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KEY WORDS: art, listening, empathy
Image courtesy Pixabay
Image courtesy Pixabay
The “X” factor: Executive presence distinguishes leaders from the crowd of people with mere talent or merit.
First named and described by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, EP is:
“… an amalgam of qualities that true leaders exude, a presence that telegraphs you’re in charge or deserve to be. Articulating those qualities isn’t easy, however.”
Success does not naturally follow talent and hard work. There are studies in support. You need to have extra qualities that are not easily acquired, and can even be hard to pin down. The most well known is Daniel Goleman’s description of Emotional Quotient (EQ).
3 Qualities: EP is a mix of 3 elements.
1. Gravitas: confidence + poise under pressure + decisiveness. This is the defining characteristic of leaders and is easily the most important.
2. Communication skill: speaking skills + deep, close listening + ability to read an audience or a situation. A powerful vocabulary needs to be a part of the territory. There is a direct correlation between vocabulary size and rank on the corporate ladder. Leaders have a much more powerful arsenal of words than those lower in the hierarchy and know how to tailor them to the audience at hand.
3. Appearance: Although not as critical as the other two, it completes the overall effect. A scruffy, distracted appearance does not go down well.
In addition, there are 3 more elements that complete the picture.
1. A calm demeanor: Tantrums and prima donna-like behaviour turn people off. You may be a genius and endowed with rare abilities, but you are unlikely to be a leader if you can’t keep a firm grip on your emotions.
2. Self-awareness: Leaders are aware of their own limitations. They are not afraid to ask for help when they are out of their depth. They delegate effectively.
3. Getting things done: They strive for and achieve completion in all of their tasks. They don’t leave situations hanging and unresolved.
Next time you come across someone who is “charismatic”, use this EP list to see how many of the boxes they check. Ask yourself how you can build it into your persona. Executive presence is not an inborn gift. It can be learned and implemented.
Photo credit: Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay
The Buddha constantly emphasised that the attainment of enlightenment was not the end of the spiritual journey but merely the beginning of a duty: the unremitting responsibility for providing counselling and solace to those in need of help for their prevailing predicaments (Dukkha).
In a professional context, and in a word: mentorship.
Paying it forward: Traditionally, we look at paying back as the way of acknowledging help and support given to us in times of need. There is a more effective alternative: paying it forward. In gratitude for what was received, we should consider helping others in need. The downstream benefits and multiplier effects are much greater. That’s what mentorship is all about.
“. . . a great mentor can provide a path to finding your own true answers.” Tina Turner quoting Miles Davis, the jazz legend.
Coaching differs significantly from mentoring. It is often short-term, well-structured, and designed to achieve specific, tangible outcomes. A coach is the least personal relationship option.
“Searching for a mentor is similar to searching for a spouse: you two need to share common values, concerns, experiences, communication style, and, of course, have time to invest into meaningful conversations with one another.” — [Anna Szabo, Turn Your Dreams And Wants Into Achievable SMART Goals!
An ideal mentor should be:
- Accessible: there when needed.
- Experienced: been there, done that.
- Well connected: knows someone . . . who knows someone.
- Tough but empathic: iron hand under a velvet glove.
- Enthusiastic: yes, you can do it!
- Charismatic: wow factor.
The scaffolding of good mentorship
- Recognise what you desire from the relationship. It’s crucial to keep in mind that mentorship is a relationship. Instead of jumping right into business, the most effective mentorships are those in which the mentor and mentee take the time to get to know each other and grasp each other’s viewpoints.
- Set expectations together from the start. How long do you want the mentoring to continue (but you may always extend it if you both believe it’s beneficial). Define critical objectives for your mentee to attain. Work together to build a general idea of how your meetings should go. Make certain they are focussed on a few essential problems.
- Take a genuine interest in your mentee as a person. The cornerstone of good mentoring is empathic listening.
- Develop a sense of trust. Trust takes years to develop, yet it can be shattered in an instant.
- Don’t make assumptions about the mentee – inquire. Age, gender, colour, physical habitus, and appearance are seldom reliable indicators of what lurks underneath. Find out what makes the mentee tick by talking to them.
