What does it mean to have an Optimism strength? Well, Strengthscope® would define it as a way of looking at the world which energises you and keeps you feeling productive and useful, enabling you to see the glass as being half full, looking for the learning in disaster, believing that things will work out for the best and that the future will be even better than the past. So whether you have an Optimism strength (something that you can find out at www.strengthscope.com), or if you definitely see the world as a cup half empty kind of place, or if you’re somewhere in the middle, this article is for everyone…it’s all about how to stay positive.
There are good reasons to stay positive – being in a positive state has been scientifically shown to deliver a whole range of outcomes that you would want to happen to you, including, amongst many other things, getting and keeping jobs, being more productive, being more resilient and being less likely to burn out. The reason for this is that when we experience positive emotions, like optimism or hope or trust, this opens up various centres of the brain that are less accessible or even entirely inaccessible when we are experiencing negative emotions. Negative emotions tend to lead to a narrowing of our thinking and to a diversion of our brain centres towards dealing with the perceived threat. But positive emotions do the opposite and with that, our brain becomes open to learning, open to experience and is able to grow and develop much more easily.
In short, it’s much easier to experience the world in full colour and, to truly appreciate it, when our brains are in a positive emotional state. That being said, negative emotions, of course, have their place and if we’re going to experience the world in full colour and in full tonal range then we need to get familiar and comfortable with being uncomfortable, with negative emotions as these aspects of life also serve a range of vital functions.
For now though, we’re invoking positive emotions, and science gives us some good evidence on how to stay positive – we’ll be drawing in part from Shaun Achor’s TED Talk on the happy secret to better work and in part from other places so do check it out if you haven’t already.
Find things to be grateful for – research shows that capturing 3 new things each day that we’re grateful for, for 3 weeks, helps the brain retain a pattern of scanning the environment for positive things. Our brains are naturally wired to scan the environment for the negative; threats and problems that, if fixed, we’ll survive. But is survival the same as thriving? Positive and negative emotions work differently in the brain so writing down things to be grateful for allows us to get better at seeing and experiencing positive in the world when it comes along, which means more full colour living more of the time.
Record one positive thing that happens every day, noting for 2 minutes all the details you can remember of that experience. Even just going over the experience again in your head for 2 minutes with your eyes closed, should have the same effect.
Visualisation enables you to relive this positive meaningful event as the brain finds it hard to tell the difference between a real event and a visualised event if it’s re-experienced in sufficient detail, so you can access to the same emotions that way. Again, with our inbuilt negativity bias, we tend to spend longer ruminating on negative events than savouring positive ones, so this activity is training our brains to redress the balance and to more easily access positive emotions by having easier access to a rich library of positive experiences that we have stored up.
Meditating for as little as 2 minutes per day (though it’s definitely the more the better) is massively helpful for gaining focus. This enables us to better regulate our emotional state, which in turn enables us to access more positive emotional states by making more conscious choices in the moment about how we respond to the things that happen to us during an average day. We also know that by focusing on our breath, a practice that sits at the centre of most meditation practices, we become better at being ‘present’; more in the now rather than having our minds race off to unhelpful places all the time. This greater focus and groundedness in the moment also helps us to appreciate positive experiences and identify things to be grateful for, plus meditation improves sleep and decreases stress – it’s worth it.
The final idea is just to be kind to people; show compassion, show interest. This invokes at least two positive systems for us: first, humans have an inbuilt need for relatedness and by showing kindness to others, we are more likely to feel a closer relationship with the person or people we have shown kindness to, we feel part of something bigger than us, socially-speaking. If we show appreciation and gratitude towards people in our social network, this can create even more positive outcomes for us emotionally because it helps us feel more socially supported and that has a major impact on well-being and positive mental health.
Secondly, by being kind, we often like ourselves more, probably because kind people are generally more highly regarded in most societies…being kind is a good thing to be; we get a self-esteem boost from engaging in this kind of activity.
