Saying Yes

I recently finished Michael Bungay Stanier’s The Coaching Habit. He presented a great question that I have been pondering over the last few weeks. Bungay Stanier wrote, “Let’s be clear: What exactly are you saying yes to?” The converse of that is: “What are you saying no to?” I have been weighing out committing to some type of self-development program since the start of the year. I am weighing out what will have to change or what I will have to say “no” to in order to fit a new program into my life. Because saying yes will be saying no to something else. That or the yes will end up being something to bail out on two weeks into the program, since I am unwilling to say no to what is already in my life.

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When I say yes, I want it to be a firm, clear yes. Not a yes and then I never show up for the monthly meeting or do the homework or give only partial effort. It’s a hell yes or a hell no. I’m all in or all out.

This is what to consider when saying yes:

Be very clear

For me, being very clear is understanding the full ramifications of saying yes. How much time out of my day, week, or month will be committed if I say yes? Where will I fit this into my schedule? If I am on the road traveling, can I still remain committed? Is my physical presence needed or could this be possible virtually? Do I need to show up at meetings at a specific time or can I complete something at 1 AM on my smartphone? What is the investment in money, time and, most importantly, energy? This takes digging unless you’ve committed to something easy like buying cupcakes for the soccer game or offering to collect your neighbor’s mail. Unless it’s straight forward, make sure that you are clear on what you are saying yes to.

Have defined boundaries

We all have people (or animals) in our lives that test our boundaries. The person who is consistently late, the dog who scratches at the bedroom door at 4 in the morning or the co-worker who never turns the project in as prescribed. They are all just testing your boundaries. Be clear that you will be leaving at 8 AM, no exceptions. Don’t open the door for your dog unless there is thunder or fireworks. Only accept the project in PowerPoint and never in Excel. When you have defined boundaries, it makes saying yes (and no) a lot easier.

Know your priorities

For me personally, this has changed dramatically over the last two years. I am no longer married, I no longer drink and I eat a plant-based diet. What I said yes to two years ago wouldn’t work now. I traveled to Peru with a friend instead of a husband. My rotary club’s biggest fund raiser is a beer festival, so I opted out. I need to find new uses for my sous vide and outdoor grill. As I weigh out these two self-development programs, one is focused on writing and the other is about aligning with abundance. Is writing my focus or aligning with abundance? I think that aligning with abundance will help fund the writing down the road. My priority is abundance.

Nope. You cannot do it all.

I feel like I coach a lot more women who suffer from this than men. I coach some folks with StrengthsFinder and I find that if someone has Responsibility (take psychological ownership of what they say they will do) in their top 5 strengths, they have a REAL hard time saying no. Or letting go. Heck, I don’t have Responsibility in my top 10 strengths, but I had a real hard time letting go that I was not sending Christmas Cards out this year (so as not to feel like I overlooked my friends when they didn’t get one). Acknowledging that you can’t do it all can be powerful. Instead of planning and worrying and losing sleep on what you can’t possibly accomplish, let go and don’t say yes. If you say yes, make sure it doesn’t tip the scale towards overwhelm.

Pleasing others

I love the Wayne Dwyer quote: “What other people think of me is none of my business.” So, don’t say yes purely in the hope of impressing others. I thought about this with my Christmas cards this year. I didn’t have a recent family photo, I didn’t have much to report, and I feel like sending cards has been diminishing over the last few years. I felt the need to send cards was about pleasing others. I believe it’s a nice gesture and I appreciate the cards sent to me, but with a busy travel schedule around the holidays, it was a point that overwhelmed me rather than filled me with holiday warmth. I found other ways to share holiday warmth and stopped worrying about pleasing others. Say yes for yourself.

Everything is a trade-off. If I say yes to one thing, it means no to something else. It also works in reverse; if I say no to something, it means yes to something else. It’s all an act of discernment and being choosy about what you engage with. What are you saying no to that really should be a yes?

Setting Boundaries to Build Trust

This seems counterintuitive. Why would having firm boundaries increase trust? This is a concept I learned about from Brene Brown in her latest book, Braving the Wilderness. I imagined that if you have firm boundaries that you have created an impenetrable fortress around you. You don’t let anybody in, and in turn, certainly don’t let anybody out. Keep everyone at arm’s length.

