Four Non-Traditional Leadership Development Tools

There are many traditional tools out there for growing your leadership skills. There are books, seminars, videos, workshops. They will teach you how to listen, to delegate, to strategize, and to make decisions, and many of them are worthwhile.

There is another aspect that leaders need to develop and I would like to offer some non-traditional methods to develop it. I believe that an excellent leader constantly develops her deep knowledge of herself. This is critical in order to lead authentically. Knowing yourself helps you to truly understand and articulate your values, and to stand confidently and surely in front of your teams each and every day and lead.

Over the past few years I have been introduced to many different techniques to help me understand myself better. Some of these techniques were familiar and easy to implement. Others were a little bit out there (what we lovingly refer to as ‘woo’), but still can be very useful once you accept the strangeness of the experience.

Here are four non-traditional techniques for you to try:

Journaling

Why journaling? There is something about writing things out that helps us to process. It helps us to think things through and get to the bottom of our feelings. Formulating our thoughts into cohesive sentences can aid in the organization of our thoughts and plans. Sometimes, getting our thoughts out of our heads and onto paper helps us to see things differently and can help us to be more objective about ourselves and our decisions.

This is an easy technique for anyone to pick up and try. Simply grab some paper or open a word document and start writing. The tricky part might be in figuring out what to write. For that I have a few suggestions:

  1. Write whatever is on your mind. What was the last thought you had? What is a current problem you are trying to solve? Write it out, and then write out whatever occurs to you next. Keep in mind journaling is just for you, so don’t worry about grammar or punctuation or organization or cohesion. Just write.
  2. Find some prompts online. There are several places to look for these. One online journal I happen to like is penzu.com. Sometimes just answering answering the question “How am I feeling today?” is enough to get you started.
  3. Buy a journal that comes with journal prompts. For some people, this could be constraining, but for others it can help you to get started.
  4. Ask yourself ‘why’. Then ask yourself ‘why’ again. And then again. And again until you feel you have really reached a meaningful answer.
  5. Make it fun. Go somewhere different to do your writing. Try a park or a museum or a coffee-shop. If you like colors, buy yourself some colored pens. Add some artwork. Ask yourself some crazy questions. I am happy to offer suggestions if you need them!
  6. Make it a daily habit. You’ll learn so much about yourself and your leadership challenges.

Cost: $0 (or cost of a new journal/nice pen)

Time: 10 minutes a day

Meditation

I will be the first to admit that meditation is hard. My mind is always going a thousand miles per hour, so asking it to stop completely is impossible. But I have found several ways to work with this, and when I do, some of my most brilliant thoughts appear.

It is like those moments in the shower, or while driving, or while on the massage table (my personal favorite) when your mind is calm and clear and the answers seem to appear from out of nowhere. Meditation can give you that any time, any where.

Meditation is also tied to mindfulness – being aware of what is happening in the present moment, both with ourselves and in our environment. This has been shown in many studies to be an important part of successful leadership. Leaders who practice mindfulness have lower levels of stress, are better able to adapt to changing environments, and create better environments for their teams.

To get started, I highly recommend using guided meditations. These are free and easy to find. You can find a bunch of them on YouTube or simply by googling “guided meditations.” The best tool I have found out there is the popular website/app Headspace. You can access the website from your computer or download the app for free on your mobile device. I would often use these quick guided meditations right in my office during my lunch hour.
If you prefer an in-person experience, there are also classes you can take. The easiest places to look are at local yoga studios (or again, Google). You can also check for classes at your local community centers or holistic healing centers.

What is important is that you give this a shot, find what works for you, and then keep at it to build a daily practice.

Cost: $0 (or cost of a class)

Time: 10 minutes per day

Oracle Cards

Have you ever heard of oracle cards? Perhaps you’ve heard of their more well-known cousin, tarot cards? These are cards that can be used by anyone, anywhere, for whatever purpose you would like. In this case, I suggest you use them for personal growth through self-reflection.

