Category Archives: Business

Tools for a Highly Reactive Person – Access to Now

CrisMarie introduced me to a book, The Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) by Dr. Elaine Aron. Though I am not generally fond of labels, as I listened and learned, a great deal of the information fit CrisMarie and my experience of her.  I, on the other hand, do not think that I am a highly sensitive person.

No, I think I am more of a highly reactive person. Is there a book for that? There probably is.

Over the years, I have worked very hard to take responsibility for my reactivity. Early on I was determined to rid myself of it. I don’t want to say that effort was pointless, but it was somewhat heartless. Yes, I taught myself some self-management techniques, but I was making myself wrong more than helping myself. That approach isn’t sustainable over time.

There are so many books out there about how to be different, how to change and become better: more authentic, more productive, more alive, happier, healthier – better! Some of those books have great ideas. However, I do tire of hearing about how I need to change to become someone other than I am.

To tell you the truth, I am not so sure change is really possible.

For me, over time I have developed some self-compassion and discovered that my reactivity developed for a good reason and did serve me early in my life, and it even has some valuable information for me. In other words, my reactivity was not really my biggest problem.

No – it seems the biggest issue for me, and frankly, I think for most of us trying to live and thrive as humans, is finding acceptance and compassion for ourselves, whether highly sensitive, highly reactive, or any other label out there.

I have shifted the amount of time I spend stuck in high reactivity or making myself wrong through self-hate. Though let me be clear, I am still someone who can catapult myself into a spin of “compare and despair,” or flare when I interpret someone is acting without regard to their impact on others. However, I am much quicker to notice, to pause, and to acknowledge what is happening.

More recently, having just completed a program called Access to Now, with Sherrie Toews from Effortless Momentum, I have put into practice some simple, practical, and elegant tools, that help me re-balance when I hit a bump in my fast paced world.

Many of the situations I am in as a leader, coach, and facilitator demand that I shift out of my reactivity or self-hate quickly and get back in the moment. Once I am out of the immediate demand of the situation I can decide to go back and review something that happened and may even allow some more in-depth emotional processing, but I like that with the Access To Now tools I have a choice rather than just getting stuck.

Bottom-line, this human experience isn’t about becoming someone different. It’s about discovering ways to embrace, accept, and value who you truly are! When that happens choice becomes possible! With choice there is freedom!

Thanks, Sherrie!

If you are interested in learning more about Access to Now, Sherrie is starting her next program October 26, 2015. I highly recommend it, but more importantly, I recommend accepting yourself!

This May Cost Me $15,000, but I’m Still Saying It

24227270_mIn this piece, I plan to be forceful, maybe even abrasive. According to one Fast Company Article, the act of me being forceful could cost me in the range of $15,000, simply because I am a woman.

Really? You have got to be kidding!

Yesterday morning I read two different Fast Company articles that created a burst of rage in me! One was about my reduced pay for being forceful. The other was even more bothersome. Studies show that the word abrasive only shows up in women’s performance reviews – not men’s. Men may get a mention of impatience but followed by –but aren’t we all?

Fast Company, are you just trying to piss me off? It’s working.

Yes, I admit women and men’s inequality has been a longstanding issue. I remember running smack dab into it when I was eleven. Myself and Laura, the other best player on our little league team, both got tossed off the team because we were girls.

Really? We were the best players. You have got to be kidding.

At that young age, I don’t think I had a clue how to be forceful. Instead, I gave in, tossed my glove in the closet and moved on to tennis. Once I switched sports, I was playing one of the boys, and was told, “You need to tone it down, and should really think of letting him win.”

Really?!

This time I paid no attention. I went ahead and won. Yes, it did ruin my chances of getting high school dates, but that wasn’t what I was really after anyway.

So those types of comments have been around a long time. Frankly, it just makes me angry!

Was that how I was suppose to start learning to be nice and polite?
Or learn that I should not be forceful?

Really?!!

Why is there such a double standard? I have no doubt that there are men out there angry that they have been told, not to cry, or be so sensitive. I feel for you. Though, I also know that women in business get that same feedback frequently. Still, it may even have cost you guys $15, 000 in pay as well. So I will show some empathy.

