Never Underestimate the Power of Humor

Never Underestimate the Power of Humor

On my computer, you’ll find a folder called “File of Funnies.”

That is what the actual file is called. As you might expect, this is where I keep videos, pictures, memes, stories, and basically anything that I find funny. Some are just for me and others I share.

If you have ever been in one of my audiences, you know that I love to use a funny video, first to make people smile but also because I believe that when we laugh, we let the learning in.

It turns out the science would back this up. Laughter raises our overall well-being by:

1) Increasing perspective and creativity.

2) Decreasing stress hormones such as cortisol.

3) Triggering the release of endorphins, our body’s natural feel-good chemicals.

In fact, my research on exceptional leaders and what differentiates the people that experience higher levels of Leadership Vitality versus Leadership Fatigue, (appropriate) humor and laughter are consistent contributors.

This makes sense as laughter inspires hope, it strengthens relationships, it is grounding in the midst of chaos, and it can lessen our burdens, even if only for a short time.  

I’ve seen what a laugh can do. It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful. ~Bob Hope

I have been filling up my “File of Funnies” lately, not just because there is a lot of funny things being shared, but because with the accumulating impact of social isolating, I need to go into the file a little more often.

Every time I scroll through, I am reminded never to underestimate the power of humor.

What could make you laugh today?

These Three Mindsets Will Help You Thrive During Change

These Three Mindsets Will Help You Thrive During Change

How to handle COVID-19 working from home.

With all of the uncertainty everyone is facing, there are three guarantees that you should expect :

1. Everything will take longer. Conferencing everyone in, trying to call into a customer service center, or waiting in line at the grocery store, expect everything to take longer.

2. Emotions will be running high. Everyone is facing uncertainty, but each person’s circumstances are different. It serves us to remember that as empathy is often the first causality in stressful situations. Even if you can’t see emotions, they are there and will influence people’s effectiveness and productivity, hence point number one.

3. Your colleagues, employees, and direct reports are TRUSTWORTHY. Please don’t make people earn your trust – start by giving it. Even if you can’t see them at their desk, even if they don’t respond immediately to your email, assume that points one and two are contributing to any delays, not that they are slacking off, untrustworthy, and lacking commitment.

It’s natural when dealing with sudden change and uncertainty for our brain to look for shortcuts via assumptions and expectations.

Shift these positively to strengthen relationships and help people be at their best.

We owe that to one another.

The Hidden Reason You’re In Too Many Meetings

The Hidden Reason You’re In Too Many Meetings

How to stop to them from filling your day and draining your energy

I once read a story of a college professor who became stranded in the desert after Google Maps directed him to turn left – onto a non-existent road. He obediently followed and ended up stuck; for 11 days. This was a professor! I’m guessing that those reading this are thinking, how ridiculous!

You’d never do that, right?

Maybe not with Google Maps, but what about meetings? Have you ever blindly accepted a meeting invite?  

At the start of a workshop a couple of years ago, I opened by asking what had brought the attendees there that morning. One woman joked “my calendar!”, which was followed by knowing laughs from her colleagues. Following a hunch, I asked how many other people had automatically accepted the meeting invite to be there that morning. Hesitantly, nearly half of the people put up their hands.

Much like the professor who blindly followed the Google Maps directions, these intelligent, busy, senior leaders automatically accepted a two-hour meeting invitation simply because it was in their inbox. This example isn’t an isolated incident.

Excessive meetings are consistently named as one of the most prominent organizational vitality drainers. Studies suggest as high as 73% of people say that they attend too many meetings too often.

In our research at BrainAMPED, we have found that there are two primary reasons people automatically accept meetings.

First, because they feel that they don’t have a choice, believing the meetings are mandatory.Supported by research that suggests that the busier people become, the less choice they feel they have, even if they have the authority to say no.  

Or secondly, they feel they don’t have the time to make a different choice at the moment, so they default to automatically accepting the meeting. Put another way, people believe that it would take too much time and effort to decline or negotiate their attendance, so they make the most straightforward choice available at that moment, which means simply saying yes. 

