Author Archive

How do you break the glass ceiling?

Early in my career, as women’s wear manager for a fashion importing company, the owner of the company told me he was sure I’d make a great mother and not want to return to work when my baby arrived. I was stunned and speechless. In that moment I felt the power to make my own decision taken from me. I didn’t realize  I’d touched the glass ceiling. 

I tell this story because it’s one of many I hear from women highlighting how the glass ceiling stays so tightly in place.

The recent spate in the media of women revealing their mistreatment by men in power is another example (#timesup). Yes we’re seeing this primarily in Hollywood and the arts, but make no mistake; it exists in corporate boardrooms across multiple industries.

The glass ceiling, a term coined by Marilyn Loden (author and feminine leadership expert) in 1978, is situated within the historical domain of male-designed and built structures. It’s as abstract as the idea that women have traditionally subscribed: to think and behave as men in order to reach upper corporate echelons.

So how does one shatter the glass ceiling?

It’s a great question with no easy, straightforward answer.

I’ll start by suggesting you think of the glass ceiling as mirrored. Of course, when you look up you see your own reflection. And that’s the point. Before you can shatter that ceiling you have to understand yourself and how you may be contributing to your own hold-back.

By no means am I suggesting we’re responsible for this type of career limitation. Rather, I believe we have influence over both how we respond to systemic traditional practices and how we actively shift those outdated rules.

Start by asking yourself these important questions:

  • Are you aware of how you show up to others?
  • What meaning do others see in your actions?
  • Does your behavior represent your values and ethical stance?
  • Are you deeply aware that you always have a choice?
  • Are you decisive or do you seek to please?
  • Do you go it alone or do you actively collaborate and develop support networks?
  • Do you continuously work on your leadership practice? Or do you find yourself most often in a reactive state?

Now let’s go deeper by testing how we may be contributing or not contributing to the glass ceiling phenomenon:

  • Are you supporting other women – peers and subordinates? Or are you competing with them?
  • Are you accepting the status quo? Or are you curious to develop or promote women-centric approaches within your current professional culture?
  • If you’re accepting the status quo, what’s holding you back from drawing on your courage?
  • Are you clear on how you use your power professionally? Is it attached to your ego?
  • Do you ask the right questions? The kind of questions that create open dialogue without being offensive or defensive?
  • Do you respectfully challenge the unwritten rules?

And, most important…

  • Do you ask for what you need?

Answering these questions can reveal how you may be holding yourself back. Knowing this can give you a clear view of cracks in the ceiling.

It’s the cracks you’ll be looking for – the opportunities to slip through. The ones that welcome you as the strong authentic feminine leader you are. It takes courage. And it means taking responsibility to be that woman who doesn’t compromise to fit in. It means taking responsibility to define and embody new cultural rules that in turn create more cracks in the glass.

As women, we’ve come to know that change does not happen quickly. It happens because we make a conscious effort to change the course. I first heard the term “glass ceiling” almost 40 years ago. While it still exists, I believe the tiny shards of glass can be heard falling on the ground.

 

How to Change Careers Gracefully

You’ve finally decided to change your career. It takes all your energy to stay focused until you leave your current position.

While you’re excited with the prospect of moving forward, there’s a good chance you’re also feeling anxious, and a little bad to be leaving (think loyalty) – unless the decision to move on wasn’t yours.

Either way, taking your leave gracefully is paramount. Why? – For many reasons.

Making a clean break with as little emotional baggage as possible is top of the list.

Leaving with the lingering feeling you’ve angered or frustrated a co-worker or employer never feels good. You’re going to need as much positive and focused energy to be successful in your new career.

Whether you’re leaving of your own volition or not, your self-respect deserves to stay intact. Either way, reflecting on what you gave to the position and company will shed light on the value you’ve brought to the company. It’ll also give you the chance to understand what’s best left behind and what’s most important to take with you (hint: a negative outlook should be left and confidence should go with you).

Trust is the second (and as important) reason to be graceful. Your current employer relied on you to bring your professional skills and effort to the company. A graceful exit is your final commitment.

