Monday, December 22, 2014

Yes, And Principle - An Improv Technique at Work

Improvisational comedy troops use a number of techniques to help them work together seamlessly, building instantly upon each others ideas, able to adapt readily to any changes in direction and content that are thrown at them.

One technique I invite you to steal, and use as your own, is the Yes, And Principle.  This technique provides you with a structured way of thinking and responding to other people's thoughts and ideas. All too often we barely listen to what the other party is saying, preparing instead our rebuttal. The Yes, And technique begins from a position of requiring you to have listened fully to what the other party was sharing. You can't possibly know how to respond if you haven't heard what was said.

When we follow someones comments immediately with our own, without there being any connection between their comments and our own, it can sound as though we are dismissing, disinterested in, or disagree with, their thoughts.  It can sound like we are saying 'no', serving to negate the perceived value of what they were sharing.

Beginning our response with Yes, And... serves to build upon their ideas rather than negate them. While an immediate 'no' shows you have not been open to ever exploring their idea further, the 'Yes' shows an openness to and acceptance of the idea they offered. It is supportive and open, demonstrating that you trust and value their opinion.

The 'And' then builds upon the ideas already brought forth, rather than starting over or tearing down the previous ideas.  It helps the team continue to remain open to exploring new and different ideas, all of which serve to enhance the end result.

In business, there are two areas in which the Yes, And Principle can immediately be implemented, to positive benefit...

  1. Brainstorming.  This is a great tool to use in developing and building ideas because it leaves all paths open.  Closing ideas off too soon can limit the directions available to you, while keeping ideas open allows you to circle back, in ways you might not have been able to imagine previously, enabling you to create something bigger and better.  In brainstorming the 'Yes' serves to acknowledge and accept others' ideas, while the 'And' allows for an elaboration of the idea, building and extending upon it.  In Apple you might have heard...
      • I think we should consider making a 'better' phone...
      • Yes, and... wouldn't it be great if it took pictures...
      • Yes, and... we could create games and apps that let people use it like a mini computer
      • Yes, and...
  2. Feedback.  When providing people with constructive criticism and feedback on their ideas, we often mistakenly jump immediately to areas that require improvement or additional thought.  In essence, we highlight the flaws in their thinking. This can end up sounding negative, which may shut the other person down.  Instead, begin with Yes, And.  The yes immediately creates a supportive dialogue, which leads the other party to remain open to listening further. It creates a powerful attitude of affirmation that helps inspire trust. You can then follow with what is good about their idea highlighting what works, before then sharing how you think it could be better, offering your suggested improvements.  
Improvisational comedians are masters at listening to and building upon others ideas.  To create a seamless and unified experience for the audience, they must be prepared to abandon their 'vision' as being the one true vision, and be prepared to accept whatever any of the other team members present, viewing it as a gift. Rather than tossing it aside, they hold onto it, adding to it with their own ideas, enabling the skit to grow and develop.  Without the openness and willingness to accept what comes before 'you' will create a skit that is disjointed and disconnected.  The power of the Yes, And technique can serve you in much the same way, allowing those around you to feel valued, while still enabling you to have an impact on the direction taken. That's what building a team is all about.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

Healthy or Intelligent? Which Leader Would You Choose?

When choosing a leader, if you are only given an option between choosing someone that looked healthy or someone that looked intelligent... which would you choose?

I think that most of us, consciously, would say intelligent. Don't we all want our leaders to have the intellect to understand the challenges we face, to navigate through the tough political waters, to have the knowledge needed to create strategies that assure us success?  Our logical, rational minds respond 'Yes, of course'.

However, a recent Dutch study, published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience,  found that, when given a choice between a leader that looked 'healthy' and one looking 'intelligent', almost 70% of all respondents selected the healthier looking leader.  In fact, both leaders they viewed were the same individual, each photo simply being a digitally altered version designed to portray more healthy or intelligent characteristics.
"Here we show that it always pays for aspiring leaders to look healthy, which explains why politicians and executives often put great effort, time and money in their appearance," study lead author Brian Spisak, assistant professor at the department of management and organization at VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands
Although our conscious mind may use rational thinking in making its decisions, it appears that we are still more influenced by our reptilian brain than we may like to believe.  Our reptilian brain is the most primitive part of the human brain, the part that handles our instinctive responses and reflexes, some of which are millions of years old.  It is the part of our brain that is essential to, and focused on, our basic survival, overseeing functions like breathing and heart rate, but also driving your desire for food or sex and responding to perceived threats and rewards.

It's this most primitive part of our brains that receives information first, making it our primary behavioural driver. This means, when considering the Dutch study above, that participants viewing the two potential leaders are influenced first by the reptilian part of their brain which wants to follow the healthier looking specimen... because that is a key trait necessary for survival.

From an evolutionary perspective this would make sense.  In the early days of man you couldn't afford to get sick, there was no medicine. You needed to be able to run down your prey and out run any predators. You needed to be strong to be seen as necessary to the 'group'; strong enough to be Alpha or be seen as useful to one.

We may have come a long way but our reptilian brains are still wired to respond in ways that served us, and saved us, in the past.  These responses still continue to influence choices that we make, in ways that we don't always control or recognise.  The conscious and more logical parts of our brains simply form reasonable explanations for the actions and decisions that our reptilian brain makes.

I have long coached my clients on the need to project a positive energy through their body language.  To be able to convince someone that you are not just willing but able to take action and see a project through, you must demonstrate it through your body.  It is through the subtle cues of the body that your credibility is established, that people will believe and trust in your ability to deliver.  Try selling someone on your ability to take action from a slumped position!  Your reptilian brain is wired to pick up on the subtle cues derived from body language and will respond according to what it perceives.  Conveying a strong, positive energy appeals to the survivalist mentality of your primitive brain.

Looking 'healthy' is a visible source of that positive energy.  People are instinctively attracted to it.  If you want to get ahead then research has provided yet another reason for you to get healthy.  Break out the walking shoes, learn to love kale... they might just be the best things you do for your career.

Monday, December 8, 2014

5 Tips for Getting More Feedback

We would all love to get feedback on our performance more regularly than we do. Regular feedback is an important way for us to improve our performance at work. However, it is not unusual for many in the workplace to receive feedback only during their annual performance review. The feedback they receive is not timely enough and likely not specific enough to prove truly helpful in positively impacting performance.

Given that many of us have managers who dread having to complete an annual review, let alone sitting down for performance dialogues more regularly, how might we arrange to get the feedback we need, when we need it, to help us improve our performance faster?

1.  Ask.  This may seem like an obvious point to start with but that doesn't make it any less effective.  And, despite its obvious nature, it doesn't tend to be something that people do consistently, if at all.  Don't sit complacently by, assuming that no news is good news.  Ask people how you are doing.  If you feel this is a little too self-directed then ask people what you might have done differently or better to have met their needs. People will not only open up about your performance, but will offer suggestions you can use to please them better in future. It's your choice as to whether you fulfill those needs or not, but it will tell you a great deal about not only how best to serve others, but about what motivates them also.

2.  Question.  Don't simply take the first response you get.  We often interpret someone's feedback through our own personal filters which may lead us off the track they were highlighting.  Before you invest your time and effort in improving in a direction you believe they wanted, ensure you take the time to clarify what they shared.  Get a clear picture and specific suggestions before you begin to take action.

3.  Listen.  People give you feedback continuously, whether you ask for it or not.  However, we are typically too caught up in our own thoughts, wants and needs to pay attention to it.  Even when others are venting about a project, or the direction it has taken, they might be sharing some feedback for you regarding your role in it.  And, it should go without saying, that if you've asked for feedback then you need to listen to what people share with an open mind.  Don't rationalize the feedback, don't become defensive and don't shut down.  This is information you need to improve; accept it graciously and decide later what value it brings you.

4.  Observe.  Pay attention to the reactions and behaviours of those around you.  You can gain a tremendous amount of feedback just by taking the time to focus on and observe others.  Are people looking away and yawning when you are delivering a speech?  Are you being sought out for your advice and help or are others being sought out instead?  Do people share confidences with you or only talk about the weather? People's actions and behaviours around us tell us a great deal about what they think of us, how we make them feel, what their level of trust is.  Take the time to observe others for trends that are trying to tell you something.

