management, role

What Story Do Others Tell About You?

Exerting more positive influence with others can take a lot of listening, especially with individuals and groups who appear to be at odds with you. You know your good intentions and probably see yourself in the best possible light. However, the story you tell yourself about yourself is not always the same narrative others tell about you.

When I started a job as HR Director in a unionized workplace, I had no idea the amount of existing baggage that would be heaped on me by others who had been around awhile. Bad blood had existed between previous HR Directors and some employee groups. Simply by stepping into the role, some factions automatically assumed the worst from me. It seemed no matter what I did or didn’t do, my actions and words were interpreted in the most negative light possible.

Even though I didn’t see myself at odds with these groups and even though we shared a common purpose, it took years before the defensiveness decreased enough to have productive interactions. Some groups had crafted a story about me that served their purposes, and I often unintentionally stepped right into their negative narrative because I wasn’t fully aware that my behavior was so easily misinterpreted.

What’s Their Story?

Maximizing your influence starts with identifying the various factions that have an interest in an issue or initiative. These are groups of stakeholders who band together based on common values, interests, and motivations around the issue.

Next, imagine the story they tell about themselves and about you. How do they see themselves? Why do they care? What do they stand to lose in the situation if things don’t go their way? How would they describe YOUR values, interests, and motivations in the particular situation? When you layout each faction’s values, interests, and motivations, along with your own, you can start to see where you can create common ground and where you might need to bridge a divide with the right appeal.

How Does Your View of Yourself Play Into It?

For clarity with each faction, take a good look at yourself. Decide how you want to be seen with each faction. This can help you stay focused on the broader relationship you want to create as you work through a particular challenge. Next, identify your strengths. This helps you know what you can leverage to bring to discussions and the work. Also, be aware of how this group and its interests might trigger you into an emotionally reactive state. What insecurities or vulnerabilities might they hit on that will “tweak” you? When you prepare for what can set you off, you’ll be better able to recognize it when it happens and prepare your reactions accordingly.

With this information, the story other individuals or factions are telling about you emerges. If it’s not the story you want them to tell, start working to change the script. Use this information to exert the most positive influence possible by gaining credibility along the way and seeking a win-win result.

 

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

How to Know If You Are a Micromanager

micromanaging, adult assignmentWhen you lead other people, there is no shortage of learning opportunities. After all, humans are varied and complicated, and circumstances change constantly. Factor in into the mix your own strengths, vulnerabilities, and triggers, and things get really interesting. This is the reason many of my clients aren’t clear about how to follow up and follow through with direct reports without overstepping.

It’s true that a few employees will accuse even the best leaders of micromanaging, often as a way to avoid accountability for their lack of capability or ownership of the work. Sometimes, the leader’s gender influences how much or how little direction the employee is willing to accept. Additionally, the company culture influences the extent to which these complaints are taken seriously.

In general, however, true micromanaging goes beyond typical managerial follow up and follow through. The critical distinction is the MANNER in which you get your team to accomplish the work. This, in turn, hinges on how you see yourself – your IDENTITY.

Here are a few key differences in how you know whether or not you’re micromanaging.

Micromanaging

You’re more likely to “micromanage” others when you see yourself at the center of the issues that come your way. In other words, your identity is that of a “fixer”. You believe the spotlight is on you to perform using your technical expertise, capabilities, and performance. In other words, you overly focus on the tasks to be done as opposed to attending to the interpersonal elements involved.

When you see yourself at the center of the work as the fixer, you might focus too much on your technical competence and on your position to get things done. Thus, you may:

  • Believe your technical knowledge and capabilities are superior to that of your team and are what make others want to be led by you.
  • Portray yourself as “right”, “strong” and/or “in charge”, exhibiting your strengths and hiding your vulnerabilities.
  • Expect respect you based on primarily your position.
  • Make decisions and insist on employees’ work being done your way without their input, even in non-urgent or emergency situations.

This way of seeing yourself, may lead you to:

  • Focus on the technical aspects of the work rarely if ever refer to the reason for the work and its impact to the team, customer, community, or company.
  • “Hover” and often jump in to do the work yourself because “it’s faster if I do it” or “they won’t do it right”.
  • Ignore putting in place systems and shared understandings of how to work together, so your follow up may seem haphazard or unpredictable and taken personally as blame.
  • Take it personally and/or look for who is to blame when things go wrong.
  • Surround yourself with others who reinforce your view of yourself as the most competent.
Leading Without Micromanaging

In contrast, you’re more likely to lead without micromanaging when you take the focus off of yourself and put it on the challenge, issue, or opportunity. Thus, you identify yourself as a “facilitator”.

Even with competent technical skills, you know that the “soft skills” of understanding and engaging people is key to mobilizing their abilities. You rely less on your formal authority and relate to others using more informal influence instead. You are more likely to:

  • Honor your strengths and own your vulnerabilities without trying to hide either.
  • See yourself as a resource for your team and as a steward of ideas and talent.
  • Hold yourself and direct reports accountable for deviations from purpose, values, objectives, and systems.
  • Stay with conflict and dissension within your team to channel it into productive discussion.
  • Give credit and take the blame.

