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.


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


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


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.


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.


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.

Setting Yourself Up for Success in a Negotiation

I presented at the Women’s Global Leadership Conference in Energy & Technology in Houston. The topic was How to successfully negotiate for a raise—How to get past your dread, develop a win/win approach, and negotiate for what you want.

In this article, I have broadened my comments from what I presented there to apply to a variety of career situations—where you might be negotiating a pay raise, a high profile assignment or key role, or for something else you really want.

There are tons of articles about negotiating and the best way to approach it. So, rather than try to cover all that territory, I want to share two things that are mentioned less often but have a huge impact on your success.

Create the Right Perception.

One of the things I coach and do workshops on is Getting the Visibility You Want, which is all about strategically informing others and giving more visibility to your skills and contributions. Take some time to think about who needs to understand how you are adding value and who will influence the ultimate decision about whether to give you what you are asking for. If you don’t know already, find out what their perception of your performance is today and where you may need to close some gaps.

Let me be clear, this is not about creating a false image. It is about proactively helping others understand your value and helping them understand how to best leverage your skills and talent. We all know this doesn’t happen overnight, so allow enough time to close any gaps in perception.

Also, remember that how you “show up” in the conversation where you ask for what you want matters. So, think about how you want to be viewed or perceived in the negotiation. For example you might want to be seen as confident, reasonable, committed to the company’s success, and looking for a win/win for you and the company. Whatever it may be, think about how to frame up the conversation to reinforce that image.

Understand How You Will Get in Your Own Way.

Many of us have fears or anxiety about negotiating or asking for what we want. So, think about how you might get in your own way in advance. It could be a belief or concern that keeps you from asking for what you want. For example, I have a client who was really concerned that she would be viewed as greedy because she was already paid well, even though the data showed that she was clearly underpaid relative to others at her level.

Another client who was asking for a nontraditional role feared the worst, that they would just say, “We can’t give you what you want. Just leave if you’re not happy.” Test these beliefs by looking for confirming and disconfirming evidence. More often than not, our own fears are the biggest barrier to getting what we want.

In both of the examples above, I worked with my clients to identify their mental roadblocks and how they might react in the face of resistance, and develop strategies to keep both from getting in their way. I am excited to say that both of my clients got everything they asked for.

There are so many things I could have covered in this article, and so much I still want to share with you. For now, think about how you can start applying these two concepts, whether you are asking for something big or small.

When Someone Plays Hardball

I had a conversation with a talented leader who has achieved tremendous success in her career. She is in a tough political situation that has thrown her for a loop. A fellow leader at her company clearly wants to expand his span of responsibility and is blatantly playing hardball to make it happen. The situation has affected this woman’s ability to stay level-headed, focused on what she needs to get done, and ultimately sustain her performance. And, because she carries her work frustration home, her personal life has suffered as well.

As someone who has worked with many large companies across industries, I have seen ugly politics time and again — and have personally experienced them myself. It’s never fun, but you can navigate through it.

Here are three ideas that can help you:

1. Identify your triggers.

We all have “buttons” and some people know how to push them better than others. Yes, you know what I’m talking about. It could be a person who comes across as self-serving (e.g., blatantly schmoozing, taking all the credit, etc.) or does something equally frustrating.

When you have a strong reaction — one that you keep replaying in your head or can’t let go of — you need to identify what triggered it for you. Usually it’s not just about what that person said or did. Rather, at the core it has to do with something that you really value being violated.

Sometimes it’s hard to figure this one out by yourself because your emotions can cloud your judgment and ability to work through it. So, you may need to talk to a coach, colleague, or confidant who can help you get to the heart of what’s going on.

2. Leverage the “Power of the Pause.”

If nothing else, the next time you let yourself get triggered by this person, just pause. Remember that no one can make you feel or react a certain way unless you let them. Do you really want to give the person that much power over you? That may sound counterintuitive because you may want to blame the other person for the whole situation—“Of course it’s their fault that I’m so stressed and frustrated!”

Do not underestimate the power you have. You know that you cannot control the other person, but you can control yourself — with deliberate focus and practice. I fully recognize this is much easier said than done, which is why people often need help to make the shift.

