Monthly Archives: February 2016

The Most Needed and Least Taught Skill: Awareness

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder

[Note: This post originally appeared on Huffington Post.]

awarenessThere are many ways to define the concept of awareness. Generally, they all boil down to a person’s ability to see the world and how they show up in it. As a concept, awareness is much easier discussed and promoted than practiced and implemented. Most of us are not taught that awareness is a skill, let alone a workplace skill.

Why is awareness an important job skill? When people – whether individual contributors, managers or leaders – practice awareness they are better able to see the impact of their behavior on others and the results related to that behavior.

For example, if managers yell at their employees, those employees might leave, the result being high attrition. The accountability is then to correlate the behavior of yelling at employees to high attrition. Without the skill of awareness a manager might be stuck wondering, “Why do people keep leaving my team?” The answer seems obvious, but often when you’re living it and it’s your team, it’s much harder see the behavior and connect the impact and result.

When people use the skill of awareness at work and see the impact of their behavior — both positive and negative — they can then begin to practice making intentional choices about what behaviors support or sabotage desired outcomes.

Awareness can be developed at both individual and team levels. In groups, there may be shared behaviors that are norms for how the team or company accomplishes tasks. With the skill of awareness teams can more clearly see what behaviors support desired outcomes. They can also work together to create new habits for how to do things. People might still make choices that negatively impact others, but with awareness, the impact is realized and the behavior can be amended as needed.

Awareness is not a “learn it once and have it forever” skill like learning to button a button. Rather, it’s more like math, a skill that builds on itself with many progressive layers and varying applications. It’s a skill that needs to be discussed and practiced before it can become a natural, integrated skill.

The skill of awareness is not rocket science, yet it requires commitment and time to develop. There is no shortcut; it involves risk, trial and error, which seem like luxuries in today’s over-booked, “busy,” data-driven world. For teams and organizations, it requires the desire and investment from leadership to build a culture that cares about not only work outcomes, but also the process for how outcomes are achieved.

If you want to enrich your career, then practice awareness. If you want a more accountable team or company, then practice awareness. Whether you are aware or not, your behavior has impact. Why not choose to see it?

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The Power of Care at Work

By Sameer Bhangar, Simple Intentions Awareness Consultant

hands caringI met with someone this week who spoke about how much she admired her current leader, a Vice President in a large technology company. I was curious what she admired about him. She described him as a visionary, motivator, excellent communicator, and other goodness associated with capable leaders. She genuinely meant all of them.

Then she paused, and from a more heartfelt place added, “And he genuinely cares!”

This really struck me, that what appealed to her most about the leader of her group, someone she truly admired and respected, came down to his genuine care – for the vision, the work, and most of all, for the people on his team.

In my own experience leading team workshops, I often start by sharing my experience in technology along with my transition into team culture-related roles. I always plan on saying that for me, the underlying motivation for this transition is simply that I genuinely care. I care about how we bring our so-called authentic selves to work. I care about finding greater meaning at work.

What’s interesting is that I rarely actually say this. Something in me, in the moment, totally forgets to share this aspect about genuinely caring. Instead, I stick to the bullet points on my resume. I don’t know why, but sharing how I care about people’s well-being with a bunch of people I’m meeting for the first time feels vulnerable. And yet, the occasions when I do express how much I care – about the process, people, ups and downs, outcomes, learnings, conversation, all of it – it resonates with the group and brings us closer.

Considering this for yourself, I offer two questions:

  1. Do you genuinely care about what you’re working on and with whom you work?
    None of us will care one hundred percent of the time about every aspect of our role. But somewhere underneath the details, is there a thread of genuine care?
  2. If your answer is “yes,” then have you communicated this to those you serve? Do they know what you care about? If it feels uncomfortable to share this in a genuine way, you might be on the right track. It’s often our willingness to step into this discomfort and awkwardness that pushes us to deeper connection and ultimately stronger trust.

And if your answer is, “No, I don’t really care,” then what are you doing about it?

