Leadership Out of Balance

Leadership is often described as the act of leading a group of people or an organization. Leading well requires knowledge, skill, and an ability to balance the immediate gratification of the near term with the security of the long term.

According to author and organizational consultant Warren Bennis, leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. He also said the difference between a manager and a leader is that a manager does things right, while a leader does the right things.

Today, great leadership is rare and all too often personified in the media as famous wealthy men running big companies that return strong shareholder value. But are huge financial returns the ultimate sign of great leadership?

The corporate world generously compensates CEOs focused on quarterly earnings and meeting Wall Street expectations often at the expense of doing what’s right for the customer, the employees and ensuring the company is around in the long term. Though these CEOs may spout “customer focus” and “concern for our employees” in speeches, annual reports and corporate websites, these words seem incongruent with their actions.

In politics, our elected officials should be concerned with governing, but they currently spend about half their workday raising money in order to ensure they are re-elected. The U.S. congress currently has a 14% approval rating, which means we now trust used car salesmen more than our so-called representatives.

Today’s imbalance in leadership seems to stem from too much focus on what’s in it for me rather than what’s in it for us. Leaders who focus primarily on their own self-interest cannot possibly instill the confidence and loyalty necessary to lead others most effectively.

In Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, author Simon Sinek suggests that the best organizations foster trust and cooperation because their leaders build what he calls a Circle of Safety. This separates the security inside the team from the challenges outside.

This Circle of Safety enables teams to be stable, adaptive and confident where every member feels they belong and are focused on the right things.

Part of the challenge in creating such a circle requires leaders at every level to maintain balance of four chemicals found in our bodies. These chemicals control our feelings, which are the primary drivers for all our decision-making whether we are aware of it or not.

Chemicals such as endorphins and dopamine function to get us where we need to go as individuals. Endorphins provide the “runner’s high,” which are able to mask pain and enable us to complete a marathon or complete a work project well into the night. Dopamine provides a feeling of satisfaction once we complete an important task on our to-do list. It provides incentive for progress toward reaching our goals.

These two are what Sinek refers to as the selfish chemicals and they provide us with short-term rewards, which can motivate us to accomplish great things and, under the right conditions, can also become addictive.

On the other hand, serotonin and oxytocin work to help strengthen our social bonds so we are more likely to work together and cooperate well. Serotonin and oxytocin are what Sinek describes as the selfless chemicals and they are sorely missing in leadership today.

Serotonin is responsible for the pride we feel when those we care for achieve great things. As the boss, serotonin works to encourage us to serve the employees we are responsible for. And as the employee, serotonin encourages us to work hard to make the boss proud.

Serotonin more than any of the others is seen as the leadership chemical.

Oxytocin is the chemical that helps us direct how vulnerable we can afford to make ourselves. This social compass helps determine when it’s safe to open up and trust or when we should hold back. This might be the drug most closely aligned with emotional intelligence.

Oxytocin makes us better problem solvers and enables us to accomplish more in groups than we can alone. It has also been found to contribute to us living longer.

The goal of any leader should be to find balance. If you remain addicted primarily to endorphins and dopamine, no matter how rich and powerful you become, you will likely feel lonely and unfulfilled. On the other hand, if you are focused too much on serotonin and oxytocin, you may lack the measurable goals or ambition necessary to reach important feelings of accomplishment.

Leadership in balance requires focusing on the present and the future. It means serving customers and employees as well as shareholders. And it is a balance of short-term growth and long-term viability.

A Resolution for Wellness

“When the body is weak, it takes over command. When strong, it obeys.” Jean Jacques-Rousseau

We are told of two certainties in life: death and taxes. I’m beginning to think it is the first over which we have greater control. We can not avoid our own demise, but we can certainly choose how to best spend the time before it arrives.

My resolution for 2011 is therefore beyond a new diet, exercise plan or even prosperity. This year I choose wellness and all that it encompasses. For me, wellness is about a healthy mind, healthy body and healthy spirit.

Healthy Mind
Reducing stress is a great way to calm the mind. Though you probably can’t get rid of all your stress, you can certainly choose whether and how to manage it. This is true both at home and in the workplace.

Maintaining a healthy mind means fighting back negative thoughts and choosing to see the proverbial glass as half-full. You can choose to see the good in others and provide genuine praise for what your co-workers are doing. Celebrate their achievements and promotions. You lose nothing by cheering on others, and do the same for yourself.

And if you stop viewing yourself as a victim you will no longer be one. Take responsibility for your situation and make changes to move on.

