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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

JAN 2009, No. I, Sec. II

Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!

Main Essay:

Excerpting very positive high task and high touch comments from recent program testimonials, the Stress Doc explores two new leadership concepts, including techniques and tools, emerging from his keynote speaking and relatively brief workshops:  a) TLCs – the importance of and the ability to inspire in one or two hours “Trust, Laughter and Creative Collaboration” (especially in times of “Crisis”) which in turn radiates high energy and generates team synergy and b) FIST – using style, structure and strategy in a “Focused, Interactive and Short-Term” conceptual and applied framework.  This leadership approach is, in fact, “Two-FIST-ed:  “focused and forward moving” as well as “flexible and free-flowing.”  And it is the interactive, yin and yang blending of methods that is the primary source of both leader-initiated and audience-generated TLCs.  Two exercise vignettes illustrate and concisely analyze the FIST methodology and the inspiring and intimate value of sharing TLCs.

A Leader’s Greatest Gift – TLCs:

Inspiring Trust, Laughter and Creative Collaboration (especially in times of Crisis)

Given the fact that budgets have been cut, everyone is being asked to do more with less, and the overall economic climate is bleak, this could have been a very depressing and stressful session.  Instead, (you) found a way to energize the group [50 participants] and helped them focus on positive strategies.

Your ability to engage everyone [100 participants] and make it fun was remarkable...Our goals for the future are much clearer now as we continue to build a new culture and go from good to great!

Your talk [to 200 participants] produced pendulum type swings in the audience mood ranging from listening intently for your valuable information to rollicking laughter at your clever witticisms that drove home your point.

Your session [40 participants] on managing change and stress was the perfect
lead-in…It set the conditions for the free, uninhibited work (regardless of rank) that we needed...Here’s the BLUF: Your session was the critical building block on which we built the rest of the conference.

The above quotes come from recent speaking and workshop programs – subjects ranging from stress and conflict to creativity, change and team building – with a community college division, staff and faculty of a university school of dentistry, members of a CPA society and commissioned and non-commissioned officers from a 1st Cavalry Brigade preparing for deployment to Iraq.  (I believe BLUF stands for “Bottom Line Under Fire” rather than “Bottom Line You Fool.”)

So what accounts for the enthusiastic responses and palpable results?  I believe the answer involves more than my evolving role and proficiency as a motivational speaker and “psychohumorist” ™.  The catalyst is my increasing understanding that a successful leader cultivates a TLCs climate – inspiring in an audience “Trust, Laughter and Creative Collaboration.”  But even more vital, the leader needs to capitalize on this audience connection to share his greatest gift – helping generate a forum for TLCs relationship-building amongst his audience, whether partners or audience participants.  The image of an “Orchestra Leader” comes to mind:  helping individuals and teams work together to bring out their best music.  And as was evident from the first testimonial, this conception of leadership is especially needed during times of major conflict or crisis.

Providing TLCs:  Putting Your Best FIST Forward

So how do you rapidly generate such a TLCs climate with an audience?  The foundation requires a complex mix of style, structure, strategy and opportunity for synergy.  Alas, the last term is often casually bandied about, but just what is an “opportunity for synergy,” at least within a leadership-learning context?  For me, it means there is a work-play structure, especially using small group exercises, which facilitate meaningful and genuine as well as fresh and surprising communication.  And the result of such imaginative and insightful interaction is that the problem-solving and emotional sharing whole is greater than the contributing sum of each individual’s performance-perspective and participation.  To illustrate, let me turn to a somewhat different performance forum – a classical quartet.  During the educational part of a recently attended concert, each instrument was separately featured for thirty seconds.  Then the performers played their respective notes in unison.  What a difference.  What a striking harmony.  What synergy!

Especially when time is of the essence, it is my thesis that to effectively and efficiently set in motion such a high task-high touch and harmonizing mix a new role-label is required:  being a “Focused, Interactive and Short-Term (FIST) Leader.”  First, let me place FIST leadership in temporal perspective; none of the above programs lasted more than two hours.  Yet, as the above testimonials reveal, some very purposeful and productive results were accomplished by designing and orchestrating meaningful and challenging, dynamic and light-hearted exercises and exercise-illuminating presentation. (Perhaps we’re evolving a method of group interaction loosely equivalent to “speed dating,” where participants are instructed to pair up for four minutes and have the chance to share something meaningful about themselves…and then rotate to another prospect.  “Speed Leading,” anyone?)  With me as a “Four ‘P’ Passion Power” role model – that is, being “Purposeful, Provocative, Passionate and Playful” – the interactivity and ideas generated high energy and audience attention, proved broadly engaging of head and heart and were a fairly non-stop play-shop for thought-provoking fun.  [Email stressdoc@aol.com for the article, “The Four “P” Matrix for “Passion Power”:  Generating Personal Energy, Dynamic Leadership, Team Creativity and Mission Success.]

