My cousin in France is really good at windsurfing. So much so that he spent his military service teaching windsurfing to soldiers on R&R. Pretty nice deal, for him and for the soldiers. Soldiers get R&R. Farmers let fields lay fallow. And yet the grinding rhythm of work and life makes us keep pushing even when we need rest. From colleagues and clients alike I’ve been hearing stories of overwhelm, lack of focus and laziness. One client said, “I don’t feel like working, but I feel guilty about it.”
Here are a few perspectives to help us all take full advantage of summer’s offerings:
- Stick to basics. Normally I am a big fan of identifying the “Important, not urgent” projects to keep them moving. But sometimes you just have to back burner them. So gather up all of your “should” projects and put a reminder on your calendar for end of August. And enjoy the freedom of not having them in your head.
- Find a guilty pleasure. Pick something good and just enjoy it. After writing this post, I am heading to the knitting store to start a project. No it’s not water skiing or parachuting, but it’s me.
- Rest. Down time, gentle exercise, easy social time. Reading the paper, I’m so happy not to be at the political conventions. Much too high context for this time of year.
- Accept the fog. When we are less focused we are open to experiences, observations and insights that we might step over during fast-moving times.
Hang up the guilt and enjoy the summer!
As a small business owner, no one is leaning over you generating your To Do list. It seems like a dream, but being in charge of your own time takes more discipline. In my first years of business, I would say to friends, “I can’t talk. My boss is breathing down my neck.” They would say, “Who’s your boss?” and I’d say, “Me!” Here are some fundamentals I use every day:
Have realistic expectations
A while back I read one of these “10 Things Highly Successful People Do” lists. Reading 1-9, I felt OK. Then on #10 the needle scraped off the record. #10 said that successful people have realistic expectations. Unrealistic goals gloss over the good work we do, which in turns zaps us of confidence. As an unrealistic goal-setter in rehab, I now try to take the long view and set goals that correspond to the time and resources I have.
Put yourself first
We all know it. This year with my kids more independent and my business more stable, I’ve been able to exercise more, spend time with friends more and read more. All things I love. The creative energy and efficiency that are available now is fantastic. Spending time on yourself ups your game in immeasurable ways.
Celebrate the wins
Each week, take a few minutes to review your calendar and call out what went well. Why did it go well? If the accomplishment is part of an on-going effort, connect it to an interim or long-term goal and then think about what you want to do next.
Make a whole life “To Do” list
A personal life detail can be a huge distraction at work, and vice versa. Taking the five minutes to get it done is a huge stress reducer. A Whole Life To Do List has your different roles in the left hand column, personal and work, and the goals and actions on the right.
Advance long term goals
If we don’t crack the code on the big impact, long-term projects we spend too much time putting out fires. The “Important, Not Urgent” model from Stephen Covey lets you prioritize the immediate and identify longer term projects to make sure they keep moving.
Break things down
“Step by Step, One Walks Far” (Peruvian proverb). Goals like “get clients” or “write resume” are too big and broad. Breaking these down into small, manageable parts reduces gremlins and procrastination. What about “Spend one hour thinking about the steps I need to take on project X.” With less pressure and a more realistic goal, it’s easier to take action.
It’s the summer Friday season. I hope you use these favorites to spend more time having fun!
A client recently asked for help with a 5-year career plan and I realized it might be a good thing to share. My approach goes from the inside out. We have to get clear on who we are and what we want, then turn to the job/career market and see what is possible. Here goes:
- What unique skills and abilities do you bring? I usually use several tools and then “read the tea leaves.” My go-to tools are Strengths-Finder 2.0, the Seven Stories Exercise from the 5-O’Clock Club, and Myers-Briggs. Also consider your level of ambition. How far do you want to go? Combine all of those and hopefully some job titles will emerge.
- How does career fit your life? Try using the wheel of life. Your career is only one piece of who you are, and you will eventually give up if you are not finding what you need in other areas.
- Who do you want to be along the way? Work is not just about “doing”; It is about “being.” And who we are is often found in our values. An exercise I love for this is the Dinner Party exercise, first shared with me by my coach, Cat Williford. Here it is: Think of 8-12 people you’d like to invite to dinner. For each write three adjectives that describe them, then look at the list. What words do you see repeated? What themes emerge? Distill the top 3-5 and those are very close to who you are at your best.
- Now hopefully the big picture is in place. Breaking it into more manageable pieces, what are the milestones? What is the timing of those milestones? What do you need to demonstrate to get there? Who might be a good advocate for you along the way?
