Leadership Lessons: How Listening Changes Your Responses

Hearing and listening are related. Similar yet very different. We hear loud sounds, the wind, someone laughing or yelling. And then what? We just get on with our day.

Listening, ah, another story entirely.

Were you ever told to “listen up” when you were a kid? Did someone ever say “Hey, will you just shut up and listen?”

Big question: Were you ever taught to listen?

When Is Enough…Enough

This time of year, prepares us to ask “What really matters?”

It’s a tradition to give gratitude as we sit around the Thanksgiving dinner table.

Often what we say slips off our tongues without thinking about it. Yes, we’re thankful for our families, our health, a meal to fill our bellies, the team we root for winning the big game.

We stuff the disappointments for this one day.

We leave the “not enough” thoughts on the sidelines.

Yet, they’re there only to be picked up a few days later as we head back to work and school, and start the dash to buying holiday presents and prepare for the parties ahead.

Preparing for anything takes some deep, quiet thinking. When we’re prepared, the peaks and valleys of our daily journey are easier to predict and can be handled with more grace.

How do leaders prepare? How do you prepare for what’s ahead? Here’s a suggestion.

Spotting The Big Difference Between Charming and Sincere

  • Sylvia Lafair
  • October 2, 2016

We live in a time of sizzle and dazzle, quips and giggles. It’s not a time to do deep dives into any subject.

How do I know?

I’ve fool-hardheartedly been following the Presidential election soaps on television and twitter.

I’ve been wondering why and when we turned from substance to slander and superficiality.

I want someone to blame. I want something to blame.

Ah, technology did it. Or maybe it’s because we have free reign to get guns and shoot them whenever we want. I know, it’s because we did not build enough walls to keep “them out” or to keep “those in.”

I got it!

It’s my parents fault. They were too busy making a living to really live. Busy, busy, busy all the time. Ah, that’s how I learned that life is about stuffing ourselves with stuff.

And that leads me to the social narcissism I see that is clogging our relationship system today.

I have a warning: STOP and listen. STOP and question. STOP and say NO.

What Courage Looks Like

  • Sylvia Lafair
  • June 20, 2016

Twice a year we do a program for leaders and emerging leaders. It is a four session program spread over five months. Each time I include clips of leaders who have and continue to make a difference in our world.

There are a few staples, like Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln.

We choose from a wide array of business leaders, media, the arts, and people who I call “Giraffes” (those willing to stick their necks out to make a positive difference).

Recently I was looking for those who exemplify vast courage to tackle unpopular issues and who are not willing to back down or be bought into silence.

If you have not seen or read Ibsen’s play, An Enemy of the People, it is worth the time to dig into this classic about speaking out when economic issues want us to stay in denial.

That brings us up to the present moment. Watching Dr. Bennett Omalu, played by Will Smith in the 2015 film, Concussion makes us realize that patterns of denial run deep and are sadly, as old as time.

Omalu, a forensic pathologist working in Pittsburgh brought CTE, a form of brain injury to the forefront. It appears to be rampant in the NFL and possibly starting when youngsters play high school and college football.

The Downside Of Growing Your Organizational Culture

I was sitting having a quick dinner in Manhattan with some colleagues. The place was packed and the noise level high. Just a typical 6:30 p.m. time of workplace decompressing, after one of those typical rush and get it done days.

At the table to the left we heard “No one should be forced to share as much as they do here. They think they are creating a culture of trust. It’s just a bunch of bull.”

To the right, “Why the heck can’t they just get with the program and stop complaining all the time? What a bunch of whiners.”

Another table not far where they were getting very vocal and physically flinging hands around, “They actually force us to admit failure and what we don’t like about ourselves. Nasty stuff! We just want to get our jobs done and get to our beer time.”

One of my colleagues shrugged and said “Not much has changed in all the years we have been working. Still bitch and complain and judge and attack. When will it ever change?”

Blame it on our belief systems, blame it on our parents, blame it on our culture.

Or maybe stop the blame and say, “It will stop with me” or better yet, “It will start with me.”

So, what do we stop and what do we start?

Do You Want To Change?

There is an old saying, “Technology changes, people don’t.”

It’s kind of depressing to think that with all the good stuff at our finger tips, we are not much different from Neanderthal man and woman.

Well, maybe we dress better.

As social beings, everything we do is interactive and contextual. And yes, technology has changed much of our behavior and much of our behavior dictates what is next in technology.

What hasn’t changed is that our interactive behaviors create different kinds of experiences, and that is where we really need to think about what kind of experience do we want to create, at home and at work.

The excellent book, “An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization” by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, explores the essence of relating in the modern workplace.

Ain’t It Good To Be Alive

Last weekend we trekked to Manhattan for the season premiere of ALIVE: 55+ and Kicking.

And what a day it was.

Just being in the presence of the executive producer, Vy Higginsen would have been enough. However, the day brought so much that I simply want to stand up and applaud the entire cast and the brilliance of an idea so needed in our world today.

Vi took the microphone before the start of the show and in her vivacious manner said, “The first 50 years of life are for learning, and the next 50 are for living.” And off we went on a musical holiday of song and story about, well just about all of us. It was about dreams gone astray, dreams fulfilled, happy days, hurtful days, and how to get up and get going, no matter what.

