Tuesday, December 30, 2014

10 New Years Resolutions for the Mindful CEO

As business leaders we are given the responsibility of minding and managing the health of our companies.  Your financial bottom line is a clear and simple gauge of it’s fiscal wellbeing.  But there are other spheres in which a mindful leader can create a healthy community - a workplace that is respectful of each member and helps bring out the best in us all.  Here are ten ideas for leaders who want to create healthier, happier companies at all levels.

1. Celebrate the small -  We ring the bell for the big sale, but what about the little things, like Fridays, birthdays, meeting a deadline, or getting a coveted certification?  Every Friday at any moment past 4:29pm, anyone with something to celebrate can ring the beer-thirty bell.  Then, once 10 or more of us are gathered in the kitchen, the bell-ringer makes a toast.   We celebrate the large and the small things that happened during the week - some of them are business related and some of them are personal and it’s a great way to wind up the week, keep us connected and to help us celebrate the little things in life.

2.  Tear down that wall!  Let’s stop pretending that people’s lives outside of work have no place in the office.  First of all it’s ridiculous to presume we can shut them off.  But even if we could why would we want to?   Community is created through sharing and connecting in meaningful ways.  Bring your children to work.  Bring your art.   Bring your dogs.  Yes there are business reasons to do this, but there are other reasons too.  Reasons of the heart.  No one questions coffee.   

3. Take a break -  A small group at Walker started planking every other hour on the hour.  That’s five one-minute planks a day, and when I join in I find that even after one short minute I go back to my desk oddly refreshed.   Some of our team take regular walks around the grounds.  Step away, move, breathe - it works on so many levels.

4. Wait for it - A group of scientists were hiking in the jungle with an indigenous tribe when all of a sudden, for no apparent reason the locals all stopped and sat down.  The scientists were baffled and agitated, but nothing would stir the group until after a time, just as suddenly,  they rose and began walking again.   It wasn’t until later that evening around the fire that the tribe’s leader explained:  They had been moving too fast for their souls to keep pace so they stopped to give them time to catch up.  Make sure you don’t outpace your soul.  Make a habit of checking in now and again, and if you notice you’ve left it behind stop, rest, and give it a minute to catch up. 

5. Practice Happy Tetris - In a recent experiment students were paid to play Tetris for several hours a day (I know!) revealing that in a matter of days the students’ brains rewired themselves and they began to view the world through Tetris eyes.  Students described walking out of their apartments and immediately seeing how to arrange the skyline tetris fashion.  Ditto with cereal boxes at the grocery store.   So how about we practice Happy Tetris every day and rewire our brains?  Find moments to feel grateful, find opportunities to laugh.  The more we do that the more we’ll see opportunities for gratitude and happiness.

6. Track your KII - We’re good at identifying our Key Performance Indicators, which are important but do you know what your Key Impact Indicators are?   Figure out how your business is making a positive difference in the world and start tracking it.  Measuring the money is important and easy.  Measuring impact is more difficult (As Einstein told us, not everything that counts is countable) but just as important.  Discussing your KIIs as a group is a healthy way to uncover your mission and core values and and finding ways to measure your impact can help you drive your company not merely toward greater profitability but also greater good.

7. Tune to AM -  Dave O’Brien, author of The Navigator’s Handbook talks about  the idea of paying attention to whether you are tuned to AM (Appreciation Mode) or FM (Frustration Mode).  Leaders are trained to be on the lookout for what’s wrong and what can be done better, which trains us to tune into FM.  And some of us are just naturally tuned into the FM station.  But by making a conscious effort to tune into AM a few times a day will result in you and those you spend time with being happier and that’s tremendous ROI.

8. Let the Arts In - If you need business justification there’s ample and growing evidence that creativity is the key to innovation and a critical differentiator of leading companies’ success.   But it’s also fun and good for the heart and soul of you and your team (which in turn, if you need another reason, is good for business).   Set up some meetings with your local arts community to find out ways to collaborate.  Find out who the artists are among your team and ask them to share, teach, and celebrate.  

