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Creativity & Risk-Taking

Here's a recent talk I gave to graduate students at Emerson College about the need to practice courage to become more creative and take more risks.  A student's comment:

My supervisor once asked, why are you so rebellious. I didn't know how to react to such comment, and now I know I was being courageous to speak up.

 

 

Rebels in Government!

These are difficult times for civil servants. Some have asked us to reflect on what advice Rebels at Work has for federal employees. We offer the following dos and don’ts with a big dose of humility and an even bigger degree of caution. I imagine that everyone will find our advice to be unsatisfactory to some degree: We don’t go far enough or we go way too far. But somewhere along the way we hope our readers will find at least one tidbit that helps them.

DOS

Do Sharpen your Bureaucratic Skills. If there’s a time to get smart about how bureaucracies work, now is it. Whenever there is a new administration, incoming political appointees try to enact procedures without sufficient regard for or even knowledge of existing laws and regulations. It’s the DUTY of civil servants, of legacy staff to point out the landmines. Ill-conceived government actions make the US Government vulnerable to lawsuits and public ridicule. They also have the potential to weaken our democracy.

Do Your Job! Don't be so distracted by the current political brouhaha that you do not adequately perform your basic duties. If you are a supporter of President Trump, you do him no favors by putting politics first. And the same goes for opponents. In fact, your partisan views should have no bearing on the performance of the duties of your office. This is the essence of federal civil service.

Do Write Everything Down! As civil servants you have rights and protections. If you find yourself dealing with a difficult manager, or if you are asked to take actions that you believe are unwise or perhaps even illegal (more on that later!), document as best you can everything that happens. And share the particulars with someone you trust. It’s probably unwise to store this documentation on your government computer. Perhaps you can dedicate a favorite notebook to keeping your paper trail. Be sure you don’t improperly store or keep government documents and/or sensitive information, however. If management is out to get you, they are sure to use any simple mistakes against you--no matter how innocent or trivial.

Do Monitor your Emotional Well-Being. Right now the hardest-hit government Agency appears to be EPA but employees in all federal departments and agencies will be challenged in the months and years to come. Pay attention to the emotional costs. Forego that extra drink after work. Take a vacation or a strategic mental health day. Don’t take it out against your family or friends.

DON'TS

Don’t Confuse your Partisan Views with your Official Duties. The Civil Service oath demands that federal employees defend the Constitution and faithfully discharge the duties of their office. The US political system would collapse if Federal employees believed their authority superseded that of the American people. That said, you are well within your rights to argue against a policy decision or an interpretation of the law that you believe unwise or counterproductive. But if you don't win the argument and unless you believe you are being asked to do something illegal, your job is to execute policies regardless of whether you agree with them.  For you own mental well-being, however, it’s important to understand your own personal red lines. Under what conditions would I resign from government service? Under what conditions would I go to the Inspector General? Get smart about the Whistleblower provisions in your agency.

Don’t Do it Alone. Allies are one of the most critical success factors for Rebels at Work. There will be many in your workplace who think and feel like you do. Find them and collaborate. Share best practices. Avoid mistakes made by others. You can develop a powerful information network in your workplace.

One Last Thing. We at Rebels at Work often poke fun at bureaucrats. And yet it is often the relentless thoroughness of people making sure all the i's are dotted and Oxford commas removed that preserves due process and the rule of law. As I write Sunday evening, the executive order on immigration is being criticized, even by supporters, for not having been properly vetted and coordinated within the vast US Government bureaucracy.

Take heart, all ye Bureaucratic Black Belts. Your time may have come!!

Advice for having difficult conversations

Everywhere Carmen and I speak people tell us that one of their top challenges is having difficult conversations.

One of the best sources for learning to have difficult conversations is the Harvard Negotiation Project and the book from faculty members Doug Stone, Sheila Heen and Bruce Patton, aptly titled "Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most."

My biggest takeaway from the book is that we can't change someone's mind in a conversation. No matter how skilled you think you may be. Not going to happen.

The purpose of a conversation is to create mutual understanding of an issue so that you can both figure out the best way forward.  In other words, the  goal is to genuinely figure out what's important to the other person and express what's important to us. That's how shifts and change begin to happen.

I encourage you to read --no, devour and highlight -- this book. It will not only make you more effective at work, your personal relationships are likely improve, too.

Until then, here are my book highlights to get you thinking in some new ways.

CONTEXT

Biggest mistakes

  • Blaming: it inhibits our ability to learn what’s really causing the problem and to do anything meaningful to correct it.
  • Believing it’s their fault: when things go wrong in relationships, everyone has contributed in some important way.
  • Assuming we know the intentions and feelings of others.
  • Avoiding the problem is one of the biggest contributors to a problem.
  • Not preparing, rushing, catching someone off guard.
  • Not acknowledging feelings.

Important realities

  • Difficult conversations are almost never about getting the facts right. They are about conflicting perceptions, interpretations and values.
  • They are not about what is true; they are about what is important.
  • What happened is the result of what BOTH people did – or failed to do.
  • Difficult conversations don’t just involve feelings; they are at their core about
  • The two most difficult and important things are expressing feelings and listening. (And our ability to listen increases once we’ve expressed our feelings.)
  • When a conversation feels difficult it’s because something beyond the substance of the conversation is at stake for YOU.
  • People almost never change without first feeling understood.
  • Don’t share your conclusions as “the” truth; explain what’s behind your thinking.
  • When conversation goes off track reframe it to focus on mutual goals and issue at hand.

