3 ways to strengthen your EQ

get-more-EQConversational déjà vu.  This has been my life over the last few months. I seem to keep having the same conversation over and over again.  It goes something like this:

Person: “You know, X is really great at what he or she does (dramatic pause)… but, there is something about the way they go about things that is not good. It is causing problems and upsetting people.”

Me: “Really? In what way (my therapist coming out)?”

Person: “I don’t know. It’s like they are going too fast, or don’t consider other’s thoughts or opinions. I don’t think it is an issue of them not caring. It’s like they don’t see the social impact they are having.”

Me: “It sounds like this could be an EQ issue and not a competency issue.”

Person: “Exactly! You’ve hit it on the head. It is definitely an EQ thing. (dramatic pause #2)… So, how can we fix that?”

How does someone raise his or her EQ?

I’ve been giving this question a lot of thought. We all know the benefits of high EQ in our careers and have seen the research that EQ is a better predictor of long-term career success than IQ. But heightened EQ can also minimize many toes from getting stepped on in life. Simply put, heightened EQ makes us better – better coworkers, better bosses, better associates, better partners, better spouses, better parents, better humans. Over the last few months, I’ve been looking for simple things each of us can do to raise our respective EQ. Consider the following:

1. Everyone had a 7th birthday.

Next time you are frustrated or angry with someone, look past the person you are currently “seeing” and try to imagine the other person as 7 years old. Picture the excitement on his or her face as they look at their birthday cake full of icing and bright burning candles. Imagine their happiness as they glance past the cake and see a mound of presents waiting to be opened. They are surrounded by all of their family and friends. They are happy, joyful and innocent.

Now imagine a different 7th birthday story. It is their 7th birthday but they are sitting at a table in a darkened room. They are alone. There are no friends. There is no cake. No presents to unwrap. The tears are streaming down their face. They sit there crying in silence – feeling unloved and forgotten. They are small, vulnerable, hurting and innocent.

Everyone had a 7th birthday. Imagine theirs to change how you view them today. Everyone has experienced intense joy as well as deep sorrow. It is hard to categorize and label others when we attempt to extend compassion and understanding towards them.

2. Look both ways.

I’ve made the argument that EQ is about peripheral vision (thanks to my dog, Ellie). Want to see how low EQ actually is in the world? Drive through a grocery store or shopping center parking lot sometime. You’ll see person after person march across the parking lot ignoring the moving cars that they are stepping in front of. Cars, people. Real moving automobiles. Maybe these pedestrians are saying to themselves, “I’m walking here and have the right of way so everyone better get out of my way.” Or perhaps they are simply oblivious to the other cars (and people) that are intersecting their world at that moment. Regardless, both are excellent examples of low EQ. This illustrates an important point about EQ. EQ is not about what is “technically correct.” I hear this inaccurate argument too often. Technically, pedestrians have the right of way and don’t need to acknowledge or pause for any vehicle or corresponding driver. However, without EQ as a complement, “technically correct” can run the risk of being perceived by others as disrespectful, ignorant, self-righteous and arrogant. Not that I’ve ever felt that way about a pedestrian in a parking lot… today at least.

Next time you are walking in a parking lot, stop. Look both ways and make eye contact with the drivers. Acknowledge him or her and mouth the words “thank you” when they motion for you to go. EQ allows us to build basic connections with others and keep us from getting run-over in life (figuratively and literally).

3. Practice the 24hour rule.

You know the one. You’ve just crafted the perfect response to something (an e-mail, blog post, comment, etc…) that stirred up your emotional pot. I had one of these moments a few weeks ago. I was about to hit “send” on my masterpiece and then thought to myself, “I should ask my wife about this.” Feeling pretty proud of myself, I expected her to say, “Oh, you nailed him. What a perfect answer. This is just one more example of why I married you.” To my surprise, that is not how the exchange went. My very wise wife said to me, “you know, maybe you should give it a day or so before you send that. You might think differently.” She was right. I did think differently and I never sent it. Just one more example of why I married her.

Strengthening and stretching your EQ is also about self-restraint. It is about listening to your emotions but not being driven by them. Next time you have something emotional that is prodding you, give yourself 24 hours to reflect on your next move.

There you have it. Three ways every one of us can begin to strengthen our EQ and make efforts to move through life with more emotional and relational intention and grace. It definitely beats getting run over.

 

Why I’m glad I got sick

Admittedly, this year has ended with a sputter rather than a bang. My tale of woe all began a few days before Halloween. I had tweaked my back and for three days I could barely move, hobbling around like I was a 95 year old man – the kind of old man that has a cane and waves it angrily at cars that drive too fast. As a result, I had to cancel and reschedule a bunch of work at the end of October, shifting it into the only three good weeks in November. Unbeknownst to me, that was the beginning of a chain reaction that sets up the purpose of this post. After three marathon weeks in November, I got sick. But not just any sick. No. I don’t do things half-way, folks. No, not me. I started off the week of Thanksgiving by getting the flu. After beginning to recover by mid-week, I started to feel my throat barking by Friday night. I figured, “here we go again. That damn flu still hasn’t fully left.” I was wrong. By Saturday morning I was so congested and my throat was so swollen, I had to sit upright to breathe. On Sunday, my seven year old was diagnosed with strep throat. Sure enough, that’s what dear old dad had contracted – a raging angry case of strep throat. So bad was my particular case that my ear drum had ruptured in that 48 hour period from all of the pressure. Today, nearly two and half weeks later, I’m still on the mend (with the help of some extra strong antibiotics).

And, it was the best thing that could have happened to me.

Lying in bed for countless days straight forced me to rethink some things. I came to the realization that over this entire year I had been pushing very hard to create the next big thing. Even though I didn’t realize it (or want to admit it), I was putting an enormous amount of pressure on myself. All the signs were there. Blood pressure, back issues, etc… But did I listen? Of course not.

Do any of us listen when we are driving towards something and we believe the only way is forward?

Being forced off the treadmill made me listen. Today, I’m in a different and better place than I was a month ago. Here’s what I came to realize:

  1. I need to take care of myself – this starts with prioritizing my health and healthy routines above everything else. If Hall of Famer’s do it, shouldn’t I. But it also means not overworking myself by filling my schedule completely full day after day. Just because I have capacity does not mean that I have to use it.
  2. I need to take the long view – I’m the king of trying to work magic in one calendar year (perhaps my greatest strength and weakness). For example, this past year I was going to grow my coaching practice, write a book, pilot a TV show and still keep all the rest of the balls in the air (existing coaching clients, consulting work, speaking engagements, teaching 500+ MBA’s, radio stuff, blogging, etc…). Umm, no. Patience, grasshopper. I need to focus on less and do it better. Incremental movements are key.
  3. I need to savor the moment – Over the past 6 months, My wife and I had been talking about moving from our current house to something a bit bigger. Our house is great, but after 14 years, we are getting close to outgrowing it. I would be kidding myself if this hasn’t been one more stressor in the back of my mind (racing to build up cash in order to make a move). Looking around at my home the last few weeks has me thinking to myself, “yeah, we probably will outgrow this soon. And, at that point, we’ll move. But today is not that day.” And that philosophy doesn’t apply just to my house. I’m going to sit back and savor where I’m at today in all aspects of my life. The day will come when I’ll be moving on to something else soon enough (home, family, opportunities, etc…). Doors will open. Doors will close. I don’t need to bang on the doors impatiently in the meantime.
  4. I need to set the right habits – Getting sick for that many days in a row had an unexpected outcome. It knocked me off of all of my routines. Of course it killed the good ones, but it also killed the bad routines. As an executive coach, I’m all about setting the right routines. And I also recognize that in the middle of craziness, it is hard to intentionally stop and change behaviors. It feels like there is too much at stake. I’ve been given the gift of a reset. From my eating to my exercise routines, from family time to my mental outlook, I’ve reset a bunch of stuff.

