Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Top Four Insights From Psychology That Every Modern Leader Should Know (originally published on Forbes.com)

This article was originally published on Forbes.com - click here to access 

Lately, the period of change and crisis seems to be never-ending. While it is a concept that has been around in academic circles since the late '80s, VUCA, an acronym that stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, has turned into a nearly constant phenomenon. Leaders everywhere are faced with new challenges, and the word "unprecedented" (fill in the blank: circumstances, pandemic, climate change or technology disruption) continues to be a staple in our vocabulary.

Forced to improvise — and with new demands of their time and skills, testing their emotional, spiritual and sometimes physical limits — leaders can look to psychology to offer them perspectives to their many pressing questions and dilemmas.

Here are some research-backed concepts that can provide great insights to leaders, those who are determined to not only make it through the VUCA world we currently inhabit but also succeed in it and leave it in better shape for future generations.

1. Fundamental Attribution Error

Attribution error theory was developed by Lee Ross. The main conclusion of his research was that people have a self-serving tendency to attribute others' behaviors to internal, innate characteristics — in contrast, people attribute their own behaviors to external circumstances. What does this mean? Simply put, the fundamental attribution error is thinking that "people do bad things because they are inherently bad people," thus under-emphasizing situational, contextual reasons for the behavior of others. While simultaneously explaining our own behavior by the external circumstances as opposed to our inherent qualities, "I lashed out in the meeting because it had been a long day and I was tired."

What could managers learn from this research?

Managers can slow down the automatic judgments and question their impulses to avoid, quite literally, making a fundamental error in their judgment. When tempted to "explain" other people's behavior by saying things like "she is just lazy" or "he will never gain enough maturity to lead a team because of his laid back personality," leaders can pause to consider other contributing external circumstances as well as their own role (conscious and unconscious) in the situation.

2. Self-Efficacy

Albert Bandura described self-efficacy as a belief in one's own "capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance attainments." Self-efficacy equates to a sense of confidence in your own abilities to achieve your goals and to get things done. It might sound something like this: "Hmm, this is a tricky problem. But I am confident that I can figure it out. I will find the time and resources — both internal and extrinsic — to make things happen as I imagine them." Bandura found that this attitude makes a significant difference in people's sense of optimism and is a strong predictor of what people are ultimately able to accomplish.

How can managers evoke a sense of self-efficacy in the people they lead?

Team members with a high degree of self-efficacy are resourceful, more optimistic and develop new skills more easily because they are confident that they can succeed. Instead of solely focusing on corrective feedback, leaders can spend time lifting their team members up by coaching them to grow their strengths.

It also helps to genuinely believe in other's potential and to demonstrate it by encouraging self-management, trusting team members to set their own goals and by empowering them to tackle thorny challenges independently.

3. Active-Constructive Responding

The concept of active-constructive responding was developed by psychologist Shelly Gable and is a communication style that begins with fully absorbing what the person is saying to us and then responding actively, as well constructively. When we engage in this kind of communication, it strengthens relationships, promotes trust and validates the people we interact with.

How can leaders and managers learn to employ active-constructive responding?

In the fast-paced work environment, managers and leaders sometimes engage in the destructive, as opposed to constructive, responses. If a team member says, "I successfully finished project X ahead of schedule," an active constructive response from their manager would sound something like: "That's fantastic. Well done! Tell me more. What allowed you to complete it ahead of schedule, and what were some of the lessons learned along the way?" Sounds pretty amazing, doesn't it? When people feel heard and noticed, and thus valued, it motivates them to go the extra mile and also to feel more engaged.

4. Unconditional Positive Regard

Likely the hardest concept to imagine being part of any work-related conversation is unconditional positive regard, the belief that each person deserves complete acceptance, care and supportive treatment. The attitude of full acceptance served as the foundation on which the humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers believed his patients could evolve, improve and become more self-fulfilled, ultimately reaching their full potential.

What insights can managers and leaders glean from this concept?

It's unrealistic (and probably humanly impossible) to expect managers to have a truly unconditional positive regard in the varied, complex and often challenging circumstances of work-life. It's even difficult for highly trained therapists. But let's imagine and strive for a world where managers and leaders place empathy and kind regard as a foundation to "how they do things" as they manage, lead and make decisions about their team members. In a world where empathy and compassion can be scarce, could a dose of kindness help team members thrive? May it help them connect more deeply to their organization? Feel more valued? The answer is most likely yes.