So start by taking a small step. Practice pausing when you get triggered. Even 2-3 seconds can give you just enough time to choose a different response.

3. Make a different choice.

OK, this last step may sound like a statement of the obvious, but I can’t tell you how much value people get from seeing it in black and white or hearing it. Doing more of the same will never get you a different result. Period!

The person who triggers your frustration can probably predict how you’re going to respond. So, once you can make yourself pause, you will start to notice that you can make a different choice in the moment.

By choosing a different response, you can break the unproductive cycle. This will help you focus much more on what will serve you best in that situation and less on reacting to the other person’s behavior.

A couple of final thoughts: First, don’t underestimate what you can do in tough political situations to drive the outcome you want. Second, leverage the power you have when someone plays hardball. If nothing else, identify your triggers in the situation, because doing that will help you get to a better outcome faster.

Is Fear Holding You Back?

No matter what anyone says, change takes energy—whether it’s positive or negative change. We may tell ourselves that we embrace change and thrive on it, but the reality is that it can be stressful. Change often triggers fear, one of the biggest impediments to success.

So, what is fear exactly? At the most basic level, fear is resistance. Let’s take the simple analogy of a thermostat to further explore this. We are living creatures with systems that operate in a narrow range. For example, the human body temperature is 98.6 degrees and blood pressure falls within a specific range. So, in essence, your body has a particular “setting” on a thermostat. If you change that setting even half a point, your body has to expend energy—so your body “resists” in order to conserve your energy and keep you exactly where you are. When you are trying to make a change in your behavior, a similar process occurs. Fear and other discouraging thoughts show up in order to keep things status quo.

So, how can you keep fear from holding you back? Here are five strategies to consider:

1. Tame your Gremlins.

The “Gremlin” is the internal voice that makes us have second thoughts or fear change. For example, your Gremlin might say “You’ll never find another job that pays this well and has this level of flexibility.” Realize that the Gremlin does not always speak the truth. Its function is to keep things exactly as they are—to stop you from making the change. Pay close attention to what your Gremlin says to you, and develop strategies to counter its voice. Depending on your circumstances, the Gremlin may be very powerful and you might need outside help to reduce the power of its voice.

2. Take small steps.

Break change down into manageable pieces and tackle each piece one at a time. This will break down your resistance, and make the change feel less insurmountable.

3. Identify what is holding you back. Be specific.

Let’s take the example of a man whose stomach turns upside down at the thought of giving a presentation. What triggers his fear? When he starts to think about it, he realizes that his fear surfaces only in presentations to his boss or peers. After we dig a little deeper, he realizes that at the heart of it, his fear is really about appearing incompetent in front of his colleagues. Now he has something concrete he can work to overcome.

4. Play out your fear and develop a rational response.

Play out a video of your worst fear. What is happening? How likely is it that what you see in the video will happen? What is the size of the risk (large, medium, small), and the probability of it occurring (high, medium, low)? If your fear came true, how would you handle it?

When we go through these questions, we often recognize that what we have imagined is far worse than what might happen! But even if our worst fear came true, having a game plan can make it less scary.

5. Get support from others.

Don’t try to take it all on by yourself. Getting help from others will make you feel like someone cares about your success. Create a support system for yourself with individuals who will encourage you and celebrate your successes—big and small.

Change can be hard work, so make sure you stack the odds in your favor. If you need some support to achieve your goals, consider working with a coach.

What is “Sitting on the Fence” Costing You?

Have you ever found yourself sitting on the fence about something that’s really important to you? It could be related to a career decision, going for what you want personally or professionally, or making an investment in yourself. Well, I’m here to tell you that the road ahead is full of new opportunities and possibilities…and you can make some different choices than you have in the past.

I have the privilege of working with talented leaders every day to help them get results they couldn’t before. And what I often see is that despite their success, at times even they find themselves sitting on the fence instead of moving forward.

Here are three common traps they fall into:

1. This isn’t a good time.

This is what I like to call “playing it safe.” There are so many reasons to stay exactly where we are and not take action. The lists are endless. Do any of these sound familiar?

  • “If I can just finish this project or get past the next two months, then I’ll have time to focus on this.”

  • “There’s already been a lot of change in the company. I don’t want to rock the boat.”

