Let Go. . . Or Be Dragged

Dear Springboard:

My boss runs a weekly meeting with all of his team.  We’ve been meeting first thing Monday morning for as long as I can remember.  

Last month, he changed the time to Friday.  He said it’s so we can review the current week, get set up for the coming week, and remove any barriers to our jumping in Monday morning.

I’m having trouble getting used it this change and am feeling a little resentful about it.

Sign me,

Liked the Way It Was

 

Dear LTWIW:

You’re not alone in struggling to embrace change. Change can be challenging:  it requires us to let go of what we know and take a risk on an unknown. One fear is that we may lose what we have and not get what we want.

While the personal experience of change can be very complex, I want to focus on one aspect of it: Letting go.

We get attached to what we know and find comfort in that familiarity and this is true even if we have complaints.  Think of all the things we hang on to even when they don’t serve us anymore.

When I make a mistake, I beat myself up.  Sure, it’s useful to acknowledge the misstep and learn from it.  So, when am I going to put down that big stick and practice some self-compassion and let go?

When someone wrongs me, I get angry.  In my resentment, I relive the negative experience again and again – all without any impact on the other person.  When will I have the courage and intellectual honesty to find and accept my role in it and then let go?

When I assign a task at work (or make a request at home) if I don’t feel confident about the outcome, I might micromanage the follow through. That usually backfires and generates conflict which interferes with the result I’m seeking.  When will I take actions and let go of the results?

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Self-limiting beliefs hold me back and I can let them defeat me before I even try. I need to let go of the self-doubt and remember examples of personal positive experiences to shore up my self-confidence.

Expectations can be a set up for disappointment. I need to let go and start with a beginner’s open mind.

At this time of year, children are returning to school and parents need to let go. Kids leave for college to become young adults and need to let go of their high school years.

In my executive coaching, my niche is to support managers as they transition to roles of greater responsibility.

To be successful, they must let go of some familiar ways of managing to make space to be available for new ones.  Examples include more delegation, coaching their direct reports to their own solutions, intentionally shifting to a broader, more strategic perspective.

The more I think about it, the longer my list gets of things I want to be able to let go of.  There are a few that I do want to hold tight:  my key relationships and the core values that inform my purpose and day to day decisions.

I want to develop the capacity to both fully engage and appropriately let go.

Yes, there is an inherent vulnerability in letting go.  I like to believe the future is friendly and it’s worth the risk.

So LTWIW, while you may have liked the meeting schedule before, the invitation to you now is to accept that we live in a rapidly evolving world that rewards flexibility and resilience – in a word, agility.

 

Do You Have What It Takes?

Dear Springboard:

I’ve been in my new job for a while now and I’m getting the hang of it.  I feel like I know what I want to accomplish and how to get it done.  

But, just the other day, my boss told me that I need to present myself as more of a leader if I’m going to get the support of my peers on the leadership team.

I think I understand what he’s getting at. How do I go about making the change?

Sign me,

Feeling Marginalized

 

Dear FM:

An important part of being seen as a leader is executive presence.  While it’s hard to succinctly define, we know it when we see it.

Executive presence says you’re in charge of your domain and you deserve to be.  With strong executive presence you will be more credible.

You’re likely to be challenged less that someone who doesn’t have strong EP, and even if you are challenged, you’d have no trouble standing your ground.

Your opinion matters.  You have influence.  You have power.

EP is not enough by itself to support ongoing effectiveness as a leader (technical competency is still a must), but its absence is a major negative and would handicap any leader in a serious role.

I refer you to Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s book Executive Presence. She explores the topic fully and thoughtfully and there is much to be gained from her book.

As an example, she cites data from a survey conducted with 268 senior executives and notes three universal dimensions of EP: how one acts (gravitas – 67%), speaks (communicates – 28%), and looks (appearance – 5%).

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Gravitas stands out as the core characteristic.  Double-clicking on gravitas reveals the top aspects to be:

Confidence & “grace under fire”                78%

Decisiveness & “showing teeth”                70%

Integrity & “speaking truth to power”        64%

Emotional intelligence                               60%

Reputation & standing/ “pedigree”             56%

Vision/charisma                                        52%

It’s interesting that “grace under fire” tops the list.  Leaders who can remain calm and competent in a crisis earn respect.

