Archive | March, 2017

adaptability mindfulness leadership

Adaptability: Where Mindfulness Training Impacts Leadership

In my previous article, I mentioned a senior leader with a global accounting firm who credited mindfulness for helping improve her capacity for emotional self-control.

During our discussion, she also explained in detail how this change contributed to greater adaptability. These are both competencies of Emotional and Social Intelligence, and mindfulness training can help with their development.

In this case, emotional self-control increased the capacity for managing unexpected events, which relied in part on an enhanced awareness of how her personal bias, interpretations of past experiences, and subconscious reactions were interfering with the effectiveness of her responses.

The other 41 leaders I interviewed as part of my study also linked mindfulness to the development of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Competency of Adaptability. Adaptability falls under the domain of Emotional Self-Management and is exemplified by a leader being able to work effectively in rapidly changing environments and with diverse groups or individuals. I found additional evidence of this competency during my transcript analysis using the Emotional and Social Competency Indicator (ESCI) model developed by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis. Adaptability has been empirically linked to increased leadership performance and is typically present in leaders who can manage shifting priorities and are capable of adjusting their perceptions and beliefs.

Why Adaptability is important to leadership

In addition to being emphasized by a number of Emotional Intelligence researchers, Adaptability is linked to a variety of key leadership abilities including:

  • Improved ability to lead in challenging environments.
  • More effective and rapid responses to unexpected changes.
  • Effectiveness in multiple roles, functions, and/or different organizations.

Here’s an example of what this looks like. A senior video game producer shared with me how mindfulness contributed to her ability to successfully adapt to disruptive experiences during her career, “…there’s a calmness about it that allows for new innovation…You can still achieve the goal… you just have to be able to change your plans and your actions.”

During our conversation, she shared examples including needing to meet a major deadline following a significant reduction in budget, and managing employee disengagement and attrition following a merger. In these and other examples, she explained how adaptability increased her ability to successfully navigate unpleasant workplace events and interact more effectively with disruptive coworkers. She added that truly being adaptable required her to stay focused on key objectives in the face of unpredictable and sometimes highly volatile situations.

She also echoed what other leaders shared about adaptability; that it is a vital component of both planned and improvisational leadership behaviors.

For example, another participant noted the importance of being adaptable when she developed a plan to address a gap in employee development after assuming a C-level position, “…there was no talent program in place…so I worked with my counterpart in HR and we put something together that the team responded very favorably to.” Adaptability in the form of improvisational leadership behaviors was also described frequently. One leader shared how adaptability played a key role in resolving a significant crisis that threatened project success at a critical moment; “we had a run-in and she had a breakdown…I was able to work through that….and get her back on track…we ended up getting great results.”

Similarly, adaptability can be important in letting go of past accomplishments in order to address the challenges that come with new roles, or shifts in leadership identity.

How Developing Mindfulness can lead to increased Adaptability

Neuroimaging research, like what is summarized in the 2014 HBR article Mindfulness Can Literally Change Your Brain, indicates that mindfulness alters regions of the brain and changes the manner in which neural networks connect with each other. These types of changes may also improve cognitive flexibility, which contributes to improved adaptability.

Similar to the process of athletic training, neuroplasticity is what accounts for the circuitry of our brains being shaped by our experience. In this context developing leadership behaviors such as adaptability is like mental conditioning. It is a conscious approach that allows us to:

  • Identify areas where we need improvement and implement a daily plan of action to address gaps.
  • Regularly assess the alignment of our beliefs and actions.
  • Deliberately refine our ability to identify and develop the best strategies for effectively engaging with different types of individuals in the workplace. As one participant described it, “…I need to flex my style just to be able to adapt to different characters.”

In addition to cultivating adaptability, mindfulness is also linked to the development of Emotional Self-Awareness and Emotional Self-Management. Adaptability is enhanced by these two competencies, since greater emotional awareness enables you to more effectively manage your reactions to situational demands.

In my next article I will discuss the relationship between mindful leadership and the fourth competency in the Emotional Self-Management domain, Achievement Orientation.

Recommended Reading:

AdaptabilityOur new series of primers was created by bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence Daniel Goleman, along with fellow thought leaders in EI, research, and leadership development.

