Tag Archives: Wall Street Journal

Holidays Zap the Spirit of Celebration

 Who’s really celebrating this year?

It’s not those folks who are too busy stressing over gift giving obligations, get-togethers, and the general hustle and bustle demands—all centered around their unrealistic expectations on creating the perfect holiday.

The holiday season poses a psychological conundrum. The season is all about the sentiment of “Comfort and Joy”, yet the effort to be happy makes many of us miserable. My recommendation is to follow this simple golden rule: adjust your attitude and every day will be like a room full of confetti!

Many of us are inundated by articles on “prescriptions for successfully coping with the holidays”– there seems to be no refuge from this popular topic. What I found refreshing  was discovering an alternative on contemporary psychology—the message was “just carry on.” It is a counter-intuitive approach, but think of it as the negative thinking to handling the holidays.

Psychotherapist Albert Ellis was a pioneer of the negative path. His key insight was this—that sometimes the best way to address uncertainty is to focus not on the best-case scenario, but the worst.

He is famous for telling clients, who were distressed at the idea of being embarrassed, to ride the New York Subway and speak the names of the stations out loud as they passed. A client’s overblown fears  of embarrassment were diminished.

As an example, imagine the absolute worst that could happen if you run out of patience with your employees during the season, after you have spent an entire year creating the ideal work environment. The ancient Greek philosophers called this the “premeditation of evils.” Do this and you significantly reduce the anxiety-producing energy that looming over you. This may be just the release you need to allow flexibility with your employees, while bettering your workplace to be more inclusive and positive.

Psychologist Julie Norem estimates that one-third of Americans intuitively use this strategy, which she terms “defensive pessimism.” As pointed out recently in the Wall Street Journal, positive thinking, by contrast, is the effort to convince yourself that things will turn out just fine, which can reinforce the belief that it would be absolutely terrible if they didn’t.

How does this approach jive with the well used axiom “If you can dream it, you can do it?”

There is plenty of research supporting the belief that having an idea or dream shapes your plans and defines your goals more clearly. You’ve undoubtedly read the story of actor Jim Carrey who wrote a check to himself for $10 million in 1987.  He dated it Thanksgiving 1995 and, you guessed it, received $10 million that year for his role in the movie “Dumb and Dumber.”

Yes, we agree dreaming of your perfect Norman Rockwell Holiday is a powerful way of moving closer to getting it. So do it. Meanwhile, also consider this—the ultimate value of the “negative path” is less about driving upbeat emotions and more about facilitating realism. The future is uncertain, after all things really do go wrong sometimes. There is much to be said for confronting these possibilities rather than denying them. Then you’re left with all that positive energy to enjoy your Joyous, (not perfect), Holiday.

By, Debra Koenig, President of B2A Consulting | 30 years of experience as a  business executive with leadership and consulting skills in Fortune 500 and private equity portfolio companies.

Sharing Perspectives in a Diverse Workplace Holds Water

The newsletters I review each week recently contained two items that caught my eye.  One topic was inevitable for this time of year and one was unexpected.  Generally in December, managers are thinking about a number of year-end or annual tasks, so the article on year-end performance reviews was not a surprise.  I, however, was not familiar with the concept of reverse mentoring, although according to the recent Wall Street Journal article, another one from Foxbusiness.com and one from Forbes that appeared a full year ago, the concept has been around for about a decade and was championed by Jack Welch during his tenure as General Electric’s CEO.

Reverse mentoring – the idea that younger, less experienced workers can educate older, more senior employees – tends to be discussed in a framework of technology and/or social media and assumes that younger employees have more expertise in those areas than older workers.  The other commonly mentioned benefit of reverse mentoring is that it creates access to upper management (and their business experience) for employees who don’t normally have that opportunity.

My guess is that those ideas were truer a decade ago when the concept was first introduced than they are today.  I hope there aren’t too many of you who believe those things describe your organization or any organization where top performance is a daily focus.  Top performers aren’t likely to allow themselves to become technological dinosaurs or to find themselves reliant on junior staffers to manage important business trends.  Top organizations are also likely to encourage open communication and knowledge sharing rather than restrict the flow of information and ideas.

So even if the idea of reverse mentoring needs some updating, I’m not ready to accept the premise that “it is a gimmick” as Lance Haun says in his recent blog for TLNT.com. To me, Mr. Haun seems to be hung up on definitions and details that may have outlived their relevance.  I believe that the underlying idea that older, more senior employees might be able to learn something from other workers is still valid.

Perhaps Mr. Haun would be more receptive if the concept was redefined as a broader sharing of ideas and expertise among diverse members of a team or organization.  In some organizations, that concept might already exist under a different umbrella – we provide “cross training” for team members or groups regardless of seniority or experience so that we don’t lose expertise when a process specialist is away or leaves the company.  While that doesn’t exactly satisfy the original definition of reverse mentoring, I think it upholds the spirit of the concept.  We also hold brainstorming or problem solving sessions when faced with certain business challenges or opportunities and appreciate the value that different employees bring to the conversation.

I started this blog by stating that two items caught my attention recently – reverse mentoring and annual performance reviews.  While one was new to me and the other was routine, I came to see how they could blend and reinforce each other.  As a manager, when you are reviewing employee performance and setting goals for the coming year, it makes sense to identify targets for improving existing skills or learning new ones.  It might also make sense to pair up your younger workers with others who need reinforcement or training on critical department processes.  Whether you label it reverse mentoring or not, it’s a good idea to take advantage of the talent in your organization and the annual review process is a great time to set new goals and responsibilities for your team.

Nancy Lane, Director of Human Resources, Red Book Solutions