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Leadership Today Podcast

Author: Andrew Beveridge

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Weekly research-based tips and advice to tackle today's biggest leadership challenges, all in under ten minutes. Hosted by leadership development specialist and psychologist Andrew Beveridge. Go to leadership.today for more information.
42 Episodes
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Summary Leadership isn’t just what you do in the moment - it’s the legacy you leave. This week we look at four steps to building a legacy of leaders. Transcript Hello and welcome to episode 36 of the Leadership Today Podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we are looking at four steps to building a legacy of leaders. Leadership isn’t just what you do in the moment - it’s the legacy you leave. In fact, the most effective leaders create a lasting legacy in people - they create more leaders. The effectiveness of a leader is best measured at least 5 to 10 years further on. Great leadership takes time - there aren’t many quick wins. It’s best to think of leadership as a long-term investment. I recently spoke at a conference in Malaysia with a group of Doctors, mainly heads of departments in major hospitals from around the world, on this very topic. Hospitals are a tricky environment in which to identify and develop leaders - there’s time pressure, people spreading their hours across multiple hospitals, highly technical work - lots of things to grapple with. Perhaps you have similar pressures in your environment as well. But there are still steps we can take to make progress. There are four things each of us can do to build a legacy of leaders: 1. Build Understanding - develop a clear and shared view of what ‘great leadership’ looks like in your context. People have often had poor experiences of leadership or have a limited view of what leadership is - that it’s about bossing people around or being taken away from the work that I enjoy. In workshops I ask people to share examples of great leadership. I’m always impressed by the range of answers given. The exercise helps people to understand that leadership isn’t one thing, and that people can be effective leaders in many different ways. That the best way to lead is firstly to be yourself. This helps people to broaden their view of what leadership looks like, and consider whether leadership may, in fact, be for them. That anyone can be a great leader - we all have something to bring and capabilities that we can develop. 2. Explore Aspiration - it’s essential to have development discussions to explore a person’s level of interest in leadership. I worked with a large organisation that had identified hundreds of people in a leadership high potential pool. But the people didn’t know they were in the high potential pool. It was all too common for someone from the pool to be tapped on the shoulder and offered a leadership role, but they had no interest in leadership. No one had even asked them if they aspired to a leadership position. Exploring aspirations makes a real difference. 3. Develop Capability - allow opportunities for practise, feedback and coaching. This can include step up, secondment and project opportunities, but with focused development attached. I’m a big fan of monthly one-on-one meetings that include discussion around an individual’s development. And you don’t need to do all the capability development yourself. You can help them to find mentors both within and outside the organisation that can focus on specific areas they’re interested in developing. 4. Provide Capacity - people need time to develop leadership capability, and this needs to be factored into the job design. A great question for discussion is how much time a person should have each week for leading others versus personally delivering work. Now I know you can’t necessarily carve out specific activities as pure leadership, but it intrigues me when people provide really low numbers - like 3 or 4 hours a week. A study in Harvard Business Review found CEOs spent between 32% to 67% of their time with their direct reports. In fact, they spent more time with their direct reports when they had greater confidence in them. Other research suggested each employee should have around 6 hours a week interacting with their leader to maximise engagement, rising to 10 or even 20 hours for innovation focused work. And increased face to face time with their leader saw a dramatic reduction in the volume of emails they sent and received. This data also suggests each leader should have a cap of around seven direct reports to be most effective - beyond that, the leader can’t dedicate enough time to leading people. I encourage you to spend some time this week considering your own legacy as a leader, and how you can create even more leaders who can multiply your efforts and impact. References https://hbr.org/2018/07/the-leaders-calendar https://www.fastcompany.com/3032972/why-managers-should-spend-exactly-6-hours-a-week-with-each-employee
Summary Most of us have what I call infinite jobs - where we could just keep working more hours and never quite get everything done. This week we look at practical ways to manage infinite jobs, improving our productivity while also regaining control over our hours.   