Though understandable, each of these tendencies will leave you spinning in a self-created, negatively reinforcing meeting vortex. More meetings leave you with less time. Less time leaves you feeling like you have less choice. Less choice and less time will drive you to automatically accept more meetings – spin and spin.

So how do you ensure you don’t get stranded in the meeting desert even when your calendar is trying to divert you that way?  Here are two strategies to break out of the meeting vortex.

#1 When you feel like you don’t have a choice, turn on your high beams.

Typically, your car’s automatic daytime running lights are designed to show the objects on the road in front of you. When you turn on your high beams, it illuminates the objects around you.

Depending on your company culture or role, there are undeniably specific meetings that you are expected to attend. That is the road in front of you.  

However, what possibilities on the periphery do you have some discretion to make decisions around? If declining a meeting isn’t an option, then take control of how you manage your energy, actions, and time around those meetings.

Perhaps, you go in and block the hour following a group of back-to-back meetings. This predetermined time block ensures you can address follow-ups while things are fresh in your mind. Or maybe you pre-plan some portable snacks to take to meetings to keep your energy up.  

I like to put my favorite kickboxing class on my calendar at the end of a day filled with meetings. This commitment forces me to leave my work and helps me clear my mind. I am always more efficient the following day or if need be, later that evening, if something urgently needs to be addressed.

Push back on the feelings of meeting overwhelm by turning on your high beams to see where you can take deliberate control of your choices around future meetings. 

#2 When you feel like it’s easier just to accept, create a fork in the road.

This strategy is meant to force you to slow down, analyze the terrain ahead, and make a thoughtful choice before automatically accepting a meeting invite.

The decision fork is derived by asking yourself a series of questions before accepting the meeting. Examples of the ones we use at BrainAMPED when helping our clients deal with meeting depletion include:

  • Are you clear on the purpose and what is expected of you in this meeting?
  • Do you have the physical time and energy to be fully present and effectively contribute?
  • How will attending this meeting impact on your productivity and critical priorities?

The goal of the first question is to help you take personal accountability in collecting critical information. 

Too often, people complain about meetings without taking action to change them. If you don’t have these necessary details, graciously ask for them before accepting it. 

Remember, the meeting organizer has included you; assume they see you as a valued attendee. In your request for details, acknowledge that and let them know that your questions are to ensure you can contribute best to the success of their meeting.

The goal of the second question is to push you to be proactive with your time and energy management.

Take a step back and look at where this meeting falls within your calendar. Consider both that day of the meeting and perhaps that entire week. How many meetings do you have?  

For example, maybe you need to let a meeting organizer know that you are in back-to-back meetings in different locations, so you will be late or may need to leave early. This clarification can help them proactively adjust the agenda so that you can still contribute or be present for decisions critical to your work.

I often choose a different location to take a conference call to decrease distractions. Challenging yourself with these considerations motivates you to manage your time and energy.  

The goal of the third question is to help you to think about goals and workflow more strategically

When you feel overwhelmed and time-deprived, your brain disconnects from strategy and future consequences. Instead, it defaults to over-focusing on the most immediate, and often low-value tasks that are directly in front of them (hence the meeting vortex). This question forces your brain to consider a broader range of essential decision-making variables by refocusing on the bigger picture, differentiating the important goals from the immediate requests, and helping you to prioritize your energy and productivity.

If the answers to these questions suggest that your attendance isn’t ideal from a business perspective, now you have a thoughtful conversation template to have with the appropriate people.  

And if it turns out you still need to attend, go back to strategy number one and turn on your high beams.  

Reframe the first part of the question to “What can I do to ensure”…I am clear, I have the time, and it has the best impact possible on my productivity and priorities. You will be surprised how creative you can be when you make intentional decisions. 

Whether Google Maps or meeting invites, you always have some choice, so double-check before proceeding. It will surely help ensure you don’t end up stuck somewhere you shouldn’t be!

