Last week I was super present in my work. I’m always present, but this felt like present on steroids. What’s funny is that it also felt easy. My kids can’t go to camp this summer, so it’s Mom as cruise director and I decided to work mornings only (most days). The most important tricks are brutal prioritization and plenty of grace. By grace I mean deciding that what I’m doing is enough. It’s counter intuitive but when I give myself that permission, my inner critic is quieter and I move through the work so much faster.
One of the most consistent requests I get from clients is for focus. Instead of being in meetings worrying about the email you forgot to send on the project you are managing, you actually pay attention. And…you don’t have to have another meeting just to go over what you missed. Decision making is easier and less exhausting because you know your big picture goals. You end the day with energy to spend outside of work because you’ve paced yourself. Good time management gives you focus, which provides balance and connection.
Early in The Great Pause, I put together a video on my favorite time management tools. Please take a look. One of the great gifts of this time is that we’ve realized what matters. Learn how to use time for the things you want most.
A funny thing happened last Friday. I felt sad when governor Cuomo did his final briefing. For three months I saved his press conference and watch it while I prepped dinner. First, thirsting to hear the “numbers” as they were going down for New York, but then just listening to him repeat the same reassuring messages over and over.
As much work as our lockdown habits were to create, I’m finding they’re just as hard to let go of. Which got me thinking about my clients who get frustrated about things they don’t like in their teams, but can’t find the momentum to change. Habit change is hard. So I found an article with some great insights on habit change.
I love where she starts: Love yourself into change. What if you and your team are worth the goals and dreams that you have? Yes, habit change is hard, but what if you could increase your chances of reaching those goals, AND have fun along the way?
I translated the article from “healthy eating habits” to “healthy team dynamics:”
1. Identify the habits you want to change – Could you cut the tension on your team with a knife? Does one person struggle with decision and backtrack so it drives everyone crazy? Take time to break down the frustration into identifiable habits.
2. What are you getting out of it? – We call this “serving you.” Sometimes in what you complain about there’s a little piece of what you want. So maybe you complain about a colleague after hours, but doing that lets you avoid a difficult conversation.
3. Honor your wisdom – Like having healthy snacks around so you don’t binge, what would it be like to connect with your colleagues during low-stress times? So your feeling for them isn’t only driven by high-stress situations where no one’s at their best.
4. Have a plan for the stress moments – Maybe it’s breathing, maybe it’s stepping away, maybe it’s telling yourself all is OK
5. Remove triggers – As you are trying to create new habits, maybe avoid the hyper-demanding client or supervisor who makes everyone feel lousy. Give yourself a little space to create the new habit and play with it.
6. Visualize yourself changing – Imagine the team doing great, collaborating and delivering on what you promised.
7. Monitor your negative self-talk – Shift “our team is a mess” to “We’ll get there. We’re all good people.”
8. Take baby steps – When I teach the Social Style, I always recommend choosing two 15 minute slots a week to practice flexing for other styles. Just because you have an insight (like, “running five miles a day is good!”) doesn’t mean you can flip a switch. You have to strengthen the muscle little by little.
9. Accept that you will falter – Someone on the team losing their cool doesn’t mean you give up.
10. Know that it takes time. It took several weeks for me to get hooked on my daily press briefings!
If there’s one thing we’re seeing these days, it’s that habit change is hard, but it is possible. Keep the faith and take it one step at a time.
The last three months have taught us that change is hard. Organizational change is hard too. I’ve worked on teams that had that, “high-five!” energy. It’s amazing. And the business results are often extraordinary, with creativity that’s off the charts. But even though most of us want that energy, engaging in the change that could make it happen is hard. We talk a good game, but don’t execute.
Three things have come up for me around organizational change and our resistance to it: Habits, Perspectives and Identity.
Changing Habit – Staying home to stop the spread of coronavirus was like landing in a foreign country. Boy did it drive home how much we depend on habits to get us through even our least productive day. Habits make us more efficient. That’s good. But when we want to change, they present formidable obstacles.
