Discover 8 key “Table Stakes” in life to help us be compassionate leaders for ourselves and others with expert Claire Kumar and your host Mike Domitrz.
Productivity Catalyst, Clare Kumar, is on a mission to cultivate high-performance workplaces through two key ingredients: developing sustainably productive employees and compassionate leadership.
Productivity Catalyst, Clare Kumar, is on a mission to develop high-performance workplaces in two ways – helping create sustainably productive employees and cultivating compassionate leadership. As a highly sensitive person, Clare developed personal organizing and productivity techniques as a coping strategy to calm a chaotic, taxing world. She left her corporate career to begin serving others struggling to feel more in control of their work and personal lives. Now she speaks and coaches to inspire shifts in personal performance and corporate culture. True success comes from every one of us being able to live well while using our unique talents in service of others. Productivity Table Stakes from Clare Kumar: To be able to play the game at your best, this is what you need:
- Comfort in Social Situation
- Social Interaction
Links to Clare:
- ** Look out for “FlowJob” COMING SOON! **
- 1. Awakening Compassion at Work, by Monica Worline, Jane E. Dutton
- 2. The Highly Sensitive Person, by Dr. Elaine Aron
Mike Domitrz: Welcome to the Respect Podcast. I’m your host, Mike Domitrz, from mikespeaks.com, where we help organizations of all sizes educational institutions, and the US military create a culture of respect. And respect is exactly what we discuss on this show, so let’s get started. This week’s guest is productivity catalyst, Clare Kumar, who is on a mission to cultivate high-performance workplaces through two key ingredients: developing sustainably productive employees and compassionate leadership. Clare, thank you so much for joining us.
Clare Kumar: It’s a treat to be here. Thanks, Mike.
Mike Domitrz: And Clare, you talk about the fact that you’re a highly-sensitive person. What does that mean, and what did it mean for you in the workplace?
Clare Kumar: I often use the example of a meerkat. So you think of those animals, the really cute rodents, and they stand at attention. You can imagine one standing on their hind legs, keeping a watch for the rest of their pack of meerkats. And that one individual meerkat is really on high alert to notice what’s going on. What happens for a highly sensitive person is you’re kind of in that mode all the time. Your nervous system is wired to pay attention to all that incoming stimulus. Now with a meerkat, the good thing is they have a fully belly, they do a two or three hour shift, and then they take a rest. But when you’re an employee and your nervous system is wired to be paying attention to everything, you don’t necessarily get to take a rest after a couple of hours. And so that can become a challenge in our really busy world when we don’t get a chance to turn off some of the stimulus.
Mike Domitrz: Is that different than an empath? So an empath feels, emotionally, everybody else’s emotions, from what I understand. I’m not an expert on empaths. But what you’re describing is being sensitive to everything that’s … Like, if there’s toxic energy around you, you feel that toxic energy. If there’s positive energy, you feel that positive energy. Is that correct? Versus sensitive versus empath?
Clare Kumar: I think that is probably a very good description. With highly sensitive people, it extends beyond that emotional connection, which I think we also engage in. We can sense … And this is why, actually, it becomes a very good attribute. It makes me good at what I do. I work as an executive coach, and as part of that, we are listening and responding to our clients, and so that ability to tune in and have that emotional connection is important, but it extends beyond that to, for example, the lighting in a space, the humidity, the temperature, the noise, all of those things, and even visual clutter. For about 10, 15 years now, I’ve worked as a professional organizer before focusing on productivity, and spending a lot of time in people’s homes and even office environments dialing down visual noise so people can think.
Mike Domitrz: So if you are that highly-sensitive person, what are steps and strategies you can do to help yourself? Let’s start in the workplace.
Clare Kumar: Okay, things that I’ve done over time have been coping strategies, if you will, to create an environment in which I can thrive, and so it’s looking at the particular things that you might be paying attention to, and one point I want to make is Elaine Aron, who wrote a book called The Highly Sensitive Person, has studied this for some time, and it applies to about 15 to 20% of the population, so it’s a fairly healthy size of the workforce that may be dealing with these challenges. So number one, for sure, tackling what that physical environment from a visual perspective to make sure … And I’m laughing as I say this, because the desk I’m working on right now is the most cluttered desk I think I’ve seen.
