Archive for the ‘Appreciative Approaches’ Category

Sustainable Labor-Management Collaboration: The “Honeymoon” Doesn’t Have to End

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

Five months into his job, a newly appointed fire chief spoke enthusiastically about the forward momentum of his department, the support from his Board of Fire Commissioners, and the collaborative nature of labor-management relations. Yet during our conversation he twice raised a question that troubled him: is the current harmony between labor and management sustainable?

Although well-meaning colleagues acknowledged that his “honeymoon” period with the union was lasting longer than “normal,” they assured him that it must end. Their confidence in the inevitable deterioration of the relationship, based on their experiences, as well as his own previous negative labor-management experience in other departments, made him question the sustainability of his initial success.

Quite simply, this negative prognosis is wrong. Of course the harmonious relationship the fire chief has established is sustainable. There simply is no reason why it must end. In addition to the many things the fire chief is doing now to nurture and support key relationships, there are other techniques he can call upon to fortify and build on the strong foundation he has created.

Here are some of the things the fire chief has done or is doing that have enabled his success in creating an environment of collaboration between labor and management:

    – Created and communicated clear boundaries around what behaviors are and are not acceptable

    – Minimizes the likelihood of surprises by engaging in on-going communication with the union president

    – Does his homework when issues arise, and then speaks directly with the union president to discuss and resolve them so they do not escalate unnecessarily

    – Honors the expertise and creativity of employees and stakeholders by Inviting them to participate in on-going conversations about how best to achieve the department’s mission

    – Listens to the responses he receives, considers the feedback carefully in making decisions, and incorporates it as much as possible

    – Shares information freely and honestly with others

    – Continues to expand the circle of leadership down into the organization

    – Uses the best interest of the community as his touchstone for decision-making

    – Treats others with respect whether they agree or disagree with him

Here are some techniques I suggested that the fire chief might consider using to ensure the sustainability of collaborative labor-management relations:

    – Look for successes and opportunities rather than dwell on failures or challenges

    – Change the conversation to focus on the level of public safety being provided rather than on where to cut resources

    – Ask purposeful questions that require actionable responses – e.g., instead of asking, “Can we do XYZ?” ask, “How can we do XYZ?”

    – Re-awaken employees’ sense of purpose and passion for their work by asking them to remember why they joined the department, and to recall the hopes, dreams, and aspirations they had for themselves and the organization

    – Identify what things he can and cannot control, and focus on those that he can influence

My prediction: by staying on the path he has chosen and perhaps adding a few techniques such as those described above, this fire chief not only will defy his colleagues’ prognosis, he and his employees will create a sustainable culture of harmonious and productive labor-management relations that will continue long after he has retired. This outcome can only serve his community well, both now and in the future.

Who says the honeymoon has to end?

© 2012 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Storytelling: Key to Organizational Success

Sunday, September 30th, 2012

Do your employees and colleagues share stories of individual and team successes as a matter of course? If not, your organization likely is falling far short of its potential greatness. Among other things, stories demonstrate clearly shared values as well as desired behaviors and results that are rewarded.

Several years ago, while attending a funeral service for a firefighter who had died in the line of duty, I overheard one firefighter say to another, “We don’t seem to tell stories about the great things we do except at funerals.” This comment caught my attention in part because I knew that these firefighters and their colleagues were frustrated because the public, politicians, and administrative decision-makers don’t know what they do. Yet their practice is to downplay their successes, brush off expressions of gratitude from those they help, and keep their stories to themselves. Instead of sharing their experiences, in effect they are story hoarders. So it’s no wonder that the public is uninformed.

Storytelling doesn’t have to be complex or describe superhuman feats. To the contrary: some of the most compelling and inspiring stories I’ve heard involve very simple acts that had tremendous results. Stories are a very powerful way of showing who you and/or your organization are, and what you stand for.

