Sometimes it can be hard to see what we need to get to the next level. We know we want something different, for ourselves and our organizations, but we don’t know how to get there. It feels like two steps forward, one step back.
What does it take to create the breakthrough?
In my work with leaders and teams, I am always looking out for a few things:
· What are the mindsets we are holding on to? Are they helping or hindering us?
· What are the behaviors that we are practicing? What are we doing, consciously or not, that gets in the way of our success?
· What are the structures, or systems we have in place to help us thrive?
A recent client, Jean,a senior leader at her organization, called me up with what she said was a lack of vision. Jean thought it was a mindset issue, but it became clear to me that this wasn’t her problem. Jean had a clear direction for her organization – she had plenty of vision! What she lacked was the time to articulate the vision so that she felt confident AND enroll her team in it –both a behavior and a structure challenge.
We worked together to free up Jean’s time and create a new meeting structure so that she could communicate her vision regularly to the team. Soon after, she was proactively inspiring the team around her vision, which meant greater alignment, focus, and impact for everyone. Jean was leading in a very different way and loving the results. A successful break through is going to include all of these elements: mindset, behavior, and structure.
I’m often asked for resources and source of inspiration on how to get unstuck, so I thought I’d share some of my recent favorites.
· If you have a vision for where you want to go, but find your self struggling to get there – check out this great compilation on TED focused on creating the habits that support you in reaching your goals.
· If you are thinking about how to build a great team, my recent blog post highlights a great assessment tool and some straight forward structures you can put into place.
· And if you think that your mindset needs a tune-up, I find myself reading, re-reading and recommending: You Are a Badass by coach Jen Sincero, for a humorous kick-in-the-pants to shift any limiting mindsets.
Getting unstuck sometimes feels impossible, but I can assure you that it is not! With support from people who have been through it before, a bit of self-reflection, and a look at the three levels of what it takes to make change, you will definitely make it happen. If it feels like the right time for a breakthrough in your leadership, work or organization, I’d love to support you! Schedule a free consultation with me here.
Leadership Lessons from the Littles #3: Finding Calm without Flying Off the Handle
Have you ever had a moment where sudden frustration or anger gets the better of you, and before you know it, you are breathing fire? One minute you are serene, peaceful, confident and in charge. The next you are a dragon. You’re out of control, your face is red, your emotions are in overdrive.
If you’re lucky, you are by yourself when this happens. If you’re not that fortunate, you are having a one-on-one conversation with someone, or worse, you are in front of the group leading a meeting or retreat.
What do you do? Do you act on your feelings? Do you get confrontational? Or do you pause?
I just recently finished a fantastic book by master facilitator and organizational consultant Larry Dressler: Standing in the Fire: Leading High Heat Meetings with Clarity, Calm and Courage. His book is full of thoughtful pointers and practices for any of us interested in strengthening our ability to lead high-heat meetings or conversations.
But the lessons have been most powerful in my personal life, particularly with my children.
One of Dressler’s main points is that we must practice the skills we need for graceful facilitation all the time. Our lives are our training ground. After reading that, it didn’t take much to realize that the bed-time routine with my kids is reactivity zone central.
I love my children more than words can express. They are adorable. They are playful and bring great creativity and fulfillment to my life. But they don’t come with an off switch, which makes bed-time an ongoing power struggle. Even if I do succeed (most of the time) in getting them into bed, it never feels like a success. Managing that transition with those two little people produces near immediate feelings of overwhelm, frustration and exhaustion. Let’s just say my kids aren’t super keen on being team players when it comes to getting ready for sleep.
Enter Standing in the Fire. Dressler offers a few steps to work with moments when one’s emotions take over. He offers four steps that, when practiced regularly, provide a new path. It’s a path that’s equally helpful at home and at work, with children or colleagues.
1. Attend: This first step is simply to pay attention. To notice what we are experiencing from moment to moment.
2. Name: Once we notice that we are in a reactive state, we can ask. What’s up with me? The key point here is to name what’s going on without judgment. For many of us, the act of naming something can take much of the power away of it.
