The Life-Changing Secret of Embracing Your Discomfort Zone

I was 29 minutes into a 50-minute Cycle-Spin class plugging away at an extremely heavy mountain climb when I first felt the urge to quit. My heart was pounding, my legs quivering with every pedal push, as I pondered doing this for another exhaustive, sweaty 21 minutes. I wasn’t feeling it. No perfect music beat or flashy disco lights were going to trick me into amping up my performance. In the cool darkness of the spin studio, I was anonymous. I could just stop pedaling, unclip my shoes and walk out. No one would know who I was or even care. It wasn’t my first class. In fact, I had been consistently showing up at least twice a week for the last few months. But on that day, I thought I was just done. I wanted to give myself permission to quit. I rationalized. I had completed at least half the class. I must not have been properly hydrated. There was always tomorrow.

At that moment, the potentially psychic ( or psycho-depending on the day) instructor spoke into her microphone above the blaring downbeat and said “Don’t you dare quit on me now. You are in the Zone of Discomfort. You don’t have to go any faster, or spin any harder, but you absolutely must not slow down or stop. The Zone of Discomfort is where the change happens.”

Sappy motivational coaching lingo aside, what she said hit my brain like a lightning bolt. I just needed not to stop. For another 15 seconds. And then another 15 seconds more. Soon my 21 minutes was 18, then 12, then 7…then we were done.  I finished what I had set out to do. I felt great, I was glad I didn’t quit.

I wish I could say that each spin class after that has found me spinning my way with less pain, discomfort or more ease. It doesn’t. In fact, it is hard every time I do it. The change that she spoke of, however, has made it easier for me to push past that discomfort zone. Each time I “don’t quit” I teach my body, and most importantly my brain, that I can push through it. Each step that I commit past that zone reinforces my commitment and most importantly, my confidence.

Life is full of Discomfort Zones. Whether being taxed by challenging situations at work, or pushing through daily goals to grow myself, each moment where I mentally or physically hit that painful point, I have a choice. I can find 5-10 excuses why “not today” or “I will tomorrow” but the bottom line is each time I step off that pedal and slow down I teach myself that it is ok to stop. It is ok to choose comfort over discomfort. While there is certainly an understandable day and time where one must take the foot off the gas and coast for a while, developing a pattern of staying comfortable will not help you grow. You may remain on the bike, but you will not change. You will not get better. You will not realize your full potential.

Each pivotal point in my life where the profound change happened was always superseded by entering a Zone of Discomfort. Each challenge, whether instituted by external or internal forces, provided an opportunity for me to clip out, step off and choose to tackle another day. More often than not, when I chose to slip out of play, I regressed. I stalled. It was only when I just focused on not stopping and embracing the discomfort that I found the reward on the other side.

Sometimes this change was immediate, and sometimes it was YEARS later. Finding the where-with-all to postpone gratification was often challenging and led me to wonder what-the-heck-was-I-thinking knee deep in the discomfort zone.

The power and perseverance needed to continue, however, has the supremacy to change the trajectory of your life. It is what separates those who realize their dreams from those who merely have dreams.

These 5 behavioral traits are correlated with sustaining you throughout the challenging moments in your personal or professional aspirations. Learning how to tap into them can in help you to push through the pain.

  1. Courage. Often overused in inspirational messaging, the application of courage (fortitude in continuing despite fear) will enable you to risk more and therefore reap a greater benefit from having taken the risk if successful. Courage does not mean not being afraid. Or tired. Or burned-out. It means continuing despite these barriers. Sometimes one day at a time. Acknowledge when you feel afraid. Say it out loud. Owning the feeling does will not let the fear drive your decisions. Quite the opposite.
  2. Resilience. You must be flexible enough to realize not everything planned expertly will play out that way. Variables (read sometimes disasters) not within your control will throw you off course. Your ability to soothe yourself, pick yourself back up, and try again will be the deciding factor that places you back on the path. You will not break. Bending will make you stronger.
  3. Optimism. Believing that you will succeed ( continue or finish) is just as important as pushing forward every day. This is a learned attribute, although some find optimism easier to adopt in their thinking than others. My advice to the pessimists…. fake it until you make it. Pretend you have rose colored glasses. Eventually, you will trick your brain and body into believing in the noble cause that you are passionate about.
  4. Social Connection. Allowing yourself to accept help and support during the most challenging times is crucial to any goal you have set for yourself. After all, what gave me perspective and perseverance in my spin class did not come from myself. It came from the twenty-something coach that had “been there and done that “and knew how to say the right thing to change my perspective. Coaches and mentors have the unique viewpoint of standing objectively outside of our mindsets and can offer insights that we can’t see when in the weeds. Lean in and lean on your tribe.
  5. Confidence is a tricky learned behavior. You must have the confidence to persevere, however in order to persist, you must have confidence. Which comes first? You can’t wait for confidence to organically appear. Spending time in your Zone of Discomfort will begin to build increased confidence. Quit…and your confidence will decline. “I won’t” becomes “I can’t.” You will never achieve your goals once “I can’t” takes hold.

