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How to Recover from a Derailment


Daniel Goleman, the father of Emotional Intelligence coined it best. An Amygdala Hijack – the phenomenon is also known as ‘being thrown under the bus.’ Unfortunately it is something we have all experienced in our lives at one point in time or another. Sometimes we even cause them for others inadvertently, and even some purposely.

The gift of awareness about this condition can save you from a lot of unfortunate pain, discomfort, poor choices and the wrath of the aftermath. It is actually the flight or flight response that is triggered when the amygdala (a mall almond shaped part of the brain) is triggered by some surprise attack, or feedback we were not expecting. It is a defense mechanism certainly. You can feel your blood pressure rise, your face is flush, stress in your shoulders, pit in your stomach all of the above or a combination.

When I was at Georgetown coaching school, we learned that it takes 18 minutes to recover for an amygdala hijack. I was introduced to this concept and then it actually happened to me a short time later by an unsuspecting family member. What happens is our brain sort of freezes during this process. We cannot think as rationally and logically as our brain attempts to recover, and ponder the proverbial fight or flight syndrome. Yet we often hang in there at that staff meeting, or performance review session, struggling to stay in the game, but perhaps saying something incriminating, or not representative of our normal intellectual baseline.

So when it happened to me, I literally timed the phenomenon.

I took a pause, hung up the phone in order to collect myself. I breathed deeply. (Another dumb thing we humans do under stress is to stop breathing, or at least minimize it through short shallow breaths.) Guess what people, our brains need oxygen to function optimally! So I breathed, and breathed some more. I finally started to feel ‘normal’ again and rational thought processes returned. I looked at the clock and by golly 18 minutes had passed.

I taught this concept to hundreds of managers at a DC based health care system during performance management training. It was shared in the context of giving difficult feedback and that sometime the employee is not ready to receive that feedback , disagrees with it, has a blind spot about the skill gap, and has a Amygdala Hijack.

I suggested they don’t force the receiver to stay just to get the conversation over with, but to take a pause, let them get a drink of water, take a walk, give them time to breathe so they can serve themselves well by being able to ask questions and show up less defensive. Now this doesn’t work for everyone, you may still get the anger, the tears, the apathy and an array of other emotional responses, but you will increase the likelihood of a better quality dialogue if you take a break. The more we understand about how we impact others, how our brains respond, and the choices we have to maximize potential, the more engaged our workforce can become.

Recent comment in this post
Guest — Part Two: One Piece of Paper Review « The Ermi Group
[...] When life gets stressful, how do you regain your composure? Go back to my post about the amygdala hijack! [...]
Wednesday, 18 April 2012 13:52
  1 Comment

Trust: Is there a better way?

One of my top personal and professional values is trust.  I recently completed a team building session and we used Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team as a framework for their challenges.  Of course the foundational element and the first one most teams need to work to overcome.  It is so interesting to me that so few people on a team will actually call it out and say that TRUST is a personal value.

I see a lot of Integrity, Excellence, Family First, Respect, Do What You Say You Will Do.  But not often will I see Trust.  Yet that is the area that most team’s score low on.  So many causes to lack of trust.  Some people get burned and used by screaming, manipulative managers.  Others had issues with trust growing up, and some just plain don’t trust anyone.  Trust means different things to different people so it is important to know what someone’s definition is before you start applying solutions to problem.  One technology leadership team I was working with all had different definitions.  One person said, “Do I trust that Joe will go do what I ask them to do or not.”  One manager shared “I can just look in someone’s eye and it tells me who they are and if I can trust them. “  Another said, “I trust people from the start.  I assume you are capable until you show me differently.”  Another said, “I don’t trust anyone until they show me otherwise.”  The book defines Absence of Trust: stems from an unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group; team members who are not open about mistakes and weaknesses make it impossible to build trust.

One of Lencioni’s solutions in the book Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team is something called a Personal Histories exercise.  Three simple questions can get the conversation started to start to scratch the surface.  Where did you grow up?  How many kids were in your family?  What was one important challenge you had to overcome?  It get’s the conversation started.

Another activity is called The Coat of Arms.  It sounds cheesy to some but I have seen countless C level executives really get a lot out of it.  In keeping with what we learned about the brain, and especially untapping innovation and creativity of the right brain, we provide many colored markers in order to get creative and tap into the inner artist.  I like Mr. Sketch’s water color scented markers the best.  I learned long ago through Bob Pike and Creative Training Techniques that the simple act of smelling the markers awakens the right side of the brain (the creative side).  Plus we get a laugh out of “oooooo, smelling the markers, are you catching a buzz…lol.”  Breaks the ice and we haven’t even gotten started.