- Share your experiences. It can provide you with a unique perspective on the challenges your mentee may be dealing with. You could have had a similar situation, so now is a wonderful opportunity to share what you went through and how you dealt with it.
- Look for resources to help your mentee. This is where mentors can make a real difference. You’ll have insider knowledge of the area and access to resources that your mentee wouldn’t be able to obtain on their own. Link them to these resources.
- Be aware of your limits. When your bandwidth is limited, admit your lack of expertise and recommend other sources or persons.
Anyone can be a mentor: The image of a mentor is often one of leaders, who have been sharpening their skills for years and are experts at what they do. However, that’s not quite true; you can be a mentor if you are enthusiastic and willing to share your experience with others!
Post-COVID, remote work is now firmly entrenched as an alternative for providing professional services. Many individuals believe that physical closeness is necessary in developmental connections such as mentorship. This is wrong. However, mentorship is characterised more by the results achieved than by the medium by which it is carried out.
- Plus: Virtual mentoring may be more egalitarian since visible status signals signifying organisational position and physical stature are reduced to a voice and a screen of equal size in video-based talks.
- Plus: The limitations of shared space and location are also removed with virtual mentoring. Mentor/mentee schedules and locales are more flexible with online choices.
- Minus: Because the whole spectrum of nonverbal signs and vocal subtlety may be lacking, it may take more work to create trust and rapport in the relationship. Virtual mentoring, like many other online partnerships, may suffer from email overload and screen weariness.
“I knew from my own life experience that when someone shows genuine interest in your learning and development, even if only for ten minutes in a busy day, it matters.” — Michelle Obama, Becoming
The claim, “I’m busy,” is flaunted as a badge of honour. But, are you getting things done? Is your health and personal relationships suffering from your busy-ness?
There is a better approach to success and productivity: “slow work.”
“Restore your attention or bring it to a new level by dramatically slowing down whatever you’re doing.” — Sharon Salzberg, Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation
- Dismount the treadmill: We get stuck in the cycle of prioritising the urgent over the important. You have to step off and reverse the choices.
- Single-tasking: Set aside time to focus on a single activity. If the job is complex, break it down into smaller, simpler chunks. It’s useful to work in 20- to 30-minute sessions with short breaks in between. If you are stuck, listen to music, take a short walk–break the rhythm.
- Use the Pareto Principle (80-20 rule): 80% of our outcomes originate from 20% of our efforts. Invest time in understanding the activities that have the “greatest bang for the buck” and focus your energies on them. This will help you transition from a hustling attitude to a leisurely work philosophy.
Decision making has speed limits
In today’s world, much of our daily efforts involve decisions. If you are hoping to hasten your decision-making, forget it. You can’t ramp up the speed of your thoughts no matter what you do or how hard you try. Your thinking rate is fixed.
Some guidelines for good decision making
- Concentrate on what you really want. Ask yourself, “What do I intend to accomplish by addressing this choice?” Look at the answer from a 360 degree perspective.
- Don’t get caught up in little details. Leave them for later, when you are actually executing the task.
- To avoid decision-making under pressure, pre-commit to strategies that you have thought out ahead of time.
- Seek the opinion of others. Obtain a few perspectives, preferably from those who have past knowledge of the subject.
- Be aware of your emotions. Don’t let anger and other negative feelings push you.
- Write down your ideas and options to help you clarify your thinking.
The quality of your judgments suffers when you are under pressure.
If you want to make better decisions, you need to do everything you can to reduce the pressure you’re under. You need to let your brain take all the time it needs to think through the problem at hand. You need to get out of a reactive mode, recognise when you need to pause, and spend more time looking at problems.
Make judgments while sitting down and examining the subject from several perspectives. You’ll still need to set aside time to do nothing but ponder.
The merits of slack time
Slack is the lubricant of change.
We are brainwashed by the belief that continuous activity equals efficiency. A lot of this perceived busyness is spent in the pursuit of trivial, unimportant tasks. In order to be effective, a certain amount of wiggle room is mandatory.
