confidence

How To Own Your Strengths

The-Red-Tree-by-Shaun-Tan-Lesson-Plan-1

Last week I was working with a group of leaders in a session where they were practicing giving real-time feedback to each other. And not just any feedback: they were focused on giving feedback on the perceived strengths of the other person.

In debriefing the activity, I was surprised how many people in the group, both men and women, found it uncomfortable to receive that type of feedback. “I find it much easier to hear the things that I could improve” was a common comment. It appeared that these people didn’t want to know how good they were. Someone even said, “I’m afraid my head will get too big if I take all of that good stuff on board”.

I challenged them to think differently. After all, there’s a plethora of research out there that shows the most effective leaders own, and play to, their strengths. I created a virtual spectrum on the floor in the middle of the group. I called one end ‘Arrogance’ and the other ‘Ignorance’.

I said that I reckon too many people are so afraid of being seen to be up at the ‘Arrogance’ end that they rush to the other end instead, and don’t want to know about the gifts they possess. And I reckon that’s a wasted opportunity.

Then I went and stood in the middle. I called that place ‘Curious Confidence’. That place where you own your good stuff, and at the same time you’re always curious about how you can be improving. It’s a healthy self-esteem blended with a clear understanding that you can always improve.

Arrogance Ignorance Curious Confidence2 (1)

We discussed how to be more in the middle, more of the time. Here’s what we came up with:

  1. Say thank you. When someone gives you a compliment, you don’t need to defend against it and try to be in Ignorance. Just respond with a simple “thank you”. Try it, and notice the shift in your inner state towards a Curious Confidence.
  2. Ask for specifics. Whenever someone gives me a compliment about the work I’ve been doing with them, I’ll try to understand more about what led them to say it. I’ll often ask “what was it about what I did that you liked?” or “what difference do you think that made?”. The more I understand the specifics, the more I have to work with and perhaps use in the future.
  3. Write it down. We’re more likely to remember things when we write them down. And it helps us process them further. So rather than let a compliment drift off into the ether, keep a journal that you can refer back to from time to time. You’ll notice patterns emerge from the tapestry of compliments you receive over time.

One thing not to do. Don’t feel the need to immediately respond with a compliment. Unless it’s genuine and relevant, it’ll land flat. Act like it’s your birthday. It’s your time in the light. Accept the gift you’re being given graciously. Soon enough, it’ll be their ‘birthday’ and you can reciprocate.

I’ve noticed that as I’ve learned to be more in a state of ‘Curious Confidence’, I’m more grounded. I get less fazed by new and challenging situations because I’ve built a base of self-confidence that I can draw on. I’m burning less energy and time on self-doubt and rumination. And life is better for it. Do I have the ‘Arrogance Monster’ whispering in my ear from time to time? You bet. And that’s a good thing. But I’ve learned to stay in the healthy middle and avoid the run towards Ignorance.

So, next time you are given a compliment, how will you respond?

 

Picture: From ‘The Red Tree’ by Shaun Tan


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Ask Four Questions

 

Do you want feedback about you when you’re at your best? Are you wondering how you can make a difference to others in the most authentic way? Then read on.

Getting honest feedback helps you to grow your self-awareness, and better understand what you are all about.

Ask the following four questions to you get a sense of what people see as the best, most authentic ‘you’. Choose people who know you well, and you trust to give you honest, constructive feedback. Try to get feedback from at least five people.

  1. What’s the first thing you think of when you think of me?
  2. When have you seen me at my best?
  3. What do you think are my greatest strengths?
  4. What do you think are my greatest accomplishments?

I ask these questions to trusted colleagues, clients and friends every couple of years. I find the answers I get incredibly useful to calibrate my own self-perception and help me to make the most of my strengths.

You’ll notice that there are no questions about weaknesses or things you should do to improve. That’s not the point of this exercise. This is about identifying the best, most authentic you.

It’s useful to ask people to reply in an email, and then you can cut-and-paste the replies into a table. This may help you easily identify the patterns and themes across the answers.

You can use this template to help you capture and make sense of the answers you get.

Go well!