5.  Learn.  Learn from your successes.  Learn from your failures.  Learn from your observations.  Learn from the observations of others.  Your experiences provide you with some of the best feedback that there is, but you need to take the time to assess the messages, learn from them and alter your approaches and behaviours accordingly.

Our performance is our responsibility and is our ticket to more.  Waiting for a once-a-year performance discussion, to ascertain how you are doing, is not going to enable you to improve as quickly as you could if you were receiving feedback in a more timely manner.  Certainly seek more frequent feedback from your manager, but don't limit yourself to their insights.  Broadening the scope of the feedback will provide you not only with more feedback, but will enable you to understand which actions would positively impact more people and therefore more opportunities.  Take charge of your personal improvement plan by taking a more active role in getting the information you need to improve.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Overlooked for Promotion Again? Top 5 Reasons Why

Most of of us have likely experienced a time in our careers in which we did not receive a much desired and
anticipated promotion.  Typically, we are left wondering why.  Looking to the individual who did get promoted sometimes leaves us with more questions rather than the answers we seek.  Over the course of my Coaching and Consulting career I have dealt with numerous highly talented individuals who have been seemingly left behind, yet again, without a clear direction for moving forward and gaining that coveted promotion.

In my experience, there are typically 5 main reasons why people fail to secure a promotion, each of which I share with you below in the hopes that you are able to see yourself in one (or more) and begin taking the steps necessary to eliminate this roadblock to your success.

1.  Your focus is on your current Performance and not on your future Potential.  Granted you want to be performing at your best, but that demonstrates you are capable of delivering at the level you are now.  It is important to couple this with a demonstration of your ability to do more.  And by more I mean 'other', not just simply more of what you are currently doing.  You need to understand what competencies are required, by those succeeding at the next level, and find opportunities to display those abilities.  People get promoted because of their perceived potential to take on more and greater responsibility.  Showcase the breadth of skills you currently possess while highlighting your ability to 'learn' new ones.

2.  No Bragging Campaign.  Doing great work is one thing; ensuring that people know about it is another. You cannot simply put your head down, work harder than anyone else, and expect it to get noticed.  Likely it will just get you more of the same work, not a promotion.  You need to promote yourself to get promoted. I know that introverts reading this are cringing right now - or jumping to the next point - but becoming proficient at Bragging is a necessity in today's business world.  People are far too busy to keep track of 'who' is doing what, they need reminding.  This needn't be a big brash obnoxious recitation of your accomplishments.  It can be small little tidbits, updates and reminders casually dropped into conversations. Crafting your campaign means that you are crafting the messages that others receive.  By understanding what competencies are required at a higher level you can use your Brag Bite moments to highlight your skills in those areas, building the perception of potential they need to see.

3.  Poor Internal Network.  This point is linked to your Bragging Campaign, but it is an important element in and of itself.  If you do not have a strong network, who do you have to brag to?  You need to have your campaign reach as far and wide throughout the organization as you can.  Therefore, you need a well developed sphere of influence, which includes those in decision-making roles. Who knows you? Who knows of you?  What do they know?    Getting your name onto the Succession Planning list means getting known by those managing the list.  Extend your network to ensure that these people are included.  If they don't know who you are, they aren't going to be in a position to add your name to the list.

4.  Lack of Accountability.  It all comes down to Reasons and Results.  You can have reasons why you didn't accomplish something, why it wasn't your fault, why it was out of your control... or you can have results.  Organizations tend to promote those who get things done, who make things happen.  The more that you are able to demonstrate the tenacity and determination needed to move through obstacles, the more the organization will be willing to invest more in your future.  Excuses and reasons don't cut it.  They may sound reasonable but the bottom line is simply... you didn't add to the bottom line.

5.  Lack of Initiative.  If you see a problem, fix it.  Find a solution.  Don't leave it for someone else to find.  Don't bemoan the extra work that it means for you.  Don't walk away with your hands in the air claiming 'it's not my job'.  If you want that promotion then you need to be prepared to demonstrate your commitment to the success in the organization, not just your commitment to your own.  They should be linked.  Taking initiative by stepping up to the plate and assuming responsibility for something outside of your direct 'job' demonstrates a willingness to take on new challenges.  It shows a sense of ownership that is looked for in those moving up.  Note also that every new initiative that you take on becomes one more brag-bite that you get to share, strengthening your campaign and message.

Promotions are not just 'givens'.  Showing up at work and doing your job are not the sole prerequisites for moving up.  You need to demonstrate your ability to take on more, to learn, to grow, to assume responsibility, to commit.  Develop your promotional plan and then work it.  If you want greater opportunities in the future then you need to be prepared to take actions beyond what you have done to get where you are.  If you aren't prepared to do more, then you will be required to step aside for those that are.

Monday, November 24, 2014

7 Tips for your Personal Evolution

Evolution:  the gradual development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex

Evolution is not simply a theory but an active force, one that has been actively present in shaping your life since birth.  As children we embraced this evolutionary force.  It helped us to learn and to grow; to crawl and then walk, to speak, to write and to read, to ride a bike and drive a car, to play ball, to paint, to add and subtract, to swim, to ski and to sing.

When we were younger we evolved rapidly and continuously.  We were almost like sponges, soaking up new experiences, experimenting and trying new things, simply to learn something new.  This rate of evolution slowed down as we aged though, as we began creating boundaries for ourselves, restrictions and limitations on 'who' we thought we were or could be, until our growth and evolution did not become a constant but an exception.  It became ruled by choice, and so many of us, as we age, begin to choose not to grow or evolve further.

I understand that this wasn't always a conscious choice, that no one explained to us that giving in to our negative beliefs and our fears meant that we stopped evolving, that we stunted our growth, but it happened none the less.  Additionally, few of us were ever told that the more we gave in to our fears and held ourselves back from evolving further, the more we would begin devolving, becoming less.

We were all born to be 'more' though.  When young you weren't satisfied with who you were, what you knew and what you could do.  You continued to push, to learn more, to do more, to try more.  When did that slow down or stop for you?  Why?  Are you done?  Have you evolved to be the best 'you' possible?  Is there nothing left for you to discover about yourself, to learn or experience?

We are built with an infinite capacity to evolve.  We can continue to learn new things, to experience new things, to develop new skills, to uncover hidden talents until our last breath.  Why then do so many of us 'settle' along the way?  At what point did you decide that you were 'enough'?  Often it wasn't even a conscious choice. We maybe took a break, sat back and got a little too comfortable, complacency stealing over us like a warm blanket we became reluctant to kick off.

You can choose to take notice though, to remove the blanket of complacency and to begin actively making choices that jump start your evolutionary path.  Use the following suggestions to help you continue your evolutionary journey...
  1. Surround yourself with new ideas.   This may mean speaking with people unlike yourself, or reading a book or journal outside your current area of expertise.  You never know what you are likely to think about something until you put yourself into the position of needing to think about it!
  2. Recycle your beliefs about... you!  It is often our beliefs about ourselves, who we are, what we can do or what we should do, that create limitations to our growth.  Question old beliefs to uncover new ones.  You are far more capable than you likely give yourself credit for.
  3. Try things on, see what fits.  Things we may dismiss out of hand may be a better fit for us than we thought, but we won't know unless we give it a try first.  Nobody expects to 'like' raw fish, but you have to try Sushi to know for sure.  Taste it, try it, take it for a spin. The old adage 'nothing ventured, nothing gained' is your mantra here.
  4. Resist Resistance.  Still the little voice inside your head that is telling you No, that is scrambling to pull the Complacency blanket back over your head.  Expect resistance.  Embrace it and lead it forward with you, helping it learn that there's no point in resisting what you're going to do anyway.
  5. Focus on Learning, not Teaching.  Teaching is great, but if all of your energy goes to teaching then your focus is solely on 'what you know'.  Learning is all about discovering 'what you don't know'.  Learning leads to your growth, teaching leads to someone else's.  
  6. Feed your Curiosity.  One of the greatest sources of learning is our curiosity.  The more that you feed yours, rather than stifle it, the more you create a learning mindset.  Have a question about how something works?  Seek out the answer.  It doesn't matter whether it leads you to something that enhances your job prospects or not.  Train your brain to realize that it is all right, once again, to ask questions, to admit to not knowing something and to seek answers.
  7.  Choose a goal bigger than you are.  If the goals you set for yourself are all within your current level of capability then you are not required to stretch or to grow.  Choose a goal that is larger than yourself to push you to learn, grow and evolve further.  
Constant evolution should be the goal that we all strive for, to be constantly pushing ourselves to be more, to know more, to do more.  With this mindset it means that our choice is not to 'Evolve OR die trying' but instead to 'Evolve AND die trying'.  We should all end our lives with the same curiosity and dedication to growth that we entered the world with.  

