<![CDATA[Gene  Harker - Blog]]>Mon, 28 Dec 2015 16:48:58 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Resolutions:  The  Sinister  Side]]>Mon, 28 Dec 2015 01:31:16 GMThttp://www.geneharker.com/blog/resolutions-the-sinister-side
Many of us begin our year with a resolution or two. The intent of this goal-setting ritual is to initiate a journey of accomplishment, success, and enhanced well-being.
Some resolve to sell more product, start a business, or move up the corporate ladder. And who hasn’t vowed to eat better and exercise more. While there are a number of benefits associated with goal setting, including increased effort and greater accomplishment, there is a sinister side.
In an article focused on organizational culture and behavior, Lisa Ordóñez and her colleagues observe that goal setting may result in a number of negative, unintended consequences. They propose:
… the beneficial effects of goal setting have been overstated and that systematic harm caused by goal setting has been largely ignored. We identify specific side effects associated with goal setting, including a narrow focus that neglects nongoal areas, distorted risk preferences, a rise in unethical behavior, inhibited learning, corrosion of organizational culture, and reduced intrinsic motivation.[1]
Organizations aren’t the only ones negatively affected by the goals they set. As individuals, if we perceive that a goal comes from an external source, arbitrarily imposed by others, our motivation and performance tend to decline. Also, an undue focus on outcomes may inadvertently cause us to miss the journey. Case in point: one afternoon I was hiking in the Grand Canyon and discovered that I was focusing on the accomplishment—reaching the campsite at the bottom—rather than the incredible vistas and bright cerulean sky; thus wasting an incredible, potentially awe-inspiring experience.
There are ways, however,  to mitigate the downside of resolutions:
For one, we can focus on what is most meaningful. Goals inspired by values and meaning result in persistent determination and high-level achievement. When the pursuit of what matters most prevails, the resulting relentlessness knows no bounds. Kennon Sheldon, professor of psychology at the University of Missouri, notes that individuals who set goals that are congruent with their values work harder, achieve more, and, as a result, experience well-being.[2]  Similarly, the Holocaust survivor and eminent psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl observes:
Don't aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.[3]
Management at Google concurs with Frankl’s observation. They believe that one of the keys to a successful team is having members who find meaning in their work. Leadership in this organization has observed that teams achieve at the highest level when the task at hand is personally relevant.[4]
Another way to leverage the benefits of a resolution is to focus on our moment-to-moment experience. Rather than focusing on the end—outcomes and goals—pay attention to the process of getting there, living fully in the present with a desired future in mind.  We can reinvent ourselves each day by planning and executing a series of experiences designed to contribute to our success and overall well-being—all guided by values and the pursuit of what’s most important.
So this year, resolve to engage in meaningful experiences. Then, observe the results. Does this new tradition mitigate the sinister side of New Year’s resolutions and result in a more a productive and healthy you?
Happy New Year!
Gene Harker
Faculty IU School of Medicine and Author of LEADERSHIP INSIGHT
(Download Chapter 3 Free)

[1] Ordóñez, L.D., Schweitzer, M.E., Galinsky, A.D., & Bazerman, M.H. (2009). Goals gone wild: The systematic side effects of overprescribing goal setting. Academy of Management Perspectives, 23(3), 82-87.
[2] Sheldon, K.M., & Elliot, A.J. (1999). Goal striving, need satisfaction, and longitudinal well-being: The Self-Concordance Model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology76(3), 482-497.
[3] Frankl, V.E. (2006). Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston: Beacon Press.
[4] https://rework.withgoogle.com/blog/five-keys-to-a-successful-google-team/
<![CDATA[improve  your  team's  collective   intelligence]]>Mon, 05 Oct 2015 17:26:49 GMThttp://www.geneharker.com/blog/improve-your-teams-collective-intelligence
General intelligence is our capacity to perform mental tasks. It’s an important aptitude that contributes to, among other things, our ability to excel at school and succeed in a wide variety of occupations. With respect to the teams we lead, there is a parallel capacity, called collective intelligence, which refers to a group’s aptitude for executing activities like solving puzzles, brainstorming, making collective moral judgments, and negotiating how to use limited resources. It’s an indicator of how well a group is able to work together in order to reach a common goal.