- Ideally you have developed a plan that is organic and that aligns with your natural strengths. That makes work easier and creates new opportunities. If you do see any obvious gaps in experience or management abilities, consider how you might address those.
- And finally, a loose plan is a good plan. As we learn, we sometimes change what we thought we wanted. Let yourself re-evaluate from time to time and know that changing your mind is not a sign of failure; it’s a sign of growth.
Looking forward to seeing what happens next!
The Ethics Column for BBC Capital recently approached me about a dilemma many small business owners face: what do you do when the hours you have spent on a project run over the estimated time you promised the client? Do you pad hours? No. Swallow the loss? Hopefully not. Ideally, you have cultivated a relationship with the client that allows you to carve out a good solution together.
The question got me thinking about the work I do with Employees. Too often, employment relationships start with unclear expectations on Day One. This may work for a while, but eventually, it leads Employees and HR Departments to feel disappointed with each other. Lack of clarity leads too many employees to feel unmotivated and disengaged at work. They end up resenting that they did not receive the promotion, bonus, or raise they were looking for. HR Managers, on the other hand, may avoid communication, all in the hope that the employee is “all set.”
I encourage my clients to have a strategy about their careers and to discuss it with their boss and H.R. manger. They should know what to demonstrate to get the next promotion and the one after that. And, they should know that their management is clear about what they are wanting.
Just keeping your head down and doing your work can end up feeling like running over and having to absorb the loss. One of my favorite resources on this topic is “Expect to Win” by Carla Harris.
I understand innovation in a cutting-edge industry like Computing, but it took me a while to figure it out in a mature, saturated industry like Cosmetics. During my 18 years in Cosmetics, I heard people talking about innovation all the time. Eventually, I understood: half of innovation is finding ingredients, delivery systems and product forms that meet new customer needs. But Cosmetics is a seasonal business, like Fashion. So the other half of innovation is making sure you efficiently ride the wave of trends. Every wave missed is revenue missed. Every wave you ride is money in the bank.
Yes, innovation often comes from visionaries with big ideas who somehow see around the corner. Steve Jobs. Estee Lauder. Yet it also comes from regular people doing their jobs. The thing is, when we are stressed, uncomfortable, scared or don’t trust our colleagues or bosses, we don’t take the little risks and put forth ideas. When we have a lot of trust and confidence, when we work interdependently with our team mates, we do stick our necks out more. We do and say the little things that can lead to big ideas.
Innovation is one of the reasons it’s so important to build trust in an organization. But trust, unlike innovation, is not seasonal. It is incremental. It starts from within: feeling confident, knowing your strengths, knowing your priorities. That self-awareness leads others to feel comfortable in your presence. And before you know it, you are working in tandem to innovate.
Nature is in the midst of its annual innovation. I hope you are enjoying it.
The Nike slogan “Just Do It” is a very powerful call to action. It’s simple: “just” tells us to forget about all the excuses, and “do it” is meant to get us off the couch and moving. Yet how many times have I heard this, looked outside to see that it’s cold and raining, and lost my desire to go for a swim? New studies are showing that confidence is what turns thoughts into action – whether for a workout, personal life, or at work. Confidence is a catalyst. It uses memories of past successes or failures in order to decide whether we are capable of doing a similar project in the future. If confidence is high, we tend to act; if not, we won’t. The curious thing is that the more we act, the more confident we become. Bad memories of failed projects tend to get buried, and successes tend to come to the fore, adding to our confidence. It is a virtuous cycle of confidence and action. Pick one small thing you’ve been avoiding, and just do it.
“Don’t worry so much what people think” is something I’ve heard for much of my life. I am one of those people who cares a lot what others think, and I would love it if everyone liked me, all the time. With age comes wisdom and I have learned that my “weakness” is coupled with a great strength. My desire to be liked means I adapt to people and am pretty good at winning them over. That is important when I am in front of a corporate audience delivering workshops on touchy-feely topics. If I can’t win them over, they won’t see the benefit in what I am teaching.
I am not alone. When I asked about confidence, several of you wrote back that you feel confident when you look good. There’s a lot to be said for it. The more we can adapt to the audience, the greater the chance that they will be receptive. It doesn’t remove the need for good communication and substance in our message, but let’s not discount the appearance details. In the Social Style model, which measures agility in leadership, “Image” is the first measure, about 10% of the whole. What if we ignored it? Imagine showing up at a Wall Street power lunch in Birkenstocks. Or going to Google in a tailored suit and expensive leather shoes. You would lose credibility. More subtle differences in appearance can still make people feel good about you, or not.
