Myths about How Our Brains Work

brainrulesHave you ever wondered what scientists are discovering about the brain?  Well I was curious and decided to read John Medina’s book Brain Rules. Medina, a molecular biologist, shares what scientists know for sure about how our brains work. It surprised me to find that some things I had learned about the brain were myths.  Here are a few of those myths and the facts about them according to Medina:

Myth:  Our brains can multitask.

Facts per Medina:  It is literally impossible for our brains to multitask when it comes to paying attention.  The brain is a sequential processor, unable to pay attention to two things at the same time.  Research shows that multitasking reduces productivity and increases mistakes.

So now we have scientific research which proves that the person texting in the meeting is truly unable to pay attention to the speaker.

Myth:  We see with our eye and our brains store information accurately.

Facts per Medina:  Our brains give us only an approximate view of reality, because they mix new knowledge with past memories and store them together as one.  We see with our brains.  What we see is only what our brains tell us we see, and it’s not 100 percent accurate.

Our dearly held realities might just be opinions or false perceptions.  We could all benefit by remembering this, and it might help us to separate the facts from the fiction when resolving workplace conflict.

Myth: Cramming information into our brains helps us remember.

Facts per Medina:  Memory increases simply by repeating the information in timed intervals.  Spaced learning is greatly superior to massed learning.  Use relevant real-world examples or meaningful experiences embedded in information to improve learning.

Giving ourselves time to absorb information allows our brains to do what they do best – learn and solve problems.

Myth:   You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Facts per Medina:  Research has shown that some regions of the adult brain stay as malleable as a baby’s brain, so we can grow new connections, strengthen existing connections, and even create new neurons allowing all of us to be lifelong learners.  We do lose synaptic connections with age.  But the adult brain also continues creating neurons involving learning.  These new neurons show the same plasticity as those of newborns.

As changing market demands force us to look for new ways of adapting, we are best served by exploring and being curious, by looking for what is not there and filling in what is missing.

Brain Rules provides many insights about how to use our brains for peak performance.  Click here to order your copy and learn more about Medina’s fascinating research.

Posted in Coaching, Culture, Influence, Leadership, Team Performance |

Leadership 101: Understanding Other People

Circular-Model-Picture11 Clients often share stories about how they have developed their leadership approach. Their stories describe assumptions about how people should be led.  The assumptions are things they have learned in past experiences from others leaders. Unfortunately, people value different traits of leaders and their preferences are based on their personality styles not on others leadership experiences.  Understanding these preferences and personality styles allows us to adapt our leadership approach to situations.  It gives us leverage to reduce tension or avoid unnecessary conflict.

A personality tool that I use to provide insights is the DiSC Profile.  This profile helps people see how and why other people think and behave differently than they do. Here are the four primary personality types identified by DiSC:

  • Dominance – a driver that likes quick decisions and results
  • Influence – an expressive optimist that likes to engage and motivate others
  • Steadiness – a stable team player who is supportive and cooperative
  • Conscientiousness – a cautious, accurate, and detail focused analytic

Most people are a combination of these personality types.  A person’s level of assertiveness and their focus on emotions determines the types.  Knowing how to read these personality types provides perspective about how a person approaches work, makes decisions, manages stress, deals with conflict, and embraces change.

I’ve worked with groups that have had extraordinary tension because the Dominance/Influence personalities were perceived by the Steadiness/Conscientiousness personalities as making fast and poor decisions.  The Steadiness/Conscientiousness types felt that they were left with extra work because they had to clean up the mess of the Dominance/Influence type’s poor decisions. Meanwhile, the Dominance/Influence personalities believed that they made good decisions and that they adjust decisions quickly as needed to stay competitive.  The Dominance/Influence types perceived the Steadiness/Conscientiousness personalities as slow and change resistant.  These natural tensions caused by personality style differences instill resentment and destroy team performance.  They can limit an organization’s ability to be resilient and to capitalize on the realities of our constantly changing world.

Your ability to coach and develop others and to lead teams will increase exponentially by understanding other peoples’ personalities.  Click here to view an introductory video on these personality types and start improving your strategies for leading others now.


