Letters from the editor

Is the Glass Really Half Empty?

If you’re like most people, you’ve been in situations that haven’t turned out like you wanted or expected. For example, you might have been passed up for an exciting opportunity or promotion that you felt well-qualified for, or you didn’t get the pay increase you were expecting. We’ve all been faced with disappointment in one way or another in our personal and professional lives.

The question is, “How can you work through it in a positive way?” In my work with high performing leaders and in my own life, I have found the work of Martin Seligman, the acclaimed author of Learned Optimism, to be extremely helpful. He offers a simple model called “ABCDE,” which helps you recognize and dispute pessimistic thoughts and replace them with optimism and hope. Once you recognize that you have a pessimistic thought that seems unwarranted, argue against it using the ABCDE model.

A stands for adversity B for the beliefs you automatically have when it occurs C for the usual consequences of your routine belief D for the disputation of your routine belief E for the energization you get when you dispute it successfully

Here’s an example to bring it to life.

Adversity

I didn't get the promotion I had worked so hard for all year long.

Beliefs

My boss doesn't value what I have to offer. He still thinks I'm not experienced enough. What am I still doing here?

Consequences

I'm really disappointed and am not sure I can continue to work somewhere that I'm not appreciated and don't have a future. I'm so tired of the political games at this company.

Disputation

Maybe I’m overlooking some important facts. No one else at my level got promoted this year. In fact, several people were laid off. My boss gave me good feedback on my performance and I did get a good pay increase. He explained what a financially challenging year it has been for the company. I don’t think I specifically told him that I expected a promotion this year.

Energization

I am getting recognition for my work when I really think about it—it’s just in a different way than I expected. I need to follow up with my boss to have an open conversation with him about the promotion I want, and how and when we can make it happen.

I encourage you to try out this model for the adverse events that you face— whether personal or professional, major or minor. One of the most powerful aspects of the model is that it forces you to look for evidence to dispute your negative beliefs. You may be surprised at the energy you get as you succeed in overcoming them.

Tackling Important Issues Head On

Have you ever been so overwhelmed by an issue that it’s hard for you to take any action, even when you know you need to? Maybe all you can think about is the time and energy it will take to think through the problem, and the implications of the possible outcomes. Well, you’re not alone. The good news is that there are some practical ways to get “unstuck” and move forward. The best way I can illustrate this is by describing a recent coaching conversation.

Jane and I discussed her need for more flexibility in her work hours and location. She feels compelled to make a change because she just isn’t happy. Jane has worked very hard to get to her current level of career success and is valued by her company, but she is afraid to rock the boat. She loves her work and isn’t ready to give up a good thing, but she is also exhausted by her hectic schedule between work and home.

She feels like her only options are to live with it or leave her job. As you can imagine, the thought of leaving her job scares her. What if she can’t replicate what she values about her current role and employer or, even worse, what if she can’t find a job at all in the current economy?

So, you can see how a situation like this could be overwhelming. The bottom line is that she feels stuck and hasn’t taken any action.

Regardless of the specific situation, here are three key things to consider when tackling an issue:

1. Examine how you've framed the issue.

It’s important to ask yourself a few questions to make sure you’ve framed the issue appropriately: “What problem am I really trying to solve? How else can I look at the situation? How narrowly have I defined the issue?” In Jane’s case, her focus was on choosing whether to live with her current situation or leave her job. But at the heart of it, it was really more about getting the flexibility she needed in her life—not just choosing between two options. Once she reframed the issue, she could envision options that felt more comfortable than the two in front of her.

2. Identify what is really keeping you from taking action.

In Jane’s situation, one important factor is that she is exhausted and doesn’t have the energy or time to reflect—which is what she said she needs to make a good decision. So, rather than jumping right in to solve the bigger issue (“live with it” or “leave it”), she needs time to get some perspective. For Jane, the options could range from setting some boundaries for work, taking vacation time, taking a leave of absence, or asking others for help.

3. Break the bigger issue down into manageable pieces.

Ask yourself, “What do I need to take action on right now? Is it really solving the entire problem?” Maybe all you need to do is figure out where to start. If you can commit to one or two small steps in the right direction, often that’s enough to create the momentum you need to keep going.

In Jane’s case, she needs to define her flexibility needs. What would that mean in terms of hours and work schedule? How would that impact her ability to get her job done? What support would she need from the company? At the end of the day, what is she really asking for?

So if you are tackling an important issue (whether it’s about flexibility or something else) and feel stuck, take a deep breath and ask yourself a few questions. It can do wonders to help you move forward. How you frame a problem and break it down can make a huge difference in your ability to solve it. Just remember to also work through any underlying issues that may be holding you back.