Different Perspectives – Remember the gold versus blue dress debate a few years ago? People on-line were enraged! The photo in this post is another famous example. The last two weeks with the Black Lives Matter movement brought up how hard it can be to see things from another perspective. Imagine what that does to collaboration, especially when people build strategies around their different assumptions. Once we’re invested, we fight hard for our positions, and selectively look for evidence that supports our point of view.
Identity – Identity may be the most resistant to change. When we have to consider that our point of view, which drives our actions, could have a negative impact on someone else, it’s tough. Most of us identify with being good people, and with being right. Having that challenged goes to a place we’d like to avoid.
In a recent session, two team members got into a tense exchange that ended with, “Fine. We’ll do it your way.” Their boss, who was also on the call, reached out the next day to tell me she was surprised to hear backlash. She told me that she had taken those words at face value. She was in a perspective driven by a strong value that says, “Onward and upward! Let’s get it done,” and that is core to her identity. So she didn’t pick up on the tension that others did. To her credit, she wanted to explore it more so she and the team could learn from it and resolve it.
Taking a fresh look at the habits, perspectives and identity is challenging. Organizational change is hard, but it’s also doable. And it’s worth it. I believe that we have a unique opportunity to drive real change right now, in the world, and in our workplaces. When we are connected, open and share deep trust, we can do amazing things. There’s a great book called Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, that talks about the role of identity in our resistance to change. Take a look.
I work with a lot of high performers. But when I refer to them in that way, they look over their shoulder like they’re looking for the person I’m actually talking about. And that disconnect between how they perform and how they see themselves costs a lot of energy…which contributes to burnout. Maybe one of these scenarios sounds familiar:
- Your team could cut the tension with a knife. People go home exhausted and spend precious personal time venting to friends and family. In meetings, low trust means people are hoarding work, and doing more of it. Yet when you point out that they’ve had double digit growth for three years, they say “I guess so. But it’s been through sheer determination.”
- You are like one of my high performing business school students who chokes up when I tell him he’s a good son and brother for how he supports his family. He has great grades and wonderful friendships, yet all he can focus on is the fact that graduation is eight months away and he hasn’t secured a job.
- Or maybe you have a rising star on your team who is losing her own team members because of abrasive behavior. Instead of spending time learning to motivate her team, she can’t stop focusing on what’s still not done. Instead of delegating, she takes back work in frustration and belittles her team.
All of these people are experiencing success, but that success comes with considerable burnout. Below are several ideas around mindset that help me, and my clients, feel more restored and energized.
Start with healing your mindset: Tara Brach describes it in a meditation I listened to recently. We have “deep habits of judging ourselves.” To enjoy success without burnout, we need to restore ourselves regularly. Spend a few minutes following a mediation.
Get to know your inner critic: Stop for a moment and be with the voices in your head. Sounds funny, but overwhelm, procrastination, even being critical of others are often driven by the feelings linked to voices like, “I know I’ve missed something critical and we’re all going to look bad,” which is a version of, “I’m not good enough.” Success without burnout means knowing that perfectionism is a lie…but it’s tough. You have to slow down and ask, What does your critic say? What are your feelings underneath the message? To learn more about the inner critic, PositiveIntelligence.com is one of my favorite resources.
Understand your emotional triggers: The inner critic is within us. But often it’s situations outside that trigger those voices. Maybe someone is a stickler and it triggers your self-doubt about sometimes missing detail. Maybe someone else has a ton of charisma and you hate public speaking. What situations make you lose your mojo? Which people do the same? What is it about those situations and people? You might find there are common themes. Spend some time thinking about what the themes are and just sit with them. The more you avoid the feelings, the more they persist. Sometimes just immersing yourself in them has an incredible way of releasing them.
Change Your Habits: Once you know what your inner critic and triggers are, you can deal with them. Maybe before a meeting with the stickler, you need to prepare so you have your ducks in a row. Maybe when you are with the charismatic person, you need to speak up instead of letting things go. Habits don’t change just because we have an insight. Once you have the insight, break it down into specific actions and pace yourself. Try it once or twice. See how it goes. And create a new habit.
Appreciate What You’ve Done: The frantic pace of life today is one of burnout’s most powerful weapons. One of my favorite end-of-week activities is to look at the three to five things you did that week and for each write:
- What was the accomplishment?