It is what it is. Yes we want to be loved when we are at our most relaxed and natural, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider others. Take the time to look your best and to consider the appearance of the person or people you are dealing with. Your efforts will be appreciated and you will feel that appreciation reflected back to you as confidence.
All my best,
Using listening skills and focus on others can increase influence, and confidence
It may seem odd to start a communication by asking the audience what they want to hear. But when we just start talking, it can be like talking into a void. Who hasn’t started a presentation or told a two-minute job history that (whoops!) turned into eight minutes and never really got to the point. It happens in meetings when we fear that we might not know enough. It happens in interview situations where the power feels imbalanced and we get nervous. Imagine how different the conversation would be if you listened first. You could tailor your message and have so much more impact.
Here are a few ground rules for effective listening.
- Set up the room, focus the participant(s) and turn off the devices.
- To break the ice, be as transparent as possible. Sometimes I just smile and say, “Where should we begin?”
- Listen with minimal encouragers – nods, yeses, um-hums, wow!’s – but don’t interrupt or take over.
- Summarize or reflect what the person said: “So you really want to know about our 2016 business plans.”
- Know your triggers. Do you tend to provide solutions, avoid confrontation, or become critical? Knowing what you do when you feel nervous can help you stay open, and calm.
Here’s my call to action: Would you really listen to a friend or colleague twice this week for 10 minutes each? Notice what happens and see if you’d like to try it again!
And for those who know my background…Vive la France!
Understanding the rules of communication can help you manage conversations and presentations
90% (my guesstimate) of confidence is how we feel and manage ourselves in the presence of others. Some people seem to respond appropriately no matter what the circumstance. We want that too, yet most of us don’t know that it’s possible to learn and use simple rules of human behavior. In fact, without those rules it’s like we are playing a piano concerto without knowing how to read music.
We all have behavioral preferences that directly affect our communication style. And, even with each of us being totally unique, those behavioral styles can be grouped so that it’s easier to predict what someone will say and do under different circumstances. Imagine if you could pull back the curtain on what people are thinking and feeling and then adapt what you say and do to improve the communication. What if you could:
- Understand your own communication preferences and how your habits can enhance, or inhibit, communication with others.
- Be able to easily read the style cues of others so that you can gauge what they think and feel about a situation and anticipate their likely response.
- Improve communication with others by flexing to their point of view, or sharing your point of view in a way that will carry more influence with that person.
My all time favorite is the Social Style (or the DISC assessment). I have used this tool with hundreds of clients and students and it is one of the aspects of our work that most stays with them. Recently I have been working with Strengths Finder 2.0, which also helps understand ourselves and people who are different from us. These tools are great for understanding our own preferences. They are also great for understanding the preferences of others, and that’s often where the juice is.
I invite you to learn more about these tools by writing to me, or grab the Strengths Finder 2.0 or People Styles at Work.
Good luck and enjoy the crisp weather!
Exercise, Meditation and Power Poses
This summer I spent three weeks in France with my family. It was wonderful…and so relaxing. I attribute a lot of that stress reduction to physical factors. Having less to do and letting time stretch so that the things I did do, I could do well. Letting the rhythms of nature — the tides, the sun, and our stomachs — guide the day. And finally, connecting with lots of extended family and friends. So nourishing and so restorative.
Scene change. Back in New York, how do you maintain that centered, resourceful, confident post-vacation feeling? There is no question that our bodies and minds are connected. Not all stress is bad, but you need to have the mental wherewithal to harness it, not get swamped. Here are some of possibilities to choose from:
- Exercise. Everyone knows this is key. As counterintuitive as it seems to stop everything for an exercise break, the burst of productivity it generates always pays back in spades. And, regular exercise makes it easier to withstand the bumps and bruises of daily life.
- Meditation. I wake up an hour before my family, sit on the couch and breathe, stretch, or just be with my own thoughts, uninterrupted. I like the meditation I use because it asks you to tense and relax your muscles, which keeps your thoughts from wandering. It is super effective: http://positiveintelligence.com/resources/pq-gym/
- Power Poses. If you haven’t seen this Amy Cuddy TED Talk please do. (And if you haven’t seen the parody of the power poses on the Kimmy Schmidt series, please do!) I use power poses when I go into interviews, have a call I want to be my best for, or just when I am brainstorming and need a little creative juice.
- Connecting with Others. Be grateful for colleagues, even those who occasionally drive you nuts! Being with others and having small, or big, conversations is key to feeling balanced and maintaining confidence.
Here’s to the beauty of fall’s changing leaves.