Category Archives: self awareness

Reading your environment

How confident are you in reading your environment? Most days I feel pretty confident in my abilities to read the environment….that is until something happens to tell me otherwise.

Just last week I was surprised by a very negative response to an email  I had sent out. My email was meant to address some problem issues that were raised by a group of leaders in our colleges. My boss and I had agreed that I should respond directly to the leaders who had expressed the concern and copy key stakeholders who were impacted most by the issues. The leaders seemed fine with the response, but the stakeholders felt disrespected because they were not consulted first. We misread the environment.

According to The EQ Edge authors Steven Stein and Howard Book,  an “unblinkered reading” of your environment leads to success because it helps you accurately identify and address problems and recognize opportunities. A key emotional intelligence competency, reading your environment, is also called reality testing.

Stein and Book say that “finely honed reality testing allows you to read a group’s emotional climate and the power relationships at work.” It is an important complement to self awareness. While self awareness allows you to, in a sense, take your “internal temperature,” reality testing allows you to measure the “external temperature.”

How is your reality testing ability?  To help you reflect, here are some self-assessment questions that are included in The EQ Edge:

  1. Does feedback from others consistently tell you that your reading of various situations is:
    1. Objective?
    2. Realistic?
    3. Sound?
    4. Seasonable?
    5. In perspective?
    6. On target?
  2. Do others indicate that you tend to:
    1. Overlook difficulties?
    2. Minimize problems?
    3. Make mountains out of molehills?
    4. Sweat the small stuff?
    5. Catastrophize?
  3. Are you often told that you are:
    1. Whistling in the dark?
    2. Dreaming in technicolor?

For question 1) give yourself a score of -2 for rarely, -1 for sometimes, +1 for usually, and +2 for frequently

For questions 2 and 3, give yourself a score of +2 for rarely, +1 for sometimes, -1 for usually, and -2 for frequently.

Total your score. A positive score indicates that your reality testing is headed in the right direction, while a negative score suggests that your judgment may be clouded by fears or wishful thinking.

Reality testing is an important emotional intelligence skill for leaders. Stein and Book say it can help you accurately size up a situation, rather than turn a blind eye or rationalize real problems. It also curtails a tendency to catastrophize problems.

Thinking back to my email, my boss and I were attempting to respond in a timely way and not magnify the issues. Unfortunately, we created a bigger problem by not considering the emotional climate of the stakeholders affected. As we move forward to re-establish trust with those stakeholders, reality testing will be even more critical in our conversations and consultations.

What recent situations have challenged your reality testing abilities?

Anita Rios

 

 

 

 

Do you know your values?

One of the starting points to understanding yourself as a leader is to become crystal clear about your own values. Values are your ideas and deeply held beliefs about what is most important to you in your life. They can include things like achievement, helping other people, fairness, influencing others, and harmony. They are often the silent forces behind many of your actions and decisions.

According to research conducted by leadership gurus James Kouzes and Barry Posner, knowing your values, communicating them, and leading in a way that is consistent with your values, helps you have the most credibility as a leader. The challenge is to make sure that what drives you is not an unrecognized silent force, but is based upon clear values that you hold dear.

So, I’ll go ahead and ask the obvious question. How well do you know yourself? Can you quickly name your top 2 or 3 values?

If not, I’d encourage you to take advantage of one of the many values clarifications exercises that are available. Just 30 minutes of focused reflection can help you clarify your values. Values clarification exercises can be extraordinarily helpful when you are going through a transition in work or life, or when you are investing in your own leadership development.

In the past 20 years, I’ve used several different values clarification exercises when I’m working with groups of leaders. Here is a nice resource from Carleton Community College in Vermont that you can access for free online. Go ahead and try it! It’s worth the time you will invest.

As Kouzes and Posner state in their book The Leadership Challenge,  “To become a credible leader, you first have to comprehend the deeply held beliefs … that drive you. You have to authentically communicate your beliefs in ways that uniquely represent who you are.”

Anita Rios

 

 

 

Which pet are you?

