Sharing Your Story – 3 Women who Embraced Their Albatross & How You Can Too

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As a member of New York Women in Communications (NYWICI), an organization of professional women in media and communications, I’ve attended events with incredible speakers who demonstrate the power of sharing your story.

One event was with Madonna Badger, founder and chief Creative Officer at Badger & Winters, an advertising, branding, and design agency.

Madonna began her presentation by asking for her slides to be turned off. Before she began her formal presentation, she shared how she’d been struggling emotionally with the recent death of her ex-husband. She also shared her life-altering experience of losing her parents and three daughters in a fire from which she was able to escape. You could have heard a pin drop.

At another event, Morning Joe’s Mika Brzezinski spoke. Within seconds of taking the stage, Mika shared her experience of being fired from a job she loved.

NYWICI also hosted an evening with Arianna Huffington who collapsed because she was so burnt out from overwork.

All of these women used their stories to engage and inspire the audiences but they also used their stories to inform their mission in life.

After her tragedy, Madonna was determined to make a difference in the world. She decided to tackle an industry she knew–the world of advertising. She founded a groundbreaking movement called #womennotobjects

Mika’s mission for helping women know and grow their value is a direct result of the lessons she learned looking for work after having been fired. She has a book and a speaking platform called Knowing Your Value.

And after Arianna left The Huffington Post, she devoted herself full-time to her mission of helping executives slow-down and invest in self-care.

What have you learned from your trying times? How can you apply those lessons to your life goals? How can you turn your misfortune into your mission?

Here are three things you can do (and one thing you shouldn’t):

  1.  Reframe your Shame: Often when misfortune hits, we turn it into crippling shame. Reframe your shame by experiencing the emotion, as painful as it may be, rather than running from it. By experiencing the emotion, you take its power to shame you away.
  2. Own your Value: One thing Mika Brzezinski stressed is that even when your “stock is down,” you need to own your value. Discover and focus on what you’re great at, what value you bring to the world, and what strengths you have. Share them freely and confidently.
  3. Listen for your lesson: Everything that happens CAN be a springboard to a discovery. What have you learned from this? In Arianna’s case, she learned that she wasn’t taking care of herself, a value that had been instilled in her very early in life but she had ignored. Has any of your misfortune come about because you have betrayed one of your values? How can you turn that into your mission?
  4. Don’t be FAUXthentic: Listeners can tell the difference between FAUXthentic and Authentic. When sharing your story on the page or in person, allow yourself to tap into your emotional memory and not your logical interpretation.

I recently heard a well-respected professional speaker say that nobody cares about our stories. I disagree. A well told, authentic, relevant story not only creates instant trust and rapport, it can also be healing to both the speaker and the listener.

If you want to work on your story, I’d love to talk.

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Ask, Don’t Tell Leadership

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“The wise man doesn’t give us the right answers, he poses the right questions.” Claude Levi-Strauss

For years I’ve been leading a four-session training course, covering communication styles, giving and receiving feedback, time-management and people management, aimed at helping newly appointed leaders in a government agency develop effective leadership skills. 

In one session, participants mentioned how often direct reports come to them in crises wanting to be told what to do. The decisions made are sometimes life and death. So when direct reports came to the new leaders for help, they usually told them what to do and in some cases did it for them. Even though doing so was frustrating and distracting, the new leaders felt that “helping” their direct reports saved time and avoided trouble. But does it really? Or does it create dependent workers who don’t learn to think for themselves and don’t learn to trust their own decisions?

I suggested if they wanted a solid, capable team (and to avoid burn-out), they needed to spend extra time coaching their direct reports by asking them what THEY thought should be done.

The next week, one of the participants reported a huge success. One of her direct reports came to her in a panic. “I thought about what you said last week and I asked her how she thought she should handle things.  It really helped her to calm down. I made her realize that she did have the answers. I couldn’t believe it worked!” When I asked if it took up a lot of time, she said “No!”

Think of the ROI. The time you invest instilling confidence in your direct report will yield amazing returns–confident, self-reliant staff are more efficient, effective, and engaged.

There are definitely going to be times where you need to provide answers BUT next time someone comes to you wanting to be told what to do, try using these –  Ask, Don’t Tell Leadership questions first.

