How Self-Promotion Helps Others

How Does Your Self-Promotion Benefit Others?

How Self-Promotion Helps OthersAs an executive coach, I am consistently struck by the level of humility shown by talented, successful leaders who would be well justified in bragging about their accomplishments. These leaders have driven powerful initiatives, developed efficient new methodologies, and spearheaded valuable new relationships on behalf of their companies. Yet they shy away from self-promotion.

Most of us intellectually understand that strategic self-promotion is critical to career advancement. But actually engaging in self-promotion is another matter. Many professionals lack the confidence and skills to promote their value and contributions to others. They fear looking arrogant or self-serving, rather than authentic.

The first mindset shift that needs to occur when thinking about self-promotion is the notion that self-promotion is self-serving. While there are clear personal benefits to engaging in self-promotion, it is not a selfish act. There are many other constituents that benefit from your willingness to promote your accomplishments. Here are just a few:

Your Leadership Team

It’s easy to assume that your manager and other influential leaders see and understand the value you have to offer. After all, you participate in regular meetings, work in the same office, and communicate with them on a consistent basis. Do you really need to explicitly share your accomplishments and key wins with them?

Yes, you do! Most leaders are simply too busy and stretched in too many different directions to recognize all of the great contributions their teams are making. They likely have an overall sense of your value and performance but they don’t have all the details.

Sharing your successes with your manager makes him/her look better, as your accomplishments positively reflect on your leadership team. By providing them with visibility into the specific value you offer, your manager now has an opportunity to share that information with his/her manager. Everyone wants to hear good news and your successes offer your leadership team an opportunity to celebrate. They can also leverage your win when promoting their team’s performance to others.

Your Own Team

If you have a team of direct reports, your reluctance to promote yourself robs them of the visibility and respect they deserve. None of us achieves success independently; we all rely on our teams for support. Each time you strategically promote yourself, your credibility and respect grow, which lift the overall credibility and respect of your team in the process.

Most of us have an easier time doing things for others than we do for ourselves. If you’re uncomfortable promoting your accomplishments for your own sake, think of it as a form of support for your team. Don’t let your discomfort deprive them of the opportunity to shine.

Share your team’s successes, which reflect positively on you, but don’t lose yourself in the story. It’s important that others recognize your role as the leader of the group. Be sure to emphasize your own contributions as well.

Your Organization

However autonomous your role may be, you don’t work in a vacuum. Your success and accomplishments are valuable because they help your organization meet its goals. When you promote your accomplishments, you’re not bragging, you’re educating the organization on how you can help the larger team.

For example, if you develop a more efficient approach to a traditionally cumbersome process, share that with the larger group. They can directly benefit from your new process by leveraging your work and not having to reinvent the wheel. If you land an important client, you may be able to offer contacts to another department that has struggled to connect with them.

Or if you have expertise in a particular area, such as social media, a new software program, or relevant industry trends, schedule a lunch and learn and invite others to attend. They’ll gain useful insights from your presentation and you’ll demonstrate your value in an authentic way.

As you can see, your self-promotion efforts not only help you advance your career; they help others improve their roles as well. Next time you hesitate to share your success with others, consider how you’re depriving them of important benefits in the process.

How has your self-promotion helped your team? Share your thoughts and experiences here.

Don't quit your job

Want to Quit Your Job? Do This First!

Don't quit your jobLast week I spoke with two executive coaching clients who had recently concluded that, in order to reach their professional goals, they would need to leave their current organizations. Both felt, for different reasons, that their work environments were holding them back. Although they had only been in their current positions for a short time, they were ready to go back out on a job search to find new jobs that better fit their needs.

When a work situation is beyond repair or a work culture is a mismatch, seeking a new job is often advisable. What struck me about these two clients’ accounts, though, was how complimentary they were of their managers. Both spoke in glowing terms about the relationships they had with their managers and how effectively their managers led and supported their teams. This is not something I hear often, particularly from professionals who feel that their best option is to leave their companies.

