Want More Engaged Employees? Stop Being Such An Optimist

By Karen Tiber Leland

A decade of research shows why a sunny outlook may not be the best way to lead.

Decades ago, when I was just beginning my journey as a management consultant, I had the good fortune to work with Liz Wiseman, who at the time was the Director of Learning and Development for Oracle. Since then she has gone on to found The Wiseman Group and author several best-selling books including the newly released 2nd edition of Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter.

One of the findings of Liz’s years of research is that just because a leader possesses a trait in abundance doesn’t mean that it’s contagious and that others around them pick it up in a positive way.

ARE YOU THE ICONIC OPTIMISTIC LEADER?

One example Wiseman cites is the iconic optimistic leader. You know them – the positive can-do people who see possibilities and paths forward everywhere. These cheerful C-suite executives recognise the capability in others and themselves at every turn. Even when they take on something hard, they bring a can-do attitude in abundance.

“It’s like wearing one of those rubber wristbands, only it says, ‘I can do hard things,'” jokes Wiseman. “This observation comes not only from my years of research but also from looking in the mirror,” says Wiseman.

A self-described ‘raging optimist’, Wiseman struggles with her own positivity. “I don’t have a lack of optimism; instead I struggle with too much,” explains Wiseman. She goes on to explain that her personal awareness about this dynamic came to her by surprise and with a sting. Here’s the story she tells…

“I’m working with a colleague on writing an article on a pretty tough piece of research and analysis for a prestigious academic journal. Towards the end of the project, my colleague pulls me aside and says, ‘Liz, I need you to stop saying that thing you say all the time.’ ‘What thing?’ I ask him. I really did not know what he was talking about”.

“‘You say it all the time,’ he said. ‘It usually goes, “Hey, we can do this. We’ve got this.”‘

“Recognising my own optimism, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, I do say that all the time.’ ‘That is my way of saying that we’re smart and we can figure this out, that I have this belief in what we can do,’ I explain to him.

“‘Well, I need you to stop saying it.’ ‘What do you mean?’ I said. ‘This is good leadership. Optimism, we need that just to survive,’ I say. ‘The reason I need you to stop saying that is because what we are doing is hard; it’s really hard, Liz, and as my manager, I need you to acknowledge it.’

“In that moment I realised that my can-do, get-it-done personal brand was setting a pace that was making it really hard for other people to keep up with me. “I came to the conclusion that sometimes my optimism – which is a gift – can also translate into processing a little too fast for other people. I need to give them time to process at their own speed.”

DISPENSE YOUR EXECUTIVE PRESENCE IN SMALL BUT INTENSE DOSES

That personal experience, combined with her research and work with leaders, has led Wiseman to the conclusion that the really great leaders know how to dispense their executive presence in small, but intense, doses.

“When a leader is always on, they become white noise,” says Wiseman. That’s one of the ways executives end up as what Wiseman calls ‘accidental diminishers’. These are leaders who have an intention for their staff to be empowered but are so whipped up with positive energy all the time, they end up diminishing those around them. “They think their energy is infectious, but not only are they sucking up all the oxygen in the room, they are getting tuned out,” says Wiseman. “People around them are like, ‘You’re killing me with your energy. I’m dying here.'”

So what’s the enthusiastic and eager executive to do? Wiseman suggests two almost ridiculously easy (but highly effective) ways to rein in your energy, without losing your optimistic edge:

1. PRACTICE THE FIVE-SECOND RULE

After you ask a question, wait five seconds to give the person a chance to think. For many leaders, when no one answers immediately, the tendency is to want to answer themselves. Don’t. Some people are fast witted, quick to process and quick to answer, but not everyone. Not all forms of intelligence manifest themselves in speed.

2. AVOID RAPID RESPONSE

Optimistic leaders are often quick to respond immediately to situations and take action, even if someone else on their team could handle it. Except in a case of immediate required response, try taking a hands-off stance for 24 hours.

In both these cases, it’s the power of the pause that creates the opportunity. It gives other people, who may not be so quick on the draw, a chance to comfortably formulate opinions and bring their own brand of optimism to the party – even if it’s a few decibels lower than yours.

