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The Coaches Corner

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We all see signs along the road so often that we take them for granted – Stop, School Crossing, Merge Right.  We react out of habit and do as instructed… most of the time. There are other signs that we see all the time that – let’s be honest – we completely ignore, like the speed limit.

 

Daily life is the same way.  We become so wrapped up in the busyness of everyday events that we begin to take for granted things that are “always” there – the roof over our heads, a full meal, our job, our family.   Then something happens – an illness, a corporate layoff, a hurricane, a relationship breakup.  Suddenly life’s essentials return to the forefront of our focus.  Why is it that we wait until a dire situation to appreciate all that we have?  What other signals might we be missing?

 

The objective of this series is to help us read the signs along the way to keep us from slipping into complacency about the fundamental, yet most important parts of our lives.   We’ll focus on the road signs of life that help us avoid the ditches of relationships gone awry, an accident with our health or a collision at work.  Maybe we can even avoid some fender benders with our kids.

 

As you drive down the road during the next few days, pay attention to the signs that you notice and try to think of some you take for granted or overlook.  Check in next Monday for the first topic on Rest Area.

Last week I attended the Global Leadership Summit, which once again was an amazing experience with incredible and inspiring leaders.   The Summit is an annual event for me as I invest in my own leadership development.  One of the speakers was Erwin McManus, a designer, businessman and pastor who always leaves me reflecting on life.

 

McManus’s message was about fear.  He believes that we have a fear in us that we’ll live and die without every realizing our full potential.  Interesting thought…what is it that holds us back from realizing our full potential?

 

  1. A limited view of ourself? How much time do you invest in telling yourself why things can’t happen rather than why they can.
  2. Surrounded by discouragers? Who we spend time with impacts our attitudes.  Surround yourself with encouragers, not discouragers.
  3. Unaware of the possibilities? Sometimes we just don’t know what is out there.  Or perhaps we discount our qualifications before we try.  (See number 1 above.)  Get out there and explore.  Consider that impossible might just be possible. Dream big.
  4. Fear.  This is the big one.  Fear often isn’t obvious.  Fear chips away at us silently.  It may show up as worry.  It may show up as warnings.  Or it may be silently running as negativity in the shadows of your mind.  We overcome fear by walking through it.  How often have you tried something and afterwards thought, “Now that wasn’t so bad after all.”

 

The bottom line is this. We realize our potential by taking action.  One step at a time.

 

If you’d like to take action for your career, check out my upcoming workshop Defining Your Next Career Step which starts August 29.  https://www.womenleadingtogether.com/events/virtual-workshop-defining-your-career-next-step-2018-08-30/  

susan.hodge

The Courage to Change

Posted by susan.hodge Champion Aug 8, 2018

I started Women Leading Together in the fall of 2012.  It was the launch of my second career after a rewarding and successful corporate career.  I had the basic idea for what I wanted to do in early 2011.  So what happened in the following year and a half?

 

I talked to people. I met with friends, coaches, and advisors. I interviewed for financial jobs, thinking perhaps something more like what I’ve done in the past really was what I should do in the future.  (Luckily, my gut told me otherwise.)  I played with ideas of what it my new career would look like.  I envisioned my days, my clients and my lifestyle in this business.

 

All of these were worthwhile steps, and a part of the change process.  But if I’m really honest, what kept me from moving ahead was fear.

 

Fear of the unknown.  Fear of  change.  Fear of failure.

 

Fear can sometimes make us postpone a change we know we need to make.  We rationalize why now is not the right time.

“I’m too busy.”  “Wait until the kids graduate.” “Wait until the year end close is complete” “Wait until I have $XXX in the bank.”

 

And so on.  While some reasons are legitimate, often they are excuses to keep us where we’re comfortable – right where we are.

A career change may come in the form of a new job within your company, a change to  your current responsibilities, a new job with a new company or venturing out on your own.  No matter what form it comes in, change tends to create stress.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself if you’re struggling to make a change.

 

Am I running to something or away from something?

If you’re unhappy where you are, get clarity on why before you move. Having that clarity will help you move in the right direction and not just fantasize about an escape without strategically thinking it through.

 

Do I need additional training?

If you’re looking to make a significant change, consider whether you need further training.  When it comes to additional degrees, be realistic as to what that degree will help you achieve.  Sometimes it’s required for entry into a profession, or to receive higher pay, obtain a promotion or earn a higher professional designation.  It may be simply for your own satisfaction.

