Entering through a side door near the parking lot, we found ourselves in the hall with a smattering of confident instructors and tentative students. I wanted to run. I wanted to turn back the clock. I wanted to be invisible. As I anxiously evaluated my realistic options, the instructors briefly explained how to organize ourselves on the dance floor. I stood motionless.
“Are you going to lead or follow?”
I did not hesitate. “Follow.”
How did I get myself into this?
It started out as a harmless text with a novel invitation: Linda and I are going to a swing dance lesson. Do you want to go? When accepting, I imagined a carefree evening of missteps, laughter and twirls among friends. (And the chance to preemptively cross off an item from my bucket list.) Of course I would go!
When I learned that the lesson was going to be in a church, however, a mild uneasiness began to dampen my carefree attitude. What about the distraction of other people? What about the ambient noise to muffle my step counting? What about the alcohol?
See, I had been pretending that this was no big deal, but that’s because I didn’t plan on really participating. As that realization became clearer, so did my fear.
What was going on?
With some long days of work following a long weekend of play, I had been “on” to the point of feeling depleted. When our emotional, intellectual, spiritual or physical energy runs low, anything that requires effort is harder than normal.
I also felt uncomfortable. I am not a good dancer. I am neither graceful nor rhythmic. Skill development includes an early stage of awkwardness and, ugh, that sounded like the opposite of fun.
So, why did I go?
The leadership lesson
Leaders need to be their best selves to help others be their best selves. (This is exponentially true for leadership coaches.) As with most things change related this is easier to imagine than to do. Reassuringly, as with most things dance related, it gets easier with practice.
What’s a leader to do?
Demonstrate self care. One way to examine ourselves when we feel depleted is in terms of deposits and withdrawals. When we’re especially tired, impatient or surly, it can be helpful to calculate the energy “withdrawals” that got us there so we can plan some “deposits”. If trying new things and socializing tend to fill up your energy reserves, an open dance lesson could be the influx you need. However, if your physiological worth tends to rise most through alone time, you may choose to trade your dance shoes for spa socks or hiking boots. By attending to our needs, we restore our leadership worth.
Get clear about who we want to be. Sometimes, we may have conflicting desires or be unable to categorize our attention in terms of net positives or negatives. And that can be okay too. Consider my swing dance night: friend time versus family time; activity versus inactivity; new versus routine. Honestly examining who we want to be in that moment can help us prioritize.
Having intentionally outgrown the days of saying yes just to make others happy, I rarely do something without vetting it. On this swing dancing night, I wanted to connect with a friend. I knew I needed some physical activity. And I value being someone who says yes to new opportunities even when they’re scary.
Being our best selves sometimes requires stretching outside of our comfort zones. When we do, we find ourselves having experiences that build our skills and enrich our lives. My swing dance lesson was no exception. Yes it can be scary. But, to me, it’s worth it.
It was the sunshine and overnight getaway that motivated me to tend to the bottom of my inbox, and a lightly scheduled workday that made it possible. For me, those last non-urgent email messages are not postponed so much as reserved. They represent rich and stimulating ideas that help me reflect and find clarity. In a way they are my reward for catching up.
Culminated from a morning of especially inspiring content, here are some subjects I thought you might enjoy. Happy reading!
Seven Habits of Highly Productive Giving
Four years after Adam Grant’s Give and Take book claimed that, “those who give first are often best positioned for success later”, Wharton’s youngest tenured professor and top-rated teacher continues to share insights related to giving. In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Grant partners with researcher Reb Rebele to caution givers about the risk of burnout and offer the Coveyesque “seven habits of highly productive giving”.
Love-based Work Cultures
If you’re at all cynical about today’s business environments, consider this: The Academy of Culture Ambassadors has announced their first Wisdom for Modern Workplaces Conference, with the intriguing tagline, “Celebrating Kindness, Joy, and Love as a Business Priority”. The Academy “supports workplace cultures where there is a relentless passion for kindness, empathy, dignity, trust, transparency, sharing, happiness, compassion and love.” If you or someone you know manages a workplace culture, take a look.
Spiritual Emotional Intelligence
Six Seconds, an organization that promotes the growth of emotional intelligence tools and capabilities, defines spiritual emotional intelligence (SEQ) as “the capacity to utilize emotional and spiritual insight to create a full and meaningful life.” As they refine a tool to measure spiritual intelligence, Six Seconds offers a free (and quick) assessment tool that gives you immediate feedback with some tips to increase your SEQ (no strings attached). If you’re interested, visit their online assessment.
