Relationships and The A-Word: What You Need to Know

not-me-blaming-signRelationships and The A-Word: What You Need to Know

Many of my articles deal with leadership and/or relationships. Given that these are the areas of focus in my coaching practice, this is not surprising. Truthfully, the two areas – leadership and relationship – actually go together. The very best leaders are those who understand the value of relationships and who know how to build, maintain and navigate relationships. The ability to do all of this relies on one key quality more than others. This is the quality known as ACCOUNTABILITY.

ACCOUNTABILITY is a word that hovers out there in the world, and that most acknowledge as a good thing. That being said, do you know what it actually means? Can you explain to someone what it is to be truly accountable? If you can’t, it’s time you learn. Because without understanding accountability, you will keep running into challenges with your peers, your colleagues, your direct reports and any other relationship that is part of your life.

At its very heart, being accountable is about responsibility. It’s about taking ownership for who you are, what you do, what you say, and how you show up. Accountability requires you to be aware of how you affect the world around you, and own your impact.

Such responsibility exists on two extremes. It’s about owning all the stuff you do well, your successes if you will. And it’s about owning when you make a mistake, when you drop the ball. Understand, being accountable isn’t about being arrogant, nor is it about putting yourself down. Ego has no place in the realm of accountability. Instead, being accountable means you can and do own your impact while simultaneously holding an awareness of how such ownership allows you – and your team, family, project, whatever – to move forward.

Sometimes, admittedly, such accountability takes a great deal of strength, particularly when it comes to owning your mistakes. There’s something about publicly saying “I messed up” that is difficult for most people. Not surprising, when there’s the very real possibility of being told off, or blamed by others, or otherwise held in contempt. The truly accountable person, however, is able to own their mistake – take responsibility – without beating themselves up, or allowing themselves to be beaten up by others.

Bottom-line: if you want to be a leader, or if you want your relationships to be truly effective, you’ve got to understand what it means to be accountable. You’ve got to own all of who you are, what you do, how you show up, when you succeed and when you fail. Accountability in all its forms is one of the keys to success. Learn how to be accountable, and you will be a model of effective leadership.

Gratitude rockNothing to be Grateful For? Be Grateful Anyway!

Lately I’ve taken to being pretty public about my gratitude. Every morning I sit down with my journal and write down my musings, always ending with notes of gratitude. Sometimes I follow this up by meandering over to my Facebook page and sharing my gratitude with my Facebook community . Which has caused a few people to look at me in wonder and ask: “Really? Gratitude? Everyday?” And my answer is a simple, “Yep.”

I know it seems bizarre, especially because those same folks are aware of various challenges that I choose to share. Writer’s block; migraines; sprained ankle; overwhelm; uncertainty; loneliness; never ending to-do lists. I’m human. These types of challenges are normal. And, one of the things I’ve learned is that no matter what challenge you’re facing, no matter how tired you are, no matter how confused or bewildered or frustrated, there is something gratitude-worthy for you to acknowledge, if you choose to see it. Moreover, taking the time to express your gratitude is one of the keys to success.

You see, the expression of gratitude is about perspective. It’s about understanding that you have options in your life, and that the options you choose to engage with in any given moment are the ones that end up defining your experience. When you look at your options, and you find the aspects of each option that are gratitude-worthy, all of a sudden life feels a little lighter, a little more manageable, and – dare I say it – a whole LOT better.

When it comes to your professional world, the ability to express gratitude can be a powerful skill, one that propels you toward success. Such gratitude is not about looking at a rosebush and seeing roses without thorns. It’s about seeing both and choosing to focus on the thing that raises your spirits, elevates your mood, places you in a better frame of mind (which, for most people, is the roses). When you’re in a better frame of mind, you’re able to make better choices. This in turn means you’re able to move forward with greater ease. Understand?

No matter what is going on for you, in any given moment, there is something to be grateful for. Your responsibility is to find that thing and put your focus there. Feeling overwhelming fatigue? Be grateful that the sun is shining or for a soft pillow on which to rest your head. Raining for the 5th day in a row? Be grateful that the plants are growing, and that you have an umbrella. Realizing that you’ve got 20 things to do in a day that only allows for you to do 10? Be grateful that when it comes right down to it, it will all get done in some way (even if it means that some of those items will carry over to tomorrow’s list).

Bottom-line: gratitude is not to be ignored as a valuable tool for the achievement of success. No matter who you are, no matter what you’re facing, you have things for which to be grateful. Learn to express that gratitude. Put your focus on those things. And then notice how your list of things to be grateful for actually expands. Gratitude: it’s a phenomenal experience!

