On being a servant leader

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servant leadershipWhat does it mean to be a servant leader?  Whether we recognize it or not, as leaders we have an enormous responsibility to those who follow us.  And the higher a leader is within an organization, the greater the responsibility. A leader has the ability to provide or withhold resources that others need to be successful. Access to training, coaching, tools, technology, or a psychologically safe work environment are all within the leader’s control. A servant leader focuses on how s/he can provide these resources in order for others to achieve success.

When the leader shares a vision, provides appropriate support, encouragement, and resources, and then trusts followers to work toward achieving that vision, amazing things happen!

How does it make an organization better when leaders embrace a servant-leadership mindset? If everyone within the organization acts as a servant leader, the focus within the organization turns to how each member can best support others to make them successful. When everyone has this attitude the potential for achievement grows exponentially.

As you reflect on your role as a leader, consider what your actions say about your leadership philosophy. Are your actions, beliefs, and values in alignment? Are you giving your team the support it needs to thrive?

 

To learn more about the servant leader philosophy, check out these resources:

 

Feeling grateful

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At an event I attended recently, everyone was asked to share what they were grateful for that day – and we were only allowed to use three words. Many included words like, “family,” “friends,” “my clients”, or even more specifically, “my friend Sharon,” or “my three children.” No one, however, said anything like, “my new car” (or any other material item). It was glaringly obvious that it was the connections with others that held the most meaning for everyone in the group.

friendsWhen you think about what you are grateful for, what words come to mind? Most likely, the relationships in your life have a high place in your gratitude list. Whether it’s family and friends or clients and co-workers, the relationships we build are the things that have the greatest impact on us. Today, and every day, I am grateful for those relationships!

On this Thanksgiving Day, I wish you a day of peace, joy, and warmth shared with those you hold dear.

 

Time management illusion

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time commodityDid you know that the word “time” is used more often in the English language than any other noun? In the United States especially, we are obsessed with time. Being on time, making the most of time, providing goods and services “just-in-time,” wasting time, killing time, spending time (ideally quality time), saving time… I could go on, but in the interest of time will stop here as I am sure you get the picture.

After reading the thought-provoking article “Being Lazy and Slowing Down” by Riyad A. Shahjahan I started thinking about time a little differently as I explored the idea from diverse perspectives.

 

In Western culture, time is viewed as a commodity, not to be “wasted.” If we’re not engaged in a visibly productive activity, we’re thought of as being lazy. As a result, we often find ourselves rushing from task to task, although not necessarily accomplishing much of anything. It’s an illusion that we can “manage” time, bend it to our will. And yet we try – with calendars, schedulers, reminders, alarms, and a host of efficiency and time management tools. But in many cases, the more we try to control time to get the most out of every minute, the less we actually have.

While we can’t truly control time, we can make choices about how and where we focus our energy and attention. Yes, the tasks are important (many of them, at least). And then there are those things that don’t fit so neatly into a structured and scheduled block of time. Things like building relationships, meaningful communication, innovation, reflection, and problem-solving. When we do those things well, we become more productive, completing the tasks and projects more effectively and efficiently.

Reflection, for example, is a foreign concept for many, its power unrecognized. And yet, reflection is a critical component of learning and creating. Without it, learning is shallow and seldom remembered, while innovation seems entirely out of reach. How often have you heard someone say, “I do my best thinking in the shower.”? Perhaps you’ve said that yourself. Why is it that we find solutions for problems we’ve been grappling with or find exciting new ideas while in the shower? For some of us, that is the only unstructured time we have in the day – and we thrive in that environment! We find solutions to problems, clarity about decisions, and answers to questions, when we allow ourselves just a little space.

What would happen if you allowed yourself to be lazy for just a little while today? How might you thrive?

 

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Riyad A. Shahjahan (2015) Being ‘Lazy’ and Slowing Down: Toward decolonizing time, our body, and pedagogy, Educational Philosophy and Theory: Incorporating ACCESS, 47:5, 488-501, DOI: 10.1080/00131857.2014.880645

Why attend a conference?

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You have many demands on your time and budget. Why would you want to add to that by adding a conference or two to your schedule?