Take a moment to absorb the views above. Is today a day when you stepped off the bike? Did you wish you stayed on a little longer? Pick yourself up and set an intention for tomorrow that incorporates the above. Imagine my words speaking to you through the microphone in a dark crowded room of cyclers. “Don’t you dare quit on me now. You are in the Zone of Discomfort. You don’t have to go any faster, or spin any harder, but you absolutely must not slow down or stop. The Zone of Discomfort is where the change happens.”

 

Optimism: The Powerful Elixir of Engagement

In a competitive “give-me-outcomes” corporate culture, optimism and glass half-full thinking can be viewed as a Pollyanna-like distraction.  After all, who has time for positive soft skills, when there are deadlines to meet and competitors to beat?

Research, however, shows that optimistic thinking can prevent depression, increase social connection, boost performance on the job, increase success, and make you (and your team) more resilient in the face of setbacks.

Without optimism, employees have little reason to stretch, innovate, or connect themselves to a noble cause bigger than what they can do themselves. Optimism, and the connectivity it creates in like-minded people, breeds collaboration and a larger sense of purpose. It seems that reframing your team’s belief that the glass is half-full may not only be a much more powerful driver than trying to motivate them with prior failures- it could have a positive effect on their work-life balance, mental health, and ultimately their engagement on your team.

Unlike the little bottle labeled “Drink Me” in Alice in Wonderland, you can’t obtain an optimistic mindset within a matter of minutes. Reframing your thinking and communicating the vision to your teams with an optimistic mindset, takes practice if it is not a natural skill set.

Both pessimism and optimism have ripple effects when displayed by leadership. If employees feel the full weight of pessimism (and failure on their shoulders) they won’t continue the pace for long. Try the following tactics to create a culture of optimism within your team.

  • Start by finding the good news. All too often we focus strategic and operational discussions by what gaps are remaining. What is working well? What has improved? And if you are truly reaching to find the positive, what has not become worse? It is easy to  forget that to turn the ship around we must first start by not continuing full steam ahead in the wrong direction. Share the good news DAILY!
  • Reframe the pessimistic thoughts. There is logic in reframing the gaps in performance as “opportunities” and looking for the root cause of the barriers. For Example: If your team was tasked with meeting a sales target of 15% growth and YTD you are sitting at 11%- begin first with celebrating that you are at 11% and acknowledge the efforts (and teammates) that have contributed to that success. Ask the team “why” 15% has not been achieved, and then listen for the why. Look for barrier themes, problems to remove, and viewpoints as to the 15% goal. You just might discover knowledge that the teammates understand and know to be contributing to missing the goal but leadership is unaware of. There is nothing more frustrating to an employee than to highlight every day that they are not meeting the target. Find out the why.
  • Reward positive thinking, behavior, language. Notice and point out when you see employee’s cheering each other on, picking up the slack, and working as a team. Ignore the Negative Nelly’s and focus your attention on those that carry the team when times are tough. Be very specific with the behaviors you want to see repeated. Praise is the life-preserver to burn out. A simple thank you can make someone feel valued and appreciated more than any financial compensation.
  • Cross out the IM in impossible. Nothing zaps innovation quicker than brushing off an employee’s “brilliant” idea as not possible. The optimistic workplace is one where employees hope and believe that good things will come from their hard work. Pride develops from contribution and if they are never invited to contribute (even an idea that cannot come to fruition) they will soon learn to not bother.
  • Increase Autonomy. Self-governance in the workplace is one of the highest motivators and shapers of self-identity at work. Autonomy motivates us to contribute to something greater than ourselves. Tapping into an employee’s core values to find out what constitutes purposeful work promotes an optimistic and engaged culture. Each one of us has a dream for our future selves and listening to these dreams breeds hope.

 

 Optimistic Culture DONT’S:

Forgetting that “This too shall pass”. Role play resilience for your team by framing the highs and lows with the reminder that all is temporary. Take the time to celebrate the wins.  Learn from the losses.  Holding on to either for too long can cause angst when change comes again. Pessimistic thinking is centered around the concept that one good thing or one bad thing can make or break a life. Remind your team the ebbs and flows come and go.

Looking for the sunshine in every low. Validate when something is truly painful and uncomfortable. Allow your team to express grief and disappointment and its effect on their morale. Don’t try to always add “look on the bright side” or your empathy will seem disingenuous. Do try to get the employee to consider what has been learned by the experience. Finding value in a life lesson, albeit a painful one, can soften the blow.

Don’t promote learned helplessness. When human beings believe they have little control in what happens to them and assume their outcomes are not connected to their efforts, they begin to exhibit a learned helplessness and their pessimistic tendencies increase. Leaders can compound this belief by doing too much to solve an employee’s problems without engaging them to discover this skill-set themselves. Don’t be the all-knowing problem solver. Help them to develop critical thinking and autonomy which will grow an optimistic mindset.

Winston Churchill’s famous quote that “a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty” still rings true today. 

Optimism has been proven to improve the immune system, prevent chronic disease, and help people cope with the difficulties and disappointments in expectations. Optimists recover more quickly than pessimists. Applying optimism-focused tactics, and adopting a practice of daily gratitude within the workplace, will increase the likelihood of cultivating a more engaged culture.

After all, what have you got to lose?

