Archive for the ‘Coaching’ Category

A Decision I Made 38 Yrs. Ago

April 12th, 2017

 

38 years ago, I decided to start my own business because I knew working for someone else didn’t feel right for me. I am too independent and at times don’t play well with others. More importantly, the inhumanity of some workplaces struck me when working with different companies. Working in sterile environments, shouldn’t mean having to be sterile, ourselves. Business consulting seemed to be a way for me to help people work better together and maximize their potential.

The person to inspire me to work for myself was my Aunt Yvonne. She had chronic arthritis. She was confined to a wheel chair. Yet, wrote a column for the local newspaper, sold cosmetics and Christmas cards all from her wheelchair. She inspired me to work independently. As a child, I sold cards at Christmas time with her.

I was nervous about starting my own business because I lacked money, a PhD and had yet to write a book. In my first year, I sought out the advice of a retired executive to help me. He was 80 years old. His approach annoyed the hell out of me because he kept asking “why?” Well, my answer was because I said so. My shallow response wasn’t satisfactory to him and he forced me to think about how our customers can benefit from our services.

 

So, I asked myself how selling Christmas cards as a teenager helped my then customers? The answer:– I made it easy for them, they didn’t have to sign their names and write their addresses on the envelops. It was printed.  Aha! That was my signature; make it easy for my customers!

My father was my role model for owning a business. My dad supported my family with Alwon Electric Co. He, like me, was just a good technician who worked for himself. He always had a small team helping him. He showed me, by example, how important it is to treat employees like peers and friends. His customers were loyal to him because he cared about them as people, not just as clients.

On the first stages of building my business I struggled because I didn’t know what I was selling and didn’t have confidence in my abilities. Yes, I could sell cards as a kid. But now I had to sell more complex and expensive products.

I wanted to quit when people weren’t buying. My biggest mistake was trying to sell to the wrong person–the gatekeepers: Personnel (these were the people who ran HR in the past). They listened, got excited and challenged me. Yet, no one bought anything! I had the wrong buyer and I didn’t know how to sell. What a horrible and depressing combination that was for me.

What motivated me was simple…I did not want to fail. Down deep, like my Aunt Yvonne, I knew that to succeed I had to have relationships. All I needed was a few solid business friends and things could take off. Not having kids or a husband to support made this easier for me. My Aunt Yvonne kept a happy face and remained persistent despite overwhelming obstacles. My dad built his business while supporting my mom, my siblings, and me.

I knew we could do good with the great leadership training and assessment programs we offered. So, my partners and I kept at it. With persistence, I began to find the right buyers. I prioritized getting in front of people who had the authority and budget to invest in their teams. These leaders (managers and business owners) also wanted someone they could confide in, a mediator to help with people problems, a coach who could help motivate and energize their staff. Yes, they wanted a consultant… like me. Business owners, as they’ve always been, were busy with building or selling and didn’t have time for the softer part of business. They liked our style. It worked!

For those wanting to start a business, I’d suggest you find your personal style, be persistent and genuine with those you work. My guess is that what you start out with may not be what you end up doing. If you listen to your customers, then you will find that as the market, technology and times change, so should you.

I watched my Aunt work on her phone from her wheelchair. She could hardly hold the phone, yet she spent many hours talking with people and building relationships that lasted a lifetime. And they bought from their friend Yvonne.

Without relationships, your sales are only transactional. With solid relationships, your impact can be transformational.

What Great Listening Really Means

September 8th, 2016

About 30 years ago, a manager of a manufacturing plant chastised me.  He said, “All you are doing is repeating what I said!” My intention was to make sure I understood. Yet, I was humiliated.   It hurt because it made me doubt my listening skills. From that moment on, I chose to engage clients further. I now do more than just listen and repeat. Exploring, questioning, sharing and building on their statements are my new tools.

