STUCK

 - by Jess Almlie

Stuck. Stuck. Stuck. Sometimes even leaders get stuck. Here we are. Not moving. Paralyzed. Wondering what happened. We might make it look easy from the outside, but leadership is hard work. Poise and confidence can be great hiding places for the nagging question of, “What now?”

For me, stuck can happen when a choice just didn’t work out as planned, an attempt to solve a problem comes up embarrassingly short, or I try a technique that doesn’t hit the mark. The larger the event in question, the more stuck I feel. Failure is a word that may even come to mind. Now what?

Turns out, the “now what” moment is a critical crossroads. It is one that can separate the leaders from the rest of the pack. The “now what” moment offers us two options. 

We can choose to stay stuck. In the midst of a crushing type of blow to your ego, staying stuck can be somewhat attractive. It doesn’t take much effort and we might even save ourselves from future pain and difficulties. But then again, I’ve never known a pity party that was well attended.

The other option? Learning. This is the solvent that can dissolve the adhesive and allow you to move forward. Looking at the situation, those involved, and your role with a critical eye is how leaders pull away from the pack. Try this:

  1. Determine what worked.  It’s likely there were some pieces of the plan that were successful or still offer hope. What might those be? Keep them!
  2. Step back. As I’ve stated before, emotions aren’t exactly intelligent. Take a look at the situation as if it was a case study so that you remove the emotions from the picture. What do you see from this angle? What might need to be done differently?
  3. Ask questions. Look to a trusted mentor, those involved (if appropriate) or perhaps even other resources (online, books, etc). Ask what could be done differently, what they see, where the breakdown happened. Just make sure your questions are positive and genuine and don’t come across like blame or gossip.
  4. Personally reflect. Think about your role in the situation and what you can learn about your own leadership as a result.
  5. Communicate. It seems simple, but “seems” is a tricky word. Talk with others and by all means, don’t avoid conflict! Nothing gets better when a difficult situation is avoided or an elephant stays in the room. You may even want to try the curious approach.
  6. Apply what you learn and move on. Figure out why you were stuck and what you might be able to do differently. Even if the plan isn’t perfect, it’s better than staying stuck!

So, next time you are slapped in the face with an unexpected result, you feel like a failure, or you are just plain stuck, resist the urge to stay where you are. When the question, “now what” rises in your throat, resist the emotional pull and dig into your questions. Learn what you can, apply it, and move on. That’s what leaders do.

Authentic Enthusiasm

 - by Jess Almlie

Think about the organization where you spend the majority of your time working, volunteering, participating, etc. It may be a traditional business environment, an educational system, a non-profit entity, a church, etc. With that in mind, consider the following:

 

“The level of enthusiasm of your customer will never exceed that of your employees.”

 

Although you may need to substitute the words customer and employees for other applicable terms (i.e. students and teachers, team and leader, participants and organizers, attendees and volunteers, etc.), the concept will remain the same. Those providing the “service” will determine the recipients level of interest and engagement.

 

Joel Manby, President and CEO of Hershcend Family Entertainment Corporation, uttered the words from the above quotation during a recent leadership podcast  and it gave me cause to reflect.

 

Our enthusiasm can literally make or break an experience for someone else.Have you ever been on the receiving end of such an experience? One where your attitude and interest changed course as a result of the person delivering the service or the message? My guess is that you have. Most of us can talk about a time when we received such poor service that we vowed never to return to the guilty establishment.

 

What type of enthusiasm do you illicit for your customer, whomever that may be?

 

Like it or not, we are all influencing the experiences of others in the organization where we spend the majority of your time. The scary part is that generally we spread our enthusiasm, or lack thereof, in a manner that is entirely unintentional.

 

I’m not referring to the type of enthusiasm that is tied to cheerleaders with perky grins or kids who jump up and down with excitement when customers arrive. I’m referring to our authentic passion for the product, service or company. Passion is contagious and authenticity is magnetic. We all want to be involved in things that are exciting, positive, moving forward, etc. And we don’t want to be involved in scams or causes that are skin deep. If someone is passionate about their work, they can be captivating. They can change minds or even change lives.

 

When I started graduate school, I was bound and determined NOT to write a thesis. That sounded like too much work and it involved research. I had already experienced a research course in my undergrad work that left me frustrated enough to break down in tears in the instructor’s office. Through my embarrassment at breaking down, I had decided that I would never be good at research and would avoid it at all costs. Even though the first requirement of graduate school is a research course, I resigned myself to just getting through the semester and then focusing on a practicum option as a final project. That was before I met the course instructor, Dr. Mark Schmidt.

 

Dr. Schmidt was passionate about research. It didn’t even matter what the research was about. For example, do people drink more lemonade in June or July? In the sun or the shade?  Dr. Schmidt could turn anything into research. It was part of who he was and how he thought about the world. This authentic love of research was illustrated in each and every class period. He didn’t jump up and down. He didn’t fake smiles and force himself to happily present the material. His love of research was authentically a part of who he was. He couldn’t help but talk about it in a way that conveyed his enthusiasm for the subject.

