Monday, February 16, 2009

Rx -A Dose of Fotitutude & Resiliency

RESILIENT: (adjective): 1. springing back; rebounding 2. returning to the original form or position after being bent, compressed, or stretched; 3. recovering readily from illness, anxiety, depression, adversity or the like; buoyant.

Have you started hearing this word lately? People are gathering around tables, TV's, and social networks trying to figure out if the rubber band will stop stretching or...break. In the meantime...
  • "We just need to make sure our organization is ...resilient."
  • "If Pat doesn't learn how to be resilient, he's never going to make it."
  • "The leaders we need now, are those who can be resilient in this chaos."
True...resiliency is a great trait. But most people don't understand what it takes to be resilient. Telling someone to be resilient during a time of chaos and stress can be like telling a depressed person to happy. The road to getting there isn't like taking a pill. It takes stamina and a discipline.

I was reading something the other day, and came across the word 'fortitude'.

FORTITUDE (noun), means mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously :Never once did her fortitude waiver during that long illness

In what has become known as the Nun Study (, 120 Catholic Nuns were observed from age 22 to death. Basically, those who practiced a positive state of mind, out-lived the negative mindsets 2.5 to 1.

Both sets of nuns were resilient in their lifetime. However, the nuns with increasingly negative attitudes, developed dementia earlier on in life, leading to an earlier death in the end

At work, in church, across the neighbor's can see when people make it through a situation, tainted by their circumstance. They do what it takes to succeed...but mentally they are exhausted, jaded, and dissatisfied. Left unchecked, this leads to anger, depression, and a feeling of victimization.

Fortitude is the Richard Simmons workout to help you keep the heavy weight of the world, off your mind. Fortitude is not living in a dreamy, idealistic fantasy land. It means facing reality - and choosing a frame of mind that supports your mental health.

The Rx
Tune-in to what you say about your daily life, and see if your thinking is in your best interest or, if you are living emotionally, using circumstances to justify your positions.

1) Get clear about what you are saying in your head -what is the theme? Is it serving for or against your best self?
  • "I just can't seem to find the time", "I'm in a funk", "this sucks" -

2) Decide what is real, and what is a made-up story - what are you acting like you believe? It is real...really? Are you believing in something that might not be true?

  • "I am not organized", "I'm not good enough", "I should be better, more, different"

3) Make a decision to be supportive to yourself - what do you need to confirm about yourself to shift your mental attitude?

  • "I can do this", "I did my best - I'm simply learning", "I am good at what I do", "I don't have to be perfect"

If you are running around in circles, trying to figure out how to be resilient these days, take a break to build your mental immunity. Set aside 2 times each day, and run yourself through a mental check-up. Drop the mental baggage. And let the good stuff rise to the top.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Silos, Politics and Turf Wars

I started reading a new book yesterday, Silos, Politics and Turf Wars by Patrick Lencioni. Its a story about a guy who leaves corporate life to become a consultant. The story reveals his journey in finding a model for how to help executive teams get aligned, and rallying in a common direction.

This book is par for the course right now. American life is being bombarded with a need to save, and protect turf. Its exactly this type of focus that gets people set in a self-serving mentality. Its even worse if the people are self-serving to begin with.

Lencioni's book reminded me of George Morrisey's Strategic Planning Model. The basics of strategic planning are what we need; start with a vision - a target destination, and break it down to spending energy and resources that will mobilize the group towards execution that matters.

We need higher level strategies - for the good of the whole. We need the strength of an outstretched hand to tip the heavy chins of leadership up, out of the overwhelming details.
It is truly the act of leadership at this point - to pull the team up. Leadership needs to facilitate the focus on invention. Leadership needs to ensure teams stay true to the course of what matters for the lifeblood of their business. It is not necessarily the day-to-day stuff - this will always be there. It is the solutions to moving forward now, in these times that needs to be strategized.

