HBR: 4 Signs an Executive Isn’t Ready for Coaching

Are you investing in the right people? Do you have people who are uncoachable? Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Matt Brubaker and Chris Mitchell:

4 Signs an Executive Isn’t Ready for Coaching

The stigma of asking for or being assigned an executive coach is vanishing quickly. The growth of the industry tells us so. In the U.S. alone, $1 billion was spent on business, personal and relationship coaches last year, according to IbisWorld, up about 20% from five years earlier. And the number of business coaches worldwide has zoomed more than 60% since 2007, according to one coaching association. But while executive coaches have improved the performance of many already-good managers and sanded the rough edges off many less effective ones, they aren’t a miracle cure. In fact, we have seen many companies waste considerable sums by assigning coaches to managers who just aren’t ready to be coached, no matter how effective the coaches may be.

So how do those who control the coaching purse strings — HR, talent managers, and other buyers — avoid throwing money away on uncoachable executives? Considering that a year’s engagement with a top executive coach can cost more than $100,000, it’s an important question.

From nearly 35 years of coaching hundreds of executives, our firm has noticed a pattern of red flags that indicate when a coaching investment will be wasted. Here are four things to watch out for:

  1. They blame external factors for their problems.

When things go wrong, does this person always have an excuse? Maybe they point a finger at the quality of their team, a lack of resources, or even their boss.

When leaders argue about the validity of your reasons for offering coaching, or offer excuses or defenses for poor results, it can be a sign that they lack self-awareness. Before any coaching can be effective, they need to wake up to the ways their actions affect others.

One CEO we worked with was known for his smart turnarounds of a large media company. But he was struggling to get along with his executive team. Finally, several board directors suggested he should seek out a coach. After multiple sessions, he had shared little information about himself, and we were no closer to figuring out the root of the problem. Stymied, we suggested that we observe the next executive team meeting.

Suddenly, all was clear. We were shocked by how he controlled the conversation in the room. He simply spoke over other people with a volume of words that was unfathomable. When he left the room to take a call, his team members erupted with frustration. It was obvious that this CEO was completely out of touch — something that became even more apparent later on, when he asked us to tell the board how positively he was responding to coaching.

Leaders like this often ignore criticism if it doesn’t jibe with their view of themselves — and such feedback is easy to ignore if it’s buried in a performance review or mentioned briefly in a larger conversation. Conducting a non-judgmental, just-the-facts 360-degree review could help them see the reality of their situation. Until they can see what others see and why it matters, they won’t examine their behavior, and coaching will be useless.

  1. You can’t get on their calendar.

Some leaders claim to be receptive to coaching but just can’t find the time. They may cancel sessions at the last minute, constantly reschedule, or, when they do show up, be visibly distracted. They lack space for coaching both in their calendar, and in their mind.

Unlike the oblivious leader, the too-busy leader is often quite likable. They will apologize for being hard to pin down, and be very direct about how busy they are. Don’t be surprised if they’re flattered to be offered coaching. But coaching can’t be crammed into the schedule of a leader who wears their busy-ness as a badge of honor. Their inability to prioritize is a sign they need coaching, but their unwillingness to make room for it suggests they won’t be a good coaching investment.

A brilliant engineer we know had been promoted three times in four years, and by the time he was nearly 30 he was a group president at a U.S. manufacturing company. Diligent, humble, and smart, he could hold a room spellbound with only a marker and a whiteboard as he worked out solutions to highly technical problems. However, as adept as he was at the technical aspects of his job, he now had 20 people reporting to him whom he had no idea how to manage.

After three months of coaching, his superiors could see it was going nowhere. The executive often rescheduled his sessions, telling his coach he didn’t have the time. He believed he couldn’t set aside the time to improve himself. That made him uncoachable.

HR managers should do some reality testing to ensure the too-busy leader is willing to make room for coaching. To benefit from coaching, too-busy leaders must make the space to be fully present, both during the coaching sessions and after, doing the difficult work of developing new mindsets, skills, and habits. Ask this person what tasks or responsibilities they’d be willing to give up or delegate, even temporarily, to make time for coaching. If they struggle to think of any, give them a gentle but firm ultimatum as part of a career planning conversation: that they have plateaued at the company and won’t go to the next level until they make time for self-development.

  1. They focus too much on tips and tactics.

Some leaders eagerly agree to coaching, but then avoid the deeper inquiries required for meaningful transformation. They’re willing to modify behaviors, but not beliefs. They view coaching as medicine that, if taken regularly, will help them get ahead.

The quick-fix leader becomes frustrated when their coach asks questions that require self-reflection. They want answers, not questions. “You’re the expert, you tell me,” they’ll say in response to questions from the coach, or “What if I did this?” Everything comes back to tactics. (A related warning sign is if a leader asks how quickly the coaching can be finished — especially if they demand that the cycle be compressed.)

Although coaches sometimes offer suggestions, their real job is to help executives uncover the assumptions driving their behavior. Only then can a coach help them challenge self-limiting beliefs that block their development. However, the quick-fix leader has little interest in this process.

One CEO we worked with was leading a family business that had recently been sold to a large company. He was told by a leader in the new parent company (who himself had benefitted from coaching) that coaching would help him make the transition. The CEO gladly accepted, wanting to be seen as a peer.

However, it wasn’t long into the first coaching session that he showed his entire focus was on “doing whatever other successful people did.” The coach worked tirelessly to shift the conversation to the CEO’s purpose and goals. Each time, however, he shifted the discussion back to the “secrets of success” of other organizational leaders he wanted to emulate. Ultimately, he was passed over for a permanent role on the parent company’s leadership team, and left the organization.

