The Happy Secret to Better Work

Here is one of my favorite TEDTalks—The Happy Secret to Better Work.
 
 
 

In his very humorous talk, Shawn Archor talks about how we view the world and how that affects our happiness. Seems obvious.

He also says, though, “75 percent of job successes are predicted by your optimism levels, your social support and your ability to see stress as a challenge instead of as a threat.”  

So what do you, as a manager, do to build that optimism and resiliency among your team? I’ve written about the need for feedback, both constructive and positive, in the past. How can we link that to building that ability to see stress as a challenge and not a threat?

I’ve incorporated several of the lessons that Shawn talks about here (and elsewhere) in my life, including keeping a running list of what I am grateful for. Even on the most craptastic days, there is always something out there that can add beauty to our lives. And if I am really struggling to find something, I create something by reconnecting with a friend, setting a (virtual!) coffee date, or even planning a trip (one of my favorite activities! We can hope, right?). I usually write my list before I even get out of bed in the morning as a way of framing the day in the most positive sense possible.  

Of course, we are in trying times, indeed. When Shawn delivered this talk, we were not months into a global pandemic. I, like many, am managing an entirely remote team. One of the things that seems to be going well on my team is that we’ve built and constantly reinforce the expectation that we will change, evolve, and pivot as needed to address COVID. In some ways, knowing that more change will come, even if we don’t know what it will be, disallows the team to settle into complacency or routine. The routine IS change. That clear-as-can-be communication has been crutial.  What tricks do you have up your sleeve for keeping the optimism on your team?

How have you built up your own optimism and resiliency? How have those skills served you now, given that we are living through this pandemic? What new skills have you been able to tap into?

We Shall Overcome

At times like this, when we are flooded with uncertainty, I look to the greats. The great thinkers. The great philosophers. And those who are especially great at bringing people together. I’ve been bothered, tremendously bothered, by the divisiveness that we are seeing in our country. So, who better to remind me that we can come together again than the great Martin Luther King, Jr?


I refuse to accept the idea that the “is-ness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “ought-ness” that forever confronts him.

I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him.

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of nuclear annihilation.

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.

I believe that even amid today’s mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow.

I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.

I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up.

I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed and nonviolent redemptive goodwill proclaimed the rule of the land. And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together, and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid.

I still believe that we shall overcome.

–Martin Luther King, Jr. in his Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech (10 Dec, 1964)

Top TEN Training Tools

I’ve been working hard on a few great contracts! It’s been feeding my creative side as I love, love, love, thinking about how people learn complex topics.

I went out and bought some puzzles to add to my training toolkit (which is literally a big box of stuff–from blocks, to rubber bands, to Solo cups, and play money!). When I made my purchase, I realized that part of the fun I have with training is getting people to think through problems or challenges in a new way and to see a situation in a new light.

So, to help you guide learners through some experiential learning, I present to you…

My Top Ten List of Training Tools

aka: what is in my toolbox!

Number 10: A Timer!

I got myself this gem and love it! I love that it is as big as it is, that the timer rings loudly for everyone to hear, but not obnoxiously so. It is a great tool for keeping folks on task and on target without nagging about the elapsing time; plus I can fully immerse myself in the processing of each group and not have to focus on timekeeping. Its size is also really helpful as it can be seen throughout a training room. I use this to time presentations, group work, and even breaks.

Number 9: Mini White Boards!

These mini whiteboards, complete with marker and eraser, are a fun way of increasing participant engagement. I’ve used them as an evaluation tool by asking questions about the training or content and having participants give me one word answers. For example, I could for participants to give me a one-word description about how they are feeling at the end of a training day. They write for a moment and then all reveal the whiteboards at the same time. Similarly, they can be used as a means of quizzing the participants. The uses are endless.

Number 8: Tiddlywinks! 

I got these several years ago and have used them dozens of times! I love them for helping groups to vote or make fast decisions. For example, let’s say that you want to decide on a day for a group to meet. Make a flipchart with each of the options written on it. Lay the flipchart on a flat surface. Participants can get a few tiddlywinks to put on top of their votes. In seconds, you can get a sense of when people are available. You can use them to build a bar graph or to evaluate understanding of topics.