Monday, November 17, 2014

Making Your Luck

My eldest son is 'lucky'.  He has won more contests and free stuff over the years than anyone I know. Most are envious of his luck, typically lamenting how they just aren't that lucky, that fate somehow hasn't treated them the same.  However I know from first hand experience that he makes his luck.

He wins more contests because he enters more contests.  If there is a chance of winning anything, he drops his card into the slot, fills out a ballot, completes an entry.  Most people I know don't do that.  They determine that it isn't something they are interested in, not something they'd use, they don't want everyone to have their contact information... and they don't 'win' as often.  In essence, you can't expect to win 'it', if you're not in it!

This discrepancy though got me to wondering about whether this same attitude relating to contests and giveaways exists within the larger context of 'luck', especially when it relates to life opportunities. According to Dr. Stephann Makri, in looking into why some people seem 'luckier' than others, serendipity is more than just an accident.  Apparently 'lucky' people all recognise opportunities that present themselves and take action on them.  In his book The Luck Factor, author Richard Wiseman concurs that some people aren't necessarily luckier than others, they are just quicker to spot and take advantage of opportunities.

There is some research supporting the view that extroverts tend to be a little luckier than others, but this is simply because they tend to engage more people and more connections tends to correlate to having more opportunities.  It stands to reason then that luck can be cultivated, we can indeed create our own luck.

The following are some key tips to help you increase your Luck Factor...

Prepare yourself for Chance.  All of the studies indicate that those considered to be lucky tend to be much more open to new opportunities.  Exposing yourself to new opportunities and perspectives increases your chances at continuing to have more opportunities.  To practice your openness begin by looking at a situation that you have an established view and opinion on and then come up with 5 plausible alternative views.  Learning to broaden our perspectives helps prevent us from closing ourselves from new opportunities too quickly.

See Serendipity everywhere.  Serendipity is described as chance encounters that lead to happy outcomes. Don't just prepare yourself for chance, begin actively seeking it out.  Serendipitous events surround us, but we have to see them in order to act upon them.  You have probably experienced them a couple of times in your life, a chance encounter with someone that connected you to an unexpected opportunity.  However, as with anything, you see more of what you attune yourself to see.  You may feel that you saw no orange cars on your drive in to work but, primed to watch for them, you see five on your drive home.  Watching for serendipity helps to see and experience more of it in your life.

Take a Break.  Although conscientiousness has its benefits, it is no true friend to serendipity.  Being too rigidly focused on the tasks at hand creates a tunnel vision that limits your ability to give chance a... well... chance.  You have to allow yourself to be a little off track and loose in your thinking sometimes to be open to 'interruptions' to the process.  As we get older it may be more difficult for us to experience 'luck' in our lives because we often become more set in our thinking and our habits of behaving.  We need to relax and loosen up a little to give room for chance to step in.

Say Yes.  When we are first faced with new opportunities our first reaction is usually a combination of Intrigue and Anxiety.  Your path is determined by which one of these feelings you give in to.  Over time, we tend to develop our habitual responses and patterns of behaviour by selecting one response more than the others.  This is why some people's path is paved with more happy coincidences and opportunities, while someone else's path is riddled with regrets and roads not taken.  Managing your fears, developing your courage, increases your 'luck'.

Embrace Failure.  Not every opportunity turns out well or works out for us the way we would have liked. However, lucky people are resilient.  They don't view failure as a reason not to try again in future, they simply learn what they can and need from the failure so they can apply those learnings to the next opportunity.  Most successful business owners have had failed businesses first.  That's what taught them what it took to be successful.

Use the above tips to strengthen the 'luck' that you experience in your life.  We get more of what we work on and for in life.  Some may describe the result as 'luck', others may see it is a the by-product of work and focus.  Gary Player, a professional golfer once said...
"The harder I practice, the luckier I get"
Cultivate and build your luck by building your awareness and openness to it.  There is no reason to simply sit back and wait for opportunity to knock.  Why not open the door and invite it in?

To check out more on this subject, and to get even more ideas on boosting your luck, check out The Luck Factor for yourself...

Monday, November 10, 2014

What Are You Waiting For?

What are you waiting for?

For Monday?
For the New Year?
For someone  to love you, notice you, admire you?
For you to be thinner, wiser, in shape, better skilled?
For the perfect moment, perfect place, perfect person?
To be perfect yourself?

We all have dreams and ideas.  We all would love for them to come to fruition.  The only thing separating us from those whose dreams become a reality... is taking action.  We have to break the habit of 'waiting' and learn to make the most of the moment we are in.  There will never be a better time.  There is a Chinese proverb that states "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.  The second best time is now."  You can get caught up in recriminations about not having taken action sooner or you can simply begin.  Now is better than never.

For many of us, our fears serve to hold us back and prevent us from fulfilling our dreams.  Two of the biggest and most common fears that limit our success are the Fear of Failure and the Fear of Rejection.  However, giving in to these fears creates hesitation and indecision instead of action.  We can learn to conquer our fears by cultivating a habit of courage, the courage to take action.

The following ideas are offered as suggestions, ideas and perspectives to help you narrow the gap between your intentions and your actions.  Use these as a guide to help you shift from inaction to action, to help in moving out of the 'waiting room'.

1.  Don't wait for 'Perfect'.  There is no perfect person, time or place. There will always be something that is not 'right'.  If you focus on what is 'missing', rather than everything that is there, you will never be satisfied and will therefore never move forward.  Focus instead on everything that is 'right' about the opportunity and your skills.  Recognise when things are 'good enough' to move forward.  Conditions will never be perfect, but they will often be good enough to get started.  Use your actions to help drive them closer to the perfection you seek.

2.  Do.  Build your confidence, your track record, your experience, and your action-taking-muscles by simply Doing-Stuff.  Taking action and getting things done is the best proof of your ability that there is.  You can't just think about doing, you need to take action. The longer that ideas sit in your head the weaker and more distant they become.  The more that you learn to take action, the easier that taking action becomes.

3.  Deal with your Fears by Taking Action.  One of the best cures for your fears is to simply push through them by taking action.  It is typically all of our 'worrying' that feeds our fears.  Taking action eliminates the worry, teaching us that things were not as bad as we had made them out to be.  A great lesson to take forward when we challenge other fears that are holding us back.

4.  Ideas Alone Don't Bring Success.  It is not your ideas that make you successful but the implementation of them.  An average idea - acted upon - will take you further than a dozen brilliant ideas that are simply taking up head space.

5.  Shift What Ifs to Why Nots.  What ifs are worries.  These are thoughts of 'what if this happens?' that hold us back.  In an effort to avoid them we fail to take action.  Instead, shift your 'what if' scenarios to 'why not' scenarios.  Why not try?  Why not you?

6.  Small Steps.  Instead of thinking of the giant step needed to shift you from here to there, break it down into small, manageable steps.  When we view 'everything', all at once, it can seem daunting.  However, look only to what you can do Now.  What is one small step that you can take - right now - that moves you forward.  Do it.  Then look for the next small step you can take... and repeat.  Every small forward step takes you closer to your goal.

You have dreams, you have ambitions, you have ideas waiting to be implemented.  There will never be a better time.  If you are not currently moving forward on fulfilling your dreams then it is time to seriously ask yourself... What am I waiting for?  Listen to the answer and then take steps to eliminate those barriers, giving you a clear path to truly achieving everything you want from your life.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Keep On Keeping On

We all have dreams.  We all have goals.  Some of us reach them, some of us don't.  

We all hit obstacles and roadblocks that deter us.  We experience setbacks and failures.  Some of us give up in the face of these challenges, some of us don't.