To prompt this kind of leader to be open to self-reflection, remind them of all the other times they vowed to change but were unsuccessful. They then might realize they need to work on more than just changing their game plan. Or, introduce them into a preliminary mentoring conversation with one of the leaders they admire. Tell the mentor to share their experience of struggling to develop.

  1. They delay getting started with a coach to “do more research” or “find the right person.”

To be sure, it’s important to have a good fit between a leader and his coach. But a continual rejection of qualified coaches should give you pause. A related red flag is if the person is acting confused, and asking repeatedly why coaching has been suggested. Assuming you’ve clearly explained why coaching is necessary, this could be a defense mechanism and a signal that the person is not ready to confront their shortcomings. It usually stems from insecurity.

Being coached can be daunting, and not everyone is ready to take it on. We remember a physician leader who was hired to turn around a business unit of a large medical center. When his staff challenged him, he became emotional. Told by his boss that he needed a coach to help him control his emotions, he was hurt and angrily asked “Why?” — failing again to control his emotions. He was too full of hidden fears for the coaching to be useful. His boss eventually reassigned him, and ultimately he left the organization.

Reframe coaching as an investment the organization is making in their development rather than a personal fix. Tell them your firm provides this resource for high-potential, top performers to accelerate their success. If this leader can view coaching as something positive to help them achieve their goals, they may warm up to the process.

When Going Coach-Less Is Not Viable

After hearing us say that a certain leader is not a good candidate for coaching, an executive who brought us in will often say a variant of this: “Well, he must be coached. We can’t let him continue to manage others the way he has, but we can’t fire him easily either because we need his skills badly.” But imposing coaching on someone who just can’t handle it at the moment isn’t going to help anyone. Companies are better off directing their people development investments elsewhere — skills training or academic programs are often better options.

Invest your coaching budget in people who have shown the willingness and the capacity to change, and you’ll get a much better return on your investment

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Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential

Recently, I came across some notes from a book I read in 2011 that I’d like to share — What to Ask the Person in the Mirror: Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential by Robert S. Kaplan:

Critical Questions for Becoming a More Effective Leader and Reaching Your Potential

Vision and Priorities

In the press of day-to-day activities, leaders often fail to adequately communicate their vision to the organization, and in particular, they don’t communicate it in a way that helps their subordinates determine where to focus their own efforts.

  • Have you developed a clear vision for your enterprise?
  • Have you identified three to five key priorities to achieve that vision?
  • Do you actively communicate this vision, and associated key priorities, to your organization?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • Write down, in three to four sentences, a clear vision for your enterprise or business unit.
  • List the three to five key priorities that are most critical to achieving this vision. These should be tasks that you must do extraordinarily well in order for you to succeed based on where you are positioned today
  • Ask yourself whether the vision (with priorities) is sufficiently clear and understandable. In addition, ask yourself whether you communicate the vision and priorities frequently enough that your key stakeholders (e.g., direct reports and employees) could repeat them back to you. Interview key employees to see whether they understand and can clearly rearticulate the vision and priorities.
  • Identify venues and occasions for the regular communication, reiteration, and discussion of the vision and priorities. Create opportunities for questions and
  • Assemble your executive team off-site to debate the vision and priorities. In particular, consider whether the vision and priorities still fit the competitive environment, changes in the world, and the needs of the business. Use the off-site to update your vision and priorities and to ensure buy-in on the part of your senior leadership team.

Managing Your Time

Leaders need to know how they’re spending their time. They also need to ensure that their time allocation (and that of their subordinates) matches their key priorities.

  • Do you know how you spend your time?
  • Does it match your key priorities?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • Track your time for two weeks and break down the results into major categories.
  • Compare how this breakdown matches or is mismatched versus your three to five key priorities. Make a list of the matches and mismatches. Regarding the mismatches, write down those time allocations that are 2s and 35 and could therefore be performed by others-or should not be performed at all.
  • Create an action plan for dealing with the mismatches.

For example, commit to delegating those tasks that could just as easily be performed by someone else. Decide, in advance, to say no to certain time requests that do not fit your key priorities.

  • After a few months, repeat the preceding three steps. Assess whether you are doing a better job of spending your time on critical priorities.
  • Encourage your subordinates to perform these same steps.

 

Giving and Getting Feedback

 

Leaders often fail to coach employees in a direct and timely fashion and, instead, wait until the year-end review. This approach may lead to unpleasant surprises and can undermine effective professional development. Just as important, leaders need to cultivate subordinates who can give them advice and feedback during the year.

  • Do you coach and actively develop your key people?
  • Is your feedback specific, timely, and actionable?
  • Do you solicit actionable feedback from your key subordinates?
  • Do you cultivate advisers who are able to confront you with criticisms that you may not want to hear?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • For each of your direct reports, write down three to five specific strengths. In addition, write down at least two or three specific skills or tasks that you believe they could improve on in order to improve their performance and advance their careers. Allocate time to directly observing their performance, and discreetly make inquiries to gather information and insights in order to prepare this analysis.
  • Schedule time with each subordinate, at least six months in advance of the year-end review, to discuss your observations and identify specific action steps that could help them improve and address their developmental needs and opportunities.
  • Write down a realistic list of your own strengths and weaknesses. Make a list of at least five subordinates from whom you could solicit feedback regarding your strengths and weaknesses. Meet with each subordinate individually and explain that you need their help. In your meetings, make sure to ask them to give you advice regarding at least one or two tasks or skills they believe you could improve on. Thank them for their help.
  • Write down an action plan for addressing your own weaknesses and developmental needs. If you have a direct superior (or trusted peer), consider soliciting advice regarding your developmental needs and potential action steps. Depending on your situation and level in the organization, consider the option of hiring an outside coach.
  • Encourage each of your direct reports to follow these same steps regarding their direct reports and themselves.

