“Knowledge is power. Information is power.”~ Robin Morgan
Maintaining confidentiality builds trust – and is difficult!
In many years of coaching clients to maximize their potential I have been privy to sensitive stories about betrayal, addiction, abuse, fraud and divorce. Often I hear about an employee about to be terminated or an employee about to quit long before anyone else does. This information is sensitive and confidential. The temptation to share the ‘burden’with someone has been and continues to be great at times. And yet, I am bound by the International Coach Federation Code of Ethics, which states that:
“I will maintain the strictest levels of confidentiality with all client and sponsor information. I will have a clear agreement or contract before releasing information to another person, unless required by law.”
What about you? Are you adhering to the same standards? What is your standard?
When people just tell you …
Humans are inherently curious and the desire to obtain information seems hard wired into our brains. This desire seems to be heightened, for example, if a coworker offers information you are not supposed to share. Yet information, especially information given in confidence, comes with responsibility. Sometimes it is better, if you don’t know. Ignorance is bliss, the saying goes. When someone says to you: ”Can you keep a secret?” know that this might be a burden.
When people pressure you to tell them
Sometimes people know that you know, or at least they think they know. They will ask you over and over to tell them the scoop. This is gossip – beware! Resist the temptation and take a stand for trust and integrity. If it was your secret, would you want everyone to know? Resist the 30 seconds of fame at a cocktail party and keep the information tucked away.
Guard confidential information with discipline
If you have given your word, guard the information with discipline, lock your file drawers, encrypt your computer, have conversations with insiders in privacy and make sure they are indeed insiders. Especially in the workplace, walls have ears. Reflect on your habits of communication. Beware of the belief that confidentiality just happens. Keeping information in confidence takes practice. In 15 years of keeping client conversations confidential, I have developed my own system:
1) Tell people up front that you can’t share certain information. This applies equally to spouses, children or parents. 2) Be conscious and intentional about any records you keep. (My client notes are kept to a minimum, get locked daily and are destroyed in regular intervals). 3) Keep conversations private. For example, I use a sound machine when I am on client calls, so others that might be in the house can’t hear my end of the conversation. Face to face meetings often take place at the workplace or in private meeting rooms and not out in public. I would never have client phone call at Starbucks!
The word confidential comes from the Latin word confidere. ‘Con’ stands for ‘with’ and ‘fidere’ stands for trust, so ‘with trust.’
Anyone providing you with confidential information trusts you with that information. How to best build trust in the workplace? Keep entrusted information confidential. Just because you know, doesn’t mean you have to share.
When I was in high-school I got my first opportunity to travel abroad: A student exchange to America. I was terrified. It worked well, but it was a nerve wracking experience.
After school I got accepted to a university in California, 6000 miles from home, which meant a whole lot more more travel. In fact the first flight across the Atlantic didn’t go so well. The air traffic controllers had gone on strike and left me stranded in Amsterdam, and then again in Vancouver, before finally arriving in Los Angeles at 1 am on an August morning in 1981. I still remember the feeling of being lost in unfamiliar territory.
The bottom line was that, I clearly wanted to see places and experience different cultures, but I was nervous about traveling.
Years later, I found myself at times traveling to three different countries a week. Since that very first trip to the US, I have done a great deal of traveling, in fact I have traveled around the world twice, once going East, and once going West.
For those of us who do travel a great deal, we might take travel for granted. But it didn’t come easy.
To really explain how I did all of this travel, I will focus on three primary things:
How did I overcome the nerves and, then, become comfortable with and confident about traveling?
How did I learn the skills required to be a good traveler?
Why did I do it?
A few things to consider when it comes to the WHY of traveling:
Why do you want to go someplace else?
Who will it help and how will it help them?
What will it do for you to experience different locations and cultures?
How would you feel inside if you didn’t ever get to travel?
