these new rules somewhere you will see them. Remind yourself of them daily. (Idea courtesy of Geoffrey James.)

2. Don’t let your emotions control you. Some believe that certain events cause happiness. In reality, they are the internal reaction of the perception of external events, mixed in with a little preconceived notion of the meaning of that event. In other words, get out of your head. You can emotionally react, but don’t let your emotions determine whether you are ultimately happy. React and let go. Don’t dwell.

3. Be willing to take a risk. Just because you’ve failed in the past doesn’t mean that you won’t succeed in the future. If your big pitch to the boss failed, followed by another failed one…and yet another, don’t let the setbacks deter you from pitching yet again. Did you know the creator of Angry Birds, a mobile gaming phenomenon, had built 50 other games before experiencing its wild success?

4. Remember that you are worth it. I don’t mean to get all cheese ball on you, but you are worth it. Even if your boss doesn’t think so. Even if your colleagues talk badly about you when you’re gone. Even if your relatives don’t take you seriously. Refuse to define yourself based on what others think of you. This is a toxic attitude that will suffocate any happiness you may have left.

5. Loosen your grip on perfection. Better yet, totally unleash it. Perfection is unfeasible. The sooner you can come to terms with that and stop blaming everyone else for your mistakes, the sooner you can experience true happiness in the workplace.

BONUS! Here are a few tiny actions that make my days a little brighter: Pretty up that cubicle. Aesthetically, make it a place that you actually want to enjoy every day; Get outside for your break; Listen to your iPod on occasion (if okay with boss); Read something inspirational (via mobile app or devotional) while your computer boots up; Get to know your co-workers.

Learn more about positive thinking and workplace contentment from Geoffrey at Inc.com.

Make your work-life balance work!

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  • 40% of workers say their job is very or extremely stressful
  • 25% view their jobs as the #1 stressor in their lives
  • 3/4 of employees believe that workers today have more job-related stress than a generation ago
  • 29% of workers feel quite a bit or extremely stressed at work

Nigel Marsh, author of “Fat, Forty and Fired” and “Overworked and Underlaid,” claims that all the talk of “flexy time” and “dress down Fridays” merely masks the true issue — that certain jobs are “fundamentally incompatible” with workers being engaged with young families.

Does that sound like your situation? Regardless, it’s safe to say that we let work overwhelm us and, consequently, neglect our families and friends. The fix? While we’ve all heard stories about inspiring social entrepreneurs stomping out of their desk jobs to be full-time “bloggers” and “PR gurus,” that option isn’t right for everyone. And the cure may not be as dramatic as we think.

Marsh says that it’s up to individuals to take control of the lives they want to lead — not to rely on employers to design the perfect work-life balance that they need. According to Marsh, we need to take control of our lives on a small-scale level, which will improve our quality of life and overall work-life balance.

“Never put the quality of your life in the hands of a commercial corporation.”

We need to be aware the the time frame for creating balance — which requires us to be realistic and plan long-term, not just immediate decisions. We also need to find balance in our planning (to be balanced — yes, I know it’s confusing). We need to tend to all areas — emotional, spiritual, and physical.

The small things matter, says Marsh, “Being more balanced doesn’t mean dramatic upheaval in your life.” The smallest changes can transform your life and even transform society. We need to make little changes towards becoming a more thoughtful and balanced society, changing our definition of success from what it is now. Instead of aiming for wealth or power, we should shoot for the success that comes from maintaining a healthy balance at work, being able to spend quality time with our families, and being all-around happier, healthy individuals.

Argue, Discuss. Argue, Discuss.

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I don’t know about you, but I hate the word “brainstorm.” For me, it conjures up images of highly-caffeinated business people squeezed into a dark windowless room around a conference table, scribbling furiously and screaming out ideas.

An article in The New Yorker by John Lehrer says,  “Science shows that brainstorms can activate a neurological fear of rejection and that groups are not necessarily more creative than individuals. Brainstorming can actually be detrimental to good ideas.”

I am not surprised. So how are good ideas developed?

The answer can be found in Aristotle’s Rhetoric, the holy grail of communication theory and practice.  It’s called “Deliberative Discourse,” a communication style that refers to participative and collaborative (but not critique-free) communication.

Daniel Sobel, a design strategist at Continuum, says they refer to this method at his company as “Argue, Discuss. Argue, Discuss.”

“Multiple positions and views are expressed with a shared understanding that everyone is focused on a common goal,” Sobel explains. “There is no hierarchy. It’s not debate because there are no opposing sides trying to ‘win.’ Rather, it’s about working together to solve a problem and create new ideas.”