One of my favorite stories involves a female paramedic called to the scene of an incident at which her male colleagues were unable to help the patient, a homeless man who was belligerent and refused to allow them to treat him. She walked over to the man and asked him, “How can I help you today, sweetheart?” The man broke down in tears and said, “It’s been years since anyone called me that.” The paramedics then were able to treat the man. This simple act of kindness embodies the care and compassion that is characteristic of this agency. Yet I would be willing to bet that only a handful of people have heard it.

If storytelling is not an integral part of your organization’s culture, here are three compelling reasons why you might want to change it:

    1. Sharing stories serves to socialize people, establish norms, and demonstrate the behaviors and results that the organization values.

      As a new employee at FedEx in the late 1970s, I was told the story about a courier who was rewarded
      for hiring a helicopter to deliver a package by 3 p.m. after an avalanche closed the road to the customer’s home. The lesson I took away: the company valued
      risk-taking, and rewarded those who took its commitment to outstanding customer
      service seriously.

    2. Stories demonstrate in concrete ways the value that people provide day after day.

    The story about the female paramedic is one of hundreds of stories I have heard during
    the years that I have worked with clients in the fire service that demonstrate how, in
    large ways and small, its members serve the public. Sharing those stories, especially
    when times are tough, or you’re so caught up in the weeds that you can’t see the
    larger picture, can help to re-establish perspective and remind you of why you do what
    you do, whatever your occupation.

    3. Stories help organizations and their employees define and celebrate who they are and what they stand for.

    Human beings generally like to feel that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.
    Stories show us what makes an organization great, who it is when it’s at its best. If
    you’ve forgotten, I invite you to think back to the time that you were hired by your
    organization. What were your hopes and dreams for your future, and that of your new
    employer? Tell yourself your story of what made the organization attractive to you, and
    what your aspirations were. No doubt you will re-discover what it was that brought you
    there in the first place.

In short, organizational success depends heavily on the stories its employees are willing to share with each other, and with the world. You can spend a lot of time telling new employees how important the organization’s values are, and what the behavioral expectations are. Or you can rely on true stories to convey the message in much more powerful, succinct ways.

When is the last time you shared one of your stories?

© 2012 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

The Paradox of Self-care

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

In today’s busy world, people often feel overwhelmed with the demands of day-to-day living. Things seem to move faster now than they used to, we live in a global world now, technology has blurred the lines between work and non-work, and we have so many more choices than we did even ten years ago. As a result, people often find themselves reacting to individuals, things, and situations outside themselves – e.g., family members, friends (those who are virtual as well as those that are physically present), co-workers, customers/clients, employees, the work environment, the economic environment, neighbors, community issues – whose needs seem to be more immediate and/or more important than their own. Over time, they become more focused on satisfying others’ needs than their own. First responders and those in helping professions are trained to put others’ needs first – especially in life and death situations – and their own needs last. In some cultures, deference to others is the norm.

Except possibly during a literal emergency, living an “others first” lifestyle is a huge mistake. Why? Because unless you make yourself your top priority, taking care of your needs before turning to those of others, you cannot possibly do and be your best. By not taking care of your needs first, you are shortchanging others as well as yourself. Paradoxically, you must make the time to take care of yourself in order to serve others (and yourself) well.

Here are some of common outcomes that people experience when they do NOT make themselves a high priority. They:

    – short-change the important people in their lives.
    – find themselves doing things they really don’t want to do (e.g., travel too much for business, take on commitments they’d rather not).
    – feel paralyzed because everything is a “high priority” and they don’t know where to begin.
    – feel like they have no control over their lives.
    – worry that they’re not up to the challenge of “doing more with less” in a workplace constrained by scarce resources.
    – have trouble making decisions.
    – spend a lot of time and energy unnecessarily worrying about whether they’re meeting others’ expectations.
    – find they’re not doing the things that make their hearts sing.

Why would anyone choose to live this way? Contrary to what you might believe, you do NOT have to suffer through the negative outcomes that result from misaligned priorities. How different would your life be if, instead, you experienced outcomes like these?:

    – A renewed sense of personal purpose or organizational mission.
    – A life characterized by ease rather than struggle.
    – A healthy, joy-filled life.
    – The serenity that comes from knowing you are making the world a better place.
    – The ability to serve others in a more profound way.
    – Dramatically reduced stress levels.