  • “I can’t ask for the company to invest in a coach or a training program for me, even if I can quickly recoup the investment. Budgets are tight.

Whether the reason is time, money, or something else; it’s up to you to make the business case:

  • What does make this the right time to take action?

  • What positive outcomes could occur if I move forward now instead of waiting?

  • What’s at risk personally or professionally, if I wait?

2. I need more information

If you find yourself in an endless cycle of gathering and analyzing data, the question to ask yourself is “What do I have to know to move forward with this?” By focusing on the one or two most critical things, you can put aside the “nice to have” but less important information that’s muddying the water. We will never have all the information we want or need, so use the 80/20 rule and focus on the 20 percent that matters the most.

3. What if it doesn’t work out? Or, what if it does?

Sometimes the fear of getting what you want can be scarier than the fear of not getting it—because at the end of the day, it means change. And change is hard, even when it’s positive. So, you may find yourself lacking energy and enthusiasm to move forward, even when it’s something that really matters to you.

Ask yourself, “If I move forward with this, what could happen? What would be different?” Play out your worst case and your best case scenarios as if you were watching them on video. Describe what is happening in as much detail as possible. By playing them out, you will get a better sense of how likely they are to happen and what’s really underlying your fear.

Just remember that we all find ourselves sitting on the fence at one point or another. The key is to not be there long enough to get splinters. Whether your response is a “yes” or a “no” on whether to move forward on something that really matters to you, sometimes it’s important to just make a decision. So answer the questions above, and consider working with a coach or someone who can help you figure out what’s making you hesitate. That’s the first step to getting off that fence.

Staying Focused on the Big Picture

As managers and leaders, you may have a wide range of responsibilities from giving your team the right guidance and direction to getting down into details to problem-solve. However, the higher you climb up the corporate ladder, the more you need to consistently focus on the big picture in everything you do. This can make a huge difference in whether others perceive you as a leader, and in your ability to get results.

When I work with my clients, one of the first things I ask them to do is identify the three areas where they can make the biggest impact on the business. Then I take it one step further and have them identify what makes each of those three things so important, to the business and to them personally (e.g., to their goals and development as leaders).

This approach is a core part of my Leadership System because it helps people focus on the big picture and recognize the “so what.” In other words, identifying where you need to redirect your focus is an important first step—but understanding the impact of that shift will cement your commitment to doing it and help you articulate it to others.

By asking the two questions above early on, I find that most people quickly zero in on the 20 percent of their activity and effort that matters the most. It gives them a new lens to look at things through. So, they begin to challenge how they spend their time and start to recognize what they should stop doing altogether. This process of rationalizing their time and focus opens up new possibilities, including delegating to and developing others who are eager to show what they can do.

However, to really be viewed as a strong leader by others you have to go beyond redirecting how you spend your time. You also have to help others “see” that you are doing so. In other words, make your big picture more visible to other leaders, your boss, peers, and staff through what you communicate.

Sometimes we can be so clear in our own heads about what we are doing that we can forget that our underlying intent and actions may not be well understood by others. So, look for opportunities, big and small, to communicate your big picture and priorities to others—the “what” and the “why.” And you don’t have to create new forums to do so; you can leverage existing meetings and opportunities. Whatever approach you choose, be sure to tailor it to your audience.

Finally, remember that your communications and actions must be in sync because your actions will speak louder than your words. For example, if people see you consistently focused on the details in meetings and in their interactions with you, it will be much more difficult for them to view you as someone who sees and understands the big picture.

So, I’ll end with a Call to Action. Please take the time to answer the following questions for yourself today:

  • What are the three things you need to focus on in the next six months, to have the biggest impact on the business and on your own development?

  • What makes each of these things so important to you and the business (i.e., what will the impact be)?

  • What one step will you take to communicate your big picture to others

These questions will help you focus on the big picture—on what really drives value and results. So, keep them handy and review them every six months.

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.