Clare Kumar: Because as I mentioned my sister was over, and she was napping, and all of my stuff from the bed is now on the desk. So as I say, take care of your physical space, I have to laugh. And take care of the other things that will be challenging for you. So it could be noise distractions; it could be that you want to work with headphones on; it could be that you need to go and book a conference room or a meeting room or remove yourself from the office environment, especially with the increasing open concepts. We actually need a variety of spaces to function within, and a sensitive person is going to be more taxed by that open concept office than your average person.
Mike Domitrz: And so if you’re the employer, the leader, of somebody who’s sensitive, how do you help that person? Do you seek out what settings they need to really perform at their best? Do you just say, “Hey, what can I do to support you in creating this space?”
Clare Kumar: You totally nailed it. I think there’s several things that you want to be as a leader when you’re approaching your employees from a compassionate perspective. Number one, you want to stay committed to the belief that your employees are out to do their best, and that positive belief set is really important. You want to be conscious, so you want to tune into what’s happening personally for the person, as well as professionally, because we come into work as humans, and we carry our whole lives with us, whatever might be happening at home could affect work, and vice versa. So we want to think of our employees as whole people and be curious, conscious of that. We want to be curious, and that’s, to your point, we want to ask the question, “What can I do to help you perform at your best?” That’s one takeaway question I’d love to have people lock into their brains: “What can I do to help you perform at your best?”
Mike Domitrz: What if someone’s not aware of it? Is it possible that somebody is high-stressed because they’re not even aware of this themselves, that this is their struggle?
Clare Kumar: Oh, absolutely. I have a productivity model, which I call Productivity CPR, and the initial activity in that whole process is self-awareness, and a lot of times, self-awareness is challenged in our really busy … What I call “hustle culture.” We’re not taking the time to pause and self-reflect. And you’re absolutely right; stopping and tuning into, “Wait a minute, number one, what’s my body telling me?” Number two, what do I think … How do I name that emotion or that physical sensation that’s coming up, and how do I understand that? And then what’s triggering it?” So we can then take our problem-solving approach and try and come up with solutions.
Clare Kumar: And sometimes, we can do that on our own, and sometimes you want to work with our leaders to help cultivate that environment in which we can thrive. And that can look like anything from a more quiet location in the office. I just commended one of my early-on managers … He’s now the president of the Canadian operations … and I commended him on his noticing that I did much better in an office environment that wasn’t in the center of the floor, but it was away a little bit in a quieter area. And his noticing when we moved offices, I was in a much better place. So paying attention to that is really important, and being curious, and then taking a problem-solving approach, too. Whenever there’s what I call a speed bump, whether it’s internal or external, trying to solve what’s causing that, and find a better path for performance.
Mike Domitrz: And you specifically talk about compassionate leadership, which is really what we’re displaying right here, how to create the best setting for people and be compassionate for them. What else does that mean when somebody says cultivating compassionate leadership?
Clare Kumar: Well, I think it’s important on two levels, and it needs to start with self. And the number of leaders, actually, that I’ve talked to who are … who get this with respect to their employees, but then will turn to me and say, “But I’m really terrible at taking care of myself.” So I think it’s really important for leadership to demonstrate self-respect, and when I talk about self-respect, I’m talking about recognizing that we’re human animals. There’s a lot of talk about artificial intelligence out there. I want to talk about how we respect our human intelligence and honor the fact that we’re animals and we need sleep. We need nutrition. We need movement. We need light. We need social interaction. There are a number of things I call productivity table stakes, and when you as an individual understand what your needs are for every one of those table stakes, then not only can you look to create that in your schedule and in your environment, you can gracefully defend those boundaries that you can put in place.
Mike Domitrz: Now the term is table stakes?
Clare Kumar: Yeah, I call it productivity table stakes. And I’m a poker player, but I thought … When I was thinking through how to explain this, it’s the things that you need to have in your life to show up, to deliver your best performance. So to be able to play the game, this is what you must bring to the table, so table stakes became what I call it.
Mike Domitrz: So are there standard, set groupings or categories of these, or are they completely different for everyone?
Clare Kumar: There are eight different productivity table stakes, which also works with the poker table analogy, because they’re often eight-sided, and they’re everything from, as I mentioned, sleep, fuel, movement, light, the comfort in your physical environment, social interaction, and your ability to attend to things, your focus. And I think the most important one is mindset. And so understanding our relationship to each of those things, and how we cultivate what we need for each of them is really, really critical.