Succession Planning and Delegation

When leaders fail to actively plan for succession, they do not delegate sufficiently and may become decision-making bottlenecks. Key employees may leave if they are not actively groomed and challenged.

  • Do you have a succession-planning process for key positions?
  • Have you identified potential successors for your job?
  • If not, what is stopping you?
  • Do you delegate sufficiently-
  • Have you become a decision-making bottleneck?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • Create a succession-planning depth chart for your business unit or organization. This document should include at least two or three potential successors for your own position.
  • For each potential successor, write down their key development needs and specific actions you might take in order to develop their capabilities in relation to potential future positions. Work to develop and shape these specific development plans.
  • For those key tasks that you have committed to finding a way to delegate, begin matching those tasks with specific candidates on the depth chart. Make assignments.
  • Categorize delegated tasks in terms of their levels of importance to your enterprise. Based on this analysis, note which tasks need to be done at extremely high levels of quality, and which can be done at “sufficient” levels of quality. Ask whether you have calibrated your level of involvement to this categorization, and remember that “involvement” should often take the form of coaching the subordinate, rather than a direct intervention. Make a commitment to “picking your spots,” to ensure that your direct interventions (beyond coaching) are justified by an appropriately high level of task importance.
  • Ask your business unit leaders to perform this same exercise with regard to their direct reports.

Evaluation and Alignment

The world is constantly changing, and leaders need to be able to adapt their businesses accordingly.

  • Is the design of your company still aligned with your vision and priorities?
  • If you had to design the enterprise today with a clean sheet of paper, how would you change the people, key tasks, organizational structure, culture, and your leadership style?
  • Why haven’t you made these changes?
  • Have you pushed yourself and your organization to do this clean-sheet-of-paper exercise?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • Identify a key business unit or function to tryout the clean-sheet-of-paper exercise. Create a small task force based on the selected names from the succession-planning depth chart exercise. Attempt to draw professionals from at least two to three different business units and/or functional areas. Give the team a specific assignment, and emphasize that they should assume that there are no sacred cows to be protected. Make clear to them that while you may not follow every piece of their advice, you want their candid views and most likely will implement at least some of their suggestions.
  • Agree on an appropriate time frame. Take into account that this assignment is not in place for doing their day jobs. Make clear that you are available to answer questions or give guidance, but you plan to stay away from this process in order to avoid influencing their analysis and conclusions.
  • Debrief the group regarding their findings. Also, conduct a post mortem to determine what you and the task force learned from the process of doing this exercise.
  • Develop a specific action plan for implementing at least some (if not all) of the group’s recommendations.

The Leader as Role Model

Your actions are closely observed by those around you. They send a powerful message about what you believe and what you truly value.

  • Do you act as a role model?
  • Do your behaviors match your words?
  • How do you conduct yourself under pressure?
  • Is your conduct consistent with your stated values?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • Write down two or three key messages you believe you send with your behavior (versus your speeches). Seek advice from key subordinates and advisers who directly observe your behavior, in order to answer this question: is there a disconnect between the messages you wish to send and those you are in fact sending?
  • Do this same exercise for your key direct reports. What messages is each of them sending about what is truly valued in your organization? Again, make discreet inquiries, if necessary, to do this analysis. Incorporate this work into your coaching of these executives.
  • Think of a situation in which you felt enormous stress at work and regretted your behavior. Write down the one or two issues that created the stress you were feeling- acknowledging that these issues may have had nothing to do with work. How would you behave differently if you could replay this situation? Write down one or two lessons you take away from this exercise.

Reaching Your Potential

Successful executives develop leadership styles that fit the needs of their business but also fit their own beliefs and personality.

  • Are you pursuing a path that is consistent with your assessment of your strengths, weaknesses, and passions?
  • If not, what are you waiting for?
  • Have you developed your own style at work?
  • Do you speak up, express your opinions, and conduct yourself with confidence?
  • Do you encourage your people to be authentic and express their opinions?

Suggested Follow-up Steps

  • Make a list of your three greatest strengths and your three greatest weaknesses. Get advice from your senior, peer, and junior coaches or advisers in order to make sure your list reflects “reality” in relation to your current job and aspirations.
  • Develop a specific action plan to work on your weaknesses. Action steps might include specific job assignments, seeking feedback within your organization, and/or getting an outside coach.
  • Encourage your subordinates to do this same analysis and action planning. Discuss these plans in your coaching sessions for subordinates.
  • Think of a situation in which you were at your best, when you performed extremely well and felt great about your impact. What were the elements of this situation? What tasks were you performing, what was your leadership approach, what was the context, and what other factors enhanced your performance? What lessons do you take from this, regarding your passions, values, and other key elements that help bring out your best performance?
  • Think of a time when you brought out the best in others. What was your motivational approach? What was your leadership style? What other elements allowed you to bring out the best in others? When you reflect on this situation, what lessons do you learn about yourself, including about your philosophy and values, as well as how you might best motivate others in the future?

Five Kinds of Restorative Breaks

I very much recommend reading When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink. He offers a small handbook after each chapter. Below is an excerpt for the handbook:

Five Kinds of Restorative Breaks: A MenuWhen.jpg

You now understand the science of breaks and why they’re so effective in both combatting the trough and boosting your mood and performance. You’ve even got a break list ready to go. But what sort of break should you take? There’s no right answer. Just choose one from the following menu or combine a few, see how they go, and design the breaks that work best for you:

  1. Micro-breaks — A replenishing break need not be lengthy. Even breaks that last a minute or less-what researchers call “microbreaks”-can pay dividends.’ Consider these:

The 20-20-20 rule — Before you begin a task, set a timer. Then, every twenty minutes, look at something twenty feet away for twenty seconds. If you’re working at a computer, this microbreak will rest your eyes and improve your posture, both of which can fight fatigue.

