Are you ready for a challenge?

Are you ready for a challenge?

I recently listened to an interview with a master violinist who described her unusual practice routine. She often practices playing the violin while lying down.

Naturally, it’s more difficult to do that and not a common practice among most musicians, but it helps her perform better when she’s sitting in her normal position.

The same week, I observed a friend working out wearing a 20-pound vest. He likes making the workout more challenging.

The practice of adding weight isn’t new to athletes, like baseball players who use weighted bats to improve their hitting.

These people share something in common: they deliberately challenge themselves to get better results. They make things more difficult (in some cases much more difficult) on purpose.

In my own work, I like to challenge myself in some ways…pushing myself out of my comfort zone to build strength, confidence and new skills. I know that I will risk looking silly whether I’m learning a new athletic skill, playing a new instrument or giving a new presentation.

I’m out of my comfort zone in many conferences and business networking events I attend. But I show up anyway. It’s like exercising a muscle. A little painful and uncomfortable at first, but gets better over time.

The problem I notice in my consulting work with many executives is that they often make things more difficult for themselves without even realizing it.

They are not doing it on purpose.

Some are doing it by default. They simply haven’t considered new ways of dealing with a problem. Or they buy into the idea that leadership has to be hard. “No pain, no gain.”

The key is to know when and why you’re creating a challenge on purpose and when you need to seek an easier path.

The easier path may not be immediately recognizable to you. Try finding it by stepping out of your routine.

It might involve simplifying a process or conducting fewer meetings. Or it might just be trusting your instincts and making a decision without over analyzing.

The most challenging situations in your life and work create the greatest opportunities for growth. They create teaching moments for sure.

But you can also gain significant momentum by following the easy path. Consider what feels like effortless action to you.

Your Leadership Challenge: This week I challenge you to answer these two important questions:

What is one way in which you need to challenge yourself more to grow?

What is something you could make easier for yourself?

Let me know what you identify.

Tips for Leaders who Manage Overthinkers

Tips for Leaders who Manage Overthinkers

“This doesn’t need to be a science project.”
That’s a friendly reminder a manager gives her team when she makes requests.

If you lead engineers, technical professionals or analytical types, you’re more likely to encounter over complication challenges.

No matter what kind of team you lead, there are times when you have lots of moving pieces to manage. Projects stall. You’re stuck in analysis paralysis.

You may have too many people involved in decisions.

You’re inundated daily with massive amounts of information that slow you down.

And then there are the truly complicated challenges–“people issues.”

People issues include personality clashes, performance problems, hurt feelings, conflict, blame, jealousy, turf battles, team tension and communication problems.

How do you know where to put your time and attention? Trying to focus on everything at the same time is exhausting–not to mention unproductive.

Strive for SIMPLICITY.

Note areas of your business that you are over complicating.

Clients frequently report challenges in these areas:

Business strategy: Some companies are over complicating their strategy development process with too much data. They tend to over analyze and have trouble executing. As one CEO said, “We’ve got so many metrics in place, we’re spending too much time trying to track activity without getting real work done.”

Communication: People have different communication styles. Even choice of words can make a positive or negative impact depending on the listener. Emails are misinterpreted. Does everyone really need to be copied on that message?

Meetings: People are involved in meetings unnecessarily…and often in unnecessary meetings. In many cases, meeting time could be cut in half to achieve real results.

Processes: Large companies are especially vulnerable to complicated processes. Many are working to streamline processes in different areas to increase efficiency and reduce cost.

If you’re over complicating, use these tips to help yourself and others think more clearly…and quickly.

1. Stop procrastinating. Creating complication can be an excuse not to take the action you really need to.

“I’ve got so much to do, I don’t know where to start!” You may be complicating things in your own mind.

Change your view. Think, “This doesn’t have to be complicated.”

2. Stop deciding by consensus. Some decisions can be made at the top without everyone’s involvement. Involving too many people in your decision-making naturally complicates the process and slows it down.

Some executives are concerned about leaving some people out. They feel political pressure to include people who really don’t need to be involved. Use your discretion.

3. Stop creating so many choices. Contrary to popular belief, people prefer fewer choices. Limited choice aids decision-making.

Limit the options. Give analyzers enough time to think a bit, but provide a reasonable deadline for decisions to be made.

4. Stop micromanaging. Unfortunately many micromanagers may be unaware of their own behavior. It bogs down projects, creates frustration and muddies the waters.

Let go. Allow employees to do for themselves. You’ll accelerate progress.

5. Stop trying to prove how smart you are. When you know a lot about a specific topic, you don’t have to share everything you know. You might create confusion unintentionally.

Focus only on what’s most relevant.