Number 7: Playing Cards

I love creating really interactive trainings. There can be the tendency for people to team up and only work with people who they are friends with already; we all like to stay in our comfort zone, of course. So, to combat that inclination and to ensure that groups are always a mix of different people, I hand out playing cards to determine working groups. Of course, you’ll need to count out cards ahead of time to orchestrate your groups accordingly. Once they are passed out, you can have people with even numbers group together, 4s group together, Aces group together, and so on.

Another great use is to hand out cards to keep track of who has participated. You can reward those with the most cards at the end of a training. Way back in the day, when I was teaching in Mozambique, I realized that my Titanic-themed playing cards were suddenly missing the cards featuring Leonardo DiCaprio. Apparently having a picture of the heart-throb to hang in their dorm room was more important to my students than getting participation points!

Number 6: Talking Stick

I don’t often use a talking stick, but they can be really helpful is discussing hot-button issues or in a debate. The idea is simple, only the person holding the talking stick can talk. Period. As a facilitator, ensure that the talking stick is passed around fairly and everyone has a chance to share.  The benefits of using the talking stick are many–I particularly like that there is almost always a shift to people practicing active and deep listening since no one is trying to cut in or interject. There are often challenges that come with working with introverts as well as extroverts–the talking stick helps to balance the needs of both type of learners.

Number 5: Name Plates

For the same reason that I like using playing cards to mix groups up, I like making name plates for participants, too. I often arrange my training room by moving the name plates around which signals to participants that they, too, need to move around. I have used them to separate folks who engage in side conversations, to bring less engaged people to the front, and, sometimes, more engaged people to the back. If a training has lots of opportunity for pair/shares, I will especially use and mix up the name plates so that these intimate conversations can happen between lots of different pairings.

Number 4: Post-it notes

Are post-it notes the greatest project management tool ever? Maybe. I love them for trainings. You can use them for brainstorming and for connecting ideas. Have you ever facilitated a mind mapping type of brainstorming? Post-its make it come alive! I often ask a question for brainstorming and allow folks to generate ideas on post-its. They will almost automatically start grouping their post-its and, upon prompting, will organize them into stages, processes, and steps. Mind mapping with post-its is a great brainstorming tool for teams with folks who like a moment to quietly think before jumping in.

I have also used post-it notes as a way to categorize ideas. For example, in a leadership training I designed, I have participants describe a leader they know and admire. As they are talking, another participant writes the characteristics on post-it notes; one characteristic per post-it. Once everyone has shared their ideas, I ask them to group the characteristics according to the Integrated Practices for High Performing Health Systems developed by USAID and WHO. Once the characteristics are sorted, participants can easily see what is valued by them as individuals and collectively.

Number 3: Balls

I have an arsenal  of activities that use balls to teach lessons. But, my favorite way to use balls in training is to help get a sense of what people know and to quickly get everyone on the same page before the training starts. Using a giant beach ball, use post-its (see how versatile they are!?) to write a series of questions and stick the post-its on the ball….one question per post-it. Once you have a number of questions, you are ready to play! Assemble your group. Ask them to toss the ball to each other. When someone catches the ball, they pluck off a post-it and answer the question that is written on it.  The participants get to show what they know, it is quick, it is fun, and helps to set a training off at the right level and pace. Easy peasy.

Number 2: Flipcharts

Flipcharts are underrated in this digital age of ours. They are hugely beneficial for helping to demonstrate where the training is going. I like to make all of the flipcharts for a training before we even begin and post them throughout the room. In doing so, participants, subconsciously, will start to make connections between the topic of discussion and a future or past topic. All on their own.

Number 1: Candy! 

That’s right. Candy. Who doesn’t love having a little snack during a training? Who wouldn’t be motivated to try to answer a question if a Snickers was up for grabs? In all seriousness. People love candy. And they will love you if you give it to them.

What are YOUR favorite training tools?

As always, I am open to new contracts and to working together. Please let me know how I can help you to build effective, exciting, and practice-based trainings.

Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe

I was recently reminded of this great TED Talk by Simon Sinek called Why good leaders make you feel safe.  

In his talk, he suggests that when the right environment is created, we are all capable of doing remarkable things and acting in great service to others. He attributes trust and cooperation to building that great environment.

I have found that, perhaps oddly, when I’ve worked in really fast paced environments (ie: disasters, pandemics, epidemics), the tolerance for mistakes is higher. We know that we are making decisions quickly and not everything will go right. But, in some ways, that increases the trust and feeling of safety. It allows for honest conversation. It encourages people to ask for help.