For years we have been teaching and practicing active listening. In a recent Harvard Business Review article entitled What Great Listeners Actually Do, authors Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman share results of a new study and point out there is a lot more to it than just nodding and summarizing. These thoughts resonate with some of my own gut feelings about great listening.

newsletter-photo-of-dog-listening

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below are their excellent tips on what great listening means:

1. Good listening is much more than being silent while the other person talks.
To the contrary, people perceive the best listeners to be those who periodically ask questions that promote discovery and insight. These questions gently challenge old assumptions, but do so in a constructive way. Sitting there silently nodding does not provide sure evidence that a person is listening, but asking a good question tells the speaker the listener has not only heard what was said, but that they comprehend it well enough to  want additional information. Good listening is consistently seen as a two-way dialogue, rather than a one-way “speaker versus hearer” interaction. The best conversations were active.

2. Good listening includes interactions that build a person’s self-esteem.
The best listeners make the conversation a positive experience for the other party, which doesn’t happen when the listener is passive (or, for that matter, critical!). Good listeners make the other person feel supported and conveyed confidence in them. Good listening is characterized by the creation of a safe environment in which issues and differences can be discussed openly.

3. Good listening is seen as a cooperative conversation.
In these interactions, feedback flows smoothly in both directions with neither party becoming defensive about comments the other made. By contrast, poor listeners are seen as competitive — as listening only to identify errors in reasoning or logic, using their silence as a chance to prepare their next response. That might make you an excellent debater, but it doesn’t make you a good listener. Good listeners may challenge assumptions and disagree, but the person being listened to feels the listener is trying to help, not wanting to win an argument.

4. Good listeners tend to make suggestions.

Good listening invariably includes some feedback provided in a way others would accept and that opened up alternative paths to consider. This finding somewhat surprised us, since it’s not uncommon to hear complaints that “So-and-so didn’t listen, he just jumped in and tried to solve the problem.” Perhaps what the data is telling us is that making suggestions is not itself the problem; it may be the skill with which those suggestions are made. Another possibility is that we’re more likely to accept suggestions from people we already think are good listeners. (Someone who is silent for the whole conversation and then jumps in with a suggestion may not be seen as credible. Someone who seems combative or critical and then tries to give advice may not be seen as trustworthy.)
Check out the entire article for more info!

Doing What You Love Outside of Work

March 31st, 2016

“Do what you love in your life outside work.” It’s an idea that Roger W. Ferguson Jr. proposes in a recent Time article. He elaborates that “it’s helpful to see life-work not so much as separate spheres that must be ‘balanced,’ but as a continuum, each falling into and influencing the other.”

As someone who struggles with life-work balance, I find this idea comforting. It’s hard to remove your professional life from your personal life, especially when you enjoy seeing work colleagues and friends outside of work.

Ferguson offers some specific advice on what to love outside of work:

 

Work life Balance

 

 

Physically: “My exercise regimen gives me the energy and stamina to tackle whatever comes my way during the workweek.” Although, unlike the author, I do not exercise for an hour each morning, I have started to do push ups and sit-ups with the help of a handy app.

Intellectually: “My reading habits keep me on top of what’s happening in my industry, the economy, the markets, and the world at large — helping to inform my decision-making at the office.” I too love reading magazines, an online newspaper and scrolling through social media to catch the latest things that others in my circle are reading. Some of you probably have received forwarded articles from me.

Emotionally: “My involvement with outside organizations enables me to connect with all sorts of fascinating people— demographers, educators, social scientists, healthcare leaders — who have invaluable insights about trends with important business implications.” My best days are spent casually catching up with people. I truly believe that face-to-face time with others can be inspiring, motivating and fun. As much as my schedule allows, I try to meet up for lunch or coffee with people, because I know that this is the best way to build relationships.

The restorative power of doing what you love is invaluable. In an ideal world, you love your work and that is what makes you happy; but if not, find creative ways to stay stimulated and healthy outside of your work environment. Perhaps a yoga class, regular walks in local parks and trails, going out with friends for dinner where you are intentional about not bringing up work related stressors.

Try it! You’ll see that it will fill you with energy and positivity. And we all could use some of that throughout our week.

The 5 Pitfalls of Conflict Resolution

November 4th, 2015

Last year around this time, my friend and business partner, Rob Ferguson, published his book Making Conflict Work: Harnessing the Power of Disagreement, along with co-author Peter T. Coleman.

The book recieved excellent reviews.  Publishers Weekly described it as a “practical guide to redirecting energies from conflict toward the achievement of goals.” They went on to write: “Grounded in more than 15 years of research, Coleman and Ferguson’s findings offer insight into the strategies and skills necessary for managing work disputes and show how to make conflict work for you instead of against you. Full of valuable advice, this book will help readers develop better strategies for workplace disagreements.”

