Act As If

actasif

A few years ago while conducting research around starting my own business, I ran across a book I really enjoyed called “Birthing the Elephant” by Karin Abarbanel and Bruce Freeman. From it, came a favorite quote of mine: “Act as if.”

Presented in the context of being an entrepreneur, the short phrase expresses the concept of viewing yourself in a new way and aligning your actions and the way you communicate to reflect this new ‘brand’ and self image. “Actions change attitudes, motions change emotions, and movements change moods. You might not be able to change your thoughts and your feelings, but you can change your actions. Your actions can change your feelings; your actions can change your thoughts. You can act differently than you feel.”

The day I read page 121 and the words “act as if” is the day I decided to begin my business. For several months, I had conducted research around launching a new venture, secured necessary resources, and written a business plan. On paper, it looked great, and when I read the words “act as if,” I thought “what am I waiting for?” It’s interesting when you’re starting something from scratch. There’s a moment when you literally must flip the switch. So I did.

The quote “act as if” hit home for me. In that moment, I took on the mantle of entrepreneur and business owner – I walked as if, ate as if, slept as if…I went about my day as if this is completely who I am, even though early on there were many days where it felt more like a story than reality. I lived this new brand as if everything in my life up to this moment had prepared me for this.

It’s three years later and – through much hard work and many challenges, along with steady progress and great wins – my business is flourishing.

Today, in my coaching and consulting practice, I encourage individuals, teams, and organizations to “act as if” with their vision, mission, and plan. I encourage people and organizations to dream and imagine their most vibrant future. And with that, I challenge them to act as if they’re already there. After all, our thoughts and actions create our reality. We manifest what we most desire and focus on.

My hope is that this mantra will inspire my clients and those I serve as much as it has me. And that they will overcome the one thing that holds most of us back: the belief that we must wait until we know who we are or until we craft the perfect plan before we even get started. Just remember, you’re more ready than you think you are. Get started now.

Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.

~ William James

 

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Authenticity: Knowing Yourself and Letting Yourself be Seen

authenticAuthenticity is not something we have or don’t have. It’s something we practice – a conscious choice each day of how we want to live, show up, and be real in who we are. It’s about letting our true selves be seen. And for me, it can feel resonant, exhilarating, and terrifying all at once.

When I think about authenticity, I think about how we are drawn to deeply real people. In my work as a leadership development educator and facilitator, I often see this in the classroom. Just the other day, my co-facilitator was delivering a part of our program on organization change. He shared a personal story about leading a major change initiative for an international Fortune 100 company. As the group listened, I imagined that some fully expected an account of how well it went – of how he did all the right things, executed critical steps in perfect text-book form, and everyone came along with the change.

While some things did go well, much of what he shared was about the missteps…of what went wrong, what he wish he’d done differently, and what he learned from the complex navigation of change across a large global company with competing divisions, goals, and priorities.

What I witnessed in our participants was a building in the level of engagement, belief, and trust. This guy could have told his story so differently. He could have pointed out the positives and insulated himself and his leadership by jumping over the tough spots and failures. To do so would have created a divide with the participants and resulted in a missed opportunity to connect and exhibit vulnerability.

Before writing this post, I reviewed in my mind the characteristics I’ve observed in the most authentic people I’ve met. Most of the qualities come directly from being rather than doing. Here’s my list:

  • Knowing yourself and being comfortable in your own skin
  • Being vulnerable – Letting go of what people think and embracing who you are
  • Having courage – Being willing to move out of your comfort zone, take risks, and play it unsafe
  • A willingness to admit to and learn from failure
  • Being honest – Choosing being real over being liked
  • Compassion
  • Gratitude
  • Expressing your own creativity

What characteristics make your authenticity list? How do you recognize if you are accessing your own authenticity?

“To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody-but-yourself means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight – and never stop fighting.” E. E. Cummings

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Truing Your Leadership Competencies

In my latest blog post (“Leading with Compassion and Authenticity,” February 18) I wrote about a favorite leadership book, “Leading with Authenticity in Times of Transition” by Kerry Bunker and Michael Wakefield. As a continuation of that post, I want to share the specific leadership competencies highlighted in the text that are critical for leaders navigating the complex challenges of transition. These competencies are presented as pairs (representing both the structural and people side) and graphically displayed as a wheel to demonstrate their interrelatedness and the need for balance.

