Elevate Your Leadership Practice with the 5-8-1 Mindfulness Technique

Mindfulness is an important part of any leadership practice. Today, I want to share a mindfulness technique that I’ve adopted from an unusual source.

Thanks to my amazing wife and this incredible sleep training resource, our boys have been reliably good sleepers. Generally they sleep from about 6:30pm to 6:45am. While that schedule has involved some sacrifice over the years, my wife and I both feel that it has been worth it.

My younger son recently turned one and has had trouble falling asleep on his own. So I turned to the internet for help and found a method that has worked well for my son called the 5-8-1 method.

The 5-8-1 Method for Infant Sleep

The 5-8-1 Method works like this: When it’s time for my son to sleep for the night or nap, I hold him while standing and move for 5 minutes. During this time, I rock him in my arms or pace around his room. Even if he cries or fusses, I just keep moving. Then, I sit down and hold him, sometimes rocking him in our glider (which is incidentally so comfortable, we bought a second one) for 8 minutes. Finally, I stand up and put him gently in his crib. He almost always rolls over on his own and then I gently rub his back for 1 minute.

The 5-8-1 technique for baby sleep

When I finish and leave the room, he is almost always sound asleep. While 5-8-1 hasn’t worked 100% of the time, it has worked close to that, around 90% of the time.

In addition to helping my son sleep, 5-8-1 has also given me 14 minutes of interrupted thought, which is hard to come by. Since I am holding my son, I can’t check my phone or respond to messages. I can’t scroll the internet. I can’t read an article.

Over time, I found that I really loved those 14 minutes. Not only do I get uninterrupted time to appreciate my son, but I also get uninterrupted time to re-set and re-center.

Adapting 5-8-1 To Busy Leaders

I’ve started experimenting with a 5-8-1 mindfulness technique for leaders to use during stressful days and have found it to be both therapeutic and helpful. After doing this adapted technique, I have found myself to be more productive and able to plan my next steps from a place of calm rather than a place of stress.

The mindfulness technique works like this:

  • 5 minutes doing some physical movement
  • 8 minutes of meditation
  • 1 minute of deep breathing

I found the combination of physical movement along with meditation close together to be part of the secret to the positive impact of this mindfulness technique.

Mindfulness Resources for 5-8-1

In the graphic above, you can see resources for each stage of the 5-8-1 mindfulness technique. Here they are with links to make it easier for you to try 5-8-1 for yourself.

5 Minutes of Physical Movement

8 Minutes of Mindfulness Meditation

1 Minute of Deep Breathing

  • Box breathing at a 4 count – This is a helpful breathing technique that works like this:
    • Breathe out slowly, releasing all the air from your lungs.
    • Breathe in through your nose as you slowly count to four in your head. Be conscious of how the air fills your lungs and stomach.
    • Hold your breath for a count of four.
    • Exhale for another count of four.
    • Hold your breath again for a count of four.
    • Repeat for three to four rounds.
  • Calm app – The calm app has breathing exercises as well that you could do for a minute.
  • Apple watch – The Apple watch has a “Mindfulness” app that includes short guided breathing exercises using the watch’s haptics so you can keep you eyes closed.

Of course, you can also use any of your own resources to meditate. These are just some resources you can use to get started. The most important thing is not which app you use but to try to 5-8-1 mindfulness technique.

The Benefits of Mindfulness for Leaders

There are an increasing number of academic studies validating the connection between mindfulness and positive leadership.

One such study, published in the journal “Mindfulness”, found that mindfulness was positively associated with employee well-being and performance. The study also found that mindfulness was mediated by emotional intelligence, which suggests that mindfulness helps leaders to better understand and regulate their emotions, which in turn leads to better employee well-being and performance.

More and more leaders are adding mindfulness to their leadership practice because of its benefits to both the leader and teams. I have meditated with my teams in the past and found the results to be positive.

The 5-8-1 Mindfulness Technique is now in your toolbox to use in your leadership practice.