Mike Domitrz: And that’s great. You can see how somebody can look at each of those and go, “Where am I hitting? Where am I missing?” Because the odds are slim that most of us are hitting on all eight.
Clare Kumar: I think so, yeah. I think so. As our society evolves, I see a lot more loneliness, and this was even with some younger employees in a company. They were new to Canada, where I live, and finding it difficult to make social connections. So looking for what level of social interaction might somebody need might not even be on their radar as something that might be getting in the way.
Mike Domitrz: And when we’re talking about compassion, what are examples to help people understand where they might not even recognize that they’re lacking the compassion? Like everybody wants to believe, “I’m a compassionate leader,” so what are some examples where people might have thought they were but they weren’t? Just help us all look in the mirror and go, “Hm, could that have been me at a certain situation?”
Clare Kumar: I love that question, and there’s a few examples from my personal experience, and then another one with … I’ll tell you that story first. But I think it’s first recognizing that you have a personal bias, and you bring your culture, your upbringing, your personal beliefs to whatever you do, and to first be able to say, “Maybe I don’t know everything” is great, and that’s why staying curious is really an important point as a compassionate leader, is to say, “Hm, maybe I’m not experiencing things the only way they can be experienced,” and holding onto that as a mindset as you work with your employees. And the story that I have is I was working with a team of individuals through an organization, learning organization. Right from the senior vice president to the admin assistant who … And they were all in a day workshop with me.
Clare Kumar: And as part of the facilitated discussion, we got into a conversation about culture and communication and interaction in that workplace, and in that discussion, the senior vice president learned that, every day, the admin assistant was taking about two hours of work home with her to complete solely because she was in that core hub position in the office, open concept, and she was a social, engaging person, and the number of people that would drop by and interrupt her meant that she couldn’t complete her tasks. So when he learned this, he … And he had no concept at all … he said, “Well, wait a second. What if you worked for two hours from home, got that focused time that you need, uninterrupted time, and then came into the office?” Well, life-changing for her. She not only missed rush hour and had a more pleasant commute in, she was able to manage her workload and still have the right amount of engaged time, but with also that protected focus time.
Mike Domitrz: That’s an interesting one, because I could hear some people thinking, “Move her, so that the other six hours, she’s not bombarded with everybody coming at her for personality is one that gets distracted through social interaction,” and so I can see the positive in, “Give her the two hours,” but wouldn’t she still be set in this overwhelming social setting?
Clare Kumar: I think part of her job was actually that engagement, so she was sort of reception, admin, both. And so it made sense for her to be physically located where she was, but she also needed protected time for some of the tasks that she was in charge of.
Mike Domitrz: So in that example, the leadership actually caught it. They showed compassion, and they adjusted. What’s example where somebody did not? Like they thought they were doing the right thing for the organization, but they were actually lacking compassion in the moment?
Clare Kumar: So I’ll give you two personal stories. The first one is I was 23 years old, and in a high-tech environment, the kind of place where we all wore all-nighters on our arms like badges of honor. It was a very busy place to work. A lot of really bright minds. And unfortunately, my father was fighting cancer, and he’d been fighting cancer, by then, for about a year. And I was at work one morning, and I got the phone call from my mom that he was no longer in remission. Well, that kind of hits you like a blow to the stomach when you’re 23 years old and you get that news. So I was pretty upset at my desk, and I don’t know, it was about half an hour or an hour, and my boss came by and saw that I was upset, and I explained to him what happened. He sat down in my office and looked at me and said, “Hey, when my dad died, I took three days off. You don’t want to let this ruin your career.”
Mike Domitrz: Oh my.
Clare Kumar: Yeah. I was … Well, clearly, it didn’t really make me feel much better in that moment, and I haven’t forgotten it in, what, 27 years? So I thought that was an example of him taking his personal view of his relationship with his father and assuming that I should be able to take his approach and apply it to my relationship with my father and my relationship to work, and there wasn’t a performance issue at this time. So it wasn’t particularly motivating or compassionate. And then fast forward another six months, and my leadership changed, and I had a new boss. And unfortunately, at this time, my father had become more ill and actually slipped into a coma in ICU. It was pretty grueling time. And the manager I had then talked to me and said, “You know what, Clare? Take all the time you need.” That difference … Same company. Same culture around. But that difference in compassion in the leadership … Can you guess who I wanted to work harder for?