In the journal Science, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology propose that collective intelligence is primarily built on two characteristics: social sensitivity and conversational turn-taking.1 When members of a group have an empathic understanding of each other, they form strong relational bonds, and, as a result, achieve more. Further, groups that give every participant the opportunity to offer his or her perspective make a greater contribution than those in which one person dominates. Interestingly, a team’s success is not strongly correlated with the general intelligence of individual members or the average general intelligence of the whole group.

Thus, if, as leaders, we want a group to function at its best, it is not as important to get the smartest people in the room as it is to get the people in the room to pay attention to social cues and take turns benefiting from what others bring to the table. 

Does this ring true for the teams you lead? In your organization, are the best decision-making and problem-solving groups the ones in which members listen well and are willing to learn from each other?


1Woolley, A.W., Chabris, C.F., Pentland, A., Hashmi, N., & Malone, T.W. (2010). Evidence for a collective intelligence factor in the performance of human groups. Science, 330(6004), 686-688.
<![CDATA[the  secret  to  retirement  ...  don't]]>Sun, 27 Sep 2015 19:29:11 GMThttp://www.geneharker.com/blog/the-secret-to-retirement-dont
The allure of retirement is frequently described in terms of the autonomy associated with freedom from work schedules, rules, deadlines, and imposed goals. Once one stops punching the clock, there are fewer external have-tos and more opportunities to self-direct.

Paradoxically, if one views his or her vocation as a calling, this allure may feel more like a curse than a blessing. There are many who dread the day when they are handed a gold watch, place their personal belongings in a cardboard box, and walk to the parking lot for the last time.

For those whose work is integral to their identity and well-being, the challenge is to retire from something to something.

Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, the brilliant research minds behind “Self-Determination Theory,” propose that we have three basic needs: competence, autonomy, and relatedness; which, when met, “yield enhanced self-motivation and mental health and when thwarted lead to diminished motivation and well-being.” (p. 68)1 If these researchers are right, our well-being in retirement may very well be determined by how well we address these fundamental needs.

Could it be that healthy retirees perceive each day as an opportunity to …

… grow new competencies? They seek ways to satisfy their itch to master new skills and succeed at new challenges. Like the bright-eyed, ever-in-motion toddler, they are constantly learning and growing.

… self-direct? The added free time of retirement is an autonomy boon ready to be filled with what one wants to do for its own sake. For those who retire well, the added margin is populated with self-expression motivated from within. 

… build strong relational bonds? In the journal Science, James House and his colleagues suggest that “… social relationships, or the relative lack thereof, constitute a major risk factor for health—rivaling the effect of well-established health risk factors such as cigarette smoking, blood pressure, blood lipids, obesity, and physical actively.” (p. 541)2 Regardless of age, caring for others and being cared for are central to one’s mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. 

… pursue purpose? In addition to competence, autonomy, and relatedness, Daniel Pink, in his book, Drive, suggests that purpose is an important dimension of an engaged and motivated life.3 Viktor Frankl, holocaust survivor and internationally renowned psychiatrist, observes: “… being human always points, and is directed, to something, or someone, other than oneself—be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets about himself—by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself.” (pp. 110-111)4

So by all means, regardless of your age, when your paid vocation no longer meets your need for competence, autonomy, relatedness, and purpose, retire; but retire from something to something. Your well-being may very well depend on it.


1 Ryan, R.M., & Deci, E.L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78.

2 House, J.S., Landis, K.R., & Umberson, D. (1988). Social relationships and health. Science. 241(4865), 540-545.

3 Pink, D.H. (2009). Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. New York: the Penguin Group.

4 Fankl, V.E. (2006). Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston: Beacon
<![CDATA[GIve  Yourself  a  break ...]]>Tue, 01 Sep 2015 18:40:11 GMThttp://www.geneharker.com/blog/give-yourself-a-break
As I write this post, I am surrounded by white noise and the inspiring beauty of countless ocean waves washing over the sand. This environment is a boon to my well-being, naturally generating feelings of awe and contentment. In addition, there’s a less obvious but no less important impact of these sights and sounds.

In my last post, Don’t Read This. Unless …, I suggested that attention is a valuable, but limited resource. Over time, regardless of what we are doing, our concentration wanes and performance declines.

Fortunately, however, attention is renewable.

Kate Lee and her colleagues from the University of Melbourne asked research subjects to concentrate on a boring and menial task that involved hitting certain keys when specific numbers flashed on the computer screen. (I bet you are glad you weren’t a participant in this experiment.) After engaging in this task for five minutes, the subjects were given a 40-second break. During the break, an image of a rooftop surrounded by buildings appeared on each subject’s screen. Half of the subjects saw a plain concrete roof; while the other half viewed a roof covered with a green, flowering meadow.  

