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Creating Successful Leaders

Many organizations are still getting used to a work-from-home or hybrid workforce. Even if they use a variety of virtual technologies, that isn’t necessarily enough to create a level playing field between employees. Part of the reason some people may receive preferential treatment in today’s (often hybrid) environment is due to a subconscious tendency known as proximity bias.

What is Proximity Bias?

In short, proximity bias has to do with giving preference to those who are close by. The BBC describes proximity bias as “an unconscious – and unwise – tendency to give preferential treatment to those in our immediate vicinity.” Due to proximity, we might distribute projects or tasks unfairly, let certain people “have the floor” more often during meetings, or pay closer attention to those who are nearby…all without even realizing we’re doing it.

Humans are constantly seeking 1) shortcuts and 2) connections. Because of these tendencies, proximity bias is the most natural thing in the world. It’s easier to assign tasks or communicate with those who are in the office next door. And it’s easier to form connections when you’re in the same room as someone, rather than someone in the virtual space. Frankly, that is unfair to those who are unable to regularly be in the office for whatever reason (irregular childcare schedules, caretaking for an ailing loved one, an outlandishly long commute, etc.)

How do we change these impulsive tendencies?

How Do We Overcome Proximity Bias?

The first step is to build awareness.

Once you understand proximity bias and its implications, you can begin working to overcome it. Start paying attention to the interactions you have with those close by, as opposed to the interactions you have with virtual workers. Start questioning your preferences—who is assigned certain projects, who has the most air time during meetings, etc. Tuning in is the first step to making mindful, meaningful changes.

Secondly, normalize logging in.

Even if part of your team is sharing a conference room during a meeting, encourage everyone to log in to their own laptop. That way, you’re conducting one meeting (in the virtual space), instead of two meetings, and in-person participants won’t be able to strike up side conversations or give body language signals that the virtual attendees might not see. Logging in when you’re in the same room might seem awkward at first, but people will adapt (especially if you explain why it’s important to do so).

Third, make sure everyone has equal access to resources.

Files should be shared in a virtual space; action plans and notes should be digitized. To further combat proximity bias, it’s a good idea to promote virtual discussions/forums, rather than rely on casual hallway interactions. Besides, if you use online forums, you’ll have a digital record of ideas and discussions that could be useful going forward.

Fourth, balance in-person meetings/events with virtual ones.

When the office culture revolves around in-person lunches, activities, and get togethers, those who are working remotely are naturally left out. When that happens, their connection with the office and their co-workers (and, often, and their sense of loyalty to the company) diminishes. Instead, make a conscious effort to host online events just as often (or more often!) as in-person ones.

Proximity bias is a very real phenomenon, but it is possible to combat it. Even though it’s difficult to entirely erase this subconscious bias, we can all take mindful steps to minimize it.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 

HER NEW EBOOK IS CALLED A QUICK GUIDE TO COURAGE
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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Compared to people of other nationalities, Americans tend to take relatively short vacations. A Resume-Now survey revealed that 26 percent of Americans have never taken off two weeks straight. What’s more, the average American worker only receives 14 days off per year, compared to 30 in Brazil, France, Germany, and Spain, 28 days in Italy, 26 days in the U.K…the list goes on and, sadly, we are at the bottom of it.

So when we do take a vacation, it’s usually brief. Because of that, there isn’t much time to get into “vacation mode” before we’re forced to return to the workplace. Additionally, because our vacations are relatively short, we sometimes feel pressured to see and do EVERYTHING in a short stretch of time. Ironically, that can make us positively exhausted at the end of a vacation.

What to do?

Ideally, Americans would be granted more vacation days in a year AND actually use them. But if that’s not a possibility, it’s smart to get the most out of your vacation, even if it only lasts a week or a few days. To do that, it pays to take several steps to prepare. Otherwise, you’ll be thinking about work duties as you’re trying to relax on the beach or hiking through the woods, and no one wants that.

Try following these five steps:

1. Loop in Everyone Who Matters

When you’re preparing to take a vacation, it’s not enough to simply inform your boss. Loop in any co-workers you regularly work with, clients who will likely email you, or support staff with whom you regularly connect. If you have any responsibilities that need to be covered, be sure to find someone to take over these duties well in advance. Make sure to thoroughly cover the material and answer any questions ahead of time. The last thing you want to do on vacation is field questions about how to log into a certain system or run a certain report.

2. Set Your Vacation Responder One Day Early

Set your vacation responder one day early. This will serve as a reminder to those who regularly email you that you’ll be out of the office the next day. That way, they can quickly run any urgent business by you before you take off.