Transcript Hello and welcome to episode 35 of the Leadership Today Podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we are looking at practical ways to manage infinite jobs - improving our productivity while also regaining control over our hours. There are two types of jobs - what I call finite jobs and infinite jobs. Chances are at some point in your career you’ve had a finite job - one where you had set work hours, and were paid for every hour you worked. For example, retail jobs are typically finite jobs - you start your shift at a particular time, complete as much work as you can during your shift, then walk away at the end of your shift. Whatever work was left over is either there for you the next day, or handed across to someone else. And there’s no expectation to work beyond the hours you’re given - remember those days? In this environment, leaders assess the overall workload and determine the resources needed to deliver. If more work needs to be done, more resources are allocated. Infinite jobs are quite different. These jobs have objectives to deliver - some being set up front, and some which emerge over time. Here you’re not really paid by the hour. Your contract may specify that you’re employed to work 38 or 40 hours, but you’re really employed to deliver results. Contracts might refer to ‘reasonable overtime’ or something similar. Or you might be running your own business, where you just work the hours you need to deliver results. Infinite jobs are different because there isn’t an end point. You could potentially keep working more and more hours and never ‘finish’ an infinite job. There’s always more you could do - more clients to contact, more processes to improve, more development of people to undertake. The vast majority of leadership roles are infinite jobs, so chances are you’re currently in an infinite job. And more finite jobs are either being automated or converted into infinite jobs. The reality of the modern workplace is that more and more of our work will not have a natural end point. So how do you manage an infinite job? I remember when I first took on a leadership role. I had worked as a management consultant, so was pretty familiar with having an infinite job, but was able to manage my time reasonably well despite the high demands. But nothing had prepared me for leadership. My work hours began to increase. I started with a bit over 45 hours a week, but found it quickly rose to 50 hours, then 55, then 60 plus. I was getting into work earlier and earlier to try to get something done before my team arrived, then worked later and later to catch up on things at the end of the day. Then I would log in again after dinner, finding myself swapping instant messages with the rest of the leadership team until late at night, before crawling into bed and starting it all over again the next day. I felt exhausted and dissatisfied, and there was still more to do. When the weekend rolled around I’d sleep for much of Saturday morning and try to recover in time for Monday, but would find myself gradually become more and more worn down.  Eventually it dawned on me that there actually wasn’t an end point to my job. There was never going to be a point where, as a leader, I could say “I’m finished” or “job done”. In fact, the more hours of work I completed, the more work I generated for myself and others. I wasn’t even approaching completion - even though I was hitting all my targets, I was pushing completion even further down the road. There was an ever-present level of stress and dissatisfaction - a constant worry that I was missing something or had more to do. Maybe you can relate to my experience - and maybe you’re in the middle of it right now. The key lesson for me from this experience was we can’t manage an infinite job by just adding more and more hours to our work week. We need to change the way we think about and manage our work. A framework you’re probably familiar with involves thinking about our work in terms of the Important versus Urgent - basically that every task we complete can be thought of in terms of how important it is, and how urgent it is. While he wasn’t the first to think of this framework, Steven Covey popularised it in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. Even 30 years on this book is still worth a read. Covey highlighted that we tend to get caught up in urgent work, and don’t prioritise important work enough. Clearly, if something is both urgent and important, then we should tackle that deadline, crisis or emergency straight away. But much of our time is spent with seemingly urgent but not important tasks which we should delegate to others. And we definitely need to get rid of the not urgent and not important distractions that soak up our time. But the other category - the not urgent but important - is what most leaders end up neglecting. This can include planning, reflection, long term development, networking and relationship building, creative thinking - all the things that so often get pushed aside in an infinite job. So how do we make sure we have time to do this important work, while also making our infinite job a little more finite? Here’s an approach you might want to try: Determine your ideal work hours. For most people you should aim to reduce what you’re doing at the moment, but why not start with around 40 hours as a target. A company called Perpetual Guardian in New Zealand experimented with people working four eight-hour days a week but being paid for five. Aside from the numerous benefits to individuals, they actually saw an overall productivity increase - people completed more in 32 hours than they used to complete in 40 hours. People came up with all sorts of creative ways to be more productive in their infinite jobs. We will fill whatever hours we set, so take this moment to reset. Use your calendar to schedule everything - and I mean everything. This includes putting things in your calendar that unexpectedly come up so you have a record at the end of the week of how you’ve actually spent your time. Identify your priorities and schedule the not urgent but important work for when you’re at your best. Each of us has a time in the day when we’re best at focused work, and that’s where the important but not urgent work should sit. Schedule in breaks - at least three if not four per day. Actual get up, go for a walk, chat with someone else - take at least 10 to 15 minutes to re-engergise and refresh. You will be amazed how much more productive you are with some well-placed breaks every 90 minutes. Leave time for the inevitable urgent and important activities - leave blank periods in your schedule. It’s tempting to schedule every minute then be disappointed when other things come up. I recommend trying to leave an hour or two per day for most people, but it could vary depending on your job.  