Do You “Run Toward the Roar”?

roar, face fearsWhen was the last time you got out of your “comfort zone”? Here’s a story, from storyteller Michael Meade, about the fact that seeking safety might be costing you something:

On the ancient savannas life pours forth in the form of teeming, feeding herds. Nearby, lions wait in anticipation of the hunt. They send the oldest and weakest member of the pride away from the hunting pack.

Having lost most of its teeth, ITS ROAR IS FAR GREATER THAN ITS ABILITY TO BITE.
The old one goes off and settles in the grass across from where the hungry lions wait.

As the herds enter the area between the hunting pack and the old lion, the old lion begins to roar mightily. Upon hearing the fearful roar most of the herd turn and flee from the source of the fear.

They run wildly in the opposite direction. Of course, they run right to where the strongest lions of the group wait in the tall grass for dinner to arrive.

“RUN TOWARDS THE ROAR,” the old people used to tell the young ones.

When faced with great danger run towards the roaring, for there you will find some safety and a way through.

Sometimes the greatest safety comes from going to where the fear seems to originate. Amidst the roaring of the threatened and troubled world, surprising ways to begin it all again may wait to be found.

Michael Meade, Excerpted from his book, The World Behind the World

What you can take away from this story:

1. Running towards what appears “safe” can be deceiving and lead to its own kind of trouble.
2. Run towards what scares you.

Look for those situations and circumstances that scare the crap out of you. You will never know your true talents and gifts if you don’t face what you fear to test yourself.

3. Things almost always seem worse in your head than they turn out to be.

Once you identify those fears, move beyond your comfort zone to face them. What you originally feared could end up being an elderly, toothless lion that can’t hurt you and is only a distraction.

4. By facing your fears, you find out what you can truly do and what’s possible.

And with each successive time you venture out toward a “scary” adventure, you’ll find that you are safe and capable. At the worst, you might fail but you’ll find out where you stand and what you have to learn. Then, at least you can figure out a way through to what you want.

And in all likelihood, you’ll live to venture out another day.

Which current “roar” are you avoiding? How might you test it to see if it really has teeth?

 

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 leaders they are meant to be while maximizing the “people side” of business. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Learning from Challenges: Harvesting Lessons from the Underworld

underworld, initiation, self-awarenessInitiations are cycles of physical or psychological separation, ordeal, and return that we encounter throughout our lives. When we fully integrate the lessons from these experiences, we develop as people and leaders. (See a previous article on initiations) However, if during or upon returning from an initiation cycle, you fail to reflect on the ordeal, you are likely to repeat similar fact patterns with similar people. As a leader, it’s imperative that you learn from these initiatory cycles to become the best person/ leader you can be.

In the story of Persephone’s abduction into the Underworld, she starts the story as a young maiden, known as Kore/Persephone (Kore meaning “young girl”). During her time in the Underworld while separated from her mother Demeter, she knows that if she eats anything there, she will be stuck in the Underworld for eternity. She refused to eat anything while she’s there until Hermes brokers her release. It’s not until she knows she’s going back to her mother that she eats a few pomegranate seeds.

When she sets foot back on earth, the world bursts into bloom, and from there on, Persephone is known as the Queen of the Underworld (no longer Kore). Additionally, Homer wrote that Hecate, known for her wisdom, walked before and after her. This can be interpreted to mean that Persephone had wisdom upon her return that she hadn’t had before her abduction/descent.

Upon her return, Persephone admits to Demeter that she did indeed eat a few pomegranate seeds. This ties her to the Underworld for eternity. Thereafter, she must return for a few months each year.

Self-Awareness from Initiations

Like Persephone, when you return from an underworld initiation, you will have ingested and digested “seeds” of new learning and realization that tie you to the experience. With new insights and wisdom from the experience, you can incorporate that wisdom to become a renewed and better leader.

For each initiatory experience, you can choose to accept, ingest, and digest these “seeds” of insight and wisdom to further your return/reintegration from the circumstance by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What role did I play in that situation?
  • How did I contribute to the difficulty?
  • What could I have done differently?
  • What was that situation trying to tell me about myself?
  • What is the opportunity for me now?
  • What can I practice or do differently when similar situations happen?

There will be more challenges ahead, more initiations, as if each were designed to help you grow as a leader. But if you don’t take time to reflect on the “seeds” you can take away from each initiatory experience, you may stay stuck in the underworld, repeating the same unpleasant pattern.

