Design your success by using and growing your strengths every day. For a how-to guide that explains how to make your inspired and desired growth a reality visit https://www.freshconceptsonline.com/unstuck-last/.
The words success and failure are opposites. Success is associated with fame, fortune, achievement, and victory. Conversely, failure is traditionally linked to despair, poverty, hardship, and loss. Ironically, like many opposites, success and failure are frequently found together: in life, in work, and even in relationships.
Although most of us work hard to avoid failure in all the areas noted above, failure still occurs. We have setbacks in life, poorly completed projects at work, and friendships that end or drift into nothingness. The choice is how we react to failure. How do we learn from it, change due to our new insights, and overcome the blind spots that may have contributed to our failure?
Interestingly, success can also breed failure. When we start taking our success for granted, when we slip into a certain complacency, when we lose sight of the people or ideas that made our initial success possible, then we can quickly spiral into failure.
Ideally, we should harness our failures to spur our successes. Limited time spent wallowing and licking wounds may be needed after an epic failure but the emphasis here should be on limited. At some point after a failure the new direction must be plotted, with ego in check and tougher skin grown. Using your failures to create the backdrop of your story to success is charming, human, and smart. The reason this coupling is brilliant is that it keeps us striving, growing, and living. Once we become complacent in our success or crushed by our failure, we have lost. Being aware of the cyclical nature of life and remembering that this strange coupling between success and failure exists keeps us moving.
For more about creating your own success read Unstuck at Last: Using Your Strengths to Get What You Want.
What do your brain and your brand have in common? Everything.
Your brain helps you organize the variety of information, thoughts, and novel ideas that cross your consciousness every day. We know that the right side of the brain holds much of our creative and emotional thinking, while the left side of the brain is in charge of logical and rational thought.
Great ideas happen when these two sides of our brain intersect. Fantastic insights, products, and solutions to problems originate from ideas that are both useful (coming for our rational left side) and new (coming from our imaginative right side).
A successful brand – whether that brand be a personal brand or a professional brand – is similar to a great idea in that it needs to be both helpful and distinctive. Trying to be all things to all people, at work or at home, may be helpful in the short-term but ultimately leads to failure. If we are not distinctive, then people do not know what we do best, and how best to use us. However, it takes some creative thought to tap into our distinctiveness. Conversely, if we spend all of our energies trying to separate ourselves from the pack, overplaying our distinctiveness, we may find that only a very small number of colleagues, customers, or family members find us to be useful.
When coaching individuals and teams about their strengths, I do not normally touch on the need to actively use both sides of the brain, but I do focus on the need to use your strengths to create a strong brand. Understanding how our strengths make us both useful and novel is an exciting step toward creating a world-class team and a brand that will resonate near and far.
I talk too much. Much of my job requires that I speak at length to individuals and groups. I get tired of hearing myself talk. I can only imagine how others feel. Recently, I had a few days off and took a well-deserved break from talking. I tried to listen more to strangers and those more familiar. It was heavenly.
Below are some of my insights learned while trying to become a better listener.
- For many of us, becoming a better listener is a skill we need to learn and practice.
Why should we bother? The number one reason that managers or supervisors need to develop better listening skills is because it is a highly valued and evaluated skill by those who lead, direct, or evaluate the performance of others. For the rest of us, we should become better listeners because it will signal to others that we are concerned with them and care about their lives, jobs, feelings, and aspirations. Listening builds closer relationships at work and at home. Challenge yourself at work to listen more and solve problems later. Be sure you have heard the whole story before planning your response. Ask follow-up questions and give feedback to make sure that you understand the speaker.
Our educational system and corporate America reward the talkers. Teachers are impressed by the students who wave their hands in the air and have something meaningful to add or ask. Leaders are grateful for the underlings who have novel answers to complex questions and feel comfortable sharing their insights with the team. However, this reward system can turn some of us into non-stop talkers and fairly poor listeners. For these reasons, and surely more, listening is a skill that can lay dormant in our toolbox of abilities.
- We naturally miss much of the information said by others who speak before and after us.
Consider the last time you spoke in a group meeting. For most of us, this is how the lead up (Stage 1), speaking (Stage 2), and after speaking (Stage 3) go. Stage 1: you are thinking about what you are going to say. Stage 2: you are talking and making sure you say everything you want to say. Stage 3: you are assessing how your comments went. All three stages take up a lot of energy and mental processing, and therefore, severely impact our ability to process what anyone else is saying. The people most directly impacted are the people who speak before and after us. In fact, studies have proven this to be the case! (See Malcolm Brenner’s “The Next in Line Effect,” Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior 12, no 3 (1973): 320-23.)