While these four concepts are insightful, they are not always easy to implement. However, they are worth exploring. Adam Grant, in his new book Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know encourages readers to keep growing intellectually and to constantly challenge their thinking patterns. Psychology can offer great wisdom and practical ideas for leaders to help take them and their teams to higher levels of performance...with a bit more thoughtfulness, kindness and compassion.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

What To Do When All The Advice Feels Cliché And Hollow? Just Be There For Someone In Need (originally published on Forbes.com)

This article was originally published on Forbes.com - click here to access 

In the strange world of the global pandemic, there is plenty of advice out there on how to be happier while working from home, be more resilient, cope with uncertainty, maximize your time in quarantine and stay productive, stop being productive and so on. Most of it is generally really good, sound advice. But something feels off. Something feels hollow and kind of untenable. If we are in uncharted territory right now, then who has the map? It’s tough to know. 

So, what should we do when much of the well-meaning advice is contradictory and feels detached from our actual lived experience? How can we make sense of our current situation while balancing so many opposing perspectives? Almost daily, I get asked some variation of the following: “What do I do now? What will happen to my [insert a noun here: life, career, relationship, health, wealth, etc.] in the coming months and beyond?” These are all good, important questions! And a healthy dose of self-reflection is an important component of our psychological well-being. It can lead to a better understanding of ourselves, help us stay focused on what we need to get done and keep us safe. This is especially beneficial in times of crisis. But focusing too much on our own needs can leave us blind to the plight of others, and in extreme cases, can lead to full-blown narcissism.

Here’s an idea: Why not suspend thinking about yourself and instead focus on helping someone else in need? There is a lot of very real suffering all around us. I don’t mean to suggest that everyone should become a professional counselor, a coach or a problem-solver for everyone else’s issues. Instead, being there for others could be just that: being there (albeit virtually in the pandemic), no strings attached.

And as an added bonus, helping others helps you! Research shows that practicing altruism can lead you to live a more meaningful life and make you happier.

You might say, “You must be joking. How can I help others? I am barely getting by myself.” Well, what if I told you there is someone out there who needs you just as you are? Your “imperfect self” could hold the key to making someone smile on a really tough day or making someone feel seen and heard.

Inspired? Here are four things you could do right now to be there for someone else:

1. Make someone feel less alone. 

Loneliness was already considered an epidemic before the pandemic, and, in 2020, it’s a full-blown tragedy. You yourself might feel lonely and detached from the world. So, what can you do? You can help another person feel less lonely while simultaneously improving your own mood. There are many ways to do it. Here is just one: Text or email someone out of the blue and ask, “How are you doing? I would really like to know how you’ve been these past few months. Let’s do a Zoom call. How about tomorrow at 5 p.m.?”

2. Help someone think through a thorny professional situation.

Isolation due to working from home is a real challenge for many. It can become even more difficult for people to think productively and make objective decisions. You can be someone’s coach of the moment by helping them overcome a challenging situation in their career. This is not done by giving advice, but instead by proposing thought-provoking coaching questions. Here are some of my favorites:

• Can you tell me about the situation you are dealing with?

• Please help me understand the broader context: What is working and what is not working?

• Paint a picture for me. Let’s say it’s six months from now. What would be the ideal outcome if everything worked out exactly as you’d like?

• Would it be helpful if we reconnected again in a week to see how you are doing?

3. Just listen.

Sometimes the context of the challenge is much less important than the energy it creates in someone, which can impact other areas of their life. People just want someone to stop and listen to them. I am convinced that one of the biggest reasons coaching has become so popular in the past two decades is that people don’t listen to each other enough. Since coaches are professional listeners (the good ones, that is), they are in especially high demand. So, next time someone is speaking, don't rush them, actively engage and listen to them with compassion and be fully present. 

4. Share some comfort food.

My grandmother always made blintzes — a type of crepe — with the goal of making the world a better, tastier place. You can stuff them with cheese, meat or vegetables, or eat them with honey. But I digress. It’s not important what food you make, or whether you buy it from the store. It only matters that you do something kind for another person without asking for anything in return. Is there a neighbor, family member or even a stranger for whom you can make this kind of special delivery? If there is, take this opportunity to perform a gesture of goodwill, and you will certainly feel happier as well. Since many people are also suffering financially, you can also consider donating to a local food bank if you have the means to do so.

