Tag Archives: coaching

Coaching Leaders to Value and Manage Their Organizational Webs

 

DeLea is like a spider, aware of even the most subtle vibrations across her web.   She is able to predict how emotional energy will travel across her organizational web of stakeholders when she makes a leadership decision.

When one of her senior managers denies her proposal to implement a progressive reading practice in her school, she positively engages her powerful allies across her web to build support for the new practice.  Meanwhile, she re-engages her manager at the level of values and beliefs that she knows they both hold dear.  As a result, the no turns into an enthusiastic yes in weeks.  On her own team, DeLea meets individually with key influencers about the new practice to hear their point of view and subtly appeal to what they value.  When it comes time to formally make her pitch to her team, many strong voices in the room voice their enthusiastic support.   Weeks later when DeLea hears secondhand about a veteran teacher voicing frustration about the practice in the staff lounge, she knows exactly which teachers, support staff, and parents to engage to head off a potential setback. She also engages the teacher in question with the just-right blend of affirmation and high-candor feedback to begin shifting his resistance.

Isabel, a leader at another school, is like a fly caught in a web.  She skillfully builds the schedule and transition protocols for her school’s extended day program makeover.  However, it never occurs to her to question how people will feel about the new program.  She never asks anyone for feedback or shares any details about the plan until unveiling it in a Friday staff meeting. On Monday she is surprised to hear gossip about how she treats people and how arrogant she is to just ”take over” the extended day program.   Hurt and disoriented, Isabel just didn’t see this coming, and she feels like she’s been ambushed.   Isabel has a new appreciation for those who say that leadership is a lonely path.

What separates DeLea and Isabel is organizational awareness. 

DeLea values her team’s emotional energy.  She reads people, trusts her gut, and actively seeks information about people’s beliefs before she acts.   Isabel doesn’t value her team’s emotional energy and so does none of the things that DeLea does to guide her actions.

How do you teach Isabel to be like DeLea?

The first step is to build Isabel’s awareness that the web exists, and that her success depends on her understanding how it works.  Expect resistance!  Leaders who aren’t aware of the web and don’t value it tend to believe that small interactions don’t matter, and that people won’t find out about what they say behind closed doors.

Some take a values stand against caring about the web.  They won’t stoop to paying attention to gossip.  People should just be adults and get over their own emotional reactions.   These leaders need help seeing the impact of the web on their ability to meet their goals.  Coaches can help leaders to unpack their webs by digging deep into a current or past challenge.  Isabel and I drew a web of relationships on a big piece of butcher paper on her wall.  We named the key players and interest groups on her team, and how they connected to each other.  We thought about each person or group individually in terms of what they valued, their relationships, and their power to either support or challenge progress toward Isabel’s goal.  As we worked, Isabel began to see how her actions created dissonance for her people, and how their reactions were actually consistent with what they valued. Isabel’s biggest a-ha: their actions are predictable!  Her resistance melted away as she began to see the power in predicting her team’s reactions and proactively engaging to avoid being ambushed.

Isabel and I then applied the web to moving forward towards her goal.  We began by identifying her supporters.  She was unpleasantly surprised to realize how few she had.  From there we identified which people or groups were most likely to become supporters with some effective engagement from Isabel.

The key to getting that engagement was Isabel’s ability to figure out what these people valued, and what they needed from her. 

One person valued his standing on the team.  He needed an apology, and to be consulted on the new model.   Another group worried about the impact of the new approach on families.  They needed Isabel to affirm this worry and collaborate with them to find a solution.  Isabel had no idea what several people or groups needed, and realized that she needed to go find out.

Next, we focused on the people in the web who were actively resisting the new system.  I supported Isabel to build some empathy for these people—to see the noble story they were likely telling themselves that justified their actions.  Then I helped her understand the tactics these folks were using to influence other stakeholders across the web.  Again, Isabel had to figure out what these people needed from her to move from resistance to motivation, or at least compliance.

As she brainstormed, Isabel was building new appreciation for the range of influencing strategies she needed to embrace to get her organizational web behind her initiative.

By the time we were done, Isabel had created a complex visual representation of her stakeholders and their values, power, and relationships.  While this was all done in the context of her after-school system, Isabel realized that she could apply most of this map—reactively or proactively—to other leadership challenges.  We continued to use this map, or create new ones, over time as Isabel continued to build her organizational awareness.   Happily, she is no longer the fly caught in her web, and is on her way to becoming the spider.