3. Pause: This step is CRUCIAL. For me, it’s the most important piece. I seem to be relatively able to attend and name my feelings, but I’m not always so good at the act of pausing. Dressler explains that pausing means simply to “experience and appreciate the energy – observing it but not acting on it.”
4. Shift your State: There are many ways to shift the energy and one’s state of mind. Two that I have been finding very valuable in relationship to my children are:
· Remembering to Breathe. I find that if I can take 5 deep breaths without acting on my feelings, I have more ability to figure out what to do next.
· Evoking a Quality. Found in Dressler’s book, and developed by his colleague Wendy Palmer, this practice has two steps.
1. Pick a quality you would find useful to evoke in a given situation.
2. Complete the question below and answer it:
If there were more [name the quality] in my being, what would it feel like?
I have found that the act of asking myself how a different quality would feel tricks my mind and body into feeling it. I immediately have a little more resourcefulness to address whatever is going on. It’s a great tool to practice with in the moment.
Consider this scenario:
I have just asked my two children to put on their pajamas for the fifth time.
By attending, I notice that my voice is no longer calm. In fact, it has become quite loud and tense.
By naming, I recognize that I am feeling frustrated and out of control.
At this point normally, I usually start screaming and using threats to promote forward movement. But with my Dressler’s practice, I now pause. I do not ask a 6th time for the kids to put on their pjs. I put my hands on my belly and take five breaths. My kids don’t notice. They are busy making a pillow fort.
I think about what quality I’d like to evoke. Calm.
I think about what calm would feel like. I start to feel it. A new idea to creatively get them moving pops into my mind.
I speak to my children again, firmly but calmly. “Sophia and Joshua, it’s time to put on your PJ’s. I am going to count to 30. Let’s see if you can get your pj’s on before I’m done counting. Ready, set, go!”
Always up for a challenge, my kids drop the pillow fort and rush to get their pjs on. I’m feeling like a champion. At least until it’s time to get them in their beds.
Practice: Think about an area in your personal or work life in which you experience high-heat moments. The next time you notice yourself in one of these situations, pause and apply this four step process. What changes do you notice in your ability to address the situation, if any?
Stop Working Against Yourself And Get Things Done
In my one-on-one coaching work with clients, one of the first things that we do together is set clear goals for growth. Then we identify action steps that will help you move in the direction that you want to go. That’s usually the easy part.
The hardest part, for most of us, is putting those action steps into practice. Why do we have trouble doing the things that we want to do?
Some will say that it’s because we don’t really want our goals enough. We don’t care enough. Or we lack the discipline. I used to follow this line of thinking, particularly as it related to myself. But I recently read the book, The Four Tendencies, by Gretchen Rubin, and it’s turned my thinking around.
Rubin, who is an author and researcher on our habits and the way they shape our lives, discovered that people generally fall into four tendencies when it comes to our relationships with expectations. The tendencies include:
· Upholders: Meet outer expectations; Meet inner expectations.
· Obligers: Meet outer expectations; Resist inner expectations.
· Questioners: Resist outer expectations; Meet inner expectations.
· Rebels: Resist outer expectations; Resist inner expectations.
While I’m generally not a big fan of surveys that put people into boxes, I took the quick, easy quiz that she developed and learned that I am an obliger.
And it’s pretty darn accurate.
Obligers are people who are able to meet external expectations easily, but have a hard time following on internal goals or expectations that we set for ourselves. On the plus side, we are well equipped to be in leadership roles and tend to excel in structure and group environments when there is accountability built in. On the flip side, we can be people who have a hard time saying no. We are likely to override our personal goals for other’s goals or expectations, and trend toward overextending ourselves. If we don’t have some kind of accountability built in to our lives around our goals, we can flounder a bit. Obligers are common, we are the most populated group of the four tendencies. We also tend to feel the worst of all tendencies about not meeting goals that we set for ourselves. This is partially because we know we can do meet goals for other people easily, so why can’t we do it for ourselves?
