Harmonizing Workplace Dynamics: The Transformative Power of Community Music-Making

By Nathan Bachofsky, M.Ed.

Embracing community music-making offers a distinctive approach to nurturing a vibrant workplace culture. Beyond typical team-building activities, it fosters cohesion, boosts morale, and enhances well-being while reducing stress. This innovative approach also sparks creativity, fortifies your organization’s image, and deepens community engagement. Supported by research, this unique initiative equips your workforce with essential skills for success, positioning your organization as a pioneer in fostering a harmonious and productive workplace environment. Let’s explore why your organization should consider tuning into the transformative power of music within the workplace.

1. Enhanced Team Cohesion and Morale

Engaging in community music-making fosters a strong sense of team spirit and camaraderie among employees, breaking down barriers and facilitating better communication. A study by Clift and Hancox (2010) on choir singing revealed that group music activities significantly improve team cohesion and morale, enhancing workplace harmony and productivity.

2. Boosted Employee Well-being and Stress Reduction

Music activities offer a creative stress outlet and enhance well-being, essential for reducing workplace burnout. Coulton et al. (2015) found that community singing had a positive impact on mental health and stress reduction, highlighting its potential as a low-cost, accessible intervention for improving employee well-being.

3. Improved Creativity and Innovation

Music making stimulates creativity, crucial for innovation in the workplace. Hanna-Pladdy and Mackay (2011) demonstrated that musical activity enhances cognitive functions related to creativity and problem-solving, suggesting a direct link between music engagement and innovative thinking.

4. Positive Image and Community Engagement

Implementing music programs showcases a commitment to social responsibility, ultimately attracting and maintaining talent. Hargreaves, Miell, and MacDonald (2012) discuss how music initiatives can enhance corporate social responsibility efforts, attracting like-minded talent and customers.

5. Leadership Development and Team Building

Music making is an effective platform for leadership and team-building, promoting essential workplace skills. A study by Southgate and Roscigno (2009) on music education and leadership skills found that musical group activities improve leadership abilities and teamwork, directly applicable to professional settings.


Clift, S., & Hancox, G. (2010). The significant effects of choral singing on community cohesion and well-being. University of Music and Performing Arts, 22(3), 323-343.

Coulton, S., Clift, S., Skingley, A., & Rodriguez, J. (2015). The effect of community group singing on mental health: A systematic review. Journal of Mental Health, 24(1), 40-53.

Hanna-Pladdy, B., & Mackay, A. (2011). The impact of sustained engagement in musical activities on cognitive functions in older adults. Age and Ageing, 40(4), 478-486.

Hargreaves, D.J., Miell, D.E., & MacDonald, R.A.R. (2012). Music and social bonding: Benefits of group music activities in building social cohesion. Social Psychology of Music, 42(2), 191-206.

Southgate, D.E., & Roscigno, V.J. (2009). The impact of music on childhood and adolescent achievement. Social Science Quarterly, 90(1), 4-21.

Unlocking Harmony: The Transformative Benefits of Workplace Mediation

By Nathan Bachofsky, M.Ed.

In the dynamic landscape of today’s workplaces, conflicts are inevitable. Whether it’s a clash of personalities, disputes over responsibilities, or miscommunication, workplace tensions can adversely affect employee morale and hinder productivity. This is where the role of a workplace mediator becomes pivotal. In this blog post, we’ll explore the transformative benefits of bringing in a workplace mediator to foster a harmonious and productive work environment.

  1. Early Conflict Resolution

One of the primary advantages of involving a workplace mediator is the ability to address conflicts at their earliest stages. Mediators are skilled in identifying and resolving issues before they escalate into more significant problems. By nipping conflicts in the bud, organizations can save valuable time and resources that would otherwise be spent on prolonged disputes.

  1. Improved Communication

Workplace mediators excel in facilitating open and effective communication between parties in conflict. They create a safe space for individuals to express their concerns, ensuring that all perspectives are heard and understood. Improved communication is a cornerstone for building stronger team relationships and preventing future conflicts.

  1. Preservation of Relationships

Unlike adversarial approaches, workplace mediation focuses on collaboration and finding mutually agreeable solutions. Mediators work towards preserving relationships rather than perpetuating a win-lose scenario. This approach fosters a positive and cooperative atmosphere, allowing employees to continue working together harmoniously.

  1. Cost-Effective Conflict Resolution

Litigation and legal battles can be exorbitantly expensive for organizations. Workplace mediation offers a cost-effective alternative, saving companies substantial legal fees and resources. Resolving conflicts through mediation is often quicker and more economical, contributing to the financial well-being of the organization.

  1. Increased Employee Satisfaction

When employees witness proactive conflict resolution measures being taken, it boosts their confidence in the organization’s commitment to a healthy work environment. Mediation empowers employees by involving them in the resolution process, leading to increased job satisfaction and a positive workplace culture.

  1. Tailored Solutions

Workplace mediators understand that every conflict is unique. They tailor solutions to the specific needs and dynamics of the individuals involved. This personalized approach ensures that resolutions are not one-size-fits-all but rather crafted to address the intricacies of each situation.

  1. Enhanced Productivity

By resolving conflicts swiftly and effectively, workplace mediation contributes to enhanced overall productivity. Employees can focus on their tasks without the distraction of ongoing disputes, leading to improved workflow and a more efficient workplace.

The benefits of bringing in a workplace mediator extend far beyond conflict resolution. Mediation fosters a culture of open communication, collaboration, and understanding, ultimately creating a workplace where employees thrive. By investing in mediation services, organizations not only save costs but also lay the foundation for a harmonious and productive work environment. The transformative power of workplace mediation is a strategic choice that paves the way for long-term success. If you’d like more information regarding our mediation services, reach out to Nathan Bachofsky (nbachofsky@thunderbirdleadership.com).

Your Team May Need a “Reset”: Recognizing the Need for Change

By Nathan Bachofsky, M.Ed.

In the ever-evolving landscape of business and project management, it’s crucial for teams to adapt and grow continuously. Sometimes, however, even the most cohesive and high-performing teams can hit a roadblock or face challenges that necessitate a “reset.” A team reset is not about starting from scratch but rather about recalibrating and revitalizing the team’s dynamics, goals, and strategies. In this blog post, we’ll explore some common signs that indicate your team may be in need of a reset.

