Why Brian Williams’ Suspension Surprised Me

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I’ve been hashing and re-hashing the news that NBC has suspended anchor Brian Williams, after it was revealed he embellished stories concerning his experiences. Whether his memories became hazy when recalling events, or he purposely enhanced his story of a helicopter ride in 2003, is really of no consequence. His role as managing editor at NBC required the utmost caution and care when disseminating information — an essential competency for continued success in that role.

I truly feel for his predicament, as we all make mistakes — and his respect his tenure. However, I remain disappointed that NBC didn’t respect the most critical competency required for that role: complete honesty.

Organizations become loyal to their most valued employees — a common and usually positive occurrence. (It is the essence of building a two-way relationship.) However, that loyalty can negatively impact that same organization in cases such as this. Our own judgements can become cloudy, where a much loved or respected colleague are concerned. But, in extreme cases, a parting of the ways is the only solution that really makes sense.

A 6 month suspension does offer Williams and NBC time to sort out his situation, and consider potential paths. However, he should have stepped down from his role immediately. When he didn’t do so — he likely should have been fired, rather than suspended.

Leaders must make tough calls where the essence of their organizational mission is threatened. I do understand that in this case, there are many powerful elements to consider.

But sadly, in some cases — we must part ways with even our most engaging employees.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.

In Work Life — Kindness Matters

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Kindness applies so clearly to our work lives, However, we rarely exercise the option to use it.

We’ve all suffered career disappointments and detours. However, many of these low points, could have been tempered with a small dose of kindness. The opportunities for kindness are really endless. We just have to be mindful that they exist.

Here are just a couple of examples from my own career, where kindness might have changed the eventual outcome.

  • Applying for a job. Most of us have been either ignored, put off or minimized during the hiring process. For example: Don’t post a role that has really already filled — or if a decision will not be made for months, don’t promise an update in a week. (Someone might turn down an opportunity with you in mind.) The truth is often the kindest option. Go with it.
  • A sharp change in direction. I was to gather data for my dissertation at a large auto company. One week before the process was to begin, a newly hired VP of HR stated: “We have ivy-league schools clambering to study us, why would I allow you to do so?”. (BTW, I attended Wayne State University, located in the heart of Detroit. It took 6 months to re-group with another sample). Explaining why they couldn’t comply, without insult, would have been a kinder route.
  • Organizational downsizing. I was caught in one of these melees, early in my career. After offering my heart and soul to the organization for nearly 2 years, they offered me a cardboard box (and out placement, if I signed a document to not sue.) at 4:00 on a Friday afternoon. If I had known my role was in danger, I could have looked for another role. Instead they chose to be cold and perfunctory, to avoid a real conversation and potential legal issues. Shame on them. Real leaders know better.

I’m sure you have your own work life stories to reflect upon. How would an act of kindness have changed the situation?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.

Is 2015 a Career Transition Year for You?

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People change — that’s a given. Organizations change. That is also a given. What we desire (or require) from our work lives, evolves right alongside these elements. Although pay and benefits certainly play a role — remaining in our current role has much to do with the enjoyment derived from the work we complete. So why is it that so many of us hesitate to make a change, when the fit just isn’t there?

I often enter people’s lives when they are moving from one career chapter to another. In many cases, this transition can become quite a stressful experience. (But, not for the reasons that you might initially think of.) I’ve found that the “nuts and bolts” of this transition, are often not as challenging as the emotional struggle that occurs beforehand. We clearly fight change, for a multitude of reasons.

Transitions are not easy, but we can tackle a change. When you are at the fringe of a new beginning — things can appear very, very fuzzy. This creates much trepidation and worry, so a strategy will help.

Here is my best advice to help you move through this:

  • Accept the need to move on. We spend a lot of time forcing situations to work, that are ultimately doomed to fail long-term. This will not stop the inevitable. Change is difficult — but often worth the trouble. Entertain the notion that you can discover a better option.
  • Set your vision. Determine exactly what you are striving for — and offer that vision the respect it deserves, by defining the “edges”. (“I’m unhappy” is not a call to action.) Do the required research that will offer direction. What is working? What is missing from your work life? What role are you aiming for? What must you do, to move in the right direction?
  • Do something — anything. We often dismiss change, because change looks insurmountable. Tackle the process in much smaller steps — but start somewhere. For example, begin by completing one action a day to drive you forward. (One call, one conversation, one e-mail, one new network connection.) Not unlike earned interest, your actions will compound daily.
  • Give things time. It is often a shock to realize that your current work life, will become a part of your past. You must offer yourself time to grieve for what has transpired, and develop a positive outlook for the future. Rome wasn’t built in a day. You’ll tackle the individual elements (where, when, how) as they come. Have hope that the right solution will emerge.

