Quiet Time, a Luxury or Necessity?

Call it meditation, or simply call it quiet time. Spiritual leaders say taking time to clear the mind is the secret to awareness and peace. For centuries, humans have gone to mediation classes, yogis, ashrams, the Dalai Lama, etc., in search of The Way.

More recently, our physicians have begun to tell us that meditation will lower your blood pressure, protect us from cancer, manage pain, and more. Mayo Clinic’s website contains this article on the health benefits of meditation.

And in this powerful New York Times opinion, the author reminds us our businesses will benefit too. “Creative thinking is markedly stymied by stray thoughts, obsessive ruminations, and other forms of mental load. Many psychologists assume that the mind, left to its own devices, is inclined to follow a well-worn path of familiar associations. But our findings suggest that innovative thinking, not routine ideation, is our default cognitive mode when our minds are clear.”

Summer is a great time to experience quiet, to test this out and see if perhaps a few moments of quiet each day could add value to our lives.

Is it the being or the doing that makes us uncomfortable?

How often do we hear people say that they embrace diversity and then behave another way? As Ralph Waldo Emerson was fond of saying, “What you do speaks so loudly, I can’t hear your words.” 

My sense is this happens because embracing diversity is easy most of the time. It’s not when folks are different from us; it’s when folks do something different that we feel challenged.

As leaders, it is our job to create an environment where everyone feels included so that we can successfully optimize our common organizational goals. At the same time, in these polarized times, leaders are increasingly finding team members looking for those “doing differences.”

What to do when we find these doing differences? 

I remember once we invited two couples for dinner, and we were surprised when we opened the door, and one of the couples brought with them someone we didn’t know. They introduced the guest as a family member visiting from out of town. We set another place at the table and politely didn’t say anything, hoping the expressions on our faces didn’t reveal our surprise. 

After they left, we talked about how inappropriate we thought they were to bring someone without asking or at least telling us. Later on, we remembered that there were always extra people at the table when we had been to their house. It was the custom in their culture to include everyone in a meal, so it didn’t occur to them to ask.

The questions that come to mind for me are:

  • How do we set aside our differences and, at the same time, embrace them so that our organizations benefit from the broader thinking that diversity brings?
  • How do we know when to confront behavior that seems in conflict with what we are accustomed to or when to leave it be because the behavior results from life differences rather actual conflict?

Optimize vs. Maximize

When I googled optimize vs maximize, I found this comparison “Maximize is about raw return, about getting maximum revenues and profits. Optimize is about ROI—seeking results relative to the investment required.

So why would we ever choose to maximize? Yet some of us default to the maximize choice without even thinking about the difference.

  • How often do we notice something, point it out, and then regret it later, wishing we had kept quiet? 
  • How often do we wait for more or better information and miss an opportunity?

There is both a time factor and a human factor to optimizing ROI. We often wait too long and strive for that final 5%, hoping to have perfect info upon which to base our decision. 

Or, instead of building up the confidence of the person doing the job, we ask for one more change, one more fix, and lose the opportunity to show appreciation for what the person has already accomplished.

In our quest for excellence, we sometimes forget that perfection and excellence are not the same, that excellence can be knowing what to accept as good enough and what to overlook.

Here’s an idea.

Today, instead of looking around and noticing what is missing, what if:

  • You look instead for what is right?
  • You see a critical item that is working and give someone specific, positive feedback?
  • You decide to overlook something that may be good enough given its relative importance, even if it isn’t exactly what you wanted?

Turbulent Times

Once again, the financial markets are adding to the uncertainty as we muddle our way through the third year of COVID. At the same time, we read that retail sales outperformed expectations in January while supply chain challenges continue.

What to do? 

As the adage goes, we can’t control what happens around us; we can only control how we respond. 

While we would like to believe we can separate ourselves from what is happening to us, we know that, at least for most of us, that isn’t so. Losses in our life affect our well-being. And, financial losses, business or personal, can impact our sense of well-being and, therefore, our health.

On the flip side, what about when things are consistently good for an extended period of time? Do we become complacent? Life is good, so why not enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. And, when does enjoyment become an adverse health factor?

One of my clients shared the following story with me. 

Each time his business hits a tough cycle, competitors exit, and his company dips. At the same time, his well-being was impacted, feeling depressed and losing weight, yet he continued to focus on health and fitness. Then the company survives and thrives again with new achievements. 

When things are on an upswing, he begins to relax; life feels good, he feels good. He finds himself eating, traveling, enjoying more, and gaining weight. Again, he is mindful of his behavior and begins to focus on health and hygiene.

My sense is his business recovery consistently outperforms his peers because he continues to take care of his mental and physical hygiene when things look their bleakest and when things look their brightest.

I am grateful to him for reminding me that maintaining our mental and physical health is a balancing act that ebbs and flows and to be mindful of the impact of both ups and downs.

What Are You Doing In The Shower?

Strange question for a post about leadership, eh? Here’s why I ask…. Used to be, we got our best ideas in the shower. Today, most of us are on the run. So much so that instead of just taking a shower, we are busy planning what is next; thinking about what has to get done.

And if we are in motion all day long, even during what used to be called down time, what is the cost?