What surprised me even further was that neither of them had spoken to his manager about his concerns. Despite the rave reviews, each felt that talking with his manager was a futile idea. In their minds, there was nothing the manager could do to improve the situation.

It’s certainly possible that there truly was nothing the managers could do. Even the best managers only have so much control over environmental factors that influence their employees. But isn’t it at least worth a try?

Managers like these professionals described are, sadly, all too rare. While they might find other benefits in a new work environment, they will be hard pressed to find leaders that possess their current managers’ leadership qualities.

When you find a great manager, it’s a shame to walk away prematurely.

 

If you’ve already determined that you’re willing to leave your job and find another career opportunity, why not express your concerns to your manager? You might be surprised. It’s difficult to find good talent and it’s disruptive to the business to recruit, on-board and train new employees. No manager wants to lose a valuable team member if they don’t have to. If they understand your concerns, they might find a way to accommodate your needs.

For example, I recently worked with a client who was frustrated in her role. She believed that she deserved a promotion to a higher-level title but was reluctant to talk to her boss about it. She assumed that, had her boss wanted to promote her, he would have done so already.

Her first thought was to leave her company and find a higher-level role elsewhere. There were a lot of advantages to staying in her current organization, however. She genuinely enjoyed the work she did and had established herself as a well respected resource across the organization. She also had highly strategic internal and external relationships that she was hesitant to leave.

Rather than look for a new job, she crafted a business justification for a promotion and developed a plan for how to articulate it to her boss. After role-playing and building her confidence with me, she spoke with her boss and was very quickly granted the promotion she requested. Had she left her organization instead, this would have been a missed opportunity for her and her leadership team.

Before you jump to conclusions about what is possible in your current position, take the following steps:

1. Do your homework

Think about what it is you’d like to change, i.e. your title, work schedule, or specific environmental factors, and try to find others who have successfully negotiated similar changes. For example, is there another colleague, even in a different department, who works from home a couple of days per week? Or is there someone who has recently stepped into a new leadership position?

Try to learn more about the circumstances surrounding these changes. Is the colleague willing to share with you how he/she approached the situation? Or is there information available elsewhere? If no concrete examples exist, are there influential people within the organization who can provide insights into whether or not the company would support the type of change you’re seeking.

2. Plan for your discussion

Before approaching your manager with your request, think through what you’d like to say. These types of discussions can often feel intimidating or anxiety provoking, so don’t try to wing it. Be thoughtful about how you position your request and how it will benefit the organization. For example, my client who requested a title change spoke about the benefits this would have on others as well. She indicated that a higher title would give her greater credibility and status when interacting with key stakeholders, which would benefit her entire team. And it would give her external clients/constituents the respect of being assigned a higher-level internal contact.

Be prepared for the possibility of objections. What types of questions might your manager ask and how will you respond to them? Do you anticipate any pushback? The more you can prepare for this in advance, the more confident you’ll feel in the discussion.

3. Approach your manager strategically

Be mindful of your timing and approach. If your manager is facing a stressful deadline, this might not be the best time to raise your concerns. Or if you’re behind on an important project, complete all outstanding deliverables before making your request. Choose the right time and setting to have a thoughtful and candid discussion with your manager.

Be honest with your manager about how important this is to you. Don’t make threats or issue ultimatums but let him/her know how strongly you feel about this issue. If you manage the discussion with respect and professionalism, what have you got to lose? You’ve already decided that you’re willing to transition to a new opportunity, remember?

If your current job is not meeting your needs, don’t make an impulsive decision to look for something new. Take your case to your manager before concluding that your only option is to leave.

Fallen Out of Love

Have You Fallen Out of Love with Your Career?

Fallen Out of Love Career? Career TransitionI recently had another all too familiar conversation with an executive coaching client who has fallen out of love with his career. In earlier days, he was excited and energized by the opportunity to influence new prospects, drive new business opportunities, and develop impactful client relationships. After more than twenty years in his industry and function, however, his heart is no longer in it. Recent years have seen changes in industry regulations, as well as shifts in client attitudes that undermine the pride and satisfaction he once felt for his work.