New Team Members or Team Growth

Sign: An influx of new team members or significant team growth.

Reason: Team dynamics can shift dramatically when new members join the group. Established routines and communication patterns may no longer be effective. Integrating new team members seamlessly can be challenging, and it may be necessary to reset team expectations, roles, and goals to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Our Tbird Approach: Our experienced, certified facilitators create teaming workshops to clarify roles, image, expectations, responsibilities, and more. Participants learns about their personal and colleague’s DiSC work styles and how to use it to improve communication and understanding. 

New Challenges on the Horizon

Sign: The team faces new, complex challenges or tasks.

Reason: As your organization grows, it’s likely to encounter more intricate problems that require fresh perspectives and strategies. If your team’s existing methods aren’t effective for tackling these challenges, a reset can help you brainstorm innovative solutions.

Our Tbird Approach: Our facilitators are artists at crafting action-planning workshops that not only tap into the collective wisdom of the entire group, but also support the organization in its implementation. 

The Need for Innovation

Sign: Stagnation in creative output or lack of innovative ideas.

Reason: Teams can become complacent, relying on tried-and-true methods that may no longer be effective. If you’re not seeing the creative spark or innovative solutions you once did, it’s time for a reset to reignite that passion for innovation.

Our Tbird Approach: An Innovation Summit made be just the initiative to bring the greater community together to collaborate on new possibilities. Our Creativity Workshop series may also jump start your organization’s creativity to think of new and innovative ways to address needs and challenges. 

Strengthening Team Dynamics

Sign: Erosion of trust, increased conflict, or reduced collaboration among team members.

Reason: Over time, team dynamics can deteriorate due to miscommunication, differing priorities, or unresolved conflicts. A reset can help rebuild trust and foster healthier relationships among team members.

Our Tbird Approach: Our teaming workshops and team retreats can help members to practice team-building activities, open communication where team members can voice concerns and find common ground. Mediation services can also be provided to help manage conflicts. 

Decline in Motivation and Productivity

Sign: A noticeable drop in team motivation and productivity levels.

Reason: When team members lose sight of their purpose or become disengaged, it can have a detrimental effect on productivity. A reset can reignite enthusiasm by revisiting the team’s mission, setting achievable goals, and offering support and recognition.

Our Tbird Approach: Organizational assessments help to identify successes and opportunities for growth. They include 1:1 interviews with leadership, focus groups, and staff surveys. 

Employee Burnout and High Turnover Rates

Sign: Increased instances of employee burnout or high turnover rates.

Reason: When team members are consistently overwhelmed or disengaged, it can lead to burnout and attrition. A reset can help identify and address the root causes of these issues.

Our Tbird Approach: In addition to all of the mentioned above, a Reflect, Rejuvenate & Thrive workshop can help your team focus on their own 

Recognizing the signs that your team may need a “reset” is the first step towards achieving greater efficiency, collaboration, and innovation. Teams that are willing to adapt and evolve in response to changing circumstances are more likely to achieve long-term success. Embrace the opportunity to reset your team’s dynamics and strategies, and watch as it grows stronger and more resilient in the face of challenges. Remember, a reset is not a setback; it’s a chance for your team to thrive in the ever-changing world of business.

To Develop Good Judgment…

Did you make any decisions for the new year? In our last blog Rory offered a reflective approach using four questions as a guide to help readers act to create a meaningful 2020. In thinking about decisions to act, I came across an interesting article about good judgment [1] by Sir Andrew Likierman. [2] The author and others contend that even though we may think we have all the information in the world, if we do not have ‘good judgment’, our decisions can be doomed.
Likierman offers this definition of judgment: the ability to combine personal qualities with relevant knowledge and experience to form options and make decisions. Judgment is at the “core of exemplary leadership” according to Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis in their book Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls [3]. They believe that judgment calls are the single marker of leadership.
To me, making a judgment as a process is clear, but the qualitative aspect of good judgment seems muddier, especially since the outcome of that judgment can often be seen as good or bad, depending on the viewer. I remember my father telling me that I obviously lacked good judgment when as a teenager I did something he didn’t like. . .  I missed my curfew because I had to find someone other than the boy I came with to the party (now inebriated) to drive me home. I thought my judgment was pretty good. He disagreed.
Likierman’s article, based on interviews with CEOs and leaders from a broad range of companies, lays out six fundamental leadership practices that are at the heart of good judgment: learning, trust, experience, detachment, options and delivery. He concludes each practice with suggestions for how to improve it.
As you review these practices and recommendations, I invite you use them as an assessment. How do they apply to you, to your organization or community group, perhaps your colleagues?

  • Is there a recent decision that did not turn out as you expected, in spite of your being as thoughtful and prepared as possible?
  • Are you struggling with how to create a culture where diverse opinions are truly sought and welcome?
  • Does your organization suffer from a bias for quick action rather than good judgment?
  • Could your hiring process benefit from a makeover?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us at 602-538-2548 or 602-615-1192. We have the skills and experience to assist you on your journey.

  1. Learning: Listen attentively, read critically

Good listening is at the core of every book and article I’ve ever read about leadership. I’m sure you too can state all the reasons why attentive listening is so important. Likierman makes the point that the listener is really mining for information. Smart leaders, he says, demand quality, press for it even, in the information they receive. Volume isn’t important, in fact it’s distracting in our era of information overload. Is it well-reasoned and clearly explained, are conclusions obvious? He also points out our human tendency to take the written word at face value, rather than consider it with a healthy dose of skepticism.
How to improve listening and reading:

  • Ask deep and thoughtful uncovering questions and consider body language to bring forth what isn’t said.
  • Look for gaps and discrepancies in what we’re learning.
  • Be aware of our own filters and biases. . . do we rely on one point of view, one news or business news source only? Do we know what makes us defensive and likely to reject something uncomfortable?
  1. Trust: Seek diversity, not validation

Examples abound of executives and leaders who insulate themselves by choosing to be surrounded by like-minded people. It is not uncommon for those companies to experience large scale failures, if they are big enough, and failure to thrive if they are small. Though it is comfortable to be with people who share the same world view, that need for comfort should be saved for after hours. It is only in integrating diverse perspectives that we will have access to all the information needed for good judgment.
How to enhance a culture for broader points of view:

