A.Mandel

Unconscious Bias

March 29, 2021
How Can we Fix What We Can't See?

Unconscious bias is just that. Unconscious. I talk about it a lot when using the tool Predictive Index, when coaching, when discussing emotional intelligence, and of course, when discussing DE&I. But as much as I talk about it, and teach about it, I still get blown away when I see it in action.

I am a strong female leader. I pride myself on being able to speak truth to power. To hold up the mirror to the most senior of leaders, and honestly, hold my own with a room full of male executives. I have a loud voice, a firm handshake, and a pretty kick-ass career journey which helps with confidence and self-esteem. Don’t get me wrong – I have my fair share of imposter syndrome, but that helps keep me fresh and learning.

So when male unconscious bias rears its face in mine, I’m surprised. But maybe I shouldn’t be. Here’s what happened just the other night...

I was at a dinner table at a lovely restaurant (don’t worry – we were outside) with the largest group of people I’ve been with in over a year. Most of the people there knew some (not all) of the other people. Including me. But it was a business dinner, so nothing new there. I was the only woman at the table. THE ONLY WOMAN out of 14 people – most of them very successful businessmen. As I mentioned, I have had a long career where I’ve been surrounded by successful men – not only don’t I mind, but I also actually enjoy it. I like men and feel comfortable with them.

So I’m at the table, eating, talking, learning. And then a new person comes to join – and sits at the other end of the table. I didn’t know him. After dinner, everyone is still comfortably at the table when this new person that I didn’t meet prior to the dinner gets up to leave. He makes his way around the table to say goodbye to everyone. Those that he didn’t know, he made it a point to stop, introduce himself, say a few words, and then move on to the next. He didn’t know the person two down from me, so I saw him do that. He then said goodbye and shook hands with the person next to me. And then he skipped me completely and made his way to the person on the other side of me (who is the person I happened to know best at the table). He continued to move around the table shaking hands and intermittently introducing himself until he made his away all the way around, and then headed out.

I wasn’t angry, or even disappointed. But, I was surprised. I waited for the other men at the table to make a comment. For someone to say “isn’t it weird he didn’t introduce himself to Alicia”, or even for someone to comment “I’m sorry I didn’t introduce you to him.” Nothing came. No comment, no mention and honestly, nobody noticed. UNCONSCIOUS bias.

The next day I had a meeting with the colleague that was sitting to my left. I asked him if he noticed the situation. He didn’t. I waited for him to get defensive. He didn’t. He asked a few questions “are you sure he introduced himself to X, because he didn’t know X”. “Yes, I said, he did.” The point is not whether or not I was introduced to him. The point is not even that he skipped me. The point is more that nobody else noticed. Here’s what I’m thinking about:

  • Did the man that didn’t introduce himself think I was someone’s wife? Or administrative assistant, and therefore less important?
  • Would anyone have noticed if he didn’t introduce himself and say goodbye to one of the men?
  • If I was a man, would someone have introduced him to me in the first place?

Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Actually, I’m not making a mountain out of anything. I haven’t spent time talking about it, or letting it get under my skin. Yet, it’s still sitting there, right on the surface, so I thought I owed it some reflection time.

If I continue to be silent when things like this happen, part of the problem is me. To the rest of the table, this was UNCONSCIOUS. I don’t think they saw it or noticed. And if they did, they didn’t think it was a big deal (it really wasn’t – unless you look at the macro point)…but how can anything change if people that need to see things don’t see them?

It begs a bigger picture question – what am I not seeing? What is happening to other people, in front of my eyes that I don’t see because of my perspective, my frame of reference, my privilege or my unconscious bias? So, here is the call to action…if you see something, say something. Please think about it compassionately without judgment. Please say it empathetically. But please, say something. Otherwise, it will never become CONSCIOUS and until it is, it will never change.

UPDATE: Since the writing of this post, I have had subsequent conversation with a (male) friend that I thought was worth sharing:

Me: So…that’s what happened.

Friend: WOW, that is upsetting. He’s not usually like that.

Me: He wasn’t "like anything" – he literally didn’t notice that he was doing it, and nobody else did either.

Friend: What if he’s just shy around women, would that explain it?

Me: Um, no. Because what if I was just shy around men? What would that mean to my career?  I would never be where I am.

Still, invisible.

One year later…I got my second shot

March 17, 2021

This week social media is blowing up with pictures, memories and thoughts about where we were only one year ago…when we really shut down. I say “only one year” – and now, that’s how it feels – 2020 was a blur – somehow the time went by slowly each day – but looking back now, I can’t even remember some of it. I guess you don’t remember each version of groundhogs’ day.

I can’t possibly understand the loss that so many people have had to endure – the grandparents, parents, siblings, friends lost to this crazy disease. Loss of time, loss of job, loss of security, loss of mind…I have read about it, commiserated with friends about it, coached colleagues through it…watched my daughter suffer through trying to learn online, trying to deal with the lack of social events during these important young adult years. I watched as my son continued to go to school, to work, all the while having to listen to me say “wear your mask, wash your hands, leave your shoes in the garage…” and worried my way through it. And, I had my own loss too.

However, yesterday I had my second vaccine. And for the first time in a very long time, I allowed myself to think about the excitement of that which comes next. I’m most excited for the travel – to safely board the plane, get into an Uber and my hotel with minimal fear of cooties. And boy, am I ready to have some fun again! I also allowed myself to think about the things I learned – from a work perspective. So, with that in mind, here are the3 most impactful things I learned about leadership from living and working through a pandemic:

1)   High Potential Talent is always in demand.

Even when the world shuts down, those that are really great at their job will always be sought after. In fact, now more than ever the War For Talent is on. With companies everywhere focused on how they get their people ‘back to the office’ they are realizing that a hybrid option most likely makes the most sense. Saves money in overhead, but even more importantly, opens the recruiting pool to outside of your city, outside of your commuting range to pretty much the entire country. Where are the best people? Go find them anywhere – the world is your limit. So, with that in mind what do you do? The answer is two-fold:

a.    Invest in your best people. Ensure they feel valued, they are growing and learning. If they take the call from the head-hunter it’s already too late. Call me if you are ready to invest in executive coaching for your best people Executive Coaching

b.    Hire the right people in the first place. Make sure they are built for the job. How do you do that? Use Predictive Index. It’s a quick assessment that turns subjective information into data that can be used to predict high performance in the job. I’ve used it inside a company and now I use it with my clients. If you are interested in learning more, find me at Mindwire Group

2)   Energy Oscillates.