 

 

 

 

How to Slay the Vampires of No Accountability

Pixabay/Hosking

They lurk in the dark shadows near the break room. Their mere presence, and longevity remind all that what surrounds them is a less-than-optimal work culture. They are every hard-working manager’s nightmare.  As “owners” of the culture, they take pride in their power of destruction.  Complaining daily of perceived failed promises, corporate ideocracy, lack of fair compensation and appreciation, they whittle away at the team’s morale one hour at a time.  Every new hire who comes onto the team is ceremoniously on-boarded with their version of “the truth.”  High hopes and enthusiastic energy is sucked from the new employee until their well is dry.

Don’t work too hard or they will give you more to do.”

They never hold anyone accountable here.”

We have seen it all before, nothing ever changes.”

 “Management doesn’t care about us.”

“Everyone here quits after a year.”

Except these parasites don’t. They linger and linger and continue to drain the life-blood out of the manager who has inherited them.  They are the Vampires of No Accountability (VONA) and keepers of the flame of the negative workplace culture.

How does a well-meaning leader rid themselves of these culture parasites?

First and foremost, they must be identified. Listen to the language of your employees. Who among them persists with a “my work life sucks” daily attitude, performs at the bare minimum and occupies 80% of your time with their complaints?

Have a list now?

Most leaders can easily identify the VOKA on their teams within minutes.  The sad fact is that they don’t know what to do next. The VOKA are well-schooled in riding the line of acceptable behavior. In fact, they have perfected the art of making the air around them so toxic that most managers avoid them at all costs. However, no matter how uncomfortable it is to deal with them, your workplace culture will never change until they are gone.

That’s right, gone.

The truth is that VONA are incapable of rehabilitation. They have such little self-reflection or care for others that motivation and empathy are simply words on an engagement poster that the “company” puts up in the breakroom. The other challenging factor is that they don’t want to go. Why would someone so unhappy with their work environment want to stay, you may ask? It’s simple. Well situated in their VONA role they don’t have to be accountable. They can do the bare minimum and blame everyone else for failures. There are a million reasons why they can’t do their job, complete the report on time, make a difference, or engage in problem solving. They are simply…” too busy and overworked”.  Their answer is always…what you are asking of them is impossible. And stupid. And not fair.

The answer to riding your team of the VONA, barring wearing necklaces of garlic, is to ignore them. That’s right. Ignore them.

Just like the age-old advice that Mom and Dad dispelled regarding your 8th-grade bullies. By ignoring the VONA you take away their life-sucking power. If no one is willing to drop what they are doing to listen to the 5, 467th complaint they have this week, and “fix” the things not working in the department, what would they do?

Complaining is the life-blood of the VONA. It feeds their ego and their entitlement fantasy. It validates why they are not performing at a high level. The true path to ridding your team of these blood-suckers is to literally focus all of your coaching, mentoring attention to those on the team that are putting forth effort- and reward them. Look for those teammates who have a sense of the greater good, a few ideas about improvement, and ask meaningful questions as it relates to working smarter, not harder.  Find your employees that are confident and feel good about themselves and engage them in working together for a more noble cause. Find a common concern that is bigger than any one person and invite them to problem solve together to remove barriers for all. Let the VONA know they are invited but that’s it. No begging, no pleading, no kowtowing to “needing them” on the team.

The number one mind-blowing fact to engagement is that it starts with the individual employee.

Motivation is self-owned. Managers can stoke, support, coach, and encourage self-development and growth but ultimately that leap from renter to owner is the employee’s decision.

Great leaders will spot the burgeoning seeds of excitement and stoke the fire daily to inspire.

Great leaders will also understand that allowing VONA to reside and breathe toxicity within the team is the biggest mistake they can make.

Teams would rather work short than deal with the draining energy of a toxic employee. According to the Harvard Business Review,  “people close to a toxic employee are more likely to become toxic themselves, but the good news is that the risk also subsides quickly. As soon as you put some physical distance between the offender and the rest of the team – for example, by rearranging desks, reassigning projects, scheduling fewer all-hands meetings, or encouraging more work-from-home days — you’ll see the situation start to improve.”

Grab your list of VONA. Commit to the following for 30-60 days and see what happens to your team’s culture.

  • Distance yourself and the team from the daily complaints. Do not allow VONA to take up more than 30 minutes of your time weekly. When complaints are voiced offer to meet with them to discuss but set a date at least 7 days away. Do not reward bad behavior by stopping what you are doing to entertain their latest complaint.
  • Set expectations for the VONA. Empathize(initially) with their dissatisfaction. Acknowledge their feelings and suggest ways they can be part of the solution or self-sooth if it is a working constraint. Role model professional behavior always.
  • Identify specific language and behaviors that are unacceptable in your working environment. Don’t’ shy away from having the “If you are really so unhappy maybe this might not be the right fit for you right now” conversation. No one can argue that they have a choice to look elsewhere to find happiness.
  • Spend 80% of your coaching time on those employees that are engaged and working together harmoniously. Assure them that you are working on establishing limits within the workplace culture. Invite them to peer interview all new hires with the agreed upon team values. Dilute the pool on your team to water down the effects of the VONA.
  • Document everything. Unfortunately, many VONA will not go down without a good fight. It is your job to show them the light if they are unable or unwilling to perform as expected. This includes behaviorally. Specific, clear expectations and consequences for non-compliance are necessary.
  • Recognize the tipping point. When the VONA begin to leave (either from self-direction or your direction) notice the mood and engagement of the other teammates. Are they helping you to recruit? Are they more engaged? These signs point to the positive shift of the culture. Hold on and stay consistent. Do not hire “a body” just to fill a position. This is a crucial time in culture development and patience will pay off in the long term.
  • Celebrate small wins. The loss of one VONA can have HUGE impacts on the team’s morale. The weight is lifted. Enjoy the shadowless corridors.
  • Don’t forget your own mental health. Fighting the VONA daily is exhausting. Be sure to find ways to decompress and fill your bucket with meaningful work. Do not let them infect you, or worse, escort you to the dark side.

