What I Learned from My Zip Line Experience About Self-Leadership

By | Coaching, Leadership, Pivot Point, Positive Thinking, Self-Care | No Comments

Last week, we took a family road trip out to Yellowstone, something I have dreamed about doing since I was a little girl.  It lived up to the hype.  When you spend 10 days in a car with your family and drive more than 4,000 miles together across the country, you learn a lot about yourself as a human and a leader.

We tried new things like white water rafting and intense hiking down canyons and hot springs.  My favorite experience was the zip line.  I have a fear of heights, and while this was not my idea of fun, it was the family favorite.

Here is what I learned from this scary, yet successful experience:

Fear is a mindset.  Terrified of heights, being up 100 feet in the air on a swaying platform is my worst nightmare.  At first, I hugged the middle pole and gripped my harness tightly, fearing the worst.  Yet, once I was able to look around and see the beautiful surroundings and my smiling family, I was able to release the fear.  Most people fear public speaking.  As a speaker, I have overcome that fear, yet heights continue to be my nemesis.  Releasing the fear and embracing the positives is a choice.  It is a mindset, even if just for a few hours.  I could have chosen to be miserable and let fear take over.  Instead, I parked the fear and chose to embrace the experience.  While I am still not a fan of heights, this small win helped me understand the power I had within.

Early success and failure is good.  Our first run was smooth and easy.  I was able to get my feet wet and release the fear.  I was proud of my semi-smooth landing and ability to relax and enjoy the views.  The second run was not smooth.  I actually missed the rope to pull myself back onto the platform and slid back along the wire into the valley, stopped hundreds of feet above the ground all by myself.  Our guide had to tow me in.  I was so happy to be on that shaky platform again.  While it was important to have an early win, the early failure helped me more.  It helped me realize that if that was the worst that could happen, I had nothing to fear.  The early successes and failures helped me manage my emotions and build confidence in the subsequent runs.

New experiences broaden your thinking.  I loved meeting people out West so different than those in the Midwest where I call home.  Our guides lived in vans on the river all summer and entertained us with their wisdom and stories.  When you put yourself out there and do something you have not done before, you stretch your mind and open yourself up to more new experiences longer term.  I normally would have declined offers to do anything heights related, yet this experience will make me think the next time before saying no.  Our brains are wired to routine thinking.  By pushing ourselves to embrace new experiences, our brains create new pathways to other parts of our brains that enable better creative thinking and problem solving.

I got out of my comfort zone, and took some much deserved me time this summer.  This investment in myself, my family, and my health will refuel my energy for the rest of 2017.  And I need the energy.  I am excited that we have a new book on #maleallies and #genderequality coming this fall, and we are thrilled at the lineup of amazing speaking engagements and workshops with #womeninleadership.  If you have not taken some time off for yourself and/or family, do it.  Women that #practiceselfcare are more successful.  We have to fill our tanks first before we are able to fill the tanks of others around us.

Positive Affirmations that Work at Work

By | Coaching, Confidence, Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, Positive Thinking | No Comments

“I am good enough.  I am smart enough, and dog gone it, people like me!” 

Unfortunately for many leaders, the word “affirmations” conjures up memories of the Stuart Smalley segment on Saturday Night Live.  Although, Stuart proclaims these statements, you get the sense that he does not truly believe them, coming across as generic and lacking confidence.  While hilarious, positive psychology has advanced light years since this segment’s popular days in the 1990’s.  Over the last 20+ years, much improved information on our brain’s ability to internalize what we choose to tell it has yielded some impressive research and outcomes.

Positive thinking is not just a fad, it’s a must have for today’s leader.  It is one of the best tools to manage conflict, to coach employees to success, and to solve today’s complex business problems.

The leaders I coach often share these tools and techniques to improve their own positive thinking skills:

  • Power posing
  • “Will” and “am” statements
  • Visualization

Power posing

With nearly 40 million views, Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk outlines some proven ways to bolster confidence through body positioning.  By positioning our bodies to be bigger outwardly, rather than inward, our stress hormone, cortisol decreases, and our testosterone levels increase.  Although her research has been difficult to replicate, I personally believe wholeheartedly in it.  For me, when I have felt overwhelmed, or did something for the first time, or lacked confidence thinking someone else was better than me, I have power posed with positive affirmations, and felt a calmness and confidence wash over me.

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Manage Conflict: Demand Debate

By | Coaching, Conflict Resolution, Employee Engagement, Leadership, Positive Thinking, Team Building | No Comments

Who enjoys the “tough talk” with a peer, team, or direct report?  Chances are, it’s a dreaded conversation.  Perhaps even one that is procrastinated, hoping the conflict will just go away.

Yet, often I find with leaders, that when they have the “tough talk,” it goes far better than expected, and it results in a better relationship with the person.  Let’s discuss some of proven strategies I have found in my research and work with leaders.