After this brief interlude, the subjects went back to their keyboards. During this second trial, concentration levels fell by 8 percent among individuals who saw the concrete roof; while the concentration level of the group members who saw the green roof rose by 6 percent. Lee observes: “Our findings suggest that engaging in these green micro-breaks—taking time to look at nature through the window, on a walk outside, or even on a screen saver—can be really helpful for improving attention and performance in the workplace.”[1],[2]

Nature has a natural restorative effect that contributes to our well-being[3] and, importantly, renews our capacity to focus our attention leading to better performance.

So the next time you feel your concentration and performance beginning to fade, take a break—open pictures of your last trip to the beach, look out a window at the green space below, or take a walk in the nearest park. Then, return to what you were doing and see if you aren’t more focused, efficient, and productive.

Give yourself a break—your well-being and performance depend on it.

Now back to enjoying the beach.

[1] Torres, N. (2015). Gazing at nature makes you more productive: An interview with Kate Lee. Harvard Business Review, 93(9), 32-33.

[2] Lee, K.E., et al. (2015). 40-second green roof views sustain attention: The role of micro-breaks in attention restoration. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 42, 182-189.

[3] Gillis, K., & Gatersleben, B. (2015). A review of psychological literature on the health and wellbeing benefits of biophilic design. Buildings, 5, 948-963.

<![CDATA[Don't    Read    this ,    unless ...]]>Mon, 17 Aug 2015 17:53:29 GMThttp://www.geneharker.com/blog/dont-read-this-unlessPicture
Attention is a valuable, yet limited, resource in the workplace.

Because we live in an information age—a mountain of data assaults us each day. As I write these words, my phone alerts me that new emails and text messages are filling my inbox. This crush of input quickly overwhelms our limited capacity to attend to and process all that is bombarding our senses. It’s too much—we simply can’t pay attention to it all.

What is required is a filter to focus our attention on what’s important and quickly pass over what’s not.

A recent article in the Academy of Management Journal describes both the opportunity and challenge of allocating our attention wisely in an age of information excess: “The growing ubiquity of information provides unprecedented opportunities—for learning, creativity, and innovation, as well as for performance. Understanding how to leverage these possibilities becomes an important challenge for management research and practice. However, the abundance of information also implies increasing competition for the attention of individuals, groups, and organizations; increasing potential for information overload to fuel biases in decision making; increasing costs of collecting, storing, and sharing information; and an increasing risk that all this information becomes a distraction from more relevant information or indeed from the job itself. Thus, a key challenge in the information age is to manage this wealth of available information and channel it to productive ends.” (p.649)[1]

So don’t read this post, unless …

… you have the margin and are in the right environment to give this article your undivided attention. Multitasking is overrated; it dilutes attention and often hurts performance. If the information requesting an audience isn’t worth your undivided attention, than you shouldn’t bother. If you don’t have the margin or inclination to focus your attention at a particular moment in time, don’t.

… you have the energy. Attention to a particular task declines over time because our capacity to focus fatigues. When we are tired, it’s difficult to concentrate and we are less effective. So if you don’t have the energy, take a break and refocus when you are able to give your best effort—a well-timed break adds to efficiency and enhances problem solving.

... it’s the best use of your time and attention. Attention is too precious to waste. Concentrate on the information that best serves you and your business. While this may seem like sound advice and a noble goal, in practice it’s difficult to execute well. We are easily distracted by social media or the latest workplace distraction. Further, we may avoid important data because it challenges our assumptions and is contrary to our biases. Or we may avoid the issues and decisions that are too hard, while sticking with the familiar. So, spend wisely. Focus on what’s most relevant to your success, tackling high-yield activities that add the most value.

Consider taking an inventory of how you invest your attention. At the end of your workday, take a minute to reflect on the information that captured your interest. In your mind, rewind your day, dividing it into discrete segments. Then recall what you focused on during each of these segments. Based on what you learn from these moments of reflection, consider the following questions: “Did I spend my attention well?” Did I focus on information that wasn’t helpful?” and “How could I better steward my attention tomorrow?”

I trust this post was worth your attention.

[1] The Editors (2015). Information, attention, and decision-making. Academy of Management Journal, 58(3): 629-657.