Fear3A Simple Strategy for Eliminating Fear

So, over the past week – actually, if I’m really honest, it’s more like the past month! – I’ve had a few experiences that have left me feeling fearful. Some have been about health, some have been about relationships, some have been about circumstances, some have been about things that aren’t quite so tangible. All, however, have left me feeling a wee bit stuck at various times, and certainly unsure of how to proceed effectively in my life.

One of the things I’ve learned over time is that fear is often a great big shadow. In other words, the fear in your mind is often bigger – or feels bigger – than the thing, the experience that is the source of the fear in the first place. I know this. And yet, despite this knowledge, fear can still stop me dead in its tracks. Not helpful.

At various points in my life, I have been forced to deal with fear head on. Many would advocate for this as an effective fear-busting strategy. And to some degree, I would concur. The question that arises, however, is what does “dealing with fear” really entail? Well, this week, I think I stumbled upon a really simply variation on the theme. In a nutshell, you talk about it.

That’s right; giving voice to whatever it is that has you running scared takes away the power that it has.

It’s kind of strange, but what I’ve noticed in every scenario in which I’ve been afraid is that, when I’ve named the fear out loud, when I’ve shared the concern with someone else – even if it is only my reflection in the mirror – the powerful energy surrounding the fear disappears. The fear grows smaller and I’m able to see clearly. Moreover, I’m able to move forward rationally. Which is a good thing.

Now, I would suggest that you choose your confidants wisely. Some people are fear-mongers, and while naming a fear can dissipate its power, it doesn’t necessarily work so well if you’re talking to someone who’s determined to keep you small, stuck or otherwise prevent you from making progress. Essentially, you want to voice your fears to trusted allies and souls that are supportive of who you are and what you’re up to.

Bottom-line: fear is a powerful deterrent. It’s supposed to be. Fear is that thing that keeps you from engaging in hazardous activity. And, at the same time, your brain has this uncanny ability to take a small fear and make it feel monstrous. The way to overcome this tendency is to speak. Give your fear voice and take away its power. It’s a simple solution — and a highly effective one.

032tgMore About Impact

Last week I shared some thoughts with you about the concept of impact. In a nutshell, you have a critical responsibility to know the impact you want to have, be aware of the impact you do have, and accept full responsibility for both. My hope is that you were able to play with the information I shared, and implement some of the suggested strategies for doing so.

That being said, I realize that there is a little more for me to share. There’s something about impact that needs to be addressed from another angle. You see, while it’s important for you to take responsibility for the impact you have on others, it’s also vital that you take responsibility for managing the impact that others have on you. Let me explain.

In the same way that you have an impact on others, the people in your world are having an impact on you. Always. Some people raise your spirits, some bring you down. Some make you nervous, some lighten your load. Some cause visceral tension, some bring the equivalent of sunshine into your life. These are all examples of the impact of others, and it’s essential that you pay attention to such impact – ALWAYS.

Your objective is to surround yourself, as much as possible, with those who have a positive impact on you. What you want is to be impacted in such a way that you show up at your very best. This is not to say that you don’t want to be challenged, or angered, or saddened by others. But it’s about noticing impact patterns. Here’s an example:

I have had people in my life who constantly “bring me down”. These are individuals who are caught – or seem committed to being caught – in a negative warp of some sort. Their language reflects this negativity. Perhaps they’re regularly sarcastic, or use put-downs, or mock others, or seem determined to see roadblocks where you would rather explore possibility. As someone who’s aware of the impact of others on my life, and who’s aware of the impact I want to have and experience, it is my responsibility to notice these patterns, and minimize my time with such individuals.

Don’t get me wrong. These people are not to be avoided altogether. These people have a right to their perspective and their impact; what you have to do is determine whether or not you are going to allow their impact to become pervasive and by extension adversely affect your world.

When you look at the relationships in your life – professional, personal, whatever – ask yourself: does this person raise me up? If so, in what way? Does this person bring me down? If so, in what way? Is this a pattern of impact that I’m noticing? Or is it a one-off, situational experience? If it’s a pattern, why do I allow it to continue?

Bottom-line: part of your responsibility around impact includes being accountable for how you allow others to impact your life. When you notice yourself continually feeling drained by another’s presence, ask yourself if it may be time to step away from that dynamic? If stepping away isn’t possible, for whatever reason, ask yourself what you can do to mitigate their impact. When it comes right down to it, it’s all about ensuring that you way you show up is optimal for whatever your intention might be. And taking responsibility for how others affect your way of being, totally matters.

