You want to accelerate your development as a leader in your organization and think having a mentor to guide you could be a really good thing. You may be right about that but it can often be hard to find a good mentor. If that’s the case for you, what are your options?

If you’re committed to getting better and better, I’d suggest you both get and be a great peer coach. That doesn’t mean you should quit working on landing a mentoring relationship, but there’s a lot that peer coaching can do for you before, during and after any mentoring relationship you might have.

In this post, I’m going to summarize the difference between peer coaching and mentoring, the best uses of each and help you figure out which choice is better for you right now.

So, first, what’s the difference?

Peer Coaching

Peer coaching is when two colleagues at roughly similar levels in their organization agree to spend regular time in coaching conversations with each other. Their goals are to help each other pull the lens back, assess what’s going on in their worlds and identify any steps they need to take or adjustments they need to make to be successful in their roles. And, the good news is that peer coaching is free and widely available.

It works well when the peer coaches are in the same organization but not in the same exact function. That gives them enough context to be familiar with each other’s environments but not so deep into the same environment that it becomes easy to get lost in the weeds of everything that’s going on day in and day out. If they can learn how to ask each other simple open-ended questions and then get out of the way to let each other answer, peer coaches can provide a lot of value to each other. I’ve been using and teaching peer coaching in my leadership development programs for years and have seen the enormous difference it can make for thousands of leaders. It enables them to give space to each other to think out loud, assess what’s working and what’s not and then identify next steps.

Mentoring

In a mentoring relationship, the role of a mentor is usually to guide and advise the protégé. (By the way, I hate the word mentee as it sounds like a little chocolate treat you eat after dinner.) While peer coaching is mainly about asking questions that help your partner come up with their own answers and insights, mentoring is often about providing answers, perspective and opportunities. Both kinds of relationships can be invaluable; they’re just very different.

In a typical mentor-protégé relationship, the mentor is the more experienced party and the protégé is less so, at least in the domain under question. While a good mentor will ask questions of the protégé that make them think there is usually a strong expectation that the mentor will point out opportunities to leverage and pitfalls to avoid. Great mentors take the protégé under their wing and advocate for or create opportunities that will accelerate the protégé’s growth. The all-time great mentors are known for their mentoring and the legacy of talent they create through it.

Because the most sought-after mentors are usually more senior people in their organizations, their time and attention are spread across a lot of commitments so they tend to be very selective in who they choose to mentor. That can make it challenging to get into a good mentoring relationship.

Which One is Better?

So, which one – peer coaching or mentoring – is better for you? Honestly, the answer, depending on what you’re trying to do and when you’re trying to do it, is either one or both. To help you decide where to invest your energy right now, I’ve summed things up in this table:

When you’re ready and can land the right relationship, having a good mentor can be a game changer, but you don’t have to wait on a mentor to change the game. Peer coaching is a game changer that’s available to you right now.

You may be thinking, “That’s great, but how do I get started?” Good news – that’s what I’m going to cover in next week’s post – how to get and be a great peer coach. If I’ve pushed your “I’m intrigued” button, I’ll see you back here next week for a big reveal.

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It was one year ago this week that COVID brought things to a screeching halt in the United States. Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson announced they were sick with COVID and quarantined in Australia. The NBA and other professional and collegiate sports leagues were suspended. Offices shut down and many of us started working from home. What we thought would be a few months of living and working on a restricted basis has turned out to be a year and counting.

Now, with vaccinations on the rise and new guidance from the CDC that fully vaccinated people can hang out together shoulder to shoulder without masks, we can see the end of the pandemic from here. And that, of course, is at least fifty kinds of awesome. But before we all go completely bananas and rush back to our former lives, this feels like a good moment to do a little self-assessment and forward planning as we approach reentry.

You may not have thought about it this way, but for the last year many of us have been on a version of what nutritionists call an elimination diet. As WebMD explains, “An elimination diet is a meal plan that avoids or removes certain foods or ingredients so you can find out what you might be sensitive to or allergic to.” After a period of time passes, you add eliminated foods back into your diet one at a time so you can monitor your body’s reaction as you do.

As we start to get back to some semblance of what life and work were like before COVID, it feels like a good idea to keep the elimination diet approach in mind as we do. The year of the pandemic eliminated a lot of things from our lives that we previously took for granted or just did on some version of automatic pilot. Before we dive back in, now feels like a good time to step back and assess our assumptions and patterns so that we can make smart choices about what we will and won’t do next.