Posted in Coaching, Influence, Leadership, Team Performance | Tagged , , , , , , , |

Trinity Industries Prepares for U.S. Manufacturing Growth: An Interview with Mike Williams, V.P. of Human Resources


Trinity Industries, Inc. is one of North America’s largest manufacturers of transportation, construction, and industrial products.  It is a multi-industry growth company that accomplishes market leadership through operational expertise and talented people along with a commitment to continuous improvement. As markets shift and manufacturing begins to return to the U.S., Mike Williams is anticipating the impact on Trinity and is preparing for the future.

Q   The March edition of the Kiplinger Letter indicated that U.S. manufacturing will grow 2% this year, then faster in 2014 and 2015 as demands pick up in the U.S. and overseas markets.  How does this impact Trinity Industries?

A    The industrial economy has always ebbed and flowed through cycles of ramping up and then slowing down. Trinity has been able to progressively adapt our business model through these cycles.  We are able to switch several of our plants to produce different products and remain competitive.  The challenge today is that the workforce has changed.  America has stopped training its youth for manufacturing so we train and pay people through the process. As manufacturing comes back to the U.S., competitors will be working hard to recruit our people. We will continue hiring and training our talented people for sustainability.

Q    How does Human Resources play a role in making Trinity a destination employer?

A    We provide people solutions to the business needs that promotes a culture of success.  As much as the oil industry may be our biggest customers, we compete with them to hire the best welders on the market.  We look for different pipelines to hire welders like single moms who want to be home at night and people returning from military service.  Our women welders are some of our highest performing employees.

We are shifting our culture to value taking people off the production lines to train them so they improve their skills for tomorrow even if it makes productivity challenging for today. We are teaching people and providing them with mentors to keep up with the changing demands.

Q   What are your mantras for leading Human Resources?

   Leading change within an organization requires what I refer to as the 3 C’s – Collaborate, Communicate, and be a Champion. Leading a Human Resources team, especially within a matrix organization, requires the use of the 3 A’s – Attitude, Adaptability, and Accountability.  It is not rocket science, it is not hard, but it takes courage to implement them consistently.  We are in the people business so we work continuously to build relationships as strategic business partners adding value and support across all of our business units.  We remove their bumps in the road by being change agents.  We challenge the status quo, engage others through collaboration, and align resources to achieve the Trinity vision for the future.




Posted in Culture, Influence, Leadership, Team Performance | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Building Leaders: How Successful Companies Engage in a Culture of Trust


The need to build leaders at every level of the organization has become paramount as companies adapt to the present economy.  People can no longer wait for the boss to give them the ten steps to perform their jobs. They have to step up and lead within their sphere of influence regardless of job title.  They are expected to challenge the status quo, anticipate change, make strategic decisions, and implement solutions quickly.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all employees were prepared to meet these challenges?

Unfortunately, many of the managers who are supposed to prepare people to meet these challenges are struggling themselves.  The managers in a lot of the companies that I work with seem to be very articulate at telling people about their shortcomings, but often are unable to see how their behavior prevents others from embracing change and operating at peak performance.  They cannot see how their blind spots impact the organization’s culture, trust levels, and performance results.

Today, managers need to share information and make people smarter so that they can step up and lead.  They need to hold themselves accountable for how they influence others.  This requires that they go below the surface and deal with the complexities of who they are, see their own blind spots, and develop other leaders from a space of clarity that they have within themselves.

Recently I delivered an Executive Briefing for UT Dallas Corporate Education.   The leaders at this briefing identified the following insights on how to build engaged and trusted leaders:

  • Begin with talented employees that are positive, receptive to change, and committed to the organization’s purpose.
  • Encourage employees to stretch; engage with them to understand their self-imposed obstacles.
  • Offer leadership development training for leaders and high-potential leaders.
  • Use coaches to develop senior leaders to minimize their blind spots and expand on their strengths to grow more leaders.
  • Provide training and mentoring to people transitioning into new positions rather than expecting them to learn as they go through on the job experiences.
  • Provide models of leading that aren’t mimicking others leaders in the organization.
  • Give people full ownership of a project and back away (no micro-managing).
  • Help “lead” people to their own decisions to improve the company and follow the vision.
  • Lead others with authentic power.  Lead by example and build relationships to gain trust.
  • Figure out what is missing and find ways to fill the gaps by listening to your people and encouraging their thought leadership.
  • Be aware of the culture and the impact it has on performance.
  • Communicate – clearly communicate the purpose, the roles, and the responsibilities.
  • Engage people in the purpose for the work, and then enlist them to participate in the solutions.
  • Engage people in strategic planning.
  • Confront reality and address issues.  Ask for and provide honest feedback.
  • Encourage honest dialogue to increase trust.  Trust determines the quality, depth, and the outcome of any relationship.
  • Create a culture where people are incented and encouraged to collaborate and take risks.
  • Create an environment where employees have the desire to perform and succeed.
  • Help people look at their options and how change may affect them so they can make their own decisions.
  • Help people be successful in your organization, or their next company, this builds trust and respect.
  • Celebrate success

You can make a difference.  Use these insights to build leaders and giving your organization a competitive edge.

