Do You Dare To Swim With The Sharks?

Many of you who know me, also know I’ve spent eleven years as a (board) member for PWN Netherlands.  As well, I work with two companies supporting diversity in the workplace, and supporting women in developing their careers. All three of these organization are voices for gender balanced leadership. And although this article isn’t about my usual focus on stress hardiness and resiliency, at its heart, it actually really is.

Recently, someone shared with me on LinkedIn, a Tedx Talk given by Alexis Kanda-Olmstead, who actually inspired this article.

Why is our stereotypical model of a successful leader a good looking, well-bodied Caucasian male, typically wearing a dark suit? Why is it that most people generally don’t recognize women as models of leadership? Is it because women are perceived as perhaps less intelligent, too emotional, too soft? Or if a female leader is demonstrating masculine traits, is she seen as pushy or aggressive? It comes down to what psychologists call ‘mind models’.

For many women, walking into a situation in which the stereotypical expectations are high, can be a fear-based moment. (I told you there is a link to stress!) There is an unspoken threat she is facing, which can trigger the stress flight, fight or freeze response. In the words of  Alexis, it causes “hypervigilance, second guessing ourselves, getting stuck in our minds and at worse, choking”.

What would it take for you to brave the next step, as a woman, to realize you too are a highly competent and successful leader, even though you aren’t yet the ‘model’ of what society thinks of in this role?

In research done with male and female university students, which Alexis quotes in her TEDx Talk, the discrepancies in their belief in their abilities to be a leader were large. None of them had any ‘real’ experience to draw these beliefs from and in fact, they were contradictory to what the research results demonstrated.

One of my great-nieces played a lot of sports in her youth. At age 13, her mom was watching her on the volleyball court, instructing her teammates regarding the next play. The thought occurred to her mom that her daughter might be bossy. She didn’t think, in that moment (though she does now): my daughter is assertive or has great leadership skills. As it turns out, my great-niece, at age 21, is the epitome of assertiveness, knows what she wants and has demonstrated her leadership skills countless times.

Years ago, I met a psychologist in the Hague, who was presenting on self-efficacy. This is defined as: ” one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task”. At the time, the term was new for me. She commented that even more than the glass ceiling, this was the greatest obstacle to women advancing in their careers. I was in my early 50’s and was just starting (yes, just starting) to develop a belief in myself, in my abilities and in my expertise. Her comment hit me hard! Much of this belief is achieved through nurture – it can be learned.

There is a term called ‘leadership efficacy’: “It is a specific form of efficacy associated with the level of confidence in the knowledge, skills, and abilities associated with leading others.”

In the research I mentioned above from Alexis’s Tedx Talk, women bottomed out in leadership efficacy. They reported using the leadership skills they were questioned about much more than the men in the study but didn’t believe in themselves as leaders.

There is so much that all of us can do, to undo the stereotypical model of leaders. That’s a journey I’d like to invite you to make with us in the Female Leadership Journey starting in January 2021.

Dare to take the next step, to swim comfortably with the (metaphorical) sharks and learn that you won’t get eaten.

What’s In a Smile?

I really do love simple solutions. Things we can do for ourselves, which help us feel better. Especially in these days of restricted contact. After all, it’s the summer of 2020 and virtually the whole world has been affected by a pandemic since February. The end isn’t yet in sight. We need all the help we can give ourselves.

So what’s in a smile? It turns out … a lot! We can turn it up, and turn it on in a split second. It’s an instant pick-me-upper. I don’t feel like smiling, you say? Do it anyway. You will feel better. And if feeling better isn’t on your agenda, then do it to increase your creativity and your logical thinking!

Here’s what else we know about the simple gift of smiling.

It’s a two way street. Not only do we smile when we’re happy, we become happier when we smile. Your brain knows when the smile muscles are activated and can be ‘tricked’ into changing your chemical soup mix into one that has more ‘feel-good’ hormones  and neurotransmitters (like dopamine – the ‘reward’ hormone/neurotransmitter).

