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Spark of Magic With a Touch of Madness

Once upon a time, long ago in a land far, far away…

It’s a classic start of the most mesmerizing stories that once seemed so real to us. What would you have done with your three wishes had you found Aladdin’s magic lamp? Come on, I know at some point in life you thought about it.  And if not, you probably bought a lottery ticket and dreamed of the thought of winning 30 million and all your dreams that could come true.

Ringing in the New Year

A new year means 365 new chances! Many of us take the time to overthink the old year and make up the balance. What were my successes, did I make my targets, am I satisfied, and what should I do different? At the same time, we develop a plan for the year ahead of us. What are my goals and targets, how am I going to achieve them, and what can I do to help others achieve theirs? Maybe you even have dreams you always wanted to make come true but felt out of reach before now.

What does it really mean to you to make the year count or even your life count? That’s a very personal thing, of course, but I would love to take you on a quick journey through another one of my brain spins.

For me personally, it’s important to make every day count. And it’s often in the little things.  Despite the fact I’m a leader, I love the value of entertainment and humour to make everyone get a little bit closer to themselves and help them stay away from outside distractions that often ruin their happy vibes. Staying close to yourself helps to connect to others. Whether it’s dancing at the desk, playing a round of request songs, and teaching others basic dance moves at the office, or making people see that little sparkle of light in a dark and shitty day. Not passing by their true emotions but helping them stay close to themselves and changing their perspective on that rough moment or experience.

Embracing Your Inner Child

I think it’s incredibly important to hold on to your inner child and to follow your dreams! A spark of madness and a rich imagination are valuable tools to make a difference, not only for yourself, but it’s an amazing way to impact others. You only get one spark of madness in this life. It’s so easy to get lost in this world without it so you have to maintain it.  Never lose your inner child, never lose your enthusiasm, and never lose your curiosity!

One of my most favorite quotes covers it all:

“The secret of a genius is to carry the spirit of young child into old age.” –  Aldous Huxley

A child is in touch with its aliveness. There’s a level of innocence that’s hard to hold on to as we “mature”. A child will dance naked and not think “I’m fat”.  They will sing and not think, “I wonder if I’m off key”. They will love you without conditions.  Living through the eyes of a child is just pure freedom. They are so in touch with their divine, their essence, their soul. It’s something special if you can carry this into an old age, because everybody deserves a spark of magic.

Keeping that Child Alive

We often worry too much about what others think of us, inciting unnecessary fear.  It creates boundaries that block our road to give our very best,  and leads to overthinking amazing ideas and beating down great enthusiasm. Do expectations really change?   Well, I guess to some degree they do.  I think it might be frowned upon if I dance around naked through the office tomorrow, but at the same time, there is so much room to be met in the office.  I stay close to myself and, at the same time, bring others closer to their true selves.  I encourage them to enjoy every moment to the fullest and inspire them to really go for it.

In the end, all that’s going to matter is the influence that you had on other people’s lives. Having an impact and being appreciated for it is the foundation of everything we do. We are all on a separate journey! But in the end its going to be about who you where as a person, how you lived your life, how you encouraged and impacted others.

“History is being read, but it’s also being written by people with imagination.” – Les Brown

Yet another strong quote that outlines the importance of holding on to your dreams and keep that spark of magic going. Part of the magic is determined by how much you believe in yourself. Walt Disney once said, “if you can dream it, you can do it”.   There is so much truth in his words. Even if you won’t get there today, you are going to be closer than you were yesterday. Keep going step by step. You might find the first step to be the hardest, but remember that you are never alone. If I can help you to keep your spark going, know where to find me.

Don’t you ever wonder if it’s all just a dream? Make the best of it and you will live happily ever after…. Wishing you an amazing 2021.

Virtual meeting

The Virtual Party

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a unique year. With the New Year just around the corner, the typical excitement of ringing in a new year, full of opportunities and hope, has been replaced with the reality that 2021 is bound to start with uncertainty and growing anxiety.  Currently, many businesses are closed with no re-open date.  Many people find themselves unemployed or working remotely from home.  Initially, most found the idea of working from home enticing, cutting out the commute, more time to balance work-life situations.  Although it sounds ideal, working from home is actually tricky. The usual problems of working remotely (lack of structure and routine, no designated space to work, constant interruptions, etc.) can be managed. Still, some issues require outside influences to execute properly.  Specifically, I’m talking about keeping your team feeling like a team and not individual employees working from their home silos.

Is Technology The Answer?