HAVING THE CONVERSATION

Prepare

  • What do you hope to accomplish? What’s the best outcome?
  • Is a conversation the best way to address the issue? (Sometimes what’s difficult has a lot more to do with what’s going on inside of you than what’s going on between you and the other person. So a conversation won't actually help. You've got to do some inner work.)
  • Plan a time to talk. Don’t do it on the fly.

How to start

  • Reduce the other person’s anxiety! Don't put them on the defense.
  • Describe the issue in a way that rings true for both sides and is free of judgment, e.g., We seem to have different assumptions and preferences for how to accomplish work we both feel is important.  I wonder whether it’s possible for us to look at the best approaches in view of what we want to achieve.

Explore: their views and yours

  • Listen and explore their perspectives, asking questions, acknowledging feelings, paraphrasing so the person knows you’ve heard them.
  • Express your views and feelings: what you see, why you see it that way, how you feel and who you are. Begin with the heart of the matter for you, e.g., “What is important to me is…”

Problem solve and figure out best way forward

  • Figure out the best way forward that satisfies both of your needs.
  • Talk about how to keep communication open as you move forward

GOOD QUESTIONS TO USE

  • What did we each do -- or not do -- to get ourselves into this mess?
  • Can you say a little more about how you see things?
  • What’s most important to you about this situation?
  • What information might you have that I don’t?
  • How do you see it differently?
  • Were you reacting to something I did?
  • How are you feeling about all of this?
  • What would it mean to you if that happened?
  • How do you see the situation differently?
  • Help me understand how you would feel and how you might think about the situation if you were in my shoes. What would you do and why?

Get Your Lipstick On: A Rebellious New Year Wish

Some people say listen to your body for what it needs. I say watch the shade of lipstick you’re buying to find out what you want or need.

Over the lazy holiday break a new lipstick urge came over me one day. When this flares up I fall into a black hole of reading beauty bloggers for hours, looking at colors, figuring out which ones won’t dry out my lips, and considering which colors will go with my favorite clothes. Then I order two and wait for Sephora to deliver.

Unlike many friends, I don’t trust the department store makeup people to tell me which colors are most flattering. I value advice on taxes, health and investing. When it comes to lipstick, love and the pursuit of happiness, I listen to my inner goddess, who sounds a lot like the late, great actress Ruth Gordon. Bold, brave, courageous, opinionated and occasionally shameless.

Before choosing new colors for 2017, I opened the medicine cabinet to see what I had. I found the names of my standard favorites sound a lot like Ruth, er, I mean me. (See photo) I’ve never selected lipsticks based on their names, only their color. (OK, I also consider whether they’ll keep my lips moist, be easy to apply without a mirror, and won’t bleed into those tiny, annoying lines around my lips.)

But this week I’m realizing that the lipsticks we choose may tell us what we want and need. How we want to show up in the world.

Why aren’t you wearing lipstick for me?

Years ago a boyfriend asked why I wasn’t wearing red lipstick for him.

“First of all, I wear lipstick for myself, not for anybody else,” I told him. “Second of all, what I wear subconsciously says how I’m feeling.” I was wearing “Radish,” a kind of peachy pink. The relationship went nowhere.

When I had just turned 40 my father asked me why I wasn’t wearing any lipstick. “You look better with a little lipstick,’ he gently said.

Before my “oh-my-god-is-my-father-a-sexist” brain spewed unkind words my father added, “You look more like you with lipstick.”

Alrighty, then.

Showing up

Lipstick should be about making us feel more like us. (And if it makes you feel icky, don’t wear it! )

Don’t wear it to impress, conform, or hide. But using it to play, find pleasure and fill your heart with mischief and possibilities is highly recommended.

In this morning’s New Year’s Day Journey Dance Joan showed up wearing a beautiful, bold shade of red lipstick with a sparkly silver and gold top. The kind of top you might wear to a New Year’s Eve party. But here it was 10 a.m. and Joan, who is probably 40 years older than some of the other dancers, was lighting the room with an inspiring confidence and grounded wisdom.

I asked Joan the name of her red lipstick, but she had no idea. Only that it suited her. If I had to give it a name I would call it “Just Red.” Because Joan exudes a kind of integrity, self-compassion and no-nonsense attitude.

2017: Kiss and insoumise

My new lipsticks won’t arrive for another week, but I think they’ll be right for 2017. As always, I chose by the colors. But the lipstick names reveal my New Year’s wishes.

I went with the Dior Addict line and chose two pinky/rose colors, named Kiss and Insoumise.

I suppose Kiss is for “If you think strong women are going to take your bullshit, you can Kiss my ass, you conservative, male politicians with too much dicktitude.” Or maybe it’s about Kissing the sky with gratitude, kindness and optimism. Or Kissing those whom I love so very much.

Insoumise was a surprise and not a surprise. A surprise because I really had no idea what it meant when I put it in my shopping cart. Not a surprise because it’s the French word for “rebelliousness.” And I do so love my work helping Rebels at Work find their voice and create positive change.

