Feeling stuck? Funny how we think of plateaus in a negative light. Plateaus can actually be perfect for resting and absorbing the surroundings – taking it all in, 360 degrees around. But plateaus can grow stale quickly. What comes next? Is there another, higher level you can reach? Will you have to backtrack or go downhill for a while before scaling that next peak? Career plateaus allow us to regroup and focus our thoughts, but it can be awfully tempting to enjoy that plateau for too long, and that can cause opportunities to be missed.
Sometimes we know we’ve hit a career plateau and we don’t like it because we feel like there’s no possibility for further upward achievement. When this happens, that plateau, even if it has some pretty nice vistas, will begin to feel like a trap. Will changes mean you lose status you’ve worked hard for? Will you let colleagues or family members down if you pursue change? Will you let yourself down if you keep things the way they are? Here are some thoughts on dealing with career plateaus.
Are You Reaching YOUR Potential?
Perhaps the most important question to ask yourself is whether you are reaching your potential. Most people in your position may pursue a particular career direction, but that doesn’t mean that it’s right for you. It’s essential that before determining how to deal with a career plateau that you take a personal look at what success means to you. It may point you in a different direction than others in your field, but that’s OK. Success is personal, and so is your path for getting there.
Managing your career is your responsibility, and you probably have more control over your career direction than you think. Take a fresh look at your career, including your core personality, your ability to perform essential tasks, and your demonstration of character and leadership. Begin with an honest look at your current professional situation.
Accurately Assessing Your Current Situation
You know you have reached a plateau, but what are the characteristics of that plateau? What are your three greatest strengths and your three greatest weaknesses? Identifying these can be challenging, and it’s fine to ask others for help as long as you trust them to be honest. Meaningful reflection is definitely involved along with gathering feedback.
Accurate assessment of your current situation must account for the here and now, because careers and industries evolve. A skill that was critical ten years ago may have been supplanted by something else. A new regulation may require that things be done differently than they were when you started out. Assessing your career situation requires humility, but it also requires you to recognize what you do well. Knowing what you do well can help impart the confidence you need to confront your shortcomings and blind spots and move past them so you can move beyond the career plateau you’re on.
Do You Know the Critical Tasks You Need to Master?
What critical tasks are essential to making further progress in your career? For some people that may be obtaining an advanced degree or specialist certification. For others, developing more general career skills (like the ability to communicate with an audience) will be essential. What do the most successful people in your industry do? Once you identify the three or four most important skills and activities associated with success in your profession, you have a starting point.
While this may seem intuitively obvious, the connection between key skills and success is easy to lose sight of in the day-to-day grind of the job. Suppose the people in your profession who have the level of success to which you aspire all have at least half a dozen published technical papers to their credit. Maybe you have three, so now you have something specific to aim for that will help you lift yourself from your current plateau.
Strategies for Achieving Peak Behavior
Have you ever considered that you have hit a plateau because you don’t fail fast enough? It’s worth thinking about. Generally, the faster you fail, the faster you learn. You can, according to psychology experts, learn to recognize failure more quickly, based on clear and objective markers, so you can make corrections and move forward. Failing faster doesn’t necessarily mean failing bigger, but it does mean developing the ability to recognize what’s failing now and what is likely to fail soon enough. That’s how chess masters are made, by being able to anticipate several moves into the future.
Another strategy is diversification. It makes sense for financial investing, and it makes sense in life in general. It’s important to note that you don’t have to take up a new interest that’s directly related to your career. If you have an interest in learning improv comedy or how to do stage makeup, go for it. Diverse activities are often the very thing to shake us out of complacency.
A final strategy is recognizing when you simply need a break. Any exceptional artist or athlete can tell you that the times of rest or inactivity are incredibly important – often equally as important as the times when you expend the most effort. Sometimes getting off a plateau involves a period of nothing more than waiting. It’s frustrating, but true.
Learning to Play the Long Game
Recognizing plateaus requires that we see into the metaphoric distance, and that we plan our career with the long game in mind. Hitting a plateau can be disappointing whether we’re hiking in the wilderness, losing weight, or pursuing our career. When dealing with career plateaus, don’t be fueled by impatience or fear of failure. Rather, ask yourself what you can learn from your situation, or how you can add value to your team.
Hitting a career plateau may feel permanent, but you have significant control over what happens going forward. It’s up to you to plan your career, because even the most invested supervisor has less invested in your future than you do. If you’re tired of simply going through the motions and facing a future that always looks the same, then I cordially invite you to get in touch with me. As a leadership coach, I want to help you have the kind of success that’s not just “on paper,” but evident in your priorities, your spirit, and your effect in the world.
There’s an aspect of achieving goals that nobody likes to talk about, the sense of “Is that all there is?” that can set in once you’ve reached a major goal or accomplished a life achievement.
Achieving goals is satisfying, but there’s also a sense of, “What now?”
Back in 1980, Talking Heads released their studio album “Remain in Light,” which contained their hit “Once in a Lifetime.” It was a trippy existential query, where “you,” the subject of the song, find yourself having achieved those things you set out to, but wonder how you got there and what it all means. The chorus begins with the ominous lyrics, “Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down.” Do we really get to a point where we rest on our laurels and coast indefinitely? It sounds appealing in its way, but also deadly.
Aligning your values with your actions and doing your short-term planning with both in mind can keep you from settling into numb routine and propel you to keep achieving, to keep fine-tuning how you live your life.
