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Speak your fear and diminish its power over you

What are you afraid of? You are probably thinking to yourself, “How much time do you have?” But then again, you might be afraid that you don’t have enough time. Fear entangles us once again.

This past weekend, I attended The Achiever’s Conference in beautiful La Jolla, California. Led by the brilliant and inspiring Mark LeBlanc of Small Business Success, thirty of his coaching clients gathered to get laser-focused on building our businesses through the disciplined, consistent application of nine best practices. It was motivating!

On day one of the three day conference, Mark explained that what stops us is FEAR. Fear is behind every excuse, every delayed decision, every doubt, and every one of our inactions. Real or imagined, fear stops us from achieving our goals and creating the business and life we desire.

Mark then invited the participants to share with the group some of our fears. Talk about fear provoking: sharing your fears with people that you only just met. I was thinking to myself, “How do I get out of here?”

One by one, people stood up and shared their fears. We were sitting in two rows of chairs facing each other, with a big open space in the room. As my fellow business owners shared their fears aloud, I could see them in my mind’s eye stacking up on the floor in front of us. Of course there was nothing there, but that’s just how powerful the mind can be. It can see things that are not there; it can feel things that aren’t actually happening. The mind is powerful. It can act like a fear-creating machine

Here are just some of the common fears that were shared by the group. Keep in mind, these are fears held by very accomplished business owners. Success and fear and not mutually exclusive!

I’m afraid…

  1. I won’t have enough clients
  2. Of the lack of cash flow – inconsistent income – money might dry up
  3. People might discover that I’m a fake. (Imposter syndrome)
  4. I have social anxiety. I’m afraid to be with people.
  5. I’m not good enough
  6. I’m not enough
  7. I’ll procrastinate….again.
  8. I’ll let people down
  9. Of aging – getting old – getting sick
  10. Of being rejected
  11. Of not be loved or accepted
  12. That they won’t like me
  13. I’ll sound stupid
  14. I don’t have an original thought of my own
  15. Of being myself
  16. That I might be addicted
  17. That people don’t want what I have to offer
  18. Of failing and looking like a fool
  19. Of being hopelessly mediocre
  20. Of playing small all my life
  21. Of being a “bag lady” – becoming homeless
  22. Of never accomplishing anything significant in my life
  23. Of public speaking
  24. Of snakes
  25. Etc. etc. etc.

As my brave colleagues began to break the ice and starting naming their fears in the safety of this supportive environment, I began to sense an emotional shift in the group. Empathy grew. Fear dissipated. Camaraderie blossomed. Loneliness faded. The group dynamics were beginning to shift.

Still, I was afraid to share my fears amongst these people whom I had just met only one hour before. I was afraid to share my fears. I still felt that they were “unspeakable truths.” I waited and waited. I wondered if anyone would notice if I didn’t contribute to this particular group exercise. But I knew that my business coach, Mark LeBlanc, would notice, and I couldn’t let him down. So I shared my fears, second to the last person.

I willed my body to stand up. I took a deep breath and just let it go. Fear after fear after fear. With every second that passed and every fear that left my body, I felt stronger and more powerful. Speaking my fears aloud in this place at this time was an incredibly empowering experience. I would never have imagined it to have that effect, but it did.

As a trainer and facilitator, it occurred to me that Mark LeBlanc has chosen a very risky exercise to begin his Achiever’s Conference. And therein lies his brilliance. He knows that you can’t grow from a place of fear. You can’t adopt new ways, try new things, and implement best practices, if you are afraid.

Put this idea into action

Fear is a powerful emotion. It can be quickly created and strengthened by your memories, trauma, misunderstandings, the media, and your imagination – including the disaster stories you make up in your own mind. Fear can quickly hijack your brain and immobilize you for minutes, hours, days, years, even a lifetime.

Among the many pearls of practical wisdom that Mark LeBlanc shared with us achievers at his conference was “Act first. Feel later.”

I encourage you to call your fear out. Speak its ugly name. Expose it to the light and air. Its hold over you will quickly be released. You are bigger than the sum of your fears. Remember…

“The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself.” - Franklin D. Roosevelt, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933

 

Are you a born leader?

