Monday, June 21, 2010

Is your "all or nothing" thinking holding you back?

Rest assured. We all have been known to take things to the extremes of "all or nothing."

Words like always and never are common when you fall into the trap of "all or nothing" thinking.

There is evidence of this type of thinking in all aspects of our lives. Here are a few examples on how this thinking may sound in your head:
"I was passed up for that promotion, I will never make it in this company."

"We didn't go on vacation again this year, we never do anything."

"My boss is so insensitive, she always ignores my input."

"I told them what to do, but they never get it right."

At the foundation of "all or nothing" thinking is fear. But as a result of this thinking, we usually don't feel the fear; instead we usually feel anger or blame.

However, fear doesn't stop there. It causes us to believe that our power to solve these problems is also "all or nothing." As a result you believe that you either have the power (and you plan to use it over someone else) or you don't (and are resentful).

Both extremes (you over-use power or you under-use it) can immobilize you and rob you of getting the results that you want or
need in your life, at home or at work.

The truth about power is that it is NOT a zero sum game:
When you believe someone else has power, you don't need to give yours away.
When you believe you have power, you don't need to take it from someone else.
Power is not about "all or nothing," however fear can trip us up into believing that it is.

Leaders in the face of difficult times need to be aware of this "all or nothing thinking" that is fueled by fear.

Fear is rampant during difficult times and not always easy to confront, causing extremes to surface and power struggles to endure. Leaders are more apt to exert excessive power or to relinquish it too easily during these trying times.

What extreme pole are you taking? Are you blaming others for your situation? Or, are you trying to fix it for everyone?

In the McKinsey Quarterly, Derek Dean has an interesting article "A CEO's Guide to Reenergizing the Senior Team" which outlines ways in which leaders can begin to work through fear and denial in order to achieve better results.

If you find that you are in a power struggle or a blaming game, try using some of the following tips to regain the power balance:

1. Take the extreme words out of your thinking. Stay alert to when you use words like "never" and "always" to describe others' actions or your beliefs.

2. Take accountability. Blaming others is a clear sign that your extreme thinking has led you to avoid accountability. When you take accountability and move away from blaming, you can regain your power over the situation.

3. Give accountability. Taking on someone else's responsibility for a problem doesn't solve it. Examine your extreme thinking as it relates to you having all of the answers. By giving accountability you enable and empower others.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Are you criticizing others too harshly?

No matter what kind of work you do, you need to rely on other people.

In fact, even if you don't work, you need to rely on others.

This became very clear to me one day as I was visiting with a new mother and her baby.

During our visit, she complained incessantly about how tired she was because she couldn't get her husband to help as much as she would like. Shortly after hearing all of her woes, I experienced first-hand the root of her problem.

She was criticizing her husband too harshly and as a result, he was demoralized and didn't engage very much with their child. My guess is that after hearing all of her criticisms, he wasn't feeling very competent.

To my ears, her criticism sounded something like this:
"Don't pick her up that way; you are going to hurt her."
"Please don't feed her that way, she needs to be more upright."
"Keep your voice lower, you are going to over-stimulate her."

Poor guy, it seems that whatever he did, it wasn't right or good enough for his wife.

I know this mother loves her husband and wants him to be involved with their child and she also is doing her best at being the best mother she can be. She is well-intentioned in every possible way.

I tell this story not because I want to fault this woman, but rather to highlight that even when you have the best intentions to do the right thing you can often unintentionally demoralize and cause others to disengage when you are looking for the exact opposite behavior.

Work situations are no exception.

Leaders who successfully get others to deliver results for them know how to manage criticism. Criticism is important for course correction, but understanding how to manage it for optimal impact is essential, especially during these difficult times.

At the foundation of behavior modification is ensuring the person has a positive belief in their abilities.

This mother will have the greatest ability to impact her husband's behavior if she is able to validate and reinforce his ability to parent his child as opposed to crushing it; which is what her harsh criticism is doing.

Too often, we focus on what isn't right and we want to fix it, as opposed to focusing on what's right and how to build on it.

When your kids come home with a report card with all A's and one C, the first question most parents will ask is "Why did you get the C?" The better question is "How can you become the best in the class where you achieved an A?"

Leaders always focus on what has been done well.

Focusing on strengths is one of the best ways to manage criticism.

