This article originally appeared in the Cincinnati Business Courier, July 2020.
It’s safe to say that 2020 has been a challenging year. We’re facing a global pandemic, political division and civil unrest as society collectively uncovers biases and reacts to inequality at unprecedented levels. All of these are impacting employees’ financial, physical, mental and emotional health — and in fact, they may be facing some of these challenges on a more personal level than you’re aware of as a manager or colleague.
Building a well-rounded wellness program
How you treat your employees in times of difficulty greatly impacts their loyalty. We all want to work at a company where we feel respected and supported. One way you can offer this to your employees is through a robust wellness program.
Wellness programs should be comprehensive, focusing not just on physical health, but on mental health and team effectiveness as well. So often we see wellness programs framed as gym discounts and physical health screenings — and these are certainly important, but there’s so much more we should be doing for our people.
Providing support for your employees begins with encouraging them in their self-awareness journey, ideally through a comprehensive self-discovery tool such as the Enneagram. The Enneagram describes nine distinct patterns (or types) of thinking, feeling and behaving.
Other systems that help you understand yourself have strictly psychological orientations that measure behavior, but that’s only one aspect of self-awareness. I choose to use the Enneagram in my coaching practice because it considers not just the psychological orientation, but also the spiritual and relational depth of a person. In other words, it helps you understand why you do the things you do. It’s more holistic. And as employees learn about themselves through the Enneagram, they’re better able to develop strategies for their own meaningful, lasting growth.
Much attention is given to the gender and ethnic makeup of teams, and rightly so. Inclusive organizations are twice as likely to meet or exceed their financial targets, and they are six times as likely to be innovative. Yet an element of diversity that is often overlooked is cognitive diversity – differences in perspective or information processing styles.
Understanding and appreciating the range of approaches your colleagues take to solving problems, managing conflict and delivering feedback will enable you to communicate more effectively with each other. As your team raises its collective level of emotional intelligence, it fosters cooperation, creativity, innovation and collaboration.
Unsurprisingly, people are stressed right now. According to the American Psychological Association, one in three employees typically feel stressed out during the day. Helping them manage this stress is vital to both their personal success and the success of your company. A strong employee wellness program includes efforts to help employees identify coping strategies in times of stress.
Mindfulness exercises can also help employees reduce anxiety. Focusing on breath and staying engaged in the present helps the body physically handle stress while granting mental clarity. An employee who feels strong in their body and in their mind is much better equipped to live a healthy life and give their work the effort and focus required.
Building team trust
In a time of social distancing and with more people working from home, many employees feel disconnected from others. And yet others may have felt some security in that aloneness and are a bit afraid to come back out and reengage. How do you build trust among team members in an environment when many are remote? What about when employees have differing feelings about returning to the office or venturing out from home?
Trust is necessary for high-performing teams, but so many of us feel it’s been violated. Trust has been shaken in our justice system, our government leaders and each other as we’re confronted with questions that range from “Where have you been?” to “Are you a threat to my life?” We have to connect building trust to our employee wellness offerings because if your employees don’t feel safe with their colleagues, they can’t bring their full selves to work each day.
These programs are more important than ever
People are hurting. They’re in need of support. Now is the time to try something new. A holistic employee wellness program that addresses mental health and team health will make a difference. Let’s challenge the idea that a wellness program should only focus on activities that lower insurance costs or directly drive money to the business. Let’s offer employees a full spectrum of help — I have no doubt we’ll see the benefits.
A quick Google search on “leadership coaching” pulls up 280 million results. There are literally millions of approaches to it, and we can probably agree that a “one size fits all” method isn’t going to benefit everyone. Yet individual leadership coaching should be considered an essential management activity, particularly for those who oversee others. It can help bring out your best qualities and enable you to bring out the best in your team, too.
Through my one-on-one coaching, I help leaders learn how to apply the Enneagram to their most critical relationships and situations. Over the last few years, I’ve had the privilege of coaching Jamie Smith, Publisher of the Cincinnati Business Courier. We recently had the chance to talk about how leadership coaching and the Enneagram have impacted his day-to-day life.
