Five Minutes That Will Change Your Workplace Forever

2017 is up and running at organizations small and large, and the pace is already staggering. How about in your organization? Can you feel it?

Does this describe your organization?

There is a lot of buzz and an accelerating pace in the air. Kick-offs, planning meetings, lunch chit-chat, goal-setting, water-cooler chat … I can imagine the energy and sense of urgency within your organization as you press ahead on your plans for the year … the pace is fast and already getting faster … heck, my head is spinning just writing this post!

<deep breath>

With all of this speed and acceleration, I took a moment early this morning and carved out a few minutes to simply think and reflect, Given how fast organizations rally around their year (meeting after meeting after meeting ….), it can be hard to find these peaceful moments, but I did … and you should too.

How can you use “Five Minutes” each day to improve yourself and your organization?

During this valuable “think-time”, I focused specifically on the state of global workplaces and the little things I feel each and every one of us can do to make organizations better. As I searched for some serious inspiration, it led me to this 13-minute TED Talk entitled: Are you a giver or a taker?

I played the audio-version of this talk during one of my morning commutes into “work”. Just me, my car, and some enlightening inspiration. Wow – I was definitely inspired. For me, it was profound. It REALLY made me think about the reality of our largest global enterprises – on a lot of levels. I listened to it a couple of times, and I was still listening when I parked my car. In fact, I sat in silence for Five Minutes and thought about writing this post, so I could share it with others.

In the TED Talk, organizational psychologist Adam Grant shared a workplace practice called the “Five Minute Favor”, and I’m already convinced that this one small thing could make a HUGE impact in many companies…right now…and at all levels.

This incredibly-simple technique is to leverage Five Minutes of your workday to find *small* ways to add *enormous* value to other people in your organization — every single day.

For example …. (lightly-adapted guidance shared from the TED Talk):

It could be as simple as making an introduction between two employees who could benefit from knowing each other.

It could be sharing your knowledge or giving a bit of “tough” and compassionate feedback to a fellow teammate, so you can help that person learn and grow in the moment.

It might be something as basic as saying, ‘You know, I’m going to try and figure out if I can recognize a fellow employee whose hard work has gone unnoticed.’

Perhaps it could be something like … <insert your “Five Minute Favor” here>

I believe that most workplace professionals give “Five Minute Favors” all the time. I’ve experienced these favors countless times during my career, and I try to return the favor every chance I get. I need to get better at it…

However, you might be shrugging your shoulders at the “Five Minute Favor”. If so, then perhaps one of these discouraging patterns describes you or your organization:

  • The “Organizational Politics” epidemic.
  • The “I want to feel more important and have more power in the hierarchy.” organizational design challenge.
  • The “I care about making more money than I do about helping my fellow employees.” greed syndrome.
  • The “I will use this technique to manipulate others into getting what I want.” self-serving belief system.
  • The “I can’t implement this practice because it will threaten my job” paranoid attitude.
  • And more…

Watch out for those patterns, because they can block the value of a “Five Minute Favor” on a moment’s notice.

In Closing

I’d love to hear what you think of the “Five Minute Favor”. Does this happen in your organization now? Should you be doing this more? Are you an executive leader who needs to promote this behavior in your company? What other wisdom from the TED Talk do you feel would help foster an awesome workplace in your organization?

Here’s to an awesome 2017 and making the most of our “Five Minute Favors”!

 

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If my writings resonate with you, please consider spreading this message so we can energize and inspire the entire professional world together. I invite you to ‘Follow’ my professional journey through LinkedIn. I am also on Twitter.

What Does This Retweet Tell Us About Agile and Scrum?

I must confess that my Twitter knowledge and expertise is limited. I’m even skeptical of its value. But after July’s Agile2016 conference in Atlanta, GA, I found that engaging via Twitter enriched my overall event experience throughout the week. I learned quite a bit from the real-time chatter and continue to draw new learning moments from the pile of #Agile2016 tweets that amassed throughout the week. There is an overwhelming amount of content, so I sorted by the “top” tweets to see which moment might have resonated the most. What do you think it was?