I’ve been working on a checklist of choice-making questions to consider as I prepare for my post-pandemic reentry into the world. Here’s my list so far:  

What’s been eliminated or greatly reduced in my life that I really miss and want to add back? How much of that do I want to add back?What’s been eliminated or greatly reduced in my life that I don’t really miss and want to keep it that way?What have I started doing during the pandemic year that has been beneficial and that I want to keep doing? How much of that do I want to do?What have I been doing during the pandemic year that’s draining and not sustainable over the long-run that I want to stop doing?How and when should I continue to capture the value of meeting virtually without the added overhead of travel time and expense?What have I stopped doing during the pandemic year that has improved the quality of my life and work?What really makes me happy and feeling like I’m really living and leading at my best?

If you’re like most of the clients I’ve been talking with over the past year, your add-back list probably includes activities to reestablish non-virtual connections with extended family, friends and co-workers. Your keep-doing list may include quality time with your immediate family, working out more frequently or pursuing a hobby you took up during the pandemic. Your stop doing list likely includes back-to-back-to-back video conferences all day long and blurring the boundaries between work time and personal time.

In my own life like that of a lot of my clients, this pandemic year has really made me reevaluate all the time I used to spend on airplanes. It was somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 miles each year over the past decade. At the end of 2019, I estimated that I had spent over 400 hours that year inside a metal tube flying 30,000 feet above the earth. And then, last February, that was eliminated from my life. It was weird at first to not be getting on a plane every week or two and then it wasn’t. The coaching, the workshops and the speeches could all be delivered online. For my clients, the virtual approach has reduced the barriers to entry of leadership development like participants’ time out of the office and travel expenses. For me, in some ways, I’m able to establish quicker and deeper connections with my audiences through chat conversations and other interactive features of virtual meeting technology.

At the same time, I missed (and still do) the personal interaction after the meeting or presentation. So, I’m also looking forward to getting back from time to time to being in the room with people to share the unique energy of an in-person event.

It took a pandemic to make me realize how much heathier and more productive I could be when I spent more time on planet Earth instead of flying around it all the time. I’ve been sleeping better, have more energy and focus and have been amazed at how much more I’ve been able to get done. In the future, I’ll be more mindful about when and why I’m getting on a plane and I think a lot of my clients will be too.

The larger point is that, going forward, it doesn’t have to be all of one or all of the other for any of us. The elimination diet we’ve been on this year has shown us that we can do things differently and, like our actual eating diets, most everything is better in moderation. Before things overheat, now is a great time to step back and work through your own checklist of what you want to keep in your work and life, what you want to add and what you want to eliminate going forward. And, if you’re a designated leader in your organization, I hope you’ll take the time to do this not only for yourself but with your team. The ripple effect of doing that could lead to a lot more health, well-being and productivity as we all make our post-pandemic reentry into the world.

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Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to coach the members of a couple of different corporate senior leadership teams. The coaching approach I use for leadership teams is a lot like the one I use for individual leaders. We start with self-assessment and colleague feedback for each team member to identify strengths that can be leveraged in new ways along with the one or two development opportunities that would make the biggest difference if the leader moved the needle on them in a positive way.

The big difference in the team approach comes when I conduct a conversation in which every member of the team offers every other member of the team their one or two best pieces of advice for how to move the needle. That’s always interesting and enlightening for everyone involved including me and that’s been even more true this past year. We’ve all read the stories on how working from home has blurred the lines between time dedicated to work and time dedicated to the rest of life. And, we’re reading those stories because most everyone in corporate life has been experiencing that dynamic firsthand. I think that’s likely the reason why so many of the executives in my team engagements are choosing to work on behaviors related to pulling the lens back and being more strategic in their approach to work and leadership instead of getting sucked into the swirl of the day-to-day churn.

And, I’m happy to report that many of them are making progress and experiencing the benefits of doing things differently. They’ve been following through on advice they’ve been given by colleagues that can be summed up as being more proactive and less reactive in their approach to time management. As a result, they report feeling more energized and clear in their thinking, more present for their colleagues, family and friends and better prepared for meetings and conversations that require them to be at the top of their game.

Here’s what they’ve been doing to reap the benefits of managing their time more proactively (and, in the interest of you doing the same, I’ll keep this brief!):

Start the Day with Exercise: A chief technologist I’ve been working with recognized that he’s more efficient and effective in his meetings throughout the day when he starts his mornings with a vigorous walk outside. So, rain or shine, warm or cold, he’s been out there every morning right after he wakes up to clock a few miles. In addition to the physical benefits, he’s priming his mind for the day by thinking through what’s coming up, what he needs to accomplish in each event or conversation and how he needs to show up to make those outcomes more likely. A proactive way to start the day!

Start the Week with Planning Time: A chief operating officer I’m working with has staked out Monday morning as personal planning time for herself. She uses the time for both longer term and short-term thinking. She tells me she starts by reviewing what’s coming up during the week, thinking through her requests, direction and points of view related to what’s coming up and reading anything she needs to read to get ready for the week. With the time remaining, she focuses on the longer run by considering longer term plans, reviewing trends, thinking through shifts and adjustments and reading through thought-sparking articles. Both she and her colleagues report that this proactive start to her week is making a positive difference.