When you’re frustrated by situations that seem too complicated, ask questions like these to simplify:

  • What’s the shortest route to the outcome we want?
  • What if we can really achieve our goal in half the time?
  • What’s the core message?
  • What are the most relevant ideas to consider?

Simplicity is smart–but it’s not always easy.

Look for ways to create simplicity in your work and business.

Keeping things simple helps your team, your customers and your business.

What’s something specific you can simplify in your work or business?

Don’t overthink it.

Are You Ready for Change?

Are You Ready for Change?

One of my favorite questions to ask clients is, “What’s keeping you from making the change you really want to make?”

I get all kinds of answers:

The timing isn’t right.
I’m too busy.
Company politics.
I’m not sure if it will work.
I don’t have enough support.
Not sure what people will think.

The reasons could go on and on. Almost any time you’re thinking about making a significant change, it stirs up resistance.

It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to create some kind of change in your organization, your team or yourself. Resistance will appear.

You can override the resistance by acknowledging it and looking for other reasons that are more powerful to help you move forward. Think about what you’ll be gaining and why that is important to you.

Perhaps you’ll gain:

  • Better peace of mind
  • New growth opportunity
  • More reward or satisfaction

Keep your focus there. Build your beliefs about your ability to make change happen.

Strengthening your mindset is more important than trying to force yourself into action.

Strike the best balance between action and reflection. Taking massive action can backfire if you’re not thinking clearly.

Sometimes you’re pushing too hard and you just need to settle down.

It’s like putting your car in neutral to go through the car wash.

It doesn’t work as well to hit the accelerator to speed through it on your own.

All it takes is a gear shift.

Trust that the process is working.

Building Leadership Strength Through Failure

Building Leadership Strength Through Failure

The other day I was doing a little strength training at the gym. Somehow I lifted a barbell overhead that went one way and I went another.

During my attempt to lift it, I dropped the barbell and flew backwards a few feet until I hit the wall and fell flat on the floor. I was a bit stunned, but surprisingly uninjured.

One of my coaches said, “Gayle, you’re really good at failing!”

Little did he know how much truth was in that statement.

I’ve failed a lot.

When you think about where you are and where you want to be in your business (or your life for that matter), there’s some kind of gap.

The better you are at dealing with failure, the better chances of closing that gap. Instead of letting failure stagnate you, you can accept it as a normal part of the process.

As a leader, you must override the fear of failure when it creeps into your mindset.

It’s not always the big scary things that hold you back. It’s often the everyday situations:

Fear about having a difficult conversation

Fear about making a bad decision

Fear about speaking the truth

Fear about changing direction

Fear about not being ready

The higher your leadership level, the more pressure and fear of failure you might feel. If you exude fear, it’s likely other people feel your negative energy.

Some people are simply more fear-based thinkers than others. Increasing your self-awareness in this area through assessments or other means can give you useful insight about yourself in your leadership role.

Don’t let fear of failure get the best of you. Here are some helpful ways to think about failure in a positive light.

Think of failure as:

  • A teacher: There’s a lesson in your experience. What have you learned?
  • A resilience builder: Whether you bounce back fast or rebound slowly, you will recover. How will you be stronger?
  • An indicator: Something needs to change. What is it?

Separate yourself from the failure.

You are not a failure.

In business, failures can lead to innovation and breakthroughs. Some failures create needed disruption and new thinking.

Company cultures that foster healthy failure need to consider the difficulty many people have in allowing themselves to fail.

Like anything else, you get more of what you focus on. If you’re overly concerned about failure, you’re more likely to fail.

See what happens when you focus more on your growth and success.

When I hit that wall, for a moment, I wondered if I should try to lift those weights again.

But I realized if I don’t, I won’t get stronger.

Even as I write this post, I hear one voice in my head saying, “What if people don’t read this?” or “Maybe this isn’t good enough.”

Another voice takes over and says, “If I don’t write this, I might miss the opportunity to offer ideas that can help people who need this message.”

Then I hit “SEND.”

Leadership Tips to Keep You Grounded

Leadership Tips to Keep You Grounded

It was two days before Christmas. I heard a loud popping sound in my backyard. When I looked outside, I saw a few sparks…then big flames.

You could see the blue electric current travel through the ground. It was terrifying.

A neighbor called 911.

Within a few minutes, three firefighters arrived. But it was too dangerous for them to go in the backyard with a live wire down on the ground. So there we all stood in the kitchen watching the fire burn ten feet from the house.

Their job at the moment was to keep me calm while waiting for the power company to turn off the primary breaker. Every time I thought the fire had burned out, it ignited again.