9. Create community - Community is created through shared caring.  Pick a topic you feel strongly about and invite a few like-minded people from inside your company and among your customers and peers to discuss it.  Get together for lunch once a month and dig in.

10. Practice power control -  Emotions are like electricity.  When we’re in a leadership position and are upset, angry, or frustrated it’s easy to pass it on.  It feels good in the short term - getting it off your back - but what you’re really doing is sending along (and sometimes amplifying) an ugly current that zaps the next in line who in turn will pass it along in a depressing circuit of bad vibes.  But you also have the power to send that energy to ground rather than passing it along, and in so doing you stop the flow of whatever negative energy came to you.  Strong emotions can carry important and instructional opportunities but when they are just bad juju try letting it go.  When it’s positive, pass it on.  When it sucks, send it to ground.  That’s true leadership power!

What will be your New Years resolutions? Just  deciding that you will be more mindful will put you and your business on  a happier healthier path.  I hope these ideas provide grist for your planning.  Happy 2015!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Solstice Gifts

On the 21st of December my youngest sister will call, as she does every year, to remind me that the days are getting longer. The call is in mock homage to my father, who every year insisted on spoiling an otherwise wonderful early summer picnic dinner by announcing that the days were getting shorter. We’d all groan - the corn wasn’t even out! - but he considered it his duty to remind us, in the middle of our hopeful June high, that winter would return. We hated it, but it did make the warm evening seem more precious.

My sister’s call is a gift reminding me that even as the days get darker and the nights colder, the turning wheel of the cosmos will soon bring us back to sunshine, warmth, and renewal. Cycles are nature’s way. Humans often forget this, particularly those in charge of making business projections. Give us two data points and we’ll extrapolate an arrow pointing ever upward. Or down.  But even hurtling comets yield to the pull of gravity. They circle as they flame, retracing their orbits across the millennia, just as our lives, our businesses, and our relationships hurtle through their own seasons and cycles.

Seven years ago a meteor shower of cataclysmic power blasted my world. At work it came in the form of betrayal, arrests, and law suits. Then the bottom fell out of the economy and the greed-is-good fairytale blew up, and the fallout destroyed many good people. Collateral damage. Closer to home, my mother - my rock, my most loyal fan, my supporter, my confidant, my confessor, my role model, and my coach - began to fail.   

These were my dark years. But even in the gloom of despair, unbeknown to me as I was consumed with fighting to save my business and my sanity, the seeds of a new beginning were sown.  

At Walker the pain of those years was hard. The company shrunk, withered by the chill of the assault and the icy economy. But even in the grip of that wintry   aftermath, we found our way toward a new spring. We learned from the pain. The lull gave us an opportunity to re-imagine who we wanted to be as a company, as a social enterprise, and as a community. Since then, we have grown anew in size and maturity. Now we are stronger, happier, and healthier than ever.   The excitement is palpable.  Innovative ideas and enthusiasm are popping up like crocus in spring.  

We even discovered a silver lining in the economic collapse. People in large numbers began to recognize that businesses without accountability to society or a purpose beyond profits are a threat to all of us and to our planet.  Social enterprise as a movement began to pick up momentum and reSET, as an organization dedicated to promoting a new way of doing business in Connecticut, found fertile soil in which to grow.

Hardest of all was losing mom. But she left on her own terms, at home, surrounded by her kids and grandkids, using even her parting as a gift, teaching us in her dying just as she had when she was alive. She died in late December of 2011. She had stopped her medications in October not wanting to prolong the inevitable - she understood cycles and seasons. In November, toward the end, there was an unseasonably warm if overcast day. She was weak, but up for a  slow walk down into the field where we’d walked so many times over the years.  It was a gift as we knew the cold was coming. It was our last walk. But just the other day I learned that this spring will herald in the next generation - children of her grandchildren. She would be ecstatic.

I love the message of the solstices: That to each of us there are seasons and cycles. That even in the darkest cold, the seeds for a warmer season are readying.   And to always be on the lookout for a warm day, the miracle of friendship and the opportunity for a walk, as these too shall pass.