So, there you have it. For any hard charging, ambitious type, I highly recommend getting sick. It forced me to reevaluate, reflect and redesign my life for the better.

So, lick some door knobs. Go to a day care and ignore the hand sanitizer. Throw out the 5 second rule and eat anything you find laying around between the couch cushions.

You’ll thank me later.

What I learned shooting a TV sizzle reel

A little over a week ago, I shot my second TV sizzle reel (the topic is top secret, but I’m sure with a little prodding you could persuade me to spill the beans).  If you are like I was before all this TV stuff, you probably have no idea what a “sizzle reel” is.  In short, a sizzle reel is a long commercial for a potential TV show.  Typically between 3-5 minutes in length, sizzle reels are used to pitch TV show concepts to networks.  If the networks like it, they commission a pilot and you’re off to the races.  You’re invited to the dance.  You’ve punched your ticket.  You’re playing in the big game.  You get the picture…

After 8+ exhausting hours of cameras following me around, I realized some stuff about me and this TV thing.  While my realizations are useful for anyone who may one day find him or herself front of a camera, I think they translate well to leadership and life.  Or maybe I’m just kidding myself.  You be the judge.

Ignore the cameras, but don’t forget that they are there

To be good on camera, you have to pretend that there isn’t a dude with a camera about 4 feet from your face as you go about your business (or in my case, workplace therapy).   And ignore the fact that in the other room are four people with headsets on listening to your every word to make sure it “sounds good.”  And yet, you can’t forget that you are being watched and listened to, particularly if you want to keep everyone’s attention and focus.  It sounds like leadership to me.  Like leadership, you can’t spend all of your time worrying about what others think, but at the same time you need to make sure you have their attention and are keeping their interests and concerns in mind if you want them to follow you.  And let me tell you, it’s exhausting.

Don’t try to put on your dad’s suit

Be you and only you.  I noticed that as soon as the following thought would cross my mind, “the proper way I should do this or say this would be X,” I would be sunk.  This is what happened when I shot sizzle reel numero uno.  That production company attempted to have me memorize lines.  Epic.  Fail.

I realized then that I can only say it my way, not the way my dad would say it or want me to say it (or my mom, or my mentor, or some expert, etc…).

I had to be me and not hold back. When you truly let go and be fully you, the camera will fall in love with you.  They call that being “telegenic” in the biz.  I don’t know if I’ve got it, but I sure tried hard enough… or didn’t try… err, you get the idea.

Focus on the garter belt

If you’ve ever seen the movie “Bull Durham,” you’ll know what I’m talking about (if you haven’t, you have your Netflix prescription for the weekend).  In the movie, there is a young fireball-throwing pitcher named “Nuke” LaLoosh who, as they say in the movie, has “a million-dollar arm and a five-cent head.”  Annie, his pseudo coach and love interest convinces him to wear her garter belt while he pitches to keep his mind off of what he is doing.  Reluctantly, Nuke complies.  As a result, he stops worrying about his mechanics and allows his natural instincts to take over.  Movie happiness ensues.

On the day of my sizzle reel shoot, I started out of the gate slow.  I was spending too much time thinking about what I was doing and focusing too much on mechanics.  I would think to myself stuff like “O.k.  First I need to say this.  Then she’ll say that.  Then I’ll come back with this.  Etc…” It felt awkward, forced and choppy.  At some point I stopped thinking about what I was doing and I just was.  I just did.  Then it felt right.

You can’t think about mechanics when its performance time.  Be fully present in the moment and trust your instincts.

 

If you just read the list and find yourself nodding in agreement, congratulate yourself.  You are ready to film your own sizzle reel.  Now all you need is a good topic.  Maybe “Cake Whisperer” or “Dog Makeover.”  Catchy.  I can see ‘em now.  Dudes talking to cakes and dogs getting their nails done.  People will watch anything.

I just hope it happens to be a show starring yours truly.

 

 

Why my clients get fired

I haverock_star_graphic an interesting job.  Some might call it a little crazy (I wouldn’t disagree).  After all, who’s ever heard of a workplace therapist?  When I’m doing my workplace therapist thing, one of the more important roles I play is that of an executive coach.  And let me tell ya, this “coaching thing” can take many forms.  Sometimes I’m hired to support a newly promoted leader (“happy coaching”).  Other times, I’m hired to help a leader round out his or her rough edges (“development coaching”).  And then sometimes I’m hired to save a client from being fired (“fixer coaching”).  And sometimes, I fail. 

Recently I’ve been reflecting on all of the clients I’ve worked with over the years who I failed.  And when I say “failed,” I mean it.  They lost their jobs.  Exited.  Fired.  Canned.  Booted.  Downsized.  Invited to leave.  On the surface, the reasons were not obvious.  It’s not like these individuals were unethical, unprofessional or walking H.R. nightmares.  No.  The reasons were much more subtle.  Over many hours at the gym, shower-time-pondering and long Atlanta commutes, here’s what I’ve come to (it’s actually a pretty short list):

They function like consultants and not like owners

All consultants, former or current, need to take note.  In fact, share this with your consultant friends.  These clients held onto their consultant hat way too long.  Maybe they were once consultants and now they were hired into a senior role by a company.  Or maybe they held internal “consulting” kinda roles (regional director, etc…).  Regardless, they were reluctant to take ownership inside their organizations and push results.  They preferred to spend their time thinking big thoughts and painting bold strategies.  They are rarely around (think workplace ghost) and when they are, they are masters at delegating so well that nothing is left on their own plate.  No one really knows what they do.

They are reactive and not proactive

These individuals can never seem to get in front of any problem or issue.  Their days are spent putting out fires – usually ones they’ve themselves created.  They appear unprepared and reactive in meetings and seem to lack the ability to follow things fully through.  This is the kind of feedback I’ve heard over the years about these folks:

  • “He can’t tell his boss ‘no.’ Ever.  This just means we’re left to do the work, and we’re already overloaded as it is.”
  • “She is constantly changing her priorities.  Daily.  Her priorities seem completely driven by random conversations she has in the hallway.”
  • “He is not strategic.  He just reacts to stuff.  Honestly, I don’t think he can think beyond this week, even if he was forced to.”
  • “She never takes initiative.  She just sits in meetings and waits for her boss (the CEO) to tell her what to go do.”