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By Brene’s definition, it means making clear what’s okay and not okay. But this is really hard for those of us who just want to please everyone. Go along to get along. I’ve been in this camp for many years, whether it was giving into crazy rules and regulations of a relationship (i.e. no music while driving, no lemon, only foreign films, etc.) or making excuses why someone is late or not being respectful. Regardless, I haven’t been very good at setting up boundaries. So, this is something new for me and about 80 percent of my coachees.

Here are some ideas:

  • Take responsibility. There is only one person who can set up your boundaries and that is you. Your Fairy Godmother is not going to come down from on high and Prince Charming won’t arrive on his stead to set up your boundaries for you. Don’t play the blame game for someone else walking all over you. There is only one person who needs to take responsibility, and that is you. I know this is hard to swallow because it is so much easier to complain about how someone treated you, instead of owning it. Take responsibility for your boundaries.

 

  • Know your boundaries. Take some time to articulate your boundaries.  Write them down. I don’t stay out after midnight. Never travel for business on a Sunday. Always request a booth at a restaurant. Only 25% of my business is pro bono. I agree to deadlines that are attainable. No phone calls after 7 PM. No technology at the dinner table. No more than three text or emails without a response. No committing to more than two events per week. I don’t leave my dog with a dog sitter for more than two days. Whatever they are, write them down. Know them. If you haven’t written them down then they might get blurry. Establish your boundaries.

 

  • Just say no. Brene writes about choosing to be uncomfortable for eight seconds when you turn something down, rather than the resentment that will eat at you if you say yes. When you can’t live with the uncomfortable eight seconds to say no, then you will end up living with resentment that will eat you up. I have done this many times. I’ve said yes to serving on boards I had no time or desire to be on. I don’t want to look like I am selfish. I’ve said yes to obligations that did not line up with my passions. The regret that comes with these decisions is a much heavier load than the eight seconds of being uncomfortable. Embrace the discomfort and say no.

 

  • Let go of the guilt. Guilt is an inside job. Maybe my mother is carrying a load of guilt on my behalf, but besides that, all the guilt I might carry is completely created by me. I carry guilt for other folks. My daughter made the decision to attend a once-in-a-lifetime event instead of a family event. I started picking up the guilt and carrying it with me. It was not my guilt to carry. She had set a boundary and I needed to respect that. Sometimes the guilt is attributed to someone else’s boundary. Respect that and let go.  Don’t drag yours or anyone else’s guilt behind you. It is weighing you down.

 

  • Hold the line. Brene calls this accountability. Don’t back down once you have set your boundaries. I’ve been meditating for 30 minutes for the last 5 months. It is non-negotiable. If I have a 6 AM flight, I’ll get up at 4 AM to make sure I get my meditation in. Make sure your boundaries are non-negotiable. At this point, this boundary in my life is a habit, similar to brushing my teeth. If you hold the line long enough, it becomes second nature.

 

Establishing boundaries builds trust. In many ways, it is trust in yourself in that you know what is best for you. Isn’t that what it’s all about. Knowing what is best for you? What boundaries do you need to establish?

6 Strategies to Kick Stress to the Curb

This is the time of year when most companies are in the middle of figuring out if they are as profitable as they thought. As efficient. If all the effort in 2014 was worth it on the bottom line. Annual reviews are being drafted, bonuses figured out. The worker bee hamster wheel is in full throttle. Will we have red or black ink on the bottom of that Profit and Loss statement? Kind of stressful and overwhelming.Kick Stress to the Curb

It’s so important to be able to take a break. Touch the pause button. Tough to do in a deadline driven society. There are so many business cultures where the guy who stays the latest or works every weekend is the hero. Burning the midnight oil is a sign of fortitude and admired by the guys in the boardroom. All you have to do is read a book like “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss and you realize that in the long run (or even the short run) being stressed out and overwhelmed is not the end all and be all of life. We all need to make sure we are grabbing a little balance and honestly – Maybe a lot of balance.