Often the key difference between those who 'make it', and those that don't, is simply that successful people keep on keeping on.  They see the hurdles and obstacles as simply something that needs to be overcome.  They don't allow themselves to become overwhelmed and demoralized by the challenges, they don't listen to the critics, to the armchair quarterbacks that find it easier to sit back and share 'why' something won't work rather than jumping in and helping something to succeed.  Instead, they keep their eye on the goal and find another way.

They learn from the lesson of failure, determining what didn't work and why, and fix it.  Each setback creates a stronger and better defined path to the future they envision.  It's not an easy journey.  The path is littered with the detritus of those that have walked it before but abandoned the effort along the way.  Those that didn't manage to stay the course are far too likely to help you abandon your efforts than they are to rally behind you and help keep you on your path. Having you abandon your dream helps vindicate their choice to abandon theirs.  Don't let their loss of faith cause you to lose yours.

If everyone simply gave up when things got tough then we would not have electricity, we would never have walked on the moon, we would never have broken the four minute mile; there would be no Apple, no polio vaccine, no cars.  The luxuries we enjoy today came not from people that only had a dream, but from those with the dream and the perseverance to see them through.

What path are you standing on?  Is it the path leading to the fulfillment of your dream (you know the one!) or are you standing on some side path?  The walking may be easier there but it is a path that never reaches your desired goal.  It may veer close occasionally, giving you a glimpse of the dream once again, but if you don't push through all of the scrub brush and rubble separating you, and get back on the path to your dream, you will simply continue to walk the path you're on, demoralized by the reminder of the abandoned dream.  

Perseverance is a powerful thing.  It can help us to achieve great things in our lives.  Success often comes not to those that are smarter or stronger but simply to those who keep at it a little bit longer, those that hang in and keep on trying.  

Successful people are clear about what their dream is though.  If your vision is to be a successful entrepreneur then you don't stick with a poor business concept and keep 'trying' to make that work.  Learn from that mistake and choose a better vehicle.  Many successful entrepreneurs that you speak with had many unsuccessful businesses first.  We often learn best through trial and error, but we have to recognise and learn from the attempts.  Are you learning from yours?

We all get knocked down by life.  The only thing separating those at the top, from those at the bottom, is the climb.  If you give up at any point during the climb you will not, can not, reach the summit. Those who succeed are those who simply kept moving forward, one small step at a time, knowing that doing nothing was not an option.  Sometimes, the greatest secret to achievement and Success is to simply Keep on Keeping On.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Practicing the Pitch

I have two clients right now that are in the midst of preparing their 'pitches' to potential investors.  In both cases I strongly urged them to not only practice their pitches but to videotape themselves while doing so. This is an unbelievably powerful tool that will help you to improve your delivery dramatically.  It is one thing for me to tell you what you are doing and need to change, it is another for you to see and hear it for yourself.

It is important that you see and hear your pitch from your audience's perspective.  Their receipt of your information is what will determine the action they take next, that is what you are trying to influence. You need to become familiar with the experience that you are providing them.  How did your delivery of your content make them feel, what did it make them think and what action did it make them want to take?  The better you are able to design and craft your audience's experience of  'you', the more successful you will be in influencing the result you achieve.

With the capability of videotaping from your phone, videotaping your practice sessions is more accessible than ever, and yet it is an overlooked and underutilized development tool.  It seems we don't hesitate to take thousands of videos of just about everything in life, but we hesitate to turn the camera back on ourselves. However, if you want to fast-track your improvement you need to do just that!

  • Got a big presentation coming up?  Tape and review it!
  • Looking to ask the boss for a raise?  Tape and review it!
  • Want to convince your team that they need to shift direction?  Tape and review your arguments!
  • Starting up your own new venture?  Tape and review your networking 'speeches' to ensure that you sound interesting, comfortable and confident! 
The following suggestions are offered to provide you with some direction as to what to look and listen for when reviewing your videotape.  Though not exhaustive, they will give you an idea of some of the biggest things that I look for when helping my clients to strengthen their presence and perfect their pitches.

  •  Do you sound mechanical or natural?  Most people, when faced with the pressure of preparing for an important speech or presentation, practice with the intent to learn their content.  A huge fear most of us have of public speaking is the desire not to forget everything we wanted to say!  Certainly practicing helps us to become more familiar and comfortable with our content, but do not make the mistake of believing the intent is to memorize it.  Become familiar with where you want your talk to go (the key points you want to cover) but recognise that there are many verbal paths that can take you there. Keeping the choice of words loose will give you the flexibility needed to keep your tone more conversational and will prevent you from freezing when one key word escapes you.  You'll simply choose another to fill the gap.  
  • Check for tics!  Do you have any repetitive nervous habits (verbal or physical) that are distracting your audience from your true message?  These could include the notorious Ums and Uhs, but could also be other repetitive catch phrases (the overuse of the word So at the beginning of sentences seems to be huge right now), small body jerks, head tosses, lip smacks, nose sniffs, finger flicks... you get the idea.  We all have them, but you aren't likely to know what yours are, or hope to control them, until you see and hear them for yourself.  
  • Monitor your pace.  When people get nervous they tend to speed up.  Everything.  They start speaking faster and, because our bodies tend to keep pace with our voices, they move faster too. This will appear nervous and anxious to your audience.  You want to speak and move with a smooth comfortable deliberateness.  Everything is targeted toward your audience.  You need to deliver your message at a speed that enhances your audience's receipt and understanding of the messages.  Too fast and you are too much work to listen to and your audience will shut down.  Too slow and you are also too much work, they'll tune you out.  
  • Give 'em time to get it.  You need to build pauses into your talk, small moments where you give the audience time to 'get' what you are saying, to catch up to what has gone before and to be fully present for what is to come.  Comedians (the good ones anyway!) know, understand and use the pause. They can't simply deliver a punchline, they must follow it with a pause that allows the audience to fully process and experience the content, to 'get it', before moving on.  Rushing the audience means that they don't have a chance to think through what you've shared and react to it.  The content falls flat. Pauses build in small moments that allow your audience to begin to feel something.  If you are looking to move your audience, don't rush your pauses.  
  • Where are you looking?  You need to connect with and draw your audience into your pitch, which means you have to look at them. As much as we have our own agenda for why we are speaking, we need to suspend it while we are speaking.  The moment that we make it all about our audience, the easier it is to remain connected.  However, when we shift our thinking to focus instead on ourselves we tend to go into our heads to do so.  This results in a physical withdrawal from our audience, which tends to negatively impact our eye contact first, with other body and voice cues following.
  • Show 'em your hands.  We tend to trust people more when we can see their hands.  Keep your hands visible and centered, holding them loosely right about belly button level, gesturing outward from there. Dropping the hands down at your sides will drop your energy, taking your audience's interest with them.  Your hands are great tools to help you to draw your audience into what you are saying and can help emphasize, clarify and strengthen your message.  Smooth, controlled movements, rather than short, sharp or jerky, is what you are aiming for.  If you are selling, not telling, then make more of your gestures from the palms up perspective.  Palms up is collaborative while palms down is directive. There is a place for both but if you are seeking something from your audience, you are in sales-mode, then your palms should be facing upward or toward each other, more than they are facing downward.
  • Smile.  When we get nervous we tend to stop smiling.  However, our smile is a powerful universal gesture than can be used to help us to connect with others and to convey our confidence.  Though you may be delivering a very serious message, you will likely find that there are still a couple of opportunities within which you can share a smile with your audience, if only when you are first greeting them and when thanking them for their time. 
Use the above points to help you to review your video.  Highlight which areas need a tweak or adjustment and then try it again.  The accessibility to video has made it easier than ever to gain important feedback on your delivery and yet few use it.  Those that do (which now hopefully includes you) will therefore have a strong and distinct advantage.  Practice and perfect your pitch and see for yourself the impact that it has on your success rate.  

Monday, October 20, 2014

It's a Matter of Moments

Our lives are a series of Moments strung together like one bead following another on a cord.  Most
moments in our lives don't stand out and remain indistinguishable from those that preceded it, or even from those that follow.

There are 'those' moments we experience though, that are memorable.  Moments that stand out in our minds, our memories and our hearts.  When we string these moments together, the moments that 'matter', we begin to shape and define our lives.  These are the moments that give meaning to the life we are living and that influence the choices we will make for the life we will live in the future.  Our perspective on what matters therefore, is critical in giving definition to how we view our lives and how we continue to live them.