They have no fans

SeveImAstar256ral years ago, I had just completed a round of 360 interviews for one particular client and it was time to meet with him to review the feedback.  I sat down with him to go over the rather hefty report and as I began, point by point, he attempted to discredit every potentially negative piece of feedback I presented to him.  When I finished, I closed the report and looked up at him.  He looked back at me with a smug expression as if he had won.  I pushed the report to one side, slowly leaned forward and matter-of-factly said to him, “You have a fan problem.  The problem is that you have none.”  Leaders with rough edges tend to have at least some fans.  But if someone doesn’t have any fans (not administrative assistants, direct reports, peers, bosses, customers, the janitor, etc…), the writing is on the wall.  He was “invited to leave” about two months later.

That’s my list so far.  As I think back to all of my “downsized” clients through the years, they really didn’t have too much in common (other than rock star resumes which should tell us something).  There were men and women equally in that group.  They represented different ethnicities as well as a variety of industries.  They were Directors, Vice Presidents and C-Level Execs.  But what they all did have in common is that they had at least some combination of the items above before they were shown the door.

That’s what I’ve seen.  So the big question to you is:

What am I missing?

Other than naked pics of course.   Those never go over well.

How I overcame fear

quicksandIt was 1998.  I was nearing the finish line for my graduate degree in counseling and I found myself in one of my last classes: “Clinical Diagnosis” (or something like that).  Each week class followed the same script.  The professor would start the class by popping in a tape (yes folks, a VHS tape) and on the screen would appear a patient who was suffering from some set  mental illnesses or issues.   Like grad school Jeopardy, our job would be to see who could diagnose the patient on the screen the quickest and most accurately.  From paranoid schizophrenia to bipolar disorder, I was a diagnosing rock star – the equivalent of the returning Jeopardy champ week after week (it didn’t hurt that I was working at an inpatient facility at the time).  Once the diagnosis was revealed to the class, we would dive deeper into that particular mental illness.  And every week, about the time the conversation would start to die down, Frank would slowly raise his hand.

“I’ve got that”

Frank was one of the older students in class.  In his mid-40’s, Frank always looked a bit unkempt.  His hair hadn’t seen a brush or barber in months and his clothes had the “I just got up from a 3 hour sweaty nap” look.  His fingernails were stained yellow from cigarettes and his legs were perpetually in motion as he sat.  He was a curious and nervous dude.  Eventually the professor’s gaze would fall on Frank’s raised hand.  Once Frank had secured the professor’s attention, he would matter-of-factly announce to the class, “I have that.”   It didn’t matter the week or illness, like clockwork, Frank would end every class period by adding one more illness to his growing collection.

Fear is like that.  We rarely have just one.  At points in my life, I’ve been like Frank.  I could raise my hand and say “I’ve got that.”  Here is just a sampling of the fears I’ve had in my life that I’ve worked through.

Fear of humiliation.  When I was 11 years old, I developed an uncontrollable stutter.  I could not speak in public without getting stuck and going into the stutter spiral.  Like a skipping CD (or broken record for you old-schoolers), it would go on for what seemed like an eternity, causing pain for the stutterer and everyone who was present.  Imagine if you knew you had this thing lurking, the last thing you would want is to have everyone’s attention on you.  Ordering a pepperoni pizza was no picnic.  For nearly a year, I would go to school early a few times a week to work with a speech therapist.  I was terrified of speaking in public.  After working through it, I became more comfortable.  But admittedly, it is still not my favorite thing to do.   It’s ironic that today I teach classes on communication to 700+ MBA students every year.

Some fears we can shrink so small that they fit in our pocket, but we still carry them with us wherever we go.

Fear of failing.  Admittedly, my high school and college days were less than impressive.  In high school, I typically slept through classes in the morning, ate two lunches and then took an afternoon nap to close out the day.  College wasn’t that much better.  I put forth the minimum effort required to pass.  In retrospect, I know what was going on.  I was afraid of failing.  I’m an “all in” kinda guy.  Deep down, I was afraid of putting forth 110% effort and having it not be good enough.  So, what’s the best way to stay on the sidelines?  Sleep a lot.  It wasn’t until I had the world’s worst boss that I discovered my purpose.  I had something compelling enough for me to face my fear and look it dead in the eye.  Today, I’m all-in in everything I do working to eliminate workplace dysfunction.

Fear of not knowing enough.  Fast forward.  I start my business and I’m coaching and consulting with companies that I know nothing about.  I started to wonder and worry.  What would my clients do if they knew how inexperienced I was?  What would they do if they knew how little I knew about their business?  Etc…  And then a mentor of mine looked me in the eye and said,

It is not about having the answer.  Everyone has a piece of the truth.  Understand that the value you bring is your perspectives, insights and ability to see things the client doesn’t see.  It isn’t about having the answer.

In that moment, my fear seemed to vanish.

big-dog-little-dogFear of being vulnerable.  Being vulnerable is never much fun.  I don’t know too many people that enjoy it but I do admire those who are comfortable with it.  My two big “vulnerability no-no’s” have been talking about personal tragedies in my life(my big bro killed himself when I was 10) and asking others for help.  I really don’t know what my hang-up was about these two other than I don’t want others to feel sorry for me.  I’ve been working on these two the last few years and ironically, they go hand in hand.  When others truly know you for who you are and what you’ve overcome, they feel compelled to help you.

Fear of hearing “no.”  Admittedly, I haven’t conquered this bad boy.  It is why I do not love doing business development and am an awful negotiator.  I’m working on it but it has been baby steps.  I’ll have to keep you posted on this one but I’m open to suggestions.

We really aren’t all that different from Frank.  We all have fears that we carry around with us.  Those fears can weigh us down and immobilize us or we can neatly tuck them in our pocket and continue on our journey.  The first step is to acknowledge what’s holding you back.

Maybe Frank was onto something.

What are you afraid of?

fear-256Fear.  We all have it.  It’s what keeps us from walking up to a fluffy black bear while on a hike and attempting to rub its adorable tummy.  But there is such a thing as too much fear.  Debilitating fear.

I believe we are in the middle of a fear epidemic.

It seems more and more of my friends, family, clients and colleagues have contracted this disease.  Good people, competent people, accomplished people that are paralyzed from taking the necessary first step towards the future that they want and they are meant for.  They sit as years pass.  Stuck.  Regardless of the role I’m playing with them: executive coach, professor, therapist, consultant, blogger, radio dude, parent, husband, friend, etc…  my focus is always the same: help them get unstuck and take the first step.  And yet, despite how easy and painless as I try to make the process, something always seems to be in their way.  Fear.  It causes paralysis inside its victim, but more importantly it spreads.  Only, fear is not like cancer.  It is exponentially worse.  Like cancer, it sits inside of us and eats until nothing is left.  Unlike cancer, fear is highly communicable.  It gets passed to friends in fear-riddled statements like “you can’t do that.”  It gets passed down to children in the form of overly anxious and controlling parents.  It gets passed down from insecure bosses that tell you that you aren’t good enough because, deep down, they believe that they aren’t.

If you want the life you’ve always dreamed of, the life you feel like you are meant for, you will have to look fear in the eye.

You can’t go around fear.  You can’t bury fear.  You can’t ignore fear.  If you try, it will simply feast on your soul.

What Are You Afraid Of?

Have you inadvertently contracted a debilitating case of fear?  Is fear holding you back?  Here are some of the most debilitating strains of fear that I’m seeing more and more.  Are any of these you or those closest to you?