My heart aches for leaders in this situation. For talented executives who have committed years of their lives to mastering their craft and maximizing their impact, it’s not easy to accept that it’s time to move on. Like ending a longstanding romantic relationship, leaving a once rewarding career is a genuine loss that results in sadness, disappointment, and anxiety. It takes courage to make the decision to move on and it takes time to heal the pain that results.

If you’re considering a career change, it’s important to recognize the complexity of your decision. Not unlike a divorce, you’ll likely experience a roller coaster of emotions from relief, hope, and liberation to fear, confusion, and frustration. It is normal to experience these feelings and critical to allow yourself the time and space to work through them.

If you’re ready to take your career in a new direction, consider the following steps:

 

1. Grieve the loss 

 

No matter how ready you feel to move on and begin the next chapter of your career, leaving your current career behind is challenging. For most of us, our careers are tightly linked to our identities. Stripping your existing career away inevitably leaves a void, resulting in confusion, uncertainty and self-doubt. If you try to make a career change too quickly, you will find yourself haunted by unresolved feelings.

Have you ever tried to date too quickly after a break-up? The same principles apply here. Until you resolve outstanding issues and come to terms with your decision, you won’t be in a position to make healthy, productive choices about your future.

 

2. Reflect on your needs 

 

If you’re like most busy leaders, you haven’t had much time for self-reflection. This might be the first time you stop and actively think about your career interests and professional goals. Before taking any action, be clear about what you want from your career. What have you learned about yourself throughout your career thus far? What strengths, skills and experiences would you like to leverage moving forward? What do you specifically want to avoid?

The clearer you are about yourself and your professional needs, the better prepared you will be to embark on a career change. Without this clarity, you increase the risk of returning to an unsatisfying comfort zone.

 

3. Engage others for support 

 

Once you’ve had some time to recover and reflect on your professional needs, start talking with the people around you. Regardless of your level of self-awareness, you don’t know what you don’t know. Talking with the people who know you best can lead to important insights and ideas about where to take your career next.

The act of socializing your message with others also helps you become more confident in your career direction. The more comfortable you become with your story, the more you begin to believe in yourself. Talk initially with your inner circle, as you’ll experience less pressure to impress and deliver a cohesive message.

These three steps will help you ease the pain and discomfort of a career change and give you the courage and confidence to embrace a new career path.

Are you considering a career change? Have you recently made a transition? Please share your thoughts and experiences here.

Perfectionism

3 Ways to Conquer Perfectionism

PerfectionismSeveral weeks ago, I had the privilege of leading three powerful conversations on the Impostor Syndrome and the toll it takes on our confidence, careers, and overall well-being. The Impostor Syndrome, for those who are unfamiliar, is the term for the feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy we experience despite evidence to the contrary. It’s the belief that while you might seem to the outside world like you know what you’re doing, underneath it all, you’re actually a fraud.

During these recent discussions, one of the key areas we explored was the link between the Impostor Syndrome and perfectionism. Many sufferers of the Impostor Syndrome struggle with the need to be perfect. Even in situations that don’t warrant special attention or extra diligence, it’s difficult to let go of the perfectionism.

It makes sense if you think about it. When you struggle with the Impostor Syndrome, as I have in the past, it’s terrifying to imagine someone finding you out. That fear of being exposed as a fraud is so anxiety provoking that you’ll do anything to prevent that from happening. It would be unimaginable to ask for help or let on that you’re not as competent or capable as everyone thinks you are.

It might make sense but it’s not helpful. First of all, there’s no such thing as perfect. If you keep chasing an unrealistic ideal, you’ll burn out trying to reach an impossible goal. Your commitment to producing high quality results is admirable and you shouldn’t lose that. But it’s important to recognize when something is complete and no additional effort is necessary.

Perfectionism also distracts you from other areas you care about. If you’re using up all of your energy trying to perfect your work, you won’t have the mental or physical bandwidth to engage with your family and friends, participate in recreational activities, or even manage your own health. It’s self-defeating and doesn’t buy you much in terms of success or reputation. Quality work is quality work. Nobody gets credit for the extra ten hours they spent on something that could have been completed in two.