032tgWhat’s Your Impact?

Several years ago, when I was participating in a powerful leadership program, I had the opportunity to learn about the importance of impact. The nugget of my learning was that we all have an impact, and as leaders we have a responsibility to know what impact we want to have, to be aware of the impact we do have, and moreover to take complete and totally responsibility for the impact we have as it happens.

Since that time, I have had opportunity everyday to play with the concept of impact. I get to notice and play with my own impact. I get to observe and respond to the impact of others. And I have come to understand how powerful a concept this “impact” thing is.

Every single one of us is always having an impact on the world around us. ALWAYS. What we say, what we do, what we don’t say, what we don’t do, how we say things, how we do things – essentially how we show up – leaves a mark on the world around us. This is impact.

So many of us go through life with very little thought to the impact we’re having. We speak and act without paying attention to how our words and actions land out there in the world. We don’t notice when we create waves, or when our words or actions land with a thud. Perhaps more importantly, because we don’t notice, we don’t take responsibility. This is the piece that is so detrimental to the relationships in our lives. This is the piece to which I want to draw your attention.

Now, understand me. I’m not suggesting that you are responsible for the reactions and feelings of others. How people choose to respond to your words and actions is a reflection of who they are and where they’re at. That being said, you do have a responsibility to be aware of the impact you’re striving to create, and to stick around and notice whether or not that is, in fact, what got created. If for any reason it is not what was created, then you have a further responsibility to do what you can to change the impact so that it is what you want to create.

So, here’s how awareness of and accountability for impact can play out. If you’re angry, say something – and notice how it lands. If it lands in such a way as to damage the relationship, take ownership of whatever your piece is in that. If you’re meeting a friend in a coffee shop and your conversation starts to get super-loud to the point that it’s disruptive to others, be aware of that –and shift it. If you walk into a room and the buzz of conversation stops, ask yourself, what is it that just happened? What is your role in creating this silence? Don’t make stuff up; ask others about your impact. Learn about how you’re shaping the world around you.

On the flip-side, you’ve got to be aware of how you are being impacted by others. If you find yourself in a situation and playing small – what’s that about? If, every time you interact with a particular individual, you come away angry or drained, ask yourself what this person’s impact is on you? And, perhaps more importantly, why you’re allowing that impact to continue? When it comes to impact others have on you, you want to ensure that those who raise you up, challenge you, bring out the best in you, is who you’re allowing to impact you.

Bottom-line: it’s time to stop walking around and acting as if your actions and words, and the actions and words of others, are hanging out in a consequence-free bubble. You are surrounded by others and your presence leaves its mark on those others. Similarly, their presence leaves its mark on you. Know what you want your mark to be and, as corny as it sounds, how you want to be marked. Be aware, and then be accountable, both to others and to yourself. Take responsibility for your place in your world. This is the hallmark of effective human interaction.


failureWhen Was the Last Time You Failed?

So, I’m following a gut instinct here. I wasn’t planning to write about failure this week, but something tells me that this message needs to be shared.

Last Monday, I had the opportunity and privilege to speak to a group of graduating college students at Fanshawe College. This group of 18 and 19 year olds are wrapping up their work in broadcast journalism and preparing to embark on the next steps of their professional journey. Their instructor wanted me to come in and share some ideas to help motivate and inspire them as they prepare for whatever’s next. His sense was that many were excited and simultaneously fearful, worried, uncertain about what lay ahead. So, I shared a few pivotal things from my perspective, ideas that I wish people had told me when I was young.

The learning that seemed to evoke the greatest sense of relief was the following: failure is okay. Moreover, failure isn’t something to be feared or avoided it’s something to be celebrated. You could almost feel the tension in the room dissolve as the permission to fail settled in.

Admittedly, some were skeptical of my request that they learn to celebrate failure as much as success. As one lady pointed out, failure feels disappointing, and it can feel disingenuous to ignore that. My response? Celebrating failure isn’t about ignoring the disappointment. It’s about being with that disappointment for as long as necessary, but then challenging yourself to move beyond that. It’s about discovering the learning, celebrating that, and then moving forward knowing that “failure” has informed your journey and helped to lay the foundation for your eventual success.

This particular lesson is one that did not come easily for me. Truthfully, it’s one that I’m still integrating into my life. I’m getting better at it. I’m learning to raise my hands sky-ward and say “ta-da!” when I fail. And what I know, even when I find myself resisting the celebration, is that our relationship to failure is a good indicator of how successful we will be in whatever we endeavor. If you fear failure to the point that you avoid it, you cannot expect to experience success. Because it is extremely rare that you succeed to the degree that you want the first time out of the gate, no matter what you’re tackling.

