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There’s a lot of data suggesting that we are sleep deprived and that the situation is getting worse. Some experts say that we should be getting 9-10 hours of sleep every 24 hours. Oi. A hundred years ago, folks were getting about 9 hours of counting sheep. Wouldn’t that be nice? For many of us, 9-10 hours during the weekdays simply isn’t doable but here’s some tips for making the sleep we get the best it can be.

  1. Avoid alcohol too close to bedtime. Even if it makes you drowsy, consuming it close to bedtime will interfere with sleep later in the night.
  2. No bright screens (computer, video games, tablet or cellphone) two hours prior to bedtime. The light from the screens messes up your body clock and the chemicals that help you fall and stay asleep.
  3. No stimulants such as sugar, caffeine or chocolate within a few hours of bedtime.
  4. No eating within a couple of hours of bedtime will help you to fall asleep easier.
  5. Do not fall asleep in front of the TV. Again the light from the screen messes with the chemicals that help you sleep soundly.
  6. Dim the lights, listen to down-tempo, relaxing music. This winding down preps you for a good sleep.
  7. Get regular exercise, but again, not within two hours of bedtime.

Try these out on a consistent basis for a few weeks and hopefully you’ll be sawing logs with the best of them.

Despite the mounting evidence against open office concepts, they continue to be a growing trend. Perhaps due in part to the cost savings in fitting the maximum amount of people in a given space or other touted benefits, the fact is is that open spaces often negatively impact performance and productivity. They are disruptive, stressful and a source of dissatisfaction to many employees. So, if you are stuck in one of these noisy wall-less environs, what can you do?

Tune Out

Look around any open-plan today and you’ll see many people deal with the distractions by wearing ear buds or headphones. The problem though is that depending on your task, the type of music you listen to can actually decrease your performance. Unless you are doing work that you’ve done many times before, then whatever your preferred music is, it’ll likely help you to get things done.

Silence Can Be Golden

If you are doing tasks that are new, demanding and require an intense focus, then using a noise canceling app or headphones is likely the best solution. Listening to music in this circumstance can serve as a major distraction. However, lessening external sounds with a noise canceler can reduce cognitive load and improve your ability to focus on the task at hand.

So, if it’s a routine task, crank your favorite tunes. If not, turn on the noise canceling app or find a quiet space to get things done.

Are you under the assumption that you’re indispensable at work?  That, in your absence, everything will fall apart at the office?  Well, it won’t. While you may make lots of amazing contributions to the company, not taking regular vacations is unhealthy for you, office morale and the company’s growth.  In fact, by taking time away, you provide team members the chance to develop their skills and manage projects while you’re away.

Here are 5 more benefits to you taking your vacation:

  1. You set an important example –  Particularly in the US, people are not taking vacations. One survey shows that the majority of US workers take less than half of their earned vacation time.  Talk about a prescription for burnout.  By taking vacation yourself, you’ll show the importance and necessity of taking time off.
  2. Recharge & gain fresh momentum – there’s a connection between taking regular breaks and your level of productivity.  Taking breaks boosts your ability to focus and get things done . You need to detach from your work first in order to shine more brightly at it.
  3. Time away boosts creativity – fresh faces, places, smells and tastes, can help unlock creative ideas.  When we are always “close” to the problems of work, when we never silence our phones or stop responding to email, we get trapped into certain mental habits.  It’s not until we’re lazily drifting in and out of a delicious nap in a hammock by the sea – when work seems a universe away – that we suddenly find the answer we’ve needed all along.
  4. Vacations beat back burnout – people who regularly take time away to relax are less likely to hit the wall and experience burnout.  They remain more creative and productive than their overworked, under rested counterparts.
  5. Vacations boost health – chronic stress exacts a harsh toll on your mental and physical health.  You’re more likely to become ill, make poorer decisions, be more irritable and have sleep problems.  Yikes.  Best to take some time off in order to up your game at work.

Taking time away from the stresses of the workplace and daily life will give you the break you need so that you can return to you life refreshed and better equipped to handle whatever comes your way.

Have you booked your time off this summer?  Are you taking your full amount of vacation and encouraging your staff to do the same?

You’ve worked hard for your vacation and you want to make the most of it.  Try these strategies for making the most of whatever vacation time you take.

  1. Take all of it –  Many people don’t take all of their vacation time.  Don’t be one of them.  The benefits of each day away is cumulative.  I know for a lot of people I work with, it’s not until week 2 that they are able to really detach from work, and this is a good thing.
  2. Unplug – Checking your emails, responding to calls and texts defeats the whole purpose of having time away.  If you must check your email or otherwise check in, do so at a set time everyday, for a limited amount of time.
  3. Slow down – A surefire way to wreck your vacation is to craft an itinerary with too many activities stuffed into it.  Remember, a crazed schedule is what you’re trying to avoid.  Yes, do plan some some activities, but leave plenty of time to simply hang or spontaneously embark on a fresh adventure.
  4. Hire a guide – One of the best ways to check out a new place is to hire a guide.  You’ll all of a sudden notice architectural details, get tips on where to dine and tap into fascinating tidbits of history that make a place come alive.
  5. Get cultured – No matter where you decide to drop your suitcase, make sure to immerse yourself in the local culture.  Check out community festivals and markets.  Eat in less touristy places and talk to locals.  You’ll get a greater understanding of the way different people live as well as a broader perspective on your own life.
  6. Live on the edge – Try out different things.  Maybe try horseback riding or go out and meet new people.  Perhaps different types of dishes.  Whatever it is, go a bit beyond your comfort zone.  It will pay off.
  7. Plan your first days back at work – schedule a ‘gentle’ return to work for your first few days back.  Having to slam face first into a packed schedule will sap all the benefits of your time away.  Leave your first day back free of meetings if you can.  This will give you the time you’ll need to catch up on emails and re-orient yourself.  You’ll also enjoy your vacation more knowing that it won’t be baptism by fire upon your return.

Bon Voyage!

Everyone needs a little energy boost now and again.  Sometimes, a number of times throughout a busy day.  If you’ve had your head down on a demanding project for a while or have been blasted by requests from every direction, you know what I mean.  It can be draining.  So what do you do?  Do you chug some caffeine?  Do you take a wee break and kick it up a notch. or do you take a few minutes to chill out and refocus?  Whatever you do, I say skip more caffeine.

Ways to Kick it Up a Notch…

Beyond 2-3 cups of java a day you enter the caffeine overload zone according to a recent study from the Mayo Clinic.  For myself, beyond two coffees, my eyelids begin to twitch.  How about you?  So instead of grabbing that double skim mocha latte espresso extravaganza why not figure out how to kick it up a notch sans caffeine?  Here’s some ideas:

  1. Ditch the desk – get up and go chat with that fun colleague down the hall or go for a brisk walk.  Even better is to grab that fun colleague and head outside in the fresh air for that blast around the block.  Do jumping jacks, jump rope, shake your groove thang…get physical!  A short, vigorous burst of energy can be a great way to revive yourself and kickstart your brain again.
  2. Blast some upbeat music – my current favorite is “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.  To celebrate the International Day of Happiness on March 20, the United Nations General Assembly created a 24 hour video featuring people across the planet dancing and celebrating to William’s amazing song.  I’ve watched it several times a day since it came out.  It is infectiously uplifting and energizing.  Check it out at
  3. Turn down the temp – warm temperatures inspire lethargy whereas cooler ones force your body to burn more calories and trigger your body to be more active and energetic.  Studies have shown that this is a great way to avoid the lull and boost your productivity.

Ways to Turn it Down a Notch…

Rather than turning it up, what you may be craving at times is simply a break from the activity feverishly swirling around you.  You instead need to refocus by stopping the swirl.  If this be the case, then caffeine is certainly not the answer.  Here’s some ideas:

  1. Turn down the volume – close your door, put your feet up and listen to relaxing music.  Or head outside for that quiet park bench or a take a stroll around the block.  Sometimes the best thing you can do is to simply escape the production line for a while.  Even 5 minutes of quiet time in that rarely used stairwell can help you re-centre and focus.
  2. Nap – yes. Really.  A 10 – 20 minute nap can be the most restorative thing you can do for yourself. Napping increases alertness, boosts creativity, reduces stress, improves perception, raises stamina, sharpens motor skills, increases accuracy, enhances your sex life, helps you make better decisions, reduces the risk of heart attack and improves both your memory and mood.  Need any more convincing?
  3. Meditate – if you haven’t learned a mindfulness technique like meditation, you may be missing out on the most effective stress management technique out there.  There are numerous ways to meditate or practice mindfulness.  Here’s one way to reach destination calmness: Powerful Practice – How to Meditate in 5 Steps.

Whether you need to crank it up to refocus and re-energize, or crank it down, intentionally using tools like the above can help you expertly glide through otherwise hectic days.

Ever felt like an eraser that was near rubbed out?  That even with much effort your ability to string two thoughts together was all but gone?  This is what it feels like for many when they’ve gone off track in taking care of themselves, and recently, this happened to me.  Embarrassing for a guy who specializes in wellbeing?  Not really.  Like everyone else, staying in the high performance zone is a fluid thing.  It requires vigilance.  And sometimes, in the swirl of activity around us, we lose that focus and hit the wall.  The key is getting back on track.

Face Meets Wall.

In a perfect world, the first step to getting back on track is noticing when you’re first beginning to feel yourself slipping.  You notice your fuse is extra short or that you’re extra bagged. This is when you take corrective action and head back to the gym, get back to your meditating or spend some hang time with friends or family.  In reality, this is not always the case, nor possible.  Sometimes life is unpredictable and even the most dedicated leader may suddenly have their life upended by a personal or work crisis.  Still, the sooner you can pull yourself back to your regular routines, the better.

Stand Up, Dust Yourself Off

Here are some tips to help get you in motion again:

  1. Ditch the guilt: likely one of the biggest things preventing you from getting back on track is simply the guilt you feel over having been off track.  Ok, so despite your best intentions you didn’t stick to your usual retinue of healthy food choices, moderate alcohol consumption or punctuality with direct reports.  Feeling guilty about this is wasted energy.  Instead, choose to spend your energy doing something productive.
  2. Make some tough decisions: decide not to take on that extra project or client if it isn’t mission critical.  Decide to lighten your load.  Apply the same rigour to your personal life that you do your work life.  Decide to take lunch breaks.  Decide to go home at a reasonable hour 3 times this week.  You get the idea.
  3. Dump the extras: be it excessive food, alcohol or whatever it is you know you shouldn’t be doing, get back to your normal routines as soon as you can.
  4. Get social: no one can go it alone.  We are social creatures and it is our friends and family that make us tick along happily.  Pick up the phone and arrange a dinner date with your spouse or take a walk with a friend.
  5. Take action NOW: nothing like the present moment to get things rolling in the right direction again.  Don’t delay.  You’re only one meal, workout or phone call away from getting back on track.  Nothing will help you feel better more quickly than by simply taking action.

The scourge for many of my western clients is the amount and length of emails they receive. In Asia, this is much less so. Brevity is the rule.

No offense taken when only essential facts are included. This way, responses come quick and the deal gets done.

Bing. Bang. Boom.

Recently I received an invitation to a conference on loyalty programs. Of course, I was interested. This is something all my clients want. Points, miles, gifts are all great ways to reward and incentivize customers. But nowhere in the content was there anything about the two most powerful and allied sources of customer loyalty: great customer service and engaged employees. Wow. What a glaring omission.

Bells and Whistles = Insufficient

In a nutshell, loyalty programs are structured marketing efforts that reward, and thereby encourage, loyal buying behaviour. And who doesn’t like loyalty programs? I’m a big fan of my travel rewards credit card. However, the card I originally had, provided mediocre customer service, at best. It just didn’t matter that it had some appealing bells and whistles. What I needed and what won out in the end, was great customer service. It always does.

Sadly, research shows that the profile of a typical firm in North America has one third of their employees being totally turned off by their jobs, half the workers are doing just enough to get by and only 18% are enthusiastic. In fact, world wide, actively disengaged employees outnumber engaged employees by nearly 2-1.

Peeling Back the Layers

Here in Canada and the US it means that half the workforce only do what’s expected of them. They don’t go that extra mile, don’t turn on their creative juices and don’t get inspired to give great customer service. Perhaps surprisingly, it is these people who for the most part want to go above and beyond and be an integral part of the company’s success. Something – often a disconnect with an immediate supervisor or a feeling that the company doesn’t care for them – is getting in the way. This is a huge untapped potential that many executives, managers and employees do not recognize and, therefore have not addressed. And it’s what’s sapping many an organization’s potential.

It just doesn’t make any sense to me that businesses would operate at 30% effeciency. But this is what happens when so many of an organization’s people are not contributing as much as they could. Imagine the impact of activating these same people so that they wanted to fully put their shoulders into their work? This is why loyalty programs simply cannot stand alone.

Engaged Employees + Loyalty Programs = Customer Happiness

To get the most from customer loyalty programs, no matter how shiny, they must be paired with equal efforts to increase employee engagement. Engaged employees give better customer service . It is this relationship that creates loyal, repeat customers and increased sales. While offers of fantastic trips or gadgets may lure a customer to your product or service, it is your people that will keep them coming back. Again and again.

Engagement does make a huge difference. It really is the ultimate prize for both your customers and your business. Don’t rely only on the bells and whistles.

Have you ever worked for a real life Voldemort?  If not, you’re both lucky and in the minority.  A number of years back and fresh into my first job as a behavior therapist, I worked for the quintessential boss from hell.  Like many of his ilk, at the start he was charming and all sunshine.  I recall not believing my good fortune. I had found the job of my dreams.  I couldn’t figure out though, why the other therapists on the team seemed so wary of him.  Well, to make a long story short, I soon learned.  Once I began showing hesitation to follow his dictates or to question his decisions, however tactfully, his head swiveled 360 degrees.  I quickly found myself the enemy…and I learned some of the best lessons of my life.

The next few years I endured harassment that knew few bounds.  He seemed to have a limitless bag of nastiness from which to suck the joy from life.  Like all good and proper bullies, he was constantly playing team members against one another, creating a deep sense of mistrust amongst us.  I felt both alone and trapped.  The job was very specialized and few, if any, other similar opportunities existed in the region.  As a young professional, fresh out of school, I was deep in debt with student loans and simply had to make money.  I toughed it out until the opportunity came for me to make the escape from satan’s den.  I also learned much about myself and how to handle extreme bullies.

Resilience was my key personal learning.  I learned much about my inner strength.  Pushed well beyond the bounds of what I previously imagined I could cope with, I learned that I indeed had the mettle to deal with whatever life flung my way.  Whenever. Whatever.  I’m glad that I learned this early on.  It is something that continues to serve me both personally and professionally.

Bully Boss From Hell (BBFH) Survival Tips

Here are some of the key survival strategies that I used to survive my BBFH and that have served many of my clients well:

  1. Do a Good Job.  Despite all efforts of the BBFH to throw you off course, and hence provide their rationale for dismissing you, do stellar work.  Commit to this with everything you have.  It’ll be good for both you, your resume and how other’s view your work.  My personal motto going through my time in hell was knowing that the best revenge was to simply do a great job.
  2. Talk it Out.  Even though this is often a losing situation with a true BBFH, have a private and calm conversation about how you best react to feedback and the best way to receive directions.  Remain positive and polite.  Focus on how it is that you can do your best work.  Again, while this may not work, it is always a good first step.
  3. Never. Ever. Lose. Your. Cool.  This is exactly what the BBFH wants you to do.  They’ll often bait you hoping that you’ll lose it.  Again, this will only give them cause to discipline you.
  4. Never Openly Challenge a BBFH.  They don’t like being challenged.  Know too that they have a bottomless pit of fresh misery that they’ll fling if pushed.  It’ll never ever end good for you.
  5. Never Complain Up.  Remember, the BBFH has almost for certain hoodwinked these people into believing he’s the second coming.  As a consultant, I’ve worked with a few CEO’s who show up with me as all sweetness and light, yet to their direct reports are whirling dervishes of grief.
  6. You Do Not Possess Magic.  No matter how much you wish it were the case, you cannot change a BBFH.  They were likely born evil.  It’s in their DNA.
  7. Talk to Someone on the Outside.  You’ll need someone to talk to.  It really helps.  Just make sure they are a trusted person outside of your job.  For me, I was very fortunate that I had my grad psychology counseling lab partners that I could have a weekly download with.  Their complete and utter horror at my BBFH’s behaviour somehow helped me feel better.
  8. Meditate. Exercise. Do Something.  One of the most important things that you can do for yourself is to take care of yourself.  Meditation or exercise will increase your ability to cope with the brown splats that hit the fan daily.
  9. Do Not Internalize.  I repeat, do not internalize the vitriol that the BBFH is shoveling.  I know this is hard, but know that it is NOT ABOUT YOU.  While this is what they want you to think, you need to reaffirm with yourself on a daily, if not hourly basis, your talents and accomplishments.  Write them down daily.  Review them often.
  10. Run. Don’t Walk.  If it comes down to not being able to take another day of the BBFH’s antics, get the heck out of Dodge.  If you feel your sanity or dignity being compromised after all your hard efforts otherwise, move on.  While it’s always preferable to have a new job to go to, it’s simply not worth the pain of hanging on if it means having your soul sucked out of you.

Looking back, it was a circumstance that has served me very well.  While I don’t wish a BBFH on anyone, I can now sniff out evil doers in a millisecond, and even better, help my clients to either deal or avoid them entirely.

Let me know if you’ve survived a BBFH.  Your advice could help someone who’s in the trenches as we speak.

It didn’t surprise me when the latest edition of Maclean’s, one of our national magazines here in Canada, landed on my doorstep with the headliner, “The New Worry Epidemic”.  It seems the pressure to perform is hitting everyone, including our children.  In the corporate realm, there really is no mystery why people are carrying increasing amounts of worry and anxiety.  For the last six years all we’ve heard is the clarion call to do more with less.  Ad nauseam.  In North America, we now have 40 million people suffering from generalized anxiety disorder.  All the more compelling reason why corporations need to promote wellbeing in the workplace.

Waking Up & Smelling the Coffee

The simple, unwavering truth is that businesses with tired, anxious and stressed out people are less productive, innovative and competitive  Increasingly, people are feeling overwhelmed at work and home.  This ain’t no lie.  So what if you could help make sure that your people weren’t stretched to the breaking point?  What if you could assist them so that their lives felt ‘in control’ instead of ‘out of it’?  They’d work better, right?  Absolutely, and numerous studies have shown this to be the case.

When is Enough Enough?

How many more body bags do we need to see by the roadside to realize that the way that we do business is not working for anyone?  With a multitude of studies and stats showing us the hellish impact of the status quo and conversely, the pro’s of shaking things up, what more do we need?  Wellbeing is directly linked to knock out business results.  They are not mutually exclusive.

What Needs to Happen

You need to take action.  To really improve the wellbeing of your people, you need to target whats actually affecting them.  Like many employers and senior leaders, taking the time to personally deal with this is impossible.  However, throwing all of your support dollars at very general things like health benefits, or a few random perks – maybe a subsidized gym membership or a trendy perk like onsite massage or yoga – simply doesn’t go deep enough.  You need a program that uncovers where their life is hurting their ability to produce solid results, like the Engage 360 Program.

 So how many more warnings do you need?  At what point do you act?  When is enough enough?

Whether it be because of far flung offices or simply heavy workloads, a growing volume of work is done by teams who rarely see each other in person. Even when teams are in the same building, I’ve observed many that simply don’t get much of a chance to see each other, much to their chagrin.  While cloud based collaborative tools have facilitated how teams can work virtually together, a critical piece often remains missing – the social glue that brings teams closer – the informal chat that happens by simply running into someone at work.

When colleagues can’t catch up over lunch, coffee or even the water cooler, the natural opportunities to nurture deeper social bonds disappear.  This is unfortunate because it is precisely these informal chats that foster the personal chemistry required for great working relationships.  It’s always helps to feel that the person that you’re skyping with regarding a client issue isn’t a complete stranger.  Knowing what that they spent Sunday afternoon at a BBQ or their kids baseball game helps you to dive into a conversation right away.  So what can one do to create this social glue?

Fortunately, there are numerous social apps that look like great ways to nurture informal sharing.  Here’s a sampling of some of them:

  1. Snapchat – I like this over Facebook for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is the impermanency of the posts…they disappear after the initial viewing by each of your chosen colleagues.  By selectively posting some of the things that you’ve been up to socially, the colleague that you’re working with on the project will no longer see you as a complete stranger.  That hockey game that you went to or hike you went on will add a deeper human element that’ll better help you to connect.
  2. Pinterest – is a pinboard-style photo-sharing site that allows you to create and manage theme-based image collections such as events, interests and hobbies.  Seen some an amazing looking dish or cool electric vehicle? “Pin” it and share.
  3. Rdio – is your own personal DJ, allowing you to play and discover millions of songs from multiple genres.  If you’re feeling social you can share songs or your playlists with colleagues.
  4. tvtag – is a social network for movies, tv shows and sports.  Check-in and rate shows to discover new favourites and see what your friends and colleagues are into.
  5. bookcrawler – is a social network for book lovers.  Discover & discuss new books and share your favourites.
  6. Path – is a universal app that is like a personal journal where Instagram, Twitter and Facebook are mashed together.  However, unlike social sharing apps, Path’s focus is on closer and smaller groups of friends.  So instead of feeling overwhelmed by sharing your ideas to everyone on your Facebook friend list, use Path and keep only selected friends updated.
  7. Instagram – is an amazingly simple and fun life-sharing app.  Snap photos wherever you go to show friends and colleagues what’s going on in your life.  Follow friend’s photo updates as they move through the world.  Select photo filters that transform regular ol’ photos into works of art.
  8. SuperGlued – is a music lover’s dream and works anywhere in the world.  Download it and you get a comprehensive calendar of local shows, recommendations on bands you might like and ways to share and discuss the experience with everyone around you.

