Saving a Life

I stood there in awe as I watched my best friend save a life.

As I planted myself a safe five paces away, she fearlessly grabbed a stick and hacked at the cobweb that trapped the fluttering butterfly, careful – of course – not to harm our winged friend. She cautiously swiped several times, each time eliminating another bond holding the monarch captive. Finally, our new friend fell exhausted to the ground, free from its captor (myself – who is mildly afraid of all flying things with irregular flight patterns – was still a safe five paces away). Our hero carefully pulled some remaining sticky threads from the butterfly until it regained its strength and took flight again.

The butterfly was free! And flew several feet… right into another well-crafted spider web. (If you look closely at the bottom right corner of the picture, you can see an orange figure trapped in this new – much bigger, much sturdier – web.)

Oh, the tangled webs we get ourselves caught in.

It instantly struck me that this is so like human nature. We struggle and fret and struggle some more in our current situations. When we are fortunate enough to be released from our misery – whether by an unknown stranger or by our own tenacity – we don’t know what to do with our newfound freedom. We don’t know how to act in our new world, free from our destructive yet disconcertingly comfortable habits. We secretly long for the stability of our treacherous surroundings, and subconsciously sabotage ourselves so we can be surrounded by the familiar again.

This, my friends, is the mindset of lack. And it happens to us without our conscious even knowing about it.

This is why 70% of lottery winners go broke. This is why 77% of prisoners are re-arrested within five years of being released. And perhaps, this is why 67% of second marriages (and 74% of third marriages) end in divorce.

How do we break the cycle? How do we become comfortable with our new, unknown, but much better surroundings?

Take it Slow
One option is to slowly familiarize yourself with your new surroundings. Just like we crawl before we walk before we run, it can be helpful to focus on milestones as you ease yourself into a new way of thinking.

Seek Adventure
Others might do better to jump right in – and persistently stick with it. Get yourself in a mindset of all the wonderful things that happen suddenly, like roller coasters, zip lining, and running into an old friend in the middle of Times Square.

Visualize Abundance
The opposite of lack is abundance, and it can show up in the most amazing ways – in friendships, in love, and in money. If you are experiencing a lack in an area of your life, visualize what your life would look like in abundance. If you like, add some milestones in for fun.

Visualize Lack
Although it may sound depressing, pain has been neuro-scientifically proven to be a stronger motivator for us primitive humans than pleasure, so ask yourself what your life will be like one year from today if you don’t change anything. How does that feel? If your answer is “pretty sucky, thank you very much,” then maybe that’s just what you need to make some changes in your life towards abundance.

No matter which option you choose, I urge you to do something – just one thing – to take one step outside your comfort zone. The life you save may be your own.

How have you overcome lack in your life? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

 

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Leadership Decisions

In working through my Connected Leadership Journal, I came across a question that I initially skipped over. As a detail-oriented person, however (which sounds better than perfectionist), I eventually went back to the question that stumped me:

“If you had the opportunity to change one leadership decision that you have made in your career, what would it be and why?”

Upon further reflection, I found that I knew the answer, I just didn’t want to write it down. The answer lies in a situation that’s been haunting me for years. You see, several years ago, while serving as an HR manager, I received frequent complaints from employees about a senior executive’s aggressive style. One employee went so far as to use the words that all HR professionals never want to hear: a hostile work environment.

I approached the executive, laid out my concerns, and provided a solution that he could use. It was simply: to listen more instead of talking so much in meetings. I had a good relationship with him, so I pointedly suggested that he “Ask a question, then shut up.” He was open to the idea and agreed to give it a try.

Unfortunately, he tried it at the next meeting, when I happened to not be in attendance. He asked people in the meeting if he talked too much and, in true fashion of those who feel they are being bullied or fearful of losing their jobs, they all said no. I wasn’t there to mediate the conversation, so he felt his job was done – he had done his part, and determined he didn’t need to change.

What would you have done next?

I can tell you I’m not proud of my choice: I gave up. I felt that because my first attempt had failed, I didn’t have the fortitude to coach this aggressive executive and create a more positive work environment. I eventually left the organization for this very reason.

What I did next, however, was intentional and powerful. I poured myself into learning how to coach more effectively, eventually earning a certification in coaching and an ICF credential (my ACC). I read articles and books (see picture connected to this blog) about leadership and communication and workplace culture. I practiced my new craft in countless situations. I am now comfortable talking with individuals in nearly every situation without taking their responses personally. (If you’d like to explore this shift for yourself, I recommend starting with the book “The Four Agreements.”)

