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Everyday words and actions create a cumulative impact on the people and environment around us, becoming our legacy over time. At Blue Horizon Solutions, we believe learning is the foundation for leading transformation and sustainable positive change.

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By helping leaders to explore complex personal and professional challenges with purpose, we aspire to help create meaningful legacy for future generations. This is what we mean by…

Learn. Lead. Leave a Legacy.™

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Human Energy for High Performance

Athlete
Extraordinary performance is achievable when you understand your personal mission.
This article is adapted from an article originally written for Horizons Magazine, a publication of the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation, Spring 2020.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of working with a group of leaders on the subject of human energy for high performance. During this session, we explored what it takes to perform consistently with the highest levels of energy when it matters most, based on decades of research conducted with elite athletes and military special ops teams. Sports psychologist Jack Groppel and his colleague, exercise physiologist Jim Loehr, were seeking to understand how these high performing professional athletes, who were at the top of their game, could rise to even higher levels of achievement. What these researchers discovered was that regardless how much time, energy, effort and training these athletes put into their preparation, their performance was limited until they were able to tap into what mattered most to them: their ultimate mission.

When you compare these professional athletes to professional leaders, it is easy to see the similarities. Leaders are like “corporate athletes,” in that they are required to perform consistently under intense pressure, measured by their numbers and held to sometimes brutal accountability. Last year’s record becomes the new standard or baseline for this year’s performance. Taking care of one’s body is taking care of the business. Laser-focus in the moment is required for success.

Lastly, the right energy is required for high performance in both of these types of professionals. Professional athletes work four to six hours per day, 90 percent of that time is spent training and preparing for game time. They endure a career span of seven to 10 years. By contrast, professional leaders typically spend eight to 12 hours per day, 10 percent training for a 30+ year career span. In agriculture, these numbers are likely even more extreme. The key difference here is that elite performers invest in training, whereas our professional leaders are up against more demands over a longer period of time with limited resources and training. So how can we train for life? The reality is we only have 24 hours in a day. However, we can change the energy we bring to those moments that matter most to ourselves, stakeholders or loved ones. Energy is a personal resource that can be expanded and managed. Proper motivation changes our mindset and changes our energy. The more engaged we are, the greater our ability to perform at higher levels. Managing our energy, not time, is key to unlocking extraordinary results.

Energy is four-dimensional: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. These dimensions are connected to, and create impact on each other. For example, when someone is physically exhausted or hungry, it is normal to observe a heightened emotional sensitivity. In fact, we might say they are “hangry.” Similarly, when emotions are heightened, such as worry, fear, anger, we know this may impact rational thinking and decision making in the mental dimension. Furthermore, when we allow these other dimensions to rule us indiscriminately, it is unlikely we are fulfilling our greatest purpose, functioning as our best self, or operating with emotional intelligence. The spiritual dimension refers to having a clear sense of one’s personal ultimate mission, rather than any specific religious or faith-based traditions, although these might inform one’s sense of purpose. Lastly, it bears noting that although energy inspires extraordinary performance from the top of the pyramid down, we increase energy capacity from the bottom up. For example, when we can prepare in advance for creative problem solving in the mental dimension by caring for our physical well-being with adequate sleep, nutrition and hydration, and then addressing the emotional dimension through journaling, deep-breathing or talking to a loved one.

Practical Application: National Travel Seminar

During a recent national travel seminar, participants were afforded daily opportunities to practice energy management on all dimensions. As our alumni will report, these travel seminars are an intense, often emotionally charged marathon of meetings and experiences, designed to expand critical thinking skills while reinforcing leadership behaviors and principles from previous seminars. Not only is the schedule fast-paced and physically demanding at times, but also the topics and issues discussed may challenge the mental and emotional dimensions as well.

Program participants demonstrated exemplary energy management by balancing the high intensity and demands of some days with adequate rest and self-care as needed, as well as understanding and compassion for each other during some of the more sensitive moments of the trip. Navigating the day-to-day adjustments, the class acknowledged the looming uncertainty that followed in anticipation of the coronavirus outbreak. It seemed we were one day ahead of each stop in our agenda.

We had planned to tour the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to learn about leadership in emergency situations (i.e., outbreaks). So, when the EOC was activated and we were relocated to a different part of the facility, we were uncertain what we might encounter during our discussion of emergency preparedness, food safety and tour of the David J. Sencer CDC Museum. Then we learned that President Trump would be onsite the next day, so there was a level of increased security and flurry of activity in preparation for his arrival. Special thanks to our contact at the CDC, without whom we likely would not have had access, were it not for connecting with her as a participant in one of our 2019 programs. When visiting the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park and National Center for Civil and Human Rights (also in Atlanta), the class experienced a simulation of the lunch counter sit-ins of the 1960s, learned about the Freedom Riders and the courageous struggles endured in the not so distant past.