You must protect your team from the Vampires of No Accountability much like you would protect them from a disease. Immunize your newly energized culture with rewards, recognition, and attention. Remind them how much they have accomplished together and how far they have come. Do not allow new VONA to join your team, no matter how short. You have the power to upend the culture of significant drama and infighting.

Lead your team into the sunlight.

Fearless Girl Vs. Wonder Woman

Pixabay/Hosking

I peered above the crowd trying to get a glimpse of her. It was hard to pinpoint her location in the sea of moving people nudging in for a photo-op.  I oriented myself by finding the Charging Bull of Wall Street and looked for his unassuming opponent.  There he was, snorting his aggressive defiance to an unassuming little girl who did not know to be afraid.

My husband and I were vacationing on a four-day weekend in New York City to visit our 25-year-old daughter who had recently become an official”Lower East Side Girl” and the first thing I placed on the itinerary was a visit and photo op with “Fearless Girl”.

“Why in the world do you want to go see a statue of a little girl?” asked my husband.

I wasn’t sure I knew the answer but, ever since I had seen her in the news in her power pose, there was something about her that resonated with the former 8-year-old girl I once remember being. She embodied the time of my life when I climbed trees, got dirty, had a pet snake that I fed tree-frogs too (not kidding) without any kind of squeamish regard.  She was me before I felt less-than, self-conscious about my changing female body, worried about boys liking me, and before I understood the meaning of “Mean-Girl”. She was that voracious reader who wrote poetry, learned how to ride a bike with no hands, ate half a pizza without worrying about the carb count, and wanted to collect fireflies in early summer Florida evenings. She was Fearless.  An enviable trait for this fifty-year-old that has forgotten what that feels like.

My present life, (and that of most career women who are also mothers, daughters and wives) feels more like we are assuming the Wonder Woman persona. Here to defend, control, fix, support, the entire human race.

As I positioned myself for my quick power pose photo-op I heard a man nearby say “What I would really like to see is Fearless Girl vs. Wonder Woman” with a raucous snort, “It would be a lame second to the blockbuster bust of  Batman vs. Superman.”

I rolled my eyes at the comment. Why would anyone pit Fearless Girl against another strong female? He was missing the point. Women should stand together and support each other as they persevere to grow themselves, their careers, and their families. I imagined Wonder Woman standing bravely beside, or in front of, Fearless Girl as they stood their ground against the Charging Bull.

As a female Leadership Blog author, I write about the importance of the female collective championing, supporting and mentoring their younger and older sisters. I know from experience, however, that this is not always the norm. Oftentimes young fearless girls are taught to be afraid of any female competition as the scarcity of competitive roles dictates one must lose if another must win. We first see this behavior in middle school as the Queen Bee mindset begins to take place. Strong friendships formed in the early years begin to break and bend as “who is in” and “who is out” is culturally defined. Power is found, sadly, by those who can attract the attention of boys and she is elevated as a role model for all to see. To keep her power, she must destroy her competition by shunning and never risk her reign by befriending anyone who could threaten it.

As young women grow and begin their careers and families this competitive, dysfunctional behavior is transferred to women in the workplace. Rather than work to defeat the Bull together, women are led to believe their enemy is their sister. First hand I have witnessed, and experienced, purposeful targeted actions of betrayal, discrediting, and reputation homicide with stunned cognizance.

The first time I became a target the concept was so foreign to me that I never saw it coming. I tried to rationalize her blatant attacks on my credibility and work because  I had worked tremendously hard to help make her successful as a sister in the workplace. I have since learned… .painfully, and a bit too late, some of the warning signs of female sabotage. I refuse, however, to succumb to the sacrificial mindset. Instead, I focus on finding ways to manage my work sisters up, work together for the common goal, and encourage persistence when I see their inner Fearless girl lose her confidence. I teach my younger work sisters to practice “power poses” before a big presentation, I send encouraging notes when I see them offer their opinions at the table and I echo their words when they are manterrupted.  I do the same for the women in positions of power above me which is equally important. I encourage them to stretch and grow knowing that I stand on their shoulders as they succeed. I don’t envy them, or wish them gone so that I may advance instead I seek their opinion, thank them when they lead me to an opportunity, and reinforce the good work that they do.