The easiest way to calm your mind and keep it healthy is to simply breathe deeply when you feel yourself getting upset. Drink a full glass of water. Take a quick walk around the office or the parking lot.

A healthy mind requires that we continually nourish it so it remains on our side. This nourishment is not expensive or time-consuming. It only takes discipline and focus.

Healthy Body
For most of us, a worthwhile goal for our physical health is losing a few pounds and working out regularly at the gym. I’ve always found that there is direct relationship between higher stress when I am eating poorly or not getting enough exercise, so for me a healthy mind and body are intricately connected.

But why not choose to lose these pounds by eating more of the right foods and eliminating more of the bad ones? And don’t suffer by starving yourself. Instead choose to eat right 80% of the time and then cut yourself some slack 20% of the time. You may not see results as quickly, but you’re more likely to stick with this approach by making it a lifestyle you can live with.

If you don’t enjoy working out, why not find a physical activity you really like and put more of yourself into it? You can keep your body limber and healthy many different ways, including by swimming, bicycle riding, kayaking, skiing, yoga, dancing, martial arts, or simply by taking brisk walks around the neighborhood. Again, the results may not show up as quickly, but you are more likely to make this a lifestyle change you can sustain.

Healthy Spirit
Though I am not a religious person, I believe there is more to this life than our own individual existence. This outer focus helps keep me humble, feel more connected to others, and enables me to appreciate the wonder in each moment.

Meditation has certainly been helpful in keeping me mindful and this is something I need to incorporate into my life again. With meditation I am able to still my mind and open myself to the spirit. For me, this results in greater awareness and inner peace.

I am certain other people are able to find similar benefits from prayer or attending religious ceremonies.

Like yoga, the benefits of meditation are in the practice so the more you look for some immediate reward from having done it, the more disappointed you may be. Again, try to focus on this as a lifestyle change that you can live with rather than a quick fix.

Wellness requires my constant focus and discipline so that it remains a way of life. It can’t be found simply in a new diet regimen or membership at my local health club. And if you are looking for a quick fix to your own wellness, you will be disappointed with this approach.

My resolution for 2011 is a wellness program in body, mind and spirit that can be sustained not only for the first few months of the new year, but for the rest of my life. I hope you too succeed in your own resolutions. Happy New Year!

Taking Responsibility for Poor Wellbeing

Evidence suggests that our overall physical wellbeing is directly influenced by our careers, finances, social lives and community involvement. And like diet and exercise, we have some control over all these areas. Should employers share in this responsibility?

In “Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements,” Tom Rath and Jim Harter provide an understanding of what makes a life worthwhile. According to the authors—both Gallup researchers on workplace leadership and management—wellbeing isn’t only about happiness.

Wellbeing is also not only about financial wealth, career success or physical health. In fact, focusing on any one of these in isolation may very well end in frustration and provide a sense of failure.

Instead the authors present a holistic view on how the interconnections among five areas that make up wellbeing can help shape the way people evaluate their lives. These five elements are career, social, financial, physical and community.

According to a recent Gallup Study by Harter and Sangeeta Agrawal, also a senior researcher at Gallup, there is also a huge price to pay for poor wellbeing.

The researchers measured overall wellbeing and monitored the change in disease burden for specific chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, heart disease, diabetes, sleep disorder/insomnia, and anxiety.

They categorized individuals’ overall wellbeing as “thriving” (strong, consistent and progressing), “struggling” (moderate or inconsistent), or “suffering” (at high risk). One-third of struggling or suffering adults reported an increase in their disease burden. Comparatively, one in five thriving adults reported an increase in disease burden. The data suggests that adults with struggling or suffering wellbeing were 64% more likely than adults with thriving wellbeing to have one or more new disease conditions diagnosed in the past year.

The 64% figure is significant not only because of the physical cost but also the financial costs associated with these conditions. The researchers reported a distinct difference in the cost of disease burden when comparing these two groups. Thriving adults averaged an annual disease burden cost of $4,929 per person compared to $6,763 per person averaged by struggling and suffering adults. This represents a 37% cost difference, with struggling and suffering adults averaging $1,834 more in disease burden costs per person than those in the thriving group.

“A high percentage of healthcare costs are due to things we can all directly affect—our diet, exercise, weight, and other habits,” says Harter. “But many other aspects of our lives can influence our long-term physical health, including our careers, social lives, finances, and communities.”

Harter says employers are well-positioned to help people improve their short-term and long-term wellbeing in all dimensions. Employers have natural social networks, cultural expectations, and an infrastructure to provide wellbeing resources. He further suggests employers can take the lead in creating awareness and long-term change through education, measurement and positive defaults.