In my case, I was curious about what other parts of the world looked like and what the people were like. I was fascinated that people could communicate in different languages and had different daily routines. At first I only noticed the obvious differences, such as different food and different clothes. Later, I became more aware of subtle differences in the way people think and what beliefs they hold.
When studying in California I was keenly aware of me being an ambassador from Germany to the United States. I was representing my home country and my traditions and rituals. Likewise the people I met were equally ambassadors of their home country. The people I met from Iran and Ireland, from Brazil and South Africa were fascinating role models of their upbringing.
My Dad once said to me: “Experiencing different locations and cultures will broaden your horizon.” He was right. I am fortunate to have formed a very broad set of beliefs due to the exposure I have had.
I think if I never would be able to travel again I would feel extremely claustrophobic. I don’t need to travel every day. But knowing that I can hop on my bike, in a car or train, on a plane and BE somewhere else in short order is a very freeing feeling. It keeps me stimulated and excited.
Let’s talk about the HOW I overcame the nerves. Let’s talk about three core things:
1) How important is the trip? The more important the trip, the less nerves you will feel. In fact, if it truly matters, you have some passion about getting there. And passion goes a long way to overcome nerves. Does your trip really have the potential to create significant positive change?
2) Visualize the Good. Visualizing the positive aspects of the trip will help tame your tiger. If you focus on everything that could go wrong, guess what, everything will go wrong. I know and trust that my luggage will get there, my connections will work, that I will get rest and meet exciting people. And the list goes on…
3) Nervousness and Excitement are close. Nervousness and excitement are almost the same emotion. They feel very similar. So the next time you feel a bit nervous, ask yourself these questions:
What would I have to do to feel excited right now?
What am I most excited about as I prepare for the trip?
What are some of the amazing outcomes that could come out of my trip, and why am I so excited about them?
With nerves and excitement out of the way, let’s talk about skills.
There are clearly way more skills to discuss than I can mention in this already very long article – you can find more in some of my other blog articles – so I will focus on a few key skills:
1) Know thyself
Know what kind of traveler you are. Shockingly most people don’t have a clue. What do you want? What do you need to be a happy traveler? What do you value in the trips you are taking? The more clarity you have of who you are and your intention the better the trip will be – guaranteed.
Let’s not talk about business travel for now, since much of the destination and travel is preplanned and often out of your control. But if it’s up to you, give your destination some thought. I want to talk about three primary destination options:
Veg (short for vegetable) – you go to a place and use all the amenities provided
Destination in 3 days – you think you will never come back to this place again and hence you try and hit all the sights in short order regardless of how far between sights.
Experience Junky – you want to experience places and people, connect with locals and understand different customs.
Knowing what you want from your destination and communicating this to all travelers in the party will go a long ways to eliminating stress.
When I was young, I seriously disliked when my Dad wanted to plan, I wanted to be spontaneous and not decide. I wanted to go with the flow. And there is something to be said for that. However, as a nervous traveler going with the flow is a recipe for disaster. You don’t have to plan every last minute, but you need to have the basics in place, transportation, lodging, money, travel documentation.
What stories have you heard about travel and taken on as truth? What do you belief about travel and what do you need to verify if it’s in fact true? The older people get, the more they let stories get in the way of taking trips and going places, because it’s too dangerous or too treacherous. There are a million and one stories to talk you out of taking a trip. And there are a million and one stories to go on this trip. It’s your choice.
While I was terrified of traveling, I also enjoyed telling the stories of my adventures. Being a good storyteller is a great start, but it doesn’t replace the need for practice.
Practice Makes Perfect
According to Malcolm Gladwell it takes 10,000 hours to mastery. To me it’s not the destination or how many hours or days I have traveled or trips I have taken. It also doesn’t matter if I have seen every sight there is. That bucket list is for someone else. For me, it truly is about enjoying the journey. And the journey can be fascinating regardless if I ride my bike in a neighborhood I have never been to, take a road trip and experience a different countryside for several hours or days, or fly to a distant location and experience country and culture.