Confidence is key and faking it doesn’t cut it.

Just last week, as a normal part of a coaching engagement, I had a 1:1 meeting with a coaching client’s boss.  A very senior leader in a Fortune 100 company, the boss immediately took command of the room and the meeting.

It was intangible and yet unmistakable.

What exactly did he do?  I can tell you what unfolded in the meeting, and I think those things collectively added up to the impact he had that started the moment we shook hands.

During our meeting, he: was extremely focused on what he wanted to accomplish; knew what he stood for and so what was acceptable and unacceptable to him (defined by his personal values which aligned with the corporate culture); was comfortable with himself and willing to be appropriately open and vulnerable; didn’t have anything to prove; and, let me know that he had the heft of significant political capital within the company.

Another major dimension of EP is communication.  It needs to be clear and direct.  In general, less is more.  Being concise is more powerful than longwinded.

Ultimately, effective communication is all about connecting and that means active listening, making eye contact, mutual respect and letting your purpose shine through uncluttered.  Interestingly, the way we communicate is more impactful than the actual words.

Pay attention to your energy, voice quality, body language.  For important meetings, think ahead of what outcome you want and then how do you want to BE to support realizing that outcome.  Watch other leaders to see what you think is effective and what isn’t.

A few years ago, I was working with a client who was promoted into a bigger management role and also into a completely new division. She had the challenge of adjusting to both a new level of leadership and new functional expertise.

There were great demands on her time, particularly to attend meetings. She was stretched too thin and she felt insecure about her contribution and especially in these meetings.

By establishing priorities, she was able to focus, and that meant taking the time to be fully prepared for the important meetings.  When she felt more confident, she began to command the room as the leader she was meant to be.

Like so many things that lead to success, EP is an inside job, and that explains why appearance makes up only 5%.

Great grooming is the goal. To my mind, it’s more about what not to do.  Don’t be too provocative; if your appearance is getting a lot of attention, pay attention to that.

Read your work culture.  Be sensible.  An old rule of thumb is dress for your next job.

What can you do to develop your own EP?

  • Be very prepared so you are confident
  • Know your stuff cold and stand your ground when challenged
  • Keep your cool, don’t let yourself get rattled
  • Take a position and be clearly resolute about it
  • Know your own values and consistently honor them, even when it costs you something in the near term
  • Be consistent in building a positive reputation

How can you get started?

Think about what really matters to you.  What do you stand for?

Put a mental stake in the ground for that.

Success is yours

5 Steps to Get More of What You Want

Dear Springboard:

Last week, I gave my first presentation to the leadership team.  I’m new to the team and I laid out my plans for the next 12 months.  

Overall, it went well. I made some good points and there was vocal support for the changes I proposed but there was one part where I stumbled and it was really awkward.  

I can’t get that out of my head.  It’s all I can think about.

Sign me,

Obsessed and Not in a Good Way

 

Dear OANIAGW,

First off, I’m glad the meeting went well.

Internal presentations are important as they are sometimes the only, or major, impression that some key co-workers have of us.  And, we know perception is essentially reality.

Plus, none of is perfect and the fact that your presentation wasn’t flawless just confirms that you’re human like the rest of us.

AND, I want to urge you to focus on what went right and build on that.

It sounds like 95% of it went well and you have fallen into a trap of focusing on the 5% that didn’t.

If you believe that what we focus on gets bigger, then bear with me as I introduce you to Appreciative Inquiry, or AI.

AI comes from positive psychology. The basic message is this:  instead of looking for problems (and finding them!) and then developing solutions to those problems, AI seeks to identify what has gone well (appreciate) and then analyzes and develops a strategy (inquiry) to get more of it.

While this mindset is usually applied to organizations and change management efforts, I think it can be applied at an individual level as well.

Let’s explore how to build on the 95% that did go well.

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The AI model provides a useful structure and has five steps:

DEFINE: What is your topic? 

Let’s say business presentations.

DISCOVERY: Appreciating the best of what is.

Specifically, what is it that went well? Reflect on your own efforts, how others contributed and any systemic (organization) factors that were helpful.