I always knew this…some days you wake up with more energy than other days. Some activities provide more energy than others and some require more energy. Some people are energy “sucks” and some give energy. When we are living in a world where every day feels the same – we just have to be more intentional about the energy we do have, and a little less judgmental of ourselves when we just don’t have it to give. We will be talking a lot about the human energy, and the human energy crisis in the first season of our upcoming podcast Middle Finger Situations – which will be coming to wherever you get your podcasts in mid-March. In the meantime, here are some ideas:

a.    Identify when, during the day, your energy is highest. Is it consistent? Do those things that require the most energy then. Save the boring stuff, that doesn’t require much thought, for when your energy is lagging. For me, that’s around 3:30 or 4 pm.

b.    Sometimes we have low energy days, or days when energy is seeping out of us due to anxiety, stress or some other emotion that drains us. Give yourself some grace. Don’t beat yourself up – it’s happening to everyone. Without as much human connection, our brain is struggling. Maybe on those dragging days, reach out to an old friend and reconnect. Experience for real the impact of human connection,

c.    See what you can do to manage your own energy. Eat right, exercise, meditate, get outside for some fresh air and connect with those you love – even if it’s through a mask or on a zoom call. Sounds cliché, but I promise it works.

3)   Find something to measure and watch yourself improve.

I’ve always been someone that works out – and in that workout there are several ways to measure progress – distance, speed, number of reps, size of weights, even improved body fat percentage. Depending upon what our goals are, we can typically find a way to measure where we are against it. Yet, at work many of us have goals that are not quite measurable. And if we can measure them, we don’t do it often enough – and then at the end of the year we try to justify our success against the goals we set for ourselves a full year ago. What if we changed that up? I’m not saying you need to change your whole company’s goal setting process – but instead what if you set small goals for yourself – small milestones that show you that you are learning and growing. Watching yourself get better – even if it’s a tiny bit better each day – is a sure-fire way to reclaim some of your potentially lost energy.

Here’s one last thought…maybe not a leadership lesson, but a truth that I think I always knew but was made clear to me this past weekend. Old friends are like home. I have friends from elementary, middle, and high school, friends from college, friends from each and every one of the jobs I’ve had and every city in which I’ve lived. I’m a collector of people and a good relationship builder. I place a high value on friendship and have never taken my friends for granted.  I consider myself lucky. This past weekend I met up with 5 friends that I’ve known since middle school. We haven’t all kept in touch, but because of social media, we have been able to follow each other and the lives we have lived. What an amazing time we had. Because old friends are like home. They are comfortable, they are familiar and in this particular case, they were awesome. We clicked back into a pattern that was at once easy and fun. All five of us were better versions of ourselves than we were then, and we all appreciated that. The pictures we posted were met with comments and love from so many others that went to school with us as well, all wanting to know when we can do it again.

Some people are very tied to their jobs; not because they love the job, or what they are doing, or what the company or the industry does – but mostly it’s “about the people”. Here’s how I can apply my ‘old friend’ learning to this…most companies have great people – you just need to find them. BUT…when you leave a company, you suddenly have a whole new ‘cadre’ of old friends. Stay connected. It does a heart good.

Words Matter.

July 14, 2020

Recently, one of my colleagues sent me a musing about his favorite words. I found myself reading it several times and each time it made me smile. It sounded like him. As I read each of the words and his rationale for why he liked it, it was comforting to read – like having a conversation with him yet being inside of his brain while having it. The second part of his post was pondering what other people’s favorite words were – and why. Upon considering the question, here is what I learned:

1.      Language, like so many other things, can be (and probably is for a lot of people) filled with muscle memory. There are many words that I use because I’m just used to using them. And when I stopped to think about my favorite words, the first place I went was the obvious – what are the words I use all the time…I came up with a few (“awesome” being the one that came to me first). Is this a meaningful word to me? Do I consciously think about it and then use it in a sentence at just the right time? NO. It’s just a word I find myself using. Muscle memory.

2.      I believe (and say) that words matter. I feel that very strongly. So then why am I so lazy with this? Why do I let my muscle memory jump in and take over? I think the BLM movement has me thinking right along with the post I already mentioned. I’m quick to judge others when they use the wrong words, and quick to praise when they use the right words…so it became evident that it’s time for me to think more carefully (and slowly) about the words I use in specific scenarios.

3.      With that in mind, below are some of my favorite words that I use thoughtfully. I have also added in some Alicia-isms (as reported by two of my previous colleagues/friends in a 2013 birthday post), because these are things I still say, and I still believe, and I still think matter.

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BrilliantA long time ago a mentor of mine explained that this was a very under-utilized word. There is a story behind it, but suffice it to say, I agree. I use this word now when someone says something that makes a connection for me – that offers an insight that I hadn’t yet seen. It’s a word that when attributed to someone, typically makes them smile and want to say more brilliant things. I savor this word and use it for the perfect situation. And when I do, I love it and usually say it more than once: “that was Brilliant. BRILLIANT”. I’ve been known to explain my fascination with this word during keynote speeches in front of large audiences.

Legacy. This has been one of my favorites for only about 5 years – there is some kind of magic that happens when you turn 50 that leads you to understand the importance of the word and it only gets more focused and urgent over time. To me it is about what you are compelled to leave – your family, your friends, your community and maybe most importantly, this world. I believe if we can get clear on this earlier in life, it might better influence some of the choices we make.

Gift. As in, “What is your Gift?” I use this word to define the thing that you do so well, that comes so easily, that you think everyone can do it and therefore you brush it off without recognition of how good you are. I also think once you can define and refine your gift, it becomes your obligation to give it – not a choice. It can be tied to your legacy (it’s great if they are tied).

NarrativeI think I use this differently than some people. When I speak of narrative, I mean the story you are telling about yourself – both intentionally, and unintentionally. What do specific decisions do to your narrative? How focused can you be on your narrative such that what you want it to be is actually what it is?

Intentionality. I love this one. When you focus so hard on something that when it happens, you are not surprised – in sort of a cosmic way. To me this means when things happen because that’s the way they are supposed to happen. You put something in the universe, and with it you put energy and focus and suddenly it’s yours. It’s similar to my meaning of energy.

Serendipity. Because I love when this happens. The fortunate accident that leads to something wonderful. And because there is a famous ice cream place in NYC called Serendipity where I have beautiful memories with both of my kids.

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Alicia-isms

Assume Positive Intent.

You Give Life to that Which you Give Energy

Learning is Uncomfortable and Training Doesn’t Work (this is more relevant when you recognize I say it as a Chief Learning Officer having spent about 30 years in the L&D field)

Never run from something, always run to something.

Relationships are where the real work happens

You don’t have to be perfect; you just have to get a teeny bit better every day.

This last one came from the list my friends sent me, and I don’t remember saying it, but I like it…

It’s never good to lose your cool, but sometimes you just have to tell people when they’re acting like assholes.