The good news here, and what I loved about Rubin’s book, is that once we gain awareness of our tendency, we can learn how to work with it and more effectively get things done. We can let go of the judgment and self-recriminationwe might have, and just focus on what works for us. Rubin has lots of great hacks and recommendations for working with our tendencies. Here are some of my favorite for us obligers, some of which I have done, and some that I’m just trying out.
· Find a partner to meet your goal with. I’ve been wanting to exercise more regularly and just set up a standing running date with a friend for once/week. I always show up, even if she can’t make it. Classes and group learning experiences are usually great structures for us obligers. In a professional environment, mastermind groups are phenomenal for meeting business or leadership development goals. I have been a part of two of these at different times and they have been so helpful in tracking my ongoing progress on goals that I set for myself.
· Create structure that works. When I started my business working from home alone, I was all over the place and unable to focus. I learned that I worked best when I structured my days to do thinking work in the morning; client calls in the afternoon. I also learned that working outside the house 1-day a week in a co-working space where I was with others provided me with enough structure to focus.
· Invest in a coach. Coaches work well with all tendencies, but obligers can doubly benefit from the external accountability to maintain internal goals they set for themselves. I have used coaches at several intervals in my life when wanting to make progress on something important. Yes – even the professional coach needs coaching
Imagine your future self as the person holding you accountable. Of all of these, this sounds the strangest, but I’m experimenting! When I don’t want to exercise or meditate, or work on my business development goals, I literally imagine my future self thanking the current me for meeting my goals. Believe it or not, this appeals to myobliger desire to meet external expectations, and is often enough to get me started.
Sound interesting? Wondering what tendency you might be? Take the quiz and find out. Then I encourage you to identify one thing that you can do right now to set yourself up for greater success to accomplish your goals.
On Sustaining Ourselves: One Moment at a Time
Yesterday was one of those days. Multiple deadlines, back-to-back meetings, dozens of unanswered emails in my inbox. When I looked up at 4:45 pm (only because I had set an alarm so that I wouldn’t forget to pick up my children from daycare), I realized that I hadn’t eaten since 10:30am. Everything I know about what it takes to be healthy and productive flew out the window.
I left the office to pick up my kids in a daze, chomping on a cheese stick for sustenance; my mind racing in extreme planning and execution mode. I had 10 minutes to decompress before I got to the kids. I tried to concentrate on mindful breathing, but it didn’t do much. Not surprisingly, my interactions with my kids once I picked them up were less than ideal. I’ll spare the details, but they included some yelling (me and them) and lots of frustration (me).
Finally, after dinner and getting my children into bed, it was quiet again. My instinct was to head straight back to the desk, finish up a few more emails, get a little more done. Just a little bit more. But some quiet part of me said, go outside. Go outside before the sun sets.
So I did.
I started my run with the same intense energy, moving a mile a minute. But as I charged my way up the hill near my house, I paused at the top to catch my breath. I turned around and noticed a few things. The air was fragrant with spring blossoms, freshly cut grass. The sky was painted with the most beautiful hues of purple, pink. A light fog was slowly creeping in. The peeper frogs were out in the marshlands, singing their song. The day was ending but something else was beginning - the evening air was alive and vibrating with activity.
I stopped to listen, feel, and observe the evening sky. My run and the details of the next very important action item forgotten. I walked the rest of the way home, moved by my experience, immersed in the night air. Much calmer and present. I chose not to return to my work, went to bed early, and started today fresh and grounded.
I relearned something on that walk that I continue to relearn, over and over. I cannot do my best work, or be my best self if I neglect the things that sustain me. I am not an endless supply of energy, as much as I wish I was.
None of us are. We all need time to rejuvenate, renew, reset.
It’s part of our responsibility as leaders. It is one of the most persistent challenges. I get it. Life is busy and there are so many competing and important demands on our time. But we cannot sacrifice ourselves – we don’t do anyone any favors by running on empty.
Here are three of my favorite practices that help me to keep this front and center.
1) Getting outside. Time outside, even 10 minutes of it, often puts me in a different state of mind. Much research has shown that time in nature (yes, urban nature too!) reduces stress, anxiety, increases vitamin d, and improves concentration.