The bottom line is that social cohesion is linked to job satisfaction and performance.  While app’s may never replace the potential inherent in working side by side with someone, they can certainly assist.  There are thousands out there; it’s just a matter of choosing some with your team or colleagues.  While productivity gains in themselves are always compelling, there’s a more basic reason to focus on deepening social links – happiness.  Feeling like you have friends at work goes a long way in this direction and having a water cooler, virtual or otherwise, helps to connect.

Let me guess.  You want to lose weight and be less stressed in 2014.  Perhaps you want to quit smoking or spend more time with your friends and family.  A desire to shake things up and score some self improvement points is something that nearly ½ of us strive for at this time of year.  Sadly, only 8% of New Year’s goals are actually ever achieved. But by looking at the secrets behind those who succeed, you can better your chances of keeping your 2014 resolutions.

Secrets to Successful Resolutions

Quite likely, you overloaded yourself in the past by the way you set or managed your goals.  Here are the 5 ways to make sure you get a very different result this year:

  1. Pick only one resolution. Really. This is where most people get off on the wrong foot from the start.  Too many goals is simply too much stress.  Having one goal is simply the best way to set yourself up to succeed in the New Year.
  2. Be specific.  While setting ambitious resolutions can be inspirational and fun, the difficulty in achieving them without tangible action steps means that your initial elation can soon give way to frustration.  Don’t simply say you’re “going to start going to the gym.”  Add to this a clear ambition like going to spin classes or going for a power walk every Tuesday and Thursday.
  3. Take baby steps.  Make sure to break your resolution down as far as you can, to the simplest tasks possible.  Even if this means doing something for as little as 60 seconds to ensure success.  The rule of thumb here is to set your beginning steps to a level where you know you can have easy success.  Here are some examples:
    • Resolution: quit smoking – cut back on that one cigarette you have after breakfast.
    • Resolution: eat heathy food – start substituting one of your two daily desserts for an apple.
    • Resolution: lose weight – every morning or after work go for a 2-3 minute walk or run around the block
    • Resolution: manage stress – meditate for 2-3 minutes every morning after you wake up.

    After a week or two of success, you can then add one more level of challenge to  your goal…but not before.

  4. Hold yourself accountable for what you want to change.  Tell others or write it down.  The people around you can have a significant impact on your behaviour.  So if you tell some of your friends or family about the new tiny steps that you’re going to take, you are more likely to stick to them.  Another tip here is to write your goal down, as this too will help you reach your goal.
  5. Keep believing you can do it.  Just setting a goal raises your chances of achieving it considerably, so give yourself a pat on the back.  But within weeks or months, many people begin abandoning their resolutions as they hit the inevitable bumps along the way.  More often than not people who fall off the wagon blame their lack of willpower, and they are right, sort of.  Willpower is like a muscle that needs to be trained.  You have as much willpower as you think you have, essentially.  This means that on some level, your journey of self-improvement will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Best wishes for a wonderful New Year and here’s to hoping that 2014 will be a joyful one for the world, and a year where all of us get one step closer to the people that we want to be.

By now you’ve been through the holiday scramble and likely your thoughts have turned to the year ahead.  For many, it is a time to take stock of their lives and the year that was.  With the New Year staring them straight in the eyes, many will be looking at their careers, assessing the good, bad and the otherwise.  How are you feeling about your career?  Your job is where you spend most of your waking moments.  So if you’re not feeling so great about it, perhaps 2014 is the time to dig in and assess why it is that Mondays are less than stellar.

If you like your job, few things feel as fine as effortlessly slipping into a Monday that you feel good about.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  Not every Monday is a joy for anyone.  But overall, if you are filled with more dread than delight at the thought of having to head back to work, then maybe it’s time for a re-think.

Here are six questions to help you decide on the work related changes you may want to make in the coming year.

  1. Do you have a satisfying life outside of work?  Having a life outside of work is important and numerous studies back this up.  As the saying goes, all work and no play makes John or Jane a dull blade. It can also lead to poor health, relations with others and weak performance at work. Making time for interests and relationships outside of work helps you to be less stressed, happier and get more stuff done.
  2. Do you see how your work is meaningful and has an impact? If not, chances are you’re not as engaged as you could be. Are you ok with this?
  3. Does your job excite you? Is it mentally stimulating or do you find yourself bored by the tedium of it all? While it’s not realistic to be 100% pumped about your job all the time, if the overall feeling is one of boredom, you could be cheating yourself from a career that rocks your world.
  4. Do you have a boss you like and trust? The number one reason why people leave their jobs is because their relationship with their direct supervisor is a bit of a car crash. Where’s yours at? If it’s lousy, is it worth the continual frustration to stick it out?
  5. Are you proud of the work you do and the company you work for? Feeling a personal connection to what you do and who you do it for is key to long term job satisfaction. If either, or both, are out of whack,
  6. Do you see a future that holds growth and development towards where you want to go? It’s often not enough for a job to offer opportunities for advancement…the opportunities truly have to sync with your bigger picture of what you want. Is your job heading down the path you desire most?

If you’ve answered “no” to any or all of the above questions then it’s likely these are what underly your less than thrilling outlook towards Mondays.  It also is good reason to take some action to change it up.  Perhaps there are small tweaks here and there that can turn your job around for you or perhaps you simply need to move on.  Either way, remaining in a job where Mondays are a continual drag will do you no favors.

Across the planet it appears that our jobs are continuing to push people to and past the limit.  Rising levels of stress and long hours at work continue to exact a needlessly harsh toll.  Despite billions lost to absenteeism, rising turnover, disability, insurance costs, workplace accidents, violence, workers compensations, lawsuits and the costs related to replacing workers for stress-related problems, few company’s take wellbeing seriously, because, you know, it’s soft and squishy.  Well, I say, perhaps 2014 is the year for your company to seriously rethink squishy.

Squishy Can be There for You

In our globally hyper competitive world, is not getting the most from your people critical? In a constantly shifting environment, your organization is faced with how to keep up with the rate of change, retain good people, be more productive and to be innovative all at the same time.  Phew.  Your organization must constantly spring forth fresh new ideas to keep its competitive advantage. But how do you do this? Warning: We are about to get squishy… you do it through the well-being of your people.

The Benefits of Squishy

Happy, healthy and engaged people impact your business’s bottom-line.  In a sweeping study, the Gallop Organization has shown that regardless of country or region, personal wellbeing is directly linked to employee engagement and improved business results.  Add to this a recent compendium in Forbes of engagement research and the case becomes even more compelling.  Here, 28 studies demonstrate how employee engagement positively drives service, sales, quality, safety, retention, profit and shareholder returns.  Talk about the power of squishy!

Wellbeing propels employee engagement and it is precisely this discretionary emotional commitment that you’ll want to tap into.  An engaged employee more deeply connects to and supports your business and its goals.

Here are more reasons why embracing squishy should be your top business concern for 2014.  Studies show that engaged employees deliver the hard goods:

  1. Superior customer service and experience;
  2. Increased customer loyalty;
  3. Better sales results;
  4. Increased innovation and product quality;
  5. Improved safety;
  6. Increased retention;
  7. Decreased absenteeism;
  8. Increased revenue, profit & shareholder returns;
  9. You’ll be helping your employees and their families;
  10. You’ll sleep better at night.

As the studies stack up, businesses that want to retain and get the best from their people would do well to leverage the links between well-being, engagement and increased revenue, profit and shareholder returns.  So get on with it.  Why not give squishy a hug in 2014?

Thinking of what to give your employees this Holiday Season?  Want something that will be appreciated, keep you happy, and boost the bottom line?  If so, you might want to go beyond the gift certificate, club membership or bonus approach.  While thoughtful, and useful, these gifts can be fleeting in impact.  What they’ll really appreciate the most may very well be more focused on you.

  1. Give them unplugged away time over the holidays – Unless a kitten is about to lose it’s life it’s best to instill a policy of no work demands over their time off during the holidays.  Being unplugged will stoke their creativity,help to beat back burnout, boost their health, strengthen bonds with loved ones and boost their performance upon their return.  Unplugged time produces physiological benefits and sets a rock solid foundation for higher quality work. Hard to argue against this benefit.
  2. Unplugged time for you too over the holidays – Ditto all of the above.  Yes, it even works the same wonders for you.
  3. Up your role modeling  – Saying one thing and doing another is one of the most damaging yet common things I see leaders do that saps their credibility amongst their teams.  Consistency and employee trust go hand in hand.  Resolve to become a tighter example of walking the talk.  There is always room to grow here for every leader.  Become that leader that never makes their employees wonder.  Be the leader where they’ll always know what to expect.
  4. Show some love – while it may sound obvious, many leaders overlook this in their day to day interactions.  Recognition of other’s efforts is hands down one of the most important habits a leader can develop.  Few things do more to a person’s sense of value and purpose than having their accomplishments recognized.  So between now and the end of the year, focus on showing your appreciation to your people. Then just keep it going.
  5. Make well-being a priority – From both a research and hands-on perspective, companies that institute programs aimed at helping employees integrate work and life end up with employees with much higher levels of well-being and as a result, are happier, healthier and more productive. These supported employees take fewer sick days and report higher engagement than employees of companies that do not offer well-being support. All this adds up to more robust bottom lines in terms of things like sustained innovation, productivity and reduced healthcare costs
  6. Become an even better listener – if you’re not listening, you’re missing out on potentially vast amounts of information that can drive better business results. You’ll also boost engagement as people will feel that their thoughts and ideas are valued.  Remember, your job is to level obstacles, streamline processes, find resources and keep the political nonsense at bay.  You need to figure out what holds your people back and fix it so that they can give their best.  But you’ll never figure this out if you’re not listening.

So instead of merely hurling money at gifts or bonuses, target what’s really essential to your employees.  Work on your relationship with your people.  Strive to continually become a more capable leader.  This is the way to really impact your people and drive improved business results.

Here’s to you and your company’s success!

AUTHOR’S NOTE: If you are a leader who knows that healthy, happy and engaged people are the key to business success you might be interested in booking my Engage 360 workshop for your team in the New Year.  This investment will boost both their performance and your bottom line.  Contact me to find out more.

Have you ever been frustrated waiting for a decision from your boss?  Once in a while, it’s OK right?  Everyone gets annoyingly behind now and then.  It’s pretty much impossible to stay on top of everything all the time.  We all know that.  But when your boss’s indecisiveness is a pattern, it’s a completely different story.  The problem is that few indecisive leaders are aware of the cascading negative impact they have on their team.  If they did, they’d surely change their ways…perhaps.

Valley of the Dilly Dallies

Few things are as paralyzing and de-motivating to a team than a chronically indecisive boss.  Eleventh hour decisions or last minute major changes or reversals trigger a flurry of activity that ricochets across every level of the business as people scramble to implement the modifications.  Over time good people feel disrespected, get burned out or leave out of frustration.  Most people want to good work.  Many often want to do exemplary work.  But a boss who always leaves things to the last minute prevents this from happening.  To make matters worse, it is often individual teammates that take any nasty blow back, and not, unfortunately, their leader.

Few employees will risk explaining to a client, customer or primary stakeholder that the real reasons for the lateness or incompleteness of the deliverables was due to their boss.  Who could blame them?  The resultant brown splatter from the proverbial fan would likely hit them too.  No one ends up looking good when the head of the team is repeatedly exposed for their habitual incompetence in this way.  Unless the whistle blower plans on making a hasty exit to a far away country, this type of situation is best kept in-house.

Word up: Exercise Caution

What I’m further amazed with is that an insidious double standard is often at play.  Few dithering leaders would allow the very same behaviour from their direct reports.  No, no.  There’d be notations on performance reviews and improvements would be expected.  But for many a decision challenged boss, accountability only works one way.  Some are even expert at making themselves appear in quite the opposite light to their own superiors.  They skillfully deflect any negative feedback as being due to someone or something else and likewise, any successes are accepted as being due, in large part, to their own brilliant efforts.  Talk about crazy making.

Killing You Softly

Innovators and visionaries suffer unduly under this type of a boss.  Many bosses who dally on decisions do so because they don’t like sticking their necks out.  They fear appearing different to their colleagues and don’t want to rock the boat with any new fangled ideas.  This is often the type of person that has to wait and see what everyone else around the broader table thinks before making their ‘safe’ move.  Meanwhile their organization’s creative talent dies a death of a thousand cuts and slowly languishes in the back fourty…or they leave.  And who could blame them?

If you are working for this kind of a person, you already know how tough it is.  Unless there is a safe and effective channel for you to address your boss’s poor behaviour and/or your boss is a decent person who is open to feedback and self improvement, your best option might be to walk.  Similarly, if you think that one of your leaders is a decision making ditherer, get them help or set them free. Your company, clients and employees will all be the better for it. Guaranteed.


It really doesn’t amaze me how some leaders come to feel they are a cut above.  After all, who can blame them? As they climb the corporate ladder, the probability that they’re getting honest feedback rapidly diminishes. Certainly, those above them may still be candid, but those on the lower rungs, not so much.  Few employees will risk calling out their bosses on their bad behavior or inadequate efforts…and this is not good for the offending leader in question or for the company’s bottom-line.

The Slippery Slope

The usual case is that remarks from those beneath a leader tend towards the positive.  Flattery, ego stroking or careful wording – whatever an employee feels is necessary to keep their job – is the route many take.  Whether it be ingrained deference to positional authority or for other reasons, most leaders simply do not get the ongoing feedback that they need to become great at enlisting the best from their people.  It’s easy to understand how over time leaders can lose touch with what people are really thinking, and for some, to even care about it.

Know Anyone Like This?

It is not unusual to see senior leaders who have evolved double standards.  While they might expect their team to return their phone calls or emails promptly, they themselves no longer feel compelled to do the same.  Where they expect others to put in lots of effort, they chose instead to put in minimal sweat, even if they have the time.  All this is both de-motivating and de-moralizing for those working under them.

The simple fact is that 9 out of 10 of employees leave because of a poor relationship with their direct supervisor, and not because of the pull of better offers elsewhere.  Losing good employees costs time, talent and money.  It is also something that companies can and should do something about.

Give Leaders Support…The Kind They Really Need

All too often leaders are thrust into their new positions with minimal support on what it really takes to engage and get the best thinking from their team…and this is bad for business.  Engaged employees put their heart and shoulders into their work and this is why leaders need to learn how to tap into this.

Companies should teach and coach their leaders to take an active role in building engagement plans with their employees, hold leaders accountable, track their progress, and ensure they continuously focus on engaging their teams.  A leader’s ability to engage their teams should be part of their formal performance review process.  Improvements in these areas should be used as criterion for promotion.  Where there are deficits, companies need to develop individualized plans for support.  To do otherwise is to risk developing leaders who get drunk on their own kool-aid and that bleeds their best talent.  And anyways, kool-aid really is for kids.

Arg, it’s official.  We’ve now entered the season of scant sun, lots of rain or perhaps snow.  As the days get shorter and the nights get colder, even the best of us can get a little down.  It can be a time of year that many of us dread.  I for one am no fan.  So what does one do to avoid losing their sanity in the winter? Well, lots of things…

  1. Seek light – I live in a geographic area that’s stingy on sun during the winter so a few years back I discovered a new best friend, a light box, or phototherapy.  Each morning, while having my coffee and reading my fave blogs I turn my light box on for 20 minutes.  These devices emit a spectrum of light that positively impacts your mood and helps you sleep better.
  2. Plan for some sun – if you can, plan a get away to a sunny destination.  It’ll give you something to look forward to.  This doesn’t necessarily need to be thousands of miles away.  Sometimes more sunny climes can be found within relatively short distances.
  3. Hang with friends – it can be easy to pass on socializing when you’re feeling a bit down.  But don’t underestimate the power of friends in maintaining your positive mood…they are one of the most powerful forces behind keeping you smiling.
  4. Get outside – especially when it is nasty outside, it’s easy to stay indoors.  However, simply leaving the house or office can have a huge effect on your mood.  Getting outside can break the cycle of monotony indoors and be re-invigorating.  Even a brief lunchtime walk can be energizing and spark the creative juices.
  5. Shake it up – variety is the spice of life.  Doing the same thing day in and day out can become dull, dull, dull.  When winter approaches, be sure to try some new and different activities.  Even a different route to and from work can make a difference.  Go check out a play or attend a talk.  You may have to push yourself but the added novelty will inject the extra zip and help you to avoid getting in a rut.

So get out there and be proactive.  Avoid the blues by changing up your routine and adding a few new things.  Really, the choice is yours.

Have you ever wondered who is responsible for employee engagement?  The reality is, everyone is responsible for employee engagement, including you.  Leaders do their part by ensuring they themselves are engaged and for creating a culture that promotes engagement.  HR is responsible for partnering with leaders to help them understand and support their employees development needs.  As an employee, you have a job as well and this includes taking co-ownership of the process.

While I have often spoke of the huge impact that leaders have on their direct report’s levels of engagement, employees need to play their role too.  It is a two way street.  As an employee you need to:

  1. Speak up – if you are dissatisfied and unless you have an unapproachable or bully boss, you need to discuss this with them.  You cannot expect your boss to read your mind.  This will give them the information they need to have to help make things different.
  2. Take initiative – look for ways to improve processes, services or products.  Don’t rely solely on others to do this.
  3. Come with solutions – if you see problems, don’t simply identify them.  No boss enjoys listening to a litany of complaints.  Bring your ideas as to how each issue could be made better.
  4. Educate yourself – do not rely solely on your company to provide for your professional development.  If you are serious about your career, you will do your part to improve your knowledge and skill levels in your area of expertise.
  5. Take care of yourself – while a company may offer benefits like gym memberships, yoga classes, coaching or counseling, it remains up to you to follow through.  If your company does not offer much in this way, it is still up to you to find the ways and means to ensure your overall health and wellbeing.
  6. Develop a life outside of work – having a rich and rewarding life outside of work is key to how much energy you have for your work.  Connecting with family and friends and doing stuff in your community will help keep you happy and healthy.
  7. Live within your means – Really.  This is connected to work.  Learning to abide by a budget is an important part of your overall wellbeing and can remove untold stressors from your life.  Showing up to work already stressed out won’t help you deal with the day to day pressures and challenges of your job.

If you find that in spite of doing all the above, your workplace neither appreciates or rewards your efforts, then head for the door.  You’ll be much happier in the long run working in an environment where you feel the love.  But know that the love is a two way street.

Habits have always fascinated me. Be they good or bad, habits unconsciously drive many of our decisions and actions. Some habits are about a single behaviour, where one action becomes a simple routine and go no further. Other habits, keystone habits, unlock a cascade of other follow-up behaviours and routines that transform other areas of your life. Whether you want to lose weight, be more productive or tweak your leadership game, understanding keystone habits are critical to you achieving success and creating lasting change.

Charles Duhigg, in his highly readable book, The Power of Habit, cites research from Duke University that more than 40% of our actions are unconscious habits. This means that many of the things we do, we simply do without thinking about it. This could be the first thing we do when we wake up, how we dress, what we eat for lunch or which route we take to work. Habits drive a ton of my decisions, and they likely do for you too.

Keystone Power

According to Duhigg, research shows that we all have a few trigger habits, or keystone habits. These are certain singular habits, that when we do them impact scads of other areas of our lives. Keystone habits set off a chain of internal events, giving us the willpower and momentum to do other things. Over time, these keystone habits form other habits and we can become completely different people.

Breaking it Down: The Virtuous Cycle

Exercise is one such oft cited keystone habits for many. It certainly is one of mine. Here’s how it works. Let’s say you commit to creating a new habit around exercise. You start with 5 minutes per day, because in the beginning, just doing engaging in the behaviour change is actually more important than the benefit you’ll eventually get from longer, more intense bouts of exercise.

Every lunch break you go out for a 5 minute walk. Within a few weeks, because the commitment threshold is so low, you don’t dread the behaviour the way you would have had you committed to 45 minutes out of the gate. Then the magic begins to happen. You hit 5 minutes and you say, hey I can go for another few minutes or so. Over the weeks the behaviour becomes more automatic and the repetition allows you to build even more capacity. So without even thinking about it, you end up expanding 5 minutes into 20, then 30, then 45.

Concurrently, your brain begins to change. Your mindset becomes calmer and the stressor hormones that seemed ever-present begin to fade. Your prefrontal cortex stays better fueled and lets you self-regulate with more ease. You start to become stronger, lose a bit of weight and more physically capable, all of which makes you feel better.

With this emotional shift, you start to need sugar, cigarettes and alcohol less, because the exercise is now providing you with the boost those things used to give you. So without even thinking about it, your diet begins to change. No more McCrap for you. You eat healthier now and choose food that better fuels your exercise.

This in turn helps you to feel healthier, fitter, calmer and prouder of your choices. You engage in less negative and compensatory behaviours while improving your wellbeing and how you’re showing up at home and the office. In fact, typically, people who exercise, become more productive at work, smoke less, show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say the feel less stressed. So exercise truly is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change, much of which happens without you even consciously thinking about it.

What are Your Keystone Behaviours?

Identifying a keystone habit can be tricky. Keystone habits shape how we think about ourselves. Duhigg suggests asking yourself a central question, “which habits are most core to my self-image?” You likely already have a few keystone behaviours or know of some that you’d like to start. Whatever this habit is or you would like it to be, it would likely be something that you’d feel guilty about not doing. Conversely, it is that habit that when you do it, in spite of not getting much else done, you’ll feel as though you’ve accomplished something.

Over the years I’ve discovered a number of my keystone habits that without which, I would simply flounder. I’ve learned that through trial and error, if I begin to miss these, it’s a fast and slippery slope downhill. For me flossing my teeth, daily exercise and twice daily meditation set me up for a series of other connected behaviours that greatly impact my success at home and work.

What are the keystone habits that set you up for flourishing?

Is there a keystone habit that you would like to initiate?

While it is not the first time, I was recently approached by a nation wide company looking for professional development services at fire sale prices. Why this came as such a shock was because this high profile company is known for both it’s rapid growth and for it’s formidable profits. Yet despite a growing chorus of employee feedback citing a lack of professional development opportunities, they just couldn’t sum up the will to invest much in this. Not a good sign. Employees today want and need proper attention paid to their career development. Organizations that don’t pay attention to this eventually pay the price.

