How to Use Passion to Overcome Fear

In my last couple of articles, I've talked about getting unstuck and living by your definition of success instead of how others define it for you. As you continue down this path, you will start to run into your fears as you put yourself “out there” to: 

  • Go down a new path with an uncertain outcome,

  • Solicit feedback you may not agree with,

  • Try something new,

  • Go for what you want in a way you haven't before, or

  • Own the role you have played in where you are today

What Can Keep You Going

But fear doesn’t have to stop you in your tracks. From my personal experience and that of my clients, I've seen how passion can help overcome fear. This is not about simply sucking it up and getting through the situation in front of you. Rather, it’s about understanding what’s really important about the specific goal or challenge at hand. 

For example, it could be about doing the right thing, making a meaningful difference, proving to yourself that you can do it, being a role model to others or something else. By clarifying and tapping into the power of your underlying values and passion, you will find strength you didn’t know you had.

This helped me immensely as I launched my own business. In my last article, I told you about deciding to leave my executive role at Deloitte. I certainly faced my share of fear – of leaving a successful career and failing in my next venture. 

And the process definitely had its ups and downs. Just three months after I launched my company in 2008, the Great Recession hit. To work through my anxiety and fear, I frequently reminded myself how important the goals behind my business were to me. I was — and still am — deeply committed to the mission of my company: to help high performers, especially women, get results they couldn’t before. I was equally passionate about designing the kind of life I wanted, in a way that worked for me. I wanted to be a better parent and to have more space for other people and experiences in my life. Connecting to that a holistic view of what truly mattered to me propelled me through all the challenges and uncertainty.

Facing Fear Head-On

This approach can work well in your personal life, too. If you've read this blog for a while, you know that I have a sense of adventure, love being outdoors and love to try new things. But I also have a fear of heights. In the past year, I’ve used my sense of adventure to motivate me to do things that felt pretty scary: a doors-off helicopter ride in Hawaii going over 100 mph, walking on a tightrope 35 feet in the air in Arizona, and going rock climbing for the first time and rappelling off an arch in Moab, Utah. None of these were easy to do. While I did these activities, I had to focus on the unbelievable scenery and mountains – the part of it that I really loved – instead of the pounding in my chest. Each time I put myself in a scary situation, it gets a little easier. And I’ve started to see myself differently, as someone who can conquer fear in any situation.

This week, identify an important goal or challenge in front of you and what it would mean to you if you achieved it. When you focus on the power of your passion, you will start focusing more on what you want instead of your fear. This small but critical shift can motivate you to move forward in the face of fear – to achieve big results.

Whose Definition of Success Are You Living?

In my last article, I talked about how to work through situations that make you feel stuck.

As you break old patterns, you will create more space to think about what you want and to define what success really looks like for you.

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Define Success for Yourself

At one time or another, we all feel pressure to fit someone else’s definition of success. Expectations can come at you from different directions and may even contradict each other. For example, your boss might view success as being responsive to what the company needs no matter what time of day or night, while your parents might define it as showing up to every one of your kids’ soccer games. Your mentor might expect you to focus on getting more exposure to key leaders, while your colleagues might expect you to be accessible to help them problem-solve. 

Yes, that's a lot! So, it's no surprise that you might be working toward a definition of success that doesn’t fit what you really want.

I personally experienced that when I decided to end my 14-year career at Deloitte. I held an executive position and had financial freedom — two common measures of success. But I felt out of sync with my true self. At the time, my son was two years old and the intensity of my work made it hard for me to show up in my life in the way that I wanted to.  I knew there had to be a different way to pursue my passion.

Whether or not you already know what's out of sync, the following two steps can help you clarify your definition of success.

First, ask yourself what really matters to you at this stage of your life — personally and professionally.  Priorities can change over time, so I urge you to think about this holistically. Be honest with yourself about what’s important: financial security, advancing your career, developing new skills, building a stronger brand, spending more time with family and friends, having kids, or simply having more of a “life” than you do now.

Second, describe what it would look like in action at work and at home. What kinds of things would you be doing that would indicate that you are focusing on what matters most to you and living the life that you want? What would be happening? Let your mind run with this and see what emerges for you.  

Take That First Step

After you clarify what success means to you, start moving toward that vision.

This can feel overwhelming, so keep in mind that you don’t have to change everything all at once. What would that first step toward your goal look like? For me, it was a one-month sabbatical to clear my head, get away from it all, and reenergize. During that time, I did a mini immersion in the type of work I thought I wanted to do next. 

As your priorities and definition of success evolve throughout your life, you’ll repeat this cycle — feeling out of sync, clarifying what you want instead, and making change. In my own life, I haven't always known what I wanted to do next, but I have always taken action to figure it out. This approach has led me down an unexpected career path where I made big changes every three or four years, quit my job cold turkey three times without looking for another job first, and then ultimately started a business three months before a recession. I know I couldn’t have imagined that career journey or what my life looks like now.

Through all of this, one of the most valuable things I learned was to define success for myself, and to consistently use it as my guide. And then, to just take one small step at a time.  

So, what will your first step be?

Are You Feeling Stuck in a Loop?

I want to thank all of you for your responses to my TWU College of Business Commencement Speech and my recent article "Are You Tired of Being Strong?" Both seem to have really struck a chord with people. I think that's because they speak to a question we all grapple with: Amid our hectic lives, how do we stay grounded in who we really are and what we really want to be and achieve?

Over the next few weeks, I'll take a deeper dive into that theme with some articles that will help you own your full Purpose, Presence and Power. First, let's take a look at what might be holding you back and keeping you stuck. Have you ever wondered why the same types of challenging situations keep popping up in your life? 

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You might think to yourself, “Am I a magnet for this? Why does this keep happening to me?” What I’ve come to realize through my own and my clients’ experiences is that there’s a lesson you need to learn when you feel stuck – perhaps a BIG one that you’ll never forget. And then, even when you think you’ve learned it, a situation will arise to help you confirm that you really have learned it.

Today, I want to share three probing questions to give you important insight to move past your frustration. This may be obvious, but don’t attempt to answer these questions when you are annoyed. You won’t get very far! If you’re annoyed all the time, empty your head first: Get a pen and unload all of your negative thoughts — uncensored — onto a piece of paper. Remember to breathe as you do this. This simple exercise will keep your thoughts from swirling around over and over and will begin to create problem-solving capacity. 

Now that you’re ready to reflect, here are a few questions and examples to get you started:

1. What pattern exists in the situation?  

  • I am carrying more than my fair share of the workload. 

  • Others don’t notice or appreciate everything I do. They just don’t get it. I am not getting the credit, recognition or appreciation that I deserve.

2. What role are you and others playing in the situation? 

  • People keep asking me for help, even at the last minute, and I don’t say no. 

  • I pick up the slack when I see that a deadline is at risk. 

  • I proactively jump in when I see an unfilled need.

3. What’s really going on for you? 

Regardless of others’ motivations, what positive intent or core values are behind your own behavior?

  • I value my relationships, so I don’t make waves when I am frustrated. 

  • I have high standards and don’t want to fail. I am not the kind of person who misses deadlines or does poor work.

  • I want to feel valued and play an important role on the team.  

  • I like to help. If I can help, I will.

It may help to handwrite your responses first and then talk though them with someone who knows you well, to see if you gain any other insight about yourself.  Just simply being aware of what’s going on with you is half the battle. By noticing your own patterns, you will start to open the door to making different choices in the moment.  Remember that you can’t control others or outside circumstances, but you can choose your own mindset, attitude, and behavior. 

To help you get started, answer this question: How can you honor what matters to you, in a way that works for you?  For most, this usually means setting some boundaries. You don’t have to lay down the law or completely overhaul your approach, but you can identify a couple of small steps to move you in the right direction. You’ll be glad you did.

TWU College of Business Commencement Speech: 'I’ll See It When I Believe It'

In May, I gave the commencement speech for the College of Business at Texas Woman's University. I'm a big fan of TWU and serve on the inaugural advisory board for its Institute for Women's Leadership, so this opportunity meant a lot to me. My speech contains a timeless message that I hope will give you a little inspiration and remind you of what is possible. (You can also watch the video of the commencement speech.)