Presentation Pearls of Wisdom

I attended a panel discussion at the Greater Houston Women’s Conference with three professionals who collectively have over 75 years of experience in acting, radio and TV. They shared some valuable reminders and tips about Presenting Your Best Self On and Off Camera. So, I’ve included four things to think about the next time you’re preparing to be in front of an audience:

1. Who is my audience and what will they want from me?

Any presentation starts with thinking about your audience. Even if your audience is just one person, first take a few minutes to put yourself in their shoes. Think about what they will want from you whether it’s information, reassurance, or something else. This will go a long way in helping you position your ideas in a way that addresses their underlying needs and resonates with them.

2. What do I want from my audience?

As a presenter, you also typically want something from your audience. For example, you may want them to feel confident in your abilities or think you are the right person for the job. Knowing what you want from your audience will give you more insight into the type of information to present and how to best communicate it.

3. What is my story?

Remember that storytelling is powerful—and there’s always a story line. A talented Deloitte partner taught me this lesson early on in my career. To this day, I remember walking into his office with a draft presentation for a client meeting. He left it sitting untouched on his desk until he asked me a series of questions. I can’t remember the exact questions but they led me to give him the 3-4 headlines, the key messages we really needed our client to know and understand.

By the time we finished talking, I knew I had missed the mark with my presentation. I had a gold mine of information (supporting charts, data, etc.) but I hadn’t effectively woven it into a compelling story that made the “so what” crystal clear. I remember sheepishly reaching across his desk to take back my work, hoping he wouldn’t look at it first.

4. What do I need to do to take my nerves out of the equation?

The last two tips focus on addressing nervousness that many of us experience when it comes to presenting in front of an audience, especially when a lot is at stake. Nervousness can come from not being fully aligned or associated with your story, or focusing more on yourself than your audience.

On the first issue, the best advice I can give you is to practice saying your presentation out loud. According to the panelists, three times is the magic number to imprint the script in your memory. Think about how valuable this preparation could be if a meeting runs over and your presentation time gets drastically shortened. Knowing your story would help you quickly distill your presentation down to the essential headlines.

Second, remember to focus on your audience instead of yourself. Many of us can’t help but zero in on our own fears and what others think of us. So, to address this, imagine that your audience is full of people that you enjoy being around, and that your primary objective is to serve them. By staying focused on what your audience needs you will focus less on your fears.

Hopefully after reading through this, you realize that there are some small steps you can take to prepare that can make a big difference in the effectiveness of your presentations. Remember that taking even as little as five minutes to think through these questions can go a long way. So, I would urge you to identify one practice that you’d like to start incorporating today.

What Guides Your Leadership?

Ask I spoke in depth with an officer at Marathon Oil about one of my clients, our discussion naturally shifted to his leadership philosophy and how it comes into play with his direct reports. I want to share the five principles from a leadership model pinned to the wall in his office. They’re simple, powerful, and struck a chord with me.

1. People want to do a good job and want to win.

This principle may sound really basic, but it may not be something you think about day-to-day, especially in fast-paced, stressful situations. So, the next time you find frustration creeping up on you, stop and take a deep breath. Whether you believe it or not, consider for a moment that the person you are frustrated with actually wants to do a good job. If you adopted that perspective, how might it change how you think about their behavior and how you approach the situation?

2. People want and deserve to know where they stand with their supervisor.

I have to say that I can appreciate the difficulty most people have giving honest, constructive feedback—especially after leading Performance Management & Career Planning at Deloitte. A lot of managers and leaders dread the process and have concerns about whether the employee can handle the feedback: Will the employee have an emotional outburst? What might go wrong?

But, as a leader, what if you viewed feedback as something people want and deserve to have? It might shift your mindset from worrying about your discomfort to providing something of value and service to your employee.

3. Winners produce better bottom line results.

Research demonstrates time and again that “winners” (high performers who are engaged) contribute tremendously to the organizations in which they work. They creatively look for better ways to do get the job done and often elevate the performance of their entire team. So, as a leader, ask yourself, “What 1-2 things do I need to do to create more winners?”

4. Managers have more impact on performance than they realize.

Most people don’t leave jobs or companies; they leave their managers. I can’t tell you how often I see high performers leave organizations to work for a leader or manager they truly believe in—someone who has demonstrated that they care by supporting the employee’s career goals and personally investing in their success.

Leaders with true followers typically instill in their employees a genuine desire to go above and beyond. At the end of the day, this translates into a level of commitment, loyalty, and performance that is hard to replicate.