The Benefits of Continuing Professional Development

One of the major problems affecting morale in the workplace today is the belief that the company or organization they work for does not value their staff. While it may be a well worn cliche, it is a fact that you get out what you put in. Companies that invest in their staff development have a better performing workforce. Employees are more likely to work harder, work outside of their contractual hours or do jobs that are not covered in their contract when they believe they are valued by their employer.

Professional development makes an individual’s working life more interesting, which in turn increases job satisfaction, meaning the organization benefits from highly motivated and productive staff members. This is something that is priceless…especially during tough economic times and stiff competition.

Building Loyalty and Ownership in your Workforce

One of the most common problems with a workforce that lacks development is a lack of ownership. Training on either work related or non-work related issues results in increased loyalty that simply cannot be gained from offering instant bonuses for hitting targets or achieving output. This is because the latter says that you care about figures and output whereas the former shows that you care about your people…and this is where loyalty is formed.

Talented and enthusiastic workers want to advance. That does not necessarily mean that they want to advance in position, earnings or benefit, although they help. In many cases, people are happy to continue working in the same job longer if they are advancing their skill set and ability to perform. It’s the sense of achievement that drives talented people.

Organizations have a key role to play in helping their talent up-skill and if they help these individuals dig deep and develop their skills, it will drive productivity. Now more than ever is the time to invest wisely, especially in professional development, because if organizations think the cost of competence is expensive, then they should consider the cost and implications of incompetence

Employee engagement’s effect on the bottom line is über impressive. This is why I’ll never keep quiet about it. Engaged people are more motivated and committed to their employer and to staying focused on achieving business goals. Disengaged people can be a suck on morale and impact everything from customer service to sales, productivity, quality, innovation, retention and other pivotal business areas. As a leader, there’s much you can do to shape this situation.

So what will it take to engage your people? While it differs by region, a common theme revolves around feeling connected and being an important part of something bigger.

  1. Senior leadership must articulate a clear vision to all employees. No one likes to work in a dark room. Everyone likes to see where they are and where they are going.
  2. Employees should be encouraged to communicate openly and influence the company’s vision through their input. Having no input is not feeling valued. No one wants to remain in a situation like this. No one gives under these circumstances.
  3. Direct managers should foster healthy relationships with their people. This is the single most important factor underlying employee retention. 94% of people leave because of a bad relationship with their direct manager. If you have a bad manager on your team, support them to change or get rid of them.
  4. Senior leadership should continuously demonstrate that employees have an impact on their environment. It is not enough to pay lip service to this. This only breeds alienation. Leadership must walk the talk.
  5. Managers should show their people that they are valued as true contributors, giving them a sense of empowerment. Managers must continually seek and act on input from their people. Everyone wins.

With the competition for talent ever on the increase, making sure you have a fired-up and engaged team is your biggest business opportunity.

Perhaps because of my years at school, I find the fall both a time of new beginnings and of buckling down. Now, instead of new courses and instructors, it’s a time to focus with renewed vigor on myself and my work. It’s a time when I check-in with myself to see if I’m fully on track. If you’re feeling a need for change or are simply curious, it may be a great time for you to do the same because what matters most in life boils down to what matters most to you.  Does your life truly reflect your most cherished priorities? Are you thriving or just getting by?

Why Lift the Lid?

In a piece I wrote a year ago, there is a bit of research from the Gallup organization that bears repeating. For more than fifty years, Gallup researchers have been exploring the raw materials of a life well-lived. They came up with 5 essential elements that underly the good life and that transcend countries and cultures. By tossing around these elements and asking yourself how well your life reflects them, you just might garner insights into how you might bring more zest and zip to your life. So why not lift the lid? You’ve got nothing to lose.

The Essential Five

  1. Career Wellbeing: How you occupy your time or simply liking what you do every day is key. Are you jazzed by your job or are you simply putting in time?
  2. Social Wellbeing: Having strong relationships and love in your life can make a profound impact on your health and happiness. Do you spend enough time with friends and family? Would you like to have more friends?
  3. Financial Wellbeing: Effectively managing your economic life and living within your means can remove untold stressors from your life. How well are you managing your budget? Are you in the red or black?
  4. Physical Wellbeing: Having good health and enough energy to get things done on a daily basis can be indispensable to enjoyment in life. Does your health prevent you from doing things that you need to or want to do? Do you want better health or fitness?
  5. Community Wellbeing: The sense of engagement, or connection, you have with the area you live is often central to feelings of fulfillment.

Are you connected with any of your neighbors? Do you have the time to take part in any community activities? Do you like where you live?

While these elements may not perfectly cover what fuels your motor, they should serve as some handy guideposts. So how do you measure up? Are you working that job that primes your motor most every Monday? Are you living that life that feels full, fun and invigorating?

So how was your vacation? Were you able to disconnect? I had a truly wonderful and relaxing time away. But it all seems to have flown by much, much too quickly. You too? Thought so. So what can one do to keep the post vacation glow shining brightly? Here are some ideas to lessen the pain of re-entry and ease yourself back into the jetstream of work.

  1. Go sit on a log and close your eyes. Find a relaxing spot in a nearby park, sit down, close your eyes and still your mind. Take a deep breath and let your shoulders slump. Let work wander away and instead attune yourself to the sounds, smells and textures around you. Feel the breeze. Hear the children playing. Notice the bird song. There you go. You’ve found it. Now stay here for at least 10 minutes. Refreshing isn’t it? Repeat daily.
  2. Relive your summer memories. Often. Put up pictures of your favourite summer escapades. Do up a vacation screen saver on your computer. Bring in a few mementos to the office, such as that jar of beach sand. These will help extend your fond memories and help calm you when things get hectic. Relish looking over your photos with friends and family. Reliving the time you spent away can keep that relaxation response going.
  3. Set boundaries. Email and social media can be a time suck and stressor for many people. Be proactive upon your return. Be mindful about the ways that you are going to be plugged in again. Maybe this means no work email after dinner or turning your cel phone off a few hours before bed. Set aside several times a day when you check in rather than constantly checking in. This will help you stay on top and be more in control.
  4. Challenge yourself. Give yourself something to look forward to by signing up for a few classes or workshops. These will also give you the double satisfaction of personal growth as well as make work feel more rewarding.
  5. Reconnect. Get in touch with your favourite colleagues and clients that you haven’t seen for a while. Catch up on each other’s summers and get a little networking done at the same time!
  6. Attitude adjustment. Focus on the positive about being back at full speed. Think about the exciting projects you’ll be involved in, the opportunities to apply creative solutions and the new adventures to come. Studies show that your state of mind can have a big impact on your work life. Positive and optimistic attitudes lessen the likelihood of work related problems and you’ll be more energetic and calm. Embrace. Don’t fight.
  7. Personal wellbeing. Plan your weekly schedule with lunch breaks, time for exercise and time for fun! These powerful sources of health and recharge often go by the wayside once things heat up. These are the last things you ever want to give up. They are the key to your being focused, productive and creative at work.
  8. Plan your next vacation. Schedule your next vacation even though it may seem far away. Research shows that having your next vacation planned will give you something to look forward to and help you feel better about gearing up.
  9. Consider a new job. Yes, really. If you find that you just can’t shake an absolute dread about going back to work, it could be a sign of a more serious problem that is worth investigating. Perhaps your time away has served as a wake-up call and it’s time start reevaluating things in your life. It might be helpful to speak to a trusted manager or even an outside professional for additional support and resources that can help you pinpoint the root of the matter. Whatever decision you come to, be sure to give yourself more than a few days to mull it all over.

Hopefully, with a little planning, several deep breaths and a few positive steps you can keep the after glow burning while easing yourself get back into the swing of things and soon be looking forward to all the great things you’re involved in at work.

Happy re-entry!

Zip. Run. Rush. Cram. Race. These are the words that describe many a person’s work day. If they are the main descriptors of your work day, you’re likely not giving your best. How could you? You’re too busy rushing. The only way to pump out that kick butt strategy is to have the time to think about it; to process all the moving parts and make sense of them. However, with meetings after meetings you have little time to think. This is why you need to start scheduling nothing into your weekly work roster.

Great ideas don’t simply fall from the sky…most of the time. They need incubation time. Time to simply think. As Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn says, the regular scheduling of 30 – 90 minutes of nothing are free spaces that are integral to the success of his company. These are the spaces of time where you solve whatever problems are in front of you. This is where you think about where you want you company to be 5 years down the road, the best ways to improve your product, address unmet customer needs, or widen a competitive advantage. Weiner believes this type of thinking requires:

  1. Uninterrupted focus
  2. Being able to thoroughly develop and question assumptions
  3. Synthesis all of the data, information and knowledge that’s incessantly coming your way
  4. Connecting dots
  5. Bouncing ideas off of trusted colleagues
  6. Iterating through multiple scenarios.

This type of conceiving and re-conceiving requires you to step back from tactical execution and make room for strategic thinking. This only happens when you proactively carve out the time in your schedule. If not you might simply be running around reacting to your environment rather than influencing it.

All too often I see leaders scrambling from one harried meeting to another, never taking the time to sink their teeth into what’s facing them. Inevitably though, not taking this strategic thinking time out front means having to attend more meetings and put in way more time at the other end.

So, the choice is yours. Get in the habit of scheduling daily or weekly nothing time that’s there for you to grapple with whatever’s facing you or jump from hot seat to hot seat. What will you decide?

Having spent a sun soaked Canada Day long weekend boating off a nearby coastal island we came back to Vancouver to a neighborhood street party. Folks of all ages, many new to the ‘hood, had gathered, and the BBQ was pumping out all sorts of deliciousness. Within moments all the kids were off rollicking and playing kickball. Someone mentioned how amazing it was that the kids got down to the matter of play so quickly and effortlessly. It then struck me, that there was an important lesson here. Many grown ups forget to play. But play, it turns out, is just as important for adults as it is for children.

We don’t play enough

According to research, adults spend too little time at play and would benefit greatly from spending more time at it. At work, for example, adult play delivers on these key fronts:

  1. Alleviates boredom.
  2. Releases tension.
  3. Prevents aggression (Note: Wow, do I ever know a few CEOs who should play more…)
  4. Fosters workgroup solidarity
  5. Facilitates organizational learning
  6. Boosts creativity
  7. Enhances adaptivity and attentiveness.

Play gives us a (much needed) break

Have you ever wanted a break from your role as Mom, Dad, Boss or Master of the Universe? Adults need “role relief” and “role variety” just as much as kids. In fact, spending time in a palate of roles guards against role fatigue by providing role relief. And who couldn’t use a little role relief now and again? Getting stuck in one role can reduce your sense of spontaneity and feelings of aliveness. Play gives you rest, relief and rejuvenation. It is the gateway to vitality.

I don’t think play ever leaves us. I think that it is always there; it’s just that, for many, it is simply something that we lose touch with. For sure, the pressures and stresses of being an adult can whip the will to play out of you…but at what cost?

Ruts bite. We’ve all been there.  They suck your energy and drain your creative juices. Deep ruts can rob you of optimism and sometimes, even hope. Chances are, are that if you’re in one you might not even know it.  All of this makes for all the more reason for you to become fluent with what gets you in one, what gets you out and what helps you stay out. Having been in a few myself, and having helped many others clamber out, knowing when you’re in one is the very first step.

You Know You’re in a Rut When…

For me, like many, ruts are usually marked by physical, behavioural and emotional indicators that can last for days, even weeks. You may feel less energized than usual and drag your feet more. You might be slower to follow through with tasks and projects. Emotionally, your creative motor might feel like it’s ground to a halt and your positive outlook becomes decidedly less sunny. Rather than looking forward to something, you might instead look for escape routes. For myself, when this all conspires, I know that something is amiss. I’m definitely not in my groove.

Step 1: Rut Spotting

I employ a very simple system based on my weekly schedule and how I feel.  I do a temperature check at the end of work every Friday.  I review my week with regards to what I’ve achieved, how much I’ve stayed on track and how I’m feeling overall.  In fact, it is how I’m feeling that serves as the most reliable litmus test as to whether or not I’m in the groove.

Step 2: Getting Out: Just Do It!

If I’m feeling unsatisfied, drained or frustrated, the first place I look is my schedule. I track all of my routines & activities, both personal and professional. While I don’t include detail for everything, I plan specific blocks of time for wellbeing, work and personal stuff.  The vast majority of the time that either myself or my clients get off track and feel that our mojo has departed is when personal sustainability routines are ignored. Really.

No matter who it is, what level of the organization, or type of business, the primary reason for people hitting the skids creatively and productively is when they’ve taken care of everything but themselves.  Been there?

So what to do? You simply start doing again those things that re-energize you.  And you do it all regularly. Even if it feels at first that no change is happening, you keep doing it. These things can take time.  For me the most important thing I do to keep me in top form is meditating .  This alone can sustain me more powerfully than anything else.  It may be different for you, perhaps it’s running.  I have a number of clients for whom that long daily run is a near religious experience for them. Whatever it is, start doing it again. Now.

Other key habits for my wellbeing include hanging with my friends, working out, eating well and following good sleep practices. Being off kilter with any of these can knock me off balance and it shows up in the energy and focus I bring to my work and relationships.  If you don’t already know what works for you, you owe it to yourself to figure it out – this is the key to getting out of and staying out of ruts.

Step 3: Staying Out

Most people I know and work with already know a lot about what makes them feel good – the people, places and activities – few though realize the primal sway these exert in their work and home livesWhy else would we have so many people putting aside what they mis-categorize as “optional” that is anything but?

While it would be impossible to avoid tripping into a rut now and again, the goal is to make them as infrequent and as short as you can.  Riding your bike, going to dinner with friends and spending time with your family just may be your salvation…and the key to you being that creative spark at work.

Smart phones are addictive. I should know. I have everything on mine. Apps to keep me financially fit, in touch with friends, healthy, happy and on top of my business. I even have an app that helps me to get a good sleep at night…yes, I do sleep with my phone. My phone is always in my pocket or near by during my every waking hour. Oi vey. So I did an experiment recently during a recent vacation to Maui. I did the unthinkable. I started leaving my cell phone behind in the condo.  Shocking, I know. But here’s the deal, it was incredibly freeing.

For better and worse, we live in an age of constant connectivity. I’ve written several times about being unplugged while on vacation and the amazing benefits it brings you both in your personal life and back at work.  You’d think I’d have known better when it came to my very clever smart phone.

While I realize it might not be possible for you to remain out of touch with your work completely for your whole vacation, you do need some unplugged time. This fuels your creative motor. This is precisely why smart phones pose such a slippery slope. Like me, you might tell yourself that you’ll just use it for taking pictures, that’s all. Good luck.

Try not answering that phone call or text. Just try not responding to that notification sound from your favorite ap. It is bloody tough and here’s why. We have behaviorally conditioned ourselves to respond immediately to every little chirp, buzz or beep that emanates from it’s incredibly sexy and elegantly designed little body. And this behavioral conditioning is very, very strong.

A Gradual Withdrawl

So, back to where we began. I decided to live on the edge and leave the cell behind for a short time, one hour to be exact. I wanted to ensure that I set myself up for success you see, by setting a ‘doable’ goal.  I also chose to take my camera with me so that I would have that separate function that I use so often on my phone. At first, it felt very odd. I can’t recall if I broke out into a sweat, but I did start noticing that all my critical bodily functions, breathing, heart beat and the like, continued unabated. Neither myself or any of my family members spontaneously combusted. I also noticed that the world around me wasn’t self destructing. In fact, I actually started noticing the world around me in a different way…with sustained attention.

Soon a warm embrace enveloped me. The world around me started showing up in more detail and I found myself happily immersed in the present moment with all that was surrounding me. It was incredible and eye opening. I realized then how much that exquisitely conceived little device was keeping me from the whole raison d’etre of having time away…time away, in the here and now.

I’ve spoken about this in the past: that there seems to be an unnatural schism between two very interdependent realms, as if they were completely separate. I’m talking of course about the hard-nosed world of quarterly earnings reports, beating growth expectations, and focusing on the bottom line. The other sphere involves the growing awareness of the enormous costs stress extracts not only in the health & well-being of business leaders & employees but, also, on the bottom line.  But this is all changing…and both individuals and companies are benefiting.

What’s Good For Us as Individuals is Also Good for the Corporate Bottom Line

Mounting scientific evidence shows us the dire need for these two realms to be seen as both compatible and inseparable. When separated, the costs come in two forms. The first involves the costs due to stress and its many related medical impacts, and, the second, the cost of lost creativity, decreased performance, and productivity.

Inconvenient Truths: Health Impacts

The costs of poor well-being and stress on employees at any level of the organization is harsh. Here are some recent stats:

Though awareness is growing, sadly there are still way too many companies that don’t yet ‘get’ the benefits of wellness. What we see with increasing clarity in the research is that what is good for the individual is also very good for the corporate bottom line.

The Skinny on Mindfulness

Mark Williams, a professor of clinical psychology at Oxford, cites that one of the best – and cheapest – ways to become healthier and happier is through mindfulness exercises like meditation. After nine weeks of mindfulness training, participants had an increased sense of purpose, fewer feelings of isolation and alienation, and decreased symptoms of illness such as headaches, chest pain, congestion and weakness.

Williams point to a study by the National Institute of Health that shows that meditation can produce effects so powerful as to cause a 30% decrease in death due to cardiovascular problems and cancer. Really. He claims that the effects are so potent that the findings are the equivalent of “discovering an entirely new class of drugs, but without the side effects.”

Meditation, Happiness & Productivity are Kissing Cousins

Mindfulness and meditation increase happiness. Happiness and productivity are deeply intertwined. According to the iOpener Institute, increasing happiness in the workplace results in:

  • 46% reduction in employee turnover
  • 19% reduction in sick leave costs
  • 12% increase in performance and productivity
  • Happy employees that spend 40% more time focused on tasks and feel energized 65% more of the time
  • Happier employees that take fewer sick days and remain in their jobs twice as long.

Corporate Success Stories

Very often the first thing that we give up are those things that replenish us: those things we consider optional. This often leaves us exhausted, and, for many, on the verge of burnout.

Here are some examples of where a focus on mindfulness beefed up business results:

Case study 1: Physicians – A year long study of physicians, an occupation known for burnout, showed that doctors taking part in mindfulness exercises experienced considerable reductions in levels of stress. What is also noteworthy is that these improvements continued after the study was concluded.

Case study 2: Google – One of this tech giants most popular courses for employees teaches mindfulness in three parts: attention training, self-knowledge and building useful mental habits. Participants noted increases in resiliency, communication & presentation skills and their ability to collaborate.

Case study 3: General Mills – Offers a mindfulness program for employees that also has includes a meditation room in every building on their campus. Fully 80% of participants report that they have improved their ability to make better decisions.

Light Bulb Moment

It is not the number of hours that we sit at our desk that determines the value we generate. It is the energy and focus that we bring to the hours we work that count. Maintaining a steady supply of energy – physically, mentally & emotionally – requires ongoing refueling. This is why more and more companies are recognizing that the health of their employees is also one of the most significant predictors of the company’s health.

Is working in your organization hazardous to your health?

While it may still seem like fluff to some, increasing mounds of research attest to the power of happiness in the workplace. More and more, companies are catching on and realizing the many benefits both to them and their employees. Clearly, we are seeing that what is good for the individual is also good for the company.

There’s a clear link between happiness at work and productivity:

  1. Happy people work better with others. They are more fun to be around and because of this have better relations at work.
  2. Happy people are more creative and productive. If people are in a good mood they’re more likely to have creative ideas and get more done.
  3. Happy people tend to fix problems rather than complain about them. People who are unhappy at work see molehills as mountains.
  4. Happy people have more energy. They are therefore more efficient at everything they do.
  5. Happy people are more optimistic. Research shows that this optimism leads to more success and productivity.
  6. Happy people are more motivated. The only sustainable, reliable way to be motivated at work is to be happy and like what you do. Extrinsic motivators, such as money and command and control tactics by bosses fail. Big time.
  7. Happy people get sick less often.
  8. Happy people learn faster. When you’re happy and relaxed, you’re way more open to learning, thereby increasing your productivity at work.
  9. Happy people worry less about making mistakes and therefore make fewer of them. When you’re happy at work and make a mistake it doesn’t bother you much. You learn from it, pick yourself up, and move on.
  10. Happy people make better decisions. Unhappy people operate in a sort of crisis mode where their survival instincts kick in which narrows their focus. As such they tend to make knee jerk decisions that can completely miss the big picture.

So what if you aren’t happy at work?

The first tactic is to try to improve your situation at work. There are often numerous things you can do. You need to decide to do something rather than wait for someone or something to rescue you. Personal action is always required here. Whether it be beefing up your coping strategies, seek a transfer, or shift your attitude, you have to start somewhere.

However, if your current job is not fixable, don’t wait. The nasty consequences for you are simply too great. Move on.

For over a decade, I’ve worked with dozens of companies and hundreds of people around the globe. I’ve helped workplaces become more flexible and given people the tools and skills they need to manage the fit between their career and personal lives. Along the road I’ve discovered some powerful habits common to folks who have it all both on and off the job.

The 5 Habits

  1. Decide now what matters most to you, whatever stage of life or career you are at. Don’t let this slide. Regret only builds over time. Create a plan to do what matters most each and every day. It is highly unlikely that you’ll regret living a full, happy life in line with what matters most. Review your plan every 6 months.
  2. Take time to regularly reflect on what is working and what is not in all areas of your life. Ask yourself what do I want more of? What do I want less of? What am I going to  do to make this happen?
  3. Close the gaps between what you want and what’s actually happening on and off the job. Take small, manageable steps in the areas where you see a mismatch. Small steps will help you achieve success and enjoy that wonderful feeling of getting stuff done.
  4. Focus on and celebrate what gets done. If you constantly turn your attention to what didn’t get done, or still needs to get done, you’ll never feel satisfaction.
  5. Keep an eye on the big picture…this includes home and work. Do this by keeping all of your personal and work to do’s in one place. This is key to not letting work priorities devour all other aspirations.