I’ll see it when I believe it. 

A couple of years ago, I heard these words in a guided meditation I was listening to. They made me pause – especially since I was going through a really challenging time in my business and my life. I’m really passionate about developing high-performing leaders, especially women, and had come up with an idea for an app that I thought could really make some proven tools available to a much wider audience. For me, this was about impact. As I got further into the development of the app, I realized that my technology partner wasn’t the best fit for me or my clients. I was really frustrated because we were behind schedule, I had invested a lot of time and money, and it was challenging to get things done.

So I started using every strategy I could to manage my stress, including meditation. One morning, during a guided meditation, I heard these words: 

“I’ll see it when I believe it.”

 “I’ll see it when I believe it.”

That wasn’t exactly what I had been telling myself, which was, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” That’s what most of us are used to hearing. In other words, once I see the evidence that it’s true, THEN I’ll believe it.

Unfortunately, that focus on seeing something tangible first puts you in a place of judging and evaluating instead of seeing the possibilities that could be right in front of you.  

I’ll see it when I believe it. 

Where those words took me was to a place of putting aside sunk costs – the time and money that I had already invested– and thinking about what I should do now. It was just what I needed to shift my direction and move forward.

I’ll see it when I believe it shows up in so many ways. 

I didn’t realize how much this was part of my own belief system. It had been engrained in me over the years through my parents. As young children, my parents left everything behind during the partition of India, which displaced over 14 million people along religious lines. When my brother and sister were little, my parent migrated to England to seek better medical care for my sister, who had been born with some severe health issues. My dad, a man with two master’s degrees, worked nights at an ice cream factory to earn money and interviewed for teaching jobs during the day. 

When I was 9, we relocated to the U.S. The racial discrimination we experienced in England was enough for my parents to decide a big change was necessary. They sought a better life for all of us. They didn’t know how it would all turn out, but they truly understood the power of first believing that what you want is possible – that you can do it. My parents had picked up and started over and over and succeeded.

I’ll see it when I believe it.

I remember when I started college, I was so sure I wanted to be a doctor. And then I took chemistry. I’m not sure I have words for how that subject made me feel. Maybe just draining sound effects would be better! Taking that one class and seeing my brother going through medical school made me stop and re-evaluate. How badly did I want this? Was I passionate enough about this to go through years of school and then have piles of debt at the end?  So here I was asking myself, “Now what?” And I remember freaking out a bit because I hadn’t contemplated anything different up until this point. But I believed I could figure it out. 

Looking back, I’ve seen my career unfold in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Although I worked at Deloitte Consulting for 14 years, it wasn’t a straight path. I left after 3 1/2 years, got recruited back, worked in three different consulting groups, and when the choice to become a partner was in front of me, I left consulting altogether to move into Human Resources. And then a few years later, in 2008, as an HR executive, I decided to walk away from it all to start my own leadership development company. Little did I know that in three short months, the economy would take a complete nosedive. Nonetheless, 11 years later, I still love what I do. I get to effect change and help people really believe in themselves. It was all worth it.

I’ll see it when I believe it.

You may think that you should have everything figured out, and that everybody else already has. It can feel like you’re the only one who hasn’t. But I’ll tell you that even the high performing leaders that I coach at Fortune 50 companies don’t have things figured out all the time. 

So, what I want to leave you with today is my perspective on how to cultivate a philosophy of I’ll see it when I believe it in your own life.

In the work I do with women leaders, most of them really want to make a difference. In fact, sometimes that passion motivates them far more than getting a bigger paycheck or title. But when I start to ask them about their strengths and the value they uniquely bring, it’s usually met with exhausted sound effects — like my experience with chemistry. The humility that most of them have been socialized with kicks in.  

But when I explain how noticing your own strengths and how you consistently get results is the first step to helping others develop those same skills, they get a lot more engaged. Many of them think what they’re doing isn’t anything special and that others can just as easily do it. They’re just doing their jobs or doing what’s expected. 

When I hear that, I challenge them to look around them. What does the evidence tell you? How many people can easily do what you do? 

If you keep minimizing what you bring to the table, you’ve missed a huge opportunity to have a bigger impact.

One of my favorite exercises is to have people answer the following question:  

If someone were to describe you to someone else, what are the top three things you would want them to say about you? 

And then dig a little deeper:

What do you say or do that reinforces those three things? 

And what’s the impact of those three things? In other words, why should anyone care? What can you do that others can’t easily do?

Maybe your “can-do” attitude, even in the most challenging situations, inspires others to be part of the solution rather than digging their heels in and saying we can’t do it. Maybe you can sift through a lot of information, connect the dots in ways that others can’t, and distill invaluable insights.

I had a client a few years ago who was at a transition point in her career and was trying to figure out her next step. As we talked, she told me that she had come across her dream job. I was really excited for her and asked her when she was going to apply for it. She hesitated, telling me that they wouldn’t be interested in her for that position. I was really surprised, given what I knew about her. So, I asked her to tell me all the ways that she was uniquely qualified for the position, no matter how big or small the qualification.  She proceeded to rattle off a lengthy list off the top of her head. At the end of it, I asked her to tell me how she felt now. And she said, “Wow, I’m kind of a big deal!” We both laughed. 

Sometimes you have to just stop and notice. I’m sure each of you are a big deal in your own way. 

I’ll see it when I believe it.

You will see amazing things happen – in your own life and in the lives of people and organizations that you touch – when you believe you have unique talents and strengths.

I’ll see it when I believe it. 

These are words to live by and I hope they inspire you to see how much opportunity you have in front of you. Class of 2019, congratulations! I can’t wait to see the impact you’re going to have when you really believe that you can.

Are You Tired of Being Strong?

Over the years, people have consistently told me how strong I am. It’s always left me wondering, “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

Well, let’s just say it’s a mixed bag. Being strong and capable has served me well but, at times, has been a huge point of frustration. Today I want to share a little of my personal journey because I know some of you strong, reliable, “never-let-a-ball-drop” women may be going through something similar. 

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On the positive side, being strong and capable has helped me work through tough situations, take risks, go for what matters to me and show that I bring something valuable to the table. On the negative side, I regularly feel the weight of life and the fatigue that comes with always being strong and being the person that everyone can count on.  

Wouldn’t it be nice if life were a bit easier?  

Well, I’ve decided that it has to be easier. So I’ve been working to better understand my own role in creating this situation. My biggest epiphany was realizing how much I have been tolerating for years, without anyone really knowing that I have been – including me. It’s amazing the insight you gain when you truly start opening yourself up to the possibility that there’s something you really need to see, learn or do differently to move forward.  

As I began to seek new information, I noticed my recurring fatigue and pain. This led me to ask, “What am I missing? What do I need to learn?” From these questions, I began to see the physical and emotional signs that I had been ignoring for years. Maybe you have some too? Whether you realize it or not, these signs hold invaluable insight. What chronic or recurring aches and pains do you have in your body, whether it’s back pain, headaches or something from an injury? How often do you find yourself surprised by the magnitude of your reaction to certain types of situations? The signs are all around us, but are you noticing or ignoring yours? And what are they telling you?

As I started on this journey, I enrolled in a somatic coaching class. This type of coaching is all about giving you access to your full intelligence — intellectual, emotional and physical. In Western society, we often over-emphasize intellect and ignore the rest. So I want to encourage you to get in tune with your body. It holds more wisdom than you realize. Somatic coaching has been very powerful for me personally and as I help others move past roadblocks with this approach.

For those of you running around out there in back-to-back meetings or activities in the flurry of life, start by just taking five minutes a day to simply pause and notice. How are you feeling emotionally? How does your body feel? Where does it hurt? What does all of this tell you? What do you need right now?

For me, guided meditations have become a good way to reflect. As a very physically active person, taking the traditional approach to meditation by sitting still was really hard. So I had to start by doing it my way – listening while I’m running outside. That approach has worked well, but I have also come to realize the power of just being and breathing. I don’t meditate that way very often but when I do, it’s powerful. Today was one of those days. 