Transition Leadership Wheel copy

Bunker and Wakefield use the image of a bicycle wheel to describe the leadership competencies, reflecting that each spoke needs to be tightened or loosened to the right tension. Otherwise, there will be strain on the other spokes, pulling the wheel out of alignment. Six spokes represent the structural competencies, and six the people-related competencies. If a leader devotes an overabundance of energy to any one competency, s/he runs the risk of skewing the opposite and pushing the wheel out of true, creating undue strain on the trust needed to lead effectively. The key is to find appropriate ways to work with both sides that are authentic to the leader and avoid swinging dramatically from one side to the other.

I find this resource very helpful in conceptualizing the core elements important to navigating change and transition as well as the need for balance among them. Most leaders are quite skilled at dealing with change and solving problems from the structural side of leadership – the plan, rationale, data, and measurements. Posing a much greater challenge for most is connecting to the people side of change – the emotions, discomfort, letting go, and rebuilding. Central to it all is trust, without which success in transition cannot exist.

Consider this example: A nonprofit arts organization had recently undergone a strategic planning process that included extensive community input data gathering. This led to a reshaping of priorities and key areas of focus for the organization, which re-defined its core lines of business. As a result, the organization ceased two primary areas of its operation. From this redefining, the organization aligned its leadership, resources, business strategy, and culture to support this new model. Among other things, the action led to a redesign and reduction in both board and staff leadership. By any measure, this was substantial change to this agency.

A true test for the organization was how it dealt with the more emotional side of the human elements of transition. While they handled the mechanics of the change well: strategy, planning, gathering community input, and defining core areas of focus and lines of business, the organization fell short in leading the more human dynamics of the transition: allowing for time and space for emotional processing, feeling discomfort, dealing with resistance, and appreciating differences in how people cope with change and taking those perspectives into account.

I see this frequently with the organizations and executives with whom I work. Strategic planning processes like these take a lot of time, effort, and energy. When a plan is done, it’s easy to feel like you’ve reached the finish line. It’s much harder to realize you’re only half or two-thirds finished, and that a critical component of your work is yet to be done – addressing the more sensitive people issues and empowering a team to embrace the change and help shape and lead the future.

As Bunker and Wakefield note, “change initiatives often break down because people stall somewhere during the transition.” Ignoring or falling short in this area will greatly impact the overall success of a transition. With the organization example above, the ‘less than ideal’ handling of the human elements created a turbulence that was felt for years after. These missteps are painful to recover from.

A highly skilled leader lives through the process of transition with others in a genuine and authentic way. They help their people flex and adapt, and foster their ability to contribute in new and meaningful ways. Here’s an overview of the twelve competencies:

Catalyzing Change versus Coping with Transition

Catalyzing Change is championing an initiative or significant change. A leader who is skilled at catalyzing change consistently promotes the cause, encourages others to get on board, and reinforces those who already are. Such leaders are highly driven and eager to get others engaged in new initiatives.

Coping with Transition involves recognizing and addressing the personal and emotional elements of change. Leaders who are able to cope with transition are in touch with their personal reactions to change and transition and make use of that emotional information. They lead by example.

Sense of Urgency versus Realistic Patience

Sense of Urgency involves taking action quickly when necessary to keep things rolling. Leaders who have a strong sense of urgency move fast on issues and accelerate the pace for everyone. They value action and know how to get things done.

Realistic Patience involves knowing when and how to slow the pace to allow time and space for people to cope and adapt. Leaders who display realistic patience appreciate the fact that people learn and deal with change differently and do not judge them based on their own styles, preferences, or capabilities.

Being Tough versus Being Empathetic

Being Tough denotes the ability to make difficult decisions about issues and people with little hesitation or second-guessing. Leaders who are comfortable and secure with themselves can display toughness; they’re not afraid to take a stand in the face of public opinion or strong resistance.

Being Empathetic requires taking others’ perspectives into account when making decisions and taking action. Empathetic leaders try to put themselves in other people’s shoes; they’re able to enhance their own perspectives by considering the views of others.

Optimism versus Realism and Openness

Optimism is the ability to see the positive potential of any challenge. Leaders who exude optimism can communicate and convey that optimism to others.

The combination of Realism and Openness denotes a grounded perspective and a willingness to be candid. Leaders who practice this competency are clear and honest about assessing a situation and the prospects for the future. They are candid in communicating what is known and not known. When managers exhibit realism and openness, they speak the truth, don’t sugarcoat the facts, and are willing to admit personal mistakes and foibles.

