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Without Emotional Intelligence, Mindfulness Doesn’t Work

Mindfulness has become the corporate fad du jour, a practice widely touted as a fast-track to better leadership. But we suspect that not all the benefits laid at its feet actually belong there. Our research and analysis has revealed a complicated relationship between mindfulness and executive performance—one that is important for leaders to understand as they seek to develop in their careers.

Mindfulness is a method of shifting your attention inward to observe your thoughts, feelings, and actions without interpretation or judgment. A mindfulness practice often begins simply by focusing on your breath, noticing when your mind wanders, and then bringing it back to your breath. As you strengthen your ability to concentrate, you can then shift to simply noting your inner experience without getting lost in it at any point in your day. The benefits attributed to this kind of practice range from stronger relationships with others to higher levels of leadership performance.

Take, for example, Sean, a senior leader at a Fortune 100 corporation.  He will tell you that mindfulness played a critical role in transforming his career. He had been experiencing a serious performance plateau that was, he learned, an effect of his micromanaging and intimidating his direct reports. Obsessed with hitting his quarterly targets, he had pushed his people as much as they could stand and his team’s output was at a standstill. He feared being fired, or having to quit because of burnout from anxiety overload.

And mindfulness, Sean says, saved him. After an intensive training in the practice, he was better able to stop himself when his impulse was to jump in and control, and instead adopt a more supportive style, letting subordinates take on more responsibility. As he got better at managing his own anxious impulses, the resulting atmosphere dropped the gauge on stress for everyone. His direct reports trusted him more and did better quality work. Instead of quitting or being fired, he was promoted.

Sean was one of 42 senior leaders from organizations throughout the world who practice mindfulness and whom one of us (Matt Lippincott) studied at the University of Pennsylvania. They too attributed a wide array of benefits to their practice, including:

  • Stronger relationships with superiors, peers, and subordinates
  • Heightened output
  • Better project outcomes
  • Improved crisis management
  • Increased budgets and team headcount
  • Being trusted with sensitive organizational information
  • Positive performance reviews
  • Promotions

One executive even reported that as a result of his mindfulness practice his co-workers stopped turning around and walking in the other direction when they saw him coming!

But mindfulness isn’t magic; what was the mechanism at work in these executives’ transformations? One tipoff: several executives in the study reported getting feedback from colleagues that described improvements in areas like empathy, conflict management, and persuasive communication. These, it turns out, are what one of us (Dan) has described as core emotional intelligence competencies.

This connection with emotional intelligence was underscored in the interviews Matt conducted with the study participants themselves. Rather than describing a direct correlation between their mindfulness practice and increased performance, the leaders talked about increased self-awareness that led them to change certain behaviors. Those behaviors tracked with those Dan describes in the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory (ESCI), an established rubric for gauging emotional intelligence. It is through improvement in competencies related to emotional intelligence, in fact, that mindfulness makes executives more effective leaders.

In Sean’s case, his mindfulness practice made him more aware of his own high levels of anxiety, and how that tended to impair his thinking. He realized that he had harshly high standards for himself at work, and held everyone else to these same rigid, perfectionistic expectations — for instance, that people, including himself, should be able to endure extreme workplace demands. By becoming aware of these tendencies, he also saw that while his workaholic ethic had gotten him his position, as a leadership strategy it no longer worked for him. Because it was well-nigh impossible for anyone to meet his unrealistic performance expectations — and he would berate them when they didn’t — there was a quiet rebellion brewing on his team and progress was at a standstill. With this understanding, he was able to identify two competencies where he could improve: self-awareness and self-management.

As a result, he adjusted his expectations to be more realistic, and sought his team’s input in setting their goals. These shifts led him to improve in other emotional competence areas as well. Sean began to listen attentively to his team members rather than just dictating what to do — ratcheting up his empathy. He adopted a more positive view of his direct reports and their abilities to reach targets, seeing them as allies rather than problems, an upgrade of the positivity in his outlook. He built trust by speaking of his own fears and vulnerabilities more openly, and spoke from his heart more, which inspired his team. We’ve seen in past research that improvement in these competency areas — achievement, conflict management, empathy, positive outlook, and inspiration — improve a leader’s effectiveness, and Sean’s case bore that out.

The exercise of mindfulness started Sean down the path of improvement as a leader; it allowed him to see where he needed to improve and allowed him to become self-aware enough to modify his actions. But the improvements themselves were in the realm of emotional intelligence.