The fear of acknowledging what you really want or need

This form of fear whispers into the victim’s soul that they can’t have what they truly want.  When someone is suffering from this fear, it exposes itself quickly.  When I present my magic crystal ball and ask the person to imagine their perfect life in 5 years, sufferers of this fear will respond to that seemingly innocent question with one of two statements:

Them: “I don’t know what I want or need in life.  I just don’t know.  That’s my problem.  Can you tell me the answer?”

Me: “I don’t believe you.  You are lying to me but more importantly you are lying to yourself.  The answer is inside of you.  Have the courage to listen, but more importantly the courage to claim it.”

OR

Them: “I’m good.  I don’t want or need anything.  Everything with me is perfectly perfect.” 

Me: “Really?  Your career is exactly where you want it to be?  Your relationships are golden?  You are living where you’ve always dreamed?  Liar.  Go sell that somewhere else.”

In an effort to protect themselves from that possible pain of disappointment, this fear convinces it sufferers to lie to themselves and to others in order to maintain a bubble of happiness.  The problem is that sufferers of this fear aren’t living happy lives.  They are often scared, anxious, judgmental, controlling, tired and dangerous.  This fear wants its sufferer to spread the mantra to others so they aren’t alone huddling in the corner.  Be careful.  This fear will try to get you to turn your back on your dreams.  

fakepeopleThe fear you’ll be found out

The impostor fear.  “If others find out who I really am, they’ll surely kick me out of here.”  This is one of the most common fears that emerges with accomplished working professionals.  It’s this idea that deep-down, we are still that young kid that doesn’t know what he or she is doing, only now we have 5 direct reports and a $3M budget.  “I sure hope no one finds out who I really am.”

This fear is easy to spot.  We often label these people as “too corporate” or “politicians.”  They seem plastic and phony in their interactions.  They fear authenticity because that would mean others would see who they really are, and they can’t have that.  Their fear won’t let them.  Instead, they dress, speak and interact in overly scripted ways.  This fear generates extreme self-judgment.  An important note about judgment: judgment is never one directional.   These individuals take out their fears on others by judging others, micromanaging direct reports, avoiding any type of “risky” assignments and sometimes decline promotions.  This fear will tell you not to be who you really are and to just stick to the script.  

The fear you won’t be liked, loved or accepted

This fear is all about giving oneself away in an effort to win friendship, love and acceptance.   While problematic in our professional lives, this fear is particularly troublesome in our personal lives.  Parents with this fear can’t tell their children “No” and ultimately raise selfish, rude and insecure human beings (Ex: Veruca Salt).  These sufferers have no boundaries.  They give themselves away freely to anyone who will ask.  They work extra-long hours at work.  They stay in unhealthy relationships too long.  They try to desperately rescue as many other people (and animals) as they possibly can because, by doing so, they feel needed and important.  I know when I’m dealing with someone suffering from this fear when I try to get them to set boundaries (Ex: “No, you can’t have spaghetti tonight for dinner.  We are having chicken…  No, I will not rescue another cat / dog…  No, I will not do your job for you.  That is your responsibility…  No, I will no longer tolerate your abuse.  Get counseling or we are done.”).  This fear hates boundaries.  When I propose setting boundaries to a sufferer of this fear, the person becomes angry, hostile and for a split second, I can see in their eyes the desire to leap across the table and kill me.  This fear will convince you that good people sacrifice themselves and never say “no.”  Guilt is its weapon.  Be on guard.  

What’s Fear Costing You?

Is fear standing in the way of what you truly want and need?  Do you know that deep down, you are meant for more, but you just can’t seem to take the first step?  Your first step is to ask yourself “what is fear costing you?”  Are you willing to pay that price?  I’m no stranger to fear. At times I’ve been paralyzed in my life, afraid to take that first step wondering if I had what it takes, wondering if I could stick to it, wondering and doubting until I took that first step.

Make no mistake, the road to realizing one’s dreams is littered with fear-consumed souls.  At its best fear is sneaky and paralyzing, but at its worst, fear takes lives.  In my family, we have had the misfortune of losing three relatives to suicide.  My oldest brother Chris was one of those, a casualty of fear.  Fear was too much for him and he succumbed. Fear kills.

Don’t let fear win.  Get courageous.  Look fear in the eye and take one step forward.

One step.

That’s all it takes.

 

 

 

How I scratched the “meant for more” itch

turtleIt was last Fall.  I was sitting in my office waiting with anticipation for my cellphone to ring. Over the past year, I had been running hard coaching, consulting, speaking, teaching, blogging and doing my radio gig. In a few short minutes, I was going to receive the phone call that represented the culmination of all of my hard work. I was going to have my very own TV show. We had already shot the sizzle reel (TV lingo for the three minute promo for the show) earlier in the year and the production company had been pitching it to networks for several months. In my mind, things were going to play out like this: First, a network exec would hear the pitch and almost instantly would have responded with, “Yes. We love it. And his hair is frickin’ awesome.  Let’s start production tomorrow.” After fighting off several equally interested networks, the production company would select the winner and would call me with the news.  And in a few short minutes I was going to receive that very call.  After graciously accepting my prize (a show), I was going to begin to move things around in my life to accommodate this new adventure. Soon, workplace dysfunction was going to be treated on every screen, from tablets to TVs, across the country.

But that’s not what happened.

The sizzle reel had fizzled.

As the next few months unfolded, I realized two important things about myself and how I had been operating. First, I had this persistent itch that I was “meant for more” than what I had been doing. Before you jump to conclusions, let me clarify what I mean by “meant for more.” I wasn’t saying I was unhappy with what I do.  Far from it.  I wanted to see how I could do it bigger.  And I wasn’t suggesting I was “meant for more money, more stuff, more fame, more glamour, etc…” I’m quite happy with the stuff that I’ve got (although my daughter would rather not share her bathroom with her two brothers, but that’s a whole other issue). It was a deeper sense that I was meant to play a bigger game than I had been playing. It was akin to feeling like I was roaming centerfield for some obscure minor league team in a one stoplight town knowing that I had the skills to play in the big leagues. Second, I realized I was doing this whole “meant for more” thing all wrong. I was sitting back waiting for some big thing to come find me. The reality was that the production company found me. I didn’t find them. It was the production company that was pitching me to the networks. Not me. I was simply sitting back sipping a cappuccino, waiting for them to bring me something wonderful.

I realized that’s not how “meant for more” is supposed to work. You can’t just wait for something big to come along and find you.

And when it does find you, you then conveniently move things around in your life to make space. I realized I have to make space first and then set out on a mission looking for that bigger thing. I set out to scratch the itch in a different way.

Make room in your life for something big to come

Last year was a whirlwind. Nearly every day was packed full with work. The first thing I set about doing was to clear space in my calendar for something big to nest. I immediately honed in on my relatively large teaching load across multiple MBA programs.  I realized if I took a step back from some of my teaching commitments in the Fall, I could pick up about 15 extra days. Done. Second, I took a harder look at the work I was saying “yes” to and I started to become much more discriminating. I don’t do stuff that I simply don’t like and I have raised my rates on the stuff that I was giving away too cheaply. That bought me back even more days. Finally, when folks want my advice or help but aren’t looking to hire me (in other words, they want a free workplace therapist), I still say yes. I just ask they either meet me at my favorite breakfast joint early or opt for a phone call during one of my commutes. The net effect? I’m thinking I’ve picked up at least 30 days of open space between now and the end of the year. Not too shabby.