Here are some strategies to right the boat and eliminate some of the stress in your life:

1. Exercise. Ugh no. I hate exercise. It’s snowing out. It’s too hot. It’s dark. I’m too tired. It’s raining. I have said all these things. I have come home at the end of a hard day of work and thought “just sit on the couch and watch the news”. But I force myself to go grab my sneakers, dress appropriately (i.e. rain gear, reflector vest or gloves) and head outside. I might dread the first 5 minutes it takes to get myself together but once outside, I am able to flick the switch. I’m not saying I don’t think about the day or start thinking about tomorrow but I’m out in the elements. I’m moving. I have a new perspective. My heart is beating, my brain is being restored and my stress levels melt away. I don’t care what it is. Get moving!

2. Music. Find some calming music. This is not the time to break out some AC/DC or Iron Maiden. According to P. Murali Doraiswamy, M.D, there are two criteria for music to be calming, “Tunes slower than your heart rate, and ones that are classical music, appear to be the most effective at soothing stress.” Grab some Mozart or Windham Hill or Snatam Kuar and chill out. You can even take a walk with your ear buds in and kill two birds with one stone. There is a time and place for upbeat music just not when you want to de-stress. Take five minutes at work and pop those earbuds in and chill out. It uses a different part of your brain. You’ll come back to do better thinking. Find your music.

3. Reading. This is not the time to pick up the newspaper which can be stress inducing. Find a book that will bring you pleasure and escape, an adventure for your mind. I read “Gone with the Wind”. No small feat. But completely engrossing. According to the University of Minnesota, “a 2009 study at the University of Sussex found that reading can reduce stress by up to 68%. It works better and faster than other relaxation methods.” Personally, I think it’s due to putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and seeing from their perspective for a bit. Poor Scarlet and all her trials and tribulations. Suddenly I’m not worried about whether that client calls back. Pick up a book.

4. Meditation. Try just 5 minutes of meditation. I remember getting all wrapped up in doing it “right”. Let go of that. There are not meditation police that are going to come over and correct you. There are recordings, apps and books on the topic. Pick one up and give it a spin. Start slow and work your way up. Don’t go head off to a week long retreat at a Buddhist Temple if you are just getting started. Praying or Yoga can provide the same benefit. Pick what you are most comfortable with and get started. According to the Mayo Clinic, “When you meditate, you clear away the information overload that builds up every day and contributes to your stress. And these benefits don’t end when your meditation session ends. Meditation can help carry you more calmly through your day.” It’s like taking a de-stressor pill in the morning and it time releases throughout the day. Find your breath.

5. Control. It turns out that stress is dictated by our sense of control. So find things that are within your control. Strum a guitar, knit a sweater, paint a water color or write a blog. As Eric Barker wrote for Time Magazine, “Anything that increases your perception of control over a situation — whether it actually increases your control or not — can substantially decrease your stress level.” Bearing that in mind, reflect on what you are in control of. The time you get up, making lunch, your response to an upset customer. Realizing that you are in control of much more than you might normally think reduces your sense of feeling overwhelmed. Be in control.

6. Boundaries. Set clear boundaries. I leave my cell phone in the kitchen (far away from my bedroom) to charge all night. I don’t answer work emails on the weekend. I try to limit screen time (i.e. television, internet surfing, Netflix, etc.) to two hours a day. We eat dinner at the table with the television off. I try to do creative work early in the day and, as my willpower and concentration evaporates, I will work on more repetitive tasks like paying bills, social networking and returning emails in the afternoon. The world is constantly bombarding you for attention, set up some boundaries.

I have to say that having an empty nest has really helped my stress levels. No running out to school to drop off a book report or finding out about a last minute wrestling meet some two hours away. It might also be that I realize now that I am in control of my response to something that might be perceived as stressful. Take back control.

7 Ways to Be an Agile Leader.

At a recent conference on coaching led by the insightful, Cindy Lamir, she introduced a new concept for me which is VUCA and it’s affect on leadership. VUCA, which is a military term from the 1990’s that stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous is the new normal. Everything since September 11th and then, the subsequent meltdown of the economy in 2008, has pointed to one thing; we all need to be flexible. The new normal in the workplace is a barrage of information which may (or more likely) may not be useful. We now have a workforce which spans 60 years in generation, is constantly bringing in new technology and is connected globally. There is no more status quo.