Lastly, travel with others. Share your stories with others in order to have an impact that goes beyond yourself. Stories and shared experiences are what memories are made of.
Who know, may be we’ll connect on one of my next trips.
The last 12 months were filled with endings for me. I focused on supporting my son during his final semester of high school, before letting him go to Ireland for his first semester in college. I said goodbye to our beloved dog, Pepper, who had provided us with sweet love for 11 years. He is missed. And I let go of my judgment of my daughter. Yes, mother-daughter relationships are complicated, or they can be. For six years I have taken her path personally for fear of being judged myself. I have come to realize that she is exactly where her path led her and where she needs to be. She is in college as well, and gaining clarity of where she wants to go with her life. My judgment – good or bad – is purely a reflection on me, not her. My children, young adults now, are starting their own lives, resulting in the closing of a chapter for me. As I let go of my kids and form new relationships with them, I realized that the home I had built nine years ago to shelter, nurture and energize my family fit the last chapter of my life perfectly, but with the closing of that chapter I have to move on. During the last four months I have been emptying 4 homes (not all my own) in two continents, remodeling 2 of them and selling my primary residence. De-cluttering and reprioritizing has been incredibly cleansing and refreshing. As I am writing, I am surrounded by boxes and preparing to move, starting a new beginning. I will have right-sized my belongings so I can focus on what I am longing for: To BE Free
Free of attachments, free of judgment, free of social constraints, free of obligations, free of limitations that I have put upon myself, free of beliefs of what I can or cannot do. I am free to recreate myself, explore new friendships and nurture old ones, free to say yes to myself and to this beautiful world that has so much to offer.
I have learned that in order for something new to enter into my life, a part of the old needs to die first. It’s scary, because the old me was quite comfortable. But the new me feels compelled and excited. I have declared 2015 my year of travel and service. What that exactly looks like, I don’t exactly know yet. And I am fine with the unknown. I do have some ideas of where to start this journey. As I move forward I hope you and I will remain in touch. Together, we can create an exciting experience for both of us either virtually or maybe even in person, wherever we will connect in the world.
Purpose – What’s Yours?
As you might know I am in favor of making meaning through storytelling. Often people start working with me when they find themselves stuck in stories they don’t want to be in and are struggling to get out.
Recently, I learned about a new book. I couldn’t ignore it since I read about it in the New York Times, a client mentioned it and I stumbled upon it through linked in all on the same day! The Purpose Economy by Aaron Hurst is a welcome addition to books like Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan and Doing Good by Jeffrey Kottler
Hurst points out that millennials are not willing to settle for less. They are trading in conventional career paths to launch tech start ups, start small businesses that are rooted in local communities, or freelance their expertise. No longer are they willing to ‘just’ volunteer on the side. They want to make a difference with their career and work as well.
I particularly liked his approach to how to find one’s purpose:
- Who do you serve?
- Why do you serve them?
- How do you serve them?
Notice that meaning comes from engaging in something greater than oneself, hence the questions are centered about serving others.
I suspect if people where to reflect on these questions their purpose would become pointedly clear and their stories would emerge clearly. Just in case, Aaron Hurst also has a psychological assessment on his website that will guide people through this process of discovery. (http://www.imperative.com)
Good luck with uncovering your purpose and crafting a story around it.
Have you ever raised $25,000 in two hours? For some of you this might seem like small change, whereas others might think it’s impossible. Regardless, the principles work for $25M just as much as for $25,000. My co-guide, Sylvia FerroNyalka, and I put 11 bankers through an experience a couple of weeks ago, which demonstrates how powerful the right combination of variables can be.