Sara Ross is a leadership expert, speaker and the Chief Vitality Officer at BrainAMPED, a leadership strategy firm she founded to redefine how people succeed at work and thrive in life. Through their research, workshops, coaching and keynotes, Sara and her company help organizations build their Leadership Vitality Quotient to create high capacity performers by strengthening their skills of energy management, emotional intelligence, and resilience.

You can find out more about Sara Ross and her work at or

Do You Suffer From          Fixer-Fatigue?

Do You Suffer From Fixer-Fatigue?

Three questions to help busy managers lighten their load while developing their people

As a manager you know there is never a shortage of problems that need fixing. Consider how many times this occurs in a typical day; someone knocks on your door with a problem, a complaint, a request, or an idea that they want your help addressing.

Who should be the first to offer a solution in these typical types of conversations? 

When I ask this of audiences, the room is always quick to pipe-up with a communal “THEY SHOULD!” My follow-up question is always, “who usually offers a solution first?” With much less enthusiasm, some of the braver soles in the audience admit “we do.”

Sound familiar? 

There are very good reasons why managers tend to be the first to offer solutions and advice to other people’s problems, even if a little too quickly or a little too often. 

For starters having the answers, figuring things out, and solving problems are precisely the skills that have helped many smart and accomplished people achieve their success. Not to mention most managers that my firm works with are genuinely just trying to be helpful. 

On the other side are a whole host of workplace frustrations that leave managers feeling like the only way to survive the day and protect their energy and sanity is to solve things as quickly as possible and move to the next. 

Do any of the following scenarios sound familiar?

  1. It feels like people are constantly dumping their problems on you to fix?
  2. It feels like you keep having the same conversations again and again?
  3. It feels like people are continually complaining about problems instead of bringing solutions forward ?
  4. It feels like your job description should also include workplace firefighter, or worse, babysitter?
  5. That to save time and ensure things are done correctly, it feels easier to just do it yourself

If you find yourself nodding along in agreement to three or more of the scenarios, chances are, you are at risk of what I call Fixer-Fatigue. 

This is a form of decision fatigue, which refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after an extended period of decision making. The consequence of decision fatigue may be the tendency to go for takeout over a healthy salad or skip the gym for a Netflix binge following an intense day of decision making. 

Fixer-Fatigue can be thought of as the deteriorating quality of solution-seeking conversations led by people dealing with a high volume of problems.

As a result, many managers stop asking questions and instead find themselves diving directly into fix-it mode, problem-solving and advice-giving. 

Whether you want to develop your team to become more self-reliant problem solvers, or you are tired of other people’s problems suddenly becoming your problems to fix, there are three questions that when asked consistently, will help decrease the potential of Fixer-Fatigue.

Take two; someone knocks on your door with a problem, complaint, request or idea. Instead of jumping into solutions, advice and fix-it mode, start by asking the following questions:

Question #1: What have you tried so far?

This may seem like an obvious question but is surprisingly under-asked. The benefit of opening with this question is that it immediately starts you from their perspective and establishes a two-way dialogue.

Unfortunately, managers suffering from fixer-fatigue often respond by stating the most obvious solution. Rarely is it helpful and instead, often shuts people down. 

I have witnessed the most well-intentioned people fall into this trap (myself included). Liz Wiseman, the author of the New York Times Bestseller: Multipliers, calls these leaders the “accidental diminishers.” This is because they accidentally shut down the conversation, the intelligence, and the ideas of others by taking-over the problem at hand. 

The power of starting with the simple “what have you tried so far?” has a two-fold advantage. First, asking it shows that you respect the person and their abilities, especially if they are skilled and experienced in the area they are bringing to you. Secondly, their response establishes a starting point. This is true even if their answer is, “I haven’t tried anything.”

Especially in the latter case, it is critical to resist jumping to solutions or offering your ideas as it will only reinforce the expectation that you will fix the problem for them. Instead, look to challenge them to think about their problem more deeply.  Questions could include: What ideas do you have? What has stopped you from acting on them? 