Wrap Up the Week with Lookback Time: A number of my leadership team coaching clients have implemented weekly lookback time on Fridays. They’ve found this is a great way to tie up loose ends and clear the decks on the week that’s ending. It also sets them up for some non-work-related rest and relaxation over the weekend, because they’ve organized themselves to not have a bunch of random “Did I take care of that?” bubbles popping over their head on Saturdays and Sundays. To the contrary, they’re finding that the Friday wrap-up sessions enable them to relax over the weekends to the point where their brains are quietly connecting the dots in the background. That enables them to show up with a lot more clarity and focus when they’re back to work on Monday morning.

Lay Down Some Markers and Let People Know About Them: Successfully implementing these proactive time management strategies or any others you come up with on your own will require you to lay down some markers and to let people know about them. For instance, my technology officer client has told his colleagues that he takes a walk first thing in the morning and not to expect him to be available for meetings at that time even though they may be into their workdays in different time zones. They respect that boundary because, among other reasons, they see the benefits that his walks provide in terms of clarity, effectiveness and engagement to both him and them. It’s the same with the clients who are taking the Monday morning planning time or the Friday lookback time.

Frankly, one of the positive things the pandemic has done is that it’s caused most every professional to recognize the importance of productive and proactive time management boundaries. The difference between the proactive leaders and the reactive ones is that the proactives have figured out what’s going to help them and everyone else they work with and are laying down some markers to create and protect that time.

What about you? What steps have you taken to proactively manage your time? Let’s help each other out by sharing your strategies in the comments if you’re reading this on LinkedIn or, if you’re reading this directly on the Eblin Group blog, email me and I’ll share with others what’s working for you on your behalf.

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Last week I had the pleasure of spending some extended time online with a group of coaching and leadership development colleagues. During a conversation on resilience and stress management, the presenter asked us to rate our satisfaction with our physical routines – movement, sleep, and nutrition. Without any hesitation, I typed a 10 into the Zoom chat window and then immediately realized that this was probably the first time in my life I would have answered that question with a maximum score rating.

If you’ve been a reader of my blog for a few years or more, you know that I take my health and wellness seriously – especially in the eleven years since I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In this past year of a global pandemic, we’ve all become more aware of the need to manage not just our physical health but our mental, relational and spiritual health as well. In my experience of writing about and sharing the Life GPS® personal planning tool with thousands of readers and leaders over the past 20 years, I’ve concluded that physical health is the foundation for the other aspects of wellbeing. When we can improve our physical health everything else becomes a little easier.

So, when I rated my satisfaction with my physical health at a 10 last week, I thought about what I did differently this past year that drove my rating up. The game changer for me has been using a combination of different phone-based apps to bio-hack my health and wellbeing. Doing that has allowed me to leverage a couple of tried and true maxims. The first is knowledge is power. The second is you can’t manage what you can’t measure. With those ideas in mind and the hope that it will be useful to you, I want to share the apps I’ve been using and how I’m using them:

First, the power of fitness and health and wellness apps in 2021 is that through a technology called API’s they can all share information with each other. For example, API’s enable your nutrition app to pull information on your daily calorie burn from your fitness app and the data from your daily weigh-in from the app that pairs with your scale. If you’re wearing a bio-monitoring device like an Apple Watch, Fitbit or Oura ring, API’s can pull data on your heart rate, daily step count and sleep quality into the mix as well. The result is an amazing amount of information you can use to track your health, pursue fitness goals and make better lifestyle choices based on your metrics. It’s like having a world class trainer who knows everything about your biometrics right on your phone.

With that as background, here are the apps I use every day. (I’m not affiliated with any of these apps; I’m just offering my personal experience. You should always consult with your health care provider before making big changes in your approach to health and wellbeing.)

Noom – Noom is a nutrition app that uses behavioral science principles along with a really easy to use calorie counting dashboard to help you set weight loss goals and track your progress. I started using Noom last October when my wife Diane decided to use it for her own goals and I wanted to support her. I got into it and quickly realized that for years I had been way overestimating my daily calorie burn through exercise and movement and way underestimating my calorie intake (and just how much those handfuls of nuts I was gobbling down for my afternoon snack every day were blowing up my calorie count). I’ve lost around 20 pounds since the beginning of October and have decided to hold steady where I am. The app helps me do that too. The same for Diane: she’s had an amazing transformation using Noom.