2) Practicing focused breathing. Sitting for just five minutes a day using focused breathing has transformed my life. In the moment, I am better able to make decisions and stay clear on what my priorities for the day. The cumulative benefit is that I am better able to pay attention and act on those quiet moments of insight.
3) Playing a favorite song. For me, music is an instant pick me up. I have a set of playlists with my favorite songs for every occasion on Spotify…songs for inspiration; higher energy; calm. When I pair the music with some dancing, even better! A five-minute dance break can make all the difference in recharging my perspective and getting me moving.
What helps to sustain you in your life and work? What do you have in place to support your ongoing ability to recharge? If you don’t have something in place already, I encourage you to identify a practice that you can engage in regularly for 10 minutes a day. It doesn’t sound like much, but I know from experience that with regular practice, it will make a tremendous difference.
Getting More Done with Fewer Meetings
Have you ever had the experience of meeting déjà vu? You are sitting at a second, or even a third meeting, and discussing exactly the same thing that you did when you met the for first time, with the same group of people.
How does this make you feel?
I can’t stand it. It drives me bonkers! It makes me feel underutilized and completely disinterested in attending future meetings.
I know I’m not alone. Research shows that workers’ general satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their jobs correlates with the way that they feel about the effectiveness of meetings they attend. And this holds true even after controlling for personality traits and environmental factors such as work design, supervision, and pay!
Yet in my work with teams, I still hear a frequent complaint that meetings go nowhere. “We meet and come up with action items, but nothing seems to get done. They’re a waste of my time.”
In service to better meetings everywhere, I am sharing a simple tool that you can start using immediately to boost your meetings’ productivity. Use it to take your meetings to a whole new level. Your colleagues will thank you!
Here’s what to do, in 5 simple steps:
1) Create a meeting agenda. If you don’t do this already, start doing it for every meeting. Click here for best practices on meeting agendas.
2) Reserve 10 minutes at the end of your meeting for a standing item: Next Steps.
3) Use the Next Steps section of the meeting agenda to write on a flipchart or a whiteboard the following three columns: What. Who. By When. Engage everyone at the meeting in filling out those three items for EVERY action item. Make sure that you have the chart visually represented so that everyone can see it. You want full transparency. Create a simple chart like the one below.
4) Choose someone at the meeting who will record these next steps and send them out to everyone after the meeting.
5) Identify as a group how you will check in on progress. Will you report out on the action items at the next meeting? Will one person be responsible for checking in with everyone responsible for an action item? Will you have 10-minute checkins every 5 days to share progress? Any of these are great options – the point is to spend a minute or two AS A GROUP deciding how you will stay focused.
Most teams do some version of this by identifying the action items, but may neglect to determine WHO is responsible and WHEN they need to complete the action item. Following through on all three of these questions creates clarity about who is in charge of what. It will eliminate the deep abyss that many action items travel to (and remain stuck in!).
Think about this:If you have 8 people on your team and you all meet for an hour, that is 8 hours of people time…a full DAY of work. Isn’t it worth your time to make sure that you are using it well? Using a NEXT STEPS chart will immediately boost your meetings’ effectiveness.
Playing Well in the Snow Box: Leadership Lessons from the Littles #2
My kids and I have been playing in the snow. After the 2nd nor’easter in two weeks, we have quite a bit of it. The other day we were snowplowing our walkway in front of our house with toy trucks. Joshua (age 3) had a red truck, Sophia (age 5) a yellow one. Sophia grabbed the red truck while Joshua wasn’t looking. Now she had both trucks, and Joshua had none.
I don’t have to tell you what happened next.
Joshua, upon realizing his new situation, grabbed the red truck back, yelling definitively, “Sophia! No! My truck!”
Sophia grabbed the red truck back. Begin the tug of war. Both kids screaming. No one playing.
I was in a resourceful, patient state of mind that day, which was lucky for all of us. I removed both of the trucks from their strong little hands. “That’s not how we play, kiddos. Joshua do you have something you want to say to your sister?”
Joshua, red in the face, said indignantly, “Sophia, that’s MY TRUCK. You can’t take it. You can’t!”
Sophia responded angrily, “Yes I can! It’s my truck too. I WILL play with it.” She stomped her foot in the snow.
