Having a Hard Time Making a Change? One Major Reason Is . . .

One major reason you may be having a hard time making a change is that your brain doesn't want you to change. Your brain likes certainty and consistency; even if it works against your own best interest. It runs on the mottos - "This is my story and I am sticking to it" and "The devil you know is better than the devil you don't."

Whenever you make the conscious decision to make a change, your brain has to in many instances re-wire itself, change the way it understands the world and how it processes information.  The good news is that it is capable of doing this. The bad news is that it doesn't like to do it.

How do you know your brain is staging a mini-revolt? You don't feel like yourself making the change. It is hard to put your finger on it, but whenever you do something differently, make a new type of choice or think about something in a new way, you feel strange - not like yourself. You don't understand who this person is anymore. You lose the sense of being grounded. It is like putting on an old comfortable pair of pants that all of a sudden don't fit anymore. You feel like a stranger to yourself. 

When you find yourself in this state, it is very easy to fall back into old behavioral and thought habits. They may not serve you well (and maybe even really hurt you), but you know and understand them. They are familiar. Your brain lets out a sigh of relief - "I know this person and these thought patterns.; that other person was a scary mystery."

Given this reality, how can we help our brains cope? Go slowly with change - the bigger the change; the slower we go. Commit to a small change - behavioral and/or thought - on a daily basis. Notice what happens when you do or think about something differently. What fears come up? Under what circumstances do you revert back to old habits? Be kind to yourself - be curious instead of critical. Ask yourself, "From what is my brain trying to project me?" Acknowledge that the "new" you may feel strange for a while. Be willing to try on a new pair of pants. 



One Key Step in Decision-Making

One key step in decision-making that is often overlooked is being comfortable with "I don't know." We can collect all the data that is possible to collect, we can check in with what our intitution is telling us and we can ask for advice from family and friends. Even after taking these steps, we can find ourselves not knowing the "right" thing to do. Until we get comfortable with "I don't know", we will be paralyzed into inaction.

While looking at Twitter recently, I came across a short video of an interview Ellen Degeneres conducted with Nick Foles, the quarterback of the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. In the interview, Nick talked about deep indecision he faced two years ago. He had been released from the Eagles and was deciding what to do next. He wasn't sure he wanted to get back into football with another team. He started imagining other options for himself when his wife urged him to give football one more chance. He took her advice, but remarked to Ellen that out of all of his options, this was the most scary. He did not know if getting back into football was the right choice. In fact, it was not until several days into training camp with the Kansas City Chiefs did he discover a peace of mind about his decision. He had to take a leap of faith not knowing if it was the right leap.

Seeing this interview made me realize I had been doing the very same thing about a decision I was faced with making. I had been putting off really committing to a choice because I didn't know if it was the right thing for me. The decision forced me to go way outside of my comfort zone - I didn't have a good frame of reference. I am pleased to report that taking the leap has made me realize that my decision is the best one for me at this point. Yesterday I caught myself paralyzed again when faced with a long to-do list and not knowing the "right" thing to do first. After taking several deep breaths, I realized the thing to do was to do something - anything - and go from there. 

When faced with a decision, please give yourself the freedom of "I don't know" and go. Take deep breaths along the way and have confidence in yourself that you will respond well to what comes; even if you have to change course or learn some tough lessons. Don't let "I don't know" stop you from "Let's do this."



Fight Perfectionism By Doing This One Thing Today

Every two weeks I speak with a friend and colleague about our respective business endeavors. I have a leadership coaching practice and she is an organizational development consultant for non-profit organizations. She and I talk to give each other support, encouragement and advice. In all honesty, I did not look forward to our call today because I have had a major case of perfectionism regarding my coaching practice the past few months. I hated admitting that to my friend, but I knew I wanted to come clean and face down my demons.

Neither she nor I have a lot of experience in the for-profit business world. We struggle with knowing what the "right" thing to do is at any given time. Both of us have felt paralyzed by indecision. She is concerned with spending a lot of time on something only to find out it was the "wrong" thing to do. I am a firm believer in there are no wrong decisions - even decisions you wouldn't make again can lead to very important learning opportunities. The discussion got me thinking about Carol Dweck's work on mindset. People with a growth mindset view mistakes as learning opportunities; not fatal character flaws or an indication of our self-worth as human beings. I admit I struggle with having a fixed mindset; mistakes are an indication of me not being "good enough". 