Healthmate – Healthmate is the app that pairs with the Withings Body+ scale we bought when we started using Noom. It links up with Noom through an API so your morning weigh-in can be tracked on the Noom app. The Healthmate app itself is fun for a data geek like me as it provides longitudinal curves over time on your weight, muscle mass, body fat, bone density and water weight. While your mileage may vary, I find tracking my progress through those graphs to be motivating and probably more motivating when the trend lines start moving in the wrong direction.

Oura – The Oura ring has electronic sensors in it that measure your movement, your heart rate variability and how much light, REM and deep sleep you’re getting every night. Diane had an Oura ring first and loved it and encouraged me to get one. I resisted doing so because I was scared to see how bad my sleep numbers would be. Ten years ago, I started taking Lunesta every night to deal with restless sleep caused by my MS and because I was traveling across time zones several times a month for business trips. Even with the Lunesta, I didn’t sleep well. When the pandemic cancelled all of my travel, I decided it was a good time to wean myself off of Lunesta and asked my doctor for a plan to do so. I got an Oura ring at about the same time and was shocked to see that based on the measurements and overall score the Oura app provided that the quality of my sleep wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. That greatly reduced my anxiety about getting off of Lunesta and made the process of doing so much easier. I haven’t taken a Lunesta since last May and have never felt better sleep wise.

Peloton – It’s no news flash to report that the Peloton bike has been one of the big hits of the pandemic. Everybody has heard of Peloton at this point. We were fortunate to get a Peloton back in October and have been on it pretty much every day since. What you may not know is that you don’t need the bike to benefit from Peloton content. The Peloton app doesn’t just have classes that you can stream on any stationary bike, it also offers yoga, pliates, strength, running, walking, meditation and other classes for a monthly cost of way less than a gym membership. And, like every other app I’m using and mentioning here, it syncs through API’s so the calories you burn during your workout also show up in Noom, Oura, Apple Health or any others you’re using to manage your health and wellbeing.

So, those four apps, Noom, Healthmate, Oura and Peloton, form the nucleus of my health and wellbeing bio-hack strategy. I’m also a parttime user of an Apple Watch and the app that goes with. I wear the watch when I work out and use it as a real time heart rate monitor and calorie counter. I’m also a longtime user of the Insight Timer Meditation App which is more for the mental domain of routines but certainly has positive physical impacts in terms of regulating my autonomic nervous system and improving the quality of my sleep. In a time in history when all of us feel a lack of control over our lives and environment, using these apps in the way that I do has provided a sense of agency in controlling what I can control to be healthier, happier and more productive.

I’d love to hear your best strategies for managing your health and well-being or I’m happy to answer any questions you have about what I’m doing. If you want to share or follow up, please leave a comment on LinkedIn if you’re reading this post there or send me an email if you’re reading this directly on the Eblin Group blog.

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If you’re working from home, are you missing your commute? That kind of sounds like a stupid question. Who misses sitting in traffic looking at taillights? Not many people, I’d guess, but that’s probably not the part of your commute you’re missing. What you’re missing is the best part – the interstitial time between one place and the next or, to put it another way, between one now and the next now.

Microsoft thinks you’re likely missing that interstitial time so, in next year’s update of their Teams collaboration software, they’re going to make it possible for you to schedule a virtual commute. As reported in The Wall Street Journal, “The Teams update next year will let users schedule virtual commutes at the beginning and end of each shift. Instead of reliving 8 a.m. or 6 p.m. packed subway rides or highway traffic jams in virtual reality, users will be prompted by the platform to set goals in the morning and reflect on the day in the evening.”

A CEO I was talking with last week recognizes the same thing that Microsoft has – she misses her commute and the chance it gave her to think without an agenda, a to-do list or other people on her screen. Her solution recently has been to ask her assistant to schedule her days with a 5 and 3 mix – no more than 5 hours of scheduled meetings in a day and at least 3 hours a day set aside for personal think time, reading, writing and unscheduled, spontaneous conversations.

From my observation, this CEO definitely has the right idea but her solution might not be within everyone’s grasp. So, for those of us who don’t call as many of our own shots as she does with how she spends her time, here are some quick hit ideas on how you get back the best part of that commute you no longer make – the interstitial time that gives you space to think offline.

Make Your Showers Count – As I’ve written here before, I like to ask groups of leaders where or when they get their best ideas. The number one answer is “in the shower.” Chances are you’re going to take a shower most days. In addition to getting clean, use that time for a little bit of “let your mind wander” time. It’s pretty much guaranteed that no one’s going to interrupt you in the shower and the warmth of the water coming down is a surefire relaxer. As I wrote a few years ago, a client of mine adopted the habit of intentionally taking time for three deep breaths every time he showered. He reported that it gave him space to think and, more often than not, teed him up for a really productive day.