I’m confident that the amount of Zoom meetings has increased exponentially since the Covid pandemic began.  Although technology is an excellent addition to our work environment, it doesn’t replace human interaction.  As Peter F. Drucker said, “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”  It’s difficult to read that non-verbal communication from your computer screen.  If you can get a video meeting off without any technical or equipment difficulties, it can be useful. Still, it isn’t the same as sharing a cup of tea or coffee during a break or being physically present to support each other.  Video meetings do have their place, and they can save windshield time for people having to commute to one center for a face to face.  Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, face to face meetings are out of the question. So how can we use technology while still maintaining the team environment and camaraderie that we come to expect from a well-functioning team?

The Virtual Celebration

This last weekend we attended Jeffrey’s virtual Christmas party for his Fire Department colleagues.  We weren’t sure if it would really provide a party atmosphere if everyone were remotely logging in, but we donned our Christmas sweaters (yes, we are those people), and the virtual Christmas party began.  Everyone received an ample supply of snacks, three sample wine bottles, and three kinds of cheese per package.  The night started with a greeting from the chief, followed by a wine tasting.  The tasting was to last an hour – I thought that would be a little dry (no pun intended), but it was so interesting and entertaining.  Then the group played some trivia and continued to visit.  While we were all on the video party, we were also chatting with each other on our phones, allowing for smaller side conversations as you would have at a live event.  I’m not sure what about the night made it so real.  It certainly wasn’t the same as a normal Christmas party, but I think it was as close as we could safely get during this crazy pandemic. Above all, it was a fun night!

Team Building is More Challenging

The virtual Christmas party organizers did a great job of combining the virtual with the traditional celebration so that everyone was included, celebrated, and felt the team connection they have come to know. This Fire Department has struggled this year to have their routine practice and education sessions due to the Covid restrictions.  As with most teams this year, the pandemic can lead to a disconnect among the team. Although this is an example of a Christmas celebration, it’s importance for team building cannot be overstated.

It can be challenging on a good day to keep your team motivated and collaborating effectively.  This global pandemic has added a new twist to the game.  Not only are we struggling with distance but increased personal demands as we navigate the ever-changing restrictions placed on all aspects of our lives.  Does it mean your team has to suffer?  I don’t think so.  It just takes some creative thinking and more intentional communication and organization. Events like the virtual Christmas party shouldn’t happen only once a year. Indeed no one expects a party regularly, but connecting on a personal level needs to happen more intentionally now that people are working remotely.  Now, more than ever, we need to have the support of our work family.

tea cup with bag

Changing Employee-Experience One Teabag at a Time

The other day I saw a quote pop up on Linkedin, If I recall correctly, it was one from Simon Sinek, and part of it said the following “life is beautiful because of the people we meet,” and I couldn’t agree more. So I try to squeeze the wave of thoughts that reading those words released in this little blog to tickle your minds. It is the people in our lives that give it meaning, make it valuable and worth living. Who else would you learn from, and who else would you share all your amazing experiences in life with. Can you imagine being all alone?

Basic Human Needs

Human beings are incredibly complicated and predictable at the same time. That’s what fascinates me about human behavior. Even though there are exceptions, the majority of our society uses the same strategies and patterns to make their everyday moves and decisions.

We all share a need for appreciation and acknowledgment, and we want to grow and develop. In addition,  we all desire a level of certainty and security. Although people have the same basic needs, we all seek them in different ways, moments, levels, and forms. We look for them in other people or situations. In the end, we are still unique.

Appreciation and acknowledgment are something very delicate. But by saying good morning, you can never go wrong.  Saying “good morning” tells people, “I see you and respect you.”  Another common way to get appreciation and acknowledgment is the use of social media. We share parts of our personal journey through life, things that happen to us, and something we experience. In return, people share our stories, like them, or even love them. In some cases, it can lead to new jobs or opportunities.

Nothing replaces human contact. Even in the middle of a global pandemic, there is so much value in being able to look someone in the eyes or to share your smile when someone feels a little down or just as a token of appreciation.

Developing Relationships

You hear it everywhere around you, “We tend to get caught up in life” or “life goes by so fast.” It’s a summary that describes the urgency of valuable inter-human relationships. Meeting new people means getting to know new people. Something that is, of course, extra hard during the current Covid19-restrictions all over the world. Never the less we need to keep going; we need to be a little bit more creative and leave the well-worn paths.

The importance of getting to know people is very relevant to the work floor too. Knowing your staff is one of the most important things there is. Getting to know them takes time and effort. But if you are willing to invest that and you really listen to your employees, truly try to understand them, you can make a difference.  Because when you know them, you know which buttons to push to coach them and guide them to become the best version of themselves under all circumstances.

