I’ll let you in on a little secret. If I didn’t have to, I wouldn’t recycle. There are many practical reasons for this, none of them particularly justified, but the truth of it is if I am working in an office where there are no amenities to sort my trash I will not rise up and become a recycling champion. I do sort my trash when the facilities exist (at work and at home), but will also thoughtlessly toss my unsorted trash in the bin when there is no apparent place to put my paper and plastics. I may be relegated to an eternity of garbage sorting in my next life because of this shortcoming, but championing recycling has not been my forte in this life.
My forte is a different sort of social responsibility, because social responsibility comes in a continuum and many, many flavours. My brand of social responsibility is conscientiousness. I may not champion recycling, but I will always leave the office coffee pot with enough coffee in it for the next person (or I will start a new pot). I will always be on time for our meeting, unless forces outside my control intervene. I actively work to dissolve silos in working environments because they exemplify the antithesis of conscientiousness and social responsibility. I have worked in many offices where they support a near microscopic level of recycling, but the people working on the same team, on the same project, don’t meaningfully communicate with one another. This is costly and wearing on both teams and individuals - no one goes home feeling self-fulfilled or experiences well-being where silos are present. So how can one level of social responsibility thrive (recycling) and the other (transparent and consistent inter-team work) does not?
Leadership is key. It’s easy to champion a recycling program at work and get buy in, anyone can do it (yes, even me). It is a lot harder to help others understand why they should care about the impact their decisions have on other teams or parts of the organization that are not “immediately seen”. The first is an action enabling right behaviours (recycling); the second are behaviours enabling right actions (conscientiousness). As any practiced leader can tell you, it’s a lot easier to champion actions then it is to champion behaviours. However, just as the right action of recycling demonstrates, when we chose to act in the right ways, we can make an amazing difference (less landfill, healthier environment, better use of resources, etc.). Just as with any other part of emotional intelligence we are always able to develop our level of conscientiousness, but it takes leadership to move it beyond the scope of one person. Note that leadership is something anyone can do, no matter what role you hold.
Silos are broken down when we extend our thought patterns, becoming curious about what really matters to others, even those we cannot “see”. This becomes even stronger when we are able to do this with others (teams or individuals) by asking questions and thinking of the bigger picture. Social responsibility is the act of stepping outside of yourself and examining the impacts of your decisions; some decisions (like recycling) we are well versed in. Others, like thinking beyond the boundaries of our role and projects, are less tangible but all require a high degree of self-management to practice, and they hold the key to self-fulfillment that also supports a healthy working environment.
Take into consideration this example from a client who wanted to “be more strategic” and came into coaching to learn how to do this better. There was nothing wrong with the clients’ ability to apply business acumen and strategic thinking in her daily work, it was the act of using that strategic picture to stir herself and others to “right action” that eluded her. When she enabled others to also understand the bigger picture and how working more closely together (asking questions, making small changes and compromises) supported the strategic direction the company was working towards, she inspired others to think differently too. More then that, she enabled them to see things in a different light that allowed them to think strategically, using the bigger picture as a reference point that could then enable others to go forward and share that point of view with even more people. It became contagious. In chaos theory you would call this “the butterfly effect”. As a visual it is represented by the growing ripples that extend around a small pebble dropped into a stream. This is the power of conscientiousness. How are you putting this power to work in your life?
In my work as a Coach I meet many people who are unclear about the role coaching can play in helping them to reach their potential. It is no wonder, given that we use the words “coach” and “coaching” for so many different things; if you were to poll 10 people you would get 10 different answers to the question “What is coaching?”. There is variance because even professional coaches get into it for different reasons (and that doesn’t even begin to cover coaching as it is used in sports). Coaching as a profession is there to help others and coaches who choose to pursue International Coaching Federation (ICF) endorsed certification are able to assist anyone with any topic that plagues them, be it personal or professional (or both). Coaching, as a profession, does not exist to “change people”, but to “enable people to change”. It is a subtle but important distinction.
So subtle that it can be missed, or at the very least be confusing. To look at it another way, consider coaching less as a call to change and more as building the capability to pivot. Let me illustrate this concept; in sports pivots are a very powerful move, allowing you agility and giving you more time and space to maneuver towards your ultimate goal. It is one of the things you learn in gym class about team sports, and we see it on the field/court every time we watch professionals (usually to huge effect) as we see a player apply a very subtle shift in his or her body position and make the play. It is no less powerful in life to be able to pivot from where we are, not changing exactly, but engaging a slightly different approach to powerful effect.