5. A manager’s job is to produce winners.

Ultimately, management and leadership are all about setting your employees up for success. Great managers and leaders build a strong commitment to their organizations by investing in getting to know their employees, demonstrating that they care about their aspirations, and helping them build their capabilities. Remember that this doesn’t have to be time consuming, but it does require consistent focus.

I hope this list has stimulated some ideas for you. Before you immerse yourself into the next thing on your to do list, take a few minutes to think about what principles guide your leadership and one action you will take to reinforce just one of those principles this week. Who knows, you may end up with a list that you decide to pin up on your office wall too!

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.

Being in the Moment

At my 25-year high school reunion, I found myself going back down memory lane. I had so much fun reconnecting with old friends and making new ones.

As a member of the planning committee, I found myself paying much more attention to the body language and cues at each reunion event, because I wanted to make sure that people were having a good time. As I looked around, I was surprised by how much I noticed after just a few seconds. This reminded me of the importance of truly being in the moment. Although in this case I’m talking about a personal situation, the same concept applies to business.

So, I want to point out three things about “being in the moment” that may be helpful to you as a leader.

1. Notice the valuable information in front of you.

Day to day, most of us are so focused on our own responsibilities, that we overlook the valuable information that others send our way. Whether it’s someone’s look of frustration or anger or their excitement, it gives you insight into how they are feeling. More importantly, it gives you clues about how to respond in that situation.

Let me give you an example of how someone I know has put this into play. I have a former colleague from Deloitte Consulting who has mastered the art of “noticing.” When she enters a room, she quickly looks around and pays attention to the energy level and the body language of each person. So, when she speaks to someone, she already has valuable information that allows her to engage with the person beyond a surface level. She often surprises people when she mentions what she noticed, because she’s usually right on.

2. Send the right message about your leadership.

I remember coaching a manager who literally would have one foot out the door each time he would talk to one of his direct reports. Or even worse, he’d be looking at his BlackBerry the whole time. Yet he was surprised when his 360-feedback report said that his team feels like he doesn’t have time for them and that he just cares about himself.

Although he had a busy schedule like most managers, he recognized that he couldn’t get his job done without his team. On top of that, he really did care about them. So he decided that each morning, he would take five minutes to talk to at least one of his employees as he got his morning coffee. It was a simple strategy that helped him connect with his team before his day got crazy. By making a small investment of his time and giving each person his undivided attention, he communicated that he valued his relationships with them.

3. Take advantage of the opportunity in front of you.

Finally, if your mind is distracted by something other than what’s going on right now, you may miss the opportunity in that moment—to be creative, spontaneous, or something else. You may be so deep in thought or busy checking your PDA that you miss the chance to bring your “A” game.

Here is my Call to Action. Look at your calendar and choose an upcoming meeting to practice “being fully in the moment.” When you get to the meeting, remember to put your technology away so it doesn’t distract you. During the meeting, simply notice what’s going on around you—the body language, tone of voice, energy, and what’s being said. You may be surprised at how much you learn about others, and how much more engaged you are.

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.

How to Disagree without Being Disagreeable

It can be difficult for some women to voice a difference of opinion in a way that will be well-received (i.e., not too assertive).

On the other hand, saying nothing can have negative consequences of its own (i.e., being viewed as not assertive enough). If you’ve found yourself waffling about whether to speak up or bite your tongue, read on.

1. Don’t be a derailer.

Recall a time when you sat in a meeting thinking to yourself, “I don’t agree with the direction we are heading” but didn’t say a word. Perhaps you thought it was the wrong forum in which to voice your concerns.

What was the impact of your choice? Did you catch people off guard by not speaking up in that moment and later sharing privately that you had major concerns? Regardless of your intent, how were you viewed? Did some think you were being passive-aggressive or maybe not assertive enough? Did others wonder, “Why didn’t she just say something when we were all there? It could have saved us a lot of time.” Also recognize that others may have unvoiced concerns, so by speaking up you might just give them the courage to share them.

Finally, remember that you can express a different point of view in the moment without turning it into a big deal. For example, if your concerns will warrant a lot more discussion, you can suggest an offline discussion with a smaller group if that makes sense. The next two strategies might also help.