Self-Reliance versus Trusting Others

Self-Reliance involves a willingness to take a lead role and even to do something yourself when necessary. Self-reliant leaders have a great deal of confidence in their skills and abilities and are willing to step up and tackle new challenges.

Trusting Others means being comfortable with allowing others to do their part of a task or project. A leader who trusts others is open to input and support from colleagues and friends. Such leaders respect others and demonstrate trust through a willingness to be vulnerable with them.

Capitalizing on Strengths versus Going Against the Grain

Capitalizing on Strengths entails knowing your strengths and attributes, and confidently applying them to tackle new situations and circumstances. A leader who knows how to capitalize on strengths trusts the abilities that have generated success, rewards, recognition, compliments, and promotions in the past and uses them in new situations.

Going Against the Grain entails a willingness to learn and try new things, even when the process is hard or painful. Leaders who can go against the grain are willing to get out of their comfort zones. They are willing to tolerate discomfort if it leads to learning.

Competition

I don’t know about you, but when I read these competencies, I see that there are some inherent conflicts between them. In the face of change and turmoil, it’s interesting that people look for those who are simultaneously strong and vulnerable, heroic yet open, demanding while compassionate. Leading well often feels like an impossible balancing act. It can be exhausting!

For me, I think it’s most about knowing yourself as a leader. Knowing what is genuinely, authentically you and applying that consistently and well over time. And when you have those critical learning moments, take the new discoveries and further polish and refine your leadership skills.

Leading with Compassion and Authenticity

business people activity standing and walkingOne of my favorite leadership books is “Leading with Authenticity in Times of Transition” by Kerry Bunker and Michael Wakefield. For a business world awash in leadership titles, this one is a particular jewel because of its focus on the complex human dynamics of transition. I find that organizations are often quite adept at addressing the structural side of change – reorganizing, restructuring, creating new vision, mission, strategy, and so on. What I see far more struggle with is leading and attending to the human side of change – letting go, grieving loss, building hope, and exhibiting compassion.

With high expectations and great demands on our time, the tendency is to fast forward through, or skip altogether, the space needed to reflect on and process the emotional impact resulting from change. But when these emotions are not accepted and addressed as natural and important components, resistance can intensify over the change continuum.

In my career, I’ve served in a number of executive leadership roles for nonprofit organizations. Often, we faced significant organizational change that involved not only our own organization, but also stakeholders and other partnering community groups.

From my experiences, I’ve learned that addressing the delicate human dynamics of change is absolutely critical. A question I ask is “where do you want the pain?” For me, it’s  a point of either leaning in to these elements early on – shortly after the change event is announced and acknowledged – or coming back to it later in the process when an organization is trying to implement new process and structure. I find it far better (after much practice, and even failure) to meet it early on. It’s arduous, messy, the process takes longer…and it is absolutely the right thing to do. Get it right, and the resultant implementation can soar.

From these experiences, I’ve grown as a leader, developing compassion, concern, and genuine care for my team and others – a much-needed muscle to lead effectively. Early on, it didn’t come naturally. I wanted to move fast, make decisions, take action, and move on. And I see this in many organizations I work with today.

As Bunker and Wakefield point out, leaders must:

  • Examine their behaviors and emotions tied to change and transition. This begins the process of operating from a place of authenticity as a leader.
  • Establish and protect trust. Without trust and honesty, authenticity and credibility suffer – undermining otherwise solid change initiatives or management decisions.
  • Find a balance between structural leadership and people leadership. By learning important competencies for leading in times of change and transition, leaders gain a new perspective from which to operate.

Later this week, I’ll post more on key leadership competencies critical for transition. What are some of your successful practices in leading through transition?

“You get the best effort from others not by lighting a fire beneath them, but by building a fire within them.”

–Bob Nelson

Why I’m a Coach

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.” –Marianne Williamson

I am a coach today because I’ve experienced coaching’s transformative power in my own life.

Over my career, I’ve worked with several coaches. I’ve hired them for career and leadership related priorities, but every time the impact of the coaching has been much farther-reaching, affecting me deeply as a whole person.

I remember the first time I hired a coach – I was contemplating a critical career move, pursuing the President and CEO position of a large nonprofit arts organization. At the time, I was director of development for the organization, a position I had held for several years. I was really excited about the opportunity; I felt ready for it, and the timing seemed right to me. But before making my thoughts known to my organization’s board and others, I wanted to be sure I was the right person for the job.

