Increase the Odds of Achieving Your Goals by Setting Them with Your Spouse

January 2, 2016 § Leave a comment

With Jackie Coleman

Do a quick Google search of “work-life balance” and over 260 million results will flood your screen. But the current conversation often treats “work” and “life” as separate and, all too often, in tension. We make annual resolutions, detailed daily plans, and to-do lists, but we do so as individuals — generally not sharing those plans or planning jointly with those closest to us. And we often think of our personal and professional goals as occupying distinct and separate spheres. But what if the work and home “spheres” could merge and actually improve the odds that we’ll achieve our goals?

Research shows that it’s easier to achieve our goals when we’re not trying to go it alone. One recent research paper found a positive correlation between participation in digital communities and reaching fitness goals. Similarly, a study of rowers found that their working together in training heightened their threshold for pain.

For many of us, our closest and most trusted companion is a spouse. Couples in committed, long-term relationships often see each other every day, but rarely plan or set resolutions together. By not doing so, couples may actually be making it harder to achieve their goals. This January, we fully integrated our personal planning for the year for the first time. We’ve always informally mentioned our goals to each other, but this time around, we talked with intentionality about why we were chasing those goals, and how we planned to get there. By including each other in the process, we invited the other to not only be aware of what we plan to accomplish this year, but also to hold us accountable as we strive to reach these goals. And our experience combined with research we’ve evaluated and other couples we’ve consulted with have led us to a few tips for effective planning as a couple.

First, start with an annual board meeting. Several years ago, we attended a seminar where speakers Rick and Jill Woolworth introduced the idea of an “annual meeting” for families — taking time at the end of each year to evaluate that year and plan for the next. Establishing this as a family norm assures that goal-setting happens on a set schedule rather than haphazardly or in isolation. For us, this happened over the holidays between Christmas and the new year, and included a discussion of the past year, how we performed against our goals, and how we felt about life as a couple and individuals. We wrote out our specific goals for the year and the habits we hoped to develop. Then we discussed them and how each of us could help the other achieve each goal. These annual meetings provide accountability, but more importantly, lay a vision for the year ahead. Then, as so many have advised, break these annual goals intohabits, monthly and weekly goals, and daily to-dos.

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A Speech Is Not an Essay

January 2, 2016 § Leave a comment

Reading an essay to an audience can bore them to tears. I recently attended a conference where a brilliant man was speaking on a topic about which he was one of the world’s experts. Unfortunately, what he delivered was not a speech but an essay. This renowned academic had mastered the written form but mistakenly presumed that the same style could be used at a podium in the context of an hour-long public address. He treated the audience to exceptional content that was almost impossible to follow — monotone, flat, read from a script, and delivered from behind a tall podium.

He would have done well to heed the words of communication professor Bob Frank: “A speech is not an essay on its hind legs.” There is a huge difference between crafting a speech and writing an essay. And for those new to public speaking, the tendency to mimic the forms of writing we already know can be crippling.

Speeches require you to simplify. The average adult reads 300 words per minute, but people can only follow speech closely at around 150-160 words per minute. Similarly,studies have shown auditory memory is typically inferior to visual memory, and while most of us can read for hours, our ability to focus on a speech is more constrained. It’s important, then, to write brief and clear speeches. Ten minutes of speaking is only about 1,300 words (you can use this calculator), and while written texts — which can be reviewed, reread, and reexamined — can be subtle and nuanced, spoken word must be followed in the moment and must be appropriately short, sweet, and to the point.

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5 Tips for Off-the-Cuff Speaking

January 2, 2016 § Leave a comment

If it’s true that many people fear public speaking more than death, it’s equally true that businesspeople are condemned to a thousand small deaths in client pitches, in boardrooms, and on stage. And that death can turn slow and torturous when you are asked to speak unexpectedly with little or no time to prepare. One of the key demands of business is the ability to speak extemporaneously. Whether giving an unexpected “elevator pitch” to a potential investor or being asked at the last minute to offer remarks to a sales team over dinner, the demands for a business person to speak with limited preparation are diverse, endless, and — to many — terrifying.