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 at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Learning from Challenges: Initiation as a Leadership Tool

self-awareness, intitiationHave you worked for companies with similar undesirable corporate cultures? Have you tended to work with the same type of people who have characteristics that drive you crazy? It might be time to look at these patterns more closely to learn more about yourself. Timeless principles as highlighted in ancient mythologies can help put your experiences into a larger psychological and cosmological context. Doing so, allows you to make sense of your personal experiences and patterns and further your development as a leader.

The Abduction of Persephone

One timeless principle or idea is Underworld initiation. For the ancient Greeks, the Underworld was the domain of the god Hades, who ruled over the souls of the dead. In 6th grade, you probably heard the story of Hades abducting the youthful maiden, Persephone, causing her mother goddess Demeter to stop the plants from growing. Persephone remained with Hades in the Underworld until the god Hermes brokered a deal for her return. But before she left to go back to her mother, Persephone ate a few pomegranate seeds. This meant she had to return to the Underworld from then on for a few months of each year. This accounted for the reason for the seasons.

The psychological interpretation of Persephone’s experience in the Underworld by Carl Jung and others gives a broad framework to use as a leadership self-reflection tool: initiation.

You might think of initiation as a ceremony that marks entrance into a life stage or a group, like baptism or joining a sorority. However, you go through many initiations throughout your life, large and small, whether or not you celebrate them. In fact, you undergo psychological initiations throughout your life during challenging or difficult incidents and new life phases that test or stretch your limits.

Phases of Initiation

As with the ceremonial initiations you celebrate, these psychological “underworld” initiations have 3 main phases: departure, ordeal, and return/reintegration. During departure, you either willingly or unwillingly find yourself in a situation where you experience a change in yourself or your circumstances. Next, you go through an “ordeal” within this new situation that differs from what has been “normal” for you thus far. The ordeal can be anywhere from mildly irritating to downright awful. Eventually, things return to normal or get “better”, giving you the opportunity to reflect on where you’ve been, reintegrate yourself using lessons from the “ordeal”.

As an example, you may have worked with someone who was challenging. Your interactions with this challenging person represent a separation from what you usually experience (getting along with most people) and an entrance into a different “world” (of bad relationship). Next, with this challenging person, there is probably at least one aspect that makes the relationship hard, or an ordeal, so your usual ways of relating don’t work. You might feel frustrated or irritated or some other negative emotion while in the ordeal. At some point, the ordeal of this relationship ends, and you return to a more “normal” circumstance, whether or not that person remains part of your experience.

The beauty of these “underworld” initiations is that they offer you an opportunity for self-reflection. Through this opportunity, you can examine and learn more about yourself, and use that to decide who you really want to be as a leader.

What recent or notable “initiations” have you experienced? Read a related article for ways to gain insights from such experiences.

 

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 at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Set Your Ego Aside to Admit a Bad Hire

Have you ever hired an employee who behaves badly soon after starting work and found yourself flummoxed with disappointment, disbelief, and maybe even shame? When one of your recent hires displays inappropriate conduct, creates dissension, or proves to be a poor performer, don’t wait for things to get better or try to “save face”.

Here are 3 tips for getting over it and admitting the mistake:

1. Don’t ignore the problem.

You teach people how to treat you. So, if you ignore the poor conduct or performance, you’ll send the message that you’re OK with it even if you’re not. It will not stop on its own. Additionally, you run the risk of losing the respect of the rest of your team. The problem will not correct itself. Bring the problem to the employee’s attention.

2. Take Responsibility.

If after talking to the employee about the issue(s), things don’t improve satisfactorily, chalk it up to the imprecision of your selection process then cut bait if warranted. Most hiring processes are no better than the flip of coin, and even applying all the best hiring practices, it’s still not a perfect science. There is no nobility in trying to shove a square peg into a round hole. Take responsibility for hiring someone who wasn’t a fit.

3. Get Advice and Assistance.

When it’s evident that the new hire isn’t going to work out, don’t think you have to go it alone. Work with HR or your company attorney to ensure you’ve been fair and followed your company’s policies and applicable law.

The reality is that most people at least attempt to put their best feet forward in the first months on the job. If someone is a jerk or a poor performer within the first 6 months, that is a red flag. Things are not likely to improve. Hiring people is time-consuming, and it’s frustrating when your selection doesn’t work out. Admit the mistake and take appropriate action, so you can find a better fit sooner rather than later.

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.