The primers focus on the competencies of Emotional and Social Intelligence in leadership. You can find the first 3 in the series available now: Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, and Adaptability.

culture development

Culture Development: How to Cultivate People for Organizational Success

 

I love the cartoon in which a stalwart CEO sitting behind a desk says to his employee “I want a coherent new corporate culture that will take us into the third millennium and I want it by this afternoon.”

Indeed, culture is at the heart of competitive advantage, particularly when it comes to sustaining high performance. Yet, while business leaders recognize culture’s crucial role, research indicates that fewer than 10% of companies succeed in building a winning culture. 

Notably, there is often a blind spot when it comes to culture development.  Simply stated, it is nearly impossible to develop culture without developing ourselves, the people who make up the organizational culture. 

For precisely this reason, the new book, Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Culture is provocative reading.  In the book, Harvard researchers, Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, deconstruct the cultural assumptions, norms, and behaviors of three highly successful companies who have charted a new and disruptive path to organizational success. Bridgewater, Next Jump, and Decurion provide examples of positive deviance when it comes to people and culture development.

These organizations see culture development as integral to their business success. Everyone, not just leaders or high potentials, in these organizations is engaged in personal developmental practices, such as minding the gaps between where they are currently and where they aim to be relative to any number of Emotional Intelligence Competencies, including Emotional Self-Control.

Kegan and Lahey are co-founders of Minds at Work, which helps individuals, teams, and organizations make personal and collective change. We spoke with a member of the Minds at Work leadership team, Co-Director,  Deborah Helsing. She shared the following illuminating stories of deliberately developmental organizations (DDO’s) and how they embed Emotional Intelligence skill building into their organizational cultures:

Bridgewater

At Bridgewater, an institutional fund management company, people talk openly and honestly about the pain that can be triggered by really looking at our own internal barriers and the root causes for why things happen at work. They refer to an equation to remind themselves and each other why they do this every day:  Pain + Reflection = Progress.

They even have an app that is standard issue on their company-provided iPads, “the Pain Button.”  This tool allows employees to record and share experiences of negative emotions at work—especially times when one’s ego defenses are activated by specific interactions with others. Open sharing of these experiences then triggers follow-up conversations among the parties as they seek to explore the truth of the situation and identify what individuals might do to directly address the underlying personal causes. This practice is aimed at helping people “get to the other side,” a Bridgewater term for working through ego defenses, neutralizing the sting of having your mindset questioned, and coming to actively manage forms of emotional self-protection that will otherwise be barriers to personal growth. 

Next Jump

Next Jump, an e-commerce company, upholds the belief system behind its culture with the equation: Better Me + Better You = Better US. By broadening the notion of a “learning organization,” Everyone Culture makes the case that any workplace can be a site of deep personal development (especially Emotional Intelligence).

The onboarding process at Next Jump gives new employees a very intense introduction to the organizational culture. Because that culture differs so markedly from that of other organizations, Next Jump has found that helping people adapt as soon as they start work is the easiest time to accelerate their growth. 

For their first three weeks, all new employees including those who come with years of experience and success, and who are moving into senior leadership positions attend what Next Jump calls “Personal Leadership Boot Camp,” or PLBC for short.  The program starts with participants learning to identify their character weaknesses, what Next Jump calls their “backhands.” The metaphor comes from tennis.  Everyone has strengths (our forehand), but in order to be a great tennis player, you cannot  rely solely on your forehand.  You must also work on your backhand, the areas where you feel less comfortable, less natural, or less skillful.

Another practice at Next Jump is The Situational Workshop (SW), which leaders of the company believe is among the most effective things they do.  Every week for two hours, five people meet: two different pairs of Talking Partners come together with a more experienced colleague acting as a mentor-coach. Charlie Kim, founder of Next Jump, identifies what he thinks makes this kind of weekly workshop structure powerful:

At this weekly workshop, each of the four of you describe some challenge you’ve met at work in the week and what you’ve done to meet it, or not. You might not be sure if how you handled the situation was optimal or not. The mentor-coach is there to encourage you to reach a higher level of self-awareness, so that you might identify new options for responding to similar future challenges and so avoid reacting in the same old way…. Over time, you see people growing immensely from these weekly sessions. 

