November 14, 2018

5 Ways to Identify Your Next Generation Leaders and How to Train Them Up

Gen Y PictureAs many of you are aware, our world is at a critical point in history. Many studies are estimating that in the next 10-12 years, approximately 45-50% of the workforce in the United States alone will be gone, and most of the workers are from the Baby Boomer generation. They will be leaving in droves in leadership roles in business, education, government, the medical field and the world of non profits.

Many people argue that Generation X will fill these leadership roles and that all will be fine. Well…if you do the math, you will find our three main demographics in our world today include these numbers:

Baby Boomers: Approximately 70 million
Generation X: Approximately 45 million
Generation Y: Approximately 80 million

If you look at these figures, it is obvious that once the Baby  Boomer Generation is out of the workforce, we are most definitely going to have a shortage of leadership talent.

I speak with young men and women under the age of 30 every day, and many tell me that they have been thrust into early leadership positions without any training, coaching or shadowing. They show up for work and hear “Hey…Margaret…Bob’s last day is tomorrow, so you are stepping into his role.” While the names in this statement are fictional, the scenario is not. Because of their knowledge, talent and confidence, members of the Gen Y demographic are being pulled into leadership roles at ages 24-29, and they are saying they are not ready…that they need training, shadowing and coaching. So, my question is this “If you are not acting now to get your Gen Y careerists trained for top leadership positions today, then when are you going to do it?” My opinion is this: If you are planning on waiting and just letting the cards fall where they may, your company will either suffer or your doors will unfortunately close.

So, today, I want to share with you five characteristics that I believe will be critical for your next gen leaders to have ingrained in their DNA and five steps you can take, starting today, to get your young careerists ready for the highest level positions in your company. And, no, I am not foolish on this one topic…I am talking about getting your young workers ready for positions like CEO, COO, Senators, Hospital Administrators and Superintendents of Schools.

The 5 traits of your next generation leaders:

1.  An eagerness to both coach and be coached. Businesses are now moving into a coaching mode as opposed to an advice-giving or consulting mode.  If you notice a young careerist who is open to being coached and then willing to coach other co-workers, peers and even bosses in the direction of success, you have a potential leader in your midst.

2. An innovative spirit and creative experimenter who inspires others to act. I truly believe that the leaders and companies who can innovate like mad will using new media and the technology we have at our fingertips will be the ones who survive in the future.  If you spot a creative thinker who can also map out the strategy from start to finish of how to get a new product or service to the market, I recommend looking closely at this potential future leader.

3.  A global collaborator who engages creative talent to produce positive results for your company. Because of new media and of course the internet, we can now collaborate on a global level.  A true next generation leader will surround herself with talented people who can gather together for quick collaboration sessions.  (Note:  Be cautious of someone who wants to collaborate for hours and hours…red flag!)  The best collaborators are those who can guide collaboration, take command, make quick decisions while mitigating risk and who is agile and flexible enough to move and bend with the collaborative process without dragging it out.

4.  A young leader who has demonstrated shared leadership and self directed leadership. The old school hierarchical style of leadership is quickly fading away.  Our next generation leaders are turned off by climbing the ladder, being excluded from decision making and having to wait until a question slowly crawls up the ladder to the top so that it can be answered.  Generation Y is craving shared leadership, and they naturally lead with a self directed form of leadership. If you spot a young careerist who is willing to step aside and bring forward another leader who has a better grasp, ideas and input on a project, then you have yourself a great candidate for more training.  While the buck will ultimately stop with this leader, a form of shared, self directed leadership gives other young careerists a voice, respect, credibility and a host of other skills which will build confidence and a create a bigger pool of potential leaders.

5.  Strong networking and strategic alliance building skills. Companies of today and tomorrow cannot survive without alliances with other companies.  I have watched and watched this for the last ten years.  The companies who “hide” what they are doing, who don’t want to share with others and who see building alliances as a threat are either now closed or in jeopardy of falling off a cliff.  Your strong future leaders should be networking maniacs and constantly scanning the global environment for companies who can make your business stronger, more visible and more credible.

How to train your next generation leaders so that they can step up and step into high level leadership roles

1.  Study your under 30 employees closely for at least three months so that you can spot the above five characteristics. Remember…some people just have a bad day now and then, so look at the overall picture and don’t dwell on the few bad days…we all have them!

