Growth Mindset

August 4, 2014 § 8 Comments

2 TrainsRemember the SAT math problem that starts out something like…

“Two trains are traveling towards each other from two cities 390 miles apart.  Train #1 left it’s city at Noon and travels at a rate of 52 miles an hour……”       For some of us (me included), I get anxious just reading this, and often reflexively think: “I can’t do these!”   What we tell ourselves in the face of challenge, can be categorized into one of two mindsets: Growth or Fixed. Some examples of each:

Fixed Mindset:

  • Failure is a sign of weakness.
  • Anything less than perfect is a failure.
  • Only weak people can’t solve their own problems.
  • I can’t do it (math, finance Tango….).

Growth mindset:

  • Exerting effort is the way to get better.
  • Setbacks are an integral part of learning.
  • I can find help to figure this out.
  • I can’t do it, YET.

Khan Academy Research:

Research was carried out with over 250,000 students taking Khan Academy, online math courses. Some of the students were presented with a message on their study screen that said: “When you learn a new kind of math problem, you grow your math brain!” These students increased their rate of mastery by 3%. Those that received a message that said: “Some of these problems are hard, just do your best,” showed no increase.

Take Away:

You can help your team adopt a Growth Mindset culture by practicing the “Yet” intervention: If one of your colleagues says, “Oh, I just can’t do this budgeting stuff,” all you do is pipe up. Don’t be afraid of an irritable reaction. You are confronting a long held belief, and human nature is to defend the status quo. Just be consistent in your response, and they may very likely catch your disease.   And, by the way, you can do the same for yourself.

For more on growing a positive mindset:

Rodin Thinker

When a Good Thing is Too Much

February 26, 2014 § 4 Comments

EQ-i 2.0 Model PictureAs a measure of your Emotional Intelligence (EI) Multi Health System’s EQ-I 2.0 is a valid and reliable tool, and the one I prefer to use most in my assessment work.

EI is now widely accepted as an important & critical factor in our success, happiness, and the sin qua non for how we are viewed as a leader, partner and parent.  Over the past six years I’ve worked with hundreds of seasoned and emerging leaders who look at their EI assessments to see how high they scored– or could have scored – on the 15 competencies.  Like IQ, the EQ-i normalizes at 100, with 150 being the tippy-top of ability in any of the 15.

All of my clients want to be the best they can be, but I caution them: If an EI competency isn’t BALANCED with others, a derailment could be imminent in ANY part of  life at work or home.

Train Derailment

Below are descriptions of what it looks like to others when you overdo, or misapply important EI skills:



  • Self Regard:  “Blind to personal feedback;  Arrogant.”
  • Self Actualization (pursuing meaningful goals): “Leaves others in the dust.”
  • Emotional Self-Awareness:  “Too much focus on the ‘me.'”
  • Emotional Expression: “Too much emotion, at the wrong time.”
  • Assertiveness:  “’My way or the highway” attitude.”
  • Independence: “Not a team player; doesn’t accept help.”
  • Interpersonal Relationships: “Avoids difficult conversations for fear of upsetting others.”
  • Empathy: “Gets too caught up in others’ strong emotions. Catches their ‘dis-ease.'”
  • Social Responsibility (team player): “Gives up on their own needs.”
  • Problem Solving (staying focused when emotions are in play): “Ignores feelings; Impersonal.”
  • Reality Testing: (Seeing things as they are, not what one wants them to be): “Relies too heavily on what is versus what could be.”
  • Impulse Control: “Too thoughtful, slow, analytical.”
  • Flexibility:  “Gives in too much, wishy-washy.”
  • Stress Tolerance: “Too laid back & out of synch with the situation.”
  • Optimism:  “Sets goals that are unrealistic.”

As stated, balance is everything.  For example, it’s great if you’re above average in Assertiveness. After all, Winston Churchill did say: “You have enemies? Good. That means you stood up for something in your life.”  But you need to temper it with Empathy, Impulse Control and Flexibility.  After all, not every disagreement you’re in needs to be treated like your playing for the World Cup.

You Should Find Your X-Spots

February 22, 2014 § 3 Comments

X Spot-Boston MarathonThe 26.2 mile marathon is a physical and mental endurance event. What’s amazing is that near it’s end, as exhausted as runners are, when they have line of sight of the finish line they speed up and sprint to the end!  Dr. Lewis G. Maharam, board chairman of the International Medical Directors Association calls this the “X-Spot.” It is the place “where runners first see the finish line and know they are going to finish.”

