FROM DIVISION TO SYNERGY

Emma Vallin, Leadership Consultant & Coach

One of my favorite assignments last year was a Team Effectiveness Project for a consumer goods company.

THE CHALLENGE
The head of the Consumer Insights team approached me since his team struggled with collaboration. The team was divided between seasoned members and newcomers, leading to low engagement scores and a reluctance from other departments to collaborate.

OUR APPROACH
When interviewing team members, it became clear that they didn’t have common goals, nor did they play by the same rules. We used Team Pro, a structured and well researched method for team development. With an online assessment and a series of workshops we worked on strengthening:

1.      Transitional Processes: The interactions that occur before and after work processes where the team plans and evaluates. (To use a sports analogy: before and after the game)
2.      Action Processes: The interactions in the team where they perform their work duties to achieve their goals. (During the game)
3.      Interpersonal Processes: Activities addressing the team’s emotional climate. (Around the game)

During exercises and simulations, my co-facilitator and I observed the team and gave them feedback on their behaviors. The team then developed an action plan for what they wanted to improve and how.

THE RESULTS
–         8-percentage-point increase in employee engagement score.
–         27% uptick in internal net promoter score.
–         The team was recognized as a good place to work, with more internal applications for vacancies.

A key reason for the results was the team leader’s willingness to invest in team development over time. This year we are doing another Team Pro check-in with the team 😊.

Interested in how your team can work better together? Let’s talk

I’M CRAZY BUSY RIGHT NOW


I hear many people saying that work is crazy busy right now. It usually is this time of year. On top of the end of year frenzy, many of us struggle with pressure to deliver more with less resources, often with less clarity.

I listened to a talk by an emergency physician about Triage – a sorting system to allocate limited resources to do as much good as possible. The criteria differ between country and situation, but in essence: when disaster hits, there should be no doubt about whom to treat first.

Without in any way comparing corporate pressure to emergency care, wouldn’t it be great to have a clear-cut way to allocate our personal resources (time, energy, and cognitive capacity) when things get ‘crazy busy’?

As a starting point, ask yourself:
1️⃣ What are my top 3 priorities? (the easy part)
2️⃣ How are they reflected in my calendar? (the painful part)
3️⃣ How can I design my work, so that my most productive time is spent on my top priorities? (the game-changing part)

Or as Steven C would say: When you have too many top priorities, you effectively have no top priorities.

WHO AM I IF I CAN’T RUN WITH THE BALL?

If my business had a muse, it would be Louisa in Encanto 🏋‍♀️

I watched the movie again with my kids the other day. The lyrics really speak to my mission of helping high achievers perform sustainably.

❓❓ What would you say to Louisa, to the ‘Louisas’ in your team, to yourself if you identify?

“I’m the strong one, I’m not nervous
I’m as tough as the crust of the Earth is
I move mountains, I move churches
And I glow, ’cause I know what my worth is
I don’t ask how hard the work is
I take what I’m handed, I break what’s demanded…

Under the surface, I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service
Under the surface, I hide my nerves and it worsens
It’s pressure like a drip, drip, drip that’ll never stop, whoa
Pressure that’ll tip, tip, tip ’til you just go pop, whoa, oh, oh
Watch as she buckles and bends but never breaks, no mistakes
Who am I if I can’t run with the ball?
Who am I if I can’t carry it all?”

NOT ENOUGH MEETINGS?

Emma Vallin, Organizational & Leadership Consultant

Knowledge workers spend on average 85% of their time in meetings, which studies show negatively affects well-being. Not surprisingly many organizations are opting for meeting-free days.

But how does this effect cooperation and productivity?

A study* of companies who had implementing meeting-free days, found that:

ONE meeting-free day a week resulted in:
✅ Autonomy: +62%
✅ Cooperation: +15%
✅ Engagement: +28%
✅ Productivity: +35%
✅ Stress: -26%

With TWO meeting free days, the numbers jumped to:
✅ Autonomy: +78%
✅ Cooperation: +43%
✅ Engagement: +32%
✅ Productivity: +71%
✅ Stress: -43%

Is there such thing as too few meetings, I hear you ask?

THREE seems to be the optimum number of meeting-free days, according to the study. After that, metrics like productivity and satisfaction start declining and micromanagement starts creeping up again.