2.  Once you have spotted the employees you believe are potential candidates for leadership roles, perform a full 360 degree feedback review on your potential candidates. Make sure to include questions which address the above five traits.  You will want to gather feedback from co-workers, bosses, friends, former co-workers and family members to see how they view your potential candidates.

3.  Choose your potential leadership candidates and hire an experienced executive coach to work with your high potentials for at least six months. Ask your potential candidates if they will agree to a final debrief with the executive coach to determine coachability.

4. Assign a tough project to your potential candidate to observe how she handles leadership under pressure.  Once again, you are looking for the above traits as well as the obvious skills such as staying cool under pressure, time management, delegation and command.

5.  Design a structured shadowing program for your potential leadership candidates. You will want your candidates to shadow your strongest senior leaders and then flip the situation.  Ask your strongest older leaders to shadow the potential candidate for at least one month to get feedback about how they really act on the job.  If you have a strong future leader, she will be able to stay cool and calm when being followed around all day by a higher management leader on your team.

Executive Coaching: 10 Critical Points to Drive Behavioral Change

When coaching an executive client, many coaches believe that in 3-6 months, magic is going to happen.  Some coaches believe that simply because a coach is involved in the process, a client is going to change for a lifetime.  Maybe…but not so often does this really happen.  While this MAY be true, there are so many factors to consider:  the team members, board members, culture of the company, home life, physical health and the list just goes on and on.

I have written out 10 key components that I believe are critical to helping your client create behavioral change…not just for 3 months but for a lifetime.

1.  When coaching a business owner or executive level leader, you must get involvement and commitment from all stakeholders around the person you are coaching. This means the boss, employees, team members, colleagues and family members.  They have to be supportive of the change and not throwing sarcasm and jokes into the topic of coaching.

2. It is critical to get feedback from other people about this behavior by performing a full review (360 degree review) with the key stakeholders who truly know the client. The client cannot see himself or herself, but the people around the client are making assumptions and drawing conclusions based on their observations.

3.  Determine in writing the key behaviors to change and what they look like now and what the client and stakeholders agree the behavior should look like to help the team improve. With intangibles like coaching, it is difficult to measure if coaching works, so it is important for everyone to agree that “When we see x happen, we will know that change has occurred.”  Be very careful about tying success to a dollar outcome.  The behavior may improve and the bottom line may fall, so this has to be discussed upfront.

4.   Write out a week by week plan of action with the client. Having a plan is crucial, otherwise, both you and the client will have no idea where you are going.  This plan certainly needs to be flexible, but without a plan on paper and checking in each week with that plan, you will end up going nowhere fast.

5.  Check in on a monthly basis with the client and 1-2 key stakeholders (everyone needs to be in the room) to determine where you feel the client is in the change process. If you just talk with the client, the boss, CEO, Board of Directors and employees will want to know what is going on.  Ask your client for permission to meet with 2-3 people who know the client and who he trusts to discuss the progress and any shifts which need to take place in the coaching.

6.  Find out upfront what types of approaches have worked for your client in the past, but do not dwell on the past. Simply discuss what has worked and approaches that just don’t work for your client.  Those old approaches MAY have worked in the past and they may not work today, so ask your client “In your honest opinion, how effective do you believe that strategy for change will work today, given that our world has changed by leaps and bounds in the last five years?”

7.  At the end of the coaching, sit down and map out an exit strategy for next steps. This is where the stakeholders are going to be asked to really step in.  If you are working with a key team member for 6 months, and you are then suddenly gone, who is going to be checking in with your client?

8.  Remember…you cannot work miracles. The behavior the client keeps slipping back into has probably been a part of your client’s life for 20-30 years.  If you think you can change your client in six months, it is time for you to hire a coach to get a grip on reality.  Once you have provided the coaching, tools and resources to your client, with a solid exit strategy, it is no longer your fault or failure if the client “slips”.

9.  Your goal of coaching a leader is not to win a popularity contest. The goal is to get the client to succeed in changing the behavior that is causing anxiety for your client, the team and all stakeholders.  This is serious business, and you have to be willing to be tough enough to even get fired over it.  You have to be willing to go the distance by holding the client accountable, assigning tough exercises and supporting them every step of the way.