I would like to see Fearless Girl and Wonder Woman share the screen together but not as adversaries. They each embody the good, the strong and the courageous attributes that women everywhere share. They remind us that we have much to contribute by being the best version of ourselves. Most importantly, together, they diminish the threat of The Charging Bull and they role model the female representation that I aspire to. The era of the “Queen Bee” is coming to an end but only if we work together to change the way the hive buzzes. Today,  I encourage you and a work- sister to practice your Fearless Girl power pose, together.

Working Boundaries: The Case For Standardizing Email Response Times

Pixabay/Hosking

It’s Sunday evening, 8:00 pm, do you know what your boss is doing? My team, unfortunately, does. They know I am planning my weekly calendar, emptying my inbox and setting my top three “must do’s” for Monday morning.    I am a  hyper-planner who has used this weekly ritual my entire scholarly and professional life. Because I  would like to think of myself as a leader who is dedicated to self-evaluation, I am going to be fully transparent about the lighting bolt epiphany I had last week as I  emptied my inbox and communicated weekly priorities.

 I am filling up their Monday morning In-Box.

You see, my team knows exactly what I am doing Sunday night at 8:00 pm because every week, like clockwork, they would find a stream of emails from their boss needing a response.  My organizational habits and lack of communicating specific working boundaries were likely impacting their work life balance.  Worse yet, I had set an unwritten expectation that on Sunday nights they should be working…like me.  This fact could not be farther from the truth. I have prided myself on always being the leader that understands others have a life outside of work and feel most passionately that, in our 24/7 society, we sometimes have to do work at home, and sometimes we have to do home at work.

My actions, I feared, said otherwise.

Having been on the receiving end of a 3:30 am email from a superior myself a few times,  I realized I had not set expectations with my direct reports that my weekly work patterns did not mean they needed to respond. In my mind, if something was an urgent need I would call or text. But, I realized, I never had that conversation with them. For all they knew, their workaholic boss felt Sunday evening might as well just be considered part of the work week.

According to Forbes, every organization needs a standard response time policy. Without clearly reviewing expectations and setting guidelines, employees are left to interpret based on patterns of behavior. The unspoken “rule” can leave employees feeling frustrated with perceived after hours demands and unable to fully unplug during off hours or vacation time. The below tips can help you and your team create a collaborative email boundary agreement that establishes expectations and maximizes productivity.

  • Discuss the corporate culture: Regardless of the team’s rules, the overall corporate culture of email should be examined and discussed. You may not be able to change the corporate culture overnight, but as a team, you can make a small ripple in the big pond by having a standard within your group. By discussing everyone’s impressions as to expectations, you open up transparent communication that can build trust and expose perceptions that are not accurate.
  • Pick a guideline for a response:  How fast do you, and your team, feel each other should respond to a routine email.  The response, however,  can mean different things to different people. Responding, following through,  and communicating information are all variables that may have different cultural expectations. Explore with your team what “feels right” to them as it relates to this expectation. For some teams, a 24-48 hour response that the request has been heard ( along with an expected timeline for follow through) is a comfortable range. For others,  it is a must to communicate that if something is perceived as urgent,  a phone call or a face to face meeting is warranted. A complete lack of response can also send a message that the request was either ignored or missed.
  • Review email etiquette: Seven people responding “Thanks!” with a smiley face can seem like a great way to build team relationships but for those managing daily email volumes in the hundreds (or worse) it can feel like nails on a chalkboard. A great resource for Email Etiquette can be found at The Advisory Board. This witty cartoon exposes the most common email misdemeanors and can be a great conversation starter.
  • Hack the email tricks of the productive elite: This year I learned a life-altering trick for Outlook in which I created a rule that deposits all of my “cc” emails into a folder that I view once a day.  My very thoughtful team copies me in instances that they feel warrant me to be informed but not responsive. These emails are automatically filed into a “hidden” email file that I view once or twice a day which has cut down the pavlovian response I feel each time my phone buzzes. I cannot emphasize how life altering this was.
  • Communicate your expectations: This was the component that I overlooked. I assumed my team could read my mind and assume that just because I am sending Sunday night email that I did not expect them to respond. Sunday night email works for me. I don’t need to change my habit of productivity but I do need to communicate about it. 

Mobile devices, email, and texting have accelerated communication within work teams that have increased productivity and decreased wait times. The downside, of course, is that we are plugged in...all the time. The more that our work-life boundaries are blurred by technology the more important the conversation becomes to create boundaries and respect the person on the receiving end. Sunday night email works for me. I intend to keep the practice yet will communicate to my team that I clearly do not expect them to adopt my ways. Unless they find it works for them too.

Angela is a healthcare executive, passionate leadership blogger at Leadershipelevateher.com, and loves speaking to groups about leadership culture.  Network with Angela via LinkedIn and spread your inner professional circle.

 

7 Tips to become a Networking Ninja

 

 

Networking…the very word strikes fear in the heart of most business professionals. Images of strangers in suits, making painful small talk and passing business cards gives networking the appeal of blind dating with multiple strangers.  In order to reap the benefit of networking, you need to understand what networking is and most importantly what it is not. Use these 7 tips to increase your networking “bang for the buck” and slide into your next networking event with the skills of a  ninja master.

