The Peculiar Power of Narratives

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Every story has another way of being told. – Krishna

Notes
As human beings we naturally create narratives. These are the stories that connect our experiences and can become fodder for the voice that we hear in our own minds. As things shift and sputter within our own work lives, narratives can become very active. The shock of our new lives and the uncertainty of how the future might unfold — is ample fuel to build them.

Narratives can take on many useful forms and can be positive. For example, a smart strategic narrative can fuel an entire organization and a well-crafted career narrative can support career paths. Yet on the flip side, narratives can be negative — causing great distraction. This brand of narrative, can play havoc with our own self-image, our work and our work-based relationships.

Most of us have built a narrative about who we are and how we work. Your team may harbor a set concerning who they are as a group, as well. Ditto for leadership.

This is not a surprise.

Stories are central within our history as human beings. (Interestingly, this tendency to connects the dots, or pattern seek is named narrative bias.) Even while we sleep we seem to weave a story, comprised of the bits and pieces of our day, blended with our unique past. On a basic level, we build narratives to make sense of the world. They are much like shorthand. At their best — narratives can build confidence and power our paths. Yet, at their worst, they can become misleading and destructive.

The problem arises when the narratives get in the way of our own development or our work.

Narratives have become a very present fixture in my work as a coach. This is because it became evident that narratives affect nearly every individual, team and organization. Moreover, the thread of narratives was a common blockade to progress, and can become active when we deal with people, teams and even other organizations.

When the narrative surrounds our own paths, skills & abilities — an entirely new problem can emerge. In this scenario, the stories we tell ourselves or others that other might build about us begin to define us. When you hit a pothole in our paths, these narratives seem to be waiting ringside.

Let’s take advantage of the current pause to identify them — and make an attempt to challenge the negative variety.

Only then can we unravel their power and move forward without them.

Strategy: Narrative Identification

  • Identify a narrative that affects you personally as a contributor. This narrative could speak to your skills/traits/abilities, your work, how you feel about yourself or how you believe others see you.
  • Identify a narrative that affects your team. This can include your team’s internal functioning, and how it behaves with adjacent teams/functions or clients.
  • Try to pinpoint how these narratives developed. This could be rooted in an experience, a conversation or possibly hearsay.
  • Challenge the narrative. This involves challenging the narrative by posing an alternative explanation and possible outcomes.

Our innate need to make sense of the world, can make us susceptible to built narratives. Be ever-vigilant, to recognize if they helping or hurting your work life.

Author’s note: The Core File is now featured at LinkedIn.

Please note: All posts are solely owned by the author. Reprinting (other than re-blogging at another WordPress blog) is by permission only.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, diagnostician & speaker, who explores the value of core stability to empower our work. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program, she has been featured at the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo and The Huffington Post.

Acknowledging Change, Psychological Resources & Heraclitus

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No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man. – Heraclitus

We all have our own predisposition toward change. This likely colors our initial response toward disruption in both life or work. Although we might adapt to our surroundings with time — I’m unsure we emerge on the other side the same as we once were.

The changes we have been experiencing regarding work life of late, run far deeper than the notion of working remotely. The experience is likely a layered one, where we have not only faced a steep need for technological adoption, but a certain form of loss. Moving through a crisis with sustained resilience is not an easy task. Whether we are actively working (as an essential contributor or virtually) or isolating, that journey is bounded by the honesty, empathy and ingenuity that we bring. This includes acknowledging what has already changed — and what may change longer-term.

Like the world of work, we are not static. We are human beings. We change as we process what is laid before us. We bob and weave, we acknowledge and adjust — yet we also take a certain number of direct “hits”. None of us should expect to be the exactly same as we once were, or work as we once had, for that matter. It is the nature of these things. For better or worse, we evolve as the result of what we live through. We may not recognize the exact changes in the current moment, but we may sense their presence.

At some point, our work lives will resume in earnest. How closely our work will resemble what we once knew, is only speculation. How we will align with these changes — is another matter.

When we step into the river, we will likely be different.

Part B. I’ve come to believe that considering our psychological resources can help us prepare for change. Whether you work solo, within a team or run an organization — caring for the psychological resources which comprise our work life foundation, the core, is wise. That foundation may not directly affect the bottom line, yet it sits squarely on the path leading to that success.

I would like to briefly mention two supporting constructs that may have been affected recently; locus of control and self-efficacy. There are uncertainties operating currently, which can drain us. Changes in the status of these constructs can affect how we engage with our work and spark dark side narratives.

