Articles

Be Controlled or Take Control: How to Be in Charge of Your Own Life

Posted December 19, 2018

We create our own stories; and they’re often not true.

We are all the creation of everything that has happened to us up until this point in time. Every relationship, hardship, joy, loss, gain, job, heartache has created us and we can’t change any of it. Regret doesn’t serve you. We can learn from it. We can’t change it. And we have control to decide how we want to show up for what’s next.

Unfortunately, there is a tendency to expect what happened in the past has to happen again. Whether we expect this outcome from our self or others, we “write a story” in our own head. A script if you will of how things will turn out. It’s not always true! Too often these stories limit what we really can be. The past does not have to repeat itself. You don’t have perfect information of what might happen. You can’t control everything; you can control how you show up.

Learning to not make up stories frees us to experience what is in front of us, confidently make decisions, and take control of what’s next.

These stories we write in our own minds tend to lean more towards the things that have gone wrong rather than reinforcing what has worked. Focusing on the problems creates a downward spiral of negativity that prevents us from finding solutions and outcomes.

We will look at things that have happened in the past, and assume that because they happened before, they will occur again. I frequently encounter people looking for a new job who have written off an entire company or industry because of one job interview that didn’t go well. There might be a variety of reasons it didn’t come through at that time, and it doesn’t mean you cannot try again. Evaluate why it happened and ask the simple question, why does it have to happen that way again?

Other times we leap to conclusions we make without any real evidence. Imagine walking into a client meeting, and one of their team members looks at you and glances away without greeting you. Immediately you come to the conclusion that she doesn’t like me and the meeting will therefore go poorly. How do you know that? Maybe she’s thinking about something problematic that happened at home this morning. Maybe her phone buzzed and she was distracted. Be careful not to go down the path of negativity and making it all about you.

A good check on a tendency to leap to conclusions, is to run it through the “what’s another way to look at it” or “what would my best friend say” test. Your boss challenged you on a decision and you can’t believe what an idiot he is! Ask yourself; is there another way to look at what he said? How can I reframe his response to me so I have a more productive reaction? How would my best friend look at this?

We also carry with us beliefs about ourselves or the world that we have never experienced, but still believe to be true. “You can’t successfully have a career and a family.” “Unless you have an MBA from a top tier school you’ll never be able to be successful.” “You can never rise to the top with a Liberal Arts degree.” Believing these viewpoints without questioning them can lead to decisions that don’t play to your strengths, or allow you to control your own life.

A way to negate the impact of such unproven beliefs is to look for one instance when the belief is proven to be wrong. If others have proven it wrong, what would it take to follow that path, rather than give up without trying?

Our stories also come from our inner critic, or more popularly known as a Gremlin. It’s that voice that tells you that you can’t do something so why try. It can also stop you from taking risks so that you don’t embarrass yourself. Most potently, your Gremlin brings up the thoughts of the imposter syndrome and suggests one day they will find out you really don’t know what you’re doing!

Getting rid of your Gremlin is impossible; it’s been with you forever, and it will stay with you forever. What you can do is lessen the power of your Gremlin by naming it, reminding yourself of all the proof points you have that you are successful, and continually telling the inner critic to, “shut up!” and train yourself to not listen to that voice.

Unfortunately, there are chemical factors in place that exacerbate negative situations and help create this dark cloud of fear and frustration. When we encounter a situation – real or perceived – as being a threat, the cortisol that’s released not only activates your amygdala to protect yourself from danger, but also triggers your limbic brain where all old experiences are stored. The result is a flood of memories of how you were hurt, embarrassed, or experienced failure. It’s hard to counteract this if you’re not intentionally training yourself to not focus, or take too seriously, the negative things that pop up. So many of these situations are not as problematic as we make them out to be, and we can train ourselves to be less pessimistic.

Read more about the things that prevent us from controlling our own destiny in The Impact of Confidence: 7 Secrets of Success for the Human Side of Leadership by Timothy J. Ressmeyer (2018) from which this excerpted. Available on Amazon

Do We Really Need More Philosophy Majors?

Posted November 13, 2018
Liberal Arts DegreesI had the opportunity to travel to both Italy and Ireland in the past year: great food, people, and scenery were everywhere.

Two of the most lasting memories remain a Middle Eastern tour guide and an Irish bartender.

It was in the Gallery of Maps in the Vatican that I thought, “thank goodness there are art history majors.” Our tour guide was a young art history graduate student who slowed our group down to make sure we were able to appreciate what we were seeing fully.

Forty 15 x 16-foot maps – works of art in themselves – line the walls of the architecturally-stunning gallery. They capture Italy as a whole, as well as close-ups of all the regions of the country. Our learned tour guide – with a diverse academic background – made sure we could appreciate the maps through multiple lenses:

  • Art – painting techniques that show remarkable topographical relief as well as stunning colors;
  • History – 40 distinct political regions of that time with historical events depicted;
  • Geography – without sophisticated surveying or satellite techniques, they are 80% accurate;
  • Religion – God’s involvement in the world is depicted by miracles that occurred in specific locations, and St. Paul’s missionary activity;
  • Politics – They were used by the Popes to create the military strategy when at war.