10.  If a client is slipping back into old behaviors, avoid using the word “Why?” This can create a great deal of defensiveness.  Simply say “Seems like we are now back to square 1.  Tell me what has gone on in the last few months/years that has pulled you back to where we started.”  Using a child-like approach can also be helpful, simply by saying..”Hmmm….how come?  What happened?”

Please add your ideas on this subject.  We all want our clients to succeed, and all suggestions are so welcome and wanted!

And…don’t forget.  The TOUGH COACHING program begins today, April 6 as 12:00 p.m. Eastern with a live, real time coaching on the topic of “How to coach a client who has been coached and has slipped back into the old behavior.”  To sign up, head over to this page.

Are You Slipping Back Into Old Habits? Fear May Be Your Issue

Collage of fearsToday, Mandy Schumaker and I added two posts to TOUGH COACHING related to a leader falling back on old habits or regressing as opposed to moving forward. When you want to move from your house to another location, hire long distance movers chicago il.

Have Your Leadership Skills Regressed by Mandy Schumaker

5 Strategies to Pull Your Butt Out of a Fear Slump by Bea Fields

Please remember:  We will be offering our TOUGH COACHING program starting March 6 with a client who is both a CEO and an attorney (George Collins P.A.) on the topic of someone who has been coached and has now slipped back into old habits.  This is going to be a fabulous call!

And…if fear is holding you back from something big, OR if you feel you are regressing in life or business,  please take the time to read these articles.  They do bring light into the dark shadows. Buy buy glass pipes online for your room to decorate your workplace.

Quote for the day: It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer. ~Albert Einstein

Leadership Coaching: How to Know When Your Client is Stuck and How to Get Them Unstuck

picture of woman who is stuck

Is Your Executive Coaching Client Stuck? Maybe It's Time for Some Radical and BOLD Coaching!

Over the past ten years, I have provided leadership coaching services for a large number of clients…I think over 1200 at this point.  I say this not to brag, but to give some credibility to this post.  Because of the number of clients I have coached, I can smell it a mile away when a client is stuck.  I can usually tell in the first interview when a client is truly stuck in an old pattern and not willing to work on, let achieve a big/audacious goal.

So, here are a few of the signs and approaches you can use to help “unstick” your leadership coaching clients:

Sign: The client comes in with a BIG goal that they have been trying to achieve for over three years with no movement.  This is often common if a client is in a corporate structure that dictates what they can and cannot do, so you have to do a bit of digging on the cultural side of things.  But…at the end of the day, if a client has been going through a revolving door for over three years and have not yet hit the mark…they are stuck.  I am being generous here…the stuck time frame is really more like one year, but I am giving some time knowing how the world works.

Coaching Strategy: Step up the goal/Play a bigger game.  The majority of the clients who seem stuck are just plain bored.  They don’t have a big enough game to play, so you have to bump up the game and make it meaningful.  It may be something as simple as challenging/directing the client to take on a brand new activity like improv or public speaking or coaching their teams using a new, fresh approach.  At the end of the day, if a client is stuck, and if they are bored, doing the same day in and day out routine will not result in action.  It just results in stagnation.  A brand new, challenging activity can often spill over into other life areas and build confidence around big game/big goal setting.

Sign: You and the client set a BIG goal, and you always seem to get off topic.  In the world of leadership coaching, we often describe this as the client pulling you down a rabbit hole or YOU are chasing the client down a rabbit hole, because you just really don’t know what to do.

Coaching Strategy: Reel the client back into the original goal.  Say something like this “You know, the initial goal was for you to bring in more networking partners for the company, and we are suddenly talking about your boss and his problems.   I can only coach you.   Let’s get back to the goal of bringing in more networking partners, and if your boss fits into this, we will address this sooner rather than later.  What is your next step, and how will I know you actually did it?”

Sign: The client starts dictating to you how the coaching sessions need to “go”.  I have seen this a FEW times.  The client comes in and says “Here is what I want to talk about today, and I really need to say a few things.”  I just don’t agree that the client always needs to dictate the coaching conversation.   To me, this is a big red flag that the client feels like he/she is being challenged, and they want to work on “something else that is more comfortable.”