So, at this point you might be wondering, “How does Jane’s story end?” Well it’s still in process, but I’m happy to report that she is exploring some creative win/win options with her current employer.

How Well Do You Manage Your Energy?

I specialize in working with high performing leaders, people who have high expectations of themselves and won’t settle for less. When work gets really demanding, a high performer often responds by working longer hours, sometimes to the point of getting sick or disillusioned.

Research shows that proactively managing your energy can increase your capacity to get things done and improve your well-being (see HBR article: Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time). This is a lesson I learned the hard way a few years ago at Deloitte when I was leading a high stakes, high visibility initiative for the firm. Since then, I have helped many leaders develop strategies to renew their energy on a daily basis to avoid burnout and get better results.

To understand how well you manage your energy, look at each statement below and note whether it is True or False for you.

1. I rarely get 7-8 hours of sleep each night.

2. I exercise less than 3 times per week.

3. I often skip meals or eat unhealthy food.

4. I constantly deal with interruptions at work, leaving little time to focus on what I need to do.

5. I have little time to reflect so I can be more proactive at work.

6. I have difficulty shutting work off after business hours and on weekends.

7. I feel stressed out and irritable, especially when I'm under pressure.

8. There is a gap between what I think is important and how I actually spend my time.

9. When I do spend time with my family, I'm not fully there.

10. I don't spend enough time doing what I really enjoy or find fulfilling.

The point of this exercise is not to depress you, but rather to give you a quick snapshot of how you are doing. From the list above, choose one area that you would like to improve and identify one action that you will take this week to get started. Take a look at the examples below:

  • I am going to leave my desk for lunch today.

  • I will exercise today, even if it is just for 15 minutes.

  • I will go to bed 20 minutes earlier than I usually do.

  • I will listen to some good music on the drive home instead of taking another conference call, so I can unplug from work by the time I get home.

  • I will not check email after 6:30 PM today.

Hopefully these examples will provoke some simple ideas for you. Just get started and you'll notice that your energy level and results improve. Remember, small steps can lead to big results.

Investing In Yourself

I’d like to challenge you to think about how you’re investing in your professional growth and development. When was the last time you really took the time to focus on this? Perhaps when your company asked you to fill out your goals as part of the performance management process?

Well, I want to give you a few simple ideas to consider so you can start taking action today:

1. Put your strengths into play more powerfully.

Most people pay far more attention to their developmental areas than their strengths. But focusing on your strengths can give you that extra edge to take your performance to new heights. So, take a minute and jot down your top three strengths.

When I work with my clients, I help them recognize their strengths by connecting the dots between feedback from others, what I notice in the assessments they take, and common themes that emerge in our coaching. Even if you’re not working with an executive coach, you can take online assessments like the Strengths Finder or the VIA to give you additional insight and perspective.

Once you have identified your top strengths, ask yourself, “What one or two things can I do to put these strengths into play more powerfully, in the context of my current professional goals and role in the organization?” Just asking yourself this question will help you become more intentional about using your strengths.

2. Ask how you can be more effective.

Opening yourself up to feedback can be painful, but invaluable. When I conduct 360-degree interviews as part of the coaching process, I always ask the feedback providers what my client should start, stop, or keep doing to be more effective. You can do this on your own if you have the courage to put yourself “out there” and receive the input, and feel confident that people will be candid. So, think about who you would want to ask for input and how often.

Also, remember that asking for input from others can create a solid image about your leadership style, as long as you keep your defensiveness in check. Just know that you probably will not agree with all the input, and unless you plan to do something with it you’re better off not asking for it.

3. Think about how you want to stretch yourself.

Finally, as you look ahead to the next six months or a year, how do you want to stretch yourself? What skills or expertise do you want to further develop? What does the business really need? How will an investment in those skills or expertise enable stronger business results and advance your career?

By getting clear about the answers to these questions you will begin to formulate a business case in your own mind about how you want to invest in yourself, and the resources you may need from your company to do so. Neither you nor your company will invest time or money if there’s no ROI, so get clear about the outcomes you want to achieve.

Hopefully these three tips have stimulated some ideas for you. I want to challenge you to pick one area to take a small step towards this week. Remember, that small steps can lead to big results.

Making Change Stick

When my son learned to tie his shoelaces, I distinctly recall that intense look on his face as he focused so hard on each step in the process to make sure he did it all just right.

I’m sure you haven’t had to put that level of energy and focus into tying your shoes in years because you have reached that point of unconscious competence (where it’s second nature). However, you may have other things you want to master or change to take your leadership and performance to the next level.

When I coach leaders, my goal is to help them make the desired changes, and make them stick. As you might expect, there is a method to the madness. So, today, I want to share three tips that may expedite the change process for you.

