Friday, May 19, 2017
May is always an exciting month –spring weather is here, people are making their summer travel plans, and students are gearing up for graduation. This spring is especially exciting and significant for me because I’ll be one of those students who will don a cap and gown and receive a diploma today.
I’ve been fortunate to spend the past two years pursuing a M.S. in Organization Development and Knowledge Management at George Mason University. It’s been an exciting and challenging journey – one in which I learned as much about myself as I did about my field of study. This outcome was a bit surprising for me, yet extremely fulfilling and energizing.
My program’s curricula was strongly rooted in the idea that a successful OD practitioner needs to have a great deal of self-awareness. In order to effectively partner with others to help them overcome challenges in their organization, you have to be fully aware of your strengths, weaknesses, biases, and values. All of these factors combine to create the lens in which you view the challenge, diagnose the underlying issues, and help the client discover steps to solve the problem.
The idea of using the self as an instrument is relevant to all leaders, not just those in OD. Yet, so often the important leadership competency of self-awareness is overlooked. This may be due to our competitive societal culture – someone may be viewed as weak or incompetent if they acknowledge their weaknesses or admit to not knowing something. But when leaders are honest with themselves and have a consistent focus on building stronger self-awareness, the benefits are powerful.
Having a solid awareness of your strengths and weaknesses gives you a starting point for planning your professional development. Your strengths and developmental challenges may shift over time, but a leader who consistently sets aside time to reflect on their performance and assess their behaviors is typically more adaptable and effective in their role. Showing openness and vulnerability can also help to build trust, thus improving the quality of your connections with others. When leaders acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers, they also send a message to their team that it’s ok to make mistakes, ask questions, and request help from others. These behaviors help to promote a culture of learning within the organization.
So how do you develop a stronger self-awareness? In the article, The Self as an Instrument – A Cornerstone for the Future of OD, Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge recommends various ways to improve self-knowledge and awareness:
Develop lifelong learning habits
- Continually develop and enhance competencies that are important in your role
- Develop relationships with peers to talk through challenges and discuss different perspectives
- Actively seek feedback from others
- Take responsible risks that stretch your professional comfort zone and proficiency
Work through issues of power
- Acknowledge personal issues around power and control and recognize their emotional triggers
- Clarify your personal values and ensure your actions are aligned with those values
Build emotional and intuitive self-awareness
- Use your personal and family history as a source of strength
- Identify your fears, blind spots, and comfort zones. Use your emotional comfort (or discomfort) as data in making decisions
Commit to self-care
- Organize your calendar to include time for reflection and recharging of your intellectual and emotional energy
- Schedule regular time-off and truly disconnect from work
- Use meditation or other practices to develop and maintain inner awareness
- Engage in hobbies and activities that you enjoy
- Ensure you set aside time to socialize and spend time with those you care about
By incorporating some of these activities and behaviors into your routine, you should find that you’re more comfortable, confident, and effective in your role. Modeling these behaviors may also encourage those around you to do the same.
As I walk across the stage today to receive my diploma, my formal educational journey may be coming to a close, but my journey on the path to greater self-awareness will surely continue. I hope yours does, as well.
Thursday, April 27, 2017
Stress. The very word is enough to make me feel a little anxious and to get my heart beating faster. Let’s face it – so many of us feel overwhelmed by what we have on our plates. Personally, I feel like I’ve been going nonstop for the past few months trying to balance a full-time job, graduate school, family commitments, social engagements, and my own wellbeing. Many of you are faced with even more competing priorities and obligations. So how can we better manage stress in our lives?
When one of my professors recently showed the Ted Talk by Kelly McGonigal “How to Make Stress Your Friend”, it really hit home for me. I’ve always considered stress a bad thing. I’ve heard plenty about the negative effects that stress can have on your health and even on your relationships with others. I had never considered that a moderate level of stress may actually be helpful. McGonigal’s research shows that the way we view stress is actually what makes it harmful or beneficial.
Are you interested in learning how stress can help you feel more connected to others and can actually promote self-growth? If so, I encourage you check out McGonigal’s 15-minute Ted Talk or her book, The Upside of Stress.
Friday, February 10, 2017
What’s your response when someone says, “Can I give you some feedback?” Do you run for the nearest exit, hop in your car, and never look back? Do you say “sure” as you prepare yourself to bite your tongue? Or do you welcome it as an opportunity for growth? I think many of us, including myself, have a tendency to take the first or second approach. When did feedback become a dirty word? How can we shift our mindsets to be more open and accepting of receiving feedback from others?
Employees who are receptive to feedback and who openly solicit it create opportunities to improve their self-awareness and overall performance. Additionally, interpersonal feedback is also a key ingredient in building relationships with others.