This article originally features on Inc.

Learn how to DOUBLE THE INTELLIGENCE of your team. Contact us at info@brg.co.za to lead like a Multiplier. Business Results Group is the exclusive distributor of Multipliers in Southern Africa.

 

Five Daily Habits For Future-Proofing Your Brain

By Tara Swart

This is how to keep your brain alert, creative, and rational for decades to come.

Just a few generations ago, most people weren’t expected to live much past 50. But now most of us can expect to live well into our 70s and beyond. A longer life, however, means that we’re working our brains harder as we age.

In an ageing population, health services worldwide will face increasing pressure. Combined with our sedentary lifestyles and modern habits, which are harming our brain’s health as well as our bodies, we could be heading toward a crisis when it comes to diseases like Alzheimer’s, according to studies published in the Journal Of Comparative Neurology and the Journal Of Alzheimer’s Disease.

But there are things you can do to prevent that fate. Small lifestyle choices throughout your adulthood can help your brain remain alert, creative, rational, and reduce the likelihood of disease. Here are some steps you can take to guard your brain against deteriorating as you get older:

1. SWITCH UP SOME OF YOUR FOOD HABITS

Maintaining a healthy diet isn’t just good for our bodies, it’s vital for our brains. You can start by making small, easy changes to your routine like swapping your late afternoon cup of coffee for a green tea. Green tea contains less caffeine and has antioxidants, which will help protect your brain cells from long-term damage. You can also stay away from smoked foods or those high in mercury like tuna or swordfish, which are high in oxidants and damaging to brain cells.

Eating healthily doesn’t mean consuming only lettuce and quinoa all day. Academics at the University of Edinburgh found that a Mediterranean diet full of vegetables, olive oil, and oily fish could help promote cell growth and stave off cognitive decline.

2. ADD JUST 20 MINUTES OF MOVEMENT TO EACH DAY

Being well rested and properly fed isn’t enough to stave off cognitive decline – you need to get up and get moving. Aerobic activity boosts blood flow throughout the body and brain. Research has shown that it can improve memory and stimulates cell growth, making it easier for the brain to grow new neuronal connections. Better still, exercise can have the same effect on the brain as a low dose of antidepressants and is associated with a drop in stress hormones. To get the maximum benefits, try to do about 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week (or about 20 minutes a day).

3. BUST OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE MORE REGULARLY

Your brain will stay fit and alert for longer if it is continually stimulated and challenged. Contrary to popular belief, our brains are not hardwired. Old habits can be unlearned and replaced with new ones. This process is known as neuroplasticity. Learning a new language or how to play a musical instrument is the best way to keep your brain flexible because it forces the brain to forge new neural pathways and develop new connections. By keeping your brain malleable, you are also maintaining the ability to keep an open mind.

Spending time with people of different generations or backgrounds will also help prevent your brain from defaulting to well-trodden neural pathways and biases.

4. PRIORITISE SLEEP

While we sleep, our glymphatic system ‘cleans’ our brains of neurotoxins, including beta-amyloid plaques and tau proteins. This is an active process that takes time, hence the need to get your seven to nine hours and avoid accumulating ‘sleep debt’. As explained in 2015 research published in Nature Review Neurology, a build-up of these neurotoxins can contribute significantly to the degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

5. MAINTAIN AN ACTIVE SOCIAL LIFE

Human beings are social creatures. But as we age, our social circle tends to decline, and we typically experience less social interaction on a day-to-day basis. However, maintaining an active social life with friends and family is critical to cognitive health. According to a study in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, cognitive decline was reduced by an average of 70% in people who were frequently socially active compared to those who were more isolated.
About the Author: Dr Tara Swart is a neuroscientist, leadership coach, award-winning author and a medical doctor. She works with leaders all over the world to help them achieve mental resilience and peak brain performance, improving their ability to manage stress, regulate emotions and retain information.

Contact us at info@brg.co.za to book Dr Tara Swart and achieve peak brain performance through neuroscience.

 

 

Why Resilient Leaders Aren’t Enough

It’s time to think of resilience as a group process, not a personal quality.