- Why is it important?
- What would further progress look like?
- What are the immediate next steps, if any?
Write Three Things You Are Grateful for at the Start and End of Each Day: These gratitudes should be from the last 24 hours, not from life in general. For more, check out The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. Ending the day feeling good about how things are is a great way to be more present after work. And feeling free to focus on personal life evenings and weekends is an amazing way to restore, and counter the effects of burnout.
Resilience and Taking Action: One of the best ways to achieve success without burnout is to take initiative and stop avoiding things that feel hard or scary. A lot of learning is on the other side of action, and when we wait until we can be perfect, we lose the learning that builds confidence and experience. And confidence is a huge burnout buster. To get better at taking initiative, one of my favorite tools is to understand failure.
Resilience and Understanding Failure: There are four kinds of failure, but once you understand and embrace them, there really is no failure. Here they are:
Learning: When you’re on the right track and are doing something you’re excited about, bumps in the road are part of the journey. When those happen, pause to understand what happened so you can get the most from it.
Redirect: A redirect is like a learning failure, but it’s one that makes you change course, maybe a little, maybe a lot. This might be when you realize early in your career that you aren’t made for sales, or for accounting, or marketing, and you decide to change course. For a team, maybe you realize your marketing strategy didn’t work because sales are down, and you have to seriously rethink it.
Self-reflection: This is when a failure makes you hold a mirror to a deep assumption. Maybe you’ve stayed in a job because it looked good on paper, and you put that before your happiness. Or maybe you hired a friend to be on your team, it’s not working out and you have to confront that you put your friend before your team.
Transformative: These are major changes, like firing, bankruptcy. They tend to grow us and make us learn, but things won’t go back to being the same.
Getting comfortable with the ups and downs of performance without it being a comment on your character is important.
Too many of us think that success should deliver us from burnout, but often the pressure to perform that comes with success actually does the opposite. I hope these tips are helpful to you.
If you are experiencing burnout and would like to have a conversation, set up a time to talk.
If you are like most managers today, you get in a 9am and are lucky to be done by 7pm, and you’ve only crossed one or two things off your To Do list. You don’t want to micro-manage your team, but it can feel like herding cats.
You are not alone. Most companies today don’t have the time or resources to train junior employees to work autonomously, or give managers on their way up the education that can help them truly manage and motivate their teams. The good news is that it’s figureoutable.
There are several secrets I use to help clients regain the freedom to focus on their own work, while they support their teams to own and reach their goals.
Secret #1 – Know the Strengths and Weaknesses of Each Person on Your Team (including you!) and stop trying to make everyone good at everything.
In school we’re trained to get good grades in everything. Work’s not like that. Your job as a manager is to figure out which role you, then each team member, will do best.
- What are you good at and how do you contribute to your team and your company? Take the Gallup Strengths Finder 2.0. Then spend some time connecting what you’re good at to the good work you’ve done in the past. This small awareness is a huge confidence booster.
- Think about what each of your team members is good at.
- Some people like to figure out what to do, then get it done. Give this person projects you are doing for the first time, where the roadmap is not totally clear. Like a product launch for a new category, or a presentation to a new client.
- Others love to come up with ideas and talk about all the good stuff that’s possible. Let these people brainstorm — they may imagine something no one else thought of.
- Some people will roll up their sleeves and do anything, as long as they feel connected. Let these people work together and with other departments to get things done, and to pause at the water cooler now and then; they are like glue that can keep your team connected.
- And don’t forget the people who are amazing at detail. Sometimes it feels like all they know how to say is ‘no,’ but they’re great at seeing the mistakes you want to avoid. Let them “kick the tires” at the start and end of your project to make sure it has the quality and detail you want.
Check out Belbin Team Role Inventories, to help your team “divide and conquer.”
Secret #2 – Know what motivates each of your team members
Managers often make the mistake of thinking that they should be the same with everyone. Avoid playing favorites, but do realize that different people want different things. I suggest sitting down with each of them and answering these questions:
What do they want to achieve in career?
