Uncategorized

Heartbroken
Heartbroken 1080 810 Jason Lauritsen

We said our final goodbyes earlier this week to my grandma. After 93 years of life, her health had been failing recently, and she left us last week.  

I was very close with my grandma and the loss hit me pretty hard. I actually wrote about my grandparents on my blog several years ago.  

As I began to grapple with my grief last week, I sat for a guided meditation on the topic. The teacher of this meditation instructed that grief itself isn’t a singular emotion but several of them all happening at once. 

She invited us to try to name the different emotions we were feeling. For me, I could identify three:

  1. Loss. There will be no more long conversations, no more hugs, no more card games. The loss feels profound. 
  2. Heartbreak. Sadness doesn’t really do it justice. 
  3. Gratitude. Intermingled within these two heavy emotions was an acute sense of how lucky I was to have so much time with such an extraordinary woman. 

My grandma Lois was an exceptional human being. The legacy of her life was love. To know her was to know what it meant to feel loved and seen. 

Grandma showered us with her love in the most important way possible–through her time and attention. She loved spending time with us. It didn’t matter what we did. She just loved being together. 

She loved us without judgment or conditions. No matter what was going on in my life or if I felt fully worthy of it, I would always get her full love. 

This past week, as I reflected on her life and our relationship, I wondered if my experience of her in this light was simply because I was a grandchild. It’s easy to love your grandkids.

But, it wasn’t. As we celebrated her life with family and the friends she’d known for longer than I’ve been alive, they all described her in the same way. 

Her legacy reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from great Maya Angelou:

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

To know my grandma was to know what it meant to feel loved. I cannot imagine a better legacy or a more powerful lesson to leave behind. 

As I continue to process my grief, I wanted to share with you some of the lessons I’m carrying forward from my Grandma. Even though you probably never had the opportunity to meet her, perhaps you can carry a piece of her legacy forward as well.

1. Invest your time in the people you care about.

One feeling that’s not in the soup of my grief is regret. Maybe it was because of my grandma’s example, but we made time to be together.

Sometimes that meant making road trips to visit her with my family. Often it meant sitting down to chat over Skype. It wasn’t as frequent as we’d like (always my fault), but we did it. 

That time spent together is among the best investments I’ve ever made.

2. Talk about the stuff that matters. 

We mourned the loss of my grandma almost one year to the day after losing my grandpa, her husband, just shy of his 100th birthday. As you would expect, the past year was incredibly hard for her. 

When we talked, I always tried to check in with her about how she was doing and she would tell me. On the good days, we shared memories of grandpa. On the not-so-good days, she talked about how depressed she was feeling. 

Those conversations were hard because it hurt to see her hurting. But, they were conversations she needed and they brought us closer together. 

Too often, we avoid the conversations we need to have because they make us feel uncomfortable. Don’t allow that to happen. Ask the questions that matter and allow yourself to feel vulnerable. It is within these conversations where true human connection lives. 

3. Let go of judgment and resentment. Just be kind. 

In case you missed it, my grandparents lived to be 93 and 99 years old. Certainly, some good genetics are going on there, but I attribute their longevity to something else. 

My grandparents were the most positive and forgiving people I’ve ever met. They didn’t judge other people, they didn’t hold any resentments toward anyone, and they never gossiped. 

As a result, they had so many friends. People loved them and they loved everyone back. 

Grandma always seemed able to see the positive. She led with kindness in everything she did. It was remarkable. 

What a great example for us all to follow. I’m certainly going to try. 

Thank you, Grandma. I miss you already. 

***

If you are not subscribed to my email list and would like to receive great content like this delivered straight to your inbox each week, click here to subscribe.

Embracing Discomfort
Embracing Discomfort 1080 810 Jason Lauritsen

A few weeks ago, I took my youngest son on a ski weekend to Colorado. 

Skiing is one of my favorite things to do and being able to share it with my son is purely joyful. But that’s not the point of sharing this story.  

My son is new to skiing. This was only his second time out, so he’s very much in learning mode. 

On our first day, we started on a very simple, short hill where he felt safe and comfortable enough to practice. After making several successful trips down without a fall, his confidence grew. So, naturally, I convinced him we should try a longer run.   

We jumped on a lift and made our way to the top of a much longer but still easy path down the mountain. 

As we made our way, some parts of this run were more narrow and, thus, looked intimidating to him. He became uncomfortable and his confidence started to wane.

I reminded him that he was in control of how fast he wanted to go. But also that we had to keep going. It was our only way down.  

He pushed through his discomfort and successfully made it to the bottom – confidence restored. 

That night over dinner, I planted a seed with him that perhaps we should go all the way to the top of the mountain the next day. On the map, it certainly looked like there were plenty of easy runs from there to make our way down. 

He was unsure but said he’d think about it. 

The next morning, we headed back out for more skiing.  

Again, he wanted to ease into things on the easy hill we started on the day before. After a couple of times down, he was ready for the same longer run we’d done the day before. 

This time, he had no hesitations and was all confidence.  

Once we reached the bottom, he okayed a trip to the top. While he was still a little nervous about what we’d find when we got up there, he did it. 

I was proud of him. 

Once we got to the top, we discovered some amazing runs he absolutely loved. We stayed at the top for the rest of the day.  

Discomfort is the Path

What I realized during our time skiing was that my job (besides being a “fun dad”) was to help nudge him outside of his comfort zone.  

Nothing was unsafe or beyond his capabilities. It was all just a stretch and an opportunity to try something that looked a little daunting. 

Once he made the choice to get a little uncomfortable, awesomeness awaited. 

Granted, the payoff to risk ratio in this example is really high with the benefits being immediate compared to most decisions we make in life. 