From New Year’s Eve resolutions to annual professional development goals, our struggles may start as early as the planning phase. How do we choose the most important thing to accomplish? And then, how do we push through the obstacles that we can already anticipate?
The way we talk to ourselves has a profound impact on what we achieve. And one simple word can make all the difference: and.
The “Or” Fallacy
We do this thing as humans where we arbitrarily construct either-or situations. Either I stay in this job or do something I love. Either I complete my to-do list or spend some time on me. When forcing ourselves to choose only one of two good options, we create a formula for disappointment and discouragement.
When we reconstruct either-or situations using “and”, the dilemma disappears. I will stay in this job and do something else that I love. I will complete two items on my to-do list and then take a walk. Opening ourselves up to the possibility of “and” allows us to creatively and thoughtfully chart our success.
The “But” Sabotage
Another place where we can benefit from substituting “and” is where we otherwise use “but”. Think of this phrase: Your analytical skills are good, but. . . . The “but” seems to discount what comes before it (the compliment) and emphasize what follows (the criticism). As if we don’t suffer enough of this sabotage in conversations with others, we also do it when talking to ourselves. I should follow up with that new prospect, but I don’t know what to say. I need to look prepared but I don’t have time to practice.
We discount our own ideas when we immediately focus on why they may not work. Instead, we can acknowledge the obstacle and address it. I should follow up with that new prospect and I will need to write down some ideas before calling. I need to look prepared and I will need to change my schedule. By disabling “but” we adopt a solutions mindset focused on our desired achievements.
Introducing more “and” into our internal conversations opens up new opportunities in how we think, what we do, and who we are. And that is a beautiful thing. Happy new year!
A new acquaintance recently asked me my position on whether leaders are born or made. She referenced a colleague who she felt was predisposed to never excel at leadership. We all know someone who appears to be too shy, too aggressive or too analytical to be leadership material. Maybe we have been perceived as that someone.
With enough commitment anyone can grow into a leader. How? One way is by building Emotional Intelligence.
Daniel Goleman, the guru of Emotional Intelligence, has proven the phenomenon as the “one crucial way” that effective leaders are alike. Some of us have a higher “EQ” than others, but we all have the ability to grow smarter in these five components of intrapersonal (interacting with ourselves) and interpersonal (interacting with others) Emotional Intelligence:
An understanding of our own feelings and behaviors provides the foundation of emotionally intelligent leadership.
How we express our feelings greatly effects how we are seen as leaders. Thoughtful, well-managed actions help us establish likeability and integrity.
Good leaders harness an intrinsic desire to achieve, strive for improvement and see the future optimistically.
As one of the two interpersonal components of Emotional Intelligence, empathy represents our ability to understand and act in consideration of others’ feelings. It enables us to demonstrate that we care.
Forging relationships and working with others to achieve desired outcomes are the hallmarks of effective social skills. When we can understand, regulate and motivate ourselves, and related to others, we gain influence as leaders.
Taking an EQ assessment offers good insight on your current Emotional Intelligence, how it compares to most of the population, and opportunities for development. Prioritizing a few areas, establishing strategies to flex your emotional muscles, and enlisting a coach or advisor can help you prove that great leaders can be made.
If the purpose of communication is to share ideas and negotiate relationships, we can likely all agree that many an idea and relationship have suffered as a result of our limited abilities to communicate effectively. At work in particular, we struggle to create a perception of ourselves that is neither domineering nor doormat-like, sometimes toggling between the two in our attempt.
The interpersonal and gender communications expert Deborah Tannen cleverly warns that, “Smashing heads does not open minds.” Yet sometimes in our efforts to communicate with power we resort to aggressive communication tactics: attacking, labeling or attempting to control the other person. The resulting alienation extinguishes our message and tarnishes our reputation.
At the other extreme of our interpersonal exchanges lies passive communication. While women who aggressively communicate tend to prompt backlash, passive communicators reinforce a “good girl” stereotype in which women avoid, mask or withdraw from the issue at hand. Flipping the I-win-you-lose approach of aggressive communication, passive communicators yield to the other party by being silent or vague, while still (futilely) hoping or (falsely) assuming their message is received.