Put your money where your mouth is

When the production company first broke the news that the sizzle reel fizzled, I asked them what the feedback was from the networks. Their response was simple. Since I’m not a “throw chairs” type of guy, the networks would have liked to have seen me on TV first. So, I get on TV when I get on TV? Riddle me that. I hired an awesome PR firm and with their help, I made several TV appearances on Fox and PBS this year. TV appearances. Check. I also realized my “Workplace Therapist” blog had serious room for improvements in making it more user friendly. Site upgraded. Check. Finally, I realized I needed to have a separate site that could communicate what I (and hopefully others) could provide for individuals and companies looking to eliminate workplace dysfunction and take their organizations to the next level of awesomeness. With the help of a fantastic consultant and my web master Kristen, The Worksmiths was born. Check. Bank account empty. Check.

Embrace other’s discomfort

Throughout this journey,some of my closest friends, surprisingly, have been vocally uncomfortable with my new plan.

Friends: “What? Are you sure you want to walk away from some of your teaching gigs this Fall? Isn’t that guaranteed income that you’re turning your back on?”

Me: “Yep. Yes it is and I’m sure this is what I want to do.”

Friends: “Do you have other work lined up?”

Me: “Nope. I sure don’t. That’s the point.  I’m trying to create space.”

fishWhen my friends first tried to talk me out of my plan, I began to question myself, and then it hit me. That’s what faith is all about. This isn’t my first faith rodeo. Nearly 10 years ago, when I was finishing up my MBA, I received a full-time offer from a prestigious consulting firm to join their human capital practice. Nationally, I was the first and only MBA they extended an offer to at the time. After much soul-searching, I turned down the offer and decided I would do my own thing. The news spread like wildfire in the business school.  Upon hearing the news, no one in the business school would talk to me for two weeks. Whatever it was that I had contracted, no one else wanted to risk picking up.  Turns out I had come down with a serious case of faith. Trust yourself and what you feel called to do. You are on the right track when others are uncomfortable.

Want to scratch your itch?

Feel like you are stuck in the bush leagues, playing a mean third base waiting to be discovered? Stop waiting. Make space in your life. Start putting some resources toward your plan and know that the more uncomfortable others get, the more you are on the right track.

Big isn’t for everyone. That’s why it’s big.

I’ve got a final recent turn in the story. Over the next month I shoot sizzle reel #2 with a different production company.  Through a series of events, we found each other. Turns out, big things do happen to those who don’t wait.

Space, effort and faith.

Get scratching.

 

“I’m meant for more”

meant-for-more-400I have to confess, I’m an itchy dude. As my kids will attest, dad is always looking for a good back scratch.  But my itchiness doesn’t stop with back scratches.  It seems like I’ve always got an itch that I am trying to scratch. Sometimes that itch is a feeling that I’m running out of time. Chalk it up to attending way too many funerals before I turned 10. Other times the itch is just a desire to do more of something that I seemed to only get just a taste.  And then sometimes the itch is more difficult to isolate. I can feel it but I can’t quite tell where it is and how to get at it.

Years ago I had knee surgery to repair a torn ligament I suffered playing basketball (an example of what happens when a non-athlete thinks he’s a champ). After the surgery, I had a bulky brace that I was instructed to wear for several weeks without removal (showers were a blast, let me tell you). As anyone who’s ever had a cast or a semi-permanent brace can attest, when you’ve got an itch underneath the thing, there is nothing worse (other than perhaps the smell when you finally do take it off. Whew.). All you want to do is scratch the itch but you are neither sure quite where it is nor how to reach it. Your anxiety spikes. You become fidgety. You shake. You wiggle. You yell out in frustration. You’ll do anything to get that feeling of discomfort to simply go away.

Sometimes we have those kinds of itches in life. The kind of itch that sits just under the surface that slowly and persistently needles us until we do something about it.

The itch prods, nudges and irritates. The problem is that we usually don’t know quite where it is or how to scratch it. All we know is that where we are in life is not where we want to be. The itch tells us that something is out of place, that this is not how it is supposed to be.  This is not how we are supposed to be. Maybe it’s the relationships we are in or the career we’ve chose? Maybe it is where we live? And sometimes it is what we are not doing that we should be that is the cause of the itch. Regardless of the reason, we know deep down that the itch is trying to tell us that we are meant for more. “But what?” is the question.

I got the itch last year.

On the surface, you would never have been able to tell. Things were rockin’ and rollin’. I was as busy as I had ever been and work was just coming. But something just didn’t feel right. Something was missing. While I enjoyed the work I was doing, it didn’t feel like I was making the progress I wanted to make on my mission and purpose to cure workplace dysfunction. I had an itch that I needed and wanted to scratch, but I didn’t know exactly where the itch was or how to scratch it. So what did I do?

Over the next month, I’m going to share with you my journey of scratching the “meant for more” itch. To get the itch to go away, I am doing some crazy things. Namely, the following:

  • Taking some big chances and walking away from guaranteed work
  • Depleting my savings to build something better for my mission
  • Learning how to ask for help
  • Working on myself and who I want and need to be

Will it be inspiring? I don’t know.

Entertaining? Probably. Watching others do potentially embarrassing things usually is.

A cautionary tale? Only time will tell.

 

 

How to look and act confident – Part 2

Image matters. We’d love to be able to say that it doesn’t, but it does. And yes, the way a person carries him or herself can directly communicate their internal level of confidence. In the last post, I made the case for how to “act” more confident. This post is how do you “look” more confident.

How to Look More Confident

Looking confident has as much to do with how you carry yourself as it does with what you wear. Harvard professor and researcher, Amy Cuddy, has done some fascinating research around this topic of looking confident. Specifically, what she found was that by assuming a “power pose” prior to and interaction, one could actually “feel” more confident. And it’s not just feeling more confident, the levels of testosterone would actually increase. What is a “power pose” you might ask? Any pose that gets you “as big as possible” according to Dr. Cuddy. Spread your arms out. Prop your feet up on your desk. Put your arms behind your head. Widen your stance. In other words, the opposite of squeezing yourself tight and getting yourself small.

So, got a big meeting? Practice power poses first.

clownSecond, consider what you are wearing. Dressing confidently matters. This one is a bit more tricky and subtle. As a general rule of thumb, consider both the situation and your own style. The sweet spot is finding a way to be professionally appropriate for the situation and to demonstrate some level of boldness while doing it. A client of mine shared with me this fantastic story. One of her mentors early on in her career was a female partner at a large consulting firm. This particular consulting firm, like many consulting firms, had an unspoken conservative uniform. Everyone essentially wore the same consulting attire. This partner would abide by the uniform (professional) but always had one thing on that thumbed its nose at the rigidity (bold). Sometimes it was a bright red scarf. Other times it was a pair of bright aqua heels. Whether it was the chicken or the egg is unclear, but people in the firm saw her as confident and bold.  She had executive presence with clients and partners in the firm.