Here are the words that came up for me in the silence. I think they may resonate with you:

Lighten the load.

Let go of the burden.

You are loved and cared for anyway.

Bring playfulness back into your life.

Just play.

Enjoy life.

So, today, I want to challenge all of you women running around out there over-delivering and wondering how you can keep this up, or if you even want to. Yes, I’m talking to those of you who are taking care of everyone else before you take care of yourself or tolerating less than you deserve. Lighten your load. Do something for yourself today. You deserve it. Nothing is going to fall apart. You’ve already made sure of that.

And I’m right here in your corner, cheering you on.


Tapping Your Network: The Unwritten Rules

Maintaining a strong network is one of the most essential skills for leaders. Yet I frequently see even savvy professionals making some avoidable mistakes when they need help from someone in their network. That's why I wanted to wrap up my series of articles on the unwritten rules of work with this topic. 

People often hesitate to reach out to someone in their network because they don't want to bother them or they feel uncomfortable asking for help. Most people, however, are happy to help. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t feel good knowing that their expertise, experience or perspective made a positive difference for someone else. When you give someone an opportunity to contribute like this, they may become an even stronger ally for you – as long as you keep a few key things in mind.

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Be Clear in Your Request

All of us are busy and the person you are approaching is no exception. Explain very clearly why you're getting in touch. (This is one practice that distinguishes high performers from others.) Let's say you have an upcoming job interview in a business unit where your contact previously worked, and you want their thoughts about this job opportunity. Your initial email should say much more than, "I would love to catch up soon if you're free." 

Mention any time sensitivity to avoid any delays and let them know what kind of help you need. For example, do you just want them to answer some questions about their past experiences? Do you want them to introduce you to someone or to put in a good word for you? Clarify what you need and when, to help them prepare and to maximize your time and theirs during the conversation. You will do wonders to maintain a good relationship when you show respect for their time (with actions, not just words) and make it easy for them to help you.

Show Interest in Them

Even though you reached out for help, the conversation doesn’t have to be one-sided. You can reinforce your interest in the other person in several ways.  Actively engage in the conversation and ask about what’s going on in their world, personally and professionally. Whether they need any support or not, simply asking, “What can I do to help you?” can set a positive tone. It conveys the importance of the relationship and that they're not just a resource for getting what you want.

Don't Leave Them Hanging

After your meeting, take one more step to strengthen your relationship with your contact. A lot of people overlook this opportunity. This goes beyond sending a thank-you note for their time and advice. Let your contact know how the situation unfolded after your conversation. For example: "Our meeting really helped prepare me for the interview. I felt so much more confident. I expect to hear back from the hiring manager next week."  Some people hesitate to follow up because they are busy or they don’t want to take up any more of their contact's time. But the last thing you want your contact to think is that they gave you their time and you didn’t have the courtesy to follow up. Most people will feel gratified to hear that the time they spent with you was worthwhile and made a positive impact.

Finally, remember to stay in touch. Don't wait until the next time you need something to approach your contact again. This doesn't have to be time-consuming. Take simple steps like forwarding articles, sharing news and events you think they would be interested in, adding thoughtful comments to their social media posts, or making meaningful introductions. Investing in maintaining the relationship can make networking feels much more authentic.

You can find more strategies like these in "Building a Powerful Network," one of the titles in my Leadership EDGE Series.℠

And if you'd like to read more on the unwritten rules of work, check out the past installments in this series: 

If you have questions about other unwritten rules at work, please don't hesitate to drop me a note

How to Push Back Diplomatically: The Unwritten Rules

You're at a meeting and a leader more senior than you is proposing a timeline for an important upcoming project. When he asks if anyone has objections to his plan, you aren't sure what to do.

You definitely have some objections. The timeline he's suggesting is next to impossible for your group.

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But he is much higher in the corporate hierarchy than you are. Everyone else is saying they can make his plan happen. You don't want to seem like the only person who isn't getting board.

So should you speak up or not?

This is one of the trickiest situations you can face as a leader. And that's why I wanted to address it as part of my series of articles on the unwritten rules of work.

Speaking Up Vs. Being a Team Player

In a scenario like the one I described above, some of your key values and priorities might feel at odds with each other.

You've probably risen as far in your organization as you have based at least in part on your ability to show respect and be a team player.

But as you advance as a leader, there's also a growing expectation that you will be willing to speak hard truths for the good of the business, even when there's some risk to you in doing so.

There's no definitive answer on when to take a stand and when to get on board with a plan despite your concerns.

But I've seen through my work as an executive coach that most people worry more about the consequences of speaking up than those of staying silent.

The Risks of Staying Silent

Not sharing your objections can feel like the safer option. But it has its own set of risks for your personal brand as a leader. If you never push back, others will start asking questions like these about your leadership:

  • Can I trust you to tell me what I need to know even if it's going to be hard for you to do it?

  • Are you a thought leader or a follower? Do you just go along with the crowd?

  • Will you do the right thing even when it isn't easy?

  • Are you afraid of conflict? Do you know how to handle disagreement?

Take a moment now to reflect on whether you avoid pushing back. It can also be helpful to ask for feedback from peers you trust. What they notice about your behavior might surprise you!

How to Disagree and Be Heard

If you'd like to become more comfortable voicing disagreement, the first step is often simply to remind yourself that this is part of your job. In my article about the unwritten rules about speaking up at meetings, I talked about the fact that you're "at the table" because you have insights to offer, even if you're the most junior person in the room. 

The same thing is true when it comes to pushing back. You're expected to use your experience and expertise to keep the business headed in the right direction, even when that means sounding alarm bells about what you believe is an impending mistake.

Remember, too, that disagreeing doesn't have to mean being disagreeable. You can still show that you are respectful and a team player even as you voice objections. Here are a few tips on how to do that.

  • Pay attention to what pushing back looks like in the culture of your office. What do you notice about how other successful leaders handle disagreement?

  • Frame your disagreement to show that it's rooted in what's best for the organization and that it isn't personal.

  • Communicate your objections in a way that shows you are listening to the opposing camp, that you respect them and that you are willing to work with them to find a solution.

Some leaders feel that it's more diplomatic to push back behind the scenes instead of in the middle of the meeting. But this tactic has its own risks.

If you're always "working the back channel," you could be seen as playing politics or pursuing your own agenda. And if others don't see you taking a stand, they could still assume that you're a pushover.

Taking a stand when you disagree is no guarantee that you will get others to change course. But by confidently and diplomatically raising your concerns, you are still building your brand as a leader.

You can find more strategies like these in "Communicating With Impact," one of the titles in my Leadership EDGE Series.℠

And if you'd like to read more on the unwritten rules of work, check out the past installments in this series: 

If you have questions about other unwritten rules at work, please don't hesitate to drop me a note. I may answer your question in an upcoming blog article.

Asking Vs. Informing: The Unwritten Rules

You've just made an important decision at work. Now it's time to email your boss.

Does your email sound more like this?

“I’ve explored several options, and I'm confident that I have identified the best one to resolve our budget issue. I’ll move forward with this unless you have any major concerns.”

Or this?

“I've explored several options, and I have identified the best one to resolve our budget issue. Are you OK with it? Can I move forward?”

Although these two replies are similar, over time, the tone of each can impact your credibility and your relationships with others very differently. Let’s take a look at how to navigate the unwritten rules of asking for permission vs. informing others about your decisions.

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How Often Do You Ask for Permission?

Leaders who tend to ask for permission usually do so for positive reasons: to show respect for hierarchy, to demonstrate that they are open to other perspectives, or to show a willingness to be a team player.  Unless you recognize the nuances of doing this from a position of strength, it could have the opposite effect on how you are viewed. 

For example, you have to notice the fine line between getting input from others and allowing others to make the decision on your behalf.  As a leader within your organization, others expect you to be able to make decisions – easy and tough ones. If you consistently seek approval before doing so or make major changes after getting input, you might convey a lack of confidence that diminishes your credibility. If this happens, people will start to go around you to the “real” decisionmaker and may even question whether you have what it takes it to lead.