An experiment demonstrated this well. Three groups were shown cartoons. One group was holding a pencil in their mouth lengthwise, ‘forcing’ a smile. The second group held the pencil by the tip while pursing their lips, ‘forcing’ a sort of frown. The third group held the pencil in their hand. The first group rated the cartoons the funniest, the third group was somewhere in the middle and you guessed it – the second group with pursed lips rated the cartoons least funny.

Smiling also has a social consequence. When we smile, others around us tend to smile too. Even if our smile isn’t one of genuine happiness, we can feel better with smiling faces surrounding us! Read about the experience of Alex Lickerman, M.D., who, during his first year of medical school, found himself wondering why most people don’t smile at people they don’t know. He realized that in order to smile genuinely at someone, he first needed to have a ‘real’ feeling for them. For him, smiling at strangers became a small exercise in compassion. He stated in this article: “The benefit of smiling accrues to me as well as to those at whom I’m smiling, however: studies have also shown that feeling just as often follows expression. That is, when we smile, it actually makes us happier, even, it turns out, if our smile is forced.”

Do you need more reasons to smile more often? The research is pretty definitive – a happy worker is a more productive worker. (Research by  http://www.iopenerinstitute.com/) After building questionnaires, conducting focus groups and compiling results from 3,000 respondents in 79 countries, [the company’s] findings proved that happiness has a distinct advantage over unhappiness. “The happiest employees are 180% more energized than their less content colleagues, 155% happier with their jobs, 150% happier with life, 108% more engaged and 50% more motivated. Most staggeringly, they are 50% more productive too.”

Years ago my husband drew a frown on the ‘brow’ of a happy face stress ball (see the image). In meetings, when he was happy with the way things went, he didn’t have to say anything – he just held the ball up with the smiling face shining on everyone. When he wasn’t pleased with the way things were going, all he had to do was turn the ball ‘upside down’ to show the frown. He didn’t make it personal, he didn’t have to say a word. Each time he got a laugh from the group. Everyone knew this was a signal to start coming with new ideas. I must say, I still have this happy face ball on my desk. The frown is almost worn away but I’ve had to retouch the smile a few times with black magic marker …

Turn that frown upside down and what do you have? A smile!

Please share your comments and questions in the comments section below.

How Full is Your Battery?

“People spend too much time finding other people to blame, too much energy finding excuses for not being what they are capable of being, and not enough energy putting themselves on the line, growing out of the past, and getting on with their lives.” J. Michael Straczynsk

Awareness – A Better Coping Strategy

  • The first step to creating more harmony and balance in your life is through awareness. Start with something ‘simple’: what gives you energy and what drains your energy? Low energy levels make you more susceptible to reacting to stressful situations. If you take this one step towards developing insight into ‘what makes you tick’, then you have a greater chance of taking the necessary steps towards ensuring you have more energy gainers in your life.
  • What can’t you say no to or perhaps better phrased: what do you say yes to, that might drain your ‘battery’? Is it a lack of exercise or a friend who weighs you down with their problems? Is it too many late nights? Fast food? What unhealthy choices are you making for yourself? It comes down to – what brings you short-term pleasure but coupled with long-term pain? We all know what we should be doing, often we just don’t do it.
  • If you’re not even aware of what’s triggering your energy drain, then you can’t do anything about it. Stop and make a list of habits, situations, people, and environments that aren’t serving your best needs. Analyze the list and ask yourself what can you do to change just one of the items on your list. Once you have thought out a game plan, put it into place.
  • Search for help. If it’s a habit you want to change, then research how habits can be changed and how you can develop new ones that are more supportive. Charles Duhigg wrote a book about this and there are a couple of great videos on You Tube describing the process of changing habits.

Other Helpful Tools

Perhaps you might need coaching. There are a lot of us ‘out there’. You need to find the one best suited to you. It’s an investment in yourself – don’t wait for your boss to reach into their budget to help you. Take the initiative for yourself.

If it’s an improvement in your diet, then look to a nutritionist/food specialist for help. And there are thousands of books on the subject. Ask someone, who seems to have a good handle on their personal nutrition, what they are doing. You know them! They are that person who looks great, exudes energy, doesn’t get easily irritated and has enough left over at the end of a long work day to still do something interesting for themselves. See if just one thing they are doing will make a difference in your life.