In all of the interactions this father has with his child, there must be several things he does exceedingly well. His wife needs to focus first on these areas.

From that foundation, behavior in the "weaker" areas may improve. The best way to influence behavior is through positive affirmations, not negative ones.

Next time you find yourself surrounded by a bunch of "under performers," ask yourself a few questions:

Am I criticizing this person too harshly?
Am I focusing only on what is being done wrong?
Have I validated and reinforced the things this person is doing right?
Can I help this person build a positive belief that they are competent in some aspect of their work?
With Thanksgiving fast approaching this week, it is a good time to see the "right" things others are doing. Be a better leader and take time to build on the "right" things as opposed to criticizing the "wrong" things and you are bound to get the results

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Is Your Business Suffering Because You Are Overly Focused on Receiving?

The ultimate paradox in life is: in order to receive, you must give. It starts with giving; receiving follows afterwards.

There are many applications to this paradox in life, but it is especially relevant in business and in the workplace.

Unfortunately in business, we often have the order of this paradox wrong. We think first about "receiving" and later about "giving."

I made this mistake when I first started in my own business.

I was initially very focused on receiving by "making the connections in order to get the business." I remember meeting this woman who had all of the right connections within a large corporation that I wanted to do business with. I immediately stepped into telling her all of the reasons I was the right consultant to help deliver on her company's needs.

I asked her to give me the necessary leads in order to make inroads. I walked away feeling hopeful. But, she never delivered the leads.

Why? What went wrong?

I started off with receiving, not giving.

If I had applied the paradox correctly and focused first on giving, I may have been able to open this door and develop this customer into a long term, loyal customer.

Next time I applied my learning and got entirely different results.

Months later I met another woman whose business is in creating public seminars. Her reach into my target market of corporations and the business community is very large. My first thought was: "I want to be hired by her as a speaker so that I can broaden my exposure." This thought was a receiving thought. I quickly caught myself and stopped going down this path since I remembered my past experience. I decided to step forward with a giving idea. I approached her and offered to help her draw more people into her seminar by using my network of contacts. She was thrilled and receptive to my offer.

By applying the paradox correctly, my giving action formed the basis of a business relationship with a long term potential of receiving.

Sounds logical, but so often in business we do the opposite.

In your eagerness to build your business or career in the short term, you may unknowingly start first with "receiving" actions that actually hinder both your short and long term business growth.

I received an e-book from Seth Godin called "What Matters Now." One of the first pages written by Seth is about Generosity (giving), here is what Seth says about it:

"When the economy tanks, it's natural to think of yourself first. You have a family to feed a mortgage to pay. Getting more appears to be the order of business. It turns out that the connected economy doesn't respect this natural instinct. Instead, we're rewarded for being generous. Generous with our time and money but most important without our art. If you make a difference, people will gravitate to you. They want to engage, to interact and to get you more involved. In a digital world, the gift I give you almost always benefits me more than it costs. If you make a difference, you also make a connection. You interact with people who want to be interacted with and you make changes that people respect and yearn for. Art can't happen without someone who seeks to make a difference. This is your art, it's what you do. You touch people or projects and change them for the better. This year, you'll certainly find that the more you give the more you get."

What "receiving" actions are you taking that are hindering you from advancing your career or growing your business? How can you turn these around into "giving" actions?

So if you are finding yourself on the negative side of this economic downturn and are out searching for new customers or a potential employer, don't make the mistake of focusing first on receiving, instead ask yourself how you might assist and give to them. These giving actions will form the foundation of a business relationship that will bear fruit now and in the future.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Who is Driving Your Bus?

We all have new hopes, dreams and objectives.

The question isn't whether we have them (we all do), but instead how we fulfill on them.

If your hopes, dreams and objectives that you have for your work and home life were a bus, who may I ask is driving it?

You see, many of us relegate the driving to someone else. When we have someone else driving our bus, it sounds like this:
I have no choice; I have to work 10 hour days to handle all the work
I am stuck, I have a job I hate, but my family depends on me
I never get to do what I want to do; I am just too busy with taking care of everyone else
I can't keep up; nobody seems to pick up the slack around here but me

We are trained to believe that putting our nose to the grind stone and just getting it done is the only way to free up time to accomplish our goals.