YOU are the only person preventing you from achieving positive outcomes such as these. You have a choice about whether you go through life experiencing the types of negative outcomes listed above, or positive outcomes. The difference in the quality of life when you make yourself your top priority, vs. putting others first, is incalculable.

And that is the paradox: by changing your priorities so that you focus first on yourself, you are able to do greater things for others – as well as yourself.

If making yourself your top priority is of interest to you, I invite you to join me on August 2nd for a free teleseminar called The Paradox of Self-care: Inspiring Greatness in Yourself and Your Organization. During this one-hour call, you will learn how to:

    – Create a YOU-centered life
    – Develop and sustain the mindset required to make yourself your first priority
    – Use language to transform your world
    – Break through obstacles that prevent you from living your passion
    – Inspire yourself and others to greatness

Whether you’re ready to embrace positive outcomes such as those listed above but don’t know how to claim them, or you’re skeptical that focusing on self-care truly can make your life easier and more joy-filled, doesn’t it make sense to invest one hour of your time in learning HOW to lead a healthier and more inspired life?

Click here to register or to learn more about how you can re-focus your energy and attention so you can inspire greatness in yourself and your organization.

© 2012 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

The Power of a Strengths-based Approach to Organizational Strategy

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Winning the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of its unparalleled public service is emblematic of the vision to which one of my clients aspires. While this may seem ambitious, wait till you hear this: the client developed this vision in spite of the fact that it is a public sector agency whose budget has been decimated over the last 3-4 years, with no relief in sight. Yet while the politicians who make the financial decisions focus on slashing services to meet the available resources, leaders of this organization are articulating a bold vision.

What in the world are these leaders thinking? Have they lost touch with reality completely? To the contrary: in fact, they are totally in touch with the reality of how taking a strengths-based approach to developing a strategy for their organization’s future can ignite the imaginations of employees and stakeholders, compelling them to reach heights they previously had not even considered.

Rather than dwell on weaknesses and things that suck the life out of their employees, leaders of this agency have chosen to identify its strengths and the core factors that make it what it is, that give its employees life, and that energizes them. These leaders have chosen to begin with the end in mind, creating a picture of unparalleled public service that is made possible by focusing on the agency’s strengths and successes. They now are developing the action plan for a strategy that will take the organization from where it is today to the heights to which it aspires.

Will this agency really win the Nobel Peace Prize? It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that regardless of how many or few resources it is allotted by the political powers-that-be, the organization will look far differently, perform at much higher “altitudes,” and provide measurably greater levels of service simply because its leaders chose to aspire to the outcomes made possible by the organization’s strengths and successes rather than to focus on what services they should cut due to the budget shortfall.

Our reality is whatever we do with the hand that we are dealt. So let me ask you this question: does it make more sense to you to build a future by focusing on your organization’s strengths and proven successes, or by dwelling on how to provide minimal services? Which option will get your organization to its “Nobel Peace Prize?”

© 2012 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

Feeling Overwhelmed? Try This Technique to Re-gain Your Energy and Momentum

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Last week I talked with a coaching client, a successful entrepreneur, who lately had been feeling overwhelmed by the pressures of sustaining her business in a tough economic climate. Because she reported feeling “stuck,” I had encouraged her to start writing every day for thirty minutes as a way of clearing the mental “clutter” and making room for her remarkable creativity to re-emerge. Imagine my delight when she reported during this conversation that she had found herself writing about the positive side of feeling overwhelmed. In fact, she ended up identifying 50 benefits to feeling overwhelmed! Instead of allowing that negative emotion to keep her mired in a state of paralysis, she chose to embrace it and seek its blessings. And she found them – fifty of them, to be exact. She shared a few of them with me on the phone; I can’t wait to read the rest! This entrepreneur now feels energized, victorious, and hopeful, and she was inspired to write a series of articles about what she learned as a result of this simple technique.