There’s No Need to Give Up and Start Over
The good news is, you don’t have to throw everything out and start over. Assuming you achieved your standing through hard work, integrity, and ethical behavior, you can be confident that you’re doing things right in general.
In many cases, simply reminding yourself of why you do what you do – to improve some aspect of the world, or to provide a healthy and loving family life for your spouse and children, for example – can be sufficient to put you back on a track where you’re not only professing your values, but living them in everyday life.
Try Shifting Your Perspective
Writer Anne Lamott talks about forgiveness in her book Traveling Mercies, and puts the entire concept in a new light. Turning the other cheek, she says, quite literally forces you to look in a different direction. Shifting your perspective can inspire you to achieve tangible results that keep your actions and your values in line. We look at life based on our own experiences, culture, and values, and assign meaning based on these.
What happens when you look at things from a different perspective? How might a disinterested observer interpret what you’re doing? How do your actions appear to your young child? What might someone think of your actions if they were transported here from two centuries ago?
Simply broadening your perspective can help you notice things you take for granted, things that may be more important than you realize.
Planning with Physical, Mental, Social, and Spiritual Focus
When you plan, say, an ideal week, the task is not nearly as straightforward as you think when you do it from a perspective of aligning your values and your actions. You have to deliberately create space in your life for what means most and energizes you, so that your “best self” will be the one participating in life.
Making your actual schedule align with your ideal one requires practice.
Print out a calendar showing the upcoming week (there’s a handy one here you can print out), and start by penciling in those things you’re obligated to, like a dentist appointment or driving your child to sports practice. Now, consider everything you do and how it’s scheduled, including details like eating meals, exercising, driving to work, showering, cleaning the kitchen, and completing your work tasks. Which of your tasks address physical needs? What about mental, social, and spiritual needs, which we all have? Does your schedule engage all four of these?
What Does Your Plan Look Like on Paper?
How does the ideal week that you sketched out on your calendar align with the reality of your week? Unexpected events will undoubtedly pop up, but in general, are you spending your time in ways that are meaningful to you and your physical, mental, social, and spiritual needs? Many people are surprised with how different the way they actually spend time is compared to what they would need to do in order to live their most meaningful life.
With this in mind, adjust your “real” calendar so that it aligns more closely with your ideal calendar. This requires that you understand your priorities and obligations, but also that you be kind to yourself. Sure, there are many things you “have” to do, but it is also important to carve out time for the things you need and want to do to fill your spiritual and emotional needs and help you operate as the best possible “you” there is.
Carry It with You, Literally
Fold up your ideal and your modified “real” calendars for the week and carry them with you. Take them out and make notes:
What causes you to veer off-track, and what are you doing to align your actual week with your ideal week?
Aligning your actions with your values isn’t instant, and it isn’t perfect. After all, life will always throw things like traffic jams, illnesses, and other unexpected scenarios at you. But create your ideal calendar for several weeks running, make notes, and see how it aligns with what you actually do.
What Happens When You Live Your Ideal Week?
After a few weeks, you should be able to plug several of those “ideal week” items right into your ordinary calendar. Don’t assume you’ll remember or that you’ll somehow make time for them. Put them on your schedule. What you’re actually doing is using visionary work and plain practice to create a new reality for yourself, one where your values and actions line up, where you’re living an authentic, unique life. It’s how you take your accomplishments and bring them to a higher level.
My mission is to help you reconnect with your best self, so you can put your focus and energy toward living the fully engaged life.
In addition to planning out your ideal week, I encourage you to check out my book Adventure in Everything: How the Five Elements of Adventure Create a Life of Authenticity, Purpose, and Inspiration. There you’ll find a framework for making changes in your life that will help you align how you are in the world with how you want and need to be.
Curiosity just sounds like a great quality, doesn’t it? If no one were ever curious, this might be written in symbols on the wall of a cave rather than on a global network of electrons accessible by just about anyone on the planet. But while talking about curiosity is easy, it often requires some fundamental changes in leadership style.
Many business leaders rose to the top by identifying and fixing problems rather than contemplating tangential questions. And once someone reaches the top of the organizational chart, they may be wary of projecting anything other than 24/7 confidence and expertise. Curiosity, by contrast, asks questions and risks unanticipated answers.
Studies and observations show, however, that the leaders who aren’t afraid to ask questions, who possess the right mixture of confidence and humility, are the ones with the greatest impact. Admitting you don’t have all the answers can be remarkably empowering, both to a leader and their followers.
Questions Are the New Answers
People are warier these days of the leader who delivers the impression (or worse, seems to genuinely believe) he or she has all the answers. We live in an era of rapid change and instant communication, and an emperor without clothes is far more likely to be called out. Confidence that you’re asking the right questions is as important as knowing you have the right answers. The right answer to an irrelevant question is still irrelevant.
Leadership in the contemporary world is about discovering and shaping the future, and this approach is proving practical as well. Think of the brands that shape how people do things – like Apple, GE, Nike, and Google. They definitely don’t have problems making money as well. People are open to having their views challenged and their lives changed in positive ways. And it’s the curious leaders at the curious organizations that embrace that rather than sticking with “what we’ve always done.”
Stepping Outside Your Frame of Reference
Developing your curiosity demands that you step outside your normal frame of reference. If you ever spend time with a young child, say pre-school age to age 10, you have a perfect opportunity to step outside your normal frame of reference, because your little buddy is working from a place of far fewer preconceived ideas. It’s important to realize that curiosity isn’t something you either have or you don’t. It is a state of being, and you can cultivate it with the right habits and in the right conditions.