I was telling my friend about a professional decision I made a few years ago that in many ways was a mistake, but that I was so grateful for the experience, the things that I learned and the many relationships I developed as a result. For some reason I blurted out, "I am going to give myself permission to make mistakes in my practice." In that moment, I felt a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders. The process of giving myself permission to make mistakes helped me claim my existence as a perfectly imperfect human. I started making jokes about how many mistakes I could make today.

In working with my coaching clients, I see all of the time how seemingly simple shifts in perspective can make a huge difference in self-perception and behavior. I haven't written a blog post in several months, but today I did. Is it perfect? Thank goodness no! So, please give yourself permission to screw up - or whatever the thing is you need to let yourself off of the hook.

Congratulations on being your perfectly imperfect self!




Dare the Difference - The Key to Self-Confidence

An article appeared recently in the New York Times entitled, Why Women Aren't C.E.O.s According to Women Who Almost Were. The author of the article, Susan Chira, after interviewing many women who found themselves stuck at the number two spot in their organization, concluded the following:

Many women, accomplished as they are, don’t feel the same sense of innate confidence as their male peers. Gerri Elliott, a former senior executive at Juniper Networks (who said she did not personally encounter bias), recounts a story related by a colleague: A presenter asked a group of men and women whether anyone had expertise in breast-feeding. A man raised his hand. He had watched his wife for three months. The women in the crowd, mothers among them, didn’t come forward as experts.

Shelley Diamond rose to chief client officer at Young & Rubicam after running its New York office and leading several key worldwide accounts. Early in her career, she said, “My biggest Achilles’ heel was my own confidence in myself and my ability to accomplish a task that seemed giant and daunting and scary.”

Based on these accounts, one could conclude that for more woment to rise to the top of their organizations, they just need to be more self-confident and express that self-confidence. However, Ms. Chira also learned that women often encounter misogyny.

When women act forcefully, research suggests, men are more likely to react badly. A Lean In/McKinsey & Company survey in 2016 of 132 companies and 34,000 employees found that women who negotiated for promotions were 30 percent more likely than men to be labeled intimidating, bossy or aggressive.

So, what are women to do? Women will encounter misogyny - that is a very unfortunate fact. As a society, we need to call it out when we see and experience it. But, what can each of us do in the meantime? What can women do to develop their best sense of self-confidence?

Katty Kay and Claire Shipman wrote an amazing book, The Confidence Code. The journalists conducted intereviews with top female leaders and researchers to learn why women can struggle with confidence and how best they can build it up. They discovered the key to confidence is authenticity. Authenticity is knowing your values and strengths and leading with those front and center. It is not trying to be like someone else - it is cutting your own path. As Kay and Shipman state in the book, "When confidence emanates from our core, we are at our most powerful."

Being authentic means daring to be different. Kay and Shipman recount a story about a female president of a developing country reducing the number of cars in her motorcade because it was a waste of funds to have more then needed. The previous male president liked the show of having more cars than necessary. She received pushback for reducing the number of cars because of the message it sent - that a woman president was not as important as a male one. Christine Lagarde, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, gave her the following advice:

I told her to dare the difference. Make it your selling point. Don't try to measure yourself, your performance, your popularity, against the standards and the yardsticks and the measurements that men have used before you. Because you start from a different perspective, you have a different platform, you want to push different initiatives and you should be authentic about it.

What is your difference? What makes you unique? How do you express this uniqueness in your personal and professional life? What are your strengths? How do they show up in your leadership? How do you express yourself? (tip - expressing yourself doesn't mean you do the most talking; being an excellent listener is powerful). What do you do when you encounter misogyny? To paraphase Kay and Shipman, our power comes from our core, our uniqueness, our authenticity. How can you be more powerful?