❓ What if anything, surprised you about these numbers?

❓ What is your experience of meeting free days?

📈 Take the poll: how many meeting-free days do you prefer: https://lnkd.in/dEJErM85

* The Surprising Impact of Meeting-Free Days. Benjamin Laker, Vijay Pereira, Pawan Budhwar, and Ashish Malik. MIT Sloan Management Review, January 18, 2022

Some hours are more equal than others

Pulling an all-nighter, doing 80-hour weeks, burning the midnight oil.

There are countless cultural references and expressions of overwork, most of them talk about the number of hours we work.

Emma Vallin, Organizational & Leadership Consultant

The 8-hour workday can be traced back to the Industrial Revolution and was introduced as a way to give workers enough time to rest from heavy manual labor. In a knowledge based society, where many of us mainly work with our brains, what would be the equivalent rule? How should our workdays be structured to optimize and protect our cognitive muscles?

We have all experienced days or meetings that left us completely spent, barely able to hold a conversation with our family at the dinner table. Some tasks are just more cognitively demanding than others. A 30-minute disorganized Teams meeting with conflicts can leave us mentally drained while a whole week of working on a passion project can even add to our energy depot. These insights are particularly important when you’re in a billable hour practice or run your own business.

Or as George Orwell might have put it, had he been writing LinkedIn articles in 2023:

‘All hours are equal, but some hours are more equal than others.’

I find human capacity and performance management fascinating and I’m not surprised that it’s a well researched topic. There are numerous behavioral science studies and psychology papers exploring human endurance and how we maximize performance. From looking at what world record holding athletes have in common to analyzing iconic chess games.

I recently came across Samuele Mancona’s study about how mental and physical fatigue are linked. It was described in Alex Hutchingson’s book Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, which I can really recommend. In the study, Mancona asked volunteers to be part of two time-to-exhaustion tests on a stationary bike. Basically, the participants were asked to cycle until they were too exhausted to continue. Ahead of the first test, the volunteers were asked to spend 90 minutes on a mentally draining computer game that required their full attention. Ahead of the second test, the participants were instead asked to watch a bland and emotionally neutral documentary.

After the mentally draining computer game the volunteers gave up 15,1% earlier on the bike test.

There were no physiological explanations to the time difference – their heart rates, lactate levels etc. were the same. They were similarly motivated in both the tests as the best performance was rewarded with a $50 prize. The difference was that when the participants were mentally fatigued, they reached their perceived point of physical exhaustion quicker.

In the study, they used the Borg scale, after Swedish psychologist Gunnar Borg, to measure perceived exertion. In his view perceived exertion is the best measurement of physical strain since it’s based on signals not only from muscles, joints and the cardiovascular system but from the central nervous system as well.

Here’s more from Orwell:

“Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else.”

The results of the study might make sense to us instinctively even if I for one can’t explain it. But it does make me wonder why so many workplaces are still organizing work based on hours, as if all hours were indeed created equally. Surprisingly often I meet managers who expect their team to clock 40, 60 or 80 hours per week, regardless of the kind of work the employees have done or the results generated.

Our jobs are more cognitively demanding today than ever before. The value we add, as simpler tasks are AI’ed out, is often about solving complex problems, managing change or generating ideas – mentally expensive work. Add to that all the distractions we expose our brains to every day.

I believe managing our cognitive resources will be a critical skill going forward, both for achieving meaningful work goals and for important social interactions.

So how would we organize and measure work if LinkedIn-Orwell had a say in it?

    1. USE COGNITIVE RESOURCES WISELY. Since attention is a scarce resources, be mindful what you spend or waste it on. Do a cost benefit analysis for the things you spend a lot of time on, like meetings and emails. A study published in MIT Sloan Management Review 2022 found that by implementing just one meeting free day per week companies improved autonomy by 62%, cooperation with 15% and engagement with 28%. Avoid powering through when you feel exhausted, it’s counterproductive.
    2. AUTOMATE. We make thousands of decisions every day and each decision uses a part of our cognitive capacity. To focus your decision-making energy on the things that really matter we need to automate as many decisions as possible. Barack Obama allegedly only had one type of suits to eliminate that decision every morning.
    3. HAVE STRIPED DAYS. Mix more challenging tasks with easier throughout day. Balance physical and cognitive tasks. Take frequent breaks and longer breaks. Change the environment you’re in – go work in the office canteen for an hour. Avoid de-prioritizing rest, exercise or sleep. Avoid back-to-back meetings and tasks.
    4. LEAD THE WAY. As leaders, you need to role model this way of viewing work. Be open about what you need to do your best work and what boundaries you have. As organizations we need to start rewarding and promoting responsible energy management. In business planning or when resourcing projects, make sure you are crystal on the cognitive capacity you have and how to prioritize it. Call out ways of working that misuse people’s energy.