Be ruthless when it comes to meetings - if there isn’t a clear purpose, agenda and role for you, don’t go. Sure, you might need to negotiate that, but if you’re spending more than a couple of hours per day in meetings, you’re unlikely to be performing at your best. The beauty of this approach is that you’ve set the overall number of hours, and you can’t be doing two things at once. So if you’ve filled your calendar and something else comes up, you need to get rid of or reschedule something else. You’ve effectively made your job finite by setting your work hours.  Now, you might ask, what if I can’t get everything done in those hours? Well, now your calendar is evidence of your overall workload which will help when negotiating additional resources or a change in accountabilities. Just like those employees in New Zealand, you’ll be amazed at how creative you can get when you make your job more finite. Reference: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jul/19/work-less-get-more-new-zealand-firms-four-day-week-an-unmitigated-success
Summary Nearly half of all employees often experience negative work-related stress, flowing through to lower levels of engagement and motivation. As leaders, we can dramatically reduce this figure, and transform the performance of individuals and our organisations.     Transcript Hello and welcome to episode 34 of the Leadership Today Podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we are looking at how leaders can move their people from ‘stressed’ to ‘strong’.   Negative work-related stress takes a significant toll on individuals and the organisations for which they work. My recent research with over 1,400 not for profit leaders and employees reveals 46% of people report often experiencing negative work-related stress – a group I call “The Stressed”. Furthermore, 80% see their work as demanding – a group I call “The Stretched”.   The experience of these two groups is quite different. Those who often experience negative work-related stress have 17% lower employee engagement ratings compared to the rest - “The Stressed” are less likely to be engaged with their work and organisation than others. And this negative sentiment is reflected in all aspects of employee engagement, particularly in a 24% lower rating of their likelihood to recommend their organisation to others as a place to work.    In contrast, those who find their work demanding have 21% higher employee engagement than those who don’t see their work as demanding. “The Stretched” are much more likely to be engaged with their work and their organisation. This group’s level of motivation to do their best work for the organisation is particularly notable, being 29% higher than the rest of the people surveyed.   However, there is overlap between these two groups. It’s possible to be both “Stressed” and “Stretched”, or any other combination of these two factors.   In the research I separated out those who find their work demanding, but don’t often experience negative work-related stress – a group I call “The Strong”. This 38% of employees report 34% higher levels of employee engagement than the rest of those surveyed. Their ratings of whether they would recommend their organisation to others as a place to work are 40% higher than others. They’re much more likely to be motivated to do their best work for the organisation, and are also more likely to want to stay with the organisation. The positive impact of being amongst “The Strong” flows through to all elements of employee engagement.   This raises an important question – what is different about the experience of individuals that might account for these dramatically different outcomes in employee engagement?   It turns out that “The Stressed” provide particularly poor ratings of the level of autonomy they have in how they achieve outcomes, being 21% lower than the rest of those surveyed. Their ratings of the opportunity to develop capability in areas that are important to them are 17% lower than others. This is consistent with broader research into stress at work – a lack of autonomy and capability to do your job well is a recipe for negative stress.   In contrast, “The Stretched” are 32% more likely to see their work as contributing to a cause greater and more enduring than themselves. This sense of purpose appears to buffer people from the adverse impocts of negative stress, helping the individual to interpret challenges and demands in a more positive light. It’s much easier to see a demanding job as a good thing if you believe you are making a positive impact on something that matters. The ability to develop meaningful connections at work also appears to help, with “The Stretched” rating this 24% higher than others.   “The Strong” have particularly positive ratings of purpose, development, connections and autonomy. These four work environment factors are also significantly positively correlated with employee engagement. Each of these factors individually accounts for 28% to 40% of the variance in employee engagement.   For leaders the message is clear. We need to provide a clear and compelling direction first. We then need to provide development opportunities so people are equiped and confident to tackle their work. Thirdly, we need to connect our people with others that can support them and with whom they can collaborate. And, lastly, we need to delegate the authority to our people to act, providing them with the autonomy they need.   As leaders we have a unique opportunity to turn “The Stressed” into “The Strong”, and to create a work environment where everyone can bring their best and flourish. This isn’t just great for our people, it’s also great for our organisations and those we serve.
We're taking a couple of weeks to look back at two of our favourite previous episodes - enjoy!
We're taking a couple of weeks to look back at two of our favourite previous episodes - enjoy!