A Last Thought

The bottom line is this: if our battery is running low, then we won’t be able to come up with creative solutions to the challenges life throws our way.

Please share your comments and questions in the comments section below.

Getting Your Zzzz’s

Did you know that Friday, March 13th 2020, was #worldsleepday?

According to worldsleepday.org, it “is an annual event, intended to be a celebration of sleep and a call to action on important issues related to sleep, including medicine, education, social aspects and driving.”

I started my deep dive into why we need sleep back in 2016. The connection with resiliency and stress hardiness was evident. After all, if we’re stressed, then we sleep poorly and if we sleep poorly, then we are more easily stressed. The energy we need to be resilient is diminished. It’s an unending vicious circle.

Click here to continue reading this short article with 10 tips to sleep better and longer, on LinkedIn.

Administrative Professionals’ Day April 16th 2020

A great way to say ‘thank you’!
In the month of April, show your professional administrative support staff just how much you value their contribution. You can do it with flowers and chocolates but an inspirational ‘Skogsfloating’ day is saying thank you, in a more meaningful way.

The ultimate combi
A day to be nurtured in nature and to become inspired. During this day, your staff will have ‘their time in the sun’, perhaps also literally, should the sun decide to shine. One thing is certain, it will be a memorable day.

 

A playful location
Conference center Kapellerput in Heeze, provides the playful location, as a background to Skogsfloating. Standing in the midst of a beautiful woods, the gently rocking ‘chairs’, aided by Mother Nature, provide the foundation for relaxation, reflection and creativity – key words for the day. The accompanying experience of tranquil weightlessness gives the space and time to become ‘still’ – to give back to oneself.

Open Registration on April 16th, 2020 **
The day starts at 09.30 with coffee and tea. Most of the day will be spent outside. The program will end at 17.00. Further details will be provided upon registration.

Costs:
This ‘experiential day’ is 380,- pp, excl. vat/btw, for a minimum of 6 participants.  Price is including a day arrangement at Kapellerput (unrestricted coffee, tea and lunch buffet).

Registration:
Use the contact page to get in touch with me,  with your name and telephone number. Copy ‘Administrative Professionals’ Day’, into the subject line.

This open registration day will be held in Dutch

** If you have a minimum of 6 administrative personnel (maximum is 22), there is an opportunity to host a closed registration team event in the month of April.

 

The Gift of Time

This isn’t what you think it will be about. It’s not about time management or getting things done in a more efficient manner, though both are important in the context of well-being.

The gift of time I’m referring to, is the one which exists between a trigger and your response. In the words of Viktor E. Frankl “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

It is our subconscious perception of a stimulus – that situation, person, or thing – which repeatedly triggers the same (sometimes explosive) reaction in ourselves. We experience something as irritating once, twice, maybe three times and the next time it happens, we react predictably – often called a knee-jerk reaction.

We may not be happy with our reaction. In fact, we may realize that our reaction isn’t supporting us at all but we continue to react in the same way. It’s not always easy to pinpoint the reason for our discomfort or stress. Our brain filters and stores so much information, most of which we aren’t conscious of. Researchers have indicated that only a fraction of the stimuli from our surroundings reaches our conscious level.

Underlying every not-so-feel-good emotion we experience (e.g. irritation, anger, frustration, fear), is a need we have, which isn’t being met. Something we value. A need such as respect, love, being seen, being heard. We have many needs, some more important than others. The more important the need, the faster and stronger we will be triggered.

Knowing what your needs are, can go a long way to choosing the right response. In order to understand which need isn’t being met, you need to give yourself the gift of time; ‘the gap’ between stimulus and response.
Self-awareness is key to achieving the gap. Knowing your stress signs and signals when you are being triggered, is of paramount importance. When you become aware of the first signs that something is generating a not-so-feel-good feeling in you, this is the moment to start breathing slowly and deeply. The act of breathing slow and deep has an immediate response on your autonomic nervous system, telling your brain that you are relaxing.

By knowing and being able to name the need that wasn’t being met, you are able to take some of the significance out of the situation. When you feel ready to respond, you’ll be ready to make a choice that is going to support you, rather than being hijacked by your emotional brain. When we allow ourselves to be triggered into a full-blown stress reaction, our pre-frontal cortex, that part of the brain responsible for creative, logical thinking, shuts down to one degree or another.