Please feel free to comment right here or send me a note with your favorite words. I have become fascinated with the whole exercise. My commitment is to be more thoughtful, more intentional with my word choice – because we know how much this matters.

Brilliant. 😊

Curiosity Killed the Cat (we’re lucky we’re not cats) –
and Four Other Reminders for 2019

January 4, 2019

Curiosity Killed the Cat (we're lucky we're not cats) - and Four Other Reminders for 2019

You’re not alone if you are thinking “I can’t believe we’re actually heading into 2019!” Where is the time going, and why is it going there so fast? I love the New Year for many reasons – not the least of which, it gives us an opportunity to think about what worked and what didn’t. It’s a reset, a refresh, another chance, a formal opportunity to try something new. 

Here are some things I keep learning…

1) If you want to change behavior, first identify what you truly believe.

New Years is a time for resolutions. It’s a time when, as I said before, people crave a fresh start – a refresh. However, when I opened the gym almost five years ago I realized how many people don’t hold true to those resolutions for more than a couple of weeks. Why? Because they don’t bother to change their beliefs. Let’s face it, when you are behaving in a certain way, that behavior is somehow serving you. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t be doing it. The hard work is in identifying how the behavior is serving you, and deciding to believe something different. My gym example is an easy one – we always get new clients at the gym in the early part of January – the gym is crowded and sometimes it’s even hard to get an appointment. By February, things have leveled off, and sadly, by March many of the new people have decided that they are “too busy” to come at all. Let’s look at the beliefs…maybe going to the gym is the resolution you make every year – looking forward to the fresh start. But the beliefs that you tell yourself “this is too hard,” “I’m so out of shape that it will take me forever to feel and look better,” “I just don’t have time,” are the very things that will drive your actual behavior. What if you changed those beliefs? What if instead of thinking that you don’t have time, that you start thinking that you can re-prioritize something else to make space for the 45 minutes you need at the gym a few times a week? I don’t mean start telling yourself that – I mean, start believing it. Show yourself you can do it. Eventually, your brain will believe you and alas, your behavior will change.

REMINDER #1: In 2019 identify a behavior that needs changing; first identify the beliefs around it. Then work to change the beliefs – the behavior will soon follow.

2) Curiosity may have killed the cat, but without it you might just kill your career. 

2018 brought with it lots of new things at work – new clients, new ideas, new challenges. New things can be scary – we become vulnerable when we are not sure of the outcome, we open ourselves up to failure and may instead take the easier route. Or, we become judgmental – listening to others in a defensive manner, rather than one that is open and curious. 

I’ve observed, from paying attention to my clients, that those who truly listen with curiosity hear more things, learn something new, and challenge the status quo more often. These are the people that will continue to grow, the ones that will stay current and therefore are most in demand. Those with a more ‘fixed’ mindset – someone that believes they have all the answers – well, without that curiosity, how much can they truly learn? And, who wants to be around people that aren’t learning and growing? I don’t want them in my company, do you?

REMINDER #2: Remain curious in 2019.

3) Leadership is easy until emotions get involved. That’s when it gets real.

I spend a lot of time with leaders. In fact, most of my working day is spent coaching, listening, teaching, holding up a mirror, and sometimes advising leaders. I work with my executive coaching clients on building a development plan to improve or breakthrough one aspect of their leadership. Some want to race through it, pound it out and get it done. But leadership doesn’t work like that. It’s hard. It takes time. Some want to list three things, finish those, and get on to the next three. It also doesn’t work like that. The real leadership breakthroughs are the ones you are working on every day – they don’t come easy or fast. They typically involve understanding yourself, your triggers and your blind spots, and then working to insert a thought between the feeling and the action.

I hear myself explaining to a group of new leaders a model to give feedback without the other person getting defensive. Then I try to give feedback to my 17-year- old son, and I don’t follow one bit of my own advice. Or maybe I can coach a leader to listen with curiosity to one of their direct reports who has a differing idea – yet, when my 15-year-old daughter explains one of her ‘differing’ ideas, I immediately judge and shut her down. Because with our kids, we are emotional. With those things for which we feel passion, our emotions work hard to get the better of us. Leadership is mostly emotional. If you’re not passionate, everyone notices. If you are passionate though you have to work extra hard to be emotionally intelligent. That’s why leaders get paid the big bucks. That’s what makes it hard. That’s why it’s not for the faint of heart.

REMINDER #3: In 2019 my kids deserve a good leader too. Insert a thought between a feeling and an action.

4) Focus on the breathing.

I practice this in yoga. I practice this when I mediate. Today my trainer told me (for the millionth time) to focus on my breathing when I was doing my 80th of 100 bicep curl and press. He said it again when I was doing sit-ups at the end of the workout, and when I was doing what felt like a million burpees. It was a great workout, as most of them are, but he reminded me that the fear and thoughts that get inside my own head are what are preventing me from moving forward on my fitness goals. The “worry” that I’m not going to finish the workout, or that someone will finish ahead of me, is the very thing that causes the brain to quit, to move back to something more comfortable, more pleasant. All that worry, that fear, makes the heart beat faster and work harder, which signals danger to the brain. SO… if you can focus on your breathing and manage your heartbeat, you can trick yourself (and your brain) into calming down and making better choices. 

This works well beyond fitness goals. This works for all the hard choices, the new directions, the crazy bosses, and next round of layoffs. This works for the new job, the new boss, the new circumstance. I think this might even work with teenagers. If I can just remember to do it.

REMINDER #4: I will breath 2019 in and out consciously and calmly, especially when it becomes overwhelming.

5) Work on getting a tiny bit better every day.

You’ve heard this one before…life is a marathon not a sprint. Incremental improvements over the long run amount to huge gains overall. But sometimes the big goal can be so overwhelming, it could prompt us to run, or quit, or never even try. What if we looked at life as a connected system, as opposed to a series of one-time events? What if we started to recognize the interconnectedness of our actions? 

I learned this while I was working at the United States Olympic Committee. Elite athletes look at their competitions as a series of interconnected milestones. Nutrition, strength and conditioning, cross training, their specific sport training… these incremental milestones are so important when an athlete is trying to improve by 1/10th of a second.

It works for the ‘executive athlete’ too. It’s freeing to understand that the big goal will still be there tomorrow, next week, or next year. Can you break it down into a series of smaller milestones that can lead you to success? Can you get incrementally better every day? This is where reflection comes in handy. Think about it, and write it down. What did you do today that was better than yesterday? Because, that’s growth and progress and that’s the way you knock down big goals and have great success.

REMINDER #5: What can you do today – every day in 2019, that is just a tiny bit better than yesterday?

I learn everyday from my colleagues, my clients, my mentors and my friends. I try to embrace these concepts in all aspects of my life. I teach about them, I coach to them and I believe in them. But we all need help. And we all need reminders. 