We believe that by focusing on mindfulness-as-corporate-fad, leaders run the risk of missing other opportunities to develop their critical emotional skills. Instead, executives would be better served by deliberately assessing and improving their full range of emotional intelligence capabilities. Some of that work may well involve mindfulness training and practice, but it can also include formal EQ assessment and coaching. Other tools and approaches include role-playing, modeling other leaders you admire, and rehearsing in your mind how you might handle emotional situations differently. By understanding that the mechanism behind mindfulness is the improvement of broader emotional intelligence competencies, leaders can more intentionally work on all of the areas that will have the strongest impact on their leadership.

Daniel Goleman is Co-Director of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations at Rutgers University, co-author of Primal Leadership: Leading with Emotional Intelligence, and author of The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New InsightsLeadership: Selected Writings, and A Force For Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World. His latest book is Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body.

Matthew Lippincott is a business owner, researcher, and author involved in the creation of new leadership development solutions. He holds a doctoral degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and has previously held leadership positions at two of the world’s largest software companies.

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When One Person’s High Performance Creates Resentment in Your Team

  • Category Teams

Organizations face a dilemma in their hunt for talent. They pursue the proverbial “best and brightest” who can outsell, outthink, and outproduce their peers. So they spend sizable resources to attract and retain high performers who stand out. But often these organizations also want teams that function in solidarity. So they place their prized recruits in collaborative groups and tell them to fit in.

Many managers miss or underestimate the potential harm to high performers from their teams. Often with good intentions, managers set up high performers as targets for sabotage, aggression, and exclusion. As the Japanese proverb warns: “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.”

Some high performers exit their organizations to escape such negative social consequences. Those who stay often flounder without peer support. Research estimates over 30% of high performers feel a lack of engagement at work, and 25% expect to work elsewhere within a year.

 With the rise in collaborative models of work, the problem gets worse. Our research, forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Psychology, suggests that an emphasis on teamwork in the modern workplace has amplified the risks for high performers. That’s partly because high performance is relative and based on social comparison. In communities with frequent interaction, opportunities for such comparison increase.

We draw our insights from a field study of 414 stylists at 120 Taiwanese salons, followed by an experiment involving 284 business students in the United States. The salons offered a context that reflects many characteristics of workgroups: a socially dynamic, open environment where stylists worked both individually and interdependently. Rewards were also determined based on both individual contribution and collective success. To cross-validate findings from the field study, we then chose a complementary approach: a controlled experiment among MBAs where we could randomly assign conditions (i.e., more cooperative or a more competitive group norms) and manipulate the individual performance feedback after tasks. Our evidence from both the field study and the experiment points to a clear social downside of high achievement, as peers were more likely to belittle, insult, and damage the reputation of high performers. In addition, we found that the social penalty increases in more collaborative workgroups.

One obvious trigger for the undermining behavior is envy. People led by their emotions often smile at the misfortune of others. But our study suggests that something even more sinister may be at play: peers may lash out against high performers as a strategic, calculated act.

High performers often receive first choice of scarce resources such as high-profile work assignments and preferred customer accounts, which can spark threat perceptions among peers. High performers may also shatter performance standards, create more work, and raise expectations for the group. Nobody likes “rate busters” on unionized factory floors, for example, or “troublemakers” who expose incompetence and ignorance.

This tension is heightened in collaborative communities, where peers may see themselves as acting selflessly on behalf of the team when they knock down high performing outliers who threaten solidarity.

But that’s just half the story revealed in our research findings. Self-interest also simultaneously pulls peers in the opposite direction: toward supporting the high performers in their midst. Regardless of envy and potential threats, high performers create perks for their teams like greater access to resources and greater leader satisfaction with the group.

High performers may also earn rewards on behalf of others, like when honor roll students do the bulk of the work on group projects at school or when all-star athletes carry their teams to victory. Benchwarmers don’t complain when championship rings get passed around.

The benefits point to an important paradox in our findings. The same high achievers targeted for sabotage simultaneously earn higher levels of support. Love and hate coexist, largely because peers view high performers as both threatening and beneficial to their careers.

Such contradictions take a toll. Research suggests that experiencing both friendly and hostile responses from the same source can be disorienting and more harmful to one’s work and health than hostility alone. This is because the inconsistent messages increase interpersonal uncertainty as well as cognitive and emotional burdens.

