MODERN MYTHS: Friend or Foe?

By Ann Bundy, President, Cadena MYTH [mith] noun "...an unproved or false collective belief that is used to justify a social institution." Being a knowledge worker in this interrupt driven world of ours takes the stamina of an Olympic athlete, the patience of a saint, and more juggling ability than the best clown in the circus. Leadership, or the power to influence others, is easily forgotten or over-looked given looming deadlines, geographically dispersed teams, and unrealistic expectations. Adding to all of these challenges is the seductive power of mythology; the stories we tell ourselves and each other to help make meaning out of chaos. Consider, please, the following myths and their seductive power over us. MYTH #1: I am good at multi-tasking. While women have long been lauded for being able to, "multi-task" better than men (e.g., texting a colleague while on a conference call while trying to catch up on e-mail), in truth, our brains are not capable of multi-tasking but are actually engaged in rapid serial processing. The latest studies of neuroscience demonstrate that, on average, we lose 20% of our IQ when we try to speed up our serial processing. That fact, coupled with the studies of highly functional flow pioneered by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly indicate the average person has a latency period of 20 minutes when they move from one highly demanding task to another. Add to that the time slicing that occurs from juggling 7-8 projects while staying on top of e-mail and attending a myriad of meetings, and we have a recipe for adrenal gland melt-down and great frustration. How can you, as a leader who leads from where she stands, act as a myth buster and banish this destructive practice? How many times have you been in a meeting or on a conference call where someone is asked a question relevant to the discussion and they have to ask for the question to be repeated as they were, "multi-tasking" (aka not paying attention). Not only does this slow down the discussion, it wears down the reciprocity of the working relationship as it makes the person asking the question feel devalued and underappreciated. So, take a walk on the wild side and try a mono-focused meeting, hour, or conversation by suggesting all your electronic tethers be placed out of sight AND out of mind to avoid their siren song of temptation. See what happens! MYTH #2: I don't have time to work out. Why do we women get trained to put ourselves last on our "to do" lists? Having excelled as the "Mommy as Martyr" when our two daughters were growing up and working full-time, I watched my weight creep up, my self-esteem plummet, and my relationship with my husband get polluted by resentment. A colleague of mine who is obese, diabetic, and suffering from knee problems with a doctor that refuses to help her until she helps herself, signed up for the gym at work. The first thing the trainer asked her was, "Why aren't you exercising?" Consider how much happier, healthier, and helpful our work environments would be if we all took better care of ourselves instead of trying to micro-manage the lives of our families, teams, and customers. MYTH #3: If I do good work, I will get promoted. As an Executive Coach, I am startled to see a distinct and consistent theme in the coaching I do with mid-career professionals seeking the next level up. So many of them assumed that if they just put their heads down and worked as hard as they could acquiring expertise, accumulating knowledge, and gaining experience, that they will be magically noticed and promoted. With a "current skill shelf life" of just three years (if you are lucky), most knowledge workers' skills and capabilities are being commoditized. Today's key differentiators, then, are the "soft skills" which have never truly received the respect and honor they deserve. Without excellent communication, relationship building, and the powerful ability to engage others, your skill sets will not have the legs to get you to the next level. In closing, consider your own myths and ask yourself if they are helping you move forward or propelling you into a circular holding pattern. What are your personal "must miss myths?"

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