Recommended reading:

Organizational awareness primerOur new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman, George Pitagorsky, and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. See our latest release: Organizational Awareness: A Primer for more insights on how this applies in leadership.

Additional primers so far include:

empathy in leadership

Empathy in Leadership: Coaching Leaders to Manage Their Stories

 

When leaders struggle with staff morale or direct reports failing to thrive, a lack of empathy is the lead domino.   These leaders forget that, as humans, we tend to make decisions based on our stories about other people.  These stories impact our every interaction with others because we can’t hide the emotions behind them.  Our stories also determine our broader management tactics, which can be as wildly off the mark as our stories themselves.

Negative stories about others that we hold as leaders come from what Heath and Heath call the “Fundamental Attribution Error” (Switch, 2010).   The simple idea:  it is “our inclination to attribute people’s behavior to the way they are rather than the situation they are in” (180). The error, of course, is that situations are far more likely to impact behavior than character traits, and this approach can lead to unnecessary conflict or losing high-potential employees.

The antidote is what I have come to call the noble story. This idea has its roots in the concept of noble purpose, which I learned in my coaching training at the Teleos Institute.  The basic premise is that we all believe we act from “noble” intention, which we can connect to our core values.   If we believe this is true for others as much as it is true for ourselves, then we must call into question stories that assume negative intent.  This offers us a path to connecting with people we struggle to believe in.

Much of my coaching involves helping school leaders connect personally with teachers and parents who have disappointed them, who are actively resisting them, or who just don’t share their race, class, gender, or philosophy.  Empathy comes into play often. A principal’s job is to create the conditions for students and teachers to learn in their buildings, and the core emotional conditions they must create are based on trust through relationships.  You can’t fake caring and trust, so it’s my job to teach principals how to build it with everyone.

The key is to help these leaders replace their negative stories with the noble story that the other person holds about him or her-self.

This line of coaching begins when I hear my leaders start to explain their report’s behavior with their negative stories.  I hear things like, “How is it that an adult who went to college doesn’t know how to ____,” or “he’s not a good fit here because he doesn’t (care/try/believe) enough. “When I hear these kinds of comments I ask the following questions to raise self-awareness:

“How does that story serve you, and how is it getting in your way?” 

 “To what extent do you think that they are aware of how you are feeling?”

“What impact do you think that assumption has on your staff member?”

Leaders usually get to the unpleasant answers themselves, but if they don’t, I remind them of Daniel Goleman’s concept of the emotional loop:  you can’t fake or hide your true emotions.  People know how you feel about them.  And the impact of not being “believed in” on one’s ability to learn—especially when learning includes an adaptive challenge—is debilitating.

From here, we start our work on self-managing stories.  This is where we build the “muscle” to manage negative stories and create noble ones.  The following are steps that any of us can use to develop this muscle.

Showing Up To Connect: A Self-Management Exercise to get to Empathy

  1. List 3-5 things about the other person that is part of your negative story. What are your emotional triggers behind this story?   How can you manage them?
  2. Make a list of the real challenges this person is facing at work and/or in life. Connect each one to an emotion they are likely experiencing that may be contributing to the challenge at hand. What can you genuinely empathize with?
  3. Write a list of at least five aspects of the other’s noble story that you also value. These may include:
  • core values or character traits that you can respect about them
  • current strengths
  • past growth and success
  • the intentions that drive their actions that you can respect
  1. List the things that you want for the other as a person (i.e. as another human being in this world that is trying to do this work and life a happy life).

After taking these steps I ask my leaders to write them as a narrative.   I ask them to share it with me, and then I ask them what emotions they are feeling toward their staff member.   Leaders notice a significant change of emotion from our past conversations, and even from right before doing this exercise. This is a sign of developing empathy, and it comes with a new approach in how the leader interacts with their team.  With this motivation, I charge them with:

  1. Revisiting their “Noble Story” narrative before their next meeting with their report.
  2. During the meeting, asking questions about their report’s own noble story.  Leaders should listen for what they missed or don’t understand, holding the intention of building their noble story.
  3. Affirming what they hear and adding pieces of their own narrative.

Leaders usually report an instant shift in the energy of their relationships.  This is just a beginning of course.  Over time I work with leaders on developing the muscle to hold their story even when people struggle or disappoint them in some way.