Managers who want to both maintain high returns and hang on to their high performers should anticipate that high performers will draw fire, clarify that undermining high performance will not be tolerated, and be prepared to lend high performers emotional support.

Beyond that, our research suggests two broad categories of intervention based on the understanding that peers’ treatment of high performers follows rational assessments of threats and benefits.

First, managers can address peer concerns that high performers threaten their welfare and resources. One approach might be to create a more balanced performance review system that values team members’ contributions beyond task accomplishment — the dimension that most favors high performers.

Organizational citizenship behaviors like helping others, making constructive suggestions, and being a good sport also matter in business, helping to lubricate the social machine of the organization. High performers sometimes forget these dimensions, focusing on tasks and ignoring people.

Second, and more importantly, managers can cultivate the understanding that everyone wins with high performers on the team, despite the reality that equal allocation of resources within a group is not always feasible or fair. To balance the inevitable peer perception of threat, managers can emphasize the upside.

For example, high performers bring expertise, experiences and connections that often translate into better team reputation, goal accomplishment and overall performance — all of which benefit everyone on the team. Managers can further facilitate the transfer of benefits by setting up star performers as mentors, allowing peers to learn and improve.

Along similar lines, managers can help high performers help themselves by coaching them to demonstrate prosocial values and behaviors. When high performers have others’ best interests at heart, they become less likely to hoard credit and dismiss team contributions, thus reducing their chances of being perceived as a threat to the team.

Managers should pay particular attention to these issues in workplace cultures that emphasize harmony and cooperation. The key is helping the team recognize that the benefits may outweigh the threats when they collaborate with high performers.

Hot shots who can deliver results are valuable, hard to retain, and costly to replace. So managers of high performers should stay vigilant, watch for signs of isolation and disengagement, and intervene early to cultivate and protect their investment. Along with the Japanese proverb, they should heed the wisdom of a similar saying: “Tall trees catch much wind.”

Hui Liao is the Smith Dean’s Professor in Leadership and Management at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business

Elizabeth Campbell is an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management

Aichia Chuang is a distinguished professor at the National Taiwan University’s College of Management

Jing Zhou is the Houston Endowment Professor at the Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business

Yuntao Dong is an assistant professor of management in the School of Business at the University of Connecticut.

 

HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW: https://hbr.org/2017/04/when-one-persons-high-performance-creates-resentment-in-your-team

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Device-Free Time Is as Important as Work-Life Balance

The idea of “work-life balance” is an invention of the mid-19thcentury. The notion of cultivating awareness of one’s work versus one’s pleasure emerged when the word “leisure” caught on in Europe in the Industrial Era. Work became separate from “life” (at least for a certain class of men) and we’ve been struggling to juggle them ever since.

Today, when so much work and leisure time involve staring at screens, I see a different struggle arising: a struggle to find a healthy balance between technology and the physical world, or, for short, “tech/body balance.” A 2016 survey from Deloitte found that Americans collectively check their phones 8 billion times per day. The average for individual Americans was 46 checks per day, including during leisure time—watching TV, spending time with friends, eating dinner.

So attached are we to our devices that it’s not unusual to have your phone with you at all times. We carry our phones around everywhere as if they are epi-pens and we all have fatal allergies. Consider: two weeks ago, as I was beginning a consulting project at a midtown Manhattan corporate office, I found myself making a U-turn on the way to the restroom. I needed to go back to my office to pick up my cellphone, which I had inadvertently left behind. It was an unconscious decision to go back and get it, but my assumption was clear: I needed to take the phone with me to the bathroom. Was I going to make a clandestine call from a bathroom stall? No. Was I dealing with an urgent business matter? Fortunately not. So why did I need my phone with me while I took care of a basic physical need? I didn’t really know. But apparently 90% of us use our phones in the bathroom.

According to recent data from Nielsen, 87% of Singapore’s 5.4 million population reports owning a smartphone, while a smaller but still substantial 68% of Americans own smartphones. A hefty 89% of American workers have reported feeling chronic body pain as a result of the posture they’ve developed using these devices, and 82% of this same group also say that the presence of phones “deteriorated” their most recent conversations. Pew Globalrecently released a report about the correlation between smartphone use and economic growth, noting that the rates of technology-use are not only climbing steadily in advanced economies, but also in countries with emerging economies. As additional reference points, 39% of the Japanese population reports owning a smartphone, while 59% of Turkey reports relying on mobile internet use. These numbers decrease in developing countries, given the relationship that exists between a person’s educational background, socioeconomic status, and their access to technology.