To bring this closer to you as you read this, take a few minutes to look around you, name off the things you can see clearly in your field of vision. Now move a few degrees to one side, what can you see clearly now that you couldn’t before? This is one example of the power of a pivot, and learning to do this in life has positive and tangible benefits. However, there is another component to coaching that comes into play that most people are not able to put their finger on, but is instrumental in supporting our efforts to pivot. That is finding the path to get from where you are today to where you would like to be. As an example, we can all list the benefits of doing things that are good for us, like flossing, eating well and exercising for thirty minutes a day, but while we can all agree we should be doing them, and we all know how to do them, we may not actually do these things consistently (or at all). Why is that?
The simple answer is knowledge is not enough to initiate lasting change. Knowledge is a great start, there are many people who will point to knowledge having been instrumental in creating change for them, but these individuals also went on a journey to solidify that knowledge into change, it wasn’t immediate or necessarily easy. The ability to pivot is supported by our own awareness of what is happening in our reality today and understanding how the current reality no longer supports what we may now want or need. A coaching program is developed with the client and coach working together to build a level of awareness that supports natural dedication to small adjustments, building powerful new permanent capabilities. Coaching is a gentle process that enables individuals to do this by and for themselves, supporting lasting change long after the coaching program is complete. This is not like attending a seminar, getting strong feedback at work, or reading a really great self-help book (although those things can be helpful). Coaching is a process that supports helping you to do whatever you want to be able to do more effectively, in incremental ways that are unique to you. In essence it enables you to pivot, and in doing so supports you in making the best “plays” of your life.
As a Coach I’ve often been asked about happiness. Happiness as a concept is both easy to understand and elusive to hold on to. We know when we feel happy and when we don’t, but not always what contributes to either state. When you look at in the context of emotional intelligence it is comprised of how we feel about ourselves (self-regard), how we feel and connect with others (interpersonal relationships), our feelings of positivity (optimism) and our feelings of achievement (self-actualization). How we feel about these things informs our level of happiness, and how consistently we experience being happy. If any of those areas is being impacted (loss of a loved one, loss of a job, making an embarrassing mistake, feeling overwhelmed by demands at work/home) it can affect our happiness (short and long term).
It’s during these circumstances that solace can be found in the constant things in life. Like the smile on a child’s face, a memory from a vacation with friends, knowing your automatic coffee maker always has coffee ready for you in the mornings. There are things around us that continue no matter what is happening in our lives. Each of my mornings begin with a warm cup of coffee, sipped in the tranquility of my kitchen as the rest of my household sleeps. I do this each morning (week-day and week-end), which is how I know it gives me something I need, however intangible it is for me to say exactly what that need is – we only choose to do things that are just for us repeatedly when it gives us something in return. Gretchen Schmelzer, author of the website Emotional Geographic states that it is in the transition periods in our lives, like moving from awakening to preparing for the day, where we may find unseen stores of well being. Waking up to the smell of rich coffee, looking at the photos in our home and recalling fond memories as we wait for our coffee to cool. Schmelzer calls these transition periods “…the bricks of healthy capacity—put thousands of them together and you have a foundation that can hold anything.” (http://www.emotionalgeographic.com/).
It is the constancy of things in our lives that hold us, the “ups and downs” that shape us. We can always find comfort in watching a sunrise, smelling freshly mowed grass or following the path of a raindrop down a windowpane. Well-being escapes us when we no longer have access to this constancy, when we do not allow the daily ebb and flow of life to hold us. But even so, it its still there, caring for us though we may not have the time or inclination to dip into it’s stores to help us re-balance. Schmelzer likens these ordinary and everyday times as the constants in our lives – like the tides and sunsets we find in nature. They are the stuff of happiness, a core part of our well being; something that is always there no matter what else life is throwing at you. The sun will always rise, the tide will always flow in and out, these are constant and unchanging.
What are the constants in your life? Spending a few moments identifying what is always present (maybe even taken for granted), but that you would miss if it wasn’t there is a worthwhile investment. What is your foundation made up of? What do you seek when you need to re-charge, lick your wounds or contemplate a deeper change in life (one you initiate or one that was thrust upon you)? Can you identify the “bricks” that hold the foundation of your own healthy capacity? They are there, see what they hold for you.