Here are the clues the book gave for getting back on track:
  1. Define the overarching goal or theme that describes what your business most needs to pay attention to in order to survive/thrive.
  2. Identify 3-5 ares to focus on - that act like legs on a stool; without these the place falls
  3. Identify operating standards (metrics) for each area, that can tell you how well you are doing.
  4. Make these the flow of your meeting agendas - and keep them as top priorities
  5. When you get the sense that turf wars, politics and silos are invading the priority focus - crush them immediately and get the group back to whats best for the whole.

The Partnership between the CEO characters and the consultant gave each business just the right amount of "out-sight" and unbiased perspective to help the group move forward.

If you think your team could stand to go through this exercise, feel free to reach out!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Break Through Your Brick Walls

Breaking Through Your Brick Walls

Seeking to appreciate is about making relevant and useful connections with other people and their circumstances, to help you advance the goals you have for your life.

Sitting on my desk is a little peel-off calendar titled “Zen: 365 Daily Thoughts and Inspirations”. Today’s quote comes from Henry Miller who writes, “The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”

When the quote above is about things like grass…well, good for the grass. Not real inspiring when we’re dealing with difficult people or when you’re knee deep in bills trying to figure our how in the world you are going to make it all work with nothing in your account.

Let’s face it; trying to imagine these circumstances as “awesome and indescribably magnificent” sounds like a big waste of precious time! When you’re banging your head up against the brick walls in your life, the last thing that makes sense is stopping to study the grass.

Why would anyone spend time trying to appreciate the very things that are standing in their way of being productive, focused, energized, committed, and ultimately, happy with the situation at hand?

Okay. So I gave the answer away. But still, knowing this and doing something about it are totally different. It’s like putting down the chocolate cake to lose weight. Sounds simple enough, and yet the weight loss industry is booming in profits off people fighting this battle.

If dealing with difficult people were easy, there would not be 1 million Google results on the topic. If the financial issues facing many families today were easy to fix, we would not see unemployment rates, foreclosure rates, and divorce rates at all time highs.

What to do?!?! Give your head a break.

5 Actions for Breaking Through the Brick Walls
1. Be curious about the world around you
2. Discipline your thinking in the moment, and quietly observe
3. Make connections with people and resources
4. Practice thinking with empathy for the other 270 degrees
5. Make decisions to best meet your goals…not to satisfy your feelings

The remainder of this blog post will focus on #1. You’ll want to sign-up and visit this blog again soon for numbers 2-5.

First, a little science.

Those of you looking for the golden pills to life, are about to move away from this blog. If you can spare one more moment, please let me tell you these 5 actions work BEST for the impatient; those seeking critically practical advice, people who others don’t describe as a” people person” but perhaps “passionate under pressure”, and people who stay as far away from “woo-woo” as possible.

Turns out, this advice is practical. It’s actually logical, and it is proven to work. While coaching people through hundreds of challenges, taking these action steps has been like putting the chocolate cake down for people who have hit the emotional brick wall. For the left brained, practical/logical person, 1, 2, and 4 are particularly difficult. For the right brained, creative, relationship-oriented people 2, 3, and 5 are particularly difficult.

No matter who you are, your issues are complicated and they can get emotional. When you are banging your head against the wall, you have feelings that you don’t necessarily want to experience.

During times of stress, frustration, and chaos you are physiologically hard-wired to let your emotions drive the decision-making bus that rests just above your neck.

In fact, this bus-driver has a name, it’s called your Amygdala. Your amygdala is a funny little almond shaped portion of your brain nestled just at the bottom of your brain stem where your emotional center (your limbic system – right brain) and your center of reason (your prefrontal cortex- left brain) meet. Under every day, normal circumstances these two systems work together to help you be balanced in your decision-making.

When you are upset or anxious, however, it’s a whole new story. Your adrenal glands basically send your amygdala a big, red, flashing signal in the form of adrenaline which tells your brain you are in grave danger.

When man was first fighting off saber tooth tigers, and other prehistoric wild animals, this primitive brain function helped to save his life. Today however, your brain rarely knows whether something is actually life threatening or not.

When you are dealing with difficult people, getting upset about your finances, career, or what have you…your brain gives you all the energy and blood you need to fight the situation, or run away as fast as you can.