Coaching Strategy: Shift!  If the client said in the initial interview that he/she wanted to build up a larger networking strategy, and then suddenly wants to switch to talking about their daughter’s overuse of text messaging or her husband’s financial problems, it is very appropriate to ask “How does this relate to the original goal of increasing networking partners in your company.”  If there is a legitimate reason, then go there.  If not, SHIFT the conversation or say “We are going to STOP this conversation…it has nothing to do with the original goal.”  If the client cannot demonstrate a clear connection to their personal challenges and the original goal, he/she is simply trying to get you off topic to avoid having to take on a big step.  This is the time to stop the conversation and go back to the original goal.

Sign: The client begins criticizing your coaching by saying things like “I don’t get that we are connecting or you don’t seem to get my issue.”

Coaching Strategy: Get bold…be upfront!   It may be true….that you and the client are not connecting and you are not getting it.  What I have found more often that not is that you are not “getting” that the client wants to take you way off into never-never land so that you can avoid the topic at hand.  If this is the case, you owe your client an obligation:  to be upfront.  You have to say something like this “I respect that you perceive we are not connecting.  May I offer up to you a few perceptions of my own?  You seem to switch subjects a great deal, I feel like I am being pulled into a rabbit hole and I am perceiving that you want to avoid taking on the big action steps I am asking of you.  So, here’s the deal…you hired me to help you expand your networking efforts, and we are now talking about your daughter’s excessive text messaging and your husband’s financial issues.  I still don’t clearly understand what this has to do with your original goal, so we have two options:  We can either end the coaching relationship or get back to the original goal you SAID you wanted to achieve.”

Sign: The client begins canceling coaching calls or is late for coaching calls.

Coaching Strategy: Ask the client this question “Where in your business or personal life are you canceling commitments or showing up late?”  This may be a sign to you that the client does not want to be confronted about not doing field work or not following through in other life areas.  Again…they are just stuck!

In closing…I don’t give up on clients.  I will try every strategy possible to get them to shift:  Interrupting them, calling them on their stuff, making a bold statement that they “did not do what was asked” or putting the coaching “on hold” until the client is really ready to move forward.  There will be times with clients when you simply have to end the coaching agreement (firing the client).  The client is not going to move into action, they just are not ready or they have not bought into coaching as a tool for growth.  As I say this, I encourage you to be as bold as possible for the well being of your clients.  We are not here to say what clients “want to hear”.  As coaches, we are here to ask tough questions and say what our clients “need to hear” in order to be the best they can be in their leadership roles.

Would so welcome your comments below.

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TED Video: Barry Schwartz on Doing the Right Thing

This is so odd that this video popped into my email today.  I was just talking with a client yesterday about “doing what is right and virtuous vs. doing what the corporation/society WANT us to do”.  Barry Schwartz really hits the nail on the head in this video…following our wisdom about the right thing to do is key to our happiness and well being.

If you don’t like what you see going on around you, speak up…it’s now or may be never!

The 5 Questions to Ask Before Agreeing to Coach an Executive Coaching Client

Is Your Exec Ready for Coaching

Is your potential executive coaching client ready for coaching? Answer the five questions in this blog to find out!

I have been coaching execs and biz owners since 1999.  It has been the joy of my life.  And…at times, it has been a pain in the rear, and here is why:

It is not uncommon for the CEO to call me and say “Umm….we have a problem on our team.  John Smith (totally fictitious name) is just not fitting in.  He is great…really great at what he does, but we are having a problem with him, and he needs coaching.

You know what I think?

The CEO needs coaching!

This scenario of a CEO calling a coach to come in and “fix” the problem team member is just never a good idea…trust me.  Every time I go behind closed doors, perform a 360 degree feedback or talk to members of the team about the “potential client”, the CEO comes up in the conversation.  I have never had a client where this did not happen.

There is an old saying that “S— does not flow upstream.  It flows downstream”.  So, if there is a “problem child” on the team, it always makes me wonder why in the heck the CEO hired this team member or what he has done to help the situation.

I know that we all know the score of “Are you ready for coaching?”  My question for the CEOs are a bit different.  I always ask 5 questions:

Please know that the name Bill is totally fictitious…I actually chose it, because I have never coached an exec named Bill.

