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Playing it Safe (#96)

Last week, I wrote about how having the freedom to fail is an integral part of growth and how many parents are failing this test. In response to last week’s post, a friend sent me an article titled, “The Fragile Generation.” The author opens with an anecdote of a teen boy who was chopping some wood to make a fort with his friends. An onlooker notified the police who arrived at the scene and “took the tools for safekeeping to be returned to the boy’s parents.”

The author writes, “We told a generation of kids that they can never be too safe—and they believed us.”

This need to be “safe” has evolved part and parcel with the explosion of the internet and social media.  Many of the things that have a very low probability of bringing us harm are sensationalized online and in the news; because we see it happening on the internet and how horrible it is, we start to question our safety. For example, the leading cause of death in the US is an unhealthy diet, not any of the things we read about in the news. Yet … we aren’t blocking the doors to McDonalds.

Our inclination to seek “safety” removes a degree of risk-taking in our lives that is necessary for getting us out of our comfort zone, such as travelling to new places, trying new foods and interacting with people of different background and beliefs.

Our physical need for safety has also evolved into an emotional need. This comes at a very high price.

One emotional cost is that more and more people today are delaying – or altogether missing – adult milestones; landmarks that come with a certain degree of risk, such as buying a home/living on their own, getting married or having kids.

If we try to ensure that we, or those we love, will never get physically or emotionally hurt, it’s unlikely that we’ll lead fulfilling, prosperous lives.

This is a big problem; one that is not easily solved. That being said, I believe one area where we can all start to be more growth-minded and a little less safe is in our communication and feedback. Often, we don’t say what we really mean. It’s either safer not to or it helps us (or the recipient) maintain the status quo.

One of the best frameworks I’ve come across around feedback is from Kim Scott’s new book, Radical CandorBe a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. Radical Candor, she argues, should be the default form of both personal and professional feedback.

One of the quadrants in the Radical Candor graph that gets less attention, but is often our automatic form of commutation, is “Ruinous Empathy.” This is when you care about the other person and their perspective, but you don’t tell them what they really need to hear, which is likely to be a tough message and/or the truth as you will see in this sample video.

According to Scott, Ruinous Empathy comes from our desire to try and control other people’s feelings, something we should not and cannot do. While it may come from a good place, it is also a misplaced, misguided effort. It’s about being safe.

This week, let’s encourage open and vulnerable communication. We may get our knees skinned – we maybe even get rejected outright — but at least we’re living authentically, growing and working toward empowering ourselves and others.

Quote of the Week

“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.”

John A. Shedd

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Conventional Wisdom (#85)

Here is the thing about conventional wisdom and thinking: it’s usually conventional. This may sound obvious, but in so many situations, we fail to make choices that would move an opportunity forward or make a big impact. Instead we choose the safer option; the one that feels more familiar or has the popular vote.

This point was brought home for me recently as I listened to Brian Halligan speak at a leadership event. Brian is CEO of HubSpot, a title he’s held through the company’s inception, its IPO and $2.5B market cap.

In his discussion, Brian shared his perspectives on decision-making and following the conventional path, which include:

  1. Conventional wisdom is the conservative path and usually means doing what everyone else is doing.
  2. Leading companies and people aren’t satisfied with doing what everyone else is doing so they need to think about things in new and different ways.
  3. For many of his big decisions, Brian sought input from his team, but rarely went with the majority opinion.
  4. If the choices are black and white, never choose grey. Not only is picking the middle the easy way out, it’ll likely ensure a suboptimal outcome for all.

Great leaders buck conventional wisdom. They take risks, listen for the best ideas from the quietest voice and try to find where they can make that tenfold impact. This is the reason why companies such as Google have formed groups to work on new ideas—even ones that may have a high degree of failure. These are “moonshot” ideas that challenge conventional thinking.

One of the best ways to escape conventional wisdom is to gain perspective from those who think differently from you and to encourage debate. If you surround yourself with everyone who thinks the same way and has the same views, the decisions are likely to be similar. This groupthink is how Volkswagen ended up in a giant emission scandal a few years’ back.

If you want to expand your thinking, travel. Travelling is a wonderful way to gain perspective as are mastermind groups. Both have been invaluable to me and many others that I know, especially in terms of bringing new ideas to the fore and looking at problems and challenges in different ways. Some of my best new ideas have come from travelling outside of my physical and mental comfort zone.

