Time to Renew Your Psychological Contract?

How relevant is this notion of a psychological contract in today’s change-driven, profit-centric, “adapt-or-die” business culture? A diverse range of British Columbia’s top companies say “extremely relevant.”

Read the full article in PeopleTalk Fall 2017Psychological Contract

Photo by Mari Helin-Tuominen on Unsplash

Get Focused…on what’s important

Twice a year I feel an instinctive tug toward unbridled optimism.  It’s almost as if a switch is flipped and I wake up feeling that anything is possible.

In this energized, optimistic frame of mind I look forward to January (extending well into the New Year) and to September (after Labour Day).  No doubt this second energy burst is a nod to starting back to school; a memory filled with the promise of new friends, experiences and learning!

I think big. Make plans. Write lists. (multiple lists if I’m honest)  And then I stop.  At least, that’s what it looks like on the outside.

On the inside things are steeping.  This pause in my ‘busyness’ allows me to sort my priorities; and to focus on what is worth doing, rather than what’s first on the list or even seemingly most urgent.

It turns out that by delaying a decision we can improve the quality of our lives.  This counter-intuitive premise is at the heart of ‘WAIT: The Art and Science of Delay’ (Frank Partnoy, 2012).  Drawing on behavioral, neuroscience and even elite sports, it’s a fascinating study of decision-making, and what contributes to it being effective.

Bottom line: slowing down our responses generates better results in almost every area of life, even when time seems to be of the essence.WAIT

“There’s no time to think”

It’s something I hear from executives and managers I coach; that they don’t have enough time.  That they’re too busy to scratch themselves—in back-to-back meetings, pressed for answers before they have time to ask the right questions—let alone able to pause or focus on what’s important to the bigger picture.

Most often, what starts as a request for time-management tools or advice on setting priorities, becomes a deeper conversation about what inspires them to be an effective leader.  How they can become more mindful of who they are ‘being’ while they are busy ‘doing’; in essence what’s within their individual control.

But when an organization measures success by how busy you are, it can feel like a career limiting move to slow down and ask, “What do I have to say no to, in order to say yes to what is strategic here?”

 “The true essence of strategy is choosing what not to do”


This is where Daniel Goleman’s recent writing on  ‘three kinds of leadership focus’ reconciles our natural drive toward action and being busy (looking as if we are ‘doing something’), with our equal human instinct for looking inward and being mindful (looking as if we are ‘doing nothing’).

In order to redirect organizational energy where it’s most effective, he says leaders first have to learn how to direct their own attention to where it is most needed.

He calls these three focal points: ‘inner focus’, ‘other focus’ and ‘outward focus’.  Not surprisingly, there’s a strong link to cultivating emotional intelligence in addition to improving a leader’s ability to devise strategy, innovate and manage organizations.

Bottom line: if you want to harness the energy and instinctive optimism (unbridled or otherwise) within your team or organization, create time and space for ideas to steep before tacking the next new thing.

10 Ways to Create a Proud and Productive Workplace

As a a coach and organization development facilitator, I am devoted to creating confident leaders, strong teams and proud, productive workplaces.

Here are some things I’ve learned along the way about bringing out the best of who we are in the workplace:

  1. Conduct a strengths-based inventory alongside your training needs analysis. Be prepared to be surprised about what emerges.
  2. Ask what people are proud of and what they want to be known for. E.g. Start a meeting with each person telling a story about what they are proud of.
  3. Create an inventory of key leadership practices and how they align with your organizational, team and individual values.
  4. Track employee engagement as well as productivity. Give equal weight to both ‘what we do’ and ‘how we do it’. I.e. Proud of what we do and how we do it.
  5. Encourage trust in leadership by having a dialogue before embarking on your next major change initiative. Give everyone an opportunity to contribute.
  6. Identify ‘needs’ from four perspectives (self, team, customer/client, organization) and link to values, behaviours and competencies.
  7. Take an appreciative inquiry approach by reflecting on what is working: pause, ask more – tell less.
  8. Be open and fearless in the sense of attempting something different. It may or may not work out; however,you  have to try with an open mind.
  9. Look back at the path you took to reach your goals; paying special attention to the ones you feel good about. Repeat!
  10. Have passion and purpose in what you do. Remember, leadership of others is truly about self-leadership and believing that a proud and productive workplace is possible.