And all of this was created in the years 1580-1583.

So much of the nuance and value of what was before us would be lost without our art historian tour guide and other research by people who study the liberal arts.

As a leadership coach, I work with people at different stages of their personal and professional careers. When it comes to academic background, there is often regret of decisions already made or fear of those yet to come. Is it silly to have degrees in English or Art History? Or should more practical paths be pursued such as Accounting or Engineering?

My answer: we want to appreciate both. We want to have both. Neither is right or wrong. Nor is it a binary choice.

In Ireland, my traveling companions and I spent a good amount of time at the Hole in the Wall pub in the small town of Kilkenny, about 90 minutes outside Dublin. (Ironically, the pub is nestled in a building that dates back to 1582, the exact year the Vatican maps were being created!)

Our highly educated bartender, Patrick, not only led us in old-school Karaoke – the words to songs were written out on large sheets of paper – he was also able to tell the stories behind the songs. Many relayed the sad and painful accounts of love and tragedy during the Irish Revolution of the early 1900’s. He integrated stories and musings of music, politics, culture, and history whilst pouring Irish whiskey and Irish coffees.

We learned a lot in the most casual of settings.

Patrick also shared how recently re-elected Irish President Michael D. Higgins had notably stated, “the teaching of philosophy is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal to empower children into acting as free and responsible subjects in an ever more complex, interconnected and uncertain world.”

He adds, “It is so important, then, that our children – all of our citizens – be encouraged to think critically rather than merely reproduce the information pushed towards them by proliferating media sources.”

Do you want your child to choose Philosophy as their college major?

We need STEM educational programming. We need to increase our appreciation of philosophy and other “softer” disciplines. One way is to follow the trend towards STEM education that adds Art to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Furthermore, we want to ensure that “Art” includes all of the liberal arts disciplines.

I’m currently coaching a senior executive in an analytics firm who years ago completed all the coursework for a Ph.D. in Philosophy. That along with his prowess in technology makes him a singularly valuable leader in the company. When hiring while in my past corporate roles I loved coming across candidates with varied academic backgrounds in addition to the more technical ones. They added an important skill set to the team.

Knowledge is always expanding. We can access so much information on the Internet, but someone has to create it. AI won’t do it. We need scholars who can always be contributing to this body of knowledge with their unique areas of passion, and a desire to educate all of us.

We need more engineers and accountants. We need more philosophers and artists. And we need more tour guides and bartenders with a passion for learning and sharing.

Tim Ressmeyer is a professional leadership and life coach. He is also the author of The Impact of Confidence: 7 Secrets of Success for the Human Side of Leadership (2018). Available on Amazon.

Managing Peer Relationships – They Don’t Always Have to Go Sideways

Posted October 12, 2018
The workplace is based on relationships. You have relationships up (your boss, superiors), down (direct reports, contractors), and to the side (peers, business partners). Managing and creating impactful relationships in all three directions leads to success, and not doing so leads to failure and frustration.

Peer relationships in the workplace are challenging in different ways than either those above or below. In some ways, they’re more comfortable if you’re working with people in your same area of an organization and you have similar or mutual goals. However, there can still be personality conflicts or competition that impedes the creation of constructive relationships.

The two most important factors to help create relationships with peers are goal clarity and trust.

When working with peers, you have to know why you’re both there.

Carl and Dennis were young entrepreneurs who had started their own company and were finding success very quickly. They were bright, creative, and very skillful. They were also both driven by the goal of building a very successful company.

As they started to achieve success, indications of difficulty in the relationship were beginning to concern both of the partners, and they reached out to me to work with them, not knowing where their company and relationship might be headed. A break-up was not out of the question.

Where they had always seemed to be on the same page, there was now confusion and mistrust and conflict was just around the corner. From the start, they had agreed to work as partners, and share the profits equally. Carl began to see this 50/50 split as being unfair. He felt he was putting in way more effort than Dennis, and it was working. The company was growing rapidly mostly because of his work, he believed. “Why should Dennis be getting the same return I am when I’m putting in so much more effort?”

Interestingly, Dennis was feeling an overwhelming pressure from Carl that he couldn’t do anything right. Dennis was feeling judged and valued less. It was sadly becoming the type of experience he didn’t necessarily want to be part of.

The coaching engagement I kicked off with them included individual coaching as well as business partners coaching (aka “couples coaching!”) where I would meet with them together. It took a lot of confidence on their part to open themselves up in this way.