As part of an 18-month leadership development program for senior executives at a San Jose bank, we challenged the executives to maximize the funds and donations they could raise for Sacred Heart Nativity School of San Jose, a middle school for students from low income families. The executives had previously read and discussed the book “Tribal Leadership” by USC professor Dave Logan. This book highlights how having a ‘Noble Cause’ helps a team to rally behind something that matters. Having one of the students from the school talk about her hard work and dedication to succeeding in school, was crucial for the success of the project. This allowed the executives to relate to the school in a meaningful way. Once the participants were told about the challenge and the short time frame to accomplish the task, the initial shock was obvious. One of the participants later described what she thought when she heard about the challenge: “This is an impossible task.”
What transpired in the next two hours was short of remarkable. Within 45 minutes a webpage asking for donations was live on the Bank’s main site. Reams of copy paper arrived and the donation of 6 brand new iPads was announced. A used car and later a second one was sourced. 130 fleece shirts with the logo of the school, one for each student was secured. Money donations trickled in. Friends and family members, the 49ers, the Earthquake soccer team and even a solar energy provider to investigate long term low energy costs for the school was contacted.
Here are the 6 principles that led to success:
- Noble Cause
Having a noble cause to work toward made everyone work particularly hard. People’s competitive nature came through as they were attempting to do good in the world. The story of the middle school girl gave the project meaning.
2. Diverse Team
We had a group of very diverse skill sets. There were experts in marketing and finance, knowledge in project management and relationship builders. Each participant brought his or her individual strengths to the project.
3. Diverse Network
If everyone had lived and worked in the same circles, the project wouldn’t have been nearly as successful. All participants live and work in the Bay Area, but travel in very different social circles.
Eleven individuals on their own wouldn’t have been able to raise the funds and donations they did. By being in the same room and focused on the same topic, this group was able to ask questions, bounce ideas off of each other and brainstorm creative ideas together. This is not to say that people can’t collaborate when not being present in the same location, but it works better when everyone is in the same place at the same time.
5. Time Constraint
Two hours can be very long for some tasks, but when you need to organize and connect with people not in the room, two hours isn’t very long. However, having a limited time frame and firm end time helped the group focus. There was no time to get distracted or sidetracked. It’s a good thing.
We eliminated distractions as much as we could for the group. However, when people are left to their own devices, lack of focus makes many projects fail. Eliminate distractions and be clear on the stated goal to succeed.
The result was very impressive. Within 2 hours almost $25,000 in goods and money was sourced for the school.
By the end of the 18 months, we hope to raise participants’ awareness to incorporate even more leadership principles, for example identifying leaders, planning, strategizing, decision making and delegating.
Who knows? If we were to conduct a similar experiment again in 18 months maybe the group would end up making one phone call and source $100,000 for a noble cause. As it is, we are at the beginning of the journey and the standards were set very high. We’ll see where the journey takes us.
Right now I am finding myself in the midst of significant changes as my kids are leaving the nest and I am reinventing myself. I will write more about these changes in upcoming months, but for now I needed a blueprint to juggle all the change that I am affecting. I hope you’ll find it useful to have a broken down version.
1) Know What YOU Want
3) Declare Your Intentions
4) Take the First Step
5) Feel the Resistance
6) Hold Yourself Accountable
7) Keep at it
9) Enjoy the Ride
10) Do it Again
You think I am not talking to you? Think again. Our lives have turned global regardless if we are dealing in business or education, healthcare or Government, even if we spend much of our time dealing with local issues.
Recently NPR ran a fascinating story entitled “Planet Money Makes A T-Shirt.” The story starts with how the cotton is grown and harvested in the Mississippi Delta, continues to show the yarn being spun in Bangladesh, the T-Shirt was sewn in Columbia and the design was printed in North Carolina. Hundreds of people around the world had been involved in the making of this T-Shirt. Who knew? We live in a global economy impacting all of us somehow.
When I went to college and studied global management at Thunderbird thirty years ago, globalization was still in its infancy. A company might send some expatriates overseas to ‘help’ the local team be successful. I was one of these expatriates myself at one point and realized really quickly that it was not for me to tell the locals how to do things. They understood their markets, their culture, their resources much better than I did. Coming from the outside I did have something valuable to bring, but it was different from what I had anticipated. Rather than coming from the outside today’s generation engages from the inside. The game has changed.