Hydrate — You might already have a water bottle. Get a much smaller one. When it runs out-and of course it will, because of its size-walk to the water fountain and refill it. It’s a threefer: hydration, motion, and restoration.

Wiggle your body to reset your mind — One of the simplest breaks of all: Stand up for sixty seconds, shake your arms and legs, flex your muscles, rotate your core, sit back down.

  1. Moving breaks — Most of us sit too much and move too little. So build more movement into your breaks. Some options:

Take a five-minute walk every hour –As we have learned, five- minute walk breaks are powerful. They’re feasible for most people.

Office yoga — You can do yoga poses right at your desk-chair rolls, wrist releases, forward folds-to relieve tension in your neck and lower back, limber up your typing fingers, and relax your shoulders. This may not be for everyone, but anyone can give it a try. Just stick “office yoga” into a search engine.

Push-ups — Yeah, push-ups. Do two a day for a week. Then four a day for the next week and six a day a week after that. You’ll boost your heart rate, shake off cognitive cobwebs, and maybe get a little stronger.

  1. Nature break — This might sound tree bugger-y, but study after study has shown the replenishing effects of nature. What’s more, people consistently underestimate how much better nature makes them feel. Choose:

Walk outside — If you’ve got a few minutes and are near a local park, take a lap through it. If you work at home and have a dog, take Fido for a walk.

Go outside — If there are trees and a bench behind your building, sit there instead of inside.

Pretend you’re outside — If the best you can do is look at some indoor plants or the trees outside your window-well, research suggests that will help, too.

  1. Social break-Don’t go it alone. At least not always. Social breaks are effective, especially when you decide the who and how. A few ideas:

Reach out and touch somebody — Call someone you haven’t talked to for a while and just catch up for five or ten minutes. Reawakening these “dormant ties” is also a great way to strengthen your network. Or use the moment to say thank you-via a note, an email, or a quick visit–to someone who’s helped you. Gratitude-with its mighty combination of meaning and social connection-is a mighty restorative.”

Schedule it — Plan a regular walk or visit to a coffee joint or weekly gossip session with colleagues you like. A fringe benefit of social breaks is that you’re more likely to take one if someone else is counting on you. Or go Swedish and try what Swedes call a fika-a full-fledged coffee break that is the supposed key to Sweden’s high levels of employee satisfaction and productivity.’

Don’t schedule it –– If your schedule is too tight for something regular, buy someone a coffee one day this week. Bring it to her. Sit and talk about something other than work for five minutes.

  1. Mental gear-shifting break — Our brains suffer fatigue just as much as our bodies do-and that’s a big factor in the trough. Give your brain a break by trying these:

Meditate-Meditation is one of the most effective breaks-and micro-breaks-of all.” Check out material from UCLA (http://marc.ucla.edu/mindful-meditations), which offers guided meditations as short as three minutes.

Controlled breathing — Have forty-five seconds? Then, as the New York Times explains: “Take a deep breath, expanding your belly. Pause. Exhale slowly to the count of five. Repeat four rimes.”? It’s called controlled breathing, and it can tamp your stress hormones, sharpen your thinking, and maybe even boost your immune system — all in under a minute.

Lighten up — Listen to a comedy podcast. Read a joke book. If you can find a little privacy, put on your headphones and jam out for a song or two. There’s even evidence from one study on the replenishing effects of watching dog videos.” (No, really.)

HBR: Automation Will Make Lifelong Learning a Necessary Part of Work

“We see retraining (or “reskilling” as some like to call it), as the imperative of the coming decade. It is a challenge not just for companies, which are on the front lines, but also for educational institutions, industry and labor groups, philanthropists, and of course, policy makers, who will need to find new ways to incentivize investments in human capital.” Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Susan Lund, Jacques Bughin, Eric Hazan:

Automation Will Make Lifelong Learning a Necessary Part of Work

President Emmanuel Macron together with many Silicon Valley CEOs will kick off the VivaTech conference in Paris this week with the aim of showcasing the “good” side of technology. Our research highlights some of those benefits, especially the productivity growth and performance gains that automation and artificial intelligence can bring to the economy — and to society more broadly, if these technologies are used to tackle major issues such as fighting disease and tackling climate change. But we also note some critical challenges that need to be overcome. Foremost among them: a massive shift in the skills that we will need in the workplace in the future.

To see just how big those shifts could be, our latest research analyzed skill requirements for individual work activities in more than 800 occupations to examine the number of hours that the workforce spends on 25 core skills today. We then estimated the extent to which these skill requirements could change by 2030, as automation and artificial technologies are deployed in the workplace, and backed up our findings with a detailed survey of more than 3,000 business leaders in seven countries, who largely confirmed our quantitative findings. We grouped the 25 skills into five categories: physical and manual (which is the largest category today), basic cognitive, higher cognitive, social and emotional, and technological skills (today’s smallest category).

The findings highlight the major challenge confronting our workforces, our economies, and the well-being of our societies. Among other priorities, they show the urgency of putting in place large-scale retraining initiatives for a majority of workers who will be affected by automation — initiatives that are sorely lacking today.

Shifts in skills are not new: we have seen such a shift from physical to cognitive tasks, and more recently to digital skills. But the coming shift in workforce skills could be massive in scale. To give a sense of magnitude: more than one in three workers may need to adapt their skills’ mix by 2030, which is more than double the number who could be displaced by automation under some of our adoption scenarios — and lifelong learning of new skills will be essential for all. With the advent of AI, basic cognitive skills, such as reading and basic numeracy, will not suffice for many jobs, while demand for advanced technological skills, such as coding and programming, will rise, by 55% in 2030, according to our analysis.