 

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Step into the Leadership Vacuum

I’ve been working with a senior leadership team of late that has, shall we say, quite a forceful executive at its head. Having been in the role just over 18 months, he’s been instrumental in reshaping the direction of the organisation and lifting its performance. Things are tracking well, morale is lifting across the board, and the future looks bright.

Leadership Vacuum 1 (1)

Until, of course, the shit hits the fan.

Recently, the team held an offsite meeting for a day to discuss critical issues and make decisions about their priorities over the coming months and years. It was all progressing smoothly until said executive took a phone call which saw him leave the room for 30 minutes.

What unfolded during that time was interesting. Can you guess what happened?

Leadership Vacuum 2 (1)

Yep. The group went into paralysis. No-one around the table wanted to progress the discussion without their leader in the room. The general sentiment was “we can’t do anything else until he’s back.” So, people went to their phones and checked emails, or had off-topic sideline discussions.

I pointed out what I was noticing in the room. I asked, “What could leadership look like when he’s not here?” The group struggled to provide a coherent answer. Then someone pointed out that their leader was going on three weeks’ leave in a month’s time. Hmm. Opportunity or threat?

I see this dynamic at play time and time again. Deep down, we all seek a leader to provide stability and make our decisions for us. To take the blame when things go wrong. To save us from having to expose ourselves to risk. Walt Whitman wrote his poem ‘O Captain My Captain!’ after the death of Abraham Lincoln, lamenting the loss of stability and direction that his president had provided him and the nation during deeply troubled times. When the single point of leadership is lost, we are all lost. A vacuum remains.

Too much of a good thing can make us lazy. We can forget that we too must play a part in the dynamic of making something successful or failing. We can hand over leadership responsibility to another, and we wait to be told what to do.

In a group, a leadership vacuum can represent an opportunity for someone else to step in. And, more powerfully, it’s an opportunity to reshape the group’s definition of leadership. What does individual leadership responsibility look like when we are together? How will we work collectively work to provide the leadership that’s needed? It’s not easy. It’s a more sophisticated way of operating that future-proofs the organisation from single points of failure.

It asks you, and your colleagues, to speak up and speak out. It asks you to reach out and inquire into others’ views. It asks you to invite potential messiness, confusion and disagreement where once there was polite silence and passive agreement. Don’t just move on to the next item. Go beyond the threshold. Get deep into the conversation. Make it rich, alive.

Here are some tips for making that happen:

Will this group go that way? That remains to be seen. I really hope so.

The more important questions are: where are you allowing a leadership vacuum to be?And what will you do about that?

Leadership Vacuum 3 (1)

 

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Photo: Pexels.com

 

Courage is a Practice

When people face something big and scary, they’ll often say “I need to muster up the courage to tackle that.”

Courage Pic by E (1)

Illustration:  Elizabeth Scott

Kind of like courage is something that’s scattered around the place in small bits, and they just need to gather up all of those small bits and create a big courage ball. Then they’ll be OK, and they can lean into the big thing and do what it takes.

Kind of like courage is something you need to draw on only occasionally. Like this:

Baseline Courage Graph 1

The rest of the time you just cruise.

You wish. Life doesn’t work like that.

What if you viewed courage as a daily practice? Like going to the gym? Where you focus on building up your courage muscles so you can be ready to use them anytime something scary comes across your radar. Like this:

Baseline Courage Graph 2

Daily living offers us heaps of opportunities to be courageous:

  • Saying ‘no’ when you usually would say ‘yes’ (and vice-versa)
  • Letting go of the need to control things so tightly
  • Approaching the person that makes you nervous
  • Speaking up and speaking out
  • Making a decision even when you don’t have all the information
  • Letting someone know bad news
  • Challenging your story about what you believe life is all about

When these types of challenges are thrown at us, we often let them go through to the keeper. If we do take them up, they can feel like hard work, and we shake in our boots. All because we haven’t developed our courage muscles enough.

Develop your courage muscles through daily practice, and when the big gnarly ones come along, you’ll be ready. The big decisions won’t feel so big anymore.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “do one thing every day that scares you.” She was on about what I’m on about.