This is how the Japanese listen to speakers. When someone addresses a group in Japan, the audience will shut their eyes and listen with their heads bowed. They are focusing on the Hara, an energy field that is centred around the navel of the abdomen. This response can be extremely disconcerting to outsiders who are invited to talk and are unaware of the practice.
There is a lesson to be learned from the Japanese about the skill of listening with empathy.
Skills can be hard or soft. Hard skills can be made explicit and overt, taught and passed down hierarchies with relative ease. Apprenticeship remains the major route for acquiring hard skills.
In earlier times, you could thrive on your hard skills alone. You could be rude, gruff and inhospitable, but the world would beat a path to your product. Not so any more.
Soft skills are vital in an age where technology is usurping and executing physical tasks. Soft skills are tacit — much harder to teach and certify. There are varying degrees of difficulty in the quest to acquire them. Indeed, there are some that can’t be taught; empathy may be one such.
Humans are social animals. Except for the occasional hermit, we need contact with our fellow humans on a regular, sustained basis. From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes perfect sense: connected groups have a better chance of survival than solo artists. Many people, even though they have strong feelings about wanting to connect with others, have problems with social connection and understanding.
Communication skills head the list of useful social soft skills. This is the age of networks where persons who are most valued and respected — influencers — are those who are deemed to be good with people at all levels, not tied down by rigid hierarchies and social strata.
- Listening skills are very important tools for being a good communicator. Empathy — the ability to feel another person’s emotions, particularly pain — is the cornerstone of good listening.
- Humans have an impressive array of tools for expressing and perceiving emotions. Body language and facial expressions are two traditional outward manifestations that can be read by listeners. They can often convey more messages than words.
- Nevertheless, the spoken word is the cornerstone of communication. The voice is a particularly powerful channel for expressing emotions. In addition to the linguistic and content elements of speech, there are “paralinguistic” vocal cues that may provide effective pointers to underlying feelings which impel the words. These include volume, pitch and cadence.
Empathic accuracy is a skill with which individuals can effectively judge the emotions, thoughts, and feelings of others.
In 2017, Michael Kraus from the Yale University School of Management published a very intriguing piece of research. The study was carried out with 1772 participants. The central prediction tested in these studies was that voice-only communication enhances empathic accuracy relative to communication across senses. In other words, shutting off sight could enhance empathic accuracy.
The data showed that voice-only communication elicited higher rates of empathic accuracy relative to vision-only and multisense communication, both while engaging in interactions and perceiving emotions in recorded interactions of strangers.
- Voice-only communication is likely to enhance empathic accuracy by increasing focused attention on the linguistic and paralinguistic vocal cues that accompany speech.
It seems as though the advice to listen with your mouth shut needs to be extended to the eyes as well!
Reference: Voice-Only Communication Enhances Empathic Accuracy. Michael W. Kraus, Yale University, School of Management, American Psychologist 2017, Vol. 72, No. 7, 644–654
Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, Marie Curie, Nelson Mandela, Thomas Edison, Virginia Woolf, “Che” Guevara, Anne Frank, Leonardo da Vinci: a list of famous people with a diverse range of interests. What did they all have in common? They maintained personal journals through their lifetimes.
Who’s Got the Time to Write Daily?
First, a popular myth has to be dispelled. Journal writing need not be an unremitting, daily effort. The association of journaling with conventional diaries, segmented by days, is, most likely, the reason for this misconception. Daily journaling quickly becomes a chore that is easy to give up.
Instead, only record what you want to remember. Make it an exercise in capturing and archiving thoughts, emotions and ideas coming from within you. Write about interesting people, conversations, meetings, books, lectures, places — anything that captures your attention. Over time, the collection will become a resource that will act as a secure helmsman to steer you through the turbulence of life.
It’s best to keep it as a private record although, we are so much richer for many of them having been published. Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl is the most well known example of the power of a journal. There are many more.
Why Should You Keep a Journal?
Journaling should be a collection of ideas rather than a chronological log of quotidian events. Putting your thoughts down on paper (or as digital bits if you prefer) unburdens your memory, a notoriously fallible storehouse. Journal writing is a powerful productivity and self-improvement tool.
There are numerous benefits to keeping a journal.