Being Courageously Authentic - You Go High When They Go Low

This morning I planned to write a blog post about the myth of work/life balance. I will get to that important topic in due time, but today I feel compelled to write about something else. The purpose of this blog is to present topics around women in leadership and how women can learn to lead as their best, authentic selves. It is not a political blog - there are other places for that. However, something happened this morning that has affected me deeply - I cannot let it go without a thoughtful response.

The president of our wonderful United States of America used Twitter to personally attack a female journalist in a vulgur way because she criticized him this morning on her television broadcast. That is all I am going to say about that.

My message of this blog post is ask ourselves as women and leaders to re-commit daily to leading and living as our best authentic selves. That requires us to know what is important to us, who is important to us and to be willing to experiment with ways to make sure those things show up in all domains of our life. We are at our strongest when we are true to our values, practice our strengths, and stand up to those who wish to bully and belittle us because they are threatened by our power.

We only diminish our own light when we either join the weak in the gutter or allow them to keep us hiding in the dark. Find and lean on your support systems. We need to help each other stay true, stay strong and stay authentic.

Finding Your Inner Wonder Woman

If you have been paying attention to popular culture, you are well aware that a movie about the comic book heroine Wonder Woman recently opened to critical and audience acclaim. I must add my name to the list of admirers. I found myself cheering, clapping and crying at the same time during the movie. 

I won't spoil the movie, so don't be afraid to read on if you haven't seen it yet. The core theme of the movie is that Wonder Woman's strength comes not from her physical gifts, but her commitment to fulfilling her purpose. She leaves her island home against her mother's wishes because she knows she has no other choice despite the sacrifices. Her mother says to her, "If you leave you won't be able to return." Diana (Wonder Woman) replies, "Who would I be if I stayed?".

She knows she is not fully prepared for what is ahead of her - she is not a seasoned warrior like her aunt and mother. Yet, she gets on a boat with a stranger and takes off in the dark to an unknown destination.

There is a pivotal scene in the movie where she witnesses great suffering and injustice, but is told there is nothing she can do about it. She tells her companion that this situation is the very reason she left her home and that she can't just stand by and do nothing - her reason for being is to fight injustice. She runs head on toward the danger not knowing the outcome. Her words were, "I'll go ahead." Sounds like a leader to me.

I was moved by the movie because I have a very clear understanding of my purpose, but fear is doing its best to keep me from jumping in with both feet in pursuit of it. But, I haven't given up and I am doing my best to give myself credit when I thank the fear for trying to protect me, but that it is time for it to be quiet.

By the end of the movie, Diana has learned she is much stronger, both physically and emotionally, than she ever imagined. She learns the true nature of her mythical origins. However, what makes her truly strong is her faith in herself and humanity. Go see the movie and begin to find your inner Wonder Woman!

Questions for Reflection:

  • Who is your inner Wonder Woman?
  • What is her purpose?
  • How are you living your purpose?
  • What is getting in the way of you living your purpose?
  • What can you do to remove the obstacles?
  • What is the story of limitation you are telling yourself?
  • How do you want to rewrite your story?
  • What sacrifices would you have to make to fulfill your purpose?


The Blog Without a Topic - Welcome to Life and Leadership

I have been avoiding writing a blog post because I have struggled coming up with a "perfect" topic. So, I decided I would write without a topic - except to admit I don't have a topic. Welcome to life and leadership!

Leaders often think they always need to have the answers and the perfect words to inspire their followers. However, sometimes they don't and that is okay; especially when they have the courage to admit that they don't know what to say or do.

I recently read about good role models. Good role models aren't those who never make a mistake; they make mistakes and are honest about it. Just last night I read a line in a novel I am reading, "It is not a sin to fall down; it is a sin to not get back up."

Recently, I have been doing a lot of falling and sometimes struggling to get back up. This blog post is one way I decided today to get back up. 

So, being the coach that I am (which includes coaching myself) - here are some questions for reflection:

  • As a leader, how important is it for you to have the answers? What do you do when you don't have the answers? How do you get the answers?
  • How have you fallen down recently? How did you get back up?
  • How can you help others get back up?

Take care!


What Do You Mean I Am Not the Fabulous Person I Thought I Was?