You can make the segments anything you want.   Whatever they are comfortable with.  Even the most analytical of scientists and technologists have enjoyed this activity.  It is one step closer to getting to know each other which is one step closer to building trust.

    • Each team member spends 5-10 minutes creating their own personal Coat of Arms, then everyone presents to each other.


    • Values, accomplishments, favorite vacation spot, where you were born, Motto or favorite quote, favorite book and why, favorite song and why.


    • Participants can use words, pictures, or both, it is up to them.


    • Simple, fun and incredibly insightful.

I did this recently with a executive leadership team filled with Harvard and Yale grads.  Really bright people, and they LOVED it!  The stories were absolutely incredible.

One leader shared an amazing story of hitchhiking through the Southwest after a significant car repair problem all the way back to Florida.  He was perceived by his team as someone that does not take risks and was closed to interesting options. This created a whole new story about the individual and dialogue that had not been possible in the past began after this exercise.

You also find out the closet artists that  have a hidden talent.  Try it sometime.  It is one of my favorites.  When you can get vulnerable with people, tell them deep personal stories and discuss values and what you are proud of, it can take the relationship to the next level.

Other tools that have been successful are using Name Tags to write your name, a value and your motto.  Or name tents.  Whatever will stimulate some creative thinking and bridge the gap from all work and no play.

What bridge does your team need to build?

Recent comment in this post
Guest — Julie
Lori, I remember doing The Coat of Arms with you at Paradigm. I admit I was a bit intimidated at first, but you were right. It w... Read More
Monday, 06 February 2012 21:37
  1 Comment

Skills and Talents for the Long Haul

In celebration of the Reverend Martin Luther King's birthday many organizations and the feds honor his amazing accomplishments with a day off.  I think it is an important day to recognize, and if he were to be alive today I'd hope that he would feel like his marches, rallies and inspiration changed the way we value diversity forever.  His words and sacrifice of his own life has made an impression for the long haul.  He has gone down in history as one of the great orators and influencers of our time.

I also took the day off and my family was invited by dear friends to join them at Massanuttan Resort in Virginia with their family.  It is a four seasons resort, and the weather had been cold enough for them to make snow, so the plan was to hit the slopes.   I long ago sold my old Olin IV 180 cm relics at a yard sale believing that if I ever ski again the equipment would be archaic.  I last skied in 1993, and the biggest memory I have from that was painful burning thighs and freezing icy conditions.  I moved to Cincinnati soon after, and skiing is not exactly a local sport there, so  I got interested in other things.

My husband had not skied since 1995 and we sold his skis last year in a yard sale. Kate, the 5 year old seemed to be interested, so we decided to get her a lesson in the resorts' Slope Sliders program which was just wonderful. Her teacher was Spencer, and the whole experience was perfect for her.  It was a solid foundational introduction to the basics, she sloshed around in her clunky boots, made snow angels, learned the pizza wedge and was able to successfully get on the innovative Magic Carpet conveyor lift that beat the heck out of the old rope tow that I learned on.

I was petrified.  My husband and I decided to rent skis and give it a whirl.  In case Kate wanted to take up the sport some day, it would be nice to do it together.  We rented the skis and the hardest part was getting the darn boots on.  I was surprised at how little the equipment actually changed.  Apparently the technology innovations have been reserved for the abundance of snow boards, and not for the ski rental industry. But that was OK, it was familiar.

We carried our skis up to the chair lift, snapped them on, held our breath and swished onto the quad chair lift.  Now there has been some nice changes here with a gate to stop you and release you when it is ready for you, a rubber belt then moves you automatically, and far fewer falls than what I recalled.  We made it, and sat down   without incident.  It was exhilarating actually!  I had forgotten how fun it was to look down and see the diversity of skiwear, styles and ages. Tons of kids!  I did not recall that many young children skiing in the 70's but, then again, there may not have been as many given the vast differences in the economy.

OK, it was time for tips up and to get off the lift...and we did it!  We did not fall and it was just as easy as the last time I did it.  I squealed with glee as I pushed off and headed down the hill.  It all came back.  I had originally thought I needed a lesson to refresh my memory, but the brain and the body are amazing phenomenons.  It came back and it really was like riding a bike.