2. Frame your disagreement as “Yes and…”.

Before you highlight points of concern, acknowledge areas of alignment. By first demonstrating that you “get it” (i.e., that you understand the other person’s point of view and what could work well) others will be more open to your perspective.

Some people fall into the trap of jumping straight into what they think won’t work, which can trigger defensiveness — and then they entirely forget to point out what they do like about the idea. So, challenge yourself to say, “Yes and ...” instead of “No, but ....”

3. Depersonalize your comments.

Finally, remember to keep it objective by evaluating each idea against the intended outcomes. In other words, point out the criteria for success (stated or implied) and help others understand how the ideas on the table do or don’t satisfy them. This makes the evaluation of the ideas feel much less personal, and the originator of the idea is less likely to feel attacked when you give your feedback. By framing your suggestions in the context of the group’s objectives, others will be more receptive to what you have to say.

Sometimes saving your disagreement for another time is indeed the best option. But in many cases, it may not be. I challenge you to be more assertive in expressing your views while considering the impact on how you’re viewed as a leader. Take a minute now to identify one step you’ll take to put these ideas into play this week.

Three Key Questions from David Novak

At the 2012 sold-out national Women’s Foodservice Forum (WFF) Conference in Dallas, I had the opportunity to hear David Novak, CEO of Yum! Brands and author of Taking People with You, speak. He shared several insights he has gained throughout his years at PepsiCo and Yum! Brands, some of which he learned from making big mistakes.

As he spoke about leadership, David reiterated that it all starts with focusing on being your best self. Not only does this mean raising your self-awareness, but also recognizing the impact you have on others and asking them for their perspective.

David mentioned three important questions we should all ask:

1. What do people appreciate about me as I am today?

Sometimes we take our own skills and strengths for granted, especially if we have been using them for years. Do you know how you are viewed by others, and what capabilities they really value? If not, take the time to find out what people appreciate about you and the impact you have on others, business results, and the company. The more specific the feedback, the more value you will get from it.

2. How can I be more effective?

When I conduct 360-degree feedback interviews, I typically ask what my client should do more of or less of to be more effective. By asking the questions this way, I get people into a forward thinking mindset. Take the time to ask yourself and others these questions on a periodic basis to keep your own effectiveness front and center.

3. If a “hot shot” came in to replace me today, what would they do?

This question can push you out of your day-to-day mindset. David has used it to challenge himself, incentivize fresh ideas, and seek out people who will help him elevate his game. Although you may not be able to get a meeting with Warren Buffet each year to get his thoughts as David does, you can evaluate the breadth and depth of your network and how you can stretch yourself and your team.

The three questions above will help you focus on how to put your strengths into play more powerfully, minimize less effective practices, and challenge yourself and your team. David writes the answers to the first two questions on an index card that he keeps on his desk as a constant reminder of what he should be doing. This week I want to challenge you to answer at least one of these questions. You might be surprised at what you learn about yourself.

Lessons from Hall of Famers Aikman and Staubach

I heard Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman speak in an intimate setting at a United Way Tocqueville event. As a young girl relocating from England to Texas in the late 1970’s, I became a huge Dallas Cowboys fan. So, it was exciting to hear personal stories from two people that I admire and respect.

Scott Murray moderated the discussion, asking Troy and Roger what shaped their careers, who has had the biggest impact on them, and what led them to get engaged in the community. As I listened to them speak, there were three things that really jumped out at me, and they may serve as important reminders for you:

1. Be open to the possibilities.

When asked whether they thought they would ever play football professionally, let alone be quarterbacks, Troy and Roger both said no. Troy said that he knew from a very young age that he wanted to be a professional athlete, but like Roger his passion was baseball.

Roger talked about how his coach saw potential in him and encouraged him to try out for quarterback. When Roger resisted and asked, “Why do you think I’d make a good quarterback?” his coach explained that the other players always listened to him. His coach recognized Roger’s innate leadership ability.

In Roger’s story, it was clear that his coach’s interest and guidance led him down a path he would never have chosen for himself. But Roger was open to the possibilities and was willing to take a chance. His choice is what ultimately made a difference—and the payoff was huge.

