What story are you telling yourself?

You walk into the room and everyone snickers. They must hate the new shoes I am wearing. Your assistant forgets to copy you on an email. She must have it out for me. Your boss doesn’t return your text for at least 2 hours. She must not think I am important enough.

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These are all stories we tell ourselves. We take a few floating facts and put them into a story that sets us up for disappointment. We feel marginalized and often shut down. The thing is that everyone tells Their Story in their own head. But how often do we test our assumptions? How often do we verify that we have The Story right? This whole concept was illuminated in Brene Brown’s powerful book, Rising Strong.

Here is how to unravel your story:

  • Curious.  As Brene wrote, “Choosing to be curious is choosing to be vulnerable because it requires us to surrender to uncertainty.” It is so much easier to live in our self-deprecating assumptions that everyone is out to get us. When we open ourselves to curiosity, we open to possibility. This helps reframe or re-write the story. So how does this play out? Hmmm. Maybe my boss is in an important meeting. Maybe my assistant didn’t forget to copy me intentionally. Maybe I should ask my friend why everyone was snickering. Remain curious.
  • Wabi-Sabi.  Wabi-Sabi is accepting imperfection and uncertainty. As Brene wrote, “It’s always helpful to remember that when perfectionism is driving, shame is riding shotgun.” Striving for perfection is exhausting. You will never be ________ (fill in the blank: good, smart, thin, funny) enough. Seeking perfection is inviting shame. The shoes will never be right. The report not all encompassing enough. Shame will not help the story in your head. Embrace the wabi-sabi in your life.
  • Enough.  This is one of the best quotes from the book: “Many of us will spend our entire lives trying to slog through the shame swampland to get to a place where we can give ourselves permission to both be imperfect and to believe we are enough.” It’s so important to tell yourself that you are enough. Try this: Shoulder’s back, stride into the room, smile and make eye contact. The next time you are walking into a room of new people, try it. It makes a remarkable difference in how you show up and how you feel. You are enough.
  • Own it.  Brene wrote, “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.” I’ve done this a few times with my husband over the last few weeks. When I started believing that he was mad at me or was upset about something, I would start by saying, “So I have two stories that I’m telling myself. One is that you are working really hard and are stressed and can’t be as attentive. The other is that you don’t love me anymore and you are seeing someone else.” Guess which story was true. Now I can own the real story.
  • Discomfort. This can be uncomfortable. It takes bravery. As Brene posits, “People who wade into discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real bad-asses.” Think of yourself as a New York Times reporter fact-checking your story. It’s definitely uncomfortable to step into the vulnerability of uncertainty. If it’s too comfortable, are you really challenging the facts of the story. Engage in discomfort.
  • Ditch comparison. Comparing yourself to other’s is another way of writing the wrong story. As Brene wrote, “Stay in your own lane. Comparison kills creativity and joy.” Comparison is a limiting belief. In addition, it invites in perfectionism. My neighbor has a nicer car. My boss has a bigger office. I don’t make as much money as my colleague. Not very inspiring. Nothing to compel you onward and upward! We are all on our own path. As Brene says, “Stay in your own lane.”

I have slowly tried to incorporate this into my life. I take a step back when I am angry or resentful over something and try to reframe my story. It’s not easy but I do feel more present and I am able to re-write the story. What story do you need to reframe?

Traits of the Brilliant Leader

I want to share some concepts from Simon T. Bailey with you.  I had the wonderful pleasure of seeing him deliver a dynamic speech at the North Carolina State Human Resource Conference this past September.  He is one electric speaker.  He exudes energy and passion.  When he spoke of the traits of a brilliant leader, it resonated with me.

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I coach a lot of newly promoted leaders–most of the time, we call them managers.  Until they have the skills to be a leader.  It’s been said that almost anyone can manage.  It’s a unique skill set to know how to lead.  These traits are the attributes that both newly promoted managers and dyed-in-the-wool old school managers need to embrace to get the most out of their employees.  Managers push and poke.  Leaders inspire and engage.

