Category Archives: change management

how to suffer without going crazy.

A few days back I posted about the gift of putting oneself in a position to suffer (so as to learn, grow, and break through plateaus). For me, when thinking about struggle states, the next question revolves around how to get through that state of frustration and duress in a way that allows growth to occur and to get through in one piece.

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Suffering stinks. It doesn’t feel good and it is not supposed to. From an evolutionary biology standpoint, pain serves a very specific focus: it forces us to provide effort and attention to an area that requires improvement or to cause a condition change.

Think about a time when you were motivated to accomplish a big task, example being passing a large test. You probably felt an intrinsic stress to study, learn, cram, and get it together to win the test. This distress most likely propelled you to surpass your expectation; without it you may not have accomplished your goal.

So what are some helpful ideas and tools to remain in that state while not being bowled over by the distress? Here are some that help me:

  1. Community – I try to stay connected and avoid isolation. Let’s make it clear – I am an introvert – and big groups of people can make me tired. However, even if I can stay in communication with a couple people who can support and uplift me – or who have been in a similar place and can provide opinions or advice – this helps me to remain confident that I will grow beyond the frustration state I am in.
  2. Reflection – I make time every day to meditate or simply stop what I am doing and reflect on existence. What am I doing? Why am I doing it? What is the purpose and why does it matter? Keeping the big picture perspective in view allows me to know that my efforts can have significance and that intrinsically motivates me to push onward.
  3. Health – I choose to not allow any challenge compromise my own personal and physical health. Ensuring that I am eating well, sleeping well, and exercising allows my body to remain healthy – which allows my brain and conscience to make clear and smart decisions that support my efforts… and to hold a degree of optimism.
  4. Forgiveness – As leaders, we push ourselves to great lengths to be the best. Not being the best at something can be hard but internally berating ourselves when we’re not the best can be easy. Remember to stick it out and that your state of struggle is short-term, not permanent. Allow your max effort each day or time to be good enough for now.

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An example of my own intentional struggle can be seen in the daily cross fit classes I attend. Last year, I became bored of standard gym-type exercising and I do not have any mountains around where I live any longer (so I am not able to hike like I used to [and deeply miss]). My goal around doing cross fit was to become stronger, happier, and healthier. Two months in, I am far from my strength goals. In fact, I’m firmly in last place in most classes. I won’t lie – I genuinely hate to see myself, a person used to being successful, struggling to just finish some workouts – and my hyper-competitive internal dialogue can have relentless, shameful, and unforgiving tendencies. But then I think about the above assistance points: I am surrounded by positive people who support me in this endeavor, regardless of what place I come in. I will be stronger long-term because of the pain and ridiculous effort I have to put in every day just to get through these workouts.

My arrow is pointing up and this state is temporary. I must remember that.

Someday I will not be in last place. I might even be good… and that is when the flow state will start to show itself a bit more. I will continue to weather the storm in the temporary to enjoy the future capacity growth and other benefits. I have faith that my hard work is creating ability and will lead to some degree of success, however that may look.

A fifth point not mentioned above is also worth mentioning: gratitude and appreciation. We leaders push ourselves to meet almost-impossible success standards. Don’t just focus on future happiness, but recognize the small moments of happiness and victory during this season. Life is too short to allow a relentless drive to manifest an ever-present sense of discontent. Don’t forget to notice on the happy and wonderful things around you. I actively choose to laugh and enjoy the daily struggle of cross fit – and to embrace the opportunity I’ve been given as joyously as possible, even when it’s remarkably hard, and it keeps me going back every day.

Humility is not fun… but conscious and proactive choices can make this state of being manageable. Because of our intentional struggle, we grow, accomplish, and become more than we can imagine. We further actualize our potential and increase our capacity to be amazing.

What are some struggles you intentionally put yourself through? What things you do to make struggle states more bearable? When have you struggled to eventually overcome a plateau?

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Filed under change management, leadership, motivation, observation

suffering.

flow

“Hold your breath for a better day, and you’ll never learn how to breathe.
You’re afraid of the dark, but that’s where you learn to see.
Your no good to the living if you’re too afraid to bleed.
And that’s why your show starts now Your show starts now.”

– Cloud Cult “Your Show Starts Now”

If “flow” is a new term for you, here is what it is in a nutshell: Flow is a condition in which the self, body, and mind are hyper-engaged and present. Flow occurs at the nexus between suffering and victory. If you think of a time when you won a race or accomplished something profound, you probably felt an rush of success, pride, and relief simultaneously – and you were probably experiencing flow. Flow is awesome and is a condition that everyone wants in their lives and it effects everything from your physical well-being to your brain chemistry to your confidence and intrinsic motivation.

