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.

By the Numbers – Capturing Lessons Learned

Much institutional knowledge in companies is lost through turnover and poor communication. Such institutional information is often critical to successful operations and execution of company goals. One way to preserve and share knowledge and expertise is to actively capture, store and share “lessons learned”. However, for most, it’s easier said than done.

This infographic compiles the numbers related to capturing, retaining, and sharing lessons learned:

lessons learned

 

 

3 Things Leaders Must Do to Bring Company Missions To Life

maze strategyWithin months of the June 2016 investigation into a Tesla vehicle crash due to malfunctioning autopilot, CEO Elon Musk showed his commitment to Tesla Motors’ mission to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy”. He broke ground on a battery plant in Nevada and announced a bid and recently acquired a solar products company that has a similar commitment to sustainable energy.

What kept Musk going after this crash setback? He (and by extension his company, Tesla Motors) has a compelling mission that he lives and breathes.

This same commitment to accelerating the transition to sustainable energy drives Tesla Motors’ Patent policy, which states the company will not . . .

initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use its technology. Tesla was created to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport, and this policy is intended to encourage the advancement of a common, rapidly-evolving platform for electric vehicles, thereby benefiting Tesla, other companies making electric vehicles, and the world.

Allowing your competitors to compete against you using your own proprietary information? THAT’s living your company’s mission!

Make Your Mission Statement Mean Something

Some have opined that mission statements don’t really matter but that companies create them anyway because, well, that’s what you do. Yet, just because some companies are not good at creating compelling mission statements and actually using them doesn’t mean that mission statements are “dead”. To the contrary, they are a necessary and valuable component of a well-run corporate strategy.

61% of employees in North America don’t know their company’s mission. – Achievers Survey, September 2015

In fact, your company’s mission statement is part of the guidance system that focuses you on what you are here to do. It keeps your company on track, so you remain focused in a general direction and are less subject to the distraction of every bright, shiny opportunity in the world. Used effectively, your mission should inform your vision, your values, and corporate goals.

To what degree is your mission statement a vital and compelling guide for your business? Here are 3 critical ways to make sure you and your employees are living your company’s mission:

1. Assess How Well the Mission is Resonating

According to a recent survey by achievers.com, 61% of employees don’t know their company’s mission statement. Whether you do a formal or informal survey, find out if your employees know your company’s mission and how much passion there is for it. On a scale from 1-10, where are you? Where is the executive team?

The level of awareness of and passion for your mission is not only an indicator of how well you’ve built the mission into all aspects of the business, but it might also indicate whether you need to punch it up to make it more compelling. Also, take stock of what’s working and what’s not working with respect to how your mission is showing up in your company daily.

2. You Go First

To make your mission statement come alive, you of all people must embody it. How are you and the rest of the executive team helping it come alive or hindering it from doing so? Do you mention the mission statement often? What do you convey to others that shows you used the mission when making a decision? creating a vision for the foreseeable future? or setting a goal? In short, you must intentionally and consistently make others aware that the mission is embedded in all that you do and say.

3. Build the Mission Into Every Aspect of Your Business

In addition, you can ensure employees see the mission in action by using it as the foundation for all work practices, policies, processes and standards of conduct. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Make your mission explicit in policies, processes, team charters, etc.
  • Ensure each employee knows how their job furthers the mission.
  • State it regularly in meetings to set the tone and work it in to every project and assignment.
  • Ask employees how their current work furthers the mission.
  • Incorporate it in all decision-making regarding products, services, customer service, employees, community relations, etc.
  • Be explicit about how new goals, a new vision, new policies, new products, etc. align with the mission.
  • Reflect regularly on how well you live it.
  • Recognize and adjust obvious practices that are contrary to it.
  • When giving feedback, acknowledge the employee’s actions were consistent or inconsistent with the mission.

Your mission serves to keep you on the right track. It is the foundation of the alignment of everything in your company. Make sure you’re getting the most out of it.

 

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 focus, self-awareness, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

5 Ways to Bolster Confidence During Chaos

confidence

Ever lose your confidence? The world is never stable. Physics teaches that everything moves toward maximum entropy (disorder or
randomness).

That means, there is always something churning and arising that can upset the current balance. When you finally come to the realization that things are “off”, the so-called chaos could have been in the works for a while before you noticed it.

Thus, when you finally notice the disorder, randomness, or chaos, it can knock you off your game. The trick is to maintain your composure and your confidence to make the necessary adjustments and re-calibrate.

So, how can you feel and telegraph the steady confidence your employees need so they don’t get spooked like a herd of wild bison?

Here are 5 tips on how to create and maintain a confident demeanor that quells uncertainty in yourself and more importantly in your employee ranks:

1. Keep a supportive mindset and confident bearing.

You are where you need to be. Don’t psych yourself out. It’s easy to let your inner critic berate you. Turn the inner critic on its head by looking for how it’s trying to serve you. Like a nagging parent who wants you to succeed, what is the good intention of the inner critic and its negative criticisms?