The Tea Bags

People that know me know I’m not really a coffee drinker, but I will take a good cup of tea any time of the day!  That brings me to a good story about the connecting value of a cup of tea. It was at the end of my first year working as a manager at GVB public transit in Amsterdam. Managing a team of tram drivers and service staff members in the city of Amsterdam came with challenges. My staff members were often on the road, moments of contact were often short and usually about their adventures during their rides (basically to let off some steam). These visits were important but too short to build a meaningful work relationship and to help get them out of their own heads during their busy schedules.  Then I figured out the value of a teabag!

My favorite Dutch tea brand Pickwick is not just any teabag.  They have a wide variety of amazing tea flavors, and no, I’m not (yet) sponsored for writing this in my blog. But what makes me an even bigger fan is the little label on the end of the string attached to the teabag because they contain questions. And I can hear you think what’s so exciting about those questions? Well, they make you feel; they are an amazing tool to connect to yourself and other people.

I remember putting the jar of teabag questions on my desk. I made this plan when staff members walked in to blow off some steam, ask a simple question, or just a visit, I would draw a question. The first person I asked laughed hard and told me she wasn’t going to answer the question. But she did ask me the question back.  As I was answering, I was kind of disappointed, not knowing that two hours later, she would walk back into the office to answer it anyhow. I was happy and thought I was on to something. The value of this little teabag was more significant than I could ever imagine. It changed how I connected to my staff members in a natural human way and got them out of their busy work bubble.

Ironically enough, the labels on their corporate teabags don’t have the questions and just show their plain logo. A missed opportunity if you ask me because the work floor offers such an amazing stage for some good conversations. And it gave me, as a manager, an important tool to approach leadership from a different perspective opening my eyes, allowing me to connect with my staff members on a different level.

When did you connect with your team for the last time? What do you do to get to know your staff?

girl helping up boy

Always Stay Humble & Kind

This week it struck like lightning. As I was riding the early morning train to Amsterdam and crossed the fields, the sunbeams hit my face as the music played softly in my ears.  I experienced a moment of peace when the lyrics made everything fall into place.  I’m raised in a loving family by an amazing mom and dad. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine how valuable the lessons our parents teach us can be. They truly determine my blueprints more than I ever realized before, even though I always try to be aware of the things I learn in life from the interactions I have with the people that cross my many paths. Ironically enough, I needed a song to figure out the most important lesson I’ve learned from my creators and a lesson I live by every day, and it makes a difference “Always stay humble and kind.”

Even though my dad never really finished high school, he’s the most successful man I’ve ever met or even know from any other source. His work ethic is incredible, he is always positive, but most importantly, he’s always respectful and kind. It’s hard not to like him even when he corrects you. He worked himself up over the years attending courses, getting diploma’s and, more importantly, by being amazing in everything he does. As an operational manager responsible for managing his teams and customers at a decent-sized facility organization, he makes a difference for many people every day! Never feeling too good to get his own hands dirty despite his position, always stayed humble.

Way Way Back

A while ago, I had a couple of drinks with some friends from high school. They shared amazing memories of being at my house, surrounded by my warm and welcoming parents that offered us the possibility to have a good time within reason. Getting that space always made us respect the boundaries that came with it. The times I didn’t, I still truly regret and learned valuable lessons off.

I’m grateful for my dad’s wisdom and the way he can transfer that to me, mostly by example, not forcing it on me but by giving me a choice to apply.  He does the right thing using knowledge and experience to help his staff and the organization to a higher level! For being him, he’s respected by many, and that often gives him the right impact!

The Resemblance Is Striking

It might sound funny that I always compare managing my staff members with raising children. This, despite the fact, I prefer to manage on an equal level. The resemblance in behavior, however, is striking. Even though I don’t have much experience raising kids, I always love to see how parents “manage” theirs. In the end, I guess we are both managing human beings. The challenging thing about that is that no-one is exactly the same.

Everybody has different buttons that need to be pushed to get the most out of them. That’s why it’s so important to know your employees. Do they need to be disciplined, or do they need some encouragement? The key is to always treat people with admiration and respect. If you are humble and kind, it’s easier to value other people and make people feel valued. That automatically makes it easier to find common ground, and that’s the foundation to grow your relationship and get things done weather in your personal or business life.

Shocking – Development Is Reversible

There aren’t very many people that master the skill of staying humble and kind. Over the many years of meeting people in different labor settings, markets, and industries, I noticed that a high number of people didn’t feel appreciated and respected by their manager or employer in general. Last week I read a disturbing article that pointed out that 1 out of 4 of the higher educated Dutch people currently searching for another job do this because of their manager.