As much as we typically assume that our memory is nothing but a direct recall of events as they were, it is important to recognise that our memory is driven by our choices.  Our memory of an event is shaped by 'How' we choose to remember an event and even by 'What' we choose to remember about it.  Our interpretation of an event then serves to influence the way we view it and, ultimately, how we remember it...

  • as good or bad
  • in joy or sorrow
  • in pride or shame
  • as loss or gain
  • in anger or forgiveness
  • as experience or failure
It is our choice that shapes the moments we preserve and that, in turn, shape the story of our lives.

If you don't like the story you are telling then choose different moments.  Many of us have inadvertently allowed others to select our moments for us, giving a shape to our stories that doesn't serve us and that we do not want to be defined by.  If so, then it is time to invest in ourselves and spend the time in redefining our lives, by restringing our moments.

Take mental scissors to your string of moments, cutting away those moments that don't serve the 'you' that you know yourself to be, the you that you want to be.  Invest the time to recall moments that support this desired view, moments that are empowering, pride-filled and heart-felt.  Choose moments of joy and triumph, moments of love and giving, but also moments of challenge and adversity, sorrow and loss.  

We learn much about ourselves through how we are tested.  Choose moments in which you dealt with your loss, overcame adversity, pushed further that you thought possible or pulled yourself back up out of despair.  These too are moments to be remembered and treasured.  

String together moments that define the true you, your humour, your strength, your passion, your honour, your sensitivity, your courage, your vulnerability, your tenderness, your openness, your creativity, your curiosity, your weaknesses, your humanity.  String together moments that tell the story of you and wear these moments with pride.

Our lives are a series of moments, strung together.  Choose the moments that matter to you, to define a life that matters... to you.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Feeding Your Performance

Your performance on the job is a factor of many variables.  Do you know what to do?  Do you know how to do it?  Do you have the necessary skills to do it?  Is training and support provided?  Are you capable of learning it?  Are you interested in learning it?  All of these elements will influence your performance and productivity.

Additionally, we know that your physical health is also associated with your performance; those in good physical health tend to out-perform those who are not.  Let's face it, to get things done you have to have the energy to do it.  But we also need to have the right mental mindset to get things done, which means that your mental health and well-being is also a key factor in determining your success, in life and at work.

New studies published from the University of Warwick Medical School demonstrate a high correlation between the amount of fruit and vegetables consumed and your level of Mental Well-Being.  Yes, it turns out that your mother was right to admonish you to eat your vegetables.  In a study with over 14,000 people they determined that those participants deemed to have a high level of mental well-being consumed more fruit and vegetables each day than did their low mental well-being counterparts.  In fact, of those classified as High on the mental well-being scale, 33.5% consumed 5+ fruit and vegetables per day and 31.4% ate 3-4 portions.  Those in the low well-being group typically consumed little to none.

It seems that, along with not smoking, eating fruit and vegetables is the behaviour most consistently associated with maintaining a high degree of mental well-being.

If you consider that previous studies have forged a firm link between low mental well being and mental illness and mental health problems, then we definitely want to ensure that we fall on the opposite end of the scale.

High mental health and well-being is associated with feelings of optimism, positivity, happiness, higher self-esteem and better relationships.  These are all typical characteristics of high-performers. Top athletes know that they need to consume the right fuel for their bodies if they want it to perform at its peak, but they also know that their success is determined as much by their 'mental game' as their physical.  However, as it turns out, eating right for their physical conditioning already helps them improve their mental game.

For those of us that aren't requiring our bodies to 'perform' for us at that level, we may not be as consciously focused on the connection between our diet and our on-the-job performance. Research such as the above makes it clear that what we fuel ourselves with each day not only has an impact on our physical capabilities but our mental capabilities as well.

Really, as it turns out it is quite a simple equation.  Do you want to be happy?  Eat your broccoli!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Upping your Charisma Quotient

Think of the word Charismatic.  
Compile a list of  famous people that you find charismatic. Typical people topping the lists of my clients include: Bill Clinton, Steve Jobs, John F. Kennedy, Oprah Winfrey, Winston Churchill, Dalai Lama, Margaret Thatcher, Martin Luther King Jr., Pierre Trudeau, Mandela, and even people like Hitler, Charles Manson, Fidel Castro and Saddam Hussein.  These are all people that had a self image that drew others to them.  Their charisma helped them to build the powerbase needed to influence and change; and there is no question that each of them has been instrumental in evoking change, whether good or bad.

Many of us may be looking at strengthening our influence, though at a much smaller level. Strengthening our Charisma Quotient could be instrumental in helping us to do just that.  After over a half century of study it has been determined that Charisma can be measured and it can be improved.  Rare footage of Hitler shows him practicing his gestures in front of a mirror, perfecting his movements to increase his ability to move and influence a crowd.  With some practice, you too can become more charismatic.

Charisma itself is a combination of two factors: your Emotional Intelligence and your Social Intelligence.  To truly increase your quotient you need to create strength on both sides in three key areas: Expressiveness, Sensitivity and Control.

  • Emotional Expressiveness means that you are able to express your emotions to others.  You appear  animated and energetic and engage in positive eye contact with others.   
  • Social Expressiveness requires you to actively engage others during social interactions, making small talk and putting others at ease.
  • Emotional Sensitivity means that you are able to read the emotions of others, to understand what they are feeling, and to feel and express your empathy.
  • Social Sensitivity means that you understand the social and cultural rules, the nuances of situations, and are able to modify your behaviour to fit within these parameters.  This requires you to be a good listener and observer of behaviour.
  • Emotional Control requires you  to control your outward emotional responses and expressions.  Think of those in power who are able to look outwardly calm during crisis situations, regardless of how they are feeling.
  • Social Control means that you appear poised, comfortable and at ease in social situations, regardless of how you feel.
If you are looking to improve your Charisma Quotient, start by looking at any of the 6 keys areas described above and improving your skill in that area.  The benefit of course is that strengthening your skill in any of these areas will also help you in other aspects of your career and life.  Becoming better at small talk may help strengthen your Social Expressiveness but will also help you to grow and extend your network faster.  Learning to control your outward emotional responses will help you to appear more confident and in control which may be just enough to secure that new contract or opportunity.  Any positive gain in your Charisma Quotient will have a positive impact in your interactions with others and help maximize your success.


Monday, September 29, 2014

8 Top Mistakes that could Derail your Career

You arrive on time.  You work hard.  You get your job done.  You are pleasant to co-workers.  You aren't being promoted.  You don't get it.

If you're looking for some answers to the 'why did they get promoted and I didn't' question, maybe it's time to focus less on what you are doing, and more on what you're not.  Mistakes can cost you.  Sure, failing to hit your targets over and over is a mistake that is fairly easy to catch, however there may be other mistakes you are making that you are overlooking.  