Over to you:

How can you organize your work to get the highest ‘ROCI – return on cognitive investment’ or ‘bang for the mental energy buck?’

Similarities between running a businesses and raising a toddler

Last month I celebrated my 3rd anniversary as a fulltime entrepreneur. Happy birthday to me!

Emma Vallin, Executive Coach & Leadership Consultant

In some ways you can compare starting a business to parenting a child. It’s an exciting idea to bring a child into the world but few of us were prepared for the toddle tantrums and a 3-year old’s talent for accidents. (My youngest son went through a period of putting peas, sweetcorn, and anything small enough up his nose 😫).

What parents learn, often a bit too late, is that their toddler isn’t trying to drive them crazy nor kill themselves. They are simply learning and developing by testing boundaries.

A small business goes through similar growing pains. It can be equally challenging, unpredictable, and full of ups and downs. Just as parents can draw strength from watching their cherubs sleep peacefully after a day of food attacks, entrepreneurs can find energy from reflecting on their experience.

– We need to remind ourselves of why we set out on the journey in the first place.

So, as my ‘third child’ turns 3, here are my reflections:

🎂 My BS ratio (Nonsense work/ Meaningful work) has dropped from about 10-1 to 1-10 since I left my corporate career. Back then my days were filled with ineffective meetings, impression management and producing endless amounts of PPT presentations. Today most of my time is spent on what I consider meaningful work, things that help me achieve my mission.

🎂 The freedom that comes with being your own boss is even greater than I imagined. Perhaps the greatest freedom for me is being able to choose whom I want to collaborate with.

🎂I’ve grown and developed a lot in these years. It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to use all your talents and experience to create something of your own.

A big thanks to my supporters, clients, partners, and the amazing fellow entrepreneurs I’ve met along the way.

Here’s to the next 3 years, hoping they will be as fun and rewarding, but perhaps a bit less crazy.

#reflection #entrepreneur #businessdevelopment

The Importance of Rethinking

Emma Vallin, Leadership Consultant & Coach. Photo: Janine Laag

Decisive, bold, assertive, fast, consistent – these are traditionally highly valued traits in the corporate world. Many of us have heard them in performance reviews, either as qualities we have or should develop.

In brand management, where I spend most of my career, we were trained to know our data, do our research, then to commit to an idea and stick to our plan. Often spending most of our energy convincing the world about its brilliance. There was little room for honest reevaluation or rethink.

Why is changing our minds so hard?

I recently read Think Again by Adam M. Grant. Grant starts by describing the concept of Escalation of Commitment –

“When we dedicate ourselves to a plan and it isn’t going as we hoped, our first instinct isn’t usually to rethink it. Instead, we tend to double down and sink more resources in the plan”.

If we’re collaborating with others on this plan, it can be ever harder to change our minds. We are social creatures and challenging the direction of our team comes with risk. Nobody wants to come across as arrogant, stupid or indeed insecure. Most of us want to fit in. It takes a very open and inclusive team climate to accommodate this kind of risk taking. A psychologically safe environment in which candor and half-baked ideas are welcomed. With leaders who encourage us to rethink, relearn and challenge truths.

The ability to change our mind is more important today than ever

In stable and predictable industries and markets, like the ones I worked in at the time, being consistent and sticking to your guns is often a good thing. It inspires confidence in stakeholders and gives your brand consistency. However in uncertain, fast-paced and ever-changing corporate environments, the courage to reevaluate and change direction becomes business critical.