 

Getting an MBA was important in the banking industry when I was in New York, but a few years later, when I was established, it ended up being a personal accomplishment.    I started Women Leading Together with a partner, leveraging my professional experience.  Once I got into it, I saw the ability to expand my services and further use my strengths by becoming a certified coach.

 

Will this change energize me?

Even though I had a clear picture of what I wanted to do, I was drawn to the familiar types of jobs.  Plus I was encouraged and sought after for those types of jobs.  That was my personal brand.  But one evening, at the wedding of a friend’s daughter, I saw former colleagues all congregating around a high profile executive who could give them business.  I knew in that moment that I didn’t want to spend my leisure hours marketing financial services.  That clarity gave me more courage to move on to the second career I had envisioned in serving business through leadership development.

 

Does this build on my strengths?

Every career change or advancement should build on your natural strengths.  It may give you opportunities to apply your strengths in a new way, or develop new skills, but your professional strengths must be the foundation. 

 

Do I need or have a safety net?

Consider whether this change is an acceptable risk for you.  If you’re starting your own company, or going to work with stock as your compensation, be realistic about the financial implications.  If you’re taking a job in your current company that is a big change for you, do you have your supporters and mentors lined up to help you in the transition?

 

What is holding me back?

Spend some time considering whether it’s intuition or fear holding you back.  Intuition – your gut – may be sending you a valid message.  Excuses and fear are designed to keep you comfortable.

 

At some point, you’ll have to decide and take action.

Talk to people. Get trained if you need it.  Create a “personal board” of supporters and advisors.  Tap into coaching resources.  Understand what you’re getting into, but don’t research it endlessly.  At some point, you have to move forward, even if your decision is not to move.  

 

 

If figuring out your next career step is on your mind, sign up for my Fall workshop, “Defining Your Next Career Step”.  This virtual workshop in four sessions starts August 29.  It may be just the boost you need to get the courage you’re looking for.  For more information.  For more information contact Susan Hodge or visit  https://www.womenleadingtogether.com/events/virtual-workshop-defining-your-career-next-step-2018-08-30/ 

I was vacationing on a houseboat in Arkansas with about ten family members, all of whom I love and with whom I enjoy spending time.  One day, however, there were one too many complaints, one too many requests and a few too many people around me.  So I dove off the back of the houseboat and started swimming.  It was quiet, it felt great, the water was soothing, and there was no one around me.  I was in control and relaxed. 

 

I was swimming into the middle of a very large lake at sunset, however. I knew how far I was going and had no intentions of going further or longer than was safe, but my husband became concerned so decided to come get me in a boat.

 

That was the day that I realized the stress had become too much.

 

I had just completed a year with multiple high stress events, some of which were ongoing. Career challenges, market crashes, death and near death experiences of loved ones, family crises, loads of responsibilities…and the list goes on. It was more than anyone could be expected to take on, but life can sometimes unfold that way.

 

There is an inverse relationship between stress and insight. The more stressed we are, the less we are able to effectively problem solve and see the landscape around us. Stress can also sneak up on you. If you’re a high achieving, responsible, nurturing woman, it’s easy to continue to take on more and more before realizing the impact stress is having on you. It’s important to notice signs that you’re getting a bit too stressed out. Here are some of mine.

 

#1: You take on new projects without considering how you will get them done. If you’re a high capacity individual, this can be a frequent hazard. It’s so much easier to say “yes” and figure out a solution later than to say “no” and to explain to someone why you are not able to help them like you usually do. Before you know it, you begin to feel like a rubber band pulled so tightly that it will inevitably snap.

 

#2: Rewarding activities become tasks to be completed. Unload the dishwasher? Check. Fold the laundry? Check. Turn in your marketing report? Check. Hug your children? Check. Losing the joy in things that normally enrich your life and bring fulfillment is a sure sign that you’ve reduced your day down to a to-do list, and you’re spreading yourself too thin.

 

#3: You begin to deprioritize your loved ones. You’ve had your husband’s work party on your calendar for weeks, but something comes up at work and you now have to miss it. He rolls his eyes; it’s the third “work emergency” you’ve had this month! Sound familiar? Work is certainly important, providing a sense of fulfillment and monetary compensation, but it’s only part of the equation. If your work-life balance is out of whack, you may be too stressed.