Basically, all of your body’s blood is being used in the most emotional area of your brain. The challenge is to perceive the signals, and retrain the neurons to fire in the left prefrontal area, rather than in the right as they are ignited by the amygdala.

During times of challenge, if you take a step-back, you might just find the very tools you need in order to bust through to the other side of that brick wall you are beating your head up against.

Like I said at the beginning, seeking to appreciate is about making relevant and useful connections with other people and their circumstances, to help you advance the goals you have for your life.

So, I’m not telling you to become best friends with your arch nemesis, nor am I saying that stepping back will give you a truckload of golden financial pills. Stepping back will provide you with perspective - just what you need. After all, its the "old way of thinking” that got you up against the brick wall to begin with.

Be Curious About the World Around You

Try these questions on for a minute:
How does so and so perceive me (think about that difficult person)?
What does so and so needs in order to be successful once they leave these meetings (again, think of a difficult person)?
What are my chances of meeting the type of people I need to know, to help me with my financial situation?
How will I ever get advice without having to pay for it?

Pay close attention to how you answer these questions right now. Let’s move on.

For fun I looked up a few synonyms for the word “curious”: inquisitive, interested, questioning, searching, inquiring, peering, puzzled, peeping, meddling, prying, nosy (yes, it was actually fun –sick I know).

There is a booming business rooted in curiosity. After all, enquiring minds want to know! To be clear, I am not saying be curious, like the camera-toting paparazzi.

I am saying that being curious about challenges you face begins by being interested in other points of view… as if you don’t already have the answers. You know someone who has actually been interested in you like this.

In fact, think about someone you highly respect. What characteristics does this person have? How does this person treat you? What value did or does this person offer you? Do they have little idiosyncrasies that are easy to overlook? How did this person show you they were interested in you? As you think about this character in your life, how do you feel?

Ok. You also know plenty of the other type of people. Its “them, those people” that don’t make sense. You know the ONES that get under your skin. Think of just one person like this. How does this person treat you? What value have they offered you lately? What little habits do they have that drive you crazy? Are you genuinely curious about why they do what they do, other than to add to your collection of stories that prove they are ridiculous and that you are right? Do you care much about what circumstances led-up to their reason’s for acting the way they do? If you better understood why, would you be better off? Now how do you feel, thinking about this person?

Most issues stem from not understanding enough about another person, a situation, or a topic. “If they only knew what it does to my work when they miss the deadline!” “If they just understood the process, they would complete it properly!” “We just need to get them to understand!”

In my work, we have department information sessions aimed at helping employees from outside areas better understand what the function does, why they do the things they do, and what happens to the work when challenges and obstacles creep into the process.

It’s kind of like watching HGTV, the Food Network, or the Discovery Channel when you have a slap on the side of the head, “ah-ha” moment.
Oooohhhhh! So THAT”s why you have to prep before you move forward”, or “Ohhhh! So THAT’s how they get the those little ships inside the glass bottle!” or “Oh, so when you mix these two things together, it’s the perfect storm. Got it.”

Most people simply want to be understood, without being made to look like the ‘Bad Guy’.

When you genuinely get curious about other people, finances, and anything you don’t quite get…you naturally become drawn to better understand until a time comes that you feel you’ve gained enough information to move on.

Again, your brain is hard-wired for it! For example: have you ever purchased a new car, or started collecting something rare? If you are the car buyer, do you all of a sudden start to see that car everywhere you go? If you are the collector, do you all of a sudden start meeting people who collect the same stuff?

Here’s another example. Whatever you do right now…don’t think about a red car. Do not picture a red car in your head. Do not imagine a red car you typically see in a parking lot.

Can you not notice the red car? NO! When you give your brain instructions to notice something (even when you say don’t notice)…the only thing it picks up is “notice”.

When you choose to start paying attention to the things that you need to better understand, your brain will get to work and search for ways to learn more about these. You are hard-wired to make sense of the world around you.

If however, you don’t care…and the answer you give your brain is, “I don’t care.”, or “I don’t know”, or “because he is X” or “because she is Y”, or “because, because, because…” you get the point. You have told your brain that you are done with the search, and you stop. There is no more reason to keep learning. You’ve satisfied the need to know.