Locus of control explores our beliefs concerning the power we have over our lives and our work. Individuals who possess an internal locus, generally feel that through their own knowledge, skills and behavior they can impact shape their lives. Those with an external locus of control may feel at the mercy of things outside of themselves. Becoming aware of our own “locus”, can help us understand our own journey.

Self-efficacy refers to the feeling that our actions are impactful and can lead to desired outcomes. If we feel that no matter the effort we invest — the results do not come, self-efficacy suffers. This can lead to feelings of helplessness.

While you isolate, please keep these constructs in mind. Try to identify what you can control and what effort-to-outcome relationships have been disrupted. Then monitor how you are feeling.

Meanwhile, a brief guide.

Strategy: What to consider or discuss, going forward.

  • Acknowledge uncertainties.
  • Acknowledge what we’ve lost.
  • Acknowledge what has already changed.
  • Discuss how things may change.
  • Consider how we have changed personally.
  • Identify what we can control.
  • Lead with empathy, toward yourself and others.

My best to everyone.

Author’s note:  The Core File is now featured at LinkedIn.

Please note: All posts are solely owned by the author. Reprinting (other than re-blogging at another WordPress blog) is by permission only.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, who focuses on empowering work through the development of core stability. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program, her thoughts on work life have also appeared at the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo and The Huffington Post.

Redefining Success, Resource Constraints & the Bronte Sisters

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Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” – Teddy Roosevelt


The idea of success is foundational within our work lives — and we are continually bombarded by metrics and memes regarding it. Yet in times such as these, our definitions of success have quickly faded or have become entirely obsolete. For many of us, what we once deemed important has shifted. Considering success may seem shallow, as we ask the question “How can I help?”. For those of us in roles which are not essential, we may feel pangs of uselessness. Yet as the weeks have progressed, it has become clear that we can all play a role even if its scope feels dwarfed. Moreover, we should continue to do the work we are committed to and love, if possible. Hopefully in this way, we can contribute. (I am forever grateful to those who are working to bring us essential services. To those who stock our grocery shelves, protect us and bring needed healthcare within our hospitals, thank you.)

Productivity and progress have been altered as well. We must now work within the changing confines of our current lives. (And this may become our new normal for quite some time.) Yet this sudden transition doesn’t necessarily limit us entirely. While adapting to how we work, I can’t help but think of how others lived with the limitations of their own circumstances — and how they contributed.

The Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, lived lives of relative isolation at a parsonage, yet managed to create some of the most engaging stories in literature (Charlotte’s Jane Eyre and Emily’s Wuthering Heights to mention two). Their lives were difficult, as was common in their time, losing their mother and two older sisters to tuberculosis early on. As women, the sisters struggled to find a publishing channel to share their work. Eventually, all were published under male pseudonyms; Currer, Acton and Ellis Bell.

While they were tenacious in the quest to become published authors — it was their gift of imagination that would set them apart. They utilized every experience, every observation, every crumb of nuance as fuel to create brilliant, layered, psychologically-complex characters. The fabric of their lives and the dire experiences they faced, were woven into their books. (Sadly, Emily & Anne also succumbed to tuberculosis by age 30. Charlotte lived to the age of 39.)

In some instances, resource constraints can bring both creativity and innovation. Our imaginations can be triggered by even the most mundane of details. Anything can serve as that fuel. A conversation, a tweet, a walk around the block. Combined with knowledge & experience, the results can be both formidable and enduring.

I can’t help but wonder, if we can somehow utilize the shift in our daily experience as an opportunity. To look deeper and create perspectives, products and services that would enrich the lives of others. Just as the Bronte sisters managed to do.

While our lives may currently have increasing boundaries — our minds remain infinite.

Strategy Shift: Progress/Success in these times.

  • How have you adapted over the last weeks?
  • Has your overall idea of success shifted in some way?
  • Have you adjusted your goals in any way, subtly or radically, as you move forward?
  • Have you utilized resources differently? Supported other to do so?
  • What have you gained?
  • What have you learned that you might share with others?

Author’s note: The Core File is now featured at LinkedIn.

Please note: All posts are solely owned by the author. Reprinting (other than re-blogging at another WordPress blog) is by permission only.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. Her Masterclass for managers focuses on empowering work through the development of core stability. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program, her thoughts on work life have also appeared at the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes and The Huffington Post.