While many consider perfectionism an admirable quality, even taking pride in their perfectionistic tendencies, it’s not a trait that we should nurture. Perfectionism, despite its deceptive appearance, is a toxic manifestation of fear. If you want to let go of perfectionism, you first need to face your underlying fears.

Consider the following questions:

1. What are you afraid of? 

What are you afraid will happen if you let go of being perfect? Consider this carefully as this is not a simple question to answer. Try to connect with what truly scares you.

Do you have a fear of failure? Do you worry about giving up control? Are you afraid that someone will perceive you as less capable or qualified to perform your role? Do you fear that you’ll no longer be loved or respected?

2. Where does this fear come from? 

Try to trace the roots of your fear. Why do you think you feel this way? Think back on your oldest memory of feeling this way. Were you a child? Were you in another vulnerable place in your life?

Many times these feelings of fear and vulnerability emerge when we feel that we have limited control over our lives and circumstances. A perceived lack of control feeds anxiety, leading us to seek out ways to control our environment, even if such control is, in reality, just an illusion. Perfectionism is such an illusion of control. We believe that if we work that much harder or invest that much more time, it will be “perfect” and thus protect us from our deeper fears.

3. What can you do about it? 

It’s only natural that we would assume that to protect ourselves from fear, we must avoid the fear itself and the forces that trigger it. Counterintuitively, however, the only effective way to reduce fear is to face it directly. The more you try to avoid your fear, the more powerful it becomes. By embracing your fear, you dilute its power and recognize that the object of fear is not as scary as you initially thought.

Identify one immediate step you can take to begin to let go of your perfectionism. If you’re working on a project, set a firm limit on how much time you’ll allow yourself to commit to it. If you’re writing an email, limit yourself to two re-writes. If you’re working on a low priority task, allow it to be “good enough.”

After taking that first step, notice what happens. Does the world collapse around you? Do you lose your job? Do you lose the respect of everyone involved? I’m confident that the answer to each of these questions will be no. What likely will happen is that you’ll recognize that your worst fears were not realized. And you’ll gain the courage and strength to continue to chip away at your perfectionism, one step at a time.

Have you found strategies to manage your perfectionism? If so, please share.

Leadership Transition

New Leadership Position? 3 Steps to a Successful Transition

Leadership TransitionWhether you’re a long-standing leader or a newly promoted manager, think back on your transition from individual contributor to new leader. How prepared were you to step into a leadership role? Did your company offer leadership development support? Were there clear expectations of your new role? Did you feel confident in your ability to be successful?

If you’re like most leaders, your path to management was not paved with leadership training, mentorship, and other critical support. You independently navigated the transition from a position where your focus was primarily on your own efforts, to a role with responsibility for inspiring, developing, and leading a team.

As you well know, leading a team requires a very different skill set from leading yourself. It’s no longer just about you and your individual performance– it’s about the team. In your new role, you might not be the rock star you were in your previous role. It can be difficult to give up that glory. You might also miss being on the front lines, practicing the skills you’ve mastered over the years. Additionally, the increased exposure that accompanies a higher-level position often creates anxiety, leaving you longing for the comfort zone of your previous role.

Making a transition to a new leadership role at any level is complex, anxiety-provoking, and even messy at times. Expectations aren’t always clear, players and politics change, and the stakes are much higher. Despite your previous experience, without a clear strategy and development plan to help you maximize your new leadership role, you could find yourself set up to fail. As Marshall Goldsmith says, “What got you here won’t get you there.”

As you embark on any new leadership role, follow these three steps:

Leverage company resources

Some companies offer formalized leadership development programs to prepare you for a bigger leadership role. In some cases, these programs are publicly promoted or provided to you as part of an orientation/transition period. In other cases, you may need to seek them out.

Do not wait to be told! Proactively ask your manager or HR leader about the types of development support that are available to you. Even if your company doesn’t have its own leadership training and development offerings, it might be willing to pay for you to seek support elsewhere.