Remember, the goal of seeking to appreciate is to help you achieve the goals you have set for your life. If your goal is to make more money, you’ve got to get curious about how to do that without the answer of, “I don’t’ know how” or “I’ll have to wait until…”. If your goal is to work better with difficult people, you’ve got to get curious about how to do this without the “but I’ve tried” response.

Getting curious is about asking your brain questions…so that the new answers, like the brand new red car, and the rare items you collect…all of a sudden, POP-OUT.

Try the questions below, without the same old answers:
How might so and so perceive me? What can I do to change this?
I wonder what so and so needs in order to be successful once they leave these meetings?
I wonder how or what type of people I would need to know, to better understand my personal financial situation? I wonder who I know already?
I wonder how I could get advice, without having to pay a large fee?

Seeking to appreciate begins with getting curious about the world around you. Seek to make connections. Once you connect, the pathway to reaching your goals will be waiting. Take the steps!

Choose to Play

Your character is defined with every challenge life hands you, big or small.

Let’s take big challenges first.

When was the last time you tackled a good sized challenge?

With layoffs being at an all-time high of 2.5 million since 2002, , an $825+ billion dollar bailout in our banking systems, and record lows in the stock market battering our 401k retirement savings… chances are you’re tackling one of the biggest challenges of your life.

No doubt, these are special circumstances, and risk is all around. If you are acting a little “out of character” and being cautious to make safe decisions, its understandable…makes good sense.

Being crystal clear what you value, and who you are in the face of circumstance is the key to great decision making now more than ever. Compounding the circumstance is stress.

Admittedly, being “out of character” is normal when extreme stress creeps into our life. Being confused, not having a clear head, acting out of emotion is completely expected. And typically, doesn't give you the highest chances to play your best game in life…when it counts most.

What about the mini-challenges facing you every day? Opportunities to be in character, standing for what you believe in, practicing your strengths and playing the best game of your life ? Are you waiting for 'the right moment' - or do you create the moments of your life as its happening, every day?

When was the last time you spoke your mind, respectfully disagreeing, asking the unpopular question, making the unpopular statement, volunteering to go first, offering to take on that errand no one wants, asking someone for money to support a cause you believe in? These mini-moments pass by, almost unnoticeable. They are the tiny voices in your head, seated on the sidelines wondering if you're gonna move the ball 2 yards down the field in the moment. They are the voices that quietly sigh, and moan, when you fumble the ball, choosing safety over progress for your team.

So what is your REAL character? Regardless of the circumstance, how do you choose to play the game of life?

Do you sit on the sidelines of life, jump to your feet, running into the game full throttle?

If you are like most people you’re answering my question in one of three ways:
1. Sigh…yeah. I’m a sitter. I’m not ready to stand up, much less “jump in”. I’m going to wait and see what happens. I might actually get up and squat once and awhile, but times seem to be tough for me. When I have enough, I’ll know how to play better. When I’m ready, I’ll go. Just don’t push me.
2. It depends Kathy. What do you mean by “game”? What’s the situation? Sidelines are not always bad, sitting back is good before going full throttle. Then again, diving in headfirst shows initiative and leadership. So what exactly are you talking about?
3. Jump baby! Woo! I’m a player! I see every passing moment as an advantage. I know I’ll figure it out. I may not have a clue what I’m doing, but I’m clueless with style! What’s the worst that could happen? Plus, somebody has to play, it might as well be me!

These are three attitudes that play at the center of who you decide to be every single day: passive, objective, and active.

Every single one of us come into this world mostly with the “Woo-Hoo!” attitude. But as we get older, we touch the hot stoves of life, and by the time we reach about 27 years of age, our attitude on life is pretty set.

If you are passive in life, you rarely imagine the best you could be and have. And you are safe. If you are objective all the time, you play half of the time a very knowledgeable devil’s advocate. And you are safe.

When you are active you are fully engaged, you sacrifice comfort for the possibility of living the full life. You learn from experience, and have a biography of stories about the lessons and gains you have earned by choosing to play. Only those who practice, and get in the game, make it to the top. Choose any sport, any field of entertainment, any industry or cause. Only those who get fully into the game, look back amazed at all life has brought their way. And what do they say? "I was just living my life, doing my thing."