What do they want in their personal life?
What motivates them?
What gives them a sense of purpose?
What are they good at?
What would make them better at their job?
Do they want public recognition, or a quiet lunch with you or your boss?
Secret #3 – Know how to give feedback that is welcome and effective
- Be generous and specific with positive feedback. Research shows that we learn best when we use the neural pathways connected to our strengths. If you want your team members to do something differently, first point out the specific things that come naturally to them. Not, “Great job!” but “Thank you for bringing that extra research to the meeting. It was so helpful to be able to give the client a thorough answer.”
- For difficult feedback, focus on what their behavior does to you. Instead of, “Why don’t you ever proofread your work!” try, “When I find mistakes in a presentation and we are close to the deadline, it makes me very anxious. There are so many moving parts to what we do and I don’t have time to proofread and get it all done.” If the person becomes defensive, denies or blames someone else, just stay calm, listen without judgment, and when you can, repeat your feedback. It can feel tense. You may go back and forth a few times, but hopefully you will both get to a place where you can have a productive discussion about some solutions.
- And finally, be good at receiving feedback. If someone pays you a compliment, let them know you appreciate it. If you brush it off, they won’t do it again. And if they give you difficult feedback, also say thank you. If it makes you uncomfortable, let them know you’d like to think it over. Don’t deny or get defensive. Remember that they are watching you — so model good behavior. Come back to them in a day or two with your thoughts.
Secret #4– Be real with your team members
A client named Heather was experiencing high turnover in her team and knew she was too harsh and demanding. What I discovered interviewing her team is that when she was relaxed, they loved her! They said things like, “When we are at off-sites and Heather is relaxed, she is so much fun! If she could only be like that more of the time.” Heather was so anxious about getting her work done that she spent most of her time focused on what her team still hadn’t gotten done. She’d lost them.
We focused on letting “Off-site Heather” show up more consistently. She shared with her team that she was working on changing her intense behavior. She practiced smiling more and using her sense of humor, saying things like, “Uh oh, here comes the General. Better take a moment and step back.” In those step back moments, she and the team said one or two things that were going well, then moved on to discussing the work at hand.
We also worked on having Heather feel more confident and less defensive. She spent time each week writing down her wins. She also spent some time writing down what she feared might go wrong. Just to get it out of her system.
So. Much. Better. Remember, her team wanted her to be fun more of the time, not all of the time. Her efforts meant so much to them. They learned not to take her intense moments personally, and those moments shifted to how much she cared about their collective success. With that, they were much more willing to roll up their sleeves and collaborate with her.
Being real doesn’t have to be weird or end in a pile of public tears. It’s different for everyone, but here are a few things to get started:
- Smile more
- Share about your tough weekend
- Apologize! If you overreacted or were unprofessional, say you’re sorry
- If you need alone time or a break, say so. It tells the team you are real and lets them stop wondering why you look unhappy or dissatisfied
- Write down the stuff that you are afraid of/worried about, so it stops derailing you
Those are my four secrets to motivate your team and get them doing an amazing job!
The Confidence Building Power of Self-Awareness. During the 2008 recession, I heard Carla Harris speak on career. She said that while it’s human nature to want to hide in times of uncertainty, it’s actually better to put your head up and have a point of view. I’d agree. And, I’d say the best point of view you can have is about yourself. To feel more confident as a leader of a team or in your career, and to manage up, know what you (or your team) have to offer and know how to share it:
Self-Awareness – Know Your Leadership Superpower and How It Contributes
Self-Awareness is so powerful for building confidence. We’ve all heard that you have to know your strengths. What too many people miss is understanding your impact — how does that strength contribute to the whole?
To know that, you also need to understand how teams work. (See the Belbin Team Roles for more on that). Companies need sales people who love to be with clients, analysts who love to do research, project managers who love to move things forward, accountants, and creatives who love to cross T’s and dot I’s.
Then think about how roles interact. Maybe an analyst loves to immerse herself in the technical aspect of the company’s products. She goes on a sales call with a salesperson, who loves to focus on the client’s demeanor and knows how to pivot in the moment. Having the analyst in the meeting, with her deep technical knowledge, makes the salesperson feel more confident. Maybe it’s easier to close the sale. Then the analyst has an impact on the salesperson, who has an impact on the bottom line. That’s how it works. Knowing your impact makes confidence soar.