Invest in yourself

Be willing to make an investment in your professional development, whether or not your company provides you with leadership training and support,  Attend relevant conferences, training programs, and workshops to gain new leadership skills and learn from the experiences of others.

Even some of the best leadership development programs are inherently limited because you are typically learning how to lead in a vacuum. You’re placed in a short-lived, artificial environment rather than learning to lead in context. To receive consistent support as you tackle the challenges of your new leadership role, consider engaging an executive coach, mentor, or other ongoing resource.

Ask for help

Nobody, especially a new leader, is expected to know everything. Regardless of your level of experience, you will undoubtedly face moments when the path before you is unclear. Don’t go it alone.

If you’re uncertain about how to proceed, clarify expectations with your leadership team. Clear communication is critical to your success. Build a relationship with your manager immediately and make it a habit to communicate regularly. Leverage your peers and direct reports as well. Particularly if you’re new to the group or organization, they will have insights and experience that will be highly valuable to you.

Above all, be a leader in your own career. Great companies offer great leadership resources but it’s incumbent upon you to seek them out. If you’re not getting the support you need to be successful in your leadership role, take action to get it. Don’t wait for someone else to act on your behalf.

Resistance to Change

Is Your Resistance to Change Undermining Your Career Success?

Resistance to ChangeAs the mother of a one-year-old child, I’m continuously marveling at the natural ability of tiny humans to embrace change, face new challenges and enthusiastically seek out growth opportunities. My son repeatedly stumbles, falls, and bruises himself as he struggles to learn to walk, yet he consistently picks himself up and gets right back at it.

It occurred to me as I watched him dust himself off from yet another fall that we all started out this way. We all began our lives by tackling seemingly insurmountable obstacles only to master them with pride and move on to the next challenge. Imagine, for a moment, if we had decided in early childhood that standing or walking was just too hard. Imagine if we concluded that it was too scary, too painful, or too time-consuming. Where would we be today?

When does that natural instinct to eagerly embrace new challenges and growth opportunities begin to fade? At what point do we begin to believe that staying in our comfort zones is more desirable than stretching ourselves beyond our self-imposed limitations? And what can we do to resurrect that youthful spirit and welcome new growth opportunities with more excitement and less fear?

As an executive coach, I work with talented leaders who have impressive track records of success in their careers. These leaders typically come to me when they’ve reached a roadblock that feels too difficult, emotionally overwhelming, or confusing to overcome on their own. Most often, they present with an external challenge – a difficult manager, a stifling work environment, or an unrealistic workload. As we move ahead, however, the true challenge emerges and it’s almost never the issue they originally raised.

The real challenge facing most of the highly successful leaders I support is lack of confidence. They lack the confidence to try a new leadership approach, have a difficult conversation, or pursue a new career opportunity. The fear of failure, rejection or the unknown keeps them trapped in their comfort zones, unwilling or unable to make meaningful progress. Once they are able to reframe that fear, they can then take action to achieve their professional goals.

Once again, imagine yourself as a child. When you were learning to ride a bike, did you give up because it was hard or scary? No! You endured the frustration and you embraced the fear because you were excited about the outcome – the independence and thrill that came with the ability to ride a bike.

The next time you find yourself struggling to make an important change, consider the following:

1. What will you lose if you don’t take action?

To maintain the level of motivation required to push through challenging situations, you need to be emotionally connected to your goal. If it’s not important or real enough to inspire you to do the hard work to get there, you’ll never make the effort.

Be clear about what you’ll be walking away from if you give up on your goal or fail to take action. Are you comfortable missing that opportunity? What are the short and long-term consequences of your decision?

2. When have you successfully made a change in the past?

Remind yourself that you can do this. You’ve faced many fears and challenges before reaching this point. The most obvious are the ones I mentioned in early childhood. But there are other examples in your past that can remind you that you are capable of overcoming adversity and achieving success.

Find one powerful example from your past when you successfully faced a fear and overcame a challenge. Did you perform well in a difficult college course? Did you make an anxiety-provoking career change? Did you have an uncomfortable conversation with your manager that resulted in positive change? Relive the experience in vivid detail so that you can recall the range of emotions you felt. Remind yourself that while your current challenge feels scary, this is not new territory for you.