How do you make what matters most happen in your life? When is a good time to lead a  life that reflects all your ambitions, hopes and desires?

I’ve always held that leadership is something that everyone, at any level of the organization, is responsible for. It is not something that is only the purview of those occupying management positions. On a recent late running flight I had this amply demonstrated. Through the leadership of the whole crew, and in particular of one engaging and engaged, and doggedly determined flight attendant, a negative customer experience was completely turned around.

My spouse and I were heading to Maui for a much anticipated vacation. It had been a busy, hectic time for us both and we needed the break. Our mid evening flight had now become a red eye. Arg. To make matters worse, all retail services in the terminal were closed a few hours prior. Tired and hungry, by the time we boarded the plane my mood was decidedly less than pleasant. Soon though, that all began to change.

While all the flight attendants were pleasant, one stood out in her efforts in dealing with a plane load of disgruntled customers. She first approached me and asked me how things were. I told her of my disappointment in how things were dealt with to that point and of previous misfortunes with the airline. Instead of just simply acknowledging and apologizing, from that point forward she seized the opportunity to make this particular flight one that I would enjoy. From simple decisions to comp our meal and beverages she provided us with extraordinarily attentive service…and huge dollops of humour.

Throughout the beginning of the 6 hour flight she would come back and discuss one by one all of the various concerns I had spoken of. For each one she acknowledged my disappointment and then proceeded to come back with actual comparative stats illustrating how this airline stacked up with the competition. It was clear that while this airline was not perfect, it was indeed competitive and it was trying. This to me could not have been evidenced more than by the exemplary behaviour of this one, caring and dedicated employee. Soon I was laughing and having the customer experience that this airline sold me as their brand.

What was shown here?

  • That a company’s ‘true’ brand is directly tied to the behaviour of it’s employees.
  • That individual leadership by any member of a staff team can turn around a negative customer experience.
  • That a negative customer experience does not require much of a financial investment as a salve but instead, only requires a sincere commitment by staff to listen and take action.

Thanks Lindsay D. I will continue to fly with your airline. Your airline claims that its employees are owners. You behaved very much like an owner who wanted my continued business. Nothing says more to me than the personal leadership that you displayed in striving to deal with my concerns.

Ok, first thing for you to realize is that no one is perfect. In spite of what you may think, your team doesn’t expect you to be either. So, suck it up role model, and own up to your mistakes. It’s very likely you’ll earn more, not less, respect. When you goof up, don’t give in to the urge to cover it up or to blame others. That’s a dark path that you don’t want to go down. So ‘fess up, come clean, learn from it and move on…you’ll be able to sleep better.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Deal with it immediately.  As soon as you discover, or are made aware of, the mistake take ownership. Don’t sit on it. Doing so runs the risks of negative outcomes becoming worse…think alienation, loss of credibility, trust & respect.
  2. Apologize in terms of past – present – future.  Here’s what I mean – say that you’ve taken credit for someone else’s work…which is always a bad idea. Immediately apologize to the person or affected team. Frame your careless behaviour as something in the past and that you realize it was wrong. Make a pledge to never do it again in the future. In this example, it would also be best to express your hope that you can earn their trust again.
  3. Don’t beat yourself up. There’s a big difference between admitting your mistake and kicking the tar out of yourself. Learn from it. Move on…and try not to repeat it.

Everyone makes mistakes. Really. Even you. It’s ok. You’re human.

An oft heard concern I get from the work floor concerns the quality and quantity of communication from above. Many claim that company leaders only pay lip service to open communication. Others contend that what little communication comes around only does so in the form of bulletins or memos. Still others cite only receiving vague instructions that are puzzling to follow. If this is what’s going on in your business, you risk increased turnover, absenteeism, tension and decreased productivity, innovation and customer service…everything that your business success relies on.

Communicating Better

There are many ways that leaders can improve internal communication. Here are 7 tips to up your game:

  1. Know that communication is a 2 – way street. It involves giving information as well as getting feedback from your team. It is not finished when information is given.
  2. Focus on face to face communication. Do not rely mainly on emails, bulletin boards or memos.
  3. Ask yourself if you are being clear. Most vagueness is caused by not being specific.
  4. View information as “service to” your team and not “power over” them.
  5. Listen to your team. Show respect when they speak. They’ll feel valued and will likely be more dedicated and productive.
  6. Don’t just talk about an open-door policy. Live it by walking around now and again talking to your team.
  7. Carry out one to one meetings on a regular basis with direct reports. Ask how it is that you can help them do a better job. Share with them too, how they can help you do a better job.

The bottom line is that you want to build credibility with your team. Not having credibility lowers trust others will feel towards you, and your “openness” won’t be believed, no matter how hard you try. So get out there and communicate honestly and regularly…and really listen.

Cool stuff. My mantra that the only thing lying in the way of you “having it all” is, well, you has just been given a boost by business expert, Cali Williams Yost. Her research mirrors my own experience in working with dozens of companies and hundreds of people around the globe.  From Vancouver to Chicago to London to Hong Kong, the only reason why many people don’t “have it all” is simply because they don’t take the time out to pause, reflect, then act on things that matter most. It’s that simple.

The Secret Sauce

Like myself, Cali helps workplaces to become more flexible and gives people the tools and skills they need to manage the fit between their career and personal lives.  Along the way she began to study the habits of people that naturally seemed to be able to juggle skillfully the many and various priorities of work and life. These “work+life naturals” simply took a few extra, but crucial, steps beyond what most people took.

What Cali found was that work+life naturals engaged in the following 4 key habits:

1.    Work+life naturals actively managed their work and personal responsibilities and goals daily or weekly.

  • Problem: only 75% of people surveyed claimed that they did this.
  • Why this is important: Need I comment? Thought not…

2.    Kept a calendar with all of their personal and work to-do’s in one place.

  • Problem: only 40% of people surveyed were found to carry out this key habit.
  • Why this is important: This goes a long way to ensuring that whirling vortex of work does not completely subsume your focus.

3.    Set aside time daily or weekly to check in with themselves and answer the question, “What do I want?”

  • Problem: only 26% of all people surveyed took this extra step.
  • Why this is important: It is your actions that will keep you healthy, your career network & job skills up to date, your relationships strong and your personal finances in shape. None of this happens by default.
  • Ask yourself: What’s happening at work and in other parts of my life? What to I want more of? What do I want less of?

4.    Always make adjustments when they see a mismatch between what they want in work+life and what’s actually happening.

  • Problem: only 15% of respondents actually did this.
  • Why this is important: Taking small steps along the way to close the gaps between what you want and what’s happening will keep you on track with achieving and experiencing what matters most to you. You will feel more fulfilled at home and work.

The crux of this research is that while many people might manage their responsibilities at work and in their personal lives with intention, most make their everyday choices using an incomplete picture of what they need to accomplish. Fewer still, regularly reflect on what matters most to them on and off the job. Sadly, even fewer consistently take action to close any gaps between what they want and what’s actually happening on and off the job.

The good news is that you really can “have it all” by learning to make what matters most happen everyday…and by adding a few extra habits. The Engage 360 Program can show you the way.

As a manager you might very well be unaware of the impact you have on your staff. But the cold hard fact is that 9 out of 10 people who leave their job do so because of the relationship with their direct supervisor. If you don’t want to part of this alarming statistic, here is the habit that can change it…and all it will cost is your time.

You already know that it is important for you as a leader to be providing your team members with the information they need to have about their performance. But it is equally important for them to be able to provide you with similar feedback. Not only will you get information you need to be more effective and better able to reach your division’s targets, but you will show that you are serious about their input…and this matters.

The Habit

Simply make it a regular thing to ask others what could be improved in your relationship with them, particularly if you have a hunch that the rapport isn’t what it should be.

Try asking:

  • What’s going well between us?
  • What could be improved with our communication?
  • What should be improved?

If you are truly sincere about getting honest feedback, you’ll have the best chance of obtaining it. When you get feedback, just say “thank you” and take whatever action is needed to maintain or improve the relationship.

The information garnered about your leadership style and impact will be crucial to theirs and your success. Knowing your successes and opportunities for growth with each team member allows you the chance to create higher levels of staff engagement. And engaged employees not only stay longer but they have always been the engine of corporate success.

Soft is hard…finally.  A recent article in Fast Company divulged the secrets of America’s happiest companies. It seems that the importance of engaged, happy employees is now hardwired in some of the most profitable and successful companies on the planet. Indeed, Pfizer, the company that has the happiest employees views this quality as the driver of their success.

Compiled from America’s top 50 organizations, here are the rules to guide you on your way to boosting morale and the bottom line:

  1. Happy employees don’t stay in one role for too long. Movement and the perception of improvement create satisfaction. Status quo, on the other hand, creates burnout.
  2. There is a strong correlation between happiness and meaning; having a meaningful impact on the world around you is actually a better predictor of happiness than many other things you might think will make you happy.
  3. A workplace is far likelier to be a happy place when policies are in place to ensure that people regularly get acknowledgement and praise for a job well done.
  4. Recognize that employees are people first, workers second, and create policies that focus on their wellbeing.
  5. Emphasize work/life integration, not necessarily “balance”.

While I would agree whole heartedly with 2-5, I think that rule 1 applies to some, but not all. I know of lots of people who are very happy to retain the same role, doing the same tasks day in and day out. And that’s fine….that’s due more to personality type. The big message though is that it really is important to figure out what it takes to get your employees to whistle while they work.

What does you company do to keep you happy (or not)?

Through the years I’ve discovered something about goal setting whether it be at New Year’s or any other time of year. They seem to be easier to make than to keep. Here’s a list of road-tested ideas to help you make this the year that your goals finally get traction.

  1. Believe in yourself – believe that no matter what, you will figure out what you need to know, when you need to know it. Know that somehow, some way, you will always land on your feet. So go ahead and take some chances.
  2. Persistence – do not give up on your desire to move ahead. Goals may change, but your desire to grow should not.
  3. Consistency – apply yourself regularly to your goals, not every so often, but every day.
  4. Follow-up – take action on hunches and what you know needs doing to get better, quicker results.
  5. Accountability – be accountable to your dreams & desires…no one else can be held to account other than yourself.
  6. Positive attitude – enjoy the ride. Achieving something is no fun if the journey was nasty all along the way.
  7. Learn from your mistakes – don’t get down on yourself; outcomes that you didn’t expect give answers to what you’ll need to do differently next time.
  8. Appreciate the present moment – too often we’re focused on always reaching further. Remember that happiness is along the way. Appreciate the ‘now’.
  9. Do not choose to do nothing – often the default for many is to think about change but not act on it. Do otherwise. Commit to daily action.
  10.  Dump the guilt – focus squarely on the future. Dwelling on past disappointments will only keep you there.

Which of these ten has worked best for you?

Which are you going to focus on more this year?

In today’s hectic world, workplace deadlines and personal responsibilities can often leave you feeling ragged and with little time for yourself. And yet, your ability to lead and manage at work is greatly affected by your mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.

If you are tired of feeling like you’re not giving or getting the best then perhaps it’s time to make a plan to change this up. I can think of no better place to start then by looking at the Gallup organization’s research into the raw materials of a life well lived. This is a great place to start to make 2013 your best year yet.

Five Essential Elements to Success Everywhere

Here are the 5 essential elements that you’ll want to consider to shift you from simply getting by and shift you squarely into thriving mode.

  1. Career Wellbeing: how you occupy you time and liking your job is key. Guaranteed, get this right and you’ll never look back.
  2. Social Wellbeing: having strong relationships and love in your life has a profound positive impact. Building connections and spending time with loved ones will strengthen and enrich you.
  3. Financial Wellbeing: effectively managing your economic life can remove untold stressors from you life. Learning to live within one’s means is a great place to begin.
  4. Physical Wellbeing: having good health and the energy to get things done is fundamental. So step outside. Walk, run, dance. Daily exercise recharges you.
  5. Community Wellbeing: the sense of engagement you have with the community in which you live is a cornerstone to wellbeing. Volunteer. Join a community group. Get involved.

Not surprisingly, all of these areas are deeply interconnected so you’ll want to make the most of each. Not only will you feel better but you’ll be boosting the wellbeing of your friends, loved ones, workplace colleagues and community too – quite the outcome.

Which of  the five would you like to focus on on 2013?

Do you have a plan to make it happen that you’d like to share?

Here’s to 2013 being your best year yet!

Now more than ever, getting the most from your people is critical. In a constantly shifting environment your organization is faced with how to keep up with the rate of change, retain good people, be more productive and to be innovative all at the same time.  Your organization must constantly spring forth fresh new ideas to keep a competitive advantage. But how do you do this? You do it through the wellbeing of your people.

Extensive research has shown that people who are happy and fully engaged in all aspects of their lives play pivotal roles in the success of any organization.  Wellbeing encompasses a person’s whole life and having high levels of it helps them to function better everywhere…including your business.

Wellbeing propels employee engagement and it is precisely this discretionary emotional commitment that you’ll want to tap into.  An engaged employee more deeply connects to and supports your business and its goals.

Here are more reasons why employee engagement should be your top business concern for 2013. Studies show that engaged employees deliver the goods:

  1. Superior customer service and experience;
  2. Increased customer loyalty;
  3. Better sales results;
  4. Increased innovation and product quality;
  5. Improved safety;
  6. Increased retention;
  7. Decreased absenteeism;
  8. Increased revenue, profit & shareholder returns;
  9. You’ll be helping your employees and their families;
  10. You’ll sleep better at night.

With competition for talent ever on the increase, making sure you have a fired-up and engaged team is your biggest business opportunity.

What kinds of action can you or other leaders take to boost employee wellbeing to get better business results?

How else have you seen employee engagement improve?

It’s the time of year when our thoughts turn to goodwill, friends, family – to what matters most. As business owners and leaders, it’s also a great time to reflect on the overall well-being of your organization’s people.  Do you know how they’re feeling about their circumstances and how well are they managing things outside of work? Traditionally, as an employer, you’ve likely been conditioned to believe that work and home are mutually exclusive domains. Work is work, home is home and the two shall never meet. Here’s why you need to rethink that approach…and perhaps more fully embrace the spirit of the holidays.

Well-being is about the big picture

First the basics. Chances are if your organization has talked about anything ‘squishy’ it’s been about wellness and has focused on health. And this is good. Health is important. But the bigger conversation should be around well-being. Well-being includes health but so much more. Well-being is that state of feeling that you’re grounded and managing well all aspects of your life, home and work.

Well-being is that feeling like you’re able to do the things you want to do, whether that means being happy & effective at work, exercising, taking care of the kids, managing your budget, or maybe volunteering in the community – whatever your priorities. Well-being encompasses your whole life and in simple terms having high levels of it helps you to function better everywhere.

Why you should care about your employee’s head space outside of work

As mentioned, many people have this belief that work and life are two very separate things. The idea is that when your employees arrive at work, everything else in their universe somehow melts away (or should!) the moment they step inside the office. Is this what happens to you? Hmmm. Thought so. The fact is that people just aren’t built that way.

Think for a moment about the expression we’ve all used: “I’m so run down, I can’t think straight.” It doesn’t matter whether the things driving you to the edge are work or personal. The result is the same. You’re spent. And for an employer, this is bad news. When an employee gets to that edge, this person really can’t fully engage, focus or do their best work. On an organizational level, this is not good.

So my line of thinking is: What if you could make sure your people weren’t stretched to that point? What if you could assist people so that their lives felt in control instead of out of it? They’d work better, right? Indeed, numerous studies have shown this to be true.

For example, say that you have a star employee who’s really smart, driven, a great team player, is married and has a couple of kids. On top of that he’s juggling having to look after aging parents and deal with a marriage that needs urgent attention. Along with all this and his job, he and his wife are drowning in debt and he just discovered a leak in the roof of their house. Technically none of this has to do with work and he knows his boss wants to keep it that way. He knows that if he takes time off to deal with these issues that there will be a professional price to pay. So here we have a guy who’s treading water and struggling to stay afloat. How do you think he’s performing at the office? Likely, he’s not executing anywhere near his ‘star’ level.

Let’s now take this same guy and give him some support. Let’s say that the culture of the company says, “When your family needs you, go be with them. You will not be penalized”. So this same guy takes a few days to get things straightened out. He and his wife have some time together to work out what they need to and are able to take some next steps. He and his wife are also able to speak with an accountant and get moving forward on a much needed budget. He’s also able to either fix the leak in the roof or find someone who can. He comes in to work a few days later, he’s got a handle on things, he’s focused and ready to work.

What you get in this second scenario is a guy who’s no longer at the breaking point. He’s shown that he’s someone, who even amid setbacks can keep going, sustainably over the long haul. But to get this, you’ve got to pay notice to your employees’ whole lives, not just the part that you see at the office.

Well-Being is Not Soft

Still, some of you reading this may be thinking that all of this is simply too soft for a bona fide business concept. I find this ironic because well-being is precisely a business concept. One example, and there are many, is the service-profit chain. People work better when they’re feeling satisfied and satisfied employees build satisfied customers. That’s the chain. The very concrete, huge added benefit of building a culture that supports well-being – one that realizes people have lives outside of work – is that you end up with people who not only show up to work feeling more committed but are able to give their all.

So technically, work and life are separate. But for employees to be effective, the two need to be integrated. So if you, as the employer, pay attention to one you get great benefits in the other.

How an Employer Can Improve Employee Well-Being

As we’ve seen, to really affect the well-being of your people, you have to target what’s actually affecting them. Like many employers and seniour leaders, taking the time to personally deal with this is impossible.  However, hurling all of your support dollars at very general things like health benefits, or a few random perks – maybe a subsidized gym membership or a trendy perk like onsite massage and yoga – simply doesn’t go deep enoughYou need a program that addresses what’s really affecting your people. You need a program that uncovers where their life is hurting their ability to produce solid results, like this one

The Skinny on Employee Well-Being

From both a research and hands-on perspective, companies that institute programs aimed at helping employees integrate work and life end up with employees with much higher levels of well-being and as a result, are happier, healthier and more productive. These supported employees take fewer sick days and report higher engagement than employees of companies that do not offer well-being support. All this adds up to more robust bottom lines in terms of things like sustained innovation, productivity and reduced healthcare costs. And these are all things that sound so very sweet – right boss?

Produce more! Make it better! Spend less! Any of these sound familiar? If so, you’re in good company. These seem to have been the mantras within many organizations in 2012 and they look to be the trend for 2013. One study claims that executives will be looking for as much as a 20% improvement in employee performance this coming year. Wow. Realistic or not, it seems the onus may be on you to up your game, or find a new one.

It’s important to remember that using the same tools you’ve always used and doing more of the same won’t get you improved results. Here are 5 things that might help you do more with less:

  1. Ask the Questions: When the boss approaches you to take on more, don’t simply say yes and put your head back down. Instead, engage them in a dialogue about the specifics of the situation. Be sure you know how long the new project will last and what will be expected.
  2. Mutual Prioritization: Once you understand the scope of your additional duties, ask your manager to help you prioritize what needs to get done and what can be deferred. This helps to ensure that expectations are both realistic and mutually understood.
  3. Schedule: Organize yourself according to the new or revised priorities and plan your schedule. Make a habit of putting time in your schedule to review your weekly and daily tasks. This will help you to stay focused and on top of your most important tasks (MITs). Read here for some more time management tips.
  4. Breaks: Take more breaks. Not less. As you find yourself working more hours it’s important that you get up every 90 minutes or so. Take 10 minutes to get up and stretch, go for a walk or grab a quick coffee with a colleague. Your mind needs this break to recharge. Upon return you’ll have improved focus and creativity.
  5. Self care: Above all, be sure to pay close attention to your health & well-being. Things like learning to meditate, daily exercise and developing regular routines are key to your well-being. Both your personal and professional life will benefit.

I’ve seen great results from people engaging in these strategies. But if, despite your best efforts, you still find yourself falling further behind, you might want to cut your losses and avoid potential burnout.

Here’s to a happy, healthy and productive 2013!

Welcome to the pre-holiday season scramble! By now things are probably piling up…like they do for many of us at this time of year. Soon though, you’ll be through it and hanging with your nearest and dearest, which for many of us is the whole point of it all. It’s also a time when many of us take stock of our lives and the year that was.  With the New Year just ahead, many folks will be looking at their careers, assessing the good, bad and the otherwise. 

Here are seven questions to help you decide on the changes you may want to make in the coming year.

  1. Do you have a balanced life? As they say, all work and no play makes John or Jane a dull blade. It can also lead to poor health, relations with others and compromised performance at work. Making time for interests and relationships outside of work can help you to be less stressed, happier and more productive. How much of a life outside of work do you have?
  2. Do you see how your work is meaningful and has an impact? If not, chances are you’re not as engaged as you could be. Are you ok with this?
  3. Does your job excite you? Is it mentally stimulating or do you find yourself bored by the tedium of it all? While it’s not realistic to be 100% pumped about your job all the time, if the overall feeling is one of boredom, you could be cheating yourself from a career that rocks your world.
  4. Do you have a boss you like and trust? The number one reason why people leave their jobs is because their relationship with their direct supervisor is a bit of a car crash. Where’s yours at? If it’s lousy, is it worth the continual frustration to stick it out?
  5. Are you proud of the work you do and the company you work for? Feeling a personal connection to what you do and who you do it for is key to long term job satisfaction. If either, or both, are out of whack,
  6. Do you see a future that holds growth and development towards where you want to go? It’s often not enough for a job to offer opportunities for advancement…the opportunities truly have to sync with your bigger picture of what you want. Is your job heading down the path you desire most?
  7. How much do you like Mondays? Few things feel as fine as effortlessly sliding into a Monday that you feel good about. If heading into work after the weekend inspires more dread than thrill then perhaps something needs to change. What is it about work that is sucking your energy or causing you frustration? What will you do to change this situation?

Here’s to a 2013 filled with all the joy and fulfillment that you can create!