May 2019 lead you to happiness and success in whatever journey you are on.

Cheers

To Resist Change is Human….

July 12, 2017

We’ve all been there….change is hard. Even good change is hard (anyone want to say that the first year of marriage is easy?) Some of us like to believe “we’re good at it”, and “we like change.”  I get it – I feel the same way….about the changes I know are coming and can think about, as well as those over which I feel as though I have some semblance of control.

Personal change is one thing – but the kind of changes we are faced with today offer no comfort. There is really no way to really comprehend what’s next. Our country is certainly in unchartered waters politically these day – and that is all I will say about politics. But what about the changing nature of the world in terms of technology, and the future of work? Of course, the political environment impacts these changes, but regardless of who is President – the world is changing quickly and even the smartest among us are challenged.

Think about this:

–         Not too long ago there was no such thing as Cyber Security. According to the Info Security website, the first computer “worm” was created in 1989. They slowly started to gain momentum when the first viruses were found in the 1990’s, and the first credit cards under attack happened between 2005-2007. Think about that – a mere 10 years later we have an entire industry, new careers and secondary and post-secondary degrees focused on something that didn’t even exist a quarter of a century ago.

–         The first smartphone was released to mass adoption in 1999 by the Japanese firm NTT DoCoMo. They didn’t become widespread until the late 2000’s. In the third quarter of 2012 one billion smartphones were in use worldwide. Today, how would we conduct business without our smartphone? Forget business, how would we do anything?

–         I know a little something about online education, having worked at Apollo Education Group (University of Phoenix “UOPX”) for seven years. Proudly, UOPX Founder, Dr. John Sperling, “invented” online education in 1976 via a dial-up modem – giving working adults the flexibility to higher education options. It wasn’t until the latter part of the 1990’s when these options started to pick up – and it was in 1999 when Blackboard and eCollege were introduced. A mere 15 years later, in 2014, 98% of public colleges and universities offer online programs. The disruption of higher education continues fast and furiously.

So, what’s the point? There are several points ….change is here. It starts slowly, giving us humans time to react in one of three ways: (adopted from The Five Stages of Technology Adoption – Everett Rogers)

1)     Jump on the train quickly and become part of the change. This group is considered either innovators (2.5% of the population) or early adopters (13.5% of the population.) It seems that many of us like to consider ourselves as part of this group. And maybe, sometimes we are – after all, we all had smartphones long before the late 2000’s right?

2)     Wait and see, and then jump on the train when it seems that all the “cool kids” are doing it. Rogers referred to this group as the early majority (34% of the population). This is the group that spends the time thinking about the change, overcoming their own objections and understanding their personal context in which the change makes sense. This is the group we as OD practitioners are trying to impact – the group that will be, as Malcom Gladwell referred to as, the Tipping Point.

3)     Head shaking, finger pointing, foot-stomping, “I’ll jump in front of the train if I have to!”  We’ve all seen this in action – starting with toddlers and working all the way up to arms crossed stubborn adults refusing to see a different perspective. Although this can look different too – these resistors (which Rogers calls the Late Majority – 34% of the population or Laggards – 16% of the population) can also look like ostriches – with their heads buried deep in the sand, or bobbleheads – agreeing with the change with their outside voice, but with their inside voice screaming “nooooooo.” The covert resistance in this form can be a much more dangerous way to resist change – since head nodding with the absence of any behavior change can easily be construed as acceptance.

In any case, it’s time we are aware of some of the changes that are coming because like some of the disruptions I mentioned earlier, these are coming slowly now – but they are picking up steam and will be here before we know it. Are we ready to deal with some of the changes that are coming to the way we work? We at Medius Advisory Group have been doing a lot of speaking lately about The Future of Work. We run an exercise that asks leaders to sit together and make sense of some of the trends that are out there today – and imagine a world where these trends become more mainstream. What does the world look like and what are the implications to how we run businesses today?

Lots of people – not just us – are talking about these trends. We didn’t make them up, if you read at all about the Future of Work you will find them. They include:

In as little as 3 years, somewhere between 40-50% of a company’s workforce could be freelancers.

  • The implications of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality on, well, on everything. What will it look like, how do we prepare for it?
  • Machine learning and the implications of that on jobs – what’s left for the human to do?
  • With the continued disruption of higher education, how will the HR departments find talent? What if people actually stop getting their MBA?
  • What will work look like with four very different generations in it? About 10,000 baby boomers a day are retiring – what are the implications of that? Are the Millennials prepared to lead? What does the next generation (Gen Z) need for success?

Overwhelming? Yes. And yet we are seeing the same reactions across the board as I wrote about earlier. A small percentage of those we talk to about are truly excited – a little anxious maybe, but excited about what comes next and how that will play out for them personally. Many of those we see are in the second group – listening with some anxiety yet we can see the wheels turning inside their head – trying to make sense of it inside their personal context. And of course, we also see those that refuse to believe any of this is true – the leaders inside companies that are ignoring the signs, not preparing themselves and moving forward with “business as usual.”

Let me tell you something – even the smartest among us are not immune to the scariness of the impending changes. Intelligence has nothing to do with it.

These days, the most marketable skill is called Learning Agility.

Bersin by Deloitte defines learning agility as: “a competency or capability which describes a person’s speed to learn…People with strong “learning agility” can rapidly study, analyze and understand new situations and new business problems.”   In a recent article on CNBC.com (dated July 7, 2017) entitled “Small Business Owners don’t like to use Freelancers. Are they Wrong?”  had this to say:

“Out of more than 2,200 small-business owners recently surveyed by Manta, only 36 percent currently use contract workers. Eighty-five percent, meanwhile, said that they have no intentions of hiring any contract workers this year. The reasons for this hiring reluctance range from general employer-staff relationship fears to legal and compliance worries. (for more on that article, click here)

So, fear exists – there is a huge, relevant body of work on the neuroscience of leadership and why this fear exists in all of us. Our brain is actually designed to relish and relax in the status quo – so it makes sense that we as humans would try to do just that. (There are hundreds of references to the Neuroscience of leadership – here is a link to one of the articles.) But what are the implications to ourselves, to our businesses and to our society if we give in to that temptation? Learning agility helps; a lot. So does perspective and mindfulness to quell the honest anxiety that comes with change.

What will you do? How will you help to drive these changes, overcome the fear and ready yourself and your organization? We know that to resist change is indeed human – yet time, and with it progress, marches on and hopefully, you’ll be marching right along with it.

* For more information on an assessment to measure learning agility as part of the hiring or development process, contact Alicia Mandel.