The decision I’d change if I could go back in time is to combine my intentional learning with the workplace environment. I would decide to try again instead of giving up.  I would decide to be transparent (ironically, one of that company’s corporate values that I helped write) and respectful and fully embrace my unique position as an HR leader that he respected to make a powerful impact on the company. I would decide to learn and apply, learn and apply, learn and apply – instead of avoiding the situation all together by leaving.

I’m happy with where I am now, and I do believe that everything happens for a reason, and life is what we make it. Nonetheless, I can’t deny that my learning might have been even more profound and impactful had I “stuck it out” and applied what I was learning in that environment, even if only for a short while. It would have been difficult, and hard, and time-consuming… but then again, the best things in life usually are.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. What leadership decision would you change if you could? How could it have impacted your life? How can you use this reflection to make better decisions moving forward?

(If you prefer to chat, set up a free 30-minute session with me. I look forward to talking with you!)

Defining Leadership

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a client site tossing around the word leadership. At one point, I stopped and asked these two senior executives to define leadership. They both stopped and thought. Neither one of them had an answer. Then one of them asked me the same question.

Now, I read a lot. I read a lot about leadership. (That picture is from my bookshelf.) So I feel I have a good handle on some of the traits I believe a leader should have, and I know some of the traits I believe are not exemplary of leadership. But I, like my cohorts, couldn’t put it into words. And if we aren’t able to define what leadership looks like in our organizations, we can’t hold our people accountable for “behaving like a leader.”

So I’m digging into a self-study on Defining Leadership. I’m a firm believer that if you’re not learning, you’re losing, and my purpose in life is to teach and inspire others. So, combined with a challenge from my marketing strategist to communicate with my client base more often, I’ve decided to invite you along with me while I dig into defining leadership. My hope is that together we will uncover some truths about our own leadership views that will help us become the effective leaders we were designed to be. Plus, it’ll be more fun and enriching if we explore this topic together!

I’ve decided to use the Connected Leadership Journal as a guide through this adventure. If you want to purchase a journal and work along with me, you can order one here. I’m using the 1st edition, but the 2nd edition will work just as well. (Enter the discount code jcbc2018 to save on handling fee.)

To start, let’s explore what makes someone a leader. What are some of the traits and characteristics of a strong leader? When I ask this of my students or audience, I usually get responses like: good communicator, honest, approachable, confident, trustworthy, and provides feedback.  Indeed, these traits fall under what Stephen M. R. Covey calls “character” in his book “The Speed of Trust.”

Covey also says that one who invokes trust has “competence.” In other words, we must know what we’re talking about in order for people to trust us as leaders. Jim Collins, in “Great by Choice,” defines Level 5 Leaders as having humility. John Maxwell, in “How Successful People Lead,” says the best leaders are those who build relationships and help others grow. My friend Paul Huszar, who is a retired Army Lt. Col., says that leadership is getting others to follow you because they want to.

With so many great minds offering so many great ideas, it’s understandable that we have a hard time defining leadership. Maybe it’s because it’s different for each person in a variety of situations – a theory called Situational Leadership.

And while I believe in Situational Leadership, I also believe that there are certain undeniable traits that every leader (whom I would follow, anyway) must have. So I will do my best to define leadership as I believe it to be, knowing that about two minutes after I publish this article I’ll want to change it. (But hey, that’s part of the journey!)

When do I feel like a leader? I am a leader when I learn from others while teaching them, when I speak truth even when it’s hard, when I ask what I can do differently to create a better outcome, when I am the same person saying the same things no matter whom I’m speaking with, when I accomplish results with others, when I focus on giving, when I am patient, authentic, and curious of others. I believe that leadership is person-based, not position-based. I believe that anyone can be a leader.

Leadership for me, then, is to inspire partners for results and growth through open, authentic, and respectful communication.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. What would you add or subtract? Please share your definition of leadership in the comments.

We Are Wo/Men of Action…

“We are men of action. Lies do not become us.”  – The Man in Black

This quote from my favorite movie (The Princess Bride) popped in to my head today as I was listening to Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way audiobook and thinking about a friend of mine.