Have you successfully changed your career for the better? Share your story (and strategies) here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, consultant and coach She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.

The Office Blend: 2014 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog. Here’s the story.

Here’s a little infromation:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 120,000 times in 2014. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 5 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Art of Being Mindful at Work

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A wonderful friend of mine is a successful real estate agent. She spends most of her days, evenings and weekends helping others find, or sell a home. Of course, she meets clients at an emotionally charged impasse in their lives — contemplating a change in residence. This can be a stressful experience.

There are so many elements that enter the conversation; jobs, money, family, security, space, hopes and dreams. (We buy or sell a home, for more reasons than I can count.) Any of these elements can become a challenge during the process.

Having observed my friend over the years, I’ve noticed one critical strategy that she employs: patience. She allows her clients the emotional space to be the human beings that they are. They are allowed to express emotion, to vent, to change direction, and their own minds. She doesn’t judge or react in the moment. She doesn’t shame them for being upset or frustrated.  She lets the whole process unfold in a way that allows the safety to find what they need, at that very moment in their lives.

I respect that. I like to call it “Mindful Real Estate”.

I believe the reason she has experienced such great success, is not that she has an impressive resume — or has deep connections. It is because she respects her clients and the daunting process in which they find themselves. She allows the process to unfold organically. There can be bumps in that road, and that is entirely OK.

Whether we are at work, home or play, we can all learn from her strategy. Don’t fight the condition of being human — and offer patience whenever you can muster the fortitude to do so.

I’m making it my business to remember that lesson going forward.

Maybe this can help you in some small way, as well.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.

Reflections on Honesty, Success and Ebay

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Our family is getting set to move from our home of 14 years. To be quite honest, I briefly tear up just thinking about the amount of packing ahead of me — and the work needed in our new home (built in 1948). I’ve become brutal about throwing things out, or finding items a worthy new home. I’ve hauled various things around (the paper surveys from my dissertation, for example) from house to house. No more. Time to let go.

With that in mind, I’ve been listing extra pieces of furniture and treasures found in the dark recesses of cabinets, on Ebay and Craig’s List. One such find, was a set of 10 colorful Pez dispensers. I hastily threw together an Ebay listing, which included a great Miss Piggy and a jolly looking Santa.

As it turned out, I really didn’t know what I had. Miss Piggy wasn’t the star of the show after all — and what unfolded was far more notable.

My first clue should have been the 3 “watchers” in the first 30 seconds after publishing the listing. What I finally learned, was that one of the Pez Dispensers was of quite a rare variety — and I hadn’t even bothered to call it out separately. Named “No Feet Indian Maiden” (so sorry, not my choice), it was manufactured in Austria back in the 50’s.

I had no idea. I can’t even recall how it landed in my possession. To a collector, this was a rare opportunity to enhance a collection.

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Within 10 minutes a very kind woman wrote to inquire about a “buy it now” price. She also quickly let me know what “No Feet Indian Maiden” was worth, on its own and suggested I pull down the listing and reconsider. (Its value is around $100.00, not a huge amount, but much more than I imagined. My opening price: $5.95)

I’ll have to say, I did learn that a real collector is a different type of person. (I’ve never stayed focused long enough to become one.) They respect their chosen genre, and the others who collect alongside of them.  She would have loved to own my “Maiden” — but not enough to cheat me out of a fair price in the process. I’ll venture to say that would have lessened her experience nearly as much as mine, if I had eventually discovered my error.

I believe this same principle of honesty applies to the workplace. We all have those moments when we struggle to be completely open and honest for various reasons. However, success just isn’t the same, if you don’t treat others honestly — in the manner you would like to be treated. A level playing field offers a feeling of confidence, that you have “made it” on your own merit. Holding back is just plain wrong. Period.

Here are a couple of examples, of what I’m getting at:

  • Be honest about what you really want. Be forthcoming about what you need from another individual. Don’t act as if you are offering something of value to them — if it is really only about benefiting you. People will see through the thin veil — and they will likely think poorly of you. Remember, it’s alright to call a favor, a favor.
  • Be honest even if you might lose something in the process. If possible, offer the honest feedback that can help another individual succeed. Don’t hold back simply because you may temporarily weaken your own position in the equation. Life and work  is not a “zero sum” game. Play the “long game” and lend that helping hand.
  • Be honest even when it creates a bit of stress. If you are asked an opinion concerning the quality of someone’s work, don’t completely sugar coat your feedback. If there are weaknesses that can be improved, be forthcoming. If things go wrong later on, they’ll wonder why you didn’t raise the red flag. That could be viewed as a betrayal.