Sobel relays the five key things that make this process effective:

1. Abolish hierarchy (if only temporarily)

2. Never just say no. Say “No, Because…”

3. Welcome and cultivate diverse perspectives

4. Focus on a common goal

5. Have fun!

You can read the full article over at Fast Company.

Are you an information gatekeeper?

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Here’s a question for you: Do you feel that people are more informed today than they were 50 years ago?

The answer is obvious, right? How could a culture in which “live-tweeting” is a preferred medium be LESS informed than those pre-millennial cave people, huddled around an AM transistor radio, still light years away from dial-up internet?

Welllllllll, my friend, don’t flatter yourself. Yes, you most surely CONSUME more information than your grandparents did. We’re inundated from sunup to sundown. But, as Tom Brokaw points out, “more information doesn’t necessarily bring more understanding.”

In other words, it doesn’t matter if you are reading from an iPad or a stone tablet. If you don’t understand the content of the messages you are receiving, you’re no better off than you were before.

So what does this mean for your business? Well, it means that even though there are dozens of new ways to gather data about your business, it has no value unless you learn how to synthesize all of that information in order to gain better insight. You also have to choose very wisely where you get this information from – just because data is out there does not mean that it is accurate or reliable.

In the business, they’re calling it “information discipline,” and it is a skill you should learn.

Ron Ashkenas is a managing partner of Schaffer Consulting and a co-author of The GE Work-Out and The Boundaryless Organization. He came up with five helpful tips to train yourself to be a better information gatekeeper.

  1. Instead of trying to absorb everything, focus on a few key indicators. For short-term performance, look for leading instead of lagging indicators. Make sure that they give you a basis for taking action.
  2. Differentiate opinion from data. Remember that different people can observe the same event and interpret it based on their own (sometimes unconscious) bias or agenda.
  3. Examine trends and patterns. This means not only looking at indicators over time, but also examining their sources and how they may be changing.
  4. Periodically look at the ecosystem. Since information flows from everywhere, occasionally take the time to map out where data is coming from and what it says. This will show you if certain data sources are becoming dominant or just “noisy”; or if other key constituencies are not providing any input.
  5. Use information as a basis for dialogue. Interpreting information requires people with different filters, analytical tools, and perspectives. Take advantage of your team and other resources to sort through the information so that you’ll have a richer foundation for making decisions.

It’s like going on a data diet. Eventually, you’ll learn to consume only the information that is of value to you. Until then, try to be mindful of the information that you are using.

What came first, the happiness or the success?

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How many times have you heard the good ol’ happy thought claim? You know what I’m talking about.

“Just think positively! Look up! Believe in yourself, and your life and job and pretty much everything in the world will get better!”

Well, here’s a similar piece of information that may seem a bit more concrete. What if I told you that only 25% of your career success is based on your IQ. The rest is based purely on your attitude.

“Seventy-five percent [of your job success] is about how your brain believes your behavior matters, connects to other people, and manages stress,” says Shawn Achor, a Harvard psychology researcher in recently posted TedxBloomington talk.

Achor explains that society’s formula for success is backwards. Instead of harder work = more success = more happiness; we should reverse the formula so that more happiness = more success = harder work.

The problem with our current way of thinking — that we’ll be happier once we find success — is that every time we accomplish a goal or step into that higher level of success, we just change the goalpost for what success looks like. We keep wanting more and we’ll never make it to what we consider true success.

Achor says that we should first seek contentment, and success will come! This statement is easily doubted, but studies prove its claim. People perform better in a happy state of mind. Happy people are more creative. They have more energy and intelligence. Every business outcome prospers. Achor reveals that you are 31% more productive when in a positive state of mind rather than a negative, neutral, or stressed state of mind.

“Dopamine floods into your brain when you’re positive, which has two functions,” Achor says. First, dopamine makes you happier. Second, it activates all learning centers in your brain. I don’t know about you, but I want a slice of this productive pie.

The question is, how can we become happier people? Many shrug the happy factor off, chalking it up to the idea that happiness is mainly genetic — something we have no real control over. Achor strongly disagrees.

Studies have found that doing one of the following actions two times a day for 21 consecutive days can successfully train your brain to work more optimistically:

1. Write down 3 new things you’re grateful for.

2. Journal about one positive experience you’ve had in the past 24 hours.

3. Exercise.

4. Meditate.

5. Do random acts of kindness/conscious acts of kindness — write one positive email thanking someone in your social network.

View Shawn Achor’s full TedTalk here.