Book Review: Everyday Bias

By: Howard Ross

Howard is a dear friend and colleague, and I am glad to have the opportunity to share this book with you as it delves into the neuroscience of our own bias and how to work with it in a work environment and our personal lives. This book is filled with powerful examples and research on unconscious bias that draws you in and gets you more curious about how our mind operates.

From sports, to healthcare, music, and power in our society, Howard navigates us through these charged topics without shaming anyone, and offers ways that we can individually and organizationally begin to explore and work with our bias. It’s an eye-opening book that leaves me hopeful in times when we need it. Sending a prayer for the victims of Orlando and the countless numbers of those before them. May we each contribute in some small way today toward creating a more caring and kind world.

Moving From Theory To Action: On Learning Communities

To support you in identifying and strengthening your own learning communities.

 Reflect on a time when you had a learning community. What contributed to its effectivness?

What are your current communities where there may be a possibility of creating more of an intention around learning together and supporting one another? (This could be a work team you’re on, a particular group of friends, a volunteer group you participate on).

Are there already existing learning groups you might be interested in joining? (These could include spiritual groups, leadership programs such as the WLC, book study clubs, formal classes, etc.)

What is one action you will take based on this reflection?

Community vs Individual Learning

The crocuses and daffodils peeking out of the brown earth remind me how I love spring, as it seems to burst with possibility and new opportunities. I was just invited to the teacher track for the Strozzi Institute, an internationally-recognized center for somatic coaching whose mission is “to produce leaders who embody pragmatic wisdom, skillful action and grounded compassion.” I will be traveling there four times this year to be with my cohort, and I am reminded of how impactful it is to be in a community of learners. The support, energy and learning is so much greater than going it alone, and I am grateful to be embarking on this journey with this amazing group of people who come from not only the United States, but also from Chile, Belize, Italy, the UK and Ethiopia. It is truly a gift, and I invite you into this reflection on your own learning communities.

There are a multitude of articles about the importance of professional learning communities. One of the biggest proponents is Peter Senge, who popularized the theory of the learning organization. In his book, The Fifth Discipline, he speaks about the importance of team learning and that this learning is done through dialogue, which allows one to go beyond any one individual’s understanding. This is the real benefit of learning with others; we get out of our own head and can question our own assumptions, and process and internalize the learning is a more powerful way than doing it on our own. As social beings, we learn through the interaction with others. When I was at Strozzi, I was curious and energized by others’ questions in the room. I found I could move my own understanding of a concept and better internalize it. When I was “stuck’ with a personal issue in my own development, having others witness me and offer perspective from the outside allowed me a way out of my automatic thinking to create a new way of seeing things. Finally, the support I feel is invaluable, knowing there is a group of people all on the same path of learning, holding one another accountable to our commitments to become great teachers of this work.

This is a key reason for me founding the Women’s Leadership Circles program—to provide others with the opportunity to learn leadership in a close community of peers. Being a leader can be isolating, and we need someone to learn from. A colleague and I have been conducting research on the impact of these Circles over time. In fact, all of the Circles have continued on their own after the initial six-month program, the first Circle now in it’s fifth year. Here are a few comments on the importance of the Circles both as a place of learning as well as strength through connection: “Meeting with them has offered me a way to consider, create, act and reflect on various experiences and learnings in my life in a way different than one-on-one friendships.” “ I feel calmer in the face of challenges knowing there are others there who care and support me.” What about you, where can you leverage the power of community in your learning?

Moving From Theory To Action: Measuring Business Beyond the Basics

Values and living in alignment with them isn’t necessarily a quick exercise. It starts with clarifying your values, assessing your alignment and setting future goals to track. That said, here are a few questions to consider if you’ve already got an idea.

  1. What actions in your work do you already take that are in alignment with your values? It is often helpful to take a strengths-based approach of what you are already doing.
  2. What actions would you like to take going forward that are in alignment with your values?
  3. How will you know if you’ve succeeded? What are your measurements of success?
  4. To what extent might B Corp certification be a process for you as a way to tangibly demonstrate your work values?

Measuring Business Beyond the Basics

I’m excited to share that Watershed Coaching was just B Corp certified! “What’s that?” you might wonder. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, a B (Benefit) Corp is to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee or USDA Organic certification is to milk. B Corp status requires meeting rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

It’s an external, measured validation of my commitment to social responsibility through my work. What I really appreciated about the process was that it got me focused in a concrete way on how my business reflects my values and what the metrics are which demonstrate actual actions bringing those values to life.

“What gets measured gets done.”

This is a favorite quotation of mine when I work with leadership teams and coaching clients. Typically, businesses measure the output- hours billed, number of items sold, profit, expenses, etc. Yet business is about so much more than that. The B Corp certification process offers a concrete way for companies to assess their actions and deepen impact in service of using the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.

For me, this was a great learning process about how to quantify what I already do and to consider ways to further my positive impact. For example, I knew that I was committed to deep community engagement and volunteering. The certification process gave me a better way to measure my contributions because it “counted things that count”, as Einstein would say, in addition to profit— e.g., financial donations to charity, purchases made locally, recycling efforts, number of hours volunteered, and use of preferred suppliers (e.g., local, women-owned, minority). I also knew that I had a lot of systems in place to reduce, reuse, and recycle, but through the B Corp process I created a statement of my commitment to this value. It was helpful for me to evaluate my business by looking not just at the bottom line, but more holistically at the business as a manifestation of my values.

There were also areas that I hadn’t given much thought to. For example, for most of my life I’ve used standard commercial banks, but through the B Corp process I realized that I really wanted to bring my business to our local community bank, Brattleboro Savings & Loan, because their values and commitment to cultivating strong community were more in alignment with my values. I had thought about it before, but to be honest, it felt like changing our accounts was just an extra pain-in-the-neck thing to do. The B Corp process caused me to move into action on this. What about you? In what ways to you want to broaden how you define success for your work beyond profit?