So, thank you Maggie from Idaho — I appreciate your honesty. It is the small gestures like this that make the holidays rock for me.

In terms of work life success, just keep in mind that catching that prize, the big promotion or that raise — just isn’t the same if you sacrifice even just a bit of your integrity.

Somehow that kind of success, just isn’t as sweet.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.

You’re Wrong if You Think Your Career Won’t Change

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We all underestimate our own potential to evolve. I know that I’ve made this mistake. As a graduate student in psychology, I was quite certain that I knew my path. At that early juncture, my interests centered solely on the development and validation of selection tests. (Focusing on topics such as motivation or aligning work with strengths, never occurred to me.) As most of us do, I surmised that with the passage of time, I would remain relatively constant as an individual — and that satisfaction with that direction would remain strong. However, time has a way of changing us. In fact, that original career trajectory is far from how I define myself as a contributor today.

Truth be told — we all evolve. In many cases, it is difficult to detect the changes as they are occurring. (They overtake us somehow.)

Does this impact work and career? Of course.

A series of studies conducted by Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert and his team (See the recent TED Talk below), have explored the process of how we view personal change over time and the potential impact upon our lives. Their research revealed that we tend to underestimate changes in both our core personality traits (represented by the “Big 5″: conscientiousness, agreeableness, emotional stability, openness to experience and extroversion) and our core values (measured by the Schwartz Value Inventory) over the decades of our lives. The magnitude of the illusion seems to decrease as we age, but it remains present.

We make decisions concerning what will bring us fulfillment in the future, based upon our current state. However, we underestimate how we might change over time. Essentially, we are forced to draw inferences from the past — something Gilbert aptly names, “The End of History Illusion”. We make decisions and view our lives, as if that history has ended. So, as that carefully designed future takes shape — there is a real possibility that it may no longer align with who we have actually become.

Ultimately, our own “history” continues to shake and shift.

The challenge to apply this dynamic to work and career are clear. If we don’t consider or anticipate change — we may not be prepared deal with that dynamic when it occurs.

Can we predict exactly how we will change with the twists and turns of life? No, that’s not likely. However, we can look for the subtle changes that might affect us:

  • Listen intently. Not to others around you — to your inner voice. If you have the distinct feeling that your work is not bringing the fulfillment it once did, pause and reflect on that realization. Explore how you arrived at this impasse.
  • Embrace it. People change — it is a fact of life. You are allowed to evolve, as well. A role that brought you happiness at 25, may not suit you at 35. One that was perfectly aligned with your goals before having a child, may no longer suffice. Life and experiences will change the essence of how we might derive energy from our work. This is completely normal.
  • Respond. Ignoring a seismic shift in career aspirations, will not stop the dynamic from progressing. You do possess free will. Take a moment to determine what may need to change to accommodate your evolution. Start with a list of work life elements that currently bring you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction — then compare with what you would have chosen 5 or 10 years ago. What changes do you see?

As the researchers observed: “History, it seems is always ending today”. So instead, strive to embrace your ever-changing work life. A long and healthy career may center on our respect for how we might change over time.

How has your history evolved? How did you respond?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto.

The Good, Bad & the Ugly: What I’ve Learned From My Bosses

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One of former my bosses had a penchant for passive-aggressive behavior. I’m certain his role was a stressful one — that likely contributed to his demeanor. However, the cumulative effect of his behavior on the team, was far worse than any root cause. I was never sure if he despised me personally, or was plagued with extremely poor people skills. I’ll never know. I suppose it really doesn’t matter.

He had no business supervising my work — or anyone else for that matter. He was toxic.

I’ve also worked with the best of what bosses can be. I freely admit that I didn’t realize how great they really were, until reflecting upon my experiences. They made the role seem effortless. That’s how professionals are — they make a difficult task look incredibly easy.

Many of us have experienced a wide range of bosses. Some are well suited to supervising others. Some — well — the fit just wasn’t there. (At least, not at that moment in time.) Of course, we learn a thing or two from all of them, the good and the bad. Even the ugly.