The X-spot, is where the brain sees its dear goal so close to being achieved. It then releases adrenalin and other chemicals that serve as accelerants and give the mind and body the energy and ability to achieve (like the stories we read of wives, mothers and daughters lifting cars off trapped loved ones).  The X-spot phenomena is so powerful and predictable, it’s the place Maharam recommends marathon paramedics station themselves to provide 1st aid.  In 2011 alone, Maharam had ten successful resuscitations at the X-spot.

When the brain learns what WAS POSSIBLE has NOW BECOME PROBABLE, it does all it can to make you get there.  It happens at work too.  Just think how you’ve felt when an important project neared it’s end.  Relieved perhaps, but also very motivated to get it done.  Like football running backs who run harder and faster the closer they get to the end zone.

We can use this natural process to help accelerate our abilities to be better leaders.  If it’s true that the closer we perceive success to be, the faster we move towards it,  then we need to find our  X-spots early and often.

For example,  let’s say you believe it’s important that you become more appreciative of those that work for you/with you (if you don’t beleive it, you should!)…then,

  • At the end of a day, make a list of 3 people who did something you liked that day.
  • Leave that short list on your desk.
  • Start the next day with a note of thanks or praise to one of those people.
  • Repeat this for 21 days for it to become a habit of appreciation.

The result:

  • You will be achieving goals that are important to you.
  • This will make you feel happier and stronger.
  • High performers prefer to stick around leaders who feel happy, strong and appreciate them.

X tic tac toe

Bait the Hook to Suit the Fish

November 12, 2013 § 6 Comments

Bait the Hook to Suit the FishMoving the mindset of another can be difficult, if not maddening at times.  What makes clear sense to me creates shock and resistance in another.  One of the greatest lessons my two children have taught me is how important it is to be thoughtful of who it is I’m trying to influence and how they like to be approached. And usually it’s different. What works with one, won’t work with the other. I’ll admit: It hasn’t been an easy lesson to learn.

50 years of research done by TRACOM GROUP has revealed that people prefer different types of communication.  They have identified four distinct ways of interaction, or four SOCIAL STYLES :  Analytical, Expressive, Amiable and Driving.

My oldest has an Analytical style of interaction. She prefers accuracy, logic and a measured, reserved pace.  For her to make a decision, adopt a new viewpoint, or change direction, she needs not to feel rushed. Her need for information, sometimes a lot if it, needs to be satisfied.  Reducing the emotional content and avoiding opinions allows her to be open to, and accepting, of new ideas.  In an influence situation, the best thing I can do for my favorite child is to give her information and give her time to digest and prepare.

On the other hand, her brother, my other favorite child, is Expressive Styled.  He hungers for the sharing of feelings on an issue, a quick paced, spontaneous interaction, and a reliance on making decisions based on a gut feel.  When I get into the small details (something I personally like to do)  he feels overwhelmed, frustrated and is quick to reject and move on.  Personal recognition – especially as it relates to him and the issue at hand –  carries a lot of weight.  When he gets it, it leaves him more open to my viewpoint. Typical of the Expressive Style.

You can learn more about the communication needs of these SOCIAL STYLESand about the Amiable and Driving Styles by visiting TRACOM’S website. My biggest take-away with my experience and use of the SOCIAL STYLES model is – in an influence situation –  de-focus on the Golden Rule and put more valence on the Platinum Rule:  “Do Unto Others As They Would Like To Have You Do Unto Them.”

In other words, as Dale Carnegie said: “Bait the hook to suit the fish.Shark Feeding

Clear Thinking & Healthy Anxiety

October 21, 2013 § 4 Comments

Clear ThinkerThe Rabbis of the Talmud debated what were the best qualities towards which a person should strive.  Five of the answers offered were, unselfishness, goodwill,  kindness, helpfulness, and friendliness.  Rabbi Shimon digressed with a different view of what we should aspire to as a best quality: “the ability to see the not-yet-born.”

Shimon believed in the importance of thinking ahead, with a healthy consideration of all things that could go wrong.  Like the Boy Scout motto – “Be prepared.”

Consider driving a car: While driving through a residential neighborhood you look ahead and see a group of kids playing ball on the sidewalk.  You register this and  think about a possible missed catch and a child running after a ball into the street.  In milliseconds, the defensive driver will:

  • Take the foot off the gas pedal, and place it over the brake,
  • Check the rear view mirror to see if a car is behind (in case of a quick stop),
  • Look for room to swerve, and
  • Be ready to honk the horn.

999 out of 1,000 times, the ball stays off the road and a child is safe, but when that one time happens, the defensive driver is prepared and ready to avoid an accident.  This is wisdom.