But it’s a great example of how our willingness to get uncomfortable is the key to the things we really want (and maybe more). 

This came to mind for me this week as I was preparing to teach a management class. 

Most of what I was teaching that day were skills that require managers to try something new with their people. 

In this particular case, we were talking about how to build trust. Trust building requires a level of vulnerability that many people aren’t comfortable with–particularly at work. 

Discomfort. 

I was asking them to ask their direct reports for feedback on how they can better demonstrate trust behaviors. 

Discomfort. 

They learned that the best way to earn trust is to give it first, often before you know if the person is trustworthy. 

Discomfort. 

Unfortunately, the bad news for these managers was that there was no way to avoid the discomfort. No shortcut is available. 

This leaves them with two options:

  1. Move into the discomfort to build trust. 
  2. Make no progress. 

The payoff to having trusting relationships with your team is enormous. Maybe it’s not skiing off the peak of a mountain, but it’s pretty good.  

There is no path to trust that doesn’t require a departure from our “comfort zone.” 

The Upside of Discomfort

What I have discovered and what I’m hoping to instill in others (my son and the managers I train as well) is learning how to embrace the feeling of discomfort.  

When you are uncomfortable, you are likely on the verge of learning, growing, or breaking through to something good. 

If you can find the courage to step into that discomfort, then I have more good news for you. Your tolerance for discomfort increases over time.  

It used to be hard for me to admit mistakes and show vulnerability. My fragile ego at the time just couldn’t handle the discomfort of what people might think. 

But, as I was able to push through this roadblock, in small ways at first, I discovered something amazing. 

Each time I got outside of my comfort zone and survived, the size of that zone increased. Soon, things that used to feel risky and uncomfortable didn’t anymore.  

Our comfort zone is expandable. 

My son won’t hesitate to jump on a ski lift to the top of a mountain in the future if I tell him it’s safe to do so. 

The same will be true for you. 

The key to growth and the path to breakthrough learning is our willingness to get uncomfortable.

What decision or action have you been delaying because you know it’s going to be uncomfortable?

***

If you are not subscribed to my email list and would like to receive great content like this delivered straight to your inbox each week, click here to subscribe.

3 Overlooked Skills Managers Need Right Now
3 Overlooked Skills Managers Need Right Now 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

For years, the Gallup Organization has told us that managers are the lynchpin in employee engagement. 

Based on their data, managers account for 70% of the variance in team engagement

That is an astonishing number. And it’s a double-edged sword. 

On the one hand, it suggests that if you are a manager, you can profoundly impact your team’s performance and retention by investing in your own skill development. 

As a manager, that’s good news, provided you have access to good training and can dedicate the time to improve your skills.

But then there’s the other side of the sword. Because Gallup has done such an effective job of marketing this fact about managers, organizations are quick to blame managers for employee disengagement and turnover. 

This blame can be pretty alienating and disheartening for the manager, particularly those who really care about their people and are trying to do a good job. 

We need to stop blaming “Bad Managers” 

The problem with dumping blame on the manager is that it leads to a “bad manager” narrative. I used to fall into this trap, blaming everything on these “bad managers.” 

But, what I’ve come to realize is that most of the “bad managers” aren’t bad people. They are, in fact, good people. They are very often people who want to do a good job, but they were never given the tools, training, or support to learn how to be effective in their management roles. 

Blaming “bad managers” masks the real problem just mentioned above: that the managers aren’t being given the tools and training they need to be effective.  

This has always been an issue since the beginning of management. For some reason, we have historically assumed that if you have been managed at some point in the past, then you have the knowledge and know-how to manage effectively. 

Imagine if we treated driving a car the same way. “Son, you’ve been watching me drive for 15 years. Surely, you know how to do it by now. Here are the keys. Have fun out there.” 

Using this logic, I should also be a lot better at basketball than I am given the amount of basketball I’ve watched. But I digress. 

Treating driving this way would have disastrous consequences. And yet, that’s how managers are often handed the “keys” to their teams. 

Instead of blaming bad managers, we need to invest in creating good ones.

Now, more than perhaps ever before, managers need support and training to help them respond and adapt to the rapidly shifting demands of work.  

What do managers need right now

It’s likely that managers need a lot of help right now as the “workplace” seems to be continually shifting. Even in a stable environment, managing is challenging, let alone when so many things are changing. 

So, where do you start? 

Based on my recent experience training managers and hearing about their current challenges, there are some skills and support you could offer them right now that could have a profound impact. 

And they are likely some you may be overlooking. 

Self-care

Managers have perhaps the toughest job in the organization and they often carry some of the heaviest workloads as well.  

They feel stretched thin, they are tired, and if they aren’t burnt out yet, they are likely on the path there. That’s bad news for everyone because burned-out managers are not great at engaging and supporting employees. 

Giving managers the permission and tools to care for themselves is incredibly important. If they don’t care for their own well-being, they don’t have the energy to lead others effectively. 

When managers prioritize self-care, it’s contagious for their team and leads to improved well-being for everyone. And well-being is fuel for increased performance. 

To learn more about self-care, you can read my post “Self-Care is a Management Skill.” 

Reducing Uncertainty

A big part of what’s made the past two years so challenging for everyone is the overwhelming amount of uncertainty we’ve all had to deal with. 

Uncertainty at work can be dangerous when left unchecked, in part because of how our brains have evolved to deal with it. 

For example, let’s say you have a family member who was driving in to visit you for a few days and they are due to arrive at 5 p.m. 

5 p.m. comes and goes with their arrival. At 5:30 p.m., you call their cell phone to check on them and there’s no answer. 

Where does your mind go? What kind of scenario do you imagine?

If you are like most people, you are assuming an accident (or worse). Your gut tells you something bad happened. 