Last week, I spoke at the University of Connecticut’s School of Business, as part of their Leadership Speaker series, which was made possible by a Target® Stores grant. (Thank you Target!) My talk was entitled: Everyday Leadership: Motivating the Leader in You.

After the talk, one of the savvy students asked me whether I thought leaders were born or made. It is a profound question that has been asked and pondered by many people.

After taking a slow, deep breath, giving me time to reflect on his question, I answered, “I think leaders are made. I think that anyone can become a leader, if the inner drive and external support are favorable.”

Centuries before our time, people who were born into royalty, wealth and privilege were accepted as naturally superior to others. They were born into the leadership role and were obligated to lead their family fortunes and their nations, even if they didn’t have the character, skill or desire to lead. Others were precluded from leadership opportunities simply by virture of their birth and family lineage. Of course, history has proven that leaders come from all walks of life and that you can become an important leader even if you weren’t born into it.

On questions like this, I like to consult the experts that are in my network. So I turned to two individuals who specialize in leadership development: David O’Brien and Allison Akers Davis.

Leadership is a choice

David O’Brien’s short answer to the question of whether leaders are born or made? is “I don’t know for sure, but what I do know for sure is that…

“Everyone has the capacity to lead. Leadership is a choice and once you make that choice, you are called to demonstrate leadership every waking second of every day. There is no off switch on leadership”

David used to think about leadership in terms of leading people. That is how one uses his/her influence to lead, inspire and engage groups of people. Following the Great Recession of 2009, David began to think about leadership from a broader context. In his Article – Redefining Leadership, David reminds us that the world in which we live calls for true leadership outside of work too.

“Leadership today is by my estimation much more about the opportunity we each have to demonstrate personal leadership in all aspects of life versus the single dimension of work or job title.”

David defines personal accountability as “consistently doing more than is expected well and with a good attitude.” He suggests that the heightened level of personal accountability starts with the leader as he or she is the role model for the desired behaviors, attitudes and performance.

Through this lens, I believe we all have the opportunity to be leaders. It’s not about power and control, or fame and fortune, but about personal responsibility and accountability. Are you born or made this way? Who were the role models of this leadership trait in your life?

I encourage you to learn more about leadership from David O’Brien, who has kindly allowed me to share these resources with my readers:

Perhaps we are looking at the question too narrowly

Allison Akers Davis would argue that leaders are both born and made. She shared with me the following:

“There are charismatic leaders who show signs of leadership in the sandbox, those children who other children dress like and want to be like. We knew them in high school, the kids who had their own style and other kids hung on every word, they are charismatic, focused and engaged in learning.

 Leaders can also be developed. Coaching can help leaders to build an awareness of how they show up and what actions to take to build on strengths, such as relationship building, and to pay attention to their opportunities, such as leadership presence. Coaching and leadership development can then help leaders to learn and apply new techniques for greater success on the job.”

Does the personality you are born with determine your leadership potential?

To answer this question, I turned to the work of Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. Susan reminds us that society has shifted its definition of leadership to one that favors the extroverted personality type. Charisma seems to be a must-have quality of a leader.

Ms. Cain reminds us that there are many outstanding examples of leaders who were not born with charming, outgoing personalities. Leaders and world changers like Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Sonia Sotomayor, Rosa Parks, Al Gore, Warren Buffett, Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, and others.

Susan says “We tend to overestimate how outgoing leaders need to be.” She says that when it comes to leaders and leadership, we need to focus on “substance rather than style.”

Put this idea into action

No matter when, where, how, or in what circumstance you were born into this world, you have an opportunity to develop yourself into a leader.

It starts with leading yourself.

This is perhaps the most difficult leadership challenge that any of us face. It means being honest with yourself, acknowledging your weaknesses and addictions, consciously changing behaviors and beliefs. You have to accept full responsibility for everything that happens in your life. No more blaming others. Never again.

This kind of personal leadership will require you to examine your values, intentions and purpose. This is hard work. It will take much reflection on your part. It’s not something you can purchase. You can’t acquire this kind of personal leadership by getting more people to follow you on Twitter or like you on Facebook. You have to earn it with sweat equity.