Thirty years ago it was unique for a 19-year-old girl to come to the US to attend college. Today this is nothing special. My daughter spent her 10th grade in Lugano, Switzerland and traveled to India in her senior year. My son also went to India and started his college experience with his first semester in Dublin, Ireland. Yes, the world has shrunk.
For companies to succeed today they need to have people with Global Intelligence, forget IQ and EQ. They need leaders that can adapt to the global context, understand diverse cultures, know themselves enough to not impose on others, have an insatiable interest in other cultures, are able to align others around a mission and values with integrity intact, have the ability to nurture a cross-cultural network and understand local needs while leveraging unique global strengths.
You might think that only large corporations need employees with these skills. Not any longer. 37Signals for example started out with 7 people in 7 different countries. •UP There, Everywhere, the global consultancy I am working with has members in 15+ countries collaborating, and we are all small business owners with high level expertise. Size doesn’t matter, all of us are engaged globally.
So, what does it take to develop yourself as a global leader today?
1) Live in a foreign country, or two, or three
I have lived and worked in 3 countries. For anyone at the beginning of their career, I would recommend to live in a number of different countries, ideally one of them being an emerging country. Life is different in a vastly different culture. The bigger the difference to the home country the more learning there is.
2) Have line responsibility in an overseas business
Don’t just travel to a foreign country, work there. Take on responsibility for a department, a business unit, a company. The learning is priceless.
3) Learn local languages and customs
I know much of the communication on the internet is in English. If you want to understand the mindset of the people you are dealing with it is essential to speak the local language. Much of the culture is wrapped up in the language. I am fluent in German and English and still I come across certain words that just can’t be translated with the same meaning.
4) Understand your own culture and cultural biases
By traveling and dialoguing with people in your own country you get a better understanding of what your own culture is all about. Inevitably, you formed your own biases growing up and starting your adult life. Keep questioning what you think is true and reexamine. The more self-awareness you bring the better you can understand the other culture.
5) Understand cultural differences non-judgmentally
You will come across different mindsets, customs, cultures. Just because they are different, doesn’t mean they are good or bad. They are simply different. Being curious about others will widen your horizon and often guide you to unique solutions to problems. Connect on a human level and observe the differences.
6) Lead cross-cultural task teams
Working for Kodak in the 80s I led a cross-cultural team in Europe including 12 different nationalities. Without a doubt it was one of the most educational, interesting and humbling experiences in my life. Picture 12 different nationalities represented around a table. You are bound to make assumptions about who the executives are and what they believe in.
7) Educate yourself in cross-cultural communications
Much has been written about different communication styles in different countries. The Japanese won’t say NO, the Germans like organization, the Indians are highly analytical. Cultures are blending more and more and yet the basic cultural communication traits still exist. Don’t just dabble, really study this to be effective when you hit the ground.
Some global corporations are now requiring of all their leadership potential to have lived and worked in at least 2 foreign countries. I think we need to make this a goal for the next generation of leaders as well. When I see where my children’s peers have lived and traveled to, I find it imperative.
Think local, act global is my new motto!
Everyone is a leader, correct? We tend to think of leaders as the figure ahead of an organization, a group or a movement. Nelson Mandela was a leader, Rest in Peace. Richard Branson is a leader. Leonard Bernstein was a leader.
What about you? Aren’t you a leader? Yes, you are. At least you are the leader of your own life.
“A leader is a person who has a vision, a drive and a commitment to achieve that vision, and the skills to make it happen.” according to F. John Reh.
Check. I think this applies to you as well.
Regardless if you see yourself as a leader or if you have been given a title to reflect the responsibility taken on for others, being a leader has its challenges. You are supposed to have all of the answers and yet the more you look ahead, the murkier the waters get.