Because I was already internal to the organization, I knew how important it was for it to have the ideal leader who would bring great energy, fresh perspective, and new ideas.  I wanted to test my assumptions that I was that person. At the time, I didn’t really know exactly what a coach did or how one would approach his or her work. I just knew that I needed a professional with whom to brainstorm confidentially—someone who could help me work through my critical career decision.

My coach listened to my story and asked a lot of questions. Her probing peeled back the layers and made me think of this transition, my readiness, and fit in ways I hadn’t previously…and wouldn’t have been able to do alone. I liked how she stretched and challenged me. It wasn’t simply what I thought, but why I held my thoughts and beliefs, and the impact of the actions I took based on those ideas.

The questions my coach asked seemed so simple, yet they were powerful and razor-sharp. Have you ever had an experience that made your head spin? This is what I remember about these encounters:  I’d leave the session and need to sit in my car awhile before I could drive away. The shift she helped me create was profound.

After a few sessions, I confirmed my decision to pursue the opportunity, and in 2003 I was appointed to the position of President and CEO.  It was exhilarating!  I loved my new venture, and I went to work eagerly on my vision and goals for leading this great community organization.

About six months into my new role, I felt myself searching for a strategy partner – someone who could be a sounding board for my big dreams and ideas, as well as my frustrations, fears, and uncertainties. I wanted someone I could really trust and be vulnerable without fear. I had truly begun to understand the cliché, “It’s lonely at the top.” I could count on three fingers the number of people in whom I could confide. And none were quite who I needed to challenge and stretch me and to hold me accountable. So, for the second time in my career, I hired a coach.

I remember the relief I felt when I found my new coach. With him, I didn’t have to be careful with my words, politically correct, or worried about what I said. It was completely freeing…and deeply empowering. He didn’t give me advice, problem-solve, or tell me what to do. But rather, my coach was my partner, posing thought-provoking questions and encouraging me to tap into my own inner wisdom and sense of knowing for direction.  It was like an intense workout to develop new muscle.

I worked with him for about a year, and then asked for his help again years later when I made the decision to step down from my position. I knew I had completed what I set out to do in the role, but I wasn’t sure what I most wanted to do next. In working with my coach, I decided to take a year off to clear my mind, explore creative pursuits, and simply relax and play. It gave me much-needed time and space to ‘incubate’ what would come next.

During this year off I began to shape my own business. When I freed up my “internal hard drive,” I realized more clearly what I loved most and wanted to do. I had derived great satisfaction from helping organizations and their leaders tackle tough business issues, crises, and transitions. In my work, I often had been called upon to help nonprofit organizations with challenging matters related to funding, personnel, governance, and programming. I reflected on my best work in assessing and navigating the complexity of these uncertain and often turbulent situations and inter-relationships. My coach helped me see that this work I’d been doing—and really enjoying—was organizational and individual coaching.

I proceeded to complete training and certification through the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), the largest and oldest coach training organization in the world. Coaching is a core part of my business today because of my own personal experience in working with a coach and my passion for helping others navigate their challenges and opportunities and realize their greatest potential. I continue to experience coaching’s transformative power in my life, and I am gratified to see its impact on my clients. I can think of no greater joy.

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If you’d like to discover more or would like a complimentary sample coaching session, contact me at 336.509.4177 or jduncan@RavenConsultingGroup.com.

Reflections from the Hammock

Hammock Card 596

Ok. Seriously. I’m laying in my back yard hammock for a few minutes this morning (yes, it’s a work day…Friday). And, I can’t deny that I’m feeling guilty for doing it. I have a mound of work to complete. But, I’m trying to practice what I preach with my “Do Less. Achieve More.” post last Sunday. So, here’s a brief highlight of my experience this week in practicing those tips!

Focus on the important tasks first. At the beginning of every day – and sometimes the night before – I spent 30-60 minutes getting my game plan set for the day. I can’t tell you what a huge difference this made. Knowing the top 3 things that MUST get done kept me razor-sharp focused. Most days, I accomplished those priorities before lunch. It helped me: say no to a lot of things, let my phone go to voicemail, and check email later (and far less frequently). Those micro interruptions are tempting, powerful derailers!