Exercise: Impact Bullseye. Draw three concentric circles. In the smallest one, write one of your strengths. In the middle one, write how that strength helps your team and close colleagues. Then in the biggest one, write how you impact the bottom line, either directly or via the help you provide to those colleagues.
Confidence Building Power – Strong Leaders Don’t Beat Themselves Up for Their Weaknesses
Famed Harvard Business School professor Peter Drucker said, “It takes far more energy and work to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.”
Years ago I was complaining to someone about how much I hated to balance my checkbook and she said, “So don’t do it. The bank doesn’t make too many mistakes. Just don’t worry about it.” I was giddy. Literally. For years I’d dreaded the end of the month. I hated the task, but what really weighed on me was beating myself up for not being good at accounting.
This is something I see. All. The. Time. It’s human nature that when we get feedback, we jump right over the good stuff and focus on the bad. To be clear, not being good at something doesn’t mean you’ll never have to do it. But it’s amazing how light we feel when we let go of the judgment.
Exercise: Make a list of all of the tasks you do in your job (yes, it takes a while). Then, make a grid with four quadrants: “Good at it and energizes me,” “Good at it but doesn’t energize me,” “Not good and doesn’t energize me,” and “Energy drain and just don’t get it.” It’s amazing to really look at what drains your energy. If at all possible, use the knowledge to delegate some of what you don’t like and spend more time leaning into what you’re great at.
Self-Awareness – Share Your Branding Message to Manage Up
By now you should have an idea of what you’re good at and how you contribute through the confidence-building power of self-awareness. The next step is to turn it into a message. I once spoke to a recent college graduate who wanted a job as an assistant to a marketing VP. Not unsurprisingly, she didn’t have a sense of what she could contribute. She was lacking in confidence and had not built the power of Self-Awareness.
I told her to try to put herself in a VP’s shoes and think about what she would need from an assistant. “That’s easy,” she said. During her two internships, she hadn’t needed a lot of direction. She was also good at noticing who liked who in meetings. Ah, politics. I told her to say, “As a recent graduate with two internships under my belt, I know that I won’t have to bother you with a lot of questions, but I will know when to ask before promising work to another department.”
Bingo. Messaging is good when it highlights your area of strength and experience that align with the need in the team or organization.
Once you have a message, know the key decision-makers in your organization and make sure to communicate with them regularly. Can your boss make a decision to give your team resources, or does s/he have to go up one level? So often I hear people say, “I asked for a promotion a year ago and nothing happened!” Getting a promotion or getting resources for your team is like running for office. You need a campaign with a message, and consistent communication.
These are three elements of being a strong leader and managing up that come up all the time in my work. To learn more, check out www.clearstrategycoaching.com.
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Why do Women Struggle with Confidence in the workplace? Lisa was bright, with proven results, and was a leader in trend sighting and innovation. She was also quirky and occasionally silly with clients. Her style didn’t fit in with the culture of her ad agency, which had traditional consumer packaged goods clients. As one of the largest in the industry, Lisa’s firm approached their clients with an authoritative calm that they saw as professional. At the same time, the firm had wanted to win over the fashion-forward clients that could improve their prestige – clients who Lisa understood intuitively.
In an environment that didn’t favor her style, Lisa was destabilized. She didn’t see the situation as one of different agendas — one that she could influence with a sound strategy. Instead, Lisa doubted herself and let her doubt take over. She held back in client presentations, which left her performances flat and left her managers wondering if she had what it takes. Unable to gain favor, Lisa started resenting her management and eventually started looking for another job.
The Confidence Challenge
Recently a senior executive asked me if there is any way to increase the confidence levels of high-potential women executives. Why do women, intelligent and capable, consistently doubt themselves in ways that men do not, or don’t share out loud? In my ten years as a coach I have worked with hundreds of successful women in corporations, and in Columbia University’s executive education programs. Before becoming a coach, I spent two decades working in large multi-nationals where I experienced challenges to confidence first hand. My personal experience, and my experience coaching others, has convinced me that measurable shifts in confidence levels are possible and that those shifts lead to business results. In this article I explore why women step back from leading with confidence, and what they and their organizations can do to transform their experience.