For all of these ideas, the key is to do it again and again. In short, create habits with any of the activities mentioned and it’s easier to stay positive more of the time. And as we’ve heard, learning how to stay positive has some major performance and well-being benefits. So think of one thing are you going to make a habit of, pick one and give yourself the best chance of staying positive.
When working with managers and leaders, the issue of delegation comes up often. Sometimes, it’s not delegation itself that comes up but people saying that they’re feeling overstretched, even burned out because they have too much to do, or sometimes they’re expressing concerns about people in their team, or colleagues in other teams not stepping up and taking enough responsibility, or maybe they even feel that their time management needs work. In many of these cases, the underlying issue isn’t really the presenting issue, it’s actually a fear of delegation. Or at least an anxiety over it.
So, what kind of fears or anxieties are we talking about here? Fear of others not delivering quality but you can rely on yourself, so you just do it yourself. Fear of missing a deadline, it’s usually quicker if you do it yourself, right, so you may as well just do it this time rather than asking anyone else. Fear of giving feedback: what happens if the person you’ve delegated to screws up…you might mess up the feedback and hurt their feelings, so it’ll be less awkward if you do it yourself. Or fear of letting go of stuff you enjoy or are good at and that makes you feel valued and useful, so you do the thing that you really should give to others to do.
But the problem with any of these strategies is that they lead to overwork, burnout, ironically problems with work quality as the overstretch kicks in, feelings of resentment, isolation, less opportunities for others, leading to them losing motivation and perceptions of you being over-controlling or so essential in your role that you’re not thought of for a promotion or role change because that would be too much of a risk for the organisation.
If any of these anxieties describes a tendency that you have then welcome to the club of almost everyone who needs to delegate… which let’s face it is pretty much everyone at every level, including people who need to just share work tasks with colleagues. But also, know that following the steps covered in this article will help with most of these issues. So here are 5 steps to delegating effectively:
First (and potentially forever) you need to be honest about your own issues. If you have a fear or anxiety about delegation, face into it and work out what it is that is causing that and then address it head-on. In the end, as a rule of thumb for managers and leaders try to delegate everything and whatever’s left, ask yourself why it can’t be delegated. Do you need to upskill people so that the things that are left CAN be delegated, do you need more resource, or are you keeping some things which genuinely only you can do and which relate to the purpose of your role? Do all you can to make as much as possible delegatable.
Next, and this one is a big one; leave NOTHING TO CHANCE when it comes to briefing what you want. Be really clear what you want as an outcome and take the time to define and specify this – give examples, get the person to play back what they think you’ve asked for. Don’t assume that it’s obvious just because it’s obvious to you, spell it out. And also get feedback from the other person on what might get in the way of your vision for the task and how they think the task might be best done. Don’t assume you have all the answers in terms of HOW something’s done, but do bring the answers in terms of WHAT you want to be done.
So next, once you’ve made clear and agreed what you want, the next thing to do is put together a plan – this is also a bit of an Achilles heel for some, definitely for me. Once I’ve got my vision down, I have a tendency to think ‘job done’. Ridiculous, it hasn’t even started! So you’ll need to agree on a deadline and if the task is big, what the check-in points are along the way. Also, what are the standards you are expecting – does it need to be 100% perfect or just fit for purpose? And fit for whose purpose? YOU can produce the time plan or better still, ask the person you’re delegating to put the plan together because they’re then going to be that little bit more invested in the outcome.
Next is another big risk area – EARLY check-in on progress; make sure that your delegatee has fully understood what you expect and so that you can give early feedback if not or if so. Make sure not to back off too early, to let them get on with the task but this can sometimes lead to people going off for waaaaay too long in the wrong direction without you knowing and by the time you’ve found out, you could be at risk of missing your deadline. Also, early check-ins show that you are supportive and interested and engaged and that you haven’t just moved on to the next task and forgotten about this one.
And at this point, make sure that you are giving well-constructed, thoughtful, motivating feedback…this might be positive or it might be negative but do make sure it’s handled well. I’ve podcasted separately on giving feedback well using the BID and BIRD techniques for feedback – that podcast’s at Season 1, Episode 4 – so have a listen if you need a reminder or if you haven’t heard about the BID and BIRD approach.