So today I send a a rebellious New Year’s kiss to you — and wish you joy in wearing lipstick that lights up your soul and helps you bring your voice to the world.

Amplify Courage

amplify-courage

Courage helps us challenge what no longer works, fight for better ways, achieve more than we thought possible and overcome all the stress and unexpected land mines that are thrown in our paths.

How do you become more courageous? These four strengths amplify our courage. The more you use and develop them, the stronger they become.

How have you used each one to overcome challenges?

How could you use them more in 2017?

(These same questions are useful to use in team planning, as well.)

1. Perseverance: finishing what you start; persevering in a course of actions despite obstacles.

2. Bravery: Not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty; speaking up for what's right even if there is opposition; acting on convictions even if unpopular.

3. Vitality: approaching life with excitement and energy; not doing things halfway or halfheartedly; living life as an adventure; feeling alive and activated.

4. Integrity: speaking the truth but more broadly acting in a genuine and sincere way; being without pretense; taking responsibility for your feelings and actions.

The Sting of a Rebel Win

show-up One of the most popular questions Carmen Medina and I get asked during our Rebels at Work talks is: “What happens when your boss takes your idea and doesn’t give you credit for it?”

Our response: When someone takes your idea that’s a Rebel Win. It means your good idea is moving forward.

Yet we should probably spend more time acknowledging the disappointment and sting that can come when we don’t get credit for our ideas, and suggest some ways to bounce back and not become all angry and kind of pissy,

Like what started happening to me this morning when five friends forwarded an email from Harvard Business Review announcing “The Big Idea from HBR: Rebel Talent.”

Are you kidding me — how are you not in the center of this? This should be by YOU!!!!

What the what?? Seems like you should be leading this webinar

The email was from the editor of Harvard Business Review, with whom Carmen and I met exactly three years ago to pitch him on the idea of publishing our Rebels at Work book. He loved the idea, shared his personal experiences being a lifelong Rebel at Work, and forwarded our manuscript on to the acquisitions editor, who rejected it.

So here’s the Rebel Win: he’s moving the Rebels idea forward, with all the credibility that Harvard brings to stodgy leaders whose organizations can benefit so much from helping their rebel thinkers thrive.

And here’s the Rebel Sting: he’s never acknowledged any of our ideas or work.

What’s a Rebel to do?

I admit I did stew for an hour this morning, and then used these Rebel Practices to break out of my mental Crazytown. Maybe some of these practices will help you next time someone takes credit for your idea.

1. Name the emotion: when you’re angry, name the feeling out loud. This diminishes the power of the emotion over us and let’s us think more clearly and logically. This two-minute video from psychologist Paul Furey, “How To Ruin a Really Good Idea,” is especially helpful.

2. Dodge thinking traps: ask these quick questions from Karen Reivich, author of The Resiliency Factor, to avoid spiraling into negative thinking traps that are rarely accurate or helpful.

  • What is a more accurate way of seeing this?
  • What other outcome is possible?
  • What might be one other possible explanation?

When I asked myself these questions I saw the situation differently: the Harvard attention on Rebel Talent is a potentially huge boost for rebels, and the purpose of Rebels at Work is to help Rebels succeed, not get attention for our writing or ideas or book. Reframing provides clarity and creates positive energy.

I also considered that the editor had forgotten us and our meeting and sent him an email offering to write an HBR blog post with some of our new research.

3. Lean on your signature character strengths: the field of positive psychology has identified 24 universal character traits that all of us have, some much stronger than others. (You can take this free scientific assessment from the VIA Institute on Character to uncover your top strengths.)

When we use our top signature strengths we decrease stress and increase our wellbeing.

Three of my top strengths are honesty (speaking the truth and presenting oneself in a genuine way), creativity (thinking of novel and product ways to conceptualize and do things) and bravery (No shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty or pain; speaking up for what’s right even if there’s opposition.)

Today I’m thinking about how to better serve Rebels at Work (honesty, creativity, bravery), writing this post (honesty), and developing a new master class on resiliency (creativity). I’m in the flow, feeling good about my work despite a not-so-positive start to the day.

4. Avoid flirting with the Dark Side: This is one of Carmen’s favorite pieces of advice. Things get dark for rebels, she advises, when their only goal is to advance their own agenda. Your ideas are important, but more important than any single idea is the creation of an organizational ecosystem that is hospitable to honest reflection and change.

Permission to be human

painful-emotions

One last bit of wisdom comes from Tal Ben-Shahar, one of the foremost experts in the field of positive psychology and author of Happier:

Give yourself permission to be human, accepting your positive and negative emotions. Repressing intense emotions actually intensifies them.

So if your boss takes your idea and you get no credit, let yourself be pissy and angry for a while. Go for a walk. Listen to music you love. Watch a good movie. Turn off the monkey mind.

Then consider your purpose and narrative as a Rebel.

Many of us are firestarters and idea igniters.

By the time the world is ablaze and buzzing about our idea seedlings, we are onto exploring what’s next.

Adelante, dear Rebels. The world needs us more now than ever before.

Rebel for the soul of government

Door opening

“Please don’t tell rebels like me to abandon organizations that clearly need them, and thereby abandon the public those organizations serve.”

