S4E42. You Need to Ask the Right Questions

One of the key features of improvisation is the ability to listen. When we listen, we park our ego and our agenda, and strive to understand what the other person is trying to say. It’s about listening with our eyes and our ears – but it’s also about the questions we ask.

My son is a type 1 diabetic. He recently had his wisdom teeth extracted, and we had to take care of him. One day, he called me and asked me to come home because he was vomiting. He had taken some of his antibiotics but he hadn’t eaten any food recently. So I started doing some research, and I asked the question: “What happens when you take an antibiotic on an empty stomach?” I noticed the symptoms: vomiting, dry heaving, etc, but when I checked his blood sugar, I knew something else was going on. I rushed him to the emergency room.

Within minutes he was diagnosed with DKA – diabetic ketoacidosis. This is a serious condition that can lead to a diabetic coma or even death. I was lucky to catch this despite the information I was getting back from my question. The question I should have been asking was: “What could be happening when a type 1 diabetic is throwing up?” That would have clued me in that things were more severe than I realized and saved me valuable time.

Even when we think we’ve reached the right answer to our questions, we need to pause and ask ourselves “What else could this be? What are the blind spots I’m not seeing?” We need to think through that and come to realize that maybe this could be something else. That’s a big part of listening.

S4E41. The Great Resignation: Why So Many People Are Saying “I Quit” with Brian Comerford

Brian Comerford is a digital leader and serial entrepreneur – notably co-founding RadioValve.com, one of the first generation of online radio stations. He served as an adjunct professor at The University of Denver – his alma mater – in the digital media studies department. He currently serves as the co-chair of the CIO Working Group for the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, and is a board member of the Adoption Exchange. On top of all of that (and more), he’s the host of the Lead.exe podcast. 

The Great Resignation is real. The pandemic opened the floodgates for remote work, which has opened up the possibilities for new jobs. And for those who are being called back to the office after a year and a half, they’re thinking about those new opportunities. People have also taken this time to reflect on their goals in life, and, if they don’t feel that their job contributes any meaning to their existence, they may take this time to explore other options.

We were told that employees are not productive when they work from home. Over the past year and a half it’s been proven that is not the case. Overwhelmingly, employees who have a choice in the matter are preferring either work from home or hybrid work models. There are still situations where working together in the same office can be beneficial, but we can learn to use that time intentionally rather than requiring it around the clock.

The previous generation of leadership was built on a lack of trust in hired employees. It was about monitoring, disciplining, and making sure they stayed on task. This has started to disappear, but some leadership styles are hard-lost. Leaders have to adapt to a new style of trust, and judging employees by the work they produce, not the amount of time they spend with their butt in the chair.

We’re starting to see a reinvention in how companies support their employees – how they offer compensation, work-life balance, and more. And if companies hope to retain their employees and attract talented new ones, they’re going to have to adapt to the demands of the workforce.

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S4E40. Manage Your Stress with a Dose of Humor

I’ll be the first to tell you – improv isn’t all about comedy and making people laugh. However, improv can be a great tool for humor and is how most people are introduced to it. My own introduction to improv involved using it and comedy as coping mechanisms for the challenges life was throwing my way.

The fundamentals of improv have been a literal lifesaver for me in helping me deal with extremely stressful situations throughout my life. Stress is an everyday thing, and it can come from many sources. Some are the result of daily frustrations, while others come from unexpected challenges.

Do you remember the song, “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down?” Mary Poppins was onto something. To digest something undesirable, but necessary, combine it with something sweet. You can take this advice literally, but if you’d rather not indulge in a sugar binge, why not give humor a try?

In a Forbes article by Jacquelyn Smith titled “10 Reasons Why Humor Is a Key to Success at Work,” she cites some statistics that validate the importance of humor. She writes, “Kerr says dozens of surveys suggest that humor can be at least one of the keys to success. A Robert Half International survey, for instance, found that 91% of executives believe a sense of humor is important for career advancement; while 84% feel that people with a good sense of humor do a better job. Another study by Bell Leadership Institute found that the two most desirable traits in leaders were a strong work ethic, and a good sense of humor.”

