Stepping into a universe of possibility (part 1)

In my last post I talked about the importance of measurement for employee satisfaction. Where I work, Spring is a time of measurement. Our fiscal year ends on May 31, so we are busy evaluating our outcomes from last year’s goals and creating new ones.

It is also a time of possibility. My challenge as a manager and a leader is to call to attention in myself and for others how the world of measurement relates to the universe of possibility. What is their relationship? How do we step outside the world of measurement (last year’s goals and this year’s metrics) to imagine a world of possibility (what we will do next year and in coming years, how we will work together, what is possible)?

I turn to my favorite nonfiction book I read last year, “The Art of Possibility.” A chapter of the book was assigned reading in a class I took at a leadership workshop at UC Berkeley’s Haas Business School taught by Professor Mark Rittenberg. Therapist Rosamund Stone Zander wrote the book with her husband, Conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Benjamin Zander. The couple created a theory and practice of possibility that they each use in their individual work.

They describe the world of measurement:

We propose to call our familiar everyday world the “world of measurement” in order to highlight the central position held by assessments, scales, standards, grades and comparisons. In this story of the everyday, each of us strives for success, hoping to arrive at a better place than where we are. On our path to achieving a goal we inevitably encounter obstacles. Some of the more familiar ones, aside from other people, are scarcities of time, money, power, love, resources, and inner strength. . .[Certain qualities are adaptive to safeguard us in world of measurement] alertness to danger, a clever strategic mind, an eye for assessing friend and foe, a knack for judging strength and weakness, the know-how to take possession of resources, a measure of mistrust, and a good dollop of fear…keeping our armor intact is of critical importance as well, which means resisting any challenge to our personal viewpoint. (pg 17-18)

Next I will share the technique for stepping into a world of possibility…

Three signs of a miserable job

infographic lencioni

This week I’ve been reading leadership fable writer Patrick Lencioni’s book, “The Three Signs of a Miserable Job”. It’s not as depressing as the title makes it out to be, although I have received a few weird looks or comments from people who saw me reading it.

Lencioni outlines three factors that influence employee satisfaction. When people are happy at work, they do better work.

Being Known/Anonymity: When people know their coworkers, they are more fulfilled. People spend a lot of time at work, and they want to be known and appreciated by their manager and coworkers for who they are outside of work as well.

Relevance/Irrelevance: Who does your work matter to? If you are on the front line, your work matters to your customers. If you are a manager, your work matters to your employees. People need to know that their work matters to someone, even if it’s just their boss.

Measurement/Immeasurement: How do you measure your contribution and your progress? We are not talking about indirect measurements for the company, but measurements of individual contribution. People need to be able to gauge how they are doing each day.

Here is an infographic from Lencioni’s site on the three measures of job satisfaction.

Taking back my lunch

With all that there is to be done at work, I have been guilty a number of times of working straight through my lunch break, checking email in the morning during breakfast, or bringing home reports to read in the evening.

At times, I’ve even felt guilty for not doing these things, especially when I look around and seeing my boss and people who I respect working 12-, 16- and occasionally even 24-hour days. Don’t get me wrong, I do get a rush from these marathon sessions. There’s something exciting about being awake in a flourescent-lit room blasting music and working on deadline with a collaborator while the rest of my time zone sleeps. And I do understand that at certain times, a tight deadline can make the difference between impressing the donor or customer or having them pass you by.

Despite the feel-good effects of speed-working, more and more studies are showing that working long hours without periods of rest and renewal leads to a drastic decrease in productivity.

“Speed is the enemy of reflection, understanding and intentionality,” writes Tony Schwartz at the Energy Project, who is my new favorite writer on applying mindfulness techniques at work.

That is why I am joining the “Take Back Your Lunch” movement. For the rest of the month of March, I am going to resist the temptation to eat lunch at my desk or during a meeting and instead use that hour for a relaxed meal and a period of renewal and rest.

Here are some more tips for managers and the managed from Tony on how to increase productivity and get more by doing less.

Two bottles of water and 75 cents: generosity breeds generosity

Generosity breeds generosity.

This is one lesson that stuck with me from SEOmom Gillian Muessig at the MIVA conference last weekend.

Evan Fishkin, her son, echoed this same lesson in his presentation on SEO. You share more, you get more.

On the train to Tucson after the conference with Josh, I contemplated this lesson. We arrived in Tucson at midnight, and I was thirsty. A woman was fumbling with her wallet in front of the drink machine, looking for a single so she could buy a soda.

“Do you have five 1′s?” she asked me.

“No, I only have four” I said as I brushed past her to purchase a bottle of water.