Here’s what I do.  I sit down with the CEO, we exchange a little bit of chat, and I then go for the core questions:

Was the coaching YOUR idea or Bill’s idea? If bringing in the coach was the CEO’s idea, Bill may be totally ticked that you are being called in to coach him.  It may be that the CEO needs coaching, and Bill knows it.  To be singled out as someone who “needs coaching” is still a bit of a stigma, so just know that before going in.

If the coaching does not work, are you planning on firing Bill? I know this is a direct question, but as coaches, we are not saviors.  We cannot “save” someone from the inevitable pink slip.  If the company is trying coaching as the last option before letting them go on their merry way, I would run in a heartbeat.  At the end, you will be blamed for not “healing Bill”.

Can Bill do the job you are asking him to do? I have been hired multiple times to “make a manager or a great employee into a leader”.  This just does not always work.  Some people are great technicians and great managers (getting the to do list done, staying on task) but they are never going to be leaders.  I am going to talk out of the other side of my mouth right now…I believe that everyone can be a leader but only if the desire is there.  You can TRAIN people into leadership roles.  I have seen it multiple times.   But at the end of the day, if a technician or a manager does not want to really be a leader (driving vision, inspiring people, moving in a strategic direction), you may just be taking money for an end result you will never see.

How does Bill respond to constructive feedback? This is a BIG question.  Many CEOs fumble around with this question, because they have never given feedback due to a fear of confrontation.  Again…a red flag.  The CEO needs coaching…not Bill.  Having said that, if Bill is open to feedback, he may be a GREAT coaching client.  If he wants to argue with you about the feedback and has no interest in hearing the feedback, you will feel like you are pushing string.

As the CEO, how open are YOU to coaching? It is not uncommon for the CEO to be pulled into the coaching of a team leader at some point in the game.  So, make sure the CEO is open to and supports coaching.  If he doesn’t, then again, it may not work.  Once you leave, who is going to be responsible for Bill?  You got it!  The head guy or gal!

I would love to encourage comments from any of you who are coaching executive clients and how you handle these scenarios.  Thanks everyone for chiming in!

The Executive Coaching Process: What Does It Involve?

"Picture of a leader being coached"

Executive Coaching is a Process of Assessment, Goal Setting, Implementation and Accountability

Many people contact me daily to inquire about executive coaching, and the first question they ask is “How does this work”? This post will help to answer that pressing question:

Phase 1: Assessment

During the initial phase of executive coaching, I will be gathering extensive data on your portfolio of skills and strengths while gaining insight into your history to thoroughly assess your current situation. During this time, I will be performing a 360 Degree Feedback Review to determine what leadership competency your colleagues, followers, team and family members would most like to see you improve or enhance so that you are as effective as possible as a leader.

Phase 2: Establishing a Plan of Action

The second phase of our Executive Leaders Coaching Program will focus on setting specific goals and designing an action plan to support you in meeting your personal and professional objectives.

Phase 3: Implementation

During the third phase, I will be using a variety of coaching tools and resources with you so that your action plan is implemented and goals are achieved. During the implementation phase, as your coach, I will be looking for blind spots, derailment factors, breakdown in communication, and multiple aspects of leadership development which can expedite or impede your progress. We will be focusing on the intangible assets of leadership, knowledge, talent, process, organization, decision making, execution, integrity and culture, which are vital skills for leaders to hone in this new millennium.

Phase 4: Evaluation

During phase four, together we will be assessing your progress and formulating a system for evaluating what is working/what is not so that your success is constant.

Coaching Sessions

Leadership coaching is offered by telephone for national and international clients and face to face for clients in the Moore County, North Carolina region. Coaching calls are typically held two or four times per month, usually over a period of 6-12 months and is combined with customized training to meet the needs of both leaders and teams. Customer service is important to me, and I am easily accessible by phone and e-mail between sessions for my clients. All coaching conversations are kept strictly confidential, I consider my clients my partners, and my sole interest is your success.

If the Bea Fields Companies Inc. Coaching Program sounds like it would be a good fit for you or your organization, please contact me today at (910) 692-6118 for a 30-minute complimentary consultation.

N Stands for Never Say Never

Never Say Never Podcast…and thank-you to Time Warner for your great customer service today.  I know you don’t hear that very often!

L Stands for Lucidity

Yesterday in North Carolina, we had what many University of North Carolina students and alumnae call a “Carolina Blue Sky!”

