Sunday, March 22, 2009

Another Take on the Pundits: Try 21 Days of No Complaints!

Just after writing that the pundits were getting me down, I happened upon a program the next day on complaining less. OK. I’m guilty. I should have been kinder to the pundits. But, I do wish they’d be more constructive!

CBC Sunday Morning profiled a Kansas City pastor, Will Bowen, who in 2006 started his congregation on complaining less. He gave out a purple bracelet to anyone who wanted to try: 21 straight days of no complaints! The rule is that if you find yourself complaining, you have to switch the bracelet to the other wrist and start counting all over again.

He has found it takes the average person 4 to 6 months to do 21 days straight. Reverend Will has written a book (of course!) called A Complaint-Free World. His main message: people who get things done are not great complainers. And a quote from Jane Austen: “Those who do not complain are never pitied.”

It’s become a movement where his church has now shipped 6 M bracelets around the world, including Canada.

My interpretation is that this doesn’t mean we must stop noticing issues and problems. Rather, we should aim to re-frame: “How can we move forward on this?” Going around in circles, gossiping and playing around in the mud, is replaced with more constructive and thoughtful actions. Not easy!

It reminds me of “oppositional thinking” where we are encouraged to see the “silver lining” or problem-solve or let go. Sports psychologists use the technique with elite athletes. They know that upside thinking is powerful for unleashing one’s potential.

Certainly, this fits with building more vibrant, healthier and productive organizations. A “no complaint” operating principle is an inspiring leader’s best friend.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Pundits are Driving Me Crazy!

I’m a news junkie as all things related to leadership fascinate me. But the latest cacophony among the pundits about the effectiveness and management of various bail-out plans is becoming unbearable. It’s like going into a noisy room where everyone is talking over each other and at times screeching. Look around and all you see are white teeth, coiffed heads and perfect make up (for the women). No one looks real but they all give the air they know what they are talking about.

Pundits to me are those we see on TV stations like CNN over and over again who have an opinion about everything. Every move by Barack Obama’s administration is dissected to an inch of its life.

I get the impression that results must occur instantly otherwise the strategy must be wrong or it is not being handled properly. The pundits spend their time on the minutia and seldom raise their heads to put the situation into perspective. It’s like a running travelogue with no sensible reference to history, context and what we know about how change happens.

While experienced leaders recognize that resistance after about 30 days of the initiation of a major change is to be expected, I’m not getting that the pundits know this. In fact, in the absence of a balanced view on current events, they are the resistance!

In these difficult times, I expect media to play more than an obstructionist role. Help us sort out the complexities and see some light. Role model healthy dialogue so that we can replicate this locally in our homes and social meeting places. Respect those who are elected and the challenges they face. See how you can help them move things forward by balanced and knowledgeable reporting. Give those who have a deeper knowledge more air time.

For these reasons, I’ve turned to the BBC, CBC and digital media for calmer and deeper conversations. The interviewers and contributors tend to question and explore as a rule rather than tear down. I pick and choose my CNN encounters for such interviewers. Fareed Zakaria and others like him come to mind.

Who knows, I may become a digital junkie to widen my choices as that seems to be the way of the world! The spring issue of Strategy + Business Online makes it clear that online media is gaining rapidly in popularity particularly among the younger generations. Many are online while watching TV. They skip through ads with the aid of their digital video recorders looking for content that suits their interests.

From an advertising perspective, their habits are transforming the business. It took 127 years for newspapers to reach US$120 billion in ad revenues in the U.S. Cable television took 25 years. Online media has accomplished that amount in 13 years.

This more diversified media picture fits well with emerging research on “how to have influence”. In the fall 2008 MIT Sloan Management Review, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield and Andrew Shimberg conclude that leaders who “combine multiple sources of influence are up to 10 times more successful at producing substantial and sustainable change”. Extrapolating to current events, although it looks like he’s biting off more than he can chew, Barack Obama’s “strategy” appears to align with these findings. Time will tell.

These are “wild west” times. “Settlers”, like some of the pundits, demand data before they accord the courtesy of support and encouragement. As in the past, it is the “pioneers” who forge new, sustainable paths. No proof. Just hard work and persistence in the face of the unknown. It’s a formula applicable to every leader in every organization.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Taking the Stress Out of Stress: Invoking the Relaxation Response (RR)

There is no cure for birth and death except to enjoy the interval.

---George Santyana

Lessons in life come from surprising places. Husband Richard, who survived a scary heart event in August 2008, returned from one of his cardio-rehab classes with a relaxation CD featuring Eli Bay. That instantly took me back to the early days of my career as a dietitian and public health nutritionist when I was introduced to Eli and had the benefit of taking his “relaxation response” (RR) classes. It was like I discovered a long lost friend just at the right time. Although his area of passion and interest is never out of vogue, right now it is a priority for survival.

With gross domestic products (GDP) in freefall around the world and the American consumer in a funk, rising anxiety is a given. While we’re grappling with adaptive business strategies to ride the chaotic wave, why not invoke the relaxation response more intentionally as one of the soft strategies?

Since all things financial dominate our thoughts, the relaxation response is both a hard and soft “tool” for leaders. Here’s why:

--Job stress anywhere costs billions of dollars a year in worker absenteeism, turnover, lost productivity, accidents and visits to health care providers.

--Stress in the workplace has been rising steadily for decades.

The specific numbers are well-documented by Statistics Canada, the American Institute of Stress, health researchers and various survey organizations. Unchecked and unmanaged stress costs. In today’s environment, this is an area where the actions of leaders can turn the tide.

Leaders who are positive and upbeat yet truthful about the challenges create a better context for counteracting the negative effects of stress. In effect, they set the stage for employees to open the door to the relaxation response. The perception of hope and “we can do this” more likely activates “good” hormone responses (serotonin and dopamine) than “bad” (cortisol and norepinephrine). The messaging must be repeated with substance behind it frequently as practicing the relaxation response makes us more hardy or resilient in the face of constant stressors.

Better still, this is a time for leaders to incorporate opportunities for employees to engage in stress-reducing practices. These include yoga, Tai Chi, meditation, exercise in general and simple relaxation exercises (for example, abdominal breathing and imaging).

Herbert Benson first described and pioneered the relaxation response (RR) as the physiological counterpart of the fight or flight response. Benson’s observations have since been verified. The innate RR functions as a protective mechanism against excessive stress.

The RR is a powerful tool for combating the costs of a world in turmoil and elevating the quality of our lives while we ride the wave of change.

It’s a must for all leaders.

See for more information.

Tags: relaxation response, stress