Quite the contrary, the more you do that, the further you are from fulfilling on your hopes, dreams and objectives. In fact, they move further and further away from you until one day you even forget what they were.

We believe that we must be self-less and jump at the every whim or need of those around us. You jump for bosses, for spouses, for children, for parents and for communities. Instead, you need to be self-interested and serve yourself first to be able to serve those around you in a way that doesn't destroy you.

While life often teaches us that it is critical to occasionally let go of the wheel of our bus and make way of uncontrollable external factors, it never requires us to fully relegate the driver's seat to those external factors or circumstances.

This became very clear to me last month.

At the end of 2009 my dear friend Jon died of a heart attack. He was 56. He was a loving friend, husband, and brother who did so much for others; all at the expense of himself.

A week before he died I had the opportunity to speak with him and he was stressed out to the max. He had just buried his mother and was the responsible one handling all the details left behind. He was burning the midnight oil at his job because he felt he had to in order to wrap up the year. I told him that he needed time and space to grieve and to rest. He knew he did too but he didn't stop. He felt he had to serve others and not let them down.

Jon was indisputably an amazing giver. He put others' needs often above his own. But, his giving was not sustainable. His heart gave out. Literally and figuratively, it gave out because he didn't take the time to fill it up. Unfortunately, he allowed others to drive his bus at the expense of himself.

At his funeral I learned that one of Jon's goals was to write a book so he would be remembered. He wanted to leave his mark and make an impact so that he was "not just a picture in the hall that hangs like an antiquity which third generation relatives point at and say: Who is that?" He believed that he had a life worth sharing.

And he did. But he never was able to do that.

Many of us are no different than Jon. We have purposeful hopes, dreams and goals. However, we let jobs or obligations drive us instead of us driving them.

I was no different. For more than 20 years I had no idea where my bus was going. I had lost sight of what mattered to me most and I jumped whenever anyone said jump.

It took lots of courage for me to move towards self-interest and move away from self-less behavior. It required me to say no more often or to propose a different way to get the job done so it also worked for my family and me. It meant disappointing people at times or simply dealing with my own internal judgments which often confuse self-interest with selfishness.

Driving your bus doesn't mean you don't want to help, support or do things for others. Quite the contrary; it means you want to be able to do this for the long-haul while preserving and nurturing yourself. This is the place where you have the ability to make your greatest impact.

The goal is to give your heart at work and at home, without having your heart give-out like Jon's.

So, I ask you again: who is driving your bus?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Is your work a work of art?

Just the other day while painting, I realized that all work can be a work of art.

Not just the art-kind of work, but YOUR work as a marketer, as an engineer, or a lawyer or an entrepreneur...the kind of work that you do to pay the bills, buy a house and raise the kids. You know the work that you often refer to as the-four-letter-word kind of work that is hopefully, yet painfully getting you to that paradise island in the sun you call retirement.

Yep, that's the work I am referring to and I believe your work can become a work of art.

But, there is a hitch. You have to put your heart into it.

You see, too often we think of work and art as two separate ends of a spectrum. One is the practical work the other not-so-much. We also think of artists as those who can draw, paint, choreograph, sculpt or create beautiful works of art. In his new book, Linchpin: Are you Indispensable Seth Godin helps redefine it for us: "Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another. Art is about intent and communication, not substances." He goes on to say "And I think it's art when a great customer service person uses a conversation to convert an angry person into a raving fan. And it's art when Craig Newmark invents a new business model that uses the Internet to revolutionize the classifieds."

This kind of work, like art, takes heart. Seth Godin refers to this new type of work as "emotional labor." He states that emotional labor is needed in order for you to be an artist in your work and to create works of art that can create change.

Is your work a work of art?

If your heart is in it, most likely it is. But if you are like most people, you don't bring your heart to work.

I don't know at what point in time most of us started to separate work and life, as if life ever existed without work. Yet we separate it so much so that our hearts stay comfortably at home while some part of us charge off to work. And when things like "layoffs" and "downsizing "and "involuntary dismissals" start occurring, your skin grows even thicker as do the walls around your heart.

I often hear people say "I am a different person at work than I am at home." The reason you are different at work vs. home is because your heart usually doesn't make it in the business door.

That's right; you leave your heart at home and don't dare bring it to the office.