Because you keep the work at the center of everyone’s attention, you most likely:

  • Value talent and seek those who complement your capabilities and add to the team’s capabilities to do the work.
  • Focus on creating conditions that grow and harness team capabilities to accomplish the work.
  • Spend time clarifying roles and responsibilities to make sure your team knows who owns the various aspects of the work.
  • State the purpose and objectives for tasks and projects to focus your team on what’s important to guide the work.
  • Get input from your team on what’s working and what’s not working.
  • Set up formal, systematic ways to follow up and check in with each other to make sure the work is on track and to address unexpected obstacles and accountability, to get other support, or to celebrate successes.
  • Approach some aspects of the work experimentally, addressing calculated risks, mistakes, and failures as learning opportunities.

Determining your manner of leading with accountability and without micromanaging is a like learning to balance use of the gas and the brakes. It’s an art and a science to know when to follow up for accountability and when to let someone continue down a path to learn from a potential failure. It starts with how you see yourself in your leadership role: fixer or facilitator. As with the gas and brakes, with practice, you’ll get the feel for what it’s like to lead without micromanaging.

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 women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

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.

What Psyche Can Teach You About Being Authentic

vision, authentic, perspectiveIs it difficult for you to find the right balance between being task-focused and relationship-focused? Is it simply challenging to figure out how “nice” you need to be at work? Do you ever wonder what it really means to be a good team player?

If you’ve never had these dilemmas, you’re lucky. Read no further.

For the rest of you, making sense of the mixed messages you receive as a woman in the workplace can be distracting and down right maddening. Mixed feedback about how you’re supposed to act can make you hesitate and even hide behind an inauthentic persona. This can keep you from realizing your full potential or embracing your leadership role.

The timeless mythological story of Psyche’s Four Tasks provides guidance.

The Story of Eros and Psyche

Psyche, a beautiful mortal woman, fell in love with and married what turned out to be the god of love, Eros. He was the son of the goddess Aphrodite, who out of jealously of Psyche’s beauty, had initially jinxed Psyche so that she would not fall in love with any mortal man. The jinx backfired and much to Aphrodite’s chagrin, her immortal son Eros fell in love with Psyche and they married, with the caveat that Psyche could never actually look at him.

However, Psyche couldn’t help herself. She carried an oil lamp and a knife into his bedroom (in case he turned out to be a monster), and took a forbidden look at Eros while he was sleeping in the dark. Unfortunately, the lamp dripped hot oil on Eros and awakened him. Interpreting this as a sign of mistrust, Eros ran off and abandoned Psyche. Heart-broken, Psyche appealed to her disapproving mother-in-law Aphrodite for help to get him back.

Jealous Aphrodite saw an opportunity to be rid of Psyche once and for all. She devised four seemingly impossible tasks for Psyche to complete in order to get back Eros. Psyche’s 4 tasks provide guidance for illuminating a situation (the lamp), dissecting it, and cutting away what doesn’t serve you (the knife). Doing so, allow you to make a decision that is authentic for you in your home and work relationships.

Task #1 – Sorting Seeds with Discernment.

Aphrodite put Psyche in a room that was full of many varieties of seeds all mixed together and instructed Psyche to sort all of the seeds overnight if she wanted Eros back. Psyche was overwhelmed and didn’t know how she would to do it. Then, a line of tiny, diligent ants entered the room and began to sort the tiny seeds for her.

The lesson: A situation may seem daunting at first, but you must examine what you have to contend with. So, listen to the small, still voice inside (ants), then diligently sift and sort through all available information to decide what is important based on your priorities and values.

Task #2 – Nab Golden Fleece at the Right Time.

Aphrodite then assigned Psyche the task of collecting golden fleece from the nasty Rams of the Sun. Again, Psyche thought this task impossible because these rams were large, tough, no-nonsense, powerful creatures. Coming to her aid, a flexible green reed advised Psyche that she could avoid the rams by waiting until they left the field at the end of the day, then pick their fleece from brambles they brushed up against after they had gone for the day.

 The lesson: Be flexible enough to watch and wait for the opportune time to go after what you want. There may be a way to do accomplish what you want with less direct conflict, allowing you to maintain relationships.

Task #3 – Fill the Flask After Gaining Perspective.

Next, Psyche must fill a flask with water from an intimidating stream, guarded by dragons. While Psyche doubted her ability to fill the flask, Zeus’s eagle arrived, grabbed the flask, and flew to an opportune spot to fill it for her.

 The lesson: When you get overwhelmed with deciding how to engage with a situation and those involved, pull back like the eagle to get a broader perspective of the bigger picture to find patterns. Then, spot the salient details before making decisions.

Task #4 – Fetching Beauty Cream in the Underworld Without Distraction.

Finally, Aphrodite sent Psyche to the Underworld to refill a box with beauty ointment. To make things even more difficult, Aphrodite tells Psyche that three pathetically desperate people in the Underworld will beg her for help as a distraction from her quest. A tall tower advises Psyche to harden her heart, ignore them, and concentrate on fulfilling her task.

The lesson: You must keep your eye on your tasks and goals and learn to assert your boundaries by exercising a conscious choice to say “yes” or “no” to others’ requests.

Psyche completed the four tasks and won back her beloved Eros. Not all women need nor will they apply Psyche’s lessons in the same way. Still, when you face a dilemma at work or get confusing feedback that reflects someone else’s perspective on who you’re supposed to be, think of Psyche’s lessons and apply the one(s) that are apt in a way that is right for 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 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: 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.

5 Powerful Leadership Pivots to Go From “Meh” to Legendary

transformationHow 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.

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 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.