What would it take to get over all of the crazy assumptions, stories, and stereotypes we use over and over? Pretending, or trying to pretend, that we don’t have these stereotypes is not working.

Well, I do believe one thing: It will take a little forcefulness to change.

Am I being abrasive? You probably think I am.
Am I being angry? Yes, because I am angry.
I think you should be as well.

I would love to rage loud enough for people to hear. We cannot keep stereotyping and classifying genders, races, and cultures and pretend we are a country of equality.

Truthfully, though, we will. Pretending we won’t, isn’t a viable solution.  We are ALL prejudice in some way.  Our only path through it is to own up to it and talk about it.

It takes courage to own up to my storytelling and share it. It takes vulnerability and curiosity to deal with our differences together.

Right now, I am angry at men.  Of course, it isn’t all men, and it isn’t great that I bundle them all together.  But I do in moments like this.

So I am owning up to my story, and don’t want to stay here, I want to get curious.

  • Why doesn’t the word abrasive show up on a man’s performance review?
  • Why shouldn’t women leaders be forceful?

Tell me. Really.

Susan Clarke is a Speaker, Consultant, and Coach at thrive! inc. Clients refer to Susan, and her partner CrisMarie, as “The Team Doctors” because they focus on the health of the team in order to get the team to smart business results. They just released their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It! Don’t Defuse It! Contact Susan at thrive@thriveinc.com.

SLDP: Horses & Golf

406 thrive! Golf Team
406 thrive! Golf Team

SLDP, my Summer Leadership Development Program. You may be wondering what do horses and golf have to do with leadership. Well, I am beginning to think quite a lot.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am currently engaged in an Equus Coach Training program with Koelle Simpson.  As a result, I am spending many hours getting to know horses.  They are amazing teachers, especially when it comes to leadership.  Horses simply wouldn’t follow a leader unless that leader is congruent and clear.  They have a very high BS meter (yes – I mean bull sh*t!).  If I am pretending or incongruent, they read it, and quickly move away or simply ignore any efforts I make to take control.

Seriously, they pick up my emotions much faster than I do!

Currently my work with the horses is mostly mucking stalls, going and bringing a horse in for a vet visit, or walking a horse from the pasture into a coral for a training session.  These probably seem like very simple tasks.  However, when it’s a 1000 pound animal, and they really don’t have to do anything I request, it quickly becomes about my leadership.  Plus, when I watch people with their horses, it’s amazing what there is to learn about their leadership style.

The key with the horses is developing a strong sense of self, and being willing to be clear, and committed to translating that direction to the horse.  Not through force, but through clear signals, and solid presence.  These are major keys to any type of effective leadership!

Then there’s golf.  This is year two for our 406Thrive golf team in the Whitefish Lake Ladies Golf League. This year our team has moved out of being ‘firmly in last place.’  We may return to last place, but we have been riding a solid start!

However, the lessons in golf aren’t as much about teamwork as they are about doing the inner work to stay engaged, even when I am way off the fairway, or I am whacking my third sand shot.

I started this team, and invited folks to join based on having a fun competitive experience learning golf, and playing regularly together.  When I’m overly focused on my game, and struggling to recover from a bad hole, it is easy to forget the bigger vision.  It seems I am no longer satisfied by simply finishing a round or finishing ‘firmly in last place.’  No, I expect more.  I want to par a couple holes.  I want to have a better short game, and not three putt a hole.  I want our team to play well, and win a few matches.  However, all that desire to do my best, and have our team finish strong, so easily results in getting tight when it’s not happening as easily or effortlessly as I think it should!

Now, isn’t that like leadership!  Wanting great results and having to live through the pain of learning, making mistakes, and recovering.  OMG – golf is all about that!

So my summer is focused on leadership, be it relating to the horses or whacking my way out of a sand trap!!

 

Vulnerabilty: Key to Business Success

Biz_Cover_Oct_Nov_2013

This is a reprint of an article I wrote for:  406 Woman Business P.18

Vulnerability: A Woman’s Natural Strength & Key to Business Success

“Look I’ll say it. I made a mistake. I should have picked up the phone and told you we had a serious problem, but I didn’t. Even as the problem got worse, I just kept my team focused on solving it and never reached out. Now I see how that decision set up the conflict you guys are in now.” Josey was one of the newer members of the senior leadership team and had recently moved into quality assurance. In her first six months there had been three major product quality issues.