Challenge Your Assumptions
Do women really lack confidence? The behavioral norms that define how confidence should look at the office are largely established by men. According to a Gallup Strength Finder study (see bibliography: What Strengths Tell Us About Men and Women), women rank higher in relationship building themes, while men rank higher in strategic thinking themes. While both approaches can get superior results, an employee leading with strengths that are not the norm can cause managers to become critical and increase the employee’s doubt. A shift in perception from both manager and female employee can break this dynamic.
As a manager, if you know an employee is capable and has done good work in your team or another one, consider encouraging her and accepting her approach. One exercise I do with clients is to ask, “When do you feel confident?” For some clients just realizing that there are situations and circumstances where they feel solidly confident is an enormous aha moment. Even if it’s outside of work, they can leverage feeling confident in other situations and circumstances.
What would the impact be if these clients’ managers took the same approach? Often just behind a moment of doubt is real performance. Given the chance, talented women can show their colors with ideas and opinions that work. The first step towards growing a woman’s confidence is to undo the assumption that she lacks it, and provide the support to let her talent come through.
Don’t Let Doubt Run the Show
Most people believe that accomplishment and success will fix a lack of confidence. The reality is a strange paradox; no matter how much we accomplish, many of us do not stop being hard on ourselves. In coaching we call that voice of doubt the saboteur. Women can be more vulnerable to it because we have been trained to doubt ourselves. When normal feelings of doubt in new situations pop up, we think it is indicative of a lack of competence. For Lisa, the very normal discomfort of presenting to unfamiliar clients triggered her to think that her experience and point of view were not sufficient to the task.
The good news is that we can manage our saboteurs. The first thing we can do is to fully understand our strengths and the impact of those strengths on colleagues and the organization. This step alone brings most people to a whole new level of wellbeing. Once we have a firm foundation in our strengths and their impact, we can get familiar with our saboteur voices. Knowing our saboteurs and how they operate, we can take action to neutralize them (see bibliography: Positive Intelligence). It is critical to understand how strengths and saboteurs work together. When any of us can interrupt the click and whirr, “You feel scared, so you must be inadequate” message and choose to respond differently, we take back control of the situation.
Be Aware of Bias
Girls, then women, are often under-acknowledged for their actions and input, especially in areas that are not traditionally female. We are spoken over and ignored, while we watch boys and men be acknowledged for their efforts. It’s in a subtle nod that a man gets for his contribution in a meeting, but a woman does not. It’s in the way a man gets credit for ideas when a woman does not (see bibliography: Do Women Lack Ambition?).
I experienced this dynamic first hand participating in a “lost at sea” training exercise where we imagined ourselves stuck on a raft at sea. From a list of 30 pieces of equipment, we had to select the ten that would save us from drowning. Coincidentally I had just read Thor Heyerdhal’s famed book Kontiki, about a six-month crossing of the Pacific on a raft, and was better informed than my teammates about how to survive at sea. After we completed the exercise, the observers gave us feedback on our problem-solving skills. One said, “What I noticed is that Claire had all of the answers, but no one listened until Tom said them.”
Eye-opening. As women many of us are so accustomed to being ignored, we don’t even see it. Imagine the implications. If we operate under the assumption that we are treated the same as men but get different results, we can begin to think that the cause is our lack of experience and talents. This is not a call to action to fight for equality. Nor is it permission to produce inferior results. It is an invitation to not interpret having to try harder as a lack of competence. Giving credit where credit is due helps a woman reclaim her worth and her confidence.
Find Your Own Voice
At Columbia, my colleagues Lynn Russell and Joann Baney have developed a nerve-wracking exercise to teach students to field difficult audience questions. At the end of the exercise we have students rate their performance as a public speaker: on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being a bumbling fool and 10 being a polished professional. With astonishing regularity, women who were prepared, maintained poise, and kept control of the content, give themselves a 5 or 6. With the same regularity, men who meandered or broke their professional demeanor give themselves a 7 or 8.