How exactly do you change careers gracefully? The following do’s and don’ts list seems so obvious! Unfortunately, too few career changers get this right:

  • Prepare a story to explain your career change. Making your leave about you and your future prevents others from creating assumptions.
  • Give the company your all – no “checking out” in the months preceding your departure. Your current employer is paying you to give 100% so keep your end of the bargain.
  • Ask for a reference letter from your supervisor at least a week before you leave the company.
  • Don’t commit to staying in touch if you have no plans to follow through. While it’s true that once we leave a company we may be quickly forgotten, it’s still a commitment you’ll be expected to live up to.
  • Be thoughtful in your exit interview with your supervisor or HR representative. Giving constructive feedback on the work and company culture is far more productive and gracious than giving negative comments on individuals.
  • Leave with your work handed off to your successor or team and your desk/office tidy.
  • Don’t take any documents or company owned materials.
  • No badmouthing your employer or other staff during and after your exit. Period.
  • Thank those who’ve most supported you in your current career – managers, colleagues or direct reports.
  • Wait until you’ve left your job to update your LinkedIn and other social media profiles.

A graceful leave shows others you live by your values. You’ll be able to close this chapter feeling confident, inspired and ready to start anew.

Next stop. Check out Charlotte Seager’s great post, 6 Tips on How to Make a Successful Career Change.

In the meantime, gracefully exiting from where you are now will likely pay off in spades as you embark on your new career.

 

Exactly Why Self-Awareness is Leadership’s Cornerstone

The Internet is rife with advice on how to be self-aware. I’m not here to give you the top 10 ways of how to be self-aware. What I will do is help you understand why it’s the foundation of successful leadership.

Think of this blog as a “back to basics”. If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ll know how often I refer to developing your self-awareness as the most important thing you can ever do for yourself.

Self-awareness means understanding yourself, as objectively as possible, and leveraging it to create a life that aligns with your natural inclinations – not challenge them.

Back in 1972, Shelley Duval and Robert Wicklund published their landmark theory of self-awareness. They determined a person can focus both on themselves and their surroundings at any given time; they can think about what they’re thinking, doing, and experiencing.

Recent self-awareness research reveals that people use their external surroundings as a comparison of self to external standards.

Recent studies take this a step further in suggesting self-concept isn’t static knowledge garnered once, but rather it’s fluid, complex, and contextual.

In doing research for a training program I’m developing for new and mid -level managers, I combed my shelf of leadership books. While they’re written by the top leadership gurus, it’s Steven Covey who talks about the importance of cultivating self-awareness. He refers to it as the space between stimulus and response – the space where you can pause and make a choice. Covey believes cultivating self-awareness is one of the highest leverage activities we can engage in.

So what does all this mean for leadership? Likely more than you think.

Quite simply, the greater our quest for self-understanding the more we can predict, choose and be flexible in our behaviors and responses.

Let’s say you’re finding yourself overwhelmed and, as a result, short on patience. You know this is a pattern of response when your stress meter rises. Because you know this, you can make choices to manage your behavior. You may decide to take several deep breaths when you feel yourself tensing up. You may choose to take a short walk, or close your office door with a DO NOT DISTURB. This is where your positive self-talk can be critical in pulling you off the ledge of impatience.

Your own self-awareness is also a way of understanding how you show up to others. A client of mine was feeling distressed with her new directive-style boss. This style was in conflict with my client’s collaborative and affiliative approach. I suggested that both my client and her boss have blind spots on how others see them. This lack of self-awareness was contributing to the tension between them.

This knowledge produced an “aha” moment for my client. She admitted greater compassion for her boss and humility for herself. The way was paved for a productive dialogue between them.

As leaders in large organizations, my client’s example is common. In the quest to drive results, make a difference and meet incredible demands on time, leaders tend not to spend enough effort on self-reflection.

The more we reflect, the greater our awareness and the greater our ability to show up authentically and respectfully. It opens the space for us to pause and make positive choices on how we’ll show up. This, in turn, engenders trust with those around us.

By now you likely realize how impassioned I am about self-awareness. It truly is the cornerstone of authentic and effective leadership.

