Tuesday, February 24, 2015

It's Not You, It's Me

Every day we are faced with the challenge of relationship management.  It might be with our spouse, family, friends, or our jobs.  It is easy to fall into the steady, but droning rhythm of certainty and security.  However, often times boredom and monotony attach themselves to what once was an exciting, shiny new adventure.  We now see periods where we used to see question marks.  The line between comfort and engagement might be small, but it is very important.  If you feel like the magic is beginning to fade and those once sharp corners are staring to blur around the edges there are two things to remember:  You're not alone, and it's not too late.

Rekindling the Spark … With Your Job
Article published on February 16, 2015 
By Clare Trapasso
Working the same job with the same people at the same company for long periods can lead even the most dedicated professionals to burn out. So how can employees take a cue from Valentine’s Day and get the magic back at work?

Shops like T. Rowe Price and AB, formerly called AllianceBernstein, try to instill a sense of purpose in fund professionals and encourage collaboration among coworkers to reignite that loving feeling for their work and firms.

Meanwhile, management consultants recommend a range of tactics, from taking on new responsibilities to embarking on short-term projects, to spice up the daily grind.

“It’s important for people to maintain a balance between what they have to do and what they love to do,” says Jen Shirkani, CEO of the Penumbra Group, a Bedford, N.H.-based leadership development consulting firm specializing in the financial sector.

She recommends that unhappy workers ask their managers for more challenging assignments in areas outside their comfort zones. They should also have a few ideas of their own for potential tasks they could undertake.

“If you’re bored, if you’re burned out, [your boss] might have some good ideas of things you could do,” Shirkani says. But “ultimately, you are responsible for your own happiness.”

Executives with a VP title or higher tend to be the most engaged, according to Dale Carnegie Training  survey of about 1,500 workers across industries conducted in 2012. About 45% of managers and supervisors reported being engaged with their work, compared to 23% of the rank and file.

Roughly half of workers who were happy with their direct bosses reported being engaged at work. But about a quarter of self-described engaged workers said they would leave their jobs for just a 5% pay bump.

T. Rowe has found that when workers understand the direction of the Baltimore-based firm — and believe its leaders can achieve the goals set — they are more likely to be invested in their work, says Blair Slaughter, head of people and organization effectiveness.

The firm also offers development opportunities, including training and paid time off to volunteer in the community, to keep people committed to the company.

“What we’re trying to do is create an environment where people are excited to contribute every day and work at their highest and best purpose,” Slaughter says.

In the same vein, AB has striven over the last few years to make workers aware of how their contributions help the firm achieve its goals.

“That’s the critical role of management — to personalize what each employee’s purpose is,” says Vicki Walia, director of talent management and diversity at the New York–based firm. “There’s something about knowing that what you do matters.”

AB conducts an employee engagement survey every two years and launches new programs, such as quarterly peer coaching to help supervisors sharpen their management skills, based on the results, Walia says.

Like other workplace consultants, Susan Fowler, author of Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work … and What Does, recommends that professionals take it upon themselves to identify ways to make their jobs more meaningful.

“What’s happened in the workplace is people get so distracted by the kinds of motivational approaches, like incentives, rewards and pressures, so they lose sight of why they wanted that job in the first place,” Fowler says. “We forget that we love learning and growing.”

Managers should call workers out on their procrastination, she says, and ask them why they seem to have lost interest in their work. This can help employees figure out their own purpose in the company and give supervisors clues on how to keep them motivated.

Professionals should take inventory of the last month or so to figure out what they were doing the last time they got excited about their work — and then request more of those types of assignments, says Mark Murphy. He is the author of Hundred Percenters: Challenge Your People to Give Their All and They’ll Give You Even More.

“People in ruts … tend to feel [powerless],” Murphy says. “When you get outside of your comfort zone, you start to activate the brain, you get a little bit of adrenaline flowing and it gives you a new perspective.”

Professionals need to set their own long-term goals, which are challenging and that they are passionate about, he says. These may be separate from annual goals agreed upon with a supervisor.

Burnt-out workers looking to “reboot” can pick up quick, new projects, says Michael Gibbs, an economics and human resources professor at the The University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

“Sometimes some things are so long-term it’s hard to feel like you’re making progress toward the end,” he says. “It can feel good to get something done and out of the way.”

Falling out of love with work can be caused by not learning anything new anymore, says John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based human resources and consulting firm.

“Maybe you need to look for ways to apply your creativity to the work you’re doing,” he says. “Maybe you could look for advancement or work in another area of the company. Maybe you have skills that you've developed [that your company] doesn't know about that they might need.”

In other instances, fixing one’s personal problems can help, as some people will pour themselves into their work, and then burn out, when things aren't going well at home, he says.