Credit: Shane Hastie (tweet) and Joshua Kerievsky (speaker)

Most of the retweets happened within a few days of the keynote, but the message continues to strengthen. To put into context, the keynote focused on the proposed 4 principles of Modern Agile, one of which is Make Safety a Prerequisite. The website offers some clarity within this principle:

Safety is both a basic human need and a key to unlocking high performance. We actively make safety a prerequisite by establishing safety before engaging in any hazardous work. We protect people’s time, information, reputation, money, health and relationships. And we endeavor to make our collaborations, products and services resilient and safe.

Why is this?

A reasonable level of engagement was fueled by this moment. Why might this be? Do many of our talented knowledge-working professionals still work in a toxic culture of fear in their organizations? Are people just embracing the obvious? Was it just ‘conference crowd bias’ kicking in?

What do you think?

The impact of a fearful company culture is nothing new.

In the world of Agile and Lean Thinking, the impact of a ‘culture of fear’ is well understood in practice, and a quick Amazon search turns up thousands of books on this very subject. A common use case is when a company attempts to enact and grow Scrum within a software Product Delivery organization. Since Scrum is an expression of empirical process control, it requires transparency so that inspect & adapt interactions will result in informed decisions based on reality rather than fantasy. In a company culture that promotes transparency through courageous communication, I’ve often seen it lead to some amazing business outcomes.

Is your organization attempting to scale using SPS/Nexus, SAFe, LeSS, etc.? If so, all of those frameworks are empirical as well, so to maximize the business and economic benefits, all arguably require that the organization Make Safety a Prerequisite.

Why do I feel so strongly about this?

Each of us has a professional story that is emerging each day we enter our workplaces. I’ve been fortunate that, in my 23+ year career, I’ve only lived in a couple of organizations that promoted an aggressive culture of fear. In both cases, the outcomes of the work were a mess, the people were miserable, the environment drained my soul, and success was defined by something radically different than a shared team goal.

I’m hopeful that these toxic situations are a rare exception, but I imagine that they will always exist to some extent.

What does the future hold?

The tweet is chock full of insight. Without an open, honest and respectful company culture, people struggle to tell the truth and create a shared understanding of tough problems and solutions. That said, I’ve seen situations where some implementation of Agile & Lean practices garners a small benefit, even in companies that have a culture of fear. And lastly, I’ve also seen situations in transparent and healthy cultures where people made incorrect assumptions and placed the fear on themselves. So although the tweet sounds simple…it’s actually more complex than we might realize.

In my mind, the real benefit is when Agile & Lean shine a light on the issue, so that an organization can acknowledge a culture misalignment and choose to solve for it.

In Closing

To tie this back to empirical scaling frameworks like SPS / SAFe / LeSS, the following is another popular retweet from the conference. Is your “Agile” operating model helping illuminate the culture of fear in your organization? What are you doing to solve for it?

 

Credit: Paul Wynia (tweet) and Ryan Ripley (speaker)

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What do you make of this? Have we largely solved this problem in the Agile space, or is it a widespread issue that needs to be addressed at global scale? I hope you’ll consider engaging with this post by sharing your views in the comments section below.

 

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If my writings resonate with you, please consider spreading this message so we can energize and inspire the entire professional world together. I invite you to ‘Follow’ my professional journey through LinkedIn. I am also on Twitter.

Is it Time to Evolve Beyond the Agile Manifesto?

The colorful wall posters are ubiquitous in organizations small and large. If you’ve used the word Agile at least one time in your company, then I bet you’re keenly aware of the 2001 Agile Manifesto, which expresses the 4 value statements and 12 principles of Agile software development. Sometimes compared to the Declaration of Independence, many cherish it as the timeless artifact that ultimately spawned the Agile transformation movement. Over the years, I’ve relentlessly referred to it and have respectfully challenged organizations to learn from 15+ years of wisdom embedded within the Manifesto.

From 2001 to 2016 – Where are we now?