“Can you say why you didn’t give us a head’s up?” Tom was VP of Sales and the quality issues and low inventory had resulted in his team missing their bonuses.

“Honestly, I wanted to save face. I was fearful of telling you about the problem, getting an ear full and not yet having a solution.” Again, Josey was frank and transparent.

“Well I guess it is true, we do often fire back when we hear there’s a problem. Look Josey, I appreciate your candid answer. I think we played into the problem as well because we knew there were some inventory issues and we didn’t stop selling or check in.” Tom was not one who usually acknowledged any mistakes.

This all came after a half day of team building and training on the importance of vulnerability-based leadership as a path for getting to healthy conflict, clarity and commitment. Everyone said at the end of the day how powerful the interaction had been, primarily due to Josey setting an example. Oddly though, when it came time to talk about what would be communicated out to the larger organization about the off-site, this is what happened.

“No way am I letting my team know we had any trust issues and, personally, I don’t like using the word “vulnerable” – that is just going to get people concerned.” Tom was clear that vulnerability wasn’t going to be a circulated value.

“I think our people need to know what we talked about. How else are they going to get the okay that acknowledging a mistake an important step.” Josey was the first to counter Tom’s position.

Sue, the conservative voice of the legal department agreed with Tom. “Our people don’t need to think we are having any issues,” Sue added, “Sure we want honest communication but I think our issues stay in this room only.”

It was a bit shocking to hear these same folks that had, moments ago, said how important the frank, open honest communication had been. Now they wanted to put on the armor and padding of confidentiality to make sure no one saw any weakness. Shocking … but not uncommon.

A Definition of Vulnerability
There’s a lot of talk these days about the importance vulnerability. Author Brené Brown in her book, Daring Greatly, is giving vulnerability lots of frontline press, and it is becoming a bit of a buzzword. So what does it mean to be vulnerable? Well first let’s go to the dictionary and pull the standard definition.

Vulnerability: “To expose oneself to danger, to be revealed.” Not really a great drawing card when you put it like that. Why would anyone be willing expose themselves to danger?

For a long time business has been about strategy and out-playing the competitors. That version of business encourages, holding your cards tight and looking good. There is not much room for revealing or exposing yourself to danger.

Having made a living sitting in boardrooms and executive conference rooms listening to leaders and teams define and clarify their business strategy, I have wrestled with the effectiveness of all the secrecy, importance and politics that often takes place among a group of smart, passionate people supposedly on the same team. The word – vulnerable, if talked about, will often be taken off the communication plan that cascades out to the rest of the organization, as demonstrated in the meeting above. Instead, the messaging usually implies that there was some sort of team huddle where everyone fought the good fight, and produced outcomes that are supercharged new or a refreshed vision and mission. Not much revealed or exposed to danger there.

I once heard a wonderful woman speaker at a women-owned business conference. Her opening line has always stayed with me, she said, “If eleven women were sitting in a room designing something to do, they would have never come up with football.” Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good competitive game, even football, but football is sort of the ultimate example in lacking vulnerability. Pretty much every inch of those guys is covered in protective padding, and oddly, many of the worse type of injuries still occur. There is some truth to the story that all that protection and gear can, and often does, get used to hit harder. I often wonder if there were as many head injuries in football before helmets came along. Often, too much armoring or protection simply invites more problems and attacks.

So What is Vulnerability?
What does it mean to revel oneself or expose oneself to danger? Simply put – it means acknowledging what is really going on. When Josey spoke up and acknowledged her decision to keep the problem quiet, she exposed herself and her team to potential danger. She also opened a door for more open, transparent communication. Acknowledging can be as simple as saying, we/I made a mistake, we’re sorry, we believe we are the best and want you to choose us.