 

It’s no surprise that there’s a strong correlation between effective leadership and the characteristics common among resilient individuals, which include self-reliance, an internal locus of control, a growth mindset, strong problem-solving abilities, and good interpersonal skills. Indeed, resilience experts at Sloan Group International reported in a recent presentation that, based on the available research, “people who self-select into a leadership role tend to have a higher ability to deal with stress and hold a high amount of resilience.”

Sure, but that model may deliver fewer returns as the workplace evolves. The more distributed leadership becomes, and the more collaboratively teams are asked to work, the fewer chances there are for hero leaders to come along and save the day when things go awry. But all’s not lost; it simply means shifting our focus from developing resilient leaders toward developing collectively resilient groups.

How? The first step is to start thinking of resilience more as a process than as an attribute or an outcome. We already know that resilience is predicated on a combination of internal assets and external resources–which makes it highly contextual. Unfortunately, you can never arm yourself ahead of time with a handy checklist of all the external stressors you’re likely to experience before entering a tough situation.

Nor has any research we’ve read detailed the precise ratio between a person’s temperamental qualities and the magnitude of environmental stressors against which they’re most resilient. As researchers Fergus and Zimmerman put it in a 2005 paper in the Annual Review of Health, all this “makes it difficult to identify universal promotive factors and raises concerns that asset lists may be interpreted to operate in the same manner for all groups, all contexts, or all outcomes.” Or in plain English: It depends.

 

RIDING THE HEAT CURVE

So where does this leave your team? Instead of focusing just on each team member’s individual skills and qualities, it’s more helpful to pay attention to how much pressure the whole group is facing. Keep piling on ever bigger sales targets or changing mandates on high, and eventually, even the most resilient individual is likely to break down. In our new book, we refer to this experience as a ‘heat curve’, which models what tends to happen as environmental stressors intensify.

[Image: courtesy of Michael Papanek and Liz Alexander]

 

At first, the ability to achieve breakthroughs actually increases, as everyone’s inspired to share great ideas and own them as a team. At some point, however, the heat becomes too much, and the team’s ability to handle the increased stress plummets. Ideally, your team should stay on the rising edge of the curve for longer, even as the heat goes up. But just putting a resilient leader in charge won’t cut it. Instead, each team member needs to have a resilient relationship with the rest of the group, thereby creating a team of people that become stronger and continues to work well together as the pressure rises.

 

Here are three practical approaches to help increase team resilience:

1. GET TO KNOW EACH OTHER BEFORE YOU TRY TO WORK TOGETHER

Make sure each person knows everyone else in the team as a person. We’ve seen even the most combative groups (including labour-management relationships) achieve amazing performance and ride the heat curve higher together when people share something personal and meaningful about themselves, not just their names, ranks, and years on the job. It’s amazing how simple and effective it can be to go one step beyond the usual icebreaker.

2. OPT FOR TRANSPARENCY

The economist Joseph Stiglitz once pointed out that “It is trust, not money, that makes the world go around.” It’s easier to talk about building a culture of trust than to create one. But one good place to start is just by sharing as much as you know as soon as you know it with the entire group. Without this transparency, we tend to doubt each other’s motives. Team members need to know they’ll be supported when they take risks in uncertain circumstances–especially when things don’t go as planned.

3. DON’T WASTE TIME MOVING FROM TALK TO ACTION

As Doug Conant, the former CEO of Campbell Soup, once said, “You can’t talk your way out of something you behaved your way into.” Evidence creates beliefs. Which is why any effective leadership, formal or informal, is all about the things you do, not what you say. Instead of team members hearing that management empathises with their challenges, their collective resilience depends more on actually getting the resources to overcome them.

Bottom line: Most of the time, we endure best when we endure together.

Adapted from an article by Michael Papanek and Liz Alexander originally posted on FastCompany.

Contact us at info@brg.co.za to speak to us about cultivating a ‘resilience’ culture in your organisation.