The Three Most Unfortunate Things About Organizational Culture

January 27, 2017

I’m an optimist. I’m one of those people that always look for the bright side, the learning opportunity or when the turnaround will come. I see the glass half full. So, when I say there are three unfortunate things about organizational culture, I say that with an eye toward the tremendous opportunity we have to straighten it out.

Josh Bersin, in his latest report entitled “Predictions for 2017” says: “86% of business leaders rate ‘culture’ as one of the more urgent talent issues, yet only 14% understand what the ‘right culture” really is’.  This is also unfortunate but makes a great case as to why we have to pay attention.

Here’s the good news. Even though the following list represents the most unfortunate things about culture, there are some really good, really proactive things we can do about them. The eternal optimist in me says – these are just huge opportunities, and with the right level of vulnerability, curiosity and innovation we can turn them around so that one day they might be considered some of most fortunate things about organizational culture.

1.     Culture is only measured using lagging indicators. Let’s think about that for a minute – what are the ways we can measure the culture of an organization? Employee engagement surveys are the most obvious answer – (and I love Bersin’s definition of employee engagement: “the employees’ response to the organization’s culture”). Sadly though, these surveys are a lagging indicator; once you have the data, you already have a disengaged workforce. Too late. What else? How about turnover – how fast employees are leaving the organization? Oh, well we can only track this after they leave – so then that’s too late too. How about retention of high performing employees? We can certainly measure that in real time, yet we typically only look at that in conjunction with attrition, again making it too late and a lagging indicator. While these metrics can all give you a solid read on the culture of your organization – once you get the data – it’s almost always too late.

You’ve heard the old adage about trust – it takes a lifetime to build and a moment to lose? The same thing holds true for a great organizational culture. It takes a lot of time, deliberate behavior and intentionality to build and with inconsistent words and actions, only a moment to derail. So why do we measure using lagging indicators?

Imagine if we could look at the leading indicators of culture. If we could ask people, proactively, what is getting in the way of the culture they need to be successful? Imagine if we acted upon their suggestions. Imagine if we paid attention to ensuring the right people were in the right roles from the beginning and we onboarded them such that they understood the unwritten rules of the culture and how things get done inside the organization. Imagine if we were able to predict the health of the culture and use that prediction to drive the business strategy?

2. Culture is not owned by the Executive Team – or frankly anyone. It’s owned and driven by everyone. Why? Because culture is about behavior not words. And therefore you can’t legislate it. You can try, many leaders waste a lot of their time doing that. Here’s what it looks like (and this is actually a true story – names are changed to protect the innocent)

Boss: Mary, you are clearly not engaged anymore. Everyone looks to you to see how you are feeling – they take cues from you. You have to be more engaged.

Mary: Well, that’s hard because I’m honestly not engaged anymore. I don’t feel like I fit in. I don’t feel like I’m valued.

Boss: Well, you better get engaged! It’s not an option.

So Mary leaves her boss’s office and what happens? Does she get more engaged? No, of course not, but her lack of engagement goes underground. It gets quiet and even more dangerous. Because now she’s probably what is considered actively disengaged and angry; and the behavior that comes from that anger – well, that’s what’s driving the culture. Not Mary alone – but the collective voice of the angry employees that aren’t listened too, or heard, or feeling valued, or don’t see the correlation between words and actions across the organization.

Additionally, if you noticed, the boss was trying to legislate Mary’s engagement through words. Telling her to be engaged. When the real behavior would be instead to work with Mary to figure out what was going on, what was driving her lack of engagement and remove the barrier. Imagine the difference in culture if the boss did the latter?

Besides just not being owned by the Executive team, the culture is also not owned by Human Resources, or Marketing, or Action teams. It’s owned by everyone in the collective group. Could there be sub-cultures? Of course….and those are also driven by the behavior of all the people in the sub-culture.

Just like the United States, right? This is decidedly a difficult time for America – regardless of what side of the political divide you are on – and that is exactly the point. The culture right now, in this country is reflective of the behaviors of the people. Leadership (the new administration) is trying to force the culture one way, yet the people aren’t having it. Because the current administration, just like administrations of past don’t control the culture – they take part it in – but we all do. And while this is the culture of our country, we each live within various sub-cultures – our state, our neighborhood, our family our organization and many more.

What do we do about this? How is this an opportunity? What if organizations were very clear about the type of culture they wanted/needed to be able to drive the business strategy. What if organizations only hired the kind of people that would thrive in that sort of culture. What if we were able to predict who might thrive in the culture the organization has described, and who might have to work much harder to be successful? What if, as leaders, we carefully defined the environment necessary to create the culture (or sub-culture) we knew we’d need to drive our success? Not only would we have a healthier organization, and one that would likely be positively represented on the transparent websites like LinkedIn and Glassdoor, but we’d also be looking at it from a proactive lens instead of reacting based on lagging indicators.

Two down – one to go….

3.     Peter Drucker famously said “Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast” and yet we are still talking about culture in the absence of the context of business strategy. 

How can we look at something that is so important that it could actually destroy our company performance – yet look at it as a parallel track – where strategy and culture shall never intersect. Why aren’t we looking at the kind of culture we need to drive the very business strategy we work so hard to create?

Do we have a strategy that calls for high growth over the next several years? Why is it that after we create the strategy we get busy defining initiatives, execution plans, project plans, action teams, etc. and yet we never stop and think about the People Strategy that will drive the business success? We don’t think about the culture we need that will push us forward (or how to change the culture we have that might actually eat the strategy for breakfast). Let’s look at an example…

We have a strategy that calls for high growth. What kind of culture will we need to ensure the level of growth we are looking for? Is it one that supports innovation? Agility? Flexibility? What are the behaviors that support those cultural attributes? Do we expect people do try things, experiment and learn from their mistakes? Or do we have policies that outline exactly how people behave, how they dress, and how decisions are made? Do we have an organizational structure that limits or even prohibits talking across silos? Do we insist everyone is in the office from 8-5 every day? These decisions and subsequent behaviors all determine if we have a culture that supports what our business needs.

Maybe we have a strategy that is all about scale, infrastructure and operational excellence. Maybe our overhead is too high and our revenue has slowed down a bit. Maybe we need to figure out how to do more with less. What kind of a culture does that demand?

Without understanding what kind of culture your strategy needs, it happens by mistake. The culture becomes one of default – people behaving, and making decisions according to their own beliefs, principles and agendas. The intentionality of who we want to be goes out the window.

So think about this – if culture has the power to take down a strategy (or eat it for breakfast), how much power could it have to propel the organization forward – toward success. Imagine if we were able to take the negative power and turn it into a positive force for good – aligning with and driving the organization’s big, crazy goals.

Three unfortunate things about culture need to be addressed – today. Now. Imagine if we could be in a work environment that creates success, wellbeing and growth. Led by leaders that understand where the organization is going, how to garner the collective power of the employees and to march together toward a common goal/purpose/mission.