You may have come across those who think that leadership is an innate skill. Yes, for some, it appears to come easier, but the truth is, like many other skill sets it can be coached and learned. Too many of us though disregard this fact and hold on to the myth that we are simply born with leadership qualities. Perhaps this explains why so few newly promoted leaders are actively supported to develop and grow their people development, or “soft” skills. Yet it is these very skills that will help them the most to get the best thinking and efforts from others…and this truly is what a leader’s work is all about.

A leader’s job first and foremost, is to fully engage the talent and minds of those around them. This is the foundation of innovation, creativity and the competitive edge in any business. Yes, you can lead by command and control tactics, but the best results always come when your team is able to fully tap into their own sources of imagination and problem solving. This is why leadership training, mentoring or coaching is so valuable. It helps leaders to develop the skills they’ll need to inspire their teams and to achieve better bottom-line business results.

The Soft (But Essential!) Eight

Here’s a list of eight must-haves a leader must learn in order to get the best from others:

  1. Ability to listen – if you’re not listening, you’re missing out on potentially vast amounts of information that can drive better business results. You’ll also boost engagement as people will feel that their thoughts and ideas are valued.
  2. Be a champion of team work – no business does well when everyone feels they are working alone. Knowing how to effectively draw people together towards common goals creates a synergy that blows away individual efforts.
  3. Creates a learning culture – companies that value learning outperform those that don’t. People-focused practices such as building learning capacity, knowledge accessibility and professional development bring the greatest financial rewards.
  4. Enables a culture of open communication – in today’s business world, communication is key. Processes that facilitate this open environment are crucial to a company’s success. Your ability as a leader to encourage feedback from the bottom up will yield increased innovation, team building and better project results.
  5. Humility – humility gives a leader the candor to be honest with their team and change course if necessary. An ego driven leader puts personal pride first, and business results can tank.
  6. Willingness to take risks/fail – risk and failure are the keys to innovation. New ideas must be tried on the road to finding the solution that sticks. After determining the potential benefits outweigh the potential dangers, a leader must be willing to take the plunge.
  7. Persistence – things do not always come easily and leaders must be willing to stick to something until they succeed. That being said, a leader must be able to recognize when they are fighting a losing battle and resort to Plan B when that point is reached.
  8. Recognition of others – perhaps one of the most important skills any leader can have is the capacity to pay attention to other’s efforts and accomplishments. Nothing does more to someone’s sense of value and purpose than having their efforts recognized.

A leader who has harnessed the power of these attributes will demonstrate the greatest commitment to their human capital and will enjoy a level of personal and business results that can be achieved no other way.


Depression is widespread across North American workplaces and occurs at an alarming rate. It can affect men and women at any age, economic or social status. In both Canada and the US, depression tops the list of health-related productivity costs at workWhile many employers understand the huge financial and human costs of depression, the big challenge remains getting people to reach out for help.

 A Perfect Storm

When you look at the many stressors employees currently face such as downsizings, economic insecurity and constantly having to “do more with less”, it’s not hard to imagine someone being under chronic stress that eventually develops into depression. In fact, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 1 in 20 workers experience depression. But due to the stigma of seeking help, it’s all too frequent that people will seek help only after years of delays. Everyone loses here. Productivity falls, sick days increase and the individual suffers.

Signs of Depression

We all feel a little down at times, which is simply life.  But if the blue mood lasts for a few weeks, deepens and/or it starts interfering with everyday life, it may be a clinical depression.

Even though few people experience depression in exactly the same way, the Canadian Mental Health Association cites the following common signs that a sufferer could exhibit:

Personal Changes

  • Irritability/hostility
  • Withdrawal from, or extreme dependence, on others
  • Hopelessness/despair
  • Slowness of speech
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Alcohol/drug abuse

Workplace Changes

  • Difficulty in making decisions
  • Decreased productivity
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Decline in dependability
  • Unusual increase in errors at work
  • Being prone to accidents
  • Frequent tardiness, increased “sick” days

Seeking Help for Yourself or Someone You Know

If you think that you or a teammate may be dealing with depression the first step is the most important.

If you think a teammate is experiencing depression, you should continue to show them respect. Help make the person aware of their value at work and to the team. Be encouraging and offer genuine compliments every day.

Use the trust between you to support them to seek help and/or continued treatment. Encourage your teammate to speak with their health professional, an on-site health professional or employee assistance person. These people can then direct a person with depression towards appropriate treatment such as counseling, self help groups or various other supports and specialists.

If after reading the above signs you think you might be going through depression, seek help. You will feel the better for it and one way or another, you have nothing to lose but perhaps the depression itself.

Treatments for depression, alone or in combination can be highly effective…but they will only work if the person with the dogged blues takes the first step.

Here in Canada Thanksgiving is just around the corner.  Soon many of us will be taking time to acknowledge what we’re grateful for. Then, after the weekend of feasting, we’ll go back to not thinking too much about gratitude. But gratitude, practiced daily, has powerful effects on our physical health, psychological well-being, our relationships with others and our careers. So why not engage in a little gratefulness every day?

Gratitude in Business

Back in December of last year I wrote Gratitude as a Business Strategy which underscored the surprisingly powerful impact this deceptively simple practice has.  In its most basic form, gratitude is merely the act of feeling grateful. Later, I’ll describe a potent technique to engage this strategy in a more structured way.

Here’s a summary of what we know about the power of gratitude at work:

  • Grateful leaders behave in ways that inspire others to follow;
  • Leaders who are grateful are usually passionate and their sense of hope and possibility allows them to commit deeply;
  • Grateful leaders tend to be generous with praise, credit, resources and faith in other’s abilities;
  • Team mates who are grateful – those who focus on more on what’s working and on the contributions of others instead of complaining, dismissing or blaming – are simply more pleasant to be around.
  • Colleagues who are grateful are more likely to build strong ties of mutual support with others and are able to call upon these bonds to get stuff done.

Personal Impact

One expert on the scientific impact of gratitude, Dr. Robert Emmons, cites that feeling grateful can improve your health, mental function and relationships with others.  In studying over one thousand people, of all ages, Emmons found that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:


  • Stronger immune systems;
  • Lower blood pressure;
  • Exercise more and take better care of their health;
  • Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking.


  • Higher levels of positive emotions;
  • More alert, alive, and awake;
  • More joy and pleasure;


  • More helpful, generous and compassionate;
  • More forgiving;
  • More outgoing;
  • Feeling less lonely and isolated.

Simple Strategy

I have helped many clients cultivate gratitude, by and large, by one singularly simple strategy: a gratitude journal.  All you need to do is keep a daily journal in which you regularly record the things for which you’re grateful.  It’s so basic, it’s easy to discount it’s potential, but it can work for you as it has for many.  Of all the strategies that I draw from, this deceptively simple strategy seems to be one of the most powerful.

So, be grateful. It’s better for your mind, body, relationships and your career.

Both inside and outside of work it seems we see a gamut of disrespectful and rude behaviour. At times it’s hard to believe that we live in a civil society, particularly with the shocking amount of decay within the political sphere. The workplace is but a microcosm of society. From a business and leadership perspective, the nasty behaviour happening outside the workplace is trickling in. The result is an increased negative impact on both morale, productivity and your bottom line. So what can you do?

As a leader, the first step is to realize that conflict is a vital part of organizational success. Properly facilitated, disagreements lead to healthy, constructive conversations that translate into creativity, innovation and a shared sense of accomplishment.

As a leader, you can and should make workplace civility a priority in your business by encouraging all employees to exercise these practical ideas:

  1. Pursue understanding first.
  2. Listen and respect others opinions.
  3. Before you act or speak, consider the impact of your words and actions on others.
  4. Self-monitor the respect that you display in all areas of your communications, including verbal, body language, and listening.
  5. Understand your triggers or “hot buttons”. Knowing what makes you angry or frustrated enables you to manage your reactions and respond in a more appropriate manner.
  6. Accept responsibility for your actions and the consequences of those actions.
  7. Practice self-restraint in responding to potential conflicts.
  8. Adopt a positive and solution focused approach in resolving conflicts.
  9. Offer and willingly accept constructive feedback.
  10. Rely on facts rather than assumptions. Gather relevant facts, especially before acting on assumptions that can damage relationships.
  11. View today’s difficult situations from a broader perspective by considering what they mean in the overall scheme of things.
  12. Become a bridge builder and role model for civility and respect. Act in a manner whereby you respect yourself and demonstrate respect for others.

Perhaps the most important piece in all of this is to realize that it starts with you. Take time to reflect on your own behaviours.  Are you part of the problem or the solution?

Set an expectation of workplace civility by “walking the talk” and BE the change that you want to see.


I have never fully bought the idea that the divide between the generations is all that wide. Last week I had the privilege of doing a keynote at the Sauder School of Business. In speaking with these future leaders and decision makers it really hit home how much more in common the generations have than we popularly believe.

I know that each generation might use different tools and ways to communicate but fundamentally I believe we want similar things. Like these young men and women, I remember entering the workforce thinking about how I wanted to help make the world a better place and how things could be done differently. I was eager to make a difference and often frustrated with the barriers I perceived those ahead of me placed in my way.

Common Threads

Now comes some interesting research from York’s School of Human Resource Management to back up my hunches.  One of the key findings was that employees of all generations are basically looking for and motivated by similar thingsMeaningful work was one of the most significant factors identified. It was linked to higher levels of engagement, satisfaction, commitment and intent to stay.

In this study, meaningful work was measured as work that enables an employee to realize their full potential, values and goals, make a positive impact and increase their feelings of personal accomplishment. It’s certainly been my experience of working across numerous sectors that having work that serves all these things is critical to career satisfaction…no matter what the generation.


Among other things, these findings drive home the need for companies to have clearly defined Vision, Mission and Values statements that are easily understood and are well communicated. It’s critical that all people in any company understand how their work fits into the big pic.

The final piece that this research really highlights is the need for there to be a strong match between a person’s personal goals & values and that of any particular position. Young and old alike, increasingly people are looking for more than just paychecks. They are looking for work that is both meaningful and fulfilling. In this way, again, the generations seem to see eye to eye. 

From the file of WTH comes an interesting tidbit of research regarding surfing the web while on the job. Like many productivity minded bosses, you might think that such practices should be banned, similar to those ‘spandex’ days at work. In fact, while seeing your staff surfing the web might not make you happy, it could actually increase their productivity.


By now it has been well established that employees who are happy are more engaged and get more done. Yet many employers forbid “time-wasting” activities that might well help people enjoy their workday more, like checking Facebook or posting on Pinterest. But a recent study at the University of Singapore has found that surfing the internet for leisurely, non-business purposes for no more than 20% of a workday actually improves employees’ concentration, relieves boredom and exhaustion, and enables them to produce more than those who take no such breaks.

What Not to Do.

Allowing people to take intermittent breaks from their tasks to poke around the web for 10 minutes or so can help them focus more when they go back to working. Conversely, the study researchers noted that cracking down and dis-allowing surfing may inadvertently increase web browsing as employees invariably view such policies as a form of mistrust.

So boss, perhaps a middle ground is best?

As a busy professional, putting out fires, conquering evil doers and making the world a better place is all in a day’s work for you. While this unfailing commitment to working on your company’s success is virtuous, it’s kind of a pity because you could add so much more depth and creativity with a mere 30 minutes of daily exercise. Exercise, in fact, could be the most saavy investment you can ever make towards the success of you and your business. Here’s 8 reasons why you should always keep your date with your Nikes.

Improved Creativity

Exercise has a tremendous effect on your ability to not only think and solve problems, but also to create. In fact studies have shown that every dimension of cognition, including creativity, can improve by exercising. Does 30 minutes a day of exercise sound too steep of a proposition in return for improved creativity?

Energy Booster

When you need a blast of energy you likely reach for a cup of coffee or an energy drink right? The problem with this is that it creates a vicious cycle. After the initial spike of energy you eventually crash to the floor again, thereby needing another hit. Physical activity, on the other hand, delivers longer lasting energy sans crash. Exercise delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and helps your heart and lungs work more efficiently, thereby providing you with more oomph to slay dragons and keep on going.

Increased Focus and Concentration

Research shows that regular booty shaking can improve your ability to focus and concentrate. When you exercise you flood a the prefrontal cortex part of your brain with a chemical concoction, particularly dopamine, that improves focus and concentration. So when you have tons of balls in the air, this extra dose of focus and concentration can go a long way in helping them all stay in the air.

Live Longer

No mystery here but research has shown that regular physical activity can add extra years to your life. In all likelihood, these years will also be enjoyed with better health. With the short amount of time we all have on this earth this means you have more time to do those things things personally and professionally that are most important to you.

Improved Sleep

Struggling to fall asleep? Or to stay asleep? Regular physical activity can help you fall asleep faster and deepen your sleep, keeping you alert throughout the day and better prepared to tackle the task of moving your business forward. Just don’t exercise too close to bedtime, or you may be too energized to fall asleep.

Bumped Up Mood & Noggin Functioning

Exercise has been found to reduce depression and anxiety, illnesses that can take a hammer to your mental functioning. Over time, exercise has also been shown to help curb the mental effects of aging, perhaps even Alzheimer’s. It can also help you to improve your mood by allowing you to blow off steam and by stimulating various brain chemicals, helps you feel happier and more relaxed.

Exercise Puts the Zing Back in your Sex Life

Do you feel too tired or too out of shape to enjoy physical intimacy? Research from the Mayo Clinic shows that regular physical activity can help you get your sexual mojo back. It leaves you feeling energized  and looking better. Regular physical activity can also lead to enhanced arousal for both women and men.

The Bottom Line

By far the most common excuse I hear why most people don’t exercise is that they just don’t have the time. I’d like to counter that you don’t have time not too. Regular physical activity makes us more healthy, happy, energetic, creative, and focused. For an investment of just 30 minutes a day, who wouldn’t want all that?

You’ve worked hard for your employer. You’ve been passionate about your job and have made many contributions. You’ve been recognized as a star player and are well thought of by everyone, team mates, bosses and customers alike. Yet, you’ve just been kicked to the curb by the new incoming boss. If you think this scenario sounds unlikely, think again. Too frequently I’ve seen loyal, dedicated and talented people punted when the new sheriff comes to town. The sad truth is that many companies allow this shoddy treatment of talent to happen. Even sadder is that these same companies may later wonder why remaining employees are less engaged.

Loyalty is a 2 Way Street

It’s a simple formula. If companies expect loyalty, then they must demonstrate the same. Even in a re-org where some roles are no longer needed, it remains the responsibility of the business to find new and appropriate internal matches for those affected. If this isn’t possible, then these individuals deserve the company’s support in finding a new opportunity with another firm.  To do otherwise only reinforces perceptions that the employer is only out for themselves.

The fact is, is that it’s very hard for any employee to really want to give their all to an employer who views them as disposable.

Show Some Corporate Love

Many companies really need to take a longer term view of their human capital. Our economy has shifted away from producing things. In People are Not Cogs, Nilofer Merchant argues how it makes no sense in this new landscape to keep on talking about people as disposable, replaceable, cogs in the mix.

It is happy and engaged employees that drive organizational success today and into the future. There’s plenty of data to support this. Recently, the research firm Gallup conducted a meta analysis across 199 studies and 26 countries. It showed that high employee engagement positively impacts every business performance number:

  •     Profitability up 16%
  •     Productivity up 18%
  •     Customer loyalty up 12%
  •     Quality up 60%

Corporations demonstrating loyalty and commitment to their employees is a key ingredient to engagement and corporate success. So why are so many companies still ignoring this fact?

A frequently asked question I get is what particular tool or strategy is the best for smoothing the demands and stress of daily living. By far, the best tool, and one that I have been using for over 30 years, is daily meditation. Taking only 15 – 20 minutes per day, meditation’s physical and psychological benefits are numerous and well documented. Easy and effective, there are many ways to meditate…read on for the “how to”…what have you got to lose but your stress?

Destination: Calmness

  1. Locate and seat yourself in a quiet space where you will not be disturbed.
  2. Seat yourself in the chair with your butt pushed against its back, feet slightly forward of your knees, and your hands rested either on the arms of the chair or in your lap.
  3. Let your muscles relax as best you can. Don’t try to relax. Trying is work, not relaxation. Just assume a passive attitude in which you focus upon your breathing. Allow whatever happens to happen. If you feel relaxed, fine; if not, accept that too.
  4. Next, close your eyes and repeat in your mind the word one every time you inhale and the word two every time you exhale. Do not consciously alter or control your breathing; breathe regularly. Continue to do this for twenty minutes.
  5. Lastly, when you stop meditating, give your body a chance to become readjusted to normal routines. Open your eyes gradually, first focusing on one object in the room, then focusing upon several objects. Take several deep breaths. Then stretch while seated and, when you feel ready, stand and stretch. Since your blood pressure and heart rate are decreased while meditating, rising from the chair too quickly might make you dizzy and is not recommended.

Although you shouldn’t experience any problems, if you feel uncomfortable or dizzy, or if you experience any unpleasant images, just open your eyes and stop meditating. While these situations are rare, they occasionally do occur. Simply try again later that day or the next.

To fully maximize the benefit of this surprisingly powerful technique, practice it daily. As well, doing it twice a day, immediately upon arising and then right before dinner, will give you added benefit.


Picture this. You have a micro managing boss and it seems that the rules are changing all the time. You have little choice over whether or not you can work from home to finish that report or pop out early if you need to. On top of this you are assigned one of the company’s most implacable customers. Yup, this can all be very frustrating, to say the least. So if you have little control over your job and how it is carried out, is there anything you can have control over?


Believe it or not the answer is something that you have complete control over: your attitude. How you choose to react to your circumstances is within your control. In spite of that haranguing boss or snippy co-worker, you can choose to feel either negative or positive – it is all up to you.  No one can make you feel the way you feel other than yourself.

Avoiding the Negative Vortex

While I admit that this can be tough at times, with daily discipline you can master how you feel regarding day to day events. Here’s some things you can do:

  1. Reframe – Instead of deciding that you are going to feel angry because your boss just dumped on you, choose to see this as a chance to learn how to deal effectively with demanding circumstances. This will serve you well as your move your way up the corporate ladder and learn to take on more responsibility.
  2. Re-train your focus – Instead of focusing on what went wrong in your day, focus on what went right. By the time we are adults, many of us are conditioned to primarily see what didn’t go right. You can shift this by simply reviewing and writing down what went well at the end of the day. If necessary, being doing this on an hourly basis. You’ll be amazed at how quickly your focus changes.
  3. Mistakes are OK – When things don’t pan out the way you planned, choose to see this as a rich vein of learning. By objectively examining why you didn’t get the results you desired, you’ll find out how you can do things differently in the future to get what you want.
  4. Maintain a positive view of people – Maybe you don’t like their views or behaviour, but that doesn’t mean you have to hate them personally. Realize that having negative feelings towards people will just hurt you, not them. It will be you that feels the energy sucked out of you.
  5. Sh@t Happens – Realize that ‘bad’ things happen to good people all the time – you’re not special. Don’t choose to feel victimized by external circumstances. Roll with it. In an extreme example, Nelson Mandella chose to react with dignity when he was released after 27 years of incarceration. He could have reacted with bitterness and anger. Instead he chose compassion and forgiveness.

So, can there be positivity in the workplace? Well, ultimately it is up to you. You are in control of your life and thoughts and it is up to you how you choose to react. If you find that the circumstances are simply intolerable, remember that you can choose to find another job…or you can choose to stay.

If you have any other tips for bringing positivity into the workplace, I’d love to hear from you.

Seriously. In that glimmering moment at life’s end, are you really going to chide yourself for not spending enough time at work? Are you going to kick yourself for having been too happy? Are you going to beat yourself up for living too true to your values and beliefs? Are you going to regret having had the courage to stand up for yourself when it was needed? Well surprise, surprise, observations from the dying show that if you’ve lived a full, happy life in line with what matters most to you, you likely won’t have any of these regrets. But here’s the problem: you’d be the exception.

Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

Bronnie Ware is an Australian palliative care nurse who looks after patients in their last 12 weeks of their lives and she wrote powerfully about this. Did most people regret not having enough sex? Nope. Not enough money? Nope again. Here are the five top regrets of the dying:

1.  I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

  • The most common regret of all. Most people died not having honored even half their dreams and they died finally realizing that it was due to the choices they made.

2.  I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

  • The most common regret for men by far … having spent too much time on the never ending treadmill of work.

3.  I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

  • Many people suppressed their feelings to keep others happy…this resulted in bitterness and for many, illnesses, as a result.

4.  I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

  • There were many who deeply regretted not giving friendships the time & efforts that they deserved.

5.  I wish that I had let myself be happier.

  • This was a surprisingly common regret. Simply, many people didn’t realise, until too late, that happiness, like much else in life, is a choice.

What would your biggest regret be if this was your last day of life?

In your last moments, are you going to be one of those who experiences some or all of the top five?  When is the right time for you to decide on a different course and make a change? I say NOW…because life is both unpredictable and short. Why not burn bright for the time that you are here?

Are you easily distracted? If you are like many (and myself) keeping a tight focus on the task at hand can be a challenge. Oh look, a bright shiny object… In his research on mind-wandering, Matthew Killingsworth shows how losing focus on the job reduces both happiness and productivity.  In fact, it appears that about half of our waking hours are spent thinking about what isn’t going on. Yikes. It seems then that a good idea for managers is to look for ways to help their themselves and their team members stay focused.

Be Here, Now

It seems that no matter what people are doing, they are much less happy when their minds are wandering than when they are focused. Killingsworth argues that in order to optimize our emotional wellbeing, we should pay at least as much attention to where our minds are as to what our bodies are doing. Interestingly, this seems to echo the message of spiritual teacher Ekhart Tolle  whose primary message is about living in the “now”.

Mind Wandering & Productivity

Data suggests that letting your mind take a stroll down the garden path reduces productivity, even if you do creative knowledge work. Even if your mind rambles to positive thoughts, it does little to impact your productivity. If your mind ambles into negative territory, your output is curbed markedly. Thus, managers might want to look for ways to help employees stay focused, for both the employees’ sake and the company’s sake.

