Brenda's Blog

All articles from May, 2017

Self-Leadership Challenge #10: Tough Decision-Making Made Easy

As a senior manager or executive, you’re constantly faced with difficult decisions. Most of the time, you can make those decisions based on experience, financial analysis of the situation, input from colleagues or your boss, or even perhaps pure instinct. But once in a while—and this happens to us all as leaders—you’re faced with a truly gut-wrenching decision that simply has to be made, and there doesn’t seem to be any “right” or “obvious” choice anywhere you look.

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One of my executive coaching clients is a perfect example of this. Harry was a senior leader at an international pharmaceutical company. He was usually exhausted, working most of his waking hours. By the time Harry came to me, he was burnt out and ready to give up his career to go live on a beach in Belize. (Well, not literally, but I suspect he could have easily been talked into it…) Through feedback, we uncovered that one of Harry’s big issues was decision-making—not in any particular area, but the physical and mental stress of making regular tough choices in any area.

“What does it feel like when you have to make a decision?” I asked him.

“Painful!” Harry replied.

“Painful,” I said slowly. “So, tell me, Harry, how did you decide to marry your wife?”

“That decision? Well, that one was easy,” he replied. “I just knew it was the right thing to do.”

“So, making that decision wasn’t painful?” I asked.

“Not at all!” he said, chuckling.

“When you bought the house you live in now, how did you make that decision?”

“Again, that was fairly simple,” he said. “My wife and I just walked in, and I just felt it was the right house for us.”

“And, again, was that decision painful?” I asked.

“No,” Harry replied.

“Got it,” I said. “So, it seems not all decisions are painful then—just some. What’s the difference between the less painful decisions you’ve made—the ones we just talked about that seemed so easy for you—and the ‘painful’ decisions that you mentioned earlier?”

This started an interesting conversation that peeled back the layers around Harry’s decision-making process at work. Through the discussion, he revealed that almost everyone he worked with was either a doctor or a scientist—a fairly “left-brained” set of professionals. Based on his experience, those individuals typically felt more comfortable basing their decisions on facts, figures, numbers, charts, and graphs. Harry’s colleagues were naturally strong at analytical and linear thinking, and they relied on that for making decisions.

Therefore, for Harry to justify his decisions to those scientists at work, he had to go through a long and complicated analytical process. This involved explaining to his colleagues how he had done the analysis, reviewing numbers, and holding lengthy discussions with them that centered on the data.

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Why was this so exhausting for Harry? Because his natural decision-making style was intuitive. If he listened to his gut, he could make decisions reasonably quickly because he just knew what the right choice would be. But that wasn’t happening at work because the professionals he worked with could only be influenced via numbers, facts, and figures. Instead of their guts, his coworkers were using their heads.

So, when Harry had to make tough calls, he was subconsciously trying to move into his colleagues’ “head space.” He attempted to mirror the decision-making process of those he worked with, but that wasn’t at all natural for Harry. And that’s why he was struggling so much to make decisions—why they were so “painful” for him.

“Great self-awareness, Harry!” I acknowledged. “How will you use this insight to ensure that your decision-making process becomes less painful, quicker, and easier in the future?”

Harry stated that he would first listen to his gut when he had to make a decision, honoring his natural decision-making mode. He would make up his mind based on what his gut told him was the right answer. Then—and only then—would he pull together whatever data he needed to support that initial “gut” decision. Within a matter of days of implementing this system, Harry was making decisions faster, easier, and with much less stress. His confidence grew, and the length of his workdays shrunk, leading Harry to feel all-around happier.

An important takeaway from Harry’s story is that self-leadership is founded on a solid sense of knowing yourself. What works for you may not work for others, and vice versa.

Your “Motivational Balance Sheet”

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Here’s a potential way to help you with decision-making: The “Motivational Balance Sheet” that allows you to look at the pros and cons of a situation and assess various possibilities by putting non-numerical choices into numerical terms. It sort of “levels the playing field” regardless of your industry, your background, or the way you view the world.

Here’s how it works: Let’s say you’re considering taking a different position within a new company. Write down all the key reasons (a) why you would take the job, and (b) why you would not want to take the job.

Now, rate each of those reasons in terms of how important they are to you. Use a scale from 1 to 10, with “10” being very important to you, and “1” being not important at all. Then, simply add up your scores and see which list gets the highest number. Here’s an example:

Motivational Balance Sheet—Accepting a Different Position in a New Company

Reasons to Accept Importance Rating

Reasons Not to Accept

 

Importance Rating
I will make more money. 10 I will have to work longer hours.   9
I will experience exciting challenges.   8 There will be a learning curve, and I’ll have to prove myself.   5
I will be more likely to reach my full potential. 10 It makes me nervous to make a change.   7
It would be good for my resume/CV.

