Book Review – Industrial/Organizational Psychology: An Applied Approach (9th ed.) by Michael G. Aamodt

industrialorganizational-psychology-an-applied-approach-9th-ed.-cover

NOTE: I am reviewing this I-O psychology textbook from a reader’s perspective (i.e., the student’s/learner’s point of view) and not from an instructor’s perspective.

In the preface and addressing a student audience, Dr. Aamodt wrote: “The text is written at a level designed to help you [the student] understand the material rather than at a level designed to show off the author’s vocabulary” (Aamodt, 2023, p. xv). Yes, the purpose of a textbook is to get students interested in a subject so it makes sense to use a writing style that is readable.

I examined SIX topics: (1) training and development; (2) adverse impact determination in employee selection; (3) use of cognitive ability tests in personnel selection; (4) job analysis; (5) motivation; and (6) diversity & inclusion.

The first topic is training and development (Ch. 8). I love what professor Aamodt wrote in the chapter on designing and evaluating training: “the first issue to consider is whether training is the proper solution to a problem. That is, if employees already possess the necessary skills and knowledge but aren’t performing well, the problem is probably one of motivation, communication, or work design rather than a lack of training” (2023, p. 305).

The “Putting It All Together” section of Ch. 8 nicely summarizes the important factors that determine the success of a training program. Figure 8.4 on p. 306 (in the hard copy) shows a really helpful flowchart to assess a training program.

The second topic is well-covered in many I-O psychology textbooks: the four-fifths rule (or 80% rule) [in Ch. 3] used to make an adverse impact determination in employee selection. Here is Aamodt’s explanation of the four-fifths rule:

“With the four-fifths rule, the percentage of applicants hired from one group (e.g., women, Hispanic individuals) is compared to the percentage of applicants hired in the most favored group (e.g., men, White individuals). If the percentage of applicants hired in the disadvantaged group is less than 80% of the percentage for the advantaged group, adverse impact is said to have occurred” (Aamodt, 2023, p. 94).

This is an important area for I-O Psychology students to learn, and I appreciated professor Aamodt’s explanation of the four-fifths rule, using both words and a table [Table 3.2, p. 95] to help the reader understand. I especially liked that he reminded us: “It is important to keep in mind that adverse impact refers to percentages rather than raw numbers” (Aamodt, 2023, p. 94).

The third topic is cognitive ability tests (Ch. 5) in personnel selection.

Cognitive ability tests are “designed to measure the level of intelligence or the amount of knowledge possessed by an applicant” (Aamodt, 2023, p. 162). Cognitive ability tests are often used because they are excellent predictors of employee performance, easy to administer, and relatively inexpensive (Aamodt, 2023).

“Though cognitive ability tests are thought by many to be the most valid method of employee selection, especially for complex jobs, they certainly have some drawbacks. Perhaps the most crucial of these is that they result in high levels of adverse impact” (Aamodt, 2023, p. 162).

“Another drawback to cognitive ability tests is the difficulty of setting a passing score. That is, how much cognitive ability do you need to perform well in a particular job?” (Aamodt, 2023, p. 162).

The fourth topic is job analysis (Ch. 2) or “The process of identifying how a job is performed, the conditions under which it is performed, and the personal requirements it takes to perform the job” (Aamodt, 2023, p. 35).

Here, Industrial/Organizational Psychology: An Applied Approach (9th ed.) truly shines. I examined seven other I-O psychology textbooks — Cascio & Aguinis, 2019; Conte & Landy, 2019; Levy, 2017; Muchinsky & Howes, 2019; Riggio, 2018; Spector, 2017; Truxillo, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2021 — and not one of them offered a detailed, step-by-step walk-through of how to conduct a job analysis, except for Aamodt’s I-O psychology textbook (2023). In the section “Conducting a Job Analysis,” (pp. 48-55) Aamodt dedicated 7 pages to carefully walk the reader through a 5-step process of conducting a job analysis. Outstanding!

The fifth topic is motivation (Ch. 9), one of the most widely researched topics in I-O psychology. Aamodt (2023) defines motivation as “the force that drives an employee to perform well” (p. 315).

“Ability and skill determine whether a worker can do the job, but motivation determines whether the worker will do it properly” (Aamodt, 2023, p. 315).

He goes on to explain that, “measuring actual levels of motivation can be difficult. As a result, other than asking employees about their motivation levels, researchers use behaviors such as those listed in Table 9.1 (Work Behaviors That Imply Motivation) [e.g., high productivity, high quality, number of promotions, not missing work, arriving to work early, staying late at work, volunteering for extra duties, attending voluntary training, etc.] that imply high levels of motivation” (Aamodt, 2023, p. 315).

Yes, it’s crucial we communicate with students and readers that motivation is a concept that is abstract and tricky to measure. We must clearly explain (as Dr. Aamodt has done) how complex and elusive motivation is and not just that it’s interesting to study.

I especially appreciated that Aamodt stated how work motivation relates to work performance: “Actually testing the relationship between motivation and performance is also difficult, because there are various types of motivation (internal and external) and various factors that affect motivation. However, psychologists generally agree that increased worker motivation results in increased job performance” (Aamodt, 2023, pp. 316-317). Well done!

The sixth topic is diversity & inclusion. For this topic, I’m looking for coverage of diversity issues broadly as workplace diversity management. For instance, consider these excerpts from Introduction to Industrial/Organizational Psychology (7th ed.) by Dr. Ronald E. Riggio, Industrial/Organizational Psychology: Understanding the Workplace (5th ed.) by Dr. Paul E. Levy, and Psychology and Work: An Introduction to Industrial and Organizational Psychology (2nd ed.) by Drs. Donald Truxillo, Talya Bauer, and Berrin Erdogan.

“Industrial/organizational psychologists will have to assist organizations in dealing with the challenges increasing diversity will bring. Although diversity has benefits, demographic and cultural differences can, if not carefully managed, create great difficulties in the functioning of work teams—increasing destructive conflict, inhibiting team cooperation, and impeding performance” (Riggio, 2018, p. 18).

“The diversity in the U.S. labor force is increasing at an amazing rate, and the outlook for 2016 paints a very different picture than we have been accustomed to seeing. For instance, there has been an unprecedented growth in the Latino workforce, as it fulfilled earlier projections by surpassing the African American workforce in 2006. In addition, by 2022, it is projected that women will make up almost 47% of the workforce; African Americans, 12%; and Latinos, 19%” (Levy, 2017, p. 275).

“These data trends along with the increasing globalization of organizations result in a very dynamic situation in which organizations must change at a very fast pace to keep up with the changing context in which they exist. This changing nature of the workforce necessitates new HR approaches to managing that workforce. Diversity must become a bottom-line issue if companies are going to be able to compete for—and keep—the best and the brightest. As a result, diversity management (including training) has burst onto the scene as a multibillion dollar industry” (Levy, 2017, p. 275).

“. . . the most successful companies in the world are focusing on diversity issues by emphasizing recruitment, selection, retention, and training” (Levy, 2017, p. 276).

“Today’s workforce is becoming increasingly diverse in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, age, and sexual orientation. The question is not whether the twenty-first-century workplace will be diverse — that’s a certainty. Rather, the question is how an organization can effectively manage the diversity of its workforce through its practices around recruitment and selection, training, socialization and mentoring, leadership, and teams” (Truxillo, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2021, p. 25).

Although in the “New to This Edition” section in Industrial/Organizational Psychology: An Applied Approach (both 8th and 9th editions), it stated: “More examples of diversity efforts spread throughout the text,” I did not find this to be the case. This is quite disappointing since, in the United States, in the last several years, there’s been a strong resurgence of interest in and calls for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and a general awareness that there’s increasing diversity in the U.S. workforce.

As Aamodt wrote in the 9th edition:

“Another important factor impacting I/O psychology is the changing demographic makeup of the workforce. Women are increasingly entering the workforce and taking on managerial roles; Hispanics and Latino/as are now the largest underrepresented groups in the United States; Asian Americans are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population; and an increasing number of workers, vendors, and customers have English as their second language. Thus, diversity and inclusion issues will continue to be an important factor in the workplace” (Aamodt, 2023, p. 9).

Yet, despite mentioning the importance of diversity, Dr. Aamodt did not devote any sections to talking about diversity above and beyond what was already in the 8th edition. Indeed, the “Focus on Ethics: Diversity Efforts” section (in Ch. 6) in the 9th edition is almost IDENTICAL (using almost exactly the same wording) as the 8th edition. And the Applied Case Study in Ch. 14 (“Managing Change at Carlson Restaurants”) is VERBATIM (i.e., exactly the SAME WORDS used) as the 8th edition.

Professor Aamodt does discuss diversity as it relates to affirmative action. He spends several pages in Ch. 3 under section “Affirmative Action” (pp. 102-109) talking about affirmative action. However, what I’m looking for regarding diversity (and what other I-O psychology authors, especially Dr. Paul E. Levy, have done really well) is coverage of diversity issues broadly as workplace diversity management.

In terms of workplace diversity management, what’s covered in the 9th edition is inadequate since materials (sometimes EXACTLY the SAME wording) from the 8th edition have been reused. Take for instance in Ch. 4’s “Special Recruit Populations: Increasing Applicant Diversity” section, almost the exact same wording is used throughout, with a few exceptions where “minority” or “minorities” were replaced with “underrepresented” or “underrepresented groups.” BUT, nothing else has been added. Even the research study cited from 2006 (which, in 2022, makes it 16 years ago) remains unchanged. Given the importance of diversity and the role that I-O psychologists and the field of I-O psychology play, it was a huge missed opportunity to not sufficiently cover this very important topic.

In contrast, when I looked in Industrial/Organizational Psychology: Understanding the Workplace (5th ed.) by Paul E. Levy and Introduction to Industrial/Organizational Psychology (7th ed.) by Ronald E. Riggio, I easily found sections and places (after looking at the Index) that mentioned and covered diversity, and professors Levy and Riggio both spent more time and provided more details in their coverage of diversity. In another I-O psychology textbook, Work in the 21st Century: An Introduction to Industrial and Organizational Psychology (6th ed.), professors Jeffrey Conte and the late Frank Landy devoted an entire module to just diversity!

What I Didn’t Like: The Coverage of Complicated & Outdated Formulas

Some areas of the 9th edition were bogged down with explanations of complicated formulas and outdated models (e.g., Ch. 6: Taylor-Russell Tables, Proportion of Correct Decisions, Lawshe Tables, and Brogden-Cronbach-Gleser Utility Formula). As Truxillo, Bauer, and Erdogan (2021) succinctly explained (p. 254): 

“One of the first frameworks for utility analysis was the Taylor-Russell tables (Taylor & Russell, 1939) which were developed back before World War II. Since that time, more sophisticated systems for calculating the dollar value of using a particular selection test have been developed (Boudreau, 1983). These models are generally quite complicated and beyond the scope of this book, although we point the interested reader to more in-depth discussions of utility analysis (e.g., Boudreau, 1983; Cascio & Aguinis, 2019).”

Summary: Overall, I enjoyed Industrial/Organizational Psychology: An Applied Approach (9th ed.) by Michael G. Aamodt. The book is easy to navigate and the writing style is readable, although in some instances it veered off into coverage of outdated models and complicated formulas. The one major disappointment about the book, however, is that it’s lacking in its coverage of workplace diversity management. That disappointment aside, I am still delighted to recommend Industrial/Organizational Psychology: An Applied Approach (9th ed.) by Michael G. Aamodt.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Organizational & Leadership Development Leader

References

Aamodt, M. G. (2023). Industrial/organizational psychology: An applied approach (9th ed.). Cengage Learning.

Boudreau, J. W. (1983). Economic considerations in estimating the utility of human resource productivity improvement programs. Personnel Psychology, 36, 551–576.

Cascio, W. F., & Aguinis, H. (2019). Applied psychology in talent management (8th ed.). Sage.

Conte, J. M., & Landy, F. J. (2019). Work in the 21st century: An introduction to industrial and organizational psychology (6th ed.). Wiley.

Levy, P. E. (2017). Industrial/organizational psychology: Understanding the workplace (5th ed.). Worth Publishers.

Muchinsky, P. M., & Howes, S. S. (2019). Psychology applied to work: An introduction to industrial and organizational psychology (12th ed.). Hypergraphic Press.

Riggio, R. E. (2018). Introduction to industrial/organizational psychology (7th ed.). Routledge.

Spector, P. E. (2017). Industrial and organizational psychology: Research and practice (7th ed.). John Wiley & Sons.

Taylor, H. C., & Russell, J. T. (1939). The relationship of validity coefficients to the practical effectiveness of tests in selection: Discussion and tables. Journal of Applied Psychology, 23, 565–578.

Truxillo, D. M., Bauer, T. N., & Erdogan, B. (2021). Psychology and work: An introduction to industrial and organizational psychology (2nd ed.). Routledge.

Disclosure: I received a paperback/softcover of Industrial/Organizational Psychology: An Applied Approach (9th ed.) as a complimentary gift in exchange for an honest review.

Why the Ability to Rethink & Unlearn Is So Important

A terrific book I finished last year (in 2021) is Think Again by Adam Grant. Grant says the ability to rethink (or think again) and unlearn habits is as important as the ability to think and learn. We should spend as much time rethinking our problems and our assumptions as we do thinking about them. Successful people adopt a mental flexibility that allows them to be skilled rethinkers. Rethinkers embrace being wrong and failing, while also updating their views.

Here’s a great, but tragic example:

In 1994, on Storm King Mountain in Colorado, high winds caused a fire to explode across a gulch. Running uphill on rocky ground with safety in view just 200 feet away, fourteen smokejumpers (firefighters who parachute in to the site of a forest fire) and wildland firefighters—four women, ten men—lost their lives. When extinguishing the fire or even containing it isn’t feasible, these firefighters need to shift from fight to flight. Instead of dropping their heavy equipments and tools and running as fast as they could to safety, they clung onto (as they’ve been taught and trained to do) their heavy tools and equipments (e.g., axes, chainsaws, shovels, and other heavy gears).

Later, investigators calculated that without their tools and backpacks, the crew could have moved 15 to 20 percent faster. “Most would have lived had they simply dropped their gear and run for safety,” one expert wrote. Had they “dropped their packs and tools,” the U.S. Forest Service concurred, “the firefighters would have reached the top of the ridge before the fire.” -Adam Grant (Think Again)

As Grant explains: If you’re running for your life, it might seem obvious that your first move would be to drop anything that might slow you down. For firefighters, though, tools are essential to doing their jobs. Carrying and taking care of equipment is deeply ingrained in their training and experience, and under extreme stress, these firefighters reverted to their automatic, well-learned responses.

“If you’re a firefighter, dropping your tools doesn’t just require you to unlearn habits and disregard instincts. Discarding your equipment means admitting failure and shedding part of your identity” (2021, p. 7).

Thinking again can help us to generate new solutions to old problems, and also revisit old solutions to new problems. It’s a path to learning more from those around us. We need to let go of knowledge and opinions that aren’t serving us well anymore, and anchor our sense of self in flexibility rather than consistency. If we can master the art of rethinking, we’ll be better positioned for success at work and happiness in life (Grant, 2021).

“Most of us take pride in our knowledge and expertise, and in staying true to our beliefs and opinions. That makes sense in a stable world, where we get rewarded for having conviction in our ideas. The problem is that we live in a rapidly changing world, where we need to spend as much time rethinking as we do thinking.” -Adam Grant (Think Again)

“Rethinking is a skill set, but it’s also a mindset. We already have many of the mental tools we need. We just have to remember to get them out of the shed and remove the rust.” -Adam Grant (Think Again)

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Organizational & Leadership Development Leader

Reference

Grant, A. (2021). Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know. Viking.

How Social Media Posts Can Bias Hiring Decisions

Back in 2013, I was contacted by a journalist (who’s now editor) for Fast Company about my thoughts regarding how U.S. firms are searching social networks for job applicants’ information. And while it’s been nearly 9 years since her article (link below in Reference section) was published, I feel that everything I shared with her then still applies (and perhaps is even more relevant) today.

I am reposting my response to her questions in its entirety below in a “Question and Answer” or “Q & A” format.

Question: I’m wondering if you would be willing to comment from a recruiter’s perspective on this new study from Carnegie Mellon that found between 10% and a third of U.S. firms searched social networks for job applicants’ information early in the hiring process.

Answer: I have heard about that Carnegie Mellon University study in which responses from U.S. employers suggested that a minority of organizations searched for job candidates’ information online. If you take into account the number of companies and recruiters searching online social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) for potential hires, the findings of that study should not come as a surprise.

Question: Do you think that social media gives a hiring manager an “unfair advantage” because profiles can contain everything from religious affiliation to sport team loyalties? What about photos?

Answer: Some might say that social media gives firms, recruiters, and hiring managers an unfair advantage because they can learn so much about a candidate before he or she ever steps foot inside the interview room. However, the reality is that we willingly post a great amount of information about who we are — from the headshot photos to our selfies, and from our professional advice to comments about how terrible we felt when our favorite sports team lost. We put ourselves on full display and share many things that, taken together, reveal our beliefs, tastes, and even personalities.

While some might argue that using this data about a prospective employee is unfair, others might argue that the information was posted online voluntarily for others to see. Perhaps the best advice I can share is this: We need to remember everything we post online can be viewed by millions of people and is often permanent. It is a good idea to sit back and really think before you post anything online.

Question: Should hiring managers simply resist the urge to look at candidate’s social media profiles before they’ve been interviewed? Is this any different than having an applicant walk in the door and judging them based on their appearance?

Answer: Should hiring managers resist looking at a potential job candidate’s social media profiles and activities prior to the actual interview? A criminal background check and conversations with the candidates’ previous employers are standard practices but some organizations may want to further examine job candidates and using social media sites can help the employer identify candidate qualities that match what the firms are seeking. It can also benefit the job applicant by helping him or her stand out from the crowd. For instance, a professional profile on LinkedIn can let employers know not only about your employment background, but also your interests, volunteer experiences, and recommendations from work colleagues. You can even share your work portfolio (e.g., presentations, documents, etc.). I contend that grouping all social media sites together into one group is misleading because there are “social” networks, like Facebook, where people share personal information about themselves to friends and families, and there are “professional” networks, like LinkedIn, where you connect with industry experts and other professionals and exchange career and professional advice.

One challenge that I see is the difficulties people have of separating their personal and professional social media presence. Some people keep them separate, while others blend the two. The problem is that hiring managers might not be able to tell the difference between job candidates’ personal and professional lives. For example, hiring managers may struggle with how to reconcile conflicting social media profiles, such as when an individual posts unflattering, crude, or even offensive things about themselves or someone else on their “personal” social media account (e.g. Facebook) in contrast to their more professional and polished presence on their “professional” social media profile (e.g., LinkedIn).

I think it isn’t as simple as employers looking at social media activities online because they do not always get the complete picture about a person. Obviously, job candidates would prefer that hiring managers look at their professional profiles on LinkedIn much more than their social profiles on Facebook. I also believe that it isn’t fair to judge a potential job candidate based purely on his or her social media profiles and activities. What’s more, while it can be tempting for hiring managers to look at job candidates’ social media profiles before being interviewed, I think it may cause what’s called confirmation bias, which is our tendency to prefer information that confirms our beliefs and expectations about people or things, while ignoring information that contradicts them. Of course, in reality, hiring managers can do this without ever using social media. Indeed, it may not be very different than having a prospective candidate walk in for a face-to-face interview and judging that applicant based on his or her appearance.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Organizational & Leadership Development Leader

Reference

Dishman, L. (2013, December 13). The Surprising Ways Social Media Posts Bias Hiring Managers | Fast Company. https://www.fastcompany.com/3023263/the-surprising-ways-social-media-posts-bias-hiring-managers

Book Review — Promotions Are So Yesterday by Julie Winkle Giulioni

“The time-honored tradition of defining career development in terms of promotions, moves, or title changes is dead.” -Julie Winkle Giulioni (Promotions Are So Yesterday)

“The stakes associated with perpetuating the old definition of career and career development are too high. The need for skillful, engaged, contributing employees becomes greater by the day. And continuing to confuse career development with attaining specific positions will only limit the growth that both employees and organizations need.” -Julie Winkle Giulioni (Promotions Are So Yesterday)

“When climbing and moving are positioned as the only way to really develop, the message that employees get is “step up or stagnate.” The result is we’ve inadvertently funneled people toward a ladder that can never accommodate them all—never mind that some of them don’t want to climb anyway.” -Julie Winkle Giulioni (Promotions Are So Yesterday)

In Promotions Are So Yesterday, Julie Winkle Giulioni argues that career development is so much more than just getting promoted. She contends that promotions are not and should not be the only option for career advancement. Through her multidimensional career framework, Giulioni shares a different perspective on career development, one that is not dependent or reliant on solely attaining a promotion. The multidimensional career framework features eight dimensions of development—contribution, competence, connection, confidence, challenge, contentment, choice, climb. However, her main focus and argument is that employees are more interested in developing through seven alternative dimensions of development—contribution, competence, connection, confidence, challenge, contentment, choice—beyond promotions and positions (i.e., the climb dimension).

“Beyond, between, and besides the upward climb toward promotions and positions, there are many other ways that employees want to grow.” -Julie Winkle Giulioni (Promotions Are So Yesterday)

“Too frequently, managers take an employee’s request for a promotion at face value. And when it’s not possible to comply (which, let’s face it, is most of the time), they try to gently close the door on the conversation. But in the process, they miss the opportunity to explore what’s motivating the interest and identify other potential ways forward” (Giulioni, 2022, p. 126).

Giulioni (2022) contends that managers can use conversations about promotions as a chance to learn more about their employees, and ask questions that get at the heart of what employees truly want—and find alternative ways to meet their needs. For example, managers can ask questions like these (p. 126):

    • What exactly is it about that role that interests you most?
    • What part of it do you look forward to doing most?
    • Which responsibilities do you believe will be the most interesting?
    • Which responsibilities might be the most challenging?
    • What will you need to be able to do to be highly effective in the role?
    • Where might there be gaps between where you are today and what would be expected of you in that role?

“These questions tease out the nature of the work and skills required from the role itself. They slow people down and inspire reflection, in order to think beneath the surface and beyond their habitual desires to keep moving up. And they offer you, as the manager, opportunities to meet an employee’s deeper needs even in the absence of the promotion they may be seeking” (Giulioni, 2022, p. 126).

In 2020, Giulioni conducted a research study of 750 working professionals to evaluate the importance of, interest in, and access to alternative dimensions of development. “When respondents were made aware of alternative ways to grow beyond advancing through promotions and new positions (the climb), they expressed greater interest in every single other dimension overall” (Giulioni, 2022, p. 6).