One of the most impactful aha’s came when doing a personal goals and values exercise with each of them individually. They were each asked to write a personal mission statement that included their strengths, things they wanted to get out of life, the impact they wanted to have, and what their immediate steps would be to move towards these goals.

Both sets of goals were relatively similar. Being young, they wanted to create a lifestyle that would allow them to have families and comfortably support children, have free time for travel, and have their business be successful. Digging into what “successful” meant, they both wanted to be earning $1 million annually. The interesting difference was in the timeline. Carl wanted to hit that mark in five years, Dennis was happy to achieve $1 million “somewhere in the future.” They both wanted the same thing, but there was a disconnect on timing. No wonder Carl saw Dennis as a slacker; he had a very aggressive goal in his head. Dennis was pleased with the growth of the company, knowing his goals would be met at some point in the future.

They assumed they were on the same page, but reality indicated something different.

We discussed this in our group sessions and worked to align their goals, clarify and appreciate what they each brought to the company, and to develop roles for each that would allow them to offer what they could contribute most to the success of the company. The result was a reinvigorated working relationship that resulted in much higher levels of personal fulfillment and professional success.

In Carl and Dennis’ situation, they were very closely connected to each other and the outcome. New complications are introduced when working with people from different parts of the organization who don’t fall into the same reporting structure as you. Whether an actual “matrix organization” or just a need to work with people in different parts of the company there are different cultures, goals, and management styles in play. Understanding how relationships are formed within this framework helps you – and your colleagues – minimize failure and achieve success.

From The Impact of Confidence: 7 Secrets of Success for the Human Side of Leadership by Timothy J. Ressmeyer, First Edition Design Publishing, 2018.

Red & Blue Can Make a Beautiful (and Successful) Purple

Posted October 4, 2018

Tribalism, polarization, incivility, politics. We know that people have a hard time talking to people who they don’t agree with these days. It seems everyone digs in their heels, lives in their bubble, and judges those who disagree.

Often, they don’t even want to talk to those with whom they don’t agree. If they do, it’s mostly A LOT OF YELLING AND NAME CALLING.

It’s tough to run a business or an organization with this mindset. It limits growth, productivity, and impact. It distracts and detracts from the mission of the organization and creates a culture of mistrust.

A client of mine, Chris, runs a large organization. It shouldn’t matter, but it’s in a red state. Chris more closely aligns with blue state values and policies. In any organization, you will have people who have different ways of looking at the world. Today, we often label them red or blue.

It shouldn’t matter, but it does – if you let it matter.

This color coding is in fact generated by actual belief systems and values that these individuals hold close. As Americans, we respect and honor the freedom to have different opinions. It’s when we stop talking – or listening – to each other because of these differences that it becomes a problem.

Chris brings to the table passion and conviction of beliefs, and a track record of successfully running organizations. As with all leaders, there are blind spots or patterns of behavior that don’t help that person navigate the challenges of leadership as smoothly as might be desired. Chris is no different in actively seeking ways to be as impactful a leader as possible by overcoming some of the things that get in the way and learning new techniques of leading to move the mission of the organization forward.

There are significant differences between Chris and other leaders in the organization. On both sides, there were gaps of life experience in never having met “someone like this.” Or even talking about, “an issue like this” with someone who had a 180-degree different viewpoint was a challenge.

There were times when Chris’ passion was not felt by the other leaders, and Chris would take this as a personal attack. “They just don’t get it.” Or, “don’t they know better?”

Conversely, the leaders would shut down Chris’ attempts to make changes by looking through a lens that was more personal than professional. They were unable to beyond biases.

After a significant shift within the organization, Chris was now forging the future of the organization with two key leaders who are staunchly red. They had struggled in the past to see eye-to-eye, somewhat driven by the individual differences in political and social values. This disconnect had been hurting the organization’s path forward.

During this transformational time in the organization, our coaching began to focus on culture. What is the culture you want for this organization? How do you want to treat each other? How do you want to be viewed by those you interact with? A culture will happen. Do you want to create it, or let it happen? Will you blindly recreate the destructive culture of the past just because that’s what is familiar?

What is the culture you want to create?

Chris and the two others were able to look beyond their personal differences and focus on the overarching mission of the organization. They were able to have open and honest (albeit uncomfortable) conversations about the deep-seeded values that kept them apart. They were able to realize most of these differences really didn’t matter when it came to the purpose of their organization.

They acknowledged there was more they were aligned with than separated them. They dropped the judgment of each other. They moved forward with intentionality around creating a culture that set a new standard for how the leaders would treat each other, how they would be viewed by others, how they would recruit new people into the organization, and how they would accomplish their goals.

In this era of extreme self-righteousness and incivility. Seeing these very different blue and red people not only “reach across the aisle” but indeed sit down together to create something amazing gives me hope that we can all overcome the divisiveness we are currently experiencing. And it’s good for business.

