12 days before my son’s wedding he and his fiancée were trapped in their home, surrounded by water.  My husband and I were in Austin watching news coverage of people being rescued, some by helicopter.  I was an emotional wreck – completely caught up in all of the negative possibilities.  Thankfully, they never lost power and didn’t get any water in their house, but it was close.

As the water began to recede and we plotted our route back to Houston, we started talking about the likelihood that the rehearsal dinner and the wedding could take place.  I was too quick to say, “It’s probably a long shot.”  Once I knew my family, friends and clients were safe, however, my brain was able to make a shift and I said out loud, “I choose optimism!”  The powerful stories of people all over the Houston area choosing optimism in the midst of devastation and despair continued to encourage me.

It’s one thing to talk rationally about how emotion can highjack our brains; it’s another to experience that highjacking so viscerally.  I need a lot more practice at choosing optimism at every opportunity so I can rely on that “muscle memory” when I need it most.  Rather than dwell on the negative emotions like fear of what lies ahead, anger at the bureaucratic nightmare of insurance claims or survivor guilt for those who didn’t suffer damage, let’s remind each other of the power of optimism.  #houstonstrong

Have you heard (or made) any of these comments when a new leader is brought in to change things?

  • I’m excited!
  • I’ll wait and see how it goes…
  • That isn’t the way we do things here.

The people who are excited typically like change and can adapt easily.  Getting the “waiters” and the “naysayers” on board can be more challenging.  Some experts advise against trying to convert the naysayers but they may have institutional knowledge or customer relationships that are too valuable to lose.

The naysayers are often people who helped build the company or the department.  While they may acknowledge that things aren’t perfect, they are proud of their contributions.  Honoring the past and inviting their input can help them embrace change and move forward.

During his three terms as the mayor of New York Ed Koch asked everyone he met, “How’m I doin’?”  He didn’t want to wait for an election to find out.  How did you do last year?  Did you ask?

The more senior your role, the less likely you are to have a formal discussion about how you’re doing.  Many companies have moved away from formal evaluations completely.  Whether you get formal feedback or not, you may be reluctant to ask your boss for informal feedback because:

  • You don’t want to be micromanaged
  • No news is good news
  • It’s the boss’s job to initiate these conversations
  • You might have to make some changes

If it is important to you to know what you’re doing well and how you could improve, and you work for someone who isn’t good at giving feedback, you owe it to your boss and yourself to find an approach that works well for both of you.

Real time feedback is best but not everyone is comfortable with that.  Ask your boss what she or he prefers.  You might get the best feedback during conversations over coffee.  If more structure appeals to you, you could suggest regularly scheduled discussions focused on one or two key areas.

If you don’t ask, then how will you know how you’re doing?

I love it when a client wants to share her insight from a coaching session.  One of my clients recently identified the pitfalls of trying to be a Super Mom and decided to be a Real Mom instead.

She defined a Real Mom this way:

  • Acknowledges she needs help
  • Asks for what she needs
  • Is resourceful
  • Focuses on what is important to her kids
  • Makes them part of the solution
  • Lets go of being needed

It was great to see my client redefine her priorities by getting out of her own way and getting clear about her ultimate goal:  teaching her children how to be whole and healthy.

This works for dads too!

It is pretty common for me to realize that something I say to a client is also something I need to hear.  Recently that has been, “If you aren’t uncomfortable, then you aren’t growing.”  As a result of some major changes in an organization to which I belong, I have been catapulted from a lazy river to the whitewater rapids.

Instead of going with the flow, I am asking myself questions that don’t have simple answers.  I’m challenging beliefs and letting go of relationships that have been comfortable for a long time.  At first, it was scary – I don’t know how deep the water is at the end of those rapids.  Now it’s pretty exciting to consider going in a new direction, even if it means a bumpy ride.

If you aren’t feeling a little uncomfortable in some aspect of your life, I challenge you to think about where you aren’t growing.  As Socrates said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.”

Last month I described the results of a session on creating a “Secret Sauce for Successful Leaders”:  vision, communication, confidence, positive role modeling, reliability, trustworthiness and transparency with generous dashes of encouragement, motivation, appreciation, fun, coaching, caring and steadiness.

In our “How to Avoid Burning Your Fingers” exercise, the group identified the following potential distractions to implementing that Secret Sauce recipe:

  • External market factors
  • Loss of business
  • Morale / Negativity
  • Resistance
  • Communication
  • Safety or other incidents
  • Talent
  • Resource management
  • Personal distractions

Could you choose the perfect dessert for each member of your team without asking them what they want?  Our last item on the menu for this session, “Why We Shouldn’t Skip Dessert,” explored the importance of celebrating successes in ways that motivate each individual.  Here are some of the techniques that were mentioned:

  • Listening
  • Trust
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Support
  • Involvement in decision-making
  • Meaningful work
  • Autonomy
  • Training & development
  • Career advancement
  • Money

I invite you to create your own secret sauce recipe, develop a plan to put the lid on potentially painful distractions, and serve each of your team members a dessert that will motivate them to succeed even in a challenging market.