A city government manager sent an email last week challenging the point in the Managing Conflict chapter of our “Rebels At Work” book that “if your values are far removed from those of your boss or organization, you have a stark choice – suffer at work or leave.”

Here are his views, which are inspiring and informative.

Real rebels embrace conflict

“When you’re ready to be a real rebel, embrace these conflicts.

“I agree values-based conflicts are the hardest types of conflicts to address and they will produce some suffering for the rebel and all around…But should we just assume that a government agency should be left to its own devices when its values decay or become misaligned with their public mandate or do we have a duty, especially as rebels, to do something about it?

“I've facilitated, nurtured, and instigated positive organizational culture change centered around perceived values-based conflicts. Values-based conflicts can be remarkably constructive. They're a shortcut to camaraderie that fails to materialize through decades of strategic, wise, fearful, or polite avoidance of these issues.

“They produce highly efficient relational synapses of trust in critical relationships. What's more, people's values (distinguishable from priorities) are often less at conflict than we or they believe.

“The only way to discover that in any specific time and place is to talk about it; i.e. experiential learning. This is the conversation bad bosses fear most, as they should. The worst bosses have values that are deeply immoral by any standard.

"Commitment to avoiding these matters through rebel "self-deportation" ensures a lost organization will never rediscover its collective soul from within. “

Resiliency as antidote to suffering

I’m thrilled that this person has the moral motivation, relationship skills, and resiliency  to work through values-based conflict.

While much is taught and written about organizational values and conflict management I’d like to see more people develop a capacity for resiliency. Resiliency practices help you keep going, find meaning in the often long and political process of creating change, and see the good in government agencies – even on days that can feel like you’re lost in a bureaucratic hairball.

Without the capacity to stay resilient, rebels often suffer, becoming bitter, angry and not the best versions of themselves. And then they serve no one well – not their organizations, not their family and friends, not themselves.

That’s when they need to leave.

The quest for one more day

A senior policy innovation adviser at the U.S. Department of Defense recently told Carmen that one of his goals is “one more day.”

“If I can get talented people to stay one more day working for the government, I’m succeeding,” he said.

So much attention is focused on national political campaigns.

The people who are making a real difference are these rebels in government, working to make sure agencies deliver on their mission and values.

Oh rebels, please, please, please stay just a little big longer.

The power of being heard

Why do I care so much about helping people speak up and be heard? Why has my labor of love become helping rebels at work?

It didn’t start on this day, but all these years later this incident feeds my determination to help people speak truth to power.

FAirmont ballroomJPEG

The New York City hotel conference room was plush, with fifty rows of gold ballroom chairs with red velvet seats lined up carefully in two sections. At the head of the room stood a formidable business executive who had just published a book called “Power and Influence.” He didn’t need a microphone. He exuded confidence in the way he held himself, projected his voice and opinions, and “commanded” the room.

Men in dark business suits filled most of the seats. And then there was me, 23-years-old in my dorky blue suit with one of those ridiculous “female bow ties” that were so popular in the 1980s. I was eager to “be corporate” so that I could do the work that I loved, which was working for a Madison Avenue public affairs and crisis communications firm.

I convinced my boss to let me go to this event. So much – too much -- in the field was about tactics, and here was someone talking about how to affect the outcomes – influencing opinion and changing perceptions. It was an easy sell because my boss admired Mr. Power and Influence, who was the CEO of one of the largest public relations agencies in the world.

That's your question, miss?

When it came time for questions my arm shot up. There was so much that I was hungry to know. Mr. Power and Influence kept calling on the middle-aged white men. I kept my arm up. Finally he called on me, “Yes, Miss.”

I don’t remember what I asked. I just remember his response. Not the words, but the body language. First a sigh, then a smirk, then the condescending tone. As if my question and I were not worthy and he couldn’t believe that someone had been so ridiculous to ask him such a question. A few people coughed as he lectured me. Were they embarrassed for him or me?

Maya Angelou once said, ““I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I still remember how he made me feel, and it still makes me angry. When people are seeking to understand or contribute or help, they are worthy. Even if their question is unpolished. Earnestness deserves respect.

I’m just an admin

Flash forward 30 years and I am running a writing workshop for a Fortune 100 company, and people are in small breakout groups, individually writing in response to a prompt about healthcare.

“OK, would everyone now please read aloud what you wrote to the people in your break out groups,” I ask.

In one group a young woman says, “Oh, skip over me. I’m just and admin not a writer like you all.”  In her, I see my 23-year-old self.

”Taneesha, of course you don’t have to share.  But there are no right or wrong responses here and you bring a different and valuable perspective because you are an admin.”

Taneesha reads her story and people are stunned. While the professional communicators wrote from their heads about healthcare policy, Taneesha wrote from her gut about her healthcare experiences as a single mother. Her writing was breathtaking.

“Geez, Taneesha,” her colleagues say, “What are you doing as an admin? YOU should be a writer.”

The next day Taneesha came to the workshop wearing bolder lipstick, with her hair done up in a handsome bun. I may have been imagining it, but I think she stood taller, too.

She had been heard. And seen.

Oh, the power that gives us.