Humor doesn’t have to mean an on-the-job standup routine. It can be present in how you finish off an email, or a brief quip in passing to a colleague. It can also be expressed in kind and tasteful pranks. Laughter is a proven antidote for stress, and it comes naturally when the company culture is conducive to it. So be a part of it.

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S4E39. The “What Now?” Movement & Overcoming Procrastination with Eric M. Twiggs

Eric M. Twiggs is the Chief Executive Officer and President of The What Now Movement, a group dedicated to building up high-performing entrepreneurs, authors, and career professionals to be ready for life’s unexpected challenges. He’s also the author of The Discipline of Now: 12 Practical Principles to Overcome Procrastination. As a certified life and business coach, Eric has conducted over 28 thousand coaching sessions, helping executive leaders and entrepreneurs transition from frustration to fulfillment.

When the pandemic started, there were a lot of people sitting around waiting for things to get back to normal. Eric heard it again and again in his circle, but he responded, “That’s the last thing you should be doing. You should be asking yourself ‘What now?’” And that simple question became a movement designed to stop people stopping and help them pivot.

Failure to pivot – or as it’s known in the improv world: adapt – is largely about procrastination. And the biggest way to push back against procrastination is to exercise self-awareness. For many of us, there are some things we just don’t like doing, and even if those things need to be done, you don’t have to be the person to do them. You can outsource those tasks, and move forward with the things that you love to do.

Someday, we’ll settle into a new sense of normal, but it’s still incredibly valuable to maintain that “What now?” mentality. You have to diversify your approaches so that you are never dependent on one technique. There’s always going to be disruption. It may not be as severe as what we’ve been dealing with over the past year, but every disruption is going to offer opportunities to close the gap and get ahead while others struggle to make the necessary changes.

Eric’s show, The 30 Minute Hour, is not your everyday podcast. It provides a lot of humor, as well as actionable advice that people can implement in their daily lives. If you’re struggling with procrastination, give it a listen and find out how you can take action in your daily life. Or pick up his book, The Discipline of Now, and learn more practical ways to overcome that procrastination, and pivot more quickly.

Don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress. Focus on the next step, don’t wait until you know everything you need to know from beginning to end. Just figure out the next step and take it. Then the next one. Before you know it, you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come.

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S4E38. How Do You Eat an Elephant?

Has anyone ever asked you the question: “How do you eat an elephant?” This question – and its answer – provides a powerful metaphor for learning and development for all professionals. And that answer is: “One bite at a time.”  

If you tried to eat an entire elephant in one sitting, you’d get sick and give up. You’d never want to try eating an elephant again. If you take your time, however, you get to savor it at your own pace and you still manage to get the whole thing down.

If just the thought of eating an endangered species makes you nauseous, let’s look at another example from my personal life. I began experiencing back pain and wanted to strengthen my core by doing crunches. If I tried doing 1,000 crunches on the first day, my abs would likely give out, I’d be sore for weeks, and I’d probably give up altogether. But that’s not what I did. I started with just ten crunches and didn’t experience any muscle cramps. Slowly adding more as my strength increased, I was able to do 75 in a matter of months – but I still didn’t see the results, either in the mirror or in my back. Fast forward to nearly a year after I started, and I can successfully complete 1,000 crunches in less than 15 minutes – and my back is a lot stronger as a result.

When adopting the improviser’s mindset, acknowledge that it’s not going to happen overnight. You’re going to fall off the wagon. You’re going to go back to your old ways: not listening, making it all about you, and letting your ego get in the way. But if you take a “one bite at a time” approach, you can look for opportunities to apply that mindset everyday until it becomes a habit that’s so automatic, you don’t have to think about it twice – you just do it.

You’ve spent your education and early career developing your technical skills. That’s how you got to where you are today. But once those are sound, you need to shift to focusing on what I call “power skills”: communication, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, listening, adapting, strategic thinking, innovation, and more. When you sum all of these power skills into one, it becomes LEADERSHIP.

Now, take one bite at a time and start investing in your power skills so you can have a greater impact on the people you hire, on the people you lead, on your customers and clients, on the people that are your business partners, the people in your community, and the people of the world.