“Everyone falls into those ruts,” Challenger says. “You have to find ways to rejuvenate yourself.”

Clare Trapasso is a print and multimedia journalist at the New York Daily News with experience writing breaking news and feature stories in urban and rural communities.

As a general assignment reporter on the Daily News’ Queens Bureau and Metro Desk, she covers everything from schools being closed, to naked bike rides, to grisly murders, local politics and everything in-between.

Prior to that, she was an Associated Press reporter in the wire service’s New Hampshire Bureau. During the six-month assignment, she covered state and national news and put together several multimedia projects. She also edited stories and wrote broadcast news.

She became passionate about journalism at the State University of New York at Purchase College, where she graduated with a B.A. in journalism in 2002. In her senior year, she created a campus women's newspaper called The Cycle.

After receiving her undergraduate degree, she joined the Peace Corps. She was sent to Independent Samoa in the South Pacific, where she learned Samoan and taught college-level journalism classes in the capitol.

When she returned to America, she began graduate school. In 2007, she earned a M.A. in Journalism from New York University. As a student, she interned for the Daily News and The Village Voice. After graduation, she did an internship in the Associated Press New York City Bureau.

Clare Trapasso is interested in writing stories that can effect change. She can be contacted at claretrap@gmail.com.



Monday, February 16, 2015

Combating Ego Missteps with the Power of EQ

Most good managers have a healthy dose of ego—that source of internal confidence that allows a leader to stand strong behind decisions and maintain a vision for the group in spite of challenges along the way. Unfortunately, that ego can sometimes kick into overdrive, causing those same managers to make missteps among direct reports and other team members.
If only we could identify what the most common ego pitfalls are, maybe we could help the very leaders we are tasked with supporting to sidestep them.
In my work over the past 20 years as a learning and development specialist and now as a coach to top-tier executives, I have discovered a predictable pattern of ego traps that those in leadership positions are apt to fall into. Here is just a sampling of issues that surface:
  • ignoring feedback
  • not letting go of control
  • underestimating how much one is being watched
  • believing one’s technical skills trump one’s leadership skills.
You can probably envision what I’m talking about. In fact, you’ve likely seen it before: The well-meaning department head who is known for undermining her people because she just can’t stay out of the low-level details of the daily tasks of her team, the technically proficient supervisor who lacks the softer people skills, or the sociable manager who is clueless to the fact that he’s setting a bad example by taking personal calls throughout the workday while telling his employees they are on the phone too often.
Most of these folks are talented, even well-meaning, but because they have stepped into a leadership role, which offers certain power and privileges, they may end up suffering from one or more ego blind spots. The antidote to any of these blind spots is often a humble dose of EQ, which at its core is made up of self-awareness, empathy, and self-control.
Enter EQ
We’ve known about emotional intelligence (EQ) for years now, thanks to the valuable work of Daniel Goleman. The ongoing question: How do you get your folks to apply EQ quickly and simply in the workplace?  
I suggest that managers and leaders use what I call the “three R’s” as an actionable way to ensure that they are operating from a place of EQ rather than ego:

  1. recognize what’s going on for oneself (one’s moods, feelings, thoughts, and reactions)
  2. read what’s going on for others (their moods, feelings, thoughts, situation, and reactions)
  3. respond in a way that is most appropriate, based on the environment and the people in it.
Applying the 3 Rs
Here’s a snapshot of how the three R’s can be used to combat the ego trap of not letting go of control.
Jane Doe department head is told by the HR director that a number of employee complaints have been received about Jane’s unwillingness to delegate tasks. In hearing this, Jane may initially disagree with the feedback, but by partnering with an internal coach who explains this is something that can be fairly easily fixed, Jane agrees to make an honest effort to change. But how? With the three R’s, she can be better prepared to avoid this ego trap the next time it appears.
First, Jane learns to recognize the triggers that cause her to micromanage things. With some mindful attention, she starts to tune into her strong desire to ensure that every detail turns out right in every situation and is able to better determine when to jump in and when not to act on that urge (self-awareness).
Next, she turns an eye outward and tries to read how her team members might be feeling in a given situation (empathy). She thinks about the work they have been hired to do, realizes that no one likes working for a micro-manager, and better tunes into the help they do and don’t need from her in order to contribute to the team.
Lastly, Jane responds in a way that acknowledges her own impulses to get involved while also respecting her team members’ need for autonomy (self-control). She authorizes them to do the work they were hired to do while she stays informed without staying involved.  
Score one for Jane, her coach, and EQ. Jane’s use of the three R’s has stopped her ego from undermining her ability to delegate and instead helped her build credibility and trust with her team. Regardless of the ego trap, the three R’s are a handy way to ensure that EQ, not ego, reigns supreme.