The following is a list of 8 Top Mistakes that could Derail your Career:
  1. Confusing Actions for Results.  Too many people make the mistake of measuring their worth by taking a look at how busy they are, rather than by the results they achieve.  Results have value.  Getting caught up in activities that don't move you or the organization forward may make you appear busy over the course of the day but they don't do much to help you get ahead.
  2. Only doing Your Job.  Show you are ready and interested in more by doing more.  Going beyond demonstrates to others that you have a capacity to take on more responsibility - which is much more likely to lead to them giving it to you than simply 'doing what you're paid to do' will.
  3. Not taking Advantage of Learning Opportunities.  Many organizations have internal training resources, online programs and libraries that few employees take advantage of.  However, if you are looking for the company to invest further in you, you should first demonstrate your willingness to invest in yourself.  Successful senior leaders are constantly upgrading their worth by investing in their knowledge-base.  Being 'too busy' to take advantage of learning opportunities available to you will tend to be seen as more of a lack of interest than as a lack of time... especially if you seem to be well versed on the latest installments of new TV shows.
  4. Not Networking.  It is important that you get to know others within the organization, not just those in your immediate vicinity.  Don't spend all your time at your desk; look for opportunities to create connections with others from other areas and disciplines.  Learn the business through them.  Keep up with your connections outside of the organization also, maintaining your insight into what and how other corporations are managing.
  5. Tying Yourself to the Wrong Kite.  Many people will attempt to align themselves closely to a high flyer, in the hopes of taking advantage of their growth and opportunities.  However, tie yourself to the wrong kite and their fall could also be yours.  Being supportive of everyone's growth, not just the superstar, speaks of professionalism and fairness, likely leading to greater longevity.
  6. Feeding the Gossip Mill.  Don't trash-talk others if you don't want the same in return.  Focus on promoting a positive work environment rather than feeding into the negativity.  It's a pretty simple call... if you wouldn't want someone saying it about you, then don't say it about someone else!  Professionalism gets promoted, not petty behaviour.
  7. Displaying an Addiction to Social Media/Cell Phone.  You need to demonstrate your commitment to your job and company, not staying in touch with friends.  No one believes that your constantly staring at your cell phone is all work related.  No one.  You will be viewed as wasting time and your 'busyness' will be seen as an outcome of that. 
  8. Maintain Professional Relationships.  You spend a lot of time at work, which means you may spend more time with many co-workers than you do some members of your family. However, this time can create a casualness in our relationships with coworkers that leads us to forget the environment we are in.  It's still business.  More careers have been derailed by slips in this area than any other.  It should go without saying that inappropriate and intimate relationships with others in the office, getting drunk at business functions, getting caught up in emotional drama at work or having a temper tantrum will all influence how others perceive you and your potential for growth.  Thinking you need to grow up is not likely to help you move up.
 It is all about perceived value.  If you are not viewed as adding value then you, in turn, will not be valued... or promoted.  

Monday, September 22, 2014

7 Ways to Become more Decisive

Not everyone is born decisive, able to make choices in life with little input of information or opinions from others.  Some...
  • agonize over the details
  • lose sleep over the potential impact of each alternative
  • get caught up in the analysis of the issues
and... lose time and energy to the process.  As a result, decisions get put off.  Sometimes this is a good thing while at other times it comes with a cost.

It's a fact that some habits come more easily to some of us than others.  We may find ourselves struggling to do something that seems to come naturally for others.  (those of you that can virtuously look at anything chocolate and say NO for instance!) However, there are ways and means for the rest of us to improve upon our more natural inclinations.  When it comes to Decisions, try using the following ideas to help you become more decisive in your life.
  1. Don't Sweat the Small Stuff.  We all have a limited amount of willpower each day.  Drawing upon yours for things that don't matter depletes it.  Over the course of the day, it can serve to exhaust your reservoirs, leaving you short for the bigger decisions that are sure to follow. Save your energy and focus on the bigger issues, reserving your mental resources for those. When we allow ourselves to get  distracted by the little things we tend to lose sight of what is truly important to us and then get completely immobilized by anything bigger that hits our plate. Learning to let the smaller stuff go leaves you better prepared to face those larger issues more quickly and decisively.
  2. Will this Matter a Year from Now?  Let's face it, it is going to be far easier to say don't sweat the small stuff than it is to actually let go of things.  To help you determine 'what' to let go of sooner ask yourself... Will this matter a year from now?  If it won't, let it go.  If it isn't something that is going to have a long-term impact on your life, then it isn't a decision that should be taking up a lot of your brain space.
  3. Know Your Values.  Be clear about what is important to you.  Decisions are easier to make when you have something to measure them against.  If you are clear about your values then you can evaluate your decisions by determining which choice best supports your values and choose it.  As Roy Disney once said... "When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier".
  4. Use your Back Burner.  Not all of our decisions require our full attention NOW!  Shift some of your decisions to your back burner, allowing your unconscious mind to begin putting together facts and data, forming your decision for you.  Not every decision is urgent and requires an immediate response.  When it is not critical that you decide right away, allow your back burner to work for you while you focus on those issues simmering away on the front burner of your brain.   
  5. Give your Gut some Credit.  Sometimes, when faced with indecision, you should just go with your gut.  Your unconscious mind speaks to you through your gut.  You may not know why you are feeling what you are but if it is a strong feeling, and you need to make a decision now, go with your gut and figure it out later.  Our unconscious mind often knows things before our conscious mind is able to make sense of it.  If you must make a decision before the conscious brain has figured things out - go with your gut.
  6. Use a Decision Matrix.  You can use a structured approach to some of your decisions, though I suggest pulling out the matrix for the big ones you face, not when trying to decide what you want for breakfast!  For this you evaluate your decision choices against key criteria you have pre-established.  The criteria should include anything that is important to you, but likely is a list containing all your top values, major goals, family, physical, spiritual, emotional impacts, etc. Assign a value from 1-10 for each criteria, for each decision option, indicating how well each option meets/fulfills that criteria, 1 being not at all and 10 being fully.  Add up the scores, for each decision option, across all the criteria you established.  Highest score typically indicates your best option.
  7. Flip a coin. Yes, some people make their decisions this way, allowing fate to decide for them. This is not what I am suggesting however.  To gain insight from the coin toss proceed as you would normally, assigning each option to either head or tails and then toss the coin in the air.  Pay attention to what you are hoping the outcome will be, before the coin lands.  Typically our thoughts, while the coin is in the air, will reveal to us what our preferred decision is.  

Monday, September 15, 2014

Do We Need to Love What We Do?

We are often told that the greatest success comes to those that are doing what they love.  The
implication being of course that not loving what you do is somehow less, that you are never going to achieve success if the 'love' of your work escapes you.  This leads some to become demoralized about their work and still others to launch a lifelong quest to find that elusive 'thing' that they must love working at.  However, since many of us don't seem to be working at jobs that we love, it begs the question...

Do we Need to love what we do?

Even if you are currently working at something that you do love doing, there have likely been many jobs in the past that you were far less enthusiastic about.  Think about the first part-time job that you had as a teenager.  It likely wasn't work that you loved, but you probably loved having a job, having your own money to save or spend as you willed.  For me... working as a dishwasher in a pizza parlour was not my desired or ideal work, but having a part time job was the opportunity I was after.  I was excited to go to work not because I loved the work itself, but I loved the opportunity to prove myself, to develop my skills and... to get paid!

The message for those who are currently working in jobs they don't love (and you know who you are!) consider the following...

You don't have to love it.  Instead, learn to love the opportunity.

  • What new people are you getting the opportunity to meet.  One may become a friend for life. One may teach you something new.  Another may connect you to your next big opportunity. 
  • What new skills are you learning that can set you up for your next opportunity?  Don't overlook the value of developing your skills.  Push yourself to take full advantage of everything your current opportunity has to offer, never knowing exactly where and when you will need it, but knowing it is yet another skill in your personal toolkit.  It's portable.
  • What opportunities is this job providing for you outside of work?  Perhaps it's a means to an end.  This job is giving you the peace of mind and the income needed to enable you to pursue a hobby and passion that could perhaps represent your next opportunity.  Recognise and value your current job for what it provides.
  • What are you learning about yourself that helps build your confidence and open you to future opportunities?  Sometimes we need to build the base before we can start the climb.
  • What has this opportunity provided you and your family?  Not loving the job is not always necessary if you love its effect upon your life.  
Before you get discouraged, thinking that everyone but you is engaged in work that they love, remember that you just need to recognise and love the opportunity you have been given. Consider the following quote from the great Jim Rohn...

You might not like the stone you are on right now, but it's sure to be one of the stones that leads to great opportunities in the future.
It is not always finding work we love that leads us to success in life, but rather recognising the opportunities we have been given and taking full advantage of what we have.  Those open to learning from every opportunity are those that will grow, enjoying the journey as much as the destination.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Authenticity - More than a Buzzword

From 'Authentic' taste to 'Authentic' fit, the word Authentic is fast becoming overused hype.  Our cookies have authentic flavours, our clothing is described as authentic cotton, celebrities are touted to be authentic heroes, authentic athletes, actors and leaders.  The word authentic is quickly becoming so overused that it is in danger of losing all meaning or relevance.

However, as with all buzzwords, it has at its heart an important  message; that we have a desire, if not a need, for truth in our lives.  We're tired of being misled, of products being misrepresented and of people being photo-shopped beyond all reality.  We are looking for truth in advertising and truth in our relationships.  We want the people we interact with to be 'the real deal', to be what they portray.

How difficult can it be for us to be... well... us?