Here’s how professionals ranked the dimensions of development:

    1. Contribution: making a difference and aligning with your purpose
    2. Competence: building critical capabilities, skills, and expertise
    3. Confidence: trusting and appreciating your talents and abilities
    4. Connection: cultivating relationships and deepening your network
    5. Challenge: stretching beyond what’s known and comfortable
    6. Contentment: experiencing satisfaction, ease, and joy in your work
    7. Choice: enhancing the control and autonomy you can exercise
    8. Climb: advancing through promotions or new positions

“With just one exception, regardless of age, gender, level in the organization, or location (the United States or elsewhere), employees expressed greater interest in all the alternative development dimensions. (Except for employees in their 20s, every other group [Giulioni] studied ranked the climb dead last. The 20-somethings ranked the climb second to last.)” (Giulioni, 2022, p. 6).

“The climb is only a small part of the career development elephant. In fact, there are seven other dimensions that can be developed throughout one’s career. And when employees take off their blinders and become aware of the other viable and valuable ways they can grow, my research suggests that the climb suddenly becomes a lot less interesting.” -Julie Winkle Giulioni (Promotions Are So Yesterday)

For all the talk about career development and defining and redefining career development, I found it disappointing that Giulioni didn’t offer a definition of what exactly she meant by “career development.” However, in another book, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go, Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni did provide a definition: “Career development is nothing more than helping others grow. And nothing less” (2019, p. 12). Giulioni alluded to this definition several times in her Promotions Are So Yesterday book, but unfortunately she never clearly defined it.

What I Like

1. The Multidimensional Career Self-Assessment — According to Giulioni, “Your self-assessment results will reveal a landscape of dimensions in addition to and beyond the traditional focus on moving up or around the corporate ladder (which will be referred to as “climb”). These other seven dimensions are not only available for development but, according to my research, also deeply important and of genuine interest to your employees too.”

“Employees are more interested in developing through contribution, competence, connection, confidence, challenge, contentment, and choice than the climb. The possibilities associated with these alternative dimensions resonate and give them hope. Tapping into that hope is how you will effect change.” -Julie Winkle Giulioni (Promotions Are So Yesterday)

2. Real-world examples of employee needs and how to meet them — For example, in the “Contribution” dimension (Ch. 2), Giulioni shared about Heather (a financial advisor who was ready to focus on her development and position herself for additional challenges down the line) and her manager, Amina, who helped Heather have a greater impact at work by having Heather author a regular newsletter and establish a social media presence to create a more proactive communication cadence with customers. In the “Connection” dimension (Ch. 4), we heard about Marcus (who’s focused on social media on the marketing team but who was feeling isolated and worried about being overlooked due to him working remotely) and how his boss, Diedre (leader of the pharmaceuticals marketing team), helped Marcus to enhance his connections by representing the team at the monthly product marketing council meeting. In the “Challenge” dimension (Ch. 6), we learn about Randy (an analyst in a hospital system) and his desire to challenge himself more in his current role [he’d seen some redundancies and inefficiencies in a particular process and felt that he could write, test, and implement a level 1 alert in five weeks as opposed to the usual six or seven], and how his manager, Eli (the software services manager), worked with him to explore this opportunity for growth.

3. Checklists, discussion questions, tools, and templates to use with employees — These make it easier for managers and their employees to take action.

4. The “Tool” and “Pro Tip” sections — These provide actionable how-tos for supporting others’ growth in new and different ways.

What I Didn’t Like – Using Job Crafting Incorrectly

I wish Giulioni would have investigated the meaning of the word “job crafting” before using it, because what she meant was not job crafting, but rather “job enlargement” and “job enrichment.”

Job crafting is not new. It’s been around for over 20 years (Dutton & Wrzesniewski, 2020; Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001). Job crafting is “actions that employees take to shape, mold, and redefine their jobs” (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001, p. 180). Job crafting is what workers do to redefine and reimagine their job to make it more personally meaningful to them (Berg, Dutton, & Wrzesniewski, 2013).

In her book, however, Giulioni suggested that managers do the “job crafting” for their employees. I want to emphasize that this is NOT the proper use and definition of “job crafting.” Job crafting is what the employee does, NOT what the manager does.

“In most organizations, the one thing that managers have the greatest control over is the jobs that their people do. You [the manager] can take full advantage of this as a way to introduce greater contentment into individual roles as you facilitate meaningful growth and career development. And you [the manager] can do this through job crafting” (Giulioni, 2022, p. 100).

“As a manager, it’s likely well within your purview to help make this happen by customizing the role, tasks, and responsibilities to be more appealing and aligned with what will result in greater contentment—as long as you meet your team or departmental objectives” (Giulioni, 2022, pp. 100-101).

“When you [the manager] job craft, you can slice and dice job descriptions, reconfiguring them in ways that offer employees a better fit, more desirable activities, and greater opportunities for growth and development. It’s a matter of shifting tasks among employees to introduce the variety, interest, or meaning they crave” (Giulioni, 2022, p. 101).

It’s important to note that job crafting is initiated by the employee, from the bottom up, and not by the manager from the top down. “Job crafting is a way to think about job design that puts employees in the driver’s seat in cultivating meaningfulness in their work” (Berg, Dutton, & Wrzesniewski, 2013, p. 82).

Thus, when Giulioni suggests that managers can job craft their employees’ jobs, the correct terms she’s looking for are job enlargement and job enrichment — not job crafting.

Job enlargement is where managers give employees more tasks to perform at the same time. With job enlargement, employees are allowed to make more complex decisions (i.e., knowledge enlargement) and/or they are given more tasks of the same difficulty level to perform (i.e., task enlargement)(Aamodt, 2023).

Job enrichment is where managers give employees more responsibility over the tasks and decisions related to their job. And even when increased decision-making responsibilities are not possible, job enrichment ideas can still be implemented. For example, managers can arrange for employees to take part in various committees or boards, or managers can show their employees that their jobs have meaning and that they are meeting some worthwhile goal through their work (Aamodt, 2023). 

Takeaway:

Overall, Promotions Are So Yesterday by Julie Winkle Giulioni is a short, good, and useful book. There are many practical tools and pro tips with actionable how-tos for supporting others’ growth in new and different ways. There are so many different ways employees can grow (beyond just getting promoted) and Giulioni’s book does a nice job of discussing these seven alternative dimensions of development—contribution, competence, connection, confidence, challenge, contentment, choice—beyond promotions and positions (i.e., the climb dimension).

My biggest concern and issue with the book, however, is Giulioni’s incorrect suggestion that managers do the “job crafting” for their employees. Again, I want to reiterate that this is not the proper use and definition of “job crafting.” Job crafting is what the employee does, not what the manager does. If there’s a second edition of the book, my hope is that Giulioni will use the terms job enlargement and job enrichment instead of incorrectly using job crafting.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Organizational & Leadership Development Leader

References

Aamodt, M. G. (2023). Industrial/organizational psychology: An applied approach (9th ed.). Cengage Learning.

Berg, J. M., Dutton, J. E., & Wrzesniewski, A. (2013). Job Crafting and Meaningful Work. In B. J. Dik, Z. S. Byrne & M. F. Steger (Eds.), Purpose and meaning in the workplace (pp. 81-104). American Psychological Association.

Dutton, J. E., & Wrzesniewski, A. (2020, March 12). What Job Crafting Looks Like. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2020/03/what-job-crafting-looks-like

Giulioni, J. W. (2022). Promotions Are So Yesterday: Redefine Career Development. Help Employees Thrive. ATD Press.

Kaye, B., & Giulioni, J. W. (2019). Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go (2nd ed.). Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Wrzesniewski, A., & Dutton, J. E. (2001). Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work. Academy of Management Review, 26(2), 179-201.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Promotions Are So Yesterday: Redefine Career Development as a complimentary gift in exchange for an honest review.

Employee Mental Health and the Return to In-Person Workplaces

I was contacted by a communications specialist for my thoughts regarding people who might be experiencing anxiety about having to go back to in-person workplaces. I am reposting my responses below.

Question: How do you think the mental health of individuals may have changed in two years of working from home?

Answer: There’s no question that the mental health of employees has changed as a result of working remotely, due to the COVID pandemic. Being isolated and working in isolation from others have added to the loneliness epidemic. Although not everyone is “alone,” especially if they work and live with others in the same house or apartment, there can certainly still be feelings of loneliness. The other thing is that we’re now more socially awkward in greeting one another, in holding a conversation, and in maintaining relationships due to lack of in-person contacts with one another over the past two years. It’s strange to say this, but people are now unsure how to act around other human beings.

Despite all the positives and advantages, much of what’s required in remote working is interacting via video (i.e., video calls and meetings). Studies have found that requiring and having to participate in too many video meetings are mentally and emotionally taxing on the human mind and body.

What’s more, experts contend that humans are social creatures, and we function better when we are around other people. Indeed, it’s been argued that our human need to physically connect with one other is as strong and as fundamental as our need for food and water.

Question: How may these changes affect returning to work post pandemic?

Answer: I think there’s a fascinating interplay between the COVID pandemic’s forced-to-work-remotely experiment and the current strong U.S. labor market that puts American workers in the driver seat.

There’s an interesting talk on a new podcast called As We Work (with host Tess Vigeland) by the Wall Street Journal. In an episode titled, “Hybrid Work, the Big Quit, C-Suite Empathy: Pandemic Changes at Work” with WSJ Life & Work coverage chief Nikki Waller and WSJ business reporter Chip Cutterthat say there are various reasons why workers do not want to return to the physical office workspace, and one of the main reasons is simply because they just don’t want to.

There’s now a sense of power on the part of workers due to this current hot labor market (with more openings than there are applicants), and employees know they can get away with wanting more. In addition, many people have spent the past two years working remotely and not going out (due to COVID). As a result, some workers have money saved up so there’s not that (usual) fear of not having a job or getting a paycheck.

We can see this play out with more workers demanding more from their companies and organizations struggling to hire or retain their employees if they aren’t able to meet some of the demands or expectations of their employees.

Question: Why do you think people are feeling anxious about returning to the office?

Answer: I think much of it is that people have settled into their routine of working remotely and this return to the office will no doubt disrupt this work routine and cause uncertainty in what employees thought or felt was finally something they had finally gotten accustomed to. For example, for some employees, their routines during the past two years were juggling working remotely while also providing child and/or senior care. So, part of what’s anxious for them is to now find ways to secure child and/or senior care for their children and/or elderly parents.

Related to the topics of childcare and senior care is that women typically carry this responsibility and working remotely had provided a bit of respite from the logistics of having to navigate commuting to and from work with childcare. The return to the office mandate will disrupt the routines and schedules that these caregivers had created and grew accustomed to.

Question: What are some tips for overcoming this type of anxiety?

Answer: In my opinion, the onus should not be on the individual employees to figure this out on their own. If we place the burden of having employees learn to figure out what’s anxiety-producing and come up with their own solutions, then we will have learned nothing from these past two years.

The key is for employers and organizations to change and adjust to better helping their workforce adapt to a very VUCA world (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity). Companies need to talk to and partner with their employees to figure out what’s need and how to move forward.

That said, it is still critical that employees communicate with their supervisors and leaders about what might be causing anxiety for them and co-create action plans to either avoid anxiety-provoking scenarios or lessen the impact of when anxiety-causing events or situations arise.

Question: How can individuals adapt to the changes the pandemic brought to the workplaces?

Answer: Some ways to adapt to changes are to take an internal locus of control perspective, be happy and look for positives, and adopt a growth mindset. Individuals with an internal locus of control believe their behaviors are guided by their personal decisions and efforts and they have control over those things they can change and let go of things that are beyond their control. Research has shown that happy employees have about 31% higher productivity, 37% higher sales, and three times higher creativity! The more good and positive things we can spot and reflect on, the more good and positive things we will see and experience. Finally, according to Carol Dweck, individuals who believe their talents can be developed through hard work, good strategies, and input from others have a growth mindset. Thus, to sum up, when we believe in an internal locus of control, when we seek out the positives, and when we adopt a growth mindset we’ll be in a much better position to deal with the constant and disruptive changes that come our way!

Question: How should people seek work/life balance after another shift in how they do their jobs?

Answer: This notion of work/life balance is so elusive. It’s like looking for Big Foot or finding a unicorn. I think it might be more helpful to think more along the lines of work/life integration. There’s no right formula and it’s different for each person. I think the COVID pandemic has shown us that there isn’t really (and there truly never was) a work/life balance. During the past two years, many of us have had to work in the same places that we lived, that is we worked out of our homes or apartments and the lines between work and home life were frequently blurry, with work creeping into and overtaking much of our lives.

As we move forward, in 2022, in this strange new world of work and life uncertainty, each one of us will need to reassess and recalibrate our own priorities, whether that is mental/emotional health & well-being, or prioritizing family and time outside of work to be with our family members, whatever these priorities are and how we rank them will determine how (and to what extent) we integrate our work into our lives or our lives into our work.

Question: What should employees expect from their employers during this transition?

Answer: Employees (thanks to the current hot job market) are now in the driver seat and many have been quite vocal in letting companies know that they expect organizations to adjust to and make remote, hybrid, or in-office work more equitable. We’ve seen employees push back against corporate mandates requiring them to come back into the office with many knowledge workers and tech employees demanding to be able to continue to work remotely. At the same time, there’s also been a movement to make pay/salary more transparent by sharing pay ranges in the advertised job positions.

Employees are no longer satisfied with some of the typical office perks that companies had touted in the past (e.g., gym, free food, foosball tables, etc.) and are demanding more services related to mental health & well-being (e.g., counseling, mental health days off, etc.) and career development (e.g., coaching, learning, employee training & development, etc.).

Question: Are there any other insights that you would like to share?

Answer: My hope is for companies and employers to not only better understand remote or hybrid equity (making work more equitable and inclusive), but more importantly, to implement and incorporate some of these lessons into improving the working conditions and working locations/requirements for their employees.

As organizational leaders, let us apply the painful yet helpful insights and lessons learned, from these past two years of working remotely, to bettering the lives of our employees. After all, no matter what businesses we are in or what services we provide, it is our employees that make it possible for our organizations to not only survive but thrive.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Organizational & Leadership Development Leader

Exploring Mindfulness, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), and The MBSR Online Course

mediating man

To ensure that I don’t overwhelm the reader, I have divided the article into SECTIONS:

  1. In SECTION 1, I’ll talk about the concept, origin, and practice called mindfulness.
  2. In SECTION 2, I’ll cover Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), explaining what it is and why there are health and research merits.
  3. In SECTION 3, I’ll outline what’s in an MBSR program/course, including the formal meditation practices.
  4. In SECTION 4, I’ll share my thoughts about taking The MBSR Online Course by Sounds True.

SECTION 1: Mindfulness

What Is Mindfulness?

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn (Wherever You Go, There You Are)

For the Mindfulness section, I have included extensive quotations of passages and/or writings from various authors to capture the beauty of their thoughts and writings about mindfulness.

“Simply put, mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness. It is cultivated by purposefully paying attention to things we ordinarily never give a moment’s thought to. It is a systematic approach to developing new kinds of control and wisdom in our lives, based on our inner capacities for relaxation, paying attention, awareness, and insight.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn (Full Catastrophe Living)

“[M]indfulness does not involve trying to get anywhere or feel anything special. Rather it involves allowing yourself to be where you already are, to become more familiar with your own actual experience moment by moment.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn (Full Catastrophe Living)

“Mindfulness does not involve pushing thoughts away or walling yourself off from them to quiet your mind. We are not trying to stop our thoughts as they cascade through the mind. We are simply making room for them, observing them as thoughts, and letting them be, using the breath as our anchor or ‘home base’ for observing, for reminding us to stay focused and calm.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn (Full Catastrophe Living)

“In mindfulness, strange as it may sound, we are not trying to fix anything or to solve our problems. Curiously, holding them in awareness moment by moment without judging them sometimes leads over time to their dissolving on their own. You may come to see your situation in a new light that reveals new ways of relating to it creatively out of your own growing stability and clarity of mind, out of your own wisdom, and your caring for what is most important.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn (Guided Mindfulness Meditation Program – Series 1)

“We are not trying to actively achieve a state of deep relaxation (or any other state for that matter) while practicing mindfulness. But interestingly, by opening to an awareness of how things actually are in the present moment, we often taste very deep states of relaxation and well-being, both of body and mind, even in the face of extraordinary difficulties.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn (Guided Mindfulness Meditation Program – Series 1)

“Meditation is not about trying to get anywhere else. It is about allowing yourself to be exactly where you are and as you are, and for the world to be exactly as it is in this moment as well.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn (Coming to Our Senses)

“If you start paying attention to where your mind is from moment to moment throughout the day, chances are you will find that considerable amounts of your time and energy are expended in clinging to memories, being absorbed in reverie, and regretting things that have already happened and are over. And you will probably find that as much or more energy is expended in anticipating, planning, worrying, and fantasizing about the future and what you want to happen or don’t want to happen. Because of this inner busyness, which is going on almost all the time, we are liable either to miss a lot of the texture of our life experience or to discount its value and meaning.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn (Full Catastrophe Living)

“We tend to be particularly unaware that we are thinking virtually all the time. The incessant stream of thoughts flowing through our minds leaves us very little respite for inner quiet. And we leave precious little room for ourselves anyway just to be, without having to run around doing things all the time. Our actions are all too frequently driven rather than undertaken in awareness, driven by those perfectly ordinary thoughts and impulses that run through the mind like a coursing river, if not a waterfall. We get caught up in the torrent and it winds up submerging our lives as it carries us to places we may not wish to go and may not even realize we are headed for. Meditation means learning how to get out of this current, sit by its bank and listen to it, learn from it, and then use its energies to guide us rather than to tyrannize us.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn (Wherever You Go, There You Are)

Mindfulness meditation is simple, but it is not always easy. It can be quite difficult to not let your mind wander, and to pay attention without judgment, or without hoping, striving, analyzing, reacting, or trying to change anything about whatever is arising at the moment. And each time a thought, feeling, or body sensation comes up, simply acknowledge and accept it without judgment, then gently escort the mind back to the breath. In mindfulness, when the mind starts wandering, just gently escort it back to the present moment by using the sensations of the breath as an anchor (Greeson & Brantley, 2009).

“Mindfulness is full conscious awareness. It is paying full conscious attention to whatever thoughts, feelings and emotions are flowing through your mind, body, and breath without judging or criticizing them in any way. It is being fully aware of whatever is happening in the present moment without being trapped in the past or worrying about the future. It is living in the moment not for the moment.” -Danny Penman (The Art of Breathing)

“Mindfulness is not a religion nor is it ‘opting out’ or detaching yourself from the world. It’s about connecting and embracing life in all of its chaotic beauty, with all of your faults and foibles. The aim of mindfulness is not to intentionally clear the mind of thoughts. It is to understand how the mind works. To see how it unwittingly ties itself in knots to create anxiety, stress, unhappiness, and exhaustion. It teaches you to observe how your thoughts, feelings, and emotions rise and fall like waves on the sea. And in the calm spaces in between lie moments of piercing insight.” -Danny Penman (The Art of Breathing)

“Mindfulness can help us see and accept things as they are. This means we can come to peace with the inevitability of change and the impossibility of always winning. The concerns about things going wrong that fill our minds each day begin to lose their grip. The traffic jam, rained-out picnic, misplaced keys, and lost sales are all easier to accept. We become more comfortable with the reality that sometimes we’ll get the date or the promotion and other times we won’t. By letting go of our struggle to control everything, we become less easily thrown by life’s daily ups and downs—and less likely to get caught in emotional problems like depression and anxiety or stress-related physical problems like chronic pain and insomnia.” -Ronald Siegel (The Mindfulness Solution)

Seven key attitudes of mindfulness (Kabat-Zinn, 2005b)

  1. Non-judging. Be an impartial witness to your own experience. Become aware of the constant stream of judging and reacting to inner and outer experience
  2. Patience. A form of wisdom, patience demonstrates that we accept the fact that things sometimes unfold in their own time. Allow for this
  3. Beginner’s Mind. Remaining open and curious allows us to be receptive to new possibilities and prevents us from getting stuck in the rut of our own expertise
  4. Trust. Develop a basic trust with yourself and your feelings. Know it’s OK to make mistakes
  5. Non-Striving. The goal is to be with yourself right here, right now. Pay attention to what is unfolding without trying to change anything
  6. Acceptance. See things as they are. This sets the stage for acting appropriately in your life no matter what is happening
  7. Letting Go. When we pay attention to our inner experience, we discover there are certain thoughts, emotions, and situations the mind wants to hold onto. Let your experience be what it is right now
Origin of the Word ‘Mindfulness’

For the origin of the word mindfulness, I consulted an article by Rupert Gethin (2011). Gethin’s article cited Monier Williams’, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (1872). Thus, I have referenced both Gethin’s explanation as well as looked in Monier Williams’ A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (1872) regarding the origin of the word mindfulness.

T. W. Rhys Davids was (most likely) the first person to, beginning in 1881 and finally settling in 1910 (Lomas, 2017), translate the Buddhist technical term sati (in its Pali form) or smrti (in its Sanskrit form) into the English word ‘mindfulness.’ We’re unsure as to why Rhys Davids chose this word since he never reveals the reason. According to Gethin (2011), the dictionaries available to Rhys Davids at the time – especially Monier Williams’ A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (1872) – would suggest such translations as ‘remembrance, memory, reminiscence, recollection, thinking of or upon, bearing in mind, calling to mind’ (from Monier Williams, 1872). Monier Williams (1872) offered the following as a range of meanings: ‘to recollect, call to mind, bear in mind, think of, think upon, be mindful of’, and this may have suggested the translation ‘mindfulness’ (Gethin, 2011). Interestingly, Gethin (2011) noted that “there is no reason to assume that ‘mindfulness’ is necessarily a particularly surprising translation of sati; the OED records the use of the English ‘mindfulness’ in the sense of ‘the state or quality of being mindful; attention; memory (obs.); intention, purpose (obs.)’ from 1530 (www.oed.com)” (pp. 263-264).

However, “it seem clear . . . that with Rhys Davids’ translation of the Mahāsatipatthāna Sutta [in 1910], ‘mindfulness’ soon became established as the only possible English translation of sati” (Gethin, 2011, p. 265). 

Secular Application of Mindfulness Meditation

In the late 1970s, the molecular biologist Jon Kabat-Zinn, a longtime meditator in the Zen Buddhist tradition saw the chance to introduce meditation to the American public—without the Buddhist framework or terminology—by scrubbing meditation of its religious origins (Heffernan, 2015).

