Sometimes you need a cheerleader

Photo by Cheryl Edwards

Whether you are in the trenches, at the top of the organization, at home, or in the community, sometimes you need a cheerleader.

A cheerleader is:

  • An enthusiastic and vocal supporter of someone or something, to encourage you to reach your goal, win a point, lift your spirits when you are feeling down, and support you.
  • Someone who is going to help boost your confidence by reinforcing all the things that you’ve achieved and are good at. They may tell others about how awesome you are.

Why we need a cheerleader in our life 

In the last two years COVID has turned our lives upside down. We have isolated ourselves physically and mentally and it is taking its toll on us. Mental health issues, violence, abuse, losses, burnout and anger are real outcomes of this new normal. We need some cheering up to keep going. We need to see something positive to balance out the negative in our lives.

I used to participate in dragon boat racing. It was exciting and fun. It’s a team sport where the slightest wrong move will affect the entire boat and team. It’s a great sport because it requires mental and physical fitness to complete the race. There is nothing like the cheering and chanting of “go, go, go” or “We got this,” “Give a little bit more” and so on as we approach the finish line. When you have given all that you can give, the cheering you hear in the background gives you the little extra shot of adrenaline to help get you over the finish line. What a rush!

I have a few friends at work, both male and female, that have been my cheerleaders. It gives me a boost when I hear “that was an excellent point” or “I know you will do this really well.” I also have cheerleaders in my personal life that give me that boost, mainly my husband, my sister, and my cousin.

A cheerleader implies optimism and hope. Optimistic people see events as temporary and changeable. They will say for example, its not me, it’s going get better, I can do something about this. This optimistic mindset helps re-frame the situation to cope . It helps prevent against helplessness, depression, anxiety and giving up after failure because you feel like you have control over the situation. You can change what you can control.

Sometimes you might have to be your own cheerleader

All of us need cheerleaders, especially at critical points of life when we are really discouraged . If we have someone who can be our cheerleader great, but we can’t always count on someone to be there and be our cheerleader. We need to learn to be our own cheerleader.  Below are some tips on how to be your own cheerleader. However, if you are unable to cope, please get professional help.

Tips

Here’s how I cheer lead myself!

  1. Aside from the usual things like get sleep, exercise and have a good diet, I think about the times when I did something hard. I remember how it felt when I successfully completed it- my sense of pride and accomplishment.  Thinking about this reminds me that I am capable and I can do hard things.
  2. I also think about other times when I felt discouraged and how I was able to get past it. I remind myself that this is only a temporary situation and things will change. I think about what I did and what helped. I will give myself a pep talk.
  3. I give myself some grace and space to feel, grieve and let it go. I try not to set up camp at the discouragement site. 
  4. I clean or tidy when I feel stressed or discouraged. There is something about setting things in order that helps me feel in control of my life and gives me a renewed perspective.  I tidy or clean out my closet, utensil drawer, refrigerator, garage, etc. and it makes me feel like I am clearing out the clutter and bad things in my life. I always feel good afterwards and have a better outlook.

I was reminded about Marie Kondo when I wrote #4. Marie Kondo is a young woman who lives in Japan and has spent her life tidying and de-cluttering spaces. She has made a name for herself with her philosophy about tidying and de cluttering.  

Tidying is a powerful tool…the true goal of tidying is to clear away clutter so you can live the life you want. When you put your house in order… you have no choice but to listen to your inner voice-because the question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.  When you reassess your belongings and organize your home, you set the stage for a huge transformation. This is the magic of tidying. Keep only those things that speak to the heart and discard items that no longer spark joy. Thank them for their service-then let them go.

People around the world have been drawn to this philosophy because of its effectiveness and that it places great importance on being mindful, introspective and forward looking.

You are not choosing what to discard, but rather, choosing to keep only the items that speak to your heart. Through tidying, you can reset your life and spend the rest of your life surrounded by the people and things your love the most. “

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At the Crossroads

In my last blog I wrote about transitions. I’m still thinking about them and how hard they can be. They are the crossroads in our life.  They make us afraid because they represent the unknown.

We need to give ourselves some time and grace to process what we are going through. Then, maybe we can start to think of them as possibilities instead of dread or fear.

Sometimes we take the long road, but I believe we ultimately end up where we are meant to be. 

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Seasons of Transition

Photo by Patrick Hendry of Unsplash

Why Transitions?

Why this topic? This last year was full of transitions for me, and now we are entering a transition season-fall, and the beginning of the school year.

We may face one huge transition, smaller ones, or a bombardment of transitions, one after another.  