And with points 4 and 5, be sure to give honest feedback throughout, whether it’s good bad or indifferent.
As you progress over time, remember not to assume that everything is going to automatically remain on track with time and quality. Keep to the plan, remain on hand and supportive, check in when you said you would, keep giving feedback. In short, show interest and show that you are invested in the task and the outcome. Demonstrating that level of interest will make a big difference to the end result.
Good luck with your delegation, it is honestly one of the trickiest things to master at work, whatever your role, but it’s essential to do so unless you want to get stuck doing everything yourself forever. And if you do, good luck with that journey ahead!
With the kind of work we do at Strengthscope, we are deeply conscious of the importance of trust and actually within consulting generally, the holy grail of client relationships is often seen as achieving hallowed ’trusted adviser’ status. But how do you become the ‘trusted adviser’, how do you become trusted – as an individual or as an organisation?
Remember that being trusted is an outcome of what you put in but you don’t have direct control of it, it is others’ responses to you that tell you whether or not you have built their trust.
We have to start by thinking about what undermines trust? When we hear about something in the news or at work, or in life, are there some examples of things that lead people to trust others less (whether they are an individual or an organisation or a brand)? Here are some of the biggies:
Feeling that someone has a hidden agenda – you know when you just can’t be sure what’s motivating them and what they say doesn’t quite stack up with what they do
Someone doing unpredictable things that don’t seem aligned with the expectations you have of them
Feeling someone is lying or saying different things to different people, breaching confidentiality; or saying one thing and doing another, or
Finding out that someone has done something that they shouldn’t have but have kept it hidden in the hope they wouldn’t be found out.
So now let’s think about how you as an individual or as a business can build trust with others. Here’s all-time Top 6:
1. Be authentic – show up as real actual ‘you’, the human. Showing your strengths and your vulnerabilities, being more ‘what you see is what you get’ is more likely to get people seeing you as trustworthy. When people are inauthentic we can tell because we can subconsciously pick up when others are hiding things or suppressing emotions. So first up is know yourself and then be yourself. Be authentic, behave according to your values and purpose.
2. Be consistent – consistency of behaviour, of messages, of what you say to whom and linking your words to your actions. Do what you say you will do. In short deliver to your own and to other people’s expectations. In being consistent, you will be perceived to have integrity. Which then leads to people believing you are trustworthy. And remember that it takes time to become trusted! It takes time to build a reputation that you are reliable, a safe pair of hands.
3. Be open and honest – this includes being honest about your own agenda, what you would want to get from a particular situation and encouraging others to do be honest about their needs and wants. Also, acknowledging your mistakes and giving others feedback as well as requesting it. This is the essence of openness and honesty – being comfortable to give and receive feedback. A final part of this area is getting good at listening and being careful with criticism. Particularly with public criticism, where you are criticising other people openly; while this may have the short term benefit of getting you closer to the people you are sharing your views with, in the longer term, it’s likely to lead to concerns that you may be saying the same or similar about them with a different group of people.
4. Develop a Growth mindset – so a growth mindset is bringing an attitude of openness to learn, actively looking for opportunities to learn, and not presenting yourself or trying to be perfect; instead, show others that you are willing to learn and that you want to KEEP learning. None of us is the finished article after all.
5. Be appreciative – be appreciative of others’ efforts without being sycophantic or saccharine. People appreciate being appreciated and it’s more likely to lead to them reciprocating to appreciate you. And with that will come a greater sense of understanding and a quicker path to mutual trust.
6. The final point is a little more controversial but it is to Trust – trust others BEFORE they’ve earned your trust. This relates to the pygmalion effect…that if you believe in others’ skill or competence, they are more likely to demonstrate that skill or competence. This approach, of course, brings risk because it is possible that unscrupulous people might abuse your trust, but if you can trust others in a measured way, while still having some checks and controls built in, the more likely your trust will be reciprocated (the logic goes: if you’re trusting me, I must be trustworthy, which means you probably are too).