The programs also encouraged open communication, especially among diverse groupings, established by mixing people of varying department, rank, seniority, role, gender, race, etc.  (There’s method to this sorting process:  Not only does it help participants, a) see a bigger professional or organizational picture, e.g., perhaps you’ve overheard in a hallway or on a workfloor:  “I thought it was only our department having operational problems” but b) some research suggests that diverse membership may foster creativity in problem-solving exercises as you have to go beyond the familiar framework and work, think and negotiate harder to reach consensus.)  And in fact, this openness and diversity seemed to set the stage for subsequent conflict resolution and brainstorming or helped trigger “here-and-now” positive strategizing.  As noted by the Brigade Commander in the last testimonial, the session was “the perfect lead-in…and critical building block on which we built the rest of the conference.”  Sounds like some kind of leadership form and team problem-solving function has been unfolding.

The FIST Metaphor:  More Iron or Irony?

Not surprisingly, the FIST acronym evokes the image of a fist, which can have an aggressive and possibly violent connotation.  And naturally, as a Focused, Interactive and Short-Term Leader, there are times (even apart from time constraints) when my message needs to be pointed, provocative and punchy.  For example, I like to strategically question a pattern of self-defeating decision-making or shake up attitudes and actions fostering individual boredom-burnout or organizational inertia or illusion.  However, staying with our metaphor, a fist can be loosely closed as well as tightly clenched.  Remember, a fist is made of separate fingers which when artfully applied just might tickle a funny bone as well as massage a mind or caress a heart.  I studiously avoid trying to pound a point home.  While wanting to generate some aggressive energy in the room, my modus operandi is more feisty fun and free-wheeling flow; more being focused than using force.  Though, for sure, a firm and flexible hand on occasion is needed, e.g., periodically reminding participants of exercise time limits to help them drive to an exercise finish line, thereby overcoming perfection-procrastination tendencies and experiencing a sense of accomplishment.  In addition, a flexible focus is required to maintain that strategic balance and interplay between work and play, between learning and laughing, between education and entertainment.  Actually, there is often a seamless flow between these endeavors:  As I once observed, “People are more open to a serious message that is gift-wrapped with humor.”

Turning a Leading FIST Into a One-Two Leadership Gift

So a leader’s FIST that holds on to the program structure and pacing reins surely but not rigidly, and can ease up and tighten as needed, is essential for keeping participants focused, time conscious, on task and moving forward.  However, the real magic occurs when, again speaking metaphorically, you can loosen your fist and encourage interactive flow, turning your fingers into an organic quartet, each finger doing its own thing as well as coming together as a vital team.  And such a transformation is expedited by more than just a “T n T” – “Time- and Task-focused” – FIST.  This transformation occurs when a leader offers his or her greatest gift:  creating a safe and open communication ambience that helps build TLCs – that is, opportunities to:  a) explore if not build “Trust,” perhaps the foundation of a more genuine, “give and take” relationship, b) share heart-felt “Laughter” and healing and harmonizing humor and c) engage in some passionate if not out-rage-ous “Creative Collaboration,” that is, transforming the raw material of everyday stressors, frustrations and conflicts into playful and high performance energy and imaginative problem-solving.  You might say I’m developing a two-FIST-ed, yin-yang approach to leadership:  a) focused and forward moving (the “analytic approach”) and b) flexible and free-flowing (the “holistic approach”).  And both leadership methods are fueled by interactivity, the energy wellspring for inspiring those TLCs.  Let the fun begin!

FISTs Flying:  Fast, Furious and Fun TLCs

I witnessed and two-FIST-ed such a transformative process just the other day.  With 50 members of PowerTalk International, in an hour’s time I led the group through three exercises that cultivated TLCs.  Let me briefly illustrate the first two:

1.  Generating Nicknames Exercise.
  In small groups, members were asked to invent nicknames for one another in about ten minutes.  (Based on my reading of energy in the room and intensity level of discussion, I may tighten or loosen the time reins upon approaching the ten-minute mark.)  Some people knew their group colleagues, others didn’t.  Often the individuals interviewed one another to obtain sufficient raw data for an appropriate name.  Most groups worked together in coming up with a moniker.