So, what am I saying? Go out and get that bold pair of shoes you’ve been wanting. Buy that new suit. Get that bold tie (I’m on a pocket square kick at the moment). Get your hair done differently.  Get one bold element to bump up your confident appearance.

Professional + Bold = Confident

Combining professional attire with some boldness gets you confidence.  And confidence gets you closer to executive presence and that gets you more opportunities.

Get posing and get shopping. Who can argue with that (spouses excluded of course)?

 

How to look and act confident – Part 1

Sometimes there is no level of coaching or inspiration to get someone to feel more confident. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try or how hard you search, it’s just not there. It’s in those situations that the only recourse is to just fake it. In other words, how do you look and act confident even if you don’t feel confident?

How to Act Confident

OfficeKing256Acting confident can be taught. I’m not saying it will feel comfortable or natural, but acting in ways that appear confident can be done. Simply put, acting with confidence is all about leaning forward (or leaning “in” if you prefer) versus leaning back. Like most sports, it’s about being on your toes and not on your heels. So how do you do that? The best way is by asking great questions. In fact, as I have made the rounds with senior leadership teams across various industries and organizations, they all tell me the same thing. The repeatedly say, “When we are looking to promote someone to join the senior leadership team, we are not looking for the smartest or loudest person in the room. We are looking for the person who can ask the best questions. The individual who can lead the group by asking the right questions so we can make better decisions.”

Sounds simple right? And yet, I have not once, not ever, met a person who lacks confidence who asks good questions. In other words, when our confidence is shaken we tend to shut up. Not good. So, here is your prescription for “confidence-boosting” questions that you should start asking:

Clarifying questions – when your boss asks you to do something. Never say, “o.k.” Always, follow-up with clarifying questions. Questions like:

  • “Can you give me an example of what you might be looking for? Has something like this been done before in a way that you thought was exceptional? ”
  • “What would success look like for you on this project?”
  • “In your mind, what is the priority of this project? High? Low?”

Strategic questions – when in meetings, ask questions to get the group to think differently about what you are talking about. Think SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). Questions like:

  • “What would success look like for this initiative? What would a perfect outcome be?”
  • “How is this going to impact our customers (or other stakeholders)?”
  • “Do we have the right resources to get this done? If not, how can we get the right resources?”
  • “Are there any threats to this that I / we aren’t thinking about? What could derail this?”

Needs questions – when interacting with your boss, peers or customers, be sure to clarify what they need. Questions like:

  • “What do you need to see come out of this (project, initiative, work, etc…)? What would you like to get?”
  • “Where would you like to go over the next year (or more)? What are your goals?”
  • “How can I help you? What do you need from me?”

The beauty of these questions is multi-faceted. First, it allows you to get the stuff you really need to do your job more effectively. You learn what’s important, what others expect and how to prioritize your time. Your work anxiety drops and your efficiency and effectiveness goes up. Second, you help others improve their thinking. By asking these questions, you force others to think more deeply about what they are saying and asking for. This outcome takes a wonderful page from the “therapy playbook” by helping others get clearer and more insightful. Third, people see you as proactive, adding value in every interaction, making others smarter and moving with confidence. That’s a win, win, win (and maybe even a few more “wins”).

Kelly’s Story

Kelly started as an H.R. consultant for a high tech company about 10 years ago. Admittedly, she knew nothing about technology or the business she was entering into. She lack knowledge and expertise, but Kelly didn’t lack confidence. She started inviting engineers and others out to lunch to pick their brain about the business and the industry. She asked question after question of everyone she talked to. Soon Kelly was hired in as a Manager, then promoted to a Director and rapidly ascended to Chief People Officer of the business. She leap-frogged all of the other H.R. professionals in the organization because of her ability to ask fearless and strategic questions. Questions like, “How is this going to affect our customers?” “How will we make money if we make this strategic shift?” “How will this move affect our risk exposure?” Notice the number of H.R. specific questions? That’s right – none. Today, she is routinely courted by other CEO’s for her ability to not only run H.R. effectively but also her courage to ask the right questions of her peers in senior leadership meetings. She makes everyone smarter. In recent years, her company has acquired a few other companies as it has continued its growth. During the last round of acquisitions, Kelly headed up the financial piece of the acquisition, not the CFO. She was quizzing and challenging the CFO of the acquired company. “You’re the Chief People Officer?” he asked her. “Yep,” Kelly responded without blinking an eye.

If you want to start acting more confidently, start by asking great questions. I promise you’ll notice a difference in no time.

Next up: we’ll talk about how to look more confident. Image matters. It may be time to go shopping…

 

How I’m trying to get my confidence back

stepping-off-ledgeI’ve got a confession to make: I’ve lost my mojo. You probably noticed that it has been a few weeks since my last post. You’d be right. It’s tough to talk about how to get your confidence back when you’ve lost a little bit of it yourself. So, here’s what happened. Over the past year, I, with the help of a production company, have been working on a TV show based on tackling workplace dysfunction. After crafting what I thought is a pretty awesome “sizzle reel” (a 3 minute promo for the show) the folks at the production company pitched the concept to  every possible network that might be interested over the last two months. The result? A big fat goose egg. Nothin’. Nada. Zilch. While I had convinced myself that rejection was a very real possibility, I gotta tell ya, I’m bummed. I had no idea that I had put so much time and mental energy into picturing this project coming to fruition. Now that it isn’t happening, I feel like I’m just going through the motions, a bit lost and a bit shaken.

Ever felt like that?

So this post is going to be different than most. It is going to be a funky combination of self therapy (workplace therapist, heal thy self), a deeper look into my quirky brain and hopefully, something for you in the process (even if it is simply pure entertainment).

Reclaiming My Inner Superhero

superheroAs a little kid, I always had a fascination (bordering on an obsession) with superheroes. On any given day, you would have probably found 6-year old Brandon donned in some costume with an accompanying cape.  Oh, and I didn’t just stay inside with my costume.  Oh no.  I would routinely walk over to neighbor’s houses, ring the doorbell and announce my presence in grand superhero fashion when they opened the door.  From Superman to Spiderman, any superhero with superhuman powers were on the menu.  After all, what could be cooler than having some combination of super powers and using those to stop the bad guys and save the world?

About a week ago, what I realized is that the best way for me to move past this disappointment and reclaim my spark is for me to dig down deep and reclaim my inner superhero. And since superheroes embody the confidence that all of us want (and I particularly need at the moment), below is my self-prescription.

  1. I need to remind myself of my mission. Superheroes are mission-focused. That’s what makes them superheroes. They are focused on some altruistic goal greater than themselves like combating some nasty bad guy bent on total dominance or defending a group of innocent people that can’t defend themselves. That description sounds like the workplace to me. I think I’ve got my mission back.
  2. I need to remind myself I’m “super.” Superheroes come to embrace their superpowers and hold a deep belief that they can get it done. That includes flying over buildings, smashing boulders, talking to whales and even spinning webs. They believe they can do what others believe can not be done. I gotta get that back.
  3. I can’t give up. I need to regroup to my bat cave, lick my wounds and come back smarter and stronger. What’s true about superheroes is that they always get knocked down. But when was the last time you saw a superhero just hang up their cape and say “you got me. I’m done.”?  They always persevere. It doesn’t mean they aren’t scared. Their courage and belief in themselves trumps their fear. I’ve already started my inventory of what I’ve learned from this failure so I can come back faster and stronger the second time around.
  4. I need to keep moving. There is no superhero syllabus or step-by-step play book. Superheroes don’t wait for someone to tell them what to do. They are proactive not reactive. They are always moving forward. As much as I don’t want to, I’ve got to get more irons in the fire and keep moving forward. Fake it ‘til you make it.