Key Takeaways

Mindfulness is essential for leaders. In this post, I introduces a mindfulness technique called the 5-8-1 method. The method involves 5 minutes of physical movement, 8 minutes of meditation, and 1 minute of deep breathing.

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How To Lead Middle Managers

Imagine for a moment that you owned a community swimming pool.

As the owner of the pool, you are responsible for making sure your customers swim in clean water and do not drown. Now you can’t be at the pool all day because you have other responsibilities. For example, you have to go make sure that you are signing up new pool members, going to the wholesale store to stock the snack bar, and fixing things around the pool when they break. In that scenario, you will need someone to watch over the pool and keep it safe. Would you trust that responsibility to someone who can’t swim? How about hiring someone who can swim but is not a certified lifeguard?

In this case, you would hire a trained and experienced lifeguard. If your pool is known for being unsafe, you are negligent and likely out of business.

Yet, businesses do things like this every day. They often make people “lifeguards” in their company without training to help them do their job well.

Most businesses don’t have literal lifeguards. With this analogy, I am referring to “Middle-managers.” Like the lifeguard, middle managers play a critical role in the success of the company, yet are often under-resourced to do the job well.

Middle Managers are often caught in the middle of expectations and demands from individual contributors and senior leaders.

The Important Role of Middle-Managers

Middle managers serve a vital role in most organizations. As the leader closest to the work, these managers are often responsible for making sure the business opens on time, is staffed correctly, and meets sales targets. They manage the requirements and expectations of both individual contributor employees and senior leaders. High performing individual contributors usually fill these leadership roles with no training or context to be successful in their new role.

Furthermore, these leaders are the most important for employee engagement. They lead individual contributors who are the biggest part of an organizations’ workforce. Individual contributors often decide to leave or stay at an organization due to their interacts and relationships with their direct supervisor.

In fact, middle managers are often responsible for being “The CEO” of their part of the business. They must navigate and drive results in revenue generation, operational efficiency, customer satisfaction, and employee engagement. In addition, they are also delegated additional responsibility or instruction from senior leadership about how to do to their jobs. Most compliance and reporting functions are delegated for at least preparation among middle managers.

Businesses Under Value These Leaders

According to a recent article from McKinsey, middle managers are often undervalued and underutilized in organizations. Despite functioning as a crucial link between top management and front-line employees, middle-managers often face significant challenges, such as conflicting demands and unclear responsibilities. The McKinsey article recommends that organizations should invest in developing middle managers’ skills and providing them with clear expectations and support to enable them to become effective leaders who can drive organizational success.

The article also suggests several strategies for empowering middle managers, such as creating a culture of feedback and recognition, providing opportunities for professional development, and fostering a sense of ownership and accountability. By investing in middle managers, organizations can unleash their potential and improve overall performance.

Five Ways to Engage Middle Managers

The article from McKinsey suggests numerous ways to better engage middle managers. In my experience, I have used several additional tactics to help these leaders be successful.

1. Give Them a Real Orientation

Many people entering a middle manager role have never held a leadership role before. Making sure they have an immersive multi-day orientation is important. Give them opportunities to learn systems and mechanics as well as the basics of leadership.

2. Clearly Define Their Role and Your Expectations

These leaders have the most scrutiny of living the organization’s values and achieving results. Make sure you clearly communicate your expectations of them in as clear language as possible. Spend time with them and let them know that they are vital to the organization achieving its goals. Be accessible to these leaders. After-all, they are your “Lifeguards”. Without them, your business does not work.

3. Develop Middle Managers to be Leaders

While we call these roles, “Managers,” in today’s business environment, organizations need them to lead. Since they are the leaders closest to the work or the customer, how they manage their business unit has a disproportionate impact on organizational results. Spend time with these managers to coach them. Ask them questions about what made them want to be a leader and how they want to lead with intention. Answer their questions when there is a new initiative and they are struggling with understanding its purpose.