It was beautiful…sunny, warm, a bit windy and the sky was blue.  I don’t think we even had a tiny cloud in the sky like the one shown in this photo.  As the old saying goes. “On a clear day, you can see forever!”  That is exactly how I felt!

And, before I went to sleep last night, I looked outside and could see stars everywhere.  I can see that spring is coming, and the clarity was truly beautiful.  Following an unusually cold winter and a great deal of rain, snow and ice, I found it comforting to know that I could truly see a beautiful, clear sky and the stars for miles and miles.  It made me trust that there is a huge universe out there for us to explore and that today I would be able to write this blog post…and here I am…writing my blog post for the week!

But…I have to say, while still beautiful, on days like this photo to the right…when the fog is so thick you can feel it on your skin, I don’t experience the same type of comfort.  Many people do feel safe during fog…but I don’t.  I cannot see ahead, and I can’t see around me.  It reminds me a great deal of the movie Cape Fear and hearing Robert DeNiro saying “Come out, come out wherever you are.”

If you have watched the film, you will know that the scenes are dark, foggy, rainy, windy and frightening.  The Bowden family is kidnapped, and Robert DeNiro takes them to the Cape Fear river, and things just go from bad to worse.

So, my discomfort with fog could very well have something to do with this movie, or it could be reminiscent of the night my mom and I and six of our friends were trying to drive an hour home from Birmingham, Alabama in thick fog, and we got quite lost and had to pull over on the side of the road for help.  But…at the end of the day, I don’t think I am alone on this issue.  I think that many people are fearful when in fog, because…the world looks ambiguous.  It is not clear…and in life, we all want lucidity!

Lucidity of course is defined as something that is easily understood, transparent or at least a clear perception.  When you are in the middle of a lucid situation, there is a very clear beginning and end.   A phone call, responding to e-mail, running to the grocery store for milk, getting dressed and going to an event…these are all tasks which are very clear…they have a beginning, middle and end.  Done!  So, of course, they are easy to do…you just start and finish.

But what about those projects, situations or risks which are ambiguous?  You know…the ones that have multiple moving parts and could pull you in about 10 different directions?  The ones you have never done before that feel risky and may make you look like you don’t know what you’re doing?    Those are not so easy to accomplish or even begin.

As I think about ambiguity, it reminds me of the “flying trapeze” simile (or metaphor…I think a simile begins with the word ‘like’)…So, navigating through an ambiguous situation is a bit like flying on a trapeze.

Look at this picture.  The trapeze artist moves from one trapeze to the next, hoping and praying she will grab her partner’s arms.  During the transition, all she has to grab onto is…nothing!  Just air.  Now then, we all know there is a net below, but I have been told that during the transition, it is one of the most frightening feelings imaginable, and that the natural desire is to hang onto the original trapeze…or to just turn back!

Ambiguity feels a bit like this transition on the trapeze.  Approaching a foggy situation, we often feel that we are in mid-air…grabbing onto nothing.  It is uncomfortable and frightening.  We can’t see ahead, and we don’t trust that we are going to have anything to grab onto.  So, when something is ambiguous, lacking clarity with nothing to grab onto, as humans, many of have the tendency to do one of the following:

  1. Not start…we just make excuses about why we cannot start instead of just admitting that we’re scared as hell to begin
  2. Start and then stop in the middle
  3. Start and stop, start and stop or move forward 2 steps and back 2…like an oscillating fan or a rocking chair
  4. Start something brand new so that we don’t have to start the ambiguous process (this is a diversionary tactic)
  5. Start checking e-mail or doing mindless tasks so that we can feel like we have accomplished something
  6. Sitting and thinking of the thousands of things that could go wrong if we move through this ambiguous situation
  7. And…some people (about 18-20% max) actually take the ambiguous idea and run with it.  They shift gears, act without the full picture, they handle the uncertainty and they move to completion.

And…for those of us who are sitting and checking e-mail and worrying about things that will probably never happen, someone else out there is moving through this same ambiguous situation all the way to a better relationship, the top position, a wonderful life dream,  or all the way to the bank.  We see their success, and we then give ourselves a quick kick in the rear.  Do you know HOW MANY times I have heard someone say “I had that idea 10 years ago…they took my idea!”  No…they did not take your idea…they had the same idea, and they decided to act instead of sitting around spinning about their fears.