As Charlie explains about the SW’s purpose, the focus is “on the training of judgment, rather than on technical training.” As a result, the discourse and pace of a SW can be a bit surprising to a first-time observer. People are identifying “problems of practice,” snags they run into, but the coach’s response is rarely direct problem-solving. All Next Jump’s practices are geared to help people change from the inside out. Solving problems too quickly, without the benefit of uncovering underlying assumptions means You won’t change. If you don’t change, you are most likely going to be reproducing new versions of the same problem you think you’ve already solved.

What it takes

Many workplaces attempt to foster the growth of their employees, but few are deliberately organized to put employee growth at the very center of their mission like these organizations do. Kegan and Lahey describe three dimensions of DDO’s that reinforce one another. Edge, home, and groove. These refer to taking risks in working on a skill that involves self-management (edge), for example, while having the benefit of trustworthy communities (home) and regular practices and routines to establish new habits (groove). These three dimensions’ closely mirror Boyatzis’ Intentional Change Theory, which emphasizes the importance of experimentation and practice within a safe community.

The takeaway here is that wherever you are in your work life you can begin to make meaningful progress toward your own development. For example, find a peer who has a similar intention to strengthen the Emotional Self-Awareness and Emotional Self-Control competencies. Be willing to be vulnerable with one another about the real challenges inherent in change, and look at our own shadows. Commit to weekly or bi-weekly check-ins to build the muscles of EI over time. This small yet powerful step can yield profound results.

If you are a manager or supervisor, you could create your own DDO team. Make time in team meetings to engage in EI skill building. Foster a team culture of non-judgement and psychological safety allowing people to bring their full selves, including growing edges out into the open within the team. Provide meaningful, positive feedback and celebrate small increments of change.

Recommended reading:

Developing Emotional Intelligence competencies is one of the best ways to facilitate culture development in your organization.

Our new series of primers was created by bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence Daniel Goleman, along with fellow thought leaders in EI, research, and leadership development.

You can find the first 3 in the series available now: Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, and Adaptability.

Adaptability in leadership

How to Coach for Adaptability in Leadership

Coaching new school principals, I have come to appreciate the hidden emotional costs to leadership promotion. If I don’t support my leaders to adapt emotionally to their new roles, they are more likely to hit a wall when adapting to the skills of their new job.

Consider Janet. As an assistant principal, she turns every task into gold because of her work ethic, intelligence, instructional expertise, and organizational skills. She earns considerable credibility with her team, and so is a no-brainer successor when her principal decides to move on.

Six months later, Janet is struggling. She works extremely hard and everyone appreciates her level of commitment, but the school is not humming. She is both angered and confused by a growing resistance to the student culture system among the upper grade teachers, and blames the teachers when student discipline begins to slip. There is dissension among the leadership team on how to manage these challenges. She is surprised by what she sees as the weakness of many of her team members, and so finds it easier to take on student challenges herself. And yet, for the first time, she is missing deadlines and dropping balls. How can she get to the adult issues when student challenges take up so much of her time?

I see multiple entry points to coaching Janet, but most will treat the symptoms rather than the disease. If I choose to attack technical skills such as meeting facilitation, difficult conversations or even personal organization, I miss the fact that Janet has failed to adapt to her new position at an emotional level.

Adapting Starts with Self-Awareness

Because leaders like Janet begin a perpetual sprint from the moment they are offered their new job, few take the time to ground themselves emotionally in what is happening to them. William Bridge’s Transitions (1980) is an excellent place to start building Emotional Self-Awareness because it emphasizes that all change processes—no matter how positive—begin with endings and loss. Janet and I begin our work by reading chapter one and talking about endings. I ask her some combination of these questions:

Even when transitions are positive ones, there’s loss. How does Bridge’s theory of endings help you make sense of your principal transition experience so far? What have you lost or had to let go of already? How do you think this has affected you emotionally? To what extent have you been able to let go? What do you think is getting in your way?

