Silent Exercises That Speak Volumes

Nuns-Shhhh(Originally posted on ProjectConnections.com)

How do the people on your team feel? Mind reading is difficult, and only about 30% of people are in touch with their emotions enough to tell you how they feel even if you ask them. (Don’t believe me. Do the experiment. Most people just stick with the socially acceptable reply “I’m Fine.”) Here are two quick exercises intended to take the emotional pulse of a team and inspire their hopes and dreams for the future. Both can be done in less than an hour with up to 20 people.

Team on a Journey: Break people into groups of 3 – 5 people sitting around a big piece of flip chart paper. Equip each team with a set of markers. Then ask them to imagine that they are, metaphorically, traveling on a journey in some sort of vehicle. Ask them to draw this vehicle and the journey together – each group collaborating on a single picture – SILENTLY.Continue reading

Which Dog Will You Feed? Choosing Our “Reality”

(Originally posted on ProjectConnections.com)

In 1995 I decided to embrace optimism as a strategy for creating possibilities. It wasn’t a rational choice, it was an intuitive leap of faith. My many years of education as a physicist had taught me to ignore my intuition, but logic was insufficient to overcome my exuberance. You see I’d just had my eyes opened by a truly gifted coach who’d helped me discover that the person holding me back my entire life had been myself. Once I recovered from the shock of that revelation I made a decision to use my enormous power to shape reality to create a more hospitable environment, starting with my own attitude. Continue reading

Too Tired to Care? Regain Your Perspective with 5 Proven Practices

(Originally posted on ProjectConnections.com)

Somewhere around the spring of last year I started to forget to take care of myself. Maybe it was brought on by the shock of repeatedly watching the video of the March 11 tsunami sweeping away tens of thousands of lives on the east coast of Japan, a country I travel to on business nearly every month for the past five years. Or maybe it’s just an old habit resurfacing, like a recurring rash. Either way, I started ignoring my need for balance in my life, and focused single-mindedly on the enormous pile of tasks and projects I had accumulated.

By December, I was a mess! As I said my end-of-the-year goodbyes to my colleagues in Tokyo, I bellowed (only partially jokingly), “I know you’ve all been working just as hard as I am, but frankly I’m too tired to care!” And I truly was. In exhausting myself, I had lost my ability to care about my teammates. What a pity!

This is a place that a leader cannot afford to end up. And yet, in the demanding, deadline-driven business environment, it’s all too easy to exhaust ourselves to the point that we’re ineffective (and not much fun to be around).Continue reading

Are Businesswomen Contributing Enough? Nope!

(Originally posted on SVProjectManagement.com)

Not even close! Don’t take my word for it. I’m educated as a scientist, and I do everything I can to make fact-based decisions based on data, so here’s some data for ya . . .

According to the 2011 Catalyst Census:Fortune 500 Women Board DirectorsExecutive Officers and Top Earners and prior Catalyst Censuses, women have made no significant gains in the last year and are no further along the corporate ladder than they were six years ago:

  • Women held 16.1% of board seats in 2011, compared to 15.7% in 2010.
  • Less than one-fifth of companies had 25% or more women board directors.
  • About one in ten companies had no women serving on their boards.
  • Women of color still held only 3% of corporate board seats.
  • Women held 14.1% of Executive Officer positions in 2011, compared to 14.4% in 2010.
  • Women held only 7.5% of Executive Officer top-earner positions in 2011, while men accounted for 92.5% of top earners.
  • Less than one in five companies had 25% or more women Executive Officers and more than one-quarter had zero.

This is truly a pity, especially for business people who want to make a profit. Consider this from our friends at Catalyst. Companies with three or more women on their board of directors, on average, outperformed companies with zero women board directors:

  • by 84% return on sales,
  • 60% return on invested capital, and
  • 46% return on equity.

Continue reading

Weed Your Life

Originally posted on SVProjectManagement.com December 2011.

Here’s another personal musing promoted by what I’ve come to call the “alcoholidays”.

This time of year my mind wanders to gratitude. I’m grateful for the incredibly talented colleagues who have made this year’s relentless stream of work border on enjoyable. And I’m thankful for friends who have made life’s normal burdens lighter through their kindness and support. A garden of friends and colleagues has made this terrifically challenging year much more pleasant for me. But, like all gardens, it occasionally needs weeding.

Many years ago when I was exiting physics graduate school, and sad to be leaving friends behind, one of my professors advised me to let go of relationships that had passed their time, and not to grieve for their loss. While many relationships grow more satisfying over the years, he cautioned that clinging indiscriminately to all past relationships can burden a person – like accumulating too much baggage on an around-the-world tour. This was a man whose life’s ambition was to get all of his worldly belongings into no more than 2 suitcases. I must say, now I see his point.Continue reading

Et Tu, Brute? The Obsolescence of Power

Originally published on ProjectConnections.com August 2011.