2. One person can make a huge difference.

When asked who has influenced him the most, Troy spoke from the heart about his mother. As an adult and parent, he now fully recognizes her sacrifices, her commitment to his rigorous schedule of practices and games, and her support throughout the years. This in turn has shaped his relationship with his daughters and increased his desire to make a difference in the lives of others.

As you know, there are many small ways that you can show your support each day—whether it’s taking five minutes to lend an ear, share your wisdom, or acknowledge what you appreciate about someone. If you have ever been on the receiving end of this, you know it can have a huge impact for a small investment of time. What will you do this week to acknowledge that person who has most influenced you?

3. Remember to pay it forward.

Troy and Roger are prime examples of people who have put their celebrity to good use, to give back and affect change in their communities. Troy Aikman co-chairs the Healthy Zone Schools community initiative to reduce childhood obesity and he and Roger are both major philanthropists.

As you think about yourself, what legacy do you want to leave? Who could benefit from your natural talents, skills and passion? Could it be the person next to your office struggling with a tough issue at work, a teenager who needs guidance and direction, or someone else right under your nose? Take time to notice others around you and use your wisdom and experience to help them.

Although you may not be a Hall of Famer like Troy Aikman or Roger Staubach, you do have the power of choice—in how you allow others to challenge you and take you in directions you never imagined, and in how you “bring others up.” So, I want to challenge you to take one small step in one of the three areas above. You know I’m a firm believer that small steps can lead to big results.

© 2012 Neena Newberry | All rights reserved.

Do You Recognize the Impact of Your Strengths?

After facilitating a couple of workshops based on the book, Stand Out by Marcus Buckingham, I continue to notice that high performers often take their own strengths, or the impact of their strengths, for granted. If you consider your strengths as a mere reflection of “who you are” rather than something that truly sets you apart, read on.

Unlike Now, Discover Your Strengths, which focuses on individual strengths, Strategically Standing Out talks about Strengths Roles. Buckingham has identified nine roles that reflect a combination of your talents and skills and describe how you instinctively provide value. The roles are derived from a timed assessment that asks how you would respond in a variety of situations.

As we all know, identifying your top Strengths Roles is just the beginning. To really put them into play you have to understand what they really mean for you—their impact. Whether or not you decide to take the assessment, try this simple exercise.

1. Identify your top three strengths, or top two Strengths Roles (if you take the assessment).

2. For each, describe what you say and do when you are playing to that strength or Strengths Role.

3. Identify the impact.

Let me bring this to life with an example of a client, who we’ll call Susan.

Strengths Role

Susan is a Connector, someone who brings ideas, things, or people together to make something bigger and better (refer to Strategically Standing Out for more detail on a Connector).

What she says and does when she’s playing to this strength/Strengths Role

Susan listens, asks thought-provoking and targeted questions, absorbs information, eliminates the “noise,” and sees linkages that others don’t see. She also consistently introduces people who would benefit from meeting each other.

The impact

Susan has insights that others don’t have. She helps the team focus on the core issues buried within the information they have, which helps them make faster decisions with her involvement.

She has strong relationships and a solid network of support, which helps her get things done faster given her access to valuable information, people, and resources. Susan initiates collaboration where none would otherwise have existed.

Remember, it’s much harder to help others understand how to leverage your strengths (or for you to integrate your strengths into your leadership brand) if you don’t understand them yourself. If you believe that success comes more from playing to your strengths, rather than focusing most of your efforts on improving your development areas, consider reading Strategically Standing Out.

If nothing else, try the simple exercise above this week and discuss it with someone who knows you well. You might be surprised at the impact you are having—on others and results.


© 2012 Neena Newberry | All rights reserved.

What Is Your Risk Taking Profile?

I recently had a conversation with one of my female executive clients about the topic of risk taking as a leadership competency. I would venture to say that most of you probably don’t sit around contemplating whether or not you are a risk taker and what that really means, especially if risk taking comes naturally to you. As I helped her think through her upcoming presentation on the topic, we discussed a few ideas you may appreciate.