Over the short and long term, constantly asking for permission can affect important relationships including the one with your boss. If your boss tends to micromanage, you might think that asking for permission might be wise, but it can backfire and reinforce already unproductive patterns in your relationship. Inviting your boss to weigh in all the time can set a tone that can be hard to change. 

How to Inform Instead of Ask

So how can you find a better balance between asking for permission and telling others about the decisions you've made?

First, notice your own patterns by reflecting about some recent decisions. How often do you inform your boss vs. ask for approval? How do you typically engage your boss in decision-making processes? Based on your behavior, who was the implied decisionmaker most of the time for decisions that fell into the scope of your authority? If your boss typically provides detailed input, how much does that input change your original decision? How often do others assume that you changed your mind because your boss doesn’t trust in your leadership, is a micromanager, or for a valid business reason?

Second, the next time you're about to ask permission to do something, pause for a moment.  Think about what you want to convey about your own capabilities and confidence. Then put yourself in your boss's shoes. Would you wonder, "Why are you asking me to spend my time on this? Can’t you figure it out yourself?" Or would you expect to be heavily involved in shaping the solution?  Consider both perspectives, yours and your boss’s, as you formulate your approach.

If you decide to inform instead of ask, concisely explain your logic to your boss without getting bogged down in details, and express your confidence in your proposed course of action. Here are a couple of phrases that demonstrate respect, consideration and your capabilities:

"Unless you think there's something else important that I should consider, I'll get started."

" I know we have a lot going on and I want to be respectful of your time. So, I’ve done the groundwork, feel good about the direction, and am ready to move forward.”

To continue building your brand as a capable leader, check out "Building Executive Presence" from my Leadership EDGE Series.℠

And if you'd like to read more on the unwritten rules of work, check out the past installments in this series: 

If you have questions about other unwritten rules at work, please drop me a note. I may answer your question in an upcoming blog article.

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The One Unwritten Rule You Must NEVER Forget

Over the past several weeks, we've been talking about the unwritten rules of business. The rule I want to talk about today is one of the simplest, yet one of the most underestimated. And the consequences of breaking this one are long-lasting.

What is it? Always take the high road when you talk about others, no matter how tempted you might be to do otherwise. It doesn’t matter if others around you aren’t taking the high road or if you can play off your comments as a joke. Anything but taking the high road can put your credibility and your leadership brand at risk.

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The Temptation to Talk About Others

I know it’s not always easy, given the types of situations you might find yourself in:

  • You're in a group setting. The conversation turns to a difficult person on another team whom you work closely with. You've had some tough challenges with that person, and you sense this group would be sympathetic if you decided to vent about your experiences.

  • One of your direct reports has some quirky habits that everyone is aware of. One of her direct reports tells you about her latest odd behavior. You think of a very funny, disparaging joke that you could tell at her expense.

  • Your boss just hit you with some unexpected, harshly delivered criticism. When one of your peers drops by your office, you really want to shut the door and unload — just as your peer did last week.

In each one of these scenarios, pause for just a few seconds to think about the short- and long-term impact of your actions. As a leader, I urge you to simply hold back from making negative comments about anyone you work with at any time, regardless of the level of the person you are talking about or the level of the person you are talking to. Just take the high road. You don’t know if, when or how your words will get shared.

Your Negativity Reflects on YOU

When you speak negatively about someone, even if what you’re saying is true, you may experience several consequences. First, your unkind words may get back to that person and affect your working relationship with them and possibly the entire team’s dynamics. Second, instead of thinking less of the person you are criticizing, your audience might actually think less of you:

  • "If you’re saying this about John, what are you saying about me behind my back?"

  • "If this is how you talk about people you work with, why would I want to work with you?"

  • "Stop complaining and just fix the problem. You’re supposed to be a leader."

The higher up you are in the organization, the more weight your words carry. Ultimately, your behavior may erode the trust that you’ve worked so hard to build. No matter how good it feels in the moment to vent or joke about a colleague, is it worth the potential long-term damage to your reputation? Negative comments can have a long shelf life.

Better Ways to Deal With Frustration

So what can you do instead if you’ve hit the wall and need to vent?

It's OK to vent — just avoid it at work. Confide in trusted friends or family outside the office. Or simply get your negative thoughts out of your head and onto a piece of paper. Write them down uncensored. After you've had a chance to blow off some steam, identify what's really bothering you. By getting to the heart of the issue, you can start focusing on how to solve it.

You will realize that you have several options to improve the situation. It's easy to put off having a difficult or uncomfortable conversation, but doing so is much more constructive than gossiping or throwing someone under the bus. For more advice on giving feedback, see my articles "How to Give Constructive Feedback to Your Boss" and "How to Help a Problem Employee Get on Track."

More Unwritten Rules

If you'd like to read more on the unwritten rules of work, check out the past articles in this series:

If you have questions about other unwritten rules at work, please don't hesitate to drop me a note. I may answer your question in an upcoming blog article.


What You Do Vs. How You Do It: The Unwritten Rules

There's a stumbling block that trips up all too many promising leaders, especially new leaders. But it's something that your managers are unlikely to talk with you about. In today's installment of my series on the unwritten rules of business, I want to shine some light on an issue that urgently needs to be on your radar if you are a leader now or you aspire to lead in the future.

It's Not Just About Results Anymore

The roots of this issue go back to how most organizations choose leaders in the first place. Typically, outstanding individual contributors are identified as having leadership potential and encouraged to move into management roles. As they become managers, they tend to assume that the habits and behaviors that have served them well so far will continue to help them succeed. Now, as you probably know, I'm a strong believer in knowing your strengths so that can you leverage them more powerfully. But when it comes to transitioning into leadership, things get a little more complicated.

As an individual contributor, you were mostly judged on your results. You knew how to get things done and do them well. As a leader, results are still important, of course. But you're also now being evaluated on how you get those results. In other words, the leaders above you aren't just looking at what you accomplish. They also care about the experiences of those who worked with you to accomplish those results. They are paying attention to how you impact other people.

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Feedback Falls Short

Some leaders, though, fail to expand their focus to include results and relationships. They keep their heads so far down in their work that they don't pay much attention to how they affect others. Working with such managers, team members don't feel valued or even heard.

When this is going on, senior leaders notice. Unfortunately, however, they often fail to give feedback on how the manager interacts with others because they're still creating high-quality results. Or if senior leaders are giving feedback, it doesn't convey the seriousness of the problem. "I'm still getting raises and bonuses," the manager might think. "So what they're talking about doesn't sound like that big of a deal."

Because they don't correct the problem early, things only get worse. You've probably heard the saying that people don't leave companies, they leave managers. And managers who don't value relationships are the very ones that cause employees to leave. When retention becomes a problem, then senior leaders step up their feedback, which often blindsides the manager. It's a lose-lose situation. Because of the manager, team members are disengaged or even leaving the company. And the manager's once-promising career is at risk of being derailed by problems that should have been addressed much sooner.

How Are You Showing That You Care?

So what can you do as a leader or aspiring leader to avoid this scenario? No matter what messages you get from your own managers, always realize that your success hinges on both your results and your relationships. It's not just about what you deliver. How you deliver it is also important.

With that in mind, here are a few prompts to help you notice how you're doing with building relationships:

  • When you're leading a meeting, do you launch into your agenda immediately or allow for some socializing?

  • Are you all shop talk, all the time — even when you run into someone in the hallway?

  • How present are you with others? Do you give them your full attention or are you thinking about everything else you need to be doing?

  • How often do make others feel included by asking for their questions and input?

  • How many colleagues who have worked on projects with you before want to work with you again?

  • How much do you micromanage vs. empower others? Do you prioritize developing and teaching, or just getting the work done? Does your perfectionism stop you from delegating?

  • How much of yourself do you show to other people?

If you're realizing that you might be emphasizing results at the expense of relationships, here's a simple exercise to try this week. Before your interactions with others, take a moment to think about how you can convey that you care about them and not just the work you are doing together. The gift of your attention is invaluable.