3. Was it worth it? 

Once you’ve had an opportunity to reflect on a time when you’ve successfully faced a challenge, consider how your life or career improved because of the action you took. More importantly, ask yourself if you would do it again. Chances are you’ll say yes. The vast majority of people regret the chances they did not take, not the risks they did take.

To reach your full potential, you must be willing to experience the fear and discomfort that come with embracing new growth opportunities. Keep this fear in perspective by reminding yourself that you have a successful track record of confronting challenges throughout your life and career. You wouldn’t be where you are today if you didn’t!

What change are you ready to make? Share your thoughts and experiences here.

Want to Get Ahead? Don’t Be Too Good at Your Job

man.climbing.ladder.2You’ve worked hard to establish yourself as an expert in your role. You consistently produce high quality results, which are reflected in your annual reviews. Through years of experience, you’ve developed a reputation for excellence and have become a go-to person in your organization. So why are you stuck in the same role?

Early in my career, I worked with a man who was our department’s expert on reporting. He had manually created all of the reporting templates and was the only one who really understood how to populate them. Everyone on the team depended on him for their data. People would sometimes joke about the problems we’d face if he were to get hit by a bus one day. While he had great job security, he had made himself irreplaceable.

It may sound counter-intuitive but it is possible to be too good at your job. Because you are a trusted, reliable asset to your team, your manager likely cringes at the thought of losing you. Nobody else understands your business like you do. If you were to leave, how could they ever find someone to step into your role?

I’m not suggesting that you start compromising the quality of your work. Your expertise and reliability are important elements of your brand, which you do not want to damage. But there are steps you can take to make yourself less indispensable and more promotable.

1. Demystify your work

If your skill set is highly technical or specialized, it may intimidate others who are less familiar with it. Whenever possible, try to explain things in more understandable terms. Even your manager may not fully understand what you do. When providing updates or reports to him/her, include some detail about how you got there. The more accessible your work, the less daunting it will feel to others.

2. Mentor others on your team

When you’re busy and highly skilled at your role, you might not feel the need to interact regularly with your team. If you want to get ahead, though, not engaging with your team is a missed opportunity. Mentor individuals who are interested in your work or perform related roles. Schedule a lunch and learn to teach your team how to use key tools and resources. The more your team understands your role, the less you’ll be perceived as a standalone performer.

3. Groom a potential successor

Until your manager can find a suitable replacement for you, he/she will have a difficult time letting you go. Is there someone on your team who has the potential to step into your role someday? Talk with them about their interests and goals. Consider delegating some activities or partnering on key projects with them. Even if you remain in your role for a while, it’s valuable to have someone else who can pick up the slack when you’re out of the office or tied up with other priorities.

4. Discuss your goals with your manager

If you’re interested in pursuing a new role, it likely won’t happen overnight. Let your manager in on your plans well in advance to allow for a seamless transition. Share your thoughts on a successor, offer to transfer your knowledge to the appropriate people, and let him/her know that you’ll be available for occasional questions after you leave. The more comfortable your manager feels about a future without you, the more support you’ll receive.

If you excel at what you do, keep up the great work! But if you want to get ahead, don’t be irreplaceable.

New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work. Try This Instead.

New Year's ResolutionsI’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. Most of us enthusiastically commit to making the same changes each year, only to see that enthusiasm wane as the weeks and months progress. Before we know it, we’re back to our old routines and those resolutions fall by the wayside until this time next year.

New Year’s resolutions are simply not specific or actionable enough to yield positive results. The nice thing about them, however, is that they get us thinking about what changes are possible in the year ahead. The excitement of the new year offers us hope that things can be different this time. If only we could channel that excitement and hope more productively…

Rather than fall victim to another year of failed resolutions, consider the following approach.

1. Choose one specific focus area.

When you’re actively thinking about making changes and feeling excited about the process, it’s tempting to want to focus on multiple areas simultaneously. This strategy will only set you up to fail. Rather than dilute your focus, choose one area to prioritize.