In Washington, D.C., the class called on all three branches of government, learning how each one interacts with others and enjoyed a special tour of the Capitol with Rep. Jim Costa. As we departed to Gettysburg, Pa., on Thursday to learn about leadership lessons on the battlefield, it was announced that all of the government offices had been closed to public visits. Then Friday, we departed in time to arrive home, reconnect with loved ones and prepare for self-quarantine.

We are grateful to have completed this travel seminar when we did. What a difference a day makes! I commend the class for setting the pace, managing their own needs, showing up with their full and best energy and engaging completely in this learning experience. They will make a significant difference both individually and collectively in the months and years to come.

Time for Reflection

At the time of writing this, California is under a mandatory shelter-in-place directive, due to the COVID-19 outbreak. In addition to what has already been said about the importance of self-care, personal hygiene and social distancing, now more than ever, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to recalibrate, reassess and redefine our personal missions. May we all take this moment in time to reflect on the following questions:

  • What matters most?
  • What difference do I really want to make in the world?
  • Why is this so important to me?
  • What is at risk if I do nothing?
  • What are the stories I tell myself about why (or why not)?
  • What small daily rituals can I begin creating today that move toward that ultimate mission?

The research shows when we take moments to reflect on questions like these, we are capable of unlocking extraordinary results. Imagine if we all became clearer on our personal mission, and took one small step forward toward it. And then another, and another. Think of what could be possible!

For more information on this or other leadership topics, please see the following references or contact me directly at info@bluehorizonsolutions.org.

Resources:

Communicating in Times of Change

This article was first published in the Fall 2019 issue of Horizons Magazine, a publication of California Agricultural Leadership Foundation.

We live and lead in a time of incredible change, especially in agriculture. Whether a result of shifting demands due to foreign trade or international competitors or increasing regulatory requirements or evolving consumer preferences, strategic vision requires leaders to interpret the market conditions, make adjustments to business strategy and effectively communicate those adjustments across our organizations. It is often said that the only constant in life is change.

Change is messy, uncomfortable and typically avoided by many people. In my experience working in the technology industry, I have found seasons with high volume of change to be filled with innovation, opportunity and possibility. For leaders to effectively guide their organizations through such seasons of change, I’ve found the following model to be useful as a means of 1) recognizing behavioral responses they are seeing inside the organizations they lead in response to change, 2) understanding what people need in response to that stage of transition and 3) providing the appropriate leadership support to facilitate organizational change in the most empathetic and understanding ways possible.

In her book, “On Death and Dying,” Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (1969) describes five stages of grief, as a way to understand the normal range of emotions people experience when dealing with change in their lives—or in their workplaces. Her research observes and details these five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. In more recent years, organizational development professionals, including myself, have adapted and applied this model to understand how people experience organizational change.

Normally in organizations, a decision is made by senior leadership, which may include but is not limited to the executive team and/or board of directors. A period of due diligence and viability testing may follow, and then a plan is developed to communicate and execute the decision. Press releases are crafted, announcements are made and town halls may be held to convey the message. And then the organization reacts. At this point, leaders may forget that they have had the time and opportunity to process, think and reflect about the impending change before making such announcements, whereas their teams are just now learning about the change for the first time. Change doesn’t happen at the flip of a switch or the drop of a press release. Change efforts often fail when leaders underestimate the very real emotional response that takes place for the human beings inside their organizations. The simplified four-stage model that follows is an adaptation of Kubler-Ross’ model, and has been utilized in multiple organizations across industries to help leaders recognize, understand and respond to the needs of their people in times of transition. This four-stage model includes: denial, resistance (which combines anger and bargaining), exploration and commitment.

At the time of announcing any size or complexity organizational change, leaders can anticipate that people will first respond with what is called denial. This stage includes such emotions as fear, shock and denial itself. Associated behaviors may be comments or why questions like, “Why is this happening? Why would they do this to me?” When observing such behaviors, leaders can suppose the person is experiencing denial. This is a normal and natural first reaction to change of any magnitude or complexity. Typically, people in the denial stage are searching for information. They are looking to understand what the change is about, why it is necessary, what is driving the change, who made the decisions, based on what information, and most importantly—how will I be impacted? In response to this type of reaction, leaders can effectively support their people and address the need for information through communication. It is recommended that leaders provide as much information as is appropriate and possible to truthfully, transparently and legally provide, depending on the nature of the change. Transparency is key here, as it reinforces trust in the leadership team and belief that good and right decisions are being made on behalf of the people, the organization and the community. In the absence of information, human beings have a tendency to fill in the gaps through our imaginations, often creating worst-case scenarios. By providing real-time access to accurate information, leaders who effectively communicate can better equip their teams and stakeholders to deal with the changes being introduced.