I spoke to Sophia, “Yes, that’s true. It is both Joshua’s truck and your truck. But Joshua was playing with it when you took it. And now he’s upset. What could you do differently?”
Sophia looked at me defiantly. I could tell she was thinking about it. Joshua eyed the truck. He wanted it back.
Sophia got excited. “I have an idea! Joshua, can I play with the red truck for a little while and you play with the yellow truck? Then we can switch and both have time with each truck. Okay?”
Joshua thought about it, then smiled big. “Okay!” He giggled. Sophia joined in. I gave my giggly children the trucks and they happily cleared the snow together.
How I wish that sibling fights always ended this peacefully. It is definitely not the case! But in this instance, everything clicked, and I was able to see the parallel between my kids’ interactions and life lessons for playing well with others at work and in our lives. Here are three important takeaways:
1) Don’t take without asking. While it might seem obvious, this is a good reminder to reflect on how you relate to your colleagues. Are there instances in which you charge ahead on something before asking for input from others? Often, asking for suggestions and feedback before you get started (rather than after it’s done) can make a great difference in how people are willing to work with you.
2) Emotions are contagious. Research shows that we are wired to pick up subtle clues and literally catch emotions from one another, particularly people we pay a lot of attention to…like siblings or colleagues. When you are feeling angry, it can promote a feeling of anger in others. When you respond defensively and harden your position, your colleagues will likely do the same. And when you laugh, you may find others joining in. Be mindful of your feelings, and how they impact others. The calmer you are able to approach a situation, the more resourceful you can be.
3) When tension is high, pause and ask: What can I do differently here? We all get stuck in our adult version of tug-of-war, which doesn’t actually get us to any real solutions. When you notice that your emotions are at a boiling point, pausing to ask yourself this simple question can interrupt the dynamic, and produce new and creative ideas to solve the issue.
The Most Important Thing You Need to Know to Build a Successful Team
A few years ago, I worked with a team in which everyone disliked each other. Themes that surfaced when I spoke individually with the team members included:
● “I feel disrespected on a daily basis. It’s toxic. I’d be better off without the team and just doing my work alone.”
● “No one values my work or really understands it. And they don’t care to find out.”
● “Our meetings are terrible – we get nothing done. No one listens to anyone else. We just talk over each other and the loudest voice wins the day.”
One thing was unanimous - the number one priority that people on this team identified was “We need to learn how to trust one another.” Team members intuitively identified the heart of what helps successful teams thrive, a sense of safety and trust.
It’s great to see this team’s wisdom validated by recent research. In Project Aristotle, Google’s study of 100 of their teams for more than a year, researchers found that the #1 key to an effective team is psychological safety. In another study of 195 leaders from around the globe, the number one competency identified for effective leadership was strong ethics and the ability to create a sense of safety.
This is not rocket science – to some degree we all know that trust is important! The real question is what are we doing as leaders (and team-members) to increase trust-building in our organizations?
Take a little assessment for yourself – have you or your team done any of these?
❏ Believed that because you are all incredible people who care deeply about your organization’s mission, you will just naturally trust one another?
❏ Assumed that because you trust everyone and get along with folks well, they feel the same about you (or each other)?
❏ Organized a team building retreat or meeting to build trust with employees, and then failed to follow through on action items to maintain trust after the retreat ended?
If you have done any of these, you are not alone. These are common mistakes that I see in my work on team building with organizations and social change leaders. We assume trust will take care of itself, or we invest a little bit in trust building activities through a meeting or retreat, but we don’t reinforce the work or breakthroughs in our day-to-day environments. Finally, we make faulty assumptions about the degree of safety on the team based on where we sit in the organization. This one is particularly common if we happen to be the team leader or the supervisor.
So what can we do? Here are three things you can start immediately to build trust.
1) Check your assumptions. One of the best ways to do this is to think about where you sit in the organization. Are you in a position of privilege or power that might make it difficult to gain honest feedback from team members? One of the best ways to check your assumptions is to use an anonymous team survey to get a sense of how people feel. One that I like to use is the Team Performance Inventory, developed by Robert Gass of the Social Transformation Project.