  •  “I understand this is a stressful situation and needs immediate action, how do YOU think we should handle it?”
  •  “It sounds like you’re overwhelmed. I get it. There’s a lot going on. What do you see next steps being?”
  •  In the event you get the answer “I don’t know! That’s why I’m asking you!”  You could try:

o   “What would you say if you did know?”

o   “I’ve seen you handle similarly complicated situations before like when you (give a specific example) I believe you have some idea of next steps.”

Telling your staff or direct reports what to do is not leading, it’s dictating. When teams and organizations feel dictated to, they can develop two mindsets: The Sheep Mindset or the Rebel Mindset–neither of which makes for a thriving, productive, or enjoyable workplace.

“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” General S. Patton

Here’s to developing a great workforce. If you need help, take a look at my Capability Statement and contact me for information on training sessions.

“Be Authentic” is Bad Advice

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I’m not sure when the word authentic became the ubiquitous adjective it is today. I somehow suspect Oprah had something to do with it. Nowadays, it’s almost impossible to read anything or listen to anyone speak about communication, leadership, presentation skills, interview skills, branding, or even relationships without the word authentic being spouted – repeatedly.

When social psychologist Amy Cuddy spoke about her new book Presence with author Susan Cain, they must have used the “a”-word a dozen times. Hearing the two of them use authentic with no clarification (though she does in her book) surprised me.

I’ve been feeling for some time that someone needs to start a conversation about the difference between being “your authentic self” and being “your effective self.” So here goes!

Let’s start with the Webster definition of authentic:

  1. worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact 
  2. conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features
  3. made or done the same way as an original
  4. not false or imitation:  real, actual
  5. true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character

Most people, when they use or hear the phrase “be your authentic self,” think of definition #5.

However, there’s a tendency for people to take this too literally. Some people feel that it’s out of “character” for them to dress a certain way or wear their hair a certain way so they don’t. They can assert that it’s their “personality” to use a certain language or tone of voice, to not smile, to keep to themselves, or to push the envelope, regardless of whether it’s effective or not. This gives rise to thoughts and statements like – “I’m being authentic, it’s their problem if they don’t like it.”  But is it really their problem? When you don’t get the job you want, the promotion you may deserve, the work environment you cherish,  the client you need or the second date you crave, who suffers?

Let’s be honest, there are times when being yourself is not being your best.

The fact is, there are certain visual, vocal and verbal habits that are more positive, receptive, and engaging to the average human brain. To not recognize and take these norms into account is a gamble. Sometimes gamblers win but the odds are against them.

Thought leaders, branding experts, coaches, and the like do a disservice when we tell people just be “authentic,” without explaining what we mean by authentic.

First of all, I think of the word genuine. It IS VERY important for people and brands to be genuine. But if we must use the word authentic, I believe the more accurate definition is definition # 2.

This definition of authentic can mean “reproducing the essential features” of the “original” YOU but turning those features into a You 2.0. This way you can still feel authentic AND be more effective.

I was an incredibly shy child.  Even after pushing through my shyness to be an actress and to teach communication skills like I do now, a huge part of my personality is to not speak up and to avoid the spotlight.  But as a business owner I had to eventually ask myself. “How’s that working for you?” It wasn’t.

When you think of your authentic self, is it working for you? If not, identify the “essential features” that make up YOU, and highlight, polish, and reproduce those features. Then lose or mitigate any features that get in the way of your being effective to create You 2.0.  It doesn’t make you any less authentic. According to Webster’s definition #2, you are still conforming to the original.

An important caveat:  I was sharing my thoughts about this with a colleague. She told me she had a co-worker that she just couldn’t win over with her warm and friendly style which is very authentic to her. It’s important to realize that creating a You 2.0 doesn’t mean everybody will find your presentation or communication style effective. When you find people who don’t respond positively to You 2.0 you have two choices–accept that everyone is not going to like you OR if the relationship is an important one, learn the art of subtly adapting to match their style. Just like you wear different styles in different weather, you need slightly different styles with different people. But that’s a topic for another post. Stay tuned!

Please feel free to share your opinions; I know you have some. And if you want help on how to go from YOU to YOU 2.0, please contact me.