5 Timeless Leadership Principles from the Ancient World

“Veni. Vidi. Vinci.”
Julius Caesar

While most examples of leadership throughout history reflect the military prowess of masculine-dominant, patriarchal cultures, here are a few timeless principles of leadership from the Ancient World that are still valued in business in the 21st century.

Alexander the Great
After leading the Macedonians to a long-fought victory over Darius III and his Persians, Alexander drove his army to exhaustion. Contrary to wiser counsel, Alexander continued his ambitious attempt to expand his conquests to the east and died attempting to enter the city of Babylon. (It’s theorized that he died of malaria, which he may have contracted trying to enter Babylon via swamp land on the west side of the city.)

Alexander teaches us that great leaders inspire others with vision and strategic execution of that vision without making about themselves (ego).

Augustus Caesar (Octavian)
Especially in the early days of his reign, Augustus was not one to allow his enemies to get the better of him. He was ruthless in getting rid of those who didn’t fully support him after his uncle Julius Caesar’s demise, including Marc Antony. But as things settled in, Augustus understood the importance of keeping Rome running efficiently and effectively without the need for the drama of constant conquest. Thus began the Pax Romana.

Augustus teaches us that responsible administration is as important as flashy achievements.

Cleopatra leadershipCleopatra
Strategic, intelligent and worldly, Cleopatra kept her focus on Egypt and what would be best for the Egyptian people, even if that meant creating an alliance with Rome, Egypt’s nemesis and the superpower of its day. In fact, Cleopatra was the first Ptolemy to learn the Egyptian language, which shows the importance of identifying with her people. She worked hard to maintain Egypt’s independence from Rome by creating strategic relationships with Eastern countries from Arabia to India.

Cleopatra teaches us to focus on what’s best strategically and out of responsibility for the entity or people you lead.

Leonidas
Leonidas led a force of about 1500 Greeks (300 of whom were Leonidas’ own Spartans) who stayed behind to guard the rest of the retreating Greek army from the Persian advance at Thermopylae. Most of this remaining Greek force was killed, including Leonidas and his 300 Spartans.

Leonidas teaches us that a leader must be willing to sacrifice short-term gain to achieve the long-term objective.

Hannibal
Hannibal ate, slept, and fought with his men and embodied the strength and stamina he expected his troops to maintain even while they were camped in the Alps during the harsh winter without adequate shelter and provisions.

Hannibal teaches us that leaders “go first”. Whatever you expect of your employees and company as a whole, you must be the leading example and role model for it.

Boudicca
Boudicca sought revenge against the Romans after they disregarded her deceased husband’s will and usurped his kingdom, disinheriting his wife and daughters. After 3 decisive victories against the Romans with her Celtic rebel forces, she pressed on, despite the fact her army was worn out and hungry. Although she had superior numbers, the Romans strategically chose a battleground that worked to their advantage. Driven by revenge, Boudicca attacked anyway and lost.

Boudicca teaches us to temper single-minded passion or heightened emotion with a measured, rational assessment of a situation.

While the context of life thousands of years ago was vastly different from that of the 21st century, ancient leaders exhibited timeless principles that still serve leaders today:
1. Have a compelling vision and execute it effectively without a focus on your own ego.
2. Build trust with employees and customers through consistent day-to-day administration.
3. Serve the greater good and know that strategically you may need to sacrifice in the short-term for long-term gain.
4. Leaders go first.
5. Balance heightened emotion like revenge or unbridled passion with reasoned judgment to avoid unnecessary risks.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman challenges leaders to lead change in their companies and to inspire everyone around them to be as invested as they are. Learn more about her company Firebrand Consulting LLC at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

Unwrap the Gifts of Leadership

giftThe workplace is like a playground where we get to play with ideas and try out new roles and identities every day. If you approach work with an attitude of having fun and are open to learning new things about yourself and others, you will receive many valuable gifts of leadership. Each leadership gift presents a conundrum, which only you can “unwrap” for yourself. To do so, consider your unique values, strengths, tolerances, and circumstances.

Below are a few leadership gifts that are waiting to be unwrapped by you. Use the questions provided to tear away the gift wrap, revealing a gift that is chosen uniquely for you:

Ego Equilibrium
Definition: The ability to balance service to others and the group while honoring your own vision and values.

Reflection:
• How do you lead without being the focus of attention?
• How do you move an agenda forward without thinking you must do the work yourself or your way?
• How can you be authentic while playing the multiple roles required of a leader?
• How do you commit to your organization without compromising core personal beliefs?
• How can you maintain leader status without losing accessibility?

Flexibility
Definition: The ability to modify, yield, or adapt plans to relevant changes in circumstances.