Ms. Cameron talks about how we allow blocks to inhibit our progress. We may say we need or want to complete a task (I could use writing a blog post as a handy example) but we allow thoughts or limiting beliefs to get in our way (I need to respond to this email, check my social media account(s), nobody will read it anyway, etc….). Ms. Cameron encourages us that when we have items on our to-do lists that never get checked off, we need to ask ourselves two questions: What are we afraid of? and What do we gain if we don’t do this thing? By asking ourselves these questions, we can usually see that we are lying to ourselves, and when we lie to ourselves, we limit our progress by crippling our action.

I have a friend who hates his job. He knows he needs to leave but by the end of the day he’s too exhausted (too much bad stress will do that to a person) to exert any energy to look for another job. On the weekends he wants to relax and not even think about work. I’ve been in this situation before, so I understand this.

But as I was thinking about his situation in context of The Artist’s Way, I wondered how much of his inability to make a move is due to exhaustion, and how much of it is due to fear. Change is hard. There are a lot of things to be afraid of when we venture out into the great unknown. What if my next job is just as bad? I know what I’m doing here… what if I’m not an expert in my next job? What if I don’t like the people at my next job? What if my next job requires a longer commute? What if I can’t FIND a next job!? These are all valid concerns… or are they?

When I find myself stuck in a rut, I activate what I call the “TEA” principle: our Thoughts become our Emotions, which become our Actions.

If we are acting in a way that is out of alignment with what we say we want or need to do, examine the emotion behind it. Is it fear? Anxiety? Frustration? Next, examine why you feel that way. What are you thinking that is creating that feeling? Is it something like, “It took me too long to find this job. It will take me forever to find another job that I actually like.” Or, “I can’t do my job because nobody will give me the right information.” Or, “I keep telling my boss what needs to be done but he doesn’t listen to me! He’ll never change!”

Whatever you find yourself thinking, ask yourself one final question: Is that true? If you’re using absolute words like “forever” or “nobody” or “never,” you are most likely lying to yourself. And as wo/men of action, lies do not become us.

My encouragement to you is to step out of problem mode and into opportunity mode. To encourage yourself to try something different, ask yourself how this belief or thought has affected you. (Journaling is a great way to force yourself to slow down and think through situations like this.) Try to look at it from another angle. What would someone who thinks the opposite of you do in this situation? Be curious instead of judgmental. Ask open-ended questions. Find a mentor or coach to help you work through the issue. Once you break through your limiting beliefs, you will release the hold on your forward movement, and you once again will be a wo/man of action.

 

One. Hundred. Percent.

I love the new year. It’s such an amazing opportunity to reflect on what went well over the past year and double down to really move forward and be all that you can be in the coming year (hat tip to my Army friends).

But there’s a catch. (Of course! There’s always a catch!) You see, if we want to move forward, we have to let go of what’s holding us back. And here’s the part that stings: what’s holding us back is… us.

When I was in coaching school, I learned a philosophy that I call the TEA formula. It is this: our Thoughts become our Emotions, which become our Actions. So if you want to change your outcome/results/actions, you need to first change your thoughts. Easy formula to understand; extremely difficult to do.

Here is my New Year’s gift to you – a way to start changing your thoughts (with credit to Jack Canfield and his book “The Success Principles”):

You must take 100% Responsibility for your life.

That means no more excuses. No more pointing the finger at other people. No more blaming your circumstances. Why is this Rule #1? Because finding fault with things outside your circle of influence will not help you. Will not change you. Will not move you forward. Finding fault with things that you cannot control leaves you stuck in the past.

We all know this, intellectually. Yet we all still do it in some form or another. Why? Because it’s so much easier to blame someone else for holding you back than to admit that maybe you didn’t do everything you could. In my world, it’s realizing that I didn’t create that program (an online management academy – in production now!), that I didn’t let people know what it is I actually do (I’m a corporate trainer and coach specializing in emerging leaders and new managers), and that I did drink a glass of wine most nights and maybe that’s why I have daily headaches (I’m doing the Whole30 program now to get to the bottom of those headaches).

Action Challenge of the week:

Invest a few minutes in yourself. Ask yourself two questions:

1) What is it that you really want to accomplish?

2) What is one step that you can take TODAY towards accomplishing that thing?

Happy New Year!

Adjust Your Seat First

My daughter recently got her driver’s permit. She worked hard to get it and is now a diligent driving student: adjusting the seat first (she’s 5’2″ so there’s a lot of adjusting required), then the mirrors, then putting the car in drive followed by her hands dutifully at “10 and 2.” She’s a zealous learner, too, asking to drive just about everywhere.