  • Cultivate sources of trusted advice.
  • Find people who will tell you what you need to know, not what you want to hear.
  • Seek out different points of view. Ask for them, don’t wait for someone to timidly come forth because they see things differently than you.
  • Learn to evaluate the process of someone’s judgment. Try to discover how someone arrives at a decision and action as well as a project’s outcomes.
  1. Experience: Make it relevant but not narrow

There is much to be said for hiring someone who has a lot of experience in your industry, but make sure there is breadth to it as well as depth. Someone who has years of experience in a fairly narrow niche, for example, out-patient surgery, may find themselves making “easy” judgments out of habit, or overconfidence or familiarity.
How to improve the experience factor:

  • Evaluate your own past experiences honestly in making good and bad judgments. Review those situations to see what else you can learn.
  • Recruit a smart friend who can look over your shoulder and be a neutral critic.
  • Work to expand the breadth of your own experience.
  1. Detachment: Identify, then challenge biases

The skill of detachment is a difficult one to master because it requires us to set our egos aside and remove any personal connection to a particular outcome. Acting with detachment is easier if we are able to understand and address our own biases.
Some ways to improve detachment:

  • Understand, clarify and accept points of view different from your own.
  • Try out role plays and simulations, letting people take on different perspectives to see what they learn.
  • Support leadership development programs; they broaden exposure to leaders with different thinking, experiences and points of view.
  • Assume that mistakes will occur. Plan for them.
  1. Options: Question the solution set offered

The author makes the point that even though you might be offered two options to choose from, often as not there are more options that haven’t even been considered. There are always more. Not taking action is an option as well as delaying a decision. It is important to explore as many options as possible and try to surface the unintended consequences of each.
Improve your options:

  • Press for clarity on poorly presented information, challenge it if information is missing.
  • Be aware of two risks associated with novel solutions – stress and overconfidence – and mitigate them if possible through piloting one or two before full implementation.
  • Understand that people often have personal stakes in an outcome. Try to figure that out and factor in others’ biases.
  • Be aware of the rules and the ethics that will bound a good judgment.
  1. Delivery: Factor in the feasibility of execution

You can make all the right choices but lose out if you don’t exercise judgment in how and by whom those decisions will be carried out. What are the risks of half-hearted or poorly thought out implementation plans? Likierman points out that people with flair, charisma, creativity and imagination may not be in the best position to deliver the results you seek.
Ways to improve on the good options:

  • Make sure the people you choose to implement have the type of experience that closely matches up with its context.
  • Seek out ideas from your team about what might cause a proposal to fail.
  • Do not let yourself be pressured by an arbitrary timeline if you don’t have the right implementers.

There is a lot to be learned about the science and art of leadership. If, as Tichy and Bennis claim, judgment calls are truly the single mark of a leader, looking for ways to turn our OK judgments into good ones is well worth the effort. If you made some new decisions for 2020, reviewing and following the points above could strengthen your results. . .  Good luck! And give us a call if you’d like to discuss your situation and how we can assist.
PLEASE NOTE: We are making some improvements to our website in February. Look for the return of our blog in March.
[1]https://hbr.org/2020/01/the-elements-of-good-judgment (accessed 1/14/20)
[2]Sir Andrew Likierman is a professor at London Business School and a director of Times Newspapers and the Beazley Group, both also in London. He has served as dean at LBS and is a former director of the Bank of England.
[3]Tichy, Noel and Bennis, Warren. 2007. Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls. Penguin Group.

Tip of the Month, November 2019 – Management Tips for Employees who Coast

Jill Bachman’s blog article last month addressed the idea of coasting at work from an employee perspective (click here to read).  She described healthy coasting as the need to take a breath as part of a work life cycle and compared it to problematic coasting as an avoidance strategy when the individual is unhappy, burned out, bored or dealing with work/personal issues.
As a manager, your role is to observe behaviors and intervene to attain organizational outcomes. How do you differentiate healthy from problematic coasting and how do you address coasting?
Let’s be clear that coasting is not the same as underperforming.  If you have an employee who is not fulfilling their work obligations, not meeting deadlines or completing assignments, or the quality is substandard, these things must be addressed within your company guidelines.
The question is more compelling when you see an employee who appears to be stepping back, not volunteering for new assignments or offering to help, perhaps appearing less engaged, enthusiastic or passionate about the work.
This is a great time to check in.
First of all, assess your own values. What is your belief about “coasting?”  Is it ever okay?  Does it fit with the company culture?  Start-ups rarely have space and time for coasting, but in organization life cycles there are different stages, as with employee life cycles.
One organizational life cycle paradigm describes four stages: start-up, growth, maturity and rebirth or decline.  Consider it the same way for employees.  Usually there is great enthusiasm from newly hired employees.  They remain actively engaged for the first two to three years, learning, volunteering, growing more valuable to the company.
Then, there is the “maturity” phase where they have mastered their position, understand the company, its values and direction and are doing solid to great work.  At this point, they have the ability to coast a little.  They are comfortable where they are.  Employee engagement studies, however, find that this time can be the beginning of an engagement decline.  Enthusiasm wanes and commitment lessens.
In an organization, this is the juncture where an organization reinvents itself or begins a decline into irrelevance and/or non-competitiveness. Organizations need to revisit their mission and unique position in the field, analyze external pressures and disruptors, and identify new directions. Where will they be in three to five years?
For employees, it is time to analyze where they are now and where they want to be in three to five years. This is the time, as their manager to have the following conversations.