Reflection:
• How do you position your employees and your company to pivot when circumstances change?
• How do you regularly challenge your own assumptions about what is true?
• When is it more important to forego adapting in favor or stability?
• When is it more important to forego stability in favor or adaptation or change?
• What are your non-negotiables in any given situation?

Humility
Definition: The ability to maintain a modest perception of one’s own importance

Reflection:
• How can you remain confident in your decisions and abilities and legitimately seek feedback from others?
• How do you accept and incorporate personal feedback and remain confident?
• How do you seek input from others and remain decisive?
• Admit mistakes and misjudgments while inspiring confidence?
• How do you ensure others understand your vision without dictating the details for how it should be carried out?

Resilience
Definition: The ability to recover or bounce back from adverse circumstances

Reflection:
• How do you remain optimistic and realistic at the same time?
• How do you reframe specific setbacks as opportunities?

Innovation
Definition: Seeking or introducing new or different ideas and methodologies

Reflection:
• How do you maintain solid operational processes or corporate identity while encouraging “no limits” creativity and innovation?
• How do you accept both success and failure?
• How do you avoid “throwing the baby out with the bath water”?
• How do you avoid compromising for mediocrity?

Throughout this winter season, unwrap at least one leadership gift for yourself and enjoy.

The Bumpy Road of Managing People

So. You went for that management job or started your own business, eh? Guess what? You are no longer the focus of your work life — other people are. Are you sure you wanna do this?

You probably didn’t plan your career this way – at least not consciously so. After all, if you had wanted to “work with people” and make THEM the focus of your career, you would have chosen a “helping” profession like social worker, teacher, or nurse or doctor.

But you weren’t necessarily people-focused to begin with.

Instead, you started out in engineering, business operations, marketing, carpentry, accounting, forestry, horticulture, engine repair, the culinary arts . . . . something focused on an interest, talent, or skill that was easy for or of interest to you. While it’s true that people use the products and services provided by these occupations, these jobs aren’t really known as “people-oriented”, are they?

Now, you find yourself in a position to manage people, not because you necessarily enjoy dealing with the challenge of getting the best out of those you now supervise, but because of various other reasons, like greater status, money, prestige, recognition, or because there isn’t any other way for your career to progress as it is “supposed” to.

So, take a deep breath and read on for navigation tips:

First, learn to check your ego at the door. When supervising others, you must consciously shift your focus from yourself to those you supervise. Up to this point, your career has been focused on you – what YOU think, what YOU can do, who YOU know. That ends right now. Your thoughts, your needs, your concerns, your technical ability . . . they are no longer your number one concerns anymore. Instead, your world now centers on the thoughts, needs, concerns and technical ability of your employees. Your management brilliance will be measured by how well you elicit the best work from these people, who may be nothing like you, and to do that you have to focus on what makes THEM tick.

Second, learn to listen . . . a lot. Before your ascendance into management, you simply had to understand the task, and then carry it out to the best of your ability. Now, you must engage your employees in what needs to be done to improve in the department or the company. They will have much to say whether they tell you out right or not. When in doubt, close your mouth and listen. Your employees may come to you with complaints about the company, about you, and each other . . . and with excuses for why the work is not done or not done well, and your initial reaction will most likely be defensive — to shield yourself from blame and to justify your competencee.

Instead, listen for the emotion behind their words, and validate what they are experiencing. Then, redirect them by asking questions about what they have experienced. Eventually, you’ll get to the real reason they came to talk to you, and through that conversation you will prove to be someone whom they can trust because you kept the focus on them and listened.

And third, learn to manage your negative emotions. You’re human, so there will be times where you lose your cool. But as much as possible, stay as cool, calm and collected as you can.

The biological reason for doing so is that when your emotions kick in, you don’t think as clearly as you normally would because the body is taking energy from the logical prefrontal cortex and sending it to the emotional limbic system. The professional reason for staying collected is that blowing up in anger or being overly excitable signals your employees that you are not the steady leader they are looking to for guidance. Your employees need you to be a stabilizing presence, which in turn, increases your trustworthiness.

When you’re angered or irritated, take a deep breath while counting to 10 before responding to give your emotions time to pass, so your logical brain can have time to kick in again. Then realize, whatever happened is not the end of the world. Your response can then be focused on how to move forward to get things back on track.

Supervising a group of people who produce fantastic results is truly a rewarding experience. And the bumpy road to getting there will teach you more about yourself than almost any other life experience. Enjoy the trip.