This is what our brains do. Our innate survival instincts trigger us to assume the worst when we are uncertain. It’s all about self-protection.

Unfortunately for managers, the same trigger goes off for any kind of uncertainty at work. When you get an email from your managers suggesting a meeting at the end of the day without any explanation, you might think, “Am I getting fired?” even if you have no reason to believe that’s the case. 

So, given the fact that we are living in an era of prolonged and ongoing uncertainty, we need to help equip managers with how to combat it. 

To fight uncertainty requires the skills to create greater clarity. Clarity about expectations. Clarity about the path forward. Clarity about their progress or performance. 

And while there are a lot of tools to help create clarity, one of the most powerful techniques I teach is what I call The Golden Rule of Management

If it matters, write it down. 

The act of putting things into writing forces a move toward clarity. A common source of uncertainty is a misinterpretation of what is said. Putting those same words in writing helps reduce the opportunity for a misunderstanding. 

To learn more, you can read my post about the Golden Rule.  

Show some love

The past few years have not just been hard on managers, it’s been hard on everyone. Work looks and feels different now than it did before. 

Our collective mental health is on the decline. People are quitting their jobs at record rates. It’s a chaotic time.

And while it seems that so much of the discussion around work these days has to do with where you work (hybrid, remote, onsite, etc.), there’s something more fundamental we should focus on first. 

Regardless of where an employee works, we know from decades of research that the factors that most influence their engagement are feeling valued, trusted, and cared for. Employees experience their work as a relationship.  

Effective managers recognize this and treat work like a relationship. They invest in building a relationship with their people. They show they care. 

While I know we don’t use the word “love” at work all that often, it’s pretty obvious that it’s exactly what we need more of right now. People want to feel loved at work. 

Teaching managers how to show the love and build better relationships with their people will pay huge dividends, regardless of what the future holds for your workforce. 

You can learn more about how to do this in my post, “Managing Through Love.” 

Invest in Your Managers

If you knew that one factor was responsible for 70% of your business profit, how much time and investment would you make in that factor? Probably a lot. 

And yet, we know managers factor into employee engagement, performance, and retention. Are we investing appropriately?  

It’s time to kill the “bad manager” narrative. Bad managers are not the issue, it’s a lack of investment and focus given towards developing and equipping good managers with the skills and tools they require. 

You can fix that starting today.

***

If you are not subscribed to my email list and would like to receive great content like this delivered straight to your inbox each week, click here to subscribe.

My Parenting Fail (and why sometimes, trying to help makes things worse)
My Parenting Fail (and why sometimes, trying to help makes things worse) 1080 608 Jason Lauritsen

The most important job I have is being a parent. 

I love and adore my kids. And I want them to find success in whatever they do.  

Like most parents, I find it excruciating to watch my kids struggle. 

This brings me to the story I’m going to share with you today. 

This story is about some of my behavior as a parent that I regret. In fact, it took me some time to forgive myself for this one. 

I want to share the story with you because it brought into sharp focus for me something we all likely struggle with in our personal and professional lives.  

Here it goes. 

My youngest son is nearing the end of what has proven to be a long and difficult basketball season. For various reasons that I won’t go into here, he’s struggled for much of the season. 

Basketball is a game and games should be fun when you are a kid. So, it’s felt particularly hard to navigate this situation with him. 

There have been times that he’s wanted to quit. A few weeks ago, it seemed to hit rock bottom for him. 

He was frustrated. He wanted to play better to have a bigger impact on the team. He was having issues with teammates. Things just weren’t going well for him. 

I tried to talk him through it. I tried to offer encouragement. I tried to do everything I could think of to help him. 

I “Helped” Too Much

Then it happened. It was during one of his games. 

As his former coach from his younger years playing, I’ve not fully broken the habit of trying to shout “helpful” instructions to him on the floor. I know that I shouldn’t, but knowing and doing aren’t always aligned unfortunately. 

On this night, at the peak of his struggles, I was being particularly “helpful” from my position in the bleachers. At one point, he turned to me in the middle of the action and shouted to me, “I got it!” 

I knew in that instant that I had failed him. Not only was I not helping, I was actively making things worse. 

Immediately after the game, I apologized to him. He was totally defeated by the entire experience. It was as if I had seen the flames of a bad situation and thrown a bucket of gasoline on them. 

I didn’t sleep that night. I felt awful and couldn’t stop thinking about how I’d failed him.   

The next day we sat down and talked about it. I said I was sorry again for how I behaved and I explained that I wanted to help him. 

As we talked through it, he even used the word “sabotage” to describe my attempt at helping. (That one still stings as I write it.)

I reassured him that I only wanted to help. And then, I asked him what would I could do to be helpful.  

What I learned from his response is that he just needed me to be there and be encouraging (albeit perhaps more quietly). 

Deep down, I knew this all along. But it just didn’t feel like enough. For him, it is. 

That’s when the real insight from all of this hit me. All this unhelpful “helping” was more about my feelings of inadequacy to fix this for him than it was about any particular need my son had. 

My son was working through something hard. What he needed was a champion, some support, and a listening ear. Everything else I was loading on was about me, not him.  

The Lessons Hidden in My Failure

As a manager or leader, it’s easy to get caught up like this If we care about our people. We worry that we aren’t “good enough” as a manager or that we are failing our people somehow. So in our desire to help and feel competent in our job, we do too much (or the wrong thing) to help.  

One of my favorite proverbs is “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” 

This is often interpreted to mean that having good intentions while doing bad things is of no merit. It is only when those good intentions result in good actions that they matter. 

But, I have learned to add a second meaning to this. Our good intentions can lead us to take what feels like good actions, but that yields a bad result. This is equally problematic. 