Try Some Radically Different Immersion Techniques – My hope is that when we look back on the pandemic period, we’ll all have one or two projects that we took on that we feel really good about. One of mine is finally learning how to play guitar. Three or four nights a week I plug my black Stratocaster into my little Fender amp, put my Mac on top of the amp and then tune into the JustinGuitar.com site where Justin Sandercoe has expertly organized over a thousand guitar lessons in a beginner to advanced sequence. After four months or so of practice, I’m about to finish the beginner classes and am moving on to intermediate. One of the things I love about the practice is that it’s completely immersive. It engages my senses in a whole different way from what I do in my work all day. In addition to learning chords and riffs, I find I’m usually more productive and creative when I get back to work the next morning. It all flows from giving my brain a chance to think about something else.

Meditate – More and more people are using apps like Headspace, Calm and Insight Timer to learn how to meditate and incorporate that habit into their lives. If you haven’t tried meditation yet, the pandemic is an excellent time to start. In addition to giving your fight or flight response a rest, it’s a great way to observe your thinking patterns and random thoughts. You might think the goal of meditation is to not think, but most of the experts I’ve read and talked to say the goal is really to notice when you’re thinking. What I notice when I stop and meditate for 12 minutes or so is that thoughts that actually have a fair amount of value come up seemingly out of nowhere. When that happens, I write them down as soon the closing chime rings on my app. That’s actually better interstitial time than commuting in the car because writing down the ideas after meditating is a heck of a lot safer!

If you’re still working from home, what’s been working for you on reclaiming some of the thinking time you used to have on your commute? What else would you add to my list? Let me know in the comments on LinkedIn or, if you’re reading this on my blog, send me a quick note at info@eblingroup.com.

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For many of us in the United States, week seven or so of the work from home (WFH) period is underway. And even as attention turns to how to get people back to the office, it’s pretty clear that we’re at the beginning of a pretty long haul of a lot more working from home than we ever thought we would. From my vantage point as a long-time work from homer and a coach to a lot of leaders and teams who are new to the scene, what I’m seeing is a slow realization that we’re in a marathon, not a sprint. And that means we’re going to have to adjust if we plan to finish the race on our feet.  About a month ago on the Pivot podcast with Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway, noted relationship counselor and therapist Esther Perel observed of the early days of WFH, “Never before have people worked so hard and gotten so little done.”

Inspired by Perel and what I’m seeing and hearing, here are
three recommendations of things you need to stop doing this week if you want to
work a little less hard and, in the process, actually get more done. If you’re
in a leadership role, so much the better as whatever you stop doing will have a
positive ripple effect for the people on your team.

Stop Sitting All Day – You probably never imagined you’d spend so much time at your kitchen table or that desk you set up in your extra bedroom. I have had way more than one client tell me that they’re sitting at their table in front of their screen for 10 or 12 hours a day without much of a break. I checked out some data from Fitbit today that showed the average step count for their users was down 12 percent the week of March 22 just as the WFH period was cranking up. I haven’t seen more recent data but am guessing the decline is now steeper and deeper. Sitting all day is bad for your health in general and bad for your brain in particular. You need fresh input to keep your neural network humming. Get up and out of your cave throughout the day. When you come back to the screen, you’ll feel better and think better.  

Stop Making Every Meeting a Zoom Call – When the WFH period started, all the cool kids moved to Zoom. The barriers to entry were low and the value of seeing colleagues’ faces was high. The value is still there, but several weeks in, it looks we’ve all overcorrected on the use of  Zoom and other video conferencing platforms. The new notice is the emerging trend of Zoom fatigue. My colleague Beth Schumaker shared this article from National Geographic that explains what it is and why it happens. Here’s the summary. You’ve never been on stage before like you are on Zoom. In the Brady Bunch screen share mode, everyone can see everyone else’s micro expressions and you’re aware you’re being watched as carefully as you’re watching others. You might even be watching yourself as you speak which is not something you ever did pre-pandemic. It’s exhausting and leaves you depleted with less frontal brain lobe capacity to think strategically and make sound decisions. Zoom is great until it isn’t. Mix up your communications modalities. Take some old-fashioned phone calls a few times a day instead of another Zoom.

Stop Holding on to Your Original Plan – Going back to work won’t mean going back to normal. You’re not going to pick right back up with the strategic plans you laid out before the pandemic; you’ll have to continue to reprioritize and reimagine based on new realities. In spite of everything that’s already changed and all that clearly will change from this point forward, I’m hearing from clients that a lot of their colleagues are still pushing and grinding away on their original business plans for the year. I get that at some level – there’s comfort in the familiar and in the belief that by following a plan we’re in control of our outcomes. Well, in the words of Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” If you’re tempted to stick with your plan, acknowledge that you and everyone else in the world has just taken the mother of all left hooks to the jaw. If you’re still holding on to the original plan, let go of it, step back and ask, “What’s most needed and most important now?”

