5 Powerful Pivots to Go From the Rank and File to Leader

How do you react when you think your direct reports are making you look bad? Do you focus on yourself and scurry to salvage your reputation? Or do you focus on your team and take the opportunity to improve your team’s skills and processes?

You’ve spent the better part of your career making sure you were performing, achieving, and getting noticed for what you could produce. Now as a leader, things shift. Instead of you being in the spotlight, the focus is better placed on your direct reports and what their capabilities are. In a weird way, you are in the background, shining the spotlight on your team.

It’s time to rethink what it takes to become an effective and admired leader. To make the shift, here are five powerful pivots you must make to move from being one of the rank and file to standing out as an effective leader.

1. Decrease Focus on Task Work.

Have you ever received a request for something that someone on your team should really do? Did you take it upon yourself to do it “because it was easier” for you to do it rather than delegate it? Wrong. Chances are those types of things are not the best use of your time. Sure. You have task work associated with your position, like drafting various documents, for example. But avoid doing the task work that is meant for your direct reports. (See more about Building Capacity below.)

2. Increase Focus on Fostering Relationships.

You’ve heard the phrase, “It’s not WHAT you know, but WHO you know.” To a large extent, that’s true for any leader. Now that you’re in a leadership position, your power comes from harnessing the efforts of other people, which requires persuading, influencing, and collaborating with people who are inside and outside your company. And even though you have authority over your direct reports, you will be more effective if you foster better relationships with them. Pivot away from simply barking marching orders and, instead, seek to coach and influence them.

3. Give Credit; Take Blame.

When you were an individual contributor, you learned to call attention to your capabilities to prove you were a good employee. However, to be seen as an effective leader, eyes are on how well your team does. Pivot away from focusing on yourself and instead highlight the standout contributions of people on your team. Also, pivot away from blaming others for any gaffs and accept responsibility for things that go wrong instead.

4. Listen More.

Along with the idea of focusing on maximizing and highlighting your team, pivot away from freely asserting your opinion first and often. Instead, hang back and listen more to others’ perspectives. Listening more gives you deeper insight into what is going other with other people.

5. Ask More Questions.

When you listen more, you have the opportunity to ask more questions. Asking questions enables you to help your direct reports articulate their thoughts (without you telling them what to think), which will give them confidence and teach them how to think through issues.

When you make these powerful leadership pivots, you will demonstrate the hallmark of solid leadership: building the capacity of those around you.

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with corporate leaders who want to enhance their leadership abilities to drive bottom-line results. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com

Leadership Development: Using Your Fate as a Clue to Your Destiny

impactYou encounter leadership problems or challenges all the time. Did you ever notice that they end up being the exact circumstances you need in order to evolve as a person and a leader? You may have issues with people who don’t respond to you as you’d like. You might experience frustrations with initiatives that don’t go as planned. Whenever there is a “rub” that bothers you, it often shows you something about yourself now and who you can become. It is as though these leadership challenges are put in your path as part of your fate.

Fate: Past and Present

In Ancient Greece, the well-known mythology of the Three Fates explained why life unfolded as it did. Lachesis was the Fate who drew the lots, giving each person certain characteristics and conditions along with a plot line for their life. Clotho spun the thread of each person’s life into the larger tapestry of time, giving each human a “twist of fate”. And Atropos decided how each human life would end and presided at the finish to cut the thread of life.

Today, we often use the terms “fate” and “destiny” interchangeably, but these terms can be thought of as two different things. According to mythologist and storyteller, Michael Meade, “fate” is all of the limitations and challenges we encounter throughout our lives (conditions along the path); while “destiny” is our purpose or the ultimate contribution we make to the world (the destination).

Using Your Fate to Achieve Your Destiny

This distinction is key. Reflecting on your fate allows you to examine your past experience (your fate thus far) to maximize the impact you can have now while increasing your potential for achieving your destiny or potential.

So, if you find yourself repeatedly encountering the same frustrating situations, you could think of the irritation as your “fate” poking you to take a look at things more closely. Maybe there are characteristics you could change or evolve further. Maybe there are new ways of thinking that could emerge from those particular circumstances. Often in leadership, we are asked to reflect by looking inward to question our approach, to throw off old patterns, and to step into new learning that will better serve us and those around us.

When reflecting on your “fate” to date, look back on your experiences thus far and take notice of the following:

  • People who were hugely influential to you;
  • People who showed up randomly or “out of the blue” to provide guidance or assistance;
  • Odd or surprising twists that put you in certain places or positions;
  • Odd events that might not even make sense yet;
  • Themes that keep coming up (whether or not you’ve figured out what to do with them yet); and
  • Situations that, at the time, seemed negative, but that turned out best in the long run.