As it turns out, being Authentic is not easy.  We have spent an inordinate amount of our lives learning how to be what others want and expect of us.  Our personal truth does not work for all people and we therefore have learned to hide, hold back or massage our truth in an effort to fit better with the truth of others.  We have invested soheavily in trying to be all things to all people that we have lost touch with our authentic self, our personal truth.

In order to learn to be more Authentic, we must first give ourselves permission to be imperfect, to be vulnerable, to be courageous, to be worthy... just as we are. If learning to be our true selves is the goal, then we must start by believing that it is enough.  If others are not accepting of that then we need to acknowledge  the fault rests in them, not in our truth.  Our truth needn't grow to fit other's expectations of us but, rather, we need to grow enough to learn to fit our truth.

Being Authentic requires daily practice.  It requires us to be more mindful of US.  Who are we really?  What do we want?  What do we like?  What do we dislike?  What are our strengths, our weaknesses, our hopes, our dreams, our inspirations?  The more that we come to know ourselves, the more we can be ourselves.
"You must be the person you have never had the courage to be."  Paulo Coelho
In order to learn to be more authentic we need to try holding ourselves accountable to our truths.  When we find ourselves compromising on our truths we need to question 'why'.  Are we doing it on behalf of someone or something else?  How much do they/it matter to us in comparison to our truths?  If we are willing to compromise our personal truths - are they truly our truths or simply wannabe reflections of the person we think we should be, or want to be, not the true us?  Compromising our truths tells us a good deal about who we really are help us to gain greater clarity.  Sometimes, in practicing our authenticity, we gain greater insight concerning our authentic selves.

Although the word Authentic may be nothing more than a buzzword, taking the time to learn to be more authentic in our relationships and interactions with others may serve to reinforce just what made the concept so buzz-worthy in the first place.

Monday, September 1, 2014

To-Do or Anti-To-Do (Lists that is!)

We are all very familiar with the concept of the ubiquitous To-Do list.  This is a standard part of any work-day, the recording of those must-do items for the day.  Although its primary purpose is to keep us on track, to provide us with a constant reminder of what we hope to accomplish during the day, it also serves as a reinforcement tool.  That small rush of pleasure we receive when we cross an item off our list, the surge of joy we feel when we actually manage to complete everything before day's end all contribute to our feeling of productivity and accomplishment.

However, the reverse is also true.  When our day has finished long before our list is completed we can experience a sense of frustration and label the day unproductive.  Too many of those days can lead us to feeling as though we are unsuccessful, that we will never reach that big goal or fulfill that dream.  This is where the Anti-To-Do list steps in.  Unlike your To-Do list, which is built at the start of your day detailing all that you want/need/intend to accomplish, the Anti-To-Do list is built over the course of the day, serving as a record of everything that you DO accomplish.

The Anti-To-Do list is a tool used by the likes of Marc Andreessen, founder of Netscape, Opsware, Ning and Andreessen Horowitz, a guy who knows how to get things done.  He uses the Anti-To-Do list to prevent his falling into the trap of not feeling productive at the end of the day.  The Anti-To-Do list reflects everything that he did manage to complete, even though it might not be everything that was on his To-Do list.
Most ambitious people tend to determine their success by measuring their progress towards the achievement of their goals.  Their daily To-Do list is a big part of this process, helping to outline steps that must be taken that day toward achieving those goals.  But, we do many things each day that are NOT on that list and that therefore get overlooked as a result.  Leaving things uncrossed by the end of the day can cause us to feel frustrated and demoralized, which can stall our forward momentum.  However, we can balance this off by then looking at our Anti-To-Do list, upon which we recorded anything useful that we did over the course of the day.  We are able to see that we actually accomplished many more things than we were previously giving ourselves credit for, helping us to see our capability and contribution.

The Anti-To-Do list can actually help us to feel more productive, by highlighting just how much we actually got done each day.  The more productive we feel the more productive we'll be.  There are some additional benefits to the Anti-To-Do list though, that may not be immediately apparent.  Maintaining a list of all the useful things you accomplish each day may also serve to point out where you consistently keep getting pulled off track from completing your To-Do list.  You may be helping others out, but if you are continuously completing tasks for someone else, you may find that they are the reason you are not getting more done on your list... you're busy crossing things off of theirs!

The To-Do list, though a helpful productivity tool, has become an unconsciously powerful measure of our success.  Using the Anti-To-Do list helps us to broaden our perspective on what constitutes progress toward the big goal of 'success', and is therefore a key factor in helping to build momentum toward its achievement. Mindset is everything; the more productive we feel, the more productive we will be.  Giving ourselves credit for everything we accomplish each day, not just what we have managed to cross off our To-Do list, may prove to be the motivational tool needed to get more crossed off our To-Do list!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Defining Leadership

There are seemingly as many definitions of leadership as there are Leadership gurus.  We hire for it, train for it, strive for it... all without truly having clarity over what 'it' is.  I often am told by 'Leaders' within corporations that although they may not be able to clearly articulate what Leadership is, that they 'know it when they see it'. However, this nebulous target does not prove helpful for those seeking to develop and strengthen their leadership abilities.

Turning to the dictionary for help we find this definition of Leadership...
"Act of leading a group of people or organization"
Not a particularly helpful definition when you consider that it is attempting to define a term through the use of the same term.  If I don't understand what Leadership is all about, I likely don't understand the term leading. I do, however, like the inclusion of others in the definition.

Warren Bennis once defined leadership in this way...
" Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality"
I like the thought that leaders help to clarify a vision, to help turn it into something more tangible and achievable.  Leadership is purposeful.  However, clarifying the vision is not enough.  If people don't act upon that vision then gaining clarity has not proved 'enough' in truly benefiting an organization.

So far then we know that Leadership involves others, that it doesn't happen in a vacuum.  Additionally, we have determined that Leadership is necessary for shifting us from where we are, to where we want and need to be.  Another component I feel is an integral part of true leadership is highlighted in the following quote, by Bill Bradley...
"Leadership is unlocking people's potential to become better"
The important element to consider here is that true Leaders aren't simply using the existing skills of those around them, in the achievement of a goal, but are also developing and growing them.  Leaders help others thrive.  Often, some make the mistake of assuming that Leadership is a function of position, that a formal title immediately bestows upon the wearer the mantle of Leadership.  Take the following quote from Chester Bernard for example...
"Leadership is the ability of a superior to influence the behavior of a subordinate or group and persuade them to follow a particular course of action"
True Leadership though has nothing to do with position, title or seniority within an organization.  It does, however, have a great deal to do with influence.  You can use your positional power to direct the actions of others, but they are merely doing as they have been told.  Leaders use their influence to inspire the actions of others such that they choose to follow the desired course the leader has set.  Managers will use their positional power while Leaders will influence and inspire.

In establishing our definition of Leadership we have thus determined that..

  • Leadership involves others
  • Leadership helps to clarify a vision, it is purposeful, with an intended outcome
  • Leadership helps to unlock the potential of others, maximizing their efforts
  • Leadership uses influence and not position to motivate and inspire
Taken together we are left with the following definition...
"Leadership is the art of influencing others in such a way as to maximize their efforts toward the achievement of a specific vision"
Right now... this is working for me.  It seems to include the critical elements highlighted above but... your thoughts and input are always welcome.  Share with me below your comments about the article or your favourite Leadership quote!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Overcoming Communicational Roadblocks

You're in a meeting, charged with developing a solution to a very real business issue.  There are two ideas tabled and two different factions representing each idea.  The past 45 minutes have been spent with each group pushing their idea forward and no forward movement being made.

Sound familiar?

This is a common scenario we face, both within our business and personal lives, where people get so caught up in their point of view that they fail to truly listen to the views of another or to seek a common solution.  It ends up becoming a push to determine who is 'right' rather than finding the best result.  This creates conflict, can lead to resentment and hard feelings, all of which serve to create roadblocks to working effectively in future.

The best action that you can take, when you find yourself on one side of the two-sided argument is to stop, take a breath... and listen.  We get so caught up in our wants, needs, opinions that we typically stop truly listening to what the other party is actually saying.  We begin focusing on being heard and end up shutting down our hearing, let alone our bid to understand. If you are looking to reach a resolution, and not just push your agenda forward, then listening is the way out.  The following tips will help you to break through the one-sided dialogues taking place and shift back into having a conversation about the issue.