When you discover that you are a leader…When you decide that this is true of you…You will stand taller and think differently. You will be open to new opportunities.

 

The secret to asking for feedback (that you can use)

In my last blog post, I shared strategies for giving and receiving feedback at work. I was feeling pretty savvy until the feedback that I had asked for on my article started coming in. Suddenly, I was feeling puny.

The nature of the feedback that I received on my blog post was pretty innocuous. Things like typos and writing style suggestions. These were changes that I could either implement right away, or work on over time. They would help to make me a better writer. That’s good.

Some of the feedback I received came via email, from people I didn’t know very well. You see, I asked about 10,000 people at once for their feedback. I was not discriminating in who I asked. People will say things on social media and on email that they probably wouldn’t say to you face to face. You also can’t read their body language or gauge their vocal expression to add context and meaning. Factors such as who, where, and how made a difference in my feedback experience.

Still I wonder, why did it hit me so hard? Was I just being sensitive? Was the timing bad for me? Did I not follow the 5-step strategy for receiving feedback (note: I only did the fifth step, which was to say “thank you for your feedback.” I didn’t ask for specific examples – step #3)

Then I remembered that while I had shared strategies for giving and receiving feedback, I did not include a strategy for how to ask for feedback. This is the third step in the feedback loop: 1) to give feedback; 2) to receive feedback; and 3) to ask for feedback.

There is an art to asking for feedback in a way that gets you what you need to move forward in your personal and professional development. Here’s the process that I came up with:

Here’s an example of how you might use the 8-step process to help you to prepare for a major presentation:

  1. Know your goal. You have been working on your voice inflection, trying to leverage more vocal power when you make presentations. You know that your voice sounds shaky when you are nervous, and have been working on relaxation techniques and vocal warm ups to improve the quality of your voice.
  2. Ask someone you trust and respect. Your boss is a decent presenter, but not great one. You have always admired the voice and presentation skill of a colleague who works in another department. You feel that she be better suited to advise you on your voice and give you constructive feedback and suggestions.
  3. Ask them in advance of your performance. You approach her a week before the major presentation. You ask her if she’ll sit in on the presentation (and maybe even be in the mock audience of your practice presentation) and give you constructive feedback. While you are open to her other comments, you are particularly looking for feedback on how effectively you used your voice and what you can do to improve its impact.
  4. Decide when/where you will have the feedback conversation. You set a date a day after the major presentation to get together. You find a way to audio or video record the presentation (smart phone to the rescue) so that you can both use this as a reference tool in your review meeting.
  5. Ask for specific examples and ideas. During your in person feedback session, you ask her to identify specific areas in which you used your voice effectively, and other times when your voice shrank or undermined your message or credibility. You ask her to demonstrate the vocal techniques that she shares. You repeat what she does and enjoy an impromptu coaching and training session with her. You both laugh and have a good time with this.
  6. Thank them. Although you already thanked her in advanced when she agreed to help you with this feedback request, you thank her at the end of your review meeting. Even though it may have been difficult to receive this particular feedback, you know that it is for your professional development and personal betterment. You make a note to drop her a handwritten thank you card (mailing it to her home, with a real stamp on the envelope. Now that will impress her!)
  7. Decide what you want to do with the feedback. She shared quite of bit of feedback with you. Some of it appeared to fit her goals more than yours. Other parts were really relevant to where you are and where you need to be. You decide consciously to implement some of her suggestions. You decide to shelve other ideas for later. Some ideas go in the trash bin in your mind. Even though you asked for the feedback and she gave it to you, you know that you are not obligated to do everything she suggests. You are the captain of your (career) ship.
  8. Keep them in the loop on your progress. Because you value her as a colleague and are grateful for her helpful feedback, you reach out to her every so often. You give her short progress reports on how you are doing with your presentations and how her feedback helped you grow and develop as a speaker/presenter. You share other presentation resources and ideas with her. You continue to develop your professional relationship with her, as she is a resource for you, possibly as a future mentor or adviser. Or vice versa.