 

Needless to say, by the end of the class, I fell in love with research as well. And yes, I ended up writing a thesis based on a research project idea that was born in that class.Had Dr. Schmidt not been the instructor, I doubt I would have made this 180 degree turnaround.

 

So now it’s your turn. Do you believe in the product or service you are providing in your organization? Does your enthusiasm for the cause come naturally? Would it be difficult for you to hold it back? If yes, you are on your way to engaging others and bringing them on board. If not, what do you need to know in order to get there? Is it more about the organization vision, the reasons for its existence, stories of success, changed lives, etc. What is it that would help you to re-engage? Find out and talk about your organization from that bent. Welcome customers with this in mind. Figure out how you can offer your own authentic enthusiasm.

 

Because, when it comes down to it, your level of enthusiasm is determining the level of engagement of your customer, your team, your students, your attendees, and/or any other group you are servicing.

Curious Conflict

 - by Jess Almlie

Let’s be honest. Most women are fantastic conflict avoiders. We walk away, pretend it didn’t happen, act like everything is fine, ignore the issue, etc. We do almost anything not to converse about the conflict with the individual(s) involved.

 

What’s your excuse?
 It’s risky. It might result in more pain. They might not like me anymore. I might not “win”. It’s scary. I don’t know how to have this conversation, or ______ (insert your excuse here).

 

We all have two brains. Brain number one is an emotional, all powerful brain.  Emotions can be a wonderful human asset, but they generally are not effective when allowed to control conflict situations. Brain number two is a rational brain capable of solving problems and effectively navigating difficult conversations. Given that description, you can probably guess which of your brains is more useful in conflict.

 

The best leaders know how to harness their rational mind, even in the heat of conflict. They can discuss tough subjects with others and ultimately end up with a better or more creative outcome as a result.

 

Guess what? You have the power to tap into your rational mind just like these leaders, whether or not you consider yourself to walk among them. You can handle tough situations more effectively with a simple brain readjustment. The secret? CURIOSITY.

 

Curiosity won’t solve your conflict, but it will engage your rational mind and allow for a more productive and effective conversation. With curiosity, you approach a situation as someone who is willing to learn as opposed to someone who is making a judgment. Who would you rather talk to? The person who wants to learn from you, or the person who has already decided what you think and feel?

 

The curious approach to conflict calls for you to do the following:

  1. Abandon your assumptions. We can make snap judgments in the blink of an eye. We decide why something happened and who is likely at fault. We narrate someone else’s feelings before they have a chance to share them, assign blame, and predict outcomes. By abandoning any and all assumptions, we approach the situation with an attitude of curiosity and humility. Allowing and listening to the other person’s explanation of their own thoughts and acknowledging that we may not know the whole story. I can’t tell you how many times, when I have approached a situation with curiosity instead of judgment, my original assumptions were surprisingly incorrect.
  2. Avoid playing the win-lose game. “I’m right and you’re wrong!” When that tape is playing in our heads, either consciously or unconsciously, it is impossible to have a rational conversation. With a curious approach, it becomes possible that we are both right, we are both wrong, or that there is another option altogether.
  3. Explore solutions together. Generally, approaching a conflict with an outcome in mind isn’t really solving anything. It is simply forcing our decision on someone else. Curiosity requires that we ask questions. That includes asking the other person for suggestions
    and problem solving together. Both of you will be able to take ownership and be accountable for improving the situation that caused the conflict.
  4. Don’t lock in. If the solution doesn’t work, curiosity implores you to think again. Ask what isn’t working and try something else. You don’t need to lock in one solution as the one and only or hard and fast rule. Continuous improvement requires curiosity and creativity.

 

We can choose to approach conflict with dread, to gossip behind others backs, to assume we know the answer, to believe there is a right and a wrong, or to simply avoid conflict altogether. But, we also have the choice to approach these same conflicts with an attitude of curiosity, as an opportunity to learn more, improve a relationship, or try something new and creative. Next time you feel your temperature rise with frustration, tap into your rational mind and use the curious approach. You might be surprised!

Embracing the Discontent

 - by Jess Almlie

Dissatisfied. Restless. Frustrated. Negative. Unenthusiastic. Fed up. Complaining. In a rut.

 

Any of these sound familiar to you? They are signs of discontent.

 

Sounds rather ominous and negative for a blog about leadership, right? It doesn’t matter your position, title, status, or job, it seems most of us have a tendency to experience some discontent now and then. The difference is in how we choose to address it.

 

Option number one is to wallow in the discontent, indulging ourselves by complaining and entertaining negative thoughts. By choosing this option, we choose to play the victim. Seemingly, it takes less energy to do nothing and feel sorry for ourselves. If we are lucky, someone else might even complain alongside us, justifying our attitude.  Eventually, however, this choice can be downright dangerous, leading to complacency, toxicity, and additional stress in our workplaces and homes. It may take less energy but it also drains any existing energy from our lives and the lives of those around us.