 

#4: You’re easily irritated and prone to anger. The sound of your child practicing piano is suddenly like nails on a chalkboard. You get to the breakroom and they’re out of Diet Coke, and then the deli gets your lunch order wrong. These mishaps used to be minor, but now you slam your office door and remain in a funk for the rest of the day. Counting down from ten doesn’t seem to help. Being chronically stressed and constantly irritated or angry go hand in hand.

 

#5: Exercise falls to the bottom of your list of priorities. Even if weight-loss isn’t your goal, exercise is an essential form of self-care. It’s a time when you don’t have to think about work, family stress, or other obligations. Biologically, it also releases endorphins in your bloodstream to help calm frazzled nerves. If you’re constantly skipping exercise in favor of another chore or project, the stress may build up before you know it.

 

#6: You begin to experienced unexplained health issues. Is your stomach in knots? Are you getting headaches on a daily basis? Chronic stress with no rest or outlet can affect your health. Exercise is one way to help alleviate this stress. Eating correctly, meditation, and periodic stretch breaks from your desk are several more ways to make sure stress doesn’t take its toll on your body.

 

#7: Your surroundings are in disarray. It may save time to grab drive-through every day on the way to work or home, but, in addition to being fatty food that will only exacerbate your stress, not cleaning the take-out containers out of your car can lead to clutter. Cluttered surroundings can lead to a cluttered mind. If your laundry is in piles on your couch and your dishes are overflowing in your sink because you’re too busy to get to these home chores, you may be overwhelmed and need to scale back.

 

#8: You’re exhausted at the end of each day, but your mind can’t stop thinking about everything you have to do. Comedians Ellen DeGeneres and Wanda Sykes have both taken on the hilarious aspects of the racing thoughts women can have when trying to sleep. And although the thoughts can be random and even funny at times, when they disrupt your sleep every night after an already packed day, that’s a sure sign you have too much on your plate.

 

Stress can be good. It helps us perform at our best when peak performance is necessary, like running in a marathon or running from a bear in the woods. But stress is not good when it’s chronic and when we feel we have no control over it.

 

We can increase our awareness of our stress levels starting by paying more attention to our bodies. Do you have a daily ritual, possibly in the morning, where you take time in silence to check in with your body and mind? Even if it’s not daily, do you have a regular time where you remove yourself from the daily grind and just pay attention to what is going on with you?

 

Dr. Herbert Benson, professor emeritus of The Benson-Henry Mind Body Institute of Health at Massachusetts General Hospital, recommends these three key methods to reduce stress.

  1. Relaxation Techniques: This include things like deep breathing, focusing on a calming word or visualization.
  2. Physical Activity: Exercise increases deep breathing but also relaxes muscles.
  3. Social Support: Friends, relatives, mentors, coaches, companions – all form a network of social support which aids us during times of stress.

I hate to break it to you, but stress is unavoidable. It is an inevitable part of life. It is essential, then, to be vigilant of spotting when stress is becoming too much to handle, and to know ways to bring yourself back in balance when you become overwhelmed.

In my Lean In mentoring circle recently we tackled the topic of “When does our ambition end up causing too much stress?” 

 

Intermittent stress is fine.  It helps us win the race, get the project finished, achieve the goal.  It’s when stress becomes chronic and we feel out of control that it becomes a problem for our relationships, our health and our career.  Without ambition, we go nowhere. So where’s the balance?

 

Ambition become stress when...

 

We don't say “No” often enough. When we take on too much, thinking that doing more will help us get to our goals, we end up overwhelmed, overburdened and increasingly ineffective.  It is possible to turn down requests.   Most of our fears of saying “no” are just that – fears.  Practice turning something down and observe what happens.  Usually, nothing of consequence will happen.  It gets easier with time.

 

We’re not intentional. When we just keep driving ahead, without considering whether we’re heading the right direction, stress will creep in.  It’s one thing to make a conscious choice to take on a challenge if you know it is in alignment with a goal and you can see the connection. But when we take on a new challenge without a clear direction, that challenge has no purpose for us and loses its appeal.

 

We’re working someone else’s agenda. I often hear how women have taken on more because it made them feel needed, or out of loyalty to someone or something.  But if you’re draining your energy working someone else’s agenda, you’ll be stressed.

 

We get burned out. Too much of anything is not good.  Even if you’re clear on your goals and making conscious choices, too much work will burn you out. 