September is the time of year when our kids go back to school, schedules “normalize” and summer vacations are truly at an end. Commuter traffic picks up and everyone braces for a more rigorous life schedule. As someone who has recently returned from a lovely long vacation I can attest to the pains of “real world re-entry”; it is never as easy as we think it will be. So here are some tips and considerations to make your re-entry back into the “real” world a little easier.
E-mail. If you haven’t looked at your in-box in a few weeks this is going to be ugly. In some cases coming back from vacation means you boot up your computer, try to remember all your passwords and then…wait. Wait for it all to load. Some people try to alleviate this concern by logging in the weekend before they are back. Don’t. Spend that weekend basking in the last rays of vacation bliss, get yourself organized to head back to work by planning meals, getting things prepared and re-committing to all those things you said you would do (or would stop doing, like working late) while you were in an objective state of mind on vacation. When you do log-in, keep your out of office notice on but change it to read that you are back, but in the process of catching up, letting people know there will be a delay in your response. This will buy you some valuable time (at least until coworkers start showing up at your desk). You should also scan your e-mails from newest to oldest just in case the concerns that were raised in older e-mails were solved by your very skilled and wise staff/colleagues. You wouldn’t be the first person to send a well-thought out response to an e-mail that was a week old, only to discover 5 minutes and 4 e-mails further up the stack that your colleagues sorted things out nicely.
Calendar. If you haven’t done so already then schedule time to triage work priorities during the first day you are back. Admittedly this is easier to put in your calendar before you leave on vacation. If you have meetings first thing in the morning of your first day back check to see if you can move them out by a day so you have time to get up-to-speed, frankly you’ll be more productive if you can take that bit of time. Seldom do we have the luxury of a day, but it is important to give yourself the time you need to get back into the game. This day also allows you to get on top of your e-mail (really on top of it, like actually reading messages all the way to the end, not just the stuff in the preview window). It gives you time to sort out your calendar (meetings booked on top of meetings…because you weren’t there to accept things into your calendar and “tentative” time is still fair game for scheduling at most companies). I am aware of a few executives who actually book one extra day of “vacation” and then work from home that day “in stealth mode” to get on top of everything before going back into the office. If you are doing this, remember not to respond to any e-mails (draft them and send them the following day), or the next thing that happens is your phone rings…
Body. While on vacation your body adjusted to eating when it wanted to (and likely what it wanted to) and will not be happy with the stricter schedule of meals upon return to work. Plan for this and bring snacks, at least for the first few days. It is no fun feeling overwhelmed by everything at work AND starving at 10:30 a.m. (you know, when “vacation you” usually had pancakes or omelets after sleeping in). You will also experience a level of sleep deprivation as you adjust to your work-based schedule, which for most of us means rising significantly earlier then we would while enjoying leisure time. You will also need to give your body time to adjust to an earlier bedtime if you were going to sleep later while on vacation. In general you may feel restless and a little cheated that you have to go back to a tighter regime of sleeping and eating. Case in point a close friend of mine e-mailed me last week upon her return to work stating ”…I am confused, it’s 3:00 and there is no martini in my hand…”
Mind. As you’ve read through this blog you may have nodded your head or taken note of a few things that resonated for you, and then you actually get back to work and it all quickly goes pear shaped despite your best intentions. If this happens (or if you are expecting this to happen) ask yourself if you were planning on helping others to understand how you can best help them? No one is going to walk into a meeting at 9:00 a.m. on his or her first day back and dazzle. Yes, the ebb and flow of work is relentless and will continue and of course you HAVE to go to that meeting…but what if that meeting had taken place while you were on vacation too? Work will always be relentless; the use of 4-8 work hours to allow you to re-immerse yourself in what is happening and become fully engaged in what is being asked of you is a reasonable request because it is in everyone’s best interests. So before it all gets nuts, decide how you want to go back. What commitments did you make to change things as you lay on the beach and could fully embrace the concept that no one goes to their grave wishing they had spent more time at the office? Did you decide to work less overtime? To be home for dinner? To get out and walk at lunch? Then spend some time turning those intentions into a plan that can withstand even the most demanding work schedule, because those new commitments are really good ideas - you think more clearly when you are on vacation, you are far more objective. Do what “vacation you” tells you to do… you’ll live longer and be happier.
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ABOUT MY BLOG
I believe in giving back to others in many tangible ways. When I learn something new, or see something that might help others, I share it using my blog and website. You can always find my latest blog entries here, on Face Book or Linked In.