  1. What is happening in their lives right now? If they have health issues, family concerns, a new baby or are in a graduate program, it might be understandable if they coast (perform well but not grow) for a limited amount of time. If you are invested in long-term retention, understand that there will be such times and support the employee through them.
  2. Where are they in their own career life cycle?
    • How long have they been with the company/organization? In their current job?  If it has been more than 2 – 3years, this is a time to discuss what they value in their work, what they have achieved and how they want to grow – going deeper in the current position.
    • Have they tried to advance but not succeeded? What do they need to move up?
      • More education, skills, experience?
      • Are there problems/deficits that they need to work on – addressing both hard and soft skills?
      • Is it possible in the current work environment? Not enough openings, culture or climate that prefers hiring at that level from outside?
      • If they do not move up, can you re-engage them in the current position or is it time to help them think about their next career move?
    • Are they close to retirement?
      • Are you assuming they do not want to learn or try new things? Are you dis-engaging them by not offering opportunities?
      • What are they interested in doing with the time they have left with the company?
      • How can the organization capitalize on their knowledge, skills and experience?
      • Are you concerned with their performance but don’t want to invest in what is required to change it? Are you just waiting it out until they retire? (Is this good for them, you, the organization?)
    • What is happening in the organizational culture that might be impacting their passion, enthusiasm and performance?
      • Mergers and acquisitions as well as major changes in policies and/or leadership are all known to reduce performance during the transition.
        • Recognize that this will occur for a period of time.
        • Use proven communication interventions to reduce the duration and impact.
          • Provide open and honest communication about what is occurring and why. Know you will have to repeat communication often to reassure folks.
          • Acknowledge personal impact both professionally and emotionally – what is happening in their day to day existence?
          • As a leader, be clear about what is going on, avoid cynicism and be patient with folks who are uncomfortable with change.
        • Toxic employees who are allowed to continue destructive behaviors result in demoralized, unmotivated employees.
          • Some organizations will keep these folks around if they are bringing in good money. It is important to assess how much the organization is losing because of their impact on other employees.  Look at turnover, time consuming avoidance measures and lack of productivity in others.
          • If you are hearing concerns from other employees, pay attention and do something. This is a place where bias can often show up so that complaints are not taken seriously. e.g. if it is two women who are having concerns, it suddenly becomes a “cat fight,” or employees are told they are grown-ups and need to handle it themselves.  When you disregard these concerns, you are making a statement about your organization’s cultural values.  Think about it.

In all circumstances, it is important to be clear about expectations.  Do employees understand what you consider meeting and/or exceeding expectations? Is it acceptable to just meet expectations? Is that coasting? Is there any value to exceeding expectations?  This can be monetary (bonuses), advancement or recognition.
I know that I prefer to work in an environment where everyone is excited, committed and passionate about their work, that people support each other and want to go the extra mile.  It adds meaning and satisfaction to my work life. I have had the privilege of working with teams that shared that energy.  And even then, we knew it was important to find time to take a breath, to step back, appreciate what we accomplished, and celebrate.  After that pause we felt ready to tackle the next question, where do we go from here?
To wrap up, remember the comparison to weight training.  We need time between sets to recover.  When we never let up, we risk injury to our bodies, our minds and our souls. We can do this in short spurts during the workday, through vacations and through occasional lower-demand times in our work lives. We can use these coasting times to rekindle our energy and strengthen our commitment.

Getting Unstuck!

We all have issues in our lives, professional and personal, that seem to just persist on and on and never get resolved.  How do we manage the “no-solution” situations?  What do they look like?

  • An employee who you like, who tries really hard, is not succeeding in their role.
  • A staffing problem that just doesn’t seem to resolve – resulting in overtaxing valued employees who have to fill in.
  • A process that gets stuck over and over again in the same place delaying necessary action.
  • A position that was fulfilling that has changed because of new leadership.

You’ve tried so many interventions! But nothing seems to work.  You are dissatisfied, folks around you are dissatisfied and yet the problem just won’t go away.
How do we approach these sticking points? My partner-in-blog, Jill Bachman, reflected, “think of getting stuck in the physical world, like lost on a hike, and the first thing to do is stop, stop the struggle, breathe and take stock.”  So, the first thing to do is to step back from the situation and reflect on what is going on.  We tend to do this on our commute, in the shower, doing physical labor (sweeping the front porch, gardening) or when we are away from the office at a concert, on vacation, on a hike.
Reflect on what is really going on.

  • How would you describe the situation?
  • What values and beliefs are at play?
  • What role do you have in sustaining the current “stuck” place?
  • What influence or decision-making power do you have?

Noushin Bayat, one of Thunderbird’s coaches, suggests separating fact from fiction – identifying what we know (observable facts) from the story we are creating about the situation (fiction, beliefs that may or may not be true) and challenging ourselves to consider other possible stories (other possible beliefs?).
For example, with the employee we like who tries really hard but does not appear to be making progress, what do I know?

  • I like the employee.
  • I care about the person as an individual.
  • They are trying.
  • We’ve tried to help.
  • They are not succeeding.

What values are in play?

  • Loyalty
  • Commitment
  • Supervisory responsibility and accountability
  • Organizational success
  • Others?

What role do I have in sustaining the situation? (How do these ideas relate to the fact/fiction dichotomy? What other ways of seeing things are there?)

  • Taking responsibility for their lack of success.
  • If I provided better direction, guidance or coaching…
  • If I advocated for the employee better…
  • Valuing loyalty and caring over organizational success. I don’t want to be heartless!
  • Believing things will get better time after time after time…
  • Not wanting to hurt this person that I like…
  • I am accepting substandard performance and hoping it will get better.

What decision-making power or influence do I have?

  • I can help the individual assess their own ability to be successful.
  • I need to be clear about expectations and goals for success.
  • I have the power to terminate employment.

So how do I decide I have tried hard enough, and they have tried hard enough? How do I know when it is time to act?  How could the following questions help?

  • What will happen if I continue doing what I am doing?
  • How will I know when it is time to act? (Chip and Dan Heath[1] describe this as establishing a trip-wire.) It can be a particular event that would have to happen – e.g. a specific failed project, or it could be a lack of progress by a certain date.  If nothing changes in three more months, I have to act.
  • What would I tell my best friend if they had this problem?
  • If I were leaving tomorrow and someone was taking my place, what would I advise them about this situation?
  • Are there possible solutions outside of the binary: continuing the way things are or termination?

What do you think the answers would be in the above situations?  What will happen if action isn’t taken?  What would you advise someone else to do?  Are there more solutions than the simple binary?
Some of us can do this analysis on our own.  Many of us work better with a thinking partner.  Who do you have in your world that you can be vulnerable with? Who will listen to you? Who will ask you the hard questions? Who is far enough away from the situation not to be stuck inside it?
In Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without[2], Tom Rath describes how important it is to have people in our lives who support us, encourage and motivate us and help us navigate decisions.  He references Gallup research that stresses the importance of having “a best friend at work.”  Having someone we trust, can confide in and be vulnerable with at work increases our engagement, satisfaction and success enormously. Rath identifies various roles friends play in our lives and emphasizes that no one person can do it all.  Our vital friends can be at work and at home, colleagues, friends, family, coaches, mentors and sponsors.
When we get stuck, it is not uncommon to turn inward instead of reaching out.  By being aware of our vital friends (what I consider my “kitchen cabinet), we have the human resources to help us get unstuck.
So, how do we get unstuck?