To do this we need people with the right cognitive skills. We often think of mentally fit people as intelligent people. The smarter you are, the more complex problems you can solve, faster. But in a rapidly transforming world, there are, according to Adam Grant, cognitive skills that could matter more: the ability to rethink and unlearn.

“Progress is impossible without change; and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything – George Bernard Shaw”

The value of reflection

For those who dare to be indecisive, there’s a lot to gain. Kahneman’s work on Thinking, Fast and Slow gives us another take on the virtue of the slower, more deliberate System 2 thinking.

Reflection is also important for developing our self-awareness. Professor Daniel Newark, who studies decision-making, identity and behaviour, claims that pondering over outcomes of two or more options allows us to be introspective and gain unique dimensions of self-awareness. He says: “The contemplations and conversations characteristic of indecision may help construct, discover, or affirm who one is.”

For me, this speaks to the theory of ‘slowing down to speed up’ and the value of reflection.

Invite others to rethink with you

There is lot to gain from opening up about our doubts and inviting others to reflect with us. Otto Scharmer talks about self-reflection as one of the prerequisites for new thinking. We cannot go from disagreement to generative dialogue without being curious about our own views and willing to challenge them.

So why not invite your collegues to reflect with you? Newark also found that when you seek advice before making a decision it can inspire conversations of meaning and build professional connection. Quite a nice side effect.

What ‘truths’ are you holding on to?

What do you need to rethink in your work?

Is there room for candor in your team?

Photo: Janine Laag
Emma Vallin, leadership consultant, coach

Open Conversations

First up in my series of blog posts on psychological safety is the dimension of open conversations and dialogue.

Defined as:

‘the degree to which difficult and sensitive topics can be discussed openly’ –

open conversations help your team take advantage of opportunities. It gives you invaluable insights into each other and can help you move past challenges. Quality dialogue is necessary for the team to learn and stay engaged.

In contrast, if the quality of the conversation is low it can stop you from speaking up about risks or challenges. As an organization you might lose out on business-critical information and miss opportunities. One of the symptoms can be that your meetings are very short or often rescheduled.

“The quality of your conversations will determine the quality of your outcomes” – Amy C. Edmondson

Here are some tips for encouraging open conversations:
    • Share your learnings or take-aways from conversations
    • Ask twice as many questions as you tell. Replace “I think” statements with “what if” statements to invite voice and limit self-promotion
    • Make yourself available and listen with curiosity & empathy
    • What meetings do you reschedule regularly? What is causing that change and what is the impact on the team?

Next up: Attitude Towards Risk & Failure
Photo: Janine Laag

Building Psychologically Safe Teams

Have you ever been on a team where:

    • you spoke openly about difficult topics
    • you viewed mistakes as a chance to learn
    • colleagues went the extra mile for each other, and
    • you capitalized on everyone’s differences?

Then you’ve probably experiences the potency of psychological safety.

Defined by Amy C. Edmondson as “a belief that the context is safe for interpersonal risk-taking – that speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes will be welcomed and valued”, Psychological safety is a critical ingredient for groups to be engaged, to learn and to succeed.

Why psych. safety matters more than ever

Today the work many of us do is highly cognitive. It requires us to solve complex problems and find creative solutions to new challenges. Collaboration and the ability to get the best out of a diverse group is one of the biggest leadership challenges we face. In this uncertain and fast paced world, everyone’s voice could be business critical. Leaders who fail to create a climate where that voice can be raised freely, without fear of the consequences, risk missing out on opportunities and disengage the organization’s best people.

Employees who are not engaged or who are actively disengaged cost the world $7.8 trillion in lost productivity, according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2022 Report. That’s equal to 11% of global GDP.

On this flipside companies that report high psychological safety experience:

    •  76% more engagement
    • 50% more productivity
    • 74% less stress
    • 57% workers more likely to collaborate

 “No one comes up with a good idea when being chased by a tiger”

How to build Psychological Safety in a team

Psychological Safety is gained over time through intentional actions. It is something that is built in drops but lost in buckets.

I work with vastly different teams who want to improve their collaboration – from leadership teams to startups and global HR teams. In my experience, teams can significantly improve their level of psychological safety in just a few months by making it a priority.

I’m certified in the Fearless Organization tool – a method for measuring and developing psychological safety, based on over 30 years of research.