  •  Just Go. The number one mistake people make as it relates to networking, is NOT networking. Networking is not making a bunch of new friends that you want to hang out with on Saturday night. Although a friendship or two may develop from networking, the purpose of introducing yourself professionally to other professionals is to build a bigger pool of diverse relationships that can be mutually beneficial by making introductions for each other. Find a networking event that will bring together diverse industries such as banking, healthcare, and marketing.  Look for free opportunities through your city chamber events, business journals mixers, and free educational events. Waiting to network until you need to network will not build you the relationships or resources you will need should your job change.
  •   Go alone.  I know, I know. Networking would feel less scary if you had your business sidekick with you but invariably the two of you will end up standing in the corner of the room, drinking chardonnay and not speaking to a single soul. Or worse yet, those you talk with will see you as a “package” and remember little about your stand alone accomplishments or skills. If you have to have a buddy in order to make yourself go, make a deal that you will start on opposite sides of the room and not sit next to each other.
  • Practice Your Elevator Speech. Have a succinct 2-3 minute speech that identifies who you are, what you are passionate about, and what your role is in making your company a better place.  The obvious introductory question that is replayed at a networking event is “what do you do?” Which person do you want to know more about?  The “Hi, I’m Angela and I work in Healthcare.” Or “Hi, I’m Angela. I lead and develop a team of leaders for a National Cancer Institute and am so passionate about leadership growth and potential that I write a leadership blog for women.” By sharing a few your personal goals and passions you open yourself up to relationship opportunities that otherwise would not happen. Perhaps the person Angela has just introduced herself to is a published author, or blog reader, or a woman that is interested in growing herself professionally.  The first introduction would not have sparked much of a connection or interest unless the person she is speaking with also works in Healthcare. Which brings me to my next tip…
  • Diversify. Do not network exclusively in your industry. Although networking within your company and within your field has a purpose and is important, you will benefit most from building a larger circle of influence that is diverse. You never know when the connection of a connection can help introduce you to your next big client, career opportunity or knows of a perfect board position for you with your level of expertise.
  • Follow up.  Failing to follow up and continue to build the relationship is one of the biggest mistakes new networkers make. If you have an interest in learning more about and connecting with a networking connection you need to take the next step. Send a follow up thank you email or I’m glad we were able to meet message on LinkedIn.  Offer to connect for coffee to continue your conversation or invite them to another networking event you are planning to attend. If there was an immediate connection you would like to offer them, send an email and make a virtual introduction. Stay in touch. Out of sight is out of mind.
  • Do something nice.  Find someone in your network that you can do something nice for every week. Connect two people. Share an article you thought might interest them. Let them know about the latest leadership book you are reading that you think they would find interesting.  Post a Linked In recommendation for a colleague. These small acts of building someone else’s career will most certainly help them in their personal career pursuits but will also keep the relationship strong between the two of you. Plus it just feels good to help someone else.
  • Join a professional networking group.  Ellevate Network and Lean In Circles are just two of the growing female professional networking communities.  They offer a local membership with a national networking platform that includes events, articles, education, podcasts for emerging and experienced women leaders.  Being a member of a professional networking organization can help take the guesswork out of how to get started if you are a network newbie.  Although I don’t just limit myself to women’s only networking opportunities, (you must develop and grow professional relationships with men as well) I do find that being part of a women’s only group helps to elevate women to elevate women. The membership fees also help me to commit to the events (if I am paying for a service I would be foolish not to use it) and help remind me to pencil self-growth time on my calendar as well.

Last but not least I want to leave you with this thought. You are the only master of your personal and professional growth. Even if you are lucky enough to have a supportive boss and leadership team who promote you professionally, only you can make the connections and relationships to support your goals. Networking is one way to do yourself a personal favor. Now get out there and network like a ninja!

 

Angela is a healthcare executive, passionate leadership blogger at Leadershipelevateher.com, and loves speaking to groups about leadership culture.  Network with Angela via LinkedIn and spread your inner professional circle.

Taming Procrastination

Full disclosure…it has been 3 months since my last blog post. The procrastination monster, and its infinite, ever-ready excuse of “I have been so busy” or “I will get to it tomorrow” has reared its ugly head into my life.   We all struggle, at one time or another, with the inability to simply get started on something.   But why?  As some sort of karmic punishment,  I have assigned myself this topic to try to understand why and learn how to power through the problem.

According to Wilson, B. A., & Nguyen, T. D. (2012),  procrastination an “ancient nemesis,” saying that it parallels human civilization and may have originated 2.5 million years ago. ” The origin of the word procrastination itself derives from the late 16th century Latin procrastinat- “deferred until tomorrow”, from the verb procrastinare, from pro- “forward” plus crastinus “belonging to tomorrow.  Numerous researchers found that two top-rated reasons for procrastinating were that the task was unpleasant, or that it was boring and uninteresting (Anderson, 2001; Briody, 1980; Froehlich, 1987; Haycock, 1993, as cited in Steel, 2007). ”  (Well…duh).  It was also noted that the “hunter-gatherer” brain was more focused on immediate needs rather than needs that were to be experienced in the future.  Our ancestors “triaged’ surviving today rather than survival for tomorrow.