It was wonderful for our egos, especially my husband.  He suffered a stroke in 2002 and has some residual right side weakness in addition to other things, but he did GREAT!

Think about our emerging leaders and the Millennials entering the workforce.  They are learning skills and talents that they will hard wire in for the long haul.  We only really get one or two chances to set the tone and get it right.  The brain remembers.  The body recalls what the stresses and pressures feel like.  I am passionate about giving them the tools they need, the resources and frameworks to help them get it right EARLY in their careers.  They may not use these skills right away, but they should be in it for the long haul, and as leadership development professionals, we need to be in it for the long haul as well.

How sustainable are our programs?  Will they traverse the challenging mountains of 20 years from now? Will they navigate the terrain and make it down the hill, and then back up again?


Even More Millennial Madness...

Writing a book is fascinating.  It is challenging as you are required to think of so many things.  Research, interviews, frameworks, is it relevant, who is my audience?  I am making progress, and one of the recent books being researched is Lynne C. Lancaster and David Stillman's The M-factor: How the Millennial Generation is Rocking the Workplace.


They have done an excellent job at distilling the historical underpinnings of how the Millennials have arrived into adulthood, the factors that are unique to the workforce and diabolically in opposition to how other generations were raised as they climbed the corporate ladder, and tips on how recruiters and organizations can leverage this talent pool.

For those of you interested in learning more about the Millennials, here are some highlights and excerpts from their perspective.

Lancaster and Stillman have  identified SEVEN TRENDS that describe how they got from there to here (said in my haute New England/ Maine-ah accent.)


    • Parents today are more involved in their adult kids’ lives than ever before, and the umbilical cord that connects them is stretching all the way to the office. The Baby Boomer parents were determined to be more open communicators than their parents had been.  Authoritarism was out; quality time, communicating, and collaborating were in.


    • In the M-Factor survey, nearly 40 percent of all respondents said they have witnessed a parent getting involved in an employee’s career that was a bit over the top.


    • This is a generation that has been raised to expect a lot and to ask for what they want. (All those trophies have certainly made an impression!)


    • Millennials have been praised to the skies by parents trying to help their self-esteem, but now this has caused unhealthy sense of themselves.  Lands’ End and Bank of America, for example, have hired consultants who serve as “praise teams” to teach managers how to compliment employees using e-mail, prize packages, and other displays of affection.


Meaning Motivator #1:  Millennials want to make a difference in the world.

    • A trend that has been experienced by hundreds of Millennials interviewed over the years is that they want meaning in what they do.


    • They talk incessantly about feeling like they are making a difference.

Meaning Motivator #2:  Millennials want to feel they are contributing.

    • Companies that excel at engaging Millennials go out of their way to tie the new hire’s work back to the mission of the organization.

Meaning Motivator #3:  Millennials want to be innovators. 

    • 92% of Traditionalist, Boomers, Xers gave them high marks for their ability to create and innovate.


    • They have great ideas, but won’t know the parameters and potential pitfalls that can make or break a successful project.

Meaning Motivator #4:  Millennials want to be heard 

    • When it’s time to roll out a new idea or program, it’s not time to lay off on the coaching.  Millennials will be eager, excited, and armed to sell project, but still high-risk territory.

Meaning Motivator #5:  Millennials want to know they are succeeding.

    • This generation loves being part of a team and is happy to work toward a group goal.


    • Praise them with specifics.

Meaning Motivator #6:  Millennials want to express who they are through work.

    • Exercise their expertise.  Millennials will see more meaning in their jobs if they can become specialists in one or two areas unique to them.


    • Preparedness – When asked in their M-Factor survey about Millennials’ preparedness to enter the workforce, only 7 percent of respondents from the other generations said the Millennials are “ready, willing, and able to succeed.”


    • Retaining ideas – Invite a few Millennials who are flourishing in their jobs to talk about the experiences they had coming on board and how their expectations were or were not met.


    • Let them know who you are.


    • According to their M-Factor survey, one out of every three Millennials felt their company did not do a good job attracting their generation.


    • Basic Training:  Not Just For The Military


    • When working with Millennials, take the time to communicate baseline expectations about working in your culture, such as etiquette, forms of address, how to treat clients, what written communication should look like, how mistakes are handled, and the other “basics” that form the company’s operating standards.


    • Be a coach, not a nag.


    • Millennials have been coached all their lives, they expect it. 