In honor of the book’s one year anniversary, we wanted to share with you the following excerpt. It’s about the pitfalls that can make workplace conflict resolution worse.
AVOID THESE 5 PITFALLS:

1. Treating all conflicts as the same.
Our research has identified seven distinct conflict situations, depending on how cooperative or competitive the parties are, who has more or less power, and how much they need each other to achieve their goals. The seven situations are Compassionate Responsibility, Command and Control, Cooperative Dependence, Unhappy Tolerance, Independence, Partnership, and Enemy Territory. Each situation requires a different approach, and diagnosing the situation correctly leads to the most effective strategy..

2. Ignoring power differences.
Most leaders (and consultants) overlook the full significance of how power differences affect conflict. Whether you have more power than the other party, or less, it takes additional skills to get to the real issues and achieve your goals. If you have less power, you risk overstepping your bounds or inviting abuse. If you have more power, you risk eliciting dishonesty or sabotage from your supervisee. Ignoring power differences, and lacking a strategy for them, can render standard conflict resolution methods ineffective.

3. Abusing the power you have.
Read any page of any history book and you see how monarchs, generals and presidents abuse power. But so do supervisors, middle managers, and team leads. You only need a little power to abuse it –– and thus make yourself less effective in conflict. Some of the most common power traps include: “The Bulletproof Trap” (you make conflicts worse by thinking you are invincible), the “Not-Seeing-the-Trees-for-the-Forest Trap” (you appear insensitive to your underlings by ignoring details because you only see the “big picture”), and the “Screw the Rules Trap” (you bend or break rules because after all, you’re special –– you’re the leader! This sets the stage for minor or major rebellions).

4. Neglecting the power you have.
When you find yourself in lower power in a conflict, you may fall into different traps. These include the “Keep your Head Down Trap” (you keep your aspirations so low you don’t even try to find better solutions), the “Powerlessness Corrupts Trap” (you succumb to cynicism or rage toward those in authority, turning to apathy or sabotage), and the “Victim Status Trap” (you wallow in a sense of oppression and victimhood, which ironically can lead to a sense of superiority and refusal to negotiate).

5. Misunderstanding power.
Don’t make conflict worse by acting passively. Even if you are less powerful than the person with whom you disagree, it doesn’t mean you have no power. Less power does not equal powerless. There are always informal ways to influence managers and leaders above you in the organization. And these methods do not show up on the org chart. They include actions such as appealing to the others’ interests, eliciting cooperation, creating positive relations with superiors, fostering reciprocity, rational persuasion, increasing their dependence on you, and more.

I highly encourage you to go buy the book! Happy reading!                            Making Conflict Work COVER

Avoiding Manic Mondays

September 24th, 2015

Generally speaking, I am a very organized person. Yet at times, I let things get behind. Once the awareness of my situation hits me in the face, I get into action quickly. It always surprises me how little time it takes to get back on track. However, we all know that prevention is the best medicine. That’s why these tips stood out to me. They can help all of us stay on top of the stuff that just builds up. (Making those Mondays not quite so daunting.) Inc.com brings you these tips below to achieve a more relaxing start to the week:

1. Plan your week on Sunday.

If you wait until Monday morning to plan and schedule your week, it will not take long before you find yourself engulfed in daily business “fires” and adding tasks and meetings before you even finish your planning. Instead, consider planning your week on Sunday evening, when it is quiet and you have the time and space to concentrate. You will sleep better knowing the task is done and you can devote more time to a morning routine that eases you into the week.

2. Create a morning routine.

There is plenty of evidence that shows that getting out of bed a few minutes early, rather than snoozing your way through your morning, has tremendous benefits to your mental and physical wellness. If you have a tough time in the mornings, try getting up and taking a quick and brisk walk around your block, which will get your blood flowing and tell your body and mind that it is time to wake.

3. Purge that email.

Your email box can be incredibly intimidating on Monday morning, filled with unread emails from the weekend and the previous week, all of which will immediately make you feel like you’re behind. Instead of reading every old email, delete them. Start with newsletters–they are old news anyway–and then find the confidence to purge any email that was not important enough to answer immediately in the first place. Too many emails to really get through? Consider one of the many applications, such as Sanebox, that can help you get your email under control.