a. Trust – the interviewing frequently revealed some personal data, personal likes and dislikes, etc.; open communication occurred very quickly

b. Laughter – nicknames often have a playful and potentially teasing quality; (as a way of anticipating the exercise, I had the large group free associate to the positives and negatives of “teasing”; synonyms range from “joke” to “torment”); poking good-natured fun is a source of laughter, safely working off frustration, social bonding and intimacy, e.g., one woman free associated to “teasing” with the word “flirtation”; at times, teasing is a motivational tool, challenging the object to move outside of a comfort zone; finally, the process also fosters trust, that is, peers won’t misuse or abuse the individual’s sharing

c. Creative Collaboration – the collective brainstorming of names facilitated both relevant and imaginative products; not only were the names heartfelt but also memorable – for example, “the elegant task driver,” (based on the member’s stylish dress and her no-nonsense attitude toward success); e.g., many nodded when I said, “I bet some of these names will be posted on a refrigerator door”; in addition, during the audience exercise debriefing, it was noted that many of the nicknames captured “positive leadership” qualities.  This exercise definitely has “take home” impact.

This was the first time leading this exercise.  The level of positive energy in the room was a palpable sign of the generation of TLCs and of exercise success.

2.  Embarrassing Moment Exercise.
  In groups of four or five, and for about ten minutes, people are instructed with a simple question, “Share an embarrassing moment.”

a. Trust – obviously a participant is letting down his or her persona and revealing a less than perfect, often “out of control” side; while sometimes a group may waffle in getting started, once a member takes the lead, others start clamoring to tell their stories; and another epiphany, while each moment is fairly singular, the experience of embarrassment is universal, not an insignificant multicultural bridge builder in these culturally diverse times; not only does the process facilitate risk-taking, but the common sharing quickly builds a sense of camaraderie and trust;

b. Laughter – for this exercise, the laughter decibel is invariably off the charts; I believe most of us long to unburden ourselves of painful memories, to take off an outmoded or outdated psychic mask; and when engaged in such self-revelation, we discover psychiatrist Ernst Kris’ penetrating insight:  “What was once feared and is now mastered, is laughed at” (and as the Stress Doc ™ inverted:  “What was once feared and is now laughed at is no longer a master”); and the more you can openly poke fun of your own flaws and foibles, not only do you earn the respect of other’s for such courage, but you are less likely to be agitated by the criticism of an antagonist.

c. Creative Collaboration – as a participant shares his embarrassment, colleagues’ interested questions and comments seem to bolster the storytellers’ confidence as well as encourage some embellishment or exaggeration for emphasis; in other words, this process is not simply rote recall but an opportunity to design and shape a memory, transforming pain into purposeful, passionate and playful communication through the medium of a pithy and punchy message; for me, these are not just key ingredients of creative expression, this experience lies near the border of art therapy and performance art.

Closing Summary

A time conscious, highly interactive and purposeful-playful approach to leadership has been presented,  In particular, the driving substance and spirit is a high energy and high synergy connection:  a) between leader and audience participants and b) especially amongst the particpants.  The two new leadership concepts, including techniques and tools, emerging from the Stress Doc's keynote speaking and relatively brief workshops are:  1) TLCs – the importance of and the ability to inspire in one or two hours “Trust, Laughter and Creative Collaboration” (especially in times of “Crisis”) and 2) FIST – using style, structure and strategy in a “Focused, Interactive and Short-Term” conceptual and applied framework.  This leadership approach is, in fact, a yin-yang “Two-FIST-ed methodology:  “focused and forward moving” as well as “flexible and free-flowing.”  Finally, two exercise vignettes were illustrated and analyzed to flesh out these cutting edge and synergy building leadership concepts.

Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is an acclaimed keynote and kickoff speaker and "Motivational Humorist" known for his interactive, inspiring and FUN speaking and workshop programs.  In addition, the "Doc" is a team building and organizational development consultant for a variety of govt. agencies, corporations and non-profits and is AOL's "Online Psychohumorist" ™.  Mark is an Adjunct Professor, No. VA (NOVA) Community College and currently he is leading "Stress, Team Building and Humor" programs for the 1st Cavalry and 4th Infantry Divisions, Ft. Hood, Texas.  A former Stress and Conflict Consultant for the US Postal Service, the Stress Doc is the author of Practice Safe Stress and of The Four Faces of Anger.  See his award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com -- called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR).  For more info on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs or to receive his free e-newsletter, email stressdoc@aol.com or call 301-946-0865.  And to view web video highlights of a Stress Doc Keynote, go to http://www.stressdoc.com/media_downloads.htm

(c)  Mark Gorkin  2009

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