Read the full article titled The HR Edge: Performance & Productivity

Donna Howes, Humanity at Work

International Women’s Day is REALLY about liberating men too!

Why – Why Not! – Why Not Me? – Why Not Me Now!!

At the risk of repeating myself, when it comes to creating equality between the sexes, I think an important part of the equation is what needs to change for men as well as women.


In 1975, I addressed Toastmasters on the topic of International Women’s Year (before it was just a Day)…. and today, just because, I went rummaging through my special shoebox that holds scraps of my journey to now.


The first artifacts I found were the buttons… the red one circulated by the IWY committee that defiantly exclaimed WHY NOT! And then came the blue button that simply said BECAUSE. I can’t remember if anyone ever took credit for the ‘because’ button, however, it lightened the debate considerably.


The next thing I found was the speech…. yellow paper (not through age; actually on yellow letterhead) typed on a manual typewriter!  Had the years been kind to me, I wondered as I slipped the pages from their envelope and began to scan.


I said International Women’s Year was necessary because of a basic lack of communication between the sexes.  Hmmmm.  Scanning now; “there’s a huge pay gap, day care is still a problem, pensions and maternity leaves aren’t universal, and although women have been free to vote and stand for office for 50 years, very few have been candidates and not one has run for party leadership.”


Then I got to my real point in the speech….  “men may have had it good economically, but emotionally, they’ve been robbed of their right to feel.  We tell men to be strong, brave and courageous.  We send them out to fight.  We demand that they provide… and the truth is, by doing this, we deprive men of contact with their families and a natural source of joy.”


“We don’t allow men to feel, which is just as bad as not allowing women to excel in the outside world,” I said.


My premise?  International Women’s Year wasn’t only for women… it was for men too.  If we want things to really change for the better we need to go all the way.  We may think it’s all about liberating women,  but men need the freedom to make new choices as well!


Rereading these thoughts today, some 36 years later… I still believe what I said.


At the risk of repeating myself; when someone says you can’t do that (man or woman) ask WHY NOT?  And don’t take because for an answer.



What is Cinderella doing in the middle of my day?

I want to tell you about three random things that came together today in a profound way:

  1. I heard an interview on CBC radio about a new book
  2. a colleague from the Minerva Foundation sent me a You Tube link, and
  3. I coached an aspiring female leader

What did they have in common? Amazingly, Cinderella (and her ugly step-sisters: self-doubt and fear of success / independence)

Random 1 – The new book “Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture”

So here, author Peggy Orenstein is saying that the saturation marketing of the Disney Princess ideal can have a negative impact on how young girls see themselves…and wish to see themselves. The author writes on her blog that “she’s touched a cultural nerve: many parents share her concerns about the significance of this seemingly-retro trend toward the ultra-feminine, and the role the ubiquitous marketing machine plays in packaging and promoting it.”

As my daughters are grown, my interest was somewhat academic, until I remembered another Cinderella-themed book that came out exactly 30 years ago that I loved, called “The Cinderella Complex”.  Way back then, writer and psychotherapist, Colette Dowling, coined the psychological term to describe how some women, often the brightest and most outwardly confident, suffer from what she called a ‘Cinderella Complex’.

The essential theme is that, instead of believing that they can “make it on their own”, these smart, together women harbour a secret desire to be rescued by a ‘prince’; to be whisked away from the frightening realities of living as an authentic adult.

Right, well. That was the first peek at Cinderella in my day.

Random 2 – The You Tube Link

Next came the link to a TED Talk by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Her theme?

Why a smaller percentage of women than men reach the top of their professions.  One of the main reasons she says is that women “systematically underestimate themselves” and “attribute their successes to others”.

What’s interesting (and where Cinderella fits in) is that the ugly step-sistersself doubt and fear of success / independence– appear to still be part of the female psyche today!  It turns out, the research shows women would rather be liked than be successful, because successful women are not admired; they are labeled ‘aggressive’ or ‘pushy’ or worse (at least by those participating in the research!)

