Want to Reach Peak Performance? Pause and Rest.

Tegla Loroupe

Tegla Loroupe

Endurance athletes can attest to that time earlier in their career when they trained long and hard, but repeatedly fell short of goals.

Eventually they found an unlikely answer: they needed to rest and let their bodies recover. 

The same is true at work.

Time away from work makes us sharper, more insightful, more innovative and creative as we try to solve complex problems. Pound away day and night for too long, and you lose that mental edge. Your thinking gets soft. You start to autopilot.

So give yourself permission to take a break.

When there's nothing urgent happening at work, take a few hours in the evening or on the weekend to NOT check your e-mail and social feeds. Establish an understanding among colleagues, and then trust that someone will call if something urgent happens or needs an immediate response.

Katya Andresen, SVP at Capital One and the former CEO of Cricket Media, recently noted in a blog post about the importance of pausing that even Kenyan distance runner Tegla Loroupe, who trained 120 miles per week (190 kilometers) and was the first African woman to win the New York City Marathon, took Sundays off.

There’s a great lesson in there. Here’s to hoping you can take some time off this holiday season to rest and refresh before we jump into 2019.

Why Leaders Should be the Last to Speak in Meetings


Nothing shuts down candid, insightful thoughts from your best employees than a boss who hijacks a meeting and spouts off his opinions and then asks: "What do you guys think?"

Good luck getting their honest opinions, especially if any of them happen to run counter to the vision the boss just laid out.

Mature leaders have mastered the skill of holding their thoughts until everyone else has had a chance to go first.

As people are talking, they ask questions to clarify and gain deeper insights as to why the person thinks that way, but they don't agree or disagree or show their hand.

Not only does this elicit richer and deeper insights, but it also enhances one's ability to make more informed decisions.


Snarky? Or Just Dashing Off a Short Note?


Sometimes it stings a little when you read an email or text from a colleague and it's jarringly short and pointed.

Wrong tone. Redo.

Too long. Cut in half.

Pls rewrite, make more formal.

Is that snark? Or are they simply pressed for time and sending a to-the-point note? Usually the latter.

So much context around tone and meaning gets lost in email and text, and that can lead to misunderstandings or worse.

We should assume the best, especially when the note is from someone you generally have a great relationship with.

They may be dashing off a note in the few seconds before they walk into a meeting, or during a lull on another phone call.

Their attempt at brevity and directness is meant as a kindness to you so they seem responsive and respectful of giving you feedback that can keep a project on track.

If you notice tone creeping up more frequently, there may be an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.

When that's the case, pick up a phone or better yet -- meet in person, ideally over a meal.

It's hard to be hostile when you're spending an hour together breaking bread.

Remember That Time KFC Ran Out of Chicken...

KFC's apology ad.

KFC's apology ad.

KFC, one of the largest chicken restaurants in the world, had the unthinkable happen at certain restaurants in the UK recently: they ran out of chicken.

The company had to temporarily close hundreds of stores, angering customers and lighting up social media with complaints.

What could have become a PR nightmare was instead seized for the enormous opportunity it was.

The company responded beautifully with an apology ad that simply said "We're sorry." 

It also featured an altered image of KFC's signature red-and-white striped chicken bucket with the letters scrambled to say "FCK." 

Props on the bold move, KFC.

We would expect nothing less from the company whose Twitter account only follows 11 people: the five former Spice Girls and six random guys named Herb.

Be Ruthless With Your Time, And You'll Have More Of It

Big Ben alarm clock.jpg

We are so harried and pressed for time that we become blind to how much of it we squander.