2. Clarify your vision.

Once you’ve selected your focus area, spend some time visualizing what you really want. Imagine, for example, that you woke up tomorrow and your goal had become a reality. What, specifically, would be different? What would your life look like? What changes would you notice?

3. Identify current gaps/challenges/roadblocks.

Now that you’re clear about what you want, what stands in the way? For instance, if your goal is to get promoted, why hasn’t that happened? Do you lack critical experience? Do you need a stronger network of alliances? Be clear about what is holding you back. Focus on the challenges you can personally address.

4. Choose one challenge and tackle it aggressively.

Again, you may be tempted to pursue multiple paths in parallel but you’ll burn out quickly if you do so. Identify one important challenge and face it head on. Need a stronger network? Make that your immediate focus and start building key relationships now. Need more training in a certain area? Sign up for a course today. Once you’ve made sufficient progress on that front, begin to focus on the next challenge.

5. Make it a priority.

If it’s important to you, don’t let everyday life stand in the way. Trust me, there will never be a “good” time. You’ll simply shift your attention to new things and be no closer to achieving your goal. Treat it like your most important business commitments. Add it to your calendar and don’t cancel it unless there’s an emergency.

And, finally, don’t try to make important changes alone. Not only do you need the support of others to achieve your goals, it’s impossible to make changes in a vacuum. Those around you will need to change in some way for you to be successful. Enlist their help and be clear about how it will benefit them as well. Consider engaging a coach or mentor to serve as an objective support system in the process.

If you’ve already made your New Year’s resolutions, use them as a starting point for this process. Choose the most important goal and follow these steps to maximize your success.

What Conversation Are You Not Having?

conversationMany years ago, I was inspired by the Landmark Forum to initiate a difficult, long overdue conversation. For many years, I was consumed by resentment, hurt and anger towards my father, an emotionally distant man who was absent from most of the defining moments of my life. I blamed him for his lack of attention and I blamed myself for not being worthy of it.

After much reflection, what I finally realized was that the intense, unaddressed emotions were taking up so much mental bandwidth that I wasn’t free to experience new, healthy emotions and relationships. When I ultimately mustered up the courage to discuss my concerns with him directly, I felt an incredible sense of liberation. That is not to say that our conversation healed all wounds but it allowed me to feel that my voice had been heard. And it shifted the dynamic in our relationship from that point forward.

What conversation are you not having? Which relationship is undermined by your unspoken thoughts and feelings? I recently spoke with a client who has been struggling with interpersonal conflicts with a co-worker for years. The underlying hostility and tension have created a toxic work environment that has made it difficult for each of them to be successful. But, until now, no attempt had ever been made to address the issue directly. At our last meeting, my client made a commitment to reach out to this co-worker and attempt to make amends.

Having that conversation you’ve been avoiding is certainly not easy or you would have done it by now. But can it be any more difficult than coping with the repercussions of not having it? How much do you and those around you suffer because nobody is willing to face the issue head on?

If you’re thinking about initiating a difficult conversation, here are some tips:

1. Be kind.

It is difficult to set aside negative emotions but until you have the conversation, you never truly understand what underlies the conflict. More often than not, a lack of communication, rather than the other person, is to blame. Approaching a person with kindness will yield far greater results than taking a defensive or hostile stance.

2. Be direct.

One of the likely reasons you’re in this situation is that you haven’t clearly articulated your concerns in the past. Take advantage of this opportunity to be transparent about what you are feeling. The more that is subject to interpretation, the more room there is for miscommunication.

3. Be vulnerable.

It’s difficult to be vulnerable when you’re angry with someone. Your self-protection instincts kick in, causing you to be on guard. To experience a meaningful breakthrough, though, you must be willing to candidly share your feelings. And by expressing your own feelings, you create a safe environment for the other person to share vulnerably as well.

4. Be constructive.

It’s great to finally have an outlet for your frustrations but, at the end of the discussion, you want to walk away with a plan for how you’ll relate differently in the future. Once you’ve had a chance to discuss the issues, allow time to talk specifically about what will change when you leave the room.