 

We feel resentful. If we’ve been working hard towards an objective, only to see someone else get the promotion, or the big project or the recognition, we can end up feeling resentful.  Resentment causes stress, because we feel out of control.  Tackle the resentment by taking action.  Maybe you need to re-assess your strategy or seek guidance and counsel.  Whatever you do, don’t ignore the emotion.  Left unattended that resentment will grow.

 

What are your signs that your ambition has led to too much stress?

 

For articles, workshops and coaching circles that can help you develop your career, see www.WomenLeadingTogether.com or contact Susan Hodge via Pink Petro.

susan.hodge

The Power of the Question

Posted by susan.hodge Champion Apr 19, 2018

 

When I became a coach I had to shift my perspective.  When I was an executive, I was accustomed to, and very comfortable with, giving answers to someone else’s questions.  I mentored many people who would come to me for advice and I always had a suggestion for their situation.  Coaching, on the other hand, is largely about asking the right questions that enable the client to find answers to their own questions. 

 

A number of years ago when I was taking over chairmanship of a non-profit board I met with a very wise man, from whom I was seeking mentoring on the new role.  I kept asking him questions and he kept avoiding direct answers. Finally he told me, “Susan, the power is not in the answer. The power is in the question.”

 

I now see the value in asking powerful questions in many situations, including in our careers.  Here are just a few situations where asking a question may be more helpful than answering.

 

Ask questions when you are:

 

Seeking Innovation:  The recent Harvard Business Review cover article is “Better Brainstorming:  Why Questions Matter More than Answers”. https://hbr.org/2018/03/better-brainstorming   Whereas seeking answers to a problem can stifle engagement, the author found that reframing the problem into powerful questions produces varied perspectives, more engagement and better ideas.

 

Gaining Support for your Idea:  The first step to selling your idea isn’t about selling.  The first step to gaining support is to understand the perspective of the person whose support you want.  This is also the first step of any consulting assignment.  In the classic Steven Covey book, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, one of the key habits is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

 

Managing Emotions at Work:  Have you found yourself in a situation where someone delivered a message that you weren’t prepared for?  Perhaps it was in a performance review or team meeting.  When our emotions are triggered, our response, if not consciously managed, may reflect those emotions. A pause, followed by a non-reactive, calm question can give us time to recover and consider our preferred way forward. 

 

Confronted with a Defensive Employee/ Colleague:  If you’ve ever managed people, you’ve likely been in the situation when someone comes into your office making a request.   That request may be something you’re not prepared for and/ or it may come loaded with defensiveness. (E.g. “I’ve not received a promotion in x years and I’d like to know why.”)  When we’re in a position of authority it’s tempting to jump into answer mode.  But we can adapt to a better response if we ask questions for clarification first.

 

What experiences have you had where asking a question was a more effective strategy than answering the question?

We like to have our value validated by others.  Feeling appreciated, being rewarded, feeling like our ideas have made a difference, all bring a sense of satisfaction.  When we’ve done well and we’re not recognized, it’s like a punch in the gut.  It can be hard to stand up for ourselves and do it firmly yet gracefully.  Here's a story of one woman who did it well.

 

“It was a tough year in our business and bonuses would be slim.  It was my first year working for this company.  It was also the year of a big product launch for my new employer.  I tackled the goal of getting the new product out and sold the first major deal for that product.  I was recognized at the end of the year with a clock and an award for my work.

 

“At bonus time, my boss called me in to tell me about my bonus. I had believed him to be my advocate. After all he had just aggressively pursued hiring me. ‘You know that clock you received?  Well, that’s your bonus this year.’  I knew things were tight that year but I had to ask, ‘Is everyone else in the same boat?  No bonuses?’  ‘Well, not exactly.  You know Jim [not his real name].   He has a wife and kids so we’re allocating most of the departmental bonus to him.’

 

“Yep.  That’s what he said.  Hard to believe, right?  At the time I was the sole income provider in my family, too, but that seemed not to matter.”

 

Here's how she responded.

 

Stay Calm, Stand Firm:  She did not lose control of her emotions.  She was furious, hurt, shocked.  It was so unfair!  Yet she remained calm and stuffed her fury in her gut so she could reply rationally and clearly.