Fast forward to 2016 and you’ll see that we’re in a much different place than 2001. The pursuit toward Enterprise Agile and scaling is an industry buzzword and was a major theme at this year’s Agile Alliance conference. With Agile2016’s attendance at 2,500 strong, the learning and cross-industry collaboration is at an all-time high.

As a conference participant, I used the week as an opportunity to exchange learnings and experiences with Enterprise Coaching peers, as well as other leaders and practitioners across this vast space of “Agile”. Through various conversations during the week, the following two themes emerged for me:

  1. Large Enterprises continue to share many of the same opportunities & challenges.
  2. We agree that a principles-first approach toward Enterprise Agile is essential for the most effective adoption of processes, practices and tools.

In short, a guiding set of organizational principles helps adapt processes and practices in an organization’s context while successfully moving the Agile needle in a meaningful direction.

That said, I invite us to ponder the following question:

Are the principles in the 2001 Agile Manifesto still relevant in 2016?

The mid-week keynote seemed to offer a compelling answer to the question. Joshua Kerievsky’s talk on Modern Agile focused on the evolution of Agile and our need to keep pace via an adapted set of guiding principles. Here is a picture showing the 4 broad principles from the 2001 Agile Manifesto (left) and the proposed 4 principles for Modern Agile (right):

 

 

In his keynote, Kerievsky postulated that the Agile Manifesto was relevant when drafted in 2001, but in present-day, Agile has evolved far beyond its original intentions…rendering the original principles as outdated. What do you think?

This keynote article summarizes Kerievsky’s message better than I can, so I invite all of us to learn and draw our own conclusions. For those who weren’t at Agile2016, this amazing visual summary captured the essence of his talk (credit: Lynne Cazaly):

 

 

How do you make Modern Agile real in your organization?

Like the original Manifesto, there is a vast body of knowledge under the covers – including theory & science, thinking tools, practices and skills that must be understood, adopted and mastered in your organization’s context. I would also offer that, for the most part, the 4 principles of Modern Agile are easy to understand …. but extremely difficult to master – especially at the size and scale of our largest global enterprises.

How long have we been asking this question?

This question has been posed for a number of years now, most recently at last month’s Agile Europe panel discussion, and dating back to Steve Denning’s May 2011 Forbes article entitled: Applying “Inspect & Adapt” To The Agile Manifesto. Even The Scrum Guide eats its own dog food by publishing carefully-crafted revisions every few years. But it was intriguing and provocative to see this question reinvigorated yet again on the big stage of Agile2016. So, what’s next?

I’m not smart or wise enough to predict the future of the Agile movement, but I do feel that now is the time for many larger organizations to figure this out if they want to continuously deliver valuable outcomes and effectively compete in their industries.

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Is it time to host a well-earned retirement party for the Agile Manifesto and align toward Modern Agile? Where should Lean principles be considered? I invite all of us to engage with this post by sharing your views in the comments section below.

 

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If my writings resonate with you, please consider spreading this message so we can energize and inspire the entire professional world together. I invite you to ‘Follow’ my professional journey through LinkedIn. I am also on Twitter.

What Does it Mean to be Authentic?

Brené Brown’s latest post on authenticity captivated me early this morning. In this short read, she responded courageously to Adam Grant’s recent New York Times piece entitled: Unless You’re Oprah, ‘Be Yourself’ Is Terrible Advice.

So, what does it mean to be authentic? And is it acceptable to bring authenticity into the workplace? Rather than having an opinion, I instead draw directly from Brené Brown’s research and conclusions – after all, she studies authenticity for a living.

In my research I found that the core of authenticity is the courage to be imperfect, vulnerable, and to set boundaries.

As noted in her post, her research and books, authenticity doesn’t mean that we just say what we feel to anyone and everyone at any moment. It requires a fine-tuned sense of self-awareness and a keen eye to the situation at hand.