Our findings are that lower educated, but often specialized people experience the same but stick around with their employer longer. Especially the older staff members.  As the current markets show, there is a shortage of technical staff members. Mainly younger employees often switch companies for a little extra money at the competition, often because there is simply not much more to stay for. Little appreciation, high work pressure, no social benefits, or incentives do not encourage employee retention. If companies focus on positive and appreciative leadership a little more, they can connect to their employees on a better level and make them feel valuable, appreciated, and needed, resulting in a more durable collaboration.

We Can All Relate!

So it wasn’t until my epiphany moment in the early morning train that I realized this is the very core of Oteos. I started the company because I want the world to be a little more humble and kind. It would make work a better place to be. Because in our core, we are all the same. We share the need for appreciation, acknowledgment, and we all want to grow in some way. We all have moments of high and moments of low. Even though we all cope with things in different ways, deep inside, we can relate. Embracing this knowledge, we offer businesses support and inspiration on many levels.

Sometimes it’s good to be a bit more conscious of our lives. To really be aware of the impact others have on us and how we can impact them. Which valuable lessons have you learned?  What are your blueprints? How do you impact others?

 

brain

Don’t Discount Covid Brain

After a brief hiatus from writing – I am back!  While I planned a short time away for personal reasons, my extended leave was not expected.  This novel Covid-19 virus decided to attack the world and, unfortunately, made it into our home.  I must clarify that I am only a presumptive case of Covid-19.  I’m a nurse practitioner with the knowledge and resources to manage my symptoms safely at home, and I’m a bit stubborn and didn’t want to leave the comfort of my house to get tested.  That being said, I had all the classic symptoms:  sore throat, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle pain, dry/hacking cough, and a SEVERE headache.  I am a migraine sufferer and have never endured anything close to the severity of this headache.  Worse yet, no medication could take the pain away.  It’s been just over twelve weeks since I became ill.  Fortunately, I’ve recovered from most of the symptoms but I still suffer from intermittent headaches, easily fatigued, and a heightened sense of anxiety/agitation.  All of these symptoms are consistent with brain trauma, referred to as Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

So I’m In the 30%

As we all know, Covid-19 is a new virus that is sending the research world into a high-pressure, time-sensitive environment. Governments are demanding data, new treatment modalities, and a vaccine for the deadly virus. As brains of the deceased are studied, and data is compiled, researchers can give us more information about the virus.  An estimated 30% of Covid-19 patients develop neurological symptoms. Initially, it was thought that the virus could not cross the blood-brain barrier meaning that it didn’t directly affect the brain.  As more data is received, however, it was discovered that it can and does cross into the brain.  This shouldn’t be a surprise as many other respiratory viruses  (influenza, measles, RSV) create havoc in the brain.

As research continues and more answers are found, there are many questions that still need to be answered.  Of special interest to me is how long will this “Covid Brain” last? I’m talking about more than the headache and fatigue here.  I’m talking about the loss of short-term memory, inability to focus, intermittent confusion, and days like yesterday that I just can’t focus on anything.  My husband asked me what I was thinking, and my reply was “nothing”.  And I meant it.  There was absolutely nothing going on upstairs.  That’s frightening for an educated, intelligent person to experience.

So Why Does This Matter?

As the world begins to re-open businesses after this virus has devastated lives and the economy, they will struggle with getting the business back on its feet.  This may mean downsizing (even if temporarily), restructuring, and for some, closing their doors forever.  But what about those staff that were infected with Covid-19?  Many of them will suffer residual effects from the brain trauma.

A healing brain is a delicate organ.  In most traumatic brain injury cases, the healing is slow, and the person may not get back to the full function they had before the injury. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough evidence with Covid-19 yet to fully understand the residual effects on the infected brain.  Fortunately, there are ways to promote healing and support your staff as they recover. Always keep in mind how frustrating this is for the person struggling to get their brain back.

Brainline.org provides some excellent tips to help your staff transition back into their position while still encouraging a healing environment.

Vision – Lighting is important – change the fluorescent lights to high intensity, white lights, and increase natural lighting.  Provide an anti-glare computer screen and large print on reading materials.

Focus– Concentration is going to be a constant struggle.  To help with this, provide a quiet work area with little distraction (a private office or work enclosure if possible).  Allow for white noise.  Break down large jobs into smaller, manageable tasks.  If necessary, restructure their role to include only the essential functions.