For more advice on this topic, pick up a copy of "Building a Strong Team," part of my Leadership EDGE Series℠. And if you'd like to read more on the unwritten rules of work, check out the past installments in this series:

If you have questions about other unwritten rules at work, please don't hesitate to drop me a note. I may answer your question in an upcoming blog article.

Flexible Work Schedules: The Unwritten Rules

This Mother's Day, working moms have something to celebrate: More and more workplaces are offering flexible scheduling.

Flexible schedules are widely popular among all workers, but research has shown that they're especially important to women. One study found that having flexible hours closes the wage gap (and then some!) between working moms and women who don't have children. Flexible schedules also support women's ambitions. At companies with flexible work arrangements, more high-potential women aspire to the senior executive/CEO level compared with firms without such arrangements.

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However, if you are taking advantage of flexible scheduling at your workplace, there are some things you need to know to reap the benefits while still sending the right messages about your leadership. That's why I chose to cover this topic in my series of articles about the unwritten rules of business.

Do Others Understand Your Schedule?

After all these years of everyone talking about work-life balance, working on a nontraditional schedule can still get a range of reactions in the business world. You may run into others' perceptions of what a typical workday should look like and what it says about you when you're doing something different.

During my last executive role at Deloitte, I incorporated some informal flexibility into my schedule. Some of my team members were in different time zones, and I had a 2-year-old son at home. So it made sense for me to leave the office a little earlier in the afternoon, go home to spend some time with my son and then do some more work after he went to bed.

This was great for managing both my personal and professional priorities. But because of my after-hours emails, some of my team members, especially those in other cities, thought I worked nonstop and all the time. Even worse, they thought I expected them to keep similar long hours, which just wasn't the case.

The Hidden Messages in After-Hours Emails

As I discovered, when people get an email from you that has a time stamp that is outside regular business hours, it raises questions. I recently discussed this with a couple of clients, one who often works a few hours late at night and the other who starts before her small children wake up, often sending her first emails before 7 a.m.

Neither of these clients feels overworked or overwhelmed. In fact, they are well in control of their schedules and are far from burnout. But the optics of their email habits convey a different message to people who don’t realize the informal flexibility they have integrated into how they work. Their team members may assume (as my former colleagues did) that they:

  • Are constantly checking email

  • Expect their teams to work well beyond regular business hours

  • Are approaching burnout and are up at all hours working

  • Can’t effectively manage their workload, delegate or ask for help

If you put yourself in others’ shoes for a minute and reflect about your own behavior, what might it say to people about you?

Communicate Clearly About Your Schedule

Don't leave it to others to draw their own conclusions about your capabilities or your stress level. Consider proactively sharing how the strategies you’ve implemented increase your productivity and effectiveness as a leader. Remember that most people have difficulty working in a way that is sustainable, and sharing your approach may give the permission they want to start making changes.

That's what I did with my colleagues at Deloitte. When I realized that they thought I never unplugged, I knew that I needed to explain my approach and “connect the dots” for them. I told them that I wasn't always working — and that I didn't expect them to, either. I also encouraged them to adapt their schedules to fit their own needs (as long as business needs were also met).

But sometimes you may have to tweak your approach to better fit the culture. For example, if you frequently send emails outside of normal business hours, you may inadvertently set an expectation that others have to change the hours they work to accommodate you. So, unless it’s urgent, I suggest that you save your draft emails to send during business hours. This will reinforce your commitment to everyone working in a way that honors their personal and professional priorities.

I want to challenge you to take 5-10 minutes to identify the assumptions people may be making about you, based on how you work. Are they taking away the right messages about your leadership? For more ideas on building work-life balance, check out "Staying in the Driver's Seat" from my Leadership EDGE Series℠.

More Unwritten Rules

Did you miss the earlier articles in this series? Follow the links below to catch up now:

And if you have questions about other unwritten rules at work, please don't hesitate to drop me a note. I may answer your question in an upcoming blog article.

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How to Speak Up More in Meetings: The Unwritten Rules

Meetings can be tricky to navigate for anyone. But women often have some extra challenges that men don't face. Researchers have found that women speak less than men do at meetings, and, as a result of this, their contributions are often underestimated. But they can also be judged more harshly than men if others perceive that they speak a lot.

Given the importance and sensitivity of this topic, I wanted to include this as a topic in my current series of articles about the unwritten rules of work. (Here's a link to the series' first article, on professional appearance, if you missed it and would like to catch up.) Today, I want to give you both the confidence and the practical strategies you need to be heard.

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What Keeps You From Speaking at Meetings?

In your next meeting, pay attention to your comfort level voicing your ideas and opinions. If you find yourself not saying much, take a few minutes to reflect about what's really holding you back. Here are some common reasons I see time and again in my work with leaders. Which ones resonate with you?

  • You feel like you don't know enough about the topic or that you know less than everyone else. This is not your area of expertise.

  • You're not comfortable speaking off the top of your head.

  • Putting your idea out there feels risky. What if they reject it?

  • You hesitate to speak up around people with more experience or tenure than you have.

  • You feel that it's rude to talk over or interrupt others, especially if they're more senior than you are, and that’s what it would take to share your idea in this setting. Or you don't want to seem pushy.

How to Speak Up More

Now that you have a better sense of why you don’t speak up in meetings, you can work on reducing your hesitation. For many people, this involves shifting their mindset and expectations of themselves.

If you're not comfortable speaking off the cuff or putting your ideas out there, realize that you're expected to do both more and more as you advance as a leader. Consider making these areas a focus of your leadership development, and look for safe ways to practice, such as volunteer opportunities.

If talking over others or interrupting feels rude to you, remember that you can be heard while still honoring your value of respecting others. First, hone your ability to read the room and adjust your style accordingly. In a meeting where everyone is being loud, passionate and outspoken, you can "amp up" your typical approach without stepping on others' toes. In a meeting with this kind of crowd, it can be helpful to make your points early before everyone really gets charged up.

Also consider whether any beliefs from your culture or your family might impact whether you speak up. For example, "I should always defer to people who are older and more experienced" or "No one likes women who talk too much." These ideas can be so deeply engrained in you that you're not even aware of them until you start reflecting about your underlying assumptions or values.

One of the biggest shifts you can make is realizing that you can add value to a meeting even when you don't have expertise or experience in the area being discussed. Sometimes your fresh perspective is the very thing that makes you valuable. When everyone else has been immersed in a topic, they may be unable to "see the forest for the trees" the way that you can as a relative outsider.

You don't always have to have the answer or solution, either. Others can benefit just from hearing how you think about the problem. Your approach might be one that they had not considered. You can even add value just by synthesizing and summarizing what you are hearing. When you make statements like "Here are the key opportunities and roadblocks I'm hearing …" or "Kevin, it sounds like you and Debra actually have similar goals here, but you're just stating them a little differently …" you help keep meetings on track and focused.

Don't Go It Alone

As with so many other aspects of developing as a leader, speaking more in meetings gets easier when you enlist an ally in your cause. Ask a trusted colleague to help you enter the conversation. They can say something like "Mona, you've handled situations like this. I'd love to hear your insights."

I also have a variety of products and services to help you build your confidence around speaking up. A great starting point is the title "Communicating With Impact from my Leadership EDGE Series℠. And if you have questions about other unwritten rules at work, please don't hesitate to drop me a note. I may answer your question in an upcoming blog article.

How to Look More Professional: The Unwritten Rules

Sometimes the most important things to know as a leader are the ones that nobody really talks about. These "unwritten rules" of leadership are essential for your success and advancement. Over the next few weeks, I'll be sharing some of the most important ones.

Let’s start with an area that affects your personal leadership brand more than you may realize: how you dress and groom yourself. If you’re already rolling your eyes thinking about it, remember that this is really about building professional credibility and personal confidence. And, even if this sounds basic, you would be surprised at how often these topics come up in discussions about a person’s credibility as a leader.

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If you just got promoted or you're aiming to move up, this topic matters even more. You need to "look the part" for your new role, or the one you aspire to.