The need for social and emotional skills including initiative taking and leadership will also rise sharply, by 24%, and among higher cognitive skills, creativity and complex information and problem solving will also become significantly more important. These are often seen as “soft” skills that schools and education systems in general are not set up to impart. Yet in a more automated future, when machines are capable of taking on many more rote tasks, these skills will become increasingly important — precisely because machines are still far from able to provide expertise and coaching, or manage complex relationships.

While many people fear that automation will reduce the number of jobs for humans, we note that the diffusion of AI will take time. The need for basic cognitive skills as well as physical and manual skills will not disappear. In fact, physical and manual skills will remain the largest skill category in many countries by hours worked, but with different importance across countries. In France and the United Kingdom, for example, manual skills will be overtaken by demand for social and emotional skills, while in Germany, higher cognitive skills will become preeminent. These country differences are the result of different industry mixes in each country, which in turn affect the automation potential of economies and the future skills mix. While we based our estimates on the automation potential of sectors and countries today, this could change depending on the pace and enthusiasm with which AI is adopted in companies, sectors, and countries. Already, it is clear that China is moving rapidly to become a leading AI player, and Asia as a whole is ahead of Europe in the volume of AI investment.

We see retraining (or “reskilling” as some like to call it), as the imperative of the coming decade. It is a challenge not just for companies, which are on the front lines, but also for educational institutions, industry and labor groups, philanthropists, and of course, policy makers, who will need to find new ways to incentivize investments in human capital.

For companies, these shifts are part of the larger automation challenge that will require a thorough rethink of how work is organized within firms — including what the strategic workforce needs are likely to be, and how to set about achieving them. In our research, we find some examples of companies that are focusing on retraining, either in-house — for example, Germany’s SAP — or by working with outside educational institutions, as AT&T is doing. Overall, our survey suggests that European firms are more likely to fill future staffing needs in the new automation era by focusing on retraining, while US firms are more open to new hiring. The starting point for all of this will be a mindset change, with companies seeking to measure future success by their ability to provide continuous learning options to employees.

The skill shift is not only a challenge, it is an opportunity. If companies and societies are able to equip workers with the new skills that are needed, the upside will be considerable, in terms of higher productivity growth, rising wages, and increased prosperity. M. Macron’s point about technology being a force for good will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Conversely, a failure to address these shifting skill demands could exacerbate income polarization and stoke political and social tensions. The stakes are high, but we can already see the outlines of what needs to be don — and we have a little time to work on solutions.

 

HBR: Tips for Reading the Room Before a Meeting or Presentation

With the upcoming NRLA Leadership meeting, this blog from the Harvard Business Review by Rebecca Knight may be very useful:

Tips for Reading the Room Before a Meeting or Presentation

In every conversation at work, there’s the explicit discussion happening — the words being spoken out loud — and the tacit one. To be successful in most organizations, it’s important to understand the underlying conversations and reactions that people in the room are having. But if you aren’t picking up on those subtle cues, how can you learn to do so? What signals should you be looking for? And what can you do to influence the unspoken dynamics?

What the Experts Say

“Knowing how to read between the lines is a critical workplace skill,” says Annie McKee, a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, and the author of How to Be Happy at Work. “You need to understand other people — what they want, what they don’t want, their fears, hopes, dreams, and motivations,” she says. “This builds trust. And trust is fundamental to getting things done.” In addition, you must be aware of your effect on others, according to Karen Dillon, coauthor of How Will You Measure Your Life? “You need to be constantly assessing how other people are responding to you,” she says. “Some people find this easy and intuitive. For others, it’s a challenge.” The good news is that this skill can be learned. Here are some ways how.

Observe

The best way to read a room is to pay close attention to people — and not just what they’re saying. “If you’re relying [solely] on their words, you’re only getting half the picture,” McKee says. Upon entering a meeting, she recommends, do “a quick scan of the individuals,” noting “who’s next to whom, who’s smiling, who’s not, who’s standing, who’s sitting, and how much space is between people.” Next, try to pick up on “the almost invisible clues on how people are feeling” by looking carefully at “their facial expressions, posture, and body language.” Be on the lookout for “quick microexpressions” such as “fleeting smiles, raised eyebrows, or even tiny frowns.” Vigilant observation will give you the information you need to interpret group dynamics. Dillon recommends identifying role models to further improve your social awareness. “Think of people you admire who are great at reading the room,” she says. “Isolate the things they do and try to emulate those.”

Control how much you talk

You can’t observe if you’re spending most of your time talking. You need to listen, Dillon says. “Be conscious of how much you are saying.” Whether you’re in a room with a large group of people, a small group, or you’re speaking with a colleague one-on-one, she advises taking frequent pauses “to really think about what the other person is saying” and watching out for the nonverbal cues. Don’t just wait for your turn to talk; there is “no shame” in silence. When the conversation is more intimate, Dillon says, you must strive to “make the other person feel heard.” Be present. Be engaged. Make eye contact. “Position yourself so that you’re not inviting others to butt into your conversation. Help the other people feel confident that you are all in the moment together.” After the other person says something, paraphrase what they said to indicate that you’re paying attention. Similarly, “if the other person doesn’t seem to be hearing what you’re saying, and you start to realize that you’re talking at them, you should ask a question,” she adds. Try open-ended questions such as “What do you think about…?” or, “What are the consequences of…?” or, “Have you experienced this?” The answers to these questions help you uncover what’s really going on.

Interpret your observations

Once you’ve “tuned into the emotions and energy in the room,” you can “try to make sense of what you think you know,” McKee says. She recommends “generating multiple hypotheses about what’s going on.” Consider the people in the group more broadly and reflect on the possible reasons for their individual and collective emotional states. “What’s happening in their lives? What’s going on in their jobs? What do you know about these people?” If you don’t know much, this can be tricky, but you can still come up with hypotheses for what’s motivating people. At the same time, you shouldn’t project your feelings onto the group. “Keep your emotions in check,” McKee says, adding that this is a feat that “takes tremendous skill and self-control.” If, say, the room is reverberating tension, don’t let yourself “be hijacked by negative energy, and don’t give in to your natural inclination to be frightened and angry.” Remember, too, that the emotions you perceive are not personal. “It probably doesn’t have anything to do with you.”