Many of us have negative thoughts when we think about risk. But at its core, what is risk management all about? Some might say it’s all about minimizing losses. But my client, whose role centers around risk management for her company, explained that risk is all about uncertainty—in the context of value protection and value creation. In other words, as you contemplate whether or not to take a risk, you weigh the potential loss against the potential gain. Either way, you consider what is at stake and it impacts how you “show up” and how others view your leadership.

To give you more insight about your appetite for risk taking, take a look at the scenarios below and notice how many of these would be true for you:

  • I confidently voice my opinion even when I know it is counter to what others think.

  • I would raise my hand for that stretch role or assignment knowing I haven’t mastered all the requisite skills.

  • I willingly ask for what I want and need—like that promotion, pay increase, or developmental opportunity.

  • When there aren’t enough seats at the boardroom table for everyone, I would take the one at table instead of the one against the wall.

If risk taking makes you uncomfortable, here are four targeted strategies that can help you push the envelope a little more:

1.Gather data.

Relevant information can help you weigh the pros and cons of a particular situation and make more rational versus emotional decisions.

2.Build personal capital.

Invest in developing your leadership brand. It can help others correctly link your actions with your intent, so when you do go out on a limb it’s not as risky.

3.Create a strong network.

Surround yourself with people who will challenge your perspective, ideas, and ways of thinking. Their influence may lead you down a different path than you might have otherwise chosen. Also, be sure to consider individuals with influence and power, so they can help you mitigate personal risk.

4.Visualize success.

Let yourself imagine what it would mean to you and for the company if you achieved the goal for which you are taking risks. How would it feel? What might happen?

Whether or not you view yourself as a risk taker, hopefully your wheels are now turning about how you can integrate more risk taking as part of your leadership style and approach. I want to challenge you to come up with one action you can take this week to push yourself beyond your comfort zone, and use one of the strategies above to help you. You never know where it might lead.

  © 2012 Neena Newberry | All rights reserved.

Tiny Traps that Reduce Your Effectiveness

In a conversation with one of my former colleagues from Deloitte, we got on the topic of little things that people do that diminish their effectiveness. It’s amazing how seemingly small things can make a big impression. Take a look at the list below to see if any of these apply to you. If you’re not sure, ask others for feedback:

Assume that others understand

Sometimes when you have worked in an industry or functional area for so long, you can easily overlook how much jargon you use or the complexity of your world. So, periodically confirm that the other person understands your train of thought and the technical terms you are using. If you’re on the receiving end of the confusing jargon, ask questions in the spirit of making sure you understand their key points.

Focus more on your own message

Have you ever found yourself chomping at the bit to get your point across while someone is talking? Maybe you’re just really excited about your idea or you strongly disagree with what the other person is saying. If you fall into this trap often, practice being “in the moment” to fully receive the communication from the other person—not only their words but what they are saying with their body language and tone. This may ultimately lead you to an ever better idea.

Immediately show your feelings on your face

At one time or another, we’ve all found our faces showing exactly what we feel:

  • “You just don’t get it—and you never will!”

  • “You’re an idiot. That was the dumbest thing I have ever heard anyone say!”

  • “You are so irritating.”

  • “I don’t have time for this. What do you want?!”

As you think about the last time a situation like this occurred, ask yourself a few questions.

What was the impact of your reaction? How did it affect your effectiveness as a leader (e.g., the relationship with the person, results, etc.)? What assumptions did you make?

If you can make yourself pause even for a second or two, you may be able to contemplate a different possibility—that they have positive intentions, that they may have valid points, or that your assumptions may be incorrect. So, instead of judging, what could you ask them to confirm your understanding about their intent, goals, or point of view?

Use “filler” phrases

As you move further and further up the ladder, clear and concise communication matters a lot. Filler phrases like these—and, so, actually, um, right—can detract from your message, especially when you use them over and over.

I discovered mine when I recorded my new program. Yes, it’s always enlightening to hear yourself speak! Unless you have the opportunity to hear a recording of yourself, ask others to tell you what they notice and how it impacts your effectiveness.

I challenge you to identify one tiny trap that you might fall into. If you’re not sure, ask for feedback. I want to help you notice the little things that add up to a lot— and be much more intentional about how you “show up.” Remember that taking small steps to improve your effectiveness can go a long way.

© 2012 Neena Newberry | All rights reserved.