Fear of Failure and Other Leadership Gremlins

I read to my five year old most nights.

We are slowly working our way through the various fairy tales in her bookshelf, but one of her all-time favourites (and one I am ordered to read over and over and over again) is a book which is (somewhat alarmingly) called The Snot Goblin.

It’s about a little dude of a gremlin who lives under the bed. He wreaks all manner of havoc – but in a sort of likeable, anti-social way which we can all identify with. This in turn makes him quite endearing, despite his naughtiness.

Gremlins aren’t just confined to story books.

Leadership has its fair share of gremlins.  Did you know the word gremlin is supposedly derived from the Old English word gremian, “to vex”?   And boy, is bad leadership in action certainly vexing!

Here are the 5 main leadership gremlins to be aware of:

1. The ‘Fear of Failure’ gremlin. Fear is a universal experience. It’s hard wired into our psyche and necessary for our survival. But fear of failure, left to grow unchecked, quickly becomes a major gremlin of leadership.

It can leave us paralysed, closed in, overcautious. And just when today’s complex head spinning pace of change calls for boldness, openness and a willingness to be creative, this is a gremlin we certainly want to keep under wraps and in control.

2. The ‘Need to be Right all the Time’ gremlin. We all stuff up and are wrong at times. You know this gremlin has come out to play when you can’t remember the last time you said those three little words – “I was wrong” or “sorry I stuffed up” to your team, your customers or to your suppliers.One way to get rid of this gremlin is to become more attuned to the squeamish feeling of discomfort which accompanies being wrong and to use this as your indicator of it being time to fess up.

 3. The ‘Talking rather than Listening’ gremlin.  This is a humdrum, garden variety gremlin in the Species Gremlinus. But don’t let the fact it’s commonplace fool you as to its pernicious effects.

Just ‘cos you see this mischievous, seemingly innocuous gremlin a lot in your office, doesn’t mean it can’t have devastating effects.  See here for more evidence of its destruction on team work and effectiveness.

4. The ‘Doin’ it For Them’ gremlin.  This lil’ sucker is a tricky little customer.  He lulls you into thinking that it’s ‘quicker if I do it myself’.  But it’s only after he’s firmly attached himself to your psyche and moved into your pattern of behaviour that you realise, too late, that if you’d just coached your team, instead of doing it for them, you’d get a more motivated, engaged and competent team – and more time for yourself.

5. The ‘Rule by an Iron Fist’ gremlin.  This is the Big Daddy of leadership gremlins.  He’s such an insidious creature that the term ‘gremlin’ doesn’t really do it justice, in my opinion.  This is a MONSTER of a gremlin.  You’ll know you have one of these in your closet if you find yourself not allowing anyone to argue or criticise you or your ideas, you marginalise those who challenge you and your team seem afraid to make mistakes (they may even tend to cover up rather than fess up).

Other symptoms you have this gremlin dude hanging on to your coat tails is you can’t remember the last time someone below you in the hierarchy openly challenged or disagreed with you. If you have a sneaky suspicion you have the ‘Rule with an Iron fist’ gremlin, it’s time to take a serious look at yourself and your management style.

All leaders have gremlins. Given perfectionism is not the ideal (in fact, is it a sixth Gremlin?), it is about recognising which ones you have under your own bed to make sure they don’t take over and run amok.

What are some other types of leadership gremlins? Tell me!

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When the Going Gets Tough…

…the tough learn about resilience.

It seems that so many of us are holding out for the Easter break.

Maybe you have been leading through tough times, or maybe you’ve been so busy, you feel completely overloaded.

Perhaps there is constant change in your professional world which you can’t quite keep up with, let alone lead others through.

If the going is tough, it’s important to learn how to become more resilient.

Image source: Andrew McAlpine

Image source: Andrew McAlpine

Here is a blog post I published a while ago, on resilience.  I figured the timing could be perfect for many of my readers right now. I hope you enjoy it.

What is resilience?

Resilience is essentially the ‘bounce back factor’. Strength in times of hardship. Grit when the going gets tough. The ability to cope with stress and adversity.