  • Step back and reflect
  • Ask yourself challenging questions
    • About your role in the situation
    • About what you would tell someone else in the same situation
  • Separate fact from fiction
  • Use a thinking partner

And first and foremost, recognize that you are stuck and need to get unstuck.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” – CG Jung
[1] Heath, Dan and Chip. (2013) Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. Currency, New York.
[2] Rath, Tom. (2006) Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without. Gallup Press.

Managing Up Is No Accident

From our inbox:
Dear Thunderbird Leadership Consulting,
My boss can be a difficult woman. She tells me one thing in a face to face meeting then changes her mind. I had geared myself up to support a new policy about time off and when she announced exactly the opposite in public I didn’t know how to react. I’m afraid I said something to my staff that made them think I couldn’t support her. What should I do?
Help! I can’t seem to satisfy my supervisor, no matter how hard I try. He has talked about the importance of having a comfortable workplace, but when I make a joke in a meeting, he shoots me a glance that says I shouldn’t have, and it was a clean joke! He asked for a report that took me a long time to pull together, and when it wasn’t on his desk in 2 days, he was all over my case about it. Then when he found me taking a break with the guys I used to work with, (I’m their boss now), he raised his eyebrows as if to say I shouldn’t be friendly with them anymore. We seem to be in agreement about what I need to be doing, and I am definitely on board with his goals. But things seem kind of tense a lot of the time. Any ideas?

I come to work every day dreading it. I am terrified of my boss. I have tried being nice, asking him how I can do my job better, taking classes, asking my co-workers for advice. We are all afraid. I have had this job for almost a year, and I dread my annual review. . . if I ever get one! I really need this job as my position is very specialized, and I would have to make a significant move to get a comparable one.

Hello, I just learned about managing up in a leadership class, and someone suggested that you can use managing up when things are going well, instead of thinking just about fit and style. Here are 2 positive situations. One of my employees came up with a brilliant idea for tracking a problem that has plagued our department for the past 2 years. My boss received an award for outstanding financial performance at the regional level. I have said thank you, and congratulations to the individuals, but as a good manager, should I be doing something more?
These issues all have a common theme, that of managing up, a concept that shows up in business advice a lot these days. It has a number of definitions, and one that I particularly like is Mary Abbajay’s . . . “Managing up is about consciously and deliberately developing and maintaining effective relationships with supervisors, bosses and other people above you in the chain of command.”[1] Managing up is a set of familiar skills that most of us will need at one time or other in our careers, because most of us have someone we report to. . . even CEOs have Boards of Directors or shareholders to consider. The managing up skills require us to be great followers, and in so doing, we also develop our leader muscles. But there can be a downside when managing up is misunderstood or misapplied. “When the practice of managing up gets confused with promotion of self-interest, brown-nosing, manipulation, the gymnastics of corporate climbing, or other mind games, a good theory rapidly becomes twisted resulting in a false and dangerous reality.”[2] The bottom line is that managing up involves straightforward approaches, based on assessment and intention, rather than subtle manipulation. Managing up helps you be more effective in your work. The question is, if your boss asked you what you are doing differently in your approach with her, could you comfortably tell her how you are managing up? If the answer is yes, you are good.
So how does someone manage up appropriately? Some would argue that managing up is nothing different from ‘doing your job’. I call that the ‘what’ of your work . . . what your job description says. But to be most effective, most satisfying and most likely to result in you staying in the job as long as you want, you need to consider the ‘how’ of your work. . . especially how you interact with people; peers, your staff, customers, and your boss. Rare in the workplace is the perfectly synchronized boss and subordinate relationship. Most of the time there are glitches and rubs, and sometimes there are extremely difficult bosses and situations. Most of us have relationships in the vast middle.
In order to manage up better, you need a roadmap. According to Abbajay, you only have 3 choices when managing up; 1) change your boss (never gonna happen, she says), 2) leave your job (may be necessary in extreme cases), and 3) you guessed it, change YOUR approach. Changing your approach may feel unfair at times, or frustrating, but it’s the only way to make a difference, AND you will likely learn a lot in the process. So, take it as a personal growth and leadership challenge.
The first thing to consider is style. What is your boss’s style, strengths and weakness, and what are yours? How do these styles fit together, and what are the natural, BUILT-IN, conflict spots? What are your boss’s hot buttons? In her book, Abbajay identifies 4 workplace personalities (Energizer, Advancer, Harmonizer and Evaluator), and ten difficult boss styles, (Micromanager, Narcissist, Impulsive, etc) with proven strategies to manage up to them. There are a number of good behavioral style assessments (DiSC, Myers-Briggs, etc) available, and your organization may use one of them. If so, take advantage of the information it provides to guide your interactions for the best possible outcome.
Rather than go into detail on a specific assessment method here, consider for example, whether you and your boss are introverts, extroverts, or both. We know that, in general, introverts move at a slower pace, prefer a quieter environment and need alone process time. At the opposite end, extroverts move quickly, prefer a busy and energetic environment, and often process in a talking out loud manner with others. If you work with an extroverted boss, you need to account for pace. . . when does she need the report? Can you lump your project related questions into one meeting? Does your boss know your timeline for getting the report into him on time? If your supervisor is an introvert, give him a draft report first with time to think and respond. Don’t expect to drop in and socialize. And if you and your boss are the same on the introvert-extrovert (I-E) scale, beware of the false sense of security that a possibly easier relationship brings. I-I may not move quickly enough for a project, and E-E may have task completion problems.
Here are a few more general principles to help you manage up successfully.
Communicate. Communicate some more. Tell your boss where you are on the project before she asks about it.Take the initiative to find out when and how your supervisor wants reports, feedback, information, updates. . . is time of day important to them? What about method? A paper trail of emails, texts? Phone call, face to face? Don’t assume that just because she hasn’t asked you for something, that it is not due. It’s always better to be early than late with a report.
Honor your boss’s time. This goes for all boss types. And if you are a chatty, conversational type, take steps to reduce your wordiness. Figure out the main point first. . . Use bullet points, and separate actionable items from background information in written formats.
Provide solutions, not problems. This is not to say that you should never bring a problem, but focusing on what you think it will take to fix the problem brings a lot of value to your boss. Rather than making your problem his, you become partners in a solution. This approach directs the conversation to a higher level, for example, anticipating together what will happen if option A is followed instead of option B.
Never let your boss get blindsided. If you are aware of factors that could affect your timing on a project budget, for example, let your boss know that as soon as you can, NOT when the budget is due.
And finally, NEVER go over the boss’s head or behind his back unless your project is on the line, and there is an urgent problem that continues to be ignored, or the boss is doing something illegal, has a serious illness, (including mental illness, substance abuse) or is doing something that could result in a lawsuit. [3] Hopefully none of our readers has a situation like this.
And now, back to our inbox.
Donna, how you support your boss in front of others is a crucial part of managing up. If you disagree with your boss, never say it in public. Bring it to the boss first, respectfully, and let them know of your objections. Then if the disagreement is not at the level of making you quit, keep your thoughts to yourself. Or share with an objective outsider, such as a coach. You could consider saying something to your staff about your surprise at the policy, and your willingness to follow it. Something like this: “I was thinking about the policy discussion at the meeting yesterday, and I may have given you a wrong impression. I know I was surprised, but I am on board with it, and am supportive of the boss.” Then no more discussion. . . the less said the better.
Andy, there’s a lot to comment on in your note. The first thing is to evaluate how well you are matching your work style to your boss’s style. Is it possible he takes a more formal approach, and you a more casual one? Do you know how he wants information from you? Have you made a meeting to discuss how the two of you can work together in the smoothest way? Does he know that you are totally on board with his goals? Finally, consider asking him what he thought about you taking a break with your staff. . . don’t ever assume, but take steps to understand his perspective and clarify where he is coming from.
Jennifer, you made a great point. Managing up is not just for difficult situations, but for celebrations as well. As a middle manager, one of your roles is to promote the actions of one level to the other, because you are all working together to advance your organization and its mission. Do your staff know about your boss’s award? Is there an opportunity to have both your staff and your boss together to talk about the award? And, how about recognizing your employee in front of your boss about the fine work he did with the tracking system?
Jackie, what are your specific issues with your boss? How does he terrify you? Do you know what is motivating this behavior, why he is acting the way he is? What managing up principles have you tried, in particular, flexing your style to accommodate his?  Working with more difficult bosses is certainly a challenge, but your situation suggests that some more time, and more intentional actions on your part could be worth it.
Managing up has limits, however, especially when your sense of integrity and values are threatened. Sometimes leaving a situation is the best solution. Working with a boss who creates a toxic workplace is full of problems. No one wants to walk on eggshells and wonder how they will be received. It is very stressful, not to mention unproductive, to be in a position where you can’t predict from one day to the next if your boss is going to be agitated, friendly, upset, or moody. You may find that a move is a great new start for you, or work at a different level or role has more benefits than you first thought. The bottom line question is this: what can you live with, and feel good about? Only you can answer this question for yourself. Carrying the burden of stress has a big and negative impact on our health, and, life is short. Good luck!
[1] Abbajay, M. 2018. Managing Up: how to move up, win at work, and succeed with any type of boss.1.Wiley.
[2] Wyatt, M. 2012. “My Advice on Managing Up: Don’t.” forbes.com Accessed online, 2/6/2019.
[3] Turk, W. 2007. The Art of Managing Up. Defense AT&L. Accessed online 2/5/2019. www.uthscsa.edu.