“Mindfulness is basically just a particular way of paying attention and the awareness that arises through paying attention in that way. It is a way of looking deeply into oneself in the spirit of self-inquiry and self-understanding. For this reason it can be learned and practiced, as is done in mindfulness-based programs throughout the world, without appealing to Asian culture or Buddhist authority to enrich it or authenticate it. Mindfulness stands on its own as a powerful vehicle for self-understanding and healing. In fact, one of the major strengths of MBSR and of all other specialized mindfulness-based programs such as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is that they are not dependent on any belief system or ideology. Their potential benefits are therefore accessible for anyone to test for himself or herself” (Kabat-Zinn, 2013, p. lxii)

Kabat-Zinn’s key innovation was taking the traditional week-long meditation retreat (which were typical offerings at the time in the U.S.), but which were inaccessible to those with busy lives, and offer participants classes that took place once a week for eight weeks. Participants, who usually numbered between 35 and 40 per course, were assigned guided meditation recordings to use at home for 45 minutes each day for the duration of the course. They were also instructed on how to be mindful of their breath during their daily activities, expanding the meditative practices and awareness into every part of their lives (Nisbet, 2017).

Envisioning the Application of Mindfulness Meditation

Kabat-Zinn (2011, p. 287) shared about how he came to conceive, formulate, and share the essence of meditation and yoga practices with the world:

“On a two-week vipassanā retreat at the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts, in the Spring of 1979, while sitting in my room one afternoon about Day 10 of the retreat, I had a ‘vision’ that lasted maybe 10 seconds. I don’t really know what to call it, so I call it a vision. It was rich in detail and more like an instantaneous seeing of vivid, almost inevitable connections and their implications. It did not come as a reverie or a thought stream, but rather something quite different, which to this day I cannot fully explain and don’t feel the need to.

“I saw in a flash not only a model that could be put in place, but also the long-term implications of what might happen if the basic idea was sound and could be implemented in one test environment—namely that it would spark new fields of scientific and clinical investigation, and would spread to hospitals and medical centres and clinics across the country and around the world, and provide right livelihood for thousands of practitioners. Because it was so weird, I hardly ever mentioned this experience to others. But after that retreat, I did have a better sense of what my karmic assignment might be. It was so compelling that I decided to take it on wholeheartedly as best I could.

“It struck me in that fleeting moment that afternoon at the Insight Meditation Society that it would be a worthy work to simply share the essence of meditation and yoga practices as had been learning and practicing them at that point for 13 years, with those who would never come to a place like IMS [Insight Meditation Society] or a Zen Center, and who would never be able to hear it through the words and forms that were being used at meditation centres, or even, back in those days, at yoga centres, which were few and far-between, and very foreign as well.

“A flood of thoughts following the extended moment filled in the picture. Why not try to make meditation so commonsensical that anyone would be drawn to it? Why not develop an American vocabulary that spoke to the heart of the matter, and didn’t focus on the cultural aspects of the traditions out of which the dharma emerged, however beautiful they might be, or on centuries-old scholarly debates concerning fine distinctions in the Abhidharma. This was not because they weren’t ultimately important, but because they would likely cause unnecessary impediments for people who were basically dealing with suffering and seeking some kind of release from it. And, why not do it in the hospital of the medical centre where I happened to be working at the time? After all, hospitals do function as ‘dukkha magnets’ in our society, pulling for stress, pain of all kinds, disease and illness, especially when they have reached levels where it is impossible to ignore them. What better place than a hospital to make the dharma available to people in ways that they might possibly understand it and be inspired by a heartfelt and practical invitation to explore whether it might not be possible to do something for themselves as a complement to their more traditional medical treatments, since the entire raison d’être of the dharma is to elucidate the nature of suffering and its root causes, as well as provide a practical path to liberation from suffering? All this to be undertaken, of course, without ever mentioning the word ‘dharma'” (Kabat-Zinn, 2011, p. 287-288).

SECTION 2: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is an 8-week mindfulness meditation training program that includes weekly classes, daily audio-guided home practice, and a day-long retreat (Creswell, 2017). MBSR combines mindfulness meditation and hatha yoga over an 8-week training program in which participants are taught techniques designed to hold their attention in the present moment over extended periods of time. Participants meet on a weekly basis for two-to-three-hour sessions plus one full-day session. They are also assigned homework where they’re required to practice the techniques on their own time using guided meditations and course materials for approximately 45 to 60 minutes per day, six days per week. The program is held in a group setting, but also includes time for individual feedback and support (Reb & Choi, 2014).

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is an intensive eight-week training in meditation, hatha yoga, body awareness, behavioral awareness, and emotional awareness (Pai, Shuart, & Drake, 2021) developed in 1979 by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the Center for Mindfulness, part of the Department of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School (now UMass Memorial Health Care Center for Mindfulness). Originally developed as an outpatient stress reduction program for medical patients who were not responding to traditional treatments, its aim was to complement the more traditional medical treatments by challenging patients to train and participate in meditative practices (Kabat-Zinn, 2003). Three formal mindfulness practices of MBSR include: body scan meditation (awareness of the body, region by region), sitting meditation (breathing awareness and awareness of body, feeling tone, mental states, and mental contents), and mindful hatha yoga (gentle, slow stretching & strengthening exercises; emphasizing body awareness) (Cullen, 2011; Kabat-Zinn, 2005b; Salmon, Sephton, & Dreeben, 2011; Santorelli, Meleo-Meyer, Koerbel, Kabat-Zinn, Blacker, Herbette, & Fulwiler, 2017). These three practices are recorded on CDs and given to participants in the eight-week in-person MBSR program to provide home-based guidance. Each practice is designed to encourage exploration of specific experiences: somatosensory (body scan), cognitive (sitting meditation), and kinesthetic (hatha yoga) (Salmon et al., 2011). These core practices typically require a total home practice time of 45-60 minutes a day, six days a week (Salmon et al., 2011; Siegel, 2010).

Early History and Usage of MBSR

At the beginning, Kabat-Zinn referred to what he was doing with patients in the Stress Reduction Clinic (the clinic he founded in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center) as training in “mindfulness meditation” (the term had already been used in the psychological literature). According to Kabat-Zinn, it wasn’t until some point in the early 1990s, over a decade later, that he and his colleagues felt it made sense to formally begin calling what they were doing mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) (Kabat-Zinn, 2011).

Interestingly, it took a long while to move from formally calling what they were doing as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) to formally using the word MBSR in his highly acclaimed book Full Catastrophe Living. Even as late as 2005, with the 15th Anniversary Edition of Full Catastrophe Living (2005), the word MBSR is used only in the “Introduction to the 15th Anniversary Edition” section and used just 10 times. It isn’t found anywhere else in the rest of that book. It isn’t until the Revised & Updated Edition of Full Catastrophe Living (2013) that the word MBSR is used freely and openly (can be found over 300 times) throughout the book.

According to Kabat-Zinn (2003, p. 149), “the Stress Reduction Clinic, embedded within a department of medicine and a division of preventive and behavioral medicine, was originally designed to serve as a referral service for physicians and other health providers, to which they could send medical patients with a wide range of diagnoses and conditions who were not responding completely to more traditional treatments, or who were ‘falling through the cracks’ in the health care system altogether and not feeling satisfied with their medical treatments and outcomes. MBSR was thus framed from the beginning as a generic challenge to each patient to train in ancient and potentially transformative meditative practices as a complement to his or her medical treatments. The clinic, in the form of an 8-week program for outpatients, was meant to serve as an educational (in the sense of inviting what is already present to come forth) vehicle through which people could assume a degree of responsibility for their own well-being and participate more fully in their own unique movement towards greater levels of health by cultivating and refining our innate capacity for paying attention and for a deep, penetrative seeing/sensing of the interconnectedness of apparently separate aspects of experience, many of which tend to hover beneath our ordinary level of awareness regarding both inner and outer experience.”

Evidence-Based Support for MBSR

Randomized clinical trial or randomized controlled trial (RCT) is an experimental design in which patients are randomly assigned to a group that will receive an experimental treatment, such as a new drug, or to one that will receive a comparison treatment, a standard-of-care treatment, or a placebo. The random assignment occurs after recruitment and assessment of eligibility but before the intervention (VandenBos, 2015).

When properly designed, conducted, and reported, randomized controlled trials (RCTs) represent the gold standard in evaluating the effectiveness of healthcare interventions. RCTs are considered the gold-standard for studying causal relationships as randomization eliminates much of the bias inherent with other study designs (Hariton & Locascio, 2018). While certainly not without limitations, “RCTs have revolutionized medical research and improved the quality of health care by clarifying the benefits and drawbacks of countless interventions” (Bothwell, Greene, Podolsky, & Jones, 2016, p. 2179).

Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) provide “promising evidence that mindfulness interventions can improve mental and physical health, cognitive and affective factors, and interpersonal outcomes. Some of the strongest and most reliable RCT evidence indicates that mindfulness interventions (and particularly 8-week mindfulness programs, such MBSR and MBCT) improve the management of chronic pain, reduce depression relapse rates in at-risk individuals, and improve substance abuse outcomes” (Creswell, 2017).

Likewise, in a meta-analysis systematically analyzing the effects of mindfulness-based programs (MBPs) on different outcomes in occupational settings (with 2689 program participants and 2472 employees in control groups), mindfulness in the workplace effectively reduced perceived stress and health complaints while improving well-being and work-related outcomes (work engagement, productivity, job satisfaction). The meta-analysis showed solid evidence that MBPs in the workplace had positive effects on perceived stress, subsyndromal symptoms, burnout, mindfulness, and well-being, across different occupational groups and organizational structures (Vonderlin, Biermann, Bohus, & Lyssenko, 2020).

SECTION 3: MBSR Program/Course

MBSR Course – Session Theme (Brandsma, 2017)

  • Session 1: Understanding that there is more right with you than wrong with you
  • Session 2: Exploring perception and creative responding
  • Session 3: Discovering the pleasure and power of being present
  • Session 4: Understanding the impact of stress
  • Session 5: Finding the space for making choices
  • Session 6: Working with difficult situations
  • All Day Silent Retreat: This daylong guided retreat takes place between weeks six and seven. The intensive nature of this daylong session is intended to assist participants in firmly and effectively establishing the use of mindfulness across multiple situations in their life, while simultaneously preparing them to utilize these methods far beyond the conclusion of the program.
  • Session 7: Cultivating kindness toward self and others
  • Session 8: Embarking on the rest of your life

MBSR Formal Meditation Practices (in the order they’re presented [Brandsma, 2017, pp. 8-9]):

  • Eating meditation: Mindful eating (typically using a raisin); being aware of all of the sensations and shifts of attention, including loss of attention
  • Body scan: Lying meditation; checking in with individual body parts and being aware of all sensations and attention shifts, including loss of attention
  • Mindfulness of breathing: Sitting meditation; learning to work with attention by focusing on an object (one’s breathing)
  • Sitting meditation: Sitting meditation; checking in with each object of attention (body, sound, thoughts, and feelings), then sitting with open (choiceless) awareness, as in vipassana meditation
  • Mindful yoga, lying postures: Yoga-based stretches; being aware of physical sensations, reactions to these sensations, boundaries, balance, and doing mode versus being mode of mind
  • Mindful yoga, standing postures: Similar to mindful yoga in lying poses, but utilizing standing postures
  • Walking meditation: Walking slowly while bringing awareness to the movement of the feet
  • Visualization meditation: Guided meditation involving visualization of an image (such as a mountain, lake, or tree); inviting a certain attitude, such as openness or firmness
  • Metta meditation: Sitting meditation; cultivating the qualities of the heart

SECTION 4: The MBSR Online Course by Sounds True

The MBSR Online Course – Thoughts & Impressions

Back when I was researching mindfulness and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for my PhD dissertation, I dreamed of one day completing a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program taught by instructors at the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Recently, and very much to my surprise, I discovered that this highly regarded MBSR program is now available online! What a privilege and delight it was for me to be able to participate in and complete The MBSR Online Course by Sounds True. The program/course* is provided via video-on-demand (i.e., allows you to participate at your own pace and from anywhere). The MBSR Online Course is a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program that follows the same well-respected curriculum and methodology at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Perhaps most impressive of all, The MBSR Online Course is taught by Dr. Saki Santorelli (former director of the Center for Mindfulness) and Florence Meleo-Meyer (former senior instructor at the Center for Mindfulness).

*[NOTE] – The terms “program” and “course” are used interchangeably when describing an MBSR program. Kabat-Zinn refers to it as an MBSR program in his writings. However, the MBSR program I signed up for uses the word “course” instead of program – The MBSR Online Course.

I was able to complete The MBSR Online Course at my own pace and in the comfort of my own home. I also liked and appreciated the ability to download and save all course videos, to watch and/or listen to them on my computer. This really came in handy when there were Internet/Wi-Fi issues or problems with the Sounds True website which made watching the videos online spotty or sluggish.

The MBSR Online Course – Overview

The MBSR Online Course consists of eight weekly classes and one daylong class. This highly participatory, practical course includes:

• More than 16 hours of video instruction on mindfulness meditation, stretching, mindful yoga, and guidance for enhancing awareness in everyday life
• Four hours of guided mindfulness practice on audio
• A series of questions and prompts available in PDF format
• % Complete to track your progress through the course
• “A Day of Mindfulness”—a daylong, self-led audio retreat to culminate your training
• Daily home practice assignments for 45-60 minutes each day for eight weeks

The MBSR Online Course – Summary

The MBSR Online Course by Sounds True (taught by Dr. Saki Santorelli and Florence Meleo-Meyer [former director and former senior instructor, respectively, at the Center for Mindfulness]) is an excellent online Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. It is reputable, affordable, and aligned with the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Authorized Curriculum Guide, which Santorelli and his colleagues wrote and edited (Santorelli, Meleo-Meyer, Koerbel, Kabat-Zinn, Blacker, Herbette, & Fulwiler, 2017).

In his book, The Mindfulness Teaching Guide: Essential Skills and Competencies for Teaching Mindfulness-Based Interventions, Rob Brandsma (2017) wrote:

“A proficient mindfulness teacher . . . [makes] participants feel as if the teacher is walking by their side in the field of new experiences—a field that is unknown to them, where they can easily lose their bearings. The most important form of support and care you can offer participants is the sense that you recognize and appreciate their search process—that you know the field and can, if need be, take them by the hand part of the way” (p. 33).

The MBSR Online Course is extremely well-designed to be delivered in an on-demand video format and taught by two expert mindfulness teachers. Dr. Saki Santorelli and Florence Meleo-Meyer made me feel like they were there walking beside me, supporting me in the process, and encouraging me to keep trying. I cannot think of two more capable and qualified mindfulness teachers to teach Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). What a gift!

Takeaways

Mindfulness is intentionally paying attention to whatever thoughts, feelings, or body sensations that arise in the present moment, inside or outside of us. It’s being able to do this (i.e., paying attention on purpose) without judgment, without trying to get anywhere, without trying to feel anything special, and without trying to attain, achieve, fix, or solve anything. It’s being fully aware of whatever is happening in the present moment, and without being stuck in the past or being anxious about the future. It’s letting yourself be where you are and as you are, and for the world to be as it is.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is an 8-week mindfulness meditation training program that includes weekly classes, daily audio-guided home practice, and a day-long retreat. It combines mindfulness meditation and hatha yoga over an 8-week training program in which participants are taught techniques designed to focus their attention in the present moment over extended periods of time.

I was so delighted to complete The MBSR Online Course by Sounds True. It’s a complete online Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program that follows the curriculum and methodology taught at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Perhaps best of all, it’s taught by Dr. Saki Santorelli (former director of the Center for Mindfulness) and Florence Meleo-Meyer (former senior instructor at the Center for Mindfulness).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Bothwell, L. E., Greene, J. A., Podolsky, S. H., & Jones, D. S. (2016). Assessing the Gold Standard — Lessons from the History of RCTs. The New England Journal of Medicine, 374(22), 2175-2181.

Brandsma, R. (2017). The Mindfulness Teaching Guide: Essential Skills and Competencies for Teaching Mindfulness-Based Interventions. New Harbinger Publications.

Brantley, J. (2011). Mindfulness FAQ. In B. Boyce (Ed.), The Mindfulness Revolution: Leading Psychologists, Scientists, Artists, and Meditation Teachers on the Power of Mindfulness in Daily Life (pp. 38-45). Shambhala Publications, Inc.

Creswell, J. D. (2017). Mindfulness Interventions. Annual review of psychology, 68, 491-516.

Cullen, M. (2011). Mindfulness-based interventions: An emerging phenomenon. Mindfulness, 2(3), 186-193.

Gethin, R. M. (2011). On some definitions of mindfulness. Contemporary Buddhism, 12(1), 263-279.

Greeson, J., & Brantley, J. (2009). Mindfulness and anxiety disorders: Developing a wise relationship with the inner experience of fear. In F. Didonna (Ed.), Clinical Handbook of Mindfulness (pp. 171-188). Springer.

Hariton, E., & Locascio, J. J. (2018). Randomised controlled trials – The gold standard for effectiveness research. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 125(13), 1716.

Heffernan, V. (2015, April 14). The Muddied Meaning of ‘Mindfulness’. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/19/magazine/the-muddied-meaning-of-mindfulness.html

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. Delacorte Press.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2002). Guided Mindfulness Meditation Program: Series 1. Sounds True.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 144-156.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005a). Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness. Hyperion.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005b). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness (15th Anniversary ed.). Delta Trade.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005c). Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life (10th ed.). Hachette Books.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2011). Some reflections on the origins of MBSR, skillful means, and the trouble with maps. Contemporary Buddhism, 12(1), 281-306.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness (Revised and Updated ed). Bantam Books.

Lomas, T. (2017, March 17). Where Does the Word ‘Mindfulness’ Come From? https://www.huffpost.com/entry/where-does-the-word-mindfulness-come-from_b_9470546

Monier-Williams, M. (1872). A Sanskrit-English Dictionary: Etymologically and Philologically Arranged. The Clarendon Press.

Nisbet, M. C. (2017). The Mindfulness Movement: How a Buddhist Practice Evolved Into a Scientific Approach to Life. Skeptical Inquirer, 41 (3). https://skepticalinquirer.org/2017/05/the-mindfulness-movement/

Pai, A. B., Shuart, L. V., & Drake, D. F. (2021). Integrative Medicine in Rehabilitation. In D. X. Cifu (Ed.), Braddom’s Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (6th ed.) (pp. 364-373). Elsevier Inc.

Penman, D. (2018). The Art of Breathing: The Secret to Living Mindfully. Conari Press.

Reb, J., & Choi, E. (2014). Mindfulness in Organizations. The psychology of meditation (pp. 1-31). Research Collection Lee Kong Chian School of Business. https://ink.library.smu.edu.sg/lkcsb_research/4199

Salmon, P. G., Sephton, S. E., Dreeben, S. J. (2011). Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. In J. D. Herbert & E. M. Forman (Eds.), Acceptance and mindfulness in cognitive behavior therapy: Understanding and applying the new therapies (pp. 132-163). John Wiley & Sons.

Santorelli, S., Meleo-Meyer, F., Koerbel, L., Kabat-Zinn, J., Blacker, M., Herbette, G., & Fulwiler, C. (2017). Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Authorized Curriculum Guide. Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society (CFM), University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Siegel, R. D. (2010). The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems. Guilford Press.

VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2015). APA dictionary of psychology (2nd ed.). American Psychological Association.

Vonderlin, R., Biermann, M., Bohus, M., & Lyssenko, L. (2020). Mindfulness-Based Programs in the Workplace: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Mindfulness, 11, 1579-1598.

Disclosure: I purchased The MBSR Online Course by Sounds True on my own. Sounds True did NOT sponsor my review and I’m NOT affiliated with Sounds True in any manner. I did NOT receive anything for my review of The MBSR Online Course by Sounds True. I’m simply recommending The MBSR Online Course by Sounds True (as taught by Dr. Saki Santorelli and Florence Meleo-Meyer) because I thought it was phenomenal.

Book Review – LEAD NOW!: A Personal Leadership Coaching Guide for Results-Driven Leaders (2nd ed.)

Lead Now_Cover

“Leadership is a future-oriented ability to establish direction, align people, and help others to work together. We believe a leader is one who develops a vision of the future, prepares the strategies for achieving it, and supports the execution of that vision” (Stewart & Stewart, 2021, p. 6).

“Our motivation in developing the LEAD NOW! concept was to produce a model that is practical, useful, easy to teach, easy to understand, and that smacks of common sense. The LEAD NOW! Leadership Development Model gives leaders at all levels a simple and comprehensive framework for the crit- ical areas of leading others” (Stewart & Stewart, 2021, p. 3).

The LEAD NOW! model is “built on the assumption that leaders must achieve aligned and positive results from four perspectives: 1) their people, 2) their business, 3) their marketplace (external), and 4) their organization (internal)” (Stewart & Stewart, 2021, p. 4).

It’s worth mentioning that I do NOT recommend the first edition of the LEAD NOW! book. The second edition is a substantial and significant update, both in its breadth and depth. As a matter of fact, if you were to compare the two editions, the second edition is a fresh, different, and much improved book. Whereas the first edition reads like a generic description of ideas for each competency, the second edition provides much more comprehensive, tangible, practical, and actionable steps to take.

Here’s an example of the “Customer Focus” competency in the first edition of LEAD NOW!:

    • 32. When you’ve made the sale, stop talking.
    • 36. Remember: customers complain — it’s their job.

As you can see, #32 and #36 seem incomplete, inappropriate, or just plain wrong! #32 “When you’ve made the sale, stop talking” can come across as a very transactional tip that can be interpreted as suggesting that after you’ve landed the customer, you can stop talking and interacting with them — which is not, I would assume, what the authors intended. And #36 “Remember: customers complain — it’s their job” is just awful. Customers do not complain. Some customers may complain, while others may, in fact, be very strong and loyal supporters and brand ambassadors of your company, products, and/or services. I’m astounded that the authors would include this in the first edition, which they recognized and deleted from the second edition.

Here’s an example of the “Customer Focus” competency in the second edition of LEAD NOW!:

    • 22. Treat customer complaints as a gift. What can you learn from them?
    • 23. Train and empower your team to promptly resolve or escalate customer problems, concerns, or frustrations.

It’s very evident that a lot of work have been put into improving the second edition.

  • In the Dependability competency, there was a 35.48% increase in the number of Coaching Tips from the first to the second edition (from 31 to 42).
  • In the Personal Integrity competency, there was a 52% increase in the number of Coaching Tips from the first to the second edition (from 25 to 38).
  • In the Problem Solving competency, there was a 40% increase in the number of Coaching Tips from the first to the second edition (from 25 to 35).
  • In the Change Management competency, there was a 26.32% increase in the number of Coaching Tips from the first to the second edition (from 38 to 48).
  • In the Innovation competency, there was a 73.91% increase in the number of Coaching Tips from the first to the second edition (from 23 to 40).
  • In the Inspiring Commitment competency, there was a 64.29% increase in the number of Coaching Tips from the first to the second edition (from 28 to 46).
  • In the Organizational Savvy competency, there was a 66.67% increase in the number of Coaching Tips from the first to the second edition (from 24 to 40).