Posted in Coaching, Culture, Leadership |

The Influence Matrix: Strategies for Engaging Others to Get Results

Do you find it difficult engaging people to be inspired and committed?  Does your influence encourage the free flow of innovative thoughtcover-RV Joan_internets?

In my new book, The Influence Matrix: Strategies for Engaging Others to Get Results, I provide useful strategies and creative techniques which make it easier to connect with people and influence them to stay focused on the goals ahead.

Unlike most books on the topic of influence, this one is not about persuading others to do things.  It is a guide with practical tools for challenging how you think and how you engage (or disengage) others. The communication techniques provided will help with identifying and shifting whatever prevents you from influencing others to align in the direction of positive results.

In working with clients over the years, I’ve noticed that the best influencers understand how people’s stories contain the beliefs and values that drive their behavior.  They know that influence is a process of affecting the stories in order to create movement toward new possibilities. People’s stories often describe how some circumstance or person is the reason they cannot make a difference.  When we listen to their stories and focus on what they really want, we are better able to add value to their situations. However, people only reveal their stories when they trust us.  Trust causes resistance to dissipate, it allows honest dialogue, and it drives the collaboration necessary to get things done.  Trust is the key to influencing and it increases when we operate from a place of integrity and authenticity.

Here is an excerpt from the book describing a strategic influencer:

Southwest Airlines is an amazing corporate citizen. It goes out of its way to support the local community, so I decided to call when I was doing some team-building work with the Dallas Zoo. City budgets were tight, and decisions to either feed the homeless or give the elephant a new habitat made things financially challenging for the zoo. I asked the people at Southwest Airlines if they would meet with the zoo’s employees and share some creative ideas for boosting morale and motivating people to think more about the financial side of the business. The primary focus for zoo employees had been about caring for the animals. As talks proceeded, the zoo employees began complaining about not having resources to motivate employees. The Southwest employee talking with them asked them to wait a minute and he would be right back. He left the room for a few minutes and came back with a stack of airline ticket vouchers. He put the stack on the table and told the zoo employees that they had no more excuses. He said they could use the free tickets as incentives to motivate employees in any way that they wanted. The Southwest employee was completely empowered to think strategically in the spur of the moment. He quickly seized the opportunity to support the zoo and market Southwest at the same time, because he had absolute clarity about how to demonstrate leadership within his sphere of influence. Through his example of leadership, he was able to influence the zoo employees and encourage them to think strategically.

The Influence Matrix includes thought-provoking stories, and practical insights that have been developed through over twenty years of coaching emerging leaders and executives. This book will give you the opportunity to:

  • Practice strategies for increasing self-awareness and reducing blind spots that weaken the ability to influence
  • Improve clarity in communication and eliminate the drama caused by unclear, distorted, or vague dialogue
  • Engage others with stories and actions that demonstrate trustworthiness

Applying the strategies in this book will cause you to question how you think, believe, and behave.  Are you ready for the challenge? Click here to buy The Influence Matrix today.



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Top 3 Things that Demonstrate Authentic Power

In my new book, The Influence Matrix, I describe authentic power as follows:

smulogo“Demonstrating authentic power is about being poised and providing equilibrium as situations unfold.  “Authentic power” could be defined as the ability to use power in a genuine, reliable way that is worthy of trust.  Imagine that authentic power is the door opener for influencing others.  People confidently go along with you because your behavior offers unquestionable evidence that you are trustworthy and competent.  Your intentions are transparent and respected.”

Recently, while working with some of the management staff at Southern Methodist University, they identified the following as the top 3 things that demonstrate authentic power:

1.  Listening – Listening shows openness and respect towards others, it displays curiosity about other’s perceptions, and it reflects that you value and encourage others to share their ideas.

2.  Transparency – Transparency is about being humble, vulnerable, and honest about intentions while having no hidden agendas regarding your motives.