This is true even doing the things you always do, whether that’s running computational fluid dynamics software, baking cakes, or teaching college students. Making the deliberate attempt to see what you always see, only from a shifted perspective, can make all the difference. How might you explain your challenge to a child, or an alien, or someone who time traveled from 100 years ago? Trying to regard things through the eyes of a beginner can be liberating, unleashing curiosity and making you (and your colleagues) think differently.
Don’t Know Where to Start? Try These Launch Points for Your Curiosity
If you’re not sure how to take that step toward more curiosity, here are some ideas.
- Learn about your team members. Too many organizations seek teams made of diverse members, and then squash that diversity in day-to-day operations. What are your team members passionate about?
- Learn about your clients’ businesses. What do they do and how do they do it? Whom do they serve? What are their goals?
- Keep up with the world. And remember that “in the world” includes in your neighborhood, your region, your country, and everywhere else on this interconnected planet.
- Don’t be afraid of the question, “What if?” Unfortunately, leadership and adversity to risk go together in many organizations, even in creative industries! Chances are if you’re asking, “What if?” your competitors are too. How will you feel if they actually find out, and do something amazing with that knowledge?
Encourage Curiosity in Your Team
Free yourself to be creative, but give your team that freedom as well. Research shows that people who are more curious tend to outperform peers when it comes to creative problem-solving.
The great news is that your team members’ curiosity doesn’t necessarily have to be about the specific challenge at hand. General curiosity, when people are interested in learning new things from many sources, is a terrific trait for the person gathering information early in the problem-solving process. Specific, focused curiosity, can later pick up the metaphorical baton and run with it toward solutions for the problem at hand.
The Productivity-Creativity Conundrum
There’s no shortage of business leaders who say they value curiosity and creativity in their teams, but often when you ask their team members they tell a different story. An overwhelming majority of workers in the United States believe there is far more pressure to be productive than to be creative at work. Consequently, they don’t spend much time putting curiosity and creativity to work in the office.
Simply saying that you want a workforce driven by curiosity is one thing, but to make it happen, there are times when old processes and practices need to be dismantled. And it’s not easy to challenge the status quo, no matter where you are on the corporate ladder. Telling new hires that you value curiosity and creativity, and then constraining them into rigid command-control structures sends a powerful, but harmful message: it’s great to talk about curiosity and creativity, but actually demonstrating any will cause you to run afoul of entrenched power structures. As a result, the status quo remains strong as ever, and curiosity is snuffed out.
Great leaders are dedicated to intellectual curiosity. The goal of continuing to learn, continuing to improve, and never deciding you have “arrived” and can coast are characteristics of leaders who accomplish amazing things. Top CEOs continue to keep up with industry news, even (or especially) as a new generation of leaders emerges. When someone thinks they know everything, arrogance will take over like invasive duckweed choking out a waterway. Stay curious and help your team stay curious. I can help. Why not contact me to talk about booking a speaking engagement to kick off your drive for creativity and curiosity in the workplace? I’d love to hear from you.
Jeff Porro’s unique combination of talent and experience helps executives use the spoken word to engage their most important audiences – funders, clients, investors, employees, the press, and the public. We had a chance to chat with Jeff about the importance and impact of a powerful speech and how it can affect the leadership effectiveness of the person giving it.
Tell us a bit about your background. Why did you decide to become a speaking consultant and freelance speechwriter?
After working for about a decade as a jack-of-all-trades freelance writer, I’d proved to myself I could earn a living – but I was getting a little bored. I worked with an executive coach who helped me discover my passion and decide where I wanted to focus the rest of my career: speechwriting.
I really enjoy speechwriting because it requires a combination of skills. I have to be able to tell stories, provide vital information, understand audiences, and capture a personality through words. That last aspect ties into my “secret life” as a screenwriter.
Okay… is it really possible to improve a speech simply by using different words?
Absolutely. Speechwriting is writing for the ear. That is much different than writing for the eye, which is what you do when you produce an article or an annual report. One of the elements that makes a terrific speech is word choice; some words and phrases are simply more resonant, evocative, and downright powerful with audiences than others.
Just one example: years ago, the comic Bob Newhart had a routine where he played a PR guy advising President Lincoln on ways to improve his image. One of his suggestions was that in the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln should say “47 years ago,” instead of “Four score and seven years ago.”
When it comes to the skill of public speaking, how much of it is innate and how much of it is learned?
For some reason, many executives think they are either born good speakers or they’re not. That’s not true. Public speaking is a skill. And like any other skill, you can get better and better if you learn the fundamentals and then practice, practice, practice. Of course, as with almost any other skill, some people will be born with more public speaking aptitude than others. But I know from experience that any executive can become a very good speaker.
What are some of the main differences between a corporate leader speaking effectively to shareholders and he or she speaking effectively to employees?
This question highlights one of the most important elements of an effective speech: it must be customized and targeted to resonate with the concerns of a specific audience. As I say to clients, a generic speech is a bad speech.
And a good speech must connect with an audience quickly. In the first few minutes of a speech, the audience is looking for answers to two questions: does this executive understand my needs and concerns? And does the speaker really know what he or she is talking about?