This last year I had transitions that included births, deaths, retirement, an engagement and impending wedding, manager changes in the workplace and health issues. Most of the time I managed the transition well by focusing on what to be grateful about. Some transitions are definitely easier than others.

The transitions I had the most trouble with were those that involved death and my impending retirement.  Why? Death of a family member was a hard transition to face because it forced me to come face to face with my mortality and loss. It isn’t something I typically think about, but when it hit me smack in the face, I had to face it.

Retirement, because it made me face my mortality again and reexamine who I was, and who I wanted to be, since my work self is changing. I never realized how closely my work self is tied to my personal self.

Death and retirement triggered a grieving process that I am still going through and coming to terms with. They made me confront my fears and my losses. These transitions are making me think about the legacy I want to leave behind. They are also nudging me to let go of the past and move forward.  All of this involves a whole lot of mindset management.

Successful Transitions

Curious about transitions, I looked to see if there is something new or different that I could share-there really isn’t. I investigated how people successfully dealt with their transitions. One thing that struck me when I was doing my research, was those who dealt most successfully with transitions had the following common characteristics:

  • Grit/Determination: They went through the transition with sheer grit. Some of these people lost homes, family, savings and lived on the bare minimum. They determined that they would get themselves out of the situation they were in and have a better life. They set a goal, changed their mindset, and then did the work to achieve the level of success that they have. Some examples are Mary Morrisey and Victor Frankl.
  • Vision and Goals: They had a big vision for themselves and their family. It was the vision that helped them move forward. They figured out how to overcome the obstacles in their way.
  • Serve others: They used their mess to become their message. They used their journey through their transition to help others in a similar situation.
  • Learned from failures and mistakes: They didn’t give up when they failed or made a mistake, they saw it as a learning opportunity.
  • Overcame fear: They overcame their fear by going through, rather than avoiding the change.

Takeaways

Transitions involve managing your mindset in the midst of change. People will look at how a leader handles transitions, because it is a refection of their character and resilience. True character emerges during these times and it is what people remember about how the transition was managed-for better or for worse- character wins.

Here are my favorite strategies for better transitioning:

  • Plan: If you can, plan for the transition. For example, I have been planning for my retirement. I want to work on this blog and make some changes to it. I want to start a podcast, write some books and do some speaking. I have skills I would like to use in another capacity, so these things keep me going. This transition is a bit scary to me, and I know I will find my rhythm.

Sometimes when you can’t plan ahead for a transition, you can reset your thinking.

  • Take care of yourself.  Do something for you. Take a walk, hug a pet, read a book, clear your mind, exercise, meditate, do something to remove the stress that has built up. 
  • Distract yourself and keep busy. It helps to focus on something else besides your trouble. Switching gears helps us to regain control over our life. Do something fun or creative, it will help create a sense of well being.. Do something for someone else.
  • Have a routine. It will help normalize things, give some structure to your life, and will help you to focus on other things.
  • Get Help: If the situation is unmanageable, seek out professional help.  Some things we can do for ourselves and for other things, we need to seek professional help to get us through.

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How to Achieve Mastery over Your Mind

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

I love that we can change our mindset to change our lives. Because we can choose how to think and react, we can have so much control over how we want our lives to look like.  

For the longest time my mind was a hot mess!  I used to have a lot of anxious and fearful thoughts at one point in my life. I would fret about my health, my kids, my job, my husband’s job, our finances, friends, death, etc.  I would feel dread come over me for no reason at all. Sometimes the thoughts would come one at a time, and at other times they came all smushed together and I felt helpless against them.

It was a relief to discover that I could control my thinking, rewire my brain and remain in peace-game changer!  Once I got a hold of how, I got rid of the mess in my head. I also learned that mastery in this one area, could lead to mastery in other areas of my life. With the mess gone, I could focus more clearly, I could lead my life instead of being led by my thoughts and emotions. I love the fact that we can have so much power over our brain.

Mastery over your mind: Here’s how it works

Neuroplasticity

We can deliberately rewire our brains because of Neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the mind-body connection which allows for us to change our thoughts and behaviours.

Our brain works mostly on autopilot by creating highways (neural pathways) in our brains. When we focus on something with our thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviours we create these highways. Once the highway becomes well used it begins to function on autopilot. Autopilot allows us to conserve our mental energy and respond quickly to life experiences.

When we want to change something in our life, the superhighway we built in our brain may no longer serve us. We will need to build a new highway (new neural pathways) to serve our new beliefs and mindset.  

Example: Let’s say you want to be happier. You will have to create a new highway (neural pathway). It starts with a belief. You believe that its OK to be happy. You say to yourself that its OK to be happy. You start to feel the emotions of happiness, you start to act happy, you continue to experience happiness emotions and so on. You are happy.  What happened? This new way of thinking and being has made it easier to produce feelings of happiness. And you have built a new highway (neural pathway).