Here are a few tips for being ruthless with how you schedule and manage your time, which can give your hours back each week:

  • Plan your week. Map out important meetings (and drive time to/from them), key phone calls or conversations you need to have, major project deadlines and due dates, deliverables and other time-sensitive things. This overview will help you prioritize how you spend your time. Be willing to reschedule that quasi-social coffee or lunch to a later date.
  • Write down a to-do list. This goes hand-in-hand with mapping your week. List projects and tasks in order of importance, with due dates/times, and then cross them off as you finish them. The sense of accomplishment will energize you for the next item.
  • Stop emailing so much. Email is great for quick notes or a single longer detailed note. But it can become a major time suck when you're swapping five or six exchanges when you could have simply picked up the phone and had a 10-minute conversation to cover more detail. A greet rule of thumb is the 1-or-5 rule. If your message can be covered in just 1 paragraph, or needs 5 or more paragraphs, email is great. Anything in between might be better suited for a phone call.
  • One and done. Aim to complete tasks the first time you tackle them. If this isn't possible, break the task into smaller chunks and try to finish each piece the first time you touch it. Same goes for email. Don't flag a bunch of email and then have a mountain to re-read and reply to later. It gets overwhelming and things get lost in the shuffle. Wait to read emails in batches when you have time to peck out a quick response.
  • Walk away. Our focus and mental alacrity fades when we stare at a computer screen too long. Some productivity experts recommend an ideal schedule is 52 minutes of focused work, followed by a 17-minute break. That's just enough time to take a brief walk outside, get a coffee and return to your desk revived and invigorated.


The Value of "Unthinking"


Sometimes we get wrapped up in our own thoughts too much. We can become overly reliant on our education, training and professional expertise that we restrict some of our full mental inspiration and creativity in tackling complex problems.

The paradox is that too much thinking can be bad for us. We go down the rabbit holes of our thoughts and lose our bearings.

Some psychologists, executive coaches and athletic coaches advocate for conscious "unthinking." 

Yale once did a study with rats in a T-shaped maze by placing food in a random sequence in such a way that the food was on the left 60% of the time and on the right 40% of the time. The rats quickly learned that the left had food more often, and went straight there ALL of the time, thus achieving a 60% success rate. When given the same test, young children did the same thing and got similar results.

Then Yale had undergraduates play the same game. They did worse than the rats and the children.

The undergrads were trying to calculate an underlying pattern or formula for predicting where the food would be, and that overthinking led them to underperform.

To make better decisions in this complex world, sometimes it's best to ignore some of the data and follow your gut.

How To Be Assertive Without Being Pushy


It can be awkward, intimidating or uncomfortable to confront a colleague who has maligned us, but it's necessary to preserve our self-respect and peace at work. It rights a wrong, and restores a healthy culture, Andy Molinsky writes in the Harvard Business Review.

First, have a private conversation with the person and begin with a straightforward and objective statement such as: "When you interrupt me in meetings..."

Then, establish a cause-and-effect logic by telling the person the negative impact their actions and behaviors have on you: "...it prevents me from sharing my thoughts and ideas."

Lastly, and this is contrary to what most of us are told about talking about feelings at work, Molinsky advocates for ending with a statement of feelings because feelings are hard to refute. Something such as "I feel marginalized" or "I feel belittled" are very effective he says.

The person may get defensive or dismissive or angry, so be prepared for that possibility. No matter what, stay calm and confident.

Elon Musk's Response to Injury Rate Powerful Lesson in Empathy, High EQ

When Tesla came under fire for an injury rate that is 30% higher than the industry average, he responded with a powerful e-mail to all employees that insisted every single injury get reported directly to him from now on. He insisted that managers take responsibility for keeping their charges safe. 

It was a beautiful example of a CEO inspiring trust and confidence at every level of an enterprise, and making it his business to know what's really going on down on the factory floor where so much of a company's fate rests.

Musk's response also showed great emotional intelligence (also called EQ) in an era when that's not always viewed as a key competency or strength. However, there is mounting support among corporate recruiters and executive coaches that EQ is sometimes more important than IQ.

Musk not only quashed a potentially long-running negative news story; he also turned it into an opportunity to rebuild loyalty and trust among employees.

And that takes high EQ.