3Consistency – Consistency means living your values and vision consistently, having the courage to walk your talk, and taking a stand to right wrongs.

If power involves the ability to influence the behavior of others and these three things demonstrate authentic power, then our ability to engage others is highly dependent on our character and our self-awareness.

As well intentioned, decent human beings we all would like to demonstrate authentic power consistently.  So what prevents us from doing so?  The responses I typically get to this question include not having enough time because of heavy workloads, feeling controlled by political agendas or corporate culture, and fear – fear of uncertainty, fear of not measuring up, fear of being exposed, fear of not being supported, fear of being fired…  For whatever reason, we can all fall short from time to time in using our power effectively.

Here are some tips for improving your ability to demonstrate authentic power:

*  Listening – Focus your attention so that you are able to separate the facts from the opinions of other’s stories.  Ask questions to clarify the meaning of the other person’s words.  Notice the ratio of “asking” to “telling” in your conversations (i.e. 90% telling to 10% asking).

Transparency – Spend some time in reflection and introspection so that you are clear about your intentions and behaviors.  Notice the level of emotional maturity you use in tense circumstances.

*  Consistency – Be wary of arrogance and narcissism – in yourself and others.  Surround yourself with trustworthy people who have the courage to hold you accountable for living your values and for maintaining humility.


Posted in Leadership | Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Cultivating Trust In a Chaotic Economy

It seems paradoxical to expect high levels of trust in an organization when the economy is driving chaos.  Survival of the fittest seems to make more sense.  This reality causes me to ponder questions like:  How do we trust and take risks when there aren’t assurances of safety and success?  What has to happen for us to extend trust to others who haven’t proven themselves as competent or worthy?  How do I influence others to trust me?

In the November, 2012 issue of Fast Company, Robert Safian wrote an article called “Secrets of the Flux Leader.”  In this article Safian explains that the velocity of change in our economy has made chaos the defining feature of modern business, and that the people who will thrive best in this environment are those with the ability to embrace adaptability and flexibility, be open to learning from anywhere; and be decisive tempered by the knowledge that business life can shift radically every three months or so. To be successful, Safian says that people must be agile, have a quick course for correction, be nimble, and ever-changing.  In Flux organizations, he says that people need to react and make decisions without going up the chain of command for approval. Safian admits that this all requires a new kind of collaborative trust.

Most of us trust others in degrees based on our past experiences with them.  Some people make it into our close inner circle while others are kept at arm’s length or more.  So the challenge becomes how do we move people closer into our inner circle and influence others to move us into theirs?  How do we shift the culture of our organization so that everyone is willing to do this?  I believe that when we operate from a place of integrity and authenticity, resistance to trust dissipates and honest dialogue can facilitate the collaboration necessary to get things done quickly.  Situations may surface that threaten trust, but trust can be rebuilt rapidly when people are willing to speak the truth and take actions upon it.  It is a choice – we decide how we behave and how we engage in relationships with other people.  If our priority is to win at all cost and our focus is on the numbers rather than on people, then trust, agility, free-flow of ideas, accountability, and productivity will be at risk.

Someone once told me that when we hold on to negative thoughts about another person it is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.  Having healthy conversations about differences of opinion, working through negative experiences from the past, and setting healthy boundaries can be uncomfortable; however, we cannot afford to avoid these conversations when they are the way to establish trust and keeping ourselves agile in an economy that requires us to do so to be successful.

Posted in Culture, Leadership |

Influence Starts with You
Are you really ready to get what you want?

If you want to influence others to change, start by looking in the mirror.  Ask yourself, “Do I truly believe that I can engage others to support what I want?”  Most people have dreams and goals for their lives, but are often too distracted to make them a reality. They don’t take action to move towards what they really want, and they self-sabotage their efforts with limiting beliefs about what can be achieved.

Arlene Johnson is a seasoned author and business consultant.  In her book, Success Mapping, she provides a process to uncover the things that prevent you from moving towards your goals, and she provides tools that will help drive you to action to get what you believe you can accomplish.

In Arlene’s words, “If you’re thinking and hoping, starting and stopping, what you want to accomplish, this for sure will delay the achievement of your important goals.  It can also be a mental and emotional energy drain.”  Arlene maps out a step by step approach to remove obstacles, and use the power of you to involve others and create success.