Summary The problem with solving problems is that we often rush towards solutions without spending enough time clearly identifying the challenge we’re facing. In this episode we explore the power of a well crafted problem statement.   Transcript Welcome to episode 33 of the Leadership Today Podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we are looking at the problem with solving problems - that we often rush towards solutions without spending enough time clearly identifying the challenge we’re facing. There’s a quote typically attributed to Albert Einstein that goes along the lines of “If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution.” Now, there’s not great evidence that Einstein ever uttered those words, but there is still a great deal of truth in them. We often rush into solution mode when we’ve only partially, or even incorrectly, identified the problem we’re trying to solve. I’ve spent around half of my career working in management consulting focusing on complex problems and solutions. Over that time I lost count of the number of times I heard the classic attempted put down - “consultants borrow your watch to tell you the time, then charge you for it”. Of course, if you ask a consultant to tell you the time while you’re wearing a watch, then maybe the consultant isn’t the problem. Either way, it highlights that organisations often outsource solution generation, and are then frustrated when the expensive solutions don’t quite hit the mark. I believe this is often because the problem isn’t clearly and accurately identified, so people end up frantically working towards solving the wrong problem. Once the problem is clear, organisations are usually pretty good at developing and implementing solutions. I shared an example in the last episode of a person who inherited a task to prepare a series of reports. Preparing all of these reports was arduous and took 8 hours to complete - it was a real problem for him as he struggled to get the rest of his work completed in the rest of the week. He initially identified the problem as “these reports take too long to complete”, and so came up with and implemented improvements that meant he could prepare the reports in just four hours. But there was a deeper question that needed answering - “why are these reports needed?” It turned out people weren’t actually using the reports - no one really needed the reports to be generated, and so he took an eight hour task and reduced it to zero. The problem to explore was around the need for the reports, not the efficiency of report production. It’s hard to identify the real problem when you’re in the middle of it, but using a clear structure and approach can help. It might even save you from using a consultant or, at least, make your investment in an external consultant more valuable. We need to start by trying to identify the root cause of the problem. I’ve talked about using the “5 whys” approach in episode 20 - repeatedly asking the question “why?” to step back towards the root cause. Once we think we’re close to the root cause, a structured problem statement can help. It provides some rigour around identifying the problem and its impact, while also making it easier to communicate the problem to others, and assess the value of various proposed solutions. One simple structure for a problem statement includes four elements: Ideal scenario – what it would be like if this problem didn’t exist Current situation – what it is currently like - the current reality Consequences – the implications for this audience if we do nothing - can help build momentum towards change Focus – the areas we will explore to solve the problem Here’s an example of applying that approach to a business that’s struggling to have sufficient stock in stores. Ideal - We want our customers to be able to easily purchase our products with an emphasis on experience and convenience. Current - Our most loyal customers are complaining that their local stores are often out of stock of our most popular products, so they’re forced to phone ahead or drive around to other stores looking for stock. Consequences - We are losing sales and frustrating our customers, leaving ourselves open to them switching to competitor products. Focus - To address this problem, we are going to explore three elements. The first being the reliability of transport of product from our warehouse to stores. The second - building our capacity to track current stock levels at stores. And thirdly, explore our ability to provide stock to customers directly via a new home delivery channel. Now it’s important to also be responsive. Sometimes as we are seeking to solve the problem, we come across further information which may further clarify the problem. You can always refine the problem statement to reflect this new information.