Ok, now that I got that out of the way, let’s dive into the second edition!

I want to highlight two competencies [delegating and ego management] and point out some of the features unique to the LEAD NOW! (2nd ed.) book. Refreshingly different from the first edition, the second edition of LEAD NOW! features 5 subsections for each dimension or competency:

    • What it looks like
    • What it is not
    • What it looks like when it is overused
    • Business results
    • People results

The second edition also provides subheadings, breaking down the long lists of “coaching tips” into smaller groups. For instance, for the delegating competency, under “coaching tips,” there are these headings: Preparing to Delegate, Delegating Effectively, Managing Follow-Through in Delegation, Overcoming Challenges to Delegation.

Here’s what the delegating competency chapter looks like in LEAD NOW! (2nd ed.).

What Is Delegating?
Delegating is assigning a task, communicating its objective and timeline, setting expectations, and providing resources and support to complete it. Delegating is a demonstration of trust in your people. It communicates that you believe that both of you can do more. It helps them grow and develop while freeing your time to address your pressing priorities. Successful delegation requires a conscious choice to share the workload and let others learn and prove themselves. This can be career enhancing for you and your people.

What it looks like:
• Explaining and confirming why the task is to be completed
• Allowing some autonomy in how the task is accomplished
• Removing barriers for the individual to be successful
• Using a structure of accountability to follow up on the task

What it is not:
• Believing your way is the only way to do it
• Giving a task without clear directions and outcomes
• Assigning only work that you do not want to do
• Giving a task to benefit only you, and not the other person

What it looks like when it is overused:
• Delegating tasks to those outside of your team
• Assigning core strategic assignments to others that you should own
• Adding unnecessary barriers to test others
• Assigning delegated tasks without regard for existing workload

One of the things that helps the LEAD NOW! (2nd ed.) book stand out in the coaching & development guide book category is the business results and people results sections.

“The most important aspect of being a leader is achieving results—business results and people results. Business results are all about financial, budgetary, and operational success; people results are about team dynamics, workforce engagement, the overall employee experience, career development, and feeling connected with each other. Too often, we focus only on business results; our [Stewart Leadership] research has found that a great leader needs to be able to achieve both kinds of results—the IQ-driven side of creating purpose and delivering excellence, and the EQ-driven side of developing self and others and leading change” (Stewart & Stewart, 2021, p. 17).

“Business results means being able to achieve operational success. This is the language of the boss; the leader needs to be able to speak that language well to build the relationship with the boss for success” (Stewart & Stewart, 2021, p. 17).

“People results means being able to achieve success within your team engagement development. This is the language of your direct reports; they are most interested in engagement, development, and interaction with others on the team” (Stewart & Stewart, 2021, p. 17).

When you delegate, you can drive better business and people performance. Here are some of the results you can achieve.

Business results (Stewart & Stewart, 2021, p. 92):
• Enabling focus on your strategic priorities
• On-time delivery of key assignments
• Better support of operational and strategic goals
• Improved time management and productivity

People results (Stewart & Stewart, 2021, p. 93):
• Professional development of your team
• Improved alignment of your team with corporate goals
• Leveraging your team’s strengths
• Fostering engagement and mutual trust with your team

LOVE the business results and people results sections so much in the LEAD NOW! (2nd ed.) book!

Coaching Tips

Preparing to Delegate

#2 Match the capabilities, personality traits, relationship skills, thinking styles, and strengths and weaknesses of your employees to the tasks you’ll assign.

#6 Delegate to give your people purpose, make them feel val- ued, needed, and part of the group, and to establish an environment where everyone can grow and stretch.

Delegating Effectively

#9 Clearly communicate expectations for responsibility and accountability. Ask questions to ensure they understand the project and goals.

#15 Breathe new life into an existing project by delegating, allowing for new inspiration, outside perspective, brain-storming, problem solving, and creativity.

Managing Follow-Through in Delegation

#16 Consider the readiness and willingness of each delegate to determine the amount of support and direction you’ll provide. Have an open dialogue for maximum understanding and agreement.

Overcoming Challenges to Delegation

#23 Avoid the mindsets that you can do it better yourself, you can do it faster alone, you don’t have time to teach others, or you want to make sure that you get the credit. If you don’t delegate, you’re not an effective manager.

At the end of each competency (LEAD NOW! calls it “Dimension”) is a self-assessment with key questions to help you reflect on your current leadership skills and attitudes. There’s also an “Action-Planning Notes” section that asks “What three things in this section will help you be a better leader?”, “What would change if you started or continued doing these three things?”, and “How can you implement these changes?”

Ego Management is one competency I’ve not seen in the other coaching guides. Here’s what the ego management competency chapter looks like in LEAD NOW! (2nd ed.).

What Is Ego Management?
Ego management is having a balanced level of confidence in your own skills, tools, judgment, and experience. A strong, confident ego is needed to handle the challenges of life. Ego management combines humility and modesty with strong inner conviction and determination. Overinflated egos can hamper good decision making by shutting out the ideas of others, masking personal development needs, and generating organizational dysfunctions. And underinflated egos can deny the value you can and should add to your team and organization. The challenge is to manage your ego so it doesn’t manage you!

What it looks like:
• Giving credit where it is due
• Leading the applause for your people
• Pursuing what is best for the team
• Allowing the team freedom in how they achieve the result

What it is not:
• Demeaning or belittling others
• Allowing emotions and desire for power or control to determine actions
• Making sure everyone knows how important the leader is
• Wanting others to conform to the leader on all issues

What it looks like when it is overused:
• Believing that in the end, you are always the reason for the team’s success
• Never questioning or backing down from your own optimism
• Allowing louder or more dominant voices to always prevail
• Consistently doubting and not voicing your own ideas

When you manage your ego, you can drive better business and people performance. Here are some of the results you can achieve.

Business results:
• Fostering a culture of collaboration and new ideas
• Promoting good team decision making
• Improving problem solving
• Optimizing team engagement and productivity

People results:
• Allowing people the freedom to take risks
• Building personal resilience
• Professional development of leaders and staff
• Fostering trusting relationships

Coaching Tips

Managing Your Ego

#2 Avoid being defensive when you learn of areas where you need to improve. Do you justify or rationalize? Or do you try to understand and apply the feedback to make needed changes?

#9 Let go of the idea that you need to be the smartest person in the room. Ask a trusted associate if you appear to have a need to demonstrate to others that you’re more intelligent than they are. Be aware and resist the human tendency to add your two cents to each discussion.

Benefits of a Healthy Ego

#25 Be adaptable to change. Ego-driven people want the world to conform to them. Well-managed egos adapt to new rules, norms, and requirements.

Steps to a Healthy Ego

#30 Think what is best for the company, the customer, and the
team—not just for yourself.

#31 Look back over your successes. Honestly consider how the help you received from others contributed to your achievements.

#37 Recognize that even if you’re right, you may not be successful without other people’s involvement and ideas.

Here’s how Stewart Leadership’s LEAD NOW! (2nd ed.) book compares to several other coaching guides:

• Korn & Ferry – FYI For Your Improvement (5th edition) features 67 Competencies, 19 Career Stallers and Stoppers, and 7 Global Focus Areas.
• Korn & Ferry – FYI For Your Improvement (6th edition) features 38 Competencies, 10 Career Stallers and Stoppers.
• Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) – Compass: Your Guide for Leadership Development and Coaching contains 52 Competencies and 5 Career Derailers.
• MDA Leadership Consulting – Awaken, Align, Accelerate: A Guide to Great Leadership features 16 Competencies.
• Stewart Leadership – LEAD NOW! A Personal Leadership Coaching Guide for Results-Driven Leaders (2nd ed.) features 21 Competencies.

The LEAD NOW! book (and model) has a manageable number of competencies (21), similar to MDA Leadership Consulting’s Awaken, Align, Accelerate’s 16 Competencies.

There are some benefits to having lots of competencies (e.g., Korn & Ferry’s FYI’s 38 Competencies and CCL’s Compass’ 52 Competencies). However, to the readers/leaders, that may just be overkill. Indeed, too many competency choices may end up overwhelming the audience (i.e., leaders) this book aims to help.

That said, I was surprised and disappointed to not find a Conflict Management competency/dimension and a Confronting Direct Reports/Problem Employees competency/dimension in the LEAD NOW! book and model. Ask any first-time manager and they will tell you that, among the challenges they face in their new role, the ability to deal with and resolve conflicts and the ability to confront a problem employee rank at the very top of their list.

LEAD NOW! Model Description – 21 Leadership Dimensions

Quadrant I: Create Purpose (Externally Focused Business Results) As a leader, you are responsible for defining the group’s vision and strategy. Creating purpose identifies what the organization stands for, what it is going to do, and how it is positioned in the marketplace. This involves studying the competition, thoroughly knowing the customer, analyzing industry trends, setting strategy, and communicating effectively to others.

1: Customer Focus
2: Effective Communication
3: Presentation Skills
4: Strategic Thinking

Quadrant II: Deliver Excellence (Internally Focused Business Results) As a leader, you are responsible for delivering operational excellence—translating the strategy into day-to-day execution for the organization. This involves clear decision making, the ability to build consistent and measurable processes, continuous improvement, and behaving with integrity.

5: Decision Making
6: Delegating
7: Dependability
8: Focusing on Results
9: Personal Integrity
10: Problem Solving

Quadrant III: Develop Self & Others (Internally Focused People Results) As a leader, you must value learning for yourself and for others. This involves seeking personal improvement opportunities, building and managing team dynamics, honing technical expertise, managing one’s time, coaching and developing others, and managing one’s ego.

11: Coaching
12: Ego Management
13: Listening
14: Personal Development
15: Team Building
16: Time Management
17: Valuing Others

Quadrant IV: Lead Change (Externally Focused People Results) As a leader, you are responsible for creating and championing change efforts that will benefit the organization. This involves influencing key decision makers, sponsoring change projects, empowering stakeholders, encouraging innovation, managing resistance, and making change stick.

18: Change Management
19: Innovation
20: Inspiring Commitment
21: Organizational Savvy

About the LEAD NOW! Leadership Development Model
The LEAD NOW! Leadership Development Model was created to provide leaders with a simple and comprehensive framework for the critical areas of leading others. It is a results-oriented model geared toward achieving results in both business and people, focusing on reaching excellence within the organization, and understanding the competitive marketplace and customer needs outside the organization.

The LEAD NOW! Model is based on over 45 years of research and professional consulting and coaching experience. It has its roots in over eight thousand 360-degree assessments measuring leadership effectiveness at all levels of organizations and across dozens of industries, nonprofits, and government organizations. It also draws from thousands of interviews with leaders to distill what great leadership is all about.

The Four Critical Relationships

“At work, leaders have four critical relationships they must develop and within which they must communicate appropriately: with the boss, direct reports, peers, and customers. Each relationship is essential and deserves focused attention, but each relationship values and needs different things to be productive” (Stewart & Stewart, 2021, p. 25).

Do’s and Don’ts with Boss (Stewart & Stewart, 2021, p. 27):

Do's and Don'ts with Boss

Do’s and Don’ts with Direct Reports (Stewart & Stewart, 2021, p. 28):

Do's and Don'ts with Direct Reports

Do’s and Don’ts with Peers (Stewart & Stewart, 2021, p. 29):

Do's and Don'ts with Peers

Do’s and Don’ts with Customers (Stewart & Stewart, 2021, p. 30):

Do's and Don'ts with Customers

How does it work?
The LEAD NOW! Model is built on the understanding that effective leaders must achieve aligned and positive results from four perspectives: 1) their people, 2) their business, 3) their marketplace, and 4) their organization. These points of view form lines, which intersect to define the four areas or quadrants of great leadership: Create Purpose, Deliver Excellence, Develop Self & Others, and Lead Change. Each of these four quadrants is supported by several key Leadership Dimensions and provides the basis for in-depth leadership development action planning.

How will it help a leader?
Leadership is critical to an organization’s performance and leaders become better through focused and supported development. The LEAD NOW! Leadership Development Model provides the foundation for any personalized leadership development effort, whether it is a coaching engagement, workshop, or larger leadership program. Using the LEAD NOW! model will help you identify and improve the behaviors needed to increase your success of leading others and achieving desired organizational results.

The 21 Leadership Dimensions within the quadrants are a buffet of different skills or competencies that a leader can then choose from to help develop themselves as a leader. The ultimate goal of the LEAD NOW! Model is to develop leadership muscle in all four of these quadrants—and especially in the people-focused side—to enable leaders to not only get a seat at the leadership table, but also remain there.

“It is unrealistic to expect large, major leaps of progress overnight. The truth is that it takes persistent, patient effort over time to see and experience gains in one’s ability to lead—one fleck at a time” (Stewart & Stewart, 2021, p. 2).

LEAD NOW! was created to help leaders develop the tools to identify and improve their ability to lead and coach others at a moment’s notice. This book is filled with hundreds of small golden flecks—called tips—divided across twenty-one Leadership Dimensions that are designed to help any leader in any field grow in their ability to lead more effectively—one “fleck” at a time” (Stewart & Stewart, 2021, p. 2).

Summary: I was not expecting to be so impressed with LEAD NOW! (2nd ed.). In fact, I was anticipating an unremarkable coaching & development guide. But I was wrong! Despite missing two important competencies—a Conflict Management competency and a Confronting Direct Reports/Problem Employees competency—LEAD NOW!: A Personal Leadership Coaching Guide for Results-Driven Leaders (2nd ed.) is OUTSTANDING! However, you may not be able to tell from a quick glance at its exterior. This is because, compared to its coaching guide counterparts, the LEAD NOW! (2nd ed.) book is half the physical size of its competition (e.g., the FYI and Compass coaching guides) and contains far fewer competencies. Yet, it packs a big punch in a deceptively small package and delivers much more value (e.g., the helpful business & people results sections and hundreds of outstanding & practical coaching tips) at a fraction of the cost of its rivals! Indeed, it was the scores of actionable coaching tips or “flecks of gold” in LEAD NOW! (2nd ed.), with its clearly labeled subheadings to help you locate what you’re looking for, that won me over! Stellar job and well done, Stewart Leadership! LEAD NOW! (2nd ed.) has moved to the top of my “Highly Recommended Coaching & Development Guide Books List.” If you are a leader, aspiring to become a leader, or developing a future leader, you must have LEAD NOW! (2nd ed.) on your bookshelf and within arm’s reach!

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Barnfield, H. C., & Lombardo, M. M. (2014). FYI: For Your Improvement – Competencies Development Guide (6th ed.). Korn Ferry.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2009). FYI: For Your Improvement – A Guide for Development and Coaching (5th ed.). Korn Ferry.

Nguyen, S. (2017, Dec 1). Book Review: Awaken, Align, Accelerate By Mda Leadership. https://workplacepsychology.net/2017/12/01/book-review-awaken-align-accelerate-by-mda-leadership/

Nguyen, S. (2019, Sept 9). Book Review – Compass: Your Guide For Leadership Development And Coaching. https://workplacepsychology.net/2019/09/09/book-review-compass-your-guide-for-leadership-development-and-coaching/

Scisco, P, Biech, E, & Hallenbeck, G. (2017). Compass: Your Guide for Leadership Development and Coaching. Center for Creative Leadership.

Stewart, J. P., & Stewart, D. J. (2021). LEAD NOW!: A Personal Leadership Coaching Guide for Results-Driven Leaders (2nd ed.). Page Two Press.

Disclosure: I purchased LEAD NOW!: A Personal Leadership Coaching Guide for Results-Driven Leaders (2nd ed.) on my own.

There’s No Shortcut to Success

There is no elevator to success

There’s no such thing as overnight success. You have to put in the effort and hard work, and it doesn’t hurt to have some luck and good timing on your side.

“There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.” -Zig Ziglar

Jackie Hermes (Founder & CEO of Accelity, a company helping B2B SaaS startups and scaleups grow with customer acquisition & lead generation) said on her podcast (The Art of Entrepreneurship) that success requires four things: 1) a smart plan, 2) the dedication to work hard, 3) consistency, and 4) patience.

I agree. But, let’s take it a few steps further.

Picture a canopy tent. The four tent poles suggested by Jackie (have a plan, work hard, be consistent, and have patience) provide support for the tent top covering (which is where a success definition resides). Thus, in addition to having the four tent poles, I would add that we need to think about our success canopy (the top covering), and we need to define what success is and what it is not.

Steve Nguyen’s Definition of Success:

Success is not about being famous, influential, powerful, or wealthy. It’s not about having material possessions or impressive job titles or noteworthy accolades. Success is not about financial wealth, although it does mean having financial stability like being able to take care of your monthly bills, setting aside money for retirement, and covering emergencies.

Success is about discovering joy, satisfaction, meaning, and contentment in your life. Success means you are at a place in your life — financially, mentally, socially, emotionally, spiritually — where you feel safe, secure, loved, and at peace because you don’t feel the need to compare or compete with anyone. Success is when you can finally and honestly say, “I’m happy with my life and there’s nothing anyone else has that I want because I’m content.”

In his book, Happiness at Work (2010), Srikumar Rao wrote:

“The vast majority of people are not happy. Even those who seem to have it all — great career success, financial prosperity, a picture-perfect spouse and accomplished children, a sterling reputation — are not happy. They are not brimming with joy. Anxiety is a frequent and unwelcome guest in their lives. There is always an undercurrent of stress, and it overwhelms them all too often” (p. 70).

I have often witnessed this exact unhappiness scenario (that Rao described) with people in my life and I always find it so sad that they have so much on the outside (material wealth) but yet lacking so much on the inside (happiness, peace, enjoyment, contentment, satisfaction).

Thus, my definition of success is based on this context and is derived out of this lived experience. And it is the reason why I do not define success in terms of only financial wealth.

“The happiest people in the world are people who love what they are doing, regardless of whether wealth, fame, power, and elevated social status ever come their way. The most fulfilled people are individuals who delight in their work, whatever it might be, and strive to do it well. They are people who derive rewards from the intrinsic enjoyment of what they are contributing to life, come what may. And they are people who relish the challenge to pursue excellence in their activities, as well as in themselves. The people who attain true success in their lives are people who enjoy a good measure of both fulfillment and happiness as they invest themselves in worthwhile pursuits” (Morris, 1994, p. 32-33).

For me, reaching my success (based on my own definition of success) meant that I needed to first “own it” and then to “work at it” constantly and consistently. “Owning” my success meant that I needed to listen to my gut and my heart and go after what I had always wanted. For many years, what I wanted was adventure, excitement, and something different from my life in Dallas, Texas. In 2004, I took a job working for a school system over 7,000 away on a tropical island called Saipan, a career decision that ultimately changed not only my career but also my life (Nguyen, 2021).

Making that decision and taking that plunge was one of the SCARIEST and BEST decisions of my life! That job led me to crisis training, which ultimately helped me to make a career pivot into leadership & talent development and learning & development, the space within which I work today.

People who don’t know my story might assume that I somehow became an “overnight success.” However, my overnight success took over a decade plus another decade prior to that (which included multiple career pivots). All total, I became an overnight success after more than 20 years of confusion, headaches, heartaches, hard work, sweat, failures, disappointments, fears and tears, determination, and luck.

What I have learned and continue to learn is that we MUST always be adaptable, to not only grow but to survive. The old outdated mentality of having only one lifelong job working for a stable, profitable company and retiring with a full pension no longer exists. The new VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) world of work requires us to constantly pivot to ensure that (a) we have the knowledge and skills to remain relevant, (b) we engage in job crafting, and for some people (c) start a “side hustle.”

Sadly, there are some very intelligent and capable professionals who continue to languish and stagnate in their careers, or who have been made redundant, because they were either unable or unwilling to be flexible and adaptable to shift their thinking and acquire new skillsets to allow them to adjust to the demands of a new world of work. The new VUCA world demands and favors those who are bold & willing to take risks, who are always learning & growing, and who are adaptable.

Along with adding a success definition (the tent top) to Jackie’s four success ingredients (the four tent poles), I want to further extend our tent metaphor by introducing four tent “stakes” to ground our tent. These stakes are: (1) being adaptable to change, and (2) being open to learning. These two components help to ensure that you not only become successful, but that you remain successful. In addition, and perhaps surprisingly, I’m also including two other, often overlooked but important, stakes to the mix. They are (3) luck and (4) good timing.

(1) Difficulty Adapting to Change
Indeed, according to Compass (2017), a coaching and development guide from the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), one of the critical career derailers is “Difficulty Adapting to Change” (cannot adjust to, learn from, and embrace change as necessary for future success).

Those who are unable (or unwilling) to accept, embrace, and champion change (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017):

• are intimidated by change or challenge
• don’t see the need to change in order to stay relevant
• don’t believe they need to learn and grow

(2) Blocked Personal Learner
A person is a “blocked personal learner” if he or she (Barnfield & Lombardo, 2014):

• Is closed to learning new personal, interpersonal, managerial, and leadership skills, approaches, and tactics.
• Prefers to stay the same, even when faced with new & different challenges.
• Is narrow in interests and scope.
• Doesn’t seek input.
• Lacks curiosity.
• Is not insightful about him/herself.

Why a Person Is a Blocked Personal Learner (Barnfield & Lombardo, 2014):

• Hangs on, hoping to make it without changing.
• Low risk taker.
• Narrow in scope and interests.
• Not open to new approaches.
• Prefers the tried and true.
• Self-learning/development interest is low.

“The bottom line is, those who learn, grow, and change continuously across their careers are the most successful. The skills someone has now are unlikely to be enough in the future. Acquiring new skills is the best way to navigate an uncertain future. . . . You look to grow from experience. Seek out feedback and are open to what you hear. Challenge yourself in unfamiliar settings. Try out new skills. Learn from others. . . . Development is a personal commitment. You make the choice” (Barnfield & Lombardo, 2014, p. 355).

I share these tips not to suggest that I’m somehow perfect or infallible or that I know everything or have things all figured out. On the contrary, I share these based on my experiences of failing countless times. My hope is that by learning from my mistakes and heeding my warnings that you will avoid some of the pitfalls that befell me.

There’s one last dual component of success I wish to share — that many people (especially in Western societies) attribute to hard work and sheer determination — which is luck and good timing.

(3) Luck and (4) Good Timing
In his book, Outliers: The Story of Success (2008), Malcolm Gladwell revealed that two of the secrets to success are luck and good timing!

“Bill Gates’s first great opportunity was a convergence of wealth, privilege, and extraordinary good fortune and timing: he had easy access to a computer in the 1960s, decades before computers became mainstream. This stroke of good luck and timing gave Gates the opportunity to become an expert at computer programming well ahead of his time, which later put him in the perfect position to start Microsoft at the dawn of the personal computer revolution” (Winner, 2015, Analysis para. 9).