Between these two extremes lies an approach for building engagement and understanding: assertive communication. Assertive communicators garner immediate respect because they are direct, honest, thought-driven and respectful of others without sacrificing themselves. Here’s how to adopt an assertive communication style:
Own your words and feelings: be proactive, speak up, and manage your stories.
Stick to the facts: speak thoughtfully rather than emotionally.
Think of end goal: avoid distractions that will not yield productive discussion.
Create mutual purpose: balance what’s best for yourself, others and the relationship.
In the words of Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, “Communication works best when we combine appropriateness with authenticity, finding that sweet spot where opinions are not brutally honest but delicately honest.” The result for both parties is win-win.
Ah, Spring, the beloved season of Northeasterners when we end our hibernation and seize opportunities to feel bright sun and tepid air on uncovered skin. Many of us find ourselves motivated to walk pathways, rake mulch beds, and open windows. Suddenly, we feel energized and driven to achieve.
Of course we all know that our professional success requires us to strive for achievement of some sort across all seasons. So, when the sunshine gives way to clouds, how do we stay motivated?
Focus on self awareness
By understanding our own behavior and how it effects others, we gain valuable information that aids our continued growth. Try this: Reflect on the connection between your emotions and behavior. Identify the triggers likely to lead to positive or negative reactions.
Manage your emotions
Mastering control of our emotional responses brings us interpersonal and intrapersonal rewards. We can improve our interactions with allies (and obstacles), and save our energy for driving our own success. Try this: When stalled by fear, seek a more objective view of reality by considering what’s really at stake.
Plan your goals
Staying motivated means maintaining clarity on what you want to achieve and how to achieve it. Try this: Define qualities that may hold you back from attaining your goals and brainstorm ways to overcome them.
Sometimes others serve as powerful reminders of the benefits our hard work can bring. Try this: Invite someone you admire to lunch, attend a professional event, ask for feedback from a colleague.
Of the many traits that separate those who are thriving from those who aren’t, passion is perhaps the most significant. Think about people whose commitment to work or clarity in purpose propels them. They are motivated, productive, fulfilled. They love what they are doing.
Of course we can’t always do what we love, but we can maximize our happiness by paying attention to and thoughtfully pursuing what we are most passionate about. When we do what we love, we can achieve our full potential.
Here are some ways to integrate passion into your career and beyond:
Determine what you are passionate about. If it helps, use the Passion Test approach and complete this phrase: When my life is ideal, I am _______________. If needed, use self-awareness to monitor when you feel energized (i.e., fulfilled) and when you feel drained (i.e., not fulfilled).
Name the things you love. Get comfortable with them. Confidently say, “I love _______”! Validate your passions and they will become a stronger force in your life.
Make time to do what you love. Some of us have been able to turn our passions into careers. Others may supplement work with what they truly love. In either case, we can enhance our happiness by making passion a priority. Setting specific goals for pursuing our passions can help us hold ourselves accountable.
Living a passionate life is a continuous process of identifying and seizing opportunities. It’s our chance to do what matters most to us, be great at it, and achieve happiness.
This is the time of year that some of us love and some of dread. Whether you’re scrambling to define or refine goals or are happily progressing on plans already well established, I hope you are keeping your focus where it belongs: on YOU. Ironically, sometimes our best efforts at self-improvement end up depleting our energy and hindering our growth.
Here are four tips to remain focused and positive as you wrap up your first month of 2015:
PUT MYSELF FIRST
You already know that as women we often struggle with this. After a season of giving to others, what better time could there be to tend to number one? If you are a pathological giver, remember the airline safety tip: you have to administer the oxygen mask to yourself in order to help those around you. But our goal isn’t just to survive; it’s to thrive. If you can fully surrender to a little self-indulgence, nothing feels better.
The way I’ve been doing it in 2015: Taking lavender baths, attending professional events, and reading—a lot!
IDENTIFY THE BENEFITS
Ever get caught up in doing something, stress out, and then pause to wonder why you’re even doing it? I have a few overachieving bones in my body (okay, maybe more than a few) and as a business owner I rarely have people pushing me to be strategic or efficient. But like you (I hope!) I want to be smart with how I spend my life. Being mindful and evaluating our behavior helps us invest our resources beneficially. Asking, “What ideal outcome do I want to achieve?” can help you keep your goals clear and make your actions meaningful.