I said I wouldn’t give you advice on how to develop your own awareness. I will offer this. There are simple ways to set you on your journey including daily meditation, mindfulness, doing a psychometric assessment or coaching sessions that are scientifically proven to facilitate increases in self-awareness.

Are you taking the time to invest in yourself?

Executive Coach? But I’m not an executive

Executive Coach“Who do you work with?” is the question I get when people find out I’m an Executive Coach. This makes me laugh because I wonder if they think I’m the executive. Or, to be a client they have to be an executive!

The answer is muddy. Yes I do coach executives in C-Suites. But I also work with business owners, new leaders, senior leaders, professionals such as doctors and high-performers heading upward in their careers and business. And lets put an emphasis on high-performers.

As a coach, I’m not in it to performance manage anyone. That responsibility lies with the employee’s direct manager. From time to time I do however, coach those same managers on their people-managing and communication skills.

I digress. The name Executive Coach has become part of the industry nomenclature distinguishing it from other forms of coaching (life, performance, career, sales, retirement and the list goes on).

Lewis R. Stern, in his article Executive Coaching: A Working Definition, explains the difference between Executive Coaching and other forms of coaching; there’s a dual focus on working one-on-one to develop the executive as a leader while helping that them to achieve business results.

You may be wondering why does an executive even need a coach?

For the seasoned leader, Executive Coaching provides a methodology to slow down, gain awareness and notice the effects of their words and actions. The objective is to make explicit to the coachee that they have choices in their approach rather than simply reacting to events.

And let’s face it, executives and business owners are people like everyone else. They have their doubts, their egos, and their own beliefs or habits that trip them up. I become their thinking and strategy partner because believe it or not, it can be lonely at the top.

With the newer leader heading toward the C-Suite floor, we most commonly work toward letting go of the “expertise” that got them to their new position. The objective is to help them realize they’re now required to lift their head toward a bigger vista. What they view and how they approach their work means shifting to a broader orientation to understand how to influence, who to influence and why this matters.

For successful coaching it’s critical to understand it takes commitment, regular sessions and work in-between. While I’ve got my clients’ backs, executive or not, I’ll challenge the thinking, beliefs or habits that may not be serving them anymore.

How, may you ask am I qualified to work with this clientele? Was I an executive myself? Did I train for this or take an introductory weekend course?

These are exactly the kinds of questions you and any leader must ask when hiring a potential executive coach.

I recently re-read an article in Harvard Bazaar from thirteen years ago, The Wild West of Executive Coaching. The authors described executive coaching as a chaotic frontier largely unexplored, fraught with risk, yet immensely promising. They were drawing attention to the many self-proclaimed coaches with wildly diverse qualifications.

The profession has come a long way since 2004. The International Coaching Federation has become the profession’s governing body. It assesses not only potential coaches, but the executive coach training institutions as well. Since 2007 it has invested in over 8 international coaching studies to demonstrate the highly effective nature of coaching.

Are all executive coaches now certified? Not yet, which is why it’s so important to check credentials.

In my case I was a senior leader in public service, back-filling for my executive boss in her absence. So yes, I’ve sat at the executive table. But more important, I completed a university masters level executive coaching program. I’ve combined experience with the skills and methodology of coaching to provide an optimum experience for my clients.

Whether or not you’re at the top or halfway up the ladder, executive coaching promotes reflection, produces learning, behavioral change and growth. Executive or not, that produces a solid financial return on investment for both the coachee and the business.

Can there be Trust In Virtual Teams?

Who doesn’t know the importance of trust is in the workplace? Okay, so maybe we don’t all get the significance of it, but that’s a topic for another article. Let’s assume trust is the most critical element of the workplace and, in particular, teams.

With huge demands, competition and the pace of technology, the need to collaborate has never been more urgent. Collaboration means coming together formally on a team, structurally defined for the purposes of the organization or, informally (ad hoc) to respond quickly and efficiently to time-sensitive goals.

In both cases, the ability for teams to work effectively hinges on the level of trust the members develop. We know from the work of Patrick Lencioni in his The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, without trust and commitment, results are hard to achieve.