Leading intentionally – a life-long learning process

Guest contributor – Dr. Jan Gehler
Dr. Jan Gehler retired from the Presidency of Scottsdale Community College in August of this year.  Thunderbird Leadership has been privileged to work and collaborate with her during her tenure and asked her to share her reflections on the work of leadership as she moves on to the next chapter of her life.
Planning for and executing a process for individual and team development requires a belief in the importance of life-long learning. A successful executive understands – and models – learning as a basic skill.  As educators we continually affirm the importance of such learning for our students and staff, but sadly we often ‘don’t get around to it for ourselves,’ and by extension for our leadership team . The higher the level of position we hold, the more confidence we gain, the easier it is to eschew formal learning or the wisdom of others. As in every other area of leadership, we must ‘model the way.’
Within a leader’s ‘life-long-learning’ curriculum is the task of becoming self-aware.  When we ARE self-aware, we constantly assess our thoughts and actions against the audience, the environment, the issues. Where do we need to step up and assert, where do we need to hold back, listen, trust others and wait? For some, this ‘sense’ of how we best lead is instinctive; for others, it must be learned, and yet for others, it’s a combination of learning to ‘trust’ one’s gut, coupled with the skills and understanding gained through experience, through formal and informal learning. It can be difficult, amid the noise of the moment and the competing ‘styles’ that give way to conflicting opinions and direction, to pick up the ‘cues’ for best action or decisions. The practice that comes with formal and informal learning can make the path through tough decisions, if not easier, at least simpler and more familiar.
Over many years as an education administrator, I’ve come to know myself pretty well. I am clear about the source of the values, habits and practices that I learned from my family of origin. I am a classic middle child, driven instinctively to find peace and balance. I have also learned that I am able to work inductively and deductively; most people have strengths in one direction. I can work both ways, and I often take the time to do that when considering important decisions or trying to solve complex problems; my approach can frustrate others who think more linearly. I came to this awareness over years spent in learning about myself, about what constitutes effective leadership, how to build and support an exceptional leadership team, i.e. through life-long learning.
Recognizing my own ‘needs and style,’ the profiles of my leadership team, the needs of the institution, the political environment, etc. there are several standard thinking processes that I’ve employed. If I have any advice for up-coming leaders, it would include:

  1. devote time, energy and resources to individual and team development;
  2. take time individually and as a team to ask “what if” questions, to explore all options and creative, if not crazy ideas;
  3. examine every decision, solution, proposal by viewing it through a series of lenses, asking yourself and your team ‘are there implications for HR, for IT, for PR, for budget, for other divisions, in this decision, this strategy?’;
  4. pause long enough to consider the generational question, i.e. what are the second and third waves of effect of this decision? Always consider the PR implications for the students, the faculty, the institution, the community, your partners, etc. Think this through yourself and ask your team to discuss their answers openly.