3. Take a Half-Day on Either End

If you can, take half a day off before and after your vacation. The half-day before your vacay will give you ample time for last-minute packing, watering the plants, passing along instructions to the dog sitter, or any other final preparations you need to make for the next day. When you return, take another half-day to sleep in and have a restful morning. You’ll probably need it if you have a jam-packed vacation itinerary OR if your flight back is delayed.

4. Set Up House Care Well in Advance (and have a backup plan)

There’s always a checklist of routine items that need attention when you’re taking a vacation that lasts more than a couple of days. Your mail needs to be collected (or you need to set up a mail hold through the post office), your plants and animals need care, your sidewalk needs to be shoveled (if it’s winter and you live in a cold climate), your garden needs to be watered (in the summer), etc., etc. To cut down on stress, set up your house care plan well in advance. It’s also a good idea to have a backup plan or person in mind in case your original plan goes awry.

5. Don’t Over-Plan Your Trip

If your itinerary is filled to the brim and you’re spending most of your time driving from attraction to attraction, you likely won’t feel like you’ve had a vacation at all. I encourage you to tone down your vacation ambitions! Aim to see or do one or two things every day, and have a list of backups in case you’re itching to do more. By keeping your itinerary simple and manageable, you’ll have more time to relax, enjoy the company of your travel companion(s), and even be a little spontaneous (you never know when you’ll fall in love with a restaurant/landscape/attraction and want to stay a little longer).

When you’re planning a vacation this year, do your best to be fully immersed in it. With adequate planning, you should be able to press pause on your inbox, feel confident that things are running smoothly without you, and enjoy the moment. You deserve it.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 

HER NEW EBOOK IS CALLED A QUICK GUIDE TO COURAGE
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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It’s no secret that our nation (and world) is going through some tough times right now. We are dealing with deep political divides, spiking violent crimes, wildfires and other natural disasters, and a pandemic that doesn’t seem to quit. Though these events are no laughing matter, it doesn’t mean you have to give up your humor entirely. The opposite is true, in fact. Humor has the power to uplift us and carry us through our days, no matter how grim things seem.

Psychology Today reports that, “Science shows that dwelling on worry, disappointment, and loss only increases unpleasant feelings. What you focus on expands.” That’s absolutely true. If you dwell on difficulties, you’ll find yourself being sucked in and overwhelmed by them. If, on the other hand, you choose to divert your attention to life’s little bright spots and humorous moments, you will be better equipped to trek through tough times.

Additionally, when your attitude is better and you’re feeling better, you will be in a healthier frame of mind to problem solve (and potentially work toward a solution for some of life’s troubles). Naomi Bagdonas, co-author of Humor, Seriously, says, “Studies show [laughter] makes us more resilient, creative and resourceful.”

How can you incorporate a good dose of humor in your day? Try these 4 methods:

Look for the funny side

Maybe the cat walked across your keyboard and switched off an important Zoom meeting. Perhaps your briefcase broke and you were forced to walk into a meeting carry all your things in a plastic bag. Or your young child found some scissors and decided to give themselves a haircut.

All of these moments might be stressful or embarrassing in the short-term, but when we look at them in retrospect, we tend to laugh. When we have a terrible day or experience an awful stroke of luck, look for the bits of humor that bubble up. And, if you can’t find any humor, at least look for ways to be grateful (that car may have sideswiped me, but at least I’m not hurt; I’m sick, but at least I have the means to pay for healthcare). Gratitude can be just as powerful as humor.

Seek out comedy

Instead of turning on another true crime episode or a drama show, seek out a comedy show or movie, or watch a bit of standup. You could also try out a humorous podcast while you’re at the gym or pick up a funny book to read.

Intentionally incorporating bits of humor into your life can make you feel a little lighter and improve your mood. Use comedy entertainment as a way to escape and to fortify yourself to face upcoming difficulties.

Don’t take yourself too seriously

Too often, we take ourselves too seriously. Life would take on a different tone if we learned to laugh at silly mistakes, if we didn’t feel the need to constantly prove ourselves, and if we put things into perspective. If your brain blanks out during a team meeting, it’s not the end of the world! Laugh about for a moment, and move on.

Find a humor partner

Laughter is better when shared. Go to a comedy show with a friend, watch a funny movie with your significant other, or swap funny social media posts with your sister. Find bits of humor and pass them on. Together, we can bring some levity to the world and, hopefully, become better equipped to face life’s difficult moments.

MARGARET SMITH IS A CAREER COACH, AUTHOR, INSIGHTS® DISCOVERY (AND DEEPER DISCOVERY) LICENSED PRACTITIONER, AND FOUNDER OF UXL. SHE HOSTS WORKSHOPS FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED CAREER OR PERSONAL GUIDANCE. 

HER NEW EBOOK IS CALLED A QUICK GUIDE TO COURAGE
CHECK OUT MARGARET’S ONLINE LEADERSHIP COURSE.

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