As you look backward, what sense can you make of any of it? What clues does this emerging story provide for where you might go next? What kind of support or new learning would benefit you as you forge ahead?

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with corporate leaders who want to enhance their leadership abilities to drive bottom-line results. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Leadership Development: What’s Your Destiny?

confidence, destinyAs you look at your own leadership development, have you ever had an inkling of where your life might take you? If so, you could say you had an insight to your destiny. It might sound far-fetched to some, but to others, there is an unexplainable “knowing” that helps us make sense of the world and to see where we might be heading in it.

Destiny in Mythology

In the Jewish mythological tradition, the Angel of Conception, Lailah, implanted each tiny soul in its mother’s womb. By the light of a candle, Lailah showed the incubating soul a preview of its unique role in life and what adventures awaited it in the world. Just before birth, Lailah blew out the candle. And as the newborn emerged from the womb, Lailah placed her finger on the baby’s lips. This caused the child to forget everything it learned of its life in the candle-lit womb, sealing the child’s lips shut. Thus, the story goes, your philtrum (the indentation running from the bottom of the nose to the middle of the upper lip) signifies the place where Lailah “shushed” you with her finger, causing you to forget the everything you had seen in utero as you came into the world.

Similarly in modern times, Carl Jung espoused the idea of the “collective unconscious”. This is a universal “soul” that includes inherited, pre-existing, unconscious instincts and archetypes that are shared by all humans. As with the myth about Lailah, Jung taught that we are all born with a forgotten knowing about our lives and the world at large.

The “fun” of all of this is to discover what we will become. After all, achieving your destiny wouldn’t be challenging if you knew exactly what it was. This is true of who you are becoming as a leader, too.

Fate Versus Destiny

Often the terms “fate” and “destiny” are used interchangeably, but you can think of them as two different aspects of your unfolding life. “Fate” defines the context and all of the constraints you operate under during your life. This include your family, your physical appearance and capabilities, the time period in which you live, where you live, the beliefs you acquire, your personality traits, etc. In contrast, “destiny” is the destination of your life. Think of it as your purpose or the ultimate contribution you are capable of making to the world. You have and will continue to experience the twists and turns of your fate along the way. But it remains to be seen whether you will achieve your ultimate destiny.

No matter where your destiny lies, the fateful experiences you have as a leader provide a fertile ground for learning what you need to know to achieve your destiny. The problem is, you must feel your way along, never really certain where everything will end up. As Michael Meade writes in his book, The Genius Myth, “Life must be lived forward but can only be understood by looking backward.” That is, every person, every encounter, every setback, and every success is part of your “becoming”. They point toward your destiny.

This is important because viewing your leadership trajectory in light of your history, helps make sense of who you are becoming as a leader. And knowing this, you can step more fully into the leader you’re meant to become.
Where does your destiny lie? Is your destiny directly related to your career? Or does it lie in another aspect of your life? Is your leadership role simply a twist of fate on the way to something else? Or is it your destiny?

 

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with corporate leaders who want to enhance their leadership abilities to drive bottom-line results. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

How to Shift From Emotionally Reactive To Calmly Responsive

calm responseEmotional reactivity indicates a lack of self-control. When you are an emotionally reactive leader, people will follow you – but out of fear rather than out of respect. And they certainly will think twice about showing initiative because they can’t predict if and how you’ll react. Alternatively, if you respond without outburts and negativity, not only will people follow you, they will respect and admire you.

Calm responsiveness shows an ability of your neocortex’s rational executive function to quell the illogical emotionality of the limbic brain. A calm response is less likely to send others into a fearful survival mode. The discipline to calmly choose your response in challenging situations gives you a better chance of displaying emotionally competent leadership as compared to “losing it”.

Taking the time to think through options and to respond consciously is a hallmark of a strong leader and can payoff big. To wean yourself of the habit of reactivity, practice 3 things:

1. Notice and acknowledge when something has triggered a reaction.

You can’t do anything about your reactivity if you don’t know when it’s happening. Often, the best sign that you are being reactive is that you experience a negative emotion – anywhere between mild irritation to an outright meltdown. That unpleasant emotion often expresses itself physically in your body. This can include a contraction in the stomach, a palpitation in the heart, or a flush in the face. When you notice these sensations, take note and acknowledge to yourself that you’re in reactive mode.

2.  Do something different than your usual reaction.

When you notice your reactivity, you can break your usual cycle and choose to do something different. You won’t break your reactive tendencies if you keep allowing yourself to automatically act on the negative emotion by raising your voice, using choice words, or physically acting out. Instead you can choose to rewire your brain to create a more appropriate response.