Is your personality more like a dog? A fish? A hermit crab? According to National Geographic Kids, I’m a hermit crab. Apparently I’m adaptable and fit into many settings.  What can I do with this information? Not a lot. As the site says, it’s just for fun.

This week I’ll be co-facilitating with Todd on our Art of Supervision program, which includes several personality-based assessments. In fact, almost all of the leadership development programs I’ve been involved with over the past decade have included assessments to help leaders increase their self-awareness.

No instrument can tell us all about ourselves, and it’s never helpful to put ourselves or others into boxes.  However, I have found that knowing about myself  – how I’m likely to react in certain situations, what energizes me, and how I can contribute in the workplace – has strengthened my core leadership abilities.

Knowing that other people have different strengths and preferences has helped me be a better supervisor and team member. Assessments can help us think about what other people bring to the table, and sometimes they remind us that the other person isn’t trying to be annoying on purpose! Using a well-vetted instrument and working with a qualified facilitator can help you better understand yourself and your impact on others. There are many options, such as those on this list compiled by the Piras Consulting Group.

As you think about the competency of Understanding Self and Others, it might be a good time to take a new assessment or re-visiting an old favorite.

Dee Anne Bonebright

Authentic conversations about difference

Having authentic conversations about difference can be hard. This is especially true in the workplace. Sometimes, leaders can feel like they might say something wrong, so they choose to say nothing. In these instances, they can miss valuable opportunities to increase awareness of racial, ethnic, and gender differences and to create greater inclusivity on their own campuses.

Having spent over a decade in my early career working primarily on diversity and gender equity issues, I know it can feel intimidating to wade into topics of equity, diversity, and inclusion, especially as a white, middle-class woman with privilege. I also appreciate those who work hard to genuinely understand difference and create inclusive work and learning environments.

Understanding and creating a climate where difference is respected and honored is not just a nice thing to do, it has real benefits. Research from Catalyst shows that “employees reported feeling included when they feel both valued for their uniqueness and a sense of belonging. When employees feel more included, they reported being more team-oriented and innovative.”  Authentic conversations where different viewpoints are encouraged and shared and “outsider” perspectives are honored, can set the foundation for building good working relationships, fostering collaboration and resolving conflict.

So, are you wondering how to get an authentic conversation started? If so, Catalyst has created a wonderful tool to help, called: Engaging in Conversations about Gender, Race, and Ethnicity in the Workplace. The 29-page booklet published in 2016 is full of excellent information to help you navigate talking about difference. To give you an idea, here are a few of the conversation starters and suggested actions included:

  • Ask people who are different from me how they experience their own gender, race, or ethnicity—and then really listen to the answer.
  • Talk to my colleagues about what the most salient issues are for different ethnic groups in our country, in our organization, and in our work team.
  • Ask my colleagues what fears or misconceptions prevent them from having discussions about differences.
  • Encourage one-on-one or group discussions about traditionally “unspoken” issues related to race or ethnicity in the culture in which I am working. For example, “I’d like to talk about how we can make our team meetings more inclusive and build trust among teammates. What are one or two issues we need to put on the table, but are usually overlooked or considered undiscussable? Why do we find these issues undiscussable? Why are they important?”
  • Ask my colleagues to think about times when discussing “difference” (in any sense) has led to a positive outcome.

As Catalyst authors say, “Openness and the ability to have difficult conversations are needed to effectively communicate across our differences and build inclusive workplaces.”

In recognition of Martin Luther King day, I want to challenge each of us as leaders to find opportunities to initiate more conversations about difference. Go ahead, try it out in a one-on-one conversation, or your next team meeting. Be bold! Why not think about facilitating a large group discussion about difference in your workplace? You’ll be modeling an inclusive workplace.

Anita Rios

Want to increase your self awareness? Try this!