This is what happened with my son. I wanted to help, I was trying to help, but my well-intentioned actions actually made things worse. #Fail

This same pattern is something I’ve observed with good managers on countless occasions. These are people who take their jobs as managers very seriously and really care about their people. 

They’ve got an employee who’s struggling to meet expectations in some way. So, out of a desire to help, they decide to take some action to help. Often, this help looks and feels like micromanagement or a lack of trust to the employee, thus undermining the relationship and the employee’s confidence. 

As a result, the employee’s performance not only fails to improve, but often gets worse. Or, it temporarily gets better while the employee looks for a new job elsewhere because they no longer want to work for a manager who behaves like this.  

The tragedy in all of this is that it is unnecessary and very easy to avoid.  

How to Help without Hurting

If you’ve been following my work, you know I’ve been writing a lot about compassion. Compassion is a skill we can cultivate to help us respond to suffering in others. 

In short, compassion involves four steps:

  1. Notice – Be aware that another is suffering or struggling.
  2. Feel – Be emotionally moved by the other’s suffering.
  3. Care – Want to see the easing of the suffering.
  4. Act – Readiness to take action to help.

Good managers practice compassion for their people. They pay attention and connect with people to notice when they are struggling. Then, they move to action to help because they care.  

This experience with my son taught me that my understanding of compassion was incomplete. 

You can have a compassionate response to the suffering of others (as I did with my son) and then take the wrong action to help that actually makes things worse for the individual. 

All of us have had this experience in our personal lives, where at some point, we tried to help only to have it backfire. It happens at work all the time too. And because many cultures lack psychological safety, you don’t often hear the feedback that you’ve failed until it’s too late.

Here’s the insight that we need to add to our compassionate response. 

Don’t assume you know what someone else needs. 

When you notice someone is struggling and needs help, don’t assume you know what they need. Take a beat, and rather than jumping to action, get curious. 

Instead of assuming, just ask. It worked with my twelve-year-old son and it will work with the adults you manage and work with. 

One of the best ways to ask this question is something I’ve heard Brené Brown talk about on several occasions. She simply asks this question:

“What does support from me look like for you right now?”

Another way to ask the same question might be, “What could I do that would feel supportive or helpful to you right now?”  

Be prepared that the answer you hear might feel counterintuitive to you. They might need you to do less, to give them some space.  

Just the fact that you noticed they are struggling, expressed your concern, and offered support might be enough to help. 

I’ll never forget what my son said when I asked him what I could do to help. He said, “Just you being there makes me feel more confident.” 

Just show up. And keep showing up. It’s sometimes just that simple.

***

If you are not subscribed to my email list and would like to receive great content like this delivered straight to your inbox each week, click here to subscribe.

Compassion: A New Management Imperative – Part 3
Compassion: A New Management Imperative – Part 3 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

This content was originally posted on the Workhuman blog. You can find the orginal post here.

This is part three of a three part series. In part one we explored why employee well-being is vital to performance at work. We discovered that the skill managers need to effectively support well-being is something we don’t traditionally teach at work, compassion.

In part two we explored compassion and how it works. Today we are going to dig into how you can help your managers develop the ability and capacity to practice greater compassion for their people.

Helping managers practice compassion

Most google searches about how to develop compassion will lead you to Buddhist teachings or other mindfulness practices. And while these practices have proven to be highly effective for individuals, it’s probably not the ideal place to start in the workplace.

To see some immediate impact, these are some simple and actionable steps I’d recommend you start with.

Give your managers permission to care.

Last fall, as I was wrapping up a cohort of my online management training program, I asked each participant to share what they found to be the most valuable part of the experience. Most people shared some specific technique or mindset they had learned.

But one manager in the class said something that stuck with me. “What this program did for me more than anything was it gave me permission to really care about my people the way I had always wanted to but didn’t feel like I could.”

This was a reminder that most traditional management practices have taught managers not to get too close to their people. I remember the first time I heard the guidance, “you should never be friends with the people you manage,” and how absurd that sounded. I’m not suggesting there shouldn’t be boundaries, but we’ve scared most managers out of really caring and connecting with their people in the way we desperately need them to today.

To unlock greater compassion, you need to give managers permission to enter into a different kind of relationship with their people, one where they deeply care about their people. Managers need permission to embrace their role in actively supporting each individual’s success and well-being. This likely needs to start with your top leadership sending that message and setting that tone through their actions.

Encourage managers to really know their people.

It’s not difficult for us to show compassion to our close friends or family members. Because we know them so well and have a real connection with who they are, it’s more likely that we’ll notice when they are suffering and be moved to do something about it.

When managers choose to hold their people at arm’s length rather than getting to know them as unique human beings, it makes compassion much more difficult and elusive. Instead, if they invest in really getting to know their people – what they care about, what they do for fun, who the most important people in their lives are, where they are from, etc. – it creates familiarity and attachment.

Building deeper, more meaningful relationships with people informed by knowledge of who they really are beyond what they do at work brings our innate compassionate instinct into play. It makes noticing, caring, and taking action more natural. No longer are these just people to supervise; they are unique and interesting people who deserve to be truly cared about and helped when they are in need.

Teach managers how to effectively check in.

As a manager, I ignored the guidance not to be friends with my people and I invested time building authentic relationships with them. But despite how much I knew about and cared for them, my compassion failure tended to be noticed. My wife would probably accuse me of the same thing today. I’m sadly not super observant, as a general rule.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in work and busy with our own lives. This makes it likely that we might miss when someone we care about is showing signs that they are struggling or suffering. The best way to compensate for this is pretty simple: check in frequently.

A “check-in” is the act of reaching out to someone to see how they are doing. To do it effectively requires that you do three things.