Imagine if we can turn these cultural misfortunes into amazing opportunities. My prediction is, Josh Bersin’s Predictions report will look vastly different in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Warning: Once you THINK BIG, it’s hard to go back

January 12, 2017

In our consulting practice, we’ve created a new exercise that helps leaders and executives think big. “What will the world look like in a few years” kind of big. Here’s how it works:

First, we present the group with a series of facts about how the world of work is rapidly shifting, and how these future changes will transform how we run organizations. These facts are from well-known sources, journals, surveys and researchers. The facts cover a series of categories which include: technology disruptions (like Machine Learning and Virtual Reality), Freelance Nation (what? half of the workforce could be freelancers?), incoming Generation Z (what happened to the Millenials?), the rise of agile, fluid teams (and the subsequent dissolution of the org chart) and workspace trends (Starbucks as the new meeting place?) just to name a few. Teams take a look at the specific facts and make sense of them together. What we’ve found is that people typically have one of three reactions:

1) Fight or Flight: Nah, it’s never going to happen. I don’t believe it. Or

2) Discomfort: This sounds more like “Oh wow, I never saw it that way. That’s scary”. Or

3) Imagine if…..: Just think about all the possibilities if we reframed work through a different lens.

“Fight or Flight” is usually a small percentage of the overall group and one that clearly emanates from a Fixed Mindset (The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck, 2007). They seem to hunker down and either disagree or lose interest.

The next two reactions are doors that can lead to thinking big and differently and are associated with more of a Growth Mindset (Dweck, 2007). The most common (and normal) reaction is discomfort. It’s OK to feel discomfort of course, especially if it leads towards a growth mindset – if the discomfort isn’t so bad the individual retreats into fight or flight. The hope is that the uncomfortable reactions instead lead to the third – “Imagine if….”. It is rare, but it does happen, that people jump right into the “Imagine If…” headspace.

After the teams have the chance to digest the facts, we ask them to do some light scenario planning/modeling. Not big heady stuff – just to offer an idea or two of what the world might look like if we take some of these facts and weave them together. We’ve noticed that when the leaders are in fight or flight mode, the next steps becomes disingenuous, not really taken seriously and essentially “just an exercise.” Many times, we even witness a fairly combative tone tied to negation and unwillingness to face the truth (think: head in the sand).

When the leaders are uncomfortable, well, then we’re on to something. Because discomfort can be re-framed. We can look at it through a lens of fear first but then we get the chance to look at it another way – in a more positive way where we can see, or even invent, the possibilities (aka “Imagine If…”). Of course it always helps to have a few of those immediate “imagine if” types in the room to help visualize new futures through a lens of optimism and new frontiers. They tend to balance the openness and momentum away from the naysayers.

This exercise is all about context. Context is a powerful thing and the truth is, if you really want anything to change, you must first change the context and only then will the thinking change.
Let’s think about that a little bit. Context changes produce changes in behavior. Remember the first time you saw your teacher outside of the classroom, maybe in the grocery store or the bank? That was strange, right? Completely out of context. Do you remember what happened the next day in school? Did your perspective of the teacher change?

Let’s think about a broader example – smoking cigarettes. Everybody in the world at this point knows and understands that smoking cigarettes kills people. Every fact points to it, every pack has a warning we see commercials and ads on a regular basis, yet the behavior is, people still smoke. But when their context changes, their behavior changes. When does their context change? When someone they love gets sick or dies, when they themselves get sick or when they become pregnant. Their context has changed.

It happens at work a lot. It has happened to me. I was in a job that I loved. I was good at it, I enjoyed it. Life was great. My context was just fine, thank you. But then there was a change. My boss left. I was asked to play an interim leadership role. I was invited to executive meetings, participated in high level decisions, and was asked my opinion (approval) before things got done. While the truth is, I didn’t like the interim role (which I ended up being in for one year, and learned a tremendous amount) – my context had changed. And when finally, the assignment was over and I was free to go back to my beloved previous job – well, the context remained changed, and nothing was the same again.

“Once you breath the air up there it’s hard to go back” was how my mentor explained it to me. But looking back, it was all about context. I left and found a new job, with new context, new air, which led to new ideas.
At Medius we spend so much of our time working with our clients on changing behavior– both individual behavior and organizational behavior. Sometimes we even work on pushing to change market behavior. But our real goal is helping our clients to change their context. And when we see their reactions – is it fight or flight, or merely discomfort, we can predict who will be most successful. We don’t judge – we coach. We ask questions, we push gently (sometimes a little harder than others) but we help them be successful. The statistics about how often large scale change within an organization is successful are dreadful. It’s rare. And it’s only when the new context is accepted. Changing context changes behavior. And only with real, intentional behavior change can large scale change be successful.

Ever since we started running the exercise about the Future of Work, my thinking has changed. It has broadened, gotten bigger. Reading articles, books, anything really, I keep thinking – What does this mean? What will it look like? What are the implications?

I saw a quote posted on Facebook today from a dear friend. It said:

“Come to the Edge he said. They said: We are afraid. Come to the Edge he said. They came. He pushed them and they Flew.” – Guilaume Apollinaire
Nothing big happens without courage. Even if it’s just the courage to think big. But heed this warning, once you start thinking big – it’s impossible to think small again.

Is it Authenticity or just plain Judgment?

June 7, 2016

Last month, Adam Grant wrote an OP/ED in the NY Times called “Unless You’re Oprah, ‘Be Yourself’ is Terrible Advice”.  Read it here.  Typically,  I enjoy reading Adam Grant’s columns and respect his opinion, so I was anxious to read this one, having spent so much time thinking about Authenticity and the role it plays in Leadership.

After reading the column, and admittedly being slightly surprised at how much I disagreed with the overall sentiment, I saw Brene Brown’s response.  Brene Brown is another person I  read voraciously, I follow on Instagram and value most everything she says.  Read her response here.

I love an intellectual debate – especially between people as smart and intellectually curious as these two.  However there was still an element of the argument missing for me – something important that  hadn’t yet been discussed.  I continued to think about it.

Below is my interpretation of each of the perspectives.  It’s important to read the full articles though – because like anything else, these summaries are the observations through my lens:

Adam Grant’s perspective: Too much authenticity is never a good thing.  Nobody wants to see the true you – they’d rather you censor yourself – or “self-monitor”. He goes on to say that ‘Low Self Monitors’ are people that don’t really censor themselves – they are not politically correct, they say what they mean and they mean what they say – regardless of who they are talking too.  He says a lot more than that, but that’s the gist of what I read.