Deni: Hi Jamie! Welcome to the new world of video conferencing.
Jamie: This is my third video conference of the day and I’ve got another one later.
Deni: Everything’s changed. It’s unbelievable. Let’s get it going then. How did you first hear about Corporate Consciousness?
Jamie: One of my employees had been working with you for some time. She came to me and said that in order for it to be the most effective for her, I should learn more about the Enneagram and about the changes she had been implementing. I immediately agreed because I’d noticed progress in a lot of her behaviors and her performance. I was always supportive of her doing the work with you, but I wasn’t really following the advice and learning myself at the beginning.
Deni: I remember she invited me to come and meet you… and you were NOT signing up! What were your initial thoughts?
Jamie: I think the funny thing is—I did believe it right away! I did believe in this system. I believed everything you were saying to me. I was so impressed by the Enneagram but it was hard to take the time to learn the system with so many other things going on. It was probably six to nine months after that initial meeting with you—and there was so much going on in my organization—I felt like I owed it to myself to listen to you a bit more. That’s when I really started to take the Enneagram seriously.
Deni: You’re a Type Nine. How has the enneagram specifically affected your leadership style as a Nine? How has it changed you?
Jamie: I am truly a Nine—everything you could say about a Nine. I try to build community. I try to find collaboration. Looking back, I was always putting myself on hold because I wanted to make sure everybody else was happy and everybody else was getting what they need—to the point of me sometimes taking a backseat or standing down on things that would really move our organization forward. I felt that before I make decisions, I have to make sure they work for everyone else.
Once I was convinced that this approach wasn’t working for me, that putting things on hold and avoiding conflict wasn’t going to make the world a perfect place and that it was my job as a leader to put that aside, I was able to make decisions and move forward. That’s been the most impactful change with our work. I don’t feel like I avoid conflict as much as I used to. I don’t let things sit in the parking lot very long.
In the past I’d worry: this employee is not going to buy into that… I’m going to put that over here and think about it for a while… we’ll revisit that in a couple of days. Now, I’m able to make decisions almost instantly and move forward.
Deni: Go with it! What I think is interesting about your type is that somehow Nines, they avoid conflict because they think they’re not good at it when in reality, they’re actually the best at it because conflict doesn’t get so out of control. You have this immense ability to hold a generous space for lots of different points of view. It doesn’t feel conflictual; it’s just a difference of opinion or point of view. Did your boss notice anything different about your approach?
Jamie: Absolutely. To be totally transparent here, I think he noticed performance and metrics first. A lot of things started moving in the right direction and I think probably after about three to six months of better performance, he said, “What happened to you? You fight me more on things now.” I said, “That’s the little Deni that sits on my shoulder and says ‘You will survive conflict. You will survive conflict.’”
Deni: You will survive. This is exactly right.
Jamie: What I found immediately is that I felt I was building a lot more credibility with him. And now when I do have that need to pause on something or say, “Wait, let’s not move that fast,” it’s more credible. He no longer sees me as the guy that’s always going to sit back and wait for somebody else to tell me to move forward.
Deni: I love that. So that’s from a leadership standpoint, but what about personally? What have you learned about yourself as a result of our work together?
Jamie: When I first started doing this, I assumed it would only apply at work, but I immediately found that when I’m dealing with my partner or with my children, it’s the same principles. In the past, I’d say, “Whatever you want, we’ll make it work for you. We’ll have Christmas in December or February or whatever works for you.”
But it got to the point where I realized I’m making all these decisions based on everybody else. Sometimes I’d make a decision based on one of my three kids. It would work for one of them and then the other two had to suffer because I’d made it based on what was best for that one person. Now that I use the approaches you’ve given me, I find myself looking at the conflict and thinking, “What could this be if I just make this decision? If I make it fast, what’s going to happen?”
It used to be so easy to react with “Well, let me get everything together and then I’ll figure out what I’m going to do.” Now, I feel like most of my decisions are just an immediate reaction. Sometimes you do have to put something off and there are times you still need another person’s feedback, but the parking lot is a lot less empty right now for me.