How many teenagers in the world had the kind of luck, opportunity, and experience that Bill Gates had? (Gladwell, 2008). Not many! In fact, Gates said he would be stunned if there were even 50 in the world who had the kind of experience he had (Gladwell, 2008). As Gates, himself, acknowledged: “I was very lucky” (Gladwell, 2008, p. 55). “I had a better exposure to software development at a young age than I think anyone did in that period of time, and all because of an incredibly lucky series of events” (Gladwell, 2008, p. 55).

“That doesn’t mean Bill Gates isn’t brilliant or an extraordinary entre­preneur. It just means that he understands what incredible good fortune (luck)” he had (Gladwell, 2008, p. 55). “For Bill Gates, the lucky break was being born at the right time and getting the gift of a computer terminal in junior high” (Gladwell, 2008, p. 267). Gladwell found that “many of the most successful entrepreneurs of the computer age were born in or around 1955, placing them at the right time (and at the right age) to ride the wave of the personal computer revolution” (Winner, 2015, para. 1).

Let’s return to my own story and how luck and good timing both played key roles in helping me to pivot in my career. If I had not been unhappy and restless with my life and career path, my third “crystallization of discontent” moment in 2003 (Nguyen, 2021), and if that job position in the school system in the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) had not *still* been available at the end of 2003 (because I initially turned down the role) and had the timing not been right to launch a crisis intervention training workshop (Nguyen, 2011) while I was there in Saipan, Rota, and Tinian from 2004 to 2007, then things might have turned out very differently for me.

There’s no doubt in my mind that luck, opportunity, and experience during my years in the Northern Mariana Islands converged to provide me with the life perspectives and work experiences necessary to begin my career transition from mental health counseling to industrial and organizational psychology (I-O psychology) and leadership & talent development (Nguyen, 2021).

But long before that, as a son to a Vietnamese physician father (who was first an otolaryngologist, an ear, nose, and throat [ENT] doctor, in Vietnam and later a psychiatrist in the United States), I greatly and fortunately benefited from receiving a bachelor degree from Baylor University and a master degree from Texas Woman’s University (thanks to my family’s financial support). I would later receive a doctorate degree from Capella University in 2013 (motivated, in part, by my father’s lifelong emphasis of higher education).

Was I lucky to be born into a family with the financial means to send me off to college here in the United States? Definitely. Was I lucky to have a family, and especially a dad, that emphasized the importance & relevance of a college degree (beyond a bachelor’s)? Unquestionably. Was it good fortune (luck) and good timing that I ended up in the role in the school system in the Northern Mariana Islands where I was able to launch a crisis intervention workshop? You betcha!

In summary, my criteria for success include: (1) a smart plan, (2) the dedication to work hard, (3) consistency, (4) patience, (5) being adaptable to change, (6) being open to learning, (7) luck, (8) good timing, and (9) definition of what success means.

Takeaway: There is no shortcut to success. There never was a shortcut. You have to take it one step at a time. Reaching “success” takes time. Sometimes, it takes a few years. Other times, it takes a few decades. Whatever goal you set out to achieve, be sure that you (1) have a solid plan; (2) put in the hard work, (3) are consistent, (4) are patient, (5) are adaptable, (6) are open to learning & improving, (7 & 8) understand & acknowledge the role that luck and good timing play, and (9) define what success means to you & what success looks like.

“If you cannot find peace within yourself, you will never find it anywhere else.” -Marvin Gaye

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Barnfield, H. C., & Lombardo, M. M. (2014). FYI: For your improvement – Competencies development guide (6th ed.). Korn Ferry.

Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The Story of Success. Little, Brown and Company.

Hermes, J. (2021). The Art Of Entrepreneurship (Episode 17: What are the key ingredients to success?). https://the-art-of-entrepreneurship.captivate.fm/episode/what-are-the-key-ingredients-to-success

Morris, T. (1994). True Success: A New Philosophy of Excellence. Berkley Books.

Nguyen, S. (2011, January 14). Less Talk, More Action-The PAR Technique. https://workplacepsychology.net/2011/01/14/less-talk-more-action-the-par-technique/

Nguyen, S. (2014, July 26). I Will Teach My Daughter Not to Be Afraid. https://workplacepsychology.net/2014/07/26/i-will-teach-my-daughter-not-to-be-afraid/

Nguyen, S. (2021, January 26). I Felt the Fear and Did It Anyway – The Risk I Took to Blossom. https://workplacepsychology.net/2021/01/26/i-felt-the-fear-and-did-it-anyway-the-risk-i-took-to-blossom/

Nguyen, S. (2021, April 26). Self-Insight Is Sparked by “Crystallization of Discontent” Moments. https://workplacepsychology.net/2021/04/26/self-insight-is-sparked-by-crystallization-of-discontent-moments/

Rao, S. S. (2010). Happiness at Work: Be Resilient, Motivated, and Successful – No Matter What. McGraw-Hill.

Scisco, P., Biech, E., & Hallenbeck, G. (2017). Compass: Your Guide for Leadership Development and Coaching. Center for Creative Leadership Press.

Winner, K. (2015, July 21). Outliers. LitCharts, LLC. https://www.litcharts.com/lit/outliers

How to be a Good Internal Consultant

balance

As an internal consultant and a member of an internal consulting team (although “internal consultant” or “internal consulting” is not in our “official” job titles), my colleagues and I are often called on to lead, support, and offer coaching, consultation, or facilitation services on wide-ranging areas, projects, and initiatives including culture, change management, conflict management, leadership development, organizational development, learning & development, onboarding, and so much more. Indeed, now more than ever, today’s HR professionals play the role of internal consultants (Miller, 2016).

The Association of Internal Management Consultants (AIMC) says that an internal consultant provides various client support services within the enterprise. They may be in a variety of areas (e.g., project management, quality management, human resources, information technology, training & development, finance, supply chain management, process improvement, etc.).

According to Phillips, Trotter, and Phillips (2015), “The rapid rate of change coupled with heightened competition on a global basis is increasing the need for companies and public sector organizations to develop effective internal consulting capabilities” (p. 3).

Important competencies to be a successful internal consultant (Phillips, Trotter, & Phillips, 2015) include communication skills, feedback skills, problem-solving & analytical skills, and organizational skills. Additionally, several core consulting skills (AIMC, 2017) are needed, such as business acumen, business process optimization, change management, coaching & consulting skills, and project management.

If you want a company to value you as an indispensable internal consultant — especially in the human resources, talent management, and leadership development space — here are a few tips I’d like to share based on my work and experience as an internal consultant.

First, it doesn’t matter how smart or knowledgeable you are or how much experience you have or bring. If you want to excel as an internal consultant and have top corporate decision-makers listen to you, you’ll need to master the art of influence & persuasion — how to sell your ideas and convince leaders to go along with you. Leaders are short on time and attention. You must master the ability to be concise, to-the-point, and ensure that your timing is right. For instance, if you are advocating for a specific program or agenda, but it does not align with your organizations’ goals or senior leaders’ mindsets, it will be very unlikely your proposal will ever have a chance of getting off the ground. The ability to both gain senior leadership buy-in and support and navigate an organization’s hierarchy, politics, and culture is absolutely critical to an internal consultant’s success (Zentis, 2018).

Second, learn to be interpersonally savvy because it is “an essential part of getting things done within organization” (Barnfield & Lombardo, 2014, p. 235). “Interpersonal savvy helps you read and address relationships appropriately and at the right time” (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017, p. 261). I have seen individuals with graduate education and degrees (i.e., knowledge) be terribly ineffective at internal consulting because they were unable or unwilling to move out of their comfort zone (i.e., relying solely or mostly on knowledge or technical skills, rather than being savvy enough to read the situation and the relationship and understand what others need and respond accordingly).

Third, a positive attitude goes a very long way in helping you gain social capital, as well as getting you to the table of these decision makers. Regardless of how smart, talented, or experienced you are, if you have a bad attitude and cannot get along with others, you will struggle to get senior executives to listen to you. They may accept your work or ideas but will never see you as a leader or a person with the potential to become one. You have to play nicely with others. Even if you are the resident “genius” and you know how to do everything, if your attitude sucks, no one will care what you have to say, even if you’re right.

Earlier, I shared important competencies needed to be a successful internal consultant. These included Communication Skills, Feedback Skills, Problem-Solving & Analytical Skills, Organizational Skills, Business Acumen, Business Process Optimization, Change Management, Coaching & Consulting Skills, and Project Management.

Here are 8 competencies (some of these will be identical, similar to, or complement the ones previously outlined, while others will be new and different) you can incorporate into your repertoire to help become an effective internal consultant:

From CCL Compass (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017):

1. Communication (p. 9) – “Listen, convey your ideas and emotions with clarity and authenticity, and adapt your personal speaking as needed for the situation and audience to foster an environment of trust.”

2. Interpersonal Savvy (p. 261) – “You need interpersonal skills to recognize and assess what others need. These skills involve not only listening to others, but also include noticing social cues that communicate how others are thinking and feeling, even if they don’t say so outright.”

3. Influence (p. 17) – “Your greatest leadership asset is your ability to understand and persuade others. Influential leaders know how to get others to work with them, whether or not formal authority exists.”

4. Tolerating Ambiguity (p. 401) – “[I]n today’s business environment, ambiguity is pervasive and affects leaders at all organizational levels. . . . Learn to handle ambiguity comfortably and confidently and learn to anticipate situations rather than simply react to or retreat from them. Make peace with ambiguity and gain greater control over how you handle key decisions in daily situations and over your career.”

From Awaken, Align, Accelerate (Nelson & Ortmeier, 2011):

5. Business Acumen (p. 159) – A leader with strong business acumen understands the global environment, business model, and key drivers of the organization, and leverages this understanding to recommend alternatives and measure performance.

6. Building Collaboration (p. 285) – A collaborative leader participates with and involves others, promotes cooperation, builds partnerships, and resolves conflicts.

7. Creating Alignment (p. 57) – An effective change leader creates alignment by ensuring the structure, systems, people, and processes are aligned in support of organizational goals.

From Bernholz and Teng’s Harvard Business Review article (2015):

8. Be Entrepreneurial & “Be Scrappy” – In Bernholz and Teng’s article, in which they offered recommendations on how to build an in-house consulting team, one of their suggestions is “be scrappy” and adopt an entrepreneurial mindset. At EMC Information Infrastructure (EMC II, which has since been acquired by Dell), an information technology, storage & protection company, Bernholz (now VP, Head of Corporate Strategy at Adobe) and Teng (now VP of Global Business Transformation at Commvault) knew they didn’t have the luxury of having extensive support staff that external firms often enjoyed. So they made up for the staffing shortfall “by assigning all [internal EMC] consultants to an “office development” team, such as recruiting, training and onboarding, knowledge management, or social committee. Though these require time commitment beyond project-work, they offer team members the opportunity to shape the group’s operations and culture, instilling an entrepreneurial mindset among [internal EMC’s] consultants.”

Takeaway: Here’s my advice to those who wish to be outstanding internal consultants to organizations. To increase your chances of success: (1) Take a few steps back (figuratively) to really understand the issue or problem and absorb (like a sponge) everything you see, hear, and experience; (2) Build and maintain solid long-term relationships throughout the company; and (3) Work to connect the dots by thinking about and asking these questions: (a) “Why has this issue been a recurring one?” (b) “How many people or departments have an influence over this or play a key role?” (c) “Who truly holds the decision-making power and who are the influencers in the organization?”, and (d) “If others (inside & outside the company) have come up with a solution, why has it not worked?” By talking and listening to others, you will be in a great position to better know and understand the organization and the industry in which it sits. Finally, learn to get along and work well with others and be nice. If you are a jerk, you will have a very hard time providing internal consulting services.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Association of Internal Management Consultants (AIMC). (2017). AIMC Core Consulting Skills Certification Program (CCSCP) Overview. https://aimc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Core-Skills-Certification-4-page-details.pdf

Barnfield, H. C., & Lombardo, M. M. (2014). FYI: For your improvement – Competencies development guide (6th ed.). Korn Ferry.

Bernholz, M, & Teng, A. (2015, September 11). Why and How to Build an In-House Consulting Team. https://hbr.org/2015/09/why-and-how-to-build-an-in-house-consulting-team

Miller, A. (2016, July 12). Yes, HR Professionals, You Are Consultants. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/behavioral-competencies/consultation/pages/yes-hr-professionals-you-are-consultants.aspx

Nelson, S. E., & Ortmeier, J. G. (2011). Awaken, Align, Accelerate: A Guide to Great Leadership. Beaver’s Pond Press, Inc.

Phillips, J. J., Trotter, W. D., & Phillips, P. P. (2015). Maximizing the Value of Consulting: A Guide for Internal and External Consultants. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Scisco, P., Biech, E., & Hallenbeck, G. (2017). Compass: Your Guide for Leadership Development and Coaching. Center for Creative Leadership Press.

Zentis, N. (2018, March 2). Role of the Internal Consultant: Consulting on the Inside. https://instituteod.com/role-internal-consultant-consulting-inside/

Small Acts of Kindness Can Matter So Much

kindness quote_harold kushner

Kindness From a Stranger

This is the first time I’ve shared this story. It’s not earth-shattering, traumatic, or dramatic, just a small act of kindness that meant a lot to me at a time when I REALLY needed an extra serving of kindness.

Many years ago, during a time period when I was looking for a job and was really struggling (financially, mentally, and emotionally), my wife and I went to a fast casual restaurant chain that serves home-style meals. This one lets you choose the food items (entree, side items, etc.) you like and the person behind the counter places those items onto your plate.

When I told the restaurant employee which food items I wanted, he did something that meant so much to me. He smiled and placed a little extra serving of the entree item on my plate and said, “It looks like you could use a little bit extra.”

I’m not sure if it was because I’m thin and tend to lose weight when I’m stressed, so I might have looked even thinner that day than I naturally am. I’ve always been thin, and have been this way my whole life. Maybe something prompted him to show some kindness toward me. Whatever the reason, I was so grateful to have received it that day.

I thanked him and we paid for our food. We enjoyed our early dinner and afterward went to our car. On the drive back to our place, I started to cry. My wife was really concerned and thought something was terribly wrong. I collected myself and began sharing with her about that simple, small act of kindness from a stranger at the restaurant. As I talked and recalled how he was kind to me, I starting getting choked up again with emotions.

It was a small act of kindness, but it came at a time and on a day when I so desperately needed some kindness and I got it, not from family or friends but, from a complete stranger. I’m fairly sure that nice man had no idea I really needed some kindness that day, but he gave it anyway.

Kindness Is Contagious

In a Scientific American article, psychology professor Jamil Zaki (2016) wrote that kindness is contagious and it can cascade across people. “[A]n individual’s kindness can . . . trigger people to spread positivity.”

In their studies, Zaki and his colleagues found that people do not “even need to see others do anything in order to catch their kindness.” In a follow-up study, people were asked to read stories about the suffering of homeless individuals. “After each story, they saw what they believed was the average level of empathy past participants had felt in response to its protagonist. Some people learned that their peers cared a great deal, and others learned they were pretty callous.” At the end of the study, participants were given a $1 bonus, and the chance to give as much of it as they wanted to a local homeless shelter. “People who believed others had felt empathy for the homeless cared more themselves, and also donated twice as much as people who believed others had felt little empathy.”

In Zaki’s book, The War for Kindness, he explained that empathy “refers to several different ways we respond to each other. These include identifying what others feel (cognitive empathy), sharing their emotions (emotional empathy), and wishing to improve their experiences (empathic concern)” (p. 4).

“We catch one another’s empathy” (Zaki, 2019, p. 121).

“We are not merely individuals fighting to empathize in a world of cruelty. We are also communities, families, companies, teams, towns, and nations that can build kindness into our culture, turning it into people’s first option” (Zaki, 2019, p. 122).

“Empathy’s most important role . . . is to inspire kindness: our tendency to help each other” (Zaki, 2019, p. 4).

Here’s another story about the kindness of strangers from Reader’s Digest: “While going through a divorce, my mother fretted over her new worries: no income, the same bills, and no way to afford groceries. It was around this time that she started finding boxes of food outside our door every morning. This went on for months until she was able to land a job. We never did find out who it was who left the groceries for us, but they truly saved our lives.” —Jamie Boleyn, Emmett, Idaho

In reflecting back on that day at the restaurant, perhaps the employee identified (from my face and body language) what I was feeling and wished to improve my dining experience as well as maybe brightening up my day. And he acted on his empathy by being kind and offering me just a bit more food on my plate. At the time, although it was really tough, I had unemployment income that helped us survive. BUT, I was feeling really down and even ashamed that I could not provide for me and my wife. So I kept to myself as the stress, anxiety, guilt, and so many other worries piled on. That small act of kindness helped me make it through that day and gave me hope to keep going, even when things felt overwhelming.

“No act of kindness, no matter how small is ever wasted.” -Aesop

Kindness In Organizations

In her book, People Not Paperclips: Putting the human back into Human Resources, Kath Howard asserts that in our organizations and workplaces, we have forgotten to treat people with kindness and compassion that they deserve. Instead, we treat them more like paperclips, commodities that are easily replaced. She says we can be wholehearted, authentic, and caring and connect with people and their needs in a truly human way.

She writes, “Lead by example in displaying compassion, no matter what ‘level’ of the organisation you’re employed at offer help and support to others, and condolences when they’re going through a hard time. This creates a ripple effect of kindness. People who are treated with kindness, often seek to ‘pay it forward’ and to offer kindness to others in return” (Howard, 2020, p. 98).

Kindness Toward Strangers

And one last thing, don’t rush through life or always be in a hurry. Despite having good intentions to be kind and help others, when we’re pressed for time and in a rush, we tend to bypass, overlook, or even step over a person in need to meet our goal. As the classic 1973 experiment by social psychologists John Darley and Daniel Batson revealed, even seminary students on their way to deliver a sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan (a Bible story about helping strangers in need) failed to stop to help someone in need when they were in a hurry versus when they were not in a hurry (Lyons-Padilla, n.d.).

“A person not in a hurry may stop and offer help to a person in distress. A person in a hurry is likely to keep going. Ironically, he is likely to keep going even if he is hurrying to speak on the parable of the Good Samaritan, thus inadvertently confirming the point of the parable. (Indeed, on several occasions, a seminary student going to give his talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan literally stepped over the victim as he hurried on his way!)” (Darley & Batson, 1973, p. 107).

Takeaway: In your life and daily interactions with other human beings, be more empathetic, and remember to be kind. You never know how a simple, small act of kindness can matter so much to someone who’s really hurting.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Darley, J. M., & Batson, C. D. (1973). “From Jerusalem to Jericho”: A study of situational and dispositional variables in helping behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 27(1), 100-108.

Howard, K. (2020). People Not Paperclips: Putting the human back into Human Resources. Practical Inspiration Publishing.

Lyons-Padilla, S. (n.d.). Take Time to Be a Good Samaritan. Stanford SPARQ. https://sparq.stanford.edu/solutions/take-time-be-good-samaritan

Reader’s Digest Editors. (2021, April 10). 30 Stories About the Touching Kindness of Strangers That’ll Make You Tear Up. https://www.rd.com/article/kindness-strangers/

Zaki, J. (2016, July 26). Kindness Contagion: Witnessing kindness inspires kindness, causing it to spread like a virus. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/kindness-contagion/

Zaki, J. (2019). The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World. Crown.

Book Review — Influence and Impact: Discover and Excel at What Your Organization Needs From You The Most by Bill Berman and George Bradt

influence and impact

“What we have found, again and again, is that people tend to underperform because they do what is comfortable, what is familiar, or what they desire, rather than what is most important to the organization. The majority of people we have coached believed they were doing the right things, but they did not understand the organization’s top priorities.” -Bill Berman & George Bradt (Influence and Impact, p. 11)

What Influence and Impact by Bill Berman and George Bradt Is About

Influence and Impact by Bill Berman and George Bradt is about how you can overcome the frustration and lack of satisfaction in one’s job by focusing on the job that your company and its organizational culture want you to do. On the inside front cover of the book, it states: “regardless of your formal job description, your real occupation is meeting the needs and expectations of the people around you” (Berman & Bradt, 2021). Excel in your role by discovering and excelling at what your organization needs from you the most. The key is to move beyond job descriptions and focus on the real-time needs and expectations of the people who depend on you every single day.

“. . .people lose their ability to influence others and impact the organization because they are not focused on the most essential, mission-critical business and cultural priorities. They usually do not even know what those are! Often, organizations and managers are not as explicit as they should be about the focus of their employees’ work, the culture of the organization, or their own needs and expectations” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 2-3).

“The really great news is that despite these common challenges, you can enhance your influence and impact by focusing on the mission-critical parts of your role (the business) without anyone explicitly telling you what they are. You can be more effective by learning about and adapting to the behaviors, relationships and mores of the organization (the culture)—or you may realize, after reading the first parts of this book, that it’s just not a fit and you would flourish more in a different organization” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 2-3).

Berman and Bradt (2021) wrote: “For a large majority of people, the struggle to have influence or impact and satisfaction in their work comes, not from external factors, but rather from something that they are able to manage and change” (p. 2).

“What has become clear to us, through our work with people from CEOs to first-line managers, and even individual contributors, is that many people are unintentionally misunderstanding critical aspects of their job. When organizations send clients to us for executive coaching or onboarding, we look carefully at how they spend their time, how they think about their job, and how they do that job” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 2).

“Many times, we find that they are not focused on the essential elements of their job. They may be doing someone else’s job unintentionally. They may be trying to do their colleagues’ jobs, either implicitly or by making a premature power grab to take on greater scope or responsibility. Sometimes, they are only doing one part of their job—the part they like, or the part that is most familiar” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 2).

“What is influence? What is impact? How are they different? Influence is the indirect or intangible effect you have on others, based on what you do, how you do it, how you communicate it, and who you are. Impact is the direct and observable effect you have on the entities you deal with—your manager, your team, your organization. We are particularly focused on helping you improve the effect you have on others—your influence—in ways that result in a significant or major effect on your manager, your team, and your organization—your impact. This is the key to professional success in organizations: Doing the job that is needed, in the way that is needed, consistently and effectively” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 3).

“People work for different reasons. For some, it is simply to have enough money to live their life the way they want. For others, it is a passion, something they do to feel fulfilled. But whatever the reason, having influence on others, and an impact on the organization you work for, is going to make you feel good about what you are doing. One of the major sources of job satisfaction is feeling that you make a difference, that you have an effect on the people you work with and the organization you work for. Whether you are looking to climb the corporate ladder, or find gratification in your current job, having influence and impact on others will boost your happiness and gratitude” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 3).