Fatigue – Maintaining stamina throughout the day is a challenge.  Offering flexible schedules, longer or more frequent breaks, and part-time work schedules are all viable options.  Schedule more challenging tasks at the beginning of the day, leaving more mundane tasks for the end of the day when fatigue is more likely.  Most importantly, encourage your employee to acknowledge their fatigue and rest when they are to that point, even if it means going home.

Stress– Handling stressful situations and managing emotions is more difficult while the brain is recovering. Acknowledging this includes sensitivity training for other staff and providing a positive work environment. Encourage the employee to access any available Employee Assistance Programs and coaching services.

Awareness & Acknowledgement

As a leader, it is important that you are aware of these symptoms and remember that not everyone that had Covid-19 was tested and confirmed. You may have staff that had/have the symptoms that aren’t confirmed with testing but may still suffer the long-term complications of the disease.  Acknowledging their struggles will go a long way to support them during their recovery. Hopefully, the recovery time will be a matter of weeks, but for some, it is turning into months.  This can be frustrating to management and the staff member. Patience and understanding will be key.

broken plate

Why Does Accountability Matter?

Acknowledging our mistakes is a sign of strong character. It is a primary component of accountability and is essential for effective leadership.  Accountability isn’t the same as responsibility, although the two terms are often interchanged.  We all have responsibilities at work, the tasks that make up our job.  Responsibility can be shared, divided up amongst team members.  Accountability, however, belongs to only one person.  It is what happens after an incident and how you respond and take ownership of the results.

Accountability is essential for building trust in the workplace.  If staff are worried about getting thrown under the bus or are unsure of their leader’s support in the event of an incident, they are not going to exude creativity. They will work for the company but not with the energy and passion that they would if they know that mistakes won’t end their career with the organization. Obviously, I’m not talking about repeatedly making the same stupid mistake but rather the kind that happens on occasion.

Why Is It Important?

Despite the importance of owning our mistakes, and the fact that every human makes them, it becomes more evident that so many people in positions of power are not accountable themselves.  How many of us have worked for a manager that never had our back?  Or that took credit for success but was quick to blame when something happened? Everyone knows this scenario – the real question is, how are these individuals put in any position of influence?

There are so many reasons that businesses benefit from accountable leadership.  Not only can accountable leaders quickly identify problems, but they can find solutions just as fast.  Just like other characteristics of good leadership, the other members of the team will follow suit.  Accountability will inspire accountability.   It also breeds trust and loyalty, both of which increase productivity.

When Accountability is Lacking

Of course, you can’t discount the consequences of no accountability.  When the blame game starts with management, it festers among the team.  This will no doubt create division among the staff. There are those that will accept the blame, those that will fight back, and those that will become one of the brown-nosers to the boss in hopes of avoiding the blame.  Either way, division of the team occurs.  I have seen it happen to the best of them.  Naturally, productivity declines, as does loyalty to the manager and the organization.  Whether it’s the blame game or lack of leadership, employee engagement is sure to decrease.

Lack of accountability also affects the customer experience.  Due to its profound effect on employee engagement, it will affect the way the employees treat customers.  This will lead to first-time customers not returning, regular customers not returning, and those that do leave negative reviews.  We all know that more people complain about a bad experience than shout out about the good ones.

How To Encourage It

Bent tracks

Two approaches are often taken when someone shirks accountability.  One is to ignore the problems, and the other is to remove the person from their team. Realistically, neither approach is ideal.  Ignoring the problem will likely make it more significant or recurring, and you don’t want to terminate someone or shuffle them if they have the potential to be an asset to the team.  First and foremost, lead by example.  Again, accountability inspires accountability.  Make sure that your staff has the tools and equipment needed to do their job efficiently and effectively.  Ensure that there is a continuous feedback loop.  Too often, feedback only happens when something goes wrong, but it’s essential to have feedback when things are going well.

Most importantly, provide them with an environment that makes it easy to own their mistakes.  Working in a safe environment encourages creativity and productivity.  We learn more from our mistakes than our successes, as it’s our mistakes that keep us growing.

Stress

Trauma At Work

How Does Trauma Happen?

A few years ago, if you asked me about trauma in the workplace, I would have thought of a major incident akin to the planes crashing into the Twin Towers or a disgruntled employee opening fire on colleagues.  Fortunately for all of us, these major types of traumatic events in the workplace are rare.   More often, trauma is caused by working in a persistently toxic work environment.  This type of toxicity is costly to the individual as well as the organization.