The more positive emotions you have, the more neurons you use to build your new highway. Emotions and feelings are very important in this process because they act as the glue to bind you to your experiences. This emotional energy is the fuel, behind your thoughts that give power to your memories, goals, hopes, and dreams. What you focus on grows. So, if you focus on happiness it grows. If you focus on stress it grows. If you focus on anger it grows. Every thought you think and feeling you feel, strengthens the circuitry in your brain (your neural pathways).   

These amazing abilities of our brain have so much potential and hope for dealing with mental health issues like depression and anxiety, for changing unhealthy habits, and for physical health.

Are you excited yet? Read these stories!

Case studies

Coaching for Success

Many sports figures have coaches to help their clients become successful at their sport. Golfers like Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and others mentally prepare for their competitions by practicing their skills in their minds first. Not only do they visualize their success, but they engage all their senses to experience the competition.

Natan Sharansky, a computer specialist was accused of spying for the U.S. and spent nine years in a USSR prison.   While in prison he played against himself in mental chess. He would say “I might as well use the opportunity to become the world champion!” Remarkably, in 1996, Sharansky beat world champion chess player Garry Kasparov!

Guang Yue, an exercise psychologist from Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio, was involved in a study that compared results of those who did physical exercises to the results of those who carried out virtual workouts in their heads. In the physical exercise group, finger abduction strength increased by 53%. In the group that did “mental contractions”, their finger abduction strength increased by 35% and increased to (40%) 4 weeks after the training ended.

What do these stories have in common?

These stories show the importance of the mind-body connection by linking our thoughts and emotions to actions and behaviours. Our brains are powerful tools that produce the same mental instructions as physical actions. 

What the case studies above have in common is engaging as many of the five senses as possible in the visualization process. By doing this, the brain is getting trained for actual performance during visualization and building new neural pathways. Mental practices can enhance motivation, increase confidence, improve motor performance, and prime your brain for success. This practice is available to everyone, not just those in competitive fields.

These studies show that we can control what we put into our minds, and we do not have to think automatically, we can choose what we want to think about.

Takeaways

Rewire your brain

How do you shift your thinking? Notice-Shift-Rewire, Recognize, Refute and Rewire, or pick your own. What is important is to notice or recognize when you are beating up on yourself and stop it. Refute it or shift your thinking to something more positive. Then put in place your new message. It is simple, but not easy. It requires you to pay attention to the messages you are giving yourself and practice in rewiring your mind to the new more positive messages. It takes time and patience to build a new superhighway. Check out this video.

Practice visualization for success

Coaches encourage you to engage as many of the five senses as you can in the visualization of your goal. Who are you with? Which emotions are you feeling right now? What are you wearing? Is there a smell in the air? What do you hear? What is your environment?

Sit with a straight spine when you do this. Practice at night or in the morning (just before/after sleep). Eliminate any doubts, if they come to you. Repeat this practice often. Combine with meditation or an affirmation (e.g. “I am courageous; I am strong,” or to borrow from Ali, “I am the greatest!”).

Visualization is as powerful as the real thing since you are giving brain a new reality, and it is unable to tell the difference between something real or imagined.

Meditate

Meditation is a great stress reliever, and as noted above if the brain and body is stressed, new neural pathways can’t be formed.  It is known to reduce stress and cortisol and boost the immune system. Taking time to pause helps our brain to grow, improve our creativity, improve our mental flexibility and make neural pathway changes.

Do Leaders Feel Like Imposters?

Photo: Kyle Glenn, Unsplash

Did you ever say to yourself that you’re not good enough, that you don’t belong, that you don’t deserve the job, the promotion, the book deal, the seat at the table, etc.?  If you have, you are in good company.

  • Tina Fey:  Actress and author, said the following about imposter syndrome “The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re onto me! I’m a fraud!’” Women tend to explain their successes away by ascribing them to things like “luck,” “hard work” or “help from others” rather than the innate ability or intelligence than men often cite.
  • Maya Angelou: The prizewinning author once said, after publishing her 11th book, that every time she wrote another book she’d think to herself: “Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody.” 
  • Michelle Obama: The former first lady has spoken and written about how, as a young woman, she used to lie awake at night asking herself: Am I too loud? Too much? Dreaming too big? “Eventually, I just got tired of always worrying what everyone else thought of me,” she said. “So, I decided not to listen.