1. Ask the right questions. Here are the two best questions I’ve found to create a meaningful check-in conversation.

  • On a scale from 1-10, how are you today? The number scale is the key to this one. There’s a vast difference between a 2, 5, and 9. Regardless of the number you hear when you ask this question, ask a follow-up question. That’s when the good stuff will start to come out.
  • How’s your head and how’s your heart? This might strike you as a little awkward at first, but when you start asking it, you’ll be amazed at what you will hear.

A word of caution here. Check-ins are about the human, not the work. If you want an update on a project or some other work output, do that separately from the check-in; otherwise, it will lose its value.

2. Really, deeply listen to what they say (and how they say it). The reason we say “fine” when someone asks how we are is that we don’t believe they really care. The way you demonstrate you care is to ask and really listen to what is said. Take notes. Ask follow-up questions. When someone offers the gift of opening up and sharing how they are, it should be honored with full presence and attention.

3. Offer support. Every check-in is an opportunity to exercise compassion. During any check-in, you will hear and notice where the individual might be struggling. The compassionate step is to then find a way to help. This might be saying something as simple as “how I can help you with that?” Or, to take inspiration from the great Brené Brown, you can say, “I want to help. What does support from me look like for you right now?”

Creating a culture of compassion

These are but a few ways to begin helping your managers to behave in more compassionate ways. Anything that helps cultivate an individual’s capacity or ability in the four components is a positive step towards fostering greater compassion.

Compassion will help your managers more quickly identify where employees might be struggling and take focused action to help. This will help improve employee well-being, which will have a positive ripple effect not just at work, but also in employees’ lives outside of work.

But the impact of this compassionate response by managers can have additional benefits. Recent research shows that observing prosocial behavior (those intended to help other people) by another at work boosts the well-being of the observer. So, when we see others performing an act of kindness, it improves our own well-being. But that’s not all.

The researchers also found that prosocial behavior seems to be contagious at work. When we observe someone on either the giving or receiving end of a prosocial behavior (i.e., someone doing something helpful or kind), it increases our own prosocial behavior.

When we begin to unlock compassion, even in small ways, we start creating culture change within our organization. And a culture of compassion is exactly what we need right now. Let’s get started today.

***

If you are not subscribed to my email list and would like to receive great content like this delivered straight to your inbox each week, click here to subscribe.

Compassion: A New Management Imperative – Part 2
Compassion: A New Management Imperative – Part 2 1080 722 Jason Lauritsen

This content was originally posted on the Workhuman blog. You can find the orginal post here.

This is part two of a three part series. In the first post, we explored why employee well-being is vital to performance at work. And we discovered that the skill managers need to effectively support well-being is something we don’t traditionally teach at work – compassion.

Today, we’ll dive into compassion to explore what it is and how it works. Then in the next post, you’ll learn how to help your managers develop the skills and capacity to practice greater compassion for their people.

What is compassion?

Compassion isn’t something you’ll find in the most traditional management training curriculum. In fact, if you’re familiar with it, it’s probably thanks to your spiritual practice. Compassion isn’t new; it’s just been really slow arriving in the workplace. But it’s long overdue. And we need it now more than ever.

Compassion is defined as “the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.” While it has some similarities to other more popular concepts like empathy and sympathy, it is not the same thing.

Empathy in psychology is defined as “a sense that you can understand and share the feelings of another.” Empathy allows you to walk in another’s shoes and feel their feelings. When the other is suffering, you can feel their suffering.

Sympathy, in contrast, is defined as “a feeling of pity or sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.” You don’t have to understand or feel the other’s pain to feel sympathy for someone else. It’s feeling something “for” someone else’s suffering.

Neither empathy nor sympathy, by definition, requires any motivation to take action to help the person suffering. You can be empathetic towards an employee who is really struggling and feel their struggle, but that doesn’t help relieve the suffering of the employee. It just means you both feel the pain.

Sympathy is even less helpful to the employee. Pitying struggling employees is a great way to push them towards the door. It’s more likely to lead to anger and resentment than anything positive.

Compassion, on the other hand, requires an authentic desire to relieve the suffering of the other. It doesn’t require that you feel their pain or pity their situation, rather that you notice the suffering and are moved to take action to help.

That’s what Rebecca and my wife did for me. They saw my suffering and offered help. When you are the one suffering, you don’t crave empathy. You want is support and relief. That’s what compassion does.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-empathy. If you’ve been developing empathy in your management and leadership teams, that’s a great start. It’s just not enough.

And as I outlined earlier, given the threats your employees have faced to their well-being recently, there’s a lot of struggle and suffering to be addressed. Our managers need this new skill of compassion to help them effectively respond.

The four components of compassion

While it may sound daunting on the surface to teach compassion to your management and leadership teams, there’s some good news. Research suggests that we all have an innate predisposition towards compassion for others. This has been observed in children from our very early years. Some have labeled this the “compassion instinct” to capture that it is a “natural and automatic response that has ensured our survival.”

So, it might be more accurate to think of developing compassion as unlocking our natural human instincts for compassion and freeing them to benefit ourselves and others. But how do we do that?

Psychologists have found that compassion has four components that, like a muscle, can be strengthened through exercise and practice.

1. NOTICE: You must first recognize that someone else is suffering.

2. CARE: You must then be emotionally moved by that suffering.

3. DESIRE: You have an intention to see the other free from or relieved of that suffering.

4. ACTION: You must be moved to a readiness to take action to relieve that suffering.

It is these components working in concert that make compassion so powerful. It’s a simple checklist to greater management impact.

When I look at this list of components as someone who has been studying employee engagement and management for twenty years, it reads like the prescription to cure what employees have been wanting from managers forever.

See me.

Care about me.

Notice when I’m struggling.