To do this, slow down. Observe yourself from an outside perspective, like floating above yourself. Then you can try reframing the situation in the best possible light or affirming the good intentions of the other person. You could even interrupt the automatic reaction by excusing yourself and taking a short walk (like to the restroom) to remove yourself from the situation.

The goal is to interrupt your automatic negative reaction. For example, once you notice irritation or anger when stuck in traffic or cut off by another driver, reframe the traffic situation as a lucky thing because it is positioning you precisely where you need to be to avoid a problem. Or you can make up a story about the other driver’s good intentions even though an accident resulted. This way, you’ll be less likely to feed your frustration or pound on the steering wheel.

3. Practice.

Rinse and repeat. Every time you feel the negative emotions coming on, practice catching yourself and choosing a different thought or behavior. The more you practice interrupting your cycle of reactivity, the more likely you are to build new neural networks. When you do that, you will build different capabilities that are more calm and responsive to these triggering situations.

Think about the last time, you reacted negatively in a noticeable way. What did you do or say? If someone behaved that way in front of you, what would you think of that person? Is that the leader you want to be?

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with senior leaders I work with corporate leaders to increase employee engagement and retention by aligning strategy and tactics in times of rapid growth and change. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

How You Might Be Undermining Your Team’s Drive for Results

business team

I was recently asked, “How do I get my senior team to run with the ball instead of relying on me so much to tell them what to do? They should know how to and when to move things forward!”

Every CEO wants a highly competent and motivated senior team who, with some planning and reflection, can move their areas of responsibility in the right direction, based on company vision, values, and goals.

When this doesn’t happen, the CEO must look at him-or herself first. After all, as CEO you control the conditions employees work within, including your senior team. So it’s a safe bet that you might be encouraging or discouraging certain behaviors – in this case, an over-reliance on you and your opinion.

In general, I assume you have the right people in the right roles, but that is something to take a look at. Maybe a senior team member isn’t competent or in the wrong role. Well, that at least tells you something about your hiring process and criteria. Maybe you need to look at that. But assuming you have capable individuals in place here are some things to consider:

1. You could be sending mixed messages. That is, your actions say one thing and your words say another. For example, you might tell a direct report to “run with” an idea, but if you believe that you are the smartest person in the company or that no one does as good a job as you do, you might criticize decisions your direct report makes or grill him on how things are being done, even when his judgment calls are perfectly acceptable. You might say you trust him to move forward, but you end up breathing over his shoulder for every move or even wrest back control by inserting yourself into decisions or conversations with others. In effect, your actions end up cancelling out your words.

2. You may not have set a clear path with an aligned vision, goals and priorities for your executive team, so they know what to do, when and how to work together. That means that they need to check with you frequently about what to do next.

3. You may not have put in place work structures to support the interdependent cooperation and accountability you want. These structures include fair compensation that is internally equitable and externally competitive, bonuses that don’t get in the way of taking appropriate risks, and recognition for things like creativity, innovation, surpassing customer expectations, etc.

4. Maybe you haven’t intentionally created a culture of responsibility and accountability, meaning behavioral expectations are lacking for handling conflict, working across “silos”, taking risks, etc.).

Assuming you have the right people on your senior team, you are probably doing something or have failed to do something to be clear about the fact that you expect them to take responsibility in their areas to meet company goals. It all starts with you.
WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives to become positive agents of change in their companies, so employees are as invested in the company’s success as they are. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

What Top Leaders Know about Eliminating Frustration at Work

“People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.” 

–Men in Black


Did you know that most of the drama going on in your workplace started with a thought that probably isn’t even true? 

When you accept your thoughts as true, they become beliefs, even if they are untested, inaccurate, and flat-out false.  You make up a lot of stuff about what’s going on in the world based on your beliefs.

When beliefs are connected to an emotion, you act on them whether they are objectively true or false.  An employee who believes her manager is out to get her might feel fear and behave disrespectfully toward her supervisor or refuse to meet with her.  A manager who believes she is not knowledgeable or is unprepared may feel threatened and behave in a manner that is overly aggressive or perhaps dismissive of others.  If employees believe senior management is clueless, they might feel insecure and find other jobs, resulting in higher than average turnover for a company or contributing to a culture of passive aggressiveness where employees pretend to go along but actually subvert company goals.

Thus, although you like to think of yourself as a rational, logical being, you are closer to the “dumb, panicky dangerous animal” described by the character Kay in the 1997 film Men in Black.  You allow your emotions (based on your beliefs) to dictate your behavior without investigating the degree to which your beliefs are supported by factual data.

