Archives for February 2015

Creating Your Leadership Margin

Contributed by Dan Sheedy.

The term margin always perks ears. Gross margin, profit margin, contribution margin, margin of safety; margin has many uses and equally many definitions depending on industry (accounting, engineering, financial, and pharmaceutical, etc.) and application. A personal margin of safety is another definition to add to the list and may be the most important of all to leaders.

In his book, “Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives“, Dr. Richard Swenson, M.D. defined a personal margin of safety as “the space between our load and our limits. It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations.” If we are overloaded we have no margin. As a result, the impact of a leader’s personal margin of safety is felt across and affects the entire organization. What are these effects?

Businessman multitaskingWe are by and large delicate creatures who are easily distracted and overloaded by the complexity that life throws our way. We adapt different approaches and defenses that often offer little or no prospect of long term success in combating overload, leading to a huge cognitive drain and questionable decisions. Can you think of a time when you experienced overload?

Creating and maintaining margin is critical to managing stressful situations and effective decision making. A leader’s margin of safety can be developed via a series of small steps. Here are a few steps and ideas leaders have shared with me:

  1. Be humble. In a society that favors the strong, humility is often seen as a weakness. Mike Austin, Ph.D., professor of philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University offers a different perspective on humility that is supported by research, “It’s more about a proper or accurate assessment. A big part of humility is knowing our own limits, our strengths and weaknesses, morally or otherwise.”
  2. Once you’ve made this assessment, define your personal margin needs. It is much easier to manage goals and opportunities in a balanced, flexible manner when you begin with the end in mind and acknowledge your own needs in meeting challenges.
  3. Make time for others. Grow your relationships and community to provide a safety net when you need it. From the mail room to the C-Suite, margin is built through connection.
  4. Exercise and/or relax. Taking time out to take care of yourself in periods as short as 20 minutes a day helps you recharge yourself and renew your commitment.

Creating, maintaining and maximizing your personal margin builds a foundation for effective leadership and combating overload. A little margin goes a long way in the impact we have on those around us and in maximizing the gross margin, profit margin, contribution margin of the organizations we lead.

What will you do today to make this happen?

Realistically Positive: Your Path to Success

Contributed by Dan Sheedy.

ChecklistJanuary is well underway and you are probably off and running, working diligently with a positive attitude to fulfill the promises and resolutions you have made for 2015. Despite all of our good intentions; thirty-six percent of people will break their resolutions by January’s end according to researchers at the University of Scranton.

How does this happen and what can be done to get us back on track?

Americans have completely bought into the idea that positive thinking alone can smooth the road to success. We see it in hundreds of publications and self-help books every year. Keeping one’s eye on the prize (new clients, AUM, a promotion, etc.) and not letting negativity interfere is viewed as an ingrained trait to be emulated. But is this realistic?

Gabriele Oettingen, a psychology professor at NYU and the University of Hamburg questioned this premise and then spent 20 years testing her thesis. The results of her work led her to conclude that positive thinking alone does not advance our goals and in fact, may be detrimental. She says that dreaming detached from reality may fulfill the wishes of our minds but saps us of the energy to perform the hard work in meeting challenges.

In our minds we may have visualized a successful end but often we have not made the preparations for the obstacles that stand the way.

In her new book, “Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation” Oettingen introduces a method called “mental contrasting” that instructs us to dream our dreams and then visualize the personal barriers that prevent us from achieving them. Her studies have shown that people practicing mental contrasting gain energy to take action and when incorporating specific actions and accountability, move from being dreamers to doers.

When people combine a positive future outlook with the obstacles of reality and the challenges these obstacles present, they become able to be more selective in the pursuit of their goals. A selective pursuit of goals and resolutions accompanied with a plan of action can ignite the behaviors needed to turn dreams into reality and get and keep you on track.

What will you do today to make this happen?