Learning to Flex Your Collaboration Muscle

Posted March 14, 2018

This blog was originally posted to the Burtch Works Executive Coaching website.  https://www.burtchworks.com/2018/03/12/how-to-improve-collaboration-leadership-skills/

“Collaboration” might seem like a fuzzy term to many leaders. Yet the costs of poor collaboration are concrete, and can be quite painful. Effective collaboration in research and analytical roles is a combination of structure and leadership. You cannot only blame the organization or the individual. Both need to be considered and supported to bring about the positive outcomes you desire.

From a structural standpoint, many organizations operate in silos and do not communicate effectively across spans of control. If a manager in one silo needs something from a manager in another silo, she needs to go all the way up her chain of command to her Vice President, who then reaches across the organization to another Vice President, who then goes down the chain of command to the manager, and so on.

This form of communication is extremely slow and subject to miscommunication, especially when deadlines and client deliverables are at risk. Add to this complexity the challenges of communicating with outside consultants and vendors who do not report directly within the firm’s reporting structure, but rather have their own companies. Within complex matrixed organizations, there are extra challenges where teams have conflicting goals and competing management structures.

10 signs that your company isn’t optimizing its collaboration capabilities

Many organizations lose productivity, quality, morale, and customer satisfaction due to poor collaboration among teams, units, and employees. To find out whether your organization might be suffering from the consequences of poor collaboration, take this simple assessment.

If any of the following statements that seem even a little bit true, you can benefit from flexing your collaboration muscle:

  1. There is a general sense that it is hard to get things done in your organization.
  2. Projects are frequently delayed by the friction of working across units or silos.
  3. Projects are frequently over budget due to the friction of working across units or silos.
  4. Projects frequently don’t achieve their desired level of quality due to the friction of working across units or silos.
  5. Products or services sometimes do not go out with the desired level of quality, and this may be due to the way that teams or different units work together (or don’t).
  6. Managers and employees seem to lack the skills required to collaborate effectively.
  7. When a project misses a milestone, people point the finger at other teams or units.
  8. There is resentment or a dysfunctional working relationship among two or more business units/teams in your organization.
  9. There is resentment or a dysfunctional working relationship among two or more high-level executives in your organization, and this dysfunction ripples through the organization.
  10. Employees spend too much of their time on unproductive activities related to coping with the stress and hassle of pushing things forward, instead of the productive activities of creating things, making things, selling things, and serving customers.

 

How are these challenges detrimental to you?

Leadership skills are essential, but can be problematic within research or analytical roles in highly technical organizations. Many skilled employees have spent years learning technical functions and skills, but may not have learned how to effectively collaborate on teams.

As a result, they are not as adept as they could be at relating to others, conveying their ideas with impact, and getting what they want while helping others achieve their goals, too. Therefore, teams do not perform as well as they could. Projects stall. Multiply this effect across the organization, especially when teams have to work cross-functionally, and the results can hurt an organization’s competitive position.

Some functions are especially vulnerable when they are seen a cost center rather than a revenue generating function. Learning effective collaboration skills with other teams in sales, finance, product development, etc. is critical to the success, impact, and growth of research and analytical functions.

As organizations become more complex, collaboration becomes a core skill that every leader, team, and business unit must be able to have. In some cases, this means structuring the organization to make collaboration easier. In other cases, it means equipping managers and employees with new attitudes and behaviors.

Viewing each employee as a leader and helping them develop the confidence and skills to collaborate can mitigate these risks, and helps those within and across their departments to be successful.

 

Fixing the problem

Many firms are not unique in their need to find ways to address ineffective collaboration, and there are 6 key steps leaders can take to enhance collaboration.

  1. Identify Perceptions and Behaviors that help or hinder collaboration.
  2. Be clear whether the collaboration needs are Internal or External.
  3. Assess the Opportunity through thoughtful, thorough, and honest discovery.
  4. Understand the Other Party and avoid the impulse to force things through your own way.
  5. Create the Rules of Engagement with the other party so that requests for information, communication, and feedback are baked into the process.
  6. Develop the plan that includes timelines and measures to track success along the way and in the end.

Your Analytics & Data Science New Year’s Resolutions

Posted January 31, 2018

This blog was originally posted to the Burtch Works Executive Coaching website.  https://www.burtchworks.com/2018/01/29/analytics-data-science-new-years-resolutions/

This post is contributed by Tim Ressmeyer | Founding Partner of Ressmeyer Partners and Executive Leadership Coach | 20 years’ experience as an executive in analytics and marketing research roles

Want to learn more about how you can put these career resolutions into practice? Join Tim for his webinar on February 8th, where he’ll be sharing more of his career development insights!

Prediction: You have already given up on your New Year’s resolutions.

If you are like most of the population, you gave up a long time ago. Some studies show that 25% of people who make resolutions stop trying before the first week is out. Of those that do make resolutions, about 57% felt they either met their resolution or were sometimes successful. Interestingly, there is an age difference. While 38% of people in their twenties feel they achieve their resolution, that number drops to only 16% of people over 50.