It starts with all team members agreeing and knowing the critical elements of trust. Each must practice fairness, honesty, openness, exceptional listening skills, respect toward others’ expertise, and candor without being competitive or passive. This creates the space for members to be vulnerable, test out ideas, be creative and influence each other toward optimum results.

But what if your team is virtual? You’ve never, if ever, met your teammates in person and you all live in different locations and time zones. How easy would it be to build trust? Is it even possible?

The short answer is: it can be.

Recently working with leaders in a global communications company, I was struck by how highly they spoke of their teams and company culture. They were fully engaged in their work and committed to high quality results. This really surprised me as the majority of them worked virtually with team members thousands of miles away.

However, in another fast-paced global company the employee experience is far from being engaged and connected within the company let alone their teams.

I became curious. Why is it virtual employees in one company thrive while in another they’re stressed, disengaged and looking for the door?

A leader at a global IT firm knows all about success for virtual teams. When asking her if trust is possible for virtual teams, she emphatically answered, “ABSOLUTELY! !”

She cautioned, however, that for companies (large or small) wanting to move from ‘traditional face-to-face’ to a ‘virtual’ work environment, it’s a cultural shift that doesn’t happen overnight. Like any successful change, leadership needs to lead it and provide communication tools necessary to make virtual meetings and collaboration easy and effective.

But it doesn’t end there. The shift actually ignites when the culture of trust transfers from members of small teams to large teams and cross-functional teams they participate within.

These are key leadership behaviors that contribute to building trust in teams:

Essentials for Leaders of Small Teams:

  1. Establish Rapport by scheduling regular (weekly) 1:1’s, assigning work that capitalizes on members’ strengths and providing regular feedback.
  2. Focus intently by listening and actively engaging with your members. Never multi task during 1:1’s or team meetings as it demonstrates you don’t care and that erodes trust.
  3. Set Expectations that your team members show up to meetings prepared, on time, and ready to deliver quality work. Expect participants to activate their computer camera so you can see each other. Making personal connections often is key.
  4. Meet in Person by getting together twice or quarterly a year. It’s the casual as well as formal gatherings that solidify strong relationships.

Essentials for Large Teams:

  1. Build Rapport as above, with the added benefit of the smaller team’s culture and expectations cascading upward as reinforcement.
  2. Span of control for the leader of a large team allows for regular 1:1’s with the next level of leadership to set tone, culture and expectations.
  3. Skip Level 1:1’s several levels below your Direct Reports, scheduled quarterly, establishes relationships at multiple levels. Make sure all team members and employees feel a connection with you and that you care about their success.
  4. Be fully present to focus, actively listen and look to the camera; your team members know when you aren’t and that kills trust.

This is consistent with the findings of Niki Panteli, leader in Information Systems and researcher in trust: it’s the quality and consistency of content and frequency that’s necessary to foster trust in the virtual workplace.

Mutually negotiated and jointly constructed trust relationships are “situated”. As a member of a team, small or large, you too have a responsibility to be part of building the trust:

  1. Collaboratively create team rules – figure out together what’s most important to this team (hint: these may look different from team to team).
  2. Stick to team rules as it aligns with or, despite the culture of the company or leadership behavior.
  3. Hold each other accountable and call out the team when it gets off track.
  4. Embrace each member’s high value and expertise.
  5. Have fun! Work is work, but infusing  time together with a lighthearted personal approach can go a long way to reinforcing trust.

Working from home, I’m keenly aware I’m not my own island. As the future of work continues to be more diffused, so does the need for virtual workers like me, and teams and companies that build foundations of trust. Without it, results can never be guaranteed.

I’d love to hear from you. Tell us about your experience working virtually with a team.

Why Personal Branding isn’t a Soup Can

Chances are you work for an organization that spends a lot of effort coalescing employees around their brand. After all, employees are perfectly positioned to be great brand ambassadors for a company.

Company brands are big business – the clearer and more memorable the brand the better the revenue. Even public serving organizations have jumped on the bandwagon. Just think of the Big Apple and you immediately think of New York.

If branding is so successful for companies, it makes sense it could do the same for people. Just google “personal branding” and you’ll find a plethora of articles and guides to turn you into Andy Warhol’s next soup can!