In retrospect, here is what I saw:

  • Great bosses are transparent. Great bosses don’t hesitate to share what you have done right — and the situations that you might need to improve. This isn’t reserved for an end of the year review, it is ongoing and timely. They know when to hit you with the tough stuff — and when to back off. There is never a hidden agenda to contend with. They simply want to help you develop and succeed.
  • They don’t hover. A stretch assignment is a great opportunity to grow. The best of the best bosses know this. While on maternity leave, one of my supervisors allowed me to present a yearly customer research study to the Board of Directors. She never micro-managed, but guided my work, so that I was well prepared. This was very early in my career, and I never forgot how it felt to stand in front of that group. It was empowering. I thank her everyday for that.
  • They never leave anyone high and dry. The boss that I mentioned above, would leave us in the lurch to deal with well-known, extremely difficult clients, or unfinished work that ultimately required his approval. It was extremely stressful. Looking back, these situations could have been a relevant teaching moment for all of us. Instead they were a nightmare. He never sat down with us to discuss strategy, prepare us and offer advice. Shame on him.
  • They see you — beyond today. The most extraordinary thing about a great boss, is that they see what you have to offer — even if you may not. Their honed perspective allows them to see your bright future, even while you might be mired in today’s challenges. They continue to help drive you forward, even when you fail. That is a priceless gift.

Describe your best boss below. What did you learn from them?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto and speaks to groups about making work what it should be.

Utilizing Mindfulness to Tackle the Job Interview

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When we lose ourselves in a stressful moment — a workplace situation can quickly go from challenging to disaster status.

Of course, job interviews are a common scenario which can trigger a host of responses; anticipation, fear, excitement. If you’ve ever sat in the interview chair, you are acutely aware of the struggle to remain calm and focused. As much as we attempt to stay in control — our minds can race out of control — not unlike a runaway train. Managing yourself through this stressful dynamic is key.

Can the concept of mindfulness help us through an interview? Recent research tells us that it can.

Tough workplace scenarios can cause our “fight of flight” response to kick in — and job interviews certainly qualify. Labeled “Amygdala Hijacks”, by psychologist Daniel Goleman, these moments are characterized by a neurological process where our “rational brain” (Neo-cortex) becomes overpowered by our emotional brain. This renders us in a weakened position to deal with these situations effectively.

Mindfulness — defined as “The psychological state where you focus on the events of the present moment” — allows us to observe the events of our lives from a safer distance, without necessarily reacting in that moment. One key element, is the notion of equanimity, or “non-reactivity” to the events happening around us. Mindfulness tells us to pay attention and acknowledge both one’s inner experience and the outer world, without necessarily reacting immediately.

Discussed at length concerning its impact on both our psychological and physical well-being (See here and here), mindfulness can help us remain balanced in many situations that might normally derail us. One recent study links mindfulness to effective workplace behavior. The research revealed that mindfulness may help with roles that require a series of decisions in quick succession — not unlike the multiple decisions/responses we face during a job interview. Managing our automatic responses, (such as becoming nervous or flustered) and re-focusing that energy toward staying composed is key.

How might mindfulness help us in a job interview? Above all, you want to represent yourself completely. Regrets concerning what you may have forgotten to mention, (or did mention) can prove critical. During interviews we can become overwhelmed and “lose our heads” — as we quickly lose focus on the goals of the current conversation. (You can find yourself either rushing ahead or reviewing your last answer.) If you are unable to remain fully present, you may miss important conversational cues that will help you present yourself well.

We needn’t wait for your next interview, to develop techniques to become more mindful. Weaving techniques into our every day lives can prove to be a worthy investment. Here are a few things to consider:

Try these techniques to stay fully present and aware:

  • Practice the art of “micro-meditation . These are 1-3 minute periods of time to stop (perhaps when you feel most distracted) and breathe. While you are waiting for an interview to begin (seems these are always delayed), utilize the following acronym taught at Google: S.B.N.R.R. — Stop. Breathe. Notice. Reflect. Respond.
  • Tame the “inner voice”. Don’t let an inner monologue take over. (For many of us it is a panicked conversation.) Be aware of a “less than supportive” inner dialogue, that might rear it ugly head. Consciously interrupt it and replace it with a more positive message.
  • Refocus on your ultimate goal. Remind yourself of the purpose of the interview: to accurately portray yourself as a contributor. We all have triggers that cause us to lose focus and react with fear or anger. Monitor these (certain topics, etc.) and remind yourself to stay ahead of an emotional response pattern.
  • Breathe. While, we can’t halt the interview — we can silently “tap ourselves on the shoulder” to stay focused. When you feel your mind racing, mentally pause and “tap”. Collect yourself and return to the moment.
  • Bring along a mental list. Enter the interview with 3 or 4 critical points that you want to leave with the interviewer. Circle back and inject these key points into the conversation.

How do you stay calm and focused during an interview? Share your strategies.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is the Director of Thought Leadership at Kilberry Leadership Advisors, Toronto. She is also serves as an Influencer at LinkedIn.