Summary We’ve all heard the mantra - work smarter, not harder. But sometimes our idea of ‘smarter’ still isn’t the smartest way to work. We need to reflect on an entirely different level.   Transcript Welcome to episode 32 of the Leadership Today Podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we are looking at the importance of taking time to reflect and challenge the work we’re conducting. We’ve all heard the mantra - work smarter, not harder. But sometimes our idea of ‘smarter’ still isn’t the smartest way to work. It’s quite possible to very efficiently completely miss the point, overlooking an opportunity to see things from an entirely new perspective. This is particularly a risk in high-paced, busy environments. Chris Argyris wrote a classic Harvard Business Review article in 1977 called “Double Loop Learning in Organizations”. In the article, Chris provided the example of an organisation that had a dud product, which was eventually discontinued. But those closest to production knew years in advance of the problems. However not all the information about the product’s issues were passed upwards (neither was this information sought out from those in decision making positions). The bad news was watered down. The delay in cancelling the product cost the organisation greatly. Chris highlighted this as a classic example of an organisation failing to learn. People ended up not questioning the work that was being done, but merely trying to streamline it. He saw them using single loop instead of double loop learning. Let’s use an example to describe what Chris meant by single and double loop learning. Let’s say I’m working on a project, and I notice that we’re starting to fall behind schedule - the project is slipping. One option is to work harder - just put in more hours to try to bring the project back to the original schedule. In this approach, we’re looking at the challenge from an ‘action - result’ perspective. To try to change the result, the only lever we can use is to do more of the action. We haven’t actually learnt anything. Chris would call this ‘zero loop learning’. There is no feedback loop between the result that has changed the action, beyond increasing the amount of action. A second option to address the slipping project is to work smarter. Here we notice the project is slipping, so we spend some time planning our approach. This could lead us to change our action - maybe we can streamline a process, or negotiate a change in the delivery date, or change the mix of resources on the project. This single loop from action back to planning may well help. We have learnt something and improved our approach to the project, so that’s a good thing, right? Of course it is - but is it the best course of action? Argyris described this as single loop learning - the gap to performance expectations loops back to a planning step that isn’t present in zero loop learning. This is likely to lead to some improvement, and it is where many people and organisations stop.  Double-loop learning is a completely new way of looking at the issue with the project. Instead of just working harder or smarter, we’re asking ourselves a new question - is it the right work? The double-loop takes us another step back from the project to explore our assumptions. What is the project trying to achieve? Why is this important? If we could start all over again, what other approaches could we use to address this need? It’s getting outside the work, and reflecting on bigger questions. It’s also about taking personal responsibility. Chris Argyris wrote a great follow up article in 1991 called “Teaching Smart People How to Learn”, again in Harvard Business Review. In it he described the work he had performed in management consulting firms, and the tendency for consultants and managers to blame their clients when projects didn’t deliver the expected outcomes. Consultants were quite happy to work on helping clients to learn and improve, but tended not to step back and think about how they could improve. Their focus on improving the performance of clients didn’t extend to themselves. When you don’t step back, the tendency is to blame others. The assumption is that you are approaching the client work well, so any performance issues are related to the client’s inability to learn. It reminded me of a financial institution I once worked with, where senior leaders would often talk negatively about customers. One senior leader regularly joked “this place would run much better if we didn’t have any customers”. Is it any surprise that the failed to see changes in the market and ultimately lost customers? After all, that’s what they jokingly wanted. When I shared the double-loop learning framework in a leadership program, one of the participants shared a story. They had been spending eight hours a week producing a series of reports, drawing data from various sources, and then distributing these reports to various people across the organisation. It’s what their predecessor had done, so was handed across to them as a task to complete. By using their knowledge of Excel, they managed to streamline the report preparation process, reducing it down to around half a day - a great example of single-loop learning. But they never received any feedback about the reports. So they sent an email out to the recipients - how do you use these reports, can I make them more helpful? No response. So they decided to stop producing the reports. Guess what happened - absolutely nothing. It turned out that no one was actually using the reports any more. So they ultimately improved their efficiency by 20% and bought themselves an extra day to focus on things that really mattered. So many people would have stopped at the single-loop step of developing a more efficient way to produce the reports, instead of stepping back and asking what the reports were for, and whether they were needed.   To make double-loop learning work we need a few things in place: Permission to question the approach - testing the assumptions is actually valued and actively solicited A culture that values feedback, even when it’s negative or critical, as long as the focus is on improvement Time to reflect on our approach - so many of us are hyper-busy with no time to reflect - reflection is never going to make it into the ‘important and urgent’ quadrant, so we need to schedule this reflection time in Take a wider view - what’s happening in other organisations, industries, professions, countries - read widely     References Chris Argyris - Double Loop Learning in Organizations - Harvard Business Review 1977 - https://hbr.org/1977/09/double-loop-learning-in-organizations Chris Argyris - Teaching Smart People How To Learn - Harvard Business Review 1991 - https://hbr.org/1991/05/teaching-smart-people-how-to-learn