 

Here are the 7 traits that Simon Bailey espoused:

 

  • Being Curious.  Bailey suggested that this trait is really an intellectual curiosity, or “the ability to see what is not yet.”  It is anticipating what might be coming.  This involves daily self-reflection and to be able to see: Where you have been, Why you are here, What you can do and Where are you going.  What about your direct reports?  Do you know where they are headed?  Have you taken the time to think about it? Trust me, they have.  This requires openness and  non-attachment.  Being curious is easier for me than some of the other traits.  My top strength from my Strength Finders assessment is “Lifelong learner.”  I am constantly on the lookout for more opportunities to learn and synthesize.  Be curious.  It will never take you down the wrong path.
  • Presence.  Bailey suggested that the mere presence of a cell phone or laptop at a meeting devalued the other folks at the meeting.  This was a huge wake-up call to me, even if my phone was face down.  He suggested that the mere presence of a device suggests that it was the priority–not the person or the people you were with.  I’m digesting this and trying to figure out how I can practically extract the presence of my phone while maintaining things like calendars and future meeting dates.  But you can see that if you are looking at your phone, you are basically not present for the person or people in front of you.  Presence means shutting down distractions and making the person in front of you the priority, whether it be a customer, employee or friend.  I’ve decided to leave my phone tucked away and out of visual presence, yet available if I need to schedule an upcoming event with the person or people I’m with. Prioritize being present.
  • Connect.  I remember teaching a leadership class some three years ago, and I suggested that every manager should know their direct report’s spouse/partner and children’s names.  Recently, I had a client who set out to learn three personal facts about their direct reports.  For many folks reading this, connecting comes easy.  For others, it feels like prying.  I can tell you that when someone asks me where I am traveling to next or when they say, “I saw you were in Asheville last week” (if they’re following me on Facebook), I am thrilled!  And I feel so acknowledged.  I can’t help but feel connected to that person. It makes a huge difference. Reach out and connect.
  • Consistent.  I can remember working for a boss who was a real hot head.  I never knew which side of hot head would be showing up that day or if the Rules of Engagement would be changing.  As David Rock has espoused, uncertainty puts your direct reports into a State of Fear: “an away state”.  Your direct reports cannot do their best work when they are in a state of fear.  Consistency in the rules and your temperament helps generate a “toward” or positive state.  They are much more engaged for the consistent leader because they feel confident that they know the rules of engagement.  Be consistent.
  • Relationships.  Bailey said, “Relationships are the currency of the future.”  I can remember my commencement speech back in 1983 by then Cornell President Frank Rhodes.  He said that the greatest thing that you are taking with you as you graduate are your friends.  This was very profound.  My relationships with my fellow Cornelians over the last 30 plus years has been one of the most gratifying aspects of my life.  They have been a source of advice, referrals and inspiration.  In addition, I have held onto countless other relationships from work and grad school that have enhanced my life as well.  Be sure to tend to the relationships in your life as they will prove invaluable.
  • Global thinker.  Think beyond your zip code, think beyond where you are.  I can say that since participating with a Mindfulness Coaching group, led by Satyam Chalmers, I have learned a more global perspective.  There were folks from Singapore, Australia and Ireland on the weekly calls.  As a born and bred American, I have and believe we can hold a very myopic view of the world.  The press does influence an American-centered viewpoint.  To be a great leader, we need to look for resources from all ends of the earth, be it products, services or thought processes.  Be global in your thoughts and share it.
  • Authentic Listener.  When I speak at various sites and venues, I frequently have said that the most important desire each of us has is the need to be heard.  Being present is an important part of this.  Regardless of whether your employee is in your office, cubical, gravel pit or service station, you need to pay attention and listen in order to understand.  This entails looking at their body language, the gaze of their eyes, the nuance of a smile or any other human indicator.  Be sure to respond with, “What I heard you say was… and did I get that right?”  It’s ok if you don’t get it right, because they know that you care when you ask for clarification.  Be an authentic listener.

 

You don’t need to have people be your direct reports for all of these traits to be useful.  Whether it’s interacting with your child, your spouse, a volunteer organizer or networker, all of these ideas can come into play.  Take the time to be brilliant–and you will be!