That’s why one of the most important tasks of a speechwriter or a speechwriting team must be done before the first word of a speech is written: learning what is on the mind of the intended audience – and especially what’s keeping those listeners awake at night. While each particular audience is different, shareholders generally want to know as much about the company’s bottom line as possible (profits, dividends, sales, growth, projections, etc.) Employees are also concerned about the bottom line, but they want to know how the company’s performance will affect the quality of their job life – and (obviously) their job security. Finally, both audiences need to hear a clear statement of the executive’s vision for the company – a vision that gives them confidence about the future of the organization.
How much of your advice and consulting centers on a speaker’s nonverbal communication and/or overall presentation skills?
I sometimes give informal advice to speakers about their presentation skills, but I’m really the guy who writes the scripts. At the same time, I know nonverbal communication and overall presentation skills are vitally important to the success of a speech. That’s why I often work with a trusted partner who specializes in speaker training. An effective speech is definitely the product of teamwork – most importantly among the speaker, the speechwriter, and the presentation coach.
What suggestions would you give to a corporate leader who is trying to motivate employees for or about a team-building exercise?
I just worked with the head of a rapidly-growing small business who wanted to do exactly that. What I advised him, and would advise every corporate leader, is to go positive. Be frank about the company’s problems and challenges, but link the need for team building to your vision for the company. Show how the exercise can lead to an inspiring future, contribute to a better world, give each employee a chance to reach his/her potential, place the company on the vanguard of progress, etc.
How can a corporate leader obtain feedback or clues relating to whether or not his/her speech accomplished its goals?
The most obvious and systematic way is to distribute simple evaluation forms to an audience. However, that is not always practical, especially when the speech is a keynote to a large audience. My experience has been that the executives who really care about giving effective speeches (and improving their public speaking) surround themselves with trusted advisers who will give candid feedback. As an example, I was brought in to work with the CEO of a large nonprofit after the executive heard regularly from board members and major donors that the CEO’s speeches were falling flat.
With the rise in the use of technology, automation, and artificial intelligence to deliver information, do you think leaders’ speeches will be as important or impactful in the next ten to twenty years?
I do. In fact, I think leaders’ speeches will become even more important for a couple reasons. First, even in an age when it seems a new form of information technology pops up every five minutes, people still crave the human connection. They still want to hear and see an actual human being giving a speech. Think of the thousands of people who waited for hours to see their favorite presidential candidate, often to sit so far away that they could barely make him or her out at the podium.
At the same time, new technology is bringing speeches by corporate leaders to ever wider audiences. Recently, I read that the CEO of AT&T gave a very thought-provoking speech to employees on race relations. Twenty or thirty years ago, I would have been lucky to track down a transcript. But today with Google and a mouse, I was able to find the speech in a couple minutes… and watch the whole thing on my phone.
Afraid of public speaking? Hear how uncertainty and fear yield excellence and achievement by booking a speaking engagement with Matt Walker today!
Adventures are, by definition, out of the ordinary. They’re exciting. There’s an element of the unknown in the adventure, however big or small it is. The Odyssey would just be a long, boring story if Odysseus simply plotted out his course to Ithaca and trudged along until he got there. It’s an adventure because so many big things happen: the Trojan War, obnoxious men wooing his wife Penelope back home, and the highly exacting archery competition to win her back, for example.
But adventure isn’t only about big things happening. It’s about how we as individuals and groups meet expected and unforeseen challenges, and how we learn to tap into inner resources we may never have known we possessed in order to bring the adventure to completion. Note the “completion” of an adventure doesn’t necessarily mean triumph. Rocky Balboa ultimately lost to Apollo Creed in Rocky, but he definitely completed the mission he set out to, and experienced triumph nonetheless. While “winning” isn’t necessarily a part of an adventure, one element that is essential to the concept of adventure is that of “high endeavor.”
What Does High Endeavor Mean?
Some endeavors are necessary. The endeavor of doing the dishes is necessary so that your kitchen remains sanitary and usable, but doing the dishes isn’t exactly a “higher calling.” High endeavor is that which is intrinsically worthy of extra effort and devotion. It is an endeavor that inspires us to be the best possible version of ourselves. In adventure education, high endeavor helps individuals and teams align their actions with their values, whether they’re in the workplace or on the side of a mountain. Without high endeavor, an “adventure” is just doing something you don’t normally do, which you may or may not grow from.
Why Is It Necessary to Adventure?
Have a look at this video about the elements of adventure:
A true adventure is something that changes you. Just as the main character in an epic novel changes considerably by overcoming conflict and obstacles between the first page and the last, the real-life adventure makes you different after than you were before. But it makes you different because you dug deep and aspired, knowing you might not succeed, but knowing also that it was essential to the integrity of your character that you put forward your best effort. You saw the opportunity to enlarge your soul, and you took it. Whether you “won” or not at the end of the adventure, you’re a better person for it.
Consider Situations Where You Have Risen Above Expectations
What are some of your most memorable and proud moments? What did you do that showed you that you were more competent than you thought? This should be in relation to your own expectations, because what’s easy for some people is challenging for others. Whether you trained hard and ran a marathon, whether you learned enough Italian to not have to rely on English when you went to Tuscany, or whether you learned how to bake bread exactly the way your grandmother used to, if you have truly engaged in high endeavor, then almost by definition you have achieved success.
High endeavor isn’t the only element intrinsic to true adventure. Are you ready to challenge yourself and meet goals you may once have thought unattainable? If so, I encourage you to read Adventure in Everything: How the Five Elements of Adventure Create a Life of Authenticity, Purpose, and Inspiration. Adventure doesn’t just take place in a perilous situation or at the mercy of Mother Nature. When you learn to live your authentic life, your entire life becomes a setting for adventure.