But, how do you do you build a sense of safety? Simon proposes some suggestions, have a listen!

What are your thoughts?

How do you make your team feel safe?

Or, in your own heart, what could you be doing to increase that level of safety and security?  

Book Report: The One-Minute Manager

The One-Minute Manager, by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, is a quick ready. It comes in at just 112 pages. So, that is one argument for why you should read it, I suppose; you can learn something useful in just one sitting.

My argument against reading it is the same argument against reading a lot of these management books. There is no evidence to back up what they claim you should be doing to be a good manager. This (like The 5 Dysfunction of a Team) are written as a story with key management lessons sprinkled throughout. I am not a fan of that writing or learning style.

The story emphasizes the importance of asking the right questions, holding staff to a high standard, accountability, and offering praise when it’s appropriate. Common knowledge? Probably.

The book has some nice, neat, easily packaged take aways.

The One Minute Manager establishes One Minute Goals. Those are goals that should take no more than one minute to read. Write up goals for your team and individual employees on a regular basis to help manage their work flow, manage the team’s and your expectations, and help to keep everyone on task. They suggest having just a few short-term goals at one time; those goals are constantly updated.

The One Minute Manager also looks for things to praise. It only takes one minute to find something good! I do like the notion of keeping an eye out for the positive, especially in the busiest times at work! Of course, praise can help build motivation and reinforce what a person is doing.

Finally, the One Minute Manager reprimands in One Minute. It is a two step process. First, tell the person that what he or she did wrong, how you feel about it, and then let that simmer. Then, step two, tell the person how how much you value them and tell them your sense of their capabilities. The idea behind this one is that if you reprimand immediately after the reprimand-worthy event and reprimand often then a culture of feedback is built and employees get back on track quickly. To me, again, this advice seems pretty basic. Of course I value my team and will tell them that… even when trying to correct something that went wrong.

This was a quick summary. The author, Ken Blanchard himself, has a quick 8-minute lecture on the One Minute Manager.

So, overall, do I recommend this book? No. But, now that you have this handy summary, you essentially have the main take-aways minus the silly story. You’re welcome.

Book Report: The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

Anne Fadiman’s book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, chronicles the care and treatment of a Hmong child with epilepsy who is living in the United States.

At every turn, there are clashes of culture, understanding, language, norms, and even understanding of what “health” might mean. No one is right and everyone is right. No one is wrong and everyone is wrong.

Lia Lee was born in the United States. Her parents were refugees from Laos and settled in a small county in California. She was diagnosed with severe epilepsy. Her doctors and family all wanted the best for her, but they each defined “best” differently. The story is a compelling one where you will find yourself rooting for Lia and sympathizing with all of the other players in the story.

This book brings up questions of identity and cultural values. As I read it, I couldn’t help but wonder what I would have done if I was one of the players in the story. How have I , inadvertently disrespected the cultural norms of another person or group? This should be a must-read for anyone working with diverse populations or for someone working in a culture other than their own. This book never suggests that we will be perfect interpreters of other cultures, but the underlying message is one of effort. Health care providers should put in an effort to understand the lived experience of their patients and should understand their understanding of disease.

For those of you who have read the book–an update from the New York Times is here.

Book Report: Getting Things Done

Book reports–I’ll read it so you don’t have to.
 
One of the constant challenges that managers face is in balancing it all–taking time to be deliberate, creative, strategic, and visionary all while driving work forward.
 
The book Getting Things Done offers lots of tricks and tools that can help do just what the author promises.  Frankly, I found the paper-based system to be outdated in this digital world; I am far too often on-the-go, rarely work at the same desk, and don’t own a filing cabinet all of which are requirements for his paper-based system.  However, I have some great take-aways from this book that DO work for me in our digital world.
So, this post is, essentially, a Cliff Notes series of suggestions that work for me, and hopefully, will work for you!
 

First up, the weekly review: In a weekly review, you, essentially, clean up the week that just ended and plan for the week to come. I especially like this approach as I find it helps me to transition more easily into the weekend and sets me up for success for the following week.  I find that my weekends are much more enjoyable and relaxing when I know that I have tied up loose ends from my workweek. This article offers a fantastic list of what you can include in your weekly review. Fans of Marie Kondo and Gretchen Rubin will appreciate how the process also includes a cleaning up of one’s physical work space, too. I typically look back at my calendar to see what meetings I was in and make sure that I have either completed the tasks that were assigned to me during the meeting or do any follow up that may need to happen such as asking for meeting notes, scheduling the next meeting, and so on. I also look to the week ahead and make sure that I have either provided or requested agendas for all of the meetings on my calendar. Great tip–if there is not an agenda consider carefully if it is worth your time! 