There may be times when a leader does not know the most current information, or may not be able to provide updates as frequently as people would prefer. In these instances, the leaders may direct people to the most reliable information sources, such as a dedicated website, created as a communication channel specifically for the organizational change. This action serves a secondary purpose of empowering people to obtain the most current and reliable resources as needed, since each person will work through the change process in their own time and sequence. Further, setting expectations about frequency of informational updates can help alleviate concerns that people may have about missing updates or not receiving timely information. Simply knowing when the next update will take place may relieve this pressure. Then, leaders may continue to reinforce this by establishing a regular cadence of information. For example, a leader may set a recurring time of Tuesday at 9 a.m. to provide a weekly update of all related announcements. This cadence reinforces trust and reliability of information, and of leadership, during the time of uncertainty. It is further recommended to offer a channel for two-way communication: ask the team, either formally or in conversation, “What questions do you have?” “What information do you need to be on board with this change?” And use this to inform the next set of updates. Be sure to set up a system that cascades the updated information, leveraging each level of leadership through the organization. Every level of leader needs to be singing from the same song sheet and providing consistent messages for the change to be well-supported by employees.

Next, leaders will begin to recognize the stage known as resistance, which is an even more emotional stage, often combining reluctance, resignation, anger and frustration. In fact, this is where leaders may begin to see a decline in performance, resulting both from the temporary stall related to reluctance or resignation, but also related to any associated learning curve for new process. Even if it’s a very minor change, people will need to unlearn old ways of working, learn new ways and then return to efficiency over time. Learning curves take time. When leaders recognize these behaviors, it is important to understand that people simply need empathy. They will need to express what they are experiencing and name the emotions in order to move forward. This is a normal, natural and necessary part of the transition, which cannot be ignored or shortened. People need the time, space and opportunity to articulate what they are experiencing. Leaders can help their teams by listening and allowing the space to express what needs to be said. This type of empathetic listening is similar to what Ag Leadership fellows experience during synthesis. Once they have been heard, people will be more prepared to move forward into the next stage.

When people begin to consider possibilities, they have entered the stage known as exploration. Behaviors leaders might recognize may include questions about how: “How will I, the team, the division be structured in the new organization?” “How will we deliver our products to market?” It’s about considering, “How could this change possibly be good for me (my team, my customers)?” “How could there be positive implications for me or others?” The emotions and the behaviors associated with this stage are hopefulness, thoughtfulness and frequently, impatience or eagerness to get to the next phase of the process. People who find themselves in this stage of transition are looking for ideas. Leaders can support this stage by facilitating exploration, discovery and innovation conversations, whether in small group or one-on-one settings. By including people in the process of shaping a new future, this inclusive dialogue creates an opportunity for people to let go of resistance, and begin embracing future possibilities. Once people begin to see a new vision of the future, the organization begins to see a motivational accelerator. It begins to be exciting, productive and fulfilling to work there again.

Finally, the organization enters the fourth stage of transition, called commitment. In this stage, behavior often appears as acceptance, trust and team cohesion. There may be a sense of relief that the organization has returned to a sense of normalcy. In this stage, people are accepting the new way. They are seeking recognition of new right behaviors and actions, as reinforcement and reassurance of the new way of operating. Leaders can provide those positive consequences through reward of the desired behaviors. Some leaders may overlook the importance of this critical step in the change leadership cycle. However, organizations that execute this stage well become more resilient and adaptable, preparing their people for future cycles of transition.

It’s important to remember that even though the process appears to be very organized, linear and sequential, the reality is we’re dealing with human behavior, so it can be non-linear, messy and emotional. By recognizing behavioral responses to change, understanding what people need and providing the appropriate leadership support, leaders can set their teams up for successful organizational change.

To learn more about this or other topics, please contact me at: info@bluehorizonsolutions.org.

References:

  • Bridges, W. (1986). Managing organizational transitions. Organizational Dynamics, 15(1), 24-33. http://dx.doi. org/10.1016/0090-2616(86)90023-9
  • Kubler-Ross, E. (1969). On death and dying. New York: Macmillan.


Leaving a Legacy

Adapted from an article originally written for Horizons Magazine, a publication of the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation, Spring 2019.

Growing Leaders

Effective leadership development begins with understanding who we are as human beings, how we behave in relationship to others and how we operate in the world. This insight informs the choices we make in creating compelling vision, influencing decisions of others and recruiting followers to join us in the journey. Sometimes leaders make new discoveries in this process, revealing unrealized potential or overexerted strengths. While our strengths can be a vast wealth of resource from which we draw, they can also be taken to extreme, which may show up as risk factors, resulting in negative consequences in our relationships.