As a starting point, consider any written rules about dress and grooming in your workplace. Your company's policies could contain important information — for example, what "business casual" means in your workplace. But many dress codes can be vague. Perhaps yours leaves a lot open to interpretation.

The 5 Keys to Looking Like a Leader

No matter what your company dress code says, here are some overall guidelines that will help you present yourself in a way that enhances your leadership. Do a quick self-assessment using these questions:

How much does your look:

  1. Fit the context of your workplace? (Or do you look like you're headed for another setting entirely?)

  2. Distract from your knowledge and experience in any way?

  3. Reinforce your desired personal brand as a leader?

  4. Make you feel more confident?

  5. Convey credibility?

Dressing for Leadership

So how can you meet these criteria every day? Here are a few key things to remember.

  • Details matter. Dress in a way that shows others that you understand the culture of your office and have good judgment. That means wearing clothes that fit your body, your role and workplace. Steer clear of items that are too tight and revealing and those that are boxy or swallow you up. Pay attention to whether your clothing needs pressing or repairing. If you're wearing a thin shirt or blouse, don't forget an undershirt or a camisole.

  • Don't show up unfinished. If you come to work half-ready with your hair still wet, your makeup in process, with a tie in your hand or with ungroomed facial hair, how do you expect others to feel confident that you can handle more responsibility? You can’t even be ready to work when you show up at work. It may sound silly, but people can draw big conclusions from seemingly little things.

You constantly send messages about your leadership — from the moment you arrive at the office. Make sure they align with what you want others to recognize about your leadership, rather than raise questions about your capabilities. By simply investing 2-3 extra minutes a day to consider your appearance, you can boost your credibility.

  • Stand out with style. Dressing professionally doesn't have to mean stifling your individuality. In fact, I suggest you use your personal style to distinguish yourself as a leader. A signature accessory — like funky ties or socks, unique jewelry, or shoes — can convey your creativity and originality. Whatever you wear, consider how it makes you feel, and how it fits your brand and the organization’s culture. You don’t have to sacrifice your identity. Be authentic and seek out something that enhances your brand and your company’s brand.

  • It isn't just how you look. If your boss has to give you feedback about your personal "aroma," it can get awkward really fast for both of you. So take a minute to ask yourself some hard questions: How often do you forget to use deodorant, especially after a morning or lunchtime workout? Does your perfume or cologne completely change the air in the room and linger long after you have left? If you smoke, are you sure that you left most of the smell of your cigarettes outside? Remember that your coworkers may also have physical reactions like headaches to strong scents. What does your oral hygiene look like, especially after coffee or food with strong spices? That can also add to the “aroma” in the room.

Like it or not, the way you present yourself does play a big role in whether others perceive your credibility and potential. But it's also one of the easiest areas to make positive changes and can be really fun to play around with.

You can implement one or more of these suggestions without going broke or making your routine too high maintenance. Invest in a few high-quality pieces of clothing that you can wear repeatedly and that make you feel confident. Magazines, online videos and advice from professionals like your hairstylist can help you create a low-maintenance, polished look.

I want to encourage you to pick one or two things to implement. To further enhance your image as a leader, pick up a copy of "Building Executive Presence," part of my Leadership EDGE Series℠. And if you have questions about other unwritten rules at work, please don't hesitate to drop me a note. I may answer your question in an upcoming blog article.

One Superpower You Can’t Afford to Overlook

Have you ever wondered how some people maintain a positive attitude in the face of challenges while others get stuck in negativity, fear or frustration? Over 10 years ago, when I went through my executive coaching program, I took a positive psychology class. How to notice and amplify the positive — to focus on what is working, rather than what isn’t — really intrigued me.

Since then, I have proactively integrated the key principles of positive psychology into my work and have seen the powerful impact on my clients.  

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So, when the opportunity came up to attend a workshop with Dr. Barbara Frederickson, I jumped at the chance. Her eye-opening research on the science of emotion shows how positive emotions and connection to purpose can give you disproportionate strength and why. I know I can’t do her work justice in this short article, but I want to highlight some important takeaways (check out her books, Positivity and Love 2.0).

We Are Wired to Notice the Negative More Than the Positive

Like me, you might be surprised that, by definition, emotions are very brief.  They exist to address the situation at hand, with negative emotions helping us deal with current threats and positive emotions helping us access our resourcefulness. Dr. Frederickson explained that because of how we are hard-wired, “Negative emotions can hit us like a sledgehammer while positive emotions are more like a whisper.” Over time they may create “lingering lenses.” On the negative side, this might look like someone having a tendency to blame others or see the worst in most situations.

Positive Emotions Are Powerful

On the positive side, there are a whole host of striking benefits because positive emotions are tightly linked to how long people live and how healthy they are. The data are clear and show a direct correlation between positive emotions and heart health, immune health and resilience. Positive emotions can even increase an individual’s sense of purpose. In other words, positive emotions can help you find more meaning and even see your job more as a calling.

You Can’t Just Flip a Switch

To feel more positive emotion, you can't just go straight to the end goal. Although you may hear others say things like this, it isn’t quite as simple as saying, “Be happy. Feel positive!” My tongue-in-cheek response to comments like those is, “Hmm. OK. Let me just stuff my feelings, go forth and conquer.”

Choose Intentional Strategies Over Willpower to Create Lasting Change

Sheer willpower doesn’t work in the long run.  To notice the positive, you may need some intentional strategies.

A great example is when someone decides they want to immediately start working out five days a week when they currently don’t work out at all and may not have in months. I used to jokingly say that step one is to just get your workout clothes on, because you’ll feel silly wearing them and not doing something active.  But after sitting in Dr. Frederickson’s workshop, I realized that there’s more to it:

  1. First, notice how often you actually think about the activity – in this case, exercising (once or multiple times a day, weekly, never?).

  2. Second, identify what percentage of your thoughts about the activity is positive or negative. When I think about working out, I typically think about how it will give me energy and get me outside in the sun. For others, they may think more about the difficulty and the obstacles: “I don’t have time. I’m so out of shape. This is going to be torture.”

  3. Third, think about how positive your experience is while you are engaging in the activity

I remember when I used to go to spinning classes regularly with friends, I loved it—even when I was too tired to do it. I enjoyed catching up with my friends, listening to the upbeat music and picking a person in the class to secretly “compete” with. If I had only been focused on the outcome, to get through the one-hour class, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much. In other words, make some tweaks to the experience so that it becomes more enjoyable, rather than just focusing on the accomplishment.

Once you have greater awareness about your thoughts about an activity, you can actually take some simple steps to “program” your spontaneous thoughts to be more positive. She suggested using an “If (this), then (that)” approach. Continuing with our example of exercise, here’s what it would look like in practice:

  • If I am too tired to exercise after work, then I will remind myself how good I will feel once I start exercising.

  • If it is a nice day outside, then I will go for a walk in my favorite park or trail.

These simple strategies will help you develop effective ways to counteract some of the challenges and negative thoughts you may be facing. I have been trying them myself and am surprised at how quickly they start to work. I have barely scraped the surface in sharing Dr. Frederickson’s research and its far-reaching impact. My goal right now is to challenge you to just get started.  Energy is contagious, so as you begin to feel more positive emotions it will affect others around you, too. And remember that small steps can lead to big results.

How to Make a Difference During Women's History Month

March is Women's History Month, a great reminder to celebrate the accomplishments of women and to think about how we can do more to help all women unlock their full potential.

If you're a female leader yourself, know that your unique strengths have immense value. When you put them into play more fully, you create a powerful ripple effect. And no matter your gender, you also cause a ripple effect when you support women at work.

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To make an even bigger difference for women, arm yourself with knowledge about current challenges and how you can make an impact. For example:

  • Women are still underrepresented in management, according to the Women in the Workplace 2018 study, conducted by McKinsey & Company in partnership with LeanIn.org. McKinsey recommends that companies take actions such as setting targets for gender diversity, holding leaders accountable for results, closing gender gaps in hiring and promotions and doing more to build more respectful and inclusive cultures. If these changes need to happen in your workplace, think about how you can be an advocate for them.