One of my favorite books is written by a dear friend, Larry Wilson. His book, Play to Win lays out two types of games people play in life: the playing not to lose game, and the playing to win game. The first is all about ensuring your life a safe as it can be life. The second is all about living out your best potential.

During these worst of economic times, it is too easy to put living your life into the hands of another person. To put your happiness into the decision of business and government – creating as much safety to maintain security as you can. Don't live your life, giving others the power to define it for you. Don't read about your life in the newspapers of history - pick up the pen and create the headlines you want to see.

Despite the circumstances, choose to play an active role in your life. Take charge of your game. There will be many reasons to bench yourself, or to wait and see.

Choosing to play means creating a vigorous future for yourself, jumping into life full throttle.

Be dedicated to your character and recognize when you have fallen victim to being afraid, instead of taking the stance to be bold.

If you want to do this now, it will take some work. You will need to begin using a different type of thinking, and rationalizing than you typically do. Literally - you will be using different parts of your brain (check out Hermann Brain Dominance Theory). Going it alone will be tough. It will take a long time, and it will be exhausting. And... it will be the best decision you’ll ever make for your life.

As a coach, it has helped me out tremendously to be a coached. Just because I’m a thinking styles, personality, and leadership styles expert - I too have a forest that is difficult to manage through at times. I too am human, and find myself playing to be safe, especially with a 4 year old and a mortgage! Having a coach helps me stay honest with how I really want to spend my time on this earth. Having a coach helped to kick that bucket out from under the butt of my pity party - so that I could back up on my feet, grounded.

If you are ready to make the choice, and your choice is to start playing – congratulations to the rest of your life. If you're overwhelmed with the next steps, feel free to reach out. I’ll help you find the map and can serve as your guide while you climb to the top of your mountain!

“I know I’m not dead, but am I alive?” – Frank Conroy

Friday, February 6, 2009

Surviving the Ego - Importance vs. Service

This one's for Chris who suggested that I just get going.

There seem to be common lessons to life that are hidden secrets NO ONE tells you until AFTER you've experienced them. Only then do they talk about it AND treat you as if you've been on some alien planet for thinking anything different.

For instance...when I found out I was pregnant...I got my calendar and started counting 9 months into the future. Just like I'd been taught by my teachers, family, books, and society in general all my life.

It wasn't until my doctor had a little chat with me that I found out the TRUTH. Only then do your friends, mother, sister... and EVERY OTHER MOTHER on the planet reveal their knowledge of this secret little truth, "ohhhhh, yeah....that. Its really 10 months. Welcome to the club!" I am a member or the 42 week club. Lucky me.

So, do I warn the "up and comers" about this experience or chalk it up to "wisdom with age" and let them find out for themselves? I say its a test of character, a small, but good example of taking sides. Side A - I say nothing and take my turn in the line of ages where I too laugh at the Freshmen. Side B - I share this truth with non-prego women so that they get it waaaaaaay before they get the lovely truth.

Just like in the movie Pleasant ville when the human experience confronted a naive society with conflict, passion, and a different consciousness...the color of reality appears. The innocent are no longer able to look at life in the same way. Knowledge, and wisdom begin to set-in. With certain power comes responsibility. Choose how you want to that you know.

When the ignorant become aware they are presented with an alternate that society does not promote, chance, it be..."too much for others to bear". Ignorance is...bliss? What would Neo say when presented with the choice: take the blue pill and be blissful for the rest of your known existence. Take the red pill, and wake up to reality. One presents you with the truth.

There comes a day when each of us finally sees the game for what it is. And only then, do we start playing the REAL game. Do you strive to be important - better than...or do you strive to serve? And if you strive to serve...are you serving yourself, or do you serve a purpose bigger than yourself? Do you strive to be right, or do you strive to be just and fair? If you strive to be it for accuracy or to prove you are best (more important than, better than others)? And if you prove to be just and fair, is it to serve your best interests most of the time, or is it to serve a greater good?