Feeling empathy for the people we lead is not the silver bullet to accelerating growth or building team morale, but I have found it to be the foundation for both.  People need to feel that their leaders believe in them and trust them enough to take learning risks.  They also take the cues from leaders about how to treat others.

Recommended reading:

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. See our latest release: Empathy: A Primer for more insights on how this applies in leadership.

For personal interviews, see the Crucial Competence video series!

Achievement Orientation: Coaching Strategies for Insightful Leadership

 

It is true that leaders who struggle to maintain a productive achievement orientation often have technical growth areas related to setting goals, progress monitoring, and analyzing data.  However, there is often a deeper adaptive issue at play that limits the impact of technical skill building when not addressed.

Whether they know it or not, many leaders care less about achievement than they do about other core personal values.  The good news is that leaders can learn to balance these seemingly competing values in their work.

David McClelland’s “Learned Needs Theory” from The Achieving Society (1961) has helped me and the leaders I coach make sense of this phenomenon.   According to McClelland, there are three core human motives:

  • Affiliation – valuing collaboration, relationship, and belonging to a group.
  • Power – valuing competition, recognition, and influencing others.
  • Achievement – valuing setting and accomplishing goals, and receiving feedback on progress.

McClelland believes that everyone values all three motives, but our life experiences and environments make one of them our dominant motive. Leaders who struggle to care enough about achievement are driven by another motive in a way that competes with achievement.  As a coach, it is my job to raise self-awareness about competing motives, push leaders to challenge assumptions about achievement that are getting in their way, and support them in crafting a new values-driven narrative that gets achievement and their other core motive working in harmony.

In my experience, leaders are most likely to struggle to reconcile achievement motive with their affiliative motive.

Paul is a leader I coached who fits this bill.  Paul led a small company with moderate results and was loved by his employees and clients. Still, Paul felt like there was a next level for him as a leader, and so jumped at the opportunity to leave his comfortable position to grow at another high-achieving company.  Within weeks of his arrival, however, Paul’s enthusiasm began to falter. He struggled to implement the company’s coaching system, with its focus on tight, accountable data cycles and direct performance feedback.  When I met Paul, his manager shared that Paul’s feedback often “hid the ball”, and that he was allowing his people to settle for lackluster achievement goals.  Meanwhile, Paul confided in me that his new work felt cold and impersonal. He was worried that his team was becoming discouraged by the impossibly high expectations and constant constructive feedback.

The more stories Paul told me about his performance management practice, the more I suspected that his root issue was competing beliefs. I realized that Paul’s ability to grow depended first on building his awareness about his own values conflict.

To help Paul I began unpacking his meetings with his direct reports that felt off. I asked these questions:

At what point in the meeting did you feel dissonance?   What did your person say or do that triggered that?

How did you feel when this happened? Name an actual emotion. Where do you think this is coming from?

What thoughts were going through your head that impacted your use of the coaching system?

What values or beliefs are under attack for you in this situation?  In other words, what do you deeply believe about the right way to develop people that is being violated here?

When Paul is able to name a deep belief that feels somehow compromised, I share McClelland’s core motive theory with him and ask him, “Based on the conversation we just had, what do you think is most likely your core motive?”  His answer:  affiliation.  At this point, the heavy lifting begins.  I ask Paul:

How do you think this core motive is serving you right now, and how do you think it might be getting in your way?

I follow this question with others that encourage Paul to consider the impact of his actions on his direct reports, on outcomes, and ultimately the impact on himself.  My goal is not to disparage Paul’s affiliation motive (certainly one of his core strengths as a leader), but rather to help him see when it shows up in ways that are holding him back as a leader.

When Paul starts to dig in about people’s feelings, I ask him to consider how his actions now are impacting the feelings of his people.  At some point Paul realizes that the way he currently values affiliation through relationships and nurturing emotional harmony not only impacts outcomes, but actually strains relationships and causes negative emotions. He sees that when he lets people off the hook for achieving goals and sugarcoats performance feedback, he is inadvertently sending the message that he doesn’t believe they are capable of achieving and growing.