I have a confession. While I’ve read the research showing that mindfulness meditation practice has the capability of increasing self awareness and leadership effectiveness, I’m rather late to the party. Perhaps my resistance was a result of my introduction to meditation as a high school sophomore.  In gym class we were instructed to sit cross-legged on a mat, close our eyes, slowly breathe in and out, and recite a two-syllable mantra of our choosing for 15 minutes. Needless to say, it felt weird not talking or listening or moving for that long. Plus, I didn’t really understand why sitting with my eyes closed, repeating the word hel-lo was at all useful at the time. I just chalked it up to something that didn’t work for me.

So, many years later, upon the urging of my neurologist, I finally tried it.  Not as a way to improve my leadership effectiveness, mind you, but as a strategy to manage and reduce pain from a head injury. Last November, I picked a free mindfulness meditation app on my phone that promised to work for “fidgety skeptics.” I thought that was an accurate description of me. I was still pretty resistant to practicing meditation, although I fully understood the benefits.

Interestingly, I found that after a couple weeks of using the mindfulness meditation app, I was able to not only increase my awareness of my body and reduce pain by recognizing where I was tensing muscles in my face, neck, and shoulders and relaxing them, but I also increased awareness of my emotions.  I began to recognize emotional triggers faster and manage them better. Rather than reacting in the moment, I found myself stepping back and examining my emotions more often. More important, I noticed that I was choosing my responses more effectively. These were pretty huge benefits from 5-9 minutes of mindfulness meditation a day.

While I’m just at the beginning of my mindfulness practice, I’m looking forward to reaping more benefits from it. According to neuroscience research articulated by a leading mindful leadership program called Id8TE, mindfulness can help to:

  • Increase self awareness and authenticity
  • Train your attention and deepen concentration
  • Improve critical thinking, planning, and decision making
  • Increase working memory and attention span
  • Sharpen situational awareness
  • Communicate thoughtfully and strategically
  • Respond to adversity with strength and resilience
  • Establish a calm and compassionate leadership presence
  • Attract, engage, and mobilize others

Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? If you’re not already practicing mindfulness or you’re a fidgety skeptic like me, I’d encourage you to give it a try. There are many mindfulness apps you can download right to your phone these days, like: The Mindfulness App, Headspace, Calm, Mindbody, buddhify, Insight Timer, Smiling Mind, Meditation Timer Pro, Sattva, Stop Breathe & Think, and 10% Happier.

At a basic level, mindfulness helps you pay attention to and recognize your thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. Recognizing your feelings is especially helpful.  As emotional intelligence guru Daniel Goleman says, “Without being able to recognize your feelings, you can’t control them. This inevitably effects your disposition–and output–at work.”

Anita Rios

Use your action verbs!

One of the competencies included in “Understanding Self and Others” is understanding one’s role in the organization. When I first started working here I got a good lesson in how that works.

Anita, my new supervisor, asked me to write a list of goals to discuss at one of our first meetings. I came in with the list, and she rejected it! I had written about how I would “support” this program, and “provide resources for” that team. She told me that I had been hired for a leadership position and I needed to start describing my role that way.

It was a very useful exercise, that I still think about 5 years later, to re-write that list describing my role as “managing” the program and “leading” the team. When we talked about it yesterday, Anita didn’t remember the conversation. But it was very helpful to me in growing into my  new role.

Words matter. Over the next few weeks, think about  how you describe your work to others. Equally important, listen to how your people describe their roles. It’s one way to be sure people feel ownership over their work and are clear about their roles.

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

Asking great questions

Best of HigherEDge, first published on April 29, 2013

Here’s another blog post on asking questions, just to sweeten the pot! In my mind, it’s a topic worth thinking about. The best leaders don’t have all the right answers, but they do ask the right questions. — Anita Rios

“I have learned that leadership is not about knowing all the answers. It’s about knowing what great questions to ask, and carefully listening to those answers.”      – Patrick Thng, managing director, Development Bank of Singapore

As we end our month focusing on effective communication, it’s important to remember that one of our best tools in leading others and communicating effectively is in asking great questions.

In his book, “Leading with Questions,” Michael Marquardt describes how leaders are able to transform their organizations just by asking questions that empower others. It’s a fantastic resource that I would encourage all leaders to read.