While recently working with new leaders in a global IT firm, I was taken aback the first time I heard one of them describe their personal brand. I was told the company encourages employees to develop their own brand.

This got me really curious to think about what would go into an employee’s brand and how they could use it to further their career.

Basically, your personal brand is how you tell people what you do and what you stand for; personal branding’s your reputation, expertise and values rolled into one professional identity or descriptor.

In his recent INC. article, Jayson Demers of AudienceBloom says personal branding requires you to find a signature image, a unique voice, and a recognizable standard that your readers, fans, and customers can grow to recognize. This includes your stakeholders, managers, and prospective employers – anyone who’s interested in working with you.

Before you jump to the notion we all have to have personal avatars, I want to make clear that isn’t the case. Sure, if you’re in an industry where your audience and stakeholders work in visuals, then you may want to use colours, images and cool fonts or even a website to represent you.

What personal branding really boils down to is a crystal clear synthesis of your own self-awareness, how others see you and what you bring to the table.

If you’ve read this far, you may be asking yourself why you would even have a personal brand for your professional life. Great question. Your brand is:

  • Your elevator pitch – the consistent story of who exactly you are
  • Ground zero when you need a little confidence (a reminder of how great you are)
  • A check in valve as to how others are experiencing you
  • A way to convey your beliefs and values – what you stand for
  • A differentiator of your unique talents – what sets you apart
  • A way to position your unique offering to potential employers
  • The way you stand out within your current job
  • A way to compare yourself to the brand of a potential hiring company or position to assess the “right fit”
  • The statement and/or physical representation you can insert at the top of your resume or LinkedIn page

There are lots of articles to help you figure out what your brand is. You’re the best ambassador for you, so why not write your story? I’ve put together are a few key steps to get you on your way:

  1. What do you stand for? Write an honest list of the most important things you value and believe.
  2. What are the key skills you want others to know you have? Add those to the list.
  3. Ask 20 people you know for 3 words that describe you. Add their responses to your growing list.
  4. Distill the list into 4 themes that accurately describe you (if you find this hard, ask a trusted friend to help).
  5. Turn the 4 words/themes into your brand statement and write an elevator pitch to use at your next networking event.
  6. Be creative – design an avatar, have a one-page website full of carefully chosen visuals or whatever makes sense to convey you (while not necessary, it can set you apart to have visual representations).
  7. Choose one or two social media sites that best suit you and put your brand front and centre. This is your chance to be memorable. (I use LinkedIn and Twitter because it’s where my clients are. Check out Xing if you’re looking for new opportunities)
  8. Align all future tweets and content with your brand.
  9. Practice conveying your brand at networking events and opportunities. (Don’t dilute yourself – focus on who you meet with without spending precious energy on gatherings that aren’t in alignment with your brand and where you’re headed).
  10. Be who you say you are. (Because this is always the most important part of your brand and career).

Finally, the biggest benefit to going through the process of brand creation (if you haven’t figured it out already) is this: greater self-awareness, which is a combination of what you know of yourself and of how others see you. The truth is, people want to hire people who have the right talent and are authentic.

Like what you read? Check out more at eveofchange executive coaching inc.

What marketing, managers and mentors have in common

It’s that time of year again. The pressure’s on to buy buy and buy more. On the heels of Black Friday (whoever came up with that name was cheekily brilliant), we now have Cyber Week! Everywhere we look there’s some corporate giant waiting to pounce on our wallets.

This mass media marketing is, of course, designed to make us think we must have that new electronic, or fancy pair of shoes. But do we really need it?

The same thing happens in our careers. We’re told we must develop our leadership competencies so we can climb that ladder that beckons us to the top. Managers tell us we must directly supervise employees to become a Director. And the message is, everyone must aim to be a leader. 

If you’re an entrepreneur you’re hearing so many “must” do’s to earn multiple figures or market to our target niche. Business mentors are ripe with recipes for that one path to success.

Like the pre-Christmas mass marketing that dupes us into thinking we must have the toys, gadgets and latest of the latest, so do the manager, mentors, leadership books and business publications demand we need to be and act a certain way.

But are they right? Or are they really telling us how to reach their goals and their vision of success?