Check your hypotheses

When you’ve developed a few explanations for what’s going on in the room, check your understanding. You can do this by continuing to gather further information — though you should continue to be open to what you’re seeing and sensing so that you don’t fall prey to confirmation bias. You can also ask people directly, in private, McKee says. When you’re in one-on-one conversations, you might say something like, “In the meeting I saw you furrow your brow when discussion turned to the xyz project — how do you feel about it?” Most likely, your colleagues will be pleased you noticed, she says. When you make note of people’s feelings and reactions, they “feel attended to.” Another tactic McKee suggests is talking with a trusted colleague, mentor, or coach. “Talk about what you’ve observed — not in a gossipy way, but as a learning opportunity,” she says. “You want someone else to check ideas with” so that you can say, “What do you think is going on with that colleague? Or that coalition?”

Put your perceptions into practice

If in the midst of a meeting or interaction, you notice that things are getting tense or heated, you can “take the opportunity to shift the emotional reality of the room,” McKee says. “Use humor,” she adds. “Or empathize with the group — make them feel okay.” She recommends determining who in the room has “the most social or hierarchical capital” and then focusing on getting that person on your side. “It could be a person who has the most seniority, or the person who others are sitting closest to. It could be the person who’s telling jokes and has the ability to lighten the mood.” Keep an eye out “for any positive signals” — the executive in the corner who’s smiling, for instance — and concentrate on those. Importantly, continue to pay attention to what’s not being said. “Most people are just waiting to talk,” she says. As a result, “we may catch most of the words, but we miss the music.”

Principles to Remember

Do:

  • Consider the people in the room more broadly and reflect on the possible reasons for their individual and collective emotional states.
  • Look for microexpressions such as fleeting smiles or raised eyebrows. These offer clues to group dynamics and individual emotions.
  • Isolate the behaviors that your socially aware role model exhibits and try to emulate them.

Don’t:

  • Be distracted. Maintain eye contact and be present and engaged in conversations with others.
  • Make it all about you. Ask open-ended questions to help you uncover what’s really going on.
  • Allow yourself to be hijacked by a room’s negative energy. Keep your emotions in check and do what you can to shift the emotional reality of the room.

Case Study #1: Pay attention to people’s body language and facial expressions

As the chief human resources officer at Prosek Partners, the global PR company, Karen Niovitch Davis has a good deal of experience reading rooms. “I’ve had a 20+ year career in HR,” she says. “A lot of what I do is about trying to really understand what people are saying when they are not actually saying it.”

Every week, she attends a management meeting at Prosek for senior vice presidents, managing directors, and partners. The company’s CEO leads the meeting, and Karen, because of her role, is often aware of what’s on the agenda.

“Since some of the things that we discuss are sensitive or controversial, I am often prepping for how my colleagues will react,” Karen says.

Recently, for instance, the CEO announced that the company would be expanding and that it had signed a lease for more space in the building. Certain employees and teams would be moving to another floor.

Karen paid close attention to her colleagues’ body language and facial expressions to gauge their reactions. She was prepared for a mixed bag. “I knew everyone in the room was thinking: What does this mean for me? What does this mean for my team? Are we all going to have to move?” she says. “That’s human nature.”

Many of her colleagues seemed “genuinely pleased” by the news, she recalls. “They were excited because the move means we are growing.”

Others, however, gave off a decidedly different vibe. Some people’s faces went blank; others visibly frowned. One — we’ll call her Jane — looked down and scribbled a note to a colleague sitting next to her.

Karen assumed that Jane wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of moving. She thought about what she already knew about Jane. “She does not like to change her routine,” Karen notes.

Shortly after the meeting ended, Karen approached Jane. She told her that it seemed that she was unhappy about the move. “I wanted to make sure she knew I noticed her,” Karen says.

Jane appreciated that Karen noticed. “She said, ‘I don’t want to move because I like where my desk is now,’” Karen says. “She told me that she didn’t want to say anything in the meeting because she didn’t want to come off as not a team player.”

Karen listened attentively to Jane’s reasoning. She empathized with her and asked her open-ended questions about her concerns. She wanted to make sure Jane felt heard. “I told her that the office would be an exact replica of our current space and that the views would be better,” she says.

But Jane was not swayed by the argument. “I told her we would work something out so she would not have to move,” Karen says.

Case Study #2: Don’t assume you know how other people feel — ask them

Heather Anderson, an executive mentor at Vistage International, the San Diego–based advisory and executive coaching organization, says that she often speaks to her clients about the importance of social intelligence. “Emotions contain data,” she says. “I tell them that the emotional data they receive in their team meetings, their one-on-ones, and their client calls are just as important to their end game as anything else.”

She speaks from experience. Recently, Heather ran a meeting for one of her peer-to-peer coaching groups at Vistage. One of the agenda items was to provide feedback to one of the newer members — we’ll call her Susan. These meetings happen regularly; their purpose “is to challenge each other to be better leaders.”

“People are candid in these meetings and it can feel harsh if you’re on the receiving end — particularly when it’s your first time,” Heather says. “It’s intimidating.”

Heather first scanned the room to gauge the temperature; it wasn’t particularly tense, but she could tell that Susan was nervous. Next, she listened carefully to what others said. The comments were “frank,” and it wasn’t particularly positive.

She paid close attention to Susan’s body language. “I could see the look of surprise and fear on Susan’s face,” she says. “She shrunk in her chair and her shoulders dropped.”