I became more comfortable with these situations through one of my primary activities in college, competitive public speaking called “forensics” (from the Latin “forensis,”which means “in an open court, public”). In forensics, one of my favorite categories was “limited preparation” in which we were given between 1 and 30 minutes to prepare a 5–7 minute speech. The lessons learned in those limited preparation events have paid huge dividends to my work in business. They carried me through my first consulting case interviews right out of college. They’ve helped me address complex questions from bosses and board members. And they’ve helped me when I’ve been put on the spot to address college classes and new analyst training sessions.

No matter your position, they can also be useful to you. Here are a few of the tips I picked up along the way:

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3 Priorities for Leaders Who Want to Go Beyond Command-and-Control

July 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

With Jim Whitehurst

It’s cliché to say that “command and control” leadership is no longer relevant in most organizational contexts. But — especially in large, global, diverse organizations — what should it be replaced with? Leaders increasingly need to model traits that reflect the values and culture of the organization in which they operate. It’s nearly impossible to capture all those traits — every organization will have a different set of norms and customs. But there are at least a few essential leadership traits that we find common in many firms today.

First, in a world in which labor markets are fluid, leaders must inspire and impart purpose.When one of us interviewed young leaders for a book, two of the top three reasons they sought particular jobs were “intellectual challenge” and “opportunity to impact the world;” and other studieshave consistently highlighted the increasing focus younger workers in particular place on purpose in the workplace. Anecdotally, that emphasis on finding purpose in our workplaces and in the companies we patronize — or as Simon Sinek might phrase it, starting with “why” — is redefining the way innovative companies like TOMSZapposWhole Foods, and Google attract and retain talent. And at Red Hat, where one of us is CEO, the organization’s mission is a powerful catalyst in communities of customers, contributors, and partners for creating technology the open source way. The people who succeed in that context are those who are most inspired by that mission and are able to pass that inspiration to others and impart purpose in everything they do.

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Find Quiet (and Maybe Even Peace) at Work

July 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

My uncle has a farm in Meriwether County, Georgia. When I was a kid, I spent weekends there camping, fishing, and spending time with family and friends. It was my place to wonder and wander. In a time before mobile devices, I could lie in the grass looking up at the stars and experience real solitude and silence. There were no car engines or text message alerts. The silence created space for reflection and imagination.

On a recent workday, in contrast, a venue near my office held an all-day rock concert that shook the windows in my office with sound checks and live music from 9 a.m. until I went home. The previous day I’d made a day trip to New York — a 16-hour cacophony of jet engines, pilot announcements, car horns, and strangers talking loudly into mobile phones. My experiences are not unique. Most of us now live and work in noisy environments. The ubiquity of electronic devices and the density of the cities in which we live mean that few of us regularly experience silence.

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Leadership Is Not a Solitary Task

July 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

An inspiring historical story is once again making the rounds at least partially because of its inclusion in Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, David and Goliath. In it, Gladwell tells the story of the French town of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, which became a safe haven for Jews in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. Led by minister André Trocmé, the residents of Le Chambon-sur-Lignonsaved between 3,000 and 3,500 Jews (in addition to others seeking refuge) from 1940 until the end of the war, bringing them into the community and hiding them from French and Nazi officials. By any measure, their actions were courageous and inspiring. They were also an example of the power of community in leadership.

We often think of leadership as a solitary task. Buying into Thomas Carlyle’s “great man” theory of history, we speak of leadership in solitary and personal terms. And certainly, history is filled with examples of men and women like Trocmé, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, and Mother Theresa who took bold individual action. But most real change — even the change driven by those aforementioned leaders — is community-driven and community-focused. Some of the greatest accomplishments in business, politics, and culture have come not from individual initiative alone but from those working inwith, and for community.