Single-tasking. This was one of my greatest areas of practice this week. And what a difference it made! One exercise I tried was walking away from my computer and other distractions while on the phone with clients, friends, and family. I intently focused on my “subject” and our conversation. The outcome? I really ‘heard’ what they had to say. Imagine that! I was focused, engaged, and the call was often shorter because of it. And more meaningful. I’ll bet they noticed too.

Eliminate non-essential commitments. I’m a natural-born networker and relationship builder. I both love it and hate it. I am attracted to invitations to lunch, coffee, wine, etc. like a mosquito to one of those bug lanterns. Before I know it, I can meet with people all day long and have nothing to show for it at five o’clock except great conversation and a small stack of business cards. This week, I found myself more mindful and purposeful as I said yes – and no – to such invitations. Dare I say, I was far more “strategic.” For me, it’s absolutely critical to be discriminating in choosing whether or not to commit to these engagements. By doing so, I focus my time and energy on what’s most important and matters most to my goal achievement.

tree canopy copyStep away and take a break. See? I’m doing that right now! Even if only for a few minutes – relaxing in a hammock, shooting a few hoops with my son, walking around the block, or going for a quick noon-time run – the brief respite gives me volumes of energy and joy in exercising my choice (remember that?) to just breathe and enjoy a few moments of “me” time. I return to my work and can perform it better, faster, and with a fresh perspective and ideas I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Try it! Seriously. (And stop making up the story you tell yourself: “I don’t have time.” Because you do.)

I’ve had fun with this “Do Less. Achieve More.” theme this week. Talk about immediate gratification! A little practice went a long way in delivering some powerful results. What’s working for you?

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Jeanie is President of Raven Consulting Group, a business she founded that focuses on organizational change and leadership development in the nonprofit sector. She is a senior consultant for TransitionGuides, a national firm working with nonprofit clients to lead efforts in sustainability and succession planning, executive transition and search. Additionally, Jeanie serves as adjunct faculty for the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive leadership education.

Do Less. Achieve More.

doless

There is a great myth that most of us will fall prey to at some point: if you do more, you will get more. Not always true.

I don’t know about you, but I often get caught in the trap of pressing harder, faster, and with greater intensity to try and accomplish a task or achieve a particular goal or deadline.

I somehow trick myself into thinking that working harder and doing more is what’s needed to get the job done. Intellectually, I can rationalize the truth in this. But, at a deeper level, I realize that intense effort and pace often depletes my energy, can adversely impact my output, and removes the joy from my work.

To help combat this tendency, I have adopted some practices I find beneficial and that have helped me most:

Spend the first hour of the day setting priorities and getting organized. It’s easy to launch into the day reacting to the urgent – the rain of emails, interruptions from co-workers, and the barrage of phone calls – rather than advancing the important. I like to get an early start to the day and establish priorities. I begin with the question: “What are the three most important things I need to accomplish today to advance my key goals?” Everything else is a “nice to have.” These three daily priorities all roll up to support my weekly, monthly, and quarterly goals.

Focus on the important tasks first. Once I frame my day in the first hour, I immediately set out to accomplish the top three priorities before distractions have a chance to pull me away. If I can’t take care of them all, I’ll make an appointment on my calendar to return to it later in the day.

Single-Task. When I’m doing too much, I’m constantly switching from one task to another, experiencing multiple interruptions and distractions. Despite our culture’s demand to multi-task, resist the temptation, clear away distractions, and give attention to the single matter that is most important.

Eliminate non-essential commitments. Examine your day or week and ask yourself: “What can I eliminate or delegate? Is that task, meeting, or luncheon something that I absolutely must do? How does it advance my strategic goals?” I try and say no to any request that distracts me from focusing on what’s most important. I think of it as focusing on my highest and best use.

Step away and take a break. We all have those occasions when work calls for added effort. But more often than not, simply stepping away and taking a break – like going for a run or having lunch in a park – can infuse new energy, bring fresh perspective and new ideas, and actually enhance productivity.

Ask key questions. Another tactic I find helpful is pausing to ask a few critical questions to help me determine priorities or my approach as I begin a particular project or task. It’s an important skill for anyone focused on improving performance, and it can help filter through all the distractions and get to the one thing that will deliver the result. For example:

  • What do I want?
  • Why?
  • How will I know when I achieve it?
  • What can I do to achieve that outcome?
  • What can I learn from others who have gone before me?
  • What do I bring from prior experiences that can help inform my present situation?