The work I do with teams usually follows these 4 steps:

1.   1-1 meeting with the team leader

2.   Team completes the online Fearless Organization Scan

3.   Debrief workshop when we look at specific areas for improvement and develop an action plan. The team then works intentionally with the identified behaviors.

4.   A follow up online scan after 2-4 months followed by a new workshop to discuss and learn. Regular measurement, support and dialog.

“Start with the common goal. Then make psychological safety a common project.” Amy C. Edmondson

In the coming weeks I’ll post about the 4 dimensions of psychological safety, highlighted in the Fearless Organization book by Amy Edmondson, and tools to improve them:

    1.  Open Conversation
    2. Attitude Towards Risk & Failure
    3. Willingness to Help
    4. Inclusion & Diversity

I hope you’ll join me in discussing ways we can build open, engaged and effective teams.

First up next week is: Open Conversations

Making our Meetings Matter

 ‘The bulk of my workday’, ‘A necessary evil’ or ‘When I write my grocery list’.

Whatever your relationship is to work meetings – you probably have quite a few of them and they’re probably not as effective as they could be.

Emma Vallin

Research from MIT Sloan* suggests that only around 50% of meeting time is effective, well used, and engaging — the number is even lower for remote meetings.

A study by Wolf Management Consultants** found that amongst professionals who meet frequently, 95% of meeting attendees miss parts of meetings while a whopping 73% carry out other work during meetings.

The author of Death by Meeting, Patrick Lencioni claims:

“Bad meetings not only exact a toll on the attendees as they suffer through them, but also cause real human anguish in the form of anger, lethargy, cynicism, and even in the form of lower self-esteem.”

But it’s not all doom and gloom, well-run meetings can result in better decision-making and increased innovation, collaboration, and resilience. Effective meetings can leave us feeling energized and productive, like we’ve really accomplished something.

So, what makes a meeting effective?

Fundamentally, it comes down to three things:

  1. Achieving the meeting’s objective.
  2. Taking up a minimum amount of time.
  3. Leaving participants feeling that a good process has been followed.

If you plan, prepare, execute, and follow-up your meetings around these basic criteria, you’re meetings will be a good use of time and help your organization reach its goals.

Of course we cannot control how all meetings are run but we can start by influencing the meeting etiquette at our workplace by role-modelling great meetings ourselves.

Here are a few tips to improve the quality of your meetings:

  1. Clarity – why you are meeting, who really needs to attend and how should everyone prepare?
  2. Challenge the length – Does the meeting really need to be 60 minutes? Often a shorter meeting makes us focus and stick to the priorities.
  3. Sharpen the agenda – Ban general updates and shape the agenda like a question that should be answered.
  4. Start and end on time – most of us agree it’s respectful to start and finish on time. But to ensure we have time to prepare for the next meeting schedule your meetings to finish at 25 minutes past or 5 minutes to the hour.
  5. Start the meeting well – They energy and attitude we start the meeting with will set the tone for the rest of the meeting. What’s known as the contagion effect. So start as you would like the meeting to continue.
  6. Ask for feedback – If we spend so many hours per week in meetings, why not get good at doing them. Ask for feedback on how you ran, prepared or participated in a meeting.

Involve your team in developing a great meeting culture

We know that great teamwork is developed by talking about it, practicing it and reflecting on it. So in your next team or board meeting, ask the question:

Are your meetings creating valuable new insights for the business or solving critical problems? Or are they a series of multitasking-filled project updates?

If it’s the latter, how can you adjust to make your meetings more productive? Try and then review and reflect together.

At the end of the day, it is our responsibility to spend our time on what matters most to ourselves, our teams and our organizations. Many of the clients I work with would benefit from asking the respectful question ‘Why are we meeting’ – a bit more often. And if the meeting is not a good use of our time, politely decline.

*Steven G. Rogelberg, Sloan MIT, 2020

** https://www.wolfmotivation.com/articles/the-expense-of-ineffective-meetings

Are distractions keeping you from greatness?

Many of my clients experience an acute lack of focus time, what they often call ‘real work’. They are overwhelmed by the constant flow of emails, meeting invites and ‘urgent’ requests from stakeholders.