1.  Look at the other party and make eye contact.  Once we shift our focus on ourselves - our solution, our desired outcome, our needs - our eyes tend to shift also.  It is difficult to convince someone that we care about what they need and want if we are not even looking at them.  We unconsciously direct our upper torso and eyes toward what we are interested in.  Show your interest in what others have to say by angling your upper body and eyes toward them.

2.  If you feel that you are not being heard... then chances are good that you are not listening.  If you feel that the other party is not paying attention to your points, odds are that you have also shut them down and are not listening fully to what they have to say.  Opening yourself to truly listening to them will demonstrate the behaviour you want and expect from them.  Listen first.  You can't expect someone to show you the respect and courtesy you expect without also engaging in it!

3.  Take notes.  Not only does taking notes indicate to the other party that you are paying attention to what they are saying but it also helps you to stay focused.  This is helpful if you tend to have an unruly mind that wants to wander off sometimes, but it is always helpful in highlighting to the other party that you have a desire to capture their key points.

4.  Focus on what you agree on.  We get caught up in our differences.  However, only focusing on the areas of difference makes them appear far larger then they typically are.  By focusing on what areas you agree on, you build some commonality which serves to put the areas of difference into perspective.  You may find that the few things you disagree on are more easily overcome when you realize that they are not as all encompassing as once believed.

5.  Create mental pictures.  By trying to form a mental picture of what the other person is saying, you will find that you listen with more intent and focus.  This not only helps you to appear more interested and open to them, but helps you to pick up a level of detail that you might otherwise have overlooked.

6.  Listen with the intent to understand, not overcome.  You are not listening to what someone has to say only so that you can refute each point.  Listen to understand the other person's position, their unspoken concerns, and  what is truly important to them.  It is through that you will be able to find a solution to fit all needs.
I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I'm going to learn, I must do it by listening.     Larry King

Monday, August 11, 2014

3 Step Formula for Promoting & Selling Your Ideas

One sure-fire way to being seen as adding value to any organization is to come up with ideas that others can't wait to implement.  However, having a great idea is not enough.  If you aren't able to get others on board with your idea then it will languish under your bed with the other great ideas collecting dust.

Great ideas don't come into being all on their own.  Not everyone is as quick to recognise a good idea when they see and hear it, primarily because they have to wade through all of the garbage that exists standing in the way.  Just as a new song you hear may not be your favourite the very first time you hear it, because it is unfamiliar, you can grow to love it with a few more playings. Help your ideas take root by doing the same.
Good ideas are common - what's uncommon are people who'll work hard enough to bring them about.            Ashleigh Brilliant

In order to help you gain the acceptance and recognition that your idea deserves I have pulled together the top 3 strategies you need to employ to get it heard, get it remembered, and get it adopted.

1.  Pre-Sell.  It is rare that people automatically and immediately jump on new ideas.  Often they need a little time for the idea to percolate.  To give your ideas time to take root in the minds, if not the hearts, of your audience run some of the basics of the idea past them prior to the meeting.  Giving them time to think it through a little helps them to work through some of their hesitation.  Consider also being strategic about courting some influencers.  Think about who around the upcoming meeting room table has a strong influence over others and work to pre-sell them.  Let them know that you value their opinion and you'd like to bounce an idea past them.  Working through their objections and getting them on board means that you have a supporter around the table that will help you to sell the idea when it's time.

2.  Make the idea Familiar.  The more 'different' your idea the bigger the resistance you will likely encounter.  Most people do not go out of their way to embrace change.  Build some familiarity into your idea.  Highlight some of the things that are staying the same, rather than simply emphasizing everything that will change.  Most nay-sayers are objecting to the perceived size of the 'change' required, not the idea itself.   Create a link to something that others know well, perhaps using an analogy, a catch-phrase or a simile. Likening your idea to something others are already familiar with helps them to feel more comfortable with the idea and the idea to feel instantly more 'doable'.  The more comfortable and familiar your idea feels the more likely they are to say yes.

3.  After Sell.  Don't think that just because an idea isn't immediately accepted that it is dead in the water. Court people after the fact.  Identify their objections.  Ask them... 'If we were able to address this concern would you be on board?"... and then fix it.  You can re-pitch your  idea once you have developed solutions to the objections that were raised.  Courting people before you do assures you of gaining their acceptance. Once they say that they will be on board with your idea if you can address the issue they raised, it is difficult for them to continue to object once you've fixed it, without appearing to be contrarian.

Don't worry about people stealing your ideas.  If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats.      Howard Aiken
Use this 3-Step process to help your ideas to stand out and gain acceptance.  Investing a little more time in ensuring their success helps assure you of yours!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Having a Seat at the Table: Not the Same as Having a Voice

Women talk more than  men.


In fact, this is simply a socialized belief.  We are socialized into believing that women talk more than they actually do.  This is a well-documented Listener Bias, where we 'believe' something that is not truly happening.  The fact is that, in mixed groups, men speak 75% of the time, meaning that women speak roughly about a quarter of the time.  This is a significant difference, especially given that most hold a belief that is counter to this.  The implications of this are significant for women, especially in the workforce.

If men are speaking 3 times more often than a woman is, then men gain three times the visibility.  A definite plus when it comes to promotional opportunities.  Numerous studies show that young girls are interrupted twice as often as young boys.  This pattern of interruptions serves to teach our young women that what they have to say is not as important and not as interesting.  It teaches them not to speak up, leaving the floor and the opportunities for men to pursue.

In the Courtroom, which we hope to be as unbiased an arena as possible, more female testimonies are interrupted that men's.  Interruptions of this nature lead others (including the jury) to discount the value of the content being shared, or to view the source as being less credible.  Doctors are more likely to interrupt their female patients, giving them less time to speak about their health issues, and female physicians are more likely to be interrupted by their patients than are their male counterparts.

Interruptions are an important insight into position and power.  Being granted your 'turn' to speak is not just about providing you with an opportunity to voice your thoughts, but is also a signal about your 'right' to speak.  It is about importance, significance and value.

Study after study demonstrates a strong bias to exclude and diminish the female voice around the table. (even on Twitter, where male posts are re-posted twice more often as women's posts)  Therefore, even if you have managed to hold a seat around that executive table, you still need to consciously work at gaining a voice. The further challenge, of course, is that in order to be heard women end up modifying their socialized mode of speech in order to 'speak like a man'.  However, women who master that skill too well receive push back for being too aggressive.  Therefore, on top of all the other skills necessary to succeed in business today, women also have the additional need to be Gender Bi-lingual.  They must be balanced in speaking both female and male-speak.

How then do we find ways to gain a voice around that important table?  Well, ideally, we modify some of the socialized beliefs and behaviours.

  • We stop interrupting young girls in schools.  They are interrupted twice as often as are boys, teaching them that their thoughts are not as valued, effectively shutting them down and out.  
  • Stop telling little girls to be 'good' little girls, to stop interrupting others, to wait their turn and praising our little boys for taking charge and speaking up.  The double standard exists because we ingrain it into our children.  We need to be consistent with the messages we are sending if we want our girls to be valued for their thoughts and contributions and less for being nice.
On the job we need to...
  • Provide support for those that lack the ability to be heard as readily as others, finding comfortable ways for them to share.  
  • Deal with interruptions directly, allowing others to finish their thoughts.  "Excuse me, but XX was still speaking.  Please let them finish and we'll then return to your thought".  Don't stand by and allow someone else's voice to be stolen.
  • Avoid using tag questions (...don't you agree?) and disclaimers (It's just my opinion but... I could be mistaken but... This may sound strange but...) which weaken your position
  • Avoid using uptalk, that upward inflection that makes it sound like you are questioning what you are saying.
  • Learn to feel comfortable with clearly stating our position and needs. This may not always feel 'safe' but it is always honest and is more likely to get you what you want/need.
  • Consciously work to balance the desire to be liked with the need to be heard, lest being liked wins out at the cost of our credibility.
Learning to handle interruptions and gain a voice around the table may not immediately seem like a critical skill to develop but we know that being heard around the table is synonymous with developing your credibility, perceived level of competence, personal power and positional leadership.  Often promotions get derailed over these seemingly non-critical things. Build your presence more strategically and consciously.   Don't mistake showing up with speaking up.