Under the heading, “What Gets in the Way?” Berman and Bradt (2021) wrote:

“So, what is the disconnect between you and what your organization needs from you most? What causes you to feel stuck, or stalled, that you aren’t having the impact you want? How can you bring more value to your company and meaning for yourself? In many situations, you are making one or two simple but consequential mistakes: You are not focused on the mission-critical parts of your responsibilities, or you are not doing them in the way that the organization can understand and embrace” (p. 11).

Influence and Impact

“What we have found, again and again, is that people tend to underperform because they do what is comfortable, what is familiar, or what they desire, rather than what is most important to the organization. The majority of people we have coached believed they were doing the right things, but they did not understand the organization’s top priorities” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 11).

You can enhance your influence and impact by identifying and consistently focusing on the mission critical parts of your role and the essential aspects of the culture of your organization. The steps to building your influence are (Berman, 2021):

  1. Start by learning about yourself – your strengths, your values, and your preferences.
  2. Learn about what your job really is – by having conversations with stakeholders (including your manager) and observing yourself, your manager, and your colleagues carefully.
  3. Understand the culture of your organization – by listening, observing, and reflecting on your actions and attitudes relative to others.
  4. Write out your working job description – the one that others need from you, not what you think it is.
  5. Decide if you want to commit to that job. If you do, then make a plan to adjust to what is really expected. If you do not, consider what alternatives there may be, in your organization or somewhere else.

Your Framework (your working job description of what’s essential to your job) Should Explain (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 60):

  • What drives our work? What matters to the organization? To the owners?
  • What are the norms, rules-of-the-road, and operating principles? How do people interact, make decisions, allocate resources?
  • What is your manager responsible for? How are they evaluated?
  • What does your manager need and expect from you? What can you expect from your manager, based on your data?
  • What do your stakeholders need from you? What do you need from them?
  • What is your working job title, which accurately describes your responsibilities, independent of what your organizational title is today?
  • What are your essential priorities?
  • What do you need from your team? What does your team need from you?

“[Y]ou may realize that you are struggling because what is expected and needed by your organization does not fit with your strengths, values, and interests. This will lead to the big decision you have to make . . . Do I stay and commit? Or do I look for something different?” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 60).

Part I [The Disconnect: What Your Organization Wants You to Know (But Hasn’t Told You!) (includes Chapters 1 and 2)] explains what you are doing that interferes with your influence and impact, why that is hurting your job satisfaction, and how to resolve it. We help you identify what distracts you, and why. Once you understand the disconnect between what you are doing and what the organization needs, you can commit to making the changes that will allow you to succeed, flourish and be recognized for doing important work” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 4).

Part II [The Solution: Discover Your Levers of Influence (includes Chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6] is designed to help you sort out what your boss, your team, and your organization really need from you, both from a business and a cultural perspective” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 4).

Part III [Plan A: Grow Your Influence and Impact (includes Chapters 7, 8, and 9)] describes the path you take if you want the job you are in. This section takes you through the nuts and bolts of creating a Personal Strategic Plan to implement critical changes to your priorities, tone, and behavior . . .” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 4).

Part IV [Plan B: If You Don’t Want This Job, Find a Better Fit (includes Chapters 10, 11, and 12)] is the path you take if you realize that the real job your organization wants you to do is not what you want or can do. For some people, they really like the organization they work for, but the specific job is a bad fit, or they just can’t find a way to work happily with their manager. For others, this process helps them to realize that both the job they are doing and the context in which they work are not acceptable to them” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 5).

Part V [Helping Others Build Their Influence and Impact (includes Chapter 13)] is “a primer for managers who want guidance on how to coach others to great influence and impact . . . . [It] is designed to help you guide your people toward what you and your organization need from them the most” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 5).

WHAT’S OK BUT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER

The “Key Takeaways” at the end of each chapter is OK but way too short. I would have liked to see a much more comprehensive summary instead of a way-too-brief 3-5 sentences paragraph.

WHAT I DISLIKED

The use of font sizes is very inconsistent and the line spacing is very poor. The font size is too small for the body text and should have been larger. The font size is too large for the chapter title (as in bizarrely large) and should have been much smaller. Also, it would have been better to reverse the font sizing and swap out the sizing use in the References section for the font size used in the body text.

As I thumbed through the physical copy of the Influence and Impact book, (I do this when I first look at a book), I noticed how tightly packed the fonts were. Although a book review should never be about the style and appearance of the words (e.g., font styles & sizes and use of spacing) on the pages of a book (i.e., its “typography”), it’s worth pointing out, however, that typography impacts readability. In Influence and Impact, the small type (or font) size and the tight line spacing combined made it challenging to read.

In fact, the book itself is quite short at 181 pages (not counting References and Index), but it feels much longer and heavier due to its tight layout, smaller font size, and poor use of spacing. I mostly find this layout and typography in college textbooks so I was quite surprised to see it used in a business book. Rather than packing everything so tightly into 206 total pages, it would have been better had the publisher and authors stretched it out to 236 pages by using a larger body text font size, better line spacing, and better layout (translation: make it look less like a college textbook). Strangely, the chapter title font size is HUGE!

This regrettable flaw — the dreadful typography — makes the reader “work” to read it, instead of making it enjoyable to read. I truly hope this will be corrected in future updates. That said, when I focus and block out the distracting layout with its small font sizing and poor line spacing, it’s actually chock-full of goodness!

Indeed, good typography can mean the difference between a visually great reading experience, a mediocre, or even a terrible one. I’ve picked up and quickly put down books before based solely on a quick glance of its layouts, spacing, and fonts — in other words, the typography.

WHAT I LIKED

I absolutely loved Chapter 13. A Primer for Managers. In four pages, Berman and Bradt provided a CliffNotes version (i.e., a short summary) to business managers and leaders on how to execute and apply the actionable insights they shared throughout the book. All business books should have a section like this!

Here are two valuable tips to help their team members improve their influence and impact:

“The first step in improving others’ influence and impact is finding out what their job really is supposed to be. If you take the time, you and your colleagues can tell them most of the information they need. Other information is best obtained by encouraging them to observe what people do, how they respond, who succeeds and who struggles. What are their essential priorities? Are they totally focused on those priorities? What do they need from their team? What does their team need from them?” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 178).

“Help them know the business. To ensure they understand what the organization is all about, give them access to documents, including the organization’s mission, vision, and purpose, business strategies, cultural norms, and the like. It is surprising how few people pay attention to a public company’s financial statements or attend to quarterly reports. This is one of the best ways to help them think about the larger goals and objectives” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 178).

I also liked a few, but not all, of the guest contributors sections (like Leo Flanagan, Hy Pomerance, and Joe Garbus). The stories provided by Flanagan, Pomerance, and Garbus offered real-life examples and further enhanced each of the respective chapters in which they were featured.

Here’s an example. For Chapter 10, Leo F. Flanagan, Jr., Ph.D., shared a great story about “Jim” a VP of Finance, who took a CFO job in Chicago, IL. The catch was that he and his family (including wife and 3 teenagers in high school) lived in Scotch Plain, NJ.

Jim thought he could juggle family priorities with his work priorities but soon discovered that he really struggled to do both. He wanted to be there for his kids for their sporting events and he wanted to be available to his CEO for any urgent meetings. He thought that by taking a “super-demanding job half-way across the country,” he could “still be connected to my kids.” So how did that work out for Jim? “My kids and wife feel I let them down. It turned out that for the CEO ‘getting the job done’ meant being available and focused seven days a week. It didn’t work at all—for anybody.”

After being fired from his CFO role, he had a chance to reset his priorities. “Jim took a job as controller of a pharmaceutical company 40 minutes from home. He invested in rebuilding his relationships with his wife and kids. He got to the office every morning by 7 a.m. to ensure he could leave in time for any of his kids’ events, with the blessing of his CFO and the support of his admin” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 144).

OVERALL

Influence and Impact by Bill Berman and George Bradt is a FANTASTIC book that’s packed with useful and actionable insights. The tips and strategies offered throughout make this book a “must have” for leaders, managers, employees, and those about to enter the workforce. Influence and Impact is great for any professional, at any level (whether you’re an executive, manager, or frontline employee), who want to get a better understanding of what is expected and needed of them. You will gain and exert influence and impact when you’re able to focus on the most essential, mission-critical business and cultural priorities as well as meet the needs and expectations of your managers, stakeholders, coworkers, and teams! The key to your professional success in your organization is to effectively and consistently do the job that is asked of you and to do so in a manner that is needed. In tandem with this is the understanding and development of your influence (the effect you have on others) and your impact (the effect on your manager, your team, and your organization).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Berman, B. (2021, June 21). What Your Organization Really Needs from You: Influence and Impact. https://www.leadershipnow.com/leadingblog/2021/06/what_your_organization_really.html

Berman, B., & Bradt, G. B. (2021). Influence and Impact: Discover and Excel at What Your Organization Needs From You The Most. Wiley.

Disclosure: I received a hard copy of Influence and Impact as a complimentary gift in exchange for an honest review.

Book Summary & Review — Anxiety at Work: 8 Strategies to Help Teams Build Resilience, Handle Uncertainty, and Get Stuff Done by Adrian Gostick & Chester Elton

According to Adrian Gostick, one of the main reasons for writing the book had to do with his (now) 25-year-old son, Anthony (Tony) Gostick, who had been struggling with anxiety since high school and had always wanted his dad to write about this topic. Tony soon realized that he wasn’t alone and that many of his peers and even his managers were also feeling anxiety.

As Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton, his friend and coauthor, traveled the world talking and working with organizations and their executives, the theme that kept coming up again and again was that of anxiety in the workplace and what leaders can do to help their employees deal with anxiety — how to help (i.e., having the tips & tools) employees feel more supported and more resilient in the workplace. 

The book is organized by eight sources* of anxiety in the workplace, with a chapter for each strategy (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 26):

  • Employees’ uncertainty about the organization’s strategy contending with challenges, and how it affects job for security.
  • Work overload and the need for managers to help balance loads and help prioritize.
  • A lack of clarity about prospects for career growth and development, as well as the need for clarity in everyday work situations.
  • How perfectionism has become the enemy of getting things done.
  • Fear of speaking up, contributing, and debating issues.
  • Feeling marginalized as “others” for women, people of color, those on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, and religious minorities.
  • Being excluded socially by team members, with the sense of alienation from working remotely an emerging variation of this problem.
  • A lack of confidence and feeling undervalued.

*To get some clarity, I emailed Gostick and Elton to inquire about the citation(s) of these “eight leading sources of anxiety in the workplace.” This was Adrian Gostick’s reply: “Those 8 are our conclusions of leading sources of anxiety in the workplace based on our research and interviews. They are proprietary. It didn’t seem right to use someone else’s list as our conclusion. . .” Within each of the 8 are sources [he’s referring to the hodgepodge of sources in the “Notes” section] to back up the claims. With that said, we aren’t claiming this is an exhaustive list, but our conclusion based on experience, research and interviews.”

**Although I’m disappointed to not have received greater clarification on how these “eight leading sources of anxiety in the workplace” came to be, I do understand The Culture Works’ (a Utah-based global training and consulting company founded by Gostick & Elton) reluctance (like many other private consultancies) to disclose their research data.

At the end of each chapter is a very handy chapter summary.

Chapter 1 The Duck Syndrome – Highlights (no summary page)

“Despite a great deal of coverage in the media about rising anxiety levels, the stigma at work remains potent. Most people aren’t willing to discuss what they’re going through with anyone but their closest family and friends, and often not even with them” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 10).

“Only one in four people who suffer from anxiety say they have talked about it to their boss. The rest? They hide their symptoms. Many have been doing it since their school days” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 11). 

*This is not from the book, but I really like Arifeen Rahman’s description of the duck syndrome (below):

“At Stanford the term ‘Duck Syndrome’ describes students struggling to survive the pressures of a competitive environment while presenting the image of relaxed California chill. Imagine a calm duck gliding across a fountain. Underwater, the duck’s feet are paddling furiously – against the terrifying possibility that it may sink or even worse: be revealed as trying too hard” (Rahman, 2019).

Gostick and Elton (2021) say that this Duck Syndrome is alive and well in the workplace. They wrote that, similar to these struggling college students who appear fine, at work, “many people who might seem to be doing fine are, in reality, in danger of going under” (p. 11).

“According to a study by Stanford Graduate School of Business and Harvard Business School professors, workplace stress and anxiety may be a contributing factor in more than 120,000 deaths annually. In short, tens of billions of dollars, massive employee burnout, and the mental and physical well-being of our workforces are all at stake when considering how to mitigate anxiety” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 13).

Gostick and Elton (2021) stated: “we are not suggesting leaders should try to become therapists” (p. 20). However, they contend that, “managers must take responsibility and do what they can to alleviate some of the strains work life is placing on so many of their people” (p. 22).

“Are managers willing to be present with an employee as that person makes sense of their mental health issue? Do they know how far to help without it becoming a counseling session? This is vital knowledge for managers these days” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 22).

Good summary of Anxiety at Work:  

“The hopeful news this [Anxiety at Work] book offers is that leaders of teams can adopt a set of eight simple practices we’ve [Gostick and Elton] identified that can greatly reduce the anxiety their people are feeling. Using these practices and the lessons throughout the book will help any leader convey that they genuinely care about those they are privileged to lead—sending them home each night feeling a little more valued, listened to, and included” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 23-24).

“Working to make team members feel understood, accepted, and secure is an extraordinary team-bonding opportunity. Research leaves not the slightest doubt that it’s also a powerful productivity booster. Devoting a little extra time and attention to this new way of managing will pay off in spades, and that is a great anxiety reliever for leaders as well, many of whom are concerned with their own job security” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 28).

In today’s workplaces, the pace of change is intensifying and competition ever-present. Managers will never be able to completely stop their employees from feeling anxious, stressed, or worried. And there’s not much managers can do about the challenges that batter the workplaces (Gostick & Elton, 2021). However, “within our teams, we can go a long way to relieving tensions, providing support, inspiring enthusiasm and loyalty, and creating a safe place for people to spend their days” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 28-29).

Chapter 2 Summary – Lead through Uncertainty (p. 67)

* Uncertainty can trigger various responses in people, often with negative consequences on performance. The most common uncertainty for today’s employees is whether or not a job will last.

* Uncertainty is exacerbated when managers don’t communicate enough about challenges facing their organizations and how those issues may affect their people and their teams.

* A good deal of employee uncertainty is about their own performance and development, i.e., How am doing? and Do I have a future here? By meeting one-on-one regularly to evaluate performance and growth opportunities, leaders can help team members avoid misreading situations while enhancing their engagement and commitment to the organization.

* Leaders can use a set of methods to help reduce uncertainty: 1) make it okay to not have all the answers, 2) loosen your grip in tough times, 3) ensure everyone knows exactly what’s expected of them, 4) keep people focused on what can be controlled, 5) have a bias to action, and 6) offer constructive feedback.

Chapter 3 Summary – Help with Overload (p. 95)

* Leaders often fail to appreciate that constantly demanding more and more work in less and less time will lead to employee frustration, rising anger levels, and eventually anxiety and burnout.

* Managers may believe it is an individual failure when an employee is overwhelmed, and yet more than 90 percent of employees feel burned out at least some of the time. The problem is often organizational.

* Most approaches businesses take to helping people cope with crushing workloads are aimed at fixing the person instead of focusing on underlying issues with the amount of work assigned and with the ways in which employees are managed.

* When employees feel anxiety from overload, managers can start by helping them break work into optimal chunks.

* Other methods to help team members better cope with workload expectations and reduce anxiety levels include: 1) create clear roadmaps, 2) balance loads, 3) rotate people, 4) closely monitor progress, 5) help people prioritize, 6) avoid distractions, and 7) encourage R&R.

Chapter 4 Summary – Help Chart Career Development (p. 124)

“Of course, classes and virtual training in foundational business skills can be quite valuable, but the learning that will most excite employees, and make the most immediate impact on their performance, is about how to tackle the specific challenges they’re facing in their work day-to-day” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 116).

* Research shows younger workers are more eager to move up or out, and more than 75 percent of Gen Zers say they believe they should be promoted within their first year on the job. Creating more steps on the career path can help.

* Some 90 percent of younger workers “highly value” career growth and development opportunities, and organizations that effectively nurture their people’s desire to learn are 30 percent more likely to be market leaders.

* Some 87 percent of millennials ranked job security as a top priority when looking for a job. That is more than likely going to be even higher in the post-pandemic world.

* Following a set of methods can reduce employees’ anxiety about where they’re heading in their careers. They include: 1) create more steps to grow, 2) coach employees about how to get ahead, 3) help employees assess their skills and motivations, 4) use a skill development flow, 5) make learning real-time, 6) tailor development to the individual, 7) carefully calibrate growth opportunities, and 8) encourage peer-to-peer support.

Chapter 5 Summary – Manage Perfectionism (p. 149)

* There are certain jobs when flawless execution is vital. Perfectionism isn’t about a rational quest to get things right when they have to be; it’s a corrosive impulse to appear perfect, and often to push others for flawlessness as well.

* Studies have found perfectionists have higher levels of stress, burnout, and anxiety. They can also spend so much time tinkering or deciding on a course of action that they get little done.

* A key difference between unhealthy perfectionism and healthy striving is being able to define realistic expectations and knowing when to say “that’s good enough.”

* To identify someone who might have perfectionist tendencies, look for those who seek excessive guidance, seem loath to take any sort of risk, and treat most decisions as if they were a matter of life and death. Perfectionists can also tend to become overly defensive when criticized, and they can become preoccupied with their missteps or the mistakes of others.

* A series of methods can help lead those with perfectionist tendencies, including: 1) clarify what good enough is, 2) share the wisdom of innovators, 3) treat failures as learning opportunities, 4) regularly check in on progress, 5) team them up, and 6) discuss the issue openly.

Chapter 6 Summary – Manage Healthy Debate (p. 170)

* Many people today are conflict-avoidant—sidestepping uncomfortable situations and holding back on giving honest feedback.

* The best work groups are places of high trust and high candor, where team members debate to drive problem-solving. When employees are free to speak up and know their voices will be heard, it can increase engagement, enhance psychological safety, and bolster self-confidence and a sense of ownership.

* Leaders facilitate this by encouraging debate in a safe environment. They set ground rules and encourage all voices to be heard, de-escalate quarreling, ask team members to clarify their opinions with facts, and create clear plans and timelines for moving forward.

* Managers can spot employees who may be conflict-averse if they shy away from difficult conversations, try to change the topic or flee the scene when things get tense, get uncomfortable during debates, or resist expressing their feelings or thoughts during meetings.

* Methods that managers can use to coach their employees to find their voices and work through difficult conversations include: 1) address the Issue, Value, Solution, 2) don’t delay, 3) stick to facts, 4) use your words, 5) assume positive intent, 6) have plan, 7) give and take, and 8) get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Chapter 7 Summary – Become an Ally (p. 188)

* There has been a historic pattern of anxiety in particular groups within the workplace—those too often made to feel like “others.” Of particular concern are women, people of color, those on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, members of religious minorities, and those with disabilities.

* Many in these communities must hide their true identities. But when managers create cultures where people feel comfortable being themselves, dramatic performance gains can be unlocked as everyone is able to focus all their attention on work.

* Many leaders do not understand the level of implicit bias that occurs in our work cultures. Microaggressions are biases that reveal themselves in often subtle ways and leave people feeling uncomfortable or insulted. They can take a psychological toll on the mental health of recipients and can lower work productivity and problem-solving abilities.

* Methods to help those who are marginalized feel valued and included in any team include: 1) listen up, 2) sponsor, 3) stand up, and 4) advocate.

Chapter 8 Summary – Build Social Bonds (p. 209)

* Exclusion can be toxic to anxiety levels. Fear of missing out (FOMO) may harm mental well-being since humans have such a strong need to belong. Some 71 percent of professionals say they have experienced some degree of exclusion within their team.

* There is much team leaders can do to spot those who may seem to be left out—all the more important when some or all of a team works remotely: Which person is regularly cut off during group discussions? Who doesn’t seem to be interacting with anyone? Regular one-on-ones are the best way to understand what’s really going on.

* Leaders can encourage inclusion by ensuring that all team members can contribute in meetings and have their voices heard in a calm and organized manner, buddy new hires up with friendly seasoned employees, and spend time in every meeting recognizing contributions.

* Other methods for helping move a team from exclusion to connection include: 1) build camaraderie, 2) find a common core, 3) foster connections and friendships, 4) provide frequent validation, and 5) include remotes.

Chapter 9 Summary – Build Confidence with Gratitude (p. 226)

* One of the simplest and most effective ways to motivate employees to achieve is by regularly expressing gratitude. Research shows offering positive reinforcement produces impressive boosts in team performance and significantly reduces anxiety levels in team members.

* Leaders don’t express gratitude to their people about work well done anywhere nearly as frequently or effectively as they should.

* High-performing employees are often gratitude sponges and perceive a lack of attention from a manager as a sign that things are not good; silence can cause worry to creep up on even the best of workers.

* Regular expressions of gratitude are like deposits in a Bank of Engagement. They build up reserves for when an employee’s work has to be corrected. Research shows gratitude also helps people develop a greater capacity to handle stress.

* Other practical methods to turn doubts into assurance include: 1) make gratitude clear, specific, and sincere, 2) match gratitude to magnitude, 3) preserve gratitude’s significance, 4) provide gratitude to high-flyers, too, and 5) keep gratitude close to the action.

How Anxiety Fills the Gap

“Leaders often shy away from discussing hard truths. They fear that such a discussion might dishearten their workers or cause them to bolt. And yet, there’s something exhilarating for employees about facing facts head-on. Such inclusion helps people feel like they are being brought into the inner circle to brainstorm solutions to challenges. Ambiguity either prolongs inevitable bad news or widens the trust gap. Or both” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 62).

How to Turn Less into More

“To lessen anxiety, we’ve found some good questions to ask in these individual check-ins include: (1) Do you feel like you can complete the project by deadline without having to work unreasonable hours? (2) Is there anyone else on the team who could help so you could meet the deadline? (3) Is there any part of this project that might be delayed? (4) Do you need any additional training or resources to be successful? (5) What have you learned that we might do differently next time we are up against a task like this?” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 87).

Clear Paths Forward

“If leaders are seeking to retain the best young workers, and reduce unnecessary career anxiety in their people, then addressing concerns about job security, growth, and advancement are vital” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 100).

How “It’s Not Perfect” Can Become “It’s Good, I’ll Move On”

“Jared, you’ve got high standards, just like me. I see that you always try to make sure all the details are attended to and everything is done exactly right. That can be a good thing. Now, as I want you to progress in this organization, I’ll tell you something I had to learn. Focusing on improving things from 95 percent to 100 often bogs down opportunities. It’s easy to get tunnel vision in getting something perfect that can cost more than it does to move on to the next project. Let me give you an example I saw where you might have applied this lesson” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 146).