Summary In this episode we look at ways to retrain our own worst critic - the automatic limiting thoughts that enter our minds when we are faced with challenges, and that hold us back from opportunities.   Transcript Hello and welcome to episode 31 of the Leadership Today Podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we are looking at ways to retrain our own worst critic - the automatic limiting thoughts that enter our minds when we are faced with challenges, and that hold us back from opportunities.   Have you ever had someone in your life that was continually negative and critical? Always chipping away, complaining, pointing out faults, highlighting risks? Did they hold you back from thinking more positively, from trying new things, from taking action? If you did have someone in your life like that, you probably either pointed out those tendencies to them, or simply spent more time with positive people.   For many people, the most negative and critical voice in their life is the one inside their head - those automatic limiting thoughts that enter our conscious mind when we’re faced with a challenge or hit with a set back. The thoughts are automatic because they arrive without any conscious effort. And they are limiting because they hold us back from the potential positives of taking a different course of action.   The human brain works really hard to join dots - to discover patterns and meaning behind the wealth of information constantly rushing in from outside and from within ourselves. The thoughts that enter our conscious mind are ideas providing one possible explanation for what we’re interpreting. As we saw in the self-fulfilling prophecy episode, these thoughts and beliefs can be so powerful that they actually shape events and people around us. If we think someone doesn’t like us, we can act in a way that will lead that person to like us less. And so the limiting thought is reinforced and strengthened.   The human brain is also a risk management machine - we’re wired to notice threats. While you hear this sentence, your brain is scanning the environment for threats multiple times. This feature of our brain can also exaggerate the risk of taking action, leading us to magnify the risks and minimise the potential rewards. That’s why most people will work much harder to avoid losing a dollar than to gain an extra dollar. We are often working out of a mindset of risk and potential loss.   I was recently coaching a person who was very nervous about public presentations. In fact they said “If I have to give a presentation to the rest of the team, I will die”. Now, on one level, “I will die” was just a turn of phrase. But, on another level, it was actually how they physically responded to upcoming presentations. They thought, felt and acted like there was an imminent threat to their life which, of course, there wasn’t. I worked with them to challenge and then change their interpretation of presentations. First we started by challenging the automatic thought. How did the team respond to other presentations in the past? It turns out they were usually quite supportive. Then we considered some alternative explanations. Perhaps they felt physically worked up about the presentation because they wanted to do a good job and it mattered to them. Then we simply changed the script - choosing an alternate thought that they were excited about the presentation. When you’re excited your heart rate might increase, you might get a little sweaty, you might even stumble over some words. But excitement is much more positive than nervousness. It’s the same physiology, but a very different mindset. Having your heart race made sense as an indicator of excitement - they didn’t need to interpret it as a warning sign. In fact, presentations could actually be a great opportunity to practice and improve their public speaking. So the presentation to the team became an exciting opportunity, instead of a life threatening risk.   Retraining your own worst critic initially takes conscious effort, but over time we can create new and more positive automatic thoughts. The only way to get more comfortable and confident with public speaking is to do lots of public speaking. The new mindset, that presentations are an exciting opportunity to get better at presenting, encouraged them to do more presentations.   Here are some ways to tackle our limiting thoughts, and retrain our inner critic: Notice your automatic thoughts. Write them down in a journal or using a notes app on your phone. That will give you a sense of what you’re telling yourself through the day. See thoughts as opinions, not facts. Assess whether each automatic thought is rational, true and helpful. Incorporate other information. Craft other potential explanations. Try to identify the most likely explanation. Avoid catastrophic language - “I’ll just die”, “this always happens to me”, “I’ll never get any better at this”. This just escalates the impact of the negative thought. Play the scenario out - realise that, even if the worst case comes true, you’ll still be okay. Rewrite the script - just like I did with the person I was coaching, changing “nervous” to “excited”. We can change the interpretation we place on our automatic thoughts and the cues from our body.   By applying these approaches we can retrain our own worst critic to become much more focused on positive opportunities than paralysed by risks.