A Simple Tool

Back in December, I wrote about a simple yet powerful technique that I believe deserves repeating. In order to minimize mind wandering and increase focus, simply set a timer to go off every hour and ask yourself the following two questions:

  1. Am I doing what I most need to be doing right now?
  2. Am I being who I most need to be right now?

So if you want to increase the happiness & workplace productivity of yourself or your team, try the above strategy and let me know the results. If you’re like me, you just may be surprised at how impactful these 2 simple questions are.

Looking back, its been quite the year.  Across the planet seeds of change appear to be taking hold. From the occupy movements and political uprisings like the Arab Spring, to eurozone meltdowns, to American political and economic strife, financial markets are trembling and geopolitical shifts are taking shape. Amongst all the tumult and perhaps because of it, a new perspective seems to be surfacing of what it means to be successful and thrive as individuals and societies.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

It seems necessity truly is the mother of invention and this has given me both renewed hope and inspiration for our collective future.  The predominant economic model of infinite resource, intensive growth and ever increasing profit has clearly pushed people and the planet to the edge. In its place a new paradigm where maximum wellbeing for minimal planetary input is sprouting.  New ways of doing business are emerging from a global re-examination of the link between wealth, growth, wellbeing and prosperity.

The Human Element

I have spent the last decade as an executive coach helping individuals, professionals and leaders find their way to lives that bring them wellbeing. My clients have spanned all levels of economic and professional success. Many of the most unhappy have had more money and status than all the rest combined.

I have observed that company cultures and practices still rarely reflect an understanding of what truly matters to people, whether it be their customers or their employees.  And many leaders still don’t always have the skills to lead in a way that reflects an appreciation of the human experience of daily life.

While happiness or wellbeing are subjective in nature, it is particularly helpful for a company to set about figuring out what makes people “feel” good, positive, engaged, connected, needed etc. as that can be a driving force behind a company’s success.

Many leaders are starting to see this and realizing that just moving in this direction is a good thing because underlying the process is the need for leaders and companies to become more aware of those around them and their relationships in their world. Finding happiness and meaning is a complicated process, but I believe that companies and leaders who value understanding what really matters to people, and are willing to take the first step, will indeed find new ways to prosper and help re-define prosperity even in the face of the challenges of today’s world.

Here’s to green shoots in 2012!

Where does innovation come from and how do you grow it?  Does it simply fall from the sky or are there things your company can do to promote it?  The answers to these questions may surprise you.  Simply, the best way to promote creativity and innovation in your company is through an environment that serves as fertile ground; one where the employee’s health and wellbeing is paramount.

We now have greater evidence linking personal sustainability to greater employee engagement, productivity, talent retention and – of utmost importance in today’s economic climate – creativity and innovation.  In fact, organizations that promote employee wellbeing are three and a half times more likely to encourage creativity and innovation according to a study at the World Economic Forum.

Fringe Benefits

Being happy and satisfied at work not only builds the innovation muscle but leads to significant gains in performance, problem solving skills, resilience and the ability to handle failure.   Obviously, workplace cultures that promote wellbeing reap mutual benefitsA more engaged, productive and creative workforce will lead directly to increases in whatever the bottom line may be, be it customer service, widgets or sales.

When you think about it, none of this should seem like rocket science.  Simply ask yourself, are you able to think at your clearest and most creative while stressed out, exhausted and under extreme pressure?  I thought not.

So what would it take for you or your team to become more innovative?  How would it benefit your customers or stakeholders?  How would it impact your bottom line?

If you’re like most busy professionals, you know what you need to do to take better care of yourself. But you just somehow keep putting it aside. Whether it be lack of time, energy or some other reason, making it to the gym or daily meditation just doesn’t seem to happen. Fortunately, your vacation is the perfect time to get on top of these activities again.

Vacation time provides a great opportunity to road test new activities or get back into long neglected ones that you know help you feel great. By carving out regular time to go for that run or yoga class on holidays, you’ll help yourself get back into the swing of taking care of yourself. You’ll also increase your chances of continuing on with the activity upon return home by having some momentum behind you.

Pick One

Where I see some people fail in this effort is by picking too many things. While you may have a number of things that you want to do, narrow it down to just one thing that you will commit to doing after your vacation has ended. This way, you’ll improve your chances of following through. Once you get this new activity securely rooted in your post vacation schedule then add another if you like. Remember, you’ll likely have more success by taking small steps rather than trying to make wholesale changes.

What are some of the things that you’d like to try during your break from the office? What is that one thing that you’ll do that’ll make the biggest difference for you over the next 3 months?

Happy exploring!

What would you do if your new boss turned out to be an underwhelming hire? Do you simply tough it out or do you start looking for other opportunities? Well, if you are like many other highly driven, accomplished and talented performers you may do well to choose the door.

I’ve seen it time and again. Highly motivated rock star employees transformed into bundles of self doubt and frustration by new bosses who have half the talent. Have you ever felt the sting of having to report to someone who not only has less ability but deems others with more talent a threat? Not fun is it? Sadly, it’s more common than you think.

Recruiting Lemonade

The big problem is with recruitment, particularly when a board committee that is quite removed from operations makes the hiring decision. I never cease to be amazed at some of these hiring decisions. Many boards, for example, tend to ignore warning signs because they simply don’t want to see them. This is due in part because people invest part of themselves in the leaders they decide on and they want to believe their choice was as close to perfect as possible. No matter what the sector, I’ve seen this type of ‘mystical thinking’ underscore many a disappointing hire.


So what are the risks of remaining in this type of situation? In my work with many talented men and women there are a number of the common themes:

  1. New boss could develop jealousy or resentment towards you and your skill set. Again, this is not uncommon as many new leaders can be very concerned about appearances and ‘measuring up‘ and may perceive you as a threat. Unless they have truly good leadership instinct, they won’t relish having folks with superior skills around them.
  2. Related to the above, I’ve observed the unfortunate dynamic of the new boss competing with those he or she deems more competent. This is surely a road to hell which can lead to you being demoted, demoralized, threatened or ‘outplaced’ due to ‘restructuring’.
  3. A sad but frequent theme I see is talented men & women’s self esteem taking a hit. Here’s one scenario. You start off wondering how anyone so incompetent could have been hired. Over time, and particularly if the lemonade boss treats you unprofessionally, this can lead to you questioning your ability. Eventually you begin to believe that your skills and accomplishments are worth much less than they really are. You begin to accept as whole and true this misperception of your talent.
  4. Other risks include a loss of motivation and increasing disengagement. Poor managers are the single most common reason why people leave their jobs.
  5. You may become increasingly frustrated and/or discouraged especially if your prior boss was also a mentor. The lack of respect and learning potential you feel the new boss provides can be the nail in the coffin for you.

Of course, if you are the supervisor of a struggling new leader, you need to address the situation immediately! Begin by identifying the areas where the new hire is in need of training or support and provide this. Continuing to allow the leader to lead without these supports is a sure-fire recipe for burnout, frustration and attrition amongst the other staff.

If you work in a situation where your new boss’s superiors are either not open to feedback, or it’s too risky to provide this, get out. It likely won’t get better. And hey, there might be no time like the present to chart a new adventure! Or, you can choose to stay in a compromised situation and potentially suffer all that that might bring.

What would you do?

Welcome to summer! Here we are in the midst of July already and for many of you, you’re either on vacation or will soon be. A great time to unplug, unwind and press the reset button. It’s also a great time to give some thought to your personal sustainability. Are you continually stressed at work? Are you taking good care of yourself? Are you really happy at work? If not, vacation is a good time to begin swirling these questions around.

Nasty Stats

According to the Sun Life Canadian Health Index, 60% of Canadian employees have three or more unhealthy behaviours that put them at risk for physical or mental health issues. Yikes. That’s a scary number, but no surprise. Effective, comprehensive personal and professional wellness programs are still fairly uncommon. This is in spite of a steadily growing body of research that shows a large return on investment. One US study showed that for every $1 spent on wellness programs, medical costs fall by about $3.27 and absenteeism costs fall by about $2.73.

It’s Up to You

While it would be great to work for a company that provided a great personal and professional sustainability program, few folks do. Fewer still actually work for people who model and demonstrate such values through their leadership. This is why it pretty much remains up to you to take action.

5 Reset Questions

So, at some point chilling by the pool or while hiking to the lake, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is it at home or work that I am putting up with that is sucking my energy or causing me endless frustration?
  2. What are 2 or 3 things that I can do to begin to address this?
  3. How will I feel and what positive results will I enjoy when I accomplish these things?
  4. What has kept me from making these changes at work or in my life?
  5. How will I feel 3 or 6 months from now if nothing changes and things remain the same? What are the costs of doing nothing?

When would the right time be for you to take the bull by the horns and get your life or career back on track?

Is the era of the unplugged, work-free vacation over?  Is one of the great luxuries of the 21st century truly a vacation without email?  Regrettably, it seems the answer to both questions is ‘yes’.  From talking to clients and others in the business world it seems that almost everyone is planning on staying connected to the office when they travel. But at what cost?

While it’s incredibly tempting to steal a peak at email in between naps on the beach, it’s a bad idea. The reason is simple: when we feel distant from our work – when it seems a million miles away – we are able to think about work in a new way.  As a result, seemingly unworkable problems – that challenge that we’ve been sweating over for months – are suddenly solvable.  Breakthroughs come while taking a break.

Hammocks are Important

Rarely do we realize the ways in which our surroundings constrain our creativity.  When we are always “close” to the problems of work, when we never silence our phones or stop responding to email, we get trapped into certain mental habits.  We assume that there is no other way to think about things, that this is simply how it must always be done.  It’s not until we’re lazily drifting in and out of a delicious nap in a hammock by the sea – when work seems a universe away – that we suddenly find the answer we’ve needed all along.

Surely you’ve had one of those “a-ha” moments when you were dozing off or in the middle of a movie. Whether it was an idea for a school project, a work problem, or a personal issue that had stumped you, those light-bulb moments happen when you’re not thinking about it. Aside from the fact that you earned those vacation days and owe it to yourself to take a mental breather now and then, you also can improve your work performance as a result. A little relaxing can lead to new ideas which can lead to business success.

At your current job or at a past one, did you take some unplugged days on your vacation? Or did the economy, your boss or overall workload impede your chance to really take a break and recharge?

When I’m working with leaders to identify their most important development needs issues like “lack of confidence” or “low self esteem” are surprisingly common.  Typically these come to the fore when new challenges or transitions are faced.  By putting a stop to negative thinking and learning to view things from a positive perspective, many of these men and women have experienced profound impacts on both their health and work life.

Essentially, optimism means taking positive action to overcome setbacks rather than accepting defeat.  When you learn to view challenges or failures as learning experiences, you’ll teach yourself strategies and coping skills that can boost your ability to keep you happy, healthy and productive.

Optimism Can be Learned

Here are some tips to help you learn to see the bright side of any cloud:

1.  Look for the benefit in every situation, especially when you experience setbacks.

2.  Seek the valuable lesson in every problem or difficulty – remember there are no mistakes, only lessons.

3.  Banish negative self talk. Really. This stuff is toxic. Instead learn to recognize the triggers to this type of talk so that you can learn to redirect your thoughts in a positive direction.

4.  When you find yourself beating yourself up with negative self-talk or worry, stop and say, “No” and then revisit things from an encouraging angle.

5.  Choose to put a positive spin on it, whatever it is.

6.  Never assume you can’t do something.  Take issue with these beliefs.

7.  Don’t take setbacks personally; take responsibility but recognize the impact of external factors and circumstances.

8.  Think about your strengths and achievements and then write down some related affirmations, such as ‘I am capable’.  Review these several times a day.

9.  Practice reacting positively to new situations.  In time, it will become a habit.

When it comes to leadership development and success, it is the “soft” stuff that is usually the root cause of the “hard” stuff.  So next time you find yourself falling into a mental rut, do yourself a favour and give your optimism muscle a workout…and keep flexing!

Despite all the rhetoric, books, resources and money thrown at organizational change efforts, most fall flat.  Studies show us that fully two-thirds fail.  This stat is both shocking and depressing, especially given the human costs.  In my business I have witnessed the wreckage and body bags of many a haphazard change process.

It’s not that I don’t believe that change isn’t important.  It is in fact vital to the lasting success of any business or organization.  It’s just that it’s often handled very poorly simply because the human element is overlooked.

Here are some things ‘not to do’ that, regrettably, I’ve seen repeated over and over:

1.  Not engaging all your staff.  People who haven’t been involved at the ground level will have difficulty with buy in.

2.  Making all change decisions at the executive level, or worse, if you’re the boss, making all decisions yourself.

3.  Not sharing information about the need for change.  In fact, it’s vital to create a shared vision for corporate change.

4.  Expecting that change will happen quickly.  It doesn’t.  It can take years to do properly.

5.  Telling people that they have to change and that they have no choice.

6.  Sending staff on a ‘change workshop’ and expect change to occur.

7.  Not honoring the past and the people who’ve been behind past success.

8.  Expecting that people should simply “accept and move on”.

9.  Not giving your staff time to vent and share concerns.

10. Demoting or otherwise under-utilizing your most talented people in the new structure.

I know that many of you have been through a few bungled change management processes.  What have been some of the mistakes that you’ve seen or experienced?

I find it fitting that I am writing this from a tiny cafe deep in the labyrinth of Hong Kong’s SoHo District. I arrived a few days ago as part of my recent push to expand my business into China.  Ironically, it just dawned on me that I am doing exactly that which I am writing about – taking a risk and consciously tempting failure.  It also struck me how these two former enemies of mine have become such good companions over the years.  Like many leaders and entrepreneurs, I have learned that risk and failure are the progenitors of success.

Much has been written about success, from Tom Peter’s “In Search of Excellence” to Steven Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People”.   Now the new fixation in management thinking seems to be about failure, and it is here that I think we have really struck gold. The April issue of Harvard Business Review is devoted entirely to failure and is actually titled “The Failure Issue”.

Failure Begets Success

The basic argument is that success and failure are in fact not polar opposites: you often need the second to enjoy the first.  Indeed, much of my work focuses on helping business leaders to stick their necks out so that they can realize quite different and improved results.  Certainly the most common fear that I hear of from clients is that of failure.  But it is failure that proves to be grist for the richest vein of learning. Learning from failure can be the engine of startling innovation and creativity.  It took Thomas Edison 9000 experiments to concoct the successful version of the light bulb.  While this may be an extreme example, the key is that learning from failure begets extraordinary accomplishments.

Limiting Fallout

Individuals and companies will do themselves no favors by embracing failure if they do not learn from it or how to manage it.  Failing small and failing fast is a useful strategy.  By placing small bets, as opposed to riskier larger ones, you or your company can limit the downside of failure. Going down multiple avenues, ruling out those that lead to dead ends, and developing further those that prove promising is what leads to breakthroughs and previously unimagined possibilities.

When I first came to China several years back it was simply as a tourist.  After experiencing the palpable and rocketing energy of entrepreneurialism in Shanghai, I realized that something very powerful was happening here in Asia. I knew that I wanted to become part of this amazing phenomenon.  A combination of small steps, experimentation and analysis have lead to promising partnerships and opportunity to impact corporate culture in a way and on a scale I never imagined.  Risk and failure have served me well.

What roles do risk and failure play in your life or business?  How do they play out?  Is it a limiting or freeing role?

How did you start your day today?  Did you rise and shine?  Or rise and whine?  Did you leap or drag yourself out of bed?  Were you ready and alert for all the opportunities of the day?  In that first hour of the day, the choices you make can set you up for a stellar day…or a stinker.

Most people wouldn’t consider leaving their home undressed, yet many leave the house  mentally “nude” and unprepared for the day ahead.  Whether you scurry around getting yourself or family ready or simply go on autopilot, starting the day without any sort of mental intention is like leaving it all to the fates.  Bad or tired moods persist, frustration can easily build, and at the end of the day you come home tired, cranky and wasted.  Sound familiar? So why not break the cycle and choose something different?

The key to having a great day begins first thing in the morning.  Making choices to do things that launch you in a positive way can build a sense of calm, control and optimism that can carry you throughout your day.

Here are some of the choices I’m talking about:

1.  Get a good night’s sleep. There’s no remedy for not enough shut-eye.  Schedule sleep as you would a business meeting or an appointment with your doctor.  Stick to the schedule.

2.  Wake up early enough so that you have some time for yourself, even if it’s only 10 minutes.  This isn’t always an easy habit to begin but it’s worth the rewards.  This means waking up earlier than your spouse or the kids or by simply carving out some time for your self.

3.  Visualize. Spend a few minutes in bed before getting up.  Spend a minute or two visualizing, with your eyes closed, how you want your day to go.  What are you doing?  Who are you with?  Where are you headed?  How is work going?  Picture the best case scenarios.  Many people wake up thinking, “ugh, another day”.  Retraining your mind to think positively about the day ahead can change your whole perspective.

4.  Set a non work goal or intention for the day. Make a goal for meeting your own personal needs. Ask yourself what you need – a neck rub, a walk, a few minutes with a magazine, a new gym bag, whatever – and then make it a goal to make sure that you get that at some point throughout the day.

5.  Make your bed. This seems like such a simple thing but it brings order to your life.  Create a ritual of making your bed each morning so that it represents this feeling of organization.

6.  Ditch the news. It’ll just bring you down and why do this to yourself at the beginning of the day?  Instead spend some time reading something that interests or inspires you.  Whatever it is, a favorite blog or magazine, take a few minutes each morning to read and focus on it.

7.  Get some exercise. Although its sometimes a hard push, its very beneficial to exercise in the morning before you start your day.  Whether it’s yoga, hitting the gym or just a series of short stretches or a quick walk around the block, you should make time for this and make yourself get in the habit of doing it.

Follow these choices diligently for 2 – 3 weeks to train condition your mind and body.  By this time, if not sooner, you could well be noticing a marked improvement in both your energy level and attitude throughout the day.

Tired of shuffling along bumper to bumper or sitting on transit for 2 hours a day?  Frustrated with not getting enough uninterrupted time at the office to even string two thoughts together?  Feeling the heat as deadlines approach?  Needing a reprieve from the daily grind of office politics?  Then telecommuting could be for you!

While many benefits have been extolled over the years, here are some that you may not have thought of:

  1. Greener & shorter commute – the few feet you’ll have to walk to your kitchen or living room table will have much less environmental impact than any drive or bus ride.  If you drive, working at home 1 day per week could reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by 20%.  Another bonus is that you’ll enjoy an extra hour or two that you’d otherwise be in transit.
  2. Wear what you want – no muss, no fuss…show up as you like…with impunity!
  3. Get more done – other than the odd interruption from a loved-starved pooch or pussy cat, you’ll have lots of clear headspace to produce that opus of a report.
  4. Get other stuff done – in between opus writing, you’ll be able to get a few things done around the house, such as that mammoth pile of laundry, the 3-day-old stack of dishes, or taking your kid to their medical appointment.  Tying up these loose ends will feel great.
  5. Chill atmosphere – You can blast your favourite music, take your laptop out to the patio, get some fresh air and enjoy some sunshine while you work away.
  6. Low drama – alone at home for the day, you’ll avoid office skirmishes and any Oscar-worthy performances of colleagues.
  7. Work how you want – nap, go for a run, stare at the ceiling…whatever it takes to stoke the fires of creativity, you’ll be free to do, no questions asked.

When I look at these and the other benefits that telecommuting has provided my clients over the years it seems like a slam dunk.

Here are some tips to make it work:

Let your colleagues know well in advance your home days.  This will help others plan and coordinate with you to make it work.

Let your boss or team know how to reach you.  You don’t want to be that person MIA when your input is needed.

Plan ahead what you want to accomplish.  This will help you hold your focus and accomplish what you need to.

Whether it’s one day a month or once a week, working from home — away from the swirling vortex of the office — can be just the break you need to get things done.

What’s been your experience with telecommuting?  What other benefits have you realized?  Any particular do’s or don’ts that you can recommend?

By Kathy Lynn, Parenting Expert,

Maria storms into work, smacks her purse down on the desk and heads down the hall in search of her first cup of coffee of the day. We can tell that she’s already had a bad morning. We’ve been in her shoes and guess her mood is not going to change today.

According to recent research, how the day starts has an impact on the rest of the day. Don’t you love it when we have research to prove self-evident truths?

Studies show that the mood you bring to work sets the tone for the rest of day and interestingly, events at home or on the way to the office have a greater impact than whatever happens once we’re at work.

When a person arrives at work in a good mood it has a positive impact and it translates into a 14.3% improvement in productivity. If we can help our employees to arrive at work in a good mood, it is worth it.

One of the most common causes of bad mornings is children. Parents trying:

  • to quickly wrestle two-year-old Justin into his clothing,
  • to help eight-year-old Melissa find her back pack,
  • agonizing as eleven-year-old Nicola just can’t decide what to wear and
  • attempting to get sixteen-year-old Julian out of bed.

When the parents in your company understand basic child raising skills, it will have a short and long term positive impact on the workplace.

Short-term is obvious. When your employees have a good and successful morning, they will arrive at work in a good mood, ready to work and you will experience that lovely 14.3% increase in productivity.

Long-term, the children who are being raised effectively will be the best employees in the future.  They will know how to take responsibility, how to problem-solve, how to grow and change.

Today, with the unemployment rate sitting at 8%, finding and keeping employees has taken on a new importance. Young recruits expect that their personal as well as professional development needs will be part of the benefit package. Many of them are young parents.

So it pays to make parenting skills training presentations with follow-up support services for the parents and grandparents an integral part of your workplace wellness program. That will aid in retention of quality employees who appreciate your recognition of their parenting role. Beyond Childcare is just such a program.

Now let’s be really clear here. The bottom-line responsibility for raising kids lies on the shoulders of the parents, but they need support, encouragement and training.