Put this idea into action

Reflect on the primary skill set or behavioral change you have been working on, or thinking about working on for some time now. Think about who is in the best position to give you feedback on your progress and development needs. It may be the obvious players – those closest to you, like your boss, your spouse, your customer. Or it may be some other “expert” that you admire who sees your work, but does not have a vested interest in the outcome.

Approach the selected person and follow the 8 steps in the strategy for asking for feedback. You can even share the strategy steps with him/her, so you are operating from the same road map.

Schedule the feedback session, complete the “performance” (i.e., the presentation, the meeting, the behavior, etc.), and don’t chicken out. Play this one full out and wring every bit of value out of it.

Take notes during the feedback session. Afterwards, file it in the folder (physical or electronic) that you use to prepare for your annual performance review with your boss.

Asking for feedback, receiving it and then using it to improve yourself demonstrates that you are an engaged employee who takes personal responsibility for his/her growth and development.

Asking for feedback takes courage. Implementing the feedback that you receive to improve yourself takes confidence. And when the positive results roll in, feel free to bask in a little glory.

I have the courage and the confidence to ask for feedback.

It is a gift that will help me grow personally and professionally.

Please post your comments to this blog post on my facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/NetworkingAhead

 

Strategies for Giving and Receiving Feedback at Work

This month I’ve been immersed in the topic of feedback. I’m getting ready to give a seminar for a large company on the value of feedback in the context of teams and team effectiveness. My seminar title is “Everyday Feedback for High Performance Teams.” 

As an executive presentation coach, I am paid to give people feedback. I try to balance my feedback with both positive and negative comments, as appropriate, so that the client stays motivated and committed to the process of professional development.

I’ve seen times when feedback works extremely well to create positive changes and build people’s self-esteem and motivation. I have also seen times when feedback discourages and alienates people.

I have also observed how I personally receive feedback from others. Even though I have a philosophy that “feedback is a gift,” I have to work up the courage to ask for it. Then I brace myself for the worst…

Feedback is definitely a two-way street

The road of feedback is not always smoothly paved. Sometimes it is filled with obstacles and detours, and even pot holes that you didn’t see coming.

Sometimes feedback in the workplace is disguised as advice, projection, evaluation, anger, and even sabotage. Rarely can you use that feedback to improve yourself.

The most memorable feedback that I ever received from a peer was the following, “Your management style is like poison.” Needless to say, that feedback was a difficult pill to swallow!

A few of my favorite blog posts on the subject of effective feedback include:

  • Grant Wiggins writes about feedback and its value in the educational system. His article Seven Keys to Effective Feedback outlines a methodology that could also work in the corporate environment, where feedback is poorly practiced. Mr. Wiggins focuses on the quality of the feedback and suggests that we make it:  1) goal-referenced; 2) tangible and transparent; 3) actionable; 4) user-friendly; 5) timely (as opposed to immediate); 6) ongoing; and 7) consistent.
  • Glenn Llopis is a guest blogger on Forbes.com and I find that his business articles are very thought-provoking. He wrote an article entitled 6 Ways Successful Teams are Built to Last.  Being proactive with feedback came in at #4 on his list. I am also pleased to see that Get to Know the Rest of the Team is listed as #2. Networking and relationship-building are key ingredients for team success!

“Feedback is simply the art of great communication. It should be something that is part of one’s natural dialogue.” – Glenn Llopis

5-Step Strategy for Giving and Receiving Feedback at Work

Sometimes it’s not just WHAT you do, but HOW you do it that makes all the difference. I find that especially true in the dispensing and digestion of constructive feedback. To that end, I developed a 5-step strategy to help you to prepare yourself for the giving and receiving of feedback at work.

  • Click on the image and save it. You can print out this business sized card and keep it in your wallet or on your desk if you like.