The world needs all of us to be present now more than ever, not just for ourselves but for each other. And you don’t have to go far. Mother Theresa is often credited with saying, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.” Who knows, perhaps after this crisis is over we will get used to being just a little more tuned into others and thus enrich our own lives.

What Crisis Can Teach Us About Crafting A Meaningful, Multidimensional Life (originally published on Forbes.com)

This article was originally published on April 24, 2020 on Forbes.com - click here to access 


The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted our lives in multiple ways: physically, emotionally, psychologically, economically and likely in other ways we are not even aware of yet. But it is not over — we are still very much in the midst of it. Heartbreakingly, many lost their lives. Many more lost their livelihoods. The future is still uncertain. However, it seems inevitable that we will soon enter a period of redefinition on both an individual and a collective level.

For the past several months, I have spoken with people going through professional and personal existential crises. Stuck working from home or losing their jobs in the tsunami of unemployment, people are faced with some challenging and unsettling questions, such as:

• What do I do now?

• Who am I professionally? Personally?

• What matters to me the most? Why?

• Life is so fragile. Am I living to my full potential?

• What matters to me the most? Why?

• Life is so fragile. Am I living to my full potential?

This reevaluation process is especially challenging for those who link their identity with their job, their company or any singular endeavor. With these revelations, we are quickly acknowledging the importance of being multidimensional.

What is multidimensionality? It’s when one pursues multiple paths toward a fulfilling and meaningful life. What does it look like in practical terms? It could mean working as an accountant while playing in a band on weekends. Add gardening and coaching Little League Baseball to the mix and you have yourself a prime example of a multidimensional life. Or perhaps, like me, you are an executive coach, HR professional and a Ph.D. candidate who spends your late nights and weekends painting or drawing simply because it brings you joy. The important thing to note here is that size and scope of any pursuit does not matter. It could be scrapbooking, doing crossword puzzles, learning another language, writing a memoir, volunteering, listening to podcasts on a particular topic of interest, working out and so on. What matters is that whatever it is, the pursuit is truly part of your life consistently and that you invest your time and energy into it. Multidimensionality can involve any combination, skills, talents and passions.

Why is it important to be multidimensional? Simply put, it is crucial to cultivate multiple aspects of your identity because if one of these dimensions disappears—as could easily happen during a global crisis, such as a pandemic—the other facets will carry you through. In fact, these other dimensions of your life could very well give you the strength you need to persevere through challenging times. Moreover, if you have multiple dimensions of yourself firing on all cylinders, you will be less likely to have an existential crisis. Why? Because your identity is defined by more than one thing in your life.

This isn’t a new idea. In 2015, Emilie Wapnick discussed the concept of multidimensionality in her moving TED Talk, “Why Some Of Us Don’t Have One True Calling.” Her main call-to-action is that you shouldn’t beat yourself up if you are not “one thing.” Instead, celebrate your talents and cultivate other aspects of your identity. Her answer to the question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is to be many things. You can follow your passions while still working at your current job. You’ll likely experience an increased level of meaningfulness and fulfillment by following both endeavors.

A multidimensional life is a creative life. People often confuse creativity for artistic endeavors when in reality, creativity can apply to any skill. You could be just as creative with a spreadsheet as you are at making dinner. Elizabeth Gilbert wrote an entire book about creative living called Big Magic. She argues that you shouldn’t let fear hold you back and she asks poignant questions like “What do you love doing so much that the words 'failure' and 'success' essentially become irrelevant?”

So what should you do now? Here are a few ideas for next steps:

1. Don’t bury the questions that are rising within you and don’t let this opportunity to redefine your identity go to waste. Instead, explore your questions, emotions and ideas. Air them out. Discuss them with a trusted friend, a partner or a coach.

2. Evaluate your current “dimensions.” Have you been neglecting them for weeks, months, years…decades? Commit to reviving and nurturing at least one additional dimension of your identity.

3. Don’t allow your fear of failure, doubts and excuses to be in the driving seat. Yes, there is a limited amount of time. Yes, there is very little energy left at the end of the shift, day, week, month, year. In these times of uncertainty, you might instinctively want to hunker down and just exist. It might feel like a luxury to strive to have a meaningful, multi-faceted life, but what is the alternative?