I’ve recently had the privilege of coaching a large number of rising stars in a sizeable organization. Their managers tapped them on the shoulder to attend an intensive leadership program. While some of them truly do have the goal of making it up the ladder, others are confused and feeling pressured.

What I find most interesting is when we peel the layers off their onion we find that their own career goals are in contrast to what they believe they’re “supposed” to do as defined by their manager, organization or business mentor.

This is when the confusion sets in. Questions invariably come up:

  • Will the company still value me if I don’t want to move up?
  • Will I be passed over for interesting projects?
  • How will my colleagues view me?
  • What value do I bring to the company?

If you own your business, your questions are likely:

  • Why do I have to follow what everyone else is doing?
  • Will I be a failure if I don’t make 6+ figures?
  • Why does my sales funnel have to look like B-School’s?

These are natural responses and reactions. But what if I asked you, “What’s your definition of your purpose and the legacy you want to share with your organization or business?”

That changes everything!

I know this may seem obvious, but it bares saying: it’s unlikely you’ll ever be happy following what others do or what they expect you to do.

So now what?

While having a coach guide you forward is an asset in gaining clarity and perspective, you can start by tossing aside the previous questions and focus on uncovering your true goals and a path to achieving them. Start by asking yourself:

  • Who is responsible for my career?
  • How important is my work/life balance?
  • Am I passionate about the work I do?
  • Do I like being an expert in my field?
  • Do I crave greater responsibility for and interest in leading others or the bigger picture?
  • Is financial achievement my primary motivation?
  • Am I open to moving laterally versus up, in the organization?
  • Do I actually care what others think of my career direction and me?

The next step is getting clear on your beliefs. Try writing down 5 beliefs you hold regarding work and career. Compare these with your answers to the questions above. Do they align or are there disconnects? These disconnects are critical holes that need your attention; this is the vacancy between what you believe and what you desire. The idea here is to go into this space and honestly ask yourself which is your truth – your so-called belief or your so-called answers to the questions.

Please know there is no right or wrong answer. You’re entitled to your own career goals and a path to reach them. You’re also entitled to question your beliefs.

There are no musts or rigid rules in your career – only your ability to discover what is right for you. Like the catalogue full of enticing trinkets guaranteed to bring you joy and happiness, so too are your managers’ or mentors’ expectations for you – illusions painted by someone else.

The bottom line is – you get to decide. You actually need to decide. Getting clear and forging your true path is no doubt the most important career development step you can take.

Need a Break? Take It!

DISCLAIMER – THIS IS ADVICE ON SOMETHING REALLY SIMPLE

This spring and summer was incredibly busy for me – knee surgery, daughter’s wedding, elderly parents’ health issues… You get the picture. By August I couldn’t move! I had nothing left in my gas tank to give.

This wasn’t the same experience I’ve had of being overworked and completely burnt out. This was different. There were no specific issues bringing me down other than an accumulation of life events and other people’s needs of me.

The obvious thing for me to do was take a break. And I did. I re-calibrated by enjoying walking, spending lazy evenings with my husband and basking in the warm sun. Of course I didn’t disengage completely. I still worked with my clients and did the household chores. But I gave myself permission to slow right down and put myself first – no guilt, no shame.

It’s autumn now and I’m back in the saddle full speed ahead with my business, social life and energy to burn.

So why is it we have such a hard time giving ourselves a break?

I know, you’ve heard it before – especially if you have family obligations. How you have to take two hours to pamper yourself or meditate just so you can be alone. Great ideas, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m curious about why, when we’re in the middle of “our time”, does guilt rear its ugly head? That little voice in our head asks, “who am I to sit here lounging when there’s so much to do?”

If who’ve read or listened to Brene Brown you know what I’m talking about! And if you haven’t, I highly recommend it. She has the research to back up this intersection of guilt, shame and putting yourself first.

And here’s a reminder to you: you’re living your life for the long game – the marathon. You need down time to refuel your physical, spiritual, intellectual and emotional selves.

Trust me when I say it’ll be worth it. A little magic happens when we remove ourselves from the daily grind, noise, or whatever else you call it. It forces us to slow the pace and look inward, which in turn enables us to become open. Openness is the key to aligning to your authentic self and seeing opportunities, possibilities, hearing what others are really saying and experiencing the beauty of the everyday.

