The Courage Solution
The Power of Truth Telling with Your Boss, Peers, and Team
By Mindy Mackenzie
Greenleaf Book Group PressCopyright © 2016 Mindy Mackenzie
All rights reserved.
To Know Yourself Is to Love Yourself ... Just Not Too Much
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I'LL NEVER FORGET reading the results from the first 360- degree survey of my career.
I was shocked! And angry. And hurt. And, and, and ... I couldn't even think straight I was so upset!
Did my direct reports really think I was too tough on them?
Did my peers really think I moved too fast and didn't bring people along?
Did my boss really think I didn't think enough before taking action?
Yes. Yes, they did.
I resolved at that moment that I was never going back to work again if this is what these people thought of me! They made me sound like I was an intense, workaholic, overachieving, ambitious wrecking ball of a human being.
Well ... uh ... yes. That ended up being true too. But that wasn't all they said about me. There were some good things — some very good things — but I couldn't see it, or absorb any of that feedback, because I was so fixated on my deficits.
And magnifying the constructive feedback into epic proportions so much so that I wound myself right up into a defensive, close-minded ball and vowed NEVER. TO. TAKE. ANOTHER. 360. SURVEY. AGAIN.
Do you see how my tendencies for being tough (on myself most of all, by the way) and acting without thinking, along with my general intensity, might have influenced how I reacted to the feedback?
In retrospect, the way I reacted is humorous and somewhat embarrassing because now it is so clear that I undervalued the positive feedback and overemphasized the constructive. But in that moment, I was devastated and finding it very difficult to have any perspective whatsoever.
This is generally what happens any time we are faced with the truth about ourselves. It is shocking and uncomfortable. It brings up every deep-seated insecurity we have about ourselves.
Fortunately, part of my process of responding to the survey results was to have an excellent external coach walk me through the feedback (hold my hand, dry my tears — whatever) and support me in putting the messages (all the messages) into perspective so that I could identify one or two traits that needed improving.
Fast-forward 15 years, to when I sat with a brilliant organization psychologist as he walked me through my most recent 360 results, which were about to be shared with Jim Beam's board of directors. There were still OMG?!? moments, but overall I felt that the messages were exactly on point — my areas of strength were clear and my gaps were equally clear — and none of it was a surprise to me.
This time I didn't go into internal histrionics or go home and eat a loaf of warm, crusty bread with a hunk of gooey Brie cheese and wash it all down with a lovely pinot noir (well, I might have ... but it wasn't because of my survey results).
What made the difference?
I was still an imperfect human being, leading imperfectly — so there was plenty of feedback to go around. What had changed?
I had changed. Because for many, many years (since that first emotionally exhausting process), I had systematically been working on growing my self-awareness so that I could change, grow, and manage myself better.
To begin to acknowledge and accept that who I was, what I believed, and how I was impacting those around me through my behavior was creating the reality I was living.
And that the only thing I could reliably change or control was me.
At the same time that I was going through this in my professional life over those many years, I was learning this in my personal life as well. At one critical point, I was navigating the aftermath of a divorce, healing from a very difficult marriage, and learning how to be a single mother to a toddler while the father of my baby was MIA.
On a daily basis, I was forced to look in the mirror of my life and acknowledge that I had made the choices that landed me where I found myself. And that if I wanted something different, I had to be different myself. I had to choose differently.
Now, this may seem an unpleasant approach for many of you reading this. Because it is far more comfortable to blame others for where you find yourself. For instance:
I could have spent a lot of time being angry at my ex — why couldn't he have been a better husband?
I could have spent a lot of time being angry at my parents — why couldn't they have been normal and given me and my siblings a happy, safe childhood?
I could have spent a lot of time being angry at the universe — why does everyone else have it so easy?
The same for work ... and that first 360-degree survey report.
I could have spent a lot of time being angry at my direct reports — didn't they know how hard I work and how much I expect of myself?