Deni: Right. You don’t want to be impulsive. There are certain things that are a bit weighty, that could benefit from the old sleep-on-it approach. It’s a discernment now on your part as to what those situations are. It’s not like somebody told you to be more conflictual, Jamie. We never talk about you changing a behavior, because it won’t work.
You have really challenged the way you think about conflict, relationships and putting yourself on the back burner. You have to really change the way you think about it, in order for it to be sustainable and for it to be in your professional and personal life.
Jamie: Before I thought to be a good leader, you do their stuff for them. You take roadblocks out of their way and you move forward for them. What you find is by doing that, you’re putting more roadblocks in the way because you’re going to have to do it all the time.
Deni: We’re always drawn to that short term. It feels better but obviously, in the long term, it’s not the best.
Jamie: When I look at the team I have now, there were three people I identified very quickly that I didn’t think could adapt to changes in our workplace after I adapted my style. They just weren’t ready. Using the knowledge I now have on the Enneagram, I can say, “Hey, let’s talk through this. Let’s go through this feedback.” Making people aware of it, letting them pause to reflect on it—I’m seeing a lot of progress.
Deni: It’s extended much further than just you and your work. Has our work made the team more effective?
Deni: How might your team members describe you, the difference in you?
Jamie: I think if you went out and asked any of my team that worked with me a year ago, they’re going to tell you there’s been constant progress. They’re going to say that decisions happen much quicker and even if I can’t give them an immediate decision, there is communication. In the past, if I couldn’t give them the answer they needed, I would wait. I wouldn’t even give them an answer, because I don’t want to say no to them. Now, I’ll say, “Hey, I don’t have a decision yet. There are a few things I’m waiting on. I will get back with you as soon as I can.” That helps them, because they don’t feel like they’re in a holding pattern. They know that in a couple days or a couple hours, they’ll have the answer and can move on. They feel that I’m going to hold them a little bit more accountable, whereas in the past, maybe I wouldn’t because that fear of conflict.
Deni: I think sometimes avoiding that conflict made things seem like they could be unfair also, because things were inconsistent. That’s a real demotivator to a team. I think you just said it, Jamie, that’s the biggest benefit that you’ve observed on the team.
Jamie: Communication is just incredible. People know they need to be more clear in direction. They know they need to be more clear in their requests. They know that they’re going to be held to a higher level of accountability than in the past. As you mentioned, top performers were getting frustrated and possibly looking to leave the team because they were tired of carrying the weight from the underperformers who weren’t.
Deni: That’s exactly right. And I think you gave people a nice runway by saying, “This is the goal. This is where you have to get and I’m 100% supporting you. You can work with Deni. We’re all on the same page here. If at the end of that time there’s still a gap, then we’re going to have a tougher conversation.”
Deni: How has the work contributed to your top or your bottom line?
Jamie: Performance started changing three months after I really bought into the system. We really saw things moving in a positive direction for the second half of 2017. February of ’17 is when I really got on the board with the Enneagram. We had a great 2018 and 2019 was the best year we’ve had since I’ve been Publisher.
Deni: Now let’s talk about 2020. As we’re dealing with COVID-19, do you believe that our work together has prepared you to navigate these crisis situations more effectively? If so, in what way?
Jamie: Absolutely. Today’s a great example. In our Morning Edition, I included a letter from me as the Publisher talking about our approach. I think in the past, if you would have asked me to do this two years ago, I’d be like, “No, let’s see. Let’s see where it goes. I don’t want to put any fear out there in my advertisers, in my readers, in my employees.”
The letter basically says, “We’re going to continue to do what we do best. We’re going to provide you with up-to-date news, how this is affecting local business and how it’s affecting local business leaders. There’s going to be some bumps in the road. We ourselves are canceling events. We’re doing a few things that we have to do. We’re working from home. We’re going to be there with you, and we’re going to move forward.”
That published this morning around 7:00 a.m. I’ve received 37 emails and three phone calls from readers thanking us for what we’re doing. In the past, I would not have done that. I would have hidden behind my desk and said let’s just keep working.