What’s the lesson here? When you are experiencing a negative emotion – e.g., feeling overwhelmed, burned out, hopeless, paralyzed – stop fighting it and allowing it to run your life. Instead, look for the benefits that such an experience offers. Make a list – literally. Write down whatever comes to mind as you search for the positives of this emotion. Though you may not find as many as fifty of them, as my client did, you will find some. And by taking action to change your focus from how stuck or paralyzed you feel to curiosity about what opportunities are being presented, you will enable yourself to break the grip of whatever negative emotion has halted your forward momentum.

Isn’t the opportunity to break out of your paralysis – or procrastination or indecisiveness or whatever form of negativity is holding you back – worth giving this suggestion a shot? Which would you rather do: spend your time and energy resisting a negative experience, or taking a simple action that will enable you to re-direct that energy into something productive that will allow you to move forward?

The choice is yours. What will it be?

© 2012 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

If These Were My Last Remarks

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

In February I was at a gathering at which I was asked to speak for two minutes on the topic, “If These Were My Last Remarks.” Rather than interpreting “last remarks” as those I might make on my death bed, I decided instead to approach this invitation from the perspective of my last opportunity to address this group. I chose to share some transformative insights – i.e., wisdom from others that, at one point or another in my life, had a significant impact on the way I see the world. I offer these thoughts for your consideration as you continue your journey through life.

    1. Live life joyfully! As I was growing up, the message I picked up from my Irish ancestors was, “Life is hard, and then you die.” I later learned that life doesn’t have to be a struggle. In fact, we can choose joy. Why not do so?

    2. We always have choices about how we experience any situation. While we often cannot control the circumstances in which we find ourselves, we always, always can choose how we experience them. Choose to see the opportunities rather than the obstacles.

    3. By focusing on opportunities rather than on challenges, we will find many more of the former than we had imagined possible. And we may find them in places we never would have thought to look!

    4. Watch your language! Questions are fateful: they send us in the directions in which we seek answers. Whether we choose to look for the positive or the negative, we will find it. What kind of questions are you asking yourself and others?

    5. Become aware of your self-talk. Choose to be supportive instead of beating yourself up. Lift yourself up instead of putting yourself down.

    6. Be kind to yourself. If you find this concept difficult to grasp, try this: imagine that someone you love very much is in the situation in which you find yourself. What is the best advice you would give that person? Follow that advice yourself.

    7. Look at what you have done well, and build on those successes. Focus on your strengths and talents, and find ways to compensate for your weaknesses. Focusing on strengths has a much higher ROI (return on investment) than emphasizing weaknesses.

    8. Sometimes we have to let go of the good things in life to make room for the great things. Clear some space, even when you don’t know at that moment what the next “great things” are.

    9. Live your passion. Bring it into your life and your work. Drop the word “should” from your vocabulary. Do the things that make your heart sing.

© 2012 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

How to Reduce Stress: 31 Ways to Take Care of Yourself

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Recently I was interviewed by Ed Poll, Principal of LawBiz Management, about how attorneys can be more effective with their clients and maximize the enjoyment of their practices by reducing their stress levels. During the interview we talked about not just WHAT attorneys can do to reduce their stress, but also HOW they can do it. Although the interview was directed at attorneys, I provided a list of 31 things that anyone can do to take care of themselves. I invite you to take a look at this list, pick a few techniques that work for you, and try them out. Isn’t a dramatic improvement in your health and well-being worth a few minutes of your time?

© 2012 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

11 Tips for Self-care: How to Put On Your Oxygen Mask First

Friday, November 11th, 2011

Recently I conducted a workshop for managers called Organizational Renaissance™: Choosing the Quality of Your Work Environment whose premise is that, regardless of the situation, each individual has a choice about how he/she experiences the workplace. Given that many work environments have been affected negatively by challenging economic conditions over the past two years, this is great news! However, leaders often struggle with exercising that choice themselves, and teaching others how to do the same, because they don’t realize there is an important pre-requisite: self-care.