The next time you ask someone for input on a key decision, think about whether they are giving you the answer that they know you want or a new perspective you might really need.

Quote of the Week

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

Henry Ford

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18 Summers (#84)

Shortly, I will be headed out on an RV trip with my family that has been years in the making. I am excited to unplug, get outdoors and spend quality time with my kids.

Last week, I had two reminders of how special and fleeting this time really is. It started with getting this “out of office” reply from the PR consultant of my friend Alex Yastrebenetsky:

“Alex Yastrebenetsky encouraged me to make a sign that says “18 Summers” and put it on my refrigerator so you can see it every day. A year feels like a long time while a summer comes and goes and 18 summers is all you get with your kids, so you need to make all of them count. As you are reading this, I am spending time with my family in an RV headed across the country and will be back on Monday, August 21st.”

Just a few days later, another good friend sent me a compelling post written by Tim Urban on his blog “Wait Buy Why” that lays out a 90-year-olds lifespan visually in years, weeks and days.

Tim calculated that, by the time he graduated high school, he had already used up 93 percent of his lifetime’s in-person parent time. He also shows other visual examples of how much time remains – if he lives to 90 – to enjoy some of his favorite activities.

A powerful, impactful exercise that is sure to create a sense of urgency is to print out Tim’s chart and fill in the circles. As Tim notes, you might realize that, despite not being at the end of your life, you may very well be nearing the end of your time with some of the most important people in your life.

Here are three key takeaways that Tim shares upon reflection of his own experience with the exercise.

  1. Living in the same place as the people you love matters.
  2. Priorities matter.
  3. Quality time matters.

They are great tips to keep in mind as summer winds down and we head back into the fall routine.

There are many things in life that require deferred gratification, but in many cases, it’s not a matter of our means; it’s a matter of making the time and changing our priorities. Sometimes it also means disregarding societal norms, stepping outside of our comfort zone and saying “yes,” even when opportunities require us to find ways to creatively make them happen.

One of my best memories of 2017 is how my son and I ended up at Super Bowl LI together. As I wrote about in a much commented on Friday Forward post, it was a moment that I almost passed up multiple times because I thought there would be another opportunity down the road – an opportunity that, in reality, might never come.

“Tomorrow.” “Next week.” “Next year.” These are often the answers we give when presented with both personal and professional opportunities. It’s easy to think that there will always be a better time to live our life and enjoy time with others. Let’s not take for granted that that time will come.

Quote of the Week

“Lost time is never found again.”

Benjamin Franklin

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Sharing Vulnerably (#80)

Each week, after sending a Friday Forward, I receive many thoughtful, moving messages from people about how the topic resonated with them. Often, they’ll share a personal story related to one of the themes.  These stories are what encourage me to keep writing each week and leave me feeling that I am making a difference and an impact.

After sending out last week’s “Calm is Contagious” post, I received a note from one of our AP team members, Cassandra Scarbeck, detailing her experience with how that lesson helped her and her daughter through a frightening battle with cancer many years ago. I was moved by her story and believed that others would be too, so I encouraged her to share the note via our company’s Slack channel. She did and several meaningful and vulnerable conversations ensued. In addition to giving us all some perspective, her story helped a few other employees who are dealing with some difficult situations with their own children.

Through years of engaging in and observing formal leadership training, icebreakers and team-building sessions, I’ve noticed that, when given the opportunity, people want to share more vulnerably and authentically. Sharing our stories has the power to help and connect with others in a meaningful way. It often just takes someone to start the conversation and set the tone for the entire group.

I believe that one of the reasons this doesn’t happen more often is that we are immersed in a world of carefully curated social media posts that spotlight the top five percent of our lives. This lens tends to omit the struggles, frustrations and realities of life, a phenomenon is causing us – and arguably a whole generation – to compare their actual lives against a storybook version of someone else’s. Sadly, I believe this discourages vulnerability and creates a false set of expectations.

I encourage us all to take a lead from Cass and share more vulnerably – both to help ourselves grow and to help others who are likely to learn more from our trials and tribulations than they are from our successes.