I strive to be fully courageous and authentic in the workplace – each and every day. That said, I have much room for improvement. For example, I sometimes struggle to recognize and throttle my high-energy native wiring within context. Courageous moments evoke strong internal emotions – however, I feel that expressing one’s emotions with compassion is key to authentic workplace interactions.

That said, my working assumption is that compassion is best shown once a bond has been formed (which takes time). This is another area of growth for me, since I have a strong desire to help others — perhaps a bit too soon though. There is much nuance behind empathy, compassion, authenticity and sincerity.

This is part of what Brown means by ‘setting boundaries’. Know your audience, know your imperfections, set boundaries — and then just “be yourself”.

Why is this so important? This is how Brown sees it:

“Vulnerability is courage and also the birthplace of trust, innovation, learning, risk-taking, and having tough conversations.”

To enrich this further, tough & authentic conversations promote transparency, and I have found that responsible transparency leads to better workplace decisions in the face of complexity – think Lean, Agile, Scrum, Large Scrum, SAFe, etc. Without transparency, all of these scaling approaches tend to lead to sub-optimal business outcomes.

I see much depth in her words and conclusions.

What does it mean to be authentic? Is is okay to bring your whole self into the workplace? Consider sharing your experience and views in the comments section below.

 

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If my writings resonate with you, please consider spreading this message so we can energize and inspire the entire professional world together. I invite you to ‘Follow’ my professional journey through LinkedIn. I am also on Twitter.

6 Tips For Mastering Workplace Courage

Have you ever been in a situation where you were afraid to share a difficult, but truthful statement? Was “the obvious” in the room the whole time, but no one would speak up and talk about it? If so, then the time has come for your organization’s leadership to embrace the importance of workplace courage.

Organizations that appear Agile and responsive on the outside usually have inspiring leadership dynamics on the inside. One essential behavior is when senior leaders support the role of courageous communicators. These emerging workplace leaders bring a mastery of skills and emotions to bear when circumstances are difficult and will surface the “hard truth” that is necessary for the success (or perhaps survival) of the organization.

For a culture of courage to thrive, however, an organization’s senior leadership must be supportive of open and honest behavior in the workplace.

What do you think of this courageous situation?

What if a software company ships a broken feature to your smartphone prematurely and it causes you (the customer) a big headache. Application Developers might have known that the quality was suspect, but perhaps they felt management pressure to ship it because of a competitive threat or a customer obligation. Or even worse, maybe the Developers have a financial bonus that will only be awarded if they ship the feature immediately.

If you were a Team Member in this situation, consider the answers to these questions:

How would this management pressure make you feel?

How would your fellow Team members feel about all of this?

What is important to both the Team *and* Management in this situation?

How can you be truthful to management without getting in trouble, losing your bonus, or getting fired?

This situation can be avoided with Courageous Communication. Perhaps someone would respectfully and calmly step up to senior management and say something like:

I feel like the management approach is forcing us to do something that could be damaging to our customers and our company’s reputation. This feature doesn’t meet our mutually-agreed standards of quality and completeness. If it isn’t “done”, what will happen if we ship it now?

What is Courage?

Courage is a profound value of great leadership, but it requires skillful communication, emotional awareness and a degree of professional safety to be effective in the workplace. Let’s use an abbreviated definition from Wikipedia to dive a bit deeper:

Courage – the ability and willingness to confront fear, pain, uncertainty or intimidation.

I’ve seen many great moments of courage unfold in the workplace, especially in organizations that experience a breakthrough moment in the pursuit of higher performance. Someone steps up and makes a truthful (and possibly painful) statement, but at the same time, this person fosters alignment from everyone and creates a better outcome for all. Have you ever seen this play out in your organization?

Try practicing with this situation

Okay — let’s try this one out:

Imagine you’re invited by a Team to observe a critical lessons-learned meeting at the end of a 3-week software delivery effort. This meeting, called a Retrospective, is part of The Scrum Framework – it’s where a Scrum Team inspects its own ‘ways of working’ and examines its performance for improvement opportunities. It can be a powerful learning event if the conditions are healthy, but sometimes, it becomes another wasteful meeting where nothing is accomplished. In a productive Retrospective, Courageous Communication is critical.