From Conflict Avoidance to Healthy Debate

“Managers should address mean-spirited tensions head-on, and team members who stir up hostility should be coached. But there is a big difference between hostility and debate” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 152).

In high-performing teams with high trust and high candor, team members welcome debates and report that disagreements and strenuous debates help “drive inventive problem-solving, and can be highly motivating” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 152).

“When managers perceive that a conflict-avoidance issue may exist, they can do a great deal to address it by working with employees to stand up for themselves. They may also help them take time to consider their own opinions before agreeing to anything that might violate their values, and stick to their guns when challenged” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 154).

Becoming an Ally

“As we spoke with individuals in marginalized communities, a few things they wanted managers to understand about addressing bias included: 1) Don’t try to convince a person from a marginalized group of all the things that have gone wrong in your life to better relate to their issues (you were poor, your parents died, you have a learning disorder, etc.); this is not a competition. 2) Don’t ante up by saying that your daughter is gay or that you have lots of Black friends. 3) Be compassionate but don’t be “shocked” by racism or other forms of bias; if you are, you have been actively ignoring what’s been happening because it did not affect you directly. 4) Don’t preach about your “wokeness” to the issue; show it” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 179).

Transform Exclusion into Connection

“There’s actually quite a lot that team leaders can do to encourage inclusion; for instance, looking carefully for anyone on the team who may seem to be left out (all the more important when some or all of a team works remotely), which person is regularly cut off during group discussions, who is regularly chatting with whom, and who doesn’t seem to be interacting with anyone. By watching, a manager can gain awareness and insight” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 191).

Turn Doubts into Assurance

“One of the most effective ways leaders can combat anxiety is to foster an attitude of gratitude throughout their organizations—not just top-down, but peer-to-peer” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 218).

“When leaders align rewards with the level of achievement, they help those who are anxious make more positive assumptions about their work. For small steps forward, verbal praise or a note of thanks is appropriate, but bigger achievements require a tangible reward presented in a timely manner” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 221).

WHAT I REALLY LIKE

By following the strategies, tips, and techniques provided by Gostick and Elton in Anxiety at Work, leaders will not only become better at reducing the stress and anxiety on their teams and in their employees, but they will also become better leaders. Inherent in many of these suggested practices is the assumption that one is already a capable boss and that these anxiety-reducing practices for leading your team will make you an even better boss. And, if you’re a subpar leader, Gostick and Elton’s recommendations will most certainly help raise your leadership skills.

For example, in Ch. 2, Gostick and Elton wrote (2021, p. 67): “A good deal of employee uncertainty is about their own performance and development, i.e., How am doing? and Do I have a future here? By meeting one-on-one regularly to evaluate performance and growth opportunities, leaders can help team members avoid misreading situations while enhancing their engagement and commitment to the organization.” In Ch. 3, they stated (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 95): “Leaders often fail to appreciate that constantly demanding more and more work in less and less time will lead to employee frustration, rising anger levels, and eventually anxiety and burnout.” In Ch. 6, the authors maintained (p. 170): “The best work groups are places of high trust and high candor, where team members debate to drive problem-solving. When employees are free to speak up and know their voices will be heard, it can increase engagement, enhance psychological safety, and bolster self-confidence and a sense of ownership.” In Ch. 8, Gostick and Elton said (p. 209): “There is much team leaders can do to spot those who may seem to be left out—all the more important when some or all of a team works remotely: Which person is regularly cut off during group discussions? Who doesn’t seem to be interacting with anyone? Regular one-on-ones are the best way to understand what’s really going on.” Finally, in Ch. 9, they declared (p. 226): “One of the simplest and most effective ways to motivate employees to achieve is by regularly expressing gratitude. Research shows offering positive reinforcement produces impressive boosts in team performance and significantly reduces anxiety levels in team members.”

These are all classic management and leadership advice! I LOVE it!

CAUTION/CAVEAT:

As a former mental health professional, I want to make two important points. 

Point Number One: 

There’s an implicit assumption in Anxiety at Work that the “anxiety at work” is work-related and that managers and leaders need to have tips and tools to help their employees who are experiencing anxiety at work. What is very important to understand, however, is that individuals who experience anxiety also experience anxiety in other areas of their lives OUTSIDE of work. 

There was no clearly explained causes of anxiety mentioned in Anxiety at Work (I’m referring to the clinical definition & diagnosis of anxiety). According to the American Psychiatric Association (2017), “the causes of anxiety disorders are currently unknown but likely involve a combination of factors including genetic, environmental, psychological and developmental. Anxiety disorders can run in families, suggesting that a combination of genes and environmental stresses can produce the disorders.” In general, for a person to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the fear or anxiety must: (1) Be out of proportion to the situation or age inappropriate, and (2) Hinder ability to function normally (APA, 2017). 

As Dr. Edmund Bourne (a clinical psychologist who has specialized in the treatment of anxiety disorders and related problems for 30 years) explained in The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook (2015, p. 8): “Anxiety is an inevitable part of life in contemporary society. It’s important to realize that there are many situations that come up in everyday life in which it is appropriate and reasonable to react with some anxiety. If you didn’t feel any anxiety in response to everyday challenges involving potential loss or failure, something would be wrong.”

“Anxiety disorders are distinguished from everyday, normal anxiety in that they involve anxiety that 1) is more intense (for example, panic attacks), 2) lasts longer (anxiety that may persist for months or longer instead of going away after a stressful situation has passed), or 3) leads to phobias that interfere with your life” (Bourne, 2015, p. 8).

Point Number Two:  

Seek appropriate mental health help for anxiety disorders (see APA, 2016; APA, 2017; NAMI, 2017). Gostick and Elton (2021) wrote: “for employees feeling anxiety symptoms at any level, referral to a company employee assistance program (EAP) or licensed counselor can be extremely helpful” (p. 20). Anxiety at Work is written with the primary focus on helping managers and leaders aid their employees, rather than providing an individual worker with the tools to cope with anxiety.

If you experience anxiety that is (1) hard-to-control, (2) where you excessively worry about a host of issues—health, family problems, school, money, work—that results in both physical and mental complaints (e.g., muscle tension, restlessness, easily tired and irritable, poor concentration, and trouble sleeping), and (3) you experience it on most days for 6+ months, PLEASE seek appropriate, qualified, and licensed mental health help (see APA, 2016; APA, 2017; NAMI, 2017).

In addition to seeking clinical help, I would strongly suggest reading books that specifically address anxiety, such as:

  • “The Anxiety Toolkit: Strategies for Fine-Tuning Your Mind and Moving Past Your Stuck Points” by Alice Boyes
  • “The Anxiety Skills Workbook: Simple CBT and Mindfulness Strategies for Overcoming Anxiety, Fear, and Worry” by Stefan G. Hofmann 
  • “Anxiety Happens: 52 Ways to Find Peace of Mind” by John P. Forsyth and Georg H. Eifert
  • “The Anxiety First Aid Kit: Quick Tools for Extreme, Uncertain Times” by Rick Hanson, Matthew McKay, Martha Davis, Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, Martin N. Seif, Sally M. Winston, David A. Carbonell, Catherine M. Pittman and Elizabeth M Karle
  • “Coping with Anxiety: Ten Simple Ways to Relieve Anxiety, Fear, and Worry” by Edmund J. Bourne and Lorna Garano

Takeway:

Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton’s Anxiety at Work: 8 Strategies to Help Teams Build Resilience, Handle Uncertainty, and Get Stuff Done is a fantastic contribution to the field of management and leadership as well as occupational health psychology (a field of psychology concerned with the health, safety, and well-being of employees, and covers four connected areas: the employee; the job environment; the organizational environment; and the external environment). In Anxiety at Work (2021), Gostick and Elton utilized stories and examples of real managers and their employees “to create a simple guide for managers that they can read very quickly” (p. 25) and included recommended practices that leaders can implement immediately (Gostick & Elton, 2021). Anxiety at Work is an important resource and guide for managers and leaders of teams, functions, and organizations. The tips and practices are great for helping leaders create and maintain a lower-stress work environment.

However, it is important to note that Anxiety at Work is not a guide for those experiencing anxiety at work and in other domains of life. Anxiety at Work is not a replacement for seeking help from a licensed and trained mental health clinician nor can it adequately help employees (on an individual level) better deal with and manage anxiety. The book is written to target the job and the organizational environment (i.e., what managers & leaders can do and need to do), not the individual employee.

With that caveat in mind, I really like Anxiety at Work and highly recommend it for leaders at all levels of an organization.

As Gostick and Elton (2021) wrote, you must acknowledge “the frantic duck-paddling going on under the surface in your team” (p. 227) and “begin to minimize anxiety, offer support for people to work through their feelings, and build resilience for challenges to come” (p. 227). Anxiety at Work helps leaders better understand that mental health and employee well-being are just as important as sales quotas and customer satisfaction.

Best of all, Anxiety at Work provides leaders with practical solutions: (1) to help reduce uncertainty; (2) to help team members better cope with workload expectations and reduce anxiety levels; (3) to reduce employees’ anxiety about where they’re heading in their careers; (4) to lead those with perfectionist tendencies; (5) to coach their employees to find their voices and work through difficult conversations; (6) to help those who are marginalized feel valued and included in any team; (7) to help move a team from exclusion to connection; and (8) to turn doubts into assurance.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

American Psychiatric Association (APA). (2017, January). What Are Anxiety Disorders? https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/anxiety-disorders/what-are-anxiety-disorders

American Psychological Association (APA). (2016, October 1). Beyond worry: How psychologists help with anxiety disorders. https://www.apa.org/topics/anxiety/disorders

Bourne, E. J. (2015). The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook (6th ed.). New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Bourne, E. J., & Garano, L. (2016). Coping with Anxiety: Ten Simple Ways to Relieve Anxiety, Fear, and Worry (2nd ed.). New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Forsyth, J. P., & Eifert, G. H. (2018). Anxiety Happens: 52 Ways to Find Peace of Mind. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Gostick, A., & Elton, C. (2021). Anxiety at Work: 8 Strategies to Help Teams Build Resilience, Handle Uncertainty, and Get Stuff Done. Harper Business.

Hanson, R., McKay, M., Davis, M., Eshelman, E. R., Seif, M. N., Winston, S. M., Carbonell, D. A., Pittman, C. M., & Karle, E. M. (2020). The Anxiety First Aid Kit: Quick Tools for Extreme, Uncertain Times. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Hofmann, S. G. (2020). The Anxiety Skills Workbook: Simple CBT and Mindfulness Strategies for Overcoming Anxiety, Fear, and Worry. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). (2017, December). Anxiety Disorders. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders

Rahman, A. (2019, July 26). Duck Syndrome. https://www.kqed.org/perspectives/201601138907/duck-syndrome

Disclosure: I received a print copy of Anxiety at Work as a complimentary gift in exchange for an honest review.

What Burnout Is and Why It Isn’t Confined To The Occupational Sphere

What Is Burnout?

Burnout isn’t just being tired or “fed up” with work. “Burnout is far more than feeling blue or having a bad day. It is a chronic state of being out of synch with your job, and that can be a significant crisis in your life” (Leiter & Maslach, 2005, p. 2). With burnout, a person is no longer able to work (exhaustion) and no longer wants to spend effort at work (distancing). Burnout is characterized by exhaustion, mental distancing, and impaired cognitive functioning, such as poor attention and concentration, and a poor working memory (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020).

In their book, Banishing Burnout, Leiter and Maslach (2005) wrote that: 

Burnout is lost energy. You are constantly overwhelmed, stressed, and exhausted” (Leiter & Maslach, 2005, p. 2).

Burnout is lost enthusiasm. Your original passion has faded and been replaced by a negative cynicism” (Leiter & Maslach, 2005, p. 2).

Burnout is lost confidence. Without energy and active involvement in your work, it’s hard to find a reason to keep going” (Leiter & Maslach, 2005, p. 3).

Burnout has become serious enough that the World Health Organization (WHO, 2019) included it in the 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon, though not a medical condition. According to ICD-11: “Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 3) a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

According to psychology professors, Michael Leiter, Christina Maslach, and Wilmar Schaufeli (2009): “burnout is a psychological syndrome in response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job. The three key dimensions of this response are an overwhelming exhaustion; feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job; and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment” (p. 90). 

Another definition of burnout is that it is: a work-related state of exhaustion occurring among employees. Burnout is characterized by extreme tiredness, reduced ability to regulate cognitive and emotional processes, and mental distancing. These four core dimensions of burnout are also accompanied by depressed mood and by non-specific psychological and psychosomatic distress symptoms (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020).

Although there are varying perspectives on the definition of what constitutes burnout, what is common to all definitions is that, “burnout occurs at an individual level; that it is an internal psychological experience involving feelings, attitudes, motives, and expectations; and that it is a negative experience for the individual, in that it concerns problems, distress, discomfort, dysfunction, and/or negative consequences” (Maslach, Leiter, & Schaufeli, 2009, p. 89). 

And while burnout is an individual phenomenon, the impact of burnout can reverberate throughout an entire team or even department. In their book, Anxiety at Work, Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton talk about how work overload can have an effect on not just one individual, but also the entire team: “Allowing overload to escalate into anxiety and burnout can have negative ricocheting effects on an entire work group” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 75).

Symptoms of Burnout

4 Core Symptoms of Burnout:

1. Exhaustion: severe loss of energy that results in feelings of both physical (tiredness, feeling weak) and mental (feeling drained and worn-out) exhaustion. Specific symptoms include; lack of energy to start the new working, feeling completely used-up after a whole day of working, feeling tired quickly even after spending minimal effort at work, and inability to relax after work (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020, p. 27).

2. Emotional impairment: manifests itself in intense emotional reactions and feeling overwhelmed by one’s emotions. Specific symptoms include; feeling frustrated and angry at work, irritability, overreacting, feeling upset or sad without knowing why, and feeling unable to control one’s emotions at work (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020, p. 27).

3. Cognitive impairment: indicated by memory problems, attention and concentration deficits and poor cognitive performance. Specific symptoms include; difficulties to think clearly and learn new things at work, being forgetful and absent-minded, indecision, poor memory, attention and concentration deficits, and trouble staying focused at work (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020, p. 27).

4. Mental distance: Psychologically distancing oneself from the work is indicated by a strong reluctance or aversion to work. One withdraws mentally – and sometimes even physically – from work and avoids contact with others, for example with customers, clients, and colleagues. Indifference and a cynical attitude are characteristic of mental distance. Little or no enthusiasm and interest for the work exists and one feels that one functions on autopilot (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020, p. 27).

3 Secondary Symptoms of Burnout:

1. Psychological distress. This refers to non-physical symptoms that are the result of a psychological problem, such as sleep problems, worrying, feeling tense and anxious, feeling disturbed by noise and crowds, and weight fluctuations without being on a diet (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020, p. 27-28).

2. Psychosomatic complaints. This refers to physical complaints that cannot be explained by a physical disorder, but are exacerbated by or result from some psychological problem. Examples are, palpitations and chest pain, stomach and intestinal problems, headaches, muscle pains and getting sick often (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020, p. 28).

3. Depressed mood. This refers to a gloomy and sad mood and to the inability to experience pleasure. Depressed people feel powerless, suffer from guilt and are disappointed in themselves. Please note that depressed mood is a normal, temporary reaction to disappointment or loss and should be distinguished from mood disorder, which is a psychiatric syndrome (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020, p. 28).

Burnout is caused by an imbalance between high job demands and not enough resources. Issues outside of work as well as personal vulnerability may facilitate the onset of burnout. Burnout also leads to feelings of being incompetent and poor performance at work (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020).

Six Areas of Person-Job Mismatch

Leiter and Maslach (2004) proposed that six areas of job-person mismatch are the critical sources of burnout. From surveys and interviews of more than 10,000 people across a variety of organizations in different countries, Maslach and Leiter (2005) found most person-job mismatches fall into six categories: work overload (too much work, not enough resources); lack of control (micromanagement, lack of influence, accountability without power); insufficient rewards (not enough pay, acknowledgment, or satisfaction); breakdown in community (isolation, conflict, disrespect); absence of fairness (discrimination, favoritism); and value conflicts (ethical conflicts, meaningless tasks).

Both individuals and organizations can use the six-category framework to diagnose which categories are especially troublesome for them, and then to design interventions that target these problem area (Maslach & Leiter, 2005).

According to Maslach (2017), the six positive “fits” to tackle the person-job mismatches and promote engagement and well-being are (1) a sustainable workload; (2) choice and control; (3) recognition and reward; (4) a supportive work community; (5) fairness, respect, and social justice; and (6) clear values and meaningful work.

Burnout Is Not Confined To The Occupational Sphere

Some researchers (e.g., Bianchi, Truchot, Laurent, Brisson, & Schonfeld, 2014; Hallsten, 1993; Kristensen, Borritz, Villadsen & Christensen, 2005; Pines, Neal, Hammer & Icekson, 2011; Pines & Nunes, 2003) have argued that burnout is not just job-related and should not be confined only to the workplace, and that we need to move away from a work-specific to a generic, cross-domain or context-free approach to better understand burnout (e.g., Hallsten, 1993; Kristensen, Borritz, Villadsen & Christensen, 2005; Pines, Neal, Hammer & Icekson, 2011; Pines & Nunes, 2003). They contend that the fundamental cause of burnout is unresolvable, chronic stress and, as such, burnout can be developed outside of the workplace (Bianchi, Truchot, Laurent, Brisson, & Schonfeld, 2014). “Burnout can only be considered a multi-domain syndrome, given that chronic stress is not a job-restricted phenomenon” (Bianchi, Truchot, Laurent, Brisson, & Schonfeld, 2014, p. 359).

Indeed, even Maslach (2006) has acknowledged that, “Although burnout has been identified primarily as a phenomenon in the world of work, the significance of the social context and interpersonal relationships for burnout suggests that burnout might be relevant to other domains of life” (p. 39). 

Researchers who support burnout as an occupational phenomenon (e.g., Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001; Schaufeli & Taris, 2005; Schaufeli, Desart, & De Witte, 2020) have extended the definition of work to also include athletes, volunteers, and even students. They maintain that because work refers to all structured, goal-directed activities that are mandatory in nature, athletes, volunteers, and students also “work” and, as a result, may also suffer from burnout (Schaufeli, Desart, & De Witte, 2020). 

Other researchers openly support the view that burnout extends beyond and outside the workplace. For example, Mikolajczak, Gross, Stinglhamber, Lindahl Norberg, and Roskam (2020) have presented a case for why parental burnout is distinct from job burnout. These researchers (e.g., Mikolajczak, Gross, & Roskam, 2019) have described parental burnout as an overwhelming exhaustion related to one’s parental role, an emotional distancing from one’s children, and a sense of parental ineffectiveness). There’s also a parental burnout assessment (PBA) in which the parental burnout phenomenon is reconstructed based solely on the testimonies of burned-out parents (Roskam, Brianda, & Mikolajczak, 2018). Although both parental burnout and job burnout share common consequences, such as problematic alcohol use, problem sleeping, somatic complaints, there are specific consequences for job burnout versus parental burnout. Specific consequences for parental burnout include parental neglect and parental violence, while a specific consequence for job burnout includes intent to leave the company.

Another type of burnout is caregiver burnout. “A caregiver can be any relative, partner, friend or neighbor who has a significant personal relationship with, and provides a broad range of assistance for a child or an adult with a chronic or disabling condition. These individuals may be primary or secondary caregivers and live with, or separately from, the person receiving care” (American Medical Association, 2018).

“Caregiver burnout is defined as a state of physical, emotional and/or mental exhaustion that can create negative and unconcerned caregiver attitudes. Caregiver burnout can occur when caregivers don’t get the help or support they need, and when the demands on a caregiver’s mind, body and emotions are overwhelming, leading to fatigue and sometimes hopelesness. Serving as a caregiver for a loved one is often mentally and physically demanding, making it difficult for the one providing care to tend to their own needs. Once the individual begins to feel the effects of burnout, it becomes difficult to care for themselves, as well as the patient in their charge” (American Medical Association, 2018).

Research studies have suggested that family caregivers (also referred to as informal caregiving) of adults with Alzheimer’s and dementia may also suffer from burnout (Almberg, Grafström, & Winblad, 1997; Alves, Monteiro, Bento, Hayashi, Pelegrini, & Vale, 2019; Chan, Cheung, Martinez-Ruiz, Chau, Wang, Yeoh, & Wong, 2021; Yilmaz, Turan, & Gundogar, 2009). James and Paulson (2020) recently developed the Informal Caregiver Burnout Inventory (ICBI), a measure of burnout for informal caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

If we accept that a fundamental cause of burnout is chronic stress (Bianchi, Truchot, Laurent, Brisson, & Schonfeld, 2014; Maslach et al., 2001), and if we agree that chronic stress can exist outside of one’s job or workplace, then “burnout cannot be confined to the occupational sphere because chronic stress is not confined to the occupational sphere” (Bianchi et al., 2014, p. 359). 

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Almberg, B., Grafström, M., & Winblad, B. (1997). Caring for a demented elderly person—burden and burnout among caregiving relatives. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 25(1), 109-116.

Alves, L., Monteiro, D. Q., Bento, S. R., Hayashi, V. D., Pelegrini, L., & Vale, F. (2019). Burnout syndrome in informal caregivers of older adults with dementia: A systematic review. Dementia & Neuropsychologia, 13(4), 415-421.

American Medical Association (AMA). (2018). Caring for the caregiver: A guide for physicians. https://www.ama-assn.org/sites/ama-assn.org/files/corp/media-browser/public/public-health/caregiver-burnout-guide.pdf

Bianchi, R., Truchot, D., Laurent, E., Brisson, R., & Schonfeld, I. S. (2014). Is burnout solely job-related? A critical comment. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 55(4), 357-361.

Chan, C. Y., Cheung, G., Martinez-Ruiz, A., Chau, P., Wang, K., Yeoh, E. K., & Wong, E. (2021). Caregiving burnout of community-dwelling people with dementia in Hong Kong and New Zealand: A cross-sectional study. BMC Geriatrics, 21(261).

Gostick, A., & Elton, C. (2021). Anxiety at work: 8 strategies to help teams build resilience, handle uncertainty, and get stuff done. Harper Business.

Hallsten, L. (1993). Burning out: A framework. In W. B. Schaufeli, C. Maslach & T. Marek (Eds.), Professional burnout: Recent developments in theory and research (pp. 95-113). Taylor & Francis.

James, N., & Paulson, D. (2020). Development of a novel measure of informal caregiver burnout. Innovation in Aging, 4(Suppl 1), 477. 

Kristensen, T. S., Borritz, M., Villadsen, E. & Christensen, K. B. (2005). The Copenhagen Burnout Inventory: A new tool for the assessment of burnout. Work & Stress, 19, 192-207.