 

10 Stirring Quotes I’m Turning to Right Now

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I’m not usually a list person. Or a quote person. Or a “jump on the bandwagon” person. Yet, these are extraordinary times and I seem to be becoming all of these things. I suppose that different times, create different needs.

You (and possibly your team), may also require more support to tackle the day with positivity & fortitude. A dose of guidance, from those who you have been through it all, might help us.

So, here goes.
A few quotes of the moment. One from yours truly, at the closing.

  1. Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. –  Teddy Roosevelt
  2. Difficulties mastered are opportunities won. – Winston Churchill
  3. The best way out, is always through. – Robert Frost
  4. From caring, comes courage. – Lao Tzu
  5. There is nothing like staying home for real comfort. – Jane Austen
  6. Attempt the impossible to improve your work. – Bette Davis
  7. Wherever a man turns, he can find someone who needs him. – Albert Schweitzer
  8. The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination. – Albert Einstein
  9. If you are going through hell, keep going. – Winston Churchill
  10. Thinking will not overcome fear, but action can. – W. Clement Stone

11. While our lives may have increasing boundaries —
our minds remain infinite.

Share your stirring favorite in comments.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who focuses on empowering work through the development of a strong foundation. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

 

A Selection of Readings From The Core Masterclass

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“CEO job No. 1,  is setting, micro-nourishing — one day, one hour, one minute at a time — an effective people-truly-first, innovate-or-die, excellence-or-bust corporate culture.”  – Tom Peters

Author’s note: The Core Masterclass is a virtually delivered course — focusing on the elements that contribute to a strong work life foundation. It includes curated readings, targeted exercises and construct-specific behavioral guides. More information available here.

An organization’s ability to respond effectively in a time of crisis is paramount. Yet, this critical marker is not one that can be summoned on demand. The elements that should be present, only develop with care & time. One form of strength that may contribute to an effective response, is an organization’s level of “core stability”. Core stability, in a sense, is the foundation required to function effectively. This foundation includes vital elements such as communication channels and resource allocation systems — elements necessary to counter-balance an onslaught of challenge & change.

In times of stress, we cannot expect to draw against an internal core that has been woefully neglected. Working with organizations after the 2008 financial crisis revealed this, but only in retrospect. If core strength had not been a focus, it was lacking — and this limited an organization’s power to respond.

Sadly, this can become quickly evident.

Following this thread, I thought it appropriate to share a few articles from the The Core Masterclass reading list. (The course focuses on the elements that contribute to core stability.) If you read my work regularly, you are likely familiar with my stance on the the need for stability, for people and teams. This list explores this notion.

While the elements that contribute to organizational core stability vs. individual core stability (for example psychological safety, etc.) are somewhat different — they work together to build productive work environments.

Happy reading. Hoping you discover a useful chord.

  1. A Blinding Flash of the Obvious, Theodore Kinni, Insights by Stanford Business.
  2. How the Growth Outliers Do It, Rita Gunther McGrath, HBR.
  3. The Best Strategic Leaders Balance Agility & Consistency, John Coleman, HBR.
  4. If You Want Engaged Employees, Offer Them Stability. Marla Gottschalk, HBR.
  5. To Make a Change at Work, Tell Yourself a Different Story, Monique Valcour and John McNulty, HBR.

More about The Core Philosophy™ here.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who focuses on empowering work through the development of a strong foundation. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

The Core File: Silent Opponents, Self-Efficacy & Locus of Control

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The Core File is a brief, weekly post about work & organizations. It is designed to offer food for thought for your week.To ensure you don’t miss an installment — subscribe by email on the right sidebar.

Quote of the Week“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” – Teddy Roosevelt.

Thought of the Week
Our fight with a silent enemy, has overtaken nearly every thought and conversation over the past weeks. The decisions made now, hold incredible weight. For many organizations, the strategies adopted during this crisis, could serve as the deciding factor regarding their future.

In meetings, our discussions have turned to “war games”, suspended work, monitoring employee well-being and evaluating how to tread water until the world makes sense again.

As a psychologist, I am concerned about so many things — including slipping toward feelings of helplessness. This can occur when our locus of control is drawn away from us, and toward the external forces that we cannot affect. Only feelings of self-efficacy can help resolve this state. Of course, most of us are not in the position to craft policy or speed the development game-changing measures. Yet, we can meet the situation where it stands — and help in our own way.

This means helping others with the tools we have at our disposal: our knowledge, training and experience.

Make a difference in any way you can. Some brief reading material below.