Challenge yourself this week to do less, focus on what’s most important, and discover greater meaning and success in your work. Notice what happens!

“Don’t mistake activity with achievement.” – John Wooden

 

Jeanie is President of Raven Consulting Group, a business she founded that focuses on organizational change and leadership development in the nonprofit sector. She is a senior consultant for TransitionGuides, a national firm working with nonprofit clients to lead efforts in sustainability and succession planning, executive transition and search. Additionally, Jeanie serves as adjunct faculty for the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive leadership education.

 

Shaking Your Negative Thoughts

A Raven Reflection on a shared blog post from empowerlounge.com April 25, 2013negative_thoughts

Do you have an inner voice full of negativity? Quietly nattering at you at every turn, asking you what business you have thinking you can make this successful? That you aren’t smart enough, gorgeous enough or hip enough to accomplish your goals? Studies have proven that it IS possible to turn that voice around, or even off. A mirror can help. Stand in front of a mirror and look yourself in the eye. Pick a phrase that is a direct hit to your inner critic.  For example “I am enough” or “I am a successful business woman!” Stick these positive affirmations on your mirror so you see them daily!

Include in your daily routine:

  1. Knocking 3 things off your priority list to build confidence and create momentum
  2. Reading inspirational quotes and magazines (and Empower Lounge!)
  3. Calling or gathering with positive, supportive peers
  4. Getting outside, it works like magic every time.
  5. Making yourself comfortable with failure! It’s the one thing we all have in common, happens to the best of us and we’re stronger and smarter because of it!

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This blog post really hit home for me. Can you relate?

Just earlier this week, I had a session with my coach. I was grumbling about a task that was going to be really difficult and time consuming when she jumped in “Really? Who says?”

A puzzled look came over my face and I replied, “Well everyone says it is.” She countered “What if it’s not? What perspective would you like to have? What if it’s easy? What if it’s fun?”

That simple question “What perspective would I like to have?” stopped me in my tracks. I hadn’t even done this task before and already I was approaching it as hard, difficult, and time consuming. How excited do you think I was to get started? You guessed it.

Now, after a few days of marinating on that powerful thought, I’ve approached my task with a new and positive attitude, come up with fresh ideas, and experienced forward movement in getting started on this new work. I’m reminded that I am always in choice…for how I respond, react, and approach things in my every day.

Our thoughts create our reality. How are you shaping your thoughts today?

Jeanie is President of Raven Consulting Group, a business she founded that focuses on organizational change and leadership development in the nonprofit sector. She is a senior consultant for TransitionGuides, a national firm working with nonprofit clients to lead efforts in sustainability and succession planning, executive transition and search. Additionally, Jeanie serves as adjunct faculty for the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive leadership education.

Embracing Change

“There is nothing permanent except change.” – Heraclitus

Seasons-Change

Change and transition are at the core of my consulting and coaching work with organizations and individuals. I find myself attracted to this constant movement of life. Even when things appear to be steady, they’re continually evolving and becoming. Rather than resist, why not grab hold of that energy and proactively shape what’s becoming? Easier said than done, right?

What I have found is that change – the specific event itself – is not the greatest challenge, although at first it may appear to be. The toughest part is dealing with what comes as a result of that event, the dynamic and complex human elements of transition. It’s not easy letting go of what we’re comfortable with and leaping into the unknown. It can be a place of great uncertainty and trepidation. Makes you want to jump right in, doesn’t it?

Whether you’re the type that repels change or embraces it, below are a few ideas for how to make it a bit more manageable.

1. Make small steps or break up large-scale changes into more manageable increments.

2. Mentally link changes to established daily rituals. This can make changes like beginning a new habit, starting a new job, or adapting to a new home happen with greater ease.

3. Stay flexible, adaptable and ‘go with the flow.’ It can help you accept change instead of resisting it.

4. Look for the good that change brings. An illness, a broken relationship, or the loss of a promotion or job can seem like the end of the world, yet often they’re also gifts in disguise.

5. Reflect on your greatest learnings through the process and apply to future situations.

6. Be prepared for the unexpected during change and transition. While it’s impossible to know everything that will happen in advance, anticipating certain elements will help make the situation less overwhelming.

7. Remember that you’re not alone. Writing or talking about your circumstance with a colleague or friend can give you a sense of relief while helping you navigate through a challenging period.

8. Give yourself time to accept changes that you face, recognizing that you may need time to adjust to your new situation.