Unfortunately, I worked in a toxic work environment for the past two to three years.  It wasn’t always toxic.  In fact, it was one of the best places I had ever worked until management at three levels changed in rapid succession.  When circumstances afforded me the opportunity, I finally left the organization.  The choice came with an enormous amount of guilt – guilt that I was leaving the patients that meant so much to me, but even more was the guilt for the work-family that I left behind.    I had spent the past two years fighting for my team at a cost to me professionally as well as mentally and emotionally.  By the time I left the organization, I was damaged and truly felt like a failure.  I was unable to successfully lead my team through some very difficult times and, after twenty years of service, felt like I had been dishonorably discharged without actually being fired.  Feeling completely defeated and like I had let my work family down, I walked away.

There were many factors that contributed to the hell that I called work.  First and foremost was the lack of leadership at the managerial level.  Bullying behavior was not only supported but encouraged by the management.  This created a work floor with snitches that were more than happy to report any infraction, regardless of how small, to the manager.  She then took great pleasure in belittling staff, yelling, threatening, and emulating basic bullying behavior.  Bullying alone can contribute to a toxic environment, but when coupled with narcissistic, manipulative, and condescending management, workplace trauma is guaranteed.

Cost to the Organization

The trend in recent years is organizations asking more from their staff with fewer resources.  While organizations may feel this increases productivity, it actually increases stress among the team, causing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and social isolation leading to an increase in sick leave.   In fact, it’s estimated that 60% of sick leave is due to stress-related illnesses, in turn, having a significant impact on the bottom line.  A study in Canada showed that unaddressed mental illness in the workplace costs businesses more than $50 billion in lost productivity each year.  Interestingly, a third of managers have no formal support or resources to support their employees.

Eventually, as in my case, when employees are given the opportunity, they will leave the toxicity.  Staff turnover is challenging, but it is also incredibly expensive.  For every employee that leaves, someone new must be recruited and trained to fill the position, not to mention the lost productivity during the transition period.  The cost of one employee leaving an organization is upwards of $20,000.

Cost to the Employee

Repeated exposure to a toxic work environment can cause a variety of issues.  According to clinical psychologist Dr. L. Michael Tompkins, bullying in the workplace can be emotional abuse and can cause the symptoms and/or diagnosis of PTSD.  Employees can experience a loss of problem solving ability , may be poor at making rational decisions, and may take risks that they normally wouldn’t and consider it normal behavior.  Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to hear of suicide as a result of repeated exposure to a toxic work environment – the ultimate cost to the employee.

So Now What?

When CBC News published an article in November 2019, “Workplace Mental Health Programs Deliver Healthier Bottom Lines”, all I could think was ‘no kidding’.  We know that for every dollar spent on mental health in the workplace, the return is $1.62.  This makes great business sense.  But having worked in Primary Health Care for nearly fifteen years, my mind tends to focus on prevention.  How can we create environments at work that minimize the stress that creates the anxiety and depression that so many employees face?

Relationships Matter

A key to a healthy workplace is the relationships that are developed among colleagues and with management.  If an employee is absent, a caring, empathetic manager should reach out to see how they are doing, if they can support them in any way and to provide them the opportunity to remain an integral part of the team while they are off, if they are physically and mentally able to.   Employees are the most critical asset that a business has and as such, need to be cared for.  Developing relationships with employees should remain a priority.

Education

Management must have the basic skills to lead their people.  They need to be trained to identify and manage trauma among their staff.  The key to mental support begins with transparent and supportive relationships between the manager and the staff.   This helps management with early identification of mental and stress-related difficulties.  Organizations need to invest in the mental health of their staff, going beyond the basic employee assistance programs.  Considering that we spend the majority of our day at work, it’s essential that everyone has a safe environment to work in.  Organizations should encourage the development of relationships between staff and encourage what I call the “work family”.  This allows for more support and increased resilience to stress.  Encouraging self-care such as ensuring break times, adequate lunch breaks, encouraging physical activity, and stress management are all ways the employer can help build on an individual’s resilience.  Empowering employees to develop and grow as individuals and as professionals only strengthens this resilience.

Organizations that invest in their employees and foster an environment that is safe, supportive, and encourages resiliency will find that the payoff is far greater than the investment.  Happy, resilient employees are more productive and will give 100% knowing that the organization has their back.

cherry tree and water

Embrace The Good

For years now, I’ve been intrigued by a short article I read about an African tribe and how they deal with each other’s mistakes. I took a screenshot of it and have kept it on my phone ever since.

