Monday, 24 August 2009

"Decisions, Decisions, Decisions"

My two oldest kids are now in their late twenties and old enough to make their own decisions. But whenever they face a big decision, they always ring home and ask my advice.

This week, it was my oldest son's turn. He's in a job sector that has been going through some uncertain times. He rang to say he'd been offered a job with a previous employer, at a nice salary, good conditions, and a reasonably stable future. What should he do? Go back and be secure. Or stick with his present employer and weather the storm?

Being so far away and not knowing the ins and outs, I held back on making any decisions for him. Instead, I do what I always do in these situations. I pass on 3 valuable tips that we teach on our Decision-Taking course at ManageTrainLearn.

Tip 1: When you have to make a big decision, forget your choices and think deeply about what matters in your life.

According to writer Azriela Jaffe, each of us takes around 612 decisions a day. That's about 4,900 decisions a week, and 254,000 a year.

The vast majority of these are routine decisions with no competing alternatives and we take them without thinking because our choice is obvious and it takes us where we want to go.

But every now and then, a biggy comes along where there are competing alternatives and the choice is anything but clear. That's when we have to stop chewing over the "should I/shouldn't I?" issues and go back to the "what really matters to me?" issues.

As Azriela Jaffe says, "Strategic thinking is looking at how your decisions today affect your tomorrows. When your decisions are in alignment with what's important to you, life becomes meaningful, productive, and delightful."

Tip 2: Take the big decisions with your heart and the little decisions with your head.

I've always given this advice to my kids and it seems to have worked out OK so far. That's because the things that really matter to us most, our dreams, our ambitions, our understanding of what we're here for, don't live in our heads. They live in our hearts.

So when a big decision comes along, we need to do two things. First, we need to weigh things up in an analytical, informed manner and create a list of pros and cons on a sheet of paper. That's the bit the head does.

Next we need to listen to our hearts. The trouble is, the heart can be a deaf mute. It knows what's best for us but only speaks in quiet whispers or fleeting doubts and if we're not listening, we can miss what it's saying.

Albert Einstein knew how to listen to his heart. When he had to make a whopper of a decision, he would toss a coin, heads one decision and tails the other. As soon as the coin landed, he would look at the decision and ask himself how he felt. If he felt good, he would go with it. If bad, he would go the other way.

Tip 3: Don't decide until you're ready.

I know that my kids often sound me out on decisions well before the decision has to be made. It's often, "If I get offered this job, what do you think I should do?" or "If I fail my exams, what am I going to do next?".

It's natural to think about the forks in the road ahead but worrying about decisions when you don't actually have to choose is a waste of energy.

The best decisions are hot-iron decisions, not too soon, not too late, but well-timed and leading to clear decisive action.

Eric Aronson tells the following riddle, "If 5 birds are sitting on a wire, and one of them decides to fly away, how many are left?" The answer is 5. One bird's decision to fly away doesn't mean it did!

I expect that the next time my kids ring home, they'll get around to some choices in their lives that they want my views on.

I won't decide for them. But I will remind them to think about what matters most; to listen to their heart; and to wait for the right moment. That way, I know they'll make the right decisions.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

"What's Your Laughometer Reading?"

How many times have you laughed today?

If research is anything to go by, the answer will be, not as much as you should have done.

We're told that people are so overwhelmed by the gloom they read and hear on the TV and newspapers that we're forgetting to laugh.

I say "forgetting" because, as kids, we were masters at laughing. Research, again, suggests that, while adults laugh on average 15 times a day, small children manage up to 400 laughs a day.

On our Creativity courses at ManageTrainLearn, we produce evidence that suggests that the more you laugh at work the more creative you are.

Goran Ekvall, professor of organisational psychology at Lund University in Sweden, says that laughter is an essential ingredient for workplace innovation. When comparing the creativity of various departments of a Swedish newspaper, Ekvall found that the most creative teams were those that had a high level of laughter and humour.

This is why Tom Peters says that you can measure an organisation's creativity from its laughometer.

There are many other reasons why laughter is good for you.
  • laughter releases serotonin, the "feel-good" hormone, into your brain
  • laughter helps you connect to others. It's one of the best rapport-building tools around.
  • laughter massages your inner organs
  • laughter can help you lose weight by burning off fat
  • laughter helps your immune system work better.
Madhuri Kataria, who created the idea of World Laughter Day, says, "There is an epidemic of seriousness that is raging all over the world. People seem to think that being grim-faced and serious is the only way to show commitment at work."

It reminds me of that Red Indian proverb, "When you get to heaven, most people ask themselves, "Why was I so serious?"."