So there are the Big 6: be authentic, be consistent, be open and honest, develop a growth mindset, be appreciative and trust others. If you do all 6, you’ll get to trusted adviser status about as quickly as is possible, but let’s be real, it does take time and it takes discipline to build that all important reputation with others.
In the new year it makes sense to focus on how to get the most from the year ahead, so, here are some tips for getting the most from any New Year planning and, most importantly, keeping that plan going for the whole year.
To start with, make sure that you’re getting your priorities right, so what is at the top of your list for making 2019 is the best year be for you? Is it spending more time with your family or partner or friends, is it getting a new job, changing career, going solo, is it making more time for you, going travelling? It could be any of these things or none of these things, but knowing what, for you, is an absolute must – no negotiation, no excuses. Supercharge that priority by telling other people about it, making it a mantra, writing it down, putting it at the top of every to-do list you write, making it your wallpaper, or some picture that reminds you of it. Your subconscious is a funny thing, it tends to process statements without filtering or judging them so if you wrote down ‘Family is my #1 priority’ then when your subconscious sees that it tends to process it as truth. So, the more you see that statement, or something that reminds you of that top priority, the more likely it is to stick.
So once you’re clear on your MOST important goal that will make 2019 a success, making that priority an achievable goal is the next task. So for example, say you want to spend more time with your family in 2019. To make that smart, you could instead aim to have a minimum of 4 family meals a week together plus not work weekends. That way, you’re making your goal specific and measureable. Whether this is achievable is kind of down to you. If needed, you could work gradually toward achieving your goal, putting in place things that will make sure it happens. So, for example, if you want to start a podcast and release it on a Monday, but your goal is to keep your weekends free for your family, you could set out some time each Friday to avoid weekend working on it.
The ‘R’ of ‘Smarter’ goals is RELEVANT and if this goal is part of your most important priority of 2019 then it is, by definition, relevant to you. Last part of SMART is TIME-LIMITED. The important thing is to stick to the time plan. So there should be no vagueness or ‘hopefully at some point during the year’, it needs to be specific. In terms of ‘SMART-ER’ goals, which includes an additional E and R, these letters stand for Evaluated and Reviewed. So for a goal to be SMARTER, it’s worth checking in on it every now and again and making sure that it’s still relevant and important. There’s nothing wrong with swapping out a goal with something more stretching if you feel you’ve already built the habit around that goal that you set at the start of the year. So, by mid-year, you may be saying ‘box ticked’ with regards to family meals and not working at weekends, but what about spending more time helping with the kids’ homework or watching a movie together as a family, or something else valuable. Make goals SMART but don’t be a slave to them, let them be dynamic so that you can shift them or build on them if you need to.
OK, next thing for the new plan is to build your new habits NOW. With any goal or habit, the best thing you can do is start as soon as possible, preferably right now. That way, you’re riding the momentum of having done the thinking, made your plan, worked out your goals, told people about them, created your mantra etc… Your brain is going to be most receptive at this point to you making a change in behaviour, partly to reduce cognitive dissonance (this idea that we the brain likes things to be aligned rather than out of sync, so if you’ve done all of the planning etc. but you haven’t shifted your behaviour yet, your brain feels that’s a ‘dissonant’ state and will want to create a ‘consonant’ one to reduce any feelings of anxiety). So use that knowledge to start your new habits now.
Last thing is to go easy on yourself. It’s all too easy to be over-ambitious with your goals for the year. I’m going to lose 3 stone, run 2 marathons and start 4 new businesses in 2019. Are you though? Or are you going to look back at the goals you set, the plan you made at the start of 2019 and realise you’d given yourself too much to do? And spend most of the year beating yourself up about it? If so, be more realistic with your plan at this point. And even if you realise that you have been a bit OTT with what you thought you could achieve, remember that small steps are still progress, little wins are still wins, hitting 50% of your goals is better than hitting 40%. So show yourself some love and some compassion, there’s no use in being overly self-critical.
So there’s my 4 things in a nutshell for getting going in 2019:
Good luck, and happy new year!