- Problem solving: Writing is a tool for thinking clearly. The effort of transforming what’s in our heads as disjointed notions into words clarifies ideas and concepts. Spending fifteen to thirty minutes in this effort allows you to see the problem in distinct, easily grasped pieces. Organising them and making sense out of the puzzle becomes an easier task.
- Decision diary: Get into the habit of making entries for the more significant decisions you make in your life. Put down brief statements about the following items:
— The nature of the situation that needs a resolution.
— A list of the possible routes of action.
— The pros and cons of each of them.
— Your choice and why you did so.
— What tradeoffs did you have to make?
— What do you expect from this selection?
As the diary grows, review your entries now and then. You will get a good insight into your decision-making process.
- Stress reduction: Studies have shown that regular writing reduces stress. Anxiety and depression can be alleviated to remarkable degrees by expressive writing and pouring out deep emotions.
- Physical ailments: The benefits are not limited to behavioural problems. Many common disorders manifesting with pain and limitation of daily activities can respond to a simple recording of symptoms and feelings. Recognising pain and discomfort as something distinct and reportable goes a long way to augment healing processes within yourself.
- Gratitude journal: Regardless of how bad things look, there are still so many others which are going right for you. You don’t have to be a Pollyanna;there is much to be grateful for. Write them down in your journal. The effects on your overall wellbeing can be substantial.
- Self-discipline: Regularity in writing is an act of self-discipline and will power. It builds up resilience in all other aspects of your daily life.
Despite its popularity, there’s ample evidence that undergoing therapy with a trained analyst may be no more beneficial than talking to someone, even a friendly bartender. A well-nurtured personal journal is all you need. The list of winners at the head of this article, and many more, is proof.
How Do I Go About It?
The straight answer: Use whichever method or tool works for you.
It’s best to keep the process as simple and handy as you can: from just a notebook (a Moleskin, if you wish) to drawing, sketching, mind-mapping, visual thinking, photos, voice recording or any of the dozens of digital tools that are available for the purpose.
Apps like Evernote or Bear are fantastic for the ways and means by which you can organise and manipulate your entries. There are apps like Journal One which are specifically designed for the purpose.
The trick is consistency. Stick with whatever gives you the most value for the effort.
How Often Should I Review My Journal?
Once again, there is no hard and fast rule. Whenever you do look back, chose a time when you are calm, rested and still. Although there is a huge temptation to look when times are turbulent, you may not get the most out of your writing at these moments. Nevertheless, let your intuition direct you.
You must let your journal be a guiding lamp in your progress through life. No one can know and understand you better than yourself. It’s not unusual to be taken by surprise at the profound nature of your observations.
Stephen King Says
“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching … your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.” ― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Dr Arjun Rajagopalan
You’re confident that this year, you will persist with your New Year’s resolutions through the year. Come February: “Maybe next year, I’ll show more control. I will give this year a rain check”.
Why are we so bad at sticking to our goals? Why are we so short on self-control and will power?
Willpower is a finite resource; we have a fixed capacity for the trait. A large body of studies exists in support of the limited nature of self-control. Like a battery, you can run out of charge (and risk damaging the device) if you drain it to the limit. You can charge a battery again and start over, but with self-control, each attempt at pushing yourself to the hilt leaves behind a strong residue of negative feeling which makes the next effort tough to start.
The key is in using will power (the battery) in short spurts and building up your resilience (the snowball).
If your resolution is to get fit enough to make a 10 km run with comfort, you don’t start by trying to run the distance on the first day. The fatigue and soreness which follows will dissuade you from trying again. You start by running a small length and stop while you are still feeling good. You increase the distance by moderate amounts every few days, remaining at all times within your comfort zone. Surely, but surely, you will reach the 10 km goal and feel good after it. This positive feeling will sustain your exercise effort over a long time.
If you are starting a weight reduction diet, don’t jump cold turkey into the 800 calories, no-carb programme. You will fail. Start with cutting out sugared drinks first, then the white bread and keep extending the list, a few days at a time, item by item. Weight loss will be slower, but you are much more likely to stay on the diet and shed kilos in the long term. Each sustained success will boost the next onward sally.