 

Confidence Over Competence: The Key to Unlocking Female Leadership

By Dr Tara Swart

As a neuroscientist and executive advisor, I am used to working in not one, but two male-dominated professions, regularly finding myself at the cross-section between science and business through my consultancy work with leaders. As a coach, I am able to observe the qualities which lend themselves to effective leadership, as well as to consider how we might change the physiology of the brain to improve our performance and behaviour, become more mentally resilient, and be better leaders.

IMPOSTER SYNDROME

My clients and peers tend to be men, due to the continued gender inequity at the top of business today. So I want to consider how understanding neuroscience can help empower women to join the ranks of the business elite.

I see a high number of male sufferers of imposter syndrome because of the gender makeup of my client base, but in our society, it is understandably perceived that sufferers of imposter syndrome tend to be women. This may be because women have lower levels of testosterone, the hormone which correlates with confidence, although research in this area is somewhat lacking. The condition is characterised by a feeling that, despite having the relevant qualifications, you aren’t sufficiently competent or expert to be in the position you are in, or that you do not deserve to be appointed to a higher post with more responsibilities. Imposter syndrome promotes the cycle that prevents female leadership: women don’t go for roles because they don’t believe they have the requisite level of competence, and in turn there are fewer women in leadership positions to set a precedent and make leadership look tangible and achievable to others.

REAPING THE REWARDS OF COGNITIVE DIVERSITY

However, there is a growing body of evidence which shows that diversity of thinking can really benefit a business’s bottom line. Diversity has been proven to help businesses and projects thrive, not only creatively but also financially. Currently, 80-90% of people in top-level leadership positions are male, yet research conducted by academics at the Ashridge and London Business Schools has shown that cognitive diversity will translate to higher performance amongst teams, and will therefore have a positive impact on the bottom line of an enterprise. There is a place for female leadership qualities (which can exist in both male and female brains) such as intuition, emotional intelligence, flexibility of thinking and valuing human capital – not least because these qualities are less difficult to imitate by technology; they will continue to be more valuable as the world of work changes and AI becomes more prevalent in decision making.  

We see time and time again that inclusive attitudes help to foster creativity and innovation, and to inspire confidence amongst the workforce which in turn, leads to bigger, bolder decisions and to the implementation of change.

CONFIDENCE AND THE POWER OF NEUROPLASTICITY

Indeed, confidence could be the crucial missing ingredient when it comes to female leadership. Whilst men naturally have up to 8 times higher levels of testosterone, no one is born confident, or under-confident for that matter. It can be developed and improved by helping our brains imagine what we can achieve and how to reach our goals.

Try thinking consciously and mindfully about some of your past successes, whether professional or personal. Even paying attention to the successes of similar people around you can help your brain to visualise these accomplishments as achievable for you as well, reframing what might originally seem out of reach as something attainable. Most people assume that our brains are fixed once we reach adult life. However, research has now shown that our brains are ‘plastic’ and can be adapted and changed, forging new neural pathways, according to how we stimulate and use them. This ability is called neuroplasticity and means that we can change the physical structure of the brain to rewire our responses to challenges and improve our behaviours. Repeating positive mantras is thought to help with this rewiring process as we reroute negative thoughts of self-doubt towards self-belief. Take your biggest self-doubt and create a mantra out of the opposite statement.

Confidence can be built up through our physical actions as well. Simply standing tall and acting with assurance is thought to boost testosterone levels and reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. In the same way hunching and making yourself small will have the opposite effect, reducing testosterone levels. The posture studies have been somewhat discredited in terms of actually changing your hormone profile, but if they make you feel better – use them! Certain types of aerobic exercise, such as boxing, can actually help to increase testosterone production.

Finally, make sure you look after your brain. Rest it, fuel it, hydrate it, oxygenate it and simplify your decisions to free up cognitive resource. All of these things will go a long way to reducing your stress levels, strengthening your resolve and enhancing your mental resilience, helping you to power through to the next stage of your career.

About the Author: Dr Tara Swart is a neuroscientist, leadership coach, medical doctor and award-winning author. She works with leaders at the top of the business world to help them get the best out of their brains, reach their peak performance and improve their mental agility and resilience.

Contact us at info@brg.co.za to enhance the diversity of your team’s thinking.