After years, one semester a female student responded, “Well, I know I am supposed to give myself a 5 or 6 because I am a woman, so I am going to say that I am an 8 and these are the reasons why.” The class loved it. Later a male student, clearly uncomfortable after realizing that he had done a mediocre job, scanned the class and then gave himself a 7. I realized then that the men are not delusional. It’s that they know that the audience expects them to exude confidence. So they act like it, even when it’s not how they feel.
This is a key to the concept “Fake it till you make it.” By simply talking more confidently about ourselves and our work, we come across that way to others. Consider this. If a manager has to choose between the more prepared person and the person who will represent well in difficult senior meetings, they will almost need to choose the one who will speak more confidently. Like the woman student, you can find a voice that sounds confident. If you don’t, you are losing out.
In the end Lisa found her voice. She developed highly creative, somewhat risky presentations she could own and that gained her favor with the trendier clients. She leveraged her success and confidence to win over other clients as well as her management. It’s now been seven years and she is on her third promotion in the same organization.
Believe that Lasting Change is Possible
Last summer my family went to a planetarium to observe the planets and hear a NASA astrophysicist talk about the latest approaches to studying black holes. I found this mind-bending topic fascinating, and I asked a lot of questions. Afterwards the astrophysicist, a woman, told me that she was impressed — women visitors almost never ask questions. Without knowing it, she gave me a gift. Remembering my experience in the lost at sea exercise, I had a real sense of my own personal growth and the possibility of transformation. Doubt is part of life. It is not our fault. Letting a lack of confidence run your life or impact a female employee’s long-term performance might be.
Confidence isn’t just a feel-good idea – it is about great leadership. According to the Gallup organization, many companies that use a strengths-based approach enjoy a 29% increase in profits. Companies with a large number of female employees, who are not working to crack the code on women’s confidence, are leaving money on the table.
Miller, Jane and Adkins, Amy. “What Strengths Tell Us About Men and Women.” Gallup Business Journal November 30, 2016
Fels, Anna. “Do Women Lack Ambition?” Harvard Business Review April 2004
Chamine, Shirzad, Positive Intelligence. Austin, TX: Greenleaf Book Group LLC, 2012
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A friend shared a great quote with me last week:
“In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.”
~ Dave Hollis
Returning to the workplace. Hmmm. Right now, I’m hearing people say that they don’t want to commute anymore and that working parents should be allowed to have more flexibility. There are lots of logical reasons to make changes with what we’ve learned from the Great Pause.
But I believe that underneath is something more emotional. People don’t want to go back because it’s been nice to work from home. Not for everyone, I get that. It’s not that we’ve had more time. Most people I know have been working longer hours. It’s that we have had more control over our approach. Introverts say they have more mental space to “spread out” without the constant distractions of an office. People whose bosses are micro-managers have been able to hide just a little. And without the rush to get coffee at the deli near work before the line gets too big, or the paralysis of prepping kids in the middle of doing makeup, we’ve managed to think, and to get back in touch with how WE like to approach things.
What if it were possible to harness that wisdom as we head back to the office? It’s not about employees making a bunch of unreasonable demands. It’s about employees and managers listening to each other so that you can engineer a better team that is more accountable and wastes less time on frustration and inefficiency.
Last week I was listening to a meditation by Tara Brach (it’s great BTW, details below) and she said that we have “deep habits of judging ourselves” that she calls “the Trance of Unworthiness.” Not to be glum, but it made me think about what I’m hearing from clients during the Covid pause. Things like:
- “I thought I’d have more time without my commute, but I can barely keep up. What’s wrong with me?”
- “Yeah, I guess I hadn’t considered that worry and the change of routine could be adding to my fatigue.”
Listen up! — Even though circumstances change, core habits like self-judgment stay the same. The stories we hear from our inner critic cost us a lot of energy…and that leads directly to burnout. Yes, what if your burnout is not coming from your To Do list, but from your relationship to it and what you expect of yourself?