The way I’ve been doing it in 2015: Reversing my no-New-Years-Eve-hosting stance because supporting friends in need became more rewarding than not entertaining, revising my social media approach to support my 2015 goals, investing time in my own development so I can be a effective coach and leader.
Oh, if only we could do it all. Alas, the only way to feel truly accomplished is to make sure we accomplish the right things at the right time. Making this a fluid process is key; life is unpredictable. In my case, a spinal problem followed by neck surgery and a long recovery has derailed my past three months of “priorities”. (Now napping is actually one of the most important things I can do.) An often forgotten aspect of setting priorities is resetting them when conditions change. We have to remember that strength is not as important as flexibility in many situations.
The way I’ve been doing it in 2015: Reserving my energy for client meetings, saying “no”, accepting that there will always be tasks undone and messes uncleaned.
CONNECT WITH OTHERS
One of the worst things we can do is isolate ourselves. Sure, we need time alone to produce results and recharge. But one of the most important characteristics of happy people is that they connect with other people. Of course we have to connect with the right people. Find groups and individuals that make more emotional deposits than withdrawals, and carve out time to be with them. If you find it hard to say, “I’ll be out tonight”, refer to the above three points.
The way I’ve been doing it in 2015: Joining a book club, launching a professional group, hosting girls’ night.
Best wishes for a year of thriving!
Giving to others makes them feel good. We know that. Many of us recognize that giving is fulfilling for ourselves too–whether it’s the act of helping another or the resulting recognition, we often receive an intrinsic or extrinsic reward.
But what about giving as a business strategy? Not disingenuous giveaways or quid pro quo offers, but good ole fashion, no-strings-attached helpfulness. Being a giver focused on others doesn’t make you a chump, it makes you savvy. And now there’s a compilation of research to prove it, thanks to Adam Grant’s Give and Take (see my review on the right sidebar).
Grant asserts—and backs up with data—that “when giving starts to occur, it becomes the norm, and people carry it forward in their interactions with other people.” Givers succeed and create a ripple effect that enhances the success of people around them.
I see so many of my clients struggle with how much to give. They worry about sacrificing their success with generosity. But imagine if more of us started to give freely. Everyone benefits when we take care of each other.
Personally I am drawn to giving. And I believe that has helped connect me with other givers. As I write this I am three weeks post-op from major neck surgery, so I have been much more of a taker in these past weeks. To the dozens of friends, family members and acquaintances who have reached out with food, support, visits and flowers, I want to give back. I look forward to returning the gift (though hopefully under less painful circumstances)
With the approach of Thanksgiving, we are encouraged—almost trained—to reflect in thankfulness. We may help give food or shelter to those in need, but our focus tends to accentuate the “thanks” part of Thanksgiving. I submit to you that focusing on the giving will yield that much more for which to be thankful.
You’d be surprised how much you can learn from a young woman guzzling beer from a muddy cleat. . . .
From the start, the post-game rugby social was remarkable. Co-eds filtered into a downtown bar carrying homemade dishes of pasta, beans, pulled pork and macaroni salad, creating a buffet that covered two pool tables. Hungry athletes and guests casually formed a line and chatted as they patiently waited for food.
The scene didn’t contradict the hard-playing, hard-partying image of rugby. Rather, it rendered the stereotype disingenuous. What I saw was a powerful set of shared values that can benefit us all:
Inextricably linked to energy, humor yields results—stuff gets done and people feel good. From songs, to games, to group announcements, humor kept everyone entertained and engaged.
Even in a crowded bar steaming with adrenaline and alcohol, respect prevailed. Requesting attention by raising party cup to forehead, or singing “me, me, me, meeeee” (to which others replied, “you, you, you, youuuuuu”), anyone who wanted the group’s attention could get it.
With women and men equally represented as both athletes and guests, gender (and other differentiators) seemed invisible. A rugby-guys-versus-rugby-gals game of “flip cup” quickly integrated because it was easier and didn’t seem to matter anyway.
All teammates contributed time and/or treasure to create an environment with enough food and drink for all. When the beer ran out, someone stepped forward to initiate a collection effort that quickly yielded enough contributions to tap another keg. When someone started a silly song, members took turns improvising verses. And when ideas ran out, a new tune was introduced.
I’m a latecomer to rugby, too breakable now to subject myself to the sport. But I may just pursue groupie status. Because this is the kind of team I want to be part of.