2) Evaluate and create productive group norms. Project Aristotle at Google found that understanding and influencing group norms is the single most important thing that you can do to create safety and build trust within a group. Norms are often the unspoken and unwritten ways that guide how a group of individuals behave with one another. One of the best ways to influence team values and behaviors is to bring these norms out into the open and evaluate them together. Invite your team together and ask people to share responses to these questions:
● What do I need from this team to do my best work?
● What kind of behaviors does our team need to let go of to build trust?
● What kind of new behaviors does our team need to strengthen trust?
● What might get in the way of practicing these new behaviors, and how can we address those potential obstacles?
As a group, identify a set of norms that you want to practice with one another. Print these out, put them on the wall, and make the practicing and evaluating of them a standing agenda item at your team meetings.
3) Model transparency and vulnerability to help guide your team members. Social researcher Brene Brown talks about the importance of vulnerability in leadership as a foundation for connection, trust, and safety. What does this mean in practice? We need to be willing to take risks and not pretend that we know everything. When confronted with something new, challenging, or uncomfortable on our teams, it is our responsibility as leaders to be transparent and communicate honestly. For example, instead of pretending that everything is okay on your team when people are clearly not working well together, you can say instead, “I want to acknowledge that it’s been really challenging to work together. I see us fighting with one another and I have personally experienced the lack of trust. It’s not fun. I want to do better as a group to figure out how we can work together. I am not sure what to do, but I’m committed to figuring it out with you”.
One of my favorite quotes is “Hope is not a feeling, it’s a practice we need to engage in every day.” The same is true for trust and safety. The two are critical for creating thriving teams. And the real work for creating trust happens in small actions on a daily basis. Trust building happens through the way we listen to one another, speak to one other, through how we see others and allow ourselves to be seen. Checking assumptions, creating group norms, and modeling behavior for others to see (not just talking about them) are three concrete ways to begin to break down the walls that might be inhibiting successful collaboration in the workplace.
The Dynamic Truth about Collaboration and 3 Things You Can Do About It
Collaboration and team building are two of the more frequent issues that people ask me to help them with. I often hear, “We have a group of people that should be working together that aren’t playing together well” to “Everyone is doing their own thing and not thinking about the whole.” Or worse – “Our team is completely dysfunctional and toxic - no one likes anybody else.” At the heart of all of this is the question: How do I get my team to work together better?
One approach is to dive into organizational culture and look at the structures that are supporting or inhibiting collaboration. But long before we go there, I like to begin with a different angle, one that clients often find surprising.
What’s the truth about you and collaboration?
That’s when the dirty (and sometimes surprising) details come out.
- “I know we are supposed to collaborate, but it is so much easier to do it myself.”
- “I can’t stand my colleagues – I find them draining to work with.”
- “I don’t have time to collaborate. I’m too busy.”
Let’s be honest. As leaders, we love to talk about collaboration and teamwork. We have read the current research about why it is great, how it’s absolutely necessary. We sense that it is important. But when we actually examine our own feelings about collaboration, we are often ambivalent or negative about it.
This is okay. It’s normal.
To lead and build great teams, we need to get in touch with our current mindset. If we are starting from a place of ambivalence, frustration, or disinterest, it’s good to be clear about that. Once we have that clarity, we can work with it. We can even use it to our advantage.
But how do you foster collaboration if you admit that you don’t want to do it yourself?
In my experience, one of the keys to building successful teams is to model the behaviors supporting team collaboration at the executive level. Teams tend to unconsciously adopt the behaviors of their leaders. Part of our work as managers, supervisors and CEOS is to revisit our relationship with collaboration first, before we ask our team members to do so. Three steps that will help with that are:
1) Be honest with yourself. What do you find easy about collaborating? What do you find more difficult? Assess where your strengths and challenges regarding collaboration are. This will set you up for success when you engage your team. It will also help you relate to those that may initially resist new collaborative initiatives.