Once Janet gets the idea about letting go, she needs help identifying the kinds of things that will get in her way if she doesn’t let go. Charan’s The Leadership Pipeline (2000) is a great place to start. I connect our endings conversation to exploring what’s getting in the way with this quote:

The highest-performing people, especially, are reluctant to change; they want to keep doing the activities that made them successful. As a result, people make the job transition from individual contributor to manager without making a behavioral or value-based transition. In effect, they become managers without accepting the requirements.

Chapter one offers concrete behaviors and values that get in the way of leaders adapting to new stages of leadership. Janet begins to see how her strength as a “doer” is holding her back from leading through others. My job at this point is to help Janet become aware of the values connected to her work up to this point, and then support her to make a conscious choice to shift them. Even when the choice is made, it takes time to unpack the habits, relationships, loyalties, and even character traits that are all pieces of Janet’s former strength.

Self Managing Through the Micro-Moments

Janet will confront countless micro-moments of challenge that are in fact opportunities to shift her deeply ingrained behaviors. Tomorrow she will be drawn to a challenging teacher-student interaction as she walks down the hallway. She can choose to jump in and solve the problem, call the behavioral support staff whose job it is to support teachers, or let the teacher manage his own challenge. Being aware—of the choice and of the emotions and values at play—is the first step. Then, Janet needs some strategies to help her choose new behaviors.

At this point, Janet and I do some aspirational thinking. I learned from Boyatzis’s Intentional Change Model (2006) that exploring the ideal opens Janet’s mind to possibilities that will likely yield effective self-management strategies. As we focus on a specific micro-moment—reactively or proactively—I say to her:

Imagine at this moment that you are able to lead masterfully through others. How would you get yourself to do it? You see that teacher struggling with that student! What do you do with your emotions and desire to jump in? What do you think or do that keeps you from engaging?

Deeply exploring this moment of opportunity allows Janet to identify some things she can do to manage her emotions and her old values and habits, and leverage new ones. She articulates a reminder that her inner coach will chant (“Remember, you are the only person that can lead this school. How many other people can do this work right now?”). She practices taking two deep breaths to ground herself in the moment. She makes a plan to engage her trusted assistant principal as an accountability partner. Janet keeps these strategies on a note-card that she tapes to the back of her iPad. We reflect on application over time, revising strategies as we learn what works, until Janet is consistently making strong choices about the work that she takes on or delegates to other staff.

Slowing your new leader down to reflect on endings, loss and surrendering strengths that no longer serve them is worth it. This coaching will save you weeks or months in new skill acquisition.

Recommended reading:

Our new series of primers was created by bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence Daniel Goleman, along with fellow thought leaders in EI, research, and leadership development.

The primers focus on the competencies of Emotional and Social Intelligence in leadership. You can find the first 3 in the series available now: Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, and Adaptability.

Leader Mindfulness

The Role of Leader Mindfulness in Emotional Self-Control

Leader Mindfulness

The Role of Leader Mindfulness in Emotional Self-Control

by Matthew Lippincott

In my last article, I shared how the head of strategy and business development for one of the largest organizations in the world used mindfulness to help develop greater Emotional Self-Awareness. In my conversation with her, she also explained how this improvement provided her with insight that she used to more effectively manage her feelings and behaviors. This was just one example from my research with 42 senior and executive leaders on the influence of mindfulness on their leadership careers at a total of 83 global organizations.

In my study, I collected extensive descriptions of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Competency of Emotional Self-Control. I also found evidence of this Competency in the  participants through transcript analysis utilizing the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory (ESCI) model developed by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis.

What is Emotional Self-Control?

Emotional Self-Control relates to your ability to control impulsive behavior and not give in to negative emotions or be overly reactive in stressful situations. It is also identified by examples of appropriate action and your ability to remain positive in workplace interactions. As is the case with the other eleven ESCI Competencies, Emotional Self-Control has also been empirically linked to increased leadership performance.

How Improved Emotional Self-Control Impacts Leadership

The leaders I interviewed all provided in-depth examples of mindfulness contributing to the development of Emotional Self-Control. For example, “…before [mindfulness] I would have jumped on a pretty extreme emotional personal roller coaster with her, and viewed everything very, very personally,” and “I’ve learned to rely on my mindfulness to…back off on things…in Corporate America, there are plenty of instances where you just need to let things go.”

