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March 9, 2020 / Blog / Mariposa Articles

Working from Home: The Opportunity

by Sue Bethanis, CEO/Founder of Mariposa, sueb@mariposaleadership.com, @suebethanis

If you’re a knowledge worker living in the Bay Area and are not already working from home (WFH) by choice or by company policy, my guess is you soon will be. I suspect we will be following Seattle’s lead this week or next.

I have been working from home for 24 years as an Executive Coach, and I work with tech leaders who have made the transition to WFH in the past. Am working from home today, in fact, keeping tabs on my sick teen (he’s without-a-fever, but keeping him home for public health reasons).

Last Tuesday, I “penned” an article on “How to Be Leaderly in Utter Uncertainty.” Today, I am addressing WHAT AN INCREDIBLE OPPORTUNITY WE HAVE TO BE ABLE TO WORK FROM HOME. The Economist addresses the business opportunity of WFH here. The WSJ addresses the practical things of WFH, like your tech set up, here.

I am looking at a different opportunity: what you can do with that hour (or two) you just got back from no commuting and not having to sprint from meeting to meeting. And you’re not traveling, so you’re getting that time back, too. So, you really do have more time on your hands. I imagine you’re spending time getting set up and getting used to the idea that you’re using your dining room table or old card table as your workstation.

Once you have your set up, what are you going to do with that extra hour?

Three Ideas: Self-care, Family, Strategic Thinking

Self-care: meditation and exercise

If there is ever a time to practice meditation, now is the time. There is no question our collective anxiety is heightened because of COVID-19, the economy, uncertainty; and our individual anxiety is increased as well. Meditation and mindful breathing can calm us. Perhaps you have let your meditation practice go; if so, start it up again with 10 minutes in the morning. If you have never had a meditation practice, perhaps it’s time to start one up. One way to start is through repeating a mantra. I have used this practice for 30 years; it has never gotten old.

Sit in a quiet place with your feet on the floor.

Focus on your breath so that you can feel it go in and out of your nose.

Repeat this mantra:

  • May I be happy,
  • May I be safe,
  • May I be healthy,
  • May I live with ease,
  • May I be free.

Next, choose a person you’re closely connected with. Say his/her name in your mantra. You may want to choose a different person each day or repeat the mantra a couple of times in a day with various people:

  • May (name) be happy,
  • May ____ be safe,
  • May ____ be healthy,
  • May ____ live with ease,
  • May ____ be free.

Family: walking and connecting

You can create a “two-fer” opportunity if you walk with one of your family members or friends in the morning or as a break in the late afternoon. What an incredible opportunity we have that we get to see our family members more. Yes, I know – especially if you have kids – you’re going to have to create some boundaries for your work space and time; however, use this opportunity to put attention on your family members that you haven’t been able to do the past year, 5 years, 10 years…you know what I am talking about. Connect with them in a way you haven’t been able to in the past.

Strategy/Design: (Yes, you have been putting this off)

Once you get into your daily routine of WFH, think about that hour you have because you’re not sitting in your car. You have been putting off doing strategy work. And whatever strategic or vision documents you do have, they might need to be revised based on the new normal – the business climate took a huge detour last week, and today, March 9th, the DOW dropped 2000 points.

Re-looking at your business proposition, product, or market(s) might make some sense! So, what new scenario planning should you do? What approach could you take? For the past 10 years, I have used a Design Thinking approach with my company, Mariposa Leadership, and have worked with many execs and their teams using this approach. This requires looking at the market in a different way and bringing in your customers to solve problems WITH you. This Design Thinking method is outlined here. Typically, these types of journeys are done in person. Now, you have the time to do these types of brainstorming meetings via videoconferencing. What a cool opportunity!

To download a PDF of this article, click here.

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March 3, 2020 / Mariposa Articles

How to Be Leaderly in Utter Uncertainty (and what behaviors to focus on in this current coronavirus situation)

by Sue Bethanis, CEO/Founder of Mariposa, sueb@mariposaleadership.com, @suebethanis

Like you, I have been flooded the last three days with news and emails about coronavirus precautions. To allay my own anxiety, I spent much of this last weekend reading, and today, I am writing because I want to help reduce anxiety and be practical about how we can act as leaders of our organizations. As a leadership coach, it follows that I am focusing on leadership behaviors.

We have an obligation to protect and care for those we work with. It’s on us, and we can’t rely on politicians. There are potentially two pandemics here – wide-spread Covid-19 and wide-spread panic. Whether either becomes a pandemic in the US depends a lot on the actions we take.

What are our primary goals as leaders in this situation?