9. No matter how large or difficult a change is, you will eventually adapt to your new circumstances. The new that it brings will eventually weave itself into the right places in your life.

10. If you’re trying to change a pattern of behavior or navigate your way through a significant change, don’t assume that it has to be easy. Expressing your feelings and emotions during a period of change is natural. Then again, don’t assume that making a change needs to be hard. Sometimes, changes are meant to be that easy.

“We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.” – Carl Jung

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Jeanie is President of Raven Consulting Group, a business she founded that focuses on organizational change and leadership development in the nonprofit sector. She is a senior consultant for TransitionGuides, a national firm working with nonprofit clients to lead efforts in sustainability and succession planning, executive transition and search. Additionally, Jeanie serves as adjunct faculty for the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive leadership education.

Women Leaders – a reflection of impact and what holds us back

Part II of “Infusion of the Feminine Element in the American Workplace” (Part I posted on August 14, 2012)

womenworldwide

“If you think you would exercise it ethically, don’t disdain power. You must embrace it as the essential currency for making things happen.”

– Kim Campbell, former prime minister of Canada

Think about it: What would our world really be like if more women were in charge? If we had a female President. If far more of our Fortune 500 companies were led by women (2% currently). If half of the positions in the US Senate and House were held by women (presently 16%). And if more women were partners in law firms or federal judges (now only 15%). What difference would it make?

I think more women in these roles would in fact make things better. I’m not espousing women versus men nor insinuating one gender superior over the other (tempting as it may be).  I simply believe that a more even balance of male and female leadership would yield a world with greater cooperation, flexibility, less conflict, increased dialogue, and cultural understanding.

These characteristics and differences contribute in significant, meaningful ways – results that positively impact a business’ bottom line and yield a more diplomatic culture. This isn’t just my opinion, but evidence backed up by countless studies.

According to Catalyst (a research and advisory organization that tracks women in business), “Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women on their boards performed better financially – significantly better. Those with the most saw a 53% higher return on equity, a 42% higher return on sales, and a 66% higher return on invested capital. Findings were consistent across invested capital and industries.”

And in the political realm, while the vast majority of current world leaders are male, women have rapidly assumed these roles, now leading some of the largest, most populated, and most economically successful countries in the world. Female leaders work to ensure diplomacy, freedom, justice, equality, and peace. Presently, we live in a time with the highest total number of female leaders serving simultaneously.

These are compelling reasons for balanced leadership in both the business and political jurisdictions. And this peaks my curiosity…what are the key differences with female influence? The following sources offer a few perspectives.

  • Esther Wachs, in her book Why the Best Man for the Job is a Woman examined the careers of 14 top female executives to learn what makes them so successful. Her findings reveal that women have a natural willingness to reinvent the rules, ability to sell their visions, the determination to turn challenges into opportunities – all with a focus on “high touch” in a high tech business world.
  • Dee Dee Myers, in Why Women Should Rule the World, proposes that it isn’t a debate about nature or nurture – it’s both. “New tools have allowed scientists to find structural, chemical, genetic, hormonal, and functional differences in male and female brains. And those differences affect the way men and women process language, solve problems, and remember emotional events. They shape our responses to everything from stress, to love, to the funny pages.”
  • And in Deborah Tannen’s 1991 best-seller, You Don’t Understand! Women and Men in Conversation, she concludes that “boys’ and girls’ early social lives are so different that they grow up ‘in what are essentially different cultures.’ Thus, talk between women and men is in fact cross-cultural communication, fraught with as many potential misunderstandings as communication between individuals from different countries, ethnic backgrounds, languages, or religious groups.”

As a matter of basic world view, Tannen establishes that “men see themselves as engaged in a hierarchical social order in which they are either ‘one up or one down’ in relation to others. Their communication styles and reactions to others’ communications often stress the need to ‘preserve independence and avoid failure.’ Women, on the other hand, tend to see the world as a ‘network of connections,’ and their communications and interpretations of others’ communications seek to ‘preserve intimacy and avoid isolation.’”

Whether male or female, I think most of us realize that dominating leadership style is becoming less and less popular, replaced with a growing presence of leadership that exhibits flexibility, empathy, openness, and valuing differences. The role of women is helping to build understanding around these values that really matter and make a difference.

I’ve been fortunate to grow up surrounded by strong women – my mom, sister, aunts, and countless mentors. As a result, I’ve always thought that women are very capable leaders – not because women are better or the same as men, but because the many ways women and men are different.