Brene Brown’s perspective: She agrees that authenticity has become an overused buzz word, however has a very different definition than Mr. Grant.  She believes one must be courageous and vulnerable to be authentic – to accept our imperfections. In order to do this, we must set boundaries, understand the boundaries and be self-monitoring – almost the opposite of how it was described in the NY Times piece.

This article and response has stayed with me…I continue to talk about it, to share the article with teams with whom I’m working, to lead discussion groups about it.  I mentioned it to my friend and colleague Cathy Salit, CEO of Performance of a Lifetime and Author of Performance Breakthrough.  Not only had she read the article and the various responses, she wrote her own LinkedIn comments on it as well.  Read that here.

Cathy Salit’s perspective: She believes that we play several different roles at any given time – for example, the role of mother, boss, friend.  She calls this ‘multiplicity’.  However, maybe more importantly, she believes that authenticity is a process of growth and creativity.  In other words (her words) ‘in order to be truly authentic we must be both “who we are” and “who we are becoming”’.

After so many conversations and so much debate, I finally have my own perspective to share….. I agree with Brene Brown – authenticity takes courage. I agree with Cathy Salit – we have to keep learning and playing various roles so that we can authentically be who we are growing into.

However, what role does good, old fashion judgment play here? Where is empathy in the conversation? What about the other person or people?

It seems to me that one of the basic tenants of being an adult, is being able to use good judgment.  Do you always say what you want when you want? Of course not.  Do you always just do what you want, whenever you want to? Of course not.  Are you being authentic?  Of course.

Think about this:

  • The mother of a teenager is a role I play with great difficulty. I often find myself wanting to say things that I would never actually say.  Am I being inauthentic?
  • I am always in a hurry – I’m busy and what I like to refer to as ‘time optimistic’. Which means, I always want to drive faster than the speed limit allows.  However, I try to stay within a close range of the speed limit so that I don’t get pulled over.  Am I being inauthentic?
  • I own a personal training gym. Many people come to the gym to reach very specific goals – yet they don’t work very hard.  They expect they are going to get results merely by showing up.  I would love to call them on it – to push them to push themselves. Yet I want them to feel comfortable in the gym going at their own pace.  Am I being inauthentic?

I don’t think any of these things are inauthentic.  I think we are confusing authenticity with good judgment.  In this crazy world in which we live, maybe what we need is to stop fighting over definitions of words and looking for excuses to behave the way we feel like behaving in the moment.  Maybe we need to be more thoughtful, and more empathetic.  Authentic means being true to yourself – to your values and your beliefs – not being able to say everything you want to say whenever you want to say it.  That’s impulsive and in some cases dangerous. And doing it in the service of being “authentic”, well, that’s just careless.

So, maybe it’s not really about authenticity.  Maybe it’s about judgment. And emotional intelligence and critical thinking and responsibility.  I wonder if we held people accountable for using better judgment – if we expected people to think about the consequences of their behavior or reactions instead of making excuses for it if we’d have less shootings, less accidents and less scariness in our lives.

I pride myself on my authenticity.  I often get praised for it – as one of my best attributes.  I also like to believe I have good judgment that supports that authenticity.  And I have high expectations that all adults should.

Thank you Adam Grant, Brene Brown and Cathy Salit for helping me to better articulate my views and pushing me to consider a different perspective.  My authentic perspective.

The Naked Executive: 5 Signs Others are Noticing that You’re Not Wearing Clothes

March 14, 2016

I’ve been told that if we pay attention to the stories, we’ll actually see them repeating themselves. That there are really a finite number of stories that get played out again and again, and if we can identify the story we are living, we might have a better idea of how to predict the outcome. Interesting right? I’ve noticed that this is true……and lately I’m reminded of the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.

In case you need a reminder, here is a summary of the plot: “A vain Emperor who cares about nothing except wearing and displaying clothes, hires two weavers who promise him the finest, best suits made from a fabric invisible to anyone who is “hopelessly stupid” or simply unfit for his position. When the weavers report that the suit is finished, they mime dressing him and the Emperor marches in procession before his subjects The Emperor’s ministers cannot see the clothes themselves, but pretend that they can for fear of appearing unfit for their positions. In fact, the Emperor does the same – he can’t see the clothes either. The townsfolk play along with the pretense, not wanting to appear stupid or unfit for their positions. Then a child in the crowd, too young to understand the desirability of keeping up the pretense, blurts out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is taken up by others. The Emperor suspects the assertion is true, but continues the procession anyway.”

If you were anything like me as a child, you thought this was a ridiculous story. Why on earth would someone be afraid to say that they didn’t see any clothes? Wouldn’t they be more embarrassed having the Emperor walk down the street naked, than simply explaining that they couldn’t see any clothes? Well, what’s worse than that is actually watching this story play out in a work environment.

How many times have you seen it? The senior most leader (the Emperor, or in our case, the Executive), convinces him (or her) self that they are special because of their title and that they should suddenly know everything. There is a certain inflection point when this actually happens; is it when they become President? CEO? The Head of a Business Unit? I think it varies, but regardless,

…there is a point when the individual seems to think they are better than they used to be because a title has been bestowed upon them.

Don’t get me wrong – in most cases these leaders earn their titles and their positions and therefore, they have earned the respect that comes with it…in most cases. But, something else happens…. it’s the thing where they suddenly can’t admit when they really don’t know something. And this is when they get into trouble.

Ego – the Hider of All Things Unknown

Ego is a crazy thing…. it’s the great protector, the hider of all things unknown. You know the type – the leader that is very full of him (or her) self – walking around with their chest puffed out, their head held high, summoning their assistant to get them coffee (yes, this still happens) …yet these are the ones that seem to be most unsure of themselves. These are the people that believe asking for help is a weakness, that not having all the answers somehow lessens them as human beings and thinking they should automatically know how to do something they’ve never done before. So, they hide it – they hide the fact that they don’t know what they are doing, and they tell themselves they do. They don’t ask for the help from people that might have different experiences, that might know what to do in this or that special circumstance – they let their ego get in the way. And that, my friend, is when it becomes dangerous.