Become resilient and practice finding your gap. Breathe and thrive!

It’s Time to Wake-Up, Organizations!

Organizations need to wake-up. Employees are looking for more than just a paycheck. Job security is a thing of the past. The ‘war for talent’ is an oft-used expression, for good reasons. Nothing is, as it was before. It doesn’t make sense to pretend otherwise.

The Past
My father, if he were still alive, would be 106 years old now. He passed away at the age of 82. He was secure that the company he worked for, and was extremely loyal to, for 30 years up to his retirement and afterwards, would be there for him, year after year. And it was. My mother continued to receive a portion of his pension until her death at the age of 99, another 20 years later. Molson’s Brewery, started in 1786 in Montreal, Canada, is still there today. An M&A in 2005 with the US based Coors company, and the Molson Coors Brewing Company was formed. Beer is a staple. A good tasting beer, will stay its course (under the right direction, of course).

Even if Dad didn’t agree with decisions made, he would never have spoken out against the company that employed him. He lived in a different era, had 5 children and his wife to support. He was grateful for what his company offered him. As children, we learned this gratefulness also.

The Present
Young people today don’t have, and many don’t want, the kind of job security my father desired. They also don’t ‘buy’ into the work ethics of those who have been around for 20+ years, toeing the company line. Working against your personal values, causes stress. If an ‘anything goes’ attitude thrives in a corporate culture in order to achieve results, then they begin to doubt what role they want to ‘play’ in that business. Since there are currently a plethora of jobs, they can choose the kind of company they want to be employed by. In his Forbes article, The Power of Putting People First, Rasmus Hougaard states “shareholder wealth has steadily become more important than employee health”. If you don’t want to lose valuable talent, either to sick-leave or to the competitor, then you need to change some things.

The Solution
It starts with a culture of care. Putting people first, not profits. That’s not saying profits aren’t important. Only a fool would say that. What it does say, is that by putting people first, the profits are going to come.
Organizations can take a page out out of the mission of Marriott International’s, a Fortune 200 business: “If we take care of our people, they will take care of our customers, and the customers will come back.” Or another page from Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller Companies Inc, who states: “Our company exists for its employees”.

There are many aspects to consider when taking care of your people: values which live in the halls and not on the walls; a growth mindset at all levels; finding meaning and purpose; great communication skills; developing resiliency in stressful situations; and creating healthy life-style habits; just to name a few.

Together with the partners I collaborate with, we provide the best solutions for organizations to ensure employees are engaged and thriving!

Clarity About Pursuing Happiness at Work

In March this year, a few cities in the Netherlands acknowledged and celebrated Dutch Happiness Week. This is an initiative of Fontys University HRM and Psychology students, which began in 2015 in Eindhoven. A leading theme, ‘the economy of happiness’, in these departments was the motivation behind the initiative.

Last September, an initiative of two Dutch women saw the kick-off of the International Week of Happiness at Work. Throughout the Netherlands, a number of municipalities and organizations sponsored various events around this theme. This year it will grow, I’m sure. I hope. We certainly put enough attention to the problem each year in November, with the Week of the Work Stress. For good reason, as stress is the number one occupational challenge in the workplace in the Netherlands.

A misperception of happiness at work?

But what is this often elusive state of happiness in the work space actually? It seems many of us are in pursuit of it but defining it seems to be a bit more problematic.

When one of our KVC app respondents replied to a question regarding their happiness at work score (6/10) with ‘I don’t really emotionally recognize the feeling of happiness’, it set me to thinking. Are we misleading people with the concept of happiness at work?

It’s not that I believe we shouldn’t be expecting to be happy in our work. To the contrary – I believe it’s fundamentally necessary for thriving employees and workplaces. It’s just that I question whether people understand what’s behind the phrase ‘happiness at work’.

Happy people are portrayed in advertising, television and movies with smiling, laughing faces, having loads of fun. Is this somehow the perception people expect to see in the workplace, if they are truly happy at work?