This answers the most obvious reasons why we put off until tomorrow what we should be doing today but why do we procrastinate things we want to do, things that will, in the end, give us a bigger payoff and satisfaction?  According to Dr. Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., “procrastination is a decision not to act.” Why do we not want to act on something that we enjoy doing or feel is a valuable use of our time?

Blog author of Wait but Why and Ted Talk presenter Tim Urban explains the phenomenon in his witty video “Inside the Mind of the Master Procrastinator”. Tim’s witty illustrations and explanations as to what it is like inside of the mind of a procrastinator resonates with any of us who have ever delayed necessary work in favor of spending time in what he calls “The Dark Playground” of time wasting.

I personally have spent some time in Tim Urban’s Dark Playground.  Whether it is  Facebook scrolling, Instagram cataloging, training my Alexa Amazon Echo to do “new cool funny things,” somehow the lure of the mindless, safe, easy Dark Playground eats up precious hours that I intended to use for a more productive intent. Becoming aware of my present state of procrastination, according to Tim, is the first step.  Turning on the light in the Dark Playground is bound to help me find my way out.  Subsequently, I have developed my own pattern of moving from a state of inertia into a state of flow.

  1.  I do a “Brain Dump” – I list everything that is on my mental to-do list.  By everything, I mean EVERYTHING that is taking up space and demanding my flittering attention. This can include personal, professional, social, and daydreaming thoughts.  I find pleasure in writing it physically in my notebook.  I then assign each item into one of the 4 quadrants below.
  2.  I Pick Three Must Do’s:  I identify the top three tasks that based on The Eisenhower Matrix (see illustration below) that are both urgent and important.

3.  I  Go to my  Work Space:  Each of us has a place at home or work that signifies where the work is done. For some,  it is the kitchen table, spread out on the family room floor, or a desk in an office.  I established mine four years ago when I was completing my double masters while working full time.  My chaise lounge in my family room, next to a beautiful picture window, is my workspace. I put on my earphones, turn on the Jack Johnson playlist, and grab my laptop.  Add a cup of my favorite coffee and Pottery Barn fuzzy throw and I am good to go. The physical sensations elicit a pavlovian response for both my body and mind that I am set to work.

4.  I  make the 15-minute Commitment: I learned this trick when training for a marathon. I tell myself I will just work (in that case run) for 15 minutes. If I want to stop after the 15 minutes I can.  90% of the time I will continue and will have achieved a state of flow and time begins to pass without me ever questioning if I should stop.  On the rare occasion that I just am not “feeling it” after 15 minutes I allow myself to quit but not without identifying a time later in the day that I will make the 15-minute commitment again.  At the very least I have moved the Task #1 closer to completion that is the most urgent and most important. That in of itself can be reward enough to keep going to #2.

5.  I pick one  Want-To: In addition to your Three  Must- Do’s I always plan for (at least) One Want- To.   The Want-To is something that refills my bucket. It might be going to Yoga class, reading a chapter of my favorite novel, or watching my favorite show with my husband after dinner. The Must-Do’s will move you closer to your goals the Want-To will keep you balanced and sane.

Try following the pattern above the next time you feel the procrastination monster keeping you from doing something you know you should be doing.  This published blog is proof it can work! Chances are if you are reading this post you may just be in the Dark Playground yourself.

 

 

Grit: The New Game-Changer

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Five years ago I decided to run a marathon.   Let me first explain that I was not ” a runner” and not athletic in any sense of the word.   After signing up for a few local 5K’s, I had tasted the thrill of setting a goal and completing it.   I began reading every source on running I could get my hands on.   I signed up at the local running store for a free class on running form and bought the best pair of running shoes they recommended.  I set weekly goals.  I  implemented the run-walk method, running one minute and walking the next,  to help my body adjust to the shock of longer distance running.  Each Sunday became my long run day.   I would map out where I was going  and placed water bottles at strategic mile markers.  I learned how to tape my feet and ankles with support tape and ice my knees to prevent swelling.   As I learned what worked and what didn’t work for me,  I adjusted my approach.  Slow and steady became my mantra as the goal was to complete, not win, the race.  On January 8th, 2010 I crossed the finish line at the Disney Marathon having completed a full 26.2 miles at the age of 45.  I had just discovered the secret of Grit.

What is Grit? According to Angela Lee Duckworth,  grit is the “power of passion and perseverance for very long-term goals.”   Angela Duckworth is the Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.  She is also the founder and scientific director of the Character Lab, a nonprofit whose mission is to advance the science and practice of character development.  Ms. Duckworth is the author of  Grit:  The Power and Passion of Perseverance .   In the book, Ms. Duckworth gives a first-person account of her research that includes cadets struggling through their first days at West Point, finalists who are successful in the National Spelling Bee,  and analysis of successful teachers and students at some of the toughest schools. Duckworth’s research focuses on two traits that predict achievement : grit and self- control.