Deni: It’s interesting because a lot of people look at the Type Nine, and think Nine would be the easiest to change, to get momentum because that’s what they do—they change and adapt. It’s just this constant. In actuality, it’s probably the most difficult for Nines because they are able to change their perspectives depending on what they’re looking at or dealing with.
In my practice, you have just been an exemplar for a transformational shift and operating from that highest version of you. It’s just incredible to see it.
Jamie: My partner has said to me a couple of times when I give him feedback, “Is that you talking, or is that the little Deni on your shoulder talking?”
Deni: Oh, I love that. Thank you, my friend. You’re a blessing.
Jamie: You’re more than welcome, and thank you. So glad to have you in my life as well.
We live in a world where external stimulation can create opportunities for stress in any moment. And the war we are engaged in against COVID-19 has opened our eyes to a whole new level of stress.
Yet, the external world around us is ultimately not responsible for our suffering. It is our response to it that causes the biggest problems. Your response is your responsibility, and a choice. I believe this deep in my core, and this understanding has changed my life in countless ways.
I believe there are three basic ways that we induce suffering upon ourselves on a regular basis. My hope is that as we work together to slow the spread of this virus, you have more awareness and a greater understanding of how your response can lessen the personal impact.
1. The Illusion of Control
The illusion of control is widespread. We have this idea that we can work hard, and what we do is so important that through force of will, we will ensure things will turn out as we want.
The truth is—we’re never in control! There are only 2 things that we control: our attitude and our response.
Everything else, if we’re lucky, is a matter of influence at best.
When the illusion of control collides with reality, it highlights one very important truth: You’re responsible for what you do and the actions you take, but you need to release yourself from the outcome as you have no authority or control over it.
We can either deny that fact, or we can embrace it.
2. Imposing Our Expectations on Others
Often, we mentally consider what we would do in a particular situation or with a certain task and then assume that standard for others. This is futile.
Are your relationships based on expectations or agreements? Expectations lead to disappointment; they also create external blame and place all the responsibility outside yourself. But don’t we want to live our lives in a way that maximizes our responsibility and influence?
The alternative to expectations is agreements—co-created, mutually-agreeable arrangements between key players. In an agreement, people come together and negotiate what is desired and when it will be delivered.
Agreements work because they are promises created out of mutual respect. Agreements infer that you were seen, heard and respected. Consequences are rarely necessary in a true agreement because people give their word based on the best information available. People honor agreements far more than expectations.
3. Our Inability to Simply Accept What Is
As Eckhart Tolle states, “Accept the present moment as if you had requested it.”
Our thoughts are easily consumed by how things “should be.” The problem with this is that the present moment is already here. The situation is what it is. It may be different moving forward, but this is what we have now.
This is about accepting or surrendering to life and using what you have available to you for your benefit instead of struggling against reality to get the exact outcome you need.
The words “acceptance” and “surrender” may have negative connotations – they can imply defeat, giving up, failing to rise to the challenges of life. But I’m not suggesting that you passively put up with whatever situation you ﬁnd yourself in and do nothing about it. Nor should you cease making plans or initiating positive action.
Surrender is the simple but profound wisdom of yielding to, rather than opposing the ﬂow of life. It is to relinquish any inner resistance to what is. This resistance comes through mental judgment and emotional negativity, but the moment the judgment stops through acceptance of what is, you are free.
Surrender is a purely inner phenomenon. It does not mean that on the outer level you cannot take action and change the situation. In fact, it is not the overall situation that you need to accept when you surrender, but just the tiny segment that is this present moment.
I repeat the mantra below when I catch myself frustrated by being stuck in traffic, getting in the wrong check-out line, or fretting about the weather.
“I accept the present moment unconditionally and without reservation.”
I challenge you to reflect on which of these three is your “go to” suffering strategy as we cope in these unprecedented times. It may be helpful to look at yourself through the lens of your Enneagram Type. Which one of these do you oppose or breach most often to create unnecessary stress?