Mindfulness is especially helpful with the development of Emotional Self-Control because of the heightened self-observation capability it enables.

This cultivates awareness of the sequence of internal events that occur as you process sensory input (sometimes referred to as stream of consciousness) such as reactions, associations, and judgments that ultimately make up your experiences.

More importantly, developing awareness of this process leads to a more functional understanding of the way your feelings influence the quality of your interactions with others.

In this same context, leaders described improved Emotional Self-Control as having a profoundly positive effect on leadership results, such as:

  • Significant improvement in team engagement
  • Reduction of emotionally influenced bias
  • Less interpersonal conflict
  • More effective management of problems and crises

Emotional Self-Control Improves Communication

The previous types of results begin to occur as you assume more responsibility for the outcome of your communications efforts. A behavioral health solution manager supporting over 60,000 employees for a major hospital network gave an example of this, saying: “Instead of just becoming reactive, maybe being judgmental, I’m more inclined to say to myself, well, are you really sure if you understand what her motive is? What do you think might be going on with this person?… And being more aware of that enables me to respond in a way that’s more effective.”

The interrelationship between mindful, Emotional Self-Awareness and Emotional Self-Control enables the development of an accurate and honest understanding of the way your behaviors are received by others. This is especially powerful in the context of how you would apply various leadership strategies, since many strategies link leader success to follower engagement. This includes whether others fully understand what you are trying to communicate, and their willingness to contribute to your success. From that standpoint, you will realize great value from continuously refining your ability to honestly assess if others align with your intentions, and making sure that your emotions are not interfering with this activity.

During our discussions, leaders shared the importance of being able to understand how their habits of thought, biases, and reactions influenced feelings that were potentially detrimental to their leadership effectiveness. More importantly, they described their transformation into more effective leaders by using this personal insight as a catalyst for change. For instance: “…those situations would arouse rage in me…but now I can see it coming up…and ignore it,” and “…you don’t want to cling to your values forever, if it’s not gonna help the situation… If you want to move forward you have to let go to do that”

Improving Critical Leadership Skills

Leaders described Emotional Self-Control as a real-time capability to observe and manage the way they react to what is happening in their environment. They credited this as contributing to improving their personal leadership capabilities, including:

  • Faster cognitive recovery from stressful experiences
  • Greater ability to accept unsatisfactory circumstances and move forward
  • Improved management of depression and anxiety
  • Increased workplace productivity

A story told by a senior leader at a well-known global accounting firm helps illustrate this process of development. Her initial mindfulness practice helped her recognize something she had been unaware of for years—the negative way in which others reacted to her in meetings. Once she had made the connection between these reactions and unsatisfactory outcomes, she began to actively observe her interaction with others.

Through careful reflection on these experiences she began to see the relationship between her emotional states and the efficacy of her communication. This realization helped her understand the importance of focusing on Emotional Self-Control in the context of cultivating stronger and more effective relationships in the workplace. Through dutiful practice she succeeded in changing her interpersonal behaviors and reported improvement in the quality of her interaction with others: “…people started remarking about it…said, ‘You know what, how come you don’t get angry at all?’”

The Takeaway

In this and many other similar examples, the leaders I interviewed reported that Emotional Self-Control minimized the interference of negative emotional reactions with leadership activities. This improvement then created the opportunity for leaders to engage with others in a more meaningful and effective way. Obtaining these results required ongoing refinement of Emotional Self-Control, which helped leaders with intentional cultivation of other Competencies as well.

In my next article, I will discuss the relationship between mindful leadership and another Competency, Adaptability.

Recommended Reading:

Interested in learning more about how to apply these concepts at work? Our newly released Primers provide a concise overview of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies of Emotional Self-Awareness and Emotional Self-Control, as well as an overview of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency Model itself.

The Primers are created by Emotional Intelligence author Daniel Goleman, with several fellow thought leaders in the field of emotional intelligence, leadership development, and research, including Richard Boyatzis, Vanessa Druskat, Richard J. Davidson, and George Kohlrieser.