Every day in my coaching practice, I witness the need for it, great examples of it and the consequence of organisations and individuals not having it.

In our increasingly complex, fast paced and volatile world, resilience is (along with creativity), becoming a fundamental success factor for leaders and individuals in organisations today.

The question is, how do we build and foster resilience – in ourselves and in others? 

Here are 5 ways to become more resilient: 

1. Meaning. Learn what it is, and what it takes to develop it. Identify how important it is – for you, your organisation and those you lead. Make learning about resilience a priority.

2. Mindfulness and reflection.  In his article ‘Resilience Through Mindful Leadership’ Bill George,  Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School, says “the best way to become resilient is to develop oneself into a calm, compassionate and adaptable Mindful Leader.”

To help achieve this, George recommends undertaking some form of “introspective practice” in order to slow down and create space for reflecting upon what is important.

For example, meditation, prayer, journaling, walking, running or swimming. Everyone has a mechanism for adopting introspective practice – the challenge is creating the space for it.

3. Connectedness. We are relational beings.  One of the best antidotes to stress and adversity is sharing our experiences with others. The worst thing we can do as leaders is to try and face difficult situations in isolation. If you are an introvert, one way to achieve this is to first spend time alone, journaling your thoughts, and then connect with someone you trust.

4. Cultivate a positive attitude. Research constantly shows the strong link between a ‘glass half full’ attitude and resilience. Although staying optimistic through challenging periods can be tough, maintaining a positive outlook is key to building resiliency. This doesn’t mean ignoring the problem altogether, it means understanding setbacks are transient – and that you have the skills and abilities to overcome the challenges you face. Dr Sarah Edelman’s book “Change Your Thinking” offers practical ways to have a more positive outlook on life.

5. Flexibility. Learning how to become more adaptable is a vital part of resilience. Resilient people often utilize unexpected events or obstacles as an opportunity to lean into a change of direction. While some people may be crushed by abrupt changes, highly resilient individuals are able to adapt and thrive.

Asking yourself, “where am I rigid in my thinking or approach?” and “where am I more flexible in my life?” can be a simple yet effective way to become more mindful of your current level of flexibility and consequently develop a more adaptable approach to challenges.

“The oak fought the wind and was broken, the willow bent when it must and survived.” 
― Robert Jordan, The Fires of Heaven

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Beware the Judge

I have sometimes shamefully sat and judged others for their weaknesses, foibles and mistakes.

Rather than looking at the issue, or the action/decision a person may have taken, I have unleashed a vitriol of judgement on that person for doing that particular ‘thing’.

Even if the judgement takes place in my head, it still takes place. 

And if I’m truly honest, I have on occasion believed I would have handled their ‘mistake’ much better than they did.

As leaders, the further up the organisational pyramid we go, the more we are judged.

And unfortunately, the higher we climb, the more we tend to wear this judgement hat.

Recently I found myself doing the very thing I had judged others harshly for in a professional environment.

I came to the squeamish realisation that when faced with a certain tricky situation, it was not as ‘black and white’ as I had previously thought.

Suddenly I had compassion for those I had previously judged and condemned so viciously who had faced the same thing.

And it hit me.

Experience is the bridge from judgement to compassion.

Learning to become a good leader (or person for that matter) is an ongoing journey. One with big mountains to climb, deserts to cross and deep valleys to navigate.

We all stumble and fall.

The Native American proverb…

GREAT SPIRIT
Grant That I May Not Criticize My Neighbour
Until I Have Walked A Mile In His Moccasins

…is so poignant for leaders.

So the next time your judge -

- comes out in full force,  suspend its harsh verdict for a moment and instead remember this.

Seek to understand. Judgement has its day. It has its time and place. But too often The Judge is an overused card that is played. And played too soon. Compassion, on the other hand is a card rarely played. Sometimes not at all. 

You will not always have experience on your side, but seeking to understand first, will always be accessible to you as a leader.

See here for more on the role compassion plays in effective leadership and here for an exceptional blog on this topic.