Often employers think, they’re getting a paycheck aren’t they? They should be happy with that. And maybe in my parent’s generation (or even my own, seeing I’m now in my mid-60’s) that was the case. However, younger generations aren’t ‘buying’ that platitude anymore. They know that money can’t buy their happiness.

Adding to the confusion

The word for happiness in Dutch is ‘geluk’. It has two meanings. One is happiness and the other is luck. So ‘gelukkig werken’ is a concept that doesn’t seem to resonate for many Dutch.

Turning to the research

We need to understand that happiness is a state of being which is a natural consequence of well-being. And “well-being is a complex construct that concerns optimal experience and functioning.”

It’s not only about ‘hedonic well-being’ portrayed by the media: that of “increased pleasure and decreased pain leads to happiness”.

It’s also about ‘eudaimonic well-being’, which is “based on the premise that people feel happy if they experience life purpose, challenges and growth.”

What is needed for a thriving workplace?

One of our partners, the HappinessBureau, has created the P3F model. This about sums up what is needed.

Purpose: You are happier at work when you have the feeling the work you do is meaningful and you are making a positive contribution.

Flow: Every day you are able to use your talents, see progress and receive recognition and appreciation. Autonomy plays a significant role in how you use your talents. Being immersed and absorbed in the task at hand, is part of flow.

Fun & Friendship: Maintaining good relationships at work and sharing (in) positive moments.

In summary

Happiness@Work is about how you ‘feel’ about your work and the feelings you derive from your work. If you ‘feel’ you are contributing, are valued, are seen, are appreciated, well then, you can give yourself a 10/10 for your happiness@work score.
Most organizations have a long way to go, to ensure their people are thriving. Step up sooner, rather than later, is my advice. The war for talent isn’t going away any time soon.

Whistle While You Work

Impact of Music on Workplace Productivity

Some interesting facts, in the infograph below by webfx.com,  on the benefits of music in the workplace, not only for productivity but also for well-being and engagement.

In a Forbes article I found an answer to a question I posed to myself after reading this infograph: Can listening to music (with headphones) in the open flex work areas which have become so prevalent, help those employees sensitive to the excess stimulation they experience in these environments? It turns out, it can and does.

A New Day: A New Chance

Your Inner Critic 

6 weeks ago, we entered a new calendar year. Fixing our eyes forward, I’m wanting to share with you some inspiring words of wisdom to continue into 2019 with a different mindset, a different perspective, and perhaps with more grit, creativity, and resiliency.

New Year’s resolutions, goal setting, and good intentions are on almost everyone’s minds. We know that the majority of us will have given up on our resolutions before this first 6 weeks passed. At which time, your inner critic, that voice in your head, starts calling you on the fact that you’ve failed, again.

“It’s a New Day, A New Chance”

In the spirit of keeping it truly short and sweet, I’ll quote my husband. René greets the start of every day, and I do mean every day, along with most people he sees (including me) with: “it’s a new day, a new chance”. He’s done this for so many years, I’ve actually forgotten when he started. The staff in the fitness club where he works out every morning, have heard this so often, greet him with these words. It’s become almost a competition: who gets to say it first.

A Change in Mindset

But what do these words mean? For me, they mean that we don’t have to wait for a ‘new year’ to make changes. Even if we ‘shortchange’ ourselves by giving up early on our New Year’s resolutions, if they are important to us, it means we can start a New Year every day of the year. There is an expression that says “this is the first day of the rest of our lives”. Make each day, that first day. And if you fail today, then wake up tomorrow knowing you have another chance to get things right. In fact, you have 365 chances to get it right.

Don’t beat yourself up, if you don’t make your resolution a reality. Take each day as it comes. Failure is only failure if you don’t attempt again. Giving up is failure. As Cyriel Kortleven says, think about your failures as ‘Nearlings’ – as in ‘I nearly made it’. Not so bad, right?

Thomas A. Edison, known as someone who didn’t give up, apparently responded to a friend’s query regarding the volume of experiments he’d done, that hadn’t delivered any results with: “Results! Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work!”

Stay focused on what you want to achieve. When you lose your focus, regain it. This will mean that you ultimately reach your goal, whatever it may be.