Sound a little flaky? It’s not! Sure there’re times when the speed and intensity of your life increases. But living with constant haste should not be your normal. Giving yourself a break more than occasionally is actually how you’re meant to live. I’m not talking about mental health days. This is about building “you time” into your daily, weekly, monthly and even yearly schedules. Your life and those closest to you depend on it.

I went looking for an inspirational quote about guilt to end this blog. I couldn’t find one because guilt is really only useful when you’ve done something detrimental to yourself or others. It isn’t related to doing something right or good for you like taking a much-needed break.

So go ahead and give yourself permission to put yourself first and take a break. It’s that simple. Chances are, others will thank you for it!

 

 

Want Career Success? Toss out Old Stories

A career success consultant whose blogs I follow, Kathy Caprino, wrote “How Authenticity Can Prevent Professionals From Growing Into Leaders”. I hit upon a paragraph quoted by Herminia Ibarra, author of Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader that knocked me over:

Don’t stick to your story. Most of us have stories about critical events in our lives that shaped who we are today and taught us important lessons. Consciously or not, we allow our stories… to guide us in new situations. But our stories can become outdated as we grow our skills and styles, so occasionally it’s necessary to alter them dramatically or even throw them out and start from scratch.

Ripped Photo

Not only was I surprised to read something original and fresh, I could feel the light bulb switch on above my head.

We not only allow old stories to guide us in the present, we run the risk of letting those stories define who we will be in the future.

And that my friends, can have a huge impact on your career success!

There’s two reasons I’m excited about this idea. First, I went through a tough period and after two years, a coach colleague of mine asked why I was letting my story define me? Why indeed! It was time to shed the crazy narrative I was clinging to. And quite frankly, it wasn’t doing anything except hold me back. At that moment I realized I’m the one that gets to create my own narrative.

I also learned the stories that got us here will not, I repeat, not get us to where we want to go. Think of the snake that sheds its skin in order to live and thrive. So too must we let go of the stories we tell ourselves, the beliefs that no longer serve us and the tried and not always true behaviours and approaches we’ve clung to.

There’s no place more important to adopt this perspective than in our careers. I work with many new senior leaders. The absolute one thing they share is the idea that what got them to where they are right now will definitely not get them to where they want to go. In fact, it’s unlikely they’ll be successful in their leadership if they don’t shed their skin. More often than not, this is what brings them to seek a coach.

Even the most accomplished leaders get caught up with their old stories and history, allowing these to blind them to what’s really going on in the present moment.

I worked with a client who’d lost her job months earlier. The story she told herself was about being victimized by her Board of Director’s mismanagement. She  saw no other options than to be an Executive Director. She so identified with her story, she believed her only way forward was to vindicate and prove herself worthy of leading a similar organization.

We deconstructed her story and separated her emotions from the events. Through lots of work, she eventually realized her version of the story was holding her back from being open to a world of new opportunities. So powerful was this awareness that she ceremoniously let go of the old narrative. She’s since moved on to a whole new career based.

We all have the tendency toward a one-dimensional view, especially with events that have strong emotions attached. Holding our view long after the story is over can be a way of justifying our actions, soothing our fraught emotions or simply a way of making sense of a confusing or difficult situation.

Here’s the difference between a perspective based on what’s current and one that’s manufactured through the past, our emotions and imagination. A healthy perspective has us open to possibilities and unlimited ways of seeing things. It  offers a respectful way of engaging with other colleagues and making good decisions. Ultimately, with old stories left in the past, our burdens can be lifted and we can be present and wholehearted.

How can you leave behind your old stories? I suggest these four practices:

  1. Begin by realizing you may be showing up with tainted lenses from your past – good or bad. Is there one particular story that’s emotionally charged when you think about it? One that still doesn’t make sense or one that you still talk about all these years later?
  2. Revisit each story one last time. Hold it up like a globe and look at it from different vantage points. See it through the lens of others and you’ll likely discover aspects of your story that weren’t quite as you’d imagined or believed them to be.
  3. Notice how the story may be getting in your way. It happened, it’s over. Be compassionate with yourself. Take one key learning from the story and let the rest fall away. You may even find it useful to symbolically let the story go by setting free a balloon or throwing a stone in the ocean.
  4. Hold the value of the learning close, tapping into it when you find yourself slipping into the past. The learning is all that matters and all that should influence your present and future.