But whether we are among those who use our devices to work remotely, or we are just obsessed with them because of the culture we live in regardless of how much time we are spending on “work,” it’s time to shift our attention to what tech-body balance could look like.

I decided to launch a two-week, informal experiment to explore what tech-body balance might look like, even as I failed to embody it. I divided my experiments into three categories, based on three basic bodily needs:

Sleeping

For me and for many, the time in bed before sleep is a time to finally stop focusing on tasks to do and bask in feeling unfocused and empty-headed. For me, this means mindlessly scrolling through Instagram or Twitter to tire out my eyes until I am ready for sleep. Sometimes, I’ll mindlessly scroll for as much as an hour. So one night, I decided to impose a time limit. I gave myself five minutes, and they went by in one second. At the end of them, I felt annoyed by my self-imposed discipline and wanted to keep scrolling, even as I realized I had not learned anything new or even been entertained by the activity.

Sure, my work-life balance is fine in those moments, as I’m not writing work emails in bed (though yes, I have done that too). But what about my tech-body balance? My neck is strained while looking at my phone, my wrists tire from scrolling, and my attention is fully dedicated to my brightly lit device, rather than winding down for sleep.

Since imposing a time limit didn’t work very well, I decided a more drastic experiment was needed. I tried using a real, old-fashioned alarm clock to wake myself up (rather than the alarm on my phone), and left my phone in the charger a short walk from my bed. Embarrassingly, this felt like a radical decision to make—and you know what? It was. I didn’t look at my phone before bed, and instead let myself think in the dark, and let my eyes tire on their own.

Eating

Our bodies and minds need fuel to function properly, and eating food is what gives us fuel. Of course, eating can introduce complications like digestive malaise when stress is in the picture (at least that’s true for me), or when I, like so many of us, inhale my food while sitting at my computer writing emails, thinking about a million things at once. 

I tried to stop staring at screens while I was eating, but honestly, it was hard. I was not able to make this a regular habit due to pragmatic concerns like a busy day or not enough time to eat lunch. But I tried it on several occasions, and that in itself felt illuminating.

What if you chose, once a week, to eat one meal alone without your phone or a computer nearby? It might feel unsettling, but you will feel your body, and you may find you are even able to eat more slowly, chew more carefully, and enjoy your food a lot more.

Moving

Personally, I love talking on the phone while walking, and find that my ideas are more organic and free to arrive at my mind when I am on the move. I decided that my first experiment here would just be to walk during more of my phone calls, rather than take them seated at a desk, staring at a screen. Sure, you may be distracted by your surroundings while you are walking, but it is dynamic distraction that prevents you from looking at another device. (I don’t know about you, but I have the awful habit of writing emails while on calls).

To try out something more radical, even scary (as much as I am embarrassed to admit it), I decided to take a walk the other afternoon during the work day, and very deliberately left my phone behind. More than usual, I felt little reminders pop into my head, tempting me to get my phone to jot it down in G-cal or in my Notes app. But instead, I had to experience the discomfort of knowing that I’d either remember what I needed to remember organically, or simply forget and accept the consequences. It was uncomfortable to take this walk, particularly as I did it during a day when I felt stressed and busy at work. But of course, the counterintuitive wisdom I hoped for did arrive: the break from the stressors of my phone and computer gave me a sense of spaciousness and freedom, even though there were distinct moments of panic and disorientation. At one point, I reached into my pocket and felt the cortisol rush as I genuinely thought I lost my phone.

As you can tell, I didn’t have an easy time with this experiment, and it was certainly not a strict “digital detox.” But I think that tech-body balance shouldn’t be extreme. Extreme behavioral shifts strike me as unsustainable and unproductive. Like work-life balance, finding tech-body balance is a constant experiment, and one that is different for everyone. Tech, like “work,” is something that’s mostly a positive thing for each of us, and for the world we live in. But it is important to remember that we often do not need our phones with us, regardless of how much it may feel like we do.

Charlotte Lieberman is a New York-based writer and editor. Charlotte graduated Summa Cum Laude from Harvard University, where she majored in English. You can find her at @clieberwoman.

 

HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW: https://hbr.org/2017/04/device-free-time-is-as-important-as-work-life-balance

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