Everyone is leaning on you to make the right decisions, take actions, know the right course. Well, it isn’t so easy.
I have been a life long scholar of leadership: my Dad is a former CEO, my mother was one of the first German women to get an MBA (or the equivalent) right after the war, I have worked for leaders and have been working in several leadership roles myself, and now I am privileged to work with company leaders in the for-profit and not-for-profit world in a global economy.
There are some universal truths about leadership and one of them is the fact that it is not easy to be a leader.
Recently, I came across a blessing by the Irish author and poet John O’Donohue. I found it so profoundly beautiful that I want to share it with you. It captures the essence of what I want for you – the leader:
For A Leader
May you have the grace and wisdom
To act kindly, learning
To distinguish between what is
Personal and what is not.
May you be hospitable to criticism.
May you never put yourself at the center of things.
May you act not from arrogance but out of service.
May you work on yourself,
Building up and refining the ways of your mind.
May those who work for you know
You see and respect them.
May you learn to cultivate the art of presence
In order to engage with those who meet you.
When someone fails or disappoints you,
May the graciousness with which you engage
Be their stairway to renewal and refinement.
May you treasure the gifts of the mind
Through reading and creative thinking
So that you continue as a servant of the frontier
Where the new will draw its enrichment from the old,
And you never become a functionary.
May you know the wisdom of deep listening,
The healing of wholesome words,
The encouragement of the appreciative gaze,
The decorum of held dignity,
The springtime edge of the bleak question.
May you have a mind that loves frontiers
So that you can evoke the bright fields
That lie beyond the view of the regular eye.
May you have good friends
To mirror your blind spots.
May leadership be for you
A true adventure of growth.
From the book “To Bless the Space Between Us” by John O’Donohue.
“ Rip currents are a source of danger for people in ocean and lake surf, dragging swimmers away from the beach. Death by drowning comes following exhaustion while fighting the current,” according to a definition from Wikipedia.
To me the holidays sometimes seem like fighting the current:
It happens every year. Like clockwork. Even if we don’t pay attention, the holiday season is almost as certain as death and taxes, at least in the Western world. A blessing and a curse, all the same, it often seems.
According to a study by Greenberg, Quinlan Rosner in 2006, 49% of men and 51% of women strongly agree that they feel responsibility to make sure everyone in their family is happy.
Stress, stress and more stress…
And herein lies the problem. Rather than focusing on one’s own happiness, the focus shifts to others.
But in the spirit of ‘giving’, isn’t the focus on others what it’s all about?
Not so fast. As much as we want to be with family and friends and give to those who are less well off in one form or another, the shift to pleasing others causes enormous stress. Let’s be honest, for many it’s not a shift at all. They try to please others all the time. The effect is compounded during the holidays since there is more interaction with family than during the rest of the year. The desire to please others is flawed thinking in my mind, especially, if our vessel is depleted already, psychologically, physically and emotionally. What more is there to give? What good does it do, when we recognize and acknowledge others, while feeling miserable inside? So, here is my #1 strategy for not just surviving, but actually thriving during the holidays:
Put Yourself First!
Let me repeat.
Put Yourself First!
Ask yourself what you need to not only survive but thrive?
Need some alone time? Great. — Time to say NO to others.
Need some one-on-one time with a special someone? — Time to ask.
Need time outdoors smelling the roses? Building a snowman? — Time to give yourself permission.
Need to not be under the in-laws’ roof? — Time to get a hotel room.
Need work to not encroach on family time? — Time to set boundaries with the boss.
Need to let go of perfectionism? — Time to let go of being attached to the outcome.
Or how about this one:
Need to feel loved? — Time to love yourself first.
It starts with YOU! Start with yourself first and manage your resources (time and money) accordingly and you will float through the holidays with ease and meaning. Pretend you are a kayaker conserving energy by going with the current rather than against it.
One last tip:
Consider what you need to say NO to in order to say YES to yourself. It works!