Why is taking care of oneself so important? The analogy I use to answer this question is one that’s familiar to anyone who travels by commercial airline. During the pre-flight instructions, passengers are told that in the event of an emergency, they must put on their own oxygen masks first before trying to assist others. While most work environments don’t qualify as “emergency” settings, the lesson is relevant here: if you are gasping for breath (literally or figuratively) and/or losing consciousness, you cannot possibly help anyone, including yourself.

With this point in mind, the workshop focused heavily on self-care as a pre-requisite to being able to lead others effectively. In fact, we identified and discussed 31 tools and practices for self-care. With a nod to the multiple 11s in today’s date (11/11/11), here are 11 of those suggestions. For those who are interested in learning more about these concepts and/or in seeing examples, there are links to some of my articles that provide more details.

    1. Watch your self-talk: is it life-affirming or energy draining? The way we talk to ourselves (and others) creates our reality, which is key to being able to choose how to experience the situations in which we find ourselves. You may find examples of affirmative self-talk in my article Transformative Self-talk.

    2. Paint a picture of how you want to live your life, and use it as a touchstone for making personal and professional decisions.

    3. Surround yourself with people who infuse your life with positive energy.

    4. Distinguish clearly and realistically between things you can control and things you can’t. Focus on the former and release the latter. An easy exercise you can use to make that distinction is described in my article Begin to Take Control of the Quality of Your Life. Suggestions about how to release people and things that no longer serve you well, or that you cannot control, are provided in my article How to Release Things You Cannot Control.

    5. Focus on your strengths and talents, not on your shortcomings.

    6. Make a conscious choice about how you will experience each day by identifying one perspective you intend to take. Using the statement, “Today I choose to ___,” fill in the blank with one intention such as “feel compassion for myself,” “accept myself for who I am,” “be inspired by those around me,” or “feel worthy.” You may find a long list of suggested transformative choices in my article Transformative Choices: What’s on YOUR “To Do” List?

    7. Attending to all aspects of your being – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual – enables you to ensure you are addressing all the important elements that go into self-care. Just as organizations use a balanced scorecard format to ensure they are measuring all important aspects of their business, so individuals can devise a personal scorecard to keep their self-care on track. You may find an explanation and example of such a tool in my article Creating Balance in Your Personal Life: What’s in YOUR Personal Scorecard?

    8. Look for opportunities in every situation rather than obstacles.

    9. Be kind to yourself. Imagine your best friend is in your situation. What would you do to support and nurture him/her? Do those things for yourself.

    10. Reward yourself on a regular basis. You may find suggestions about how to do this in my article How to Optimize Your Personal Rewards/Recognition ROI.

    11. Zealously guard your time. One tool that works exceptionally well in putting things in perspective is a simple question. Ask yourself, “Am I the only person in the world who can do X?” Most the time the answer is “no.” When that’s the case, delegate X (the task) to someone else.

As a leader, you have tremendous responsibility, and often are expected to produce results even in the face of challenging situations. You will be best equipped to rise up to meet those expectations when you take care of yourself first, then teach others to do the same. I invite you to choose just one of the above self-care suggestions and incorporate it into your life. Isn’t improving the quality of your life worth that effort?

© 2011 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

7 Ways to Reduce Workplace Struggles

Friday, September 30th, 2011

Does going to work sometimes (or often) feel like you’re headed into battle? Do you feel like you have to fight “the powers that be” every day just to be able to do your job properly? Do you feel a great deal of resistance from others? Does there seem to be a lot of unnecessary drama or angst in your workplace? Do you ever wish that work – and/or the people you work with – weren’t such a struggle?

I can relate to all of the above. At different times in my multi-career life, I have experienced all of those scenarios – and more. Those situations and environments are terribly draining – and usually unnecessary. But if you don’t know what to do to break out of them, they can bring you down physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. The good news is that there are practical ways to minimize those feelings of struggle in the workplace – and in life.