Mike Domitrz: Absolutely. And I think what people forget sometimes is we get so caught up in the deadlines and the goals and the benchmarks that we forget it’s people achieving those.
Clare Kumar: Exactly. Yeah. And so that’s why I want to bring the humanity and the fact we’re animals back into this, and sort of one way to do that that I’ve found useful dealing with anybody in trying to drive up compassion whether it be a family member or strangers is to think of everybody as if they’re three years old. At three years old, you don’t think anyone’s intentionally trying to make you have a bad day. They’re just learning and doing their best and figuring things out. And if we can think of ourselves as three years old and be more nurturing and think of other people and how we can guide them and support them and help them grow, then that’s been useful.
Mike Domitrz: Do you get pushback on that? Like somebody thinking, “Wait, that’s just weird and uncomfortable to think of everybody …” especially in a place of high intelligence and creativity, and to think of somebody as a three-year-old is almost diminishing the intelligence of what’s happening. How do you respond to that pushback?
Clare Kumar: That’s a great question. I first talk about thinking of yourself as the three-year-old. And in fact, I have myself as a three-year-old … a picture of me at three years old on my office wall to remember that spark. There’s a devilishness and a grin, and it’s this incredible vibrant energy. And so it’s not to diminish intellect, it’s to reposition our expectations. I spoke to a wonderful gentleman last night who is an advocate for disabilities … for people whose children have disabilities. His son was born a quadripllegic. And he said, as he watched his son grow, the opportunities and compassion just disappeared as he aged. And I think that’s why I talk about thinking of someone in their youth as a way to drive compassion. So it may be new, it may be somewhat weird, but try it on yourself first would be my advice, and see how that feels.
Mike Domitrz: That makes a lot of sense, by saying, “All right, picture myself with that curiosity, that discovery, that open heart,” I can see how that would make a big difference starting there.
Clare Kumar: Yeah, and you don’t think, “I wasn’t so smart at three.” That doesn’t really come into my thinking about myself at three.
Mike Domitrz: Right. Right, exactly. And how does the concept … ? So we’re all about the Respect Podcast here. And you talk about productivity. How does respect align with productivity?
Clare Kumar: Well, I think we’ve touched on it a little bit. The respect for yourself is paramount, because those productivity table stakes … When you understand how they can impact your performance … That respect for self … And sometimes we have to be brave to demonstrate that respect, and sometimes we have to put our money where our mouth is. And one example of that I can give you is I’ve done some work on shopping television, both in the US and Canada, and it can be a 24/7 world. In one instance, when you’re doing what they call a showstopper up here in Canada, they ask you to do seven hours of television in 24, and the most sleep you can get with the way their schedule is set up is about three and a half hours. Well, I decided some time ago, for health reasons, that protecting sleep is absolutely paramount because that’s when the body heals, and so I’ve turned down several thousand dollars a day of work because I wasn’t able to preserve sleep during that time, not adequately. And so yeah, you have to be a little bit brave, and that’s where respect comes in.
Mike Domitrz: How do you respond when somebody says, “Well, you have the privilege of being able to do that. I can’t afford to turn away the business that … or the job situation to feed my kids, to feed myself. I’ve got to … That’s all I have. That’s my only opportunity to make money.” How do you respond to that person?
Clare Kumar: That’s a beautiful question, because we all have to juggle very full lives, and I think when you recognize that your health is the most important thing and if you look at losing capability, which I’ve faced. I’ve just decided to be public about the fact that I have MS, multiple sclerosis. And when you face losing capability in a large degree, you are then forced to look at how you’re living and really subscribe to the things that sustain your performance. And so what I would love is for people to figure that out before they lose capability, before a state of chronic stress taxes the body and the mind and perhaps cultivates a challenge like I face. I think we are in a challenging time where expectation drives us to that, and conditions are not easy. I live in a very, very expensive city, and making choices is difficult.