Heather empathized with Susan’s emotions and reflected on what was happening. “I thought she felt threatened,” Heather says. “I wondered, ‘Should we soften our words?’”

To be sure, she asked Susan how she felt. “I said, ‘How are you feeling? What is it like to get this feedback?’”

Susan surprised her. “She said, ‘Wow. This is intense, but this is exactly what I signed up for.’”

Heather realized that she had projected some of her own feelings onto Susan. “I expected her to feel a certain way,” she says, “but you can’t assume you know.”

Later, Heather asked Susan how she planned to use the feedback she received during the meeting. “Susan was able to recite very specific action items, and she talked enthusiastically about the things she wanted to do and changes she wanted to make,” Heather says.

Heather plans to follow up with Susan in a few weeks.

HBR: Learning Is a Learned Behavior. Here’s How to Get Better at It.

“The good news from all of this — for individuals and for companies looking to help their employees be their best — is that learning is a learned behavior. Being a quick study doesn’t mean you’re the smartest person in the room. It’s that you’ve learned how to learn. By deliberately organizing your learning goals, thinking about your thinking, and reflecting on your learning at opportune times, you can become a better study, too.” Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Ulrich Boser:

Learning Is a Learned Behavior. Here’s How to Get Better at It.

Many people mistakenly believe that the ability to learn is a matter of intelligence. For them, learning is an immutable trait like eye color, simply luck of the genetic draw. People are born learners, or they’re not, the thinking goes. So why bother getting better at it?

And that’s why many people tend to approach the topic of learning without much focus. They don’t think much about how they will develop an area of mastery. They use phrases like “practice makes perfect” without really considering the learning strategy at play. It’s a remarkably ill-defined expression, after all. Does practice mean repeating the same skill over and over again? Does practice require feedback? Should practice be hard? Or should it be fun?

A growing body of research is making it clear that learners are made, not born. Through the deliberate use of practice and dedicated strategies to improve our ability to learn, we can all develop expertise faster and more effectively. In short, we can all get better at getting better.

Here’s one example of a study that shows how learning strategies can be more important than raw smarts when it comes to gaining expertise. Marcel Veenman has found that people who closely track their thinking will outscore others who have sky-high IQ levels when it comes to learning something new. His research suggests that in terms of developing mastery, focusing on how we understand is some 15 percentage points more important than innate intelligence.

Here are three practical ways to build your learning skills, based on research.

Organize your goals

Effective learning often boils down to a type of project management. In order to develop an area of expertise, we first have to set achievable goals about what we want to learn. Then we have to develop strategies to help us reach those goals.

A targeted approach to learning helps us cope with all the nagging feelings associated with gaining expertise: Am I good enough? Will I fail? What if I’m wrong? Isn’t there something else that I’d rather be doing?

While some self-carping is normal, Stanford psychologist Albert Bandura says these sorts of negative emotions can quickly rob us of our ability to learn something new. Plus, we’re more committed if we develop a plan with clear objectives. The research is overwhelming on this point. Studies consistently show that people with clear goals outperform people with vague aspirations like “do a good job.” By setting targets, people can manage their feelings more easily and achieve progress with their learning.

Think about thinking

Metacognition is crucial to the talent of learning. Psychologists define metacognition as “thinking about thinking,” and broadly speaking, metacognition is about being more inspective about how you know what you know. It’s a matter of asking ourselves questions like: Do I really get this idea? Could I explain it to a friend? What are my goals? Do I need more background knowledge? Or do I need more practice?

Metacognition comes easily to many trained experts. When a specialist works through an issue, they’ll often think a lot about how the problem is framed. They’ll often have a good sense of whether or not their answer seems reasonable.

The key, it turns out, is not to leave this sort of “thinking about thinking” to the experts. When it comes to learning, one of the biggest issues is that people don’t engage in metacognition enough. They don’t stop to ask themselves if they really get a skill or concept.

The issue, then, is not that something goes in one ear and out the other. The issue is that individuals don’t dwell on the dwelling. They don’t push themselves to really think about their thinking.

Reflect on your learning

There is something of a contradiction in learning. It turns out that we need to let go of our learning in order to understand our learning. For example, when we step away from a problem, we often learn more about a problem. Get into a discussion with a colleague, for instance, and often your best arguments arrive while you’re washing the dishes later. Read a software manual and a good amount of your comprehension can come after you shut the pages.

In short, learning benefits from reflection. This type of reflection requires a moment of calm. Maybe we’re quietly writing an essay in a corner — or talking to ourselves as we’re in the shower. But it usually takes a bit of cognitive quiet, a moment of silent introspection, for us to engage in any sort of focused deliberation.

Sleep is a fascinating example of this idea. It’s possible that we tidy up our knowledge while we’re napping or sleeping deeply. One recent study shows a good evening of shut-eye can reduce practice time by 50%.

The idea of cognitive quiet also helps explain why it’s so difficult to gain skills when we’re stressed or angry or lonely. When feelings surge through our brain, we can’t deliberate and reflect. Sure, in some sort of dramatic, high-stakes situations, we might be able to learn something basic like remember a phone number. But for us to gain any sort of understanding, there needs to be some state of mental ease.

The good news from all of this — for individuals and for companies looking to help their employees be their best — is that learning is a learned behavior. Being a quick study doesn’t mean you’re the smartest person in the room. It’s that you’ve learned how to learn. By deliberately organizing your learning goals, thinking about your thinking, and reflecting on your learning at opportune times, you can become a better study, too.

Original Page: https://hbr.org/2018/05/learning-is-a-learned-behavior-heres-how-to-get-better-at-it

 

HBR: Track Your Time for 30 Days. What You Learn Might Surprise You.