Quick and dirty and to the point – over the years I have had a love/hate relationship with travel. I find the disruption to my normal routine both energizing and unsettling.
Energizing in that it breaks me from my normal thought patterns and I find that my curiosity increases. I also have realized a pattern that occurs: I crave the simplicity of travel and the opportunity to focus on one thing at a time without distraction (I am writing this in a hotel in Portland with a bare table and only the contents of my travel case around me, my office is also at my home so you can insert any number of possible distraction possibilities here…).
Travel though has a flip-side. It can be unsettling in that my routine is completely broken up: where to eat, how to eat healthy, different lights and furniture, and limited options due to geography and weather (this am I felt like going for a run, not going to happen since I don’t have running shoes with me).
I find that having two specific pieces of gear with me while I travel allows me to cut through the noise and find a centered and optimal place for both creativity and productivity. Those two pieces of gear: the TRX GO Suspension Trainer and the UE Boom Bluetooth Speaker. (Note that I have no affiliation / sponsorship with TRX or UE – just a fan of both of these pieces of gear!). Both pieces are lightweight, small, and pack in your travel roller – no excuses not to have them with you.
So here is the routine as soon as I arrive in my hotel room. Regardless of the hour that I walk into my room I unpack and pullout the TRX and speaker. I travel as light as possible (hence the no running shoes with me), so I often do not have workout clothes packed – you don’t need them. The TRX workout is in your room and your room is climate controlled. Strip down to your undies and a t-shirt and get to work, no shoes needed, no tech gear.
Put on whatever music you want, doesn’t matter, just something that speaks to you. Start up the TRX app (it runs simultaneously through the speaker while your music is going) and do the first 15-minute general core-strength workout. Trust me, the first five minutes feel like syrup is running through your veins after the travel, but the last five minutes feels great and liberating: You are back in your body and your mind is cleared, simple and effective.
For an overnight on the road I get two workouts in: one when I arrive and one before I depart. No excuses.
Why the speaker instead of using the phone speaker? The phone speaker is terrible and terrible sound is not only not a creature comfort but it reminds me that I am on the road and disrupted from routine. Good sound, good vibes, good mood.
The second bonus for the bluetooth speaker is that I find my morning routine at the hotel is greatly enhanced by giving me motivation and audio engagement beyond the ubiquitous television. With the speaker in use, I never turn on the television and get sucked into the cable news stream, etc. Control your media input, maintain your focus, and make travel your friend. Two tools that make a huge difference in my world – give them a whirl.
What about you? Do you have an indispensable road warrior tool or must-have? Share below or send me a message – see you out there!
Team development is surely an evolving concept. One certainty is that team development will be every bit as essential to organizational success in 2017 as it always has been. The corporate world is anything but static, and team building strategies tend to evolve as corporate cultures evolve. But that doesn’t mean your organization should partake of every new team development trend that comes along. Not all of them will be right for your organization’s particular makeup of personnel, corporate culture, and team building needs. Here are some key trends in team development to watch for in 2017.
Increased Customization of Team Building
Customization is increasingly important in many areas of life. From custom-fit blue jeans to customized kitchen cabinets, products are increasingly able to be made more personal and satisfying without the necessity for huge sums of money or major capital investment. Team development is no different. It only makes sense that organizations want to work with team development experts who are willing to understand their team, their time frame, and their needs. Cookie-cutter team building may or may not meet an organization’s needs, and more leaders have recognized the need to develop team building programs that are custom tailored.
Combining New Technology with Old School Techniques
Virtual reality and augmented reality are two emerging technologies that are expected to be put to use more frequently in the upcoming year. By allowing participants to move in virtual spaces, virtual reality platforms will allow for experiences that simply weren’t possible before. Augmented reality, which is less immersive than virtual reality, is another technology you can expect businesses and team development experts to put to work in team-building activities.
One slightly less sophisticated application of technology to tradition is the smartphone scavenger hunt, of which there are several variations. Some of these activities are geared more toward new teams getting to know each other, while others involve team problem solving and physical challenges. What they have in common is the use of current technologies applied to timeless team building activities.
Emphasis on Collaboration
Collaboration is a term that is frequently referenced in today’s business world. Now that the internet and mobility connect us with each other essentially 24/7, we’re finding new ways to collaborate with each other, whether or not we’re in the same physical location. But as nice as collaboration sounds, it doesn’t always come naturally to people. There are still plenty of people in the workplace who cut their teeth in the traditional “command-control” organizational structure, and who must learn some of the ways in which team members collaborate.
Team building and collaboration go together naturally, and more leaders recognize that they cannot expect newly formed teams to collaborate flawlessly without having been taught how. “Kick-off” team building activities, in particular, are increasingly geared toward facilitating effective collaboration.
Longer-Term Team Building Initiatives
Another thing more leaders are coming to realize is that a one-time team development activity isn’t enough to set up a team to be effective once and for all. Hence, more organizations are engaging team development consultants for longer term assignments. Rather than having an annual team building event that may or may not speak to the business challenges the team faces, leaders are working with team building experts to develop a series of team development activities that are designed to address the exact challenges the team members are about to face.
In other words, putting the team through a standard team development activity generally only scratches the surface of what’s possible, and a longer term approach is often needed to maximize team effectiveness.