When parents are more skilled and knowledgeable about the job of parenting:

  • they will be more effective both at home and at work,
  • they will arrive most mornings ready to work,
  • they will not be constantly distracted worrying about their kids,
  • they will have a strong handle on both jobs.

Everyone wins!


What strategies does your company use to help parents parent more effectively? What would you recommend?

A few weeks ago at a workshop I did in Ottawa, I had the good fortune of presenting my Engage 360 Program to a number of local and national organizations. Sponsored by Volunteer Canada and Volunteer Ottawa it was a pleasure to present to such a diverse group.

As part of the workshop, we brainstormed ways managers can provide recognition to employees and colleagues effectively and without cost.  Here are some of the great ideas:

  • Give genuine and sincere thank yous;
  • Inquire about and show an interest in employee’s non-work life;
  • Give your full attention (i.e. stop doing other tasks) and pay attention when someone is speaking with you;
  • Remember people’s given or preferred names;
  • Host a meet and greet regularly (i.e. quarterly) to create opportunities for staff to engage informally;
  • Share food i.e. potlucks;
  • Give credit for other’s contributions.  This can be doubly powerful if given publicly like in a newsletter or a team meeting;
  • Acknowledge team or individual successes in the minutes of meetings;
  • Make eye contact with whom you are speaking;
  • Acknowledge key employee dates like birthdays, anniversaries, etc.;
  • Send emails of thanks or acknowledgement and be sure to cc relevant others i.e. Executive Director, manager;
  • Write thank you letters or make quick phone thank you calls;
  • Have regular one-on-one check-ins with direct reports;
  • Celebrate milestones such as the completion of projects, initiatives or major tasks;
  • Profile people, events and accomplishments in newsletters;
  • Do regular walk-abouts to connect with your team and others.

Special thanks to Indigo Holley for the great note taking and follow-up which allowed me to offer this list.

I’m interested in hearing about some of the things that you or your company do to recognize others and their work that don’t cost money.  What can you add to this list?  What things make the biggest difference?

Sometimes a step backwards is a step forwards.  Recently a friend, Karen, called me for a long overdue catchup over a drink.  She had mentioned to me that she had some exciting but perhaps surprising job news to tell me about.  Was Karen going to inform me of another innovative new HR initiative?  I was intrigued.

Seeing Karen for the first time in a few months was great.  Her always pleasant and bubbly personality seemed extra vibrant.  That something good was happening was obvious.  I couldn’t wait to hear her news.  Then she dropped a bombshell.  She had left her senior level management role to take on a much more junior, front-line position with a new company.

My shock was not that I thought this to be a ‘wrong’ move.  I just thought it unusual for a high performer like Karen to veer from the linear career trajectory that she was on.  Well, it turns out that for years Karen had priorities outside of her career that she hadn’t been able to act on and she decided to change all that.

Happiness is Doing What Matters Most…Now.

Karen still continues to do work that she loves and remains an HR professional.  Now though she gets much more face time with company employees as a trainer, mentor and coach.  This is opposed to having to focus mainly on administrative tasks in her prior role.  She now works from 9-5 instead of the 60 plus hours she was logging and she can now turn work ‘off‘ when she heads home.  She’s now finding she has much more energy and has a renewed passion for the work that she does.

This has all lead to Karen now having the time, energy and focus to do some of the other things that she’s long wanted to do.  Among other things, she’s writing a book, attending art classes and spending more time with her friends and family.

I have to say that I really admire Karen for the decision that she made.  She chose to ‘sacrifice’ money and position for doing what really matters most to her now. While her former job as a senior HR director had been fulfilling, Karen recognized that other priorities needed to take precedent.

Can you relate to Karen’s situation?  Tired of the demands of your senior role and the pace you have to run at?  Are you ready to do more of the things that you love but have long put aside?

You are sitting there wondering how it came to be September so darn quickly.  Wasn’t it just May?  The summer was fun.  Lots of friends, family, late nights and several weeks off here and there.  But now the fall season is upon you.  Shorter daylight hours and a quicker pace at work is setting in fast.  But you don’t feel ready for the break neck pace quite yet.  What do you do?

Plan your next vacation. Schedule your next vacation even though it may seem far away.  Research shows that having your next vacation planned will give you something to look forward to and help you feel better about gearing up.

Attitude adjustment. Focus on the positive about being back at full speed.  Think about the exciting projects you’ll be involved in, the opportunities to apply creative solutions, and the new adventures to come.  Studies show that your state of mind can have a big impact on your work life.  Positive and optimistic attitudes lessen the likelihood of work related problems and you’ll be more energetic and calm.

Post summer memories. Put up pictures of your favourite summer escapades.  Do up a vacation screen saver on your computer.  Bring in a few mementos, such as that jar of beach sand.  These will help extend your fond memories and help calm you when things get hectic.

Challenge yourself. Give yourself something to look forward to by signing up for a few classes or workshops.  These will also give you the double satisfaction of personal growth as well as make work feel more rewarding.

Reconnect. Get in touch with colleagues and clients that you haven’t seen for a while.  Catch up on each other’s summers and get a little networking done at the same time.

Personal sustainability. Plan your weekly schedule with lunch breaks and time for exercise.  These two powerful sources of health and recharge often go by the wayside once things heat up.  These are the last things you want to give up.

If you find that you are still experiencing the humdrums about work, it could be a sign of a more serious problem that is worth investigating.  Take time to explore why you might be feeling nonplussed about work.  It might be helpful to speak to a manager or even an outside professional for additional support and resources that can help you pinpoint the root of the matter.  For most though, a little planning and a few positive steps can help you get back into the swing of things and have you looking forward to all the great things you’re involved in at work.

Ignore nasty behaviour at your own peril.

Bully behavior robs a place of creativity and sucks morale dry.  Productivity dives, people take stress leaves, and people leave.  In spite of many victims and body bags at reception, all too often nasty behavior at work is ignored or not dealt with until the situation has caused serious collateral damage.  By ignoring bully behaviour, corporations risk lawsuits and other legal maladies.  Yet, I never cease to be amazed at how reticent senior leaders seemingly are towards dealing directly with nasty behavior.

Why is it ignored?

Simply put, difficult people are difficult to deal with.  Often the last thing anybody wants to do, including supervisors, is deal head-on with toxic behaviour.  It isn’t fun.  Sometimes it’s just easier to engage in magical thinking, convincing yourself that it will all work itself out.  Denial is another strategy often employed.  It is so much easier to minimize the harmful impact than deal with it. In other cases, I’ve seen otherwise talented but overloaded leaders struggle to implement even band-aid solutions.  Unfortunately, dealing with a workplace bully can take a huge amount of time and considerable effort.  But deal with it you must.  The costs are simply too great to your employees and your organization.

Here’s what to do:

1.  Stop excusing the behaviour.  Deal with it.  Yes, it is time.

2.  Develop a plan and begin documenting the situation.

3.  Give feedback to the person.  They need to know that their behavior is unacceptable.

4.  If no change happens, start a progressive discipline procedure and document, document, document.  Yes, it can be a lot of work.  But your team and the bottom line will be much better for it in the end.

5.  If the bully is the CEO or Executive Director, the Board of Directors needs to take action.  People in these senior most leadership positions can do irrepairable damage to teams and individuals.  For the BOD not to take action is to condone the bad behaviour and further compromise the organization.

6.  Get the person Executive Coaching. With the exception of the most brutish people, many ‘difficult’ folks can be helped to mend their ways.  Set clear behavioral goals at the outset and monitor progress regularly.  Sometimes people can be unaware of their harmful impact on others and can learn to play much nicer with others.  Sometimes the person can simply be in a poor job match.  The coaching process can help uncover and resolve such issues.

7.  If the behaviour does not change, do not give up.  Assess whether or not this person is truly an asset.  As this person’s supervisor, know that what you see or hear about is likely the tip of the iceberg. At this point, it is likely that the person needs to be exited from your organization.

I’m curious to know about your experiences.  Have you ever had to deal with a bully at work?  Have you ever been in a situation where little was done to deal with the situation?  How did this feel and how did it impact the office climate?

There is no shortage of information out there.  All sorts of books, videos and podcasts provide you with information about anything you want.  So why is it that so many of us, when it comes to changing our behaviour, fail?  I figure the problem has to do with an elephant…a rather unruly one.


This elephant was depicted well in a recent article by Margaret Wente in the Globe and Mail article, Taming My Elephant and Yours.  Based on the work of psychologist Jonathan Haidt, the argument is that behaviour change around things like eating, exercise, and saving money can be incredibly difficult because of how our brains are wired.  Wente describes our conscious reasoning self as being like a rider on an elephant.  The elephant, on the other hand, is the emotional, primal, and older part of our brain that can easily override the commands or wishes of the rider.

Bad Elephant.

In business, pernicious myths abound that might keep your elephant fat, happy, and firmly in control.  The first one being that if you were really a good leader, you’d be able to figure out whatever problem you have on your own.  In other words, you’d simply be able to direct the elephant at will.  Another, more personal belief/myth, is that if you were a really capable person, you’d be able to overcome any challenge and make your elephant jump through any hoop.  Have you ever dealt with these?  I have.

I’ve observed many people buying into these myths, most unknowingly.  Sadly, many corporate training programs reinforce this.  The promise goes something like this, “attend this workshop or read this book and you, or your employee, will become a better leader/motivator/communicator/etc/etc/etc”…magically!  If only it were so easy…


Elephant Management.

Staying motivated and getting the results you want is something a workshop, book, video or podcast simply can’t give you.  While helpful, these tools can’t constantly help you fine tune your efforts along the way.  They can’t provide you critical feedback in real time in real situations you face.  They can’t help you learn how to manage your elephant as it resists your desires.  How many times have you gone back to work after your training session and thought, “Well that was nice…but now how in the heck am I going the apply this?”

You need more than just information to bust through resilient behaviour patterns and get the elephant in control.  You need to partner with an expert.  You need someone to help you stay motivated and inspired through challenging times when the elephant is trying to get the better of you.  I am not saying that books and information in all their varied forms are a bad thing.  Quite the opposite.  I’m simply saying that partnering with an expert, like a seasoned coach, is about learning to apply those newly learned ideas to your personal or professional world, day in and day out while keeping the elephant, or your old behaviours, in check.  It is really about getting results more efficiently, quickly and with less stress.

What has kept you from accomplishing your goals in the past?  Has there been an unruly elephant blocking the way?

Are you ready to get your elephant to heel?

If you or someone you know has been suffering emotionally, financially and spiritually in a nasty and unhealthy work environment, I strongly recommend that when you leave this toxic situation, you do so with good sense.  This way, you’ll depart with as few scars as possible. Here are seven things you can do to make this break as painless as possible.

  1. Make a plan. Plan your countdown to freedom. Realizing that you are simply not going to get through them all, prioritize remaining projects and tasks.  While you don’t want to leave your current employer high and dry, you have to be realistic about how much you can get done in your remaining time.
  2. Have a few discussions with a coach, friend or mentor. Clarify why the current job is not a good fit and what you have learned from this. This can help you avoid the same sinkholes in the future.
  3. Seek feedback. Even in the nastiest of situations, it can be worth your while to seek input about any skills you might need to learn to have more success in the future.  You have nothing to lose.
  4. Decide on when to give notice. Sometimes it is best to simply leave the minimum two week notice, or whatever your contract requires, if you think that others in your workplace will be doling out extra heaps of nastiness — especially for you.
  5. Keep an upbeat perspective. Knowing that there will be light at the end of the tunnel will help you to deal better with the travails of your soon-to-be-over job.
  6. Don’t burn bridges. I know that while it might feel immediately wonderful to tell the sociopath you work for what you think about them, it rarely pays off.  As evil as that person is, the world of work is a small one. The world outside likely won’t understand the situation and you could come out looking less than rosy.  Besides, poking a snarling, vicious dog with a stick can result in deep flesh wounds.
  7. Leave some time in between. Celebrate. Even if only a few days, have some clear time between leaving the old before beginning the new. Do something special.  Stay a night in that luxe hotel, spend the weekend with the kids, or head out on a fishing expedition. Congratulate yourself on choosing to make a difference for yourself, your spouse and your family.  You being happy at work will spill over in benefits to them.

How have you escaped a tough situation?  What steps did you take to retain your sanity while counting down the time?  What words of wisdom might you have for someone struggling in tough situation?

A recovering but still weak job market and increased workloads have placed fresh demands on working parents who want more time for their kids.  What’s a Mom or Dad to do?

  1. Be there for the big stuff: Put important events such as the kid’s recitals, sports events and outings in your schedule.  Being there for the right stuff can go a long way in the long run.
  2. Family master schedule: Put each family member’s activities on one calendar so you can see at a glance what’s happening and so you can plan ahead.
  3. Mealtimes: Make meals sacrosanct. These are critical times to connect with the family and where ideas, issues, and plans can be aired.
  4. Just say no: Consider which activities and projects are mission critical and which you can turn down in order to spend more time with the family.
  5. Play first, work later: Unplug until the kids are in bed, then work afterwards.
  6. Time box: If you absolutely have to work while the kids are up, or on a weekend, set a specific block of time aside that you will be working.  Stick to the time frame. This way the family will know reliably when you will and will not be available.
  7. Speak of family at work: It’s OK to let co-workers and bosses know that life outside of work is important to you.

Try these out and then ask your family for feedback.  See if they are getting more of the time they need with you.  Are there other places where you might be able to find more time?  What strategies do you use to squeeze more time in with your family?

To me, the omission is glaring.  When the business case for creating an engaging workplace is discussed, a very basic rationale is usually overlooked.  While fostering a workplace where respect, integrity, openness, caring and fairness is profitableit is simply the right thing to do.

Eight often-cited, well-researched benefits of creating a work culture where people feel happy and engaged are as follows:

1. Improved customer service and loyalty

2. Higher productivity

3. Ability to attract top talent

4. Decreased absenteeism

5. Decreased turnover

6. Decreased risk of adversarial labour-management relations

7. Decreased risks of employee litigation

8. Decreased health care costs

Indeed, these all make good business sense.  All have been shown to contribute to increased profitability and growth.  I get that these connections to the altar of profit have to be demonstrated.  I just wonder why the arguments need to rest solely on a financial connection.

In our lifetime, we will spend more time at work then any other place.  Clearly the workplace is an extremely important environment for our personal and financial well being.  Workplaces that empower and inspire benefit workers in many ways beyond the financial.  It is time that these benefits – increased job satisfaction, morale, motivation, less stress and better health, to name a few – be allowed to stand on their own. Creating environments where people thrive is simply the right thing to do…oh, and it’ll be more profitable too.

Getting the Most From the Beach

You’ve worked bloody hard and soon it’ll be time to take your vacation.  You’ve got it all mapped out…the resort, activities for the kids, an international data package for your mobile and your laptop…what could be missing?  Well, likely lots.  Working while on vacation can rob you of pretty much every benefit unless carefully planned.

Last month I discussed the benefits of getting away from it all…stuff like improved creativity & performance, deepened bonds with loved ones and stress reduction. So is it really necessary for you to lug work with you?  You know that your contribution is important but will the fate of the company hinge on you working or not?

Unplugged is nirvana

To really get the most from your escape, make it a real escape.  Two weeks in advance, let your team and customers know that you will be unplugged until your return.  This will give them time to get their questions or requests ready prior to your departure.  Chances are that as soon as you let them know they’ll begin to pour on the requests for your time…it always seems to work this way.  Let everyone know that you’re willing to put in a bit of extra time to make preparations for your departure, but once you’re gone, you’re gone. Stand your ground. My experience is that once this is made clear, everyone else adjusts.  Now you are truly set for a clean, refreshing break from it all.

If unplugged isn’t an option

If you absolutely have to be in touch with folks back in the salt mine or have to crack some rocks while away, here are some rules that can help you and your loved ones get the most:

  • Set designated times that you will put aside for work, such as every other morning from 7-10am. If you don’t set parameters, work will simply expand into whatever time is available.
  • Be calm and certain. Setting specific times will provide you with a sense of relief knowing that work will get done instead of becoming a source of free floating anxiety.  You’ll also be able to keep vacation and work separate, which is really the goal.
  • Let your family and work colleagues know when you will be working. This way your spouse and kids will know when their fave playmate will be available.  Your workmates will know when you’ll be reviewing their emails and taking calls.
  • Plan ahead to ensure you’ll have all the necessary info and resources that you’ll need to do your work while away.  Nothing worse than forgetting to bring that report that you’re supposed to be analyzing.
  • Stick to your plan. If you planned to do a little bit of work each day, keep that up.  It’ll be better than stressing out by trying to cram it all in on the last few days.
  • When work is done, its done…now go play! Remember, the whole idea is to recreate and re-energize…don’t let yourself get sucked into the never-ending sink hole of work demands.

For those of you that have struggled but succeeded in getting away unplugged, what were the barriers?  How did you overcome them?  What were the benefits?

Life, Loss & The World of Work

With several of my near and dear currently experiencing major health problems, I have been reminded of just how precious life is.  Many of us realize this in one shape or form along the way and at various times in our lives.  That’s just life.  What I don’t get though is how so many professionals, despite periodic wake up calls, still choose to remain in vastly compromised working circumstances.

More time at work than anywhere else…

The simple fact is that you will devote more time to your work life than to any other aspect.  So why shouldn’t you strive to have this be as good as situation as possible?  I’m not saying that sacrifices don’t ever need to be made or that work life should be always enjoyable.  That isn’t real life either.  The problem is when work begins to suck you dry…and you’re not even aware of it…or worse, you are aware of it but still decide to do nothing.

Downward thinking

I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of individuals caught in situations that are simply unhealthy for them.  At the base of it seems to be a common element of an acceptance of their fate.  Perhaps you have come to feel that this is all that you are worth or somehow are deserving of the poor treatment you receive. Maybe you have come to mistakenly believe that this is how work life simply is and that no other place would be different.  Or you might believe that there would simply be no other opportunities available to you.

Hope is change

I’ve had the very good fortune to be able to work with many folks experiencing these types of career discouragement.  And I’ve had the very good fortune in seeing the fundamental shifts that happen for them when they learn to change their circumstances. Being transported from places of deep, profound dissatisfaction to places of happiness, productivity and health – a place of thriving.  This is what happens when one discovers hope; when one discovers and accepts that there are more options.

This is what happens when you are provided the tools, support and encouragement to make the changes necessary to get to where you truly want to be.

If you feel unhappy at work, why is this so?  What are you putting up with that is holding you back?  What are the consequences on you of maintaining the status quo?

Life is short.  Make it work for you.

Over-performing Leaders do Damage

You are a senior leader.  You’re smart, curious and capable.  You often work far beyond what would be considered regular hours.  You get lots done.  You’ve made it clear to your team that you don’t expect them to work the hours you do.  Think this is ok?  Think again. You may be doing more harm than good.

Working incredibly long hours can set the organization and your team up for failure by depriving team members of development opportunities and by creating a climate of unrealistic expectations.

Staff see, staff do

Even though you have made it clear to your staff team that you don’t expect them to work in similar fashion, the fact is that they likely feel pressure to do the same.  Remember that behaviour speaks louder than words and the unwritten rule is to follow your boss’s lead.  So they too begin giving up evenings and weekends to focus on work…family and outside interests be damned.

Difficult shoes to fill

By working insane hours you also create within your business an expanding level of expectation about what your position entails and is responsible for.  If you choose to put in 60 – 80 hour weeks, the business will simply absorb what you accomplish as the standard.  This might be OK while you remain, but what if you decide to leave?  Pity the new person coming in trying to fill your shoes…unless they too have little interest in life outside of work.

As discussed in my January blog article, good succession is about ongoing development that stretches the capacity of your team, particularly of those potential candidates right next to you.  But if you are over-performing, you are likely and unwittingly limiting their exposure to these very experiences that will grow them.  Remember, you got to where you did, in part, because your leader shared opportunities with you that challenged your skill set.

Key relationships lost

Another important piece that will suffer, should you depart, are the strategic alliances and critical external relationships that you so carefully developed. Much of the equity that you have established with these key players will leave with you, leaving your teammates and successors at a loss to identify and re-establish them.

It’s not your fault…entirely…

Organizations can directly or indirectly support over-performance. Many organizations simply don’t have the mechanisms, risk assessment techniques, or the will, to support their leaders in developing sustainable practices. As seen above, this can be very short sighted and not in the long term best interest of the organization. Unfortunately, more often than not, over-performing is reinforced and even expected, creating a significant risk for the organization.

Path to burnout

Keen, capable leaders are brought up through the ranks with an exclusive focus on work…very few are taught the importance of developing a sustainable lifestyle.  When was the last time you took a work-life balance or wellness course?  My experience has been that many over-performing leaders have systematically learned to value work at the expense of life outside of work.  The importance of having an active and fulfilling life outside of work is simply not understood or appreciated.  It is no wonder that Statistics Canada recently reported a 33% increase in long term disability claims due to mental health issues such as stress and burnout in the last two years.

Three good reasons to rethink

Neither your team nor your organization will win if you work insane hours, even if you don’t mind.  Development of your team will be compromised and your organization runs a risk having so much information invested in one person’s head.  Most importantly, you might well be risking your health.

I’m curious to know if you have ever worked under an over-performer and had to clean up after they left?

Believe it or not, a surprising number of people don’t use their vacation time…In fact, a number of people never take vacations!  And now with the advent of our ‘incredible’ technological advances, when we do take vacations, we often bring work along with us, essentially bringing along what it is that we’re trying to escape.  Hmmm…

This is really unfortunate for a number of reasons:

  • Vacations stoke creativity – Creativity needs feeding and vacations serve up a buffet like no other.  A good vacation can help us to reconnect with ourselves and re-acquaint us with what matters most.  Time away operates as a vehicle for self discovery and helps us to get back to feeling and being at our ingenious best.
  • Vacations beat back burnout – Folks who take regular time to relax are less likely to experience hitting the wall and burning out.  They remain more creative and productive than their overworked, under-rested counterparts.
  • Vacations boost health – Taking regular time off to ‘recharge your batteries’ helps to keep stress levels lower and keep you healthier.
  • Vacations strengthen bonds – Spending time with fave folks and loved ones can do wonders for relationships…helping you to enjoy the good times more and getting you through the tough times better.
  • Vacations boost performance – regular vacations produce psychological benefits that impact your quality of life. This sets a rock solid foundation for higher quality work.