Rebels at Work and the Narcissism of Small Differences

It is precisely the minor differences in people who are otherwise alike that form the basis of feelings of strangeness and hostility between them. ~Sigmund Freud

I've mentioned a couple of times Adam Grant's new book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. I've done so for the self-serving reason that my Rebel at Work story is captured in Chapter 3. And the other self-serving reason is to remind you that Adam is one of the experts we feature in our learning video: Be a Brave, Big-Hearted Rebel at Work.Be a Brave Big Heared Rebel Video Cover

But this time it's to clue you in to what I consider the most powerful chapter for Rebels at Work in Adam's book--the chapter on creating and maintaining coalitions: Goldilocks and the Trojan Horse. Lois and I have observed that successful Rebels at Work don't do it alone. Often their first step is to form alliances with others; that's certainly what we would recommend. Adam Grant's chapter explores the realities and subtleties of coalitions. His stories and observations not only led me to reflect on past mistakes but also to realize for the first time just how many I'd made.

Adam orients his lessons for building coalitions around the story of the American suffragette movement of the 19th century. Early on the suffrage movement suffered a crippling split when Lucy Stone, one of the first voices for women's suffrage, couldn't agree with Susan Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton on important movement issues, and vice-versa. Among the issues that divided them was the push to grant the vote to African-American men. Stone supported the right to vote for ex-slaves even if it occurred before woman's suffrage. But not Anthony and Stanton, who were so committed to their cause that they even struck an alliance with a racist opponent of African-American suffrage. Other issues divided Stone from the other two, more-famous suffragettes with Stanton and Anthony holding what could be fairly described as the more extreme positions. Eventually Anthony's and Stanton's disdain for moderation, at one point they allied with the first woman to run for US president--on a sexual freedom platform, cost them supporters and lost them potential victories at the state level. Their organization and woman's suffrage suffered.

Adam Grant labels this tendency of change agents to fight each other as the narcissism of small differences. Another term for it is horizontal hostility. Research shows (and I bet your own experiences confirm) that groups battling a fierce status quo often disparage more mainstream groups even when they are all trying to make progress in the same general direction. In politics, for example, political parties can feel more visceral hatred for their potential coalition allies than toward their common opponents. I experienced this firsthand in change efforts I was involved in; many believed I was too willing to compromise just to make some progress. Striking a balance between your ideals and the need to show forward movement is never easy, but change agents that can find the "Goldilocks" spot enjoy better odds. As Adam Grant writes: "to draw allies into joining the cause itself, what's needed is a moderately tempered message that is neither too hot nor too cold, but just right."

A couple more points in the chapter are worth calling out. Adam recounts how the suffragette leader Lucy Stone and others pursued alliances with the 19th century temperance movement. Although the women backers of prohibition were more socially conservative than the suffragettes, they were able to combine forces to win important victories particularly at the state level. This story reminds me of how useful it can be for change agents to pursue their ideas through adjacencies. When an issue faces tough resistance, it's often more effective to approach the change indirectly by working first on an adjacent issue.

Adam Grant also makes the case for why rebels should try to turn opponents into allies. This is daunting but worthwhile. "...{O}ur best allies aren't the people who have supported us all along. They're the ones who started out against us and then came along to our side." And why is that? Well, one reason is because a reformed opponent is the most effective proselytizer of others to join our cause.

Adam Grant writes that on her deathbed Lucy Stone whispered four last words to her daughter: Make the World Better. I can't think of a better motto for Rebels at Work.

Build these three change muscles

Superhero character strengths slidejpeg

Five years ago when people asked me how change happens in big organizations I couldn’t wait to share ideas on positioning, navigating organizational politics and conflict.

Now my advice is different.

Based on personal experiences and learning from successful Rebels at Work, Change Agents, social scientists and psychologists, I see the importance of appreciation, character strengths and safety. These have to come before the tactical strategies and skills.

When we practice these three things we build up our ability to adapt to change and increase the self-esteem needed to initiate change. Plus they’re contagious, infecting work mates in the best possible ways.

When I was first introduced to these practices I was skeptical, believing them “soft.” But almost a year into incorporating them into my life and work I’m singing that 1960s Monkees song, “I’m a Believer.” As are many of my clients who are using them to change how they work.

Not changing work like using Yammer, but changing work in how we work with people, appreciating strengths and making it safe to try new things, question the status quo, and wonder out loud about possibilities without being criticized for not thinking things through. (I was criticized about the latter during many a performance review early in my career.)

Appreciation: the greatest motivator

 A sense of appreciation is single most sustainable motivator at work, according to Dr. Adam Grant, author of Give and Take and the Originals.

BUT we are less likely to express gratitude at work than any other place in their lives, according to research by the John Templeton Foundation

That’s right. After thanking the Starbucks barista for such an amazing latte, we walk into work grumpy and never think to thank a co-worker for some small thing that they’ve done especially well.

But here’s the deal: when we feel appreciated we become more trusting of others, our self-confidence increases and we’re more likely to help others. Plus we're more open to new ideas.

So stop reading right here.

Think of someone at work who you especially value. What are three things they do that make a difference to your group? Write them down quick. OK, now share those things with that person. Wait until you see how much that person lights up. You’ll both feel good.

(Another research finding: 88% feel better after giving kudos to co-workers.)

Character science: what motivates YOU? Your team?

We all have 24 universal character strengths in various degrees, according to extensive research by psychology professors Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman. These are intrinsic strengths that give us energy. When we’re in “the flow” we’re probably using our top strengths.