It’s not surprising. A study from Loughborough University (T.W Jackson, 2021) found that 84% of professionals always keep their inbox open in the background with 70% of emails being opened within 6 seconds of receipt. Given that the average knowledge worker receives 120 emails per day (Earthweb, J Wise, 2022) and on top of that a constant flow of Slack- or Teams notifications and social media updates, we are setting ourselves up for failure at best. Burnout at worst.

What does this availability cost? For your focus, for your health, for your productivity?

Why is it so hard to turn off distractions, even though we know it’s what we need the most?

Throughout evolution we have been rewarded for being curious. There are powerful neurotransmitters like Dopamine involved, which makes checking emails or social media likes difficult habits to control. It’s more important than ever that organizations put sustainable communication practices in place and that their leaders live by them.

And yes, in periods we might need to be more accessible. But I challenge everyone to schedule undistracted focus time at least once per day. It’s critical for our focus, wellbeing and productivity at work.

Slowing down doesn’t mean accomplishing less; it means cutting out counterproductive distractions and the perception of being rushed. – Tim Ferriss

Here are a few thing you can try:

  1. Get the Pen and paper out. Go analog when you are next solving a problem or planning an activity.
  2. Use mornings wisely. Studies show that out stress tolerance is higher in the mornings, making the first couple of hours of work out ‘cognitively expensive’. If possible, block undisturbed time for your priorities in the morning.
  3. Plan for productivity. The 52:17 rule, first described in a Muse article in 2014 is a method by which you spend 52 minutes of intensive, purposeful work followed by 17 minutes of rest away from your computer. People using this method were found to have a unique level of focus and productivity.
  4. Go Walkflecting: Walk+Reflection. A powerful practice to increase our creativity, wellbeing and productivity. Just make sure you turn off your mobile.

What could you do more of if you were less distracted?

How can you help yourself focus on what really matters?

What Ross Geller can teach us about Self-Leadership.

Who can forget the Friends episode when Ross asks Rachel and Chandler to help him get a sofa up the stairs?

According to the Oxford Dictionary the word Pivot means to turn or balance on a central point.

I’m sure it wasn’t Ross’ intention, but he has definitely inspired my framework for effective self-leadership. In the workshops or trainings I do with clients we often work with these 3 elements:

      1. Self-awareness
      2. Direction
      3. Tools & habits

Self-awareness:

To lead ourselves effectively we need to know what we’re good at, what our vulnerabilities are, what we value. In other words, we need a central point to start from, to come back to. To pivot from.

Direction:

Understanding our ‘why’, being clear about where we’re heading and what we would like to achieve is critical to self-leadership.

As JFK said ‘Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.’

As goals change, our circumstances change, we need to be adaptable and use regular reflection to be open to new goals and ways to get there.

Tools and habits:

It’s not enough to have a range of tools and positive habits. Effective self-leaders also have high levels of psychological flexibility – the ability to use different instruments and draw upon different strengths depending on the situation.

So when you’re stuck, when circumstances change, as you evolve – remember to pivot.
        • Stay firmly grounded in who you are, your central point.
        • Keep your eyes on your ‘why’, the horizon.
        • And turn, try new ways, gain new perspectives, learn.

Back to Ross in Friends, I’m sure we can agree there is some room for improvement when it comes to his collaboration- and leadership abilities. And things didn’t turn out well for the sofa (see episode clip here). But at least he gave us the Pivot!

If you or your team are interested in Self-Leadership initiatives, feel free to reach out.

Year-End Reflection – where do you do your best thinking?

This is the time of the year when many of us stop to reflect on the year that’s gone, personally and professionally. It might be hard to fit in personal time between work projects and Christmas shopping, but hopefully the holiday period will give us some an opportunity for quality thinking.

As with all positive habits, we need to make it as easy as possible for ourselves. Therefore, ask yourself where and how you do your best thinking?

We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” – John Dewey

I’ve always find writing the best way for me to reflect and plan. And some of my best thinking is usually done in very specific places.

First of all, I do my big thinking around things like how I want to live my life, during flights (and long train journeys). But of course, I haven’t done much of that in the past 18 months.