- Listening allows for new learning.
We can only talk about what we know. Listening allows us to learn new information, process it, and combine it with previously obtained facts. Try to put your preconceived ideas out of your mind and be open to new ideas and perspectives when talking to someone about something you feel knowledgeable about. This is harder than anyone wants to admit but is very beneficial to the listening process.
Start practicing this old-new skill. If you’re like me, you’ll enjoy every second of it.
Did you receive feedback from your manager today? Was it meaningful? Did it motivate you to work harder, better, or more efficiently? If your responses to these questions are “no, no, and no,” there’s a problem. And, unfortunately, you are not alone.
“Gallup research finds that only about one in four employees ‘strongly agree’ that their manager provides meaningful feedback to them — or that the feedback they receive helps them do better work. Even more alarming is that a mere 21% of employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work.”
We all know that there are certain vitamins that our bodies need. Doctors recommend annual blood work to check that these critical nutrients are being ingested and absorbed as they should be to promote optimal health. When a certain vitamin dips below the recommended level, we are thought to be deficient. Similarly, each of us needs a certain amount of feedback about our past work performance to promote optimal future work performance. Some individuals require more and some less, but operating in a work situation that is devoid of feedback is difficult for almost everyone. To create a workplace that promotes giving and receiving frequent feedback, see the three recommendations below.
1. Ask For Feedback
Letting your manager know that you WANT to know how you are doing, how you can improve your performance, and what you do best, is a great way to get the ball rolling. Asking a trusted team member how you can be of more help to them is also a way to increase your feedback.
2. Give Feedback to Others
Even if you are not a manager, you can still give others feedback. Generally, peers should stick to giving feedback that is positive and supportive. For example, “Great job on that presentation. I’d like your insights on something I’m working on.”
3. Learn Something New and Share It
Learning something new and sharing it with your team or with people outside your department is a great way to connect to others and create a feedback channel. Asking for feedback at the end of a presentation is both professional and constructive. Create a short (4-item) anonymous questionnaire to gauge if your presentation was helpful, interesting, and clear.
No one gets better in a vacuum. Creating a culture that promotes the giving and receiving of feedback is essential to becoming a healthy and successful organization.
For the full Gallup article regarding feedback go to: http://www.gallup.com/opinion/gallup/210989/managers-excel-really-coaching-employees.aspx?g_source=WWWV7HP&g_medium=topic&g_campaign=tiles
Did you use your strengths today at work, at home, and in your community? If not, you may be feeling a bit worn down at the end of your day. Tomorrow make an effort to spend more time doing the things you do BEST. Focus on your strengths and the strengths of those around you. You will be amazed at how much energy this shift in perspective gives you.
Just think, this small change could positively impact your days, your weeks and, ultimately, your life.
To learn more about using your strengths and switching perspectives read Unstuck at Last: Using Your Strengths to Get What You Want.
Later this month I will turn 50. I’m good with it, I think. None of us are getting any younger, and if the only other option is death, I think aging is much preferable.
There are good years and not-so-good years. My 49th year has been very, very mixed. Personally and professionally it’s been great. Physically it’s been not so great. Earlier this year, despite only vague and subtle symptoms, my doctor told me I needed either open heart surgery or a less-invasive side-entry heart surgery. My shock was palpable. My disbelief was strong. I was a healthy and active person. I worked out six or seven times a week. After seeking a second medical opinion, I learned that both doctors were in 100% agreement. It seemed my once innocuous heart murmur had developed into a troubling mitral value prolapse with significant regurgitation. In layman’s terms, my heart had a leaky valve causing some of my blood to move dangerously in the wrong direction. I was told I needed to have a surgery to repair this misbehaving valve. If things went well, I’d be in the hospital for a week and recovering for a month. It was obvious that if I wanted to succeed as a heart patient, I had to reincarnate my shock and disbelief into acceptance and resilience.
Unfortunately, that positive, necessary, and possibly even miraculous transformation did not happen overnight. As a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach, I am accustomed to cheering others on and helping them face personal and professional challenges by harnessing their strengths. Unfortunately, despite my efforts to use my strengths to make the best out of a tough situation, I was truly blocked by my own preconceived notions about myself. My top 5 strengths are Competition, Maximizer, Achiever, Activator, and Significance. My strengths seem to stiffen and rail against the news of this surgery. A quick summary is below:
Competition: Is she crazy? We are NOT taking a month off! We have so much work to do. I feel like a failure just THINKING about this surgery. This better not impact our year-end goals!