My friend Google, showed me that many famous people suffer from imposter syndrome, including, Tom Hanks, Natalie Portman, Arianna Huffington, Serena Williams, Sheryl Sandberg and Mike Cannon-Brookes, an Australian billionaire and CEO of Atlassian who told his story in this TED talk.

Leaders in every walk of life have experienced the imposter syndrome. How they deal with it is an important lesson in leadership and managing your mindset.

Who is Prone to Imposter Syndrome?

This syndrome was first applied to women by two psychologists in a 1978 study.. Since then, it was found to apply to anyone from any walk of life. Anywhere from 9% to 82% of people can experience imposter syndrome

Minority groups may be especially susceptible to it. A 2013 University of Texas study  of ethnic minority college students found that Asian-Americans were more likely than African-Americans or Latino-Americans to experience impostor feelings.

What Does Imposter Syndrome Look Like?

A person with impostor syndrome does not internalize the positive feedback they get. They don’t see it as an accurate reflection of their abilities. Those who don’t feel like imposters, receive positive feedback, feel good about themselves and confident in their abilities.  

Imposter syndrome is:

  • Feeling like a fraud and fearing being discovered,
  • Having difficulty in absorbing personal successes,
  • Feeling like success isn’t deserved, they don’t belong, or are out-of-place.

Feeling like an imposter can lead to a drop in job performance and job satisfaction, as well as increased anxiety and depression.

Valerie Young, expert and author of, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, found the following patterns: in those with imposter syndrome:

  • Perfectionists are prone to imposter feelings because of the high expectations they set for themselves. Small mistakes will make them question their own competence.
  • Experts feel inadequate if they are not fully prepared or knowledgeable before they start a project. They won’t ask questions or speak up in meetings if they don’t know the answer.
  • The natural genius feels like an imposter when they have to put effort into their work.
  • Soloists work on their own and if they need to ask for help, they think that means they are a failure or a fraud.
  • Superstars feel the need to succeed in all aspects of life and may feel stressed or like imposters when they are not accomplishing something.

Managing Impostor Syndrome

Re frame your thoughts

  • Recognize the imposter thoughts and put them in perspective. Ask yourself: Does this thought help or hinder me? Then, take action; either let it go, or take positive action.
  • The way to change your self-talk is to guide your own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.  Replace negative thoughts with positive ones or phrases that break the cycle like, “You got this!”,”Go get ’em”, or ” I can do hard things!”, You are good enough!”
  • Recenter and calm yourself, go for a walk, meditate, do some deep breathing or something that is relaxing. Over time, when you refute the negative chatter in your brain with more accurate and positive thoughts, your brain will become rewired to believe better.

Discuss your feelings

  • Discuss how you feel with a trusted friend, mentor or seek professional help. People who have more experience can reassure you that what you’re feeling is normal and knowing others have experienced it can help make it feel less scary.
  • Most people experience moments of doubt, which is normal. The important part is not to let the doubt control your actions.  Use the information you have to remove imposter doubts more quickly.  Young says. “They can still have an impostor moment, but not an impostor life.”

Write it down!

Your successes

  • A study of over 12,000 journal entries from 238 employees found that capturing small wins helped increase motivation and build self-confidence. Write down your successes, so that you can visit them when you need to. Take time to absorb your successes.

What you are grateful for?

Successful people practice gratitude by writing down the things they are grateful for. Gratitude:

  • releases positive emotions,
  • helps to adopt the wins,
  • improves health,
  • helps to deal with adversity, and
  • builds strong relationships.

Your self-doubts

Writing is a great remedy for impostor syndrome and has a healing effect. Write down your feelings of self-doubt. In fact, participants in a study who wrote about their most traumatic experiences for 15 minutes, four days in a row, experienced better health outcomes for up to four months later.

Writing can help you find meaning in your experiences, provide a different perspective, see the positive side of an experience, and provide lessons for future use.

Takeaways

Imposter syndrome is a mind game. It is a matter of who has control of your mind, is it you, or is it your thoughts?

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Get Organized to Improve Credibility and Reduce Stress

Photo by Serpstat from Pexels

Organizing things is one of my ways of coping with stress and it is how I remain productive.

  • Organization and time management skills are life skills that can be developed and maintained.  In this study, 67% of high school teachers surveyed, viewed having organizational skills as critical to student success. The same principles that prepare for student success can be applied to work and personal success. Realistic time management and organization skills can improve productivity and the quality of your life.
  • On the other hand, disorganization can lead to a negative impression about your abilities, competence, reliability and credibility.