I could have spent a lot of time being angry at my peers — why didn't they reach out to me if they wanted to understand where we were heading? In other words, I shouldn't always have to bring them and their team along.
I could have spent a lot of time being angry at my boss — just because he is slow to make decisions and take action doesn't mean I have to be that way!
And I did spend my fair share of time feeling and thinking all of these things. (What can I say? I'm a work in progress.) But ultimately, my personal and professional life would have been filled with more of the same if I had chosen to stay angry or feel victimized rather than take accountability and begin to change. To change myself so that I could have a different, more positive impact on those around me, and a much happier, fulfilling life.
So what about you?
How well do you really know yourself?
How self-aware are you?
Did you get really angry and defensive the last time you received 360-survey feedback? That's natural ... at first. But what did you do about it? (If you've never received a 360, go ask for one now — it will make you better!)
Marshall Goldsmith is the author of one of my favorite books, What Got You Here Won't Get You There. I especially like the section titled "Twenty Habits That Hold You Back from the Top." Goldsmith highlights many self-defeating traits that, for some seemingly mysterious reason, are so difficult to recognize in ourselves — yet we don't have any trouble seeing them in other people. Please go grab his book and read it. It's a quick read (it even has an accompanying workbook) and can help you look in the proverbial mirror and increase your self-awareness.
In the four parts of this book, I talk a lot about the value of courage, of being bold (wisely) and telling the truth to your colleagues (again, wisely). But this will ring hollow if you do not do the same with yourself.
Getting real with yourself about who you really are, what you are fabulous at (both naturally and learned), and what your icky tendencies are when you are stressed and not at your best is essential to having greater personal fulfillment and professional success.
Transformation starts with you.
Being real with yourself and getting clear is an incredibly important foundation for every other aspect of leading your life.
If you don't know who you really are (and are too afraid to ask your loved ones and coworkers), there are a few books I highly recommend you read (see page 242).
A LITTLE GENDER side dish for you to nosh on:
Guys — my observation of your tendency when it comes to self-awareness is to be overconfident and dismissive of any and all critical feedback. If you are going to lean in a direction, it tends to be toward self-satisfaction, not self-discovery. Watch out for that.
Gals — you have the opposite tendency from the guys. Your first natural response is to assume all feedback about you is correct, and you have a laundry list of things to improve upon before you can ever advance in your career (i.e., you believe you must be perfect to progress).
Neither approach is useful. Guys, you would benefit from some of the gals' humility — and gals, you would benefit from some of the guys' bravado.
Just sayin'.CHAPTER 2
The Personal Declaration
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IN THE PREVIOUS chapter, I spoke about getting to know yourself, taking ownership of your life, and being accountable for the impact you are having on those around you. I also urged you to avoid falling hopelessly in love with your own fine self as it is right now or — conversely — being overly critical and striving for perfection. The outcome of all this self-knowledge is expressed in a Personal Declaration.
I first encountered the concept of a Personal Declaration while working at Campbell Soup Company, when Doug Conant was the CEO." He taught me the importance of speaking from the heart in important relationships at work, and called it declaring yourself.
The essence of declaring yourself is telling people who you are, what you think, and what you feel about work, life, leadership, and whatever else is important to you. This idea resonated with me and evolved into the Personal Declaration process that has been my practice ever since.
Over time, a Personal Declaration can be brief and straightforward or more fully developed, but the first step is capturing what makes you tick in a simple one-pager. You will see in Part 2, "Lead Your Boss," and in Part 4, "Lead Your Team," the very practical and beneficial utility of this practice. So go ahead and fill this in.
It can be surprisingly time-consuming to distill your views on life into succinct answers to these questions. Brevity is the challenge. Clarity is the very worthwhile reward.
This is not a one-time exercise. You can revisit it and evolve your answers as you evolve as a leader and as a human being.
Two Sample Personal Declarations
TO GIVE YOU a sense of what the completed Personal Declaration worksheet may look like, I asked two executives to share their own Personal Declarations. Both are longtime friends and former colleagues, so I can attest to their authenticity.