  • Plan for uncertainty
  • Overcommunicate with empathy and clarity
  • Model diligent healthy behaviors to limit spread

First, planning for uncertainty means planning for the worst-case scenario. If you have not developed a revised travel policy, remote working policy, and sick/leave policy, it’s time to do so now. I also suggest sharing your plans and learnings with colleagues in other organizations. Coinbase, for example, has open-sourced their plans. Check out how HR leaders and Coinbase are on top of this here and how a seven-point plan from McKinsey covers business practices here.

Frankly, I think developing these policies is the easy part; it is tedious, but you can borrow from and benchmark with others on this. The harder part is putting these policies into action and having to make decisions in the moment when you don’t have all the information you need. How do you plan for that?

This is the time to uplevel your flexibility skills and mindfulness. Planning for uncertainty also means expecting the unexpected and priming yourself for surprises. Go into your day thinking that there will be something that happens that you have never dealt with before. This will help you be calmer in a crisis because the surprise doesn’t cause as much of a stress (fight-or-flight) response in you. Your calmness will help others be calm and will lead to less anxiety and overall panic.

This is also the time to re-engage in a meditation/breathing practice if you have let it slip lately. Doing even 5-10 minutes of meditation to start your day will help you through the rest of your day.

Second, practice overcommunicating with empathy and clarity. Here are some examples:

  • Set up regular communication practices via all channels to get the word out about revised policies and ongoing revisions. It’s important that employees get into the habit of checking @all for the latest info.
  • If someone wants to stay home because they are sick, potentially sick, or has been in contact with someone sick, grant it without hesitation. But don’t stop there: have a conversation with them and go out of your way to ask about your team members’ concerns and what support they need. These simple words can go a long way to quell fear and anxiety. That’s your job always, but it’s especially your job now: support, support, support.
  • On the other side of that situation is this: a sick employee or co-worker who insists on coming into work because they have an important meeting with clients/customers or internal colleagues. Gently insist they don’t come in, and work through who else can cover for them. Further, if there has ever been a time to have back up to the backups, now is the time. Look at your team, chat with your team, and think about the importance of supporting each other. Who can back up whom? What does each member of your team need to get up to speed on to be able to cover for each other?
  • No doubt we are going to be doing more videoconferencing because many employees will be working from home. Be sure to communicate regularly about how working from home can be potentially isolating for you/your team. Give peeps a chance to voice their concerns about this and ways to overcome this.

(Click here for a handy infographic on “overcommunicating” practices.)

Third, it’s vital as leaders that we model healthy behaviors with diligence! This will limit the spread of the virus. Based on what I have read in the last three days, this is a good list for leaders to model:

  • Wash your hands for at least 15-20 secs, including the top of hands and in between fingers. Good idea to use (and provide) hand lotion as well because our hands are dry from all this washing.
  • Use hand sanitizer every time you enter a new place and every time you leave; have a personal size bottle with you at all times. Organizations should also have them in every room; and employees should use it at the beginning and end of every meeting. Also ensure to wipe down all touched surfaces with disinfectant anti-bacterial routinely.
  • Don’t touch your face! The best article I have read is on hand-to-face transmission; read here.
  • Do not hug, shake hands, or fist bump. Elbow bumping is now in vogue.
  • If you have not had a flu shot, get one now! It won’t stop the coronavirus, but it will aid in stopping other flus. From a public health perspective, this will have less impact on hospitals and clinics. In the U.S., 32 million people got the flu last year; 310,000 people were hospitalized; 18,000 people died. In Japan, the “regular” flu rate has gone down in the last 2 months because people are hand washing more often. Fascinating article on this here.
  • If you are sick, do not go into work and expose people (this should be the case for any type of sickness). It will also make it less awkward for everyone. When you have to cough or sneeze, do it into tissues or your sleeve at all times.
  • Stop buying face masks because they are ineffective for those without symptoms of the coronavirus. These purchases deplete the supplies needed for medical professionals.
  • Get better at video conferencing! If you don’t already do it on a regular basis, start practicing. Here are a few things to know:
    • We at Mariposa have been using Zoom, a video conference software for 3 years and it does take practice. Plan a time with your team to work remotely and start teaching them the protocols. Zoom also offers free webinars and live training guides on how to use their services.
    • Get the right technology tools in place NOW and help keep your team connected when they aren’t in the same physical location. Think about what specific tools and devices will be needed, i.e., online file sharing tools, laptops, webcams, smartphones, etc.

(Click here for a handy infographic on “healthy behaviors.”)

If you would like to chat more about how to lead in this time of uncertainty, ping me. Happy to help anytime. 4152653142, sueb@mariposaleadership.com

Finally, here are some more excellent resources in addition to ones hyperlinked above.

To download a PDF of this article, click here.

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February 5, 2017 / Stress / Work-Life Integration / Wise Talk

WiseTalk Summary on the Upside of Stress

On January 26, 2017, Sue Bethanis hosted clinical psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist Professor Ian Robertson. Dr. Robertson is an expert at applying the latest psychological and neuroscience research to contemporary political, health, social, economic and business affairs in a very accessible manner. Professor Robertson discussed his new book, The Stress Test: How Pressure Can Make You Stronger and Sharper, a revelatory study of how and why we react to pressure in the way we do, with real practical benefits to how we live.

