Day 30 Connection Challenge: Establish a New Habit

In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg describes three steps to forming a new habit: We pick a “Cue” (or reminder), choose a “Reward” for when we are successful with our new behaviour, then execute the “Routine” or in simple terms, we practice the behaviour to get the reward. Think about the 30 challenges we completed this month today and pick one you can make a habit. #socialleadership #connectionchallenge

How to Focus in the Age of Distraction

Today I had six full hours of virtual meetings. Some were on WebEx, some Skype, some GoToMeeting. Others just used standard telephone conferencing. Whatever the technology, the impact was the same: I spent a lot of time sitting at my desk listening, while I wrote in my notebook and stared at my screen or out my office window.

I like to think I’m a good remote worker. After a decade of remote working at Microsoft and nearly two years as an independent consultant, I certainly have many years of practice. As an extrovert, I enjoy connecting with people be it online or face to face. And I know how to get good work done without sitting in one room with my colleagues. I had one Microsoft manager I never even met – my interviews were all done by phone while he lived in the US and I lived in England. We worked together for nearly six months before he changed roles, never meeting face to face. He was a great manager and we collaborated well.

But we live in an age of distraction – as I sit on a conference call, I can see a pop-up window from Facebook on my PC, letting me know a friend has updated her status. I see the banners, badges and alerts on my mobile reminding me of my next meeting, alerting me to a change in weather, updating me on my status on Plants vs Zombies, reminding me to study my Finnish vocabulary for the day. The potential for distraction is huge and extends far beyond the sunny sky, my yowling cat, the postman at the door and my empty teacup.

So how can we stay focused and present with all of these competing data streams flinging themselves at us while we’re trying to work?

1. Write down all possible distractions:

Before I go into many meetings – but particularly virtual ones – I find it useful to actively set aside all of my distracting thoughts. I do this by writing them down. Take 5 minutes before a meeting and ask yourself what is going on that might stop you from focusing on the coming conversation. List everything you can think of. This isn’t a to-do list — write everything on your mind. For example, I may write that I am distracted by a conversation I just had with a colleague, wondering how my daughter is doing in an exam, or thinking about what to make for dinner. Once the list is made, physically put it away for the duration of the call. Just the act of writing these distractions down, and getting them out of your head – and committing to leaving them behind for the course of your meeting – can help you focus.

2. Close all unnecessary applications:

Clearly if we can’t see the notifications and popups we’re less likely to be tempted to respond to them. While it’s obvious, it’s not often practiced: turn off any devices you’re not using, close email, close applications not in use. If possible, move your phone out of the room. There is some evidence to say just having a phone on the table next to you is distracting, even if it is face-down and silent. Unless you really need it, remove it from sight.

3. Disclose your challenge:

I have worked with a number of colleagues who struggle with focus. Sometimes, they mention this challenge before a meeting starts. They say something along the lines of “I am really distracted today, I have had lots of back-to-back meetings.” I tried this once – mostly to get some forgiveness for my lack of energy – and found that I was far more engaged for the following hour! Having admitted to everyone I was struggling to focus, I found myself re-committing to the conversation.

4. Take notes:

Writing is a great way of increasing focus. If you take notes on the meeting, write the questions you want to ask, or even doodle, it can increase your concentration.

5. Use video:

Video isn’t always practical, and sometimes it’s impossible, but when bandwidth and the tool allow, it can really change the engagement levels of everyone on a virtual meeting. Not only do you feel peer pressure to stay focused and engaged when a camera is on, people can read each others’ body language, thus improving the effectiveness of many meetings.

6. Schedule in breaks:

Finally, an obvious tip that is often neglected: Instead of scheduling a call or meeting for an hour, schedule it for 45 minutes and use the 15 minute break to walk around, preferably outside. Fill that mug with tea, check your email, maybe even look at Facebook. Deal with some of those distractions you set aside in Step 1. By creating this window of time when you know you can take care of some of these other things, you give yourself more permission to ignore them the rest of the hour.

Leading in the Age of Unicorns

Not many years ago, if someone suggested their privately-held tech start up would be valued at $1 billion, analysts would snicker. Today, they’re called “unicorns”—and according to Fortune magazine, there are 174 of them. Most of these companies have sprung up in the last decade, and it’s not just the market that is boosting their valuations. Many of these organizations are benefiting from disruptive technologies, which accelerate their time to market, their response to customers, and their sales cycles.

These unicorns are far more agile than companies of the past. But agility depends not only on cutting edge technology. Digital disruption requires new ways of working. To be competitive, businesses – old and new – are shifting from top-down, command and control hierarchies, which have been prevalent since the turn of the century, to ones which are flatter and leaner. They are ditching performance reviews, re-evaluating management by objectives and re-thinking job specifications. And alongside this overhaul, we need a new style of leadership.

In this environment, where we have far more connectivity than in the past, our leaders need to focus on connection, alignment and engagement. We need to practice new skills and behaviours, or Social Traits. These traits – defined by us at Be Leadership based on direct experience with modern organizations undergoing transformation – surface as those that differentiate leaders today from those in the past. We all have these Social Traits – but not in equal measure. Therefore, if we think about where we are strong and practicing these traits and where we could further focus, it will make us far more impactful employees and leaders.

 

The Social Trait Cards

To support our clients in thinking about this leadership evolution, we have created a deck of Social Trait cards. In physical form, our clients use these cards as part of workshops to reflect on their own social leadership skills and how they might continue to develop themselves and their teams (or organizations) to be even more effective.

Given the popularity of these cards with our clients, we have decided to make them available online in PDF form free of charge. You can download these cards today. We’d love to hear your feedback on your experience using them!

 

How to use the Social Trait Cards:

  1. Download the Social Trait PDF
  2. Print the document and cut out the individual cards.
  3. Looking at the traits represented on each card, consider your own strengths and development areas. Which of these traits do you regularly practice? Which do you see as your strongest attributes? Which could use more attention? Order the cards from strongest to weakest.
  4. Pairing up with someone who knows you, or in silent reflection, consider how you might leverage your strongest traits for greater impact, or develop those which you are not practicing as effectively now. What is one change you can make starting today to become a stronger Social Leader?

 

These cards were developed by Be Leadership Ltd to support individuals in their Social Leadership development. We’re delighted if this tool is valuable for you and would love to hear about your experience using them. The Social Trait PDF is copyrighted material and is meant for your personal use only.  If you’d like to reproduce them, or are interested in using them for your team or organization, please visit www.be-leadership.com to learn more about Be Leadership’s services or contact shannon@be-leadership.com to discuss.

Moving from Connectivity to Connection

I was honored to be asked to speak recently at the Happy Workplaces conference in London, where I shared my thoughts on social leadership and ways leaders can embrace the Social Era.