Additionally, you can boost your confidence by following the power posing research of Amy Cuddy, which indicated that 2 minutes of adopting a “superhero” pose led to a 20% increase in subjects feeling more powerful/confident.

2. Do rely on others to bolster confidence.

As a successful person, you might tend to think you have to put the whole company on your shoulders and carry it forward. Nothing could be further from the truth. You have a host of people who can cut through the chaos with you. You may not know everything but you can rely on others around you to shore up your weaknesses. Upgrade your network if necessary, too.

3. Toggle between forest (big picture) and the trees (details).

When an obstacle or problem arises, recognize it but then pan out and re-focus on the big picture, to gain perspective on where that obstacle fits within the grand scheme of things and to gain flexibility of response. With perspective comes confidence.

4. Spend 20% of your time on work directly affecting your big picture goals.

Remember the Pareto Principle: 20% of your efforts will lead to 80% of your results. Calendar the high-value activities that have a direct line of sight to your company goals. Then, execute those high-value activities in baby steps each day to move your goals forward. In other words, don’t try to eat the elephant all at once.

5. Take risks by following the data AND your gut.

You build confidence by being true to yourself in light of the data and seeing it pay off. This happens most noticeably when you weigh the pertinent information and take action based on your own sense of things. Then, go for it. Don’t worry — failure can build your confidence when you learn from your experience and use that learning to try again.

Confidence is an important leadership attribute and is critical during times of uncertainty. It’s your role to project the confidence necessary to create a sense of “all is well” in your employees. It does need to be tempered with humility. In other words, there is a difference between confidence and cockiness. But having the wisdom of other smart people, good data, a “can-do” attitude, and the discipline to focus on high-value daily work is how you exude and continue to build your own confidence and the confidence of your staff.

 

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 focus, self-awareness, and influence with their teams. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

5 Tips to Avoid Tripping When Stepping In To Someone Else’s Shoes

confident, leaderAssuming a new leadership role on the heels of a well-respected predecessor can be exciting and daunting at the same time. Regardless of the circumstances, the challenge is to be authentic while assisting others through the transition from the former leader’s style to yours. Remember that people can accept change if you focus on the nuts and bolts of the transition from Point A to Point B. When you are that Point B, consider the following tips to avoid tripping when stepping into someone else’s shoes:

Be Patient.

A large ship doesn’t turn on a dime and neither will some people’s loyalty in your new situation. In most situations, plan on taking anywhere from 6 months to a year to understand the issues and culture that you have inherited without feeling like you must make changes immediately. (If the board hired you to make drastic changes immediately lest the company go under, well, that’s a different kettle of fish.)

“Lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at you.”                 –David Brinkley

Build Relationships.

A large part of what you can focus on during your first year, is to get to know others and allow them to get to know you. You might meet individually with board members, colleagues, and direct reports. Small group lunches, town halls, and just walking around with incidental chats are ways to meet a larger number of employees who are more removed from your immediate sphere of influence.

Focus on the Big Picture.

During the transition period to your new brand of leadership, stay focused on “why” the company exists, “why” your position exists, and on the company’s mission. This will keep you from getting caught up in potential drama of other people’s issues around the transition.

Serve Others First.

Another way to avoid getting caught up in your own as well as other people’s “stuff” is to orient yourself to what those around you need from you to remain productive. Focus on the service your customers expect and need. Also, ensure your employees and especially your direct reports have what they need to keep things moving forward. And don’t be stingy with the “thank yous” and acknowledgement for jobs well done.

Don’t Take Things Personally.

Be ready to be compared to your predecessor – a lot. Put your ego aside. This is simply one way people are communicating that they are noticing the differences and coming to terms with them. Deal with this by focusing on what you can actually control within your sphere of Influence. For example, you cannot completely control what others think and do: some people will leave; some will stay; and new people will join. People have to make their own decisions about their individual preferences and loyalties. Assuming you’re being forthright, authentic, above board and respectful, let it go.

Over time, the company will acclimate to you and you will adjust to it. And eventually, you will be a part of the status quo as though you had been there forever.

 

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 focus, self-awareness, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.


This post was inspired by a conversation with Stephanie Wright of the Murray Area Chamber of Commerce in Murray, Utah.

5 Ways to Hone Your Executive Thinking Skills

decision-makingWe are educated. We are modern human beings. We make decisions every day. How inaccurate and incomplete can our thinking be?

I always thought I was a good at logical thinking. Then I went to law school. Law school taught me how to think through an issue more effectively by applying a disciplined structure to analyze facts, to make arguments, and to create consistency in the decisions made.

Your personality type influences how you think. You might shoot from the hip for a fast resolution and clean up any mess later (“ready-fire-aim”); or maybe you delay making decisions or solving problems due to “analysis paralysis” or because you don’t want to upset others; or maybe you make decisions to please others without really addressing or resolving the core issue.