Great questions cause people to focus and stretch, they create deep reflection. They can challenge assumptions or generate positive action. Here are some examples of great questions that Marquardt provides in his book:

  • What do you think about…..?
  • What possibilities come to mind?
  • What do you think you will lose if you give up..[the point under discussion]?
  • Can that be done in any other way?
  • What other options can we think of?
  • What is stopping us?
  • Can you help me understand….?

It seems I was born asking the question “why?” so asking questions comes naturally to me. Still, I find that I must work continually to ask great questions that will help inspire, motivate, and empower others. What questions have you used that have been effective in leading others?

Anita Rios

Happiness fuels success!

Best of HigherEDge, first published on June 22, 2015

I’ve been focusing a lot on gratitude lately and it’s power to unlock healing, happiness and success. In fact, in the last week I’ve shared Shawn Achor’s concept of 3 Gratitudes with several colleagues and friends who are struggling with depression and maintaining happiness during this busy holiday season. You can see more in the blog post from 2015 below. Here’s a quote from Melody Beattie that captures the power of gratitude.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”

Anita Rios

According to Harvard researcher and author Shawn Achor, most of us have the formula for success backwards. We think if we work hard, we will be successful and that our success will lead to happiness. Think about it. Have you ever thought happiness would follow after getting that next great job or promotion? Maybe it did briefly, but was it really lasting?

Recent discoveries in neuroscience,  positive psychology, and management studies actually prove the opposite to be true. Our happiness fuels success. When we are happy, we are more productive and successful. In fact, being happy increases the levels of dopamine in our brains. And dopamine makes our brains 30% more efficient. So what does this have to do with driving performance, both our own and the performance of our teams? Quite a bit actually.

Achor explains in his 2011 Ted Talk, that only 25% of job success is predicted by IQ. The remaining 75% of job success is predicted by three key factors:

  • Optimism levels
  • Social Support
  • Ability to see stress as a challenge, rather than a threat

So knowing that optimism levels (aka happiness) fuels success, what can you do to increase the optimism levels of your team? Achor suggests that everyone needs to start with themselves first, saying that positivity and happiness can be contagious. He outlines several practices that can help you rewire your brain’s ability to see things positively.

  1. 3 Gratitudes – every day for 21 days, write down 3 new things you are grateful for
  2. Journaling – every day write down one positive experience you’ve had in the last 24 hours (this helps your brain re-live the experience)
  3. Exercise – choose something you like to do each day (exercise boosts mood and performance)
  4. Meditation – spend just 5 minutes a day meditating, praying, or just listening to yourself breathe in and out  (this helps your brain to focus)
  5. Conscious Acts of Kindness – write and send one positive email to a colleague each day (doing something good for someone else increases your own positivity)

This week I’m committing myself to the 3 Gratitudes and a Conscious Act of Kindness each day to increase my happiness and boost my performance. I’ll let you know if my team notices the difference and it begins to spread.  I challenge you to join me!  Go ahead, choose one or two strategies to increase your happiness and see what happens.

Anita Rios

Blind spots

Best of HigherEDge, first published on January 9, 2013.

We had our first snow and ice of the year and the news has been filled with reports of car accidents and spin-outs. It reminded me of this post. I hope those of you in the midwest scraped your windows so you could avoid a crash due to a blind spot.   Todd Thorsgaard

Has this happened to you? You are a good driver, you have the best intentions, and you are paying attention and following all the rules, yet when you signal your lane change and start to move – suddenly you hear a horn honking! Next comes screeching brakes or a crunching sound and an impact. What happened? There was a car in your blind spot.

As leaders, we also have blind spots. Have you ever been surprised by how people on your team react to something you have said or done? Are there times when the pep talk you gave to help motivate someone or the wise piece of advice that you knew was exactly what your team member needed didn’t have the effect you intended?