5. Be patient.

No matter how successful the conversation, things are unlikely to change overnight. New patterns of interaction take time to establish. Be patient and continue to keep the communication lines open.

I understand how difficult it is to take the initiative in these cases. Years ago, a close friend and I had a disagreement that led to a larger conflict that neither of us was comfortable addressing. When a trusted advisor suggested that I approach her, my first reaction was, “Why should I have to take the first step? She is the one with the problem.”

I thought that I was exerting power by leaving it up to her to contact me. My trusted advisor helped me to realize that I was actually giving away my power. By waiting for her, I was allowing her to dictate the terms and I was allowing myself to remain consumed by frustration.

Taking the first step is not a sign of weakness; it’s a demonstration of strength and leadership. Rather than continue to be held hostage by your fear, resentment, or anger, take ownership of the situation. You can’t control the outcome but you can control how you manage the process.

Do You Really Have to Do It That Way?

change mindset perspectiveLast week, I found myself longing for more shelf space in my family room. As I looked around the room, however, every bit of space was consumed by something else. I resigned myself to the fact that this simply would never be possible.

Then, a couple of days later, I walked in and had a sudden flash. The cabinet taking up prime real estate was being used to store DVDs I hadn’t watched in years. Did it really need to be there? I could certainly find another place to store them. And just like that, I had the shelf space I was looking for!

How often does this happen to you? How many times have you run or attended an unproductive meeting simply because it’s on the schedule? How many times have you generated a report with the same meaningless data because that’s what the template asks for? We accept things at face value because that’s the way it’s always been done.

It’s no surprise that we fall into this trap. We’re so busy that we simply don’t make time to evaluate what’s working and not working in our current routines. Most of our mental bandwidth goes to addressing new problems, not taking a second look at systems or approaches that, on the surface, appear to be working.

But what if they’re not working? Or what if there’s a better way to achieve your goals? The next time you find yourself going through the motions, frustrated by the fact that the work feels meaningless, boring, or otherwise unproductive, take the following steps:

View it through a stranger’s eyes

We’ve all found ourselves in situations where we’ve been too close to the situation to recognize what needs to change. We simply can’t see beyond our own blinders. Then someone with no emotional attachment offers a suggestion that leaves us kicking ourselves for not recognizing it sooner.

Try to step outside of yourself and view the situation through an objective lens. Consider the following:

  • What are the goals of the effort?
  • Are the goals best achieved through the current approach?
  • Is there a better/cheaper/faster way to achieve the desired results?

It can be challenging to distance yourself from the situation, particularly if you invested a great deal of time and emotional energy in designing the current process. But give it a try.

Get an outside perspective

Even if you can find it possible to be objective, you still don’t know what you don’t know. Talk to others who are not associated with the work to get new perspectives. Try the following approach:

  • Share the goal(s) you are trying to achieve.
  • Do not share the details of the current process. Allow the other person to share some ideas without bias.
  • Once you’ve heard his/her thoughts, talk about the current process and how you might incorporate some new ideas.

When seeking external feedback, it’s helpful to get a sampling of perspectives from people in different positions. Those who best know your work, goals, and environment will likely be able to offer the most relevant input. But those with no familiarity with your work might present creative solutions you’d never consider.

Try something new

Depending on your work culture, it might be very difficult to make changes, particularly to systems that have been widely adopted, never questioned, and, worst of all, developed by influential leaders who don’t respond well to feedback. You’ll need to use your best judgment regarding how much change you can personally make.

But start small. Is there one small change you can make to improve the productivity of a recurring meeting? Is there a tweak you can make to the same presentation you’ve updated umpteen times?

For some, thinking about the same old approaches in new ways comes naturally. But for most of us it takes practice. Don’t be surprised or turned off if you find it difficult. It’s a valuable habit that is worth developing. Not only does it allow you to find more innovative and creative ways of doing things, but it also offers an important sense of satisfaction and ownership, particularly in a role that feels tedious and insufficiently challenging.