“Grit isn’t talent. Grit isn’t luck. Grit isn’t how intensely, for the moment, you want something.  Instead, grit is about having what some researchers call an”ultimate concern”–a goal you care about so much that it organizes and gives meaning to almost everything you do. And grit is holding steadfast to that goal.  Even when you fall down.  Even when you screw up.  Even when progress toward that goal is halting or slow.”- Angela Lee Duckworth

Whether you want to succeed in your personal life or professional life, understanding how to develop and apply Grit can be monumental to achieving your long term goals.   Learning how to tap into and strengthen your perseverance “muscle” is a way to enhance self-reflection and apply lessons learned.   Duckworth offers a free online introductory quiz to learn where you fall on the Grit Scale  as well as an overview of the research that led to her New York Times bestselling book on the subject.

I found the book a fascinating read and one that I highly recommend.  Understanding Grit  helped me to  recognize why I have been successful with certain goals and  why I did not prematurely give up on others.  Grasping  the impact that motivation, drive, and self-control can have on any goal that we set for ourselves can have a profound effect on how we view the possibilities in our lives.  Who are you waiting to become?  Five years ago I became a runner.

 

How to Mentor Like a (Lady) Boss

This October, amidst a highly debated political discussion regarding the appropriate professional treatment of women, Virgin American, LinkedIn and Leanin.org  partnered together to celebrate their Lady Boss plane by sponsoring a contest to showcase stories of women mentoring women and exemplify how women “mentor like a lady boss”.   The contest, an extension of the  partnership with Leanin.org’s #Leanintogether campaign,  encouraged women participants to share how  a woman leader, that they have looked up to , has mentored them as an ally or a peer.   The collective entries described several consistent themes of women committed to  reaching out and “lifting up other women” despite those being mentored seeing less potential within themselves.

“She saw my unpolished potential.”  “She opened my eyes and showed me the inequalities plaguing the world.”  “She found time for me to talk about my future and goals and made me feel they were as important as her own.” “She shows women how to be a force of nature onstage and offstage she is relentless about making the world a better place.” “She pushed me to consider things I hadn’t considered and introduced me to more people who could help.”  “She leads by example, teaches through experience, guides with compassion, and lends her hand as a friend.”

Many women wonder, however,  what mentorship is,  how they themselves  obtain one and ( most importantly) how do  they become equipped to be one?    By its official  definition , a Mentor is a wise and trusted counselor or teacher; an influential senior sponsor or supporter.  For me, and many other professional women I have worked with, we  know it when we  see it.

My first professional mentor , like many of those described above, saw something in me that I had not yet seen myself.  She was three  levels above me in the company we worked for and took an interest in me as I began to explore my future options for growth and development.  Her first suggestion was  that I join a shared governance patient quality council.  I later learned this suggestion was because she had bigger plans for me in the role of the council’s chair (which  she somehow talked me into accepting) before I even understood my role.  However, this push, with her guided support, began to introduce me to a bigger picture view of the importance of quality review, interdisciplinary teamwork.  Furthermore,  it gave me the confidence that I could be a powerful change agent and influence our hospital culture.  As I became more comfortable in an unofficial leadership role, she then began to plant the “leadership seed” into our conversations and helped me to map out the next 9 years of my career which included four promotions and two master degrees.  I don’t think we ever used the “mentor/mentee” description when describing our relationship but I did end up reporting to her for 4 years and it was evident upon reflection that she was teaching me the core elements of how to mentor.  The principles below are some of the key lessons I have learned to  emulate in order to pay it forward.

  • Get to know the person– Take the time to talk with those less experienced women you work with to find out who they are.  What are their goals, dreams, hopes, and fears?  Who do they admire and want to be like?  What do they love about their present work and what do they light up about when describing what they do?
  • Help connect them to a potential stretch opportunity– Is a there a project, task force, role out or superuser opportunity that you can suggest them for? The more exposure to your company’s big picture strategy will help introduce them to others in the company who can be potential resources and connections for further growth.
  • Meet with them regularly– Frequency of interaction is important.  A quick coffee talk, hallway conversation, or a scheduled one-on-one is important to open yourself up for guidance and support.  Frequency shows that you care enough to dedicate your time to their growth.  One surprising fact is that often these times will reenergize you in your career.  Paying it forward feels wonderful.
  • Share your library- What books or articles are you reading that you find valuable, informative, and something that could be of interest to your mentee.? Send it along in an email, share your book with them when finished.  Encouraging continued learning is one of the most important lessons I have both learned and shared.
  • Share your failures- Showing humility in lessons learned along the way empowers women that it is safe to fail.  Sharing your learnings and why the lesson was valuable will help them to open up when they feel they have made not the best decision they could have.  Help them to see that learning lessons promote growth.
  • Point out their strengths- Help them see what you see.  Point out their strengths and manage them up to others when you have the opportunity.  Nothing builds confidence more than attributing good work to its owner and letting others know what a great job they are doing.   Always take the opportunity when introducing them to someone new to share something positive about them.
  • Ask for feedback- Teaching a mentee the importance of continuous 360-degree feedback (and how you incorporate into your own self-improvement) is the best inspirational gift you can give.  Showing vulnerability and gracious appreciation for feedback that is not always positive will have extraordinary influence on new up and coming leaders.

Lailah Gifty Akita is quoted as saying ” Every great achiever is inspired by a great mentor.”  

Go find one, be one, and mentor like a Lady Boss.

 

 

 

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