In this African tribe, when someone broke a rule or made a mistake, they take the person to the center of the village where the whole tribe comes and surrounds them. For two days, they will tell them all the good that he did over the past years. The tribe believes that each human being comes into the world as good. In the beginning, everyone desires safety, love, peace, and happiness.  But sometimes, in the pursuit of these things, people make mistakes.

The community sees those mistakes as a cry for help. They then unite to lift man up, to reconnect him with his true nature, and to remind him who he really is, until he fully remembers the truth of which he had been temporarily disconnected: “I am good.”  (May 17, 2014, the good men project)

Dealing with Difficult Employees

Not until recently, I actively connected this article to leadership and managers dealing with difficult employees. Difficult employees are often a challenge for management. Some situations like a violation of company rules such as stealing are less difficult to deal with than unpleasant behavior between or towards colleagues. In the last situation, it might seem tempting to wait and see how it develops. Inaction, however, can harm those involved, general workplace morale, and productivity. It might become a reason for other valued members of the team to leave the department or even the company. Management needs to intervene; it’s their responsibility. So don’t brush people away, take them seriously. Make sure there is confidentiality. Address the employee in question immediately so that the situation is still fresh in their memories!

Punishment

So when employees misbehave, do you punish them? If you do, keep in mind that it only has a short term effect and stops a specific action. It won’t change people’s behavior in general. It only teaches people how to avoid punishment. Think of a police camera that stops you from speeding as you pass it, after which you start to speed again. You want your employees to develop and have a sustainable and effective contribution to the team and its results. Not only when you are around but as a standard bar. To reach that state of collaboration, it’s better to create an environment where people want to do their job and feel safe to do so. That way, the need for punishment is way less.

Compliments

But how do you create that environment where people feel safe, appreciated, and empowered to develop? Your three basic golden rules come close to Skinner’s behaviorism theory:

  1. Embrace the good, give compliments for positive behavior;
  2. Ignore little everyday mistakes and incidents unless you see a concerning pattern;
  3. Only punish excessive behavior that needs to stop immediately.

I’m a firm believer in a complete focus on positive behavior. If you give three compliments and punish once, you have made a tiny step forward in building a relationship. Can you imagine what would happen if you gave more compliments?  Even though at times it is so tempting to focus on the mistakes of others, you don’t want to feel like a cop, do you?  And honestly ask yourself the question if that “cop behavior” would work on you! You want to give your team what they deserve, your full attention, constructive feedback, and coaching.  Don’t lose your eye for the good in the members of your team, embrace it, and give them compliments!

Compliments are so powerful because they make people happy. When someone feels appreciated, they are willing to work harder to keep others happy.  The happier someone is, the more meaningful their life gets. It confirms that you are seen, accepted, and loved by others!  It will make them give their very best.

What do you do to inspire your team to develop and grow?

Scrolling

Slack – What does it mean?

What do you do when you identify slack?Slack

The other day I was listening to Craig Groeschel’s podcast about slack amongst leaders in the workplace.  He defined slack as anything that doesn’t move us towards our goal. I was surprised by the amount of slack time that the typical leader engages in during an average work week.  Now slack can come in multiple forms, including excessively long breaks or lunch hours or excessive visiting or chatting on the work floor.  Note that I said excessivevisiting.  We know that strong teams are developed more by the connections made out of the workplace than those made at work.  That is why some visiting about kids, husbands and lives outside of work is actually good for the team.  I have many more thoughts on team building that I will share in later articles.

The stat that really resonated with me was the 3.8 hours a week that leaders spend engaging in mindless activities like scrolling Facebook and Instagram or streaming YouTube.  According to Groeschel, this is done to give them a mental break.  Think about that – 3.8 hours per week for mental breaks at work.  I am in no way saying that mental breaks are not necessary during a workday but what happening that this is adding to the average 20 hours of slack in a week?  Or is this a practice that should actually be encouraged?

The Tork poll done in spring of 2018 showed a large disconnect between the management and employee perception of breaks, specifically lunch breaks.  Tork showed that management often considered the lunch break when evaluating job performance or view staff that took a regular lunch break as less productive. This despite the evidence that regular breaks, including lunch breaks increase creativity, productivity and focus. A common trend is the 30 minute lunch break.  While 30 minutes is enough to inhale a sandwich, is it really long enough to give someone a true break?  The hour long lunch not only gives your staff room to breathe but it can discourage poor habits like getting fast food or encourage positive health habits like exercise, meditation or other forms of self-care.