DREAM: Envisioning what could be. Imagine an ideal outcome.  What does it look like? Feel like?  How have you contributed to it?  Who else has had positive impact and it what way? Recast the issue from a problem to be solved to an affirmative topic.

DESIGN: Co-Constructing what should be. Look for examples of what has occurred that you want more of.

Draft some affirmative statements (also known as provocative propositions) of what you want to realize.

Then, check these statements to make sure they are challenging, innovative and a stretch; they are grounded in examples of what has actually happened; they resonate and there is enough passion to persevere; they are in the present tense (as though they were already true); and, while they are bold, they are achievable.

DESTINY: Create what will be.

Into action! Whether you are working with others, which is a big advantage as a group’s energy helps propel the effort forward, or on your own, the fact that the desired future is derived from reality (what has already occurred), we know we can achieve our goal.

Even if your Destiny is mostly your own objective (such as your future business presentations), collaborating is an advantage in achieving success.

You don’t need to do this, or anything for that matter, alone.

My advice is to stop looking for problems to solve and instead mine for the gold in your positive experiences.

You don’t even need to let go of thinking about the bad 5%.

If you really focus on what you want more of (a shift in your obsessing), the negatives will just slip away. . .

5 Leader Lessons from a Labrador

Dear Springboard:

I’ve been in my new job for several months now.  There are many things I love about it – more responsibility, being a part of the executive leadership team, and a little more respect around the office. All of that is great.  

I was prepared for a steep learning curve at the beginning but am finding it is non-stop.  I’m constantly dealing with new situations, new information, and new strategies.  It’s exhausting.

Sign me, 

Getting Worn Out

 

Dear Getting Worn Out:

We live in a world where the pace of change keeps accelerating and a mantra for survival is adapt or die.

I find applying what I have heard or read the best way to really learn and have it stick.

Here are five recent observations from watching our Labrador that are reminders that have reinforced learning in a fun way.

Onboarding

When we adopted Tally last year, she was a 9-year-old adult English Labrador and she moved from a kennel in the country into apartment living in downtown Chicago.

While there were a few adjustments in the beginning, she adapted extremely well.

She got used to the city traffic, riding an elevator, and letting us know when she wanted to go out.

I am reminded of the importance of successful onboarding.  She adapted to new routines and integrated into a new environment.

Plus, she demonstrated the competency that trips up executives onboarding into new companies more than any other factor and that is fitting into a new culture. Much can be accommodated once that’s in place.

She demonstrated the importance of emotional intelligence and learning agility.

Delegating and Engagement

While Tally is sometimes a little sluggish and just plods along, she often likes to grab the leash in her mouth and lead the way.

When she has the leash, she picks up the pace, lifts up her head and is clearly very proud of herself.

It reminds me of the importance of delegating.

When I coach managers like you who have been promoted to bigger jobs, a common need is to shift gears for the new role and this usually involves being intentional about delegating.

To be effective, a leader must let go of managing the details and trust others to get things done. It boosts employee engagement and frees up time you need for other responsibilities.

Delegating is empowering and energizing for them and essential for you. 

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Power & Influence

The Web is full of videos of cats blocking a dog’s path or commandeering a dog’s bed — all to the dog’s consternation.  Weighing in at 80 pounds, Tally clearly has the upper hand over our 12-pound declawed cat, Gertie, but Tally doesn’t believe it.

Tally needs to recognize her power, feel more confident and assert herself (to the feline bully).

Too often I hear clients voice self-limiting beliefs and their discomfort over how these beliefs hold them back.

I want these clients to know that when we let the inner voice of doubt take over, we give up choice and it keeps us small.

The opportunity is to begin with modest steps and to build confidence.

To overcome fear, we must move beyond our comfort zone.

It gets easier after that . . . . first step.

The invitation is to start now.  

Being Present

My number one rule for myself is showing up.  Nothing much can happen until I do.

Tally is very present and especially so in the kitchen. She gets the occasional nibbles of strawberries and a cashew or two just because she’s there.

It brings to mind the bedrock advice:  suit up and show up.

Networking

This is a happy dog with a wagging tail. It brings to mind the power and simplicity of a smile and hello.

Recently, a woman looked at me expressionless and (I’m embarrassed to admit) I thought to myself “What’s her problem?”

