Recent research suggests those who sit at a desk for six hours or more each day are 40 percent more likely to die within 15 years than those who are stationary less than three hours. That should be a scary statistic for a lot of folks – including me sometimes when I have a full day of phone coaching sessions and then write a blog entry.
There are many ways to overcome a sedentary work style including getting up and walking around or visiting peers instead of emailing and calling. Exercise is good, too, which is why I awaken at oh-dark-thirty three days a week to swim. (Sidebar: The YMCA closed its indoor heated pool last week for three months to remodel. Until the weather gets too cold, they’re utilizing the outdoor pool. Monday it was an unseasonal 60 degrees at 6:45 a.m. That will wake you up when you hit the water.)
Perhaps the best solution would be to work in a field that doesn’t require sitting all day. There are certainly a lot of career options available – nursing, waitressing and lawn care come to mind. Postmen and policemen use to walk, but that was a generation ago.
This morning – sitting at my desk during a coaching call – I saw someone who combines the perfect wage-earning/exercising program. Outside my window a man was placing door hangers. What struck me is how he was dressed: dry-fit wicking muscle shirt, nylon shorts, running shoes, sun glasses and iPod band around his arm with ear buds connected. Then I noticed he was running, pretty much sprinting, door-to-door. And this was no spring chicken. He had gray hair.
I envision this gentleman spending all day running around neighborhoods. Certainly not getting wealthy distributing advertising materials, yet enjoying the fresh fall air and making his heart healthier. So, after you read this, get up and go for a walk. If you need inspiration, think of the ‘door hanger guy.’ Of course, if you’re really motivated, go for a swim. You can think of me while you’re doing laps.
One piece of the executive coaching program I deliver to senior leaders involves conducting feedback interviews with superiors, peers and direct reports. Everything is anonymous – and as a trained journalist I tend to induce candid remarks that serve as valuable data during the coaching engagement. After speaking to 10-12 people, I transcribe comments then sit with a client to review others’ perceptions one by one.
Before these debriefing sessions, I give clients a ‘what to expect when you receive feedback’ document to help them prepare for hearing views about their performance and style. The range of emotional reactions is described as the SARAH Cycle: Surprise, Annoyance, Resistance, Acceptance, Hope. Much like the five stages of grief (DABDA) are non-linear, clients flow back and forth among SARAH before becoming open to change.
“I didn’t realize…” is an oft-heard response during a debriefing. When we finish, I tell a client to put the report away for a week and let some time pass. That allows the emotional response to dissipate and places a client in a much better mindset to work on changing what she desires. Interestingly, about half the people – and I’ve presented at least 50 of these over the years – tell me during our next session they read everything again that night. Then they showed the report to their significant other. Then they kicked the dog. (Just kidding about one of those.)
Yet, with all the angst that comes with having me ask, “What do you think about _____?” clients discover this is one of most important steps in growing into a stronger leader. If you’re looking to build on your strengths and improve areas where you’re challenged, have someone ask about you.
This week during three separate coaching sessions, clients asked me how to be better at communicating. As I explored with each the ‘issue behind the issue’ it was clear the person felt he/she tended to jump into conversations in a rapid-fire, your turn/my turn manner.
“When we’re in meetings,” one said, “it’s as if the entire room is salivating in anticipation of a small sliver of an opening so someone else can speak. There’s never silence.”
I asked questions to help him find clarity about what his preferred style would be, and he realized the true desire is to not react poorly to something someone said. From his perspective, there is a tendency to say things abruptly that heighten the energy flowing around the room or in one-on-one discussions, then he regrets it afterward… and often has to circle back to conduct damage control.
There is a technique called ‘take a pause’ that I shared with him, and we did some role-playing so he could be comfortable with silence. The first time I asked him to remain silent for 10 seconds after I finished talking. I ran a stopwatch, and he was surprised to learn his first words came only six seconds later. We began to reduce the time expanse until he had a sense of the length of just a two-second moment of silence.
If you find yourself struggling with non-stop, rapid-fire conversations – or in meetings you’re chomping at the bit to get in a word edgewise, practice taking a pause. Not only will you have more peace inside, you’ll find your answers are more concise and appropriate. It’s amazing what a difference two seconds will make in your effectiveness.
Over the last year I worked to develop a relationship with a large company in the transportation industry. This included starting over midway through when the person who oversees their coaching practice left the organization. Several months after that setback I had a terrific conversation with the new director. Finally, on her recommendation, I interviewed with two HR specialists to become part of their stable of coaches. I waited patiently as two weeks passed without hearing a word. Then I received an email informing me they selected someone else.
As the disappointment set in that I wouldn’t be coaching their senior leaders, I felt the dejection of rejection. It’s not a feeling I enjoy, and it’s one reason being a salesperson will never be in my career plans. I moped around for about an hour, went outside for some fresh air and about every 30 minutes until bedtime kept falling back into wondering what went wrong.
The next morning I woke up refreshed and with a new attitude. While I could have sat around feeling sorry for myself – ‘How could they not choose me?’ – that would have only wasted time. It wouldn’t have changed anything.
Then wisdom arrived: This was not about me being qualified or talented enough to coach their leaders; it was about the decision-maker selecting what is best – from her perspective – for their organization. My role in the process was to be authentic. I did my part. She did hers. This time there wasn’t alignment. Tomorrow will be another opportunity with another organization. I’m ready.
Part of my coaching work with executives consists of conducting feedback interviews with 10-12 of their supervisors, peers and direct reports. This provides insight into the perceptions of those who know the person being coached in a working relationship. Typically, three or four underlying behaviors arise that clients seek to improve during our coaching sessions.
While it’s better to have a detached third-person – like a coach – explore areas around what are Susie’s biggest strengths, where are ways Billy can be more successful and describe John’s communication style, you can do this on your own.
Choose a few folks who you interact with on a regular basis and ask them to sit down and share how they see you… giving them permission upfront to be candid. Listen closely to what they’re saying, taking a few ‘headline’ notes without being absorbed in capturing every word. Be sure not to react to anything you hear. This isn’t an exercise in right or wrong, good or bad; it’s exploratory research and a chance to learn.
These conversations should last less than 15 minutes. End each one by asking is there anything else I should know that would help me be a better leader? Then simply say thank you. There’s no need to accept, reject or negotiate any of their viewpoints. After you talk to everyone review your notes and look for patterns where you could do better. Chances are if there’s something you need to change more than one person mentioned it. Choose two or three that are important to you, and put together a self-improvement plan.
Circle back to tell each person how much you appreciate his or her helping you, and share the first things you’re going to address. This lets them know it wasn’t just a conversation that ended without action. Finally, select one person to serve as your accountability partner to ensure you stay focused on achieving change, and schedule brief ‘check in’ updates every few weeks for several months. Soon you’ll start seeing a better you.