I would encourage you to do a time-tracking exercise for 30 days. The information would be invaluable to being more productive and evaluating your schedule.  Below is a blog from the Harvard Business Review by Dorie Clark:

Track Your Time for 30 Days. What You Learn Might Surprise You.

It’s hard to know if we’re really making efficient use of our time. It seems like we’re working hard — and we’re certainly stressed out. But are we spending our time on the right things? That’s the question I set out to solve at the start of this year. I was feeling overwhelmed after spending the fall launching a new book and was finally turning to the litany of tasks I’d neglected in its wake.

Inspired by a colleague, the time management expert Laura Vanderkam, I decided to spend the month of February tracking exactly how I spent my time, down to half-hour increments. It wasn’t high tech — I used an Excel spreadsheet — but even the process of remembering to write things down was arduous. After all, we’re used to living our lives, not recording them. But the insights I gained over the course of a month were extremely useful. In particular, there were four that made me rethink a lot of the conventional wisdom on productivity and time management. While I encourage you to do your own time-tracking exercise, if you don’t have the time for that (ha!), here’s what I learned:

The right kind of multitasking can be transformative. We’ve all heard plenty about the dangers of multitasking — we can’t do multiple things at once effectively, and we’ll always suffer from cognitive switching costs. That’s true for certain activities but — crucially — is irrelevant for others. For instance, almost anyone can easily listen to podcasts or audiobooks while exercising, cooking, or commuting to work, and if you’re dining alone, you can read while you eat.

With a month’s data in hand, I was astonished to discover I averaged almost two hours of reading each day, plus an additional 90 minutes of listening to audio content. “Reading more” is a common aspiration for busy professionals — one poll reported that nearly one in five people claimed it as their New Year’s resolution — and “strategic multitasking” is a surprisingly easy way to fit it in.

There are benefits from combining your personal and professional networks. Many people still hold to the idea that friends and business don’t mix and that you should separate your personal life and professional life. And it’s true that boundaries can be important for work-life balance.

But if you relish what you’re doing, the most interesting friends in the world are often ones with whom you can share both personal matters (discussing hobbies or commiserating about interpersonal relationships) and those related to your business. As I’m writing this article, in fact, I’m on an airplane with one of my closest friends, who nominated me for an elite business consortium that we’re now participating in together. In my time-tracking exercise, I counted my time under multiple categories if it legitimately filled both criteria. Amazingly, this allowed me to have a full 29% more time in my month — 866 hours instead of the typical 672 — which helped me to get more done.

For example, I learned that I spend 19.3 hours per week with friends and 17 hours doing some form of networking. The overlap isn’t perfect, but it’s close, and those relationships have formed the core of my professional success. I might spend more time socializing than some — I live in a city, and I don’t have kids — but the same principle of building overlapping personal and professional circles holds no matter how many hours per week you have to devote.

Certain hours of the day are especially likely to be “wasted.” I don’t waste much time on social media (I define “waste” as time spent scrolling aimlessly through feeds, rather than posting with a professional purpose in mind). In fact, it only came to 2.5 hours during the entire month of February. In the scheme of things, it’s not much, and we don’t need to optimize every minute. But I’d at least like to be deliberate in how I choose to slack off, and social media wouldn’t be my top choice.

During the times when I did fall into the social media rabbit hole, a clear pattern emerged: It almost always occurred between 10 PM and 11 PM. Despite recent questions about the accuracy of Roy Baumeister’s seminal theory of ego depletion, it certainly seemed to be the case for me that I was most susceptible to distraction at that time, when I was worn down from the demands of the day but not tired enough to sleep. Realizing that this time of day is when my defenses are lowest, I can now guard more vigilantly against misspending time.

Certain tasks carry disproportionate psychological weight. Before starting my experiment, my perception was that I was besieged by email, which was crippling my productivity. But the reality was somewhat different. Indeed, I spent about 1.35 hours per day handling messages, which isn’t trifling. But it’s also not overwhelming, and well under the amount of time I allocated each day to pure client work (my top priority), networking and time with friends, and even reading.

However, even recognizing this, email still bothered me the most of any task, and I felt constant psychological pressure when I was “behind” on my response times. It wasn’t so much the frequency of checking email that stressed me out. (Some have experimented with checking email only twice a day, with mixed results.) For me, the anxiety came from the feeling — endemic to the nature of email — that people were awaiting my response and that I was constantly being handed new tasks for my to-do list.

My time-tracking experiment, however, helped me put things into perspective. We may never be able to fully escape feelings of email-related guilt. But I’d much rather accept a minor twinge now because I’m slow in responding to someone’s message (the urgent) than the long-term shame I’d feel looking back and discovering I’d become an email ninja while jettisoning my own strategic priorities (the important).

Time tracking can be onerous. In fact, I assigned the experiment to the mastermind group I run, and several participants just couldn’t finish it. One strategy I used to force myself to log my hours every day was “habit stacking” — tying the new behavior to an existing one. In my case, I left my Excel document open on my computer so that it was the first thing I saw when I returned to work after a break. That prompted me to record whatever I’d been doing in the interval, whether it was sleeping (after an overnight break), taking a meeting, or having lunch.

If you can manage to keep it up, the knowledge gleaned from time tracking can be invaluable. Understanding where you can successfully multitask, essentially giving yourself more hours in the day, can transform your productivity. And recognizing which activities are stressful enables you to make smarter decisions about how to delegate or reshuffle your workflow, so you can optimize for the tasks that suit you best.

Without data, it’s easy to paint an erroneous picture of how we spend our time, whether it’s inadvertently exaggerating the number of hours we work or assuming we’re wasting more time than we really do. My month of time tracking revealed useful insights that have enabled me to become more productive — and if you make an effort to evaluate your schedule, it may highlight ways you can optimize moving forward as well.