Bottom-line: if you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough. You’re stuck in a comfort zone. And success never happens in your comfort zone. Sure, it’s comfortable, familiar and even somewhat enjoyable. But true success is experienced on the other side of failure. True success is about stretching beyond your comfort zone. If you haven’t failed lately, it’s time to stretch.

change-fishSo, You Want Things To Change; Do You Have What It Takes?

Given that we’re smack on the cusp of seasonal change, writing an article dedicated to the topic seems timely and relevant. So many of the clients I’m working with are desiring a change of some sort and simultaneously feeling challenged by the idea. In other words, they’re wanting something different, but they’re scared of something different. Sound familiar? I know I can relate.

You see, paradoxically, change is one of those eternal constants. It has been said that the only thing we can be sure of in this life is that things will change. The world changes, the seasons change, we as a society change and evolve. As human beings, we simultaneously crave and resist change. Change is actually necessary to the fulfilling experience that we all long for. And it’s not always comfortable (hence the resistance).

So, if change is so essential to the human experience, it can be helpful to understand how to bring it about. How do you embark upon change with grace? How do you ensure that the change you experience is the change you want? How do you make change happen?

In short, there’s one secret – or perhaps, pivotal is the more appropriate word – ingredient to make change come about most effectively. That ingredient is commitment.

Commitment is that quality that will allow you to persevere. Commitment to change is what will help you keep your eye on the big picture. Commitment is what will enable you to do the “tough” work, even when you’re not feeling so inclined to do it. Commitment is what will help you find your way around obstacles – perceived and otherwise. Commitment is what will ensure that you do things differently, so that you can experience things differently. This is why, when it comes to change, commitment matters above all else.

Bottom-line: if you want things to change, you’ve got to make a commitment. So ask yourself: whatever change you’re facilitating or desiring at the moment, how committed are you to making it happen? How willing are you to take the necessary steps? How dedicated are you to sourcing the energy, enlisting the support, asking for help and doing what needs to be done? Your answer to these questions will tell you how ready you are for change. Commitment. This is the secret to experiencing the change you desire.

Overwhelm-Pic1Feeling Overwhelmed? These 3 Steps Will Get You Back in the Zone

Over the course of my life – personally and professionally – I’ve learned a lot about self-care. I’ve learned the importance of paying attention to nutrition, activity, and rest. I’ve learned how to draw boundaries and honor them. I’ve learned to pay attention to how I’m feeling and make changes as necessary, in order to stay grounded, healthy and on track.

In spite of all of this learning and knowledge, every so often I find myself smack in the middle of overwhelm. And it would appear that I am not alone in this (big surprise!). In working with various clients this week, I’ve noticed a trend into the land of overwhelm – a trend that seems to run counter to the energy of our much-anticipated spring season. The reasons for such overwhelm are many, and really don’t merit a whole lot of discussion in my opinion. What does merit discussion, however, is how to get out of it. Because if you don’t know how to get out of overwhelm, you’ll find yourself swimming in a murky pool of “yuckiness” for far longer than necessary. And that doesn’t serve anyone well.

From my perspective and in my experience, the process of stepping out of overwhelm is a simple one. That being said, this very simplicity is what gets in the way of its effectiveness. For some reason, we as human beings resist the simple. And it’s time to stop, especially if we want to hang out in an effective, productive zone, more often than not. Here’s the 3-step process for getting out of overwhelm:

  • That’s right. When you find yourself in overwhelm, when you recognize the signs (which, admittedly, are different for everyone) take a break, take a breath, force yourself to stop whatever it is you’re doing, even if only for 5 minutes.
  • LET GO. More specifically, let go of what isn’t serving you. As the Marcus Buckingham says, ““Many of us feel stress and get overwhelmed not because we’re taking on too much, but because we’re taking on too little of what really strengthens us.” Odds are, when you’re in a state of overwhelm, you’ve taken on stuff that doesn’t align with what matters to you, or what works for you. So take stock of what’s on your plate, determine what you can and should remove, and let it go.
  • Ask what? Ask for help, that’s what. So often being in overwhelm is a function of that infernal tendency to try and do things solo. Let me assure you: no successful person ever did things on his or her own, so stop thinking that you will somehow be the exception to that paradigm. Get clear on what help you need and seek it out.