You are part of the majority if you’re already not going the gym, or haven’t started reading those quality books you promised you would. For those of you still honoring your resolutions, good for you! (showoffs!)

The great thing is that January 1st is an arbitrary date. What’s wrong with February 1st or 15th being the kick off to your plans for what’s next?

We’ve already seen important predictions for what’s next in the world of Analytics & Data Science. The Burtch Works 2018 Predictions article highlights 10 huge opportunities for those of us working in and developing careers in this space. What’s really cool about this is that most of the opportunities build on skills you already have.

 

What resolutions can you make to build on something you already know how to do? Here are some ideas in light of the 2018 predictions:

 

Broaden Your Impact (Confidence)

As sophisticated analytics become more accessible, how can you use your skills to help an organization outside of a dedicated data analytics role?  Marketing, finance, product development, and virtually every aspect of an organization needs this expertise. Is there an area of interest you can investigate and engage in? Make the effort to know you can have an impact in ways beyond your current role. Avoid the desire to passively let others move on past you, and confidently look for ways to educate other about analytics throughout the organization.

 

Create Relevance (Connecting)

Staying hands-on is more important than ever.  Don’t just make it about you. Think of how staying in the trenches can help others. Step up and take on the tasks – even if they seem they’re beneath you – to keep skills sharp, mentor others, and show you’re a team player. Build relationships. When you connect with others in this manner they trust you to be a leader because you are looking out for them while at the same time advancing your relevance. Your mantra can be, “Be Relevant.”

 

Keep Learning (Competence)

Knowing Python is the new R means your passion for learning wants to kick in again. You’ve spent a lot of time learning skills to get where you are, and it’s again time to be sure you’re always looking ahead. Use your gift of curiosity and desire to do great things to motivate you to advance or develop additional areas of expertise. Reading books, listening to podcasts, talking to experts in adjacent fields, taking the time to listen to others are all steps you can take to resist stagnation and irrelevance.

 

Connect the Dots (Culture)

Since companies will evaluate their return on investment from analytics, be someone who is confidently articulating the value of your work. Make sure you are always linking the value of the work you do to the overall goals of the company. Learn what’s going on across the organization and not just your analytics team so you can look for ways analytics is or could have an event greater impact. Your ability to develop these relationships and articulate the value helps create a culture for the company of always moving forward and being optimistic. YOU are seen as a leader. Showing the ROI of analytics means keep doing what you’re doing, and make sure you’re stepping up and showing the value.

 

Are you moving forward, or sitting still?

 

Perhaps surprisingly, it’s helpful to think of the basic principles of physics in your career development. The Law of Motion and concept of Inertia both contribute to the idea that an object in motion will stay in motion – or stay stationary – unless acted upon by another force. They resist change.

People who have developed stellar careers, whether they know it or not, have been abiding by these basic laws of physics. They keep doing what they’re doing when it’s working, and keep moving forward. Playing to your strengths, following your passion, overcoming hurdles, getting out of your own way are all ways to remind yourself of the things in your toolbox already that can help you move forward.

It’s so much easier to build on what you’re already doing than doing something entirely new.

These laws also posit that objects at rest will not move unless impacted by an outside force. Hmm. Where in your career have you been sitting still? Maybe you’ve been blaming others for your lack of motivation. Perhaps you keep thinking, “If I only had a better boss things would be better.” It may just feel so hard to learn that new skill and you keep telling yourself you can get by without it.

Feeling like a victim in the workplace is not attractive and it doesn’t allow you to move forward.

It’s not too late to make a resolution. What can you now to set in the motion something new to move you forward? Ask yourself: what are you already doing that you can build on. If you have a skill that’s already working, albeit not as well as you would like, it’s wiser to put your focus on developing and improving that, rather than creating something brand new. It’s an object that’s already in motion! It wants to keep going

 

Want to put together your own analytics or data science career resolutions?

In the upcoming webinar on February 8th, we’ll build on each of these concepts and more. Using the 4 C’s of Leadership (Confidence, Connecting, Competence, and Culture) we’ll look at ways to leverage what you’re already doing to drive career success.  Impactful case studies of real life coaching clients in the Analytics and Data Science fields who have been have experienced these predictions will be included. You will learn from their stories what worked to advance their careers in light of industry challenges and opportunities.

 

Ressmeyer Partners, led by Founding Partner, Tim Ressmeyer, has teamed up with Burtch Works to provide executive and leadership coaching to our network of analytics and research professionals. For more information or to get in touch with Tim, please email us at info@burtchworks.com!