2) Clarify your vision and big why for collaborating. Why do it? What’s in it for you? For your team members? What’s going to be different for the organization if you can collaborate better? Get clear about the benefits. How will collaborating get you to the impact that you want to have? Articulating this for yourself will help you to better inspire and support others to begin collaborating.
3) Start practicing small acts of collaboration. Begin with five minutes each day to do one or two things that support collaboration. Some examples: Ask a colleague for advice on something that you are working on. Introduce five minutes on the team agenda for input on a key question. Share positive feedback with someone on your team about their impact. These are just a few examples – you can easily come up with your own. Here are 6 additional ways you can begin to foster collaboration among your team.
Any of these steps will help set you up for success as you think about how to build collaboration within your team or organization. They will also help you strengthen your own mindset for collaboration. As you practice, you may learn that collaborating is not as tiresome, time consuming, or challenging as you initially thought.
Once we have the right mindset, we can begin evaluating the organizational practices and structures that support great team-building. Stay tuned for some common mistakes organizations and teams make when trying to build trust, and how to avoid them (or turn them around).
3 Lessons that Can Change the Way You Work, Lead, and Live
Excitement to Exhaustion
About 15 years ago, I was in my first senior director level role. I was thrilled and didn’t want to fail, so I worked long, grueling hours to do everything well at once. About a year into the job, I recall waking up one morning completely exhausted and overwhelmed, the same way I had fallen asleep. The same way I had been feeling for for months. My initial enthusiasm for the job had turned into a bone-weary tiredness. Initial passion and creativity had given way to feeling like a hamster caught in a wheel with no end in sight. I thought - there has to be a better way to work with passion AND not run myself into the ground.
I examined my approach to work. What I learned was surprising to me, though not uncommon. It turned out that I didn’t have many work boundaries, so I had a hard time saying to no to requests and projects even if they weren’t important. I wasn’t sure what my priorities were, so I worked on everything with the same high intensity, leaving me burnt out. And I had a hard time delegating and asking for help, so I attempted to do everything myself.
This called for a drastic overhaul in how I did my work. With the help of colleagues, some great books, and a coach, I learned 3 important lessons that still guide my work 15+ years later.
Clarify priorities. If you don’t know what’s important, how will anyone else? Take time, on a regular basis, to ask yourself. What do I want to achieve? What’s going to help me get there? These are your top priorities. Regularly assess everything you do to make sure they support your priorities. If they don’t, stop doing them, say no more often, or find a way to delegate to someone else.
Say no. Cultivate a practice of saying no to anything that is not in line with your top priorities. Saying no will allow you to say YES to the things that really matter, and to make sure that you have the time for them.
Understand that perfection is the enemy of the good. You cannot give everything 150% without risking yourself in the process. Nor should you strive for it. This takes us back to lesson #1 – clarify priorities. Identifying what’s most important will help you make better decisions about where to invest your greatest energy to achieve excellence, and when your “good” is good enough.
When I applied these lessons, I learned that working long hours didn’t mean that I was necessarily doing great work. In fact, the impact of my work increased as I said no more often, crystallized my priorities, and stopped trying to be a perfectionist.
Leadership Lessons from the Littles: #1 Letting Go of Attachment
I am the mother of two children under the age of 5. Sophia and Joshua are delightful creatures that inspire all kinds of emotional states in me, from great joy and delight to incredible frustration and the feeling of wanting to tear my hair out. They keep life interesting.
As a leadership development coach and consultant, I help teams and people that are stuck in thorny challenges get unstuck. I facilitate retreats. I run meetings. I coach leaders. I have toolkits and resources and experience in my backpocket. One might think that given my experience, I would be relatively prepared for parenting.
Not a chance.
There is nothing in my professional background like the challenge of getting a resistant 4-year old to bed. Or of corralling two wayward children out the door in time for anything. Or determining who’s doing what to manage the house logistics with my husband. My kids bring me to my knees, pretty much on a daily basis.
This also means that my children are my greatest teachers. They show me where I have work to do, both on myself and in my leadership. And they help to reinforce things that I want to do, but don’t always remember.
This week (and lifetime), I’m learning about Flexibility.