And then do something to help me.

Compassion will help your managers not only respond more effectively to suffering and struggle, it will also improve engagement and performance. Compassion is a key ingredient of management that we’ve been missing.

In the next post, you’ll learn how to help your managers develop a great capacity and ability to show compassion to their people. Read it now.

***

If you are not subscribed to my email list and would like to receive great content like this delivered straight to your inbox each week, click here to subscribe.

Compassion: A New Management Imperative – Part 1
Compassion: A New Management Imperative – Part 1 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

This content was originally posted on the Workhuman blog. You can find the orginal post here.

As the summer of 2020 was wrapping up, I knew something wasn’t right.

Despite the fact that I’d somehow miraculously pivoted my business after the pandemic had struck and was, by most accounts, doing well, I was tired. Really tired. And the day-to-day routines of life had begun to feel increasingly like a grind.

Then one afternoon in August I was sitting on the couch with my laptop, trying to get started on a simple project. It was one that I would normally be really excited to work on. But there I sat, staring at my screen, struggling to even start. The excitement I should have felt was nowhere to be found. Something was wrong.

It was around this time that I had a conversation with my friend, Rebecca, and shared how tired I felt. She could see I was struggling. She asked me if I had time coming up in my calendar that I could block off. She suggested that I unplug completely for a few days and take time to just breathe, rest, and watch the sunset each day.

When I mentioned the idea to my wife, knowing full well that my being gone puts an extra burden on her, she was fully supportive. In fact, she encouraged me to find the time soon. It turns out she, too, knew I was struggling and wanted to help.

I know now that I was burned out. As 2020 unfolded and I scrambled to reinvent my business, I hadn’t been caring well for myself. And the consequences of that were real and scary. I was suffering and I needed the people around me to help me find my way back to feeling well again.

I think about this experience often and how fortunate I am to have such wonderful and caring people in my life. Not only was this my first time confronting a mental health issue, but it vividly revealed to me the real impact of diminished well-being.

A new management imperative

It may be tempting as we near the beginning of 2022 to assume that the worst of the pandemic experience is behind us. And while we can only hope this is the case when it comes to infections and deaths around the world, the resulting disruption for employers and employees is far from over.

The next year will be defined by continued change and uncertainty as to the push and pull over when, where, and how we work evolves. This will mean the warm comfort of “returning to normal” will remain elusive.

Based on many of my conversations lately, it seems that people are starting to settle into some new routines. But many are tired. Their stories sound much like mine. They have been busy, working lots of hours. And they haven’t been taking great care of themselves.

They haven’t taken time to recover from this prolonged period of uncertainty and change. I think this is why so many recent polls and surveys show widespread burnout and diminished mental health.

This is a big problem for employers. When well-being is diminished, performance suffers. And this isn’t only true for mental health. We have all had the experience of being sick and trying to work through it. When you are physically ill, it takes twice as long to do poorer quality work.

Well-being, which is a state of human flourishing that allows us to be our best in all areas of our lives, is vital to our ability to perform our best at work (and in all other areas of our lives). And while health is a big part of well-being, it is only one dimension. I’ve outlined in a previous post how well-being is defined and can serve as the blueprint to a human organization. So here, I’ll simply offer you this conclusion.

When our well-being is diminished, we suffer. As a result, our ability to perform suffers.

Whether it’s diminished health, a loss of financial security, a lack of meaning, or an absence of true connection with others, it hurts us and has real consequences.

Thanks to the pandemic, our well-being has been under constant assault for the past year and a half. Given that reality, if we hope to sustain employee performance and retention today and into the next year, we must support employee well-being more effectively than in the past.

One of the most powerful ways to do this is to equip your managers and leaders with a new competency. It’s called compassion.

In the next post, we’ll dig into what compassion is and how it works. Read it now.

***

If you are not subscribed to my email list and would like to receive great content like this delivered straight to your inbox each week, click here to subscribe.

YOU Are The Change You Are Waiting For
YOU Are The Change You Are Waiting For 1080 565 Jason Lauritsen

I’m not sure how or why it happened. I’ve always had a high capacity for trusting other people, often before I have any idea if they are trustworthy. I can probably credit my parents and grandparents for that, plus a bit of luck early in my life. 

But regardless of how it happened, it happened. 

And here’s the interesting part, most of the people in my life have proven to be pretty trustworthy. This has been true of my friends, business partners, significant others, and colleagues. 

As I look back on some key moments in my life, I put trust in others even when it may not have been wise to do so.  

  • When my starter marriage fell apart, we only had one lawyer to represent us both. I never even appeared in court. And it worked out just fine. 
  • When one of my early business partners and I arrived at an impasse where we had to part ways, I trusted him to be fair with me on my exit even when he held all of the negotiating power. He was. 
  • When a former boss and I arrived at a point where it was obvious that it was time for me to go, I trusted that she would do the right thing to ensure I could care for my family as I figured out what was next. And even though things had gotten really tense between us, she came through.

These stories are all about the end of a relationship when trusting the other person can be really difficult. But it seems to have paid off in my experience more times than not. 

But that’s not the only time it’s happened. 

I’ve been vulnerable with people I wasn’t sure I could trust and have rarely been burned. I’ve extended my heart and emotions in relationships without any guarantee they’d be returned. Even when they weren’t, the other person was generally pretty decent about it.  

Sure, I’ve been burned a few times. But, those feel like rare exceptions when I look at the sum of my experiences with other people.

Am I just lucky? Maybe.

Is all of this just a result of my privilege? I’m sure that’s part of it too. 

But I think there’s more going on here.

It’s not just about Trust 

While being more trusting seems to have resulted in people being more trustworthy throughout my life, this power of expectation has shown up in many other ways. 