As a minimum, on Fridays, I try to use at least thirty minutes to review my calendar for the upcoming week, prioritize my to-do list, and use the Getting Things Done trigger list to help spark my memory of things that may be in the back of my mind or loops that may need to be closed. I don’t have a perfect system but this helps to make sure that I stay on top of my activities. Plus, I find that by using the Trigger List that I end up clearing my mind of all of these little things that I’d subconsciously been keeping track of.  I would love to hear your suggestions about how you optimize your time and make sure that we honor our commitments.  

 
What tricks have you learned and developed over the course of your career?
What works best for you?
Let’s hear from you in the comments so that we can all benefit from your practices! 
 
Do you have a team member who could use some help in getting and staying organized? Perhaps this review could do the trick!

What it Takes to be a Good Leader

I’d like to share some  ideas about what it takes to be a good leader.

Take a listen to this talk by Roselinde Torres.

She distills the best qualities of leaders into three elements:
1. The ability to see changes that may be on the horizon and prepare for them
2. Networking skills that bring various perspectives to the work
3. The willingness to take some risks and abandon practices that may have been successful in the past but no longer serve the team

The reflection questions below may give you insight into your own practices and habits (and maybe encourage a change or two!):

  • What are your skill levels as they pertain to those three qualities?
  • Take a moment to think about, as she suggests, how you spend your time–do you allow yourself the opportunities to develop in these three ways?
  • Are you cultivating your team to be leaders?

What do you think about her distillation of leadership qualities? I would add skills around trusting and transparent communication to her very valuable list. To me, trusting and transparent communication is critical to giving and receiving feedback and to ensuring that your team is helping you to see what is on the horizon.

Have you considered watching TED talks like this one with your own teams? I have always appreciated leaders and managers who ensure that I keep learning and developing. Plus, they are short enough to fit into team meetings or over a lunch break. How do you help to foster growth and development in your team and in yourself?

The Story of Us

Since the 2016 Presidential elections, I’ve been reading more and more of the work of Marshall Ganz (and wish that I had an earlier introduction to his body of work!).

Ganz worked for United Farm Workers for sixteen years before becoming a trainer and organizer for political campaigns, unions, and nonprofits. He is largely credited for the success of the Obama grassroots campaign. 

Why am I writing about him now? 

Well, let me draw your attention to this article: Leading Change: Leadership, Organization, and Social-Movements and in particular, the section on telling stories. I try to help health care workers see themselves as agents of change. In trainings, I aim to include elements that work to build motivation and build a sense of unity between health care workers and their community and patients.

Whenever I am working to develop a curriculum or health care worker training, I like to ask three simple questions:

  • What should the participants know?
  • What should the participants be able to do?
  • How should the participants to feel about whatever they are doing/learning?

This is, of course, a re-visioning of the standard “know-do-understand” model of curriculum development. There are times when we need to ensure that health care workers are not perpetuating stereotypes or messaging treatment options in ways that may be alienating to patients.  By helping to frame the story of health care, we can also help to ensure that patients receive the best possible care.

How do you incorporate storytelling into your work?

Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers

I’ve often witnessed an amazing power in collaboration around brainstorming and great ideas; it is amazing when it happens and has led to some of the best work in which I’ve participated.  At times, though, managers will need to nudge their teams along when it comes to brainstorming. We’ve all been in a position where we don’t want to be the one to share the dumb idea or to be the one to suggest something that has been tried before.

This talk by Adam Grant about the Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers and the accompanying discussion guide may help you to appreciate how your team may process their ideas, come up with creative ideas, and communicate about those ideas.

In global health, we strive to be innovative and come up with creative approaches to solving complex health issues.  It is a task with significant weight–truly lives are on the line.

Might you be up for leading your team in a discussion about creativity and original thinking?  Hopefully we can help to support the creativity of our teams and help to grow comfort in thinking about the same old problems in new sorts of ways.

PS: The Lean In website has lots of great resources that you can use. I am a fan of the discussion guides that can be used to guide our teams through difficult conversations or to help set team norms.