If you consistently have people showing up at your door with the expectation that you will solve their problem, it should raise a red flag. Instead of getting angry and judging others for a lack of initiative or motivation, use it to prompt your curiosity.

Why do people feel like they need permission to make a decision? Look internally, what might you, as their manager, be doing to promote this behavior?

If you habitually fall into the advice trap and default to solving other people’s problems, you may inadvertently be training people to drop their problems on your desk. 

Question #2: What else would be helpful for me to understand about this situation?

This is a personal favorite of mine because this question helps bring to light the periphery information. It also challenges people to think more broadly and empathetically about their problem and the different perspectives others may have about the same situation.

Additionally, it helps you avoid the trap of escalating a problem with the intention of helping someone only to learn additional context that would have changed your approach or your stance altogether.

People naturally tend to start from their perspective, remembering and sharing information selectively to help build their side and justify their actions. Your job is to make doing so more difficult and thereby challenging them to think more broadly. 

Other variations of the question include: What might this problem look like from the outside? 

What would the other side say is the most important thing for us to understand? Or finally, what else could be contributing to complicate this situation?

By committing yourself to ask this question, and the initiator to consider their answers, you both get a fuller view of the situation and ensure neither succumb to confirmation bias or move forward on too narrow of a view.

Question #3: How are you looking for to move this forward?

This final question puts the accountability directly on the person bringing the problem. It engages them to think about how they see things moving forward and what (if any), help they need in the process.  

Often this question is phrased as, how can I help? Or, what do you need from me?  As helpful as they seem, they often initiate unintended consequences. Challenge yourself to frame the question in a way that doesn’t automatically insinuate that you need to be involved. If they need your help or support, they will ask. And if you can support, now you know the best way to offer it.

Surprisingly, even though many managers say they are frustrated with dealing with the constant barrage of crisis crossing their desks, it can also be rewarding, especially if you can save the day. Be careful not to react by rescuing people or interjecting yourself into a solution to make yourself feel valuable. Instead, refocus on developing people to need you less and trust themselves more.

Asking these three questions will undoubtedly save you time, frustration and energy. Not only that, but simultaneously they will ensure you solve the right problem when necessary, stay involved where needed, and step back more often.

Besides, people are almost always more motivated to act on their own ideas versus advice from others, no matter how good your solution is!

Does Your Company Need to Replace #Fail with #Forgive?

Does Your Company Need to Replace #Fail with #Forgive?

I recently spoke at a conference where the theme was “Learning to Fail in the Spirit of Innovation.” In preparation for my talk, the senior team shared that they aspired to create a high-trust, highly collaborative environment to enable people to take risks without being afraid to fail. Unfortunately, that was not currently the case. As a leadership strategist, I have found that there is a strong connection between failure and forgiveness.

Weeks later with approximately 500 people in the room, I tested the potential of this connection. I asked the audience to please stand up if, in the spirit of innovation, anyone had ever felt wronged by a colleague at work. Examples could have included someone had taking credit for their work, inappropriately blaming them for a mistake, circumventing them in the decision-making process, questioning their integrity, or wrongly accusing them of acting with self-serving intentions and motivations.

As you may have guessed, everyone in the audience was standing. I then asked how many of them had fully addressed, let go and forgiven their colleagues for these wrong doings? There were squeamish, quiet laughs in the audience.

Making mistakes and conflict among colleagues are both inevitable and required in the process of innovation. However, what is spoken of less often is how we respond to each. Withholding forgiveness has a far-reaching ripple effect, starting with those involved and out to the organization as a whole. Complicating matters, most colleagues depend on one another so holding a grudge and commiserating while letting frustrations fester only serves to drain energy, increase negativity and draw out a difficult situation. Ultimately, the quality and quantity of innovative results are lost because no one is willing to risk failure in that environment; the cost is far too high. 

Many organizations are quick to talk about the concept of failure yet miss that the impact of failure on humans is an emotional one. Acknowledging that is the first step. The second step is practicing it. Below are some strategic and productive practices to support forgiveness, repair relationships, restore trust, helping people feel safe enough to take risks and learn from their failings. 