What to Read

Strategy of the Week: Do What You Can
First of all, take a deep breath. Clear your mind. Grab a notebook. Then respond to the following prompts:

  • What can I do right now, in this situation that might prove useful?
  • What knowledge, training or experiences can I bring to the problem?
  • What audience would benefit most?
  • How can I reach my audience?

Now go.
Whether you help 1 person or 1000 — makes no difference.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who focuses on bringing core stability to people and organizations. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

 

How Not to Overlook Your Team’s Best Ideas Now

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Photo by Alex wong on Unsplash

I couldn’t think of a better time to remind ourselves of the potential link between resource constraints and innovation. The challenges facing organizations (in multiple sectors) during this crisis, are ominous. Yet, the environment still requires us to develop critical solutions that can impact how we deliver vital goods/services. Interestingly, resource shortages can spur innovation.

We are forced at look at what we do differently, when the game changes.

The paradox: Innovation can already be out there, yet we are unaware of it. There may already be solutions practiced by those on the front lines — those who are closest to the work. Yet the broader organization is unaware of these actions.

This is an important time to gather ideas and “hacks” that have already been applied (and are working). This should be a pressing priority.

A few thoughts:

  • Your employees = expertise. This mindset is fundamental. Those doing the work have intimate knowledge of the existing challenges. Moreover, employees independently solve problems on their own and may have discovered a “Jugaad“, a simple or frugal work-around or hack. Others may have already improvised solutions to a more complicated problem as a temporary fix — one that could be improved and used more widely.
  • Don’t overlook less-established employees. Those newer to your organization bring a different perspective concerning the way things are done. Promote a level of psychological safety that encourages everyone to contribute. Reach out to them. Remain open. Ask them, “What do you see, that I may not see?”.
  • Consider adjacent input. Those who work with you, can also help you innovate. Seek help from the functions that contribute to getting the work done. Consider adjacency, as an immediate source of potential ideas.
  • Utilize your company’s intranet as a lifeline . Recast your intranet — your internal communication mechanism — as your innovation platform. If your past “war game” scenarios have revealed weaknesses in delivering vital goods or services, gather ideas immediately — before the crisis is in full force.
  • Post challenges as they develop. Let your employees know about growing issues that require their attention. Post current challenges plainly to the entire organization of possible. This will be ever-evolving.

Hoping this helps. Leave your ideas below. You could help another organization serve others.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

 

 

How Work (and Other Things) Might Help Us Cope.

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Photo by Cathal Mac an Bheatha on Unsplash

It is Spring 2020. We are all struggling to establish a new normal — in times that are anything but normal.

I’ll spare you, and will refrain from sharing advice about how to work remotely. I’m wagering that many of us are well beyond this and are not open to another opportunistic pitch to build someone’s client list. We are in the midst of history being written. That alone, demands that we peel away the layers.

Many of us simply want to protect ourselves, our families and quite possibly our psychological resources. Resources such as hope, self efficacy and resilience, that can be adversely affected as we practice social distancing.

As an alternative, I’ll share few thoughts on how to stay on a somewhat even keel. (Disclaimer: These are my own. They do not have to be yours.) Not surprisingly, this does include work — and seeking a daily measure of joy. I am referring to the type of work, that feeds your soul and occupies your mind. I am also referring to the trusted elements of our lives to which we turn, when feeling unsettled.

What to try now:

  • If possible, continue to do the work you love to do. I’ve just listened to Coldplay’s Chris Martin live streaming an impromptu home-based concert at Instagram (@Coldplay). As a psychologist, I’m thankful that he can continue to share his gift to help others. Try to do the same. Work on topics that bring meaning & value to you.
  • Reach out. Limit feelings of isolation & distance. Technology can obviously work with us here. I couldn’t love Zoom more than I do today, in this very moment. I intend to contact the clients & colleagues, I’ve come to respect over the years. Utilize Facebook video to call friends who are alone (quite reliable) and text your neighbors. I’m hoping this helps in some way.
  • “Lean in” to the things that bring joy. Whether this is music, film, reading, art, walking, observing birds, podcasts, comedy, singing, blogging, or crafting. Do these things when you have a moment. James Altucher just shared his reading list as we self-isolate. Shuttered Broadway performers are singing for us. Museums have shared virtual tours. Improvise. Build these into your daily routine.
  • Complete something. Anything. When we cannot control our circumstances, self-efficacy suffers. This can lead to feelings of helplessness. While you distance, complete smaller projects/tasks that you can pace. Bring feelings of mastery into your “new normal”.