This article was written by Jen Shirkani and appeared in the November 2013 edition of ASTD's management blog.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Better Listening Can Boost Your Bottom Line

One of the most important attributes required to propagate our success is being an active listener. In a highly technical environment like financial services, we are often praised for what we do, but beware the risks of underestimating the importance of how we do it. That small, but important, difference is often the separation point between good and excellent.



Now Hear This: Better Listening Can Boost Your Bottom Line
Article published on February 2, 2015
By Clare Trapasso

Everyone knows how to listen. But few individuals are good listeners, a crucial skill for salespeople striving to seal deals with clients, marketing and product development professionals collaborating on campaigns and investment teams deciding where to allocate assets.

Firms such as Legg MasonJanus and Prudential Financial coach asset management workers on how to eliminate distractions and focus on the person talking as a way to forge stronger relationships.

“The challenge, of course, is that it’s not necessarily an innate skill, but it’s a learned skill,” Matt Schiffman, Legg Mason’s global head of marketing, says about listening.

About a year ago, the Baltimore-based firm rolled out a training program to help its sales force better absorb what clients are saying.

“More junior salespeople are typically anxious to get their message across, [and] in doing that, they inadvertently trample over or ignore what is being said to them,” he says. “They’re so caught up in themselves that they’re not pausing, asking the right questions, or responding in a way that demonstrates that they are in fact listening.”

Legg’s training program asks wholesalers to role-play real-life scenarios, such as what questions to ask during a second meeting with a financial advisor and what information they should play back from the first encounter.

“We recommend [that] people take notes and check for and validate the information they’re receiving,” Schiffman says about repeating back information to an advisor. “It suggests … that what the person has to say has value.”

Developing listening skills through role-playing is also a component of Prudential Financial’s professional development curriculum, a combination of classroom and Web-based training available to all of its employees.

“It literally requires practice and drilling for it automatically to become second nature,” says Kurt Metzger, VP of talent management at Prudential Financial.

He recommends that workers turn their e-mail off and clean off their desks before having an important conversation so as to minimize potential distractions.

“It sounds amazingly obvious, but people don’t do it,” Metzger says. “Create space so you’re in a position to listen.”

John Evans Jr., executive director of Janus Labs, part of the Denver, Colo.-based Janus Capital Group, recommends that professionals slip their iPhones in their pockets, make eye contact and direct their full attention to the person who is speaking.

Being able to articulate your clients’ or colleagues’ ideas and concerns back to them after a meeting is a test of your listening skills, he says.

“So often in our industry, because we’re so busy and so incredibly time-sensitive, we listen to clients with the intention to reply, [as] opposed to listening to fully understand what their issue is,” he says. “When you can articulate the other party’s interests better than she or he can … that allows you to deliver your value proposition customized to the client.”

Making a production of shutting off your phone to give a client your full attention, driven home by saying it out loud, also makes a good impression, says San Francisco–based communication coach Carmine Gallo, who has written eight books on how to succeed in business.

“I always hear the same thing: ‘I wish my boss was a better listener,’” Gallo says. “What they mean is, ‘I want to be heard.’”

Jen Shirkani, CEO of the Penumbra Group, a Bedford, N.H.-based leadership development consultant specializing in financial firms, recommends that professionals “listen” to body language as well.

“If somebody’s uncomfortable with a situation, they might say they agree,” she says. “But their body language would suggest otherwise. They might look away. They might have their arms folded or crossed. Their tone might be hesitant.”

There are so few good listeners that being an adept one can help individuals stand out from the crowd.


“People seek you out for your counsel, your opinions,” she says. “That adds up to more influence.”

Clare Trapasso is a print and multimedia journalist at the New York Daily News with experience writing breaking news and feature stories in urban and rural communities.

As a general assignment reporter on the Daily News’ Queens Bureau and Metro Desk, she covers everything from schools being closed, to naked bike rides, to grisly murders, local politics and everything in-between.

Prior to that, she was an Associated Press reporter in the wire service’s New Hampshire Bureau. During the six-month assignment, she covered state and national news and put together several multimedia projects. She also edited stories and wrote broadcast news.

She became passionate about journalism at the State University of New York at Purchase College, where she graduated with a B.A. in journalism in 2002. In her senior year, she created a campus women's newspaper called The Cycle.

After receiving her undergraduate degree, she joined the Peace Corps. She was sent to Independent Samoa in the South Pacific, where she learned Samoan and taught college-level journalism classes in the capitol.

When she returned to America, she began graduate school. In 2007, she earned a M.A. in Journalism from New York University. As a student, she interned for the Daily News and The Village Voice. After graduation, she did an internship in the Associated Press New York City Bureau.