One example that comes to mind is the visionary executive, who was usually the first one to recognize shifts in the market, identify business challenges faced by clients and anticipate necessary innovations that would advance his company. He was known for being visionary, creative and innovative. However, the risk factor appeared when he would make what his team described as “cognitive leaps of faith” in introducing his recommended solutions without connecting the proverbial dots for others in the room. He simply expected others to see the solution as plainly as he did and criticize the competence and capability of others when they did not draw the same conclusions. This leadership approach cost him the opportunity to continue progressing in his career. Ultimately, he had achieved his plateau much sooner than he expected.

By contrast, a mid-level marketing director had a reputation for being results-oriented with a “get the job done” mentality. She described herself as a “pleaser,” which to her meant she would always take on additional responsibility and find a way to get it across the finish line, so as to please her superiors. Her executive team saw and rewarded her potential for being able to execute efficiently and effectively. The downside of this strength was realized when her team of direct reports may not have shared her ambitious drive and need for recognition. In fact, she drove her team excessively, by overcommitting them and accepting more responsibility than her team’s workload could reasonably support. In effect, she burned them out. As a result, a complaint was filed with human resources and she was put on a mandatory leave. Fortunately for her, this was a reality check.

She began working with a coach to understand her leadership style and to make intentional corrective choices to rebuild relationships, have the crucial conversations when necessary and asked her team for their input on reasonable timelines and deliverables to ensure their health, wellbeing and success. In the end, she returned to work, re-established her credibility and built a new leadership brand for herself as a highly collaborative and execution-oriented leader who cared not only about the work product, but also her people.

Both of these examples illustrate the importance of understanding our strengths and recognizing the consequences when those same strengths are taken too far or over-applied. In both cases, it was how the leader responded to feedback from key stakeholders that determined the outcome. The first leader ignored the feedback, deflected the responsibility and chose not to adjust his behavior. This resulted in the end of his tenure with that company. The second leader accepted the feedback as a wake-up call, reflected and evaluated how she wanted to proceed and then took corrective action. Ultimately, she has been recognized and promoted for her newly discovered leadership capability.

Making a Difference

Leadership is a choice—a series of choices, really. Every day we are faced with choices, trade-offs and decisions, all of which have consequences—good and bad. Further, the work of leadership is often considered to be dual-focused. Leaders must be ever mindful of two realities: the current state of daily affairs and the future vision for the organization. Whether we lead small teams or large corporations or nonprofit organizations, we must keep both realities in balance.

Keeping one eye on the current state, we rely on our teams to keep us apprised of the day-to-day details of what is happening inside our organizations, our markets and our communities. We may have analysts and advisors and we may become embroiled in the operational heavy lifting necessary to keep the organization moving forward. However, it is not unusual for leaders to become overly involved in the daily details. Leaders who spend too much energy on the day-to-day details may lose sight of the long view: where the organization is going. They may miss opportunities to partner or innovate or collaborate for a broader benefit. In short, they may lose focus on the mission.

On the other hand, it is essential for leaders to step back from the details and take another perspective. This allows the necessary time for reflecting on progress, anticipating course corrections, planning deliberately and proactively leading with purpose and intention in the desired direction. Although spending excessive time and energy in this space is necessary, when overextended, it may delay leaders from making critical real-time decisions to keep the organization productive and in some cases, solvent. This dual-focused work of leaders must remain in balance, so that the time and energy expended never strays too far in either direction, as dire consequences may result. The sum total of these everyday choices, in the end, determine the difference we make.

Leaving a Legacy

At a recent networking event, I had the opportunity to share my personal mantra, which is: Learn. Lead. Leave a Legacy. This means we learn new skills, ideas and ways of working and being so that we may become more effective leaders who make a positive impact. Our everyday choices, expressed in our words and actions, including how we spend our time, talents and treasures, leave an indelible imprint on the people and the environment around us. These choices and actions leave an impact, whether positive or not. This impact is our legacy. In “A Leader’s Legacy,” authors Kouzes and Posner (2006) write:
“To realize that we make a difference is both a joyous opportunity and a potential burden. Because we most influence those who are the closest to us, we’re given a great gift. We’re presented with the chance to change a life. We’re granted the option of investing in the growth of others. We’re offered the opportunity to make the world a better place.”

Leadership truly is about recognizing the current state of our world, and making intentional choices to leave it a better place than we found it. These events are an opportunity to reconnect with the community, as well as to shape the future. Together, let’s leave a legacy, make a positive difference and be a catalyst for a vibrant community and world.

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