We chatted about the courage it took to fight fires. One of the firemen said, “It’s easier to battle what you can actually see. It takes more courage to deal with the invisible. That’s what those linemen do.”

Soon a few linemen appeared in the backyard to assess the situation. Eventually the fire went out. They repaired the line and restored power.

Just another day on the job for them. But a huge moment of relief for me.

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to serve a number of power companies. They are valued clients of mine. It’s nice to feel like a valued customer of theirs. (Special thanks to Alabama Power.)

I have worked closely with their leaders and know firsthand the importance they place on safety, culture and developing their talent. This allows them to do work that matters.

Here are leadership tips inspired by my recent experience with those who fight fires and restore power:

Leadership takes a lot of trust…

Trust your instincts.

You’ll inevitably deal with visible and invisible challenges. They range from minor irritations to shock waves. Know when to fight and know when to back away.

Trust your team.

When you’ve got the right crew in place, let each team member do his or her own job. They will appreciate your trust in them.

Trust the timing.

When a negative experience occurs, you may wonder, “Why is this happening now?” Look for the lesson or something to be grateful for. (I’m so glad I let the dog out in the backyard earlier that morning. She returned to the house safely just before the sparks flew.)

Restore your own power.

Take the time, space or break you need to re-energize yourself.

This is an ideal time of year to do that without guilt. Leading well takes a lot of energy.

Expect the best.

Believe good things are in store in the year ahead. Do you have to “see it to believe it?” Believe it so you will see it.

Ignite something.

As a leader, sometimes you’ve got to light a fire, and sometimes you’ve got to fight a fire. Both require courage.

Remind yourself of the real reason you lead–to make life better and brighter for other

people on your team, in your company, in your community or in the world.

What will you ignite?

Keeping a Leadership Journal? Improve Your Thinking and Reduce Stress

Keeping a Leadership Journal? Improve Your Thinking and Reduce Stress

In your role as a leader, there’s stress. It comes with the position.

You’re under pressure to make the numbers, meet deadlines and achieve specific goals. You must respond quickly and make smart choices.

Managing people adds more stress to the challenge.

There’s a lot going on in your world, but there’s also a lot of activity going on in your head.

How you deal with that activity in your mind affects how you perform in your role.

Sometimes the worst place to be is in your own head.

Journaling is a powerful way to manage your thoughts and ideas so you can lead at your best. That’s why I created The Leadership Journal (Second Edition).

It’s a simple tool to help you do your best thinking.

Research and many leader testimonials support the benefits of journaling as a personal best practice. Here are three tips to help you start or maximize your journaling experience.

  1. Make the Effort

Journaling captures thoughts and ideas to be revisited. You can work through difficult feelings and tough concepts in a different way. Journal entries are like bookmarks in a volume of important thoughts whose pages are constantly turning.

Not only does journaling prevent your important mental notes from being lost, it also improves your thinking.

Setting aside time to journal quiets your mind so you can think more clearly. This is what research funded by The National Institute of Mental Health concluded. Settled brains are simply more effective at processing and problem solving.

Additionally, research sponsored by the National Institute of Health found that replaying experiences in our minds is a great tool for learning. Journaling essentially provides you a way to relive thoughts or feelings, and reflect on them.

Learn from your successes and mistakes. You can determine how to adjust and improve. Making the effort to journal on these things is well worth it.

  1. Create a Routine

Many leaders make journaling a habit or personal best practice.

Try writing by hand. Working on a computer can be more efficient, but slowing down to manually write helps with processing thoughts. It eases the tension.

Consistency is key. Schedule your journaling time at a set time of the day or week and make that your commitment to yourself. Ten to fifteen minutes is all you’ll need.

Journal in private during a time when you won’t be interrupted.

Schedule it on your calendar.

The best journaling is spontaneous and transparent. There’s no need for proper grammar or spelling. Be honest with yourself. Let the thoughts flow freely.

The more candid you are, the more you will help yourself. Don’t use this time to judge or criticize yourself. Make it a positive time to learn and grow.

  1. Make It Meaningful

Journaling is most productive when asking yourself questions that provoke deeper thoughts as you attempt to answer them. The questions should cover a variety of ground, and they should be asked regularly for maximum benefit.

Focus on feelings, observations, concerns, hopes or whatever naturally emerges.

Don’t feel pressure to reflect on what you think you should be focused on.

Instead allow your mind to go where it wants to go.

It will make the experience more meaningful.

Resist the temptation to cut your routine. Practice patience and discipline.

When you’re derailed by distractions, simply start the practice again. The effects are long-term, but they can be amazing.

Let journaling refresh you and help you find a level of enjoyment you may be missing in your work, life and leadership.

Write now.