I will be interviewing Vy for my book “GUTSY BREAKTHROUGH STORIES” so here is just a snap shot of this mover and shaker. She is an award winning author, playwright, radio and TV personality. She is full of firsts: first woman on New York prime-time radio, first female executive in advertising, and founder of the Mama Foundation for the Arts in Harlem.

A Vital Missing Piece Of The Workplace Puzzle

Since most of us prefer information to be fast and direct, here is the missing puzzle piece right up front: what happened in our original organization, the family, goes with us to work…whether we like it or not.

When I stumbled on this counter-intuitive nugget of knowledge it changed the direction of my career to work exclusively with businesses to rethink the causes of stress related issues and interpersonal conflict.

I used to believe the common philosophy that there needed to be clear boundaries between home and work. The “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” mindset is the one to live by.

Right?

Not really. While most of the time we can maintain clear boundaries, when stress hits the hot button all hell can break loose.

Over the top stress can be a deal breaker. It impacts physical health, emotional perspectives and important relationships.

While I adhere to great stress reduction techniques, there is one area that exercise, yoga, deep breathing, massage or mindfulness could not touch.

Sadly, it held me back from promotions and workplace success. I also lost some good friends and colleagues over my behavior. Even traditional psychotherapy never gave me the answers I needed.

When I became an entrepreneur and owned a business, I was finally forced to take a deeper look into that dark part of my behavior and grab the darn puzzle piece that had been eluding me for decades.

First, the back story.

Watching my father die from a sudden heart attack when I was fourteen was, no surprise, a master game-changer. My older brother was off to college and there I was, left with a gaping hole at home including a fearful and depressed mother.

Eventually, scabs formed over the trauma and to the outside world all was now fine. Different, yet fine.

Life goes on. I put the past behind and focused on the future. I used the present as a launching pad for what was next.

Except…the past is always part of the present and helps to determine the future. I chose to ignore the past. It was too painful.

As a young manager I was empathetic, encouraging and energetic. Yet, when someone left my team for another opportunity I judged them. I loudly predicted they would want to come back. I decided never to talk with them again. It was not pretty.

I became a real witch.

Most of us believe that we make work decisions based on conscious deliberation. One important study found that our unconscious brains are engineering our decisions milliseconds before our conscious brains can get around to them. German brain scientist John-Dylan Hayes states “Our brains make decisions based on emotional and rational assessment that we’re not aware of; only later after the decision is actually made do we explain our decisions and actions to ourselves.”

Thanks to advances in neuroscience, we now know that our unconscious emotions occupy a different region of the brain, often exerting a more powerful influence on our preferences and actions. Daniel Siegel’s book “The Developing Mind” synthesizes information to explore the idea that interpersonal experiences impact the structure and function of the brain.

Enter Lisa.

Lisa was my assistant. She was woven from angel cloth. We worked together in tandem, the flow was amazing.

One sunny May day she wanted to talk with me and my partner (who was also my husband). The look of delight on her face made me uneasy. We exchanged pleasantries and finally she blurted out “I love working here and so it is hard for me to say I will be leaving in six weeks. You have always taught everyone to grow to their fullest potential. I was hoping that I would get enough money back from income tax to return to school and, yes, it happened.”

She waited to hear congratulations.

Instead I burst into tears and said through gulps of air “Lisa, you can’t leave.”

Lisa sat, with that deer in the headlights look, while my husband took my hand and said “Sylvia, she’s going back to school. This is all good.”

Then he “got it” and asked Lisa to leave us for a bit.

“What’s up” is all he said.

Donald Trump, Pandora And The State Of Our Nation

There was a curious incident during a recent basketball game between the students of two high schools in Massachusetts.

Is it because of Donald Trump?

Or is it just that somewhere on the planet Pandora, that beautiful gal from Ancient Greece, once again opened the mysterious box she was told never to open.

And all hell broke loose.

Pandora opened the box hoping to see gowns of silk and bracelets of gold. Instead out of the box poured all the evils of the world. In the shape of ugly creatures (thugs, if you will). What poured out was disease, poverty, jealousy, anger, corruption, lying, stealing, bigotry, polarization, mean-spiritedness, contamination, war, pestilence, affairs, physical and sexual abuse, gun and knife fights, partisanship and whatever else you can think of that resides in the realm of humankind that we prefer to, either avoid, deny or attack without thought of consequences.

Back to the high school basketball night. The kids at one of the schools with high intensity began shouting at the all-boys Catholic school that it was a “sausage fest.” Yes, you know what they were talking about.

Leadership Lessons How To Raise Healthy Kids To Be Excellent Leaders

We know all the basics: lots of fresh air, sleep, fruits and vegetables, friendships, and loving parents.

There is one extra area that works like a charm. It is kids teaching kids.

You see, too much adult supervision and youngsters stop listening. All they hear is blah, blah, blah. And more than that, there is a deep pattern starting when the little ones are around two years old to say “NO.”

Enter the peer group.

No, I’m not talking about in the teen years when there is the fear of rebelling and going to the dark side with friends. I’m talking about when friendships are forming and behavior patterns can be developed amongst the youngsters for good habits.

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