Favorite Quote:

“In order to control your anxiety you have to believe that you can.”

Robertson says in order to gain control of your emotional state, thinking patterns and behavior there is a fundamental prerequisite that must exist before you can exercise that control – you need to believe that it is possible.

Insights:

Stress plays a huge part in leaders’ lives and can be both a hindrance and motivator. When your perception of a demanding situation exceeds your ability to cope with that demand – you feel anxious. Anxiety is the activation of the autonomic nervous system which prepares us for fight or flight. This is meant to prepare us to deal with short term danger or opportunity and also gives us the ability to focus.

Too much stress can be debilitating. A moderate amount is extremely good for the mind. Robertson explains that stress causes the brain to secrete a chemical called noradrenaline. “The brain doesn’t perform at its best with too little or too much of this chemical. There’s a sweet spot in the middle where if you have just the right amount, the goldilocks zone of noradrenaline, that acts like the best brain-tuner.”

Anxious responses are habits that we learn. To overcome a habit you need to engage in repetition in order to reshape and gradually replace your old habit with a new habit. Most of us are impatient and easily get demoralized or discouraged. Often, taking a medication reduces your belief in your own ability to control these habits and sabotage the hard work you need to do in order to change an emotional habit. People have a desire for a fast fix.

Robertson says that here is evidence that young adults that have little to no adversity in their lives end up becoming more emotionally vulnerable than those with moderate levels of adversity. “Paradoxically, there is a sweet spot of stress that people need to experience in their lives for them to achieve emotional resilience when they are adults. The overprotection of young people and having a slightly coddle existence means that they are going to be more emotionally vulnerable in the real world of work and all the stresses that go with it.” They experience symptoms of arousal because they have never really experience failure or threat.

Unlike animals that live in the moment, humans can torture themselves with past memories and anticipation of future ones. We can expand this indefinitely and make ourselves anxious long beyond the period of acute stress and make it become chronic.

According to Robertson, there are distinct techniques we can learn in order to reframe our approach to stress. “We can change the chemistry of the brain just as much as any antidepressant or anti-anxiety drug can, but we have to learn the habits to do that,” he says. Genes cannot be changed by environment or experience but the functioning of genes can. “We have the ability to shape our mental destiny.”

  • Breathe. Take five long, low breaths in and out. Temporarily apply a routine that you have practiced and anticipated in advance can change the chemistry of your brain and help you build confidence.
  • Set goals. Setting goals for ourselves also helps to change the chemistry of our brain. He says, “It could be as seemingly small as getting out of the house and walking 200 yards down the street — something that challenges you to a degree and gives you a feeling of accomplishment to have completed.” The good feeling you get when you achieve a goal increases the dopamine in our brain and part of the reward network. Increased dopamine is a natural antidepressant and anti-anxiety drug. This is where behavior is very important. If you are feeling anxious setting small goals for yourself can stretch you. Achieving these goals will allow your brain to create this natural anti-anxiety compound.
  • Squeeze your hand. According to Robertson, “One way to give the left frontal part of your brain a boost is to squeeze your right hand for 45 seconds, release it for 15.”
  • Visualize it.  Say the words “I feel excited.” Our mind only knows what emotion we are having by context. So, we can trick our mind to be excited instead of anger or upset. “Practice an imagined situation so when you actually come to that, you won’t have to try to remember how to handle it”, says Robertson. It will become a habit.
  • Posture. You can also change your posture out of the defensive, aggressive, or defeated posture into a calm and erect posture. Robertson believes that people who adopt a power pose actually feel more in charge or confident. Posture affects our psychological state and the functioning of our brain.

What we found most interesting:

“One of the greatest motivations that humans have is to feel in control,” says Robertson. Feeling out of control is hugely anxiety provoking and particularly so for some people more than others. If we can predict what is going to happen even if what is going to happen is no good you can engage in this amazing capacity of the human brain to plan and prepare. “Most people can adjust to most situations. The change is not comfortable, but you can get there.” The trouble with uncertainty is you can’t engage in mental preparation and planning. This creates a sense of being out of control. Being out of control is an extreme example of helplessness where you don’t believe there is anything you can do to change the outcome, and that leads to passivity. According to Dr. Robertson, “If I can predict something that is going to happen in my mind I can enact certain scenarios and anticipate certain outcomes (hopefully success). Once you stop taking positive actions it pushes your brain into a flight response. Once it is in that mode it is difficult for it to activate the reward and anticipation mode.”

To learn more about Dr. Robertson and his thoughts on shaping your brain’s response to pressure, listen to the WiseTalk recording.

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