Plus you can get a deck on Amazon or eBay for less than $20. There are some pretty fun decks out there! (One suggestion: go for the Oracle decks, not the Tarot decks. Much easier to interpret and use for beginners).

I realize this is a stretch for most people in the business world. It certainly was for me until I gave them a shot. But stick with me for a second, and I think I can show you how they might be helpful. I, myself, find them a fun, creative way to work on my development. An example might help.

First, I shuffle my deck while pondering a particular question. I might be asking myself, “What do I need to concentrate on today?” Then I spread out my cards and pick one. Sometimes I linger over the cards, thinking hard about my question and sometimes I just pick one right away; it doesn’t really matter. But this step can help you practice mindfulness. Let’s say I pull the following card:

+

img_20181128_1748403090033284455571341.jpg

Next, consider the card. What meaning can you pull from having selected that card? You could use this as a journal prompt. Explore how you can apply what is on the card to your question. If you feel the impulse to reject the card – something like, “this has nothing to do with me today!” – explore that feeling. Why do you feel like this isn’t important?

In this case, when I pull the “Play” card, I might think about how I plan to incorporate some fun into my day. Or I might journal about whether or not I am making time in my life currently to have fun. Or I might consider whether or not I allow my team members to include fun in their work. I could take this any number of directions. Perhaps this came up for me today because I haven’t taken a day off in a long, long time, and I really need to do so.

The important thing here is that you expand your mind, think in new directions, and consider possibilities that you hadn’t before. Plus it is always fun to see what comes up!

Cost: $15-$30 for a deck (or borrow one from a friend, or find free sites on line)

Time: 10 minutes

Leadership Coaching

So, let’s say you are a tennis player, and you are pretty good, but you are looking to get to the next level. You could continue to practice on your own, but chances are that in order to make a significant improvement, you’ll need to hire a coach.

The same thing is true in leadership. If you want to move to the next level, you might do well to find yourself a leadership coach. This type of coach can help you navigate tricky situations in your career/workplace, can help you build on your strengths and can help smooth out your weaknesses. She can work with you to set ambitious goals and then define tactics to achieve them. In short, she can help you get to the next level.

As with your tennis coach, you’ll need to exercise some judgement in hiring a leadership coach. Not all coaches are created equal. You will want to be sure you are hiring someone who can actually help you. And personalities matter. You’ll want to be sure you can work well together. Keep in mind, this will not be an inexpensive endeavor, but will be worth it in the end.

I have worked with career coaches myself and found them to be inspiring, challenging, and well worth the time, effort and money. I am now working as a leadership coach myself (part-time), and enjoy this side of the relationship even more. I’m happy to share my experiences with anyone who has interest or questions.

If you’d like to explore working with me as a coach, reach out! I’d love to have a conversation with you.

Cost: Variable

Time: Variable, generally 2 conversations/month

In general, anything that takes you outside your comfort zone is going to help you grow in new and different directions. I encourage you to try something new. Experiment with something you’ve never tried before. Grow, dream, and accomplish amazing things!

I’d love to hear if you have other alternative ways of developing your leadership skills. Be sure to share!

And as always, keep it positive!

Advertisements

Doing Hard Things…5 Tips to Get Them Done

shutterstock_306528359

As leaders, we are often called on to do difficult things. We have to have hard conversations with our employees. We have to choose one person over another for a promotion. We have to communicate budget cuts, project changes, and communicate decisions that sometimes even we do not understand.

It’s part of the job.

This became real to me recently when I had to do a hard thing. In fact, it might have been one of the hardest professional/personal things I have done in my life – and I’ve done some pretty difficult things. I thought I would share what I did to make it through, and even make somewhat of a success out of it.

For those following my story, you may know that three months ago I was, along with 300 of my dear friends and colleagues, laid off from a company where I had spent the last 17 years. I loved the company, and it was a difficult separation.