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After Graduating, Keep Community First

July 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

Community is the heart of university. Students mix with other similarly aged people in an environment ripe with social activity, friendship, ideation, and discussion. It’s the most powerful element of college or graduate school — and also the most jarring to leave behind.

Social isolation often follows graduation. I know firsthand. After college, I moved to Washington, D.C., and ended up living in the suburbs near work for a year, struggling to connect with others in a new city where few friends lived nearby. And after graduate school, I moved to Atlanta, but had to commute for one year back and forth to Boston where my wife was finishing grad school — a schedule that made it nearly impossible to get involved with friends or organizations in the city I called home. During those times, I found myself unfulfilled, lonely, and restless — struggling to rediscover the community and connection I’d taken for granted the year before.

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Six Components of a Great Corporate Culture

July 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

The benefits of a strong corporate culture are both intuitive and supported by social science.According to James L. Heskett, culture “can account for 20-30% of the differential in corporate performance when compared with ‘culturally unremarkable’ competitors.” And HBR writers have offered advice on navigating different geographic culturesselecting jobs based on culturechanging cultures, and offering feedback across cultures, among other topics.

But what makes a culture? Each culture is unique and myriad factors go into creating one, but I’ve observed at least six common components of great cultures. Isolating those elements can be the first step to building a differentiated culture and a lasting organization.

1. Vision: A great culture starts with a vision or mission statement. These simple turns of phrase guide a company’s values and provide it with purpose. That purpose, in turn, orients every decision employees make. When they are deeply authentic and prominently displayed, good vision statements can even help orient customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders. Nonprofits often excel at having compelling, simple vision statements. The Alzheimer’s Association, for example, is dedicated to “a world without Alzheimer’s.” And Oxfam envisions “a just world without poverty.” A vision statement is a simple but foundational element of culture.

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Old-School Business Practices Worth Bringing Back

July 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

In general, the business community is obsessed with what Michael Lewis once termed the “new, new thing.” It’s that faith in a kind of kaizen-in-all-things that has led to innumerable technological, organizational, and social advances in the corporate world. It’s why factories are now safer, hybrid cars are cheaper, board rooms are growing gradually more diverse, and instant communication via email and other technologies is becoming the norm. Progress is good, and the business community has made real advances over the last 50-60 years.

But are there elements of mid-twentieth-century business culture that may be worth preserving? Reading responses to my recent posts on the benefits of reading and of writing personal notes, I was struck by how many commenters waxed nostalgic for these (as many called them) “old school”practices. There was a sense that while progress has been made, certain practices of mid-twentieth-century business culture merit a second look in the modern workplace. That got me thinking — beyond reading books and handwriting notes, what other “old school” office habits might be worth resurrecting? At least five suggestions came to mind:

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Handwritten Notes Are a Rare Commodity. They’re Also More Important Than Ever.

July 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

When I was a college student interning in Washington, D.C., a senior manager, Bridgett, made a habit of treating each intern to lunch over the summer. When my turn rolled around, it was no surprise that Bridgett proved an adept conversationalist and an excellent host. Several weeks after I’d returned to college, however, I was surprised to find an envelope from Bridgett in my mailbox. It contained a handwritten note and a copy of Flannery O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners, a book she’d recommended over lunch. I barely knew Bridgett, but her note said that I’d helped her organization and that she appreciated it and wished me luck. It was a gesture that stayed with me and forever led me to view Bridgett as a thoughtful person. Personal handwritten notes grow rarer by the day. According to the U.S. Postal Service’s annual survey, the average home only received a personal letter once every seven weeks in 2010, down from once every two weeks in 1987. And The Wall Street Journal recently lamented the “lost art of the handwritten note.” Some might claim that in a wired world — where emails, tweets, and text messages are more accessible than handwritten notes — this is the natural evolution of communication. Who has time for stamps, stationery, and “manual” spell-check, after all? But I think it’s premature to write off the importance of handwritten notes. They remain impactful and unique in several ways.

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