Leaders that manage conflict successfully do so by:

1) Demanding debate (in a healthy way)

2) Holding the team accountable through ground rules

3) Building a culture based on trust

Demanding debate (in a healthy way)

On a high performing team, people often look at conflict as healthy.  We’re human, it’s bound to surface.  The key difference is that high performing teams deal with it proactively.  They have the discussion it in the moment, or close to the time of the conflict and clear the air.  They do not fear it, they welcome it as a chance to be better.

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Replace Feedback with Guidance, and You Will Get Better Results

By | Coaching, Conflict Resolution, Leadership, Positive Thinking, Talent Retention, Team Building, Training | No Comments

The word feedback creates fear.  It creates a feeling in the pit of our stomachs, followed by an overly emotional anxiety.  Merely hearing the word makes it hard to hear the words that follow.

Imagine this scenario, someone pulls you aside, and asks, “Can I give you some feedback?”  Fear takes over, you assume it to be negative, and you instantly imagine the worst case scenario.  That is because the word feedback has been framed so poorly in the past.  It has created negative perceptions based on the experiences that our brain remembers.  Our brain recalls the pattern of negative feedback, and prepares our body with fight or flight mode to take cover or run away.  Our emotions take over.  That doesn’t bode well for solid decision making and behavior.

The words we use matter.  So, let’s try a different word – guidance.  I have been searching for a better word than feedback for years – words like feed-forward, insight, coaching – have been floated out there in the coaching community, yet none have felt genuine or appropriate.  Then, a mentor of mine shared an article with me about a concept called “radical candor.”  What struck me most about the concept was the use of the word guidance over feedback.

Consider this, rather than saying “Can I give you some feedback,” why not open with, “I’ve got some guidance for you…”  It’s softer, it frames the moment appropriately, and emphasizes positive intent.  The word guidance ensures that the audience is still listening, and not emotionally hijacked and paralyzed with fear.  Furthermore, effective guidance requires leaders to:

  • Deliver it real-time
  • Assume positive intent
  • Be clear about the behaviors rather than the person

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Delegating to Empower Others

By | Coaching, Delegation, Leadership, Positive Thinking, Team Building, Training | No Comments

Delegation, a skill that seems insurmountable as a leader, yet is essential for a leader to manage time effectively.  I often remind leaders in my workshops that the leader’s labor costs are likely the highest of the team.  As a leader, we are paid higher wages for doing the tough stuff, and so doing lower skilled work that someone else on our team could do is a problem.  We’re incurring more costs than we should.  And, even if it is not actual dollars in costs, it certainly is an opportunity cost.

Time is Money

You might be thinking, well I will just work more hours then.  As we learned in our time management blog, time is finite.  If you choose to say “yes” to something, you are saying “no” to something else.  We only have so much time, and how we choose to spend it sends major signals to our team on what is important.  They pick up on the tasks, projects, and meetings that we prioritize or choose to do ourselves.  It alerts them that these things must be important for a leader to do themself.  They may even feel less engaged as a result of you not asking or trusting them to do it instead.

One of very first blogs, The Discipline of Delegation blog, highlights one key fear of delegation – the loss of control.  Knowing what is holding you back from delegating more is pivotal.  Ask yourself the question, what prevents me from delegating more?  What comes to mind?  Perhaps it is amongst the top ten I hear from leaders in workshops..

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How to Choose Words that Create Positive Impact

By | Coaching, Communication, Confidence, Pivot Point, Positive Thinking | One Comment

Our brain is listening to what we say

That’s why it is critical that we choose the words that impact our brains positively.  Our dialogue – both internal and external – has a profound impact on what our brain subconsciously decides to take seriously.  When we say to ourselves – “I can do it” or “I will try” – our brain sees through our lack of commitment.  The brain interprets this information as not genuine.  Our brain then chooses to focus on other areas where there is an authentic belief.  The brain is constantly preserving its energy, and chooses to save that energy for things that instinctively matter to our survival.  By choosing to use limiting, or even worse, negative words, we keep our brain parked in survival mode.  When we choose to use positive, forward-focused, genuine words, our brain slowly moves into neutral, then hits high gear when we reinforce it over time.

Trust me, before coaching, I did not take the brain seriously.  I had painful flashbacks to psychology 101 brain anatomy and physiology, memorizing useless facts.  It just did not interest me.  Now, having achieved my Master Coach certification, ravaged books on the brain, and having been a part of numerous coaching successes where self-talk mattered, I am a believer.  By simply tweaking the words we use, we achieve far more.

Our brain is primitive

We’re only a few hundred years from our more primitive days (in most parts of the world), and our brain just has not caught up with the more complex, yet easier to survive world we live in today.  Considering the time humans have been existence, the time of survival mode has dominated our existence.  For that reason, our brain still sees two choices – fight or flight – both emotional reactions vs. a more rational response.  Our brains have not evolved at the same pace as our evolution.  We still imagine new scenarios as opportunities to meet a predator, when that is unlikely in today’s world.  In a meeting with a customer, peer, or manager, we fear the worst.  And, we limit our own abilities with negative self-talk that limits the outcomes possible from the discussion.  Our brains are wired to fear the worst possible scenario, and actively prepare to escape or fight at the first sign of danger.  Yet, running out of a meeting is not likely helpful.