4. Engage in Skip Level Meetings

Skip level meetings is a standard practice for me. A skip level meeting is when you have regular check-ins with the people who report to the person who reports to you. I always try to be aware if I, as a senior leader, am being managed. It’s important to know if a middle manager is indeed as skilled as they say they are or if they are making the teams they lead miserable. Regular skip-level meetings are an effective strategy to create more social bonds with your employees and have you finger on the pulse of the business.

5. Cut Red Tape Where You Can

There are a lot of well-intentioned people who create a lot of initiatives that get “pushed down” to middle managers. Too many of these initiatives from silo-ed units can crush middle managers, often overburdening them with tasks like data collection and reporting. This can lead to dissatisfaction and burnout. In addition complicated and dysfunctional processes can create unnecessary delays in addressing the needs of middle managers. When you identify red tape that is either inefficient or downright wasteful, fix it or eliminate it to make middle managers’ lives easier.

We Must Do Better

Middle managers are vital leaders in most organizations. Despite that, they are usually undertrained and under-resourced to do their jobs effectively. They deserve more than “Sink or swim.” They deserve to be guided and prepared for the awesome responsibility that is leadership.

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Key Takeaways

Middle managers play an essential role in organizations, however they are are often undervalued and underutilized. Organizations should invest in their professional development to empower them to drive organizational success. There are several important strategies for engaging middle managers, such as clearly defining their roles and expectations, developing them as leaders, and cutting red tape.

Updated: Why do organizations have leaders?

This phenomenon is true for many leadership roles: If the leader doesn’t show up for work, the business will still run. When the CEO of a hospital misses a day of work, some work may slow down, but the hospital still can run and deliver care. When a trauma surgeon must miss work, their work needs to be covered to save and serve patients, and the operations of the hospital could grind to a halt without coverage.

Sometimes, you will see people in an interim leadership role or leadership roles being vacant for extended periods of time. You see that dynamic far less for positions that interact with clients or customers or who work in support organizations that make the business run. Short staffing is a problem in leadership, yet it is a crisis when it happens at the front line.

Why do organizations have leaders?

If most leaders are not “essential” to run the business, why have leaders?

The reason is that groups of individual contributors often cannot see the larger picture of what the organization is trying to accomplish. Organizations with high leadership turnover are often unstable. Before long, these organizations drift and cannot survive without planning and coordination. These organizations often face operational and financial issues. When an organization is failing and needs to “turn around”, it is usually the result of a failure or absence of leadership.

The Example of Ford Motor Company

One example of a turnaround in an organization due to failures in leadership is the case of Ford Motor Company in the late 2000s. Ford was struggling with declining sales and a loss of market share, and its CEO, Jacques Nasser, was criticized for his leadership style and strategic decisions. Nasser had pursued a diversification strategy that had failed to produce the desired results, and he was also accused of being too focused on short-term financial gains at the expense of long-term growth.

In 2001, Nasser was forced to resign, and William Clay Ford Jr., the great-grandson of Henry Ford, took over as CEO. Ford Jr. recognized the need for a fundamental shift in the company’s culture and strategy, and he embarked on a comprehensive turnaround effort that included a focus on innovation, quality, and sustainability. He also took steps to improve the company’s relationships with employees, suppliers, and customers.

Under Ford Jr.’s leadership, the company began to see improvements in its financial performance and market share. Ford introduced a number of successful new models, such as the Ford Fusion and the Ford Edge, and the company’s overall product quality improved. The company also became more focused on sustainability, developing hybrid and electric vehicles and reducing its environmental footprint.

Overall, the Ford turnaround was an example of how effective leadership can turn around a struggling organization. By recognizing the need for change and taking bold action, Ford Jr. was able to restore the company’s fortunes and position it for long-term success.

What a Leader does in a Company

A leader’s job is not only to keep things running day to day, but to optimize the work and drive results. Leaders are entrusted to oversee all aspects of their areas of responsibility to prevent the falling behind that inevitably happens without leadership. So while most leaders are not “essential” to run the business on any given day, they are “essential” and responsible for making sure the organization continues to grow and thrive into the future.