I am a high “S” (using the DiSC profiles) which means I take the time I need to think through these questions. I tend to think through the ‘worst case’ and then determine if I/we can live with that; if so or if we can mitigate the challenges, then presto, we move forward. Needless-to-say my “D” and “I” (action-oriented) colleagues can grow weary of my style. But over the years, they have taught me to move more quickly, as I have taught them to move more thoughtfully (for the longer term). We have learned together how best to lead together and found executive team development to be an invaluable tool.
When it is well done, executive team development provides individuals with new insights about their own skills, their own knowledge (what they know and what they need to learn) and as important, perspective/attitude. How do you think of your role as an administrator among other administrators? Back to the lenses!  Your role is not unilateral. It requires seeing from all perspectives. It is stewardship. You have affirmed by taking the position to do as much as you can to help the organization achieve its mission. Individual and team development is an essential strategy to achieve that mission.
The group work is uncomfortable by design – we are called to dig deep and share; remember the old group development idea? – forming, storming, norming, performing.  We have gone through that trajectory – AND it has to happen every time the constellation changes.
Frankly, it is fun to learn and grow together.  It is fun to have discoveries of what we are and aren’t doing.  A good facilitator will call us on our stuff – to have moments, if we are paying attention, that increase self-awareness. I don’t know an administrator who doesn’t need that to avoid being blinded by our ego, our title and our successes.
– Dr. Jan Gehler

The Resilient Nurse Leader Coaching Series: An Interview with Amy Steinbinder

The healthcare industry continues to be faced with so many interacting challenges: rising costs, unstable funding, sustaining an adequate, engaged and experienced workforce, creating a positive patient experience, ensuring high reliability and implementing innovation. Thunderbird Leadership’s Managing Partner, Amy Steinbinder, PhD, RN, NE-BC, agreed to tell us about her work supporting nurse leaders during these turbulent times.  Amy describes it this way, “demands within the nursing profession and within the healthcare industry are constantly in whitewater.  All the rapids are a 10 right now.”
Amy asked herself, “How do you maintain your balance and sense of self when things are literally swirling all around you?” And her answer was to develop the Resilient Nurse Leader Coaching Series. “I’d like to be able to assist people to strengthen their own leadership and resiliency – with the goal of personal and professional resilience while achieving career aspirations.”
Why only nurse leaders, why not others in the health care profession?
The Resilient Nurse Leader Coaching Series is focused and targeted because nurse leaders have a tremendous amount of expertise and operational influence in directing patient care delivery. At the same time, there is this growing level of burnout among nurses. The Resilient Nurse Leader Coaching Series supports nurse leaders who then support the thousands of nurses who impact hundreds of thousands of patients every day!”
Amy described a current client who is dealing with the complexity of implementing new technologies and adding building locations while still sustaining high reliability patient care, getting people paid and adapting to continuous innovation and change.  She said, “leaders are not only stretched thin but on a stretching rack – pulled in so many directions. How do they maintain their own core strength so they can be effective in their personal and professional lives?”
What does the Resilient Nurse Leader Coaching Series offer?
The Resilient Nurse Leader Coaching Series offers individual coaching sessions to help Nurse Leaders improve their effectiveness while maintaining personal balance.

  • Coaching will explore executive nurse competencies “to help nurse leaders identify where they are and where they want to be to be effective.”
  • Coaching is an iterative process of learning, applying and reflecting.
  • The process will use a variety of modalities to tap inner wisdom and creativity to gain mastery of the competencies to support the leader’s own leadership style.
  • Leaders will come away with new ideas and defined strategies that they can implement immediately.

What does the coaching look like?

  • Nurse leaders participate in six individual coaching sessions over three months.
  • Sessions are held every two weeks.
  • The first session is 90 minutes and subsequent sessions are 60 minutes.
  • Sessions explore the values that drive the leader’s work and provide the motivation to keep on pressing forward.

“I want to help people identify what they value most in their professional lives, what they want their legacy to be, what they want career wise.” 
What I hear you saying is that for nurse leaders, the coaching time is critically important to ensure clarity of mind, clarity of direction, and strength to keep moving forward.
Amy shared a note she received from a nurse leader she coaches: “Amy, you have no idea how helpful this is and how much I look forward to our time together.”
Tell us about the competencies? Why focus on these?
“These competencies came from the literature.”  In 2004, the Healthcare Leadership Alliance developed Nurse Executive Competencies that are considered foundational for today’s nurse leaders. They have been revisited and are still relevant.[1]
In 2016, Amy and a small group of content experts[2] convened to identify which of all the competencies would be most impactful for a nurse leader over a career in today’s and tomorrow’s healthcare environment. Their combined experience as Nursing Executives, CEO’s, Chief Integration Officers, COO’s and consultants to large scale organizational change provided them with inside and outside perspectives on the future of healthcare leadership. They identified five competencies they thought were most critical.
Amy briefly described the five competencies.
Resilience — The ability to maintain energy, focus and perspective during high stress, situational ambiguity and insurmountable challenges.

“Yes! the ability to maintain energy, focus and perspective no matter what is going on! The ability to learn quickly and recover quickly from things that go wrong – because they do, and they will.”

Advocacy — The ability to influence, champion, articulate, inspire, and enlist others to do the right thing at all levels.

“…Not just for patients and staff, but for the providers in the organization and the organization itself; really ensuring that the nurse leader is doing the right things for all of these constituencies.  They have to have in depth knowledge of so many disciplines beyond just clinical practice.”

Engagement — The ability to actively apply values of caring and respect, along with skills of communicating warmth and genuine interest in others, to promote trust with individuals and teams.

Leading engagement has become critically important for day to day results.  It is easy for any of us to lose our way.  How do we keep people energized and excited no matter how hard the work is? How do we promote and build trust, appealing to both the heart and head?

Executive Presence – The ability to engage, connect and influence others.

Organizations are experiencing so much change and so many people are involved.  How does a nurse leader establish her own presence in assisting people to becoming engaged? As a leader, how do you stay calm under pressure, maintain curiosity and remain optimistic?

Minding the Gap — The ability to recognize and attend to the dynamic tension between innovation and the untested with high reliability and a preoccupation with failure.

The most interesting one for me is “minding the gap.”  In every organization there is so much that is occurring, so much is untested. How do you balance the untested, the innovation, at the same time as we focus on high reliability? This requires being aware of what can fail, what failure looks like and watching for early warning signs, subtle flags that alert you to potential failure. So individual teams and organizations can respond quickly and move forward.