Examples of how to work the 5 step strategy for GIVING and RECEIVING feedback

GIVING feedback at work

  1. Examine your motivations. Before you open your mouth and share your feedback, take a few quiet moments to ask yourself, “For the sake of what do I want/need to share this feedback?  Am I doing it for me, or to help my colleague? What would happen if I didn’t share this feedback? What do I hope will happen if I do share this feedback? Note: some feedback is ego driven and is best kept to yourself.
  2. Ask for permission. Never offer unsolicited feedback. It can backfire big time. Choose the best timing and environment to offer your feedback. Start with the question, Are you open to some feedback? If they say yes, then proceed. If they say no or not now, stop. Let them seek you out when the time is right for them.
  3. Prioritize your feedback. Don’t make your feedback experience like drinking from a fire hose. Be strategic and thoughtful about the most important feedback that needs to be shared. If you have ten points, you have too many. Narrow them down to the top three. Know the order of importance. What changes will make the most difference in the success of your colleague?
  4. Give specific examples. Share your observations in a nonjudgmental way. Reference specific examples of their behavior (good or bad) that you want to give feedback on. Being too vague or general in your feedback makes it difficult for them to understand or convert into action. Also be careful when making sweeping statements that begin with phrases like “You always…” or “You never…”
  5. Check in. Double check to make sure that they understand your feedback. Use simple phrases like, “Does that make sense to you?” or “Do you see what I’m saying?” or “What questions or comments do you have?“  Then stop talking and listen. Pay attention to their body language and eye patterns, which tell you a lot about how your feedback is being received.

RECEIVING feedback at work

It takes a grace and courage to receive someone’s feedback at work. Let me give you a little scripting to help you understand how you might use these five steps to receive feedback that you can use:

  1. Assume open body language. If you notice that you have crossed your arms or are holding your breath, release and relax your body. It’s natural to tighten up and become defensive. Do a quick scan of your body and try to release any grip or tension that you can building up inside of you. Soften your face. Keep your breathing even.
  2. Paraphrase their feedback. After they share their feedback, before you respond to it, make sure that they understand what they are trying to tell you. Repeat back what you have heard without responding in any other way. This is not the time to mind read, jump to conclusions or react. You might say,  “If I understand you, you think that ……  Do I have that right?” 
  3. Request specific examples and ideas. Context and specifics are vital in feedback, so if you don’t get them at first, ask for more specifics. You are not being defensive, but rather trying to bring to the table the specific circumstances surrounding your behavior and actions. Be like a detective and look for the specific clues in this case. For example, you might say, “Can you give me a specific example of what you observed?”  followed by “What specific ideas would you suggest that I try the next time this situation arises?”
  4. Ask them to prioritize. It can be overwhelming to receive a deluge of feedback all at once. You can only make so many changes so quickly. So the question is, which change is the most important and will benefit you the most?  You might ask, for example, “Of the five things you mentioned as areas of opportunity for me, which would you prioritize as the most important? Which one should I tackle first?”
  5. Thank them. Gratitude for feedback, regardless of its nature, is an important aspect of your professionalism. A thank you costs you nothing, but has high value to the recipient. Take care that your body language and vocal intonation align with the spirit of gratitude.  You might say, “Thank you for taking the time to give me this helpful feedback. It shows that you are vested in my career here at the company, and I appreciate that.”

Put this idea into action

Examine your own attitude and behavior regarding the practice of feedback in the workplace. Be honest with yourself about how often you seek it out, how you receive it and what happens when you share your feedback with others. Feedback, like all communication skills, is vital for every professional, at every level, in all disciplines. Sharpening the saw on giving and receiving feedback will help you grow and develop into a more effective, more enlightened leader.

This coming week, use the 5 Part Strategy for Giving and Receiving Feedback. Task yourself to do three things:

  1. Give feedback to a colleague. Then ask for feedback on your feedback. Have a discussion about the topic of feedback. Share the 5 part strategy with him/her.
  2. Receive feedback from a colleague. Then ask for feedback on what it was like for them to give you this feedback.
  3. Seek out feedback from a colleague. That is, ask for it. Share your learning goals with a trusted colleague and ask them to give you feedback when the opportunity next presents itself. Let them know that you value feedback as a development tool.

And remember, that there is no failure, only feedback.

I welcome YOUR FEEDBACK on this blog page on my Facebook page -https://www.facebook.com/NetworkingAhead

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