4. Connect with a friend.

On Monday, take five or 10 minutes to call a good friend or reconnect with an old friend, one with whom you can have a non-business conversation. These conversations often offer perspective to my life and typically end in a smile–and they help two people ease into the week.

5. Take one new personal risk.

There is a great deal of benefit to writing out your goals. I like to spend five minutes each day to review my ongoing goals and priorities. On Mondays, however, I make it a point to set one new and aggressive personal goal for the week, such as trying new exercise, reading a book, or learning a new song on the guitar. The point is to provide you motivation during your busy week to pursue an interest that you enjoy outside of work.

6. Make an “appreciation list.”

In addition to making out that extensive weekly to-do list, also take a minute to write down at least five things for which you are grateful. More than likely, they will be the same from week to week–your wonderful family is always a good thing to be happy about–but doing so will put life in perspective and the positive emotions you create could affect your happiness, optimism, and self-esteem.

7. Pay it forward with kindness.

Keep in mind that you are sharing this Monday with everyone on earth, so to help relieve the stress of the beginning of the week, consider an unselfish act of kindness during your morning, such as a compliment to a complete stranger or leaving a co-worker a kind note. It will make both of your days a little better. 8. Indulge in inspiration. If your week is starting off slow, consider allowing yourself the guilty pleasure of indulging in a little inspirational content. Something as simple as an inspirational quote or a lengthier article from UpWorthy or video talk from TED Talk can give you the boost you need to get over the Monday blues. Here’s wishing you a wonderful week ahead…

-George Alwon

When Emotion Gets in The Way

September 3rd, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

Photo July 2015 Newsletter

I learn my lessons the hard way. Twice in my career (maybe twice is good?), I let my ego and arrogance get in the way of being a good leader and supporter of my team.  Over 35 years ago, a consultant interviewed my team of twenty.  He gently pointed out that my emotional impulses were poisoning my team much like the article we refer to in this newsletter states.  Yes, I painfully learned my lesson and made changes to improve my awareness of myself and others.

In spite of what I learned, about 15 years ago, I found myself in the same spot.  Thankfully, it wasn’t as bad.  Today, at age 70, I am still working to avoid the poisons and improve my awareness.

From Harvard Business Review come these great tips on what NOT to do regarding emotions at work:

1. Forget your emotional intelligence (EI) and let your amygdala do the talking: Act on feelings and impulses, and don’t filter what you signal, say or do. Don’t let pesky things like social constraints or norms get in the way. Get really pissed off—and stay that way—when someone gets more than you do. Stereotype people who are different from you. Say what’s on your mind then excuse your behavior by telling people that you’re just honest and transparent, which maybe you are, but you’re also just being mean, and if it’s your direct reports, you’re bullying. Unfortunately, given the stress that people deal with at work today, an awful lot of people are walking around in a permanent state of amygdala hijack.

2.  Stick to your guns: Awful phrase. How about “My way or the highway?” Same idea. If you want to ruin a team, be rigid, single minded, and obsessive about your goals or how to get things done.

3. See the glass half-empty: If you want to mess with people’s minds and kill a team’s spirit, focus on everything that could go wrong. Scare people. Be cynical. Emotions are contagious; and negative emotions and the cynicism and biting humor that go with them kill the trust, creativity, enthusiasm, and happiness that are so important to group success.

4. Truly don’t care about people: I once worked with an executive who was, in fact, blowing up his teams­—and his family. He was at risk of losing the prize at work—the CEO job he’d been promised because he got results. The leaders of this company had, thankfully, figured it out. That this guy got results at the expense of every person and team he touched. Naturally, these results weren’t sustainable. When I asked him why he did this, he told me straight out: “I don’t care about those people.” “Really?” I asked. Underneath this total lack of empathy was a profound belief that his goals, and his way of accomplishing them, were more important. And he was smarter, so what those other people needed—well, it just didn’t matter. It wasn’t until he realized that he was blowing up his family—his wife was about to leave him and his kids had given up asking him to do things with them—that he understood why he was ruining every group and ultimately every part of the business he touched.