As you are observing as a fly-on-the-wall, the servant-leader of the group (called a Scrum Master) intentionally breaks (or bends?) an important rule of this event & invites senior technology managers to participate, so that the Team’s performance can be “evaluated”. You sense that the environment is uncomfortable for the Team, so when it’s time for the Team to examine its own challenges, the room becomes eerily silent – you could drop a pin on the floor. The managers break the silence with feedback: “We have evaluated each Developer’s performance and here’s where you all can improve ….”

<silence gripping the room>

Now what? Where’s the real leadership in the room?

Out of nowhere, a leadership moment emerges from one of the Team Members that sounds like:

I feel like we all understand the importance of this work and the impact it will have on our company’s success. However, I am afraid to admit that none of us understands how The Scrum Framework is really supposed to work. To be successful, we must acknowledge this and commit to a better understanding of Scrum and how we can all work together for a great outcome.

This person goes on to share the issues with an individual-driven performance evaluation process and how it is putting the Team on the defensive. Suddenly, the other Team members come out of their shells and nod their heads in agreement. This person even admitted a fear of being fired right on the spot for honesty, but felt that it was the right thing to do for the organization.

Wow … I mean … Whoa.

That incredible moment of courage shattered the current reality for the managers, but it opened the door for a shared understanding of the real problem (judging individuals), so they could move forward in the right way (empowering and trusting the Team). It changed everything for this Scrum Team’s performance and the relationship with senior management.

 

6 Tips For Mastering Workplace Courage

This type of communication isn’t easy, but with practice, you can elevate your own leadership ability and exemplify courage to benefit yourself and others around you. Here are a few tips to consider as you examine your own capacity for courage:

1 – Establish a mutual purpose with everyone.

When you’re presented with a fearful situation, first communicate the purpose or goal that’s driving your need for honesty. For example, if we all care about delivering an outstanding customer experience, then we should be willing to accept your thoughts and views (no matter how difficult the truth might be to accept). In addition, if you confirm mutual purpose with an open-ended question, then it encourages open dialogue from others. Silence can also be quite telling, because it could mean that someone does not share the same purpose that you do (e.g., someone’s upcoming job promotion might be more important to them than delivering quality Product to customers).

I’ll sometimes start a difficult conversation with something like: “Since the quality of the Product is of urgency to us and our customers, then I feel that I must share the <reality>. How do others see this?”.

2 – Be open and honest about your own fears.

Courage requires a leader to be vulnerable in front of others. If there is something about the situation that scares you, be honest and say it — respectfully. If you do this, you will help others feel safe to speak their own views in an honest and open manner.

3 – Do not judge.

Read through the example above (again). Notice that the person did not point fingers or verbally attack anyone. Rather, this individual took a non-judgmental stance and did not blame the stakeholders. Point a finger at an issue and not at a person. If it’s a sensitive conversation with your manager, point a finger at your fears and the behaviors that are making you feel that way. Then, seek a common purpose between both of you (see Tip #1), so you can open the door to a fruitful dialogue.

4 – Stay calm.

Don’t let emotions get the best of you. I have seen many situations where someone tried to show courage in the workplace, but emotions were out of control and everyone tuned out. A Courageous Communicator can state “the obvious” in a calm and seasoned manner that helps everyone accept the reality and move forward.

5 – Don’t wait.

The worst thing you can do is go silent and wait until later. If a situation has escalated and the “hard truth” needs to be understood by all, then a great leader will step in on the spot and communicate the truth and foster alignment. The time is now, not later. Just make sure your skills and emotions are in check first.

6 – Encourage and celebrate moments of courage from others.

Courageous Communicators are influential leaders that live in all levels of an organization. Be on the lookout for well-timed and skilled moments of courage, and if you witness courage in action, show some appreciation and praise it! This is a demonstration of your own leadership when you celebrate and encourage others to be courageous in the right way.

 

Are you a senior leader who just read this post?