Focusing just on competencies is dead. It’s not that competencies aren’t important, it’s that in a VUCA environment, knowing say the latest version of Excel will only get you so far. Focusing on building skills is not going to help you scan the environment for the latest threat from a competitor or look for patterns in customer demand. The secret is flexibility or more poignantly – agility. agile

So before we get into what an agile leader is, let’s look at what an agile leader is not. It’s not the top down style of; “don’t do anything until I tell you to”, micro managing, control freakish, old school, cigar smoking, feet crossed on the desk, pin-stripped wearing manager. It is not holding on tight to every detail, making sure everyone has their butts in their seats, folks raising their hands to go to the bathroom and most certainly the leader where not one single decision gets made without their almighty stamp of approval. It will not work in this environment.

So unless you want to be leading a bunch of no talent zombies, try some of these tactics to become an agile leader:

1. Delegate. Challenge those that work for you by delegating. I know it’s easier not to delegate and that you are the best at preparing the budget, interviewing forklift drivers and deciding what we should have at the Christmas party. It’s going to take time and mistakes will be made. It’s inevitable. Get over it. How do you expect folks to grow unless you give them a challenge, something new? How are you going to be able to conquer new territory if you are still deciding on the canapés for the Christmas party? Let go and let them grow. Delegate.

2. Teach your thought process. I have been naturally curious my whole life. Some folks aren’t. Some folks are afraid to ask why we do inventory at month end. They feel like they are intruding on the Great Oz. Show them behind the curtain. I can remember having my assistant sit in on a harassment investigation. Investigations are an unusual occurrence for most organizations but I knew she needed to be exposed to the process and learn why I did what I did.  There are things you’ve been doing for years that only you understand why you do it. If you want to develop the folks around you, share your thought process.

3. “You decide”. Once you’ve delegated and given your thought process, let your assistant or people decide. Set up the parameters, how you will measure success and let go. For example, if I ask my daughter to make dinner on Friday evening. I can say I’d like a meat, vegetable and a starch as parameters. I can say that it will be successful if the meal is hot, served by 7 PM and costs less than $25 to prepare. Then let go. Any questions? OK. You decide.

4. Transfer development ownership. In a recent article by Nick Petrie called Future Trends in Leadership Development the addresses that once folks have learned the skills like how to create a budget, lead others or finish out year end, they need to be responsible for their own development. That 45 year old executive you hired last month, needs to take ownership of what they want to learn and how they are going to do. The environment is changing too fast and they know what’s in their own tool box better than you do. You cannot be responsible for their development. Leaders need to take it upon themselves to figure out what they need to grow and be a better contributor. Transfer ownership to them.

5. Transparent. This is not the time for closed door meetings. I just saw a presentation by the Human Resource Director of Insomniac Games. The company made a huge mistake a few years ago that was almost the death knell for the company. They didn’t listen to their gut and, perhaps more importantly, didn’t seek the advice or input from their employees. When they abandoned the losing project, they made a pledge that all new projects and pitches for new games would be a conference call with senior staff that EVERYONE could call in and listen to. So if you are a young game designer, not only do you get to pitch an idea, you get to hear feedback from the founders as to why it was or wasn’t a feasible idea. How transparent is that? So from the mail room to the founders, everyone is in on the process. Assume people want a voice and they will use it. Be transparent.

6. Collaboration. Cross functional teams are the new normal. If you are implementing a new purchasing system make sure there is someone from every department on the team and from every level especially if the forklift driver, the receptionist and the accounts receivable clerk all will touch the system in some way.. Put them on the team. In fact, put the receptionist in charge as project lead. It might be a stretch but that’s the new normal. Forget about titles and where all the lines are drawn between departments, truly embrace collaboration with the belief that everyone has a voice and the ability to lead. Your organization will be more nimble than any other. Embrace collaboration.

7. Boundary spanning. Be on the forefront of scanning for internal and external knowledge. Everything is interconnected. Everyone I know who is over 14 years old and under 70 has a smart phone. This is incredibly dynamic. I have a couple of Information Technology friends who went to a Meet Up (an impromptu group that gathers on a particular topic or cause or event) on Information Technology. They were blown away by how much information was out there and areas that weren’t even on their radar. Everyone in your company needs to have their finger on the pulse. Whether it’s Information Systems, Accounting, Purchasing or Widget Optimization everyone needs to take the lead on scanning the environment or you will be left behind in the dust on your typewriter, dial phone and listening to the “Eagles” on 8 track (ask your parents). Be spanning the boundaries.