 

Thanksgiving Reflections from Tim

Posted November 28, 2017

tjr-corner-headshotWe’re in the midst of the season when we reflect on what we are thankful for, look back on the year as it comes to an end, and set our sights on all that lies ahead. All three of these are top of mind for me. My father passed away at the beginning of October. He led a long life (93 years!) that was filled with passion and commitment to those things most important to him: his family, faith, and friends. I am thankful for all he taught me and the example he set for how to be a leader in all aspects of your life.

Looking back on the year past I see the continuing growth of a coaching practice that helps people and companies across the country, at all levels of leadership, and with a diverse set of needs. Whether I’ve worked with leaders at universities, entrepreneurs, small business owners, non-profits, or executives at major corporations, I see growth in their ability to achieve goals in their personal and professional lives. I am grateful for the opportunity to join in so many journeys, and together with the client, to have been able to make an impact.

My clients will probably say the word they hear the most from me is opportunity. I look ahead to the new year with excitement about the opportunities that lie ahead. The growth of Ressmeyer Partners and Happy Hour Coach® brings the addition of more resources (administrative and coaching) to help carry out our mission to help individuals and leadership teams be happier, fulfilled, and even more successful. In addition to one-on-one coaching, there are already projects on the calendar to deliver trainings, conference presentations, and team development. Knowing there are people willing to put in the effort to overcome the obstacles that hold them back – real and imagined – gets me excited to carry out my mission every single day.

Great things lie ahead! Contact me if you would like to have a chat and see how together we can make 2018 one of your best years yet.

Handling Tough Questions During the Holidays

Posted November 21, 2017

“So…what are you doing with your life?”Handling tough questions during the holidays
“How’s work?”
“Are you still single?“

Are you dreading an inevitable question this holiday season? For many of us, this week kicked off a season filled with socials and family gatherings. These events can be great, often letting us catch up with those we don’t get to see as much as we’d like; they can also be a bit stressful. Perhaps you’re anticipating uncomfortable questions from curious relatives, or worried about how to talk about your difficulties at work. Maybe you’re meeting with old friends and you want to put on a good face.

At times, we all feel pressure to give the impression that we have it all or that we have it all together – but this is limiting. What does “having it all” even mean? No one has a perfect life, and if you spend your time worrying about measuring up to someone else’s standards or trying to attain the unattainable, you’ll miss the great opportunities in front of you.

So, how do you respond to questions you aren’t particularly excited to answer? How do you show up with confidence and authenticity? Here are three tips to help make the most of your interactions this holiday season.

1. Come from a place of positivity. If you’ve had a great year, this should be an easy one – but it’s easier said than done during a difficult period. Perhaps you’re having problems with your team, you are unhappy in your job, or you and your partner are in a rough patch – but try not to dwell in the negativity. Sure, vent and get it out of your system, but then look for the silver lining. Ask yourself: How can I grow from this? How can I turn this terrible job/dispute/relationship into a new opportunity? Then, when you’re asked those uncomfortable questions, you’re able to talk about how you plan to make your life’s challenges work for you. Remember: difficult situations can provide some of the best learning opportunities – and they’re often the events that propel us into action.

2. Channel your inner confidence. It’s easy to succumb to feelings of self-doubt when we aren’t happy with where we are in our lives. We might feel pressure to measure up to other people’s standards, but often, we’re the ones putting those burdens and requirements on ourselves. Remember that a lot of our self-doubt is self-inflicted – so don’t be so hard on yourself. Make a list of what you’re good at and write down the “wins” you had this year. Celebrate in those, and when you’re starting to feel doubt or negativity creeping in, go back to those highlights and remember that you can – and will – continue to have successes. Practice focusing on what’s right and not what’s wrong, and it will start to come naturally.

3. Go in with a plan. If you’re worried about questions you’ll get (“So, you STILL haven’t found a job?”), think through how you can answer in a way that is honest but doesn’t give in to negativity. If you don’t want to talk about something, prepare a sentence or two that helps you respond and change the conversation. But don’t forget to think about your longer-term plan – what steps are you going to take to change your situation so that a year from now, you’ll look forward to sharing details about your great new job or how you’ve turned things around at work? What will you do to create positive change in your life? This will help you answer tough questions, but it will also get you in the right mindset to start taking action to change the things that are holding you back.

The holidays provide invaluable opportunities to reconnect with people, and you have the power to shape these interactions. You can help create positive encounters, even if things aren’t “perfect,” by staying confident and authentic. Showing up in these situations with a positive attitude and a plan will go a long way in helping you enjoy this holiday season, as well as going into 2018 with purpose.

Business Partnerships Are Hard: I Do Not Want to Mess It Up

Posted February 21, 2017

business partners

Being in business with a partner is that double-edged sword of an amazing opportunity balanced against the potential for disaster. It is an alliance whose genesis is often based on friendship and excitement and advances into getting in bed together in a high-stakes relationship.

A lack of intentionality to foster the alliance can lead to financial failure and broken relationships.