Paul is now both confused and ready to re-balance his beliefs about affiliation and achievement.  I help him craft a new values-driven narrative that creates a new leadership path by asking the following questions:

  • What do you deeply believe are all of the conditions people need to learn and grow? Sort them by motive.  You believe all of these things, even if they currently seem at odds.
  • How will you know when some of these conditions are actually getting in the way of growth? What could you do as a leader when this happens? 
  • How will you make yourself lean into the conditions you know some people need, even when they fall into the achievement motive and push up against your affiliative motive?

Paul develops a plan to be aware of when his affiliation motive gets in his way, and to manage his unproductive impulses.  The plan helps him make better decisions about development strategies, because he is now trying to figure out what his reports need to grow rather than what makes them feel good.  With practice and coaching, Paul learns to care about achievement by replacing old assumptions and habits with new ones that balance care for people and performance.

Recommended Reading:

Achievement Orientation

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. The following are available now: Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, Adaptability, and Achievement Orientation, with new releases monthly throughout 2017.

For more in-depth insights, see the Crucial Competence video series!

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.

mindfulness coaching

Mindfulness Coaching: Start with Your Own Journey

mindfulness coaching

Mindfulness Coaching: Practice Makes Perfect

Juliet Adams’s coursework for her Masters degree in training and performance management didn’t include mindfulness coaching. And, it showed. She pushed hard to achieve, and paid the price in stress. Adams worked beyond peak performance. The result? Burnout. Then, she discovered mindfulness. With these practical techniques in her mental toolkit, she was able to recognize that her clenched jaw and raised shoulders meant stress and how to shift out of that.

At first, Adams used mindfulness for her own well-being. Then, her own learning about the impact of mindfulness seeped into her work. Initially, she noticed a shift around how she approached her job. Then, she started to incorporate aspects of mindfulness into her consulting practice. She’s found her clients to be very receptive.

Adams is now the author of Mindfulness at Work for Dummies and Mindful Leadership for Dummies. She is also the founder of Mindfulnet.org and the director of A Head for Work, a leadership and workplace productivity firm. She’s also a contributor to Thriving on Change: The Evolving Leader’s Toolkit. Adams joined More Than Sound founder Hanuman Goleman for a conversation as part of More Than Sound’s “What is Mindfulness?” podcast series.

Mindfulness Coaching in Organizations

How do you introduce mindfulness in an organization? That’s a question Daniel Goleman explores in his article, “Introducing Mindfulness in Organizations.” Goleman shares advice from his colleague and a key adviser to Google’s Search Inside Yourself curriculum, Mirabai Bush. Bush said, “When I meet with prospective clients, I listen not just for what they need – but what they perceive that they need. That helps me determine my approach. There are so many different ways to talk about mindfulness and its effects.” Bush has developed different exercises for use in a range of settings, available in her audio collection Working with Mindfulness.

If you’re in a position to hire a mindfulness coach, the first question that often comes to mind is: what makes a good mindfulness coach? Mirabai Bush offers some insights for organizations looking for such services, and for what it takes to be an effective coach:

Mindful presence

When you’re interviewing potential teachers or coaches, notice whether the person is in the moment, without judgment, and really present for you.

Training

Before people begin to teach mindfulness, they should do significant practice, not just in mindfulness but in teaching mindfulness. There are several reputable training programs available such as Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program.

Experience

Again, teaching mindfulness is different from practicing mindfulness. There are many people who want to start teaching right after they learn it. After spending some time practicing – or even after some formal training – it’s easy to assume, “Oh, I could teach people to sit down and bring their attention to their breath and breathe in and out. Anybody can teach that.” But that is not true.

Coaching style

With mindfulness coaching and training in an organization, you’re asking your team to look inside themselves and begin an inquiry into the parts of our minds, bodies and hearts that most of us ignore most of the time. That’s profound. You really want to have someone you can trust to lead you through that exercise.

What the Research Says

Bush discussed how to apply mindfulness research and techniques in organizations with Jeremy Hunter, Daniel Goleman, Richard Davidson, and George Kohlrieser in the print book, Working with Mindfulness: Research and Practice of Mindful Techniques in Organizations. In that book, Bush and Goleman spoke about their experience of introducing mindfulness techniques to secular audiences – including the US Army. Here’s an excerpt from their discussion:

Mirabai Bush: For a long time there was a lot of resistance to introducing mindful techniques in some of the organizations I worked with. But as soon as people agree to try it, the benefits become very obvious. Participants become more calm, more clear. They begin to have better insight into what’s happening, and they begin to get along better with the people they’re working with. So once people agree to try it, there’s really no problem. But there is still resistance to trying it, although much less since the publication of the neuroscientific research on mindfulness. All the work that’s come from Richard Davidson and others has really helped people get past a certain level of resistance and skepticism.