It’s helpful to know what your top strengths are and value and use them because they build your self-esteem, creativity and confidence, all necessary to adapt to change at work. (You can take a free assessment at the VIA Character Institute.)

As helpful is to understand the character strengths of your co-workers. When we understand what different people bring to the organization and how they work they way do within a context of character science, we’re able to appreciate them in new ways. (There’s the connection back to appreciation.)

My top character strengths are honesty and bravery. So rather than seeing my frankness as a “fault” – or as a royal pain in the ass– colleagues can see how it brings value to our work together.

Guiding teams through this process is some of the most exciting work I’ve done in my career. It opens people up to people  -- and themselves -- in new ways, creating a more positive, open-minded, can-do environment.   And who doesn’t want more of that at work?

And the research to back up the benefits? According the VIA Institute on Character:

71% of employees who believe their managers can name their strengths feel engaged and energized by their work.

For organizations that are focused on strengths, 77% of their employees report they are flourishing, engaged and able to make things happen at work.

(Note: this is what employee engagement is really about. Not surveys or p.r. campaigns, but being recognized for who we ware and appreciated for how we contribute based on our unique -- aka genuine -- strengths.)

Psychological safety: the secret to high-performing teams

If the environment doesn’t feel safe at work, you’re kind of, well, screwed because no one wants to make a wrong move, suggest an idea for which they’ll be laughed at, or call out a problem. If you start practicing appreciation and focus on strengths it will become safer, but creating a safe organizational environment requires much, much more.

Psychological safety is as important as physical safety at work, but it is largely overlooked and few managers are rewarded for creating this safety.

Check out the excellent New York Times Magazine article, “What Google Learned from Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team” by the journalist Charles Duhigg. The most important characteristic of high-performing teams? Safety.

You get what you give

One of my favorite songs is “You Get What You Give” by the New Radicals. It’s an upbeat song with a dark undercurrent about the challenges of our fast changing, crazy world.

This whole damn world can fall apart You'll be OK, follow your heart You're in harm's way, I'm right behind.

Life and work is life -- evolving, spinning, changing. We can’t separate the two. We can’t ever, despite the politicians’ promises, go back to what was.

What we can do is strengthen our resiliency and ability to adapt. Helping one another follow our hearts, using the strengths that make us each uniquely us, and appreciating what we are accomplishing.

Imagine if more of us felt that if we were in harm’s way  someone would be right behind us?

You get what you give.

The Rebel Trinity: Culture, Mission, Tactics

Last week I gave a talk at the Defense Intelligence Agency as part of their month-long commemoration of Woman's History Month. In preparing my remarks, I reflected back (for the upteenth time) on my career as a rebel at work at the CIA. Much of that career is described in one chapter of Adam Grant's new book: Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World. Adam talks about how my quest to bring the Agency into the digital age had two distinct stages--the first where I all but self-destructed and the second where I actually made some progress in large part because of many lessons learned. What Adam Grant didn't discuss but which I included in a my talk was the story of a much earlier rebel period, while I was still a junior analyst at the Agency, when I held a minority view on an important and controversial substantive issue. My espousal of that minority view didn't hurt my career; in fact, it probably in the end helped it. What was the difference, I asked myself?

It soon became clear.

During that first rebel period, I was arguing for a different analytic judgment but not for a different approach to performing the mission. Although my analytic views were not widely shared by the organization, my analytic methods were familiar to all. It's usually less risky for a rebel to suggest a different solution to a mission problem confronting their organization. It's much harder to convince your organization that its basic approach to the mission is wrong-headed or, even worse, that you're tackling the wrong mission altogether.

Lois and I write in Rebels at Work: A Handbook for Leading Change from Within that, for our own sanity, we need to be careful about rebel causes that run counter to the culture of an organization. It's hard to change organizational culture from the bottom up. Similarly, it's hard  to disrupt an organization's operating manual and its operational theories. We know of many domains where rebels are trying to do that exactly that: health care, consulting, government to name a few. We don't want to dissuade you from trying; but we do want you to understand the steepness of that climb.

I'm in Texas right now. The bluebonnets are in bloom.

Bluebonnets

Brainstorm Better, Bring Diversity to your Team, and Let Others Change your Idea--Answers to your Rebels at Work Questions

I've been participating the last few months in a new web platform--wiselike--where people can ask questions of practitioners in other domains. I've been answering Rebels at Work questions and I thought I'd post some of the answers here, unedited.

What is the best way to get an idea across to top management in a big company without antagonizing your immediate boss or those who will be affected by it?

Well, I don't recommend going over your boss's head. It may work once in a while, but the odds are against you.

The best way to get an idea across in that situation is to demonstrate it. Is their part of your idea that you can start under your own power so that people could see how it works?

Another important step is to get others to support and in fact change your idea. People will support an idea that they have contributed to. Your idea needs to grow and develop, and it will do so when you share it with others. You need to remember that it's about improvement not necessarily about your sacred idea and certainly should never be about your ego?

Do you think a corporation could succeed if all its employees are 'Rebels at Work?'