I don't mean to be deep with you. I'm just telling you what's going on. You, me...and every other "aware" person is living the answers to these questions. Better you be driving your life with stick shift than on autopilot.

The glasses are off for me...and I'm finally playing the game. The instructions have been on the mirrors but till now, I have not been able to see them. You see, I've had to huff and puff - blow off a little steam to see that Alice in Wonderland has been in front of me the entire time. I've stepped through the Looking Glass.

Right now, I am going through what feels a little like National Treasure the movie, or Amazing Race the reality TV show. The more senior, tenured or titled people are accustomed and skilled at the hunt for the treasure. Within an organized group of people...this treasure is being the best among others, and "best" depends on what that person needs in order to get satisfaction. The clues come in many forms - title, access to the Board, the one with the "big idea", the one with the last word, the one "bossman" goes to for advice, the one with the least number of laid off people, the one with the most projects (regardless of if they matter), the one with the least number of crap work, the one that got the ridiculous deal with the vendor, the one that "stuck it to those bastards", the one with the most space/real estate, I could go on, and on, and on, and on, and...

In what right now, is the worst economic depression since 1945, it would appear that the tombs of treasure are running low on goods. Traditional methods of excavation are being exposed, and people are getting a little sloppy at maneuvering. In business - existence is like Maslow's air, water, food and shelter. It's what matters. So let what could very well be the worst of the games, begin.

With very little to scrap over, the name of this secret game is about ensuring that you survive. Thriving maneuvers are VERY different than surviving maneuvers. People will tell you, "Of course...everyone knows this". What they won't hand over to you is the playbook. Don't take the bait that you're the alien here. These plays are key to survival, and no, not everyone knows them. Otherwise, they wouldn't be important, and they wouldn't be worth protecting.

The quarterback of this game is EGO, and what ego wants is to score a gain on every drive.

I'm a behavioral styles expert. This means that I study personality styles, thinking styles, values...and ultimately - what "drives" people to do the things they do.

Want to know a secret?

Of the hundreds of Sr. Level Executives I've coached - most are surprisingly insecure about their character in life. What? They are insecure about being too this, not enough that. A boss, a parent, friend, business person, name it. The game is better than, less than. RARELY do people accept their importance in their own mind. They typically look to the outside for confirmation. The center of their life has become about proving their importance - enter the need to feed the EGO and the hunt for artifacts in the tomb.

Together we crack the code of what their basic driving needs are: appreciation, accomplishment, accuracy, and relationship.

No matter who you are, one of these four, is THE need you strive to fulfill, the others act as tools for getting the one. For instance - I may ultimately need appreciation. Life has taught me however that in order to be appreciated by my boss, I have to accomplish my work in a way that ensures he looks good. So, I learn to execute, relate, and check for accuracy so that in the end, I am applauded. That's just me.

Another example - my colleague may ultimately need accuracy. Life has taught her that the best way to ensure accuracy is to hold a position of leadership (accomplishment) for better control over her environment. Life has also taught her that information supports accuracy and that sometimes the best route to information is relationship with others.

So what.

Our instincts kick-in when we believe we need to secure survival. If you need appreciation - you will actually seek attention. And like a child, it doesn't have to be positive attention - it is ANY attention. If you need accomplishment, you will spend your time "one-upping" your neighbor even if it means spouting out useless trivia to prove you're "in-tune" more than the next person. If you need relationship - you will stop listening to your own needs and carry the weight of the world on your shoulders running around trying to fix things out of your control. And if you need accuracy - you will nit-pick every little thing for some sense of control.

The point to all of are already important. The more you seek this out, trying to prove it, the more your EGO is tying a tight string around your throat. Survive your EGO - and don't get snared in the trap.

Put a bigger purpose than yourself, at the center of your focus.
Take a position of service.
Notice the games before you.
Master this matrix.
Invent a worthy way out.

For those of you who put everyone else first, I'm not telling you to do MORE, what I'm saying is choose a cause that will bring out your best and which encourages you to bring out the best in others.

Choose to play - seek to appreciate - stop to think - and learn to execute a life that matters.