Watching her zest for learning in this life event got me thinking – we really don’t change much as we grow up. Let’s take starting a new job, for example. We go through a lot of work to get that new position: polish the resume, search, apply, repeat. Then we go through the interview process, sometimes several times before we find the perfect fit. As the big day draws near, we are excited, nervous, and eager to get started.

When we got to the DMV on the day after my daughter’s birthday, she was excited and nervous and eager to get started. Then she went to take the test. And she failed. She came out of the room disheartened and extremely disappointed. This was not what her day was supposed to be like.

When your company doesn’t have a substantial Onboarding program in place, your new employees could feel like they’ve failed. I recently spoke with someone who shared that he nearly quit his job on day three because the new company had no Onboarding program, leaving him disheartened and disappointed.

Onboarding is important because it sets the tone for new employees. A strong Onboarding program will:

  1. Allow your new hire to connect with co-workers
  2. Clearly describe the new hire’s duties and expectations
  3. Demonstrate the corporate culture and values

When my daughter got to the counter at the DMV to say that she had failed, the assistant asked her if she’d like to take it again. Her face immediately lit up with the second opportunity for success. This time, she passed.

If your current Onboarding program consists of little more than “Hi, here’s your desk,” consider this your invitation to take the time to create a strong and empowering strategy to welcome new employees. When employees are provided with a structured Onboarding program during their first 90 days, they are 58% more likely to still be with the organization in three years. And with turnover costs ranging from 16% – 213% of an employee’s salary, it’s worth the time to create a solid program, complete with success metrics.

 

Jennifer Currence is an HR Strategy Advisor and Success Coach who focuses on making sure an organization’s people practices align with their corporate strategy. She lives in Tampa, FL with her two teenagers.

Who Needs Corporate Culture?

A thriving corporate culture. It’s the thing that businesses say they want but really don’t know how to achieve. They hold people accountable for corporate culture – usually HR or manager – but it’s rare that we see an established organization actually shift their culture for the better.

An article in the April 2016 Harvard Business Review invigorated my thinking about this paradox. The article, “Culture is Not the Culprit,” states that “culture change is what you get after you’ve put new processes or structures in place to tackle tough business challenges like reworking an outdated strategy or business model.” (p. 98) The article challenges us as business men and women to stop trying to fix culture and instead look at the programs we have in place in our organizations.

Culture is a big deal. A strong culture is key to reducing turnover, elevating productivity, and accelerating profitability. A strong culture is also a requirement for attracting and retaining high-potential employees – you know, those men and women who really are passionate and incredibly skilled at what they do. These “hi-po’s” are attracted to an environment where their ideas are heard and considered, where their hard work and acquired expertise is valued, and where they can make a difference – in short, an innovative culture. With today’s dizzying speed of business, we can’t have a strong culture by doing what we’ve always done.

Established organizations (when I say established, I mean that they’ve been in existence for 10 years or so) often fall into the trap of “this has worked for us in the past so let’s keep doing it this way.” The thing is, there have been radical changes in the way business is run over the past 10 years. Ten years ago, there was virtually no social media for businesses (no YouTube, Twitter, or Pinterest), smart phones were just creeping their way into the marketplace (Apple introduced the first iPhone in January 2007), and Skype, although released in 2003, was not yet fashionable or eloquent – forcing us to actually travel to other locations in order to conduct a visual business meeting. The world now is much faster, more immediate, and rapidly paced. So if a company is doing business the same way it was in 2005, they will soon be packing up their camera-less desktop computers and their fax machines and locking up their brick-and-mortar doors.

I’ve seen this happen to a small business. Despite the pleadings of several intelligent marketing professionals, senior management did not believe that they needed to spend their time and effort in social media. Over a period of about two years, they were able to eke out a small profit, but only because they lost nearly 1/3 of their employees (including the aforementioned marketing professionals… hmmm…). They now have a skeleton staff who are overworked and miserable in their jobs, because senior management’s lack of listening didn’t stop at the marketing department – it filtered all the way through the organization. That’s not to say that their painful existence is all because of their lack of grabbing on to social media; but it is one example of how that company’s management failed to embrace new ways of doing things, and it negatively affected their culture. So just how effective and productive do you think their employees are in their jobs?

Senior management must be willing to explore new opportunities and new processes and new programs. They must listen to their employees and value their input to glean these ideas. They must be open to evolving their business. Only then will they be able to make a positive impact on their company culture.

Jennifer Currence, MBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, is an HR Strategy Advisor who is passionate about partnering with companies to optimize their corporate culture. Learn more at www.OnCoreMgt.com.