Flow is a loaded concept that I will explore in different ways down the road. However, the aspect of it I want to highlight today is the pain surrounding it.

Flow occurs after great suffering. If you have ever climbed a mountain, you experienced flow (and sore quads) upon reaching the summit. If you have aced a really hard test, you probably experienced flow upon receiving your A+ after weeks of studying and remarkably hard work. If you have ever received a prestigious job after days of focused preparation and anxiety, you probably experienced the flow state upon that memorable phone call or conversation. Suffering is necessary for success.

Are you stuck where you are, personally or professionally or athletically or creatively? One answer to breaking through that malaise might be intentionally putting yourself in a place to suffer. Do something hard. If you are a guitar player who is struggling to write music, you can lock yourself in a room for a day and focus on writing…or you can force yourself to learn piano. If you have hit a plateau socially, join a group that is completely different from what you’re used to.

Go be uncomfortable. Embrace the uneasiness. Let discomfort be your gift. It could lead to one of the happiest moments you will ever experience. Your show starts now.

 

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January 15, 2017 · 7:40 pm

Leadership is like playing baseball

Tim Anderson

(Image courtesy of Chicago Sun-Times)

Those of you that know me well know that I am a big White Sox fan. In fact, so big a White Sox fan that I follow their minor league teams and prospects. Yeah, I’m a nerd.

The #1 White Sox prospect, Tim Anderson, is a prospect who can hit well but has been criticized around his raw defensive abilities – specifically positioning. Defensive positioning in baseball refers to how a player faces the batter before the ball is hit, the stance in which he sets himself up to field the ball, etc…

So as I was reading an article on Tim Anderson this morning, I got to thinking (because everything in life can be a metaphor for everything in life)…as leaders, do we position ourselves to be successful? I’m not talking about peacocking or crying for attention – that is the last thing I’m interested in – but how do we set ourselves up to become better in everything we do? Here are a few ideas.

  1. Which way do you face? The ball is coming right at you. Do you turn and run? Do you turn to the right and try to field it at a 90 degree angle? Or do you face the incoming ball? My inclination is to be bold, to face it head on with bravery and tact. This bodes well for big challenges in leadership when it can be scary but we know that our teams are relying on us to field the ball and make a play. Leaders face the action.
  2. What are your joints doing? Bear with me. When a ball is hit hard and bouncing toward you, it can sometimes take unpredictable bounces. If you are stiff-legged and standing fully upright, you run the risk of not being able to react on the spot. Instead, leaders have flexed knees, leaning in slightly towards the batter – ready to react on the fly and to manage the change on the fly as needed. Leaders posture themselves that allows them to be nimble.
  3. What are your eyes doing? Are you looking at the clouds above you? Maybe watching the weird dude in the stands whose hot dog just got ketchup all over his shirt? Or are you focused on the batter – no – focused on the ball and anticipating the angle at which it will hit the bat so you can proactively begin to move towards its destination? Leaders stay focused, enjoying the game, but never losing sight of where they are at and how they can succeed in every situation of the game.
  4. The ball just went past you as you missed making a routine play. What do you do? Baseball players have coaches and instructors who are constantly providing advice, critique, and input in an effort to make players better. Just like baseball players, leaders have input and thoughts spinning at them constantly. So – do you confidently yet open-mindedly receive this input and try to make yourself better? Or do you close off? Leaders can receive other ideas, positioning themselves for lifelong learning.

How are you positioning yourself to succeed today, tomorrow, and 20 years from now?

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Filed under change management, leadership

Above the treeline

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I was talking to a person close to me the other day. She has an opportunity to build her resume and plug her talents into an organization that she loves. To get it started, all she has to do is call them. I asked her “Have you called them?” and she responded “I just didn’t have time today.”

I recently had another person close to me mention their interest in getting a promotion… but to do that, they needed to create a strategy for what they’d do in the prospective position. When I followed up with that person, they let me know that they’ve been so busy with their day-to-day job that they haven’t been able to make the necessary hour of time for this task.

How many times do we have greatness within our grasp but we are too caught up in maintaining the status quo to reach out and grab that opportunity?

It’s like hiking on a mountain. There is a nearby trail that is heavily wooded and absolutely beautiful. It’s hard to dislike the trail in any way. However, as tempting as it is to be satisfied with the wooded view of the trees and surrounding forest, a much more marvelous view exists just a mile above the start to the trail. Think: a view above the tree canopy featuring snow-capped volcanoes, alpine lakes, and an endless sky. The push to the top is well worth it.

So ponder this: How would your life, your career, your well-being change if you made 30 minutes a week to look beyond the daily life? To think beyond what is immediately around you? And how would those 30 minute sessions impact your life a year from now?