If so, then Courageous Communication starts with your willingness to lead by example. If you embody this value within your organization, then you will encourage a healthy environment of professional safety where people are completely comfortable to be open and honest when it matters most. If you don’t, then you will hear what you want to hear, but it might not be the truth that you need to make effective business decisions. Agile leaders constantly reflect the mirror on themselves in an effort to continuously learn & improve. Are *you* a Courageous Communicator? Are you fostering a culture where courage is valued?

Have you witnessed Courageous Communication in action recently? What was it like? I invite you to share your experience in the comments section below.

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If my writings resonate with you, please consider spreading this message so we can energize and inspire the entire professional world together. I invite you to ‘Follow’ my professional journey through LinkedIn. I am also on Twitter.

Leading in Turbulent Times Requires Courage

 

It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. – J.K. Rowling

What does it mean to be a courageous leader in today’s professional workplace? Why is it so important? Exemplifying workplace courage promotes responsible transparency, which leads to the open and honest communication that is essential when an organization needs the truth to make informed business decisions – especially in a complex, turbulent business environment.

If you embody the value of courage within your organization, then you will create an environment of professional safety where colleagues can be open and honest when it matters most. Are you living in a courageous organization? Do *your* leaders promote courageous communication?

Without courage, the information that is presented to senior leaders is not real or honest, and in today’s dynamic marketplace, this could prove disastrous to an organization.

 

Courage on Display

I once saw workplace courage on display by a senior leader who was truly scared for the future of his organization, the 400+ employees, and for his own job! With market share and revenues starting to decline, he knew that something had to change in the organization to start moving the needle back in the right direction. After making a significant investment to fly all of the product development teams (from across the globe) to a single office, he kicked off the first day with a courageous, unrehearsed message that sounded something like…

 

I know we’ve come here to work together for a couple of weeks, but I fear that your efforts will be wasted unless I’m completely honest with you all right now. We are here because we are in a real crisis, and if we don’t find a better way to work with each other, we are going to go out of business.

At the moment, I have no answers for why we aren’t working effectively as a product development team….

Yes, the senior leader made mistakes … we all make mistakes … but in a moment of authentic courage, he was completely honest in sharing how lost he was at that moment. I still remember hearing his voice crack when he said the word “crisis” – it felt real and had a powerful impact on everyone. In that same conversation, he also chose to fully EMPOWER the teams with decision-making authority…which wasn’t easy, because the product development teams had been led astray in a toxic, fear-laden culture that squashed innovative thinking and poisoned the soil needed for trusted relationships to grow. His moment of courage sparked courageous moments from others throughout that two weeks (and beyond) … which led to meaningful and significant improvements in the product teams’ effectiveness.

 

*Vulnerability* is the birthplace of joy and creativity.

– Brené Brown

The courage exemplified by inspirational researcher Brené Brown in her TED Talks is practically surreal, especially on the TED Talk stage. If you haven’t watched them yet, then consider experiencing them the way I did recently – but please note that she makes some points using personally sensitive subject matter. First watch: The Power of Vulnerability (2010), then follow with Listening to Shame (2012). If you watch them in order, you will experience some amazing vulnerable moments in the 2nd talk as she reflects on the days after she delivered the 1st talk. For me, this cemented the inseparable connection between courage, vulnerability and trust.

 

Bringing It Together

To lead with courage requires genuine vulnerability in front of others. Learn to see vulnerability as a strength, then you can confront fearful workplace moments with a calm, genuine leadership signal that sets the example for others to follow. In turbulent times, the future of your business might depend on it.

 

What is this like in your organization? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below so we can all learn from each other.

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If my writings resonate with you, please consider spreading this message so we can energize and inspire the entire professional world together. I invite you to ‘Follow’ my professional journey through LinkedIn. I am also on Twitter.

Bring “Empathy in the Air” in 2015

Is 2015 the year for you to expand into a leadership role? Are you focused on becoming a better leader this year? As you head back to the office, consider adding “Develop a sense of empathy” to your list of New Year’s Resolutions.