Factors that Lead to Disorganization

Disorganization may be a result of procrastination, attachment to things, or lack of skills. Those who want to develop or improve their organizational skills, may need to change their mindset and their expectations.  Before people make a change, they need to have a reason to change, and this means a mindset shift. Think about trying to lose weight, eat healthy, or have a fitness regime, etc., first you need to be committed to doing it, and then you need to follow through. Unless you accept that it is a process and will take time, you may become discouraged. For some, getting organized may sound good for about a day until your mind goes back to, its too hard, too much work or it takes too long. You may start to feel guilty, give up and end up back at disorganized and overwhelmed.

Disorganization may be due to a mental health condition. Depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), hoarding and other mental health issues can make it difficult to develop and maintain an organized environment. If this is the case, then it is important to get professional help. Get a diagnosis from a professional in the mental health field and appropriate support like, medication, therapy, coaching, organizing, education, etc.

Ditch the Guilt and Stress

Do only what is comfortable for you to do and manage. Take small steps that you can do consistently over time. Ask for help.

Common Elements

I sifted through information and advice on this topic to find the common elements. The good news is that the basic components of organization and time management are the same for work and for your personal life. They are:

Priorities

  • Prioritize your activities for the day, week and month. Some of them may be able to be automated and some may become habits. According to a study from Duke University, around 45% of our everyday actions are made up of habits.
  • Do the urgent and high importance tasks first. Some things may be urgent but not important, so learn the difference.
  • Write down your bigger goals (life goals). Then break them down into manageable pieces.

Planning:

  • Bigger or more complicated projects requires some thought and preparation. Break large projects into manageable pieces. Delegate whenever possible.
  • Build in a back up plan. Think through “what if” scenarios. This will help avoid being late on projects or not having enough money or other resources.
  • Poor planning will create additional stress and cause you to go back to either refinancing, removing some aspects of the project to complete it or be on budget, or negotiating for more time to complete the project.
  • Ask for someone else to review your plan.

Process:

  • For Work: These are activities that can be automated, like automatic calendar reminders for meetings or appointments, or templates and processes for activities that come up frequently.
  • Personal: Tasks that can be automated or delegated, like organizing your house. For example, having bins for mitts, or hats, a place to put your keys, a grocery list that everyone can write down what is needed, or paying your bills automatically by setting up an account.  
  • Work and Personal: Block off time to do the important things that need some thinking or do-not-disturb time. Some online calendars have features that allow you to show that you do not want to be disturbed. If you are at home and don’t want to be disturbed turn off your phone or put it on do not disturb. This feature will allow only certain calls to come through. Tell those around you that you do not want to be disturbed. Lock your office door.
  • If you have children that need watching ask a friend, neighbor, parent to babysit for a few hours to complete your work.
  • Designate a time to review email. This way you won’t be distracted by incoming emails.
  • Don’t multitask, it is too easy to get distracted.

Making the Change

Making a change is hard, you have to be intentional about the change and fight the stumbling blocks that come up to block your progress, such as procrastination and perfectionism.

Decide what you would like to organize, then:

  • Take a small step-a micro step. According to B.J. Fogg, Director of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford, and author of “Tiny Habits, The Small Changes that Change Everything,” it means making the change as small as you can. To create a new habit, simplify the behavior, make it a tiny behavior that is easy and fast to do.
  • Apply the change consistently, it means doing the same steps repeatedly (daily) until they become habits.
  • Organizing one area of your life can lead to organizing other areas of your life. This will make you more productive and increase your confidence.

Project Killers

  • Procrastination: If you keep stalling a project then the project isn’t important to you. If you want to hang on to it, start taking micro steps. If it is important, and you keep stalling, someone else should take over.
  • Perfection. Some people will fiddle with a project to make it perfect. It will never be perfect; it should be a quality job and never sloppy.

Takeaways

Some of my favourite organizational tools:

  • For work: I love mind mapping because it helps me see the whole picture, organize components and see relationships all at once. It makes the mess a message.
  • For my personal life: My phone is my organizer. I use notes, voice memos, camera and calendar features to keep me organized, remind me of meetings and on-the-run notes or memos. I use the camera on my phone to take pictures of where I parked (parking level, parking number, landscaping ideas, etc.)

Good organizational skills matter because they:

  • Help you become a problem solver, something that the world is looking for.
  • Help you be more efficient, productive and successful.
  • Help you achieve your goals faster.
  • Help other have more confidence in our abilities.

For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned

Benjamin Franklin

Successful Leadership Problem Solving

Photo by Olav Ahrens Røtne on Unsplash

Good leaders have a problem solving mindset which makes them so effective, have better control of their lives, and have more success.

Successful problem solving happens when you are clear about what your problem is. Correctly identifying a problem is critical to solving it.