This orientation to what the work of a leader truly is, can be a difficult shift for new leaders. It is critical to make this shift and not revert to being an individual contributor. Leadership, as you will continue to see, is a fundamentally different job than showing up and performing your function each day. A leader’s point of view must be wider, learning all aspects of who and what make the organization work well, and longer, taking a point of view that extends out weeks, months, and years.

The Ford example illustrates another important point: Leaders that do not drive results often do not last long in leadership roles. If you lead in a business, producing financial results may be the top priority. Non-profit leaders may be measured by whether the number of people served is growing and whether the business is financially stable. If you lead your home-owners association, other homeowners may measure you on how you manage snow removal.  In any of these examples, if the leaders are not achieving the goals of the organization, senior leaders or boards of directors will look for different leaders who can achieve those results.

Knowing what results you are expected to achieve as a leader is extremely important. Accomplishing them in reasonable timeframe is the leader’s primary responsibility and what will either allow the leader to continue in their role or not.

I have seen leaders who have high employee engagement, high quality scores, and high customer satisfaction scores who are removed from their roles in leadership because they were not able to manage the finances of their department effectively in achieving those other results. New leaders must make sure they have clarity about what results are expected of them and in what timeframes. Then it is their responsibility to plan out how their teams will achieve those goals.

The Importance of Quick Wins

The results-oriented dynamic is one reason why it is vital to achieve, “Quick wins,” when entering a leadership role. “Quick wins” are usually small victories and must be respectful of the cultural context of the group. “Quick wins” give both supervisors and followers confidence that the leader is ready and able to produce results that drive towards their goals either directly or indirectly.

One of my favorite examples of a “Quick win” comes from the Apple TV+ show, Ted Lasso. The show is about an American football coach named Ted Lasso who is hired to coach a professional soccer team in England. In season 1, episode 2, Coach Lasso asks for suggestions for improvements he can make for the team, and finds one that says, “The shower pressure is rubbish.” He fixes the shower pressure so that it is stronger, which sends a positive message of support to his team. While not a big change, it is one that showed that Coach Lasso was able to create change in a way that the team suggested.

The “Dark-side” of Leadership

With that example in mind, a note of caution. A leader cannot achieve results at the expense of the psychological safety of the team. There is a “Dark-side” of leadership to watch out for. If a leader makes it all about themselves and sacrifices certain results over their teams wellbeing, they risk being perceived as a narcissist, jerk, or psychopath. When the relationship between the leader and the team breaks down, positive results will only be temporary as the leader will have lost their team and the team will eventually stop allowing the leader to lead them. They will rebel in either covert ways like “Quiet quitting” or overt ways. If you read this post and fall to the “Dark-side,” it will be a failure.

In summary, the sooner a new leader recognizes that the work of a leader is fundamentally different than the work of an individual contributor and requires a different approach, the faster they will be able to make the transition to impactful leadership.

Key Takeaways

While most leaders may not be essential for running the day-to-day operations of the business, they play a critical role in optimizing work and driving results. Leaders must have a wider and longer point of view to oversee all aspects of their area of responsibility and ensure the organization continues to grow and thrive.

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Team Accountability Isn’t What You Think it is

The idea of team accountability is important, but often misunderstood. Many organizations struggle to hold people accountable. Leaders must have a good understanding of accountability to be an effective leader.

Gone are the days of rewards and punishments to drive team accountability. When most leaders discuss “holding people accountable,” they usually mean terminating low performers or punishing them in some other way. Accountability, by this definition, does not work. Instead, it becomes a recipe for turnover and disengagement.

When Accountability is Confused with Punishment

When I speak with leaders, especially leaders in middle management, there is frequent frustration around team accountability. What they tend to talk about as we unpack accountability is dissatisfaction about politics, treatment, and behaviors. Other leaders want to tie accountability to performance, similar to how General Electric CEO Jack Welsh used “Stack rankings” in the 1980s. In this model, the bottom 10% of performers would be fired at years’ end.