There is a welcome bonus to this tactic. When you build muscle, the workouts at the gym are of value when you need to do other challenging physical activities. Likewise, will power gained from one endeavour will extend to other personal changes that you kick-off. Self-confidence and enthusiasm build with each victory.
The bottom line: you have to train yourself to become a snowball using momentum from short bursts of the battery.
[Previous studies account for] the mechanism through which self-control affects individual behavior in the short-run, with two competing models. The first model, “ego or resource depletion model” views self-control as a perishable resource, which is depleted following an initial self-control act, hence impeding self-control ability in the short-run. On the other hand, the second model views self-control as a “knowledge structure”, where this knowledge is accessed following any initial self-control act, and it serves as motivation for improving self-control ability in the short-run. (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jebo.2017.10.021
Dr Arjun Rajagopalan
There was a time, not so long ago, when, if you wanted a book or needed to research a topic, you had to go to a bookshop or library. Watching a movie meant booking tickets at the cinema and clearing your calendar to be there at the right time and date. You couldn’t do anything else at the time. Music came through radio station programmes which you waited for, patiently. At best, you could listen to a few cassettes containing a small mixtape which you made or scrounged off friends.
Fast forward to the present decades. All of this and more is available right in front of you, in an area of a few square inches, anytime, anywhere.
Inundated by this wealth of choices, we want it all, constantly flitting from one activity to another. We are the most distracted humans of all time. The average attention span today is reported in single-digit seconds.
Not to forget, the rabbit hole of social media where you can fritter away hours at a time, ending up feeling depressed, jealous and drowning in low self-esteem. Everyone else seems to be doing fantastic things and enjoying great experiences while your life is a sad story.
Meet Blaise Pascal
Four centuries ago, Blaine Pascal, the French polymath and genius, nailed it when he said:
Four centuries on, nothing has changed. Stillness and silence continues to make us uneasy. We squirm.
The 21st Century Syndrome
In a recent article, the Guardian talked about the “21st-century syndrome” of inattention and distraction. How did we get here? What can we do to get back possession of this vital commodity?
Technology is blithely blamed as the culprit, specifically the internet. It’s true that one of the greatest inventions in history has come with mixed blessings. But technology is only a tool. It’s not inherently good or bad; it’s what we do with it that matters. You can generate electricity or destroy Hiroshima with the same tool.
What’s the buzz?
Taking a nuanced look, it appears that the problem arises from the monkey-mind of our emotions.
We look for activities to divert us from the anxiety of completing tasks at hand. Why are we anxious? We are afraid of failure. So, we postpone and in the process, accumulate even more anxiety.
You can’t tackle this problem, head-on. Trying to abstain from feeling anxiety is guaranteed to make you feel worse.
“Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” ― Corrie Ten Boom
How Do You Eat this Elephant?
Like the much-quoted solution to eating an elephant, you have to progress in small bits. Split the task into small components, each of which might take a few minutes to complete. Like David Allen recommends in Getting Things Done, you carry out a series of “next actions”.
- Don’t look at the task as a whole. You will be overwhelmed. Split every activity into a series of small steps.
- Carry out one step at a time. Suddenly, you will find that the task is done. The cloud will lift. You will experience an amazing lightness of spirit.
- Savour this sensation and go for more. Like getting your clothes clean, “wash, rinse, repeat”. You will get better and better at it.
Don’t Let Them Take Away Your Treasure While You are Looking Elsewhere
We fail to realise that attention is the currency of the day. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok: they are all stealing your most valuable possession and making enormous amounts of money out of it. Don’t let them.
Take back what is yours.
“Tell me what you pay attention to and I will tell you who you are.”― José Ortega y Gasset
Dr Arjun Rajagopalan
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“You can watch a movie on TV tonight, or you can go to your friend’s house for a sleepover on Saturday. You choose.” And, over the years … do I take this smaller university where I get a generous scholarship or do I opt for the prestigious one which will mean steep fees? You are now an adult with a job. Do I continue at this safe but boring job, or do I quit and join the exciting startup that wants me?