Ms Sandberg offers three strategies to women aiming for leadership roles and senior positions.  She’s done her research, quotes authoritative, balanced studies, and is well worth your time listening to.

Random 3 – Coaching Conversation with an Aspiring Leader

And then there was the coaching conversation with a young woman who wants to ‘play bigger’ than she has been at work. She feels stuck in the day-to-day, constantly trying to prove herself; never feeling her successes.  Hoping she’s good enough but never quite feeling successful enough.   Thinking to herself, “I can’t believe it was me…Am I really good at this?  Am I fooling people?”

Ugly step-sisters, right? Taunting voices loaded with ridicule… “Who do you think you are? “You’re not as good as you think you are.” “No one’s going to like you if you’re too good anyway!”

So, real-time now…..  as we worked together through the 30 minute coaching call, she went from fear of success to declaring she was ready to own her success.  By the end of the call, she heard herself say–out loudthat she doesn’t have to keep proving herself.  “I don’t need approval to feel successful,” she said, “because I already am enough, and I already do enough!”

A big leap and a spontaneous one.

All I have to say is “night, night Cinderella.  Sleep well.”

Women Leading the Way – Why Diversity Matters

According to Statistics Canada, women in Canada make up a larger share of the self-employed than in any other country, and contribute in excess of $18 billion to the Canadian economy each year.

Why?  Partly it’s because they’ve got talent, ambition, energy and ideas that aren’t being utilized within traditional workplaces and they’ve leaving for something better.  If you thought the ‘glass ceiling’ had been shattered long ago, ask yourself why it is that women leaders didn’t make it onto the Top 100 list of most senior or highly paid executives in 2010.

Is it Brain Sex?

More than 21 years ago, Anne Moir and David Jessell wrote ‘Brain Sex: the Real Difference between Men & Women’.  They looked at the scientific research of the day and came up with the premise that we’re different because our brains are different.  What did this mean in terms of leadership styles?

Here’s a passage from page 167 around the importance that women place on ‘relationship’ in the workplace.

“Women would flourish better, then, in a work environment where the emphasis on the personal is seen as an advantage, rather than a handicap.  In a man-made world of work such an environment does not, on the whole, exist.

Women have had to create it: they may not be properly represented at important levels of big corporations, but they are now doing remarkably well in the firms they have set up themselves.  Here, they don’t have to play the male game according to male rules.”

With management literature increasingly promoting that both creativity and innovation are sources of business value, the best companies today are learning that ‘how’ they do things is just as important as ‘what’ they do to reach their business goals.

And that of course falls squarely into the realm of relationship building–a hard-wired leadership strength in women, according to the brain scientists.

Leadership Redefined

No one can seriously doubt that women make a unique contribution to leadership at every level of organizations today.  While leadership is still about getting things done, the challenge and real opportunity is to redefine what ‘successful leadership’ looks like.

Today, successful leadership is about everyone being on the same page and in tight alignment with the organization’s goals to meet shared objectives.  This is where the leadership values of women make a vital contribution.

In a more recent book, titled: Leadership and the Sexes, Barbara Annis and Michael Gurian point out that women tend toward more participative teams, are collaborative and look for possible connections rather than introduce competitiveness into the process.  Both women and men are collaborative but in different ways: men leaders lace competitiveness into the process, while women leaders tend to see possible connections.  And while women leaders enjoy solving problems with others; men challenge themselves to “solve the problem himself”.

Women Leading the Way – A new and exciting program from the Minerva Foundation

So where do women get the opportunity for leadership development….and to become the best they can possibly be?  Here’s where!

The Minerva Foundation for BC Women is seeking applicants for Women Leading the Way – an exciting and innovative three-year pilot program that will take women who want to lead through a part-time, year-long, advanced leadership development training program.  The program begins January 2011 and the application deadline is September 15, 2010.

Find out how you can advance your career and make a real difference in the world.  Visit the Minerva Foundation for more information and an application.