Bottom-line: overwhelm happens to the best of us. Staying in overwhelm for too long, however, can be detrimental. Fortunately, there’s a way out and familiarizing yourself with the process is the key. Stop, let go, and ask for help. That’s all it takes. Get comfortable with the process, and soon you’ll be able to keep overwhelm at bay, more often than not. And that is always a good, good thing.

mountainmanselfworthWhat’s Stopping Your Success? It’s Probably Not What You Think!

So, here we are, almost ¼ of the way through the year. I’m willing to bet that at the beginning of 2015 you set a goal or two. Hopefully, you’ve been working diligently towards those. Perhaps you’ve already achieved them. If it was a fairly big goal, however, you’re probably still on the path towards it. And maybe, just maybe, you’ve settled into a bit of a rut.

Don’t get me wrong. I know you’re still working towards it. You know that the only way to achieve it is to work towards it. That being said, there’s this trap that you may well have fallen into. It’s the trap that I call, “but it’s not perfect”.

Here’s how it works. Essentially, as big and lofty as your dream is, you begin where you are, by taking small steps. That’s wise, for sure. After all, as the proverb states, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The trap lies in staying in that small step, because you tell yourself that you need to “perfect” whatever is involved here, before you can move on to the next step.

On some level, this feels true, right? And can you possibly progress to B if you haven’t mastered A? And yet, I’m here to challenge that belief. Because what I know for sure is that if you’re waiting to PERFECT this step before you move on, you may well be stuck AND you’ll inadvertently lower your expectations. And when you lower the expectations, you lower your level of achievement.

So, what’s the solution?

You don’t wait for perfect. Instead, you move on once you’ve achieved a reasonable level of success. At the point where you are successful more often than you’re not successful, that is the moment to challenge yourself to try the next level. By raising the stakes, raising the bar, you challenge yourself to step into your potential. As a bonus? Often you’ll end up perfecting that particular skill you were working on, just by virtue of the fact that you set your expectations higher.

So, whether you’re a team working on the development of a project, an artist looking to finish a work, an athlete aiming to reach a milestone, or anyone else who’s working towards something specific, it’s time to raise the bar. Rather than telling yourself that you’ll try something once you’ve mastered this stage, let go of the need to be perfect, allow yourself to be good, and then take the next step.

Bottom-line: your human nature is always to rise to the level of the bar. If you’re truly committed to reaching your goal, stop focusing on perfecting the step you’re on. Instead, raise the bar and you’ll raise your level of success.

THINK1How Well Do You T.H.I.N.K.?

Last week, I talked about the importance of listening. This week, despite what this article’s title might have you believe, I’m actually going to share some thoughts about speaking. More specifically, I’m going to challenge you to consider the filters you use (or don’t) when you decide to speak.

So often, the things you choose to say are articulated in response to something, without a whole lot of thought to the impact of those words. In other words, you speak without thinking. The words come out of your mouth without having first been put through a filter of any sort. As a result, you say what you didn’t mean to say, or what you say isn’t actually necessary to the relationship or circumstance in any way.

So how do you avoid the hazards of speaking in such a fashion? You follow the adage to “think before you speak”, AND you use “think” as an acronym for the filters required. In this context, whatever you’re about to say, you want to ask yourself:

  • Is it TRUE?
  • Is it HELPFUL?
  • Is it INSPIRING?
  • Is it NECESSARY?
  • Is it KIND?

Using the word “Think” in this way is not mine. I saw it online somewhere – I believe on a facebook feed, although I’m not sure of the exact source. What I like about it is that it provides a really concrete way to apply the whole “think before you speak” ideal. It tells you exactly what you need to be thinking about, in order to determine whether or not something is worthy of speaking.

Ideally, as you apply these filters to your words – whether spoken, or written (e.g., email or text) – you’ll pass all 5 filters. That being said, the challenge lies in the fact that things like “kindness” can be subjective. So the question to ask in that case is, is it your intention to be kind? Or are you speaking to be mean, malicious or otherwise hurtful? If it’s the latter, then whatever you want to say should probably find another outlet – like your journal.

The other filter that can pose a challenge, is that of “inspiring”. I’m not sure that everything that is articulated can be – or should be – inspiring. But perhaps, if it passes though all of the other filters (true, helpful, necessary and kind) then it becomes inspiring. Something to think about.

Bottom-line: as a leader in any context – professional or personal – when you model the appropriate use of filters of this sort, you help to build a safe container in which your group can interact. You set the stage and create the space for meaningful, helpful dialogue to transpire. Think before you speak; this age-old wisdom has survived the test of time for a reason.

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