There might be something really cool above the treeline.

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Learning to not overprotect my leaders

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I pride myself on my commitment level and ability to maximize and develop leaders. In every management role I’ve ever held, I’ve played a large hand in ensuring the development of multiple future leaders. Additionally, I care deeply about each and every one of my employees and peers. A linkedin article that I read this morning brought to light a question I haven’t really focused on recently: How often should I share the stress and heavy burdens of the business with my employees?

As a person who has been in leadership for awhile, I have grown into a style where I like to take any stress and big opportunities from above me and translate them into results and specific tasks/objectives for my employees. I try not to pass along anything incredibly overwhelming, as I want to allow my employees to focus on a few things as much as they can and to not feel any aforementioned stress. I can remember working at a job where a superior told me point blank “you need to do this…or I won’t have a job come tomorrow.” I absolutely do not ever want to pass any stress or attitude like that to my team.

However, this linkedin article has got me questioning if I do that too much. Bernard Marr suggests three steps that strong employees can/should take when it comes to responding to big challenges being passed along (or “bad news” as he calls it):

1. They work on the way they personally react to bad news and make a conscious effort to react positively.

2. They create an environment where bad news is welcome. They often create an environment where the consequences for not telling bad news far outweigh the potential consequences of telling bad news.

3. They make sure to celebrate turnaround stories, where…the right actions were taken straight away to contain or eliminate the problem. Sharing these stories will help to create the right environment and will send out the signals that it is not only important to share bad news, but that the reactions and consequences are positive.

So I’m asking my fellow leaders out there: what do you do for your employees? Is it a good idea to pass along more of these “bad news” challenges to your staff and inherently demonstrate that trust and confidence in them? Or is it more beneficial to absorb a lot of that ourselves and keep our team “safe” from some of the huge things that can fall on our shoulders, especially when many of these employees may be looking for part time responsibilities in their part time jobs?

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Where Should I Live?

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Wife and I are always goofing around on facebook – checking the latest newsfeed, playing games, etc. It’s a way that we chillax. People will frequently post links to interesting little survey things – one being FindYourSpot.com – and I will partake. I took the FindYourSpot quiz, which assesses a person’s lifestyle and suggests some top spots where someone might enjoy living. I took the survey and had no huge surprises; my tops were the pacific northwest, the rockies, and Asheville, NC. Duh. I could have told ya that.

However, I think this test is somewhat wrong.

It’s not wrong on the assessment part. I feel it’s wrong on the principle. If we are really leaders, influencers, and people who create our own destinies, does it really matter that much where we live? I like to think that I could move to Atlanta tomorrow (a spot definitely not on my list of results) and find total happiness- based upon my attitude, my outlook, and my ability to shape my surroundings. Sure, it’s nice having mountains, snow, and outdoor opportunities, but isn’t a person’s own attitude and outlook infinitely more important than extrinsic factors?

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A Thought About Undercover Boss

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This year I’ve come to enjoy the show Undercover Boss (thanks Netflix!!!). Perhaps I’m late to the party – since its been on for a few years – but it has a lot of relevancy towards leadership and management.

If you haven’t seen this reality show, the plotline is usually very similar: A CEO puts on a disguise and works for a week in the different entry level positions in their company. There will often be a similar collection of examples they’ll encounter: an employee overcoming hardship, an epiphany of a thing or person who shouldn’t be in the position they’re in, and some positive employees working to further the brand of their company. It’s pretty entertaining and I’d recommend it, even if it does feel a little propaganda-ish sometimes.

I was thinking about it today and I realized something: Each of these CEO’s are well-intentioned and probably good people, but they’re disconnected. It’ s not any mystery why; these high-ranking leaders control so many things at once on a daily basis and their responsibilities are plentiful. Being as extremely solution-oriented as I am, I began to ask the question “what can I do to ensure I do not become disconnected, especially as I am in my management job longer – or find myself in an even higher level position in the future?” I came up with a few ideas:

1. Engagement is a daily walk, not a monthly check-in. I need to be present in the lives of those around me, present in their careers, and to let them be present in my life as well.

2. When I am in a position where there are just too many people to know everything about, I will need to ensure my leaders beneath me can be my hands and feet, living out these engagement principles and communicating with me regularly.

3. The focus of any business or role I am ever involved in always must be largely people-based. Whether I’m selling tents at REI or stickers at my previous job at Graphicsland, everything comes back to people. As long as I am genuinely committed to facilitating a culture of excellence in everyone around me, customers will come, sales will be made, and employees will be productive and connected to the business purpose.

These 3 things I pledge. Let this be my contract 🙂

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