  • It sounds so basic, but some problems are not easy to identify, which makes it more difficult to solve them.
  • Sometimes people have a solution, before they understand what the problem is. 
  • Sometimes the problem is so complicated that layers must be peeled away before you can get at the root cause.
  • It is a trap if you think that defining the problem is easy. In all my years as a policy analyst, defining the problem is the most difficult part of policy work because you need to get to the root of the issue. If you can’t identify the problem, you won’t be able to fix it, or move on.  

Problem Solving Steps

The problem-solving process is the same no matter what the problem is:

  1. Identify the problem(s): It may help to talk it out with someone. 
  2. Gather information: interviews/talking with others, research, data, internet reviews, annual reports, other reports, minutes, etc.
  3. Analyze your information: Use the information gathered from step two and begin analyzing and synthesizing the information.This includes identifying options or choices and what to consider before you make your best choice. Often step 2 and 3 go together.
  4. Put together an action plan: What are the steps you need to take to make it happen?
  5. Review what you learned:  Once you have implemented your plan, you may want to review the process, (immediately, so you can document what worked and what didn’t at various intervals, 6 months, 1 year, etc.)

Example:  Having a difficult conversation

The Context

A golf trip is being planned by a group of golfers once travel opens from COVID. Some golfers are concerned that not everyone is immunized or will be before the golf trip. The immunized golfers are hesitant about having non-immunized golfers join them, but are afraid to raise it for fear of offending the non-immunized golfers. They are also afraid that by socializing with the non-immunized golfers, they could potentially infect their close family members once they return home from the trip. (Partners were not invited).

Identify the Problem:

Do I have this difficult conversation about what to do about the immunization issue, or do I let it go?

It may be helpful to talk it out with others to clarify the problem. 

Information Gathering and Analysis:

Identify concerns of the golf group both immunized and non-immunized. 

Identify what is non-negotiable.

Identify logistics of lodging, meals, golfing, local rules and requirements, etc.

Find out what the safety risks and requirements are for the immunized and non-immunized, including risks to family members. Many of the golfers have family members with chronic and respiratory illnesses that could put their health at risk.

What are the requirements if someone gets the virus? What is the impact to the group? If quarantine is necessary, are there other arrangements that need to be made?

What happens if someone is hospitalized with COVID or becomes ill? Would someone have to stay with them until they were better?  How will that situation be managed? Would medical insurance cover them? Will someone from the family be able travel to be with their sick family member? 

All these items need to be thought out and planned for.

Action Plan:

Plan for the difficult conversation. Identify how and when to have the difficult conversation. Plan what to say and how to say it:

The leader of the golf trip started the conversation by admitting to his non-immunized friends that this was going to be a difficult conversation and that he was taking a risk with the friendships by doing so. He indicated that his safety and the safety of his family was the most important thing to him.

He acknowledged that his friends had a right to choose not to be immunized. He also acknowledged that as the leader of the event, he had a right to protect his family and others on the trip. He mentioned that others were concerned about how this would affect them and their families.

The leader laid out all the information he gathered and all the questions that needed to be answered. As they began discussing the issue in a calm and rationale manner, it became clear that the non-immunized golfers had not considered all the “what if’s” and had more to think about. The non-immunized golfers went away to consider the discussion and the potential scenarios.

They had a follow up discussion a week later and the non-immunized golfers decided that vaccination was the best option for them and their families. (They had been thinking about getting vaccinated, and the questions raised made them do their own research and reach this decision-no strong arming was involved).

The discussion ended with a temperature check on the relationships. The leader asked how the non-immunized golfers felt about the issue, discussion and relationship. The response was: “All is good.”

Learnings:

Leaders don’t step away from a difficult conversation but find ways to manage it. This real-life example is relevant because difficult conversations happen in the work environment and in a personal environment.

It was an awkward situation and an uncomfortable discussion that brought out all the issues into the open and “cleared the air”. They were fully discussed so that everyone could move on.

Thoughtful problem solving played a key role.

Having a difficult conversation can be productive, calm, rationale and without drama. 

Fully displays leadership skills and character traits such as communication, integrity, honesty and compassion.

Takeaway

This is an example of excellence in leadership problem solving: All of us will run into messy people problems based on emotions, principles, or politics. Most people want to run away from these kinds of conversations, it is an act of courage to face the problem directly.

  • This method of problem solving is a time-tested process that works no matter what the problem is.  
  • Sometimes as a leader you have to do the hard thing. Do it as compassionately as you can.
  • This also serves as an example of how to have a difficult conversation, whether in your work life or in your personal life.
  • Every decision you make has a consequence, be ready for the consequences.