One of the most important behaviors of a leader is to inspire a diverse group of people around a shared vision. I strongly believe that listening for understanding to diverse people, opinions and viewpoints strengths organizations and us as human beings. Or so I thought . . . 

I was having lunch with a new acquaintance last week. We got to talking about the current political situation. I have some very strong opinions about our new president (which I will keep to myself here). I soon discovered that my lunch partner and I did not share the same opinions or perspectives. I was so shocked at her positions that I found myself shutting down and desperately wanting to change the subject. To her credit, she called me on it - all of my emotions flash on my face in an instant - I would be a lousy poker player.

The story I believe about myself is that I am open-minded, tolerant and actively seek opposing viewpoints that help me grow and learn. My reaction to my lunch partner flew in the face of this story. It caused me to question just how open-minded I am and my own value system. Which values do I hold are non-negotiable and which are open to changing? 

Great leaders are self-aware about their values, strengths and beliefs. They are not afraid to communicate those beliefs, while at the same time are not afraid to be challenged. They also know which values are non-negotiable and how that position affects their relationships with others. The strength of my emotional reaction to my lunch partner's beliefs caught me so off guard that it made me realize I needed to step away from political news for a day or two and regain some perspective. I still believe in learning from others who don't believe the same things I do. Some lessons are much harder to hear than others.




The World Called - Are You Answering?

I met a friend for lunch today at a restaurant on The Corner near the University of Virginia. As I was walking back to my car after lunch, I was able to get a good look at this mural on the side of the Graduate hotel


David Guinn painted this mural featuring the poem Testimonial by Rita Dove. The entire poem appears on the other side of the building. I appreciate the fact that David pulled this line from the poem and featured it on its own. It is a powerful statement; The world called, and I answered.

Seeing this today, gave me the opportunity to ask myself how well I am answering my call. I have been called many times in my life to do things I thought would not be possible but the call did not let me go - earning a doctorate, becoming a foster parent and starting this leadership coaching practice. A call doesn't have to be a major endeavor; it is just something you feel compelled to do and the world will not give up until you answer.

I must confess I find myself struggling more than I would like to admit in answering the call regarding my coaching practice. Too often I hear the voice in the head question my knowledge, experience, worthiness, courage, etc. The best I can do is notice the voice, thank it for trying to protect me and take some action (even a very small one) in the direction of my goals and values. 

Have there been times in your life where you heard the call but did not answer? What were the reasons? Were (are) they valid? What would happen if you opened up to the possibility of answering the call? What have you learned about yourself when you have answered the call? How can you replicate that success for the future? Please take some time today to reflect on these questions. The world needs you to answer its call.

Be Courageous - Be Authentic

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending the 31st Annual Leaderhship Conference sponsored by The Women's Center of Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. The conference honors and celebrates excellence in leadership by women. Notice I didn't say "women's leadership". Effective leadership is not different based on the gender of the leader. My favorite leadership model is by Kouzes and Posner, described in The Leadership Challenge. Their model applies to both men and women; they make no distinction. Certainly, women face many unique issues and challenges when practicing leadership that men do not have to face, but great leadership is great leadership.

Conference attendees heard from several influential and accomplished leaders who discussed their journey and the lessons they learned along the way. None of them experienced a Point A to Point B to Point C path; there were many zigs and zags. However, there was one common message among all of their stories. They all attributed much of their success to being authentic - by showing up true to their values and leading in a way best for them and not being overly concerned with what others thought.

In fact, Deborah Rutter, President of the John F. Kennedy Center for The Performing Arts, described it as being "courageously authentic." Where does courage come into play when being authentic? Women receive messages from our organizational cultures, our families and our society about how women should and should not act and be. I once worked at an organization where, in the same day, I was told that I both talked too much and not enough in meetings. I seriously doubted whether my male colleagues received the same feedback.

It takes courage to know our values and strengths and lead with them even when we are receiving messages that our values and strengths are counter to what is expected. The more we tie ourselves in knots to figure out what is the "right" and "wrong" way to be, we drain our energy and diminish our presence. Certainly, it is a smart practice to be very aware of the cultural norms and expectations of our environments and do our best to honor them, as long as we are not sacrificing our ourselves in the process.