So, what will it be today?

For more on building courage, check out a couple of my other posts:

 

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Your Year By Design

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Photo: Pixabay

People often say to me “you’re so lucky, you’re always on holidays!” Well, it’s probably true that I do take more time out than most people. But it has nothing to do with luck. It’s by design.

If you’re like a lot of people, you can get to the end of the year and wonder, “where did the time go?” Perhaps with some regret for the things you’d intended to do but didn’t quite get around to. Perhaps you suffer from ‘one-day’ syndrome. You know: “one day, I’ll [fill in the blank]. Robert Fritz, in his book The Path of Least Resistance, says that the hardest thing in the world for many people is to honestly answer “what do I really want?” and then stay true to that.

The way I see it, it’s smart to take charge and design your life in a way that works for you. Otherwise, everything can be just a jumble of things that happen to you in between being born and dying.

Here’s how I design my year so I can have the greatest chance of making sure I am living ‘on purpose’. Every January, I sit down and do the following:

First, I do a ‘year in review’. I go through the things I did from the previous year, reviewing my calendar, journals and also my Facebook page. Any place where I’ve recorded my events and activities. I’m looking for two things:

  • The most positive experiences I’ve had during the year
  • The most negative experiences I’ve had during the year

These might be things I’ve done, places I’ve been, things I’ve bought, or people I’ve spent time with.

I’ll have two columns (one for positive, one for negative), and as I review, I’ll write things down.

Next, I look for patterns. What seems to be the common theme? For example, one theme I noticed for my 2016 was that the ‘positive’ people seem to all be very generous with their time and ideas, while the people I had more ‘negative’ experiences with tended to be time-poor and/or somewhat selfish. Interesting. I find that the most positive experiences speak to and reflect my deepest values, and it’s worth you reflecting on this too. The Schwartz Values Model is a useful tool here.

Then I ask myself: “What do I want to have happen this year?” I’ll take the themes and values, and build from them. Useful sub-questions for me include “who do I want to hang out with?” “What work will be really interesting and engaging for me?” “What adventures do I want to have?” “What do I want to achieve?” “What could I do that would cause me to grow?” and, crucially, “what do I want to drop, or dial down?” Ya gotta make room for the good stuff. Tim Ferris also suggests asking people close to you “what should I do more of this year?” and “what should I do less of?”

Next, I schedule the good stuff. Steven Covey calls this putting the ‘big rocks in the jar first’. I’m a big picture kind of guy, so I’ll make a big calendar and put it up on my whiteboard in my office. Here’s what that looks like:

my-year-by-design-pic

It’s colour-coded as follows:

Blue = creative pursuits, adventures and time out. These are based on my values of adventure, learning and creativity. These are all really important to me, so they go in first. The ‘blue time’ includes adventures like my annual surfing and windsurfing trip, family snowboarding trips etc. as well as less intense activities where I’ll take some time out to read, write and think.

Green = ‘delivery’ work. This is the time where I’m earning money, but more importantly, it’s also time spent where I have a chance to make a difference using my talents. Scheduling the green time serves two purposes: it shows me my cash flow (am I earning enough?) and it also gives me a sense that I’m spending enough of my time doing worthwhile work.

Orange = professional development. This is structured time for me to reflect on my work and practice, and plan ahead. I happen to be doing a programme that forces me to build in these days, which really helps.

The three categories reflect the types of activities that are both a) important to me and b) able to be scheduled in advance.

When I step back, I can see that I’ve got ‘enough’ happening in the blue space, I’ll need some more green going on in the latter half of the year, and there’s lots of ‘white space’ that I can use how I want (which might include spending time with good people, booking in quality work, or finishing my book!)

I’ll book all of these activities into my Google Calendar, which my Business Manager and family can see, and I can access easily from anywhere.

Finally, I’ll make a list of the people I enjoyed hanging out with last year, as well as new people I would love to connect with. I’ll make the list visible. It’s currently posted up on my wall next to my computer. Every week or so, I’ll have a look at it and make contact with someone on it. That ensures I’m getting the people connection that is important to me.