A Women’s Natural Strength
I believe vulnerability-based leadership is quite natural for women. As women we are often told to toughen up if we want to be in business; don’t wear your heart on your sleeve; and please don’t bring emotions or empathy into the business equation. But really, that is what business needs – open and honest conversation between people. Not padding, not protective gear, not the ability to dodge hard hits. Empathy, or walking in someone else’s shoes can go a very, very long way towards creating new ideas and possibilities. And really, football players are some of the most emotional beings out there, it’s just all covered up in pads and helmets.

Emotions are the true potential energy of people. It’s emotions that drive us to action, not dreaming. A great dream will only become a major movement and possibility if it is embodied with emotion. That combination is vital and if you want people to come along with you, a dose of vulnerability will go a very long way in getting to the real issues.

Josey made it possible for some honest conversation and led to an acknowledgement on Tom’s part about how his team can fire back and may contribute to the problem. This was a huge step forward for the leadership team. Sadly it may not roll out yet to the broader organization without a bit more vulnerability in modeling to the rest of the organization that acknowledging mistakes can lead to healthier teams.

We learned later that Josey continued to influence her peers when another quality issue came up. This time she spoke up early and Tom was able to let the sales team in on the problem. Together they arrived at a solution that had no negative impact on the customers or the bonuses. Tom still isn’t fond of using the word vulnerability but he does communicate out the importance of exposing and acknowledging the potential issues faster as the best path for creative solutions.

What You Can Do: Use Your Feminine Strength
So step into your next team meeting or planning session and, instead of holding your cards, try revealing what you really think, feel and want. Be interested in discovering how others respond. Use what may be a more natural feminine strength. You might be in for a big surprise. Play without pads and helmets, but if you do, be sure to let the rest of your company know what really happened in the boardroom. Try a little dose of vulnerability – maybe you are exposing yourself to danger, but you may also be giving yourself the best chance to see what is really out there and respond accordingly.

Steve & Me

I have found myself reading various articles about Steve Jobs since his death. Right now I am working my way through a biography written by Walter Isaacson. Why am I so interested? Because Steve Jobs seemed to be someone who was the best and the worst of humanity, a visionary and a jerk, rich and minimalistic, extremely emotional (breaking into tears) and cold. The book is long but interesting. I appreciate Isaacson’s effort to give a realistic, honest history of Steve Jobs – not perfect, not nasty – just a recipe of the many sides of this man who few can argue had a significant impact on our culture.

I have admired Steve Jobs because, well, I love my ipad and iphone. I appreciate Apple ads and like what seems to be the simple, yet artistic nature of all that Apple offers. I get now that it isn’t all the doing of Steve Jobs. Honestly, it seems as though the best of the engineering and anesthetic nature of Apple products was the result of others like Steve Woznick and Jonathan Ive. Still it is very clear without Jobs, Apple would not be the Apple it is today.

I have friends and colleagues who hate the guy because of his narcissistic style and mean, tyrant-like leadership. I guess I would argue that at least with Steve Jobs you knew where you stood. He may have had two faces (or more) but it seems as a leader everyone saw all of the options – the good, bad and ugly. I don’t think that is the norm. Most of us try to hide the ugly. Even though it might be less attractive, I admire the straightness and integrity of someone who is simply out there.

I have my own issues around the narcissism. I struggle with relationships where I judge someone to be so involved with themselves that others don’t exist. However, I am also very aware of my own narcissistic tendencies. I can indeed assume at times the world revolves around me.

I am also aware that a healthy does of narcissism makes for a great story-teller and leader. Of course, I want the positive qualities and would prefer to disconnect from the less attractive aspects.

Well, that is not so easy. I guess that is what I am appreciating about exploring Steve Jobs. As a public figure, he remained quite private. As a leader he was quite self-absorbed. As a creative wizard, he left behind friends. He was so human. May be that is what is so appealing to me. Here is a man he was for some was a hero, for some a jerk but willingly left us with a story that reveals the man behind the hero. It may not be pretty, or nice – but it does seem real.