If you want to shift your mindset to be more open to receiving feedback, here are a few suggestions:
- Assume good intent: If someone gives you constructive feedback, assume that it is coming from a good place and that he/she truly cares about your growth and development.
- Use feedback as a way to connect with others: If you receive constructive feedback, view it as an opportunity to find a mentor or peer who can help you improve.
- Own the feedback: Don’t write off the feedback or get defensive. Feedback provides you with an opportunity to understand how others perceive you. Use this information to identify specific actions you can take to improve.
- Start small: Asking for feedback doesn’t have to be a big event. Find opportunities in your day-to-day activities to solicit feedback from others. The more you ask for feedback, the greater your comfort level will be with receiving it.
- Be transparent about what you are working on: Share your challenges and areas of opportunity with colleagues you trust. Ask if they can observe your behavior and provide you with feedback based on your areas of focus. Check in with them periodically to track your progress.
There’s no denying that receiving feedback can be awkward, but it is a crucial part of how we learn and develop as professionals. If you’re willing to give it a go, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.
If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of feedback and techniques for building a feedback-rich culture, check out the great suggestions in this article.
Friday, January 6, 2017
Q: What song would you sing at karaoke night?
A: “Don’t Stop Believin'" by Journey
Q: What does leadership mean to you?
A: To me, leadership means translating a vision into reality by influencing and empowering others.
Q: What is your favorite place to eat in Charlottesville?
A: It’s too hard to pick just one so I’m naming several – Tavola, Mas, Continental Divide, Monsoon Siam, and C&O.
Q: What is your proudest/greatest achievement outside of the professional realm?
A: Being close with my parents and my brother.
Q: What are three things you love about UVA?
A: The history, Grounds (especially in the Fall), and the variety of events offered.
Q: Do you collect anything?
A: Does wine count?
Q: Why did you choose your profession?
A: I love working in an environment where I can interact with different people, exchange ideas, and learn new things.
Q: What are you usually doing on the weekend or during time off?
A: Right now, a lot of my weekends are spent in school because I’m working on my MS in Organization Development and Knowledge Management. On my free weekends, I enjoy taking advantage of everything Charlottesville has to offer – visiting vineyards and breweries, going to the City Market, going for a walk or a hike, and eating at different restaurants. If I have more time off than a weekend, I love to travel.
Q: What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?
A: Live a life true to yourself, not the life others expect of you.
Q: What about you would surprise us?
A: I’ve never had the chicken pox. Don’t worry - I got the vaccine!
Thursday, December 29, 2016
The new year is right around the corner. What are your leadership goals for 2017? Get some inspiration from ten CEOs on how they plan to improve their leadership style. Check it out HERE.
Friday, September 23, 2016
Including and unleashing everyone in next steps. I know what you’re probably thinking when you read that phrase.
“Sure that sounds great in theory, but it’s just not practical.”
“That approach would never work in my department.”
“It’s inefficient and would take too much time to listen to everyone’s opinions and ideas.”
I’ll be the first to admit that some of those same thoughts ran through my mind five minutes into the workshop where I was first introduced to Liberating Structures. While I enjoy collaboration, I feel that it is sometimes over-utilized in the workplace, impairing our ability to make quick decisions and progress towards goals. I’m the type of person who loves to see results. So why would I want to potentially slow that process down by encouraging even more discussion and collaboration?
What I didn’t understand at that point in time, but quickly realized after experiencing several of the microstructures, was that Liberating Structures are not just brainstorming techniques or activities. They are powerful, adaptable methods, that provide the right balance between structured and unstructured dialogue. Liberating Structures distribute participation throughout an organization to allow all individuals to provide input, regardless of level or position. The microstructures can be used in a variety of groups to create impactful solutions for a wide array of challenges. One reason that Liberating Structures are so powerful is that they create opportunities for individuals to share ownership of a decision or an idea. Plus, they are extremely easy to learn and use!
It has now been almost two years since I was first introduced to Liberating Structures and I have successfully utilized them in many different settings including departmental meetings, project groups, and training sessions. My go-to microstructure is 1-2-4-ALL because it creates space and opportunities for every individual in a group to provide input. Ecocycle Planning is another great method to identify and mitigate inefficiencies and bottlenecks in a process. The What, So What, Now What? microstructure helps groups reflect on a shared experience and determine next steps together.
While Liberating Structures are easy to learn, their value is quickly realized through experience. Try them at your next meeting and see what happens.
Interested in learning more? Check out the abundance of resources on the Liberating Structures website or in Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless’s book The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures: Simple Rules to Unleash a Culture of Innovation.