You’ll find insights about yourself in this book that will help you determine what you really want, and will help you develop a plan for how to influence others to engage in the process. If you are tired of the pipedreams, read this book and implement a plan to collaborate with others and create sustainable success.

Posted in Coaching, Leadership |

Building a Corporate Culture of Trust

When I begin work with a client, it is usually safe to assume that they did not get out of bed that morning wondering how the corporate culture was impacting productivity. Culture often flies under the radar screen until its impact on performance becomes a problem. The problems usually have something to do with lack of confidence in others’ ability to perform and low trust levels within the organization.

So what exactly is a corporate culture and what does trust have to do with it? I would define a corporate culture as the beliefs, values, and behaviors that a company operates with over time. Regarding trust, Dennis and Michelle Reina in their book Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace explain the concept best: “Business is conducted through relationships. People need their relationships with coworkers to be trusting ones if they’re to get their job done. They need to be able to depend on each other to do his or her part, to believe that what coworkers are saying is the truth, to have confidence that they have what it takes to deliver, to receive honest feedback on the quality of their work and coaching from one another to learn new skills…Trust is inspiring and energy producing.” When people trust the character and capability of their leaders and coworkers, they are able to perform at higher levels because they are not bogged down with self-preservation behaviors.

Building a culture of trust is an ongoing process which requires vulnerability from all members of the organization. Below are the most important things an organization can do to maintain a culture of trust:

  • People are unguarded in their communication because it is safe to express their perspective. The safety is sustained because people are held accountable for behaving with honesty and integrity, and for providing positive and constructive feedback in order to help each other and the business grow.
  • People are valued for having the courage to have honest dialogue about conflict and mistakes so that relationships and productivity are maintained regardless of circumstances.
  • People are coached to develop their skills so that they can be trusted to perform with competence.
  • People surface problems and anticipate the need for change so that the company remains competitive.

Does your organization have a culture of trust? What are you willing to do to increase trust levels and improve performance in your organization? If you are interested in reading more about tools to build trust, improve performance, and boost bottom-line results, I recommend the Reina’s book Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace.

Posted in Culture, Team Performance |

Accelerating Performance through a Culture of Trust

Leaders know that trust is the key to successful team performance. They also know that the absence of trust slows performance down and causes costs to increase. So how do you build a culture of trust? What can be done to create a work environment in which people feel safe sharing information or sharing constructive feedback? What has to happen for people to be trusted to do their jobs and keep their agreements?

I believe the answer begins with individual relationships. When working with a client and evaluating the levels of trust, the signs of distrust were most evident by the lack of meaningful information people shared and the walls between the cross-functional silos. People were expected to perform with perfection and there was a lot of finger pointing and blaming when things went wrong. I asked members of the management team to confidentially list the names of people they considered to be trustworthy colleagues and the names of those that they considered untrustworthy. Most of these managers had a much longer list of people they considered untrustworthy, and they hadn’t even considered what they could do to restore trust.

Something had to give. First, the managers acknowledged the consequences of their unwillingness to discuss their troubled relationships. Then I gave them the book Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler. This book provides useful tools for creating safety, and for fostering healthy dialogue. There were several managers who humbled themselves and harnessed the courage to have crucial conversations with the people on their untrustworthy list. They were able to constructively talk through their differences and make agreements on how to work collaboratively in the future. One manager said that six months after having crucial conversations there was only one person left on the untrustworthy list and he was still working on that one. He said that he was much more productive because he quickly met with people to address problems rather than trying to go around them and fix the problems himself. He also no longer wasted time or energy being defensive and figuring out who to blame.

Often the smallest shifts in a culture have the largest impact on the performance. It is amazing how quickly relationships improve by just getting people to talk things out rather than act in ways that don’t get positive results. If you want to improve trust levels and accelerate your culture shift, here are five things that will get things moving quickly:

  • Talk directly with people about differences of opinion and issues of mistrust rather than talking about them or avoiding them.
  • Seek to understand each other and challenge each other in respectful ways.
  • Demonstrate the values of the organization and focus performance on the shared vision.
  • Define work roles and responsibilities, and clarify how cross-functional departments align to support the vision.
  • Have conversations about the changing needs of customers and how the culture will need to shift in order to adapt. Communicate the sound business reasons that justify why the culture needs to change.

Do you think there would be a significant impact on performance if each person in your organization began acting on these five things today? How about starting with you?

Posted in Coaching, Culture |