Bringing your heart to work and exerting "emotional labor" enables you to connect with others, whether it is your customer, your coworker, or your boss. When you have connections with others it allows you to influence and guide them to achieve your goals

When you leave your heart at home, you go to work to fulfill the role of being some replaceable cog in someone else's system. You become a scripted robot following someone else's playbook for success. You become a victim of circumstances and become the next layoff on the list. You relinquish your ability to be a leader. Not only will this limit your ability to achieve your goals, it is a sure-fire way to drain your energy and your passion.

I believe that some of what is going on in the job market is a wake-up call for a new way of working. Our current economic situation is requiring a different kind of work, the kind of work that is filled with courage, humility and vulnerability. Bringing your heart to work is the only way to separate you from the masses; to make you indispensable and to brand yourself as a leader. After all, isn't this you have been wanting for so long; the opportunity to bring your authenticity and unique voice forward?

It's there for the taking. But, it won't be handed to you. You have to courageously step into it, heart-forward.

When I left Corporate America four years ago to start my own business, I had the passion to change the way people looked at work, especially leadership. I also had a personal goal of better integrating my art and my heart into my work. You see, in corporate life I often checked my heart at the door and kept my two lives separate. I kept my head down more than I should have and I tried to stay safe. But my goal as an entrepreneur required change and I needed to be the first to make it.

One of the first things I did in my business was I wrote a book. In my book I share many personal stories that are filled with transparency and vulnerability. I typed many sections of that book with tears streaming down my eyes. You could say that I put my heart into it and with it I risked everything..

When it was done, I had to do one of the scariest things in my life; I mailed it to my former boss and mentor, Don Knauss, now the CEO and Chairman of the Board at Clorox. I felt so exposed and scared because there I was on the page with no protection of any kind. In retrospect, this was one of my first acts of courage in my entire career. And yet, my most brilliant. Sharing my unedited, heart-felt words started me down the path of reinventing myself in a new business and a whole new way of life and in doing so it enabled my work to change others.

Fortunately, Don came back with a glowing endorsement and encouraging words for me to pursue my passion. I was relieved and ecstatic. It gave me the needed confidence to continue to face more and more fears that I inevitably encountered when speaking out about my lessons with transparency and vulnerability.

When you bring your heart to work and your work becomes your work of art, you put yourself out there over and over again. It is never with your head down or in a safe place.

So what about you? How can you be courageous to transform your work into a work of art? Where can your emotional labor create change in someone else?

Transform your work into a work of art by bringing your heart to work and see the impact it has around you, but also within you!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Are we there yet?

Any trip worth going on would not be complete without hearing the words "are we there yet?," especially if you have children.

My daughter Leila's version of this question is: "how long have we been sitting here?"

She asks this most often when she is really looking forward to getting to where ever we are going; whether it is a 10 minute trip to Kroger to ride the shopping cart with the make-believe car, or a 4 hour trip to visit her cousin Claudia in New York. But in truth, the reason she is asking this is because she has been told that the adventure begins when we "get there," and not "while we are getting there."

With our destination-driven mindset, we over emphasize the destination and as a result devalue the journey in getting there. I believe that when we do this, we do ourselves and our children a disservice. As a result, it is difficult to appreciate the journey when all we want to do is get to the destination.

So it begs the question, can you get a 5 year old to appreciate the journey of a 4 hour plane trip? I think so. When the adventure is more about the journey such as riding the plane, seeing the cock pit, visiting with a pilot and playing games while on board. Seeing the journey as the adventure makes getting to your destination more enjoyable and beneficial.

As adults, we are no different than my daughter Leila. In fact we have been very well trained to focus solely on the destination with little regard for the journey. Whether your destination is getting the job you want, making more money, or finding the right life partner, it's difficult to enjoy the ride getting there when all you want to do is to be where you want to be: In the right job. Making the right kind of money. With the right person.

Unless of course, you reframe the journey as the adventure to be lived instead of solely focusing on the destination.

When you do this you gain two major benefits that can help you get to your destination more smoothly:

1. You gain perspective to see if you need to change your approach. Focusing on the ride provides you with valuable learning and practical feedback that you can apply to the ongoing journey to your destination.

2. You have a clearer picture of your destination. You can see that your destination is not fixed and that you can course correct your destination by incorporating these present realities.