So, how do we re-wire our brains?

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How to Ask for What You Want

By | Career Game Plan, Communication, Confidence, Leadership, Positive Thinking | One Comment

My college English composition teacher, Dr. Denny, was one of my favorite teachers of all time.  He was in his late 30’s, wore bow-ties and acetic sports coats, and said exactly what he thought.  Our class was 7:30am Monday mornings.  Instead of dreading the early morning hike across campus, I looked forward to it.  As a strong writer, I could have believed that I would breeze through his class just as I did virtually all my high school English classes.  Instead, I chose to let myself be challenged by him.  He made a profound difference in my life and my ability to communicate with intention.

One of the most impactful tools he taught us was how to write a good argument.  The recipe went something like this – claim, evidence, resolution:

  • The claim was essentially our point of view – more than just a mere fact – it was an insight into what we thought a set of facts or data points meant
  • The evidence was the fact, data, or quote that illustrated the claim – it logically conveyed that the claim was indeed true – the proof
  • The resolution tied it all together in a nice package – telling the audience that I told you so – reiterating the claim had been proven

I remember learning so much that quarter about how to write persuasively.  And, an even bigger life lesson – have a clear purpose every time you communicate.  As humans, we do things for a reason.  We have a purpose, and being clear about that purpose when we communicate separates us from others.  The application of Dr. Denny’s communication framework – claim, evidence, resolution – transcends far beyond a college essay – I have used this structure throughout my career.

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How to Bolster Your Authentic Confidence

By | Coaching, Communication, Confidence, Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, Pivot Point, Positive Thinking | No Comments

Confidence Begins Within

Your brain is trained to recognize the absence or presence of confidence as you size up the people you meet.  It is intuitive and primal, and so important to success.  Time and time again in my research for Pivot Point, I found that women struggled to build, maintain, and express confidence consistently in their personal and professional lives.

The struggle is real

I too have struggled with having adequate confidence in my life.  I remember being the timid girl in gym class growing up, and then the reserved student in undergrad.  Professionally, I have been told I was “too confident” in job interviews and in sharing my opinions, and “lacking confidence” in presentations and networking settings.  In reflecting, I found that so much of my own confidence has been dependent on the external factors around me.  My confidence hinged on the people I was with, and how I compared myself to them.  When I was with those stronger than me, I recoiled, yet when I was with those I perceived to be weaker than me, I puffed up my confidence.  Often, I find with women leaders I coach, that confidence is a fluid barometer, it ebbs and flows based on the situations and the people around us.  Just when you think you have locked it down in cruise control, here comes a curve ball that takes it down a notch.

As Katty Kay and Claire Shipman articulate in the book, Confidence Code, women’s brains are wired a little differently, which does impact your confidence.  In their research, they found that women have neurons dispersed throughout the rational and emotional centers of your brain, while men have more of their neurons concentrated in the pre-frontal cortex where rational thought prevails.  Furthermore, they note a significant difference in women focusing externally vs. men focusing internally.  Women tend to focus on others around them more, leading them to base their confidence more on the external environment.

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Zen Jen

By | Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, Positive Thinking | One Comment

“I am the only one that can change it”

Last time, we met the Puffer Fish.  Now, it’s time to meet Zen Jen.  Jen has been one of the most vulnerable leaders I have had the privilege to coach.  In our discussions early on, she shared some of her leadership challenges honestly with me and her peers.  She shared her strengths, her opportunities, and her fears openly.  I often reflect, what makes some leaders willing to do this, and others fearful to share?  What holds us back?

What Jen shared opened my eyes to this intriguing question.  She recalled an earlier time in her life with sadness, “I lost my way, and I realized that no one did it to me, and I am the only one who can change it.”  How often do we feel like things are happening to us?  A job change, an employee challenge, a new project…it just happens to us.  Or does it?

We’ll learn through Zen Jen’s story how perspective and choices shape us far more than the circumstances in our lives.  Life does not just happen to us, we get to choose how we respond to what happens.

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Choosing the Opportunity to Win

By | Communication, Conflict Resolution, Positive Thinking | 2 Comments

“Leaders face a challenge, and choose to see the opportunities to win

One trait rings true of today’s strongest leaders.  They are genuinely optimistic.  They see a challenging situation, and instead of barking orders, or demanding instant results, they pause.  They do things like ask questions, observe the team in action, and ask questions before jumping to conclusions.  They offer a different perspective.  They welcome diverse thinking from the team.  In fact, they demand it.

In my coaching, I hear about lots of challenging situations with employees and tough career choices.  We often limit our thinking to a finite set of choices based on fear.  Instead, good leaders confront that fear, and choose to think bigger and bolder in the direst situations.  They ask – what is possible?  They expand the dialogue.  If the situation is a real challenge, they ask – what will we gain?

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