I wonder if what the industry often describes as burn-out, disempowerment, disengagement is in many ways a reflection of how much we truly care. In any case, it might be a useful place to start: If you find you no longer care about the people, project, company, or environment you’re in, then what is the conversation you need to have to create a shift for yourself? Over time, I believe we will all go through natural cycles of genuine caring and some levels of disinterest. The question is, are you aware of this and how are you including it in your thinking and conversations?

Just like the individual I met with last week, you may touch people more deeply with how much you genuinely care than how buttoned-up you are with the details of your vision and strategy.

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Out of Place In a Place You Are Meant to Be

By Kim Lowe, Simple Intentions Managing Editor

0124654ff537cab587ad1b98268b0aa099704d16a5Do you ever feel out of place in a place you’re compelled to be? Maybe you’re the sole marketer on a virtual team of PMs and developers. Maybe you’re the only woman amongst a cohort of men. Maybe you’re the sole introvert in a group of garrulous extroverts. Your first inclination may be to extract yourself from the discomfort, to just get out, no matter the consequences.

But when fleeing is not an option, how do we endure with our composure intact? How do we make the best of an uncomfortable situation? How do we rise to an occasion that at the outset looks and feels like nowhere we want to be and nothing we want to experience?

I recently had this experience during a weekend yoga retreat in the mountains, two hours from my home. Initially I planned to attend with a friend, with the intention of getting away from our daily lives for a few days of yoga and fresh mountain air. When my friend’s plans changed and she wasn’t able to go, I decided to go alone. It would still be awesome, I thought. After all, I did a week-long yoga conference 1,300 miles from home a few years back that was incredibly fulfilling.

But this time, the gates around my heart started rising the minute I walked into our mountain lodge. I was the oldest among this group of 20- and 30-somethings. While I’ve practiced yoga for years and felt confident in my strength, this appeared to be a group of expert yogis, most of them teachers, whose spirituality was far deeper than mine. They arrived in small groups, already acquaintances, if not best friends. And did I mention I was the oldest? Suddenly I felt an urgent need to color my hair and Botox my body.

But I was here. For three nights. In the mountains. Without a car and too far for my husband to come rescue me. That first night, as I lay in my creaky cot, in a large den I shared with four others, I felt terrifyingly out of place, frustrated that I’d not more carefully considered canceling, praying I’d wake up in my own bed, all of this a hilarious dream.

I woke up in that same creaky cot. Resigned, I pulled on my yoga clothes for the morning’s practice. Dear God, please no handstands or chanting. Please let there be English along with Sanskrit cues. Please don’t let me fall on my face during crow pose.

Yoga has an inexplicable way of transforming one’s mindset, of paring open a closed heart, of releasing fear, uncertainty, despair, judgement. That morning’s yoga practice was slow and gentle, offering abundant space for deep breathing and long stretching. Space, too, to consider my intention and the possibility that maybe I was there for a reason. Maybe if I paid attention these three days, I’d discover that reason, whatever it might be: A new friend? A new skill? Simply release from all my responsibilities back home? Could I even allow myself such a release?

From that morning practice, I carried with me throughout the weekend the intention to simply be open to that possibility I was indeed there for a reason. That an open and willing mindset was the only salve to those uncomfortable outsider feelings. That by clinging to despair – and fretting about my age – would only add to the misery, my own and everyone else’s.

And so I joined the group making malas. And laughed when, after two hours of laboriously tying knots and threading beads, I shredded my efforts, surrendering to the reason I buy my jewelry already made. I approached conversations with curiosity, looking for what I might learn from a younger generation, what experiences they’ve had that my own two kids will too soon have. Humbly, I learned that this generation is far wiser of the world than I was at their age.

One afternoon, while others tucked themselves under throws to nap, I pulled on my boots and set out for a walk. It was gently snowing, quietly lonely – and a little scary walking against traffic on a road where both shoulders were piled with snow. Yet it was exactly what I needed. Energizing and meditative, cold and sweaty, familiar and foreign, all at the same time. I felt safe, happy and for the first time all weekend, glad to be there.

Ultimately, my reason for being there was not dramatic or life changing, but rather simply to be reminded that with humor, curiosity and self-compassion, I can find ease in uncomfortable situations, I can connect with people outside my usual circle of friends, and I can accept experiences as truly meant to be.

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