As for me, I’m learning to not give someone trust without it being earned. I rarely think about the old story. It’s been shed. Since then, it’s not that my world has opened up, rather it’s that I’ve opened up to my world!

What stories are holding you back from career success?

Change Ahead? What You can Learn From OD Experts

The biggest reactions I see in clients facing change are fear and eroded confidence. We could debate that the notion that lack of confidence fuels the fear, but really, what does it matter? The fact is that change brings out two emotions we’d all rather keep under wraps.

When a major shift is staring you in the face, you can either run for the hills, face it head on or take a step back and assess what it’ll take for you to understand it, know it, accept it and embrace it?

Tons has been written, researched and TedTalk’ed about change. So, bear with me as I give you a slightly different way to approach it.

We can learn a lot from corporate change management practices. These are designed to mitigate the discomfort and maximize success of large transformation initiatives. There are variations in change management models, but what they share is a structured and intentional approach. It starts with knowing the “why” of the change and turning that into a compelling story. It ends with measuring the success of and sustaining the new reality.

  1. Make the case for change
  2. Identify resources
  3. Build champion coalitions
  4. Scope the change
  5. Communicate the message
  6. Assess the cultural landscape
  7. Listen
  8. Prepare for the unexpected
  9. Face resistance
  10. Sustain the change

Knowing this planned approach is used for wholesale corporate shifts, what if I say, “In order to manage what’s coming ahead, what if you take this structured and intentional approach to your impending change?” It’s likely you’d say “huh?”

And you’d be right to be quizzical. After all, we so often wait until things happen and then react. Think about the last time major change happened to you and the amount of energy you gave away by facing it without a game plan? And let me guess – the resulting experience brought up fear and a strip off your confidence?

So let’s tackle this by applying what the OD (Organizational Development) experts do for wholesale change in companies. Let’s say you switch positions within the same company. You know it’s coming. Your not convinced it’ll be successful even though senior management is behind your transfer.

Let’s follow the change management best practices above to set you up for change success:

  • Making the case for change – get clear on why you’ve been chosen for a new position. What expertise or attitude makes you the choice? Does it make sense? Do you even want the position? If not, ask senior management for more information. At the end of the day, you have to own the why.
  • Identifying resources – what do you need to make the shift and be a success? This can be anything from bringing your administrative support along with you, to a closer parking spot (no harm in asking)
  • Building champion coalitions – Figure out who in senior management is gunning for this change. Think of them as your new mentor(s) and keep them close for support down the line.
  • Scoping the change – Is this a long-term assignment? Does it come with specific deliverables etc.?
  • Communicating the message – What is your self-talk telling you? Is it giving you red flags? Do you need to ask for more information? Pay attention and keep asking questions to get to the bottom of any hesitation.
  • Assessing the cultural landscape – Does this opportunity align with your vision, values, ethics and beliefs? Will the position be a “good fit”?
  • Listening – Avoid making assumptions by paying attention to how this change will play out for others (family, co-workers, executive etc.).
  • Preparing for the unexpected – How will you protect yourself against what you don’t know yet?
  • Facing resistance – Listen to your own intuition and let it guide you safely forward – even if it means turning the position down.
  • Sustaining the change – How will you know when this has been a successful transition? What will that look like?

You’re on the path toward change. You’ve prepared, anticipated and asked the right questions. You’ve turned the unknowns into concrete information. Little is being left to chance. So how is your fear level now? Do you feel ready to step up? If not, go back to the best practices list and look for gaps or niggly bits that still don’t make sense.

For most of us, change isn’t a picnic. But it is part of life and sometimes we don’t have a lot of choice but to move with it. The point here is not to reach 100% buy-in; it’s to do the best preparation possible to set yourself up for success.

And if you need help, reach out to me at eveofchange.