Be brave enough to start a conversation that matters. Quote Master

Words: Opportunities and Possibilities

Our thoughts and words create realities for ourselves and others. We can build or we can destroy with our thoughts and words.
Studies and experiments have shown the importance of words and the need to be careful with them. Words will affect our emotions and our brain’s response. Words open up our opportunities and possibilities.

“Recognizing that words have consequences, that choices made by people in power can have a direct impact, not just on behaviours but on our very institutions, is an important thing…What we choose to say, what we choose not to say, how we say it, has consequences.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canada, National Post, January 8, 2021

Words are things. You must be careful, careful about calling people out of their names, using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives and all that ignorance. Don’t do that. Some day we’ll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and finally into you.”

Maya Angelou

Everything is created with words: new ideas, technology, products, businesses, dreams and much more. Thoughts create words, which create emotions, which then mobilize the words (actions).

Do words really change things?

In researching for this blog, I came across some interesting articles on how words impact water, plants and humans.

Water

A Japanese scientist and water researcher, Dr.Masaru Emoto, studied the impact of thoughts and vibrations on the structure of water. He found that when words of love and gratitude were spoken near water, water crystals formed beautiful shapes. When evil or nasty words were spoken to a sample of water taken from the same sources, the crystals became distorted and ugly. Some remarkable results were produced. (Note: This study has not been published in a peer reviewed journal and has not been replicated.) See the pictures below.

Plants

IKEA carried out an experiment in a school in the United Arab Emirates to make a point about bullying. IKEA set up two identical plants in school and for 30 days students were invited to compliment one plant and bully the other. Both plants were kept under identical controlled environments and they received the same amount of light, nutrition and water. After 30 days the plant that was complimented continued to be healthy and thrive, while the plant that received the insults started to wilt and become droopy. This experiment was so successful in increasing awareness of bullying and in reducing bullying, that more schools approached IKEA to do the same experiment in their schools.

Humans

Dr. Andrew Newberg, and Mark Robert Waldman in their book, Words Can Change Your Brain, indicated that a word can trigger a physical and emotional stress and can change your reality. The science behind this is that if you hold a positive/optimistic word in your mind, you stimulate frontal lobe activity. The longer you concentrate on the positive words the more it will affect other areas of the brain. This helps build resiliency.

Negative or hostile language can disrupt specific genes that protect us from stress. This increases the activity in our fear centre and releases stress-producing hormones and neurotransmitters. This then interrupts our brains’ functioning and shuts down our logic, language and reasoning centers located in the frontal lobes.

Our bodies produce cortisol, which in addition to shutting down our thinking center, activates conflict aversion and protection behaviors. This can make us more sensitive and these feelings can last 26 hours or more.

On the other hand, when we hear positive comments and have positive conversations, Oxytocin is released. Oxytocin is a feel-good hormone that improves our communication, our ability to work with others and increases our level of trust. Unlike cortisol, Oxytocin metabolizes more quickly and the feeling doesn’t last. 

A Harvard Business Review (HBR) article showed that more positive interactions will build trust and help you see the good in others. Negative interactions increase suspicion and doubt.

HBR goes on to further discuss the chemistry of conversations and how managers need to be mindful about conversations and behaviours during the conversations. Conversations and behaviours that increase cortisol levels will result in poorer results and performance.  

The same thing applies to conversations that are not work related. Negative interactions with others will increase levels of stress hormones and cortisol and damage relationships. Positive interactions will increase the feel good hormones and chemicals and improve our relationships.

Takeaways

These studies and experiments show the importance of our words and to be careful with them. They will affect our emotions and our brain’s response. This is true whether we are reacting to what someone is saying or whether we are listening to our inner self talk. Our language will determine how others see you and how you see others.

Our thoughts and words create realities for ourselves and for others. We can build or we can destroy with our thoughts and words. Words are our opportunities and our possibilities.

If we understood the power of our thoughts, we would guard them more closely. If we understood the awesome power of our words, we would prefer silence to almost anything negative. In our thoughts and words, we create our own weaknesses and our own strengths.”

Betty Eadie

When Leadership and Humanity Collide

When you as a leader, believe the best in people, it produces powerful results – it reduces individual stress levels, increases loyalty and trust, and improves creativity. It is a safeguard to jumping to wrong conclusions about others.

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I wanted to end the 2020 year by sharing my experience about believing the best in people, compassion and leadership.

Here is my story: my stress levels had reached a point where I was having trouble thinking straight. I don’t know if anyone else has experienced this or not, but it really bothered me because I don’t normally react that way to stress. The stress had built up over time and I didn’t notice how much until I found myself with muddled thinking.