We make thousands of decisions every day. Most of them hardly reach our consciousness. When they do, decision making often poses a dilemma. You want something, but you have to give up something else: a tradeoff. Some other benefit or opportunity is at stake — the opportunity cos t of your decision.
Yin and Yang
In our lives, there are a few everyday ingredients that require tradeoffs. Here are a few.
- Time: As we grow in our professions, time becomes a scarce commodity. Many decisions have to be made based on how much time is available. Time spent on the opportunity will inevitably mean that there is less for something else. Stay longer in the office and miss out on your child’s appearance in a school play.
- Accountability: The more number of people and projects you are in charge, the higher the demand on your mind share. Stress levels zoom up.
- Opportunity: New horizons mean risks. The opening might be exciting, but your steady paycheck may disappear.
- People: The role and salary at a new job may be fantastic, but your present boss is a joy and delight to work with. Moving to the other company might mean dealing with the prospect of an unfriendly superior. Relationships are an essential part of job satisfaction.
- Brand identity: It feels good to mention the name of a well-known firm as your employer, but the competition and lack of personal touch could be a downer. Your present employer is a small, family-owned business but everyone knows everyone and the owners treat you like family.
On the back burner
Tradeoffs aren’t always comfortable, which is why we try to disregard them. We seldom consider tradeoffs when we make decisions. Quite often, the compulsions of the moment do not give us the luxury of time for weighing options.
Tradeoffs can take a while to become visible. They may only show up in the long term. In the meanwhile, life goes on with or without you. As Einstein said:
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
If we pause to reflect on the options, without losing our forward momentum and balance, we can end up with more satisfying choices. Impulsive choices extract a price. The price may be more than you can afford.
Six of one, half dozen the other
Tradeoffs carry opportunity costs: what you must forgo to get what you want. The higher the value is of what you could be doing versus what you are doing, the larger the opportunity cost.
You didn’t take a vacation because you wanted the money to buy a new car. The holiday is your opportunity cost. Life is full of hundreds of similar examples.
Tiger by the Tail
The consequences of ignoring tradeoffs and opportunity costs play out in the same fashion time and again. Here are some situations where you might want to stop and reflect.
- You feel like you are always behind, always trying to catch up. There’s no time to stop and smell the roses. Understanding tradeoffs in time usage is an excellent way to cut out unhelpful behaviours and wastage.
- You are working as hard as you can, but don’t appear to be making any progress. The working day feels like drudgery. You feel trapped in “zero-sum” situations where one gain is offset by another loss.
- Multitasking doesn’t work. When you multitask, you are constantly shifting attention. This endless flitting between activities has a very steep energy cost. In the long run, you lose. You will be much better off doing them one at a time.
Taming the tiger
There is always a space between the tradeoffs we’re making and the ones we’d rather be doing. Once you notice this gap, it’s easier to work on changing circumstances. Here are some strategies.
- Reframe the situation: Spending more time at home could be a significant opportunity cost. Your present work situation demands long hours in the office. Maybe you should consider working from home.
- Alter boundaries: Examine your self-imposed limits. Go to work at transcending them. A lot of things that we think we can’t do are from never trying.
- Bargain: Tradeoffs are not written in stone. There’s always room for negotiating and reaching a happy compromise. Don’t be inflexible.
- Accept: You need to be able to let go of not being great at something. “Kill your darlings” — a piece of advice which editors give to aspiring writers holds good here.
Get into the habit of writing a diary for the more significant decisions you make. Put down brief statements about the following items:
- The nature of the situation that needs a resolution.
- A list of the possible routes of action.
- The pros and cons of each of them.
- Your choice and why you did so.
- What tradeoffs did you have to make?
- What do you expect from this selection?
As the diary grows, review your entries now and then. You will get a good insight into your decision-making process and an insight into your mind.
Ironically, knowing how to make tradeoffs is a valuable skill; those who can do this well, get more out of life than others who aspire for everything.
“There are moments that define a person’s whole life. Moments in which everything they are and everything they may possibly become balance on a single decision. … These are moments ungoverned by happenstance, untroubled by luck. These are the moments in which a person earns the right to live, or not.” ― Jonathan Maberry, Rot & Ruin*
Dr Arjun Rajagopalan
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