Can you see the similarities between superheroes and confident people?  Ask yourself, of the four items above, which do you possess today.  Get your inner superhero working for you.

One final confession, I’m one of those people that when I sleep, it is not unusual for me to have the same dreams over and over again. Some of these reoccurring dreams are probably not uncommon like the nightmare that I’m back in college and have a final in a few hours only to realize that I haven’t attended class all semester.  Yuck.  Other dreams are probably a little less than common. One of my more quirky reoccurring dreams is that I’m like the superhero from the cult-classic TV show from the early 80’s “Greatest American Hero.” If you know much about that show, the main character is given a superhero suit that bestows on him special powers when he wears it but he can’t always get the suit to cooperate.  In my reoccurring dream, I suffer the same frustration.  I know I’ve got superpowers and use them just fine early in the dream but when I really need them later in the dream, I can’t get them to activate.  That’s usually when I wake up, frustrated and stuck.  Not this time.

I’m feeling better already…

 

There is no confidence fairy

confidence-next-exitBecoming confident is a tricky thing. If we were gut-level honest, most of us would say that we want to feel more confident. We would also probably say something like this, “when I finally get recognized as _____ (talented, a leader, an expert, etc…), then I’ll feel confident.” Can you see the irony? How will others see you the way you want them to until you embody that confidence? Waiting for someone to anoint you with confidence is not a strategy. There is no such thing as a confidence fairy.

The confidence fairy

Years ago, I once waited for the confidence fairy. I had just completed my MBA and I was poised to begin my career as an executive coach and, unbeknownst to me, a workplace therapist. I was ready to be seen as an expert. So there I sat, waiting. Waiting for someone to tell me I was talented. Waiting for someone to tell me I was ready to work with senior leaders. Waiting for someone to tell me I was an expert. Day after day, night after night I waited for the confidence fairy to anoint me with some fancy title and the accompanying confidence that I so desperately wanted. But to my surprise, she never came. “Well of course she hasn’t come,” I told myself after some reflection. I hadn’t turned X age yet. Like losing your first tooth, she must surely come when you hit life milestones. After all, confidence and expertise must surely be tied to age. And so I waited and waited some more.

And then it hit me. She was never going to come. And more importantly, I was the reason why I wasn’t an expert. I was the one standing in my own way. Ultimately, I had the power to change the situation. I waved the wand, declared myself an expert and the rest is history.

Are you waiting?

Are you waiting for the confidence fairy? Are you chasing external designations in your search for confidence? I can’t tell you how many Ph.D.’s I’ve met that don’t have an ounce of confidence. They thought that by acquiring such a prestigious designation that confidence and respect would surely follow. Not so much. Others aren’t chasing designations; they are chasing titles and promotions. Are you waiting for that promotion to finally feel like you arrived? I’ve had hundreds of conversations that involved this trap. Stop waiting, grab the wand from that negligent fairy and anoint yourself today. Here’s how. Answer the following questions and hold onto your answers. You’re gonna need ‘em for the next step.

  1. I’m good at _____. What are you good at? Make a list of what you know deep down you are good at. Go on. Don’t be shy.
  2. I’m great at _____. Go back to your “good” list and circle the items that you are fantastic at; the areas that you are an absolute rock star.
  3. I’m an expert at _____. Here’s where the rubber hits the road. What areas are you near the top of your respective cohort at? What are you an expert at? It doesn’t mean that you have to be the very best, it just simply means that you know you belong in the same conversation as the very best.  Whether its financial statement analysis or making gourmet lunches for your kids, nothing is off limits. Note: aspirational expertise counts. Maybe you aren’t an expert yet but you are on your way. Go ahead. Call yourself an expert. You’ll be there in no time.

Claim your expertise

Got your lists? Good. Here’s the hard part. Go to your professional or personal bio (corporate bio, LinkedIn profile, Facebook profile, your website, etc…) and declare yourself as an expert. No excuses.  One important point of clarification: shying away from your expertise is not humility. It is a fear of standing in the light and claiming who you are and meant to be. Claim your expertise boldly. The world is ready and listening.

Several months ago I was working with a colleague and I stumbled onto her bio on her firm’s website. I was stunned. Here was this accomplished professional and yet her bio was a shy, timid and awkward 13 year old. It mumbled about the kinds of projects she does and the typical clients that might hire her. Her bio was embarrassed to be read and you could feel it. It left you with the impression she was a junior associate in her firm and not someone as senior nor as accomplished as she was. The next bio that I read was that of one of her colleagues. His bio spoke of his expertise and was quick to claim his unique strengths and areas in which he is world class. His bio had a boldness and confidence that I’m sure he possessed in real life. My colleague’s bio unfortunately mirrored her own lack of confidence she puts on display at work and at home on a daily basis.

Stop waiting for the confidence fairy and get moving.  You’ve got the wand. Wave it and who knows? You might just get that confidence and recognition you’ve been looking for. It was there the whole time you just didn’t know it.

 

5 things confident people DON’T do

hidingBefore we go too deep into what you should be doing to get your confidence back, I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t start with what you should stop doing. To that end, for this post I will be taking off my therapist hat and snuggly putting on my executive coach hat. As any executive coach would tell you, a good executive coaching process will highlight what you should “start, stop and continue” doing. The following list illustrates all of the behaviors that confident people simply don’t do. If you see yourself doing any of the following, stop it. ‘Nough said.

5 Thing Confident People Don’t Do

1. Trying to say things perfectly in meetings – confident people don’t try to find the perfect words. They care more about the message, thought or question they want to convey rather than the perfect timing or wording of that message. Cost of doing this confidence-busting behavior: executive presence, bringing your ideas to the conversation and having a “seat at the table.”

2. Looking for the perfect answer – confident people have been around the block long enough to know there is no such thing as perfect information nor a perfect answer. They don’t waste their time overworking things to get it perfect. Cost of doing this confidence-busting behavior: Time, time, time. Being told you work “hard but not smart.” Leaders and / or  your boss label you as “over your head” and unable to handle anything more complicated.

3. Obsess about what others think – confident people don’t stew over what others think about their appearance, style, approach, etc… Here’s the subtlety with this particular behavior. The difference between a confident person and a narcissist is that confident people do care about what others think and take that into consideration. They do adjust. What they don’t do is obsess to the point they are rigid and locked up. Cost of doing this confidence-busting behavior: A feeling of rigidness and awkwardness around others. A noticeable delay between every question asked of you and your response (after all, processing all of the various combinations of possible responses to choose the perfect one takes time). Others generally find you creepy, uncomfortable and wound too tight. Not good.

missing-something4. Wait for others to ask their opinion / be noticed – Confident people are comfortable providing others information that may be useful to them without being asked. They are not afraid to let others know what they need, want and expect. As a result, they usually get what they need, want and expect. Sounds pretty good, huh? Cost of doing this confidence-busting behavior: Not getting what you need, want and expect. As a result, you generally experience deep feelings of resentment on a daily basis toward your boss, spouse, coworkers, etc… You silently punish those around you for not reading your mind. Generally others find you to be unpleasant to be around. You may even suffer from isolation and career / relationship stagnation as a result. Yuck.