I still remember the reaction I got from teammates in one of my first jobs after graduate school. My boss called me into her office for my 30 day check-in. I was meeting all my initial goals and I was providing good consulting resources, but my colleagues had shared that they did not think I valued their experience and they didn’t like my “attitude.” I was crushed! I respected them and was so happy to be working on a high performing committed team. What was going on? It was a blind spot. I had just spent a period of time in graduate school where we were expected to always ask critical and probing questions, on every idea raised by anyone. I thought I was demonstrating respect and letting my colleagues know how much I valued their experience and insight by asking questions and seeking to better understand what they were sharing. What they were feeling was that I was challenging their ideas and didn’t trust their experience!

Leadership is a two-way street filled with people. As Anita described in her last post, successful leaders need to understand how their actions impact others.  The Johari Window, a tool created by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in 1955, highlights that we need feedback to better understand ourselves and to minimize our blind spots. (click on image to enlarge)

johari-window2

Increased self-understanding leads to greater effectiveness in leading others.  I needed to ask my boss in that new job what was happening, why were people reacting the way they were? I was unaware that when I immediately responded with a question to a colleague’s idea they felt like I didn’t value their expertise. It felt attacking. I was destroying trust while I blindly thought I was engaging in a spirited debate. Now, as a leader, my natural style is to focus on facts and reasons and I can be blind to how that feels to people on my team. I have learned that I need to continually seek feedback from others on the impact of my actions. Luckily I also have a trusted relationship with my current manager and I am able to ask about my blind spots and the impact they have on my leadership.

What leadership blind spots have you discovered in yourself? How can you invite feedback from others or gain more self-awareness?

Todd Thorsgaard


The problem is not the problem….

Best of HigherEDge, first published on June 24, 2013.

Interestingly, this post from 2013 is one of the most-read on our blog. I’m not sure if it’s because of topic or the fact that it contains a nice photo of Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. Still, the core message is enduring. While we can’t always control the circumstances we are in, we can control our reactions. This lesson has been even more important to me personally as I’ve worked the last 15 months to recover from a brain injury and tried to choose gratitude each day, rather than anger and frustration or sadness and a positive attitude, rather than a negative one. It’s made all the difference in the world. – Anita Rios

Ok. I have to admit that I’m not your usual Pirates of the Caribbean fan, but I do love this movie quote from Captain Jack Sparrow. Let me explain why. A few months ago, I experienced a few big disappointments. I know my natural response to those disappointments could negatively impact my team, their productivity, their confidence in me, and as a result,  their service to others. (If you recall Dee Anne’s blog about mood contagion, she outlines why it is so important for leaders to maintain a positive attitude and how it impacts our service to our customers.) I used this picture and quote as a daily reminder to keep my focus on maintaining a positive attitude, even though my gut reaction was exactly the opposite. I can’t say that I was successful every day, but this daily reminder helped me to focus on what I could control: my reactions.

Shawn Achor, one of the world’s leading experts on human potential, takes this idea further in his book The Happiness Advantage. Drawing from positive psychology, Achor builds a case that positivity or happiness fuels success for ourselves, the people we lead, and our organizations. He says that, “when we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive at work.” He also demonstrates how this discovery has been borne out by research in neuroscience, psychology, management studies, and organizations around the world.

He outlines seven principles in his book:

  1. The Happiness Advantage: how happiness gives your brain and your organization the competitive edge
  2. The Fulcrum and the Lever: changing your performance by changing your mindset
  3. The Tetris Effect: training your brain to capitalize on possibility
  4. Falling Up: capitalizing on the downs to build upward momentum
  5. The Zorro Circle: how limiting your focus to small, manageable goals can expand your sphere of power
  6. The 20-Second Rule: how to turn bad habits into good ones by minimizing barriers to change
  7. Social Investment: why social support is your single greatest asset

If you’re trying to lead and excel with increased workloads, stress, and negativity or you want to build on a positive culture you have developed, I encourage you to pick up a copy of Achor’s book.

What strategies do you have for cultivating happiness and a positive attitude in yourself and others?

Anita Rios