Cass’s story (shared with her permission):

Calm is Contagious is truly a powerful virtue and holds such importance in the midst of far from optimal circumstances. People really do take their cues from their leader.

I watched this play out in a different arena 5 years ago when I started my role as my 4 year old daughter’s health advocate after she was diagnosed with cancer. Inside I was terrified about what lied ahead for her with treatment, side effects, the what if’s and all the logistics and life changes that inherently had to happen as a result of this bombshell. Things like having to pull her out of school to avoid getting exposed to potentially deadly germs, having to quit my job in order to be her full-time caregiver and the financial hole we were instantly plunged into. On the outside, I projected a much different picture. I never let on to my daughter that her life was in peril or that I had no idea how we were going to get through the next 29 months of chemotherapy. Instead, I calmly explained in age appropriate terms what she needed to know when she needed to know it.

I prepared her for the pain she would face just before the procedure always being honest but letting her know it would be over quickly. As a result, she faced each procedure with amazing lack of apprehension. When I knew what changes would occur in her body as a result of the treatment, I prepared her for things like weight gain, face changes and hair loss. Rather than cry or worry, her response was, “Ok, cool!” When her hair started falling out, I began preparing her for a head shaving with a dear friend of mine who had done the same for a high school student and had her explain what she did and how they made it a fun experience. When the day came, I went inside my closet and cried my eyes out, but then I wiped my tears and came out and put a big smile on my face and said… you’re gonna be great, you are gonna rock your wigs, and when your hair comes back it’s going to be even more beautiful. The thing is… she believed me and smiled and giggled through the whole experience as her dad and brothers took turns giving her a mohawk before the last strip was taken off her beautiful bald head.

Part of how she responded to all of this no doubt naivete. But so much had to do with the cues she took from my outward response to every situation in front of us and the trust she had in me as her mother and advocate. Never once did I let her see fear or sadness overcome me. In contrast, I noticed some parents in the waiting room and in the clinic with panic, anxiety and anguish written all over their faces. When their kids had to come in for procedures, you could see them mimicking their parent’s emotions. They clung to their parents in fear and didn’t want to go back to their treatment room. Meanwhile, parents like me, who were calm and unapprehensive had children who were happily engaged with other children or volunteers making crafts, playing games or engaging in musical therapy. The smiled and joked with the nurses and doctors and walked out high fiving the receptionists.

Our kids were all having similar experiences in the same place, battling the same enemy at the same time, with the same team of warriors surrounding them. But, I couldn’t help notice the differences in behaviors of parents and children and how they were linked. Thanks for another great reminder of the impact our actions have on others. Our kids are watching. Our team is watching. Our staff is watching. Let’s all strive to keep calm and kick ass!!!

Quote of the Week

 “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

Brene Brown

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Introverts & Extroverts (#78)

As it turns out, I might be more of an introvert than I realized.

I always saw myself as more of an extrovert, but I’ve begun to recognize that I have strong introvert tendencies as well. For example, quiet time is what recharges me. This understanding was cemented for me when someone shared an amazing article about “Introverted Extroverts,” which describes me perfectly–and likely many others who’ve never really felt like either a true introvert or extrovert.

There were several examples in the article that I resonated with, especially:

  • #8: You find friendships that need maintenance exhausting
  • #10: You don’t like compliments
  • #12: You like going out, but then you want to Ghost (aka the “Irish exit”)

Understanding the differences and nuances between introverts and extroverts can help us all better appreciate and manage our own innate needs and those of others.

I came across two great infographics that describe these differences (Graphic One, Graphic Two).

Introverts and extroverts are very different, both in how they operate, how they see the world and how they recharge their brains. At a high level, introverts tend to recharge by spending time alone. They lose energy from being around people for long periods of time, particularly large crowds. Extroverts, on the other hand, gain energy from other people.

Another example is how each personality type exits from social or group situations. Introverts typically prefer to “ghost,” meaning they tend to leave without saying their farewells. Extroverts, on the other hand, often perceive this behavior as being rude.

Extroverts may also push introverts to be more social and to “get out” more. What’s interesting is that you most likely won’t hear introverts pushing extroverts to have a little more alone time for self-reflection. Both can add value and both are things each personality type should work on.