Roadblocks such as layoffs, job demotions, and bad bosses may be well needed in order to assist you to course correct your destination or your approach in which you are trying to get to your destination. Yet, when you are solely focused on the destination, it is hard to see these roadblocks as providing any value.

It is only when you appreciate and fully live the journey that you can be ready to accept the destination that comes your way. Life happens on the journey, even if you end up in a different place than where you intended.

I think Warren Buffet says it best in this recent quote "The truth is, everything that has happened in my life...that I thought was a crushing event at the time, has turned out for the better, lessons that carry you along. You learn that a temporary defeat is not a permanent one. In the end, it can be an opportunity."

At some point, asking "are we there yet?" is no longer relevant. The question needs to become a question that helps keep the focus on the journey which is "where and how do we need to go now?" I believe that is how Buffet succeeded in the long run despite being rejected at age 19 by Harvard Business School.

Learning the tools to adjust and accept the journey allows you to reach greater destinations. Destinations that aren't held so tightly that you have to kill yourself to get them. But, destinations that bend and flow with what is happening around and inside of you.

With any destination that you have, be sure to embrace the journey and ask "where and how do I need to go now?" Learning to accept and embrace your journey will not only make you a happier person, it will actually enable you to exceed your goals and reach new destinations you may never have dreamed of before.

Happy Travels!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Is Imperfection your Foe?

We live in a society where striving for perfection has become an obsession.

The perfect face, the perfect body, the perfect couple, the perfect house, the perfect family with the perfect kids.

We see multi-billion dollar industries around each one of these "perfect ideals," and the list goes on. As a result, imperfection is not only our foe, it feeds our fear that we will be unsuccessful if we aren't perfect.

This couldn't be further from the truth.

Imperfection is the source of richness, beauty and success .

In order to lead our lives forward for bigger and better results and success, we need to first embrace the imperfections in ourselves and in all aspects of our lives. Make imperfection your friend and increase your productivity.

The drive for perfection is about control; controlling outcomes, controlling people and controlling situations. Imperfection can be scary because imperfection requires letting go.

I will never forget when I first became a mother while working at The Coca-Cola Company. One of my associates said to me, "Laura, now that you are a mom, maybe one day you too will come in with one blue and one black shoe."

I didn't really get it at the time, but I guess in retrospect, what she was saying was, "please Laura, please be a little bit more human, a little less perfect."

The stride for perfection keeps us at an arm's reach away from others. It doesn't allow for the critical connections we desperately need in order to be leaders that others will follow.

Even as a mother, a.k.a. a leader at home, this stride for perfection plagued me. I have to admit, it was a challenge early on.

You see, I did want my daughter to dress perfectly and when she chose ragamuffin clothes that looked like some homeless person dressed her, took all I had to not insist she go and change. After some time, I found beauty in her mismatched outfits that undeniably personified her. Most importantly in allowing her imperfection, I learned about the colors she loved, the fabrics she preferred and what was important to her. This all could have been missed if I insisted she wear what I wanted her to wear.

As leaders, we want perfect results, a perfect boss, a perfect job, perfect team members, the perfect promotion and perfect timelines. I know that I had a great deal of self-induced stress because I once bought into many of these perfect ideals that we have about work too; the biggest one being the illusion of being perfectly polished in every way. Just think of our images of leaders. Don't these images suggest perfection in every way....almost like they are not even human, since they are all-so perfect?

In my book, The Connected and Committed Leader, I say that vulnerability and transparency is a trait needed in leaders. When we are transparent and vulnerable, others can connect to us and our messages. When we are more human and less perfect, we can lead and others willingly follow.

When we strive for perfection we get cut off from the richness that underlies imperfection.

I see the stride for perfection cause people to stop dead in their tracks. It keeps them from pursuing their passions, from being fulfilled and from finding joy.

Try letting go of that need to be perfect and embrace imperfection for more lasting results at work and at home.

Laura Lopez is an award-winning author of The Connected and Committed Leader. She is also a consultant, and a Birkman Method certified business and life coach who has been featured on the Today Show and Fox News. In addition, her accomplishments have been highlighted in several business periodicals including Personal Excellence, The Long Beach Business Journal, The Houston Chronicle, Latina Magazine, and Central Valley Business Times. Her articles on management and leadership are regularly seen in Leadership Excellence.

Laura can be contacted via her Web site.