You may be overwhelmed by all these items. That’s OK. Take one step at a time. You don’t need to do all 7 in the next month. Take it one bite at a time. Maybe October will be “Collaboration” Month. Great. One step, any step is going to help you keep in step with VUCA. The more you learn, the more you adapt, the more you succeed, the faster the cycle goes. If you read this whole post, you are already on your way to being more agile.

6 Ways to Stay Focused. Keeping Mind Clutter in Check.

Last week I wrote about physical clutter, this week it’s about interpersonal time suckers in your life.  The force of other people’s priorities into your life to distract you from your true passion.  Someone drops by your office just as you are hitting your stride on a project.  Your boss voluntolds you for a local board that you really aren’t interested in.  The school calls because (according to the rules) your daughter’s skirt is too short and you need to come to the rescue with a potato sack.

Most Human Resource professionals live in a constant state of interruption.  Meetings with Human Resource are rarely scheduled.  There is normally a fire smoldering (or raging out of control) before someone decides to drop by or pick up the phone – do you have a minute?  It’s rarely a minute.   It’s the nature of the beast. index

Someone else’s failure to plan, schedule or otherwise handle an issue can easily leak into your life and weigh you down.  If you want to stay on track to your best work, you need to work on keeping people from treading on you.  Don’t be a doormat. Here’s how:

1. NoSet up some boundaries.  Let your family, friends, and colleagues know where your limit’s are. Business mentor Christine Kane calls this your “Proactive No”.  I’m not available from 9 until 10:30 AM.  I only work with charities that are aligned with my goal of helping disadvantaged children.  I’m always home on the Sunday to be with my family.  I set my schedule according to my son’s wrestling meets.  No television or phone calls during dinner.  I check email and voice mail on the hour. Draw a line in the sand.

2. Barriers.  Shut your door.  Put on some headphones.  Turn off your phone.  Mark out your space.  A colleague of mine used to put police tape across his cubicle when he had an important conference call.  In the book “18 Minutes” by Peter Bregman, the author has prescribed work hours in his home office and his children know that they may not interrupt for any reason.  If the door is shut – don’t interrupt Daddy.  Other barriers can be turning off all alerts for phone, email and text.  I have a little piece of post it note over the place on my monitor where the little envelope shows up when I have email.  Out of sight, out of mind.

3. Cue.  When someone comes in asking if you have a minute – give them a cue.  Mark out a time limit.  I’ve got fifteen minutes.  I have a conference call at 2.  I’m in the middle of a project but I can give you ten minutes.  Give them the parameters before they get started.  This will help them hit the highlights before heading down a long meandering tale of whoa.  If you find out this is bigger than you thought it would be, you might need to stop and quickly reschedule impending appointments.  Being up front will help soften transition back to your own priorities.

4. Delegate. Can someone else do this?  Don’t be the hero.  You do not need to be responsible for everything that comes across your desk or desk top.  I know.  It so much easier to just take care of it yourself.  Especially if you are impatient like me.  You’ve been doing that report for the last 3 years and it only takes you 30 minutes to complete. Training someone else will take at least an hour and they will probably make mistakes the first few times around.  Ugh.  Invest the time and, in the long run, it will pay off in additional hours to spend on what brings you joy in your life.

5. Gossip.  Hanging out at the water cooler isn’t the greatest use of your precious time.  Discussing the latest episode of “Modern Family” or who got kicked off of “Top Chef” is usually a procrastination technique.  Gossiping about Suzy’s new haircut or Joe’s constant lateness can damage your relationships in the long run.  Gee, if Cathy will talk about Joe that way…what is she saying about me behind my back.  More mind clutter.  Your prefontal cortex doesn’t need to be fed that stuff.  Keep the stage clean.

6. Select.  Being more selective about who you hang out with can improve your use of time.  Hanging out with Debbie Downer or Negative Nancy can suck the time and energy out of you.  Being around optimistic folks helps you stay of away from your lizard brain and fueling the flame of fear.  Surround yourself with some carefully selected Pollyanna’s and let them lift you up to your best.  This is advice that I have given my daughter frequently.  When she complains about a “friend” being consistently critical of her actions or associations, I ask – why are you hanging out with this person?  What value are they bringing?