Nope, not every employee can be a rebel at work, but it would be good if every employee felt that they could express their ideas at work, within reason, without fearing penalty. Of course, just because you have an idea doesn't mean it's good. But too many organizations have a top-down mentality and don't really want employees to do anything other than execute the plan. This is why so many American workers don't feel engaged at work. In fact, something like 50% of managers report not feeling engaged.

Even though I was a manager for several decades, I actually think that the traditional practice of leadership is broken. I never liked to think of myself as the leader who "called the shots." I much preferred to facilitate conditions that would lead everyone to provide the mission their discretionary energy. A leader can never make people give their discretionary energy; it is only ever volunteered.

What can I do in a company where all the managers are against a 360 feedback?

Geez. This is a tough one. Presumably the President is setting the culture of the organization and it is always tough to change a culture top-down. Couple of things I would suggest.

Is there a small thing that you can do under your own authority that moves you along the path you think is better? Seth Godin has a nice video about this http://www.managementexchange.com/video/seth-godin-how-do-you-change-system-when-you-dont-have-power

He notes that in organizations where you don't have the power you have to get people to copy good ideas.

Given that he suggested people go to HR, I would see if there is a good person you could talk to in HR not about whatever your issue is but how can to turn this "go to HR" into a process, option that could actually have impact. For example, does HR report to the management team the issues they hear from employees. I bet they don't. But that could really help. The problem with going to HR is that they will treat each complaint as an individual performance problem rather than as a symptom of an issue in the organization. You want the latter and not the former.

As an advocate of positive Rebels at Work.. How can we encourage diverse thinking within our teams?

It's important to have a team composed of diverse individuals. This isn't easy to do in the short term. So one way to encourage different thinking in the team, or at least implant it, is to invite guests to your team meetings. For example, someone from another office that you have to collaborate with. So they can share what will likely be their different perspective. When you do brainstorm, don't jump into group thinking right away. Give people a few minutes by themselves to come up with ideas/answers. Research shows that this helps generate better ideas. Otherwise the whole group follows lemming-like the first few ideas generated. If there are many people, have several tables work individually on their suggestions, and then have each table report one idea at a time. This forces people to come up with a different idea from the table that went before them.

The manager or leader of a discussion has to say things and ask questions that invite different ideas and disagreement. What am I missing? What are we getting wrong? What is the opposite of this point?

Have a process for deciding which ideas to pursue. For example you could brainstorm a whole bunch of ideas and then bucket them by safe ideas and dangerous ideas And then commit to pursuing one idea from each bucket.

Meetings: some counterintuitive advice

Meeting visualOh, the meeting, that time where you hope you can get through your PowerPoint presentation within the allotted time, have everyone love your ideas, and walk out getting exactly what you want. Oh, magical thinking.  Meetings are never that tidy and easy.

Yet meetings are an essential part of introducing new ideas, one reason we developed an entire segment of our video learning program, Be a Brave, Big-Hearted Rebel at Work: Get Unstuck, Find New Perspectives, to this topic, interviewing the talented Brice Challamel, author, entrepreneur, innovation expert, and a master of running meetings.

Some of his recommendations:

  • The worst thing you can do in a meeting: present a fully formed, perfect idea. You’ll be tempted to want to shove the idea down people’s throats, cautions Brice. Instead introduce your idea as a work in progress and ask people for their suggestions, whereby they become your allies and collaborators. The idea will get better as will your relationships.
  • The best way to get people’s support: Ask people what it would take for them to support the idea. And then listen respectfully to their suggestions. If people feel they are listened to, they will listen to you.
  • What ideas people support: Their own. The best way to get people to support your idea is to make it their idea. Again, ask for what they think should be included vs. trying to get them to buy into your version of the idea.
  • How long you should talk: Spend a small time presenting the idea, and leave the majority of the time for discussion about what people heard. This is how you improve an idea and gain support. “It’s important to remember that the purpose of the meeting is to gain allies for later,” says Brice. It is during the meeting conversations that we’re able to do that.
  • What your PowerPoint needs to be: “Keep it as simple as possible so you have room for improvisation based on what’s happening in the room.”
  • When to let go of an idea: “Sometimes it’s better to lose your idea and save the relationships,” says Brice. “You’ll have other ideas, but it may be difficult to repair damaged relationships.”

Move ideas forward: new video learning program

Be a Brave Big Heared Rebel Video CoverWe are so thrilled to offer a 6.5 hour video learning program, “Be a Brave, Big-Hearted Rebel at Work: Get Unstuck, Find New Perspectives,” for people who want to get better at introducing new ideas and helping their organizations adapt to change. After our book Rebels at Work came out, people starting sharing stories about where they get stuck, and where they needed more help. It’s no surprise that people especially struggle with conflict, objections, bosses, burnout, and culture.

So we invited some of the smartest, most interesting people we know from around the globe to share advice and practices on topics like:

  • Diagnose what's really holding your organization back from acting
  • Manage your boss
  • Deliver difficult messages
  • Know who to trust
  • Handle common objections
  • Manage your emotions
  • Master the meeting
  • Find your rebel wild pack supporters
  • Frame and position ideas
  • Communicate like an activist
  • Create an internal word of mouth marketing campaign
  • Keep going or quit?
  • Recover and learn from setbacks

 Like a graduate seminar on organizational change

We love these wise experts, the practicality of their advice, and the joy we had in producing this program. It’s like a graduate seminar on organizational change.