Summary Commentary around the effectiveness of negative feedback is mixed, with people often highlighting the adverse impact that it can have on individuals. But is there a way to make negative feedback, well, less negative?   Transcript Hello and welcome to episode 30 of the Leadership Today Podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we’re exploring how to make negative feedback a little less negative. Commentary around the effectiveness of negative feedback is mixed, with people often highlighting the adverse impact that it can have on individuals. This has led some to recommend that leaders should avoid providing negative feedback altogether. A less extreme recommendation is typically to provide much more positive feedback than negative feedback, which makes a lot of sense. We should put a lot more effort into guiding people towards an objective, rather than correcting them for straying from the path. But is there a way to make negative feedback, well, less negative? Let’s step outside the business context for a moment, and into the world of friendships. Recent research has shown that as a friendship deepens, the friends seek and provide more negative feedback to each other. In contrast, the deepening friendship doesn’t lead to an increase or decrease in the amount of positive feedback provided. It seems that the depth of the connection allows negative feedback to play a more constructive role in the relationship. The friendship becomes a safe place where people can provide and receive candid feedback to help each other improve. So what’s the difference between positive and negative feedback. One simple distinction is that positive feedback seeks to recognise and reinforce a behaviour. In contrast negative feedback seeks to identify a behaviour that should be reduced or changed. As we covered in an earlier episode, one way to make feedback more effective is to focus on the behaviour demonstrated, and the impact of that behaviour on you and others. But what other conditions are specific to making negative feedback work? How do we make it more like the negative feedback close friends seek and provide to each other? Two pieces of research provide helpful insight into making negative feedback more constructive. The first is a very recent meta analysis of 78 studies into the impact of negative feedback on intrinsic motivation. The second study looked specifically at the factors that moderate an employees reaction to negative feedback. Taken together, these two studies highlight four important principles when we need to provide negative feedback. Connection matters - much like in the earlier research about negative feedback in friendships, the closer the connection, the more effective the negative feedback. And face to face feedback works best. This allows a much richer conversation that factors in the subtle non verbal cues so important in communication. Your motivation matters - being considerate makes a difference. This could mean acknowledging that the feedback is difficult to give, but that you really want the person to develop and improve. In fact, you wouldn’t be providing the feedback unless you cared about the person’s development and progress. Quality matters - negative feedback works best when it is data and criteria based. This could involve highlighting how the negative behaviour is adversely impacting on performance measures for the role, and how the desired behaviour will help the individual. Guidance matters - the research demonstrated that negative feedback was more effective when there was clear guidance about how to improve. Such guidance helps demonstrate that you are willing to support the individual’s development.   Most people don’t enjoy giving or receiving negative feedback, but if delivered well using these four principles it can be an important driver of further development. So as a final reminder, connection matters, your motivation matters, quality matters, and guidance matters. I hope you found this episode helpful. As always, please recommend the podcast to a friend or colleague. And you can get in touch via the leadership.today website if you have any thoughts or feedback on the episode. See you next week!   Research   A Meta-Analysis of Negative Feedback on Intrinsic Motivation. Fong, Carlton J; Patall, Erika A; Vasquez, Ariana C; Stautberg, Sandra. Educational Psychology Review; New York Vol. 31, Iss. 1,  (Mar 2019): 121-162.   Moderators of employee reactions to negative feedback. Steelman, Lisa A; Rutkowski, Kelly A. Journal of Managerial Psychology; Bradford Vol. 19, Iss. 1/2,  (2004): 6-18.   When friends exchange negative feedback. Finkelstein, Stacey R; Fishbach, Ayelet; Tu, Yanping. Motivation and Emotion; New York Vol. 41, Iss. 1,  (Feb 2017): 69-83
Summary Working 9 to 5 may not be the best way for everyone to maximise their productivity. In this episode we look at the science of chronotypes, and how leaders can use our natural sleep/wake cycles to get the best out of their people.   Transcript Hello and welcome to episode 29 of the Leadership Today Podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. Today we are talking about chronotypes and the perils of working 9 to 5. As you wade into research about patterns in daily productivity, focus and sleep, you find a wealth of information, often confusing and sometimes contradictory. So let’s start with the basics. Chronotypes are used to categorise people based on their sleep/wake cycles across a 24 hour period. There are three main chronotypes - morning, intermediate and evening types. These follow a normal distribution, so 50% of people are classed as intermediate types. But even these intermediate types can have a preference towards morning or evening. Your chronotype impacts when you best exercise, concentrate, eat and sleep - it’s not just a learned preference, it has a biological basis. Hormones are part of that biological basis. For example, the hormone melatonin starts being produced in greater levels by the pineal gland as a person approaches sleep, it peaks during the night, and then more rapidly declines towards waking time. Another hormone, cortisol, follows an opposing pattern - rising as morning approaches, peaking later in the morning, then tapering off towards evening. Cortisol is typically classed as a stress hormone, and you’ve probably only heard bad things about it. But, in moderation, it has a number of positive benefits relating to concentration, energy levels, and positive mood. Peaks in melatonin typically vary by around four hours between morning and evening types.  