Having just attended the AEE’s incredible 43rd Annual International Conference, I can share some of the reasons why I already have next year’s Association for Experiential Education conference on the calendar, set as a high priority. Connecting with others who share your interests, and at the same time bring divAEE Conference logoerse perspectives, is powerful! It:

  • stimulates fresh ideas
  • inspires
  • provokes new ways of thinking
  • provides endless opportunities for learning
  • builds relationships
  • stretches comfort zones
  • encourages collaboration
  • is energizing!

Are these things worth investing in? Absolutely! You are investing in yourself.

How will you invest in yourself in 2016? Whether you choose to attend a large conference or get involved in local events that connect you with things you are passionate about – whatever you do for your own growth and development is worth the investment.

 

Is yours a healthy workplace?

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Do you go to work each day in a healthy workplace, or do you consider it toxic? If it’s not as healthy as you’d like, what can you do to improve it?

You make choices every day that can influence the overall culture of your workplace – and that includes influence over how healthy that culture is.

When you hold an early morning meeting, do you bring: doughnuts? bagels? fresh fruit?healthy workplace

Do you use candy as a motivator in training sessions?

Do staff members eat lunch while sitting at their desks, trying to get caught-up on their work as their energy is draining away?

Do you do anything to encourage playfulness in the workplace? Toss a nerf football around, perhaps, or take a break to shoot hoops?

What about meetings? Do they always take place indoors with attendees sitting around a table? Have you ever tried moving your meetings outdoors, or at least into a room with lots of windows and the feel of the outdoors? Or what about a “walking meeting”?  Among the many benefits of walking meetings: brain studies have shown that we think better when we’re moving, and it’s much less likely for the meeting to expand arbitrarily just to fill the hour.

If you are looking for ways to make your workplace healthier, there are some great resources out there for you. Many cities and counties have developed Healthy Communities programs to partner with businesses, schools, and other organizations to find ways to make the healthy path the easy path. Here’s an example of a program in San Diego.

Small changes can make a big difference. What if you improved the lighting in your office stairwells and hung employee’s or their family member’s artwork there? What if you offered oranges at a training event instead of candy? What if everyone were encouraged to spend 30 minutes being physically active during each workday? Have you ever noticed an increase in your own energy and productivity after you’ve moved around a bit or eaten a healthy snack?

Imagine what you could accomplish if you worked every day in a healthy workplace! What small step can you take today toward creating that kind of environment?

 

Less is More

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A neighbor of mine writes an inspirational note each day on a whiteboard hanging on a fence. Sometimes the messages are quite long, but the other day all it said was, “Less is more.” Which, of course, got me thinking.

How can it be that “less = more?” It’s not logical, not rational. But does it have to be logical or rational to be true? How often do you find yourself rushing through a day overflowing with meetings and tasks, and yet have no sense of fulfillment at the end of the day? And if this starts to happen day after day? It’s easy to fall into a pattern of busy-ness that gets in the way of meaning and purpose.

ReflectionHow to break out of that cycle? It may seem counter-intuitive, but one way is to set aside time for reflection. Intentional, focused reflection. You may find that as you think about your experiences you discover insights and meaning that you might have overlooked while racing on to the next item on your “to-do” list. You may realize that some less-important tasks are eating up most of your time, keeping you from accomplishing those that are more meaningful. Your time is limited and valuable. It’s worthwhile to use some of that precious time for reflection to help you make the most of the rest!

If you’re not already in the habit of reflecting, it may seem foreign to you at first. Find a method that works for you, and be persistent about it. Perhaps writing in a journal at the end of every day is ideal for you, while someone else might benefit more from taking brief moments throughout the day for reflection. And another might get more from having a deep conversation with a friend or colleague.There is not a single right way – all of these have been useful for me at one time or another.

What about you? Have you found reflection to be useful? Have you experienced situations where “less” was actually “more?”

Disconnect to Connect

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You’ve seen this before, haven’t you? A family or group of friends together at a restaurant, everyone focused on smartphones, tablets, or the sporting events on TV – but not interacting with each other. Perhaps your meetings at work are sometimes like this. Everyone is connected but not necessarily with each other.

Disconnect to connect

What happens when we disconnect from all of those distractions? We have a chance to reflect, think more deeply, find meaning in our experiences. We also have more person-to-person interactions, making connections that can have a lasting impact

As you are developing your team, it’s valuable to create space for connecting. Maybe you take time for a short icebreaker activity at the beginning of a meeting. Maybe you set a “ground rule” about how cell phones should be used (or not used) at your next event. Perhaps you might decide to set aside a day or part of a day for intentional team development activities.  The connections team members make create higher levels of trust and cohesiveness, with the payoff of improved collaboration and productivity.