All the parenting books and experts talk about how to give your children some autonomy by offering them choices when you want them to do something. I followed this advice recently when I needed to get my four year-old dressed to go outside.
Me: Do you want to wear your purple socks or the green socks?
Sophia: I don’t want to wear socks.
Me: You need to wear your socks, so pick one of these choices.
Sophia: I don’t want to wear socks.
Me: They are perfectly good choices. Pick some socks.
Sophia: NO! I WILL NOT. I WILL NOT WEAR SOCKS!!! I WILL NOT WEAR SOCKS!!
It took less than a minute for the choices wisdom to backfire. As I felt my patience begin to fray, I almost yelled back, in my firmest ADULT voice. “YES, YOU WILL WEAR SOCKS!!!” But somehow, I remembered to take a breath.
Then I thought to myself, “Does she really need to wear socks? Do I need to be so rigid on this sock issue?” The answer was no. It was warm enough outside. Maybe a little cooler than my preference, but warm enough. I wanted Sophia to wear socks because I was attached to the idea that it was the right thing to do. And I was proud of myself for remembering to give her two choices in the first place. But it turned out I didn’t care that much. So I regrouped and took another approach.
Me: Okay. You don’t have to wear socks.
Sophia: I don’t? (a little suspiciously)
Me: No. But you need to bring socks. And if your feet get cold, you need to put them on. Please pick a pair.
Sophia: Ok. I choose one Green sock and one Purple.
Which she did. And she happily put on her shoes and we left the house.
So what does this have to do with leadership?
We all get attached to certain ways of doing things. It could be wearing socks, it could be how we run a meeting, create a program, communicate with our stakeholders…you fill in the blank. You know that you are attached when your gut kicks in with some firm version of “This is how we do it!”
Sometimes our attachments can limit our ability to achieve our end results. While they have served us in the past, our attachments might actually get in the way of getting to where we want to go. In my case, out the door with my child.
It’s good to question our attachments from time to time. Three questions that can help us do that are:
o Where do I find myself inflexible or unwilling to bend?
o Do I absolutely need to be this way? Is there a little wiggle room?
o If yes, what are my absolutes? I could bend on Sophia wearing socks, but I did want to make sure she had a pair with her, just in case.
Last but not least, a well-timed deep breath can make all the difference. When we notice ourselves becoming inflexible, whether it's with our child or a colleague, a deep breath may be all that’s needed to pause, reset and try a different approach.
Three Quick Ways to Boost your Team Meetings
I recently came across a New Yorker cartoon of people sitting around a board room table, with the caption “Today’s meeting will be endless, with a half-hour break for lunch”. How many of us have been through this before? When the meeting ends, we leave drained and upset that our hour (or more!) has been wasted.
Let’s Get Clear
Your time is too precious. You’ve got important things to do, and so does your team. Make sure that your meeting helps you get to where you need to be and won’t drag you down. Here are three simple (and relatively quick) ways to instantly improve the quality of your meetings.
1) Engage your team: Ask for their input.
Before your next meeting (or even at the beginning of your next meeting) email or ask your staff these three questions.
a. What works well about our meetings?
b. What should we change about our meetings?
c. What suggestions do you have to make our meetings more effective?
A lot of teams take meetings for granted and don’t stop to question whether we can make them more useful. These three questions will help everyone to break out of complacency and think about what could be different.
2) Always Ask: What is the purpose of this meeting?
If the answer is a version of… “because we always do”, I encourage you to question whether you need to hold the meeting at all! Break meeting inertia by only holding meetings that have a clear PURPOSE and set of OUTCOMES, and make sure that everyone attending knows what these are, ahead of time. Purpose and outcomes are so important, we will discuss them in a later blog post.
3) Clarify: Who’s going to do what by when?
Create a standing item at the end of every meeting. In just 3 – 5 minutes at the end of a meeting, you can confirm the action items, who is responsible for them, and by when. Often times, people will leave a meeting before agreeing on this. This creates confusion post-meeting AND makes the next meeting more frustrating, because you are rehashing the same old stuff.
Apply these three tips immediately and observe the difference! We always love to hear success stories. Share yours with us at email@example.com.