Research now shows that emotions are integral in the decision-making process, but it is still important to be able to analyze and reflect on data, information, and experience to choose the best solution or decision possible and to think about your own thinking. To that end, use these basic decision-making and problem-solving tools to collect, analyze, and play with data to make better decisions.

1. Pro/Con List

Ben Franklin famously wrote about his use of a Pro/Con List. His method involved making 2 lists: pros of an issue on the left and the cons on the right. Next, give weight to each item on the list, maybe using a scale of 1 to 3. Next, Franklin described cancelling out single or multiple items on either side of equal weight (e.g., 2 pros each with a weight of 1 (totaling 2) can be cancelled by 1 con with a weight of 2). Then, see if either side ends up with more items remaining. An interesting comment by Franklin shows that once he went through his analysis, he gave himself another day or so to see if anything else can to mind that he should consider before moving forward.

“Too many problem solving sessions become a battlegrounds where decisions are made based on power rather than intelligence.”–Meg Wheatley


2. SWOT or SOAR

Either a SWOT or SOAR grid is designed to collect and evaluate information about a current situation. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Or you can use SOAR from Appreciative Inquiry which stands for Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results. Collecting the data in either of these formats will aid analysis and tee you up to form an action plan.SWOT

3. Pareto Analysis

Also known as the 80/20 rule, Pareto principle holds that 20% of “inputs” is producing 80% of the desired or undesired outputs. For example: Which products or services are producing 80% of company revenue? Once you collect basic data, this video shows you how to set up a Pareto chart in a spreadsheet.

4. Impact vs. Probability Risk Assessment

This tool is used to assess the possible risks you face. First list all possible threats. Next, using a numeric scale (say, 1 to 10), assess the probability that the threat will occur. Then, assign a value for how great the impact will be if the threat occurs. (Cost is a frequently used measure for impact.) Finally, multiply the probability and the impact numbers to get the “risk” number.

5. Fishbone Diagram

Allows you to determine the root cause of a particular effect. You can use other areas to explore in addition to the ones listed below. For each “cause”, ask what might be contributing to the effect. Then, use the “5 Whys” process get to secondary, tertiary, etc. causes.

Fishbone Diagram

Honing your ability to collect and analyze data helps you choose the best framework for your thought process when making big decisions and solving problems for your company. Don’t forget to use these tried and true models to explore situations in your business.

Other tools to explore:

Six Thinking Hats
Pugh Matrix
Process Maps
Polarity Diagram
Scientific Method

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 focus, self-awareness, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

“Just Kidding”: Handling Passive Aggressive Employees

passive aggressiveWe laugh at passive aggressive behavior on sitcoms, tune in for more on reality TV, and read the snarkiness on social media. Nonetheless, it’s no laughing matter in the workplace.

Passive aggressive behavior includes actions, inactions, and comments intended to do harm but is indirect. People who exhibit passive aggressive behaviors also tend to feel helpless or powerless in their lives, and use their passive aggressiveness as a way to cope.

Examples include: forgetting to do things, not following through, spreading rumors, giving the silent treatment, making sarcastic comments intended to send a message, and complaining about others to everyone but the person himself. In short, passive aggressiveness boils down to presenting yourself one way and behaving another to intentionally “stick it” to someone else.

On an individual level, passive aggressiveness increases uncertainty, leads to poor self-esteem and poor working relationships, and consequently, leads to lower trust, increased stress, and lower productivity. On a companywide basis, it can slow down decision-making and the execution of important initiatives.

Unfortunately, many managers are uncertain how to address this type of behavior because it seems so petty and elusive. Here, are a few tips for creating a workplace with minimal passive aggressiveness:

Expect and model forthright communication.

To avoid allowing passive aggressive behavior in your company, make sure you are a role model of healthy, respectful disagreement with curiosity about other perspectives. You can do this in a public way in your meetings by setting ground rules and behavioral norms about having full discussions in meetings where everyone is expected to contribute and acknowledging the sensitivity or contention of some issues as well as the importance of discussing those issues openly.

Highlight minority or dissenting perspectives and opinions.

Intentionally, ask those who hold an unpopular perspective to talk about their assumptions underlying their viewpoint and about the implications that will follow if their solution is or isn’t followed. By doing this, it makes it easier to craft a final decision that might accommodate differing perspectives. You can also troubleshoot the decision the group finally makes but anticipating what might go wrong. This allows those who see the weaknesses of the decision to be able to contribute.

Call it like you see it.

When passive aggressive body language, humor, gossip, or complaints about others come to your attention, you must acknowledge the behavior and dig a little deeper to find out what’s behind the behavior. Voicing concern that the person is choosing an indirect way of bringing up the issue is a place to start. Then, ask questions about why they chose an indirect way of settling the issue versus addressing the issue head on. You can then guide them to use more appropriate ways of interacting with others to get what they ultimately want.

Passive aggressive behavior is probably more common than appropriately assertive behavior and can be one of the most destructive elements to a healthy company culture. This is certainly one time when being “nice” won’t work out for your company in the long run.

 

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 focus, self-awareness, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.