So…here is the deal.  In today’s world, we are being faced with a heavy load of ambiguity.  And, the best way to move through ambiguity is to act.  I recommend using a few strategies to help you get through the process.  If you take even two of these strategies and work through them, you will get closer to achievement (and further along than most people):

1.  Map out your entire process on a big butcher block piece of paper. By getting the big idea out of your head and onto paper, it can feel much less ambiguous.

2.  Break the big challenge into multiple parts, and dedicate time to completing each part (people call this breaking your situation or project into chunks…call it whatever you want to…at the end of the day, if you try to complete everything at once, you may just get more fuzzy and overwhelmed).

3.  Each time you hit a bump in the road, sit down and break apart the problem.  Talk the problem through with 3 other people…ask for help!

4.  Shift your thinking back to a beginner’s mind. If you think that your own past knowledge will give you your answers…think again.  None of us ever know all of the answers, especially in an ambiguous situation.  The answers are out there somewhere…in a book, in research, in the minds of other people, in the world, in nature.   Get out of your own head and look for your answers…out there!  Out there in the world!

5. Take on a new activity that you know nothing about as a side hobby, and do this in a group. Taking on a new activity is always ambiguous…you don’t know what you are doing.  I even feel this way when I cook a new recipe or use a piece of technology…I worry ahead of time that I don’t know what I am doing.  By taking on new activities (in front of a group is key…if you try to do this in isolation, there is a good chance you won’t do it), you can get more accustomed to ambiguity.  Keep a journal during this time and make note of your progress.

6.  Work with a coach who will challenge you to take risks and to help you develop a healthy view of failure. I have learned in life that people just don’t like failing.  Taking on an ambiguous situation always feels risky, because a new/fuzzy/ambiguous situation can result in failure, and no one likes looking bad, being criticized or falling short on a new goal or project.    That’s okay…this is a part of growth and development and going for a dream!  As a matter of fact, I would venture to say that unless you are failing, you are probably not getting ahead in life.  If everything is pit-pat-perfect, then you are more than likely stuck in a rut of perfectionism, and your ability to learn and grow will stop at the point of your commitment to always looking right/being perfect.

7.  Take a disjointed task and organize it! In the midst of ambiguity, things can get messy and disorganized.  As you are moving through a nebulous situation, you will probably stumble upon something that is completely out of whack and disjointed.  Take that one task and organize it, and you will gain more clarity and direction during the process of creating order.

8.  Ask yourself the question “What questions do I need to answer to minimize my risk in this new situation?” I am a big risk taker, and my decisions are sometimes great and sometimes just don’t work, because I don’t always stop to consider how to minimize my risk.  But…I think this question is a good one.  When the parts of a process are fuzzy, you may be resisting moving forward due to a fear of a negative financial or leadership outcome.  If so, sit down with a mixed group of people (men, women, risk takers, different ages) and look at the end result and ask yourself and your trusted colleagues how you can minimize the risk and then go implement those steps.  This will greatly reduce your stress level and will give you more momentum to move forward.

I hope this article has been helpful.  If you are an executive or business leader who is ready to take on a big project and you are looking for someone to help provide clarity through the process, give me a call at 910-692-6118.  I would love to hear from you!

J Stands for Justification

I just love, love, love the month of February.  Yes…it’s Cupid’s day on February 14, but more importantly…February is the month when my local Girl Scout knocks on my door and delivers not 1 but at least 5 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies, and 3-4 of these boxes are usually green.  Thin Mints!  Ahhh…I honestly cannot think of a better cookie.

So, two nights ago, I proceeded to eat about 6 thin mints.  Then, last night, I think I ate 7.  Of course, I did not eat them all at one time…I kept going back to the frig (Thin Mints are best eaten and drooled over when they are just a bit cold…not frozen but cold) about 3 times…thinking…okay…this is my last one…and then, this is my last one.

Now then…I am not really someone who diets or who really needs to diet, but I really don’t need to sit and eat 7 Girl Scout thin mint cookies.  I am health conscious, so at the end of the next two weeks, after my husband Mike and I have devoured the third box, I will have consumed an additional 1500-2000 calories of chocolate.  And…I have no intentions of resisting my desire to finish off the cookies.