Last month, I received an invitation to the retirement party of my dearest mentor and friend, a senior executive of that company. He was gracious (as the best mentors are) and called ahead to be sure I wasn’t surprised when I received the invitation. I knew that the senior managers, the very managers who had just laid me off, were going to be there. I also knew that, despite this, I would be there to celebrate this individual who had been so instrumental in my development as a person and a leader.

I knew I would go, and yet I did not RSVP until three days before the event. It was that hard to commit. But I went, and I had a lovely (if extremely awkward) time, and I was so very proud to celebrate the amazing achievements of my mentor.

In reflecting on this event and other hard things I have coached others through, or done myself, I find that there are several critical steps to getting through:

  1. Know that it is the right thing to do
  2. Know your limits
  3. Act professionally, with compassion and authenticity
  4. Find your allies
  5. Allow space for decompression afterwards

The critical piece in doing hard things is knowing it is the right thing to do. In some way, for some reason, the hard thing is the best thing. In my opening scenario, it was absolutely the right thing to do to show up for my mentor who had always shown up for me.

This is just as important in everyday leadership situations. Take a difficult conversation with an employee, for example. One of the hardest conversations I ever had was an embarrassing discussion with an associate about body odor. It was creating significant drama in the area and disrupting the business day. Addressing this was awkward for both me and the associate, but it was clearly the right thing to do. It turned out that it was a matter of medication, and the associate had no idea that anyone else could smell it. The doctor quickly made a change and the problem was solved.

It is likely that at some point in your career you will have to communicate a decision you don’t understand or even fully agree with. In this case, it is absolutely imperative that you do additional research, talk to your boss, do whatever you need to do to understand where the decision is coming from. In this way, you will learn why others feels this is the right thing to do, and from there you can build your own case.

It is also important to know your own limits. Sometimes, doing hard things puts you in a position that is not in line with your values or ethics. It is vital that you know where that line is before you come up against it. I encourage every new leader to spend some significant time on this. In my opening scenario, I knew there were certain conversations I was not yet ready to have, and so I did not have them.

In another instance, early in my career, I was asked to “fudge” some numbers. What I was asked to do was not illegal, it probably wasn’t even technically wrong, but to me it crossed a line. I stood my ground and said ‘no.’ I can’t say I was well liked for that decision, but at least I felt good about myself.

When doing hard things, it is important to maintain your executive presence, but do so in a compassionate and authentic manner. This is a tough one. When doing hard things, we have to stay professional. We have to stay strong. This is easier if you have your “why” and you know it is the right thing to do. It can be easy, though, to let emotions and sympathy get in the way of doing this the right way.

At my mentor’s retirement party, I worked hard to stay professional but to share open and honestly with those who asked. I did not engage in gossip, I did not discuss individuals who were not present, and I kept my conversation light and positive. This was a celebration of an amazing leader and I did not want to be a distraction.

The other half of that equation is to be compassionate and authentic while being professional. I tried to recognize that it was difficult for those with ‘survivor syndrome’ and to honor that. I also did my best to empathize with those leaders who had to make the tough decisions on who lost their jobs and who stayed behind. It is okay to share that what you are doing is hard for you, and that you understand the immediate negative impact on the individual, but that in the end, it will be better for both sides.

One of the most important things I did to make the retirement party a success was to have my husband with me. He is my fiercest ally and I am always stronger when he is by my side. I also immediately found those individuals who I knew were my allies, who always had my best interest at heart. In this way, I found safety in what would otherwise have felt like a rather threatening situation.

Finally, the after the hard thing is over, it is important to give yourself space to feel your feelings, to give yourself space to decompress. On the ride home from the retirement party, my husband drove, and I cried the entire way. By the time we reached the driveway, I felt better and was able to fully enjoy the rest of the evening with my kids.

We all need to be sure we have the space to process the emotions that come up after we do hard things. We need to be able to release the pressure in a way that is safe and productive, and do so as soon as possible after the hard thing. I have several suggestions on how to do this – I’d love to hear if you have some as well.

Always remember – as leaders WE CAN DO HARD THINGS.

And as always, keep it positive!