Clare Kumar: What I would say is continually strive to better your situation. Look for a job that’s closer to home. Look for a job with slightly better conditions for yourself or greater flexibility. This is partly why I lobbied a long time while I was in the corporate world to senior leadership for flexibility and reduced work weeks, so that we can honor our capacity as human individuals. And it’s about being sustainably productive. So I want everybody to have their teams there next year with more energy, vitality, commitment, than they do right now. And that comes from having everyone thrive.
Mike Domitrz: And I appreciate you sharing with us about MS, so thank you for sharing that strength and that courage tells us that … You just decided to come forward as far as speaking publicly about this. And I think that goes to what you were discussing in compassion and respect, and that’s a concept of how much compassion we have for ourselves and respecting our space and our privacy. What was that process like for you?
Clare Kumar: Two things: scary as hell. Excuse that word. But scary, because number one, I’ve always thought, “What if I need to get a job? No one will hire me.” And it’s a very, very real concern with anybody with a chronic illness. And number two, I’m dating, and so I also thought that’s probably not very sexy. So do I want this out or not? And then I finally decided in September that I need … I’m thankfully living a very full life right now with no real effects that I’m dealing with other than fatigue, I would say, but a very full life, and I thought, “You know what, even with the speaking engagements and the coaching and training that I do, I need to construct that so that I can deliver very well,” and but also, out of respect to my clients and transparency, I want them to understand why my golden day is going in for a lunch and learn type meeting followed up by half a day of coaching. It’s not five days back-to-back training. That’s just not going to be something that I’m going to thrive through.
Clare Kumar: And honestly, I construct my full days now … Full days of training from … to be five- or six-house days, and I’m telling you, not only do I love it, but the employees love it too, because there’s time on either end to check email. There’s a good lunch break where we get outside. It’s actually walking the talk, and it feels a whole lot more aligned for me, and so I am trusting now that being honest about it will open up opportunities and hopefully, with people that are listening, if they’ve got a challenge, will help some bravery in claiming those productivity table stakes so that you can then be really giving your best. I call it success. One of my definitions of success is being able to use your unique skills in the service of others, and so that’s what this is all about is understanding what conditions we can thrive so that we continue to be giving, serving people, and that drives our personal fulfillment. So it’s a big goal, but I’m hoping that it inspires a few people out there.
Mike Domitrz: Well, and for our listeners I’ve got on this show, and it’s … I was typing up the eight table stakes that you mentioned so that they could find those, because it’s always hard when you’re listening. So for our listeners, know those are in the show notes at respectpodcast.com. They’re also in the show notes if you’re on iTunes or wherever you’re listening to. Clare, you have a book you’re working on called Flowjob.
Clare Kumar: That’s right.
Mike Domitrz: So obviously, that title in and of itself will get people’s attention. What’s Flowjob all about?
Clare Kumar: So two things, I don’t know if you know the Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called Flow.
Mike Domitrz: I do. Absolutely.
Clare Kumar: Okay. Right. So that’s the optimal psychology of experience, and so when I’m coaching someone, I realized over the years, that I’m trying to bring them into that state of flow where life isn’t necessarily easy. There’s a right amount of challenge in a task, but you enter that timelessness where you’re using your skills and you’re just so engrossed in your activities that time passes you by and you’re enjoying it, that in-the-zone state. So I want people to have that experience at work. So there’s really a spiritual element to having flow at work, and that’s where Flowjob comes from, and I just thought I’d have some fun with it, because one of my values is nixing productivity and pleasure for sustainable performance because I think we have to be enjoying the journey, enjoying what we do. So hopefully, that translates in the title.
Mike Domitrz: Now, did you get any pushback on going with the title? Are there people who think, “Well, that’s going to offend, so stay away from it?”
Clare Kumar: I love that you’re asking this. I’ve been researching the title for about five months now, and I will say that 80 to 90% of people laugh right away, and for me … My love of humor is … That’s a huge win for me, but there are a few people that will come to me afterwards and say, “You know, I’ve been thinking about that title. I’m not sure it’s for corporate. I have concerns about hashtag MeToo, and I hear all that, and I respect that position. I think when people understand I have a very … There’s a lot of gravitas around the message that I want to get out around bringing flow to work that they’ll see it as hopefully clever, not offensive. I’m British, and wordplay is massive. Me and my dad … My dad and I used to laugh at the worst puns all day long. It’s just … That’s my sense of humor. It was almost on my license plate, and then I thought, “I cannot drive my high school son to school and pick him up with that on my car. That won’t work.” So you should see his face when we talk about the book title now. He rolls his eyes in great horror.