Recently I read an article about personal relationships that described how one couple refuses to experience the day-to-day differences and disappointments that are part of married life as struggles. Instead, they have chosen to work through the rocky times with humor or laughter instead of with resentment or negativity.

Since reducing one’s struggles in life sounded good to me, I wondered how to apply that suggestion to the workplace. Although humor and laughter certainly may reduce tension and provide some relief from one’s feelings of struggle, they may not work for everyone, or be appropriate in every situation. So here are a dozen other suggestions for actions or attitudes you can take or adopt that will help to reduce your struggles in the workplace:

    1. Presume others’ good intent, even when history shows it’s not always justified

    2. Approach people and ideas with a sense of curiosity instead of judgment

    3. Embrace challenges as opportunities rather than view them as obstacles

    4. Ask how things could work instead of looking for ways they won’t work

    5. Make “imperfect success” your standard, rather than perfection

    6. Check your ego at the door

    7. See the “glass” as half full instead of as half empty

Which of the above approaches resonates the most with you? I challenge you to find just one that you think with work for you, and give it a try. You might just improve the quality of your life dramatically by reducing your struggles!

© 2011 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.

The ROI of Leveraging Differences into Opportunities

Friday, September 30th, 2011

Recently I was asked to speak to participants in a statewide leadership program about generational differences in the workplace. With four generations in the workforce today, it’s only natural that there is a great deal of interest in this topic, especially since some of the differences we read about seem irreconcilable. Interesting stuff! But definitely the wrong focus this group. Why?

First, generational differences are only one type of difference; the workplace is rife with others. Leaders must educate themselves about other kinds of differences as well. Second, and more important, focusing on differences, whatever their source, is unproductive at best, and destructive at worst. Here are eight reasons why this is true:

    1. Differences foster an “us vs. them” mentality, dividing people rather than enabling them to collaborate and work productively.

    2. Differences often encourage distrust, which cripples collaboration and productivity.

    3. Differences generally are based on traits that cannot be changed – e.g., age, race, gender, ethnicity – and that usually are irrelevant to the task at hand.

    4. Focusing on differences doesn’t allow people to see what they have in common or to discover what they can learn from one another.

    5. Making employment-related decisions based on some of these differences is illegal in the U.S. – not to mention that doing so is a bad management practice.

    6. Focusing on differences emphasizes what WON’T or DOESN’T work rather than on what DOES work.

    7. When we seek differences, we find them. Too often, forward momentum then comes to a screeching halt.

    8. Differences often are seen and treated as obstacles to success instead of as enablers of greater outcomes.

Would you want to work in an environment with those characteristics? What if, instead of focusing on differences, leaders kept the spotlight on what people have in common? Here are just a few of the reasons why emphasizing how we are alike makes good business sense:

    1. Changing the question from “How are we different?” to “How can we be successful together?” opens the door to entirely new and actionable answers.

    2. Commonalities allow people to move forward by focusing on opportunities instead of on obstacles.

    3. When we seek opportunities we will find them, which means the sky becomes the limit. While we won’t always reach the stars, we will get much closer to them than if we had set our aspirations much lower.

    4. Differences among people are not going away, so sticking your head in the sand won’t change things.

    5. Commonalities “seasoned” with differences create immense learning opportunities and unleash creativity and innovation.

    6. The emphasis is on what WILL or COULD work.

    7. Emphasizing commonalities opens the door to the best of all worlds, allowing us to move forward by learning, adapting, and growing as individuals and as organizations.

    8. Commonalities are seen as enablers – of action, creativity, innovation, collaboration, and knowledge sharing.

While it’s important to learn about what makes people different so we can understand others’ perspectives, it would be a mistake to dwell on those differences. Consider what a difference it would make in the work environment if leaders emphasized what’s common across human beings – i.e., that people generally want to succeed, to be respected and feel valued, to be part of something bigger than themselves, and to enjoy what they do. Imagine what could happen in YOUR organization if people focused on what unites them rather than on what divides them. In which environment would your employees be most productive, engaged, and committed? The choice is yours. What will it be?

© 2011 Pat Lynch. All rights reserved.