The first time this happened, I was working for the worst manager of my life. This manager labelled everything as URGENT!! This constant exposure to URGENT!! (the manger really did use exclamation marks), impossible deadlines, and poor management style created a stress response in me that resulted in muddled thinking and less than stellar work. If I didn’t meet the deadline, it was a big problem. If I met the deadline, but made a mistake, it was a big problem. This manager’s management style was to berate, humiliate and threaten staff. Needless to say that the strategy was not very effective and consequently people left. This is not leadership. 

The second time this happened, I was working for the best manager of my life. I was faced with impossible deadlines over a long period of time and I was sick. The result was stress, muddled thinking, and less than stellar work. The difference in the second scenario was the response of this manager. His response to me when we discussed it was, “I knew there was something going on with you.” This manager is good and kind, and he believed the best in me.  His simple response spoke volumes.  He knew that what was happening was not normal, and he gave me the space and grace to work it out. I was able to lower my stress level so that I could function normally again. This is leadership and speaks to compassion and believing the best in people.

By modelling behavior, my manager showed me what true leadership looked like. My manager, who is also one of the best leaders I have ever worked for, really does believe the best in his staff and trusts them. He has a genuine interest in his staff’s well – being because he knows that it affects the overall performance of his team and reflects on his management. Beyond that, he is a genuinely nice and kind person who likes people. 

A colleague, who was having a hard time at work with his manager, felt misunderstood and underappreciated, said “people go to work to do a good job and take pride in their work, they don’t go to work to screw up, frustrate a manager or hurt someone.” His comment reminded me that most people have good intentions in mind. When we assume that we know what others are thinking, this gets us into trouble.  Expectations and misunderstandings if not sorted out, will lead to hard feelings and dysfunction.

Real life examples

I have also been thinking about some people in my life that model “believe the best in others.” My Aunt Mary, who died several years ago, was outstanding in this category. She believed the best in people and had compassion for others, and she made me want to be the best around her. She was good and kind, and accepted people for who they were – I never felt judged around her.

I have a friend, Theresa, who believes the best in people and shows compassion when people are not themselves. When Theresa was faced with an unpleasant comment from a friend, Theresa responded with “I guess she has something going on in her life right now.” She could have gotten angry and started a good old – fashioned fight, instead she let it go and gave this person the benefit of the doubt.

What does the research show?

Compassion gives you more powerful results, here is why:

Physical Response:

An angry response increases the individual’s stress level when they are in fear and anxiety mode. Neuroscience shows that when people act as if they are threatened, their reasoning, mental and intellectual capacity is diminished. This in turn reduces productivity and creativity.  Brain imaging studies show that when we feel safe, our brain’s stress response is lower.

Increased loyalty and trust

In my last blog I talked about how humble leaders inspire feelings of warmth and positive relationships at work, these feelings spill over into employee loyalty and outstanding bottom line results.

A study by Jonathan Haidt of New York University showed that the more employees look up to their leaders and are moved by their compassion or kindness, the more loyal they are. So, if you are more compassionate to your employee, not only will he or she be more loyal to you, but anyone else who has witnessed compassionate behavior may also experience elevation and feel more devoted to you. Employee trust in turn improves performance.

We are especially sensitive to signs of trustworthiness in our leaders, and compassion increases our willingness to trust. Brains respond more positively to those who have shown us empathy, as neuroimaging research confirms. 

Loss of creativity

An angry response stops creativity by increasing stress levels which in turn makes people shut down

Takeaways

I learned from the real life examples above how important it is not to jump to conclusions, because misunderstanding happens very easily. Your assumptions about the person may be wrong.

Talk to the person. Whether you are a manager, leader, mom, dad, sister, friend, brother…, communication is a key skill to success. Use it. Maybe the person can’t talk to you about what is happening yet, give them space, but find a time to discuss it, because if you don’t, it can lead to further misunderstanding, fester and create other problems.

Calmly listening and talking it out, leads to better outcomes for both parties and it creates a sense of relief that things are out in the open.

When we believe the best in others, we get the best from others.

The truth is we don’t know what is going on in the lives of others, so why not give them the benefit of the doubt. Wouldn’t you want someone to extend that to you? Wouldn’t you want someone to believe the best in you even when you aren’t your best? YES!!!

I speak from experience when I say yes, I do want someone to give me the benefit of the doubt when I’m not at my best.

If what someone has said to you, or done to you, has offended you, either let it go, or talk to them about it, nicely! Chances are it was a simple miscommunication, and they will appreciate the opportunity to correct the misunderstanding. If you let it go, then don’t bring it up again or keep thinking about it.

We live in a world that is hard and judgmental and we have the power to make it better.  I challenge you to pay if forward and believe the best in others!