Clare Trapasso is interested in writing stories that can effect change. She can be contacted at claretrap@gmail.com.




Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Interview with Neil O'Connor, CEO of O'Connor Mortuary

This month my gracious guest is Neil O'Connor.  Neil is a recognized leader in the mortuary industry, he runs a highly successful business with his team in Orange County: and has been a dear friend and colleague of mine for many decades.  I invited him to be part of my interview series because he is a pioneer - innovating and enterprising - in an industry known for being traditional and measured.  I believe he has accomplished so much at such a young age, because of his leadership skills.  We can all take a few tips from his keen perspective.

JS: How does using EQ help you to be a more effective CEO?

NOCI think the essence of being a CEO is modeling the behaviors and attitudes we want to see in others. Organizational Health has become a huge focus in our company over the last 2 years. Reading about and seeing the results it has started to have on our staff has clarified and motivated me to be incredibly intentional about knowing myself emotionally and paying sharp attention to the emotional needs of my staff.

Many of us spend more time with our colleagues at work than we do with our families throughout the week. Our coworkers are important to get along with but not all companies prize it as their top priority. My sense is if people have healthy, functioning and collaborative relationships here at work, it will carry over into their personal lives. It’s a win-win for everyone.

For me personally, clarity on EQ has revealed to me that I have a great ability to uplift people or drag them down emotionally. It’s easy for me to be critical and disciplinary, the harder work is to hold people up, be accountable, transparent, and encourage candid conversations one-on-one or in groups. Knowing my limits and personal emotional capacities has helped me draw better boundaries and know when to step out of certain situations that someone else might be able to handle better.
It’s a continual learning process.

But I’ll say this, I would much rather have a small company where people are cohesive, get along and are willing to walk that second mile with each other than 15 locations and millions of dollars working alongside people I don’t like or respect. 

JS: In your opinion, out of all the EQ skills (self-awareness, self-control, empathy, flexibility) which one is most important for executive leaders to demonstrate?

NOCSelf-Awareness. If you are not self-aware it is very hard to gauge when you need to be more controlled, empathetic or flexible towards others.

I have been aware for a while that listening is not one of my strengths. Knowing that about myself means that I need to really slow down to be an active listener. My tendency is to listen to respond because I think I already know the answer. I have to stop and intentionally tell myself that the most important thing to do in this moment is really listen to understand what’s being said. If I fail to listen, I will fail to understand and support my staff.

JS: What challenges do you anticipate business owners will face in the next two to three years?

NOC: I don’t think it’s anything new to say that business owners of all kinds are going to face the continual struggle to find organizational health. The business climate has changed rapidly since my first year in this seat and those changes have only proven to me the need to have a solid team in place that can handle the changing needs we face.



About Neil O'Connor

Neil O’Connor was born into a large Irish Catholic family in 1967 as the youngest of seven children. His parents, Jane and Joseph O’Connor had met through their families, both of which owned funeral homes. Jane's father, John Cox, owned a funeral home in Oakland, California, while Joseph's father, Joseph A. O'Connor, owned a funeral home in Los Angeles, California. John Cox and Joseph A. O'Connor were close friends, so close in fact that Joseph O’Connor was the best man at Johnny Cox’s wedding. 



In 1975, Neil's family moved to Laguna Niguel, where Neil attended Dana Hills High School and graduated in 1986. Three years later, he joined the family business and became part of O'Connor Mortuary, starting at an entry-level position and working his way up from washing cars and performing service support. From 1991 through 1993, Neil served in the United States Navy as an Operations Specialist.

After serving in the Navy, Neil returned to work in the family business, and in 2000 he became the President and CEO of O'Connor Mortuary, carrying on the family tradition of serving the community with high value, dignity, and respect. In 2003, Neil met his wife, Lisa, while on a yoga retreat in Maui. Together, they have one son, Jesse Joseph O'Connor. Neil continues to practice Ashtanga Yoga at Pacific Ashtanga in Dana Point, and he also enjoys playing beach volleyball at Victoria Beach in Laguna Beach, California. 




Neil is involved with numerous local organizations and care providers, including Age Well Senior Services, Saddleback Memorial Medical Center, Mission Hospital, Trauma Intervention Program, and the Interfaith Council of South Orange County. Neil serves on the Board of Directors of Selected Independent Funeral Homes, an international organization of independent, locally-owned funeral homes whose common interest is in continuous growth and improvement to best serve families and individuals. He is passionate about helping the community learn the benefits of pre-planning and the value of meaningful ceremonies, and above all, he strives to continue on the respected family tradition as the President and CEO of O'Connor Mortuary.