Leiter, M. P., & Maslach, C. (2004). Areas of worklife: A structured approach to organizational predictors of job burnout. In P. L. Perrewé & D. C. Ganster (Eds.), Research in occupational stress and well-being: Vol. 3. Emotional and physiological processes and positive intervention strategies (p. 91–134). Elsevier Science/JAI Press.

Leiter, M. P., & Maslach, C. (2005). Banishing burnout: Six strategies for improving your relationship with work. Jossey-Bass.

Maslach, C. (2017). Finding solutions to the problem of burnout. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 69(2), 143-152.

Maslach, C. (2006). Understanding job burnout. In A. M. Rossi, P. Perrewe, & S. Sauter (Eds.), Stress and quality of working life: Current perspectives in occupational health (pp. 37-51). Information Age Publishing.

Maslach, C. & Leiter, M. P. (2005). Reversing burnout: How to rekindle your passion for your work. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 3(4), 42-49.

Maslach, C., Leiter, M. P., & Schaufeli, W. (2009). Measuring burnout. In S. Cartwright & C. L. Cooper (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of organizational well-being (pp. 86-108). Oxford University Press.

Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B. & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 397-422.

Mikolajczak, M., Gross, J. J., & Roskam, I. (2019). Parental burnout: What is it, and why does it matter? Clinical Psychological Science, 7, 1319-1329.

Mikolajczak, M., Gross, J. J., Stinglhamber, F., Lindahl Norberg, A., & Roskam, I. (2020). Is parental burnout distinct from job burnout and depressive symptoms? Clinical Psychological Science, 8(4), 673-689.

Pines, A. M., Neal, M. B., Hammer, L. B. & Icekson, T. (2011). Job burnout and couple burnout in dual-earner couples in the sandwiched generation. Social Psychology Quarterly, 74, 361-386.

Pines, A. M. & Nunes, R. (2003). The relationship between career and couple burnout: Implications for career and couple counseling. Journal of Employment Counseling, 40, 50-64.

Roskam, I., Brianda, M.-E., & Mikolajczak, M. (2018). A step forward in the conceptualization and measurement of parental burnout: The Parental Burnout Assessment (PBA). Frontiers in Psychology, 9, Article 758.

Schaufeli, W. B., Desart, S., & De Witte, H. (2020). Burnout Assessment Tool (BAT)—Development, validity, and reliability. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(24), 9495.

Schaufeli, W. B., De Witte, H. & Desart, S. (2020). Burnout Assessment Tool (BAT) – Version 2.0 Test Manual. KU Leuven, Belgium: Unpublished internal report.

Schaufeli, W. B. & Taris, T. W. (2005). The conceptualization and measurement of burnout: Common ground and worlds apart. Work & Stress, 19, 256-262.

World Health Organization. (2019, May 28). Burn-out an “occupational phenomenon”: International Classification of Diseases. https://www.who.int/news/item/28-05-2019-burn-out-an-occupational-phenomenon-international-classification-of-diseases

World Health Organization. (2020). International statistical classification of diseases and related health problems (11th ed.). https://icd.who.int/

Yilmaz, A., Turan, E., & Gundogar, D. (2009). Predictors of burnout in the family caregivers of Alzheimer’s disease: Evidence from Turkey. Australasian Journal on Ageing, 28(1), 16–21.

Self-Insight Is Sparked by “Crystallization of Discontent” Moments

“The twists and turns of your life can be so unexpected, and that’s a good thing to learn.” -Christina Baker Kline (American novelist)

In The Power of Moments (“Defining moments shape our lives, but we don’t have to wait for them to happen. We can be authors of them” [Heath & Heath, 2017, p. 5]), Chip and Dan Heath (2017) talk about self-insight, “a mature understanding of our capabilities and motivations” (p. 116).

“[S]elf-insight rarely comes from staying in our heads. Research suggests that reflecting or ruminating on our thoughts and feelings is an ineffective way to achieve true understanding. . . .Better to take a risk, try something, and distill the answer from experience rather than from navel-gazing. Action leads to insight more often than insight leads to action” (Heath & Heath, 2017, p. 117).

Lea Chadwell had always dreamed of starting her own company, so she took a risk and opened a bakery she named, “A Pound of Butter,” which makes custom cakes for birthdays and weddings, and pastries to local restaurants. However, the charm of owning her own business began to fade. “Baking cakes for her own family was fun. But baking cakes for demanding customers was stressful” (Heath & Heath, 2017, p. 115).

One weekend, as she was rushing against a deadline to finish a wedding cake, she loaded the cake into her car and was about to drive off when she remembered that the front door of her bakery was left wide open. “It was her lightning-bolt moment: I’m making myself crazy being this stressed out. And she realized, ‘I wasn’t in love with baking anymore,’ she said later. ‘It was like this albatross of butter around my neck’” (Heath & Heath, 2017, p. 115).

Being a business owner made her miserable and she felt overwhelmed. She closed her bakery business after 18 months. The experience taught her about her capabilities and her values. Chadwell doesn’t regret starting or having to close her bakery. “What she gained was the insight that comes from experience. She came to accept. . .some qualities that made her the wrong person to run her own business. ‘I’m unorganized. Impractical. Fickle. . . . While these traits make me a great candidate for a Wacky Friend, they are just awful to try to form a business around. I suspect if I hadn’t quit, I’d have failed, and it actually really sucks to admit it. But, there’s the painful lesson I’ve learned. I’m great when I’m working for others; they rely on me. Working for myself? I’m a terrible boss’” (Heath & Heath, 2017, p. 116).

“Chadwell’s self-insight was sparked by a classic “crystallization of discontent” moment—the moment when she almost drove away from her bakery with the door wide open. In an instant, the fragments of frustration and anxiety she’d experienced were assembled into a clear conclusion: I’m not good at this. It’s not me” (Heath & Heath, 2017, p. 116).

The crystallization of discontent occurs when “contradictory events link together to form a large pattern of negative, dissonant thought” (Baumeister, 1991, p. 304). “These negative feelings and doubts have become linked to a broader pattern of meaningful relations that contradicts the high-level beliefs, instead of being a mere collection of isolated feelings and misgivings that in themselves seemed minor and that bore no relationship to one another” (Baumeister, 1991, p. 304).

The crystallization of discontent “typically initiate some serious reconsideration” whereby a person “assesses the options and alternatives, and many people will actively begin searching for alternatives” (Baumeister, 1991, p. 305). “The crystallization of discontent prompts a reassessment of the relationship or commitment. Isolated problems, frustrations, and bad days can be ignored as low-level setbacks that do not reflect negatively on one’s overall level of satisfaction and commitment. But a large pattern of problems and frustrations brings one up to a broader level of meaning and raises the issue of whether the positives outweigh the negatives. The person’s calculation of whether the involvement is worthwhile can no longer ignore the large body of problems” (Baumeister, 1991, p. 306).

“Baumeister (1991, 1994) claimed that people arrive at life changing decisions by first experiencing a crystallization of discontent. He portrayed the crystallization of discontent as part of a subjective process in which the individual concludes that the negative aspects of a certain life condition outweigh the positives. Until that point, the individual engages in maintaining the view that the positives outweigh the negatives (e.g., by contextualizing or otherwise minimizing the importance of the negatives), thereby enabling the person to keep a rosier big picture and to maintain the current life condition. But when the person perceives bad days as turning into bad years, the person is more likely to conclude that the future will contain much of the same. At this point, the person arrives at a crystallization of discontent and is motivated to make a major life change” (Bauer, McAdams, & Sakaeda, 2005, p. 1182).

In the crystallization of discontent — “The negative aspects link up with each other to form a broad, undesirable pattern: this is not just a bad day, but a bad year. When the problems were regarded merely as isolated exceptions, there was no reason to expect more of them, but once one sees them as part of a broad negative pattern, then further unpleasant develoments can be anticipated. The positive aspects must now be compared against an accumulated set of interrelated negative aspects, rather than being compared against the isolated negative aspects one at a time” (Baumeister, 1991, p. 325-326).

“Sometimes, at least in retrospect, a single and possibly minor incident will seem to stimulate this crystallization of discontent. It symbolizes a latent, broad set of dissatisfactions. The negative feelings about the involvement are thus recognized at a higher, more meaningful level; whereas once they were merely a temporary, brief, even one-day matter, now they are part of an ongoing pattern that reflects badly on the involvement over months or years. After the crystallization of discontent, each small frustration is no longer just another isolated problem but can readily link up to the broader context of general dissatisfaction. Each grievance reminds you of past grievances and warns of more to come” (Baumeister, 1991, p. 326).

“Connection reveals the very essence of meaning, which is to link things—objects, events, possibilities, other ideas—together. Meaning influences events by enabling people to see them as interrelated and hence to respond differently to them. The crystallization of discontent [is] perhaps the clearest example of this. A person’s life may contain exactly the same amount of problems, costs, and unpleasant facts after this crystallization as before it. What changes, however, is that these negatives are seen as one large pattern rather than a collection of isolated exceptions that are unrelated to each other. Connecting them, through meaning, is a crucial step in major life change. As long as these facts can be kept unconnected, the person is much less likely to initiate a major change” (Baumeister, 1991, p. 360).

Researchers have found that insight is an important and positive predictor of well-being (Harrington & Loffredo, 2011). “Insight was the most robust positive predictor” (p. 50) of well-being and “powerfully predicted both the subjective and eudaemonist constructs of well-being” (Harrington & Loffredo, 2011, p. 51).


I’ve experienced several “crystallization of discontent” moments in my life, all of which required me to stretch (oftentimes uncomfortably so) and, in the process, I learned more and more about myself each time.

One “crystallization of discontent” moment happened in my early 20s, as an undergraduate student working on my Bachelor’s. It was the summer of 1992 and I was supposed to be preparing to take the MCAT (medical school entrance exam). My parents even hired a tutor to help me master Organic Chemistry. But, at the last minute, I took action and called my tutor and canceled, telling her that I never wanted to become a medical doctor and that I was too cowardly to tell my parents and had just gone along for three years with what they wanted me to be. 

Another “crystallization of discontent” moment occurred in my early 30s. Having spent almost five years in a Master’s program and soon graduating with a graduate degree in counseling psychology, I experienced a very powerful “crystallization of discontent” moment in 2003. I “knew” very clearly in my head and heart that although I had spent years studying counseling and practicing how to be an effective counselor, I really did not enjoy counseling nor could I picture myself being a counselor and doing counseling as a long-term career. It was a frightening realization and stunning admission because how could I still be unhappy and dissatisfied when I had already pivoted away from another career field and had finally (I thought) found a career in mental health counseling?” In hindsight, there were a number of signs of my discontent throughout my time in the counseling Master’s program, but I ignored them each time. 

My “crystallization of discontent” moment in 2003—starting shortly before and continuing on after getting my graduate degree in counseling psychology—was, perhaps, the most powerful because it led me to the intentional decision to apply for a job in a school system (i.e., took action) over 7,000 away on a tropical island called Saipan, a career decision that ultimately changed not only my career but also my life. In fact, it was this decision that eventually led me to the training/learning & development and leadership & talent development space. And it was on the island of Saipan that I met and married my wife (who experienced her own “crystallization of discontent” moments that led her to leave Tokyo and seek out jobs in Sydney, Australia, and on the islands of Guam and Saipan).

Takeaway: 

Chip and Dan Heath (2017) observed that, “Self-understanding comes slowly. One of the few ways to accelerate it—to experience more crystallizing moments—is to stretch for insight” (p. 117-118). My “crystallization of discontent” moments in 1992 and 2003 were moments of insights that my journey in life includes many winding paths, twists, and turns; that I have to make multiple course corrections and pivots (i.e., take action) to find my bearings, and this is OK!

This perfectly captures my experiences with my own “crystallization of discontent” moments: “Often, what looks like a moment of serendipity is actually a moment of intentionality. What . . . [the people featured in the Power of Moments book] experienced as the shock of an insight was actually . . . the whiplash caused by realizing they could ACT and then willfully jolting their lives in a new direction. They were not receiving a moment, they were seizing it” (Heath & Heath, 2017, p. 262).

Have you ever had “crystallization of discontent” moments? Did you recognize and seize these moments?

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Bauer, J. J., McAdams, D. P., & Sakaeda, A. R. (2005). Crystallization of Desire and Crystallization of Discontent in Narratives of Life-Changing Decisions. Journal of Personality, 73(5), 1181-1213.

Baumeister, R. F. (1991). Meanings of life. The Guilford Press.

Baumeister, R. F. (1994). The crystallization of discontent in the process of major life change. In T. F. Heatherton, & J. Weinberger (Eds.), Can personality change? (pp. 281-297). American Psychological Association. 

Harrington, R., & Loffredo, D. A. (2010). Insight, rumination, and self-reflection as predictors of well-being. The Journal of Psychology, 145(1), 39-57.

Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2017). The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact. Simon & Schuster.

How to Give Direct and Clear Feedback

From front-line leaders all the way up to C-suite leaders, I have seen, time and time again, how managers have made a mess in delivering feedback to their employees.

In this article, I will:

    • Clarify the difference between coaching and feedback;
    • Highlight and explain the Situation Behavior Impact Model (SBI);
    • Share Brené Brown’s “Engaged Feedback Checklist”; and
    • Wrap up with Dianna Booher’s five feedback tips.

Many managers misunderstand feedback, with most calling it “coaching.” Feedback is not coaching, and it is important to not mistake feedback for coaching (Semple, 2018). There’s a “coaching” model & process and there’s a “feedback” model & process that should be and can be a part of coaching, but this “feedback” can also be standalone model & process.

Those who confuse and fail to differentiate between “feedback” and “coaching” are at risk of delivering ineffective and even destructive “feedback” and cause recipients to recoil whenever they hear the word “coaching.”

International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.

Here’s my coaching definition, which I like much better, based on an amalgamation from these books: Leading at a Higher Level; Coaching for Performance; You Already Know How to Be Great; and Psychological Dimensions of Executive Coaching.

Coaching is a deliberate process of using focused conversations to help people to access their best self, remove interference, and free themselves to perform at their highest level. It’s about unlocking people’s potential so they can optimally make decisions, commit to actions, and produce breakthrough results. Effective coaching involves growth and change, whether that is in perspective, attitude, or behavior (Miller & Blanchard, 2010; Whitmore, 2017; Fine, 2010; Bluckert, 2006).

Feedback communicates to others about what their strengths are, specifies which of their skills are valuable to the team and/or organization, and explains to them where you believe they have the ability to change and improve (Buron & McDonald-Mann, 1999).

“Effective feedback provides the necessary information people need to build on their strengths and to shore up weaknesses. It’s a powerful tool for accelerating learning and for developing mastery” (Buron & McDonald-Mann, 1999, p. 7).

Therefore, it is absolutely critical that leaders and managers learn when and how to give effective feedback to subordinates.

When to Give Subordinates Feedback, according to the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) (Buron & McDonald-Mann, 1999, p. 11):

    • Often
    • On Time
    • As an Opportunity for Development
    • To Solve a Performance Problem

The Situation Behavior Impact Model (SBI) by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) is great feedback model:

    • Situation – Describe the situation. Be specific about when & where it occurred.
    • Behavior – Describe the observable behavior. Don’t assume you know what the other person was thinking.
    • Impact – Describe what you thought or felt in reaction to the behavior.

“Called SBI for short, this simple feedback structure keeps your comments relevant and focused to maximize their effectiveness. Essentially, SBI means you describe the Situation in which you observed the employee, you describe the Behavior you observed, and you describe the Impact of that behavior on you and others present in that situation” (Buron & McDonald-Mann, 1999, p. 12).

Here’s one example from CCL (Buron & McDonald-Mann, 1999, p. 12):

Jim, I saw that presentation you made to the Excelsior group
(Situation). I liked how you picked up on their questions. I noticed
that you were able to move out of your prepared presentation to
address their concerns without missing a beat (Behavior). They
were all nodding their heads in agreement when you answered that
question about the delivery time frame. You made me confident that
you were in control of all the material and information. Joel Smythe
told me afterwards that our company seems to have a much better
understanding of Excelsior’s situation than anyone else on their
short list (Impact).

Here’s another example of the SBI method:

    1. Situation: Describe the specific situation in which the behavior occurred. Avoid generalities, such as “Last week,” as that can lead to confusion. Example: “This morning at the 9 a.m. team meeting…”
    2. Behavior: Describe the actual, observable behavior. Keep to the facts. Don’t insert opinions or judgments. Example: “You interrupted me while I was telling the team about the new leadership development initiative,” instead of “You were rude.”
    3. Impact: Describe the results of the behavior. Because you’re describing exactly what happened and explaining your true feelings—not passing judgment—the listener is more likely to absorb what you’re saying. If the effect was positive, words like “happy” or “proud” help underscore the success of the behavior. If the effect of the behavior was negative and needs to stop, you can use words such as “troubled” or “worried.” Example: “I was impressed when you addressed that issue without being asked” or “I felt frustrated when you interrupted me because it broke my train of thought.”

In her book, Dare to Lead, Brené Brown says one of the biggest issues for leaders is having tough conversations:

“We avoid tough conversations, including giving honest, productive feedback. Some leaders attributed this to a lack of courage, others to a lack of skills, and, shockingly, more than half talked about a cultural norm of “nice and polite” that’s leveraged as an excuse to avoid tough conversations. Whatever the reason, there was saturation across the data that the consequence is a lack of clarity, diminishing trust and engagement, and an increase in problematic behavior, including passive-aggressive behavior, talking behind people’s backs, pervasive back-channel communication (or “the meeting after the meeting”), gossip, and the “dirty yes” (when I say yes to your face and then no behind your back)” (Brown, 2018).

Brown (2018) declares: “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.”

“Feeding people half-truths or bullshit to make them feel better (which is almost always about making ourselves feel more comfortable) is unkind. Not getting clear with a colleague about your expectations because it feels too hard, yet holding them accountable or blaming them for not delivering is unkind. Talking about people rather than to them is unkind” (Brown, 2018).

Brown shares a readiness checklist — Engaged Feedback Checklist — to contemplate before you sit down to give someone feedback.

I know I’m ready to give feedback when (Brown, 2012):

    1. I’m ready to sit next to you rather than across from you.
    2. I’m willing to put the problem in front of us rather than between us (or sliding it toward you).
    3. I’m ready to listen, ask questions, and accept that I may not fully I understand the issue.
    4. I want to acknowledge what you do well instead of picking apart your mistakes.
    5. I recognize your strengths and how you can use them to address your challenges.
    6. I can hold you accountable without shaming or blaming you.
    7. I’m willing to own my part.
    8. I can genuinely thank you for your efforts rather than criticize you for your failings.
    9. I can talk about how resolving these challenges will lead to your growth and opportunity.
    10. I can model the vulnerability and openness that I expect to see from you.

“[P]sychological safety makes it possible to give tough feedback and have difficult conversations without the need to tiptoe around the truth” (Amy Edmondson, 2012).


Dianna Booher, a communication strategist and author, has some terrific and useful tips on giving feedback. She writes, “The best managers learn how to lead team members to assess their own performance so that feedback flows naturally. As a result, resistance decreases and performance improves” (Booher, 2021).

According to Booher, leaders and managers should try embedding feedback within coaching conversations. She recommends (2021) keeping these steps in mind:

(1) Lead the Person to Assess His or Her Own Performance – You are coaching for improved performance so begin the conversation with open-ended questions. For example (Booher, 2021): “How do you think this last product launch went over with our route drivers? Did you get the sense that they really understand the difference between this new formula and what we had on the market last year?”

(2) Ask About Lessons Learned – Instead of lecturing, ask what your team member has learned. For example (Booher, 2021): “What do you think you’ll do differently with the drivers on the next launch?” (Then listen to them elaborate on changes they already have in mind after self-assessing the outcomes that were less than desirable.)

(3) Acknowledge Their Perspective – If the team member has good self-awareness & self-assessment of their performance or the situation, you can confirm positively what s/he has said (Booher, 2021): “I agree with what you’ve said about…” “I think you’ve identified the trouble spots and have the right approach to correcting them for the next time.” (Notice that you’re giving credit for identifying and correcting their own performance.)

(4) Add Your Own Observations – Booher says that, while acknowledging the team member’s point of view, the leader/manager can share their observations (2021): “I have a few things to add about the situation. “I have a different take on what happened during the launch.” “I have a different viewpoint about why the route drivers walked away from the launch meeting confused. Let me add my observations to what you’ve said.”

(5) Be Direct, Clear, and Optimistic About the Future – Booher advises (2021): “Be direct. You never want to sugarcoat bad news or poor performance. But focus on the future rather than on the past. End the conversation by “looking forward” to the changes or improvements the team member will be making in the process, situation, or performance.”

Key Takeaways:

“To succeed in your leadership role, you must learn how to make feedback a part of developing your subordinates to their full potential. More than that, you must learn how to provide effective feedback that is empowering, not damaging; that is constructive, not debilitating” (Buron & McDonald-Mann, 1999, p. 7).

“Positive feedback will make the recipient feel better, reinforce good behavior, and build confidence. But negative feedback points out improvement opportunities and ways to build competence—and employees remember it longer” (Lane & Gorbatov, 2020).

“A manager’s inability to give feedback in a way that holds employees accountable for their performance, or that effectively delivers the message that their work outcome is poor, will lead to talent drain and drop in productivity overall” (Lane & Gorbatov, 2020).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Bluckert, P. (2006). Psychological Dimensions of Executive Coaching. Open University Press.

Booher, D. (2021, February 16). Coaching With Feedback That Actually Works. https://www.tlnt.com/coaching-with-feedback-that-actually-works/

Brown, B. (2018). Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. Random House.

Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Penguin/Gotham.

Buron, R. J., & McDonald-Mann, D. (1999). Giving Feedback to Subordinates. Center for Creative Leadership.

Center for Creative Leadership (CCL). (n.d.). Immediately Improve Your Talent Development with the SBI Feedback Model. https://www.ccl.org/articles/leading-effectively-articles/hr-pipeline-a-quick-win-to-improve-your-talent-development-process/

Edmondson, A. C. (2012). Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy. Jossey-Bass.

Fine, A. (2010). You Already Know How to Be Great: A Simple Way to Remove Interference and Unlock Your Greatest Potential. Penguin Group.

Lane, A., & Gorbatov, S. (2020, March 30). The Feedback Fallacy. https://www.talent-quarterly.com/the-feedback-fallacy/

Miller, L., & Blanchard, M. H. (2010). Coaching: A Key Competency For Leadership Development. In Blanchard, K. (Ed.). Leading at a higher level (pp. 149-163) (Revised & Expanded Edition). FT Press.

Semple, R. (2018, August 30). Don’t Mistake Feedback for Coaching. https://www.flashpointleadership.com/blog/dont-mistake-feedback-for-coaching

Whitmore, J. (2017). Coaching for Performance (5th ed.). Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Science of People at Work