1. Remind yourself what’s at stake.

Usually when you want to make a change in behavior, it’s because something much bigger is at stake. Let me explain what I mean. For example, I recently coached a client who is so smart that he often goes into mindreading mode. In other words, he keeps interrupting others because he “knows” what they are about to say.

He has finally come to realize the negative impact that this has on his relationships and wants to make a shift. At the end of the day, this isn’t about him wanting to be more polite and waiting patiently for others to finish. As a leader, this is about him building commitment by showing respect and valuing his team’s ideas. And for the business, it’s about delivering on the business goals as efficiently and effectively as possible. By keeping in mind what’s really at stake, he is much more motivated to follow through.

2. Recognize that others won’t notice immediately.

As you put in the time and effort to change your behavior, you might feel frustrated when others just don’t seem to notice. Remember that with the day-to-day distractions in their lives, most people will take a while to notice. And when they do, it may take time for them to trust that you can sustain the behavior change—and that has less to do with you and more to do with human nature.

3. Set aside time to assess your progress.

Last but not least, take time to understand what’s working for you and what’s not. By deliberately looking for the evidence, you will notice what’s working and will think about how to more proactively put it into play. Although change takes time, this approach will make change stick much faster.

So, whether you are making change on a small or large scale, identify one strategy you want to put into play for yourself this week. What small step will you take to make change stick?

Do You Use Self-Promotion as a Leadership Tool?

I speak on the topic of tasteful self-promotion all the time. I have to say that this is truly a timeless topic because most women and some men struggle with how to do it. I even have an entire module dedicated to it my WOW! Women On the Way to Peak Performance ProgramSM.

As one of the faculty for the George W. Bush Presidential Center’s inaugural Women’s Initiative Fellowship Program, I had a chance to teach fourteen women from Egypt how to do this. Although they debated with me about whether self- promotion was something they could do in a way that fit with their culture and was aligned with their personal styles and values, the women successfully developed and implemented strategies that worked for them during their four weeks in the United States. So, I’m here to tell you that if fourteen women from Egypt can do it, so can you!

Here’s a quick self-assessment you can take to help you determine where you might have some opportunities to be more effective. Rate yourself on the following eight statements using the scale below:

1 = Not at all, 2 = Very little, 3 = Neutral, 4 = To a moderate extent, 5 = To a great extent

1. I view self-promotion in a positive light.

2. I am comfortable self-promoting.

3. I know who needs to know about my accomplishments and results.

4. The “right” people know how I add value.

5. I notice and track my accomplishments.

6. I am armed with quick stories I can tell.

7. I have a 30-60 second elevator speech.

8. I spend at least five minutes/week to toot my own horn.

As you can see from the statements above, it all starts with your mindset. Most people view tooting their own horns as bragging, self-centered, or just plain obnoxious. And I would agree that the most memorable examples of self-promotion tend to be negative. However, there are many people who do use self-promotion as an effective tool to demonstrate their leadership.

Rather than taking a negative view, I urge you to reframe self-promotion as a valuable way to inform others and to help them learn from what you have accomplished. When you view it this way, it becomes less about you and more about providing something relevant and useful to others.

Next, think about how you want to “show up” in a conversation where you do tell others about your accomplishments and results. How do you want to be viewed? What is important to you? Answering these questions will help you frame your achievements in a way that works for you and choose the right words, which will make it much easier for you to tastefully self-promote.

Finally, take a look at your responses to the assessment above. What did you notice, and what action do you want to take? You could start by clarifying what stops you from self-promoting, identifying who needs to know about your accomplishments, or simply jotting down examples of your achievements and results.

I challenge you to identify one small step to get the ball rolling this week. You know I’m a firm believer that small steps can lead to big results.

Life Lessons from the Grand Canyon

In the summer of 2012, I took a spectacular five-day hiking and camping trip to the Grand Canyon. Although my trip started off a little rough as I twisted my ankle on the first day trekking down into the Canyon, our amazing guide, Chris, wrapped it so well that I didn’t miss a beat.

Chris has experiences and wisdom far beyond his 28 years including practicing his survival skills on a remote island for 13 months with nothing but the clothes on his back and the shoes on his feet, and living with various Native American Indian tribes for a year and a half to learn about their heritage and practices.

On this trip, our hiking group took a huge leap of faith in his ability to keep us safe while stretching us beyond our limits. Chris said this phrase several times and it stuck with me, “Speed is safety. Hesitation kills. Confidence is key.” Its relevance to the business world and life in general, is what leads me to share it with you today.

1. Speed is safety.

Speed matters, whether you’re striving to be first to market or meet a business goal, or trying to get to the other side of a steep cliff. To face that huge challenge you must keep moving forward. Taking a step, no matter how small, can help you learn that critical lesson or give you the ability to see things from a different vantage point.