The best news of all is that you can’t go wrong! There are just as many variations of a multidimensional life as there are people in the world. I am doing it in my own way and so will you, but don’t wait too long. According to a 2018 study, people regret not becoming the person they wanted to be because they were trying to live up to other people’s expectations. After all, life is to be lived and experienced to its fullest potential. That’s what we are all here for.

The All-Purpose Power Of Follow-Up And Follow-Through In The Recipe For Success (originally published on Forbes.com)

This article was originally published on March 3, 2020 on Forbes.com - click here to access 


American inventor Charles F. Kettering is often credited with saying, "It's the follow-through that makes the great difference between success and failure, because it's so easy to stop."

In the ocean of good advice about creativity, personal growth, professional development and leadership, what sometimes gets lost is the basic formula for a productive and effective professional and personal life. There is no magic secret or "17 steps to success" (I mean, there probably is, but not in this post). In my experience, the core ingredient for moving forward is simply this: follow up and follow through.

Merriam-Webster explains that "follow through" means to press on in an activity or process especially to a conclusion." The definition of "follow up," on the other hand, is "to pursue in an effort to take further action."      There is a subtle but meaningful difference between the two. Follow-up is simply a step in the process of getting to the next stage. Follow-through is about creating closure. Both are critically important and powerful when executed well and consistently.

If you think of life as baking a cake, following up and following through aren't as exotic as cinnamon but rather as rudimentary as all-purpose flour. But don't be fooled. As basic as following up and following through may seem, the research shows that people seek closure in personal and professional relationships.

Psychologist Arie Kruglanski in his 1990s research talked about people's "need for closure," a kind of longing to put the puzzle pieces of life in a predictable and stable form. Kruglanski pointed out that this need for closure "has widely ramifying consequences," impacting our interactions with each other. Psychologist Leon Festinger's research back in the 1950s showed that people literally experience stress and discomfort ("cognitive dissonance") when their beliefs of what should happen do not match with the facts of what actually happens. In other words, cognitive discomfort can happen when we expect closure (including some form of follow-up and follow-through) and it doesn't happen. Leon Festinger's findings showed that people strive for "psychological consistency" to feel satisfied and well adjusted. These are two more well-known examples of research, which reveals that people don't like to be left hanging and don't like having their expectations shattered. Therefore, chances of creating better professional and personal relationships are dependent on creating psychological consistency for people.

So what does following through really look like? Here are three examples: 

1. You promised to find the answer to a question raised in the meeting by, let's say, next Tuesday. Successful follow-up is making good on your promise before or,  at the latest, on the promised day.

2. You are working on a complex project with many moving pieces. There is ambiguity as to who needs to do what and what happens next. Instead of awaiting instruction, or for someone else to take action, you proactively offer up what you think can contribute to the success of the project. Your innate desire for closure can work to your advantage here.

3. Someone did you a small, seemingly insignificant favor. They even said, "It's no big deal. Don't even mention it." But it was meaningful and important to you. In fact, the person actually helped you quite a bit, and he or she didn’t have to do it. Soon thereafter you follow up with a thoughtful, handwritten thank-you card. There is some simple courtesy weaved in here, but it's riding the wave of a powerful follow-up.

But who cares, right? What are the benefits of following through? Here are five ways where follow-up and follow-through can be powerful and transformative:

1. You get the satisfaction of knowing that you did your part in whatever exchange you may have had. You uphold your good reputation, which leads to deeper trusting relationships, which in turn can lead to better personal and professional success.

2. You gain more self-respect and increase your self-confidence. After all, professional consistency in the way you deal with your colleagues, friends and family, and even strangers, demonstrates your character.

3. You get more meaning out of life because you will inevitably get positive feedback on your unrelenting commitment to following through.

4. You get more business! Yes, if you are in business development, it's even more critically important to follow up and follow through. Your bottom line literally depends on it.

Now it's time to "bake that cake" with the all-purpose power of following up and following through.

Many people want coaching on the "big stuff" — executive presence, changing the perception of others, developing their career path, etc. These are all wonderful things to strive for. But here is something else to keep in mind while you are pursuing the proverbial cinnamon in your life's cake: Don't forget the flour! There are many things in life that are out of our control, but you have full control over your ability to follow through. You are the only one who can choose to be consistent and proactive, creating the sense of accomplishment and closure for yourself and those around you.

Whether you are a senior leader, just starting out in your career or an entrepreneur building your business and brand, my advice is to start with the simple magic of following up and following through for 30 days. My guess is you'll be floored by the results.