Do you, at times find your inner judge taking centre stage?
When is judgement a good tool to use in leadership?

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A Glimpse Into Tomorrow’s World

“Information is powerful…but it is how we use it that will define us…”

Today’s blog shows us a glimpse into tomorrow’s world through this TED interview with Larry Page, co-founder and CEO of Google.

This is a thought provoking, interesting (at times frightening, at times mind boggling), TED talk to enjoy with your Saturday morning latte.

Have a great weekend everyone!

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Why Checking Emails Continuously is Bad for Your Health

This week I conducted a little experiment.

I read in a time management blog that in order to be super efficient and effective we should only be checking our emails at the beginning and end of the day.

Imagine only checking emails TWICE EVERY DAY. How is that even possible?

I decided to find out and persuaded a coaching client of mine to join me on a day of email fasting. Apart from two doses, first thing in the AM and late in the afternoon, there would be no emailing or inbox entering for an entire day.

Here’s my diary of that day, along with some pretty freakin’ scary insights from this little time management experiment, which might encourage you to give it a go.

9:30amCOLOSSAL, MONUMENTAL, MOUNT EVEREST of a panic attack. Seriously. I am hyperventilating like a fish outta water. Just at the thought of going the entire day without checking my emails.

Proceed to drink 2 cups of coffee in quick succession in order to calm myself right on down…??? Nice one Suze #oxymoron.

10:30am. I discover I have developed a severe case of email Tourette’s syndrome.

My hand hovers over the “Outlook” button every five minutes, desperate to push that alluring little blue box with its pretty “O”, like a perfectly formed cupid’s mouth, beckoning me to kiss it with my finger.

Desperately missing the delicious little ding and ‘fading in/fading out’ notification on the top right-hand side of my computer.

I MISS YOU little email notification! Come back to me. Tell me I am a Very Important Person with so many people wanting to get in touch with me.

12 noon. Strangely, I feel lighter, freer.

I notice I actually am getting a sh#t load of work done this morning.

My panic attacks are beginning to be replaced with a little crown fit for the Efficiency Queen I am quickly becoming.

2:30.  Notice I haven’t thought about my inbox for a whole hour. Repeat, one whole hour. Air punch moment. Dance a smug little dance.

4pm. Start to feel the itch to check again, but realise this is coinciding with my usual lull in energy and concentration which normally accompanies this time of day.

Have a chocolate bar instead and sneakily surf social websites like a heroin addict on their first methodone programme.

5:30pm Check email. Flood of relief at being able to press the send/receive button.

Although I am a little anxious as all the emails downloaded, I find I get through them in no time and probably quicker than usual, because I’ve blocked out time.

Vow to do this experiment more often and release myself from the email inbox’s shackles.

Insights?

No major catastrophes eventuated merely because I hadn’t checked my email continuously throughout the day.

I realised that like many digital activities we engage in, it drains our concentration, interrupts flow of work and most importantly, unless you are a professional email inbox attendant (does that even exist?) it’s just not necessary.

Most alarming though, was my reaction to my reaction.

I realise on a small scale that I am addicted to that melodious ding of the inbox.

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The Gift of Naiveté

Image source: Andrew McAlpine, Photographer.

Image source: Andrew McAlpine, Photographer.

I read this article last week…

The Counterintuitive Secret To Pandora’s Success

I can’t think of a more poignant or direct example of the gift of naiveté.

Generally we look down upon naiveté, particularly in business.

It’s viewed as  a weakness, a shortcoming, a downfall.

But as told in the article above, the founder of Pandora has reminded us of the lesson that naiveté can be our friend.

Why is naiveté a gift?

Because it stops us listening to the naysayers.

The voices, even those which come from within us, which say -

You can’t do it.
It can’t be done.
You’re too young, too inexperienced, too naive

Says who?

If Richard Branson had listened to those voices, he wouldn’t be the uber-successful billionaire he is today.

He launched a national magazine at the age of 15 instead of focusing on his studies.
He started a record store when he knew nothing about retail.
He created an airline he knew nothing about.

Some may call him crazy – in fact, I’m sure they did.

But Branson used naiveté to his advantage. He did it anyway. He took risks. He knew when to walk away. And he learned from his mistakes.

Naiveté says…

I can…
What if…?
Who says we can’t…
Wouldn’t it be great if we….?

Let’s just do it.

Sure, naiveté is rose tinted.  But I think a little dose of rose tinted is what’s needed in the world today.

It’s the realm of what if creativity.
Of possibility instead of limitation.
Of expansiveness instead of constriction.

It’s what starts journeys.

And I’m all for more of that.

Think big and don’t listen to people who tell you it can’t be done. Life’s too short to think small. -Tim Ferriss

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The Corporate Athlete

At the beginning of this year I invited my awesome readers to ask me questions about leadership.

I had such a great response and so have decided to make it a regular feature.

Today I’m answering Phill’s question – congratulations Phill, a copy of Heart to Start by Derek Handley is coming your way!

Question:

“Hi Suzi, I have come from a (professional) sporting background and have now moved into a corporate occupation which involves a portion of coaching to help team members achieve their targets and goals.

What would the top three things be that you suggest I focus on to get the best out of my new team and help them achieve?”

Answer:

I love this question, because to me, leadership in business can borrow a lot from the sporting world.  Coaching a team of people in the workforce is a lot like coaching a sports team.

Here are my 3 top tips to get the most from your corporate ‘team’:

1. Start with the end in mind.

This is similar to visualisation in sports. Almost every successful athlete is a highly attuned visualizer. And effective coaches know how to train people to start with the end in mind.

As Muhammad Ali once said, “Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them: A desire, a dream, a vision.”

Ask your team to describe to you what success looks like. Through their own eyes, the team’s and even yours as their manager.

Make sure you’re on the same page regarding what you will all be seeing when success, whatever that may be, is occurring.

In sport, every team player needs to know their vision is a unified one. It’s the same in a working environment.

It’s better to ask your team members to describe their own vision of success first, rather than you just ‘telling them’ what they need to do in order to achieve.

Starting with a clear picture of success is an important first step in getting the best out of your new team.

You can then move into a conversation around why this is important, what the potential obstacles might be and what tangible steps you both need to take in order to achieve this picture of success.

2. Learn to love the question. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know this is something I get on my high horse about.

Think about how many questions are asked at good training sessions – by your coach, trainers, managers and team mates. Athletes can’t improve their own performance, or achieve as a team, without asking questions. Similarly, the best coaches ask a lot of questions.

Asking great questions is one of the most powerful tools for unleashing potential in your team.

Why? It helps people to think for themselves. It engages them in the topic at hand. It empowers individuals to create their own processes and solutions.

Click here to see my top 6 coaching questions for leading and inspiring people.

3. Become skilled at giving (and receiving) feedback.

Imagine a top-level sports game without a team debrief afterwards. It just doesn’t happen, right? There’s always an opportunity to talk about the game, what you did well, what did and did not work, and what you need to improve on.

Similarly in a corporate environment, if we want to improve our performance we have to be able to give and receive feedback well – and often.

Work hard at refining this skill by pushing beyond your sphere of comfort and you will reap the rewards. Whether we are delivering or are on the receiving end, feedback (whether it’s positive or developmental) can, at times, make us feel uncomfortable, but do it anyway.

If you need to learn how, click here to read my top tips on giving feedback.

Make it a daily occurrence, not a once yearly exercise at the annual performance appraisal. No one appreciates the dump truck approach.

This is the purpose of ‘time-out’ in a sports game – so the coach can give, receive, exchange ideas and tweak the game plan while the game is in play.

Don’t wait until the end of the season to put your two cents worth in – your players won’t thank you for it. You could be too late. Communication is one of the fundamental keys of success – use it to your advantage.

If you’re an athlete who can empathise with Phill, having transitioned from sports to a corporate career, I’d love to hear your comments/tips – and I’m sure Phill would as well.

If you have a leadership question you’d like to ask me, please leave yours in the comments section below.

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