Daniel Goleman: I can give you a little background on that change. You mentioned Davidson. He is now a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Richard and I were fellow graduate students at Harvard. He was the other one who was interested in meditation. He did his dissertation on attention and so on, and he has gone on to develop a field called Contemplative Neuroscience, which has upgraded the quality of the research on mindfulness and meditation.

Until Richard’s work, frankly, some was great, and some was terrible. Now this research is using fMRIs and state-of-the-art brain imaging. What it’s showing is what we knew intuitively when we were in India, which is that these practices can be quite transformative. And if you practice them a lot, it’s really transformative. If you practice a little, it’s still transformative.

What we found in the research on relaxation was that one of the byproducts of focusing your mind is that your body lets go and relaxes. And the reason it lets go is that one of the things that keeps us stressed is these tight loops of thoughts and ruminations—what’s on my mind, what’s upsetting me—which are hard to let go.

Meditation training, whether it’s mindfulness or any other kind of meditation, teaches you how to drop those upsetting thoughts. Our understanding is that it’s the letting go of those thoughts, putting your mind in a neutral or present place and keeping it there, that causes the body to be able to drop the tension, let go of the stress, and then get deeply relaxed.

mindfulness coaching

We asked leaders who are shaping the mindfulness movement to offer a more nuanced survey of the mindfulness landscape. Listen to the podcasts here.

Mindfulness Coaching Audio Resources

Working with Mindfulness

Cultivating Focus: Techniques for Excellence

Relax: 6 Techniques to Lower Your Stress

Brainpower: Mindsight and Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

Attune: The Role of Focus in Authentic Leadership

Develop a Healthy Mind: How Focus Impacts Brain Function

changing habits

Changing Habits: Know When to Turn Off Your Autopilot

changing habits

iStock/Shivendu Jauhari

Changing Habits: When Autopilot Takes You in the Wrong Direction

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

If you think about it, we live much of our life on autopilot. We’ve developed countless habit loops for daily activities: brushing our teeth, commuting to work, setting our DVRs. Unfortunately, some of our critical decision-making skills also go into sleep mode.

In the workplace, it’s natural to develop decision-making patterns due to time pressures, other priorities, even overconfidence (“I’ve done this before. I’m a pro.”). Our responses to problems or situations become automatic. When X event occurs, pull lever Y to solve the issue.

However, not all obstacles are created equal. A lack of presence around the nuances of a situation can be detrimental to a project – or an organization. Knee-jerk decisions often lead to costly mistakes. “This is how we’ve always done it” leadership mantras can also stifle thoughtful responses to unique challenges.

Fortunately there are several ways to become more aware of your ingrained behaviors and learn more productive ones.

Changing Habits: Find Your Blind Spots

An emotionally intelligent leader can monitor his or her moods through self-awareness, and change them for the better through self-management. But where does one start? How can you identify the areas you need to improve?

One way is to ask others to help you identify your blind spots. Hearing the truth about yourself can be uncomfortable. But self-delusion can derail even the most talented professional. Gather feedback from as many people as possible – including bosses, peers, and co-workers. Seek out negative feedback, even cultivating a colleague or two to play devil’s advocate. Keep an extremely open attitude toward critiques.

Such 360-degree feedback will reveal how people experience you – and provide you with valuable information about how you tick.

Changing Habits: Know How You Process Emotions

Customer complaints, tech issues or office politics illicit different emotional responses in different people. Knowing how you respond to such challenges can help you discover and practice new thought patterns that are positive and productive.

For instance, anger is a common response to office mishaps. Sometimes it’s justified. But will blowing up at a co-worker solve the problem? Will passive-aggressive treatment change the “wrong-doers” actions? Or would taking a five-minute walk help clear your head? After you’ve calmed down, could you talk with your co-worker to get a better understanding of the factors that played into making the mistake?

Remember, we may not be able to choose our stressors, but we can always choose how we respond to stress.