1.   Practice Holding onto Forgiveness versus Holding onto Resentment. 

There is a saying: “Holding onto resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” The research on resentment is clear. Not only does it consume valuable time and productivity, but it also taxes your emotional and mental health. For example, there are strong connections to cardiovascular implications, such as increased blood pressure. Other studies have shown that the increased stress of perceived injustice can compromise your immune system, sleep and pain tolerance. While the other person may have wronged you, the only damage is to yourself by holding onto the bitterness.

Alternatively, you can choose to forgive. This doesn’t mean you condone or accept the actions of the other person. Instead, you make a conscious choice that after you have addressed it with that person, independent of the outcome of that conversation, whether they apologize or not, changed or not, you make a choice to hold onto forgiveness instead of being pulled into the negative hold of resentment. If you are looking to positively participate in a “fail and learn” culture and contribute to a happier and healthier workplace, this is an essential skill. The first person that forgiveness impacts is the forgiver, so hold onto that freedom.

2.   Practice Holding the Person Accountable versus Holding the Transgressions Against Them.

Forgiveness and accountability are not dependent on one another, however, when paired are a very powerful couple. Outside of your home life, you spend the greatest amount of time at work. Your coworkers are going to make mistakes, feelings will be hurt, and both sides will feel misunderstood at times. To manage this, don’t lower your expectations, instead clarify them to establish accountability.

You can set behavioral parameters and agreements on how things will be handled next time if a similar situation arises. Increase touchpoint meetings to monitor accountability and be open to adjusting to changing requirements. Innovation means new, and anytime people are doing something new they are bound to do it imperfectly. Holding someone accountable catalyzes learning, forgiving failure enables innovation.

3.   Practice Focusing on the Future versus Staying Stuck in the Past.

Forgiveness is a complicated concept, often misunderstood and more often said, but not genuinely given. It’s not uncommon for someone to say they forgive, but then hold an internal grudge over someone’s head for weeks, months or even years at a time. As a result, emotional residue builds, and distrust keeps them in the past. Forgiveness is not the same as trusting someone. Forgiveness is free while trust must be earned. You can’t move the needle on trust when withholding forgiveness keeps you stuck in the past.

In the age of innovation and disruption, it is easy to talk about failure. It takes courage to practice it, and even more, it takes courage to forgive it.  

This article was originally published on Thrive Global on April 17, 2018:

Stop Killing Women’s Careers with Kindness

Stop Killing Women’s Careers with Kindness

How to check if the protector bias is holding women back in your company

After six years of working for a mining company, Joanne was considering leaving.  It wasn’t due to a lack of support or the hostility of working in a male-dominated industry. Instead, she wanted to quit because her performance reviews were too good.

Knowing there were things she needed to learn, she was open with Paul, her leader, asking for performance feedback. During their one-on-ones, Paul praised Joanne’s passion and drive.  Instead of actionable, specific feedback, he offered to reduce her workload to alleviate the pressure.  The problem was, Joanne didn’t need less work, she needed the feedback not only to learn and grow but to gain exposure and credibility with the senior team and evolve in the company.  Without feedback, she felt stunted in her development. Unfortunately, research suggests she’s correct.

When she told Paul that she felt underused, Paul was surprised.  He didn’t believe Joanne was less competent than her male counterparts. In fact, he viewed her as a high potential.  However, he knew that Joanne was taking care of a sick parent.  Although she had a support network at home that allowed her to be present and focused at work, he buffered her from critical feedback because he didn’t want to hurt or overwhelm her.  His justification was simple: he was only trying to help.

On the surface, it appears Paul is a supportive, empathetic leader. Unfortunately, Paul’s underlying assumption that Joanne needed to be protected was turning out to be more detrimental than helpful.

The 2016 Women in the Workplace Report, a comprehensive study of the state of women in corporate America, shows women receive as much as 20% less specific and developmentally focused feedback to help them improve performance and address potential career derailers vs. their male counterparts. These findings are reinforced by Shelley Correll and Caroline Simard’s research.  After reviewing 200+ performance reviews, they found women consistently receive vague feedback both in terms of praise and constructive direction. 