  • Peter Vander Auwera, co-founder of Innotribe, SWIFT’s innovation initiative, and founder of Corporate Rebels United.
  • Brice Challamel, author, entrepreneur, expert in innovation management
  • Jeffrey Davis, author, founder of Tracking Wonder, and expert in how creatives flourish in times of challenge and change
  • Maria DeCarvalho, executive coach focused on helping courageous leaders grow their minds, hearts and souls.
  • Paul Furey, psychologist specializing in teaching people how to have the real conversations that solve business problems.
  • Adam Grant, the top rated teacher at The Wharton School, author, and one of the world’s 25 most influential management thinkers.
  • Paula Prober, counselor and teacher, specializing in gifted adults
  • Maria Sirois, inspirational speaker, author and psychologist with deep expertise in resilience and positive psychology
  • Linda Stroh, author and professor emeritus, Loyola University, Chicago.
  • Tenneson Woolf, facilitator, workshop leader, speaker and writer.
  • Lois Kelly, Rebel at Work
  • Carmen Medina, Rebel at Work

Ideas on how to use the program

 Our hope is that this program can help more people learn important skills for leading change, whatever their position. And we think the $129 price is a real bargain compared to what it costs to go to a conference or bring experts of this caliber into your company. Some ideas on how you might get value from it:

  • Use it as a professional learning course for your team, watching a segment a week and then discussing over lunch or as part of a staff meeting. (Some segments are just five minutes, others are 30 minutes.)
  • Ask your training, organizational development or HR department to buy it and give you access – especially if innovation, change management, agility, employee empowerment or other such buzz words are part of the company’s commitment.
  • Share segments on your company’s employee social network or intranet. (O’Reilly Media has many ways to access the program.)
  • Buy it for yourself, as part of your commitment to investing in your potential.
  • Consider it as an alternative to a book for your company’s business book club. (We’d be happy to do a Google Hangout or webinar to join your discussion.)
  • Give it to your boss from the team as a holiday gift.

Thank you for standing up for change and being brave enough to advocate for ideas that can make a positive difference at work. We hope this new material helps.

Lois

 

ps -- You can learn more about the program here, and view three of the 22 segments at no charge. The final Rebel Wisdom: Parting Shots, above, is like a Greatest Hits compilation and will give you a good idea of the variety of topics covered by our contributors.

 

Become a Meaningful Rebel at Work

Rebels at Work can obsess about winning the war of ideas in their organization. The company is headed in the wrong direction and new ideas need to be introduced; the rebel at work not only seeks to persuade; she needs to win. But what if playing to win is not the right objective for rebels at work? In fact, isn’t the whole winning and losing framework just buying into the way traditional organizations think about making decisions? Once the leaders make their strategic choices, all other options fade to black.

Let’s think of another way. Instead of seeking victory, how can the rebel make his ideas more meaningful for his group and organization? Isn’t this a much better question, one that creates more space for others to contribute and that is more respectful of what is already positive about the organization? As Radmilla Prislin, Cory Davenport, and John Michalak note in their essay, Groups in Transition: Differences in the Context of Social Change:

Social change occurs when a group changes its position on what is normative.

Those were the ideas that ran through my mind this summer as I read the book Rebels in Groups, edited by Jolanda Jettsen and Matthew J. Hornsey. In an earlier blog post this month, I wrote about what this excellent book has to say RAW coverabout the contributions that dissent and rebels make to organizational health, including the awesome finding that rebels at work improve the decisions of their organizations even if their ideas don’t carry the day. See, it really isn’t about winning. It’s about making things better.

Rebels in Groups digests much of the recent academic research on how groups react to dissent and rebels in their midst. It’s consistent with the advice we provide in our book Rebels at Work—if you’re trying to affect change, you need allies, strategy, and a high degree of emotional and social intelligence. But the academic research contains some additional insights that can help rebels and dissidents be more effective.

Rebels need to understand the core norms of their group. The research clearly shows that it’s much harder for new ideas to gain support if they violate essential beliefs of the group. In our book we suggest that rebels at work frame their ideas within the context of what the organization already values. The psychology of the group also matters. Groups that are more cohesive handle dissent better. Groups that have a history of incorporating new members will be more open to new ideas

When presenting new ideas, rebels at work need to do so first within their group. Teams don’t take too kindly to being criticized in front of outsiders. This goes without saying, but it’s useful to know that the research supports good manners.

Instead of criticizing the views of others, rebels should frame conversations around the availability of information. What information shapes the rebels’ views; what information is viewed as important by others? Research shows that access to different information can account for variance in views; level-setting around what is known versus what is opinion can make conversations more constructive.

Rebels can overcome a group’s natural tendency to favor continuity by pointing to the external factors that support the need for change. This is a well-understood tactic in organizational change literature, but it’s nevertheless striking how groups make different decisions when forced to consider outside perspectives.

Rebels are received better by organizations when they behave consistently. We’ve all known individuals who every month have a different new idea for what the organization could do better. You’re better off as a rebel if you identify the one or two changes that would make the most impact and then work doggedly to advance them.

There’s much more to share from Rebels in Groups. The next post will distill the lessons it offers for managers of organizations who want to encourage constructive dissent and create a healthy space for alternative views.