Team Building for Dealing with Change
Recent years have put us through changes we may never have imagined a decade ago, and 2016 especially was a year that saw massive changes. While change does help us stay on our toes and remain agile, too much of it at once can be overwhelming. Therefore, team development experts are coming up with team building activities specifically designed to help teams cope with change in the workplace and in the world. This type of team development activity can help companies ensure their employees are able to spot emerging trends, prepare for them, and deal with them effectively.
Team Celebrations of Success
Sometimes team development means recognizing and celebrating successes. More companies are looking for team development activities that incorporate celebration of important milestones, like winning a major client, launching a successful product, or coming back from a defeat of some kind to demonstrate excellence. In fact, celebrating success is coming to be perceived as an important business practice. Combining team building with celebration offers a great opportunity for teams to go into a team development program or activity with high spirits and confidence, maximizing positive results.
Recognition That Team-Building Is Not an Afterthought
Finally, an increasing number of organizations have come to understand that far from being an afterthought or an “extra,” team development is fundamental to ensuring outstanding performance on an individual, team, and organizational level. Unfortunately, this has opened the door to a number of team building “placebos” that may help teams feel better in the moment but do little for long-term effectiveness. One way to avoid silly team building “fads” and recognize genuine team development trends is to work with someone with extensive experience in team development, and who knows from experience what works and what doesn’t.
Team development will continue to be critical for business success in 2017. Collaboration is more important than ever, yet many people are having to learn new collaboration techniques, technologies, and ways of interacting with one another. Team building techniques will continue to evolve as markets and customers change, and you can expect other new team development approaches to emerge as 2017 moves along. Being able to separate what’s truly effective in team development from passing fads is essential. I encourage you to contact me at any time to discuss your specific team development challenges. Let’s face the new year with determination to create passion, purpose, and authenticity in our work teams.
Tell us a bit about your background. Why did you decide to form your own leadership training company?
After a successful career as a marriage and family therapist, I was promoted to my first management position in the 1980s. I quickly discovered that the ways we were instructed to manage employees weren’t working. Ditching the traditional management-employee shtick, I began using the research-based, positive psychology philosophies I had found effective with clients in private practice.
I feel like so much of what we’ve done in leadership and HR is completely off track. It’s disconnected from spiritual beliefs, science, and self-reflection. If you live according to the natural order of the universe, you are responsible for yourself and your happiness in the world. Most business processes don’t respect that. They keep people from natural consequences. When I talk to people about changing their thinking, it gives them energy when they realize that there’s a different possibility. It gives them hope. They want to learn more.
Eventually, these common-sense management practices became “Reality-Based” Leadership. Soon, the employees on my team were more motivated, adapted easily to change, delivered better results, and emanated on-the-job happiness.
These positive results were the springboard to my current passion and career: helping companies integrate Reality-Based practices into their everyday work lives to drive improved outcomes. I established my business, Reality-Based Leadership in 2001 and focus on consulting, training, and speaking. I have also published two books.
What are some of the most common problems facing many companies today, regardless of the industry that they’re in?
In our newest research via The Futures Company, I found that the average employee spends two hours and twenty minutes per day in drama. That’s over two hours per day lost to emotional waste in the workplace! For many organizations today, I can’t think of a more profound impact on the bottom line then the ability to eradicate two hours per day per headcount of waste from the workplace.
Leadership can actually be the process by which this waste can be eliminated. This is an unimaginable ROI for any effort, let alone for leadership. I am confident that Reality-Based Leadership can absolutely restore the competitive advantage to a workplace while enhancing engagement and creating innovative collaborative environments that will lead to even greater results in the future.
What exactly is “Reality-Based Leadership,” and how does it differ from more conventional leadership approaches?
Reality-Based Leaders can change mindsets and cultivate accountability instead of trying to perfect circumstances. They refuse to argue with the reality of their circumstances and teach their followers to do the same.�
A Reality-Based Leader quickly and radically accepts the reality of any situation so they can take action and make decisions that conserve precious team energy and then focus that energy instead on delivering results. Reality-Based Leaders anticipate future change, welcome it, and then capitalize on the opportunity it presents without drama or defense. They are bulletproof. �
Reality-Based Leaders deliver results without the drama, chaos, and politicking that has become far too common in our workplaces today. They develop people who consistently make results happen no matter how challenging the times may be.�
Since your site urges people to “ditch the drama,” what exactly does that mean in practice?
Being Reality-Based is all about ditching the drama because most of the drama in our lives has nothing to do with reality. It’s the story we make up about reality. For instance, if my boss asks me a question, I think, “He’s micromanaging me, checking up on me.” The reality is my boss asked me a question. The rest is a story I made up. When people let go of their self-manufactured drama, they are able to use those two hours a day for productivity, and they are happier because their morale is not affected by the stories they make up about their circumstances.�
My message to people is this: quit believing everything you think. Step back and question what you think. When you run into a problem at work, don’t assume your coworkers are incompetent or undermining you. Ask: “What do I know for sure?” What’s left are the facts. Then ask, “What could I do next to add value?” Look for ways to solve the problem and contribute. That way, you eliminate all the energy that goes into drama. Employees aren’t exhausted because of their jobs, but rather because of self-manufactured drama.
What are some ways that a leader can help empower his or her employees and increase their accountability?
To help this skill set evolve and further develop, encourage the following among your team.