Paul was falling into a common bias towards women: the “Protector Bias,” or better known in psychological circles as the benevolent bias. He was demonstrating excessive concern for Joanne’s welfare, casting her as weak, less able to handle pressure and in need of his protection (Glick et al., 2007).    

Unlike overt sexism, the protector bias appears in the form of excessive praise and kindness, especially in male-dominated industries.  What’s less obvious (but more dangerous) is that when it comes to developmental feedback, promotions, challenging projects and high-pressure roles, women are often overlooked by these same managers. While these male leaders often have good intentions, the protector bias can damage women’s careers.  How does this fly under the radar?

First, the protector bias is hard to identify because it doesn’t seem discriminatory. To determine if the protector bias is holding women back in your organization, look for indicators in direct conversations with women, discussions about women and written performance reviews.  Are women being highly and generally praised for their performance but getting less performance-specific feedback?  Look for generalities like “we love her work ethic” or “people love working with her.”  Though nice sentiments, they don’t provide actionable performance feedback to drive growth.  Specific feedback could include: “find opportunities to attend regional meetings and share your division’s goals and priorities to aid in buy-in alignment.”

Secondly, this hard-to-detect bias can be far more detrimental than overt discrimination.  In a 2007 study, researchers investigated the impact of benevolent sexism versus overt sexism on women’s performance. They found benevolent sexism more negatively impacted women’s performance, increased their self-doubt, and eroded confidence. These cues of women needing more direction, assistance and protection were picked up by others, further undermining women’s competence, confidence and increased the chance of achievements and ability being overlooked when promotions and challenging opportunities arose. 

Finally, it’s hard to address because the “offender” feels like they’re helping women, not holding them back.  Most men would say they believe women are just as capable as men. Andrea Kramer, the author of “Breaking through Bias” found that only 12% of men think gender bias is a problem in their organization, yet looking at the disparity in pay, promotions, and female executive leaders, the problem is vastly underestimated.  IHHP’s research shows that women have a second layer of pressure that men don’t. Women must fight harder for status, are under-represented, have smaller networks with less support, and must “prove” themselves in a still-patriarchal business environment.  If feedback is expressed differently for men than women, a check-in is required.

Paul needs to consider if providing “kind” feedback is a pattern with just Joanne (the only woman in his group) or with all his direct reports.

Ask these three questions to determine whether the Protector Bias is holding women back in your company when it comes to giving feedback:

  1. Is it for you?  Are you being too “kind” with feedback because you don’t want to look bad, hurt the relationship, or have employees dislike you?  If so, you’re missing opportunities with your female employees and all your potential higher performers.  Constructive, development-focused feedback is key to professional growth and competence.
  • Is it for her?  You don’t want to hurt her feelings, or worry that she won’t be able to handle the feedback?  Do you want to “protect” her?   If so, you’ll limit your female employees’ growth and/or retention of high performers.
  • If a male colleague were standing in front of you, would you feel the same apprehension in giving feedback?  If there’s any hesitation in your answer, pay attention.

A Strategy for PaulPaul should consciously shift his mindset and think about the specifics.  Before his next conversation with Joanne, he needs to consider how specific feedback could help her grow. He should also realize that a lack of information will hold Joanne back and imply that she’s less competent than her male counterparts.    

A strategy for Joanne.  Joanne needs to continue pushing for specific feedback.  After the next conversation with Paul, she needs to continue to focus on her performance and keep the intrusive self-doubts at bay.  Joanne needs to trust herself, continue to build her awareness, and elicit feedback from others as well, taking her development and career evolution in her own hands as much as possible.  

As Dr. Kristen Jones shared in her article Stop protecting Women from Challenging Work, “All people like to be treated with courtesy and respect. But it does mean that some behaviors — those that are patronizing, overly protective, and unsolicited — can be harmful”.  Don’t let kindness impair a career.

Originally posted here: