5 Ways to Embrace Learning

5 ways to embrace learning

Learning is powerful.  As leaders, it is imperative that we continue to grow and learn.  However, we frequently find it too easy to start coasting when we have made it to that dream job, or to completely disconnect when we are in a job that no longer satisfies us.  We stop thinking about our own growth, and the growth of others.  We seem to get caught in the day to day operations of our jobs, without keeping an eye on continuing growth and development.  When we start to back away from learning and our own personal growth, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment, and ultimately creating a box for ourselves and our employees.  However, we can keep our minds and our focus sharp by focusing on truly learning and growing as individuals and leaders.  Here are five ways to embrace learning:

  1. Learn a new skill: There is something about learning a new skill that increases your confidence, and puts a little more pep in your step.  When you learn a new skill, whether it be learning to code so you know what your tech department is doing, or learning to play the piano, you are encouraging your brain to develop new connections, through a process called myelination.  As we become more comfortable performing the tasks associated with the skill, you are optimizing your brain’s capacity through myelination.  Ultimately, this will make you more innovative and engaged because your brain is learning to think outside of its old “box” or thought processes and increase thought speed through myelination.  As you are learning your new skill, remember to practice frequently, ask for feedback, and also focus on the quality of your practice.
  2. Leonardo da VinciKeep up to date with the latest trends in your field: This one is pretty self explanatory.  Most leaders are members of at least one professional organization, and those organizations publish research articles each month.  Keep reading them.  It is too easy to just quickly delete the email, or to place the journal in a stack on your bookcase.  Block out time to read at least one article a week.  Setting a designated time to read will help you to turn reading into a habit.  If you find it a little too easy to delete those email articles, print them out and place them in a location where you will be encouraged to read them.  This will help you to stay up to date on what is going on in your field, and it will also help you to continue to grow as a leader.
  3. Conduct Research: When you first started out, you had to do research pretty regularly in order to complete your tasks.  Now, you know a fair amount, but you can always learn more and go deeper.  Do some research on how to grow an organization.  Start looking for trends, and dig deeper to do some statistical analysis to see if your hunches are having the desired ROI.  This also ties back into keeping up to date with the latest trends.  When you come across an article or concept that you find interesting, start doing research into other points of view on the subject.  Has it been successful in other organizations?  Do you see it playing out in your life?  What are other experts saying?  Continuing to go deeper into your research allows you to expand your critical thinking skills, and build capacity to ask the questions and develop goals for growth.
  4. Go back to school: When you are in school you are part of a cohort that is focused on consuming as much information as possible.  These cohorts form a network that support us as we grow throughout our careers, and the skills that we gain are invaluable to guiding us on our career path.  Some people love the feeling of being a student in a formal educational setting.  They find the work rewarding and it motivates them to continue learning and being the best in their field, or even expanding their horizons into new career paths.  If you are struggling with how to move out of your box, and you remember thriving in the educational environment, look at opportunities to go back to school.  Maybe you want to pursue an advanced degree, or maybe you would like to earn a certificate that strengthens  your credentials  and helps guide your career to greater heights.  Look for learning opportunities that motivate you and strengthen you as an innovative leader that creates opportunities for his or herself, as well as opportunities for the entire organization.
  5. Join a mastermind group: A mastermind group is a concept developed by Napoleon Hill.  It is basically a peer-to-peer mentoring group that helps you navigate through challenges using the collective intelligence and learning of the group.  When involved in a mastermind group, you are working with people who can help you see the forest through the trees.  They will help you define how you want to learn and grow, and then hold you accountable to those goals.  Everyone who comes to a mastermind group comes with a unique skill and educational background.  The educational strength of this group is immeasurable.  The support of the group makes your networking, development, and educational journey more fun.  You are not in your struggle alone.  There are people who are able to help you, and the beautiful thing is that you have skills that you are able to offer to help them as well.

Carl Rogers Quote on LearningAs leaders it is imperative that we explore how to learn, and how to change.  We have so many opportunities to learn from our environment, our employees, our mentors, our peers, and literature.  Many people believe that after a certain age, it is impossible to learn something new, when we are truly open to learning at any point in our lives.  The more we focus on learning, the more open our brains are to accepting new information, learning new skills, and increasing thinking speed.  I encourage you to find new and innovative ways to learn and grow in your career and in your life.

What Is Your Conflict Style: Confrontational or Avoidant?

What is your Conflict Style-2

Most of us have a very strong default response to conflict.  Today we are going to examine two very broad categories of conflict style, avoidant and confrontational.  In these styles, we will either try to avoid conflict at all costs, or rush in words flying to deal with it head on.  Neither one of these tendencies is inherently bad; however, just like all things, when taken to the extreme they can start to be a blind spot or a place where we struggle in our interactions with people.  We all fall somewhere on this spectrum, sometimes pulling tendencies from both types.  There are many other ways of viewing conflict, which are very evident in the personality types of the Enneagram; however, today we are only going to look at the very broad descriptions of confrontation and avoidance.

When I look back on my life, I realize that I had a strong aversion to conflict, which is pretty ironic when you consider that is what I decided to study and and working with conflict is a large part of my career.  I recognized that I did not like conflict, and that drove me to explore why conflict occurs, how we respond to it, and how we can take something that is naturally uncomfortable and transform it into a moment of growth.

Throughout my career, I have recognized that many leaders have a strong default when it comes to conflict.  Many of them have always just resolved conflicts based on their default, but never really explored why they responded in a certain way, and many do not take the time to dig deep and take a look at whether their conflict style is effective in meeting their needs, as well as the needs of the organization.

Avoidant Style of Conflict

If you are conflict avoidant, in many cases you will ignore and avoid possible points of conflict or build your interactions around the conflict in a way that you never address the elephant in the room.  If you are conflict avoidant, you have probably had the experience of being hurt or insulted by someone, but you just smile and nod so you do not have to deal with the issue.  After the pain has occurred, you may do everything in your power to stay away from that person and not have to work with them on any projects.

If you are leader, how is conflict avoidance detrimental?  Don’t you want to avoid rocking the boat and let everyone keep working?  Not necessarily.  When people say something that rubs you the wrong way, something I call a sandpaper moment, it has an impact on us.  We feel a physical and emotional pain, and we start to build scripts about that person, who they are, and how we don’t want to ever deal with them again.  In many cases, the people who said or did something to cause the harm are not aware that what they said hurt you, or they are not aware of the extent of the harm.

When people are conflict avoidant and they are trying to avoid interacting with someone because they don’t want to deal with the issue, organizations and relationships suffer.  They waste time thinking about the conflict and how they can get around working with that individual.  This all has a cost.  Time wasted finding alternate means of completing a project or not talking to someone key to a project can completely derail productivity.  Ultimately, conflict avoidance escalates to increased employee turn over.  Employees will leave an organization because they are not able to work with another person in the organization, and their quality of life suffers because they are constantly on guard about dealing with the entire situation.

Fortunately, we can learn tools to help us to address conflict, even if we are conflict avoidant.  One of the first tools I use to coach clients who are conflict avoidant is to ground yourself.  I have found that when I want to run away and avoid conflict, the best thing I can do is to place both feet on the ground, take a deep breath, and lean into the situation.  It is very easy for someone who is conflict avoidant to lean back and disconnect from the situation, thinking that they will deal with it later, or to completely ignore what is going on and start thinking about how they can avoid uncomfortable situations in the future.

I statementsThe second tool is using the “I” statement formula to let someone know that something they did had an impact on you, what the action was that caused it, and how they can change the behavior in the future.  The structure of an “I” statement is:  I feel (name the specific impact, such as I feel disrespected), when you (name the specific action, such as when you speak over me in meetings), because (why, such as I did a lot of research on this topic and I want to make sure that we can integrate all of our ideas into the project.)  I statements are an effective script to use, especially when you are reluctant to speak up. They allow you to state what happened on your side and request a behavior change, without vilifying  the other person and putting up defensive walls.

The third tool to take into account, is evaluating when to respond.  None of us like to have our faults or mistakes called out in front of other people.  So, if possible, wait to have a one on one conversation with the other person.  You will be able to create more space for open conversation, and will be able to decrease defensiveness.  Now, just because I said you can wait until it is one on one, it does not mean that you should wait for a long period of time before responding.  I recommend responding within twenty four hours.  If you don’t respond within twenty four hours, people tend to forget what happened and you start to vilify the other person more, and start creating more reasons not to initiate a conversation to resolve the issue.

I encourage you to lean into your natural strengths, ground yourself, and use your tools to respond, even if you are conflict avoidant.  Addressing conflict in a good way early can save time, money, and heartache for you and the organization.  If you do not feel safe, then talk to HR before using these tools to gain assistance on the best course of action.  As  always, if you have questions or would like coaching, please contact Lauren at www.itl-systems.com, or lraio@itl-systems.com.

Confrontational Style of Conflict: What Conflict? This is a discussion!

On the opposite side of the spectrum, some individuals are more confrontational.  They do not view conflict as a problem or something to be avoided, but rather an opportunity to get what they need or even just an opportunity to stretch their mental muscles and engage in playing devil’s advocate.  A lot of people who are more confrontational do not view issues as conflict, rather they are just discussing things that need to be addressed.  Many times more confrontational types do not even feel like they are in a conflict.  It is only when people start wilting and backing away from them that they realize that something is going on.

If you are a leader, wouldn’t you think that it is a good thing to get everything out on the table so it can be addressed.  The answer is yes and no.  While it is important not to sweep things under the rug because they will ultimately re-appear and pile up, it is also important to recognize that sometimes we have to dial back our responses and take the preferences of other people into account.  Being too strong in a conflict situation can cause people to become defensive and not want to work with you, once again wasting time, encouraging poor decision making, and increasing employee attrition.

You might have a more confrontational conflict style if you find yourself always entering into difficult situations with an “I’m going to win” mentality.  People more confrontational conflict styles also find themselves feeling like it is me against the world. They fear that if they are not strong then they will be viewed as weak and will ultimately be hurt.  You usually know when a more confrontational person enters into the conversation because they are moving towards the conflict and people involved.  They frequently are moving towards the conflict and people with high levels of energy, which can be observed by higher volume and in many cases physically moving towards a person.

When coaching people with a confrontational conflict style, I recommend a few different tools.  The first tool is to dial it back.  What feels normal and comfortable for people with a more confrontational style, can be overwhelming for others.  So, take a deep breath and dial back some of the energy and power.  Dialing it back will allow the other parties to hear you more easily, and not trigger a fight or flight response.

The second tool is to align your intent and your impact.  If you are more confrontational, you tend to be very direct, which can be misinterpreted as being antagonistic or aggressive.  Take a deep breath and think about what you are saying and doing.  How will it be perceived by the other party?  Will I convey the message I intend, or will I have an unintended impact (such as hurting someones feelings and making them defensive).  If you are unsure, ask a close friend to talk through it with you.  Make sure that your friend is someone who is comfortable letting you know if you are coming across in an unintended manner.  We all need someone who can help us work through ideas and call us on our blindspots.

The third tool is to use “I” statements.  While people with more confrontational styles are not as fearful of conflict so they don’t need a script for that reason, the “I” statement script does help them to reframe the issue so they can identify personal impact and request change without blaming or creating a defensive conversation that ultimately can escalate the situation.

The Cost of Conflict

Many of us have made it fairly far in life without really having to think about the effect of our conflict style.  We have worked through conflict, but maybe we weren’t aware of the effect on the people around us, or how it influenced our career moves.  According to the Michael Lazan’s article The Financial Cost of Conflict in Organizations, the financial cost of a single conflict in an organization can total $255,000 in employee attrition, wasted time, and lower return on investment in labor.  This is a substantial cost for a single conflict.

What would happen if you empowered yourself and empowered your employees to transform conflict into an opportunity for growth and development?  Identifying your conflict style, and the strengths and blind spots that accompany your style, allows you to create your own developmental path.  You can write yourself reminders to use your tools when you are in a conflict scenario.  It may be possible to create new rules of relationship that allow you to address situations before they escalate into higher levels of conflict, and ultimately higher costs of conflict for the organization and personal well-being.

As I stated before, these are two very broad categories of conflict.  We all have more specific reactions to conflict based on our personalities and experiences.  I encourage you to dig deeper to explore how you respond, and why.  If you would like to learn more about your personality and conflict, contact Lauren at www.itl-systems.com or lraio@itl-systems.com.  We offer individual coaching, as well as Enneagram personality assessments.

Are You Stuck In Your Story?

are you stuck in your story

We all have a story, and it is important to know your story.  We aren’t just a haphazard compilation of ideas and thoughts, unless we surrender our story to external forces.  When you take control of your story you can take a series of events and turn it into a masterpiece.

What happens when you have an outline or a script, but your story no longer fits who you are? 

When I started out in my field, I wanted to do family mediation.  I wanted to be the person who helped to provide a process for families to heal wounds, and build rules of relationship that worked for everyone, not just one spouse or exclude the need of children.  I had watched several friends be used as pawns in their parents divorce.  My heart ached for them.  I saw families that used to care for one another view their custody and divorce cases as completely win/lose options.  I wanted to work with people to provide another option.  My story was that I wanted to make a difference in families, especially with children because I saw how difficult the experience was on my friends.

As I went further in my studies, I realized that their are many more applications to mediation and conflict transformation than just in families.  It dawned on me that I wanted to look at conflict transformation through another lens.  However, I had told everyone in my family that my dream was to work with families, specifically in divorce and custody mediation.  What do I do now?

I realized that my focus had shifted, and my story changed.  I needed to re-write my story to fit my goals, and to shift my story based on my goals and not external expectations.  My story became I wanted to apply conflict transformation and restorative justice principles to help leaders thrive.  I recognized that what used to really drive my curiosity was now on the back burner.  I fell in love with the idea of building systems and processes that take into account the needs of people and the systems where they live and work.  It didn’t mean that I no longer wanted to help families when they are struggling with their story, I just recognized that there are other avenues for sharing those skills and making a difference in the world.  I took control of my story.  I struggled with who I wanted to be.  I recognized that I can change my story based on my passions and life experiences.  I control the process of writing my story, and my story continues to develop with even deeper storylines and character development.

Have you ever written your story based on what other people have said?  

As we progress through our career and into leadership roles, we have to be extremely conscious of our story.  Are we living our story? Or are we living the story that others think we should be living?  It is very easy to get started on a career path that we never really intended on following.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It just needs to be YOUR path that evolved because your goals, passions, and experiences shifted, not someone else’s.

We start out with an ideal image of how our story will go.  It usually includes a big “aha” moment where you realize you have found your life’s calling, you build a career, reach the highest position in the field, make a lot of money, and retire to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Sounds great, and yet our stories change.  Very few people have the experience of easily walking through their original plan and story.  Think about your favorite novel.  It usually involves dynamic characters who think that they have it all figured out, and then a crisis happens.  This crisis or conflict is ultimately what forces them to re-evaluate who they are and what they want to be.  This is where they develop character and grit.  They rewrite their story to make it who they want to be, not just going along with the circumstances surrounding their story.  What they thought was their purpose or passion is put in a crucible and what comes out on the other side is their true passion.  They hold themselves accountable for who they are and who they want to be.  They own their story.

“Who lives, Who dies, Who tells your story”- Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda

who lives, who dies, who tells your story

The same story process that you read in novels also applies to your career and leadership journey.  Find something that interests you.  Passion and purpose are not something that happens in a bolt of lightening.  Rather, the development of a passion occurs over time.  Take control of your story.  Start looking at your leadership journey as a novel that you control.  You will have love, joy, hardship, and triumph.  You can choose to write your story with courage, empathy, and emotional intelligence.  You can choose to keep your storyline open for development.  You can choose to not set limits on your potential.

Our stories can limit where we go, or they can open up limitless horizons.  

Use your journey to write fantastic stories for the future.  Keep in mind that very few authors use their first draft.  Therefore, your story has potential to change.  You don’t have to be contained by a box of a story, because let’s face it, it is hard to read the label when you are inside the box.  It is hard to read your story when you are stuck on page 10.

You are the author of your leadership journey.  What is your story?

What Makes You Thrive?

the best places to go on a

According to a study at the World Health Organization (WHO), most of the world’s population spends one third of their life working.  This is an enormous amount of time when you consider all the other demands on our lives (family, volunteering, religious obligations, housework, etc).  In order to thrive in those conditions, you need to understand why you work.  What is it that inspires you to get out of bed every day?

When I ask clients what motivates them to get out of bed every day, I inevitably get the answer, “my alarm clock!”  Yes.  Your alarm clock gets you out of bed every day, but you wouldn’t have set that alarm clock unless you had some motivation each night.  When asked to go deeper, many people talk about money.  Yes.  You need to earn money in order to provide for your self and maybe your family.  However, if you are only getting out of bed for the basic pay check, you don’t have as much inspiration to continue to thrive in your career, and elevate your leadership skills to the next level.  You could coast along where you are, which does require work, but it isn’t nearly as satisfying as working for something that makes your heart and head thrive.

Many people dream of owning the sports car, the mansion, the vacation, and having endless financial security.  These are all wonderful things that we would all love to have. However, the material possessions inevitably depreciate, and we are still left feeling unsatisfied with our work.  What I encourage you to do is to look internally, rather than externally.  What makes you thrive?  Many leaders and entrepreneurs when they achieve their initial goal, they reach a plateau.  They don’t continue because they are making the comfortable salary.   They got the car they wanted, but they inevitably end up unsatisfied with their lives.

we were made to thriveWhat makes you THRIVE?  If you were to disappear tomorrow, what would you want you want people to remember?  When you can answer that question, you have found your core.  You have found that motivation that makes you want to get out of bed each morning.  Do you want to advance medical research?  Do you want to inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs?  Do you want to be an example for your family?  Do you want to change lives?  For me, I want to make a difference in the world.  I want to inspire people to be comfortable with who they are, and recognize that they have strengths that are extremely valuable to the world.   They have the capacity to learn and grow throughout their lives.  I want people to recognize that one of their strengths is that they have a voice that can be used to work together to build relationships and build a civil society that is innovative, collaborative, and respectful.  That is what inspires me to get out of bed each morning.  This is what makes me thrive.

When you know what makes you thrive, it is easier to stay focused.  We are always going to face some sort of adversity, some sort of push back.  Maybe people will be judgmental of our path, or we will feel like we need to keep up with the Jones’.  But when you know what you want to achieve out of your career, you can focus that third of your life to become a more complete part of the whole of your life.  You aren’t just a leader who works to fulfill the basic obligations of your job.  You are a leader who lives and leads by example, and is motivated to continue to learn and grow in your position.

Life is too short to think only in on dimension and to think that our work is completely separate from who we are.  We have to learn to focus not only on the need for money to survive, but also to be present and know what we need to do to thrive, and ultimately help our organizations and community thrive.  It doesn’t mean that we won’t struggle, or that we won’t have times that we worry about the necessary funds for survival.  It means that we are open to the fact that we have more to offer, more to learn, and more room to grow as leaders and members of society.  So, what makes you thrive?

6 Tips for Springtime Self-Care: Spring Cleaning for Leaders

6 Tips for Springtime Self-Care_ Spring Cleaning for Leaders

On Monday, March 20th, spring arrived.  If you are like me you are very happy to welcome spring and say goodbye to winter.  Many organizations and leaders enter a time of renewal in spring.  During the winter months, they are working strictly on the business of leading and creating.  Their nose is to the grindstone, and with the lack of daylight, many workers leave and come home in the dark.  It is very challenging to maintain energy and momentum during those long winter months.  Now that spring is here, and we have survived the time change, it is a time for self renewal.

It is important for everyone to practice self-care.  For me, this becomes easier in the spring months.  It is almost like the world is saying, okay, the warmer weather is coming and everything is going to spring back to life, including you!  Here are a few things to motivate you to take care of yourself as we enter spring:

  1. 6 Itmes for Spring Time Self-CareYou First. Remember what they tell you about the oxygen mask on the plane.  Put your own mask on first before helping children and others in need of assistance.  Too many times we take care of others before taking care of ourselves.   Make time to take care of yourself; including, time to exercise, sleep, and enjoy family, friends, and hobbies outside of work.
  2. Focus on the art of listening.  It is amazing how liberating and enlightening it is when we listen to understand rather than to respond.  When you focus on the art of listening you are creating space for personal growth, and the opportunity to build stronger relationships.
  3. Only check your email and social media accounts as designated times of the day.  It is amazing how much time we waste, and how much of our energy we drain when we are constantly checking email and social media.  Human nature leads us to judge ourself against others on social media.  We also have a tendency to increase our stress levels with articles and posts that basically only serve to increase our blood pressure.  By focusing on email and social media at certain times of the day, you are creating barriers that protect your time, creativity, and stress levels.
  4. Take a vacation.  According to projecttimeoff.com, “more than half of American workers (55%) left vacation time unused in 2015. This adds up to 658 million unused vacation days.  Additionally, “employees who take 10 or fewer days of vacation time are less likely to have received a raise or bonus in the last three years than those who took 11 days or more.”  Many people do not take time off because it is not discussed by leadership.  Not having time off increases levels of stress and has been shown to have adverse effects on health.  By taking your time off, and openly discussing the benefits of time off, you are not only renewing yourself, but you are encouraging your organization to do what is necessary to be healthy and productive.
  5. Try something new.  When you work hard at doing the same things all the time, you are building yourself a box, and it can be very difficult to get out of that box.  So, live in the moment and try something new.  Even if it is not related to work, learning a new skill or trying something new increases your brain’s neural plasticity, and can be a lot of fun!  Break down that box, and explore the possibilities!
  6. Get enough sleep.  According to the National Sleep Foundation, 45% of Americans say that poor or insufficient sleep effects their sleep at least once a week.  Many Americans report good sleep quantity (average of 7 hours and 36 minutes per night), but not good sleep quality.  Poor sleep quality means that you are not waking up and feeling refreshed.  We are surrounded by stimuli for most of the day, and many leaders have a difficult time turning off.  Work on establishing good sleep hygiene.  No screens in the bedroom.  Limit light and noise.  Also, establish a sleep routine where you get up and and go to bed at the same time every day.  This is a challenge with our schedules, and the desire to stay up and sleep in on the weekend.  However, sleep is important.  Evaluate your sleep habits, and look for where you can make improvements.

We get so caught up in the day to day tasks of our lives that sometimes we forget to take time for ourselves.  So, spring has sprung.  Take time to have fun, enjoy life, and take care of yourself.  This is your opportunity to grow as a leader who is living and leading harmoniously.

3 Steps to Lead with Motivation

3 Steps to LEad with motivation

Do you ever wonder what makes your employees tick?  When you think about it, employees are not working FOR you.  They are working for themselves.  They are working to make a living, and ultimately to create the life they feel aligns with their goals, values, and motivation.  So, as a leader, how do you invite them on your leadership journey, while taking in to account their core motivation?  The bigger question is, do you know what motivates your employees?  Knowing this information can only be determined through identifying your core motivation, leading with transparency, and having conversations with your coworkers and employees.

Always be yourself and have faith in yourself. Do not go out and look for a successful personality and try to duplicate it.Identify Your Core Motivation.  Begin by asking yourself, “Why do I work?  Why did I choose my career path?”  Knowing why you work is powerful.  When you have identified your core motivation, it helps you to understand and modify your behaviors as necessary.  Knowing your core motivation and values also helps you to make decisions.  You are able to identify what will align with your values and set you on the path to success in life.

It is difficult to help people align their core motivation and goals with yours if you are unclear.  So, take the time to think about what you want to accomplish, and more importantly why.  Do you want to create this new company because it is the right thing to do.  Will it allow you to have more freedom and control over your income, hours, and the ability to give back to the community?  Do you want to begin a new project because the technological innovations will allow you to learn and understand your field in new and innovative ways.  Do you want to have the ability to support your family, and flex your time between home and work?  As you can see there are many reasons that we work, form new projects, and move through the world as us.  What is important is to be ourselves.  Don’t try to be another person’s personality.  Their is strength in knowing yourself, and growth comes when we work on living to OUR fullest potential.

Be Transparent About Your Values.  When people start working for you, they are frequently only looking at the nuts and bolts of the job.  What will I be doing?  What is the output?  What is expected of me?  Many times people are not aware of the reasons why they are doing the job, and ultimately how the job is perceived.  Our values create a lens through which we interpret the work and how it should be done.  If you are up front with your employees about why you are doing the job, it creates a personal connection, and invites them to connect with your vision, and hopefully enhance it with their own.

Motivation is everything. You can do the work of two people, but you can't be two people. Instead, you have to inspire the next guy down the line and get him to inspire his peopleHave a Conversation.  How do you know what is motivating your employees?  How do you know how their values align with the work?  You don’t.  At least you don’t know until you have a conversation.  You have been transparent about your values, why and how you work.  This has opened the door for a conversation with your co-workers and employees.  Invite them into your office or out for coffee to discuss what they want out of their job and career.  Why did they choose their career?  You can find out all kinds of information from these meetings.  You may gain an insight into the work you are doing that you didn’t even consider.  Sometimes it takes time to build the rapport and trust to have this open conversation, and it is one that is ongoing.  However, once you have this conversation, you will have insight into what motivates your employees, and how you can help them align their work with what motivates them.

As leaders we have ideas about who we are and why we work.  We have goals, values, and motivations about who we want to be as leaders and we want to bring our employees along with us.  However, we have to recognize that they are moving through life with different experiences, values and motivation.  The power comes from understanding where they are coming from, and identifying how we can help them meet  their goals and work with their core motivation.


4 Steps to Conquer Analysis Paralysis

4 steps to conquer analysis paralysis

Have you ever had a big decision to make and you just couldn’t quite get to  a decision point?  Maybe you were looking to expand your business into another geographic location, or maybe you went to buy a car, but you just couldn’t make up your mind.  Welcome to analysis paralysis.  The arch enemy of many leaders.  If you are like me, you are quite familiar with this phenomenon.  Analysis paralysis is where you feel like you do not have enough information to make a decision, so you freeze.  Action is delayed, and for many people frustration and anxiety increase.  I have four steps that I find helpful in dealing with analysis paralysis.

Step One: Be Present

We have talked a lot about mindfulness and being present in this blog.  Mindfulness nurtures our decision making space and creates high-resolution perception.  This means that we are able to see the forest through the trees.  When I am mindful, I do not necessarily get bogged down in the details.

When I am  mindful, I am able to evaluate a situation with my head, heart, and gut.  Examining a problem with mindful awareness through the lens of the head space allows you to look at all of the information and identify patterns and trends that inform the decision making process.  4 Steps for BeatingThe heart space allows me to examine how I feel about the situation.  My emotions provide information, allow me to increase my decision making speed, allow me to assess relevance, and enhance commitment to action and the decision making process.  Finally, my gut allows me to have the confidence to take action.  Our gut is what leads us to say, okay, I’m okay and I feel comfortable with my decision.  I have looked at all of the relevant information, made an informed decision that considers all of the stakeholders and what is best for the current situation, and now I will move forward in action based on that decision.  Without being present, we get stuck in a circle of what if.

Being present and being mindful require intentionality.  I have found several ways to increase my ability to be present, and I encourage you to explore what works for you.  In order to stay present, I have to work on maintaining my physical and emotional health.  So, I get up in the morning, eat breakfast, read a daily meditation, and exercise.  For me, running is a way to really center and focus my day and whatever problems I have in front of me.  Running is active, so when I am struggling with analysis paralysis it provides time and space to consider head, heart, and gut, and focus all of them through the lens of action.  Even my mindfulness practice is focused around head, heart and gut.  The process itself is head centered, the meditation is heart centered, and the exercise portion is gut centered.  Creating a mindfulness practices that allows you to intentionally strengthen all of the components of living and decision making processes builds your capacity for moving through analysis paralysis.