As you can image, these differences can frustrate us, especially if we find ourselves working with or married to someone who is at the opposite end of the introvert/extrovert spectrum. However, one person’s strength is another person’s weakness; that combination can be powerful if managed with awareness. We also need to remember to treat others how they want to be treated, not how we want to be treated.

Regardless of whether you are an introvert, extrovert, or somewhere in between, we can all do more to get outside our comfort zone while still playing to our strengths and being aware of the needs of others. I, for one, will push myself to go out more, but will no longer feel bad for “ghosting” when my energy is gone.

Quote

 “Walk with me for a while, my friend—you in my shoes, I in yours—and then let us talk.”

Richelle E. Goodrich

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Tri It (#77)

Last week, I completed my first Olympic Triathlon.  It had been a long-term goal of mine that took a considerable amount of training over three months and got me outside of my comfort zone.

During the triathlon, I had few hours to reflect on the lessons I had learned from the training and preparation process and came up with eight that I wanted to share:

1.  Importance of delayed gratification: If you want to develop the discipline of a world-class performer, there is no better way than by picking a goal that only takes a short time to execute, but months of daily training, practice and discipline. In today’s instant gratification world, delaying that reward is a lost virtue and deprives us of our ability to make short-term sacrifices for bigger goals.

2.  The best goals are ones that scare you, even if just a little bit: Last year, I resolved to pick at least one annual goal that terrifies me, at least a little. The idea is to force myself out of my comfort zone and be emboldened by what I didn’t think I could do. When I shared my plan to participate in a triathlon, many people mentioned that they would love to do one, but “couldn’t” swim or run. I now realize how self-limiting those beliefs are.

3.  Pick a date: In 2016, I set the same goal to complete a triathlon. The difference is that I never picked a date. Then, I got injured and had a bunch of other convenient excuses. This year, as soon as I found an event I was interested in, I picked the date and paid the entrance fee. It’s one thing to decide to do something, it’s another to commit to a date for when you’re going to do it.

4.  The value of a coach/mentor: When you want to do something you haven’t done before, it helps to work with someone who has and who will hold you accountable. In preparation for my first triathlon, I worked with a great coach who designed a training plan for me and was my weekly accountability partner.

5.  Focus on what works for you, not what others are doing: When it comes to swimming, my strong suit is the breaststroke. However, for a triathlon, most agree that the front crawl is more appropriate, so that was what I trained for. On race day, I started out my swim with this technique, but about five minutes in, abandoned it for the breaststroke. Right away, I was better able to see what was ahead of me and felt more relaxed and efficient with my energy. In retrospect, I may have done even better during my swim component had I not cared what anyone thought and trained for the breaststroke from the start.

6.  Alternate your horizon: There were times during my training and the actual race when it was motivational to look ahead and think about the finish line. Other times, it was better for me to just look down and focus on taking one step at a time. Both motivate you in different ways.

7.  Practice on stage: My coach suggested that I practice on the actual course, which I had delayed because of my travel schedule. When I did test the swim two days before the event, I realized that swimming in open water (versus in a pool) made me nauseous. If I hadn’t trained on the actual course for my swim, I wouldn’t have had the time to make adjustments and would have been in trouble on race day.

That’s actually what happened during the running part of the race. I didn’t test the run and was not mentally or physically prepared for the series of rolling hills. It was during this grueling part of the race when I suddenly realized why most world-class performers, athletes and business leaders practice on the stage where they are going to perform. Doing so helps you pick up on unforeseen nuances and makes it easier to visualize success in the actual environment.

8.  Start what you finish: In her bestselling book, Grit, author Angela Duckworth talks about her family’s rule of “finishing what you start,” be it a season of sports, instrument lessons, etc. The idea is that, while you don’t have to do it again, you cannot quit once you have started. Once I began the process of training, quitting wasn’t an option. On race day, I was going to cross that finish line, even it meant that it was on my hands and knees. It was a mindset.

I hope that by sharing this experience, you’re able to glean a few beneficial takeaways for your own endeavors. If I can leave you with one parting thought it’s that, whatever your goal, if it doesn’t scare you a bit, it’s probably not really a stretch for you.

Quote

“Happiness does not come from doing easy work but from the afterglow of satisfaction that comes after the achievement of a difficult task that demanded our best.”

Theodore Isaac Rubin

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