But, as always, last night, after eating my 7th cookie, I started justifying eating the cookie with these thoughts:

1.  I didn’t go back for seconds at dinner, so I can afford the calories.

2. I have had a long day, and I deserve these.

3. Girl Scout cookies are only available one time a year, so it’s okay for now (of course Famous Amos Chocolate Chip cookies are available year round…another one of my favorites).

So, this morning, I woke up early and thought….”Hmmm…why did I justify eating those cookies?”

Because I felt guilty!

I have not met a human to this day who does not try to justify their behaviors.  We have all watched as Presidents tried to justify extra marital affairs, illegal taping and making bad, bad decisions.  We have all sat by and watched financial leaders justify ponzy schemes and why they need gigantic bonuses and luxurious trips.  And, at the end of the day, we have all justified some action in our lives that was not in our best interest or was hurtful to others.

As a leadership coach, I conduct multiple 360 degree feedback reviews every year with executives from multiple industries.  When they get their results back, the excuses, rationalizations and justifications start flying:

“Well…I do that because…”

“I only did that one time, and I did it in order to….”

“That’s just who I am…I can’t change who I am”

And so forth.

So, today, I want to leave you with a few ideas on what triggers justification.  And, as we all know, justification is our ability to show a satisfactory reason or excuse for something done.  Sometimes, we do need to show a reason why a decision was made to clear things up.  Today’s post is about using justification to defend negative behaviors, and when you justify, you are just basically making excuses…which can greatly undermine your creativity.

So, here are some of the situations which can trigger justification:

1. Complexity. It is not uncommon for leaders and decision makers to use very complex approaches when there is a much simpler means to an end.  Then, when the project fails or they are way over budget, a leader or project leader will start making excuses for making something simple complex.  It most always has to do with a lack of communication or a drive for perfectionism.

Solution: Get input from your team on how to make your processes as simple as possible without causing the quality of the finished product to suffer.

2. Destructive conduct. Unless you are dealing with someone who is a sociopath, the majority of people know when they are getting ready to make a decision that can hurt their credibility, other people or the organization.  Destructive conduct can be something as small as playing favorites or being late to an appointment all the way up to lying, stealing and cheating.

Solution: Think through the decision and play the worst case scenario game.  If you make this decision, what could happen?  Talk through your situation with a trusted confidant, and just stop the behavior…don’t make a bad move simply because you think “I am only going to do this one time”…that one time will turn into multiple times.  Just ask Bernie Madoff.

3. Unwillingness to let go of history. I see this one all the time.  I did it x way, because this is the way we did it 5, 7, or 10 years ago.  More often than not, this is the lazy way through making a decision, and you can justify away on this one.  At the end of the day, your followers will view you as “stuck in the past” and not forward in your thinking.

Solution: Let go of the past by pulling together a team of people with fresh ideas, and implement some new ideas…and give yourself the permission to fail.  Start thinking forward, and use history as an opportunity to learn and to add to new ideas…don’t let history continually drive your decision making.  It will bite you in the rear every time.  While I agree that we need to look at history to pull up information that can be helpful, if we are unwilling to shift into new ways of thinking, we won’t make it in the future.

4. Dropping the ball.  People drop the ball every day, and they usually justify this by saying “I just did not have time” or “My son was sick” or “My boss was on my case about something, and it was more urgent.”  At the end of the day, hey…you dropped the ball!  You probably said “yes” when you should have said “no” or you made a decision to do something for yourself rather than addressing what needed to be addressed.

Solution: Don’t bite off more than you can chew, and just start admitting that you dropped the ball by saying “Hey…I dropped the ball.  There is no excuse…I just dropped the ball, and I want to apologize.  What can I do to make this right?”  With this response, you will rebuild trust…it may take some time, but you will start to rebuild the credibility you need to get your followers to listen to you and trust you.  AND….make sure to start being fully committed to follow through.   If you keep dropping the ball,  continuing to admit your shortcoming and apologizing just won’t work any longer.  You will be perceived as someone who cannot be counted on.

So, today…start taking responsibility and drop the justifications!  Your leadership depends on it!

And…tonight, I will eat Girl Scout Cookies, because I want to…no other excuses on that one!