Traditional sources of power are obsolete in the 21st century business world — or at least I hope they are. I came to this realization on a recent vacation, and it’s been nagging at me ever since. Every year I travel to Ashland, Oregon, for the annual Shakespeare Festival (which is a bit of a misnomer since it runs February through November). This year I saw Julius Caesar, with a twist that I really appreciated: Caesar was played by a woman, and the script was changed to use “she” and “her” to match. This play left me feeling emotionally unsettled for the next 24 hours, but it had nothing to do with Caesar’s gender bender. The intensity began before I even entered the theater. As I approached the entrance, a dozen huge banners featuring slain leaders from around the world hung from the lampposts and beat noisily in the wind. More banners adorned the theater lobby, and as I devoured the dates and details of each one, an icy feeling crept into my heart.Continue reading

Leadership Lessons from a Heart-wrenching Tragedy

Originally published on ProjectConnections.com April 2011.

Pardon me if I’m not my normally humorous self. I’m obsessing on disaster these days after the recent quake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant tragedies in Japan. While there have been plenty of tragedies in the past that could have consumed my emotional bandwidth (see the complete list on Wikipedia if you don’t already feel like self-medicating with tequila), this is much more personal. Just about every month for the last five years I’ve flown to Japan to work for a couple of weeks. From my home in the Silicon Valley, Japan seemed a long way off. Until now, that is.

On March 11 at 4:00 AM the iPhone on my bed table rang. It was my dad calling from my parents’ home in Florida. “Get up! Your friends are in trouble,” he said. I don’t know what he thought I could do about a natural disaster occurring over 5,000 miles away, but that’s my dad—no matter how dire the circumstances, he always thinks there’s something a person can do to make a positive difference.Continue reading

Avoiding Stone Age Practices in the Age of the Internet

Originally published on ProjectConnections.com January 2011.

Albert Einstein once said “There are two things that are infinite, the universe, and human stupidity — and I’m not sure about the universe.” Like most people, I usually write this off as an amusing, sarcastic quip he made on a bad day. I mean, it can’t possibly be taken literally, right? Then I wander across a news item or business situation that make me wonder if maybe he was on to something. In spite of common sense, again and again I encounter companies repeating tragically avoidable mistakes, hamstringing themselves with the same ludicrous errors their competitors (fortunately) are also making.

Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here

Although Steven McConnell clearly mapped out a step-by-step recipe for successful software product development projects over a decade ago in his Software Project Survival Guide, a surprising level of ignorance seems to prevail in some software development organizations. Here are a few real-world examples that I have encountered in the past year:Continue reading

Give Thanks If You’re Not Miserable at Work… Most People Are!

Originally published on ProjectConnections.com Nov. 2010.

This time of year in the US we celebrate something called “Thanksgiving.” According to Wikipedia, it’s one of the busiest travel times annually, and the night before Thanksgiving is one of the most crowded times for bars and pubs due to college students returning home for the holiday. Traditionally, it’s a time to be thankful for our good fortune . . . a time when sometimes-whiney, often-ungrateful cynics (like me) pause to reflect on what we’re grateful for in our lives. This year I sincerely hope it’s a break from moaning about the economy, condemning the evils of outsourcing, and endlessly ragging on one political party or another’s ineptness. After all, in the United States of America we continue consume 30% of the world’s resources and produce 30% of the world’s waste in spite of making up only 4% of the world’s population. And most of us shower in water clean enough to drink while nearly a billion people (1 in 9) around the world don’t have access to clean drinking water. So when people ask me how I’m doing, I say something like, “Well, no one’s shooting at me, or blocking my access to YouTube, and the gas main under my home hasn’t blown up!” My life is truly blessed!Continue reading

Feedback – Painful, but Essential to Growth

Initially published on http://careershorts.com/startalk-blog/

Do you work with a global team? Have you ever wondered how your colleagues from around the world perceive you? If not, you should. We’re often unaware of how we are perceived, even misperceived, by others. You might be surprised if you took the time to inquire. Getting co-workers to share their impressions honestly may be a bit challenging, especially with a language barrier. (After six months of absolutely no feedback from his boss, one colleague from Eastern Europe asked his Japanese manager “How am I doing?”. The manager stopped checking his email momentarily, looked up and grunted “Hmm.  Good.” . . . and promptly returned to typing.) If you can tease out a bit more than this fellow was able to extract from his manager you’ll gain enormous insights into how effective you are as a global professional, and what’s getting in the way of improved relationships and results.Continue reading