A healthy dose of anxiety is normal, helpful, makes us good people (Rabbi Shimon), keeps us wise, on our game, and performing well.  Often experienced as a mild wave, belief in a future threat (anxiety) propels us to anticipate the child in the street, or practice and prepare before a presentation.  But sometimes, our overactive mind leads us to catastrophizing by creating beliefs about upcoming situations that are not necessarily true:

  • “This is not going to go well”
  • “There’s just no way I can take on any more”
  • “They’re going to think I’m boring”
  • “This isn’t perfect & they’ll see me as a failure”
  • “My boss will never go for it”
  • “I’ll never be able to learn this new system”

These  beliefs of “not-yet-born” events may not necessarily be true. In fact, they most often are not.  We jump to these conclusions and associate them with our survival.  Besides wreaking biologic havoc on ourselves, cognitive distortions, such as catastrophizing, makes it difficult for others to follow us.

Emotions are neurogically contagious.  If your boss has the flu, where do you want him?  Same place you want him if he’s a worrier:  Not near you.

A clear thinking leader challenges and regulates their own thinking by reality checking their beliefs. If you can catch and readjust yourself in the moment, great.  If not, do a post-hoc analysis and pressure test the beliefs that were blowing you over. If your pitch wasn’t perfect – do they really see you as a failure now?  The key is that the more you think about how you think, the more you will be able to regulate your emotions when they begin to lead you awry.

Motivational lessons from Betty Crocker, IKEA & the Industrial Revolution

April 13, 2013 § 11 Comments

BCCakeMixIn 1952, the Betty Crocker brand rolled out its Cake Mix.  A powder in a box that housewives were asked to add in water, mix, put it an oven, and voila, they would have cake. This was predicted to be a popular product.  But as it turned out, it wasn’t.

Research was done and findings showed that the problem wasn’t the cost, taste, texture or look of the product.  Also, no problem with the “fresh, home-made” quality, as advertised. The problem, according to the psychologists, were the eggs. They found, that for the housewives, it was too easy a cake to make.  They weren’t putting in enough effort.  It was so easy, that nobody could serve cake to their guests, feel ownership, say “here’s my cake!”  It felt like someone else’s.  So what did Betty Crocker do? They took the eggs out of the powder. The act of breaking eggs & adding them turned sales around dramatically.

It’s like the IKEA effect.  People compliment me on my new bookshelf unit.  I know it’s cheap furniture, and I don’t particularly enjoy putting it together, nor would I give the logo-ikea-atlantainstructions an A+,  but I am guilty of feeling proud when I hear the compliment.  And I love the unit!  The fact is, I (and you) tend to love stuff more when we put more effort into it. It’s like me with my 16 year old son.  If you asked me how much money I would want in order to agree to sell him to you, I would say you’re crazy.  Not for $100 million! (on a good day).  But if he wasn’t my son, and I had the occasion to meet him, and spend a day with him, and then you offered to sell him to me what price would I pay to be his father? Would $100m reflect the value I believe I would receive? I won’t answer that, but you get the point.

So, what does this mean to us as leaders and managers?  The great economist, Adam Smith, wrote about a pin factory.  He said that it takes 12 steps to make a pin. Smith also said that when one person does all 12 steps, production is low, but if we have an assembly line with 12 experts in a row, production increases by a lot.  Thus the Industrial Revolution was spawned.

However, this situation also produces alienation and disengagement from work, and in the case of the pin factory, the workers eventually don’t care as much about the pin as the craftsman who made a whole pin.  In the 18th and 19th centuries, this was a manageable problem. At the end of the production line, there was a quality control guy who threw the rejects into a bin.  My manufacturing and engineering friends – and likely the rest of us – now know this is not the best way to make stuff.

The reality of the 21st century is that we have switched to a knowledge economy, where meaning may be more important than (or at least equal to) efficiency.  People now have to decide more on their own, and as boundaries between personal and work time blur, how much of our effort, attention, focus and heart go into our work as we live our lives? What helps us stay engaged and motivated?

So, when thinking about motivation, think more than $.  Think meaning, challenge, ownership, identity and pride. From what I’ve seen, when those are in place, you also get more productivity.

For more on this, visit the TED Talk that inspired this post:  Dan Ariely’s TED Talk: What Makes us Feel Good About Our Work.