So, here, to raise your serotonin, build your team, and increase your organisation's creativity, is one of my favourite jokes of the moment. Read it and laugh. Or read it 400 times today and laugh.

A young man, hired by a supermarket, reported for his first day of work. The manager greeted him with a warm handshake and a smile, gave him a broom and said, "Your first job will be to sweep out the store." "But I'm a college graduate." the young man replied indignantly. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know that," said the manager. "Here, give me the broom, I'll show you how."

Monday, 10 August 2009

"Learn to Let Go"

One of the key differences between managers who manage up close and those that let go is how they react when their staff run into difficulties, whether over a piece of work that they can't get right, a relationship in the team that isn't quite working, or indeed something outside work that is affecting them.

The up-close managers tend to see roadblocks like this as a major problem. They see a hitch in the smooth running of their department. They see things no longer running to time or cost or output. And they see the effect on today's, tomorrow's or this week's bottom-line.

That's why the knee-jerk reaction of the up-close manager is to step in as soon as a problem is detected and fix it quick.

The let-go managers see it quite differently. When they see their employees hitting a block, they don't see a "problem", they see an opportunity. They see the chance for people to learn and grow. And they see the effect of such an opportunity not on the short-term bottom-line but on the long-term development of the employee and the organisation.

That's why the quiet approach of the let-go manager is to be supportive, to be there and to lead.

On our Leadership Skills courses at ManageTrainLearn, we like to relate the story of The Butterfly's Wings that perfectly encapsulates this difference.

It goes like this.

A man found a butterfly cocoon. One day a small opening appeared. The man sat and watched the butterfly for hours as it struggled to force its body through the little hole.

Then it seemed to stop making progress. It appeared as if it had gotten so far and could go no further.

The man decided to help the butterfly. He took a pair of scissors and snipped the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily.

But something wasn't quite right. The butterfly had a swollen body and shrivelled wings. The man continued to watch the butterfly expecting that at any moment the wings would enlarge and expand to support the body.

Neither happened. In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with its swollen body and deformed wings. It was never able to fly.

What the man in his kindness and haste had not understood was that the struggle for the butterfly to get through the small opening in the cocoon are Nature's way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.

We're all a bit like butterflies. We sometimes come to a stop in our development when the next stage is a major step in our growth. But we need to do it ourselves. Because when we do, we don't just get to where we should be; we also learn how to cope with "problems", how to face up to life's difficulties, and how to learn about ourselves.

If you manage people like the man in this story, why not take a deep breath next time someone in your team has stopped and is struggling. Be there for them but learn to let go. And, you never know, they too might learn to fly.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

"Fill In What You Deserve"

One of the things I admire in the younger generation is their belief in their own worth.

Unlike them, I never got any assertive training at school. We learnt from the hard-knock school of life.

That's why, even to this day, I and others of my generation, often pause when we need to charge for our services or set a price for our products.

It all goes back to a fear that we might be making a mistake about our own self-worth and that, if we get it wrong, some terrible act of retribution will follow with a voice from the skies demanding to know, "Just who do you think you are!"

That's why I love the following story from Scott Kachelstein who's a singer and speaker from America.

"I remember the first time I was ever paid for my musical services. No one asked me my fee and I was so excited to be getting the job that I didn't bring the subject up either.

After my performance, the man who had hired me took me aside to discuss payment. His words sent my head spinning. "Here's a cheque. It's blank. Fill in what you think you deserve."

He stepped a few feet away from me and waited patiently, a smirk on his face, as if he was saying, "Now's your chance, kid. Step up to bat and tell yourself, tell me, and God how much you value yourself." I looked at the cheque in my hands, a little slip of paper with no numbers, no zeros. Freedom of choice had never felt so intimidating.

I didn't like that moment!! I wanted someone to tell me what I was worth. I wanted familiar boxes and lines of definition, not free will and open space! I took a deep breath, pondering just how much I felt OK being paid. Gulping, I added fifty dollars, wrote it down and handed the cheque back, trembling all the way.

He glanced at it, smiled, and we said goodbye. The sky didn't fall down, and the world didn't come apart. And that's what I was paid. Now, eighteen years later, if anyone dared to pay me like that again I might consider adding a zero to my comfort zone!"

The fact is, there are no such things as fixed values for anything. The global credit crunch and the plunging property markets should tell us that.

As Anthony Trollope said, "Never think that you're not good enough yourself. A man should never think that. My belief is that in life people will take you much at your own reckoning."

Or, as Scott Kachelstein says about your life's remuneration: "That's pretty much what God says to you before you come to earth: Here's a life. It's blank. Fill in what you think you deserve. Fill in what your heart longs for." And that's what you'll be paid.