Frequently it’s best to back away and seek out those who will help you stay clutter free.

What would you do?

Burn your doormat.

Last week I wrote about physical clutter, this week it’s about interpersonal time suckers in your life.  The force of other people’s priorities into your life to distract you from your true passion.  Someone drops by your office just as you are hitting your stride on a project.  Your boss voluntolds you for a local board that you really aren’t interested in.  The school calls because (according to the rules) your daughter’s skirt is too short and you need to come to the rescue with a potato sack.

Most Human Resource professionals live in a constant state of interruption.  Meetings with Human Resource are rarely scheduled.  There is normally a fire smoldering (or raging out of control) before someone decides to drop by or pick up the phone – do you have a minute?  It’s rarely a minute.   It’s the nature of the beast.

Someone else’s failure to plan, schedule or otherwise handle an issue can easily leak into your life and weigh you down.  If you want to stay on track to your best work, you need to work on keeping people from treading on youDon’t be a doormat, in fact, I recommend burning it.  Here’s how:

1. NoSet up some boundaries.  Let your family, friends, and colleagues know where your limit’s are. Business mentor Christine Kane calls this your “Proactive No”.  I’m not available from 9 until 10:30 AM.  I only work with charities that are aligned with my goal of helping disadvantaged children.  I’m always home on the Sunday to be with my family.  I set my schedule according to my son’s wrestling meets.  No television or phone calls during dinner.  I check email and voice mail on the hour. Draw a line in the sand.

2. Barriers.  Shut your door.  Put on some headphones.  Turn off your phone.  Mark out your space.  A colleague of mine used to put police tape across his cubicle when he had an important conference call.  In the book “18 Minutes” by Peter Bregman, the author has prescribed work hours in his home office and his children know that they may not interrupt for any reason.  If the door is shut – don’t interrupt Daddy.  Other barriers can be turning off all alerts for phone, email and text.  I have a little piece of post it note over the place on my monitor where the little envelope shows up when I have email.  Out of sight, out of mind.

3. Cue.  When someone comes in asking if you have a minute – give them a cue.  Mark out a time limit.  I’ve got fifteen minutes.  I have a conference call at 2.  I’m in the middle of a project but I can give you ten minutes.  Give them the parameters before they get started.  This will help them hit the highlights before heading down a long meandering tale of whoa.  If you find out this is bigger than you thought it would be, you might need to stop and quickly reschedule impending appointments.  Being up front will help soften transition back to your own priorities.

4. Delegate. Can someone else do this?  Don’t be the hero.  You do not need to be responsible for everything that comes across your desk or desk top.  I know.  It so much easier to just take care of it yourself.  Especially if you are impatient like me.  You’ve been doing that report for the last 3 years and it only takes you 30 minutes to complete. Training someone else will take at least an hour and they will probably make mistakes the first few times around.  Ugh.  Invest the time and, in the long run, it will pay off in additional hours to spend on what brings you joy in your life.

5. Gossip.  Hanging out at the water cooler isn’t the greatest use of your precious time.  Discussing the latest episode of “Mad Men” or who got kicked off of “Big Brother” is usually a procrastination technique.  Gossiping about Suzy’s new haircut or Joe’s constant lateness can damage your relationships in the long run.  Gee, if Cathy will talk about Joe that way…what is she saying about me behind my back.  More mind clutter.  Your prefontal cortex doesn’t need to be fed that stuff.  Keep the stage clean.

6. Select.  Being more selective about who you hang out with can improve your use of time.  Hanging out with Debbie Downer or Negative Nancy can suck the time and energy out of you.  Being around optimistic folks helps you stay of away from your lizard brain and fueling the flame of fear.  Surround yourself with some carefully selected Pollyanna’s and let them lift you up to your best.  This is advice that I have given my daughter frequently.  When she complains about a “friend” being consistently critical of her actions or associations, I ask – why are you hanging out with this person?  What value are they bringing?

Frequently it’s best to back away and seek out those who will help you burn the doormat.

What would you do?