- Get to know your inner critic: Stop for a moment and be with the critical voices in your head. Sounds funny, but I’m not kidding. What is that critic saying? What are your feelings around it? PositiveIntelligence.com is one of my favorite approaches to managing the inner critic.
- Understand your emotional triggers: What situations make you lose your mojo? What people do the same? What is it about those situations and people? You might find there are common themes.
- Change Your Habits: Once you know what your triggers are, you can deal with them. Maybe you need to prepare before going into certain situations with certain people. Maybe you need to speak up instead of letting things go. Maybe you need to listen more and offer others the benefit of the doubt.
- Relax and do some self-care: The frantic pace of life today is one of the inner critic’s most powerful weapons. Slowing down, meditating, spending time with friends or reading. These are all ways to reduce the strength of your critic, and build the voice of your inner sage.
If the inner critic weren’t a thing, there wouldn’t be entire workshops created to deal with it! Whatever the solution is for you, spending some time with your inner critic is a great way to release its grip on you. The meditation I mentioned is called Mindfulness Daily from Jack Kornfield. If you are interested in Taming Your Inner Critic for yourself or your team, please reach out. It’s a course I teach for groups and teams.
I Have A Secret
Last week I saw a psychic. It felt great. The last time I did anything like that was 15 years ago. The most delicious part was that I got to luxuriate in daydreaming about the future! No kidding. The future. After six weeks of not thinking beyond a week, it scratched a very deep itch.
I’m someone who loves to brainstorm big, lofty (often totally impractical) ideas. It’s what I do. Not being able to anticipate and dream has been hard on me. And it made me realize something. This pause is a chance for us all to get in better touch with the self-care we need. Without mani-pedi’s, massage, the pool, coffees with friends, we have to really dig to figure out what restores us and gives us energy. For some, it’s learning something new. For others it’s service. Maybe for you, it’s connection. Or getting things done.
It’s important now because last week the collective mood seemed to shift from “We’ve got this!” to “Oh shoot, how many more months in this cocoon?” If you’re one of the lucky ones who’s feeling the goodness of humanity, then keep on keepin’ on! But if you’re feeling discouraged, prickly, and unfocused, you’re not alone. I’ve heard the same from other coaches, and friends who are social workers and therapists. A week ago my family even skipped the housekeeping which if you know me, is a good sign that things are off the rails. Right now dust bunnies roll by like tumbleweeds, and I just look away.
The good news is that human beings don’t like to be down for long, but it’s a process. I find that “Be your best self!” platitudes backfire if they are premature. A better way is using four steps that I use with teams and clients all the time.
Self-care. Understand what you need to restore. Write it down. It took me a bit to realize that I’d dropped everything to make my family feel safe and comfortable. While that is an important part of my self-care, some other things were getting sidelined.
Experience your feelings. We like resilience because it sounds positive. But you can’t have resilience without the feelings of loss, frustration, or hopelessness that come before it. There’s a scene in the Matrix where Neo destroys his nemesis by diving straight into his chest. Difficult feelings are like that. If you take a few minutes to be with them and cry or scream, their power weakens. Spend some time there.
Appreciation. Our primitive brain focuses on what’s not yet done, and that’s hard right now. What I love to do is have clients write down all of their accomplishments. Try it. Maybe your kids have actually been following their on-line schooling. Maybe you’ve managed a few heart-to-hearts with them. Maybe you’ve cooked from scratch a lot and can still see your toes without bending over. Maybe like my friend Michelle you’ve been a front line worker by day, and convinced your DJ neighbor to start a balcony dance party by night. Whatever it is, acknowledge your hard work.
Focus on what you can influence. I just created a 4-course program for companies called The Great Pause Care Package, because while you can’t influence when you’ll be able to return to the office or when your clients will come back, you can spend this time up-leveling soft skills and building more cohesive teams. (BTW, if you are interested in this course for your organization, please email me).
I do believe that we are turning a collective corner. We sprinted through phase one. Now we are looking at a longer phase and things aren’t going to snap back. You have a choice — stagnate here, or surrender to the situation, take care of yourself and focus on what you can. That is how we access our deeper creative power.