 

Make the Business Case:  “I find that unacceptable.  I was recognized for my work above that of others, you sought me out from another institution, I have delivered what you have asked, and you have awarded no bonus.  What’s more, you have allocated bonuses on a basis unrelated to business results.”  The facts were pretty compelling and the fact that she stated them so clearly put her boss on his heels.  

 

Be Clear on Where to Ask:  She knew she’d get nothing by relying on her boss to advocate for her.  He didn’t advocate strong enough during the bonus process, why would he now?  She chose to escalate the issue. She asked where in the organization the decision had been made, and asked to speak to each person in that decision process.  She didn’t stop requesting upward audiences until she was satisfied.  She received admissions of less than adequate decision making, stated regrets, and a written apology. 

 

The decision didn't change, yet had she not pursued it she would have remained unknown and easily overlooked in the future.  She did not want to start her career being a “doormat” with a new employer.

 

Don’t Use Inflammatory Language:  In each case she held a firm, rational and respectful conversation stating her case and asking for an explanation of their decision.     She did not mention bias, discrimination or legal action. At this point, those statements would not have served her well.

 

Know Where You Can Negotiate:  Some decisions, once made, are extremely difficult to get changed. This was not a decision that would be overturned easily.  To push it further would cause harm to her longer term objectives.   Shortly thereafter she presented a proposal for financial support for her MBA, which was very important to her career objectives.  It was approved without hesitation.  Was it a direct result?  We'll never know for sure, but it was a decision made by the same people in a budget category where they had more flexibility.

 

Know What It’s Worth To You:  It’s important to know how much political capital you are willing to expend.  In this case, my friend knew that establishing her reputation, receiving recognition and future support of the MBA were more important than the immediate bonus money.

 

If you'd like to enhance your ability to advocate for yourself, sign up for The Art of Recognition workshop on April 6 at Pink Petro's HQ.  Click here to register:  https://www.pinkpetro.com/events/the-art-of-recognition 

My clients often seek coaching when they’re experiencing a major transition.  They could be in a new professional role and want to develop critical skills needed to work at the higher level.  Perhaps they’re frustrated from having their hard work overlooked.  Or maybe they’re looking for a new job.  Something may simply be missing from their career.

Life is a series of transitions.  In his Handbook of Coaching:  A Comprehensive Resource Guide, Frederic Hudson defines the four stages of his transition model of change.

 

  • Phase I: “Going for it” We are happily pursuing our goals with fervor.
  • Phase II: “The Doldrums”  We are feeling “stuck” or lacking momentum.
  • Phase III: “Cocooning” We begin our self-renewal with reflection and exploration.
  • Phase IV: “Getting Ready” We move to action and execute our plan of change. 

Once we reach the cocooning phase, it can be fun to explore and imagine what could be different.  But moving from Phase III into Phase IV can trigger fear, holding us back from our dreams. 

At that point, you must make a commitment and a plan.  Here are a few suggestions to help you maintain your forward momentum:

Get support.  Whether it’s a coach, a friend network or mentor, you should have your encouragers join you on your journey.

Work on one thing at a time.  If you try to change everything at once, you’re more likely to feel overwhelmed. 

Make your decision and stick to it.  If you’ve made the decision to change, and have done so with clarity, don’t be surprised if you feel yourself being pulled back to the familiar.  Keep the rationale for your decision in front of you.  If the fundamental reasons for your decision have not changed, then it’s unlikely your decision will change.

Acknowledge your successes, no matter how big or small, along the way.   Give yourself credit for each and every little thing you’ve accomplished. It will help you stay focused on the positive.

Keep your eye on the prize.  Use a vision board, an affirmation of your goal, a picture or quotation that keeps you motivated.  Look at it often to remind yourself of why you’re making this change.

 

The more you are able to use these tools to maintain your momentum, the more smoothly you will move through your transition to the next phase. For more on moving from exploration to action, join me on February 15th for my Coaches Corner on this topic.  Click here to register:  https://www.pinkpetro.com/events/coaches-corner-with-susan-hodge 

ART of the ASK Workshop was a success.  These ladies learned that the secret is as simple as ordering a PIZZA and getting specific about asking for one thing at one time.  Be specific about what you ASK for so the listener can help. Want to know more, check out www.askaboutlinkedin.com 

“I’ve got to learn to say “no” more!”  I hear this frequently from women.  The topic came up again recently at my mentoring circle.  The desire to please, a nurturing instinct, a feeling of guilt – all drive us to say “yes” more often than we would like.