My second favorite place to think is in cafés, writing on napkins. That’s where I do my best career and business planning. The napkin helps because it makes it spontaneous and removes the pressure. I also love that there is limited space on the napkin – as if my ideas are too many and too big to fit on the piece of paper

Recently I’ve discovered a third place – when I’m out walking. It’s when I’m most creative and come up with good (and bad) business ideas. Until recently I always listened to a podcast or music, which is great to inspiration. But I was surprising to find how the ideas started flowing when there was silence.

Where and how do you do your best thinking?

Making it easy for ourselves and exploring where and how we get our best insights and ideas can help us make reflection into a positive habit.

Writing this made me think that perhaps I’m a Lone Wolf who doesn’t need others to reflect and come up with ideas? I definitely think the pandemic has made me more self-reliant when it comes to inspiration. But I get a lot of energy from sparring and discussing with smart, fun, and open-minded people.

And come to think about it, one of the most rewarding activities I’ve done this year is started group Walkflections here in Stockholm.

So, as I close the books for 2021, my conclusion is that I’d like to spend more time bouncing off ideas and discussing plans with some of the interesting and talented people in my network. Consider yourselves warned!

With that I would like to wish you all a restful holiday with time for reflection and interesting discussions.

This is the time of the year when many of us stop to reflect on the year that’s gone, personally and professionally. It might be hard to fit in personal time between work projects and Christmas shopping, but hopefully the holiday period will give us some an opportunity for quality thinking.

As with all positive habits, we need to make it as easy as possible for ourselves. Therefore, ask yourself where and how you do your best thinking?

We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” – John Dewey

I’ve always find writing the best way for me to reflect and plan. And some of my best thinking is usually done in very specific places.

First of all, I do my big thinking around things like how I want to live my life, during flights (and long train journeys). But of course, I haven’t done much of that in the past 18 months.

My second favorite place to think is in cafés, writing on napkins. That’s where I do my best career and business planning. The napkin helps because it makes it spontaneous and removes the pressure. I also love that there is limited space on the napkin – as if my ideas are too many and too big to fit on the piece of paper

Recently I’ve discovered a third place – when I’m out walking. It’s when I’m most creative and come up with good (and bad) business ideas. Until recently I always listened to a podcast or music, which is great to inspiration. But I was surprising to find how the ideas started flowing when there was silence.

Where and how do you do your best thinking?

Making it easy for ourselves and exploring where and how we get our best insights and ideas can help us make reflection into a positive habit.

Writing this made me think that perhaps I’m a Lone Wolf who doesn’t need others to reflect and come up with ideas? I definitely think the pandemic has made me more self-reliant when it comes to inspiration. But I get a lot of energy from sparring and discussing with smart, fun, and open-minded people.

And come to think about it, one of the most rewarding activities I’ve done this year is started group Walkflections here in Stockholm.

So, as I close the books for 2021, my conclusion is that I’d like to spend more time bouncing off ideas and discussing plans with some of the interesting and talented people in my network. Consider yourselves warned!

With that I would like to wish you all a restful holiday with time for reflection and interesting discussions.

 

Common toxic life-rules and how to break them

So, you’ve come a long way in your personal development. Your self-leadership skills are well developed, you’ve made friends with your values and know your overdeveloped strengths. You know what drains you and what makes your dopamine flow.

Suddenly the growth stops.

Your coping strategies become ineffective, the stress management techniques useless and you fall back into negative habits.

Behavioral scientists call them dysfunctional core beliefs, the often-toxic life-rules that cause negative stress and stand in the way of your development. They are deep-rooted principles telling you what you ‘must’ and ‘should’ do to be successful, loved, or happy. These beliefs are often inherited or formed early on in life. They are central to your self-image and breaking them can be both painful and necessary to continue your personal growth.

Some common dysfunctional life-rules

      • If I don’t succeed, I have not put in enough effort
      • If I express my needs, I am selfish
      • I must be strong, whatever it takes
      • If I have a lot going on, I am successful
      • If I say no, people will not trust me again
      • If I fail, they won’t respect me

I can certainly relate to many of these. Throughout my career in fast-paced consumer goods organizations, I was convinced that if I only worked harder and showed up stronger, I would climb faster than everyone else.

It worked well. Until I crashed spectacularly.