Tying team accountability only to outcomes is problematic because it discourages appropriate risk-taking. In addition, even high performers miss targets for legitimate reasons. While there needs to be recognition that the person did not meet their goals, punishing them is usually unwarranted. Tactics like “Stack rankings” are ineffective due to their short term orientation and punitive nature. “Stack rankings” only served to create a cut-throat and disengaged culture.

So that brings us back to the middle manager definition of team accountability. What they refer to when they describe a lack of accountability is witnessing inconsistent treatment based on favoritism, rude behavior, or a lack of performance among their peers with no obvious consequences. Using that as a starting point helps us to better understand how effective leaders understand team accountability.

Working-Definition of Team Accountability

With these leaders in mind, my personal working definition of team accountability involves two aspects: Empowerment and Transparency.

Team Accountability is really about empowerment and transparency

An organization cannot have accountability without empowerment. If leaders are not able to creatively and uniquely develop strategies and tactics to achieve their goals, accountability is not possible. There must be space for leaders to maneuver in an organization. This means that senior leaders need to set clear performance goals and expectations for behavioral standards that all team-members must follow. Leaders should have plenty of room to achieve their goals within those well-defined boundaries without being micromanaged. Creating a clear boundary like this simultaneously encourages mid-level leaders to think more like owners of their book of business, rather than managers executing someone else’s playbook.

Effective leaders use transparency as the other powerful tool in creating a sense of team accountability. By publishing relevant data regularly, it becomes abundantly clear who is high performing and who is not. In these instances, the healthiest cultures will see high performing leaders helping lower performing leaders. Further, the leaders who are struggling are aware of it and are given additional help and support.

When empowerment and transparency occur together, there is rarely a need for punishment. Everyone in the organization understands the expectations and whether they and their teams are meeting those expectations. In these cases, the conversations around accountability almost disappear. This is because often these organizations are achieving their goals and because the organization’s expectations around performance and behavior are communicated openly and repeatedly.

Using Accountability in your Leadership Practice

When a leader defines accountability as the sum of empowerment and transparency, they can achieve incredible results. I know this from personal experience. I once inherited a team that was low performing and high-drama, often asking for accountability for other team members. When we introduced clear boundaries for empowerment and transparent weekly data reporting, we never heard about accountability again.

The desire for accountability is usually a symptom of under-defined expectations and a lack of transparency. Using this model, leaders can have an immediate impact of getting the team focused on what matters most: Driving results and growing the organization in a way that supports and empowers the employees of that organization.

Key Takeaways

Team accountability is the sum of a culture that has empowerment and transparency. Clearly defined goals and behavioral expectations, coupled with transparent reporting, help to create clarity and focus on results.

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Why New Leaders Should Embrace Rituals and Inside Jokes to Foster Team Identity

Many high performing teams have something in common that is rarely discussed: Rituals and inside jokes.

Recently, ESPN released a 30-for-30 documentary called, “The Bullies of Baltimore” about the Baltimore Ravens’ Super Bowl XXXV winning team. I was amazed by how many rituals and inside jokes that team had, which I believe helped them to win a championship.

Rituals and Inside Jokes helped bring the Baltimore Ravens together to win a Super Bowl

If you are football fan, you may recall that the 2000 Ravens were known for their defense. While their defense was historically dominant featuring all-stars like Ray Lewis and Rod Woodson, their offense was lackluster. In fact, the team went five weeks that season without scoring a touchdown. When their head coach, Brian Billick, was asked about the team making the playoffs, he didn’t want to take any chances; he banned use of the word “playoffs” among the team and subjected anyone who spoke the word to a fine.

In response, the whole city started referring to the “playoffs” using another name– “Festivus,” which was a reference to the popular 1990s sitcom Seinfeld. Players and coaches started using the word judiciously and it became a running joke both inside the team and with the media and fans. Some fans even had t-shirts made referring to “Festivus”.