  • More and more research shows the economic benefits of gender diversity. For example, McKinsey "found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 15 percent more likely to experience above-average profitability than companies in the fourth quartile." Consider reading up on these statistics so that you can share them when discussions about gender diversity happen at your workplace.

  • Learn about the phenomenon called silencing, which causes women to disengage at work, and learn to recognize its signs. If you feel that you have been silenced, one thing you can do to heal is seeking support and advice from other women who understand what you're going through.

  • Pew Research Center has found that working mothers still spend much more time on childcare and housework than working fathers do. As a leader in your workplace, what steps can you implement or suggest to help working moms thrive? That could mean doing things like promoting more flexibility in work schedules or not planning meetings during school pick-up and drop-off times.

Consider sharing these facts and figures with others to open discussions in your workplace. Since Newberry Executive Solutions specializes in working with women leaders, you may also want to take a look at our corporate programs, executive coaching and publications, whether for yourself or as part of a program for women in your workplace.


How to Stop Working All the Time

I recently facilitated a discussion at the University of Houston’s Women’s Studies Table Talk 2010 event, and it inspired this article. We had an invigorated discussion about how we live in a 24/7, “give me what I’m asking for right now” world. Many of us work in companies with a high performance, immediate response culture which makes it SO hard to stop working all the time.

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Well I’m here to tell you that it is possible to stop work from taking over your life if you
start with what you can control.

Here are 4 simple strategies to get you started.

1. Recognize your mindset.

Your mindset plays a huge role in all of this. I’ll give you an example. A retired nurse at our table asked a great question, “Why can’t something wait until tomorrow? In nursing, if you don’t get everything done during your shift, a patient could die. I just don’t understand what can’t wait in business.”

As you know, when you’re “in it,” it is so hard to see how crazy it might look or sound from an outside perspective. It’s hard to keep in mind that for most our jobs no one will die if everything doesn’t get done today. Just remember to focus on completing what does matter the most. In the end, that’s what really counts.

2. Help others see your focus on business goals and results.

Do you worry about what others will think if you start setting boundaries? For example, will others look at how you work (e.g., your hours or schedule, and whether you’re in the office or working at home) as a bigger indicator of your commitment and performance than your actual results? For example, if you leave work at 5:00 every day, even if you don’t have a socially acceptable excuse like a child to pick up, will they think you’re just not working hard enough even if you’re getting the job done?

If this sounds familiar, think about how you can proactively communicate and manage up. Just remember that others, including your boss, are far too busy to notice everything you’re doing, so what they do see is often their picture of reality. Be strategic about providing positive snapshots of your performance – but do it with integrity and authenticity. For example, keep them regularly informed about important issues and how you are managing through them, or your progress on a key business goal.

3. Set personal boundaries.

Setting personal boundaries that allow you to maintain your energy and productivity is critical. Let’s look at a couple of examples. A woman at our table agreed to start turning off her BlackBerry at 8 PM every day, which will also help her stop dreaming about work! Another woman said she consistently leaves the office at 5:00 to make a 5:30 class at the gym, and she has a workout buddy meet her there (which makes it much harder not to show up). As a result, others around her know how important exercise is to her, and she has in effect “trained them” to expect her to leave at 5 no matter what. Both of these women will be so much more productive by setting limits that allow them to recharge, instead of just working more hours that lead to burnout.

4. Ask for help.

I know that asking for help is particularly hard if you’re a high-achieving perfectionist. I will just ask you one question: When you say “yes” to doing everything perfectly, what are you saying “no” to by default? It may be exercise, time with your kids, or time for yourself – the possibilities are endless.

Perfectionist or not, I would urge you to stretch yourself to think about creative ways to ask for and get help. Remember, there are plenty of eager young professionals out there wanting to develop themselves, even if they don’t report directly to you.

I’d like to end with a Call to Action. Pick one of the four areas above to start with, and find someone to hold you accountable for whatever action step you decide to take. You might be surprised that once you start making changes to stop working all the time, others may be eager to make changes too.

Is Self-Care Really Selfish?

I have to give my sister credit for inspiring this week’s article. She just wrote a book on successful working women, the challenges they face in making marriage work, and how to overcome them. As we talked about common themes that we see in our respective worlds working with high performing women, we talked about the difficulty women have with the concept of self-care.

We discussed that women often confuse self-care with selfishness. As a woman you might think, “How could I possibly take time for ME right now when there’s so much to do and others rely on me?” In this view of the world, self-care is a luxury, a “nice-to-have.” A man, on the other hand, knows that self-care allows him to keep going so he CAN provide the support others need from him. In this view of the world, self-care is a “must have” that provides energy. That doesn’t mean a man will put himself first no matter what. However, he is much less likely to confuse self-care with selfishness.

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At the end of the day, what we’re talking about is energy management. Resist the temptation to keep giving and giving without taking enough time to renew your own energy. As you may know from firsthand experience, it can lead to burnout or resentment pretty quickly.

So, I want you to think about what you will do for yourself this week, to give yourself that essential energy you need to stay productive and avoid burnout. Here are some ideas that came from a group of executive women at the Greater Houston Partnership and a group I facilitate at Shell.

1. Say no to something you really don’t want to do.

Whether it’s a personal or professional request, resist the temptation to say yes to something you do not want to do – and know you shouldn’t be doing. If you feel guilty about saying no, you can always help the person find another resource to help. Remember that this task could be a good developmental opportunity or exposure for someone else.

2. Get exercise without putting any judgment around it.

You might just have 15 minutes to exercise so adopt the mindset that 15 minutes is better than nothing. If exercise gives you energy, make the most of whatever time you have by taking a quick walk, going for a short run, grabbing some dumbbells, or doing a few pushups and sit-ups.

3. Give yourself time to decompress before you walk into the house.

Take time to transition out of work mode, so you can leave work stress at the office. Do something to deliberately make that shift, whether you sit in the car for a few minutes to get the solitude you need before you immerse yourself into a house full of children, or just don’t take that conference call on the drive home.

If you are someone who regularly put everyone else’s needs ahead of your own, identify one step you will take this week to take care of yourself – so you CAN be there for others. Remember that self-care isn’t selfish.

3 Simple Ways to Be More Influential at Work

Your path to leadership probably started with being an exceptional individual contributor. But as you rise through the ranks, your success becomes more about what you can accomplish with and through others. In other words, your leadership effectiveness ties closely to your ability to influence.

So, what does it take to influence others? You might think that influence requires extroversion, charisma or a passion for office politics. But when it comes down to it, true influence means using your voice and your actions authentically and courageously to affect change. And I'm willing to bet that you have more influence — and more opportunities to use that influence — than you might realize. Here are three ways of showing influence at work that often get overlooked but that can make a real difference.

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1. Influence by Educating

Sometimes you may observe nuances and dynamics that others just don’t pay attention to or see.

For example, let's say your colleague tells you that he believes that certain people didn't speak up at a recent meeting because of their apathy or shortage of good ideas. His conclusion may or may not be valid, but it certainly opens the door for you to share factors that he may be overlooking.  What are some other possibilities he should consider? Maybe the introverts on your team would have participated more if they had gotten an agenda or materials in advance to help them prepare their thoughts on the topic. Or perhaps the interrupters who bulldoze over everyone else made it difficult for others to get a word in. Or maybe the fast pace of the meeting made it feel like input wasn’t really desired.

Passing along a different perspective or new information can help others notice what they would have otherwise missed.  Do this in the moment or get in the habit of regularly sharing useful articles or relevant research.

2. Influence through Feedback

It's not easy to hear about a habit or behavior that's been holding back your success or impeding your ability to get results. But if you've gotten feedback like this recently, you probably wondered, "Why didn't someone tell me this before now?"  

Keep this in mind the next time you hesitate to offer feedback to someone else. One of the most effective ways you can influence others is by sharing information to help them succeed. Your feedback may be just what they need to overcome career-stalling behavior.