Then, with a whisper of inspiration, I ventured forth with a smile and a simple hello to her.

What did I get back?

Her face brightened and relaxed, she smiled and we started a pleasant conversation.

What we send out, we get back.

Hang in there, GWO. It’s more about the journey than the destination.

The 7 Steps of Storytelling for Leaders

Dear Springboard:

Now that I’m in this bigger job, my boss is telling me to start talking up my team and shine the light on them and not on me.

It doesn’t feel right. I’m a hard driver and I’ve earned what I have every step of the way.  I’ve always made sure people know about my accomplishments. It’s gotten me noticed and visibility matters.  It’s what’s worked and gotten me this far.

Sure, I’m a little bit of a self-promoter. But, if I don’t do it for myself, who will?

Sign me,

Dubious

 

Dear Dubious:

Everyone is the hero in their own story.

The challenge for you is to shift your attention to your staff – the people who are critical to your success.

Your situation brings to mind the hero’s journey and the key role of the guide.  In his classic book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell lays out the story structure of the hero’s journey, the outline that nearly all our books and movies follow.  Campbell studied cultures around the world and found a commonality to the local lore.

Oversimplifying, there is a principal character, our hero, whose life is disrupted in such a way as to call the hero forth to conquer a new challenge beyond their current capability.

As our hero ventures forth, uncertain of his abilities and with shaky confidence, he encounters a guide who offers particularly effective advice.  Think Merlin to King Arthur and Yoda to Luke Skywalker.

The guide is an essential character because our hero would not succeed without the guide’s support.

As the story develops, our hero confronts the challenges that must be overcome to triumph.

There is a climactic scene and the hero succeeds (escaping dire consequences of failure), and then our hero returns where he began, transformed by the journey and his success.

Now, if you look for it, you will see this in the movies you watch and books you read.

What does this have to do with your situation?

At a conference last week, I heard Don Miller (author of Building a StoryBrand) give an inspiring talk about how to apply the elements of the hero’s journey story structure for more effective marketing.

Basically, his pitch is that we find a market/prospect (hero); identify a key problem that needs to be solved; be an empathetic and authoritative guide to help; offer a way for the prospect to engage and solve their problem; call the prospect forth to take action; gingerly mention the perils of not doing so; and, end with their problem solved and the hero enhanced as a result of the process.

Miller is quick to point out that for the guide to be successful, the focus stays on the hero. That means the guide should not be singing their own praises.  If that happens, the guide becomes a second hero in the story and is competing with our protagonist.

Miller focused on using the story structure for more effective sales and marketing for a business.

I am proposing that with a slight shift of this mindset, the use of story structure can be effective with employees at work, and people in their personal relationships.

So, here’s a way of looking at the process from a manager’s point of view with their staff in mind:

Locate your character

With what I’m calling the StoryBrand mindset, imagine each direct report as a hero in their own personal story.  

Identify their problem

Think of what they are facing on three levels. What business problem(s) do they need to solve, what emotional issue resolved (increased confidence, sense of accomplishment, honoring specific values) and why does it matter to them enough to persevere? They should know how their efforts fit in the big picture.

Meet them as their guide

Present yourself as a resource to help in whatever way it is needed.  While the focus is not to be on you and your ego, it is necessary to demonstrate empathy and authority for the sake of establishing emotional connection and competence.

Give them a plan

Make sure there is clarity and agreement on goals, roles and expectations.

Call them to action

Challenge them: to reach stretch goals, develop new skills, innovate, to bring out their best selves.

Help them avoid failure

Success matters for its own sake and also because it means your direct reports won’t face the consequences of falling short.

Support them to end in success

Success can take many shapes; whatever it looks like, it should be clear and celebrated when reached.

Dubious, your job description has changed since you were climbing the ladder at lower rungs.

Your job now is to champion your people.

As a leader, get buy in for a vision, point the way, offer guidance, and cheer them on.

Take that spotlight off of you. Ultimately, the light you shine on them will reflect on you.

 

From the Watercooler

The secret to a happy marriage is to wake up every day and think: ‘How can I make my spouse happy.’ ~ Wedding toast by the father of the bride

Your success now