Although speed matters, so does rest. So, when you feel your energy draining or the signs of burnout creeping up on you, take a break—but not for too long. In other words, rest long enough to boost your energy but short enough to keep you from getting stiff and stopping entirely. You have to strike a good balance between getting rest and maintaining momentum.

2. Hesitation kills.

Hesitation can be deadly. I see it kill ideas on a daily basis as that golden opportunity passes by—that moment that will never return. To bring this to life, I want to share a personal experience from my trip.

On day three, I vividly remember holding onto a boulder as we hiked across the rocks and down into the water. I was gasping for my next breath from the sheer force of the cold air from the gushing waterfall ten feet away and blinded by water spraying into my eyes . . . and tentative because of my injured ankle.

As I rubbed my eyes, sure that my contact lenses had washed away, I shouted to the person behind me, “I don’t know if I can do this!” As I stood there getting pounded by the water and wind, I knew I couldn’t hesitate any longer because my indecision was only fueling my fear. Little did I know that it would take only six more steps to get to the other side of what we came to affectionately call “The Jacuzzi.” And just six steps away was one of the most beautiful views of Avatar Falls (appropriately named by Chris, in honor of the movie), a view that I would have missed if I had hesitated any longer.

So the next time you find yourself thinking twice or being held back by fear, envision what could be on the other side. What would it really feel like if you achieved that important goal? What would it feel like if you took that leap of faith? All I can say is that I am so glad I took those additional six steps, not only for the view but also because it meant I had conquered my fear.

3. Confidence is key.

Confidence plays a huge role in how you view yourself, how others view you, and whether you succeed or fail. Often, stepping out with confidence is more about gathering the information you need to mitigate risk and less about self-doubt.

For example, if you’re standing on land wondering whether you should jump through the waterfall into the water below, you might ask, “Where are the rocks? How deep is the water? How strong is the current, and what should I do if I get caught in it?”

Similarly, if you’re wondering whether the time is right to share your “big idea” or ask for resources, make a list of the questions for which you need answers, anticipate the resistance you might encounter, and develop a game plan.

As I reflected about this trip, I realized what an amazing opportunity it truly was. Just remember that you don’t have to go all the way to the Grand Canyon to seize opportunities. They are right in front of you every day. So, I want to challenge you to seize the next one—no matter how small—with speed and confidence, and without hesitation.

© 2012 Neena Newberry | All rights reserved.

How Are You Getting In Your Own Way?

When you’re a high performer, you may have a relentless drive for results. Your expectations of yourself may be much higher than what others expect of you and failure is usually not an option. Although you have a remarkable ability to get results, you may fall into some traps that limit your effectiveness. Read through the traps below to see if any apply to you.

1. I mind read.

If you frequently interrupt others because you know what they are going to say, I urge you to simply notice the impact your behavior has on them. Pay attention to how they react including their body language, tone of voice, actions, and words. What do all those things tell you? I would guess that you are sending them some messages you had not intended to: “What you have to say doesn’t matter.” “My opinion carries more weight than yours.” “I don’t have time to listen to your input.”

2. I always know the right answer.

If you fall into this trap, you may have a high aptitude and can come up with the right answer most of the time (and usually much faster than others). So, you may not see a strong need to solicit input from others or explain the assumptions and facts behind your recommendations or solutions.

Although you may have the “right” answer, ask yourself what will maximize your effectiveness as a leader. How much of it is about getting to the absolute best solution, even if others won’t implement it? How much of it is about getting to a workable solution that others can support?

It often helps to go back and think about what happened the last time you pushed really hard for what you thought was the right answer. Remember that how you share your ideas is just as if not more important than the idea itself—and that you can do it in a way that engages others and leverages your expertise.

3. I set the bar really high.

Having high expectations of yourself and others can bring value as long as you do it in a way that still motivates and energizes others. Remember that not everyone views their careers in the same way you do. Some may see it as a source of security rather than a source of fulfillment. By understanding what motivates each of your team members, you will have valuable information that will help you develop an effective approach and minimize your frustration.

4. I take over when others don’t do things the way I would.

Micromanaging is a common trap that can completely distract you from making the highest and best use of your talent and skills. Remember to ask yourself what you’re giving up when you say “yes” to spending time creating a perfect deliverable when someone else could have done it well (just not as perfectly as you). Did it mean you had to work later to get to the higher priority work you should have been doing instead? Did it mean you couldn’t exercise or spend as much time with your family?

If you fall into one more of these traps, remember that we all do things that get in our own way. I urge you to identify one small step you will take this week to make a change in the right direction to avoid falling into the same trap again. And be sure to tell someone else about it so they can encourage you and assess your progress.