  • To our businesses, to our creativity, to ourselves?
  • What opportunities are we missing by focusing only on what is urgent?
  • What might be the result if we allowed time for reflection?

When S.M.A.R.T. Goals Don’t Work, Iterate

Thank you for allowing this shameless self-promotion before today’s story. In October, I was a guest on the Northern Trust Advisors Podcast, and I just learned that this podcast made their top ten for 2021. So exciting! Here’s a link if you want to listen to a 1.5-minute excerpt. 

When SMART Goals aren’t working, try iterating instead.  

Following is a success story from the medical field. Perhaps it’s worth trying in the business world? The common theme, of course, is we humans are part of both scenarios. 

Kyra Bobiner, MD, developed a diet management program for the CDC to improve their diabetes prevention program. Drawing on her neuroscience training, Dr. Bobiner’s set out to find a diet management solution to close the gap between intention and action. She discovered that an iterative approach, which she calls the Iterative Mindset, helped her patients permanently replace bad habits with healthy, life-affirming ones. 

Bobiner worked with patients who previously tried unsuccessfully to make the necessary lifestyle changes to improve their health. “These people faced every possible headwind of financial and social stress — single parenting, working two jobs, and limited access to healthy food — yet they lost weight and improved their health. The common link between them was an Iterative Mindset, a resilient way of thinking that helped them approach behavior change like an experiment — with curiosity, innovation, and no self-blame if the first iteration didn’t work out as planned.”

If we buy into Dr. Bobiner’s approach, does this mean we should give up on SMART Goals? Or are there times when SMART goals, i.e., a Performance Mindset is a more effective approach, and other times when an Iterative Mindset is more effective? 

SMART goals are all about measurement and tracking. This approach works well for well-defined, short-term tasks, and most importantly, actions that do not require behavior change. On the other hand, when our intention is less clear, and the outcome requires innovation or behavior change, an Iterative Mindset will likely win. 

In summary, Bobiner’s success is a reminder that the scientific method, particularly trial and error experiments, works for behavior modification and business innovation just as it does for health and science. 

Oops, I Wish I Hadn’t Said That, I Wish I Had Done This…

Back in elementary school, when playing sports, we often were allowed a ‘do-over.’ As we got older, coaches and teachers stopped allowing this. The ball had to be played where it was. I suspect the reason for this was to “prepare us for life.” And, so we learned, no ‘do-overs,’ if I screwed up or forgot to do something, too late, can’t fix it.

  • While there must be rules in games (no way to score if there are not), does everything in life have to play by these same rules?
  • What if when we said something we wished we hadn’t, we went back to the person and said, “I am sorry, I wish I hadn’t said that, what I wanted to say is this…”
  • What if when we wanted to do something, we went back and did it?

In short, what if we started with the premise that nothing in life is irreparable or irretrievable, except death. While indeed words matter, see my blog of this same name (Words Matter), actions speak loudly, and ‘do-overs’ are a great way to take action and demonstrate intent. 

Another way to think about it, it’s not what you do, it’s what you do next.

From Pandemic to Endemic

2021 ended with yet another year of living in a pandemic. As I begin this new year, I’ve been reflecting on one of The Economist’s predictions, “In 2022, we will see Covid 19 move from a pandemic to endemic.”

Over the last two years, we have become so accustomed to making life and business choices based on this pandemic that I wonder, if this prediction is correct, how long will it take for behaviors to change accordingly?

We tend to make choices based on what we know, and it’s convenient to accumulate a bank of knowledge and rely on that to make decisions. What happens, though, when what we know isn’t so anymore?

The changing nature of Covid, what to test, when to mask, what test to rely on, etc., is a reminder, what is so today, may not be so tomorrow.

Can we learn to accept Covid as part of our society, much like other contagious diseases? Can we learn to protect those at risk and share vaccines worldwide while not trying to stop the world in the process?

Can we keep some of the good we learned from these past two years, e.g., we can nurture relationships on Zoom, take precautions to prevent spreading viruses, trust people to work even when we can’t see them working?

And can the lessons of the Covid evolution teach us to pause and evaluate what we are so confident of today that may not be so tomorrow?

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Mark Twain

Are You Green & Growing?

The further along, we get in our careers, the more we know and the more we are challenged to stay curious.

Every now and then, I meet a leader that knows it all. They have “the way” they do things that worked for them in the past, and as leaders, they are confident it will work today.

They share “the way” with their team, expecting them to accept “the way” and to become successful because of it. They do this with the best intentions, yet the results don’t come. Frustrated, they try again. If only folks would simply execute “the way,” they will be successful, and so will our company.

Alas, they discover, it doesn’t work the way it once did. This leader has two choices, s/he can continue to lead as s/he has always done, or… s/he can become curious.

What I have noticed is businesses, like ourselves, are living beings. And, like a plant, if I am not willing and able to be green and growing, the result is that I and my company become ripe and eventually rotting.

Telling Your Tomorrow Story

This week’s Sunday Story is actually a podcast. I am pleased to share my interview with the Northern Trust’s Flexible Advisor hosts Laura Gregg and David Partain. Listen to a 90-second highlight here.

Listen to the complete 30-minute interview here:
Episode 66: Supporting Executive Clients With Their Tomorrow Story — With Elisa Spain