Step Two: Set a Time Limit

One of the major components of analysis paralysis is not being able to make a decision or take action in time.  For many of us, if we are working on our own, we do not have clear time limits for our decisions or actions.  Think of a time that you had to make a major decision, but you had a time limit.  How did you feel?  I’m sure you were nervous, but ultimately you had to make a decision or take action.  Even if you did not make a “decision” that in itself was a decision.  You made the decision that you did not have enough information to proceed, or that it was not important enough to work through the process.  However, there are sometimes when we don’t make a decision and it isn’t really a decision.  It is more of a moment of giving up or feeling helpless because of analysis paralysis.

Have you ever been offered an opportunity or a job that sounded great, but your current situation wasn’t horrible, but you had to make a decision?  How would you feel if  you didn’t have a clear time frame on your decision?  Without a clear time frame, you would continue to worry about your decision.  You would continually be weighing your current situation against what could be possible in the future.  When the constant anxiety over what could be is weighing on you, your decision making processes and engagement suffer.  Once you have committed to a decision making time frame, you are creating space for careful thought and action.  Once you have committed to your decision, it is easier to move forward with full engagement and commitment to your work.

Step Three: Have an Accountability Mechanism

Accountability Builds Response-Ability-Steven CoveyYou are working on being present.  You have set a time frame for your decision.  Great, now how will you hold yourself accountable?  It is wonderful to have goals and time frames, but if they are just in your head, it is too easy to talk yourself out of really having to make a decision by a certain time.  I encourage you to have an accountability buddy, who will gently and lovingly encourage you to follow through on your intentions.  An accountability buddy will say, “I know you have a decision coming up, is there anything I can do to help you?”  Or “How are things going with deciding whether to move the company to XYZ?”  An accountability buddy is a gentle and supportive reminder that you made a commitment to yourself to be intentional, set a time frame, and move through analysis before it becomes analysis paralysis.

In addition to an accountability buddy, add mile markers to your calendar.  These mile markers will help you outline what you need to consider and put time limits on them.  Adding them to your calendar creates a visual, and if you add reminders, an audible reminder that you have a decision making process to follow.

You can also create a vision board of your problem, especially if it is a big decision.  For example, if you are considering making a career shift and need to work through that decision, you could create a vision board that has representations of what you want to be.  It could include: quotes that inspire you, leaders whose characteristics you would like to emulate, where you would like to live and work, and of course a date by which you want to meet each of your goals.  Visual representations in highly visible locations serve as a reminder and inspire us to take action to meet our goals.

Step Four: Focus on Action

Now you have made your decision, so now what?  It is too easy to get caught in analysis paralysis, work through the process, make a decision, and then be too exhausted to take action.  Alternatively, we are still in analysis paralysis and haven’t even started taking action in the decision making process.  It is important to keep in mind that the world is always moving forward.  If we stop moving, we are essentially moving backwards.  If you are stuck deciding whether you want to take the next step and increase the product offerings of your business, you are not only stuck in the current moment, but the world is continuing to move, and someone else may take over your market share.  Now, this does not mean that you move forward without doing research, or taking all available facts into consideration.

Focusing on action allows you to consider all of the facts and emotions relevant to the situation through the lens of action.  For example, if you are deciding whether to expand your web design services to also include cyber security packages and web hosting, you would look at: what does the market look like, are people interested in my services, what would I need to add to my current infrastructure, am I really interested in what I am proposing, and what would my first step need to be?  While considering all of these items, you would be taking action to explore each component; such as, distributing a survey to explore your current client’s needs, distributing a survey to prospective markets, conducting an internal audit of knowledge, skills, and abilities, and research into similar firms.  You are conducting research into your decision by taking action, not just conducting an internal conversation in your head.  You set a time frame to complete your research.  Once you have completed each stage of your research, you set a decision making date to decide whether you will move forward with your project, and once you decide, you take action with confidence.

Analysis paralysis is something we all experience at some point in our life, whether it be as a leader or in our private life.  It can be extremely frustrating, but with these four steps you can catch yourself before you fall into the analysis paralysis trap.  As a leader, demonstrating these four steps not only helps you move through analysis paralysis, but it provides an example or template for your organization to move towards action and progress.