So, that’s my short list of three things to stop doing this
week. What’s on your list?

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As I write this, most of us in the United States are marking
one month of stay at home and work from home orders to mitigate the public
health impacts of the coronavirus. Those of us who are working from home
recognize it’s a privilege to do so and have enormous gratitude and admiration
for the health care workers, grocery store clerks, delivery people, first
responders and so many others who are going to work so the rest of us can stay
home.

That said, staying home and working from home can present
some unexpected challenges. The biggest one that I’m noticing in talking with
my clients and observing myself is that many of us are actually putting in more
hours working from home than we did pre-pandemic. That’s not at all what I
expected when we started this new phase a month ago. In the early days of WFH,
my expectation for my clients was since their commuting time was going to shrink from
“home to office” to “bedroom to den,” they would suddenly
have way more time available to them during the day than they did at the end of
February.

Initially, I thought, “Great, everyone will have more
time to sleep and work out.” What’s happening instead for most people I
talk with is that they’re spending that found time on more Zoom meetings. Then
things get compounded by the fact that a day of Zoom after Zoom means you’re
sitting at your desk even more than usual. Before you know it, it’s dinner time
and you haven’t done anything in terms of physical, mental, relational or
spiritual routines that help you be at your best for yourself, your family,
team, colleagues, customers, etc. You’re sitting more than you’re used to
because all of your meetings are in front of a screen and there’s no conference
room down the hall that you have to get up and walk to. You’re not going out
for lunch or coffee since you’re doing your meet-ups virtually from home. As
one client pointed out to me last week, your brain is becoming rewired from the
lack of fresh visual input when you drive back and forth to work. The days run
together because they all feel exactly the same. As I wrote to a client in an
email this morning, “Happy Monday – second verse, same as the first.”

So, what can we all do about this? As it happens, this is
also the period that in normal times a lot of people would be taking Spring
Break trips with their families. One of my CEO clients reminded me of that when
we talked last week. He, his leadership team and everyone else in their
financial services company have been working overtime these past four weeks to
take care of their customers and each other. He told me that he asked his
leaders to pick a weekday or two in the next couple of weeks to go offline for
a mini, stay-at-home Spring Break to renew and refresh the health and
well-being of themselves and their families.

That’s good advice for all of us. Just because you’re working
from home doesn’t mean you don’t need a little Spring Break time away from the WFH
routine. And, when you’re working that routine, make sure to schedule little
breaks throughout the day that get you out of your seat and away from the
screen.

In following my own advice, I took an extended nature walk
today and found the guy in the accompanying photo along the way. It brings me a
small sense of peace to consider that this bird has no idea there’s a pandemic
going on. It’s just another day in the pond for him.

So, this would normally be the point in the post where I’d
give you a little list of things to do to take a break. I’m not going to do
that this time. You know what to do. Please do it. Take care of yourself and
stay healthy – physically, mentally, relationally and spiritually.

Please share what you’re doing to take care of yourself during the pandemic. We’ll all benefit from the collective wisdom.

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When
you’re the leader, you have to keep things moving. To avoid being the
bottleneck that slows your team’s work to a crawl, you need to make decisions
on a timely basis. In a fast-paced environment, it can be hard to gather all
the information you’d like to have when making important decisions. That can
definitely affect your confidence in making the tough calls.

The
fact is that no one ever has one hundred percent of the information they’d like
to have when making important decisions. There are just too many variables and unknowns.
If you’re waiting for all the information, you’ll never make a decision. Making
the call with a sense of grounded confidence is an essential component of
successfully leading at the next level.

Here,
then, are three ways to build your confidence in making timely decisions.

First,
prep and learn. What I mean by that is start doing the homework you need to do
to prepare yourself for decision making. Learn all you can about your operating
environment. To do that, conduct discovery conversations with knowledgeable
colleagues. Talk with them about the patterns they’re seeing in your
competitive space. Ask them to share the criteria they consider when they’re
making important decisions. Read and absorb all you can about your field. Pay
special attention to real life case studies of key decisions and how they
played out. Take time to step back and connect the dots among the different
insights you’re gleaning from your reading and conversations.

Second,
test and learn. There are very few decisions – almost none really – where you
have to game out the next 100 steps. Most decisions are about identifying next
steps. As much as possible, frame those decisions in a way that allows you to
test and learn while you move forward. If you make meaningful but incremental
next step decisions you usually won’t get extended so far out on a limb that
you can’t course correct after implementation.