Maximizer: Good to great or good to sub-par? Is she kidding? Will there be rehab? This all sounds super remedial. I don’t want to participate in any of it.
Achiever: And how much can I get done during recovery? Did the doctor say we were going to be in the hospital for a week? Boring! And no driving for 10 days? Please tell me we are not even considering that recommendation. What, exactly, are we going to do for a month while she is supposed to be recovering?
Activator: I’m not jumping into this. Bad plan. All of this sounds like de-activating. Can we get a third opinion?
Significance: She had better not tell anyone! Everyone will think we are weak and helpless. Honestly, we cannot let her do this to us.
My strengths were making many noises in my confused and overwhelmed head. Sadly, they sounded like whiny, ungrateful, and complaint-filled children. The rational piece of me knew they were overreacting. I tried to remain agreeable, grateful, and optimistic. It was going to be fine, I told them. I tried to minimize the impact of the surgery on them. “Don’t worry, we will be better than ever in no time. The doctor is just being super cautious. We will blow all of his time recovery estimates out of the WATER. Stick with me Top 5. This is just a little bump in the road,” I said. “You’d better be right,” they snootily replied. Wow, I was aghast. These strengths had been so helpful in the past. Where were they when I really needed them?
As the surgery date approached, my fatigue increased. I started to look forward to getting my leaky heart fixed since it was more physically obvious that it was in need of repair. I was happy to learn a week before the surgery that I was a good candidate for the less-invasive, side-entry, method. I would have a small incision on my right side, underneath my armpit. This seemed like a big win. The thought of a long scar down the middle of my chest made the rational, but admittedly vain, me, upset. The most dramatic-sounding part of the surgery was the need to stop my heart. In order to accomplish this feat a heart bypass was required, my heart and lungs would continue to work with the aid of a heart and lung machine. In the end, the hand-wringing heart bypass piece of the surgery affected my family members more than me. I was happily asleep and oblivious. They had a long day of waiting in the heart hospital’s waiting room.
The hospital stay itself was entirely uneventful, but exactly as long as the doctor predicted. The day after my surgery, I was told to start walking the halls. Initially this walk was painfully slow and cumbersome. I walked with my nurse, my husband, and my IV and blood draining tubes in tow. That first day of walking was thoroughly exhausting. We barely made it half way around the Intensive Care floor. It was hard to look into the other rooms and see various versions of me (mostly older versions) recuperating.
Once home, I was told to keep walking on my own. My heart had to get pumping. My lungs needed to start expanding. It was an effort. Luckily, it was early October and I had many beautiful days to be outside for walks. I tried to walk a little bit more every day and I harnessed my Achiever and Competition to do just that.
I had purposefully scheduled a speaking engagement before I was officially ok’d to go back to work. Suffice it to say, it went fine but it wasn’t an award-winning presentation. I was ready to collapse by the end. But I didn’t. My Activator, Maximizer, and Significance were proud of me. I had jumped in a bit early. (“You go girl,” Activator yelled.) And although I wouldn’t consider it one of my best presentations, it was fine. “See, I told you – you killed it. You know this stuff,” my Maximizer cheered. Lastly, I proved to myself (and my strengths) that I could pass as normal. “I’m positive they had no idea that we recently underwent a heart surgery,” Significance beamed.
Today, I competed in the Indianapolis Mini Marathon – as the saying goes -“with 35,000 of my closest friends.” I walked all 13.1 miles. It’s ok, I’ve talked at length with Competition about it . . . we will run next year. One challenge at a time, is what I told Competition.
This year, my 49th, has been quite an adventure. My strengths have been with me every step – both literally and figuratively. Of course, they have had quite a bit to say along the way. Thank goodness I know when to listen to them.
What challenges do you face? Are you harnessing your strengths to make your goals a reality? I’d love to help you or your team make this year your BEST. For the record, I’m planning on my 50th year being fabulous.[caption id="attachment_1728" align="aligncenter" width="225"] Indianapolis Mini Marathon 2017[/caption]
This insightful, humorous, and important talk reminds all of us to ask for help when needed and give help whenever possible. The best partnerships occur when we are able to give what we can and graciously receive what we need.