The bottom line is that taking a good amount of time away from the stresses of the workplace and daily life can give you the break you need so that you can return to your life refreshed and better equipped to handle whatever comes your way.

How much time have you had off in the last year?  Have you booked more than one week off this summer?  Are you taking your full vacation and encouraging your staff to do the same?

Magic Carrot Falls From Grace

When a business stalwart like Forbes Magazine says that “Money is not the best motivator” I get optimistic that a turning point has been reached…finally!  I tell you I almost had to pinch myself…

From the article:

There is ample evidence to suggest that money may not be the best way to motivate desirable behavior.  In fact, it may be one of the worst ways…

Emotional sources of motivation are more powerful, and they are best conveyed in an organization through the respect of peers, the admiration of subordinates, the approval of one’s personal network and community and the like.  Money becomes the default motivator because it is measurable, tangible and fungible — and trouble strikes when the prospect of a lot of money becomes the primary goal.  That usually feeds a very self-serving emotion, greed.

It’s all about relationships…

I’m certainly not arguing that decent wages and formal reward & recognition programs don’t have a place, the problems come when they are relied upon solely.  These carrots are great for encouraging short term behavior but rarely fuel long lasting motivation or deep commitment.  Having worked with many a successful and high performing individual I’ve learned that much more is involved.

Lasting motivation comes from a constellation of aspects that comprise a great place to work.  It comes when efforts are acknowledged along the way (see last month’s article Relearning Happiness’, when people are given trust, respect and the training and tools needed to achieve great results.  Leaders who carry a positive attitude, who provide encouragement, and recognize other’s skills and ambitions motivate their teams.  Through being genuinely interested in the wellbeing of their team members, leaders strongly motivate these individuals to contribute back to the company’s wellbeing.

Your take

What do you think?  Do rewards motivate you?  How and when do you like to be rewarded?  Are there any circumstances where rewards de-motivate you?  Please write a comment, I’d love to hear your take.

Going Through the Motions – Mental practice makes perfect

Just because you’re stuck on an airplane doesn’t mean you can’t practice your tennis swing.  Or that guitar virtuoso.  Or prep for that upcoming presentation to your board of directors.

Athletes have long used mental imagery to complement physical practice, and recent research backs up that going though the motions in your head can give a substantial boost to your performance at work too.

Bright and early

Start first thing by taking a few minutes to visualize the day ahead.  Do this when you have as little distractions as possible.  For some this is upon awaking, before the flurry of kids, pets, and the day sets upon you.  The shower is also a great place.  Close your eyes and see yourself having success in your big tasks of the day.  Conjure up the best possible outcomes…nailing your pitch for that new strategic vision or expertly handling those upcoming negotiations.   It only takes a few minutes of your time to get a real leg up on the day’s tasks.

Keep it going

Continue giving yourself boosts throughout the day.  Take quick moments here and there to mentally rehearse of whatever is coming up.  See yourself connecting well with that potential new client or speaking calmly & effectively to that person you need to share some difficult feedback with.  In my former life as a behavior therapist specializing in crisis intervention, this type of mental prep served me well.  It helped me remain the calm front in a hurricane of events…and get the ball moving towards speedy resolution.  

I’ve seen this technique working powerfully in peoples lives at home and work.  While no one knows exactly how it is that visualization, or cognitive rehearsal, works, I suspect it helps in keeping a positive attitude…and attitude is everything.  Once in the habit, you’ll soon wonder why you haven’t been going through the motions all along.


What are the ways that you mentally prepare for upcoming tasks?  What happens when you have no prep time?  Are you at your best?

Employee First…Shareholder Second?

I’ve always believed, with the odd exception, that leadership and organizational culture are two sides of the same coin.  Whether staff is engaged or not is a reflection of the priority they are accorded.  Too often in North America, the maniacal focus on short term quarterly shareholder value all but assures that longer term efforts, such as creating a profitable and positive working culture, go by the wayside.

In contrast, the leaders of India’s biggest and fastest-growing companies take a more internally focused, long-term view and put motivation and developing employees higher on the priority list than short-term shareholder interest.  In Leadership Lessons from India (Harvard Business Review, March 2010) the authors uncover the priorities that make these Asian tigers roar.

Walking the talk…

While many western organizations pay obsequious lip service to how much they value their people, in reality, achieving numbers is often the overwhelming, if not sole, focus.  The alarming growth in disability claims due to mental health issues is only one of many symptoms we have of this here in North America.

In looking at the four top responsibilities of Indian leaders, owner and investor interests ranked last.  When asked to prioritize their key responsibilities, Indian leaders ranked them as follows:

1)  Chief input for business strategy

2)  Keeper of organizational culture

3)  Guide, teacher, or role model for employees

4)  Representative of owner and investor interests

This higher priority placed on keeping the culture and guiding and teaching employees underscores their focus on human capital development.  Again, a reminder that these are the views of the CEO’s of some of the planet’s most profitable and successful companies such as IT services giant HCL and the Tata Group.

Taking HR seriously

Two times as many Indian leaders as US leaders believe that human capital drives business success.  As a result the HR function in India has high visibility with senior management, and its strategy is closely integrated with the firms overall strategy.

81% of the heads of HR of Indian firms reported that the learning function (training & development) was essential to building competitive organizational capabilities, whereas, according to a 2006 survey by the American Society for Training and Development, an astonishing 4% of US chief learning officers held that view of their own operations.

Deep seeded engagement…

To engage employees, these Indian leaders create a sense of social mission that is central to company culture.  Like a growing number of their western counterparts, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is deeply embedded in Indian corporate culture and closely interwoven with strategy.  Employees derive from this a greater sense of purpose and meaning to their work, while providing real benefits to their local and national community.

Indian leaders encourage openness by developing and personally modeling systems that provide transparency, such as 360 degree reviews for all levels of management.  Empowerment is further boosted by enabling communication between all organizational levels and bottom up channels of feedback are encouraged.  Decision making is pushed down through the ranks and investment in training is heavy.

Imagine, if at your place of work, the real engine of business was not just seen as the human brain but also the human heart.  How would it be different?  How would your team show up differently? How would you feel? How much more enjoyable would Mondays be?

Almost from the time we’ve learned to walk we begin to learn how to be unhappy.  So says Dr. Srikumar Rao at a recent conference on workplace happiness and I couldn’t agree more. From that cookie being the ultimate source of our happiness we quickly graduate to that car, fridge, promotion, vacation, etc.  Have you ever noticed that once you got what you wanted, that you were soon yearning for another accomplishment or something more?  The afterglow just doesn’t seem to satisfy as much as anticipated. Rao believes this is because we’ve adopted a flawed model that often leaves us perpetually striving for but never quite finding lasting happiness.

Many of us, I believe, experience lasting happiness as a brass ring that remains stubbornly just out of reach.  Much of our business and personal world revolves around the continual chasing and attainment of goals of one sort or another.   And not that business or personal goals are bad in and of themselves.  It is just that so much of our emotional effort is tied up in their achievement that we may rarely experience lasting feelings of deep down satisfaction.

Undue Influence

In our media saturated world we are up against some strong influences.  Hollywood has a penchant for creating some fairly convincing tales of how to live happily ever after.  The pitch is that if you do or get this you will then live in perpetual bliss.  Advertising employs the same message…if you drink this, you’ll attract the mating pool of your dreams, or, if you wear this you’ll be desirable beyond measure.  If only!  By the time we reach our first jobs, we are well prepared to pursue our work with this mindset.

Shifty Goals

But as we grow and evolve so do our goals and desires.  What once revved us up no longer turns the crank quite the same way.  So we dig in and begin chasing another goal.  As soon as we accomplish one others appear and others change.  And so a vicious cycle of perpetual striving sets in…we begin to ask ourselves if we’ll ever be happy, like in the movies or as diamond ads promise.

T’is the Journey Grasshopper…

Rao offers what many other sage folks have told us, that joy is in the journey.  To experience this you must learn to shift the main focus from goals or outcomes to the process and the actions you take on a daily basis.  Whereas actions are within your control outcomes are rarely guaranteed.  Different outcomes can happen that weren’t anticipated.  Bummer.  As well, the rush of achievement you thought would buoy you longterm can turn out to be fleeting.  So you respond by chasing another goal.  Rao’s solution is that we should instead invest much more heavily in the actions we take and that at the end of the day, if we can say we did our best, then that is what should be savoured.  This way, you control your own sense of wellbeing and success instead of relying on some external variable that might not deliver on the promise.

What do think?  Have you ever found yourself wondering why the goal or thing that you’ve just achieved doesn’t give you the kick you thought it might?  How do you keep yourself mindful or your goals yet pumped and happily engaged on a regular basis?

Stop the swirl, take a moment and maximize your resources


So you’re working harder than ever with fewer resources and yet more is expected. You find yourself wondering how long you can keep it up.  You wonder how you are going to muster the energy to tackle that next big project hurtling your way.  You worry that you might become like Joe down the hall who completely burned out.  Well you are not alone, not by a long shot.

Stress and burnout in the workplace have reached near epidemic levels across all business sectors.  While there is no magic wand to help you deal with this regrettable situation there are things you can do.  So take a deep breath and examine what choices and actions you have to change this situation.  The biggest resource you have in this situation is likely yourself.


An ounce of prevention…


When it comes to dealing with stress and avoiding burnout, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure. Research overwhelmingly shows that finding the right balance between career and personal endeavors drives long-term happiness and workplace productivity. The equation is really quite simple. ‘All work and no play’ will serve as a very poor foundation from which to continually launch yourself into the next big project.


Mother’s Five


Remember some of those things our mothers seemed to endlessly repeat? Well, it turns out they were spot on when it came to what I call the big five: nutrition, family, friends, exercise and sleep. Basic as they are, they still serve as the most fundamental aspects of long-term well-being.

  1. Nutrition: No mystery here.  Eat at least three meals a day with small snacks in between.  Eat healthy.  Limit or eliminate the big burger chains.  Unfortunately in times of high demand these purveyors of nutritionally deficient pap have become all too frequent meal providers. Instead, identify ahead of time which are your best food options.  This will help you avoid the nasty ones.
  2. Family: If you have a spouse, significant other, children or a pet(s), set aside a time of day that belongs to them alone.  If you are single, it then becomes your friends and preferred family that you want to carve out time with. The investment in this area can be invaluable.
  3. Friends: A strong and active social life is key to feeling good and of lasting happiness. Even as you expand or build your career, make sure that you don’t neglect your friends. It may be difficult to actually meet with them but a quick email or phone call can provide a nice boost.  Similarly, social networking sites like Facebook can be a great way to stay in touch.
  4. Exercise: Make exercise nonnegotiable. Think of exercise as something you do without question, like brushing your teeth or going to work. Exercise 3-5 times per week, 20-60 minutes each time.  If you can’t afford a trainer, there are many great apps for your iphone or smartphone that are only a few dollars.
  5. Sleep: 8 hours of sleep each night is what is recommended for adults.  Adequate sleep is essential for optimal functioning and health.  You’ll have more energy and be able to think clearer.

So, take a long hard look at your lifestyle. Does it include healthy doses of the above? If not, what are the costs of doing nothing to change it?  What things do you do to take care of yourself on a daily basis?

Showing meaningful appreciation to your staff does not have to cost money. I would argue that the most important elements of creating a positive culture have less to do with the benefit plan and more with the ‘softer’ sides of the equation. Certainly fair pay, vacation and health benefits are important, and necessary. However, often overlooked are those key aspects of relationship building, or ‘soft skills’, that are critical to showing an individual or team the commitment that you have to them.

First off, let’s dispense with the term ‘soft skills’. This needs to go the way of the dinosaur. Increasingly, companies large or small are coming around to realize the impact to the bottom line that these people skills impart. I prefer to call them ‘primary skills’ which is more reflective of their enormous impact on corporate culture and long-term success.

It Begins With You

Showing staff you care for them should extend beyond the workplace. Work Life Balance programs are critical pieces of the organizational sustainability puzzle. Helping staff to find the right balance between their career and personal endeavours results in a more happy, committed, and effective team capable of delivering sustained high performance over the long-term. Really. But, we will save this discussion for the next article in the series.

Creating the day-to-day glue that binds a successful company together begins with you as a leader. The nature of the relationships that you have with your team is a large contributor to the type of workplace environment that you have together.  Are you someone that they can trust? Do you treat them with respect? Are you fair? Affirmative answers to these types of questions go a long way to establishing a positive culture where staff feel valued. There are both informal and formal things that you can do to help create an environment where people say it’s a great place to work.


Small Touches, High Leverage

Your daily interactions with your team influence more than you might expect. Small touches like simply saying ‘hello’ to your team every day go along way. Occasionally taking the time out to spend a few moments with individual team members also demonstrates your interest. ‘Managing by walking around’ affords you an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with them by creating a leadership style of mutual approachability. Having a boss that people feel OK to share feedback with is a key element of establishing trust.

Notice What’s Working

Recognizing the accomplishments of your team and of individuals regularly builds feelings of loyalty and respect. Unfortunately, attention paid to what needs to be fixed often far outweighs the times an employee hears about what’s right.  Given the workload of so many in business today, quickly zeroing in on the problem is often what time and the current situation seem to demand.

The problem here is that the impact of hearing only what needs to be done differently can be highly discouraging over time and many leaders remain unaware of this.  Don’t get me wrong here. I am not saying that critical feedback isn’t important. It is just that more often than not, it becomes the primary focus of feedback in a working relationship.  So start looking for more of a balance and strive to acknowledge things that have helped out, large or small.  It’ll go a long, long way to building your employees feelings of competence and value.

No Big Bands Please

Speaking of recognition, it doesn’t have to be of the high-octane big band variety either. Most folks don’t want a band to play when they have achieved something. Many simply want a plain and simple ‘thumbs up’. They only need to know you are aware and appreciative of their bit. The same holds true for team recognition. Although a good celebratory party can be fun and effective, simply showing up to employees’ team meetings or work areas and congratulating them is powerful. Too often this is overlooked because of the belief that only a big event will do. Daily or ongoing acknowledgement has by far the most impact on team and individual motivation.

How Am I as a Leader Doing?

Not only is it important for you as a leader to be providing your employees with information they need to have about their performance, it is equally valuable for them to be able to provide you with similar feedback. This shows you are serious about their input.  The information garnered about your leadership style and impact can be crucial to theirs and your success. Knowing your successes and opportunities for growth with each team member allows you the chance to create higher levels of staff engagement. And engaged employees have always been the engine of corporate success.

A good place to begin generating this type of reciprocal feedback is via a 360 feedback tool, of which there are many.  The important piece will then be to take action on the learning.  This action will then go a long way towards creating a workplace where people show up giving their all.

In a Nutshell

As we’ve seen, creating staff value does not have to cost money. Far from it. It is the tone and content of the day-to-day interactions that you share with your team that build a place where people like to come to work. From simple greetings to uncomplicated and ongoing acknowledgement to seeking leadership feedback, these are the raw materials for creating a solid foundation of positive culture. Now what is the return on investment of that?

I’m interested in hearing about some of the things that you or your company do to create a fun and rewarding work environment.  What things do you see as making the biggest difference?  What have you seen in other workplaces that make it a great place to work?

I was on a long drive in my car the other day when it struck me just how lucky I felt not to have to answer my cell phone should it ring. Given that I forgot my headset, the new laws where I live prevent me from answering the phone without one.  I then got to thinking how nice it was to have some unplugged time where I didn’t have to answer or respond to anyone or anything.  I also noticed how many creative and generative ideas I was coming up with regarding my business and various projects.  I then got to thinking how interruptions in the workplace stifle creative thought and hamper productivity.

So often in our workday world we are interrupted constantly by a barrage of beeps, rings, tones or requests.  Have you ever noticed that whenever you seem to just get your head wrapped around something that you are abruptly interrupted by a rarely quiet piece of technology or someone in your environment?  And that when you then get off the call, text or email you find that your brilliant insight has faded or gone into deep hiding?

Time blocking

The truth is distractions cost money.  While being available to clients and co-workers is part of your job, important work requires total attention and focus.  In a recent video from Fast Company, Gina Trapani cites a study that claims that unnecessary interruptions cost the U.S. economy $650 billion dollars in lost productivity per year.  A solution to this is Time blocking, whereby you block out hour long “meetings” with yourself to devote your full attention to important tasks.  We all know that our brain requires uninterrupted time to get into the zone where we are most productive.  Trapani puts this number at the 15 minute mark and it is at this point that we are then able to carry out our best work.

How to do it

Set aside a definite start and end time when you have no meetings planned. Commit to getting your task done within this single block of time. Book a meeting room if you can, forward your phone to voicemail, silence your instant messaging and take with you only those supplies that you need for your task.  Let your assistant or others know that you’ll be unavailable for however long your time block is.  Be sure also to take whatever food or drink you might need to snack on.  Then get set to unleash your full creative mind on that task that has been taking on an ugly odor.

Once you get in the habit, begin looking at your week in advance and schedule blocks of time to deal with your most important to do’s of that week. Certain days may prove to be better than others for time blocking.  Be consistent with this and soon this new productivity boosting habit will become entrenched.

What are some of the ways that you can be your most creative and productive?  How do you create that space within your office?

By Ben Rutledge

The anthem plays, the flag is raised – it is that moment – the one inspired to live every hour of every day of training – year after year.  There I stood with my eight teammates savoring the thrill of Olympic victory, knowing that, in that moment, I, together with my eight teammates, now were considered the best at what we do. The hopes of our nation sealed in gold as each one of us waved at the crowd gathered in Beijing’s hot summer sun.  It was a humbling feeling for me.  Our team had moved past our crushing fifth place defeat at the 2004 Athens Olympics; yet we kept on believing for four more years that we could do it – and we did.

Yes it was wonderful to have the spotlight on us – it felt so good to feel proud of all our hard work. Still, it was surprising to me how quickly that feeling was taken over by one thought – now what?  Should I leave the sport at the top of my game, should I push myself hard for another four years for another shot at gold – am I being greedy wanting more than one Olympic gold medal?  Why haven’t I thought this through?

That’s when I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Doug Brockway.  Doug helped me to better understand all the different qualities and skills, all the support systems, all the challenges, and the opportunities that it took in order for me to have achieved my gold medal.  It was much more than that one moment – it was eight years of moments; Doug helped me to gather them all together so that I could see all the skills and choices I did have to draw on as I began my journey after the gold.

Doug didn’t tell me what I should be doing; he helped me to find my own answers.  I really felt that he honestly wanted me to see how much more I could be.  We worked together for about eight months – you know, it didn’t feel long – it felt necessary.  I had been in a strict routine for the past eight years which meant I had to really stretch my thinking to see my life from a new perspective.

I started my new journey by becoming a public speaker.  That was definitely something that scared me.  Sure, I had been in the public eye as an Olympic athlete, but it is quite another to get up and think that I had anything important to say to other people.  Doug invited me to see that each of us is always evolving – we are never “there”; by accepting my life and myself as ever-changing, I could freely choose to engage in different activities – to be more of who I might not think I am.

I am proud to be working as a rowing coach at the University of British Columbia, to be giving back to my community and to the environment through my work with Clean Air Champions, as well to be giving my time to help promote Right to Play, and enjoying the process of building up a real estate holding company; and still believing I can go for gold in 2012.  Doug has helped me to create a balanced lifestyle in which I can achieve both the big and small goals that I set.  I learned from my public speaking that I enjoy stepping outside my comfort zone; in fact, every day I try to do at least one thing that scares me.

Congratulations to each of the athletes competing in Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympics!  You know what it takes to be great – every choice – every action – your belief in yourself has got you here – and it is what you take with you – that knowledge is and always will be golden –so make a plan and shine on!

– Ben Rutledge

I was reminded of juggling priorities recently when I experienced them crash down around me. It got me thinking about productivity and the tornado of activities we sometimes find ourselves wrapped up in. At times it seems like an ever increasing juggernaut of to – do’s and impossible deadlines. Looking back though, I realized that the slippery slope I was racing down was much of my own doing. Here’s how I got back on track.

Think big pic

It’s easy to lose sight of the forest for the trees. I realized that I had become too lost in the vortex of details and tasks which only increased as I got further from the big pic. By re-focusing on my main priorities, I was able to get clear again on which tasks weren’t pressing, which could be handed off and which simply weren’t strategic. And indeed a great deal of productivity is lost because people can get caught up in directions or efforts that just aren’t essential to the big pic.

See your goals

While it may sound trite, getting clear on your goals helps immensely. So often people leave strategic planning sessions and get lost again in the swirl of usual activity. By creating a visual reminder of top priorities, people are helped to stay on track. This can involve something as simple as placing your top goals somewhere where they are easily viewed. A binder on your shelf, or a file on your computer, is often as good as hiding them. They need to be reviewed frequently. One senior manager I was working with recently put his yearly goals on his screen saver. This really helped him to stay focused on the big pic.

Habit time…

Put time in your schedule to review your weekly and daily ‘most important tasks’ (MITs). At the end of each week, list your top MITs for the coming week and schedule them in before launching off for the weekend. Review this again first thing Monday a.m. Each day before heading home, create a list of 1-3 MIT’s for the following day then review first thing next morning. These habits not only help you reach your goals but set your mind at ease that you’re actually doing something and moving forward. And that feels mighty good.

Do not disturb

Okay, the research is in…multitasking is not the ideal way of working, especially if you’re needing to get that big project in. Creative juices flow when a bit of reflection and focused time is applied. So close your door, let folks know that unless a space ship has landed, you do not want to be disturbed. Better yet, have a work from home day once a week. The results will surprise you. You’ll be happier and more will get done.

So what works for you? What tips do you have for getting things done? How do you stay on track amidst the flurry of requests and to-do’s?