A morning type could have a melatonin level at 7pm that an evening type doesn’t reach until 11pm. Some research has even seen ranges in melatonin peaks of up to ten hours. You can imagine the impact of forcing morning and evening types to go to sleep or wake at the same time. Yet so often our business hours are a compromise between these two types - 9 to 5. I’m definitely a morning person, and that has become even clearer now I have greater flexibility over my day. This morning preference has also become more pronounced as I age, but more on that soon. In contrast, I remember a participant on a leadership program with a quite different chronotype to me. She really struggled with the program’s 8.30am start time, which was an hour earlier than when she usually got to work. She wasn’t particularly sharp in the morning. While others were asking questions and engaging in activities, this participant took a while to warm up. However, at the very point when most people were fading in the afternoon, this person came into their own - they were asking questions, engaging with activities and were much more physically animated. During a break I asked what her perfect work day would look like if she had absolute freedom to choose. It turns out her perfect work day would be 11am to 7.30pm. In fact she had even suggested these work hours to her manager. This would allow her to get up around 9.30am, and still have time to get to the gym before work. But most of her fellow team members were working 8.30am to 5pm, and her manager thought an 11am start would be too extreme. They ended up negotiating a compromise of 9.30am to 6pm, but it was common for her to work an extra hour or two at the end of the agreed work day when she felt particularly sharp and focused. Interestingly she did work her preferred hours when she worked from home - no one noticed any difference and she felt great. I wonder how much those compromised hours are costing her and the business. The impact of having people working outside their preferred hours is much like crossing time zones - having to wake consistently earlier, or later than our natural biological rhythms. This wreaks havoc on our bodies and health. Even one hour shifts for daylight saving changes mess with our biological clocks, and you can even see the impact of that in mental health and crime statistics. Sleep wake cycles are also linked to age. Teenagers need more sleep, and tend to shift towards later sleep and wake times, achieving what’s known as “peak lateness” at 19 years old. Given this, the optimal school day for most teenagers should start around 10am or even later. As we age, we tend to shift more towards the morning. For example, men on average shift from evening to morning types around 40 years of age. So older workers may prefer an earlier start, but there is a very broad distribution of preferences at any age. As a leader there are a number of ways in which we can take chronotypes into account to support both individuals and the business: Ask individuals - if they could pick their perfect work hours, what would they be? It’s important to not set up an expectation that you can automatically provide these hours, but it’s a great question to gain additional information that could impact rosters and work times. Assess and raise awareness about chronotypes - The Center for Environmental Therapeutics has an online version of the often-used Morning Evening Questionnaire (or MEQ) which can help people to identify their chronotype. I’ve included a link to the questionnaire in the show notes (http://www.cet-surveys.com/index.php?sid=61524). Provide flexibility - encourage people to trial different work hours when they are working at home. Just be aware that, like jet lag, it takes a few days to adjust into a new rhythm. Communicate - like any other diversity in the workplace, there is a risk of misunderstanding. Make sure you communicate when people are trialing new hours so people don’t think the other types are being lazy by either leaving earlier or arriving later than usual. Focus on outputs - measure what people deliver, not how long it takes them or the process. This will provide people with greater flexibility over how they produce results. And chronotypes aren’t just about how you lead others, they’re also important for managing yourself. Here are some things to try if you’re struggling with your sleep/wake cycle: Complete the assessment - find out what your preferred chronotype is. Negotiate work time experiments. Sometimes managers are concerned about making large changes and what that might mean for them and the team they manage. Turning this into experiments may give them more confidence. Even if your new work hours are a complete failure, they can always change back. Go with consistent sleep times - go to bed and wake up at the same times every day. It makes a huge difference in really establishing those rhythms. Make sure you get plenty of light in the morning and not much at night - get outdoors in the morning so your brain and body can synch with sunlight cues, and avoid screens at night. In winter consider bright lights in morning and dimmer lighting in the evenings. Sleep is really tightly linked with diet and exercise, so improvements in these will also help the quality of our sleep.  Read up - there are two really interesting books that I highly recommend around these topics: Why we sleep: The new science of sleep and dreams. By Matthew Walker. It includes some fascinating science, and there’s a particularly great narrator on the audio book - in fact I’ve fallen asleep while listening to that book on more than one flight. When: The scientific secrets of perfect timing. By Daniel Pink. Daniel has a fantastic ability to consolidate a broad range of scientific research together with entertaining stories focused on decision making and chronotypes. Well I hope you found the content in this episode helpful. As always it would be great if you could share the podcast with your friends and work colleagues, and please make contact via the leadership.today website if you have any feedback or questions. See you next week.     Research Find out your type by taking the Morning Evening Questionnaire by the Center for Environmental Therapeutics: http://www.cet-surveys.com/index.php?sid=61524 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4868668/ - Emotion. 2016 Jun; 16(4): 431–435. Published online 2016 Mar 7. Positive upshots of cortisol in everyday life Lindsay T. Hoyt,1,* Katharine H. Zeiders,2 Katherine B. Ehrlich,3 and Emma K. Adam3,4,* https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/the-land-nod/201301/changing-night-owl-lark https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0178782  
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