Think about times you’ve been able to disconnect from the ever-present bombardment of distractions. What have your experiences been like? What kind of connections did you make?

 

 

 

Learning Never Stops

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Whether we set out to intentionally learn something new, or just experience the world day-to-day, we are always learning. Sometimes it’s a small and subtle understanding, other times it’s an “ah-ha!” moment. How can you make the most of your learning opportunities every day?

Art of LearningIn The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance, Josh Waitzkin tells his own personal and fascinating story of achievement, as he reached elite levels in both chess and martial arts. Through his journey, he discovered that what he most excels at is learning, and he shares his methods here. One thing that struck me was Waitzkin’s habit of reflection, and how powerful that can be in helping each of us reach deeper levels of understanding. Dealing with failure, channeling emotions, breaking things down, keeping focus, and more – find out how these can help you excel!

 

 

 

 

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Are you an engaging leader?

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I’m sure you’ve heard this statistic – the most common reason people leave their jobs is their immediate boss. Gallup surveys show this again and again. Disengagement with the boss leads to disengagement with the job and the organization. So, as a leader in your organization, what are you doing to engage your team?

team developmentOne key way to engage team members is to invest in them. More than salary and benefits, how can you invest in your team in a meaningful way? It’s not about just sending them off to expensive seminars or conferences – although at times these may be appropriate. No, I’m talking about everyday opportunities, many of which have little or no direct financial impact.

Here are some ideas:

 

  1. Invest your time getting to know your team members as people. Do you know anything about their interests outside of work? What about their career goals? What issues are important to them? This doesn’t mean you need to know all about their personal lives, or that you need to spend hours each day talking about things that aren’t directly related to your organization and its goals. But recognize that people feel valued when you, as a leader, take time to talk to them about what they find important.
  2. Provide opportunities to learn. This might look like training to enhance current skills or develop skills needed for future roles. Or it could be coaching, internships, outside education, or opportunities to attend meetings with different parts of your organization. Perhaps you might create an office library, including audio versions of books and articles to increase accessibility.IMG_0003
  3. Allow flexibility to work on special projects that are of interest to team members. This provides for growth and personal development for your team members while they work on projects that benefit the organization.
  4. Invest time to develop your team as a team. Make it part of your regularly scheduled meetings to include a few purposeful team development activities. You may want to sometimes dedicate time just for team development. Make it something you do on a continual basis for the greatest impact and engagement.

 

When I think about the best leaders that I’ve had, the ones who’ve inspired me to achieve even more than I thought I could, they all had something in common. They made me feel that they sincerely cared about my welfare and success. They believed in me and were willing to invest in me. What about you?

Feeling lethargic? Try this group energizer!

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How many meetings have you sat in this week where the minutes dragged by as the group crawled through agenda items at what felt like a snail’s pace? Were attendees interactive or disconnected? How productive were you?

Here is a simple and fun activity that will re-energize any group, and at the same time allow members to build stronger connections with each other. This activity works great at the beginning of a meeting as an icebreaker, or at any time during the meeting when energy seems to be dropping. It gets people moving, and helps everyone get to know each other a little better at the same time.

Beach Ball Energizericebreaker energizer

Start with a basic beach ball. Take a few minutes ahead of time to write a question on each different colored panel. Questions can be generic, or have some relevance to the meeting topic. Generic questions might include things like:

  • What’s the last book you read?
  • Where is your favorite place to eat?
  • What kind of music might we find playing on your phone right now?
  • What do you like best about the community where you live?
  • Where would you like to travel in the next six months?

To start the activity, toss the beach ball to anyone in the room. Ask that person to answer the question under his or her left hand. Anyone in the room can ask follow-up questions if they’d like to know more. After answering the question, the first person tosses the beach ball to someone else in the room for another question. Continue in this manner until everyone in the room has caught the ball at least once.

Any time you get people moving, you will create more energy in the room. After sitting for about 45 minutes, blood pools in the lower parts of our bodies, when what we want is for it to be circulating freely and carrying lots of fresh oxygen to our brains! So take a few minutes to stand up and move around at least once an hour. That short break will help you and everyone else in your meeting to be more productive.

 

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