When I tried to make sense of this in my younger years, I would often say, “You teach people how to treat you.” 

It was my way of describing my experience that what you expect of others has a significant impact on how they show up with you. 

This wasn’t just in my imagination. I’ve written about the Pygmalion effect before. Our expectations of others actually can have a profound impact on their behavior, particularly if we are their manager.  

So it’s likely true that my positive (and perhaps naïve) expectations that others would be trustworthy, reliable, or helpful has had some effect on how those interactions have gone. 

But I have come to realize that there’s another force at work as well. 

Karma

When Joe and I wrote Social Gravity, one of the six laws of social gravity we wrote about was “Use karma to your advantage.” 

We invoked the word “karma” with our very western understanding of it. To us, it simply meant that what you put out into the world will return to you. 

Karma was a simple way to help people understand the awesome power of reciprocity in human relationships. 

Reciprocity describes our strong desire to repay a favor or return kindness to others. This is often described as a social norm, but it’s so common across cultures and through history that it’s thought to be a core part of how we are wired to intereact with each other as humans. 

We like to keep our relationships with others in balance. When you do something helpful or give me a gift, you make a positive investment in our relationship. This creates an imbalance that I am keen to rectify by repaying you in some way. 

You can probably think of a bunch of examples of this in your own experience. 

That time when someone unexpectedly picked up the bill for lunch, or the two friends who showed up to help you move, or that coworker who recommended you for a promotion.  

You remember these experiences because those people now have a credit or two built up in your relationship that you’d like to repay. You want to restore the balance.

Reciprocity has certainly played a big role in my experience of people throughout my life. Because I gave away trust first, it was repaid to me. And because I was taught to be helpful, that help has also come my way.  

Reciprocity is powerful and universal. It’s something you should use as a leader with great intention.  

The Moral of this Story

As a manager, when you consider how to shape or encourage a particular kind of behavior on your team, remember these two incredibly powerful mantras.

1. Use your expectations wisely.

People will live up to OR down to your expectations of them. 

2. You go first.

Harness the power of reciprocity by investing in your team the exact things you hope they will return to you (and others). Be the change you want to see in your team. 

It is a harsh reality that most of the things that challenge us about the people we manage are born from our own expectations of and attitudes about those same people. 

Change yourself first, your team will follow. 

 

***

If you are not subscribed to my email list and would like to receive great content like this delivered straight to your inbox each week, click here to subscribe.

Who tells YOU when you are being a JERK?
Who tells YOU when you are being a JERK? 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

This week, while I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Armchair Expert, their guest shared a story about how someone had told him that he was being a jerk.

In this case, he had earned it (you listen to the episode if you’d like to hear the whole story, it’s a good one) and was grateful for that reality check. 

In fact, on the podcast, this led to a discussion about how valuable it is to have someone tell you when you are being a jerk. We all have those moments. And we could all use some help fixing our behavior when it happens. 

I know I have. 

One time in particular from early in my career stands out in my mind. As a young business owner still trying to figure out how to be a leader for my people, I made a lot of mistakes. I’ll never forget the morning when one of my people walked into my office, sat down across from me, looked me square in the eye and said, “You’re being a real jerk lately.” 

She actually used a more colorful word than this, but the message struck me like an arrow in the chest. It was a big wake-up call. Thankfully, my instinct that day was to ask questions. As a result, I learned a lot that made me a much better leader in the future.  

Being told that you are being a jerk doesn’t feel very good in the moment, but it’s really helpful feedback, and I’m always grateful for it in hindsight (sadly, I can speak with significant experience about this topic). 

Most of us don’t intend to be jerks to other people. But we are human and we are far from perfect. We get tired, impatient, irritable, distracted, and self-righteous, which sometimes can manifest in treating others poorly.  

We need to be called out for being a jerk when it’s deserved. It’s super valuable. 

In fact, having people around you who will tell you when you aren’t being the version of yourself they know you want to be is invaluable–particularly as a leader.

It’s also pretty rare. 

Why Critical Feedback is Difficult

If getting this kind of feedback is so valuable and important, why is it so challenging? Even when we are open to this kind of feedback and we want it, it’s not easy to find. 

As I wrote about in detail in my book, most of our struggles with feedback are due to human nature. 

There’s a body of recent neuroscience research that shows that our brain responds in the same way to feedback that negatively compares us to others as it does to physical pain. This is particularly true when we feel the feedback is unfair or unjust. 

Critical feedback actually hurts. As with any kind of pain, we tend to try to avoid it. 

And, to make matters worse, we tend to have an inflated view of ourselves. The Dunning-Kruger Effect explains how we have a cognitive bias to overestimate our knowledge and ability.

So nearly any feedback we receive is likely to make us feel negatively compared to others, invoking a pain-like response. Particularly at work, critical feedback can feel very threatening, so it triggers our fight or flight response. 

We get defensive. We push back. We argue. We deny.  

The person trying to help us by providing this feedback gets punished for attempting to help us. They only make that mistake once. No more feedback for you.  

How to Get the Feedback You Need

Feedback fuels learning. If you want to become better at anything, you need feedback. If you are a manager or leader of people, then it is a requirement. 

If you hope to have people around you who will tell you when you are being a jerk (or in any other way not living up to your expectations), then you have to make it safe to do so. There are some important ways you can make this happen.

1. Build relationships and trust first. 

My wife gives me feedback all the time. Sometimes, she tells me when I’m being a jerk. 

However, when she gives me that feedback, it doesn’t feel threatening because of the strength of our relationship. I implicitly trust her intention in giving me that feedback is only because she cares for what’s best for me. 

It doesn’t feel threatening because of the strength and trust in our relationship. This means no pain and no defensive response (at least not much of one…I’m still human). 