 

In 2018 I propose we turn this conundrum upside down.  Instead of learning to say “no”, let’s consider what will get our “yes”.  It feels more comfortable looking at it from a positive perspective. 

 

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself the next time you’re asked to attend a meeting, do volunteer work on Saturday morning, cancel your vacation or head up that project.

 

(1)  Will saying “yes” make a long- term difference in your life or career?

 

(2) Is this the only opportunity that you’ll have? Be careful here…there are many “once in a lifetime opportunities” that come around each year.

 

(3) Is this important to your personal priorities? This of course requires that you be crystal clear on those priorities.

 

(4) Is it something only you can do? Others can bake cookies for the school bake sale but you may be the expert in a technical aspect of your project. 

 

(5) Is it something that you know is good for you, but you keep putting off? Some common categories here are exercise, professional development, building that professional network of advocates.

 

If the answer to one or more of these is “yes” then consider giving your time and effort to the inquiry at  hand.

 

Where will you spend your time and energy in 2018?

Normally when I write about your strengths, I'm referring to characteristics that you can leverage for career success. Today I'm focused on a different kind of strength.  I'm referring to that inner strength - the one that lies deeply within us, the strength that requires us to reach down deep into our soul to draw up and out.  I'm referring to the strength that gets us through tough times and difficult situations.

 

This past year we've seen many displays of strength.  Some of you found your strength as you faced great personal loss in the face of natural disaster.  Others found the strength to be heroes as they served others.  We've seen many women find the strength to go public with painful experiences that haunted them for years.

 

When we display our strength, we become stronger.

 

I've found my strength many times over the years.  One time I was sitting across a table wondering why I was listening to advice from a person who didn't really know me.  Another time I made a major career decision after attending church.  When I was struggling with a professional/ personal balance issue I found my strength during my morning meditation.  Then there was the time I found the life changing strength to say "no" to a situation while I was driving down Highway 105.  (Isn't it interesting that when we have these revealing moments we remember exactly where we were?)

 

In every strength-revealing moment there is one consistency:  silence.

 

In each instance I was ruminating over a situation. The ruminating stopped when I sat in quiet space and gave attention to the still, small voice that speaks within me.  Without exception, each time I found strength and acted on it, I also found peacefulness and a positive way forward.

 

This holiday season, as you reflect and look ahead to the new year, I encourage you to give yourself the opportunity to hear your still, small voice and find your strength.

 

What situation needs your strength in 2018? 

The best decisions are made with a clear head: no emotional tugs, no buried resentments, no alternative agendas.  That's the ideal.  Maintaining clarity is much easier to do when evaluating someone else's proposal or working with someone you don't know well.

 

But it gets messy when we negotiate for ourselves.  The emotion behind an issue can get in the way of effectively asking for what we want.

 

Emotions are good.  When I work with women, I make sure to clearly tell them not to "stuff" their emotions. 

It is the reactive emotions that can get in the way of making our requests.  When I discuss reactive emotions, I'm not talking about passion for your cause. I'm talking about anger, defensiveness, impatience, and sometimes crying. Emotions born out of reactions can impair your credibility.

 

I use a three step process with my clients to help them productively make their business requests.  It's relevant for promotions, raises or recognition of any sort.  

 

  1. Clear the reactive emotions.  I call it "emptying your emotional basket".  This allows you to get clear on what triggers the emotion.
  2. Identify your clear request.  It's easy to for our request to get confused with the underlying complaint.   For example, if you're angry that your colleague got a higher raise, your complaint is about the colleague's raise.  However, your clear request is that you want an increased raise.
  3. Ask directly.  This is about stating the facts, and just the facts.  Too often we dance around the request, assuming they'll know what we want if we give enough contextual information.

 

It is possible to clearly and effectively ask for, and receive what we want if we prepare ourselves methodically and with clarity.

 

Do you find it hard to make requests for yourself? 

Do you rest?

 

As high achievers we pride ourselves on working hard.  Being constantly connected and available has too often become an expectation.

 

We may have taken it too far.

 

Lack of sleep impacts our health and may shorten our life span. (http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/need-sleep/whats-in-it-for-you/health) Human Performance Institute (https://www.hpinstitute.com) focuses on the importance of managing our energy to achieve peak performance in all areas of our life.