So, I wonder, why don’t women take the lead more? What holds us back? I’ve given this a lot of thought lately and drawn conclusions based on my own experiences as well as accounts shared by Myers and other authors writing on female leadership.

  1. Women are often given the same responsibility without corresponding authority. We have less power – office, rank, money. As in Myers’ case, the President made the job of Press Secretary less important than it had been previously, and, as a result, it made her less effective.
  2. We don’t negotiate. We’re simply not socialized to do so. According to Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever in Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, “Whether they want higher salaries or more help at home, women often find it hard to ask. Sometimes they don’t know that change is possible – they don’t know that they can ask. Sometimes they fear that asking may damage a relationship. And sometimes they don’t ask because they’ve learned that society can react badly to women asserting their own needs and desires.”
  3. We have to fight to be a part of the conversation. Being in the room is not the same as being in the conversation. Women are often treated like they’re invisible. For example, I experience the following situation far too often, and I’ve witnessed the same among my female colleagues: I’ll be at a meeting, and I offer up a comment or perspective, and the conversation continues as if I never spoke. Moments later, a man says virtually the same thing, and his point is acknowledged by several in the group. What the hell! I admit that, as women, we often fail to state our thoughts and ideas forcefully enough – I certainly can be guilty of that. But there’s no way that can account for the frequency with which this happens.
  4. Sometimes, a woman simply being in the role can make it seem less important. “In fact, women devalue whole sectors of the economy just by showing up,” Myers states. “Studies show that both men and women attach less prestige to certain professions if they have more women – or are expected to have more women in the future. Not only can the presence of women devalue certain jobs, but also it’s often not until the job is devalued that women are even hired. It’s a no-win situation.”
  5. As women, we have to take the world as we find it. We know that the American culture, systems, and structures are a white male establishment. While it is changing and evolving, anyone functioning in the American workplace must work within that dynamic. “When women in positions of authority conform to traditional female stereotypes, they are too often perceived as ‘too soft’ to be effective,” states Myers. “And when they defy those norms, they are considered ‘too tough,’ unnaturally masculine and out of sync”…a bitch, in other words. There are so many ways for women to lose at this game.
  6. Women lack access to informal networks. In 2005, the research organization, Catalyst, talked to 950 top executives – both men and women. Fifty-five percent of women said they wanted to be CEOs – virtually the same as the number of men. So why don’t more advance? A quarter of the women said they lacked operational experience, but nearly twice as many said that it was because they were shut out of the informal networks – golf, poker, men’s clubs – where information gets exchanged, relationships get established, and careers get launched. Over time, these little differences become a significant cumulative divide.
  7. People are more judgmental about a female’s performance and less forgiving of her mistakes than they are of her male counterpart’s. People wonder: Can she stand up to her opponent? Can she think on her feet? People simply assume men are tough enough, but women have to prove it. It’s a fine line with great expectations and little margin for error.

Given these thoughts and others, in the end it’s not necessarily the lack of intrinsic aptitude that keeps more women from pursuing careers in fields like physics and engineering; rather, it may be that their different realities compel them to make different choices. It’s time that those realities are recognized as every bit as relevant, important, and valuable as men’s.

While many variables contribute to holding us back or interfering with our path to success, I conclude too that we – as women – have to get out of our own way. Regardless of the environment in which we operate and the tendency sometimes to blame, we are part of our own problem. I believe this most often when we don’t take or claim our power. Or when we fail to be courageous and stand up for our peer female professionals and confront inequities in the moment, head on. And there are those situations where we act too masculine, not allowing for the time and texture of the feminine accent.

Clearly, men and women are different. And because we’re different, women will bring a varied mix of experience, values, and points of view. We will expand the range of what’s acceptable and what’s possible. It’s in our economic, social, and political interest to create a world that’s freer and fairer. Where everyone has their power and is allowed to use it. Where everyone is judged by their performance – and their potential.

Sources:

  • Myers, Dee Dee. Why Women Should Rule the World. New York: HarperCollins, 2008.
  • Wachs, Esther. Why the Best Man for the Job is a Woman. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
  • Tannen, Deborah. You Don’t Understand! Women and Men in Conversation. New York: Ballantine Books, 1991.
  • Babcock, Linda and Laschever, Sara. Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide. New York: Bantam Books, 2007.