If you want the people around you to feel comfortable telling you when you are being a jerk or doing something else that doesn’t align with who you are, start with strengthening the relationship. 

Particularly as a manager or leader at work, until you’ve established really solid trust with your people, it will be really difficult for them to give you the kind of feedback you need.

In my story above, the reason this employee felt comfortable telling me I was a jerk and I was able to respond by asking questions is that we’d worked together for years and had a strong relationship. Our trust made it safe for her to tell me what I needed to hear and for me to hear it.

2. Invite the feedback.

In the story on the podcast, the person who had been told he was a jerk was out asking people for insights and feedback about a particular situation. He had invited the feedback, so when it came, he welcomed it. 

This is another tactic you can use that has roots in psychology research. When we request feedback, we are less likely to react defensively to it. 

The act of requesting it makes the feedback feel less threatening when it’s shared. Plus, we are able to prepare ourselves psychologically to receive and respond, even when it’s critical or negative. 

This may seem obvious, but if you ask for more feedback, you are likely to receive more. But don’t just do it once, make it a habit.

3. Learn these two phrases: “Thank you” and “Tell me more.”

When people give you the gift of feedback (I know being told “you’re being a jerk” doesn’t feel like a gift, but it is), don’t punish them for their courage and generosity.  

There are only two appropriate responses when receiving feedback if you hope to encourage it to happen more in the future: gratitude and curiosity. 

I remember hearing the great Marshall Goldsmith speak years ago about feedback. The biggest takeaway I still remember is learning to respond to feedback with “thank you.” 

Giving feedback can be a pretty daunting task, so when someone musters the courage to provide it to you, be grateful. This is true for all kinds of feedback: positive and critical.  

Simply say, “Thank you for the feedback. I really value your opinion.” That’s all that’s needed in many cases. 

The other phrase that’s helpful to master is, “tell me more.”

When someone shares with you that you are being a jerk, it’s a good idea to use that moment as a learning experience. “Tell me more” opens the door for them to share the details you need to do better in the future.  

More Feedback Leads to More Growth

I’ve never been one who loves receiving feedback (too sensitive, I suppose), but I’ve come to understand the vital importance of getting the right feedback at the right moment. It can change the trajectory of your life and career. 

Ensuring you get the feedback you need requires real intention on your part. By starting with the tips I’ve offered today, you’ll be well on your way. 

And the side benefit is that as you practice these things, you’ll be role modeling for others, showing them the path to fuel their own growth as well. 

 

***

If you are not subscribed to my email list and would like to receive great content like this delivered straight to your inbox each week, click here to subscribe.

My Birthday Wish for 2022
My Birthday Wish for 2022 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

It’s my birthday this weekend.

Everyone has a little different relationship with their birthday. Some embrace it and welcome the attention (thanks, Facebook). Others avoid mentioning it because it reminds them of another year gone and opportunities missed.

I’ve always enjoyed my birthday. As someone who is naturally extroverted, I’m sure the attention is part of it. But, as I’ve gotten older, I use the date as a checkpoint and reminder to pause, reflect, and proceed into the next year of my life with intention.

In recent years, I’ve also added some rituals to my birthday. One is to take a day off of work for self-care and reflection (good luck trying to reach me this Friday). Typically this includes heavy doses of art museums, coffee shops and my journal–not necessarily in that order.

It also includes writing this post.

Since we were young, we’ve been encouraged to make a wish when we blow out the candles on our favorite birthday pastry.

I don’t do a lot of wishing as a general rule. I’m more of a planner than a wisher.

But once a year, I allow myself to cast a wish out into the universe with hopes that it touches someone and perhaps changes something for them in a positive way.

My 2022 Wish

This year’s wish follows a common theme in my life recently–the pursuit of greater well-being.

My work over the past few years has been increasingly focused on teaching managers and organizations how to foster a greater well-being for employees.

Personally, I continue to experiment and learn how to protect and support my own well-being to increase my resilience and energy while avoiding future episodes of burnout.

The most important thing I learned in the past year regarding my own well-being is a lesson that seems so obvious. And yet, it is something that has always been so hard to practice.

I needed more sleep. So midway through last year, I started going to bed an hour earlier.

This changed my life in all sorts of positive ways. I feel physically better. My mind is clearer on a day-to-day basis. And, despite nothing really changing externally, my stress levels and emotional well-being have improved.

This shouldn’t have been a surprise. There’s volumes of research and data proving the importance of sleep to every part of our lives.

It’s had a real impact on me. And I know that it would be the same for nearly everyone else who’s not already getting enough sleep. It’s one of the few things in our life that most of us have a fair amount of control over.

Here it is, my birthday wish for this year.

I wish for everyone to find a way to get more sleep every day.

For many people, I’m sure this feels unattainable. It did for me too.

I had a lot of noise in my head about what time you “should” go to bed or get up in the morning.

Once I stopped “should-ing” all over myself, I realized that most days, I spent that last hour before going to bed staring at a television consuming content I didn’t really care about. That hour wasn’t adding any value to my life. It was actually the opposite.

So, I decided to skip it and just go to bed earlier. That’s when things changed. The closer I get to 8 hours of sleep in a night, the better the next day seems to go.

Everyone’s situation is different, and I’m sure it won’t be as simple for most people. Perhaps getting more sleep might mean sneaking a short nap in during the day rather than extending your nighttime routine.

When you let go of “should,” anything becomes more possible.

Let’s make 2022 a year of better well-being for everyone. And, let’s start with ourselves.

 

P.S. Block off a day on your calendar right now to celebrate your own birthday in your own way. You deserve it.

 

***

If you are not subscribed to my email list and would like to receive great content like this delivered straight to your inbox each week, click here to subscribe.