My best to everyone. We are all struggling. Share your concerns.

What are you doing right now to support your psychological foundation?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

 

 

4 Lessons That Burnout Can Teach Us About Productivity

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Jack Seeds @Unsplash

Have you ever considered stepping away from something you love? A task that you previously enjoyed — but in the present not as much? A team? A role? An organization?

I realize the question may seem counter-intuitive. Why would we ever consider doing that? Yet, in reality this is precisely what may need to happen.

Most of us deliver value to our clients or customers because we love our work and are committed to progress. However, loving an element of your work life is not synonymous with a vaccine against burnout. In fact, it may leave you somewhat vulnerable. (Writing always checked this box on my side. But that process no longer fed my work life core as it once had. Looking back on the impasse, I hovered near “burnout” for quite some time before deciding to scale back.)

What does burnout look like? How does it present? It’s not as if it sends a note, letting you know of its arrival — and know that crossing into that territory is often undetected. However, there are clear signs that we’ve arrived: Apathy, where there was once passion. Anxiety, where there was previously anticipation. Exhaustion. Dread.

Stepping away or slowing down may be needed.
This will serve you longer-term — helping you to re-engage more productively with your work.

What I’ve learned:

1. When to stop isn’t discussed. We are offered an abundance of advice about how to start something. How to do more. Deliver more value in less time. Be more. Yet there is not nearly enough discussion about when and how (and why) we should walk away. We conveniently forget that remaining productive over the long-haul requires balance & rest.

2. Don’t wait for a savoir. Know this: It is unlikely that someone will approach you to say, “Stop what you are doing well, you seem mentally exhausted.”  You must play the governor of your own psychological resources. Monitor feelings of hope, self-efficacy, resilience and optimism. Pay attention if one has fallen precipitously.

3. Restructure/re-imagine your work. Becoming inflexible concerning how you contribute can become an issue, when we focus on one thing. When we pigeon-hole our contribution into a single form — we can become very, very weary. We fail to explore modifications that might support our energy level.

4. We cannot ignore evolution. When people do something reasonably well — we naturally assume we should continue. We also assume that we will remain motivated indefinitely. That’s not always the case. As contributors, our needs and motivation can subtly shift.

We cannot always step away completely from important aspects of our work. Yet, we can acknowledge how we feel about them. I encourage you take a step back and take the temperature. Explore the options. Talk with someone about how you feel — and brainstorm solutions.

Is there is an aspect of your work life that you no longer enjoy, in the way you once had?

Note to syndicated news outlets: Sharing articles from this site without the express permission of the author is forbidden.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

The Art of Management, The Strength Gap & a Litmus Test

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Quotes of the Week

“The conventional definition of management is getting work done through people, but real management is developing people through work.” – Agha Hasan Abedi

“Good management is the art of making problems so interesting and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to get to work and deal with them.”Paul Hawken.

Thought of the Week

We measure many things regarding work life. Engagement and workplace culture come to mind. We may tire of the topics, but the problem isn’t that we measure these things. The problem is that we measure these things — and do little with the information.

Strengths fall into this category.

We practice a somewhat lazy view of strengths.

That is never our intention, yet this is often the outcome. We spend considerable time and money identifying/measuring strengths, but then we essentially ignore the information. Life gets busy. Deadlines need to be met. Yet the practice of exploring — then ignoring strengths — can bring a certain frustration.

Why did we bother? It is a questionable strategy that makes little sense. People have a inherent drive to be their best selves and do great work. If we’ve got the keys to potential success, why not use them?

Yet, we proceed to throw challenging work at individual contributors who cannot possibly excel — or we under-utilize high performers with work that cannot possibly energize them. We’ve either broken the spirit of a less established employee or de-motivated the high performer who could spend their time in a more valuable way.

The bottom line is that the work needs to be completed. But at what cost? It is important to consider the psychological resources of the team while doing so. These resources provide internal stability within your team. Resources the team will need to utilize during times of stress or challenge. Resources that provide energy.

The Strategy: Value Litmus Test

Take the time to as ask the following 2 questions:

1. Where would the skills and abilities of X, bring the most value to the team?
2. Would X, find that assignment meaningful or fulfilling?

_____________________________________________

The Core File is a brief, weekly post about work & organizations. It is designed to offer food for thought for your work week.

To ensure you don’t miss an installment — subscribe by email on the right sidebar.