1. Embrace Challenges
Experiencing projects, assignments, and tasks that have a significant risk of failure and call employees out of their comfort zones will enhance the learning and development of new and less developed competencies. This process forces the individual to quickly find what worked and what didn’t. From there, they can adapt and move forward.
2. Experienced Accountability
Being held accountable on a consistent basis by people and processes molds the mindset of internal accountability. Over time, the concept that one’s results are a product of their own actions is reinforced and solidified as a belief.�
3. Consistent and Regular Feedback
Regular developmental and performance feedback from a credible source helps employees understand and internalize how their specific behaviors and choices are contributing to their results. However, the feedback must be rigorous, consistent, and ongoing to be effective.�
Engaging in regular self-reflection and introspection about one’s progress is critical. The focus of self-reflection is to account for one’s role in the results of their life and extract the lessons that will empower a different response in the future. Methods of self-reflection include meditation and journaling.�
Once this is achieved, you will have created a workforce that is resilient, committed to results, accepting of the consequences of their actions (good and bad) and continuously learning. Not only will they raise the bar for everyone around them, but they will also make great things happen for your business as well.
Since you wrote a book about workplace rules, could you name one rule that a company can change or implement today that will help its employees to succeed in their work?
Improve personal accountability by getting real about the true value of an employee. Many organizations are only measuring performance, which doesn’t always translate into business results.
Current Performance + Future Potential – Emotional Expensiveness = Employee Value
Current Performance – Is this employee truly meeting expectations? Are they consistently delivering results? Do they provide value each and every day? Are you still giving them credit for what they did last year or in the past decade?
Future Potential – What are the odds that this employee will be a great player in the future? Do they seek out new challenges? Do they keep up with trends in their profession and the industry? Will they be relevant to your company in five years?
Emotional Expense – Finally, you must offset any value derived from the employee with the “emotional cost” of the relationship to the organization. After you spend time together with this employee, ask yourself, “Is my energy heightened or drained? Am I working harder on this employee’s success than they are? Does this employee relationship take energy that, if conserved, would create something far greater for the team or company? Does this employee say “yes” to ideas and requests? Do they handle change with excitement or resistance?”
What are some of the main challenges for leaders in the future, and how will Reality-Based Leadership help address those challenges?
Old leadership beliefs are expensive. There is a growing awareness of leaders’ coaching strategies and their connection to productivity, so leadership practices are a serious and critical economic issue. At Reality-Based Leadership, we coach leaders to sustain readiness by picking up where most change management stops: accelerating action past the point of awareness and acceptance. After awareness, leaders should seek willingness, and work quickly with those who are willing and committed to changing circumstances. After willingness, seek advocates – those who work alongside you and bring others into alignment with the organization.
Next, they should seek active participants who clear a path so the change can and will work, and don’t remain stuck in reasons why it can’t. Finally, savvy companies embrace drivers who are proactively scouting trends, game-changing strategies, and areas so the organization can achieve its full potential. �
If we favor preference over potential and keeping people comfortable, we kill competitive advantage. It lets us feel good temporarily, but it inhibits our future success. As an HR leadership driver, think beyond change management philosophies that talk about net change and tying the future to the past – it only reinforces attachment. The future is now, and thriving in our reality requires a relentless focus on “what’s next.” A driver that advocates business readiness realizes that it’s a mindset that is cultivated – because without that mindset, every change will be difficult.
Need more information about Matt Walker Adventure? Contact him today!
There’s little disagreement that most people feel higher stress levels during the end-of-year holidays. The many additional responsibilities people take on, including gift shopping, attending social events, hosting family and friends, and dealing with the particular stresses of personal travel can fray nerves and shorten tempers. Unfortunately, some of this stress may spill over into the workplace – and not just for retailers gearing up for a whirlwind shopping season.
Whatever industry you are in, employees coping with the holidays may come in to work a little more frazzled, and scheduling time off for various employee obligations can lead to resentments building up. Though it doesn’t sound like a great time for team building activities, it actually can be a terrific time for it. And timing team building activities toward the end of the year helps set everyone up for a positive new year. Here are some ways the holidays can boost team building.
Outdoor Team Building Is Still an Option for Many
Not everyone has snowy, wet, or freezing holiday seasons, and businesses in mild climates can still enjoy outdoor team building activities like hiking excursions or rock climbing. In fact, the outdoor team building adventure can be the perfect antidote to all the to-do lists and social obligations your team members face. Sometimes getting away from stores, shipping facilities and general errand-running to scale a mountain can be the perfect change in routine to look forward to. And not only can your team members clear their heads of many holiday stresses, they can develop more cohesiveness with other team members.
Team-Building to Benefit Others
But if your team is unable to participate in an outdoor team building adventure, you have numerous other options, many of which build team connectedness while giving back to the community. Teams that select a charity and find innovative ways to raise money for it can grow closer and learn new things about their teammates. You can even include prizes for various accomplishments, like raising the most money, or signing up the most participants. Doing good things for others, even things as simple as having your team “adopt” a foster child to provide Christmas gifts for, makes everyone feel good and strengthens team connections.
Matt’s message and spirit for adventure left a truly lasting impression with our group. It was flat out impactful, and I don’t know that I’ve ever been a part of such an engaging Q&A session to boot. His delivery is honest and sincere, his experiences are harrowing, and he has magnificent imagery that ties it all together.