I have a lot of Steve Jobs in me, minus the billions, the public persona and the great products. I am creative and a jerk. I can be loyal and mean. I cry and at times I appear uncaring and cool. I am human. I hope I can be as okay with myself as Steve Jobs seemed to be. He asked that his biography reflect only what was shared – that whatever his friends, his enemies and his family had to say, not be censured. That, I believe, is courageous and real. As a result some of my admiration has been wiped away. I see more of the man less of the hero. Yet in the end I like that. I myself prefer being human to being a hero. I believe it is a much harder path to follow and definitely a road worth traveling.

Stalled By The Shiney Object Issue

This morning I awoke to find my good friend Renée Safrata’s latest Blog/Vlog on The Big Picture, The Shiny Object and The Overwhelmed. It was all about the ‘stuckness’ that can occur when working on great ideas and projects. I loved it.

I am someone who suffers from not only the Shiny Object issue but more appropriately the Any Object issue. I often find myself piling on projects. I have one great idea which I start with great motivation and intention. However, it does not take much for me to get distracted. I can use the old ADD disorder excuse, but that does not get any project completed.

I liked Renee’s idea of breaking it down into smaller steps and feeding on the adrenal rush of small successes.

Like this blog. I wanted to try again to include images into my blog. Some of you got to see pictures of my Super Senior parents in the last blog, but many of you may have missed out because the original posting did not quite work. I had to get technical support to fix the problem. I saw Renee’s vlog today and had the idea to try sharing video this time. I knew the first step was to write my own blog. I got a bit distracted, of course, by other possible subjects and then other images to insert. But I stayed on task.

Hopefully you have been able to enjoy learning from Renée’s blog as well. Giving you a chance to identify which one of these trouble spots may slow down your projects!

P.S. It took me a week to get this blog completed. I wasn’t able to insert the video quite as easily as I had hoped, and truthfully, I got distracted by another project. At least I remembered and watched the video again. That helped me to get the job done!!

Humble Eh!!

Generally speaking when we are bought in to work with a client the maximum  amount of consecutive time we have to work with them is two days.   It’s not easy to convince a team of executives to take two days off for work that they often assume will be fluffy and soft.  So imagine our surprise when we were invited to work with a team for five – yes five days!!  Wasn’t even our idea.  They were asking us and had already set aside the time.

So may be this was because it was a woman who was leading the company.  Though after spending four hours with her before the event she was as tough and as focused as any male executive I have talked with.  Was it because they were a Canadian headquartered company?  Not likely, their target goal was 300% growth in revenue over three to five years – so just as aggressive as any US  company.  No it seemed as leaders they  had the idea that they needed a week and were committed to making that happen.  In our four hours prep it was clear, Shelley, the President,  like all other clients,  wanted a  highly productive focus and not just A team-building experience.  So really no different then any other leader in terms of wanting meat not fluff.

We just got back from the week, and I must say I am impressed with the team.  They were amazingly willing to let us lead them through a process that wrapped team building into a very focused strategic effort.  We left and they realized they still had their work cut out for them but they were communicating better and more committed to collective results than ever before.  It was quite refreshing to work with a team that was not cynical.  They shut down their computers,  turned off their blackberries and really spent the week dealing with the hard issues and underlying dynamics that would otherwise undermine the efforts.  Were they perfect – no!  Of course there was resistance and disengagement at times, but they were willing to either hear our feedback or better yet,  give each other feedback as the week went on and refocus.

One of their core values ended up being humble.  They wrestled with the word because the dictionary definition is meek, modest, lowly in position and they were a Canadian based software company battling the giants and wanted a stronger word.  However, they decided in the end that humble did indeed fit.  Truth is for me – modest, unassuming and self-effacing not only fit but were words to be proud of in today’s business world.

I enjoyed working with this company that was aggressive, competitive  yet humble.  Sometimes I can start to get cynical myself when I am in the corporate world and listen to so many leaders avoid accountability and vulnerability by saying they don’t have time for the ‘soft stuff’ or anything touchy/feely.  The ‘soft stuff’ they are avoiding is generally giving critical feedback to a team member or admitting they don’t know something or even saying “I made a mistake”.  Not so soft really.  I would call that courageous!

We all worked hard last week.  I’d say that this team bought out the best in us as a result of their commitment and willingness.  I believe they will be successful.  Actually they already are!  and humble to boot!!