A few important things to note about this process:

  • My year by design is just that: mine. It’s based on what’s important to me. You don’t need to replicate the colour-coded categories that I have. Go do your own 🙂
  • This process applies to anyone, not just those who are self-employed like me. The fundamental idea is about deciding on, and committing to, the stuff that you want to have happen.
  • When you book in the ‘good stuff’ first, you make less room for the crappy stuff. If your time is spent doing good stuff with good people, it’s hard for the other stuff to find a way in.
  • 90% of the value of scheduling something in is in the anticipation of it happening.

That’s it. As you can see, it’s not really about luck. There’s quite a bit of work in it. Although I wouldn’t call it ‘work’ – it’s a fun, energising process that helps to ensure I am making the most of my time on the planet. Go do it.

(Here’s my-year-by-design-template for you to use).

 

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The Source of Courage

Recently I wrote about Do You Need Confidence, or Courage? It seemed to the hit the mark with plenty of readers. It’s a topic worth exploring more.

A quick rewind: Confidence comes from courage. Courage is what you have when you face something scary, and you do it anyway. Confidence is what you have after you’ve done it.

Confidence + Courage

 

Confidence not earned from courageous deeds is a fragile shell that’s easily shattered. I suspect we all yearn for a deep, grounded inner confidence, and we want to see it in those who lead us.

So where does courage come from? What allows some people to take bold action in the face of the unknown, while others shrink back and stay safe?

The answer is conviction. How much do you want it? Why would you even bother? What makes it worth the risk? You’ve got to be able to answer those questions with conviction if you’re ever going to be able to muster the courage to act decisively.

To illustrate, another mountain biking story. There’s a local trail I started riding earlier this year that has one section that scared the crap out of me. A series of steep, swooshing drops that you can’t do half-heartedly. It’s an all-or-nothing affair. The first few times I approached that section I’d get off my bike and walk it. And quietly wonder how anyone could ride it. I eventually convinced myself to ‘man up’ and stay on the bike. So I’d approach it tentatively, with the brakes on full. What do you think happened? I fell off every time. Oh, the frustration…

Fast-forward a few weeks. I was riding with a friend in front of me. We approached the gnarly section. He didn’t slow down, went straight into it, and flew through unscathed. Wow, it’s possible! Without thinking too much, and with my heart in my mouth, I followed his line, and all of a sudden I was out the other end with no broken bones. Yee ha! The switch had been flicked. Now I ride that section at full speed, minimal brakes. I actually look forward to it. It’s the best part of the trail. I love it.

My courage to tackle that section full-on came from my conviction to do it. I wanted it. Partly it was about my ego and The Social Effect: not wanting to look like a wimp in front of my mate. But, at a much deeper level, it was also about living up to something I stand for, which is to keep pushing my own comfort zone to see what I’m capable of. Knowing the territory of the scary and unfamiliar allows me to do good work with the organisations and people I work with, and keeps me growing too.

Confidence + Courage + Conviction

 

If we want to call ourselves leaders, our behaviour has  to be aligned with our convictions. Convictions are ‘want to’s’, not ‘have to’s’: the things we most deeply stand for and believe in. Otherwise, we’re a leaf in the wind that doesn’t stand a much of a chance in life’s next big storm.

Here are three questions for you to try on:

  • What are you holding back from doing?
  • If you took decisive action, what would that say about who you are and what you stand for?
  • By not taking decisive action, what is it costing to you?

Gosh, by writing that, I’ve stirred myself up. I’m off to have a conversation I need to have…

 

Now read the last post in this series Courage Is A Practice.

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Painting by Olga Zavgorodnya

 

 

 

Do You Need Confidence, Or Courage?

 

Lately I’ve noticed a little trap that people can fall into. One they set themselves up for. Like so many barriers to our own success, it comes down to a choice of words.

That choice is between ‘confidence’ and ‘courage’.

Example: A client says she needs to build up the confidence to put a contentious issue on the table with her executive team. I ask her does she need confidence, or courage?

What’s the difference, you might ask? Surely we’re talking semantics? Let me suggest otherwise. (more…)