It’s happening a lot now – besides just the ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous political arena we are watching play out in the US, it also happens with companies. With all the start-up and high tech companies growing so fast and merging and acquiring each other, scaling is difficult. Yet, investors are taking very big bets on sometimes young, and sometimes very green leaders. Financial targets are big, and egos are bigger. Take Parker Conrad for example. He was the CEO of Zenefits – do you know Zenefits? They are the new benefits platform for small companies – they sell Software as a Service, so all you really pay for is your insurance premiums and the fee-based services, not the software. It was a great idea and everyone knew it. They grew fast and furiously:

  • In 2013 they launched with $20,000
  • After 8 months, in early 2014 they were at a $1 million run rate in revenue
  • By the end of 2014, they were over $20 million in revenue and went from 15-420 employees
  • Their goal for 2015 was over $100 million in revenue

And in Walks the Emperor

And then it happened…. The naked Emperor showed up. The growth was fast – hypergrowth they call it – and that caused the leadership to operate in some ways that might not have been exactly above board. They had a big fight with one of their partners, ADT, that got ugly, but then after the damage was done, the case was dropped. They used a very high pressure sales force to sell more fee-based services to their customers, and they hired unregulated/unlicensed brokers to sell insurance. In other words, they weren’t going to make their very aggressive targets so they stopped at nothing to do the best they could. I wasn’t there – but I bet there wasn’t a lot of asking for help, or admitting they didn’t know exactly what to do. I bet there weren’t a lot of truth tellers. And so, the inevitable happened. The board called for the resignation of Conrad and replaced him with David Sacks – the then COO. Sacks had some more experience than Conrad, at both Yammer (which he eventually sold to Microsoft) and PayPal.

The question I have about the situation at Zenefits is this – were the townspeople saying to their Emperor – “you look great in those clothes”, or did anyone act as the child, and yell out “you are naked, man!”.

Zenefits isn’t the only company that has fallen victim to the naked Executive…. many companies have. Yahoo maybe going through something similar as we speak. Is Marissa Mayer listening to her townspeople? I saw an interview recently with Katie Couric talking about how great Marissa is to work with. I like Katie a lot, but I question her motives – was she asked to do that? Did she do it because she has a very lucrative contract? Is she one of the “weavers”? I really don’t know.

What happened at Blockbuster? Remember them? Didn’t someone ever say “hey, dude, everyone seems to be streaming and we still are telling our customers to “be kind and rewind.”

Money, power and ego do crazy things to people. While most of this article was dedicated to what goes wrong, there are some really great leaders out there that recognize how important it is to stay true to themselves. There is nothing easy about running a company – especially a publicly traded one that must figure out how to weigh the short term shareholder returns with the longer term growth strategy. There is experience, intuition and surrounding yourself with great truth tellers that you trust. There is the notion of focusing on the employees, believing in the service profit chain (a focus on employees will drive customer engagement/satisfaction which ultimately results in shareholder returns – not the other way around) and driving an intentional and deliberate culture – that matches the company’s growth or business strategy.

Are you a Naked Executive?

There are some telltale signs – here are 5: You might be naked if:

  1. The last time you listened more than you spoke was several years ago – before the promotion.
  2. You love your direct report team so much because they support every single one of your ideas.
  3. Sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat thinking “one day they are going to find me out.”
  4. You might get an inkling that something is not right, but you hear it from someone so far down the organization chart, that you just don’t listen.
  5. You actually believe you’re fooling someone

The best leaders, even those with big egos, listen to their people. This listening gives them the perspective that they need to see things more broadly, hear things that are not being said and therefore recognize when they are walking down the street naked. Here’s to the leaders that recognize that clothes matter.

* Coming soon – What to do if you work for/with a Naked Executive

Authenticity: What is YOUR Performance?

February 29, 2016

A long time ago, in a place far, far away I learned a little something about improvisation. Truth be told, I always wanted to be an actress. Always. But, even though I grew up in NY – the mecca of true acting, I went a different path…..the corporate path.

That however,  didn’t really mean acting was off the table for me. I just had to learn a way to integrate it into my life and my work……I became a facilitator.

Not exactly the Broadway stage for which I yearned, but the stage nonetheless. And a very important stage – because I had a platform to teach people something that they needed to learn.

Anyway, decades ago I had another chance to integrate the stage into my career…..enter stage left Cathy Salit, the CEO of Performance of a Lifetime. (for more info click here). Cathy was (is) an actress – she grew up in NYC and spent her whole life around the theatre. So it was natural that she’d be a natural. But innately she knew that the stage offered even more than the pure, unadulterated entertainment we all have come to expect. She knew that the skills used in the theatre could be integrated into a corporate environment and leveraged as more than even a metaphor –

she knew that the skills used on the stage were the very same skills that if leaders could improve, so then too would their business performance improve.

While I was at American Express I was able to incorporate Performance of a Lifetime – specifically, improvisational skills – into a big sales meeting for which I had responsibility. Learning skills like thinking on your feet, making your partner look good, accepting what is offered and building upon it became second nature when practicing them as part of fun improvisational theatre exercises. Why was it so hard to practice this at work?

My work with Cathy didn’t end at American Express. Rather, she is one of the people in my favorite “collection”. The collection of great minds that come with me wherever I go – those people that I call on when I need a different perspective, a new way of looking at something, or to teach a whole lot of people some really important skills. The work that we did together at the United States Olympic Committee was ridiculously fun. Working with the US Olympic delegation (the athletes, and some of the coaches that make it to the games) before they went off to the 2008 games in Beijing, China on the critical skills necessary to be role models and ambassadors for the United States in addition to winning medals and realizing their dreams was an amazing platform – I pinched myself several times.

So why all the talk about Cathy and Performance of a Lifetime?

Not only because she taught me the importance of making memorable experiences to create learning, or because her methods of teaching are fun and engaging and therefore perfect when integrated into the business world. But because she taught me the importance of authenticity. Of being true to yourself – your strengths, your flaws and all that goes with it – with the recognition that nobody is perfect. But the beauty is – she taught me that we all “perform” all the time – we use our authentic self to play the various roles in our lives – role of employee, of mother, of friend. And these roles/performances can be shaped by us – we are our own director. We can choose to build on our own strengths in a particular role or hold back in another – all the while being authentically ourselves.

I learned today, when catching up with Cathy that she is in the middle of playing a new role in her life….the role of author. Cathy has just written a book about this amazing approach called, Performance Breakthrough: A Radical Approach to Success at Work. And not only did she write a book, she wrote a book that some predict will be a bestseller. It comes out April 12th, 2016. Cathy talked with me about the process (it was hard) and the journey so far (it’s been fun) and the people she met (they are amazing).

But mostly she asked about me. I kept trying to turn it back to her, but she turned it back to me every time. And she said this…..

“What? You OPENED a GYM??? That’s such an Alicia performance! I mean, most people make a commitment to exercise like this – ‘I think I’ll buy a book on nutrition’ or ‘maybe I’ll schedule a few sessions with a personal trainer’, but not you – the Alicia way of doing it is – ‘I think I should buy a gym’ – and then you do it!”

Then she said “I love that we are on new life journeys together – how exciting”. And that’s when I knew…..everyone I know needs to read her book….Go online now and pre-order it here: performancebreakthrough/book.com. Because I’m one of the lucky ones that got a pre-publishing glimpse of it and let me tell you this –  it’s AMAZING. Because that’s what a Cathy Salit performance looks like!

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