Today I am an Executive Coach, speaker and leadership consultant specialized in helping high performing individuals and teams find a more sustainable way to perform.  Many of my clients call themselves achievement addicts and want to learn how to be successful on their terms, go the distance and become more effective leaders. Without burning out in the process.

We start by taking a long, hard, and honest look at their life-rules.

Most life-rules are useful and help us make daily decisions without too much thought. However, when your core beliefs dictate your behaviors without flexibility, they are dysfunctional and can limit your growth and well-being.

The worst thing with toxic life-rules is that they appear to be truths – it’s just how the world works, right? Therefore, we are often not fully aware of them.

5 steps to challenge your life-rules

      1. Decide to challenge a life-rule in a small way. For example, choose to go for a walk instead of answering work emails tonight (Rule: If I don’t succeed, I will be criticized)
      2. If the feeling of discomfort creeps in, remind yourself that it is not bad or dangerous to feel uncomfortable, on the contrary, it means that you are challenging a rigid rule.
      3. Breathe, observe what is happening without judging (and keep your hands off those emails!). When the stress reaction goes away, you can focus on enjoying the walk.
      4. Write down: when does this life-rule serve you and when are you’re better off overruling it?
      5. Be thankful for the work you just did to build flexibility and resilience.

In short, dysfunctional life-rules can hinder your personal development, they are difficult to notice and can be unpleasant to break. These core beliefs are the root cause of many dysfunctional behaviors. By being aware of them, challenging them and analyzing your reaction, you can increase your resilience and grow into a better version of yourself.

Happy overruling!

Case Study – Executive Coaching

Mairi is the Head of Leadership Development at the Karolinska University Hospital and has recently completed the Executive Coaching Program. It’s a six-month intensive coaching program for leaders based around the EQ-i 2.0 Emotional Intelligence Framework. The coaching sessions took place on Zoom, and we met approximately every third week.

I sat down with Mairi to ask her a couple of questions about her experience working with me as a coach.

Emma: Hi Mairi, what made you apply for the Executive Coaching Program?

Mairi: I had been recently appointed as the Head of Leadership Development at the Karolinska University Hospital. Given the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on staff and managers and the unique culture of our organization, a coaching program that builds on Emotional Intelligence resonated well with my perceived needs for personal and professional development.

Emma: What has the coaching given you?

Mairi: The coaching has primarily given me two things – increased self-awareness and space for self-reflection. While these two things are the essence of what I work with to create for others, the gift of time and support from Emma to have that space for myself, has been invaluable.

Emma:  What did you learn during the coaching program?

Mairi:  The EQ assessment was very comprehensive and shed light on capabilities that I need to get better at in order to become a more effective leader and leadership developer. I also learned how the different components are interdependent and realized how some of my strengths actually become a hinder for my performance when overused. Last but not least, it was an important reminder that regardless of one’s level of experience or stage of development, it is hugely beneficial to have periods in one’s life that are supported by a coach.

Emma: What elements of the program had the greatest impact on you?

Mairi: The greatest impact came from the combination of the EQ assessment and the coaching. The EQ assessment was eye opening and combined with coaching, its effects will be long lasting. Improved self-awareness means that I pay close attention in every situation where my capabilities are challenged. Attention is really what changes a mere experience into deliberate practice and can thus contribute to continual learning. The assessment alone would be simply information in form of a report. The coaching without the assessment would risk lacking intentionality and direction. So it’s the combination that makes it a winning concept.

Emma: Who do you think would benefit from Executive Coaching?

Mairi: Anyone with a growth mindset, i.e. anyone with a will, curiosity, openness and vulnerability to become better versions of themselves.

Emma: How would you describe me as a coach?

Mairi: Emma has a great ability to listen, to really listen. To pay close attention to what her client needs the moment they start their session. She masters the art of asking great questions and doesn’t hesitate to challenge the deeply held beliefs her client might hold about their situation, performance and learning. I’m deeply grateful for her generosity to support me in my growth and help me lead from my purpose.

Thank you Mairi for taking the time to reflect on this. As a coach I always learn something new with each client. It was an honor to work with Mairi and to follow her progress. I learned a great deal from her deep understanding of leadership and her willingness to challenge her perceptions.

If you or your organization are interested in Executive Coaching, please get in touch and I’m happy to tell you more.