Clare Kumar: But overall, it’s making people laugh. When I was researching the name, it was actually a company in Ireland as well that was a job site. So connecting people to work. So it’s been used before in a professional sense, and if I make people laugh along the way to a journey in which … that they can be learning the tips for not only personal productivity, which is the first three parts of the book, and then the leadership perspective on building … being that compassionate leader, which is the fourth part, then I’m … I think I’m at the point where it’s worth, perhaps, that initial concern from people. And I’d love to talk with people about it, but overwhelmingly, people laugh and say, “You know what?” They say … This is coming from a few really respected speakers. They’re like, “You know what? I don’t know if I would do it, but … ” Actually, no, what they said was, “This is risky, but I wish I’d thought of it,” is what they said.
Mike Domitrz: Well, there you go.
Clare Kumar: “And can I use it?” So overall, overwhelmingly, I’m going with it, because I think in this, I have a background in 15 years of marketing, and getting through our busy communication culture right now, it’s hard to get attention. So I figure, I’m going to go for the attention-grabbing title with some gravitas and humor, hopefully.
Mike Domitrz: Well, I appreciate that, love it. And I love that it’s playful and it’s fun. That’s very cool. So I want to thank you, Clare. This has been a great insight you’ve provided us, for both being able to help ourselves and those we work with, especially for leadership.
Clare Kumar: My pleasure, Mike.
Mike Domitrz: For our listeners, you know what time it is. It’s time for Question of the Week. Before I answer this week’s Question of the Week, I’d love to ask you a question. Would you please subscribe to this podcast, the Respect Podcast with Mike Domitrz? By subscribing, you can make a huge impact. Now you might be wondering, “Mike, how does my subscribing to your podcast make a huge impact?” Well, here’s how. For every person that subscribes, it raises the rankings of the show in the search engines. So for people who care about respect like yourself, when they’re doing a search for podcast, they’re more likely to find the show, thus providing an awesome opportunity for us to spread more respect around this world. And all you do is hit subscribe under your podcast. Plus the second benefit is, by subscribing, you automatically get every episode right into your phone or whatever device you are listening to the podcast on. It happens automatically. So subscribing also makes your life easier. Now let’s get into this Question of the Week.
Mike Domitrz: Oh, and by the way, you can always ask your questions of the week by joining us on Facebook in our discussion group. It’s called the Respect Podcast Discussion Group. Go there on Facebook and ask whatever questions you would like me to answer and/or address in this segment of the show, and then listen to each episode to find out when your question is included. This week’s question is, “Mike, what’s one of your favorite books?” Now, for listeners who are frequent listeners, you know this is something that I add into the Question of the Week about once a month, once every two months. We add in a book that guests have not mentioned. Here’s the book that I want to share this week that I continually turn to for how powerful it is, because you can open a page and have an entire chapter on a page. That’s how short the chapters are, to just make you think, settle, and reflect in that moment. The book is Tao Te Ching. Now some people pronounce it Dao Te Ching. I may be pronouncing this whole thing wrong, and I apologize for that. The subtitle is A Book About the Way and the Power of the Way, and it’s about Ursula Le Guin, which Le Guin is Le G-U-I-N, G-U-I-N. Ursula’s U-R-S-U-L-A. The book Tao Te Ching: A Book About the Way and the Power of the Way. So powerful and reflective.
Mike Domitrz: Do you know what I would love? I would love to hear your answer to this week’s Question of the Week, so would you please answer what your answer would have been if you were asked that question today on the show? All you do is go to our Facebook page. We have a special group where we have these discussions called the Respect Podcast Discussion Group. So the Respect Podcast Discussion Group, and share with us, what would your answer have been to this week’s Question of the Week, and if take a moment, post us a new question for future episodes. What would question would you like to hear me answer on an upcoming episode? That’s all done at on Facebook in our special group, which is the Respect Podcast Discussion Group. Can’t wait to see you there. Thank you for joining us for this episode of the Respect Podcast, which was sponsored by the Date Safe Project at datesafeproject.org. And remember, you can always find me at mikespeaks.com.