Lead With A Story – Not A Spreadsheet

February 9, 2013 § 2 Comments

lead+with+a+storyFor more than twenty years of teaching and facilitating corporate leadership programs, I’ve had the privilege to experience officers as they visited and spoke to my classes. They were there to present and connect with very important populations – the ones who manage the front lines of large, global organizations.  Until a few years ago, these incredibly smart and experienced executives pretty much followed the same path with their pitches:

  • “Good morning, I’m (name),
  • “I started in (company)  in  (year), “
  • “First, I worked as (role)  in (sub-business), then moved to (another sub- business) where I eventually took over running (current major responsibility).”
  • “Let me show you what we do in our business (show slides of products and services most everyone in the class knows about – really well).”
  • “Here’s how we’ve done on our key measures (show finance slides showing a 5 year progression on revenue, cash flow,  margins, etc.).”
  • “Our challenge is to grow (key measure), and it looks like we’re on track (describe broad strategy).
  • (30 minutes later) “What questions do you have?”

Get the picture?  The irony is that to get to their level, these men and women had to have accomplished a lot, overcome a lot, experienced a lot.  A lot that others could learn9781596591318 from.  Yet from the back of the class, what I saw was disconnection. In the 1990’s I saw copies of newspapers on participants’ desks getting furtive glances; later it was  Blackberries held under the desks.

That was then. Today, many of the most successful organizations are using storytelling as a key leadership tool.  Companies like General Electric, Proctor & Gamble, Microsoft, FedEx, NASA, The World Bank and others are intentionally helping their leaders learn to lead with stories instead of bullet points. Goodbye Power Point. Hello Corporate Officer and your stories.  Hello stories that captivate, engage, and persuade.  Stories that teach lessons about:

  • Learning from personal failure,
  • Integrity,
  • Making tough decisions,
  • Balancing people with profit,
  • The necessity of a clear vision & purpose,
  • The importance of inclusion,
  • External focus and what serving a customer means,
  • The challenge of those first 90 days on a new job,
  • Heroes and what they achieved,
  • Positional power not being enough to influence commitment.

When the stories are structured and told well, you can feel the engagement in the room.  For me, it feels like I’m a kid again. Wide-eyed and wanting to ask  “… then what happened next?”

I’ve been inspired to decrease the Power Point, and use more storytelling in my classes. More fun for me, more emotional movement for them.  I use my own stories and the stories I heard from others.  I also use the stories from Paul Smith’s book: Lead With A Story. He shares true stories that any of us can use to inspire & lead others.  BIG HELP:  Paul indexes his stories based on common leadership themes (Culture, Values, Diversity, Customer Service, Leading Change, Policy, etc.).  He also teaches how to structure your own story to capture attention (think Hollywood).

From Paul’s book, here’s a story I use when I teach Global Effectiveness. It demonstrates the importance of knowing the local culture in which you work.  It’s a story told often by P&G CEO Bob McDonald when he speaks to execs operating in different countries:

AT 5.46 A.M. on January 1995, a massive earthquake shook the city of Kobe, Japan, killing 5,000 people, and leaving 300,000 injured or homeless.  Measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale, it was the worst earthquake Japan had experienced in 70 years. One of the hardest hit parts of the city was Rokko Island, a man made island about 2 miles square that sits 500 yards off the southern coastline, in the Port of Kobe.  It’s connected to the mainland by only two bridges.  Both were heavily damaged by the quake, and impassible.  For several days people on the island were unable to leave, and food and supplies were slow to get in. P&G’s Northeast Asia headquarters is located on Rokko, as are the homes of many of it’s employees who work there.

During the days after the quake some of the only accessible food was vending machines.  When a vending machine was found working, a line would quickly form in front of it until its contents were gone. At one such machine, on P&G grounds, one of the men lined up was an expat manager from the United States on a temporary assignment in Kobe. When he finally reached the front of the line, he purchased four beverages – one for each member of his family-and then left. If he had been more observant, he would have noticed that everyone else in line purchased only one beverage and then went to the back of the line to wait for an opportunity to buy a second or third.

Fairness, and attention to the group is an important part of the Japanese culture.  Everyone in line surely would have preferred to purchase several items at once.  But out of respect and fairness to others, they waited in line for each purchase.  And while the expat manager didn’t notice what the Japanese employees did at the vending machine, they certainly noticed what he did.  Even in this most extreme situation-when a man could surely be forgiven for thinking of his family first-his behavior was viewed as dishonorable.  Long before the office was repaired and ready to resume operations, word had spread of his misdeed. His reputation was damaged to the point that he could no longer function as a leader.  You can’t lead a group of people that doesn’t respect you.

Thank you Paul for teaching us how to lead, one story at a time.