 

In spite of repeated messages about getting enough sleep, taking time to nurture our souls and spending time in relationship with others, we continue with our 24/7 lifestyle.  We tell ourselves that we'll rest when things slow down.  We postpone vacations or work on weekends convincing ourselves that if we don't respond immediately, or if we let something go a day or a week, there will be some disastrous consequence.

 

Earlier in my career I was going through a challenging time.  I knew I needed to get away from the intensity of daily life so I scheduled a vacation. It was a place I could go by myself, engage with other people, get exercise and have a lot of resources and activities at my disposal.  I knew it would be perfect for resetting my stress odometer. 

 

The day before I left my boss asked me how he could reach me while I was gone.  This man was not unkind, in fact he was a very compassionate man.  But he felt we should be available for work issues 24/7.  His personal practice was to check email in the wee hours of the morning and always be available on personal trips.  You can imagine his surprise when I replied, "I'm not going to tell you how to reach me because I'd prefer not to be bothered next week.  If it's an emergency, my assistant can tell you how to contact me."  He glared at me and stomped off.

 

He didn't call me all week.   The world kept spinning and the business survived.

 

I returned rejuvenated and far more productive than if I had kept pushing through in my exhausted state.

 

Was it comfortable to go against my boss's wishes?  No.  Was I a bit fearful of the consequences?  Yes.  Here's what happened.  My boss respected my boundaries.  A few months later he made a comment that showed he respected me for setting those boundaries.  He thought I had shown personal courage.

 

When is your next rest break?

 

 

Recently I wrote about leading your team through stressful times. When you’re leading during tough times, it can be lonely given that you need to be strong for your team.

Yet, how we manage ourselves during stressful times impacts our effectiveness.   When we become too stressed out, there are consequences to our health, weight, patience, perspective, relationships and more. I’ve had my share of career and business ups and downs.  I admit, there were times when I didn’t get it right.  But over time, I began to realize that I’m most effective in my leadership when I take care of myself.

Here are the actions I know to take when I’m in a tough situation:

  • Talk to someone. Spouse, partner, friends…talk to someone to help neutralize the emotions.  But realize these people may not be the ones to help devise your strategic response to whatever situation you’re in.  These are your emotional supporters, but may not  be your best business supporters.
  • Do those things that keep you centered. For me it’s thinking time, journaling and prayer and exercise.  Here’s a tip that seems counterintuitive:  Slow down and do less.  Instead of working harder and faster to get out of the situation, you’ll be more effective if you take some activities off your calendar.
  • Get an external perspective. Here’s where you look for your strategic partners.  These are the person/s who are far enough removed to be objective, yet know enough about you and business to be helpful.  Mentors, your personal board of directors, trusted colleagues.  I’ve used coaches throughout my career.  Hiring a coach gave me an external perspective and support that then helped me devise a strategic response to the situation.
  • Take action. Taking action on that which is within your control will give you a sense of authority over yourself and your situation.

 

What do you do to manage yourself during stressful times?

 

The downturn in our industry has created a lot of stress in recent years.  When you’re the leader of the team, there’s an added level of stress because others are looking to you in the face of uncertainty.  Yet you may have no more certainty than they do. 

Recently I spoke on the topic Managing Through Stressful times, drawing on a tough time during my career to extract these key points to effective leadership during times of uncertainty.

  • Stay calm and carry on. Your team is looking for guidance and calm.  Your personal stress must remain behind the scenes. There is research that shows that in times of chaos one calm person can have a calming effect on a crowd.   As a leader, you become that one person.
  • Be honest. You don’t have to tell your team everything.  But do be honest with what you tell them. 
  • Be positive. Look for the optimism in your messages.  It may only be, “We can get through this.”
  • Be transparent. Communicate frequently and with whatever you can, respecting confidentiality and the business objective.
  • Tell them why. If you know, tell them.
  • Be available and be visible. This is not the time to hunker down in your office.  Get out of your office.  Have Q&A sessions, one on one or team meetings.  Yes, even if you’re an introvert and it’s not comfortable.   
  • Be human, but not overly personal. Your team doesn’t want to see you as weak.  You can be open and a bit vulnerable without being weak.  This is a delicate balance and often depends on the leader, the audience and the situation.  It’s one of the topics we cover in my upcoming coaching circle series “Handling Difficult Situations at Work”.  For more info contact me through Pink Petro or Susan @WomenLeadingTogether.com.

 

Have you led a team through uncertainty?  What did you learn?