Third, trust your gut. Even if this is the biggest decision you’ve made so far, this isn’t your first rodeo. There’s a reason you’re here and are making the tough calls. You’ve had a track record of success and the people who selected you for this role view that past performance as a predictor of your future performance. You’ve made other challenging decisions in the past even if they weren’t the same decisions you’re making today. Since you’ve developed some good judgment along the way, you have a reason to trust your gut now. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prep and learn or test and learn. It does mean that you should believe you’ve got this.

For more ideas on how to build your confidence in making timely decisions, check out chapter two of The Next Level – Pick up confidence in your presence; Let go of doubt in how you contribute.

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If you’re in a leadership role, there’s a pretty decent chance that when you were a kid, you were one of the smartest kids in class. If that wasn’t you, you probably remember who was. You know the smartest kid routine. They always had the right answer and wanted to make sure everyone else – especially the teacher – knew it. In organizational leadership, being right is less important than being effective. My point isn’t that you should strive to be wrong. My point is that there is often more than one right answer and your answer is one among many possibilities. Instead of seeking to prove you’re right, focus on being effective.

Here are three action steps you can take to make that shift.

First, get in the habit of asking yourself, “What am I really trying to accomplish here?” In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to get spun up or distracted by the little things people do or say that don’t really matter. When you feel yourself getting triggered by that, take a couple of deep breaths to clear your head and calm down. Then remind yourself what you’re really trying to accomplish and line your comments and actions up against that picture.

Second, take a break or sleep on it. Some of the biggest clown car moves I see from managers and executives happen when they react to an email they disagree with by immediately sending back a flamer to tell the sender how wrong they are. Quite often they’ll compound this by cc’ing everyone in a 50 mile radius. The next time you get triggered by an email, take a break or sleep on it before you reply. That will give you an opportunity to regain emotional equilibrium and choose a response that is more about being effective than right.

Third, get in the habit of asking yourself, “Does this really matter?” When you get up on the balcony and look at the pattern of what happens in your typical day or week there’s a lot of stuff that happens that just won’t matter in the long run. If you try to fight every battle, you’ll likely end up losing the war. Get clear about the things that really matter and quit engaging on the things that don’t.

For more ideas on how to choose effectiveness as a more important outcome than being right, check out Chapter Ten of The Next Level – Pick up a big footprint view of your role; Let go of a small footprint view of your role.

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It was ten years ago this summer that I was diagnosed with MS. That first year or two was really scary. My thinking was frequently foggy. Most days my brain felt like a wet sponge inside my head. One way that showed up was that I was constantly letting our dog roam through the neighborhood because I thought I was pressing the button to close the garage door after walking him when I was really opening it.

My body was betraying me too. In a few months, I went from regularly going on 8 or 9 mile runs on the weekend to barely being able to walk around the block without leaning on my wife, Diane. There was one afternoon in DC that I’ll never forget. I was coming out of a meeting and a huge thunderstorm opened up out of nowhere as I was walking the three blocks back to the parking garage. I started to run to get to the garage and literally couldn’t feel my feet on the ground. I had to steady myself against buildings as I walked back getting soaked in the storm.

Today, things are very different. This is the fifth year in a row when I’ve flown 100k plus miles on United by the middle of the summer. I’m not particularly proud of that stat;. it’s just one way of making the point that MS isn’t slowing me down. Diane tells me that people ask her all the time how I do what I do and keep the schedule I keep. My first thought is I just do it. Then when I stop and think about it, I recognize that what’s working for me is what I’m always telling leaders will work for them.

It’s all about the routines – physical, mental, relational and spiritual – that will help you live and lead at your best. For me, my core routines have become such a normal part of my life rhythm that I don’t really think about them anymore. You know how you can end up doing stuff so automatically that you just assume everyone else does all of that? Of course, that’s not true but it is true that routines can cut both ways – there are helpful ones and ones that aren’t so helpful.

The early effects of MS really caused me to step back and reassess the pros and cons of what I was routinely doing and open myself up to new routines that could help me get my life back on track. One thing I learned early on was that when you have a chronic illness you have to manage your stress. You can’t afford to live in a state of chronic fight or flight. Doing that makes you less productive in the short run, feel worse in the short to medium run and reduces your life expectancy in the long run.

So, in the hope that this might be of help to some of you who are reading this post, here’s what I’ve learned about life and managing myself in these past 10 years with multiple sclerosis. I’ve organized what I’ve learned and do by the four domains of routines that I share with readers and clients when I teach them how to create and use their own Life GPS®.

Physical

Keep Moving – Rhythmic, repetitive motion activates your nervous system’s parasympathetic response. Pretty much every positive outcome in your body flows from that activation. I am constantly moving throughout the day and doubling down on that with regular yoga classes, long walks and lifting weights. All of that has increased my strength, range of motion, flexibility and sense of balance. Those are super important factors in living a healthy and confident life whether you have MS or not.