In the end, you may end up manipulated by your beliefs and act like someone you don’t necessarily want to be.

To test your beliefs, a process like that pioneered by Byron Katie is a good place to start when examining issues or people that really frustrate you.  Use these steps to start unpacking and eliminating these frustrations:

  1. Describe the Frustration as Judgmentally as Possible.  For example, “I’m frustrated with my team because they are so incompetent that I need to babysit them all the time or else nothing will get done.”
  2. Take Stock of Your Behavior. What do you do or say when you believe this thought? Maybe you micromanage your team. Maybe you talk down to them or berate them.
  3. What’s the Payoff? How is this thought serving you, your team, or your company? What are the positives that come from having this thought?
  4. What are the Facts? What data supports the truth of your thought? Is there any data to suggest your belief is false regarding this frustration?  
  5. Other Possibilities. How would you act if you believed the opposite of your current frustrating thought?
  6. Alternate Feeling or Emotion: Instead of frustration, what feeling would you rather have regarding this situation?
  7. It’s Your Choice: Who do you want to be in this situation – the person who believes the thought or the person who doesn’t believe this thought?  Is there a productive reason to keep believing this thought?


Regardless of the frustration, examining your underlying beliefs will help you become aware of the limitations that keep you stuck in your reactions. You may come to see that the frustration comes from your interpretation of the situation, not the situation itself. When you become aware of your beliefs, you take a giant step toward becoming a more centered and clear-headed leader.

3 Tips for Taking Control of Your Attention

attention, listeningBemoaning the maddening busy-ness of your workweek? Why do you feel you have to be constantly connected to incoming input?

You’ve done it or seen others do it: constantly texting (probably multiple conversations at once), emailing, browsing, gaming, or talking on the phone.  To what end?  There is no way that ANYONE has that much they NEED to engage with throughout their waking hours. Maybe it has to do anxiety that constantly taps your shoulder, making you believe you must be on the lookout for real time problems or new opportunities or risk missing out on something important.

I call it “rocking chair” behavior: you’re moving, but you’re not going anywhere.

Just because you have the technology that provides a constant stream of information doesn’t mean you should or must stay at the end of its tether.  You are deluding yourself into believing that everything that is reported in a 24/7 culture is relevant or important for your survival and success.

It’s not.  Most of it is simply noise.
“Life . . . is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”
— William Shakespeare, Macbeth

You are hard-wired to perk up at anything perceived as “negative” in the environment for your own self-preservation.  However, in today’s world, this caveman threat response is working overtime. Your residual reptilian brain equates almost everything you encounter in the modern world with a wild animal attack. Consequently, the constant assault of 21st century information translates into a stream of perceived survival threats, creating feelings of overwhelm and locking you in a constant threat response.  Contrary to the benefit you thought you were getting by drinking in all this data, the resulting chronic threat response actually decreases your thinking capacity and narrows your focus instead of expanding it.

Just stop it.

I’m not advocating burying your head in the sand to avoid what requires your attention.  Simply, become smarter about where you put your attention.  Have the courage to pull yourself loose from the constant stream of input focus on what is really important.  Become intentional about what information you allow into your awareness, then consciously and deliberately determine what to do with it.

 “Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing.”  — Lao Tzu

Here are 3 suggestions for uncoupling yourself from the barrage of input and deliberately attending to what matters:

1. Set an intention

. . . an intention to stop getting sucked in by each piece of information coming your way and the temptation to respond immediately to it.  The earth won’t stop spinning if you don’t immediately text someone back or allow a phone call to go to voicemail.  And no one will hate you.  Others are probably surprised that you are so available most of the time anyway.  (Try not watching TV or streaming news for a week.  You’ll be surprised on how much you DIDN’T miss out on.)

2. Set boundaries with yourself and others

. . . about what you respond to and when.  When do you choose to be most available to respond immediately to texts and phone calls?  What times throughout the day do you choose to return emails? What times of day do you choose not to respond immediately to phone calls, email, or texts?  What is the definition of an “emergency” that will justify an interruption and trigger an immediate response from you?  To whom do you choose to always respond immediately — Boss? Parent? Child? Spouse? Bookie?

3. Clarify the purpose and current vision of success

. . . for yourself and your organization.  Knowing this, you’ll know what information is relevant to attend to.

At bottom, you must have the courage to choose.  Choose what you allow into your world.  The rest can remain noise.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with leaders who want to confidently become the leader they are meant to be as they maximize the “people side” of business. Learn more about her at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.