There are many ways that organizations can encourage regular breaks.  Yes, you read that correctly – organizations should encourage regular breaks. Mutually important is the body’s need for regular fuel throughout the day and the minds need for intermittent rest. Healthy snacks in a comfortable environment can help decrease the mid-afternoon slump and help your team continue strong until the end of the day.

One easy way to encourage regular breaks is to take a break yourself.  I am a firm believer in leading by example.  This is something I practiced as a parent and as a leader on the team. Just as we cannot expect our kids to be healthy eaters as we are eating a Big Mac, we cannot expect our staff to take breaks if we don’t practice it ourselves.

Don’t confuse busyness with productivity.  When I first started nursing many years ago, we were encouraged by older nurses to look busy.  That way the head nurse would not think you were slacking.  Of course, today this practice is obsolete – in nursing anyway.  Just because staff is not scrolling on their phone does not mean they are being productive. If you notice their focus is absent or weak, it may be time for a break – scheduled or not.

Aside from encouraging regular breaks to encourage mental and physical health, leaders should view slack in the workplace as an opportunity for improvement.  Perhaps something has changed within the team, a staff is facing something difficult on the home front or is experiencing poor job satisfaction. Either way, identifying the why behind the slack can be an opportunity to provide support to your team and identify ways to encourage growth.

Even amongst your best employee slack is always going to be present to some degree, it’s how we utilize it that matters.  Encourage your team to practice good self-care, take their breaks and lead by example.  Do you take your breaks?  How do you lead your staff to decrease slack and increase productivity?

Lion Pride

How To Be A Great Leader

Have you always wanted to know how to become a great leader? For many years people assumed that effective leaders were born with certain traits. Therefore, the majority of research focused on trying to answer the question “what is an effective leader”? Maybe it was height, physical strength, or perhaps dominance or intelligence. Researchers like Stogdill (1974) and Lord a.o. (1986) demonstrated conflicting outcomes proving that there was no such thing as a shared set of traits as a predictive factor for effective leadership. Researchers then started to focus on the leader’s behavior, showing what they did became more important than who they were. I can already hear you “here’s hoping” because that means that anyone can learn how to become a good leader.

That, in fact, is very true! If you look at the underlying meaning of the word in a dictionary, it means “a person who leads”. There are so many types of leadership. And the basic foundation of leadership is the ability to influence. But what makes a leader a great leader? Throughout the years, many leadership styles have been reviewed. Let’s go through some of the most important ones before I come to the secret of great leadership.

Effective Leadership

Models that try to define leadership focus on the leader’s behavior. Researchers approach leadership by task focused, and person / relationship focused activities. Blake and Mouton’s Managerial Grid (Blake and Mouton, 1964) is one of the many models that can be used to define types of leadership and what’s most effective, including that “a participating way of leadership is the most effective.” But what does that mean? It means that an effective leader should be able to:

  • delegate decisions
  • give employees a chance to develop
  • communicate accurately with all people in the organization.

Situational Leadership

Let’s say a participating style is the best way to lead your employees. Would you be able to handle any situation holding on to just that style? I think the answer to that is no! Every situation is different. What does your team look like, how are the dynamics in it, what’s your relationship with your team, what’s the environment, what’s the task, and who are you as a person? Those are just a number of the essential factors that can have a significant influence on the effectiveness of a leadership style. Leadership seems to be precision work.

The model for situational leadership (Hersey & Blanchard, 1992) suggests that the best leaders need to be flexible in the style they choose, adapting to the stage of maturity of their staff members. Task maturity is very much a matter of wanting and being able to, in which confidence is an essential factor. To make situational leadership a success, leaders really need to know their staff members and how they work under a variety of circumstances and what they need to get the job done.

Charismatic Leadership

The most modern approach to leadership is the one focusing on the emotional effects of leadership behavior and the appreciation of staff members. Leaders need to share their vision and motivate their employees passionately, making sure they truly feel connected with the organization and its targets. Those that reach this state of leadership are referred to as charismatic leaders, a catching conclusion defined by Bloemers and Hagendoorn (2006).

Great Leadership

Becoming a great leader is very much about who you are and, more importantly, about who you want to be!  Great leadership means giving your very best in every situation and having an eye for individual needs and achievements in your team under all circumstances! Although to remain successful, you, at times, have to be hard and make decisions that won’t be easy and that affect your team. You can still do it with respect and empathy. Empathy is one of the essential skills to possess as a leader. It’s not just a matter of being cold or warm; it is the ability to understand another person’s experience, perspective, and feelings.

If I have to be honest, aside from the great enthusiasm, doing my work with empathy brings me closest to my definition of great leadership. What’s your secret to great leadership?