Eat Cool – Over the years, I’ve adjusted what I eat and drink to reduce inflammation in my body.  There’s a ton of research that demonstrates that chronic inflammation is a big source of disease. My anti-inflammation diet approach is no gluten, very little dairy, lots of plants, no red meat, lots of hydration, and limiting the alcohol to red wine and the occasional gluten-free beer or small glass of really good single malt scotch (Those last two are cheats but I also believe in doing things you enjoy in moderation even if they’re not on the “approved” list.)

Sleep – Research demonstrates that 95 percent of human beings need at least seven hours of sleep a night to be fully functional in the short run and reach their full life expectancy in the long run. When I learned this, I got serious about my sleep. When I get seven to eight hours in a night I feel and perform a lot better the next day both physically and mentally.

Mental

Keep Breathing – In 2013, I did a 200 hour yoga teacher training program with a wonderful, highly experienced instructor named Birgitte Kristen. I quickly realized that a lot of what she was teaching us also applied to my work with leaders. I asked her to lunch to get her input on what I should share with my corporate clients. She immediately said, “Breathing. Ambitious people don’t know how to breathe.” She explained that the right way to breathe is deeply from the belly. About the same time, I learned of Nobel prize winning research from Elizabeth Blackburn and her team at the University of California at San Francisco that shows that as little as 12 minutes a day of meditative breathing improves genetic expression. When I heard that I thought, “As someone with MS, why would I not spend 12 minutes a day on breathing in that deep meditative way?” Since then, the meditation app on my phone tells me I’ve spent about 450 hours breathing deeply and intentionally. I’ve found that has lengthened my gap between  stimulus and response. It’s made me less reactive and more responsive. There are way fewer things that trigger me than there used to be. I think more clearly and it feels like I make better decisions. All of that breathing has slowed things down in a way that sometimes makes me feel like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. That’s super helpful in maintaining a productive perspective on the ups and downs of life.

Almost Everything is Temporary – If there is anything MS has taught me it’s that almost every condition in life is temporary. In my early years with the disease I would feel completely crappy for a few hours and then suddenly feel OK if not pretty good for a few hours. Everything was subject to change. Since then, I’ve learned how to manage myself so I have way more feel good moments than bad but I haven’t forgotten the lesson that most everything is temporary. It doesn’t really matter whether you like it or not because it’s going to change pretty soon anyway. Accepting that has made life in general much easier.

Relational

Enjoy the Now – Once I literally got my feet back under me, Diane and I decided that whenever we could, we were going to enjoy and take advantage of the “Aren’t we lucky to be alive?” moments that life presents. My MS diagnosis made us realize that we don’t have any guarantees about how life is going to play out so let’s not wait. We don’t wait to connect. We don’t wait to have that experience or create that memory or touch that life.

Share Your Secrets – In the first five years after I was diagnosed, we only shared my condition with immediate family and close friends. We were so scared by what MS did to me early on and all of the terrible stories we had heard that we didn’t want people to know what I was dealing with out of fear that my clients might think I couldn’t perform or show up for my commitments. Then, in 2014, I wrote my second book, Overworked and Overwhelmed. I couldn’t have written that back without the experience I had had learning how to deal with MS so I felt like I had to share my secret if I was going to be authentic in putting that book out into the world. What was shocking to me was how supportive people were and how much they appreciated me sharing what was going on and what I was learning from dealing with it. It was a huge stress reducer for me (which made me feel even healthier) and also a huge source of connection. One thing about being a human is we all have something going on. I’ve learned that it’s a lot easier to deal with your something when you share it. The bonus is that other people sometimes benefit from your story and what you’ve learned along the way.

Spiritual

Reading for Purpose – This last lesson is one that I learned a long time ago, kind of forgot about and have recently returned to. The volume and availability of news in 2019 makes it way too easy to overdose on the latest headline, tweet or outrage. A recent trip out of the country for business and pleasure made me aware of what I’ve been doing the past couple of years. In two weeks abroad, I didn’t see a single flat screen TV with a “Breaking News” headline in a public space. Here, in the US, you can’t escape them. For me at least, the news culture was causing me to spend more and more time reading the same story in five different places. Thanks to the trip abroad, I’ve been on a cable news fast for the past month and, boy, do I feel better. I’m reading more books and fewer articles. I’ve found that my new reading habits are generating less stress (always good when you have MS) and providing more impetus and space to reflect on questions of purpose like why am I here and how do I want to contribute. That feels great and I intend to keep doing it.

So, this post has turned out to be way longer than I originally intended. I guess it takes about 2,000 words to process ten years of life lessons and experience. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for hanging in there and I hope you’ve found something useful. If you did, I’d love to hear what landed with you. In the meantime, remember we all have something going on so, whatever it is for you, know you’re not alone and continue to rock on.

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