    • How the pedal got to the metal 


    • When it comes to pace, Millennials are increasing the rate of speed at which they do things and also the speed at which they expect communication, feedback, and promotions.


    • Set Speed limits


    • As the pace increases, we have to set new limits.  We know Millennials want to help organizations pick up the pace and deal with change, but how fast is fast enough?  


    • Multitasking:  Can’t live with it, can’t live without it 


    • During less demanding times tasks that need less attentiveness makes sense.


    • Multitasking can fill in those down times and help with boredom for the Millennials.


    • Workplaces are going to have to become more flexible to accommodate the various speeds at which people work and to allow people to work in the ways that are most productive for them.


    • Corporate chutes and ladders:  navigating today’s career paths (p.179)


    • Millennials want to move up the ladder at a clip that makes the older generations’ heads spin. 


    • Organizations are between a rock and a hard place.  On the one hand, they want to retain top performers and keep them learning and growing.  On the other hand, employees tend to be the most valuable when they become competent at a job and then perform that job for  a while. (p.181)


    • Empowering Millennials to take a role in the pace and direction of their careers puts the focus more on what they achieve and less on arbitrary timelines, which seems a natural fit for this generation. (p.183)


    • No surprise here. “One of the first things we learned from our interviews was Millennials consider social networking at the office as a kind of “virtual break room.”


    • Millennials will be the great collaborators.  This is a generation weaned on cooperation at home and teamwork in school that did almost everything in groups.


    • Put Millennials together on teams.  If you want to make the Millennial work experience more fun, create teams for them.  They will bond by blowing off steam together and providing support for one another.  And with their superior team skills, they are likely to be highly efficient. 


    • Teach Millennials not to run from a fight.  Because they’ve done so much collaborating in teams, Millennials are great cheerleaders and not so great when a teammate drops the ball.

If you are a recruiter, leader or engager of this generation, Lancaster and Stillman have made the journey easier with their contribution.  Check out their website as well.



Netplaying Not Networking! Building a Village to GET IT DONE!

Week two of 2012!  My GET IT DONE mantra is serving me well, and I am reflecting on how good productivity feels.  I signed up a new part-time business analyst to join our efforts and hired a media specialist to produce some video for me to include in some upcoming presentations/keynotes.  I am so excited!

The biggest aha for me in 2011 is that I cannot do this all by myself!  I need help!  While my business is still growing and I am not in a position to employ an army, I also realized that I need to focus on my strengths and get out there more.  So, investing even just a little bit and delegating some of the tasks that take me away from business development is an awesome thing!

Another discovery I had in 2011 is that while I am wildly extraverted on the Myers Briggs scale, traditional networking and business development is not my strong suit. In fact, I dread having to get all gussied up and be "on" for a bunch of strangers.  AND I recognize how critical it is when you are a small business.  I am not comfortable with starting up a random conversation about why a potential client needs what I do over finger foods and coffee.  BUT I love to talk about how blessed I am to do work that I love and to engage in conversations of possibilities with like-minded professionals.  I now reframe what I had traditionally viewed as networking, and also be strategic in the forums in which I can pursue these conversations.  It needs to be fun for me.  It is netplaying.

Trade shows!  Who knew, but I LOVE them!  I piloted The Ermi Group recently at a small venue in Cincinnati and while it may not heed lots of business it was a great learning experience and I realized how much fun it is that there are probably a few events that would be a good investment to participate in.  I never had thought about that as an entrepreneur.  I ran many a booth back in my P&G days and it is a skill I had let go dormant.

Woman On Course is a new networking group I just joined today thanks to the prompting of an amazing colleague.  It is a golfing club of sorts for professional women.  I love to golf, have been doing it since I was 9 (with several periods of inactivity over time) and it is a great way to connect with business women!  I am really excited about joining and attending these events, and potentially sponsoring some too!

That kind of networking is the quintessential netplaying!

Collaboration!  I am joining forces with some new strategic partners this year and learning so much from them.  What a gift it is to be in the energy of someone with new ideas and a fresh outlook!  It is contagious.  I do not have to do this alone!  And nor should I.  And you get to meet the most wonderful people! (You know who you are!) ;-)

How can you increase your netplaying?

Recent Comments
Guest — Holly Williams
Love the way you reframe networking! I bet there's a way I can use that idea myself! So true, too, that we can't do it alone, no... Read More
Tuesday, 10 January 2012 05:34
Guest — ermigrp
Let's netplay together!
Tuesday, 10 January 2012 18:11


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