Employers can begin by building an engaging work environment, which includes fortifying the organization with great managers and offering employees support and structure to reach higher levels of wellbeing in all dimensions. Employee wellbeing may then be a logical extension to employee engagement.

“While organizations probably shouldn’t approach wellbeing from a paternalistic perspective,” says Harter, “they can offer opportunities that improve the odds that their employees will do what is best for themselves and make clear that thriving wellbeing is an expectation within the organization.”

Because employees and employers pay the financial consequences of poor wellbeing, it makes sense to invest time and money to provide resources that help employees improve all dimensions of their wellbeing.

Harter says he believes organizations can offer employees options to learn financial management skills through relevant programs and classes. And he thinks organizations can take an active role in connecting employees to community involvement opportunities that fit their strengths and interests.

“It’s important that organizations work on prevention and early intervention by understanding that the wellbeing elements are interdependent,” Harter says. “Prevention doesn’t just involve motivating people to take part in exercise programs and make healthy food choices. It involves thinking about how these good habits interact with all the other wellbeing elements. As with engagement, the most progressive organizations will realize that their job is to improve people’s lives as they improve their performance.”

Workplace Wellness Programs for Waistlines and Bottom Lines

With summer’s extended daylight and warmer weather, it’s time to spend more time outside, get consistent exercise, and focus on our physical health. Along with the beginning of the New Year, the start of summer typically marks a time when many of us decide to take charge of our health.

Obviously, our physical well-being should be monitored year round because this is the best way to maintain healthy weight and prevent illness. So why don’t we do it?

Many reasons exist for not getting to the gym regularly or walking rather than driving for an errand. Time is the most convenient and popular excuse. And many of us blame our jobs for taking away too much of this.

Should employers then be responsible for their employees’ overall health?

In the United States, almost 80% of illnesses are considered preventable and they represent 90% of all health care costs. People with more risk factors, including being overweight, smoking and having diabetes not only cost more to insure, they also pay more for health care than individuals with fewer risk factors.

Many organizations have chosen to implement workplace wellness programs to reduce injuries, health care costs and long-term disability. They also do so to encourage employees to take charge of their own health and well-being. These programs are a good return on investment, but can be difficult to measure.

Some research suggests that for every dollar spent on employee wellness, employers get an average of $3.48 back in reduced health care costs and $5.82 in lower absenteeism.

Employees who live more healthy lifestyles have:

  • reduced sick leave
  • improved work performance
  • decrease health insurance costs
  • increased productivity
  • reduced overall costs

Workplace wellness programs may include flexible work schedules, health club memberships, smoking cessation programs, diet and nutrition counseling, stress management techniques, bike or walk to work incentives, and many others.

My wife’s company currently participates in a program called Just Walk 10,000 Steps-a-Day that shows people how they can benefit from simply walking and encourages them to engage in this activity throughout each day. Participants wear a pedometer for two months in order to monitor their daily activity with the goal of 10,000 steps each day.

Workplace wellness program can:

Reduce absenteeism. Healthier employees spend fewer days away from work due to illness, which can save the organization thousands, even millions, of dollars on down time and temporary employment.

Control health care costs. Employers have a vested interest in health-related issues and reducing unnecessary medical costs that consume corporate profits and employee paychecks.

Improve presenteeism. Presenteeism is the phenomenon occurring when employees are at work but do not feel as productive as usual due to stress, depression, injury or illness.

Reduce injuries. Healthy employees with less risk factors are at a lower risk for injury than those unhealthy employees with more risk factors. Classes are a popular means of trying to prevent injury, including exercise classes, smoking cessation courses, back care programs and stress management lectures.

Improve employee morale and retention. Employee turnover is expensive and an employee wellness program is an added benefit to encourage employee retention. Company sponsored workplace wellness programs send a clear message to employees that management values their well-being.

Many companies, however, find it hard to justify their return on investment due to a lack of standardization among wellness program offerings or components.

The Alliance for Wellness ROI is an inter-company nonprofit cooperative formed to standardize the terminology and measurement of the return on investment of wellness programs. It recently created a Wellness ROI Modeler that calculates return on investment using comparative health care claims, wellness program participation, normalized claims data and wellness expenditures.

The Alliance hopes this modeler will become a useful tool for companies to prove that investment in a wellness program has a positive financial return and can help curb the rising costs of healthcare.

A healthy lifestyle can not and should not be the sole responsibility of employers, but encouraging employees to take charge of their health through workplace wellness programs can go a long way toward improving the health of individuals and the overall bottom line.

Mark Craemer           http://www.craemerconsulting.com


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