It’s also helpful to understand how our brains process emotions. The emotional centers are in the middle of our brains, especially in an area called the amygdala. In Daniel Goleman’s book The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights, he says,

“The amygdala is a trigger point for emotional distress, anger, impulse, fear, and so on. When this circuitry takes over, it acts as the ‘bad boss,’ leading us to take actions we might regret later…. The key neural area for self-regulation is the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s ‘good boss,’ guiding us when we are at our best. The dorsolateral zone of the prefrontal area is the seat of cognitive control, regulating attention, decision-making, voluntary action, reasoning, and flexibility in response.”

Changing Habits: Stop, See, Choose

Learning to recognize mental and physical signals to emotions play a major role in shifting mental habits. Do you grind your teeth or tap your pen on the table when meetings get derailed? Practice noticing your responses to triggers. Use them as guides to shifting your internal dialogue to a more neutral place. “I’m doing it again. Let me put my pen down, loosen my jaw and count to five. Then I can gently remind the team that we need to stick to the agenda.”

The more you become aware of thoughts, feelings and physical reactions to triggers, the more opportunities you have to practice behavior change.

Changing Habits: Retrain Your Brain

Making change means rewiring our brains by doing and redoing new behaviors, over and over, to break old neural habits and make a new behavior automatic.

One approach is mentally preparing for a task. This activates the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that moves us into action. More mental preparation translates into doing better at the task. And, the prefrontal cortex is particularly active when someone prepares to overcome a habitual response. Without that brain arousal, a person will reenact tried-and-true but undesirable routines. Learning agendas literally give us the brainpower to change.

Even just envisioning new behaviors will help. Brain research shows that imagining something in vivid detail can fire the same brain cells actually involved in doing that activity. Mental rehearsal and experimenting with new behaviors make the neural connections needed for genuine change, but they aren’t enough to make lasting change. For that, we need help from others – coaches, trainers, or trusted peers.

Changing Habits: Real-Time Test

Habit change may be a self-directed process, but it can’t happen in a vacuum. Our relationships with others help us articulate and refine our ideal self, compare it with reality, assess our progress, and understand the usefulness of what we’re learning.

We need to practice new skills with other people – in a safe environment. We need to get feedback about how our actions affect others and to assess our progress on our learning agenda.

Changing Habits: Additional Resources

Brain Science

Brainpower: Mindsight and Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

Develop a Healthy Mind: How Focus Impacts Brain Function

The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights

Practical Application

Mindful Leadership Breakthrough System

Cultivating Focus: Techniques for Excellence

Relax: 6 Techniques to Lower Your Stress

Thriving on Change: The Evolving Leader’s Toolkit

 

 

 

 

 

understanding brain science

Knowledge is Power: Understanding Brain Science Matters in Leadership Development

understanding brain science

Why Understanding Brain Science Matters

In this brief video clip, Daniel Goleman and Daniel Siegel discuss the value of understanding brain science behind effective leadership.

Understanding equals power – the power to recognize ineffective behavior and to choose actions that work. For leaders, this means having access to a range of styles suitable for different situations. Coaches and other leadership development professionals can use knowledge of brain science to target their work, and enhance their credibility.

The Key to Understanding Brain Science: Brains Can Change

A key message from neuroscientific research is that the brain is plastic, changing with repeated experiences, practice, and learning. In Brainpower, Dr. Goleman and Dr. Siegel share insights from leading researchers about how to change your brain through specific training programs.

In a special preview of Brainpower, Dr. Goleman explains research by Jean Decety, a neuroscientist at the University of Chicago, who has shown there are three distinct wiring patterns in the brain for different kinds of empathy. Any type of leadership role requires use of empathy to maintain good relationships. Tania Singer at the Max Planck Institute has designed training programs for the empathy circuitry that produce positive changes. And Daniel Siegel’s “wheel of awareness” exercise helps boost brain integration.

understanding brain science

Preview Brainpower: Mindsight and Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

This excerpt from Brainpower: Mindsight and Emotional Intelligence in Leadership includes two segments from the Lead with Empathy chapter. The first segment features Daniel Goleman and the second is with Daniel Siegel. (Brainpower is also available as an audio download.)

In the first segment, Daniel Goleman uses examples from the daily work of leaders to explain:

  • The three types of empathy
  • How the social brain works
  • Research on the impact of empathy in business settings

In the second section, Daniel Siegel responds to Dr. Goleman’s comments, describing groundbreaking research on the neuroscience of empathy and how to harness the power of the social brain.

Go here to stream a free exclusive excerpt of Brainpower.