 

10 Skills For Navigating Paradox

by Dave Ulrich

Leaders in HR who navigate paradox had the biggest impact on business results. Paradoxes exist when seemingly contradictory activities operate together. We experience paradoxes in daily life as captured by the popular phrases: tough love, do more with less, oil and vinegar, sweet and sour, work/life balance, Catch 22, go slow to go fast, good and evil, and so forth. When these inherent contradictions work together, success follows. Instead of focusing on either/or; paradoxes emphasise and/also thinking.

Organisations and leaders who respond to the disruptions above do so by navigating paradox. Navigating paradox accepts and heightens disagreements that enable organisations to change and evolve.  Without the tensions that come from paradoxical thinking and debates, organisations perpetuate the status quo and do not respond to change. Leaders of these organisations need to become paradox navigators to help their organisations respond to the pace of change.

HR professionals who are paradox navigators encourage, surface, and raise difficult issues so that they can be resolved. For example, we have found that there are times when a business team should diverge and other times when they should converge. Divergence means that alternatives are explored. When an HR professional is in a meeting where there are few options discussed, that individual should encourage divergence where new alternatives are discussed. On the other extreme, when a group remains divergent, the HR professional needs to create convergence and unity to focus attention. We found in our work that as Paradox Navigators, HR professionals may not be the most popular members of a business team because they raise difficult, but necessary issues. But, their ability to navigate paradox is the most important skill for business results.

How to improve skills to be a paradox navigator

Paradox navigation is not an innate trait, but a learned set of behaviours that translate into skills. Based on our research and experience, leaders who are Paradox Navigators possess the knowledge, skills, and abilities proposed in the table below. When HR professionals recognise, assess themselves, and master these skills, they are more able to drive business success.

Paradox Navigator Skills Table

HR professionals and business leaders can acquire and improve these paradox navigation skills through extensive training, development, and coaching. But, perhaps the most important prerequisite is to recognize the importance of navigating paradox in delivering business results. HR professionals who want to deliver real business value must become paradox navigators.

Read the full article at rbl.net

Contact us at info@brg.co.za to your HR team into a core business partner that will drive and achieve strategic organisational results.

 

6 Foods To Help You Cope With Stress

We’re all aware of the foods that can promote anxiety, such as alcohol, caffeine and fatty foods.  But what about the foods that help us feel energised, refreshed and calm?

Here are six foods which are great at helping to manage your anxiety. From getting your neurotransmitters the nutrients they need to lowering blood pressure – these foods are optimal for stress relief.

1. Almonds

Balance your mood with the zinc found in almonds. The iron they hold will assist you with brain activity. You will also benefit from the healthy fats they contain for the optimal functioning of your neurotransmitters.

You may not think that your tired brain is linked to your anxiety. However, a lack of mental energy can increase your anxiety when you have a fatigued state of mind.

2. Turkey

Put yourself to sleep with the tryptophan in turkey. Importantly, tryptophan does not only induce a restful sleep but also serves as a precursor to serotonin. Your serotonin secretion is believed to act as a mood stabilizer that can calm you down.

3. Avocados

Your super food for health truly is avocado. This is because it provides you with fibre, heart-healthy fatty acids, potassium and an abundance of vitamins!

Your blood pressure will thank you for eating avocado, as with their high levels of potassium -higher even than that found in bananas – they are fantastic at lowering blood pressure. Your neurotransmitters also receive vitamin B from avocado as well as monounsaturated fats. This allows them to function at their optimal.

4. Water

We all know that hydration is key to overall health and wellness. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that it can assist in relaxation. It has been shown that even mild dehydration (when you start to feel thirsty) can have a large impact on your energy levels and general mood. Staying hydrated keeps your body regulated naturally and can result in lowered levels of anxiety.

5. Eggs

Your brain will operate at its best when assisted by the high levels of vitamin B in eggs. You will also assist your brain from becoming confused, irritable, or exhausted with the choline found in eggs.

6. Salmon

As a fish high in omega 3 fatty acids, salmon has been shown to help improve general mood and assist the brain in managing stress levels.

This article originally featured on longevitylive.com