 

  8 I may end up with less time to spend with family. 10
Positive Total: 36 Negative Total: 31

In this case, the positives outscore the negatives, which might help you make the final decision.

Think of a tough choice you’re facing right now, and use the Motivational Balance Sheet to help you make the decision.

For more strategies to help you make tough decisions more easily, check out my book, Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success.

Self-Leadership Challenge #9: Small Talk is a Big Art—How to Become a Master

Mastering “small talk” can make a big difference in your career. Yet, time and time again, executive coaching clients tell me they dread it. When I speak to an audience and someone mentions that they dread small talk, I sometimes role-play, acting like I’m an individual who has a lot of trouble with it. I inch my way slowly toward someone in the audience and say, “So … um … hi there … um … how are you?” When they say they’re “fine,” I say, “Oh good.” I look around the room, fumbling for what to say next. “Then … um … do you work in this area?” Once they answer that question, I look stumped. How do I move this conversation forward?

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If that sounds a bit like situations you’ve been thrown into (and suffered through), don’t feel badly—you’re far from alone! All across the world, leaders tell me they dislike small talk and avoid it at all costs.

But as a self-leader—especially one who’s working on expanding and strengthening your network—you will inevitably find yourself in plenty of situations, formal and informal, where you’ll have to have small-talk conversations. Improving your skills in this area is vital to self-leadership and to your brand as a leader.

Keep it “open”
Just like asking (and not telling) is a powerful strategy in the workplace, one of the easiest ways to make small talk more comfortable is to ask open-ended questions. If you ask questions that bring only a “yes” or “no” answer or a short one-word response, you’ve given the other party nothing to latch onto and will likely get nothing back in return—except awkward silence. Questions that start with “What” or “How” will get the other person talking. This is particularly helpful if you’re an introvert who hates to talk about yourself. With this strategy, you can just ask a few simple questions and then listen to the other person do the talking.

Examples of open-ended, small-talk questions include: “So, what do you like most about your job?” “How did you get started in the industry?” “How has your business (or organization or industry) changed over the years?”

You could also make statements that encourage the other person to elaborate: “That’s interesting … tell me more.” Or, “Help me understand what you mean by that.” Then, listen with genuine curiosity, remembering that nodding your head and murmuring the occasional “Mm-hmmm” will make sure the other person feels heard.

It’s not about you
Keep in mind that good networking is not about you! It’s about making the other person feel comfortable and feel heard. The good news is that, as the other person’s comfort level increases, your own discomfort level is likely to diminish as well.

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Of course, you shouldn’t stay completely silent throughout the entire conversation. To find meaningful ways to chime in occasionally, listen carefully for common ground in the other person’s responses. Does the individual say anything that you can relate to in your own experience? For example, your conversation partner might say, “I got into the industry because I really enjoy technology; I just can’t get enough of the latest breakthroughs.” You can respond with, “I’m with you—that’s why I got into the industry, too. I have an endless fascination with everything tech.” Then, pick up on that commonality and move the conversation forward with, “So, where do you see the next big technology breakthrough coming from?”

Small talk on the job
Instead of finding yourself in a networking situation with someone you don’t know, what if you find yourself at a company event faced with making small talk with a coworker or senior leader? Again, the same guideline applies: Ask open-ended questions rather than tell. If you’re talking with someone you don’t know well but who’s from your workplace, be honest and say, “We’ve worked together for a while now, and I still don’t know that much about you. What do you like to do in your spare time?” Or if it’s someone you already know fairly well, you could ask, “How is the XYZ project coming along?”

Be prepared
Here’s another powerful suggestion to prepare for our next networking event: The next time you have a small-talk situation coming your way, arm yourself with a list of at least ten possible open-ended questions you could ask that could apply to multiple people and situations. Make sure the questions you have in your arsenal begin with either who, what, when, where, or how (never “yes/no” questions, and avoid “why” questions, too). Examples are: “How often do you attend this type of event?” “Where are you from?” “What is your role at work, and how long have you been holding that position?” “Who is your main contact here, and how do you know them?” “What do you like to do in your free time?”

Of course, don’t underestimate the importance of smiling and making eye contact. When the person introduces himself or herself, repeat the individual’s first name: “It’s nice to meet you, Joseph.” Repeating the name makes it more likely you will remember it, and it immediately establishes greater rapport.

Armed with these tips, you’ll be prepared for any event where you need to interact with strangers or work colleagues. The more you prepare yourself, the more comfortable you’ll feel, and the faster you’ll master the art of small talk.

Want to learn more? My book, Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success,” includes many more tips and tools to help master small talk for greater self-leadership success.