'I Hope You Will Be Treated Unfairly, So You Come to Know the Value of Justice'

U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts gave one of the best graduation speeches I've ever heard when he spoke in June at his son's ninth-grade graduation ceremony from Cardigan Mountain School, an elite all-boys boarding school in New Hampshire.

He wished the teens ill luck, unfairness, betrayal, loneliness, failure and having others ignore them so that they can come to learn the value of random chance, justice, loyalty, friendship, success and having their voices heard.

What powerful words for young people in their formative years.


The Question We Should Be Asking Is: What Are You Willing to Struggle For?

A treehouse in Atlanta is Airbnb's most-wishlisted property in the world.

A treehouse in Atlanta is Airbnb's most-wishlisted property in the world.

Author, armchair philosopher and globetrotter Mark Manson wrote a beautiful column a few years ago that is just as timely today, prompted by the question: What do you want out of life?

The answer is stunningly simple.

What matters most to you?

How do you value your time and energy?

What are you willing to struggle for?

Most of us dabbled in several sports, activities or hobbies before we found one that took, one we stuck with despite the pain or sacrifice or failure along the road to learning and becoming expert (or at least proficient). We stayed with it because it fulfilled us. We decided the hard parts were worth it.

Entrepreneurs and small business owners encounter a lot of struggle as they try to make a go of things. Low pay or no pay. Exhaustion from road shows pitching their idea. Skepticism. Rejection from prospective investors. Enormous risk.

But they decided the struggle was worth it. 

Airbnb was founded by a couple of guys who couldn't afford to pay their rent, and decided to let people crash on an air mattress at their apartment for $80 a night. Lots of investors scoffed at their idea. Bookings were poor. They almost gave up.

Then they realized that better pictures might give people confidence in the idea of staying at a stranger's place. They went door-to-door in New York City to take better pictures of hundreds of listings. They pitched their idea to dozens more investors. Everyone said no.

Then Sequoia said yes, and made a $600,000 seed investment. Soon Airbnb raised a $7 million round, followed by a $112 million round.

In early 2017, Airbnb raised a $1 billion round that valued it at $31 billion.


The Humble No. 2 Pencil: Arbiter of Global Economy


Benj Miller, Founder and Creative Director of Syrup in Atlanta, narrates a delightful video about how the humble No. 2 pencil is the product of dozens of small businesses that are collectively arbiters of the global economy.


From the planters of forest land to the road crew that paves the streets the cedar trees travel on to be milled, to the graphite mined in Sri Lanka and mixed with clay from Georgia, to the rubber eraser that comes from Romania, where a South American businessman imports the raw material with help from the British government.

Then there's the little metal piece that clamps the eraser to the wooden shaft. It's called a ferrule (FUH-rule) and it's made from aluminum, zinc and copper -- all mined from different places around the world. 

All of these bits and pieces must be assembled from across the globe, with contributions from dozens of small and medium sized businesses, to make the ordinary and ubiquitous No. 2 pencil.

Want Happy Employees? Give Them Autonomy.

Great article in Quartz about giving employees autonomy, which leads to happiness, greater engagement and increased job satisfaction. A healthy balance between autonomy and structure is ideal.

Interesting stat: People are two and a half times more likely to take a job that gives them more autonomy than one that gives them influence and power.


Four Things That Set Successful CEOs Apart

Fascinating 10-year study by Harvard Business Review finds that successful CEOs share four common traits:

  • They are decisive, and make decisions quickly and with conviction
  • They get buy-in from employees and key stakeholders
  • They look for early signs of success or failure, and adapt or pivot speedily
  • They are reliable, and deliver results. That means they are judicious with what they promise, and strive to over-deliver.

The HBR study was based on 17,000 executive assessments by ghSMART, which studies career history, business results, behavioral patterns and emotional intelligence (EQ) in the C-suite of large companies ranging from publicly held Fortune 500s to privately held medium-sized firms and others backed by private equity.

Fun fact: Only 7% of high-performing CEOs graduated from an Ivy League university, and 8% didn't graduate from college at all.