To make giving feedback easier, keep your desire to help the other person first and foremost in your mind. Stick to being factual: Share the behavior that you observed and multiple impacts of that behavior. And don't forget that sharing positive feedback influences people too. When your direct report or colleague does something that works well, use encouraging words to influence them to do more of it!

3. Influence by Example

As a leader, you are always in the invisible spotlight. People pay close attention to what you do, and definitely notice when your words don’t align with your actions.

Take this example: You're encouraging one of your team members to be more strategic and focus on the big picture instead of getting caught up in minutiae. But then you turn around and make nitpicky edits to their PowerPoint document. Your actions may have sent a very different message about big-picture thinking than your words did — and diminished your influence in the process.

This week, pay extra attention to the story that your actions tell about what you really value.

Of these three influence strategies, where do you see the biggest opportunity for you? However you choose to exercise your influence, recognize that your unique voice can concurrently drive your success and benefit others. For more strategies like these, check out my guide to "Building Influence" in the Leadership EDGE Series℠.


Regain Your Confidence After Being Knocked Down

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Things are going really well. You're excited about your work and making things happen. You're meeting challenges head on and bringing your best as a leader.

And then it happens. You find out that someone else will be leading the high-visibility project you had expressed interest in. Or one of your big ideas gets knocked down in a meeting. Or your boss delivers some surprising feedback that came out of nowhere. Or someone else gets the promotion you thought you deserved.  

Whatever happened, it leaves you rattled, questioning your capabilities and emotionally charged. That positive energy you brought to your work is nowhere to be found, and you no longer feel like you’re in the driver’s seat. So how can you regain your confidence when all you want to do is retreat?

Shrinking From the Pain

Your instinct may be to kick into self-preservation mode and lie low after something shakes your confidence. Just know that in the long run that approach will ultimately end up hurting you.

Take the scenarios above. Your boss's criticism might drive you to second-guess yourself. For example, instead of handling a presentation in the way you know is best, you take the path of least resistance. The memory of your colleagues quickly shooting down your idea keeps you from voicing other ideas. Being rejected from one project leadership position makes you reluctant to pursue other projects you care about.

The cumulative impact of experiences like these can lead to a phenomenon called silencing. If you get caught in a pattern of retreating when something shakes your confidence, you diminish yourself and your ability to contribute. The best parts of you go into hiding.

Noticing the Story You Are Telling Yourself

To regain your confidence, you have to first bring your stress level and emotions down a notch. With high performers, I often see them “stuffing” their feelings by pushing through. But the “suck-it-up” approach rarely works because it doesn’t address the underlying issues. Notice the story you are telling yourself and identify the emotions you are feeling about the situation, whether those emotions seem rational or not. Accepting how you feel will make it much easier to work through the situation. For example, how extreme are your conclusions from the situation? Did you extrapolate from one piece of negative feedback that your boss hates everything that you do? Are you ignoring evidence (like past positive feedback) that your story might not be true?

One safe way to notice your thoughts and feelings is to handwrite responses to these two questions: What am I thinking? What am I feeling? When you’re feeling less emotional, you can answer this question: What is the evidence to support and contradict this? Handwriting your responses will engage your brain differently and allow you to let your feelings out uncensored.

And remember to be kind to yourself. Most go-getters judge themselves harshly. You feel how you feel, and it’s OK. Direct some of that empathy that you freely give to others to yourself. Researchers on silencing say it can also be helpful to talk to other people who understand where you're coming from.

Whatever strategies you use, be deliberate about processing what you're going through so you can shift your focus from protecting yourself back to being “you” again.

Recovering Your Power

Now start stepping back into your authentic leadership. First, remind yourself that you don’t have to constantly prove that you deserve your job. You already earned it through your skills, experience, work ethic, and consistent ability to get results. Try this exercise: Carve out ten minutes to write down how you are uniquely qualified for your current role and the positive feedback you consistently hear. If you ever slip back to that place of self-doubt, pull your list out and read it.

Next, reconnect to your passion and purpose. What do you find meaningful about your work? What do you enjoy the most? How are you making a difference? Notice how you really feel when you answer these questions. I bet your whole energy changes. Remembering your “what” and “why” will help you more quickly move past lingering fear and uncertainty.

Your journey as a leader will include some painful experiences that make you question yourself. But you can bounce back.  Trust me, I’ve been there before myself and have coached many leaders through these difficult situations. The strategies I’ve shared will help you get started on the path to remembering who you are and the value that you bring.

If you've been shrinking your presence at work after a painful experience, my award-winning WOW! Women On the Way to Peak Performance Program℠ is a great way to support yourself as you rebuild your confidence. Take it as a self-paced audio program or invest in the facilitated version for a group of you.


How to Take Your Leadership Brand Up a Notch in 2019

You know everything that you bring to the table as a leader. But do the people around you understand — and tap into — your value?

The answer to that question can make all the difference in your ability to drive results and to achieve goals like getting promoted or taking on an exciting new opportunity.

So, before we get any further into 2019, I want you to get really clear about what you want others to understand about your leadership this year.

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I've got my own experiences with redefining my leadership brand. During my 14-year career at Deloitte, I remember exactly when I realized that how I viewed myself didn’t fully match how others viewed me. I was surprised to hear that some people found me intimidating. Some of the things I did with a positive intent were perceived in a very different way. To be mindful of everyone’s time constraints, I was always very efficient, focused and prepared with an agenda. That was great — except that I wasn’t spending enough time to just connect with people and show them more of the personal side of me. Fortunately, there were some simple steps I could take to show people some other aspects of myself and shift their perception. I took what I learned from my "rebranding" experience to hone a process that I use to help my executive coaching clients and that I will share with you today.

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Assess Your Current Brand

The first step is to find out what you are known for today. Revisit your most recent performance review, talk to peers and mentors that you trust, and pay attention to how your colleagues react to what you say and do. Executive coaching is another effective way to get clarity about your current leadership brand.

Don’t worry if you discover that there's a gap between how you see yourself and how others see you. That’s not uncommon. My client, Susan, found herself in that exact situation. Her core strength, a deep commitment to getting results, led her to frequently get into “the weeds” as she explored potential solutions. Consequently, her bosses and others viewed her as being tactically and operationally oriented, but lacking a strategic perspective.

Even though Susan did “get” the big picture, how would anyone really know she did? In conversations, she talked far more about how to execute ideas and the tactical steps involved. She rarely connected her ideas to the larger context or priorities. As Susan began to make shifts in her communication style, the negative feedback dissipated.

Reinforce Your Desired Brand

In the journey of change, most of us seldom directly go from being criticized to being praised for the positive shifts we have made. There's usually an uncomfortable in-between stage. In Susan’s case, her new approach no longer raised questions in the minds of senior leaders. But she went from hearing criticism in this area to hearing … well, nothing.

Now don't get me wrong. Going from "negative noise" to "no noise" is progress, and worth celebrating. But there's one more step if you want to strengthen your brand as a leader. You have to help people notice the change.

Through key words and phrases, Susan began to consistently link her operational knowledge to the broader business goals and priorities. She helped others see that she understood both strategy and execution. She paid close attention to the balance of how much she shared details vs. how much she stayed higher-level in her communication. Susan also took on projects that gave her a chance to shine as a strategic thinker.

Susan showed up differently, and people noticed. She replaced old perceptions with new evidence of what and how she could contribute. This allowed others to better understand who she was as a leader and how they could tap into her strengths.

Keep It Authentic

The best part of all of this is that we reinforced Susan’s brand from a place of authenticity. In other words, by identifying who Susan really is and what matters most to her, we helped others see it more clearly. This allowed her to put her passion — driving for results — into play even more powerfully.

What’s Next?

Now that you've read Susan’s story, it's your turn to think about your own leadership brand. Start by finding out how others perceive you today. Next, define your desired leadership brand. If someone were to describe you to someone else, what are the top three things you would want them to say? Your responses will reveal your core values, passions and strengths. And focusing on these things will help you step into your leadership in a way you haven’t before.

For more ideas and support in helping you strengthen your leadership, check out our leadership development publications, audio programs and corporate programs.