(The parallels with a personal or romantic relationship are obvious and well documented. Leadership coaching of this sort can be referred to as “couples counseling.” True, but get the tongue out-of-the-cheek and see how important this is.)

If you are going into business together, it is a startup. Whether you’re 25 or 50 something new is being created. Even if you’re taking over an established business, your relationship is a new one that needs special attention as it goes through the phases of creating something new. The stats are well documented for the percentage of new businesses that fail. What isn’t all that clear is how much of that is due to healthy relationships between the leaders, and how many personal relationships dissolve when things go south.

Kudos to mature businesses that are run by partners and have survived the test of time. We can learn from those and also look for ways to improve and embrace the ever-changing lifecycles they encounter.

These three strategies will help a business partnership thrive by hitting head on some of the biggest opportunities for success.

Every day is Different – Be Ready for Change
You have to be brutally aware that you, your partner, and the business are different every single day. Yes, you have your vision, mission, goals, business plan, etc. that you use as your north star that helps you navigate into the future, but things will change.

Your partner starts dating someone new. A sure-thing investor is continuing to delay a decision. Your parents are having health problems. You’ve moved to a new office. You feel like you’re carrying more of the load. That competitor seems to be doing really well. There are now more employees and your 1:1 partner relationship isn’t like it once was.

These are examples of things you really don’t have control over. Whether personal or professional, the things that happen to you impact all dimensions of your life. When uncertainty or unanticipated change happens, our instinct is to try to protect ourselves. We do this by avoiding, exhibiting self-doubt, or blaming others to help us feel more secure.

When you look at things through the lens of “protecting self” you are not in the best place to make important decisions. It leads to judgment of yourself or others that may or may not be fair or true. It isn’t constructive in trying to resolve and adapt to the inevitability of change in your business partnership.

You can control how you react to the things that are going on around you. Knowing change is inevitable helps you:
•    Manage your own interpretation of the events and not blame your partner. Things that occur don’t have to have to be judged as good or bad. They happened, and now it’s time to take action moving forward in ways that serve the business.
•    Point out to each other where you see change happening so you can address it together. You and your partner have blind spots and see things differently. You have the advantage of the partnership where you can – and have the responsibility – to help each other see things clearly.
•    Be confident that no matter what happens not only can the challenge be managed, but it can be leveraged for even better outcomes. These are all learning opportunities.

Trust Yourself, Your Partner, The Relationship
You are together for a reason. You know that you have vision, skills, and experience that have brought you to this point. You know your partner brings a set of strengths as well. They are not the same set of attributes for both of you. Some are more developed in one of you than the other. THANK GOD! If you were identically gifted, you would be redundant, and the partnership wouldn’t make sense.

Believing that each of you has something to offer allows trust to be manifest in the partnership.

Attention to detail. Client relationship management. Financial acumen. Honesty. Conflict resolution. Vision. Communication. Strategy implementation. Business development. Talent management. Creating teams. Sales. Integrity.

These are all talents and values necessary in a successful organization. Each of you will fall somewhere along that continuum of “not good” to “crushing it” for each of these. Trusting that your partner brings something to the table and is in alignment with the overarching goals and values is crucial.  Furthermore, trusting each other to step up and grow in areas where you’re not as strong sustains the long-term success.

Trusting yourself and trusting your partner leads to being able to trust the relationship. If you can be confident that you’re giving your best and your partner is as well, then you are able to focus on the relationship.

By not blaming yourself or your partner, you are able to see there is something bigger that transcends both of you. You believe your relationship (or business) is more important than each of you individually. That trust allows you to get over yourself and be able to see ways to achieve your goals alongside your partner.

Ask the Hard Questions
Hard questions have to be asked to keep things moving forward. Those questions have to be asked of you, about the other person, and about the business.

This is really hard to do because sometimes you don’t know what the answer will be. Alternatively, once the question is asked the proverbial cat-is-out-of-the-bag. Failing to ask those questions, however, does not change the answer. Nor does the problem (real or imagined) go away.

The hard questions have to be asked.

Is this business what we were hoping it would be? Am I enjoying what I am doing? Do I still want to be doing this? What is the value my partner brings to the company? What do I need to do to contribute more effectively? How do we want to solve problems moving forward? What can each of us do to help the other succeed?

These are incredibly hard questions to ask oneself, or to discuss with your partner. It takes trust, honesty, and confidence to have fruitful conversations around critical questions.

One of the biggest obstacles to being able to ask the hard questions is a real or perceived imbalance of power within the partnership. Inevitably, a partner assumes control overall, or one or the other might dominate in certain dimensions of the relationship. Playing to your strengths is essential, and that makes a partnership work. However, you are both there for a reason, and each of you should want and be able to ask the hard questions.

To help level the playing field, and to be sure to include the positive as well as the negative, here are Five Questions you can both use to help set the foundation for effective communication and to start asking he hard questions.