The first example is from a colleague who has been using this tool for many years to hold himself accountable, along with having one-year, five-year, and lifetime personal and professional goals (the latter he calls the "special sauce"). Here is what his looks like.
The second example comes from a highly successful executive who has only in the past few years adopted the practice of a Personal Declaration. A new hire shared her declaration with him when she joined the company, and this leader immediately recognized a good idea and adopted it for himself. Below you'll see how he articulates his declaration, which he calls a "join up."
As you can see from these samples, both executives have tweaked the Personal Declaration to reflect how they approach life and business, along with their preferred degree of openness in sharing with others.
There is no one right or best way to approach this — the key is just to do it. You will use the information you've captured here when you read Chapter 12 in Part 2, "Lead Your Boss," and Chapter 27 in Part 4, "Lead Your Team."CHAPTER 3
Why You Need a Personal Pit Crew
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HAVE YOU EVER felt isolated and alone as you've navigated various professional and personal challenges?
I know so many mid-level business professionals who think that you climb to the top of the ladder by being some sort of individual corporate warrior. Yet all of the successful business executives I've worked with are open about the fact that they have a small group of trusted advisors who help them navigate their professional and personal lives.
When Doug Conant became CEO of Campbell Soup Company, he quickly gathered his group of advisors to spend a few days with him, to provide their perspective on the company and how he should go about leading it. That's a good example of using your pit crew for support in a massive professional transition (although I'm quite certain Doug doesn't call his posse his "pit crew").
A pit crew is a group of people who help a racecar driver stay on the track during a race, going as fast as possible for as long as possible. Racecar driving is a team sport. You can have the best driver and the best car, but without that pit crew, you aren't going to win.
It's the same with winning in business. It's a team sport. But not in the traditional way people talk about collaboration and teamwork in the workplace. That's important. But in order for you, as an individual, to be as fulfilled and successful as you desire, you need a team of people who support you.
Having a pit crew is personal, and support can take many forms. Some members of your pit crew will help you navigate your career. Others will help you navigate your daily life.
An executive I know has moved his family of six several times to various parts of the world. When he was facing yet another move, he reached out to his longtime financial advisor, his best friend, and his former colleagues to get their perspective — not just about the impact of the decision on his career but also its impact on his wife and children, and on the overall fulfillment of their lives.
It's important to be selective about your pit crew. Mine includes a half dozen people — most of whom have known me for years or even decades — whom I can ask for advice, vent to, or share both good news and bad. They understand how I'm wired, love me in spite of myself, and know the world of business, so they "get it" without my having to explain a whole lot.
I also have a few people who provide practical, day-in-day-out support so that my life runs as efficiently and effectively as possible. As a single mom of a 13-year-old boy, who raised him while also climbing the corporate ladder, I can speak to how important it is to have a pit crew providing both professional and practical life support.
Sometimes I have a good handle on all the pressures, stressors, and demands in my life. But often I simply lose the plot and need someone to help me get perspective back.
Life is going to happen to you. You will change jobs, change companies, change industries. You may change cities. Or countries. Or continents. You may marry. You may divorce. You may raise kids. Or dogs. Or plants. You will have good bosses and bad bosses, good teams and bad teams. Your company will win some. And lose some.
Life will happen. Going it alone is a bad strategy. Never letting your guard down to people you can trust is a recipe for disaster. You need an external group of people committed to your success in your work and in your life.
But how do you build a pit crew if you don't already have one?
Step 1: Have the Right Mindset
BE WILLING TO be vulnerable. To admit when you are confused. Scared. Unsure. Dr. Brené Brown, research professor, licensed social worker, and author of multiple New York Times Best Sellers, has spent her entire career studying vulnerability. She defines it as the "willingness to show up and be seen with no guarantee of outcome."
Excerpted from The Courage Solution by Mindy Mackenzie. Copyright © 2016 Mindy Mackenzie. Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press.
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