I put in a dollar and 25 cents and pushed the button, but the water was sold out. I pressed the return button, but it didn’t give me my change back–it only beckoned with a choice of soda, which I did not want. It also asked me for an extra 25 cents. Should I buy a soda that I didn’t want or walk away and leave my money in the machine? The lady was still in the lobby, asking people for change.

“Hey, you can have a soda, there’s already money in the machine,” I offered.

By now she had found five singles, so she put her dollar in. I got 75 cents back, and she got a soda for only a dollar. Win-win.

We took a taxi to our hotel. The driver was exceptionally kind. In the eight mile ride, he shared with us his philosophy on life, his spiritual beliefs, and his religious practices. He didn’t charge us the 15-minute wait time when he was parked waiting for our luggage at the train station. I pulled out the fare and a modest $1 tip. Then I saw an extra dollar in my wallet and I thought of the lesson on generosity–why not. I got the extra dollar out and handed it to him too.

By now it was almost 1AM, and I was really thirsty. We checked into the hotel, put our luggage in our room, and I headed to the vending machine with my last dollar. Luckily the water only cost $1 here instead of $1.25 because it’s all I had left with the extra dollar I had given the taxi driver. I put the money in the machine and pressed the button: a water came out. Then the machine made a bunch of noise and a second water came out!

You share more, you get more.

With my $4, I could have lost a $1 at the train station, tipped the driver $1, spent $1 to get a water in the evening, and inevitably spent another $1 on a second water in the morning when I was thirsty again.

Instead, I bought a woman a soda, tipped the driver $2, and got two waters.

Win-win, win-win, win-win.

When was your last win-win situation? What has been your experience of “generosity breeds generosity” at work or in life?

Management by Consciousness

Thanks to a very generous benefits policy at my current employer, I have been fortunate to have the experience of a six-week sabbatical. During this time I traveled to India with my husband for one month. While he learned how to read and write in Hindi, I browsed the local bookstores and discovered a new (to me) management and leadership theory that incorporates spirituality into modern management. The next few posts will focus on readings that have influenced me.

There can be, one might say, two attitudes in general to life and life’s work. There is the attitude of separate acquisition and possession, of competition, anxiety and strain…There is another one of relative freedom, of detachment, of relaxation and of self-consecration. –Dr. Indra Sen quoted in “The Yogic Approach to Management” by Dr. K.R. Srinivasa Iyengar; Management by Consciousness.

“First, the materialist (or the individualist) view that thinks of the world as being made up of distinctive and independent building-blocks, and conveniently divides men into ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ in various degrees of opposition or confrontation. The commissar-managers (‘Us’) feel free to offer to the managed (‘Them’) financial and other incentives, hierarchical positions, status symbols (a car, a phone) and promotional possibilities; or to impose a stern discipline instilling fear as under a dictatorial dispensation (Emergency for ever!)…a crisis usually builds slowly, and often it is managerial complacency or labour intransigency that allows the crisis to get inflated to ominous proportions. (p 20-21)”

The latter attitude to management and to one’s work in general is born of a spiritual or unified world-view.

”[Earth] is a little spaceship, and its inhabitants must float or crash together; there is not separate perdition or salvation for the blacks and the whites, for the commissars and the workers, for the teachers and the students. It is not as though the interests of one individual or group are really antagonistic to those of another or of another group. All can swim together, or all will sink together! The other man is not my enemy or opposite number; he is not even just my brother: he is, in fact, myself. This is the spiritual approach…interdependence, harmony, unity, creativity, and evolutionary possibility…an evolutionary universe that wills and accomplishes self-change and continuous self-transformation. (pg 26)

A few key takeaways from this article:

1) When we work collectively, it is always better to insist, in our thoughts, feelings, and actions, on the points of agreement rather than on the points of difference. We must give importance to the things that unite, and ignore as much as possible those that separate. (pg 29-30)

2) “Sports, music and entertainment, congregational worship and prayer, cooperative work as service or as offering untainted by personal reward or egoistic pride – can promote the harmonious state.” (pg. 20) I think that team building activities could be reasonably added to this list. Drawing attention to this relationship component of management echoes the thought that sustainable success is balanced across three dimensions – results, process, and relationship as advocated by the definition of yoga>Interactive Institute for Social Change in San Francisco (IISC).

3) It is important for leaders and managers to practice “the yoga of management” to free ourselves from Us/Them thinking and promote self-change and world-change through the process and power of Yoga. It is important to note here that this definition of yoga is more expansive than the limited Western notion of yoga as a form of physical exercise. Yogas are traditional physical and mental disciplines of which there are many. This could be most closely interpreted as “mindfulness” or “contact with the divine or a higher power”.