1. What contribution to the business have I made in the past few months that I am most proud of?
2. What contribution has my partner made most recently that I think is really great?
3. What can my partner do to help me be better at what I do?
4. What can my partner do to help the company be even better?
5. What do I want to do differently to help make even more of a difference in the company in the upcoming months?

Answer these questions for yourself and have your partner do likewise. Then discuss them together. You may want this to be facilitated until you get used to doing it!

Being in a partnership is hard work and also so rewarding. Through the acknowledgment that change is inevitable; by trusting yourself, your partner and the relationship; and by asking the hard questions you can help increase the likelihood of success.

Failure Is An Option: And There are Ways to Avoid It

Posted October 31, 2016
failure-photocopy

“40%-50% of executives fail, quit, or are pushed out during the first 18 months in a new position.”

My friend and best-selling Amazon author, Lee Eisenstaedt, opens his book Being a Leader With Courage with this eye-popping statistic, and throughout the book provides great insight into why this happens and gives direction for how to avoid it.

When he shared the stat again at a workshop he recently led, it struck me with greater impact. Several of my clients are in new roles, and are consciously and aggressively working to not have this be their fate. They are not leaving it up to chance, and they want to guarantee success in their roles.

So many leaders, however, don’t seek outside support at this critical juncture in their careers.

What is it about leaders who seek executive coaching?

I’ve identified three characteristics that set apart individuals wanting to be successful.

1. Have the Confidence You Can Be Even Better

If you’ve moved up the ladder you already have success. Even though you have ongoing fears of failure, the imposter syndrome, and other stories your Gremlin tells you, you have had success. You, as a successful leader, are also self-aware and confident enough to know you can do more. But it is scary.

I’m frequently asked what I consider the most important characteristic of leadership, and unhesitatingly I say confidence. It’s not the arrogant confidence of “I deserve this” but the ability to look at what has brought you to this point and feeling good about it. What are my strengths? What do I bring to the table? What is the value I have created? Now that things have changed, how can I deliver value in the context of my new role?

When you look at yourself with humble confidence, you also realize you can be even more effective.  You know there are blind spots. You have seen characteristics of others you would like to emulate. You realize there’s a reason you haven’t developed all the skills you’d like, and now is the time to start.

This is confident, objective self-awareness that doesn’t make you feel weak, but presents the opportunity to be even better. Be honest and confident.
2. See Life as Being More Than Just Your Job

Your life is already complicated.  As you move into a new role things will be different. Admit it. Embrace it. Work on it. You cannot just gloss over it as an entitlement or a linear progression.

You’re moving into a big new job and you have a big title with lots of responsibilities. And, you are a parent, someone’s child, a friend, partner, sibling, an aunt or uncle. With these personal roles, come the realities of life: aging parents, difficult children, financial challenges, breakups, illness, transitions, and more.

Along with the rush of moving into a big new job, you are also shaking up virtually every other aspect of your life. All of those relationships and challenges you are dealing with already are going to be exacerbated by a different work rhythm, new stressors, and different demands on your time and energy.

You cannot be as effective as you like if you ignore or minimize these external factors and fail to understand how they affect your ability to be successful at work. Failing to fully be aware of this leads to disruption across all dimensions of your life and an increased likelihood of failure.

Successful leaders hit this head on knowing all aspects of their life are being impacted and need to be addressed.
3. Know You Can’t Do It Alone

It would be great if just becoming aware of how change will impact you would be enough to help you succeed. “I can suck it up.” “It will all fall into place over time.” “I can ignore what’s happening at home because they knew this was what we agreed to.” Unfortunately, there is a very real possibility that it won’t work out if it’s just ignored and there isn’t a strategy to be successful.

It’s also nearly impossible to do it alone.

Family members and close friends with whom you can be very honest about what’s going on is a necessary part of your support system. Unfortunately, they are all connected to the outcome in some way. The decisions you do or don’t make will impact them in some way. The advice and support they offer is not entirely objective. After all, they want you to be successful, but also don’t want to hurt your feelings, are carrying memories of a past struggle, or are afraid of what might lie ahead.

Who can you be 100% honest with about your fears or struggles with staying on track? To whom can you admit to you need help with a certain skill set? (You’re the boss, shouldn’t you know that?) Where can you learn the techniques to adjust your leadership style in order to have the impact you know you want to have? Where can you openly grapple with the impact a difficult personal situation is having on your job performance?

These questions are not rhetorical. They are real-life challenges clients bring to a coaching engagement where fears are admitted, problems are solved, and strategies to move forward are developed and executed.

Having things not work out in the first 18 months is no fun for anyone. Having confidence in your ability to grow, acknowledging the way all aspects of your life interact, and knowing an independent third party can help move things in a positive direction more quickly than you can on your own will go a long way to helping you achieve happiness, success, and fulfillment.