Vacation Cultivates Creativity

Since my last newsletter when I wrote about our trip backpacking in Arizona, I’ve been updating my gear. And while I’m not typically a person who advocates for stuff to buy- I want to share with you my latest purchase- Sierra Designs Mobile Mummy. (They’re not paying me anything to mention it). It has blown me out of the water- they went totally out of the box and changed the design of a sleeping bag, giving it some amazing features. After decades of everyone thinking about sleeping bags the same way, somebody came up with radical thoughts—arm openings, and a zipper at the bottom so you can walk in it! I get cold easily, so I love staying in my bag. Not only is it warm and light, but I can read in it, in the morning I can crawl out of the tent with it and have a cup of coffee –and, as you can see, it makes me look like a supermodel! J So it’s got me thinking about how we get ourselves to think out of the box. The good news is that vacation and new environments are GOOD for our creativity. Time to get out of the office!

You might be wondering how you could create something innovative like the Mobile Mummy sleeping bag. If so, the answer might be as easy as taking a vacation. This was the case for entrepreneur, Kevin Systrom, the founder of Instagram, one of the most popular social media networks. He came up with the idea while on vacation on a beach in California. According to a survey of 1000 small business owners in the UK, one in five startup ideas come to entrepreneurs while on vacation. Yet in the United States, there is a cultural belief that taking time away may be an indicator of lack of work commitment. In fact, the United States averages only 10 days of paid vacation annually, while Europe averages 20 days. And to top it off, 40% of American workers will leave paid vacation days unused. There’s even a new name for it: “Work Martyr Complex”.

Yet the data shows that taking time off is good for us. A 2006 internal study by Ernst and Young showed that for every additional 10 hours of vacation an employee took, his or her performance ratings went up by 8 percent — nearly 1 percent per day of vacation. This means that all that unused vacation time is a lost opportunity in productivity. The study also found that employees who took regular vacations were less likely to leave the company. In addition, there is a huge bonus on health– stress and anxiety levels go down, sleep goes up, heart function and blood pressure begin to go back to normal, and moods improve. Not bad for hanging out by the pool or seeing some new sites.

We’re human beings, not machines, and we go through cycles of being productive and recharging. So go ahead and recharge. New ideas are better cultivated when we’re not stressed and our minds are free to wander. I’m getting my bags packed now (actually for Turkey and Lithuania) and throwing in a notepad for some creative inspiration.

Book Review: Leadership Without Easy Answers

Ronald Heifitz

This often-cited book is an important contribution to the leadership field. According to Heifetz, leaders are confronted with two types of problems: technical problems, which can be solved by expertise and good management, and “adaptive” problems, such as poverty, war and racial issues, which require innovation and learning. Heifitz asserts that traditional management strategies are useful in dealing with technical problems, but in situations where beliefs and values come into play, technical “fixes” tend to exacerbate the problem. It’s a good book to change the narrative that there’s a “right way” to do leadership.

Moving From Theory to Action: On Trying New Ways of Doing Things

To support you in identifying better processes, this is a supportive exercise designed to help you loosen attachment that there’s one right way to do it adapted from the Kamana Naturalist Training Program. In doing so you may see patterns that no longer serve you in their original purpose, and gets you accustomed to trying new ways of doing things.

For the next seven days try to do things differently in service of finding perhaps better ways. It’s possible to practice trying new things so that when the opportunity arises, you can be more nimble and open to finding more appropriate solutions.  Some suggestions include:

In your home: How can you shift your daily patterns? Get ready before you eat breakfast or vice versa? Sleep on the other side of the bed or even in the guest bed if you have one? Peel a banana from the other end (see Great Link above). This can be fun! -My kids love it when we have breakfast for dinner J

At work: Where can you mix it up a little? What is your morning routine- checking emails? If so, what if you opened the day with a big project instead? What does lunch look like? How could you try something new? Are there conversations you could have with people you don’t regularly interact with?

Take a new way home– is there a different street you can take home? A different door entrance? (front door versus back door?) Let go of the Mister Rogers routine of doing things exactly the same when you come home?

Throughout this process reflect on:

  • Do I need to update my routines?
  • What might I do differently and perhaps more effectively if I did not feel bound to the way I “have always done it”?
  • What action would I like to take based on this exercise?

Book Review: The Boys In The Boat

Daniel James Brown

Riveting! Inspirational! This book about nine Americans and their epic quest for the gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics is a rare gem. I kept saying to my husband, “You’ve got to read this!” each time I put the book down for the night. This historical novel brings us intimately into the lives of these young working-class men, gives us a glimpse into the magic moments on the water, and the incredibly hard work to get there. It is estimated that in four years of college rowing, each of them rowed approximately 4,344 miles (469.000 strokes) in preparation for the mere 28 miles of actual collegiate racing. A stunning testimony to practice and what it takes to be an exceptional team. Beautifully written, I will never look at crew the same way.

Book Review: The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working

Tony Schwartz

I love the title of this book because it echoes a feeling many of us have that our current workstyles just aren’t sustainable. Schwartz, a respected researcher and consultant, goes into depth about how managing our personal energy is critical to being more fulfilled and effective in our lives. He walks through practical methods for shifting the burnout cyle into a renewal cycle. And he does it with a holistic perspective, recognizing the importance of not only our physical energy, but our mental, emotional and spiritual energy as well. It’s a well-written, organized book that provides context and practical strategies to breaking difficult patterns.

water-shed (watr'shed') Noun: a critical point that marks a division or change of course; a turning point — © 2014 WatershedCoaching. All rights reserved.