 Nurse leaders need to be asking questions – such as if we failed in this project, what would have had to happen…so you can back it up – to look at what we need to be paying attention to; having agreement on what we would do, how we would address red flags if they emerged. This does not mean we think we are going to fail, but we are preoccupied with what could go wrong – so we can be timely in response…going back to resilience so you can learn and recover quickly.

What do you bring to the coaching experience?
I am a Certified Executive Coach and Integrated Health Coach with over 30 years of healthcare leadership experience including experience conducting workshops and facilitating individual and group learning to achieve personal and organizational results.
Why is this so important to you?
The biggest reason is that healthcare is in crisis. It impacts all of us. We are all on either side of the healthcare divide…as providers and as patients at any one time. 
How can people learn more about the series?
Click here to visit The Resilient Nurse Leader page at Thunderbird Leadership Consulting.
[1] American Organization of Nurse Executives. (2015). AONE Nurse Executive Competencies. Chicago, IL: Author. Accessed at: www.aone.org
Accessible at: http://www.aone.org/resources/nurse-leader-competencies.shtml
Stefl, M, Common Competencies for All Healthcare Managers: The Healthcare Leadership Alliance Model. Journal of Healthcare Management. November/December 2008: 360-374.
Gerardi D, Using Coaches and Mentors to Develop Resilient Nurse Leaders in Complex Environments. Voice of Nursing Leadership. July, 2017: 8-12.
Waxman KT, Roussel L, Herrin-Griffith D, D’Alfonso J, The AONE Nurse Executive Competencies: 12 Years Later. Nurse Leader. April, 2017: 120-126.
[2] Dr. Kathy Scott, RN PhD, FACHE, Colleen Hallberg, RN MSN, Amy Steinbinder RN, PhD, NE-BC in consultation with expert colleagues across the country.

Power Tools at Work

I am passionate about creating fabulous work environments; ones that are highly productive, mission-focused, energizing, inclusive and innovative. What words would you add to that list?
We spend so much of our waking hours at work, shouldn’t it be a place that energizes us instead of drains us? I don’t mind going home from work fatigued from the mental and physical work, but I do question the value of going home drained from frustrating, demoralizing and discounting experiences.
As I was driving to a session on DiSC™ this morning, I thought about how DiSC™ can help to create that environment. (The DiSC profile, published by Wiley, is a non-judgmental tool used for discussion of people’s behavioral differences.) We usually think about DiSC™ or personality-type assessments as tools to help us get along better with our colleagues, but this morning I started thinking about how they can be so much more. . . about how they can actually become POWER TOOLS.
When we use DiSC™ or other assessments in a deeper way, we have the ability to influence the organizational culture to one that truly values diversity, and honors and celebrates differences as essential to an effective workplace that promotes quality work, engagement, high productivity and innovation.
From my work on creating inclusive cultures, I have focused on the following key elements; empathy, perspective taking, communication and conflict management across differences. People who are culturally competent seek to understand another’s world view and recognize that the way they see the world is not the only way to see the world. (Perspective Taking) They care about another’s experience of the world. (Empathy) They recognize that communication is not just about what is sent, but what is received and strive to find practices that ensure effective outcomes. (Communication) And they recognize that tensions are produced through misunderstood communication, differences in values, differences in perspectives, priorities, etc. The ability to work together to understand and resolve these differences provides opportunities for growth, innovation and connection. (Conflict Management)
When we dig deeper into DiSC™ or other assessments, we can see that they provide a training platform for important organizational growth. As people learn about the different styles or types, they recognize that other people do not see the world the way they do. As they listen to other people explaining their perspectives, they begin to develop empathy for the other. As they discuss strategies to work with people from different styles or types, they begin to strengthen their communication skills, and finally, when they see differences as potential for growth, innovation and connection, they reframe their view of conflict.
This requires using DiSC™ or your preferred assessment as an ongoing part of your culture rather than the once- a-year-ain’t-it-interesting-team-building activity at the annual retreat. It means:

  • Orienting all new employees to your assessment, how and why it is used
  • Posting the assessment results permanently to remind people of the assessment and the diversity of results
  • Recognizing the dominant style/type culture of the organization and what that means for employees, customers and the business itself
  • Providing strategies for ensuring non-dominant styles/types are needed, valued and included. This can include:
  1. Identifying styles of all participants in work groups and discussing how this will impact the way you work
  2. Delegating roles to capitalize on strengths and/or to strengthen areas of challenge (intentionally and mindfully)
  3. Leaders running meetings to ensure all voices are heard – not just the loudest
  4. Noticing gaps in your organization – and recognizing if that might be a problem – and if so, how do you fix it.

What happens when people’s styles and strengths are recognized and accommodated? People feel valued and engaged. They contribute more, they stretch more, resulting in higher productivity and performance.
When people feel valued and contribute, the organization benefits from new ideas as well as identifying problems and risks earlier. These behaviors help create high performing, innovative organizations, and interestingly, these cultural behaviors are also noted in the most inclusive organizations.
These same strategies that honor the information revealed from DiSC™ or other assessment styles, can be used to honor differences in age, experience, race and ethnicity, culture, gender, sexual orientation, discipline. We can broaden our skills to value what people bring to the table rather than their job title, role or social identity.
If I can learn to appreciate your different way of thinking based on your assessment style, it might just be possible for me to appreciate your way of seeing the world through your other lenses. I might take time and ask more questions to understand your point of view. I might adapt my style to better communicate with you. And then, I can use those same skills to address some of those harder identities where the “baggage” of history has made those connections harder to resolve. I might react less quickly, reach out more for understanding, take time to explain my perspective and understand yours, and discover new possibilities.
And yes, my session went really well this morning. The management team explored how they can use DiSC™ more dynamically to improve performance and morale. They considered their own style strengths and some of the areas they could address to be more effective with their teams, and with each other. It was a wonderful morning. . . and I came home energized and excited about their future together.
Contact info@thunderbirdleadership.com if you want more information about DiSC™ or other facilitation work we can provide.
Resources for more information
Only Skin Deep – Reassessing the Case for Diversity, 2011
Forbringer, Louis R. (2002) Overview of the Gallup Organization’s Q-12 Survey, O.E. Solutions.
Wiseman, Liz and McKeown, Greg. (2010) Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. New York: Harper Collins.