The story of the 2000 Super Bowl winning Ravens for the 30-for-30 documentary series is told through a panel discussion including both players and coaches. In addition to the “Festivus” inside joke, there were several others, like the back and forth pranks between Shannon Sharpe and Tony Siragusa and even the joke that Brian Billick hated to call plays to run the football and the team pulled him aside to beg him to call more running plays, which energized the Ravens struggling offense.

Creating Language

I remember the first supervisor I had when I was an intern, who fostered an incredible work environment through inside jokes. He almost had his own language that he shared with everyone in the office that only we understood. For example, he would refer to things being extreme using the term “Squared” like saying, “That person was intense…squared.”

It was one of those things where, “You had to be there,” for it to be funny, but that is kind of the point. Teams come together when they are in an environment that creates such an atmosphere to bring people together. Human experiences on a team are shaped by shared experiences, especially unique shared experiences. In leadership, that is the power of an effective off-site meeting, giving a team a memorable shared experience outside of the office that only they can refer to.

The best part of this common language was that everyone was included, which helped to bring the team together, not create cliques or factions. If the group is creating inside jokes to marginalize a member of the team, that is often bullying, not bonding.

Why Inside Jokes Work

These inside jokes serve a dual purpose. First, they help to build team identity and belonging by creating a sense of shared experience and camaraderie. When team members share a common language or joke, they feel like they are part of a tight-knit community, which can help to boost morale and foster a positive work environment.

Second, inside jokes can be incredibly motivating for team members. When your team is working towards a common goal, having a fun inside joke to celebrate each success can help to create a sense of momentum and excitement. Team members will feel more invested in their work when they feel like they are part of something larger than themselves.

Leaders have the power to help instill the camaraderie of many successful teams. Leaders can use tools like unique language, mantras, or stories to create a team dynamic. Even more powerful, leaders can create the space and opportunities for team members to get together and create those inside jokes themselves. Leaders who want to micromanage or hear back on interactions lose out on many opportunities for the team to share something unique together.

From an anthropological perspective, rituals and routines are a cornerstone of human behavior, helping to create a sense of stability and predictability in our lives. This is especially true in the workplace, where employees thrive on a sense of structure and routine. As a leader, incorporating regular rituals and routines into your team’s workflow can help to build a sense of trust and consistency.

The Importance of Rituals

In the “Bullies of Baltimore” documentary, Ray Lewis’ pre-game ritual was to watch the movie “Gladiator” before every game. It was a reference point for him to get himself mentally ready to play at a high level. Throughout the documentary, he quotes the movie and the key points that got him ready and psyched up for every game.

High performing teams have group rituals as well. In healthcare, we use a tool called a daily huddle to get together and share information. It gives the people on the team an opportunity to see and hear from each other every day. It keeps everyone informed and communicating.

The best leaders I have observed understand human psychology and human behavior. Rituals and inside jokes are a part of the human experience, dating back thousands of years, and are therefore part of the experience of being on an excellent team.

While rituals are important, they can’t be forced or manufactured by a leader. They happen as team members spend time together and build trust with one another. A leader’s responsibility is to create opportunities for teams to engage together in a meaningful way that may create these important bonds.

One small word of caution: A leader should be careful that they do not become the inside joke like Michael Scott does in the comedy series The Office. While a leader may not be included in every inside joke, becoming the joke is obviously not positive. Create the environment for bonds to happen, not to target a common enemy or leave anyone out.

Rituals, common language, and inside jokes, developed in an inclusive way can help teams thrive. The teams that bond together stay together, support each other, and pursue the best ideas in an environment of trust.

Key Takeaways

New leaders can use the power of rituals and inside jokes to build a cohesive team. These tools create a sense of identity and belonging that can boost team morale and inspire employees to achieve great things. When used inclusively and appropriately, inside jokes can help new leaders foster a positive work environment and build a strong team.

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