 

Option number two sets the leaders apart and it is as simple as difference in outlook. Great leaders won’t allow discontent or  frustration to keep them down for long. Instead, they view discontent as a gift.  Thoughts and feelings of dissatisfaction serve as a signal that something needs to change. Discontent exposes an opportunity to improve, create, or envision something in a new way.

 

“Healthy discontent is the prelude to progress.” -Ghandhi

Unlike the energy drain from option one, this option is energy giving and exciting. It empowers us to view the world, and our lives, in a new light and then take the steps to make that vision a reality. By thinking of discontent as a gift instead of a frustration, we begin to act differently. We become someone others want to be around and someone they want to look towards for leadership and direction.

 

Next time discontent begins to creep into your life, make the choice to welcome it with open arms. Wrestle with the reasons behind its appearance, and take the steps to learn more about what changes could be made. Envision possibility, learn more about yourself, or take some time to develop your leadership skills. Ask others to join in your journey by assisting in the search for solutions. Act as a leader by embracing the discontent and moving to create change in your life, your organization, your family, or your community.

 

Sabotage Yourself Lately?

 - by Jess Almlie

Have you noticed how women excel at justification? We are absolute masters at convincing ourselves of the value behind that expensive pair of shoes, yoga class, summer vacation, dinner out, new décor for the family room, etc. However, this talent doesn’t extend to all areas of our lives.  When it comes to our abilities, we seem to second guess ourselves more often than we practice justifying our strengths. We tend to assume that everyone else around us is more self-confident and has a better handle on life than we do. Essentially, we sabotage ourselves with our own internal thoughts of self-doubt.

 

We all possess the capacity to act as leaders at work, at home, in social situations, as volunteers, etc. Basically, the option is there in every encounter we have with others. However, we also make the choice, consciously or not, to move forward with confidence in our abilities or to become victims of our own self-defeat.

 

In light of this topic, I recently gave myself an assignment. I decided that I would pay strict attention to the thoughts that were crossing my mind throughout the day. Every time any type of self-doubt surfaced in my mind, I would do two things:

  1. Question, “Why?”
  2. Halt the thought and hit reverse, starting over in a more positive light.

I note that before I took on this challenge, I considered myself to be a fairly self-confident woman. However, as the day progressed, I was surprised at the number of times I had to put my plan into action. It seemed constant. It wasn’t just in meetings or scheduled interactions either. More often than not, it was during the moments when my mind was idle or when I unexpectedly met someone in the hall and found myself wanting to offer them a small quick smile and then look the other way. My internal thought was, “I don’t know them that well and they probably don’t remember me.” Really? In this seemingly insignificant moment, I questioned my ability to take a risk and say hello. Try again, please!

 

As I realized the large number of self-defeating thoughts that were playing in my head each day, I also began to understand how unnecessary they were. I just couldn’t justify any of them and it seemed silly to attempt to do so. As I stamped out the negative thoughts, the positive and more self-confident thoughts made me feel less stressed and more relaxed. I was listening more, asking better questions, looking for more creative solutions
and generally enjoying the day.  Because I wasn’t allowing any self-doubt to creep in, I was more effective as a leader, a mother, a friend, a colleague, etc.

 

The bottom line? The first way we can choose to exercise effective leadership in our daily lives is to listen to our own internal thoughts. I challenge you to give yourself this assignment and then reflect on the results. Bring your thoughts to consciousness, squelch any internal conversation of self-doubt and change it to an internal conversation of self-belief. You might be surprised.

 

What is “leadership” anyway?

 - by Jess Almlie

Leadership is multi-faceted, with special emphasis on the “multi.” That makes it extremely difficult to define succinctly. It is grounded in influence, but the number of variables that could explain and illustrate the topic are infinite. Because it is so broad and varied, I operate under the assumption that everyone has some capacity for leadership. If we choose to do so, we will each exercise that capacity in different ways, given our unique talents, skills, expertise, experiences, personality, etc.

 

We can all think of examples of leaders who excel and those who fall short. There are those whom we admire,
and those we wish would go away. There are those who improve the world and those who make a mess. But they are all some type of leader.

 

Another one of my leadership assumptions is that none of us will ever “arrive” at the summit of leadership. In non-metaphoric text, we will never reach the point of achieving all-knowing, perfect leader status. Our society moves too quickly, contains too any variables, and is in constant flux. In addition, we have the ability to continuously learn from the world around us. Thus, we can – and should – be constantly developing and enhancing the variables that make up our own leadership.

 

This blog will offer considerations and ideas as to how we can each develop our leadership skills and abilities. These will include focusing on yourself as a leader as well as working more effectively with others. Most posts will relate to women in leadership,
although men are certainly invited to read and consider topics discussed.

 

In this lifetime, I have spent countless hours reading, researching, observing, and practicing leadership. Formally,
I work to develop student leaders at Concordia College. I also concentrated on this topic as a master’s student. Informally, I am a self-proclaimed leadership nerd. I like to believe that we all have “nerdisms” and mine centers around learning about, developing, and practicing leadership.

 

I invite you to read and consider more about leadership through the thoughts and ideas presented in this blog and beyond.  More to come…