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Do you travel for your job? Extensive travel is a must in my profession, so like some of you, I spend a good deal of time in the skies. Over the years as a “road warrior”, I have found flying to provide a powerful source of continuous learning and professional growth. Think about some of the most interesting people you’ve met on flights and what you learned from them?

So, let’s board my last flight of 2014, so we can better understand the capacity for empathy and how it differs from sympathy. As you experience this flight with me, think about how you can leverage a sense of empathy to improve your own leadership in the workplace.

Empathy – to share or recognize emotions experienced by another…one may need to have a certain amount of empathy before being able to experience accurate compassion.

Sympathy – the feeling or expression of pity or sorrow for the pain or distress of somebody else.

An Upgrade from Coach Class to the Coaching Class Cabin

Earlier this week, I was quietly settling into a routine flight home for the holiday when the gentleman to my left offered a conversation-starter:

“Great evening to fly…”

And with that simple invitation, we started a conversation.

As we took flight and climbed to cruising altitude, our conversation emerged into a meaningful dialogue for the bulk of the journey. It turned out that this gentleman (15 years my senior) was a seasoned and successful business leader who graciously allowed our conversation to transform so I could tap into his wisdom and reflect on my own performance as an Agile Team and Leadership coach. I then realized that I had been unexpectedly upgraded from the Coach Class cabin into the “Coaching” class cabin.

Throughout our dialogue, he demonstrated an uncanny ability to understand and relate to personal and professional motivators, the feelings of success and failure, and how those emotions influence my own professional behavior. It created a conversational environment of trust and safety that allowed our discussion to dig deep for learning moments and improvement opportunities. By the time we landed and approached the gate, he had helped me generate new ideas for my own coaching toolkit to carry into the New Year. The conversation felt genuine and a connection had been made.

That conversation is an example of how great business leaders use empathy to elevate the performance of people, teams and organizations.

I’ll help us explore this powerful capacity further into the New Year, but for now, consider watching this brief, but eloquent message as a starting point for developing your own sense of empathy. As you’ll experience in this clip, empathy and sympathy generate strikingly different responses – and it’s important to understand the difference as you expand your own leadership potential:

 

As a leader, are you looking to fuel connections, or drive disconnections? How will you inspire your organization to reach new heights of success in 2015?

What is your sense of empathy?

So, as we wrapped up our conversation and the plane stopped at the gate, a sudden scream for help startled the cabin. After some scuffling and head-turning, one of the crew members announced with urgency:

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a passenger medical emergency. Please stay in your seats until further notice.

After a few minutes of waiting at the gate, passengers behaved in different ways. Some stayed silent. Others reassured the rest of the crew and provided support. Some muttered statements like: “Must be an anxiety attack.” … “Hope it’s not too serious.” I even watched one passenger look at a crew member and ask, “The emergency is behind me. Why can’t I just leave the plane now?” Most passengers, however, showed a genuine look of concern in their eyes, didn’t really know what to say, but clearly understood their role to stay put.

Which responses showed empathy, sympathy, or even a lack of empathy all together? How would you have responded?

As several emergency personnel worked their way into the cabin, it became clear that the situation was potentially serious. The passenger in distress was a small child, and as this child was carefully carried off and connected to medical gear, one passenger decided to exit immediately behind the child’s upset mother while the rest of the passengers remained in their seats and waited patiently for the crew’s instructions. As this one passenger rushed off the plane, he muttered, “Gosh, that’s so sad.”

The passenger to my right, who had not been a part of my “in-flight” dialogue, looked at me and said sarcastically:

Empathetic, huh?

Before you return to the workplace this New Year, consider testing your own sense of empathy. What would an empathetic vs. sympathetic response feel like to you, and how can you translate those feelings into effective leadership behaviors in your organization?

What insights do you have to share? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below so we can all learn from each other.

__________________

If my writings resonate with you, please consider spreading this message so we can energize and inspire the entire professional world together. I invite you to ‘Follow’ my professional journey through LinkedIn. I am also on Twitter.