5. Judge themselves – Finally, confident people don’t give themselves daily beatings. That’s not to say they don’t acknowledge their mistakes, missteps and weaknesses. Rather, they spend more time mentally lingering on their past successes and future goals. As a mentor of mine would say, confident people believe they are “enough in their limitedness.” Cost of doing this confidence-busting behavior: lingering on one’s mistakes, missteps and weaknesses only fosters hesitation and a general reluctance to take action. You may find yourself paralyzed to move forward for fear of making a mistake. The other bonus that comes along with this unfortunate behavior is that if you are hard on yourself, you are hard on others. You judge other’s behaviors, words, expressions, appearance, etc… When others are around you, they can feel your judging eyes piercing their skin like long sharp needles. Sounds like a party.

There you have it: the 5 things that confident people simply don’t do. If you see yourself doing any of the five behaviors, your prescription is clear. Stop it. Knock it off. Cease and desist. No mas. The end.

The End.

 

“I’ve lost my confidence”

lostconfidence_graphic317Theresa was a workplace rock star. For over a decade, it seemed like everything Theresa touched turned to gold. Her golden touch became legendary within her organization. Her company would routinely parachute her into a turnaround situation and despite the odds, she would somehow find a way out. That summed up the first 15 years of Theresa’s career.

Then one day, it all changed. During a particularly challenging turnaround situation, things blew up on Theresa. She, for the first time in her career, had failed. Now, to any objective outsider it was obvious that the failure was not the result of Theresa’s actions. The failure was simply a product of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But to Theresa, the defeat was devastating. That failure lingered with Theresa to the point that for the last 5 years, she hasn’t been the same. She questions her own decisions. She is reluctant to speak up in leadership meetings and fears that she has fallen out of favor with corporate. Theresa has lost her confidence in a big and bad way.

This month, we are going to address this debilitating dysfunction: “I’ve lost my confidence.” The side effects can be catastrophic. When the voice inside our head that tells us we can “do anything” hits the road for a long vacation, self-doubt creeps in and camps out. Others sense there is a new resident in town and over time our brand changes. We may end up with any or all of these unfortunate labels:

  • He / she lacks confidence
  • He / she doesn’t have executive presence
  • He / she over thinks things
  • He / she is not decisive
  • He / she works hard but not smart
  • He / she is not strategic
  • He / she is not leadership potential
  • Who is he / she? I’ve never heard of them…

There are numerous events can send our confidence packing. Consider any of the following “confidence busters”:

Laid off – We are let go for perhaps the first time in our careers. The message is clearly sent that we are no longer wanted.

A new role – We are put into a new role that is so foreign to us that we over think things in an effort to not screw up.

A new boss – We get a boss that fails to appreciate us like prior bosses. For the first time we have a boss who seems to see all the things wrong with us versus all the things that are right.

A new company or industry – We join a new company or industry that is completely outside of our comfort zone. Toto, we aren’t in Kansas anymore.

Battle scars – Like the story of Theresa, we are too close to an explosion and the PTSD has caused us to second guess ourselves in every way.

This month, we are going to take on this debilitating dysfunction. I have one simple objective, to get your mojo, your groove, your swagger, your (insert confidence word here) back.

Time to give self-doubt the boot and bring confidence back from its long hiatus.

 

The past is not fair

poutingbusinessboyOne of the most debilitating anchors for us in life can be the past. The heavy bags of our personal history can weigh us down if we let them, particularly if we choose to ruminate, sit and wallow in life’s inequities. Complaining that what has happened to us in the past is simply “not fair” can hold us back from becoming who we are meant to become. Let me share with you a sad story.

The Tragic Tale of Chris

Chris was a bright energetic baby boy. Adopted by a loving couple, Chris represented their hopes and dreams of having a family. Soon Chris was joined by a brother as the couple adopted a second child, growing their young family. Instantly, Chris had a built-in playmate. As the boys grew up together, they explored, played games, caused trouble and even got to raid their grandfather’s corner grocery store for candy from time to time. When Chris was twelve, his parents were blessed with an unexpected pregnancy and a third brother arrived on the scene. From day one, Chris’ youngest brother looked up to his two big brothers with awe and amazement. The two older brothers played with him as good big brothers do. Life was good.

Throughout his childhood, Chris was an active child. He eventually found his home in sports – particularly football. Chris could run with lightening quickness. Chris could tackle with a focused burst rarely seen. He was a natural. He loved the game and excelled with the hope of one day playing at a bigger level. On one fateful Saturday, this all changed. Chris landed awkwardly after a play and when the dust settled, Chris had broken his leg. He was in a cast for what seemed like an eternity. When the cast was finally removed, the doctors announced that Chris’ healthy leg had continued to grow but his injured leg had not. The once speedster now and forever would walk with a noticeable limp. His playing days were over. That event plummeted Chris into darkness. Perhaps it was the disappointment of not getting to play the sport he loved or perhaps it was the deeper pain of being put up for adoption by his birth parents, no one really knows. Chris turned to drugs and alcohol to deal with his disappointment and pain. In no time, he had picked up a criminal record and upon completion of high school, he opted not to attend college. With his addiction in full swing, Chris began the all-too-common gauntlet of rehab facilities. From North Carolina to Georgia to Florida, he stayed at and eventually left each and every facility he attended. After abandoning a rehab center in Florida, Chris hitch-hiked his way back to his family’s home. He lived with them for several months in hopes of resetting his life once again. But alas, he still couldn’t get past the deep anger and resentment he had for life, his life. Chris made the decision that life was unfair, the blows of the past were unjust and he was done. One Friday night he rode his motorcycle to a local creek, found a sturdy tree and hung himself. Chris was 23 years old.

Why do I tell you that tragic story? Very simple. I am the youngest brother in the story. Chris was my big brother that I looked up to with awe and amazement.  When he chose to take his life, ironically he shaped my past and put something in my life that was “unfair.” I had a choice to make about my past and my life.

Getting Over the Past

What is true for each of is that we all have unfair events that have happened to us. From family dysfunction to personal tragedies, life can be unfair. It is up to each of us to decide what we choose to do as a result of life’s unfairness. We can sit in the past and complain that life did not give us what we deserved, that God did not give us what we deserved OR we can look for meaning in those past experiences. Every pain has the opportunity to shape us and give us purpose. I did not choose to have a brother kill himself. But what it taught me was that we always have a choice over the path we choose and that choice is ours alone. It also taught me that life is hard and that everyone is struggling with something. While it is each of our jobs to carry our own loads, we can help each other carry their burdens. In other words, there is no greater gift than to listen to and walk with someone who is hurting. I choose to do that at work, because frankly, we don’t have enough people walking with us as we take on the challenges of navigating our careers and dysfunctional workplaces. That’s my purpose and it came from life’s unfairness.

What’s yours?