5. Don’t think too much—especially about your motives and feelings: Lack of self-awareness, whether conscious or not, is at the heart of pretty much all of the bad behavior I’ve seen in teams. Take the executive I mentioned above. When we really got down to it, the reason he was blowing everybody up was because he was scared. So, he got them before they could get him at work. And at home, he was scared of intimacy. Yes, he loved his wife and kids. But he just wasn’t ready for real intimacy—so he kept them all at bay.

How to Reclaim Your Focused Attention

February 20th, 2015

Waste my time?  I am my biggest time waster, which I admit can be enjoyable.  Being productive all the time might make me a dull guy.  And, yes, there is more to life than “being productive.”  That being said, there are tricks that we have all learned to focus better on the task at hand.  My favorite is having turned off that little notice on the bottom of my screen that announces every email I get. I did that years ago and it really helped me.
What is your favorite distractor eliminator? And how well do you manage your time? (Yes, I know, we can’t manage time…we can only manage our activities).

If you’re like many people, your answer may not be completely positive. Perhaps you feel overloaded, and you often have to work late to hit your deadlines. Or maybe your days seem to go from one crisis to another, and that is stressful and demoralizing. While some people are able to easily get through the day with many achievements ticked off their list, others seem to accomplish very little. With so many tasks and distractions pulling us in so many directions, it takes focus to…well, focus!
Below are some helpful tips from Harvard Business Review on how to harness your attention span:

 

  1. Build Capacity.
    We can expand our attentive capacity through a commitment to practices such as meditation, journaling, time in nature, regular physical activity, and good sleep hygiene. All of these activities support our ability to direct our focus, filter out distractions, and manage our emotions, and we can often realize their benefits with a modest investment of time.While these activities are often enjoyable in themselves, they aren’t indulgences–they’re investments in our ability to operate at peak effectiveness. High-performing professionals often enjoy success early in their careers by virtue of their ability to forego activities like this–they cut back on sleep or go without exercise for extended periods of time. But while those sacrifices temporarily expand our capacity for throughput, they actually diminish our capacity for focused attention.2. Plug Leaks.
    Attention is finite, and our ability to focus in the moment is severely limited. Because distractions can fatally undermine effective leadership, it’s critical to avoid “attention leaks.” The functions on our phones and other devices that beep, blink and thrust red numbers in our faces are designed to capture our attention and create a sense of urgency… But how often are any of these interruptions truly urgent? Almost never. Turn them off.3. Limit Multi-tasking.
    Another attention-destroying practice is what we’ve come to call “multi-tasking,” an utterly misnamed concept. While insignificant tasks requiring minimal cognitive effort can be performed in parallel, the truly meaningful work through which most leaders add value–one-on-one conversations, facilitation or decision-making in meetings, and creative thought and ideation–require a much more intense level of focus. Multi-tasking in those environments inevitably results in significant inefficiencies as we switch contexts and lose focus before returning to a deeper level of thought.4. Create Space.
    Leaders typically face intense demands on their time (in part because everyone wants their attention), and if they’re not careful they can find themselves booked nonstop for days on end. It’s important to maintain some open space in the calendar, on a weekly or even daily basis, which allows for more creative thinking and helps replenish our stores of attention. This inevitably involves disappointing people, all of whom believe their issue is worthy of the leader’s time, but productive leaders realize that they can’t meet all of these requests and must ignore many of them. Here leaders require help from their senior team, family, and friends, and–perhaps most importantly–their executive assistants. People in these roles are uniquely positioned to help leaders protect open space on their calendars, and they’re uniquely positioned to undermine that process if they don’t understand this responsibility.

    A final thought:
    If you’re a leader sitting in a meeting that’s not worth your focused attention, then you’re serving a theatrical function. Sometimes this makes sense. There’s a place for organizational theater. But more often the whole organization is suffering because your most precious resource is being wasted. Let the people who organized the meeting know that you’ll attend in the future when you’re needed, excuse yourself, and get on with your day. And if it’s your meeting, then you may well be wasting everyone’s time and attention–they may all be there in a theatrical function because they’re deferring to your authority. Have a candid conversation with a trusted ally, and get some feedback on the utility of your meetings.

-George Alwon