Learning Director, US West, EO
Fun Team Building to Lift Spirits
Team building activities can also be light-hearted, easy, and fun. A potluck dessert buffet in the break room makes the workplace a bit merrier, and you could even have everyone email their recipes to a point person to put together a team cookbook. Secret Santas have been an office tradition forever because the process is enjoyable and helps team members get to know people they may not otherwise. Other possibilities include decorating a team Christmas tree or holiday parade float, declaring a team “tacky holiday sweater” day, hosting a cookie swap, or holding an informal cubicle decorating contest.
Amplify Holiday Goodwill and Set the Stage for Next Year
Sure, the end of the calendar year brings its own unique stressors due to people’s many obligations to friends, families, and traditions. But it’s also a time when people are more apt to demonstrate good will toward others, and because of that, it can be a terrific time of year for team building activities. In many industries, things wind down a bit toward the end of the year anyway, so scheduling team building events during work hours may be easier.
By intertwining team building activities with holiday themes, you can make your team more integrated, raise spirits, discover gifts and talents of your colleagues, and generally make a stressful time of year more enjoyable. If you’re interested in unique, innovative team building activities or outdoor adventures, I encourage you to contact me at any time. This past year we ran team development programs for groups of 120 to 4 in locations from boardrooms to the backcountry, in Seattle, Los Angeles, Sedona, AZ, Napa, CA, Denver, and all the way in Tanzania, East Africa…Let’s work together to get your team ready for an outstanding new year.
David Brendel is the founder and director of Leading Minds Executive Coaching, LLC. We recently spoke with David about how corporate leaders handle change and career transitions.
Tell us a bit about your background. Why did you choose to leverage your expertise in psychiatry to focus on executive coaching?
Executive coaches leverage many of the same skills as psychiatrists. Both need to foster engaging dialogues that empower clients to deepen their self-awareness and implement action plans for success. Executive coaching allows me to put this skill set to good use in my work with a wide range of clients who are striving to develop leadership skills such as strategic thinking, effective communication, self-confidence, stress management, and work/life balance.
Finish this sentence: “Based on my experience, one of the biggest myths that people have about executives and corporate leaders is…”
…that they feel as self-confident as they appear.
When you’re coaching executives who are going through a major career transition, what are some of the biggest challenges that they usually need help with?
Whether the career transition is positive (such as a promotion) or negative (such as a layoff), executives may feel overwhelmed, fearful, and generally stressed. They often struggle to tolerate change and uncertainty about the future. Under these conditions, they may lose focus on the mindset shifts and behavioral strategies that will be required as they transition into a new job role. Executive coaching can help them to navigate these daunting challenges effectively.
What are some of the most common stressors for executives that they may not necessarily be aware of?
Common stressors of this kind are novel situations in which executives need to stretch beyond their comfort zone. Individuals transitioning from operational roles to management roles may not realize immediately that they now must prioritize their interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, and strategic thinking. If they only rely upon (or overuse) their technical know-how, they can experience frustration and irritability with people on their teams. Executives can overcome this stress when they recognize the new priorities, improve their interpersonal communication, and attend to high-level strategic tasks.
How can a leader become more relatable to his/her subordinates without compromising his/her authority?
It can be challenging for a leader to balance emotional connectedness and appropriate professional boundaries. This can be especially difficult if the leader’s subordinates are of a similar age and/or if they previously worked together at the same level in the organization.
The leader should focus primarily on developing warm, supportive, and encouraging relationships within the bounds of the work role. The leader may frequently need to pause and reflect on what the role requires, rather than what would feel good in the moment. He or she then must work hard to conform his or her behaviors accordingly. Eventually, these behavioral changes will solidify as habits and set the tone for healthy professional interactions.
From a psychology standpoint, what are some of the benefits of an adventure-style team building event?
When run well, these kinds of events can enhance interpersonal bonding, trust, and emotional connectedness. They can stimulate the brain’s limbic system, which mediates these powerful social processes. Relating to colleagues outside the usual workplace has an equalizing effect and allows them to see each other’s common humanity. It may provide a context in which people can safely express vulnerability and compassion. When people see these human traits in others within a structured “adventure” venue outside the office, they are more likely to transfer these positive feelings back to the workplace, thereby enhancing trustful collaboration.
When a leader is planning and/or overseeing a team building exercise, what are some important things that he or she must keep in mind?
The most essential thing to consider is the team’s psychological safety. Before designing the event, the leader can ensure “buy-in” from team members by discussing the goals of the exercise and the nature of the activities it will include. The team is more likely to invest in (and benefit from) the exercise if they’ve had the opportunity to shape it. Individuals should be allowed to opt out of participating without negative judgment or recrimination. If one or more team members decline to participate, however, it is incumbent upon the leader to inquire discreetly as to why people are making this choice. This information might reveal problematic team dynamics that are worth addressing, both for the sake of the team building exercise itself and the healthy functioning of the team more generally.
In the future, what will be some of the most important traits and qualities that companies will look for in their executives?
Companies increasingly will look beyond “quantitative” technical skills and ensure that their executives also have “qualitative” skills including social intelligence, empathy, resilience, curiosity, and creativity. They will seek leaders who proactively manage stress, respect members of their teams, inspire others, and lead with vision and values. People innately have these human traits and qualities to varying extents and can enhance them through training, coaching, and other approaches that foster insight and self-awareness. The resulting behavioral changes can promote meaningful personal development and remarkable business growth.
Want to learn more about utilizing adventure to improve the cohesiveness of your team and company? Contact Matt Walker Adventure today!